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A Lullaby For Gods

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He enters the flat just in time for something to shatter. It’s followed by Jade’s loud, indignant, “John!” and a door slams open as wind races past it, rushes down the stairs, passes him and slips out the still-open front door, carrying the sound of laughter with it.

Loki doesn’t sigh. He does close the door behind him.

One of the doors in the hallway opens and the landlady pokes her head out. She looks up, then turns to him. She smiles. He gives a small one back.

Jade is cursing upstairs.

“Another prank?”

There’s a shriek.

“Yes,” he says. “Although I am quite curious as to what he’s done this time to warrant such a response.”

Mrs. Harrison chuckles. “As long as you paint or repair the walls if he’s done anything to them.”

“Then I hope it will not come to that,” Loki says, “Since John will perhaps…see it fit to give the décor his own brand of improvement.”

The old lady makes a face.

Loki inclines his head slightly before making his way up the stairs. The door to his flat is open, and from where he is, he can see something sticky and pink splattered all over the carpet. Jade is still yelling.

John is definitely cleaning the mess up when he gets home.

He pauses by the doorway to see Jade sitting on the floor with her hair, ears, shoulders and arms covered in whatever the pink goo her brother has created is. Rose is beside her, gloves on, trying to take out as much of the mess as possible.

Jade’s aforementioned ears – the dog ones – flick back as she hisses when Rose accidentally pulls out her hair along with the pink goo.

Rose sighs, puts the goo and hair in the plastic bag beside her, and looks up at Loki. She inclines her head politely. “Welcome back, Loki.”

Jade looks up too, her annoyed expression clearing up for a moment as she gives a little wave. “Heya,” she says. She pulls a bit of hardened goo and takes her hair with it. She hisses again.

“I am going to kill him,” Jade says through clenched teeth as she tosses the gunk into the plastic. Rose hums. “It’ll be a Just death, it’ll stick,” Jade says.

“What did your brother do this time?” Loki finally asks, crossing his arms and leaning on the doorframe.

“Tripwire,” Jade says, “Connected to a bucket of…this – ” she flaps her arms uselessly to indicate the sticky pink goo all over her shirt. Some of it drips to the carpet. Nobody but John is going to clean that, Loki’s making sure of it. “ – that was hung on the ceiling.”

Loki looks up. True enough, there’s an overturned bucket held only by a bunch of thick strings attached to a miniature pulley system.

“He calls it Tubby Custard,” Rose adds.

Jade snorts. Loki frowns, confused, but doesn’t pursue it.

“I think it’s just hot gum.”

“Where did he even find hot gum?” Jade seethes. She lets out a cry as another lock of hair comes away with the goo.

“Factories, I assume,” Rose says. “He has unlimited access to the city.”

“So do I,” Jade says. “I’m making sure he knows that.”

“Did the teletubbies puke in here or something.”

All of them turn to the hallway, where Dave stands with a plastic bag from one of 7-elevens around. Loki tracks the rapid movement of his eyes from behind his shades as he takes in the carpet, Jade and Rose and then the ceiling.

“Egbert?” he asks.

The girls nod.

“Hot gum,” Rose repeats.

“Ugh.” Dave’s nose scrunches up. “That’s nasty.”

“He is cleaning this up alone,” Loki says. The corner of Dave’s mouth lifts just very slightly.

“I’m making him pay.” Jade goes right back to seething. She crosses her arms, not caring about the mess on the sleeves. The shirt is ruined anyway.

Dave moves past Loki, giving him a small nod, and makes sure not to step on any of the gum on the floor. One puddle makes him stretch his legs too much and he almost imbalances, but he quickly moves his feet and he steadies. Loki still doesn’t move from the doorway.

“I’m going to go all around Earth and destroy everything that has to do with Ghostbusters.”

Dave’s head swivels to her direction. Rose is smiling. Loki lets out an amused huff, lips turning up. He does love Jade’s mean streak when she’s pushed.

“Aw, man, you’re gonna break his little nerdy ghostbusting heart,” Dave says. “Can you really look at that bucktoothed puppy face and kick it?”

“I will knock those buckteeth out at this point, I swear to god.”

Dave snickers. “I’m staying out of this.”

Rose hums again. “Neutral.”

They all turn to Loki. The god straightens and follows Dave’s example of maneuvering around the gum puddles, except with much more grace than the younger man. He doesn’t imbalance even once.

“So long as he leaves me and mine out of it.”

Jade grins and raises an eyebrow. “And if he doesn’t?”

“He will be eating nothing but cake for a week.”

Rose’s head snaps up. Dave looks disgusted. Jade throws her head back and cackles.

“Dude.” Dave adjusts his sunglasses. His mouth twitches and his shoulders shake, trying to suppress a laugh. “Harsh.”

“It will be Betty Crocker.”

Jade laughs harder. It’s a good thing she’s near-immortal, or else she would have suffocated.


 

He had let go and he had fallen. Fallen and fallen and fallen for such a long time that he’d forgotten what breathing was like and if he even remembered how to do it. If he needed it. (It felt like he didn’t. He didn’t feel like he needed to see either when everything was just dark dark dark black black black empty nothingness this is where you belong in the empty in the nothing what are you doing here little princeling)

And then something had reached out. Tendrils. Tendrils of magic, faint, but he had known, in a small moment of lucidity, that whatever it led to, it was powerful. And it startled him so much in his nothingness-not-existence where everything was empty and there was nothing, that the mere presence of something had his instinct rearing, screaming DANGER and GET AWAY and he was pressed with a suffocating need to get somewhere safe that he thrashed. Clawed into his core, into his magic, into the something of nothing and willed himself to be somewhere very far away. As far away as he can from whatever it was that was surrounding him –

The concrete was hard as his spine slammed against it. Loki’s back arched and he let out a cry of pain, eyes screwing shut as everything crashed against his senses. The feeling of tiny pricks all over his exposed skin, over his face; the chill that was slowly seeping into the leather armor he was wearing; the horrible, horrible smell of too many things at once; his blood roaring in his ears from his head getting knocked on the ground; and pain, everywhere, all at once, his spine, his back, his limbs, all twisted in ways they shouldn’t be, and warmth pooling underneath him until he realized that the warmth was from his own blood.

He had stayed there until he passed out.

The next time he’d woken up, he had taken a few minutes to register that above him was Sky, below him was Ground, the drops of water falling on him was Rain and that it was cold.

The sky was the darker shade of blue of pre-dawn. He tried to move his limbs and found that they had righted themselves. There was still blood underneath him, but it was no longer warm and most of it had been washed away by the rain.

For the first time in years, Loki sat up. He took the time to observe his surroundings, Alley, and after a few minutes of struggling to stand, he settled for supporting his body weight on the wall beside him. He hobbled to the mouth of the alley and looked around, thanking the Norns that there was no one around to see him in such a state.

His memory was still a little fuzzy, still dredging itself up whatever void it’d decided to hole in when he was still floating in nothing, but he could identify that he was in a human city. Midgard.

Finding himself too tired to be displeased by his location, he racked up his brain on the best course of action. A pulse of magic helped him change his clothes, making his head spin for a moment, but he managed. He unsteadily walked under overhangs, still using walls to support himself, and found a hotel. Thankfully, he had enough magic to falsify a card and let the machine accept it. On a whim, he booked for a week, as it would be a hassle to continuously try to find shelter.

He collapsed on the bed of his room, not bothering to clean up or change his clothes. He didn’t wake up for at least three days.

Once he was functioning and his brain didn’t feel like it was stuck under tons of ice, he assessed his situation, trying very hard to keep his discomfort of being on Midgard affect his decision. Cloaking himself from Heimdall’s sight was done as soon as he had his magic properly returned, although the act had probably lost its intended effect since he’d been on Earth for more than 24 hours uncloaked. So far though, no one had come for him (no one will come for him, bastard son - ) and if he moved fast enough he might be able to evade further surveillance.

Midgard was also vast, and unfamiliar to Asgardians. It was, strategically speaking, the perfect place to hide.

And since his safety was his top priority – his only priority, as he still needed to sort the rest out – it would be more favorable for him to stay.

He did. Falsifying more information was easy enough, and he bounced from human to human who was kind enough to offer help to a bewildered stranger, taking advantage of said kindness, until he was able to settle himself in a small, but polished and furnished flat under a Mrs. Harrison. The first few months of not drawing attention to himself were easy, as he spent most of his time recovering the rest of his magic and learning everything he could about Midgard. History alone was a wide topic to cover.

And then, four months and thirteen days since Loki fell to Earth, he felt it.

Magic. Overwhelming, powerful magic that tainted the wind itself, making it suffocating for him to breathe for a few hours, but the humans hadn’t noticed. In fact, they seemed to be breathing better despite the polluted Manhattan air around them.

A few weeks later, the news even reported that the air was observed to have a large amount of pollution lifted from it, and the toxicity was lessened significantly. And if that didn’t raise alarm bells in Loki’s head, then the feeling of that powerful magic getting closer was.

It wasn’t in the general area, that much he knew. It was probably on another island, but it was moving, and it was moving fast. The magic around the air was condensing though. The effects still lasted, and it appeared to have bought the planet’s poisoned air some time before it turned deadly, several centuries at most, but the magic itself was gathering. It had been scattered from its source and now said source was recovering and moving.

Towards where Loki was. Scarily fast.

He couldn’t think of anyone in Asgard whom he personally knew that controlled the winds. Or even had magic this powerful enough to affect the air itself. Magic was not looked at in pleasant light in the Realm Eternal.

Was that it, then? Did the AllFather send someone with association to Asgard who knew magic, incredibly powerful magic, to hunt him down? Someone he didn’t know so that he had no idea how he might exploit their weaknesses?

He set up more cloaking and protection wards around the flat that night. It never hurt to be careful. There was a chance that the new mage had less experience than Loki, or that they weren’t here for him at all. Midgard was a loud little realm and attracted all kinds of trouble.

He debated moving cities for a while, but decided that the best move would be to stay put. He was as hidden as anyone in the Nine could – he was cloaked against Heimdall, for Odin’s sake – and if he moved, if he exposed himself or even showed the slightest action of running, he would draw attention to himself.

Two days later, the magic was definitely in the city. Loki stayed in his flat.

It was a week before he decided it wasn’t looking for him. It wasn’t even doing anything that remotely looked like it was scouring. It was just…moving. From place to place. Restless.

And he was also running out of food, and so as not to freak anyone out or alert it of his presence, he had to walk.

That was how he met John Egbert.

The boy had nearly barreled into him on his way back to his flat, and Loki confirmed that he was neither Asgardian nor after the god of mischief. For one, he was dressed in a ridiculous outfit that was blue all over and a very impractical windsock hoodie. He was also looking for people named Jade, Dave and Rose.

Loki had told him he knew none of them and brushed the boy aside.

“You felt like magic,” John had said. Loki stopped in his tracks. “I thought you might be them.”

For the next few days, John followed him around like a puppy, and Loki had threatened him with death several times if he wasn’t going to stop. John had blinked and laughed at the threats. When Loki tried to slam the door in his face, John turned into wind itself and let himself inside the flat anyway.

That was when the keeping-out wards got put up. John took to hanging outside his door, befriending the rest of the building’s inhabitants in the process, and hovering outside his window. When asked if he had anything better to do, John shrugged.

“Not really. I don’t know where the others are. I can’t feel them. And this isn’t my universe,” he’d said. Then adjusted his glasses. “At least I think it’s not. I mean, I definitely remember Earth being destroyed.”

That had piqued Loki’s interest. But John was still unwelcome. And still infuriatingly outside of his flat every time.

Whenever he went for a supply run (Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once, he had gone out of his home to hunt, to conquer, and now he was getting out of his home to go to Walmart to pick up a box of tea, a carton of eggs, and a box of milk.), John tagged along. They attracted attention due to the boy’s ridiculous outfit, but after the first minutes of shock, everyone just gave them a wide berth.

John helped with the shopping, surprisingly. And looked at the cake boxes (Betty Crocker, Loki noted) like they were the most disgusting thing he’d ever laid his eyes on.

Eventually, shopping-helping turned to helping Loki out with several Midgardian things he didn’t quite get, like majority of the realm’s electronic appliances, clothing (the casual part of it), pop culture references and food. That microwaves were evil and that he needed to get a real oven was one of John’s first lessons.

Since the boy couldn’t quite help with a lot of stuff in the flat with the wards, a number of those were taken down (just the ones that kept him out, actually).

Loki couldn’t remember when John actually moved in. He figured it was sometime around his neighbors started calling the boy his little mutant brother (the black hair and mischievous disposition, apparently), and then his landlady said that he had to put the boy on the lease if he was sticking around.

The rest just fell into place after that.

Six months and twelve days after Loki fell, another burst of magic fell to Midgard. John disappeared for a while and returned with who he introduced to Loki as his twin sister, Jade.

(“Twin paradox sister, I think?”)

A month after that, the magic pulse was stronger, and this time the twins came back with another set of siblings. Dave and Rose.

(“Paradox ectobiological twin,” Rose said.

“Slime sister,” Dave said.)

They were curious children, all of whom harbored magic cores near parallel to his own. Dressed in childish outfits. And could fly. And had somehow claimed his flat for their own. Loki had been too busy being fascinated by them to notice that they camped out in his living room every night, and that John’s presence during shopping runs had turned to four adolescents following him to Walmart.

Mrs. Harrison, once again, pointed out the lease.

Still, there was something to be gained here. This much magic in these children who happened to fall under his roof – if he were to be friends with them, should the need arise, they could aid him. They seemed to be loyal.

When they were asked what sort of mages they were and where they had come from (Loki added them to the rent, it was only fair), John had made a face.

“M’not a mage,” he’d said, “I’m an Heir.”

Loki raised an eyebrow.

“It’s a title,” Rose explained. “Each of us have titles correlating to our class and aspect, which indicates what we can do as god tiers.”

It figured. Of course they were gods.

“I’m an Heir of Breath,” John said. Loki’s mind worked out the implications. That explained the magic in the wind when he fell to Earth.

“Witch of Space.”

“Knight of Time.”

“I am a Seer of Light.”

“We’re from…another universe, you might say,” Jade said. “Another reality. This is definitely not our earth. It feels different. We’re out of place, but...at the same time not.”

Loki’d seen stranger. And the concept of other realities wasn’t foreign to him. A lot of books on magic had proposed the theory of travelling to other realities by complex spells.

“What about you, what are you?” Dave asked, straight-faced.

Loki’s lips twitched. “The God of Mischief.”

Dave’s eyes widened behind his shades – Loki could see it clearly. His vision wasn’t as weak as humans’ tended to be – and Dave leaned back slightly. The god grinned. At least someone recognized him.

“Shit.”

Five gods rent a flat in Manhattan. That sounded like the start of a bad joke.


 

John does clean out the gum out of the carpet. Nobody helps him.

The next morning, Dave stomps out of the bathroom without a shirt, holding a dryer in one hand with chocolate powdered milk all over his face. He doesn’t have his shades when he stomps into the kitchen, where Rose and Loki are making breakfast since it was their turn.

John grins, rising out of his chair while Dave throws the dryer at him. John turns to wind before it can hit him, of course, and escapes through the open windows, cackling.

Jade chooses this moment to enter the kitchen, freshly dressed, looking smug as all hell.

Dave is still glaring at where Egbert was. He straightens after a moment and tries to wipe the powder off of him.

“Ghostbusters goes?” Jade asks as she opens the fridge, not even looking at Dave.

He makes a small angry noise and gives a stiff nod. “Ghostbusters goes.”

Well, if the Avengers suddenly find themselves on a mission to find where all of the missing Ghostbusters merchandise have gone, Loki isn’t interfering as long as neither Dave or Jade get caught.


 

Tony Stark stares at the reports on the screen. The team – Avengers, whatever, they’d just gotten together to stop that one insane Amo-something lady who had a thing for Thor and they didn’t really have a time to argue about group names – had been called in when S.H.I.E.L.D got massive readings of energy from all over the globe, too fast to be caught by teams of agents who were arriving via quinjet. By the time the agents had gotten there, there was another energy spike across the world and there was nothing they could find to indicate what had caused it.

So the Avengers (minus Thor; Asgard business) were assembled to see if they could catch whatever it was. They couldn’t. It moved way too fast.

When the team had been brought in for debriefing, the damage caused by the energy spikes was…

“You’re serious, right?” Tony turns to Nick Fury, who is living up to his name as he tries to drill into Tony’s head with his single eye.

Clint is snickering. Even Steve looks like he wants to laugh.

For some reason, the Avengers had unknowingly assembled to stop the global destruction of Ghostbusters DVDs and several other merch. And failed, of course.


 

The last time Loki had gone together with them on an excursion, it was when they’d all complained about camping in the living room and fighting each other for the couch, and so to remedy this, they all went out to buy beds. Since none of the children were familiar with this Manhattan, Loki had taken them out, provided they didn’t wear their ridiculous pajamas. They were more than happy to comply.

Jade still wore a black and blue dress that had stars on it. But it was a step down from god tier clothes. (Also, Loki was fond of dressing to impress. Jade being his favorite started early on.)

They’d gotten the beds after four hours walking around the mall and for the first time in history, Loki felt the incredible strain of being a parent. A parent to god-children. One of whom would suddenly start talking and not stop, another who would laugh at the strangest things ever, another who wanted to make a house at the pet shop, and the last who was thankfully the voice of reason out of all of them.

“We might take some time to wind down from…everything we’ve been through. Overstimulation when you’re used to so little can make one’s mental state a bit frazzled,” Rose had said. Loki’d understood that. So he let them be.

Except when they got home, they were arguing about rooms again.

The flat only had one guest room, and it would not fit four beds, and nobody wanted to be roommates with John Egbert when he was overexcited about being alive and being on Earth and was in the mood for pranks.

Loki rented the other unit. With permission, Jade renovated.

As for other outside walks, they’d relegated chores. The upside of having four new wards was that Loki no longer had to go shopping himself. So supply run was usually down to Rose and Jade, because if Dave did it, there would be an overabundance of apple juice; if it was John, they wouldn’t have anything to do with Betty Crocker. Frankly, the boys were useless.

Every now and then, Loki went to the library to borrow books. A few weeks into the kids staying at his flat, Rose started coming with.

Today, though, everybody’s decided to come with him. It’s been nine months since Loki fell, about five since John arrived , three since Jade and two since Dave and Rose. Everyone still isn’t very good with dealing with Earth, mostly due to culture shock (“How do they not have sylladexes?”), and every now and then, everyone looks at the sky like they’re expecting something to fall out of it. For different reasons, of course.

Also, there is the fact that a month ago, Amora had come with a Chitauri army that arrived via Tesseract. They were lucky enough to not have their flat destroyed. (Also, Loki had a hard time telling all of them to stay down, because so much was going wrong.)

Everyone’s jumpy. The kids might have abandonment issues. So Loki doesn’t fault them for following him in an honest-to-god line to the library.

They’re mostly quiet, thankfully. He makes his way to the now-familiar history section and pulls out a few books. Rose is in her usual beanbag seat by the kid’s section no one really uses. Jade is browsing the books and has chosen to sit in front of a shelf, a dog book opened to a page of a huge white hound; she looks wistful and the ears on top of her head are drooping. Dave has a stack of magazines and newspapers and goes over to sit beside his sister, claiming a red beanbag. John is still browsing.

A moment later, Jade grabs a bright green bean bag and sits beside the fair-haired siblings.

After half an hour, John claims the blue one and grabs one of Dave’s magazines.

Dave carefully kicks a dark green beanbag towards Loki’s direction. He ignores it.

Loki borrows one book on Egyptian art history, Rose borrows two on mythology and one on fantasy fiction and Dave tries to borrow the entire plethora of magazines and newspapers he’s chosen. He’s not allowed. He settles for one of those ‘year in review’ books.

They go for lunch in a little café. They make a spectacle of themselves when Dave suddenly transitions from talking to ranting to rapping and then Jade starts drumming beats on the table. John sings a tune and Rose harmonizes. Loki leans his head on the glass of the window they’re seated beside and looks at the sky as it starts to rain. The kids don’t stop singing.

He wonders where in the time of being really angry to really tired did he resign himself to the fate of living and putting up with these self-made gods, but he’s not complaining. They’re decent kids, and they have no qualms with trickery or magic. And they would be an advantage to his side.

The library outings become frequent since then. Loki does not have to call them, since everyone keeps a schedule of when he goes there and they get themselves ready and tag along. Somewhere along the way, it starts to be a ritual. At exactly three in the afternoon on a Thursday, all of them go to the library and read until dinner. Afterwards, there’s a fight to see if they eat out or have dinner at home. (The fight mostly consists of rock-paper-scissors, winner getting three. With Loki constantly conjuring credit cards, they didn’t have to worry about money.)


 

Dave Strider reads and reads and reads. Magazines, newspapers, almanacs, Guinness record books, year books, and every now and then he reads one or two of Loki’s chosen history books or asks for the cliff notes version of it.

“This universe’s timeline is different,” he says. “I can feel it. I just want to know everything about it. And – it’s 2012. My Earth didn’t get to live beyond 2009.  I wanna know.”

So he reads. And he thinks it’s a little rad that mutants take on a whole new meaning in this universe other than just a few extra appendages, or a lack of melanin, or different eye color (or blood color, he thinks and tries not to dwell on it), and that they aren’t as despised as he’d expected them to be. He finds the Avengers a little funny, because – okay, as far as ridiculous outfits go, god tier pajamas were definitely topnotch, but at least they were comfy.

He reads articles about the New York invasion, about survivor accounts, about the super friends and the heartwarming stories of family being separated and thought dead and reunions.

(And he tries not to think that what these people have gone through is nothing compared to what he and his friends have. Nothing compared to being thirteen and watching as meteors rained down the sky and knowing that there was nothing you could do but save yourself. That everyone in your city was doomed. Nothing compared to the Reckoning destroying your entire planet. Nothing compared to years and years and years of jumping around time until you didn’t know what came first and what came after. Nothing compared to never getting to say goodbye to your parents and meeting a version of them that wasn’t really them. Nothing compared to seeing your friends die over and over again and remembering. Nothing compared to universes destroyed and scratched and put together wrong left and right. Nothing nothing nothing –

Dave Strider tries not to be selfish. But he’s tired. And he’s angry. And he’s lost in a new universe that isn’t his home and will never be his home and he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know how to be angry. His Bro never taught him. His Bro taught him how to not to be anything other than a warrior raised for a battlefield.)

He finds that he doesn’t quite care if he’s a little careless with his sunglasses as long as he’s in the flat. He’s had doubts that Loki’s had super-vision for a while, and when it was confirmed, there wasn’t really anything to be done about it. His friends have seen more than red eyes. (Like him, bleeding on the floor, dying, fighting, crying, being a generally pathetic mess who couldn’t keep himself from flinching whenever he opened the fridge or the oven or the cupboard, jumping around puppets, crying over a dead brother-father who he didn’t love but didn’t hate.)

He watches the news and doesn’t ask whenever Loki keeps to the house whenever there’s news of Thor being on Earth, or if the Trickster god feels his presence. Dave knows a thing or two about fathers you could never please. About brothers who shone so bright that you didn’t notice you were drowning in their shadow until you couldn’t breathe.

(None of them asked either, but during the first few times that they got confused, Rose had whispered that Thor is Loki’s brother. The god confirmed in a short, clipped “Yes.”)

He tries to make himself comfortable and he finds fun and laughs when he wants to because he knows how important that is now. He still catches himself putting on that blank face, but when he feels like laughing his head off at something, he doesn’t hesitate. This world is safe as it can be. This is a world without the Game. This is a new life.

Dave Strider is working hard on being happy.


 

John Egbert doesn’t sleep so much nowadays.

He doesn’t need to. He hasn’t needed to for a very long time. The day he died on that quest bed was the last time he had ever needed sleep. (And if he thanks Vriska for making his demise as painless as possible, nobody needs to know.)

But it’s not so much as he doesn’t need to as much as he also doesn’t want to. Because if he does, then he can see it – can see the Condesce arriving in her ship while his friends fall over and kill each other, can see Jade getting crushed by her own tower, can see Dave getting stabbed twice, can see Karkat falling in the lava, can see Terezi and Gamzee choke and claw at each other, can see Rose die saying goodbye to her mother, can see Roxy cry because she feels so, so alone, can see Dirk blame himself for everything that has happened.

And John – John has messed up so much. Terezi had instructed him on what to change, and he did that, but somewhere along the way of it actually working and going well, Vriska alive and Gamzee subdued and everyone good and well on the meteor and on the way to fighting Lord English and Jack Noir and the Batterwitch, they’d hit a rip and suddenly everything was blinding and he was falling, falling, falling and then scattering into the wind he really was, right before he hit the ground.

Suddenly Earth was well again. It was around him. It was dirty and it was hot, but it was Earth.

But it wasn’t his Earth. He was lucky enough to follow instinct and hone in on the nearest point of magic at that time, which turned out to be the God of Mischief who was now their sort-of guardian.

He doesn’t know where the others are and is thankful that Dave, Jade and Rose are here with him. He’s thankful Loki is letting them stay. To be fair, he was quite desperate and clingy when he first fell around here.

He notices that Dave is trying to catch up where this Earth was different and where they’d left it off since it’s been years since 2009. He reads along when he’s bored. He thinks that with just a few alterations, this would have been where their Earth was.

This Earth is fascinating, and he’s glad that the Ghostbusters still exist in this universe, but is bummed that he’d pissed his friends enough that they wiped out every single one (he checked and then sulked) of its merchandise. He figures he had it coming. But he was getting restless. He could only pace and look at the sky waiting for something, anything, to fall out of it (the Condesce’s army, the Reckoning, Lord English, Jack Noir) before he got stir crazy and decided to relieve stress by setting up a few good pranks.

That was a perk of living with Loki. God of Mischief, and John’s new hero next to Colonel Sassacre, and he was totally fine with playing a good joke or two.

Sometimes John thinks Loki is as lost as he is. That’s okay. At least they were all lost together. He had a feeling the others were lost too. None of them belonged to this world. This was just a tiny safehouse for them.

The whole Amora deal freaked him out for a while (the Condescension, the Condescension, the Condescension is here) and he’d turned to wind the moment the others, and a few civilians they’d run into, were safe. He didn’t materialize for about two days. Then Jade dragged him to their living room and distracted him with the Avengers. She liked Iron Man. He liked the Hulk. Dave shrugged. Rose said she would have cheered for Amora if the Enchantress hadn’t destroyed the buildings near them, so if Loki was an Avenger then he’d be her favorite. Loki snorted. (And John is so onto the ‘secret’ lessons he’s giving Rose. He just knows it. Two magic-loving nerds nerding it out. He loves them both.)

John sometimes goes out at nights, flying unseen throughout the skies of New York, just taking everything in. Sometimes he doesn’t return for days, although he makes sure that everyone knows he’s going to a…it’s definitely not a roadtrip, but it’s a worldwide travel for days on end. Not everyone can fly around unseen like him. Loki still loves his seclusion. So they don’t push.

He doesn’t tell them he’s been around Stark tower more than three times. Jade would love the place.


 

Rose Lalonde sees.

It’s hard not to; it’s her job, it’s her title. But being on this new Earth has made things overwhelming.

She can see it – Light, Fortune, Fate – all around them; around everyone whom they pass on the streets; around their neighbors; around the children that run and stick their hands into unsuspecting pockets. So much light, swirling in and out and around their heads. Some have had Fortune smile on them, others have not.

Where in the meteor, the only thing she could do was sense and see which course of action would bring out the most favorable result, here on this new Earth, she can see fortune itself on the beings that inhabit it. She thinks it is because of the Game – she was a necessary asset in order for their sessions to strategize, but it couldn’t be giving her everyone’s fate-reading because that wasn’t necessary. But as a Seer, it should be in her capacity, and now that they were out, here it was.

Sometimes she understands why Loki likes to hole himself up in their flat.

It’s a small mercy that she can only sense her companions’ fates, Loki’s included. That may be something afforded to gods – to creatures so long lived and with so wide a range that anything and everything could affect their fortunes. She stays in the house and only goes out when necessary, and preferably with her friends.

None of them have been very smiled-upon by fate. All of them had lost something – them in the game, and Loki somewhere sometime he does not want to say. Rose does not press. Rose will not press. Above all, she understands the pang of loss.

Loki is a curious creature, and she knows he is not lying when he claims he is the God of Mischief. That comes with other titles, she has read that much – God of Lies, of Deceit; Bringer of Ragnarok; Mother of Monsters; God of Fire. But also, it comes with another side to the coin – God of Life, of Mind; Bringer of Beginnings; Bringer of Fate. A deciding factor for the scales of Fortune to tip. He is, in his own way, their counterpart in this universe – they brought the end of the universe with them and were tasked to birth a new one; he is to be the bringer of Ragnarok, the cleansing of everything before the universe starts all over again, or the one to ensure it is never brought back, or even that it never comes to pass.

If there is anything Rose has learned from the Game, it is that fate is never set, not for as long as people pull their own strings.

Loki hasn’t had much favor in that department, for everyone seems to want to pull his strings for him, and maybe that is the source of the heavy cloud of drowning around him. They all have that same cloud around them. Jade hides it with her smile. John hides it with his pranks. Dave hides it behind his aviators and that mask which has been crafted from birth. Rose goes about her day and avoids it as much as possible. She does not talk about her mother, she does not talk about Kanaya, she does not talk about the friends she misses dearly and the hope that she will see them again. (If they landed here and found each other, what were the odds of everyone being able to find themselves as well?)

Loki is like her. He doesn’t talk either, but there is that somber gait to him, that hint that he might have once walked like a prince, but was now nothing more than a runaway, scarred by too much and wary of too many. Rose sees the purple lights, numerous, swarming him whenever they watch the news and he catches sight of Thor.

When, one night, she catches him watching the late news about another attack taken care of by the Avengers, she asks him why. She doesn’t expect him to answer, of course. But she knows Loki can sense her ability to see and knows that even if both of them didn’t want secrets out in the open, she would know. She could see. It is not something she can turn off unless she wanted to be blinded, and even then, Terezi was a powerful seer despite her lack of sight.

“He is my brother and at the same time, he is not,” Loki says. He doesn’t turn to her. “I loved him.” Rose looks down. “I still do.”

The purple swirls of betrayal pulse and brighten. And then they’re joined by gold. By blue. So much blue that it drowns out the rest of it. The heavy cloud lifts for a moment, and then it settles again.

Rose nods and doesn’t pry. At the very least she knows that Loki is fiercely loyal, until you give him a reason not to be.

She doesn’t sleep well either. More than once she’s caught John flying out, restless, and she doesn’t call him out on it or tell the others. It is his choice to tell. She knows the restlessness and she knows that they’re all unable to sleep for the same reason. John was also there with her when they found their parents dead.

(She hopes she never meets Jack Noir again. For both their sakes.)

Their resident Trickster is also on the no-sleep bandwagon, so she asks if he would be willing to give magic lessons.

He gets this look in his eyes that she reads as suspicion, sadness, laced with curiosity, and a childish, childish hope. Rose almost reaches out and tells him she’s being very sincere, because she knows that look of rejection everywhere. (Remembers it from the time she was mocked by her peers due to her love for the uncanny, the occult, the fantastical and the magical. And then she mistook her mother’s actions for mockery as well. She tries not to think about that.)

To her surprise, he agrees.

So they practice. Initially, of course, Loki asks her what she already knows and discusses theory. She shows him her knitting needles, conjures fire and fires a few shots that break a few glasses.

“Wands are often poor conductors of seiðr.” He says as he inspects her knitting needles. “Mostly because magic isn’t so much as a thing to be control, but more of a part of one’s make-up. Using a funnel would be most ineffective in using a waterfall to put out a fire.”

He doesn’t sound condescending. Nor does he look it. He is stating facts and Rose is glad that she will also find no mockery here. “Take John Egbert, for example. His seiðr is more attuned to wind, and according to him, it took him a while to master it – involving a lot of threats to his life – and that is understandable. It was necessity that allowed him to learn, and he did so wonderfully. But the core principle is that you are magic. John is as one with the wind as it is with him. That is why he can so easily become it.”

Rose considers this. “So should I wish it, I can become light?”

“John is an Heir of Breath. To my understanding, an Heir becomes. It is easier for him. You are a Seer.” He does that small smile that he gets when something genuinely fascinates him. “And you have seen plenty, Rose Lalonde. Your wands are not conduits, they are fetters.” He tilts his head, and in the dim light, Rose thinks the green of his irises glow. “You have seen far beyond anyone should.”

Rose’s breath hitches as she thinks Grimdark. Maybe it is still festering under her skin. Come to think of it, she doesn’t know how they got rid of it, and she’s been wielding magic ever since the Game started and broke the rules of reality as she knew it.

You are magic.

DNA codes can hardly be rewritten once they’ve been woven into your blood and flesh.

“I can feel it,” Loki says. He’s turned away towards the window. “It is a powerful, powerful thing. Wherever did you find it?”

Rose licks her lips and draws in a breath.

“Sometimes magic can be enhanced, if it does not clash with your own seiðr,” Loki says, “Like a new limb.”

She exhales shakily. “I was desperate.” Rose doesn’t look up. He doesn’t say anything. “And angry. He killed my mother.”

Loki doesn’t answer. She notices he’s rather still.

Then he nods. He turns back to her and continues to discuss theory like they hadn’t talked about anything else at all. He says that most of her magic is instinctual (like the rest of them), and that is good. Instinct is a good place to learn from. But most of instinct is also to destroy and to protect. Fight or flight.

He teaches her a few spells and begins her with runework. By the end of the week, she knows how to heal scrapes and burns. It’s rather useful.


 

Jade Harley can feel the turn of this Earth, the plates so very slowly shifting and breathing, can feel the soothing of the wound of its pollution whenever her brother spreads his magic to the winds, can feel all of the eyes of so many other creatures in space on it, and it feels wrong.

It’s not home. It will never be home. But Jade doesn’t have anywhere to go. (And wasn’t that ironic, that she could go literally anywhere. She lives and breathes and is Space itself, and somehow that’s not enough for her to run run run.)

She doesn’t want to be fickle, she really doesn’t, but she’s grown up in an island all by herself, and then suddenly she was with her friends, and then they were ripped from her, again and again and again and suddenly she’s back on Earth, with so many people, but none of them are the ones she’s looking for and she doesn’t like it. Doesn’t like being surrounded by so many strangers when the ones she wants to be with are either dead or not here.

She doesn’t want to be ungrateful, but she just misses everybody.

She misses Becquerel, and that’s a little funny because they’re one now. But she misses his companionship, she misses playing with him. She misses her guns and she misses her gardens and she misses her science experiments in her labs and god, she just wants to go home.

But her Earth is destroyed. Maybe this was a consolation from the Game, since they’d wrecked it as best as they can. (Three or maybe even four sessions converging, and that was never supposed to happen. But then everyone on every session was very eager to raise their middle fingers to the sky too, so maybe their inherent stubbornness helped with that. She doesn’t regret it. She just regrets they’re not here and there’s nothing she can do about it.)

They’re all out of place here. It’s not their universe, and there are niches shaped like them but not quite. Like a shirt that’s just a size smaller. It doesn’t quite fit, or it does if you force it, but it’s uncomfortable.

She tries her best though. She tries to fit in here. She gets a bit of fun choosing from her alchemized dresses stored in her sylladex and looking rather fabulous. (She’d seen Loki’s approving smile. If people were going to stare, she was going to make it worth their while.) She reads gardening books and wishes their flat had a backyard, but it doesn’t, so she just buys a few pots and sets them out on the window sill. She pauses by pet stores and thinks about Becquerel, but there’s a warmth in her chest that reminds her he’s not quite gone, and that just like before, he was always going to be there. Bec’s always been there for her.

She buys herself a flute and relearns her way around it. She walks around the city, even if it’s by herself, to see the land she knows as well as herself. She feels its every shift and breath with her heartbeat, she’s entitled to at least walking around to see it herself. It takes her a while to get her bearings on where everything is, but after a few weeks of walking, she’s confident enough to teleport from one street to the one across it, from one building to another, and then from Manhattan to Chicago and then back to their apartment.

Once, she goes down at night to fetch herself a glass of milk and finds Loki and Rose on the couch both drawing sigils in the air, leaving light in the wake of their fingers and forming beautiful runes. Rose’s were violet and Loki’s were green.

She stops by the stairs, but they don’t appear to be bothered by her presence. Rose offers her a small smile and Loki nods in acknowledgement. Figuring this isn’t the weirdest thing she’s seen in her life, she makes her way to the kitchen, gets her glass milk and then returns to the living room.

Rose is still drawing, although Loki has paused and is looking at her runes. Rose draws a circle, and then looks at Loki. He nods. She draws a line and then –

Jade nearly drops the glass of milk. Rose isn’t on the couch anymore. The violet runework has disappeared too, at the same time she did.

Loki smiles at the where Rose was sitting and then erases his own runework with a flick of his hand. “Good,” he says.

“This isn’t permanent, is it?” There’s Rose’s voice where she was just sitting a few seconds ago. Jade feels for her presence and is relieved to find that Rose’s coordinates have remained unchanged.

“It is not. Although I think we will have that lesson for another night. You have exhausted your seiðr enough.” Loki is drawing sigils in green light again, over the spot where Rose had sat. When he’s finished, Rose flickers back into existence again. Jade mouths a small, “Whoa.”

Rose yawns and nods. “I do feel tired.”

Jade takes a gulp from her glass and asks, “Was that an invisibility spell?”

Rose smiles and nods. “It was,” Loki says. “One of the basic cloaking practices for young magic workers.”

“I had asked for lessons,” Rose says. “I saw an opportunity to learn from the greatest sorcerer in all of the nine and took it.”

“You’ve been reading.” Loki gives her a look Jade can’t quite read, but Rose seems confident.

“Small facts,” she says. “Nothing else.”

The god doesn’t remove his gaze from her for a while before turning away and leaning back into the couch. Jade makes a note to not read Norse mythology without Loki’s permission. That stuff was probably like the tabloid gossip of Asgard.

Rose turns to Jade. “You know, he is also very skilled in skywalking.”

Loki gives her another look, but there’s no venom behind it. He looks away after a second.

“Skywalking?” Jade asks.

“It’s similar to your teleporting,” Rose says. “But the scope is wider. Planets. Realms. Galaxies. The entirety of the Yggdrasil in a few steps.”

She’ll have to get on reading up on what Yggdrasil is. Loki hasn’t reacted. Must be a go-zone with reading.

Jade’s ears perk up with the mention of realms and galaxies though. The most she’s teleported has been planet to planet, and even then it takes concentration. Galaxies and Realms in a few steps? That sounded handy and fun.

“Skywalking is to me what manipulating space is for you, Jade,” Loki says.

“He is labelled Sky Walker,” Rose adds.

Jade blinks. “Isn’t that – ”

“Where do you think the name Luke Skywalker is from?”

Jade mouths another “Whoa.” And then follows it with a “Loki Sky-Walker. Oh.” She turns to the god, who looks a little amused but tired.

Rose looks at him too. He levels it with a glare that softens after a minute.

“Can you teach me?” Jade asks. Rose grins.

Loki sighs. Still, he nods.

Jade turns to Rose this time. “Rose, you just took my childhood and made it more awesome.”


 

Loki is the son of none and the brother of (Thor) nobody.

He is a monster, a liar, a fugitive, and an unwanted son.

Although, somehow, his new charges beg to differ.

Loki sits at the dinner table and nobody screams or yells when the apples suddenly sprout legs and run. They all jump; Dave leans back until his back is pressed against his chair, Rose’s eyes go wide and looks fascinated by the tiny legs, Jade immediately starts chasing one and once she catches it, she cooes over how cute it is, and John is beside himself with excitement, yelling, “How did you do that?!”

Nobody tells him his magic is out of place, or that it is abhorrent, or deceitful, or evil, or disgraceful. They think it magnificent and wonderful. Spectacular. Something to be shared and reveled with. If he has any doubt of the seiðr that flows through their veins, it is moments like this that he convinces him that he is among people who love magic as much as he does. Who are magic themselves.

It’s…it suspends his sense of normality, for a little while. But then John pulls pranks and nobody hates him for it, Dave reads and nobody berates him for such ‘effeminate behavior’, Rose asks him to teach her magic and Jade asks him to teach her to skywalk. What Asgard loathes and despises, they embrace.

He thinks they would never fit there. Neither would he. But they fit here, in this little self-made home of theirs that’s a pretty little flat in Manhattan.

He likes it more than he thinks he should.

To them, he is not a monster. They say they’ve seen worse. Rose says she’s been one. They’re not in a position to judge.

(“I planned the eradication of an entire race.”

“You planned,” Dave says. “We wiped out our own planet.”

“By accident,” John says.

“But people died.” Dave shrugs. “All you did was plan. We actually executed and we didn’t even plan squat.”

Rose helpfully says, “I’ve had real demons under my skin.”)

To them, he is not a liar. Mostly for lack of trying, because there is a Seer under their roof. Lying sort of loses its intended effect when said Seeing isn’t even a learned art one can merely cloak themselves from, but an innate ability as natural as breathing itself. He doesn’t lie because he doesn’t need to.  Rose does not need to pry, she never does. She just sees, and Loki is helpless against it. It chafes against him, enrages him sometimes, but Lalonde doesn’t pry. She never does and she never will. She doesn’t tell and she asks if she wants to know. Lalonde respects him. And he’s thankful for that.

To them, he is not a fugitive. He’s just someone who needs a safehouse. A sanctuary. One day he will tell them, because there is no point in keeping secrets when it is bare to see, but it is his story to tell and Rose does not give it out if he does not speak of it. But one day. One day he’ll explain. And he hopes they don’t turn their faces away like his not-friends.

(“It’s like we’re all on witness protection program,” Dave says.

John sits up. “Hey, aren’t we sort of fugitives to the Batterwitch too?”)

To them, he is not an unwanted son. He is someone who deserves better than what he has lived through. Whether or not the rejection is his fault does not matter.

(“We don’t really have fathers in the…conventional way,” Rose says.

“I was on an island, alone for most of my life,” Jade says.

“Actually, I think the only one who had a normal relationship with his dad is John,” Dave says. “I know a thing or two about shitty bros…dads. I am never calling him that to his face. Oh my god. But technically, he’s my dad. That is a weird fucking thought to have. I never want to think about that again. Jegus.”)

To Rose and Jade, he is a teacher. To John, he is a fellow prankster. To Dave, he is a fellow wayward.

To them, he is a guardian, a survivor, a friend.

It shouldn’t matter, because Loki doesn’t have friends. Except it does matter.

It matters because they know he’s magic and it doesn’t make him less of a person, they know he’s not here for a good reason and it doesn’t make him less of a friend, they know he’s done bad things and it doesn’t make him a monster, they know he’s a disappointment and it doesn’t drive them away.

It drives him insane. But he doesn’t kick them out of the house.

Dave suggests they make a support group. John chucks the couch’s throw pillow at his head and says, “We already are a support group.”

Five gods rent a flat in Manhattan. It ends up being a makeshift support network.

Chapter Text

It’s almost New Year’s and they’ve settled quite nicely on their new planet. Rose finds a job at the library easily because she’s befriended the librarian from all the times they’ve all spent there. Dave finds a job DJing at a nice club downtown. Jade starts walking pets. John mostly works in a joke shop and does magic tricks on the street sometimes. Loki, surprisingly, works in an animal shelter.

They stop paying via conjured credit cards and actually start paying with real money, especially since they liked their landlady. Once, Loki makes a dragon out of a broken chandelier Jade picked up from an antique store. It was supposed to be thrown out.

They sell it for several thousand dollars. It’s not overpriced. It’s underpriced. It was crafted by the greatest sorcerer in existence – that means a lot. (It’s Dave who starts ranting. Everyone just looks really pleased with themselves when the cash comes. There are still bits of the chandelier lying around for another toy.)

Their jobs let them spend more time outside. John rests the pranks for a while, to everyone’s joy; Dave starts browsing through music shops; Jade comes home with a lot more stories of the pets she’d walked; Rose obliges showing magic more; Loki doesn’t look at the magazines and the news on the Avengers as much as he did.

“Dude, you taught Rose magic?” Dave turns to Loki, putting his best ‘kicked puppy’ expression with the resting poker face in the way. “That is unfair, I want.”

John raises a hand. Jade slaps it down. “No, you’re going to use it to prank us all.”

“Yeah, no-go for John. But Jade and me, heck yeah.”

From the couch, Loki says, “I am already teaching Jade to skywalk.”

Dave straightens in the loveseat , not leaning anymore. “Okay, wait, what – when did that happen? When did Jade and Rose sign up for kickass magic lessons while I’m up trying to fight my boredom like the ten-ton snarling beast of death that it is?”

“You were reading,” Rose says.

“I still think I should have gotten a head’s up about the impromptu Hogwarts sessions.”

“Wands are apparently bad conduits for magic,” his sister says. Loki’s lips twitch up like the proud teacher he is. This is so unfair.

Dave sniffs. “Yeah, turntables are the way to go.”

“We’re just learning things that are already gifted to us by our god tier state,” Rose says. “I’ve always had an affinity for and a fixation with magic, and I gorged that in the game. Jade has a natural ability for teleportation and is being taught how to take that to the next level, which is skywalking.”

“Oh. Damn, man. I don’t want time-travelling shenanigans again.”

“Indeed. That is rather risky,” Loki says. “But if you still have seidr in your veins, I see no reason why you will not be able to learn an easy healing spell or be able to put up a shield. It will take longer than your sister’s, but it can be learned in time.”

“Hell yes, man. You’re talking to the knight of it.”

New Year’s comes. There are no attacks. They stay up to watch the fireworks. John suggests going to the top of the Avengers Tower to get the best view. It’s quickly shot down.

“But – come on.”

With the frequency of his kicked-puppy expression showing up, they’ve mostly become immune to it and simultaneously repeat the “No”.

He pouts, but then laughs a few seconds later. They agree on choosing another tall building that doesn’t have superheroes that might shoot them the moment they are seen.

The rest of the month rolls in. New York gets attacked every other week by supervillains and the five of them stop freaking out about it and just shrug at it instead, making sure that their flat and everyone in it is safe. That sort of spreads the rumor that, if the city is under attack, the safest place is the flat just three blocks west from a Starbucks. The rumor turns into a bit of an urban legend, and then a lived experience – as by the end of January, they’ve got people hiding out in the flat when the latest baddie of the week attacks.

The pair of siblings on the floor under them set up a little snack stall. Mrs. Harrison starts selling meals as well. John does tricks to entertain people and gets coins and dollars thrown into a tophat that’s set in front of him while the others tend to children. Loki mostly stays out of the way, but he oversees that chaos doesn’t break out in the flat. It is their building after all. It wouldn’t do to have them steal things in the thick of the moment, or to break things in fights and hurt others.

Everyone is safe and the flat’s residents are earning extra cash. It’s win-win.

Mrs. Harrison actually manages to expand the building as some people want to move in. They get bigger floor space when Jade offers to help with the renovation, mixing space magic with Loki’s workings. John revels in the new, extremely spacious common room while Dave goes on a tangent about this being all Dr. Who-ish, with the bigger-in-the-inside thing, and wouldn’t Tony Stark lose his shit over this. Holy hell, this was hella cooler than the Iron Man suit, because red and gold was such an overrated color scheme anyway, he’d know, and – oh crap, sorry Jade, no he takes it back. He loves Iron Man. Iron Man is the best. Don’t start first-guardianing him now.

February arrives. The Safehouse, as everyone in the area has taken to calling it, is still going strong, and Mrs. Harrison has bought the neighboring building; Jade and Loki have taken care of the renovations there, so now they have a huge new building with a tiny infirmary. They evade most inspections with Loki’s cloaking spells.

By March, everyone in town thinks that they’re mutants. Dave bristles for the first few days but he eventually just shrugs at this. He buys new turntables and a new memory stick for his camera. Rose and John come along – Rose buying several balls of yarn while John buys a baby grand piano for the hell of it.

Jade buys their flat’s rooftop and makes a garden. Everyone just shrugs. They’ve heard odder.

Loki decides to join the splurging and orders several books online. The crates arrive several days later and fills the new bookshelves in his room and the living room.

The word of them being mutants continues to go around town. It’s actually not so bad. Nobody gives them weird looks, or hateful ones, or hunts them down. Whenever the Safehouse is in use during an attack, a few kids ask them if they’re going to join the Avengers. Loki does that somehow-still-elegant snort, John does an awkward laugh, Jade giggles, Rose gives the kids a small smile and Dave, as always, goes on a long tangent on how no, they probably wouldn’t, because they wouldn’t fit in anyways, and how they’re just fine working in the Safehouse, without responsibilities and not having to answer to the government. Because the government’s always hiding something and stuff like that and that’s the sort of junk the Batterwitch pulled. (The last part was more to himself.)

By April, word of the Safehouse and the ‘mutants’ who live there spreads. By the thirteenth of April, Rose is out on her job in the library, Loki is out on some trip he hasn’t given out the details of, Jade is out walking pets and John is in the joke shop he works in. Dave Strider is at home, because he doesn’t have a gig today or tonight.

By the thirteenth of April, Dave Strider finds Tony Stark in front of the Safehouse’s main door.


 

Tony Stark immediately gives the file that is handed to him a shifty look, mostly because ‘The Safehouse’ is such a cliché name and the word ‘mutants’ is used more than ten times in the first page. The first thing he wants to say is, “Are you sure this isn’t a hate crime?” and the next is, “Are you telling me you want me to stop a bunch of people who only want to help keep people safe whenever the city is under attack? Because that’s the stinkiest pile of hypocritical BS I’ve ever smelled.”

But Tony doesn’t say any of those, because Nick Fury is drilling a hole into his forehead with the stare he’s giving. And, well, as much as Tony loves pissing people off, Nick Fury especially, the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D looks like he can read Tony’s thoughts and is genuinely murderous.

“Oookay then, I’ll just – ” he shrugs, lifts the folder in his hand and turns towards the door, “ – give this a read.”

The Director is thankfully really busy with some other job or two he isn’t disclosing to any of the Avengers (except maybe Natashalie and Barton, because that’s how it works, with this shifty agency and Nick Fury and the wondertwo) and doesn’t pursue him, so he manages to get out of the room, get out of S.H.I.E.L.D headquarters, and get back to his tower without anything exciting going on.

He lets JARVIS read it to him by scanning the pages one by one, and by the time the AI finishes, Tony is convinced that this is indeed a hate mission and the stinkiest pile of hypocritical BS he’s ever smelled. Firstly, because S.H.I.E.L.D doesn’t have a lot of info on the ‘mutants’ other than there are five of them, all young adults; they are mutants; they live in the Safehouse and protect it from harm whenever the city is in danger, just like anyone would try and protect their home when it is under attack, and that they’ve used their home – which is probably the second safest place in America, next to the Stark Tower, excuse you – as a fallout shelter for civilians for the past few months now. They don’t get paid for it, and they don’t turn anyone away if they don’t have money or whatever else, and they certainly aren’t hurting anyone.

Tony sees a bunch of people who are, by normal societal standards, weird, and have decided to become friends, live in one place, and help people to the best of their abilities.

Which is also sort of what the Avengers do.

Apparently, S.H.I.E.L.D doesn’t see the same thing. (See, this is why he makes JARVIS regularly scan their systems. It’s this sort of bull he absolutely cannot stand. Protect the Earth, his foot, what was up with the Phase II weapons then. They were still in motion.)

The few long-range pictures that the files have aren’t exactly magazine material, but enough to give him a basic image of what the five mutants of the Safehouse look like. There are three with black hair and are probably related. The tallest one looks like the elder brother and the other two are of the same height, same eye shapes, and even the same buck-teethed smile. Twins, he thinks. He’s never seen pairs of eyes bluer or greener than the ones on these three before.

The other two also look like they’re related, with their blonde hair, height, and controlled expressions. He can almost swear the girl has violet eyes.

He calls Nick and says he’s not taking the mission, hanging up before the yelling can start. He burns the file too.

Life goes on. He makes JARVIS monitor his calls in case S.H.I.E.L.D wants to call, rejects everything that has to do with the Safehouse, and goes on missions with the Avengers. They defeat the freak of the week, go out for pizza or bowling night, get back home to the tower and sleep. Sometimes Pepper scolds him if he gets too wasted outside, but Bruce and Steve always make sure he doesn’t get into trouble.

The kids in the Safehouse aren’t reported to have turned feral or whatever, just like S.H.I.E.L.D feared, and which was why they wanted them detained in the first place. The weirdest news he’s ever gotten about them is from Steve, who loves going to the park to jog and paint (ugh), and he said that the kid with black hair and blue eyes and buck teeth was a really good magician, and can somehow bend the wind to his will. And has occasionally levitated off the ground to impress kids. When Tony asked what the kid was doing in the park anyway, Steve says he looked like he was doing tricks for money, with a top hat to have the money tossed into and all.

The kid was busking.

For heaven’s sake, that wasn’t something malicious for secret government agencies to be alarmed about.

“But wait, you’re telling me he really levitated? Like, no anti-gravs on his shoes or anything?”

Steve frowns at him. “I don’t know what those are.”

“You know, like – ” Tony gestures with his hands “ – like the things on my suit’s feet. Only no light. Or hell, even repulsors? None of that?”

Steve is still frowning, but he does answer. “No. I didn’t see anything under his shoes. No…anti-gravs or repulsors, or whatever you call them.” He looks like the words taste odd in his mouth. “Although he did start glowing a faint blue. And then he disappeared.”

Tony blinks. “What?”

“He disappeared completely.” Steve shrugs in that ‘I don’t understand the future’ way of his. “And there was this really strong gust of wind afterwards.”

If Steve’s supersoldier formula did anything for his hearing, then he could probably hear the wires and gears whirring in Tony’s head. A few were short-circuiting with the thoughts of the impossible, but he pushes those aside because Tony Stark’s brain does not short-circuit, no.

Invisibility barrier, perhaps. And anti-gravity technology on the boy’s clothes, perhaps. Or maybe that was the kid’s mutation, the invisibility thing, maybe it was like Susan Storm’s thing. Anti-gravity mutation is possible, but how even? That was definitely something he’d like to get into a lab to study on.

But you know, still nothing secret government agencies should be alarmed about. The kid wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Tony tells Steve to keep him updated if anything interesting shows up at the park.

Everything else goes on like it normal does. March finally rolls in, they still save the city from power-hungry megalomaniacs every now and then, Thor pops in for a visit every now and then too, everyone still goes for bowling night, it’s awesome.

One incident though, nearly has Tony dying of a heart attack, because the big bad chosen by the universe’s Russian roulette to terrorize their city is attacking the streets. While Pepper was on her way home. And oh hey, wasn’t it a coincidence, the attack starts right on the street where she is.

The entire battle is a haze. The Avengers assemble, Tony’s comments are at a minimum because the only thing his brain can think about is Pepper Pepper Pepper where’s Pepper oh god where’s Pepper, they defeat the bad guy and Tony doesn’t even stay for them to get arrested and taken into S.H.I.E.L.D custody. He flies off, having JARVIS scan for Pepper’s location. When JARVIS can’t pinpoint her, informing Tony that there seems to be an error whenever JARVIS gets even close to locating Pepper, Tony feels like screaming. He makes another round in the city, and then he remembers – what’s the safest place in Manhattan?

Smart, smart Pepper, who knew exactly what to do in a crisis. Where else would she go to but the nearest and safest place she could be? The street attacked was near to the Safehouse too, so of course.

He flies over it just in time to see the main door open below him, and then lets the camera zoom in as the young man with blonde hair, wearing aviators and carrying a…weird sword of sorts….in one hand, steps out, stance rigid and ready to attack anything that’s going to jump out of places.

Tony thinks he moves like Natasha.

The young man scans the area for any danger, then very slightly tilts his head up. Maybe he sees Tony, maybe he doesn’t, Tony can’t tell. He doesn’t think the angle’s enough, so maybe the kid’s just checking if there’s any monsters or robots on the rooftops of the nearby buildings. The kid turns around back to the Safehouse and nods. A few seconds later, people start walking out.

There’s a lot more people than Tony initially thought would fit in the building. The crowd that spills out of the building takes more than fifteen minutes to finally finish exit the house. Hell, Tony thinks the entirety of New York city crowded there, which has him frowning again, because that was logically impossible. Sure, the building wasn’t small, but it wasn’t the size of an arena either.

“Sir, Ms. Potts has been located.”

That snaps him out of his line of thought and lets JARVIS zoom in on Pepper, who is standing near the stairs to the Safehouse’s door, looking safe and sound. Beside her, there’s the two black-haired and green-eyed kids. The girl is talking to Pepper while the other looks like he’s checking that the crowd isn’t going to get nuts.

Tony lets out a breath.

(Of course, Stark Tower is still the safest place in America. The Safehouse is the second.)

Later, Pepper tells him all about the Safehouse, and Tony just listens, basking in the fact that Pepper is right in front of him and Pepper is safe. She tells him that the inside of the building is much more spacious and larger than it appears on the outside, which Tony asks her to elaborate on (“Is it ‘due to the lack of furniture spacious’ or ‘Dr.Who bigger on the inside spacious?’”) and then frowns in confusion when she says that yes, it is ‘Dr.Who bigger on the inside spacious’.

They argue about it for a little bit, making them halt their dinner, but they get past it. Tony is still not convinced, but he lets Pepper continue.

There are a lot of people who live in the Safehouse. There’s a few citizens who have moved in there ever since they found out that if they wanted a house that didn’t get destroyed in the middle of an attack and was as safe as safe could be (Tony gets offended and Pepper tells him to shush), they should just live in the Safehouse. There are also the original tenants who are a funny little family of sorts. There’s the landlady, Mrs. Harrison, who is a sweet old woman who can cow anyone with her words. There are the Palmer siblings who cook the best things Pepper has ever tasted, although they can be a little weird because the younger one has a weird sense of normality and the older one seems to abhor the color yellow (but doesn’t really mind blondes because it’s not like they could change genetics – he just hates yellow on things, specifically his things). They are good with kids. There are also the five ‘mutants’ who live in the second floor, and who Pepper has made friends with.

The tall one with green eyes isn’t related to the other black-haired kids like Tony initially suspected, but is somewhat like their group’s responsible older brother figure. (Tony thinks Steve, and then snorts.) Pepper says she thinks his name is Luke, as that’s what she’s heard the other residents of the Safehouse call him. He mostly works with the other kid, Rose, in tending to the crowd and making sure nobody starts fights in the Safehouse out of nervousness.

The other two kids with black hair and glasses and buckteeth are twins, John and Jade. John does tricks to entertain children and sometimes his sister joins him. Jade apparently has legitimate dog ears on her skull. (“It’s her mutation, I think?” Pepper says.) She also likes animals a lot.

There’s Dave – the kid Tony saw with the sword and aviators outside the Safehouse – and Rose. Rose helps Luke with crowd control. Dave tends to wounds.

Pepper says they’re good kids.

And Tony thinks they are too – anyone who keeps Pepper safe is good in Tony’s book. But S.H.I.E.L.D wouldn’t think you are a good kid if you had the ability to turn invisible, or if you had dog ears, or if you could somehow heal wounds with a touch, or calm people down with a few words. Even if you helped, as long as you were different, you were a threat.

Also, they’ve apparently got a physics-defying house. What’s not to be interested in?

So on thirteenth of April, he visits the Safehouse, and is opened the door by none other than Dave Strider.


 

Palmer #1 had volunteered to get the door, but he and his brother were on a neck-to-neck race in Mario Kart, and Dave’s money was on him, so Dave’s the one who gets up, goes to the front, and opens their nice mahogany piece that had the inside face of it carved with protective sigils.

Standing right outside is Tony Stark.

Dave’s free hand twitches, itching for Caledscratch stored in his sylladex. His first thought is to catalogue where everyone is – Rose in the library, Jade downtown New York, John in the joke shop, Loki probably somewhere in the Bermuda triangle, the Palmers in the common room, and Mrs. Harrison yelling at Palmer #2 to beat his brother already at Mario Kart so Dave can be slightly poorer than he was before.

His second thought is, Oh shit.

His third thought is, Would Mrs. Harrison mind if the porch got stained with blood because I instinctively beheaded someone right now?

His fourth thought is, She probably would.

And it’s a good thing he didn’t act on his instinct to just take Caledscratch out and swing, because yes, Mrs. Harrison would have minded the blood on the porch, and she would be infinitely more of a problem than S.H.I.E.L.D ever would be.

So he just lets his hand itch and puts on his best poker face that’s always on anyway and says, “Can I help you?”

Stark raises an eyebrow, like he’s unimpressed that Dave isn’t foaming at the mouth and gushing all over his shoes because Iron Man is at his front porch. Celebrities.

“Maybe,” Stark says, then his grins that million-dollar smile that would have gotten any journalist, except Dave’s not a journalist, so it doesn’t work. Bully for him.

Dave glances back quickly at the direction of the common room, trying to seem nonchalant and not threatened. He mostly succeeds, and if it were Natasha Romanov on the front step, she would have noticed, but it’s Tony Stark, so Dave definitely succeeds.

“Uh huh. Listen, I’ve got a bet on Mario Kart going on right now and I’m pretty sure number one’s gonna beat his brother any time now…” He glances back towards the common room again just in time for Palmer #1 to yell, “Oh! Suck it!”

Dave can hear the cashier sound effect in his head as he grins. Palmer #2 and Mrs. Harrison both groan.

“Aaand there you go. So uh, I’m in a hurry. If we could make this quick and you could be off of our front porch?” Dave knows it’s rude, but Dave’s never been very polite. And he wants Stark to know exactly what he wants, which is the Avengers not snooping into his tiny, thankfully still stable life.

Stark just chuckles though. Dave mentally yells at Loki to get his ass down here so he could charmspeak their way out of this.

“Yeah, sure. So, I’m Iron Man,” Stark says and pauses for a little while, as if waiting for a response to that, but finding none, he continues, “And I thought I’d check out the neighborhood for a little bit. Especially since I heard this was a popular place to hide out when the world is ending.”

Ah. Well. Dave supposes Stark can play at his game too. He shrugs.

“It is,” he says. “And?”

He can see the nearly-imperceptible falter of Stark’s smug look. If his bro hadn’t trained him early on the art of masking facial expressions, he wouldn’t have noticed.

“Look, a while back, some friends of mine took shelter here,” Stark says, “I just wanted to know exactly how safe it was, because we both know, that this being New York, it’s going to happen again.”

I’m sure you understand, is what Stark doesn’t say, but what Dave can hear anyway.

Dave lets the corner of his lips turn up, just a bit. He’s read enough newspapers, and he knows what Stark is aiming for, and he has an idea of what Stark is actually here for. “Checking up on the mutants, then?” he says.

The superhero doesn’t bother to hide his wince. “Tacky,” Stark says, “But that’s what everyone calls it nowadays. So can I come in or not? If you refuse, I’m still going to set up surveillance around here.”

You can try, Dave thinks. Stark can definitely try, but that’s as far as he’ll ever get. Dave lets him in anyway, because he’s clearly not going away. Stark immediately heads for the nearest source of noise – which is the common room where the Palmers and Mrs. Harrison are. Dave closes the door and follows behind him.

The Palmers are playing a new game again, but they’re silent this time. None of the trash talking thrown at each other from earlier, and instead just looking like they’re focused, although Dave can see both of them looking at Tony when he enters the room and then #1’s eyes staying just a bit longer on the superhero.

#1 glances at Dave briefly, expression serious, before turning his focus back to the game.

Rose had once said, that from what she could see, the twins were some sort of psychics. Not mutation-psychic – as in, scientifically generated telepathy, telekinesis, and whatever – but occult-psychic. As in, see-glimpses-of-the-future-psychic, see-a-bit-of-your-life-psychic, read-your-aura-psychic, Alternian-troll-psychic, game-psychic, SBURB-psychic. Seer psychic.

Maybe not both of them regarding the Seer psychic thing. They certainly saw some level of the past and the future, but #1’s was stronger. More fit to be a Seer. A Seer of Void, maybe, Rose had said. But the other was more suited to be a Knight – his path was more suited to be a Knight. A Knight of Light.

Dave shudders. He prays no one in this universe ever has to play the game. He prays #2 never has to be a Knight, or a Light player, because Knights almost always fail, almost always have to sacrifice the people they love, or themselves, and Light players almost always succumb into the darkness.

#2’s way too sweet for that.

#1 knows what Tony Stark wants with them.

“As you can see – ” Dave motions towards the television and the game console. #2 is mashing the buttons a bit harder than usual. He probably knows too. “ – these two are locked in a no-familial-relationship-acknowledging, fatal and epic struggle of beating each other at Mario Kart.”

On cue, #1 slams his cart into #2’s, sending Yoshi into a spin. Princess Peach gains the lead. #1 cackles as he drives his way down Rainbow Road.

“Dude, low blow,” Dave whispers. #1 just grins while #2 glares at him.

“Who’s the visitor, Dave?” Mrs. Harrison says, eyes still watching the television and very pointedly not looking at Stark. “We’re out of open spaces if you want to rent.”

Tony balks. Dave feels a surge of pride welling up his chest and he very much wants to pick Mrs. Harrison up in a hug and whirl her around. He loves her so much. Sort of like The Mayor. God, he misses The Mayor.

“Nah, he’s not here to see if we got any openings,” Dave says. “Just wanted to take a look at the place. You know how the tabloids make it look like we’re a tourist spot. Damn rude and inconsiderate if you ask me. Like we’re a monkey circus just sitting at the edge of town, flashing neon signs in the middle of a dumbass catastrophe without a single care in the world – ”

“Yes, it is rather infuriating,” #2 interrupts him. Dave doesn’t mind. His well-hidden nervousness was making his metaphors become either non-existent or slowly spiral into nonsense. “Just last week we had actual tourists bring cameras around here.”

Well, that was true.

“Really?” Tony asks.

#1 hums and nods. “Kevin had to get the door at that time,” he says and motions towards his brother. “It was awkward.”

“And they didn’t even turn off the flash of their cameras. I’m rather light-sensitive. It was rude.”

Dave winces sympathetically as he grabs a pillow off the floor, sets it beside #2 and plops down on it, cross-legged. “Oh man, I hear ya.”

“How does your sister get by without sunglasses every day?” #2 asks. On screen, #1 has defeated him, but he doesn’t groan. He just turns to Dave like this is normal conversation and doing a very good job at ignoring Stark. Everyone is doing a good job at it, really, and Dave loves them for it.

Nothing to make someone attention-expectant more uncomfortable than giving them as less attention as possible.

“I don’t know. Witchcraft, probably,” he says. #1 giggles, #2 nods, Mrs. Harrison smiles and Tony Stark thinks Dave Strider is joking.

“I suppose I should invest in eyewear, but I think I’d look rather ridiculous,” #2 says.

“Aww, hell no, Kev, you’d rock the shit out of Ray Bans,” Dave says. “Honest. Or we can get Luke to customize shit for you, he’s good at that.”

“Can we have tarts for that discussion?” #1 asks, as it is a well-known fact around the Safehouse that Loki likes tarts, but Kevin doesn’t. #1 likes tarts too, and so he and Loki get along, and they get into lengthy fights with #2 about the merits of the pastry. Mrs. Harrison referees.

#2 slaps his arm. “Shut up.”

Tony Stark shifts awkwardly from where he’s standing.

Mrs. Harrison gets up from the couch and straightens out her skirt. “Well, if you’re here to look at the place, dear,” she says as she walks towards Tony, “I’d be happy to give you a tour. The boys can clean up and get us snacks afterward.” She looks at the Palmers at the last part, and the siblings nod.

The landlady leads Tony out of the room and into the hallway, beginning to talk about the layout of the building and how they were just a humble little apartment, really. They got expanded after a while, but they didn’t do anything harmful.

As soon as they’re out of earshot, the Palmers turn to Dave sharply and say, in unison, “He needs to get out.”

“I know, dudes, I know. Chill.” Dave brings up his hands in surrender. “He wouldn’t leave us alone if I tried to force him off the porch anyway, and even if his surveillance can’t get inside the house, it’d be annoying if we were around town and things kept watching us. I mean, that’s Tony Stark. Dude’s name is on like, 98% of the appliances around town. You think he wouldn’t have put a back door there that can make it keep an eye on us wherever we go?”

“That is a problem,” #1 says as #2 sighs. “And while we would certainly be involved in the surveillance – all of us probably will be – I imagine it would be harder on you and your friends, Dave.”

“We’re not exactly blatant ‘mutants’,” #2 says. “You, however – not to be offensive about physical appearance, of course – if there’s anything the rumors about our building are spreading, it’s that there are, specifically, five mutants. Your description is part of that.”

“It’s okay, the others are away,” Dave says. “I was worried about that too.”

“Rose and the others are at their jobs. They’ll be back this afternoon,” #1 reminds him.

“Loki’s in buckass nowhere,” Dave says. “He’s good for now.”

“We’ll just have to get Stark out before the others get here,” #1 says. “We might actually need Loki around here for that.”

“Charmspeak,” #2 says, “Or whatever.”

“Charmspeak,” Dave says. “Easier to refer to his silvertongue majicks or whatev. You guys can’t psychically influence him, can you?”

“We just See, Dave. Or perhaps a certain level of convincing via words, but mainly, we See,” #1 says.

“Damn.” Dave puts an elbow on his knee and rests his cheek in the palm of his hand. “I hope Mrs. Harrison manages to get him out.”

“Mmm,” #1 says. Then he straightens and brightens. “I say…” He grins. “Do you happen to know where to find any alcohol around here?”

Dave Strider does, in fact, know where to find alcohol around here.


 

The tenant on the third floor, five doors from the stairs, will wonder about why his liquor cabinet is empty the next day, but that’s not for anyone in this story to worry about.


 

#2 bakes the treats (no tarts), #1 sets up the dining room, and Dave calls the others to explain the situation to them, and that, just in case their plan fails, to not come home to the Safehouse for the night. He gets Loki’s voicemail, but he leaves a message there anywhere.

Mrs. Harrison returns with Tony after two hours, and the man looks a little awed about the interior size of their building, and a little tired. Mostly he’s high on the fascination of a space that defies the rules of natural physics, and that’s dangerous.

Before Mrs. Harrison can complain about the booze set out on the table, #1 gently pulls her to the side to explain the plan to her. Stark just goes straight to the table, of course. If he hears, he’s not showing it, and if he doesn’t, then it’s probably #2 doing a psychic thing that he’s denied being capable of doing so many times before.

Dave, in general, doesn’t drink, because it reminds him of when Rose fell off the wagon and when he told her he was disappointed in her (and he will always be guilty of that), and it might tempt his sister to take up a drinking habit again when she’s trying very hard to avoid it. Bro didn’t raise him to drink either, and even discouraged the habit. Bro didn’t drink as well, or if he did, he never showed it to Dave. Dave suspects this may be because of Rose’s – and ectobiologically, his – mother, who drank a lot, and the possibility that Bro might have known Mom Lalonde.

Possibly, they were friends. Possibly, something more, but that’s not important. But possibly, they were friends, and Mom Lalonde had a drinking problem, and Bro probably tried to get her to stop, and she probably was able to, for a while, especially since Bro didn’t drink. And then she fell off the wagon a few years after Rose came on a meteor. Bro probably never got rid of his disapproval of alcohol.

Dave offers the bottle to Stark anyway, and he thinks it’ll be nasty – sweets and vodka on his tongue – and he’ll probably be weepy or funny or talkative about the game, but the important thing is that Stark will be as wasted as he is, and nobody gets hurt.


 

Loki arrives, surprisingly. It’s at ten in the evening when he arrives. #1 is passed out on the floor, Stark is on the couch, #2 is barely awake, and Dave is struggling with his tears and his drowsiness. Mrs. Harrison has agreed since earlier to stay out of the room. Dave and Kevin are staying vigil, making sure that Stark, in fact, does not move from his place and try to snoop around the building, in case he was faking shitfacedness.

That’s sort of impossible though, given that most of his bloodstream was alcohol, but still.

The TV remote jumps off of the coffee table when Kevin hiccups, and Dave giggles. Kevin puts a finger to his lips and nearly keels forward as he slurs out, “Ssshhhhhhhhhhh.” Dave giggles harder.

“I tooold you ya had telekni – telenini – telekenini – something…about movin’ stuff.” He says. “Seen trolls do it.”

“Not a droll,” Kevin says, “Not droll.”

“Not droll,” Dave corrects. “Troll. Troll. Not those…things that hide under’a bridge either. Grey-skinned. Candy corn horns. Teeth. God.”

“Trolls are gods?”

Dave snickers and snorts. “Ssssome are, I guess. Godtier.”

“Shit.”

Dave laughs again. “Y’know, you could be godtier too, I guess. Rose says. Rose can See too, see.” Giggle. “Seetoosee. ‘Nyway. Like – ye would’a been destined to play the game, I guess, if we didn’t come here? I’unno. Would’a been a Knight, like me. Knight of Light. I’mma Knight of Time. Knight of ssssshit. Can’t do anything right.”

Kevin’s mouth has formed a little ‘o’. They drag out a syllable too. “So that’s why I keep seein’ red stuff around you.”

“You see red stuff?”

“Mmm.”

“Shit.”

“Not really. It’s nice.”

“Not nice. Dead Daves.”

“Mmm.”

Kevin extends the bottle of…something towards him. Dave’s eyesight is blurry. His aviators are skewed on the bridge of his nose and he can barely see. He grabs the neck of the bottle anyway.

There’s a series of rapt footsteps and a sigh as Loki enters the room, Mrs. Harrison behind him. She stops by the doorway. Dave and Kevin turn towards them.

“It would be beneficial if you stopped now, Strider, Palmer,” Loki says as he takes the bottle out of Dave’s hand. Dave’s hand tries to follow its direction, of course, but it’s placed out of his reach, and he mourns the loss of it with a pathetic little whine.

“Oh hush,” Loki says. He puts two fingers on each of their foreheads and then draws a sigil in the air, muttering a spell. Within the next breath, the alcohol in Dave’s system clears and it feels like the wind is ripped out of his throat.

Dave gasps. Kevin chokes. Loki helps them sit straight and lean against the foot of the empty loveseat as they gather their breaths.

“Shit. Dude,” Dave rasps. “Dude.”

“You are welcome. Nasty bit of a morning that would have been,” Loki says. He plucks Dave’s sunglasses off of his nose and produces a handkerchief, quite possibly out of thin air, to wipe them down. Dave wipes his cheeks and eyes with the sleeve of his raglan. They’re wet.

Kevin, who is back to being Palmer #2 in Dave’s head, hisses, “Fuck. That was unpleasant.”

Dave is still wiping his cheeks and sniffing, nose clogged with snot. “You couldn’t have taken out the runny nose too?”

“No, you’ll have to deal with that on your own,” Loki says as he stands. He extends Dave’s aviators back to him and the human takes it. He wipes across his eyes again before he replaces the eyewear back on the bridge of his nose.

“Dude, how weepy was I?” he asks Palmer #2.

“Very,” #2 says. “My advice would be to never get drunk again.”

“Okay,” Dave says. “Alright, well. Let’s forget about what happened and deal with this.”

Loki walks over to where Palmer #1 is passed out on the floor and does the same alcohol-coma reviving spell he did with the other two. #1 coughs and rasps as he regains his breath and struggles to stand up. #2 goes over to help him.

When he’s able to speak, he looks at Loki and mutters, “Oh hey, you’re back.”

“So this is Tony Stark?” Loki motions to the only remaining comatose figure in the room.

“Yeah,” Dave says, moving to stand beside him.

Loki hums. “Less glamorous than on television.”

Dave snorts. “Definitely a more massive ego, though. TV doesn’t do it justice. God, you should have heard him talk when he was first drunk.”

“He got more weepy afterwards,” #1 says, now standing with the help of his brother.

“None of the other Avengers seem to be in the area,” Loki says, “If there were, it would have been very foolish to get drunk, Strider.”

“Sorry, I panicked a little. Also looked around when he first came, and there didn’t seem to be anyone. Not even a car. I think he had his car parked somewhere and walked here.”

“Not on official business, then,” Loki says. “Stark seems more foolhardy than the rest of them. He was here on his own choice.”

“He did mention having friends who ducked in here during an attack,” Dave says.

“Potts, I think,” #1 says. “Pepper Potts. We saw her on TV a couple of times. I think I remember her staying her during an attack.”

“That’s sorta sweet, I guess, if he wasn’t just using it as an excuse.” #2 shrugs.

“What do you think we should do with him?” Dave asks.

Loki eyes Tony’s passed out form with distaste. “What was your first thought?”

Dave grimaces. “Decapitation, really.”

The corner of Loki’s lips turn up. “Not bad.”

Hey.”

“Memory wipe, then.” Loki crouches down, presses a finger to Stark’s head, and then starts drawing a sigil. “And then we can bring him back to his tower.”

“There’s security there, definitely.”

“It can be easily fooled. You can call the others back now,” Loki says as he finishes up on the sigil. It pulses blue and disappears from sight. Then Loki picks Tony up and slings him on his shoulder like a sack of alcoholicly-comatosed potatoes.

And then he takes a step and disappears.

Dave digs around the couch for his phone and finds it under the couch instead. He calls the others to get back home. They arrive in about ten minutes.


 

The next morning, Tony Stark wakes up with a massive hangover. He doesn’t remember what he did last night, so he asks JARVIS to replay footage. The AI dutifully shows him the video of him getting drunk for no reason he can remember. But it’s there, and people drink to forget their problems anyway, so he actually succeeded. It was probably Fury calling about the Safehouse again, and Tony probably got pissed and refused and then decided to drink and then couldn’t stop. That happened sometimes.

Chapter Text

Steve Rogers hasn’t gotten a hang of the future yet. There are places that he might have once been familiar with, but have now been replaced with shiny glass and metal buildings: landmarks that have been destroyed and never rebuilt, only plowed over and covered in cement; pubs that have been turned into bookshops. There are faces that might have once been familiar but can now only be seen on monochromatic history textbooks. There are things that he might have loved to see come into creation, but never got the chance to and now he doesn’t understand them.

There’s too much of everything and too little of him.

The other Avengers have been helping, Tony and Bruce especially. Tony is a bit of a pain to deal with, but he means well, underneath all that. Bruce is just made out of goodness and sunshine, until he’s not.

Steve’s given a place in Stark tower, but he refuses it despite Tony’s incessant whining. He wants to adjust to the world at his own pace, and being in the same room with someone who’s practically built the future, well…it’s too much.

In his dingy little apartment that is the only thing he can afford, because people would be surprised at how little Captain America is actually paid, he tries to catch up to the world.

Sometimes he finds it fascinating, sometimes he finds it overwhelming.

When it does become overwhelming to the point where it frustrates him, he takes out his sketchbooks and starts to draw. Sometimes, it’s a canvas and he takes out the acrylics. Sometimes, it’s watercolor paper and watercolors.

Sometimes Steve goes to the park and brings his stuff with him so he can wind down, pull away from the enormity of everything around him. In the park, at least, he can more or less pretend that he is not in the wrong time, and that there is still some place where he is not being forced to fit into a slot that he has long since outgrown. Square pegs for circular holes.

The park is where he first sees the boy. Overtime, that eventually becomes The Boy, but first, it’s just Steve Rogers seeing a random kid with black hair and blue eyes, wearing glasses and a smile so bright with two front teeth too wide that he almost looks comical. The kid is dressed in a blue shirt, a jacket that’s a lighter shade than the shirt and pants that are a darker shade than both. Yellow sneakers. Comical.

The Boy is standing on the edge of the fountain when Steve walks over to the benches situated near it, ready to set up his easel. At first, the kid’s not doing anything remarkable, and Steve sets up his canvas, takes out his pencils and tubes, and he doesn’t notice the top hat on the ground.

He starts sketching, and a few people pass by, and he doesn’t pay it mind until he notices the gasps of awe that are coming from the direction of the fountain. He turns his attention there.

The Boy is wearing a temp disguise, and he’s making a rose disappear from one hand and reappear in the other, even though his sleeves are rolled up to his elbows. Once, he crushes the flower and lets the petals fall down into the fountain. Then he keeps that hand open, shows his other hand to the crowd in a flourish to let them see he’s not hiding anything, fists it, blows on it, and when he opens it, the rose is there. He steps aside and gestures to the fountain; there are no rose petals there.

Children gasp and adults clap politely. Then the boy throws the rose in the air and makes a motion with his hand. The rose blows into the direction that the boy is gesturing towards. He moves his hand in the opposite direction. The rose follows.

He keeps the rose steady in the air, and with his free hand, he gestures towards one of the dolls that a little girl in his audience is holding. The doll starts to float up in the air, joining the rose. He lifts a finger and makes a circular motion. The rose and the doll start to orbit.

