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A Hero's Lament

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His metal mask shone in the sunlight, and he prayed this day would not be his last. His prayers  would go nowhere, as no god could help him now, but he opened his eyes to the sky and spoke barely-remembered hymns nonetheless.

It was a ritual, of sorts, performed before any event like this. Suit up, go out, sing some words that he always seemed to know , and then… then he would just be. Be the number one hero, the commission’s poster boy. Be everything they needed him to be.

That was just his job. To be strong and there and violent when it mattered. To look pretty and to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves by any means necessary. And the things they did were necessary. He believed them.

Dream never doubted them. How could he, if he’d never had a chance?
Out of all the vile things the Hero Commission did, each one getting worse and worse as the so-called Villains and Vigilantes dug into things no one was supposed to know, Dream was their worst and best-kept secret. Everyone knew of Dream. No one knew where he came from.  

Not even the very people unearthing the Hero Commission's dirty secrets knew that secret. Not in its entirety. Maybe they didn’t want to know. Maybe they believed him complacent in it all. In a way, they were right.

Right, but not correct. A very important distinction, because when no one but Dream and those of the highest order knew of his origins, there was only so far a hacker could get. A person’s brain couldn’t be hacked like a computer. Paper records, shredded and burned, couldn’t be recovered.

But maybe that itself wasn’t even true. Not when Dream had been raised by the Hero Commission. Fed lies and beliefs not his own, given a rank and a moniker, never quite knowing who he was beyond ‘Dream.’ He didn’t even know if that was his name.

Chains were so much harder to break when they were the mental kind.

Funny, that it had taken until now for those chains to rust and crumble just enough under their own weight for Dream to pause and wonder if what he was doing was right. The barest thought of rebellion after, what, 18 years of obedience? Or at least, that’s what Dream thought.
Strange, to not know your age. He thought he was in his mid-20’s, but his only real measure was when he’d been allowed to do official hero work with all the bells and whistles and teams that came with it. Only those 18 years or older could hold a full license.

Unless that was also a lie…

Dream shook his head. He couldn’t stand doubting himself right now. Not like this. After, maybe, in the space in the hero tower, the room he called his own. The only place he was mostly alone and could think without being interrupted.

He knew about the cameras.

He didn’t dare question them.

Thanatos was the first to make his presence known. A flock of crows perched anywhere they could, surrounding and far more dangerous than they looked. Phantom feelings of those claws in his stomach made Dream weary.

Not for the first time, he wished his costume wasn’t so geared toward PR purposes. It apparently made him ‘pretty,’ but the only real armor was on his forearms and legs, and even then, it wasn’t nearly enough. But, with his Gift, it had to be.

As per usual, because Dream fought the syndicate far more than he was privately comfortable with, the number one villain himself was nowhere to be seen, hiding in the shadows until he deemed it necessary to strike.

What wasn’t usual was Vex calmly walking up the steps to greet him. Usually, it was Ares who’d interact with him, being of similar physical prowess. Then again, this meeting was for a much different reason than any other.

“Dream!” Vex raised a hand in a wave, body relaxed like this was a social visit and not a coup d'etat against the Hero Commission. Dream said nothing; he rarely did, most days. It took too much energy, energy he didn’t have, when standing hurt as it was.

“Don’t suppose you’ll be a good boy and just let us in, hm?” Vex asked, tilting his head with feigned curiosity. Dream mentally prepared himself for a fight. His Gift automatically sprang to life as he studied the man before him.

Vex. The number three villain. Mostly known for arson, stealing, and his fragile mental state. His Gift, Spirit, lets him venture through walls and turn invisible on a whim. Possible uses for assassination. No known cases tied to him.

Best Course of Action: Blinding

Like a computer program connected to his skull, the information filtered through from seemingly nowhere. A strange sort of recollection Dream was used to, He wasn’t supposed to think the other way.

“Hm, a pity. Guess we’ll have to do this the hard way,” Vex sighed, like he was disappointed Dream hadn’t listened. The pout in his voice was audible, even with the low-tech mask covering the bottom half of his face.

With a surprising, but expected, amount of speed, Vex launched himself forward up the last few steps. Dream eyed his hand, curled with claws aimed to tear out his stomach, or maybe snatch off his mask. Vex had some sort of vendetta against his mask.

Dream dodged left- No. Reboot. Dream dodged right. Just as his Gift always did, it tugged him through the motions. Step, pivot, circle around, an axe whizzing by his skull and a hand just barely missing his face. Don’t touch the axe. Don’t touch Vex.

Touching Vex to hurt him was a dangerous affair when his body used a ‘me first’ rule. If he turned material while in a living object, his body would push away anything in its path. People, animals, plants, didn’t matter. It was useful, but it didn’t work on fabricated objects. 

Being fast enough to blind him, so that he might splinch himself on metal or concrete, was the best and only bet to stop him. Be fast so he can’t react. If he can’t react, he can’t fight back. Can’t go immaterial or invisible. Fast, fast, fast.

He launched himself forward with a dull sort of certainty, or, rather, his Gift did. The specifics didn’t matter. Knife in hand, he aimed, and… Jumped back as the axe’s owner followed through. He sailed down the steps, landing neatly at the bottom.

Positions reversed, he looked back up at his opponents.

Ares. Number Two Villain. Known for his three-year rampage that killed nearly a hundred people. His Gift, Bloodborne, lets him ingest human matter to gain strength. Temporary or permanent, yet to be determined.

Dream zoned back in, already moving, landing on his hands on top of a car and pushing off with enough force to dent it. Ares wasn’t deterred, he never was. To Dream’s knowledge, Ares was sturdy enough to simply break through brick walls. The skill did little for the specially enhanced metal chambers the Hero Commission used, but…

Walls were still much stronger than people were.

Sharp metal whizzed by his body, gouging his gauntlets as he lifted them to parry it. The axe Ares used was special, made by Thanatos, if information served, and could cut through almost anything. Dream didn’t know what it was made out of, but it was a thick black material that reminded him of his handler’s skin, like it was made of solid shadow.

Vex appeared at his right once more, and Dream vaulted over him. Fighting two on one was bad, but it was worse when he couldn’t tell where their leader was. He never could. It was his one weakness. Though, no one else could either.

Ares advanced again, he and Vex pushing Dream to move faster and faster. Vex gained a slash on his cheek, a cut on his sweater, a bruise on his chest. Ares was littered in cuts that didn’t seem to weigh him down. Killing blows barely phased him, so that was no surprise. Vex grew angry.

He knew why. His small amount of armor gained chips and dents. His clothes tore and were slashed at. Yet, his mask remained untouched and his skin unmarred. Nothing seemed to be able to hit him, and maybe, that was the true power of his Gift.

Being able to do anything he knew how to at the level of the strongest superhumans. Parkour and fighting were the main focuses, naturally, but the effect was obvious. And it was frustrating when others fought him, or even fought beside him.

A pity all Gifts had equally bad side effects.

Flipping over Ares, hands on his shoulders and feet planted painfully into his back, Dream landed soundly in the middle of the circular intersection the Hero Commission main office faced. He paused to breathe when neither opponent followed suit.

His teeth rattled at the force his legs had exerted to launch himself from his previous location, jumping far too far to grab and hold himself on some third story of a building. The pavement cracked and shattered, the golden statue of some idol Dream was never told about wobbling dangerously. And then began the decay.

It was always haunting, no matter how many times he watched it. Black vines creeping out over the fragmented pavement, curling around the statue and nearby cars and even the plants. Then, it evaporated into black ash that settled over the landscape. Poisonous, dangerous, yet oddly beautiful in the way it occurred.

At the center was Thanatos, as he always was. Dream ignored the information his Gift provided, he’d long since memorized it anyway. Instead, he rerouted that feature into moving, despite how much he’d regret it later. His body had enough permanent damage. It could tank a little more.

It was necessary, though, when the crows swarmed. Black assaulted his vision as he dodged. Left, right, a flip here, a handspring there. Vex to his right, his left. The axe, watch the axe.

Pivot to his left, jump back. Swing at Vex’s eyes, miss. Vex attempted to grab him. Pull back, no, go forward. Go through him. Cold, empty, wrong, the axe followed. Duck, roll, under Thanatos.

Thanatos wasn’t moving, always watching. The crows scratched at his armor, his stomach. Too many, he couldn’t dodge them all. His head pounded. His vision blurred. Left, right, swing. Crow down, two more. The ash got in his eyes. He couldn’t see.

Back, roll, miss, attack, hit something, he didn’t know what. It hurt, he pushed through. He had to. They told him to. It always hurt. He didn’t need to see. His Gift didn’t need to see.

His vision cleared to shades of neon green before fading into something barely normal. His mask had crumbled, and Thanatos was approaching him. He dodged Vex at his side. Thanatos stopped moving. Ares was behind him.

Surrounded, he was surrounded. Thanatos attacked, and he couldn’t dodge. Strike one, a beautiful mark spiraling out on his stomach like an intricate tattoo. Vines and flowers and images of death. Thanatos attempted strike two. He only needed two.

He could kill anyone with just two.

Dream’s head spun. Dodge, dodge, dodge. There was nowhere to go, but… he threw one of his knives. It hit Thanatos in the arm. Ares attacked in a rage, and Dream took advantage of the opportunity he saw.

Up and up and over, scaling the building and dropping back down. The axe embedded in the wall. A miss. Always a miss.

The mark hurt, it hurt, it always hurt. It would fade. It would take hours, but it always faded. Thanatos couldn’t keep it there forever, and he couldn’t activate it without physical contact. Dream’s Gift didn’t let him stumble.

With all three of the Syndicate, there was no opening. They’d fought together for too long, trained too hard, been together for longer than Dream had been alive. There was no chance. He wasn’t allowed to retreat, though, the Hero Commission wouldn’t let him. Not today.

Primary Mission: Take down The Syndicate by any means necessary

Addendum: Do or Die

His Gift had retained the mission for far too long, it was far too cemented into whatever magic made it work for him to push past it. His muscles ached, breathing burned, and he was so, so tired. He was always so tired. There was nothing he could do but allow it.

A flash of red caught his eye as he was somewhere between Ares and Thanatos, again. The number one villain always started attacking once the mark has been placed. Anything to activate it, anything.

Red, the red. It’s unfamiliar, it’s too familiar. He doesn’t know it, he does though. He was tired, very tired, and very deep in his Gift. A bad day, a very bad day. A bad fight against the Syndicate.

Secondary Mission: Retrieve Vigilantes

Suddenly, Dream was far too aware of what was happening. Of the ache of his muscles. Of the burning, crippling need to collapse from the stress and pain. Of the familiar feeling of his bones being too stressed and cracked from inhuman feats his body wasn’t meant to be able to pull off. Of the ache of his skull and the blood filling his mouth.

A single moment of clarity as his Gift switched missions. Where he felt the side effects just enough to stumble.

Dream felt himself be pulled to get the vigilante, Bedlam was his name? With a Gift that the Hero Commission wanted, so impossibly powerful if only it were controlled and used right. Just like Dream’s.

He’s just a kid .

He doesn’t deserve what you went through .

The moment's hesitation was the only opportunity needed for that fatal blow. He didn’t see it, and he barely felt it. Not the pain, at least. Not the need to scream or cry as he’d heard others had, because collapsing into ash and nothingness and death was something so excruciatingly painful that Thanatos needed to be brought down.

He didn’t recall Thanatos using it often, only against him .

Numb, he hit the floor, tasting the withering magic crawling over him. The only thing he could feel. His vision faded to black and still, he felt it fighting… fighting against something

It didn’t matter. The pain was gone for once. Sure, it was cold but… he was tired, he could ignore that. Dream closed his eyes as the mask faded away. Then everything did.

The Syndicate won, taking down the vile Hero Commission once and for all. The people praised them, and society managed to rebuild. Not perfect, never, but better.

Better without the system of Heroes and Villains. Better without the Commission. Better without Dream…

But the story would be boring if it just ended there. 

Rewind a few years, many many years. Because Gifts only appeared when a child was maybe four or five. Magic was an unstable and volatile thing, after all, and if it didn’t settle, then the child’s body would just shut it down entirely. That was how there were Giftless people.

Dream was the opposite, though, even if he didn’t go by that name at the time. Whatever his original name was had long since been scrubbed from the records, but it hardly mattered anyway. What did, was that Dream was two when he got his gift.

Two and watching his parents be crushed under falling rubble when villains attacked. Two and scared and running fast, too fast, through the commotion. Nothing hit him, and he pushed away obstacles like they were nothing.

He was two when he irreparably damaged his muscles and his leg bones gained the consistency of playdough. Two when he should’ve never walked again…

He was three when the Hero Commission decided he had a use. They found him in his little place, holed away by some nice old lady who didn’t question a strange, often glowing, toddler who just needed some help and a place to sleep. Three and with far too much trauma and pain.

What Dream never remembered was that year he spent with her. Not her name nor her face, only a warm feeling on the rare nights he dreamed. But his Gift? His Gift had a way of remembering, cataloging, naming, even if neither he nor it could ever define itself. It remembered the words she spoke.

“Come back, survive,” She’d pleaded, as she’d been forced to give him up or face consequences. The last words she’d said before she died, the last person to know who Dream used to be, vocal cords silenced so no one would know.

Primary Directive: Survive.

A mission that only became what it was simply because of its impossibility to complete. A collection of magic, volatile and strange, that always made Dream spring back from the worst of things. Something that couldn’t be canceled or rerouted. A drop of life that couldn’t die.

So what happened when it meets an unstoppable killing blow? Something that couldn’t be bounced back from? Where there was nobody, nothing to remember him by? Just the soul and the magic, opposing forces wrestling for control.

It begins with a feedback loop. Going around and around, compounding and strengthening into something more . Something that was neither Dream’s nor Thanatos’ magic. Something that dared fight against the void and the clutches of death.

Days, months, years could pass and Dream wouldn’t know. Wouldn’t feel it because there was nothing to feel, like a coma where he was just barely even aware that he wasn’t fully dead, yet not nearly aware enough to think or do anything about it.

And then the cycle broke like a rubber band, pulled tighter and tighter until it finally snapped. The small, weakened soul sent flying through the void of death, out of control and far too powerful and other for its own good.

Just then, another soul died, one from far, far away. So far that had Dream’s soul been propelled by just the tiniest bit less steam, it would’ve fizzled out and died before reaching it. Yet, it didn’t. 

And just as one man died, another took his place.

One in the afterlife and the other… somewhere truly, blindingly new.

Dream woke to cold tiles on his back and the sound of running water.

Chapter Text

Bright fluorescent lights buzzed above him, stinging barely opening eyes. The tiles beneath him were cold and slick, seeping through his pants and sapping away his body heat. What little of it he seemed to have left, at least.

Dream felt cold, too cold, and admittedly that was all he noticed at first. Then the ache of his joints as he tried to move from whatever awkward curled up position he’d found himself in. His back ached from an awkward angle. His head pounded and his throat felt like sandpaper.

Still, he felt the familiar curl of his Gift in his muscles where it always sat, yet he couldn’t feel any sort of lingering pain. Somehow, that surprised him more than the dull realization that he wasn’t dead. Then again, Dream was too used to escaping death to be bothered by it much anymore. Even if it didn’t make sense as to why he would be alive.

A strange weight was on either side of him, and his vision felt weird. Weird how he couldn’t say but weird and wrong . Wrong like the slow pump of his impossibly beating heart. 

Gift seemingly recalibrating, Dream would have to investigate where he was on his own. Which, if any luck would have it, was the medbay the Hero Commission seemed to have just for him. Something about protecting his identity?

Taking a deep breath, and pausing at his lack of mask, Dream steeled himself to move. The lack of mask probably wasn’t worrying, the position was but… no Dream actually couldn’t explain that, not until he knew where he was and could…

Oh…

Dream leaned back, then forward again onto his knees, then back again with some odd sort of fascination. The movement didn’t… didn’t hurt. Sure, it ached, ached like his back and his lungs expanding with each breath but there wasn’t…  that pins and needles feeling.

Pins and needles might be a bad way to put it seeing as how, logistically, it was shards of never-healed bone paste digging into his muscles and slowly threatening to tear him in two. A feeling he was used to and could push through and wasn’t there .

Relief… confusion? Something flooded him, light and airy and bringing an odd sort of heat to his eyes. It was something that he’d lived with for so, so long that he… he didn’t know how to feel about not having anymore.

That’s not to say he wanted it there, Dream doubted anyone wanted to be in chronic pain or have that crippling sense of exhaustion dragging at every part of their body. But he also didn’t know how to live without it, not really.

But that… that doesn’t matter right now. He’s in a strange, unfamiliar environment and this is no time to be crying over his sudden leap in physical well-being that not even some of the most prestigious healing Gifts could match. He’ll mull over that later.

And possibly have a breakdown where no one could see him

Wiping stubbornly at his eyes, Dream stood and… and was treated to the second strangest thing that had ever happened to him. First? No, first definitely went to that one run-in with the Joker that went wrong. The only one that had for him. Yet, it still was gloated over every time he saw them.

Now, if Dream had to explain why only now he was realizing he had extra appendages, he wouldn’t really know what to say. The best thing he could come up with to explain it to himself was that they somehow felt right like they belonged there. They felt right but they weren’t .

His feet slipped on smooth, wet tiles as he stumbled forwards. He was in a small room facing a door. The tiles were stained, the wallpaper was peeling, and the shower to his right looked like it needed to be cleaned. But it wasn’t running, the sink was as he quickly found out by leaning against it.

Elbows suddenly wet and falling off of the slipper porcelain, Dream barely saved himself from an embarrassing fall. Seriously, in a strange place and a body he doesn’t know, and he trips ? How embarrassing.

The sink was overflowing. What looks like identification papers inside, Dream barely recognized them as some form of government identification. Social security number easiest, probably. The ink was spreading and the numbers barely legible. Everything else seemed to be a no-go. Scrunched up like whoever had been in here was trying to clog the sink and flood the house.

All that survived was a plastic id card, protected by a plastic sleeve and with a sturdy-looking material attached that implied it was supposed to be worn like a necklace. The faucet squeaked as he turned it off, condemning the room to cold silence. Just the slow drip of water falling to the floor.

The card was a plain, off-shade of white with a green stripe along the short side. Written lengthwise was simple information that was probably meant for easy identification. The more specific meant the harder it was to steal.

Clay Hendrickson was written along the top. Listed down the side near the green strip were age, height, and weight. On the opposite side was simply written ‘arachnid’ Bottom right had a green ‘E’ with the last strike dipping down to form a weird, checkmark-esk shape.

If the card was to be believed, Clay Hendrickson was a 23-year-old man who was 7’4 and about 280 pounds. Quite tall but Dream’s handler was an eight-foot-tall demon made of shadows. He wasn’t sure how magic did that but he didn’t ask it any questions.

His Gift hummed in his ears as it took in the information, it must’ve adjusted to the body already. Maybe that’s why the extra arms did feel weird? Or not too strange, at least. Dream still didn’t know what to do with them. Currently, he left them crossed over his chest.

Somehow, looking up and into the fogged-up mirror only solidified what was happening in Dream’s, admittedly, very shellshocked mind. It was with a distant sort of clarity that he pushed up platinum blonde bangs to fully inspect himself.

‘Arachnid’ must’ve of been this body’s… gift? Or maybe whatever ‘E’ stood for since Dream knew he still had his Gift. It was bound to his soul so of course, he did. So then why did he also have this body’s? If it wasn’t because ‘Arachnid’ was so… physical then he didn’t know what else it could be.

It’s hard to ungrow an extra set of arms.

Weirder than that was the fact that he had… eight eyes? With dark green sclera and a much more vibrant green pupil. The bright shade sort of reminded him of the color he associated with his gift.

Letting the bangs fall back and completely obscure his eyes, Dream took a deep breath. No, somehow the eyes were the part of the situation that freaked him out the least. He dragged his hand down his face and backed up to the door. The cold wood soaked through his damp sweater, also green.

Was it some sort of weird karma that the stranger whose body he’d just taken up also had a green color scheme? It seemed to be the only thing they had in common. Clay was pale where Dream had tanned, with light hair where Dream was dark. Oh, and roughly a foot taller than him.

He slid down the door, uncaring as his legs landed in the puddle under the sink and kicked something. His pants were already wet from sitting in that mess. Or Clay’s were? Was he Dream or Clay now?

Sure, Dream was technically just a moniker the Hero Commission gave him but they also didn’t give him an actual name. Just ‘Dream’ or ‘Hero’ or the occasional whispers of ‘Pet Project’, whatever that meant.

But Clay was literally a dead guy’s name . He had to be dead, right? Not in Dream’s body? What’s he saying, Dream’s body is ash and soot and whatever else made up the black substance Thanatos turned things into when his Gift touched them. Clay was probably hanging out in the afterlife or void or wherever people go when they die.

Except he couldn’t go by anything else, not unless he could fake a government-issued id. Which Dream would, that was illegal and immoral and who was he kidding? He’s done worse ‘undercover’ for the Hero Commission, even if it was for the greater good. This could just be for… survival. The Hero Commission cared about his survival so he should too.

Mostly just for the public’s sake

Dream ignored that thought with the same practice he ignored everything else

He brought the Id up again. Sourcing plastic couldn’t be too hard, and his Gift should be able to mimic the writing with how much practice Dream had. He flipped it over and… immediately scrapped that plan.

Dream could fake the rest of the Id, but he couldn’t face a QR code. Not when he had no way of checking what it led to. So it was either a dead guy’s name or… or… or nothing. Becoming a fugitive? Out of the question.

Shuffling the band over his head, Dream let the Id fall to his chest. It felt weird, wrong yet a familiar weight. Like every other stupid thing that had happened to him since he woke up. All covered by a delicate fog and the cold stuck to his body.

Leaning forward again, Dream began to stand before he caught eye of what his foot had kicked before. It had rolled and gotten trapped between the garbage can and the wall.

Cylindrical plastic was cold in his hand, like everything else. Tiny script wrapped the bottle with medical terms he didn’t fully understand. Whatever it was was empty and, sadly, painted the picture of what happened to Clay. Maybe not the why, but definitely the how.

It clattered against the bottom of the trash can, noise ringing hollow. Overdose, which might actually explain Dream’s difficulty breathing and the of kilter feeling of his vision. He doubted it was just because of newly having more eyes, since having more arms didn’t seem to downgrade him all too much.

Something… hollow and dark squirmed in his chest as he stared down at the bottle. It wasn’t a feeling Dream was used to, not to this degree at least. It wasn’t heavy, not like grief, but rather spread out and… there, hanging in the air like a fog.

Was this what mourning felt like?

He’d never been allowed to mourn before

Reluctantly, Dream stepped back, hitting the wall behind him. Walking was weird and off-balanced but he did it anyway, opening the door and leaving the small too small suffocating bathroom. His Gift buzzed to life to steady him.

Not for the first time, he was glad that his Gift worked off muscle memory because he was in no position to think about walking when his brain seemed to lag behind. Said memory led him to the bed. A double with crumpled sheets and blankets falling onto the floor.

The room was just as bad as the bathroom. A studio apartment with just as bad wallpaper, stains covering one wall across from the bed. Glass littered the floor along with a phone, lying face down on the wood floor.

A small kitchen, a single table with a lone chair and a closed laptop, and a sad beat-up couch littered the studio. Very little personal effects anywhere. Well, except for the dresser to the left of the bed.

What looked like a spider sat in the terrarium on the bed, staring at him rather unnervingly. White marker scribbled on the top with bad handwriting Dream wouldn’t be able to read unless he walked over there. Beside it was a pile of crumpled papers, evidence?

Dream stood, shuffling his way over in an out-of-body experience he was used to when he left his Gift take over the majority of his motor control. His mind focused on the papers. He didn’t think about the bathroom or Thanatos or the Hero Commissions suicide mission. He didn’t.

Even worse, the papers looked to be a will when he flipped them over. It felt… icky, for a lack of a better term, to be holding them. Gross and impersonal but… something in Dream needed to read them. Needed to know more about what happened.

In the will was the usual stuff, maybe, he wasn’t really well versed in reading wills. Never had before, actually. Dream was smart though, he wouldn’t be dissuaded by lawyer talk. That he was familiar with. Legal terms might as well be his second language at this point.

From what Dream gleaned, because apparently where he was had all sorts of things he never understood, this was Clay’s father’s will. In it, Clay had been left a large sum of money, and all of the father’s assets. Including ‘Loranne’s’ cafe in ‘district twelve’, a place that was brought up quite a lot throughout the thing. Mostly ownership rights.

Other papers in the stacks confirmed this, with documents signing over ‘The Spider’s Web’ to Clay. Then there was a death certificate for the man. The name meant nothing to Dream, nothing at all, but it still seemed to weigh on him.

Had Clay… was this the reason Clay took his life? Dream set the papers down. A horrid feeling swept over his skin, he felt like a creep looking through someone else’s belongings like this in a way he hadn’t before. Maybe because he was this person now?

It was all so impersonal yet so so personal at the same time. He felt like he was going to hurl, he held it down.

Then he walked over to the phone, so far deep that he figured he may as well snoop there too. The screen was shattered and the shards cut as his fingers as he swiped around on it but it worked and, for whatever reason, didn’t even have a password.

It was a typical phone from what Dream knew. Social media, Mail, Contacts list, and all sorts of app games Dream didn’t recognize. He’d never really been allowed to play on his phone. It wasn’t even really his phone, it was a work phone.

He didn’t really have anything that was his

Emails from law firms about the passing of Clay’s father were the only ones really in there, everything else junk mail except for one or two college rejection letters. The contacts list was equally as sparse. Only emergency contacts, a pizza place, and Clay’s father.

A man, barely even seeing as how Clay was only 20, with no friends, no life, and now no family. No future either if the rejection letters attributed any to Dream’s conclusion. One that he didn’t need his Gift to make for him.

His Gift pulled him back to the bed and Dream sat, pulling the blanket around him and listening to the quiet buzz in his muscles only he could hear. Blankly, he stared at the wall, at the phone, at the hands he shouldn’t have cut and slowly dripping with blood. His eyes met the bathroom door.

For the first time in a long time, Dream cried.

He’d never been allowed to cry before

Chapter Text

Completely restructuring Clay’s life from the ground up shouldn’t have been as easy as it was. Not because Dream had any sort of emotional connection to it but Clay should’ve. Friends, family, a job, something. But there wasn’t.

Maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Not with… everything that had happened in the days prior. It still didn’t sit right no matter what way he put it. Clay really had nothing going for him…

Dream tried not to think about that too hard. Instead, he sold the studio, planning on moving to the apartment above the cafe. It was also easier than expected. He’d never done it before but search engines made it pretty simple to figure out.

Going from District Four to Twelve, on the other hand, was much more complicated. The cursory research he did on the topic didn’t explain anything, but it was also about selling a house so that was to be expected. Or so Dream assumed. He’s had to do a lot of assuming recently.

Taking public transport down quickly painted a sad sort of picture of what kind of place District Twelve was. As soon as his second train of the evening had crossed the line from six to seven, the brick tunnels got substantially more aged. District Ten was when it shifted to concrete. 

Upper districts had crowded trains full of ‘fashionable’ people in expensive clothes and suits packed to the brim. Wealthy people who quickly petered out into an empty train that’s loud tracks were the only noise. Very few people from the upper districts seemed to go down below six and fewer from lower than seven seemed to be able to afford the train.

Or maybe Dream was just assuming too many things from what little he could gleam. The substantially cheaper fabrics of the few people with him, fraying seams and tired eyes. The cracking concrete tunnels that the train pulled into. Painted yellow lines chipped and fading where there were shining tiles in District Six to Four.

He climbed up the stained steps of the station and into a dramatically different atmosphere from anything he was used to. Before his final fight, he was used to the clinical sort of cleanliness of the capital. Scrubbed clean of damages the moment fights were over. All marble and glass and gold embellishments.

In his world, there weren’t any districts as far as he knew but District Four was similar enough. Tall buildings gleaming and freshly painted with packed streets full of rich business people. A bright shining sun, clean air. Cleaner streets and, if this was anything like Dream thought it was, constant hero patrols keeping the streets from dirtying in the first place.

Unless they were paid off

He wasn’t supposed to know that

All of that is to say that stepping out into District Twelve was like stepping into a brand new, much worse world. Immediately, the poor air quality made his lungs constrict and cough. Tasting the smoke and ash and other coat his tongue. 

He would’ve fallen again if his Gift hadn’t caught him. As it was, Dream twisted his ankle. 

It was a negligible pain, he ignored it.

Address typed into Clay’s still broken phone, Dream shuffled his way down the cramped streets. Though unlike District Four or Home, these were cluttered in an entirely different way. Actual people seemingly few and far between at this time of night.

Dilapidated buildings rose only two or three stories but seemed to lean on their foundation. They tilted over as if to crush anyone at too strong a gust of wind. What could be clouds or smoke blocked out the setting sun, thick and heavy.

Large cracks in the pavement and roads were tripping hazards, cars on the road sitting broken down or broken into. Stores of all kinds had thick blinds or, if they were unlucky, wooden panels nailed over broken windows. It was horrible to see. It was a strange, new sight and it was…

Well, it felt sad. Not pity, never pity . Dream didn’t know how to deal with that or with the eyes narrowed at him like he was a danger, a threat. He could see only a few people, each hiding weapons like they needed them. But Dream could feel many more. His Gift only fed him reasons as to why they might feel that way.

Outsider. Clothes too clean and expensive. Back too straight, walking too slow, too confident.

Hunch, blend in, get new clothes.

Dream ignored its advice for the most part. He couldn’t really fix anything it was telling him, not until he reached the cafe. Hopefully, something in the apartment might help. If not… Clay’s inheritance could last a fair while.

Even if he didn’t know how he felt about using it.

Twenty minutes later, he was turning out of a side alley. The Spider’s Web was just in sight down the block. Then he felt a hand grab his bag and tug, hard .

His Gift planted his feet, leaning forward. The leather straps of his bag digging into his shoulder, the pain was so easily ignored. He was used to so much worse.

Pivoting, Dream tugged his bag out of the stranger’s grip in a fluid motion, twisting to face them. The man behind him was small, or maybe Dream wasn’t used to being so tall. A surprised expression flickered across his face for a moment.

Clawed hands raised as if he was about to try and attack Dream, slit eyes narrowing. Scales covered most of his skin, likely made of keratin or an alloy. A long tail flicking in clear nervousness trailed behind him.

Petty Thief: Danger level low. Gift: Lizard. Scales act as armor and claws as a makeshift weapon. Underside of tail exposed, a weak spot in the scales. Other abilities? More information required.

“Give me your shit Richie,” The thief spat. Anger was clear in his eyes, possibly some hatred for the upper class. Dream could understand that. The sheer difference between here and there was horrible and extremely unfair. How could anyone allow this to happen?

“No thanks,” Dream muttered awkwardly, tripping over his words as his voice came out wrong. Heat rose to his cheeks, stupid. He was in a different body, of course his voice was going to be different. That should be obvious.

It still felt weird.

He stepped back, the lizard man jumping towards him. How slow… Dream stepped around him, tripping the man. His foot landed on the sensitive tip of the thief’s tail mostly by accident. A good accident in a fight but one nonetheless.

Grabbing the back of the thief’s shirt, Dream pulled him back. It saved the thief from an embarrassing fall but he didn’t seem to see it that way, tugging free his tail and whipping around with a snarl.

“You bitch! That’s my tail,” He complained, the stiff set of just shoulders and awkward twitch of his legs were all that gave it away. Did that actually hurt? Dream would’ve thought the scales were sturdier.

“Sorry?” Dream clutched his bag tighter. Apologizing to a thief wasn’t a thing people did, was it? Dream wouldn’t know, he didn’t get much social interaction. Still, the surprised look he got implied it was.

“Sorry?” The thief parroted, “the fuck do you mean sorry?” Dream didn’t answer at first. The reasoning behind it wasn’t one that really made sense. It just felt like he should apologize.

While trying to steal Dream’s, technically Clay’s, stuff was a low blow and illegal… The thief was shockingly gaunt under those scales, like he wasn’t eating properly. His clothes were dirty and stained, practically falling apart. There was a shakiness he couldn’t hide.

It wasn’t a fair fight. Dream, even in a clearly untrained body, still had his Gift on his side pulling from memories and experience to do things this guy couldn’t Dream of. Maybe that was a silly reason but…

How about this, Dream didn’t want to draw attention to himself yet. That was better. As for his response? He just shrugged.

“Want a muffin?” Dream answered the question with a question. The muffin was blueberry and the only edible thing still in the studio by the time he left. Dream just wasn’t hungry. He pulled it out and offered it as a reparation.

“What’s wrong with you?” The lizard man accused, staring at the muffin like it was going to bite him but with hunger he couldn’t fully jide. Dream shrugged again, tossing the snack and walking past. He wasn’t taking it back. He, Clay?, hated blueberries anyway.

Expectedly, the thief scrambled to catch it as it hit his chest. That was just a natural response to having something thrown at you as far as Dream knew. But then he just stared. Stared at Dream with a weird intensity like he was an alien. 

Dream ignored him. The thief mumbled something, his Gift catalogued it. Dream ignored that too.

Apparently, Dream must’ve not been worth it as a victim for whatever reason because the thief left him alone. That knowledge did nothing for the buzzing in his veins as he struggled to calm down his gift from the short scuffle. Usually he’d leave it running on high in case he needed it.

Hiding it was a much different affair. Much harder than just letting it flow semi freely through his veins. Then again, he didn’t try to hide it very often. He took a deep breath and did it anyway.

The Spider’s Web was a simple brick building that matched the rundown appearances of the ones around it. A rusted metal sign between the first and second floor proclaimed its name, the walls were graffitied and the windows scratched. The place didn’t seem broken into at least. 

Considering the state of the rest of the district, that was a small miracle.

Key ring in hand, Dream opened the old wooden door. Hinges complained loudly as they were opened for the first time in two decades, possibly longer. Mismatched chairs were set up on tables, pushed out messily out of the way.

First coated everything like a second skin, lightbulbs lay dead in their sockets, and paint had seemingly faded to gray.

The display case was empty, as was the cash register that Dream didn’t know how to use. Two doors were along the back wall, behind the counters that seperated customers and employees.

Dream tried the first. Sadly, not the apartment. An empty storage room and tiny kitchen with surprisingly expensive looking ovens were to the left of a small hallway. To the right was a bathroom, also small with a slanted ceiling. Must be under the stairs.

He wasn’t looking forward to cleaning any of it

Up stairs, past the second door wedged in the corner, led directly to a main room. Living, dining, and kitchen were shoved into it, barely fitting. The dining table was pressed against the back of the couch. A box tv shoved onto a small end table. Rust and mold cling to the stove of a cramped galley kitchen.

More doors, joy. A bathroom that was bigger than the one downstairs, a storage room filled to the brim with boxes that looked to once have been an office, and a bedroom.

Everything felt cramped, like the walls were about to cave in. It was messy and when Dream dropped his bag and fell back against the bed dust plumed into his lungs. The amount of work Dream would need to put into the place was… more than he’d ever done before.

Hardly self sufficient with janitors and handlers

But none of it was Clay’s, not technically. Dream could look at the walls and not see the shadow of a man that died for Dream to steal his body. He could… relax. For the first time in days, weeks? Maybe even longer. No one was watching him, and this space was his.

He could care less how much work it needed.

But first, he needed information.

Several things were quickly apparent as Dream dug into the internet. Forums and new sights, creating emails and accounts in places dedicated to watching heroes. A shady site or two about villains. Know your enemies.

But things were so much different here. There was no Hero Commission, not in the same capacity. Rather than an approximate form of government, it seemed to be an educational system? Completely separate from the ‘Enhancement Board’ at that.

Enhancements, too, were a tad mind boggling. Like Dream had assumed, they were much more physical than Gifts. As thus, the more common abilities were of an entirely different type. Rather than elemental control or telekinesis, which literally rewired people’s brains here? Instead of that it was super strength or speed. If not that, most of the population was some kind of animal hybrid. Definitely strange.

It explained a little bit why Dream had his Gift if nothing else, but gave him many more questions. Ones that were locked behind paywalls on fancy medical sites filled with terms that flew over his head. Looking up definitions only helped so much.

So he turned his curiosity to whatever the hell was going on with the district system. Answers were about as equally vague. The city, Essempii, apparently had thirteen districts. Dream could only find information on the top 7 and vague foreboding information on the thirteenth.

Assuming that nothing he was reading was a lie, which it might be, the thirteenth district had been completely overrun by villainy and sin so it was abandoned. But something about that didn’t sit right.

But just having a hunch wasn’t going to tell him anything more. Which meant doing things the old fashioned way via assimilation and subterfuge. Hurray, Dream’s least favorite activities.

Two arms stretched above his head, the other two rubbing at sore tired eyes, Dream stood. Words can not describe how little he wanted to clean this place. The burning, antsy itch of his Gift wouldn’t let him sleep yet. It barely did before 2 am.

It’s fine, he doesn’t need the sleep

Hours passed by as he started to sort through the box filled office, the only place he could think to start. A box of books, silverware, clothes, so on and so forth. 

It was tedious and boring and… a thump on the rooftop. Vigilante? There’s no way up. Not even a fire escape, not unless he… Dream shucked open the window, it struggled against years old crust.

His fingers twinged as the window finally opened. He pulled himself out, braced his feet against the sill and jumped. Dream didn’t expect to stick to the bricks as well as he did, just barely finding purchase on the top. It didn’t hurt though. Which was new.

Dream paused, taking in the strange sensation. It was something like hanging onto a pole over his head, latched on entirely by his grip. Except this was a sheer surface and Dream hadn’t intended to grab on like this. Another side effect of being part spider?

Gift spurring him into action, he vowed to experiment with it later. Fully pulling up with not nearly as much effort as he expected, Dream stood on the edge. Just at the same time, a figure covered in far too much red launched himself off the building and up onto the one next door.

There wasn’t quite an ease to it but the movement seemed practiced, like the figure learned from experience rather than a trainer. Dream shook his head and firmly ground himself.

With the sudden grip on his Gift, he stumbled on the edge, elbows scraping against the flat roof  only inches from falling. His Gift roiled in complaint. Dream shook his head again, no he wasn’t talking to it, shut up.

Secondary Mission: Catch Vigilantes 

It rang in his head, badgering him with steady spikes that caused his muscles to twitch. For the first time… ever actually, Dream ignored it. He rolled onto his back and looked at the uncannily clear night sky.

Little light covered it up, maybe no one could afford lights after dark or maybe it was something else. It didn’t matter. He just laid there anyway and stared at the unfamiliar stars. Bright and shining in a way he’d never seen before.

He ignored the vigilante, he ignored the incessant push of his gift, and for once Dream did nothing at all. Just him and the shady.

Dream didn’t know the night could be this nice.

Faint gunshots rang in the distance, but Dream had already faded off.

An uninterrupted sleep was a luxury he didn’t get often.

Chapter Text

Going up to the roof at night ended up turning into a routine over the course of the next week. After a tedious day filled with sorting old boxes filled with items he didn’t know if he needed or not all while listening to the annoyed hum of his Gift that wasn’t used to doing nothing for so long it was a welcome thing. Just him, the wind, and the sky.

It was Sunday, or Monday but he wasn’t keeping the best track, when he’d finally gotten the office cleared. Maybe not entirely but the stuff that could be used was put away, what wasn’t was in various trash bags, and the leftover boxes were all collapsed and set semi neatly to the side.

Yet, of everything there was, there were only two pieces of furniture in the room. A nice hardwood desk that Dream setup Anna, the spider’s, terrarium on and a bookshelf filled with titles that weren’t ringing any bells. Most of them seemed to be cookbooks though.

Gently lowering Anna into the terrarium, Dream dusted his hands and took a deep breath in what was likely the cleanest room of the house. The rest had received dusting as he’d used them but… there was a disgusting amount of takeout in the trash can since he’d yet to go shopping. It all felt so unhealthy.

Anna was a decision he hadn’t been sure about at first, mostly because she was Clay’s. The difference was she was also distinctly alive and Dream… Dream just couldn’t leave her there. Besides, he’s never had a pet before! And spiders were cool.

Research showed she was likely a ‘Goliath BirdEater Spider’. Did he know what those were? No, but he had looked up what he needed to take care of her and when he was using his Gift to set up the terrarium it had apparently used Clay’s leftover muscle memory and knew exactly what to do. Quite the load off, actually.

Besides, if nothing else she was also a great deterrent from thieves. Dream doubted anyone wanted to be faced with a spider that was a foot long? Not Dream. That was a pretty big measurement by his standards.

Gently giving her one last rub, because Dream was mostly sure all pets liked being pet, he let her explore her new home. It was about time for his nightly routine anyway. 

Pulling open the window behind the desk, a task that didn’t seem to get easier no matter how many times he did it, and scaling the side of the building. That, it seemed, did get easier. His hands ached everyday from the strain but it did get easier. Dream just had to push through it.

From there he’d just lay on his back and watch the sky. Sometimes, songs and hymns would rise to his lips. Nameless things he’d long since forgotten. Other times he would bask in the vague silence.

Cars were few and far between. Sounds of scuffles were much more common, filling the air and reaching his ears in a way they probably shouldn’t. It made his ears ache. But it was still infinitely nicer than his old space.

Vague quiet was better than unending noise in his professional opinion.

Drifting off slowly, always slowly and always with the constant nagging of his Gift bothering him with how exposed he was, Dream closed his eyes. His too many eyes he tried not to think about. Cold wind rustled his clothes and his hair.

Feet landed quietly on the roof behind him, that was new. Well, in a way it wasn’t. Dream often heard a figure jumping between the squished together buildings around him, but he never bothered to investigate. The figure never came closer either.

Familiar red filled his vision as Dream cracked open his eyes. He vaguely recognized it as the figure on his first night, mostly because he knew of no one else who’d reasonably wear that much red… or knew anybody else at all. The person seemed to be studying him.

“Can I help you?” Dream asked after several seconds of awkward staring. The person jerked back, falling with a thud behind his head. Dream sat up, turning to look at the vigilante who was rubbing at his back.

The vigilante looked small, but again everyone looked small from Dream’s perspective. Dressed in a dark red hoodie with a red bandana over a black face mask. Cheap goggles obscured their eyes but, even with the hood up, wisps of golden blonde hair were visible. Cheap blue jeans were loose and covered in patches.

“What are you doing here?” A distorted voice demanded, ignoring Dream’s question and interrupting his inspection. They stood up, obviously attempting to loom over Dream. Quite a pity Dream was used to much scarier people trying to intimidate him, they were trying so hard.

“Napping?” Dream offered, leaning back on his lower two arms. Loose rocks dug into his forearms. Chilling wind picked up, whistling in his ears, and briefly Dream regretted not wearing a sweater. It wouldn’t kill him though so it was whatever.

“But why here ?” The vigilante sputtered, “This is my route you know, so you’re gonna have to move.” The vigilante crossed his arms over his chest. Dream could practically feel the pout on his face, like he was some sort of petulant child.

“This is my house,” Dream informed the vigilante. He patted the roof, offering an awkward smile. It didn’t feel quite right on his face like Clay wasn’t used to smiling. That was fine.

Dream wasn’t used to smiling either

“Since when?” This was quickly feeling like a one sided interrogation, but Dream almost didn’t mind. Most conversations were like that to his knowledge. Besides, despite the voice changer, Dream could see the confusion in the vigilante’s frame.

“About last week when I inherited the place,” Dream pushed himself to stand, watching the vigilante crane his neck and step back. His posture immediately changed to something distinctly more fight or flight, tensing his shoulders. It was like the vigilante didn’t realize just how large Dream was.

“I think we got off on the wrong foot,” Dream raised his four hands in faux surrender, “I’m… Clay. Are you the hero around these parts?” He covered up the discomfort of Clay’s name leaving his mouth with a stupid question. 

Dream knew the vigilante wasn’t an official hero. The vigilante obviously knew that too. Yet, he straightened up and puffed out his chest as if trying to look more important than he really was. 

“Yep! They call me Icarus around these parts, so stay out of my way, fair citizen!” Icarus made an attempt at deepening his voice as he lied. There were so many ways Dream could call out his bullshit.

The shift of his feet, the way he was clearly not looking at Dream head on and rather out into the distance, the wobble of his voice that the distortion translated as static. Even the shift of fabric on his back hiding some appendage Dream couldn’t assume what was. So many ways.

“Alright, you could just try going around me though,” with flawless practice, Dream hid the amused tilt of his tone. Nodding his head in goodbye as he stepped backwards off the building.

Hands catching him and pulling roughly at his shoulders, Dream’s Gift easily sailed him through the still open window. Icarus let out a squeak as he did so. Footsteps pounding on the roof as he went to the edge only to see nothing.

Resigning himself to actually cleaning the bedroom and sleeping there for once, Dream started to attempt to close the stubborn window. Attempt because unless he cracked his bones with his Gift it wasn’t budging. He’d rather not break Clay’s body either.

“Daedalus, what the fuck what that?” He caught the high pitched whisper as he left the room. Dream felt a smile grace his lips against his will, not that he had much of a reason to hide it while alone in his apartment. He felt he did pretty good at the socializing thing.

Even if it sounded like Icarus wasn’t sure how to feel about him at all, the feeling was mutual. Which left Daedalus… a tech person maybe? Dream wasn’t stupid, he vaguely recognized the names from Greek myths and knew what they meant. Daedalus was an inventor of sorts if he was remembering right.

Doesn’t matter, not really. Icarus didn’t seem to be looking to hurt him, just frustrated that Dream was interrupting his routine. Besides, Dream had a more important task to focus on.

Grabbing one of the many mostly empty journals he found, in fact there had been an entire box of the things, Dream began the task he’d been dreading. He wasn’t getting much sleep after all, may as well make a grocery list.

Leaning against the wall, legs twitching with barely restrained energy, he powered on Clay’s computer. Dream knew nothing about making groceries or cleaning supplies or even clothes shopping. It had all been taken care of for him.

Useless, that’s what he was

It took all night for him to make the long, long list of items that were required. All of it was neatly organized based on what it was for, pricing, and with the approximate total written at the bottom. His Gift twirling and guiding his hand in perfect, neat letters that looked like they were printed. It was calming but tedious.

Was five pages of items necessary? Fuck if he knows. Fruits, vegetables, protein, cleaning supplies, kitchen ware, various items the search engine said an apartment ‘needed’, and the largest list for what the cafe required. Somehow, it didn’t make a dent in Clay’s large inheritance. Not according to the bank app on his phone.

By Dream’s math, he could pay for utilities alone for the next 70 years without having to work a day. Something about that felt weird to Dream. It was an uncomfortable piece of knowledge, like he didn’t deserve the money. And he didn’t, it wasn’t even his.

Dream doubted he could get a job to earn it either, not when he was so unaware of this world. He was barely even versed in social norms of his world unless it was mimicking people to hide in plain sight, and even then he hadn’t had to do that since he was 18. In this place… he didn’t even know where to begin.

Not even mentioning interviews, which Dream had never had to do in this life. Damnit, he was nearly 30 by his estimates and he couldn’t even call himself a functioning human being, let alone an adult. It was frustrating.

Dream didn’t cry, that would be stupid. This wasn’t worth crying over

Clay didn’t seem to have anything to help either, not that his Gift would let him just adopt a personality like that. It worked off of muscle memory and regular memories. Dream didn’t have any of Clay’s memories. As for skills… well, actually…

Pinging his Gift for information wasn’t something Dream did often as it was largely automatic. Had to be with how often he was trained to make turning it on and focusing it instinctual. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t. It was only used on mission reports when Dream was far too tired and in pain to recall anything himself.

This was close enough. Dream flicked to an empty page, readying his pencil and closing his eyes to focus on Clay’s muscle memory rather than his own experiences. It was such a miniscule difference that it took a minute to fully register.

From the resulting list, Dream easily figured that Clay’s life had been massively different from his own. That… shouldn’t have been a surprise. It was all baking and cooking and sewing and other domestic things like that. None of which Dream even slightly knew how to do.

“Well, that’ll make things easier,” Dream hummed, closing the notebook in the early hours of the morning. Stretching carefully, Dream closed Clay’s laptop and moved it from where it had been precariously perched next to Anna’s terrarium. 

“I’ll be back in a few hours,” Dream gave her what was left of the, admittedly pretty empty, container of mealworms. Talking to a spider was not something sane people did. But Dream used to talk to appliances in his space when the ambient noise got too much and the hero tower was too lonely. At least Anna was alive.

Shoving Clay’s phone, wallet, and the journal into the old leather backpack, Dream shucked on his shoes and a spare change of clothes. Most of his clothes had apparently belonged to Clay’s mother if the labels on the boxes gave anything away. Wearing them was just another weird thing on top of the lot but it was the only thing that fit.

Clay’s clothes were about to be touched if Dream had the choice, even if that meant wearing someone else’s clothes. At least they were nice clothes and sure to fit in. The same old worn look he saw on the few people that passed by his apartment.

A faded blue blouse with pretty ruffles on the neck that reached down to where his lower set of arms’ 'shoulders’ were and a wide neck that didn’t quite fit right. Clays’ mother was clearly a massive woman. Then a black skirt that was the only one that both fit him and was clean. All wrapped up with Clay’s stained white converse. A simple look, if a bit… feminine?

He didn’t really know the difference between men’s and women’s clothing if he was honest

Rough locations of shops in mind, Dream started the long day of shopping and chores. Two days? Does it count as a new day if you don’t sleep the previous night? It probably didn’t matter. Not one could see the bags under his eyes beneath the curtain of hair anyway.

Said curtain was also really easy to get used to, mostly because Dream didn’t really need to see like most people. It was longer than he was used to but the shaved sides and back more than made up for it. If Dream had to guess, it was to cover Clay’s eyes. They probably freaked people out.

Dream didn’t get it, not really, but to each their own, it was refreshing having a different hairstyle for once and might be the only part of Clay’s life he didn’t feel like changing. It was probably the part of him used to wearing a full face mask.

Do you even remember what your old face looked like?

Midway into the shopping trip was when Dream came to the conclusion on what he was going to do to earn Clay’s inheritance. Clay had the skills, Dream had the will, and if the cafe hadn’t been sold in all this time then it obviously held some sort of value. He was going to reopen it.

Which mostly meant more research into how to run a cafe. He vaguely knew that they usually had menus and employees but… something told him that the way his handlers dealt with him wasn’t how managers were supposed to deal with employees. It felt far too rough for civilians.

Finally leaving the store with three bags, two in one hand and three in the other, Dream had managed to get most of the stuff for the apartment and quite a bit for the cafe. Mostly in the terms of cleaning and utensils. He’d make a drop off and then head back out, wouldn’t want to drop and spill something. He heard bleach stains horribly.

It was on his way to the proper grocery store a few blocks from the cafe that he felt a knife in his back. After that Dream remains firm that he is not in trouble for his immediate reaction to that. The wannabe threat had no way of knowing but it was instinct okay?

Dream reached back and grabbed the arm, twisting and lifting it with a strength Clay could barely meet. The knife clattered to the ground as the threat was simply tossed over Dream’s shoulder and slammed into the ground. All in the space of maybe a few seconds.

Really, it was just instinct. The threat lay gasping desperately for air on the ground, likely having all the air in her lungs forcibly removed, Dream kicked the knife away into a storm drain. Who tries to stab someone at 12 pm on a Wednesday?

“Sorry,” Dream muttered as he stepped by her. He doubted she’d want his help with the way she was cursing at him under her breath. Briefly, he wondered if muggings were really so common here.

He ignored the fact that Icarus was the only hero he’d seen all week, and he wasn’t even a real hero

Thankfully, the rest of the shopping trip went uneventfully. Except for the looks he got while carting six bags back to his apartment with ease. He didn’t know what was up with those people though.

Possibly the only bad thing about the day, two days? Was the face that he’d just made even more work for himself. Clothes to organize, food to put away, and the fact that he was going to thoroughly sanitize the fridge before he put anything in there.

But it was only several hours of back breaking labor, and the ice chest he bought to put it all in while he worked would function just fine until he was ready. It was nothing he wasn’t used to. Just a different task to be putting so much effort into.

Crawling to reach under counters and desks rather than crawling through vents. Moving the couch and table and fridge instead of walls and people. Scrubbing roughly at rust and dirt and dust rather than soot and blood and ash.

It wasn’t what he was used to.

But something about it was so much better

Chapter Text

Four days of cleaning passed before both floors were finally to Dream’s satisfaction. Gleaming floors and appliances, neatly put away food and clothes and everything else that his Gift insisted had to be right in this exact spot or he was going to die

The top floor had transformed into a quaint, if sparsely decorated apartment. Just a fresh coat of paint, a rug here and there, and new bedding was really needed. Only 26 hours of work roughly.

It was the cafe itself that had all the rest of his time put into it. Was staying up for five days straight worth making the place sparkle like it did? Absolutely. Five days wasn’t that long anyway. His record was two weeks during the Syndicate operation from hell.

Long rugs led in a makeshift line to the cash register Dream still didn’t know how to use. The walls were painted a nice neutral shade with a deep green wall to add a pop of color. Chairs finally lifted from tables and shifted into positions that made sense.

Ambience was important to good customer service according to what Dream had read, and he also had all the time in the world to upkeep this place with his nonexistent social life. So Dream went with a plant theme. 

The technical name according to the internet was ‘plant mom’ and the definition technically fit but the name made no sense to Dream. He just liked plants and had the time for them.

Most of them were succulents for now since neither Dream nor Clay had any experience caring for them but Dream was confident he could get more in time. Once he learned how gardening worked beyond ‘water this at this interval’ and ‘this one needs X amount of sun’. Might take a while, who knows.

Honestly, the hardest part of it all was the whole ‘employees and menu’ bit. Decorating, Dream could do. While fashion and color blending might not make logical sense, he still knew how it worked and how to mimic pictures from this site called ‘Pinterest’. Making a menu, on the other hand? That was a lot more… difficult.

Coffee and water and tea were obvious, Dream knew enough that all cafes tended to have one of those. So he went with all of them since not sleeping meant he had plenty of time to make things. Pastries and baked goods were all so subjective though.

Perhaps the obvious choice would be to go with what Dream liked. Issue was, he wasn’t allowed to eat sugar because it would make him ‘unattractive’ according to the Hero Commission. Other than disliking blueberries, he had no idea what he liked. Nor did he have the appetite to try half a million recipes.

Was it a cop out to just look up a list of the city’s most popular treats and copy that down? Maybe, but it worked. That’s all Dream was going for. Chocolate chip, white chocolate, peanut butter, and vanilla cookies took up half the menu. 

Sugar and gingerbread two more, each with designs he found off of, you guessed it, Pinterest. He stayed away from anything to hero like for those, it felt too obvious. And a little strange to look at. Cookies themed after heroes? Just why?

Then it was just chocolate and plain muffins for something less sugary and a fruit salad for health reasons. Dream felt that was a good enough menu. Not to mention prices were pretty simple to mark out after making the item once or twice.

So, of course, came the issue of human interaction and employee management. Did Dream need an employee? No. Would one be useful anyway? Yes.

He ignored the fact he might just be lonely

Plain white poster board was scribbled on with bright red sharpie in blocky letters proclaiming ‘Hiring Cashier: Call xxx-xxxx!’ And hung in the window. It didn’t feel like enough but it was something. After that he made the cafe a social media account. It helped with the feeling of not doing enough.

He’d already gotten rid of Clay’s social media and if Dream knew anything, it was how a PR account worked. Sure, the pictures were never really taken by him but he knew the theory! It can’t be that hard to get a good angle when you can freely pull limbs out of sockets and climb walls.

Okay maybe not that first one but Dream was used to doing that on accident anyway, and that kind of damage wasn’t permanent. Even if it was going to leave Clay’s body with a bit of a limp until Clay’s pain receptors caught on to how little Dream’s brain cared. Wimp.

Maybe it was a little bit harder than it looked too. Especially with bad lighting and inexperienced hands that didn’t quite know how filters worked. But it didn’t take Dream two hours to meet his standards. Definitely not.

He was very adept at lying to himself

Unfortunately, the cafe wasn’t quite open yet so, until he managed to find someone who knew how to work a register, it was going to have to stay in his drafts. Fully edited and just waiting to be posted after the interview.

How do interviews work again?

Unexpectedly, Dream got a call barely even two days later. He didn’t know what the usual turnaround time for things like this were but then again that wasn’t the surprising part.

Getting a call at four in the morning while he was using his new sewing kit to modify the clothes he bought to properly fit his extra set of arms was. Dream may be completely unaware of social norms but it didn’t take a genius to realize that most people weren’t awake at four am. Or even six am.

“Well I don’t fucking care, I’m calling him anyway-” a masculine voice rang through the receiver ask Dream used a free hand to pick up the call. Another was propping him up from the floor and the last two continuing their job modifying the shirt in hand. Quickly, the extra arms were becoming more useful than weird. Still weird though.

“Morning,” Dream interrupted, not keen to listen to the other complain, “Are you calling about the Cashier position?” Did that sound professional enough? Probably. Dream could do professional well enough.

There was a crashing sound from the other side of the phone, sharp whispers and the vague sound of another voice laughing at the caller. Probably a ‘red flag’ as the saying was. Or not. Dream didn’t really know what those were.

“Erm, yes sir,” The caller sounded sheepish. Dream shuffled forward, grabbing a pen and his journal. He wedged the phone between his ear and shoulder, fully multitasking.

“My name’s Clay, could I have your name, age, and availability?” Dream hummed, tying off a string and adding the shirt to the pile on his right. Sadly, that shirt was only three of six. At least he got two of each so it wasn’t like he had to properly match and measure fabrics. A great bit of foresight really.

“Tohmas Williams, I go by Tommy though. I’m 18 and free to come in whenever sir,” The caller answered. Dream’s Gift pinged, the age was a lie. Considering the state of the district, not a surprise and definitely not his business.

“Preferred pronouns?” Dream scribbled down the answers one after the other. With so much availability, the caller must not have much of a life. 

“He/him,” Tommy sounded surprised, Dream wondered why briefly before deciding he didn’t care, “Could I ask a question sir?” His voice turned apprehensive.

Oh, oh that was weird. Asking permission to speak? It wasn’t like Dream was his master, unless managers and handlers had more in common than he thought…

What an unsettling thought

“You don’t need my permission but go ahead,” Dream shifted his position, drawing the shirt closer to reach better. The patch work wasn’t amazing but it was durable and didn’t look like it would itch too bad. He could ignore a little itchiness.

“Right sir. What sort of pay is this position offering?” The question was still tentative despite the permission. Was this a loaded question or something? Usual wages for jobs like this were freely available on the internet, even if they seemed a bit low. Seven dollars an hour wasn’t even the living wage, Dream looked.

“Fifteen an hour,” Dream answered, tying off a knot and flipping to work on the other side. His wage was high, he knew. Especially with overtime but he could afford it for a long while even with zero sales. Living wage was twelve an hour anyway. Not like he was being overly generous.

Tommy choked, someone in the background dropped something with a loud bang and started speaking in hushed whispers. Was he on speaker phone? Tommy shushed the other voice like he didn’t want Dream to hear. Dream understood every word, he just didn’t bother processing it. It wasn’t his problem anyway.

“Do you have any prior experience working as a cashier?” Dream asked, a question that was pretty important since Dream had, like, none. He couldn’t train someone on something he didn’t know how to do.

“Yeah,” Tommy stammered and cleared his throat, “Worked as one for two years.” Oh, good! That meant they probably knew what to do. Hmm, two years though… not his problem. If they had to work underage then they had to work underage. This job must be important to him.

“Great, are you available to start on,” Dream squinted at his calendar, it was a Friday technically, “7am on Monday?” That would give him time to do everything he needed to do. Mostly baking and writing down the menu proper downstairs.

“Fuck really? I mean, yes sir I can do that,” Tommy seemed to be having issues staying calm, a shakiness to his voice that could be from excitement or anxiety. Didn’t quite matter which.

“Alright then, I’ll see you then. Call me when you arrive and I’ll unlock the door,” Dream bit his lip, he’d have to get started on embroidering those aprons too. He wanted to try out the skill and it would make a great employee uniform.

“Yes sir! See you then sir!” Dream caught the beginnings of an incredulous pitch in the background before the call clicked off. He huffed, releasing a stiffness he didn’t realize was there. Talking to people was not easy.

The shirt he was working on, some plain black thing, was shuffled over to the side. Clay’s legs cracked worryingly as he stood, stretching. Time to get started on those aprons then.

Dream let out a stiff yawn completely against his will. Maybe a quick nap after that. Wouldn’t be a very good first impression if he collapsed when meeting his new employee.

What design was it that he had planned again?

It was nice to do something without being ordered to first

Three hours of sleep after about a week of none was fine, right? Surely. Dream knew he had done more with less before. Even if eight hours was supposedly recommended… his handlers didn’t seem to think so so he was probably fine. Still, he’d gotten the aprons done.

His was a wrap around the waist one he’d found shoved in the back of the rack at the store, thick and black in color. It had nearly broken his needle while trying to pull it through but he’d managed. Gold and green thread marking a web pattern on the bottom right. The name of the business intertwined in it for good measure.

On the other hand, the one he had for Tommy was the ‘usual’ kind that tied around the neck. It was a similar color but with flimsier fabric, cheaper too. Dream probably would’ve gotten one of those too if it weren’t for the fact none of them fit. A regular problem he faced when clothes shopping.

Annoying but doable, and maybe that’s where Clay had picked up sewing. Couldn’t find anything to fit so he just made it himself. Or maybe that’s just how his mother taught him? Useless questions, Dream knows, but ones he asks nonetheless.

Marching his way downstairs, Dream made his way into the now fully stocked store kitchen. The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. Sure, having it around was more expensive but also safer than carrying piping hot baking sheets down the stairs, or even cold ones. Not like he couldn’t afford it either.

Speaking of baking, Dream cracked his fingers, time to experiment. Clay’s muscle memory would only get him so far. That was only proven further when the first batch of sugar cookies came out singed at the edges. The second batch was undercooked . Both ended up being fodder for figuring out how to use frosting properly.

By the third batch, the folding and rolling and cutting of cookies were a little easier. Especially since he didn’t buy cookie cutters and had to do so by hand. Fighting using knives seemed to have some positive effect at least.

Five batches later, Dream finally had a perfect set of cookies. The first was finished cooling and shoved into plastic bags to be… handed out to whoever wanted them probably. He didn’t want to eat them.

Frosting the second batch was only a little better than the first, same with the third. But again by his fifth he had mostly neat lines. Neat lines but frosting sticking to his exposed skin.

Flour was everywhere, the frosting was sticky, and the place was warmed from constant use of the ovens. It was messy, but it smelled great. The undercooked batch ended up being sacrificed to Dream’s hungry stomach. If he got sick from raw egg… well then that’s his problem. He doubted he would anyway.

A smile was stuck to his face by the time the fifth, best batch was put on racks to cool for the next day. By any luck, he’d be able to open that day. Now he just had to make decent batches of everything else…

It wasn’t nearly as tedious as he thought it would be. Dream actually managed to have quite a lot of… fun. It was new. 

He wasn’t used to enjoying himself

Six, maybe seven hours later and everything was finally done and cooling. The racks line up neatly and the designs decent. He’ll get better at those eventually. For now, he was satisfied.

Taking a break to shower all of the sticky icing and flour off of himself, Dream actually made a meal for once. Just a salad but he hadn’t eaten in… a few days probably. Which was unhealthy and his trainer would kill him if they knew.

But not even that thought stopped the lightness of his feet as he made his way downstairs and removed the blackboard from above the counter. He had to stand on a chair to reach it but he managed. Though it was a question as to how he remembered erasable markers for the menu but not cookie cutters for the cookies.

Dream chose not to pursue that line of thinking for the sake of his own sanity. His Gift was already annoyed since it did try to remind him, he’d just forgotten somehow. Maybe it was from repressing it in public? A distinct possibility.

Marker squeaking over the board, Dream hummed. Despite that small falter and the issues with the baking, Dream was actually feeling pretty good about this whole ordeal. Maybe he’d actually be able to pull it off.

Dream was roused from his rooftop nap by his phone going off bright and early, white letters reading out 6:30 am. So the alarm had worked properly, good to know he knew how something worked.

Blearily, as he was getting dressed for the day and feeding Anna, he realized that it was Monday. Opening day, at that. Hmmm, was this how anxiety felt? That sharp tingling of nerves spreading through your whole body? Strange since he didn’t feel nervous.

Anna latched stubbornly onto his hand as he pulled it out of her terrarium. Crawling her way up his arm and settling over his back as he just watched her numbly. Did Clay do this with her?

“Yeah, sure. You can stay there,” Dream sighed, it didn’t matter really. She’d be out of the way and mostly covered up as he managed to put on a loose sweater. The sleeves rolled up to his elbows and left her head and two front limbs exposed. The weight was kind of nice actually.

Hissing rose up in response and Dream paused, huh he didn’t know she could do that. With the way she just hung on, he’ll assume it wasn’t a threat. He grabbed his phone and made his way downstairs. Time to stock.

Easily balancing two trays, Dream made his way back into the main room. That’s when his phone rang, his new employee was here. Oh boy, social interaction. That thing that he definitely, absolutely, knew how to do.

Placing the trays on the counters, Dream opened the door to a boy who only looked to be five foot eight at most. Scrawny with those gaunt cheeks that everyone seemed to have, far too thin for his age. He was in only a vaguely newish button up and black jeans.

“Good morning Tommy, I’m just stocking at the moment so if you could come behind the counter with me that would be great,” Dream tried for a calm smile but it came out too tilted to be genuine. Tommy’s hair was blonde and all over the place except for a small braid on the side of his head. Good thing he wasn’t cooking, that was a hazard.

“Morning Clay sir,” Tommy responded stiffly, not so subtly glancing around the cafe. Dream let him inspect it, turning back behind the counter. Reaching under, he grabbed the apron.

“Here you are, put this on and help me with the treats, would you?” Dream ruffled his hair, because he was pretty sure that’s how you interact with children. Tommy spluttered, batting away his hand.

“Yessir,” he grumbled. Dream didn’t see any further and he started setting the cookies into the display case. Soon after, Tommy was at his side and they worked in mostly silence. Mostly because Tommy seemed to have a habit of talking to himself as he worked. Or talking to the cookies more accurately, as if the frosted treats were alive. Not Dream’s business.

So that’s just how it was for the next hour. Dream would get whatever baked goods were in the kitchen and Tommy would line them as neatly as he could on plastic trays. Which wasn’t insanely neatly. It’s not like Tommy had a magical computer program guiding his actions like Dream. The thought alone was absurd for this world.

Every so often, Dream would turn and see Tommy bite his tongue or mutter something under his breath like he was talking to someone. His hand kept brushing over where his name was embroidered on the top left of his apron. What? Dream had to put it on somewhere and he wasn’t about to buy stickers when this was cheaper.

“I don’t imagine we’ll get many customers on the first day, good to have you here though,” Dream flicked the sign to open, the hiring sign having already been removed the day before.

“Good to be here sir,” Tommy did not sound happy to be here. Dream frowned slightly. He looked tired, now that Dream wasn’t focused on other things. Bags under his eyes and shoulders slumping.

He hummed, nodding. Dream walked back to the kitchen, brushing off his apron absentmindedly. He grabbed another tray and the singed, messy first batch. Balancing it in one hand, he posted the opening post on the cafe’s social media, scheduling other posts he’d made for other later in the day and the next.

“Here you are, I can’t sell these so take what you want.” Dream put the clear black tray next to the register and next to Tommy. Sugar was supposed to wake people up, temporarily at least Dream was certain. The kid’s eyes drifted to them, then snapped to his face.

“What- really?” Tommy’s voice peaked, blue eyes widening. He looked back between them. Dream didn’t see what was so shocking, he wasn’t about to sell burned stock. It was just cookies anyway.

“Yep, I heard you had a roommate so you can take some for them too,” Dream shrugged, “and stop it with the ‘sir’ thing.” It felt weird to be called sir. He didn’t entirely know why. Maybe it’s because, physically, Dream wasn’t much older than Tommy.

“I- uh, okay. I don’t… have anything to take them in though,” Tommy muttered, slowly inching his hands towards the cookies like Dream would say ‘just kidding’ and punish him. Seriously, weird behavior.

“I have some spare tupperware. You can take that if you bring it back tomorrow,” Dream offered as a fair solution. It just deepened the uncertain look in Tommy’s eyes. He did eat the cookies though, that was good.

Only a few customers came in that day. Passerbys or tentative people who’d seen the post and were unsure about the prices. Mostly because Dream was barely making a profit while still paying Tommy. Dream didn’t care much about actual profit, it meant little to him.

The day, while slow, was worth it, even if the coffee machine burnt his fingers.

Tommy seemed to think so too.

Slamming shut the door behind him, half out of pure emotion and half because the door didn’t shut properly unless you did, Tommy dumped the clear tupperware on the table and flopped dramatically onto the couch.

The old couch smelt horribly of cigarettes not matter what they did and the cushions were sinking in awkwardly. Tommy was used to it, the thing was older than the apartment so he had to be. He shuffled his head so it wasn’t pressed directly into the fabric.

“Good first day?” Tubbo asked, not looking up from where he was hunched over his laptop, an old battered thing he got used for only $200. Tommy didn’t know what he did on it but he wasn’t allowed to touch it without Tubbo there. Probably some super spy shit.

“My boss is fucking weird,” He complained, stretching and releasing his wings from their binds for the first time in days. The movement pulled at old scar tissue but the relief was so worth it.

“What?” Tubbo scrunched his nose, finally looking up from whatever he was working on. His eyes landed on the tupperware, eyebrows raising behind heavy bangs.

“Yeah! The fucker was super casual, like zero professionalism. He even gave me food Tubs. Food ,” Tommy stressed. No one just gave out food like that. Not when half the population could barely afford to feed themselves.

So what if it was burnt and looked like a two year old frosted them? It was still food! And like three dollars per cookie if the menu was right. 

“Shouldn’t you have expected he was weird though? Remember how he acted when you were on patrol,” Tubbo, the traitor, pointed out like the stupidly reasonable person he was. Not that he seemed to be taking the information any better than Tommy was.

“Well, yeah but,” Tommy sputtered, “Whatever! He’s a bastard anyway.” Tommy scowled, turning away from Tubbo who had the gall to laugh at him. He frowned at the wall, wings flicking.

Clay was a bitch, weird but a bitch. First he had the gall to tell Icarus to just go around him. Then he ended the conversation by jumping off a fucking building. Now he was just giving out food like it was nothing!

What was he? An alien? Not to mention he’d clung to the wall like it was nothing when reaching to fix a mistake on the menu. So what if Tubs said he was a spider hybrid and could probably do that anyway? Tommy knew spider hybrids and they could barely hold on for thirty seconds! Let alone three whole minutes.

Actually, now that Tommy was on that line of thought, what the fuck was up with the spider on his back? It was massive, nearly gave him a damn heart attack when he saw it. Yet Clay didn’t seem bothered. That wasn’t natural.

Then there was the whole fifteen an hour thing that was completely stupid for a cashier’s position. Not that Tommy was going to complain but fifteen dollars ? He could quit his second job and still afford rent on that budget! Clay had to be, like, a millionaire or something. Maybe a sleuth from the upper districts looking to make fun of undergrounders for being poor.

No, but he was so weirdly nice? It didn’t make any sense!

“Actually, could I have one of those? We’re out of food again,” Tubbo asked.

Tommy threw the tupperware at him.

Chapter Text

A month into working at the cafe and Tommy was quickly becoming aware both in and out of work that his boss was strange for reasons other that his stupid levels of generosity. And no it’s not because he’s massive and has a giant fuck off spider that he gets freaked out by Tubbo! 

One good example that springs to mind was the first time someone attempted to rob the cafe. Tommy had been expecting it ever since he got the job and the fact it took two weeks was a sign of bad luck. Longer than average meant worse than average, after all.

So when three people dressed in all black walked into the absurdly homey cafe while Clay was in the back, he just got on his mediocre customer service face and waited. Waited and watched because being a vigilante meant he watched a lot.

In the middle was the tallest one who Tommy could see had some muscle on him, the brute of the three. One the left was a short fuck who was had to have come up with the idea and on the right was some guy with dog ears.

Basically, Tommy immediately labeled them as idiots 1, 2, and 3 before they even spoke. Mostly because anyone who robbed a store in broad daylight was stupid as all hell.

“Give me all the cash in the register,” Idiot 1 demanded. Tommy shared a long look with the only other customer in the store. Some lady with black hair who got a coffee everyday and seemed to have nothing better to do with her life. Naturally, she went back to her phone.

“Unfortunately, that’s not on the menu,” Tommy snipped back, smiling with his teeth at the taller man and discreetly palming the switchblade in his pocket. Tubbo always insisted he take it everywhere he goes like Tommy isn’t a badass vigilante.

A badass vigilante whose legs feel like lead after breaking up five separate fights the night before but a badass nonetheless. He could take down some beginner level goons who were bad enough to not bring weapons to rob a place. Probably some low level strength enhancement. He could take that.

“I said, give me what’s in the register,” Idiot 1 growled. Tommy sighed, obnoxiously rolling his eyes because it was far too early in the morning for this shit. Especially since Clay apparently decided that 7 was a better time to open for early bird customers. Tommy got paid more so he didn’t care,

Idiot 3 was the one who took offense to that, apparently, grabbing onto Tommy’s collar and yanking him forward with a force that made his head spin. He choked as they switched grip and held him by his throat.

“Open the damn cash box or I let my friend choke you out,” Idiot 1 threatened. Tommy tugged at Idiot 3’s grip experimentally but it didn’t budge. Like an iron shackle around his throat slowly draining him of life, that wasn’t good. He’d actually have to use his knife or…

Idiot 2 had his knife, how the fuck did he manage that one? Could the guy turn invisible or something? Damnit! He never thought he’d regret not wearing Tub’s earpiece during the day and he wasn’t about to start now but at least then he might know this shit. Fuck, couldn’t use his enhancement without blowing his cover either.

Tommy blinked and suddenly his feet were on the floor and he was bent over trying to get air back into his lungs. He looked up and Idiot 3 had been laid into the fucking ground. Idiot 2 was having his hand crushed in his boss’s grip, the knife now in Clay’s other hand, and Idiot 1 was trembling.

“I don’t appreciate people trying to assault my staff,” Clay sounded very disappointed. He slowly twisted the blade in his hand in a practiced motion. Flicking it between his fingers without cutting into himself once.

“Look man, we just-” Idiot 1 began, straightening up. Except he was also a good foot shorter than Tommy’s boss at least . Clay just tilted his head, hand pausing. It felt like a threat.

“Get out,” Clay’s voice was calm as he let go of Idiot 2’s hand, causing them to fall back onto the floor. Idiot 3 still seemed to be out of commission on the floor. 

Tommy looked at phone lady, mostly wondering what the fuck just happened as the three idiots left without a dime. She just shook her head and lifted her phone. Recorded.

He was so going to have Tubbo pull that later.

Clay turned around, closing the switchblade with a smooth flick of his wrist. He offered the closed weapon to Tommy with a mention to be more careful with his property. Then he just left like nothing happened?

Not even the recording that Tubbo found on the community Facebook feed for the area explained what happened besides his boss being really fucking strong. Strong enough to lay a strength enhancer out on his ass… without any visible muscles to indicate he even worked out… it was baffling

Three days later, while restocking for the first time since his first day, Tommy ended up walking home with two boxes of leftovers that Clay didn’t need. Nothing he’d said could convince Clay to take it back.

Prime his boss was so fucking weird.

Dream felt like the first month of having the cafe open had gone pretty well. Sure, there were a few hiccups here and there and he had made more stock than he had room to store but things had resolved pretty quickly.

Other than that one time a customer dropped their cup when Anna had crawled out and grabbed a free cookie, that is. But he just had to refund their order and give Anna a lecture to ask first. Got him a weird look but the customer came back everyday to get a coffee and sit in the corner.

Anna had even been a good girl and not done it again, so that proved that Dream was doing something right. And if he gave her an extra cookie as a reward? Well she seemed happy. Dream didn’t think the sugar would kill her either.

In other news, all of his clothes were now successfully trimmed and modified so he could wear whatever he wanted. Mostly it was loose shirts and pants or skirts, they were rather low maintenance. But also because if he wore something form fitting, Anna wouldn’t be able to sit on his back. So he went without tight shirts or hoodies.

Unless Anna could fit in the hood of a hoodie? A thought for later, that’s for sure. For now, Dream sent her back into her home and made his way onto the roof. The wind was as cold as always, the air stung his nose, and the sun was setting behind him. A great atmosphere, if likely wreaking havoc on his lungs.

Clay’s body was probably used to it though, even if Dream wasn’t, so he couldn’t be too concerned. Or fix the problem for that matter. While he could think of a few heroes who might be able to fix the air pollution, none of them likely existed here. If they did, then nothing on any of the hero or villain forums said anything about them.

Laying down on the floor, Dream stretched his arms out and watched the sky slowly fade from black to pink to black again. The stars slowly blinked into view. A nice calming sight he saw whenever he decided to sleep at night. It was a lot more often than he had in his old world, that’s for sure.

Maybe he should start working out again, Dream hummed. Not that he wouldn’t naturally get muscle mass from his Gift constantly pushing Clay’s limits but surely he could do a little cardio. Parkour couldn’t be that uncommon around here.

Cardio and grip strength, actually. Both were equally good to focus on. Cardio to run longer and grip strength to take advantage of his ability to hang onto walls for longer without potentially ripping skin. That he could do just by pushing his limits.

Was it possible to sew from the ceiling? He wanted to sew more and it would be good training… a thought for later, definitely. Gravity might be a pain to work against because of the potential to drop fabric but if he got the hang of that it might work. He’ll give it a shot tomorrow. Maybe make a skirt, those were simple. He’d need to buy fabrics though, but that didn’t matter all that much. A familiar weight landed behind him.

“Fair citizen,” Icarus was back, joy, “I thought I told you to stay off the roof.” His voice was stern but when Dream turned to look at him there was a nervous energy that caused him to tremble. Dream nodded slowly.

“This is my roof though,” Dream replied, because the entire building belonged to Clay, no landlord or anything. Icarus couldn’t make him move, no one could. Not legally at least. Technically, it was illegal for Icarus to be here. Well, actually, Icarus was a vigilante so everything about him was illegal.

“I was here before you!” Icarus argued, Dream tilted his head as a soft buzzing filled the air. Icarus didn’t seem to think he noticed it. Or maybe Icarus didn’t notice it? Probably just a fly.

“I suppose you’re right,” Dream conceded, standing. He looked from side to side, the buildings on either side were fairly close. Only a couple feet away if being roughly a story taller on either side. It would be quite easy to practice parkour at night.

“Would it work if I moved roofs?” Dream asked, interrupting what looked like a silent conversation Icarus was having with himself. It wasn’t obvious, just a tilt of his head like he was nodding along to something.

“What?” Oddly, the buzzing stopped as Icarus tuned back into the conversan, “how the fuck would that work?” Might as well move now then. Dream was always better at showing rather than explaining. Odd that Icarus wouldn’t know when he was leaping around every night.

With very little run up, Dream latched onto the next roof over and pulled himself up easily. He sat on the edge and turned back at Icarus. He just stared. It made Dream wonder if he was saying something and was just muted or if for whatever reason he was just speechless. Dream hardly did anything too difficult.

“Where’d you learn to do that?” Icarus demanded, pulling himself up after Dream and landing on his toes. At the crouch Icarus was in, he was still only about an inch taller than Dream sitting down. He was never going to get used to being so tall, was he?

“Self taught,” Dream replied after a moment's pause. Did he know if it was even possible to teach yourself parkour? No but he was hardly going to admit the truth. No matter what way he put it, he’d sound insane.

“I- sure, whatever,” Icarus tossed up his arms, exasperated. Dream didn’t get why, his excuse sounded reasonable to him. Maybe Icarus just had a short fuse? Vigilantes tended to have quick tempers in his experience, so that wouldn’t be a surprise.

Then he was off, leaping over the rooftops and into the distance like the low budget hero he technically was. Dream waited just enough for him to disappear from sight before jumping off the other way. Parkour was such a good workout.

Leaping and flipping from roof to roof, sprinting across large flats, and feeling the wind flicking at his face as he picked up speed was honestly quite refreshing. He hadn’t realized how wound up he was before he relaxed and let his Gift flow.

Dream didn’t return back to the cafe until the sun was rising and it was only a couple hours till the cafe would usually open. By then he’d learned that Clay’s body was worse than he thought it was. Sweat soaked his clothes and hair, his lungs burned and his muscles had a satisfying if technically painful tinge each time he moved. He’d never be this tired from so little before.

Stretching slowly, Dream calmed his racing heart before climbing back down into the apartment to shower. He almost slipped as Clay’s hands gave out on the slide in. Thankfully, all he did was likely just bruise his hip.

Definitely going to work on grip strength.

Who knew willingness would make working out so much nicer

When the small mechanical bee flew through the broken window they couldn’t afford to fix, it was low on battery and full of recordings. Both Tommy and Tubbo were exhausted as they pulled the recordings from bee. It had been a long night. Tommy had a nasty bruise developing over his back and Tubbo had nearly gotten shot, a bandage on him where the bullet grazed his temple.

Still, they couldn’t go to bed before the beebot returned. Not because it was officially important, it was hardly from spying on Las Nevadas, but because Tommy seemed to be obsessed with his boss. After watching a scrawny if tall spider guy scare off three goons with little effort, Tubbo could almost see why.

Maybe it was a little too trusting of Tubbo that he wasn’t concerned about the food that Tommy had been getting. On that end, he was just glad to be eating more regularly. Not to mention the chocolate muffins were by far the best thing he’d ever eaten.

Tommy leaned heavily against Tubbo, damn near falling asleep on him. For that Tubbo was glad that Clay never opened on Saturdays for reasons he never explained. They didn’t ask, Tommy never got days off. 

It took longer than either of them were comfortable with for the video to load up on Tubbo’s laptop. Always did but with how both were stinking to high heaven, it was just a tiny bit more uncomfortable to wait. Tubbo didn’t have the energy to argue Tommy into the shower first.

Finally, after fifteen slow minutes on their shitty WiFi, the video began to play. Soon after, Tubbo understood just why Tommy thought his boss was hiding something because no sane person could move like that. Nether, Tommy had been vigilanteing around for years and he wasn’t anywhere close.

Clay took a running start from his roof, easily catching the second one with his feet planted on the side. Then he kicked onto a handstand. Rather than roll like a sane person, he tilted to the side and cartwheeled up. Then he took off down the edge towards the back.

The side street behind the cafe was only 20 feet wide but that was still ten feet longer than Tommy, a literal avian, was comfortable jumping. Clay ran undeterred and leaped, landing for moments on the flickering lamp post before he was in the air again and rolled as he landed on the next building.

Somehow, the entire video showed the same quality of skill. Never faltering, never falling, and even once back flipping five feet between buildings. Clay got visibly more tired with all the usual symptoms. Sweating, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, and flushed face. It was just like he didn’t feel it.

Hours of footage indicated that he did this all night without tiring. It was… Tubbo didn’t know what it was but it didn’t make any sense. Tommy seemed to agree if the look on his face said anything.

“What the fuck is that dude made out of? Is he a robot or something?” Tommy complained, voice rising. Tubbo just shook his head.

“Nope, bee bot says he’s human, just built different I guess,” Tubbo watched as Clay landed on one hand, bent his back like a bendy straw, and landed on his feet. His own back ached from imaging doing that, Tommy winced. That one might just be from getting thrown into a car though.

“You can say that again!” Tommy let his head fall and thump against the desk. It wobbled like it always did whenever anything touched it but it was the only desk they had, didn’t matter if one of the legs were held together by duct tape and willpower. What did matter was Tommy’s head landing just short of one of the only bee bots they had.

“Hey! Watch it, and take a shower you stink,” Tubbo snipped, pushing Tommy off the desk. He fell dramatically, gasping as he landed on his side. Then gave a much more real groan of pain from his back.

“You first Tubso,” Tommy still managed to groan in response. Stubborn even as he faked death on their shitty carpet floor. Tubbo sighed and conceded.

“Fine, but you’re getting the ice pack,” he stood on shaky feet, ankle complaining from when he’d sprained it. He didn’t remember how, it had been a long day. The video played behind him.

Tommy’s boss was weird.

Chapter Text

By the three month mark, Dream was mostly certain Tommy was a vigilante, and thus, Icarus. Though being that one specifically was because Icarus was the only vigilante in the area. If there were others, he hadn’t seen them.

Admittedly, he’d had his suspicions around week three when Tommy came in with a not so subtly missed gash on his arm wrapped loosely in bandages. It was like he didn’t even know first aid. Tommy had called himself clumsy. Dream knew what knife wounds looked like.

Instead of pushing, he’d pulled Tommy into the back and bandaged it himself. It had gotten him a weird look but Dream refused to let Tommy bleed on the counters, preferably at all. He was still a kid after all.

