“It reeks,” says Sollux Captor.
Aradia Megido turns around, doing a full sweep of the space they are in. “Really?” She figures it’s a cause for worry, because there’s nothing in the void that can reek, unless it’s the void itself. She highly doubts the void is capable of reeking of anything but dust and the screams of failed sessions.
“Yes,” Sollux says, lisp emphasized as he drags the last letter. He sniffs again.
“Might be good to get out of here, then,” Aradia says. She takes Sollux’s hand in hers, ready for flight.
Sollux stills. So does she.
“Sollux?” she asks, and not a second sooner after she asks that, something very cold, unnaturally cold – deathly cold – touches her back. She turns as best as she can, not letting go of Sollux’s hand. There’s nothing that she can see.
The cold feeling persists, and pushes, bleeding through her pajamas and her tough skin, passing through her spine – she shivers at that – and touching her insides. Aradia flaps her wings wildly, and they make a buzzing sound as she does, but she’s not budging away from her place. Her eyes widen as she squirms, frozen in space.
Sollux is still.
“Sollux!” she yells, desperate, as she feels that cold settle into her stomach, pooling. If she had to describe the sensation, she would say it felt like a hand made out of ice had curled around her gut. Aradia thrashes, never letting Sollux’s hand go, almost crushing it as she holds it tighter.
The cold around her gut pulls.
And Sollux Captor breathes.
Maybe he should bring Tony into this.
If Tony hasn’t already dug through S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files himself. He probably has. And if that is the case, then that would make Steve’s job easier, but then again, there is the problem of Tony asking why he was interested, and if Tony presses it a little further, he’d have to talk about the Safehouse again and maybe, finally, finally, Tony’s curiosity will tip over the edge and –
Yeah. Then again, maybe he doesn’t trust Tony that much, which is sad, because they’re on the same team and they’ve saved each other’s asses more times than can be counted. That should warrant even a bit of trust.
(Even sadder, Steve thinks – is that it’s just work. He trusts Romanov and Barton to keep an eye out for him on missions. Not for much else. Not when they’re at the beck and call of S.H.I.E.L.D. They’re not bad people. Steve just worries about their unpredictability.)
This is what Steve knows so far:
First, Tony Stark has a degree of curiosity towards the Safehouse, and by some intense miracle, or maybe someone hit him on the forehead with some sort of warding spell, he hasn’t pursued that curiosity yet. Nearly everyone in New York knows where the Safehouse is.
Second, funnily enough, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents haven’t gotten the idea to try and talk to people about the Safehouse. Maybe it’s the wards Jade has told him about, keeping the Safehouse out of sight and out of mind.
Third, if this is the case, he wonders why he appears to be an exception.
Fourth, he doesn’t know S.H.I.E.L.D.’s real intentions. He has nothing against protecting the Earth from other threats, but he knows and he’s seen S.H.I.E.L.D.’s methods, and if you’re not from Earth, even if you are relatively harmless, they will hold you captive and put you on surveillance. Ask Thor. And while S.H.I.E.L.D. is just being paranoid (and rightfully so), Steve can also understand wanting freedom and privacy. Lord knows he’s not afforded much of it these days.
(And what a mockery. A champion of freedom held down by constraints.)
Fifth, if Fury wants it, he could have Romanov and Barton take out the Safehouse, and Steve would have to fight against them, because he has friends there.
Sixth, there will most likely be a public uproar if the Safehouse is touched by S.H.I.E.L.D., which is also the only reason why S.H.I.E.L.D. has declined from making any moves. They are, however, trying to find anything that will incriminate the Safehouse, anything that can give them an excuse to see who’s running the place. With the latest news of the disappearing missiles, they seem to be writing up papers on it, but since the public believe (and they’re correct) that it was a friendly force that helped during the attack, they can’t really do anything that’s not going to destroy their credibility.
Steve chuckles at this. Imagine that. Protests and rallies against the Avengers and everything they stand for. Then again, there already are small-scale fights and debates about the credibility of superheroes who can’t do damage control.
This is what the Safehouse is for, he thinks.