The crowd starts whispering amongst themselves, and the little girl whom the doll belongs to is too mesmerized to mourn her loss. The Boy starts pointing to random objects and levitating them in the air: a hat, a leaf, another flower, a ball, a coin. Somebody lifts up a can of soda and he levitates that too, adding it to the ever increasing group of objects orbiting around all of them.

The crowd claps and tosses coins into what Steve now notices is a top hat. The Boy takes a bow, and one by one, the objects floating above them cease their motion and go back to where they belonged to or are neatly sorted into the trash.

The little girl who owns the doll holds out her toy in front of her face in awe. She grins and waddles over to the top hat to deposit a dollar bill into it. The Boy gives her a grateful look.

When the crowd has finished being generous, The Boy hops off of the fountain, picks up the top hat by its rim, takes another bow, and then the gentle breeze that is blowing gets slightly stronger. He starts to levitate off of the ground, bowing to his audience at the right, and then at the left, until he is completely over their heads. He takes off his temp disguise, tosses it into the hat and laughs as blue light wraps around him for a millisecond, and in the next millisecond – in the time it takes for Steve Rogers to blink – The Boy is gone.

He is often there whenever Steve visits the park again, performing his magic tricks, levitating things and sometimes flying off of the ground himself. Steve has heard and read about mutants in this day and age. Sometimes, they are like him, products of a scientific research meant to further the defenses of the nation. Sometimes, they are sort of like him, products of a scientific research that went wrong.

Often, they are mistreated and looked down upon.

The Boy doesn’t appear to worry about that. He shows his abilities in public to gain a few bills in his pocket, and Steve finds that he respects that. Better the kid use his skills for good than to be the next baddie of the week. Steve thinks he’d be hard to take down too, especially since Steve sort of knows him, and anyone who could disappear and reappear at will could prove quite a challenge.

Once, Steve paints him – smiling without the temp mask on, in all his bucktoothed and mischievous glory. Steve hopes to befriend the kid one day, but he wouldn’t be too bummed out if he didn’t.

Tony mentions the Safehouse over a movie marathon initiated by Clint (they managed to drag Steve along because team building). When he recognizes Tony’s description of one of the mutants, he mentions The Boy – his busking habits and his magic tricks. Tony gets his thinking face on and Steve can practically hear a few screws falling off from overexertion.

Nothing comes of it, and frankly, Steve doesn’t mind. If it was a mission from S.H.I.E.L.D, they might be interested in recruiting the mutants of the Safehouse into the Avengers, and that was useful (on the other hand, if they were interested in detaining the mutants because they were perceived threats…Tony hadn’t taken the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D checking up on the Safehouse very well, and Steve was putting trust on that; Tony was a teammate).

He continues his jogs in the early morning, relishing his few hours of freedom when nobody’s around to recognize him, asking for photographs and signatures. He fulfills missions and leads his team. He goes down to the park to paint.

One day, he goes down to the park bringing his sketchbook, a few charcoal sticks, and a watercolor set. The Boy isn’t at the fountain, so he doesn’t sit by there, instead finding a spot by the little grassy slope that led to the pond. There were ducks there. They quacked obnoxiously at parkgoers every now and then.

Steve sketches a few of the ducks, quick studies of people walking around, before deciding to do a watercolor of the pond. He hears a loud splash, an indignant yell, and then the series of harassed squawks from the ducks.

When he looks up, he stops from his painting, looking at The Boy, very drenched from his impromptu dive into the pond. His glasses are not on his face, and quite possibly have joined the rest of the missing objects that have decided to take up residence in the bed of the pond, getting cozy with the mud. Steve winces in sympathy.

The Boy, still in a ridiculous blue-color-schemed getup, flaps his arms uselessly to get the water off. In one hand, he’s holding a leash that’s connected to a rowdy little dog that’s splashing about the pond, wagging its tail and yipping playfully.

“Buster!” The Boy whines, trying to shake off the water.

“See, this is why you leave the dog walking to me,” somebody says. Steve turns towards the girl that’s marching pond towards the pond. She looks just like the boy, except for the high shade of green of her eyes and the…dog ears on top of her head. Clip-ons? She whistles sharply. “Here, Buster!”

The Boy lets go of the leash and Buster splashes his way out of the pond and over to her, she giggles as the puppy stands up, laying his wet paws on her jeans.

“Aww, buddy, you’re wet all over now,” she says.

From the pond, The Boy yells, “I’m wet too!”

“Get out of there so I can do something about it.”

The Boy scrunches up his face the entire time he wades out of the water. He holds up his arms up sideways.

The girl – Steve wonders if he should capitalize that – rolls her eyes before snapping her fingers. Steve blinks before he processes what he’s just seen happened:

The boy was wet, soaking even, and muddied, and then the girl snapped her fingers and suddenly all the moisture and the mud were standing right beside him - not standing per se, but they were positioned so that they looked like they were still clinging onto a solid body even though they were removed from the body itself. It was like an afterimage. Like one of those photo-editing softwares Clint had shown him, where you can just superimpose things and move the superimposition around the way you wished it. It was like that. Like the water and the mud were a layer above and somebody decided to drag it to the side.

But then by the next second, gravity remembered its function and all the water and the mud fell into a puddle on the ground.

The Boy, now perfectly dry, shivers.

“You’re getting seriously good,” he says, “I mean, not to sound ungrateful, but you could have teleported my skin off my body too.”

“I’m getting seriously good,” the girl acknowledges rather smugly, “And that’s why your skin is still attached to you.”

The Boy shivers again. Or shudders, more appropriately.

Two more teenagers walk over to them, both looking very amused. The one in the aviators looks at The Boy and says in a disappointed tone, “Aw, Egbert’s dry now. I wanted to take a picture.”

“Fuck you, Strider.”

“Well, I wasn’t the one who decided to audition for the lead role in Swan Lake, was I?”

The Boy, now with the identification Egbert, punches Strider in the shoulder, while yelling that even though he’d only seen the Barbie movie version of Swan Lake, nobody actually took a face-first dive into a pond while being dragged by a dog, and this pond didn’t have swans, it had ducks.

“On the other hand, Jade’s getting scary good with teleporting tricky things,” Egbert says, motioning to the girl whom Steve suspects is his twin sister.

The second girl, blonde and looking a lot like Strider, also probably the boy’s twin sister, looks around the park carefully. “That’s good, but, we are at a park.”

“Eh, everyone probably knows us from the Safehouse.” Strider shrugs. “I mean, the entirety of New York’s been there at some point.”

“Yeah, it is kind of surprising we’re not on blogs or tabloids yet,” Jade says.

Egbert shudders. “Ah, don’t jinx it.”

“I’ve never checked any blogs or new outlets,” the blonde girl says, “And with our work, we’ve only ever watched the television.”

“Well, fuck,” Strider says, “I hope to hell we’re not on any blogs. Did they at least get good photos?”

Egbert kicks Strider’s shin this time, the boy evading nimbly with a grace Steve has seen in well-trained assassins.

Buster yips from where he’s nudging Jade’s calf with his head. The girl bends down and smooths over his wet fur, doing the same thing she did to Egbert. The dog perks up when he feels he’s no longer wet and licks her hand.

Egbert gives Buster a half-hearted glare. “Tell Palmer his dog’s getting kicked out of the house.”

“Hey, no, man, you’re not kicking any dog out of the house, especially not Palmer number two’s,” Strider says. Then he whistles and bends slightly to pat his thighs, calling Buster, “Here boy.”

The dog bounds over to him easily and he scoops the little Jack Russell Terrier up. Buster yips and Strider chuckles, a small smile breaking on his face that Steve thinks definitely suits him. He should smile more. “Why would you kick little Buster out the house?”

“Not to mention it’s Kevin you will be answering to, John,” the blonde girl says.

John Egbert massages the space under his eyes, clearly feeling the absence of his glasses. “I want my glasses back,” he says, “I can’t see anything. And I will be telling on Buster today.”

“Palmer will laugh at you. Both Palmers, actually,” Strider says.

Steve watches all of them walk away from the pond, still talking, Strider, with Buster still comfortably settled in his arms,  somehow pulls his phone out once to text someone while Egbert tries to steal it. He tries to recruit the help of Jade once, but she only laughs. The blonde girl looks fond and exasperated of all of them.

Steve goes back to his watercolor when they’re out of sight, but his work is hurried. More of a study than an actual painting. He packs up his things and heads back to the tower.

He doesn’t know why it actually matters, but it does, and it feels like he’s got something so very precious and very important in his hands, when all he’s got is really a few names, and only one appears to be full enough to actually have some meaning.

John Egbert.


 

When he hears that Pepper had once been in the middle of an attack, his concern immediately flares, but Pepper waves it off and explains that she’d ducked into the Safehouse.

Steve’s only heard it from Tony, and he’d given sparse descriptions, but that should be the place where John Egbert resided in. Tony gets this funny look on his face when Pepper mentions the incident, like he’d forgotten to do something, but he shrugs it off and lets it clear, still not interested in it like he’d declared so before.

“I kind of see him at the park, doing tricks for money,” Steve explains, “And a few weeks ago, I saw him and his friends. They look like two sets of twins?”

Pepper nods. “John and Jade, Dave and Rose.”

Tony snorts. “Seriously?”

Pepper elbows him.

They’re in the kitchen, just the three of them. Steve had been meaning to talk to Tony about the Safehouse, and he’d only just managed to catch him in the kitchen when he popped by the tower at eleven in the morning (and Steve really wanted to talk to him about his drinking habits). He was lucky that Pepper had a day off (Steve did believe in miracles), as she appeared to have more information than him. Barton and Romanov were on a mission, somewhere. Bruce was sleeping. Thor was in Asgard. It was the perfect timing, especially since Tony was against S.H.I.E.L.D getting their hands on the Safehouse inhabitants.

Pepper explains the Safehouse to him in the same way she explained it to Tony (judging by how the man had skipped out on it and decided to pour himself a glass of whiskey for breakfast before Pepper told him to pour it down the drain without even looking at him, and he decided to just get poptarts), from the way the house seemed to be bigger on the inside, how the inhabitants shared the work whenever there was an invasion, and how nearly everyone in New York knew what it was or at least knew about it.

According to Pepper, the Safehouse inhabitants that actually participate in the safehousing bit are the landlady, the elder-brother-figure who looked a lot like Jade and John, and three sets of twins.

Steve frowns. “Three?”

“There’s two more siblings who make snacks for everyone when there’s an attack. We never know how long we get holed up there after all.”

“It’s a fallout shelter,” Tony says, still crunching a poptart.

“So that’s why S.H.I.E.L.D wants to recruit them?” Steve asks, remembering Tony’s mentions of it.

The inventor scoffs and waves his half-eaten poptart around. “If only. They kind of want to put the little guys in cells so they can make sure they don’t decide that their ancient magics would be better off in achieving world domination instead of building the most unsuspecting bunker in the middle of the city.”

Ah. That’s why Tony is so against it.

That seems to be news to Pepper too. She turns to Tony, frowning. “What?”

Tony puts his hands up, one hand with his index and thumb holding his poptart carefully while the rest of the digits are splayed out. “Hey, don’t look at me. I was only given the file and I refused. Burnt it.”

“Good,” Pepper says, and decides to get herself breakfast. She looks like she’s mentally composing her gently yet very, very threatening lecture to Nick Fury about how you leave people who just trying to help the fuck alone.


 

He meets Jade Harley while he’s on a morning run. He’d just gotten back from a stressful mission the other day, the sort that makes him question S.H.I.E.L.D’s motives and if the world and freedom he’d been fighting for all those years ago really was achieved, and when he runs out of punching bags he tends to run from dawn to clear morning, when the sun’s already high up and the light’s bright and hot.

There’s very few parkgoers around this time, but he’s not surprised to see at least five of them just walking around and stretching their legs.

He is surprised that when he’s slowing down to a jog, an entire pack of mismatched dogs runs past him, tongues out and eyes comically widened as they race ahead of him. He slows to a walk, amused, and a few minutes later, Jade Harley is running past, telling the dogs to slow down.

He recognizes the dog ears almost immediately, and then her face when the dogs curve and Jade follows. In the lead of the pack is mischievous little Buster, looking like he’s having the time of his life.

Then Buster halts and darts back, cutting through the pack, and the rest of the dogs follow, suddenly stopping and turning back, running straight towards Jade.

Jade skids to a stop too, and Buster jumps on her. She yelps as she catches him and falls down to the ground. Buster licks her face and she giggles. Her dog ears flick.

Steve wonders if those really are clip-ons.

The other dogs are gathering around her now, tails wagging happily as they watch her sit up, and she has trouble trying to pat all of their heads. They try to move in closer to lick at her face and this just makes it harder for her to move.

Steve makes his way over. If there was ever a good time to talk to one of the Safehouse mutants, it was now.

“Are they all yours?” he asks.

Jade turns to him and her dog ears perk up – really not clip-ons – before she adjusts her glasses and smiles. “No, only this one.” She pets a scraggly-looking wolfhound that was next to her.  “They’re my neighbors’ dogs, I just take them out for a run every morning before I stop for bread and coffee.”

The dogs look at him warily before the wolfhound breaks away from Jade to step just a tiny bit closer to Steve. It sniffs him. Then decides he’s not so bad and nudges his leg, asking to be pet.

Steve looks to Jade. “Can I?”

“Rover’s a terrible guard dog. He’s too friendly,” Jade says, “Yeah, you can pet him.”

Steve kneels down slowly so as not to scare Rover and softly pats the dog’s head. Rover’s tail starts wagging again and he licks Steve’s hand. The soldier chuckles.

A minute later, Buster is running towards him, pushing a wet nose to his face.

“Buster!” Jade cries out. She runs a hand through her hair and sighs. “Sorry, he’s a little energetic. Buster, don’t lick his face.”

Steve’s cheek is coated in saliva before Jade has managed to run over and gently pry the terrier from him. Steve just laughs, wiping his cheek down.

“Sorry,” Jade says.

“No, it’s okay.” Steve looks at Buster, who is overjoyed to meet him, and at Rover, and at the rest of the pack, all still wary but no longer seeing him as a threat.

Dogs were always refreshing to meet. Nowadays, most people flocked over to him to ask about what it was like being frozen for years, what it was like to fight the war – and Steve can’t tell them that it’s not as glorious or as heroic as the books make it sound; it’s starvation and sleep deprivation and no showers and lice and bone-deep exhaustion and the temptation to put a bullet in your own head just so you can get some decent sleep. It’s watching friends never fall back in line, it’s watching good captains run into battlefields to save their men, it’s endless screaming for loved ones and shivering in trenches knowing you’ll die alone.

Dogs don’t do that. They meet you and if they are eager, they are eager simply because they are happy you exist. Not because you’re a glorified hero who doesn’t know the first thing to do with a fucking phone.

When Steve looks back at this time, years from now, he will think that maybe this is the reason why he doesn’t shy away from Jade Harley’s presence when they first meet. She asks for no autographs, and she smiles at him simply because she is glad to meet him and she is glad that somebody loves dogs as much as she does (and if Steve looks hard enough, he sees war in her eyes too, buried so so deep, that anyone who isn’t looking would never find it), and he will think this is why he joins her for bread and coffee that morning, in a simple family-owned café run by two college-age siblings and their no-nonsense older brother.

It’s Steve allowed to just be a person instead of a celebrity, with a dog-eared mutant, and pack of eleven dogs.

It’s a good day.


 

This is Steve Roger’s schedule, provided Captain America’s doesn’t mess it up: Mondays through Thursdays, he goes to the park in the afternoons. John Egbert is there performing tricks. They never talk. Steve only watches. There’s something calming in having all eyes not on him and being a spectator to something so fun.

On Friday mornings, he jogs in the park with Jade and her dogs, and then afterwards they go for bread and coffee at Sunny’s, the little café that’s a few blocks from the Safehouse.

He never tells any of his team that he’s hanging around the Safehouse mutants. If Tony was right about S.H.I.E.L.D’s intentions, well. He doesn’t think Jade or John or any of them deserve to be locked up.

He doesn’t quite understand why he’s so taken by them. He thinks maybe it’s the novelty – they seem like they’re made of magic, and people always gravitate towards magic (at least until they realize it’s real and freak out and point fingers and scream, except for people like Steve who have seen weirder). But Steve’s always been able to shrug off novelty eventually, and Jade doesn’t flaunt it around, and John only does it to earn money.

Maybe it’s because they’re different. Different as in, they don’ belong, like square pegs in circle holes, and they’re still here and they’re living and they’re thriving. Kind of like Steve, except Steve’s not sure about the living and thriving part. People gravitate towards people like themselves too.

“Do you ever feel like you’re out of place in the world?” he blurts out one morning, when it’s raining outside and Jade didn’t walk the dogs but they agreed to meet up at Sunny’s after a few text messages. He immediately tries to back up and swallow his words back, but then he turns to Jade and her eyes look so inexplicably old and tired and sad.

She nods and drinks her coffee and says, “Yeah.”

And Steve learns that he doesn’t know enough about her and the Safehouse. And he thinks maybe the fact that they’ve got so many things alike is why he gravitates towards these young mutants.

They linger a little longer at the coffee shop, both in pauses of comfortable silence and conversations punctuated by hearty laughter when they talk about dogs and the daily hassles of life. When the clock shows it’s fifteen past ten, Steve offers to walk her home.

Jade blinks and she looks around. “Uh.” She starts to stammer. “I don’t think that’s really a good idea…” She trails off, and the sentence sounds more like a question instead of a statement.

Steve opens his mouth to tell her it’s okay if she doesn’t want him to when he notices that there’s a kid at a table across them pointing excitedly at him while the boy’s mother is holding her child’s arm, trying to shush him. Steve doesn’t have to strain his hearing to make out the excited, “That’s Captain America!”

His stomach nearly plummets down. It’s late. There’s a lot of people at Sunny’s already. Of course some people would recognize him here, it’s not like he doesn’t save New York from villains every week or so.

Whereas the staff of Sunny had only given him an intense minute-long stare when he first came in to make sure that he was a friend of Jade’s and was indeed Captain America (even though they didn’t say it out loud, Steve could practically hear them thinking it), customers tended to stop and stare and point and crowd. And Steve wasn’t against fans, but he just…he needed space.

Jade’s dog ears perk up and then she turns, following his line of sight. Her shoulders relax when she sees the little boy. When she turns back to him, she offers him a small smile.

“Actually,” she says, “Yeah, you can walk me home. Just – the residents of the Safehouse aren’t very…”

“I get it,” he says, “It’s kind of hard not to hear about the Safehouse when nearly the entirety of New York’s been there.”

“Only a good third,” Jade says. She pays first, since it was her turn to pay for the food, before they make their way over to where their umbrellas are placed to retrieve them.

Steve reaches the door first and he opens it. Jade steps out and opens her umbrella before raising it high so he can duck under it and open his own umbrella. When they’re both set, Jade leads the way to the Safehouse.

“I should probably just teleport us there,” Jade mumbles, “So you have no idea which way to take. But then you might get lost? Or maybe Iron Man will drop from the sky to raid our flat because I mojo’ed you there.”

Steve tries not to snort unelegantly. He still ends up chuckling, letting the truth that’s been looming since the coffee shop settle into his chest. “I’m Captain America,” he says.

Jade nods. “I’m Jade Harley.”

“Most people take that differently.”

“You’re a soldier,” she says. Soldier, not super hero. “And you protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

Steve stares at the ground as they walk. “Yeah, I guess I do.”

“I do that too, except I didn’t go to military camp, and it usually involves a lot of green stuff and space magic,” Jade says. She looks up for a while as she thinks. “I can shoot a gun.”

Steve turns to her. “You’re – what, thirteen?”

“Twenty,” Jade says with a cheeky grin, and Steve lets his surprise show.

Twenty?”

“Mmm. You’re – what, twenty two?”

Steve makes a disapproving noise. Jade laughs.

“It’s a thing with the…ah, mutation,” Jade says the word carefully, with a little laugh attached to it. She says it like a secret. “It’s like the ears and tail,” she says, “But no telling.”

“Me or you?”

“Me,” she says, “For you, you’re not telling anyone you walked me to the Safehouse.”

Steve nods. Then, “Has anyone been to the Safehouse? Any of the Avengers?”

“If there have been, I haven’t been home for any of them.” Jade shrugs. “I have a day job too.”

The Safehouse is an unassuming building. From the outside, Steve can imagine the inside to be just like his own building – not Stark tower – with its small, close quarters, and the cigar stains on the carpet, and the occasional noise from the neighbors.

But when the door opens, he gets a glimpse of clean tiled floors, and a very, very nice chandelier, and an even nicer carpet with well-polished stairway rails, and basically it looks like a mansion from the inside, and Steve’s head can’t even wrap around how it fits inside the small building.

The girl who opens the door is young and blonde and she has violet eyes and she appears to be glowing in the dim lighting of the overcast sky and Steve thinks he’s had too many weird things to process today.

She studies him intently before turning to Jade.

Jade grins at her. “Rose, I’d like you to meet Steve Rogers.”

Steve Rogers, not Captain America. Steve loves the fact that he can breathe around Jade Harley.

“Steve, this is Rose Lalonde,” Jade continues, “One of my flatmates.”

Rose smiles at him and extends a hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Mister Rogers,” she says, and in the chill of the rain, her hands are warm. “Thank you for walking Jade home.”

“Steve’s fine,” he says, “And, my pleasure.”

Rose’s smile grows wider as they let go of each other’s hand. “Will you be staying for lunch? It’s almost noon after all, and the Safehouse is quite large. A tour will be a while.”

And suddenly Rose’s smile appears too sharp and full of mischief and while not enough warning bells are going off inside Steve’s head for it to be DANGER DANGER, enough of it’s going off to be well this is just shifty and I’ll probably get home with one extra head than I started with.

So he tilts his head down politely and declines. Rose nods, looking amused and contented, like Steve passed something, and then she says, “Perhaps another time then.”

From the inside, there’s a very loud thud. Jade tries to see around Rose while the blonde doesn’t even look startled. Then there’s a shriek, “Egbert!” and then successive sounds of porcelain breaking and more yelling.

“We should probably break that up,” Jade says. She turns to Steve. “Thanks for walking me home.”

“No problem,” Steve says. He waits until Jade and Rose are inside the house, and listens to the cacophony of the Safehouse for a little while. Then he smiles to himself and starts his own way back to his flat.

He doesn’t tell anyone about his visit to the Safehouse.


 

“I like Captain America,” says John Egbert while he’s chewing on a piece of toast.

Mrs. Harrison looks at him disapprovingly but doesn’t say anything. John swallows his toast, sets the rest of it down and empties his glass of orange juice before he continues speaking. “He always comes to watch my magic shows. I don’t know if he knows I know he’s watching.”

“I’m too sleep-deprived to deal with that sentence,” Palmer #1 says. Jade pauses as she chews off a piece of bacon. She should really stop referring to them like that. Dave’s terms were rubbing off on her.

“He hasn’t shown any inclination to visit the Safehouse,” Rose says, “So far.”

It’d only been a month since the whole Tony Stark incident. Loki and Dave had taken care of that – well, Dave latched onto the first weakness he’d seen which was Stark’s alcoholism and had gotten flat-out wasted in the effort, but the situation was handled.

And then John had reported seeing a familiar dude in the park, frequenting his shows, and then a trip to the grocer’s and passing by the magazine rack had him snapping his fingers and saying, “Aha!”

So they tried to go to the park together and see what would happen if Steve Rogers saw them together. They’d acted on the assumption that he was on a surveillance mission. It wasn’t that farfetched since Tony’s sudden arrival at the Safehouse.

So far, all of them had agreed on a few things – they were not interested in being recruited by the Avengers, they were not interested on being lab rats for whoever held the Avengers, they were not interested in being pegged and treated as threats by the Avengers.  And if they had to act a little paranoid about it, well, Sburb didn’t teach them nothing.

It was a coincidence, really, that earlier that morning, Jade Harley had run into Steve. And she didn’t think it was on purpose that he was there. He certainly had no way of knowing she walked the Safehouse dogs every morning, and she hadn’t even seen him jogging there at that time before.

On impulse, she’d invited him over to Sunny’s, just to try and discreetly get a few answers out of him. What she’d gotten was that he really didn’t plan to be there that morning and that he knew less than Tony had known about the Safehouse.

When asked by the Safehouse residents whether she thought his knowledge and curiosity was safe, Jade said yes.

“Buster likes him,” she had pointed out, and Kevin had nodded approvingly.

“He’s seen John do his windy thing,” Dave says, and Jade rejoins them at their current train of thought, steamrollering over breakfast and the implications of an Avenger being interested in their little extravagant bunker made up of magic and stubbornness and humans and psychics and gods. “He’s seen Jade do her spacey thing. He’s seen her ears and didn’t freak out. He’s seen Palmer’s dog.”

“And you will cease your mutterings about my dog if you don’t want to be fed to him, Strider.” Kevin doesn’t even look up from his plate. Lying on the floor, by Kevin’s feet, Buster yips happily.

“Tony Stark visited because he was worried about Pepper Potts’ safety,” Loki says, finally. He’s been silent so far. Jade turns to him. He’s already finished his plate and is leaned back on his chair, relaxed. Royal and collected. “Or was operating under the guise of it. As unlikely as it seems, he really was trying to see the credibility of the Safehouse, especially since Miss Potts has taken shelter here.”

“So what’s Cap America’s deal,” Dave finishes his thought. “He likes the magic shows?”

“He strikes me more as a man of science and deep-seated religious faith,” Rose says.

“You went to the museum,” Dave points out.

“Research.”

“Cheating.”

“Even doctors research their patients’ previous experiences.”

“You know, we could probably set you up in college around here,” Dave says. Jade pops a cut of meat into her mouth and chews, setting down her utensils to listen. “You wanna be a psychologist, there’s a shit ton of villains that the Avengers have caught that you’d have a field day with.”

Rose looks down at her plate thoughtfully, slowly turning her fork over and over until a prong nearly wears a hole in the porcelain. “Perhaps I should,” she says, then, louder, “Perhaps I should, this is Earth, after all.”

Jade watches Rose’s fork. She thinks about the dogs, and the pets stores and the animal shelters. She thinks about watching Iron Man’s suit flying around, she thinks about the complexity of Stark Tower’s systems, she thinks about the machineries the big bads bring around every other Thursday. She wonders if it’s too far away to double major in engineering and veterinary medicine.

None of them have ever thought about pursuing paths forward. Only ever to blend in. Never about the future. The future’s too blurry to make out, and Sburb’s always taught them to focus on what their hands are holding because if they fuck this up, they fuck everything up.

“Did we even finish high school, I don’t remember,” John says. “I really don’t.”

“Paperwork is easy to fake,” Rose says.

“I can go to college, yeah,” Jade says. Veterinary medicine and engineering. She’ll sweettalk her way around it if the college people don’t let her. “It sounds fun.”

“You never finished your studies?” Loki asks.

“No, the game kinda destroyed every single school when it rained blood on our parade,” Dave says. “So, no. We’re pretty good at alchemizing shit though. And at fighting. And managing our aspects. But calculus? Fuck.”

“Roxy was good at programming,” Rose says, and Jade doesn’t miss the look Dave shoots his sister over his glasses, the motion registering in Jade’s internal radar. If she squints, she can imagine red irises glaring at Rose. Nobody ever says their parent-siblings’ names. It’s like an unspoken rule.

“Apocalypse situations give you a lot of free time,” Dave says, stiff.

Loki studies the exchange quietly. Everyone else pretends to be more interested in their own food.

Jade clears her throat. “So, Steve Rogers,” she says, getting them back on topic. “I don’t think he wants anything from us.”

“We’ll have to make sure,” John says. He turns to Loki, who turns to Jade. Jade nods.

“I invited him, Friday morning. I told him maybe he’d like to run with the dogs, because they seem to like him, and he looked like he could use a running partner.”

John makes a funny face as he looks at her. “Isn’t he like, ninety something?”

Jade flips him off. He laughs.

“But you believe he honestly does not have any ill intentions towards the Safehouse, Jade?” Loki asks.

Jade holds his gaze, green eyes brighter than her own, raw with power, before turning to stare at the wall across her. There are tiny little black ants, crawling on that wall, and every foot they move, Jade feels exactly by how much distance they move it and the coordinates of their position. She knows space. She doesn’t know heart. But Steve Rogers is one of those people she feels wear their hearts on their sleeves and the truth in their eyes.

“He doesn’t like being called Captain America outside of a mission, you know,” Jade says, “I can see it. He looked so happy when I didn’t seem to recognize him, and only ever addressed him as Steve. Captain America is a superhero. An icon. Somebody perfect. Steve Rogers is somebody fucked up and just wants to live his life, and whose identity isn’t confined to a name he didn’t want.”

Loki inclines his head. Jade knows he understands what she’s trying to say.

“Yeah,” she says, “I think he means no harm.”


 

When she said that, it wasn’t a go-signal for everybody to bare their teeth at him. And surprisingly, the first one to show canines without actually showing canines is Rose, who looks smug as all hell as she closes the door behind her. The rain is pouring outside, and so Steve won’t hear them when Jade hisses, “What was that for?”

“Confirmation,” Rose says.

“Couldn’t you just See?”

“Oh, I could, but I always like hearing them say it,” Rose says. From the kitchen, there’s another crash. John cackles, the Palmers simultaneously groan, and Dave starts to go on a tangent about the sanctity of apple juice and threats to shop nothing but Betty Crocker for a week, as if Mrs. Harrison would ever let him.

Jade sighs. It’s a good thing Loki is still at the animal shelter. She’s not really sure if he would have egged Rose on or had pity on Steve.

“He really is a good guy, you know,” Jade says as they both make their way to the kitchen. “We left Sunny’s because some kid recognized him as Captain America.”

Something in Rose’s eyes dim. Her mouth sets into a stiff line.

It doesn’t take much to break up the fight. Rose grabs her brother, who is easily pliable when he is focusing on his words, and makes him sit on a stool in the corner. The Palmers are happy enough to get out of the kitchen and start up the PS4. Jade slaps John on the head and gives him a stern talking to about children starving somewhere and how any sort of food should not be wasted even for pranks. Dave’s hair is still shining with apple juice and edible glitter, but he’s quieted down.

When Jade finishes her lecture and John looks sheepish, Dave pipes up, “Dude, I still cannot fucking believe. I trusted you to be better than that.”

“Alright, before this goes off into another block of aerial text, you’re going to go take a shower and John’s going to clean up his mess. And hopefully he finishes before Mrs. Harrison gets back from the grocery store.” Jade puts her hands on her hips and the decision is final.

Dave goes, still muttering. Rose has a hand on his shoulder to push him forward whenever he looks like he wants to stop and confront Egbert again.

“So how was breakfast?” asks John as he wipes down the kitchen counter. Glitter gets permanently lodged into the spaces between the tiles. Jade wrinkles her nose and snaps her fingers, and the glitter finds itself in the bottom of the garbage can.

“Nothing special.”

“Really? You took longer than usual,” he says, then grins at her, “Did the cap sweettalk you or something?”

Jade gives him a stern look. “John.”

John laughs, and it’s high and clear and genuine and Jade relaxes. “Sorry, it’s just – he’s a good friend, right?”

“He’s a great friend and he’s a good man,” she says, “And he doesn’t like being called Captain America outside of work, how many times do I have to tell you.”

John nods. “Sorry about that too,” he says, “He still keeps on coming to my shows, you know. We never talk but, he’s getting better. At…adjusting, I guess. He looked worse than us when I first saw him at the park. He wasn’t even drawing. He was staring into nothing.”

“He was frozen, right?”

“For seventy years, give or take.” John finishes up the wiping and wrings out the rag in the sink. Apple juice and glitter rain down on the smooth porcelain. He runs the cloth through water and wrings it again so that it’s not too wet, then goes back to the counter to give it another wiping.

“Was anyone he knew even alive when he woke up?” Jade grabs the stool from the corner to sit on it.

John pauses in his work, and then shrugs and continues. “I don’t know.” Another pause, but this time he doesn’t stop working. “We were lucky.”

Jade nods and swallows down the bile threatening to rise up her throat. “Yeah,” she says, and her voice is shaking. “Yeah, we were.”

Chapter Text

“How many Starbucks branches is it necessary for one city to have?” Loki asks as Dave sets down the paper bag that still has steam escaping from it.

They're really lucky that some of their refugees are Starbucks employees. Coffee's usually free, and that's good, especially since someone has introduced their resident god of mischief to it. Dave loves Mrs. Harrison, he really does, but her coffee addiction hadn’t need to be shared with scary-powerful sorcerers who could giggle and bust out a transistor outside.

Not that Loki giggled. Then again, Dave had never seen him drunk.

“Fifty two or something, probably.” Dave takes out his own coffee and gently pushes the bag towards him. Everyone else is pouring into the living room, because caffeine is a scary homing device like that.

Loki reaches inside and takes out his cup.

“No, more than a hundred,” John says as he and the Palmers push each other through the doorway. John and Palmer #1 still have their controllers in their hands, with Palmer #1 nearly braining John in the race to get to the coffee first. Palmer #2 shoves through the small space between #1’s hip and the doorframe, squeezing through and then doing a front roll on the carpet before successfully coming to a stop near the table by hitting his head on the leg of it.

“Ow!”

Dave snorts.

“There’s two hundred and twenty in Manhattan.” Jade appears out of nowhere, in green light and plucks out her coffee before sitting down on the couch next to Loki. He scoots over to make room while the TV drones on.

Dave blinks. “That’s slightly scary. Let’s move to Chicago.”

“There’s a hundred and sixty four in Chicago.”

“Do you moonlight for stats or something?” Dave looks at her and then gives the Starbucks logo of his cup a shifty look.

“You want me to tell you the number of 7-11’s?”

He takes a sip. Well, it’s not bad coffee. “No. I think I’ll pass the horror of mass corporations.” He waves a hand. “Batterwitch flashbacks.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah, well, Betty Crocker is still a thing here,” John says, finally, finally getting past through the door with Palmer #1 and getting his coffee. He pokes in the straw and slurps it noisily.

“You realize you are related to Betty Crocker, yes?” Rose says, “To the Batterwitch, anyway. To some extent.” She waits until everyone’s sorted out their mess before retrieving her own drink. She does that thing where she sniffs it elegantly before sitting down. John slurps again, just to be petty. Dave chuckles.

“I’m disowning her,” John says.

“Jane Crocker is your biological mother, and you’ve known her as your Nanna, and she is the Batterwitch’s granddaughter.”

“Isn’t the troll princess the Batterwitch’s daughter? Descendant?” Dave asks. He sits on the floor, leaning back on the couch. “Does that mean John’s like, part troll?”

“Hey, how about we don’t argue weird genetics right now?” John sits down and then kicks Dave, or at least tries to, because Dave dodges and does a roll so that he ends up on the other end of the couch and leans back on it. John flips him off.

“That’s cheap, John,” Dave says. The Heir of Breath flicks a finger at his direction and sends a gust of wind towards him, mainly directed at his head, strong enough to mess up his perfectly styled hair, instead making it stick up and be a poor imitation of Dirk’s own shock of white-blonde locks.

Dave takes a sip of his coffee, calmly. John looks properly smug and turns to the television.

It’s another segment of Tony Stark (because when is the man not on TV around here, really) regarding a few loose ends about his weapons dealing, etc., etc., and a few minutes of discussing the future of sharing the clean energy tech of the arc reactor – it’s been rehashed so many times on television that Dave’s nearly gotten the lines memorized, because the news outlets all play the same footage.

They’d all been monitoring the news since Tony showed up at the Safehouse, and Dave had been assigned to surveillance duty because it was convenient (Loki suddenly blips to buckass nowhere, Rose is neck-deep in magic studies and trying to weigh the options of college versus self-education, Jade has to distract Cap – Steve Rogers, and John is…still in the wind. Literally, sometimes. The rest of the Safehouse people had been out of the question, because this entire mutant thing is their problem and their problem alone. No need to bring the others into this. And so Dave, the only person who appeared to have his shit together, had been put on surveillance duty. So far his only problem is the balding man in the fancy suit who wears dark glasses following him - and whenever they all went out together, them - around, probably trying to be discreet, but Dave is Dave fucking Strider and his Bro raised him better than that).

The next part of the segment shows the robots that were sprawling the city just last Friday. One of the damn things had tried to crawl towards the Safehouse while the magical barriers were still being activated and Rose had to shoot the thing with a blast of magic that had the intensity of a small exploding star. Thankfully, the barrier was already up by the time the ball of light made impact with the robotic spider, mostly because Loki'd realized they were fucked in half a second, and the only damage done was a huge crater in the middle of the street, a pool of black slag, and scorch marks on the surrounding buildings. Loki had looked really proud at Rose for that feat (and then everyone decided to build a sparring room, because Mrs. Harrison yelled at them for days when they tried to spar inside the living room).

The robots had caused a lot of trouble for the Avengers, especially since they were programmed like cockroaches, not dying even when you cut off the head. The near-entirety of New York had stayed inside the Safehouse for close to seven hours and the dude who had an obsession with dogs who lived in the fourth level had adopted ten new strays, because it's a rule that everyone, cats and dogs included, are welcome at the Safehouse (once, Buster had jumped on Dave, causing Dave to land on his ass and be sieged by dogs. His aviators had fallen down and been trampled by the lot. The guy had bought him a new pair; Dave liked him).

The report for the damage is given, which isn’t as huge as Dave had thought it would be: the death count is only two, and the injured count only in the low twenties, not even with serious, life-threatening injuries. The few people who are  being interviewed look rather chipper for what they’d been put through. Probably because they’d reached the point where they didn’t even care anymore, which, same. Dave takes huge gulps of his coffee again before swirling it around out of habit.

“It’s just a matter of knowing where to go, these days,” one Susan Trillis says on the screen, dark circles under her eyes from lack of sleep, but otherwise unharmed. “You know the roads well enough and you drive to the Safehouse as soon as you learn of the attack. They can’t even touch the building. You’re perfectly safe inside.”

Everyone stops playing with their sleeves, stops whispering and swirling their coffees at the last part of her sentence. They stare at the screen, watching as the next clip from another New Yorker plays.

Dave is the first one to resume moving his coffee cup around. He glances at Loki, who is still looking at the screen, face carefully blank. His coffee is still in his lap.

“Should we be worried?” Dave asks.

The next two clips are of children, talking about how their parents had drove to the Safehouse and how it was like a really cool fortress.

“It’s…good that we are helping people,” Rose says. “The merits of attention are still debatable.”

“But it’s expected,” John says. He drains his coffee and leans forward to place it on the coffee table. “I mean, what did we think was going to happen?”

“That people were going to leave us alone, as thanks for saving their asses?” Dave says, tone slightly sharp.

“The people are gracious enough,” Rose says, “The media is just doing their jobs.”

“Fuck their jobs,” John mutters.

Jade frowns at the screen. “It’s uncomfortable.”

“Attacks might be focused on the Safehouse,” Loki says, still with that calm Dave’s only ever seen in his fucked up family, “Depending on what the next failure’s goal is.”

“So we up the shields?”

“It would be easier to make them only let in humans.” Loki carefully brings his coffee up to his lips. “But monsters come in all skins and voices.”

“Barriers would have to be strengthened and we should keep our guards up,” Rose says, “And we might actually have to fight when it comes to it.”

Dave tries not to flinch. He succeeds. Instead he carefully clenches a fist and then unclenches it, one finger at a time, staring at his hand as he does so. Jade’s frown is more pronounced when he glances at her. The Palmers are silent from where they’re sitting. Palmer #1 is staring at the screen intently, which is now showing an image of the Avengers.

“By the way, Mister Agent Man is getting braver,” Dave says.

“We’ll strengthen the anti-surveillance spells outside as well,” Rose says.

“And if they get inside?”

“They won’t.” Rose turns towards the Palmers and they share a smile, #1 shrugging as he takes his eyes off the television screen for a moment.

They all watch the rest of the news in silence, and Dave plays with the rest of his coffee until it grows cold.


 

The only reason Rose hadn’t noticed it at first was because it was barely there. In a tangled mass of lights that had her putting effort to clear her vision, the very faint red thread isn’t present when she first sees Steve Rogers on the news, because the colors don’t really show up on recorded media. It’s not present when she first sees him in the park. It is, however, floating innocently and faintly, when she sees him in front of the Safehouse doorstep after he walks Jade home one rainy morning.

The next time she sees Steve Rogers is when she goes on a grocery run with Jade and they meet up with the good captain so they could all shop together, and so Rose could bait him a little more in her ‘psychiatrist voice’, as her brother calls it. Jade had put up a half-hearted fight, but meetings about the surveillance that Dave’s been keeping an eye on and the ever-growing publicity of the Safehouse had made her yield, even if she'd been guilty over it.

The red thread is definitely noticeable, and Rose pays attention to it during the first few minutes of their meet-up, mostly because instead of swirling around Steve like the rest of the lights and colors of Fortune, it drifts and leads someplace – far away, Rose thinks, as she watches the thing phase through solid objects and lead outside the supermarket, out of the building and out of the city. Then Rose focuses and clears her vision and subtly drops questions for Steve to answer.

He picks up on it, several times, and Rose smiles whenever he does so, but she doesn’t stop, because she knows that he knows it’s in her right to question his motivations for befriending Jade and see if he has any interest, malicious or otherwise, towards the Safehouse.

This time they get home via Jade’s teleportation, because it’s already night and they’re out late, and Dave’s texting really long messages about how Mrs. Harrison has already cannibalized John because everyone is starving, and Steve has to gather himself for a few minutes so he doesn’t puke from the space-travel disorientation.

When the captain has brushed off the temporary-displacement-sickness and the girls are about to ring the doorbell, John Egbert appears in a flash of blue light, most likely from turning into wind and seeping through the cracks of the doorway and immediately moves to cower behind his sister.

“Save me, Jade!”

Jade blinks, glasses slipping a bit down her nose as her brother grabs her shoulders and tries to hide behind her. “What – ”

The door opens and several dogs burst out. John yelps and tries to run, only to be pounced on by the mutts and licked to death. Jade laughs at him.

Dave, still holding the door open, smugly grins. “Enjoy being dog food, Egbert.”

John is about to say something but Rover tries to kiss him. He leans back instead.

From inside the house, there’s a distinct, “Strider, if my dogs aren’t complete when they get back inside, you’re going to be their next meal.”

“No problem, Mr. G, they’ll be whole and complete when this door closes, I promise.”

Rose raises an eyebrow at her brother when he turns to her. “Starvation?” she asks.

“I’ll have you know we have lost Palmer #2,” Dave says. He puts a hand to his chest and dips his head. “It was a tragic death, but he’s going to be remembered for the rest of time. That little blonde psychic Mario Kart loser will be forever immortalized in shitty jpeg artifacts and golden-beated sick fires.”

“Fuck you, Strider!”

Jade loses it as soon as she hears Kevin yell. From the corner of Rose’s eye, she sees Steve Rogers shift from one foot to another, awkward but not fully uncomfortable. The red thread suddenly flickers into view, looped with a length of color for longing, and then disappears.

They should invite Rogers inside, she thinks, just to see what his reaction would be, but as interesting an experiment that was, it's too early. And too risky. He's a good man but he isn’t invested in the Safehouse enough. He is invested in Jade, because they're friends, but – not enough, Rose decides.

So instead she steers the conversation so that John can finally be freed from his doggy captors and be given access to the showers inside the house again, and so that she and Jade can get inside.

“We would invite you in, but…” she trails off, leaving it to him to mentally supply it with it’s not a good time; it’s a mess; our flatmates are fucking idiots and it’s embarrassing if you see them – or I don’t trust you enough to be inside yet, wait for a bit and show me you’re trustworthy by saying no and letting us set boundaries.

Steve Rogers politely nods and says that he doesn’t want to intrude, and that maybe it would be best for them to get inside before another one of their flatmates got eaten. She nods, smiling, letting him know he passed, and he and Jade exchange their goodbyes.

When they all get inside, dogs included, and Steve Rogers starts to walk back to his home, Jade sighs and runs her hands over her face.

“Fuck, I’m too guilty for this,” she says into her palms, groceries placed on the floor and forgotten, voice muffled.

“I don’t think he thinks you consider him untrustworthy,” Rose says, “I think he knows that we have every right to be wary, and he respects us for it.”

“Which is?” Jade lifts her head. John has already flown up to their room to take his shower and Dave is herding the dogs into the living room.

“Which is good, because that means he’s a good person,” Rose says. “He understands.”

Jade smiles. She straightens before picking up the bags of groceries and making her way to the kitchen.

Rose turns back to the door for a bit, thinking about the merits of having Captain America as an ally. She thinks about the red thread that led to somewhere, far away, and thinks that it’s good that Jade’s found such a good friend.


 

Rose is baiting America, and as much as Dave trusts her to know what she is doing, he still checks the windows after his sister and Jade have gone to give the groceries to Mrs. H. There’s no sign of Steve Rogers anywhere.

No sign of Mister Agent Man either. Dave had gone through the trouble of grabbing the man’s discarded receipt from when he was staking Dave out at Sunny’s. The people working there had been more than happy to help once he’d explained his situation. They'rr regular refugees at the Safehouse anyway, and he just didn’t mention that the person stalking him was from SHIELD, instead saying it was from a dubious source, and he really needed anything that the man left behind in the café. Anything at all, as long as he touched it.

From a selection of a used spoon, teacup, saucer, chair, tablecloth and a receipt, Dave chose receipt.

He’d given it to Loki, because it was the god who told him that if he wanted to ward everyone from the agent, he’d have to get anything with the man’s DNA on it.

“You’re not going to make him turn pink and start singing Disney songs, are you?” he’d asked.

Loki’d turned slowly towards him and blinked in the same speed.

“Okay, just – you know. That would seriously alert me to if he was around.”

“A personal alert would be a good charm. He’s only stalked you out so far.”

“Because you, Jade and John disappear and Rose works in the library.  Record logs and cameras are at the library, and it’d be easy to get him if he was there on a daily basis. I’m the easiest target. I move around.”

So Loki did his magic thing on Mister Agent Man, that no matter how much he tried to get close, he would only get close enough for his eyes to look elsewhere and his focus to be averted. Dave tossed in a shirt he didn’t like anymore and Loki added a charm that would make Dave and Dave alone hear a specific sound that would alert him to Mister Agent Man’s arrival.

“Just be sure to avoid being in a place with windchimes. You will get confused,” Loki’d added.

“Uh huh. This can be reversed, right? Windchime PTSD is something I want to avoid.”

From what Mrs. Harrison, the Palmers and the newly-briefed Mr. G (he’d earned the briefing after he shot a freaky bat-spider-goop thing three weeks ago, when Jade was rescuing three children and a dog outside) had told him, Mister Agent Man had not approached the Safehouse directly nor had he been spotted outside. No other shifty agents have been spotted either. The Palmers confirmed that there were no SHIELD goons dressed up as civilians.

Once Dave’s satisfied that there’s no one watching them outside, he joins everyone else in the kitchen. Dinner’s already being served, and some of the others are in the living room. Only Palmer #2 and Mr. G are in the kitchen.

“Where’s Buster?” Mr. G immediately asks.

“Isn’t he with Jade?” Dave grabs a plate and starts to pile sausages onto his plate when he notices that Palmer #2 and Mr. G are just staring at him. He matches their stare and mentally catalogues where he saw Buster go. He went inside the house. Dave is sure he went inside the house.

Palmer #2 starts snickering.

Dave flips them both off with the hand not holding the plate. “Not funny.”

“You’re too paranoid, Strider,” Mr. G says. “Luke – Loki says he’s got the spell down, yeah?”

“Yeah, but it’s not like SHIELD doesn’t have access to uncommon stuff right? For all we know, they got a mage.”

“Then they’d be part of the Avengers if that was the case.”

Dave pauses. “Point.”

“Your friends can defend themselves if push comes to shove. SHIELD doesn’t know about you or your abilities,” Mr. G says, stirring his coffee. Mr. G never makes eye contact, Dave notices. And though Rose says he’s not psychic, he’s scarily good at reading people. But the whole no-eye-contact thing makes it easier to talk to him. Dave likes talking to Mr. G. “SHIELD doesn’t harm civilians.”

“What about #1 and #2?” Dave asks. “It’s not like SHIELD’s going to accept ‘human with psychic abilities’ as wholly human. They’ll scribble mutant quicker than they’ll slap handcuffs.”

“Then we’ll run,” Palmer #2 says, shrugging. “Honestly, Strider. You’re winding yourself up over nothing.”

Dave thinks of the meticulousness and the preciseness that timetravelling calls for and chuckles. He waves a hand in response before claiming the rest of his food and walking to the living room. He can feel Palmer #2 and Mr. G’s stares at the back of his head. He doesn’t look back.


 

He builds a routine over the next few weeks: first thing in the morning, he flashsteps all over the Safehouse, checking for bugs or for nosy agents; then he cleans himself, gets dressed, and goes to work if he has a gig that day. If he doesn’t, then he takes to looking at the news to see if there’s anything he suspicious, like a sudden rise of villains that is probably pattern for something more, or any hidden message that SHIELD likes to send to its government buddies or whatever (or news of grey-skinned aliens found, or of a bunch of weird kids dropping out of nowhere suddenly, or a red battleship staining the sky somewhere).

He spars with his sister in the newly-built training room whenever he can. Jade teaches him how to shoot a gun. Mr. G takes over when she’s not around.

On weekends, he jogs after his flashstep-checkup, and trains in the sparring room in the afternoons. It’s easier when training is scheduled instead of waiting on edge every single hour of the day, waiting for Bro to come out of nowhere and just swing at him.

(And Dave thinks, when his eyes are hurting from reading articles and he’s caught himself looking over his shoulder, that maybe he’s never gotten rid of that paranoia.)

On one afternoon where everyone has work and he doesn’t, he goes to the training room and takes stock of his artillery in his sylladex. This universe doesn’t have any sylladex tech, but Jade’s well-versed enough in the engineering that she’s able to fix any problems.

He has several swords, including the Legendary Piece of Shit, a bunch of other trinkets and one fucking smuppet that he immediately sets on fire. Fuck sentimentality, those things scarred him.

He has to get the fire extinguisher though, because he burnt the damn thing in the middle of the training court.

He leaves the fire extinguisher and gets back to counting his swords.

The rest of the stuff in his sylladex that he doesn’t really need, he puts in a pile to be put in his drawers. He decides to captcha a pistol. Even if he’s not too good at guns yet, he might need it, and preparedness is always crucial for survival.

He disassembles the gun, counts the bullets, assembles it. Then he disassembles it again. Counts the bullets. He pauses and looks back to the pile of ashes and soot that a few feet away from him, and the fire extinguisher beside him.

He thinks about the smuppet. He thinks about what he’s doing. He thinks about Bro.

A few minutes later, he’s ducking his head and wiping tears from his eyes, because he’s so fucking confused as to what he is doing. He’s not even sure anymore. This new earth is supposed to be a sanctuary for them – he’s supposed to earn back the life he lost (and maybe, never had, because what the fuck did his brother even raise him for if not the goddamn game), not look over his shoulder every now and then and act like a soldier going to war. He’s finished his war.

(He’s never finished his war and the realization of that makes him choke on a sob out loud. Mortified, he quickly wipes his eyes and puts his aviators back on.)

He gathers himself up and captchalogues whatever weapons he needs. He leaves the useless pile on the floor and stands up, intent on getting the broom to sweep up the ashes of the burnt smuppet.

When he looks up and sees the doorway, Palmer #1 is standing there. He’s even got his purple sweater with the white moon on it.

Dave freezes.

They stare at each other for a minute, and Dave can see the swirls of light in Palmer #1’s eyes. They’re too bright. And Palmer’s eyes look unfocused.

“I thought you had school today,” Dave says.

“No, my professor for today’s subject is sick,” Palmer #1 says.

They’re both back to staring at each other again. The silence is so thick, Dave can feel it pushing his aviators down.

He rights his glasses back up.

“So – ”

“I was here for exactly thirty minutes and twenty four seconds,” Palmer then quickly adds, “And counting.”

“Fuck, you’re a little high on psychic shit right now, aren’t you?”

Palmer smiles. His eyes are very bright.

“Does it bother you? The psychic episodes?” Dave asks.

“What does your sister do?”

“She Sees all the time,” Dave says, “It’s integral to being a Seer.”

“To being a fully realized Seer. I think my brother mentioned that you said that she said I was supposed to be a Seer too.”

“If this universe had a game.”

Palmer tilts his head. He doesn’t say anything. Dave knows he wants to. He knows how people look like when they want to spare their friends the bad news.

“You don’t have to be so wound up, Dave,” Palmer #1 says. “You don’t have to count your weapons.”

“If SHIELD comes looking for us – ”

“If SHIELD comes looking for you, New York will not let them take you. Have you ever thought about that?”

Dave closes his mouth. Palmer #1 looks at him for a while longer before speaking again. “You and your friends have saved this city more times than you can count. The only reason the death toll isn’t in thousands during invasions is because you and friends decided to use your flat as a bunker. You didn’t have to do that.” His look turns soft. “You did anyway.”

Dave looks down for moment. “It was the right thing to do.”

“It wasn’t because it was right. It was just that you inherently knew that you could help and you chose to do it. Just because you could.” Palmer rights his head and smiles. “You sound like a hero to me.”

“I’m not a hero,” is Dave’s immediate reply.

Palmer hums.  “For once, Dave,” he says, “Put some trust in the people you save. Trust them to save you. Trust them to be able to stand up for you too.” He looks like he wants to walk over to Dave, but doesn’t. He raises an arm, then slowly drops it. He sighs. “Trust your friends. Trust us.”

Dave looks up.

“The battlefield isn’t uneven anymore, Dave. And you’re not a soldier, you’re just a kid.”

Dave stares at Palmer #1. He stares and stares. Palmer smiles before slowly walking away. And once he’s gone Dave fucking cries, because a soldier is practically all his brother raised him to be, and no one’s ever told him he’s more than that before.


 

This morning, Cecil wakes up and smiles as he stares at the ceiling. Today is going to be a fun day. It will be a little exhausting pushing at the spell Loki has put – the one where Mister Agent Man can never exactly focus on any of them – so he can get close, but Cecil does not want to make an impression. He just wants to talk. And maybe plant a suggestion in Mister Agent Man’s head. By the time he leaves, perhaps the spell will kick in again full force so that Mister Agent Man can’t exactly remember the entirety of their conversation, but just have a vague impression of it.

Recording devices. Mm, Cecil is a good pickpocket.

Today, Dave has a gig. He hasn’t had a gig in a few days. That’s mostly why Cecil has decided today is a good day to move. And, the arrangement of the universe appears to allow it – or, maybe not allow, but if there’s any good time to do something about their current problem, it was now, and Cecil is an opportunist.

He has Kevin help him break into Dave’s room (ah, windows and telekinetically-inclined brothers) and he steals an aviator, a pair of jeans and a shirt; the red-sleeved raglan with the record that Dave is so fond of – and even had several shirts of. Better to make things convincing, even if Mister Agent Man isn’t going to remember. A good con is in the details.

“Do you know how to use a hair iron?” Cecil asks his brother.

Kevin shakes his head.

“Huh. I actually thought you did. Your hair’s not as curly as mine.”

Kevin sighs. “Ceec. You know twins can have differences, right?”

“Mm. I’m going to go find Mrs. Harrison.”

“Try Grahambell.”

Cecil wrinkles his nose while Kevin snickers. “You know he doesn’t like that nickname.”

“What? Strider came up with it. It’s funny.”

It turns out Mr. G does know how to use a hair iron. The man straightens out Cecil’s hair and doesn’t ask what he’s going to do, and instead asks why he’s the one to do it.

“My hair’s the same shade as Dave’s. Kev’s is a little darker.”

“Ah.”

It’s fortunate that he’s about the same height and body structure as Dave, and the shirt and jeans fit perfectly.

He puts on the aviators and spreads his arms in a flourish.

“How do I look?”

“Don’t smile,” Mr. G says.

Afterwards, Kevin does a little makeup on him to make it a little more convincing.

“Show me how you walk,” Mr. G says. Cecil does his best to imitate Dave’s graceful, confident stride from one end of the room to the other.

“Not that fancy,” Mr. G says. “You move like – like ghosts in a B-rated movie do – ”

“Is that a compliment?” Kevin asks.

“I’ll take it,” Cecil says.

Mr. G continues like he hasn’t been interrupted. “Dave moves graceful, but not airy. He moves solid. Like when he punches you, you know it’s going to hurt, but he’s going to look fabulous while doing it.” Mr. G crosses his arms and looks down at the floor in thought. “Do you ever watch documentaries – nature documentaries, I mean. BBC? National Geographic?”

“Yeah,” the siblings say.

“Do you see when the predator, be it a lion or a tiger or a lynx or a panther, moves? It’s speed and power and beauty all coiled into muscles. And when they run, they’re not running like they’re going to dissipate into air from their softness, they run like a bullet, hard and fast and deadly, and when they hit, they hit. And you know that whatever’s going to get trapped by those claws is dead.”

Cecil nods.

“That’s how Strider moves,” Mr. G says, “Hell, that’s how Winters – that’s how Loki moves. But Loki can switch between B-rated movie ghost to terrifying predator in the savannah.”

“How did you not go straight into literature instead of criminal profiler?” Kevin mutters. Cecil elbows him harshly, getting an “Ow!” from him.

“Limit the swing of your arm by a few centimeters. Loosen the curl of your fingers,” Mr. G instructs, “When you step, stretch your leg full and land on the balls of your feet – not the heel. Toes and ball. Have you ever danced?”

Kevin raises a hand.

“How about martial arts?”

“Um,” Cecil says. Kevin raises a hand again.

“That’s okay, you’re passable.”

Cecil steps out of the house, headphones and ipod with him, when he feels that it is just time for Mister Agent Man to be at a little coffee shop where he sends encrypted messages to his superiors from his phone. By that time, Mr. G has given him a few more reminders, before he fixes the aviators on his face, schools his expression and steps out the house in Dave Strider’s gait.

“Why loosen the curl of his fingers?” he hears Kevin ask from the door that’s still partially open.

“Dave Strider’s hands do not naturally curl into fists like your brother’s. They’re always halfway open, like he’s ready to drop a weapon in them anytime. It takes a few precious milliseconds to uncurl a hand.”

“Oh.”

Mr. G has reassured them time and again that he isn’t psychic. He’s scary good at reading people though, and for times like these, the skill is incredibly useful. Cecil runs through the tips in his head and reconciles them with his memories of how Dave moves. He thinks soldier, he thinks warrior, he thinks brother, he thinks…Dave.

He doesn’t know exactly what Dave has been through (but he knows Dave is from Out There, because since the first time Cecil has laid his eyes on the children and Loki, he has felt that they are not from Here, and although they’ll most likely never say where they are from other than they’re not from New York or from here, Cecil knows, and Kevin knows, and to some extent, Graham knows), but he can guess, and he can guess it is ugly and something no one should ever be put through.

This is why Dave Strider walks like he’s ready to march into a battlefield. This is why he has his hands ready to receive weapons. This is why he moves with an elegance of a coiled snake.

Cecil allows the corners of his lips to turn up and he puts his headphones on and turns up the song – the beats are heavy and steady at 110 per minute, and he loves it – and he leisurely strolls for a while until he finds the coffee shop Mister Agent Man is in. It’s far away enough from the Safehouse that any of the residents who would be looking for him wouldn’t be too alarmed, but close enough that should anything happen, Mister Agent Man can spring into action.

He finds Mister Agent Man sitting in a corner, right next to a window. If anything goes sideways, he can just jump through the glass. If anything big happens in the Safehouse, he’ll see the smoke in the sky. He’s out of the way from prying eyes. It’s tactical.

Cecil grins, a perfect mirror image of Dave.

He turns off his music, pulls off his headphones, waits for Mister Agent Man to finish his call and for the waitress to drop off his coffee before he walks over and slides into the chair across him. He leans back, stretches his legs, and sets them apart enough for him to be comfortably balanced, and then places his left arm on the armrest, the right on the table.

The agent looks confused, clearly trying to focus on something that his eyes can see but his mind completely rejects. Cecil chuckles before slipping into his con and pushing at the psychic influence of the spell. He adjusts his voice so it sounds like Dave’s.

“Hey.”

The agent startles and his hand twitches, like he wants to reach his gun.

“Figured I’d make your work easy for you. You’ve been tailing us for days after all,” Cecil says.

The agent schools his expression and leans back on the chair, a show of confidence and calm. Cecil can taste the confusion and the panic and the adrenaline off of him. Maybe this is why Kevin loves baiting people so much. Then again, his weaker Sight could account for it. Maybe he needed to bait harder to get results.

“What’s your name?” the agent asks.

“Pretty sure that’s bullshit because S.H.I.E.L.D’s already done their fieldwork, but I’ll humor you,” Cecil says. The hand on the table starts tracing the edge of the box of napkins. “I’m thinking the ones who are attempting first contact should be extending the olive branch though. In respect to bad alien movies, and the whole ‘we come in peace’ routine.”

Cecil lowers the psychic pushing, allowing Loki’s spell to gently filter, and uses another psychic drive. “What’s your name?” His voice is low and soothing and airy, and absolutely anyone who hears what he says does what he wants. Scientifically proven from when he was little kid and he and Kevin messed with people for fun. Kevin calls it his Briny Depths voice; that was a fun time.

“Phil Coulson,” the man says. He looks a little dazed.

Cecil leans forward and puts his hands together, Dave Strider act back in place, all red confidence and no psychic drive. “Well, Phil Coulson. This is what I want you to do.”


 

When Dave Strider comes home that day with a plastic bag of ramen packets and a bottle of apple juice, he walks into the living room where the television’s on, and watching the airing show is Palmer #2, Mr. G and…Dave Strider.

“Shit – ”

“Calm down,” says – Palmer #1? Fucking Hell? Before his brain can calculate for dead Daves and time travelling and the fucking game and everything in between. “I just had something to do.”

“That involved cosplaying me?”

“What can I say, I like you.” Palmer #1 grins and takes off his aviators. Then he wipes off the make up on his face. “Seriously. You’ll thank me when you don’t see Mister Agent Man for a few days or even ever again.”

“Is that my shirt? That is my shirt, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is,” Palmer #1 says, “Don’t worry, I’ll launder it.”

“Fucking hell. What did you do? What the fucking fuck.”

“Well, it was good time to talk to Agent Coul – ”

“No, fuck that. You got him off my back, thank you. I meant what did you fucking do to look like me, did you – ” Dave wheezes. He needs to breath. “ – pull a magic spell or something, was Loki involved, did you do weird science stuff with Jade or dark magics with Rose, what.”

“Dude, it’s your shirt and pants,” Palmer #2 says, blinking at him with a weird look on his face, like Dave's the weird one even though his brother is dressed up as him. “And aviators,” he adds. “Bit of make-up and coaching from Mister G.”

“Just that?”

“Just that,” Palmer #2 says.

“Okay,” Dave says. He puts a hand on the doorframe to steady himself. “Okay. I – I need a drink. Or an entire week’s sleep. You don’t put a guy through the wringer without telling him first, man. You just don’t. That’s fucking cruel as all Alternia’s bullshit. Y'all should’ve told me.”

Somebody starts snickering. Mr. G, from the couch, kicks Palmer #2 – who is sitting on the floor – lightly.

Dave starts to turn back towards the stairs, but then he stops to point accusingly at Palmer #1, while staring at the floor and trying not to look at his copycat. “My stuff. They better be in great condition when I get them back.”

Palmer #1 grins wider.


 

Mr. G asks, “What did you even tell Coulson?”

Cecil says, “False lead.”

Chapter Text

There was a time when humanity used to fawn over deities and write ridiculous stories and offer their children to them. Not that those were ever needed, but bloodshed was always a symbol of power. The more your people were willing to shed blood for you, the more revered you were supposed to be. Which is probably why Asgard is the way it is. Honestly, Loki doesn’t understand it.

Nowadays, humans fawn over illustrated cats in phone games and coffee. Mrs. Harrison says as much, and then proceeds to lecture him on how there were plenty of types of coffee. So much it makes his head spin.

“Do they have coffee where you’re from, dear?”

Where you’re from.

None of the Midgardians ever need to ask. He is Loki; humans have stories, and he knows that stories of him and Thor are some of the most circulated, but still, he appreciates that none of them actually walk up to him and ask if he really was from Asgard, or to confirm a few things.

He still doesn’t know how they’re so accepting. From what he’s garnered from a few months of walking around Midgard – Earth, Earth – is that skeptics abound.

“No,” Loki says, “The only things they find beneficial to grow there is alcohol.”

Mrs. Harrison makes a face. “Somehow, that sounds unpleasant.”

Loki blinks. Then smiles. Well, he’s not the only one who thinks so, apparently.

There’s two pairs of rapt footsteps and Loki easily identifies them. Seconds later, the older Palmer is in the kitchen and hovering over the island, where the numerous mugs of coffee that Mrs. Harrison has prepared are set. He looks over all of them before spotting what Mrs. Harrison had called a latte.

“Be careful, dear,” Mrs. Harrison says, not even looking towards him, as she’s still setting down the empty pot on the island. The last brew she made was the easiest, she’d told Loki. It was black.

Kevin extends his arm and almost bumps into the other mugs, but plucks the latte up and sniffs it. He grins.

Cecil enters the kitchen and stops by the doorway. “Ooh! Ground?”

“Always,” Mrs. Harrison says, looking up and smiling. “I never touch the instant stuff.”

Both Palmers shudder in unison. Loki makes a note to ask Mrs. Harrison about it if it makes the wondertwins (the name a courtesy of John, who had been ignoring the fact that he is a twin, and so are Dave and Rose) disgusted.

“Expresso!” Cecil pumps a fist in the air before running over to the island. His brother picks up the drink and hands it over to him.

Loki watches as they simultaneously sniff, let out a satisfied sigh, blow on their drinks and take a sip. A bit of milk clings to Kevin’s mouth.

Loki picks up the mug of black coffee and gently presses his fingertips to the porcelain. The coffee finds itself at just the right temperature. When he takes a sip, he makes a face. He swallows anyway.

“What is that?” Cecil asks.

“Black,” Mrs. Harrison says.

That earns him twin looks of pity.

“Ooh, bad,” Cecil says, “Sweet things are easier to drink when it’s your first time trying coffee.”

“You want a latte?” Kevin hands over his mug in an offer to share. Cecil slaps his arm gently.

“Hygiene, you dork.”

“I brush my teeth!”

“No, you – ” Cecil sighs and forces his brother to lower his arm. “It’s a drink. Do you know how easily that mixes with saliva – ”

“Listen, you hypochondriac – ”

“Boys, aren’t you late for school?” Mrs. Harrison asks, smiling.

Both Palmers stop bickering and turn to her, suddenly realizing that they are, in fact, late.

Cecil fidgets. “Um, the coffee.”

“Oh, love, give them here. I’ll put them in cups.”

The Palmers nervously move to lean on a counter as Mrs. Harrison picks out coffee cups from the nearest cupboard. There’s an entire box of them there, coffee cups and covers and everything, clearly from this being a regular occurrence. Loki wonders exactly how long the Palmers have been here; how long they have been setting up this little makeshift family with the landlady until Loki and the god-children intruded.

“Loki.” Cecil has an arm like he'd been about to grab the god’s sleeve and tug when Loki turns. “Can you take us to school?”

Loki tilts his head down with a curious look on his face, an invitation for Cecil to explain.

“As you know, we’re kinda late,” Kevin says.

Cecil's actually trying to twist his own fingers in a show of nervousness. “And…you can skywalk, and Jade’s not here, so…um.”

“Take them, dear boy, it’ll be a second,” Mrs. Harrison says. She hands Loki the paper bag with the coffee cups. “You’ve been to their college when Rose and Jade were visiting.”

Before he can even say anything – not that he’s planning on refusing, because, really, he needs to stretch his legs and Mrs. Harrison is very hard to say no to – Mrs. Harrison is pushing him towards the Palmers, who are righting the straps of their bags. He doesn’t sigh. He very much wants to.

“Do not be sick,” Loki warns them. Both of them nod.

He places his hands on their shoulders and takes a step; they move with him –

In the next second, they are right in front of the college building. A few people whip their heads at their direction. Someone squawks and falls into the fountain they'd been sitting on the edge of.

“Thanks, Loki,” Cecil whispers the last part, as it’s been a rule that he is to be addressed by his alias when there are others around. Cecil though, whenever he’s thanking Loki, always calls him by name. It’s new. The thanking, and the thanking by name. They never thanked him. His acquaintances on Mid – Earth always do.

Kevin takes the paper bag from him and takes out his coffee cup, his name neatly scrawled on its side. He hands the bag to Cecil so his brother can take his cup.

“Do you have work today?” Kevin asks.

Loki accepts the bag as Cecil hands it over to him. It’s still heavy. “No,” he says, “I suspect it’s why Mrs. Harrison has chosen today to educate me further on caffeine.”

Kevin giggles.

Loki lifts the bag and sees one more cup. When he pulls it out, there’s his name scrawled on the side, still Loki, with the word macchiato beneath.

“Good choice,” Cecil says.

The bell rings. All three of them look up and a few students behind them grumble as they start to make their way inside. Loki lowers the coffee cup back into the bag before they can see his name.

“Thanks again!” Kevin calls out as he and Cecil turn to get inside the building, both waving enthusiastically.

Loki watches them disappear inside before he smiles to himself and turns back. He’s in Sunny’s on his next step, and the girl behind the counter isn’t even surprised to see him.

“Hey, Mister Winters,” she greets, grinning.

“Hello, Sunny,” he says. The display is filled with an assortment of pastries. On the blackboard behind Sunny is a colorful menu written in chalk.

“What will we have today?”

“Scones, please. Mrs. Harrison is fond of them,” he says. “And…a bit of cake, I suppose. That one.” He points to the black and white cake that proclaims itself made of Oreos. He’d liked the biscuits.

Sunny rings him the total and he hands over his card – an actual one. He’s been making good on actually paying with money. When she hands him his bag, she smiles and says, “Thank you and have a good day, Mister Winters.”

Loki smiles back. Thank you. There it is again. Humans were always so quick to thank.

When he gets back home, Mrs. Harrison has just finished the dishes, although the mugs of coffee are still steaming on the counter.

“You brought scones!” she says, ecstatic. “Oh, dear heart, you’re precious. Thank you!”

“The Palmers did say it was best to sample sweets first,” he says, “Perhaps these will make up for more disagreeable coffees.”

“These will do nicely,” Mrs. Harrison says.

Loki places them on the island. Mrs. Harrison grabs a stool and sits, watching as he decides to sample one of the coffees on the island. He pulls out the macchiato from the bag and uncovers it. Takes a sip. It’s nice.

He sets it down, picks up a scone and takes a bite, then hovers a hand over the numerous mugs, trying to choose.


 

When Mrs. Harrison asks him if John is going to be put on the lease if he's staying, he says that he doesn’t even know the boy. She snorts unelegantly and says, “Well, he looks like he wants to stick around, and while you can entertain friends, if they’re going to be living here, I’d appreciate it if we put it on paper, young man.”

And Loki blinks because this little Midgardian woman actually has the nerve to talk to a (former) prince of Asgard that way. He bristles when he catches himself using the title, of course, and that’s the only reason he agrees to talk with his visitor, to prove that he is not a prince of Asgard, and if he is not a prince of Asgard then…

Well then, his landlady has every right to talk to him like that. She has authority over the building anyway.

When he somehow adopts three other kids, he doesn’t even argue with her and says, “Yes, they’re leasing.”

When they propose renovations to her, she asks, with a raised eyebrow, “Is it safe?”

He says yes. Jade explains, casually mentioning her space-bending capabilities. Mrs. Harrison nods and says, “Just show me the finished rooms. I’ll have to make sure it’s up to code when we have inspections.”

Everyone just stares at the closed door when she leaves. Rose says, “Well, that went better than expected.”

Loki is of the opinion that if anyone in this building holds the title unflappable, it’s not him or Dave Strider, it’s Elizabeth F. Harrison.

The neighbors – their first neighbors, not post-expansion neighbors – give them shifty looks and start whispering about ‘mutants’. Dave had a very adverse reaction, but after a few google searches and trips to the library, he’d learned that apparently, this realm and universe had humans who had evolved past the usual genetic code and developed unnatural abilities. Another way the word mutant can also be applied is in terms of physiology. Exempli gratia, Dave Strider’s red eyes and Rose Lalonde’s violet ones.

Loki thinks they are a bit like mages, like him, seen odd by the society they had grown up in.

While a good part of the world had accepted them, a good part also opposed them, calling them abominations.

Once, they’d caught one of these neighbors in Mrs. Harrison’s kitchen (not their kitchen, not yet), saying that he didn’t feel safe with these mutants in the building. She’d glared at him over her cup of tea and said, “Young man, I’d like you to kindly get out of my house now.”

Dave had looked at her like she’d hung the moon for days.

When they decide to ward up the house after they notice that New York is a magnet for narcissistic geniuses who either have their sanities dancing on the edge of a cliff or are just really, really ambitious, they get Mrs. Harrison’s permission. She gives them the floor plan.

She congratulates them on a job well done when their building is untouched despite it being in the line of fire. She makes them cookies and hot chocolate. John weeps over the fact that it’s not cake.

It happens again and again and again, and soon the other residents of the building notice that their home is unscathed, even when the other buildings are fried to crisps when they get hit by fire or are rocked in the explosion a few meters away. Rumors spread.

They get their first refugees in a week. It’s a little girl with her even littler brother in her arms, yelling, “Help! Help!”, running down the street.

To everyone’s surprise, she’s not just running down the street, she’s running towards their building. Jade is the first to point it out, and when John goes up to the window to stand by her, he disappears in a flash of blue and a gust of wind, reappearing right beside the little girl and taking her in his arms, shooting up into the air when the metallic spider-dog-alligator thing on her heels stabs a very sharp leg onto where she'd been standing a few seconds ago.

Loki feels his hand twitch.

The spider-dog-alligator thing rears its ugly, many-eyed, fur-and-scale covered head to screech at John, who sticks his tongue out at it while the children in his arms shiver. It tries to jump.

Loki takes one step and is suddenly outside, drop-kicking the goddamn thing into the opposite building. John immediately flies towards their own building, just in time for the door to smack loudly as Jade slams it open. The boy hits the floor back first and rolls, having flown too fast.

But the children are safe.

The children aren’t the only ones in the area, and the few people hiding in the shadows of the nearby buildings sprint to the door of the building as fast as they can. A few of the slower ones catch the attention of some of the unholy machineries and Loki pulls out daggers from his pocket space, feeling the hilts of the blades he hasn’t held in a while and throws them rapidfire towards the things. They drop quickly.

That’s how they spend the rest of the attack, with the Safehouse door open, and the five of them – him, John, Jade, Dave and Rose – at the steps of it, ready to take in anyone who needed shelter and to fight off whatever needed to be fought off.

It turns out the kids who had run towards them were set on getting to the building, as opposed to just suddenly deciding while they were being chased by a death robot to duck to the little flat. Their parents – very much dead – had told them, before they were very much dead, to go a certain address, because they would be safe there. According to their parents, their coworkers lived in the building, and apparently a few mutants who lived there did things to the building that rendered it invincible.

Loki had sat quietly through the entire discussion and watched when the girl cried, while her little brother stared blankly at the floor. Mrs. Harrison had stayed with the kids until they’d both calmed down enough that something could be done about their situation.

Afterwards she tells all of them that they did a good job. Plenty of the refugees are still in the building, too fearful to go out, and Mrs. Harrison doesn’t shoo them out, although the front door is now closed to keep the cold out.

Loki feels something in his gut, a sense of pleasure, as he sees the humans in the room, all alive because of what they did. Someone tugs on his pants and when he looks down, it’s the little brother they first saved.

The child puts a hand to his chin and angles it outward, a sign that Jade later explains to Loki means Thank you.

When they build the Safehouse, living up to the urban legend that New York seems to have made for them, Mrs. Harrison is always present in the drafting plans, because it’s her building after all. They get new people in, all of them paranoid from villain attacks, and Mrs. Harrison welcomes them.

When the building is finished, they build the Safehouse itself – the people that run it. Mrs. Harrison stops making them pay rent, because they're responsible for the internal expansion of the building thanks to Loki and Jade, and the whole protection bit had been a joint effort.

She doesn’t ask when actual introductions are made – that he is Loki, god of mischief, and that the children are gods in their own right too, from something called a game that they choose not to disclose, because it’s inconsequential to their working relationship. She only nods and accepts and introduces herself, and she barely bats an eyelash whenever magic is demonstrated around the house.

They get themselves a common living room and kitchen on the first floor, and whenever something has to be discussed, Mrs. Harrison’s usually around, a silent overseer, even though the position of captain has been delegated to Loki by default. They share grocery and utility expenses. They look out for nosy Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D agents and somehow make it their mission and vision to protect anything that lives under their roof, be it humans or animals.

And Mrs. Harrison is always there, telling them it’s a job well done, and bringing in cookies and tea. And coffee.


 

When Loki meets the Palmers, it goes like this:

John is outside is flat, leaning against the door and Loki has just opened it to tell him off. Cecil, or Palmer #1, as he would be soon nicknamed, opens the door of his flat and walks down the hallway, looking asleep on his feet. He is wearing black pajamas with prints of eyeballs on them and a dull grey-purple sweater that’s rolled up to his sleeves. He has a stack of papers in his hands.

When he spots John, he stares, and stares long enough for it to be uncomfortable that John and Loki actually stop arguing to stare back. Cecil, who still looks like he was better off snoring, blinks blearily and says, “Wow.” Then, “That is one fucked up life. I’m too sleep-deprived for this.”

Then he yawns, raising his head in the process, and when he opens his eyes, he’s looking at Loki and he nearly drops his papers. Loki focuses on the startled squeak he makes. “Holy shit,” Cecil says, “Um…”

Loki frowns at him, confused and…just wanting for Cecil to go away so he can continue his argument with Egbert.

“I’m just…” Cecil points back to his flat and then awkwardly scratches his head and turns back. He looks at them one last time before he goes inside and closes the door behind to a very confused, “I thought you were going to get that thing faxed.”

“Yeah, I was going to, just – nothing. There’s something weird. Don’t go out.”

“Is there a realtor outside?”

“What? No. There’s – weird timelines. Weird…experiences.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“Oh, shut up and take photos of these. I’ll send them to Dana by email instead.”

That had pretty much ended John and Loki’s discussion for the day, since it was too weird to pick up after that.

The second time they meet, it’s not even Cecil, but Kevin, who is a carbon copy of his brother except for the more tamed hair. John is already rooming with Loki, and they’ve both just come back from a supply run, and they’re wet from the rain outside.

Kevin is in black pajamas with prints of yellow triangles on them with a yellow-vested white-sleeved sweater, and when he sees them on the welcome mat from where he is on the stairs, he nearly drops the books he’s carrying.

John and Loki look up. John says, “Oh hey, it’s you.”

Kevin is looking at them like he wants to run, but when John speaks, he turns confused. “I’m sorry, have we met?”

“Uh,” John says, “That one time – when you were like, half-asleep?”

“What?” Kevin asks, and Loki takes the time to actually observe his face to notice the very minor differences between him and his brother. Honestly, they should have known that the most obvious indicator of the Palmer’s difference was their fashion sense.

Before John can say anything, Kevin’s eyes brighten, like he’s seeing something of interest. “Right,” he says, adjusting the books in his arms. “I’ll just be, um, going.” He turns back up the way he went before stopping and saying, “You might want to try those scratch cards.”

John perks up and yells, “Psychic!” as Kevin retreats and happily chatters about telling Loki so.

When they meet both, it’s midnight and it’s John who answers the door, grumbling. Loki is on the sofa, still reading.

Cecil looks like he really needs a good night sleep, but his eyes, although tired, are bright with swirling lights. Loki can see blue, pink and purple from where he is. In the dark patches left when the lights move, Loki thinks he can see a partial view of stars.

“You again,” John says, pointing out the obvious due to fatigue.

“Don’t worry, John Egbert,” Cecil says, voice airy. Loki raises an eyebrow at how it echoes despite the surroundings. John flinches and takes a step back, suddenly wary. He has never told either Palmer sibling his name. “Your friends will be here soon.”

“What?”

“I see Space and Time and Light,” Cecil says, “And Heart and Void and Hope and Life. I see children spilling their blood on their crests and I see them ascend. I see children playing at becoming gods – ”

Cecil stops speaking when someone barrels right into his side, wrapping arms around him. John blinks. Loki’s other eyebrow joins the first. Cecil is in a purple sweater with a white moon-eye. Kevin, in a yellow one with an orange sun-eye.