Rather than growing more cautious, Tommy just seemed to come in for more and more injuries. Mostly bruises, only a few cuts, and never anything that he couldn’t explain away with an awkward laugh and an excuse. Seriously, it was like he was trying to look abused.

Dream knew he wasn’t when, after three months, he finally met the elusive roommate. It was around midday Dream was pretty sure, when the kid had entered the cafe with his clunky laptop under arm and a set expression. That expression didn’t veil his nervousness but it was set.

“Welcome, can I get you anything?” Dream asked as he entered, having sent Tommy into the back on his legally mandated break. The kid never liked taking them and didn’t seem to have been allowed to before. That didn’t sit right with Dream at all. So he read up on labor laws and forced Tommy to comply to them.

Funnily enough, no matter how stubborn he tried to be on the matter, all Dream had to do was act disappointed and he’d cave rather quickly. Always with a sheepish expression and always stealing a cup of coffee and a cookie on the way out.

“Oh, uh,” The kid snuck a look at the menu, “nothing. Thank you, I’m just here for the free WiFi.” He gave an unapologetic grin. Dream nodded and backed off, but his Gift, as always, wouldn’t let him not examine him.

Thick curly hair that fell long down his back like he never cut it but looked frizzed like he couldn’t afford to take care of it, bangs obscuring his eyes much like Dream’s. Horns poked out of his hair, just barely visible under the mass. The tips of his fingers looked hardened like the skin faded to hooves but only at the last joint. If Dream looked, he was certain he’d find a tail to match.

By the time he’d returned to the counter, Tommy was just getting off of his break. Dream watched him lock eyes with Tubbo and march over like a man on a mission. Usually, Dream tried not to eavesdrop but they were being rather loud and he couldn’t help it.

“What are you doing here?” Tommy hissed in what could tastefully be called a stage whisper but definitely couldn’t be called quiet. Not for the first time, the material on the back of his shirt shuffled oddly. Dream still hadn’t asked why. Not his business.

“What? I can’t meet my roommate at his new job?” Goat boy tilted his head, eyes barely visible but widened in an attempt to appear innocent. Why would he have an ulterior motive for visiting the cafe? It wasn’t that interesting. Even if the morning crowd was beginning to become rather heavy.

“Tubbo!” Tommy insisted. Huh, so that was his name. Anna crawled out from her perch, settling on the counter by his hand. Dream gave her the cookie she wanted, a sugar cookie shaped like a spider he named after her. She always needed one every day, the glutton.

“Seriously! You talk about this job so much, can’t a guy be curious?” Tubbo seemed to glance at Dream when he mentioned Tommy’s job. That checks out, he’s his boss. Tommy talking about him, though? Was he a bad manager or something? Or was Tommy just upset about the enforced break policy again? 

“You said you wouldn’t come here,” Tommy whined, undeterred by Tubbo’s innocent act. Obviously, he had some sense. Even if it wasn’t enough sense to not come in with a bruise covering his ribs that made him wheeze on every inhale. Not that he’d admit to it, or take Clay’s ice pack.

“Maybe I wouldn’t if you hadn’t made it seem so interesting ,” Tubbo stressed. Tommy responded by hitting his shoulder and making a sharp comment he had to get back to work. The bell rang as another customer entered.

At some point during that conversation, Dream was fully convinced this wasn’t an abuse scenario. He wasn’t sure where but he knew what abuse looked like. Tommy and Tubbo acted like friends who were long since tired of each other but too close to part. They didn’t act like abuser and victim.

Neither acted like any of his handlers, that was good enough

Dream blinked that thought away and greeted the customer. Dull green hair, yellow eyes, nothing special. It was hardly that one guy who came in covered in spikes, but like everyone else he met her with a simple neutrality. Honestly he could meet a half dinosaur half bird person and not blink. Not after those amalgamations from when he was fifteen…

He doesn’t like thinking about those.

Leaving Tommy to check out the customer, he grabbed his sewing supplies from where he’d been under the counter during the day. Giving Tubbo a short nod, Dream casually climbed onto the ceiling. He’d figured out how to make it work over the last two weeks and used his free time to work on projects.

For whatever reason, the cafe got more customers with the blinds open whenever he sewed. It was a unique sight to see so maybe that. Dream ignored the eyes on him and continued work on the jacket design he modified to fit Anna in the hood.

Anna herself made her way next to him, as she always did, much to the vague horror of some of the guests that couldn’t seem to look away. At least they were in the corner and out of the way. With Dream’s height he could just reach his supplies from the high table he’d bought for them.

That night, he added an item to the menu.

‘Vigilante Special’ was staring into Tommy’s soul from the display case. Advertised for one certain cookie that came with a discounted drink if you bought it. When Tubbo showed him the post Clay had made last night, he thought it was a joke.

It wasn’t everyday that you were called out by your boss via cookie so if you asked Tommy his response was extremely reasonable. He looked at where his boss was sewing on the ceiling with his pet spider like the cryptic fuck he is, then back at the cookie.

Shaped like a wing, an actual wing, and in the same flame sort of colors his own wings. Mostly red but fading to orange and yellow at the tips and just as neat as the others despite being the most complicated shape and design on the menu. 

Clay had never seen his wings, neither as Tommy nor Icarus. Hell, Tommy was certain he’d never even given a single clue as to that he even had them. Only Tubbo knew about his wings and that was his best friend. So how the fuck did he make them a cookie?

“What the fuck is this?” Tommy asked before he could stop himself, freezing. Ah yes, his stupid mouth ruining his chances at keeping this job again. He was having such a good run too. 

“I just had an idea, figured it was a good one. Would you like it? I’ll give you a discount,” Clay smiled down at him, too many eyes staring at him knowingly. Fuck, well he wasn’t pissed about the cursing at least. Maybe because there were no customers?

“Like an employee discount or?” Tommy prodded, slipping behind the counter and putting his apron over his hoodie. He’d stopped dressing up for this job about a month ago when Clay had greeted him in a baby pink dress that stopped at his knees with exactly no shame in sight. 

“Whatever you want to call it,” Clay knew, goddamnit he knew. How did he know? Tubbo and him were so damn careful! Not even the actual heroes knew! Then again, Foxtrot only came down twice a month at best and had learned to stay out of Icarus’ zone.

“Okay.” Tommy’s voice didn’t crack whatsoever and if anyone said it did then they were lying . Well then, he was going to have to steal materials for a better costume, wasn’t he? If Clay could figure it out then… 

Wait, it was Clay figuring him out… the same Clay who Tommy was pretty sure had to be an alien or some kind of cryptid who’d crawled out of the ocean and tried to join everyday life. The fact Clay had learned was probably inevitable. In his last longest job, which he had for a grand total of six months, his boss didn’t even know his name . Much less that he was Icarus.

Tommy shook his head, biting his tongue to keep from speaking out loud. He was going to have to talk to Tubbo about this after his shift. This was big, not ‘Las Nevadas’ or ‘Night Squad’ big but… okay it might be that big considering his identity was really fucking important.

He did end up getting that special, the cookie was fucking delicious and worth all the anxiety over Clay’s seemingly all knowing gaze that both could peer into your soul and not seem to understand basic social interaction.

Later Tubbo came into the store to ‘confirm something he’d heard about’, saw the display, and laughed at him.

Bastard.

“You ever think about getting some form of entertainment around here? It's kinda boring,” Tommy complained, tapping his fingers restlessly against the side of his stool. Ever since releasing the special, he’d been more inclined to let Dream fuss over his well being. Today, he’d managed to dislocate a knee and was limping. Dream grabbed him a chair and made him sit while he worked.

“What?” Dream hummed, looking up, well technically down, from his position on the ceiling. His jacket was almost done, even though he’d had to scrap it because he got the measurements wrong the last time. This one would fit properly.

“Don’t get me wrong, you’ve got one of the best looking storefronts in the district, but get some music in here or something. It’s dead fucking silent in here!” Tommy gripped, another change. He’d become pretty vocal over the past few weeks.

“I guess you’re right,” Dream considered, looking over the store. It was just the regulars in right now, a little bit before the lunch rush. Though, admittedly, there were more people since the special was released. 

Most of the immediate foot traffic were just people looking to buy and keep pictures but a good third of them kept coming back. Now there were at least four or five people in the store at any given time, even closer to closing. A large leap from the one girl who’d been there since the beginning.

“I’ll see what I can,” there was the sound of shattering glass, “do… give me a moment.” Dream dropped from the ceiling and set his jacket to the side. The people in the building looked up at that, but surprisingly not the glass. Him moving couldn’t be that eye catching.

“The hell is that supposed to mean?” Tommy demanded as Dream left through the front door. Immediately, he felt the urge to sigh in annoyance, maybe facepalm. He heard those were cathartic.

Some E tier villain was breaking into the building across the street, seemingly with the ability to control a multitude of rats. Windows were broken, those on the streets were scrambling into alleys. It was absolutely ruining his foot traffic.

Dream cracked his knuckles, briefly debating on whether or not stopping the villain would draw too much attention to him. A rat attempted to scramble into his cafe. He crushed it under his foot with a crunch and decided, yet it was worth it. If nothing else than because if any got into his cafe then it was an insane health and safety violation.

He crossed the street easily despite the flood of rats and… if anyone else were to be asked what exactly happened to the villain, they wouldn’t be able to give a straight answer. The security cameras were long since broken and no one recorded it so it’s not like there was any solid evidence. At least nothing the shoddy police apartment was willing to investigate.

But still, if you did ask, word travels quite a bit. Word that would speak of a strange, tall spider like man who walked into the clothing store, and beat the villain before he even had a chance to fight back. Leaving with the rats scrambling away in fear and tying the man to the lamppost so that Prime may decide what happens to him.

In reality, Dream had walked in, grabbed the back of the villain’s neck, and smashed it against the counter in front of the terrified employee. He’d left the man’s knife on the counter and walked out. Though he did tie the man to a lamppost, but that was for the police. He felt he did the right thing.

Queerly, he also stopped getting mugged nearly every other day. Now it was only once or twice every two weeks.

He couldn’t tell you why. 

Chapter Text

Word of the rising vigilante population didn’t often reach beyond District Six, let alone District One where Hero’s Wharf resided. This was mostly because Vigilantes didn’t really exist in the upper districts, too many heroes, and so they were often considered to be pests. Not really a big threat.

Honestly, the closest that anyone ever got to hearing vigilante talk was back when Jester and Lucifer started gaining traction. It was quite a few years back, and since then they’d formed Las Nevadas so even then it was technically villain talk according to anyone who mattered. Who mattered was the heroes, who had to put these evil men and women behind bars. As was their duty.

That being said, when talk of a new vigilante or two does reach headquarters, it raises a few eyebrows. A vigilante who’s powerful enough to reach headquarters is a threat. Even if they’re from the lower districts,

So when Foxtrot walked to work that day, a limp in his step, ears pinned to his head, and grumbling about avians? Well that certainly got someone’s attention. Not because he was hurt. Honestly, that was a given considering their line of work. But rather who he was talking about.

Avians are unique, even in a world where everyone and their mother seems to have some sort of animal feature. Not just in their instincts that seemed to pick up on problems like a sixth sense. Nor in their expansive wings that allowed them to soar in a way that no one could hope to match. But because the Avian gene is very recessive.

Even two winged avian parents had trouble conceiving a child with the same features. Their wings were so fragile while young that natural selection was constantly trying to snuff them out. If they were born, however, and the child survived to adulthood, they were known to be very powerful. 

A consequence, perhaps, of Mother Nature going against them.

Maybe that’s why Apollo was so interested when he passed by Foxtrot’s office on his way to patrol and heard him talking to himself.

“Stupid wings…stupid vigilantes…lighting themselves on fucking fire, ” Foxtrot’s muttering drifted through the open door, just barely picked up by Apollo’s sensitive ears. Foxtrot complained a lot so usually Apollo ignored it. Usually about patrol hours or villains or the coffee in the break room, it might of been his hobby to point out stuff like that at his point.

“What’s this about wings?” Unable to help himself, Apollo poked his head into Foxtrot’s office. A large room decorated with service awards and memorabilia from villain’s he’d defeated, it wasn’t really Apollo’s tastes but that’s why he had his own office.

“Apollo!” Foxtrot startled from where he was hunched over behind his desks, ears flicking up in surprise before returning to their down turned position. He glared at Apollo with a fire that no one else would. Zero respect for authority, it was funny.

“Nothing,” the fox hero snarled, crossing his arms like a child. Apollo stepped through the door without being invited, he didn’t need to be. He was the number three hero.

“Didn’t sound like nothing,” Apollo sang in that whimsical way of his, “You know if there’s an avian running around you’re going to have to tell one of us about it eventually, right?” He knew he was right.

The Hero’s Warf was the top hero enterprise in the city, possibly the world. It was pretty much guaranteed when they had the top three heroes as it’s benefactors. Because of that, whenever someone there was news of someone rare or powerful, they were called it. They could handle it.

Foxtrot just needed to understand that.

“I-” Foxtrot growled lowly, “Whatever, just don’t use your stupid enhancement on me.” Apollo put a hand on his chest, pouting as he promised he would never. Not on purpose at least, but his enhancement was one that couldn’t really be turned off. Unless it went mute that is.

“It’s this stupid vigilante down in the lower districts,” Foxtrot sank into his seat, the number six hero setting his chin on his desk, “Keeps making trouble and refuses to come quietly.”

“And keeps kicking your ass,” Apollo teased with a grin. Everyone knew how Foxtrot kept coming in with more and more bruises every time he went down the districts to patrol. It was unsettling. Not that Apollo would admit to it bothering him, like ever.

“Shut up! He can fly and has these stupid flames and just…” Foxtrot bit his lip, turning his head into the desk and giving a muted scream of frustration. This vigilante must really be bothering him.

“What’s his name? Maybe I could drop down and check it out for you,” Apollo asked with a faux casualness. His act was perfect but everyone knew how obsessed the top three could get when winged avians were found. Azrael in particular, seeing as he himself was winged.

So when Foxtrot level him with a glare, like he knew there was a nervous energy that was thrumming through Apollo’s veins and filling his head with fuzz, Apollo tried not to be offended. He failed, naturally.

‘You’re not going to find him’ a voice that sounded suspiciously like the man he no longer called a friend whispered in his head. Apollo stubbornly shook it off. It didn’t work very well. Lucifer had a way of sticking his influence to things like a cockroach or a particularly nasty spider.

There was a loud sigh as Foxtrot dropped his gaze, seemingly giving up on reading Apollo. Which would never work because Apollo was great like that. His poker face? The best.

“His name is Icarus,”

Days later, Apollo found himself wandering the twelfth district out of costume. Any hero worth their merits knew how little the lower districts tolerated top heroes, even if Wilbur didn’t understand why. It didn’t really matter.

What did was that Wilbur was exhausted. Exhausted from scowering districts eight to eleven head to toe, day and night, and finding nothing. He blamed Foxtrot for that.

For whatever reason, the number six hero had refused to tell him where the vigilante was located, just that he was in the lower districts. Some misplaced protective tone in his voice gave away why. Even if Wilbur did get why he’d be protective over a vigilante. They were dangerous! Especially if they were an unchecked avian.

Crumbled concrete came off in chunks, as Wilbur kicked the third crack that tripped him in the last hour. He stumbled awkardly, scowling and stubbornly ignoring the distrustful and amused looks he was getting. Prime this was so stupid.

Stupid fucking lower districts being incapable of taking care of their own damn areas. At least they’d stopped begging for everyone else to solve their problems. Other districts had their own problems. The lower ones just needed to take their heroes and shut up about it.

Huh, now he gets why Foxtrot is always complaining. If he was being treated like this daily, it almost makes sense. Wilbur would be pissed too if even the infrastructure of the district was fighting against him.

Dusting off his leather trench coat and adjusting his glasses, Wilbur tossed back his shoulders and continued on his merry way. Or as merry as you could get being stared at like a zoo animal. Especially with the horrid quality of this places’ everything.

What he wouldn’t give to be able to give up and go home. But no, he needed to find the avian. He’d already told Phil and Techno about them so if he went back without even a sighting he’d never hear the end of it. Prime, he could hear Techno’s teasing already.

His phone beeped as he got to his final location of the day. After this he could leave and get changed and then do this all over again at night from the rooftops. What joy, another day without sleep. He couldn’t fucking wait.

The Spider’s Web was a pretty nondescript cafe that looked like just about every other building in the district. Crumbling and dirty with a layer of soot that clung to it. Absolutely disgusting, really. Made Wilbur not even want to touch the door.

Scrunching up his nose, he went in anyway. Honestly, if Wilbur had the choice he wouldn’t even be checking this place out. It was practically nothing, squished between so many other buisnesses that it might as well not even exist. Nether, if it wasn’t for them literally having a vigilante special, Wilbur would probably be taking a nap right now.

At the most, Wilbur would describe the inside as decent. The painted walls were probably the freshest thing he’d seen so far, there were actual plants that didn’t look to be fighting against Prime himself, and the smell of coffee in the air was pleasant. Not Wilbur’s cup of tea but still pleasant. No line either.

“Hello, could I get a-” Wilbur’s voice died in his throat as the man behind the register straightened. Suddenly Wilbur was forced to look up and up and holy nether this man was taller than Techno.

Some kind of spider hybrid, if the extra arms gave anything away. Massive in size with wide shoulders and obscured eyes that Wilbur could just tell was harboring some kind of secret. It set him on edge. Not even the fact he was in the frilliest baby pink blouse Wilbur had ever seen helped.

“What the fuck are you wearing?” Wilbur heard himself ask, focusing on the way the man’s head tilted. He took a step back as a spider the size of his torso just casually crawled over the man’s shoulder to hiss at him. What the fuck?

“It’s called fashion bitch, not that you seem to have heard of it,” another employee burst from the back. Thankfully he seemed normal sized, if short. Five and a half, maybe? Like a fucking child. He was even wearing a hoodie to work, talk about no professionalism.

Yes Wilbur, focus on the actual child and not the seven foot thing in front of you.

“Well I didn’t ask for your opinion, child,” Wilbur argued back. He had great fashion sense! Black leather went with everything. Especially his favorite yellow sweater! This kind didn’t know what he was talking about.

“And boss didn’t ask for yours,” the kid, Tommy according to the stupid embroidering on his apron, had the gall to snipe back. Wilbur opened his mouth to argue.

“Are you going to order or are you just going to argue with my staff?” Wilbur’s teeth clicked as he shut his mouth. He gave ‘Boss’ a look. No name on his apron, or if it was it was hidden by the counter. Not the Wilbur was intimidated by him, of course not. They would be ridiculous.

“Whatever, I’ll take the vigilante special with a caramel white tea,” Wilbur ordered. Tommy gave him a look like he was stupid. Wilbur bit his tongue because if he spoke he was going to reflexively use his gift and there was no way that was going to happen.

“That’ll be,” Tommy punched his order into the register, still looking at him like he was about to pull something. Like Wilbur would do that, he’s a hero! If anyone was going to pull something, it would be a low lander. District Twelve was a hotspot for crime second only to the cursed District Thirteen.

“$15.21” The boss interrupted. Wilbur’s eyes snapped to him, so did Tommy. It was like the boss didn’t even notice, petting the terrifying spider on the table in front of him. Wilbur didn’t know what kind it was. Being that big, it didn’t matter.

“What? But the menu says it’s only $10.99!” Wilbur argued, an angry heat rising to his cheeks. He looked to Tommy, who had the gall to seem amused. Then back to the Boss, who was letting his pet spider climb back over him.

“It’s the bitch tax, pay it or get out Richie,” Tommy gave him a shit eating grin. What the nether? Wilbur glared, but Tommy seemed completely unbothered. This was so unfair! He barely noticed the boss leave the room through a different door.

Wilbur absolutely notice the tension in the room shoot up as soon as he was gone.

He paid.

It wasn’t fair

It wasn’t fair

It wasn’t fair

Dream didn’t know what he was expecting when the number three hero had walked through the door. Even without his Gift he would’ve been able to tell who Apollo was! The man’s hero costume was a different set of clothes with no glasses!

When Dream had first learned of him, he’d at least expected Apollo to have some kind of shape shifting power to hide his identity. But no, he was just allowed to walk around looking exactly as he did.

Dream was barely even allowed to see his own face

Apollo was scrawny too, enough so that if he had muscles Dream couldn’t tell. It was like he hadn’t worked out a day in his life.

Dream remembered days locked in the practice room, not allowed to remove his armor or leave until he got it perfect.
Until he got all the bullseyes.

Until he beat all ten opponents.

Until his bones broke and muscles bled.

God, Apollo had looked so alive. Had so much personality and freedom to be allowed to go to the district farthest from his hero space without even a comm unit. His eyes were bright and face expressive.

He’d argued and scowled and been angry and there were no consequences for any of that. Other than Dream upcharging him but he was legally allowed to do that. Discrimination laws here were basically nonexistent.

Dream hadn’t been allowed to emote.

Not unless he was happy and heroic, or clam and collected.

Don’t show anger, don’t show sadness,

Don’t  be weak

It was like Apollo didn’t even care what would happen if someone learned his identity. Didn’t care about bad press or hurting someone’s feelings because he didn’t have to. No one had known it was Apollo, not even Tommy.

Even as bad as his disguise was it had worked.

It didn’t make sense, it didn’t.

Why did Dream have to give up his face when the number three here could walk around freely? 

Why why why?

Why him? Why not Dream?

But that wasn’t the worst part, was it? It didn’t matter to Dream that Apollo was weak and angry and free . It didn’t, he didn’t care. He didn’t care. It didn’t matter. Apollo could do what he wanted.

The worst part was looking into his eyes and not even seeing Apollo at first. Not seeing him because Dream knew what he looked like and even being so similar to his hero form that didn’t stop Dream from recognizing him. Didn’t stop Dream’s Gift from drawing conclusions he didn’t want to hear.

Dream cursed the buzzing in his veins that roared in his ears. It felt bad and wrong and he didn’t want it there anymore. He didn’t want to have to think of Apollo and have his thoughts dragged to who he had been. Who he might be, who Dream didn’t want to see.

Maybe Dream should’ve expected to recognize people here, though. It was Dream’s fault that he expected things to be so different that no one he knew existed here. It was his fault. His fault.

It’s your fault, always your fault.

Not good enough, not fast enough, not smart enough

Be better

It’s your fault

He’s not even Vex

Vex didn’t exist here, but Vex was Apollo. Vex was Apollo and Apollo was free and happy and angry and sad. Apollo was soft and mad and argumentative. Apollo didn’t have to care . Or even pretend to care.

What did Vex do to deserve it? 

Why did Apollo get treated so nicely? 

Why didn’t he get treated like Dream?

Was Dream good enough?

Was Dream never good enough?

Not good enough to be angry? 

To be happy? 

Free?

Why didn’t Dream get an identity?

Why did Dream have to lose everything?

Why was he never good enough?

Not fast enough, never strong enough.

Apollo wasn’t fast, wasn’t strong. He had a gift and a bright personality and music and life. 

He didn’t deserve it.

He didn’t have to go to hell for even the slightest bit of leeway.

He didn’t have to break his body and his spirit and his mind over and over again until finally they were satisfied.

He didn’t have to do anything and still he was better.

Got better than Dream ever did

It wasn’t fair

Anna hissed by his leg, bumping into him. Dream’s empty gaze drifted down to her, he should probably pick her up. She want to be lifted. Dream couldn’t move.

His Gift stopped him from hyperventilating, painful and intrusive as he cried. Why was he crying? He shouldn’t cry. He’s not allowed

Dream’s hands were stiff, fingers locked where they were digging into his arms. Hands locked against his head, nails scratching against his skull. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe but he could but it was locked at it wasn’t him .

It was his Gift,  always his Gift. Too much, too little, too strong, not strong enough. It was his Gift’s fault, it was his fault. What did he do?

Everything felt so far away, the same thick fog that enveloped him whenever he turned up his Gift and let his bones turn to mush for the greater good. It was supposed to hide him. No pain, no moving, just him him him.

It wasn’t helping, it didn’t help. Ignoring the problem didn’t make it go away, it never does.

Dream sobbed, he never heard it.

It wasn’t fair

Hours later, Dream would stand up. It might’ve been all night that he sat there, motionless, but he wouldn’t know. Tommy would have to close up on his own and the crowd in the cafe would wane, all of them unsettled by the owner’s unusual behavior.

Dream would open up the next day and wave off Tommy, he’d ignore the sting and the burning of his muscles. He’d ignore his Gift, the only thing he’d had left. He’d ignore because he had to.

He had to be stronger, be better, because if Vex got what he deserved then what did that mean for Dream?

But that’s hours and hours later. For now, Dream curled up, bit his lip to stiffle all the little sounds, and he stayed.

He didn’t cry

He wasn’t supposed to cry

He had to be good enough

Chapter Text

Freezing winds whipped over his skin, lashing cold over his skin. Dream rolled his shoulders, let his Gift roll over his skin and numb it away, and ignored it. It didn’t matter if he was cold. He wouldn’t be in a little bit. The human body was warm blooded, after all, he just needed to get his heart pumping.

Dream adjusted his mask, mostly there to stop the ever present smoke from getting into his lungs and messing up his concentration. Then he fully pulled himself onto the roof from here he was hanging on the side of the building. With the two buildings to either side, the wind was somewhat mitigated. It was still cold though. Maybe he should’ve worn something… more?

No, he’s fine. He’ll be fine. Dream tugged at his tank top, one he’d adjusted for his other arms which meant most of his sides were on display. Then, he started running.

He’d been doing parkour every night for… only two days now, actually. The day prior and today. He was planning on doing it every night since, really, he didn’t need the sleep. Dream had been on vacation for too long now, sleeping almost every other night recently. He needed to actually start working out if he wanted to be something.

Cold froze him solid but he didn’t feel it, just the numbness he’d learned to fall into, to embrace to keep away pain. It let his mind wander, picking out paths that his body would move to without much thought on how. Choose a spot, go there. It was really that simple.

Occasionally, he’d catch a glimpse of Icarus, just a flash of bright red between buildings. Each time Dream saw him, it sent his mind back on that train of thought of just how stupidly inefficient hero costumes in Clay’s world seemed to be. Icarus was better than Ve- than Apollo but, seriously, red? In a dark and dirty environment? The only worse option would be pitch perfect white.

Too far, Dream caught the edge of the building with a silent smack. There was the brief feeling of being pulled two directions in once as instinct fought with the fact that, oh yeah, he sticks to walls now. Something he’d never get used to, really. It was cool but still.

Pulling up, and over, and twist to the side, do a flip, and back again. Hit a long building, a mall maybe? Don’t look over the edge, it doesn’t matter. Keep going, keep going. It doesn’t matter how hard you’re breathing.

Metal impact, Dream paused. He took several deep breaths, looking around. No part of his neighborhood, or even most of the District, had metal roofing, maybe it was too expensive? It didn’t matter.

Still, he was standing on a metal roof, balancing on his toes against the edge. There were other buildings with the same kind of roofs around him, seeming to be built mostly out of concrete and more metal. Slanted roofs, large pipes pumping thick smog into the atmosphere. An industrial district it seems? Has to be.

Industrial districts always made his skin crawl. Memories of licking flames breaking through the fog he let over take him and crumbling buildings falling as their supports failed to upkeep the damaged walls. They weren’t good memories. He ignored them.

Jumping up the slanted roof, he reached its peak and launched himself forward. Two hands stuck to a pipe, sliding around the slightly warm metal and pushing off to land on the third building. The warehouses were pushed closer together on the side but with much wider roads. Dream doubted he could jump between them that way, not without damage.

Red, moving fast. Dream dodged behind a pipe as the figure blew by in front of him, seemingly running for their life. He pulled himself from the fog, gulping down the chilled air. Shouting reached his ears.

“Halt! Stop moving! God damnit . Get down here! ” The voice was calming despite the yelling. A nice chorus like an angel song promising kindness and warmth if only he would listen. Dream took a step forward.

Then they stumbled back and his arm scraped the pipe beside him. He shook his head, feeling a strange sense of vertigo like he was going to be sick. The sound grated at his ears. Buzzing vibrated over his body, he lifted his hand. It was outlined in green. His gift had interrupted something, but what?

Calmly taking a breath, he was guided to the edge of the roof, kneeling and overlooking the wide empty road. There were some old tires, piles of cardboard boxes, and a tow truck on bricks stuck in front of one of the warehouse doors. Two figures were standing on the road.

Icarus, vigilante. Enhancement: Phoenix. Brightly colored wings covered in an unknown, flame retardant substance. Possible fire starter capabilities. More information required

For whatever reason, the kid was just standing there. His body was stiff and twitching, the lumps that Dream’s Gift identified as wings were shuffling under fabric before falling still. It was like he wanted to move but couldn’t.

Apollo, Number 3 Hero. Enhancement : Siren’s Call. Others are inclined to listen to him through subliminal messaging, which appears like mind control. Does not seem to have an off button. Possible assassinstion capabilities? Most commonly seen during big PR events.

His bright yellow sweater stood out against the background, part of it blue and splotchy where the colors shifted. There was an equally bright beanie on his head. It was like a spotlight in the dark and dreary industrial district. But with his thick black leather shoes and dark under armor covering his legs and, presumably, the rest of his body, it was like the bottom half of his body didn’t exist. A weird parallel.

Apollo was hunched over, breathing hard. He really didn’t seem to get much exercise, despite his position. That still didn’t sit right with Dream but he pushed the thought stubbornly to the side. It didn’t matter, not really.

“You fucking brat, if I weren’t I hero I would,” Apollo wheezed, gasping for air, “you know what? No, we’re going back to the station and then I’ll show you exactly how I feel about having to chase you around the entire goddamn district.” He sounded angry.

Verbally, he was going to show Icarus verbally, right? Not physically because beating a criminal after they’d been arrested was illegal here. He was just going to give him a tongue lashing. Nothing more, nothing less.

But

But Apollo’s gif- enhancement was verbal and… wouldn’t the subliminal messaging be bad for Icarus, for Tommy’ health? He was just a kid, but Apollo didn’t know that. He probably thought he was an adult, right? He couldn’t take him in.

Dream ignored all the other thoughts of what Apollo could do to him. The sticking pain, the numbness after, the uncertainty afterwards when even looking at a superior. 

He wouldn’t do it, it was illegal.

That never stopped Dream’s handler.

A loose bolt hurtled through the air, smacking Apollo right in the forehead. The hero tilted, letting out a surprised shriek. It was enough to jostle Tommy out of whatever hold Apollo had over him. Not a lot, but just enough.

Icarus took off in a sprint. Dream waited just enough for Apollo to turn, pulled fully behind the pipe, and let his Gift overwhelm him. The buzzing filled his head in a familiar cadence.

Then, he too ran.

So the chase began.

“So let me get this right. You went down to the twelfth district to investigate some vigilante and got your ass kicked by some glowing dude on the roof and are now moping about it to me?”

“No! The vigilante was supposed to be an avian and the guy was some sort of speed and strength enhancer. My Enhancement wasn’t working on him for whatever reason so I had to chase the guy down!”

“You had to chase down the glowing dude… and not the avian vigilante?”

“Shut up King-ie, ” Wilbur hissed from where he was, in fact, moping on the couch. Curled up with a bandage on his head and an ice pack strapped to his ankle.

“Bruhhh,” Techno deadpanned from over his coffee. He nursed the thing like it was his baby, which considering how protective he was over it in the morning it might as well be. Wilbur didn’t know, didn’t care.

He was pissed . Wilbur was the number three hero! He wasn’t supposed to be beat by some… some nobody lowlander. It wasn’t even his fault his enhancement didn’t work! It was supposed to. This has never happened before!

Not to mention he was fucking exhausted, so much more than Techno was no matter how much coffee the man insisted he needed it. All because he had to chase some stranger around the entire fucking district who just ended up disappearing like he could teleport or something.

If Wilbur didn’t know any better, he would’ve thought he’d hallucinated the whole event. Sadly, the gouge taken out of his skull by that rusty ass bolt said otherwise. Now he was on medical leave for the day.

“Good morning,” Phil yawned, stretching his wings as he walked into the room. A packet of papers was tucked under his arm and his hair was sticking out in random directions. Probably slept at his desk again.

“What happened to Wilbur?” Nothing, nothing happened to Wilbur. Look away, he doesn’t want to be seen but his ankle was apparently two wrong steps away from ripping something so he couldn’t. Stupid messed up, falling apart buildings.

“He took a shift from Foxtrot and got himself into a fight with-” “ Shut up Techno! ” Wilbur growled. Techno’s mouth snapped shut with an audible click. Muffled noises escaped him for a couple seconds as his brain struggled to comprehend what it was told to do, then he quieted down. Wilbur felt the amused look he got and the disappointed one from Phil. He ducked his head down.

“Wilbur,” Phil began in his patented disappointed dad voice, “don’t do that to your brother. Tell me what happened,” the couch sank next to him. A thump was heard as the papers met the coffee table. Techno took a loud sip of his coffee.

Fuck.

“Nothing, nothing happened,” Wilbur deflected. He counted the grooves in the marble floors, which were one hundred percent more interesting than this conversation. Absolutely. He wasn’t trying to ignore Phil at all, why would he do that?

“Wilbur,” a feathered wing brushed over his back and Wilbur knew he was screwed. Phil couldn’t just not wrap someone in his wings and expect someone to not spill everything, it was like a second enhancement or something!

“I…” don’t tell him, don’t tell him, “was overcharged at that cafe I visited?” Wilbur responded, it came out as more of a question despite the fact it was true. His face scrunched up thinking about it.

Stupid cafe, stupid mouthy employees, stupid mildly unsettling owner and stupid lowlanders. That tea had no right being so good he was never going back. Never.

“The Spider one?” Phil tilted his head, “and that’s where you got injured?” Wilbur could hear the smile in his voice. Phil didn’t believe him, of course he didn’. Phil was basically a human lie detector when it came to his family.

“I was investigating a vigilante,” Wilbur admitted, finally looking at Phil. Those stupid soulful blue eyes that stared into your soul but were comforting at the same time. He looked tired, deep bags framing them. Wilbur guessed they were all tired. Dealing with Las Nevadas and the elusive Nightmare Initiative did that to a person. Now this.

“A vigilante? I don’t think you’ve been interested in any of those since…” Phil trailed off. The room grew cold. They all knew what he was talking about, and how Wilbur felt about it. About Schl- Lucifer, he was just Lucifer now.

“Foxtrot was talking about him,” Wilbur continued quietly, “he’s an avian.” Techno set his coffee down with an audible clack, it was the loudest sound in the room. Phil was frozen at his side, eyes unreadable.

“Oh… and your injuries?” Phil’s voice was… vague, empty. Like he was trying to ignore the emotions he was feeling, that they were all probably feeling. It had only been, what? 12 years now?

“I had the vigilante and this… this mother fucker beaned me in the head with s bolt. Snapped the avian out of my control too,” Wilbur gripped, gripping at the sleeves of his sweater. His eyes burned, it was dust. It was just dust.

“Right… you’re still going to have to fill out a mission report. Just send it straight to me, I’ll send it off.” Phil ruffled his hair, “Now let Techno go.” With that last reminder, he pulled away. The wing left his back.

It was cold.

Soft music hummed through the speakers now littered throughout the cafe, playing random songs from some playlist Dream had found online. When he’d come in with the speakers and set them up, Tommy had given him another one of those weird looks. Then just shrugged, grumbled something, and let it slide. That might be weirder than the looks.

Tubbo was also in the cafe today, having shown up with Tommy and set himself up in the corner across from the dark haired lady with the phone. Other regulars sprinkled in through the day, most getting a drink and a quick hello before paying and leaving. Some would sit at the tables and just exist in the ambience of the cafe.

People from the streets seemed to be drawn in by the music and smell, quite a lot staring at Dream as they waited in line. Dream didn’t quite understand why, he was just sewing. Upside down with a spider on the back of his head but sewing nonetheless,

It was actually a lot easier than it had been when he’d started. His arms felt stronger and the palms of his hands were less numb by the end of the day than before. Not by a lot because, apparently, training tended to take a while when you did it at a slow enough pace to not break yourself. But enough to be noticeable.

It didn’t feel fast enough

A man with dark hair, a full face mask, and ragged clothes that were obviously on their last legs entered the cafe around midday. He was covered in dirt and smelled horrible but very few people seemed to notice him. 

People would look up, look everywhere but him, and then look back down again like it was just the wind. Their eyes glossy and unfocused as they did so. Even Tommy seemed to do so.

“Hey, hey? Hello?” The man asked, adjusting his mask and coughing harshly. His voice was dry, like he hadn’t had a drop of water in weeks. Again, Tommy didn’t seem to register he was there. Dream frowned.

“Do you need something?” Dream asked, flipping himself off the roof and landing softly. He grabbed a water bottle from the basket next to his sewing supplies. Technically, they cost 50 cents but even that was a formality.

The man’s head snapped to him and he froze. Dream could feel his shock even with the mask, a strange smooth thing with three stripes of color and no visible features. It was unsettlingly like Dream’s old mask but plastic.

“You can see me?” The man asked, voice soft and breaking. That may have just been the obvious dehydration though. He wobbled on his feat and Dream reached out to steady him, pressing the plastic water bottle into his hand.

“Uhhh, boss man? What are you doing?” Tommy asked, eyes seeming to finally land on the man as Dream helped him stand. His Gift buzzed loudly under his skin and he was sure that if his eyes were visible they’d be glowing. Anna hissed loudly.

“Don’t worry about it, I’ve got it handled,” Dream assured him, guiding the frozen man up and into his sparsely decorated apartment. He almost fell on the stairs as his sleeve finally gave out and came off in a large dirt stained mess. It was more thread than not.

His new strange guest chugged down the bottle like a man dying as Dream watched, then he slid down onto the floor next to the couch. Dream was really going to have to clean everything the guy touched, wasn’t he? But that wasn’t important. Something bad was obviously happening to him.

“My name’s Clay, could you tell me yours?” He asked softly, crouching down as close to the man as he dared. Damnit, this guy wasn’t leaving until he at least had a shower. It had to be some kind of hate or war crime if he didn’t.

“I fucking wish,” the man sighed, “Call me MD, it’s all I really got mi amigo.” He took off his mask, dropping it to the ground. The face under was just as dirty as the rest of him, including stained teeth as he gave a crooked grin.

“Right, MD…” how does Dream even begin here? “Would you like to take a shower? I have some spare clothes if you’re okay with them being too big. I just have a few questions about your situation.”

MD looked at him like he just hung the stars and the moon, jumping to his feet and almost immediately passing out. An iron deficiency, maybe? The man looked like he had an everything deficiency.

Thirty minutes later, after a thorough shower and Dream popping in downstairs to tell Tommy he had a handle on things, they were sitting back on the couch. MD was scarfing down a salad like he might die if he didn’t.

He really might, and that was unsettling.

“Gracias, gracias. Tú eres moreno y fenomenal y gracioso. Mi mejor amigo,” MD rambled, curled up on the couch with his knees to his chest. He was getting lettuce on the couch but Dream didn’t particularly care about that either. MD seemed to catch it soon after and would eat it with his hands.

Under all that dirt, MD had very tanned skin and curly hair that fell over his face being soaked in water as it was. His eyes were just as dark as his hair, except it was all of his eyes. Dark pits that seemed to absorb all light.

“You’re welcome?” Dream responded, “What happened back there? It was like no one could see you.” The man wiped at his mouth with the oversized sleeve of his shirt. It was one of Clay’s father’s old ones. Practically one of the only shirts he owns that weren’t modified in one way or another.

“What always happens,” MD scowled, “It’s my enhancement.” MD rattled off a variety of colorful words Dream could only guess were a bunch of Spanish insults and curses. He wasn’t really taught those words. Heroes weren’t supposed to curse.

“And that is?” Dream prodded, interrupting the tirade. MD breathed wrong, coughing violently like he was about to spit up blood. He brushed Dream’s worrying off, grinning crookedly.

“Notice Me Not, I think it’s called? No one notices me, ever. Seriously, for as long as I can remember. It fucking sucks. Hell, I barely remember me. No parents, no family, no nothin’. Not a thing in this battered brain of mine,” MD tapped his forehead.

Dream nodded, observing the man as he inhaled down the rest of his food. Look, Dream wasn’t stupid, he knew that MD wasn’t nearly as happy or joking as he pretended to be. It was a lot of things that told him that.

It was the crippling loneliness hidden in his eyes, despite the darkness of them nothing could hide that.

It was the way he couldn’t seem to decide whether or not to lean into every slight touch. Like he was both desperate but deeply overwhelmed.

It was the way MD’s bones were visible through his skin, the way he tilted with every movement, and the slightest cadence to his voice.

Dream saw a lot of these emotions in people, they were a lot more common in his old life than he would’ve liked. Practically every other person moving and speaking and acting in the same way. Happy but not. Accepting their lot in life but desperate for something better.

Dream had been just like that

He pretended he wasn’t

He was very good at that

What Dream was never able to do was change something in any of those people. They were always too far away. Him the number one and them… below him. If it wasn’t PR, then he wasn’t allowed. He was never allowed.

He didn’t even know how to fix them.

“Would you like to learn how to bake?”

And that’s how Dream earned himself a mildly amnesiac roommate.

Chapter Text

District Twelve of the Esempii was known for a lot of things depending on who was asked. To outsiders they were mysterious and bleak, little information escaping its walls. To those of the higher districts they were dark and disgusting lowlanders, covered in a dirty film that permeated the air and stained your lungs on each breath.

None of their opinions mattered to the residents of District Twelve. Let them think what they want, thoughts wouldn’t hurt anyone. District Twelve had its own community more tightly knit than any other.

It was that community that fought against the heroes that abandoned them, looked down on them. It’s that community who protects its vigilantes because those vigilantes protect them. It’s that community who breathed and thrived despite the crumbling infrastructure and government who refused to help.

That same community had absolutely no idea of what to think of the outsider, nor the place that he’d come to inhabit. Maybe it should make sense and be taken at face values. That was a Highlander way of thinking. Everyone knew there was always a ‘but’.

When the outsider had first moved in, everyone quickly became aware of his presence. That’s how it was in the Twelth. No one came here, no one looked at them, and so anyone that did so willing was subject to much scrutiny. Scrutiny that, somehow, didn’t seem to affect him.

Likewise, when he opened his cafe, people weren’t expecting much. A highlander looking to make a quick buck off the poor lowlanders was hardly a new experience. Those who wandered in expected high prices and fake smiles. A cheery exterior laced with ego and muck.

Slowly, they realized that there might just be a ‘but’ to their own way of thinking. Highlanders were egotistical and loud but the owner was calm and quiet. They were greedy but the owner was far too generous. The owner was caring, kept prices low, and hired one of their own rather than bringing in others.

Perhaps it was strange that walking into a highlander’s business and seeing scarred cheeks, dirt stuck under nails, and crooked teeth was so new. So weird that it caused many to pause. But none of that would excuse the owner’s origins in many minds. Except…

The Spider’s Web and its ironic owner were quickly becoming an exception to a lot of things. The cafe was clean and warm and cozy and safe, so many things that no one expected. It’s owner was just as strange.

But then it got worse, or maybe better? It depends on who is asked. Worse in the way that the more questions were answered about the owner, the less he seemed to make sense. 

One shot KO’s, beating villains like it was an everyday chore, and defying gravity seemingly out of spite were common sights around the elusive owner. Always there, always watching. Silently making this and that while sitting on the roof of his building with his pet by his side.

A pet that, legally, he wasn’t even supposed to have. Yet nothing ever seemed to come of it, no danger and no worry in his steady gaze. He was too strong, too fast, too much .

He overcharged another highlander simply because he wanted to, and he knew what he was doing.

District Twelve may have no idea what to make of the elusive and nameless owner of The Spider’s Web but it was quickly becoming obvious he was one of theirs all the same. He fought against highlanders, protected Icarus if rumors are to be believed, and never did more damage than was strictly necessary. All marks of one of their own.

So District Twelve treated him as such in kind.

Rumors of a glowing arachnid from District Twelve grew and sprung, dispersing into the seediest parts of the other districts. Small things, building blocks.

A reputation began to develop.

And a cryptid gained a name.

Five, maybe six months had passed since Dream died, that he was certain. Even in his longest bouts of sleepless nights he kept track of the rise and fall of the sun with an almost religious fervor. He didn’t know why, time had never bothered him before. Still, he counted the days nonetheless.

He counted them like each one might be his last

Over the course of those five, roughly six, months a lot has happened. Much more than Dream could reasonably count out, not without his Gift. Nightly workouts, roommates and a developing cafe. Sewing and baking and employee relationships. It was a lot of social interaction, he wasn’t really used to much of that at all.

“Sup dickhead, back for more?” Tommy smiled sharply, eyes gleeful as Ve- as Wilbur walked back into the cafe for the third time that month. He’d begun to come once a week and Dream didn’t know why. It bothered him.

“Shut up child,” Wilbur responded as had become common. Every time he entered he seemed to hate it but he kept coming back. It wasn’t a pleasant interaction. Dream certainly didn’t like it.

He always ordered the same thing, the Vigilante Special with caramel tea. Dream didn’t really know what a caramel tea was and neither did Tommy so they just ended up throwing together a sugary mess as Dream tried to write a recipe. It was horrible. Wilbur seemed to love it.

Apollo didn’t show up really as often despite Wilbur being around. In fact, Dream had only seen him once or twice the night before Wilbur prowling around the industrial square. Even then it was only when his workout took him too far.

“You literally know my order, I get the same thing every day!” Wilbur pouted. He was quite childlike, it was both annoying and seemed to amuse Dream’s other customers. If one of his tantrums did end up hurting someone then he wouldn’t hesitate. For now, he was safe.

“I get hundreds of customers every day bitchboy, you’re not special,” Tommy deadpanned. Maybe Dream should care about him cursing at customers but, again, most seemed to find it funny. Wilbur didn’t but Dream didn’t care what Wilbur thought.

Maybe if Wilbur stopped coming, Dream wouldn’t be reminded of him

 “Oi! Don’t fucking insult me you little- Fuck!” Wilbur cursed loudly as a glass of water was upturned over his head. He twisted around, eyes angry. MD danced out of his way with practiced motions, soundless laughter falling from his limbs,

“No yelling in the cafe please,” Dream piped up, watching the interaction with a smile. He gave MD a nod and the man brightened like an excited puppy. Dream dropped down beside him, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“Wha- that’s bullshit, your stupid employee yells at me all the time,” Wilbur argued. He always did, and at this point Dream was pretty sure that he enjoyed arguing. There was no other reason to keep coming back.

“Tommy is my employee, so he’s awarded certain rights that you, as a customer, are not,” Dream guided MD behind the counter. He helped MD through making the drink. For whatever reason, MD was the only person who could get any of the drink machines, tea espresso or otherwise, to behave. If Dream didn’t know any better, he’d call it magic.

“Yeah, I’m just better than you,” Tommy, the brat he was, edged Wilbur on. Dream didn’t want to admit it was funny because that was mean. It was still mildly amusing at best. Nothing more. Of course not.

“You tell him man, heroes like him suck dick,” MD cheered. Tommy may not be able to register his words, all though Dream was working on helping MD turn off his Enhancement even briefly, but still he puffed up. The ambient emotions still seemed to affect people.

It was hard to completely erase a person from existence, no Gift or Enhancement could manage it completely. There was always at least a footprint, a reminder that something should be there. Just a nagging feeling that the empty space shouldn’t be empty.

Dream just needed to have MD grab onto the fragment of existence and wear it like a shield. He didn’t know how exactly to pull it off but they were trying. Meditation didn’t work with MD’s level of excitement at all.

“Extra rights, my ass,” Wilbur muttered, hunching his shoulders. Tommy just gave him his total, roughly ten dollars more expensive than the actual price. They’d slowly been increasing it every visit to see how much Wilbur would take before not coming anymore. So far, he paid every time and Dream made Tommy keep the extra. Somehow, that was the hardest part.

“What ass? You’ve got a dinner plate back there imbécil de azul,” MD placed the drink down next to Tommy, just far enough so that it wouldn’t be accidentally knocked over. Dream absolutely did not snicker at that. That would be immature.

He breathed deeply through his nose, that’s all. Anna disappeared from his back, creeping onto his head as Wilbur’s eyes met Dream’s. There was that same look of discomfort as Wilbur watched. Dream looked away.

“Take your shit and get out,” Tommy said in the same tone he’d give the usual ‘goodbye! Have a very nice day!’. A peppy customer service tone he dropped the moment he finished speaking.

Maybe it was a little disconcerting that people had accepted what they saw as drinks and snacks appearing and disappearing randomly so quickly. It was like the cafe had some kind of reputation. Dream didn’t get that either.

Dream not getting things was depressingly common

“This place is fucking haunted,” Wilbur gripped, finally leaving with his eight pm tea and cookie. There were very few people in the cafe anymore, there rarely were. Even the black haired girl was gearing up to leave.

Five minutes after she did, only thirty minutes before close, it started pouring rain. It was a nice sound and one that didn’t happen very often. Always leaving the roads dangerously slick as the soot and oil staining the ground mixed and drifted over the surface. Even walking was hazardous, driving even more so.

Tubbo stared out the window as if the sky had personally insulted him, still hunched over his laptop like its own personal umbrella. He was still typing away despite not looking at the screen.

Much like his roommate, Tommy scrunching up his nose at the weather. He’d bent over and folded his arms in front of him, resting his head on them like he was about to fall asleep. Tried and annoyed and obviously not looking forward to leaving.

MD gave him a consoling pat on the shoulder that just made Tommy startle, head whipping up to see nothing and returning to his pose minutely more concerned than before. MD then excused himself to burn down Dream’s kitchen.

He wouldn’t but with the state of his baked goods, they had plenty of charcoal to try it.

“Is something wrong?” Dream touched Tommy’s shoulder, Anna taking the opportunity to crawl down and up onto the glass display case. She scuttered up the wall to the other side and into the vents. When did she learn to do that? She hardly left Dream’ back.

Not important.

“No, I’m,” Tommy badly stifled a yawn, “I’m good boss-man.” He was not good, Dream was surprised he hadn’t fallen asleep yet. Was Dream working him too hard? Sure, MD was helping now as a barista but Tommy still worked all day every day. Then he went out as Icarus at night and… when did he even get any sleep?

Hypocrite

“No you’re not,” Tubbo called him out, turning to give Tommy a knowing glare, “Do I have to remind you about last night?” Well that didn’t make Dream feel any better.

“Shut up Tubso,” Tommy stuck out his tongue, not even having the energy to lift his head. Dream should definitely give him more days off. He’d have to get another employee since MD could use the register, neither knowing how nor being able to interact with people properly. It shouldn’t take that long hopefully.

“What happened last night?” Dream couldn’t help the concerned tone sliding into his voice. He set a hand on Tommy’s head softly. The kid melted into the touch after only a few moments.

“I was mugged?” Tommy lied. Dream knew he lied. Tommy knew that Dream knew he lied but also knew that Dream couldn’t stop him. He could help him though, maybe. Food for thought.

“Right,” Dream hummed. The rain pounded outside, each minute passing seeming to make Tubbo’s anxiety over it worse. He only seemed to have a beaten canvas sack for his laptop, not waterproof. That was bad.

They probably couldn’t afford to replace it, the laptop that is. Even if Dream was paying them decently, he knew electronics were grossly expensive. If that broke then they might lose the internet for a long while.

That was definitely why he extended the offer.

“Would you like to stay here for the night?” Tubbo’s head hit the counter at a frightening speed. Dream made a concerned sound in the back of his throat and Tommy just sighed heavily.

“Do I even have a choice, Big C?” Tommy asked. Dream frowned. Of course he had a choice, Dream wasn’t going to force him to stay. Why would he? They’d already have to sleep on the pullout. It was bumpy and uncomfortable and even MD hated it. That was why he often wormed his way into Dream’s bed.

Not because of the nightmares, of course not

Dream promised not to speak of them

“That’s a yessir, Mr Clay sir!” Tubbo was already packing up his stuff, closing his laptop and shoving it into his bag. Dream gave a stiff smile. Being called sir still sounded weird but Tubbo never called him anything else. He seemed to enjoy Dream’s discomfort.

“You will have to sleep on the pullout though, it’s rather uncomfortable but it’s all I have,” Dream informed, pulling his hand from Tommy’s hair. A soft croon broke the air. Quiet and needy but almost… cute?

Tubbo snickered as Dream looked back at Tommy. His mouth was clamped shut and his face was slowly turning a bright red. Muscles suddenly tense after being practically mush before. That was pretty damning that the sound came from him.

“We’re fine with sharing Mr Clay sir,” Tubbo assured him with a wide grin. His eyes were gleaming and he was practically vibrating in place. Dream felt oddly like he was missing something.

With the two whispering frantically behind him about a topic he should definitely not be hearing about, something about birds and instincts and what that has to do with him and Tommy. Dream knew he had wings, so also being part bird wasn’t a huge leap. Actually, that was the most logical conclusion.

Not his business if Tommy didn’t want him to know. Being part bird was hardly illegal. Oh well. MD was already in the apartment when they got there. Dream hadn’t noticed that but that was MD’s thing. Dream couldn’t be perfect.

He just had to be better

“Eyyy, frijol verde! Why are the kids up here?” MD asked from where he was raiding his fridge. On the counter was a selection of sugary treats, one whole uncut carrot, orange juice, and beef jerky. Not the best meal.

“It’s raining really hard outside,” Dream hummed, closing the door behind the two kids, “would you like me to cook dinner now?” The question was intended for MD, his sort of roommate. Tommy answered instead.

“You don’t need to do that Boss,” Tommy brushed him off. He was standing awkwardly in the middle of the room, Tubbo pulling at the strap of his bag. Suddenly, they didn’t seem to have the certainty of answering their decision.

“Hell yeah! You said you were going to teach me to cook la luciérnaga,” MD cheered, shoving his snack pile to the side. Dream smiled, waving Tommy down, and began to pull out ingredients.

Eventually, Tommy relaxed and was pulled by Tubbo onto the couch. The laptop was taken back out and the two restarted their whisper conversation. Dream ignored it for his quiet rapport with the very loud MD. It made it a lot easier to not accidentally eavesdrop.

Halfway through cooking, his attention was snapped by Tommy shrieking. Whipping around, he and Tubbo were wrestling on the floor. MD made a joking comment about kids and cheered them on like an announcer.

Dream smiled, this was surprisingly nice.

Somewhere early in the morning he woke up, early enough so that even Dream’s internal clock was struggling after drifting off in Anna’s room. She’d gotten back in her terrarium on her own somehow. That was only mildly concerning.

At first, he wasn’t quite sure why he’d been shocked awake by his Gift. Warm and trapped in bed by an extremely clingy MD, it almost made him want to go back to sleep. But his Gift never woke him up for no reason.

Gently prying himself out of MD’s hold, Dream wiggled out of bed. Bare feet soundlessly drifted over the floor as we made his way out of the room. Muffled noises drifted from downstairs. Just barely picked up as Dream’s slowly woke up properly, senses dulled and the night dark. He hated this feeling.

Tommy wasn’t on the pullout, Dream paused. Tubbo was, having seemingly rolled over and fallen back asleep, or maybe he hadn’t woken at all when Tommy left. Still, he was gone.

Realistically, he was probably just out being Icarus as he did basically every night. Still, Dream worried his lip and tried not to think of all the so much worse things that could happen to him. Things he was painfully aware of possible.

There were so many things criminals would want a young boy for

None of them were nice

Noises from downstairs grew louder, either in general volume or just because of adrenaline snapping Dream awake. He rushed downstairs, not even pausing for shoes. Just before he walked out into the main cafe, he paused. He paused and he listened.

“-is kind of illegal, real dick move,” Icarus snarked. That was typical Icarus behavior. Dream had never met a hero, or even anyone Hero adjacent, as witty as him. Or at least, not someone who actively showed it. Wilbur was more insulting, and mostly out of costume.

“I’m a villain! Why the hell would I care what’s illegal or not. Just tell me what I want to know,” A dark voice rumbled, smoky in quality like if a campfire could speak. There was a thud, Icarus gave a muffled cry, and a wet snap. Dream’s vision turned green.

He was aware of his own movement in only the vaguest of sense, nothing but protective fury filling his actions after the sound that was undeniably a bone breaking. It didn’t matter who he was fighting or what he was up against. No one hurt a child like that.

Phantom pains of shattered limbs flared with each step

Prickling started at his feet

Somebody screamed

Hot, burning heat so vague so far away

Pounding, it hurts

Everything faded back in stages. Green, to outlines, pixelating before falling into view as how it should be. Dream was breathing hard, his feet were killing him. It wasn’t horrible but it was noticeable. His hands were stiff and twitching with bloodied knuckles. There was a familiar pain of a pulled muscle or two in his leg.

The cafe was a mess. Overturned chairs and pushed away tables, one was broken. There were burn marks in the wooden floor, soot settling into the grooves in what would be a mess to clean up. Shattered glass littered the floor from broken windows.

So that’s probably why his feet hurt.

“Holy shit,” Dream turned at Tommy’s voice, only his Gift keeping his feet as vertigo hit him like a train, “you just kicked Prometheus’ ass.” Was that… whoever’s name? Dream didn’t recognize it. Or maybe that was just because his head was stuffed with cotton.

“Your hurt,” Dream ignored that, zoning in on Tommy’s broken arm. He was holding it against his chest, leaning against the counter for support. There was a burn mark on his forehead and a bandana wrapped around his face. A poor attempt to hide his identity.

Better than Ve- than Apollo’s

Ignoring the complaints of his body, he forced Tommy upstairs so he could make a splint for his arm. Each step seemed to drive the broken glass further into his feet. It didn’t matter. Tommy was more important than some glass.

His Gift fed him the cliff notes of what happened while he was under. A villain in all black, some flame retardant leather-like material. Reddish skin, black hair, and horns. Could create sparks and light fires that he seemed to be immune to, nothing special.

Apparently, Dream had forced him away from Tommy and he hit a table, breaking it. The villain had jumped to his feet but Dream had quite literally thrown him out. Possibly bruising his ribs in the process, more had happened but Dream ignored it in favor of pelting Tommy with painkillers.

“No, I do you now,” Tommy argued as Dream pushed him into bed, “You’re literally leaving bloody footprints while you walk. I want to help you, you hypocrite.” Tommy was thwarted when Tubbo latched onto him like an octopus, forcing him down. Somehow, the kid was still asleep. 

“You got one right Niño,” MD sounded furious, “Me and this idiot are going to have a few words, go to bed and shut up,” Dream looked away discreetly. He didn’t trust himself to speak right now. With how violently his Gift was humming, he doubted he could.

“Wha- when the fuck did you get here?” Tommy startled, head whipping around to land on and actually acknowledge MD. That sudden development in controlling MD’s powers didn’t break his concentration, sadly. Dream swallowed thickly.

The cafe wasn’t open that day. The only explanation was a dark shaky cam of Prometheus getting his face ground into the pavement by a glowing, pissed off cafe owner and a social media post of said owner and his employee being fretted over by a goat boy and a stormy looking mexican.

Clay had his feet wrapped and Tommy’s arm was in a sling. The comments were full of theories of how the events were connected. Eventually, they came to the consensus that Clay hadn’t actually been hurt despite fighting an A-tier villain and instead from stepping on broken glass. The rumor mill was ecstatic.

Other districts not so much as they were forced to listen to increasingly more dramatic and violent retellings of the swift fight. About how no one messes with District’s Twelve’s citizens or consequences will be dealt out with equal fury. Most shrugged off the rumors. But some? They began to fester.

Whatever that festering leads to doesn’t matter, not to District Twelve. Their part had already been done. What happens next is entirely out of their control but if it just so happens to benefit The Spider’s Web? That’s no one’s business but theirs.

And if, after finally being let out of quarantine upstairs, Clay went downstairs to a variety of weapons, get well cards, and custom made shirts for the cafe all piled on the counter? Well Anna wasn’t about to tell anyone.

Neither was the black haired woman taking pictures of his gobsmacked face for the community facebook board. Because she had nothing to do with politely helping people break in to leave presents.

To imply anything else would be simply ridiculous.

District Twelve protects its own.

Chapter Text

Dream is a lot of things. A cafe owner, generous, helpful, and kind. Quiet and watchful, protective and easily worried. A great cook, loving and a fairly known figure.

A murder, liar, theif. Once a hero, never a hero

What Dream wasn’t was stupid, or oblivious. He may not be the best at the nuance of social interaction and he may be better at identifying emotions than consoling them but that didn’t mean he was thick. 

He noticed how Tommy favored his right side. He how Tubbo would scratch at his own ears when worried. He noticed how MD would struggle with breathing sometimes in a way that wasn’t from being unfit and more from some kind of asthma.

There was a customer who would bring in a newspaper and squint at it for several long hours who obviously needed glasses. There was another who was constantly bouncing between jobs and would always show up but never capable of buying anything. There were two who’d sit at a table and awkwardly flirt for hours at a time.

Many many people wandered in and out, each with their own lives and stories and loves and fears. Who would all startle whenever Dream called them out by name. He even knew that the black haired woman’s name was Rena but she never wanted anyone to know. 

All of this is to say that when Prometheus walked into the cafe alongside Wilbur, merrily chatting and joining in on the weekly attempt to annoy him into never coming back, Dream was not amused. Worse yet, no one seemed to realize.

It didn’t seem to matter that Prometheus’ skin tone was the same orangish tone as Sapnap’s or that their hair was the same style. The horns were the same, when he laughed sparks flared, and no one even flinched. Either everyone knew or no one did.

From Tommy’s expression, it was leaning towards the latter. Sheer obliviousness in his eyes despite his arm still being in a sling from two weeks prior was damning. Even MD didn’t seem to be able to tell. Even as he used his limited abilities of spatial awareness to convince Wilbur the cafe was haunted.

Honestly, Dream was just becoming more and more certain that he was the only sane person in the room as Sapnap started to grill his employee over if they sold a spicy drink or snack or something. Which they didn’t, unless cinnamon counted. Cinnamon did not count but it was the closest thing they had.

“Look man, if you’re not gonna buy anything then sit down and mind your own business,” Tommy snapped finally, slamming his hands down onto the counter. Sapnap clicked his tongue, sparks.

“Awww, come on, I thought we were friends,” Sapnap pouted, leaning backwards as he rocked on his feet, holding the counter for support. Dream tilted his head. The way he said that, the look on his face… it felt familiar? His Gift buzzed loudly.

A memory was pulled to the surface.

-=-

“Awww, come on, I thought we were friends.”

Vulcan was a unique hero for a variety of reasons. First and most obviously was the fact that, technically, he was made of fire and his hair was smoke. No one knew quite why his gift, Hellfire, presented this way but it had. The result was a quite powerful gift with just as bad side effects.

Being made of fire made him weak to any and all forms of water, but during rain he became a walking smokescreen. However, his fire got hotter the angrier he got, not to mention punching fire hurt no matter who you were. Hell, no one could even touch Hellfire at all. Even just his armor was off limits.

Naturally, Hellfire had been assigned to Dream’s team, which was very aptly named the Dream Team due to Dream’s position. Who else could deal with a walking bonfire but the man wildly considered the strongest man alive? Not many.

Dream just moved away again as Hellfire tried to toss an arm around his shoulder. He didn’t let Hellfire touch him. The tendency to melt away skin was a pretty big deterrent and the Hero Commission did not approve of scar tissue. Dream didn’t know why.

He wasn’t raised to ask questions.

“We’re not friends.” It had been the first time they’d met but strangely enough, Hellfire was acting like they’d been friends for years. Dream didn’t recognize him. If he didn’t recognize him they’d never met before.

Who even tries to touch someone they’d just met?

“Come on man, we’re gonna be eventually! It’s bound to happen,” Vulcan pouted, it looked strange on his face since he didn’t technically possess a mouth, “Look, we’re going to become best of friends and then I’m getting us out of this place, you got that?”

Vulcan said that a lot, promising to get the ‘out’. 

Liar

-=-

Dream pretended not to understand what Vulcan meant, even now

He lied to himself because he didn’t want to think otherwise.

He didn’t want to think of the implications

They weren’t nice

“Hey, you know what? I don’t think I ever got your name,” Vul- Sapnap was in front of him. Craning his neck to look Dream in the eyes, despite the height difference that came from sitting on the ceiling. His eyes were wicked, smile worse.

“Dr-,” Dream cut himself off, “Clay, my name is Clay,” He took a deep breath. Anna hissed next to him, crawling on to his leg. Dream had to get a handle on himself. It didn’t matter who was in front of himself, it didn’t, because this wasn’t even him . It wasn’t him, it wasn’t them, and he needed to remember that.

“Clay, huh?” Sapnap narrowed his eyes, “Call me Sapnap, everyone one does. I’d shake your hand but you’re just a little bit too high. Bet the air up there’s real clear,” He laughed like he said something funny. Light pops escaping him as his teeth click together and make sparks.

MD turned a glass of water over his head. Dream definitely did not laugh at that, that would be rude. Sapnap did not make a high pitched sound that better belonged to a kicked chihuahua either. To say so would be ridiculous.

“Get your ass out of here firecracker,” MD bopped him on the top of the head with the glass before going to clean it. Sapnap stuttered, rubbing the back of his head. His eyes were wide.

“Guess this place really is haunted,” he muttered. Dream shrugged in response, staring him down and watching Sapnap get more and more uncomfortable. As his discomfort grew, his poor attempt as jokes became worse.

Eventually, he gave up and left.

Good

Dream didn’t want to see Vulcan anymore

He went back to his sewing project, listening to the nameless tunes and quiet murmuring of the cafe. Tommy occasionally speaks up with an order. Casual conversations with Tubbo when he should technically be working. He listened to the noise.

It was better than thinking of who else he might meet

Daedalus wasn’t out often. For all that he believes in Icarus and their reasons for being Vigilantes, he wasn’t much of a physical fighter. But that was fine for their purposes. One patroller and a tech person was the perfect, tiny faux hero team they could ask for. Plus, Daedalus adored the information gathering aspect of his job.

Hacking, spying, and just generally getting into places he definitely wasn’t supposed to be was exhilarating in a way that actively patrolling didn’t do for him. Icarus didn’t get it. Then again, Daedalus did understand how he could run over the rooftops all damn night. They were even there.

But if that was all true then why the fuck was he here? Daedalus ducked behind a sixteen wheeler on bricks, bullets impacting the ground and ricocheting off metal. His legs were burning, his breathing was coming in sharp gasps, and his heart was beating into his ears.

It was supposed to be a simple day, well night… both? They’d spent the day at Tommy’s job, made fun of the highlander, and went home. Basically what three did every week. What was different was the sting they’d set up tonight.

An abandoned building, hidden US , a get in and get out type situation. The information Daedalus had found had said that no one came in here, like ever. No foot traffic, no well wishers, and certainly no workers.

So, when someone did and Daedalus caught them dropping off a mysterious package and stuffing a USB into one of the many holes in the wall. Naturally, they went out to investigate. Icarus had insisted Daedalus join him, teasing about how he needed some exercise. It was an easy mission.

Daedalus scrambled to the size as someone dropped into his hiding spot, almost bringing a bat down onto his head. Bullets whizzed by, just barely missing him as he kicked away. Icarus bulldozed down the shooter.

Look, they hadn’t intended to interrupt a meeting between Las Nevadas and some goon from what the Las Nevadas members had called the ‘Nightmare Initiative’ when they’d snooped. Mostly, it seemed Las Nevadas did not like the Nightmare Initiative.

That made sense, Daedalus kicked a masked man in the teeth, diamond patterned fabric staining with blood. As soon as he and Icarus had been found out, the Nightmare Initiative member had peaced out and disappeared into the darkness. Talk about rude.

Icarus was punted off the gunner, said weapon skittering across the floor. Both scrambled for it. Daedalus took off towards the briefcase, the USB drive was already safe in Icarus’ pocket. Or as safe as it could be as they tried their best to survive these guys.

Spines shot out, impaling into his leg and causing him to fall with a gasp of pain. What? Daedalus blinked in pained confusion, a hot feeling spread out from his legs. Too hot, too warm. He bit his lip.

None of them had spines! The gunner had a thick shell over exposed skin like a turtle, baseball bat woman was semi translucent except for her bones -which was mostly creepy- and diamond mask had color changing hair. No spines, barely even dangerous.

Daedalus ripped the spines out of his leg with shaky hands, blood staining his pants and slowly dripping to the floor. It was dark, too dark. Was it supposed to be that dark? He didn’t remember, his head was fuzzy. The sounds of fighting were distant to his ears.

Footsteps were loud, too loud. His vision was diminishing, a fog creeping in at the edges. Black boots, the Nightmare Initiative member. They picked up the briefcase, Daedalus reached out on reflex. The movement pulled at his injury.

Pain, bright hot pain, his back was on fire. Why did it hurt so much, why did it hurt. The bad lady had swung at him and hit, hard. Too hard. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt.

Daedalus screamed.

The world dissolved to fire.

Tommy woke up first, lips slowly turning blue as the freezing cold etched into his skin. His head throbbed painfully and there was likely still a bullet lodged in his side. Thankfully, it was already cauterized when he’d burned the entire building down after watching Tubbo get slammed into the ground by the bat bitch.

A loud groan left him as he reluctantly opened his eyes. He was lying next to Tubbo after tossing himself over his friend to protect him from the fire. Despite that, burns were still over both their arms and legs, filling the air with the smell of burnt flesh. If the Las Nevadas member had died, he didn’t remember.

The building around them was blackened, the already crumbling concrete looked one strong wind away from crushing them. He pushed himself up on his hands, it stung from the burns. Sharp and hot but Tubbo was more important than his pain.

“Dae-” Tommy coughed harshly, “Tubbo?” He shook Tubbo’s shoulder. Tubbo shifted, groaning. He cracked open his eyes and they immediately fell closed again. 

“Tubbo?” Tommy tried again, Tubbo didn’t even falter in his sleep. Was it sleep? He had to just be unconscious. That wasn’t good though. It wasn’t, he better not be dead. He couldn’t be dead.

“Come on big T, this isn’t funny,” Tommy pleaded, heart picking up pace. He shoved Tubbo’s shoulder, it didn’t work. Heat rose to his face that wasn’t from the burns, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. His breath picked up pace.

His boss, he had to call his boss. Clay would know what to do, he always did. He was, like, the best with first aid, he’d know what to do. Tommy shoved his hands through his various pockets, searching for the phone he only reluctantly kept on him.

Burns were rubbed horribly against his clothes but Tommy didn’t care, he couldn’t. Tubbo was more important. Why had he insisted Tubbo come? If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t be hurt. Why, why why?

Shaking hands struggled to properly find Clay’s contact. Tears blurred his vision but soon a familiar ringing broke the air. It was warped, sound cutting out and definitely also damaged from the heat. There wasn’t a single thing in the building that hadn’t been.

“Hello?” Clay’s voice crackled over the speaker and Tommy could have cried. Well, he was already crying but still, this was more of a relieved cry. Something that Tommy would never admit to loosening the tense feeling in his gut.

“Clay?” Tommy choked out, “I… I need help,” Getting the words out was a struggle. Each inhale brought in ash and lingering smoke, each exhale stirred the worryfearburningscaredsoscared feeling in his heart. He didn’t want to speak but he had to. He had to.

“Tommy, what happened,” Clay demanded, it wasn’t a question. An edge to his voice Tommy had never heard before was present. It felt… dangerous. Like Tommy was about to get into the worst fight of his life. Jokes on those instincts, he already had and now Tubbo wasn’t moving .

“There was a fight, Tubbo was hit with a bat really hard,” He struggled to breathe properly, “he won’t wake up, we can’t afford a hospital or an ambulance or, or… Clay, I don't know what to do.” Tommy’s shaking got worse. 

“Put me on speaker Tommy,” Clay’s voice remained calm, yet still with that dangerous edge. It took a bit of effort but he did, setting the phone on the floor and resisting the urge to scratch at his arms. That would make his injuries worse. He wasn’t stupid.

“I need you to take off Tubbo’s costume as best you can. Do not move him. Try to keep him as still as possible, it’s important,” Clay ordered. There was the sound of his talking to someone else, the constantly appearing and disappearing roommate maybe? Tommy couldn’t remember their name most days.

Doesn’t matter, he had to follow directions. He started with the easy part, the mask. It just clipped in the back since he didn’t use it very often. Much easier to do than Tommy’s, which hugged his head and tugged at his ears whenever he took it off.

The rest was more difficult with the whole ‘don’t move him’ thing. Tommy didn’t get it but he had to trust Clay. So he just rolled up sleeves and removed under armor. They were just skating pads they’d found in a dumpster.

“Alright Tommy,” Clay broke Tommy’s distracted thought, “Someone’s coming to get you, don't worry about money. I have it handled . Just stay on the phone and stay awake, okay?” 

“H-hospital?” Tommy’s voice cracked, he hated hospitals. Hated them, with a burning passion. Impersonal, cold with medical staff that didn’t care. They never cared. Never, never, never.

“I’ll be there Tommy, I’ll protect you two, okay?” Clay’s voice softened, “No one will hurt you if I have a say.” Tommy nodded jerkily, momentarily forgetting that Clay couldn’t see him. That only helped a little bit.

“Okay,” it wasn’t okay, “I’ll go for Tubbo,” he muttered, because if he had a choice he’d never enter one again. Never again, he couldn’t do it again. But he didn’t have a choice. For Tubbo.

“Do you want me to stay on the phone?” Clay asked. Tommy jerked, no, well yes. He should stay on, he had to stay on. Tommy couldn’t do this alone.

“Yes,” Tommy croaked. Breathing hurt, his head desperately wanted him to give in and fall asleep next to Tubbo. His wings ached something fierce and he was pretty sure his glands had been almost completely burned away. It would take hours to properly coat them again.

“Okay, well I’ve been thinking of adding something to the menu, would you like to hear about it?” Clay asked. Tommy couldn’t fall asleep. He couldn’t. Then he and Tubbo would be exposed, too exposed.

“Yes,” he may have not spoken at all with how quiet he was. Clay started explaining his ideas for a ‘Mexican spice cookie’ after Sapnap, the bitch, was complaining about lack of options. Tommy didn’t know what that was.

He hardly learned what it was either. Sure, he clinger onto the words with a vicious force to stay awake and aware but they just flowed by. Oddly calming and soothing due to reasons he wouldn’t admit. There were never any empty platitudes. No ‘it’s going to be okay’.

That’s good, Tommy hated empty promises.

Clay ended up getting there before the ambulance. They were always so fucking slow, so were the police. The firemen were half decent at best and never went to the industrial district. No one was supposed to. So why did he think this was a good idea.

Tommy was startled by Clay hanging up the phone. He looked down at it, and then up to see the man carefully picking his way through the wreckage. There were… words? None he could understand, not when was so tired and in pain and so relieved all at the same time.

He locked eyes with Clay, managing a wobbly smile with a tear track stained face and soot burned into his skin. Clay got closer. The relief he was here was palpable and something he’d never admit to if he had a choice.

With a relief so strong, Tommy finally wavered.

Tommy passed out with a grimace that could barely be called a smile.

At least they were going to be safe.

Right?

Chapter Text

Hospitals were supposed to be places of support and healing where you go when injured to get fixed up. Clean, tidy establishments whose sole goal is to help those who need it. Except, apparently, if you lived below District Ten. There had to be a pattern there.

Still, when Dream had arrived to the hospital, frantic and trying desperately to remain some fragment of calm as he watched his ki- employees get dragged off into the emergency room, he was appalled by the state of the place. Maybe he was just used to better funded hospitals.

But that didn’t matter here. As he was scrolling on his phone, MD blowing it up wanting constant updates about the kid, he learned that they were technically all owned by the same megacorporation. It left a strange taste in his mouth.

Pictures of other hospitals they owned, even those in District Nine, showed fairly fancy places. Non-slick floors, carefully crafted color schemes, and all state of the art equipment. Even the food looked like it had been ferried in from a restaurant.

It was a stark difference from the one Dream was sitting in right now. Sticky tiles covered in substances Dream didn’t want to know, plastic chairs that hurt his back, and barely even a vending machine in sight. Their stretchers squealed loudly when they were pushed too fast.

Of course it wasn’t as bad as the rest of the district. There was no obvious dirt and while the furniture was dusty they weren’t stained. All hospitals still needed a certain level of cleanliness.

Graying walls seemed suffocating, the slow clickclickclick of a nearby clock was deafening. It was so quiet, too quiet. Even in his old world, all of his experiences with hospitals had been loud and frantic.

Maybe what he was trying to say was that this place felt… dead. What a horrible feeling for a hospital. Or maybe he was just insanely stressed out? No, that wasn’t a maybe. He knew it was.

Should’ve been better, faster

You let them get hurt

You’re a monster, too weak to help anyone

They hate you

How could you let this happen?

Dream texted MD to post about the cafe being closed for the foreseeable future. Even when Tommy and Tubbo woke up, because they had to wake up, he wasn’t going to shove them back into working. Dream was going to force them to relax and heal or die trying.

“Are you Tohmas and Tobias Williams' guardian?” A tired looking worker stepped into the waiting room, her scrubs a pale blue and hair falling out of her bun. Dream stood.

“Yes, that’s me,” Dream lied seamlessly. The worker squinted at him, she looked familiar but only vaguely. He ignored it, it didn’t matter. Her eyes crinkled at him. A smile? 

“Good news, your brother,” pause, what? “is going to be okay. He has some minor smoke inhalation and I recommend bed rest for two weeks or until the burns have healed to an acceptable level,” the worker droned, looking down at her clipboard.

Brother? Tommy maybe? Tommy and him both had blonde hair, they looked nothing alike but brother? Clay did say he was their guardian so he had to be related to them someway. No, calm, not important. Tommy was mostly fine, that’s what’s important.

“As for Tobias,” the worker paused, “you may want to sit down for this sir.” That’s … not good, is it? Dream sat obediently.

“While the other injuries he has are akin to Tohmas, he also has a broken spine that has done some damage to his spinal cord. We’re going to have to perform surgery on his back and have him undergo physical therapy before he could safely walk again. Even then it’s recommended to be only for short distances.”

Oh… oh Dream understood why she wanted him to sit down now. Sure, with his Gift he wouldn’t have fallen over but… it was still a good idea. Just so he didn’t do anything too rash. What he would’ve done he didn’t know, he felt pretty frozen now.

Your fault your fault

“Now I understand this is a lot to take in but,” “How much?” Dream interrupted her, voice deceptively soft. She took a step back, looking surprised that he’d spoken. What, did she expect him to fall mute?

“For the surgery? With your insurance, roughly five thousand dollars out of pocket. Adding in the required brace, physical therapy, and medication, around six thousand by the end of it all,” Her voice was still professional but warbled as she gave him the cost.

It was a fair amount of money, much more than many of the citizens of District Twelve could reasonably afford to pay. Dream still had plenty of inheritance and no fucks to give about spending it on this.

“I can pay.”

He had to fix this

Dream stayed in the hospital for three days. Tommy woke up around fourteen hours after he’d begun his stakeout in the small room Tommy had been assigned. No one ever came to try and move him, always working around him. It was like they were scared to bother him. Dream ignored that.

“Clah?” Tommy has roused slowly, slurring his words and cracking open his eyes, “Ish Tubso ‘kay?” He asked. There was a very intent look in his eyes. They were quite present, not quite aware, but he still knew what he wanted to know. He was still concerned about Tubbo.

“He’s alive, Tommy, he’s alive,” Dream assured him in a hushed voice. He wasn’t about to call Tubbo ‘okay’. Tubbo wasn’t okay, he wouldn’t be for a while. Not just physically but Dream knew that situations like this caused trauma.

He had more than his own fair share

So he didn’t call Tubbo okay, he refused to lie to Tommy like that. Liars were the worst kind of people Dream knew. 

“Mkay,” Tommy muttered before drifting off again. He looked so much softer than he usually was, so much like the kid he pretended not to be. Face slack and almost peaceful, hair light and fluffy. Bandages covered his arms and chest and his wings were splayed out on his side.

His wings looked soft too, if not properly taken care of. Of course, Dream only really had birds and him to go off of so he could be wrong. Feathers were skewed, soot clinging to them, and they were depressingly dull. Not nearly the vibrant reds and oranges and yellows Dream thought they would be.

Maybe it has something to do with the oil glands? Dream reached out and fixed a feather, dully wishing he were allowed to see Tubbo too. The oil was missing from the wings entirely. Did it burn off? It had to. Dream didn’t know it could do that.

Hours passed with Dream just sitting there, brushing his hands through plush wings to fix broken and twisted feathers. It was oddly calming and, surely, Tommy would appreciate it, right? Wrong feathers had to be uncomfortable. Like a broken nail or something.

Waiting was torture, just Dream and his mind. He could be patient, he could, but he didn’t want to be. He wanted them to be okay even though he knew that they wouldn’t be. Not for a long time.

Knowing that, Dream took a deep breath. Eventually, he’d be told to go home, visiting hours were only so long. So Dream forced himself to calm down, refused to cry, and stood on his own. He brushed a hand through Tommy’s hair.

Then, he left, head high and deceptively calm looking. 

He had to be strong.

He had to be good enough

Four days later, Dream was back at the hospital having spent the previous days with MD setting up ads to get another employee and explaining that, no, Tommy wasn’t fired. Tommy needed bed rest and Dream was giving him paid sick leave until Dream was satisfied. Dream wasn’t a monster.

Or at least not that much of one

Little success yet but Dream was hopeful someone would go for it. But that issue was shoved in the back of his mind. It didn’t really matter, not when the cafe was so much cheaper than his old rent and Dream doubted he even could go broke. It was a weird feeling.

MD was chattering away next to him, flawlessly walking with him to Tommy’s room despite the fact that he wasn’t allowed to be in there. Dream didn’t care if he was, call MD emotional support. The hospital staff could hardly stop MD either. A benefit of MD’s enhancement, apparently.

When Dream had learned that, MD had complained about walking into a bank on the upper end to try and get someone’s attention and activating some sort of alarm system. He had pointed to a series of scar covering his body, bullet wounds. Dream hadn’t asked further and MD didn’t seem comfortable telling him. The knowledge was still useful though.

“Hey Boss, when can I get out of here?” Tommy asked as soon and Dream entered the room, fidgeting restlessly and so much more alive than a couple days ago. He was still covered in bandages and just looked fragile but it was an improvement.

“Awww, don’t like hospitals, pito? Same, honestly,” MD hopped up on the bed next to Tommy. Tommy looked at the spot he was sitting, brows furrowed, before seeming to shrug it off. Hm, that’s a development.

“If all goes well, tomorrow,” Dream answered, running hand through Tommy’s head. The kid not so subtly pushed his head into the motion, obviously embarrassed about it and desperately trying to pretend not to be. Dream let him pretend.

“Not today?” Tommy whined, pouting. The painkillers must be effective, Tommy was usually much better at pretending not to be the child he definitely was. Dream smiled.

“No, the doctors want you for just one more day of observation, you burnt yourself pretty badly,” Dream nodded his head towards the much brighter looking wings that Tommy had pressed against his back. It was as if he was still trying to hide them. Dream didn’t know why.

“Kinda reckless of you, really. Can see where you were coming from though,” MD commented, hands investigating Tommy’s wings. It seemed to relax him, or both of them actually.

“Am I being pet by your ghost friend?” Tommy asked suddenly. It was a better topic to his brain, apparently. MD paused, seemed to vibrate in place and flap his hands excitedly. Then he forced himself to calm down and go back to petting Tommy’s wings.

“Yep,” Dream answered, “is that a bad thing?” Very little knowledge on what Tommy was existed online, except in high ranking government databases that Dream definitely wasn’t allowed into. Regardless, Dream knew his wings were sensitive and rare.

Hacking is a crime, so he didn’t do that

Definitely not

“Nah, I trust you guys,” Tommy mumbled, yawning, “girl? Who’s even the ghost person?” He narrowed his eyes like he was contemplating the answer to life. Or maybe he was just falling asleep.

“Awww, don’t anyone’s been that concerned over me before,” MD crooned, “other than you mi mejor amigo.” He reached over to tap Dream’s chest before settling back down. It was both sweet and concerning. Actually, that was just MD in a nutshell.

“That’s MD, he/him pronouns,” Dream explained for the third time. Tommy would definitely forget again for no actual fault of his own. MD was slowly getting better at pulling in his Enhancement, though it seemed to stress him out a lot to do so. Mostly, he practiced in the apartment since to Dream there was still a difference. A small one but enough to notice.

“Mhm, what about you big C?” Tommy leant back as MD just barely scratched at the muscles under his feathers. Dream paused. MD did too since neither had really ever thought about that. Then again, Dream had only really had an identity for, what, half a year? Even then he was busy with the cafe and not revealing himself.