Seventh – he should really write all of this down, because there’s too many things to keep track of at once; but if he does, unless he burns the list, there’s physical evidence that might be used, or the cameras can pick up what he’s writing, and paranoia dictates he should be careful – Tony does not like S.H.I.E.L.D.
Eighth, Jade had told him a lot when they talked at Sunny’s a few weeks ago.
True to what had been predicted, it’d rained straight from morning to evening, leaving Steve to have to brave through the downpour with an umbrella that wasn’t quite supersoldier-grade. He’d waited for Jade in the café for a few minutes, vaguely aware of Sunny turning up the volume on a bright yellow radio as the storm outside appeared to grow harsher.
Jade arrived in a flash of green light a few minutes later, and they both ordered coffee and a few pastries as they talked. He explained what had gone on during the debriefing, and how they’d narrowed the missile disappearances down to mutants because if Tony Stark couldn’t build a teleporter yet, then there was a huge chance that nobody else had.
Jade had snorted and muttered something about transportalizers and appearifiers, and a few other things Steve didn’t get, but he figured it was probably a future thing. She told him not to worry and asked him to try and find out about what S.H.I.E.L.D was doing to mutants, because apparently, they’d heard from some of the refugee children that they’d seen their friends – mutant friends – get abducted.
Steve had to stop himself from throwing up. Children. Mutants, but children all the same. Children like Jade and Rose.
“I’m not thirteen, Steve,” Jade had reminded him. Then, softly, “At least, not really.”
He…decided not to ask. Following her logic, that meant her twin brother John (Pepper had told him once, he remembered), would be around the same age as she was. They both did look thirteen. Genetics didn’t go that far, unless mutant genes also meant you didn’t age past the age of thirteen. Steve highly doubted it.
Jade had looked sad when she said that. Then she cleared her throat, drank the rest of her coffee and continued her explanation in a low voice.
The Safehouse had taken in both mutants – children or otherwise – and the homeless. They’d found a way to communicate with them, and whenever the mutants or the homeless had news for them, they either called (if they were far away – no, it wasn’t by phone; magic, Steve, magic) or they dropped by the house. If the informant wanted to show them something, one of them went and checked it out.
Whenever they pieced something together, like a pattern in mutant abductions (there was no other way to go around it, they were abductions), they warned their refugees. Whenever one of their psychics had a vision, they did the same thing.
They were helping some of the more inexperienced mutants how to control their abilities. They didn’t need to be defenseless, after all.
Jade had fallen silent for a while at that. Then, she said that Rose wasn’t looking for colleges after all.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed she’s been gone a while,” Jade said, “And I’m sorry if this looks like I don’t trust you – I really do, Steve. It’s just that I don’t run the Safehouse alone. Plenty of us do. We decide on things together.” Another pause. “Luke just gave the go-signal recently, so I’m telling you now. She’s on a…a mission, you can call it. Safehouse stuff.”
He could understand. It stung a little, but there were other people’s safeties at stake, and Steve was working under S.H.I.E.L.D.
Didn’t mean it didn’t hurt though.
“She’s protecting some – ” Jade faltered, then settled for, “She’s protecting. That’s all I can say. From S.H.I.E.L.D., mostly.” Shrugged. “What’s new. She’s protecting the world and whatever’s under her care right now.”
He’d nodded, saying nothing. Jade sighed. “Maybe we’ll get to tell you one day, but for now, it’s dangerous.”
He’d nodded again, fingers pressing hard against the ceramic of the coffee cup, trying not to break it. “Why did Luke give the go-signal now?” He tried searching through his memory for anyone named Luke. Common enough name, but he didn’t think he’d met anyone from the Safehouse named Luke.
“Because just in case S.H.I.E.L.D. goes after us, we might need your help,” Jade said, “And you may need to help Rose with protecting whatever she’s protecting.”
He stilled for a moment.
“Okay,” he said. Jade looked relieved.
She continued on about what actually happened during the attack, about how it wasn’t just her who teleported the missiles out of their trajectories, but also the ‘Luke’ she’d mentioned earlier. And then she’d laughed as she remembered S.H.I.E.L.D.’s opinion on people not being able to build teleporters.