Cecil! Fucking hell you scared me. Sorry – um – ” Kevin turns back to John. “Sorry. Don’t mind us. My brother just sleepwalks sometimes.”

“There’s two of you?” John asks, processing, then, “Oh, twins! Sorry. Wait, he was saying something about…that sounded like aspects – ”

“Don’t worry about it.” Kevin smiles uneasily. Cecil, in his arms, blinks, and when Loki looks at him, the lights in his eyes are gone. He looks like he’s waking up from something.

“Hhnngh. Kevin…?”

“Ceec! We’re going to bed. We have work to do tomorrow.” To John: “Sorry, again, for disturbing you.” He starts to drag his brother away and then, “You know, I’d pick the red toaster instead of the blue one. You’re right, the blue looks a little shifty like they dropped it during delivery.”

John makes a strangled noise of excitement, another ‘I told you so!’ at the tip of his tongue that he doesn’t really get to vocalize because he’s spazzing out too much. The Palmers disappear from their doorway as Kevin carries his brother back to their flat.

Loki stares at the emptied hallway. Völvur. How interesting.

When he meets the rest of John’s friends, he takes note: Space and Time and Light, and has a little revelation at their dinner table.

“Witch of Space.”

“Knight of Time.”

“I am a Seer of Light.”

Another völva. How curious. He wonders if the building is some sort of secret holy temple. Three of them in such a space, and not even planned.

Cecil had listed off others though, and Loki keeps them in mind for future reference.

When Rose meets them, another chance meeting in the hallway, it’s ‘the awkward stare-off to end all awkward stare-offs’, in the words of her brother. Neither Palmer actually looks like they want to flee this time, but is instead staring at all of them, and then fixating on Rose, mesmerized.

Then the three of them gather by the window and whisper at each other, to the confusion and curiosity of everyone else. Loki catches bits of the conversation: “…it like? Having them under your skin?” “I don’t remember much but…powerful.” “How long were you all in the void?” “We – we were?” “Yeah, I can see it – ”

When they’re done, they part with smiles, before Kevin again gives one last advice, going: “Not today. Go tomorrow. There’s going to be a sale tomorrow.”

They go to the store anyway, just to see prices.

When they come back tomorrow there’s a huge 80% drop in prices and they’re absolutely gleeful.

When they get their first refugees, the brothers don’t come down until evening. They’re carrying trays and plates with them, and they silently pass them around. The refugees give them thankful looks.

When they run out, Mrs. Harrison points them to her kitchen.

Cecil puts a hand on her arm and lowers his head. “Sorry we took a while, Mrs. Harrison. We only had one oven.”

“If you’d told me you were baking, Cecil, I could have lent you my kitchen,” she says, then motions for them to get going. They end up cooking for the entire building, and for Loki and the children when they get back inside the house.

The children are ravenous. The Palmers look like they’re worried that Mrs. Harrison would be eaten out of house and home, but she waves them, saying, “They did good, they deserve it.”

She smiles at them. “You two did good too, boys. Job well done.”

Twin smiles look back at her. “Thank you, Mrs. H.”

For the next few attacks, they do the same thing, making sure everyone has food (although eventually they had to make their money back because feeding a third of New York was hard) and knowing who had what allergies.

John, although not allergic, was very ambivalent towards cake.

Cecil had given him a look of disbelief for three full seconds before walking out to the front and yelling, “Who wants cake?”

They talk. It’s hard not to, when these two were on kitchen duty during the attacks. Eventually, Cecil starts pulling Loki aside (which will never be not weird, but Cecil’s always been straightforward, which is better than beating around the bush, it’s just that anyone who’s ever talked to Loki back on Asgard either treated him with respect from his rank, or prejudice from him being a seiðmaðr) and tells him, eyes bright from Sight fugue, “There’s going to be an attack today. But thunder will arrive.”

And it’s a warning for him to stay out of sight as possible when ushering people inside if he doesn’t want Thor to see him.

It helps that the twins just know that they’re not from here. Not just New York, but from this reality, from this realm, from this universe. And they were both incredibly accepting about it.

Actually, they ask the twins this, and it gets them laughter and Kevin saying, “We would have to be so narcissistic if we believe we’re the only universe in existence.”

John throws his head back and laughs.

Any questions they had about this universe were answered happily, as the Palmers had somehow become their guidebook. When they build the Safehouse and establish the people participating, it is unanimous decision to bring the twins in, because it would be stupid to not let the resident psychics in the effort.

It helps that Kevin constantly gives them advice on when sales and coupons are being given out.


 

Loki may have been a magic-user, but he was still learning the magics of the kitchen. Jade knows how to cook, mostly from raising herself for majority of her life; John knows how to bake a bit; Dave knows how to make a mean pancake and cook ramen.

Graham shows him how to work with fish.

Fish on Earth are starkly different from those of Asgard. For one, less monstrous and more scaley. And Loki, who is used to jumping into lakes to save Thor from being drowned by his latest conquest, is quite surprised when Graham takes all of them on a fishing trip one day. The kids all bring their swimwear. John tries to catch fish with his bare hands.

Graham shows Loki how to set up the entire thing – from the bait and fishing rod and the sitting down and waiting. It’s…relaxing. It’s something that he feels slots right in to how he usually does things, dangling a reward for prey to lunge at, and waiting, and then reeling them in before the realization that they’ve been had hits them. Asgard always did value charging headfirst. Waiting had no place in their battles. From Loki’s experience, waiting had saved more lives and garnered more victories.

Rose is busy reading a guide on the local fishes of the lake while Loki and Graham sit on their recliners on the edge of the dock. Jade is sitting cross-legged in midair, hovering over the lake, with her fishing rod in her hands, hook sunk deep in the water. Every now and then, she reels in a fish and teleports it in the cooler right beside Rose. Then she moves to the next spot where she knows a fish is currently staying at. Knowing exact coordinates had its advantages.

Mrs. Harrison is talking with Kevin, who is grilling the fish they’ve caught so far, while Cecil is asleep right beside his brother.

Neither he nor Graham talk as they wait for their fish, and when Loki catches one sizeable fish, Graham grins at him. (And suddenly Loki remembers being young, presenting his mother with his first illusions, and remembers how she’d praised him. He remembers showing his father, but not quite catching Odin’s attention, because Thor had brought in scabbed knees and a very busted staff – the telltale signs of a warrior in the making.) It makes Loki chuckle, because all he did was catch a fucking fish, and it’s not even the type he regularly has to stun and injure because some musclehead thought it was a good idea to wrestle with it when it was as big as ten men and had three rows of sharp teeth in its expandable jaw.

When they get home, and everyone else is too tired from swimming or teleporting all over the place, Graham shows him how to scale and gut the fish, how to remove its internal organs, how to clean it, how to slice it just so; tells him about all the ways it can be cooked. It’s a cooking lesson he hadn’t thought about receiving, but Graham has a way of being inconspicuous, and he shares this knowledge simply because he wants to share this knowledge. Because fishing is something he loves and he wants other people to know about it. It brings Loki back to his early days, when sorcery was everything to him, and he wanted to share it with Thor and his friends, until he figured out that Thor and his friends weren’t interested and found it ergi, and thereafter Loki instead learned to smile blandly and tell them that what he was up to today was nothing interesting.

Everything about Graham is like looking into a mirror, and it unnerves him. Rose had told him about this, of course, that Graham was the equivalent of a human mirror. It’s fascinating and disturbing to see it in action.

He thinks Graham can sense it too, but the man is keeping silent, instead continuing his task and showing Loki how to fry the fish. When they finish, they make a small meal, and Loki feels some accomplishment from the fish he knows he’s caught, cleaned and cooked.


 

Professor Graham aka Alexander Graham Bell aka Graham Crackers aka I-Am-Not-A-Psychic-For-The-Last-Goddamn-Time aka Mr. G arrives at the Safehouse not looking for a Safehouse but a flat. An honest to goodness flat. It’s not that everyone thinks that the Safehouse is famous enough that anyone who rents is looking for a bunker, but Mr. G arrived when everyone who rents was looking for a bunker.

(It should be noted that the above nicknames for Graham are not of Loki’s devising, but John Egbert’s and Dave Strider’s.)

He’s not from New York. That explains it.

Upon seeing him, however, all three Völvur agree that he gets to stay.

“Is he psychic too?” Jade asks.

All three of them share a smile that says, we know something you don’t, and by this point, everyone’s too used to it to question. Also, everybody loves them too much and knows they’re not going to spill even if they were bribed.

“Ask him if he likes dogs,” Cecil says.

Jade does. He perks up almost immediately.

He’s deadly good with a gun, even though he has shoulder troubles. And once, he shoots a bat-spider-goop thing, the latest uninspired laboratory mishap the villain of the week dished out, with a flare gun while Jade saves three children and a dog. They learn quickly that the goop things are combustible. Rose and Loki ready their fire while Mrs. Harrison discourages other residents who decide to make Molotov cocktails.

(“Those are dangerous. Do you know how to shoot a flare gun? I’d think those were better.”)

(For future reference to any aspiring New-York-city-dominator, Mrs. Harrison knows how to shoot a flare gun. She knows how to shoot.)

When Graham starts to unconsciously copy speech patterns and body language, Loki gives him a look and spends a few days observing him. Rose says it’s just “Empathy,” and leaves it at that.

“Exactly what does that mean?” Loki asks, “Anybody can have empathy.”

“True empathy. Not as in feeling sorry for someone if you were in their shoes. I mean he can truly figuratively put himself in their shoes. He can…his thinking can assimilate,” Rose says. “He was a teacher at the FBI. And is currently a consultant. Criminal Profiler.”

Graham takes to the whole ‘New York under siege on a weekly basis’ and ‘We are magical people running a bunker thing’ very well. In fact, every time animals duck in for shelter during attacks, he attends to them. He ends up adopting several of the dogs. As for the cats, Cecil gets one. The rest just decide to pop in when there’s an attack and get lost when there’s none. Cats were apparently like that.

Mr. G observes all of them long enough that he actually feels a little uncomfortable about what he sees. Kevin confronts him and Loki and the children eavesdrop. They hear him hiss: “Never in my life do I want to see child soldiers. Fucking hell. World’s dark enough.” And then, “Also…uh, Winters reeks of daddy issues. Is that – is – I should shut up, shouldn’t I? They’re fucking eavesdropping.”

And then Kevin laughs, loud and boisterous. He and Mr. G keep in touch with whatever Mr. G’s observations are, which, since this is Graham, are scarily close to the truth, and he figures out that they’re not exactly mutants, but something else. He doesn’t know what, but something else.

Graham sees Thor on the television once and it clicks. On the next attack, he asks Loki, “Is Thor your brother?”

Loki doesn’t answer, but that’s enough of a confirmation for Graham. Loki decides then and there that humans are strangely talented. Or at least, this one is.

He’s earned his right to be part of the Safehouse crew since he shot that first bat thing, and his unnaturally keen abilities for observation make him indispensable for weeding out any agent of S.H.I.E.L.D that might be posing as a resident in the Safehouse. They brief him and make him join the War Council.

He spends the entire meeting drinking, but agrees. Also, he’s got a liver of steel.

Within his first week of being a part of crew he weeds out three agents that are posing as residents in the surrounding buildings. Thankfully, there’s still none inside, and anyone who even tries to get near is immediately spotted. S.H.I.E.L.D is good. A natural empath is better.

He also is good at cooking fish. And taking care of the dogs. And putting up with all of the Safehouse’s bullshit with a straight face.

Chapter Text

The Safehouse has a betting pool. It is singlehandedly the stupidest thing in existence.

(“Now I know that is an exaggeration.”

“Would you let a man monologue, Egbert, jegus, it’s like nobody even knows the benefits of a good talking-to to yourself anymore.”

“A good what?”)

The reasons for that are these: a) there’s two natural psychics in the house, one of which is a would-be Seer b) there is an actual Seer in the house, a Seer of Light, therefore Seer of Fortune, Luck, Fate, anything that spins in those million-dollar-stake game shows c) the greatest sorcerer in all the nine realms of this universe and quite possibly in other universes hitherto existing is also in the house (“I don’t think – ” “I know what ‘hitherto’ means.”) d) an expert behavioral analyst – who is actually a rare natural empath even though he cringes at the term – is also in the house. The last one doesn’t really bet though, unless you give him a reason to, or if he’s just really, really invested in whatever you’re betting on.

(“Hey, Mister G, why are you so invested in cooking shows?”

“The same reason why Strider is invested in Little Miss Texas.”)

So to bet on outcomes is often a lost cause when three out of nine of the crew can see the future as easy as breathing, one can do the same if he'd tried, and the other could just observe, deduce and predict the outcome. Fortunately for everyone, their regular refugees didn’t know that and are more than willing to bet. Their official betting pool master has half of New York’s phone number in their phone.

There is only so much boredom to be put up with during lazy days, which is surprising, considering they all live in a place that's constantly under attack. Mr. G had said that oftentimes, people who have adapted to fast-paced living and dangerous situations found it hard to adjust to slow lifestyles, and displayed restlessness, paranoia, and depression.

John had coughed discreetly.

So, betting pool it was.

Half the time, everyone lost their money to the Fortunetellers Club, because some people just bet against them on principle (there are…some people disinclined to make their acquaintance despite taking refuge in the Safehouse), some bet against them on the off chance they were wrong (the Safehouse crew itself) or just dis not know they were the Fortunetellers Club, because that name had been coined by resident Heir of Breath, John Egbert, as appears to be the running trend. Also, it was hilarious.

Currently, the enormous blackboard is hung in the common room, artfully decorated with little sketches and calligraphy by their betting pool master, and has several categories, which includes: Winner of the latest X Factor, Winner of Cutthroat Kitchen’s latest episode, What the Red String™ is and one category that's glamoured to be shown in another language entirely, and is only readable to ten people in the house, nine of which are the Safehouse crew, the remaining one being the betting pool master who didn’t really give a shit because they're an expert at minding their own business.

All in all, the betting pool tally board had about thirty categories, and a total of a 152 participants, 89 of which are Safehouse residents and the remaining 63 are refugees who only drop in during every villain attack but keep contact with the pool master.

Running winner of several of the bets is the Fortunetellers Club, and Rose spends much of her money on knitting supplies and obscure spell ingredients.

For The Red String™ category, nobody had really bet on it except for the Palmers, Rose Lalonde and Luke Winters (or known to close friends as Loki Silvertongue: God of Chaos; Mischief; Fire; Shit-eating grins when he's particularly amused by the reaction of humans who fell prey to his brand of humor; Cats; Self-determination; Daddy Issues; and lately, Coffee).

Nobody really even understands what the whole ‘red string’ thing is, but Rose had explained it to the Safehouse crew that she had seen a strange red string attached to Steve Rogers months ago.

She could see colorful lights all over people, of course; if she actually tried to look instead of just clearing her vision, she could do so on a daily basis. Except these lights swirled around the people they belonged to, because it was a part of them, and was intrinsic to them, and belonged to them, and therefore only moved in their vicinity. Besides, lights were not synonymous to strings.

This one had most definitely been a string, and it led to somewhere far, far away from Steve Rogers. And as time had gone by, it had gained thickness and brightness, like a neon sign still wanting attention and screaming at Rose, “Look at me!”, even when she tried to clear what her brother called her Color Vision™.

The resulting discussion had been held between Loki - whom Rose looked up to as a mentor, teacher and fellow magic and psychology enthusiast - Rose, and the Palmer brothers.

Research and ancient text excavation had been conducted for the past few months, resulting in many great theories (“Are you patronizing me?”) from the Silvertongue-Lalonde corner. Palmer #2 pulled up a Wikipedia page and pointed to it.

So now, after months of Rose observing if the red string had any effects on Steve Rogers and taking notes, as well as performing experiments like trying to pull the string, since as a Hero of Light, she could actually hold it because it had something to do with fate, the red string betters are ready to see who's right.

Red strings do not have outcomes, see. It’s just tied to a thing, like a plastic, imitation yo-yo that had fallen off the shipping boat and floated up to the sorry beach of the nearest island, and had been used only for five minutes before somebody yo-yoed it up a tree branch and it got stuck there.

In a week, Rose is to make a trip to try and see what the string really is and where it’s attached to. Documents are in place, and her first speed-dial is Loki, the second is Dave and the third is John, in case she needs the wind to aid her. At the moment, Rose just really wants to watch the latest episode of The Bachelor. She has money riding on this.

The one betting category that is unreadable to everyone on Earth save for ten people is actually just written in John’s lowercase handwriting using blue chalk and says, in plain English, 

what loki does when he goes on a world trip

but it’s glamoured so it looks like ancient runes, but is a writing system Loki designed when he was three centuries old and bored out of his mind.

The topic has been on debate for a while, because sometimes Loki fucks off to who knows where and doing who knows what, so everybody'd had theories, argued, and decided to set up a betting pool. Pool master had adjusted their glasses and gave everyone looks that said you’re all fucking idiots but wrote down the bets anyway.

Loki, upon seeing the thing, had stared at it for eight minutes and twelve seconds before shaking his head and saying, “Nobody is going to win.”

That had not stopped them.

Currently the bets are:

 

Sightseeing

Jade H.

Research

Rose L.

Will G.

Pranking people

John E.

Road trip

Elizabeth H.

Dave S.

BUNKER

Cecil P.

Kevin P. 

At the very bottom of the area designated to this category, there is one sentence written by the pool master:

 

If nobody does in fact win, all winnings go to Loki by default.

The only clue that has been offered is Loki’s amused smile upon the announcement of Rose’s upcoming trip, that at least one theory will be proven right. Tensions are currently high regarding this topic, but for now, The Bachelor.

Another thing that exists in the Safehouse that is second to being the stupidest thing in existence is that anyone still insists on playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with the Fortunetellers Club. For fuck’s sake, if they can predict when the next disastrous weapons testing for the local air base is going to take place, they can fucking predict when you throw paper.

(“And for the last time, John, wind is not a part of the game!”

“Hurricanes can blow rocks away, I’m pretty sure that counts for something.”)

It’s still done. Of course.

They hold tournaments during attacks.

There’s a chart for who keeps guard duty during attacks, and that person is excused from the games, instead taking their place by the comfy little seat by the window. Once conversations about the betting pool are settled, somebody starts a game of rock, paper, scissors; pairing everyone off. Winners go up against winners. Losers sit in the background and sulk. At stake is an entire cave of gold, courtesy of the local chaos god, who is of course, the reigning champion so far, because like the smartass that he is, even if he’s on guard duty, he still plays.

One other thing that exists that is less stupid is bake-offs. John absolutely despises bake-offs, but he still joins them anyway, because growing up with cake teaches you plenty of things about baking. Occasionally, Dave joins, and he’s no award-winning pastry chef, but at least his food is edible. (“Um.” “Not a word, Harley.”)

Judges are usually the Palmers.

This doesn’t happen quite as often, but when it does, it’s an absolute blast. They utilize the training room and clear out the area to make room for the ovens and the other supplies, and carrying things isn’t a problem with Jade’s teleportation skills, which is also good practice for her. Dave keeps time, because he might not be able to time-travel freely, but knowing the flow of time is still his heartbeat. Occasionally, they let Loki sabotage things (“We should never have let him watch cooking shows, I swear to – G! G, you’re to blame for this.” “I didn’t tie him down to watch the shows he just comes into the living room when they’re on.”).

The betting pool gets a few more categories when it’s rock-paper-scissors tournaments and bake-offs. When there’s too many bets, pool master Sapphrel pulls out another blackboard out of who knows where and writes them down. Their supply of colored chalk doesn’t seem to run out either. (“Maybe they’re related to Terezi?” “…nah.”)

On very, very lazy days, when everyone they know is inside the Safehouse and the Avengers are taking care of the ruckus outside and everyone’s gathered in the indoor pool and the assigned guard is calmly looking out the window, kids gather around Loki to hear his stories. He does voices and makes figures out of green fire, light somehow bending around him to add atmosphere to his stories. He tells tales of adventure and of warriors, and when Rose can wheedle it out of him, tales of young mages who, despite how much everyone else dislikes mages because they are cowards who hide behind their stealth and trickery and magic, single-handedly slay hydras and cyclops and dragons and save armies.

Sometimes he tells tales of dragons whose families were unrightfully slain, monsters whose homes were unjustly raided, all for the glory and honor of warriors. He’s quieter when he tells these stories, and the space around him is always a little colder. The children love him though, and somehow he manages to finish his stories, even though he sits on the rooftop for hours on end afterwards.

(“You know, that’s really stupid,” one kid says, when Loki’s telling one of his mage stories again.

“What is?” he asks, pausing with his hands in midair, a figure of a cloaked sorcerer standing between an army of warriors and a dragon burning in green flames in the space between his hands.

“Why they don’t like mages. I mean, they make the battles easier,” the kid says. She crosses her arms and wrinkles her nose. “And they kill a lot more enemies and save more people. Just seems to me like the warriors are stupid doo-doo heads.”

Very eloquent. Another kid beside her furiously nods. “Yeah! And magic is cool!” The boy’s gapped teeth make it hard for him to enunciate his words, but he tries. “And sometimes – sometimes you gotta sneak up on an enemy, ya know?”

“And use your brain!” another one pipes up from the back.

“Yeah, and use your brain! That way, you win a lot faster and a lot awesomer.”

“I don’t think that’s a word,” Loki says, a smile tugging on his lips, a little amused and a little self-loathing and a little awed. The faith of children is always something that rocks people off their feet.

“I think the warriors are just jealous ‘cause they don’ave cool magic powers,” another little girl, this one in pigtails, says, sneering into the air when she says ‘jealous’. There’s a chorus of ‘oohs’ from the little crowd, and then loud yells of “Tha’s right!”

“I mean, swords are cool and all, but if I could do magic too, that would be cooler.”

“Yeah, yeah. Like, you just gotta do hand-wavey things and bam!”

“I wanna kill a dragon by myself!”

“But it’s gotta be an evil dragon, see. You can’t go around killin’ innocent dragons.”

“Yeah, s’gotta be an evil dragon. One that eats nasty children.”

“Like Ben?”

“Hey!”

“Hey, I got an idea! What about magicked weapons and stuff? Like Dave’s sword! It appears outta nowhere.”

From across the room, Dave’s head swivels.

“Oooh, I wanna turn into the wind! Like John.”

“Okay, yeah, but Jade can like, shrink an elephant to the size of an ant.”

“Guys, guys, magicked weapons. I’m talking about a flaming sword.”

For some reason, Mrs. Harrison blinks rapidly at that. She’s sitting on a loveseat and knitting something, right across where Loki and the children are sitting on the carpet. Loki doesn’t miss  it when she pauses and sits straight.

“You’re a mage, right?”

The question is directed at Loki. He turns towards the back of the crowd, to the girl who is a little older than the rest of the kids gathered. He recognizes her – he’s the one who drop-kicked ugly little hybrid that was chasing after her and her brother, on the first day he ever tried to save any Midgardian – any human – that he didn’t know.

Children. It was always children with him.

Her name is Kristina; her little brother is Alfred. They'd beeb lucky enough to have relatives in the city that were able to take them in after they were orphaned. Every now and then, even during normal days, they'd stop by the Safehouse.

“Sorcerer would be more appropriate,” Loki says.

Alfred, right beside Kristina, smiles and sits up straighter, trying to look taller than the rest of the kids sitting around him. He gestures with his hands, and Loki’s been learning enough sign language to know what it means.

I want to be a s-o-r-c-e-r-e-r.

Kristina laughs at her brother and ruffles his hair. He pouts and bats her hand away, but he’s smiling.

“Ooh, what’s he said?” one kid turns to them.

“He wants to be a sorcerer,” Loki says.

“I wanna be too!”

“Mister Winters! Mister Winters! Can you teach us the hand-talk thing?”

“You mean sign language, Shiela. My cousin does it too.”

“Yeah, that.”

“Shh, let him finish the story first.”

Loki pretends to sigh before moving his hands again, letting the green fire between his fingers roar as he lets the little figures he’s made move. The children hush immediately, attention turning towards his show. When he’s done, none of them want to move out of the building, despite their parents’ insistence.)

On very lazy days like these, on the other side of the room, far enough that Loki’s stories and his audience are a murmur, college students try to get Rose to read their fortunes for them. She gives them amused looks, of course, asking them exactly why they think that, and they say that word on the street is that she is some kind of oracle. When she asks them whether or not they believe it, a few would shrug and say, “It wouldn’t hurt, right?”

Rose hums and turns to Kevin, who is lying down face-first on the couch while Cecil is working on a few audio files on his laptop.

Kevin groans and spits out some local tidbit about when the coffee shop is going to have a sale, when the mall’s going to have an 80% drop in discount, and when to apply for scholarships. There’s a frantic typing into phones so the students remember the date. It’s amusing, really.

(They usually get asked, “What is he, is he like…” while the students give Kevin fascinated looks.

Rose just smiles at them and says, “He’s a discount oracle, you can say.”

And Cecil would snicker while Kevin would throw a pillow at Rose, missing wildly because he’s still not looking up from where his face is buried in the couch, mumbling, “Take that back, Lalonde.”)

If they still try to press her, Rose’s eyes glow, Seer fugue overtaking, and the kids would get more than they bargained for and a sense of getting their entire life story laid out before them, with a few truths they’ve been so eager to deny pointed out and shoved in their faces.

Jade takes care of animals with Mr. G in another room. Occasionally, a child wanders in, just having finished listening to Loki. They always ask permission before petting the animals because Jade has set that rule. Some dogs didn’t respond to humans well, especially when they just came running from a war zone. Her advantage with handling them is that she is immune to rabies and had ‘dog-speak’).

Dave, well, Dave keeps time and tries not to get paranoid.

Mrs. H knits and occasionally passes around coffee.

It’s a good life.


 

Since Rose has volunteered for Steve Rogers duty and they’ve actually built an acquaintance from constant interaction of Rose accompanying Steve and Jade for supply runs and little city trips, she tells him of her upcoming trip when the three of them are out watching a movie.

(Kevin is keeping an eye on PR for her. According to several blogs who have spotted them and even have photos to prove it, the Avengers and the Safehouse might just be thinking about working together. That of course, had prompted questions of whether the Safehouse wasn’t working together with the Avengers before, which led to a lot of speculation but Rose hadn't thought that they were all important enough to remember.

Reddit is blowing up with pictures every day, and once, Kevin had calmly informed her, while he was sitting in his ‘swively-chair’, sipping Starbucks with his feet up on his desk, that they’d just narrowly avoided a bullet ever since Rose started tagging along Jade and Steve.

“Shippers are everywhere, and while the notion of people being so in love with love is cute, the media hounding Jade and Steve is not cute,” Kevin had said.

There were a few brave reporters who tried to get to them, of course, key word being tried, because Rose could sense them a mile away and artfully steered her friends away. She told them about it after the first three times, and so whenever Jade heard them coming, she knew to evade.)

She doesn’t tell him the details, only that she was going to be away, looking for colleges, and jokes that he better not think of taking advantage of the fact that Rose wasn’t there to keep an eye on him. He’d laughed and said he wouldn’t dream of it.

Rose observes as the red string connected to him pulses. Interesting.

Jade rolls her eyes and points out that she and Steve had been hanging out before Rose even tagged along for chaperone duty. Rose, to keep up the façade, asks whether Jade is sure she doesn’t want to go to college.

Jade’s ears flick down for a moment and Steve’s eyes track the movement, still fascinated even after months of seeing the things move.

“No,” she says, shrugs, “I think I’m fine with the Safehouse and everything for now.”

Rose nods. She warns both of them to stay away from reporters. Steve squeezes her shoulder when they arrive at the Safehouse doorstep and tells her to have a safe trip.

It’s touching, really, and Rose thinks that if anyone of the Avengers absolutely have to find out about the Safehouse, then Steve Rogers would have to be it. And the funny thing is that he doesn’t want to know about the Safehouse. If it’s inevitable, then it’s inevitable, but if they don’t want him to, then he doesn’t press. It’s perfect. It’s the reason why his phone number is in both Rose and Jade’s phones.

He’s a friend.

Rose hopes whatever is on the other end of the red string isn’t going to harm him.


 

It’s cold around here.

New York is hot and sun-glared, with it being a pollution hub and all, and the temperature had only miraculously dropped to enjoyable a while ago, but this place is cold.

Steve is wearing three jackets inside the hotel he’s staying in. It hadn’t been a quick mission, and had been more like a stake-out on some of the shiftier parts of the local government. Tony and Natasha are taking care of the government part. Steve and the others are there in case things get nasty. In the meantime, Tony hadn’t wanted to stay cooped up in whatever temporary camp S.H.I.E.L.D had planned to set up if it wasn’t fitted with a Jacuzzi. Also, it would make more sense if the Avengers publicized the fact that they were in town, just to show the people that they're totally here because they're negotiating and hadn’t gone snooping through records when nobody was looking. So, hotel courtesy of Tony Stark it was.

There's a big possibility that S.H.I.E.L.D monitors Steve’s phone records, which is why he's asked Tony for two phones, and one of them had a program that didn’t allow anyone else to tap into it, except for maybe JARVIS, but Steve trusted Tony enough to not use it against him. Besides, Tony was against S.H.I.E.L.D’s interest in the Safehouse anyway, with the possibility of them wanting to take the poor mutants and put them through tests without their permission. It might have been for the good of science, but when people say no, they mean no.

He takes a picture of the view outside his window and sends it to Jade, with a customary ‘wish you were here’. A few seconds later Jade sends him a ‘>:P’ and ‘you know  I can just teleport there anytime, right?’

‘Avenger business’ he types back.

She asks him how it went, not asking for details, before eventually asking him how he is. He complains about the cold and its ridiculous timing, about Tony in general, because you can never run out of complaints about Tony, and talks about the beauty of the clear skies here.

Jade agrees. She loves the clear skies as much as he does.

He asks about Rose and her college-hunting; it’s been a while, after all. Jade tells him that she’s planning on branching out to other countries, and that Steve would be surprised with how much they can actually afford.

He asks about the Safehouse. She tells him that everyone is fine.

She talks about their new refugees – they’ve gotten a few more; some are formerly rich people who had thought their houses were state-of-the-art and therefore invincible and then got knocked off their high horses when their houses got blasted to pieces; some are homeless people; a few are mutants themselves – she talks about Luke and his now-constant following of children, she talks about ridiculous things like the betting pool and the rock-paper-scissors tournament and the bake-offs (Steve still has a hard time believing those, except he’s met the pool master once, when he and Jade and Rose were out, and the kid had gone, “Oh, yeah, we really do have a betting pool. And if you can bake, feel free to knock John Egbert onto his ass.”), and about the cool new thing they were trying out with making communication easier for everybody.

He figures Rose must have given her a go-signal that he didn’t have a hidden agenda with befriending her, because she’s been talking more about the Safehouse people as of late. Luke can do magic and is good with kids. Her brother John can control the wind. Rose can see things, whatever that meant, and is proficient with magic as well. Their landlady can shoot things. They have two psychics and one very good criminal profiler.

They talk for a while before Jade suddenly goes ‘hang on’ and goes away for about twenty minutes. When she comes back, it’s like this.

[gardenGnostic:]

um

is there anyone you left behind in new york that can protect the city?

Steve frowns a bit, thinking.

Yeah, there are a few SHIELD agents, and we left Dr. Banner in the tower. Why?

[gardenGnostic:]

cecil says there might be an attack two days from now

Your psychic friend?

[gardenGnostic:]

yeah!

its okay though! if we have to, we can try and help around

we already do it anyway

just focus on what you have to do there!! :D

Steve steels his jaw and thinks. Two days. They had two days to get back to New York. If he needed to, he could probably ask Jade to just teleport him and then he could deal with the explanations and the paperwork afterward. People needed to be protected.

His chat client pings.

[gardenGnostic:]

steve

dont worry so much

i told you we got it

He sighs. He knows that the Safehouse is tougher than anything Tony could ever make, but if the villain can’t find people around town, they’d probably focus their attacks on the Safehouse. And even if they didn’t, they’d lay waste to New York.

Be careful

[gardenGnostic:]

we will!! you too <3!

His door unlocks and he doesn’t even need to know that it’s Tony.

“Hey, Cap, you wanna come downstairs for movie night? I can guarantee you Natashalie and Clint are not picking.”

“Tony, how many days until we can wrap this thing up?” he asks, still looking at his phone.

“Uh, five, maybe six days? A week? Depends on how quick we can scour the entire place for evil genius labs and all that.” There’s footsteps padding over the carpet. Steve closes the client, turns off his phone and stuffs it in his pants. Tony is pouting childishly when he turns to him. “I’ll get JARVIS to check it.”

“Tony.”

Tony snorts and waves a hand. “I’m kidding. You got a friend with the Safehouse people, right? Don’t worry, I didn’t look through your phone, I just guessed. Pep’s pretty familiar with them too, actually. She’s got Happy driving her there when our latest nutcase hits the city.”

Steve supposes that’s fine. All of New York knows the Safehouse. It’s a miracle S.H.I.E.L.D hasn’t gotten close to them yet, although Coulson was reported to have found a lead.

“What’d they say?” Tony asks.

“I think you don’t believe in psychics,” Steve says.

Tony frowns. “Are we talking mutant-psychic or I-can-read-your-mind psychic?”

“I-can-see-the-future-psychic.”

Another snort. “Whatever. Hit me.”

“There’s going to be an attack in two days.”

Tony laughs. “Yeah, again, whatever. But I’ll try to wrap up the negotiations quick and fly over to New York. Fury can’t hold me here if I wanna bail.”

Steve blinks. “You – you believe me?”

“Not a word, but you believe your friend. And besides, the Safehouse’s been pretty helpful so far.” He shrugs. “Unless they’re the ones manufacturing the robots and are just playing this all for fun, which I highly doubt, because, again, they’re kids. Goddamn.”

Tony is a good person, Steve knows. Loudmouthed with no verbal filter and a very dubious moral compass, but he’s a good person. Steve sighs, relieved.

“Thank you, Tony.”

He’s met with a blinding grin. “You ever going to introduce me to your friend?”

“No.”

“Aww, Cap.”

“That is not my call.”

“Yeah, but come on.”

He doesn’t mention that Jade can teleport things with a snap of her fingers. Tony would curl up and cry.


 

Rose isn’t looking forward to calling the Safehouse and announcing that Cecil and Kevin had the right idea with what Loki was doing worldwide. He has an overwhelming amount of bunkers all over, each warded six ways to Sunday and masked with cloaking devices. Rose stays in these over the course of her journey, jumping from bunker to bunker and then flying out when she’s rested enough and no one can see her. She can’t ask Jade for help, because she can’t exactly pinpoint where the string leads. John can control the wind, but Rose can still fly, so there’s not exactly a lot he can contribute.

It’s exhausting. Luckily, she only ever has to fly at night, when it’s too dark for everyone to see unless they’re really looking for her. All she has to do is focus on the red string and make sure to stay in one of Loki’s cloaked safehouses when she gets too tired.

She takes pictures and sends them to everyone. It’s weird chatting without pesterchum.

She’s wrapped up in five layers of clothing when she finds the end of the red string. She knows this because it suddenly stops going into the distance and instead just goes down, down, down…

She does a quick invisibility working before following it.

Her ability to fly means she can just easily glide into places without making footsteps, and few hours of patient waiting lets her inside the building. She has to time her entrances perfectly, following the string and getting into places when people open doors.

The string leads to a very dark room. And the door isn’t opening.

Rose sits there for about sixteen hours, bored out of her mind, before deciding that no one is going to open the door for her. She pulls out her phone – also luckily cloaked – and texts Jade that she needs some help. Jade easily pinpoints Rose’s location, and Rose tells her to teleport her a few feet forward.

Jade tells her she’s not sure where Rose will end up, because she’s not physically there, but Rose tells her to risk it anyway.

It’s a few minutes before Rose is suddenly standing inside a very dark room, and her nose is almost touching the glass case.

There’s a man inside, and he appears to be…frozen. Cryogenic sleep, then? Rose’s memory horribly jolts back to Steve Rogers frozen under the ice and it’s that thought that brings her back to looking at the red string that is glowing strongly in the dark, enough that it shines an ominous red light around the place, enough that Rose can see the face of the sleeping man.

With a horrible lurch of her stomach, she realizes she’s looking at the face of James Buchanan Barnes. He hasn’t aged at all, and she thinks she knows why.

The red light of the string makes his face look like it’s coated in blood.

Rose wants to know. Wants to know what happened to him, and she opens her Sight immediately, seeing through brainwashing and torture and so much pain, but it’s not enough. Her curiosity is overwhelming. She wants to know exactly what they did to him, what he’s been doing through for the past seventy years and –

(she wants to do the exact same thing to whoever did this to him she can feel the horrorterrors underneath her skin why is she so angry why is she concerned steve rogers is her friend why is there blood and death and torture in this man’s fate)

Later, she thinks, breathing in and out. She pushes away memories of Jade being used by the Condescension from her mind. She pushes away memories of demons in her ribcage. She will find his files and learn about him, when this entire base is burnt to the ground.

She raises her phone up again and calls Loki.

Chapter Text

John is outside the recording studio carrying a bag of coffee from Mrs. H. A few of the students who’d recognized him had given him waves and were happy enough to point him towards the MC lab when he asked for the Palmers and Dave. Dave is guest starring in the sibling’s show today, because their usual music guys – their pool master and their pool master’s best friend – are out of town due to family problems. Nobody actually asked for specifics, although the Palmers still chattered and nobody really understood a word.

The Palmers had approached them with the pool master and their best friend, asking if they could provide for quick music. They’d happily volunteered, but were worried as to where they were going to get their instruments, save Jade, because Jade already had a flute. Their kickass pool master Sapphrel then brought them up to their room, where recording equipment and musical instruments were all over the place.

“Some of the stuff is Kev and Cecil’s,” they’d said, “But I had a bigger unit when we all first moved here, so we decided to just use my space for recording equipment.”

Then John had a tiny glorious moment of realization that the Palmers, the pool master, and mister best friend went to the same college, which explained why their pool master took the Safehouse’s weird shenanigans in stride.

After about a night of recording, Jade and John had provided flute and piano backing tracks with a bit of acoustic guitars from Loki (Mr. G had been teaching him). Dave is to go on the show live to man the soundboard.

Currently, it’s almost six o’clock, and Cecil is closing up his part of the show. Kevin is in the other room, going through last-minute revisions with a classmate for tomorrow’s broadcast while Dave looks like he’s having a great time by the soundboard.

John sits on the nice couch just a few feet away from the tables where Mass Communication students are milling about, occasionally swapping papers or tossing each other staplers without even looking. It’s kind of terrifying. He crosses and uncrosses his ankles repeatedly, bored and a little scared when one girl tosses a stapler over her shoulder and another catches it without having to look up from the paper they’re proofreading.

He and the others have had talks about getting back into school ever since the topic’s been brought up. Jade is the one who’s most seriously considering it, although that had been a little derailed since she’s been hanging out with Steve Rogers. John doesn’t know about the others, and Loki definitely doesn’t need to go to college, although he probably might just for kicks and giggles, but for John…

He looks around at the students, most of them having their sleeves rolled up and constantly muttering to themselves as they read over papers, dark circles under their eyes, empty coffee cups littering their desks – maybe he’s already got enough on his plate with the whole Safehouse thing?

He hasn’t even really finished middle school. He doesn’t think he can quite go straight to the pressure of college. He’s always thought about it, of course, especially when he catches Jade looking at websites or brochures during her free time, but somehow he can’t really imagine himself in college. Not here, anyway.

He’s always imagined himself graduating highschool and tossing his cap in the air, whooping along with (faceless, he can’t really remember anymore, in the haze of chatlogs and empty space and blood) classmates as the graduation march plays. He’s always imagined himself taking photos with his father. Always imagined driving around, applying for colleges, getting approved, and then hunting for apartments. Always imagined calling his dad maybe every night, talking about how school went.

He’s stuck in his thirteen-year-old body and he’s twenty and he’s not doing any of those things.

He looks back inside the booth, where Cecil is constantly moving on his swivel-chair and miraculously not making any noise. Cecil is seventeen.

John swallows thickly. There is a reason why he always thinks and thinks and thinks and never stops on one thought. If he does, everything comes crashing down on him. He looks down at the floor, eyes a little wide, and he’s suddenly back in the battlefield of Skaia, looking down at his sister’s dead body.

Six o’clock comes by quicker than he realizes, because one moment, he’s staring at the floor and the next, Cecil is saying, “Good night.”

The door of the recording studio opens and Dave lets the ending song play. John watches as Dave steps away from the soundboard and Cecil asks if he’s fine taking charge of the music again tomorrow.

Kevin’s getting out of the other room, carrying papers full of markings made by a yellow-orange glitter pen. John stands and grins, walking over to where his friends are, holding up the bag of coffee.

Cecil, who is about three words into the conversation with his brother and Dave, suddenly hones in on the scent of bean water. “John!”

“Hey guys! Mrs. H sent me to bring you these.”

“Sweet,” Dave says, grinning, just as eager to get out the coffee cup with his name on it. “God, I love that woman.”

John takes out his own once they’ve all gotten their assigned drinks. He lifts the cover off of it and blows on it gently, although it ends up being a miniature gale. His coffee’s at just the right temperature though. Meanwhile, Dave is still blowing away the steam of his coffee.

Cecil is just…straight up chugging it. John wonders exactly how he keeps his voice sound so nice.

After they’ve all cleaned up the studio and bid everyone goodbye, John calls Jade, who almost immediately pops in to teleport them back to the Safehouse.

John takes off his shoes as soon as they’re inside. He wants to feel the chill of the floor tonight.

There’s food in the kitchen and all five of them stack their plates before shuffling towards the noise in the living room. Kevin already looks dead on his feet and the sun’s just set. Poor kid. He seems to live with the rising and the setting of the sun. John smiles to himself as he stabs a sausage and takes a bite. Pretty good.

He starts hovering when the dogs start running from all over the house towards him. Buster is wagging his tail furiously, looking up at John and letting out a yip. John shushes him gently. “This is my food, Buster.”

Buster yips again. John chuckles.

The living room TV is on and Loki’s temporarily manning the betting pool chalkboard. Since everyone’s attention is on the screen, Loki has an entire couch to himself, and it’s a rare sight to see him sprawled out on it, especially with him pulling out sticks of Sapphrel’s colored chalk like it’s the most fascinating thing he’s ever laid his eyes on. He may have been getting by fine with adapting to earth, but some things are still a novelty to him.

John wonders if he should introduce Loki to silly string.

He watches Loki pull out alternating chalk sticks before pushing them back down, then pulling out the ones he hadn’t pulled out earlier, and pushing those down too.

Yeah, he should definitely introduce Loki to silly string.

John sits cross-legged in the air until he finishes eating. Directly below him, the dogs are gathered, all looking up and patiently staring at him. Nobody even gives him a weird look.

He flies into the kitchen to drop his plate in the sink, trying to remember if it's his turn to do the dishes since Rose is out of town of the foreseeable future. Hah. Foreseeable future. Rose.

She’s called a few times and she’s said that she’s found something that they probably didn’t want to know, but she didn’t know if she was getting closer to the end of the red string. He hopes she is. She’s been away for a while.

He turns to the little chart pinned to the fridge. It’s a Wednesday. He’s not on sink duty.

He flies back to the living room and lets his toes touch the carpet, gradually lowering himself until his feet are on the floor. He curls his toes, letting them try and grip the carpet. It tickles. A dog runs over and licks his toes, leaving a wet stripe of saliva.

It’s Moxie, one of the newer dogs they’d taken in. Her tail is a stump from when her previous owner had cut it off. John’s chest clenches when he sees it trying to wag.

He bends down and gently pats her on the head. “Heya, Moxie.”

Moxie licks his face. He giggles.

“Can I carry you?” he asks. Jade’s always telling him that talking to dogs worked. They understood, to some extent, she’d said. It's ridiculous, but sometimes he catches her, and occasionally, Mr. G, talking to them, so he’s been trying to do the same himself. So far, he doesn’t know how to understand them. He figures Jade can, and maybe Loki.

Moxie bounces forward until she can push her head against his chest. John laughs again, gently scoops her up and then takes to the air, where he sits cross-legged again, cradling the small dog and letting her rest on his lap. She seems to be enjoying being on higher ground than her friends, judging by her triumphant little bark. The other dogs bark jealously at her, and everyone looking at the television shushes them, although their eyes are still glued to the screen.

An hour and a half later, wads of cash are handed over while Loki makes adjustments to the betting pool board. John hasn’t bet anything on this one, so all he does is watch while people grumble and listen to Moxie’s breathing as she sleeps in his lap.

When everyone’s cleaned up and Mr. G is rounding up the dogs, John gently places Moxie back on the floor. She stirs, of course, and then stands up, confusedly looking up at him and her owner.

“Time to go to bed, Moxie,” Mr. G says. She turns to him, presses her head against his leg, before walking back to John and sitting down. Mr. G smiles and chuckles. “Okay, you can spend the night with John.”

Moxie yips and turns to John expectantly. John blinks and looks up at Mr. G. “Really?”

“Dogs are smarter than people give them credit for, Egbert,” he says. “Also, I think she likes the fact that you can fly. Humor her.”

Then he rounds up the rest of the dogs and has to chase Buster around before Jade takes pity on him because he almost loses his glasses.

John looks down at Moxie and sees her wagging her stump of a tail again. He sighs and picks her up.

He has a bed, and he has a hammock. He loves sleeping on the hammock and letting the wind rock him back and forth; loves that sense of movement even when he’s asleep, not that he sleeps too well these nights. Sometimes he sleeps too little or too much. At the beginning of all of this, he didn’t sleep at all, instead roaming the nights.

He still misses his dad, though he swears on the most expensive quickie-bake oven in existence that he’ll never admit to missing cake. His dad always baked cake. And honestly, John would do anything to see his dad bringing him cake again.

(His father is dead. And John never got to say goodbye or apologize, because right before he played that godforsaken game, he had to argue about the goddamn cake.)

He gets into the hammock carefully, and lets Moxie settle down beside him. She rolls over onto her back and snuggles into his side, looking up at the ceiling with the drawings made in luminescent ink. John makes a motion with his hand and the hammock moves slowly, side to side, not enough for John’s vision to blur.

Moxie doesn’t appear to be bothered by the motion.

John takes off his glasses and folds them up before letting a gust of wind toss them over to his bed. He keeps the hammock in a steady, slow movement, not enough to make Moxie sick, but enough to make them both fall asleep.


 

Loki is not familiar with the concept of homelessness.

Technically, he’d spent a while bouncing from place to place when he first came to Midg – Earth, but homelessness was never a thing discussed in Asgard. The sight of people dressed in rags and dying of cold and begging for help on the streets was never something he’d seen in the Realm Eternal. That might have something to do with the honor culture there, that people would rather die in battle than go home a cripple and not be able to fight, and that families who lost their warriors would live on rewards from the king, for their fallen family member’s bravery.

Also, the fact that the few shamed warriors (and the occasional seiðmaðr who tried to help people but was shunned and humiliated for it) would opt to pitch themselves over the edge of the Bifrost rather than continue with a life of constant jeering.

New York is different. And from what he’d seen on his travels, Earth is different. Here, there are people who starve and die of cold on the streets, children who go around ducking under bridges and praying the things don’t collapse on them overnight, people who would beg and would accept being humiliated if it meant they could eat for another day.

Plenty of humans wanted to help them, but an equal number also wanted to make their lives more miserable.

He gets the concept of it when he sees the news of a bridge collapsing during a standard villain attack, and a few people who were too slow to run had gotten crushed in the rubble.

Even with the Safehouse standing, there are still people who got killed during attacks. Sometimes the roads they took got blocked or they were too slow on moving, but Loki and the others couldn’t do much about it, not without S.H.I.E.L.D getting on their case faster than they could explain, and even then, there were some people who utilized their services and still didn’t like them because they were mutants.

Funny, humans. At least they were still marginally better than Asgardians with their penchant for self-determination.

No homeless has ever tried to get in the Safehouse during an attack. Possibly because they thought that normally, people wouldn’t let them in houses if they asked for a drink, so what difference would it make if the city was under attack but – Loki remembers being young and wanting to help his brother even at the price of laughing and sneering; remembers being sick for three weeks because a spell taxed him but it was worth it to make sure Thor and Sif and the Warriors Three didn’t get blown to pieces; remembers John Egbert persistent outside his door and still smiling at him, asking for help, and thanking him wholeheartedly when he gave it.

He has an idea.


 

Mrs. Harrison works at the homeless shelter sometimes. Loki finds it a good enough doorway to start making connections, and make connections he does, especially when the children are fascinated by his magic tricks.

Like majority of New York, the workers at the shelter know him (and the kids, and in fact told him that he was welcome to stop by for a quick meal any day) and are very happy to have him volunteer. Graham’s cooking lessons are proving to be handy since that means he already has experience in cooking and won’t fail too badly.

When he’s on breaks, he talks to the children, who are wary of him at first, but since he’d already demonstrated magic by moving plates and objects with very visible green light (and it made distributing food faster), plenty of the younger ones are quick to talk.

By the third week, he already has a following almost as big as the one he usually has during Safehouse storytime sessions. He ropes Graham and Jade into coming along one day to bring the dogs for the children to play with. Graham opts to stay in the kitchen while Jade makes sure the dogs aren’t being mauled by the more reckless kids and entertains questions about her ears.

(When Loki has to go back to work and it’s Graham’s break, the children make it known that they want more stories. Jade turns to Graham and says, “How about you, Mr. G, do you have stories?”

Loki has heard about people shutting down, but he’s never really seen people shutting down.

He laughs until he’s crying. When they get home, Graham hits him on the arm once, and Loki starts laughing so hard again that the children turn to each other with slightly panicked looks on their faces.)

He slowly brings the other kids to visit the shelter one by one. They’ve all got their share of stories that range from the absurd (like Dave suspecting John sent him a bottle of apple juice that really was piss and John tried to defend himself and say it really was apple juice) to the slightly more absurd but with an air of melancholy (“Once upon a time, four children played a game. They didn’t know what it was and just thought it was a regular old game. Now these children were young and unsure about what they felt and how they fit in the world at that time, and they only ever really thought about themselves. They didn’t even stop to think about how their actions would affect everything.”).

All in all, everyone is making good progress with befriending the homeless of New York City. Even the Palmers and the pool master (and their best friend) stop by when John invites them.

When Loki’s new friends all arrive at the Safehouse door, looking terrified but relieved, Loki eagerly ushers them in. A few people give the homeless’ ragged and dirty states disgusted looks, of course, but Mrs. Harrison gives them a glare that any sane person would hide under their bed at, so they’re left alone. The Palmers are more than happy to provide for food, Mrs. Harrison lets them use the showers and the pool master entertains a few of them by showing them around the enormous interior of the Safehouse.

Loki smiles. Connections make connections. He doesn’t mind having the entirety of New York under his roof, not when they need it. He highly doubts S.H.I.E.L.D will ever think of the beggars on the streets as the Safehouse’s trusted allies.


 

Their first honest-to-goodness mutant is a homeless five-year-old who can control water.

They discover this because when a fire-raging maniac is burning the rest of New York down, said kid’s brother Lester, and Lester’s friend Shaun, bring in the unconscious girl, claiming that she’d flung her arms around and the water under the bridge they’d been staying at had started moving in the direction she pointed her hands towards. Unfortunately, with the relentless heat from the fires outside, she’d passed out quickly.

“S.H.I.E.L.D is going to have a blast trying to refund the damage,” Dave says, “Wait – do they refund things?”

“Tony Stark refunds things,” Jade says. Meanwhile, John runs towards the door and disappears into wind to slip through the cracks, ignoring his sister calling out his name, presumably to go and try extinguish the fires before they turned New York into the world’s biggest pile of ash. The city could get an award for it, at least.

Mai, the little water-bending mutant, is currently laid out on a bed in the infirmary after being looked at by one of the doctors that had ducked into the Safehouse. One advantage of being the city bunker is that there's no shortage of talents since they accept everyone in.

The air conditioners in the Safehouse are on full-blast and Loki puts up some cooling runes so that the front door and the walls wouldn’t be hot to the touch. Since nobody is in the mood to do bake-offs or rock-paper-scissor tournaments, Loki freezes the indoor pool with a few muttered words and air-drawn runes, while Jade momentarily pops downtown to grab a several skates.

Jade, it turns out, is a natural at skating (possibly from having the Land of Frost and Frogs for a planet; there must have been some skating involved at one point). Mrs. H’s pretty spry for her age and drags Mr. G on the ice to accompany her, because he’s passable as well.

When John comes back a little huffy and muttering something about fires and maniacs, a little kid hands him a pair of bright yellow skates and he confusedly wanders into the indoor pool to see it frozen.

Moxie, who has been trying to get onto the frozen pool without freezing her paws off (and failing, because she just stayed at the edge and whined while watching all the humans have fun) barks excitedly and bounds over to him, pushing her head against his leg.

He looks down at her, then back the pool-skating-rink and laughs. He picks her up and cheats, hovering just a bit over the ice and ‘skating’.

Dave and the Palmers, who all grew up in places that were practically hell on earth, all absolutely suck. Surprisingly, so does Loki.

“They don’t have skating rinks in Asgard?” John asks, Moxie happily wagging her tail stump as he holds her in his arms.

“They don’t have ice on Asgard,” Loki says, hanging onto the tables that people had put on the edge of the pool to act as rails. Then, in a smaller voice, “That’s on Jotunheim.”

John sobers immediately.

On the other side of the pool, Dave is trying to regain his balance while muttering, “This is similar to rollerblading, this shouldn’t be hard!”

Cecil is holding onto the tables at the edge and making noises that sounded suspiciously like whimpers and the occasional cry for his mother. Kevin is on the ice, gliding slowly, knees bent awkwardly, but he’s getting the hang of moving.

John watches them trying to get away from the edge of the pool as best as they can. Sapphrel glides by once to grab Kevin’s arms, earning a shocked, “Whoa!” from him, but he lets the betting pool master just drag him around. It’s marginally better than flailing around trying not to fall.

Dave is half-crouched on the floor, one hand hovering over the ice. When he tries to stand, he nearly imbalances again and crouches right back down. Behind him, Cecil tries to push off from the table and flails around, legs shaking; when he tilts backwards and nearly falls, he shrieks: “I’ve never even seen snow until I came to this city; this is terrifying!”

Dave moves to stand, immediately bends back from the shift in weight, and falls on his ass.

Cecil starts calling for Sapphrel’s best friend who is on the other side of the pool. “Ruben! Ruben, Saph’s got Kevin, this is unfair.”

When Jade calls John out on gliding instead of actually skating, he floats up into the air, taking Moxie with him while his sister cries foul; he laughs before going into the infirmary to check up on Mai.

The fight outside finishes after a few hours. Firemen are called to put out the remaining fires, which aren’t too many since John got most of them; according to the news, a strong wind blew down and put out all of the fires in one go, until a few were reignited thanks to their villain. Thankfully, the Avengers had stepped in at this point and John had ducked inside the Safehouse again.

Once it’s safe, their refugees go home. Plenty of the homeless children stick around the infirmary, waiting for Mai. If they want to, they can sleep in the building, since the crew has decked out three enormous rooms for any of the homeless to stay in anytime they wanted. Plenty of them have stayed there for several nights befpre, but every now and then, they wander. They still visit the shelter.

Loki is sitting right beside Mai’s bed, leaning back on his chair.

“Does anyone else know about Mai’s abilities?” he asks.

Several children shake their heads. Lester makes a face.

John, with Moxie asleep in his lap as he sits on one of the infirmary beds, tilts his head curiously.

“People in suits find us sometimes. We hide, of course, but we knew a few more people who had, like, magic powers, and the men in suits always take them away. We never see them again,” Shaun says.

John turns to Jade, who turns to Dave, who turns to Loki. Loki looks out over the crowd of children before turning to Mai.

“S.H.I.E.L.D?” Jade asks.

“Or Professor Xavier or something.” Dave shrugs, then snorts inelegantly.

“What do they want with mutants anyway?” John runs his fingers through Moxie’s fur. His glasses almost slide off his face as he keeps on staring at the ground, brow furrowed. “I mean, I get wanting to study them, but they’re children.”

Jade puts a hand to her mouth and tries to stifle her gasp. Dave looks away. Loki stiffens for a moment.

“They’re easy prey,” the trickster mutters under his breath. “Jade, does Steve Rogers ever mention anything about S.H.I.E.L.D’s treatment of mutants?”

She shakes her head.

He’s silent for a moment. “From what Cecil has told us when he went to deceive Coulson, S.H.I.E.L.D’s job is to make sure humanity isn’t threatened – not by extra-terrestrials or extra-dimensionals, or even Earth’s own mutants. I suppose they think neutralizing the threat before it can start is a good thing to do. Or they’re studying them.”

“I don’t think kids wanna be poked and prodded within an inch of their life.” Dave crosses his arms.

“Maybe Mai can hide here for a while,” Lester says, standing and moving over to the bed where his little sister is sleeping. “I mean, the guys in suits can’t get in your building, right? You guys are still here. You’re mutants.” He pauses, studying them. “Even people who aren’t homeless and have powers are taken.”

John closes his eyes and the hand going through Moxie’s fur stops. Dave mutters, “Disgusting.” Jade’s ears flick down.

Loki looks at Mai’s sleeping face, then at her brother, and nods. “All of you can stay here for however long you like.”


 

Over the next few weeks, the numbers of their homeless refugees (and the homeless who decide to stay in the rooms with plenty of beds for them to sleep in, if they decide to stay the night) rise. Connections really build more connections, and anyone who sleeps under a bridge tells everyone else who sleeps under a bridge that there’s a place they can sleep in if they ever need it and a place to hide in when the city is under attack. Sadly, of course, since they’re not exactly that rich, they can’t feed everyone, but the homeless shelter exists for a reason.

Their mutant refugees increase too. Mostly, they’re homeless, but the ones who have been hiding their abilities start coming out when Loki brings the children in the training room and starts teaching them how to control their talents as best as they could, because really, mutant powers were cool until someone sets something on fire because they can’t control their emotions.

A support group easily builds, although Loki always warns them to be careful who they talked to outside, what with S.H.I.E.L.D looming overhead. And yes, their intentions could be good, but none of them could really risk it, especially when none of their friends who were apprehended ever came back.

It’s fascinating to see the children build their own circle of trust and Loki is often left thinking, If I had a group of friends consisting of seiðr-users when I was younger…

He abandons that thought as quickly as he picks it up.

Rose calls every now and then with news about her progress and he tells her about how the Safehouse is getting along, especially with the new developments. Rose chuckles and tells him about how even on Earth, difference is a thing that can get you alienated.

She tells him she’d love to talk to the children when she gets back, but for now, she’s somewhere in France chasing the end of a red string that doesn’t seem to end.

Dave cracks jokes about element-benders whenever he can, and John and Jade happily join in when the resident hydrokinetic and pyrokinetic are practicing. So far, Mai’s only burst three faucets out of anger. Rei, on the other hand, appears to have the miraculous talent to burn water, which amuses Strider to no end.

When the two aren’t practicing, they’re comparing notes with John and Jade. John is able to talk elements with them easily enough, but Jade has to explain that her magic comprises space and not just earth. When the idea clicks, the kids launch into enthusiastic fangirling/fanboying over her.

And really, Loki doesn’t like thinking about it, but if his childhood had involved practicing with other seiðr-users and comparing notes and laughing with them and talking to older, more experienced sorcerers instead of being locked away in the palace for being the royal shame and having to study by himself and sneak off to ever get any experience, maybe –

There are plenty of maybes.

Loki shakes his head and decides not to pursue that train of thought.


 

Rose calls maybe twice a week, depending on whether or not she’s had proper sleep. They all agree to put her calls on loudspeak so everyone can hear and talk to her. It’s fascinating hearing her talking about the places she’s been to, and John wonders exactly where the end of the red string is.

She wins a few bets and the pool master holds onto her money for her. They ask her how she’s doing and she tells them that between trying to track down the end of the red string, she sightsees (as much as one can sightsee when flying at top speed) and eats.

John continues going to the park and busking. Once, he buys one of those things people use to strap babies to their chest and carries Moxie as he flies low-level around the city. People give him weird looks, but the tiny dog is absolutely ecstatic. John thinks she might have a thing for flying.

(A sudden image of Cassie meeting Moxie assaults his mind, and the image is so ridiculous he starts laughing until he cries.)

Steve Rogers meets Moxie in the park once, and he sees her stump of a tail and he gives the dog a gentle pat.

“What’s her name?” he asks.

“Moxie.”

“That’s a nice name.”

Moxie barks, happy and approving of this man. John thinks Jade might have been onto something when she was befriending Captain America.

Steve gets lucky during a fight, when John is on guard duty and looking outside the Safehouse while everyone else is inside playing rock-paper-scissors. The aircraft of their latest bad guy is visible from where John sits, and he sees it when a tiny figure in blue, holding something circular that just might be a shield is pushed off of the aircraft, flailing. Iron Man is nowhere to be seen, and Captain America is falling fast, fast, fast.

John bursts into a gust of wind that nearly tears their door off its hinges when he slips through the cracks and up into the air, reaching the Captain just in time. He doesn’t materialize, just lets the wind blow and cradle the good Captain as he slows the man’s descent, and he can sense Steve’s own surprise and hopes that the man’s merely thinking of how this is what it feels like to plummet to your death. He doesn’t plummet though, only gets set to the ground very gently before the wind leaves him and returns back to the Safehouse, condensing back into John Egbert.

Life goes on. Rose calls. Jade walks the dogs. Dave goes to gigs. Loki disappears and comes back with an armful of books that look like they’re almost as old as he is.

Then one day, Rose calls and says she’s found something very interesting. He thinks he can feel the wind crackle with grimdark energy.


 

Several days later, on the issue of making sure that everyone in their little mutant network is alright, Cecil drags a radio into the dining room with Kevin grinning behind him.

“I have an idea,” he says.

Chapter Text

EB: uhh.

EB: te s tin g?

TT: It's okay, ke e p go ing.

TT: I wa nt to see ho w it looks li ke on the sc reen.

EB: whoa my text looks wo nk y.

TT: There's s ti ll ple n t y of t wea kin g to be done.

TT: But otherwise, we're off to a good start.

EB: i think it already loo ks co ol!

EB: m a n i m iss c ha tti ng wi t h e very one.

EB: there's pr o bably jus t the f o u r of us now.

TT: We can let Loki and the others join in if they are interested.

TT: Although there's no need to use a chat client if we see each other face to face on a daily basis.

EB: yeah that would just be silly!

EB: oh, the glitchiness is gone.

TT: I fixed it.

TT: Thank you for indulging me, John.

EB: no problem :B


There is currently an entire evil base floating in the outer skirts of the solar system. If John had to guess, he’d bet this place in space was what passed off as the furthest ring in this universe.

Loki isn’t in the Safehouse at the moment; probably making sure there are no loose ends.

They’d spent a few days in one of Loki’s bunkers in India while Rose and Loki did their magic on the guy with the metal arm. Kinda reminded John of Vriska, and he had to stop himself from laughing.

The Palmers had won the Red String bet – ah, yes, Wikipedia, such a trusty place to get information – and Rose and Loki had both been sulky about it; when pressed, they would not admit it. The twins had also been smug about being right about Loki having bunkers, and everyone had been ready to begrudgingly hand over their money when Loki said that building bunkers wasn’t the only thing he did while he was away. Cecil and Kevin had then proceeded to fiercely whisper to each other: “I thought you said that was what your visions revealed!” “It was. What about yours?”

All in all, it had been a wild two weeks.

Rose currently isn’t in the Safehouse as well, as she’s volunteered to look after the guy they’d rescued and she’d said that Steve Rogers regularly stopping by the house to walk Jade home was something she and her charge needed to avoid with James’ mind still in pieces. He's functional, but his memories are still shot.

Jade had nodded sympathetically. John had fidgeted and didn’t notice he was floating, too busy remembering the hours spent disintegrating into air so that his mind-controlled sister wouldn’t catch him.

James had gone through the same thing Jade and Jane did, they’d said.

At least progress had been good enough that Rose had time to be bored and try and make a chat client. She’d made a rough guide to SBURB and sent it into the cosmos before, so John’s not surprised that with a little reading and a few videos here and there, she’d be able to make a working chat client.

John wonders if James helped. Maybe he should stop by or something.

“John, we got more radios,” Mr. G says when he walks into the kitchen, carrying a cooler filled with fish. He gives the oven John is crouching in front of a dubious look. “Is it cake?”

John wrinkles his nose. “No.”

“Thought a miracle wasn’t too much of a long shot. Cookies, then?”

“Yeah,” he says, “I was bored.”

“Mm. You won’t be for a few hours. We got more radios and we need you to distribute them,” Mr. G says.

“Can I do them tomorrow night?”

“Yeah, better under the cover of darkness and all that.” Mr. G opens the cooler and starts taking out the fish. It’ll be a great dinner tonight.

Moxie is behaved enough to simply lie down on John’s lap as he eats, leaning back on the couch with his eyes on the television.

They hadn’t had too bad a villain in a few days, only a few failures that were stopped before they could dish out the machines, which is good.

Afterwards, once the dishes are cleaned and the dogs are fed (and put to bed), everyone stays up to watch the newest episode of a medical drama John forgets the name of. He hasn’t really been paying attention, and every now and then, he forgets where the plot is.

When his eyes droop for the fourth time, he excuses himself and flies up to his room. Moxie isn’t staying with him tonight, instead joining the rest of her doggy friends in Mr. G’s room. John collapses onto his bed and sighs. He closes his eyes and waits for his breathing to even out.

It doesn’t. Thirty minutes later, he wakes up and groans, unable to sleep. He moves over to his window to look out the city instead. There aren’t a lot of cars passing by their street.

He presses his fingers to the glass. His heart skips a beat, and for a moment, he thinks of storms brewing.


TG: this is actually impressive

TG: whatd you do

TT: I read a few guides.

TG: a few guides

TG: and you built a working chat client because you were bored outta your mind

TG: babysitting duties too easy or what

EB: i think it’s pretty good!

EB: how’s james?

TT: He’s doing well.

TT: He’s sleeping right now, actually.

TT: I was thinking of asking him if he knew anything about encrypting chat clients, but that’s not advisable right now.

TT: I don’t think it’s healthy to remind him of his previous line of work at this stage.

TT: We’ll have it encrypted by other means.

TT: I’m sorry, Jade.

GG: its okay! :)

GG: steves concerned about shield snooping into our conversations but he has two phones for now

GG: besides i think hes still just getting used to technology

TT: How is he?

GG: hes doing so well actually!!! :D

TG: wait youre givin him pop culture ed right

GG: kinda

GG: this earth has a few things different from our earth

EB: i can help!

GG: no ghostbusters!!! >:(

EB: aaaaaaaaw


 

“So like, how far is the radio signal supposed to reach? We don’t have a satellite dish and everything,” John says, watching Cecil tinker with the soundboard while the pool master – it’s kind of weird how plenty of them never got past that title for Cecil’s friend – is underneath the desk, connecting wires and taping their lengths together so they didn’t make a huge mess in the room. Pool master’s best friend is dragging in the fiberglass to corral what is going to be the Palmers’ makeshift studio.

“Loki’s got the entire thing set up,” Dave says, assembling the microphone together, “Not a satellite dish, obviously, but all of these things have runes on them. Look.” He holds up the condenser mic and tilts it so that its body glints under the light overhead. Glowing, green, marks shine on its body as he moves it. “It’s like insta-amplification.”

Outside, two more panels of fiberglass appear in a flash of green light, Jade holding onto them. “Ruben, I got more.”

It’s something short of a miracle that the makeshift radio studio fits in pool master Saph’s already-filled bedroom. Actually, it’s magic. Expansion runes can do a lot, as can redecorating. They just had to move all the instruments and their corresponding soundboards to the side.

John doesn’t know a thing about setting up equipment, so he’s on snack duty, which unfortunately means delivering snacks and not eating them. He’s already delivered the last tray of cookies into the room, freshly baked by Mrs. H.

Jade lets Ruben drag the fiberglass to position them accordingly, and then she bounds over to her brother to get two cookies. Her dog ears flick up happily as she bites into both of them at the same time.

John snorts. “Barbarian.”

“I’m hungry.”

Moxie bounds in, barking and looking like she’s running too fast to stop, but she skids to a halt just in front of the fiberglass Ruben has set up, before turning tail and running outside again. And then she returns a few seconds later, still at the same speed, stopping in front of the glass, and then running back out.

Jade laughs. “I love it when dogs do that. They’re so cute.”

“I’m actually worried she’s going to smash into the glass. Is she playing with Buster?”

“Yeah, she is,” Jade says.

John takes three cookies and stuffs them into his mouth. When he says, “I’m going to make sure she doesn’t trip down the stairs,” it doesn’t sound anything like it.

Jade rolls her eyes at him. “Now who’s the barbarian?”

Downstairs, Moxie and Buster are chasing each other, ducking under tables and leaping onto couches, nearly knocking a few things over. John watches them for a while, making sure to catch whatever they’ve tipped over so that it doesn’t smash itself on the floor, but he doesn’t interfere. It’s a few more minutes before both of the dogs calm down enough to lie on the floor.

John smiles. Dogs are so simple. So easily happy.

Moxie trots over to the kitchen to her water bowl and Buster follows after her. When they return, they’ve got Rover with them, and they all lie down on the carpet, tired. John floats over and Moxie wags her tail stump at him. Buster gives him a small yip. Rover stands to give his face a lick. He makes a disgusted noise that breaks off into a laugh as he wipes the drool off.

Dog therapy. It works. It’s totally something he needs to bring up with Rose regarding James.

Yeah, John should definitely visit.


 

cannibalAmygdala [CA] responded to memo.

CA: its called pesterchum.

CA: really.

CA: whats with the colors?

EB: it’s so that everyone can tell everyone apart!

EB: it’s easier that way.

CA: it’s like my eyes are seeing strobelights.

TG: aww yes

TG: party all up in the house mr g

CA: please stop

TG: did you seriously just say that

CA: youre right beside me on the couch right now strider

CA: i actually do know when my speech pattern changes

CA: bitch to shake off

CA: clings like leeches

CA: or sweat

CA: sweaty leeches

TG: dear god

EB: what’s that sound?

TG: i think its jade

EB: is she suffocating or something?

EB: oh.

EB: she’s laughing. don’t worry.

EB: false alarm.


 

James is staring at the dogs like they’re going to eat him. John can already tell this is a stellar idea.

Rose is on her laptop, sitting on the couch, not at all worried that her charge is having a staredown with the four-legged friends John has convinced Jade to teleport. He would have done it himself, but he’s not sure his juju-acquired abilities are supposed to be used like that, not to mention he might have made an accident. God only knew how much he’d blame himself if anything happened to Moxie.

Jade is sitting right across James, trying to convince him the dogs aren’t going to hurt him. Rover licks his metal arm. James’ face scrunches up.

John barely holds in his snickers.

The man’s looking healthy. Not fresh-from-the-cryosleep-chamber healthy, but actually healthy-healthy. Rose says he’s been up and doing jogs with her ever since he’d decided she wasn’t going to try and take apart his head and brainwash him again.

They’d gone through his files together with him once he was awake and Loki and Rose had done whatever they could to help with his dissociation. Also once he’d calmed down and stopped trying to kill them out of self-preservation instinct. Aside from what's in his files, history books and his name, everything else is a blank for the poor guy.

Maybe they’ll try to visit the Smithsonian. When Steve’s not around, preferably. James getting his memory back is good, but James getting his memories shoved into his head and getting nabbed by S.H.I.E.L.D  for questioning is not going to help. Or, that’s just everyone’s paranoia regarding S.H.I.E.L.D talking.

“This little guy is Buster. He’s Kevin’s dog. Kevin is a friend back home,” Jade explains from where she’s sitting, giving Buster a rub on the head. Buster barks happily, tongue lolling and tail wagging.

John watches as James’ eyes soften.

“He’s an excitable one,” the man croaks, voice sounding so hoarse from what is possibly years of disuse. John doesn’t think his old brainwashers let him talk back much.

Jade smiles. “Yeah, he is. He has a habit of jumping on people.”

Moxie stands and runs over to where John is sitting and bumps her leg against his head softly. He chuckles and picks her up. She licks his face once she’s close enough to him.

James and Jade turn to look at him. If John focuses right, he thinks the corners of James’ lips are turned up.

“That’s Moxie,” Jade says, “John takes care of her sometimes.”

“What happened to her tail?” James asks.

Jade takes a while to answer. “Someone cut it off.”

James nods, slow. John tries not to look at the man’s metal arm.

Eventually, Moxie tries to wriggle out of John’s grasp and he puts her down. She flattens herself on the floor and starts crawling towards James, looking like a lot like a soldier crawling across enemy territory. The appropriateness makes John laugh. Even Rose looks up from where she’s tweaking the chat client to observe Moxie.

When the tiny dog finally makes her way to where James is sitting, she nudges his leg with a wet snout and then looks up at him.

James stares at her for a moment before raising his metal arm slowly and then gently placing it on her head. He moves it, hesitant, as he gives her rub.

Moxie looks up at him again, eyes bright, when he lifts his hand back. James moves so that his other hand, the human one, can touch Moxie’s fur, and John doesn’t think he’s imagining it when James’ eyes widen slightly in surprise.

How long has it been since James touched anything that wasn’t a potential weapon, or wasn’t blood leaking out of someone?

Moxie raises her head and licks his fingers.

“She likes you,” Jade says.

John gives Rose a glance. She is fixated on James, who is looking at Moxie like she’s something he’s never seen before.

“Yeah,” James whispers, “I like her too.”


 

gardenGnostic [GG] responded to memo.

GG: rose!!! :D

GG: i got good news :)

GG: you remember our pool masters bestfriend?

GG: what was his name…

TT: I remember him.

TT: I remember his name started with an R?

GG: yeah it was a nice name!

GG: like a stone or something?

TT: Rock.

GG: not rock!!! >:(

TT: Apologies.

GG: i always seem to forget when im not talking to him or the pool master

GG: rube?

GG: ruby???

TT: Ruben?

GG: ruben!

GG: yeah! :D

TT: What about him?

GG: he can code

GG: hes an i.t. student :)

GG: maybe he can help secure the chat

TT: It’ll be a start.

GG: yeah im gonna go talk to him, okay?

GG: hopefully i dont forget his name again

TT: It’s Rock.

GG: rose!!! D:<


 

“So how was James?” Mr. G asks when they’ve gotten the dogs back and they all flock towards him. He pets them all on the head and evades every single one of their licks. John doesn’t know how he does it.

“He likes them,” John says. Mr. G nods, approving.

“Can we maybe bring them back again sometime?” Jade asks as Rover makes his way back to her and she pets his head.

Then the dogs around Mr. G turn towards the staircase and start barking. Rover follows suit. John turns towards the staircase to see a small black shape looking down at the dogs condescendingly. With the light reflecting, Cecil’s cat looks like its eyes are glowing.

Mr. G sighs and whistles sharply. All the dogs stop barking and turn towards him, apologetic.

“Yeah, you can definitely bring them back to visit,” he says, “Dogs really are good for therapy.” He turns to John at that one. John cracks a grin.

“Maybe you can come too. We told James about everyone else here, although nothing about the whole Safehouse deal. Rose thinks we should reintroduce him to society slowly. He’s having a hard time catching up to modern stuff as it is.” Jade fidgets with the hem of her sleeve.

“As soon as Loki gives the go signal,” Mr. G says, exasperated, “I trust the guy, but his paranoia reeks.”

“So does yours,” John says, still grinning.

“Touché. And for that, you’re not eating anything I cook for two weeks, Egbert.”

“What!”

Jade laughs.


 

aubergineTwilight [AT] responded to memo.

abendrotTriptych [AT] responded to memo.

AT: Hello!

AT: Hello!

GG: :D

EB: that was cool!

TG: theyre doing it on purpose

AT: Doing what on purpose?

AT: Doing what on purpose?

TG: i seriously hope thats not going to be annoying in the long run

TG: but my crossed fingers are not going to do much

AT: Killjoy.

TG: no im not i dont listen to those guys

EB: …okay i hear kevin and that’s definitely laughter and not suffocation.

GG: i dont get it :(

EB: me neither.

EB: but you learn to live with the obscurity when you’re around the great dave strider and the ever-mysterious palmer siblings.

EB: …kevin’s laughter got louder.

EB: …

EB: okay now i’m genuinely worried.


 

It’s 4:13 in the afternoon and everyone in the building is kind of panicking.

This is college, of course, so it’s not really that uncommon for a few students here and there to start screaming, maybe have a mental breakdown, or attempt to sacrifice a kidney to the founder’s statue in exchange for a passing grade.

But this is a different kind of panic. This is the sort that includes stampeding down stairs and screaming at the top of your lungs, and hearing someone yell because they lost their glasses, and getting pulled aside by your brother before you can get crushed by the rushing mob. This is the sort of panic that leaves you stranded on the fifth floor of your building, because the stairs are too tight with people from the upper floors for you and your friends to move. This is the sort of panic that has you looking out the window.

Maybe not the sort of panic that inspires bone-deep, artery-clogging worry, because psychic visions and all that spoil the excitement, but definitely the sort of panic that includes biting your lower lip because you’re thinking, what if.

It’s 4:13 in the afternoon. Cecil stares out the window at the missile approaching the college building. Kevin pulls out his phone, hits the third speed dial and says:

“Hey, Jade? There’s a missile headed towards our school.”

Chapter Text

This is the…forty-seventh – definitely forty-seventh, he’s a genius, he doesn’t miscount – time Tony has reviewed the footage. Judging by the low quality, it’s shakily shot from a cellphone by someone who was in another building. Too far away for it to be from the Safehouse, so maybe one of the buildings surrounding the university that was featured in the video.

It’s only a minute and twelve seconds long, with plenty of screaming in the background. Actually, Tony’s a little more amazed by the fact that someone managed to whip out their phone and start filming instead of running for their lives, but yeah, this was commonplace nowadays. Not to mention it’s damn useful.

The video shows a missile – one that wasn’t shot down or redirected by the S.H.I.E.L.D fighterplanes – heading towards the university building. There are several screams of ‘ohmygod’ in the background with a couple more incoherent noises, and these get louder with the missile getting nearer fast. Tony can’t see any of the fighterplanes in the footage – too far away to react quickly, then.

The missile closes the gap and then –

And then…it’s gone.

The footage cuts to static for a brief moment and then the missile is gone and the university building is left standing unharmed. There’s a few seconds of silence from the video, and then a cut-off ‘holy shi – ’ when the footage ends.

He’d made JARVIS put together whatever could be salvaged from the frames right before the static, and there were about two frames of the missile’s tip being outlined by green light, and then one frame of greenish pixels mixing in with the static before the video cuts out for a few seconds. All the other footage from the traffic cameras yielded the same result.

He’s not saying it is, but it might be, and scientific possibilities and all that…

They hadn’t been able to wrap up negotiations quickly enough to fly over to New York for Steve’s predicted attack. By the time they’d arrived, it’d been almost half a day after and everyone was cleaning up whatever had to be cleaned up. And then, of course, there was the news of the missile disappearing when it was just about to decimate one of the local colleges.

(It isn’t the only one of course, but it’s the one the news focused on because a) cellphone footage immediately uploaded to the internet catches fire fast and b) a university was almost destroyed and if it had been, it would have been thousands of students dead – and if Tony wasn’t thinking about S.H.I.E.L.D still using some of his old creations, it’s for a reason very similar to this.)

He has about two hours before the debriefing with S.H.I.E.L.D, and unfortunately for them, aside from jumping on the table, gesturing wildly at the frozen frames and screaming, “Teleportation is real and I want to know how!”, they’re not going to get any answers. Unless he can manage to talk to Steve regarding the whole prediction thing, but the guy had split the moment they’d arrived in New York to try and help with the clean-up, and then after that, hadn’t shown up in Stark Tower and wouldn’t answer any of Tony’s phone calls.

Steve’s probably at the Safehouse. Tony has about two hours and…nah. Two hours wouldn’t even be enough for all the questions he has. Maybe after the debriefing, or maybe he can just ask Steve himself. Cap is sure to show up at the meeting.

Fury is going to be so on this.


 

[Calling…Jade Harley]

“Steve! You just got back from your mission?”

“Yeah, I…listen, I’m so sorry – ”

“Don’t worry, silly. I told you. We’d help out any way we could.”

“I know, but just…” A sigh.

“We’re fine, Steve. Don’t worry.”

“I’ll try. And I heard that wasn’t the only missile you stopped.”

“You mean the one headed towards the college? That was all over the news, wasn’t it? Yeah, there was a lot more. I got that one in time because Kevin called me and said there was a missile headed towards their college.”

“Kevin?”

“Uh, I think you remember him being called Palmer #2.”

“The one that got eaten?”