“Whatever you want to call me,” Dream answered regardless. That’s really just what he did anyway, going along with what other people wanted. He wasn’t picky about pronouns anyway. Or much of anything…

“So big person then?” Tommy’s face scrunched up again. MD snorted, remarking that of course that was his answer. It’s why the customers loved him, he always asked before referring unless you pissed him off. Then he forgot. Like with Wilbur and Sapnap. 

Like Vex and Vulcan

Dream’s phone rang suddenly, startling the three out of their suddenly very warm feeling interaction. That might just be Tommy’s wings heating up in response to the petting though. Not enough to light a fire though, thankfully.

He excused himself, stepping out of the room. Gently, quietly, cursing the fact he’d left his ringer on, he answered. No one was around but he still kept himself visibly calm.

“Hello?” Dream asked, two arms crossed over his chest, one holding the phone, and the other placed on his hip. Despite his attempts, he did look a bit annoyed. Anyone would think that reasonable though.

Calm down, Heroes don’t get angry

“Hey, I’m calling about the available position for The Spider’s Web? I saw your post about it online,” A soft voice hummed, fairly deep and masculine. Dream relaxed minutely. So this was an important call then.

“Okay,” Dream muttered, “I’m Clay, the owner. Could I get your name and pronouns?” Dream fished a small notebook and pen out of his pant pocket. Ones he carried everywhere just in case. He also had a knife and his charger, as well as a small bag of crackers. Never knew when you’d need it.

“Eret, any pronouns, what about you?” Eret sounded pleasantly surprised. Dream scrawled down their answer, pausing as he was asked about his pronouns for the second time that day. He didn’t expect to think about it this much.

“Whatever you want to call me, Eret,” Dream answered, “Do you have any prior experience as a cashier?” The hospital was really cold, Dream noted. Everything from the sticky tiles to the too low AC unit that barely functioned. Winter was approaching, apparently.

“You could definitely say that. I know how to work a register and have extensive customer service experience,” Eret laughed like she said a joke. An inside joke, maybe? Dream wouldn’t know where that would come up but that was the whole point of inside jokes. So he assumes at least.

“That’s good, what days are you available?” 

“I’ve come into quite a bit of free time recently so any day you need me for the first two months. After that, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays if that’s alright with you,” Eret listed off.

“That works for me, you’ll be working alone for the first two weeks I’m afraid,” Dream explained. Even though Tommy was going home tomorrow, Dream refused to let him work. Though he hadn’t told the kid yet. He expected quite a lot of resistance to that.

“That’s fine by me, I’m quite independent,” Eret assured, “and don’t worry. I’m already quite knowledgeable about The Spider’s Web’ more… unique aspects.” What did that mean?

“Okay… when can you start?” Dream tilted his head, confused. Unique aspects? There wasn’t much about the cafe Dream would call special. More plant life than most but other than that? It felt fairly normal to him.

You’re not normal

“Friday at the earliest. I’m afraid I’ll be quite busy until then,” Eret responded, were they more out of breath than at the beginning of the conversation. She sounded it, just that little breather. Oh well, whatever he was doing, Dream didn’t care.

“Alright then, show up at 6:30 and call my phone, I’ll let you into the cafe then. Have a nice day,” Dream was soundly cut off before Eret responded. Rude… they must be busy. Why else would he be so out of breath?

Not that it matters, it was hardly Dream’s business. Right now, all he wanted to do was go back into the room and not think about Tubbo too much. Not when he still wasn’t allowed to actually visit him for whatever reason. 

He did know one thing, however.

“Good news, Tubbo will be coming home with us.”

Tommy cheered loudly, MD joining him. Dream smiled.

Bones and muscles crunched and squished under their boots. The road running red with blood and the smell of death choking the air. Pleading that had long since been cut short still rang in the air, an empty scream that would never be filled.

Grim satisfaction colored every moment, some sort of sick sense of glee sparkling in their eyes. Sadly, the victim wasn’t dead, they weren’t allowed to kill her. But, they were allowed to give the stupid minion exactly what she did to District Twelve’s precious vigilantes. It was justice.

‘My boss will hear about this,’ the terrified former Las Nevadas member had threatened, cradling her broken hand as her only weapon was taken and thrown to the side. Now she isn't saying much of anything at all. Just lying there, in the slow pooling of their own blood, unconscious. 

‘Your boss wanted this,’ They’d told her, smiling viciously before the sharp heel of their boot was stabbed into her leg. The former Las Nevadas members’ fear had been almost entirely from the one phrase. Perhaps knowing exactly what that meant.

No one just leaves Las Nevadas. It’s a lifelong commitment and to leave is to insult the owners themselves. Not to say it hasn’t happened, but only with their blessing. Contrarily, this unfortunate soul had been kicked out.

A worse fate, really.

They ground their boots further into the former member’s back. Bones shifted, shattered. As good as she had given, an eye for an eye and a back for a back. Gold glinted under the light as they turned, nodding at seemingly nothing.

Shadows twisted and moved and whoever had been there moved. The Nightmare Initiative had sent one of their own to… punish the four. Showing responsibility for their Initiative’s mistakes, how polite.

The Queen of Spades laughed and picked up their phone.

Las Nevadas put a card into place.

“Your move,” She whispered to the air, tilting off their sunglasses to look at what little of the moon was visible.

It was a wonderful night.

Chapter Text

When Eret walked into the cafe for their first shift, she thought she knew exactly what to expect. After all, they’d been watching the place for the past three months give or take. He knew about the vigilantes, the fact that Clay was a highlander, and criminals steering clear of the place like it was hell itself. Nothing really left after that.

And yet, here they were, watching their boss calmly roast another highlander to kingdom come while sewing a dress, on the ceiling, face mostly covered by the delicate purple fabric in his hands, and somehow still managing to look intimidating. She looked down at the finished order that appeared by their hand. Back to the situation at hand, locked eyes with the illegal spider, and back at the spider’s owner.

Eret felt queerly like they were being left out of a massive inside joke and the C tier villain she kept seeing out of the corner of his eye wasn’t helping. Especially when they didn’t even know where the girl kept coming from. Or the fact that things randomly appearing from nowhere was normal? 

“You do this everytime I come in here!” The brown haired man with a simply atrocious, if expensive, fashion sense spat. Honestly, that had made the A tier villain want to kill him on the spot. That outfit was an affront to go.

“Mhm, and you still accost my staff, I don’t see the problem,” Clay didn’t even look up, down? From his sewing project. Eret smoothed her hands over their custom embroidered apron. Handmade in a day if they were right, which didn’t make sense considering the level of detail.

“I’m not accosting your staff! It’s not my fault all you hire are Lowlanders,” The bitch, as he shall now be known, argued. Eret kept an eye on the commotion as they rang up another order. This seemed to be a common occurrence if everyone else's reactions said anything. At least it wasn’t busy.

Why a classist bitch was taking the time to get coffee from District Twelve and still being classist at the same time was a mystery that Eret would rather stab than solve. Stabbing was the only way to rehabilitate classist highlanders, in Eret’s opinion. Fear is much easier than respect.

“It’s not my fault you walk in looking like that either and yet I still have to deal with it. Perhaps you should try being polite? I’ve heard it works wonders,” Clay replied with that eerie sense of calm he’d had all day. Another order appeared by Eret’s hand with a gust of wind. She did not jump.

“Good luck getting him to do that!” Prometheus laughed loudly, “I don’t think he even knows what polite means, ey Clay?” Seeing another A tier villain as an apparent regular was also a surprise. Thankfully, Clay didn’t seem to mind so there weren’t any heroes as far as Eret knew. Rather good for them.

Clay hummed in lieu of response, shielding their face with the fabric as he leaned in on a stitch. That’s how it looked from Eret’s perspective at least. The bitch rounded on Prometheus, who hadn’t even bought anything yet was still allowed to stay for whatever reason. Maybe Clay liked the company?

“HEY! I am fully aware of what polite means!” The bitch screeched in a way that reminded Eret of a cat they’d once accidentally stepped on the tail of. Sort of high pitch and wobbly, like a bad dream. 

“Could’ve fooled me,” A low voice snarked, as Tommy, her apparent colleague, entered. His head was ducked and he was shuffling like his feet were in pain. Probably still are. The fire had been nasty for both of the vigilantes. Eret didn’t know that, if you were to ask her, because she wasn’t supposed to know that. Duh.

“Excuse you child,” the bitch immediately turned on their only technically a legal adult colleague. Does it count as a legal adult if you’re neither an adult or legal but the paperwork says it anyway? Eh, Eret became a villain to get away from silly things like legality and gender constructs.

“I’m not a fucking child!” Tommy shrieked. Eret felt oddly like they were watching a train wreck. Ugly but fascinating. The main difference was that this had a lot less chance of death than a train wreck. Not by a lot considering how Highlanders were but still.

“You should be in bed,” Clay turned his head to look at Tommy, voice soft and solid. She shifted uncomfortably, glancing away at the slowly disappearing customer base. Just people who weren’t finished eating yet and hadn’t left because of that. Nothing that Eret did wrong. They still felt like Clay was disappointed in them. The look wasn’t even at him?

“I’m fine boss man, my legs barely even hurt anymore,” Tommy protested, it was weak but it was a protest. This felt like it was getting personal. Sure, listening to things she wasn’t supposed to was rather Eret’s job… actually there was no appropriate way to finish that sentence.

“Awww, did baby hurt himself?” The bitch wobbled, giving an exaggerated pout. Eret’s head snapped over, narrowing hidden eyes. He didn’t know, he had know way of knowing. Still, Eret felt insulted on Tommy’s behalf because the kid literally almost burnt to death and this bitch-

“Leave my establishment right now or we are going to have problems,” Clay slowly, purposefully, pushed off the ceiling. His body turned almost unnaturally, elbows twisting 180 degrees before he let go and dropped in between the bitch and Tommy. That had to have hurt but he seemed unbothered.

He loomed over the bitch with a cold expression, mouth pressed into a thin line. The bitch rolled his eyes and left easily. Probably the easiest Eret had ever seen a Highlander be kicked out of an establishment.

“See you next week!” The bitch yelled out behind him, sounding suddenly and queerly amused. Other patrons grumbled in a sort of good natured frustration. Did she miss something? Like, a big something?

“Bye bitch!” Tommy cheered, before quickly quieting and darting back upstairs as Clay rounded on him again. Clay sighed heavily, folding up his project and putting it on the little table in the corner reserved for such a thing. Then he too left to the back. Presumably to get things to start closing.

“Bit confusing, isn’t it la reina?” A male voice piped up from beside them, “I know the feeling, well no I don’t since I’ve been here since la perra started coming but you know what I mean.” Eret does not know.

“Huh?” Eret twisted their head to see a Mexican man in a face mask, wispy black hair sticking up at all angles. He was wearing an apron, a colleague? And a grey shirt stained with coffee. His eyes glinted mischievously like he was in on some big joke.

“Yeah, dunno when la perra started to enjoy coming here but I’m preeetty sure he stopped trying to actually insult any of us after I upturned a pot of coffee on his head, it was pretty hot so he got the hint. If he didn’t then I’d say he was,” then there were a slew of spanish words Eret knew too well from Jester, “but he did so I don’t have to call la perra that, you know? You know,” the man brushed his shoulder and hefted up a few tupperware loaded with treats from the display case.

Clay entered from the back, a broom in hand. Eret glanced at him and by the time she looked back the other employee was gone. Their boss had a plastic bag of cookies in his hand.

“Oh, here. Take these,” Clay shoved the plastic bag at Eret. There were some cookies unlike anything in the case. Each one was vaguely fall or winter themed but the designs were messy. Not quite the same level of what Clay usually sold.

“You can go now, I’ll see you tomorrow? Tommy should be back working by next week so don’t worry about having to do open to close all alone. Shifts will be shared on Sundays as well. Tommy has mornings and you’ll have nights with overlap during the lunch rush. Is that alright?” Clay asked as he started sweeping.

“That’s fine,” Eret assured with a smile that dropped as soon as she left the establishment. Wind echoed down the street, noise dropping to zero the moment Eret stepped outside. All energy seemed to drain away.

What the fuck just happened?

“You’re late,” Phil intoned dully, that crippling exhaustion that had slowly started to overtake him creeping in. Wilbur must be home finally, since Techno was gathering Phil’s 22nd cup of coffee for the day. It probably wasn’t healthy but Phil didn’t call him out on his coffee habits.

“I was just patrolling,” Wilbur replied easily. There was nothing in his tone to give away he was lying but Techno knew he was. So did Phil, probably. They’d been forced to be hypercritical over scheduling recently. Just in case there was a rat.

Sure, there was no evidence there was a rat but if they were with the Nightmare Initiative then that was a given. The Nightmare Initiative were just too good at their jobs sometimes. It was frustrating.

“You got off shift five hours ago, Will,” Phil’s voice dropped. Not quite disappointed that Wilbur tried to lie but also not surprised. Techno was going to have to force the guy to sleep. Call him a hypocrite for not sleeping himself but he was doing it anyway.

“I got lost?” There was a distinct hesitant note. Typical Will, completely unable to lie after being called out once. Maybe that should be a greater issue than it was. Really, it was more opportunities to tease him.

“Really? and I’m a villain,” Techno intoned dully as he stepped out of the kitchen with Phil’s cup of tea. With a trained practice, he didn’t falter despite a feeling distinctly like running into a brick wall slamming into him. He cringed despite himself.

AnnoyedTiredFrustratedHappyWarmLove rolled off his brother in waves, fighting with his father’s ExhaustedDarkRedGreenAchyFrustratedSadSadSadConfusedTired . There was probably a better name to call those but how was Techno supposed to know them? There were hardly any other people who dealt with anything like the fabled ‘Empath’ esk abilities Techno had.

He’s hiding something Liar Liar Pants on fire! E E E Pretty windows! Hi Techno! Birdza tired Birdza Nap Naptime! Throw Fish boy out a window Yesss! The window! The window! The window!

No Chat, Techno is not throwing Wil out of a seventh story window, that was impolite. He set the tea down next to Phil. A nap with his best friend/pseudo father was pretty tempting, however.

“What, can a guy not get a cup of tea without being treated like a criminal?” Wilbur pouted, pulling out a travel mug from his coat and taking a sip. His… aura, for the lack of a better word, lightened considerably.

Calling it an aura wasn’t really accurate, that implied Techno was seeing something there. Like a color he could translate into emotions. It wasn’t, despite what the media tried to claim. ‘Aura’ was more of an… an ocean, especially when it was carried by strong emotions. It was like drowning with only the voices in his head to keep him afloat.

“Bad didn’t see you today,” Techno pulled out a chair and sat, flicking back his hair and stealing the laptop from Phil. He didn’t use it anyway. Phil was a bit of a technophobe like that.

“There’s more coffee shops in this city than Bad’s!” Even if Bad’s was the only one that was viable for Heroes considering its location, right? Other places were too out of the way. 

“I refuse to be treated like this.” Techno glanced up as Wilbur stormed out in a huff. Probably to take the completely unnecessary elevator down the hall to his floor. Why someone needed an entire floor, Techno didn’t know. Sure, he had one too but it was superfluous at best. Made him feel awkward living there.

Liar! Liar! Liar! Out the window with him! Defenestration! Defenestrate him! Defene- what? It means throwing someone out a window - it means- it means - window - E e e e Why’s Wilby hiding the spider man?

“He’s hiding something,” Techno spoke in a low voice against his will, looking back at the laptop. All the tabs were deep into Enhancement forums. Mostly government databases but some from theorizors online who were too good at guessing abilities for their own good. What? Had to check all the bases.

“Is Chat saying that or are you saying that?” Phil glanced up from the paperwork for what had to be the first time in hours. His eyes heavy and emotions coming off in slow rocking waves. They seemed to settle, somewhat, now that there wasn’t anything fighting against them. Techno loved his family but auras tended to fight each other for dominance. It’s why he kept his tucked against his skin.

“Little bit of both I think,” Techno admitted. He clicked through the many files, pulling up spreadsheets of information on who was ‘safe’ and who wasn’t. It was a short list, the safe one, containing only five heroes. His family, Riot and Hypnos. Even then, those not directly related to them were under heavy scrutiny. So Riot and Hypnos were only there under strict supervision.

A job like this was hard, picking through the entire database of heroes trying to find a mole that the President insisted was there but that there was no evidence of. Unless it was taken into consideration that the Nightmare Initiative always seemed to know what the heroes were planning. It was how they got away so easily. Then, there were questions to ask, uncomfortable ones.

Phil, the number two, was automatically stricken off for just how old he was. Older than the President himself and having been a hero since almost before the title existed. No one was quite sure how old though. His avian genes made him extremely long lasting and no one was able to study winged avians with how rare they were. Still, no one would accuse him.

Wilbur couldn’t lie for shit and even his Enhancement, which technically could cause people to forget having seen or said things, was too blatantly obvious for it to be him. His Siren Song was as easy to identify as hard drugs. Blown pupils, general confusion, and all.

Riot was a bit more testy, being who he was. A mushroom themed hero with a loud attitude and louder mouth. He was also a winged avian, though. While he was younger than Phil, he was too old to be who they were looking for and too hero to be a mole. Even if he had a penchant for chaos. The series of parrot related pranks said enough on that end.

Hypnos just wasn’t built for spy work. A shoddy memory and constant stutter in the face of most people. Sure, he could make people fall asleep but that seemed to be it. The strangest thing about him was the constant ticking sound that followed him. Then again, he constantly wore clocks.

Now Techno himself, despite being Phil’s pseudo son, knew he was only on the list because Phil was making it. Even being the number one hero, Techno knew that he garnered fear more than respect from his colleagues and mostly some odd sense of worship from the public. Like he was untouchable.

That was neither true nor entirely his fault since he was quite literally built differently. His Enhancement was entirely unique. Yes, he was some sort of empath, and yes he hears voices in his head. Both are consequences of the fact that his brain is entirely rewired.

MRI scans covered pages of his files with extensive notes on the few medications that actually worked on him, a couple that caused him to shut down, and a slew of medicine that had no effect as his nervous system was also different. The scans didn’t even look like a human brain.

Because of that, Techno didn’t really act like an average human. He’s certainly been called a monster, too. No living creature matched him either so usually people seemed to default to Warpig, despite his hero name having nothing to do with pigs. Or himself, for that matter. Sure, he had sharp teeth and piglin esk features but they weren’t too obvious in his opinion.

King of Hearts might not be a great hero name either. Techno had wanted to change it after Las Nevadas rose to power and their Prince of Hearts started causing chaos but he was already too well established. The PR team wouldn’t allow it. That was fine. Techno would just kick the copycat nine ways to Sunday if ever he met them.

Kill him! Blood for the blood god! Father I crave Violence! Death for the bois! Can we toss him out the window? Stop it with the defenestration Jokes on you I don’t know how to read! Then how are you here? Ladies, ladies, you’re both pretty. Miss me w/ grammarr queenie 

“I can hear you doubting yourself from here. If this project bothers you, then I’ll handle it mate, okay?” Phil’s voice cut through Techno’s thoughts and he paused. Was he doubting himself? He wasn’t. He was just looking over the list… the unchanged list… for the third time that week.

Maybe he was doubting himself.

“Nah, I’m fine Phil. Who are we on?” Techno brushed him off, snapping the laptop closed. Chat buzzed in the background, a constant stream of noise powered by emotion… somehow? Techno didn’t get it. Too many technical science-y terms no one bothered explaining to him.

“I’m halfway through 36, Could you start on 37?” Phil shuffled through his many papers, with them spilling out over the table and collapsing a stack. Phil stared at the fallen stack as if he was personally offended by gravity.

“That’s Orion, right?” Techno asked, waving a hand in front of Phil’s face. The man blinked, jerking back. He shook his head roughly, aura stretching like a muscle. A small part of his exhaustion rolled off.

Steeling himself, Techno latched on, Chat shimmering excitedly that they were actually being used for something. It was a bit like stretching bubblegum, the feeling. Sticky and a tad gross, though doing this on a stranger was undeniably worse. Icky and weird, like sticking a hand in a decrepit and decaying corpse. But spiritual?

Exhaustion was draped over him like a blanket, entirely unfamiliar. Techno’s own arua felt raw, a familiar suffocation that was uncomfortable but all he had to keep doing this. It was worth it. Phil brightened visibly as the exhaustion quite literally left him.

“Yeah, it is,” Phil smiled softly, draining his tea with steadier hands than he’d had in three days. Techno managed a smile back, but it felt strange on his face. Most expressions did. His own hands shook as he grabbed the appropriate file.

It was an ability no one knew he had and it would stay that way.

Chat feasted on the emotion like they were starving.

He knew they all probably were.

Chapter Text

Nestled in the heart of District Two, only ten minutes from the border of District One and fifteen minutes from the closest hero agency, was perhaps one of the most popular cafes in the city. Or even the nation, at that. 

The Muffinteers’ was a simple establishment at first glance. Prim and proper exterior cleaned immaculately to match all the other white and gold and neat brickwork buildings.

On the inside was a much different affair. Then again, it usually was but with The Muffinteers’ it was unique. Unique in the smell in the air, spicy and sweet. Unique in the genuine smiles and honest help. Even unique in the customer base.

Heroes were a common sight in the cafe, even more so than in Eden’s Garden, a popular bakery headed by the hero herself. Both in costume and out of, hero obsessors and identity theorists alike flocked to the location. Most desperate for even a glimpse of their favorite hero in an everyday setting.

Not that that’s the only reason people came. District Two was one of the staples of production in the city. Just not in the same way as the first district. If District One was CEO paradise, District Two was for the workers.

People from all Districts, high and low, worked in District Two. It had the highest population of workers out of anywhere in the city, at that. From District ten all the way up to three, residents and only occasionally some of the more… unique sort.

Still, it meant they were plenty popular for the everyday citizen. A cup of coffee in the morning, a meal for lunch, and a date in the evening scenarios graced the cafe every day. Losing one or two clients to other cafes never really got the owner, Badboyhalo’s, attention. He had plenty of others.

“It’s kinda dead this morning, isn’t it?” “Yeah, my sister works at Eden’s place, she’s saying that afternoons have been real light, not that she’s complaining.” “I’m not complaining either but… where’d you think they’re going?”

When his employees had time to gossip rather than work through long lines like they should, Halo noticed. He didn’t complain but he did notice. The subject matter was a bit concerning as well.

Did the cafe seem more empty today? It sort of did now that he was looking. Sure, the tables were as packed at always but the lines were noticeably shorter. Usually at this time it was leading out the doors, lunch rush was always like that. But now the end of the line was just at the doors.

Not that Halo was complaining that people were able to stay inside while they were waiting! He just… noticed it. For most places it would still qualify as pretty lively but for The Muffinteers’ it wasn’t quite that.

Made him wonder where everyone was going… maybe Nikki knew? Her bakery also seemed to be affected by whatever was happening if rumors were to be believed. Not that Halo listened to rumors often. Rumors were usually mean and should be ignored because of their harmful effects on people! These ones were just sort of concerning.

So hours later, after The Muffinteers’ finally closed for the day, he padded his way through the night to Nikki’s place. Through alleyways and taking shortcuts he technically shouldn’t have access to but did through his client base. To a towering building where he knew mostly heroes lived.

Not that he was supposed to know that either, but he did anyway. Perks of the job, really.

The Receptionist, who never once seemed willing to give anyone a name, let him up without a word. Their nails clacked loudly against their keyboard as they multitasked about five things at once. It was impressive, really. Like, actually though.

An unfamiliar cookie shaped vaguely like a wing was set next to their keyboard. It looked pretty nice, made Halo wonder where she got it. He didn’t recognize it from any of his competitors around District Two or even District Three.

Not important, probably. It was just a cookie, they could’ve got it from home. Looked nice though, got the small part of Halo that enjoyed watching and decorating cookies still happy. Was it Phoenix themed?

Halo shook his head and stepped into the waiting elevator. It went up smoothly and deposited him on the fifth floor at a speed that didn’t make any technical sense. Didn’t really have to make sense though, it was a hero thing. Always having the best.

“Nikki? I have a question!” Halo called out as he stepped out into the main room. It was a large open plan with a sitting area and a large kitchen. To his left he knew he could find the bedroom or actual living room. As always, his mildly jealous attention was focused on the kitchen.

Marble countertops, stainless steel appliances, and a large island that could double as Halo’s entire dining table. It was perfectly put together like something straight out of a baker’s dream.

Realistically, Halo knew the cleanliness was mostly from the maid service this place had. A specific company chosen under strict supervision of which he’d only met a worker from a dozen or so times. Skeppy seemed really trustworthy though… and pretty.

What?

“We’re in the living room!” The woman in question’s voice rang out. Halo sighed, pulling on a bright smile and turning left. Thankfully, the living room was the closest room.

Nikki was perched on a couch next to Wilbur, the two surrounded by makeup and snacks. Tea was perched precariously on a pile of books with bags marked with some sort of spider placed around with their usual homemade treats. Wilbur’s guitar was shoved to the side and his hair was a wreck.

“Bad! Save me, I’m being attacked!” Wilbur called dramatically, reaching at arm out yet letting Nikki manhandle eyeshadow onto him regardless. Halo snickered, smile turning just a bit more genuine.

“Oh no, Nikki you muffinhead! You’re killing him,” Halo lamented, sitting himself delicately on an armchair. His pants were awkwardly tight against his legs and the ribbon around his neck was uncomfortable. Fashion sucks.

“Guess he’ll die,” Nikki snickered, “what do you want Bad?” Her tone was teasing but demanding. Not even looking up from where she was now trying in vain to get perfectly even eyeliner.

“Was foot traffic light at the bakery?” She paused at the sudden question, furrowing her brow and tilting her head, or maybe that was just her assessing her work on Wilbur’s eyes. The man was still grumbling quietly, ignoring them.

“I… maybe? I was a bit… busy today,”  Nikki hummed. Right. She was dealing with a robbery down on First and Knol’s Ave. It was some big heist done but a collection of C-tier villains that had needed six heroes to resolve. Halo hadn’t paid the most attention to it. He was busy with a client.

“It was with me, like shockingly so. Would’ve thought you’d know where they were going,” Halo gave a helpless shrug as Nikki turned to him, solid black eyes somehow calming yet eerie. She scrunched up her nose, brows furrowed in confusion.

“You two do know you're not the only places to get coffee in the entire nation, right?” Wilbur cut in suddenly. He’d picked up a mirror from somewhere in the mess of blankets to his right and was squinting into it. He seemed to like the makeup. Even considering the fallout now decorating his simple black shirt.

“Wha- I know that! It’s just… an anomaly,” Halo pouted, defending himself. His tail tightened from where it was curled around his waist. It made him fidget awkwardly. Just a few more minutes, then he could leave.

“Where’d you get that anyway?” Halo redirected, tilting his head towards the unfamiliar packaging. Wilbur froze, glancing out the window like he wanted to jump out. Interesting reaction.

“A cafe? Where else?” Wilbur laughed easily, deflecting. Now that got Nikki’s attention, Ender knows that’s hard to do. She tended to be pretty in her own world most days unless it had to do with, say, dying kids.

“Now that you mention it, I don’t recognize this logo either. Is it new? District Three? Four? Maybe I’ll check it out,” She picked up one of the bags. A soft blue spider on a black spiderweb. It seemed hand painted, coming off the slightest amount when she scratched at it. Who hand paints bags anymore?

“Uh, no,” Wilbur laughed awkwardly, “it’s… actually District… Twelve?” Pause, what? Halo felt like he had stopped breathing. Twelve? What in the nether possessed Wilbur to go down that far? He couldn’t!

“Twelve? Are you suicidal? Don’t you know how dangerous that is?” Nikki fretted, because unlike Halo she didn’t know Wilbur’s secret identity. Halo was actually worried for a bit of a… different reason. Were more heroes going to go into the lower districts?

“I’m fine Nikki! The cafe’s like a dead space anyway,” Wilbur brushed off, leaning away as she leaned in intently. Her eyes narrowed in a silent threat.

“Dead space ?” Don’t push too far Halo, just one more question, then you can go. Just one more question. Wilbur fell back, fake fighting with Nikki and losing on purpose.

“Yeah, the owner’s this spider guy, kinda ironic, but he’s terrifying and really weird. Literally watched him launch a villain across the street on the way here because the guy tried to assault a woman leaving. Pretty sure the villain went into the wall and when I lost sight he was still just sticking there,” Wilbur laughed, “It’s crazy man but that’s the vibe of the place in a nutshell.”

A new cafe, stealing his business and creating a void of crime in an area? That was… concerning. Especially since Halo was just now hearing of this. He was supposed to know these things! It was literally his job.

Well, at least he had something to report.

Nightmare was still going to kill him over it.

“Tubbo, sit down. You’ve already walked enough today,” Dream called out without even bothering to look down. He could hear the squeak of his chair on the floor as Tubbo tried to push out. This was the third time today.

“Come on! It’s been two months sir boss man sir!” Tubbo complained, “Tommy gets to work, why can’t I?” For someone who literally did all of their work on a clunky old laptop, Tubbo argued a lot about his medically mandated rest time. He was supposed to walk an hour a day, he did an hour already.

“Because the doctor said he could, don’t you work remotely anyway?” Dream pointed out, raising an eyebrow. Tubbo sputtered and huffed, standing fully and leaning against his walker for support. Dream didn’t even bother point out that he’d still be in pain if not for the medicine, which the doctor also recommended. Tubbo would just ignore him anyway.

“Have you ever thought about delivery?” A customer leaned over the counter, uncomfortably close to Tommy’s face. Eret looked over from where they were bringing in stock, carefully watching. Dream considered, briefly, how they were so easily balanced on those heels. Not important.

“That’s not really my job big man,” Tommy shifted, pulling back with a glare. The customer pulled back, rolling dark eyes in exasperation. Like he wasn’t the one getting in the way.

“Yeah but I doubt your boss will talk to me, doesn’t seem the type, ya know kid?” He hit the counter and laughed like it was an inside joke. There was a dawning realization in Tommy’s eyes for a brief moment, widening before his entire body tense and seemed to go into a protective stance.

“How the fuck would you know what type he is,” Tommy snarled. Eret still wasn’t moving, Dream noticed, but there did seem to be some understanding on what was going on. Same with Tubbo, who was getting steadily more nervous.

It was confusing… Dream felt like he was missing something important.

Not even good enough to figure out what

“He’s a highlander, isn’t it obvious?” The customer snorted, pulling at the edges of their worn suit. Dream frowned, he’d heard those terms before. If he had to guess, they were classist? He wasn’t sure.

“Listen here you fu-” “ACK!” Tommy was cut off by the man jolting back with a scream. MD cackled loudly, a now empty pot of coffee in his hands. The former liquid now dropped down the rude customer’s back and stained his clothes. He hoped it wasn’t hot. If the guy was burned he could still sue. Only technically but still.

“MD,” Dream sighed good naturedly, shaking his head. Tubbo snorted and Tommy was grinning like a loon. Eret just looked towards the back and then the doors like they might save her.

“That’s fucking it! This place is cursed!” The customer spat, wiping at the dark coffee. Feathers cresting his head splayed and pulled back in quick annoyed motions, displacing carefully slicked back hair. They stormed out in a huff.

“The only thing cursed is your hair gel!” MD shot back, laughing at his own joke. Dream just went back to the blanket he was making for… reasons. Definitely had nothing to do with the fact it was winter and the kids were cold. Nope. Nothing at all.

“Damn kid, that was a good one!” A voice pitched in sharp amusement interrupted them. The man stepping in looked a surprising amount like MD at first glance, which quickly shut the veritable ghost up in wonder. Similar dark skin tones and whisky black hair. Facial structure held some difference and the newcomer was shorter but…

It was nothing.

“Speaking of delivery though, I know a guy who knows a guy if you do wanna expand a little bit,” He gave a wide, inviting grin, holding out a business card towards Dream.  With careful shifting, he freed a hand to take it.

Las Nevadas

(XXX) XXX-XXXX

For all your unique needs no matter how strange

1812 Acrewood Drive

District 13

A symbol of a red diamond covered half the card, outlined in gold. It was a simple design so as not to detract from the fancy lettering swirling over the rest of it. Admittedly, Dream had never heard of Las Nevadas. Or at least, not a lot. Just its name. It’s name and the elusive District Thirteen,

On the back, scrawled in the fanciest signature he’d ever seen and he used to work with The Administrator, was ‘Quackity’. Strange name, unless it was a pen name? Why give out a pen name in person? Especially in such drab clothes…

“Call me if you want me, and be careful with the card. It’s probably worth more than you are,” Quackity winked salvaciously, giving finger guns. Tommy looked between Dream and Quackity dumbfounded. Tubbo seemed to have bluescreened and Eret? Eret and given up on the stock and slunk back into the kitchen to hide.

“Damn he’s extra, ey la luciérnage?” MD commented. Dream had to agree. While he might be completely inept with most of the differences between each world, even after so many months, he knew when someone was being… over dramatic.

Trying too hard, Quackity was trying way too hard.

Just like you

“Oh and I guess I agreed to give this to you too,” Quackity lamented, leaning against the counter like it was the only thing keeping him up in a storm, “friend of ours wants to talk to you, don’t keep ‘im waiting and I was never here.” He dropped another card on the counter and waltzed out.

Silence.

“What’s Las Nevadas?” 

The sound of a face palm echoed loudly. It did not, in fact, help answer Dream’s question in the slightest. He didn’t mention Anna being too steps away from tilting Quackity.

He feels like that might’ve made it worse.

Phil sighed heavily, rubbing at his eyes. Two months, several dozen heroes, and a headache later and he was getting nowhere. It… it wasn’t a good feeling to say the least. Nothing about The Nightmare Initiative, nothing about Las Nevadas. No leaks, no spies, nothing to give away that he was doing anything but jumping at shadows.

See, the issue with investigating either of them lies solely in the legal regard. All that red tape and fancy lawyer speak that makes it so one wrong move would send any hero, regardless of rank, straight to Pandora’s box. Who even classified the Nightmare Initiative as a de facto religion?

Can Phil fight them?

He promises he won’t kill them. Just maybe brutally maim them.

Las Nevadas was about the opposite issue. Rather that being wrapped up in so much red tape that Phil could breathe wrong and send the weight of Prime crashing down on himself, there was so little that practically everything they did could technically be legal.

Only logically did Phil understand exactly how Lucifer and Jester managed to get Las Nevadas to such a level of untouchable status. Emotionally it made no sense and he was going to cry. Not one single thing they did was a crime under law. Nothing.

Mainly, this stems from the fact that neither Las Nevadas nor District Thirteen… exist? Not legally, at least. As soon as District Thirteen fell into the state of disrepair as to be a lawless wasteland, a slew of laws essentially revoked it from the rest of the nation. But because, technically, Las Nevadas is District Thirteen … the problem stems there.

It’s a sort of void in the law that didn’t make sense where nothing about them was illegal, but nothing about them was legal. Everything should be charged, but nothing could be charged. Not without video, picture, and real life documentation of anything they did. 

Essentially, it encouraged property damage because if nothing was left behind it didn’t matter if the heroes knew it was them because they didn’t have jurisdiction in Las Nevadas. Phil put his head on the table.

Cool wood and paper pressed into his forehead, doing little to calm the heavy ache between his temples. He let his wings puff up, feathers jostling free and winds rustling loose documents. This was it, this was Phil’s villain arc. He was going to go insane.

“Uhhhh, Phil?” Techno’s monotone brought some much needed noise to Phil’s office. Phil, reluctantly, lifted his head. His office was the biggest mess it had ever been since this whole mess started.

Papers piled and spilled onto the floors, bookmarks on some and others stuck under chairs or bookshelves. Boxes of even more files, all of which only had paper copies, crowded an entire wall and blocked the door. A fire hazard. Phil didn’t care, if the paperwork killed him via fire then all he’d be was right.

“Yeah Tech?” He groaned, having given up on propriety about thirty cups of tea and twenty hours ago. The fancy cloak of his hero costume, his mask, and most of the official protection lay over a seat where guests were technically supposed to sit. Not anymore. Phil was suffocating in that thing.

“I think you might want to get an assistant,” Techno had the gall to sound amused as he squeezed into the room and observed the veritable hurricane of papers. His brow furrowed ever so slightly in concern though, so that was something. Then again, Techno was the opposite of expressive most days.

“Techno?” The man hummed, “please stop talking,” Phil let his head fall back down to rest. Was something ringing? He felt like something was ringing. He didn’t know what but it was something and it was loud and Phil did not like it.

Soft, warm, Phil relaxed as a weight seemed to be latched onto and lifted from his shoulders. Small at first, like slipping a shirt off, but slowly growing into a weighted blanket removed from his body.

He took a deep breath, the ringing dying down. Lifting his head was just a little bit easier as he looked back up. Techno was staring out the window, eyes tight and pointed ears flicking. Phil smiled.

“Thanks Tech, why don’t you go hang out with Wilbur? I’ve got this here. Maybe get you to show him that cafe he keeps disappearing too?” Phil offered, leaning back in his chair. Techno looked back.

“Get an assistant and I’ll go,” Techno argued like this was something that could be debated and not just Phil telling him to relax. Reluctantly, Phil nodded and shooed Techno off.

Phil looked back at his paperwork…

Maybe he should take a nap too?

Chapter Text

Being stared down was a feeling Dream was long since familiar with. Whether it be in awe or fear or some nameless third emotion the people of District Twelve tended to default to. It was all the same anyway.

Currently, it was a bit different in a way Dream couldn’t quite explain, it just felt off. Not awed, not afraid, not… anything else. Maybe a careful sort of curiosity? Dream tugged a stitch closed.

“Eyup, Wilbur, that’ll be $20.15,” Tommy greeted as he usually did. Wilbur sputtered, again following the sort of unwritten script that they always seemed to follow.

“The menu says $5.19,” A new voice interrupted, Dream didn’t recognize it. It was sort of deep and almost completely flat, just slightly tinged with confusion. A monotone he thinks it’s called? 

“Look buddy,” Tommy paused, shoes scuffing the floor as he stepped back, “you’re obviously new here. Now pay up bitch.” Wilbur sniffed but still the money clattered onto the counter.

Dream tied off the thread and finally looked up to meet the eyes of the guy that was still staring at him. Well, as close to meet as you can get when one person has pink toned sunglasses on and the other has roughly too many eyes. He felt suddenly self conscious of the plastic ID card around his neck. He didn’t know why.

Long mostly red hair curled tightly and fell long, dark skin marked with scars, a sleeveless turtleneck that Dream was pretty sure was for workouts, tight jeans  and a cropped jacket lined with fur at least labeled the stranger as a step above Wilbur. That felt something like a fashion sense if nothing else.

Gold jewelry caught in the light as the man turned towards Tommy, eyes still locked onto Dream like he was some sort of… something special, maybe. Confused and mildly concerned?

“Did you really just get scammed? Bruh,” The man’s voice lightened slightly, teasingly. Tommy seemed to take it seriously, rolling his eyes annoyed. Wilbur just defended himself, poorly but still.

“I did not, I generously donated my money and time to an organization in need,” the words sounded oddly practiced as they fell from Wilbur’s lips. Dream mostly ignored them. Something about the pinkish-red haired man was oddly familiar.

“Whatever, you gonna order or should I give you a nickname like bitch boy over there?” Tommy snipped. Tubbo giggled at something on his screen, leaning in intently before winding and straightening back up.

“Techno, I’ll have a black coffee,” the man, Techno, answered before turning back to meet Dream’s eyes again. It was weird how hard he seemed to read at a first glance. Dream wasn’t sure why seeing as everyone else was pretty easy. And Techno?

He feels like he’s heard that before.

His Gift buzzed under his skin, seemingly annoyed as it struggled to patch together fragments of memories. Must have been a bad day when they met. Dream was in more pain than usual and was hardly even conscious, or at least that’s what his Gift struggling told him.

“He says that but we all know he just loads it up with sugar and creamer himself. It’s like a tsunami’s worth I swear,” Wilbur cut in with laughter dancing on his tongue, just barely choked down.

Techno’s eyes finally left him as he snapped his gaze to glower at Wilbur, intense but his muscles weren’t tense at all. A tease? Just barely on that side of it at least,

A weight left Dream without the look, how intense. Not many people were so intense, only powerful ones. Still, there seemed to be… a pressure in the room. His Gift multitasking between broken memories and acting as a shield against… something.

“Are you not going to check our IDs?” Techno asked instead of denying Wilbur. Right, Dream thought distantly, he was technically supposed to do that. Seemed superfluous seeing as nothing he was selling was illegal. The information on a ID was hardly something to deny a sale over either.

“We don’t do that here either big man,” Tommy snorted, “$5.25.” And just like that, Wilbur was off again dominating the conversation. One that dragged on for twenty five minutes before Techno got fed up and forced Wilbur to leave. It didn’t seem to take effort at all. The pressure disappeared.

Huh, oh well. It was probably nothing.

It’s never just nothing

“You want your blanket?” Dream asked, letting it fall straight down as he held the edges. There were some light clicking sounds as guests took photos but he ignored them. It was just a blanket, nothing harmful.

“I- you… sure?” Tommy sounded confused, like he wasn’t aware that winter was coming and that all the buildings in the district were only halfway to decent at best. He was still living in the spare room, Dream wasn’t going to let hi- the kids freeze.

“Ooo! Soft. El pito, this is a good one!” MD admired, tugging down the blanket and bundling up in it. Dream let it slip from his fingers with a soft smile. MD tugged it around his chest and prowled around like he was playing superhero. Or vigilante, as he was saying.

His Gift zapped him hard enough to cause his muscles to tense up. A sort of ‘aha!’ moment that almost made his eye sight go pure green as it shoved a memory to his attention.

-=-

Crack

Something shattered under his fist. It could have been the bones in his hand, realistically it was probably that. Mostly because, as Dream was forced back, Ares’ mask was broken. It was barely realized with how… deep he was but he could tell it was.

Dream jumped back as Ares roared, slapping a hand over his face. A horrible crunch echoed in his ears. Bones and muscles shifted in his legs in ways that were awkward and that they absolutely shouldn’t. Dream ignored it.

Pieces of what he could have sworn was a mask forged of bones crumpled and fell to the floor, slipping between Ares’ desperate fingers. His enemy’s chest heaved as he hunched in. Was he… panicking?

Why?

He should… do something. He had to do something, right? That vibrant, itching green pushed under his skin. A silent guide that, suddenly, no longer seemed to make sense. Dream felt… uncertain.

Uncertainty wasn’t something he was used to. He was a hero, he wasn’t supposed to be uncertain. His missions were simple and all he needed to do was finish them. This was his chance to bring Ares in, wasn’t it?

Scar tissues tore over Ares face, completely mangling the features underneath. Eyes were narrowed to slits, pulling at the aggravated skin. Black sclera with a shining golden iris glared at him with such hatred. Such burning hatred.

That… that made sense though. It made sense but still caused him to pause. The anger, the panic, and everything else. Dream should’ve expected the hatred but it bothered him for whatever reason.

Why did it bother him?

Green, green itching, burning green. Bones broken in two shifted as Dream was forced back and up. Thanatos dived in front of him, large wings obscuring Ares from view. Vex pushed Dream back further.

But Vex didn’t chase him when Dream teetered on the edge of the building, instead falling back to hover over Ares. Strange, why would he do that? His mission was to get rid of Dream, right?

Right?

Stakes too high, risk of injury unacceptable.

Dream felt himself pulled back, he could still feel those eyes staring into him. Burning with… with anger and fear and Dream didn’t understand.

The world faded to green…

Why did they care?

-=-

He was staring out the window when he finally blinked and the memory faded. Dream swallowed thickly, taking a deep breath. Techno was Ares, wasn’t he. Dream didn’t know why he made that connection, or how, but if his Gift did it he wasn’t going to question it. His Gift was never wrong.

If Techno was King of Hearts, because Dream wasn’t stupid and that was a connection he could make on his own, and Techno used to be Ares… If Wilbur was Apollo and Vex… did that mean Thanatos was Asrael? He had to be.

Patterns were something Dream was good at identifying even on his own. This was very quickly becoming a pattern that he didn’t like. No, no he didn’t like it at all. His breath stuttered in his chest.

Logically, Dream knew that Asrael wasn’t Thanatos. He did! Promise! Asrael was a hero, Thanatos was a villain. It was about as simple as it gets, exact opposites as far as Dream was aware. Especially since Wilbur had also been as far from Vex as you could get.

But thinking about meeting Asrael face to face? Looking into the eyes of the man who’d killed him? Sure, Dream knew he’d be able to act… ‘natural’ but… he didn’t know how he’d fare emotionally.

Since when did you care about emotion?

Something hit his leg, hard plastic and tough bristles. Dream startled, blinking rapidly and looking down. MD was smiling up at him, eyes crinkled in concern for whatever reason.

“You alright la luciérnaga? You've been staring out the window for a while now,” MD shifted his grip awkwardly, eyes flicking between Dream and the window. He laughed, high pitched and strange.

“Did you just hit me with a broom?”

Spider man, spider man, does whatever a- SPIDER CAN! Bro no bro don’t interrupt me bro Gravity? Nah we don’t do that here Can we try that??? Spiders freak me out Yeah but did you FEEL him? The vibes… off Off? You mean IMMACULATE

Okay, that was… strange. Techno didn’t really know what to think about… anything that just happened really. Not really because of the weird business practice of just not checking IDS either. He’s seen stranger.

A man hanging upside down from the ceiling was definitely something too. But according to Wilbur he always did that. Not that Techno trusted Wilbur to decide what was normal after watching him pay a 400% markup just because he could.

What had really stuck with Techno was how… how… how does he even describe it? Techno’s never really been good at descriptors. Much less ones that have anything to do with his Enhancement.

From the beginning then, think things through in a way that does make sense and maybe then it’ll work? Wilbur was chattering nonsensically by his side and didn’t seem to desire actual conversation anyway. It was Techno’s favorite part. He could just focus on that and not have to worry about contributing.

Right, so the cafe. Techno hadn’t expected a lot considering the location. Something dirty and falling apart like the rest of the district, which isn’t him being rude but realistic. Most buildings were just a bit grungy inside and out.

Except for this cafe. But that’s fine, it just meant the owner had enough time on his- their? Hands to keep it that was. No, once more it was his Enhancement that had bothered him so much.

Usually, when going outside and in public, a Techno was constantly assaulted by… noise? Emotion. The ambient emotion around him was always out of control and suffocating. No one else could control their aura but him so it was a given that he learnt to deal with.

Learning to deal with it didn’t mean he liked it though. It was grating and swirling around him constant and loud and just so so tempting. Like drowning, knowing all you had to do was open your mouth to breath and it would all fade away.

All Techno had to do was let Chat do what they wanted, to grab and tear and feast on the emotions around him and just maybe that suffocating feeling would go away. But he couldn’t. He never could. He did it once before and it solidified his feeling of hatred for just how his Enhancement wanted to function.

But then Techno walked into the cafe and he saw him . Well, more accurately he didn’t. Chat had immediately exploded and drew his attention to the outlier in the room. The owner on the ceiling was a sight but the lack of attention to gravity wasn’t important.

Techno had met his eyes almost against his will and then… silence. Sweet beautiful silence. Maybe not entirely but enough to be a breath of fresh air. A lack of something that was both eerie yet refreshing as Chat almost seemed to fade to the background.

Admittedly, he couldn’t stop staring after that. Could you blame him? It was like finally breaking the surface of an endless lack for a single gulp of air. Sure, Techno should probably be concerned about exactly why that happened.

No, he should definitely be concerned. Even psychopaths or renowned brick walls of people who tried to hide their emotions had them. No acting could fool Techno when he could read each and every emotion a person felt.

So then what did the owner do differently? Why was he silence? It was unsettling, or at least is should be. But Techno just… didn’t know how to feel about it, any of it. Maybe he could go back? Figure it out?

Pay attention! You’re being asked a question! Ooo! Bird! Birdza! Not Birdza! It’s Birdza! that’s just a regular raven?? Shoosh to the naysayer! Shoooosh! Shoosh! Shoosh!

“So what did you think?” Wilbur finally asked as they stepped off the train and onto their station. Techno was snapped from his thoughts, letting go of his thoroughly abused bottom lip. He took a sip of his coffee, dark and rich. Not what he usually had but…

“I like it,” Techno responded, not quite sure what he was implying. Whether it was about the cafe or the coffee or the silence. All of it, really. Not that Wilbur would understand what that meant. Techno doubted anyone would.

Wilbur perked up, chattering excitedly about some interaction between him and the new employee that hadn’t been there that day. Ere- something?  Techno didn’t know, he didn’t care,

He wondered if the quiet would still be there if he went back.

“So! Did you think at all about my offer?” Quackity sat himself down on the counter, bringing a leg up to rest his foot and leaning forward as he looked up at Dream. Dream sighed internally, this again?

“No feet on the counter please,” Dream droned, smiling as he heard MD push Quackity off. Eret gave an ugly snort as Quackity shrieked. Other patrons snickered quietly into their hands.

Quackity moaned dramatically, stretching out on the floor. The next customer in line just stepped over him, blatantly ignoring Quackity’s dramatics. Dream decided he liked that customer.

“Not really, it was rather out of hand and I don’t really need to do delivery,” Dream hummed as he addressed Quackity’s actual question. Which way was this sleeve going again?

“Ahh, that’s fair. Not really what I came here for anyway,” Quackity perked, propping himself up on his elbows. He seemed completely unharmed by his fall despite his mourning. Seriously, drama queen.

“See, I owe people a lot of favors so I sorta need you to call my buddy and give him this location since he wants to talk to you and I’m too lazy,” Quackity gave a lopsided smile. 

“Fine, now order something or leave please,” Dream twisted off the ceiling. Quackity scrunched up his nose like he smelt something bad but got up anyway. Dream ignored him ordering to find that other card and his phone.

The card was for some other cafe, Dream didn’t really read it except for the phone number. He doubted this was important. Nothing about his cafe was special enough to draw someone else’s attention.

“Hiya! Bad talking,” a chipper voice picked up after roughly half a ring. It sounded too happy if that made sense and made Dream’s skin roil. He didn’t know why. It just… bothered him.

It bothered his Gift .

“Yeah, this is Clay, I’ve been told you wanted to speak to me.”

Chapter Text

Stepping off into District Two was like stepping into another world. After, what, eight months of living in District Twelve, Dream wasn’t really used to things being so clean. Or, well, maybe that’s not the right way to describe it.

Dream was used to the sparkling streets and large, mostly glass and neat brickwork buildings. That was what he’d basically only seen when he was still the Number One Hero, which he had been almost his entire life. But that’s not to say it was like coming home either.

Clean air, unfiltered sunlight in clear blue skies… it was more like waking up from a dream, no pun intended. Like everything that had happened in District Twelve was a fabric of his imagination. If it wasn’t for his Gift or, more realistically, the extra arms then he might’ve been convinced it hadn’t been real. A strange thought definitely.

Too many people walked in the streets, rushing to all sorts of destinations. He could see a hero with rather obvious fish-like features darting over the rooftops on patrol, which was both a comfort and a confusion. Why didn’t they do that in District Twelve?

No, not important. Dream shook his head, he had a meeting to get to and besides, his legs were nearly asleep after a two hour train ride. How Wilbur did it every week for his usual order was a mystery. Dream took a deep breath and merged with the crowd.

Walking amongst civilians, completely unnoteworthy and barely even glanced at, was also strange but actually helped Dream believe this wasn’t a… well, you know what he means. He never was able to do this before. Always sticking out on the few times he was allowed outside that wasn’t for patrol. He’d almost forgotten what it felt like.

Mostly children noticed him as he made his way to The Muffinteer’s, even though it was just because he was rather unnaturally tall and, again, had four arms. Apparently, that is rather rare. Usually it was just tails or spines, not entire appendages.

The Muffinteer’s blended in perfectly with everything around in, only the long line stretching down the block made it stick out. That and the large fancy sign that alone looked like it took up Dream’s entire electricity budget. Both impressive and wholly unnecessary.

Jealous looks were leveled at him from the few people that weren’t using their phones to pass time as he walked past the entire line and ducked into the cafe. Actually ducked, because apparently District Two had things built on a smaller scale than Twelve. It was an interesting observation. Made Dream wonder why that was.

People talked loudly, either to each other or on their phone, from packed tables that were spread out in an extremely large main room. Large for a cafe at least, not that Dream knew what the usual size for one was. Most of his experience was from his own cafe.

“Ah! There you are,” A voice chirped brightly, “come join me in the back and we can talk!” The voice was barely loud enough to be heard from the doors. Dream turned towards it and locked eyes with… with Bad and…

Pure white eyes stared back, not milky, just white. Like the color of paper or maybe just bright white paint on a dark canvas. They stood out from almost pitch black skin and curly hair pulled back in a net. He was in a uniform like all the other employees, just one with significantly more red. He…

-=-

White eyes stared at him, lifeless things tinged with false sympathy. Once, Dream might’ve believed them. Believed sugar coated words and bold faced lies. Not anymore. He wouldn’t say they trained him too well but…

He wished he’d never noticed

Skin black like the night sky, so dark like the void. Some material not flesh nor metal nor stone that was strong, too strong. Stronger than it should be yet light and wispy. Touching it was like moving your hand through smoke.

He didn’t like touching The Handler

Dream never knew his Handler’s name. The Handler refused to tell him either with that same kind cruel smile, said they weren’t supposed to say. Tall horns, razor sharp, and equally as dangerous claws swiped at him.

The mat met his back for only a few moments as he was forced to roll away, breathing hard. A buzzer rang out, loud with a bright red light that made Dream’s head spin worse than this being the third day in a row of this. What was ‘this’, combat training.

Training against a merciless opponent twice his size who could eat through a car with little trouble but training nonetheless

“Already?” The Handler pouted, “Come one Dream, you’re better than this! Go at me again. You can do it!” The words had an air of comfort to them. They stopped working a long time ago. Dream had been… what ten? It doesn’t matter.

What does he even mean, ‘already’? They had been fighting for three hours straight this round and four hours the last

Dream was tired damnit

He pushed down the frustration and righted himself into his battle pose. A relaxed sort of stance that was supposed to make fighting look effortless, like he was greater than he was. The stance pulled at his back, made his legs wobble on unsteady supports, no he hated it with a burning passion.

He wasn’t supposed to hate it, to hate

It wasn’t his job to be angry

The Handler bounced on the balls of their clawed feet, smile still wide and seeming as bright eyed as ever. Dream didn’t know where he got the energy. Then again, for all Dream knew the handler wasn’t even human. He hardly looked it.

But it wasn’t his job to question anything,

Dream advanced again.

He wished he didn’t

-=-

Feet moved silently over the bright floor, sliding effortlessly past the crowds of people and barely even brushing anyone. Bad brightened up as he stood in front of him, about two feet away. Hand- Bad gestured for him to follow.

He followed

The building was a lot larger than it looked from the outside. Multiple stories and hallways to a nice clean office on the third floor with Bad’s name on a plate on the door. He stood stock still next to a chair, eyes trained forward.

“Take a seat, I just want to talk to you about something,” The Handler gave a kind smile, always kind and always happy. It was like a double vision of what was and what is now. It made him feel uncomfortable.

Dream sat obediently on the chair, back straight and perched carefully on the edge of it. Bad sat across the desk, shifting to get comfortable. He propped his elbows on the table, crossing his hands to rest his chin on them.

Dream could imagine that dagger sharp tail flicking behind him

“So how’s your week been, it’s been rather busy here. If a bit more… sparse than usual,” Bad hummed, eyes wide and bright. Starting off with some small talk, that was pretty usual. He usually did that.

“Fine,” Dream muttered quietly, carefully looking at the desk rather than directly at The Handler. He wasn’t supposed to look him in the eyes, it was rude. The desk was a nice dark wood, shiny from a veneer that caused it to glitter almost magically in the light. How pretty. Must cost a lot.

“That’s good, glad it hasn’t been too hectic for you. I do want to know though, why did you want to start a cafe?” Bad leaned forward, eyes wide with faux curiosity. Ah, so that’s what this is about… should he tell him? He should…

He’ll think you’re crazy

“I inherited it from my mom,” Dream did not lie. He didn’t. That wasn’t a lie, it wasn’t because Dream was now Clay and Clay’s mother was Dream’s mother. It wasn’t a lie… calm down… Dream kept a neutral face.

“Aww, a family business? That’s cute!” Dream tensed, “I opened this place on my own. No help, just myself,” Bad gestured around the office. He seemed proud. Dream didn’t know The Handler could be proud of anything but himself. Not that that was an insult, just an observation.

“That’s nice,” Dream responded obediently, tone soft and steady, as it should be. A calm sort of confidence that wasn’t enough to be outwardly confrontational. Head bowed, as he should be.

“It really is, I just have one little tiny concern,” Bad’s smile slipped from his face and Dream’s heart jumped to his throat. Nothing good came from The Handler being upset, let alone actually showing it. He cycled a breath.

A large crack sounded in the air as there was a heavy thud, windows cracking dangerously and ground shaking even upstairs as they were. Bad jumped to his feet and left out the door. Dream followed close behind.

Downstairs, the windows all down the street were shattered. The pavement outside cracked and broke, a figure in the distance leaping up onto a roof from where they seemed to have fallen. A winged figure in the air trailed behind, just a bit too slow.

“Ah! That muffin, someone needs to put a stop to this already. They’re going to scare away my customers!” The Handler complained loudly. Dream tilted his head, Gift vibrating loudly under his skin.

Mission Accepted: Stop Villain

He took a step out the broken window and he ran.

Halo hadn’t really expected any of this to happen. Not the almost shy way Clay conducted himself, not the shattered windows, and definitely not the villain attack. He huffed angrily. Nightmare hadn’t told him he was attacking the bank today! If he had, Halo would’ve never set up the meeting today.

Except he hadn’t been told because while Nightmare was planning, Halo had been pulling strings with Las Nevadas to get a meeting with Clay. It had been tedious even to get the letter out and Clay had ignored it! Halo would’ve gone himself but he wasn’t about to risk a turf war.

Then Clay had shown up and been nothing like he expected him to be. Halo expected someone brash, maybe with some mildly violent or sociopathic tendencies. The kind of person criminals would shy from in fear of occurring their wrath.

Clay had been quiet, obedient and almost shy , responding in as few words as he could. The exact opposite of the maybe gang leader he’d been expecting. That’s what Halo gets for trying to build a character profile off of basically nothing, he supposed.

It was still annoying.

Tail flicking behind him, Halo stuck to the shadows of the District, as little as those may be. Clay had run off pretty much as soon as he’d said something and Halo had just… lost him? Halo didn’t even know it was possible for him to lose someone so quickly. Hell, even Nightmare could be tracked for a little bit. Not long but still.

Halo didn’t really know whether to be annoyed by this turn of events or mildly impressed… no he was going to be annoyed, very annoyed. He was going to have words with Nightmare next time he got a break. Several mildly passive aggressive words.

Asrael pulled back from the sky, swapping out with a hero better suited to the job most likely. On the few times that Nightmare and him had fought, it hadn’t ended well for the hero. Sure, they’d technically tied but still. It wasn’t pretty.

Crouched in the shadow of some tall mostly brick lined building, blending with the ivy best he could, Halo spied the new hero and Nightmare. Something about the situation immediately felt… off. Asrael had switched out with Apollo. A better match for Nightmare by a small margin, especially if King Of Hearts was busy. But Nightmare seemed… nervous? Frightened?

It wasn’t a very Nightmare thing of him to be so tense. Part of his entire deal was this sort of faux calm in every situation, riling up his opponents with quick wit and insults to put them off balance. An angry opponent always made worse decisions, as he said.

Rubble surrounded the two, the ground split open from what seemed to be a rough landing. Apollo had taken a couple hits already and was bleeding from his temple. Nightmare was breathing hard and-

Crack

A large chunk of concrete, about the size of Halo’s fist, sailed through the air directly into the back of Not-Nightmare’s head. It caused the wannabe villain to fail forward, pretty much instantly unconscious. There were several wet cracks and the uncomfortable sound of grinding muscles and bones as what seemed to be a shapeshifter changed back into their original form.

Well, that explained the discrepancy. Apollo sighed out a breath of relief as he looked towards where the concrete had come from. Halo followed his gaze to… Clay? Wait what? That didn’t sound right, even in his head.

“You know, that technically counts as vigilantism,” Apollo’s voice was distinctly teasing despite it being well known how much he disliked vigilantes. Halo looked back towards the tired hero, now standing over the fallen pretender. He checked the fake’s pulse.

Clay just shrugged, stepping over the rubble and around towards… towards Halo. How did he know Halo was here? Apollo didn’t know and he was a hero? Something told Halo he was missing quite a lot of information. Maybe he could ask Queenie? If they even wanted to talk to him after the Incident.

Doubtful.

“Should we go back?” Clay asked in that soft, almost shy tone. He tilted his head back in the direction Halo had come, seemingly ignorant of the fact that he shouldn’t be able to tell Halo was there without strict training. Training a former 4th District member wouldn’t get. He was missing something.

“Erm, it’s okay!” Halo pulled out of the shadows and put on a mildly panicked expression as Apollo looked over curiously, “You can just go home now, I was just curious about what was happening.” Halo walked backwards as Clay inclined his head in understanding.

“Hey, you okay? Kicking something that big is bound to leave some damage, especially to a citizen,” Apollo spoke behind him, pretending not to know Clay. Always trying to hide his identity. A pity that Halo had access to The HC Database, none of his acting would fool him. 

Maybe he could find more information about Clay somewhere in there.

“Look, fair citizen, all I’m saying is that it’s only polite to allow medical staff to look over you after being so close to a villain fight,” Wilbur explained for the nth time in the past hour, trying his best to keep Clay from leaving,

He didn’t know what the cafe owner had against medical staff but it had to be something with how valiantly he was trying to avoid them. Really, Puffy would have a field day if ever she met him. Two people too stubborn to go to the medbay even if they broke all the bones in their body? Wilbur could hear her heavily disappointed mother tone now.

“I’m fine,” Clay insisted. Wilbur didn’t believe him, no matter how fine or confident Clay looked right now. Sure, he was standing straight and steady on his feet but he just kicked a piece of concrete larger than Wilbur’s fist. At the very least he had to have bruised his foot. Those lackluster shoes he was wearing would provide no protection to that.

“I wouldn’t feel right, as a hero, to let you leave without someone checking you over, do it for me?” Wilbur did not beg, hand placed lightly over his heart. No, he didn’t. He didn’t beg nor was he overly concerned because he did not care too much for Clay. That would be ridiculous. He just owned Wilbur’s favorite cafe, that’s all.

“Will you let me leave immediately after?” Clay’s voice did not change from its even tone but Wilbur could feel his exasperation. Mostly in the way his eyes slid to the side and surveyed the broken landscape. Or maybe it was just because Wilbur had Techno for a brother… it was probably that.

“Yes!” Wilbur jumped at the chance, grabbing one of Clay’s arms to tug him towards the nearest medbay. There was only roughly every other block due to how often high ranked villains liked attacking the higher districts. Wilbur didn’t know why they didn’t attack lower ones very much but, hey, less work for him.

Clay followed him easily over the rubble of which civilians, thankfully all mostly unharmed, were being freed from or pulled from buildings with shattered windows. Just looking, and by previous experience, Wilbur knew it was a low amount. Maybe a dozen that needed checkups. Plus Clay who had actually taken the villain down, which Wilbur was not going to allow the press to know.

“Hello! This one here got a tad too close to the villain, could you check him over for me?” Wilbur asked the receptionist, by passing the waiting room entirely. A benefit of being a hero. If you said someone was more important then they went first.

Unless, of course, there was a medical emergency. Then no one, literally no one not government officials nor top heroes, had a greater say than the medics. Some people didn’t like that and those people were snobs. Wilbur wasn’t going to kill someone over entitlement.

“Of course! Could I see your ID sir,” the tired receptionist looked up, mindlessly tapping away on their computer. They looked as promptly put together as always. Sure, there was a certain lethargy to their movements but that could also just be from Wilbur’s enhancement. Sometimes, it was hard to tell.

Plastic ID lifted from around his head, Clay wordlessly passed it to the receptionist. His face was painfully neutral in a way that put Wilbur on edge. He shrugged it off. Clay was just a cafe owner. Sure a weird, cryptic cafe owner but one nonetheless.

“Let’s see, Clay Hendrickson, 7’4, 230 pounds, 20 years old, Enhancement is Arachnid and you have no allergies, is this correct?” The receptionist read off, Clay tilted his head like he’d just noticed something off about her. Then, he nodded. Wilbur paused, he never realized Clay was younger than him. The man always seemed so much older.

“The doctor will see you in a minute, please take a seat,” the receptionist handed the card back with a polite smile. Clay nodded again and looped it around his neck. Wilbur led him to a chair and forced him to sit down, facing a lot less trouble than getting him here to begin with. 

Wilbur tapped his foot impatiently, he hated waiting around like this when he could be doing anything else. How Clay managed to be so stock still right now was both impressive and worrying. Either he had the patience of a god or was in shock. Wilbur hoped it was the first option, honestly.

Medkits were brought out by nursing students to patch up what amounted to scrapes and bruises, quickly fixing up patients who were badly injured and slowly causing the waiting room to enter. None approached Clay. Wilbur wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing.

“Clay Hendrickson?” Wilbur perked up as the doctor called out his fri- Clay’s name. He dragged Clay up again, leading him towards the door. Again, Clay just followed after. It was oddly like pulling around a puppet. Wilbur knew he shouldn’t be able to move Clay so easily, not with the muscles he could feel under Clay’s sweater, but there was no resistance…

It was probably nothing.

Forty minutes later, both Wilbur and the doctor were puzzled over how Clay had walked to the medbay on his own at all. Wilbur had pointed out Clay’s foot being a likely spot of injury, even if he refused to explain why, and after a quick checkup the concerned doctor made him get an X-ray.

An X-ray that revealed several fractured bones in Clay’s foot. Fractures that, usually, stopped a person from being able to support their own weight properly and would have most civilians crying from the pain. Wilbur really really hoped that Clay was just riding off an adrenaline high right now.

There were only two reasons someone’s pain tolerance would be so high, and one of them was significantly worse than the other. Clay, still unbothered, even tried to deny any sort of splint or compression sock. He just said that he’d be fine, it would heal just fine. Broken bones had never heard wrong for him before.

Somehow, that statement just made Wilbur feel worse. The doctor seemed equally uneasy and, together, they managed to get Clay to at least agree to something. Even if that something was just a cane to keep his weight off the foot and a tight wrapping to stop the bones from potentially worsening. The doctor almost didn’t let him go even after that.

“I’ll walk him home,” Wilbur assured the doctor, nodding to the receptionist as they left. Clay just remained quiet, eyes trained to the ground in front of him. Even with the can, he somehow was perfectly steady. As if he was also used to needing one and had all of his life.

Wilbur did not like any of the conclusions that was helping draw. Maybe he could find something in the civilian records that would make him feel better or, if not, give him reason to help Clay further. Maybe make him go to therapy if nothing else.

Karl still owed him a favor, he was pretty sure. If not, then Wilbur was sure that Phil would be more than happy to help Wilbur convince him. Even if Phil was stressed out, the implications of child abuse would drive him to help. Phil was caring like that, even to strangers.

Two hours of an extremely awkward train ride later, Wilbur was trying to ignore the burning glares of the citizens around him. At least they didn’t seem to be leveled at Clay, just him. Wilbur still didn’t understand why Lowlanders disliked heroes so much.

Not his business.

“Just… relax, okay? Doctor said it’ll only take about five or six weeks to heal, so don’t pressure it too much,” Wilbur gave a tight smile before waving goodbye and taking the short way back into the station. He swallowed around the thickness in his throat.

Clay would be okay, right?

Green, bright neon green that buzzed and burned under his skin. Strong and overwhelming, pulsing and twisting and pulling, filling his ears with static. He climbed the stairs and walked through the main room on autopilot.

The kids called out, concerned, and MD said nothing. MD followed, following as he always did as Dream entered his room and sat on the bed. His Gift buzzed in joy at the complete mission and for whatever reason Dream felt like he was going to be sick. It pulled back and the feeling got worse.

His foot throbbed, easily ignorable but sharply annoying as all pains in this body seemed to be. A wet feeling gathered in his eyes and blurred his vision, his breathing threatening to pick up. Dream felt, conservatively, like shit.

And he didn’t know why.

Why was he feeling so wrong? So bothered? All he did was meet the Handler here for the first time and get a mission and complete it like he always did. His Gift bounced and twirled under his skin in a trained sort of joy that felt detached and wrong and empty

Like it wasn’t him.

It was never you

Dream’s breath hitched. He didn’t understand. He didn’t understand what was wrong or why this felt empty and broken. It shouldn’t be wrong. It was just what it always was, what it always would be. Him and his Gift and The Handler.

Nothing changed, did it? It never did. 

Nothing he did would change the fact that he was just some attack dog on a chain

This should make him happy, proud that he did his job right. MD placed a hand on his shoulder, he shrugged it off before returning to his stock still sitting position. Anna climbed into his lap. MD left.

Of course he left. He left because Dream was empty and wrong and he didn’t understand why. Nothing was wrong, everything was as it should be. He was the perfect weapon and nothing else. He was everything he had to be.

He hated it

He hated it he hated it

He shouldn’t hate it

An old feeling bubbling and burning no matter how much he wanted it to go away

Salty tears burnt tracks down his cheeks, drawing his attention for only a moment. There he was, crying and overreacting. He shouldn’t cry, he didn’t cry. Heroes don’t cry. He’s just overreacting to something that doesn’t even matter.

Dream let his cane clatter to the floor, moving robotically to lay down on the bed and stare at the ceiling. He took several deep breaths, it didn’t help. It should help but then again he should be calm and not feeling like… like this . It wasn’t right.

Nothing about him was right.

Wrong wrong wrong

Always wrong

Broken

He was broken

No one wanted a broken machine

Red, soft red wings the color of flames poked at the edges of his vision. Tommy? But he never showed his wings, not willingly. It meant admitting to the fact he was Icarus, even indirectly. The kid would never do that to someone he didn’t trust.

Why would he trust a broken weapon?

Heavy weights weighed down on his chest. Tommy, small horns and fluffy brown hair that belonged to Tubbo, and… MD? Tubbo curled over his chest, Tommy on his right and MD on his left. All three of them acted like a makeshift blanket. He was vaguely aware of someone talking, he didn’t know what they were saying.

He was tired, so dreadfully tired. Tired of the pain, tired of feeling like this, tired of everything. He didn’t know why the three of them were laying on him like he was some kind of mattress but they were a danger to him and, really, he didn’t care. He was just… tired.

Dream drifted off, unsettled yet calmed in a way he couldn’t comprehend.

But if nothing else, at least the three he care for most were safe.

Not that he would realize that was why he felt this way.

He wasn’t used to caring for anyone

Not like this

Chapter Text

A week after the villain attack, around two weeks before this ‘Christmas’ event that the kids were whispering about constantly, Dream finally decided on something he’d been thinking about for a while. No, it had nothing to do with his ‘state’.

He refused to think about that

It was a Saturday, the cafe closed and just the four of them were in the building, when Dream entered the main room. He didn’t use his cane, he rarely did. It didn’t hurt enough for him to bother and it’s not like anyone would notice.

“Tommy, can you get to the roof from here?” Dream asked the bleary, tired blonde. Tommy was wearing one of Clay’s father’s shirts that he’d taken a pair of scissors to so he could sleep in it with his wings out. Tubbo was next to him, looking just as tired that morning. MD wasn’t anywhere obvious but that was normal for a Saturday.

“Erm, probably? Why?” The kid looked up from where he was almost face first in his cereal, brows furrowed. His eyes couldn’t quite seem to focus on Dream. If living with Tommy taught him anything, Tommy wasn’t a morning person.

“I’m going to teach you to fight,” Dream responded simply. Tommy paused as his brain worked around the words, seeming to struggle to comprehend them. Tubbo’s hand stopped halfway to his mouth.

Training Tommy was something that Dream had put a lot of thought into. On one hand, it would mean revealing just how much Dream knew in terms of fighting. On the other hand, it would keep Tommy a lot more safe. He’d been tossing around the idea since Prometheus attacked and he figured, after the incident last week, to go through with it.

But only if Tommy agreed.

Being forced to fight wasn’t something he wanted to do to anyone.

“What?” Tommy managed. Dream didn’t really get why he sounded so surprised. It was obvious Tommy was completely self taught, and not even well. A kid could only get so far on their own.

“I’m going to teach you how to fight,” Dream repeated patiently, “for your safety when you’re out. Unless you don’t want to.” Tommy nearly cut him off as the kid seemed to wake up immediately.

“Fuck yeah I want to!” Tommy’s fists hit the table in excitement, causing milk to wobble out from his bowl. He squawked, wiping it up with his sleeve sheepishly. Then he started to shove cereal down his throat like it was the last thing he would ever eat.

“Can I join?” Tubbo asked around a mouthful of toast. Crumb stuck to his face and his ears were flicking in a nervous sort of energy. He, funnily enough, was also wearing one of Clay’s father’s shirts. Maybe it was time to take them shopping? Half of their wardrobe was from a dead man and the other half one bad wind away from unraveling.

Then again, Dream wasn’t much better.

“If you want to,” Dream nodded. He’d have to modify most of the exercises to account for Tubbo’s messed up back, especially since they were still three months away from removing the brace, but there was nothing against some basic punches and kicks. Just light work until he recovered.

“Even when I’m…” Tubbo gestured to his walker and that alone seemed to be enough to cause Tommy to pause. It was a bit confusing. When he was what? Injured? Dream had fought injured before. Tubbo would definitely not have the most fun learning with the back pain but it wasn’t like he got a crippling brain injury or anything.

“Yes? Only light work until the brace is off though, don’t want to make it worse,” Dream explained. He walked over to the counter and grabbed an apple from the food bowl. Sure, MD had brought him some burnt toast earlier, the man seriously could not cook most things, but that hardly made a meal. Had to keep his diet somewhat healthy.

“Please,” Tommy snorted, “Like you know what taking it easy looks like mr ‘I kicked concrete’.” He gave a very pointed look to Dream’s still wrapped up foot. Admittedly, Dream was rather miffed. He wasn’t that hurt.

Really, he wasn’t. In fact, Dream could still walk as well as he could before he hurt his foot. It wasn’t any harder or anything, not like Tubbo getting his spine broken. Sure, technically he wasn’t supposed to walk on it or stress it or whatever but it was fine. Not like such a small injury was even capable of crippling him.

“It's barely even bruised, I’m fine,” Dream fibbed easily. The evidence of him walking in with a cane and his foot bound was apparently just as noteworthy as most hero costumes being the equivalent of a change of clothes because they believed the lie immediately. It was actually rather concerning. None of them would last a day, no, an hour in his world.

“Right,” Tommy rolled his eyes and went back to eating as fast as he possibly could. Tubbo, although eating at a much more reasonable pace, seemed just as excited. Maybe a more cautious excitement though, considering the uncertainty in his eyes and his pinned back ears.

Dream had the sudden and strange urge to ruffle his hair to make him feel better. He didn’t know where the thought came from or why it would help but, hey, if his Gift thought so it was probably true. He had extra arms for a reason, might as well use them.

“Get dressed in your usual gear after eating, I assume you’d rather keep your identity secret, in case anyone sees,” Dream ordered Tommy, who nodded with a huff and proceeded to nearly choke on his mini wheats. That kid’s cause of death was going to be asphyxiation via breakfast foods, just you wait.

“Are you going to want help up to the roof or do you think you can do it yourself?” He then asked Tubbo, hand gently ruffling the kid’s hair. It was oddly calming to Dream, like how he’d hear petting a cat was supposed to be. Soft and fluffy, horns barely even getting in the way.

“Oh,” Tubbo stammered, “it’s fine, you should probably help up me, me up, cause the doctor said so.” Tubbo’s tail seemed to move without his permission, beating against the chair audibly as it wagged. Huh, Dream didn’t know it could do that.

“Alright, you get dressed too then, just tell me when you’re ready,” Dream nodded towards the boys’ room. Sadly, or maybe not, one of the consequences of them being in that room was that it was a bit harder to get on the roof at night. Not by a lot, Dream was pretty stealthy, but enough that half the time it was enough he didn’t bother,

Not like not going to the roof was going to kill him. Though maybe Dream should get around to unsticking the other windows, if only because they were a fire hazard. He didn’t know how to but it was probably possible.

As the boys disappeared into their room, Dream started stretching. Thankfully, MD always folded up the futon after using it on the rare occasions that he didn’t have some kind of nightmare. Less work for Dream.

Stretching was a fairly new activity though. With his Gift being able to just force flexibility, it was never really something focused on or bothered with or… taught about at all. Apparently, it prevented muscle aches and tears. Dream didn’t know how accurate that was but, hey, if it stopped him from ruining Clay’s body worse than he already had, it was probably worth it.

He’d ruin it less if he listened to the doctor or Apollo or MD but that doesn’t matter.

Most of what he did for stretching were yoga routines he painstakingly taught himself from random videos online. He didn’t exactly have a mat, it would be a waste of money when he could stick to literally anything, but it worked nonetheless. Even after only a few weeks of deciding to start stretching, it was almost noticeable.

Almost because it’s not like Dream notices pain much at all, let alone workout pains.

“A’ight big C! We’re ready for you!” Tommy banged on his door once before his footsteps disappeared out the window. Dream took a deep breath, untangling himself from his position. Alright, time for yet another new thing. Training people, he could do that, how hard could it be?

He just had to not be The Handler.

Tubbo was waiting for him on the other side of the door, dressed in his vigilante costume. Or at least the poor excuse of one both of them had that they’d probably scored off a dumpster. Brown khakis with lots of pockets, knee pads, falling apart shoes, and a dark green sweater with a hood sewed on. The gas mask covering the bottom half of his face, a new addition, was the best put together item. Dream would almost call it clean.

“Alright, I’m going to grab you now,” Dream informed him. Tubbo opened his mouth as if to ask a question before snapping it closed as Dream lifted him. One arm wrapped around Tubbo’s torso and another around his thigh. The position trapped Tubbo securely against Dream’s size.

Rather easily, Dream ducked out the window, managing with a little squeezing to get them both out without compromising Tubbo’s position. The kid squeaked, ears flicking back and smacking Dream on the side of his face. He latched on tightly, burrowing his face in Dream’ shoulder.

“I, uh, don’t weigh anything to you, do I?” Tubbo’s voice wobbled, an obvious scared tone to it. His horn dug into Dream’s cheek. They were rather dull, he noted, which didn’t seem to line up with pictures of other goat or ram hybrids. Maybe they’d sharpen with age? Unless the kid filed the, down for whatever reason.

“Not really,” Dream responded, holding onto the wall easily. Most people didn’t weigh much of anything to him, and sticking to things was really easy after seven to eight months of sewing on the ceiling. So, really, that fact shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

Not soon after, Dream hefted both of them over the edge and onto the roof. Almost shy, Tubbo tested one foot on the roof before climbing off Dream and wobbling over to Tommy. His footing was a lot more stable than a month ago, Dream noted. He must be healing well.

“So, how are we doing this, Big C? Gonna backflip off a building or two? Learn some kickass moves? I’m ready for whatever you got.” Tommy mimed punching in the air, bouncing on his heels like he was mimicking a boxer. His form was entirely off but he had spirit. Dream could work with that.

“You’re going to fight me,” Dream responded instead of any of Tommy’s options. That caused Tommy to pause, his wings shuffling the fabric over them with an almost nervous energy. He gave a strained chuckle.

“Uh, what? Fight you? How would that help?” Tommy asked, Tubbo seemed to agree even from where he was leaning against the air conditioning unit. Maybe Dream should’ve grabbed his walker? Nah, the kid knew when he had to sit down by this point, surely.

“I need to see what I’m working with,” Dream explained, “Though until Tubbo heals he’s just going to be practicing some basic punches if he feels up to it. If not, he’ll be analyzing our movements and fighting styles.” Tubbo raised his hand like this was a classroom.

“How does that help?” He tilted his head curiously, brows furrowed. Did he really not get the benefits of analysis? No, Dream had to take this logically. They were still kids, of course they didn’t know. Hell, most adults Dream knew mostly just took advantage of hired analyzers and barely did any of it themself.

He’d never been allowed that.

He had to be better, to do it himself.

Like he was supposed to.

“Knowing your enemy is your greatest ally. Being able to pick out weak spots to turn the tide of battle or predicting their moves so you can counterattack could potentially save your life or someone else’s. Not all information gathering is done over a computer either, being able to analyze on the fly could make or break a mission,” Dream explained.

Nodding his head almost lethargically, Tubbo fell quiet. Even Tommy seemed to pause to take in his words, like they were some grand wisdom or something. Dream didn’t feel like they were. In fact, those were just the words he used to motivate himself when he didn’t feel like putting the effort in. They only worked half the time.

“Let’s fight then, Big C, I’m gonna kick your ass!” Tommy’s excitement ramped back up like it hadn’t fallen to begin with. Honestly, the second wind he seemed to get was almost admirable. That drive to prove himself would do him good one day.

Hopefully, better than it did Dream.

Dream stepped back and relaxed his stance, feet moving into the age-old positions he had been trained in long ago. It just felt steadier this time. His legs weren’t screaming at him or threatening to collapse, his breathing felt fine, it was like he’d never been hurt at all.

This body hadn’t been broken yet.

Why is that just now starting to sink in?

Tommy also fell in position, staggering his feet and bending his knees. His hands raised and balled into fists in what was clearly a street brawler’s form. Not a spec of actual training to be found in any of it. Then again, that was to be expected.

Predictably, Tommy attacked first, rushing forward with a rather slow right hook. Or maybe Dream was just fast? It was probably that. He leaned back and pivoted around the first, hand finding Tommy’s back as he over extended and giving him just the slightest push. The kid fell forward and rolled to absorb the impact.

So he had at least some knowledge on how to fall properly, that was good. Tommy recovered quickly and ran at him again. He swung, Dream ducked, and easily pushed against Tommy’s chest to send him over Dream’s shoulder, back to the roof. Tommy gasped.

This time, he was slower to recover but with fire in his eyes attacked again and again. Dream dodged and redirected, using Tommy’s speed and momentum against him rather than using much in the way of physical force. Dream held back not out of pity, but because this was a learning experience. It wasn’t a beat down.

He wasn’t The Handler.

He wasn’t.

Minutes passed, ten or twenty, before Tommy finally tried out and Dream called a timeout. He fell back against the roof willingly this time, breathing hard. Sweat dripped down his skin and there were scrapes along most of his visible skin. There was probably some manner of bruising against his back.

Like usual, Dream was completely untouched. Hell, his fractured foot wasn’t even feeling any worse than when he got up here. No pain, not breathing hard, not even a single hit had landed. But it was a learning experience. One that hopefully taught Tommy just how outclassed he would be against people with actual training.

“What…” Tommy sucked in a deep breath, “What the hell Boss man? What are you? Some kind of ninja? An alien? Holy Prime man.” Tommy wiped at his forehead, tilting his head to the side to look at Tubbo as if to say ‘are you seeing this?’. Speaking of which…

“Tubbo,” Dream ignored Tommy’s questions, they were redundant anyway, “what did you see? Strengths? Weaknesses? Of both of us if you feel like it.” Dream smiled calmly, then continued when he saw Tubbo hesitate, “Don’t worry about sounding stupid or anything, you’re just starting off, you know?”

“Well, Tommy’s speed is definitely a strong point, always has been. He’s quick and kind of agile, more than me. But he needs to work on his endurance and, uh, temper? He was getting kind of frustrated towards the end there and acted without thinking most of the time,” Tubbo scratched at his face, pulling off his gas mask. His eyes fell to the floor.

“As for you, I, uh,” Tubbo laughed weakly, “I couldn’t really find a weakness? Like, pretty much everything you did was… purposeful? Sort of in the, uhm, the economical, er economy of movement sort of way? I thought your stance was sort of strange at first, like there barely was one, but even that seems to have been on purpose.”

He simmered nervously, biting his lip and ears swiveling back. Dream hummed, considering. For, supposedly, his first time doing something like this ‘on the field’, it was actually rather good. Like he was a natural with this sort of thing. Or maybe that was his digital skills transferring over, could be that. Didn’t matter what, it was good nonetheless.

“Great work,” Dream praised, “I know my fighting style is rather hard to pick out so even that much is pretty amazing. As for Tommy? I’d have to agree. We’re definitely going to have to work on his endurance and form. Something tells me you two mainly learnt through trial and error.”

For whatever reason, Tubbo beamed, perking back up almost instantly. He seemed proud of himself though, so that was good. Tommy too, although he was sort of dying on the floor trying to regain his energy. Did that mean Dream was doing a good job so far? He hoped so.

He was already doing better than The Handler.

The Handler never praised anyone but his son.

Vulcan never seemed to want his praise, though, even if Dream would have killed for it.

He had killed for it and was killed for it himself.

He hated that too.

“Do you want me to get you a water bottle, I’ve got one more thing I want us to do for the day. I’ll even bring up the Bee bots and Tubbo’s laptop,” Dream offered. Tommy raised a hand in a thumbs up, Tubbo vocalizing his agreement.