“Give us the right equipment,” Jade said, “And we’d be able to alchemize next to anything in existence.”
Again, Steve had no idea what she meant by ‘alchemize’, so he chalked it up to another future thing.
They’d finished up and promised to call if there were any developments, and if they needed to, they’d meet up at Sunny’s again. The Friday jog was still on, and Jade told him they’d gotten a few more dogs since the last time they’d gone for a run together.
So yes, presently, he’s got a lot to work with, and he’s gotten further in the good graces of the other Safehouse members, which is progress. He wonders if Rose is okay. He hopes she is.
Also, maybe he can ask Tony what ‘appearifiers’ or ‘transportalizers’ are. Or what ‘alchemize’ is, in the context Jade used it. This brings him back to his initial line of thought.
Ninth, his best shot at finding out what S.H.I.E.L.D. does with the mutants they take off the streets, is Tony. Steve can’t get into technology, sadly, and if he tried to manually break in and find out, he wouldn’t know where and what he is looking for. Dissected bodies? Prison cells? Laboratories? The margin for error is too huge and if he messes up, he could endanger the mutants and the Safehouse.
JARVIS is crafty, though. And discreet. Steve knows Tony keeps an eye out on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s doings, and hopefully, he’s already started research on whatever S.H.I.E.L.D. might be unlawfully keeping in their cells.
Tenth, Steve Rogers is about to involve Tony Stark in all of this. He really hopes this doesn’t blow up in his face.
That said, he moves to get himself ready to visit the Avenger’s Tower, where hopefully it’s only Tony, or Pepper. Pepper’s presence would be a blessing, because she’ll most likely take Nick Fury by the ear and yell at him if they do find out that something’s wrong.
He’s barely gotten his keys in his pockets when he feels – something. It’s subtle, but it’s there, a shift in the air, a sort of electricity, the feeling that something that doesn’t belong has invaded the space he’s in. He looks around the room. There’s nothing there.
Maybe a spy or something? He’ll need to check soon, but for now, he’ll have to talk to Tony first. He ignores the feeling of static in the air, that suffocating feeling of Wrongness, and gets out of his apartment.
Eleventh, something big is coming.
“Okay, I need everybody to bleed.” – is what the pool master greets everyone with when they enter the room, carrying a bag and a few empty vials that are most certainly Loki’s.
As much as everyone trusts Loki with their lives and their bodily fluids, bleeding is still a painful affair unless any of them had a degree in medicine and knew where to stick a syringe into.
“What for?” John asks.
“Mr. Winters – ” right, because the pool master wasn’t a part of the War Council, they didn’t know Loki’s real name, only the alias “ – says that ‘the emergency system is blood-activated’.” There’s a series of groans before people start rolling up their sleeves.
“What about Rose?” Jade asks.
“Oh, Mr. Winters is getting her blood. He put me in charge of getting yours,” they say.
Dave, who has already rolled up his sleeve and stuck out an arm, lets out a huff. “And you don’t get curious about all this?”
The pool master shrugs. “He spares my room of pranks, I do what he says as long as it’s limited to errands.” They set their bag down on the table and motions for Dave to sit by it, then take out a pair of gloves, a length of rubber and a syringe. “Also, I’m the only one here who knows how to use a syringe without causing complications.”
“Were your parents doctors?” John asks. He watches as Dave gets a tourniquet, and then gets the crook of his arm wiped down.
“No, they were drug dealers.”
Even Mrs. H and the others get their blood drawn, because Loki likes being meticulous. The pool master transfers each sample to a vial after every draw and sticks a label on them as to whose blood is whose. The vials light up briefly and engravings etch themselves on the glass after the vials are corked.
“What do those say?” Jade asks, lifting her vial up to the light to inspect it.
She gets a shrug as a reply.
John raises his head as something occurs to him. “You said something about pranks – ” He doesn’t finish the sentence before everyone springs into action, flying (or running, for the others) up the stairs and into their respective hallways. There are several crashes, one shriek, and one loud splattering of something no one wants to try and figure out, and they’re spared from having to when John screams, “Is this icing?!”