“Wha – pfft.” A few seconds of laughter. “Yeah, the one that got eaten. His brother was the one that predicted the attack. Anyway, he called and luckily, I was able to stop the missile. I was busy teleporting several others that the S.H.I.E.L.D planes didn’t get to.”

“Where’d you teleport them?”

“I kinda teleported them all to outer space? Far, far away in outer space. Furthest ring kind of far away. There’s only one cellphone vid of disappearing missiles, but I’m guessing S.H.I.E.L.D can hack into traffic cams. Still, I wonder how the one who shot the video actually had time for it.”

“You’re okay though?”

“Yeah, I’m fine! I got a little tired after the entire thing, but after a few snacks, I was okay.”

“Good.” Pause. “You know S.H.I.E.L.D’s going to be all over this, right?”

“I was helping! That shouldn’t be a crime.”

“I know, Jade, but – S.H.I.E.L.D likes to make sure they’ve got everything under control, and I can’t blame them. Not when we’re dealing with aliens or villains with abilities from their mutations or just geniuses who fell off the mark. They’re just as paranoid as you are, I guess.”

“I guess. But I don’t think any one of us wants to be leashed.”

“Tell me about it. Sometimes they give us very questionable missions and it’s just…it tires me out.”

“I’m sorry, Steve.”

“Heh. It’s okay.”

“…hey, Steve?”

“Yes?”

“Do you know anything about S.H.I.E.L.D taking mutant children?”

“What? No. I haven’t heard anything about that. They’re taking mutant children? Where?”

“I don’t know exactly. We’re not even sure if it’s S.H.I.E.L.D or some other organization but mutant children are being taken.” Pause. “From what we’ve heard even some older people are being taken. Maybe being studied. Maybe being weaponized. We don’t know. That’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid, you know.”

“I…I’ll try to find out what I can. Are you sure your sources are reliable?”

“Our sources are children who have seen their mutant friends taken.”

“Oh…god…”

“I…sorry. That was sudden.”

“No, it’s…it’s alright. It’s definitely something I need to look into.”

“Thanks, Steve. Be careful, okay? S.H.I.E.L.D’s not going to like you snooping into their files.”

“They really won’t. You be careful too.”

“I can teleport. Don’t worry! Take care.”

“Take care, Jade.”

[End Call]


 

There is absolutely no reason for the Safehouse to be suspected of the missiles disappearing, but Steve worries anyway. He doesn’t let it show during the meeting, but knowing Natasha and Barton, they probably noticed. Hopefully they just chalk it down to him feeling guilty over the fact that the Avengers weren’t around to save New York and someone else had to take up the task. If Nat and Clint hadn’t already been assigned to watching the Safehouse. But since the Safehouse was considered a neutral presence and Nat and Clint’s skills were better used in other missions (ones that Steve had either joined in or heard of for the past few months), that was not likely either.

Tony is thankfully not looking at him too, instead just explaining the few frames he was able to let JARVIS put together. The most prominent ones are from the cellphone video of the university missile, since those are the clearest. The ones from the traffic cameras are too blurry, and most of the time, the cameras were placed too low to get optimum shots, although they still had green pixels in their images if they caught the edges of the flashes of light.

“The green stuff’s maybe file corruption? Gamma radiation? I’d say file corruption because have you tried getting your photos corrupted? There’s nasty black, green and pink pixels all around.” Tony was nattering on and on while gesturing wildly at the projection of a bad photo of the glowing missile. There were huge parts covered in black, with green pixels scattered all over the photo.

Steve hadn’t told Tony about the Safehouse directly. Since Pepper was the only person connected to the Avengers that knew about the Safehouse personally (and also refused to talk about the Safehouse in the presence of anyone affiliated with S.H.I.E.L.D since she’d learned that they wanted to detain the kids to try and make sure they weren’t threats), she was also the only person he could talk to about the Safehouse and Jade. He dropped by the Avengers tower early in the morning on days where most of the team wasn’t around. Tony had gotten lucky that he owned the tower and often dropped in on their conversations.

So far, he’d shown no interest in approaching the Safehouse, or if he did, quickly changed his mind, so they both figured it was safe to talk around him. Besides, if Tony tried anything funny, Pepper was a force to be reckoned with. And if Tony really wanted to try anything funny, he would have done it already. He could mobilize maybe every single piece of Stark tech. He’d explained it to Steve one day, when he was bored enough to drag the captain into his laboratory. Every single one of the devices had a back door, just in case Tony needed to do something. Maybe set up surveillance for the world’s biggest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous criminal. So far, no one had climbed up that list yet.

Tony had put together his own conclusions, and so far, he’d come to mostly-correct ones. Steve hadn’t confirmed or denied any of his questions. At least his ‘disinterest’ in approaching the Safehouse was still standing.

“So missiles are launched, pop out of existence, and nobody knows where they are?” Clint has leaned forward with his arms folded on the table, looking at the photos pulled up in front of them and then to the packet in front of him that had reports from the surviving S.H.I.E.L.D pilots about missiles from the enemy battleship disappearing before it could hit them, thus effectively saving their lives and helping them take down the threat. Steve had felt pride for Jade there, but had quickly stamped down the feeling so that it wouldn’t show. There’d be plenty of time to be proud later, when no one is present to be suspicious.

Tony stops his spiel to turn to Clint.

“Kinda sounds like a science fiction movie, if you ask me,” Clint says.

“I’m not saying it’s teleportation,” Tony says, putting his hands together and inclining his head downwards. Bruce raises an eyebrow at him. “Buuuut….it’s most likely teleportation.”

Clint slams a hand on the table with a triumphant, “Hell yeah!”

“S.H.I.E.L.D hasn’t developed teleportation weapons,” Bruce says. He swivels his chair to fully face Tony and gestures towards him. “You haven’t developed teleportation weapons.”

“I know. I know, Bruce, which is why this is something I want to figure out. I want every single footage of the attack from street cameras and cellphones and everything. We have to have missed something. I want everything.” Tony flaps his arms around at the ‘everything’ part. Natasha snorts.

Footage, Natashalie.” Tony points at her. “I know I already have next to everything. I, however, do not have a teleporter and I want one. I want to know whatever caused this – ” He jabs an accusing finger at the clearest photo of the missile covered in green light “ – and I want to replicate the effect.”

Steve wonders what his reaction would be if he knew it was a young girl who did that.

“Okay, not to blow up Stark’s already massive head,” Clint starts. Tony makes a face at him. “But if he hasn’t made teleport-tech yet, then it might be safe to say no one in New York has made teleport-tech yet. I mean, who are we going to ask – Hammer?”

Tony snickers.

“Teleport-tech?” Bruce asks.

Clint turns to Fury. “Can I copyright that?”

The Director ignores him.

“Definitely not Hammer,” Tony says.

“Maybe someone else then,” Natasha says, “Hammer was able to recruit Vanko.”

Tony frowns. The mood in the room sours.

Bruce breaks the silence. “So, maybe it’s not teleport-tech,” he says, “Have we considered mutants? I mean, that missile looked pretty close to the college. It was probably someone there.”

Oh no.

“The one near the college wasn’t the first missile to go missing,” Natasha says.

“Let’s look for the first and try to see the area then. Mutants work better if they’re close to their target, right?” Bruce asks.

Tony opens his mouth to say something but Bruce points to him and cuts him off. “If it is a mutant, you are not conducting experiments.”

“I wasn’t going to,” Tony says. “I was going to just talk to them.”

Steve should probably call Jade again. Just to tell her that the Caribbean was looking nice this time of year.

“A mutant that can teleport things out of existence,” Director Fury says, looking at the photos.

“How sure are we that it’s teleportation?” Steve asks, finally. He wonders if everyone is taking note of his silence or if they’re just chalking it up to not knowing what on earth teleportation is. Speaking of which: “What is that, anyway?” Better keep up the act.

Tony launches into an explanation involving big words. This, Steve doesn’t understand, and Nat takes pity on him and turns to the Director.

“He does have a point,” Natasha says, “If we don’t know where the missiles went, how can we be sure it’s teleportation?” She turns to Stark. “How did you come to the conclusion of teleportation?”

Tony glances at the photos again. “I know you’re suggesting these things are just getting sucked into…whatever that green light is, but we’d probably be able to detect some disturbance in space. You’re suggesting something akin to a localized black hole.”

“Which consumes all light and everything else in the vicinity,” Bruce says, “That would be noticeable.”

“So for something so huge to just break down into nothing, that would definitely make noticeable signs,” Tony says, “Safe option says teleportation.”

“But there are still other possibilities,” Natasha says. She leans back in her seat and crosses her arms. “I do agree with Dr. Banner. If it’s not tech, it might be a mutant. We should check the areas where the missiles went missing.”

Steve runs through the report in his head. There were no missiles near the Safehouse.

“We’ll run a search,” the Director says, “Find our mystery mutant.”

“What are you going to do when you find them?” Steve asks, turning to the Director. He catches a glimpse of Tony stiffening. Natasha looks at him, and then at Fury. Bruce fidgets.

“We make sure they aren’t a threat to humanity, Captain,” Fury says, “Snapping things from place to place sounds like something that could be incredibly dangerous.”

“And if they aren’t a threat?”

“We might ask them a few questions,” he says, “I’m sure Stark has questions.”

Tony gladly takes control of the conversation – he goes on and on about physics and space and molecules disappearing and reappearing. Steve loses him about three words in.

He really wishes he could trust S.H.I.E.L.D with his friends’ safety. He’s a little disappointed that he feels like he can’t.


“So how’d your friend know about the attack?” Tony asks, when he’s managed to convince Steve to stay in the Tower for a while. It’s a good time to talk since the others are all back at their homes and resting, with the exception of Natasha and Clint, who probably slept at S.H.I.E.L.D. Tony doesn’t know where they go when they’re not at the tower or on missions.

“You know, your psychic friend?” Tony adds when Steve stares at the open box of pizza on the kitchen island. Tony offers him a beer. He shakes his head. Tony shrugs and opens it to drink it himself.

“They’re not psychic,” Steve says, “They do have a psychic friend.”

“How does a mutation like that even work?” Tony asks, “Being able to just…see days into the future. I mean, nothing is set in stone.”

“It’s not a mutation,” Steve says.

Tony snorts. He points to himself. “Atheist.” Then at Steve. “Christian. And you’re telling me you believe in psychics? I thought there was a whole stigma against mediums and magic-users with your shtick.”

Steve raises an eyebrow.

“Summer camp my parents signed me on once,” Tony says and makes a nonchalant gesture, “I got bored.”

“Howard sent you to bible camp?”

“I think he was just trying to make sure I was somewhere he could find me while making me as uncomfortable as possible,” Tony says, “Two birds with one stone and all that.”

Steve snorts. He finally picks up a slice of pizza and eats it while Tony drinks down the rest of his beer and settles beside him. They sit in silence for a while before Steve talks again.

“Thor exists, and he…well, maybe he’s not an all-knowing deity, but to some extent he’s a god,” Steve says, “And some people are born with innate abilities due to them being mutants. I can believe in that enough. And like you said, there was an Old Testament rule about mediums and magic-users, although I suppose that’s null now, along with other things. But the fact that it’s mentioned means it’s real. That’s why I wasn’t surprised by Thor’s existence.”

“The bible’s big on not worshipping other gods.”

“Yeah, but it also hints that they do have abilities and that they exist,” Steve says, “That still means they’re real.”

Tony chuckles. “You know, a lot of people who believe in Jesus would crucify you for saying that.”

“I believe they’re real. It doesn’t mean I worship them. Just like how I know Thor’s real. It doesn’t mean I worship him.”

“Oh, man.” Tony snorts and runs a hand over his face. “That is not something I needed to hear. That is an awkward concept.”

Steve chuckles. “Yeah, it is.”

“Mm.” Tony says. He goes to get another bottle of beer and then sits back down beside Steve. “So, psychic friend. Really think it’s not a mutation?”

“It’s what I’ve been told and…well, judging from the anecdotes that have been shared with me, it doesn’t seem to function like a mutation,” Steve says, “Like you’ve said – nothing is fixed, so how is a genetic modification able to pick up an event in a timestream?”

“Big words. Have you been watching movies?”

He and Jade had gone to the movies a few times. He shrugs.

“So, let’s say they’re really psychic,” Tony says, “Do you think they can help tell who our mystery teleportation culprit is?”

Steve keeps his face passive as he says, “Tony, I think the psychic who warned us about the attack just sees events. I’ve never been told they could specifically track down people.” He pauses. “I think you want a witch.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Tony says, “Also, it’s been awkward trying to answer questions about how I knew to tell S.H.I.E.L.D to  keep an eye on New York and pass it off as a ‘bad feeling’. It’s a good thing I’ve always known to go with my gut.”

“And are confident enough to play off the whole thing as really just a bad feeling. Thanks for that, by the way.”

“Eh. We’re superheroes now. It’s our job.” Tony takes a sip of beer. “You ever going to introduce me to your friend, by the way? Even Pepper’s pretty tight-lipped about the Safehouse.”

“I think my friend will tell me when I can introduce you to them, Tony,” Steve says, “They’re paranoid with S.H.I.E.L.D being so vague about what they do to mutants.”

Tony winces. “You know, if it is a mutant behind the missing missiles, I would just ask questions, and maybe run a few tests, but I wouldn’t cut them open.” Steve watches as Tony’s free hand comes up to rub at his chest, fingers grazing the light of the arc reactor. The man doesn’t seem to be aware of the action, instead just looking past the island, and the box of pizza, and even then, farther. “I wouldn’t do that.”

Steve nods. “I know you wouldn’t, Tony,” he says, “But we’re not sure S.H.I.E.L.D wouldn’t.”


 

“I just realize you’ve never met Cecil.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, he’s – he’s the one that told me about New York getting attacked so I could warn you.”

“Oh, uh. Thank him? I mean, I got to warn Tony too, and he tried to wrap up our negotiations quickly, but he wasn’t able to, so he just called S.H.I.E.L.D and said he had a bad feeling. Or something. That’s what he told me.”

“It’s good that he did that. Cecil says you’re welcome…aaaand Kevin says not to believe the weather forecast and bring an umbrella the whole day tomorrow. Wear a coat if you can. Maybe boots if you wanna avoid puddles.”

“Kevin? The one that got eaten, right?”

Burst of laughter. “Yeah. I’m never going to get tired of that.”

“Kevin is…Cecil’s brother? I think Pepper mentioned something like that. He’s psychic too?”

“Yup! They’re both psychic, but it’s really funny because Cecil can warn us about bad visions but Kevin sees…visions about discounts or faulty items or misleading weather forecasts. Rose calls him the discount oracle.”

“That’s useful, at least.”

“Heh. It is!”

“Listen, um, we just had a debriefing a few hours ago and I think you need to know a few things. Can we go to Sunny’s tomorrow?”

“Sure, what time?”

“Does Kevin know when it’ll stop raining?”

“Hang on…no, he says, it’s a whole day storm. It’s going to start tonight at eleven, and it’ll end tomorrow at ten in the evening.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. He’s really adamant about umbrellas, coats and boots.”

“It’s alright. That’s perfect, actually. Less eyes in the rain.”

“Mm-hmm. And you’ll be the only one to get wet since I can teleport.”

“That’s unfair!”


This is what happens:


 

DAY OF ATTACK; 6:12 a.m.

Jade Harley wakes up. She doesn’t know exactly why she’s awake, but she is, and it’s not the sort of waking up that one associates with early morning – the sort that involves being half-asleep and half-awake, but mostly just asleep. She’s alert and awake, and her ears are perked up, and there’s a distinct sense of…wrongness in the room. It’s not permeating, but it’s like there was something Wrong that just dropped in, and it left a mark. But it’s fading, and it’s fading fast.

The feeling of wrongness doesn’t feel dangerous though, it just feels out of place. Out of place does not immediately mean dangerous. There is a distinction.

And besides, that feeling of wrongness tickles a memory. A very far away memory, but it’s there.

Another sense of wrong is that she feels something on her desk that wasn’t there the night before. She’s well acquainted with her room, and it’s practically instinct now to just let her spacey-thing take over to scan the area and know if there’s anything out of place.

Maybe that’s what feels off, the fact that something was here and she didn’t sense it.

Further wardings, then. Maybe call for a War Council. Loki is home, right?

She turns over to face her desk, and there it is, the thing that wasn’t there the night before. She makes a gesture and the thing disappears in a flash of green light, then reappears in her hand. She spreads it out above her, squinting.

Then she clicks her tongue as she realizes she’s forgotten her glasses. She glances at them from where they’re on the desk, and they teleport onto her face. Better. She turns back to the paper and…it’s also dim. Jade blinks, and the paper is illuminated in green from the glow of her eyes. First Guardian-inherited powers are nifty.

The piece of paper she’s holding turns out to be a map. Or, more specifically, a shot of New York from Google Maps that’s printed out on a long bondpaper. Huh.

On the very top of the page, in the unprinted margin, the word MISSILES is written in dark green ink. And then there are thick red X’s all over the map, made in chalk.

Oh, right. Cecil had predicted that there would be an attack today. Maybe he’d gotten another vision, and then marked it out on paper…then maybe Loki had tried to give the map to Jade, but she was already asleep? So he just skywalked in, left it on her desk and then went out? Probably. Nothing to worry about then, if that was the case.

Jade sits up and adjusts her glasses as she places the map on her lap, careful not to wipe the red chalk out. The light from her eyes shifts for a bit. She looks at the areas – they’re all accessible, of course, but if she’s going to help she’ll be seen, which means invisibility spell. Loki’s been teaching them magic, but Rose is the best at invisibility spells.

She squints at one of the marks. That’s – oh dear. That’s Cecil and Kevin’s college. And…the pool master’s best friend’s. She forgot his name again. The pool master had shifted programs, Jade remembers. Right after they’d gotten back from whatever family thing they had to take care of, they’d changed their course, so that means they’d be in the police academy instead of the college, and the academy isn’t marked.

There were a lot of missiles. She could probably ask for Loki and John’s help, except John doesn’t really know how to teleport things, only himself. Loki, then.

This was going to quite a day.


 

DAY OF ATTACK; 10:28 a.m.

Loki is home, which is nice, and he’s tired enough to give up dressing up in layers (if he’s not in a trenchcoat, he’s in a leather jacket, even during hot days) that he’s just wearing a sweater and pants. Good for him, finally getting the hang of dressing up like he’s a native Midgardian. That’s the term, right?

The dogs greet him by attempting to pile on him, but since he’s built sturdier than humans, he doesn’t topple over, and instead just pats everyone on the head before going to wash his hands for breakfast. The Palmers (plus pool master and best friend) are at school already, but everyone else (save Rose, who is still with James) are at the Safehouse. Today is the predicted day of attack after all, and if they needed all hands on deck with most of the Avengers out of town, then it would be all hands on deck.

“We don’t need to draw it out and cause a fuss. We just need to get rid of the threat,” Loki says, “If we cause a fuss, heads will turn.”

“And not in the morbid way,” John mutters.

Dave snickers. Jade smiles.

“Did you leave me the map?” Jade asks.

Loki stops cutting up a pancake to turn to her. She motions towards the direction of her room.

“I woke up and found a map – well, a shot of New York from Google Maps printed on a long bondpaper – on my desk. It had the word MISSILES written on it, and then there were marks on it,” Jade said, “I think they’re where the missiles are going to hit.”

“I didn’t leave you a map,” Loki says, “And I wouldn’t skywalk into your room while you were sleeping.”

Jade shrugs. She goes through her sylladex and selects the map. It appears in her hand, folded. “The X marks are in chalk, so be careful not to get any on your food,” she says as she hands it over to Loki. He nods and pushes his plate away as he opens the map up.

“Maybe it’s future Dave?” John asks.

Dave lifts a shoulder. “Well, I’m not sensing any loops that need to be closed.”

“It’s not Dave’s handwriting,” Loki says, “Although it is familiar.”

“Do you know whose it is?” Jade asks.

“I might. I’m not sure.”

Dave leans back in his seat. “This is getting serious then.”

“I’m not infallible, Strider,” Loki says, giving him a sigh. “I recognize it, I just need to know how it got here. And why its owner knows where the missiles are all going to hit, if that is the case.”

“It might be. We have to consider it. They’re missiles,” Jade says, “And one of them is headed towards the Palmers’ college.”

Loki stills. Dave and John turn to Jade. Even Mr. G, who is silently eating, pauses.

“I can teleport them all out to space,” Jade says, “Maybe the same place where I dropped that Hydra base.”

“That’d serve them right, actually,” John says.

“I just have to be invisible. I can do it,” Jade says.

Loki looks back down the map. He nods after a while. “Strider and Egbert will stay here. You and I are going out. If this map is correct, then it’ll be of help. Make another copy of this.” He folds it again and hands it back to Jade.

“You don’t think it’s a trap?” Dave asks.

“If I recognize the handwriting and it is who I suspect it is, I highly doubt it,” Loki says, “This place might be a homing beacon for völur.”

“Another psychic?”

“Wow,” John mutters.

“You humans have an affinity for breeding Seers,” Loki says, “Other than attempting to gain our trust, I don’t think there’s anything suspicious about leaving a map with predicted attack sites.” He pauses. “And perhaps we can use this to plant trust in places.”

“And we can use it to our advantage,” Dave says, “Might as well use what we get, right?”

Loki nods. “Rest, Jade. We’ll hear of when the attack starts soon enough. In a city this loud, news travels incredibly fast.”


 

DAY OF ATTACK; 2:02 p.m.

“I know you’re there, Jade,” John says. Another vase tips over. He lunges a hand forward and wind rights the precious ceramic up before it can fall.

The dogs watch the vase, which appears to have moved by itself, with suspicion. Jade’s laugh comes from the empty space beside it.

Loki had woven an invisibility spell around her not less than ten minutes ago, ever since the news of fast-approaching aircrafts headed towards New York had interrupted a usual noontime show. The ships aren’t here yet, and S.H.I.E.L.D is already on the move, so Loki doesn’t want Jade tiring herself out with teleporting all over the city and both of them are still in the house. They’ll go out when the ships are close enough.

So instead, Jade is going around the Safehouse trying to tip over vases or precious objects while John is in the vicinity, just to see if he could catch them in time. The dogs are rather interested, although several of them had started ‘boof’ing already.

On cue, Buster boofs.

Jade giggles.

John keeps an eye around the room, focused. The entire Safehouse is strangely quiet, actually, except for the television in the common room that’s on so that Jade and Loki can know when to head out, and for Loki and Mr. G’s low voices in the kitchen, since Loki had pulled him aside to talk about the map once his copy had been given to him.

It’s like everyone’s just…waiting.

A picture frame starts to tilt. John launches from where he’s standing and grabs onto it to right it, then swats at empty air. He hits nothing. Jade’s laugh rapidly moves further away.

“Hey! I almost got you,” John says.

“But you didn’t,” Jade says, sounding like she’s on the other side of the room.

John bursts into wind and whips around the room, searching. The dogs bark at the sudden breeze, although Moxie wags her tail stump excitedly.

“Hey!” Jade squeals, “You’re cheating.”

John reforms right in front where she’s supposed to be. “Nope. Just using my windy powers.”

“Still cheating.”

“You have space powers too.”

“…okay I might have teleported once or twice.”

“Hah!” John laughs. Then he blinks and turns towards the window.

He tilts his head curiously.

“What is it?” Jade asks.

“Just a bad feeling,” John says, “I’ve been getting those lately. It’s like – you know, like there’s something out of place?”

“Yeah,” Jade says, “I felt that this morning too. When I got the map.”

“Do you think it’s dangerous?” John asks as he floats towards the window. He presses his fingertips on the glass. Storms.

“Not…really?” Jade says. Her voice gets closer, and John thinks she’s right beside him now. “It’s doesn’t feel dangerous. It just feels off, I guess.”

“Do you think it’s something more?” John asks. “Like…” He pauses, then. “The Condescension?”

Jade whips her head so fast John can feel the disturbance in the wind. “No,” she says. “She can’t follow us here. We don’t even know where here is.”

“It’s Earth,” John says, “It’s another timeline, maybe. When the game hasn’t been played yet.”

“There is no game. Rose said that. She can’t See anything about it.”

“There’s always a game,” John says, “It’s how the universe starts life again. It’s a story. It’s a fucking game. And it goes on and on and it never fucking stops.”

John closes his eyes and takes in a deep breath. He lets it out slowly and uncurls his fingers – he hadn’t even noticed he’d curled them into fists. “I’m sorry. I’m not usually like this,” he says.

There’s silence for a while. Then: “It’s okay,” Jade says, “…I nodded, but I forgot you couldn’t see me.”

John snorts before he dissolves into flat-out laughing.


 

DAY OF ATTACK; 3:14 p.m.

The good thing about spells made out of runes is that they can be tweaked, and so even though no one else can see Jade or Loki, they can see each other, and each of them have their phones and their copies of the missile map with them as they step out of the Safehouse. The aircrafts are close now, and the fighting with S.H.I.E.L.D planes has begun. People are already stopping by the Safehouse and John and the others are helping them in.

Loki and Jade decide to each take a half of the missile-teleporting work, dividing New York among themselves and keeping an eye out for whenever there are missiles that aren’t on the map.

Jade flies around rooftops idly as she watches S.H.I.E.L.D fighterplanes go up against the huge, ugly grey ships that are launching its own fighterplanes at them. They have discussed just getting rid of the ships themselves, but with S.H.I.E.L.D already on alert, it was best to just let them take down the enemy while the Safehouse crew made sure there weren’t any unnecessary damages.

Like three of their friends being blown up to bits.

S.H.I.E.L.D looks like they’ve got the fight so far, but Jade looks down at her map – Loki made it so that anything Jade is touching would turn invisible, which is why she’s trying hard not to actually land on any buildings – and refreshes her memory on her part of New York. One of the missiles is headed towards the animal shelter. Her ears flatten. Another is headed towards a bridge, probably one where the homeless kids used to sleep under.

She sighs. She can do this.


 

DAY OF ATTACK; 4:04 p.m.

The first missile is launched. It’s headed towards an apartment building.

The thing is huge, and with the map Jade’s been given, it’s not that hard to calculate exactly where it’s going, when one of S.H.I.E.L.D’s planes evades it, but forgets that it’s headed towards a populated area.

Jade teleports right above the building it’s headed towards, and the sudden increase in screams near her disorientate her for a few seconds, her ears flicking back sharply. She forgets how some people take time before they can get to the Safehouse. Some even don’t manage to arrive. The Safehouse crew can protect those under their roof, but those still outside are fair game for collateral damage.

Jade concentrates and holds out a hand towards the missile. She’s shrunken planets down before. She can get rid of one little nuke.

The missile’s tip starts to glow in green, and then the green spreads – faster, faster – and there’s a blinding flash of green light –

The missile is gone.

The screams below Jade drop to stunned silence considerably, and Jade looks at her outstretched hand for a minute before a grin breaks out her face.

“What the fuck?” She hears someone yell below her, but she’s too busy grinning, elated. This felt good. She hasn’t used her powers so extensively in so long, and the last time she did, she was hellbent on capturing her brother – but nevermind that, this felt good. To be helping people.

And not only that, the map is right. That’s one missile in her area down.

There’s another flash of green in the distance. She looks towards it. Loki, then, down by one of the bridges marked on the map. That’s two.

“Holy fuck, did you see that?”

Jade takes in a deep breath as she turns her focus on the fight. She’s still got about twenty-seven missiles on her part to go. She has to keep watch.

S.H.I.E.L.D’s fighterplanes are getting shot down now. Jade shifts nervously and takes out her phone to dial Loki, who immediately answers.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, yeah,” Jade says, “I was just wondering if we could teleport the missiles hitting the S.H.I.E.L.D planes too? I mean, it’ll be a problem if they were all wiped out.”

Loki takes a few seconds to answer. “When you have time to, you can take them out, but your primary focus is to make sure none of the areas marked on the map are hit.”

Another missile disappears in a flash on Loki’s end.

“I should probably end the call now. Be careful.”

“Be careful as well.”

A S.H.I.E.L.D fighterplane flies fast towards one of the grey ships – a smaller nuke is fired at it, and it’s going too fast to swerve.

Jade holds out a hand again and snaps her fingers. The missile disappears – and reappears right under the grey ship’s hull, flying straight into it. There’s a loud explosion as the ship starts to list.

There’s frantic firing from the grey ship now. Three S.H.I.E.L.D fighterplanes intercept most of the missiles, but four of them are headed towards Jade’s area. She sees immediately where they’re headed towards: animal shelter, two residential buildings and a dance studio.

Oh. So that’s why there’s an area in the map where the missiles clustered closely. Whoops.

Jade flies over, wind whipping her hair back and she lets the nukes be covered in green light, disappearing in flashes one after another, her magic getting easier to channel with each burst, even with the size of the things she’s teleporting. Twenty-one missiles to go.

There’s an explosion as a S.H.I.E.L.D plane goes down. A missile whizzes past it. It’s headed towards Jade’s assigned bridge.

She snaps her fingers again. The projectile disappears from its trajectory and reappears to destroy the head of the grey ship instead. Twenty.

Her next targets are in succession again, three of them, failing to hit one S.H.I.E.L.D plane and instead moving towards one of the streets. Jade makes them all reappear to destroy one of the grey ships, enough to make it start falling down towards the city.

Jade blanches.

“Shit.”

Jade holds out her hands and sticks out her forefingers and thumbs, positioning them into a rectangle. She focuses as she brings her hands closer, the enemy battleship shrinking down in time with her fingers getting closer.  As she shrinks it down, she moves her hands to the side, and the ship moves with it, in the direction of the harbor.

A few ways off, a S.H.I.E.L.D plane fires at an enemy plane. The enemy plane evades, and the missiles continue on their merry way towards –

Jade breaks her concentration and the falling enemy ship she’s shrinking stops getting smaller.


 

DAY OF ATTACK; 4:13 p.m.

Jade already has a hand outstretched towards the university when she uses the other one to answer her phone. On the other line, Kevin sounds ridiculously calm as he says, “Hey, Jade? There’s a missile headed towards our school.”

In her anxiety, it takes a second later for the missile to be swallowed in green light, but she does it, and when it disappears, looking like it’s a hair’s width away from the university, the green flash is so bright, Jade has to close her eyes.

When she opens them, she thinks she can see green sparks climbing the nearby buildings and the powerlines. She lowers her phone. The screen is black.

Sixteen.

Jade stuffs her phone in her pockets and takes a deep breath. She’s getting a little lightheaded, but she’s fine. She turns towards the harbor, the significantly smaller grey battleship is being slowly pushed towards it, although it’s not falling as fast as it should be, and instead moves like it’s being cradled. She frowns in confusion before she sees the moving sails of the nearby boats.

John. She grins as she focuses back on her task.

Two more evaded misfires from a S.H.I.E.L.D fighterplane. Jade adjusts her glasses and turns towards them. Sixteen more to go. She’s gone through tougher.


 

DAY OF ATTACK; 4:20 p.m.

“Floor it. Floor it. Floor it!”

The car screeches as it pulls out of park and immediately drives into the road, joining the rest of the panicked population that’s driving down towards the Safehouse, completely ignoring traffic rules.

The Palmers have been in school during attacks before, but they’ve never had a missile stare them in the face, so it’s no surprise that the brothers are holding each other, and Cecil is yelling at Saph (not the pool master, because only the others forget Saph and Ruben’s names, which is funny, because most people forget Cecil and Kevin’s names, except for these two and the Safehouse crew) to go faster. The speedometer is already at seventy and rising.

Kevin sticks out a hand to brace against the car door when Saph suddenly swerves to the left, turning into an alley and crashing through a chainlink gate instead of continuing down the road.

“What are you doing?!”

Cecil’s not sure who’s yelling now, holding onto his brother as tightly as humanly possible, and Cecil’s always suspected he was slightly more than human, so it was probably impossibly tight. It’s a miracle Kevin hasn’t shoved him off.

Behind them, where the main road is, there’s an increase of screams, and then a suddenly flash of green light. Missile, then.

“Fucker,” Kevin hisses. “That was close.”

“Okay, Saph, I’m concerned about several things right now!” Ruben screams from where he’s flattened against the passenger seat, holding tightly onto the handle beside his car door.

“Like what?” Saph turns sharply again, and everyone leans to the right. Kevin hits the car with an “Oof!”

“Do you fucking know where we’re going?” Kevin yells.

“Home!”

“We’re crashing – ” On cue, several trash cans go flying and nearly take out the thankfully silent siren on top of the car “ – through the alley!”

“Missiles are going to hit the road. It’s congested in traffic right now.”

“And despite that, we’re going to get killed by trashcans.”

“We’re in a fucking police car, they’re somewhat sturdy.”

“Go back to the main road!”

Another swerve. This time it’s Cecil who hits the car door while Kevin awkwardly leans against him.

“Ow,” Cecil mutters. “You okay, Kev?”

“No.”

They’re exiting an alley now, the road is miraculously clear of speeding cars, and the speedometer is reading ninety.

Kevin puts a hand to his head and winces before yelling, “Fuck. Stop!”

Saph hits the brakes immediately. Ruben flattens himself further against his seat and pushes his body sideways to avoid hitting the dashboard. Saph slams their hands beside the wheel to avoid hitting it.

A speeding red Prius passes in front of them the moment they stop.

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

“Hell,” Kevin mutters as he rights himself and sags against the backseat, hands still holding onto Cecil’s sweater.

“Okay, a car with a bunch of clairvoyants, and we’re still going to die,” Ruben says. Beside him, Saph mutters, “There’s just two and they’re in the backseat.”

Ruben points to them and says, “Shut it. We need to stop arguing and we need to get home. Use that lucky precognition of yours, Palmer.”

Cecil blinks blearily. “Which one?”

Kevin. He’s the luck magnet. And you – ” Ruben points to Saph. “What’s the quickest way home that doesn’t get us killed?”

Saph is silent for a moment. “Alley, one turn back,” they say, “They’re tight fits, but the squad car’s small enough to be able to drive through. It’ll chip paint of course.”

“We’ll go there then. Saph’s right. The main roads are going to be exposed to whatever falling debris that’s going to come out of the fight.” Ruben sighs. “Let’s just get home.”

Saph puts the car in reverse and makes one backwards turn until they’re facing the alley that’s supposed to be the fastest way back to the Safehouse. Kevin groans.

It’s certainly a tight fit, and there’s one dumpster, several trashcans, a couple of clotheslines with still-drying clothes and one chainlink fence. And another turn ahead.

“Through there?” Kevin asks.

Saph grins in the rearview mirror. “What’s the matter, Kevin? Never taken a shortcut before?”


 

DAY OF ATTACK; 4:25 p.m.

Two more to go. Jade breathes heavily from where she’s hovering, trying incredibly hard not to touch her feet onto the building she’s directly above. Thankfully, there are only two missiles to go, and even if she’s getting a little tired, she’s still got enough mojo to take out two more nukes.

The S.H.I.E.L.D planes don’t look like they’re doing too hot though, and Jade’s been trying to help by rerouting misfires towards the enemy battleships. They’ve taken out two out of three so far, but the last one is doing incredible damage to the last of S.H.I.E.L.D’s force.

Another evaded missile. Jade swipes a hand to the side. The missile disappears and collides with the enemy battleship when it pops back into space. Jade laughs.

Her phone is still kaput, probably from the earlier burst of panic and power, so she can’t call Loki – she’s half-tempted to teleport the entire enemy battleship out of here, but then that would mean that S.H.I.E.L.D would be looking for her and wherever this battleship came from would also be looking for her. It was, like Loki said, best if they let both the enemy and S.H.I.E.L.D think that S.H.I.E.L.D defeated the adversary, and if they notice missiles disappearing, well, the enemy will think it’s the Avengers, and S.H.I.E.L.D will think they have an ally.

Anyway, one more missile to go. And Jade really wants to stop flying.

The battleship fires, a plane evades. Jade makes the projectile hit the ship again. She grins. She’s done.

She looks at one of the fighterplanes that’s managed to weave through the firefight and is getting closer to the battleship, blowing holes into its side.

Jade closes her eyes and teleports herself onto the fighterplane, nearly slipping, but she manages to hold onto it. The pilot looks up, startled, but he can’t see her, so he spends a few seconds being confused before turning back towards the battleship and firing again.

She rests her head against the glass that encases the pilot in the plane, breathing hard, and hoping the pilot doesn’t hear her. He probably doesn’t. She startles when there’s a hand on her shoulder.

Loki is crouching beside her, one hand holding onto one nook on the plane.

“You look like you’re about to faint,” he says.

“I haven’t teleported so many things in so long,” she says, “I’ve shrunken down planets, sure, but so many missiles towards so far away. It’s tiring. I didn’t have practice. Not the distance, at least.”

He looks at her curiously at that, and Jade remembers she hasn’t told him she’s still got their SBURB planets with her.

“We need to get out of here,” Loki says, “You’ve lent him invisibility long enough, but they’ll notice where the missiles are being fired from soon.”

Jade nods. In the next blink, she’s standing beside a street lined up with cars. She recognizes the area quickly. They’re near the Safehouse. She lists forward, but Loki catches her by the arm.

“Careful,” he says. Jade nods again, sleepy, and doesn’t protest when she’s being lifted from the ground. She buries her face in Loki’s neck – it’s cold – and feels him stiffen, but he lets her wrap her arms around him as he carries her.

Sometimes she forgets she’s still stuck in her thirteen-year-old body.

“You did well,” Loki says as he starts to walk. Jade nods. She’s so tired. But yeah, he’s right. She did great. The expending of power was sudden, which is probably why she’s so conked out, but she did great.

She lets Loki carry her home.


 

DAY OF ATTACK; 4:27 p.m.

Dave, who is on guard duty, takes off his aviators in disbelief when he hears loud sirens getting closer towards the Safehouse. He watches the police car – and yup, there’s the sirens, although the blue one is busted – come to a screeching halt in front of the building, narrowly avoiding slamming into one of the other cars parked along the Safehouse by a hair’s width.

Seconds later, Palmers #1 and #2 come out of the backseat, and then Pool Master’s Best Friend comes out of the passenger seat. They all look like they’re about to hurl. Pool Master comes out of the driver’s seat after them, glancing once at the beat-up car before following their friends up to the front door.

“Oh, holy fuck,” Dave says.

 

Chapter Text

The first thing James Barnes does when he wakes up every morning is remember.

It’s exactly what it sounds like. He sifts through memories and tries to say out loud what he remembers and knows to be true: he looks at the clock hung on the wall and recites the time; he is in India, he was used as a weapon by some Nazi organization that wiped his memories, he was born on March 10, 1917, he was in the Howling Commandos decades ago, he is alive right now because of cryostasis, the girl who is the only other person who stays in the bunker with him is named Rose Lalonde.

His name is James Buchanan Barnes.

Somehow, only very few of those ‘facts’ fit. Or feel like they fit.

He moves to massage the headache building on the bridge of his nose and startles when coldcoldcold assaults his senses.

Oh, right. And he has a metal arm.

They’d told him that what they did to him on such short notice was wipe out the trigger of his brainwashing – they were using words, the one with the really green eyes said; James had never seen such green eyes before – words which, in a certain order, could easily make him pliant or whichever, because his brain was conditioned to respond to it that way. Further treatment needed time and study, because Loki didn’t really have experience mending a broken human mind, and Rose was a Seer (whatever that was), not a Sylph, as she’d put it.

She’d gone awfully silent after that.

So now he’s in India, and he rarely goes out (neither does Rose), because he’s not a very good speaker (he rarely talks, really) and having a huge metal arm with a stupid red star on it catches people’s attention. The great thing about their house is that no one else can see it and they completely ignore the stark empty space, like their eyes just naturally drift over it. On the very rare times James goes outside, he looks away from it too, attention sliding over it so easily that Rose has to guide him inside again.

He pads around the house barefoot. It’s cold in the mornings, but that chill is easily leeched by the heat outside once the sun’s come up.

He likes walking around the house. It’s quiet, and sometimes the simplest thing can trigger a memory. While Loki and Rose hadn’t been able to fully restore his memories (and that probably would have been bad, because decades’ worth of memories suddenly dumped on a person sounded horrifying), they’d given him history books and Hydra’s files so he could read up and recover them on his own pace. Easier and safer that way.

Every now and then, one of the buck-toothed kids drop by to bring him newspapers. Usually it’s the girl with the…dog ears. Jade Harley, he thinks is her name? Recently the blue-eyed one had been visiting more often, bringing dogs. James’d liked the dogs well enough.

The one named Rover kept licking him.

Both of them (actually, counting Loki, three) had a habit of just being able to disappear in a flash of light. James had taken a while to adjust at first, but with reading the articles on the Avengers and mutants and everything, he’d figured the future is weird and he’d survive better if he just went with the flow.

Rose is helping at least, and so do the fuzzy memories of him being outside and watching as the world evolved (although mostly these memories consisted of him shooting/maiming/stabbing/braining/killing someone, and it’s not comforting that he feels a sort of detachment when these memories pop up, like they don’t quite feel like it’s him, like he’s outside his body and he’s just…watching as this happens).

There’s a newspaper on the desk beside the bookshelf. It has a sticky-note that says: good morning!!! :D

Jade, then. Bucky folds the note and puts it in the pocket of his pajamas. He’ll forget about it. He always does. He picks up the newspaper, finds a window to get some heat and light, and sits down to read.

Rose starts humming in the kitchen about thirty minutes later. She always moves so silently, something that had unnerved him at first, but then he’d noticed that all five of them, whoever they were that took him out of that Hydra base, moved quietly – unless it was John Egbert, and the boy particularly made an effort to make noises because he usually hovered and flew instead of walked .

He’d thought, Soldiers, and wondered why he thought that.

“James,” Rose calls out when the kitchen door opens. James thinks it’s for his benefit, although he’s not against the scent of food wafting through the air. “Breakfast is ready.”

He nods, folds his newspaper and leaves it in one of the squares of light made from the sunrise outside of the window.


 

He collects articles and photographs of things he recognizes. They’re all stuffed inside the top drawer of his dresser, and once that drawer’s full, he’s going to move on to the one below it, and then the one below it, and on and on until his desk drawers are filled with clippings. Once they are, he’s going to ask Rose for another desk.

He doesn’t pin them up. They make him uncomfortable. He doesn’t tell Rose about what he’s doing but she doesn’t ask when he hands back a magazine or a newspaper with a few squares missing.

He doesn’t look at them all the time either, but when he…starts to forget, he looks at them. His memories are delicate, and he has a hard time focusing on them and actually trying to focus on them just makes them harder to hold on to, and he gives himself a headache instead. Also, sometimes, he forgets what, where and who he is and just feels like he’s…floating.

He can be standing in his room, but somehow, he’s not. He can’t feel it. It’s like he’s just looking from outside a window, and whatever’s standing in the room is not really him. He even forgets it’s his room. It takes him a while to reconcile his space and time with his mind, and even then, it doesn’t really feel right. It’s like he’s just going through the motions and waiting for all of this to play out, and once it does, he’s going to go home. Except there’s nothing for him to wait on, and there’s nothing that needs to play out, and he’s already home – well, what passes for it.

Looking at the photos doesn’t actually do anything for his dissociating, except for the fact that he’s dissociating while looking at the photos, but they remind him that he’s trying. So he keeps them.

He cuts out a photo of a dog from the newspaper – something about the tiny thing winning awards – and places it on top of a neat stack of clippings. Now that he’s looking at his top drawer, it does look like it’s five clippings away from being full. He’ll need to move on to the lower drawer soon.

He moves to close the top drawer and then stops, pulling it out to look at the monochrome photo of the dog again. The name of the breed sits at the tip of his tongue – and isn’t that pathetic, that his head is so broken he’s forgotten what dogs are called? He’ll ask John or Jade when they visit again, if they visit again. James won’t be surprised if they don’t, and he won’t be too bothered either.

He slides the drawer close and lies down on his bed until his vision blurs and his eyes cross from staring at the ceiling, unblinking. Then he goes out and wanders around the house, touching tables and trinkets on shelves, trying to name them all, feeling their surface with his human hand, and then with his metal one, trying to ignore the thoughts of sixty ways he could turn an object into a weapon, and instead just focusing on the difference of touching a thing with his real hand and the metal one. The metal one can barely feel anything, and if he wanted to, he could use it crush anything he can get between his fingers.

Except Rose would probably be mad at him for it. He finds he’s not too keen on that happening. So he doesn’t. He goes around the house, trying to ground himself, and he’s not really surprised when he still feels like he’s floating at the end of the day.


 

It’s been a while since the others have visited, and James really isn’t too surprised. Most of them are children after all – mutant, superpowered children, but children still, and a spy with a killcount higher than what most people recruited by shady agencies can rack up is something that screams danger. Children go two ways – come running at danger expecting to come out unscathed and screaming in terror when it turns out danger is danger for a reason, or run as fast as their legs can carry them away from danger because they’ve been blessed with at least two working brain cells.

Rose might be a rare, third type: babysitting danger while fully equipped to kick its ass. James has seen those wickedly sharp knitting needles she carries with her, and has seen her write violet runes in the air and do magic.

When Rose receives a call from John, James does pause eating long enough to listen. Rose excuses herself to answer the call, and in a show of trust, she doesn’t get out of the room. James knows what she’s doing, trying to show him they’re not another Hydra hellbent on using him, trying to show him they’re not holding secret meetings or whatever, planning to dissect his brain and turn him into a machine again.

He appreciates it. Or feels like he should. Appreciation is protocol for something like this; he just wants to feel that appreciation in its fullest instead of feeling a duller, washed-out version of it. Maybe the real thing is underneath his skin. He just needs to claw it out.

“Hello, John.”

“Hiya!” Oh, the phone is on loudspeaker. “So, um, remember when we told you about the predicted attack in New York?”

“Mm-hmm. That should have been yesterday, yes?”

Another thing with these kids – they had psychics, apparently. With the weirdness of everything, James found it better to just accept revelations as they went. Fewer headaches that way.

“It was. And Jade’s phone is dead. I think she expended too much space magic plus First Guardian powers, and the burst of power killed it.”

“Really?” Rose raises an eyebrow. “I don’t recall that ever happening before.”

“Oh, she can get like that when she’s really bent on doing something.” John laughs for a bit. “I remember when she was still under the Batterwitch’s control – she was…I don’t know the word, grimbark? We used to have a joke term for it. But, yeah, she can get really scary with the First Guardian powers. Green sparks and everything.”

“Is she alright?”

“She fell asleep on the way home and wouldn’t let go of Loki – ” 

A new, fainter voice comes from the background. It sounded like that one kid in shades that James had seen only once or twice. “We had fifteen minutes of awkward Norse god.”

Another burst of laughter from John. Rose smiles, amused.

“But we managed to get her off and got her food. She was okay right after.”

“That’s good,” Rose says

“She’s getting a new phone soon. She needed to call Steve, she said,” John says, “How’s James?”

James looks at the phone as Rose turns to him.

“Well, he’s eating breakfast now,” Rose says. “He can hear you.”

“Oh! How are you, James?”

James is silent for a moment before lifting a shoulder. He goes back to eating, finally.

Rose chuckles. “Shrug.”

“Ah, well, we’ll probably visit again soon, once we’re done cleaning up here and Jade’s got a new phone and contacted Captain America again.”

“We’ll be waiting,” Rose says.

“We’ll be bringing the dogs again!”

James finds something stirring in his chest at that. Excitement, maybe. Duller, paler, but it’s something. The dogs are good. The dogs are nice. The dogs are soft. He can show John and Jade that photo of the dog from the newspaper and ask them what it is. He’s never seen a dog like that with them.


 

“So, Steve showed up the house, and he looked like he’d run the distance from whatever airport he’d landed on to the Safehouse,” Jade says, “He didn’t come inside and we just talked, and I gave him the new number, and then he went to help with clean-up. I stayed at home because I was exhausted.”

James is currently sitting on the floor, and his legs are dead because about twelve dogs have decided they’re perfect for sleeping on. Moxie, John’s little…corgi? He thinks she’s a corgi. Moxie is sitting on his lap, content with him running his fingers – actual human fingers – through her fur.

John, from where he’s hovering cross-legged beside the couch where Jade and Rose are sitting and talking, looks at James at the name ‘Steve’, like it’s supposed to mean something to him. Nothing scratches at the walls of his mind, nothing twinges in his chest, nothing punches the air out of him in his gut. It’s just one empty syllable. He doesn’t know why John is looking at him like that.

“They got me to eat a lot – Mrs. H wouldn’t stop bringing in cookies and tea – and by the end of the first day, I thought, yeah, I can live like this,” Jade says.

“Next thing we know, you’ll be asking for belly rubs,” Rose says. Jade picks up a throw pillow and tosses it at her half-heartedly.

Only John and Jade had come to visit today, which was okay, because they brought dogs with them, although there were a lot more than they’d initially brought before. Rover still kept licking him, and was rather fixated on James’ metal arm.

There isn’t any dog like the one from the newspaper though. He’d looked over all of the dogs they’d brought – little Buster and Moxie, lick-happy Rover, quiet Winston, a few others that he recognized, but none of them looked like the big dog in the black and white photo, long-haired and floppy-eared.

He shows the photo to John, fishing it out of his pajama pocket. John floats over and takes a look at it, and when he gives James a questioning look, James asks, “What is it?”

“Oh. It’s a golden retriever,”  John says, “Some of them can have really long fur and floppy ears, depending on who their parents are – some goldens can be crossbred with short-haired Labradors, see, so it makes a difference.”

“You…don’t have one?”

John shakes his head. “No, I don’t think we do, but if we ever find one, I promise I’ll bring it here,” he says. “They make really good friends, you know. Energetic. Playful. Smart. Very loyal.”

Now that – that hits something. Something feels like it’s swimming inside James’ head, and he blinks in surprise at it.

Loyalty. Huh.


 

ectobiologist [EB] opened memo on board THE POPCULTURE EDUCATION PROJECT

gardenGnostic [GG]responded to memo.

tentacleTherapist [TT]responded to memo.

turntechGodhead [TG] responded to memo.

EB: you know what we should introduce to james?

EB: the internet.

EB: memes.

GG: john we just started :)

TG: i can feel the strained quality to that emojis smile

TG: those little beady green eyes just staring at you through the screen

TG: end parenthesis pulled taut as far as the font size will reach

TG: ‘john fucking egbert why the fuck do we have to open this chat with memes’

TG: that smile promises death

EB: no, but hear me out.

EB: there’s nothing more informative than the internet.

EB: and there’s one thing that’s flooding the web that’s a way of communication by itself.

cannibalAmygdala [CA] responded to memo.

EB: memes

TT: Magnificent timing, Mr. G.

TG: oh my god

aubergineTwilight [AT] responded to memo.

abendrotTriptych [AT] responded to memo.

CA: …

AT: I feel like we missed something.

GG: john immediately typed ‘memes’ right after mr g joined the chat

TG: comedy gold

AT: Pfffft.

EB: we were talking about how great it would be to introduce james to memes.

TT: Correction: John was talking about how he believed it would be appropriate to add memes to James’ history education.

AT: Does he even know how to navigate the internet?

EB: he probably does. he wasn’t in cyrosleep for years or anything.

EB: no offense to steve rogers.

EB: he probably used the internet for his spy stuff.

TT: His memories are spotty. He remembers in fragments, and sometimes he even forgets those fragments every now and then.

TT: Sometimes he’s lucky enough to remember. Sometimes lucky enough to forget.

AT: Tides.

TT: Yes.

AT: Ebbing and flowing.

TG: do you think he killed someone via memes

GG: dave that sounds kinda mean

TG: well he *was* a former spy and assassin

TG: hes the goddamn winter soldier

TG: killcount over fifty

TG: fucking unstoppable

TG: organizations crumblin in his wake and everything

TG: hes like the guy in movies that heroes and people who are about to be dead in 0.5 seconds gasp about

TG: known to turn anything he gets his hands on into a weapon

TG: hes probably killed someone with duct tape

TG: or a teddy bear

archimageChaos [AC] responded to memo.

TG: you gotta take into account that hes probably killed someone with memes before

AC: Well.

EB: unbelieeeeeeeevable

GG: :DDD

TG: why the fuck does everybody keep poppin in right when someone says something shitspittingly stupid when taken out of context

TT: Hello, Loki.

AC: I see Strider is as eloquent as always.

AT: I think this is exactly why Mrs. H, Saph and Ruben never join us. :(

GG: wait is pool master suspended from stealing a police car

EB: that’s kinda stupid if they are.

AT: Saph’s fine.

AT: They got a lecture on the whole thing but…

AT: They were all ‘No disrespect, sir, but I don’t think a good police officer would allow their friends to be crushed in a stampede or blown up by a missile’.

AT: They’re not wrong, so.

TG: the car looked pretty busted

AT: Because we drove through a godforsaken alley! >:(

GG: its good that they didnt get suspended :)

GG: i mean they were just trying to help you!!!

EB: they got incredibly lucky with switching programs though.

EB: if they weren’t in the police academy to steal a car, you two would have had to hitch a ride or run home.

EB: or stay in the college.

GG: wait why did they switch programs

AT: Huh.

AT: We never asked.

AT: We never asked.

AC: I’m actually also curious.

AC: As John said, it is highly favorable that they were out of your college building at that time.

TG: well since lokis curious that kinda means we need to know

AT: I don’t know why. People switch programs all the time.

AT: Yeah, and we stopped asking Saph ‘why’ a long time ago every time they made a decision that seemed to pop outta nowhere.

AT: They never actually expressed a desire to change programs until they just did.

AT: Maybe they just got tired.

AT: So we let it be. It’s not like it’s any of our business.

AT: And as for the lucky part, it’s commonplace.

GG: ???

AT: Whenever Saph makes a snap decision, it’s usually for an important reason.

AT: Or an important outcome.

AT: In conclusion:

AT: In conclusion:

AT: We have no idea.

AT: We have no idea.

AC: Has the pool master ever expressed precognitive tendencies?

AT: Half of our hometown has precognitive tendencies.

AT: But no, Saph never has shown signs of being psychic.

AT: Mr. G can pass for a psychic better than they can.

CA: For the last time, Palmer.

GG: your town has a lot of psychics??? :o

AT: Sort of.

AT: Kind of.

AT: Not really.

AT: Not really.

TT: Do some of them see visions in dreams?

TT: In clouds of those dreams, perhaps?

GG: :O !!!

AT: I mean…

AT: We don’t ask?

AT: That’s kind of personal.

AT: But they do start screaming at the sky sometimes.

TG: in dreams

AT: No, in real life.

AT: No, in real life.

TG: the fuck

CA: unless psychic abilities rub off

CA: maybe your friend is doing it unconsciously

CA: you said half your town is composed of psychics

AT: Maybe.

AT: Maybe.

TG: how many fucking psychics do we have in this house

TG: we should have a meeting with everyone in the safehouse and start asking

TG: i wanna know everyone who can read my mind

TG: this doesnt have to be awkward

AC: Rose, I do think we are being derailed.

TT: The objective of this memo is to discuss James Barnes’ recovery and what we can do to help it.

TT: I think we can all agree that I, John, Jade and Dave are not qualified to help a grown man with amnesia, much less a brainwashed assassin who’s mental state is in pieces.

GG: :(

EB: well…

TG: you were just suggesting memes egbert

TT: Cecil and Kevin are mass communication students.

TT: Also unqualified.

TT: Which leaves us with the adults.

EB: there has to be at least one psychiatrist in the safehouse.

TT: We can’t exactly just tell them we have the former Winter Soldier in one of Loki’s bunkers.

AC: Trust me when I say I am not a viable candidate for psychiatry either.

GG: :(((

TT: Mr. G?

CA: …

CA: Rose.

CA: I think this entire chat room is populated by fucked-up people.

CA: Who have no business trying to help other fucked-up people.

CA: Because they can’t even take care of their own problems.

TG: damn dude

CA: that said i think our best shot is elizabeth

TT: We’ll have to host a War Council, then.

TT: Since I’m in India, you are all there and…

TT: Loki, are you home right now?

AC: Yes, I am.

TT: So we will have to hold a War Council to ask Mrs. H if she has any advice for us.

TT: But aside from dog therapy – which, thank you, John, for suggesting that – what else does everyone think will help?

TT: That we can give to James?

GG: communication and socialization :D

GG: not too much of course but being alone sucks

GG: and its not a very good feeling being away from people for long periods of time

GG: you get lonely

TG: music probably

TG: the bunker must get quiet

CA: someone to talk to

CA: and im not talking about having a powwow

CA: im talking like

CA: psychiatric help

TG: we are so fucked in that department

EB: we can keep on bringing the dogs!

EB: maybe we’ll visit more often. james likes the dogs a lot.

EB: we can let him walk them. we’ll just go with him.

EB: also, just to clarify – we don’t have a golden retriever, right?

CA: no.

EB: james showed me this photo from a newspaper.

EB: it was a golden retriever.

EB: i think maybe he wants to see one.

AC: We can give him a dog.

GG: ooohhh!!!

AC: A puppy, of course.

AC: I think people who are invested in taking care of something tend to take care of themselves as well.

AC: If not for themselves, then for their companions.

AC: Are golden retrievers easy pets?

CA: They’re energetic.

CA: Since James stays in the bunker too much, from what I’ve been told, it might be good to have him walk dogs outside to stretch his legs.

CA: Walking dogs takes your mind off things too.

CA: Although it might be good for James and the dogs, or his future puppy - if you get him one - to be in open fields, so that the animals can go as free as they want while James doesn’t have to worry about people.

AC: I can take care of that.

AC: Perhaps a bit of travel every now and then will benefit James too.

AC: As long as it’s open space.

GG: i can find him a puppy!

GG: the animal shelter loki works in has a lot of them!!!

GG: theyre so cute :D

GG: but yeah i think theres at least one golden retriever puppy there

GG: rose when can james have a puppy

TT: As soon as you two can get it.

AC: After the meeting, perhaps.

GG: okay!!! :D

TT: Someone will have to frequently visit to help James though.

TT: I think you all know I have no experience with dogs.

GG: well take care of it dont worry!

GG: leave it to us

TT: So we’re to hold a meeting – when?

AC: Can you come home tomorrow?

TT: Someone has to be around James.

EB: but we’re all going to be at the meeting.

EB: unless we get someone who isn’t joining the war council to watch james.

TG: we dont tell the other safehouse tenants about anything

AT: Suggestion.

AT: Suggestion.

TG: shoot

AT: Saph.

AT: Saph.

TG: what

AT: And Ruben.

AT: And Ruben.

EB: whaaaaaaaat?

AT: There’s nobody else who gets involved with this and doesn’t ask questions.

AT: Just pack them off with their college homework and the dogs and you’re set.

GG: ummm

GG: its not a bad idea?

GG: pool master never does ask questions

TG: pm might get killed

TG: james might be allergic to colored chalk or something

TG: who wants to bet pm and pmbestfriend might get killed

GG: dave!!! >:(

TG: im taking advantage of an opportunity

AC: They’re efficient enough.

AC: And true, they don’t ask questions.

EB: just send the dogs with them.

EB: if anything, they’ll stop james from snapping.

TT: He’s not a time bomb.

TT: He’s confused.

EB: he’s not familiar with who we’re about to send to him?

TT: He’ll be fine.

TT: Tell the pool master and their best friend.

AC: I’ll bring them by tomorrow.

TT: So we’ll hold a meeting, the pool master and their best friend will watch over the bunker, we’ll get James a dog once Jade and Loki have picked a puppy out – I think that concludes our chat session.

EB: so no memes?

GG: i swear to fucking god


John Egbert returns with a television – it’s sleeker than what James associates with ‘television’ in his spotty memories, but at the same time, he feels like this is what televisions should look like. More recent, muddied memories kicking in then. The green-eyed one is back, the one named Loki, showing Rose the satellite dish with several marking that glow green when the light hits them. Jade is proudly showing off two radios, which, to James’ surprise, look a bit more old-school than he was expecting.

The dogs are around too, and the one in the aviators is herding them since John and Jade are talking to Rose to explain their gifts.

There’s no golden retriever in the group, sadly. Although, James has gotten clippings from a local magazine (he’d gone out a few days ago) – he’d found dogs like Buster and Moxie, and he’s still on a mission to find photos of dogs similar to Rover and the others. It’s a good pastime.

A tiny little Chihuahua bites one of Dave’s pants, causing the boy to stop walking at the sudden tugging. When he looks down, the Chihuahua lets go and runs off to join the others, looking smug.

Dave pushes up his glasses before crouching down and tapping the little Chihuahua’s nose. “You think you’re clever, huh, Posie?”

Posie playfully bites Dave’s finger.

Ah, dogs. James takes note of Posie. He hasn’t found photos of Chihuahuas yet.

And then Rover comes over bouncing from behind Dave, hitting the boy’s back. Dave’s glasses slide down his nose on impact, although he catches them before they can drop to the floor.

It’s enough for James to catch a look of his eyes – white lashes, red irises.

It’s like a bucket of cold water. James blinks. Pauses. He’s never seen red eyes before. Or if he has, he can’t remember. It’s not malicious – it’s just appearances, but still. He’s never seen eyes that red before. They’re beautiful.

Dave has tensed though, having clearly caught him looking at his eyes. He turns around and pets Rover while telling the dog not to do that again. Rover just licks his face.

Something presses against James’ calf. He looks down. It’s Moxie, with a stuffed toy in her mouth. James doesn’t know where it came from. She probably had it with her when she got here or John had it and gave it to her when they arrived. When James doesn’t do anything, Moxie presses her forehead to his calf again and looks up at him, tail stump wagging.

“She wants to show you her toy.”

James turns towards Dave, who is petting Posie, half-turned away from him. “Don’t keep it too long though, or she gets mad,” Dave says.

James turns to Moxie, slightly confused. Moxie steps a little closer.

He slowly crouches down, mimicking Dave from earlier, and as soon as he’s within her reach, Moxie almost shoves the stuffed toy in his face. James leans back slightly and takes the toy, very carefully.

Moxie yips and her tail stump wags harder.

The toy is a tiny little grey thing. It looks like a bear, although it’s very simple and it’s got small circles embroidered into its face for eyes. It’s been cleaned carefully, he can tell, and with almost no puncture marks on it, he can tell Moxie is very careful with it too.

Moxie presses a cold wet snout at the hand that’s holding the toy. Since it’s the human one, James almost flinches, caught off guard by the sensation of wet dog snout at around – it’s around seven in the morning.

“She wants a compliment,” Dave says.

James feels like laughing at the ridiculousness of a dog asking for a compliment. What’s even funnier is that he’s willing to give it.

“It’s pretty,” James says.

“It’s a she,” Dave says.

Okay then. “She’s pretty.”

Moxie’s tail stump wags harder.

“And now’s the part where you put it on the floor so she can take it back to John,” Dave says, “He and Mr. G are usually the only ones who can hold onto her bear without her biting their hands off.”

James dutifully sets the bear down. Moxie picks it up and trots back to John, pawing at his leg. John absently bends down, pets her and takes her bear from her, still talking to Rose about the television, worldwide reception, cable TV and some cursed thing called Netflix.

Dave laughs.

“Yeah, Moxie can be a little demanding,” he says, “So far the only humans she fully trusts are Mr. G and John. I think she likes John because he can fly.”

“He takes her flying?” James asks.

“In a baby carrier.”

James looks down, trying not to laugh.

There’s a scratching sound from one of the windows. Both of them turn to it. Buster has climbed up the couch and is pawing at the glass of the window beside it. Dave stands and walks over to him.

“ – so yeah, just so you guys can get updates.” James turns his attention back to where Jade is talking. “You should be fine.”

“Thank you,” Rose says. She meets James’ eyes once before turning to Loki. “We should set up the television.”

Loki nods. John takes it his cue to place the television on one of the dressers before going back to pick up the satellite dish and disappearing in a flash of blue light while Loki blinks out of existence, although they’re both just possibly on the roof.

“What are the radios for?” James asks.

“We run a city bunker back in New York, as you know,” Rose says, “Some of the people who take refuge there are the homeless – we’ve made a few rooms for them to spend the night in whenever they want to spend the night, although most of them still wander around, restless – and other people who take refuge there are mutants.”

“Like us,” Dave says. He shrugs. “Sorta.”

“The Palmers had an idea,” Jade says, “See, sometimes the homeless can get caught up in the attacks, especially when most of them sleep under bridges or tunnels, so whenever we hear something or one of the Palmers or Rose gets a vision, we update them. Sometimes we receive calls from the mutants, about things they’ve seen or if they need help or if someone’s missing. It’s a little help system.”

“We look out for our own,” Rose says.

James feels it again, that niggling in the back of his mind. Except it’s scratching this time. We look out for our own. We look out for our own.

 

Chapter Text

“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.

He sighs.

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.

Steve frowns.

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.

“Ah.”

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.”

Ah.

Fuck Odin.

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.

Chapter Text

Be careful, the…whatever it was, had said. It said it with an infuriating grin on its face that had reminded Eridan of Gamzee Makara, and then the next thing he knew, he wasn’t in two pieces anymore. He’s also going to kill whoever made that joke, as soon as he remembers who made it, because he’s positive he’s heard it, he just can’t remember specifics, just like how he can remember being warned, and then the rest is just vague impressions and then bam, he’s thrashing in the least saltiest ocean he’s ever been on.

The fishes hadn’t been very helpful. They’d been weird – nothing like he’d remembered them, but they’d claimed to be fishes. He got asked what sort of fish he was, and one of them said, Maybe he’s a whale.

He’d snapped, “Do I look like a fuckin’ whale to ya?” and yup, his stupid speech impediment was still there, making his ‘whale’ sound like ‘w-w-hale’. The water made it worse.

Dolphin?

“The fuck is a dolphin?”

Mm. Squid?

Another fish had laughed and said, He’s no squid. He’s got fins, suddy, fins. And gills. And weird appendages like ‘em waterfolk have.

He’s got no tail.

The other fish had swam up to his scarf, which was floating every which way in the water. Tail?

“That’s a scarf.”

The hell is a scarf?

“It’s – never mind. Why am I arguing with you. You’re not even supposed to talk to me.”

If fishes had eyebrows, this one would have raised them. Uh-huh. Why’s that?

“Because I’m a highblood seadweller, you filthy little – ”

And then the fish laughed in a way only fishes could laugh, involving a lot of air bubbles and ‘pook’ing. The rest of the school joined it. Eridan tried to take control of the situation and failed.

One fish, one that hadn’t been around for the conversation, swam up to him and gave him his glasses, which had fallen deep into the water faster than he could retrieve it, with his confusion and all.

Said fish also told him that maybe he wanted to talk to the birds if he wanted more information. Maybe the water currents had swept him here and maybe the birds had gotten an aerial view of where he’d come from.

Eridan wasn’t an expert but he was pretty sure that outer space didn’t have water.

So now, here he is, swimming up towards a rock with a flock of birds on it.

Earlier, he’d shrieked and ducked under the water, swimming down, down, down when he’d realized that the sun was rising. Helpful Fish (who deserved to be called that, because the rest of the school were douches) had gotten confused and swam after him, chasing after his glasses again when they’d slipped off.

“The sun is rising.”

Yeah, and?

“I’m going to get boiled.”

Helpful Fish had given him a look that suggested they really didn’t think he was sane.

After a few arguments, he’d swam back up and poked a hand out of the water to the risen sun. He didn’t get burned. Then he realized there was only one sun, and with that realization came several other realizations – namely, the reason why the water wasn’t as salty as it should be, why the fishes looked so soft, why they hadn’t known what he was, and exactly where he was.

He was on Earth.

Son of a cullbait.

(So yeah, fuck highblood terminology at the moment – earth was soft soft soft. He could be disgusting all he liked.)

The birds are soft too, not at all sharp-toothed or predatory, which helps, but Earth is pathetic. It doesn’t stop one of the birds from perching on his head and poking at him with its hideous beak.

“Hey!”

Hey, get lost. Helpful Fish spits water at the bird. It flaps away.

Eridan asks his questions. The birds are still not very helpful, because all they give are descriptions like, ‘The place where the water touches the sun’ or ‘The cliffs of brittle white that chip away at the tempest’. Eridan doesn’t appreciate the poetry because it gets him nowhere. The birds don’t know what town, or city, or sea they’re in. Helpful Fish understandably only knows the water terrain.

“This sucks,” he says as much, swimming back down and making sure his glasses don’t fall off his face again.

Are you trying to get somewhere? Helpful Fish asks. They’re leading him back to their coral reef, and while Eridan is initially wary, it turns out – like all Earth things – the reef is soft too. For one, it’s not trying to eat anything that comes near it. For another, it’s colorful and beautiful.

He figures he can probably stay here and be comfortable. Maybe eat the fucking birds. They’re annoying.

Then he finds himself thinking about Helpful Fish’s question and realizes (ah yes, so many realizations today, he’s on a roll) that even if he does find out where he is, he doesn’t have any frame of reference as to how Earth geography works. The Earth he and the others had created was destroyed when its players started the game, so it’s very possible he’s just in a dream bubble right now.

That’s it. It might be a dream bubble. He just has to wait it out.

He swims over to the reef, following Helpful Fish.


 

It takes him exactly 74 hours to realize he’s not in a dream bubble.

And then 168 to accept that he’s not.

For one, ghosts do not get hungry. They can eat things that are in the bubble just for fun, but there’s no sensation of hunger or satisfaction.

Eridan, however, starts getting genuinely hungry, and he starts to go up, intent on eating the birds (the Loud Mimics, as the fishes called them), when Helpful Fish follows him and asks what he’s doing. He explains.

Helpful Fish lets out a very upset bubble. We have a truce with them, they say, Our people are prey to them, see. We have been for several cycles. We’ve only recently just come to a truce.

He tries to reason, but Helpful Fish’s distress bubbles are increasing in frequency, so he eats some disgusting sea grass and krill instead. He gets to see whales for his trouble, although Helpful Fish looks terrified of being so far away from the reef, but still not willing to abandon him in case he got lost. Poor thing.

He wanders farther and farther each day, and Helpful Fish takes to swimming underneath a fold of his scarf. The sea is incredibly blue in the light, and the vast expanse of just blue and cold reminds Eridan of Alternia, with its seas populated by predators just waiting in the shadows, aided by the night.

He learns exactly what dolphins are, and learns that they are assholes. Also, he punches one in the snout because it tries to eat Helpful Fish. It yells Hey what the fuck at him and his fins flatten on either side of his head. The gills on his neck open, releasing an angry stream of bubbles.

“Get lost!”

The dolphins swim away after that.

He returns to the reef and doesn’t leave for a few days, just for Helpful Fish’s sake. He takes to staying on the rocks instead, out of water. He hadn’t stayed a lot in the water back on Alternia; breathing problems and all that. For some reason, it’s easier to breathe in Earth’s seas. Maybe it’s the decrease in salinity. Maybe it’s whatever had happened to him before he found himself in the sea. The memories are fading dangerously fast.

The communities are beautiful too, which helps, and he can pop his head out of the water day or night. The moon is marvelous when it shines down on the ocean, just like it should be.

The sun isn’t too bad. The warmth is nice, and Eridan spends the next few days sprawled out on rocks, sleeping in the sunlight. His skin is too tough for its weak rays, and he doesn’t burn, although he does dry out after a few hours. He jumps back in the water whenever that happens and is thankful he’s taken to folding up his glasses and tying it to his scarf. His clothes are still sticky with salt and they look like they’re starting to take the brunt of constantly being exposed to saltwater and light, but they’ll hold for a little while.

And besides, there’s no one else for miles and miles. There’s no humans, no buildings, nothing. It’s so peaceful that Eridan thinks he wouldn’t mind if he just lived here for the rest of his life (he is alive, isn’t he, if this isn’t a dream bubble), provided he can get something better to eat.

He takes a while to get comfortable with the fact that he’s not in a dream bubble, is seemingly alive (and bye-bye, memories; whatever had resurrected him put a nasty precaution, destroying his memories of the event slowly), and is quite possibly on an alternate version of Earth, or maybe even another planet that’s just similar to the one that he and the others had created. He’s alone, and he has no idea what to do.

So he sits on a rock and thinks, and then decides on an idea. He swims over to shore, takes off the other layers of his clothes until he’s in his pants and shirt, and then hangs the rest on a tree to dry. His scarf is spread to its fullest and he puts his glasses on the smoothest rock he can find.

Then he goes into the forest ahead and kills an animal with his bare claws. He hasn’t done it in a very, very long time, but it’s nice to see that he still hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to chase after prey and sink his teeth into them. The animal (whatever it is, it’s a herbivore and it doesn’t smell poisonous) certainly tastes better than that disgusting sea grass.

When he meets the dolphins again on another excursion (and he’d told Helpful Fish they didn’t need to join in, because he knew how to get back to the reef), they tell him the disgusting grass is called kelp. It doesn’t look like kelp, but this is Earth, so he decides it’s probably kelp, and then he flips the bird on the dolphins, since they’ve been jeering at him for the past few minutes, asking where his cape and other layers were.

They’re on the island, folded up nicely. He wears them at night if he wants to stay on land and it’s cold, but otherwise, they make swimming harder, especially when he doesn’t have a ride.

One morning, he wakes up to commotion in the reef, and tries to find Helpful Fish amidst panicking schools. He doesn’t, not for a long time, and his mood darkens because if one of those stupid birds touched his little guide, he will be breaking a truce between two communities, and he and the fishes will win.

It turns out he doesn’t need to break the truce, because the birds have already done it for him. They’ve eaten several fishes; for Eridan the number is just ‘meh’, but for the schools, it’s a massacre. Thankfully, Helpful Fish isn’t one of the casualties, and he finds them hiding in the reef. They let out a little relieved bubble when they see him.

Eridan smiles as he swims up. It’s not a pleasant smile. It’s a smile that would remind lowbloods exactly how high he was on the caste system. It’s a smile that promises a very painful end of a FLARP. It’s a smile befitting an Orphaner.

He breaks surface right where the birds are still shredding the remains of the dead fishes, fighting over scraps like barbarians.

This, Eridan thinks, is war.


 

He doesn’t know if Earth fishes are carnivores, but he figures he can’t care less. The water is very, very red (and what a strange color, to him; he’s read about the significance of it in history, of someone who had caused an uproar in Alternia and his blood was the very same color – candy red), and there’s feathers all around, and the bigger fishes are biting and dragging incapacitated birds further into the water, effectively drowning them. Eridan is crouched on a rock, perched like an animal ready to strike at the injured birds that are huddled on another rock just a few feet away from him. They’re surrounded by fishes crying out for their blood, which is funny because there’s already a lot of blood in the water.

None of the fishes even have proper teeth.

Eridan chuckles.

He launches himself at the birds. Several of them flap away, barely able to fly, skimming the water instead. The rest just fall into the waves, and are immediately bit and dragged off by the fishes. Eridan catches a bird in his hand. It pleads. He breaks its wing, then tosses it into the water.

It hits another bird on the way, and both of them crash into the sea, disappearing a few seconds later in an onslaught of fish.

The rest of the flock flies off into the mountains, hiding in the forest, and Eridan is reminded that he needs to retrieve his clothes from the island if doesn’t want them to be shredded by the stupid Loud Mimics. Once he and the fishes finish with those within their reach, they return back to the reef, with Eridan stopping by the shore to get his thankfully-untouched clothes. He places them on a rock that’s far, far out at sea instead, near the reef, just in case.

The earlier mourning has turned into a festivity in the reef, and everyone is ignoring the large amount of red that’s very close to the shore. It’ll either get diluted, or they’ll attract sharks, which hopefully will be Earth-soft, and Eridan can just punch them in the face too. Everyone’s so happy he doesn’t have the time to remind them to be on their guard. Loud Mimics are capable of swimming, just as long as they can hold their breaths, and sharks are still real threats.

Helpful Fish is silent beside him, and when he asks what’s wrong, they confess they’re scared of an all-out war.

Eridan chews on the thought for a few minutes. Well, he’s fought wars before. Besides, it’s a little unfair that fishes have to live in the fear of birds when the fishes can’t actually fight back, so he figures it’s time for a little upheaval.

Helpful Fish thanks him though, and a little while later, they’re swept up by the festivities.

Eridan keeps watch on the edge of the reef, mindful of sharks. They never come.


 

On the sixth day of the Loud Mimic - Fish Reef War, another annoying bird makes its presence known. It’s a hugeass bird, and it looks like it shouldn’t be here, and it’s making Eridan panic at the implications of its presence, but Eridan chooses to ignore that in favor of slashing at a flock surrounding him with his claws. He hits one Loud Mimic deep and it falls into the water to be taken by his soldiers.

The Bird just floats above, watching him with those stupid aviators, looking like he’s not sure what to make of the situation.

Afternoon comes before the birds retreat, and the fishes, although not without casualties, return to the reef and celebrate.

“Are you,” starts the Big Annoying Orange Bird That Should Not Be Here, “Fighting seagulls?”

Eridan ignores him and jumps back into the water, diving form perfect.


 

It looks like the Mimics have gotten reinforcements, Helpful Fish comments, looking up. It’s nighttime, but it’s a full moon, and Eridan is once again at the edge of the reef, overlooking the festivities. He’ll sleep later when everyone’s calmed down.

He looks up, and sees Big Orange Featherball glowing like a stupid beacon, clearly visible through the water.

“Nah, that’s not reinforcements,” he says.

What is it, then?

“Bigass birds who have no business bein’ere,” he says. The stupid ‘w’ wobbles again.

Helpful Fish says nothing else.


 

“You are fighting seagulls, aren’t you?”

It’s the ninth day of the war, and the birds’ numbers are thankfully dwindling, although some are still fighting. They’ve even gotten other birds into the fight, the ones the fishes call Fliers, which is a dumb name, but Eridan understands as soon as he sees them weave around the fight majestically, adjusting their wings to glide and skim and pull up whenever they wish.

According to Winged Aviators, who has insisted on talking even though Eridan is busy tearing birds apart with his claws, the birds had approached him, saying that if the waterprey had been gifted a god, then perhaps they’d been given a god too. They’d tried to sweettalk him by complimenting his feathers and the fact that he looked like an orange soda, but he’d said that he was done with being a god and he was done with fights too, and from what had been relayed to him about the start of the fight, it looked like the birds were dicks.

They’d tried to justify that they were hunters, and the waterprey were their food, and so it was just nature.

Eridan flinches when Soda Pop says that, remembering Alternia, but he decides fuck it. Everyone in a war thinks they’re on the right side, and Eridan’s just decided his side is with his fishes, because guess fuckin’ what, he’s a seadweller.

It’s a good thing The Floating Duck hasn’t decided to get in with the fight, because Eridan has no qualms about tearing him apart. They’re not friends. They’re not even acquaintances. Feathers and his friends were just entertainment for everyone on the meteor, and then wards, and then Eridan fucked up. But still, this is Birds versus Fishes, and Eridan knows who he fights for.

So he fights, until the birds retreat, and Birdboy suspiciously flies up to join them. If he fights, Eridan will rip those wings off his back and find out if sprites really can die.

Helpful Fish’s happy little glubs seal the deal. They look so happy at the idea of not living in fear of predators anymore.


 

The day the birds announce their surrender, they’re in a middle of a bloody fight. The Fliers have taken to dropping rocks and have brought Carcass Scavengers with them, Eridan has wrestled not one but four of the Carcass birds out of the air, tearing their necks open as soon as he finds an opening. He’s hit a rock too many times, and he’s bleeding furious violet into the water.

A very old-looking bird has just landed on a rock, and Eridan’s about to launch himself at it when The Wingbeast Who Must Not Be Named stops him and tells him to listen, at the same time the birds that have accompanied the old-looking bird calls for the fight to cease (not that Eridan understands; they’re just squawking and then the action skids to a halt).

The birds stop attacking. Quickly reading cues, Eridan holds a hand up and signals for his fishes to stop fighting as well. They obey.

The old bird, who appears to be a chief of some sorts, declares that the birds have decided to surrender and that they were going to migrate onto another island, and they wished for the fishes to cease their attacks, and to not pursue them. Eridan, again, can’t understand bird-speak, but the Great Orange Thing In The Sky Which Is Sadly Not The Sun translates for him.

Eridan doesn’t buy it.

The other birds don’t, either, instead protesting, but Eridan snarls at them that they’re the ones who broke the truce in the first place.

Neonflaps agrees, and tells the birds that as their god, this is my decree and Eridan starts to sit, slightly horrified at the revelation that Shades Wonder has pulled the ‘god’ card on his subjects. While Eridan’s supporting the opinion that yes, the birds were at fault, and that their ‘god’ had every right to punish them for their faults, it’s kind of insulting that the fishes didn’t win the war out of their strength and intelligence, and instead had to get help from the bird god.

The birds obey their god’s commands, although not without complaining. Eridan tells his fishes to keep watch, because this might very well be a trap.