It only took a few minutes to gather the things and take them back up, along with a snack because heaven knows that fighting can wear a person out. Dream was fully aware of that if nothing else.

The two accepted their belongings gratefully, although Tubbo didn’t seem to understand what he needed the bee bots for. That was fine, Dream could explain. He knew how annoying it was to be given something and not told how to do it or why he was supposed to have it.

But first, Tommy had to finish his rest period. Dream refused to push him too far and break him, that just wouldn’t be fair nor conductive to… well any part of his life. Tommy didn’t have a Gift to keep him walking if he broke a leg or anything.

“After you’re done, I want you to chase me. It’ll last as long as it takes for you to hit me or until you call this whole thing off. And I want you to call it off if you feel unsure or too unsteady to continue free running, okay? I’ll be very disappointed in you if you push yourself too far and fall off a building,” Dream leveled Tommy with a hard look as the kid drained his water bottle. Tommy choked briefly, coughing and nodding almost sheepishly.

“Oh! You want me to record you two and analyze how you move, right?” Tubbo asked excitedly, talking fast and almost bouncing in place. Almost because if he moved too much his laptop would fall and probably break. Maybe Dream should get him a new one? Lord knows that thing was on it’s last fraction of a leg.

“Precisely,” Dream nodded with a smile. He sat down on the edge of the building, waiting patiently and Tubbo powered up the bee bots and Tommy finished up his snack. Then, Tubbo spoke first.

“This is kind of like tag, you know? Could we make this a game? Like if Tommy tags you before twenty minutes or he calls it off then we get to ask you a question? And you have to answer honestly, of course,” Tubbo offered, eyes bright and with some mischievous glint to them Dream didn’t understand. Tommy nodded rapidly, seconding the offer.

“Well, I,” Dream paused, considering before deciding that there wasn’t any real harm to it, “Sure. If Tommy can tag me then you two get one question. We’ll do it each time to make it fun.” Dream did not mention that he didn’t really know what Tag was. He had a feeling that would go over about as well as the ‘What’s Las Nevadas’ debacle.

“Hell yeah!” Tommy cheered, Tubbo joining him in wordless excitement. Oh those poor kids, Dream hummed, they didn’t know that they would likely never get that question. Not unless Dream went easy on them or… didn’t use his Gift.

Has he ever done that?

Now that Dream was thinking about it, he didn’t think he’d ever gone without his Gift for anything. It was sort of a part of him after all, he didn’t even know if he could turn it off. He could try to ignore it, sure. But turn it off entirely? He doubted that was possible.

Something to worry about later, definitely.

“You ready?” Dream stood, balls of his feet off the edge of the building. Tommy wiped his mouth and tugged his mask up before jumping to his feet. A buzzing filled the air as the bee bots started to circle them.

“Ready!” Tommy answered, which was quickly seconded by Tubbo. Dream smiled then, without another word, took off. After all, there weren’t any countdowns in real life. Tommy’s surprised squawk proved that he was just now realizing it, mask inhibiting further sounds as he followed quickly after.

The ensuing chase was… fun somehow. Wind in his hair, jumping and twisting over gaps, occasionally letting Tommy get close before moving out of the way and often causing the kid to tumble onto the roof. This way and that way in nameless directions. People on the streets making vague comments of amusement or concern as they saw them.

Dream didn’t know training could be this fun, not with someone else. He usually thought it was supposed to be painful and hard and annoying. Burningly tense ending in broken bones and deteriorating spirits.

The Handler had proved that a long time ago.

He was actually glad to be wrong, even if just this time. Because Tommy didn’t deserve that kind of training. It didn’t matter if The Handler was more or less effective, he didn’t care about that all too much, he didn’t.

No one deserves what he went through.

“What happened to you?” Techno asked, interrupting Wilbur’s usual tirade against the employee behind the counter. It was a good question, he felt. Even if it had taken him a bit to ask because his eyes kept being drawn to the owner on the ceiling against his will.

The kid, Tommy? Was covered in scrapes on his face and hands, some of the worse ones assumedly bandaged and small bruises dotting his arms. He was happy, despite them, and the fact he kept wincing every time he twisted his back.

Orangehappytiredsorecheerfulstubbornairhotlikefire melded off him in waves, a sort of unique emotion that Techno could never place. Then again, auras weren’t really something with simple names so maybe he should stop trying. Not that he could just ignore them. That’d be like trying to ignore the sun, or oxygen.

“Sick game of hide and seek tag,” Tommy responded plainly, mouth tilting up in a smirk as if daring either of them to call him out. Wilbur seemed about ready to take it, narrowing his eyes with a glimmer of excitementcouragestubborn that he always seemed to carry.

Ding ding! He’s telling the truth! Sort of? What do you mean sort of, he is! Half story, half story? Half story Half Blood Prince! Yer a wizard harry! Ps2 hagrid my beloved Who? WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHO? Sacrilege! Ps2 hagrid is my god

“There’s my favorite bitchy Highlander,” some guy with small horns threw a hand around his brother’s shoulder dragging him off with sparks dancing on his lips. No, literally. Like, rude. That meant Techno had to pay Wilbur’s insanely inflated prices because the guy wouldn’t know what saving meant if it hit him in the ass,

“I’m not paying twenty dollars for a coffee,” Techno looked back at Tommy who was staring after the horns guy and Wilbur was a resigned expression. Did this happen often? L, couldn’t be him. Well it was him now. Chat was infecting him, weren’t they?

“He’s paying ten,” The owner spider guy interrupted Tommy, looking down at him like some sort of overruling god. Well, at least 10 dollars was 50% less than what Wilbur was paying? Tommy immediately agreed with the price anyway.

Gravity spider is my new god Mood Can we ignore gravity like that? Pleeeease Blood God??? E e Blood for the Blood God We could if we ate that KMNWASLOCANQOJRTDK don’t say it like that! Ps2 hagrid is still my god

Techno ignored Chat, like usual, and just gathered the drinks and cookies that Wilbur always ordered. He then stepped off to the side and just watched his brother whisper argue with Sparkie. Yes, that was his name now. Techno didn’t know it so dub him Sparkie.

Why did he even come back here? He’d almost convinced himself not to. But nooo, Phil made him take a break because Techno was becoming ‘too stressed’ or whatever. Well, Phil was a hypocrite, okay? Actually, that was well known.

‘Please take care of yourself’, ‘don’t be so hard on yourself’, ‘it’s okay to make mistakes’ and all those wise words or whatever. Phil needed to take his own advice for once. Maybe take a nap for once because the man was so damn stubborn over his current assignment.

Seriously it was so… what was that? Chat screaming in his ears about nothing in particular, Techno narrowed his eyes and surveyed the room. Something was wrong. He didn’t know what but something was and Chat was noticing that.

He looked to his left, spying the quiet one who seemed to be listening to… something. A something that was… Ender, how does he explain this? Explaining things was not one of his best skills. Or a skill of his at all, really.

Shyworriedlyingpretenderdespratehappyscaredpurplewanting seemed to take up space where there was nothing at all. No person was there to give the aura that he could see and yet there was an aura. That just… shouldn’t be possible.

The owner seemed to be listening to the nothing if the tilt of his head said anything. Nether, his pet spider even crawled down the wall and just… disappeared onto the nothing. Techno narrowed his eyes.

“Do you need something?” The owner asked suddenly, admittedly causing Techno to startle. He was just a tad to focus on the absence of an explanation to see that the owner had turned his attention on him. Then again, quiet being so close to loud was probably to be expected.

“Yeah, who are you talking to?” Techno asked plainly, ears flicking in annoyance as the loud’s aura spiked suddenly at being called out. Ender, he hated when that happened. It was like turning of music expecting it to be quiet but accidentally having your headphones on max volume.

“An employee, you can see him?” The owner asked, tilting his head. The loud drew closer, aura shifting to something more curious than not, tinged heavily with the taste of desperation and soft hope. Was he being asked a question? It felt like it even if he couldn’t hear anything.

“Feel him, technically,” Techno corrected with a shrug, “it’s kind of part of my-” “That’s it! We’re leaving, we’ve got better things to do than be insulted by a lowlander,” Wilbur decided at that exact moment to interrupt loudly, snatching his drink from Techno’s hand. He childishly stuck his tongue out at Sparkie.

“See ya Toms!” Wilbur called behind him as he tugged Techno out of the cafe. Techno gave a look back to the quiet cafe owner and loud nothingness. Well then, it seems he was definitely coming back soon, maybe even on his own? Nah, he was too awkward for that…

He definitely had questions though.

The void’s louder than I expected Everything is louder than you expected Do I count as a child? Yes No E I wanna stab someone Mood Blood for the blood god! Skulls for the skull throne! Milk for the cornflakes >:) wait, what? What do you mean what? I mean-

Chapter Text

“Are we doing anything for Christmas?” The question came on a cold afternoon, snow lazily drifting from the sky for the first time this winter. Frost clung to windows and despite the black gunk sticking to everything it was looking like the snow banks would still be a soft white. Not quite a winter wonderland, though.

Still, Tubbo had been staring out the window from his seat for most of the day, laptop even being closed repeatedly throughout the day on some sort of instinct until he realized he wasn’t done with what he was working on and snapped it back open. His eyes were foggy and unfocused. It was like he was seeing more than just the snow and Dream didn’t really know what.

“Elaborate?” Dream requested, looking down at Tubbo. Tubbo blinked slowly, as if just realizing he’d asked the question. He glanced around the mildly busy cafe, taking it in with a sort of dull realization, then looked up at Dream. His cheeks tinted pink and his eyes crinkled like he was flustered.

“I mean, we don’t have to,” Tubbo stammered, eyes flicking to Eret behind the counter like they would help him, “I just, Tommy and I usually do things for Christmas? Mostly just watch movies, really, and stay up all night. Sometimes we get presents but neither of us can really afford more than one. Now we sort of live with you and I just didn’t know if you had anything planned or if we could just, uh, just do what we always do?”

Christmas celebrations weren’t really something Dream was familiar with, especially not like Tubbo was describing. He tilted his head, thinking. With the HC, he was really celebrating much of any holiday. Not Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, hell not even his own birthday. He didn’t know what celebrating any of that even meant.

Well, no, that was a bit inaccurate. He did have some idea of how Christmas worked, but mostly just Christmas. Even then they were memories of charity balls and ad campaigns to sell red and green themed merchandise or chocolates or whatever. Something told Dream that’s not how most people celebrated it, though.

“Sure, we can do that,” Dream conceded. Like he was going to deny them anyway. It wasn’t Dream’s job to police the kid or make sure they don’t die or anything like that. They could celebrate Christmas or whatever holiday however they felt. It seemed to be something they enjoyed, especially with Tubbo’s brightened expression.

“Really?” Tubbo asked again, voice rising in an obvious excitement. He twisted his chair to face Dream, uncaring of the scratching of the floors or squeaking of wood on wood. His ears flicked up and his eyes almost seemed to sparkle.

Were kids supposed to be this easy to please?

“Yes? I believe I have an old projector you two can watch the movies on. I’ll even get you two a treat. Holiday spirit, and all,” Dream nodded his head with a smile. Maybe they’d like popcorn? Popcorn was pretty popular. He was mostly sure that feasts were a big part too, like a ham or something. It would be a lot of food for four people, five if Eret was coming. No, the 25th was one of her busy days, so probably not.

“That would be amazing! I mean you don’t have to but it would be really cool,” Tubbo backpedaled, waving his hands over dramatically. Strange, Dream had already said yes twice. Why was that so hard to accept?

“No, I’m sure,” Dream stressed, “Though now that we’re bringing things up, I was also planning on bringing you two shopping.” He looked back down at the blanket he was making. It had to be the sixth or seventh one he’d made in the past month or two. Maybe he should donate them?

“Wha- why?” Tubbo leaned forward, causing the chair to wobble, and winced. Feet planted on the floor, he straightened his back and settled the chair. Then, he looked back up at Dream.

“You two keep taking my old clothes, which don’t even fit you, and your others aren’t in the best of shape. I have the money to buy you two a few new things, so why not?” Dream answered Tubbo’s question with a question. He felt like it was a good point.

“I, uh, when?” Tubbo seemed to be in shock, which didn’t really make sense. It’s not like Dream said he was going to, say, pull the sun from the sky or something. Or kill Tubbo, that was a more credible threat and would make someone shocked. Not that he was going to threaten Tubbo.

“Hm, two days from now? The shop will be closed so we can make a day of it,” Dream smiled down at him. Tubbo seemed to register the words slowly, a weak unsure joy pulling a shy smile onto his face. He nods sheepishly and turns back to his laptop. The nervous energy bleeds into his typing speed as he goes back to whatever he was working on.

Maybe Dream should make a list for Saturday. If Tubbo’s reaction implied anything, he was going to have to convince the two to buy anything at all. It would just be the essentials obviously. Bath supplies, shirts, pants, shoes, and maybe a trinket or two for their room if necessary.

Telling Tommy went about the same way, a bright excitement dulling into a weird sort of uncertainty. He had a different sort of energy to him, likely because he had just got off patrolling, but the series of events were about the same nonetheless. 

“Dunno big man, that’s sort of a lot to do for people you barely know,” Tommy bounced on his heels with a relentless energy as Dream navigated through the kitchen. Tommy, like always, was more stubborn than Tubbo. Together they were a force to be reckoned with when it came to making them do anything.

At least this time Dream made Tubbo take a nap after stressing himself out over some case on his laptop. One less overly stubborn child to convince to they were allowed to get nice things on Dream’s dime. Seriously, how hard is it to just accept money?

You opened up a cafe to convince yourself to accept money.

Hypocrite.

“We’ve known each other for over half a year,” Dream pointed out, “Plus, you live with me rent free and are my employee. I can do a lot of things to you according to the law, including mandating you have certain things in order to work for me. Well, I’m mandating you and Tubbo go shopping with me.” 

“But-” “Not to mention you two were planning on buying snacks and a present for each other, right? It’ll be fun,” Dream accidentally interrupts Tommy trying to cut in. He felt his argument was sound, not to mention kids liked fun things. Everyone liked fun things, actually.

There was literally no reason convincing them should be this hard.

“I- fair point, fine,” Tommy conceded after twenty minutes of silence pouting on the couch. He was laying across the entire thing, feet poking over an armrest and head buried into another. It didn’t look comfortable.

“What’s fine?” MD appeared from the boys room covered in sand for reasons that Dream wasn’t sure he wanted to question. What smelt like salt water wetted his hair and soaked his clothes. Dream didn’t even know there was a beach anywhere nearby… why was MD at a beach in winter?

“I’m taking the kids shopping on Saturday for Christmas and general supplies, do you want to come?” Dream asked, mostly out of politeness. MD was coming even if he didn’ want to. Dream was not blind to the fact that all of MD’s clothes were Clay’s father’s. Especially since the one set he used to own was completely ruined.

“Huh? ¿Estás seguro la luciérnaga?” MD hopped on the dining table, laying over it in the opposite direction of Tommy but in much of the same way. The same sort of quiet unsure tone was in his voice as the two others. Three was definitely a pattern.

You messed up again.

You’re missing something.

“Of course I’m sure, now you want to help or not?” Dream assured, pot clanging on the counter as he pulled it from the counter. He was, admittedly, just a little bit frustrated that he had missed something again. It was infuriating.

“Stupid question,” MD shot back, rolling off the table and banging his knee into a chair. He helped, groaning. Tommy gave a muffled laugh as Dream just sighed. People getting hurt wasn’t funny…

That was just a little funny though.

“Right, grab what’s on these lists, buy whatever else you have money for after that, and meet me back here in two hours for lunch, got that?” Dream gave the two a paper slip and a plastic back of dollar bills, “If anyone gives you trouble, you tell me .”

“Yessir!” Tubbo gave a weak salute, snatching his portion and shoving it into his canvas bag. He adjusted his grip on his walker, smiling excitedly. Today would, hopefully, be good for him. He’d wanted to have more walking time for a while now, so if today went well Dream would consider letting him.

“You got it Big C,” Tommy’s grin was almost concerningly mischievous as he took his portion and put it in his hoodie pocket. Dream did not understand why at all but at the same time, he wasn’t all that concerned. So long as Tommy didn’t get arrested or branded a villain, he didn’t care.

“You just tell me if you want anything, okay MD?” Dream then turned to his friend who was looking strangely nervous. Today was also important for him as he was going to try and be visible for as long as he could. Dream was supervising him just as Tommy and Tubbo were paired up. Just in case.

“Mhm,” MD pressed against him, tugging at his clothes. Dream nodded off the kids and grabbed MD’s arm, pulling him safely along. If Dream had the choice, he might’ve handcuffed them together with how freaked out MD seemed to be about this, if only so MD didn’t activate his flight response and run off. Hopefully, that won't happen.

The mall they were in wasn’t exactly the usual kind of mall, but it wasn’t quite a bunch of street vendors either. Really, it was some mix between the two. Some of the stores were traditional stores with four walls and mediocre air conditioning. Mostly expensive items and what looked like a corporate superstores.

Vendors were set up over the streets though with all types of merchandise. Clothes, trinkets, and even some food items. All handmade or homegrown and looking rather nice if Dream was honest. Nicer than the crowded superstore that people with not enough time went to.

Besides, it was less crowded outside, better for MD until he decided he’d had enough. Overall, it might be more expensive but, again, Dream didn’t quite care. The prices were more than worth it. He pulled out his own list.

Clothes were fairly simple, especially when MD seemed easily excited by any and all sorts of brightly colored clothing. Fancy print pants, many striped sweaters and tie die shirts ended up being the grand majority of what he grabbed. It made him happy so Dream wasn’t about to call it nothing matching.

He barely even knew how to match clothes on his own.

Dream was looking through a selection of villain themed necklaces that had caught his eye purely for what they represented when MD called out for him. He’d disappeared between the vendors chatting at anyone that would acknowledge him about ten minutes ago. Dream was mostly proud of the sudden burst of confidence.

“Ey man! Look at this,” MD appeared from around a corner, waving an arm excitedly. Several vendors looked away from their stock of buyers curiously before deciding it didn’t matter all that much. Dream nodded to the vendor who’d been silently judging him and walked off. Like the vendor could judge him, they were the one making villain merch.

“Yes?” Dream joined MD around the corner, ducking under a sudden outstretched arm as someone ran towards their friend at far too fast speeds. A speed enhancement, obviously. They had to be more careful about that, they could hurt someone.

“Look at this la luciérnaga, they’re made for people like you,” MD tossed an arm around Dream’s shoulder, vibrating at a speed that would have flawlessly fought off the cold if Dream was ever bothered by temperature. Honestly, he barely noticed the temperature.

He once passed out in a snowbank for six hours.

Standing in the stand was a suddenly very awkward looking spider person, Dream was going to hesitantly say woman for now. They had long straight brown hair pulled back into what was probably supposed to be a bun and eight purplish toned eyes colored in a similar way as Clay’s with the darker sclera. The same multiple arms too.

“I’m Clay, he/him,” He introduced himself, not flinching as MD prodded his side and whispered something teasing into his ear. Please, like Dream ever thought about romance, let alone to a woman.

“Clay? Like Loranne’s son? I’m Riley! She/her, your mother was friends with my Grammy,” Riley seemed to snap out of her awkwardness with a bright, just a little strange smile. Like she was afraid of Dream’ reaction.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Dream shifted, glancing down at the ugly Christmas sweaters gracing the table. Horrid bright colors and pompous decorating four armed sweaters. There were a couple that were normal colors. One black with an alien theme, one pizza themed for some reason, plain pink, and quite a few more.

“These look nice,” Dream complimented, looking up as MD got distracted by something and ran off, excitedly talking to some stranger who looked to be living with the fact someone could talk as fast as them. Ah, so now he was alone with her. How unfortunate.

“Thank you, Grammy makes them. Your dad bought a couple of them for your mom, that’s how they met, you know?” Riley started fidgeting with the sweaters, attempting to make them neater despite that not really being necessary. Probably a nervous tick.

“They’re not that pretty, I know, and I keep telling Grammy that people like us are really rare but she’s kind of stubborn and doesn’t really listen to us. I just think she’s obsessed with makin’ em, really. But, hey, if it makes her happy,” Riley gave a helpless shrug.

Dream hummed, nodding along as Riley launched into a story about how she barely stopped ‘Grammy’ from making a playboy bunny one. He didn’t know what a playboy bunny was but it was obviously embarrassing. Why Riley was telling him, he was uncertain.

“How many patterns do you have in stock right now?” Dream asked if only to save Riley from what looked like a panic attack. Her voice rising and becoming more breathy and her face steadily reddening. She was startled at the sudden question.

“Erm, 20? All the ones on display and a few in boxes that I couldn’t fit on the table,” Riley counted off on her fingers. Dream hummed, nodded and looked back down at the table.

They were ugly, absolutely horrible really and some of the worse ones actually burned to look at. Conservatively, they were likely considered a fashion disaster.  Absolutely no reason anyone would want one, or any of them… Riley’s shoes were falling apart…

“I’ll take all of them,” Dream decided with a sharp nod, rolling his shoulder and searching through his bag for his wallet. What? He was doing something good for the community. Giving back to the economy and all that.

“Oh, so one of each? That’ll be-” ''No,” Dream corrected, “all of them.” With a self satisfied sound, he fished his wallet out of his bag and turned back to Riley. So long as she took care, he could afford them.

Why was she looking at him like that?

MD was having, conservatively, an amazing fucking day. Not only was he actually getting things of his own but people were talking to him ! Not to other people around him, but actually him. It was amazing and just a little overwhelming.

Seriously, words could not describe how grateful he was to have met Clay all those months ago. If someone had told him a year ago that he’d be adopted by a cryptic Highlander who could glow like a firefly he would have tried to call the police about an insane person and failed miserably. Not that anyone would tell him back then... Or acknowledge him.

Nether, was he trying to make himself sad? Today was the second best day of his life, not the time to make him sad. MD shook his head, putting a bright smile back on his face. Being among street vendors and actually being seen was a great distraction.

Chatting off stranger’s heads wasn’t really something that normal people did from his observations but in the week before Christmas in Vendor’s walk, it could easily be excused. Everyone, no matter how poor, had some level of happiness to them. Even the old MD could find himself smiling.

“So I poured a pot of coffee over his head and that worked like anything else, got him to go like that,” MD snapped his fingers, “head down to the cafe and you might see it yourself.” He playfully nudged his elbow into his conversation partner before disappearing back into the crowd. A good kind of disappear though.

People walked around him instead of into him, gave an incline of the head or a greeting when he waved, and actually laughed at his jokes. An energy that he couldn’t tame put a spring in his step as he ducked between a fruit vendor and someone selling novelty watches… right into a cold body.

“Ah! You okay? Sorry about that, I’m really bad at the whole ‘looking where you’re going’ thing,” A sheepish voice spoke rapidly as MD reeled back. They barely even budged on their end, feet firmly rooted to the ground. Shaking his head, MD smiled.

“Eyyy, it’s okay man! You didn’t mean to and neither did I! I’m MD, what’s your name?” MD put out his hand to shake. The stranger brightened and grabbed his, smile lopsided and just as bright.

“Charlie! I’m here looking for a couple things for a friend person of mine, are you doing the same?” Charlie’s tone, despite having implied a question, barely wavered from a bright cheer. It was… almost unsettling.

“Yep, Christmas is just around the corner, you know? Or hanukkah or whatever you celebrate,” MD took back his hand after a bit too long handshake, balling it up and discretely wiping it against his pants. Not to be rude or anything, it was just a bit uncomfortable.

“Of course I know! I’m not a stupid head,” Charlie laughed brightly. Man, was everything about this guy bright? “You wouldn’t happen to see any silly goofy watches, would you?”

“Yeah, just right here, I gotta get going though,” MD waved goodbye, squeezing past a completely unbothered Charlie. MD was feeling pretty bothered, something felt seriously wrong about the guy. He wasn’t sure what, but something.

Maybe it was because he was a slime hybrid? MD had never met one before.

It was probably that.

Wrapping presents was always an experience, and one Tommy did not agree with. It was annoying, tore too easily or not easily enough, and was so so stupid! Why did he ever want to do this? Right, because he cared about people. 

Stupid caring about people thing. Stupid big but not big enough apartment that gave him no time to safely wrap presents. Stupid MD always lurking around and threatening to spoil the surprise. Stupid red and white paper!

Tommy’s cursing steadily grew in volume as he tried, in vain, to tear the wrapping paper cleanly. Admittedly, his gauntlets did not help with that… at all but he couldn’t take them off without taking the entirety of the top of his costume off. Stupid, annoying defense strategy that was supposed to stop his wrists from breaking. 

“Uh, are you wrapping presents?” An incredulous Foxtrot asked from behind him, far too loudly for any sane person. No, Tommy’s swearing did not count, that was different. Foxtrot didn’t even belong here anyway.

“Shut up,” Tommy growled around the voice changer, giving up and banging the wrapping paper tube against the metal roof. Yes, he was doing this in the industrial district. It was the only place he was certain to never run into any of his roommates.

“Are you being defeated by wrapping paper?” Foxtrot snorted, trying and failing not to laugh. Tommy whipped around, glaring at the fox hero through his goggles. The sentiment seemed to get through as Foxtrot flinched, ears swiveling down.

“Like you could do any better,” Tommy grouches, reluctantly reaching for the partially destroyed wrapping paper roll. It had been destroyed by him this time, which was new. Not that it made him feel any better.

“I’d like to think I could,” Foxtrot argued, walking over the roof towards him. Foxtrot’s feet were far too loud against the metal roof. Tommy would have thought the only hero to patrol the lower districts would be better at this but noooo. That just expected too much from Highlanders.

“Yeah, well, we’ve already agreed that you’re an idiot,” Tommy snarked, rolling his eyes. He tugged the wrapping paper out from the roll, eyeing the present he’d bought for Tubbo and the one he’d bought for Clay and MD… Huh, he was wrapping so many presents right now, look at him go!

“Hey! I’ll show you, give me that,” Foxtrot fought Tommy for a hot minute over the wrapping paper, claws threatening to shred the thin material. Tommy tugged back if only to nuisance before giving in.

Hey, maybe two heads would be better than one when it comes to that.

Sadly, two idiots do not make a smart.

Dream woke up early on Christmas morning by flying out of bed to dodge MD. The Mexican man landed with a huff on the bed, knees where Dream’s stomach would have been. And here Dream was thinking he didn’t have to worry about being attacked in his sleep. Oh well, at least it wasn’t a knife.

“Merry Christmas,” MD recovered quickly, propping himself up on all four. Dream nodded, murmuring back. Anna scuttled off the bed, hissing loudly, and onto Dream as he made his way out the door. Well, at least she was feeling awake. 

Neither of the kids were awake yet, probably because it was five am and MD wasn’t usually awake at this hour. He must have been excited. Dream shrugged, leaning his neck forward so Anna could rest herself on his head and probably fall back asleep. Wish that were him.

Well, no time better than now to make chocolate chip pancakes. MD seemed to have the same idea, or maybe he just wanted chocolate chips, and pulled them out of the pantry. Dream grabbed a mixing bowl nodding slightly and MD.

Minutes later, the smell of cooking pancakes drifted into the air. They were definitely the most unhealthy thing he ever made for the kids for a meal, especially since MD was allowed to put the chocolate chips in. The way MD cackled at that was concerning.

“You measure chocolate chips with the heart,” MD had sung quietly to himself as he poured almost the entire bag into the bowl and mixed it in with a bright grin. At least he was having fun?

Heart wasn’t really a measurement Dream used, but it definitely seemed to be a heavy one. Maybe he should just call these chocolate pancakes? Dream narrowed his eyes down at the golden pancake marked heavily with brown dots. Nah, they technically weren’t, so it was fine.

“Pancakes!” Tubbo cheered loudly as he stumbled into the room with his walker, pumping a fist in the air with enough pour to cause him to tilt to the side and into a much more subdued Tommy. Here Dream was thinking Christmas had magical energy powers over children.

“Woo, pancakes,” Tommy mumbled, face planting into the table. Tubbo scrunched up his nose, poking Tommy over and over again to little effect. MD gave increasingly more ridiculous recommendations on how to ‘fix’ him. Dream couldn’t help but laugh quietly. What? It was funny.

You’re not supposed to find things funny.

“Now, should we do presents now or after the movie?” Dream asked as he set plates piled with pancakes in front of his three ki- roommates. Tubbo dug in immediately. Whatever he responded was heavily muffled by pancake.

“Presents?” Tommy lifted his head, eyes clouded in tiredness and confusion. MD snickered as Tommy got chocolate on his nose from leaning into the pancakes. He too muffled himself with food.

“Yeah, it’s Christmas,” Dream reminded him gently to Tubbo’s excited cheering. Tommy gave a weak cheer in return. Mostly, he still didn’t seem to understand what was going on. He’d probably be just as excited when he finally woke up. Dream couldn’t relate to that. The moment his eyes were open, he was pretty much awake.

That’s a lie.

You just learned to work around it.

Tubbo forced himself to stand up the moment his plate was clean, walking over to the couch to sit down and jeer the rest of them into moving faster. He really was excited. It almost reminded Dream of how children used to see him as number one. This just felt considerably more… innocent.

Tommy eventually joined him, now seeming just as excited, if more controlled. MD followed after to prop himself up on the arm of the couch. All three of them were very impatient as Dream retrieved their presents from the closet since they had neither the time nor care to buy a tree. Apparently, they were a Highlander thing.

“Right, first we have… MD’s,” Dream shuffled several wrapped items over to MD, “these are Tommy’s, and we can’t forget about Tubbo’s.” Dream gave a small grin as he distributed the rest, keeping three of them to himself. All different shapes and sizes and weights.

MD opened his first under the watchful gaze of the others. It seems they were just excited for the reaction of giving as they were for getting themselves. It was… sweet, actually. Dream had never known a Christmas that wasn’t the corporate kind.

They only cared about themselves.

First was a cookbook from Tubbo, filled with baked goods ideas based… around villains? That was mildly concerning, but Dream was inclined to decide he didn’t care if only because it wasn’t something he wanted to question. MD cackled at the gift, swearing up and down he’d use every single one once. Dream did not doubt it.

Tommy got him a Donald Duck themed pocket watch that, for whatever reason, MD started to tear up over. He blubbered in Spanish for several minutes, only the word ‘mama’ understandable as being repeated over and over again.

A scarf made by Dream was the final gift, being wrapped around a teary eyed MD as the man curled up on the couch, falling oddly quiet as he cradled his gifts to his chest. Dream rubbed his head if only to make him feel better.

“My turn!” Tommy called, if quietly, and started to tear into the wrapping paper like it had personally insulted him. A tinge of satisfaction in his eyes as he pulled free the first one.

It was a jacket, mostly black with flame colored wings embroidered on the back to represent Tommy’s wings. The piece had taken Dream weeks and while it wasn’t intended for Christmas at first, it was a good excuse.

“Oh fuck yeah! This is so cool big man,” Tommy flexed his wings, comparing the embroidery to him and puffing out his feathers. It was honestly rather cute. He tossed it over his leg and attacked the next present.

A small box was in it, opening it revealing a crow pendant that made Tommy freeze. He lifted it like it was made out of solid gold rather than faux silver. Dream tilted his head, it was just a crow?

“Yeah, I found it while wandering around,” MD sniffled, “vendor says it’s an actual original piece from the Nevermore collection or something. Don’t know what that means but, like, I thought you’d like it.” MD shrugged.

“The NEVERMORE COLLECTION?” Tubbo sputtered, eyes wide, “that stuffs ancient! I thought Asrael was the only one who had a piece.” Tommy nodded distractedly, looping it around his head and clutching the dark jewelry.

“I’m never taking this off,” he whispered, hunching his shoulders. Right, so, Dream was obviously missing some pertinent information here… information that has to deal with this world’s number two hero… he’s not going to question that because it’s family time. Nope, not questioning that.

“Uh, mine kind of sucks compared to that but this ones from me,” Tubbo rubbed the back of his neck and chuckled awkwardly. Tommy picked up his Gift and held it out dramatically with a snort.

It was a gold cow plush with white spots and what looked like mushrooms on its back. A plastic bow haphazardly put on its head designated it as a present. The thing was chunky, obviously hand made from one of the vendors, and probably pretty cheap. Dream wondered what it was.

“I love it and his name is Henry,” Tommy decided, nodding his head sharply like he’d just decided the most important thing ever. He hugged it to his chest over the pendant, sniffing dramatically like he was about to cry. Dream rolled his eyes fondly.

“Now open mine bitch,” Tommy turned his head to Tubbo, narrowing his eyes at his friend. Tubbo rolled his eyes, conceding with a flourish to open Tommy’s gift. Apparently, great minds think alike.

Under far too much messy wrapping was a bee plush. Fairly large for a bee, being about the size of Tubbo’s head, and with large eyes that seemed to stare into Dream’s soul. He looked away to MD. When did MD fall asleep? Oh well, he must need it.

“I’m going to name him Gerald,” Tubbo declared, “because Gerald is lika da bee.” For whatever reason, that made Tommy ugly snort. Tubbo gave Dream a wide grin like he should be in on the inside joke. Dream was not. Tubbo did not care.

MD’s present was much better wrapped, a series of flower pins for his hair. So he’d also notice Tubbo’s annoyance whenever he was working and it kept getting in his eyes. Sure, the kid could type without looking but that didn’t mean he wanted to.

“These are so cute, Clay sir will you put them in my hair?” Tubbo turned to him with sparkling eyes and Dream… well he couldn’t say no. It was just hair, after all. There was no reason not to comply with a perfectly innocent request. Especially when Dream’s present was last and, well, he may have gone a little bit overboard but in his defense it was direly needed.

“Is this?” Tubbo trailed off as he scratched off the wrapping paper, hesitantly continuing. Dream pressed his lips together, definitely not smiling. Tommy leaned in, visibly confused.

“Holy shit, it is!” Tubbo peeled off the rest of the wrapping paper to reveal a laptop. It had been fairly expensive but it was durable, fast, and Tubbo was in dire need of a new one. Call it a present of opportunity. With it were several sticker packets for… decoration purposes.

“I already put all the defenses I knew on it, but you can add more if you want. I’ll help you set the password later,” Dream informed him conversationally, removing his hands as Tubbo nodded furiously. Tommy gripped playfully about Tubbo being the favorite, wings reaching out to cradle around Tubbo.

“It’s your turn now,” Tommy reminded him, tossing a present at him. Dream nodded, stepping back and taking a seat on the floor, Anna deciding to crawl off his head to join him almost patiently. Like she was waiting for something.

Concerningly, MD had bought him a set of knives. Not kitchen knives but knives meant for fighting. The blades were colorful and looked razor sharp, grip’s a durable black material… The main concern was how he’d gotten it without Dream realizing it.

It had to do with his enhancement, Dream was certain. He set it off to the side with a bemused smile and denied any questions from hi- the kids. Well, at least he had a weapon he could use now.

Tubbo’s gift was… okay, this is getting ridiculous. It was a series of bows and tiny outfits that would fit Anna. Tubbo snorted, barely suppressing his giggles as Dream hung his head. Really? Dream didn’t even know people sold these.

Anna took those for herself the moment Dream loosened his grip on them, carting them off and under the couch before anyone could stop her. Not that Dream was going to. He did want to know what she was going to do with them but… it probably wasn’t important.

“I thought it would be cute,” Tubbo defended himself and an amused Tommy. Dream shook his head fondly. Tubbo wasn’t wrong, it probably would be cute. The same kind of cute that any animal in a little outfit was. Even Dream could appreciate that.

Then came Tommy’s and it was immediately obvious what it was from the bad wrapping before he opened it. A shirt, some of the fabric was even peaking out between paper and tape. Why he’d gotten him one of all things Dream didn’t know but…

‘I Am Not An Alien’ was written on the front and when he turned it around it said ‘Gravity Just Has A Restraining Order On Me’. A bright white writing on a stark black, galaxy speckled background. Dream looked up silently.

“What! I thought it was accurate. Well, other than the fact I know for a fact you’re an alien.” “TOMMY!” Tubbo shrieked through his laughter, smacking Tommy over the head. Tommy struggled to defend himself around his out laughing.

Dream looked back down.

The shirt was really all that funny, it barely had a punch line and Dream didn’t understand jokes to begin with. It was one of the many things he was learning that everyday society had that he would never understand. And yet…

A sharp snort came from his mouth, followed by a high pitched wheeze much like a tea kettle. The boys stopped fighting to look at him almost in shock but Dream didn’t care. That wheezy laugh still left his mouth as he bent over.

“Ey, who finally made la luciérnaga laugh?” MD asked.

It was a good Christmas.

Chapter Text

“I’m heading out Big C!” Tommy called over his shoulder as he slid himself out the window. Clay made a loud hiss in return, or that could’ve been his pet spider. Nowadays, who can really tell? Tommy couldn’t, and he lived with the man, but even that might’ve been because he lived with him. Being able to hiss would probably be one of his boss’ tamest abilities.

Beebot lazily following him, Tommy heaved himself over buildings and scraped by over rooftops avoiding being seen from the roads like they’d kill him. Keep low, keep momentum, and launch. Roll to disperse energy, use the momentum to keep running after the roll, don’t stumble when pulling out.

Okay, maybe Tommy might’ve stumbled but he’s only been training with the boss man for like a month and a half, he couldn’t be perfect. All big men needed practice no matter how big they were, or so the boss said. Maybe he should call Clay ‘teach’ now? He was pretty great at it.

Tommy twisted experimentally in the air, spinning almost completely around before landing and scraping his knees against the roof. Man, thankfully Tubbo convinced him to wear those knee pads, he was pretty sure they were meant for skating? Whatever, it doesn’t matter. He’d never admit it.

Clay would though, and he’d probably make him say sorry. Not by making him say sorry but by leveling that look at him. That look that was like the weight of the world bearing on your shoulders, leveling at your sins and grabbing them kicking and screaming to the surface. That look that felt like hell.

He hated that look. Hated the way it made him feel and the itching feeling that buzzed over his skin. A shiver worked its way over his back that wasn’t from the cold or the snow, but some nameless emotion Tommy didn’t want to give credit. He didn’t hate Clay for the look, of course, but…

But Tommy was concerned about why he had it. Why was always tricky, especially when Tommy didn’t stop to think about things like that often. ‘Why’ was Tubbo’s job, Tommy mostly focused on the ‘how’ and the ‘do’ of situations. But during boring patrols like this one, his mind wandered. Wandered like the wind that should’ve been in his wings.

No one could have a look like that and not have a reason why. Veterans carried regret and police carried ire. Citizens could carry fear and paranoia like a palpable thing but despite everything their gazes could hold, they weren’t ever quite like Clay’s. Their looks were simple, easily ignorable. So much so that their ‘Why’ didn’t matter.

Except that wasn’t anything like the nagging sensation that followed Clay like a living thing, a feeling that Tommy had always felt but brushed off because his boss was just weird like that. Faced with the strange, you were bound to feel something. And then he saw the look for the first time, and it wasn’t even at him.

Admittedly, Tommy wasn’t really sure what Wilbur had done- “damnit!” Tommy cursed, silenced by his mask as his foot slipped on a hidden patch of ice and ruined the moment he’d build up. Huffing, he fixed his footing, which was apparently more important than he gave it credit for, and launched off his back foot with his toes. Step one, step two, and leap. There we go.

Where was he? Right, Wilbur. Tommy still remembered vividly when he’d come in because something had shifted with his boss that was so distinctly different that Tommy was pretty much certain everyone had noticed. A heavy weight in the atmosphere, tasting so thickly of pain it was suffocating.

Goosebumps danced over his skin just thinking about it and Tommy shivered again. Even Clay starting the trend of upcharging the man ridiculous amounts had done little to circumvent a feeling that, later when he was alone, Tommy would mull over. Mull over because while he vividly remembered it happening, he was also pretty sure he hadn’t felt it when it did.

Like slipping on a patch of ice and only remembering after the fact you’d face planted into the ground. An image and a feeling so vivid and strong that you knew it had happened but you just… didn’t notice in the moment, or at east that was the best Tommy could explain it.

Speaking of ice, these damned metal roofed buildings were impossible to hold onto with the sheets of ice closely tied to its surface. Thin things that cracked easily and slipped at the slightest provocation.  Maybe he could hold on better if he broke it first? But that'd send it crashing to the ground and be so loud, wasn’t he supposed to be sneaky?

Vigilantes were supposed to be sneaky, or so Clay said. So maybe he should just deal with it. Even if it was cold and slippery and so so annoying that Tommy didn’t even know what to do with it anymore.

Bang! Bang!

Gunshots, finally some excitement! Oh, no, Tommy shouldn’t be excited about that, right? That meant a crime was happening and crimes weren’t supposed to happen under Icarus reign because he was the best crime stopper ever. Even better with Cryptid X behind his back.

Yeah it’s a really stupid name but, like, since when was District Twelve creative with their names? His spider boss worked at The Spider’s Web, being also known as Cryptid X meant nothing.

“It looks like a robbery, four known assailants but no ones inside, must have closed early I guess,” Tub- wait, no, Daedalus informed him in his ear. Tommy nodded, knowing full well that Daedalus was tracking him with the bee bot. He wasn’t dumb enough to miss the little buzzing noise it gave off. Thankfully, most people took it for an actual bee.

“On my way,” Tommy muttered, leaping and hefting himself over the peak of a roof, sliding down and landing with a bang on top of a garbage can. It wobbled under his feet but didn’t fall over as he pushed off and took down the streets. Must’ve had some heavy trash in it.

Turning corners and dashing up the side of a building, Tommy observed the robbery while shoved as far into the shadows as he could manage. Another newish skill that Clay was drilling into him. Of course, Tommy knew how to hide and steal shit but apparently there was more to it than Tommy would ever fucking think. Things like aura suppression or whatever.

Four people, yep, just like Daedalus said. One of them was pretty obviously dragon themed, which set Tommy a bit on edge. Black scales shimmering purple under the dim light, spines down a thick tail and quite an impressive height to boot. Tommy could take him but, like, some dragon hybrids could breathe fire.

He barely considered the fact that there were about three known dragon hybrids in the world and only one of them was rumored to be anywhere near the Esempii. Daedalus didn’t mention it so he wasn’t going to be bothered by it anyway. 

Two of the others were fairly average people, not really notable except one of them was real fucking bulky. He had plates covering his skin, bit like those shulker things Tommy had heard rumors about. Unlikely but it was a good reference.

As for the fourth? Tommy could barely even pick him out. Just a little glimpse of something white from the shadows, multicolored eyes glowing and obvious but otherwise pretty much unseen. All in all, pretty bulky for thieves.

Whatever, it wasn’t Tommy’s job to judge their life choices, especially as the four were now entering into the building. Stepping through broken glass armed and ready to steal anything not nailed to the floor before going back for the nails. Tommy knew how these things worked.

Showtime.

He landed almost silently on the sidewalk, broken glass crunching under his boots as he shimmied in with the wannabe robbers. Plate guy was already smashing displays, unfettered by the high pitched beeping of the alarm. Fair enough, even Tommy knew the noise didn’t mean shit. Just a weak ass deterrent.

Pretty sure that doesn’t belong to you ,” Tommy spoke almost conversationally, leaning against a broken display and the smallest of the three whipped around. He jumped onto the metal edge of the display as the dragon hybrid swiped its tail, smashing into the side of the display. It crumbled like wet tissue and sent Tommy spinning to the side.

Glass dug into his arm and jewelry made a very uncomfortable bed as he fell into the display. He could feel the blood dripping as he stood quickly. He ducked and pushed his way out of the way of Plate guy. Number three shot a gun at the same time, some kind of air bullet hitting plate guy and doing no damage.

Fuck, that’s not good. Tommy knew a losing situation when he saw one. He was outnumbered, way outclassed in the terms of power, and unless Asrael had some kind of Avian-in-danger instinct, he doubted that any backup would arrive. Especially with Daedalus down for the count, unless…

“Hey D? You got anything for me, bud?” Tommy ducked under a swing as he spoke, unheard to his assailants. He pivoted on his left, mimicking Clay and watching as the dragon guy rushed past and tripped over his foot with just a little help. Only centimeters stood between his foot being crushed under the guy, girl? It looked a bit more like a girl now that he was looking properly.

“D?” Tommy tried again, confused that he didn’t get a reply. He didn’t hear any buzzing either and that made him hesitate for a fraction of a second. Just one tiny bit of a moment that he stopped moving, worried that something had happened. Something that he couldn’t quite place…

His ribs gave way with a wet crunch, pushing him backwards into the wall and ejecting all the air from his lungs in one fell swoop. His vision went black for one staggering second as he gasped and fell to the floor with a heavy thud. As soon as it was gone, his vision was back.

A crippling pain came with, bright and burning over his chest and shifting worrying as he crossed an arm protectively over the definitely broken bones. That wasn’t a bruising or a fracturing noise. Not that Tommy was in much of a position to recognize noises.

He coughed roughly, the movement aggravating his chest but blood and spit being spat out onto the inner portion of his mask. It didn’t help breathing. Nothing did when breathing hurt so damn much. He didn’t think Plate guy was this strong.

“Great! Now he’ll come easy,” A smooth, high pitched tone came from the small one, sounding almost happy. Happy that Tommy was over here, heaving a lung from his chest while the other one was pinned in place by his fucking bones. It was like someone just poured rusty nails down his throat and they got lodged in his esophagus. 

“Fuck,” mistakemistakeowowowowowthat’nothowthatworks , “You,” Tommy grounded out through bloodied teeth. He could taste iron in his mouth as he attempted to swallow. Ender, why did it hurt so much? He couldn’t even flare his wings properly. Not that he could get them out of their binds, binding that was a mistake because he couldn’t reach the release button when he couldn’t even move.

“So he still has a mouth!” The small one huffed, just sounding more amused, “We’ll fix that.” The small one lifted a hand, gesturing to him. What the hell? Fix him? What the fuck was that supposed to mean? Tommy wasn’t going anywhere with these assholes, not if he had a choice.

It was the fourth robber, the one that came from the shadows, that stepped forward at the motion. Tommy couldn’t even lift his head to look at him properly. Even shifting to his knees took so much energy and Ender forget broken, that bitch shattered his bones. Seriously, what did Plate guy eat?

Arms twisted around him, almost gentle in their approach, and lifted him. It felt like molten lava flooding his veins and his entire upper body moved in a way it wasn’t supposed to. Tommy bit down on his lip harshly, adding more blood to his mouth but just barely managing to muffle a scream. He refused to scream for the fuck that broke his ribs.

เ’๓ ร๏ггץ

A voice, ever so soft and quiet like it was unsure it should be heard, spoke in a language Tommy couldn’t understand if he tried. It buzzed in his ears and rolled over his skin like a living thing. Maybe it even was?

His world faded to black, the pain faded with it.

Dream damn near broke down his door the moment he woke up alone. Not just in his bed, because why that was rare it wasn’t impossible, but because the entire house was quiet. Far too quiet for an average morning.

There was no Tommy finally arriving through the window far too loud, no Tubbo knocking on his door tentatively asking for breakfast, and no MD. Then again, MD had gotten a girlfriend and was staying with her, some black haired girl from the cafe. So maybe that last one wasn’t so strange.

Was the first thing he did break down the kids door? No, he opened it like he always did, peeking inside to make sure they were there. They were not and that was not helping with his nerves. Anna creeping up his leg didn’t abate them at all so that was saying something, Dream took a deep breath.

Okay, they might be downstairs for whatever reason, right? Right, no need to get wound up. It was probably nothing, just check downstairs. Dream took the stairs two at a time, nearly ripping the door downstairs off its hinges.

Not in the main room, not in the bathroom, not in the kitchen, they weren’t anywhere. Dream tried calling them as he legged it back upstairs. Also nothing, either neither of their phones as signal or, or… or something, Dream didn’t know.

He pushed back into their room, the window was still open leaving a chill. Anna’s tank was untouched, not a single item strewn across the floor anywhere they weren’t supposed to be. Even the blankets on the bed were as messily tangled as they usually… were…

Some substance, dark and black with a consistency that reminded him oddly of wet sand, stuck to the sheets around where Tubbo would lay when he was working. He pulled back and grabbed gloves and a bag. Step one, secured the evidence.

Weird substance sealed away, he checked the laptop. It was on low battery after having been turned on all night, as to be expected, but other than the tiny grits of the sand-like material it was untouched. All except for a card wedged in between the sheets.

Despite the jostling it had to have undergone, the card was fairly clean and neat. Made out a thick card stock and spray painted black. White letters looked hand painted but not in the good way.

Congratulations!

You’ve been selected to join this year's new flock of Pit Recruits!

If you see this, don’t bother looking for the missing person.

By the time they’re found, it will hardly matter.

~Pit Dwellers

The card crumbled as Dream’s grip tightened. Static in his ears increased tenfold even as he pushed back his Gift to smooth it out, he needed it for evidence. Evidence that would go where, the police station that seemed to do nothing for the district? He wasn’t the number one hero anymore.

You’re useless now

Good for nothing freeloader

Step two, research, right? He had to figure out who took his- the kids. Whoever these Pit Dewllers guys were, at least they were nice enough to leave a literal calling card. It certainly made his job easier.

Of course, society still had to come in and tell him that he couldn’t have the information he wanted. Just like anything that had to do with the lower districts, digital accounts were painfully sparse. Either they didn’t care or Dream would need paper documents.

Paper documents that only heroes and government officials would have access to. Ones that Dream didn’t have access to anymore and were all the way in District One or Three.  Because of course the top district was for the heroes and the third was for the government because sure that made sense . He ground his teeth until they ached.

Worse yet, Dream didn’t know any heroes that could help him. It wasn’t like they went to District Twelve very often and he certainly didn’t go to District One on principle in case he ran into Thanatos or The Handler again. He didn’t know any…

Actually, if he was being specific, he didn’t know any heroes who knew they knew him. And from what Dream knew he did know some high leveled heroes, and even a villain. Even if he highly doubted the Villain wanted to help him.

Good thing it was a Wednesday, huh?

“Aww, they’re closed? The social media didn’t say anything about that,” Wilbur pouted, “Sorry for bringing you out here for nothing.” He laughed awkwardly, turning to Techno. It was a bit concerning to Techno but he doubted Wilbur would recognize his concern for what it was. Somehow, his brother managed to be one of the worst people at immediately recognizing his moods.

Other people passed by, some getting down the street and seeing the cafe was closed for the day and simply turning around. Disappointment colored all of them, dragging a heavy and annoying tone to Chat.

Awwww! No spider god? No spider god F’s in the chat for ps2 hagrid’ successor F F F F F F F f F F e F F no you ruined it! E e e stop that E e E E this isn’t very respectful! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Techno sighed, rolling his shoulders and stretching his neck. Here he was looking to gather more information on the mysterious owner. Not by talking to him, though. Techno might just be the exact opposite of a social butterfly as you could get. Still…

“Let’s go,” Techno muttered, turning to leave just as the door to the cafe slammed open. His head snapped back as Clay stepped out the front. The air, no his aura, seemed to vibrate or or wave like steam from boiling water. Crackling and popping, shimmering in and out of sensation every other moment. It was nauseating.

One thing was clear though, the main note of his aura was anger .

You ,” Clay spoke and it would be wrong to call his tone venomous. It was just… empty, flat. Nothing was carried on it but a chill that seemed physical with how strong it was, as if Techno had stepped out one day and suddenly there was nothing where there was once everything. It sounded so indescribably wrong .

“Me?” Wilbur stammered as Clay grabbed the front of his sweater and hauled him inside, seeming uncaring if Wilbur choked or not in the process. The cafe door swung closed behind them in the breeze. A soft click echoed in the air.

Glancing around to little benefit, Techno looked back at the door. There was a worming in his chest, something distinctly uncertain that left an uncomfortable taste on his tongue. Worse, he didn’t know if this was his emotion or whatever the fuck that just happened. It fit as Wilbur’s too…

Angry God We about to get smited Can we get pizza first? No Chinese food! F to you if you like Chinese but I’m build different Yeah, if different is to say a twig Girls your both pretty! We’re being left behind L L Technolame Follow! Technolame

Against his better judgement, Techno walked into the cafe to a sight. Clay was towering over his brother, literally with his height, both of his arms crossed intimidatingly over his chest despite his frazzled appearance. Nether, parts of his hair were literally sticking straight up.

You’re going to help me, ” Clay said with that same wrong tone. Even from the door, Techno felt uncomfortable and intimidated. Or, again, that could be Wilbur. Some days it was hard to tell, and this was one of them. Undeniably, he was feeling a bit short of breath.

“What? Help? Me? How could I help?” Wilbur looked to be falling apart in the chair he was sat in, glasses sitting skewed across his nose and skin paling. His sweater was still rumpled, seemingly from him not even trying to fix it. A very un-Wilbur-like thing.

Stop pretending ,” Clay’s eyes narrowed as he spoke into something that was mostly like a glare. It was visible, which was the difference. His hair pushed away to show the multitude of eyes all smoldering as they stared down Wilbur. The emotion in them was impossible, his aura was unreadable, and Techno was mildly enthralled,

“Pretending?” Wilbur squeaked. Techno, for once, couldn’t blame him. He didn’t know what he’d do in Wilbur’s place with Clay… no that thing staring down at him. Whatever the thing was,

Apollo ,” One of its hands pointed at Wilbur, “ King Of Hearts ,” another at Techno, “ I’m not fooled by silly costumes, hero ,” It tilted its head down, causing Wilbur to shrink into the seat. Techno startled as his back met the wall. When did he start moving back?

“W-what are we helping with? And why would we want to?” Wilbur swallowed thickly, straightening his back as if trying to fight back like the fool he was. It just seemed to find his fighting funny. No, not funny, annoying .

It was a look that Techno was far too familiar with, turning any emotion about the situation that might’ve been remotely positive sour. It was a look of psychopaths and slavers, missing only the sick sense of glee they seemed to get. It was the look that never failed to make him feel like a bug.

That’s all he was to them, a bug.

Something to be squashed the moment he no longer drew in a crowd.

No, no, no, he was the number one hero now. He wasn’t, wasn’t there. This wasn’t there and he knew that was true because chat was roiling and ravenous under his skin where they used to be full then. Full but so painfully aware of what it took to get there.

They took my kids,” It seemed to find the pity to respond, “ I ne ed to find them.” Techno’s chest loosened with a heavy breath of air, something spiky and painful leaving him. Not like them, they didn’t care like that. This was different. Clay’s voice wobbled from It’s for just a moment as desperation took hold.

“Who?” Techno asked, voice rough as he spoke around the weight in his throat and the elephant of emotions on his chest and pressing around from all angles. It’s eyes turned to him, burning with that unseen and indescribable emotion. For a moment, it studied him.

Pit Dwellers .” and then it was like Techno was no longer seeing it nor Clay nor them but some monster, no some weapon in a human skin. All the hatred and disgust at what they’d done levied into two words.

Physically, it was still Clay and Techno knew it was still Clay. He knew it was the skirt wearing, fashion confused, gravity denying cafe owner who was nothing but welcoming to anyone who stepped in so long as they didn’t hurt what was his. Maybe that was the important part.

Green seemed to glow off his form in a way that Wilbur didn’t seem to see. Not an aura, none of the emotions but just a cold vibrant chill resting on everything and everyone. It warped and twisted, soft but so distinctly dangerous it caused Techno’s faulty fight or flight instinct to flare in warning. Anything that could do that was liable to tear apart cities at the drop of a hat.

More than that, Techno felt like he was no longer looking at Clay, just something that was wearing his skin. The green, maybe, moving in a way that could only be described as sparking over his skin. Sparking like lightning, maybe. Techno didn’t know.

He didn’t know, he didn’t know. It danced over Clay and Techno and Wilbur as if testing them for whatever insane reason he couldn’t quite place. Just as soon as it was there, almost violating and infectious, it was gone. Drawing back into Clay but just hanging there.

Oddly, or maybe taking everything in it made sense, Techno knew he was now longer looking at Clay but something older. Maybe a little, maybe a lot older but it was a feeling he’d only had once before. When Phil had learned his youngest was stolen in the night.

Anger, revenge, devastation, and all manners of grief had colored his aura, feeding into the decades that he’d surely been alive. Techno had been six at most but even then he knew he was looking at something ancient and volatile. Something that only needed one more push to tumble off the deep end.

“We’ll help,” Techno cut off whatever dumb thing his brother was trying to say, “what do you need us to do?” He asked. The wraith in front of him did not smile, because things and beings like it did not smile to show warmth. It tilted its head and removed its gaze. That was enough.

As it walked out the door, followed almost mindlessly by Techno as he pulled his brother along, Techno almost felt pity for whatever had unknowingly crossed its path. But only almost, and no pity was dredged from the depths of his soul. None for them.

They did not deserve his pity.

Pit Dwellers of every station were going to feel the wraith, he knew. He knew there were not even going to be ashes to bury when it was done. Nothing stops a wraith, not one of vengeance and anger and spite. Them fighting back would just make it more painful.

Worst yet, he would enjoy watching it.

Under his skin, loud and unending, the Voices of All cried out. Not for blood, but something much much more.

They were hungry.

Chapter Text

It was a very, very tense ride in the subway to District One where Wilbur knew his father would have the paperwork for the Pit Dwellers. They’d undoubtably have to search for it through hundreds of thousands of stacks of paper, just as his father had during this assignment. One look at Clay, and Wilbur doubted Phil would deny him.

Wilbur was feeling awkward, scared, and above all else confused on whatever the fuck has just occurred. Clay was sitting across from his brother, his brother who’d agreed without consulting him to some request from a wanna be Lowlander. A request from a man who no longer seemed to be Clay.

No doubt there was something odd happening. From the moment he’d been forced forward by his sweater to now, Clay had moved with an almost robotic certainty. Every move was clean and precise.

He walked like the ground was water, moved his arms in pivots like an animatronic with pits to stop their limbs from overextending, and loomed like he was some monster from the darkest pits of the Nether. He felt so much less human than he ever had before.

Maybe he was just an alien who’d crash landed on earth and decided to give being human a try, that rumor was pretty popular. But even his attempt at joking couldn’t bring a smile to his own lips. There was just the unmitigated urge to sit stock straight, edge of his seat, and draw his face neutral. Don’t move, don’t speak, don’t aggravate it.

Confused would not even begin to describe how he was feeling right now. Even after visiting the cafe every week for half a year, Wilbur had never even heard of a glimpse of this behavior. A behavior that was so much more than just grief or fear. Wilbur knew what those looked like.

Fragments of a four year olds memories told him he knew what this was too.

“Soo,” Wilbur hummed, looking down the disturbingly empty train car, “are we going to Phil then?” He asked. His voice almost seemed to echo in silence, even the chugging of the tracks did little to distract from now alone they were. So, so alone.

Really, it was Clay’s fault they were alone right now, not that Wilbur blamed anyone who wanted to leave. Clay’s… presence? Was it his presence or just the way he moved and carried himself? The look in his eyes or the overwhelming emotion that pinned down anyone he looked at? Whatever it was, it drove away anyone who tried to use this car. No one wanted to get in his way.

Nether, Wilbur definitely didn’t want to be here but it was looking like he had no choice. Techno had physically dragged him without a word. Speaking of, why was Techno so obsessed with this? Sure, he had history with the Pit Dwellers but why was this case any different? As the regulations would say, he was compromised.

“Yes, he has the documents due to his current mission,” Techno almost seemed to hesitate before speaking which was really just ridiculous because Wilbur had never known his brother of all people to be someone to hesitate. Not in conversation and not even when his life was on the line.

“Right, that,” Wilbur nodded sharply, eyes flicking between Techno and Clay. It was scary how alike they looked right now. From the complete unreadability to the stock straight posture held up by what was definitely nerves. If not nerves then machinery because holy nether Wilbur was pretty sure Clay was some kind of machine.

Or alien, maybe that theory held more water than he thought. It was certainly looking like it the more and more this… situation dragged on. How much longer were they on this train? An hour and a half? Oh Enderdamnit he was not going to survive this.

How were they even planning on bringing this up to Phil? He should probably ask. Wilbur wasn’t the best at planning things but you can’t just spring things like the Pit Dwellers onto something. With their unique reputation, there was a fifty-fifty chance that the entire thing would be brushed off. Especially when Phil was…

“What’s the plan then? You can’t just expect to be able to march up to the number two hero saying ‘The Pit Dwellers stole my kids’ and expect to be believed with no evidence,” Wilbur tapped the seat rhythmically, hands drumming against plastic in a simple beat. It did little to help the worming anxiety in his chest.

“Phil knows what they do, and I’m the number one hero,” Techno replied like that explained everything. It didn’t, it didn’t at all. Apparently, Techno was more compromised then he thought because even Wilbur knew that Phil was so damn exhausted that he’d probably deny breathing air if he could since it took so much energy. Wilbur barely even saw him in the recent days. It was rather concerning.

“And Phil is literally killing himself over his current assignment, you think that’ll be enough to convince him? Convince the HC or Records Hall to just let you in? It doesn’t work like that!” Wilbur frowned heavily. 

“We’ll find a way to make him listen,” Techno tilted his head, those acidic eyes bearing down on him, “This is more important.” More important than finding a spy in the hero community? Yeah right. Wilbur didn’t believe that, why would Phil?

“He won’t buy that, and what after? No ones going to green light a mission into District Thirteen unless it means stopping nuclear war or, or, or the collapsing of the entire Esempii,” Wilbur felt the urge to throw up his arms. He didn’t if only because he might smack Techno… and Clay’s head had just barely tilted up. Not looking at them yet but clearly listening.

Techno seemed to actually listen to that, thank Ender. Leaning back and gaze landing on Clay, almost considering. His head tilted, listening to Chat probably since no one was speaking. Then he turned back to Wilbur and leaned down.

“I’m pretty sure that if we help him, there won’t be a District Thirteen anymore,” He rumbled lowly with such a certainty that Wilbur couldn’t help but believe him. Believe his words and what little he’d seen of Clay fighting.

Rumors of him taking down a high ranking villain in one blow, how no one robbed the cafe in fear of getting on the owner’s bad side, and all the little strange things that Clay did. Denying gravity took quite a bit of strength too… he looked back to Clay.

Taking down the entirety of Thirteen was something that not even the top heroes working together could manage, how could one person? Why was Techno so sure of his success? If the Pit Dwellers really did take his kids, then what about after? No one left the Pit Dwellers whole. No one…

Not even Techno.

So what could Clay do?

Wilbur leaned back, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes. It did little to halt the swirl of anxiety and fragments of fear in his chest. But that didn’t matter right now. What did was that he was soon to get a front row seat to exactly why Techno was so certain.

It was only a matter of time.

Calming, pulling darkness, twisting and tugging at the edges of his vision. Phil jerked up and forcibly snapped himself out of it. No, he couldn’t sleep, he wasn’t done yet and had so much more work to do because so much of this paperwork didn’t even exist in digital form and he was going to snap .

A knock on the door, oh goody he has to talk to people. Phil straightened his shirt best he could, pushing back his hair and palming his hat from the floor by his desk. It did little to make him or his office look less like a mess but it was something.

“Come in,” Phil cleared his throat and called out. Techno opened the door, pushing it open despite the piles of boxes that hadn’t moved in weeks. Boxes he still had to search through in the coming months or the HC would be on his ass for an incomplete mission on his record. Not to mention the Record Hall who gave him the files.

“Oh Techno, hey mate. Come to convince me to lie down?” Phil asked, a weak smile on his face. Ender, he really wanted Techno to convince him to lie down. Like, he wouldn’t  listen most likely but it was always nice to know that someone cared.

“Someone wants to talk to you, it’s important,” Techno shuffled in, trying his best to avoid the papers on the floor next to what looked like one of his many hero costume layers, maybe. Phil didn’t remember. It wasn’t important anyway.

Important? Talk to him? Phil straightened his back. Techno didn’t come to him with many things labeled as important, mostly because Techno didn’t call many things important. What he did were often really bad, pressing matters.

“Send them in then, I have time.” No, no he didn’t. Phil barely had time to breathe between packets upon packets of paperwork needing to be labeled and shuffled to the safe list or the bad list or whatever it was called. Why couldn’t someone else look through these? Why him?

And then, because Ender hated him, a fan came through the door. It had to be a fan because there was one spider themed hero and they were definitely black, not tan and they definitely did not have blonde hair. Why in the world was this important? Phil sighed heavily.

“Can I help you?” He asked, sounding just a little bit mean, probably, he didn’t care, “I’m rather busy right now.” The words were ground out through his teeth. Dull but oddly harsh things that just exemplified everything he was feeling right now. Busy did not begin to label what he was feeling right now.

Pit Dwellers took my kids ,” The man spoke, towering over him and his desk. Ah, one of these. Not the usual act he got when people pretended to have some deal with them to get close to him. It was a little known fact that Techno had a weak point in the Pit Dwellers but it was known.

“Right, and why would the Pit Dwellers want anything to do with you?” Phil asked brashly, bulldozing over anything about the man in front of him that may be a red flag. Most people either chose fake sobbing or to be in complete shock when they did this act and it was obvious that the decision was made on whether or not they could fake cry properly. Another that the Pit Dwellers were his domain anyway.

Not me, my kids ,” The man insisted. Okay, that was a little bit new. Most people liked to make the situation all about them so Phil would have to do something like physically touch them to console them. So many people would do anything to have him touch them.

“Yeah, sure, your kids. Who are your kids?” Phil asked, if only to move this situation along faster. Techno was sort of just lumbering around in the background as if he was completely obviously trying to listen in. Because of course he was trying to listen in. Techno was horribly emotionally compromised when it came to the Pit Dwellers.

Tohmas and Tobias Williams, and I need your files to find them,” The man, what was his name? He hadn’t said his name yet, had he? Phil didn’t recognize him, no back up, Phil didn’t recognize either of those names either. The Pit Dwellers didn’t target people with families very often, if at all. Phil would know.

“Sorry, I forgot to ask. Who are you? Also, why would The Pit Dwellers want anything to do with your kids?” Phil stumbled awkwardly through the sentence, rubbing his face harshly. The cold metal of his ring felt nice against his forehead. He could fall asleep doing this, or not. Whatever.

My name is Clay, and my kids…” Clay trailed off. There we go, that was the hitch in his story, everyone had them. Everyone who decided to go to him pretending to have some super secret case that he needed to look into but only with them because he neeeded to be near them at all times. Stupid fucking fans.

“Right, well you can bring it up with the commission board but I’m afraid I can’t help you further. Now if you’d just follow King Of Hearts on your way out,” Phil gestured back towards the door, wings twitching annoyingly. They were itching, he needed to preen them soon. He’d been putting that off to work. Not very good for his health, not at all.

Clay tilted his head, eyes glaring down at him with a startling intensity. He raised a hand, as if he was going to hit Phil. Admittedly, he didn’t even bother tensing for that, he was durable enough to not even have to worry about most hits. Let alone a civilian.

Papers tumbled to the floor as Clay’s hand swung down, Phil stared after them blankly and couldn’t help but to equate it to a cat knocking someone off a shelf because they could. Hands slammed onto his desk, and Clay leaned forward. Phil looked back reluctantly.

Tobias is Daedalus, ground support for my other son Tohmas. Tohmas is the vigilante Icarus, a winged avian that you will help me find ,” Clay wasn’t even up in his face as he spoke. Instead, Phil was forced to crane his neck to look up at him and… and the words registered in his tired skull.

Because Phil really was tired. Physically, emotionally, carrying a bone deep exhaustion that never went away. Everything was distant and so so far away and he couldn’t quite brush his fingers against complete awareness. Yet those words… those words managed to pierce through that veil.

A winged avian? His own wings snapped out against his will, a gust of wind messing up the room further and causing Techno to take a cautious step back. That didn’t matter. Clay barely even tilted from the wind despite being so close to it.

Clay was lying, he had to be lying. There were no other winged avians. Just him and that other winged hero, Grian was his real name he was pretty sure? Maybe? He couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter. Clay wasn’t lying, he wasn’t.

Phil knew when people were lying, he even knew when Techno was lying, but Clay wasn’t lying. He had a child, an adopted one surely, who was a winged avian and was in danger. In so much danger.

Phil refused to let another chick be hurt again

“You can use my files,” Phil acquiesced, reaching into his desk to rustle around and grab a stark white card. A guest one he was technically supposed to give out when they hired mercenaries, unofficially of course. Heroes weren’t supposed to hire mercenaries, they were ‘independent contractors’.

“Take this, say Thanatos sent you. It’ll let you use any files in the Record Hall and you can search through as many of these as you can stomach,” He gestured around the room, “The card is only active between the hours of eight am and eight pm so you don’t work yourself to death. Don’t abuse it and get out of my office.”

He looked back down at the fallen paperwork and breathed heavily through his nose. Picking that up was not going to be fun and if he wasn’t a hero, he’d probably kill Clay for it. As it was, the thought was tempting.

“I’ll see you here tomorrow,” He called out after Clay as he left the room with the card, standing to begin to clean up. His knees popped loudly as he stood, spine stiff as he rolled his shoulders and stretched his wings as best he could. They just barely brushed either end of the office.

Back to work it seems.

Dream let the door swing closed behind him as he stood in the empty flat. Cold and empty and so so alone. He never considered the flat lonely until the kids were gone, but now they were and he couldn’t do anything about it because he was useless .

So useless, so weak.

He couldn’t protect the people he cared about.

He couldn’t protect anyone.

A broken weapon can’t help anyone.

Couldn’t hurt anyone.

He wasn’t supposed to want to hurt anyone…

But he was going to.

Leaning back against the door, he slid down, thumbing the card in his pocket. Guest pass, right at least that was useful but only in the hours it was active. Those stupid hours that stopped him from going out and doing something now. Instead he was forced to sit here and wait because he was too weak to go out and do anything for himself. Dream was so so useless.

Useless and stubborn and annoying and too everything yet not nearly enough. He spoke too much, body too weak. No missions, nothing completed. Just a burgeoning weakness that made him useless. So much so that he didn’t even wake up when someone broke into his home.

His head fell back, thumping against the thick wood door and leaving a stupid stinging sensation because Clay’s body was weak. Clay was weak and Dream… Dream could fix that at least, right? Not quickly but he could.

One rep, a hundred reps, a thousand reps. Sit ups, push ups, pull ups, hours and hours of sprinting to get Clay’s body up to standard. He wouldn’t have any equipment this time but he could still do something . Anything to occupy his mind and let his Gift run so he wouldn’t have to think.

Weapons don’t think.

Standing slowly, Dream picked his way through the flat and didn’t pause in his kids room. His stomach growled as he hadn’t eaten all day but that didn’t matter, ignoring it would just make him stronger, wouldn’t it? He didn’t really need to eat. His Gift could keep him alive.

Climbing over the ledge of the roof, he looked up at the stars. Most nights he’d look up to the stars to help him sleep, Dream just took one last look to remind himself that he wouldn’t be sleeping for a while. Rather than lying down, Dream dropped to his hands.

Ever so slowly, he lowered himself until his chest brushed the ground, Clay’s arm’s wobbling despite Dream’s Gift steadying them. Weak, too weak. He pushed himself back up and his elbows nearly gave way.

Not good enough, never good enough. Again, again, one, two, a thousand. All night, hours at a time, it didn’t matter how much it hurt. He had to be better. Dream let his Gift count to a hundred, two hundred, and turned onto his back to begin his sit ups. Over and over until he gets better.

He had to be better.

He had to save them.

What use is a weapon that doesn’t even work?

Aches and pains were meaningless because only people need rest and food and breaks. Dream didn’t need breaks. He worked until the sun rose and worked further still. His only break was to inform the District that his cafe was closed for the immediate future with as little information about the situation as he could possibly give. They were understanding at least.

Didn’t matter, Dream got back to work as soon as the post was updated. He put on a tank top, as little clothes as possible to get used to the temperature, and began again. Flipping into a handstand, he began doing push-ups again. Only his ability to stick to things stopped him from falling over from the handstand because Clay did nothing but sit around all day and couldn’t even do simple balancing anymore.

He couldn’t just sit around anymore. He had to be stronger, faster, better. Better on a base level and not just using his Gift because he was capable of doing that now. He could run and jump without it, it was time to build up a better base to strengthen himself further.

He switched arms and did another rep, hundreds of reps as the hours passed and yet sun stayed hidden. As it always did in the longest nights of the winter. It helped Dream ignore time passing, ignore the trembling of Clay’s limbs.

Lungs burning and sweating heavily, Dream flipped back to his feet and barely paused before he launched off the roof. Left, right, faster, go faster. Green danced over his skin but he stubbornly pushed it away. It wasn’t going to help him now, not until he could go fast enough that it would matter.

Dream needed to get good enough.

He needed to matter.

ƜӇƛƬ? ƜӇƳ ƖƧ ƖƬ ƧƠ ƊƛƦƘ? ƧƠ… ƇƠԼƊ. ƧƠ ƧƠ ƇƠԼƊ… ƖƬ ƜƛƧƝ’Ƭ ƧƲƤƤƠƧЄƊ ƬƠ ƁЄ ƇƠԼƊ… ƜӇЄƦЄ ƜƛƧ ӇЄ? ƜӇЄƦЄ ƜƛƧ ӇƖƧ ƊƛƊ?

ӇЄ ƜƛƧ ƧƇƛƦЄƊ.

Chapter Text

Eight am on the dot and Dream was walking into Hero’s Wharf having been up all night and not eaten a thing. For nothing but the benefit of others, he hid his flimsy body under the shirt that Tommy gave him, covered by a wide collared pizza patterned sweater that hung off one shoulder. He felt soft, too soft.

Too weak.

But he didn’t really have any other clothes. Not that he felt like wearing. Either they were too flimsy or not thick enough or just too… plain for trying to make others underestimate him. Being underestimated was a hell of an advantage, but not one that being the number one hero let Dream experience very often. Only when he was young, before he debuted…

Well, quite a bit happened before he debuted but the element of surprise, being underestimated, those were definitely a couple of things that stuck out. Maybe more should have, considering what his life had been like but Dream didn’t see it that way. He shook his head as he passed into the elevator, not important.

Nameless faces stumbled out of the elevator as he passed them by, clicking the floor he wanted to go on. Flashes of emotions on their faces read in moments of his attention before being discarded as unimportant, they were getting out of his way and that was enough. The doors slipped closed without the startled individuals.

Alone in the elevator, Dream’s shoulders dropped, but only a fraction of an inch. His subconscious mind was far too aware of the camera in the corner, motion sensors in the wall, and the thermal vision camera set in the center of the ceiling. Really, he wasn’t alone. He was never alone.

Always watched. Always judged.

One wrong breath from termination .

Sounds echoed far too loud as the elevator dinged and the doors opened, a frazzled looking hero with fox elements ducking in and slapping a floor not too much below Dream’s. They bent over, one hand in their knees as they painted and the other clutching a bulging folder to their side. Hm, weak.

“Thanks for,” a gasp of air, “holding the door, are you here for a meet and greet? I didn’t think there was any going on right… now,” they trailed off, ears swiveling back as they finally turned to Dream. Their eyes dilated, stepping back. Dream just studied them quietly, mentally taking note of whether or not he’d seen them before.

White leather jacket, black cap, gold embellishments, little armor but that was expected of a place like this. Black pants, knee and arm guards, long boots with thick soles, better than most Dream had seen. Very little to protect their identity but that seemed to be a given. A strange given but one nonetheless.

“Clay, not a fan,” he held up his card, “Asrael told me to come to his office.” Dream pocketed the card again. It wasn’t a lie, per say. It was just more that Dream was going to Phil’s office rather than being invited. He already had quite the sum of documents taken out, why bother using his name to get more? There had to be something of the Pit Dwellers in there.

“Oh! Okay. I’m Foxtrot, you probably already knew that,” Foxtrot laughed, awkward and high pitched. His tail flicked to the side, annoyed? No, general social anxiety, his shoulders and muscles were tense. Must not talk to people his age very often. Not that Dream was technically his age, physically he was so the mistake was understandable.

“I did,” the doors slid open with a click, another soft ding ringing in the too quiet elevator despite the slow thrum of music, “have a nice day Fundy.” Dream didn’t bother offering a smile as the doors slid close.

Foxtrot startled, whipping back around but it was already too late. The elevator began moving again and, no, Dream did not consider the name call to be a bad decision. He knew Fundy often operated in his district whenever he could, Dream was making a statement. Hell, this entire thing was going to be one hell of a statement.

About a minute later, far faster than most elevators should go, Dream stepped out into the long hallway that bisected the top floor of the building. To his left were a set of doors leading to Phil’s expansive office. A large, expensive thing with marble floors and floor to ceiling windows that would’ve made the office feel as massive as it was if not for the piles and piles of boxes. He didn’t know what the right doors led to.

Reconnaissance mission? Unimportant, shove it down the priority list.

Wedging open the door, Phil was still sitting at his desk. He looked like he’d been there for a while and, even as Dream slipped inside, he remained fast asleep. The room looked about the same as yesterday, as disappointing as it was to say. Boxes blocked the door and papers and costume pieces were strewn across the floor.

Phil’s signature hat lay abandoned off to the side, squashed under a pile of boxes somehow despite it looking as though it was placed there on purpose. Large crow esque wings glimmered in the light, lazily stretched out to either side and showing off their expansive wing span. Golden hair wreathed around his head as the beginnings of dawn trickled through the window. He was drooling, ew.

Carefully, with practiced feet, Dream avoided stepping on the land mines on the floor. It was impossible to tell what was important but more than a few papers had obvious footprints embedded in them. Oddly enough, the stack of paper that Dream had knocked over the other day was still on the floor. Maybe a brush of wind had jostled some but otherwise… It was like Phil hadn’t had the energy to move.

For a moment, Dream loomed over the far too familiar man. Thanatos, the angel of death, the skull king, whatever name or title you wanted to call him. Echoes of pain itched over his stomach, his muscles twitch with the rush of energy that begged him to move. Ash coated his mouth and drained it dry… or maybe he was just dehydrated. Hm, that wasn’t good. Neither was Phil for that matter.

Knock knock

Despite everything telling him not to, Dream rapped his knuckles on the fancy hardwood desk next to Phil’s head. The sound echoed and built upon itself in the empty room like an echo chamber before it dispersed like nothing happened. Phil barely stirred.

Not good. Physically interacting with the man didn’t do anything but send spikes up Dream’s arm in stupid emotions he had to ignore. The prickling, despised feeling tore at his nerves and clawed at his chest, stealing his breath and making his Gift work overtime to keep him on his feet. It was ridiculous.

He wasn’t supposed to feel this way.

He wasn’t supposed to be afraid.

But Phil had used his name.

Was he him? Was it a myth or a lie?

Did it even matter?

He was being stupid, it was nothing important and it never would be.

He was a machine, he wasn’t supposed to feel.

“Philip McCarthy?” Dream called out the man’s full name, it was more likely to be recognized than any title or nickname. Loved or hated, full names tended to draw attention. Or so he’d been told, he’d only heard it happen to Vulcan himself. Dream didn’t exactly have a full name to have personal experience with.

Bracing himself, Dream shoved roughly at Phil’s shoulder. Still nothing, apparently Dream wasn’t good enough to wake up for. That or Phil was quite literally working himself to death and was in a coma, Dream doubted it for whatever reason.

Thanatos is death, he wouldn’t be taken so easily.

Thanatos, wake up before I slit your throat, ” Dream threatened softly, an empty threat or maybe not. He wasn’t sure. The order to bring back the syndicate dead still roiled under his skin, pushing violently now that there was someone who looked and acted like the target. It was almost painful. Not that Dream would willfully hurt a cooperating informant, that was unprofessional.

And immoral but who cares about that?

“Huh?” Phil groaned quietly, because of course his name was what did it. Dream prayed to whatever god was listening that the name was just an old hero name or something because if they were the same person… His hand twitched, there were so many ways he could kill a man with his bare hands. Or a pencil, he could make do.

“Holy shit that worked?” Apollo, because he was in costume so it was Apollo, called from where he was peeking through the door. Dream sighed, he had hoped that no one was listening. It seemed his situational awareness was… lacking. He’d have to work on that.

“Wha-? What do you want, Wilbur?” Phil asked, yawning wide enough to audibly crack his jaw. He palmed blindly at his desk, feeling for a hat that wasn’t there. He narrowed his eyes, rubbing at them, and looking around the room. It was almost comical the way his whole body drooped seeing it across the room and trapped. He didn’t seem to want to stand.

“Nothing! I just noticed our get what’s here…” Dream turned at the break, “Speaking of which, I have a patrol! SoIrealllygottago,hopeyouunderstand.Bye!” Wilbur rambled out at the speed of light, dropping back through the door and rushing off. Strange, he looked… almost afraid? What was there to be afraid of? Dream was hardly going to hurt him, not in the current situation at least.

“Well, aren’t you a mess, huh mate? Don’t look like you’ve eaten recently,” Phil began, almost conversationally, as he shuffled towards his hat and began to free it from its confines. Dream turned back, unimpressed. He looked like he hadn’t eaten recently? What about Phil? Talk about a hypocrite.

Look, it wasn’t like Dream knew exactly what Phil’s schedule had been the past few days but the effects of said schedule was obvious. His frame seemed gaunt, cheeks sunken and clothes hanging off him. His hair was frizzy, sticking up unnaturally and messily framing a too pale face. Deep bags hung under his eyes, evident of his lack of sleep. Hell, his eyes barely seemed to focus on Dream.

Dream couldn’t work with him like this, he doubted anyone could work with him like this. It was no wonder that Phil’s office was a mess, he was barely taking care of himself. Dream wouldn’t be surprised if the man was hiding the fact he was seeing double. He seemed to be with the way he almost missed putting his hat on his head, the garment ending up skewed.

Silver caught in the light, a daintily carved ring with a large emerald centered in it. Dream’s heart jumped, breath catching on the new strange object. Ringing edged in his ears, overtaking what little noise remained in the room. Bright, loud ringing, so so loud. Too loud, why was it so loud. 

Vision blurred, it remained in view. Dark feathers delineating murders of crows hiding blood and ash and soot and so much ash that it hurt and burned. Silver, burning silver, bright and ringing and painful.

Claws digging into his stomach, his arms.

Painful, too painful.

He couldn’t move, not fast enough, never fast enough.

Burning muscles, shifting bones, bad body wrong body.

The glint of silver digging into his stomach.

The mark, where was the mark.

“You alright? Must be in worse shape than I thought. Come on then, refreshments are just across the hall,” Phil’s hand on his shoulder snapped him out of whatever funk he’d found himself in. The touch burnt lightning down his skin. Layers of fabric turned suffocating, from a hug to a choke if that seven at all possible. Dream felt like he was burning.

“I’m fine,” the words came out flat, “I just need what you have on the Pit Dwellers,” Dream tugged his shoulder away, trailing after Phil as the man walked without care over delicate paperwork. His wings here drooped, tail feathers dragging across the floor. It looked uncomfortable.

“The Pit Dwellers can wait, you can’t do anything to them if you pass out,” Phil explained calmly, pushing open the doors into what was clearly a break room. The number two had a personal break room? Strange.

The floors are marble and covered in a soft carpet, shelves covered in snacks and plants and various nicknacks. Counters with a coffee machine, stove, and microwave were installed over half of the room. Beanbags and pillows littered the floor. Closest to the windows was a single desk with a fancy computer setup and a large comfortable looking chair.

“This is Wilbur’s office but I doubt he’ll care if we borrow a few things,” Phil flashed him a cold- no warm smile. Why was it so warm? And aimed at him? It shouldn’t be, not when Phil was Thanatos and he knew he was Thanatos.

“What can you tell me about the Pit Dwellers,” Dream repeated, feeling a bit like a parrot. Strange, he wasn’t the one with wings between the two of them. It was necessary though, Dream needed to know about them and Phil wasn’t telling him so he just had to keep pressing. That was how this worked, right?

“Yes yes,” Phil quite literally waved him off, “And I told you you can use any papers you can find. If you’re looking for first hand information then I’m afraid I can’t really help you. You could ask Techno but…” Phil shrugged, “I doubt he’ll tell you anything. He tends to be rather tight-lipped about it all.”

A box of insanely sugary cereal thumped against the counter and Dream reflexively wrinkled his nose. Was the number three hero really so unhealthy? Was Phil really going to eat that? The childish mascot made him want to gag at the thought. Dream could never, his sugar tolerance was quite frankly abysmal.

“I’ll ask him,” Dream ground, “Is there a sorting system I should be aware of? So I know where to find the documents I need?” He stepped back as Phil swung around, two boxes of equally unhealthy cereal in either hand. If he asked Dream’s opinion then Dream was going to strangle him, then force him to eat, and make him take a goddamn nap. Maybe not entirely in that order.

Then Phil froze as he registered the question, feathers puffing out and smile stiffening. He laughed tightly, humming and turning back around. Dream glanced out the window and debated jumping, this was just ridiculous.