Ah, yes, well. Looks like the Safehouse is plunged into another prank war. They don’t get those often, but when they do, it’s usually John against his sister (or Dave and Rose, if he includes them), or John against everyone else. Mr. G and Mrs. H usually ignore John’s pranks, or just laugh if it gets them good and since they don’t retaliate, John doesn’t push it to a second prank (he feels bad if they don’t prank back – because then it’s not a war, it’s just an unfair fight). Loki, however, will mark up John’s room six ways to Sunday and into two weeks.
Currently, there’s a rune right past John’s door that spits out heavy icing upon contact.
John shudders. Icing drips onto the floor. This’ll take a while to clean up, and he can’t even make Loki do it, because the bastard is in India. He sighs. Well, maybe he deserved this – he’d stolen all of Loki’s leather jackets last week and replaced them with kigurumis (and to be fair, the guy looked adorable in them).
He flies over to Jade’s room just as she walks out, covered in blue powder while holding a broken picture frame. Her glasses are just round circles of opaque blue.
“It’s dye powder,” she says.
She wraps her glasses in green light and gets them off her face. John laughs when the area around her eyes proves to be the only part of her that’s not covered in blue. Jade frowns. Bits of powder fall off at the action.
“I have to know exactly where things are to teleport them off,” Jade says, “There’s too much of the powder and they’re too fine.”
“You’ll have to take a bath then.”
“I’ll be taking a bath in the pool then.”
“Hey, that’s uncalled for,” John says, still laughing. Dave joins them in the hallway a little while later, glittery-pink-skinned.
“What…what is that?” Jade asks.
Dave shrugs. His hands shimmer under the light. “Beats me.”
It takes about two hours for John to wash off the icing, and three more to clean up his room. Jade has it a little harder, especially since she’s dealing with blue dye powder and the things get everywhere.
At least their pranks are quick to get rid of – Dave’s skin appears to change color every now and then, and it’s Mr. G who points out that they’re changing with his emotions (and good luck to them trying to figure out how Mr. G figured that out because Dave’s facial expressions never change); immediately after that’s explained, Dave turns a deep blue, and the dogs start barking so loud that John has to usher them out of the living room.
The Palmers have switched voices. Nobody comments on this.
(Cecil’s cat looks somehow pleased, like it’s amused by its owner’s suffering.)
Mr. G still hasn’t gone into his room.
It’s a normal day in the Safehouse, all in all. Mrs. H. makes them all cookies and tea as they gather for an impromptu meeting that Jade calls, to discuss whether or not the kigurumis should make a reappearance while Loki’s entire wardrobe disappears. Dave’s skin turns the same color as Kevin’s chat text and nobody even asks what that means.
And then – after the meeting, when they’re lounging in front of the television while one of the Palmers (the only things they had to go on were the fashion sense and the voices, and since Loki’s gone and fucked the latter up, they’re not going to try sorting through it until this is over) try and get a hold of Loki, or maybe Rose, or even James if he’s in a mood to answer phones –Dave’s skin suddenly turns orange.
John loses it. Jade runs out of the room, trying not to laugh. She fails.
“I look like fucking Davesprite,” Dave mutters. It makes both of them laugh even harder.
Cecil – or maybe Kevin, but most likely Cecil – has a thoughtful look on his face though. “Who?”
“Davesprite,” Dave says, “He’s – nevermind.”
“Davesprite,” Cecil repeats, as if trying out the word on his tongue.
The others, too caught up in hysterics, don’t notice it, but Dave doesn’t miss the familiar look of a Seer fugue in Cecil’s eyes.
James names the puppy Fenrir.
Rose Lalonde has never laughed so hard in her life. Loki doesn’t look amused.
Norse mythology really does prove to be the tabloid mags of Asgard, because for one, Loki doesn’t even have children, and two, Sleipnir has been Odin’s horse since Loki was a baby.
Fenrir used to be his dog. Or whatever passed for dogs in Asgard, so they were a lot more vicious than their Earth counterparts. Sadly, Loki wasn’t allowed pets and Fenrir was, according to him – very pointedly not looking at Rose – “I believe I heard our little water mage Mai say this, got sent to the rainbow bridge by papa.”