An Earth week – and Earth days are really, really fast – passes. And then another.

By the time Eridan runs out of creative names for the orange aspiring slam poet, he’s also spent an Earth week listening to said orange aspiring slam poet’s claims that the birds really are gone. So Eridan spends two days on the nearby island, cape and scarf and glasses on, trying to see if his sworn enemies are gone.

There are tinier birds on the island, but they appear to be uninterested with the fishes, instead just eating insects. When he gets hom – back to the reef, not home; not home, jegus grist – Helpful Fish greets him, as they have been doing since a few days after the birds’ surrender has been announced, and being subjected to that hopeful face for .02 seconds is all it takes for him to break.

In his head, he hears something like a ping.

“The birds are gone,” he says, and listens to the entire reef go up in shouts of joy, bubbles of happiness everywhere, little fingerlings swimming round and round the corals.

Eridan huffs, gills opening to release a stream of bubbles.

Oh, like you’re not happy, Helpful Fish says, bumping against his cheek, You’ve been exhausting yourself in the fight.

And he has, but the action had taken his mind off of his predicament, stuck on Earth, and it’d given him something to finally, finally do after months of sitting on a meteor, after who knew how long in Somewhere Else, and after Whatever Had Happened To Him That He Couldn’t Remember.

He still does have wounds that are just healing. The advantage of seadwellers is that their wounds heal faster in the water, but at least he has war trophies.

“Guess I am,” Eridan says.

And he is. He is happy.


 

It gets maddeningly boring fast once the birds are gone. Eridan never liked them, he hates them, and if he had the equipment, he would be planning to wipe out the entire avian species at that exact moment, but sadly all he has is rock, kelp, and whatever else the forest lends him. He doesn’t want to talk to the Orange-Scented Abomination, and he doesn’t really have anything to do other than hunt and swim. As much as he loves that the sea isn’t trying to choke him in his sleep, he still misses riding around his Skyhorse.

So he does the next best thing. He builds a canoe.

He’s long figured out that everything on Earth is a watered-down version of everything in Alternia, so trees yield easily to his claws, and he shapes the parts of his canoe with ease. He yanks down vines (and the snakes that usually accompany them) and searches the entire island until he finds a vat of tar to seal the bottom of his boat. He gives up his scarf to make the sail.

Weeks later, he’s sailing off towards the horizon, remembering everything he’s learned about the ocean and navigating it. It’s not that different with Earth seas; the winds can still be harsh, and the currents are still wild in certain areas. He relies on the temperature of the water because he knows nothing of Earth’s astronomy. He memorizes landmarks so he can get back to the reef and the island. It’s no use getting lost on an unfamiliar planet. There might be humans somewhere, on other islands.

Once, just for fun, he hunts down a seal.

He stays out, sailing, for days on end, taking advantage of his tough skin and his tolerance for cold. When he returns, the fishes greet him like he’s royalty – which, he is. And he preens at the attention. Finally, being praised like he deserves.

Helpful Fish asks him what he’s been doing, and he’s quick to launch into a tale about his days of sailing, of battling the waves with a canoe that he’s built from scratch by himself, of seal-hunting, of harsh winds and even harsher waves.


 

“I think the little guy is trying to talk to me,” Strider Fruit-Flavored Edition says. He’s hovering just above the water, looking down at where Helpful Fish is, in fact, trying to talk to him.

Eridan adjusts the sails on his canoe, slightly irritated.

“Can’t understand you, little dude,” says the source of Eridan’s current annoyance. “I don’t speak fish.”

Clearly, Helpful Fish can understand the bird. Eridan watches as they frown (best as a fish can) and turn to him instead. He stops tying his sails down.

He’s a bird, Helpful Fish says, And apparently, I can’t talk to this bird, even though I thought he’d be like the Mimics or the Fliers or the Scavengers. Or like you. He’s just – bird.

If bird is the codeword for stupid, Eridan agrees.

What is he? I know he’s a bird, but he looks like you? Only he glows.

“He does not look like me,” Eridan says, “For one, he’s human. Or part human. Part bird.”

“What are you two talking about?” Candyshades asks.

Eridan turns to him, then to the fish, and then huffs. “They want to know what you are.”

“Oh,” is the reply. Hesitation, then: “I’m a sprite.”

What’s a sprite?

“What’s a sprite,” Eridan translates. He returns to tying down the rest of his sail, and then starts to push the canoe towards the shore.

When he comes back to water, Helpful Fish is getting an explanation of what sprites are and what the game is, and they’re looking very, very confused.

“You have no idea what I’m talking about,” Cluckbeast Wings says, after a while.

Helpful Fish turns back to Eridan. Eridan grins as he wades deeper into the water, walking past his little charge and the ginormous bird they’re questioning. “He’s a mystic guide that’s supposed to help heroes on a journey,” he says, “Not that he’s a very good one.”

“Oh, you’re one to talk,” Featherflapper actually squawks.

Eridan laughs as he dives down.


 

Davesprite isn’t very much of a bird, is he?

Eridan pauses swimming for a moment. He and Helpful Fish are going west of the reef at the moment, where actual seagrass is plenty and off ahead, migrating Silver Schools are moving in the current like an oil slick. He wants to watch it. He’s been told there will be carnage when the sharks and the dolphins arrive. Helpful Fish didn’t need to come, but they’d said that they’d always been curious about the Silver School migration.

“Davesprite?”

That’s his name, Helpful Fish says, At least, that’s what he says his name is.

“You’re on a first-name basis with ‘im now?”

Helpful Fish lets out a stream of bubbles. Pfft. I don’t have a name, so I can’t be on a first-name basis with him.

Eridan raises an eyebrow.

You try growing up in a huge school of fishes, in an even bigger reef. Not everybody has time for names, your Highness, they say. Eridan still preens at the title.

“That’s too bad,” he says. He turns and continues on swimming.

Do you have a name?

“Of course I do. It’s – ” he pauses, thinking, but his mouth catches up with him first, “ – Eridan Ampora.”

Helpful Fish is silent for a while. They both continue off towards the direction of the migration, and Helpful Fish doesn’t speak until they’re only a few feet away from a tightly-packed school of silver fish, swimming fast. Predators will be here soon, and maybe Eridan will enjoy fighting with them just for the sake of fighting with them.

Water-bearer, Helpful Fish says. Eridan thinks they’re talking about him.


 

Eridan wakes up in the middle of a bad storm, in the middle of a bad night, with a bad feeling rippling through the water. The stormclouds had rolled in earlier, and recognizing the signs of turbulent currents, the fishes had holed up in the reef, as deep and secluded as they can. The storm is bad enough to start churning the waters way below the waves, and every now and then Eridan can feel himself being rocked back and forth.

It’s not so bad for him, but it’s terrible for the fishes, who are weak enough to get dizzy and die from violent currents, and there’s always the possibility of rocks eroding and crushing the corals.

But the storm isn’t what wakes him up. It’s that bad feeling that makes him shudder, even underwater, and makes him feel like he’s being watched by a horrorterror, even if there’s nothing he can see for miles.

And then he does see something, except it’s not a horrorterror. It falls into the ocean with such a force that he can hear and feel the ripple it makes, and his fins flatten on the sides of his head. The thing has fallen deep, water resistance doing nothing for how hard it’s been thrown into the sea.

Eridan expects it’s a log or something, blown by the storm, but then the thing starts thrashing and starts trying to swim up against the rolling waters, and Eridan realizes it’s trying to swim.

He watches, confused, as the thing starts moving up and is pushed down by the currents again. There’s a bright orange glow above the water, an obvious beacon in the middle of the storm, and then that glow dives into the water as well.

That idiotic bird is trying to swim, and since he’s not being intangible at the moment that means his feathers are wet, and that means his wings are heavy, and that means he and whatever he’s trying to save are going to drown.

Can sprites drown? Eridan isn’t sure.

Just as Eridan expects, both the bird and the thing – person? – he’s trying to save go down like a pile of rocks, and even with sluggish flapping of wings, there’s nothing both of them can do against the currents. Eridan has seconds to decide what to do.

The question is, why does he have to decide? It’s not like they’re friends or –

What if it’s one of his friends.

He and the bird were dropped here for some reason, so there’s every possibility that this is one of his friends; maybe it’s even Rose, which would explain the bird’s reaction, but what if it’s one of the trolls, what if it’s –

He doesn’t finish the thought and instead just swims as fast as he can towards the drowning figures. He’s more used to turbulent waters than they are, and uses the currents to his advantage when he can and darts in the water whenever he can’t. He reaches his targets and wraps his arms around the bird’s companion, and Davesprite catches sight of him and understands. The sprite turns intangible, effectively getting all the water off of him but also letting go of his load, and shoots up until he breaks through the water without a splash.

Eridan takes half a minute to breach the surface. His cargo takes in a huge gulp of air and almost chokes on it.

When he’d spent days trying to find materials to build his canoe, he’d found several places on the island that were of use – the hot spring near the volcano, the vat of tar and the cove just on the other side of the island. He heads there now, fighting against the waves that are harsher way up the water and the downpour of rain so thick he can’t see anything. Davesprite appears to know where he’s heading as well, and makes sure to stay close by them so they can use his glow.

They’re violently thrown onto shore by the waves, and Eridan accidentally lets go of the person in his arms as they wash up on the rocks. Eridan shakes the water off – which does nothing because of the rain – and hears a loud cough, and then the sound of someone throwing water up.

Davesprite’s glow is the only light source he has to find the person he’s rescued, and he sees short blonde hair, dark blue god tier pajamas, and the complexion of someone who has almost drowned.

He’s slightly disappointed that it’s not one of his friends. Davesprite is hovering over what is obviously a human, wings spread above her, tangible again.

Eridan motions them towards the cove. “Move,” he says, “Before the wind breaks your wings off.”

The human raises her head – and Eridan’s never seen pinker eyes before, not even Fef’s, that he almost kneels down on instinct – before Davesprite helps her get up, saying, “Roxy – Roxy, come on, we have to get out of the storm.”

This is how Eridan Ampora meets Roxy Lalonde.


 

Some of the corals are destroyed in the morning. Plenty of them wash up on shore.

“How many died?” Eridan asks.

Helpful Fish doesn’t look too happy. A lot.

“How many?”

They’re still trying to see if the ones who are so dizzy are going belly-up.

“Oh.”

That’s a little morbid, really, but it’s nothing that fazes him.

He forgets to ask, come the afternoon, and instead roams the shore for whatever washes up. There’s plenty of coral branches, a few shells, and a bunch of twigs from the storm. He finds crabs scuttling everywhere, a few lying on their back and trying to get up.

Eventually he takes pity on the little things and rights them on their feet, sending them on their way into the water. They clack their claws in appreciation. Eridan snorts. Karkat would love Earth crabs.

“Hey.”

That’s – he turns around a bit, to see Davesprite and, Roxy, was it? Davesprite and Roxy are standing behind him. Davesprite is hovering, just like he always does, and Roxy looks marginally better than a drowned cat.

“Thanks,” she says, and in the light her eyes are painfully pink and bright, and Eridan almost kneels again. He wonders if that shade of pink would be higher than Fef’s, or if it’s cullbait. It’s too bright. Probably cullbait, but still.

He shrugs, instead. He finds another crab and helps it up.

Clack, clack, clack, its claws go.

Eridan pushes it with a finger. “Just go.”

Another round of clacking.

“Just go before I throw you into the ocean.”

The crab seems to laugh, although unlike fishes, crabs can’t laugh. They just shuffle on their feet and then retreat into the sea. That’s exactly what this crab does.

Eridan watches it go.


 

In the middle of Somewhere Else, Karkat Vantas screams at someone who is rather peeved at having only a dark green pen as a writing utensil.

Chapter Text

Eridan’s opinion on magic is that it’s so obviously fake, but Roxy Lalonde smiles as she hovers over the water and pulls a scarf out of thin air. It’s the same shade of Eridan’s blood, and he wonders if it’s coincidence or if she’s trying to say something.

He’s only got the top half of his head above the water, nose still under; there’s a stream of bubbles when he opens the gills on his neck, something resembling an unimpressed sigh, and the water gurgles and splashes at his cheeks.

Helpful Fish is impressed, and that makes Eridan even more unimpressed. He really just wants to go sailing again, but unfortunately, Lalonde has taken interest in his makeshift canoe, which is thankfully only slightly battered by the storm.

He needs to fix it, but Lalonde’s hovering around it, and he doesn’t want to fix it while she’s hovering around it. He finds he doesn’t want to talk to a lot of people nowadays, and it helps that there’s only two around, but they’re annoying as hell.

Davesprite is nowhere to be seen, so he’s probably on the island again.

What is she doing? Helpful Fish asks as Lalonde pulls a slab of wood out of thin air.

“I actually have no idea,” Eridan says, and with his mouth being too close to the surface, his voice is distorted by the air bubbles that escape him. Helpful Fish giggles. It sounds like a poor imitation of a gun rapidly firing bullets underwater, or crudely put, it sounds like a brrrrrruuuuuuuuuub.

Eventually, she floats away from his canoe, taking her assortment of scarves and wooden panels with her, and Eridan tries not to leap out of the water and grab his boat, lest he seem too eager. Instead, he swims over and pushes it onto the sand and starts checking for things that need to be replaced.

“I’m guessin’ you’ve been here long enough to be able to make that boat,” Roxy says.

The sail definitely needs replacing, but that was sadly his only scarf. Maybe he can weave something out of the leaves. Laughable. Leaves would break once assaulted by the winds. He can replace anything made out of wood just fine, but the sail is a problem. Maybe his coat will do?

“And Dave – Davesprite? Still weird calling him that – says you got into a war with the birds or something. I don’t see any birds anymore, which is apparently from you and the lil’ fishes fighting them off.” She giggles. “He says there were seagulls first, and then albatrosses, and then vultures – I don’t know what half of that means. Asterisk, I don’t know what all of them mean. What the fuck is a bird, even.”

Nothing comes up. He hadn’t watched Lalonde when she played the game, not like the other set of humans. He wasn’t around, that was most likely a better term to put it, but he doubts the others had time to watch her and her friends play the game either. Not with him rampaging around with a glowstick and whatever else happened on that meteor.

Helpful Fish can’t go near the shore, although they still try and watch what Eridan’s doing.

“You can talk to fishes, right?” Lalonde asks.

Eridan lets out a sigh before he can think of it, and he opens his mouth to tell her to fuck off – and then stops. He doesn’t know why, but he thinks of Karkat, and Karkat tells people to fuck off all the time, but he doesn’t really mean it. Not with Eridan anyway. With Eridan, he’s always ready to talk, ready to listen, and Eridan would rather jump in a lava pit first (and with Earth-softness, he’d probably survive; he went up to the volcano on the island once, just for fun) before he admits it, but he does miss that.

Instead he says, “Yeah. I can talk to fishes.”

He doesn’t turn to her, but he thinks he can feel her radiate giddiness at the chance to talk to someone else.

“Do you hear words?” Lalonde asks, “Or are they just glub-glub or something?”

Eridan snorts, and then laughs, cutting himself off right after. What an awful noise.

“That’s offensive,” he says, glancing at Helpful Fish who squirts a stream of water in the air to indicate they’ve been listening to the conversation, “And of course it’s words, or what passes for it. All languages are composed of words, even though to the untrained and ignorant ear, it sounds like incoherent noise, or vibrations, or a pulse of feeling.”

That line, he’d recited from Alternian Language over the Sweeps.

“Can you teach me to speak fish?”

Eridan tries very, very hard not to laugh this time and almost fails, but he’s a great Orphaner who knows how to control himself, so he wins that struggle. “I don’t think human physiology is equipped to feel vibrations in the water and tell it apart,” he says, “Or identify the nuances in bubbles.”

Helpful Fish is cackling.

Roxy is too, and when he turns towards her, she’s clutching her stomach, thankfully already god-tiered and possibly sturdy enough to not need to breathe. “You’re shitting me.”

“I am not.”

“Fuck,” she says, sucks in a breath, and then laughs again. “Bubbles.”

“If you ain’t traumatized by the water, you can have a look for yourself.” He motions towards the sea.

Roxy hesitates then, and he confirms what he’s been expecting since the night she fell into the ocean and undeniably broke all of her bones and still tried to thrash around to save herself. Brave girl.

“Maybe another time,” Roxy says.

It’s not a promise, and Eridan doesn’t want it to be.


 

Eridan figures out what Roxy is trying to do a few days later, when she pulls a goddamn boat out of thin air.

It’s small, almost like a wriggler’s first boat, made of reeds and stuff, and it definitely needs a bit more work if it’s going to float on the ocean, because clearly, Roxy’s never worked with actual boats before, but it’s a boat.

Davesprite whistles.

The boat flops down on the water with a wet slap, Roxy hunching in on herself from exhaustion. She watches as the boat almost sinks and is only saved by Davesprite holding one end of it. The other end is still slowly sinking.

“Tar,” Eridan says, setting up a new sail, courtesy of Roxy. Maybe being friends with her isn’t too bad, considering she can literally pull things out of thin air. “Coat the bottom of it. Else the water’s gonna get in.”

“Won’t it get sticky?” Roxy asks.

“Let it dry, ya idiot,” Eridan says, “And then cover it with a layer of tree bark or something. The fibers of those – ” he points to a cluster of coconut trees, although he doesn’t know what they’re called yet and Davesprite will tell him in the future “ – are good for covering tar. And then slap another wooden panel on it. Something. The wood that little boat is made of is thin as hell. You’ll need to thicken it without making it too heavy.”

“How long have you worked with boats?” Davesprite asks.

“Long as you’ve been wearing ‘shades’,” he says.

Roxy never does learn how to make boats, but she’s content with skimming over the water, making use of her godtier powers. She doesn’t dive in, and Eridan thinks it’s just her trying to tell herself that the water can’t hurt her. That she’s okay, and as long as she can fly, she’s not going to drown.

Eridan, of course, doesn’t invite her along for sailing. This is his hobby for now.


 

And since he doesn’t invite her along for sailing, she occupies herself with something else, which is building a hive in the middle of the island.

Eridan comes back from days of being out in the open sea (he’d wrestled with an orca, rode on the back of a blue whale, and then dived as far as he could go, trying to test how much Earth’s water pressure differs from Alternia – it turns out, not much, and he’d swam up as fast as he could once it felt like he was going to get flattened) and finds a huge, white and pink thing sticking out of the forests. A light – bubblegum pink, of course – flickers from it, and he tries to keep his jaw on him when he realizes it’s TrollMorse for Hey Eridan.

Helpful Fish tells him Roxy just finished building the hive (although the term they’d used was dryland reef) yesterday, and that she’d pulled things out of thin air like she always does, and collected washed-up sea shells and corals from the sand.

Come on up, the makeshift lighthouse blinks at him.

Eridan spends half an hour thinking before he pushes his canoe onto shore and makes his way up the island.

Roxy hasn’t levelled any trees or paved the grounds, but instead has built her hive around them, so it’s effectively a tree-hive of sorts, with its white and pink walls, and pastel pink ropes and ladders. An advantage of being a Rogue of Void (he hadn’t asked, but she’d told him) is that you never want anything, instead taking them out of nothing.

Roxy looks exhausted though, dark circles under her eyes, which is saying something because godtiers don’t need to sleep. She’s created clothes and furniture for herself, even pulled out (questionable) food, but if Eridan has to guess, it’s not out of necessity, but out of boredom. And the need to do something before she starts missing her friends. He knows the feeling. He’s been there. He’s still there.

Davesprite, or maybe just Dave, Eridan doesn’t really care, is lounging around with a bottle of apple juice.

“Nice, huh?” Roxy asks, spreading her arms around in a flourish.

“You need sleep,” Eridan says.

She pouts at him. It reminds him of Fef. “You’re no fun, Eri,” she says, and Eridan twitches, which is clearly her goal since she laughs. Eridan hopes she busts out a lung.

“Everything here’s solar too,” she says, once she’s finished laughing. “There’s no mountains around us or anything, and it’s so bright, so at least all that sunlight’s put to good use.”

“You’re not used to daylight?” Eridan asks. Humans were diurnal, weren’t they?

Roxy shrugs. “Not this much sun. I have no idea where in the ocean you’d have to be, to be on a lone island with so much sun.”

“This is Earth,” Eridan says, “You don’t know where we are?”

 “Earth’s huge, dude,” Davesprite says, shrug mirroring Roxy’s so much Eridan is confused for a second, “And I was a city kid. I’m used to high-rise buildings, not high-rise trees. Or oceans.”

“I’m used to oceans. Being surrounded by them, anyway,” Roxy says. A brief look of fear passes by her face. “But I couldn’t really leave home. And half the islands had sunk at that time.”

Eridan doesn’t understand. He doesn’t ask.

Roxy plasters on a smile and stretches her arms. She needs to sleep. “Anyone want to play a board game?”

“You’re bad at board games,” Davesprite tells her with a smile on his face.

“Oh, hush, Davey, I’ll learn,” she says, “I just didn’t have anyone to practice with before.”


 

The thing in the lighthouse is a gigantic pink flashlight. Eridan does not even want to know how Roxy’s imagination formed this, because a Rogue’s imagination is the limit. But it’s there, and she can turn it off and on at any time. She takes to signaling at him whenever he’s by the water, as she’s decided that she’s better off in the island. He understands. Drowning isn’t easy for landdwellers. They always struggle too much.

Hey Eri, says the lighthouse when he’s in the water that night, sitting on a rock and looking up at a bright full moon.

Davesprite has said that it would be best if she didn’t use the lighthouse too much because it exhausts her and they might attract something else looking from the skies – Earth press is vicious, he’d explained, and until they knew where they were and what version of Earth they were on, it was imperative they didn’t draw attention to themselves – but Roxy still uses it sometimes at night, just to piss Eridan off, knowing he can’t shout that well. Karkat would be useful right now. And maybe a little entertaining if Roxy ever got to signaling Hey Kitkat at him.

She can’t see or hear him, but Eridan runs a hand over his face, sighs and says, “What.”

Wanna come up for a sleepover? Asks the light.

“The fuck is a sleepover?” he mutters.

Roxy just says, Come on, it’ll be fun, because she can’t really hear him. When he doesn’t come up, she keeps on blasting Eri Eri Eri, making sure to pause in between to get the point across.

He jumps off the rock and goes to shore. Davesprite is already at the tree-hive and gives Eridan a wave with newly-painted nails. They’re a glittery green.

“The fuck is a sleepover?” Eridan repeats, and Roxy grins wide. She hands him a towel and once he’s dried off, lets him sit down on the pink and violet carpet. All three of them are surrounded by hollowed-out pumpkins, placed all over furniture, insides replaced with candles as a source of light. There are so many pumpkins, some of them even tied to the ceiling, that the room is very well-lit even though Roxy hasn’t turned on any of the electricity-fed lights. Davesprite’s glow is helping.

“She wanted Halloween early,” Davesprite says. Roxy and Eridan both say they have no idea what Halloween is, although Roxy sounds giddy in contrast to Eridan’s deadpan.

When Roxy brings a comb and runs it through Eridan’s hair, he almost runs. Dave snorts, and the blow to his pride is enough to make him stay, especially when Roxy points out that his hair has been getting longer, the purple dye has washed out, and his hair is getting brittle and light from spending too much time at sea.

He lets her treat it and dry it off. It does feel a little softer after, even if he still can feel the brittleness. Months out in the sea when he’s used to being on land (when he was on Alternia) will do that. Maybe he’ll adapt eventually. He still is a seadweller.

Roxy plays with his hair – putting it in a ponytail, styling it into a Mohawk, letting it mirror Dave’s own hairstyle (and he’d put his foot down at that) – chatting all the while. He finds it hard to understand half of what she’s saying, Earth-terms and all, but ends up arguing with her on the validity of wizards while Davesprite sits back with his now-dried glittery nails and sips his apple juice.

Eventually she cuts his hair for him. She doesn’t have any dye, doesn’t even know how dye works because the apocalypse doesn’t spare special hair products, not even if the Condesce jumpstarts said apocalypse, so he has to deal with all-black hair. It’s fine. His head’s lighter and his hair’s not going to poke into his eyes when he gets wet.

He lets Roxy paint his nails pink, starting up another argument about magic while Davesprite referees. They all fall asleep on her couch.


 

In all honesty, living in a waterlogged earth should have put her off huge bodies of water forever, but it didn’t kick in how much she hated the ocean until she almost drowned in it.

She can still feel it, being hurtled through the air and straight into turbulent waters, her bones breaking upon impact. The only thing saving her from death was the better resistance and physiological structure that godtiers have. Leave your mortal bodies and ascend indeed. They were still mortal, under Justice or Martyrdom, but they could heal faster and were sturdier than regular human beings, not that Roxy has met regular human beings before.

It would have been a stupid death, and she would have revived, but she’d thrashed in the water nonetheless, trying not to drown. Her limbs screamed, but her survival instincts screamed harder, and she’d cried under the water.

And then Dave came – Dave, Davesprite, she doesn’t care – and tried to pull her out; his wings were too heavy and he was going to drown too, but for the life of Roxy, she couldn’t tell him to leave. She didn’t want to drown.

Eridan grabbed her and swam her to shore. She decided the next morning she wanted to be friends.

He hadn’t been very open at first, but Roxy knows how to spot a person who just wants to talk to someone and have them listen; she’s spent enough time looking in the mirror. He hasn’t been rude thus far, only just tries to ignore her, always with that little helper fish of his. Davey had explained a few things to her and she’d laughed so hard she started crying. (And then she wouldn’t stop, and Davey had to hug her until she calmed down.)

Eventually he laughs at something she says, and Roxy does a little victory dance in her head. It’s easier to get him to talk after that, and Roxy observes him whenever she can – he loves the ocean and he’s good with boats, and he loves the fishes and loves a good fight; he can be at sea for days on end and come back glowing, like he’s not tired at all, like he’s found the love of his life in the waves and the endless blue stretching out to the horizon and doesn’t care if he’s exhausted.

Roxy had been like that, once. Or she thinks so. It’s hard to remember through the haze of the Condesce and the game.

But she is nothing but persistent, and Davey smiles at her for her efforts and helps, and eventually time finds all three of them on her couch, Eridan’s hair newly trimmed, Dave’s nails painted green, and Roxy tired but happy and sober.

She wouldn’t trade it for the world.


 

She hates the ocean, so she goes exploring with Dave (Davesprite? Who cares. She’ll call him Dave. He hates being called Davey.) sometimes. He shows her around the parts of the island that he knows, and once, they fly up to the volcano and look down at the mouth of it. Roxy has the sudden impulse to jump. She doesn’t. Instead they go back down and try to find as many snakes as they can. A few snap at Dave’s wings, but he flaps at them with enough force to send the little crawlers flying back.

Roxy chuckles. She finds a few friendly snakes that wrap around her shoulders until they prove to be not so friendly and try to squeeze her throat.

“I read them from picture books when I was younger,” she tells Dave once they’re out of the forest, tired and sweating from flying so fast. “I’ve never seen them up close.”

“Never seen them up close either,” Dave says, “Zoos maybe, whenever I could, which wasn’t a lot of times.”

“Never seen birds either – small ones, anyway,” she says.

Dave puffs his chest out and spreads his wings.

“Yeah, you’re a pretty bird, Davey. Don’t let it get to your head,” she says, plucks his aviators off his face and sets them on her nose. Bright orange eyes stare at her, and there it is again, that urge to cry.

She smiles instead and flies off. Dave chases her for his shades.


 

“I’m not Dave,” Dave tells her one night, both of them sitting on the roof of her treehouse – her treehouse, built by her own hands and her own powers and her own exhaustion, and she’s proud of it – looking up at the sky. The moon’s just gone through its phases again, and it’s nowhere to be seen, only just a faint outline in the clear skies. Somewhere below them, Eridan is sleeping by the reef.

Roxy turns to Dave, confused.

“I’m not Dave,” he repeats, “I was once. I’m not anymore. Not the Alpha Dave, anyway.”

“Still Dave,” she says.

“Mo – Roxy,” he says, tired.

“Still Dave,” she insists. When he looks like he’s about to argue, she tells him this story: “I had a friend; a cherub. Her name was Calliope. In her session, the session that crossed into ours, she died. She met Jade and Janey there, in that place, wherever the dead go when they die but not really. And she met herself too. Another version of her. One that was a fully realized Muse of Space.”

Dave stays silent as she turns to him, and Roxy smiles, feeling her heart break in two as she watches the dulled glow around him. “Guess what? She was still Calliope. Both of them were still Calliope. My Calliope and the other Calliope. Different versions and different circumstances, but the same identity. Get me?”

She tucks a strand of hair behind his ear. “Dave or Davesprite, whatever you want to be called so that nobody gets confused when there’s two of you in the same room, you’re still Dave,” she says.

He shakes his head.

Stubborn. She certainly knows who it reminds her of. “Nope. You’re Dave Strider all the way. With bonus wings, but hey, it’s an improvement.” She giggles when he frowns at her. “Fuck’s sake, Davey, you still call me mom sometimes.”

Dave almost turns into a bright pink (although only succeeds in looking like a failed mixture of orange and pink; he’s not even red orange) as Roxy throws her head back and laughs.

“The other you – met him once, good kid – does that too. See? You’re both Dave,” she says. It doesn’t seem to be the proper thing to say, because the glow around him dulls further. She sighs and moves to fully face him. “If I met another version of me, she’s still Roxy too. Doesn’t make either of us any less.”

“I don’t feel like Dave,” he says.

“Because you’re trying to be the other Dave?” she asks.

He stiffens.

Roxy sighs. “All my life I wanted to follow my mother’s footsteps,” she says.

Nobody knows this story. Not even Dirk, who had lived on the same waterlogged planet as her, who idolized his ‘brother’ as much Roxy idolized her ‘mother’. Dirk, too busy being too many people at once. Dirk, who shattered into a thousand pieces of himself for his trouble. Roxy can’t pick that many pieces up.

But she can help Dave. Dave’s not a splinter, but he’s starting to be. She doesn’t want to see him destroyed like her best friend.

So she says, “All my life I wanted to follow a mother I never knew.”

She says, “I wanted to follow the watered-down, glorified version of a woman who never raised me.”

She says, “I tried my best, really did. Read all of her work and constantly asked myself, what would mom do, and when I felt like I did something wrong, I cried until it felt like my lungs were too tight and I couldn’t breathe.”

She doesn’t blame her mom. After all, the woman couldn’t be around for her because she fought for Roxy’s future. Fought for the chance of a world without an oppressor and died for it. She was a goddamn hero.

(Roxy did blame her, for a while. She made up stories and saw the alcohol in the house and thought You’re daring me, I know you are, and she imagined her mother lurking in the shadows, telling her she loved her but pushing her to do things she knew Roxy would do but had to practice self-restraint in order not to fall for her mother’s antics. Maybe Roxy was projecting passive-aggressiveness on her.)

If Roxy blames anyone it’s the people who chronicled her mother’s exploits, because they’d painted her as an infallible, indestructible hero that Roxy now refuses to believe in. Heroes are great, but heroes also suck in equal measure. They mess up and run into fights too big for them to win, and create a doomed timeline that they rush to change, and sometimes they don’t even want to change them and instead just want to join everyone in the afterlife.

She knows her mother is not perfect, and probably had more drinking issues than she ever did, but her younger self didn’t know that. Her mother was perfect. Her mother was ideal. Her mother was someone she imagined rocking her to sleep, singing her lullabies, kissing her forehead when tucking her in bed. And she wanted that mother. She idolized that mother.

For Skaia’s sake, she’d tried to resurrect the woman.

But she knows better now. She’s drowned her sorrows in alcohol and laughed her emptiness away and she’s risen above all of that. She’s lost her mother twice and buried her daughter once, and she’s lost on a planet that’s supposed to be hers but never was.

And she knows who she is. She is Roxy Lalonde, Rogue of Void, she likes bubblegum pink and games and computers, and she hates the ocean with a vicious fervor, and she’s lost on Earth but she doesn’t care.

So she says, “I got lost trying to follow her. And then I realized that I was going to get nowhere trying to be anyone but myself.” She pauses, letting a comfortable silence settle over her and Dave. Pauses are important too. Life is loud enough at times. “From your timeline, I was someone else too. But I’m not trying to be her. I’m just me. We might both be Roxy, and we both are Roxy, but – different versions, different circumstances.”

Dave is silent for a while. Roxy turns away respectfully, giving him his privacy.

Eventually, he responds by hugging her sideways awkwardly, arms around her torso, almost falling on her lap. She gently puts an arm around him and pretends she doesn’t hear him trying to muffle his sobs.

“We’re so fucked up,” he says, so softly Roxy almost doesn’t hear it.

She places a hand on his head and strokes his hair. “Yeah,” she says, “So fucked up.”


 

She builds Dave his own room. He wants it in light orange. She giggles and makes his blocks for him. He tells her it makes their treehouse look like a goddamn candy store and she tells him she has no idea what that is, but it sounds amazing, even though the most prominent memory she has about candy is Jane’s cursed Juju.

Eridan doesn’t exactly thank her when she offers him a room, but she can tell he’s grateful by the awed look he gives the space, all black and violet, just like he likes it. Since he likes striped scarves as much as she does, she’s taken the liberty of making him a few. He takes to leaving things in his room, even though he says that he’s not really going to find a use for it and her efforts are appreciated (ah, victory dance) but not necessary.

Dave snickers and counts the seashells lining the desk placed beside the window, all handpicked by Eridan.

When she’s not flying around the island or jumping off of trees for fun (and trying to see how high she can push it until she gives Dave a heart attack – it never works because he knows she’s a godtier), she dresses up in her best pajamas and curls up by the window in her living room, looking over the jungle.

There are no carapacians here. No humans either. But it’s nice, and she’s got friends and she sees them face to face, already a better life than she had on her old Earth. There’s no threat that’s trying to kill them, and while she knows she’ll have to talk about the obvious soon – what version of Earth they’re on and where the others are and what they can do about it – she just wants to savor this peace. Pauses are important.

So she makes pink ropes and makes zipline systems all over the jungle, even making one that connects to a pointy rock in the middle of the ocean just so Eridan can try zipping down from a tree and straight into the water. She visits the cove she was thrown onto when she almost drowned. She tries to talk to the fishes and birds, because it’s no fair that Eridan and Dave can talk to animals but she can’t, and fails. She tries to build boats and succeeds in making toys instead. She flies up as high as she can into the air and pretends that her lungs are getting squeezed the further up she goes, and drops down like a rock before pulling up at the last minute, whooping at the thrill of it all.

She sits down besides Dave and tells him funny stories of her thousands of cats, of her carapace neighbors, of her pumpkin-stealing days. When he’s sleepy enough (and he never is, but he humors her), he lets her play with his hair, taking a lock of it and twirling it around. She doesn’t take off his shades without his permission again. She laughs everytime he almost calls her ‘mom’.

She creates apple juice and blank books and pink glitter pens, she plays with her lighthouse and pisses Eridan off with the Morse Eri Eri Eri, she calls the boys over every now and then and paints their nails, she argues magic and wizards and video games and guns. She lives.

(She misses Jane and Jake and Dirk and Rose and Callie, wants to get to know Dave – red Dave – Jade and John. She doesn’t tell Eridan what she remembers of Erisolsprite or the other trolls. She wants her friends but this is all she has and she’s tired.)

It’s a good deal she’s been handed though, so she doesn’t question it. There will come a time, she thinks. But later. Later. That all comes later.


 

When she feels that cloud of wrongness spread over the jungle, even when the skies are clear, she still thinks it will come later. When she feels the void stir deep in her gut, because she’s always well-versed with the nothingness, always well-acquainted with emptiness, always good friends with the absence of light, she hopes it will come later. When she sees something fall out of the sky, like a shot-down bird (and thinks, oh god, Dave – Dave no, please don’t be Dave, please be something else) she begs it to come later.

And she’s not wrong. It will come later.

But she does fly over as fast as she can towards that little black shape, and catches Dirk’s familiar shades, red circuits visible through the black glass, in her hands as she meets it halfway in the sky.

The red circuits light up and Roxy places the glasses on her nose immediately, mind racing, questions running by too fast for her to catch up, weighing out the choices of staying with her quiet little life and the small chance of chasing down a coincidence.

AR flashes red text across the screen.

Hey, Rox.

Chapter Text

“What the fuck am I looking at here?” Tony Stark asks as he stands in front of the hologram that’s showing – well.

“They appear to be mutation strings, sir.”

“Yes, but what the fuck am I looking at here?”

Mutation strings, just like JARVIS told him, but there’s almost an entire wall of them, just continuously altering codes and then realtering codes, some of them even trying to take over his controls.

On another screen, JARVIS shows him a list of viruses that can be potentially released (along with a small army of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s finest IT personnel and possibly a helicopter full of agents) if he ever made a misstep, and he hasn’t, because he’s Tony Stark, but what he’s focusing on is the fact that this type of security is not S.H.I.E.L.D’s usual style. They find hackers and chase the little upstarts out of their system and into a holding cell.

This wall of mutation strings isn’t even the first wall Tony’s encountered.

He runs a hand over his face and mutters ‘hell’ under his breath. Whatever S.H.I.E.L.D is trying to hide, they’re going all out in trying to hide it. Steve is right to be suspicious of the little fuckers.

“How many landmines are you going to step on until you get chased out of there again?” he asks.

JARVIS pulls up another screen and displays a list of malwares, some serious enough to incapacitate Stark Tower’s functions for a few hours. This is S.H.I.E.L.D they are talking about after all, and Tony’s handpicked some of the programmers they have, clever little insomniacs who deserved a lot more than sitting in decrepit college dorms crying into their coffee cups. He knew it was going to bite him in the ass, he just didn’t think it was going to be this soon.

“Take a break, JARVIS,” he says instead, waving a hand for the holograms to flicker out of existence. JARVIS says, “Very good, sir,” and Tony barely notices it as he heads out to get some alcohol. He can feel a headache coming on.

He can always manually deal with the strings, like a normal person does, but Tony Stark finds it insulting to be roped in with the rest of the masses and besides, JARVIS is faster. Also besides, when JARVIS gets rid of one string, three more take its place, and it’s not only a cracking game, it’s a race to see whether the wall can build faster or if the strings can be destroyed first.

He almost gets a bottle of tequila before settling for the sixpack in the fridge. He picks the entire thing up and returns to the lab, cracking open a can and drinking it without pausing to breathe. He grabs a tablet and goes through what JARVIS has found so far.

Missing person reports, personal records, lists of social media accounts, dubious traffic cam footage – he’s got a lot to sift through. JARVIS has pointed out things to him, but it never hurts to be just a bit thorough, especially now that he’s seen what S.H.I.E.L.D. is willing to sink to, to protect their precious files. Mutation strings he can understand, redirections he can understand, trackers he can understand, but malware? And an unholy amount of popup ads? Plus videos found in the mucks of Youtube?

Definitely not S.H.I.E.L.D.’s usual MO. Possible, but not commonplace, so either they got one of Tony’s recruits to do the security on these files or they’re that desperate to hide it. Or, they knew exactly who was going to try and hack into these files.

He frowns.

“JARVIS, look for other files that are encrypted the same way as The Great Wall of Mutation Strings,” he says. JARVIS tells him his assent and gets to work.

Kids, Steve had told him. Mutant kids, but still kids. Christ, what is S.H.I.E.L.D. thinking, that a couple of missing children is worth smoothing out paranoia? This is apparently why the Safehouse, which is run mostly by mutant kids, doesn’t want S.H.I.E.L.D. within a fifty meter radius of them. Tony can understand. Hell, Tony’s a little pissed. Defend the Earth, his ass.

He cracks open another beer can and downs that like he did the other.

There are about thirty-two missing kids he’s known about so far. He doesn’t know if there are others, but there most likely are, and there’s probably another five or so missing at this moment, newly abducted, and that’s just in New York. S.H.I.E.L.D. operates in other parts of the world as well.

There’s a pattern though. Most of the kids he’s read up on have publicly displayed their powers. Not maliciously, of course, as others have just displayed their powers by accident while some have just shown off to their friends. A few, like two of the thirty-two Tony’s got intel on, have visible mutations they can’t really help. They’re all kids with homes and parents, so he’s got records out of them. Steve had said that homeless kids were being taken too.

He checks the traffic cam footage JARVIS has given him. There’s nothing suspicious in the footage, and that’s exactly it. The streets are mostly empty, or dark, and the video is just being looped, obviously to cover up whatever is actually happening. There’s no reason for the government to investigate this, of course, especially not if S.H.I.E.L.D. is behind this, but just in case, they’d looped the feeds.

Social media accounts are all filled with worried messages from the missing kids’ friends. Personal records are useful in identifying who is who, but that’s about it. Aside from distraught parents and anxious loved ones, there’s nothing else for Tony to go on, and if he goes around asking questions, word will spread, because he’s Tony Stark and he’s hardly inconspicuous, and then he’s going to be answering to Nick Fury. This would, of course, confirm the theory that S.H.I.E.L.D. is responsible for the mutant disappearances.

Confirm. Funny. It hasn’t crossed his mind that it could have been someone other than S.H.I.E.L.D.

Worst comes to worst, he can sift through internet forums.

This is why he’s an engineer and not a detective. Detective work is for people in huge coats and fedoras, smoking pipes and running around with magnifying glasses, hiding behind monochrome television screens, dialogue supplemented with jazz music in the background.

“Sir?”

He blinks. He hasn’t noticed JARVIS has been speaking to him for a while now. He opens another can of beer. He’s too sober for this shit.

“Yeah?”

“I’ve found three files surrounded by the same type of security as The Great Wall of Mutation Strings.”

“Pull ‘em up.”

JARVIS lets three different holograms flicker in view, all of them displaying scripts generating faster than the human eye can make sense of. The text just looks like excitable little worms, wriggling around.

“No weak links?”

“As far as I can tell, sir.”

Tony absolutely does not huff like a petulant child.

“However, I’ve found a report that’s linked to one of the files, sir.”

Tony leans forward, listening.

“It’s been deleted – ”

Ugh.

“ – but not as thoroughly as they’d like. I’ve managed to recover it.”

Tony forgets he has a beer can in hand and claps his hands together, resulting in him nearly crushing the can and sloshing beer all over himself. Better to make it look like he’d meant for that to happen. So he says, “Let’s see it, then.”

JARVIS’ sigh sounds like static. Tony ignores it in favor of a bigger screen coming to view while the three feeds of the mutation scripts are minimized. Tony reads silently before he leans back in his seat and raises an eyebrow.

“This is from a while back.”

September 2011, the file is dated.

“Yes, it is, sir.”

Ignoring his A.I.’s cheekiness is par for the course. “S.H.I.E.L.D.’s been at this for more than a year, then. What’s the nearest big event this can be tied to – Thor? After Thor, right? New Mexico and the Hammer of Truth? Unless finding Cap counts. I don’t think it counts. He was just found.”

“Yes, sir,” JARVIS says, then, after a while, “It seems there’s another file sir, similarly deleted, but still recoverable.”

“Connected to this one?”

“It appears so.”

JARVIS shrinks the file’s window down so that another one can be placed beside it. Tony reads it, and decides one eyebrow isn’t enough for this revelation. “This one is reported four months and thirteen days after that one. Anything else?”

JARVIS takes a few more minutes, and in that time, Tony finishes his half-crushed beer car and opens another. Two more windows open. The first report is dated almost two months after the last report, and the second is a month after.

Another window.

“This one isn’t deleted, but encrypted. Not in the same way as the mutation strings, of course, but encrypted still.”

It reads like a summary of the last four reports, ending of course, with Amora and the Chitauri attack.

September 2011, January 2012, March 2012, April 2012, May 2012.

“No wonder S.H.I.E.L.D.’s been in a blind panic,” Tony mutters.

Eight months before the Chiaturi attack, the report reads, an odd reading was gathered by S.H.I.E.L.D. This is further supported by Thor’s astrophysicist friends. The energy spike wasn’t like Thor’s arrival via bifrost, or whatever it was called, but it was something closer to what Tony had read during the whole ordeal with the missing ghostbusters merchandise (which has thankfully now resumed production, although the missing merch never was recovered).

Tony suddenly has an idea.

“JARVIS, see if you can find anything about energy readings during the missile disappearances.”

“Yes, sir.”

The report continues that four months and thirteen days after the first energy spike – February 2012 – there was another. It was also dissimilar to the first energy spike, but there was a noticeable effect on the planet’s atmosphere, and scientists all over the world (Tony bets that S.H.I.E.L.D. is pissed they don’t have a monopoly over information and research) confirmed it and were quite baffled by it. Two months after, more or less, there’s another spike, this one similar to the atmosphere-cleansing one. A month after that, another.

A month after that, Amora arrived.

The gap was getting shorter, Tony noted, and it ended with Amora arriving, so no wonder S.H.I.E.L.D. is quite paranoid. It’s possible that whatever had caused those spikes had been on Amora’s side, or even heralded her invasion. Maybe the whole Chitauri thing had been a distraction, and the first four not-quite-invasions were the real thing. Sleeper agents, maybe.

Tony suddenly feels sick, images of flying up to the tesseract portal, missile along with him, flashing across his mind. That huge ship – god, he never wanted to see that again.

What if that is the case? That the attack was just a distraction and the real threats were right under their noses. Is this why S.H.I.E.L.D. is grabbing blindly at whatever they can? Taking mutants off the streets to see if they were the threat that had arrived?

“I’ve found nothing on the disappearing missiles, sir.”

Damn. Tony is sure if there had been reads on it, it would have been similar to the ghostbusters incident. Why was that? They should have been able –

He pauses, frowns. Exactly why had they been able to pinpoint the ghostbusters incidents when mutants were running around New York all the time, using their powers? If the missing missiles were created by a mutant, and if Tony thought that the ghostbusters thing was caused by the same mutant who made the missiles disappear, then it would stand to reason that the readings of the ghostbusters incident should have been replicated and caught during the missing missiles incident.

And if it was a mutant, then why read on this particular mutant when there were countless others on the street? In the city? All over the globe? Why read on just this mutant and not the others?

Unless, of course, S.H.I.E.L.D. knew what to look for and adjusted the equipment to find that particular energy spike.

Curious.

Maybe the mutant abductions are an attempt to find whoever did the ghostbusters thing, and connect that to the possibility that S.H.I.E.L.D. was looking for that particular reading…how did they even get the idea? A tip?

“JARVIS, this sounds stupid so don’t sass me, but find out everything you can about the ghostbusters mission.”

JARVIS is silent.

When there’s a starting pulse of static, Tony says, “Don’t.”

There’s a titter that sounds like a rapid scale of 8-bit keys. Tony can’t believe his A.I. has the audacity to laugh at him.

“Sir, there are similar energy readings to the ones reported in the encrypted September to May file.”

“Let’s see it then.”

There’s multiple files this time. Three of them report of energy spikes that are closer in gap than the previous ones, two of them are even weeks close. Another is a little spaced farther from them. There’s one more, and JARVIS tells him this was almost discarded because the energy spike was so small, but the gamma readings were similar, so it was kept.

The invasion, or whatever it is, is still continuing, and nobody knows what it is or where it is, it’s just. It’s happening.

“JARVIS, are the readings for the tesseract portal similar to these?”

“No, sir.”

Tony blinks. Twice.

He notices that the beer is warm in his hand and drinks it. Maybe he didn’t hear that right. Maybe he’s drunker than he realizes.

“What?” he says, all eloquence gone.

“No, sir,” JARVIS repeats.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, sir.”

Tony finishes the can and carefully places it on the table, resisting the urge to slam it down. He runs through the condensed report – the first spike was different from the rest but similar to the ghostbusters incident, the next three were similar to each other but different to the first, and the last – Amora’s – was different from the rest. The other spikes were similar to the three in between the first and Amora’s.

“Then why the fuck did that report hypothesize those readings had anything to do with Amora?”

“Because lesser-minded humans, sir, in a panic, tend to grasp at straws.”

Tony snorts, opens another can (he does not want to be sober right now) and raises it in a toast to his A.I. JARVIS plays a ‘clink’ sound over the speakers. Tony laughs.

Still, he can’t discard the possibility that all of this might be involved with Amora somehow. It’s the safety of the Earth at stake here. Maybe S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to cover all bases.

He also can’t discard the possibility that S.H.I.E.L.D. is, in fact, grasping at straws and trying to take as many mutants off the street as they can in an attempt at the method of elimination. As in, if everyone they take is innocent, whoever’s left is the culprit.

And then there’s the continuing energy spikes. He can’t discard that either.

A cold draft tickles the back of Tony’s neck, and he shivers. Then he realizes it’s not a cold draft at all, because that cold feeling runs down his spine and makes a home in the small of his back.

He shudders violently, and begins to reach behind him to swat at whatever’s there –

In the reflection of a silver beer can he’s placed on the table, there’s something standing behind him, colored dark green.

It moves too fast, and the last thing Tony remembers is the sound of laughter.

And even then, that doesn’t last.


 

The Great Wall of Mutation Strings is mocking him.

He’s back at it again, playing minesweeper together with JARVIS at it, careful not to make a mistake in case S.H.I.E.L.D. tracks it back to him, or it sends him a malware that will decimate his systems for a few hours (and for a lesser computer, to spark out and weep).

That’s all he can do for now, because he doesn’t remember the last few hours, and neither does JARVIS, which is alarming, because between him and JARVIS, they remember everything. The camera footage is clean, JARVIS’ history is clean, and all Tony has to go on is a couple of empty beer cans, a beer-soaked shirt and a note written in dark green ink. It says Sorry, followed by an exclamation point and a smiley face which is clearly in another handwriting.

This disturbs him for more reasons than one.

First, at least two people got inside his building without alerting security.

Second, these intruders appear to have wiped Tony’s memory, and fuck if that doesn’t piss him off.

Third, these intruders have also wiped and fooled JARVIS.

Fourth, they were confident enough that Tony wasn’t a threat to leave him a note. Like this was all an errand they had to do and, sorry, nothing personal, we’re just going to mess with your head and make you feel like everything you’ve ever done with the tower and your AI is null! Have a smiley face!

JARVIS still hasn’t recovered anything, so might as well focus on what Tony does know he can focus on: The Great Wall of Mutation Strings.

Redirecting is easy, and with JARVIS helping him, ‘manual’ doesn’t even take on its usual meaning, and he just sits back and watches, and occasionally offers his input, sending S.H.I.E.L.D. the occasional barrage of popups. Taste of their own medicine and everything.

He gets a screenful of porn ads when he makes a mistake.

Tony puts – no, slaps – both hands to his face and makes a pathetic whining noise. He’s really lucky no one else is in the tower but him.

Eventually, he calls it a day, and lets JARVIS put all the effort into trying to recover Tony’s missing hours. He cleans up the beer cans instead of letting Dum-E do it so that he can take his mind off of the disaster of the day. He gets a shower and calls for pizza. When Pepper gets back, he smiles at her, and pretends nothing is wrong even though she can see he’s a little peeved by today’s events. It’s not that urgent though, and it shows on his face, so Pep doesn’t press.

The next morning, JARVIS still hasn’t gotten anything on what happened between a sober Tony and a drunk Tony, and they both go back to tackling The Great Wall of Mutation Strings. Hours past lunch, he still gets nowhere.

And then the goddamn radio starts talking to him.


 

Tony doesn’t even own a radio.

He’s got JARVIS to connect to everything he’d want to listen to, he’s got his Starkphones and Stark TVs, and he doesn’t need a stupid radio.

There’s one. Right inside his laboratory, perched on one of the cabinets, an attention-catching purple against the white and silver of the lab.

Tony feels his eye twitch whenever he looks at it.

It’s been there for a week and a half now, and he’s tried throwing it out every time he sees it, but it always finds its way back to the lab, like it’s been untouched. He’s thrown it off the rooftop last Wednesday and watched it fall until it was just a speck headed towards the ground, but that’s all it ever was. A speck headed towards the ground. It never touched it.

Tony had run back to the lab and found it on its usual place, and it had the gall to say, “Well, that was very rude.”

He will never, under pain of death, admit to screaming incoherently at it.

For the last day or two, he’s tried the cold shoulder tactic, but it’s really hard because the voice on the radio can just command him to look and he would, despite himself, turn and look. It’s infuriating.

Thankfully, it hasn’t forced him to do that now, instead just leaving him alone as he and JARVIS go back to their task of trying to get past ridiculous encryptions. They’re doing a little better this time, and Tony’s brought redbulls to the fight.

He feels rather than sees the moment the radio turns on, the little display lighting up in violet.

“You’re going about it wrong,” says the radio. Tony resists the urge to put on the Iron Man suit and blast at it.

“Oh yeah?” he says instead, “Like a little outdated piece of junk knows how to hack?”

“Sir, I don’t think it’s healthy to talk to inanimate objects, no matter how provoking they can be,” JARVIS says.

“Again, rude,” the radio says. Then it sniffs. Sniffs. Tony will take this little upstart to the bottom of the ocean if he has to strap it to a Mark V.

Tony turns back to the screen showing his current mortal enemy.

“Have you tried checking the cameras?”

“Of course I have,” Tony says, “I’m not an idiot.”

“Be reminded I didn’t imply anything as to the quality of your intelligence. The feeds of the cameras are not looped either.”

Tony has to stop for a bit at the sudden swerve in topic. He has no problem catching up, of course, he’s a genius, but normal people don’t really take a hard right at topics.

He reminds himself this is a radio.

“And I’m sure you know that mutation strings are very possible to get rid of, except you’re encountering wall after wall after wall of it.”

“Your point being?”

“My point being, your AI can easily take down walls of encryption faster than a sleep-deprived employee can put them up. And that redirection, as you know, is fairly easy.”

It clicks. Tony yells, “Son of a bitch.”

JARVIS holds a poignant pause, and Tony can imagine his AI giving the radio an impressed look, as both of them wait for the only human in the building to start and finish his outburst.

“A generating program, what the hell – ”

Another AI, maybe not as advanced as JARVIS to be able to learn and form the ghost of a personality, but a program designed to throw as many distractions and walls up at him at least as fast as JARVIS. Of course, Tony had designed S.H.I.E.L.D.’s equipment. Why should he have expected any less?

And redirection is easy. So what, maybe two, three programs, passing him around, covering their tracks? Three mini-JARVISes against one? Tony’s almost proud.

They’re hidden in the server, Tony’s positive. And while hitting S.H.I.E.L.D.’s server is possible, it can also incapacitate them, and therefore raise a few heads, which is why Tony’s only opted for staying hidden himself, skirting around codes, but if he’s fighting a program – a very fast program that possible jumps from one processor to another, he needs to hit the root. He needs to paralyze it. As long as Tony’s careful...

“Hit the server, JARV,” Tony says, “We are winning this game.”

They do, and JARVIS almost does it, except they lose the connection by a freak glitch that sends pink sparks all over Tony’s lab lights. He flinches, instinctively moving to duck under the table, but the sparks stop almost immediately.

“What the hell?” he whispers.

“Ah,” the radio says, sounding curious. “Your technology isn’t the problem here then, like I suspected.”

“Like you what?”

“I have a talent for uncovering secrets, Mr. Stark – ” Tony stiffens. It knows his name. He’s popular enough for sentient radios to know his name. “ – you could say I easily see them. And this is a secret indeed.”

A pause. Tony has nothing to say. The radio fills the silence for him. “I can help you, if you like,” it says.

Tony frowns. “At what cost?”

“Nothing at all,” the radio says.

Tony snorts. They always want something. Always. And if S.H.I.E.L.D’s nabbing mutants off the streets, and if there’s encrypted files all over their servers, and if there’s suddenly appearing radios in Tony’s lab then the prerogative is to not trust anyone. Especially not if what preceded the radio was Tony suddenly forgetting a few hours of his life and a sticky note he’s still keeping in one of his drawers. He needs to run them for fingerprints soon.

He tells JARVIS to hit the server again.

Chapter Text

“The sun won’t burn you,” says Kanaya Maryam.

Karkat Vantas grunts as he closes the curtains again, not even trying to look like he hadn’t been looking outside while it was daytime. “I’m not taking the fucking chance.”

Kanaya hums. It’s been the same argument for half a day now, and Karkat knows she’s familiar enough with him to know that he’s a stubborn fuck. It’s not even that cold in the hivestem, so he has no reason to sit near the windows and leech off heat. He’s just…curious, he supposes. Earth-suns are soft.

Earth-sun. There’s only one of the stupid thing.

“When’s he coming back?”

“This evening, of course,” Kanaya says.

Karkat snorts. “Humans,” he says. They fear the night like they fear everything else. Although perhaps it’s not fully fear, but their body clocks. They are a diurnal species, after all.

Karkat scratches at the skin under his eyes. He’s too sleep-deprived for this.

On cue, he yawns, and Kanaya turns to him.

“You should sleep,” she says.

“No, I – I’m fine,” he says. Stupid body clocks. “It’s boring as shit waking up at night and you’re both asleep.”

“Karkat, you’re going to tire yourself out.”

“Been tiring myself out since I was born,” he says, walking over to the hard couch and flopping face-first onto it. He feels like he can bruise if he just threw himself down on it hard enough.

Kanaya is looking at him worriedly when he looks up.

“Kanaya – ”

“Go to sleep,” she says, “You can wake up at night.”

“With nothing to do?”

“You can’t go outside either.”

He narrows his eyes at her.

Kanaya says nothing.

“Fine, I’m not going out,” he says, “I’m not sleeping either.”

“Please rest when you are tired enough,” Kanaya says, “I worry about you, Karkat.”

Guilttripping always worked on him. It’s horrible. He’s pathetic enough to fall for it too. He sighs instead, rolling over so that she can’t see his face, and goes back to overthinking.


 

Overthinking feels a lot like running your fingers under a sewing machine while your brain can’t shut up.

It sounds a lot like this:


 

Karkat hits the ground screaming bloody murder.

Which – typical day.

Or night, whichever, because it’s dark out, or maybe that’s just because for some reason, he’s got his turtleneck pulled up so that it covers his face. It’s an incredibly stupid decision, even if he can’t remember when and why he decided to do that, because he can’t breathe.

His hands fly up, clawing at his sweater, and he ends up on his side as he thrashes around. His clothes seem to be hellbent on suffocating him today, and he wriggles around pathetically until he’s rolling down a slope that ends with him getting soaked, and hearing a loud splash.

There’s voices. Concerned voices.

Karkat nearly tears his sweater and finally pulls the damn thing down his face.

He squints his eyes at the sudden shift of light and hisses, all the while taking in deep breaths.

There’s too many things to catalogue at once – the brightness, the sounds, the tightness in his chest, the dusty quality to the atmosphere – so Karkat mostly focuses on whether or not he’s physically alright first.

He’d hit the ground rather hard, but he’s used to being thrown around by Crabdad during practice strifes that he can hardly feel any pain. He can’t feel anything broken either, just a little sore, but it’ll be gone in a few hours. Other than almost being smothered by his sweater, he’s fine.

He slowly opens his eyes and notices he’s got his hands up in a protective gesture, effectively hiding his face. He lowers them.

It’s so bright.

His eyes shut again, this time involuntarily, and he mutters, “Fuck,” under his breath before forcing them to open, slower this time.

It’s not bright at all, he realizes, it looks to be dusk, with only the faintest signs of sunlight at the edges of the sky, and plenty of stars are already out, twinkling merrily in their places. Karkat thinks they look like they’re laughing at him. Fuck them. They’ve never tried asphyxiation via sweater before.

He shivers and remembers he’s wet.

When he puts one hand down to push himself up, that hand slips and he falls back into the river he’s found himself in, head and hair getting even wetter this time.

“Fuck,” he says, even more emphatically than the last time.

“Are you okay?”

Karkat spins around to the source of the sound, accessing his sylladex in a split-second, one hand already open even before the sickle falls into it. His fingers curl around the handle, and he twists his legs under him to right his footing and uses his other hand to push him up to a crouch as he brandishes his weapon and snarls, teeth bared.

The humans in front of him blink, startled. One of them takes a step back.

Karkat almost drops the sickle.

Humans.

“Um,” says the one that took a step back, looking nervous. Karkat pulls his lips back until a bit of his gums are exposed. The human squeaks.

“What should we – ” another one –  taller, voice deeper – starts to speak, and then looks at Karkat again, wary, before continuing in a softer voice that might have been missed by other humans, but not by trolls. “Should we call or something?”

They don’t look to be threats, Karkat notes, but then again, humans never look like threats. They’re so soft and squishy, but they hide a lot behind their hubris and their words and their weapons. Mostly their weapons, so if these kids access their sylladexes and Karkat doesn’t move fast enough, he’s fucked. They don’t move like they’re trained fighters though, but Karkat can see callouses on the smaller one’s fingers, the sort that holding an engraved staff would make, so perhaps they’re still starting their training.

Karkat slowly moves a leg back, ready to push off and start running. The third human notices and fidgets.

“Um,” it says, then nudges the smaller one. “I think we should definitely call.”

“It’s like, three in the morning, Shaun,” the smaller one says.

Morning. Fuck.

“Someone’s bound to be awake,” Shaun says, “Mr. G, maybe. I hear he’s…what’s the word for people who don’t sleep a lot?”

“Insomniac,” says the other, taller human.

“Right,” Shaun says, “Or Mr. Winters.”

“Mr. Winters is going to ask what we were doing awake at three in the morning.”

“Practicing?”

I practice. You don’t. You’re a normie,” says the smaller one, grinning up at Shaun smugly.

“I don’t think you’re using that word right.”

The smaller human sticks its tongue out and crosses its arms. “Whatever. They’re definitely going to let us in. You know, let’s just tell them that we met another homeless mutant – ”

Karkat’s ears flatten on the sides of his head. He lets out a low growl from the back of his throat while trying to mentally catalogue if he feels like anything is bleeding. How do they even know he’s a mutant?

The humans all squeak and jump. The taller ones scramble backwards, but the smaller one lifts up its arms and Karkat can feel the water by his feet move away from him, forming curved waves on either side of him. He looks at each of them, eyes wide but standing his ground, readying himself for their crash.

It never comes.

Instead the waves stay stationary while the little human stares him down, brows furrowed, breathing deeply through its nose. When one of its hands falters a little, the wave mirroring that hand moves a bit.

A…special kind of psionic?

What psychic ability can control water? Provided the psionic wasn’t a seadweller? Did humans even have psychics? Dave hadn’t told him anything about human psychics. Dave didn’t even think he’d met human psychics on his Earth.

And another thing. If he’s face to face with humans now, then he’s either in a dream bubble (far-fetched, because dream bubbles are from SBURB sessions) or he’s somehow hit a rift in time and fallen through it and landed in past Earth.

Karkat blinks.

And just like that he suddenly remembers.


 

At least they don’t dump him in the lake when he passes out, and instead carry him under a bridge where they wait for him to wake up. It’s daytime when he does, and he almost screeches his lungs out before the little one – the water-psychic – clamps a hand on his mouth and tells him to keep quiet.

Introductions are terse and uncomfortable, and he doesn’t give them his name, although they don’t seem to mind.

Karkat takes stock of himself as he sits, and occasionally looks up at the humans to see if they’re doing anything suspicious. He’s fine, as much as he can tell – he’s wet, yes, but that fall in the river and the following collapse hadn’t done anything other than get him even wetter than he originally was when he did a pathetic roll into the river. He’s fine. And he’s tired. Tired of listening to the humans talk, mostly.

The little one is chatty, and Karkat suddenly draws a comparison to a mirror image of him in a red sweater, and resists the urge to scream at the sky, just in case this was all a dream bubble.

But it’s not. He knows it’s not. It’s like Kankri has told him thousands of times before, thousands of dream bubbles before – the blood always remembers. That, or that little pen-wielding asshole didn’t put as strong a spell on Karkat just for fun. But if something as strong as The Screatch couldn’t block out The Signless’ memories, then what can a tiny spell do on a red-blooded mutant?

For the most part, the children leave him alone, although they argue theories about who he is, thinking they were out of earshot, but troll hearing has always been sharper than humans.

The top theories include him being a mutant (and he’d flinched, almost grabbed his sickle again) who was kidnapped off the street and then managed to escape, but found himself in New York city, which meant that he was from another place. (Not too far off, except he doesn’t tell them that). Another one is that he’s a very light-sensitive mutant who ran away from home and can’t move until evening, and the little water-psychic argues that if that is the case, they can’t just leave him alone while the sun is up. Hah, like they can do anything.

Their voices lower even further as they whisper something about a ‘safehouse’, although Karkat never finds out what it is, because a few minutes later, people are screaming and running around, and Mai, the little water-psychic suddenly takes off her coat and puts it around Karkat’s head, and he squeaks, alarmed, before she grabs him and tells him to run.

He fights with the coat while simultaneously trying to get Mai’s hand off his arm. He can’t see anything and his legs are trying to catch up with the little human – she can run surprisingly fast with those little legs – and almost trips when an explosion rocks the ground.

Mai screams and lets go of him, and he falls on his ass. When he’s lifted the coat from his face, still making sure his head is shielded from the sun as he does so, Mai is standing in front of him, hands out, a directing a stream of water from a broken red thing at the side of the road towards what looked like an ungodly hybrid between a horrorterror and a furbeast.

“Fuck off!” Mai yells.

“Mai!” Lester, her brother, looks a little affronted.

“Go!” She turns back to him – to Karkat – and moves her head to indicate the direction. “Go, run! All of you!”

“Mai!” Her brother grabs her arm and tries to tug her back, but Karkat doesn’t stay for the argument. He doesn’t need to be told twice.

He runs.


 

Karkat has just decided that he’s getting really sick of passing out from exhaustion when he almost trips as he takes cover in an alley, and then one of those horrorterror-furbeast things screech at him from where it’s currently climbing down a wall.

He skids to a stop, and the wet ground makes him slip and fall back.

Behind him, someone yells, “Duck!” and before Karkat can ask, “What the fuck is a duck?” there’s a whistling sound behind him.

He puts his arms over his head as he ducks, and then there’s a metal clang just as he hears the horrorterror-furbeast jump off the wall and lunge at him.

He looks up when he hears the crash, and the furbeast is on the other side of the alley, thrown so hard into one of the rectangular metal containers that it’s formed an indent in it. A shiny, blue-red-white disk is lying a few feet away from it.

The furbeast wriggles at the same time Karkat hears rapid footsteps behind him. When the furbeast pops free from where it’s stuck, Karkat pulls his sickle back out from his sylladex and, one hand still holding the coat on his head, he slashes at the furbeast as it jumps on him. The blade of the sickle catches the thing on its side, and Karkat hears the exact moment the creature’s ribs crack. It thrashes and claws at his sweater.

Karkat lets go of the coat and retrieves his second sickle, then jams the blade through the underside of the furbeast’s jaw.

It stops squirming abruptly.

He removes the blade from the side of the beast quickly and spins around, fangs bared, when he hears the sound of scraping metal behind him.

It’s human, he thinks, the thing standing in front of him. But it’s all…blue. Blue and red and white, with a star on its chest, and frankly, Karkat thinks it looks ridiculous. It’s got blue eyes, though, reminiscent of John’s, except John’s were a deeper sort of blue. So maybe his ectoparent? Karkat’s only met the girl once, and they didn’t really get to talk.

He certainly smells human.

He’s got the disk in one hand, and his eyes are wide as he stares at Karkat and studies his face.

“Fuck!” Karkat hisses, then pulls the second sickle out of the dead furbeast so he can run and grab the coat from where it’d fallen on the ground. He covers his head with it again, careful not to hit himself with the sickle as he does.

The human slowly slings the disk – which appears to have a strap behind it – on one arm and raises its hands, spreading them wide open. “It’s okay,” he says, voice soft, “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I’m not a fucking animal!” Karkat says, backing away slowly, one weapon still brandished in front of him in case the human tries anything funny.

The human says nothing, but it stops in its tracks.

There’s another explosion behind Karkat, followed by a round of ungodly high-pitched screaming. Karkat’s ears flatten on the sides of his head.

The human looks past Karkat and presses its lips to a thin line.

“We need to get out of here,” it says.

“No shit.”

“Come on.” It starts to move towards him, and Karkat raises the sickle higher and growls. It stops.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” it repeats.

“Fuck off.”

Something buzzes, and Karkat narrows his eyes at the human. It puts a hand to the side of its head.

“Cap, what’s going on?”

The sound is faint and tinny, but Karkat can thankfully make it out over the noise around them.

“Spooked civilian,” the human says, “Don’t worry.”

There’s another explosion behind Karkat, and this time, they both stagger. Karkat returns one sickle – the one that he’s holding along with the coat over his head – to his sylladex so he doesn’t hurt himself.

“We have to go,” the human says, and Karkat can taste the desperation in its voice. “My apartment’s close. We need to go. I promise I’m not going to hurt you.”

Apartment. The word is familiar. Where had he heard that word before? Dave? When they were at the meteor? Did they visit a dreambubble? Maybe.

He doesn’t get the time to sift through memories, because there’s another explosion, and the human runs at him and grabs his arm, too fast for him to react. He squirms and thrashes at first, but after a few more minutes of weaving through fire and explosions, he runs as fast as he can towards the ‘apartment’, then huddles in the corner of the respiteblock when he’s brought there and told to hide and keep quiet.

He decides he’s had enough of being dragged around too.

When he wakes up, not knowing when he’d fallen asleep, Kanaya is sitting on the floor next to him, looking at him worriedly, but otherwise fine. He’s never hugged someone so fast in his life.


 

Introductions, after the ‘attack on New York city, which is pretty normal around here, so it’s just like every other day, really’  (as explained by the weird human in the blue-red-white spandex), had gone with Karkat wielding a sickle to Steve Roger’s neck while the man held up his shield to defend himself. Kanaya had her tube of lipstick out, but otherwise, she was just observing.

“Who the fuck are you!”

“Steve Rogers,” the man had said, infuriatingly calm, “I’m a – I defend New York whenever there’s an attack – ”

“The fuck are you willing to achieve keeping us here?”

“Keeping you here?” Rogers had raised an eyebrow, “You ran here with me after you almost got beheaded by a flying plate.”

Kanaya, watching by the sides, had put a hand on her mouth and politely turned away.

“Fuck you.”

“Language.”

“Fuck you.”

Kanaya was the one who had to pull him aside so everyone could explain. Rogers told them all about New York, and his work, and the frequent attacks. Karkat pulled Kanaya aside so they could discuss a few things.

Apparently, Kanaya had fallen during the attack – thrown in the middle of the goddamn ‘park’, as Rogers had called it – and had to fight her way through the horrorterror-furbeast things before she saved Steve Roger’s ass from being bit into two pieces by a bigger version of the horrorterror-furbeasts. After the fight, he asked her to stick around, and told her that he’d found someone who ‘looked like her’ (and Karkat colored at the suggestion that he even resembled a jadeblood, with his pathetic eye color and nubby horns). Kanaya immediately agreed to come with him, but made sure to keep her chainsaw out in case Rogers tried anything funny.

The chainsaw was still out even after Karkat woke up with Kanaya beside him.

They decided not to tell him about Alternia – not when Karkat remembered exactly what happened before he fell here – and Rogers didn’t pry, thinking they were only ‘mutants’.

Currently, they’ve fallen into a little arrangement so neither troll under the human’s roof went stir-crazy. There’s been mutant abductions, according to Steve, and he wants to get to the bottom of it, but at the same time he wants to stop the abductions as much as possible, and since mutants with physical mutations were a lot easier to spot than ability-based mutants, and therefore easier to abduct (not that Karkat and Kanaya would go down without a fight), it was best that they stayed out of public sight.

Karkat thinks of Mai and wonders if that’s the reason why she and the others had been hiding under a bridge and had something called a ‘safehouse’.

Karkat and Kanaya don’t go outside – there’s no ban, although Rogers tells them to be careful if they ever wanted to go outside, but neither of them are risking it. Also, Karkat’s sleep schedule is fucked up, because he’s awake at night, but there’s nothing to do because Rogers is apparently shit at internet and won’t explain why. Kanaya is awake during the day, and she can watch television and sew, so good for her. She can be awake during the night if she wants to, but it’s not like Karkat can sew, or do anything related to art to save his life, so he can’t entertain himself by helping her.

So he tries to stay up during the day and gets fatigued for all his trouble. It’s a lot of trouble. And he hates it.

(As for Kanaya, she’s made Karkat twelve new sweaters already, and Karkat would be a shit friend if he didn’t know how nervous she actually was based on the number of items she’d sewn.)

He sighs as he flips through the channels this morning. It’s all talk shows and more talk shows, but it’s three in the morning, and Kanaya says that’s all there ever is on the television during the morning.

Humans can sure run their mouths if they want to.

He sleeps through the rest of the day, because Kanaya tells him to and threatens him with a needle, and wakes up when Rogers returns that evening from whatever work he needed to do, and smelling of that horrible thing Dave used to call ‘coffee’. Ugh. That thing made Karkat smell colors and hear scents.

“Is he okay?” Rogers asks, when Karkat is rolled up in a blanket, and is wriggling around the floor, bored out of his mind. Who cares about dignity when Kanaya’s already seen him at his worst, crying and shaking, scared out of his mind; the human doesn’t count because he’s human and he doesn’t know Karkat and fuck him, they’re not friends.

“Boredom does unbearable things to one’s mind,” Kanaya says.

“How about the TV?”

“They’re all talk shows,” Karkat says. He almost says, ‘you humans run your mouths like there’s no tomorrow’, before he remembers that Rogers thinks they’re just mutated humans. So he says nothing.

“It’s seven in the evening, Karkat,” Roger says, chuckling. “It’s not talkshows anymore. There’s the news right now, I think. And then they have this new romcom segment? I saw an ad for it a while back.”

Kanaya turns to Karkat the exact moment Rogers says ‘romcom’.

Karkat quickly grabs the remote.

The next day, this is what greets Steve Rogers at the dinner table:

“Benjamin,” Karkat says, somehow looking threatening despite being 4’9” and wearing a sweater with pajama pants while also brandishing a slice of apple pie, “Loves Adam. It’s clear.”

“Karkat.”

“But that bitch Tiffany is fucking blind and keeps on ruining things for them, wanting to auspisticize a budding matespritship.”

“Karkat, there’s no one who is fighting you on this.”

“Shut your fucking load gaper, Rogers,” he says, then takes a bite out of his apple pie. He thinks he understands why Dave is obsessed with apple juice now. Apples are amazing, although the word doesn’t roll off his tongue because of his lowblood Alternian accent, and it sounds more like ‘apurrr’ instead. He hasn’t swallowed before he starts talking again. “And Rika, poor thing, has a flushcrush on Tiffany, even though she can do better!”

“He gets like this,” Kanaya says, “You’ll get used to it.”

Steve doesn’t look like he can get used to it.

He slides the rest of the apple pie to Karkat, who grabs it with a mumbled ‘thank you’.

Once, Karkat manages to stay up for a full twelve hours with the sun out, watching romcom after romcom after romcom – there’s a lot before noon, and when twelve strikes and the noontime show comes on, the one that Kanaya says is just stupid humans doing stupid things to entertain each other, he switches it to another channel that only plays human films, and he manages to time one horror-romance movie. It ends horribly, with both matesprits killing each other. He does not cry. Of course he doesn’t.

The afternoon has softer love stories, with beautiful aesthetics in pastel colors of the Earth’s morning sky and their orange and pink leaves. These ones – these ones Karkat unashamedly admits he’s shed a few red tears, although thankfully, Kanaya is in the respiteblock which Rogers has given up to them, and he just sleeps on the couch instead.

When the evening comes, he eats dinner and falls asleep, and Kanaya continues sewing clothes as she looks out the window, her skin already glowing in the dim light. Karkat tries very hard not to overthink.


 

“Karkat.”

Karkat startles and rolls over from where he’s pressed his face into the couch. Kanaya smiles at him, a little amused. He hears the door shut with a click, and he grabs one of the couch pillows and groans into it.

“You needed the sleep,” Kanaya says.

“I wasn’t asleep,” he mumbles into the pillow, “I almost fell asleep, there’s a fucking difference.”

“Hello, Karkat,” says a voice from the doorway.

“Welcome fucking back, Rogers,” he says, not bothering to remove the pillow from his face.

Steve Rogers smiles – it looks like Kanaya’s, and Karkat wants to throw something at the human, because is the fucker feeling paternal? – at him and shakes his head, knowing the futility of chastising Karkat for his language.

“I have more cloth, Kanaya,” Rogers says, “And um, apple pie?”

“Fuck yes.” Karkat immediately sits up. When Rogers doesn’t walk fast enough, he moves and grabs the plastic bags from him, almost shredding the thin material between his claws.

Rogers chuckles and heads for the cooking block.

Karkat passes the bag with the cloth to Kanaya and digs out the boxes of apple pie, then stops when Rogers is out of earshot.

Kanaya lowers her voice. “We’ve been here for days, Karkat. Give the man a bit of credit.”

Five earth days or so, at most? Karkat doesn’t know, not with his fucked-up sleep schedule, but definitely not long enough to determine whether Rogers is just playing them.

Karkat has been on a hair-trigger every time Rogers is in the hivestem, these past few days. He doesn’t deserve this fucking stress. He needs –

He needs to find the one that dropped both of them here. Kanaya might not remember, but Karkat does, and Karkat will probably be able to smell the mischief out of that piece of shit if they ever meet again.

He wrinkles his nose. “I know,” he says, “But just – we’re on Earth, Kanaya. Doesn’t that make you suspicious?” Perhaps it wouldn’t be too stupid to try one more time. “Don’t you remember anything about what happened before you ended up here?”

The timing and the circumstance of Kanaya’s landing was suspicious enough, and Karkat, of course, suspects the pen-wielding bane of his existence.

Kanaya shakes her head.

He sighs.

Steve Rogers is their only contact on Earth right now, and Karkat needs to lay low as well, because this Earth has its own set of problems too. Besides, he’s not god-tiered. He can’t just take off and start looking for his ever so generous benefactor at the edge of the universe. He hopes that bastard gets eaten by a horrorterror, and doesn’t respawn because it’s a Just death.

Besides, letting them live together with someone who’s going to cause them harm would be the opposite of whatever that little green-penned upstart wants.

He digs out his apple pie and starts eating it.

Chapter Text

To Tony’s credit he’s been trying not to make his recent spike in drinking obvious so he doesn’t worry Pepper. This is the fifth day that he’s tried to get rid of the mutation strings, and every time he gets even close, his lights spark out and his screens blink pink before dying, and he has to spend a few minutes rebooting everything manually because even JARVIS is shot after every sparkout.

The radio is the only thing that doesn’t seem to turn off – he’s not even sure it’s plugged, really, and currently, since he’s just experienced the third system failure of the day, he can feel its tiny little dials judging him.

“Do not,” he grits out as he stands, brushing off crumpled burger wrappers from his lap, “Say anything.”

“I wasn’t going to, but now you’ve prompted me. Just make a separate generator to reboot everything, Mr. Stark.”

“That’s still going to connect to the building, and apparently, everything that touches the floor or the ceiling dies every time those weird pink sparks fly.” Tony doesn’t stop talking as he walks out of the room to start fixing things. The radio can hear him, he knows, and can even hijack his speaker system, which gives him the hint that the physical radio itself is just for show.

A mutant who can control airwaves? Or just liked technology and made it their signature?

“I don’t even know what those pink sparks are. Why pink? Why spark out when nothing in the lights or the circuits get fried?”

“It’s psychic energy,” says the speaker right above him, when he’s on his way back down to his lab after he’s reset everything, and the lights have come back on.

He stops walking and blinks. “It’s what.”

“Psychic energy.”

“That was rhetorical, I don’t believe that any more than you say you can help me crack the string wall by writing squiggly lines in pink glitter pen.”

“The glitter pen is optional, I assure you; I just like the aesthetic. The psychic energy, however, is real. You’ve dealt with mutants. You know how this works.”

“S.H.I.E.L.D. is employing a mutant to code their files with psychic energy so it kills your system if you get even close to breaking it open? Or if you even try to hit the server?”

That…wasn’t too farfetched, except Tony knows that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t trust mutants very well, and wouldn’t take the chance to let them safeguard precious files. Not one as heavily guarded as this one.

“They weren’t employing the mutant per se. It’s more of a case of the mutant employing themselves.”

Tony snorts, walks the rest of the way to the laboratory and then flops onto his chair. The radio’s voice isn’t as ethereal and airy when it comes out of the radio this time, instead of the speakers in the building.

“I know you don’t believe me, but if you want any chance of cracking that wall open and saving a life, you need to do as I say. I will take blind faith and absolutely zero trust so long as our ends meet.”

Tony eyes the radio suspiciously. He walks over to pick it up, and takes it back with him when he goes back to his seat. He places it harshly on the table, and it doesn’t break apart, although it lets out a tiny burst of static and says, “Rude.”

“Save a life,” he says, “There’s a life riding on this wall?”