“You don’t have a sorting system,” Dream did not accuse, he stated it like it was a fact. Which it was, especially considering the wreck of a room he just in, even if this one wasn’t exactly any neater. They were going to have to start from the ground up, hopefully minus any papers Phil had checked through on his own. But how long would that take? Could he handle it? Should he just…

No, no Dream had to do this properly. A rushed mission was a mission doomed to fail. The consequences of failing the mission were too high for him to consider, he had to take this seriously and go piece by piece. A plan before executing. Backup plans and failsafes, reduce risks and increase chance of success. He didn’t have much of a plan yet but he would.

“Not really? Sorry, I didn’t think of it,” Phil laughed again, fluffing his wings. Feathers drifted to the floor at the moment, unkempt and hanging on by a thread that had just snapped. Dream sighed.

“It’s fine,” no it isn’t, “but that does mean you and I will be organizing them after this. Or rather you will be. I’ll talk to Techno and meet you there” Dream ordered. Phil startled, wordless complaints falling from his mouth. Dream paid him no mind, not when he had a hero to interrogate. Phil would get over himself, surely.

The door clicked closed behind him and Dream relaxed, not a little bit but enough. A hand brushed his head, ears still dully ringing against a noise he couldn’t head. Pressure built up and spread along his forehead in what would become a killer headache later. He took a deep breath and straightened his back. 

Ignore it.

Your pain doesn’t matter.

Now, where was Techno’s office.

Blood for the blood god! Blood Blood Blood Blood Did you see his face? It was so funny! Techno god! Nah Technoboomer L E E e Why are the floors so shiny? Spider god! It’s the muffin man! Who lives down Mulberry lane? :O

One of the last things Techno expected to see as he walked into his office after a successful ‘hunt’, as Chat called it, was Clay sitting in his chair and messing with his computer. What he’d really been on was patrol but eh, it’s whatever. Chat could call it what they wanted.

Anyway, what was Clay doing here? Techno stood there for a few embarrassing minutes, watching Clay bathed in light scratch information onto a notepad that Techno hadn’t known was even in his office. It looked like merchandise? Had the color scheme and Techno didn’t think Clay had any heroware.

The mask on his face was cold and heavy, warm furs ramping up his body heat to almost uncomfortable levels in the heated office. The crown on his head, as delightfully shiny as it was, suddenly felt silly and his boots too loud against those stupid marble floors. He palmed his sword, did that look like a threat?

“What are you doing in my office?” Despite the sudden rush of nerves, Techno was painfully aware of how bland his voice sounded. No matter how emotional he got, it tended not to change. He only had dull certainty and ‘high pitched banshee’ according to Wilbur. Not important.

“Information gathering, Phil said I could,” Clay clicked rapidly through his computer, spare set of arms holding the notepad as he wrote. Huh, useful. Chat chimed in, quite loudly, about a slew of ideas on how they could be used. Some were useful, others made Techno glad that he couldn’t really blush properly.

“Uhh, okay?” Techno shifted on his feet, glancing around his office. It was a lot smaller than the others, he knew. About half the size, which was still more space than he needed. Mostly weapons decorated the walls, fancy useless things he confiscated off of Villains that he never used. Seriously, what use was a sword that was bigger than you were?

Fancy! I think it’s fun! But it’s useless, no blood No blood is a crime in of itself Blood for the blood god! Would spider god like blood? HE BETTER! How’d he get in here, guest passes don’t work like that. Shhhh, we don’t question our god Ps2 Hagrid is better SHUT UP-

“I actually needed to talk to you about something,” Clay chimed, finally looking up from Techno’s computer and leveling him with a stare that felt like a threat. He didn’t know what about it, but if he had to guess it was the void that hugged Clay’s skin. Wisps of green seeped off like smoke, dancing lazily in the air as Clay moved. No emotion, just… green.

“What would you want me for,” Techno asked, narrowing his eyes back. Other than the Pit Dwellers, Techno didn’t think that Clay had anything to ask him, they were hardly friends and… and… oh Ender, he wasn’t serious.

He wasn’t serious, was he? He couldn’t be. Techno refused to believe it but he had to because Clay said it so seriously and there was nothing else to talk about. But he couldn’t talk about them, he refused to talk about them. He didn’t even want to think about them. Not if it meant facing them again.

No, no it was fine. Techno would be fine. He could just… just brush it off, right? Joke around a little and redirect all his questions away, right? Yeah, he could do that. He could do that. Clay would respect boundaries, probably. Techno didn’t have much faith in that but… whatever

L Technolame Face yo problems man Not very pog of you Clay be acting sus rn Why he so serious? THE KIDS YOU MORON Just tell him! Do it for the kids! Tommy sucks tho What did he do wrong? He cursed Fuck you then LANGUAGE Badboyhalo in the chat???

“Heh,” Techno flatlined, stepping closer to the desk as Clay spun his pen, flipping closed the definitely now stolen notepad and shoving it… somewhere. Did that skirt have pockets? He felt like it had pockets. Where else would he put it, his mouth?

“Oh, so you do get it then? I’ll need everything you know,” Clay pulled out a… where did he get a second one? Why was this one themed after Foxtrot? As far as Techno knew he never met Foxtrot. Why was Techno sitting on the opposite side of his own desk?

“What do you want to know?” Techno sighed, signing away his soul to the devil on the other side of his own desk. Why? Because he wasn’t nearly as angry as yesterday, or was at least hiding it better, and agreeing caused the green wispy things to go away. Not away away but like… not touching Techno away.

“Everything you’ll tell me, though with preference to locations and names or ranks,” Clay summarized, tapping his pencil against his notepad. Techno wasn’t really sure whether or not he should be afraid. Generally, The Pit Dwellers was… not a topic he wanted to talk about but Clay was just so blase about it.

“I dunno,” Techno slumped in his chair, “It’s kind of personal. Don’t think you’re at a high enough friendship level to know all that stuff.” He looked down at his hands, fiddling with the golden rings dotting his fingers. The metal glinted in the light, soothing his senses.

“Then don’t tell me the sensitive stuff, realistically I only need a where, nothing specific,” Clay assured him, voice soft and almost… kind? It was a weird feeling. Techno could hear Clay was genuine but he couldn’t feel anything. He was so used to being able to just tell, now that he couldn’t? He didn’t know what to do.

“My information is definitely outdated, haven’t been anywhere near District Thirteen in about half a decade. It’d be better to ask them if you want the recent stuff but they move a lot to avoid griefers. Not that I’d recommend going anywhere near the place,” Techno mimicked a shrug.

Right ,” Clay responded, tone dropping. Techno felt himself freeze back up as the mist lashed out around him, passing through objects but scorching his skin with its intensity. Then, Clay took a single deep breath and it retreated. Gone in an instant. It was enough to give him whiplash at the sudden lack of feeling.

“Thank you for your help,” Clay bowed his head as the Foxtrot notepad disappeared back into… wherever it had come from. Chat echoed Techno’s confusion under his skin, pushing almost childishly at the void around Clay. For one brief moment, Clay paused and tilted his head. Chat silenced themselves. Wack.

Clay continued without another word. Almost hesitantly, Chat pushed back against his skin, chittering away quietly. Techno felt frozen in place, feet stuck to the ground. Chat never went quiet, not entirely. Had Clay really felt them? That should be impossible, not having an aura should be impossible…

He wasn’t like them yet…

So much made sense if he was one.

Techno didn’t like that very much.

Techno slow Technolame Bro Stand up! Lammmme E E E Could we throw him out the window? Push! Push! Defenestrate! To the window to the wall! Mostly the window :D blood for the blood god? E e e

Well, that was strange. Dream rolled his shoulders, trying to calm the raging force driving itself into a tizzy as his Gift seemed to get… angry? It was like an AI, he didn’t think it could be angry but apparently he was wrong. The more you know.

It made him wonder what set it off, but that wasn’t really important, was it? His Gift was calming back down, even if he was a bit off kilter in the meantime, so it was probably nothing. If he had to guess, it had to do with Techno. He could just avoid Techno when he went against The Pit Dwellers, right? Right.

Calmly making his way back to Phil’s office, Dream ruminates over what little he pulled from Techno’s computer. Was he supposed to be on it? Probably not but the guest pass had worked to log in and, what do you know, Heroes Computers have access to more things than civilian ones. How or why also didn’t matter.

First of all, Techno wasn’t lying when he said the Pit Dwellers moved often. Whenever law enforcement finally managed to get dirt to take them down, they were already gone by the time anyone managed to get close. Rumors must make their way down fast.

Second of all, whatever the Pit Dwellers were doing wasn’t pleasant. When searching vacated buildings, heroes and the police often found what looked to be crudely made cells and often a colosseum like room. Chairs surrounding some sort of wall, anything from bulletproof glass to barbed wire to elevated concrete slabs with a large circular inner room. All manner of fluids could be found staining the, often dirt or concrete, ground. Nothing else gave away what they were doing so a fight club was easy to assume.

Not that whoever made the report Dream read had noted as such. Apparently, calling it a fight club would be a break in the case since no one had seemed to draw the connection. Except maybe Techno? He was awfully nervous when Dream brought it up. No, not nervous, Dream knew what trauma looked like. Techno was likely an unwitting member, right?

It would be incorrect to assume that he was right based on body language though. For all Dream knew, he was grossly misunderstanding the situation, all of his other skills had fallen behind after all. Who’s to say that he wasn’t reading everything wrong? Dream couldn’t be certain.

Whatever, Dream shook his head. He could fix that, he would fix that. He had to, who knows what would happen if he didn’t? If he wasn’t good enough, then even worse might happen. Maybe if he hadn’t been, Tommy wouldn’t be…

No, focus.

Don’t think, just do.

Thinking only gets you in trouble.

Getting in trouble only hurts more.

“So, what have you done so… far,” Dream swung open the door to Phil’s room. It was untouched and completely void of life, like Phil hadn’t even walked back across the hallway. Oh goddamnit, was he really going to have to organize everything himself? Not that he wouldn’t, but it would be faster with help.

Going back across the hall in a few short strides, Dream ghosted into the room. Maybe Phil was just still eating? He looked pretty gaunt before, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was extremely hungry. Eating for so long was a concern though, probably a medical one at that.

“Phil?” Dream asked the empty office, his eyes trailed over the room and… oh, okay that makes more sense. The number two hero was limp against one of the bean bags, large wings awkwardly shoved to either side of him. Soft snoring left him and somehow, he looked even more tired.

Artificial light overhead only made his bags look worse, a sickly shine dancing over his skin. Pale skin that seemed too grey to be human, almost like a living corpse. Not really a corpse when Dream could see him breathing but the simile was close enough. It didn’t paint a great picture.

Dream bit his lip. It would be faster if Phil was working with him but it wouldn’t be if Phil passed out midway through. He had to remember that not everyone could go as far as he could. It was better if he slept, right?

Light hit the ring, Dream turned around. No, he could let Phil sleep for however long he wanted, Dream didn’t care. Besides, the beginning was just tedious busybody work, his Gift’s specialty, really. Dream could just flag the Pit Dwellers and let his mind drift off, a bit like taking a catnap really.

He set his phone for ten minutes until the card turned off, it wouldn't be good to be locked in the building for the night. It wouldn't be a big thing if he was, he could just scale the outside of the building. Actually, it might even be good training.

Pulling the first box from the pile, Dream began pulling papers from it, eyes glazing over. It was going to be a long long while until he got everything from this that he could, especially without any of it being sorted. He would have to make due, he had to.

He just hoped Tommy and Tubbo would be okay when he found them.

If they weren’t?

If they weren’t then Dream would show them everything he had to offer.

It was only a matter of time.

ӇƠƬ, ƬƠƠ ӇƠƬ, ƜӇƳ ƜƛƧ ƖƬ ƧƠ ӇƠƬ? ӇЄ ӇƛƬЄƊ ƖƬ ӇЄ ӇƛƬЄƊ ƖƬ ӇЄ ӇƛƬЄƊ ƖƬ. ƜƠƠȤƳ, ƖƝ ƛƝƊ ƠƲƬ ƛƝƊ ƖƝ ƛƝƊ ƠƲƬ, ӇЄ ƇƠƲԼƊƝ’Ƭ ƜƛƘЄ ƲƤ, ӇЄ ƇƠƲԼƊƝ’Ƭ ӇЄ ƜƠƲԼƊƝ’Ƭ ӇЄ ƇƠƲԼƊƝ’Ƭ ƁƦЄƛƬӇЄ. ƝƠƖƧЄ, ƔƠƖƇЄƧ? ƧƠMЄƬӇƖƝƓ, ƧƤЄƛƘƖƝƓ? ƳЄԼԼƖƝƓ?

ƜӇƠ? ƜӇƠ ƜӇƠ ƜӇƠ? ӇЄ ƜƛƧ ƧƇƛƦЄƊ, ӇЄ ƜƛƝƬ ƬƠ ƓƠ ӇƠMЄ. ӇƠMЄ ӇƠMЄ ӇƠMЄ ӇЄ ƜƛƝƬЄƊ ӇƠMЄ, ƜӇƳ ƊƖƊ ƖƬ ӇƛƔЄ ƬƠ ӇƲƦƬ ƧƠ MƲƇӇ? ƖƬ ӇƲƦƬ ƬƠƠ MƲƇӇ. ƜӇƳ ƜӇƳ ƜӇƳ? ƜӇƛƬ ƊƖƊ ƬӇЄƳ ƊƠ ƬƠ ӇƖM?

ӇЄ ƜƛƧ ƬƖƦЄƊ…

ƬӇЄ ƔƠƖƇЄƧ ƜЄƝƬ ƢƲƖЄƬ.

Chapter Text

“You’re telling me the kids went missing and the first thing, THE FIRST THING, you do is threaten a bunch of top level heroes into letting you investigate it alone ?” MD’s grainy voice rang out over the receiver, high pitched and incredulous. Dream could almost imagine him tugging at his hair as he paced around his girlfriend’s apartment. Was that funny? Dream didn’t know.

“Yes,” Dream replied simply, tugging at the straps of his bag filled to the brim with paperwork he definitely wasn’t supposed to have. Phil hardly stopped him from taking it but Phil had still been asleep when he left. Dream wasn’t about to test his luck and wake the hero up. So instead, he just left with all the things he needed to look over closer at home. Most of which was things his Gift flagged as being relevant to the investigation at hand, and Dream trusted his Gift’s judgement.

“I… I can’t tell if that’s terrifying or breathtakingly stupid,” MD dropped into a harsh whisper, some nameless emotion coloring his words. A soft thump made its way over the receiver as MD supposedly sat down. Dream tilted his head slightly, unsure of exactly what his statement meant. Stupid? He’d made a calculated risk, it was hardly stupid. Just because MD didn’t draw the same conclusion didn’t mean it came from nowhere, it was just Dream’s Gift doing it… mostly.

It wasn’t because he cared.

He just making sure his kids were safe, it didn’t mean anything.

He wasn’t supposed to care this much

“I just was letting you know why the cafe was closed,” Dream’s eyes were drawn to a small figure darting out of an alley, carefully nabbing some lady’s wallet, and slipping back into the shadows before she even noticed. Small feet were quiet even against the broken concrete. A child thief?

“Right, because I’m technically an employee,” MD groaned, “look, la luciérnaga, I’ll do whatever I can to help but I’ve crossed The Pit Dwellers before, it isn’t pretty. Please… be careful?” What a soft, simple promise. Such a silly thing to ask, Dream knew how to be careful.

“I promise,” Dream assured him, knowing full well how empty those words were even as his Gift buzzed and accepted them like a puzzle piece sliding into place. Such open ended requests were so out of place in his world. A world of specifics and carefully crafted lies where such simple things were ripe for the picking. Not that Dream was a lawyer but he knew how they thought.

“Right… sorry I can’t help more, you know how shoddy my memory is,” was MD being self deprecating? He definitely sounded bitter which, realistically, wasn’t much of a surprise. MD loved the kids, of course he’d feel bad about not being able to help.

“It’s not your fault, you can’t help the way you’re born,” Dream shook his head as he stepped into the dim alleyway, fully aware MD couldn’t actually see him. A puddle of dark liquid -oil?- was pooling and fighting against the melting snow banks. The sun didn’t get far with the snow yet but it was enough to be noticeable.

“Thanks Clay, you always know just what to say,” MD sighed, which did feel sarcastic. Dream may be admittedly oblivious to most social things, but he knew what sarcasm was at least some of the time. Did he say something wrong? All he stated was a fact…

You messed up again

“You’re welcome, I need to go now. I’ll call you later?” Dream was halfway down the alley when MD made reluctant goodbyes and hung up the phone. The small shadow was pressed against the wall and a dumpster, obviously trying to hide. Paperwork still obvious against his back, Dream considered his options and purposefully dropped the plastic bag filled with treats he definitely didn’t steal from Wilbur’s office.

In his defense, the man had, like, an entire grocery store in there. Dream doubted he would miss one box of granola bars or a single sandwich. Hell, as far as Dream knew the guy only ate super sugary things and only had the healthy stuff to appease Phil. Considering their dynamic, that was a lot more likely than not.

Wilbur could definitely use someone to make sure he ate properly considering he ordered the exact same extremely sugary drink every single time he went to the cafe. He didn’t have a lot of muscle definition either. Dream would recon he didn’t do not as much working out as he should.

Not his job to control Wilbur’s eating habits though, especially since Wilbur was a grown ass man and heroes didn’t seem to have assigned dietitians here. So, Dream just continued walking on after letting the bag of sweets fall to the floor and continued as if nothing had happened. Just to see if he was right, of course,

As expected, a small figure darted out through the snow the moment Dream turned the corner, tiny footsteps crunching surprisingly quietly. A child, maybe? Young, light, especially when even Dream had trouble walking over the thing iced ground. It was just so easy to break. To… shatter.

Reluctantly, he peeked back into the alley. Yes, that was a child. Dark skin, darker hair, multiple red eyes almost glowing in the minimal light. Raggedy clothes that looked not nearly warm enough for the weather and a long scarf that seemed to drag behind them even as they fumbled with the plastic bag. They also had four arms, interesting.

Another spider hybrid? That made three that Dream knew of in total, but only if he counted Clay. Four if he counted Riley’s grandmother, which he didn’t since he’d never met the woman. Still, looking at the kid made it obvious why he was so hard to see in the dark.

Being mostly black made them blend into the shadows, squinting their eyes would’ve gotten rid of the glowing issue too. The only thing that would even slightly stand out was the scarf, being a pale blue color. Or maybe yellow? The poor lighting made it hard to tell.

That same pale lighting that made the scarf blend into the snow. Dream, ever so briefly, wondered they were cold before banishing the thought, it was a stupid one anyway. Of course they were cold. They were tiny and it was winter, it would be a miracle if they weren’t cold.

Frostbite was a bigger issue since younger people tended to have worse temperature regulation. Small fingers and toes freezing so much easier and it didn’t look as though they had any shoes, just hold ridden socks. Hole ridden socks covering tiny, too skinny feet.

He looked young, too young for this.

Desperately, they seemed to try and rip the bag open, as if they were on a time limit. Maybe they knew it was only a matter of time before he realized it was missing and turned around? Quite a smart child, if so. Dream had to applaud that, even if the reasons were less than amicable.

He took a step forward, back towards the alley and… paused. Was he really going to do this? Could he? Well, he could, he had the room for a child especially with his- with the boys missing. But what ifs swirled in his skull like a hurricane.

What if he got attached? What if he lost this one too? What if they ended up like Dream? He didn’t know if he could take losing anymore, not when he was so so close. So close to… to… he didn’t even know but he could feel it. Like a thin thread holding back a wave of too much. Just one wrong move from breaking…

And then what?

Would he finally be what they wanted him to be?

Cold, emotionless, a weapon disguised as a human being?

Or was it already too late for that?

Too late for him?

Did he even know the answer?

Small feet darted off in the other direction, seemingly given up on opening the bag and just taking the entire thing and running. Another smart tactic. Don’t worry about doing complex tasks on the field when you can just take the entire thing and do it with all the time in the world. Dream stepped back, it was too late.

A heavy weight settled in his chest as he walked away from the now empty alley. Snowfall started again, small flakes falling from the ground. If he closed his eyes and tried to pretend, he could imagine it was raining instead. Like the sky was crying.

But that was ridiculous, he was fine and there was no reason to cry. No reason for that empty chill in his chest so distinctly different from the winter cold around him. He swallowed down something, pressed his lips together so tightly they turned pale, and walked home. He was fine.

He didn’t believe it.

He pretended he did.

Dream dropped his bag as soon as he got back to the apartment, his vision fogged on the edges. For whatever reason he didn’t feel like reading them, not tonight. Tonight he’d much rather do something else. He didn’t know what but he could make do with what he did have, like a roof and a will. Working out every night was a good thing, anyway.

A tank top was pulled on instead of his sweater and shirt, the articles of clothing placed on the unused bed. His skirt swapped out for a pair of sweatpants that were easier to move in. Cold immediately bit into his arms as he twisted out the window.

Working out was easy when he didn’t have to pay attention. Stretching out his muscles and flipping onto his hands to begin his handstand push-ups, gravel and ice digging into his palms. He ignored it. He ignored a lot of things.

He ignored the way his skin grew numb and cold as the night grew on.

He ignored the darkening of his vision as his head swam.

He ignored the way his knees threatened to give out every time he leaped onto a new building.

He ignored the way his skin was pale and lips blue because it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter and he could ignore it.

He could ignore it, he could.

He promised he could.

Because the pain doesn’t matter, the cold doesn’t matter.

So he ignored it.

Just like he ignored the child, who was far too young to be left out in the cold.

Too young..

 

-=-

 

“You’re too young for this.”

Dream liked his handler, the second… third one? Yeah, this one was the third one. The other too had been too weak to properly care for him, he could already move faster and hit harder so they were basically useless to him. Or at least that’s what the cold agents told him during their weekly check ups.

But it didn’t matter if they were weak or whatever, because Dream hadn’t liked them anyways. The first one was too lazy and ignored him rather than giving him anything to do. They’d rather do naptime than spar. Dream was too old for naptime!

The second? Dream had barely even seen the second. Maybe a couple times when he was waking up, out of the corner of his eye. They mostly liked to throw things at him. Not that they ever hit him. Also boring, and annoying, but fine.

But he liked this one a lot more. She was really really nice and had pretty fluffy hair that shimmered like a rainbow! Or at least he thought it was a rainbow. He’d never seen one but he’d heard about them, mostly through her.

She taught him a lot of things, working on his mental skills or something. Simple maths, hard maths, mostly just math actually. Some science stuff, but not a lot of this history stuff. Physical skills sort of fell to the wayside.

Or, not entirely. Every Wednesday they went to the gym to do physical stuffs. A lot of running, some fighting, and not nearly enough weight training for the cold agent’s liking. Not that the cold agent said much.

Today was one of those days, he’d learned about butterflies and how to properly calculate the risk when faced with a situation where there was no clear right answer in order to later debase PR scandals relating to his prior decision. So the usual stuff.

Cold agent had left already, leaving Dream and the pretty sheep lady Handler in his room where he was usually told to study more about strategy and stuff. Boring but his Gift thingy soaked it up like a sponge. He was really supposed to tell them or it no, so he didn’t,

Dream blinked, coming back to himself as he registered that he’d been spoken to. Twinges of pain laced down his spine as he craned his neck to look at the pretty lady, a bit disappointed but mostly in himself. He was supposed to be able to switch it on and off at will and immediately, not take a second to even realize something had happened. Stupid, he’d have to work on that.

“May I ask a question?” Dream ask, tapping his fingers against his mask absentmindedly. He wasn’t supposed to do that either. It made a really nice clicky clacky sound though, so he did it when no one was looking.

“Oh baby, you can ask me anything you want,” Lady handler responded with a soft, sad smile. Her hand caressed his hair softly but she somehow made that motion seem sad too. She was always sad, Dream didn’t like that. He wanted her to be happy and proud of him. Not… not sad.

“What do you mean by ‘too young’? Too young for what?” Dream tilted his head, trying his best not to push it into her hand. He wanted to but his spine would pull real hard if he did that and that was not a good feeling. It was still nice, though.

“For… all of this,” Her voice seemed to drop, as if disappointed he didn’t get it. Or maybe it was pity? He hadn’t seen that one a lot and this was different from disappointment so maybe he didn’t know how to recognize it yet. He’ll go with pity.

She looked up and around his room, it was a good room because it was his. Bare concrete walls, two small windows on top of the furthest wall that let artificial light in, a metal desk and chair bolted into the floor, and his bed. It was a nice bed and he’d earned a nice pillow a couple months ago! He had it pretty good.

It was better than he had when he first got here as far as he was concerned there was nothing to be pitiful about. He was… well maybe not happy but he was content. It was nice, and he had pretty lady Handler.

“Have you ever…” she hesitated, biting her lip, “ever wanted to leave?” Her hand paused in his hair and Dream frowned behind his mask. Leave? Why would he want to leave? He had it really nice. Full meals, plenty of interaction, and his own room!

Maybe better clothes? He’d like better clothes but he wasn’t supposed to ask for things, unless it was to learn some more advanced materials. As it was, even that was a nitpick since his clothes were decent enough.

A body suit, resembling what he thought was a one piece bathing suit compared to pictured, or maybe one of those ballerinas… leotards? Something like that. He got a cape sometimes, so he could learn how to adjust to it. It was a bit awkward but he was used to it. He was even allowed to sleep with the cape on! It was like having a blanket.

Maybe he could learn a blanket if he stayed and was really really good? The nice lady would probably ask if he did well. She was the best person here and really smart so she’d get it too. He wanted to stay here with her.

“Go where? I like it here, I’m with you!” Dream assured her, but for some reason that just made her more sad. It made Dream frown harder. No, he didn’t want her to be sad! Was it something he said? He thought she’d like knowing he liked her, since she was so nice and all.

“Oh baby,” She commiserated, kneeling down and wrapping her arms around him. Dream kept his arms carefully at his side, stiffening and immediately concerned. What was this? An attack? It didn’t feel like a chokehold. It was nice and soft and didn’t make it hard to breathe at all. Maybe she was too nice for chokeholds? That made sense.

Wet things started to sink into his leotard bathing suit thing, she was crying. No, no what did he do? He didn’t want her to cry, he didn’t know adults could cry! Or even feel sad for that matter. They weren’t supposed to be, like how he wasn’t supposed to be sad but now she was crying and he wanted to cry and he didn’t even know why!

He was cold and wanted to cry and something was wrong and it didn’t make any sense! Carefully, Dream wrapped his arms around her, mimicking the motion. That was probably what she wanted him to do right? Maybe she’d be less sad?

“It’s going to be okay, I promise. I’ll fix this,” She muttered soothingly into his ear. Fix what? Dream didn’t think there was anything to fix. Well, except his bones but that was pretty normal considering his Gift. Her fluffy pretty hair glew nicely and that constant pain lifted slightly, that was another reason he liked her. Her Gift could take the pain away,

She sent him to bed not long after, with just one more sad look and repeating her promise to make things okay. Dream went to bed that night confused and crying but doing his best to hide it because he knew he wasn’t supposed to be sad. He hugged his pillow and ignored the cold.

He never saw her again after that.

He never knew what she meant either.

 

-=-

 

Dream shook his head sharply, snapping out of the unwanted memory. He didn’t know what brought it on but he didn’t care. He couldn’t care, it wasn’t his job to care. He wasn’t supposed to remember him either.

The Female Handler before his current one was horrible at her job, that’s why she’d been fired and been replaced. She’d been too soft, made him far too emotional and weak. Dream… Dream had agreed with them. He’d tried not to cry when the new one came and quickly learned that The Handler didn’t appreciate questions.

Vulcan came with The Handler, along with Morpheus and the strange team of three they’d made for PR reasons. Dream hadn’t had much of an opinion on their team but The Handler had done their job well. It was good enough, he supposed.

The Liar, The Complacent, and The Machine.

What a sorry sight they made.

The public had loved them so maybe that was all that mattered?

It’s not like Dream’s discomfort ever did.

He flicked through papers the moment he got back inside, muscles numb and not in pain and a complete lack of feeling in his extremities. He’d put it off for long enough and now his head was spinning with too many things and he couldn’t sleep even if he tried. All he did was put back on his sweater and read his papers.

Most of them had to do with people assumed to be related to The Pit Dwellers, though a good 80% of had more to do with Las Nevadas. Apparently, Las Nevadas was assumed to have a connection. Even if that connection seemed to begin and end at being in District Thirteen.

Las Nevadas members had a wide array of types of people related to it. As thus, Dream had a lot more useless data than he thought, even if it had seemed close enough to be selected by his Gift. Dream read them anyway because at least it was something.

Of all of the papers, there were only a few that seemed interesting and like they could go anywhere at all. Each one was technically a folders’ worth of things and had to do with five important members. Well, four but one had caught his eye.

Queenie, or Queen of Spades, had mostly after shots of crime scenes. Very little descriptors other than a tall, nebulous being with glowing white eyes. Boy? Girl? Didn’t matter but they did respond to ‘Queen’. All the crime scenes seemed to be assassinations listing knives as the murder weapon.

But that’s not what knives look like. The injury was far too thin for a knife, especially a stabbing wound. It was more like a needle but there were odd marks pressed onto the area in front of the hole. It looked a bit like a shoe mark. Dream did want to say that it was death by stiletto heels but weaponized shoes were hardly the strangest murder weapon he’d ever seen.

On the contrary, the Prince of Hearts was mostly candid shots of roughly a dozen different people, almost like he was posing for them. Each one looked similar enough to be brothers but different enough to not be the same people. Clones seemed to be the prevailing idea, though nothing in any of the files confirmed the existence of a cloning Enhancement, much less on a slime hybrid.

Spying seemed to be their big thing considering most of the photos were in places that the Prince was not supposed to be. All of the information that let Las Nevadas get away with their deeds seemed to be traced back to things that Prince learned. Dream could actually agree with that. Clones were feasible too, and Dream knew what a cloning Gift looked like. These were definitely clones.

Jester was mildly familiar, also known as the King of Diamonds, and that was mostly because of the cards he apparently gave out all the time. They looked vaguely familiar, the pictures of the cards that were. Jester himself did too now that he looked harder. A bit like… oh who was that? Quackity, was it?

Quackity might be a bit of a reach, especially since the picture was so blurry. Still, his Gift made the connection and Dream was inclined to believe it. Regardless, it was noted that Jester had been taking a break for whatever reason, as if he was planning something. It was unlikely Dream would run into him at all.

Last of the important people that Dream was going to have a talk with was Lucifer. Lucifer who seemed to agree with Dream that secret identities in this world was stupid as hell because he didn’t have one? His real name was Schlatt, first name unknown, and he was the CEO of Las Nevadas. 

Pictures of the man revealed a severe looking ram hybrid with too sharp teeth who every time seemed to be teasing the picture taker, as if he was amused that they were even trying to pin something on him. The only crime on his record was vigilantism.

That was a crime?

But other than that base information, there were no concrete leads tying them to The Pit Dwellers, same with all the other random people, mostly civilians who apparently lived in District Thirteen. They were still the most likely ones to know something. People in power tended to have information on the more nefarious deeds of the world.

Well, except for the heroes of this world, apparently. Dream found that mildly strange but it was better this way if the state of the upper districts said anything. He didn’t like how little they seemed to do for the lower districts but he couldn’t do anything about that.

He could investigate District Thirteen on his own, though. It wasn’t too far away, only about twenty minutes walking if his map was correct, and Las Nevadas seemed to be mainly a gambling house. The Capital of Sin, even if the dark web was to be believed. If Dream knew one thing, it was that sinners tended to spill.

Maybe not at first, maybe not immediately, but if it got their ass out of trouble? They’d comply quickly enough. He just had to not step on any toes, especially with how people tended to bond with tragedy. Dream had enough experiences with witnesses who wouldn’t say anything because their friend had been crushed by a falling building.

That was another benefit to not being Number One, actually. A distinct lack of falling rubble. Dream shuffled his papers back into order, mind made up to do a preliminary investigation of District Thirteen the next day, even if he’d only been researching for about a week. It was a week too long with Tommy in danger,

A final paper was lifted from the floor, a sailor with a soft face and long curly white hair emblazoned on the front. She was often sighted near the docks by Las Nevadas and seemed to be supplying them with… something. Drugs were the general consensus but there was no evidence for what she was doing. He didn’t even really need the paper.

He wasn’t going to see her anyway.

Dream took a deep breath and set them back into his backpack, he’d return them as soon as his card was active again. Then… then he’d do his job. For now? For now he should make sure Clay’s body didn’t lose any figures and toes since that would be rather inconvenient. Not the end of the world bug he’d still rather have them.

It doesn’t matter.

It’s just a waste of time.

You’re running out of time.

Cat nap probably wasn’t the term used to refer to whatever was happening to him but the strange feverish state his mind had ended up here latched onto it with a surprising fervor. Or at least, it did whenever he was awake.

Waking up came occasionally and never made any sense. Brief glimpses of a mostly empty room and iron bars, the occasional strange shadow that could’ve been a person or a monster or something else with bright eyes. Sometimes he thought they were red, or green, or even purple. But the next time he woke up he couldn’t remember what they’d been last time.

Each time waking up briefly felt like the first time but only for a moment, then he’d remembered he’d been here… a while? It felt like seconds between each time he opened his eyes, or maybe minutes or hours, days? He didn’t know how long he’d been here. He couldn’t care most times.

Freezing cold or overheating, his temperature fluctuated wildly, peaking in discomfort until he couldn't stay asleep. Even as out of it as he was he could tell he was horribly sick. Tubbo didn’t really know how to feel about it.

He didn’t know how to feel about the strange figure that seemed to watch him either. It fed him sometimes, but he could barely remember what. The food tasted like ash and the water like an ocean being poured down his throat. It never lasted long, but it always ended too late. Tubbo went to sleep feeling waterlogged on one terribly cold… night? He didn’t know if it was night. He didn’t know how long he fell asleep either.

It was like the badlands desert had made itself home in his throat whenever he’d woken next. An aching dryness that made him cough harshly as soon as he’d sucked in a panicked breath. It hurt quite a lot more than he’d admit.

A warm hand cupped either side of his too hot face, pouring cold water down his throat. Tubbo choked on the liquid, the speed making his head spin. Or maybe that was being forced to sit? It could’ve been that.

Water dribbled down either side of his mouth as the cup was ripped away. Tubbo shakily wiped at his mouth, part water, part saliva staining his sleeve. A harsh pain was stinging from the base of his spine. Tears automatically sprung to his eyes.

Shakily taking a breath, Tubbo blinked back the tears, looking around the too dark room with a sort of panic. His breathing picked up, body seeming not to consider how much pain his throat was in. Where was he? This wasn’t his room, what happened?

Vaguely, Tubbo recalled sitting in bed then a pair of hands covering his eyes. Then… then there was a horrible tearing sensation followed by a terrifying sense of nothing. It made Tubbo want to scream, cry, or pass out. Maybe that’s what he’s been doing? His throat certainly felt like he’d been screaming nonstop.

ร๏ггץ, ” A warbled voice called out, speaking in tongues for all Tubbo knew. The voice made a distinctly unsettled feeling scratch at his skin and he had the sudden urge to tear it off. Like he was velcro wrapped together and it was tight, far too tight.

“W-Wha-?” Tubbo was cut off by his own horrid reaction. A coughing fit that lasted for far too long and made his ears buzz like tv static. His hands found his horns, tugging desperately as he dry heaved and just wanted the feeling to stop. He wanted it all to stop but not the nothingness. Anything but the nothingness.

๔๏ภ’t รթєคк, เt’ll ๓คкє เt ฬ๏гรє. ” the too warm hand patted his back awkwardly, a too cold one prying his own hands from his head where they’d missed his horns. There was blood under his fingertips and hair between his knuckles. Oh…

เ t๏l๔ tђє๓ ยรเภɠ ๓є ฬคร ค ๒ค๔ เ๔єค ๒ยt ,” the voice made a sound that could have been a laugh, “ tђєץ t๏l๔ ๓є t๏ ןยรt ๔๏ ๓ץ Ŧยςкเภɠ ן๏๒…ร๏ เ ๔เ๔… ร๏ггץ. ” Warm liquid dripped from Tubbo’s nose and ears even his tears recreated.

He hiccuped, spitting out a strange pink glob onto the… sheets? They looked more like cut up potato sacks but he could call them sheets. The voice… cursed? Tubbo knew what cursing sounds like but he couldn’t be certain. Either way, those hands pushed him back down and covered his eyes.

Then he was gone again…

He wasn’t sure if he wanted to go back.

Chapter Text

Light blue dusted his fingers when he left the cafe that day, the numbness in his joints yet to entirely go away and leaving behind a distinct pins and needles feeling. The sun was still not risen and the snow only falling heavier in the wee hours of the morning. Six o’clock and even the sun was asleep.

Safe to say, he was not as he braved the snowstorm in a sweater and jeans without a pair of gloves or a scarf in sight. If nothing else, he at least decided to leave Anna at home. Her much smaller spider body wasn’t built to withstand the cold as he barely moved all winter because of that. Do spiders hibernate? Anna was doing it regardless of the answer. Dream was not.

Expectedly, there was no one in the train when Dream boarded, there hadn’t been anyone in the station either. Only one or two lone individuals that were brave enough, or maybe foolish enough, to leave their homes. Black covered the grown thick and slippery, causing most to stay home less they cracked their head open. Dream didn’t have to worry about slipping, his Gift made sure of that.

Paperwork was neatly filed into his backpack, he had to put it back before he went to District Thirteen. Security was pretty important, especially for heroes. It wouldn’t do for sensitive information to be leaked because Dream didn’t follow protocol. Unless protocol was different here? Everything else certainly was.

It doesn’t matter, Dream took a deep breath. If Phil was allowed to have so many boxes of sensitive paperwork in his office then it was safe enough there. His card would be active by the time he got there so he’ll just set it on the number two’s desk and leave. In and out, no talking necessary.

Door shuttered open, a sudden flush of cold whirling around him as he stepped out of the train and up the steps. The pins and needles feeling returned, poking under his skin, but Dream ignored that. It was uncomfortable but it definitely didn’t hurt. Dream could live with a little cold.

The contrast between the inside of Hero’s Wharf and the outside climate was enough to cause Dream to nearly misstep in surprise. It was like the place had perfect climate control. Not too cold, not too hot, but enough of a difference that his knees temporarily gave out with the sudden rush of heat. That was… mildly concerning.

It doesn’t matter, it won’t kill him.

Phil wasn’t at his desk when Dream walked in, completely undisturbed  by anyone in the office. Even if it was surprisingly empty, the only other person being the receptionist, tiredly tapping away at her keyboard with an off sort of lethargy. But Dream didn’t let that bother him either, if anything that was a good thing.

On the other hand, the office was much neater than the week before, mostly because of Dream’ efforts. Hell, while he was working he’d unearthed an entire couch under the mess that had almost caused the door not to open. A couch that Phil was now napping on.

Lazy.

The Handler would’ve never let him sleep on the job.

Not his business, if Phil wanted to get in trouble then Dream would let him. Forcing others to obey him wasn’t Dream's job so Dream emptied his backpack, definitely didn’t judge Phil whatsoever since the man was clearly stressed, and left. It was only on the way out that he met another, actually awake person.

Maybe halfway down the building, the elevator paused and dinged to let another person on. Broad shoulders dressed in a thin white shirt with some fancy frill blooming from the front and a large fluffy lining decorating a long red cloak. His golden crown gleamed in the light, expensive gems dotting in that Dream really hoped were fake because who would fight in an actual crown? Then again, he was also in a corset and short heels so he didn’t have much hope.

Distantly, Dream realized that this might be the first time he’d ever seen King of Hearts in uniform. Usually, he was wearing civilian clothes in an attempt to blend in. He was wearing a strange bone mask that covered most of his face so Dream had to admit that it was at least better than other hero uniforms. Then again, the bar was quite literally on the floor.

“You’re leaving early,” Techno rumbled, looking down, pausing, and then looking up as if to meet Dream’s eyes. Considering Techno is roughly 6’8 in heels, it made sense that he wasn’t used to being the short one.

“I have other things to do today,” Dream admitted, glancing over with narrowed eyes. That awkward feeling as a hum pressed over his skin returned as Techno seemed to glare back. It was more of an awkward glare than a frustrated one though.

“You’re going to District Thirteen,” Techno stated, and it was a statement. Not a question, not an accusation, just a simple confirmation of a fact. As if he was saying the sky was blue or cats breathed oxygen. Dream could get behind that.

“Yes,” Dream confirmed, looking away and staring at the door. Smooth white metal gleaming under artificial light. It looked like it was cleaned quite often, then again a place this big was bound to have a lot of janitors. Cleanliness should be a given.

It wasn’t in District Twelve and wasn’t that unfair?

“Civilians aren’t allowed in District Thirteen.” Techno’s eyes didn’t leave him, and that feeling got heavier. Strange but not quite uncomfortable, did it have something to do with Techno’s enhancement? The feeling only came occasionally around him but it didn’t come at all around other people.

Regardless, Techno’s response was redundant at best. Civilians aren’t allowed and yet Las Nevadas was the most popular gambling house in the entire world. Clearly, what civilians were and weren’t allowed to do didn’t stop anyone. Desperations tended to cause a lot of people to break laws.

“I’ll endorse you,” Techno finished after an awkward pause, his eyes leaving Dream but that feeling no less heavy against his skin. What? Endorse? Why would he need to endorse Dream? Dream didn’t need any money or anything, he didn’t need Techno’ endorsement.

“Why?” Dream asked despite himself, a prickling curiosity taking the word off his tongue. Maybe that was the wrong thing to say as Techno stiffened, somehow getting even more awkward. Did he have social anxiety? It felt like he did.

“To make it legal, and stuff. If anyone asks I’ll say I hired you as a contractor, I’m the number one hero, they won’t ask too many questions,” Techno huffed, a pig esque snort leaving him with a faux sort of levity.

Didn’t Dream know that was true. He knew all the benefits that came with being the number one hero, which oftentimes felt more like a curse. No one asked the number one questions, assuming they were doing what they were supposed to. Not having to explain himself definitely helped missions but…

But it also meant he could never tell anyone.

Not that anyone would have even believed him.

“Thanks,” Dream threw over his shoulder as he left the elevator walking just a little bit faster than he usually did. He just couldn’t be in the building all of a sudden. He couldn’t explain why but, well, he was leaving anyway so he didn’t let it bother him. It didn’t bother him.

He didn’t know what was bothering him.

Getting to District Thirteen after that was a tad more difficult than he expected. Logistically, he knew that District Twelve was the proverbial end of the line for the train. It just got there and then turned around, not heading an inch closer to District Thirteen. A fact that just added to the forbidden district feeling.

But as the train pulled away, Dream also knew that the tunnel was still there. A few large concrete slats, crumbling but still distinctly newer than the rest of the station, blocked off anyone from going the normal way. The only holes big enough for people to fit through were at the very top. Most people weren’t able to climb that high.

It should be well known by this point that Dream was not most people. Climbing sheer, crumbling surfaces to get somewhere he wasn’t really supposed to be was sort of his specialty at this point. No one was in the station to stop him either.

Taking a running start, Dream set a foot on a mildly stable part of the wall and kicked off. Sticking to the wall was quite easy with Arachnid. If anything, being in Clay’s body made things easy for once, wasn’t that a trip.

Wiggling through a hole, Dream dropped down the other side into a dark, empty train tunnel. The only light came from the station behind him, dancing through holes in the barrier. Good thing Dream had never been scared of the dark.

He wasn’t supposed to be scared at all.

Footsteps echoed through the tunnel the further in he got. The distant, echoed whirring of the train behind him came every twenty minutes or something until he jumped a crack and all sound dropped to zero. The slow dripping of water overtaking everything.

Darkness obscured what the tunnel actually looked like. Cracked tracks, broken down walls, and hopefully not biohazardous liquids were plenty obvious regardless. Most of that he could feel, wetting his shoes and dripping down onto his clothes no matter how much he tried to avoid it. But this was fine, he was fine.

The iron-esque smell of blood drifted through the air, weak at first but steadily growing stronger the longer he walked. A horrible smell he was depressingly used to but didn’t quite know where was coming from, it was just a scent in the air, hanging there. The worst form of febreeze.

Quickly after, Dream learned where it came from. At the same time, he learned why the tunnel may have been condemned and he didn’t think it was because District Thirteen itself was particularly horrible. District Twelve had plenty of criminal activity itself but this? This was something… new.

A train, or whatever was left of one, rendered down the middle like a giant had taken it in hand and tore it lengthways. Bent metal was devastatingly sharp and caused the shoulder of his sweater to tear as he was forced to squeeze by it. It was either that or find a way out from the chasm under the train.

Sharp metal would grind him like a cheese grater if he tried to get under though, so Dream wasn’t inclined to try. Other people… didn’t seem to be so lucky. Dream briefly wondered how long the train had been left here.

Blood coated practically every surface, long since dried and dark in color. It flaked off at the slighted motion, decorating the bottom of his shoes. The scent of death was heavy, pieces of corpses pressed under seats and against walls, a few visible between the train and the tunnel wall. Most of them were skeletal or so far into decay that muscle and skin was black with rot. Skin pulled back to show yellowed teeth and faces sunken in as if they caved in.

It looked as though the bodies had been flung around when the train was torn, one corpse particularly of note was sliced down the middle like the train, either half embedded into the wall. Similar wreckage was found as he was forced to make his way through the cars. The lucky ones seemed to be old and long since dead. Others didn’t seem to be so lucky.

Towards the front of the train, corpses were almost fresh. Some poisoned, others delimbed and even a still dripping suitcase were shoved in like a meat locker. A burial ground for the dead when people didn’t want the corpses to be found. Dream took a deep breath and, somehow, managed not to get coated in blood as he pushed through and exited the death train.

Red emergency lights lit up the front of the train as Dream left through a broken window. His hand brushed at a brand new stain on his sweater and wiped drops of blood from his hair. He ignored the fresh body hanging from the front of the train like an offering, words carved into it praising some sort of blood god. It didn’t make his stomach turn.

He’d seen worse.

Why did it still bother him?

The station was in even worse disarray. A crater as if someone had been knocked into the floor hard enough to break it and then dragged on the floor. Nothing but a dried splatter was left of whoever was the unlucky fellow to be killed, a second train with a bent car at the end of the crater. It was folded oddly, like pressing into a empty paper towel roll from the side.

Lights flickered above, occasionally illuminating the area dusted with cobwebs and broken bones before condemning it to the red glow. Dream hefted himself onto the station, feeling distinctly out of place. His clothes felt too new, too clean, his movements too confident. He’d stick out like a sore thumb.

Nothing he could do about it now.

Steps uneven and cracking, messily poured as if in a hurry and one even just a wooden plank shoved into a slot in the wall, Dream climbed out of the station. Or was it some sort of sacrificial grounds? It certainly looked the part.

Old flat wooden boards made a makeshift door for the station and were relatively easy to move aside but then… then he had to step out into the district. Some part of Dream had been distinctly aware that the new District was in some ways worse than District Twelve but somehow he still managed to be surprised.

Black smog hung in the air like a fog, blocking out the sky and causing a thick ash to fall like snow. Tall buildings like skyscrapers climbed and climbed and disappeared into the dark clouds, windows at the base broken or missing. But the buildings weren’t skyscrapers. Rather, they looked like several different buildings haphazardly shoved on top of one another.

A singular road stretched out in front of him, long and covered in haphazard shelters made out of tarps or just general belongings people abandoned. A pair of homeless people were glaring at each other over a literal dumpster fire to his right. Thin roads barely large enough to squeeze through branched off in all directions.

Pulley systems, some in use, seemed to be the way to get between doorless floors. They were made out of anything from wood and fishing lines to metal girders and heavy duty chains, cobbled together in a barely functioning method up and down. All they did was clutter the sides of buildings further.

Dream felt distantly like he was suffocating in the ash, his Gift springing to life to stop him from getting lung cancer just by sitting there. Absentminded, he walked forward, the sounds of brawls and gunshots and arguing around every corner. Loud laughing from drunks or harsh whispering of deals hanging just beneath the sound.

Uncomfortable feelings buzzed under his skin, eyes sticking to his as causing his shoulder to set. Danger seemed to be at every corner but Dream couldn’t see anyone. Just shadows of people, criminals? hiding and running at the sight of a newcomer.

He had a feeling people didn’t come here often.

Navigating through District Thirteen was a disaster, and not because every branching road was identical. No, nothing in the district matched when people seemed to run out of area to spread out and just decided to build up instead. Some of the buildings didn’t even seem to follow the laws of physics.

Admittedly, there hadn’t been many supposed maps of District Thirteen, even the satellite shots of the district were dated by roughly five years but Dream had hoped that at least one would be helpful. None of the land mines he memorized were anywhere in sight, maybe that was a given.

Click

“Awww, lookie here, we got some fresh meat,” A harsh voice, gravely like they spoke three packs a day, laughed from behind his head. The scent of smoke was so thick that Dream believed it. Then again, that could also just be the general air quality, so maybe not.

“What do you think we do with ‘im boys?” Cold metal hit the back of his head, so that makes the first person Dream had ever seen with a gun here. Did this guys friends have guns? Quite unfortunate, but Dream had had worse odds.

“Let me go, and no one has to get hurt,” Dream warned them out of reflex. He’d rather not have blood on his hands when he reached Las Nevadas but that was quickly looking like it was going to be a useless point. Especially as the smoker just laughed harshly, pushing the gun further into Dream’s head.

“Maybe I should call ya dead meat instead if you’re going to be like that!” No luck, he wasn’t just going to let Dream leave, how annoying. He supposed it couldn’t be helped, walking like normal people was apparently something he couldn’t do here apparently. Right, time to go.

Lurching back, Dream ducked his head and tossed an arm into the smoker’s gut, another hand pushing up the gun as it went off and barely missed his head. Even if it hit him it wouldn’t matter but the blood would be quite a pain. The smoker cried out in surprise.

A long spiny tail lashed out but Dream was already in the air, twisting to land on the smoker’s shoulders and causing his nose to break against the ground. His buddies called out, worried. Even the worst of people had those that cared about them.

Why didn’t Dream?

Why had no one cared about him?

Frowning harshly, at least for Dream, he stepped forward and pushed off the ground. His feet hit the side of a building for only a moment before he launched up and bounced like a ping pong ball up the side. Worried cries behind him distant the first he climbed.

Eventually, he stopped on one of the metal girder pulley’s, the girder a bit loose but capable of holding his wait. He glanced behind him for no particular reason. The guy’s friends were crowded around him, helping him up and checking the steadily cursing man’s nose.

He turned back around, it didn’t matter what they did. Dream didn’t care. The man wouldn’t die and that was enough for him, he had to find Las Nevadas somehow. Dream leaned forward in the girder, toes falling off before launching forward at what should have been an awkward angle. It wasn’t, it was calculated.

If nothing else, the closely pressed buildings just made it easier to maneuver. A unique benefit of a city built like dominos and just as prone to breaking down. Shoddily built cities weren’t his business either, he just takes advantage of it.

Making his way around in the air didn’t make it any easier to figure out where he was going, he couldn’t climb above the buildings either, not with how tall they were. Was he really going to just wander blindly all day? Apparently so.

Could he find a map somewhere in the district? For some reason, Dream doubted that records like that were kept… at all. But there was at least one thing that couldn’t be changed from a map, couldn’t move the sea. If he could find the docks then… then maybe he might be able to find his way around.

Getting the the sea still wasn’t an easy task, not nearly as much as it should be. What should be the scent of sea salt was blocked out by that pervasive ash and dust that coated his lungs on each breath. Out of concern for his lungs, he even wrapped a bandana around his mouth, if only so he wouldn’t die from it. Not that he would, but a wheeze could give his position if he had to hide.

When he did find the sea, it was devastatingly obvious. Buildings cutting out suddenly like a barrier stoped them from expanding any further, almost but not quite causing Dream to fall from his perch. Mysterious dark material stuck to his palms and his clothes, rubbing off on his face and blending him in. A given with how dirty the place was.

Climbing down, Dream jogged over to the pier. Off to one side was a more industrial section, floating bardges covered in shipping containers and large warehouses with the same cobbled together, haphazardly stacked feeling. To the other was open sea, a beach covered in shreds of plastic and metal and a long fishing net.

Algae covered wood creaked under his feet as he walked down the lone pier, the only one of its kind. It looked like the wood might’ve once been painted red, or maybe that was blood, and barnacles were etched to the posts holding it up from the sea. A calm, calm sea.

Water swirled and flowed as water did, more of a dark sickly green than the usual blue that he’d come to expect from the ocean. Seaweed had seemingly been pulled up and slapped over the end. Wood splinter and dipped into the sea where it gave out towards the end, leaving behind nothing but imagination to show that the pier had once been longer, maybe wider if the poles dipping just above the waves implied anything.

Birds called above, diving for fish he certainly couldn’t sea. Dream figured he should leave now, yet he stared at the discolored sea foam rising and falling with the ocean. He watch the water swirl with an odd sort of detachment. He wasn’t sure he liked it very much.

“Careful, you never know when these old boards might give out,” a teasing voice called from behind. Dream lookup, level with the horizon and surprised he hadn’t heard anything. The pier had creaked for him, maybe this new person was just more familiar? Familiarity didn’t really make the wood more stable but maybe she just could avoid the worst of it?

“What’s a person like you doing in a place like this?” Dream turned as she asked, looking at the smaller woman next to him with that same distant feeling making everything sort of muted. She had a bright smile on her face, as if she was happy to see him.

A stocky build, fairly tall and clearly made for heavy lifting. Gray poet styled shirt that may have once been white, sturdy working pants and heavy boots that made her quiet approach make even less sense. Two fluffy ears poked out of her hair and if Dream removed the pirate esque hat from her head he could image there would be two long horns rising above the curls too.

Just like Tubbo.

Long, fluffy curly white hair that shimmered in the light, as poor as it was with the ever pervasive clouds. Equally pale skin, as if she hadn’t seen the light of day in years, and dark dark eyes stared at him. Dark eyes that look as though they were far too old for a thirty something year old woman.

Puffy?

“What are you doing here?” Dream managed to croak out around a sore throat. Why did the words hurt? Why were his eyes burning? Was it the smoke? The poor air quality? It had to be. There was no other reason for the stinging sensation, there wasn’t.

“Oh I’m never too far from the docs,” she laughed, “but you didn’t answer my question and that’s quite rude, young man.” Puffy raised an eyebrow and Dream couldn’t help but feel… but feel… ashamed .

“Looking for Las Nevadas,” and at her frown, “I need information,” Dream explained, almost in a rush. Her frown lighted, face softening. Puffy’s gaze left him and an empty feeling took its place.

“Isn’t that what we all need?” Puffy asked softly, almost amused in her tone yet commiserating like she was speaking about something greater than Dream was aware of, a heavy sort of feeling. Dream shifted, his Gift screaming at him to move .

Silence elapsed in the question’s place. Dream hated it more than anything he’s ever hated before, emotions rising up desperate to be front in center as he refused to look away from Puffy’s profile. He refused to blink in case he missed her.

Missing, loss, lost, wasn’t the all the reason for him doing anything? Feelings of being lost, of loosing someone precious to him, of missing when things felt like they’d almost made sense not even a week prior. If anything had even made sense.

But wasn’t he lost in everything he did?

A new world, new people, unfamiliar rules and logic that didn’t make sense to him but did to everyone else. Of never knowing what was happening.

Loosing himself, if he ever knew himself.

Missing when things made sense.

Hating that things never made sense.

He was lost and scared, a weapon without a master.

And he hated it .

“Where am I?” Dream didn’t even know what he meant when he asked that. He was in the Esempii, in District Thirteen by the docks about an hour and a half from home if he ran. He knew how to get back but yet nothing was familiar. He wasn’t lost… he wasn’t.

“The city of the damned, of the lost and afraid,” Puffy replied, equally as soft and raw. She seemed to want to say more, but didn’t. The words catching in her throat as she swallowed audibly. That was fair, Dream didn’t know what to say either.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for,” Puffy stood silently, and Dream blinked slowly. What he was looking for? Right, he told her he needed information but… but it didn’t feel like she was referring to that. Dream didn’t understand what else she could be, but maybe he didn’t want to know.

Just as quiet, Puffy left his point of view, disappearing from vision and then completely as by the time Dream finally turned she was gone. Gone, gone, gone and never coming back. He didn’t know how he knew she was never coming back.

She hadn’t before.

It wasn’t her fault.

Legs like lead, Dream forced himself to leave. Nothing would happen if he stayed at the docs and stared at the sea like he had lost something. He hadn’t lost anything, except for his kids but he was going to get them back. There was no reason for him to be here.

No reason for him to be here at all.

No reason for him to even be alive.

What did he do to deserve a second chance?

Be a horrible person? An ever worse weapon?

Why did he deserve life more than Clay?

No, no he couldn’t be sad, not now. Anytime but now. He had a job to do, a mission to complete. Some ghost of Puffy who disappeared the moment he wasn’t looking at her wasn’t important right now. He needed to find his kids.

Lights lit up the clouds, Las Nevadas officially opening for the day with a flurry of excitement, perfect timing really. Dream could approve of timing like this, it distracted him. He didn’t need to think about… anything. He just needed to follow the light.

Walking turned to running turned to free running, but it wasn’t as freeing as it should be. Rather than a weight taken off, it was just another brick put on. Another thing to think about in this strange and unfamiliar world.

Another question went unanswered.

Another crack.

How much more could one man take?

ฬคкє ยթ .

Tubbo was stirred as those too hot, too cold gentle hands pressed against him. The burning at the base of his spine flared as he was shaken and he hacked out a breath. His head was stuffy but somehow clearer than… yesterday? How long has he been asleep?

Still, he realized with an off sort of clarity that whatever had happened had probably set his healing back… a while. Clay was going to be piiiisssed, he was the one making sure Tubbo followed doctor’s orders after all. A sharp laugh left him, was hysteria already settling in.

ฬє ภєє๔ t๏ ɠ๏. ” Why were they waking him up? Did they want him to sit? Leave? He’d like to leave but not now. Not when Tubbo couldn’t think straight or gay or whatever and the idea of walking made his head spin. He doubted he could stand straight.

“Noooo, m’ back hurts,” Tubbo slurred, burrowing his head into the tough sack of something that acted as his pillow. Honestly, his own hair would be a better pillow. He pouted, but he didn’t because he wasn’t a baby. No sirrrrre!

เ ๔๏єรภ’t ๓คttєг, ץ๏ย ςคภ ฬคlк .” Strangely speaking voice was being awfully persistent in the buzzy language that made his ears hurt. Maybe he needed to be clearer? Tubbo, that is. Cause he wasn’t sure that the strange guy even knew English at this point,

“Spine broke, canne walk. Error 404, walk not found,” Tubbo grumped, giggling hysterically as a weird feeling lit up beside the pain at his shifting. It was warm! No, cold. Warm? Hot, chilled, he couldn’t tell. What was a temperature again?

The figure backed off. Good, now he could sleep. Tubbo liked to sleep. Bad things didn’t happen when he was asleep. Well, except for nightmares but psssssh nightmares weren’t realll, right? They were boogeymans, like that one guy who supposedly own the Nightmare Initiative. Tubbo wasn’t sure he was really.

Actually, the weird feeling make him not feel very real, mostly very very floaty. A bad float but floaty anyway. Did they drug him? He wouldn’t be surprised. They were bad bad bad people who did no good things. He would know! They stole him and Tommy.

เ’๓ ร๏ггץ. ” There were those words again. Tubbo didn’t know what they meant but the tall guy said them a lot, maybe a threat? Why threaten a hurt child? Oh well, it didn’t matter. Tubbo wasn’t in the right mind to gather information through, like, gossip or anything right now.

เt’ร tเ๓є Ŧ๏г ђเร Ŧเгรt Ŧเɠђt .” A surprised and pained yelp left him as Tubbo was lifted suddenly, shifting his back injury and the too tight brace that hadn’t been adjusted in… in… in a while. Clay usually did it for him. Like a dad or a big brother or something.

Was Clay his dad?

tђєץ ฬคภt ץ๏ย t๏ รєє .”

Roaring filled the air.

Chapter Text

Hindsight really is 20/20, Dream realized, because it should not have been as hard to find Las Nevadas as it really was. Least of all because of the hoards of people camping out in front of the place waiting for it to open. Gambling addicts, rich people hiding in expensive cars that were being threatened by the poorer people desperate for a lucky break, and a few lost souls who just looked curious on what Las Nevadas was. Dream fit right in, really.

Las Nevadas itself exemplified why he should have found it quicker. It was just so… much. Would much be the word? It had to be, seeing as how there wasn’t any other single word to describe the casino. Well, actually, it probably didn’t count as just a casino.

Gleaming gold and red and black walls, checkered pillars like a chess board, and a draw bridge leading to the whole thing. Towers climbed up, resembling a castle and likely doubling as a hotel. Fancy lights shown into the air, fireworks cracking overhead. Booze and cigarette smoke hung in the air thick enough to choke, but the wonders of what was a veritable city floating on the sea was enough to ignore it.

Crowds surged and pushed their way through, dispersing with a frenzy in all sorts of directions like a mob on a mission. Some went to gambling tables, actual golden brick roads led to massive pools with waterfalls and slides and built in bars. Servants in expensive uniforms of black and blue offered free drinks and lured them further into the city.

Pushing through the crowd was a workout in itself, people getting trampled in the hurry to get in first. Dream wouldn’t be surprised if people died during a rush like this. It was… more nerve wracking than he expected it to be.

Oddly enough, or maybe it was just Dream’s biases talking, no one was actively fighting each other or trying to steal anything. He ducked under a wildly thrown elbow as a man slipped on some fallen guy’s jacket. With all the gold and encrusted decorating every inch of the place, he would’ve expected at least someone to try to sneak away with something.

A loudly revving engine pushed forward, insistent as a parade of cars drove through Las Nevadas. The rich folk cutting the… line? The mob? Just by having cars and getting here somehow . Dream wasn’t sure most of those roads even fit cars.

Silver wrought fencing swirled and acted as completely unnecessary supports for floating walkways between floors. He debated for a moment on whether it was worth it to swing from them. Unlikely, it would draw attention but that might be against the rules. If there were even rules here beyond not getting caught cheating.

Knees met his spine as someone attempted to push him over and vault, which was frankly baffling. What were they so desperate for? To lose all their money on some half bit gamble? Dream the odds for things like this, purely because his Gift couldn’t help but calculate it nervously but still. It was highly unlikely they’d walk away with anything.

“Stop,” Dream hissed despite himself, pulling the filthy hands off his shoulders by the wrists and tugging a very startled man around, “you could just ask me to move.” For his benefit, the man did seem flustered.

“Uh, sorry man, I just… er, never mind,” The man laughed, high pitched in embarrassment and some odd sense of fear. Was he afraid of Dream? For what? He’d done nothing but get the guy to stop pushing at him. Dream let the man’s wrist go and he scampered off in a fantastic mimicry of a rat.

Taking a deep breath, and regretting it because this place seriously needed some air freshener or something, Dream followed the winding path in front of him. Again, he was struck with the feeling of being vastly underprepared. Not that he even could have prepared further, the information scrub said that much.

Pools, dice, pool tables, a hotel check in or three, and what looked to be full on multi story restaurants passed by him as he explored Las Nevadas. There was even what looked to be a designer clothing shop that had some rich chubby guy exploring the wares and complimenting them loudly. It was impressive but just so gaudy. Dream scowled.

Ducking experimentally into one of the gambling halls, Dream strolled through, trying to glimpse anyone or anything that might help. While using drunks to get what he wanted was theoretically possible, he doubted it would be as accurate as he wanted. They rarely were, likely because they were drunk. Actually, that should be rather obvious, now that he was thinking about it. Still, someone with actual rank would likely be privy to more. If he had a choice, he’d find the big four, but he doubted it since he was just some stranger to all of these people.

Never thought he’d miss being the number one hero.

If nothing else, he’d always gotten the information he wanted.

Hands and elbows and feet were pushed in his way, like the people around him were trying to stop him from exploring further. Dream stepped back, nearly crushing someone’s ankle as a beer mug splashed liquid over where he was before. How annoying.

Ducking and jumping over obstacles, Dream twisted around a servant offering some lotus shaped sugar cookie. He might’ve grabbed one if it weren’t the thought of food making him nauseas. As it were, he ignored it entirely, grinding his teeth as some woman tossed up her hands in joy and nearly smacked him in the face.

Maybe a bit rudely, Dream pushed through, drawing up complaints and insults as he did so. He stumbled out the other side of the hall, a sudden burst of light from the glittering lights dancing over golden everything . Dream brought up a hand to shield his eyes. It was burning and annoying and just so so-

“Do you need help sir?” A hand landed on his shoulder, his Gift zapped at the spot and tested Dream’s quickly fraying patience. He looked down the arm to some brunette with acid green eyes and clearly nothing better to do. Square glasses glinted in the light, irritating and like it was asking Dream to break them.

“Yes, you can help by,” Dream paused, cutting himself off and face falling blank. The noise around him climbed and climbed, blinding in its intensity. It was like he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see, he couldn’t…

Snap

Wait, what was going on with him? Irritation faded to confusion and he blinked. His Gift pushing and breaking some influence this place seemed to have placed over him. Aware, he could feel pushing back testingly. Dream rolled his shoulders, dislodging the hand and snapping back at the influence.

“You can start by stopping that,” Dream finished, raising an eyebrow and keeping his face calm. That felt like magic, he almost didn't recognize it with how empty this world was of it. He hadn’t even been aware it was missing until it was unceremoniously shoved onto him like this. That was definitely concerning.

“I don’t know what you mean?” The attendant tilted his head, eyes still strangely blank despite his body language reading confusion. He looked just a little bit different than the other servants, brown where the others were black. That might be something of note.

“I don’t expect you to,” Dream sighed. Maybe Las Nevadas itself was magic? Which was why everyone seemed to be infected with the frenzy when one person’s Gift would be too easily strained by such a feat. 

No, there it was again. Dream’s Gift pushed it off again, the emotion that was definitely not his own sliding off like a thick slime. This was coming from this man, or at the very least had something to do with him. He narrowed his eyes, actual annoyance flicking at his Gift and snapping the magic around him like a warning. The man stepped back, startled.

Fake

Pretender

Just like you

“Would you like to see my manager then?” The man asked, a strained teasing tone to his voice. That… would be nice actually. If his manager was one of the big four, it not then Dream could and would escalate. If he couldn’t? There were plenty of loose lipped drunks he could find. 

“I think I’d like your name first, then yes. I would like to see your manager,” Dream accepted, “I’m Clay, pleased to meet you.” Dream offered his hand. That, again, seems to surprise the man. Dream could be polite, regardless of the influence. He really could.

“Charl-es,” Charles spoke with an awkward stumble, not his real name then. Close, but not quite. That was fair, Dream was clearly a dangerous, magically inclined stranger from Charles point of view. In his place, Dream would likely also lie.

“Lead the way Charles,” Dream gestured around them. Charles perked up, nodding with that same blank smile he greeted Dream with. Walking back through the complex was noticeably different than walking in. Not just because of the annoying poking influence testing his Gift.

It was like the walls lost a little bit of its gleam. The ever present soot of the rest of the city marked over it from everyone around them. Old tracks, older than the new ones from the cars that just passed through, were etched into the floor. Light hit gold oddly, like it and the jewels weren’t a hundred percent real.

All in all, Las Nevadas felt just a little bit more fake. A little bit less bright. Not a lot but just enough to tip Dream off without the pushing influence drawing his attention towards anything else. Oddly enough, it was still annoying but that might just be the ugly color palette.

Wasn’t gold supposed to be an accent color? Not making up everything from pillars to floors to ceilings and lights and really this place had to cost a fortune. How did it even float on the ocean? Was the magic a part of that too? It had to be. Gold was quite heavy from what Dream knew.

Not that ‘heavy’ ever really bothered him .

Charles led them through the winding streets towards what looked to be a massive gated entrance. Through thick medieval looking metal lacing, Dream could see the sickly green sea. So the city could be turned? Or was it just for show? With how expensive the place was, Dream wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if it doubled as a cruise ship.

A simple dark wooden door nestled just before the gate opened up into a thin hallway. Fancy red carpet and simple beige walls made a boring atmosphere as Charles gestured him forward and closed the door behind him.

Then, there was nothing.

Sound silenced in an instant as the lock clicked shut, the world plunged into nothingness at breathtaking speeds. Dream stumbled, shoulder hitting where there should’ve been a wall and-

Cold cold cold

Why is it so cold?

He felt like he was drowning but he wasn’t.

He couldn’t breathe.

Why couldn’t he breathe.

Why why why

Crack

“Let him go!” Charles voice called out, high pitched in a whine that cut through the slowly fading fog that nestled itself over Dream’s ears. He blinked, shuttering his eyes at too harsh lights. Breaking came slowly and painfully.

That might’ve just been because he was pretty sure just about every bone in his body had fractured when his Gift panicked though. Oh well, that would heal in… a few hours? Days? Sure the physical breaks would still be there but Dream would grow numb to the pain in only around thirty minutes. He just didn’t recall how long breaks took to heal.

That one doctor said two to three weeks but that couldn’t be true, right?

“But he’s not supposed to be here!” A voice replied, an obvious pout in their wobbly tone. The voice was strange, almost echoed but not quite. Just a second feeling just below it, something Dream wasn’t supposed to be aware of.

And then the world righted itself, the two continuing to bicker despite everything seeming to snap into place. Pain became sharper, noises louder, and the lights stopped stabbing his eyes like mini suns. With a final breath, Dream opened his eyes.

That was a Gift, it had to be. None of the Enhancements that Dream ran into ever affected him like this, if at all. Lifting up his hand only proved that, wispy black and red smoke trailing over his skin like chains. They felt heavy and yet like nothing at all.

“But it’s rude! Besides, he’s special. I’m taking him to see Foolish of The Damned Ones,” Charles repeated himself for what had to be the third time. Dream tuned back into their conversation with a numb sort of curiosity. He stood, forcing his legs to stabilize.

“But. He. Is. A. Stranger! And you’re not calling Foolish that too his face,” The new voice sighed, deep and gravely. Dream looked over to them, when did they change rooms? It seemed to be some sort of break room, teleportation then? Or was he dragged here while he was… let’s say out.

The voice who’d done… This to him belonged to quite a tall man. Pale white skin like a porcelain doll, soft white priest esque robes wrapped around him, and neon blue accents lining every piece of clothing. What seemed to be a spike covered halo surrounded his head, twisting and turning in annoyance.

“I just can’t explain to you okay? This is Las Nevadas business. Besides, shouldn’t you be in your room? Schlatt from Las Nevadas won’t be here until tomorrow,” Charles crossed his arms over his chest, making a stellar impression of a child. It was a weird look on a full grown man.

“Come on, I won’t tell anyone,” the tall stranger lied plainly, sticking out a clawed pinky for whatever reason. It looked stupid but he somehow made it feel like a threat. Dream didn’t even know that was possible.

“You heard the man, Las Nevadas, yes. Nightmare Initiative no. Head back to your band of monsters, unless you wanna pay me,” Another man dropped from a vent in the ceiling. His Gift hung thickly around him, like glittering gold. It matched golden hair and accessories and armor packed tightly over red and white under armor. An odd styling that looked a bit like he stepped out of a fantasy show.

Clearly, this was going nowhere because the white figure just scrunched up his nose and complained again, Gift tightening around Dream in response to his emotions. Dream would never let something so silly control his Gift. His emotions do not control him.

Gathering up his Gift, Dream narrowed his eyes at the couch in between the two, they’d been slowly walking around it like they were about to fight. His Gift buzzed, catching on to what he was doing.

Mission: Break up fight

Electricity zapped at the makeshift prison around his, mimicking a storm for several tense moments before it snapped. Smoke solidifying into shards and tearing into walls in almost slow motion. Dream stepped forwards, making the distance between where he was and the couch in only a few seconds. He lifted himself up and stood on the thin wood backing.

“That’s enough,” Dream let the cracking buzz of his Gift dance for a moment before shutting it down. The tall figure quieted, stepping back. Dream glared at the man in the ceiling, who seemed entirely disinterested and left. Then he turned to Charlie, who had crouched to hide behind the couch.

“Oh, that is special,” The tall figure smiled, seeming… amused? Happy? If nothing else, a unique sense of intrigue that felt oddly familiar. Dream tilted his head, turning back. It was a simple motion, perfectly controlled. It made the man hesitate before speaking again for whatever reason.

“Casper of the Nightmare Initiative,” he offered a hand, “I know a few people who would love to meet you.” Matte lips maintained a careful smile, blank neon blue eyes crinkled in a mimicry of joy. It was wrong though, just ever so slightly wrong.

Maybe it was the halo, far too sharp, or the clawed hands that brought up memories of similar ones digging into his stomach and tearing at his spine. It could be the carefully selected tone that pretended to be kind. Whatever it was, Dream did not like it.

“I’m busy, sorry,” Dream was not sorry and he did not shake Casper’s hand, turning away to Charles, “We were heading somewhere?” He asked, bouncing off his perch and twisting midair so his back was to the simple bar. Who has a bar in an employee lounge? This place, apparently.

Like you know what regular ones look like.

Another gap in your knowledge, annoying.

“Yep!” Charles perked up in an instant, all traces of fear wiped from his body in an instant. Unless he’d never been afraid and was just putting up the act for Casper? Casper, who was still in the room.

“If you make up your mind, we know where to find you,” Casper’s voice was just barely more strained but no less controlled. Everything he said felt like a threat, somehow. Honestly, the entirety of Las Nevadas seemed to be threatening him in some way, like it was against his very existence.

“Right this way, Foolish from Las Nevadas should be in or near the control room,” Charles made a movement to follow, flicking his hand quickly. Dream shared a look with Casper. Blank green meeting cool blue, and then the tension left as that smoke seemed to spark in annoyance Casper broke his gaze. The man left without another word.

“Sorry about him, by the way. People from the Nightmare Initiative have no class,” Charles pouted, bowing his shoulders dramatically. He perked up almost immediately after, laughing off the interaction. Dream wouldn’t be surprised if he was bipolar or something.

Not that you’re qualified to tell.

You’re not qualified for anything.

Useless thing

“What is the Nightmare Initiative even? I’ve never heard of it,” Dream asked, playing the part of a confused civilian. Or at least, as much as he could with everything that had happened. He’ll save the harder questions for people who could actually answer them, catch them off guard.

“I wouldn’t expect you too, Clay from The Spider’s Web. Even if you’re a special baker, you’re still just a baker,” Charles laughed, the sound tinny and not quite human. It was simulationaly patronizing and… not. Just barely balancing between the two to remain empty.

“So then am I not supposed to know? With everything that’s happened, I think I’m entitled to at least one answered question,” Dream flexed his Gift as an example, pushing against the Gift hanging in the air. Weakly, but he pushed. Let them think that with Casper, it was panic that let him fight back. For now, of course, unexpected threats worked better.

Let yourself pretend that’s true.

Do you really even know it is?

Do you even know anything?

“I’d imagine not, but I guess I can say they’re a rival group who’ve been stepping on all of the toes. Hero toes, our toes,” Charles glanced back, “your toes, even! Speaking of, can you feel your toes? I know Casper’s Gift can have an unsettling effect.” 

Gift? So those did exist here? But… that didn’t make any sense. Then again, neither did… well, nothing here made any sense. Dream frowned, flexing his hands. There he goes again, so out of his depth with everything.

“Yeah, I can,” no he couldn’t, he’d blocked out the pain with the short mission, “I’m tired though. What’s a Gift? Does it have to do with… all of this?” Dream stifled a yawn to prove his point, staying up for the past week or so made it easy to fake one.

“Gifts are magic! And quite rare. I can’t entirely say everything that’s going on with them though, but it’s surprising you have one. They tend to be rather exclusive, you know? Of course you don’t know. That’s a question for the big bosses! Maybe Foolish will decide you can talk to them? No promises,” Charles teased.

“Oh, okay,” Dream hummed, rubbing at his eyes as Charles turn back to walk forward. Doors and hanging lights passed by steadily, up stairs and through a veritable maze of a building. Were they employee rooms? There were too many to be storage rooms and this place was big enough to just have employees sleep here.

Except he was just distracting himself, wasn’t he?

Distracting himself for all the little things that just seemed to pile up higher and higher.

Phil, Asrael, knew the name Thanatos. Wilbur’s ‘enhancement’ seemed more magical than not. The willingness to just look away from even the most obvious disguises. Nothing seemed to follow simple logic.

Something was wrong.

But he wasn’t sure he wanted to know what.

Focus on the mission.

Bring his kids home.

Then… then he’ll worry about everything else.

“We’re here! Oh, are you okay?” Charles prodded his shoulder, snapping Dream from troubling thoughts. Right, yes, focus on the mission. One step at a time, and all that, focusing on more would just unnecessarily stress him out.

“I’m fine, just… tired, and worried,” Dream admitted, giving Charles a not entirely fake look of exhaustion. All the best lies had a little bit of truth in them, after all. Charles definitely seemed to buy it.

“Don’t worry! We won’t do anything to you, probably,” Charles assured him in a way that managed to be not at all reassuring. Dream banked it on the fact that Charles didn’t know what he was worried about. No, not at all.

“Foolish! We have a very special visitor! I want you to see him! This is Clay Hendrickson from The Spider’s Web! He lives near that Cryptid X we’ve been looking for too, do you know them?” Charles chattered out rapid fire.

“No,” Dream responded shortly. Cryptid X? There was a cryptid near his home? What did that even mean? Like… oh what was that one from his old world… time? whichever. Moth something? He didn’t know of any moth people.

“Thank you, I’ll take good care of them. Run off to work, okay?” Foolish waved Charles off, letting the man duck out the door and slam it closed behind him. Dream took a moment to survey the room.

Surveillance was definitely the right word for it. Screens connected to cameras covered the desk and walls, matte black boxes, most with wires sticking out, covered the floor. A single bright light lighting up the admitted small and dark room.

Foolish didn’t quite seem to fit into all of that. Golden skin, almost like actual gold, reflected light with a bright gleam. Eyes seemingly made of emeralds and long, thick blue ribbons of hair were tied together in a facsimile of some sort of animal. A shark, maybe? He felt like some kind of golem rather than a person.

Only a skirt clothed him, unless Dream counted the shark patterned scarf around his neck. Against the dark of the surveillance room, he was far too big and far too bright, especially with Dream in there. Two people, both around seven and a half feet tall, made a small room feel instantly more cramped. Foolish seemed to agree.

“Sorry about all of this, if I had a choice we’d be somewhere else but I’m on camera duty right now and,” Foolish gave a tense smile and a shrug. His metallic skin seemed to bend like normal at the movement, but as the man stood and stretched small cracks were obvious. Dream noted them out of habit, as well as the equally bright emerald green beneath the surface.

“Like your guide said, I’m Foolish, it’s nice to meet you,” Foolish took the incentive to shake all four of Dream’s hands. Why? That was… definitely unclear. But it did confirm that Foolish’s skin was actually metal and didn’t just look like that. It was cold and tough, crushing Dream’s hand.

“A pleasure,” Dream snipped dryly in reply, “I don’t actually know why I’m here. I just shrugged off some influence and haphazardly accepted meeting that manager, which I guess is you?” Dream gave a helpless shrug, prodding Foolish.

“Yes, that is me. The influence you felt is Punz, he keeps this place afloat after all and despite our best efforts his Gift tends to be a little, how you say, intrusive? Can’t go without it though, we’d sink,” Foolish smiled sheepishly, muttering something that sounded like ‘it wasn’t like they let me build the place to be buoyant or anything’. Dream pretended not to hear that.

“That makes sense,” Dream scratched his neck, “I do have one more question though.” Dream glanced behind himself at the still closed door then pressed forward. Foolish took a step back, then another until his calves hit his chair. He seemed confused.

“Yes?” A hesitant note entered his tone, like he felt like Dream was threatening him. Dream wasn’t, at least not yet. He’s still the confused civilian who’d been dragged through hell to speak to the one person who could answer his questions.

“Do you think your bosses know anything about The Pit Dwellers?” Dream let his voice drop to a whisper, feigning hesitance and fear like he thought someone would overhear them. It worked like a charm, Foolish relaxing and falling to the acting. Sure, there was still some confusion but that was more from the nature of Dream’s question.

“I’m sure they do. I’m going to have to ask why you need to know, though, especially if you want to do something like talk to them,” Foolish replied, sitting down in his chair with a sigh. Did he get this question often? His body language and tone certainly read like he did. That sort of long suffering feeling from answering a question too many times that Dream also saw in Phil.

“They,” Dream swallowed thickly, encouraging his Gift to cause tears to spring to his eyes, “They took my kids.” Dream’s voice broke, shoulders tensing and balling up his fists. He let his head hang, bangs obscuring most of his face but letting the few leaking tears drip down to the floor.

“They took my kids, I have to find them, please ,” Dream begged, the perfect picture of grief. Again, it wasn’t hard, he did have to find the kids and he let that righteous fury fuel him. 

Images of desperate parents saved from villain attacks sprung to his mind against his will. Teary eyes and flushed faces begging him to save their kids even if it meant they would die instead. Somehow, Dream understood them a little bit more.

“I’m sorry,” Foolish’s voice softened, “I understand, I… I can’t promise anything though. I don’t know if they’ll go for it but I can try.” Foolish assured him, buying every word Dream said. Dream gave him a water smile.

“Thank you, their names are Tommy and Tubbo. Well, Tohmas and Tobias but that’s not what they go by. They went missing about a week ago. I… I haven’t slept and I just, this was the last place I could think to check. The heroes didn’t help,” Dream wiped furiously at his eyes, lying through his teeth, “If I could just have one minute with your bosses I could explain.”

“Of course they didn’t help,” Foolish hissed under his breath, Dream had a feeling he wasn’t supposed to hear that. A golden hand ghosted over a large X shaped crack on his chest, even sitting down the emerald green peeked through. An injury?

“Ah, wait, did you say Tubbo?” Foolish looked up sharply, like he just realized what Dream had said. Dream paused, goddamnit he said something wrong. Too late to back out now. Nodding, Dream was forced to step back as Foolish stood suddenly.

“I’ll see what I can do. The bosses are busy but there should be an opening tomorrow. You can check in with the front desk for a hotel room, whichever you’d like. I’ll personally reimburse you the cost, I just need to go now,” Foolish pushed past.

Dream ducked, following the hand and just barely avoiding a bruised hip as he was forced into the desk. Monitors wobbled dangerously but didn’t fall. Foolish opened the door and stepped out, sharing sharp words with someone Dream could see, mostly about them leaving. Then, he was alone.

He was always alone, wasn’t he?

No one was in the hallway as he stepped out. Just the endless red rugs and plain walls and dark wood doors. Silver handles glittered in the light, lights that seemed to catch on a wet spot on the floor. A small ball, almost like a marble, was nestled in the middle of it. Dream ignored it, the marble disappearing like foam. 

Finding his way out of the maze of halls was easier than it should be but harder than it could have been. Finding a check in desk equally so, the price jaw dropping but ignorable since he’d get the money back anyway. He had a time and a date. It had only been a little over a week since they went missing.

Dream was making good time, he was. Yet as he sat on the bed it still felt too slow, always too slow. Too slow and not enough and he couldn’t even do his run properly or any of his workouts without outing himself as more than a scared civilian to the three hidden cameras in the room. So instead he showered, curled up on the bed, and pretended to sleep.

Don’t sleep, you don’t need sleep.

Machines don’t sleep.

Stop pretending.

Don’t you hate liars and pretenders?

Isn’t everyone here just complacent to all the sin and debauchery and illegal activities going in?

Don’t you hate it?

Don’t you want to tear it all down?

Don’t cry.

Weapons don’t cry.

Dream didn’t cry.

You are a liar .

Chapter Text

Staying awake all night, just lying in bed not sleeping or doing anything at all, was quite a boring endeavor. Time ticking by slowly, not even punctuated by the tick tock of a clock, and leaving Dream to stare blearily out the window as the sandman breathed down his neck. The bed was too soft, the pillows to plush, and the sheets too expensive for him to even relax. But time passed by anyway.

Morning sun arose like it usually did, yet with the smog in the sky and the ever looming wall that was District Thirteen’s attempt at city planning it did not bring nearly the same sight as Dream was used to. A funny thought though, since when had he grown ‘used to’ the sunrise? He couldn’t remember.

The electric clock said that it was around six by the time he pulled himself from the blankets. A reasonable enough time for a civilian, maybe. Tommy and Tubbo usually woke up around then for work, so he’ll measure it by them.

Is that why you’ve been falling apart?

Just look at yourself.

Dream washed his hair, wasting time since he doubted that any CEO would willingly make a meeting so early. At most, he got eight am when he was a top hero. As a civilian? He doubted he’d get a meeting before noon. Unless Foolish pulled more strings than he thought but that was also pretty doubtful.