Still, it explained why he was so good with dogs. If Asgard’s versions of them were bigger and more active, Loki would have had to deal with a huge, slobbering beast running up to him and licking him every time it saw him, provided Fenrir was the affectionate type. From the pulse of sadness and longing that had swam into Rose’s view – and now swims into Rose’s view as James decides the name of his new puppy – that was most likely the case.
Rose should not have stocked mythological books in the bunker, but James appeared to like anything that didn’t concern his spotty memories or real life. Another bad mark for his dissociation, but she can’t force him. Besides, he’s making good progress.
The other night she’d woken up to him screaming from a nightmare and then he’d tried to gouge his metal arm out. When that didn’t work, he started scrubbing at the hideous star that was painted on it. Afterwards he wouldn’t look at or even tolerate the presence of anything that had to do with Hydra or Nazis, so several of the files they had in the bunker went up in flames the next morning.
Safe to say he’s got more than enough memories for that part. He’s kept the history books though; Rose thinks it’s because of the information on the Howling Commandos.
He’s also started to talk more. They’re mostly questions – “Who are you, really?”, “What are you?”, “Why does nobody see the house from the outside, what did you do to it?”, “Are you soldiers?”, “Rose, why is there two of you sometimes?”, “Rose, why is your shadow moving funny?” – although he’s more vocal with John regarding the dogs, and whenever Dave drops by, they talk. It’s probably relaxing to talk to someone who you don’t need to make eye contact with. Rose knows her brother is incredibly good at that.
As for the rest of James’ questions, they can wait. At least until Rose finds out exactly how he’s able to see what he’s seeing, because she’s more concerned about his behavior, now that his head is finally sorting itself out.
He is something else when he remembers his Howling Commandos days and revels in it, he is something else when he’s spacing out and thinking about his Hydra ‘employment’, and he is something else when he’s just living in the now, spotty memories and fatigue and all of that.
He’s splintering, Rose thinks.
Maybe that’s why he can see her splinters too. Horrorterrors laughing in her shadow.
But right now, they’re in the middle of a forest, Loki’s just delivered Fenrir the golden retriever, and has also just taken a vial of Rose’s blood (did he learn blood extraction from Asgard?), and has teleported them to one of the most beautiful clearings Rose has ever seen. James is walking after Fenrir, who has run off and has started smelling rocks and tree trunks and flowers, excited.
“We’ll need a collar,” Rose says, watching James chase after his puppy as it runs into a bush, only to bolt right out when James is near, weaving past his legs and barking happily.
Loki had been considerate enough to take care of the shots and dewormings and all of that, so all they need is a collar and a constant replenishing of dog supplies, plus a walk every now and then. John and the others are scheduled to visit with the other dogs two days from now.
Fenrir runs back to James and bites the hem of his pants, pulling him for a few steps before letting him go and running again. James stands, blinks and then sighs as he follows his puppy.
“I have a collar for the pup,” Loki says, he makes a motion with his hand and Rose can see space yield for a moment as he plucks out a collar in a flash of green light.
It’s not a sylladex, but she supposes pocket universes are cool.
The collar itself is a slim, light thing that has green runes on its main body and a tiny pendant that looks like a rod of some sort sewed into the strap.
Rose raises an eyebrow.
“I don’t think James would appreciate it if anything happened to his dog.”
“And you warded a collar,” Rose says, “Fair enough.”
Ahead, Fenrir brings James a stick and a clump of leaves in his mouth. He spits it out onto the ground before his owner, sits for a while, and then runs off again. Rose is reminded why she is a cat person. Cats, at least, were easy to understand. You just had to know that they will constantly be in a battle of wits against you, trying to one-up you at every turn to establish who the master of the household is. Dogs are ridiculous. They’re cute though.
But James is smiling, looking like he’s forgotten Rose and Loki are there. He chases after Fenrir again, who has gotten bored of the clearing and is starting to go downhill. Loki says there’s a lake there.
Rose smiles. They’d better follow.