“There’s several, if you want to count the casualties – involving the thirty two missing mutants you’re looking for, by the way, although the real number is closer to fifty four children, thirteen teenagers and sixteen adults – ”

Tony tries not to choke on his spit.

“ – but there is one specific life that is directly tied to The Great Wall of Mutation Strings. I want that life saved. You’re the only one I can approach regarding this problem.”

It’s possible that this stupid thing might just be guilt tripping him. But there’s also the possibility that it’s not, and if Tony refuses, then that one life’s blood is on his hands.

He sits, never taking his eyes off the radio, crosses his arms, and props his feet up on the table loudly. The radio moves as the table jolts slightly.

“Why am I the only one you can approach?”

“Because Steve Rogers cannot hack, and he is busy with other things, however well-meaning he is. Natalia Romanova and Clint Barton are too close to S.H.I.E.L.D. Dr. Bruce Banner does not need this stress.” The radio pauses. “The Prince of Asgard would have no idea what to do, and might insult runework. I don’t need the unnecessary drama that comes with that.”

“Is Bruce Banner does not need this stress genuine concern for Bruce or are you just saying he might be too anxious and hulk out.”

“Since we’re trading in honesty, both.”

Tony barks out a laugh. “We are not trading in honesty. You haven’t given me anything trustworthy.”

“On the contrary. I have not lied to you since we’ve first spoken. I may withhold information, but that is because that information is of no use to you, and may even put the events that are to come in jeopardy. I have no interest in turning this into a doomed timeline.”

“Okay now, you sound like something out of a bad sci-fi novel.”

“I’m a disembodied voice speaking to you from an unplugged radio. Are broken timelines really so hard to believe? Especially when you’ve met a Norse god and fought an Asgardian seiðkona and caught a glimpse of a battleship that’s only one of millions?”

He flinches immediately at the last part and narrows his eyes. “How do you know about that?”

“The correct term for an Asgardian sorceress or the battleship?”

“The battleship. Don’t snark me.”

“But then I wouldn’t be speaking your language, would I?” The radio actually laughs at him, and then it pauses for a bit before speaking again, “I’ve told before. I have a talent for uncovering secrets. I know you have never told any of your teammates what you saw, or why you are actually scared of the whole superhero business more than you let on.”

“I’m not scared.”

“Yes, you are. You get nightmares.”

“I am not scared.”

“You stay awake for as long as you can just to avoid those dreams, and even then you get waking nightmares. Anything that reminds you of the chitauri sends you into an instant panic, and you fight hard to seem calm. You’re hallucinating already, Tony, and Rhodey worries about you but you tell him you are fine – ”

His breaths are getting shallow. Tony focuses on the little insignia on the radio, lit up in purple, and he thinks it’s mocking him. Unravelling him. Looking into him without his permission and he wants it to stop that; he wants it to stop talking, however calming its voice is. It’s unnerving. It has no right. It –

“ – will only get worse, Tony. You need help, and you need to talk to people, but your stubbornness isn’t allowing you, and I can tell you so much more of what is to pass if not for the consequences, but I promise you I will help you if you only listen to me. Your fear is not irrational.”

It won’t shut. UP.

“I am not. scared!”

The radio crashes into several tiny pieces when it hits the wall. Tony huffs, realizing that his ears are ringing and that he’s stood up, and that he’s also apparently picked the purple radio up and hurled it across the room.

The dials are scattered across the floor, and the little insignia – from the control panel of the radio that’s broken in half – is dark.

Tony stares at it, suddenly aware of the silence, and is confused when he mourns that the tiny little purple eye is no longer lit up.

And then it is.

He flinches. The radio doesn’t reassemble like he expects it to, but he hears a voice. The same voice from the radio, but not ethereal or airy like it is when it plays from his speakers, and not with underlying current of low-humming static when it plays from the purple radio.

It sounds close and real and it’s right being him.

Tony wants to turn. But his body won’t move.

“I’m sorry for upsetting you,” says the voice, “I see secrets, but I don’t have the practice of keeping them, and I apologize. That was too far.”

He needs to turn. He needs to know who put that stupid radio in his building and he needs to know how this stranger even got inside but. He doesn’t. Rather, he doesn’t think he can.

“I can assure you that I won’t speak of that again, nor will I mention it in the future unless you give me explicit permission to,” it says, “Although this will not dissuade me from my original goal. Mr. Stark, I need you to break open that wall, and I need you to save someone. The reason why there are so many missing mutants is because S.H.I.E.L.D. has been given information by the same person is making your lights spark out in pink – information that might have sent a few of them into a blind panic, and then some – and they are trying to take the best course of action to protect Earth according to that information. That information is misleading and mostly false.”

Tony has never been one for purple prose, or fancy thoughts, or dramatic soap-opera-worthy lines, but he thinks, for one brief, spontaneous moment, that is what it feels like to hear the void speak.

“The mutant – however you want to call the one who is preventing you from breaking through the wall of mutation strings – will warn you not to listen to me. They have done the same thing to S.H.I.E.L.D. and have greatly reduced my options of people to ask for help. When you decide to help me out on this endeavor, ask me. I’ll tell you everything to the best of my ability, and I promise you I will not lie.”

Tony turns right then, all strength suddenly returning to him, and finds no one standing behind him.

When he turns back to the radio, it’s whole and fixed. The little eye insignia is glowing purple, and then it darkens out.


 

“What the fuck am I looking at here?” Roxy Lalonde asks.

There are maps, and pieces of maps, all over the living room, spilling into the kitchen. Eridan is in the midst of all of them, sitting with Hal and his laptop, tapping a violet pen against his cheek.

So far, the choice to pull a laptop out of thin air and plug Hal into it, as the bastard also acted as a Wi-Fi, is still dubious, because the only result Roxy can see so far is that Eridan has gone nuts over the internet.

“Eridan has gone nuts over the internet,” Dave says helpfully, moving to hover behind her, bottle of apple juice in hand.

“Yes, but what the fuck am I looking at here?”

Some of the maps have violet writing on them – Alternian, Roxy recognizes. She doesn’t know if Dave’s sprite knowledge helps him read Alternian, but Roxy definitely can, a product of living on a planet conquered by a mass of pink glitter and hair.

Hal – as AR had asked to be called – lights up briefly in greeting. Roxy regrets the laptop.

“Eri?” she asks.

“I’m trying to triangulate our location,” he says, still staring at the laptop. One hand is typing rapidly on the keyboard, the other is still tapping his pen on his cheek.

“You know nothing about Earth geography,” Roxy says.

“I’m learning,” Eridan says, “Or I would be if Hal could just fuckin’ focus.”

On cue, the laptop plays some tinny anime song. Eridan doesn’t sigh, although he looks like he’d very much want to, and instead looks up the ceiling and sets down his pen so he can shut the laptop and unplug Hal. He throws the pair of pointy black shades at Roxy. She catches it.

Hal flashes  Rude  across his screen.

Roxy sighs and places the glasses on her nose before flying over to Eridan, careful not to disrupt any of his maps. She recognizes none of them.

“I’m getting nowhere,” Eridan says. Exasperated, his speech impediment is more prominent, and the ‘w’ wobbles dangerously.

“It’s fine, Eri,” Roxy says, “You’re not on a deadline.”

Eridan crosses his arms and nods. Roxy watches as the expression on his face turns blank, and she knows he’s thinking and won’t be bothered by the outside world for hours until he’s done. She leaves him to it and instead goes to where Dave is picking up a bunch of papers and is writing with an orange marker on the little whiteboard tacked to a wall.

The sea and the island can only provide so much entertainment, so whenever the four of them get stir-crazy from the boredom, they try to find out where and when they are and how much time has passed since they’ve arrived. Dave helps Eridan out with the Earth and time stuff, Eridan calculates geography, Hal trawls the internet, Roxy upgrades him every now and then. It’s a good arrangement, and it’d taken a while to achieve, but it’s there.

Three months or so of acquaintanceship has certainly gotten Eridan and Hal used to each other.

Eridan hasn’t been sailing in a while, and he’s going through another bout of trying to figure out Earth geography and their location again. Normally, Hal would help him, but it’s been two weeks, and Roxy knows Hal doesn’t derail research for no reason.

He needs to relax, Hal offers as an explanation, as if reading Roxy’s mind.

“I know,” Roxy whispers, “Maybe we’ll have game night.”

Or movie night.

Roxy waits for him to elaborate.

The internet, Rox.

This Earth's internet.

There's so much.

“And you’re not going to help Eri, are you?”

I’m built with everything but a GPS. Besides, Eridan likes to think and calculate. Let him have his fun or that intelligence will deteriorate.

Until he starts pushing himself too hard, of course.

Dave is writing under what’s already on the board – a working timeline of before they’d arrived, when they’d arrived, and all they’d done since they’ve arrived, along with the differences of this Earth and Dave’s Earth. There are tiny little notes in pink ink for Roxy’s input on her Earth.

According to what they’ve put together, this timeline is centuries back from Roxy’s Earth, and it’s not waterlogged, and there are in fact other humans on the planet. They just have to figure out where they are and where all the other islands are – and, most importantly, if any of their friends have ended up here.

This is probably why Eridan’s worked up again. He pushes thoughts far back into his mind and occupies himself with sailing until he can’t anymore, and then he gives in to overthinking what if’s and starts up research again like his life depends on it.

Kid probably misses his friends.

I’ve made friends on the internet.

Roxy blinks incredulously before putting her hands on her hips. Just because she knows AR both loves and hates being called by it, she whisper-hisses, “Hal Strider.”

I promise they’re not stalkers, mom.

Calm down, Rox, it’s just Reddit. And do you know people on the internet look out for bots nowadays?

There were plenty of bots on Roxy’s Earth’s internet, and barely any humans.

“And what are you even doing on ‘Reddit’?”

Making friends, I told you.

And discovering that an abundance of humans means an abundance of stupidity.

“I’m human, Hal,” she says.

Hal continues like he hasn’t heard her

There’s a lot of interesting stuff they can get up to, these humans.

It makes you wonder what would have happened if the Condesce kept them around. Quite possibly a revolution, or an awful religious group.

Roxy shudders to think about a religious group dedicated to the Condesce being around at the same time she was, and decides she was very lucky that wasn’t the case on her Earth. Probably on some poor, bastardized timeline, but hers was spared.

“Just be careful on whatever site you’re on,” she says, removing the shades from her nose and moving to place them on the coffee table. Eridan still has not moved, maybe even blinked, and Roxy doesn’t disturb him and looks around the mess he’s made, and sighs.

She supposes Dave is contributing to it by disrupting a few papers on purpose as he floats by the whiteboard.

On the board, Dave has marked out the differences on how far apart the four of them had arrived on Earth. Roxy looks at it curiously, and wonders if any of them can remember what happened before they arrived. Eridan has the strongest impressions of what happened, and Hal, whom they’d expected to remember better because he wasn’t human, hasn’t offered anything substantial. Whether or not he remembers remains to be seen, as it is possible he’s merely withholding information. As to why, Roxy has no idea.

What they have so far is this:

JANUARY 2013 - Eridan

LATE FEBRUARY 2013 - dave (sprite) ((DAVE)) (sprite) [Are you trying to form a cheer squad.]

MARCH 2013 - that time when eridan fought birds (The Loud Mimic - Fish Reef Wwar) you were fighting birds (I wwill train Anshu to fight ya) aww no man i cant fight little helpful fish

MAY 2013 - Silver School Migration (sardine run)

JUNE 2013 - roxy

JULY 2013 - hal

AUGUST 2013 - eri finally decided on a name (Don't call me that) roxy calls you that

SEPTEMBER 2013 -eri became king of the whales(I did not)((seriously why can roxy call you that but not me)) (She's my favvorite)

OCTOBER 2013

Looking at the numbers always makes her wonder. Ten months. She’s been here ten months. Living on an island (living, not stuck, not lost) for ten months with three other people, making a ridiculous tree house and trying to talk to birds and fishes.

She would be glad if Eridan found anything to help them get off the island, she really would. It’s just that she’s both excited and scared – there’s so many humans, Hal had said. Would she find her young mother here? Or her mother’s mother? Would she fit in? Do the humans here have rad discussions about cats and wizards?

(Are her friends ever going to arrive?)

She’ll miss the island and her tree house if they move. She’ll miss little Anshu. She’d laughed so hard when Eridan finally decided on the name.

(“I can’t believed you named them Hope. After your title.”

“Why do I suddenly regret telling you that.”)

Moving wouldn’t be too bad, not really, but Roxy isn’t really sure what that will achieve. She doesn’t know how and why she’s gotten to this Earth. She doesn’t know if it was in the plan – doesn’t know if it’s the Earth they made after they won the session, if they even won. There’s a huge blank in her memory, which appears to be the same case for everyone else. She has absolutely nothing to go on right now.

She’d like to have some direction, for once.

That was the only thing she couldn’t just pull out of nowhere, no matter how hard she tried.


 

Tony Stark stares at the stationery card in his hands.

No, the proper term would probably be a piece of cardboard that looked like it was dunked in glue, shoved into a tub of glitter, bedazzled and then stapled with LEDs to spell out the message on it. It’s an absolute eyesore to read, especially when the glitter, the plastic gems and the LEDs are all in varying shades of pink.

It says: DON'T TRUST THE VOICE.

Which is par for the course with cryptic stuff he’s had to deal with since becoming Iron Man, and also largely unhelpful.

Honestly, if it weren’t for the radio telling him in advance, he might get things like this from whoever had made The Great Wall of Mutation Strings, he would just write this off as a prank from Barton, and incinerate the card.

He still does incinerate the card. And he is not going to listen to this…whoever this is. He is tired of people constantly getting into his building without him or JARVIS noticing. He is pissed at this person for creating the wall of mutation strings and making his system die out anytime he gets close. He is going to have to deal with pink glitter in corners where he thought were already cleaned out.

So no, he’s not about to do as the card says.

He doesn’t think he wants to do as the radio says either. It’s fixed now, and has been silently sitting in his laboratory. It hasn’t spoken to him since he broke it two days ago, and he thinks it might be giving him the cold shoulder for breaking it – which is ridiculous – but also that it’s giving him time to think.

It knows exactly how much one life (and indirectly, eighty three other people) weighs on his conscience.

And what sucks is that, that one life really has been weighing on his conscience. Especially when he can do something about it and he’s just refusing to listen to the radio out of paranoia and pettiness. The paranoia is justified, but he thinks he might be able to escape the danger. The pettiness is just childish (although he will never admit that to anyone out loud).

Besides, if the radio isn’t just playing him and the card isn’t some elaborate scheme to ‘prove’ they have an adversary, Tony might in fact be the voice’s only chance. If some glitter-loving eldritch abomination could create a security system that shot out his own every time he tried cracking it, and could also just get past JARVIS without so much as tripping one alarm, even with all the glitter, then they’d have to be impressive. Maybe as impressive as the radio, but so far, the radio hasn’t destroyed any of his things.

When he goes downstairs, it’s still as silent as ever, and its little eye insignia is still blacked out. Tony huffs and tells himself he’s not a little irritated that the radio’s not awake to tell him I told you so.

JARVIS pulls up the holograms on the missing kids, along with the encrypted files he still hasn’t made any progress with – even the three other files similar to The Great Wall of Mutation Strings make his stuff spark out – and he tries to get some work done while occasionally glancing at the radio.

Two system reboots later, he turns to the radio, visibly pissed, and says, “Yeah, your arch-nemesis contacted me by letting a craft store throw up on a card.”

No answer.

He frowns. “I still don’t know how both of you managed to get in my building without me knowing, but I’d like some explanations.”

The radop still does not turn on.

“You know, if you’re not gonna talk, I might as well just smash you again for good.”

Nothing.

Tony starts to stand.

“I think what he means is that he is willing to consider helping your case if you gave him more information.”

That’s a very high betrayal coming from his AI, Tony thinks, but since JARVIS doesn’t have an actual face he can glare at, he settles for glaring at one of the cameras in the corner of the ceiling.

The radio turns on. “It would have been easier to ask nicely instead of threatening me, don’t you think, JARVIS?”

“Oh, you’re buddies with JARVIS now but ignored me for the past two days?” Tony asks, both relieved and even more incensed. He sits down.

“You didn’t ask me to give you information on how to crack the mutation strings. I have no reason to talk to you other than help you with this, and you have no reason to talk to me other than to help me in my endeavor. If you were just going to trashtalk me, then it would be a waste of energy to turn this radio on.”

“So you’re not a disembodied entity who lives in a radio?”

The radio actually laughs. “Of course I’m not. You know that. You heard me without me using the radio.”

Tony falls silent for a moment, and hopes whoever is the voice behind the radio can’t seem him trying to relax. The memory of his entire body just freezing up and betraying him still makes him feel cold all over.

“How are you even contacting me by a radio? By an unplugged radio?”

“By the very same methods that you will have to use if you want to break open the wall.”

“Which is?”

“Runework. Well, maybe you’d better understand it as sorcery or magic or whatever fantastical term you want to grace it with. It’ll just be symbols paired with intent. And ink. Or blood. Whichever you’re willing to spare.”

“I’ll skip the blood, thanks.” Tony makes a disgusted face. Anyone who could control an unplugged radio and suggest he do magic was bound to be a little off, but he drew the line at writing things in blood.

“Has your opinion in glitter pens changed?”

“No.”

JARVIS lets out a burst of static. Tony glares at the camera again.

“Don’t you laugh at me.”

“I hardly think writing in glitter pen is a bigger concern than writing in blood, sir,” JARVIS says, and Tony doesn’t tell him he has a point.

Instead, he turns to the radio again. “What makes you think I’m actually going to help you, anyway.”

“Nothing. I never assumed anything. You just spouted out a generic line from age-old action movies.”

This time the static from the speakers lasts a lot longer, and the radio actually giggles in response.

For the first time in his life, Tony Stark feels like the adult in the room.

When JARVIS and the radio both stop laughing, the radio returns to being drop dead serious, and asks, “Are you going to help me? If not, then we have no reason to continue this conversation.”

Tony’s pause is even longer this time. “If I don’t help you,” he starts, carefully, “What happens? To the casualty of this – whatever this is? You said I was your only option.”

“It would perhaps be better to say you are my best option. There’s always other options, but they involve too much death and destruction and doomed timelines to even be worth considering, and I want to avoid that,” the radio says, “As for that one life riding on this…well. Life imprisonment for zero crimes. Perhaps mental damage due to that, since being in a solitary cell for years and years can break you. Maybe experimentation. Maybe torture. Who knows. All are possible. Right now, all I’ve seen is the solitary imprisonment, but that’s just because the go-signal for the experimentation hasn’t been approved yet.”

Tony stares at the radio. “You’re lying, right?”

“I’m not,” the radio says without hesitation, “Ask JARVIS to break into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s records of pending requests. I believe it’s number 613412. That subject they’re about to experiment on is not some rock from outer space or a chitauri remain or some other unholy creation from your villain of the week. That’s actually someone.”

“That’s – ” Tony puts a hand on his mouth and tries not to throw up. JARVIS doesn’t even need to be told. The hologram screens just clear until only one is visible, and after a few minutes, he’s pulled up the pending request document #613412.

Tony motions for JARVIS to close immediately after he reads it.

“Oh,” he breathes out. He needs to throw up. He needs a drink. He needs a nap. He needs this to go away.

Defend the earth, his ass.

“Who’s on the pending request?” he asks, voice shaky. He clears his throat. “Who are they going to cut open. What the fuck.”

“They classify her as mutant,” the radio says, “But honestly, even mutants shouldn’t have to go through that.”

“What the fuck!” Tony stands suddenly and starts pacing. “They have to have a reason for it. There has to be. It’s S.H.I.E.L.D., they don’t just –  ”

“Order to blow up an entire island when it looks like the Avengers are losing a battle?”

He shuts up at that. Then, “There still has to be a reason. Fury wouldn’t allow this.”

“Nicholas Fury would allow it if he believes it is defending the Earth. And I don’t fault him. He’s just doing his job. Our little mutant was set up by the very same person who created your Great Wall of Mutation Strings. And since that person has proven themselves ‘trustworthy’ to S.H.I.E.L.D. by feeding them information before – information that was actually real, by the way, but now they’re just taking advantage of things to play S.H.I.E.L.D. – they immediately believed them. Now our mutant is in one of their cells, treated as a threat, and as less than a person.”

Oh. Oh. S.H.I.E.L.D. had a rat.

“As I have said, this traitor has also released my information to S.H.I.E.L.D., so if I were to physically go there…”

“You’re next,” Tony finishes, “And I’m guessing this mystery person is also keeping tabs on you and tripping you up whenever you try anything?”

“Yes.”

“Son of a bitch.”

The radio says nothing.

Tony takes a few more minutes to pace, and then sits down and stares at the table for a long, long while.

He expects the radio to have shut off when he turns back to it, but it’s still on. He takes a deep breath.

“Do I have to use a glitter pen?”

“Any writing utensil that will write well is sufficient.”

Tony swallows thickly. “Okay,” he says, “Okay. Let’s do this.”

Chapter Text

This again.

Karkat Vantas wakes up on a chessboard battlefield.

He stares up at the sky – which is not a sky at all, and more like a vast expanse of void with small pinpricks of red that give off the impression of eyes tracking each of his tiny movements. He doesn’t know why he thinks that when nothing could possibly suggest that those little red stars are eyes but, this is what dreams do. They suggest absurd things, and you accept them as truth.

At least he’s lucid. He sits up and tries to pretend that the back of his shirt isn’t wet with the blood (candy red blood) he was lying in earlier.

Maybe it’s the new sleeping schedule, maybe it’s the exhaustion, maybe it’s Earth-weather, but the past few days have been plagued with nightmares any time he wanted to sleep. It had been fine at first – he’d gotten through his boring days with romcoms and slept when the fatigue, or Kanaya’s guilttripping, finally caught up with him, but then he’d had one tiny night terror that turned into nightmares every other night, and now for four days straight, he’d had unpleasant dreams that he was lucid for, but unable to wake up from.

Maybe this is an allergic reaction to Earth’s atmosphere. He doesn’t know.

He stands up.

The battlefield is empty except for the scattered corpses and blood. Most of the blood is red, but Karkat knows that if he looks around, he’ll start seeing the bodies of his dead friends, and their blood spilled on the floor.

The first time he’d had this dream, he’d freaked out and tried to turn and run – only to trip on Kanaya’s corpse. She’d stared blankly at nothing, and her jade blood was all over the ground, all over Karkat’s shoes, and Karkat had taken so long to even move, too frozen in shock at seeing her in pieces and on the ground, lifeless.

As soon as he’d moved, Kanaya did too – her torso suddenly pushed itself up, and then she turned to him, and he heard her neck pop as she did. He’d let out a shriek and rapidly backpedaled, the blood on the ground making him slip several times, and Kanaya’s torso just crawled towards him. She stared at him with wide, wide, eyes, and a trail of jade blood dripped from her lips down her chin. He thought her mouth had looked a little funny, and after a while, her jaw suddenly unattached itself from her face. It fell on the ground with a splat and left her tongue hanging and some of her teeth exposed. She didn’t stop crawling towards him.

He’d only woken up when he felt someone touch his shoulder, and he’d turned to see a mirror image of him in a red sweater, yelling “Wake up, Karkat!”

There was the sound of birds flapping their wings, and then he’d woken up on the couch in cold sweat.

It’s not that he’s gotten used to this dream, because only the setting ever stays the same and what happens is always different (he’ll never forget the feeling of seeing a dead Nepeta get up and suddenly stab him with her claw gloves and scream, “This is your fault! This is your fault! THIS IS YOUR FAULT!”) but it’s more like he’s tired, and he can’t do anything until Kankri wakes him up, or one of the crows show up to put him out of his misery.

What happens tonight is different.

Instead, the landscape shifts, and the corpses disappear one by one by one, and Karkat takes a step back as he watches that happen, suddenly wary. The blood on the ground – red, he notes again – pools together, and he watches as it rises, and suddenly condenses into a body. It starts from the ground up – it forms the feet, the legs, the torso, the arms, the neck, and then the head; and then he’s staring at what he thinks is himself, only made of blood.

Seeing the veins and muscles pile up on the figure of condensed blood is something he never wants to see again.

It starts from the ground up too. Veins suddenly rising out of the blood, connecting, followed by muscles suddenly blooming along with them, and then skin wrapping around the flesh until he’s actually staring at someone who looks just like him. It’s even got the clothes and everything.

Not-Karkat opens its eyes, and they looks just like his own eyes, and Karkat wants to run and punch this copycat at the same time.

“Hello,” says the…thing in Karkat’s voice. That sort of friendliness sounds so wrong with his voice and face.

“Fuck off and let me wake up before I kill you,” Karkat says.

His doppelganger smiles, and suddenly Karkat’s anger overpowers his fear, just for a brief moment, and then the doppelganger tilts its head and Karkat can just see those red eyes glint. Fear suddenly fills up his chest and he can’t breathe.

“Don’t be rude,” says the imposter, “I might be tempted to keep you here.”

“Fuck you!” There’s two explanations to this – this fucker is messing with him or he’s actually allergic to Earth and this dream, this imposter included, is just an allergic reaction. He’s more inclined to believe the first option because there’s someone to punch.

“Don’t be rude,” Not-Karkat says again, and makes a motion with its hand.

Karkat doubles over and throws up.

When he’s heaved everything up, he wipes at the tears at the edges of his eyes, wipes at his mouth, and staggers backwards, weak. The bile is burning his throat, and he is livid, he wants to strangle this asshole right here, but he knows if he tries he’ll just be made to throw up again.

He looks down at his own sick and realizes it’s not vomit. It’s blood.

It’s red, of course it is, because that cursed color’s the theme for this nightmare, apparently, and in the pool of it, there’s an eyeball, a finger, an ear, and a long strip of red cloth.

Karkat suddenly wants to puke again. The eyeball rolls in the red pool of blood to look at him, and he notices its iris is fuchsia pink.

“I just want to talk,” says the imposter, and Karkat snaps out of his daze to look up at it. It’s looking at him with an infuriating simper on its face, an expression that looks so impossibly wrong since it looks like Karkat right now, but isn’t less terrifying nonetheless.

Karkat bites his own tongue and keeps his mouth shut. Maybe that’ll annoy the bastard.

“Oh, no, the silent treatment won’t work here either,” it says, spreading the same hand that it’d motioned to make Karkat puke.

Karkat’s mouth suddenly opens without his permission and he says, “Hello.” As soon as the word is out his mouth, he slaps a hand over it, feeling violated. “What did you just do to me?!”

All he gets is a laugh, and again, it sounds so wrong. Karkat wants to wake up so badly.

“You’re not having an allergic reaction,” the imposter says, “This – ” it spreads its arms out, motioning to the field “ – is my doing. All me.”

Karkat looks all over the field, clean of corpses now, but the pitch black sky over them has a lot more red pinpricks now, and he feels judged and watched. He wants to run. Wants to scream. Wants to wake up. He doesn’t want to give this sadist the satisfaction of seeing him start crying in…wherever this is and whatever this is.

“You’re rather proud,” Karkat says instead, voice muffled since he’s still got his hand over his mouth.

The imposter smiles wide, wide, wide – so wide, the skin on its cheeks break, exposing gums and sharp teeth, and blood drips down its torn cheeks. “Of course,” it says, “If you’re going to fear something, you might as well know what you’re fearing.”

There it is again, that feeling of fear filling up his chest, and he can’t breathe, suddenly suffocating. When he coughs up red onto the hand over his mouth, he realizes he’s actually suffocating and choking on his own blood. Red lightning flashes on the sky overhead, and in the split second it does, Karkat sees what it illuminates – massive trees, branching out every which way, barren of leaves. Corpses are impaled on some branches, intestines hanging on others; several branches have bodies hung on them by ropes. He swears he saw a head just stuck onto one sharp branch.

They were all looking at him.

He wants to run.

There’s the faint sound of flapping behind him, and he jumps when he feels tiny little crow feet land on his shoulder. The crow doesn’t move, and instead just looks at him before turning to his imposter.

The smile on its face falters, and Karkat suddenly feels immense relief at the bird’s presence near him.

The imposter frowns. “Hello, you dumb bird.”

The bird squawks at it, indignant, and Karkat thinks Poke its goddamn eyes out.

When the second crow lands on Karkat’s shoulder, he stands up a little straighter, the bird’s presence chasing a bit more of his fear away. The imposter’s frown grows deeper to the point where literal cracks form on its face, and Karkat sees it bleed out from those cracks too.

“All that blood’s a bit of an overkill, I think.”

Thank fuck, Karkat thinks, for the first time since he’s met the asshole who’s dropped him on Earth in the first place. He turns and thinks he’s never been so glad to see that face, which is set in an unfamiliar serious expression, and he thinks it’s terrifying but at least that anger isn’t directed at him, but at Not-Him who also looks equally livid.

Kankri Vantas, white-eyed and concerned, stands beside the green pen-wielding bastard (who is in fact wielding a pen rather threateningly), and Karkat’s never been happier to see him either. He’ll never admit it when he wakes up, but he just wants to wake up right now.

“What can I say?” Karkat hears his imposter say, voice sickeningly sweet. He doesn’t turn. He doesn’t want to turn. “It’s my specialty.”

There’s a sharp laugh as a response, but Karkat only watches as Kankri walks towards him. The crows leave Karkat’s shoulder and fly up. Karkat doesn’t watch them go, just keeps on staring at Kankri as he approaches.

Karkat hears, “You’re a punk bitch – ”

And then Kankri touches his shoulder and he wakes up, breathing hard, on Steve Roger’s couch, at 6:12 a.m in the morning.


 

The way Tony Stark immediately shoves aside papers with runes written on them in glitter ink is impressive. Not that anyone else appreciates it, because Steve Rogers is just confused, JARVIS is silent, and the radio is off, but Tony can feel it judging him anyway.

Taking down the mutation strings wall by wall is exhausting, but at least they’re making progress, and for some reason (that he will get to the bottom of as soon as this mess is done) tacking a rune after every wall they take down onto an elaborate set up of string, a laptop and a drawing of what looks like some kind of path pattern makes sure that the wall never sets itself back up again.

The radio had explained it as some kind of lock. There was a separate rune to stop his system from getting hit, and now he was practicing how to draw a rune that was supposedly going to command that last wall to open. He still had a lot of walls to break through but, it never hurt to practice as early as possible when it came to stuff like this, because apparently, a tiny slip up in runework could create a vastly different result.

There was a possibility the radio was just scaring him, but he didn’t want to risk it.

(It was most likely scaring him. Or messing with him, in general, especially when they had another argument about the pens that went like this:

“Does it really have to be a pink glitter pen?”

“No. I’ve told you, it’s just an aesthetic choice.”

“…you made me buy glitter pens anyway.”

“You’ll find that I didn’t, but you went out to a stationery shop and bought an entire set anyway.”

“Gotta give you a choice, right? And they didn’t sell them individually.”

“Mr. Stark, you went out and bought the only set that had a pink glitter pen. On purpose.”

“I can use the purple glitter pen if you want.”

“…that would also work.”

“What about the yellow one?”

“No.”)

Currently, Steve is visiting the tower – he vaguely remembers JARVIS telling him that two minutes ago, but he’d forgotten, probably from trying to figure out how to write this one curve right here – and he’s trying to shove aside all evidence of him writing in glitter pens.

It’s not working, because he forgets to kick the set of glitter pens under the coffee table and Steve stares at it.

“What’d you need?” Tony asks, smiling in a way that says please don’t mention the glitter pens or the runework.

Steve mentions the glitter pens and the runework. “What are those?”

“Test blueprints,” Tony says immediately.

Steve raises an eyebrow. “In glitter ink?”

“I lost a bet.”

“With?”

“JARVIS.”

JARVIS says nothing. Tony would like it to stay that way, so he glares at a camera and hope Steve just reads that as him being peeved at losing a bet.

“Uh-huh,” Steve says. “Is this a bad time for me to be here?”

“I – yes, no,” Tony hesitates, “Is it important? Life and death important or like, there’s pineapple on my pizza important? Nuclear war important?”

Steve pauses for a moment. “…I’ll come back in a few days.”

“No, seriously, what is it?” Tony asks. He can put the runework aside for the bit. He really wasn't making progress, and JARVIS is taking down another wall and won’t be done for a few minutes. “I’m not gonna be busy for a while. I can listen.”

Steve takes a few seconds to answer. “If…let’s say I found a couple of mutants on the run, can I move them here?”

Tony blinks. He lets the sentence sink in. “Actually, that would be great, but if S.H.I.E.L.D. is hacking my stuff in the same way I hack theirs, they’d find those mutants easily.”

Not to mention, if the mystery person who set up The Great Wall of Mutation Strings can easily send Tony a pink card and break in, that means that they can also just break in again and nab Steve’s little mutant charges.

He’d rather avoid that.

“Are there any cameras in your apartment?” Tony asks.

“I don’t think so, I’ve checked,” Steve says, “Although they might have someone keeping an eye on me there. That’s why I’m worried.”

“Has anyone seen the mutants? I mean, they can just, not show their powers or something.”

“They have physical mutations.”

Oh. Tony frowns. Well, that just brings to light another concern – what if the mutant he’s trying to save has a physical mutation? Then it’d be too obvious to people.

But then again, he’s planning on breaking them out of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is also very obvious. He’ll deal with it later.

“So they just stay in your apartment?”

“Yes,” Steve says.

“That’s probably for the best,” Tony says. “Confirm if you really do have someone watching you, and…try not to let them out without disguises. Or move them out to another location on Halloween. That’ll be less obvious.”

Steve nods. “I just wanted to ask if I could move them here and, S.H.I.E.L.D. watching you is a good point,” he says, “Have you made progress on the missing mutants?”

Oh, plenty.

“Yeah,” Tony says, “Did some digging, and now I’m having JARVIS try and break through a few encryptions. We have approximately eighty three mutants who are missing.”

Steve balks.

Tony waves a hand, “That’s an approximation, it might not even be that many, but JARVIS ran through some missing reports, went through some traffic cam footage. We’re not even sure if all the abductions caught on cam are the mutants or just kidnappings, but we’re operating on that assumption.”

When trying not to explain how you get certain info and trying not to say that you got said info from a radio, bullshit.

“O-oh,” Steve says.

The approximation lie makes him calm down a bit, at least. Tony feels a little bad for feeding him that lie, but, it’s a whole lot better than explaining magic and an indestructible radio with a hypnotic voice. Besides, the radio never seems to turn on when anyone else is in the room. Just turns off immediately. Tony has had more than one conversation with it interrupted because someone else came into the room.

“Just keep your mutant friends in your apartment and uh, try not to leave them for too long,” Tony says, “Never know who might be snooping around your place when you’re not around.”

Steve still looks a little shaken at being told there are eighty three missing mutants. He nods though, and then looks deep in thought right after.

Tony sighs. He almost wishes the radio would turn on to help him explain this.

It doesn’t.


 

John Egbert looks up from where he is sitting by the window, sniffs, and sneezes.

Loki turns to look at him just as everyone else in the room says, “Bless you,” at the same time. That’s the standard response to that, he thinks. He’s caught up with most of Earth’s conversational standards, but, a few phrases escape him every now and then, especially when rarely used.

Maybe he’ll get to use this one more often, since it appears like there’s something in the weather that’s been plaguing everyone. The pool master has been nursing a headache since yesterday evening and it hasn’t gone away, John has started sneezing, and Graham has been going through the medicine cabinet because he’s been sick all week. Even the dogs seem a bit more subdued than usual.

Jade, from where she’s playing against Dave in Mario Kart, touches her nose, looking like she also wants to sneeze.

October last year had also made a few people sick, so maybe it really was something in the weather.

Loki watches as Moxie pads over to John, bites at his shirt and tugs, trying to get his attention. When he looks down at her, she yips, and he chuckles as he lifts her up and makes her sit in his lap. She licks at his face, and he giggles.

“Moxie, stop,” he says, half-heartedly, and instead of stopping, Moxie just licks him again, before settling on his lap and deciding it’s a good place to sleep on.

He sighs, leans back in his seat, before sniffing again a few minutes later and sneezing.

He’s getting sick. Loki wonders if Graham has emptied out the medicine cabinet already, because John might need something if he refuses to be healed by runework.

Jade looks up from her controller, although she doesn’t stop pressing down on the buttons. Beside her, Dave is silent and concentrated on the game. “John,” she starts, “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, I just – I keep smelling blood,” John says, waving a hand. He frowns, then gently pats Moxie’s head, “Moxie, are you hurt? Are you wounded anywhere?”

He slowly lifts her up, and she whines at being disturbed, but lets him inspect her fur and her belly. He finds nothing. “Huh,” he says, confused, then lets her settle back down on his lap. She pokes her nose into his stomach, probably to tell him she’s annoyed, before opting for a more comfortable position.

Jade’s ears flick, and she sniffs the air. “I don’t smell – ” on screen, her character dies. She turns to look at it momentarily “ – oh, holy hell, Dave. I don’t smell any blood.”

“It’s – it’s in the air, I can smell it,” John says.

Loki stops pretending to be interested in the book in his hands. He closes it gently and gives John his full attention, although the boy appears distracted, instead continuously touching his nose like he’s trying to get the smell out.

Jade frowns in confusion. “Is your nose bleeding? Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s hurt? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” John says. He presses the back of his hand to his nose self-consciously. “I’m fine, really.”

Jade doesn’t look convinced, but she nods nonetheless. Dave gives John a concerned look – which is just his regular blank look, but there’s something in the glint of his aviators – while Loki says, “I can check up on you if you’d like.”

He laughs. “I’m fine, guys, really. I’m probably just imagining things.”

“Imagining smells?” Dave asks

“Olfactory hallucinations?” Loki considers it for a moment, before turning to address Mr. G from the kitchen. He’s not cooking. Probably nursing some mug of coffee to try and chase his cold away. “Graham, what are the causes of olfactory hallucinations among humans?”

To Mr. G’s credit, he doesn’t miss a beat despite Loki tacking on ‘among humans’ at the end of his question.

“Head injury, dental problems, or nasal infections. In serious cases, it may be temporal lobe seizures, brain tumors or strokes.” A pause. Then, “Is someone dying?”

“Jegus grist, G,” Dave mutters.

“What? I was checking.”

“John’s just smelling blood, that’s all,” Jade says.

“Oh. Maybe he just bumped into a wall again.”

There’s several snickers in the room. Loki pointedly does not look at John, although a small amused smile graces his face. John rolls his eyes at all of them. “Very supportive, guys,” he says.

“Listen, it’s not our fault you decide to go flying blindfolded to see how well you know the house,” Dave says, “Several times.”

“I was bored.”

The snickers start up again. John rolls his eyes.

A comfortable silence settles in the room for a moment, and Loki returns to his book. He gets three pages back into it before John sneezes again.

Jade sighs. “John, you are getting sick.”

“I am not,” John says.

“Let Loki check you up.”

“Okay, first of all, I am never trusting magical healing from Loki after the last time,” John says, and Loki smiles wryly. To be fair, that was in the middle of a prank war, and giving John light-up freckles was hilarious. “Second of all, I’m not getting sick.”

On cue, he sneezes.

Dave snorts. Jade gives her brother a flat look.

“At least go get some medicine, then,” Jade says, “It’ll help.”

“I’m fine. It probably is just some nosebleed,” John says, “Or maybe I just hurt my nose and didn’t notice.”

“How do you not notice smacking straight into a wall?” Dave asks. John sticks his tongue out at him.

“You might really be sick, John,” Loki says, “It’s something in the weather, I think.”

John thinks on it for a moment. “Yeah, Mr. G and PM aren’t feeling well too, aren’t they?”

Jade rubs at her nose. “It might just be from me thinking too much about it, but I might be coming down with something too.”

“I can’t believe October’s gonna kill all of us,” Dave says.

John laughs. “October’s not gonna – ”

Upstairs, Cecil starts screaming.

There’s a scramble of running feet on the floor as they all get up, leaving their books and their controllers behind. John turns to wind the moment the ungodly shriek from upstairs rings out, leaving Moxie by herself on the window seat, although the tiny corgi jumps off from where she’s sitting and runs up the stairs anyway. The scream doesn’t stop even when they’ve all reached the floor the Palmers live in, and there’s already a pack of dogs outside the brothers’ door, barking loudly.

The cacophony gets even louder when the door slams open, courtesy of John, and Loki skids to a stop by the doorway along with Dave and Jade just in time to see John reform and condense inside the Palmers’ living room. The dogs run inside, and Loki and the others follow the pack to where Cecil’s bedroom should be.

The door is open, and inside, Cecil is on his bed, screaming, holding onto his brother as tight as he can.

The dogs gather around the bed, and the kids rush inside. Loki freezes by the bedroom doorway and stares.

He’s faintly aware of other people gathering around the door – Elizabeth, Graham, the pool master and their best friend, a couple more nosy neighbors who heard Cecil sound like he was being murdered – but all he does is stare at the teenager as he cries.

There was once a time when Loki was a young boy, and he had nightmares and cried, and his brother found him and told him that he would battle the nightmares away. Loki liked it every time he said that. When mother found him, she would tell him the nightmares couldn’t get to him anymore, and then she’d sing him to sleep.

As Loki grew up and wasn’t quite a young boy anymore, his brother found him for the last time and told him that real warriors didn’t get scared of nightmares, and if they did, they didn’t need to be comforted, because they knew they were just harmless dreams. Mother found him less and less because, well, he was a growing boy now, and it would be strange for a grown up prince to still be comforted by his mother when he had a bad dream. What kind of pathetic weakling still needed to be told by their mother that things are fine and nightmares can’t hurt them?

Cecil screams on the bed again, and Loki snaps back to the present.

He catches only the tail end of a conversation, and he can’t make sense of it anyway because Cecil’s words are slurring and he’s talking too fast. Something about trees and heirs and something awful. It’s too fragmented for him to piece.

Outside, there’s a crash.

Several people jump and turn to it, but then a few of the dogs run inside the bedroom, and they all sigh in relief.

Loki does too. “I’ll go make sure they didn’t break anything,” he says. There’s nothing for him to do here anyway.

There’s nothing broken in the Palmers’ living room, or in the hallway, so he tries to check downstairs if the dogs have bumped into a table or something.

There’s another, softer thud. Loki stills, then cautious approaches the living room.

“ – leave him out of this – ”

He hastens his steps, but still approaches as silently as he can.

He expects someone in the living room when he gets there, but it’s empty except for the things they’ve left there when they ran upstairs to check up on Cecil. He frowns and wonders if some of the other tenants have gotten into fights.

When he turns, he thinks he hears the faint sound of laughter, and even though it’s cheerful, he can feel the malice dripping off of it.

When he thinks about the voice he heard from the living room, later when Cecil has stopped screaming, he thinks that voice sounded just like his own.

Chapter Text

lksenna (4:13 AM):

have you guys seen this?

[missiledisappearance.avi]

 

tcrimeeats (4:13 AM):

What’s that?

 

lksenna (4:13 AM):

a bunch of missiles disappeared during a new york attack

 

BorkinBork (4:13 AM):

Which one

 

tcrimeeats (4:13 AM):

Brutal.

 

abeille (4:13 AM):
lmao

 

777angeles (4:13 AM):

i mean to be fair new york gets attacked like every other day?

 

lksenna (4:14 AM):

-_-

 

autotestifieus (4:14 AM):

Honestly, what is up with New York being like that?

 

tcrimeeats (4:14 AM):

It’s cursed.

 

abeille (4:14 AM):

nah it’s probably just a melting pot for megalomaniacs

 

BorkinBork (4:14 AM):

I mean you’re not wrong

 

lksenna (4:14 AM):

who knows tbh it’s like the setting for sci fi movies. it's like the rest of the universe doesn’t exist. it’s just new york

 

777angeles (4:14 AM):

well uh. at least it’s all condensed in new york? like i don’t wanna wake up to my street on fire

 

lksenna (4:14 AM):

point though

 

autotestifieus (4:14 AM):

Why are these people even allowed to run rampant in New York?

 

777angeles (4:14 AM):

probably because no one can catch them before they do something wrong unless like. they drunkenly let their plans for world domination slip. but since they’re drunk, people are just gonna be like

whatev brent

 

tcrimeeats (4:14 AM):

asdhafh

‘I'm gonna kidnap your mom and reenact king kong.’

‘Whatev, Brent.’

 

BorkinBork (4:15 AM):

“Whatev Brent but also quick question wtf”

 

tcrimeeats (4:15 AM):

Bonus points if you pronounce wtf as letters instead of ‘what the fuck’.

 

777angeles (4:15 AM):

“quick question doobul-yu-tee-ef”

 

tcrimeeats (4:15 AM):

w h e e z e

 

777angeles (4:15 AM):

just censor yourself by saying letters instead of the actual words

 

BorkinBork (4:16 AM):

‘I love you but es-tee-ef-yu’

Whoa that rhymed

 

tcrimeeats (4:16 AM):

NICE

 

lksenna (4:16 AM):

ah yes this is what i'm awake on a school night for

 

tcrimeeats (4:16 AM):

ahdafsgh Love you, Senna!

 

lksenna (4:16 AM):

ew

 

BorkinBork (4:16 AM):

DAMN

 

777angeles (4:16 AM):

REJECTION

 

autotestifieus (4:16 AM):

That was goddamn brutal, Senna.

Just straight up step on Crime’s heart, why don’t you.

 

tcrimeeats (4:16 AM):

;_;

Should I break out the kaomoji?

 

lksenna (4:17 AM):

bye

 

777angeles (4:17 AM):

senna no Ó╭╮Ò

 

lksenna (4:17 AM):

angel i will kick your ass

 

777angeles (4:17 AM):

(ᗒᗩᗕ)

 

lksenna (4:17 AM):

i can’t believe i'm gonna tp to your town to burn your house down

 

BorkinBork (4:17 AM):

I love how you default to immediately burning their house down

 

abeille (4:18 AM):

okay i watched the vid and wtf

also keep spamming senna kaomojis and memes

 

lksenna (4:18 AM):

( ’̀-‘́)

 

BorkinBork (4:18 AM):

Gasp

Hypocrite

 

autotestifieus (4:18 AM):

(•_̀• )

 

lksenna (4:18 AM):

auto i trusted you how could you betray me

 

autotestifieus (4:19 AM):

You betrayed me first with your pixelated fists.

 

777angeles (4:20 AM):

wait i haven’t actually watched the vid lemme move on desktop bc it’s not loading on my phone

 

tcrimeeats (4:20 AM):

Just watched it. That’s…kinda cool?

 

BorkinBork (4:20 AM):

Whered the missile go

Also the video corrupts halfway through

 

lksenna (4:20 AM):

i think it was because of the green thing

 

autotestifieus (4:20 AM):

It looked like it teleported or something.

 

tcrimeeats (4:20 AM):

Ooh teleportation.

Also hey 420.

 

BorkinBork (4:20 AM):

Blaze

 

lksenna (4:20 AM):

b l a z e

 

777angeles (4:20 AM):

ABLAZE

 

tcrimeeats (4:21 AM):

ABLAZE

Goddamnit.

 

autotestifieus (4:21 AM):

Haha, time is an illusion.

 

lksenna (4:21 AM):

me whenever i have a deadline

time is an illusion and space depends on whether or not you’re wearing your glasses or if you’re drunk

 

777angeles (4:21 AM):

preach lmao

 

tcrimeeats (4:21 AM):

Senna, aren’t you like, allergic to beer?

 

lksenna (4:21 AM):

don’t!!! call me out i was doing a cool cinematic line!!! how dare u

 

tcrimeeats (4:21 AM):

Wink wonk.

 

lksenna (4:22 AM):

teleportation is real and i am about to tp across space to kick your ass

 

777angeles (4:23 AM):

also I just finished the video and w o w

i mean

unless this is common in new york

 

autotestifieus (4:23 AM):

I honestly wouldn’t be surprised?

 

tcrimeeats (4:23 AM):

LMAO

It wouldn’t be far off but, it was all over the news, I think?

I read on new sites from friends who linked it to me.

They don’t know if it was one of the Avengers.

 

abeille (4:23 AM):

avengers are a myth

 

BorkinBork (4:23 AM):

ASJDSDF

I love that meme

 

abeille (4:23 AM):

iron man literally crashes through your living room

‘avengers are a myth’

 

tcrimeeats (4:23 AM):

‘They’re a mass hallucination created by the government.’

 

abeille (4:23 AM):

THAT VIDEO OH MY GOD

 

autotestifieus (4:24 AM):

I didn’t know humans could live that far in denial.

 

abeille (4:24 AM):

i mean humans can live deep in a ramen-only diet. they can totally live deep in denial

 

lksenna (4:24 AM):

[war flashbacks from romcoms]

 

777angeles (4:24 AM):

don't call me out senna

 

lksenna (4:24 AM):

i can and i will

 

777angeles (4:24 AM):

tp here so I can kick your ass

 

lksenna (4:24 AM):

your five foot standing can’t touch me

 

777angeles (4:24 AM):

TAKE THAT NACK

*BACK

 

autotestifieus (4:24 AM):

Nack.

 

tcrimeeats (4:25 AM):

Nack.

 

BorkinBork (4:25 AM):

Nack

 

abeille (4:25 AM):

nack nack bitch

 

777angeles (4:25 AM):

screaming

 

autotestifieus (4:25 AM):

Wait, do you have more videos on this?

I can’t seem to look this up on Youtube.

I’ve found other videos, including one that is apparently commonly featured on news sites, but not from this angle. It looks like someone was on the ground and just moving their camera around to film as many disappearing missiles as possible before the green burst of power got to their phone.

 

lksenna (4:26 AM):

a friend actually just sent it to me like

i wake up in the morning and it’s just ‘hey we got attacked and look what i filmed’

like wtf sasha

 

autotestifieus (4:26 AM):

Damn.

That’s stupid and brave.

 

777angeles (4:26 AM):

legit just run wtf

unless they were stranded or something

 

lksenna (4:26 AM):

i asked her and definitely not stranded

just whipped out her phone instead of getting in the car and started filming

 

BorkinBork (4:26 AM):

New Yorkers are something alright

 

tcrimeeats (4:26 AM):

Probably too used to being attacked.

 

BorkinBork (4:26 AM):

I mean I’d be jaded too if I woke up to my street on fire every Tuesday

“Ah yes it’s just villain day”

 

tcrimeeats (4: 26 AM):

‘Appreciate your villain day’

 

777angeles (4:26 AM):

everyone just dresses up as their favorite villain on halloween

 

tcrimeeats (4:26 AM):

HAH

 

autotestifieus (4:26 AM):

I have a feeling some people actually would.

Also does anyone know how to figure out where you are when you wake up in some place unfamiliar and you have no GPS.

 

777angeles (4:27 AM):

what

auto did you get kidnapped

 

tcrimeeats (4:27 AM):

Auto, wtf.

 

BorkinBork (4:27 AM):

Please tell me you just got wasted and then woke up someplace

 

autotestifieus (4:27 AM):

Hmm.

 

BorkinBork (4:27 AM):

Oh my god did you actually get kidnapped

 

autotestifieus (4:27 AM):

Maybe.

 

lksenna (4:27 AM):

the fuck auto

which black van did you climb into

 

autotestifieus (4:28 AM):

A pretty neighbor’s.

 

777angeles (4:28 AM):

goddamn my dude

 

autotestifieus (4:28 AM):

They were pretty and just my type, what can I say.

But really, my GPS is busted and I need to text my mom to pick me up.

 

777angeles (4:28 AM):

how do you have wifi but not a GPS

 

autotestifieus (4:28 AM):

Long story.

 

BorkinBork (4:28 AM):

He got too distracted by the pretty neighbor to notice someone hacked his GPS

 

tcrimeeats (4:28 AM):

To quote Angel, goddamn my dude.

 

lksenna (4:29 AM):

i can track your ip address if that’s okay with you?

just try to at least triangulate your location

 

autotestifieus (4:29 AM):

That’s fine with me.

 

lksenna (4:29 AM):

i'll dm you

give me a few minutes

 

777angeles (4:29 AM):

i can’t believe you got yourself accidentally kidnapped by your pretty neighbor

 

tcrimeeats (4:29 AM):

I mean, if they were pretty enough…

 

autotestifieus (4:29 AM):

Distractingly pretty.

 

777angeles (4:29 AM):

I CAN’T  B R E A T H E

 

BorkinBork (4:29 AM):

Lmao tag your stuff auto

 

autotestifieus (4:30 AM):

Distractingly pretty short.

 

abeille (4:30 AM):

DAMN

 

BorkinBork (4:30 AM):

asdjah

Actually maybe your neighbor deserves to kidnap and throw you in the middle of the woods

 

abeille (4:30 AM):

auto gets murdered for slander

 

777angeles (4:30 AM):

AUTO GETS MURDERED FOR THE DISCRIMATION AGAINST THE VERTICALLY CHALLENGED

 

abeille (4:30 AM):

sue him lmao

 

autotestifieus (4:30 AM):

How are you gonna sue me when I’m dead?

 

777angeles (4:31 AM):

watch me sue your corpse mr testifieus

 

abeille (4:31 AM):

just arrest him, cop-in-training

 

autotestifieus (4:31 AM):

Mr. Testifieus is my father. Please, call me Auto.

 

777angeles (4:31 AM):

i

cannot believe

 

tcrimeeats (4:31 AM):

I’m torn between applauding that and slapping Auto in the face.

 

BorkinBork (4:31 AM):

Both

 

tcrimeeats (4:31 AM):

Actually, yes.

 

lksenna (4:31 AM):

auto wtf

i got your location but

the fuck

 

autotestifieus (4:31 AM):

I’m on vacation.

 

abeille (4:32 AM):

is auto okay

 

777angeles (4:32 AM):

he's probably in a cannibal’s basement or something

 

autotestifieus (4:32 AM):

My pretty neighbor is probably a cannibal.

 

tcrimeeats (4:32 AM):

I didn’t know you were into cannibals, Auto.

 

BorkinBork (4:32 AM):

That’s a hardcore type my guy

 

lksenna (4:32 AM):

i'll just dm you but like

the hell

 

autotestifieus (4:32 AM):

I swear there’s an explanation, but it’s too long and you have a paper to turn in tomorrow.

 

lksenna (4:32 AM):

don’t you distract me

are you okay

 

autotestifieus (4:32 AM):

I’m really fine, don’t worry. It’s just weird out of context.

Thanks for the address.

 

lksenna (4:32 AM):

np?

still concerning

 

autotestifieus (4:32 AM):

Haha, I’ll do your paper for you as thanks and as bribe to not ask questions.

 

lksenna (4:32 AM):

…i'm tempted

 

777angeles (4:33 AM)):

auto do my paper

 

tcrimeeats (4:33 AM):

Cops aren’t supposed to accept bribery.

Or cheat.

 

777angeles (4:33 AM):

i'm not a cop yet!

 

BorkinBork (4:33 AM):

Another cop that fails the system tsk tsk

 

777angeles (4:33 AM):

sleep depriving students should be a crime

 

tcrimeeats (4:33 AM):

That’s actually a good point.

 

abeille (4:33 AM):

good policy lmao

 

autotestifieus (4:34 AM):

Unfortunately, I am not about to encourage you to make others do your work for you, cop-in-training.

 

777angeles (4:34 AM):

auto, babe, love of my life, don’t forsake me

 

autotestifieus (4:34 AM):

There is nothing I can do to fight the enemy, Angel.

This is it for me.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

777angeles (4:34 AM):

oscar-worthy sobbing

 

lksenna (4:34 AM):

go to fucking sleep both of you

 

777angeles (4:34 AM):

let me have my oscar, mom

 

autotestifieus (4:35 AM):

oscaraward.jpg

 

777angeles (4:35 AM):

i am reminded why you’re my favorite

 

autotestifieus (4:35 AM):

;)

 


 

 

Karkat runs.

The land under him is turning into flesh as he does; it softens, like mud, and he doesn’t dare look down because he knows it’s not mud, it’s the battlefield suddenly dissolving into muscle and veins and blood. The blood of dead people, he knows, by how wrong and poisonous it feels. It’s blackened too, because everything has just pooled together; every color of the caste and every shade of red human blood takes – and he thinks, no, he feels, because he really doesn’t want to think about it, that there’s something in there from horrorterrors too, and he doesn’t want to know exactly how that got there, and what can make a horrorterror bleed.

His feet start to sink into the liquefied ground, and he tries to run faster, but the tar-blood is clinging to his legs, and his movements slow, despite the fact that he’s panicking even more. He frantically tries to move and instead sinks faster, until the blood is up to his knees, and then his hips, and then he’s barely walking and just swinging his arms to maintain his balance. The tar-blood snakes up his torso, and then his neck, and he lifts his head to avoid it from reaching his mouth, but it still does and Karkat makes the mistake of screaming and it starts to pour itself down his throat –

Wings. That’s the first thing he’s aware of. There are wings flapping behind him, and the sounds are getting nearer and nearer, and his relief increases as they get closer. He feels the crows land on both his shoulders, and by some impossibility, lift him out of the mass of black blood. The landscape shifts, he can feel it in the way the air no longer smells of stale, poisonous blood, and he almost throws his head back and laughs when he feels the faint echo of an outraged scream.

The crows set him down gently, and he opens his eyes – when had he closed them? – to soft, electric blue grass that’s casting a soft glow at him. He sits up, looks around to see a stark absence of blood and viscera and nightmarish impostors, and falls down onto the ground, flat on his back, with a sigh of relief.

He immediately sits up again when he hears footsteps, hands out and ready to access his sylladex – until he remembers he can’t get to it here, and this may be a dream but he’s shit at trying to control it, so he bares his teeth instead, and readies his claws.

“Oh,” he says, when he notices who it is. There’s no pen this time, but he recognizes the clothes, and the face, and the small smile on the bastard’s face.

“Sorry I was late.”

“You did that on purpose, you fuck.”

“Oh no, I think I find being drowned in blood to be highly unpleasant.”

Karkat just frowns as the asshole sits, and the soft blue light of the bioluminescent grass under both of them softens the smile even more. It should be comforting, Karkat thinks, but he just wants to punch that smile off as a thank you for dropping him on Earth, and then getting him stuck in neverending nightmares.

“You should sleep.”

“Oh, so you didn’t notice I was trying? Why the hell do you think I’m here?”

“Sleep deprivation will not get you anywhere, Karkat.” The gall to act caring like that.  “Kanaya is getting worried, and you will end up getting sick if you exhaust yourself.”

“If you even care about what Kanaya feels then you shouldn’t have dragged her into whatever game you are playing.”

There’s a snort. “Karkat. You were both already in the game.”

“Fuck you.”

“No thanks.”

“Get pailed, fucker,” he hisses. He doesn’t care much for smartass comments right now and gets up, curling one hand into a fist. He doesn’t even get a flinch or a worried step back. Just an unchanged, amused expression. He can just swing right now.

“You’ll be fine here for the night, I promise. If you try to wake and stay up again, you’re just gonna cause problems for yourself. If you fall asleep after waking up, you’ll have to go through all that again, after I went through the trouble of pulling you out. Please, sleep.”

“No.”

A sigh. Karkat notices the crows, still flying overhead, caw at him, like they’re telling him to just listen. He doesn’t even remember these birds’ names, so he can’t exactly use it to insult them, but he cusses them out anyway.

The caw he gets for it sounds disappointed, and he wonders if they’ll both stop rescuing him from his nightmares now. He’s unsure as to what he feels about that. The birds are better company than the rest of the party that comes to pick him up from lakes of dead blood.

“Rest. You’ll be fine, I promise.”

The birds come down when they are beckoned, and they perch regally on small, thin shoulders, and stare Karkat down with their beady red eyes. He thinks their names tickle at his thoughts and memories, but nothing is clear.

He bares his teeth at the birds, petty. One of them squawks at him.

“Tell your featherbeast to fuck off and mind its own business,” Karkat says, still glaring at the bird. The bird doesn’t look away from him, and instead squawks again.

“Oh, they’re not mine. I’m borrowing them.”

Karkat is one second away from strangling the bird and the snarky bastard.

Instead, he watches as that infuriating smile widens, and then he blinks, and he’s alone in the middle of a dreamscape of rolling hills covered in glowing blue grass. The wind blows by him gently, and he unclenches his fist, only then realizing he’d dug his nails in so deep he’s bleeding.

He stares at the blood.

And he doesn’t look away for a long, long time.

 


 

“How’d you manage that?”

All three of them are standing in front of the laptop, all in varying expressions of confusion. There might have been a bit of pissed (Eridan), concerned (Roxy) and curious (Davesprite) along with the confusion, but it’s not like any of them would admit to it because they’re mostly focusing on staring down the laptop right now, so nobody comments on Eridan’s scowl, Roxy’s worried frown and the certain glint in Davesprite’s shades that indicates he wants to know all the details to this.

I didn’t think it would work. It was simply a backup plan in case Eridan and Davesprite got nowhere, and since I thought it had been long enough, I asked for help.

Roxy uncrosses one arm to gesture towards the screen. “And you’ve known for – how long, about a month?”

“We could have been off this island, Hal,” Eridan says, voice low and sharp teeth gritted, like he’s trying very hard not to speak at all.

Only a few weeks.

“You should have told us,” Roxy says. They actually have a location now, and that means it would be easy to pinpoint themselves on a map, and if they can do that, they can plot routes and go all over the world and try to find more people, try to find where Roxy once lived and maybe find their friends and –

There’s no guarantee. Roxy has to slow down. There’s no guarantee and so there’s no reason to be this upset over Hal not telling them sooner, because really, there is nothing at stake. Maybe that’s why Hal didn’t tell them right away. Maybe he was actually mapping routes out, but took his time because, there really wasn’t any hurry, was there?

I was doing research.

Trying to see where we should go if we did get off this island, because just getting off it and wandering blindly would have been counterproductive to what we have been doing for the past few months, which is survive.

Nobody says anything, although Roxy notices that Eridan’s frowned deeper. He’s not looking at the laptop anymore though, and instead is looking too lost in his thoughts, brain already firing at all cylinders.

Hal slowly erases his text, as if giving all of them time to think, and then types again.

You remember I said I made friends online, don’t you, Rox?

I branched out a bit, endeared myself to people, and then decided that if you all still got nowhere with finding out our location after a period of time, I would ask their help. But like I said, it was a backup plan, mostly because it hinged on them actually caring about and trusting me. I did in fact manage to endear myself to them and got our location, which should be something celebrated right now, in my opinion, despite me not revealing it immediately to you for understandable reasons.

And also, those friends I made online showed me a very curious thing that I also did research on, and I think I found something of interest.

The word document closes, and then Hal pulls up a video on screen.

It’s filmed in the middle of a city, Roxy realizes. She’s never exactly been in one before, but she’s read stories, and she imagines this is how places with tall skyscrapers that aren’t flooded look like. There’s people, a lot of people, and they’re running around, screaming, panicking, and the camera pans up to see something – a missile – fly by and then…disappear in a flash of green light.

It happens several times. The camera keeps swinging around, capturing the moments when missiles just zip by and almost hit something but then disappear, and one blast of green energy is so strong it makes the footage glitch for a moment before clearing up.

Roxy swallows thickly.

Beside her, she feels Dave still. If he wasn’t a sprite, he would have needed to breathe, but he is, and so he holds his breath for a long, long while.

This is from New York.

I tried to dig further and I found a lot of news, a lot of videos, conspiracy theories – I can show you all of them if you are interested. I didn’t reveal our location to you because I needed to dig through this, because if we’re going to get off this island, we might as well head to New York.

He has a point. A very clear point. Roxy sees Dave nod beside her, and she thinks he’s finally breathing again.

Hal pulls up another video, and it looks like it’s still filmed in a city again, but the street is mostly empty and deserted except for pieces of metal and rubble, turned-over cars, and tipped-over garbage bins. The one filming appears to be whispering, but it’s too incoherent for anything other than ‘ – look over here – ’ and then everything else is just a mess of static again.

This time it’s Eridan who draws in a breath and holds it when someone walks into the shot, holding a jacket over their head and running as fast as they can. The grey hand holding the jacket is visible, and when the jacket sways, Roxy can see the troll’s face. They’re being accompanied by someone in a ridiculous blue-red-white outfit, and they both look like they’re running for their lives.

“Karkat?”

Eridan’s voice is so, so small. It feels like cold water dumped all over Roxy because Eridan doesn’t sound like that.

I was lucky my friend who gave me this showed it to me right away before uploading it. I negotiated with them to not upload this video and they agreed, and I made sure to search the entirety of the internet for it in case they did, but they have kept their word thus far.

In contrast to Dave being deathly still, Roxy can see that Eridan’s hands are shaking slightly. He curls them into fists and digs his nails in to stop them, but it only makes it worse.

“Where is this New York?” Eridan asks instead, voice calm. She pities him for the amount of effort he puts into it.

Hal pulls up a map on the screen.

They all stare at it for a while.

Roxy can literally hear the ticking of a clock.

“We’re going to New York,” she says. Her voice is a lot messed up than she expected it to be, and she clears her throat. Her friends could be there. They could all be there and they were so close. “We’re going to New York. Calculate travel time a-and, make plans…”

There’s hands on her shoulders. Dave catches her before she even realizes her knees are actually buckling.

“Breathe, Rox, breathe,” he says. And Roxy realizes, she’s the one not breathing this time. She sucks in a breath and chokes, and tries not to let tears form at the edges of her eyes because her throat closes up and so close, they could just have been there for months, they were so close, she can just find them.

“Shit.” That was Eridan. She’s only faintly aware of loud noises before she’s sat down on a bean bag, and then she pieces it together slowly as Dave reminds her to breathe. She’s okay, she’s fine, she just needs to let it sink that she can actually see her friends again; Eridan carried the bean bag over, and Dave made her sit, and she’s fine.

They are all silent as they help her calm down, and when she’s finally clear-headed, she looks back at the laptop, which is now back to an empty word document.

You okay?

She nods.

We don’t have to go right away.

“No, I – I’m fine. We’ll go. Let’s plan. I’m fine, I swear. I want to see everyone else –” not a guarantee who fucking cares “ – as soon as possible.”

Hal erases his words slowly once again, and types back just as slowly. How generous.

Dave?

Eridan?

There’s a pause before Dave nods. “Yeah.” He turns to Eridan, who still looks deep in thought, and takes a bit longer to answer.

“Alright,” Eridan says, when he finally does speak, “We’ll go to wherever this is. We should start planning what to do. What do you know about New York?”

Hal pulls up a lot of tabs, and Roxy suddenly thinks she should make another laptop – no, two other laptops – to make the research easier. She looks at her hands, still cold and slightly shaking, and when she looks up, Hal has typed out:

Don’t push yourself too hard, Rox, it’s fine. I’m sorry for suddenly springing this up on all of you.

Roxy draws in a breath and lets it out, slow. “I’ll be fine, Hal. We’ll split the work.”

Hal doesn’t type anything back, like it’s his turn to pause now, before clearing his text again.

Roxy steels herself. This may not be a guarantee but – if there is the slightest chance she can meet anyone on this trip to New York, she’ll take it.

Judging by Eridan and Dave immediately picking out their tabs, she thinks they agree.

Chapter Text

October 24, 2013

“How on earth are you going to travel while that sick?”

John has a point, and Loki can see that the pool master is deliberating whether to accept this point or not. The kid had a stubborn streak, he’d discovered, during one afternoon when they were redecorating the betting pool board because they had nothing else to do, and absolutely insisted that everything should be color coded even when one of the dogs had accidentally eaten their chalk.

(They’d fussed over the dog first, of course, and immediately had the animal brought to the vet. The excitable little thing – named Milko, Loki remembers – didn’t even look like it was getting sick, and was just as energetic as ever despite having eaten half a box of colored chalk.)

There’s a few minutes of silence for this deliberation, and then the pool master shrugs as their brain catches up to them, and they say, “Ruben’s coming with me.”

“Are you sure you don’t want help?” Loki asks, and the pool master narrows their eyes at him, clearly remembering the last time he offered his ‘help’, and they ended up with electric blue hair.

“That’s a nice offer, but no thank you,” they say, sneezing slightly. They sniff, annoyed, and fish their phone out of their pocket when it buzzes. They frown at it and furiously type into it, muttering under their breath as they do so.

Ruben comes down to help them with their bags a while later, and everyone bids them both goodbye. Loki’s on betting pool duty while Saph is gone, and he’s more than determined to sabotage things as best as he can even when he’s temporarily banned from participating in bets so that he’s impartial as the stand-in pool master.

It’s not like they can stop him from, say, giving people tips.

There’s a collective feeling of people dreading for the contents of their wallets, and Loki preens – well, there’s no other word he can think of, and he hasn’t done this for a while – at this; he hasn’t even done anything yet.

John still hasn’t stop sneezing though, which is a problem, and Graham has also been hit with fever and has practically started living in the Safehouse infirmary. This isn’t going to stop bets from proceeding as usual, but that means bake-offs would have to not include John until he stops accidentally causing gusts of wind when he sneezes.

At least he’s not smelling blood anymore, which is good. He didn’t have a nosebleed or hurt his nose, like they’d thought he had, so perhaps he really was just imagining it, or Moxie had a tiny cut that was just hidden underneath her fur and he’d smelled it when she sat on his lap.

Rose is still with James, and she’d updated them that he was doing very well with Fenrir, who had unfortunately taken to shredding furniture although James thought it was funny. Jade visited them yesterday to take James and the dog to play in open space, and she’d told them when she came back that he was looking way healthier than before. Less looking like he’d been frozen alive and more like he’d been enjoying the sunlight. He still didn’t talk a lot of course, but he was more responsive, and still collected photos of dogs, and managed to name every single dog in the Safehouse whose breed matched the photos he had.

Although he did ask Jade, “Why do you also sometimes have two of you?”

Jade had said she’d asked Rose, and Rose said nothing.

Loki’s still studying on human psychology, so he can’t really say anything for certain, and there was of course the possibility that James simply had latent abilities they somehow unlocked with trying to piece together his mind. Or maybe it was a side effect of them trying to piece together his mind. Who knew? Magic and mental states are such a fragile combination.

The sight that greets him when he goes to the stairs, intent on retiring to his bedroom, is Dave trying to balance a tray of cookies and coffee while avoiding getting jumped at by dogs.

The boy raises the tray slightly just as Rover stands up on his hind legs in an attempt to reach it.

“I assume that’s not for you?” Loki asks.

“No,” Dave says, then almost imbalances. Loki reaches out an arm and catches the tray easily, sliding it so that his hand is positioned directly under its center, and then lifts it over his head as the dogs turn their attention to him.

Dave straightens out his shirt, relieved, although his expression stays blank. “Palmer #1’s been holed up in his room for a while.”

Loki looks up the stairs for a moment, even if he’s clearly unable to look at the Palmers’ room is from where he’s standing. “He hasn’t been eating.”

“Nope,” Dave says, “He keeps forgetting. His brother’s worried.”

And obviously, so is everyone else. Loki nods and moves the tray so he’s holding it properly, and Dave mutters a small “Thank you” before returning back downstairs. The dogs stay, more interested on the tray than Dave, and Loki walks the rest of the way up to the Palmers’ bedroom.

Kevin is passed out on their couch, surrounded by several papers that look like multiple drafts of a broadcast, corrections standing out in red ink. There’s dark circles under Kevin’s eyes, and several food wrappers around him along with unwashed mugs. Loki briefly thinks of waking him up to tell him to move to his bedroom, but decides he has to bring Cecil food first.

Cecil’s door is unlocked, and it opens easily when Loki lightly knocks on it.

The teenager is sitting on his bed, facing a wall that now has multiple sticky notes and papers tacked onto it. There’s a lot of writing on those papers, and Loki can see where the ink ran out in the middle of sentences and a new pen had to be picked up, and how the handwriting changed from calm and readable to hurried and miniscule. He can’t make sense of most of it.

He spots his name on one of the papers and tilts his head, curious, and then sees everyone else’s names, and wonders if Cecil’s seen something massive in the future.

“Cecil,” he says.

He gets no response.

Loki sets the tray down on the boy’s desk – cluttered with papers and broken pens, and several pads of half-used sticky notes, along with untouched food and mugs of coffee that Kevin probably brought for him – before slowly walking over and carefully placing a hand on Cecil’s shoulder.

Cecil jumps and screams.

Loki blinks at the reaction, and watches Cecil scramble backwards, eyes wide with fear, before he recognizes Loki and breathes out a sigh of relief.

“Oh,” Cecil says, and his voice sounds wrecked, which makes Loki once again blink in confusion since it sounds so wrong and out of place.

“It’s been two days, Cecil,” he says, and gets a frown for it.

“No, it’s not, it’s like, nine in the evening and – ” the boy scrambles to find his phone underneath a mass of pillows, blankets and crumpled up papers, and looks like he’s about to cry when he finds it dead, uncharged for a while. Loki hands over his own phone instead.

It’s not nine in the evening. It’s two in the afternoon on the 24th of October.

Cecil draws in a sharp gasp, and Loki notices when his eyes start going glassy.

It’s curious how someone’s personality can completely turn over when something very very bad happens, and even the most cheerful and collected can turn into bawling messes at the slightest things. Loki’d been frustrated with himself the first time he’d done that – set fire to half his bedroom and ended up crying in the corner when he’d messed up one tiny detail in a spell, after days of fighting with his brother – and he thinks he’s been getting better about it over the years.

That’s just wishful thinking though.

He slowly pries Cecil’s hands from where the boy is almost crushing his phone. “You need to eat,” he says, “Move downstairs, at least.”

“No, I – I can’t, I might forget to write down about – ”

“Moving downstairs will help you not see all of this, Cecil.”

“No.”

It’s like a tiny explosion, Loki thinks, the way that psychic driving just bursts from Cecil and spreads across the entire room, nearly bowling him over and getting him to comply. Maybe this is how the kid had gotten Coulson to ship himself off to the Caribbean; he’d heard the story, but he hadn’t actually seen the ability demonstrated firsthand. He wonders if humans had their own silvertongues too, because Cecil certainly fits the role.

“Move downstairs,” Loki says, feeding magic into his voice as well. Cecil’s eyes widen, in shock at what he’d accidentally done and at the fact that Loki can do the same thing as he can. Perhaps silvertongues are rare among humans. Perhaps Cecil is the only one.

It doesn’t do anything of course, just like how Cecil’s persuasion is lost on Loki. Maybe their equal magic cancels it out. How curious.

Although the surprise is enough to make Cecil nod and slowly get up, and discover that two days without eating or sleeping has weakened him and he can’t stand too well. Loki moves to get the tray from the desk, and then puts a hand on Cecil’s shoulder.

In the next blink, they’re in the kitchen, and Cecil staggers from the displacement until Loki adjusts his hold on the boy so he doesn’t fall.

The skywalking was probably a bad idea, because Cecil looks ill. Loki traces a quick anti-motion sickness rune on his forehead, before following it up with one for strength and then cleans Cecil up with a snap of his fingers.

Cecil shivers, and then, “What was that?”

“I assume you also haven’t taken a bath in two days.”

He gets slumped shoulders for that. “I remember Kevin trying to get me out of my room and I didn’t listen to him.”

“He’s resting,” Loki says, and doesn’t elaborate. He places the tray in front of Cecil instead. “Eat.”

Cecil looks at it for a moment before sighing dejectedly. “I might throw it up.”

“You have to get something down.”

No response.

Loki sighs and touches the mug so the coffee reheats itself again. “Do it for your brother, at least.”

That appears to be the right thing to say, because Cecil immediately grabs at the food even if he precedes the action with another small gasp. Loki walks over to the fridge. They still have pizza here, he thinks, and Cecil could use something other than cookies to eat.

He sets the pizza in the oven and waits for it to heat while Cecil devours the cookies and chugs down the coffee, clearly more hungry than he seemed.

Neither of them say anything, and the silence is only broken when the oven makes a sharp ding as it finishes its job. Loki swaps the empty plate and mug for the pizza and places the dishes in the sink as Cecil continues eating.

He sits down across from Cecil and waits, saying nothing. There’s not really anything he can do here besides just making the human eat; he doesn’t know what visions he’d seen or if Cecil would even be willing to talk about it, and prying would probably trigger a meltdown, so he keeps his mouth shut instead.

Cecil is halfway through his second slice when he says, “Do you want me to talk about it?”

Loki gives him a curious look. He’s never heard that before. “If you want to.”

“I feel like I have to,” Cecil says, then shrugs. “But I’m not – I’m not sure. I’m not sure with what I saw or what it means so I can’t…really tell you for sure? Does that make sense? Like what if I interpreted it wrong and tell you the wrong thing instead, and it’d mess it up even more and – ”

“Breathe, Cecil, breathe.”

Loki wishes he can say he learned this from watching healers calm down patients, or mothers calm down their children, but while those are still contributing factors, he mostly unfortunately learned this from firsthand experience.

He makes his voice as soothing as possible, running Cecil through breathing exercises until he calms down.

“Alright?” he asks, when the human no longer looks like he’s about to cry.

Cecil nods. He picks at the pizza again and takes a bite out of it, even if it clearly tastes like cardboard to him. The effort is appreciated, at least.

“I…I have to tell you,” Cecil says, after a long long while, when he’s finished eating and has just been staring blankly at nothing for fifteen minutes straight, “I don’t know what else to do.”

“Just tell me what you saw then, if you want to,” Loki says, “You don’t need to interpret it.”

Cecil winces. “Not here,” he says, “Not here – not here, the walls have ears, he’s going to – ” then he shuts up suddenly, aware he’d send himself into a panic attack again. He breathes in deeply and then slowly lets it out. “Not here,” he says, softly this time. “Somewhere very far away from here, please.”

Loki thinks for a bit before nodding. He places a hand on Cecil’s shoulder again, and in the next second they are both sitting by a beach. The ocean is dark and inviting, waves softly crashing on the shore, and the night around them even darker without any light pollution to chase it away. Overhead, the moon is bright.

He doesn’t think he’s imagining it when Cecil’s eyes go bright from the Seer fugue, and by some impossible feat, the moon is reflected on them despite the fact that it shouldn’t be, not with how Cecil is sitting with his back to it.

And then, Cecil speaks.


Roxy has been packing and unpacking and then packing again for about four times in a row now. She’s nervous, she knows, but it’s not helping her clear her head at all. She just needs something to do with her hands, and she’s kept on unearthing her closet and pulling things out of thin air, even if they’re clearly unnecessary.

All that she’s achieved is surrounding herself with a lot of things, some of which she doesn’t even need, like the tiny little music box and a golden statue of a wizard. Her head is not any clearer than when she’d first started, and her hands are not steady.

She sighs.

Outside, she knows the others are just as nervous as she is, and are also worried about her. She doesn’t need to stress them out even more, not when Dave has been flying around all day in a similar fit of nervousness, and Eridan has been underwater all day too. He’d packed a few hours ago and then went back to the sea again and still hadn’t returned. There isn’t really any way of knowing if Hal is nervous when he just turns himself off all day. Probably retreated to the internet again.

She hates it when things like these happen. She would long for a thing to arrive, pray day and night for it, say she would do anything for it – and then it gets dropped on her lap and she suddenly has nothing to say. Suddenly just wants to take it back. Suddenly just wants it to stop.

Indecisions would be the death of her, she thinks. It’s pathetic. And cruel, not just to her but to her friends. But is she ready for if they really weren’t there? Maybe she just wants to not have false hope, and is it really wrong to wish that?

She sighs, packs her things one more time, and then leaves her bag in the corner of her room and walks out, leaving her mess right where it is. She’ll clean it up later, because she’s clearly not getting any sleep tonight.

It’s not like she’ll reach New York immediately anyway. At most they’d spend hours of travelling before they reach it, and then they’d have to make sure to stay low and have a base of operations, and then actually go look for their friends. Hal said he had a list of places they can try, but it’s still just a hit and miss, Roxy really really doesn’t want to hope for something that’s going to end up destroying her.

Dave is on the roof of the treehouse again, looking out at the sea. The moon is high and full in the sky tonight, and the light looks nice against the water, even though Roxy knows he’s not focusing on that at all. She flies up to sit beside him, and he acknowledges her presence with a nod.

Neither of them say anything for a long time, and they leave each other to their thoughts.

Roxy wonders if Eridan is sleeping or if he’s swimming back and forth the reef. Maybe he’s saying goodbye to little Anshu. Skaia knows he’d miss the tiny fish, even if he just grunts and rolls his eyes whenever Roxy says anything about it.

She’ll miss the island too. It’s isolated, and it’s surrounded by water – painfully reminiscent of her old home – but it’s nice and it’s teeming with life and she made friends with Dave and Eridan here and, well, who can blame her for sentimentality.

“We’re really leaving here, aren’t we?” Dave asks, finally.