Pulling on the same clothes that he’d been wearing the for past day was not the most clean thing he’s ever done but he also didn’t have any others. He hardly planned to be in Las Nevadas for so long. Again, being a civilian puts another pitfall in what before would’ve been a day or two long mission.

It’s fine, he’s worn his hero costume for longer.

At least this outfit doesn’t chafe until his thighs are bleeding.

Food was still not an alluring thought by the time he left the room he’d rented for the night. Technically, it was his until check in tomorrow at ten pm but he didn’t want to stay in it. Too… much. He’d rather… do what? Wander aimlessly until someone found him? It was probably better to just stay in the hotel.

Despite his stomach, Dream headed for the complimentary buffet, which is apparently rather common in hotels. He’d heard about them before but never really tried them. The whole ‘constantly wearing a metal mask in public’ thing made it hard to eat.

Rubbery eggs, dry toast, and just barely off tasting sausage was reluctantly eaten before he grabbed an apple if only to stave off the nagging sensation that he had to eat something healthy or he’d die. Another thing his Gift gave him. The few times he did eat it was only what the dietitian ordered,

Maybe the food wasn’t as bad as he thought it was. Other guests seemed to enjoy it, slathering on fancy jams and butter or eating muffins that likely cost Dream’s rent per dozen. What they tasted didn’t matter to Dream at all. He just wasn’t hungry, he really wasn’t.

He never was and maybe that wasn’t healthy.

It doesn’t matter anyway

Shuffling his plate back to the receptacle, Dream sat in one of the plush chairs in the large main lounge. The hotel he’d ended up in shaped like a pyramid, rooms making up the staggered walls. Meanwhile, the main floor was reserved for food, an indoor pool, and the large lounge area. There was a place to his right where several people were playing cards.

Why the indoor pool was within walking distance of the buffet didn’t quite make sense but, again, Dream guessed he didn’t have much to base normal off of. Maybe having almost a third of the main floor a pool was normal for expensive places? Maybe.

Remaining in that chair for the next few hours would be too difficult on his nerves, muscles twitching awkwardly, but Dream didn’t know where to go. Gambling wasn’t really his thing, not that he’d ever sincerely tried. 

Charlie found him that way around lunch, Dream staring aimlessly at the clear pool water. Light glimmered off of it unnaturally, like sparkling diamonds. Some chemical in the water probably did it since Dream doubted Punz’ Gift had anything to do with it. 

“The Bosses are going to see you after lunch, I’ll show you to the waiting room where you’ll have to wait for a while, okay? Okay,” Charlie tugged Dream up by his arm. Dream blinked, gaze sliding over.

“Okay,” Dream muttered, following after blankly. His Gift remained charged, dancing under his skin and dulling everything down. Emotions flickered under the surface, too fast to fully register, not that Dream wanted to. He kept his eyes steady with Charles’ back.

“I’d say thirty to forty by the time we get there! They’re probably going to ask questions about your specialness, you know? You know. I know you know about it too. Then you can ask whatever you want to. Don’t know how you got Foolish to agree to this though,” Charles rambled aimlessly.

Dream nodded occasionally to show he was listening. He was, really, but not quite. The words flowed in one ear and out the other, his Gift picking up small things of little importance. It was clearly just mindless noise, they both knew that.

A simple waiting area awaited Dream as Charles gestured for him to sit and left without another word. Dark oak floors, patterned red and off white walls, black satin couched lining the walls with the occasional plant. It all looked very expensive, even the planters had jewels encrusted in them. Dream wondered how much it cost.

Somehow, the waiting area’s couches were even more uncomfortable than the plush chair in the lounge. He didn’t want to insult the designer, even if the room itself was eye watering, but he just couldn’t seem to relax. Now wasn’t the time for relaxing, it wasn’t.

Relaxing could wait for when the kids were back home and safe. Relaxing could wait for when there wasn’t danger lurking around every corner. Relaxing could wait for when his mission was complete. It could, he could wait.

Was he even allowed to relax?

To just wait around doing nothing?

Hadn’t him relaxing caused this in the first place?

Wasn’t this his fault? It was.

His fault, his fault, his fault.

If he’d just been better.

Done better.

No, now’s not the time to pity himself.

He wasn’t supposed to feel pity.

Pull yourself together, deep breaths.

Dream breathed out with a low huff of air, opening his eyes that he’d barely realized were closed. Bright gold accents were blinding but he kept them open. The steadily growing headache as the presence seemed to get heavier didn’t help but he ignored it.

He could ignore it.

He always did.

“They’re finished with lunch, head on in,” Foolish entered the waiting room, gesturing to a large fancy set of carved double doors before disappearing through a different, third door. Dream nodded to the empty room. Now or never, time to polish up his acting skills.

The Bosses room was blissfully dark, large windows along the back of the room covered by red curtains that bathed the room in red. A large table stretched the length of it, many identical chairs surrounding it. Only four were filled.

Closest was Queenie, or so Dream assumed. The long dress fit the bill, as did the thin delicate crown with gold curved around many expensive jewels. Long silk gloves reached up to their elbows, hands fiddling with a razor sharp knife. The shimmery material of the dress glittered in even the minimal light.

A mask covered the bottom half of their face, matte black, and sunglasses with multicolored lenses hid their eyes. They seemed vaguely familiar, but Dream put no thoughts into whether or not he accidentally hired a super villain. That was a worry for later. Queenie wasn’t the one who’d hurt his family either, Dream had no issues with her.

On the table next to him was a strange person, even if Dream was hesitant to call them that. What little skin Dream could see was a translucent green, bone visible suspended in the gelatinous form. Clothes, light and long, garbed most of the body and obscured the face. Only two much brighter eyes were visible, staring through him.

They seemed rather out of it, lazily swinging their legs as best they could with the long white and gold skirt of their outfit. A coin was clutched in one hand, a small red heart just barely visible through their hand from Dream’s position. There was no familiarity there.

Jester, because that had to be Jester if the slime man was the Prince, was perched on the edge of Lucifer’s chair, whispering into the man’s ear. Quackity, so Dream was right then. His identity was better hidden than most though, so Dream gave him that.

Golden feathers stuck out of his back, long wings stopping mid calf. His costume was fairly simple, messy button up with overalls attached to patterned pants. Spades covered them, red and black separated by gold. A similar pattern was on the jacket hanging from his shoulders and mirrored the mask hiding his eyes.

“So what? You going to just stand there looking at us or do you actually have a problem?” Lucier asked with a callous, rough tone. Which drew Dream’s attention to the head of the table. Lucifer’s body was largely obscured by the shadows gained from being backlit by the large windows. Two red eyes, seemingly glowing, stuck out. As did the tinted smoke that escaped his mouth and swirled lazily in the air.

“Yes I do, I was just told that you’d be asking me questions first,” Dream stammered purposefully, hunching his shoulders. Queenie huffed, shoulders shaking with silent laughter. 

“Really now?” Lucifer drawled, twisting a cigarette in his hand. Sharp painted nails caught in the light like they were claws. Prince answered instead of Dream, tilted his head back and nodded slowly, carefully. That alone seemed to appease Lucifer.

“One of your clones? That makes sense,” Lucifer snorted, leaning back. Jester wobbled from his spot but mostly just seemed to find it funny, feet leaving the floor and holding onto Lucifer’s shoulder to stay in place. Lucifer shrugged him off.

“So then, what the fucks up with you? Like I know you’ve got your picture perfect bakery life down pat, but from what we’ve heard you’ve got more than that, eh? Don’t worry, what’s said here won’t leave the room, you can be honest,” Lucifer’s voice dripped with sincerity, dancing on the edge of false. Impressive, Dream couldn’t even tell if he was lying or not.

“I don’t know what you mean?” Dream furrowed his brows, tilting his head. More than the cafe? The cafe and MD and his kids were all that he had. Not when Clay seemingly didn’t have a life before this, Dream didn’t have access to Clay’ memories either.

“Oh of course you don’t,” Queenie crooned, “Clay Hendrickson, right? Born to Loranne and David in District four? A shy little shut in discriminated against for a useless enhancement, never getting anywhere in life or showing any sort of talent.” Was he being insulted?

“But then, then your father died, right? Your mother long since dead and I find it curious that little shut in you moved to District Twelve of all places. You who never showed interest in helping anyone, let alone opening a cafe and selling food practically for free.”

“Now here you are before us with an undeveloped Gift that not a year prior to this, you showed no aptitude for. No magic, no brains, and not even a decent personality,” Queenie counted off on her fingers.

“Magic doesn’t come from nowhere, you know? It’s something we deal with all our lives. So either you're hiding something or you’ve managed to be quiet… unique. It makes me wonder why,” Queen hummed, propping their chin up on his hands.

“Why why why,” Jester mimicked, “I’ve heard of from zero to hero but this is really just ridiculous.” Jester laughed at him, cheery and bright, betraying the mood of the room. He swung a leg out, leaning back and forcing Lucifer to just allow him to lay over his lap.

“I… don’t know, I don’t remember,” Dream admitted, the sudden urge to leave filling his. His Gift rooted him in place, fought off the presence. It was harder this time. His head was pounding, a bone deep exhaustion weighing down his limbs.

“You don’t remember? Get knocked on the head or something?” Jester asked, bowing his back strangely as he pulled up. Lucifer grunting, knocking the man to the floor with a smack to the back. Jester yelped, falling to his knees.

“Maybe?” He couldn’t tell them the truth, they wouldn’t believe him. He couldn’t admit to being from, from the future? Past? Another world entirely? He didn’t know anymore, he didn’t know.

He didn’t know.

He didn’t-

Didn’t know-

He couldn’t report, couldn’t explain.

I’m sorry- I’m sorry- I’m sorry-

“That’s not an answer,” Jester pouted, popping up on the edge of the table, “Someone doesn’t look so hot, are we stressing you out?” Dream could hear the jab at his weakness. A weakness, his . He wasn’t, wasn’t supposed to feel…

“I just need your help, okay?” Dream cut in, Clay’s voice cracking despite his attempt to control it. The floor wobbled under his feet, the room growing fuzzy on the edges. Bright, bright, neon green burned him awake. Stay awake.

“With what? I don’t think you’re in position to make demands,” Lucifer rolled his eyes, mouth turning up in a sharp grin. Shark teeth, one gold, bore down on him patronizingly. He wasn’t listening, why wasn’t he listening?

“My kids, the Pit Dwellers-” Dream began, that foreign annoyance worming under his skin. His hands shook in what could’ve been nerves or exhaustion. His Gift sparked, goosebumps prickling his skin.

“Oh the Pit Dwellers, it’s always them isn’t it? They took my wife! My friend! They’re after me! All I need is a small loan of a million dollars to pay the bail!” Lucifer mocked, “Do you know how many of those requests I get a day?”

Queenie leaned forward, almost concerned, but Dream ignored her. His vision tunneled on Lucifer. That uncaring gaze, the too bright too much glint of silver and gold decorating his hands, his ears. Goat ears? Ram, long curved horns decorated in gold and jewels.

“And you want me to worry about some meaningless brats? ” Lucifer laughed, “Why the fuck should I believe you? I shouldn’t! I should kick you out for interrupting our precious time! And here I thought you might be interesting.”

Brats? His kids? Meaningless, they were not meaningless . They were wonderful and important and this bastard had no idea what he was talking about. Dream Clay ground his teeth. Words repeating in his head.

Crack

“They’re names,” Dream’s voice dropped to a far too steady and empty tone, “are Tommy and Tubbo, Tohmas and Tobias, Icarus and Daedalus, whatever the fuck you want to call them.” Dream stalked forward, walking on the table rather than bothering to go around.

“One week and three days ago, they went missing. One on patrol and the other from the bedroom of our home. I woke up to silence, completely alone with nothing but a goddamn fucking card to taunt me that they were gone. They disappeared and I didn’t even notice because I was asleep,” Dream’s nails dug into his palms, drawing blood.

“My kids are gone and it’s my fault . Now, I’ve heard that you might know something about the people that took them and you want to refuse to tell me?” Dream tilted his head, face void of anything at all.

“You are going to help me find them or I’ll personally raze this entire establishment of yours to the ground, skin you alive and slowly pick the muscles from your bone all while keeping you alive,” Dream loomed over Lucifer, Gift cracking lightning into the air.

“Now are you going to help me, or not? ” Voice low, still steady and empty and betraying nothing yet everything at once. Lucifer stared up at him, cigarette hanging loosely from his mouth. Neither breathed.

“You’re wrong,” Queenie spoke up first, words ringing in his ear like a bell, “The Pit Dwellers taking your kids is not your fault.” What she was saying barely registered, Dream hardly finding the energy to keep standing on burning legs as he head swam. He stared down at the still quiet Lucifer.

Minutes passed by, or it could’ve been hours for all he knew. Slow, careful breaths kept him steady as Lucifer seemed to study him. Dream didn’t know what he was looking for, didn’t know when he’d find it. Dream refused to stand down.

“I’ll help,” Lucifer answered, startling everyone in the room, “These fucks will too, I’ll make sure of it.” A dark promise colored his tone as some strange sort of relief flooded Dream. It was enough to break his balance, plummeting over the side of the table opposite of Jester. His vision broke and shattered into a million pieces.

Exhaustion swept his consciousness into the abyss.

 

Mission Completed: Survive Las Nevadas

 

Transferring Priority: Destroy Pit Dwellers

 

Stand by for further ǿRd3ѓş

 

ƧƬƦƖƘЄ ƠƝЄ

Nothing about today had gone to plan and maybe that was putting Schlatt just a little bit on edge. From this morning to that horrible meeting with Casper and then… then Foolish decided that there was some random guy who needed his purview. Punz had even backed him up! Punz!

So what if Schlatt went into the meeting expecting the worst? He could see the nerves on Quackity, Eret seemed to be a thousand miles away, and Charlie… well,Charlie was Charlie. The Enderdragon could die before him and Charlie would barely blink.

What he is getting at is that everyone else seemed to be dreading this meeting too for reasons that, for once, Schlatt didn’t know. No one could seem to explain it either, least of all Quackity. So he put his head high, let the calming buzz of his Gift breathe probably toxic smoke in the air, and he put on the same old song and dance. And then the guy came in.

His name was… fuck it was Clay, right? Dumbass name with a backstory Schlatt wouldn’t blink right at if it weren’t for the fact that nothing about it fit. A shy shut in who carried the usual upper level arrogance? Supposedly below average in every way? That was not the man in front of him.

Despite the clear nerves and confusion over his spontaneous acquisition of magic of all things, the guy was pretty notable for a civilian. Carried his head high, observant, freakishly generous if rumors were to be believed. Pretty boring compared to some people Schlatt knew but he was solidly average.

And then Schlatt did what he knew best and pissed the guy off. What could he say? The fuck came all this way for some Pit Dwellers scheme that Schlatt had heard only a million times over. He was entitled to be more than a little annoyed.

Except it wasn’t a scheme, and this guy was anything but average. Schlatt looked down at the crumpled form of a man who’d supposedly just been up for a week straight, including the previous night. Eight days minimum, no rest… wasn’t that supposed to kill a man?

Schlatt tugged at his suit, fumbling with his cigarette. His ears burned with the sound of incandescent lightning dancing on the edge of perception. Furious words burned into his chest and when he blinked he could still see those eyes . Eyes that matched Charlie on a bad day all too well.

No, a worse day, one of the worst. Day when Charlie was nothing but a shell clinging to every scrap that Quackity could give him. Where Charlie was never satisfied and pushed himself to make more clones, know more things, do better even when he was at his best.

Haunted eyes that didn’t belong on some two bit baker from District Four.

Eyes that should’ve been impossible.

“What the fuck?” Quackity spoke, eloquent as fucking ever. He crawled around to Clay pushing him over and checking a pulse. Schlatt wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t dead. Or at the very least in a coma. Seriously, staying up for a week? Who does that?

“He’s alive,” Quackity pulled his hand back, flicking the man’s hair from his face as if to check his eyes as well. The sight stopped him instead, Schlatt couldn’t blame him. Conservatively, the guy looked like shit.

Heavy bags under his eyes, all eight of them what the fuck? With sickly pale skin, cheeks running gaunt from malnutrition and Schlatt would bet money on an iron deficiency. His breaths seemed to rattle his chest with each enderdamned breath like there was a plinko machine in there. Maybe a better word for his appearance was ‘walking corpse’.

“I’ve never seen him act like this before,” Eret defended themself to… Charlie, probably. Schlatt sighed heavily, thick smoke leaving his mouth before he growled and shut his Gift down. He’ll make an official deal when the fuck wakes up, he promised it.

As usual, that barely calmed the humming roar in his chest but at least the smoke cleared from his lungs with a few hacking breaths. The prop cigarette went back, unused, into his vest. The room got darker as the Gift faded from view.

“Guess we’re fucked, huh?” Schlatt grouched, pushing himself to stand. His spine popped loudly as he finally stood straight for the first time in like five hours, he didn’t really keep track. The second worst downside to his whole Lucifer persona, back pain.

“At least we know where to find Tubbo?” Quackity, who was absolutely going to play delivery boy more often with that reminder, piped up. It was not comforting, in fact Schlatt would much rather ignore the fact that his supposedly dead son was actually alive. Alive, and in The Pit Dwellers hands.

“Thanks I was trying to ignore that,” Schlatt growled, running a hand down his face. His rings scratched roughly at his skin, stinging, but it felt better than focusing on that . He gave Quackity a sour glare.

“Put him in a room or something, I’ve got actual work to do,” Schlatt waved a hand, walking out of the room with quick steps. Like always, the lights were too damned bright but Charlie liked them that way for some reason. Ender forbid he actually tell anyone why.

“The heroes think we’re hiding a spy, quite silly,” Charlie chimed in behind him, voice floaty and uncaring. Schlatt ignored him, he had things to do. Paperwork and connections and meetings that hopefully didn’t involve memories he wished didn’t exist.

Next thing he knew, he might actually be getting attached to these fucks he worked with. The day was going so bad, he wouldn’t be surprised if that happened as well and just ruined his whole abrasive and corrupt leader gig. Schlatt leaned against this wall, cold against his forehead.

He prayed his son would survive the night.

He was not a religious man.

Tubbo was far more lucid the next day then he honestly wanted to be. His back burned, bringing tears to his eyes as he tried and failed to move. The room was chilled, messily laid bricks with a concrete ceiling and floor that was clearly some sort of prison cell. A solid metal door with a thin grate on the top was the only way in or out.

“H-hello? Where am I?” Tubbo called out shakily, memories of the past… past… how long? How long has he been here? He couldn’t remember anything. Just being awake and then… and then nothing, so much of nothing.

“Is anyone there? Tommy? Clay? MD? Anyone?” Tubbo’s voice died out as he spoke. His throat hurt, he didn’t know why. Hands clutched at the scratchy blanket, if you could even call it that. It was all he could do, helpless and bedridden.

Fear clawed at Tubbo’s throat, mind whirring with the obvious blank in his memory he couldn’t quite grasp at properly, teasing him with words spoken and actions taken that to his brain never were. Things he should remember but didn’t and for reasons he couldn’t explain that was terrifying .

คђ! ץ๏ย’гє ค ฬคкє คɠคเภ! tђคt’ร… tђคt’ร ɠ๏๏๔? เ tђเภк? ץ๏ย ฬєгє гєคllץ ๏ยt ๏Ŧ เt ץєรtєг๔คץ, гยเภє๔ tђє ฬђ๏lє ๓๏๏๔. ๒๏รร’ ฬครภ’t гєคllץ ђคթթץ ฬเtђ tђคt, ” a tense laugh rang from the other side of the door. Tubbo could taste the nerves emanating from that… or maybe it was just the iron taste of blood after jumping and biting his tongue. It could also be that.

“Hello? I can’t… I can’t understand you,” Tubbo replied, trying to sit up and failing miserably. A tall figure unlocked the door. Gaunt features, knobby limbs, and dressed in simple black attire that looked like it had seen better days, or years. Short choppy hair was split down the middle, black and white. Multicolored eyes struck a cord.

ץ๏ย ςคภ’t… ๏Ŧ ς๏ยгรє ץ๏ย ςคภ’t! เ’๓ รթєคкเภɠ єภ๔єг! ๏ђ เ’๓ ๔ย๓๒, ” another, more self deprecating chuckled escaped the… man? Long ears swiveled back, Tubbo’s own flicking as if to say ‘he’s like you!’. A long tail wrapped around Tubbo’s waist, pull of hair at the end matching the man’s head. It tugged him painfully to sit.

“I- uh… ith… this better?” The man fumbled, words coming out strange like they didn’t belong in his mouth. Tubbo swallowed, rubbing wetness from his eyes as the burning in his spine got worse with the new position. Where was his brace? Did they take it?

“It’s good enough,” Tubbo grouched, “Does that mean you can tell me where I am?” Was asking a person who very likely was with the people that took him a good way to get information? Probably not but they guy’s enhancement seemed to just be an extreme body one. The ears, tail, and weirdly jointed knees pointed to that much.

“N-no, sorry. I don’t really know either I just… live here? Work? Something like that,” he shrugged, kneeling down to Tubbo’s height. His legs bent in two separate places, almost making a ‘Z’ shape. Just glancing at them made Tubbo feel uncomfortable.

“But where is ‘here’, like am I in a restaurant, a store, what?” Tubbo huffed in frustration. The guy’s answer was worrying but he had to worry about the basic stuff first, right? Establish the situation then worry about other people? Form a plan? This was so much easier when they were practicing at home.

“Right! You’re in a fighting club. You’re… friend? He’s the one fighting. I’m not surprised you don’t remember though, my… uh… methods can be… hard? Hard on normal people,” he fiddled with his fingers, mouth stretching into an awkwardly wide smile before dropping.

“Tommy’s fighting? Who?” Tubbo asked, shuffling forward. The man’s tail tightened in response, holding him in place. Sharp… skin? It seemed more like a thread and didn’t make a lot of sense but it was thin and sliced into his shirt threateningly. Immediately after, it relaxed.

“Not many people yet. He had his exposition match yesterday against another fresh one so the matchmakers could make sure they didn’t kill him too quickly. But that’s a good thing! He wasn’t even really hurt, he won even. The last newbie killer left a few years ago and no one’s really taken their place,” The man assured quickly.

None of that made Tubbo feel any better. Tommy wasn’t that injured, sure, but he’s still a child gladiator. That was the term, right? Gladiator? He didn’t want to associate it with Tommy but that’s now what that was.

“Do you…” Tubbo aborted the question, “have a name?” He didn’t know what he was trying to ask instead, so he defaulted to something ‘normal’. Even if this situation was rather far from normal.

“Not really,” the man admitted, “They don’t give me one and I don’t really… remember? I call myself Ran in my head sometimes, only a few people actually use it.” Ran stood up suddenly. He tugged at his clothes as if trying to pull them into shape and lifted Tubbo.

“H-hey!” Tubbo yelped, tears forced to his eyes as his back complained loudly. His arms clutched at Ran’s shirt, sucking in a breath. Fuck, fuck that hurt, why did that hurt so much? What was he talking about, his spine was broken so of course it hurt.

“It’s time for your friend’s match, you were pretty out of the last one so I guess that this one will technically be your first,” Ran spoke in long rambles. Tubbo couldn’t quite get over how strange the words sounded, an accent he couldn’t place changing the words. It was probably the same as the strange language he spoke in.

Tubbo stayed silent, observing the concrete halls they were walking through. Other doors lined the walls, very close together. If they were the same size as his thin room, it made sense. How many people did they have here?

He heard them before he saw them. A dull roar heard through the walls, then the floor started vibrating from the thuds of feet. Excitement was plain and only grew louder as Ran carried him past armed guards and into an observation room. Scratched plastic windows looked out over a large crowd.

Stands filled to the brim with people surrounded a square shaped pit. A large metal gate was directly across from the observation room, another one presumably under it. Ran set him down onto a hard wooden bench and stood just next to it. Two other people, dressed minimally and decked in weapons, guarded the door.

Mindless words were chanted by the crowd, filling one ear and flowing out the other. They all seemed so excited to watch his best friend fight for his life. A distinctly unsettled feeling welled up in Tubbo’s throat.

Dried blood stained the walls of the fighting pit, loose dust on the floor doing little to hide craters and gouges embedded in it. Skulls were lined up and covered one wall almost in its entirety, decorative and only making Tubbo feel worse. And then…

Then the announcer started speaking.

Chapter Text

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls,” A metallic voice rang out in the previously empty pit, “from the Big Shots,” a large, fanciful motion to a blacked out window across from Tubbo, “to us little folks.” A wave over the shoulder, almost dismissive, was greeted by loud jeers from the crowd.

At the center of the pit there now stood a figure clothed mostly in black. A red vest glittered in the light as they turned, a similar red light reflecting from accents in their long overcoat like red stars shimmering in the night. Every speck of skin not covered by black and red was instead obscured by a simple white cloth, even their face. Only a masquerade-esque mask adorning their face stood out as predominantly red.

Despite the mess of the room, the white portions of their clothes seemed meticulously clean. Tubbo was sure it was fair enough to call the Announcer out as the cleanest thing in the room, or maybe the entire building. Everything else had a layer of grime that the Announcer was free of.

“Now I’m sure we all know the rules,” the Announcer waved their hands placatingly, “and we all know what we’re here for. But for the benefit of our ever so special guest, we’ll go over them just this once.” Somehow, they managed to make every single word directed at Tubbo drip in condescension, even the tilt of their head towards his little room. It was equally as impressive as it was frustrating.

“Is it always like this?” Tubbo asked after a moment's hesitation, turning slightly to look at Ran. Even just that moment made his back twinge but he bared with it. He doubted that pain would go away anytime soon so he had to.

Down in the floor, the Announcer pulled a stack of white laminated cards from seemingly thin air, just flicking their wrist to cause them to appear. Just the sign of the stack made the crowd groan almost as one. Playful booing filled the lively air. Their reaction reminded Tubbo oddly of the sound effects in obviously fake sitcoms that claimed to be filmed in front of a ‘Live Studio Audience’.

“I’m… er… I don’t think so? Probably not. We don’t always have people that are like… well, like you,” Ran fumbled quietly, sneaking glances over his shoulder at the armed guards like he was afraid to speak in their presence. He very firmly kept his gaze off of a Tubbo. Tubbo just shifted in his seat at the awkward non answer, looking back down to the pit. 

“Now, The Pit is a fight to the death between two or more parties, willfully or not,” The Announcer paused, shuffling the cards like a deck absentmindedly. With a swift, dramatic motion over their head they tossed the cards up like confetti, “There are no other rules!” They declared,

Sparks caught the slips of paper from nowhere at all, lighting them in an arch of fire and smoke before that hung for a few fragile moments. As quickly as the fire started did it end, the ashes not even having time to drift to the floor before it all went away. Cheer and clapping rang from the audience. It had been a cool display, not that Tubbo would ever admit it when he knew that his best friend’s life was on the line.

Even just the thought sent pins and needles down his spine, hands clamming up and ears pinning to his head. Nerves wracked his body, minute shaking entering his limbs that wasn’t quite from pain. Tubbo was… scared, very, very scared. Not for himself but for Tommy.

“Now for our delightful volunteers,” the Announcer pivoted suddenly, “In the left corner, we have everyone’s favorite newbie. A child of vitriol and spite who clawed his way from poverty by force of will and became a protector to the poor and downtrodden. So much success at such a sudden age and now, he’s here tonight. Ender himself having dropped his lovingly into our awaiting arms.” Lovingly? Tubbo was calling bullshit.

“You love him, you hate him, you may even despise him, Icarus!” Creaking sounded from the metal gate, slowly moving up in a way that reminded Tubbo oddly of those gates in the old gladiator films Tommy and him used to find in the dumpster. Smoke drifted out from under the gate, obscuring his brother’s friend’s body. 

Pivoting again, the Announcer faced Tubbo with a fluid motion. No, not Tubbo, the other gate. Still, Tubbo could feel the Announcer’s eyes on him through that stupid mask, baring at him from all sides, always watching and always waiting. A snake hidden in the grass.

“And in the other corner?” A gloved hand was placed delicately over their chest, the other splayed across their forehead like they might faint, “Only the best for our little, itty bitty friend.” They sighed, the sound somehow still carrying over the crow. The gate began to open already despite the announcer still speaking.

“We’ve seen them only once before but they certainly struck a cord,” small bodies slithered out from the gate, leaving scratched in the floor, “A swarm of these cute little fells could tear a man to shred in seconds but a quick fight isn’t a fun fight, now is it? So let’s see what five of them can do!” The Announcer laughed merrily.

“The best of the worst of the creatures in this world with metal scales designed to rip through stone like wet paper, the Silverfish!” Bright lights clicked on, focusing on the small bodies on the floor. They didn’t look very impressive. Those supposedly sharp metal scales looked dull and the metal barely reflected any light. Honestly, they looked rather weak.

For a moment, Tubbo dared to let himself hope. With how… small and weak they seemed, surely the Announcer was just exaggerating for entertainment's sake? Nothing that small could honestly be so dangerous. Even if a swarm of them killed a man, a swarm of bees could also kill a man! That didn’t make bees inherently dangerous or murderous. And only five? Tommy would… Tommy would be fine. He could squish a few bugs.

Right?

“Let the games,” The Announcer paused, tilting his head up into the lights and peering directly through the messy plastic cover of Tubbo’s small room. A matte black mask, holding darker promises than Tubbo knew how to decipher, stole his breath away. A gloved hand finding the brim of their tall, fancy hat.

“Begin!” They cried, snapping their wrist and flicking the hat into the air. Almost immediately after, flames burst from under their feet, engulfing the Announcer in reds and oranges. The crowd roared in excitement, crying out for blood with formless words. Tubbo felt none of their emotions, trapped to his chair as he watched the flames climb higher and higher. Only once they’d reached the hat at its peak did they dissolve into a white mist. A mist that clung to the floor and settled thick and heavy.

All that remained in the pit was the two contestants, or six? Six. Tommy looked mostly fine but from so far away it was hard to tell. He was still in his vigilante uniform, just dirty and stripped of both his mask and any protective equipment they’d seen able to make or buy. An unsettled feeling curled in Tubbo’s stomach.

“Come on Tommy, you’ve got this,” Tubbo assured… himself, technically. It was all he could do. Unable to fight back or help in anyway due to that stupid back injury that he wished would just heal already. No! Tommy could do this. Tommy was smart and strong and would get them out of here. If not, then his dad Clay would find them. They would be okay.

Skittering, faint under the crowd but still there, came from the Silverfish. Whether that was a noise they made or just metal against concrete and dust was unclear. Tommy took a hesitant step forward but immediately backpedaled. His head swirling back and forth, eyes narrowed suspiciously at the mist.

To others, he might just look like he was being careful, sizing up his enemies before attacking. Tubbo knew him better than most and was filled with a dawning dread. Tommy… he couldn’t see the Silverfish, any of them. Not with the mist on the ground, not at his angle.

Even as he carefully walked around, shoulders tensed and barely managing to cross a third of the room, Tubbo knew that it was just a ruse to make them think he knew what he was doing. Bright spots from the Silverfish scattering around in a group, mirroring Tommy’s movements. They seemed hesitant to attack.

At least, they did until they decided to stop being patient. With a louder skittering sound, the bright spot got brighter as the Silverfish seemed to… curl up? Like a hedgehog or an armadillo, rolling backwards and then shooting forwards. Tommy’s head snapped to it the moment he noticed it.

He jumped to the side but the Silverfish was fast, too fast. It passed by him and tore at his pants, cutting into Tommy’s leg. Yet, Tommy didn’t even get a moment to react to the injury before he had to dodge the other four, each also curled up and mimicking the first. Curled up, they seemed to just barely breach the mist on the floor…

Was that… was that on purpose? Was the Announcer trying to make this harder on Tommy? Why? He was just a kid! They both were! Neither of them had any real fighting experience, even as a vigilante, Tommy had to use every dirty trick he could in every fight possible to win. At a disadvantage that almost took away an entire sense?

Another shot by Tommy, ricocheting off the wall with a loud bang as it missed. None of them were attempting to dig into the concrete, Tubbo noted dully, which he was mostly sure wasn’t normal for a Silverfish. He didn’t know why.

More scratches and cuts slashed across Tommy’s skin and clothes as the Silverfish corralled him into a corner as best they could. Even dodging, they kept banging off the walls and coming at his from different angles like demented ping pong balls.

One managed to smash into Tommy’s arm, his best friend crying out in response to the further excitement of the crowd. He was pushed back, hitting a wall with his shoulder and lacerating his calf as another zipped by. Tommy wrapped his arm around his chest, hunching over.

“Tommy!” Tubbo found himself calling out, eyes widening and laser focused on his friend. Even the pain from leaning forward didn’t break his focus, nor Ran holding onto his shoulder. Not even the hushed words that Ran was then forced to use to wave off the guards. Nothing but him and his injured brother being torn apart by a torrent of metal and malice.

Each new cut wasn’t being forced on Tubbo but somehow he could still clearly feel each and every one. His own muscles twinged with sympathy as his heart dropped. Then Tommy started moving, rough actions that mimicked ones Tubbo could recall Clay doing.

He kicked off one of the corner walls, bouncing off the other until he was perched in between them like a spider too high for the Silverfish to reach. It was obvious to anyone he was barely hanging on. His arms were shaking and he was losing a disturbing amount of blood. 

Then he fell, landing on one of the Silverfish with a loud crunch of metal and bones. The way they flattened under their own shells would’ve been amusing if it wasn’t so nauseating. Blood splattering out from under the shell followed by the loud, synchronized scream of the other four. Sadly, it wasn’t them dying hive mind style.

Boosting off the shell, Tommy stumbled and skittered across the floor. The sounds of chinking metal followed him. So began a horrible game of cat and mouse. Tubbo could only roughly assume as to why, but he could see the weak strategy that Tommy had built up.

Whatever they were feeding the Silverfish, it didn’t seem to be enough. Their shells lacked their natural metallic shine and they moved slower than normal. Apparently, this also made the body under the shell weaker. That was a lot more obvious, since Tommy had been able to kill one just by dropping on it.

Really, the only thing that stopped Tommy from repeating it was the ferocity of the remaining ones and the fact that Tommy had to climb halfway up the wall before his body weight was enough to kill one. He couldn’t climb a straight wall like Clay too… and the Silverfish turned too fast for him to try the same corner twice. Not when they seemed to be going for his ankles and knees to stop him from climbing.

So it was a race, a race against blood loss and the Silverfish. Tommy was fast, but was he faster than an opponent he could barely see. Tubbo chewed his lips, burning blooming between his eyes. He could barely hear himself whispering Tommy on, hesitant words coming out like prayers for Tommy’s safety.

“Oh, what an interesting fight so far, wouldn’t you say?” The Announcer’s voice, still metallic despite the lack of any sort of microphone. Tubbo jerked, leaning back as that too empty face obscured his vision. The Announcer chuckled, unbending for that strange sideways angle.

“I- hey! Did you- this isn’t fun,” Tubbo scrambled for words, glaring at the Announcer with as much anger as he could manage under the worry and fear. The Announcer shook their head, rolling their shoulders back like shoving off a weight. 

“Come now, there’s no need to be rude. It’s just a little harmless fun,” the Announcer pouted, which really should’ve been impossible given the lack of any solid facial features. Tubbo sputtered, looking between them and the sight in the pit. A sight he could barely handle seeing when the crowd was so loud and so bloodthirsty .

“Fun? How is any of this fun?” Tubbo damn near yelled his question, “first you kidnap us and now you force my best friend to fight for his life against those… those things!? ” An angry flush covered his cheeks.

It all just seemed to amuse the Announcer more, who leaned forward and cupped his jaw in a crushing grip. He forced Tubbo to look at his eyes, or rather what was in place of them, and a smile entered his tone. A horrible, disgusting happiness that made Tubbo want to throw up.

Of course it’s fun. Can’t you see how happy everyone is? You could be happy too, with that wonderful adrenaline and glorious bloodshed, ” The Announcer cooed, voice sickeningly sweet.  

Too bad you’re useless. That pretty crushed spine and those weak legs, you can barely stand much less fight, ” The Announcer’s words rang far too true for comfort. Tears welled up in Tubbo’s eyes, his injury burned. He knew… he knew he wasn’t really useless, not entirely. But in this position? He was as good as nothing.

Don’t worry, we’ll find a use for you yet, ” the Announcer assured him, rubbing away a tear before patting his cheek once, twice. Tubbo leaned away from his touch, a creeping feeling sliding around his limbs. He felt…

Weak.

“Now! I think that’s enough if that, you’ve clearly worn yourself out and your little friend?” The Announcer paused and turned to the window, letting out a soft hmph sound as if they found something funny, “Oh he’s got the situation under control.”

Tubbo’s gaze snapped back to the window, vision struggling to focus through tears and dirty plastic. Two more of the Silverfish were dead and Tommy was breathing hard as he struggled against slick blood in his hands to stick to the walls. If he just used his wings- no! No, Tommy hated using his wings for a reason ! Tubbo took a deep breath.

“I think, I think I want to stay here,” Tubbo stuttered in a weak voice, rubbing his eyes with his sleeve. His words fell to deaf ears as the Announcer decided his complaints were meaningless.

“Nonsense,” the Announcer chided, and snapped their fingers, “Be a dear and bring our beloved guest to his room, okay?” The Announcer addressed Ran but didn’t even bother to turn to him, just looking back to the fight. Tubbo opened his mouth to complain.

Ran didn’t give him an opportunity to, lifting him up from the armpits the moment the Announcer stopped speaking. Tubbo hissed, ears flicking up and down in an attempt to accurately relay his annoyance. 

“Hey! Put me down! I want to watch Tommy!” Tubbo punched against Ran’s shoulder. The man neither flinched nor said anything the entire walk back, completely numb to anything Tubbo said or did. It was horrible, it was frustrating and… and…

Admittedly, Tubbo didn’t want to watch Tommy fight, he never did even when he watched Tommy with the bee bots. It always worried him horribly and no matter how well Tommy could fight, it was impossible for him to always win. He couldn’t always win and the thought of him losing? Of losing Tommy?

It terrified him.

It terrified him and there was nothing that Tubbo could do to stop it. At least at home, when he was playing ground control as Daedalus, he could help mitigate disaster at least somewhat. Increase the odds of Tommy coming home safe. Sure, it would be better for his nerves if Tommy never sent out at Icarus but Tubbo knew his best friend. He also knew that Tommy was the most stubborn person he knew and would never give up his vigilante act.

But here? Here Tubbo could do nothing . He could just lay, stuck prone on his bed and useless with nothing but flashes of dripping blood and flying bugs with razor sharp edges dancing behind his eyelids. Of his friend dropping from ten feet up in an attempt that he might have enough force to break the little bugs.

He didn’t help him in the slightest. No strategies, no information, and not able to even take a step on his own. He couldn’t fight. Couldn’t help. Useless, useless, useless. He couldn’t even curl up properly to cry.

Sometimes the days seemed to last too long. Long minutes dragging into longer hours as the second hand refused to tick by any quicker. The sun stayed up forever, stretching its rays over the gloomy city that Schlatt practically led. It was unofficial, his position, but few powers would dare stand against the Full House from Las Nevadas.

The Nightmare Initiative was one of them, though they hardly did anything with their power. At least, nothing that Schlatt would consider important. A little drug trafficking here, high leveled bankrobbies there, and some assassination on the side if they were feeling flirty. Nothing that anyone else couldn’t do.

Well, except for the fact that Schlatt was a filthy liar and everyone knew it. The Nightmare Initiative could likely kill Ender himself if they really, really wanted to. These were people whose leader regularly fought the top three heroes and came out on the other side smelling like roses. The only reason they didn’t was… well no one actually knew that.

So at the top of the world there was Las Nevadas, The Nightmare Initiative, and now this random cafe owner with nothing stand out about their background who marched into Schlatt’s casino world and threatened all of them… then collapsed on the floor like a sack of bricks. Oh, and they had a completely unregistered, fully developed Gift. Because at this point, why not?

Another minute ticked over and Schlatt resisted the urge to bang his head against his desk. It wouldn’t help with the migraine that had steadily been growing over the past few days. That migraine’s name was Clay’s unconscious body laying in one of the vip rooms that no one ever used and was, admittedly, mostly there for show or staff whenever there was a giveaway.

Three days had passed without much sign of the man waking, which was nerve wracking enough that Schlatt would never admit to feeling nervous. Nervous that the one and only link to his son would die. He’d looked it up, humans tended to pass out or die after roughly eleven days without sleep. Clay had been up for a week, maybe longer if his physical state said anything.

It almost wasn’t funny how little the guy seemed to be taking care of himself. Sure, he had forming muscles that indicated he worked out a lot and his arms were pretty jacked from, if rumor had it, defying gravity itself to sew on the ceiling , but he was also experiencing malnutrition. Not horribly severe but still pretty bad malnutrition. Apparently, he forgot to mention that the breakfast buffet was the first time he ate in at least a week.

Foolish had looked worried, Eret had looked like she wanted to scream, and Schlatt couldn’t really blame them. After all, how often does a strange man with enough spite to kill Ender admit to knowing private information and become a walking infohazard? Then pass out? Rhetorical question, not very often.

Well, if this situation had any benefits to it, then it let Schlatt get his head on straight. If Clay hadn’t passed out with any and all information he had on the situation trapped in his head, then Schlatt might’ve marched over to the Pit Dwellers location and attempted to slaughter each and every one of them without a plan. He… never thought very straight with his son on his mind.

No need to say that that wouldn’t have gone over very well. Like all powerful organizations, the information on the leaders was either entirely a lie or didn’t exist at all. Most of Schlatt’s file was fucking bullshit and he wasn’t sure that Nightmare even legally existed.

But the leader of The Pit Dwellers? He was almost positive that they didn’t exist, legally or otherwise. Yeah, they had a leader… but no one knew who they were. Powerful people from the more legal districts funneled enough money into it through betting that weeding out where the profit was going should’ve been easy.

Except the money wasn’t going anywhere, including Las Nevadas according to the records he had Quackity going through. No paper trail, no digital trail, and not even a confirmation if The Pit Dwellers had multiple leaders or just one. If it was one then Schlatt was not looking forward to meeting a man that powerful.

Because trust him, it took power to successfully run a business based off of people’s darkest desires. Sure, exploiting something like that was easy enough and sure, anyone could start up a casino. Power came into play with keeping the damn thing in one piece. When people lost their life’s savings at the betting table, things tended to go pretty south.

When it wasn’t money and greed but rather people’s bloodthirst being manipulated and extorted? Schlatt was surprised that any given match didn’t dissolve into a mass riot where the crowd attempted to kill one another over the slightest perceived slight. Nether, that’s why Las Nevadas had four rulers.

Quackity who kept the casino running, Charlie who kept them well informed on every little thing the heroes tried to throw at them, Eret who made sure that they’re many many enemies went down and stayed down, and him… he was mostly intimidation  factor because none of the others wanted him to use his Gift if he didn’t have to.

Really, he just did the paperwork and acted as figurehead. Schlatt was fine with that. He rubbed at his chest irritatedly, the constant burning feeling flicking at even being thought about. It pushed against his chest, wanting to be used.

It always wanted to be used, for anything and everything. But Schlatt couldn’t because of ‘side effects’ and because ‘people cared about his physical and mental well being’. Maybe it could be used more if they knew better how Gifts worked but for now, as rare and undiscovered as they were, Schlatt couldn’t.

He was getting pretty off track, wasn’t he? Then again, Schlatt had always been pretty good at distracting himself from things he didn’t want to think about. Like Tobias and The Pit Dwellers and that stupid invitation burning a whole into the bottom of his desk drawer.

A ticket he didn’t want to use and never thought he would. One that all four of them had and, if he was being realistic, all of the Nightmare Initiative also had. They were old, about as old as The Pit Dwellers new administration.

Because yes, the only thing he knew about the leader of The Pit Dwellers was that, at some point, a fighting club known for barely anything at all had been upheaved and turned into a roaring bloodbath that went on pretty much constantly. Every night, without fail, and often long through the day. It would be impressive if the premise of the place didn’t make his skin crawl.

Again, distraction. The ticket was one of the many linchpins of the plan, a plan that hadn’t even fully formed in his mind yet since there were so many blank spaces that he prayed Clay might know something about. There was no guarantee that the ticket would work after so long. Nor was there any certainty behind them even accepting a plus one like Clay.

If they were even going to bring Clay into this because, as unnerving as he was, he was also in a fragile state physically and mentally and could be just as much a hinder as a help. Just trying to build an idea around his… everything was probably going to kill Schlatt before anything got done.

“Hey there Big Man,” Quackity walked through the office door toting a whiskey bottle and a glass precariously over his head, “You’ve been in here a while, care for a break?” The bottle was placed on the table with a thud, Quackity sliding his ass on next to it.

“I’m good,” Schlatt snorted, looking up to meet his second’s eyes. Black met black, that stupid beanie pulled over equally dark hair. Those irritating lips tugged into a smirk, tempting him. They pulled into a pout, uncorking the whiskey.

“Eh, fair enough. Shoulda known that one wasn’t going to work,” Quackity shrugged, pouring himself a glass, “Still should take a break, stretch those legs. Foolish doubts Spidey’s gonna wake up anytime soon.” He gestured with the glass and took a sip. 

“Takin’ a break isn’t gonna show us who exactly were fighting come… whenever this plan is set to go off,” Schlatt grouched, running a hand over his mouth. He sighed, biting onto the ring on his pinky finger. He gnawed on it, running his teeth over the grooves and undoubtedly leaving scratches in the metal. It was fine, it would get better.

“And you running yourself into the ground isn’t going to help us either. Come on mi amor, do you wanna end up like Spidey? Pretty sure you don’t,” Quackity snorted. He placed his glass on the desk, then placed his hands over Schlatt’s paperwork annoyingly. Schlatt batted them away, mindful of his claws.

Quackity placed them back down, Schlatt pushed him back. And again and again, like Quackity was purposefully trying to be annoying just slapping his desk over and over… which he was. Schlatt knew he was, and Schlatt was not winning this one.

“Fine!” He snapped, “I’ll… go take a fucking nap or something.” The admittance came out bitter, a growl more than anything rumbling through his chest. Quackity’s wing came up, draping over his back and casting a shadow over his body. The dip in light only helped somewhat.

“Annnnd eat a full meal?” Quackity drawled, batting his eyes. He leaned back, into Schlatt’s shoulder. The whiskey on his breath was heady, making Schlatt’s mouth water and eyes draw to the bottle.

“Y-yeah, whatever. Deal, now get that shit out of my office,” Schlatt stuck out his hand, tearing his eyes from the bottle with a practiced temper. Quackity leaned forward, hitting his shoulder. With ease he smacked Schlatt hand down with his other wing, messing up the paperwork further as he fully turned to face Schlatt on the desk.

“That’s what I like to hear!” Quackity cheered, “Let’s go then, I’ve got something great cooking in the oven, reeeeal nice pasta baked.” Quackity slipped off the desk to Schlatt’s right, carefully keeping his wing covering the man’s back. It did wonders for Schlatt’s head.

“With the homemade meat sauce?” Schlatt asked, standing with his shoulder bowed. He swayed slightly on his feet, or maybe that was the room? Could’ve been the room, reasonably. Or maybe Punz’… stuff was getting to him? He was stressed enough for that to make sense too.

“What do you take me for, a heathen?” Quackity gasped, leaning forward to physically lay his wing against Schlatt’s back and guide him out of the room. The wing was cold, maybe too cool for a normal human being. Then again, Quackity wasn’t normal and for that he was grateful. Icy chilled fought back against the raging inferno in his chest and ever pervasive smoke coating his throat.

He felt tired, so so tired. Tried and frustrated and worried and… and maybe he could hope that things would turn out okay, just this once. It was a weak hope. Just a fragile little thing hiding in the burnt crisp where his heart used to be, but it was there.

Schlatt leaned into the cold and closed his eyes.

Things were going to be okay.

 

гเɠђt?

Chapter Text

 

Clay- Dream woke up before he even realized he’d been asleep. A blink between here and there, wherever ‘here’ even was at this point. It was hard, incredibly so, to tell, a fact that got more and more concerning the longer he laid there.

Fuzzy thoughts and feelings and memories spun and buzzed under his skin and rapid yet slippery speeds. They slipped through his fingers like sand before he could even bother to consider them for more than a moment. All that seemed to stick was the quickly growing desire to curl up and forget the world. 

It would be so easy to just lay back. To just relax for once in his life in this admittedly unfamiliar but apparently friendly place. Nothing had even attempted to attack him thus far and, really, didn’t he deserve a break?

No

No, he couldn’t do that, not now. Inklings of memories prodded him, reminding him of the help he now had. It just wasn’t a help that he trusted very much. Not, what was the phrase, as far as he could throw them? Except he could throw them pretty damn far so it probably wasn’t the best measurement.

Bright lights assaulted his stinging eyes as he dragged too heavy eyelids open. Sitting up made his head ache and the dozens of tiny fractures Casper had incidentally inflicted on him creaked with a noticeable pain. Not a horrible one, just noticeable.

Breathing hurt, moving ached.

It burned it burned it burned.

It doesn’t matter.

The room he was in was fancy and distinctly unfamiliar. Webbed marble floors interlace with that same not-quite-gold as the rest of Las Nevadas. Large floor to ceiling windows were filled with a clean, artificial sort of light. The bed beneath him was far too soft and was easily large enough for half a dozen people. Despite being so soft, Dream was feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

Sliding off the bed, Dream pulled his arms close to himself. Distantly. He noted still being in the same clothes he came in, not even the slightest indication of how long he’d been out in the entire room. Except, that is, if you counted the horrible taste in his mouth.

Curtains, some expensive satin looking things, hung in the doorway as the divider between rooms. While heavier than normal curtains, they were still fairly easy to brush away so Dream could step into… into the fanciest hotel room he’d ever seen. Just looking at the place made Dream feel undeserving out of his element.

A fraction of the apartment he was in was still roughly twice as large as anything he’d ever lived in, much less slept in. The kitchen island alone had to be easily the size of his bed in the cafe apartment. A tv and entertainment system took up an entire wall. To his left was a balcony with a hot tub on it, the same faux windows surrounding it with images of a soothing beach.

On the counter, definitely not being used to distract him from the uncomfortable level of luxury around him, was a pile of clothes and a note. His feet were silent against the heated tile floor as he crossed the room. Unfolding the note read a simple message, albeit in scratchy handwriting that Dream’s Gift took a moment to analyze.

Clay,

Dress neatly in the provided clothes. A staff member will fetch you when you have finished freshening up.

See you soon.

Prince

Flipping it over, a pattern of red hearts was emblazoned on the back. Dream looked down at the clothes, then around the room. That was a fairly reasonable  mission request, he just had to find his way around-

Smack

A small green balloon smacked his face, sticking and sliding awkwardly before dropping to the floor with a wet poop. Moist green mucus -slime?- was left as a cold trail on his face. Dream blinked blankly.

He looked down, a faceless something looked back up. About the size of his palm, it was an acid green sort of color that wobbled like jello. A slime? He’d never seen one so small and innocent that didn’t immediately try to dissolve his skin from his bones. Sure, it was a bit sticky and cold but otherwise harmless.

It hit Dream’s leg, bouncing off his skirt and rolling away like a sentient bouncy ball. Dream glanced back at the provided clothes. With a low sigh, he grabbed them and followed after what he could only assume was Prince’s Pet. It felt obvious to him at least. It may have been a different shade of green than Prince but there was only one slime hybrid, and slime in general, that Dream knew of in the area.

Prince’s Pet bounced in place, waiting for Dream to walk up to him before jumping at him and ricocheting off his leg again. The spot left behind tinted his skirt in a discolored mark that would likely stain. He had two identical ones back home so it was fine. This is fine.

Letting himself be led into the bathroom, Dream was not surprised to find it as extra as the rest of the apartment, hotel room? Whichever. The tiles were different, more like glass with strips of metal separating each tile. A soft glow came from below like fairy dust, warm like the sun on a nice spring day. Dream’s head ached, he ignored it.

A shower room, because it was too big to just be a ‘shower’, was past a glass wall with some fancy unfamiliar shower head and a seat built into the tiles. Beside it was a bathtub far too big for one person. A chandelier of gold and quartz and… was that glowstone? Lit up the room.

Even just the bathroom screamed ‘extra’ so loud Dream could feel his ears ring and teeth ache at the intensity. Breathing in felt like breathing nickels and dimes, standing there in his dirty shoes and blood splattered sweater and skirt felt like ruining something that could never be fixed. If he broke anything here, he’d be in debt for the rest of his life.

Marble counters, gleaming annoyingly in the light with greys and whites, held Prince’s Pet in a porcelain bowl like they were pretending to be soap. The eyeless slime seemed to be watching him as he walked over and sat down the clothes he’d been given. Nodding in respect to the tiny thing, he went to explore the shower.

He could feel it staring at him.

It would be rude to call them out.

He’s used to being watched anyway.

Even the interface to turn on the shower was fancy, and ‘interface’ wasn’t even him phrasing it strangely. A rectangle of metal with a silicone pad, buttons lining down the side, was embedded into the wall. Running his fingers over the pad caused it to light up with the same warm glow.

It felt so needlessly expensive and pretty that that irritation not entirely his own bubbled in his chest. Without a doubt, even the dishware Prince was sitting in could feed an entire block for a week and yet instead all the money was spent on fancy showers that probably never got used. Dream doubted anyone could genuinely afford a room like this except the people who built it.

The water did feel nice though, he begrudgingly admitted. As soon as he figured out the shower if fell out warm rather than the ice cold he was used to, a cold that at best only rose to a solid lukewarm. A hot shower was a luxury that Dream rarely got, even as the number one hero.

No time for niceties-luxury

Simple things like friends and comfort would only weigh him down.

Indulging wasn’t something he was supposed to do.

Apparently even the towels had some incredibly high standard to live up to, white and gold and so incredibly soft that it rankled his skin. It should’ve been nice but it just bothered him in the way that all other luxuries did. Air drying would take too long though.

Sucking it up, Dream rubbed himself dry despite the obvious discomfort and examined the clothes he’d been given. Clothes that, apparently, they’d had enough time to fashion specifically for him. Part of him was curious on how they got his measurements. A more logical side to him figured it was probably in his sleep, even if those were bound to be a bit inaccurate.

White button up, wine colored slacks, and a matching vest lay in the pile. All made from smooth materials that probably cost more than the cafe itself and yet they had the money to just toss it away for a veritable stranger. The weird taste returned to his mouth.

He was right though, the measurements were a bit off. Tad tight around the shoulders and pulled across his chest, pants falling just a bit above his ankles and forcing him to  hold his breath to fit them around, high on his hips. The vest was fairly decent though, even if it matched the shirt in being a little too small. With his shoes, worn black boots that did not match the rest of the look, it almost looked purposeful. Not enough so that Dream wouldn’t notice but still.

Stretching his arms above his head and behind his back, Dream noted the way it tugged. If he had to fight, the shoulders at least would tear purely from the strain of throwing a punch. As it was, it was manageable. He just had to know the limits of the fabric as to not ruin such a nice material.

Slap

Prince’s Pet peered up at him from where they had fallen on the floor with a wet sound, the movement of the slime reading as though they were looking up. Had they looked away while he was getting ready? Unnecessary but definitely… cute… cute was the word he was looking for.

“Lead the way,” Dream sighed, placing his dirty clothes in the clearly labeled laundry under the sink. He’d hopefully get those back, a place like this had to know how to properly clean blood stains. If not, Dream certainly could.

Taking his words for what they were, as well as a slime could at least, Prince’s Pet bounced in place and, without using Dream as a trampoline, rolled away. Again, Dream was struck by the image of a living bouncy ball. How… strange.

Was Prince’s Pet the servant mentioned in the note? Or was Dream just following a slime out of the room he’d been left in because it was being particularly insistent? Rather, as insistent as a slime could be. Realistically, that wasn’t very much when such a small creature couldn’t even break a regular glass window if it tried, much less move Dream.

Maybe he should’ve been a bit more concerned about being led around by a slime, all things considered. It was hardly something to be considered normal as far as Dream was aware. Hell, most people likely never even saw a passive slime face to face.

Still, Dream had been guided by stranger things. If his memories weren’t lying, which they rarely if ever did, then he had once been guided by a curious Gift that brought shadows to life. One can only be guided by the shadow of a bunny rabbit for so long before it becomes one of the weirdest things you’ve ever done. That cut off was around the one hour mark.

“Ah you’re awake! That’s good, very good,” A still ever so chipper looking Charles was waiting for him just outside the door. He was wearing roughly the same clothes as when Dream last saw him. The only difference seemed to be a gold chain pocket watch pressed into his vest, it glittered in the light and felt a little more real than any of the other gold around.

“I am,” Dream responded awkwardly, eyes darting to Prince’s Pet bouncing across the circular room to a glass elevator in the center. They made awkward slap sounds against the matte black floors. After a moment, he looked back over to Charles.

“You’ve been out for a while, about three, four days by now,” Charles tapped his fingers together, before splaying his hands like he was surrendering, “but nothing much has been happening around here so it’s fine!”

Fine… it’s fine . Clearly they had different definitions of what ‘fine’ meant. Losing four days that could have been used to find the kids because his stupid body decided to give out was the exact opposite of fine . Every day, no every hour , that passes the chance that his kids would be dead when he found them rises. Did Charles not know that?

The day after a child goes missing, the chances of them being found dead jumps up to nearly 80% and only rises every hour that passes. That was not okay, not fine, and Dream would not stand for it… but yelling at someone who didn’t know any better wouldn’t fix the situation. Deep breathed, in and out.

Heroes don’t get angry.

Machines never get mad or fight back.

Your emotions have made you weak.

Breathe.

Don’t think.

“Okay,” Dream’s voice comes out a lot calmer when he speaks. He forces his hands not to twitch or shake, his Gift leaving behind a buzzing sensation as they stilled. He cycled another deep breath. His head did not calm, a low rumble building up at the base of his skull, his thoughts whirled but he ignored it. He ignored all of it. It didn’t matter.

“Okay?” Charles echoed, eyes defocusing as he stared him down. Then he blinked, the blank smile falling onto his face. Dream nodded, as if it was an actual question. Charles shrugged, shuffling his feet, he looked down and then back up again.

“Alright, follow after me then!” Charles chirped, swinging forward onto his toes and rocking back on his feet in a vaguely jerky motion as he turned around. He lead Dream into the elevator, standing besides a rolling Prince’s pet who chose to stop on top of Dream’s shoe. It was cold through the old faux leather but it didn’t matter.

Dream took one last glance around the dark veneered room, spying three identical doors to the one he came out of before the elevator slipped below the floor. Charles hummed a nameless tune, bouncing on his heels in a way that seemed to mimic Prince’s Pet… what? That wasn’t a connection Dream expected to make. His Gift really connected the oddest things, Charles wasn’t a slime. It was probably important anyway, everything was.

Many floors slipped by, gaining a number of identical doors and hallways, hardwood and tiles and carpeted floors slipping by. An foyer for a bar and a restaurant, another for a gambling hall. Around fifty three floors down, the elevator slid to a halt. The scent of thick cigarette smoke filled his nose as the doors dinged open.

Pushing through crowds was surprisingly easy with Charles leading him around, even if Prince’s Pet had molded like putty around his ankle and was holding on for dear life. Unconsciously, the people around them seemed to make way for the two of them. It was like some part of them recognized that Charles was in some way important, more so than the simple servant he pretended to be.

He was pretending, Dream knew what that looked like. It was an impressive level of skill and if Dream didn’t recognize that plastic smile as the one that was plastered across the face of every single HC member he’d ever known then he’d likely be fooled too. Oh, and of course the fact that he nearly slipped up on his name. Still, decent acting.

But Charles didn’t seem to want Dream to know that he was anything more than what he led Dream to believe, so Dream played along. Step by step he followed Charles’ lead. Sometimes it was just easier if you were someone different than you were.

Don’t you know that.

Look at you, parading around under the mask of a man long since dead.

But what else could you do?

It’s not like you even have an identity of your own.

Charles pulled him through another hidden side door along the many winding alleyways between shining faux golden buildings, not a soul around them and yet it still seemed to be so loud. Again they walked the maze of hallways, employee areas all identically bright in gold and red and black. The main difference was the lack of being physically threatened.

Not a bad difference, really, just a bit of a boring one. Not that Dream wanted to be threatened but his head was swimming and he’d really enjoy a distraction from all of that. Thankfully, a distraction did show itself as he was led into an office. A personal one that he… probably wasn’t supposed to be in.

Well he was but… Dream hadn’t necessarily expected to be led straight to Lucifer. Again, this wasn’t a bad thing or a surprising one either, it was just a rather low chance to happen. Around a 3% chance, his Gift provided after gentle prodding.

Carpet cut off to dark wood floors, spruce if Dream was identifying it right. Bookshelves made of a similar wood lined the walls, hiding what seemed to be a golden shade of cream. Thick tomes were packed tightly, some sections seeming surprisingly thin with bright red and blue and green covers. Languages Dream didn’t know labelled the spines.

A circular table made of a lighter shade of wood with golden screw caps was covered in three glass shot glasses and had a whiskey bottle of some brand Dream didn’t recognize. Under it was a metal bucket filled with ice, a champagne bottle and a couple of dark wines set in it. 

The appropriate wine glasses were set on top of Schlatt’s fancy carved wooden desk. It lacked the veneer he vaguely remembered Bad having that sparkled but that made it look no less expensive. Two plush chairs were set just in front of Dream, facing the desk.

Lucifer himself was sitting across, twisting an unlit cigar in his hand. He seemed to be looking at something in a hand bound journal, and whatever it was it was unpleasant. Around him were several other books opened to seemingly random pages. Pieces of paper and pens and various knickknacks nearly spilled off of the surface, all tightly packed.

“Took ya long enough,” Lucifer scoffed, staring up at Dream but keeping his head canted down. He leaned to the side, resting his cheek on a closed fist. The chains adorning 

 his horns tapped quietly against his rings, practically unheard over the natural growl to his voice. A bit like if he spoke half a pack a day, which he realistically might.

“Sorry,” Dream murmured in apology, keeping his head down and features tight like he was nervous. Play into the view of him being meek, and all of that. Civilians tended to not do very well against powerful figures like Lucifer, even if Dream likely blew his cover with the whole ‘threatening him’ bit. That could probably be explained as adrenaline though.

“The hell you apologizing for?” Lucifer tilted his head back, “you look like shit, if anything it makes sense no matter how much it annoys me.” The admission almost seemed to hurt him and he rolled his eyes which landed on the alcohol to Dream’s left. Lucifer waved a hand, Charles taking that as his chance to leave.

A hand planted itself on Dream’s back, he went with it as Charles pushed him further into the room before closing the door behind him. Dream walked forward, sitting down in the chair and twiddling his thumbs. People with anxiety generally did that, right?

Silence filled the room, awkward and tense as Lucifer flicked through several pages in the book he was studying. Dream just kept at his act, shifting in place and letting his eyes flicker to various places in the room. He made sure to look everywhere but Lucifer, like he was trying to ignore the man he incidentally threatened.

“So,” Lucifer hummed, “Tell me more about what happened with the Pit Dwellers.” Dream made sure to tense, eyes snapping back to Lucifer. Good, they were getting somewhere. Except, well… Dream smiled nervously.

“What?” He stammered, blinking and channeling the very real nausea that was building up in him. Normal people didn’t just pass out for four days and wake up fine, he knew that much at least. Lucifer might notice that. He might not but Dream knew better than to underestimate the little things that people notice, consciously or not.

“The Pit Dwellers? With your kids? Are you still fucking out of it? Who am I kidding, you haven’t eaten if fuck knows how long,” Lucifer snorted, “So this is what’s going to happen. You tell me everything you know and I’ll make sure to feed you, okay? Okay.”

Apparently, that wasn’t an offer if Lucifer had accepted for him. Dream hunched his shoulders, pulling at the tight areas with two of his hands and keeping the other two crossed in front of him. He nodded.

“Yeah, okay. Where do you want me to start?” He asked hesitantly. Lucifer wrinkled his nose like he smelled something foul, an odd unnamed look entering his eyes. Eyes that, now Dream was looking, weren’t glowing red like before… there wasn’t any of that black smoke either. A part of his Gift, maybe?

“The beginning,” Lucifer leaned forward, snapping his book close with a loud thwap . Dream gulped audibly, worrying his lip as he stared paralyzed into Lucifer’s eyes, that red burn seeming to spark in the recesses of his dark eyes. Everything he knew?

He didn’t know a lot, but he did know more than Lucifer probably expected him too as a weak civilian. A weak civilian he likely wouldn’t allow on a mission like this… not good. Alright, that’s fine, Dream wasn’t really all that connected to his act.

Straightening his shoulders, feeling the seams protest a bit more than expected, Dream nodded. His face neutral, he began to speak. He wouldn’t reveal all of his cards, not to Lucifer of all people, but he could give enough. Everything that mattered, at least.

He ignored the way his stomach turned.

He ignored the slow, creeping tick itching at him spine.

He ignored the crippling feeling in his chest.

He ignored it.

He ignored it.

He was always good at that.

Ran seemed to be his assigned bodyguard, or jailor, or maybe just his babysitter. Everyday the man seemed to be waiting by his door when he woke up, a tray of tasteless cardboard masquerading as food in his hand. Each day he wore the same getup, crumbled tan clothes that almost seemed to meld with the walls. And each day he told Tubbo less and less.

Yet, despite that, Tubbo didn’t really… hate him for anything he was doing. He should, he knew he should. Ran was just one of the many things keeping him trapped here. Right next to his fucked up, useless legs and the many armed guards. He was a threat, a ball and chain.

But he didn’t. He couldn’t seem to hate Ran no matter how much he knows he should and Tubbo didn’t know why. Why, why, why. Tubbo always liked why’s, he liked knowing things. Naturally, whenever he got a few moments alone, his mind wandered and wondered. Why didn’t he hate Ran?

Maybe because Ran wasn’t really his captor? That was… the Announcer maybe, he seemed to be pretty powerful. Maybe it was because Ran was actually pretty nice? The nicest thing here actually, especially since he hadn’t been allowed to speak to Tommy. Sure, he was awkward but he wasn’t dangerous or threatening him.

Was that what it really boiled down to? The fact that Ran might be the only one in this entire place that hadn’t in some way shoved, threatened, or bullied him? Everyone else seemed to hate Tubbo or find him funny. His shoulder still complained after some beefy motherfucker watched him while Ran was busy. The skin black and blue fading into sickly greens and browns.

He didn’t like that dude, but he did kind of like Ran. A bittersweet sort of like, mostly tolerating really. It was hide to do anything more than tolerate the other when he still was one of the reasons that Tubbo was stuck here. Not that Tubbo was intent on driving him off. Call him the best of the worst.

“M back, sorry,” Ran creaked open the thick metal door to Tubbo’s small room, holding another tray of tough biscuits and mysterious jelly-like substance that tastes like literally nothing. Tubbo looked over, forcing himself to sit up despite the awkward creak in his spine. It still wasn’t healed but the pain had gone down over the last few days.

“It’s fine,” Tubbo responded automatically, Ran apologized a lot which was really unnecessary. Where he got the habit, Tubbo didn’t know. Ender knows no one else knows what that word means here. 

“How are you feeling?” Ran asked awkwardly, handing Tubbo to try so he could balance it awkwardly on his lap. The question was a strange facsimile of normality, which probably contributed to why Tubbo could tolerate him. Sure, it was annoying to be asked the same thing every day and he hated being constantly scared but… well… Tubbo could vaguely recall reading something about how in unnatural situations people cling to what’s familiar. That had to be it.

“Fine,” Tubbo lied through clenched teeth. He didn’t bother giving Ran a smile, he doubted it would matter much to pretend to be happy. Honestly, he felt, conservatively, like absolute shit. And yes, he knew that he wasn’t supposed to curse. This place made it feel necessary though.

Dust and grime was shoved under his fingers and streaked his skin and face. There was dried blood flaking on his feet after he was forced to walk back with the replacement babysitter and being shoved into a puddle because the guy thought it would be funny. That same mystery blood stained his shirt and pant leg, mixing with the dirt leaving the fabric even stiffer than before. His mouth felt like shit, he breath stinks, he stinks, and his legs were constantly worryingly numb. He could still move them and walk but that still wasn’t a good thing.

“I, uhm, can try to get you something different tomorrow, if you want to? Can promise anything but, uh, I can try,” Ran offered, shuffling on his feet, tail flicking tightly behind him. The poof of hair tickled the wall before it wound itself around his leg. Tubbo didn’t know the first time he noticed it or started paying attention to it but it made him wonder what kind of hybrid Ran was. His long, pointy ears didn’t match up with anything either.

“It’s fine,” Tubbo echoed. Huh, today wasn’t a very talkative day, was it? Then again, not much to talk about or really anything worth talking about. He could talk to Ran but it’s been repeatedly beaten into his skull that Ran either couldn’t or wouldn’t tell him anything.

“Oh, okay,” Ran ended awkwardly, he leaned back against the wall, watching as Tubbo scarfed down the food and solitary cup of water. It tasted horrible and was incredibly dry but when it was either eating this or starving? Tubbo will take what he could get, no matter how poor that was.

Not the moment after he finish eating, wiping his mouth with the sleeve that wasn’t covered in old blood, Ran stepped forward to take his try. Ran fiddled with his sleeves, looming over Tubbo nervously. What was he waiting for? An invitation?

“Done,” Tubbo nodded, keeping his eyes down as Ran reached forward. His discolored hands grasped the edge of the tray when Tubbo’s eyes caught something. A sliver of something shining silver and standing out.

“Wait,” Tubbo interrupted, grabbing Ran hand and tugging him forward. Ran stumbled, surprised by the sudden jerking movement. He stammered something that Tubbo didn’t listen to as he tugged back the sleeve. Ran went tense under his grip, silent like a statue.

Wrappings of silvery scarred skins twisting up his arm and disappeared under the fabric. Sleeve no longer handed over Ran’s knuckles, it was more than obvious how it gathered, rough and annoyed, around his wrist. Not to mention it stuck out like a sore thumb against the dark, cold skin.

It was like a ribbon, maybe, twirled around the limb. Puckered in on the edges, divots around certain areas where the scar narrowed. Tubbo swallowed, suddenly feeling sick as his brain played an image of someone peeling off Ran’s skin like a potato peeler. It certainly looked close enough.

“Ran, what-” Tubbo was cut off as Ran jerked back suddenly, ripping his arm from Tubbo’s grasp. The tray clattered loudly to the ground, ringing in the suddenly too quiet room. Tubbo didn’t look at it, eyes locked to the still exposed skin.

Ran stared back, mouth pressed thin and eyes bleeding purple at the edges, fragments of panic shooting through red and green. Tubbo shivered, except for once he wasn’t cold. He just felt… felt… horrible? Like he just saw something that he wasn’t supposed to, which he did but it wasn’t a fun secret it was… whatever this meant.

Ran left the room, almost running as the door slamming shut behind him. The tray was left abandoned on the floor as Tubbo stared after helplessly, knowing full well he couldn’t keep up with his stupid, uncoordinated, broken legs. He stared after and for the first time…

For the first time, Tubbo realized that Ran might not be doing this because he wanted to.

Maybe he just as trapped as the rest of them.

Chapter Text

“The Announcer wishes to see you.” The request, order really, came roughly three days after Tubbo had seen the scars decorating Ran’s arm. Three days, two nights, and two more matches he’d been forced to watch Tommy fight in.

Three days since Ran had stopped speaking to him, had barely reacted to him. Three days since anyone looked at him with something that even resembles kindness or, nether, even pity. A week and a half since Tommy had his first match against another poor soul trapped here. A month since he’d last seen home.

Around two days since he’d felt something that wasn’t pins and needles or just nothing in his legs. He could barely walk, it was more of a rough stumble most days, but he could still move under his own power. That was great because Ran had stopped carrying him. Not something he ever thought he’d be complaining about and yet here he was.

Honestly, the order might just be the first time Ran acknowledged him at all in the past three days that wasn’t playing follow the leader or grabbing his food tray. Maybe Tubbo could’ve tried harder to speak with him but it just felt very awkward. Awkward and the look in Ran’s eyes always scared him off. It was, for lack of a description… empty? Very blank.

“Where are we going?” Tubbo pushed himself to ask, hefting himself onto his feet. He wobbled on spikes bare feet before he forced himself to ignore the feeling and stand straight. Like all the other times he spoke, Ran didn’t answer. He just turned back around and waited for Tubbo by the door.

Chewing his lip, Tubbo shuffled over, feet complaining loudly at the movement from everything from his skin touching the floor to small cuts he didn’t remember getting but knew happened when his feet were numb. None of them happened as much as they should. On the bright side, they’d healed enough by now to not leave blood footPrints as he walked. That had to be saying something at least.

Just maybe not a good something.

Ran led him to a non descript metal door that immediately managed to stand out to Tubbo. Not because it was special in any way though. The door was the same thick metal as any other, not engraved or sported a name plate or anything. It just stood out because it was clean.

No scratches marred the surface, no dirt stains or blood or other mystery substances. It was just simple gleaming metal embedded into a dirty concrete wall. Ran rapped his knuckles on it. The sound rang hollow down the hallway, grating at Tubbo’s ears.

A puff of hair brushed back and he stilled. Unfettered, the tail looped twice around his waistband, spinning him in front of Ran as the door swung open on it’s own. With a gentle shove, Tubbo stumbled in. There was little strength to the tail flick but as weak as he was it sent him to his knees.

Knees that met soft carpet rather than cold concrete. It was a simple black color, softly clean and warm even through his thin clothes. His palms barely even scraped over the fibers. Then the door slid shut and Tubbo became aware of the music .

Soft, softer than the carpet but light and warm and strangely head spinning. He didn’t recognize the tune, slow and bitter sweet as it was. All he knew was that he’d never heard a flute play anything like that. Played not as an instrument but rather as a sort of last goodbye. Words that got stuck in your throat translated perfectly into a quiet sort of song.

For several long seconds, the music kept playing and spinning and whistling through the air. It filled his head like cotton and coat his tongue in what was surely a sweet kind of poison. But then it stopped. It stopped too soon yet not soon enough. He wanted to hear so much more yet never to hear that song again.

Good, you’re here. It’s lovely to see you again, ” the Announcer’s voice crushed the silence in his ears. That familiar smooth, vaguely amused voice he heard every match grating at his nerves. He hated it, he hated it, he hated it.

“Go away,” he stammered. No, no that’s not what he wanted to say. He wanted to yell, scream, demand answers from this faux benevolent asshole. He wanted to go home, he wanted to cry. He wanted…

įէ ժ์ժղ’է ɾҽąӀӀվ ʍąէէҽɾ ահąէ հҽ աąղէҽժ

“Come now, child,” the Announcer placated, sickly sweet, “and here I thought we were friends.” Tubbo struggled to stand on shaky limbs without anything to help him up. His head was heavy and off balanced, his feet without sense. Still, he stood and raise his head and tried, really tried, to glare.

“I-I,” “Not that it really matters our relations right now,” the Announcer waved him off before Tubbo could say a word in response. Their pristinely gloved hand flicking at him dismissively from behind the chair. With the sound of wheels on carpet, the Announcer spun to face him.

“You see, I have what you’d call a conundrum,” the Announcer lent forward, propping his chin up on his hands and loosely holding onto a long sliver flute. Tubbo’s eyes followed it, flicking back up as he realized the silence had dragged on a beat too long. They actually wanted a response this time?

“You have… a problem,” Tubbo replied rather dully, mind sticking on… on something. It was on the tip of his tongue but he couldn’t quite say it. All he could do was stare into that fancy red and black lace mask that stared at him so vaguely amused. Staring, staring like he wanted something or maybe wasn’t there at all. Tubbo didn’t know what it was.

“Yes, I have a problem . See, there’s this thing I do with all of my esteemed stars such as your friend. Thing is, he hardly deserves a reward. Not after not even fighting a dozen battles, barely half that. And his behavior? Deplorable at best ,” the Announcer could vaguely be described as rambling. They picked imaginary lint from their clothes.

“What does any of that have to do with me?” Tubbo regretted asking the moment that he did. The Announcer tilted their head, actually seeming to look Tubbo in the eyes for the first time since he got shoved into this room, an office maybe? They stood in a fluid motion, setting their flute down and walking around the metal table he had sat behind

“You,” they stressed, looming over him and reaching up to cup his jaw with one hand, “are that reward, an incentive if you will. But I don’t know if he deserves you.” What? Tubbo wasn’t some sort of pet or fancy rock to be gifted for good behavior! Even if he really wanted to see Tommy, this was a pretty demeaning way to be allowed that. Being treated like a present rather than a person.

“Oh don’t give me that look,” what look? “ It only makes sense to be you. Didn’t you know? The one and only thing your friend has done since getting here is demand to see you. ” The amused tone was almost strained, not by a lot but tickling the edge of noticeable.

Even with fighting, which I thought he’d enjoy, I have to dangle you in front of him like a carrot on a stick. Like he’s some animal and you are his master rather than me. I’m in control here but he only wants you. He doesn’t want to eat, he doesn’t want to sleep. He seems intent on being useless .” The amusement had slowly but steadily drained from the Announcer’s voice, strangled out by a calm sort of fury.

I know what use you have to me. Really, if it wasn’t those Golden City assholes across the district, you’d be relegated to trade . Yet, despite you being a useless crippled child my golden goose is obsessed with you and that two bit baker.

So I ask one thing, what does he see in you? ” The Announcer mused with false levity, his hand brushing against Tubbo’s jaw. Their thumb was pressed against his lips, forcing him to bare his teeth. It tasted disgusting 

Ah, so that’s what this was about then. Not whether or not to reward Tommy but some kind of control thing? Or at least, that's what it felt like. The Announcer could control on who fought and when, had twisted the crowd effortlessly during fights, and even seemed to be able to control Ran like a puppet. Even most of whichever district this was was under his control, thirteen if Tubbo was right.

But, apparently, he couldn’t control Tommy, not really. Not as much as they wanted to control him, at least. Stupid, stubborn Tommy was an outlier again, and definitely one they seemed to hate but was settling the blame on everyone else. Quietly, Tubbo thanked Clay’s lessons, coming up with ‘why’s’ like this under pressure wasn’t anything he could do before. He’d have to thank him when, if , they got out.

Clarity, some strong but cold feeling, dulled the pain in his jaw and needles under his skin that only got worse the longer he remained silent. Not that Tubbo could speak even if he wanted to. It would be muffled at best and incomprehensible at worse. That’s what happens when you have a glove shoved into your mouth.

Deep breaths were oddly audible from the Announcer, chest not even visibly moving, before they jerked their hand to the side. Tubbo’s legs failed to catch him. Carpet burnt against his arms and legs as he skidded from the force and slid into the wall. Pain erupted from his formerly mostly numb spine, concrete doing nothing to cushion him from the blow. Hard and unforgiving and… and…

Ringing erupted in his ears as fire burnt through his veins leaving behind a horrible full body ache in his bones that made moving an impossible thought. Breathing hurt, each involuntary twitch hurt, even just noise hurt as it echoed in his skull like bullets. 

He scraped at his horns, at his skull, begging the burning to stop. Smoke coating his throat, aching burning painful, his skin far too sensitive and muscles tensing against his will. Shards of glass pressed from underneath his skin and it hurt . It hurt it hurt it hurt.

Then, it all stopped, phantom pain almost indistinguishable from real and leaving Tubbo writhing before his mind caught up to realize it was gone. Seconds, minutes, hours of struggling on the floor disappearing in an instant as his brain tried and failed to shut down. It was like dunking a boiling pan in ice water but the steam was made of gasping breaths and hesitant relief. Just him and the confusion and the wetness on his face.

“Tubbo!” The familiar voice was loud yet so far away. Brown matter hair, bright blue eyes, and a worried complexion pulling at his eyebrows as he filled Tubbo’s vision. A bandage covered the entirety of his left cheek, stained yellow and rust brown but pulled taped tight.

“What did you do to him?” He demanded, turning away from Tubbo but not standing from his crouch. Blankly, Tubbo realized that his fair wasn’t brown, just caked and dirt and probably more blood than he wanted. No blood was preferable but unrealistic in a place like that. Tubbo had blood on him and he didn’t even fight.

“Me? I did nothing dear Icarus,” the Announcer lied plainly, “my associates are another problem entirely but I’m afraid I can’t control people like that .” But they wanted to, and maybe that was another lie and somehow their enhancement let them but Tubbo didn’t know. After… that though, Tubbo couldn’t know.

Honestly, it was like their tantrum, for lack of a better word, never even happened. No heavy breathing like Tubbo had heard, no lingering twitches, and not even a wrinkle in their suit. Like Tubbo was just lying on the floor of his own free will, no reason to be there. A flick of a switch between infuriated and vaguely amused calm.

“I don’t believe you,” Tommy spat, taking a protective stance in front of Tubbo. Oddly enough, Tubbo might’ve believed the Announcer if he hadn’t been the one threatened. The memory was slippery even as recent as it was. Only the developing bruise on his face locked it in place.

“How… unfortunate, and quite rude,” A slight sour not plagued the Announcer’s tone as he mused in response, further away than Tubbo remembered. They restlessly but needlessly smoothed out the fabric of their overcoat. Well, no not needlessly, there was a… wasn’t a wrinkle there? He didn’t know, his eyes hurt.

“Rude?” Tommy scoffed, “you fucking kidnapped us to join your fight club. You don’t get to say shit about ‘rude’.” Tommy flared his wings protectively, blocking Tubbo’s view of the announcer and presumably doing the reverse as well. His wings weren’t in the best condition, Tubbo noted.

Clumps of feathers, old and some broken, were stuck in positions that should’ve been easy for Tommy to get, only get worse the closer to his back they were. Feathers he could see that were mostly well kept were still discolored from grime. Sure, Tommy didn’t know how to preen properly, neither of them did, but he still tried at least once a week… no, unimportant for now, focus Tubbo!

“Insulting and cursing me? And here I was about to reward you,” the Announcer clicked his tongue, a sharp feeling burst in Tubbo’s chest, some annoyance he seemed to be feeling for Tommy. If the way his back tensed under tattered and bloodied clothes said anything, Tommy felt annoyed as well. The Announcer was great at riling people up, apparently. Whether that was the crowd or two kids he stole didn’t seem to matter very much.

“I don’t want any of your rewards,” Tommy snarled, but his voice shook with a nerve he couldn’t hide. He was… scared. Tubbo could see that plainly although he had no idea if the Announcer could say the same. He wouldn't be surprised if that was the case. The Announcer seemed the type.

“Not even if they involve your precious Tubbo?” The Announcer asks, despite the fact that it really wasn’t a question. It had the tone, the curious head tilt, and all the little things the Announcer put into his frame to make it feel like a question… but it wasn’t. Tubbo knew it wasn’t because he could see the way Tommy stilled. Because by now he knew enough, not a lot but enough, about the Announcer that he didn’t ask about anything he didn’t know, not like that. Not with such innocent curiosity.

“What?” Tommy warbled, wings shaking as he tried to hold the rest of himself stilled. He was leaning, Tubbo noted, favoring one leg over the other. His staggered breathing whistled on each exhale and keeping his wings splayed seemed to be taxing him. He wasn’t okay. Neither of them were.

You and I are going to strike a deal, alright love? ” Another non question, “ The terms are simple. You are going to fight for me, whenever I want wherever I want, starting tonight. We have some special guests and I want you to give it your all. Splay those pretty little wings, burn the building down for all I care. Be a true showman, even if just for this one night.

Special guests? Tubbo didn’t really know who would classify as a special guest. Maybe those people in the vip blackout box? But those weren’t important enough if the Announcer was trying to strike a deal with Tommy only now… Tubbo didn’t know what was going on but he felt sick and… frozen.

In return, I’ll give you Tubbo. All the Tubbo time you could ever want, you just have to ask. How does that sound? ” It sounded like yet another question that didn’t really need to be answered. The Announcer would find a way to make Tommy say yes, even if it killed him, Tubbo that is. The Announcer really would kill him.

“You’re trying to bribe me with my best friend’s fucking life?” Tommy’s voice came out weak, cracking as his shaking got worse. It emanated from his clenched fists and wings in a slow manner, his pupils dilated as the whistling got worse. Tubbo… Tubbo just felt worse somehow.

He breathed in and suffocated, lips frozen closed and limbs unresponsive as he desperately wanted to stand, wanted a hug or any kind of comfort. Burning from his eyes dripped hot over his cheeks as the only warmth he had. He breathed out in a soundless heave.

Why would I do that? I’m merely offering a deal. If you accept and do well enough then I might be inclined not to relocate your friend to solitary confinement. Simple, really, ” the Announcer assured. Tubbo pinned his ears back, barely managed to get his hands over them in an attempt to block out that voice .

“I-I don’t, fuck it, fine , but you better not hurt him,” Tommy acquiesced, stepping away to… to… it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because he was walking away and Tubbo was alone and he didn’t want to be alone but Tommy was leaving him because Tubbo was useless .