Roxy nods. “Yeah,” she says, and her voice is a lot softer than she wanted it to be. She clears her throat and tries again. “Yeah, we are.”

Dave hums in response, and continues staring out at the ocean.

“Hey Dave?”

He turns to her, slowly, “Yeah?”

“If your friends are there, but mine…aren’t. I won’t feel bad, I promise.”

She can see the way his eyes slowly close behind his shades due to his glow making them visible even through the dark tint and he draws in a slow breath.

“What if they’re not? Hal said this Earth had a lot of…mutants.”

Ah, of course he’d be worried about that too.

“Then…we’ll deal with that when we come to it, I guess,” she says. We’ll come back to the island and we’ll continue waiting, or maybe come to terms with the fact that we’ll never see them again, is what she doesn’t.

“Good for Eri though,” Dave says, “Hal’s confirmed that at least Karkat is there.”

“You know Karkat too, don’t you?” Roxy says.

Dave pauses. “Well not – not me Dave. Not really. The other Dave.”

“Oh,” Roxy says.

“Yeah.”

Roxy stares out at the ocean again, this time looking for Eridan even if she knows she won’t find him from just looking at the waves up while she’s up on a treehouse. “Just Eri, then.”

“Good for him though. At least someone’s happy.”

Roxy barks out a laugh despite herself, and she hopes Dave doesn’t notice it sounds like hysteria.

“Yeah, good for him,” she says.

When Dave looks a bit worried, she stands up and stretches, and fakes a yawn. “We should both go to sleep. We’ve got a lot of travelling to do tomorrow.”

Dave just looks at her, staring, and she squirms under his scrutiny until he nods back and says, “Yeah we should.”

He’s in the process of getting up when they hear Eridan yell, “Who the fuck are you?”, and they turn, immediately flying to the other side of the island, the part where the sand is softer and there’s less rocks, instead of the rocky cove where Roxy was tossed onto after she’d broken all her bones by falling into the ocean.

There’s just Eridan there, high on alert and looking like he’s ready to attack at any second, yelling at whoever he’d seen to come out.

She doesn’t know what to make of Eridan telling them that he’d seen two people, sitting there on the sand, one of them sounding exactly like how he imagines it would be if he could hear the Void speak.


October 25, 2013

Loki has been on the phone the whole day. It’s slightly unnerving considering he never actually stays on his phone for more than fifteen minutes even if he’s well-versed on how to work them. Dave swears he’s got to be the first Asgardian to even be proficient with technology (not that he’s met anyone else, or has any plan of meeting Thor), and the dude squanders his talent on just sending short texts or using phone calls only for emergencies.

Which is why this is worrying, because there is no emergency, and yet, Loki’s in the sun room and has been on his phone all day.

He’s writing a few things down on sheets of paper that disappear in a flash of green light as soon as he’s done as he talks, which is impressive since he’s still effectively carrying the conversation, but Dave’s focusing more on the fact that this behavior is strange for him.

So either Loki’s got some really really bad news, or he hit it off with someone from a speed dating place. Dave doesn’t know which one he prefers.

Loki doesn’t even look like he’s noticed Dave purposely walking by every few hours or so. If he has and hasn’t said anything, then the phone call’s probably nothing important. If he hasn’t, then…what ever would distract Loki Silvertongue like that?

Right now, Dave’s just obviously leaning on the doorframe, waiting for Loki to tell him to go away. He doesn’t. Instead he pauses in the middle of whatever he was saying (he’s speaking too fast, and for the life of him, Dave can’t piece anything even from context clues, so he’ll give Loki points for sneakiness, at least), and says, “Are you sure you’re alright?”

Dave blinks. He knows Loki has capacity for kindness, he really does, but Loki doesn’t easily worry over strangers. Not very verbally anyway. He’ll subtly offer them shelter in the Safehouse, but never really very openly concerned.

The person on the other end replies, and Loki says, “Yes, of course I’m fine,” and then continues on with his original train of thought.

Another piece of paper disappears in a flash of green light. Dave sighs, and then starts to walk away when Loki lowers the phone, puts a hand over its microphone and says, “Dave, send Cecil here, would you? I need to talk to him.”

He’s unashamed of the several seconds it takes him to process that – seconds in which Loki has returned to his call – because what the fuck.

He goes and gets Cecil anyway, who’s looking much better than he did yesterday. Whatever powwow he and Loki had yesterday had worked, and Cecil was taking care of himself again, saving Kevin the trouble of losing a few years from worrying over his brother.

“Loki’s been on his phone for like, the whole day,” Dave says when he joins John and Jade (and the dogs, who have decided to follow the two of them up as well) on the rooftop garden. Jade’s picking out pumpkins they can carve for Halloween, which is fast approaching, and Dave hadn’t even noticed despite the fact that he’s hyperaware of how time progresses.

But that’s exactly it. Time just progresses. It doesn’t exactly have markers or dates or alarms that hey today’s a holiday, and so sometimes he just feels it move and slip through his fingers, and he just lets it. Just watches it.

This, as Mr. G would say, is exactly what depression is. Dave snickers to himself.

“Oh, no, he grabbed lunch earlier,” Jade says, inspecting a rather big pumpkin that looks like it’ll be tough to carve, although Jade can probably just teleport parts of it out to carve it, the cheater.

Knowing the Safehouse, there’s going to be a contest on pumpkin-carving, and Loki’s probably gonna sabotage it. Dave suddenly misses the pool master. At least they never sabotaged anything.

“I think he was still on the phone while grabbing lunch,” John says, carefully aiming the hose at the plants, and then looks down at the little corgi currently trying to eat the leaves off of one of the pots near her. “Moxie, no, don’t eat that.”

Moxie ignores him and continues ripping the leaves off and chewing them.

John sighs. “Jade.”

“She’ll be fine, that’s harmless.”

Moxie spits the leaves onto John’s shoes.

Dave says, “Atta girl.”

Jade snickers. Sugar, their resident Border Collie, starts dragging a pot out of line by its plant. Jade stands up to pry it from her mouth.

“God, how do you two keep these guys to behave?” Dave asks. He moves to sit beside Moxie and stop her from eating and spitting leaves onto John’s shoes, but then Posie jumps into his lap and licks his chin, and he jerks back a little from the sudden sensation of being licked by an excitable Chihuahua.

“We don’t,” John says. Then motions his head to the side. “Incoming.”

Dave turns just in time for the rest of the pack to barrel into him, completely knocking him and his glasses over.

“Shit,” he mutters, and is thankful when the glasses teleport back onto his face courtesy of Jade, although now it’s being licked by the dogs too.

He takes a few minutes to sit up, and counts that most of the pack is surrounding him, except for Moxie (still ruining John’s shoes, good girl), and Winston, who’s looking over the edge of the rooftop with a seriousness dogs shouldn’t really possess, but he’s still doing it anyway.

“Winston,” Dave says. The dog doesn’t turn to him. He nudges John’s leg. “What’s up with him?”

He has to point to where the dog is sitting before John realizes he is, in fact, talking about Winston. “Oh, he’s been like that all day. I don’t know what’s up with him.”

“Is he sick?”

“Maybe he just likes to people-watch? I don’t know.”

On cue, Winston turns away from where he’s observing the street and heads for the stairs, running down and bounding towards who knew where.

Weird dog. Then again, he gravitated towards Mr. G, so maybe the man rubbed off on him.

“I swear to god, there’s a lot of things off recently,” Dave says, reaching out to absentmindedly pat Milko’s head. His hand gets licked too, and he grimaces.

John looks down at him for a moment, then turns his attention up to the sky. “Yeah,” he says, “Something feels wrong.”

Dave tries to follow his line of sight and sees nothing, just a slightly cloudy sky that’s probably going to rain soon, a few birds looking like dark spots against the blue, and nothing else.

And then John sneezes and blows back several of Jade’s plants with a burst of sudden wind.


Karkat has not been getting enough sleep. He knows it shows, and he knows both Kanaya and Steve – Rogers, when the fuck had he started calling Rogers as Steve – (and maybe the little menace who he hopes chokes on that green pen) have been telling him to get some rest, but he’d be damned before he actually willingly dived into that blood-filled hell again.

That damn look-alike had tied a noose around his neck the last time, fashioning it out of veins and intestines, and he’d squirmed until Kankri had forcefully pulled him down, and told him to run, and then they’d both yelled at each other before their survival instincts forced them to shut up until the crows had arrived with their usual backup.

They both got sent to the same field Karkat always ended up in, the one with the bioluminescent grass, and he’d mockingly asked Kankri how he’d gotten roped into helping because that selfish asshole would rather run his mouth than pull Karkat’s ass out of hell. And then Kankri had, of course, risen to the argument, told him that the swearing was offensive, and that before he called someone a selfish asshole, he should probably ask their side of the story so as not to hurt their feelings and that if Karkat had known this and that, and honestly the circumlocution was getting so tiring that Karkat just flipped him off and then rolled himself down the hill.

So he’s not going to sleep for three reasons – one, the bloody nightmareland; two, Kankri Vantas; three, the thrice-damned abomination spat out by a constipated Horrorterror, who had the gall to drop him and Kanaya onto Earth. Whose name, of course, Karkat didn’t get. He was too busy yelling, and honestly, they’d had no time to introduce each other.

He’s just staring at the ceiling and trying not to fall asleep now. The television is on and whatever show is playing is background noise to him, Kanaya is asleep since she’d been staying up from sewing too many outfits for him and the human, Rogers is out on his job – it’s the perfect time for him to be at peace and not sleep.

Until the television suddenly says, in a very static-ky voice, “Honestly, what on earth do you think you’re doing?”

Karkat groans, picks up the couch pillow and buries his face in it.

“Mr. Vantas.”

“For one day, please just for one day, piss off.”

“That’s not very nice.”

“I’m not very nice.”

There’s a snort. “Alright then, I’d just like to let you know the Heir isn’t the one speaking right now.”

He frowns into the pillow, then slowly lowers it so he can see the television screen, which is just showing a purple eye insignia. His voice is still muffled by the pillow when he speaks. “What?”

“Hello!”

“What the – what the fucking fuck. If you’re – ”

“Oh no, no, I’m not the Heir of Blood, either. He’s…definitely not a friend. I’m a Seer, darling, and am unfortunately the one who takes over ‘message-relay’ jobs. It makes things easier if we designate roles as to who does who.”

“What the hell are you talking about.”

There’s a pause, and then. “I probably shouldn’t say all of this. You’ll get more confused.”

Karkat sits up, glaring at the television screen. “If you crawl out that box, I will shove my sickle down that strep-infected chitinous windhole of yours.”

“You’ve been watching way too many horror movies. I suppose October’s the season for them being run on television. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one.”

Karkat’s glare falters, turning into a frown – how had the corpseshit known he was watching The Ring the other day, unless of course Seer meant – “Lalonde, if that is you, just come get me and stop playing.”

The television actually sighs, and it sounds like a painful burst of static. “Mr. Vantas, as much as I would love to tell you that I am Ms. Lalonde to ease your concerns, I am sadly the farthest thing from Rose Lalonde.”

“You sound like her.”

“Perhaps my speech pattern is, yes, but she’s not the only one who has a way with words.”

Karkat frowns. Whoever is talking may or may not be affliated with the bane of Karkat’s existence (that was pushing it, there are definitely worse people than a midget with a green pen), but they’re definitely some sort of psionic to be able to hijack Rogers’ television like this. Sadly attacking the television would do nothing, so Karkat just settles for staring it down, and hopefully who was on the other side would be able to see him.

The static riding the voice was definitely on purpose though, so they were cautious. But then, for what purpose?

“But you know Rose Lalonde?”

“I’ve never personally met her, no. I know her in the same way I know you and your name.”

He frowns further. “You talk around in circles a lot.”

“Actually no, I’m being very truthful, Mr. Vantas. I suppose it just seems that way.”

“Yeah, well, if you’re gonna just keep on doing that, bye.” He stands up and shuts the television, then unplugs it. When he walks back towards the couch, there’s a purple radio sitting there, and on the panel where several dials are mounted, is a tiny screen with the same eye insignia that was on the television.

He immediately pulls out his sickle and turns around the room, looking out for whoever came in without him noticing.

“There. I sound nothing like Ms. Lalonde, do I?”

The static is gone now, and instead Karkat feels a wave of calm wash over him at the soothing, ethereal voice that filters through the radio. As soon as it stops speaking, his head clears, and he bares his teeth. “Stop that. Stop doing that, all of you. I’m getting really fucking tired of having myself being pulled around like some stupid hoofbeastmanure-bathed toy.”

“Apologies,” the radio says. There’s just really something very calming about the way it speaks, and Karkat grips onto his sickle tighter, trying very hard not to calm down.

“Fuck do you want.”

“I’m just here to tell you to sleep. You’re exhausting yourself.”

He’s going out on a limb here, but. “That tiny menace sent you here to hijack the television with your psionics to get me to sleep?”

“You’re no use to anyone dead, Karkat.”

Karkat stills, caught by surprise. The voice immediately continues, “That might have sounded crass. I’m sorry again. But the Heir really is worried about you. I can’t tell you names, not yet, or else you might try tracking people down, and I tried to hide my voice because it is rather easy to recognize voices. And any memory spell put on you, you would easily break through, so that plan’s fallen through as well. So I’ll simply try to negotiate with you and convince you to sleep.”

He snorts, annoyed, and picks up the radio. “Goodluck with that, assdick.”

“I’ll give you a heads-up for four very special visitors who’ll be arriving six days from now.”

He stops in the middle of hurling the radio at the floor, thinking about it. The radio seems to wait.

Then he actually smashes it.

Or tries to. It doesn’t reach the floor, and instead hovers over it one inch just before it touches down, and a red circle of light suddenly spins into view underneath it. It’s another insignia, Karkat realizes, a symbol he’s seen so many times before and –

And the radio suddenly flies back up, like time is reversing, and shoots right back into his hand. He yelps as it smacks into his palm, and his fingers curl around its handle against his will. He stares at the radio in horror, and then back at the floor.

The Game’s mark for Time is gone.

“They’re your friends. Or, well, one of them is. The other three are friends of your friend, and one of them is an iteration of a very close friend of yours.”

“Would you just tell me straight to my face before I smash you again,” Karkat hisses at the thing, bringing it close so he can glare at the eye insignia. The damn thing can probably see him. The damn thing can most likely see him. It’s probably psionic bullshit.

“Before you try, you mean. The effort is appreciated. I’ll tell you if you sleep.”

He hurls the radio down. The same thing happens and he grits his teeth to prevent from crying out when the radio flies back into his hand again, and somehow, it hits harder than the last time.

“Why do you do this to yourself?”

He throws it down again.

He doesn’t know what he expected. Probably for it to finally hit the floor and smash itself to pieces. It doesn’t, of course.

Fuck, fine!” His hand stings like someone dipped it in a vat of acid, and his fingers are shaking, barely holding on to the radio’s handle. “Tell me.”

“If you sleep.”

“No.”

“Then I don’t tell you. Maybe not even send them your way. And are you sure you don’t want to see your friends again?”

Blackmailing son of a cullbait, he was gonna run outside and throw this thing right into the path of a speeding truck, laying low be damned by the empress herself.

The tiny purple eye seems to mock him, or maybe patiently wait would be the right term here, although he’d rather imagine it to be actually asking for a fight. Otherwise he wouldn’t feel as strongly as he did about wanting to throw it into those loud things Rogers called a washing machine.

Actually, whether or not the radio was mocking him, he would still throw it into a washing machine.

Karkat presses his lips to a thin line and lets out a low, annoyed growl.


October 26, 2013

Karkat sleeps.


October 27, 2013

[In a space where Time has no meaning]

“Caribbean.”

“No.”

“No, I swear, it’ll be better.”

“We already have one person in the Carribean.”

“Eh, they’ll work together.”

“Language barriers exist, if I may remind you, dear?”

“Pfft. He totally speaks the language. There’s no problem with the language barrier.”

“And exactly why do you insist they be put in the same place?”

“Because they both need a friend right now?”

“Oh, fuck you, what the hell is that argument.”

“It’s a good argument. And did you just say ‘fuck you’ to me?”

“Like I’ve never said it before?”

“No, you’re usually so eloquent, like I’d expect you to say, go fornicate with thine self – ow! What the fuck.”

“I don’t talk like that.”

“You so fucking do, your highness. Like seriously, you think I didn’t hear it when you said, I think you’re the one offended, my good bitch?”

“I will strangle you with your own halo, Angel, I swear on my dead dog.”

“Go pester the AI, you fuck.”

“He has a name.”

“Well, I don’t know it, I’m not on info-planting and make-friends-on-the-internet duty, am I?”

“Go take care of nightmares, you vertically-challenged tiefling.”

“You didn’t play DnD right, did you?”

“Fuck. Off.”

Chapter Text

777angeles (6:12 AM):

so!!! being sick with pneumonia sucks >:(

 

autotestifieus (6:12 AM):

Are you alright, Angel?

 

777angeles (6:12 AM):

yeah, i’m just going home for a while. got invited to some reunion bc my grandfather came home. nice timing. i don’t want to go home :)

 

autotestifieus (6:12 AM):

Family drama?

 

777angeles (6:12 AM):

extended family drama. i’m not exactly a legal child.

 

autotestifieus (6:12 AM):

Oh.

Is that a sore topic?

 

777angeles (6:12 AM):

nah it’s cool i’m used to it. i didn’t even know i was related to them until like, my grandmother visited? idk

 

lksenna (6:12 AM):

this is probably a weird coincidence but same?

 

777angeles (6:12 AM):

!!!

holy shit

 

lksenna (6:12 AM):

i mean i was more adopted, and then never told until i was grown up

but like

family drama

 

777angeles (6:13 AM):

:D dude yes

family drama support group

altho everyone probably has family drama so. it’s just all of us

 

abeille (6:13 AM):

actually yeah

families are just hard i guess

 

BorkinBork (6:13 AM):

Im adopted too actually

 

lksenna (6:13 AM):

YO

 

BorkinBork (6:13 AM):

AYE

 

tcrimeeats (6:13 AM):

I was out of wedlock too, does that count?

 

777angeles (6:13 AM):

DUDE

 

tcrimeeats (6:13 AM):

HOLY SHIT!

 

abeille (6:13 AM):

oh my god

i guess kids like us also move in herds

 

autotestifieus (6:13 AM):

Well, I don’t know where I really count as.

But I definitely have no parents.

 

lksenna (6:14 AM):

sorry dude

 

777angeles (6:14 AM):

oh

 

abeille (6:14 AM):

sorry auto

 

autotestifieus (6:14 AM):

It’s actually not as serious as it sounds.

I didn’t know the people who could technically be counted as parents.

I made everyone here awkward, didn’t I?

 

BorkinBork (6:14 AM):

Im an orphan too and like

Nah you didnt make everyone here awkward

This is such a coincidence though???

It’s so great

 

777angeles (6:15 AM):

we definitely move in herds

 

tcrimeeats (6:15 AM):

You know what would be funny though?

If one of us had Secret Relatives who visited and said we were royalty.

Just turn everything into a cliché movie.

 

abeille (6:15 AM):

god that was such a dream when i was younger

 

BorkinBork (6:15 AM):

Princess Diaries but with Angel trying to climb onto a very high throne

 

777angeles (6:15 AM):

i'm not that short!

 

autotestifieus (6:15 AM):

Yes, you are.

 

777angeles (6:15 AM):

fight me, testifieus

 

autotestifieus (6:15 AM):

I can’t do jokes twice, Angel, otherwise I’ll look uncreative.

 

777angeles (6:16 AM):

good i'd kick you in the gut if you told me ‘mr. testifieus is my father’ again

 

tcrimeeats (6:17 AM):

It wouldn’t be The Princess Diaries, it’d be The Heir to Tiny Town.

 

abeille (6:17 AM):

DAMN

 

BorkinBork (6:17 AM):

Its Bully Your Local Midget Heir day and I love it

 

777angeles (6:17 AM):

first order of business, kick crime out my kingdom

 

tcrimeeats (6:17 AM):

Good. I’d probably keep hitting my head on doorframes because of how low the ceiling is.

 

autotestifieus (6:17 AM):

Goddamn.

 

lksenna (6:18 AM):

g o d i haven’t stopped l a u g h i n g

 

777angeles (6:18 AM):

what have i ever done to you people

 

lksenna (6:18 AM):

you were cute. that's your transgression

 

autotestifieus (6:18 AM):

Your height provides extra adorability points.

 

tcrimeeats (6:18 AM):

Have you guys ever seen Angel in real life.

 

777angeles (6:18 AM):

cocks shotgun

show them my photo, i dare you

 

autotestifieus (6:18 AM):

Have you met Angel in real life?

 

tcrimeeats (6:18 AM):

Yeah while I was visiting New York once.

 

lksenna (6:18 AM):

how did we not know about this!

we coulda met up, angel!

 

777angeles (6:18 AM):

if you think

that i'd stand beside your possibly six foot tall ass

guess again

 

lksenna (6:18 AM):

6’2”

 

777angeles (6:18 AM):

yeah bye never seeing you in my life

 

lksenna (6:18 AM):

too bad the fates will find a way

 

777angeles (6:18 AM):

i'll fight fate itself

 

abeille (6:19 AM):

wait angel are you from new york

 

777angeles (6:19 AM):

well

not really?

i moved around a lot and moved to NY like three years ago or so

 

BorkinBork (6:19 AM):

You mean all this time youve been in the middle of those attacks

 

777angeles (6:19 AM):

yeah but like

sometimes i forget i'm in new york?

i hole myself up in the house and my flatmates are wild and i just forget and think i'm back home

 

BorkinBork (6:19 AM):

So like when you said you wouldn’t want your street on fire

You meant like back home

 

777angeles (6:19 AM):

ye

also like, i meant the whole ‘filming in the middle of an attack’ thing when i was like ‘if this is common in new york’. i always forget

 

abeille (6:19 AM):

how the hell do you always forget

 

BorkinBork (6:19 AM):

Thats impressive Angel

 

777angeles (6:20 AM):

honestly ask anyone who is a safehouse regular. people often forget the city is on fire. especially when there’s bake offs and betting pools and all that

 

autotestifieus (6:20 AM):

What’s a safehouse regular?

 

777angeles (6:20 AM):

people who regularly take shelter in the safehouse when there’s an attack. the safehouse is the city bunker

 

lksenna (6:20 AM):

yeah i've read stuff about it on the internet

how accurate are those

 

777angeles (6:20 AM):

i mean personally i haven’t read any of those? so idk

 

tcrimeeats (6:20 AM):

I visited Angel when there wasn’t an attack, so I’ve never been to the Safehouse.

 

autotestifieus (6:20 AM):

Capitalized?

 

tcrimeeats (6:20 AM):

Yeah, it’s kind of a known thing, but it’s more like people are aware of its existence, but nobody really spills details.

Maybe all the people there have some sort of secret oath?

 

abeille (6:21 AM):

i mean if it’s the city bunker, then that makes sense because if it’s secrets are known and exploited, they’re all dead

 

autotestifieus (6:21 AM):

Is there some sort of membership?

 

777angeles (6:21 AM):

no, you just get in the safehouse if there’s an attack. like, go right ahead

 

autotestifieus (6:21 AM):

So if, hypothetically, I was to go on a vacation to New York and got caught in the middle of an attack, I can take shelter in the Safehouse?

 

777angeles (6:21 AM):

ye

are you planning on a vacation

have you finally gotten out of your pretty cannibal neighbor’s basement

 

abeille (6:21 AM):

he probably ended up dating said neighbor

 

tcrimeeats (6:21 AM):

Nice.

 

BorkinBork (6:22 AM):

Everyone quote Angel on three

 

lksenna (6:22 AM):

goddamn, my dude

 

tcrimeeats (6:22 AM):

Goddamn, my dude.

 

abeille (6:22 AM):

goddamn my dude

 

BorkinBork (6:23 AM):

I

Hadnt even counted

 

lksenna (6:23 AM):

it’s a great hivemind

 

777angeles (6:24 AM):

really tho auto are you planning on a vacation here

 

autotestifieus (6:24 AM):

Maybe.

 

tcrimeeats (6:24 AM):

Oooh, maybe you guys can meet up.

 

777angeles (6:24 AM):

rip i'll be staying home for who knows how long

and if i’m still sick i definitely won’t be travelling back to NY soon

 

autotestifieus (6:24 AM):

That’s too bad. I would have loved someone to show me around New York.

 

777angeles (6:24 AM):

haha just get on a tour bus

 

autotestifieus (6:24 AM):

But really, the Safehouse takes anyone in? Even mutants?

 

777angeles (6:25 AM):

*especially* mutants. the people who run the safehouse are mutants themselves

the safehouse lets everyone in. even the homeless

 

tcrimeeats (6:25 AM):

Oh my god, that’s so good?

 

abeille (6:25 AM):

thats great omg

 

777angeles (6:25 AM):

yeah it even has rooms so like, if the homeless wanna stay they can just. stay. so maybe kinda like a bunker-hotel

 

autotestifieus (6:25 AM):

No charge?

 

777angeles (6:25 AM):

no

omg are you planning to vacation in NY and stay in the safehouse bc 1. safe 2. no charges ?

 

autotestifieus (6:26 AM):

Well.

 

lksenna (6:27 AM):

that

is genius exploitation

 

tcrimeeats (6:27 AM):

Oh my god, Auto.

 

abeille (6:27 AM):

just be nice to the safehouse people at least omg

or leave tips or something

they sound like nice people to set up a place like that

 

777angeles (6:28 AM):

they're wild

i love them all

 

autotestifieus (6:29 AM):

Well, I’d love to meet them too.

And hopefully you’ll get better soon, Angel, because I have never been to New York before. Some help would be appreciated. Internet research can only go so far.

 

777angeles (6:29 AM):

haha no promises but hopefully yeah

if you’re staying in the safehouse when i get back i'll definitely meet you

 

tcrimeeats (6:29 AM):

Haha, you wanna see Angel’s photo so you know who you’re looking for,  Auto?

 

777angeles (6:29 AM):

do nOT

 

autotestifieus (6:29 AM):

If Angel allows it.

 

777angeles (6:30 AM):

…dm’s are okay. crime can dm it to you

 

tcrimeeats  (6:30 AM):

Okie dokie.

 

lksenna (6:30 AM):

i never thought i'd read the words ‘okie dokie’ on a chat

 

abeille (6:30 AM):

we should honestly have a chat bingo or something

we already hit ‘blaze it’ and ‘okie dokie’

 

autotestifieus (6:30 AM):

Angel.

You are small.

 

BorkinBork (6:30 AM):

Can we include that in the chat bingo

 

tcrimeeats (6:30 AM):

Auto’s so brutal, I love him.

 

777angeles (6:30 AM):

wow you know what

i ain’t ever going back to NY

 

autotestifieus (6:30 AM):

Angel, no.

Don’t leave me here to die.

 

777angeles (6:30 AM):

bye bitch

we’re reenacting the scene from lion king

and i'm pushing you off the edge now

 

lksenna (6:30 AM):

holy shit

 

777angeles (6:30 AM):

long live the king

 

tcrimeeats (6:30 AM):

You’d be the shortest Simba.

Or Scar.

Can’t be The Lion King.

 

777angeles (6:30 AM):

i'm leaving this chat bye

 


 

The sun is setting by the time they near the strip of land that is supposedly New York. Maybe calling it a ‘strip of land’ is an understatement of its size, because compared to their island in the middle of nowhere, it’s huge, but from where they are still flying over the ocean, New York simply looks like a line on the horizon, with tall skyscrapers jutting out of the uneven silhouette of roofs.

Roxy Lalonde somehow finds a way to fidget mid-flight, and worries that her illusion of Void over herself and her friends will falter with her nervousness, but the boats minding their own business a long way off below them seem to continue minding their own business, and she sighs in relief.

Learning how to take the Void to encase things in it and keep it out of sight and out of mind has been a work in progress for months, because pulling things out of thin air can only entertain her for so long. She hasn’t perfected it yet, of course, but she’s happy that she’s been able to make one or two things be unnoticeable for about a week. It’s tiring, of course, but it’s an exercise in focus and she had needed the stimulation when she was just stuck on an island for months. The first living thing she’d learned to apply Void to was Anshu, and Eridan freaked out like no other because he didn’t know she’d hidden his little fish.

He’d eventually admitted that it was a cool ability after he’d gone around the reefs three times looking for Anshu, and then refused to talk about it.

A bit more time to practice had been helpful in making her able to at least shield them from prying eyes as they travelled. She crashed and slept like a rock every time they took a break and rested, of course, because this was exhausting, but it was better to put her focus on this than on worrying whether or not her friends were in New York.

They are most likely not. She’s sure of it. Although at least Eri would be able to reunite with Karkat.

They touch down on the shore, and Roxy is careful to not abruptly remove their veil and instead keep it steady, even as her feet touch the sand. Eridan is set down by Davesprite on the sand carefully, and he frowns as he stares at the ocean.

“You okay, Eri?” she asks.

He takes a while to answer. “The ocean is sick,” he says. Roxy waits for him to tell her not to call him that infuriating nickname, but he says nothing else.

She pulls at the hem of her sleeve.

Dave hovers over the sand, casting an orange glow over it that’s very visible in the dim lighting, and Roxy wonders if people are able to see the glow and are confused as to where it’s coming from. She hopes not, or if they do, they just brush it off.

They’re weird like that, she thinks, the people she’s met so far. This Earth is teeming with them, and one tiny building can contain over twenty of them, and while she knows this isn’t a ridiculous number for this Earth’s standards, she’s never seen that many humans crowded together in one room, and might have cried a little and then pretend she was just tired.

Sneaking into motels and houses had been quite a time for the four of them. It was like the movies, she thought, and she would have loved to be able to do it again when they’d arrived in New York, even if it would be exhausting. Sadly, Hal said he had new information as to where they could stay while they were in the city, although they’d have to lay low while they were in the building so they didn’t draw attention to themselves and just blended in with the rest of the tenants.

She sways on her feet and Hal, on her nose, lights up his screen.

We should go find the Safehouse.

She frowns at the letters for a moment when they refuse to register in her head. She’s crashing from fatigue already. “Safehouse is the name of the building and you didn’t somehow buy us a bunker, right?”

Safehouse is the name of the building.

“Okay, gotcha,” she says, and then yawns. She waits for Hal to give her instructions before she relays it to Dave and Eridan, who both look as tired as she is. Eridan is stretching his arms, which have been hurting the entire time Dave had been carrying him as he flew.

“We really can’t stop someplace closer?” Dave asks.

“Hal says the Safehouse is the closest thing we can stay and actually rest,” Roxy says, reading off of the glasses’ screen. “I actually am getting tired.”

“Well, let’s get walking,” Eridan says, rolling his shoulders and trying to get the burn out of them. “I want to sleep and wherever this safehouse is had better actually be close, Hal.”

“He says of course.”

Eridan makes a noise of acknowledgement, gives the ocean one last look, before starting to walk up the beach. The winds are cold at night, and with the sun almost gone over the horizon, the temperature is dropping faster. Roxy shivers despite her sweater, and she pulls her pink scarf up to cover her mouth and nose to hide another yawn. It’s cold and she’s tired and sleeping right here on the beach sounds like such a lovely idea right now, although the others would probably disagree.

Well, maybe the sand would aggravate her face but, she just really wants to lie down and not have to keep up with the veil over them.

Getting near the buildings and the houses takes even longer, and as soon as they’re properly in the city, they all duck in an alleyway for Roxy to lift the veil. Her shoulders immediately feel marginally lighter as she lifts the illusion, and then almost slides to the ground and closes her eyes right there, but Dave stops her and tells her they still have to get moving.

Eridan suggests they take half an hour to rest from walking, and she agrees immediately, breathing out a sigh of relief.

Half an hour turns to an hour, and then another, and then another, and then she wakes up sneezing and confused as to when she’d fallen asleep in the first place. Her head is on Eridan’s shoulder, and Eridan’s cheek is pressed against her hair, and on her other side, Dave is leaning back on the wall and fast asleep, mouth slightly open.

She blinks and realizes Hal is almost falling off her nose, and she pushes the shades up before it falls to the ground.

Rise and shine, Hal says. She thinks he’s amused.

“We fell asleep,” she mutters, still not moving for fear of disturbing Eridan.

Yeah you did, Hal types out, too fast for her to catch up with right now and the letters just blur as the screen prints it across its black background. Although in the meantime, that had me doing a bit more research, and I might know where Karkat is.

Eridan doesn’t wake up. Roxy pokes at his side and he immediately jolts up, too ticklish where his scars from his wriggler days are.

“Ah, shit!” he hisses, touching his side. “Roxy!”

She laughs, and is vaguely aware of Dave waking up as well. She didn’t even know sprites slept until a few weeks ago, when she’d found him sprawled out on their treehouse’s couch, actually sleeping and surrounded by a few small birds.

“What is it?” Eridan asks, running a hand over his face and trying to wake up properly, although he’s clearly as exhausted as the rest of them are.

“Hal said he found Karkat.”

It’s an art, the way Eridan snatches the glasses off of Roxy’s face and doesn’t scratch her despite how close his claws get to her skin. He puts Hal on his nose and stares down at the glasses with an intensity he reserves for getting lost inside his own head, and Roxy chuckles as she leaves him to arguing with Hal via frowning.

She rolls her shoulders and works out the kinks in her neck, wincing at the way her muscles burn from being stuck in a position for hours. She doesn’t even know how long they’ve been asleep for, but the sun has completely set and the night has already taken over the city, so it must have been a while.

There are people passing by their alley, Roxy realizes, casting them weird looks, but surprisingly just shrugging and moving on to wherever they’re going. They’re ridiculously dressed up, all carrying bags, and Roxy swears she sees one tiny kid walk around with a huge white sheet over them.

“It’s Halloween,” Dave says, and Roxy has to remember what she knows of the holiday. She’s heard and read about it, but seeing the real thing is…strange.

She wipes at her eyes, afraid she’ll start crying. This was supposed to be the Earth she should have known, with its ghoulish holidays and its seafaring people, not the one that was drowned out by an alien tyrant.

She stands instead. They’ll blend right in with the crowd like this, so as soon as Hal and Eridan finish staring each other down, they could go to Hal’s safehouse. She would be impressed if he managed to find them an actual bunker or something.

“No, we’re going to find Karkat first,” Eridan suddenly says.

She turns to him, and he’s glaring at Hal. Not the usual fuck you and everything you stand for glare, but an actual glare that promised rage, which…worries her. Frowns were normal, bitchfaces more so, but glares with intent to kill were not. He might smash Hal on the ground.

There’s a few seconds of silence as Hal replies, and Eridan waits, but not without the stony look on his face worse growing worse.

“Yes, we are.”

Another pause as he waits for Hal.

“He could be in danger. If we find him, we can easily take him to this safehouse of yours.”

Pause.

“Well, we’ll do it fast. Tell us where Karkat is, we’ll go get him, and then we’ll go to your safehouse.”

Whatever Hal says next appears to make Eridan even angrier, although thankfully, Dave sighs and says, “Hal, just tell us where Karkat is, it’s fine.”

Roxy watches as Eridan narrows his eyes at the glasses and clenches his fists. She hopes Hal doesn’t aggravate him even more.

Three minutes pass before Eridan tersely hands over the glasses to her, and she can see how much effort it takes to not crush it in his claws.

“Come on,” he says, standing up and brushing the dirt from his clothes. “Let’s go.”

The streets are more crowded than Roxy expects them to be when they get out of the alley, and she inhales sharply, suddenly stilling. So many kids, all in ridiculous costumes. Some of them are out with adults, who are also equally dressed up, and they’re all laughing and talking and comparing each other’s bags. The bags should have candy, she thinks, and wonders how all of that tastes like, and whether it’d mess her up as much as Jane’s cursed juju did.

Dave gently puts a hand on her shoulder and reminds her to get going.

The streetlamps are bright, and she appreciates the glow they give off even if, when paired with the lights from the houses and the shop windows, they’re too bright. The stars aren’t visible here though, not with all that light pollution. On the island, they were; they twinkled brightly down at her, and she finds herself missing her treehouse and siting up on the roof at night, just trying to make up constellations. But the island was isolated and quiet, and there weren’t any kids in costumes, running around with their parents and their bags of candy.

Roxy wants to grab a bag and see if she can somehow get candy too.

Dave is remembering, she knows, with the way he keeps looking at the kids and stops every now and then, wistful. She wonders if his Bro had let him trick or treat. He didn’t sound like a very nice person when he’d talked to her about him, drunk and weeping, shades on the counter and tears all over his face.

They should try this holiday, she thinks, if they have time after they find Karkat and the safehouse.

Ahead of them, Eridan weaves through the crowd with ease, and she wonders if it’s because he’d expected to see a lot of humans on Earth, or if he’s actually just set on finding Karkat. Perhaps both, knowing him, and actually having an objective lent more focus compared to just acting on the slight chance that there was something to find.

Roxy adjusts Hal on her nose and whispers. “Is Karkat really here?”

Yes, Hal says.

Roxy nods and says nothing else.

Several kids bump into Eridan and he simply grunts and continues on, and Roxy and Dave have to speed up to catch up to him. Roxy hears a few kids gasp and whisper, “Dude, that’s so cool,” as they pass by Dave, and Dave immediately lowers his hovering so that his sprite tail touches the ground more. He’s careful not to make it obvious that it’s phasing through the asphalt.

They walk around for a while, from street to street, and Roxy notices the pattern of what’s happening – people in costume walk up to a house, knock, say ‘trick or treat’ and they’re given candy. It’s cute, she thinks.

She has a brilliant idea and grabs Eridan by his scarf, ignoring the way he almost chokes on it and glares at her. Dave raises an eyebrow, but snickers, and then follows her as she walks up to a building, decorated extravagantly for Halloween. She then pulls a bag out of thin air and then knocks on it.

Dave seems to get it. He says, “Trick or treat!” in the same false, cheery tone as she does while Eridan fixes his scarf.

Hal, amused, flashes: Well. And then turns himself off.

The door is opened by a man who looks like he’d be better off sleeping, curly hair all over the place and glasses askew, and he looks at Roxy like he expected her to be there but was tired anyway. A furry head pokes itself past the doorway to lick at Roxy’s hand. She pulls back in shock at the sensation.

“Rover, no,” the man says. “Sorry about that.”

“No, it’s okay,” Roxy says, suddenly realizing she’s never actually seen a dog face to face before. Not one that didn’t stand on two legs and try to kill her, anyway. As soon as she thinks that, several more dogs join the first one, surrounding the man, and they all wag their tails expectantly at her, except for the tiny one with only a stump for a tail.

Dave chuckles.

“Hang on, let me go get the candy,” the man says, but is interrupted by someone else carrying a bowl of brightly-colored sweets.

“I’ll handle it. Honestly, Grahambell, always be ready with candy when you open the door tonight,” says the stranger, laughing at his friend. His cheerfulness makes Roxy smile a bit, and he generously puts candy in Roxy’s bag before telling her, “Have a nice night!” and then to Dave, “Nice costume.”

There’s cheering from inside the building, and Roxy thinks maybe they’re having a party right now. Good for them. The dogs start to retreat to the direction of the noise, except for one, who stares at Roxy and tilts its head, curious. The bedraggled man says, “Come on, Winston,” and leaves to follow the rest of the dogs to where the party is currently blowing up in shouts and laughter.

“Kevin, get your ass in here and knock Luke off his high horse.”

“Okay!” Kevin calls out, and then turns back to Roxy and the others. “What about your friends, don’t you have bags?”

“Uh.” She should have made more bags for Dave and Eridan. Whoops.

Dave just shrugs, while Eridan is glaring at the brightly-dressed human who simply laughs at this and tips the entire bowl of candy into Roxy’s bag instead.

“Holy shit,” Dave whispers, and Kevin winks, then laughs again.

Someone else runs up to the doorway to grab Kevin’s arm, going, “Come on, he’s just sabotaging the betting pool and turning everyone’s ingredients into a rubber turkey.” Roxy has to wonder exactly what’s going on inside the building, although she’s more distracted by the fact that a mirror image of Kevin has just showed up, and she smiles as she realizes, twins, how cute.

“Alright, Ceec. Have a nice night, guys,” Kevin says, and then moves to close the door, but not before his brother catches a glimpse of Roxy and the others.

Roxy briefly stares straight at violet eyes, and then the door closes.

When they all finally continue walking down the street, Dave picks through the bag of candy and occasionally unwraps a few to stick in his mouth. He pelts Eridan with a few grape-flavored sweets, and Eridan ignores them until one lands on his hair. He glares at Dave then, and Dave hands him a piece of candy.

Eridan takes it from him and bites it in half, wrapper and all.

Dave just shrugs and continues to eat. “Good kid,” he says, moving his head to indicate the building they’d just gotten all this candy from, through a mouthful of chocolates, “Kevin, I mean.”

 Roxy laughs, and wonders if the tenants of the safehouse they would be staying in were as nice as that boy.

It’s a nice night.

And then it isn’t.


So far, about thirteen people have been rubber-turkied. Dave’s counted, because it’s a lot funnier than keeping count of how many people are getting pissed at Loki for sabotaging the whole cook-off. Whoever suggested this whole event must be regretting it, and Dave’s pretty sure it’s no one from the War Council.

Trick or treating would have been nice, but someone had suggested to Mrs. Harrison to have a Halloween party instead, and they’d all gotten way too intense at the planning, and somehow gotten everything together in the span of three days. It was impressive, to say the least, and Rose got to pop in and have James push carts around as she picked out Halloween decorations. It was the first time the man was visiting the Safehouse, and in the few three days he’d been here, he’d been pretty okay.

He was excited to meet the dogs, so there was that. Yesterday, he’d made the mistake of lying down in the sun room and enjoying the light, and then found himself under a pile of approximately twenty dogs.

Good times.

Currently, James is in the corner of the room, looking like he’s torn between clenching his teeth and laughing his ass off as someone else empties a box of cheese only to find a small, rubber turkey inside.

That’s fourteen people. Loki is looking smug from where he’s sitting near the betting pool board.

He only raises an eyebrow when his latest victim yells, “Winters!”

Dave snickers.

He goes to grab a few more sandwiches from the buffet table and is considering just stealing the entire tray when he notices the Palmers come in, and he wouldn’t have paid it any mind if Loki handed gotten up and immediately walked over to Palmer #1.

Who looks slightly distressed.

He watches as Loki says something –it’s too far away and too loud to make out and he’s shit at reading lips – and Cecil nods, and responds. Loki seems to be considering something for a moment before he heads off to find Rose.

Dave looks at Palmer #1, still visibly distressed, before taking the entire tray of sandwiches and bringing it over. Palmer #1 wrinkles his nose.

“Dave.”

“You could eat.”

“I’m not going to starve myself this time, I promise,” Palmer #1 sighs, taking a sandwich and slowly tearing a piece of it off to pop into his mouth. “That wasn’t even on purpose.”

“I know. I just thought eating helped you calm down.”

Palmer #1 stops eating his sandwich. “Stress eating.”

“Yeah.”

Another sigh.

Dave chuckles.

“I just – there’s going to be an attack in a bit, and I thought we should at least send James to someplace that’s…not very stressful for him.”

Ah, yeah. That was understandable. “We should get ready to receive refugees too. And prepare the infirmary. There’s a lot of people on the streets tonight.”

“Yeah, that too.” Palmer #1 reaches up to massage the space between his eyes.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m – I’m fine.”

“You look like you should sleep.”

“I should, probably,” Palmer #1 says, then sighs again. “I don’t want to.”

Dave looks at him for a moment. Maybe Loki could knock him out for a bit, that would help, if Palmer #1 wasn’t opposed to it.

He’s about to say something when Rose and James interrupt them, saying that they both needed to go back to their bunker in India before the attack started. James didn’t look too keen on being in a city that was under fire, and Dave didn’t blame him, not when he was just starting to recover his memories, and a lot of those memories weren’t shy of bombs and bullets and death.

Loki skywalks them back to India after they’ve said goodbye to everyone else. He returns to the Safehouse in less than five seconds, and then tells Palmer #1 that he does, in fact, look like he needs to sleep.

Dave just eats another sandwich and then shrugs when Palmer #1 looks at him, as if asking for backup.

“Cecil, you really do need to sleep,” Loki says.

Palmer #1 shakes his head and says, “I don’t want to.”

“I’m going to get your brother.”

Dave raises an eyebrow and Palmer #1’s mouth opens in a tiny ‘o’, shocked.

“You can’t use I’m going to get your brother for everything.”

“As you and your brother say, Watch me.”

Dave would applaud if he wasn’t holding a tray of sandwiches right now. Instead he just looks at Loki and mouths, “Holy shit, dude.”

Loki meets his gaze steadily, smug. Palmer #1 punches his arm half-heartedly, and Dave blinks at that. Nobody in this house actually punches Loki Silvertongue outside of sparring sessions, even half-heartedly.

“I can’t sleep,” Palmer #1 says.

“Would you agree if I put you to sleep, and make sure it’s dreamless?” Loki asks.

Dave internally winces in sympathy for Palmer #1. Nightmares were a bitch. That close call with the missile attack probably messed him up pretty badly, especially since he’d had to actually be driven home in a police squad car that looked incredibly beat up by the time it arrived.

Outside, there’s a huge explosion that should have shaken the Safehouse if it was a normal building. It’s not, thankfully, and the floor doesn’t shake, even when the noise is very clear to everyone inside.

The faint screaming starts.

Dave nods as he and Loki share a look again, and he finishes one last sandwich and returns the tray back to the buffet table before heading to the door, keeping watch for anyone who needed to duck inside.

The first of the refugees start arriving five minutes later.

Chapter Text

Hal had told them that New York was prone to attacks, but they didn’t think it would be prone to attacks right now.

Eridan Ampora is running as fast as he can, one hand holding onto Roxy, as they weave through the crowd, because she’s refusing to fly.

“We’ll get singled out!”

“There’s a fuckin’ firebeast behind us, who cares about getting singled out!” he yells. At least Davesprite is flying, although he’s slowing himself down to keep speed with Eridan and Roxy and has long since thrown the bag of that disgusting thing humans called ‘candy’ at the same firebeast Eridan had mentioned earlier. Said firebeast is still chasing them, and Eridan is not in the mood to get burned right now.

“Fuck,” Roxy mutters as Hal’s ridiculous pointy shades almost fall off her face. She pulls them off and tosses them to Davesprite, who deftly catches them.

“Just fucking fly!” Eridan yells, again, to this ridiculously stubborn girl.

“No. You can’t even fly.”

“Not the damn point, Rox.”

“You are going to get left behind,” Roxy says, squeezing his hand tightly. He thinks if he were human, she would have crushed it. “Fuck that.”

Another firebeast jumps out of the alley ahead of them and they all try to stop, but the asphalt is slippery with blood, and water from a broken pipe several feet away from them. He grits his teeth as he yells, “Jump!” and then lets Roxy go, slides down and uses his momentum from running to slip underneath the firebeast, all in one motion. The asphalt is slick enough to just let him slide past the creature, and he inhales sharply he does, hoping the damn thing doesn’t crush him in the millisecond it takes for him to perform this feat.

He pushes himself up quickly and bares his teeth, predatory, and is thankful that Roxy appears to have taken his advice and is now airborne along with Davesprite.

Unfortunately, she also flies full speed towards him, wraps her arms around his torso, and then takes off flying down the street. He lets out a strangled gasp as his breath is knocked out of him from the strength of what was essentially a full body tackle.

“For the Empress’ sake, Roxy!”

“Just give me directions!”

He wriggles in her grip, trying to get a view of the street instead of the monster that is chasing them while also trying to be careful not to injure her, but gets nowhere. He huffs. “Turn me around.”

“What?”

“Just turn me around, I can’t see the street for shit.”

“Fine.”

Roxy lets go. He flails as he’s dropped, and it’s like déjà vu – falling through sky and wind and clouds, and for a minute, Eridan thinks he can see the void and the stars and blue and green and red flashes of magic and hears phantom whispers of be careful be careful be careful –  almost expects to hit saltwater, except Roxy grabs him, spins him in mid-air and then takes hold of him again, flying down the street even faster this time.

He has to remember to breathe. Beside them, Davesprite is matching Roxy’s speed.

“The fuck,” Eridan says – says, not wheezes.

He tries to focus on the humans below them, running for their lives as well, with only very few pausing to look at them, flying above, in shock, before self-preservation instinct yells at them to mind their own business and run the hell out of there.

At least they had enough brain cells to try and focus on getting out of this whole mess alive.

“Directions,” Roxy says.

“Don’t drop me,” Eridan says, then looks around his rapidly blurring surroundings as best as he can, trying to get his bearings and comparing them to what Hal had told him. “Turn left,” he says.

Roxy cuts a sharp left, and Davesprite follows her, silent and focused. There’s still so many humans running around and screaming, and Eridan’s fins flatten on the sides of his head at the noise.

He clicks his tongue. “Put Hal back on, he knows this city better than I do.”

“You know the way to Karkat just as well.”

“No, listen, we need to lose this firebeast, okay – we can’t just bring it to wherever Kar is hiding right now,” he says, trying to adjust Roxy’s arms so they’re not squeezing his stomach and making him want to puke his guts out, but to no avail.

That seems to get through her though, as she flies for a few more minutes before ducking in an alley and then up towards a roof, rolling onto the flat surface ungracefully and taking Eridan with her as she hits it. They both let out grunts of pain as they land, unable to slow down from too much momentum.

He’s about to ask what she needed to duck into an alley for if she was just going to fly up when he hears the firebeast’s loud steps in the alley, heavy and angry and seeking out blood.

“Fuck,” he says instead as Roxy lets him go, and he touches his ribs gently, wincing when they feel tender. “Holy shit, I think you cracked my ribs.”

“That’s impossible,” Roxy says, breathing hard. Davesprite carefully helps her up before handing her Hal’s glasses, and she takes a few seconds to steady her heartbeat before she puts the shades on.

Eridan lets out a breath, and tries not to throw up from being squeezed too tight; he mostly succeeds. He waits as Roxy talks to Hal, and hopes they find Karkat soon in this forsaken city.

It’s going to be a long night.


 

Steve Rogers has just decided that he hates fire.

Actually, no, he’s decided that a long time ago, like maybe half a century past, somewhere during his forced cryosleep or maybe even back in the war (definitely back in the war) but every now and then, he just likes to remind himself that he really really hates fire.

He’s surprised that his shield doesn’t go through the…fire creatures, whatever they are, and one of the things still manages to catch the disk hurling towards it in its mouth, a glorified Frisbee, before throwing it to the side – it crashes through the glass of a diner. Steve feels offended. Thankfully the diner is empty of civilians, who have thankfully fled to the Safehouse by now.

“Okay, seriously, what are these things?” That’s Tony over the line. Steve doesn’t answer, knowing the man really isn’t expecting one, and he also really doesn’t have one to offer. He’s not the one sitting in a lab putting things together to make freaks of nature.

“A pain in the ass, that’s what,” Clint says.

Steve is inclined to agree as he dives to the side to avoid being torn in two pieces by the hungry, sharp-toothed maw of a firebeast. He rolls, glass and rubble crunching under him as he does, and he’s thankful that his suit prevents the debris from bruising and injuring him unnecessarily. He quickly gets to his feet, making sure to keep an eye on the firebeast, which has noticed he’s not a mass of bloody flesh half on the street and half in its mouth. It roars, a loud piercing shriek he’s sure is heard all throughout the city, before bounding towards him, jaws wide open.

Steve runs and dodges again, as quick as possible, sacrificing his shoulder as he lands on a huge slab of concrete which has fallen off the nearby building – the joint hits it first and he winces, before rolling and sliding off the concrete, ducking behind it as he tries to quickly pop the possibly-dislocated joint back in place. It’s a little sore, but it feels like it’s not dislocated like he initially thought it was.

Before the creature can turn to him, he runs inside the diner where his shield was thrown into, right across the street. He can feel the heat rise up sharply when the creature turns, noticing him, but he makes it inside before it can stick its snout into the broken glass wall of the diner. The beast is so huge that its entire head doesn’t fit through the space – neither does its snout – and Steve’s arm escapes from being torn off. He takes a few seconds to locate his shield, and picks it up, then spins to face the beast again.

He’s sweating madly, and a creature made of fire blocking the only way out of this place isn’t helping. He looks around for another exit, but it’s just walls and more walls, and half the building has its ceiling collapsed, so he’s just stuck in a room that’s half rubble and half – that. A snout of an angry lab experiment gone wrong wanting to eat him.

“Guys, a little help,” he says, hoping being trapped in a building so close to hell on paws doesn’t disrupt the comm’s signal, “I’m a little stuck.”

“On it,” he hears Tony say a moment later, and he breathes in relief, slowly backing away from the mouth that’s still trying to get to him. The temperature seems to rise with how pissed this beast is getting, and the hungry snapping teeth double their attempts to snatch at Steve.

Steve presses his back close to the pile of rubble that’s blocking off the rest of the room, never taking his eyes off the firebeast, on alert for the opportunity to run out of there. He inches closer and closer to the wall to his right, careful not to step on anything sharp as he does, when he hears a terrified shriek.

His head snaps to his left. There are several tables that have fallen over, and there’s too many overturned chairs, but he still makes out the figure huddled in the corner, curled up under two tables that have fallen over each other, effectively but barely saving them from the ceiling that has collapsed above them. The light of the fire from the beast makes the glasses perched on this frightened civilian’s nose glint, and Steve meets wide, horrified eyes pleading for help.

He moves towards them, still just as careful, and then crouches down, making sure he doesn’t disrupt the balance of the tables and send the rubble piled on top of them crashing down.

“Iron Man, I have a civilian with me,” he says into his comm, which Tony helpfully follows up with a “Shit.”

Steve smiles, friendly, and slips his shield onto an arm, and sliding that under the tables, so that if the rubble comes down, it hits his shield and he can hopefully still hold it up instead. “It’s alright,” he says, voice calming, ‘You can come out. Just move slowly.”

The person – A child? A teenager? Maybe even an adult? They look much smaller than they’re supposed to be with their obvious fear – just stares at him, frozen, before shakily muttering an “Okay” and crawling out on their hands and knees. Steve sees them leave bloody tracks on the floor and he winces. They’d gotten glass on them and they didn’t even notice.

He holds his shield and arm under the tables until the civilian is out, and once they are – collapsing in an undignified heap of sobs and short breaths – he moves his arm out, still just as careful as he had when placing it under, and thankfully, the rubble doesn’t crush the tables and cause any more complications.

He turns to the civilian, who has thankfully sat up, but is still shaking. They have their hands on their head, leaving bloody prints all over their cheeks, and are trying to breathe, which is hard considering the firebeast is burning up oxygen rather quickly.

Said firebeast snarls and the civilian jumps a little, backing away quickly until they’re pressed against the rubble, shaking even harder. Steve needs to get them out of here. Where is Tony?

He settles for waiting for a moment before moving closer to the civilian, who quickly turns to him, just as terrified as they are of the firebeast.

He raises his hands up slowly in a placating gesture. “It’s okay,” he says, “It’s okay. Breathe.”

The person seems to recognize him at least, eyes darting from the shield to his uniform, before finally meeting his eyes. They raise a hand to adjust their glasses, although in their panic, just makes the things more lopsided.

He needs to get the glass out of their hands, but trying to help them with their injuries here would probably make them more panicked right now. But since he still does need to get them out – “I’m going to carry you out of here, okay?”

It would be of no use to him if he was going to be carrying a frantic, panicking civilian trying to scratch his eyes out of terror because they currently didn’t want to be touched, too fearful of everything around them. He needs to give them a heads-up, at least. He’s thankful when they seem to understand, and nod.

“Okay,” he says, then moves to pick them up, and they are meeting him halfway by extending their arms so he can easily loop his own around them and carry them like he would a child – they are rather small – when the firebeast suddenly lets out an ear-splitting howl that has them both slapping their hands on their ears. Steve winces for a bit when he remembers the glass on the civilian’s hands, but all thought is shattered into static as the sharp keening of the creature that keeps them trapped here rings out the small space. He feels like his ears would burst and bleed out, glass or not.

And then, the heat is suddenly gone, and Steve chances opening his eyes, even though his ears are still ringing and everything is blurry and doubling. He lists, and thankfully catches himself, before remembering – civilian.

Said civilian is crying, doubled over, breathing hard again. There is vomit on the floor, and Steve winces in sympathy before immediately picking them up, thrashing and eye-scratching be damned. He doesn’’t know how long the firebeast is going to stay away, so he loops his arms under theirs, stands and carries them out of there, running as fast as he can, nearly slipping several times due to his sense of balance being fucked.

His head is still ringing, and everything is doubling in phantom holograms but – he’s out of the building and running down the street, not even taking the time to remember which way this street is going, he just needs to get out there with the civilian fast.

The civilian whimpers, and clings onto him, terrified, and there sounds like faint whispering before he registers they’re actually muttering words into his suit.

“Safehouse. Safehouse. Safehouse.”

Steve’s brain kicks in gear in a split second, and through blurry vision, he takes stock of his surroundings before skidding to a stop, turning on his heel and then running back the way he came from. With the focus comes the slow clarity of not having ringing ears or seeing in twos, and he’s vaguely aware of the firebeast screaming as Iron Man blasts it for all its life’s worth.

He runs as fast as he can, and then turns sharply again, to his right. The civilian holds on tighter, so small and frail that Steve thinks they really are a child. They let out a panicky yelp when he has to jump over a fallen and half-melted lamppost, and their glasses look like they’re uncomfortably digging into their face with the way they’re hiding and crying into Steve’s suit, but their fear isn’t letting them register it.

The Safehouse is all the way across the city.

Steve grits his teeth and runs.


 

So does Roxy Lalonde, except she has to grab Eridan again and jump, launching into the air before the stupid torch on legs can devour them both. Davesprite slashes and cuts off its ear as it brings its mouth down onto nothing, since Roxy and Eridan have thankfully dodged, and then flies upwards as the thing whines and whimpers and snarls, black tar-oil oozing from the stump that used to have an ear.

Roxy doesn’t wince in sympathy.

Eridan breaks free from where she has a hand on his arm to rip out a nearby hydrant and hurl it towards the crying beast. It hits the thing straight between the eyes, making the oversized flaming dog whine and howl in pain.

Roxy puts her arms up to shield herself from the shower of water that comes with the hydrant being broken. A huge geyser has burst from the spot where it once was, and water sprays onto everything and everyone within range – including the firebeast, which howls even louder as steam rises from its body when drops of water hit it. Davesprite touches down on the ground beside Roxy and raises his wings to shield them both, just as Eridan ducks under to take cover as well, although he’s looking less tired out from being exposed to too much heat even if he’s soaking wet since he was the one who ripped out the hydrant – the water helps, maybe.

Roxy’s about to tell them to find a way to direct the water straight from the geyser to the firebeast – the thing is jumping up and down and scratching at its body like a cat, still steaming from the water raining down on it – maybe by putting all their hands on it to stream it to the creature, when the water suddenly does slant down until the full force of it is hitting the flaming abomination.

Roxy watches as the entire thing is hit in the face, and it tries to turn and run, but that just gives the water more access to its body. The flames die down where the water hits, leaving a black, scarred surface not unlike burnt flesh. Roxy gags as the smell hits her nose.

The firebeast twists and turns, and thrashes, but the water bends and follows it, until it’s nothing but a writhing mass of blackened skin and bone that looks like it’s slowly melting the more water hits it.

And then the water stops, suddenly reaching up into a geyser again, and the…thing…whatever it is, is on the ground, weakly pawing. The skin on it looks like it’s going to slough off until the bone and muscle – if it even has any – would be exposed.

Eridan is suddenly tense beside her, and she turns to where he’s facing.

There’s a man, dressed up in blue-white-red, holding a disk of the same color scheme with a star on it. He’s knelt down beside the geyser, unfortunately bathed in the water, and is just standing up when he spots them looking at him. It’s the shield, Roxy realizes, he put the shield on the geyser to direct the water.

Eridan, though, realizes something else faster than she does, and in the second it takes her to blink, he’s already tackling and putting sharp claws on this building of a man’s neck, snarling, even before the man’s back hits the asphalt.

“Where’s Karkat?”

“Eridan!” Roxy runs towards him, and when she almost slips, takes off flying and instead barrels into Eridan to knock him off the person. They roll a few ways off, and when Eridan twists to his feet, intent on fighting the man, Davesprite’s the one who flies and holds him down this time. Eridan thrashes, and Roxy crawls over to pin him down as well.

“Where is he?!”

The man is getting up, one hand rubbing his neck. There’s cuts on him. Roxy feels a little guilty.

He seems a little intrigued as he looks at them, and then he sees Eridan. He looks like he recognizes the grey skin and the horns, because his eyes light up, and he mouths a tiny, “Oh.” Then, after a pause, “He’s safe.”

Eridan stops thrashing for a minute, surprised at the easily offered information, and then glares.

“The city isn’t safe for you right now,” the man says, “We need to – ”

“Yes, we noticed. We need to run and hide. Where’s Karkat?” Eridan cuts in.

The man shuts up. Then, “I’ll take you to him.”

Eridan’s fins flatten, and when he curls his fists, Roxy can feel the muscles in his arms tense. Davesprite knees him in the sternum, effectively knocking the wind out of him, and his fists uncurl.

“Fuck you, Strider.”

“Fighting him isn’t going to get us near Karkat,” Dave hisses. There’s red lights through the tint of Hal’s shades, Roxy notices. He’s probably discussing plans with Dave. “We can take him if we need to, but you need to behave if we’re going to go get Karkat.”

Eridan manages to wrench one hand free from Roxy’s grip to sock Dave right under the jaw, sending him flat on his ass. Hal’s shades fly off and hit the asphalt, cracking a little at the impact.

“Eridan!” Roxy twists the arm in her hold, and when Eridan grunts in pain, she steps on his shoulder, making him actually cry out.

He grits his teeth and tries not to scream, before glaring at her, and for a minute, Roxy remembers that her friend is a highblood seadweller.

But then that glare flickers out, and Eridan says, “Ow, Rox.” He rests the back of his head on the asphalt, giving up. “I’ll behave. Let me up.”

Roxy stares him down for a minute before releasing him. He sits up, slowly, touching his shoulder gingerly. Troll physiology is tough, but having your arm twisted and then having the overextended muscle stepped on couldn’t have been pleasant.

She helps him up, and he says nothing as he accepts the help.

Dave, meanwhile, is rubbing at a split lip while the man in blue-white-red helps him. He has Hal’s shades in hand, and Roxy appreciates the care he handles them with when he passes them back to Dave. He’s not blinking at the orange coloration or the wings, at least.

“He’s…your friend? Karkat?” the man asks, then motions a hand to indicate someone about the height of a child or just a midget. “Around this tall? Usually likes to talk about romcoms? Never sleeps?”

Dave chuckles quietly and nods. “Yeah,” he says, “We – we saw a video of you with him, and we’ve thought that’s where he’s been hiding for a while. This whole mutant business, you know?”

Right. They had to play the cover of looking for their fellow mutant friend who got chased out of their town by some close-minded humans. Not that it was far-fetched in this version of earth, apparently.

The man nods. “He’s alright. He’s been hiding in my apartment for days,” he says, then looks around, hefting his shield up onto his back. He’s still soaking wet. “Come on. The city won’t be safe for a while and we need to get you someplace where there’s nothing that’s trying to eat you.”

“Take us to Karkat, please,” Roxy says, before Eridan can snap at the man again. He’s amiable, or at least seems to be, and if he turns out to be danger for them, they can easily take care of that, but they need to find Karkat first.

The man looks at them for a while, as if assessing if they’re any danger to him, or to Karkat. Roxy sees it in the way his stance tenses and as he studies them, taking in what they’re wearing, their exposed vital points, any hidden weapons (his eyes linger a little too much on the sword that’s returned to its usual spot on Dave’s chest, sticking out like a sore…sword). He thankfully looks like he thinks he can take what he’s seeing, and he nods.

“Okay,” the man says, “Come on.”


 

Superhearing just sucks when all Steve hears up close is the blubbering of a terrified and injured civilian he’s currently holding.

He’s running as fast as he can, jumping over fallen bits of concrete and overturned cars, maneuvering his way past water-slippery streets. There’s barely anyone around, thankfully. They’re all probably at the Safehouse – which is only just a few blocks from where he is, and he’s moving fast. Steve has forgotten how long he’s been running, but he knows one thing: he has to get this civilian to the Safehouse. Leaving them out here would leave them vulnerable to whatever else is out here, and they’re already terrified. All the other Avengers appear to be busy, and he’s tried to reach out to them, when it looked like this civilian was going to die of fear before he even made it to the Safehouse, but they’re taking care of their own flaming monsters.

So the Safehouse it is. He doesn’t quite reach it before he notices that there’s one of those monsters in his path, footsteps heavy and hot. The thing emerges from an alley, bits of burnt and torn flesh on its lower jaw.

Steve immediately cuts a hard right to duck behind an abandoned car. The civilian he’s holding appears to understand what this means, and clings to him tighter.

He puts a hand on their neck, a gesture of comfort, and lets out a little, “Shh.”

When he hazards a glance at the creature, it’s looking around. Off in the distance, he can see the Safehouse. It’s incredibly close.

He draws back again, not risking running out there with someone else in tow. He needs help, maybe he can call someone, or turn back, but –

The person in his arms is shaking, sobbing, and if they get any louder, they will grab the attention of the firebeast.

Steve weighs his options. He can run out there as fast as he can, and provided he’s quick enough, get to the Safehouse. Provided he’s not quick enough, they both die. If he turns back, there’s an equal chance of the beast spotting them, and since he has nowhere to hide in, they’re both just as dead. He can call the other Avengers, if they’ve taken care of the monsters on their ends, but he’ll just be opening questions of where the hell he was taking this civilian and why he hasn’t answered and why, instead of Stark Tower – which was considerably farther away from where he’d come before – he was so set in bringing them to the Safehouse.

And then they’d probably be able to make some excuse to infiltrate the Safehouse, or maybe not, but he can’t risk it. Maybe they’ll use his presence there as an excuse. Checking the Safehouse to see if they had put any bugs on Captain America or something.

He grits his teeth, going through his choices again, but it turns out it’s made for him, because he’s sweating like crazy, and a burnt hand falls from above to land in front of him.

He jumps. The person in his arms screams.

When he looks up, the firebeast is above him.

Steve runs.

He pushes himself off the ground so hard that he thinks he’s broken his boots from the force, just as the beast opens its jaw and brings it down. It doesn’t catch him, only the car he was hiding behind, and he books it out of there like mad, running even faster than before towards the Safehouse, heart pumping wildly. The person in his arms is still screaming, and the sound is disorienting,  but he runs, because the building looks so close even if the actual distance might be farther because he’s not getting there as fast as he thinks and wants to be –

A car, crushed and half-melted, crashes and rolls on the street in front of him. Steve skids to a stop, and then runs to the side to avoid it, still making his way towards the Safehouse. Behind him, the firebeast roars, angry at the fact that it hadn’t hit him when it threw the car.

Steve almost stumbles when the ground shakes once, and then again, and he chances a brief look behind him and realizes the damn thing is running towards him.

He tries to get faster, faster, but even supersoldiers have their limits, and that thing has longer legs, and moves like a hunter set on its prey, muscles moving too quickly for even an enhanced human to outrun, and Steve has to make a decision, because the heat of the firebeast is advancing faster than he can get away from it.

The civilian’s screams stop, dwindling to sobs and whimpers, and that’s what makes it.

He rips out the comm from his ear, ignoring the chatter on the other line, and then, in the loudest voice he can manage, his lung capacity be damned, yells, “Jade!”

For a moment, he thinks he’s going to die, because the heat behind him is getting even closer. But then he sees the green at the edges of his vision, and he doesn’t even blink when this happens, so the experience is somewhat akin to seeing a sudden blackness rushing up to meet him. Steve takes a step on asphalt –

And his foot hits the tiled floor of the Safehouse common room – the sudden change in surface texture and the disorientation makes him slip, and he has to roll to avoid crashing face-first onto the floor, taking the civilian along with him. The civilian makes a high-pitched cry, but Steve manages to roll onto his back, and he stares up at the Safehouse’s chandelier. It takes him about a minute to register that there’s shocked gasps around them, and then, he releases his death grip on his cargo.

The civilian shakily sits up, and then falls off of him, too jittery, and their palms hit the tile. Steve winces at their sharp gasp of pain.

“Alright, give them room to breathe.”

It’s a familiar voice, but Steve can’t quite place it. Maybe it’s the disorientation. Whoever it is, they’re getting nearer, as their voice is getting louder. The murmur from the crowd around them dwindles, and Steve can see the people shift backwards, generous and obedient.

And then he sees Jade Harley burst through the crowd to tower over him, and then kneel down suddenly. “Steve, oh my god.”

She pushes his mask off his face, not even caring that she’s just baring him to the public, but it’s not like he’s a secret, and he’s glad to have the thing off his face. “I’m so sorry, I wasn’t on lookout duty, I didn’t notice you outside until you yelled, I – ”

He laughs weakly. “It’s fine,” he croaks  out, then weakly motions to the civilian who has decided to be sick again right there on the floor. That’s twice that they’ve lost their meals today. Not good. “Injured civilian.”

Jade’s head snaps up, and she motions for someone to come over. “Dave, infirmary.”

Steve has to turn his head to see a kid in aviators kneel down and gently help the civilian up. When they stumble, he slings their arm over his shoulders to help walk them to the infirmary…right. The Safehouse has an infirmary. It just hits him how equipped this place is. It’s still a surprising thing to actually see – the lavish white, high walls, and the gold chandelier overhead, when from outside it looks just like any apartment that just had a rooftop garden.

“You okay?” Jade asks. Then, “Stupid question. Let’s get you to the infirmary.”

“I’m fine,” he says, starting to sit up, and Jade puts a hand on his back to steady him. “Really. I’m fine. I need to get back out there.”

Concerned green eyes look at him, considering, before Jade sighs and nods. She’s about to say something when there’s a loud noise outside, and both of them turn.

Jade’s brother, John Egbert, is looking through the window. His mouth is pressed to a grim frown when he turns to them. “The street is on fire.”


 

It is, and flying with Eridan in tow is all Roxy can do. He’s silent now, instead of yelling threats every two seconds at the strange, costumed man, that if he did anything to Karkat, he’d have his spine ripped out through his throat in about sixteen different ways, possible all executed at the same time.

The man runs in pace with them, impressively. He runs with the grace of a dancer, or maybe one of those giant cats Roxy only knows from glossy photos, the only remaining relics of a lost, drowned time long gone. He’s all speed and power and beauty coiled into muscles, running and leaping over debris, barely even breathing hard as he sharply cuts and yells at them to follow.

The apartment they’re led to is high, and not particularly impressive, although it does remind Roxy of her own home, back on her Earth, except this street is surrounded by fire everywhere instead of water. She doesn’t know what she prefers.

“Neighbors.” Dave edges close to her to whisper, and Roxy immediately pulls the void around all of them before they reach the apartment’s front door, and the man ushers them in, telling them to move quickly, before shutting the door and running up flights of stairs. Roxy hopes no one has the bravery to look out, and that they’re drowning out whatever is happening outside with their loud movies and their even louder music.

They go up several floors, and just when Roxy thinks they might have been played, the man stops and slams a door open to get them inside. They all run in, and then…then nothing.

The apartment is small and modest, and there’s a turned off television and a ratty couch, and it looks like there’s someone sleeping on it, curled under a blanket.

Eridan whirls towards the man, going, “Where – ” but the man puts a finger to his own lips and says, “I have to go back. I have a job to do. Please, stay here.” And before any of them can protest, he is outside, shutting the door behind him, footsteps thundering as he runs back.

The angry string of curses in Eridan’s throat dies just as Roxy turns to the sound of an irritated growl, and she sees whoever it is on the couch push themselves up, letting the blanket fall off of their head.

Dave inhales sharply, and Karkat Vantas hisses, “What the fuck is it this time, Rogers?”

Chapter Text

“Holy shit,” is the first thing out of Davesprite’s mouth.

Or something like it, anyway. Eridan doesn’t hear it, because he’s too busy staring at the angry lump on the couch, too small under the huge blanket, glaring at Roxy, and then at Davesprite, and then at him.

And then that glare falters, and Karkat opens his mouth, and closes it, a little beached up fish, and then he just says, “You.”

He’s trying to be accusing. And he’s failing miserably at it.

“Hey – ”

Karkat holds up a hand, making Eridan shut up – not out of obedience, but out of shock that Karkat’s basically gesturing at him to keep quiet – and then he stands and goes to the window, scanning it from side to side. Whatever Eridan wants to say dies in his throat as he watches the smaller troll close the curtains and then go around the room, rummaging through things, looking for something.

Roxy looks confused, Davesprite looks worried and Eridan is…wondering why Karkat’s not tearing his throat out with his nails.

“Where’s that radio when you need it?” Karkat mutters, and then looks up, and around the room again. He hisses, “Seer, where’s your stupid highblood radio?”

No one answers. And Karkat just crouches down and starts crawling all over the floor on all fours, reaching his hands down into the spaces under shelves, under couches, under the coffee table. It’s a strange sight, and the absurdity of it makes Eridan want to laugh.

Davesprite’s wings twitch. “Uh, Karkat,” he says, “What are you looking for, what Seer?”

“The stupid thing that uses that purple radio,” is what Karkat says, which makes even less sense than what Eridan is expecting. “You never got indestructible radios popping out of random places – wait, gog, I should have asked if it contacted you. Son of a cullbait.”

“Random what?”

“Radios. It’s what it called the thing.” Karkat sits up and uses his index fingers to draw a rectangular shape in the air. “Keeps annoying me. Told me you were coming.”

“Wait, what?” That makes Eridan’s brain kick back into gear. “Someone knew we were coming?”

“Yeah, duh, it’s a Seer.”

That kick hits again, although it’s mostly a kick that’s duh, you idiot, than something’s wrong.

Then Karkat stands, wiping his hands together, frowning. There’s dark circles under his eyes, and Eridan knows the only reason he’s not yelling at them or demanding answers is probably because of the fatigue. Other than that, though, he looks mostly fine and unharmed. The man wasn’t lying. He was even sleeping on the couch, which indicates he’s comfortable and familiar enough with the place.

Safe.

“Who brought you here?” Karkat asks, eyeing them all with suspicion. “Who was it?”

“A man,” Roxy says, then raises her hand to indicate the man’s height. “He was dressed up in white, red and blue? Like a costume? Had a – ”

“Disk with a star he throws around,” Karkat finishes, then frowns, deep in thought. “Of course it’s Rogers.” Then he walks over to the couch to sit down again, brooding. He’s chewing his lower lip, Eridan notices, and not even really surprised that they’re here.

It’s the most lukewarm welcome Eridan has received, certainly more tame than he expected – he expected at least rejection, if not an outright fight, not…this.

Maybe this is what whoever warned Karkat wanted to happen.

“Karkat, since when did you know we were coming?” he asks instead. To his right, Roxy sits down, exhausted. Then she decides that’s not enough and lies down and spreads her arms, a pale starfish on the carpet. Davesprite hovers over towards the window, but doesn’t pull the curtains aside, and there’s a brief red glow from Hal’s shades.

“Four days,” Karkat says, “Are you sure it was the human in the weird spandex?”

“Yes.”

“For the Empress’ sake,” Karkat hisses, glaring at the floor. Then, “Do you remember anything at all before you were dropped here on this forsaken planet or timeline or whatever alternate reality?”

Davesprite turns towards the couch, Roxy does her best to do the same thing, and Eridan just narrows his eyes.

Karkat looks at him and sighs, then puts his hands in his own hair and messes it up in frustration. “Why does no one remember?”

“What are you talking about?” Eridan asks.

“I’m talking about that – ”

The sound of a door opening cuts through their tension, and Eridan turns, and then regrets the action, as the light of a livid rainbowdrinker floods the entire room.


 

Steve stands, shaky, and with Jade helping him up, he makes his way over to where John Egbert is standing. The firebeast is outside, livid and roaring, and it’s thrashing around, hitting buildings with its tail as it moves, and leaving trails of flames in its wake.

“I need to go,” Steve says, “Someone has to stop that thing before it destroys the entire street.”

“The building’s safe,” John says, then, “I’ll take care of it.”

Steve instinctively puts a hand on the boy’s shoulder, “Son, it’s dangero – ”

“Relax, Cap,” John says, grinning in a way that easily knocks Steve’s worries out the window. “I’ve handled fire before. Who do you think keeps blowing flames out before the entirety of New York burns to the ground?”

There had been observations of strong winds putting out flames before, but Steve usually thought it had been just luck, or maybe divine intervention. He doesn’t know if S.H.I.E.L.D suspects it’s a mutant, but if they do, then John is in trouble.

“Let him handle it, Steve,” Jade says, “I’ll be helping.”

“Jade.”

Jade chuckles lightly, too similar to her brother in her bright demeanor. “We can handle this, and then I’ll find a way to get you back out, yeah?”

“I should at least help along with you,” Steve says. To relegate the task of destroying the beast to these kids is downright irresponsible, and while he knows they may be more than capable, he feels like he should at least be watching over them as they do, in case they need help.

Jade just giggles, and turns to someone in the crowd. “Hey, Mr. G, could you get Luke in here?”

A man, curly-haired and sleep-deprived, nods and then makes his way up the stairs, quickly disappearing out of sight. Steve remembers Jade mentioning a ‘Luke’ once.

“I’m finally gonna meet this ‘Luke’ huh,” he says, in a low voice, so as not to be heard by anyone else other than Jade.

“About time you did. You’re in the house already anyway.”

‘Luke’, as it turns out, is a man who seems to like looking like someone who crawled out of a fashion magazine, with the skinny jeans, the green-and-gold shirt, and the leather jacket. The slicked back hair makes this impression even more pronounced, and Steve notices that his eyes are a bright green, almost the same shade as Jade’s.

The memory of seeing blurry photos from when the Safehouse first became known to S.H.I.E.L.D comes to the forefront of his mind. So Luke was the one they thought was Jade and John’s older sibling, although now that Steve has seen him face to face, he doesn’t look anything like them.

He doesn’t sound like them either.

“What did you need me for?”

“Is Cecil okay?” John immediately asks. This meeting has been too educational, Steve thinks. He’s a little disappointed Cecil appears to be out of commission that he can’t meet him.

“Yes, he’s asleep,” Luke says. “What did you need me for, Jade?”

“Can you put invisibility spells on us?” Jade gestures to herself and Steve. Steve blinks at ‘invisibility spells’. “We’re gonna try to put out the monster outside.”

Luke glances out the window, then moves close to it, saying nothing for a bit. “S.H.I.E.L.D. might get footage if that thing disappears.”

“I’ll shrink it then,” Jade says, “And maybe they’ll think it’s just an experiment going wrong, because the monster is shrinking.”

“How many things can you shrink at once?”

Jade blinks. “Uh.” She adjusts her glasses. “One. I’ve never tried two things at once.”

“It would be better if you tried to shrink them all at once, less suspicion,” Luke says, “But good enough. You’ll have to shrink every single monster in the city though.”

“Can do,” Jade says, performing a tiny salute, which Steve immediately mentally corrects, soldier training and all.

“I won’t be able to help you with this, so good luck,” Luke says. “Is your brother going out?”

“Yes,” John says.

“Alright,” Luke says, then starts writing in the air – literally writing, because his fingers are leaving trails of green light as they move, and Jade looks a little giddy as he does, and then.

Then, Jade disappears.

Steve immediately tenses, assessing Luke, trying to see if he’s going to attack him next, but Jade’s laughter rings out the empty space where she was standing a few seconds ago.

“Relax,” she says, “I’m right here. Just invisible.”

As if to prove her point, Steve feels his shield being pulled in her direction and he tilts a little bit.

John steps forward this time, and Luke repeats the gestures he did before, and John also disappears.

Luke raises an eyebrow at Steve when it’s his turn. Steve shifts on his feet awkwardly.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Jade says, helpfully.

Steve just stands a little straighter, tense, and Luke starts writing in the air again.

And then, it’s like John and Jade just bleed back into reality, a drop of color in water, rippling and slowly spreading, and he can suddenly see them. He blinks. He’s been doing that a lot. Incredulity is jarring.

“Did it wear off?” he asks.

“No,” Luke says, already starting to head back towards the stairs and upwards, “It’s modified so that you are all invisible but can see each other.” He pauses, then turns towards Jade, somehow correctly knowing where she is. Did he just memorize which spot she was, guessing, or does he actually see her? “And no, this one doesn’t let anything you touch become invisible.”

“Damn,” Jade says, then waves at him as he continues his trek up the stairs, “Okay, thanks, Luke!”

Luke only vaguely waves back, and then Steve can’t see him anymore.

“Okay,” Jade says. She turns to Steve and grins. “Ready?”