Useless, useless, useless . Tommy was being threatened and Tubbo was curled up on the floor trying and failing not to cry, and he couldn’t even do that right! Ender, no wonder he was left on the side of the road to be killed by the elements if not just some random asshole who saw a baby and thought ‘hey, free real estate’ or whatever that meme was. He was useless and no one wanted him because he wasn’t good for anything .

Soft gasping sounds, cruel and twisted, ripped from his throat in bursts as his chest tightened to squash his heart under the weight of a thousand suns. His head swam, his vision was gone and empty and he was alone . Tommy chose that monster over him and he even ran off Ran, the only person who’d been nice to him his entire time here.

Why, why why why does this happen to him? He deserves it, doesn’t he? He does, he does, he does. The words rang like a mantra in the back of his head, a dull drone running under every other turbulent thought in his head. He is useless, he deserves this, why is he even here? Why does he even bother if all he’s going to do is sit around and do nothing?

Hands grasped at his shoulder, far too warm yet far too cold. Words he couldn’t bother to understand whizzing past his ears as more more more hands pulled at his hands away from where they were clawing at his horns, his skull. It hurt it hurt, it pulled at his hair and his spine, oh Ender his spine.

Tubbo- he thrashed in their grip, whoever’s grip it was too close but too far away from them, from reality, from everything. The mantra got louder and louder, why was it so loud? He couldn’t run, he couldn’t escape, he couldn’t even walk . Useless crippled brat .

Warm warm warm arms wrapped around him, feathery and heavy layered on top and weighing him down down down. So far down, he couldn’t move, didn’t want to move. He wanted to run, to scream. He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t, he couldn’t.

All he could hear was the music. He hated hated hated the music, it was all he could hear. All around, pressingly loud, and bursting at his eardrums. Too high pitched, too loud, too much. Why wouldn’t it go away . He just wanted it to go away. He wanted to go away.

He wanted Clay.

He wanted his dad.

“I got you Tubso, I got you. We’re gonna go back to you’re room now, Kay? See your cell and all that. Probably not a good thing but it’s gotta be better than what I’ve got. I gotta share a room with three other people you know, three! It’s like being back at that share home with you and Purpled and that weird kid that secreted that glue like shit from his pore. Remember him? He got stuck to his bedsheets once, remember? That bitch of a Carer was pissed when we had to cut him out.”

Buzzing nothings and warbled tones turned to barely understandable words as Tommy rambled in his ears, arms wrapped around him and carrying him around like Ran used to do. Like like… like the vestiges of memories he didn’t want to name. Of blue sweaters and eyes like his and smoke and panic. 

So he focused on Tommy instead, focused on the rambling words that struggled to realign with things he didn’t quite remember. He focused on the heart beating in his ears, pace quick but slower than his own. He focused on the short breaths of a panicked but relieved child who just signed a deal with the devil.

He felt Ran’s tail brush his leg and against his will he focused on that too.

Tubbo focused on the good things.

Who knows when they might disappear.

Words could not describe how much Wilbur hated everything that was going on right now. But he’ll try anyway because holes nether was everyone around him fucking idiots . He usually wouldn’t be so genuinely rude to his brother or his dad but Ender, they deserved it.

But where to start? Very good question, Wilbur’s imaginary audience created by nothing by his head because no one around him wants to talk to him and he can’t be trusted to leave the tower or something. No, he’s on lockdown because of the spy who was… well Wilbur didn’t know, Phil refused to say.

Actually, there’s a good place to start! Wilbur doesn’t know shit! Not for lack of trying, of course. Except he can’t even learn because Phil is either killing himself via papercut or passed out in either his or Wilbur’s office and Techno … Techno could lie to his face and Wilbur wouldn’t know any better. As much as he knows Techno, the whole ‘physically incapable of reacting normally’ thing sort of puts a damper on things like reading lies.

Something it didn’t put a damper on? Something that being brothers with Techno made a whole lot easier? Wilbur knew when Techno was nervous. It rarely happened, but all that meant was when it did happen it was just even more obvious.

Obvious in the way that Techno had a restletless sort of need to do anything that could be deemed useful. Obvious in the way his ears flicked whenever Chat got particularly noisy. Obvious in the darting eyes that danced over everyone in the room with a hunger he refused to admit was there.

Back when they were younger, not kids because Techno was never really a kid, he used to vent out his nerves in the training room or by acting in a way he knew would cause a fight. Bad days were met with split knuckles and dead eyes, more knowledge Wilbur had than he ever wanted to or was supposed to, and a silent agreement to never tell Phil. Phil didn’t know, he didn’t have to know. Not all of it, that was their secret.

Now that they were older, Techno couldn’t go picking a fight whenever Chat got rowdy and his eyes lost their gleam. Not when he was the number one hero and the world’s eyes were on him at all times. Instead, he just seemed to get more productive on these days. Mission after mission completed in record time.

Others, including Phil, often praised Techno for these days but when Wilbur saw them he just knew that he’d find Techno in his room late at night and they’d stay up mindlessly braiding his hair as Techno struggled to calm down. No words, Techno could never do words then. Just actions and nameless tunes that Wilbur knew Techno enjoyed, and specifically those ones.

Today was yet another day like those, a day that and stretch out for an entire month until those late night interactions were the only interaction Wilbur had with him. During the day he rarely saw his brother except for when he was bringing in yet another villain for interrogation. Wether or not he was actually supposed to be on patrol didn’t matter because Techno did it anyway.

Phil loved it, as much as he could when he was constantly busy and working as well. Their coworkers envied and praised his work ethic. The public ate up so many public appearances and the media was having a field day signing his praises. Techno’s rating were skyrocketing and Wilbur…

Wilbur hated it. He hated all of it with a passion that definitely seemed to be excessive if you asked anyone but him. But, no, regardless of what Foxtrot or Clockwork or anyone else would tell you, Wilbur was not jealous. He rarely was jealous, at all. Or at least, when it came to his brother he rarely was. Techno deserved all the good things that came to him if what Wilbur knew about the Pit Dwellers was true, as little as that was as well.

So, yeah, not jealousy. He hated it because of the way it affected Techno himself. The fact that Wilbur couldn’t look at his eyes anymore and see Techno but rather King of Hearts, The Number One Hero, and… and on days Wilbur himself would rather forget as well, he saw the Blood God, the Pit Fighter he’d found wandering around lost and covered in blood who against all reason he and Phil had taken in.

None of that was something he ever wanted to see again. He’d give up being a hero if he could just have Techno be purely Techno and never have to be anything else again. He’d give up being a hero and become a mucisian. Keep Techno at home and safe where he could garden and read his myths and legends and never have to worry about anything ever again.

Life wasn’t that simple though, and Wilbur couldn’t protect him. Techno was so much stronger than him and anything that could take down Techno could, and would, absolutely take out Wilbur as well. Phil would be able to help but Phil…

Both of his family members were slowly working themselves to death in a spiral Wilbur knew all too well and knew he wouldn’t be able to stop. Not until they crashed and burned and realized the depths of their own actions and the effects it was having on themself. His family was stubborn as all nether and until they realized something was wrong, nothing could be wrong.

Except Wilbur was just as stubborn. If he lacked the power he made up for it in the crippling tenacity that had him going back to the Lowlanders and the cafe no matter how many burns he got from boiling coffee poured over his head for shit and giggles or how many shirts soaked through with water. He came back for the boy behind the counter with the tired eyes. He came back for the boy who reminded him so much of an old friend it physically hurt.

He came back for the dead man hanging from the ceiling that always felt strange and wrong and looked at everything and everyone with a suspicion that rivaled even the most paranoid of heroes. A man who Wilbur could be around and feel his head clear in a way he couldn’t explain.

A man who went missing as well as his kids and the last person who’d seen him was some poor crying man being desperately comforted by his equally as broken up girlfriend. A man who’d won over one of the poorest district in less than year. So much so that when Wilbur inevitably checked out the cafe for his own curiosity there were gifts and flowers pressed up against the door.

Doors that remained unopened and windows unbroken because no one would dare steal from him for so many different reasons that everyone who asked would give a different answer. A man who Wilbur could watch do an obvious crime, and even had once or twice, and Wilbur wouldn’t even think about arresting. That impossible man.

But this wasn’t about Clay, it was about Techno and Wilbur really, really needed to figure out what to do about Techno before he had a meltdown. Meltdowns were never pretty but since Techno had Chat and such a unique enhancment they were even worse. But what?

“Just tell me the location and I’ll be there,” Techno’s cold, monotone voice cut through the walls as Wilbur innocently passed by his office. The door was cracked open, but only barely because Wilbur had found it like that and definitely wasn’t eavesdropping as he tried to find an opening to get his brother to relax. If he could get Techno to relax then Phil would surely join. ‘Family Bonding’ and all that.

“And you’re sure they’ll be there?” Techno asked after a response Wilbur couldn’t hear but could see Techno’s hand twitching over paper. Some hero themed notepad Wilbur didn’t recall him owning but he’d used religiously since this whole event started. It had appeared just after Clay started researching, whatever that entailed.

“Right, I’ll be in Thirteen tonight. See you then,” Techno flipped closed the notebook, moving so that the crack in the door no long gave a clear view of Techno. Wilbur shifted carefully, trying his best to muffle his movements. No luck.

“Fine, thank you for the information informant Jester,” Techno sarcastically thanked before his footsteps were audible enough that Wilbur had to leave. Not a moment before he pulled around the corner, Techno’s slightly creaky hinges made their famous squeak. Techno stepped out, going the opposite direction of Wilbur towards the elevator.

For a moment, Wilbur hesitated. Techno would not appreciate anything he was doing right now until after the fact. Could he really handle the looks and complete lack of words but definite overstock of other feelings that would be leveled at him?

Yes, yes he could. Wilbur followed after his brother, hurrying into the elevator after him and striking up a one sided conversation in such a strong mimicry of normality it made his heart ache. The atmosphere was too heavy, his words too fast and topics changing sporadically. It didn’t matter.

Wilbur followed Techno out the door, going away from him before doubling back and following from enough of a distance that Chat likely still picked up on him but Techno either didn’t care enough or was too curious about was Wilbur was doing to call him out.

There may not be a whole lot that Wilbur could do in a situation like this but he was going to try. He was going to protect his brother.

Even if it killed him.

Chapter Text

Expectations for the Pit Dwellers had been fairly minimal when Schlatt -very- reluctantly had Charlie’s clones drop off the tickets at their assigned spots. A seedy bar, a twelfth floor gym that was a front for drug traffickers, a thirtieth floor observation deck, and a very specific side alley in District Ten. Four rather coincidental spots.

Whether or not it was actually a coincidence or on purpose wasn’t the most clear though. If they weren’t, then Schlatt could easily put it out of his mind. But on the off chance that the spots were supposed to mean something? Well, someone obviously did their research.

The very night after the tickets reached their spots, the four of them were guided into separate dark cars with blacked out windows. Inside or out, nothing could be seen. Completely incognito as they drove through District Thirteen.

Now, Schlatt wasn’t the most observant out of the four of them, that was obviously Charlie no need to ask, but he doubted any of them could see much better than him. He didn’t know who was driving or which streets they were taking. No one responded when he gripped to himself or insulted their upholstery. Like a robot was driving him, really.

Left, right, turning through the towering maze of a district was easy to imagine but impossible to keep track of after the first dozen or so turns. He stopped bothering to listen to the tilt of the car, no matter how rough it got. An uncomfortable prickling danced over his skin as he forced himself to ‘relax’. The heat in his chest burnt hot until charcoal smoke left his mouth in thin tendrils.

Either the fact that the cars were impossible to follow was a good thing or a very bad one, Schlatt considered in an attempt to distract himself. Bad because his shoulders were being bruised at the force he was being shoved against the doors. Not to mention the whole ‘no idea where they even were’ thing. Good because that meant Clay was less likely to kill himself.

Or more likely, it was hard to say in a place like this, always was. Attempting to follow after the car was pretty much impossible and if Clay did try he’d likely get lost. Getting lost in District Thirteen could easily kill a man. But that was just the first of many issues. On the rare chance that he actually managed to follow them? Then he had to get inside.

Now, they’d all done their research and, while too much of it was shrouded in mystery for Schlatt to be comfortable, the audience for these kinds of things was rather particular. Trusted gang members, District Thirteen citizens who’d never find their way outside of the district in a million years, and the rich bastards who could afford it. No outsiders were allowed.

Again, unless you had money. Schlatt knew that one fairly well from before Las Nevadas became… well before Las Nevadas pretty much. Other socialites with far too much money on their hands had tried to convince him to bet on the matches once or twice. All being a part of Las Nevadas did was mean that other people fielded those questions for him.

That’s just to say -Schlatt grunted as he banged against the door- that the price of even the lowest bet was insanely high. He very much doubted a baker from District Twelve could fork over half a million dollars minimum. Not could Clay pull off pretending to be a trusted gang member in less than four hours.

If it was really as easy as that, Schlatt knew that the Pit Dwellers would have been disbanded a long, long time ago. Or at the very least they’d know who ran the place. Stupid gang members being so damn ride or die. Stupid Pit Dweller’s Leaders being so damn smart about how they ran the place. Stupid-

Crack!

Schlatt cursed under his breath as his horn hit the window, spider web crack running up whatever material caused it to be black. The whistling of wind filled the air, indicating that it had gone through the window. Schlatt narrowed his eyes at the mysterious window that wasn’t broken yet apparently was…

ហօէ ์ʍքօɾէąղէ

Whatever, it wasn’t hurting anything. This driving on the other hand? That definitely could. He doubted anyone could react properly to this level of disaster driving so any number of the bumps they hit could reasonably be a corpse. He didn’t even know of a speed enhancer both fast and agile enough to keep up. Another thing against Clay, who was just some spider with no proper Gift training.

He jerked forward as the car came to a sudden stop with a loud squealing of tires. Cursing again, Schlatt pushed back his hair and tugged at his suit as a woman in all black opened the door. Some terribly thin, poorly dressed thing with a skirt that was meant to be tantalizing but just… didn’t. The poor girl looked starved but admittedly Schlatt could see why they’d send this one to him.

Lucifer was often assumed to be a ladies man and a tyrant and… well a lot of things that Schlatt didn’t consider himself. Great for ruling by fear, not so great for running an actual company. Which, fun fact, he did. He ran Las Nevadas quite well at that, Quackity really only focused on the gambling halls and hotels. Schlatt did everything else, at least on the paperwork side.

“Right this way, mr. Lucifer,”  She spoke in a demure tone, watching him through her eyelashes. Her lipstick was the same color as his tie, Schlatt noted. Was that on purpose or also a coincidence? Likely on purpose since the blood red tie was his signature color and all that. How a person even has a signature color Schlatt doesn’t know but here he is with one.

Climbing out of the car, Schlatt was immediately struck by a feeling . He couldn’t quite make it, maybe unsafe? Alone? Something like that. The burning in his chest grew worse the longer he lingered and he knew, he knew , it would go away until he left the entire building. Where was his team anyway? Nether, he’d take Clay if it would lessen the feeling.

Look, Clay might be logically pretty weak, other than the whole hanging from the ceiling bit, but he was begrudgingly scary. Having that kind of scary on his side was useful as a deterrent if nothing else. Especially when he knew from experience that fear was potent as lava from the nether itself.

“What’s a pretty lady like you doing in a place like this?” He says in lieu of anything else, not words he wanted to say but had to go fill the silence that built up between them. His shoulders slump, hands palming at the lining of his jacket in search of his fancy cigars he always hated the taste of. When that ‘failed’ he pulled out his coin. A heavy, gold and black engraved thing that was always cold no matter how many times he twisted it around his fingers. A familiar weight.

“My job, but I’m free later if you’d like,” Her voice dropped to a whisper, as if she was saying something she knew she shouldn’t. Schlatt gave her a grin and a wink, knowing he gave the ‘right’ response when her eyes lit up. She seemed to relax. The rhythmic clicking of too high heels smoothed out.

“Might take you up on that,” Schlatt drawled in reply, “it depends, really.” He clicked his tongue against sharp teeth. Her head tilted, not quite looking directly at his but he knew he had her attention. Schlatt bared his teeth. His eyes burned with a familiar fire, far too familiar.

“Depends? On what?” Her interest was surprisingly innocent sounding, like she really didn’t understand what was being asked. Maybe she didn’t, maybe she’d just been given these clothes to walk around in and told to guide him. Her gait was too practiced, a bit unnatural. She seemed comfortable but… off.

This wasn’t flirting, was it? Or at least, whatever they were pretending this was. That was new, most of his conversations tended to devolve into some bastardized form of flirting. He didn’t know why but it tended to work out anyway. Sometimes, a man just had to wonder and never got a response. Like how she didn’t get a response as he was interrupted before he could even speak.

“Lucifer! My friend, welcome,” An excitable… man interrupted them fluidly with a strange amount of… something to his voice. It was a soft, hidden something that washed over his ears and slid without catching. Barely noticeable but there nonetheless. Immediately, the new person garnered his interest

It was hard to tell exactly who he was speaking to, or how to refer to them. Average height, though height was never a fair indicator, with a flat chest but vaguely feminine hips. Then again, that was also Quackity’s body type. Even their voice shifted between something melodic and something deeper every word. A shifting they couldn’t seem to control but made his ears flick in annoyance, just enough to bother him.

“Friend?” Schlatt heard himself ask, a fair amount of ‘I’m in the fucking middle of something go away’ in his voice, “I hardly know you.” Or even of them. Uniquely androgynous body aside, they were clearly important. Frazzled with wrinkled clothes and off centered hat, dressed like a magician and disturbingly clean even compared to his guide.

But, then again, he could be entirely wrong. This could just be some lucky fuck with an enhancement that repelled dirt. It wouldn’t be the weirdest enhancement he’s ever come across, nor the most niche. In District Two, they wouldn’t even be notable. Not that Schlatt could even tell that was true either.

Being underprepared always left that uncomfortable amount of uncertainty about everyone he met. Even just some magician-esque stranger who could reasonably just be a germaphobe who’s far too used to dodging dirt. Schlatt despised that uncertainty. It just meant their already rather weak plan was even more flimsy.

“Right… right!” They cleared their throat, “well, I’m no one special so I guess that makes sense. Just the announcer around these parts. I’m really excited for tonight’s match is all, I got ahead of myself. Heard it”s really really important. Makes sense with someone like you here!”

Flustering, they pulled at the fabric of their body suit. Must be rather new here, experienced professionals tend not to react like that to a customer. Young as well, even if that was a bit hard to tell. His heart tugged at the possibility. What does it take for a teen to end up being an announcer in a place like this?

“Sure is kid,” Schlatt rolled his shoulders back, looking away towards his technically-supposed-to-be-eye-candy guide in the picture of disinterest. The… person, announcer? Bothered him for what were actually probably obvious reasons. He never liked minors in situations like this… heh, never thought he’d have to follow his son into one but here he is.

“Pardon the interruption but we should really be getting to the VIP rooms before the others arrive. Others will be using these halls to get to the main grandstands, it just wouldn’t do for the anonymity we offer all our esteemed patrons to be broken,” his guide interrupted with a nervous smile.

“You heard the lady,” Schlatt continued down the hall without looking back, speeding up the twisting of his coin with the speed of his nerves. There goes his… ah who’s he kidding? He wasn’t in a good mood. Hadn’t been since Clay burst into his office. This just made the whole thing even worse.

Thankfully, the announcer-person didn’t try to follow them or interrupt after that. Schlatt didn’t bother turning back to check but he couldn’t feel their eyes on him and he tended to be pretty accurate on that counter. It was only a bit further along that his guide gestured him towards a completely non descript metal door and walked away. No more speaking, no facsimile of flirting.

‘VIP’ was… probably not the term Schlatt would apply to a room like this. It was distinctly better than outside the room, only slightly dusty instead of caked in dirt. Scuffed wood floors instead of cracking concrete and the walls were even painted a black color.

Couches were pressed up near a tinted one way mirror, distinctly similar but different to the cars they’d been in. A small table had food and drink, fairly high quality for a place like this but nothing he’d trust. The rest of his team was also already there. Schlatt slid into the couch, surprisingly soft.

“Lucy!” Jester called out, dressed to the nines in his costume as he bolted from his seat and over the arm of the couch Schlatt was in. His knees banged against it, falling forward with his arms out to catch himself on Schlatt. Eret scoffed from where they were sitting, looking regal in any situation. Charlie remained silent.

They were being watched. Not a surprise but he hadn’t noticed any obvious cameras or listening devices. If Charlie said so, then they were. Lucifer reclined back, leaning away with a disgruntled look as Jester failed his veritable glomp . Jester whined, his ridiculous hat sliding off and hitting the ground with a jingle.

“Do you have any idea how long we have to wait? We’re going to be here for hourrrs anyway, why should we have to wait for other people to get here? It’s not fair,” Jester pouted. He pulled himself up, shaking his wings after he hit them on the floor. They smacked Schlatt’s leg three times.

“Play nice and I’ll reward you when we get back, now shut up,” Lucifer snapped. Three matches? They had to watch three matches before Tommy fought? That was three matches too long. But it was also their only window, wasn’t it? They had no floor plan, all they could tell was that Tubbo would be in the observation deck across the way when Tommy came to fight. Or so they assumed.

Jester pouted, plopping next to Schlatt and making an exaggerated show of brooding. He wasn’t very happy either, none of them were. He could tell in Queenie’s choice of dress, a deep red that would easily hide the blood. He could tell in the statue-esque form of Charlie, no twitching or even a glance at Jester. No one liked working off of assumptions.

Assumptions that were, depressingly, all that they had to go off of. If Tubbo wasn’t brought to the observation deck, the entire plan would have to be written off and Schlatt would actually have to pay to come back, again. Which meant waiting for another date when Tommy would fight… which meant who knows how much longer the kids would be stuck here.

If nothing else, Schlatt was bizarrely comforted by all the little things that the owner of The Pit Dweller’s seemed to know about him. They pointed towards the conclusion that they knew who Tubbo was. Hopefully, that meant that Tubbo would be shown off and, again, in the observation room. Every chance counted, after all.

The announcer stepped out into the field.

And the clock ticked down.

Nothing about this situation made sense, not really. Sure, logically Dream knew he knew as much as possible about every little thing that was going into this far too minimal plan but, then again, he’d gone into worse situations before with less. This mission shouldn’t have been any different or any harder.

But it was. It was quite a bit different than he expected, not any harder but definitely off. Off in the way there seemed to be a distinct tugging as he followed the cars, a pull trying to lead him off course. Odd in the pinging that tried to snag against his Gift to either give him away or attack him. Off in how this might be the first time he actively had to hide his Gift since he got here, pushing it under his skin until even he could barely feel the distinct buzz.

Gift interference was an easy source of blame, even if figuring out where the Gift was coming from wasn’t very easy. Dream wasn’t one of those super sensitive people who could just tell from the wisps of magic prodding at him. He had to actually see the culprit face to face.

So that left him underpowered and still needing to find a way actually into the building that didn’t require brute force or anything of the like. Not a problem, right? Dream had plenty of experience getting into places he wasn’t technically supposed to be. Sure, he stopped the majority of the more spy focused tasks once he’d debuted but those kinds of skills never really go away. Especially not away from him.

Look who’s bragging now.

Don’t get overconfident, you’re bound to ruin it all.

Issue number one was the sheer amount of people pouring into the building for a chance to get a seat in the audience. An issue that was not helped by the fact that the main floor was actually the twelfth building in one of the many skyscrapers and an old prison. Thick concrete walls were not very appealing for his bones, nor at all stealthy. But that just rules out the brute force approach.

Dream pressed back against the cinderblock pillars of the… he was mostly sure it used to be a library… as one of the many people hauling themselves up via the pulley systems glanced towards his building. Thankfully, Clay’s ability to stick to walls made it easy to circle the building away from the crowd. Even if easy, was a very relative term.

Very little was obvious as he carefully examined the outside of his quarry. Even entrances were hidden and just barely outlined in black spray paint that was nigh perfectly disguised by all sorts of graffiti unless you knew what to look for. Bent iron bars just large enough for a person to squeeze into seemed to be the main way in. All actual doors boarded over or just jammed tightly into outwardly crumbling concrete. No way in that wasn’t through the crowd.

Unless Dream were to squish himself through the vent system, which the more he looked the more that seemed to be his only option. If he wanted to remain hidden, he’d have to go through the vents. Not a very appealing decision since he was still in those tad too tight clothes lent by Las Nevadas. A black face mask was the only new addition, hiding the bottom half of his face but really doing nothing to hide his identity.

Seams pulled, shoulder ripping slightly as he dislocated his shoulder to properly fit into the vent. Pain seared from his arm, quickly ignored as he pulled into the exposed vent. With any luck, this would be a connected vent system. That or there would be a drop ceiling, he could work with both of those. Still, it was unlikely as this was a prison, however poorly or blandly built it was.

Vent crawling was never his favorite thing in the world, even when he was Dream that number one hero or Dream the spy who were both much smaller than Clay the spider hybrid. Hell, if he was in his old body then Dream wouldn’t have had to dislocate a shoulder to fit, he’d just fit normally. Not that he’s in a position to complain.

Crybaby.

It’s not that painful, suck it up.

It’ll be over soon anyway.

A few minutes elapsed of him quietly pulling himself through the shaft until he found a decent enough vent to get out of. Any before had either been two small or into used hallways. The one he chose as his exit was neither.

Empty halls greeted him as Dream carefully latched onto the ceiling and placed the vent back in place. The only notable noises were the wet sound of his popping his shoulder back in and a distant roar. The audience, perhaps? It seemed almost rhythmic, getting louder and duller even as he stayed still.

Rolling his shoulder, Dream listened carefully and followed the sound. The lack of floor plan meant that was his only guide which was not the best situation to be in when he was trying to be sneaky. Hopefully, none of the people here thought to look up. 

Honestly, if Dream had his way he would’ve not left the vents until he was either in or outside of the room Tubbo was being held in. Sadly, he didn’t have a map of the vent system either and those were even less clear than cell lined hallways. All he knew was that Tubbo was likely in an observation deck across from the VIP section. Which was basically nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Mysterious creeping footsteps that echoed in the distance got louder the more Dream explored through the prison. They never seemed to get any closer though so, while he kept track of the strange sound, he didn’t let them bother him. With the thick taste of magic dusting over his skin, he would be surprised if they were fake.

Pinging tried to hit his Gift time and time again but with practiced skill he kept his Gift hidden. He barely even had to think about it. The pinging seemed to get annoyed at that but, thankfully, left him alone. So Dream was left to follow the crowd.

Following slowly, carefully, with every corner an opportunity to be found. Following a beating sound, coming like waves and almost begging to be found each time they roared in excitement. But just like the footsteps it never got any closer.

Distantly, Dream realized he had just stopped. Stopped moving, stopped thinking about the crowd or the pinging and he thought. He reached out with his Gift for the first time since entering the building and became aware of a distant fog. He didn’t know why he stopped or why he reached out. Maybe his Gift reached for him?

Whatever it was, it certainly helped Dream…think, for lack of a better word. The fog was rather far from him, only a light feeling that he barely realized was there. With the pinging and the footsteps and the crowd, he’d ignored it as inconsequential. But… that wasn’t right at all.

Nothing was inconsequential when it came to a mission in an unknown and unfamiliar environment. Every little thing counted from cracks in the sidewalks to the smallest gut feeling and yet he ignored something as important as a magical influence like this? Sure, it was obviously weak, at least compared to the buzzing of his own Gift, but it was still there and… annoying.

Maybe that’s why Dream pushed back? His Gift zapping at the fog in a thunderstorm that had him paralyzed for a moment, but only a moment. Then the fog jerked and lifted like it had never been there and Dream… Dream couldn’t explain it but…

It was like trying to explain waking up to someone who didn’t need to sleep or breathing to a rock.

The world around him gained contrast, edges sharpening and colors deepening.

He breathed and remembered and thought.

And there was no other or more.

He was just himself.

Not more ‘ghost in the machine’ as it were.

No feeling tickling on the edges of awareness.

Just him.

The best Dream could explain it as was the effect that Punz had on Las Nevadas but the opposite. Punz’ Gift seemed to ramp up feelings, making Dream more annoyed until he snapped in a way that was very uncharacteristic of his. In exchange, Punz was also able to make people ignore the little things.

Customers ignored the ever present dust and grime of District Thirteen that was tracked into Las Nevadas. Their eyes glazed over fools gold and plastic diamonds and rubies as if they were real. Not mind control but just the slightest nudge that implied that what was fake was not what was important, shifting attention.

But the fog did not shift Dream’s attention, rather it seemed to… change it? If that was right? Between one blink and the next Dream realized that a puddle of spilled water was actually drying blood and a brick wall was actually concrete covered in desperate claw marks. The identical lined halls gained differences. Door changed from simple metal to not being there at all and walls seemingly disappeared from where he was convinced one was.

A dangerous ability. Dream recognized that plainly as, despite his better judgement, he brought back up his Gift. If the pinging tried him again, he’d surely be caught. But if the fog reclaimed him? Now that was the true danger here.

Illusions weren’t particularly special, not for Gifts, but being able to completely change the way Dream perceived his surroundings without even realizing it? That was a level of accuracy and stealth that many lacked. It spoke of practice and a very niche Gift.

Dream stiffened, lightning his steps and he left the ceiling and prowled along the floor. Getting blood on his shoes was preferable to being caught unaware on the ceiling and misplacing a hand where there wasn’t anything to stick to or, worse yet, the ceiling may be unstable.

Still, the fog was insidious, seeming to try and crawl back over him the moment his attention was turned away. It was a very, very specific threshold between protecting against it and remaining hidden from the security guard that kept sweeping over the building. Thankfully, he also had practice in detailed control as well.

It did make him wonder why.

Why would someone need to get such fine control?

What would they need to hide with it?

Sure, they used it to hide The Pit Dwellers, obviously illegal and immoral but…

Why did it exist to begin with?

Does it even really matter?

Could they possibly have been like him?

Unimportant, Dream decided. It was not important why someone decided to start a fight club that practiced human trafficking and who knows what else. All that matters was that it was illegal, immoral, and they took his kids. That’s all that matters.

Taking a deep breath, he took a silent step forward. Then another and another, the crowd even more distant than before but still undeniably there. Less of a rhythmic roar but rather a rumbling in the foundation. The consequences of sound vibrations rather than legible words.

Logically, that made a lot more sense than clear words through dozens of feet of concrete and hallways that separated him and them. Maybe it should have stood out to him more… he really was slipping.

Hiding behind corners, Dream slipped through the halls while the crowd got even lowder. No words, just mindless screaming and jeering rocking the floor with the intensity. Dust fell from the ceiling as feet presumably beat against the ground with quite a bit of force.

It was a surprisingly familiar feeling, bringing back memories of PR stunts and shows that he couldn’t entirely recall but knew that he was performing something for a packed stadium. Other heroes had been there, some sort of skill challenge. The crowd had been equally as rowdy when he’d entered the stage, blindingly loud and vibrating his bones with each thump against the bleachers.

None of this was anything like those events though. No, this was more dangerous and important than some contest he’d always win handedly. Or wouldn’t win because of humility reasons or whatever, Dream hadn’t cared then and he didn’t care now. He just did what he was told.

Again, not important. Dream was getting distracted and the fog was creeping up on him. He needed to get a move on before he went under or, worse yet, lost his chance because he was getting distracted by thoughts of all things.

Machines don’t think.

Be a machine.

Work .

Mind focused on the task at hand, Gift fluctuating evenly with each roll and dip of the Gifts around him, Dream wandered the halls like a ghost. No noise, barely any movement, just dipping from one shadow to the next. Bright fluorescent lights would make hiding impossible if someone walked into the same hallway as him but it seemed the Pit Dwellers trusted the security Gift too much.

To be fair, if Dream had a teammate who’s Gift seemed to ping the exact location of everyone in a certain area to the recipient, he’d be pretty confident on whether or not there was an intruder too. Too bad Dream could control his Gift enough to hide. A very rare skill, he knew, not that he was bragging.

Eventually, about fifteen minutes too long of wandering through unmarked halls and doors, Dream came across the main hall of the building. How could he tell? Well, the armed guards certainly implied that. Not to mention he could actually make out a few words from the crowd. Not anything he’d repeat but he could tell what was being said.

All black, decked in weapons, and completely oblivious to Dream just around the corner. One was six feet of hulking muscle, skin covered in thick scales like an alligator and hands tipped with claws. The other was smaller, but only just under six feet herself. Equally as muscular with sharp spines sticking out of her forearms and calves. They looked uncomfortable to be standing with and definitely limited her maneuverability but if they were as sharp as Dream assumed then that made her no less dangerous.

Too bad neither would get to use their enhancements, Dream staggered his feet and bent his knees. One, two, three, and lurch . Dream pushed off his back foot, taking one step forward before leaning and using the corner of the wall as a bouncing off point. Momentum kept, he swept the taller guard’s feet off the ground and toppled him into the other guard.

Scales dug into his hands uncomfortably, small cuts drawing beads of blood. The tall guard opened his mouth to call out but Dream leaped, landing on his head with gravity and knocking him out solidly. Dazed, the other guard attempted to fight back despite the bulk of her coworker but that was ended with a solid kick to her forehead. Not a peep was uttered in the few seconds the actions took.

Good, that meant no backup. Dream would rather not leave the bodies out for just about anyone to find but he didn’t have anywhere to put them. The halls were dead so he highly doubted anyone would just find them. Not until the matches were over for the day and even then it was likely the people in the room would find them first.

God he hoped this was the right room.

Please please please don’t let him be wrong.

Hinges creaked as he swung open the door, breaking the lock with a soft chunk . Heads snapped to him, a single guard inside the room whose face met the metal door and remained silent. The other was a tall, taller than him, man with vitiligo patched skin and seemed to be split down the center.

One half had black hair and dark skin with a deep green eye, the other pale white with equally pasty skin and a red eye. Freckling put specks of one side over on the other. A long tail with a puff of hair flicked, eyes widened in surprise with a mouth opening to say something .

Dream didn’t let them, eyes sliding to the other person in the room sat on a rickety wooden seat even as his body moved. His hand wrapped around the taller’s mouth, only taller by roughly an inch. Muffled sounds left them, noiseless things that didn’t matter. Eyes widened, hands shook, they were afraid. Dream didn’t care.

Tubbo seemed to realize what was going on in a belated reaction, eyes sliding over to the door. His body was shaking minutely, tremors wracking his body. Dream couldn’t see his eyes for once, already messy curly hair having grown just enough to hide them from this angle.

His clothes were in a state of disgusting disrepair. Stained and dwarfing his body, blood that Dream prayed wasn’t his clung to half of the shirt, weeks old and clearly not have been washed. One leg of his pants were torn off almost entirely, stopping at about mid thigh and a large cut was partly healed over. It didn’t look infected, thank god.

But then Tubbo turned to it and the man in Dream’s grasp whimpered in pain as his hand tightened reflexively. His eyes, those deep brown eyes usually full of life and mischief, were… dead. Faded and hazy, seeming to struggle to comprehend what he was seeing. That fog was obvious over his body, tickling Dream’s Gift in a feeling that inspired… inspired…

“Dad?” Tubbo whispered, voice soft and rough from disuse. He tripped over even the solitary word and his tremors got worse, hands balling against the rough fabric of his pants. There was a scar across his nose, Dream noted. A healing bruise colored purpled across his jaw.

Whoever it was he had in his hand, Dream dropped. The person gasping for air and stumbling back. Fuck him, he could run off calling to the guards for all Dream cared. Tubbo was here and in front of his and he wasn’t healthy but now he was safe and Dream was never going to let him go and whoever the fuck did this to him would- they would fucking…

He wasn’t used to rage.

A burning, incandescent thing that raced through his veins and cracked into the air so much like his Gift.

Lightning without thunder.

Anger without sound.

Too many emotions all without reaction.

Tubbo’s started crying.

He wasn’t supposed to cry.

Dream was a hero.

He was going to be a hero.

Whoever did this…

Dream couldn’t be held responsible for what happened.

If he was…?

“You’re here, how are you here? Why did you come for me? They’re going to kill you, I’m not worth that!” Tubbo’s voice trembled, his hand rubbed at his eyes. Tears trailed down his cheeks, hiccups leaving his mouth. Relief and fear and terror filled his eyes.

Not… not worth that? He says like Dream’s life is supposed to mean anything! Clay’s life certainly didn’t, that’s why Dream was here instead of him. But Dream? Dream was nothing. A machine without a purpose, a weapon without a master. But Tubbo?

If Dream was nothing then Tubbo and Tommy were everything . They became heroes because they wanted to be, to protect one of the worst Districts for no reason other than to help people. They were kind and honest and breathtakingly intelligent. They meant everything to Dream and everything to the District.

But someone, some worthless bastard had convinced such a wonderful kid that he was worth less than Dream, less than the dirt under his feet. And that… that would not do. Dream was… Dream was going to… to…

Crack

Dream was going to kill someone, wasn’t he? That wasn’t something he was used to, for once. Sure, the HC had him assassinating plenty of people but that hadn’t meant anything, not really. Empty missions where he did was he was told and didn’t ask questions.

Meaningless was not what this was. His Gift cracked loud enough that Tubbo flinched back before launching forward, legs giving out as Dream was forced to catch him and Tubbo clung. Clung like if he let go, Dream would disappear.

Bones were easily felt under his skin, he hadn’t been fed properly if at all. Maybe only once or twice a day? Maybe it should be concerning that Dream could tell but he didn’t care . He was going to kill someone.

What a strange sort of clarity.

 

Ϛէɾ์ҟҽ Ͳաօ

 

Then, the announcer started speaking.

And the clock ticked down.

Chapter Text

“Well well well folks, it’s certainly been an interesting night but I’m sure we all know what we’re here for,” the Announcer spoke with such a smug tone that one of Dream’s eyes was immediately drawn to them. He glanced over them and was immediately struck by that sense of off again.

“But to save the best for last, we’ll start with our opponent for the night. Certainly no slouch with a biting punch capable of melting your skull with ease, it’s a man feared on the streets for his brutality and bloodlust. Welcome to the arena tonight, Osiris!”

Even as the opponent entered, some 5’10 man with acidic sweat and a club, Dream remained focused on the Announcer. He couldn’t tell what was wrong but he knew it was something. It was like being told that an illusionist had hidden a door and being completely unable to find it. The feeling was frustrating, definitely. Dream found himself gritting his teeth just looking at the Announcer.

“And in the other corner, well I’m sure you already know,” The Announcer spread their hands, spotlights focusing on them and bathing them in a sickly sort of glow, “but it’s our favorite vigilante. The bird of a feather, a darling spot of light in a dark hell.” Dream tensed.

“Icarus! Come on out!” The crowd almost drowned out the Announcer as they brought their arms up and the gate raised with them. Dream found his eyes focusing on them before, slowly, he ticked them up to Tommy. Tommy who stepped out from the fog and Dream couldn’t quite seem to see from this distance.

The Announcer said more words but Dream didn’t bother listening, too focused on Tommy who was standing straight but suffering . The little body posture that Dream could see implied a bad leg, a hurt side, and his clothes, the same ones Dream had last seen on him, no longer seemed to fit properly. They almost hung from his frame. It… it wasn’t right.

Flames burst as the Announcer disappeared and reappeared at the side of the commotion, already picking up a play by play as the two fighters started circling each other. Dream tensed, glance back at the frozen man on the floor who seemed to be in shock, and back at the window. He considered his options.

Would the reasonable option be bringing Tubbo to the VIP section so that Schlatt and the others could watch over him while Dream fought? Yes, yes it would be. Did Dream trust Schlatt that much after just getting his son back? Absolutely not.

But was leaving Tubbo with this stranger really a better option. Sure, the kid was scrawny as hell and the guards were out cold but that didn’t mean Tubbo was safe with the tall child. If anyone came to the door then that would be more work for Dream. Unless he, say, jammed the door somehow.

“Dad?” There was that word again, one that implied things Dream didn’t understand, “I’ll be fine here, go get Tommy,” Tubbo’s voice sounded so sure. Dream looked down at him, meeting his eyes steadily. Tubbo’s eyes were stubborn, Dream would have to physically carry him out if he wanted to argue.

“Even with him?” Dream asked, just to make sure, and nodded his head back towards the man on the floor. A man who had slowly curled into a ball and was wrapping his tail around his body like it was an item of comfort. Yeah, he was definitely not dangerous.

“Ran won’t hurt me, he never has,” Tubbo assured. So that was his name? Ran? Dream looked back to ‘Ran’. The teen’s eyes were distant, unsure. Creeps of purple with tinging the edges but he didn’t seem keen on moving anytime soon.

“Stay here, I’ll be back,” Dream said to his son before he reluctantly stood. First he walked to the door and, with a movement that made Clay’s muscles burn, shoved the door into the concrete wall. The concrete struggled against it but, even with a push afterwards, the door didn’t open. It wouldn’t replace the lock but it was the next best thing. Then, he turned back.

Rolling his shoulder back, Dream gave one last look at Ran and walked over to the window. He felt it carefully, pressing his hand against it as he felt Tubbo staring at him. Unlike how it appeared, it wasn’t… wasn’t plastic. It was too hard, more like tempered glass.

Dream frowned, flexed his Gift, and the world flickered . The fog had caught him again and he didn’t even realize it. Dream pressed his lips thin and re-examined the room. Just as it looked before. The arena, on the other hand? Definitely not.

A lot of blood was in the arena, an amount that left even Dream bothered. What was previously a mostly clean box, or as clean as a place like this could get, now had puddles of still cooling blood being carefully tread through by the fighter. Marks that implied a corpse being dragged out Tommy’s gate adorned the floor.

Skulls made a pyramid against one of the walls, a pyramid that the Announcer was carefully balanced on top for… dramatic reasons, maybe? Dream couldn’t think of a good, logical one so that had to be it. Potholes marked the floor. The walls were cracked and crumbling. There were blood stains up disturbingly high and one even in the shape of a vaguely human entity.

Yet, despite all of that, it was the Announcer that drew Dream’s attention again. His Gift logged away little things, like their still lingering fog and their ever flickering presence. Ultimately, they were labeled unimportant. For reasons he could quite explain, Dream still tagged them with a ‘do not engage’ label. Wouldn’t do for them to sneak up on him somehow… not that he knew how they might manage that.

“Dad?” Tubbo asked behind him as Dream stepped back. Dream didn’t acknowledge him, if he did then his control might slip and he needed all the control he could get. He reared back his leg and let it loose.

Pain laced up his calf and knee as tempered glass shattered like it had taken a wrecking ball. Shards scratched at his clothes, putting ever so small cuts on his leg where it rained down. The audience went silent with surprise as the glass shattering made a sound that was just so loud.

Both fighters halted, giving Dream enough time to duck under glass still stuck into the frame and kick off the edge to land in the arena. Blood splashed onto his pant leg, he ignored it. Quick paces had him in front of a frozen Tommy.

What did they do to him?

He looked scared, terrified.

Disbelieving like he didn’t think Dream was coming for him.

But his body was empty, carefully held still.

Not even a tremor allowed.

He looked like Dream.

Young, maybe seven or eight.

But so scared, so so scared of things he couldn’t even understand yet.

A child soldier.

A weapon.

A machine for others benefit.

That was simply not allowed.

“It seems that an outlier has entered the stage, who is this mysterious foe and who in the world allowed him into the building? ” The Announcer’s voice was grating against his ears, they were clearly annoyed. Too bad, Dream was even more annoyed.

Eight eyes focused on the Announcer, glaring even as Osiris took tentative steps towards him. Their form flickered again revealing dead gray skin and dark eyes, bright red veins and an air of familiarity Dream could just barely place. An old mission, one of his first. An assassination of some mind controlling thing building a cult.

Seemed he succeeded here. Dream looked back at Tommy, at his gaunt cheeks and half bandaged face hiding who knows what. His ruined clothes and injured, cracked frame. Bones not set properly or set at all were obvious as Dream ran his hand down Tommy’s arms. His son still did not move, not good.

Wrapping his arms around Tommy, Dream leaped away as Osiris attempted to attack through him to get to Tommy. The force caused Clay’s knees to ache and Tommy to take a pained breath as Dream… shifted his rib cage? He broke a rib, possibly more, and they were still injured. He’d bet money there was even more bruising and cuts on top of those broken bones if he checked. Now was not the time.

“No, no no no no, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I’ll fight. I promise, I promise I’ll fight, you’re not even real, what am I getting at? Aren’t I already in the arena? No no, why are you here? You shouldn’t be here?” Tommy hissed harshly under his breath, high pitched and clearly distressed.

“Tommy, I’m here, I’m getting you out of here,” Dream assured, keeping a careful eye on Osiris and the Announcer. Neither seemed to be sure how to approach him after he managed to cross the entire stage in one jump. The audience seemed to take this as intentional somehow, regaining their momentum in a roar that nearly drowned out Tommy. But only just nearly.

“No, you’re lying. I know you’re lying because you’re not real. You’re never real and you can’t hurt me. You can’t hurt me ,” Tommy pulled back, eyes dilated. The shaking he was clearly trying to suppress was fighting back with a vengeance and Dream… 

Crack

Dream felt his heart falter.

His gaze split as half of his eyes focused on the Announcer with a vengeance. The fog surrounded them particularly thickly, only barely flickering when Dream flared his Gift. It was coming from them, it had to be. That only meant he had his enemy number one right in front of him.

But first, Tommy. He pulled his kid into his arms and flared his Gift, letting the spark dance over the both of them in a beacon that practically screamed ‘I’m right here, eyes on me’. Before either of his opponents could react to that, or Tommy could even fight back, he ricocheted off the wall and practically bounced back into Tubbo’s observation deck.

Ran was now in the corner, head up and carefully watching the door even as Dream ducked back in. Gently he set Tommy down, heart palpitating oddly as his kids huddled together with the desperation of a dying man. Hurt and broken and lost and scared and it was all his fault.

His fault

His fault

His fault his fault his fault

He should’ve been better.

Should’ve done better.

He was a weapon for a reason, he should’ve been able to protect them.

But he couldn’t and he was weak and this was all his fault.

All his fault.

Why couldn’t he do this one thing?

Why couldn’t he even protect one person who mattered to him?

Not himself, not Prometheus, not Puffy, NO ONE.

It doesn’t even matter, does it? Not matter what he does, he’s never going to be good enough. Not for the HC, not for his kids, and not even enough for him to deserve the face he’s wearing. Nothing he does matters in the end.

So why even bother?

Dream stood silently and turned back to the crowd. Back to the Announcer and Osiris and even the House of Cards in their precious spots in the VIP room they’d used to get in here. He didn’t tilt his head, didn’t smirk, didn’t say a cocky one liner. He wasn’t a hero. He didn’t deserve the attitude.

He didn’t deserve any of this, not the good things. Not the kids, not this life, not that name that was even his. ‘Clay’ was dead, ‘Dream’ was dead, he just had to accept that. Accept that and… and get the kids out. They didn’t deserve this. Innocent civilians had to be protected from the line of fire.

The Number One Hero took a step, knowing full well that was a title he never truly deserved. The world faded in shocks green, the cracking of lightning filled his ears. The fog dispersed in a tornado as he- no it breathed in. It breathed out and the world faded away.

 

Ϛէɾ์ҟҽ Ͳհɾҽҽ

 

No more second chances

“What the nether is that bastard doing!” Schlatt snapped, a clawed hand digging through the couch he was seated on as his grip tightened. He leaned forward as Clay dropped back down from the observation deck. How the fuck did he get here?

“I’ve never seen this behavior before… how unexpected,” Eret chimed in, distant to the burning in Schlatt’s chest set to burst. Almost without realizing it, Schlatt stood. Even Quackity seemed speechless, and that was in his Jester persona. Outside of it, Schlatt would bet actual money he’d be cursing heavy enough to make a seasoned sailor blush in multiple languages. Schlatt was about two steps away from doing the same.

“Is he suicidal?” Schlatt hissed, watching Clay land amongst broken glass. Unexpected couldn’t even begin to describe the situation. He shouldn’t have even been able to get into the building! Much less interrupt mid match and possibly draw the ire of the entire stadium. The fact that he hadn’t yet was a miracle.

“Ladies and gentlefolks, it seems the plan for the night has changed,” the Announcer called out as Osiris took several lumbering steps towards Clay. Clay who was just standing there, doing nothing but staring straight ahead. Frozen in fear, maybe? The adrenaline that caused… all that had to be wearing off by now, right?

“It seems our unwelcome guest has interrupted our star players match,” the Announcer hummed, voice far far too loud, “why don’t we show him how we treat such uncivilized individuals?” The crowd roared, surging forward towards the wire fence separating raised seating from the pit. Schlatt tensed, heat boiling over.

“Jester,” his voice sounded far too calm to his own ears as he stared through the window, “why don’t we make a deal?” Clay was still unmoving as Osiris raised his weapon. He felt his other three cards' eyes on him, his hand twitching and rings suddenly feeling too tight. His eyes burned.

“What kind of deal?” Jester’s voice had just a note of hesitance, an unspoken question hiding behind his real one. A golden wing brushed against his back. Osiris swung his club chest height at Clay and all Clay did was lean back, the club whistling past his chest and impacting the wall. A wall that cracked and nearly gave in at the force of the hit.

Quiet for just a moment, Schlatt watched the fight with an odd sort of clarity. Clay was rather good at dodging, which he hadn’t expected of the baker. Not that it was impossible to be good at dodging but not fighting, he knew quite a few people like that. Eventually, Clay would run out of steam and…

And…

“A favor, and I’ll make sure we get out of here alive,” Schlatt narrowed his eyes, voice roughening and heat spreading out from his chest in a slow, insidious way. It burnt through his veins like lava, just the wrong side of uncomfortable. He felt himself relax despite the vague pain.

For a moment, the window shone with a glare and all Schlatt could see was himself and Jester. The whitened eyes of Jester’s mask, mouth parted with words he couldn’t seem to say. He could feel Charlie staring at him, Eret’s quiet judgement laced with concern. His own eyes were dark, almost empty. He looked away.

“You got yourself a deal muchacho,” Jester stuck out his hand to shake, and for just a moment Schlatt wanted to ignore it. Clay ducked again, bending his back at a strange angle as Osiris’ club swung just above his head. Schlatt blinked, and turned.

Schlatt grabbed Jester’s hand as the crowd began to spill over the fence and the Announcer… Schlatt didn’t really care. He locked eyes with Jester, breathing out acrid smoke. Jester jerked back, eyes widening behind his mask as an instinctive sort of fear took hold.

And Schlatt’s world burned .

It was familiar, in a way. The way that the fire burst from his chest and swirled under his skin as the acceptance of sorts unlocked the furnace built around his heart. Smoke clung to his lungs as he inhaled. He tore his hand from Jester’s, the smell of burning flesh just barely reaching his nose as Jester hissed and hugged his hand to his chest.

Dark smoke, or maybe it was something else, flicked and impacted the one way window. Once, twice, loud cracking as the glass attempted to hold steady. Three times and it shattered, falling in little particles of glass. The moment it gave way, guards entered the room shouting words that fell weakly on Schlatt’s ears. He flicked his coin in the air and flexed his wrist.

One of the guards, or whoever these attackers were, fell as the coin entered through his eye socket and his head exploded at the force. Lucifer flicked his wrist again and the coin, now bloodied and darkened, returned to his fingers. Queenie took the other ones, Jester doing whatever it was that Jester always did.

He turned his gaze back to the now broken through window, absentmindedly flicking his coin and returning it. Clay dodged as the club was swung down into the ground, stepping on it and kicking out hard enough to cause Osiris head to twist nearly a full 180 degrees as the man dropped. The few crowd members who’d made their way down stumbled back. Those midway attempted to return to the stands.

Blood spilled against the floor, Clay landing just next to Osiris with his boots sizzling from the man’s acid sweat. There he stood, as silent as before with nothing attacking him. And then the Announcer began to speak again as Lucifer’s smoke lashed out, impaling a woman through the neck who’d attempted to attack Charlie from the shadows. Key word being ‘attempted’.

“Oh come now, it’s just a simple baker, he can’t do a whole lot,” the Announcer assured the crowd, “Our strength is in our numbers and what’s his? A fragile body that can barely take a punch?” The mocking tone spurred on the crowd. They rushed forward seemingly mindlessly.

Logically, Lucifer could poke holes in the Announcer’s words purely off of what he just saw. Logic did little to break the bubble of doubt in his chest. Clay was just a baker, he had no formal training or fighting experience and he was the man who was down there fighting for Lucifer’s son. Clay was taking what belonged to Lucifer .

“Getting the kid,” Lucifer informed other others, smoke filling the room like a fog machine as it seemed to leech off of him. He stepped down, burning filling his legs at the force of the fall. Those foolish enough to be below the VIP section screamed at it invaded their lungs and they fell, paralyzed and coughing. Weaklings.

Ignoring Clay to walk through the crowd to Tubbo was… more difficult than expected. Through the hoard of people, he only caught the slightest glimpse of the baker, each one shorter than the last. The pit was not built to house so many people at once. Even with the one’s attempting to stop Lucifer falling short, there were still so many more laser focused onto Clay.

Clay shouldn’t have been able to hold his own in a mess like this. It was statistically impossible for someone like him. Even Lucifer struggled around the crowd, and he was currently running off of a deal and smoke and quite literally nothing else. His form flickered, walking through a man who began to bleed black and fall to the ground. Reforming along the other side, Lucifer began his ascent.

The burning hurt worse the longer he was like this, he knew. A distant feeling for now, prickling over his skin. Ashes were left behind as he climbed, clawed hands melting hand holds into concrete. Part way up, curiosity got the better of him and he turned.

Wrong timing, definitely wrong timing. Lucifer didn’t really know where any of them got a sword, or maybe that was a spine enhancement? It looked like bone, jutting out from someone’s palm and shooting forward. Clay paused, halfway through dodging someone else and…

He grabbed the bone spear, tearing it from her arm with enough force to make her scream. He lashed out a kick and she went down, faceless in the crowd. The spear was thrown, imbedding through someone’s skull and into the wall, pinning them. They tried in veins to take it out before death claimed them.

Lucifer swallowed thickly, forcing himself to look away as blood pooled heavily on the floor. Flames lit up behind him, not even at his distance, and still there was not a noise from Clay and yet everything was so loud. He ignored it, he had to ignore it for now.

A deal was a deal, he had to get the kids and get them out alive. Repeating the mantra in his head, he resumed his climb and pulled himself through the window. Glass sliced his hands, wounds immediately cauterizing. 

“Kid?” He called out as he stood, hands brushing not so imaginary soot from his suit. He cringed, far too aware of how his voice doubled into that strange growl that caused even his skin to crawl. Then again, his skin always seemed to be crawling when he was… like this.

“Who are you,” a tall man was standing over the kids, knees bent and one hand slowly clawing thick cuts into the side of his head. His voice was admirably steady, tail flicking in obvious nerves and ears pinned back. Still, there had to be something said about the man’s composure.

“The brown one’s mine, that’s who I am,” Lucifer responded, words coming out a lot more possessive than he intended. It didn’t seem to cause the man to relax, if anything he widened his stance and seemed to be fighting himself. Lucifer snarled, taking a step forward.

“I don’t know you,” Tobias, because that one had to be Tobias, spoke up. The tall one’s tail wrapped around Tobias’ waist and pulled him up, Tobias holding onto a distant looking Tommy’s arm. They seemed… oddly protective. Even if the tall one seemed… strange. Every word the Announcer spoke, he flinched.

“Well yeah, seeing as I-“ Lucifer was saved from his own lack of self control as the door caved, wall cracking with a loud thud . He tensed, eyes tracking the weakening door as the sounds repeated. His teeth shut with a loud clack, watching the metal give way. The tall one twisted, guiding the kids behind him.

“You sure I can do this?” He heard the tall one whisper to the kids. The kids whispered something back, purplish blood dripped from the tall one’s seemingly self imposed wounds. The door gave out.

Lucifer blocked the intruder’s way to the kids. His eyes narrowed. Lucifer breathed in .

The world erupted in flames.

Fire burnt away at its shirt, exposing and tearing at skin as The Hero leaped away. It landed on top of someone who may have already been a corpse but it didn’t quite matter. Bones gaze out under his boots, head tilting back unnaturally and blood staining its pants. They were dead now at least, that's for sure.

The firemaker let loose another inferno, missing yet again and charring more bodies to corpses. Still, they missed it by a decent margin. The Hero bounced off the wall, bending its back at an odd angle over the fire. It licked against its back. The Hero landed behind the firemaker, light on its feet even against uneven ground.

Weakened side, torn ligament in right leg, has brace to remain standing.

Break femur, aim upper right towards the hip.

Fire formed from glands in wrists, ignited by metallic fingernails.

Tear off glands, break fingers.

It tilted its head and lashed out it’s foot, hitting just below the right side of the firemaker’s hip. Bones gave way and they cried out, attempting to turn their hands towards it to fight it off. Not good enough.

Grabbing their wrists in its hands, it tugged them forward, squishing them against its chest. Flames erupted behind it, screams falling on death ears as someone attempted to attack from above. The Hero jerked the firemaker up, tossing them against the blade wielding one.

Wrists still in its hands, they pulled and pulled until they popped out of their sockets. It pulled them back down, flipping them so they were pushed into the ground. With a final tug, muscles started to give away as blood flowed down from torn words. Its muscles burned at the effort but still the arms were ripped from their body.

Weak.

What are you doing getting nauseous?

You were made for this.

Hero breathed in, silencing the firemaker’s sobs of pain with a foot to the throat. A creature lashed out at it. The ebb and flow of battle taking their body away, muscles struggled under the force of its Gift. A familiar pain that drowned out all else. It was fine, this is how it was supposed to be.

Blood stained its shirt, globs of material sticking to its hair. Extra arms made extra leverage to tear a man in two, ripping a spine from a body. Two hands tugged another woman into the space where there were once innards and muscles and skin. She stumbled, eyes unfocused and breathing uneven. She hesitated, it plucked out her eyes before she could use her enhancement on it.

It was easy to do this, even easier than breathing. Tearing and ripping through muscles like paper and bodies like butter. Teeth lashed out where necessary, a throat ripped from a neck. Bat-like were plucked from a back. Sharp prehensile hair torn from from a scalp.

This was how it was supposed to be. It had a mission, it would complete it to the fullest extent. It was supposed to do this. Get the kids, get out, get rid of anything in their way. This is how it’s meant to be. The sea of corpses climbed up, people started running away rather than towards . The Announcer’s words fell on death ears.

Even magic couldn’t defeat a human’s most basic instincts. Ancient things that demanded they run from an undefeatable predator and run far . Distantly, ever so distantly, it became aware of the Announcer running to, leaving in the chaos and disappearing. It didn’t care, it didn’t.

Caring wasn’t something it was capable of, it wasn’t supposed to care. It’s just supposed to attack. Ducking under a thrown stone, vaulting a punch and landing its own. Blood turned the floor slick and muddy, pooling up under pressure. It was fine. This was fine. 

 

That is how the story goes .

 

No happy endings.

 

Not for him.



 

 

No.

No no no.

This can’t be how it’s supposed to go, right?

Doubt bubbling up in it’s, his, its chest. 

Muscles burning, tearing, ripping.

Bones breaking, shattering, shards digging into veins.

It hurt.

It hurt, it hurt, it hurt.

It wasn’t supposed to hurt.

It didn’t have to hurt.

But it deserved this, it deserved this and…

And…

..

.

A scream cut through the quiet and it barely even realized that it had happened. So, so focused on… on everything else. Loose ends, human lives, whichever it was being tied up and torn apart. Ripping, tearing, shredding, it hurts.

The scream cut short, but it was a familiar scream. It was, it was, it was. The loose ends were tied up, it jumped back to the kids. The kids who were hurt and scared and broken and it was all its fault . This is its fault.

Lucifer was there, breathing heavily and suit in shambles. A dead man, some hulking unnatural beast, lay lifeless where it was forced the door closed. Said door was in several metallic pieces throughout the room.

In the corner furthest from the corpse was the kids. Ran was the only one of them standing, though only barely and it could recognize shock when it saw shock. The moment that faded, Ran would collapse. 

On the floor was Tubbo, covered in ash but otherwise just as it had left him. Tommy… Tommy wasn’t nearly so lucky. Laying on the floor and limp with a sluggishly bleeding head wound and various visible bandages staining with blood. His breathing was weak and shaky. His skin was pale, far far too pale and…

Your fault.

Your fault, your fault, your fault.

If only you’d stayed, you could’ve prevented this.

None of this had to happen if only you’d been better.

Hadn’t left them alone in this room.

Hadn’t let Tommy go out on patrol that night.

Had trained them better.

Had trained yourself better.

Why can’t you just be good enough?

It’s all your fault.

It fell to its knees, staring blankly as static rumbled between its ears. Tubbo lurched forward, uncaring as he latched onto it with a desperation he shouldn’t have. Why was he holding him like it could do anything? Like it deserved Tubbo’s care? Like it could even protect him?

Tubbo sobbed weakly, hands tight enough to hurt but it didn’t matter because everything hurt so what was one other thing. A block grew in its chest, heavy and cold. Tubbo seemed to take comfort as it sat there. So it sat there. Static and lightning and something else that hurt hurt hurt wanted it to move.

Move, move, move . It didn’t want to move. Why should it move? Tubbo was here and Tommy was unconscious and it had to fix this. This was its fault and it had to do something but it couldn’t. It couldn’t and it was weak and and…

It was paralyzed.

Breathing came out weak and shaky, like it was the one unconscious on the floor.

Muscles twitched but didn’t move.

Its Gift spurred it on.

But it was paralyzed.

Why even bother…

Words passed through its ears unbidden and barely heard, cataloged under whatever they were supposed to mean but it didn’t matter because nothing really did. It didn't have a mission, a purpose. It was weak and it failed. The HC was gone, the Handler was gone. It had failed the kids…

Hero. King of Hearts. Snapped words. Las Nevadas. An argument. Angel choir. Move move move. Apollo. It moved. It followed. It didn’t resist, not this time. Heavy hands, stained with blood. Step. Step. Step. Tubbo in arm. Tommy with someone else. Ran, Ran? Ran was here.

Tommy was here. Tubbo was here. They were out, leaving. The heroes were here. Not back to District One. Las Nevadas. Going there? Yes. Step. Step. Follow. The choir. It wanted it to let go. Of Tubbo? No. Hospital. More words.

It was tiring.

And it felt so so tired.

Step.

Step.

Step.

Even a machine has limits.

Today was the day that the Hero found it.. his.

But it didn’t matter.

Nothing does…

 

Does it?

Chapter Text

Is he okay? Of course he’s not! Look at him! Pretty man looks great in blood. Mood. Blood for the blood god! No look at him. L Technolame Technolate Not your fault Subways are stupid anyway. Nooo my childrennnnnn. Tf? Those are Spiderbaker’s kids. So? They’re mine too in spirit

 

Not for the first time, Techno cursed his luck. His stupid, horrible luck that caused him -and Wilbur, apparently?- to miss a train, get lost in the city, and manage to miss all of the fighting that had occurred. Not that the fighting was what he was particularly worried about. He wasn’t that bloodthirsty, nor was he that… hungry.

Admittedly, he was a lot more worried about the people involved. The children, mostly, but Clay seemed to take an equal part of Chat’s attention. That might just be because Clay was even more quiet then he’d been during any of the times they’d interacted. Which could just be shock?

Shock seemed to be what Lucifer thought it was, right before he coughed up some viscous black liquid and nearly passed out so who knows how accurate that assessment was. It certainly didn’t feel like shock.

Tubbo was experiencing shock, a light emotion that always floated protectively almost on top of an aura like a blanket. The other teen they’d saved, ‘Ran’?, had plenty of shock in his aura too, almost a suffocating amount. Even Tommy did, and his aura was muffled in his unconscious state.

Clay was not experiencing much of anything if his aura was to be believed. A thing that Techno couldn’t even feel. Not in the way before where Chat went blissfully quiet either. Rather, it was quiet but Chat was so so loud. A steady drum in his ears that made his head hurt and temper shorten, not a good mood to be in when tunnel crawling.

What should’ve been free seemed contained to his skin in a barrier that Techno could only ever see out of the corner of his eyes, electric green following his every action like an exoskeleton of sorts. If the old quiet was new but welcomed, this one was unsettling… he didn’t like it.

Almost there, just keep your eyes closed, we’ll get out of here. Follow the big guy, ” Wilbur kept a running dialogue as he led around Ran by the tail behind Techno. Tubbo was curled into the stranger’s chest, the only person other than his ‘father’ who he would let touch him. Techno grunted as he pushed aside sheet metal patches in the train to make way. Yeah, don’t look. It was somehow not as bad as the bloodbath in the arena, which was a miracle really.

A bloodbath that Clay had caused according to Jester. Clay, the baker, the man who all but legally adopted two kids off the street because he was just that kind and generous, the soft man who Techno had never seen wear pants before and was just so soft. That Clay, who had no formal training and once broke his foot on a chunk of concrete.

Right, because Techno would believe that, the conclusion that literally all of the evidence was pointing at. He wasn’t in denial, regardless of what Chat was saying. It was just a little, no, a lot unbelievable.

 

Blood for the blood god E Pretty man okay? No he’s not okay Jump in the Cadillac Shut Uppppp! No U Hug him! I wanna hug him :( Pleeeeaaaseee? I wanna lick the blood off of him Simp Same You’re a simp too F Is he dead? No? Why is that a question E E E

 

No Chat, he isn’t dead. None of them are, not counting the mess in the arena. Clay was just… Well actually he didn’t know which was quite frustrating. He always knew what other people were feeling, it was his thing . But Clay was the exception to that. Again.

In the hour or so that it took to leave District Thirteen and find a hospital, which wasn’t one in a higher district because the kid looked like if he had to face any more heroes today he’d scream , Clay barely did anything at all. He didn’t speak. He didn’t react to anything seen or said. If Techno could see his eyes, he’d bet the man didn’t even blink . All his actions were done with specific instructions from Wilbur’s Enhancement and nothing else.

Even actions that would normally jolt someone out of Wilbur’s control were completed without fail. The large burns over his shoulder looked so painful that any raising of his arms would’ve done the trick. But that also didn’t occur which meant that maybe it wasn’t entirely Wilbur’s Enhancement? Techno didn’t know what it was if not.

Between that, the unconscious Tommy who showed no signs of waking, Tubbo who seemed to have no feeling in his legs, and Ran who seemed somehow equally as out of it from sluggishly bleeding head wounds, Techno was very, very tired. Words could not describe it, really.

Disturbingly familiar surroundings didn’t help. Memories Techno would rather not exist bubbled beneath Chat who beat them down with the viciousness of a pack of angry wolves. The thought of going back to the loud District one or two was equally as unappealing as Tubbo seemed to find it.

Which is how Techno ended up in some underfunded hospital down on the south end watching Apollo defend himself from a nurse who was certain that he was the reason behind Clay’s state of being. Not the blood that soaked through what remained of a smoldering button up or the burnt skin or the tissues sticking to his hair. It was the unresponsive mess that was clearly Apollo’s fault.

“I let him go the moment I got here, promise! Not lingering orders or anything, he was like that when we found him,” Apollo repeated for what had to be the twelfth time, seeming more obviously distressed than anyone else. That was including Ran, who’d passed out the moment Tubbo had been laid on a bed and nearly stopped breathing. It was impressive, and ridiculous.

“Of course, because it is illegal for a hero to use their enhancement outside of villain scenarios and using mind control on someone who is neither a villain nor deserving is distinctly not allowed,” the tiredstressedirritatedblue nurse replied, cracking her fingers loudly. It was like listening to someone read a phrase from a book.

“Exactly, so you believe me?” Wilbur asked, teary eyed from relief. That felt like an overreaction but then again, it was Wilbur. Techno could already hear the nurses response- “No.”

 

L Couldn’t be me Songbird getting roasted L Naptime? IN THE ARMS OF THE ANGLE *Angel Bro shut up You first bae L L L I want pretty man! Can we just appreciate- DARK SPOT IN THE CORNER NUMBER NINE- no not that! L, imagine letting yourself be interrupt-

 

“Apollo,” Techno cut in before the cycle could repeat again. Both the nurse and his brother jolted at his voice, like they somehow managed to forget he was there. Wilbur spun to face him. The nurse made an ugly face at Wilbur’s back, or maybe Techno? Could be either.

“We need to report back to Asrael,” Techno lied plainly. He wasn’t going to report anything and Phil would just have to accept that. If he even realized the two had left. Unlikely considering the state of overworking he was in, yet still refused all candidates for a secretary.

“No you’re not,” the nurse declared, “as a medical practitioner, I can firmly state that this situation is outside of a hero's jurisdiction. All further action taken will be by the upper wards of the hospital district and is firmly labeled under patient confidentiality. Now if you excuse me, I have more patients to greet.”

Another lie, Techno realized as her aura fluctuated between her words. Not that he particularly cared, he’d just tell Phil that and at worst his father would laugh it off. Wilbur seemed miffed but Techno… Techno was tired.

He hated to admit it but he was just so, so tired. Like, constantly and it had nothing to do with taking Phil’s exhaustion either. He just wanted to go home and take a nap or do something else. Maybe read a good book? Or go into hibernation for a month straight.

It wouldn’t be the first time he’s taken a long break as a hero. Sure, he did them extremely infrequently and just came back whenever the fuck he wanted so… actually why wasn’t he taking a break? The Pit Dwellers’ would be gone for a while if the sight in their last base said anything. Maybe, just this once, he could afford it?

“That’s not-” “Apollo, let’s head home. We’re done here,” Techno cut Wilbur off again. His brother glared at him but said nothing. Nervous energy flowed off him, he was worried in a way that put an ugly note on Techno’s tongue. 

Wilbur somehow looked just as tired as him despite Techno knowing that Wilbur hadn’t taken any more shifts. Maybe it was the carefulworriedscaredlovingyellowkindmsuic weighing him down? It certainly felt heavy to Techno, that was for certain. Who knows how bad it felt for Wilbur.

How long had he had that weight and Techno hadn’t even noticed? It was his job to notice these things and, while Clay was mostly excusable being the outlier he was, this was inexcusable. How bad of a brother was he? He hadn’t even noticed Wilbur suffering…

Maybe they both really needed that vacation…

 

Let’s go to Hawaii! No, the Bahamas! Can we even afford that? Ew, heat. Let’s go to Antarctica! E hold on hold on, what if we just didn’t? But vacationnnnn I’m tireddddd E E E L couldn’t be me I am you? Ha, no IDEA! LISTEN LISTEN!

 

Hmmm, Techno tilted his head minutely, ear flicking as Chat ran through his ears at dizzying speeds. He’d have to contact someone about Clay, but the man had no known living family members. There was that former roommate who also didn’t seem to legally exist so that couldn’t do. Really, it would be best for someone with at least minor health care training to watch over him and the kids until whatever this is passed.

Of course, Wilbur would probably ask questions but Techno had more than enough experience not answering him to get away with it. Chat seemed to be steadily piling onto the idea until the mantra was all that buzzed through his skull, a bit of an embarrassing mantra but it made its point. If Techno was being honest with himself, which was never, then…

Phil had been bugging him to take a vacation for a while anyway… this was a pretty good reason to finally give in, right?

Maybe if he was more awake or alive he’d realize that most of his reasoning was ‘because Chat said so’ and this might not be that great of an idea at all.

That realization would have to come later.

Tubbo woke up screaming. Hands, too many hands, pressed him back against a solid and uncomfortable mattress. Panic ran through his veins as he struggled against them to little effect. Breathing became a struggle as the fear clogged his throat, he didn’t know where he was .

A moment later, his nose was assaulted by the overwhelming scent of cleaning chemicals, no blood or dirt. He felt both clean and dirty, an itch over his skin he couldn’t scratch. Harsh, fluorescent lights burned into his retinas. The hands were wearing plastic gloves. A hospital?

“Where am I?” He asked, just to be sure. Tubbo winced at how weak his voice sounded, shaking like an amateur tightrope walker. Blinking away the spots in his eyes, he could see the unfamiliar shape of scrubs on the person holding him down. Clothes that weren’t his were light over his body.

“A hospital, your friends are fine.” The words sounded more like pandering than assuring to his ears. Would he like to believe his friends are fine? Absolutely. Did he? Nether no . Memories of the past month, longer? Hard to tell, said more than enough for that. He could still recall the screams of his dad tearing people apart to protect them.

Did the fact that he didn’t feel… disgusted, scared? Or anything like that mean he was a bad person? Dozens of people died not ten feet away from him because of him, of his father, but he didn’t feel bad. He felt… relieved if anything. Relieved because his dad was here but he wasn’t, where he?

“Where’s my dad?” Tubbo asked, attempting to sit up again to even less success as the nurse pushed him back down. Rude, he was fine. Well, mostly… he was still crippled and his legs had about as much use as a used paper towel roll but he felt fine. He’d feel better if his dad was here.

“Your father? I’m afraid there’s nothing on the chart about your-” “No! No, no, um, Clay. Where’s Clay?” Tubbo interrupted, “I want to see him, please?” He cringed as the nurse paused. The silence following his words felt like daggers with each dull buzz of the overhead lights.

“He is… currently unresponsive I’m afraid. Physically, he is fine. Just a few hairline fractures and burns, nothing life threatening. Don’t worry too hard, we’re doing all we can,” the nurse responded after several quiet moments. Tubbo opened his mouth to ask further, though exactly what he didn’t know, and was interrupted in turn.

“You, on the other hand, are on strict bed rest for the next two weeks minimum. While none of your injuries were quite life threatening either, there were several infected wounds on your feet and legs that must heal before you can walk again. Physical therapy should not be necessary but is recommended due to evidence of prior injuries healing incorrectly,” the nurse lectured in a faux calm tone.

“But what about my friends? Can I at least see them? Or dad? I won’t stress myself, promise,” Tubbo insisted, maybe a bit too much. His eyes burned from the lights, his head was spinning and even just staying awake seemed to be too much for him but he had to see them. The world was too loud, too much , but dad would make it go away. Dad would make him feel better. Right?

“No, sorry. When you wake up next, I’ll see what I can do. Try and get some sleep,” the nurse responded, pulling up the thin sheet over Tubbo’s chest. Well that was even more rude, denying an injured child seeing their family? Like, sure it might be policy of whatever so he didn’t hurt himself further but still.

Lights dimmed overhead, a soft darkness that still managed to be far too bright. His vision blurred, hot mildly angry tears dripping down his cheeks. He just got out of hell and he couldn’t even see any of them? It wasn’t fair.

He didn’t get much sleep that night. Or the next, or the next. Fitful rests that only lasted a couple hours before he dipped back under in medically induced sleep. Medicine was poured down his throat, whispered words constantly denied. A horrible cycle that he hated but couldn’t do anything about.

Occasionally, but only occasionally, Tubbo could hear low voices outside of the curtain that made up his little ‘room’. Words he couldn’t understand but made him nervous nonetheless. No matter how far he strained his ears, he could never make anything out. The cotton in his ears never lifted in time before he fell asleep.

That is until some time early one morning, maybe a week after he was saved, that he woke up and couldn’t fall asleep. The lights were still dimmed. Only the buzz of said lights overhead and the methodical beeping of hospital equipment made noise in the night, day? With no windows, he couldn’t tell.

Bleary eyes blinked at the chipped tile ceiling, hands coming up to rub at them. Tubbo groaned softly, lifting his hands to block out the meager light. His forearms were freshly bandaged, he noted. A sore feeling stopping him from fully extending them and successfully keeping him awake with the sheer discomfort.

Now, he could call out to someone for some pain killers, which is really the sane and logical decision that Clay would encourage him to make. But Clay isn’t here right now, even if the phantom face of his father was giving him The Look, so Tubbo wasn’t going to do that. Well, unless just one little test went wrong.

In his defense, he’s been confined to a bed for far too long and now he’s unsupervised. It is completely understandable for him to make some less than stellar decisions. Really, it isn’t even his fault. They shouldn’t have left him alone.

It had nothing to do with the fact he was lonely and desperate to see his family.

Nope, not at all. 

Bandages covered his feet and lower leg tightly, showing almost nothing beneath and with the compression sock they wrangled into one foot made it so that no skin was showing at all. A blue hospital gown covered his body, and he did notice his hair being free of blood. It was tangled to all nether but hey, no blood.

No I.V. either, which could either be an oversight or not nearly as prevalent as TV shows made him believe. Hard to say, really.  It did make it easier to slip out of bed though, no worries about needles being tugged out.

Standing was another beast. His feet ached just putting weight onto them and his knees felt disturbingly weak but even that made him reluctantly giddy. He could feel his feet ! He hasn’t been able to do that for weeks! Now to just find everyone else.

Mostly, that was a luck based thing since there was absolutely nothing to give away where anyone else was and Tubbo tended to be put in a room away from everyone else for reasons he didn’t actually know. Sure, he’s only been in a hospital half a dozen times but every single time had to be a pattern. It just had to be.

Limping awkwardly, mostly just shuffling over the floor as his own feet attempted to trip him up, Tubbo made his way past the curtain and to the door. A possible benefit for the last month was even being able to stand like this… maybe… no not really. He needed to focus anyway.

Clay, Tommy, nether even Ran. He just… just needed to look at them. Yeah he was mostly sure they left with him but he wasn’t all that lucid and maybe he was just imagining things? He could be. He tended to hallucinate when he got sick and while he wasn’t sick he was being like absolute shit. Maybe it carried over?

Bright lights reflected awkward against the floor and hiding behind his much longer hair didn’t do a whole lot to make his head feel any better. Cold from mostly functioning air conditioning wracked shivers down his body. If he wasn’t leaning against the wall for balance then he’d hug himself for warmth. Balance was a lot more important here than comfort.

“Come on, come on, come on,” Tubbo whispered under his breath, sliding doors open to peek through, and ducking behind corners to avoid being seen by the few actual people in the halls. Identical doors passed by, the number he counted increasing with his nerves. 

Not it, not it, not it. Don’t get caught, don’t get caught. He had to be careful, he couldn’t let them catch him. Each corner felt so far away yet too close. His feet hurt, his arms hurt, his head weighed down like a lead weight. He was so tired but he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t go back. He couldn’t.

“Dad?” Tubbo asked quietly to empty air, pushing aside a door to a single person room with Clay sitting on the bed. It had to be expensive, he knew, but at the moment he didn’t care. He just focused on the bed and shambled forward.

They were wearing matching hospital gowns, Tubbo noted. The same plain blue that made Clay’s pale skin seem almost sickly. Or maybe he just was sick? Gaunt cheeks, heavy bags, they were really matching in more ways than one.

“Dad?” Tubbo tried again, reaching out to tug at Clay’s arm. He didn’t seem to be awake and Tubbo didn’t want to wake him up but at the same time he really wanted him to wake up, if only just a little bit. He just… he just wanted him, okay?

Clay’s eyes didn’t open, his breathing didn’t stutter. Tubbo let out a quiet breath, carefully crawling into the bed anyway. Surely, he wouldn’t mind? Right? Clay wouldn’t mind. Dad saved him.

Pulling two of Clay’s arms over him, Tubbo burrowed into his side. His warm, very warm, side that bled heat into Tubbo’s body. His stinging eyes drifted closed, the knot in his chest loosening if only a little. Dad was here, dad was okay. They were going to be okay.

Maybe he was imagining it, but as he drifted off he could almost feel Clay’s arms tighten around him like a hug.

He was probably imagining it.

Schlatt regretted just about every decision he ever made up to this point in time. His head was pounding, he couldn’t fucking sleep, and even sleeping onto of his blankets with just his boxer on left him feeling like he was laying inside a furnace on full blast. Every single time he was about to drift off, a coughing fit would overtake him and tear plumes of thick smoke from his lips.

It didn’t help that he was sleeping on towels rather than blankets either. Mostly around his head because of this weird black liquid that always appeared after a deal was made. It tasted sour, had the consistency of molasses, and was generally a pain in the ass to clean. Oh, and it hurt like a bitch to be crying tears of stuff.

Ughhh, why did it have to be so warm here? It wasn’t fair. None of this was fair. Fuck breathing, honestly. Each one hurt and the smoke stung his eyes and he hated it and this is why he never actually used those stupid cigarettes. Ender knows he probably had enough lung damage without any help.

His head pounded with each slight shift, the little light he saw when he dared to open his eyes just made the situation worse. Moving sounded like a death trap and Schlatt had good money that this shit was worse than any hangover he could ever get. So, yeah, good way to put him off drinking too. Stupid fucking Gift and it’s stupid fucking side effects.

“Nether, it’s freezing in here,” Quackity announced far too loudly as he entered the room, doors swinging open like a battering ram and hinges squeaking. They should oil those or maybe he was being overly sensitive to this shit. He usually was, one of the symptoms next to the splitting pain in his ribs.

“Fuckin… says you,” Schlatt slurred, not even bothering to lift his head into a ‘proper” glare. Too much effort, would hurt like a bitch, and might stain his expensive blankets he couldn’t even remember why he bought. They were soft and incredibly nice but were they really necessary for him? He let off enough heat to make a volcano jealous, he didn’t need blankets!

“Yeah, says I. Just like I say there’s nothing to report and do finally wanna take your medicine or are you still,” Schlatt let out a hard cough, leaning just enough over the bed to spit out more of that black liquid into a bucket, “yeah, never mind,” Quackity finished with a sigh.

Metallic plinks rattled his ears and Schlatt stared into the matte pit of mystery liquid, the faux tears in his eyes dropping against the bucket. What was he doing again? He was… fuck, no, after he and Quackity shook hand and he held up the bargain and then… then… mmmm, no. Actually, fuck thinking.

Thinking hurt and took a lot of effort and, really, did Schlatt even need to think? No, not really. Not right now, that’s for certain. Especially since the whole ‘train of thought’ thing was like an actual train doing a wheelie on his brain. Not a great image and… wait no seriously what was he doing? He had a purpose here… right?

“Come on, lay back, I got ya,” Quackity ran a cold hand through his hair, guiding his head back to its resting place. A vague noise of complaint left him as the hand was lifted up. Feet rubbing against carpet burnt as Quackity circled the bed to crawl to his back. Then, delightfully, the hand returned.

Schlatt sighed softly, leaning as far into the hand he dared when every movement caused his brain to stall and train of thought to rearing off. But that was fine because they were alive and he did his job and he did it good. No one died, as per the agreement. Good for him, good for him. He just wished the deal included ‘uninjured’ or something as well but that was, like, impossible.

“What are you thinking about?” Quackity hummed, though with the closeness of them it might as well have been a bullet to the head. But, hey, Quackity laid a gentle wing over the lower half of his body and that was cold and nice and just maybe this transgression could be allowed. Just this once, it was okay.

“Mmmwant m’ son,” Schlatt managed, chest constricting as smoke billowed out and stung his eyes. Fuck you smoke, he fucking hated this stupid ass Gift that took fucking ages to reign in and purge and shit or whatever the fuck it was called. He couldn’t even follow after his damn son because of this shit.

“He’sss my son, no tha’ baker’s bitch. Not tha my son’ a bitch ‘course. ‘E’s my son o’ course so ‘e’s great ‘n alive ‘n not dead ‘n I wan’ mh son,” Schlatt sniffled, it wasn’t fucking fair. That was his son who this shit made him give up cause it’s fucking acidic or something and smoke is bad for babies or whatever and he just wanted his son.

A towel, harsh but soft but coarse but it was like stain retardant silk or something he couldn’t remember, wiped away the black that was clouding his vision. Light just barely reached his eyes, hot and painful and making him clench them shut. The sun was a bitch, but not his son. That’s was a different son and his son was great and all grown up and hurt and he should’ve never let anyone make him give him up but life just wasn’t fucking fair.

“When you’re better, maybe we can go to the bakery? He lives there you know, you’ll at least get to see him,” Quackity was still too fucking loud but at least he had a decent idea just this once. But only this once because he was still loud enough to hurt and Schlatt hated it. But he loved it cause no one else would be around him like this,

Charlie’s slime could be hurt by the liquid and Eret was too busy taking over his job while he was being useless and hurting and he hated this no matter how useful it was. He didn’t really trust anyone but his other cards to be around him like this either because- Schlatt jolted, coughing out a stream of liquid.

Fuck, ew, gross, where does this shit even come from? That was definitely bad for his lungs. Whatever, what did Quackity say? His son? Cafe? Oh yeah, that, he could do that. He could do that and see his son again and Quackity’s hand was really nice against his skull.

Schlatt never slept when he was like this but just this once he fell into a half conscious state, a cat nap maybe. Just him and vague dulled feelings and Quackity’s hand. Schlatt even smiled a little. He liked this.

It still fucking sucked though.

Chapter Text

Staff at St.Louis Hospital often saw some of the strangest visitors and patients gracing their halls. From unique supervillains and their sidekicks, vigilantes with bounties to make a money launderer gag, and even some rather questionable Enhancements, there’s not much they haven’t had to deal with. It came from being in District Twelve, possibly the only half decent hospital there.

It definitely didn’t help that most, if not all, of the staff that mattered were born and raised in the lower districts. Sure, higher ups were all prissy highlanders who couldn’t even be bothered to send someone to fix their fucked up air conditioning that never turned off but who even cares about them anyway? The doctors and nurses of St.Louis would survive.

Really, it’s safe to say that St.Louis staff all held some measure of protective tendencies over the oddballs that graced their halls. Whether that be greatly discounting procedures on a person to person basis or warding off wayward heroes and corrupt officers, there wasn’t much they hadn’t done. At least, on the legal side of things that is.

Of course, none of them really expected the number one hero to be lobbed into the bunch. Who would? This was District Twelve and no one could recall King of Hearts even mentioning the district’s existence. But there he was, lumbering off to the side with that cool exterior he always wore. Apollo was even there!

Two top ten heroes was a miracle for the district, or maybe just a curse. It was hard to say, especially for Grayson who had only started working here like two weeks ago. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why they were here. Nervously, he smoothed out his scrubs and cleared his throat.

“Can I help you?” He asked, raising an eyebrow and tilting his head. Apollo approached first, which made a bit of sense as he seemed to be lighter than King of Hearts. Did that make sense? He was usually the talkative one of the top three for obvious reasons. Maybe that carried over?

“Yes, we’re here to see one of your patient’s for a case we’re investigating,” Apollo gave him a pretty smile from the other side of the desk, placing his hands flat on the cold and chipped linoleum and leaning forward in a way that was probably supposed to be cute? In the harsh lights, it mostly came off as annoying.

It’s hero business, you know ?” Apollo winked, rocking back with a giggle that almost sounded nervous but could be flirty. If only flirting worked on him, like ever, which I didn’t. Talk about taking an L, Grayson mused as he went over the script in his head.

“Unfortunately, as it is not visiting hours we cannot allow anyone, regardless of job title, into private patient quarters without a proper warrant. As medical staff, we here at St.Louis reserve the right to deny your request should the matter not be important enough to risk patient confidentiality,” Grayson gave a bland smile, only slightly tripping up on what he’d been trained to say.

Well, by the other staff here, of course. None of the, admittedly highly questionable but technically legally valid, courses he took to even become an intern ever told him what to do in this kind of situation. Let alone one that cause a hero to look at him like that.

I promise not to stress him, it’s just really important this gets done, surely you understand? ” Apollo’s voice sung a choir in his ears, an oddly pleasant numbness filling his limbs. Slowly, he felt himself nodding along. The pencil in his hand drooped and clattered to the table as he relaxed into the noise. Such a… pleasant noise.

“We need to get an interview of a patient named Ran Doe in your system, otherwise this whole situation will have to be reported as an official mission statement,” King of Heart’s voice was rough, cutting through the fog in his head with a strange sort of half clarity. Grayson struggled for a moment, eyes half lidded and struggling to focus on King of Hearts. He felt tired. So, so tired.

Apollo hit the floor with a loud yelp and King of Hearts knocked him over, the noise jolting Grayson out of… was that his Enhancement ? Damn, he could sue over that. Like, he wouldn’t because then they could counter sue because that makes sense and they might figure out just how he’s paying for his medical license… yeah, no sueing sadly. Was there a script for this?

“Illegal usage of a hero’s Enhancement on medical staff is…” Grayson trailed off, eyes moving from Apollo to King of Hearts and, well, that was only mildly terrifying. Usually, he considered King of Hearts to be standoffish at best but like… damn. Having that skull mask boring down on him, gold eyes blazing with emotions that were not reflected in his stoic frame, and arms crossed in a way where Grayson could just see the strength in his arms. An uncomfortable prickling broke out over his skin.

“Right this way, sir,” Grayson finished with that same bland smile, palming for Ran Doe’s file card blindly. Thank Ender John Doe’s got a separate area because he was not removing his eyes from King of Hearts if he didn’t have to. Some sort of prey and predator instinct was rearing its ugly head, that’s for sure.

Don’t attack the heroes, Grayson reminds himself as he guides them through the waiting room door. That would be a very bad idea, he glanced back at them nervously. It can absolutely be traced back to you right now, he convinced himself. If only his uniform for his more nightly activities was easily portable. He was hardly a big name either.

“Any notes about the patient we should know before we enter?” Apollo asked. Grayson looked over his shoulder at the hero, eyes darting to King of Hearts and back to the poorly color coordinated hero. Admittedly, Grayson didn’t know much about Ran Doe. He was usually on another co worker’s rota for the day. Maybe it was on the card?

“He’s flighty, possibly has an anxiety disorder and should be confined to his bed for further examination before being released. No known family though he reacts poorly when prodded. He’s also afraid of needles,” Grayson read off.

“Poor guy,” Apollo commiserates and Grayson had to remind himself that this was a Highlander and he was not purposefully sounding rude, he just doesn’t know any better. Didn’t change his tone or Grayson’s snap reaction to it but still. Calm down Grayson, calm down. 

“Anything we’re allowed to know about the other subjects we brought in? We may have to interview them as well if this one does not end up being satisfactory,” Apollo asked again and were they interviewing the patient or Grayson because it really felt like- no, no. Apollo’s just great at getting under people’s skin. Deep breathes now, you can’t lash out at him that’s unprofessional.

Could he though? Mostly, he just didn’t want to but there was some information he probably should give them, maybe worded in a way that they didn’t come back. They couldn’t if the other patients weren’t fit to be interviewed. Right? That had to be somewhere in their rules. Not that Grayson did much digging into hero regulations, too complicated and they didn’t apply to him anyway.

“Of the three other patients you brought in, one is currently in a coma, the other is on strict lockdown for the next month and the last is completely unresponsive,” Grayson listed off. Technically, the only one he knew for certain was Clay. He hadn’t even seen Tohmas, let alone Tobias, but it was true enough. Nurses tended to gossip when it was only other practitioners around after all.

“Being unresponsive is different from being in a coma?” Apollo’s curiosity was going to get him killed one day at Grayson’s hands. Or was this just his Enhancement again? Maybe a result of it being suppressed rather than actively used? Hard to say, he wasn’t an expert on these things either.

“Yes, there is. In layman’s terms, a coma could be called a very long, uninterrupted sleep while being unresponsive, in this case at least, refers to them being awake but not reacting to outside stimuli. Our unresponsive patient can and has sat up, but our coma patient can barely twitch a finger,” Grayson explained, likely rather poorly but if it gets the point across them he doesn’t care. He just wanted Apollo to shut up.

“Is the baker the-” King of Hearts began just as they got to the door indicated on the card which gave Grayson a great opportunity to shut both of them up, “This is the patient’s room. Unfortunately, I can only give you half an hour with him due to regulations and if the patient shows signs of panic I will be required to make you leave.” and he would greatly enjoy it.

Without waiting for a response, Grayson knocked gently on the door, opening it up to a sterile and still very cold room. Stupid broken air conditioner and struggling lights made the place feel like a horror game. Not a lot he could do about it. Well, other than the fact that his appearance probably just added to the effect.

“Ran? There are heroes here to see you, are you up to questioning?” He asked as he tugged away curtains. The other bed in the room was empty, vacated only a couple of hours before if he remembered right. Great for privacy, not so great for letting Grayson distract himself from the interview. Not that he would want to.

“Huh? I- oh, yes, that is fine,” Ran did not look like he was fine but that might just be his natural appearance from what little Grayson knew of him. Gaunt cheeks, glowing eyes, and bandages covering just about every inch of skin below his neck. He looked like a sick patient from a movie or something. Even if Grayson was mostly certain the guy’s only real injuries were the head wounds he had to have stitched closed.

“I’ll be waiting outside for when you’re finished,” Grayson interrupted Apollo mid word again, keeping a hand behind his back to let a little violet beetle skitter down and into the bedside table. With a respectful nod, he left the room to wait.

One other nurse was passing him by as he took position next to the door. They gave him a look, fair since he wasn’t technically supposed to be here. He just held up the card and placed a hand over his ear. The other nurse shook their head with a sigh and left.

After several careful counts, Grayson leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, taking careful parsing of the subtle vibrations of his other insects before latching onto the loudest one. An image that wasn’t quite a normal sight filled his head. Words clearing up as the connection solidified with a low hum almost completely disguised by the fluorescent lights.

Was it technically spying if he wasn’t supposed to leave a patient alone with the heroes in the first place? Maybe in a court of law but it would never get that far. No one ever expected a bug of being a spy anyway.

Now what was this about ‘The Pit Dwellers’?

Oh heck yeah I love Oreos! E No cursing! Heck isn’t a curse E E Yes it is No it isn’t Yes it is Well yo mama a hoe No u :0 my only weakness Y’all are stupid An you used ‘y’all’ unironically so idk E Apples amiright? Shhhh we don’t count ‘y’all usage as a crime’ I DO!

 

“This interview is being recorded and everything you say can and will be used as evidence in further investigations, is that alright?” Wilbur asked in a soft, calming voice. The same one that had caused the male nurse’s aura to lash up in annoyed frustration. It felt weirdly purple but that didn’t matter. It was just a nurse.

“Yeah, that is fine,” Ran replied in a slow tone, picking at his bandages. He seemed to struggle with the words just a little bit, Techno noted. That was either the anxiety mentioned or the strange accent that implied English wasn’t his first language. It didn’t matter either way.

“Right then,” Wilbur clapped his hands once, “My name is Apollo, the musical hero, here with King of Hearts, the hero of heroes. Could I have your name please?” Wilbur took a seat in a rickety plastic chair, the difference in height leaving him level with Ran’s shoulder and looking anything but threatening. 

Uncertaintyconfusionpurpleheistanceworry flicked through Ran’s aura in equal measure. Techno rarely met someone so uncertain about their own name. Maybe only once or twice when the interviewee took a knock to the head and got temporary amnesia.

“Er, Ran. No last name,” he responded anyway. Chat had devolved into a mantra about apples and oreos for whatever reason, buzzing loudly in his ears. Techno glowered, ear flicking at the noise. Ran’s eyes darted to him, seeming to shrink back into the bed. Quite a fear seeing as his legs were strapped down in several places, only the ankle restraints barely visible under the blanket.

“A lovely name,” Wilbur assured him, obviously misplacing the obvious anxiety. He probably thought it was because they were heroes which was… likely also true. But the kid obviously knew what they were going to ask him about which definitely wasn’t helping. Techno could definitely relate, he didn’t even want to be here.

“Now, I understand this is going to be a hard question,” Techno twitched again, “but could you recall the events before we arrived on scene the other day? With the Pit Dwellers?” Ran’s eyes went dead. That had to be the best way to describe it.

Purple pervading his aura swept over him and dropped it into a sheer cold sort of feeling. It felt like a coping mechanism or mask of some sort, like when someone puts on a brave face when meeting their greatest fear. Heroes did it often and Techno saw it quite a lot. Never one this in depth though. Certainly never one put on like this when facing Wilbur of all people.

“I don’t remember it all too clearly. I was rather out of it for the most part but I was supervising Tobias in the observation deck when the door was broken down. It was solid steel I believed and the wall cracked with it, don’t know how much strength that would take but it feels important,” Ran’s gaze drifted down to his hands, smoothing out the thin blanket almost methodically.

“There were two guards in the room, heavily armed like all the others. But it was like I blinked and they were down, then there was… a hand around my jaw,” Ran touched the large purplish green bruise on his face, “It felt tight enough to nearly break but then… then Tobias spoke up for me.”

“I was terrified but the man put me down. He and Tobias talked, some tearful reunion I was too deep in my own head to fully pay attention too. I remember almost everything that happened after he broke the window though. That too was rather impressive, especially with one kick. I’m not sure what they’re made out of but I do know that they’ve never even been cracked before, much less broken.”

“And this man was Clay? The baker with four arms?” Wilbur interrupted, clicking his pen twice. Ran stuttered and fell quiet, blinking at his blanket before looking straight up at Techno. It took a good minute for his eyes to drift to Wilbur. For whatever reason, Chat was quietly whispering not to meet him eyes, a soft mantra below the disaster that was everything else they were saying.

“Yes,” Ran admitted, staring at Wilbur until he averted his eyes too. Immediately, Ran’s aura seemed to calm a little, whether from telling the truth or no longer being stared at was unclear. Techno hated it when these things were unclear. He huffed despite himself, a rough noise that caused his brother to startle.

“After that he dropped down into the arena, got Icarus, and came back. It couldn’t have been more than five minutes in between. He stared at them for a while, and I can’t say why or if he was hurt in those five minutes because I’d pressed myself into a corner. Whatever he saw he didn’t seem to like because he went… empty. He went empty and got up and stepped back out.”

Ran stopped talking for a moment, a tense silence only worsened but the snaking aura flowing like a river over the bed. It twisted and pooled in crevices and Techno had to resist the urge to step back and avoid touching it. Chat clawed painful at his skull, whimpering and salvaging at how close the strange emotion was. He’d have to feed them soon.

“What happened next?” Techno asked instead of Wilbur and Ran’s eyes darted up to bob level with his chest. The aura flicked with it, evaporating into a soft mist to pull back from Chat. Wilbur gave him a questioning look before turning back to his pen flicking. How in the world was he managing to look bored? This was hardly boring!

 

Can you see what I seeeee! No he can’t Song boi can’t see pretty colors I want the pretty colors don’t look at him E I want blood We all want the pretty colors Techieee I’m hungryyy don’tlookdon’tlook E E E E E 3 E E E E E

 

“I got up when I heard the screaming,” Ran stated like he was calling the sky blue, “It was loud, very loud. Almost louder than the crowd and I didn’t think that was possible. The screaming scared Tobias so I went to look. It was…” Ran trailed off.

“It was bloody, and very messy. I’ve never heard of an audience interrupting a match but I’ve also never heard of someone successfully infiltrating the Pit Dwellers’ so there’s a first time for everything. Unfortunately, there’s not much about the fight I can reasonably describe. It was… fast, deadly, but not viscous. Each movement on Clay’s end looked more fluid and calculated than anything I’ve seen.”

“He didn’t move like a person though, and certainly not a human. He bent in directions a spine wasn’t supposed to go and twisted in the air like gravity didn’t exist. It was unsettling… but impressive,” Ran’s voice began to shake just the slightest amount. Several words came out in a grating, bubbling language before he seemed to realize what he was doing.

“Tobias didn’t see any of it, neither of them did. I moved away to stop them from looking but nothing could block out the screams . Eventually, the audience started to run away rather than towards him and, with the types of people that comes to the events, that alone is terrifying .” Ran’s voice cracked.

For several broken moments, Ran shook. He stumbled over his tongue and seemed to be unable to recall what he was saying and in what language he was speaking in. So he stopped speaking, face scrunched up in a way that pulled at his bruise. Wilbur looked unsettled, even knowing what the after effects of the carnage had been, and Techno…

Techno didn’t know what he felt, not over the mounting migraine that was Chat nearly salivating over the whipping auras in the room. None of the emotions were nice but there was so much that they couldn’t help themselves. Techno took a deep breath, a mistake in hindsight.

“And with Lucifer? He’s the man in the suit who we found in the room with you,” Wilbur prodded but he sounded distant and echoey in a way that hurt to listen too. Then again, even that steady buzzing was becoming painful. He heaved a sigh, cringing at the taste of their auras. Another rarity, tasting auras. He must be in the deep end now, was the room spinning?

“Yes, him. He was dangerous and very very warm. Lots of black smoke and he was.. angry. I remember standing in front of the kids as he barked at me to move, I didn’t but the demand had an adverse reaction. Then the door broke down again, because I think Clay put it back to lock us in even if I don’t remember that part.”

“There was a very big person, very dangerous. Nearly brought down most of the wall with them and they seemed to be largely immune to most attacks. Except for the smoke? I don’t know, but it seemed to burn them. I don’t remember a whole lot of their fight, except Lucifer winning and the heat. I do know it stressed me out, that's why I have these.”

With one hand, Ran tapped the bandages on their head before closing his mouth and falling silent for the last time. They grimaced, swaying in place as their eyes drooped. Wilbur tried to ask… something? Techno couldn’t quite hear him. Then, Ran seemed to faint.

“I think that’s all the time we have, I can escort you out now,” the nurse entered back into the room, lights reflecting gray on his skin as lavender and unsettledheavyconcernedpondering wafted through the room. Techno closed his eyes, counted to ten, and opened them again.

Somehow, in those ten counts, he’d ended up outside the room and halfway down the hallway. Wilbur was, again, trying to make a strained conversation with the alien-esque nurse. It still wasn’t working.

Nothing important then? They got what they came for, even if Techno hadn’t spoken much and Ran had been… whatever it was that happened with his aura. That phenomenon that had felt so nice but he couldn’t…

Techno closed his eyes again, pulling Chat back in by force as they prodded his aura to stray towards the nurse and Wilbur. He couldn’t siphon off their auras without asking, that was impolite. Maybe later, he promised, letting them and Wilbur guide him out of the hospital.

Later .

Tick Tock Tick Tock

A rhythmic ticking was the only noise in the room that It paid attention to. Hardly the only important noise but the loudest by far and the only one that seemed to have any gravity in this situation. The clock on the wall gave It a measure of time. Time was all It had, all it needed.

Tick Tock Tick Tock

Sheets scrapped and bunched, a low thread count and and very light. A soft beeping came from medical equipment, their hanging wires rustling in the breeze of the rustling AC. Non slick shoes of the various nurses scuffed and squeaked against the tile floor outside. It was cold.

Tick Tock Tick Tock

Dimmed lights buzzed overhead, still on for reasons unexplained. Shadows loomed over the room, fading away the lines in the ceiling separated many square tiles. If It scaled the wall and pushed up, they’d give way into a two and a half foot tall crawl space. From there It could follow the ventilation shafts to the outer walls of the building.

Tick Tock Tick Tock

Not that it would, it wasn’t supposed to. It hadn’t been told to, not by anyone who mattered in It’s ranking. There were nurses, of course, but nothing they told It was useful, nor was any of it important for Its preexisting missions. Mostly simple and wildly unimportant tasks.

Tick Tock Tic-

“I can’t promise anything, try not to stress him out.” A voice, muffled by the wall, was strong and vaguely accented. A familiar voice that passed by Its room often, an intern and acting receptionist according to other nurses. His name was Grayson and he mostly worked nights. It has never actually met him face to face.

And then the door opened, breaking its regular three a day visits approximately two and a half hours before lunch. Shoes squeaked against the floor as two people walked into the room, one significantly lighter than the other. A nervous energy thrummed in the air, not Its own emotions. It didn’t have those, It wasn’t supposed to.

It didn’t need emotions to do Its missions.

Emotions only got in the way.

People only got in the way.

Why bother if It couldn’t even keep them?

“Hey boss man, it’s been a while,” MD’s voice was rough, he’d been crying. Its chest felt heavy at the noise, that wasn’t right. There was no reason for It to feel heavy, It wasn’t carrying any weight. It blinked at the ceiling, the lights were brighter. Not by a lot, they kept Its room pretty dark.

“Well, more than a while. Like a month and a half, you know? Without even a call or, or a text,” MD continued after a quiet moment, his voice so much louder than the ticking or the buzzing. Another thing was buzzing, very weakly like a bug. It wasn’t very well versed in bugs.

“Fuck, are you not even going to say anything to me?” His voice cracked. Feet shuffled over the ground and a shadow fell over It. MD loomed over It, barely visibly out of the corner of Its eye. MD’s hair was messy, sticking up at all angles, and his eyes rimmed red from crying. His clothes looked haphazard, like he’d just thrown them on.

A non threat then, not anything worth Its time.

He used to be.

He didn’t need to be around It anymore.

He would just get hurt.

They always got hurt.

“You’re an asshole, you know that?” MD spat, shaking visibly. He flickered, Enhancement struggling in his emotional state. Even still, his control over it was a lot better. That was good, even if his Enhancement didn’t work against It.

“After everything we’ve been through, I’ve been through. From you saving me to homelessness to playing house with you and the kids, even moving out to be with my girlfriend. After all that, I thought we were close,” MD’s words came out rushed, tripping out of his mouth.

“I cared for you, you know? Considered you more family than whoever my actual family because I thought you cared,” MD let out a wet laugh, “but I guess I was wrong. You practically abandon me the moment I’m not interesting anymore and… and,” he struggled, for a minute.

“You promised,” Tears freed themselves from his eyes to slide down his cheeks like a waterfall, “you promised you were going to be okay,” But you aren’t went unsaid but still rang in Its head. Tears dropped onto Its clothes, just a blue gown. MD wasn’t angry, then. Rather, not at It, but just some mixture of sadness and frustration.

“I’m being ridiculous aren’t I? Blaming you for things that aren’t your fault?” MD asked, a rhetorical question of course. Of course these things were Its fault. If It had just been better, then none of this would’ve happened.

It never would’ve died.

The kids would’ve never gotten hurt.

MD wouldn’t be here, sobbing over something he couldn’t change.

Another thing that was Its fault, naturally.

“Sorry… I just… it’s been rough, I guess. People keep asking me about the cafe and where you are. There’s a bunch of get well presents for you waiting back, we’ve been keeping the place all clean too so you don’t have to worry about that. Mamacita even said she’s fine with me moving back in if you want,” MD rambled, mostly to himself it seemed. Mamacita… a nickname for his girlfriend it seemed. 

Tick Tock Tick Tock

The clock was back as MD fell quiet again. He wanted a response that It couldn’t give, obviously. He seemed content to wait though, even as minutes stretched longer and longer and still It remained quiet. MD just stood there, crying softly and sniffling every so often. The AC gave an audible thunk as someone attempted to change the temperature and failed.

“Can you at least just look at me?” MD pleaded, hand finding Its much colder one and squeezing as if that would implore It to actually talk when It didn’t have to. It never had too. Certainly not before when talking was often so painful that It didn’t bother. Talking didn’t hurt now but…

But It could still feel the ache.

Pains that weren’t there mixing with fractured legs and arms that were.

They said It would be relatively unharmed given enough bedrest.

Physically, a remarkable recovery.

It didn’t feel like a recovery.

Not when It could still feel it and it hurt it hurt it hurts.

“Please?” One last bed broke the air as MD leaned over him, eyes still misty and face reddened. That weight on Its chest grew heavier, much like when Tubbo had foolishly snuck into Its room and climbed into Its recovery station. It didn’t like the weight.

No, that was right. It just had no opinion on the weight. It wasn’t supposed to have opinions, certainly not now. Its done nothing to deserve opinions or MD’s tears or even the pillow under Its head. Too much comfort that It hasn’t earned.

With one last shuddering breath, MD dropped his head, pulling bad. A chilling breeze swam in the air where MD’s hand used to be. Its muscles twitched reflexively before It stilled them. Another ‘comfort’ It didn’t deserve. No need to look silly trying to grab for it anyway.

But It wanted it.

Even if It knew what It wanted didn’t matter.

Nothing It wanted mattered.

It wasn’t even supposed to want.

“I’ll talk to you later I guess,” MD mumbled softly, shoes scuffing against the ground as he shuffled away. A heavy weight seemed to have been hoisted onto him, the same one trying to restrict Its breathing. He shouldn’t feel so heavy over It of all things.

The quiet, secondary buzzing left with him. A bug in his hair, maybe. He was certainly disheveled enough to pull that off, and for whatever reason that also made It feel things It shouldn’t. It cycled a breath, pushing the feelings away.

Tick Tock Tick Tock

The clock was so loud .

Oddly, It feels like It made a mistake, as if there was a mistake to make. How could there be when It didn’t have a mission? No, It didn’t make a mistake, It decided as It remained staring at the ceiling. It should move soon before Its muscles deteriorate. Not that that would affect them too heavily but it wanted-

No.

Don’t want.

It isn’t your job to want.

Tick Tock

Tick

Tock

The clock struck 3:02 am by the time It finally moved.

Look, logically speaking, Tommy knew exactly where he was. He could recognize the harsh smell of chemicals and the nauseating brightness of overhead lights. All of that was fairly easy, even, to recognize.

Now if he took a step back from logic, he neither knew nor cared where he was at that moment. All he knew was the restraints around his arms, the itching pain thrumming from his wings, and the fact that he couldn’t fucking breathe . Flames leapt from his wings, smoking rising as sheets and leather burnt and gave away.

Scrambling from the bed, Tommy stumbled on slippery floors, extinguishing his wings and eyes flicking throughout the room. No windows, one door and a vent far too small for him to promptly fit through in a room far too small with a ceiling far too low. It was bigger than his other room. No, not his room, his cage. His room was in the cafe and and-

Blaring started from above as the flames still burning on the hospital bed bled into the smoke detector. Thoughts fled from his head as he mostly just reacted, bolting to the door as he could already hear heavy footsteps coming from a distance. All he could think was that he didn’t want them to find him.

He exited into a hallway with too many blank walls and too many doors. The footsteps were coming from the left, a voice over the intercom saying something that slipped from his attention with the raw panic bursting from his veins. He had to leave, had to go go go . Tommy ran right.

Left, right, through hallways on legs that barely wanted to support him. One was tightly bandaged, he noticed, and it seemed to be his weak one? He couldn’t tell, he just knew that his ribs were hurting like a fresh nether in his chest. Had someone broken them again? Why? 

Why why why? Why was he here? Why couldn’t he just go home? Why was he alone? Why did he have to run run run? What did he do to deserve this? Where even was here? Why did he always have to ask questions he wouldn’t be getting answers to?

Another left made him aware of at least what time it was. A window on some outside edge of the building at the end of a long corridor. The sky was painting black and speckled with small stars, the sun not even yet peeking over the horizon. It was late, very late.

Still, he came to a stop, limping over to the window as adrenaline seemed to slowly seep from his body. The night was kinda beautiful, he noticed. Even looking at it from some second floor hospital that… was in District Twelve. The same one that he and Tubbo had gone to after he’d accidentally committed arson. 

How long has it been since he’s seen the sky? The question rose to the forefront of his mind unbidden as he pressed a hand against cool glass. With the Pit, he’d never been allowed near a window and that made it hard to keep track. Add on that he’s been asleep for Ender know’s how long and it wasn’t a good combination.

Pressing his forehead against the glass, Tommy stared up, mesmerized and so suddenly  tried it hurt. His breathing fogged the glass on each exhale into something he could just barely see. Being a bird sucked on that end, sliding glass doors were a nightmare. It did make looking out windows real pretty given a good sight.

Chills wracked shivers over his body, the thin hospital gown definitely not built for the cold. Where were his clothes? He wondered as he slid down and sat on the floor. Some runner carpet kept parts of his legs somewhat safe from the icy tiles but most of his lower half was still forced to touch them.

Time… passed while Tommy stared blankly out the window. Maybe the only thing he was grateful for was no one finding him or maybe that he wasn’t forced to face his own reflection. Another thing that was great about not seeing glass. No symbolically, or mostly just ridiculously, staring at his own reflection or anything like that.

Feathered wings reluctantly wrapping around his body provided some measure of warmth. Not a lot, he was just a bit too tired to make a lot of heat or anything, but it was something. He should’ve brought a blanket. Ha, like he’d been thinking when he ran here.

Not that he even knew why he had run. It didn’t make much sense in hindsight, not when the hospital was so immediately recognizable. All hospitals were, no matter what they looked like. Even the stupid area where medical supplies were squirled away in the Pit had smelled just as strongly. Though that was alcohol and blood rather than antiseptic and various cleaning chemicals.

Ha, look at him making himself panic just by fucking thinking. He was out now, he needed to stop thinking about it. Even if he didn’t have much else to think about other than stars he could name and the cold and the budding pain from fading painkillers. He could find a clock but that would require moving and stuff.

Or maybe that didn’t matter? Tommy reconsidered, tensing as very light footsteps reached his ears. They were quieter than the loud ones from before but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Actually, that tendered to be a very very bad-

Ah, okay never mind, maybe he’ll just stay here and cry instead. Tommy looked up his shoulder, eyes tracing over a very still Clay. He was like a statue, illuminated in flickering blues from the lights. Very cold and stoic and strong even in his matching gown. Not like Tommy who just felt so mind numbingly tired.

Green eyes betrayed nothing as Clay knelt suddenly, not even looking at Tommy. They seemed to stare straight through him, empty and… distant. Distant in a way that definitely shouldn’t be as comforting as it is. Or, or at all really. It should probably be unsettling but Tommy didn’t care.

Arms, still cold but everything was so that didn’t matter, wrapped around him and Tommy felt just a little warmer. Clay stood like he weighed nothing, keeping Tommy tight against his chest. He’d never admit to it, but Tommy almost like the strange comfort that came from being held like this. He was a baby but… but it was nice.

None of these thoughts made sense, did they? Tommy pulled his wings closer in, turning his head into Clay’s chest and letting his eyes drift shut. It didn’t matter if his thinking was nonsensical. Clay was here, the real one. The one that wouldn’t hurt him, hadn’t yet. Maybe he would when Tommy woke up but for not he wasn’t and that was good.

Silent footsteps echoed in the air as he was carried along. A door was opened, another closed. Lights clicked off, sending them into a soft darkness that was just him and Clay balancing on the edge of consciousness.

Tommy cracked his eyes open as he was put carefully onto a mattress. A hospital bed pressed against another one, a familiar mop of curly brown hair with curved horns across from him. Tommy burrowed into the warmth, curling into Tubbo. He waited for Clay to join him, for the stiff mattress to dip.

It never did.

He tried not to let that bother him.

Chapter Text

By the beginning of March, it became painfully clear that there was no particular reason the hospital was allowed to keep their four isolated patients. Physically, all four had made a remarkable recovery. Bone fractures healing, gashes fading into thin scars, and they were even sleeping as well as one could when in a hospital bed.

Mentally was a whole other situation, one riddled with trauma and obvious PTSD that, sadly, St. Louis was not built to handle. They had neither the funding nor the staff to keep four patients that were mostly recovered. All they could do was send a request for a possible caretaker as the only adult among them was showing the worst symptoms mentally. Another task that Grayson, as the intern, was set on.

Technically speaking, neither he nor the hospital could do anything other than highly recommend a caretaker. Not that that stopped anyone from pushing him to climb through recorded message tree after recorded message tree. Completely tedious, unnecessary grunt work… that he was getting paid overtime for.

So you know what? Fuck it, Grayson would slop through it if that meant paying his bills with -mostly- legal cash and on time. Plus, even if it was boring as hell it was a lot less work than every other mind numbing task he was told to do. Like filing paperwork or making coffee from their shitty break room coffee machine that's always breaking when he, apparently, could be doing runs to The Spider’s Web or whatever but he couldn’t because it was closed .

Another reason to get Clay out and about with a caretaker, really good coffee and an excuse not to be in the freezing halls of the hospital. Grayson shivered despite himself, shaking his head and going back to the task at hand. A robotic lady’s voice ringing in his ear with some dumb jingle in the background. Static bursts every so often, hurting his ears.

“Please stay on the line, your call is very- click ,” Grayson jolted as the jingle cut out abruptly. Quiet loomed on the other end, papers shuffling. He sat up straight, clicking the pen in his hand and holding it over his paper.

“Hello?” A tired woman’s voice muttered over the receiver, which was honestly just a mood, “What can I help you with?” She asked, sounding very much like she’d rather not help him at all. Grayson could definitely relate. People tended to be very, very tiring.

“I’m calling on behalf of one of our patients about a potential caretaker, I’ve already faxed over their documents. Patient 0236 and Patient 0237,” Grayson explained as patiently as he could. He’d already been at this for two hours, today, on day like five of this endeavor. Patience was never his strong suit.

More rustling papers, the sound of a metal something against marble. Grayson looked at his own mostly plastic and metal desk, a cheap thing that a janitor had put together about thirty years ago if he remembered properly. Which he really might not be but the other nurses tended to be very chatty towards the end of long shifts. That’s how he knows that the AC has been broken for nineteen years, despite getting here a month ago tops.

“Right, that is one Clay Hendrickson and one Ran Doe, both listed under the address 1035 Rugby Lane in…” Her voice dropped, “ District Twelve? ” The distaste was palpable and entirely unprofessional. Grayson felt a customer service smile rise to his face of instinct, doing nothing to hide the twitching of his eye. 

“Yes ma’am,” Grayson replied truthfully, trying to keep his voice polite. He waited for the tell tale click of her hanging up, dismissing him like the last three representatives did. If she did, then he’d likely be at this for another several days.

Another several days where one of the patients could get frustrated and light the hospital on fire on accident… again. He still wasn’t over having the scour the entire building only to be rudely ushered back to the front because all four of the patients were holed up in some room he didn’t have clearance for. He didn’t even know how Ran Doe got all the way across the hospital despite being physically restrained. 

“And they live in the same apartment?” She implored further. Grayson blinked, surprised. Huh, this is the furthest he’s gotten all weak, maybe he can actually get some work done? Like, as if but still, there was at least a tiny drop of hope there.

“Yes ma’am,” Grayson replied as if Ran Doe wasn’t actually homeless. He didn’t know why Clay’s address was listed as his but it was and, when informed, Clay hadn’t said anything. Then again, according to his colleagues, Clay was still largely unresponsive. Other than being mysteriously found with the other four after the fire… somehow.

“It says here that Patient 0237 is originally from District Four, is this information also correct?” She asked with a healthy amount of suspicion, like she was expecting the paperwork to be fake. Jokes on her, Clay’s paperwork was the only one without any less than legal alterations. Including, likely, most of the nurses here.

“Yes ma’am,” Grayson repeated like a broken record. He tapped his pen on the paper, leaving behind little dots and indentations. She hummed in response, shuffled through several other papers and tapped loudly at her keyboard. Several minutes passed before she spoke again.

“Alright then, I’m afraid the best I can do is one of our volunteer caretakers, there’s no special situation that would require both having a caretaker each, right?” Her voice gained a salty short of sweetness, like she had to be nice to him and was not happy about it. Grayson flicked through his own papers.

Regrettably, she was right. While Ran had very particular tendencies, severe PTSD and other severe symptoms commonly associated with ADHD and depression, he technically only needed medication and someone to make sure he took it due to memory issues. 

Meanwhile, Clay was perfectly capable of going through a routine of showering, eating, and going to the bathroom. He just… didn’t do anything else. He needed to be pushed hard to even complete menial tasks like writing down his name or talking to anyone, audibly or otherwise. 

Grayson could argue that, for their benefit, a trained caretaker would be better than a volunteer but… could they even afford that? Could they fit another person into their apartment? Most ones in that area of the district tended to be tiny, shoebox things. One, two bedrooms most. Besides, if he pushed then they might not get anyone at all. He swallowed, and took a deep breath.

“No ma’am, one caretaker works just fine. Is there any I can schedule a meeting with?” He responded, readying his pen to write down some actual information. Most of the paper was covered in absent minded doodles and bored scribbling. 

“No meetings,” she responded shortly then, after a solid five minutes of Grayson grating his teeth because that was not policy, continued, “An available caretaker will meet you outside your location in two days time, have your patients ready by then.” She hung up before he could say anything else.

One, that was really rude. Two, none of that followed the rather strict protocol that, according to the handbook, the outsourcing company for caretakers was supposed to follow. Was he surprised? Sadly, no. The company was centralized in District Two. Ender knows Highlanders don’t give a shit about Lowlanders.

Even if that meant breaking protocol, it seems. Grayson slammed the phone into the receiver, writing down some BS meeting time around noon the next day. If the caretaker was here any earlier then oh well, they should’ve made an actual time. Not his fucking fault the rep was a bitch.

But he was going to have to inform the patients or, at the very least, his higher ups so that someone else could tell the patients. The latter was definitely more likely. He couldn’t even access one of their rooms, or even the entire wing of the building it was located in. Which meant he’d have to take to… hopefully just the shift supervisor.

Ender knows no one wants to call the manager’s number.

Ran tugged at the too short clothes hanging off of his body. The pants showed his ankles and the sleeves didn’t quite reach his wrists but the line of the shoulders was a good two inches off where it was supposed to be. He wasn’t wearing shoes, which was unsafe, but the provided flip flops hadn’t fit him.

Tubbo was in one of his newer hoodies, with newer being very relative. Soft yellow with gray accents, bees stitched onto it around an embroidered flower. ‘Buzz off’ was stitched across the chest where his arms were crossed, shoulders bowed forward and standing as close to both It and Ran as he could.

On Its other side was Tommy, wings rebound and tucked safely behind his chest even though they were fairly well known with the entire hospital. He was in a red jacket with dark gray padding. It could remember making it several months ago. His jeans were old and covered in patches. Old converse scuffed against concrete.

Ahead of It was very plainly obviously Techno, and why none of the others realized that It didn’t understand. Then again, It also didn’t understand why the kids, even Ran for some reason, were crowded around It protectively. Its lower arms were hefted around Tommy and Tubbo’s shoulders as their own boney ones dug into Its sides.

Pink hair was pulled back and stuffed into a beanie, the same circular rose tinted glass glasses adorned his face, and he was wearing expensive clothes made of sturdy material. A magenta dyed jean jacket lined with soft white fluff, high waisted pants, a black turtleneck, and nothing he hadn’t worn it the Cafe before. It was obvious.

“Who the fuck are you?” Tommy hissed, hand tight around Its forearm but nowhere near painful. It stared straight ahead undeterred, watching as Techno shifted and grew steadily more unsettled. Tubbo just turned further into his side, Ran’s tail flicking against his back.

Why?

Why did they trust It?

It doesn’t deserve this, deserve them.

It failed them.

Why do they still seem to want It?

Because they’re kids?

“Techno, I’m here to remind these two how to properly function as human beings,” came the honest reply. That wasn’t much of a surprise, Techno had never lied to it before but there was still a tense undertone to his voice that Its Gift highlighted and catalogued. He was hiding something. Maybe not from It but in general.

“We don’t need your help! We’re just fine without you,” Tommy snarled, puffing up like he was personally insulted by the hospital assigning them a caretaker. It couldn’t understand that much, but It could understand Ran’s need for one. Ran’s profile did highlight memory issues that would interfere with him properly intaking his medication. It didn’t need one though, and It could also do that job just fine.

“L for you but I got a six month contract,” Techno shrugged his shoulders like removing a heavy weight, muscles straining against his shirt. He brushed hair from his face, giving Tommy a look like he was daring him to say something else. Tommy bristled but fell silent, pouting into Its side.

“Can I… can I ask why we need a Caretaker?” Ran spoke up next, shuffling forward until his chest was brushing against Its back. It barely even blinked, even if that seemed to be another thing It didn’t understand. Why were they so close to It? Didn’t they realize that was dangerous?

“You’ve got memory issues and he’s apparently barely a human being most days,” Techno moved to meet his eyes, “and unless he’s got anything to say about that, I’m staying.” So if It said something then he’d leave? That… made sense. It was the only one amongst them who was a legal adult, which might be the reason for the other three being so close. Latching onto the only powerful authority figure and all that. Not healthy but… at least understandable.

It remained silent, staring straight ahead. Silence stretched out blandly, the bodies crowded around him shivering slightly as a cold breeze ran down the street. It was warmer than the last time It had been in the district, its getting close to spring. Crows cawed loudly overhead, bodies blending into the smoke overhead.

“So that’s that then,” Techno cleared his throat, averting his eyes to the side, “so which way are we going? They’ve given me your address but I don’t know now to get there from here.” A lie, It noted. The hero knew exactly how to get to the Cafe but for whatever reason wanted to stay close to the four of them. Strange, they were hardly going to die between here and there.

Several sets of eyes bore into its skin as the children turned their eyes to It. At least that makes sense, It did own the building so of course they would follow It back. Blinking Its pitifully burning eyes, It glanced very briefly down. It could hardly walk like this and Tubbo was already looking unsteady after walking down the hospital stairs and waiting for ten minutes for Techno to arrive.

Tubbo didn’t even yelp as he was suddenly lifted, It sliding Its arm under his armpit and around his waist. He just clung to It harder, wrapping his legs and arms around It so he was firmly held at Its side. Tommy gave him a solid look that vaguely read as jealousy. Jealous over what, It also didn’t know.

It didn’t know a lot.

Stupid, weak, why was he clinging?

Why did he think that was safe?

No authority figure was that safe.

Second hand in hand, with an arm around Tommy’s shoulder and Ran staying as close to Its back as he could, It began walking down the street. Techno adjusted the duffel bag slung over his shoulder, matte black a creased under the weight of clothes and something just a smidge heavier, and followed after. Its Gift kept a careful eye on him, labeling him as a potential danger.

Walking roughly half an hour to the Cafe was done in mostly silence but a different one than the one caused by Its non answer. Light and hopeful, like a breath of fresh air even in the smoky atmosphere. Then again, the air here was a lot cleaner than in District Thirteen. Not a hard thing to do but it could have to do with that.

Vines curling over walls, neatly shining windows and carefully taken care of flowers slowly came into view. Tubbo had long since relaxed into Its side and at the sight he smiled, Tommy gained a bounce in his step. Ran mostly shrunk back. He’d never been here before so that made sense.

Even without the key, finding the spare and unlocking the door was a simple matter. But then… and for the first time since getting out of District Thirteen It could honestly say It hesitated. There was nothing much to say for that. It just hadn’t expected for anything to be different when it got back, other than a layer of dust over everything.

Instead, It was met with a mostly cleaned Cafe smelling vaguely of lemons. Chairs pulled out from tables and over most available surfaces there were just little things. A candle here, a Tupperware there, a commemorative salt and pepper shaker set balancing carefully on the edge. There were bags, handmade clothes or cheap store bought things. Not a single thing in the room was over five, ten dollars.

For some reason, Its chest grew heavier at the sight for reasons that seemed different than when MD confronted It in the hospital room. It hadn’t seen him since which didn’t make It feel great but that was a non issue. An emotional matter that It shouldn’t concern Itself with.

It wanted to cry.

It wanted to laugh, relieved to finally be home where the kids were safe.

It knew they weren’t safe with It and It would lose them eventually.

It wanted to scream at the thought.

It wanted to do a lot of things…

Machines didn’t have emotions.

Take a deep breath.

“Holy shit, that’s a lotta stuff,” Tommy sounded breathless, tugging It forward as he stepped into the cafe. It followed after if only so he didn’t fall and break something. Techno kept at the doorway, looking over the room quietly.

“Is this… normal?” Ran asked, poking into a bag and pulling out a poorly made scarf with chunky black spiders knitted onto it. He dropped it, looking a bit uncomfortable. Instead, he turned his focus to the various candles dotting the room.

“Hell no, you think they put anything in our room?” Tommy bounced, turning and tugging at Tubbo’s pant leg. Taking the hint, It put Tubbo down gently. Both lingered for a moment, looking up while It kept Its gaze trained ahead, face set blank like it always should be. Then the scampered off towards the door upstairs, Tubbo stopping for a moment to tug Ran along with them.

It stepped forward, easily making Its way through the mess to the cash register where there was a small neon green bag and a note taped to the cash register. Scribbled handwriting It recognized as MD’s labeled both the bag and note.

Kept this place nice and sparkling for you!

Call me whenever I can come back to work, will you?

Your bestest of friends,

MD

‘Work’ was smudged, nicks in the paper giving away that he’d erased and rewritten the word several times. He flicked his eyes over to the bag. It was vaguely heavy when It grabbed it, but not a lot. White paper shavings hid whatever was inside. And then, the lights clicked on suddenly.

“Huh, redecorate while I wasn’t looking?” Techno called out from behind It, a hesitance to his voice like he was trying to make a joke. Ignoring him would likely be rude but It wasn’t supposed to talk, the very idea making Its throat pulse and ache with phantom pains. A silly reason not to speak but the only one It had.

Rather than responding, It turned sharply on Its heel and made Its way upstairs. Techno muttered under his breath, gripping to the air about nothing in particular before struggling his way through the minefield of gifts. He’d be fine, nothing there was dangerous.

The upstairs was also clean but free of any surprise presents. Just counters in need of  wiping down and messed up pillows on the couch. The kids were visible through their bedroom door. It walked over to the other bedroom to set the small green bag down, and only briefly looked over the room.

Same sheets were pulled over the bed, same pillows sat over it and the same old pictures on the walls. The only difference was a brightly colored carpet on the floor, circular and standing out from all the other dull colors. Another gift, then. MD must’ve moved it there.

Closing the door behind It, It turned back to the living room and spotted Techno standing awkwardly by the door. There were many questions It should ask him. Why he was masquerading as a caretaker, what a hero was doing here after the high stakes mission with The Pit Dwellers, but It didn’t. The words didn’t come out.

“Dad, where’s Ran sleeping? Are we getting another bed for him?” Tubbo called out before Techno could pull together words to speak. He walked into the room rather steadily, his newly refound walker in hand. Pressing back against Its side, It looked up at him with wide eyes. What he was pleading for, It didn’t know.

“On that note, where am I sleeping? And I’ve got stuff the hospital gave me ta organize so if you could point out your bathroom that would be nice,” Techno asked awkwardly, words trailing after Tubbo’s like he wasn’t sure what he was asking. It was a simple question, so that didn’t make a lot of sense. Anxiety, perhaps.

Faced with several questions It couldn’t answer, It instead stared blankly, Gift buzzing unpleasantly over Its skin. Speaking seemed outside of Its skill set, and Its muscles seemed locked in place by the sparking electricity. Being frozen like this wasn’t something It was very familiar with.

On occasion, It had heard descriptions of stage fright or other things similar. The feeling like the entire world was bearing down onto you, eyes burning into your skin. An imaginary spotlight highlighting every little action you took.

This was nothing like any of those descriptions though so it had to be something different. The world wasn’t any smaller, that was a ridiculous notion. It was fully aware that the room was the same 20.2 by 15.6 foot space and no amount of crackling was going to change that. Techno nor Tubbo’s eyes had any heat to them and there was definitely no spotlight.

But still It didn’t move, there was technically a reason to but was it an important reason? Some silly questions from Techno, who could easily find the bathroom himself, and Tubbo, who didn’t have any way of learning his answer but could still assume things. So no reason to speak.

Nothing to do with the burning in Its throat.

Nothing to do with Its itching skin still caked in blood that wasn’t there, wasn’t there, wasn’t there.

Nothing to do with how weak Tubbo looked.

Nothing to do with how that was Its fault.

No, nothing to do with anything at all.

It. Just. Didn’t. Speak.

“See kid, this is what told you about him being unresponsive,” Techno gestured at It, “Guess we’re going to have to figure this out ourselves.” It blinked which, technically, was a response. Tubbo hesitated, pulling back slightly from It. Good, he needed to learn that being near It was a bad idea, a very bad idea.

“Oh, okay,” He sounded disappointed. His eyes left It, flickering to Techno before dropping to the floor. It ignored the way Its skin roiled at the reaction. There was no reason to have such a response to disappointment of all things.

“Well, the couch pulls out so you’re probably sleeping there and the bathroom is through there,” Tubbo pointed to the only door that hadn’t been opened yet with one hand. He glanced back at It again, ears flicking back before walking back to where the other two kids were. Tommy called out loudly, complaining about something Ran had done. Then, all three went quiet.

For whatever reason, It felt like It had made a mistake. Even as Techno walked past It to the bathroom and even as three sets of eyes peeked out the door individually. All the while, It stood there. Its feet firmly on the floor, Gift cataloguing every speck of dust in the air. It stood and It stared.

It didn’t think.

It wasn’t supposed to think.

Just breathe.

Breathe.

Put the pink one there! No blue! Pink! Blue! Do you think he’s still standing there? We broke Spyderman D: we? They did Who did? Can we kill them? Blood? Blood! Blood for the Blood God Blood Blood Blood Blood

 

“No Chat, we can’t go back and commit murder, we don’t even know where they went,” Techno muttered to himself, glaring at the small medicine cabin as he rustled through the various medications he’d been given by the hospital. Already, he was regretting this,

Really, he didn’t even know what he’d been thinking when he’d decided to actually use the medical training he only technically had to become Clay’s caretaker of all things. Well, and Ran’s but that hadn’t been a part of the plan.

A plan that Chat had come up with, fleshed out and he had just gone alone with it for whatever reason. Techno sighed, shoving the labeled bottles on the shelves and deciding to fully organize and divide them up tomorrow during breakfast. He was tired and really wanted a nap.

Was he expecting to get that nap? Not anymore, not after seeing Clay and realizing that even after a month in the hospital he was still… Techno hated the term broken with a burning passion so not that. Clay was just frazzled, definitely. No one could commit that much murder and be fine after. Most people Techno knew couldn’t even get away with it, the fact that Clay did said some things that Techno didn’t want to look into.

Leaving the bathroom, Techno dropped his duffel bag of clothes and hygiene products and turned to Clay. Clay who was still standing there, staring at the wall across the room like it was simultaneously the most interesting thing in the world and boring him out of his mind. He didn’t even look like he’d twitched. A fact that was very, very disconcerting.

“Okay, it’s been a long day so how about you get to sleep and I’ll deal with your kids,” Techno offered, shuffling over awkwardly. As should probably be expected, Clay said nothing. His arms remained steady at his sides, shoulders back and chin level with the floor. Oddly, he looked a bit like a soldier.

 

*GASP* SECRET SUPER SPY??? He really is Spyderman He can help up commit murder :D no, no murder E I think murder is the vibe actually We vibe with murderers E Blood for the Blood God E Come on man Technoblade said nu >:(

 

Seeing as he was getting nowhere with just taking, Techno reluctantly grabbed Clay’s forearm on the top right, left?, arm. Neon green burst from his skin, forming a protective barrier around him that caused muscles hidden under loose fabric to twitch but otherwise remain steady. Jolting, Techno had to hold back from tossing the man.

As it was, he was forced to let go, hand violently buzzing and feeling like he’d just stuck a fork in a light socket. Resisting the urge to shake his hand, Techno took a deep break. Okay, weird, very weird. What the hell was that reaction?

Touching him again wasn’t technically as weird, but only technically. The vibrant shade almost hurt to look at, such a strong aura that Techno knew he should be feeling more than he was observing. Maybe hidden emotional turmoil or an acidic taste on his tongue. Obviously, he was wrong because that wasn’t the case.

Maybe assuming that the empty aura back in the train station was a one off thing was a bad idea but Techno didn’t expect it to still be there. A feeling not too dissimilar to running your hand over smooth, cold metal wafted over his arm on air currents. He resisted the urge to shiver, or maybe run away.

Chat fell remarkably silent and he observed the feeling, picking at it in his head and squinting his eyes behind his glasses. Reading Clay’s aura like this was definitely going to need some interpretation. It wasn’t something he often had to do. Usually, a person’s aura was so loud that it was like they were screaming their entire emotional field directly into his ear.

Nether, the kids auras in the other room were nearly enough to drown out the feeling the moment he looked away from Clay and they were feeling pretty subdued right now. But now wasn’t the time for that, Techno reluctantly reminded himself. As much of a challenge as reading Clay’s aura would be, he had an actual job to do. One he was being paid for while he took his vacation days.

 

We could’ve been in the bahamaaaas Or Hawaii! I wanted to go to Italyyyyy What about Russia? SCOTLAND FOREVER WAAAAAAAAAA Someone shut them up before I find a way to get a gun in here Please, you won’t *Click* Wait Wtf? LLLLLLLLL

 

“Right, anyway,” Techno cleared his throat, attempting to pull Clay along. Attempt was definitely the word, the green bleeding into the floor to root him in place for a moment as his body leaned backwards. Tugging at his arm, it was evident that if Clay didn’t want to move, he wasn’t moving.

If he took that head on, which he wasn’t, then that means that somehow this baker had more raw strength than him when Techno isn't using his enhancement. An ‘untrained’ baker who, if the interview was to be believed, had a lot of stuff going on that not a single committee in the entire city was aware of. He didn’t doubt that was possible, the city had managed to miss him for a while.

Thankfully, Clay took a step back and let himself be pulled along before Techno could start to feel ridiculous at how he looked futilely tugging at his arm. Techno was already having trouble just existing in a nigh-stranger’s apartment. A stranger who had committed mass murder about a month prior and- and he really needed to stop thinking about that.

Getting him to lay down was a lot simpler, pushing him down but his shoulders. Briefly, he wondered if having two sets of arms meant he technically had two shoulders. Unimportant, he decided as he pulled the blankets over Clay’s prone form. Tucking him in, which still felt a bit strange but he’d get over it, Techno stood and stared for a little.

Clay’s eyes were still open, curtain of hair grown out since his kids went missing to almost completely shield his face from the nose up. Only messed up like it was could Techno see the many eyes staring blankly at the ceiling. His eyes didn’t flick to look at anything, he didn’t even blink for all that Techno was looking at him. It was an uncomfortable sight.

 

Can we make pancakes? Why did he feel guilty? It’s dinner, I want steak! Can we eat it raw at least? Heckin yeah, raw steak pog He hadn’t done anything, right? Drink the steaks blood like a vampire E Blood for the Blood God Vampnoblade Technopire? No, Vampnoblade He’d never even met Clay before going to the Cafe. Can we have bacon instead? Oooo! Ooo! Pork! Cannibalism Pog! But steakkkkkkkk There was nothing for him to feel guilty over… I want choccy chips E Choccy chips have no blood! We can pretend if we dye them How do you dye choccy chips? Why did this feel like his fault? E Why are we frozen?

 

Techno shook his head, stepping back from the bed with an ache in his head and breath stuttering in his lungs. What had he been doing…right, the children. He was supposed to put them to bed, figure out something for the tall one. Then make his own bed and finally get a nap in.

He could do that, that was easy. Chat wanted him to eat something but he was at the point where he wasn’t really all that hungry. He could wait until tomorrow, maybe make something for everyone. So long as they had potatoes, he could make some food well enough. Yeah, that was a good plan.

Rolling his shoulders, Techno left the room, the mysterious derailment in his train of thought forgotten. They were even further as he ducked into the kids room and found them already asleep. It was, as reluctant as he was to admit it, a cute sight.

On the bottom bunk was the smaller two kids, curled up into one another with Tommy’s arm wrapped around Tubbo’s shoulder and Tubbo’s arm at Tommy’s waist. With Tubbo’s chin tucked onto Tommy’s shoulder, they were in a rather uncomfortable looking but undeniably warm position. Although, the blanket was askew, bunched at the bottom of the bed.

Above them, Ran’s tail was hanging off the side of the bed, his feet barely peeking out at the bottom of his blanket. The rest of his body was curled up under some soft yellow, fluffy blanket. Maybe Techno could find one of those for his own bed on the couch. Preferably, it would be in pink because pink was obviously the best color.

Hesitating, Techno let Chat jeer him into tugging the blanket over the smaller kids. He rolled his eyes as they cheered in success like there was anything to be proud over. Gently shutting the door behind him, he resigned himself to searching all available spaces for a damn blanket, and figuring out how the pull out couch worked. Or maybe he’ll just pass out with it closed.

What was he forgetting?

Chapter Text

Sunlight peeked in through the forever open window, bleeding warm yellows and oranges into the room from the sun. A cocoon of fluffy heat kept his head nice and empty, a layer of cotton pressed into his ears like a hug. It actually was a hug, he realized dimly.

Fluffy golden hair tickled at his face as he groaned, turning his head further into Tommy’s neck. He tightened his arms around his cuddle buddy, feeling Tommy tighten his arms in return. Blearily, he opened his eyes, blinking at nothing.

Wobbly forms swam into view, the vague shapes of a bedframe and his wall. His laptop, his actual one that he got from Christmas, was pushed into the corner. It’s matte black color was just barely visible under the blankets.

Sighing, he closed his eyes again, nuzzling his head away from the light. Darkness was welcomed for once, being in the safety of his home. Just him and Tommy and his dad next door. Well, there was Ran to and that guy on their couch but, like, Dad was next door so it was fine.

A short, wonderful moment passed by where nothing was wrong. Just him and Tommy curled up on their bed, the aches and pains of his body drowned out by his brother’s soft comfort. Until, that is, a loud hissing reached his ears… and then Ran screamed.

“Shhut up,” Tommy groaned, somehow dislodging a pillow from behind them to toss it at Ran. Tubbo whined as their position chained ever so slightly and a sliver of cold mattress met his back. Rude, he was having fun sleeping in.

“Tommy, be nice,” Tubbo chided reflexively, yawning towards the end of it and bringing a sluggish hand up to tub at his eyes, “and calm down, that!s just Anna.” Tommy grumbled complaints as Tubbo turned back and turned to their… guest? New roommate? His tentative friend? Whichever.

Impressively, Ran was managing to become one with the wall next to the window, pressing back and even keeping his tail under control. On the floor in front of him was Anna, her familiar eight legged form a weird comfort after so long away from home. In comparison to Ran, she was tiny though. Tubbo smiled at the sight.

“Just Anna?! That- that thing is massive!” Ran cried, looking on the edge of tears as Anna hissed and edged closer. Tubbo rolled his eyes, hearing Tommy turn into the blankets to stifle his laughter. He always seemed to find it funny when Anna scared people. It wasn’t hard for her either, she was about the size of Tubbo’s chest after all. That was one nether of an advantage.

“Yeah Ran, just Anna. I’m pretty sure she won’t hurt you,” Tubbo assured, flopping back down next to Tommy and nearly shouldering him in the cheek. Tommy yelped, rolling to the side and ripping the blanket off Tubbo. It tangled in his legs, trapping him in a glorified blanket burrito.

“Pretty sure? Um, yeah, that… that’s a big vote of confidence right there, Mhm,” Ran nodded, edging towards the bed and away from her empty terrarium. Briefly, Tubbo wondered why it had been empty the day before if she was right there. Then again, he was pretty sure Anna could break into a bank if she tried.

“Suck it up bitch boy, you’ve seen worse!” Tommy called out, half eating the mattress in the process. He struggled against his makeshift binds, whining as he pulled at his wing in a weird way. Tubbo snickered, shuffling his feet out of the mess before he got stuck too.

“That’s different,” Ran argued weakly even when Tubbo knew it really wasn’t. Anna wasn’t much worse than the gorged, oversized rats he’d seen while unfortunately sewer crawling. Now those were a nightmare.

“It’s really not,” Tubbo agreed with Tommy, who was mostly just struggling to free his arms and somehow failing. Anna chittered, lowering her body and hissing loudly. Ran whimpered. An actual, high pitched whimper better suited for a kicked chihuahua.

Then, almost gloriously, she pounced. Her form bristled, flattening against the ground and slingshotting forward on all eight legs. Ran screamed, ducking and hitting the floor with a bang as she sailed by him and stuck to the wall. Ran flailed, scattering so his back was to the bed.

“That’s small bitch boi energy, imagine being scared of Anna of all things,” Tommy snarked, upper body free of his blanket cage when Tubbo looked back at him. Smiling stiffly, Tubbo tried and failed to resist laughing at the sight the three of them made. He definitely failed.

Bright laughter bubbled out of him, aching at his chest at the suddenness of it after so long without it. Tears were brought to his eyes, a little hysterical and with the occasional hiccup but Ender dammit he deserved this. He was happy and home and safe .

Squeaky hinges were the only sound to give away that someone else had entered the room, especially with the way Tommy was trying to get him to stop laughing out of faux embarrassment. He only vaguely realized Ran had looked away from Anna. 

“Tubbo, Tubs, Big T, it’s not that funny. Come on, shush it. I didn’t get stuck and you didn’t see that,” Tommy whined, pulling at the arm badly muffling Tubbo’s shaky laughter. He giggled, voice breaking halfway through, and tugged back.

“But, but you see, it is funny cause, cause,” Tubbo cut himself off with his own laughter, stumbling through words and they play-wrestled over his arm. Tugging this way and that way, pushing awkwardly at his spine in a way he didn’t care about anymore. What? It was fun and he had actual medical grade painkillers for this stuff now. Wasn’t that a wild thought.

“Um… guys? The, uh, you’re dad is here,” Ran interjected, voice quiet enough to be nearly completely overshadowed by him and Tommy. Especially as Tommy lunged forward to try and slap a hand over Tubbo’s mouth. Tubbo fell back with a yelp, toppling off the bed and into Ran who startled.

In seconds, all three of them were lying on the floor like a set of fallen dominoes, just a little breathless and with the little aches in their body deciding to make themselves known. He didn’t know who said ‘oops’ but it was enough to make Tommy audibly snort. Tubbo let out a soft but happy sound in response.

Anna letting out another loud hiss is what finally drew their attention to the door. Standing there, looming as he always did, was his dad. Right, what Ran was trying to warn them about.

Standing straight as he was, Tubbo realized for the first time that his head just brushed the top of the door. It definitely put how big Dad was into something that actually made sense. Like he knew that Dad was tall but he never realized he was this tall. It was a weirdly comforting sight that made his cheeks hurt.

“Eyyy! Big C! How you feeling?” Tommy was the one to speak first despite fully knowing that Dad was in… less than top shape. Yeah, Tubbo didn’t know all of it but Dad hadn’t even looked down when he’d hugged him yesterday. Usually he’d at least awkwardly pet his head like a hug was a foreign concept.

Dad didn’t say anything, just like the other day. Head pointed straight ahead, spine straight like an army figurine. Sort of like the old melted ones back in their old apartment… Whatever happened to that place? Probably didn’t matter.

With another hiss from Anna, Dad was pulled back by Techno, moved out of the way like a giant Barbie doll. Definitely didn’t match the army figurine description but, hey, it was all he had. Tubbo shifted awkwardly at the sight, he wasn’t alone.

“Tall one, you’re medication’s on the sink. Make sure to take it before you eat, I won’t give you food until you do. I’ve already given this one his medication,” Techno informed them, eyes seeming tired even behind his fancy sunglasses. Ah, there was reality.

“Yessir,” Ran muttered, watching with them as Techno carted Dad away, presumably towards the breakfast table. An unsteady silence settled between them, a tension that was definitely not there at the start of that interaction arriving on a silent wave. Tubbo ended up shifting first, rolling off of Ran’s arm. Tommy climbed off his left after.

“I should, erm, probably go do that. Huh?” Ran spoke, shuffling out of the room still wearing his, too big in some places but too small in others, clothes. Tubbo propped himself up on the bed, wobbling as he gained his feet. Tommy remained laying on the floor.

Closing the door behind himself, the two were left alone to their sudden solitude. Which meant he should probably get dressed? Maybe take a shower too so he could get the stench of hospital off of him. He didn’t know what exactly made him feel like he stunk like that but it was just a feeling okay? Tommy probably felt it too.

“How was that the most awkward conversation we’ve ever had with him?” Tommy demanded to the ceiling as Tubbo began rifling through their dresser. It was actually a good question. Dad had always been off, not responding in a way anyone expected him too, but at least that was a response. Not acting like some kind of living doll.

“I don’t know, what do you think happened?” Other than the obvious, went unsaid. Both of them knew what happened, if not any specifics about the other. Nether, Tubbo should be glad that Tommy wasn’t demanding that Ran be thrown out because he was a stranger Tubbo met in the Pit Dwellers’ place. It was fine though, for now.

“Well I think he’s just freaking out, personally. Like, we did kinda disappeared for while, we know he cares for us an absurd amount so I wouldn’t be surprised,” Tommy scrunched up his face, frowning slightly. Tubbo pulled out a long sleeve that was a bit big on him but Dad had made.

“I mean… maybe,” Tubbo considered for a moment, “But for over a month? I don’t know how this stuff works but he’s a lot more out of it than I’ve ever heard about.” Sure, he hadn’t heard about a lot but he’d seen shock on civilians they’d save. Nether, he’d experienced it. The way Dad was pulled around so long after felt different.

“Do you think he might blame himself a little?” Tubbo asked hesitantly. The idea sounded silly to his own ears. There was nothing about the situation that was his dad’s fault. Nothing he could’ve helped with either. Definitely not anymore than he already did when he was practically the driving force between saving them at all.

“Why?” Tommy asked, wrinkling his nose. Tubbo… didn’t have an answer to that. Maybe only Dad really did but he wasn’t speaking for whatever reason and Tubbo… well he was just going to have to accept that. Just like how Dad had accepted the fact that Tubbo had been permanently crippled without even thinking him any less.

“I don’t know,” Tubbo answered quietly, shoving the pile of clothes he grabbed under one arm and holding his walker in the other. He didn’t technically need it after his impromptu walking lessons but he knew it would make Dad feel better if he used it. Dad always cared about their well being.

Tommy remained pouting at the ceiling as he left, walking by Ran to enter the bathroom. Tactfully, he ignored Techno in the kitchen and Dad sitting shoved into a chair as stiff as before. Anna was talking to him tough, a soft hissing on the table in front of him. His heart twisted at the sight.

Ignore it, Tubbo told himself as he ducked into the bathroom. Dad was going to be okay eventually because that’s how healing worked, right? They were home and they were going to be okay because Dad was here. That’s the way it works.

Right?

Tommy wasn’t a stupid, he knew he was actually pretty damn smart. He figured out how to, roughly, preen his wings on his own. He figured out how to leap between buildings and street fight and protect himself. He’d even managed to scrape by in The Pit and… and that wasn’t something he liked thinking about but he did do it.

In contrast, Tommy was pretty sure Clay, not Dad because the doll in front of him was not the man who took them in, was an absolute dumbass . After three days of living with a broken version of Clay who’d stand and stare at nothing at all, he was certain of this. About as sure as the tension in any room with Clay was in like this was thick.

What made Clay a dumbass? Tommy’s nonexistent inner voice that sounds nothing like the forever curious Ran asked. Quite simple, actually. He was pretty sure Clay was blaming himself for whatever happened between them and the Pit. Yeah, it really does sound stupid, doesn’t it?

Rather regrettably, Tubbo had made a good point when he mentioned the thought, even if Tubs had visibly not believed the words he was saying. It had stuck with Tommy though. No matter how impossibly stupid the thought was, when something got in Tommy’s head then he was going to follow through wether it was an action or a hunch. He knew he was stubborn like that, call him self aware.

Not the point. The point was that Clay had some fucked up shit going through his skull that left him looking weirdly like a haunted doll and that just would not do. Did Tommy know how to fix that? No. But if he really knew what he was doing all the time, he probably would’ve never become Icarus. Or have ever become homeless. That also wasn’t the point.

Knowing what to do and making the promise, to himself if no one else, to do something we’re two very different things. Tommy might not be able to do shit about the situation but he was going to try to. Even if he had his own issues, that didn’t matter. It didn’t matter. He had Tubbo to help him with nightmares and Ran to annoy when the thoughts in his head got too loud.

Techno was there too but, like, Tommy didn’t know anything about him other than he came in with Wilbur every so often so he couldn’t be that important. Sure, Wilbur was probably Tommy’s least most favorite regular but still. Techno was just here and they didn’t need him here. They had each other.

Wow, he was getting even more distracted than usual. Tommy shook his head, focusing back into the situation at hand with a serious expression. He needed total control for this extremely important task. 

His plan was simple, Tommy was going to bake some cookies all on his own. Technically only mostly on his own but still. Tubbo was only there as moral support and Ran was only there because he despised being alone. Tommy could relate so he wasn’t going to say shit.

But he could definitely say he had roughly zero clue as to what he was doing. Sure, he’d watched Clay cook plenty and he worked at a cafe and all but that didn’t mean he knew how to bake. He was more a barista than anything else. Clay made all the delicious foodstuffs.

Flour was fluffed onto every surface, the little that they had left. A slab of melting butter was stuck to the ceiling, just waiting to drop. Sugar mixed with the flour was roughly dusted over the stove top from where he smacked his hand into the box. The cookbook in front of him was slightly wet from… something? Milk maybe? Water? 

Calling it a mess would be conservative, and he was maybe even worse. Flour in his hair, his hands sticky from egg, and cleaning up after was going to be a nightmare if Techno made him do it. Which he probably would because he was Ran and Clay’s babysitter, not their maid.

That being said, he was also the only mildly sane adult which was the only reason he was out of the house right now. Going grocery shopping or whatever, Tommy wasn’t paying attention. It did make sense though. Some of the ingredients he had had to be used creatively to match the recipe.

“That looks… mildly concerning,” Ran muttered loudly, towering over Tommy like the street lamp he was to peer into the mixing bowl. The dough wasn’t nearly as pale as it was supposed to be and Tommy was pretty sure it had moved at some point but it was probably fine. Ran didn’t know what he was talking about. The tall bitch probably didn’t even know how to bake itself.

“It’s fine Big R,” Tommy brushed him off, taking the dough out of the bowl with his bare hands to lay on the cutting board. It twitched as he patted it, so maybe not fine. Whatever, it looked edible, maybe. Nothing he put in there was inedible as far as he was aware, not even those chocolate chips he found in the back of the cupboard over the fridge. Or Ran found it because Tommy couldn’t reach. Close enough.

“Pretty sure it’s not,” Tubbo, the traitor, called him out. He was back to doing whatever super spy stuff he did on his laptop, tapping away like they hadn’t even gone missing for a month. The familiar sight was weird to look at without Clay hovering over his shoulder to make sure Tommy didn’t burn the kitchen down. He wasn’t sure he liked it.

“Shut up Tubso, it’s fine,” Tommy protested, thwacking the dough with the rolling pin Ran had procured from Ender knows where. Rolling it out was a lot harder than he thought it would be. More like pushing around clay than the smooth motions Clay usually used.

“I… don’t think I’ll be eating that,” Ran admitted quietly, shrinking back towards Tubbo. He did that a lot, Tommy noted. Hovering around Tubbo like he was some kind of fragile object in need of protecting. Only occasionally would he stray but he’d always fall back to Tubbo when startled. It had been three days and Tommy didn’t think Ran left the same room as Tubbo once .

“Your loss,” Tommy snarked like he wasn’t an absolute hypocrite who also hadn’t left sight of the other two in the past three days. Unless you counted showers or bathroom breaks, of course. Tubbo had only twice, both times running to Clay like giving the man a hug and a smile was going to snap him out of his state .

“Anyway, where’d the boss man keep the cookie cutters, you think?” He changed the subject, wiping his hands on a towel and searching through the drawers for the nth time. He hadn’t found them when he started the batter but maybe they’d appeared there under mysterious circumstances anyway when he’d looked away.

“Does Dad even have cookie cutters? I don’t think I’ve ever seen him use any,” Tubbo asked like the simpleton he is. A simpleton and a traitor, that one. A rare combination only found in best friends of Tohmas Williams. 

“Of course he does! He’s got a fucking wing cookie Tubso, how else would he get that shape?” Tommy scoffed. Seriously, no cookie cutters? How could you both run a cafe that sells decorated cookies and not have cutters for them? There was no other ways to get those shapes!

Roughly twenty minutes later, there were seriously no cookie cutters. Even Ran had stepped forward to help once Tubbo had started laughing at something on his screen. Not as Tommy, of course not. Tommy was a big man who would never be laughed at for anything.

“Ender, how does he even do this then?” Tommy asked the air. His arms were folded on the counter above him, forehead touching the edge as he bowed it out of mostly frustration. What kind of baker doesn’t have cookie cutters? A bad one, usually. Which didn’t make sense because Clay’s designs were clean as fuck.

“With… a knife… maybe?” Ran offered. Tommy looked up at him and watched the taller teen shrink back. He shoulders bowed and head ducked down, eyes landing on the flour dusted floor as he rocked side to side on his feet. All over a look. Damn, talk about trauma.

“Genius, why didn’t I think about that?” Tommy huffed in frustration. He stood, tossing up his hands and formally giving in to the insanity that was Clay’s kitchen. Cutting cookie dough with a knife and not an actual cookie cutter? Why not. Not the weirdest thing Tommy had ever seen from him.

Red flashed behind his eyes for a moment and Tommy shuddered against his will. He pulled the knife from the block, failing to will his hands not to shake, and almost immediately put it back as Ran fled to behind Tubbo. Ran ducked, using Tubbo as a shield.

No fancy shapes then. Tommy rolled the dough back up despite the effort he’d put in to get it flat. Chunks were taken off and rolled into balls like he could only vaguely recall seeing on some cooking show. Don’t ask when, he just remembered seeing it.

Parchment paper, not wax because that was apparently different according to Tubbo, was set over a baking pan. Which is what he thought the long metal ones were called. As Tubbo googled how to preheat an oven, Tommy squished  the balls onto paper.

Eight circles, maybe an inch and a half across tops, ended up being made by the time he ran out of dough. What? They had literally no groceries, that’s why Techno left. Tommy wasn’t just making shit up to get him out of the apartment so Tommy would be allowed into the kitchen.

“So that’s, what, twenty minutes or something?” Tommy asked, scratching at where dough had somehow made its way onto his cheek as he slid the pan into the oven. The cookbook would probably tell him if he actually read the thing. Not that he would, he stopped doing that after the second substituted ingredient.

“Or something,” Tubbo agreed, audibly clicking through his tabs. Tommy turned to see Ran peering up at the screen, crouched onto the floor with his knees practically to his chest yet still somehow level with Tubbo’s chest. Seriously, how fucking tall was he? Whatever.

“So what are you workin on Big man?” Tommy easily made his way to Tubbo’s other side, peering over his shoulder as a screen filled with so much coding bullshit he didn’t understand that it made his head spin. A very Tubbo working environment, that screen.

But it did work to get Tubbo to take over the conversation from there. A not quite easy silence fell over Tommy and Ran as Tubbo mindlessly chatted about what he was working on. Complex computer terms were tossed around like candy as he grew into a nervous excitement. Like he wasn’t sure he should be. That was a crime against Tommy’s humanity for certain, Tubso deserved all the things.

Except, well, all of Tommy’s attention right now. Not really because of the cookies he could maybe burn either. It was more that every glance over his shoulder was met with the sight of Clay on the couch where Techno had set him before leaving like discarded belonging.

He didn’t know why he kept looking every couple minutes because the sight never changed no matter how much he would’ve liked it too. It was just Clay sat on the couch, back straight, and Anna eating… something beside him. She’d move, he wouldn’t. He just stared ahead, eyes far too distant. It was like the lights were on but no one was home and for some reason that hurt .

Tommy tried not to think about that too hard, tuning back into Tubbo’s rambling. That didn’t stop him from looking.

He’d always look.

Days passed by much the same, even outside of the hospital. It would wake up, be dragged around by Techno for the day as he fed and watered It like a pet or an animal, and then it would sleep. Not a particularly exciting existence but one It was well used to. The biggest difference was the lack of distinct pain.

Not to say there was no pain at all, It knew better than to ever expect that. But rather than the overwhelming agony from every shift of forever unhealed injuries it was a dull ache from the fight that would never fully pass. It had finally broken in Clay’s body, did that make it Its now?

Had It finally broken Itself too?

Whichever it was didn’t matter, nothing really did. It just moved through the motions it always had. Except it didn’t really do that either, not really, not unless It could design to lie to Itself. It wasn’t really moving, It was just being moved.

Oppressive static made sure that was true, a buzz in Its ear and a prickling over Its skin. At best it was uncomfortable and at worst it felt like nothing at all. Glue on Its feet and a constant drone in Its head. Every little detail from a breath of air to flicking eyes reported in circles around Its head.

Painful wasn’t what It would describe it as. Somehow, It might be worse. It didn’t know why It thought that way, especially as something that shouldn’t think, but It was. Its Gift was strong and useful but for moments at a time It could feel a small bubble of hatred twisting in Its chest.

Wrong.

Wrong wrong wrong .

Its your Gift, strong and powerful, you can’t hate it.

A perfect Gift for heroics .

It hated how The Handler’s visage stuck to Its eyelids at those words.

How many days had it been? Its Gift automatically replied ‘three’ but as It was forced to breathe around every tick of the clock It couldn’t help but feel like it was a lot longer than that. Minutes stretched longer than they’d ever felt before. Even longer than when he was locked in his training room back at the HC headquarters.

It blinked, dispelling that thought as Its Gift spiked signifying movement. Taking a deep breath, it could smell burnt something. Where that was coming from quickly became obvious as Tommy edged around the couch towards It.

Water dropped from his hair and stuck to his skin, his clothes fresh from changing after his shower, and in his hands was a cooling pan of what only vaguely resembled cookies. They were more oblong than round and singed around the edges. It didn’t even know how he managed the green tinge with all of Its food dye being downstairs.

“Hey Bi- er, Clay Boss Man,” Tommy stammered in a way that was quite unlike himself. This might be is the first time It’s ever hear him stutter, exceptions being made to with The Pit Dwellers. That was very understandable. It doubted Tommy had been in a true life or death situation like that before.

“I made cookies?” Tommy sounded unsure, gesturing with the pan and causing a cookie to break in two and slide down. The broken cookie tapped against the edge but didn’t fall. He was being so anxious for no reason. It wasn’t scary, at least no right now in this weak body.

“Do you want any?” The question came out weak, Tommy shirking at the edges of Its vision like he was losing steam. It didn’t really want the cookies, to be blunt. They looked horrible and sickly and like Clay’s body would get sick from one bite. Edible cookies were not supposed to look like that.

That was a lie.

Some smothered part of It was proud.

Proud that Tommy, that his son , had even tried.

It may have not been objectively good but new skills were never perfect on the first try.

Not even for It.

So why couldn’t It seem to show that?

Against Its Gift’s will, Its eyes slid down to the cookies from Its spot burning a hole into the wall. Each little inch from where It should be seeming to burn and send signals that no, It was not supposed to be doing this . It wasn’t supposed to be but It was. 

Sparks edged from Its fingertips, pinpricks of feelings that weren't really there. The spider, Anna her name was Anna , beside It hissing loudly. A happy hiss, an encouraging one. It didn’t know how It could tell. That was a useless skill, one that would never help in a fight.

“Think that’s a no?” Tommy asked, but not It. Tubbo or Ran, or perhaps both of them. They were watching from the table quietly, tense over nothing in particular. Unless they were tense about Tommy going up to It.

A good reaction, It was dangerous.

He didn’t want to be.

It couldn’t change what It was.

No words sprang from Its throat when Tommy tiled back. Not words of praise, not accepting the questionable treats or denying them. Not comfort or scorn or anything of the sort. Its hands twitched by Its sides, eyes remaining locked even as the cookies were taken away.

Good, that meant that Tommy was going to leave. Did It he want him to leave? That was good because It was dangerous, even just sitting there. It wouldn’t hurt him, never. But It could, It had. It hadn’t been enough and they’d gotten hurt.

Unaware of the whirling thoughts in Its head or the vibrant green dancing over Its eyes, Tommy set the cookies on the dining table. A soft ting of metal on polished wood is the only noise to say he did. Quiet words exchanged beyond Its ears that It heard. It knows It heard and understood.

So why didn’t It want to?

Why did It want to be oblivious?

Why couldn't It move?

The couch, a worn fabric thing It had bought at a store claiming brand new product when It was obvious none of them were, sank as Tommy sat down. A bit far at first, pressed into the arm rest and seeming to try desperately not to touch It. That was a good thing, a very good one. Didn’t feel like it.

Hesitant wings inches from Tommy’s back, gleaming fire colored feathers in a state of disarray they hadn’t been in a long time. Its hands twitched again, a childish urge to twist through the feathers and preen him bubbling to the surface. It did not. It didn’t move, It wasn’t supposed to.

Between the two, It hadn’t expected Tubbo to cross the room and flop against It. His walker clattered to the floor, Tubbo seemingly uncaring as he slid onto Its other side. The position didn’t look comfortable, legs folded with bony knees lingering from  malnutrition digging into Its legs. Tubbo was too big for the small spot between it and the other couch arm.

Still, Tubbo pressed into Its side, ears flopping back in a way that looked both shy and pleased and anxious at the same time. Anna clicking and the couch squishing audibly signified Tommy coming in from the other side. Anna crawled and slid into her position around on Its head.

Feathers wrapped hesitantly around It, Tubbo lifting Its arm to burrow into Its side as Tommy leaned against Its other arm. Warmth bled in from both sides, a feeling It couldn’t quite describe bubbled up. Whatever it was, Its Gift stopped It from leaning into either child.

Ran stepped into view, Its now tilted position staring directly at his thighs. The tallest child hesitated for a minute before kneeling down, back to It. Ran’s shoulders tensed, feet touching the bottom of the couch. A fleck of silver scared skin caught Its eye.

He was a child soldier.

Taken young, forced into something he never wanted.

The scars decorating his body proves nothing but the pain he went through.

Agony to both the physical and mental senses.

An unnamed hatred welled up against the one who’d taken him.

And It didn’t even know if It was taking about him or Ran.

Fingers threaded into soft, stringy hair. Clean locks spoke of their true colors after the shower, long and reaching just below Ran’s shoulder. Black on one said, white on the other, almost perfectly matching the vitiligo stretching over Ran’s body. Like two human beings spliced together.

Its arm moved slightly around Tubbo, a head tilt towards Tommy so Its ear brushed his hair. Tommy hesitated before leaning back, his own head in the cook of Its neck. It was unsafe. They were unsafe because they were near It and that was never a good thing. It was…

It was agony, almost. Each shallow movement and each steady breath pushing against wounds that weren’t really there. Wounds that It should be incapable of feeling and never had. Phantom pain a foreign concept to a weapon whose brain could simply forget the pain was there at all. So why were they there know? Why was Its Gift hurting It now?

Why was it so intent on asking questions that would never be answered?

Click

Netflix popped up on the screen, the tv that hadn’t been used since any of them got here and the subscription he only barely remembered getting sprinting to life. It was a thing It had gotten based off of one of those articles about a happy household, listed under entertainment. It had never used it until now, no reason to.

“You’re not putting on Up,” Tubbo spoke, eye barely cracked open as he relaxed. The words came out easy, like this was a thing they talked about often. It wasn't quite sure what ‘Up’ was.

“It’s a good fucking movie Tubso,” Tommy snipped back teasingly, already flicking through the children’s movies. There were a lot by a corporation called ‘Disney” that Its Gift pinged as that small entertainment company whose owner died before anything interesting could happen in Its own world. Sure, the death was technically Its fault but still.

“We’ve watched it like twelve times though!” Tubbo whined in a way that Tubbo would likely never admit was a whine. He seemed to have a thing against admitting to acting childish, like there was a problem with that. It didn’t have one. It wasn’t annoying, just expected of two actual children.

“That was months ago! We haven’t watched it since… since we moved in!” Neither of them acknowledged Tommy’s voice faltering so It didn’t either. It knew that was likely in reference to the Pit Dwellers anyway. Nothing else really happened since they moved in that It was aware of. Ran shifted under the twitching pets of Its fingers.

“I haven’t watched Up,” Ran admitted weakly, voice quiet like he was sure he’d said something he shouldn’t have. It didn’t quite understand that. It had never watched this ‘Up’ thing either but that was nothing to be concerned about.

“See Tubso? We’ve got to watch it now,” Tommy said with finality as he selected the movie. Tubbo grumbled good naturedly but didn’t say any good further, relaxing back into Its arm. Tommy shuffled into a comfortable position, natural heat from his wings acting as a makeshift blanket around Tubbo and It.

Ran only briefly glanced at them before looking back to the screen, head shyly moving into Its hand. It couldn’t do much for that, nor the burrowing teens at Its side. So It sat there, attempting to will Itself into looking up at the actual screen rather than the space above Ran’s head. It’s eyes barely moved. Still, Its hand remained as a facsimile of comfort and that was enough.

It had to be enough.

Just like how they were enough.

And yet…

It.

Still.

Couldn’t.

Move.

Chapter Text

A further four days passed before the little green package on his Its dresser was moved. Not for any particular lack of trying either. It was more that after the children finally let It go after Techno got home, It simply hadn’t had the energy to attempt to grab it. Something about the small movements made while watching the movie had been, for lack of a better word, exhausting.

Not exhausting in the way that It was familiar with either. That exhaustion was a well worn feeling spiked with pain on the back of Its tongue, a burning thing that hurt Its eyes and rubbed knives over Its hands and feet. But this wasn’t like that and It didn’t know how to feel about it,

Heavy weights dragged down his limbs, more rope burns if painful at all. A slow, crushing feeling dragging all desires of movement from his mind. It was… confused as to why it felt like this. The regular lingering pains often dulled by medication didn’t even bother It. Especially when Techno made sure It actually took said prescription.

It does not matter how new or off the feeling was, however, because in the end the result was the same. It had watched the movie, recovered, and now here It was. Sat upon Its bed, eyes burning into the pretty bright green bag ahead of It.

Light shifted off of the bag, reflecting the color onto the table and the wall behind it. Only the black writing was spared, sharpie a tad blurry but otherwise fine. It didn’t know what was in the package, not really. Then again, a good portion of the items downstairs were still unsorted.

Quite hazardous, really.

He It would have to fix that before the cafe reopened.

Would they reopen.

It… no It wasn’t supposed to want.

Minutes ticked into hours, the children fast asleep in the room beside it and Techno completely unconscious on the pull out couch. Only the nigh silent rise and fall of breathing gave away there was anyone there at all. None of them snoring and none moving in their sleep. Still, It did not sleep.

Legs seemed to creak under Its weight, knees protesting as Its Gift badgered It to lay back down where It had been taken, where It obviously belonged if It had been maneuvered there. To sit there until someone moved It again because that’s how It was supposed to be.

Weapo