Steve adjusts his S.H.I.E.L.D on his back. “Yeah, ready.”

It takes a while for Steve to register what he’s seeing.

For a second, John Egbert is right there with them. And then he’s not, because he appears to disperse, the solidity of him warping and fading and moving until he’s nothing, and Steve sees the front door of the Safehouse rattle a bit, and then realizes that John Egbert has literally turned into the wind and just slipped past the spaces through the doorway.

He feels Jade touch his shoulder, and then he blinks and he’s outside the Safehouse, on the front porch, and there is a firebeast in front of them swinging its head from side to side, a melting car in its mouth. It chucks the hunk of metal to its right where it then embeds itself violently into a building. Steve steels his jaw, hoping no one was in there, before slinging his shield onto his arm.

The monster roars in anger, and then suddenly rears back, its flames moving back as well, and the thing shakes its head, pawing at its face as if it was trying to get rid of an itch. Dust and debris move towards its direction, although not in an attempt to attack it, but more like the wind is blowing towards it and everything else in the way is getting carried in its strength.

Jade hops off the porch and Steve immediately follows her, ready to protect her in case things go awry, but she just puts her hands in front of her and sticks her thumbs and forefingers out, positioning her hands far apart, her fingers forming the angles of a rectangle.

And then she brings her hands closer and closer, and Steve is confused for a moment, before he looks up and notices that the monster – still pawing and still being mowed down by the sheer force of the wind – is shrinking in time with the diminishing space between Jade’s hands.

Steve watches, stunned, as the monster is reduced to the size of a cat, too small to weather the force of the wind, and it crashes straight into the building behind it and falls onto the ground.

It doesn’t move.

The wind stops.

Jade tilts her head. “Is it dead?”

“Maybe I cracked the spine,” John Egbert says. Steve looks up to see him floating up in the air, the action obviously effortless. And to think Tony had to figure out how repulsors worked to get his suit airborne.

“Ouch,” Jade winces.

The tiny thing is still flaming away, but it’s small and manageable should it try to cause trouble. It still doesn’t move.

When even after a few minutes, it remains stationary, John turns into the wind again, blowing down the fires of their street, and Steve watches as Jade kicks off into the air as well, following in the direction the wind is going. Steve runs to keep up.

“You can fly?”

“Yeah,” Jade says, turning to him, still smiling away like flying was a natural talent given to children on their third birthday. “Don’t worry, I won’t go too fast so you can catch up.”

He doesn’t tell her that’s not what’s surprising him, but really, if they’re mutant twins, he should have at least expected some similarities in their mutation. He still tries his best to match her pace. John, meanwhile, is going through the city with the reckless abandon of someone in a race to put out fires before too much damage is done.

“Who else of you can fly?” Steve asks, just in case he’s going to see someone else from the Safehouse take off into the air. He might as well prepare for it.

“Dave and Rose,” Jade says.

Ah. Maybe they all met up at flying practice. That’d make sense.


 

“Kanaya!”

Karkat throws himself across the room just to reach Kanaya before she can rush at Eridan. She’s glowing incredibly bright in her rage, and Eridan can see her fangs, abnormally longer and sharper than most trolls’ teeth. He leans back a little, an involuntary response to her aggression, and his fins flatten on the sides of his head. He feels a sting on his midriff and puts a hand over his stomach.

“Kanaya, stop,” Karkat says, clearly digging his heels into the floor while Kanaya, easily towering over him, is trying to get past him without hurting him. This proves a little hard since Karkat has wrapped his arms around her just to hinder her.

“What are you doing here?” she spits out.

Roxy sits up, wary, alternatively looking between Kanaya and Eridan, one hand hovering, ready to pull either something out of the void or a weapon out of her sylladex. Has Roxy met Kanaya?

Davesprite turns from the window and stiffens slightly, even if Kanaya isn’t paying attention to anyone other than Eridan at the moment. The red glow from the shades is back, and this time it stays.

Kanaya thrashes in Karkat’s hold.

“We were brought here,” Eridan says, carefully. He moves his feet apart a little, ready to run or attack should he need to. “By a man in strange clothes.”

“Rogers brought them here, Kanaya, please,” Karkat says.

Kanaya seems to stop at that, and then thrashes again. “Liar.”

“He’s telling the truth, I was on the couch when they were brought in – Kanaya.” Karkat is almost tipping over, bending back as Kanaya extends her arm in an attempt to get at Eridan despite him being too far away for it.

Outside, there’s a loud crash, and everyone turns to it for a second. Eridan quickly turns back to Kanaya in case she uses the distraction to claw his guts out.

She doesn’t. Instead she calms down a little and settles for coldly glaring at him, her mouth set in a thin line.

“He is getting out as soon as this attack is over,” she says, “If he is not, I’ll gladly tear him in half again.”

Eridan steadies his ground, reminding himself that he can completely defend himself if he needs to. Just because she got him once doesn’t mean she can easily do so again, at least not without him fighting back.

She doesn’t try to get at him anymore though, and after a few minutes, Karkat lets her go.

Eridan tenses. She doesn’t attack.

“Now, what are you doing here?” Kanaya asks again, still glaring at Eridan.

Eridan doesn’t answer, just holding her stare, so Roxy has to answer for him.

“We saw the video of Karkat being…rescued…by that strange man. You called him Rogers?”

“His name is Steve Rogers, yes,” Kanaya says, crossing her arms. She still doesn’t look away. “Where did you find it?”

“Hal’s friend,” that’s Davesprite. Hal’s still glowing, clearly explaining a few things to him, seeing as Davesprite pauses first before saying, “They were all discussing the recent New York attack and their friend had a video of Karkat being rescued by Rogers. We thought to come looking.”

Kanaya looks like she wants to say something, maybe something along the lines of You shouldn’t have, but that’s largely unfair to Davesprite, Hal and Roxy, so she holds her tongue.

“Why were you looking?” Kanaya asks. Karkat moves to stand beside her and puts one hand on her arm, just in case she changes her mind on not attacking Eridan just yet, although he also appears to be curious of the answer.

“We’ve been stuck on an island for months,” Eridan says, “I got dropped there first, and then feathers over there – ” he motions towards Dave, who flips him off, “ – and then Roxy, and then Hal. We didn’t know where we were since Strider the Prequel didn’t design his AI’s shades with a GPS.”

“Or, someone took it out. Someone who knew how to,” Karkat points out. “You don’t really remember anything?”

Eridan frowns. He turns to Roxy, who, despite now having crossed her legs and put her elbows on her knees so she can cup her face with both hands in an attempt to look nonchalant, is still obviously tense and ready to run if they all need to, shrugs.

“No,” he says.

Karkat rakes his claws through his own scalp in frustration. “We didn’t just get dropped onto this Earth for no reason!” he says, ignoring Davesprite’s snort and mutter of, “That’s deep.”

Kanaya looks a little concerned. Clearly, this isn’t the first time he’s tried to get someone to ‘remember’.

Eridan knows something happened. He just doesn’t know what.

“There’s someone who’s doing this. I’ve only seen one of whoever these people are but I know – I know they’re not just one person, unless they’ve somehow managed to duplicate themselves or something. The radio clearly knows them. So that’s two right there.”

“Karkat,” Kanaya starts, but Karkat plows on.

“No, even if you don’t remember, I do. And that radio has been talking to me for days and told me you were coming,” Karkat says, gesturing towards all four of them, Hal’s shades counted. Kanaya raises an eyebrow at him.

“I don’t remember anything, I just woke up…here,” Roxy says, shifting.

“Yeah, well, if we’re gonna get off this Earth and back to our session, we need to find…whoever that little twerp is. I didn’t ask for a name,” Karkat says.

“If someone dropped us here, they can probably drop the others too,” Davesprite says, “Maybe we just don’t know where they care.”

“Well considering the positioning – we were far off in the middle of the ocean, and Karkat and Kanaya are here, I doubt we’d find anyone else in the city,” Eridan says, “Maybe they’re deliberately spacing us apart.”

“For what?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it was shits and giggles,” Karkat says, crossing his own arms as well. He looks too much like Kanaya at the moment. Eridan alternates looking between them and decides it’s unnerving.

“Did you talk to them?” Davesprite asks.

Karkat suddenly falls silent. When he presses his lips to a thin line, he looks too much like Kanaya too.

“Karkat, you never told me this,” Kanaya says, “Did you talk to them?”

Karkat takes a while to answer. When he does, he shifts on his feet, nervous. “Yes. Too many times.”

“Karkat.”

“It’s mostly in dreams. Something’s been getting in my dreams lately. I don’t know what, but I want it out, and whoever sent us here has been…helping.”

“Helping whoever’s sabotaging your sleep.”

“No, helping me sleep. It’s annoying.”

Eridan tilts his head, curious. “You dream about whoever sent us here?”

“No,” Karkat says, clearly not liking the wording. “Something’s been getting in my dreams, dumbass. I know this because it clearly… feels like it.  That’s the only way I can describe it. It feels like there’s something in my head when I sleep. Whoever sent us here just hijacks the nightmare and gets me someplace else so I can sleep fine.”

“So they’re an ally?” Roxy asks.

“I wouldn’t rule it out, but I wouldn’t jump to conclusions just yet,” Davesprite says, “Might be a trap.”

“They might be playing,” Eridan says, “Both of them together, or both of them apart. It’s possible.”

“So what, it’s a pissing contest between two fucked up Heirs?” Karkat says, incensed. The circles under his eyes are too dark, and he looks slightly scared, but his anger is making him push past that. Brave boy. “Cause I want out.”

“Why don’t you tell us more about this?” Eridan asks, military instincts clicking into place, years of FLARPing suddenly coming back to him. He slowly sits down, making sure to look as unthreatening as possible under Kanaya’s scrutiny. Davesprite hops over the couch’s backrest so he can sit on it, tucking his wings in and resting his arms on his knees, ready to listen.  “Maybe it’ll jog our memories,” Eridan says.

Kanaya is still looking at him with distrust, so he focuses his attention on Karkat instead.

Karkat looks at the floor for a second.

And then he nods, and he tells them everything he remembers.


 

It’s impressive how John manages to put out the fires in less than an hour, but when you’re literally the wind, Steve thinks that’s understandable. He also thinks he doesn’t quite like flying when it involves getting hauled up by the wind itself, and he’s just flailing and trying not to fall because his sense of balance has been disrupted. But he and Jade need to travel fast, so he lets himself be buoyed up like that, with Jade teleporting him down onto the ground every time they’re close to their target.

She shrinks the firebeasts down, and he fights them off when they’re still violent even when miniaturized. His shield is scorched, and parts of his uniform have burn marks on them, but he’s getting rid of these monsters faster than he normally did by trying to face them off in their normal size, so it’s fine. He kicks the top off of several hydrants to get the things drenched if he needs to.

Occasionally, they pass by an Avenger, and he dutifully avoids eye contact even though he knows they can’t see him. They’re probably wondering what happened to him after he ripped out his comm.

The entire mess is cleaned up in about four hours, and Steve is dropped back inside the Safehouse by Jade, where they both try not to collapse into heaps of overfatigued metahumans on the floor. John looks a bit better than both of them, but that might just be his innate cheerfulness overpowering through his tiredness. There’s nearly no one in the hall, Steve notices, but they might have just gone to sleep. It’s been hours after all.

Dave, sitting by the window near the front door, just looks around at the noises they make, and Steve briefly forgets they’re invisible. The boy has a hand out, and in a split second there’s a sword in his hand.

Steve’s entitled to the What the fuck that pops up as a thought. Mostly because of the katana, partially because a teenager is wielding it expertly, even more partially because Dave just pulled it out of thin air.

“It’s just us, Dave,” John says, and the kid’s stance immediately relaxes.

“Oh,” he says, then, “Where are you?”

“Right here.”

Dave somehow conveys a bitchface without changing expression. “Right. Luke, get your ass down here to un-invisibilify these guys. I’d do it but I can’t see them.”

Steve should really get used to people just appearing out of nowhere, but he’s still slightly startled when Luke suddenly appears in a flash of green light. “Un-invisibilify?”

“There’s no word for turning someone not invisible.”

“How about reverse your runework.”

Dave shrugs. “Un-invisibilify is cooler.”

Luke says nothing for a moment. His back is to them, so Steve can’t see what look he’s giving Dave, who just looks smug.

“Right,” the man says, then turns to the three of them. He really can see them, because there’s no way he walks over to where they each are to undo his spell or something from them, and then they’re all visible again, judging by the way Dave waves at them.

Steve consciously pats at his torso, like it’d reassure him he is, in fact, visible. John laughs.

“Where do you plan on dropping him?” Luke turns to Jade, who looks way too exhausted.

She adjusts her glasses, and starts to talk, but then sways. Steve instinctively moves to catch her, but Luke is closer, and easily puts his hands on her shoulders to steady her.

“Sorry,” she says, “This just…exhausts me too much.”

“Try practicing on a daily basis so you don’t surprise yourself when you suddenly have to go all out,” Luke says, then, “Do not fall asleep on me this time.”

Dave snickers. John laughs harder.

“I want a video this time,” Dave says. “And this time you are carrying her into the kitchen because she wants cookies.”

“No.”

John looks like he’s suffocating from how red-faced he’s getting, and his laughter is suddenly the silent sort that usually happens when someone’s struck comedy gold. Clearly, Steve missed something here.

“I’m teleporting to my room,” Jade says, and Luke immediately says, “Don’t crash into anything.”

Jade just waves him off. “I’m fine. I’m not that tired.”

She’s the one who disappears this time, and all three remaining Safehouse residents look up, as if expecting something. Steve does too, mostly out of confusion. There’s nothing.

“Okay,” Luke says. A second later, there’s a loud thump. Luke looks like he needs a camera to stare disappointingly at. “That was too soon.”

“I’ll check on her,” John says, turning into wind again, flying up to check on his sister.

Dave snorts, and then with a flick of his hand, the sword he’s holding disappears, and Steve stares at the empty space before Luke snaps him out of it.

“Where do you need to go, Mr. Rogers?”

“O-oh, uh,” Steve tries to forget about disappearing swords and the general weirdness of a household full of mutants. It must get wild here. “I need to join the rest of the Avengers and debrief so, anywhere outside would be good, really.”

Luke nods, and then steps towards him. “Alright,” he says. “This is similar to Jade’s own abilities. Don’t be too surprised.”

He nods, already adapted to Jade’s teleportation that he doesn’t have spatial displacement motion sickness anymore.

Luke puts a hand on his shoulder and he steps forward when the man does.

It does not at all feel similar to Jade’s abilities.


 

Somewhere in the infirmary, the civilian Steve Rogers has brought in is recovering. They’ve calmed down significantly from when they were first brought in, and their injuries have been taken care of. The pain meds have helped with their hands being a wreck, at least.

They’ve managed to eat a bit, nothing too heavy, and have slept for a while before waking up screaming and crying, and they had to be put to sleep by a light sedative again, which they gladly took since clearly, they needed their sleep, and they looked better when they woke up from an undisturbed rest anyway.

No one comes to visit them, except for the mutant children who hang out at the Safehouse, and the mutant kids (and one adult) who help run the Safehouse, but they’re fine with that. They nervously talk to people and laugh softly, like they’re trying not to disturb anything too much by what they’re doing, and really, a few people think it’s sad.

They stay in the infirmary for a while, for three days, and then they decide they’re better enough to try and get back home. They’ve borrowed too many clothes from the Safehouse residents already, and they’re embarrassed but grateful. Still nervous, sadly, and everyone happily but worriedly lets them go. They look too jittery. They’re a nice kid though. Unobtrusive, polite, got along well with the dogs and managed to remember their names quickly and tell them apart. Able to play and handle them well too.

But they ask to be allowed to go home, so they are, even if they’ve slightly endeared themselves to the Safehouse residents. Jade, once she’s well rested enough, (and did not crash into her dresser when she teleported to her room, thank you very much) and the others see them out the front door. The kid doesn’t even act like they have a family to go back to, but maybe they live alone and are just used to it. They can always come back to the Safehouse if they need to.

“Take care,” Jade says, and the kid adjusts their glasses on their face, nervous. The lenses are a little cracked, and Jade doesn’t think they’re going to be serviceable for a while, but it’s clear that the kid isn’t keeping them for their functionality, but for the sake of having a small barrier between them and the rest of the world. A flimsy shield, a nervous tick. The kid isn’t meeting her eyes either, instead looking at the ground, only occasionally chancing a glance at everyone at the door.

Their fingers twitch, and when they bring their hand down, satisfied with the way the frame of their glasses seems to block out their eyes, they pick at their bandages. Jade sighs a little, fond, and think they should probably let the kid go already, because they look a little too anxious.

“Safehouse is always open for when you need it, okay?” she says, and sees her brother nod beside her.

“Okay,” the kid says, and then bites their lower lip, unsure if they should leave.

Jade chuckles, gives them one last reminder to be careful, and then ushers everyone inside and closing the door behind her. Clue should be a nice game to get all of them yelling.


 

A walk from the Safehouse to several blocks away is made by a tiny, frail, jittery kid with bandaged hands, and broken glasses. The kid picks at their bandages and hisses when they hit their wounds, but they still fidget, and they don’t meet anyone’s eyes. Not that anyone is paying them attention, because they’re just a tiny, vulnerable little kid, who would probably be mugged and stabbed in some alley, and then a line in the obituary of a newspaper. And that’s the end of it. Nothing special. Just that.

That kid walks past stores and apartments and coffee shops and almost bumps into people, although they somehow manage to navigate past even those who tower over them menacingly. They still fidget, and pick at their bandages, until the wraps have almost unraveled from their hands.

They walk, and walk, and walk, and it’s like they never tire, and soon the Safehouse can’t even be seen from where they are. Actually, it’s like New York can’t even be seen from where they are.

And they still walk, and walk, and their bandages slip from their injured hands, and just before the bloodied things hit the ground, something shifts in the atmosphere. It’s like a switch, somewhere in the cogs of the universe, hidden deep beneath the folds, a little party trick.

That switch hits off.

And then suddenly, no one notices that tiny, vulnerable kid.

It’s not like before, when they were walking around, and everyone thought they would be easy pickings for whatever murderer had them in their sights. It’s that no one notices them. Like they’re not there. And in fact, maybe they really aren’t, because proof of existence is having proof in the first place, and where’s the proof when no one can give it because they weren’t able to glimpse it?

That kid, that now unnoticeable kid, takes off their – his – glasses, and with that, he no longer looks frail, and he straightens, pushing his hair away from his face. He looks taller than he was earlier, whatever and whoever that kid he was pretending to be. He’s certainly not as frail, and not as shaky, and his hands are clean and uninjured, and all the injuries he really does own have healed a long time ago.

He folds the glasses, cracked, useless, expired, and tucks them into his pocket, and then walks down the road, humming. There is a coffee shop ahead he must go to.

When he almost reaches the coffee shop, there’s someone else walking towards it, a man dressed in blue-red-white, a huge disk on his back. No one notices him either. The man smiles, and suddenly he is no longer blond or blue-eyed – in fact, he shares no resemblance to the man he looked to be before, except maybe for the fact that he is also tall.

They both make their way towards the entrance of the coffee shop, and slowly, that little switch hidden in the universe’s programming turns itself back on, and when they both meet at the doorway, they are both fully noticeable.

“Hello,” the tall man says, “Did it go well?”

“Better than I expected,” the kid – that’s still questionable though – says. “How about you?”

“Well, I’ve finished up on my end,” he says, “Coffee?”

“That’s what we came here for, isn’t it?”

The man nods. “Good, I’ve rather missed coffee.”

The kid laughs, and they both step into the shop, dressed and looking like any other person in this city would, to the table where there’s other people who also look like any other person in this city would, and then they talk about things we have no business learning about.

Not yet, anyway.

Chapter Text

tempestuousAnarchy [TA] began pestering archimageChaos [CA]

 

TA: okay

TA: so i did the thing you told me to do. i have this. whatever this is. on your paranoid shifty chat client you had ruben code months ago.

TA: what did you need me here for.

AC: Are you still sick?

TA: you won my grumpiness at being woken up at 4:13 a.m in the morning over with your concern.

TA: fake or genuine concern. whatever. it’s nice being asked after.

TA: yes i am still dying with my grade A pneumonia.

AC: Come home.

TA: i am home, dum dum.

AC: Come back to the Safehouse.

TA: oh.

TA: uh my aunt kinda just tried to behead my third cousin four times removed with her umbrella and the house is a warzone.

TA: they’re not gonna take kindly to me wanting to leave.

TA: also. ruben’s still here.

AC: Your aunt did what?

TA: asjdagha

TA: not l i t e r a l l y.

TA: although. She did in fact try to slap him with her umbrella. It hit him so hard I thought his head was gonna spin.

TA: you could say she

TA: tried to *remove* his head.

AC: Sapphrel.

TA: heck you, you woke me up at 4 am, winters, you’re suffering through my snowstorm of puns.

AC: I will eliminate all of your colored chalk left in the Safehouse.

TA: what!!!

TA: rude!!!

AC: You know what to cease.

TA: …well

TA: where do you think egbert got his supply of pastel pink kigurumis.

AC: Oh, you fuck.

TA: HAH!

TA: i can’t believe i know your true fear.

AC: I am taking away your exemption privileges. From now on, pool master or not, you are not exempt from pranks wars.

TA: i am five feet of fragility, how could you.

AC: I’m six feet and two inches of ruthlessness, that’s how I can.

TA: neon pink crocs, bitch.

AC: You vertically-challenged tiefling!

TA: i will bedazzle all your leather, you take that back!

AC: No.

TA: do it.

AC: No.

TA: do it.

AC: No.

TA: >:(

AC: Eloquent as always.

TA: well not everyone speaks like they ate seven sets of regency era drama dvds.

AC: What?

TA: rip. A – 1, W – 0.

AC: A biased and incorrect scoreboard, because if you recall correctly, I did a burn on you for your height.

TA: i can’t help my height and this is discrimination.

AC: No.

TA: oppression.

AC: Sapphrel, did I catch you while you’re on medication?

TA: i

TA: ye a h ?

AC: God damn it.

AC: Still, I need you to get back here.

TA: with as much focus as i can muster through my pain meds:

TA: seriously, why do you need me to do that?

AC: Pain meds. Did something happen?

TA: yeah i got pushed down the stairs and sprained my ankle or something.

TA: so like. really not a good time to leave the house right now.

AC: Who pushed you?

TA: uh. someone. i didn’t see. probably one of my cousins or something, just standing behind me and then. push.

AC: I did warn you about stairs.

TA: not my fault this fancy ass house has a lot of stairs!

AC: Nothing else?

AC: Nothing weird?

TA: uh, no?

TA: did you have anything specific in mind?

AC: …

AC: Nothing I can say with confidence for now.

AC: Anyway, I still need you to return here.

AC: I can send Jade over.

TA: and how am i supposed to explain a floating mutant girl that is surprisingly not one of my hallucinations.

AC: I will skywalk over there.

TA: and how am i supposed to explain a wannabe biker that is surprisingly not one of my hallucinations.

AC:…

AC:…Sapphrel.

TA: /snickers

TA: seriously, mr. winters, just wait for me to like, heal up or something. i'll be back there when i can.

TA: unless you needed like, someone to take over like…the weird stuff you let me catalogue sometimes?

AC: I was going to induct you and Ruben into the War Council.

TA: what the fuck why

AC: I’m concerned if it will be an all-hands-on-deck situation soon.

TA: did something happen?

TA: while i was gone?

TA: i've been trying to melt into my bed for days, i haven’t checked the news.

AC: Well, there was an attack on Halloween, but it was nothing out of the ordinary.

TA: o…kay? so what’s this? more paranoia?

AC: Moving the pieces on the board before the game starts.

AC: Or maybe trying to catch up to the game that’s already starting.

TA: luke

TA: i love you but 4 am while i'm loopy is not the best time for your surprise poetry.

AC: I need you on cataloguing duty more often.

TA: oh

TA: well you didn’t need to go be cryptic about it!

TA: how about you just send me things over this chat client and i'll organize things?

AC: This chat client is safe for now, but I do not want to jeopardize important information if it is potentially hacked.

TA: …i am not going to ask questions.

TA: you’ll have to wait since you insist on this then.

TA: and do not show up and kidnap me or ruben or anything.

AC: Fine.

AC: Don’t get any more injured than you already are, we might not have time for more setbacks.

TA: idk a fuck about what you’re talking about but, yeah, i'll take care of myself. thanks for the fake concern.

AC: It’s not fake.

TA: …

TA: i am so significantly concerned.


 

Tony Stark doesn’t make a habit of skipping out on parties.

For Tony Stark to skip out on parties would be akin to seeing the sun flicker out one day, and maybe it’s not a permanent arrangement, but it’s still Highly Disconcerting and A Cause of Concern.

But thankfully for him, skipping out on Halloween to try and finish breaking the last barrier of The Great Wall of Mutation Strings was easily shoved aside from the forefronts of Pepper’s and Rhodey’s minds since New York was, again, under siege, and thus he had an actual excuse to skip out on Halloween instead of feigning being sick just to finally defeat his fated enemy of around almost a month now.

He had been having trouble with one rune and had misplaced the blue glitter pen he had been using to practice, since he couldn’t waste the ink of the pink and violet ones. After several days (and the few hours on the 31st) of trying, he finally got it right and managed to lock a wall of code down right before the Avengers were called to assemble to deal with the flaming dogs outside.

Currently, the fight’s been wrapped up, because apparently, the things had some expiry date and shrunk after a few hours. They were more manageable by then, and by the dawn of November, New York was smoking a lot less than it was a few hours ago.

Steve’s back too. He ran into one of the firebeasts and had half his suit scorched, the same side where the comm would have been – where it would have melted into his ear if it had been exposed to so much heat. Understandable that he had to rip it off. He even had a few burns that were just healing and had to be rushed into Stark Tower’s clinic for treatment. He was doing well though, super soldier and all.

The streets are still being cleaned up though, and Tony is running on the last of his caffeine and agitation, moving around debris. Even being in the Iron Man suit isn’t helping him with his fatigue, not when he’s been staying up for three days learning runes and chasing disagreeable glitter pens under couches, and then had to fly out to take care of this mess.

The others are helping too, as best as they can, with their S.H.I.E.L.D volunteers and forklifts. The civilians are just starting to walk home, probably from the Safehouse, and Tony wishes he’s just back in his tower, with a beer and a pizza, and that JARVIS is done dismantling the last string of code so he can finally know what and who is behind that wall.

Three hours into clean up, and almost half an hour to noon, he moves to sit on a pile of metal that’s going to be sorted through soon. The suit allows him to sit without the usual discomfort that would come with sitting on a pile of broken hydrants and car doors, and he flips his mask up to breathe. He really needs to sleep, he thinks, but if JARVIS has finished his task, then Tony’s more than happy to chug sixteen more cans of caffeine to do more work.

“You okay?”

It’s Steve, out of his Captain America uniform and in sensible sweatpants and a jacket that’s still somehow tight on him. He looks less burnt. More fixed up. How fast do supersoldiers even heal?

Tony tries to pinch the bridge of his nose, but the suit’s gloves are huge enough to poke his eyes instead, and he sighs. “You got unburnt quickly.”

“I heal quickly,” Steve says, “You can probably just go home now, you look tired.”

“Clean-up’s not done.”

“I can volunteer, I’m here. I’ll take your place, just go rest.”

Tony eyes him for a minute. “It’ll be faster if it was the two of us.”

“Tony.”

“I’m fine,” Tony says, then stands. The little wobble he does when he hops off of the unsteady pile of mismatched metal doesn’t help his credibility.

Steve raises an eyebrow at him. “That stubbornness isn’t getting you anywhere.”

“Untrue. It’s getting me off this pile of metal.”

Clearly, Tony’s comedic genius is unappreciated by the ignorant crowd. Steve just crosses his arms and gives him a flat look as he finally stands properly, the suit making him almost tower over Steve.

“What is it?” Steve asks.

Tony weighs his options for a bit before pulling Steve aside to talk. “I just want to make sure the others don’t go into the tower. If I leave now, they might plan to go there without me knowing. I’m so close to finding something out about your missing mutants.”

The information makes something clink in Steve’s head, and Tony can see it in the way his eyes light up. “Oh. How long have you been up on that?”

“Almost five days.”

Tony.”

“So close,” Tony says, “JARVIS is probably done with the last thing I needed him to do. But I might need time to figure out whatever he finds and I can’t just – risk having other people find out.”

“Isn’t your tower protected?”

“Listen, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents pop in there from time to time and I don’t even notice.”

“How do you not notice?”

“Because they hack the passcode sometimes and I have to change it a lot!” Tony briefly considers having runes as locks. He can probably do that, he just has to ask the radio how this works, and he’d have one of the most fortified systems in the planet. No one in New York probably used runes.

Steve looks a little confused and disappointed. Tony sighs.

“Okay, I might also be slightly paranoid that Natashalie and Clint know what’s going on and will just get in the tower while I’m cracking this thing open.”

He seems to take that better, at least.

In a split second-decision, Tony says: “Just drop by the tower when we’re done here, okay?” Before he can backtrack, he tacks on, “I’ll catch you up to speed on everything.” This’ll be easier than having to reopen files a lot of times. That’s more chances of getting caught.

“Alright,” Steve says after a while. “Yeah, I’ll stop by the tower.”

The rest of the clean-up goes on for several more hours, and by the time they’re done (and Natashalie and Clint go back to S.H.I.E.L.D., and so does Bruce but it’s more for the routine check-ups of making sure he’s alright from hulking out rather than him staying there to hang out with Fury or something, and every other agent goes back to whatever spying cave they’re assigned to hole up in), Tony is ready to crash into his bed and actually sleep. Which is a feat. Tony Stark almost never voluntarily sleeps.

He still has a few things to take care of though, so he doesn’t, and instead lets Steve try to puzzle out the mess that hasn’t appeared to have changed since the last time he visited – crumpled up burger wrappers, empty beer and soda cans, papers everywhere. Tony’s more lax at letting the runework lying around though, and the set of glitter pens is still there, although maybe the orange pen had rolled under a table again…is the green pen missing? Son of a bitch, he’s misplacing everything.

He orders pizza, takes a shower, changes into actual comfortable clothes, and then takes three cans of coffee into the room, ready to drink it all in quick succession. Steve watches said drinking in horror, before the arrival of the pizza gives him a quick escape, and he doesn’t see Tony finish all the cans and then stack them up on top of the pyramid of empty cans he’s set up a few days ago, out of boredom. He ought to gather the other empty tins in the room. The pyramid could grow a little higher.

“Uh,” Steve starts, and Tony nods, knowing he has to explain things, and not even caring that he’s going to sound like he needs a lot of sleep, or to lay off whatever he’s sniffing.

“Okay, so, these things you’re actually seeing – ” He points, no, gestures, to the scattered papers all over the floor with nonsensical scribbles on them, made in glitter ink and pencil (they’re actually not so nonsensical now that the radio’s taught him a few things; the symbol on the paper by the cabinet means Connection, the frustrated markings he’d made with a pencil that had broken due to how he handled it means Shield Against, the almost-elegant and careful rune he’d made with a yellow pen, almost unseen on the paper except for when the light glinted off of it means Curse). “ – are runes. They’re like some form of magic or some bullshit. Don’t ask, because I don’t know how it works, but it does, and I swear I’m trying to find the explanation to it because there has to be something physics can say about this that explains it, but I’m not there yet, and all I know is that it works.”

Steve blinks, then frowns, but not in disbelief or anger, but more like confusion and curiosity, and instead of the barrage of sentences along the lines of ‘you can’t be serious’ and any of its twenty seven thousand variations, Steve just nods, strangely accepting, and then says, “Where did you even learn this?”

Tony motions towards the purple radio sitting on the cabinet in the corner of the room. It’s off today, which isn’t too unexpected, since Steve is in the room. “That taught me.”

Steve does blink in disbelief at that. “…what?”

“The radio taught me,” Tony repeats, and then realizes how ridiculous he sounds, and also realizes he needs booze for this conversation, but also that he can’t afford to be drunk when he’s tired and trying to get Steve to look behind the scenes and understand so he can actually be of help. “I know this sounds unbelievable but – ”

Tony turns towards the radio, which is stubbornly, unhelpfully, turned off. “You know what, let’s not focus on that for now. Let’s just say I have a friend who communicates with me by that radio, and they’re teaching me how to do these runes – which is incredibly hard to nail down because all I’m working with is dictated instructions, by the way – and these runes help in taking down The Great Wall of Mutation Strings. Doesn’t make sense? Doesn’t make sense.” He nods to himself. He needs to sleep.

Steve isn’t giving him a weird look though. Only the radio. His eyes are a little narrowed. Maybe he’s a little shocked to see a borderline old-timey radio in an age that’s supposedly modern.

“That’s…a very distinct model, Tony,” Steve says, “Where’d you get it?”

Tony snorts. “Fuck if I know.”

Steve just purses his lips, concerned, but Tony can probably mull on that concern later, before he forgets his original train of thought. So he continues.

He tells Steve about his research on the mutants, on what he’d found in S.H.I.E.L.D’s drives, his attempt to break into S.H.I.E.L.D’s files, his failure at breaking into said files, the appearance of the radio and how it kept coming back, the weird pink card, the agreement he and the radio reached – everything from the start of his research up to the present, where he’s just one wall of code away from cracking everything. He hasn’t gotten JARVIS to pull up whatever he’s found though, if he’s done. He wants to introduce Steve slowly to this so he doesn’t run down the street and yell about Tony losing it.

He thankfully doesn’t, and instead just looks pensive.

“So there’s…potentially someone behind this wall of string mutations or whatever you called them?” Steve asks.

“There’s two ways to take that question.”

Steve sighs. “There’s someone who created this wall, and there’s someone who’s being hidden behind it? You mentioned someone’s life on the line here.”

“Yeah to both,” Tony says, then jerks a thumb towards the radio in the corner. “That thing’s being unhelpful as always but, that’s what it said, and so far what it’s suggested has been working, and I’m not losing anything other than sleep if I crack that wall and it turns out all that was hidden is a bag of radioactive doritos, so…” Tony shrugs.

Steve is quiet for a moment, then nods. “Are you done with the wall?”

“Should be,” Tony says, then calls out, “JARVIS, are we done with the wall?”

“Yes, sir,” JARVIS says, and Tony feel sweet, sweet relief flood his chest. He fistpumps a little. He’d spent days on end trying to get the runes right and mulling over footage and internet evidence just to make sure this was solved, and to keep track of any other mutants that have gone missing. This had better be worth it.

He turns so that he can face the holographic screen JARVIS pulls up just as he says, “Pull it up, then.”

What meets him first is a wall of codes, but they’ve stopped jittering around, and are instead frozen. All these codes, white against a black background, suddenly light up in green in quick succession before the words ACCESS GRANTED flash across the screen, and Tony’s suddenly seeing file upon file listed out before him. There’s titles like Physiology Report, and Month One, and Interview 12b.

“That’s a lot to go through,” Steve says.

Tony nods. “JARVIS, print all those out, would you?”

“All six hundred and twelve files, sir?”

Tony pinches the bridge of his nose. “Yes, all of those.” Some of the files look like images, at least, so that’s not going to be just six hundred and twelve files he has to read.

“There’s also access to a live feed, sir. Would you like to view it?”

Tony’s head snaps up suddenly, and he sees Steve do the same. The man looks like he’s about to stand and jump into the holographic screen if he could, just to get to the other side of the live feed, and it’s not even up yet.

“Yes,” Tony says.

JARVIS clears out the file list to pull up the live feed.

The screen is split into six sections. Four are from cameras on each corner on the ceiling, one from the dead center of the ceiling, the last one is from the hallway outside of white, solitary cell with the glass wall.

There is someone sitting on the floor, huddled in the corner, knees pulled up to – her, the radio had said – her chest. The way she hugs herself makes her looks painfully, painfully small. She has grey skin – mutant, Tony thinks – and weird appendages on the sides of her head that look like…fins? A fish mutant? Long black hair spills all over the floor, clearly from months of having it uncut. It’s not too wild yet though, not Rapunzel-level of unruly and long. Just…neglected.

She has horns too. Curious.

JARVIS pulls up more screens, zooming in on her face. Tired yellow scleras and fuschia pink irises make Tony’s brain go wild with questions, as well as the sharp claws with pink nails (manicured or natural?), and the view of the fins on the fish-girl’s head makes him want to just get in that cell to ask questions.

Steve, however, draws in a sharp breath. “Get her out,” he says, “We have to get her out.”

That pulls Tony back down, back from the high of his curiosity, because this might be a rescue mission, but he can’t deny that he’d really like to take a look at that physiology report too.

The girl looks miserable in her white laboratory-experiment prison scrubs though. He nods.

“We’ll have to…try to find a way to get her out that’s not going to send S.H.I.E.L.D. looking for our asses.”

“There has to be something,” Steve says, “I’ll help you read all those reports. Maybe there’s something there. I’ll stay here for the night.”

Tony frowns. “Don’t you have your own mutants to look after?”

Steve pauses, then, “They can take care of themselves. At least Kanaya can make sure they take care of themselves.” He mumbles the last part, and Tony doesn’t know who Kanaya is, so he just nods.

“Alright,” he says. “Let’s do this then.”


 

Time is fluid and is hardly linear, and with the right tools, can either bend or break, aimed or redirected, contained or expanded, melted or vacuumed.

So before Steve Rogers went with Loki to skywalk over to the Avengers (with the bonus of being disoriented because his magic did not at all feel like Jade’s, and another bonus of being glamoured so that he looked a little burnt and was just slowly healing – the magic was rigged to slowly wear off and look like it was ‘healing’, and Steve will forever feel weird about having to stand still and being explained to by a stranger about how this runework party trick worked and to not tell the other Avengers if he had any working brain cells at all) to go help with the clean-up after the attack, and before the civilian he saved exited the Safehouse three days after the attack to go do their business which we have no business butting into, there was Eridan Ampora, Karkat Vantas, Kanaya Maryam, Roxy Lalonde, Davesprite and Hal in Steve’s apartment, trying to sort things out.

There was them, two hours after the attack, discussing things that needed to be discussed, and said discussion went like this:


 

The edges of Karkat’s visions are littered with shadows.

They’re not there, he thinks. Maybe he’s starting to hallucinate from days of not sleeping. He’s been trying to pretend that he is – for Kanaya and Rogers to stop pestering him about it – but he’d rather brave sleep deprivation than getting into the first five minutes of his nightmares before being flown out of there by birds and whoever else cares enough to get him out of there.

That bastard imposter’s starting to suggest how to destroy his friends lately.

Not that Rogers is a friend (okay, maybe he is, just a very tentative maybe), but that little worm’s been whispering to him, while showing him Steve and Kanaya, exactly how he can dismantle their lives and their minds. Maybe knives were nice to use, but it was always better to hit where they hurt most. Maybe he can mention Rose to Kanaya, maybe he can find Rose, she should be somewhere, maybe he can slit her throat and let Kanaya drink up the blood.

Steve’s a little harder but, it’ll be easy to find his Avenger friends. Take them down one by one in front of him. Remind him of what he’s lost, all the time he’s spent in the ice, all his dead friends. It would be easy.

He blinks and focuses. Tries to focus anyway. Roxy’s talking.

“So you don’t know this guy’s name at all?” she asks.

Karkat nods. “No,” he says, “I never asked.”

“Maybe try to, the next time you sleep?” she says, “I mean, no pressure. Nightmares are bad.”

“So is sleep deprivation,” Dave says.

“I’m used to not sleeping, Strider,” Karkat says, “I’m not gonna start being a wimp about it now.”

“Karkat, you look awful.”

He really does, and he knows it. There’s a certain heaviness around his eyes most days, and a soreness on the skin around it when he blinks, and everything feels irritating and itchy to him. He’s still not sleeping, because nightmares aside, he doesn’t trust either of the Heirs that can get inside his head.

Paranoia, paranoia.

Eridan had a point earlier though. It’s very possible the Heirs were just playing off of each other, or possible that they were just doing this for fun, to test each other, and when they were done, they’d just go grab some pie and faygo and then sift through the universe to ruin more lives. It wouldn’t be far off, what with the almost strategic placement and timing of dropping Eridan and the others on the island, and then Karkat and Kanaya here, and then telling Karkat that they were coming here so he could prepare. He’s almost positive this wasn’t the limit of their handiwork.

The damn radio was certainly in on it, so that makes them three people. Taking into account Dave pointing out that there was a possibility that whoever could reverse time on the radio could be a separate person – it isn’t unprecedented for players to work together, after all – that adds another person to their tally.

How many were there? What did they want? Did they want anything other than just chaos?

“Do you think we’ll see this…whoever this is who dropped us here?” Roxy asks, pulling her knees up to her chest and rocking back and forth a little. She reminds Kanaya too much of Rose, Karkat notices, with the way Kanaya tenses a little and then looks away, a little sad.

“If they were confident enough to show themselves to Karkat, there’s a possibility,” Dave says, then looks to Eridan, who nods.

“There’s a huge possibility,” he says, “But we should also take into account that their hand might have been forced, although if that was the case, it should have been easy to terminate Karkat instead of jeopardizing their play.”

That’s the wrong thing to say, judging by the brief flare that Kanaya’s light makes, and Eridan pauses, careful, while Roxy tenses, ready to access her sylladex just in case.

“No offense or harm meant,” Eridan says, “I was talking about possibilities. If one of us had been a liability, it would be easier to just get rid of us.”

“And lose a piece?” Dave asks.

“Better to sacrifice one than throw the entire game,” Eridan says, “Unless the challenge is in that they’re not allowed to harm the piece?”

“Maybe that’s neither of that at all,” Roxy says. “Karkat did mention the – we need a name for this person who dropped us, I swear – was furious once when Karkat had a nightmare.”

“A normal reaction of someone losing,” Eridan says.

“I don’t know, something just feels off about that theory. Just…something,” Roxy says, “I just feel like there’s something hidden but I can’t figure it out.”

Karkat looks at Hal’s shades – obnoxious little pointy things – as they light up. Dave reads it off for them. “Hal says we should obviously not jump to conclusions and just plan about what we’re going to do next.”

“Sensible,” Eridan says, tilting his head in a ‘eh, he has a point’ motion.

Dave reads off, “Hah,” from the shades.

Eridan flips him – or the shades – off.

Karkat doesn’t know how long these four have been staying on that island, but they seem comfortable with each other. He sees in the way Roxy’s shoulders are relaxed, and how she sits close to Eridan – too close for Eridan’s standards, anyway, the only person who’s ever really come close to being that relaxed around Eridan without sporting a three-sweep grudge is Feferi, and Karkat knows how that went. So far, Eridan hasn’t torn Roxy to shreds –  sees it in how Davesprite’s wings are tense, ready to shield all four of them if needed, sees it in the easy, almost habitual motion of Eridan just flipping off Hal without even looking, and how Davesprite knows it’s not meant for him, but the pointy glasses on his nose.

Eridan’s found friends.

That’s nice.

He briefly thinks, for one moment, one tiny relapse, that if he was the Heir of Blood, and he was in Eridan’s head, he’d set everything up to look like the meteor, and he’d hang all twelve of their little group from the ceiling, bodies sawn in half, blood dripping onto the floor in multicolored splatters, and then he’d slowly tie Eridan’s new friends up, and watch them struggle as the ropes on their necks choke them when they’re lifted off the floor, and cut them in half too, while Eridan watches, and can’t do anything.

Karkat blinks. Wipes at his eyes. He’s not sleeping. He’s never sleeping. Not when it’s getting to his head like this.

He realizes he’s been wiping too hard at his eyes when he sees starbursts and hears Kanaya say, “Karkat, are you alright?”

He stops and looks up. Everyone’s fallen silent. They’re staring at him.

“I’m fine,” he says. He’s not.

“You need to sleep,” Davesprite says.

“No.” And before Kanaya can protest – he knows she will – he gets up and goes by the window to look outside. He turns to the clock across the room, puzzling out the marks, trying to remember how human numbers worked, and then says, “It’s been hours. Where is he?”

The others have no idea what he’s talking about. Kanaya just sighs.

“He’s probably helping his other human friends, Karkat. These things always take time. This isn’t the longest he’s been away.”

“Still,” he says, pretends to be worried (he might slightly be, but that’s not because he cares for Rogers, not at all), and looks out the window again. There’s barely anyone on the wrecked street. There’s not gonna be any sign of Steve Rogers soon.

He doesn’t rejoin the conversation when Davesprite reads off whatever Hal has typed out, steering it back to the dilemma of what to do now that they’ve found Karkat and Kanaya and appear to have a lot of time in their hands.

He just looks out the window and waits.


 

And because time is, once again, fluid, and all the other adjectives that come with this description, even further back before New York was attacked, two idiots in the Carribean had a conversation that involved birds, a boat, and a sword.

It went like this:


 

“Do you know how to operate a boat?”

There’s no answer, so he turns around, in case she’s distracted with something – maybe the birds again – but he’s assaulted by one such bird that’s got enough guts to try and knock the shades out his face and land on his already messed-up hair. He needs to get cleaned, he knows, but there’s hardly any place around here he can hide and get cleaned up properly. He’s thankful he doesn’t need food, and that his godtier pajamas (complete with poofy asshole pants) don’t get dirty, but she does, so they have to stop every now and then to get food, at the very least.

She’s beating his streak for staying awake though. Although not counting his godtier days. Only the ones when he was still living in a shitty apartment complex eating only fish and ramen.

The bird lands and kicks its tiny, annoying feet in his hair, like it’s trying to make a nest. He swats it away in annoyance. He doesn’t have his sword with him, sadly, since she’d decided that it was a nice weapon to slash at people with and an even nicer weapon to keep. Whatever. She was the one without the godtier powers, he’s being generous.

He rights his glasses and looks around. It’s dark out right now and he can’t see shit with his glasses.

“Megido-san?” he calls out, cautious.

He hears a bird squawk, and knows Damara Megido is probably trying to figure out how their wings work. She’s fascinated by them, tiny little things, and he thinks it’s probably because the ones on her planet – if any of the creatures the Condesce sent to his Earth were any indication – were huge, and more often than not, had razor knives for wings.

Dirk Strider sighs, climbs up the pier, and goes looking for her.

She’s sitting somewhere far off the docks, with a seagull in hand, pinching each wing between a thumb and a forefinger, pulling the wings far apart – not enough to tear off, thankfully – like she’s playing with a toy.

She can just rip the wings off, Dirk knows. Trolls are ungodly strong. Damara’s angrier than most.

She doesn’t look up when he approaches, but he knows she notices.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Do you think this thing’ll sink if I rip off its wings and toss it into the ocean?”

Well. They’re doing this again tonight.

Dirk sits down, crossing his legs. He knows he’s in for a time.

“It certainly wouldn’t float,” he says.

“It should be lighter.”

“That’s not how buoyancy works.”

Damara wrinkles her nose and lowers the bird. She stares straight out into the ocean. Then, “I could eat this.”

Dirk just resists the urge to sigh. “You’re more than welcome to. But do you want to get moving tonight or not?”

“Do you even know where we’re going?”

“I stole a map,” Dirk says, “I’m fairly sure I can read it.”

“You said this Earth – ” she says the word awkwardly, her pronunciation an unsure ‘ji-ku’, which is a lot better than when she usually says the first syllable with a hard ‘z’ “ -  wasn’t like your Earth. How are you sure you know where you’re going?”

“Because I speak the human language English and understand most people here, and they told me where to go and what to look for, and I have a map,” he says. He’s normally patient – haha – but they really need to get moving.

“You’ve never been here.”

“First time for everything.”

Damara levels him with a look, then turns back to her bird. She lets go of its right wing, and it flaps around uselessly, still dangling from her other hand. That looks painful. He tells her as much.

“It is,” she says, “I don’t care.”

Dirk purses his lips to a thin line. He watches as the bird squirms in Damara’s hand. It’d have been able to fly away if only troll claws weren’t the thing holding it.

“Megido-san,” Dirk says, slowly, carefully, “Please let the bird go.”

Damara looks at Dirk again, and for a moment, he breathes out, tentatively relieved she’s not going to rip the wings off this poor animal.

And then she moves to rip the wings off this poor animal. Dirk snatches it from her hands before she can, shoving her with an elbow so she falls on her side with an angry yell, and the bird only ends up with a broken wing.

Dirk cradles the thing in his hands awkwardly. He’s not good with animals.

Goddamn it, Megido.

Speaking of her, she spins so that she kicks his ribs, knocking the breath out of him, and he’s about to hit his head on the concrete before he tucks the bird to his chest, moves so that his back his the ground instead, and rolls, until he’s got one knee on the ground, one foot back ready to sprint, a hand holding the bird to his chest, and the other on the concrete under him, holding him up.

Damara’s in the same position, except instead of a bird, she’s holding a sword, and it’s held out and ready to cut Dirk in half.

Dirk holds her cold (angry, angry, angry) red gaze before looking down first, and then slowly getting up, making sure he’s unthreatening as possible.

Damara glares at him for a moment longer before standing up and sheathing the sword in the makeshift scabbard he’d put together for her, and then marches past him towards the boat.

Dirk watches her go.

Roadtrips are always fun when one’s too angry and the other’s too numb.


 

In a cell somewhere in the depths of S.H.I.E.L.D, Feferi Peixes sits alone.

Chapter Text

“Oh, hello.”

Aradia slams the door behind her, pushing Sollux into the room with a franticness usually associated with people running for their lives. In this case, she isn’t sure if they are running (flying) for their lives, but she’s not risking anything. This is nothing the voices have told her about when she was still on Alternia and ghosting about, and this is nothing she has expected seeing as how she’s never even considered this happening.

Sollux Captor, very much alive, blinks blue and red eyes at her, wheezing hard, one hand to his stomach, trying to breathe.

Both of them stiffen and turn to the greeting when they hear it, and they both immediately take on a defensive stance.

The young man looks at them with white, empty eyes, and blinks, bemused.

“I never get visitors here,” he says, “Hello.”

The softness and gentleness in his voice makes Aradia’s hostility falter for a moment, but she steadies herself, not quite willing to give in just yet, in case this is a trap.

The young man leans a little to the side so that he can look out the window – it’s terribly bright out -  and frowns, a small expression that doesn’t detract from the warmth that he seems to radiate. It’s comforting. Inviting.

Aradia’s confused by it.

So is Sollux, with the way he moves to stand beside her, still ready to lash out if need be.

“Is something wrong?” the young man asks, then giggles and says, “I mean, you’re in a stranger’s house, of course you’re a little jittery but – you look like you flew an awfully long distance to…get away from something.” He squints and tilts his head, “Although this might be your lucky break for a while, if you wait…til’ maybe  a few hours by my clock. I could be wrong. I haven’t done this in a while.”

Aradia’s attention flicks down to the young man’s sweater and relaxes a little at his words, and then once again berates herself for it. This isn’t the time to let her guard down.

The young man smiles at them though, and it’s blindingly bright and disarming.

“So,” he says, “Coffee?”


 

The phone is ringing. Roxy watches carefully as Kanaya tenses and then turns towards it, before standing up, but not before giving their little group a wary glance. Her gaze lingers a little longer on Eridan, and Roxy makes a mental note to ask exactly what happened between them that she’s so hostile. She knows Eridan wasn’t – isn’t? They’re both on good terms, but that’s what usually happens when someone’s too tired to put their hackles up every time – the best person to get along with; because while they are friends, she has no illusions that he’s a saint; but he’s trying. She can see he is. He’s come a long way from tossing her onto a cove to running around with her trying to not die a fiery death in New York.

It might be her bias, or because she’s only seen the aftermath, but she thinks a bit of leeway is due here.

Kanaya listens and talks to whoever’s on the other line for a while. And while she does, Karkat Vantas lets out a small sigh and massages the spaces between his eyes. The circles under them are bruises at this point, and Roxy feels a brief pang of pity for him. He’s clearly suffering, although, if he’s telling them everything he’s been dreaming of for the past few days, she wouldn’t blame him.

Throwing up bits and pieces of your friends is awful.

“Dude,” Dave says, adjusting his wings a little. They’re clearly ruffled. “You really need to sleep.”

“And you really need to understand that I don’t want to,” Karkat says. He looks like he wants to snap, but holds his tongue instead and looks at Dave, exasperated. They both stare at each other for a while, aviators to bloodshot eyes, before Karkat sighs again and looks away.

“If this…yeah we really need a name for them – ”

“I nominate Insufferable Dickshit.”

Dave stops and once again gives Karkat a look. It’s not chastising or disappointed, but it’s more like You’re tired and half dead and you can still run your mouth like that and I’m honestly impressed.

“Okay, Green-Penned Bastard?”

“…better, I guess. If this Green Penned Bastard is helping you with your nightmares, why not just sleep and let them do their job?”

“And risk playing right into their hands?” Petty, petty, Roxy thinks. Karkat doesn’t seem to be wavering though. “If it is just a pissing contest, I’m out. I’m not doing this anymore. Not even if I’m getting help with the nightmares.”

“You’d be better off risking it,” Eridan says.

Karkat raises an eyebrow at him.

He shifts a bit, clearly uncomfortable. “I’m just saying it’s better if you’re rested. You’ll have a better fighting chance.”

“Against what?”

“Against…this.” It’s a strange sight, watching Eridan fumble for words and trying not to step on landmines. “If this is all a game to them, then they’re going to target the rest of us soon, and maybe it’ll get worse too. You’ll need sleep if you’re gonna fight through the ‘worse’ part.”

Karkat blinks once, twice, and then turns to Roxy. “What did you do to him?”

Roxy bites down her knuckles to try and stop herself from laughing. Kanaya’s still talking to the phone after all. It would be impolite.

Eridan frowns and shifts again, then lightly punches her arm. Roxy snickers and pats his shoulder.

“Nothing at all,” Roxy says. It’s most likely the weeks of being away from pressure that cooled him down a little, and the freedom to go sailing and not have to worry about things. Time off does wonders for people.

Karkat snorts, and then moves back to lean on the wall behind him. “Yeah, whatever,” he says. He sounds…relieved, somewhat. Roxy tilts her head a bit, curious.

She doesn’t get to ask why his reaction’s like that though, as Kanaya puts down the phone and says, “Steve is not coming home tonight.”

Karkat – whose eyelids had been drooping even for the brief lull in conversation (this boy really needs to sleep if he’s already starting to pass out on them) – snaps his head up towards her. “What?”

“He isn’t coming home tonight. He has business to attend to,” Kanaya says, “There is food in the thermal hull, although I think he didn’t account for having visitors all of a sudden.” The last part is added on more as a musing afterthought, and then Kanaya says, “Although I expect he’ll come back with more food seeing as how he knows you’re here.”

“What’s he busy with?”

“He said he’d explain when he came home,” Kanaya says, “I don’t pretend to be an expert on how things work here, but I expect that as someone who protects a city, there are a lot of spies he has to deal with.”

Karkat deflates at that, hunching in on himself and then glaring at the floor.

Kanaya sighs. “There’s still apple pie, Karkat.”

He brightens, just a bit. Roxy resists the urge to pinch his cheeks.

Dave looks like a curious bird though, with the precise headtilt and the slight rearranging of his wings. “Apple pie?”

“Steve likes to bring those back sometimes,” Kanaya says, “I recall you being fond of apple juice?”

The wing shifting is more defensive this time. No, not defensive. Timid? Deer in the headlights? Dave in the headlights?

“Yeah,” he says, with that careful inflection that says I’m absolutely not bothered. It reminds Roxy too much of Dirk.

“I think we have some here,” Kanaya says, “You might as well have some, seeing as how it’s not wise to get out of here while the city has just undergone an attack.”

“Yeah, when are we getting out of here?” Roxy finally asks. They had to get moving sometime, but then there was also the question of where they were going. The island again? They could make a base there, and then look for everyone else dropped here when they catch word of it.

Kanaya and Karkat give her looks of confusion. She gives them one back, feeling it mirrored on Eridan’s and Dave’s face (well, Davesprite’s shades). Hal’s red text flashes red light on Dave’s nose again.

“I’d say it’d be safe for you to leave at night,” Kanaya says. They’re already past the early hours of the morning, having talked and talked and swapped and shot down theories. Roxy suddenly feels just how tired she is when she turns to the window, which is clearly bright behind the curtains.

Eridan straightens a little, glancing at Karkat and then Kanaya. “And you’re not?”

“We’re perfectly fine here,” Kanaya says, “Steve is welcoming.”

“You’ve known him for less than a human month.”

“I think my character judgment isn’t suspect.” The ire in those words is so tangible even Roxy feels her hackles rise.

Eridan has the common sense to bite down whatever scathing reply he has to that. Literally. Roxy sees a small bit of violet peek out his lips.

“You can’t stay in this hivestem forever,” Eridan says.

“And exactly what is there to do if we do get out of this hivestem?” Kanaya says, straightening as well and crossing her arms. “You were on an island for months, Ampora. Doing nothing.”

Roxy hears the scratching before she sees Eridan uncross his arms and put them to the floor like he’s ready to launch himself at Kanaya. His nails dig – literally dig – into the floorboards. “I wouldn’t say nothing.”

“And even if we do get and try to do something about whatever’s going on in the background, with whoever’s messing with Karkat’s head, we don’t even know where and who they are.”

“Why are you so against this?” Eridan says, standing. “I have nothing against Karkat, I’m not gonna – ”

Oh. Oh.

Roxy feels like the floor has given out on her.

Eridan lets the sentence trail off, and just glares at Kanaya, although for one, almost imperceptible moment, he glances at Roxy.

“You know why,” Kanaya says.

“Okay firstly, fuck off with your tension and skirting around the issue,” Karkat says. He tries to stand, but then almost topples over and has to be assisted by Dave to sit back down without falling flat on his face. Hal’s still flashing his text, Roxy notices. “Eridan went on a murder spree. Kanaya doesn’t trust him. Fair. But Eridan’s also supposed to be dead.”

That…Roxy didn’t know. She stares at the floor for a moment, trying to digest this information. Murder spree. Supposed to be dead.

Kind of hard to pick which one to focus on first.

“Karkat,” Dave says, “Sleep.”

“F- no,” Karkat says, batting Dave’s hands away. “I’m fine, I don’t need to sleep, and I’m not sleeping if these two idiots are just gonna start clawing at each other the moment I pass out.”

“We’re not going to claw at each other,” Eridan says, surprisingly. It takes Kanaya off guard too, by how she leans back a little and blinks incredulously. Eridan just raises an eyebrow at her. “I am civil, contrary to what you think. And I’m not going to kill anyone since that’s not gonna do anything for me.”

“It did a lot for you the first time.”

“Yeah, it got me dead,” Eridan says, a little self-deprecatingly.

The silence that falls in the room is so sudden and thick that Roxy can feel its weight.

And then someone laughs. It’s a snicker, really, but it’s all it takes to break the tension. Roxy turns to Karkat, who’s back to sitting and leaning back on the wall. He snorts as he looks at Eridan, and then shakes his head.

Eridan looks at him, and then at Roxy. She shrugs.

“I’m up for apple pie,” Dave says, “You two can argue later.”

Karkat waves a hand. “I’m up for apple pie too.”

“No, you’re down for sleeping,” Dave says, “You need it, dude. You can eat, but then you’re sleeping right after.”

Karkat makes a noise that could have been a ‘fuck you’ stuck in his throat due to drowsiness, but Roxy barely makes it out, because then Karkat yawns and leans back more into the wall, and his eyelids droop. She hears Dave sigh something out in relief, and she can’t blame him, because the kid needs his sleep.

And then she sees it, a brief flicker of something. A shadow, maybe.

The next moment, it’s gone, and Roxy remembers nothing about it at all.


 

Days pass this way.

The only person in Roxy’s party who actually needs to eat is Eridan, so he’s the only one who has to share food from the fridge with Kanaya and Karkat. Roxy is gracious enough to pull out a few things from the void – apple juice, a few packets of chips, some candy that looks suspiciously just like the ones they’d gotten from their impromptu trick-or-treating. Dave borrows the phone for a while after he lets Hal do a quick search on the internet and hunts around for cash in the house. He orders pizza and some fast food, and Roxy takes a bite out of a cheeseburger and then stares.

Dave raises an eyebrow at her, although Hal, from where he’s now placed on the coffee table instead of being worn, makes tinny little buzzing sounds that might be laughter. Eridan just stares at the fries and then takes one experimentally.

“What are these?” he asks.

“Fries,” Dave says, then, “Oh, shoot, you probably haven’t eaten those. Not Earth-fries or whatever anyway.”

“They’re salty,” Karkat says, stuffing his face with apple pie. Kanaya is eating pizza beside him just fine, although she did say something earlier about Earth-pizza being a lot less…meaty…and organ-y.

“You don’t like salt?” Dave asks.

Karkat snorts.

“The opposite,” Kanaya says, “Steve once caught him in the meal block eating nearly half the bag.”

Hal’s doing the buzz-laughter again. Dave just chuckles. “You’re either anemic or trolls just like salt.”

“I don’t like salt,” Kanaya says.

Eridan takes a bite out of his fries. Not just the one piece he had in his hand. He puts that piece back into the paper box, and then takes a huge bite out of all the fries there, almost taking a bit of the paper with it. Dave looks on in horror, which is an impressive feat because a) he’s rarely ever horrified, b) there’s actually no outward indication that he is horrified, but Roxy catches the tiny movements on his face and how his glasses nearly slip off his nose.

Eridan chews and then swallows, then shrugs. “It’s not that bad.” He folds the paper box a little bit so he can take another chunk out of the fries as a collective.

Roxy lowers her (glorious) cheeseburger for a moment to pick up her box of fries to do the same.

Dave actually snatches it out of her hands afterwards and stares at the row of bitten-off fries. He looks like he’s mourning.

“What?” she asks.

“That’s not how you eat fries.”

Eridan, however, has finished his box and is neatly folding the paper back into the plastic bag.

Dave sighs, and demonstrates with his own box of fries. Eridan just looks at him like he’s weighing whether Dave is right or not and says, “That’s time-consuming.”

“You’re supposed to enjoy it.”

Roxy carefully tries to follow his actions, picking up one significantly shortened fry to eat it. The taste isn’t as strong as when she just took a huge bite. Easier to process though, and not as overwhelming. She slowly continues her fries, and then returns to her cheeseburger, although she surveys it with care, gently picking apart the burger to look at what’s inside.

Eridan hasn’t touched his cheeseburger. Roxy tells him to.

“Why?” he asks.

“It’s so good,” Roxy says, then takes a bite, and resists the urge to vibrate right there, and instead settles for an excited, muffled squeal. She can cry from how good actual Earth-food is.

Eridan takes a moment, but does as he’s told. He looks startled and then takes another bite, and then his burger’s finished in less than two minutes. Roxy, however, is savoring hers, so it just turns into Eridan trying to wheedle her to sharing while she vehemently says no.

The pizza is another thing, because yeah, Eridan complains that it’s not the same as Alternia’s pizza, but Dave and Roxy fawn over it like they’ve been deprived, which isn’t really that far off.

After hours of debating over food, they start debating over options on what to do again. As always, Kanaya refuses to go with them, and Eridan points out that they’d be better off not hiding away in a dingy little hivestem in a human city.

Steve calls every night to tell them he’s still busy.

“With what?” Karkat asks, a little irritable, every time.

“His own business, I suppose, we never did ask,” Kanaya says.

Roxy and the others stay there, for the rest of the time that Kanaya refuses to move, and Karkat doesn’t say anything about it.

They all wait for Steve Rogers to come home. Which, who knows when that’s gonna happen.


 

Loki has been thinking a lot lately.

This has two possible reasons for it. One, there’s going to be a huge prank war soon and everyone’s going to have to duck and cover if they want to be spared. Two, something is terribly wrong.

Not that anyone is really sure what goes on in Loki’s head, and sometimes his own thoughts escape him, so who’s sure, really? And it’s not like anyone here knows there’s something wrong. Halloween has come and gone with its dramatically-timed attack, and everyone’s going on with their lives; Cecil’s been doing significantly better than he did when he was refusing to sleep. It probably helps that his brother is fussing over him and is amusing him with mirror tricks.

The reason for Loki’s musing, however, is plainly obvious for anyone who knows what’s going on (which is approximately two people in the Safehouse, but Loki’s been looking at the shadows and not trusting them lately): something is terribly wrong.

He just doesn’t know what.

Well he knows there’s something, but all Cecil has given him are broken visions that don’t make sense even to the boy once he’s pulled out of his fugue. He seems all-knowing when he’s Seeing, but as well-versed as he is with unveiling secrets when in a fugue, the ability to interpret them and make sense of them is lost on him once he’s fully back on earth.

It frustrates the poor kid. It frustrates Loki too, but he’s not about to say that. He can make sense of a few vague prophecies on his own. Besides, Palmer doesn’t need that kind of pressure.

What Loki does know is that he needs all the advantages he can get, no matter how miniscule. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to convince Sapphrel to come back to the Safehouse yet – which is an annoying setback (and, somewhere in the back of his head, something snickers and says, an annoying set-up), but he’ll make sure he has both them and their best friend on board if push comes to shove. He doesn’t know when the shoving will start though.

Checking up on them on a daily basis is all he can do, and he knows he’s freaking the kid out, because while they’re not strangers, he has never exactly forwardly asked after their well-being. Sure, he’s asked them to set up the emergency system, and asked them to catalogue things, and asked them to draw blood from everyone else, but he’s never really clapped Sapphrel on the back and asked if they’ve eaten or slept properly and fussed over them. The closest thing he’d done was hunt down their pill bottle after they’d misplaced it and Ruben was late from college and couldn’t help with his best friend who was silently freaking out in the bathroom.

He’s got all the kids in the house accounted for, and even if Rose is still with James in their bunker all the way across the world, he keeps an eye on them too, communicating with Rose on a daily basis much like with their sick pool master. He knows the Palmers haven’t been leaving the apartment lately, and Mrs. Harrison’s in the house excited for her husband to visit all the way from Soho, and Mr. G’s just going on with his dogsitting days. He and John have gotten over their sickness easier than poor Saph has. Human immune systems are a little troublesome.

Seeing as there’s nothing he can do, he waits. He checks his notes from Cecil (and frequent phonecalls to Saph – he’d ceased that when Cecil had said that even those wouldn’t be safe from anyone who wanted to listen intently. He didn’t have anything particular in mind when he talked to them. Just wanted to bend the conversation and direct them places as discreetly as he could, to see if something caught his attention. Something that had escaped their’s because it would have been normal, but Loki knows what to look for, and while he can’t risk whoever’s watching to know that he knows, or risk putting two of his – friends? Acquaintances? Wards – in danger, he needs the information to keep them safe in the first place. Cecil’s visions are blood-strewn, and he’d very much like to not let that come to pass.), and everything else he deemed important, kept in a little pocket space so that no one else could find it, no one else but him, and he tries to look for anything that stands out and makes his hackles rise.

There’s only been one, and he’s pretty sure it’s just a byproduct of him being paranoid, but then again, since when has Loki Silvertongue ever not listened to his paranoia? This is why contingency plans are a must for him.

He wasn’t there when Jade and the others saw off that little civilian Steve Rogers had brought in.

He’d only seen them from the corner of his eye, but there was something…off. They were perfectly normal, yes. They certainly looked normal, and the jittering and anxiety reminded him of someone (and sadly he couldn’t place whoever that someone was, which is what pinged the suspicion alarm in his head in the first place), but it looked wrong. Off. Like this was an imitation and an act instead of the real thing. Of course it looked so natural, but it’s like Loki has seen the original that even though this was a good replica, it still fell flat in some areas.

And there was a vague air of something around them. Electricity. Magic. Secrecy. Whatever one could call it. He has no word for it either, and he’s spent a rather long time trying to find it.

It feels familiar too, whatever it is. The fact that he should know this and yet can’t figure it out is irritating him. Something is stopping him, and he doesn’t know what. Like a particularly annoying dream where you’re trying to run, but your limbs are lead, so you fall down a lot, and even if you’re yelling at yourself to run, the best you can do is a shambling walk, desperate to get away from whatever monster that’s chasing you.

Loki hates it.

So he writes notes on that too, and tries to sketch out what that kid looked like, but…even that escapes him. He pictures them out in his head, and then tries to put it on paper and – forgets. Like he knows what the kid looks like, but not really. They have hair, and eyes, and a nose, and a mouth, but he can’t recall specifics. What was their hair color like? Black, brown, red, white, blonde? Their eyes? High blue? Candy red?  Near-glowing green? Ethereal violet? What was their stature even like? Neither tall nor short, thin nor fat?

And it’s the fact that Loki just can’t with anything regarding this person that hits off so many danger signs in his head. And in case, just in case he forgets that too, he writes those down and throws the papers into the pocket space, because whoever’s going to try messing with his memory isn’t going to have such an easy time. He can always do better. He’s always done better. Memory spells were cakewalk to him, so unless he was going up against himself, whoever else is doing this can fuck right off.

And he continues to take account of everything, and watches the shadows, and listens intently to everything that goes on in the Safehouse. He listens to the radios the Palmers have set up in case any of the mutant kids around the city have seen something strange.

Whatever is going on, he’s going to find out.

Chapter Text

The table was a soft yellow, fitting right in with the white tiles, the peach walls and ceiling, and the orange window frames. Not that Aradia would know or appreciate anything about bright color schemes seeing at it would usually sear her eyes, but this particular house is tiny, and comfortable, and has such a warm feeling to it, that the first thing she thinks when she looks around and enters the dining room is inviting.

And then she shakes her head, because really, this place is the farthest thing from safe. They’d declined the first offer for coffee, because firstly: what the hell is coffee, secondly: they’re not about to accept anything from a complete stranger, and thirdly: they needed to run.

So they ran, past the house, past everything, and then slammed straight into a wall of blood and viscera and shot through the other side covered in gore. When they’d gone past their revulsion, they’d looked up to see the Skaian battlefield covered in corpses, and blood, and surrounded by tall, boney trees, that had things that shouldn’t be on them. Sollux had almost thrown up.

And then there was a Thing there. Something so malevolent that the air itself seemed to be repulsed by it, and they ran again. When they realized the battlefield stretched and stretched and never ended, they turned back the way they came, barely missing having Aradia’s wings torn to pieces, and it was concerning how easy it was to get out the way they came from.

They stumbled and tripped and rolled ungracefully back into the house with warmth, and that young man just opened the door and sighed and gave them towels to wipe all of the blood off. The red didn’t look like it’d ever wash off those white towels anytime soon.

For now, they’re cleaned up, and at a pretty yellow table, with mugs whose designs looked like they were pulled straight out of grublr, and are staring into what should be ‘coffee’ and ‘tarts’.

Sollux had poked at a tart, asked if it was good, and then the young man shrugged and said that he hated the things, but some people liked them and he knew how to make them anyway, so here they were.

Aradia doesn’t touch her coffee or the tart. They aren’t here for pleasantries.

The young man just shrugs, and then starts eating a lot of them, even if he claims to hate the things.

“So, do you want to introduce yourselves?” he asks.

They both just stare at him blankly.

He shrugs again. “It’s only polite to,” he says. He manages to decimate half the plate in five minutes (not that time passed here, but it’s in Aradia’s innate nature to know about time and to know when things happen), and then says, “But no pressure. You won’t be able to stay here anyway.”

That sounds like a threat, Aradia thinks – no, it should sound like a threat, but it was more that it didn’t. It sounds like a given. Like at the end of the day, they have to and will leave later.

Eventually, there’s only two tarts left, and the young man has drained all of his coffee. He stands, and goes to wash his dishes, while they both watch his movements, wary.

“There’s a bed upstairs if you want to use it,” he says, and Aradia tilts her head at that. ‘Bed’s were for humans, yes? “And the couches are pretty comfortable if you want that. I never sleep anyway.”

“I don’t need to sleep,” she says.

The young man tilts his head to Sollux. “He does. He hasn’t ascended.”

She narrows her eyes, opens her mouth, and then stops – of course. She just settles back into her seat.

“I know you won’t believe me, but I really won’t harm you. It gets me nowhere,” the young man says, “So rest for as long as you need, I’ll just be around the house.

“And what do you get from helping us?”

The young man pauses. He seems to think for a moment before shrugging. “I don’t.”

“Then why help at all?”

“It’s called human decency,” he says, “And besides, I think your friends need you alive.”

Aradia stands up so fast that the chair gets knocked onto the floor with a metal clatter, and in the next second she’s in front of the young man, claws out – only the young man has already pulled a sword out in a brief flash of light, and held it between them, sharp edge of the blade too close to her neck for comfort.

They both stop, stalemate, and she hears Sollux behind her stand as well, hands out and ready to use his psionics.

“Killing me is not going to solve anything,” the young man says, “And I don’t have all the answers anyway, I only have a few.”

“Why are you after us?”

The young man laughs. It’s a pleasant sound. Aradia doesn’t like it.

I’m not after you. I’m stuck here. Or more like, this is the only place that can keep me safe. You saw what’s out there,” he says.

Aradia falters. He’s seen the battlefield too.

“What – what’s wrong with it?”

He shrugs. The sword disappears in another flash of light, and then the young man goes back to washing his dishes. The casualness throws Aradia off-balance. He speaks again when he dries his plate.

Corrupted would be the best word for it. Influenced, maybe. Deceased. Infected.” Here, he pauses. “Infected. Like an open wound. It festered. We couldn’t fix it.”

“Why?”

“It was too far gone. It ate up everything.”

Aradia takes a step back. She looks around the dining room, at the young man, at his milk-white, blank eyes. “And you – ”

“Yeah. I think that was when everyone else got the hint that it was too far gone. Or when they should have anyway.”

He finishes drying off the plate, and then the mug, and then places them back onto the cupboards. He motions towards the table. “Just put them in the sink when you’re done. I’ll clean them up.”

And he smiles, before walking out the room, humming a cheery tune as he does.


 

He finds her somewhere in the middle of October.

Because, like a sensible human being who doesn’t lose his head (haha) in the middle of a crisis, the first thing Dirk Strider does when faced with a challenge is to accept it and keep moving forward. So he does that. He gets out of the tree he’s stuck in (and he had no idea how he got there, only that he woke up with a hell of a lot of scratches and his shades were on the ground, way, way below him, and his limbs were all tangled up in branches), goes to find civilization (which surprisingly isn’t hard), realizes he can’t speak the language and tries to find anyone who knows how to speak English or Alternian.

There’s people who speak English. There’s no one who speaks Alternian.

He’s in 2013.

He gets maps and tries to learn as much as he can about the area and the language (and that’s slow progress that’s frustrating the hell out of him), and then tries to learn about this earth so he knows what in the fuck he’s doing. He doesn’t remember why he’s here or how he’s here – the last thing he knows is that they were going to fight against Lord English and the Condesce and Jack Noir and whoever else, and then – then, nothing. And he’s in a tree.

Despite the amount of water that he’s seen here, it turns out this earth isn’t waterlogged, and he’s just landed somewhere that has a lot of ocean in sight. Huh.

The lack of carapaces and the overwhelming amount of people makes him fidget and keep a hand on his sword at all times (and he’s tried hard to conceal it under stolen fabric after the first time he almost got arrested – what the hell – for it), and he takes to mostly moving at night when there’s not a lot of people who can go after him or stare at him for his pajamas. The poofy asshole pants really don’t blend in with the rest of the island.

He manages to fly from one island to another before he finds Damara Megido trudging her way to the shore, absolutely soaked and pissy about it.

She’s the only troll for miles. Of course Dirk talks to her.

She’s alright, for the most part. A little spooked and stressed about being dumped into an ocean in broad daylight, and he helps her find some shade (in a tree) while they talk about things. No, she has as much of a clue as Dirk has on ending up here; no, she doesn’t know anything about this earth; no, she has no idea where they actually are.

She’s mostly suspicious about how he understands her. He doesn’t say anything about it.

She’s not god-tiered, so he builds a fire so she can dry off her clothes faster and then lets her rest until the sun goes down, and then they move. The fact that she can’t fly poses a problem, and she just narrows her eyes at him when he says he can carry her, so they amble around the island for a while. He tries to argue about the merits of flying with him; she argues back and then eventually flips him off with a scathing hiss. So there’s something there, he thinks, and then has to stop himself from poking at it because that would just make him lose his only companion here so far.

So he doesn’t, and instead just guides her around places and making sure they don’t get in trouble. There’s a lot of things to be done, and a lot of problems to get around, but he tells her he’s got in all under control. As much as he can, anyway. He knows their location (the name of the island, anyway) and he knows they’re in an alternate version of Earth, and he knows that they have to get off this place and maybe find someplace safe to hide out on that’s not too crowded, but also not too barren of resources.

Constantly being chased around when they do get seen does nothing for Damara’s mood. That’s when she steals his sword and starts slashing at people, and he has to grab her and run so that they’re not on some wanted list around here. She punches him in the face after, and then doesn’t apologize even if she clearly did it out of instinct to protect herself since she hates being touched.

They get chased, they have to hide, there’s too many people and too much sunlight and it gets unbearably hot sometimes, so all in all, it’s an unpleasant situation, and it makes them both irritable. Well, it makes Damara irritable. Dirk’s doing fine. Trying his best to, anyway.

Which is how they both find each other in the middle of the ocean operating a tiny little boat. It’s a little wooden thing he’d stolen off the shore, but it’s more than enough for two people and the supplies they’ve gathered that would last them a while. It has a little motor that Dirk’s taken a while to learn how to operate, and they’re both speeding across the ocean under full moonlight. Damara is asleep.

Dirk should sleep too, even if he doesn’t really need it. It would help take his mind off of things, and it’s not like he still wakes up on Derse anymore (or have to deal with a lot of his splinters). Still. They need someone to make sure they both end up in their destination safe and sound and not caught because Damara doesn’t look human. Not even close.

He doesn’t sleep. He just watches the waves go past them, and looks up at the moon, which is huge and bright and nothing like he’s ever seen it on his earth – even the moon back there seemed a little….subdued or something. Like it didn’t quite understand what it was shining for anymore. This one looked stunning, although maybe that was the lack of light pollution or because Dirk’s actually taking the time to look at it and not just stay cooped up in his room with all his robots and his flashing screens and his wires.

He decides not to think too much about that. And not to think too much of failing the game. Maybe this was what happens when you fuck up too much. You end up in another universe entirely and not know what to do.

He just glares at the moon at that thought.

A few hours pass, and he just absentmindedly lets his fingers skim the water as the boat runs. The sky is still dark, and he has no idea what time it is, but he doesn’t really need to keep track since he’s got nothing scheduled except to just keep moving.

And then the boat motor suddenly sputters and stops.

Dirk blinks, incredulous, and then turns towards it, at the end of the boat. It just falls silent no matter how hard he looks at it.

He slowly hovers over to it, making sure not to wake Damara up by rocking their little vessel, and goes to check it. He was sure he put enough fuel in it and there was nothing wrong with it. He calculated it right, didn’t he? He was sure he did. He’d done his math over and over and he’d checked the distance –

“You know theory and practice are completely different things, right?”

He stills, slowly turns. Damara is awake. She rubs one eye and yawns and then rearranges the blankets around her.

“Yes,” he says. He doesn’t sound reluctant. At all. Really.

“Not enough psionics?”

“We’re not using batteries, we’re using fuel. Old Earth uses a lot of it, and I’m pretty sure I remember everything correctly,” he says, turning back to the motor with a rare expression of displeasure.

Damara hums. Then. “How much further do we have to go?”

“A few kilometers,” he says. He tries to restart the engine, and it sputters, but then stops. He tries again. The motor gives off a pathetic whine.

Damara hums, sits up properly, and then Dirk suddenly feels the boat steady. He stiffens for a moment.

And then the boat lurches forwards, knocking him back and making him grip onto its sides for support. Damara only flashes a brief smile, smug, before moving to the head of the boat and lazily lying down, arm propped up on the very end and her chin resting on it.

Psychic. Of course.

Dirk stands, and then sits back down carefully, to one of the wooden slats designated as seats.

“You could have done that before,” he says.

“You never asked,” Damara says, then, “Correction – you never ask, Strider-san.”

“You don’t like being asked things.”

“I don’t like having my privacy invaded. There is a difference,” she says. Before Dirk can say anything. “And you don’t like asking if there’s anything I can do either.”

He shuts his mouth at that. He’s very aware. But he needs to have something in his hands right now, because he has no idea where they are and he needs something.

If he doesn’t. If he has too much time in his hands, then. Well.

He settles for just sitting there and crossing his arms. He’s not pissy or anything, just a little…peeved. “Thank you for the help, Megido-san.”

Damara snorts and then waves a hand before turning back to the water. They both revel in the silence for a while before something makes a small sound, and they both turn to the small lump of feathers in the middle of a nest of fabric.

Damara frowns at it. “Throw it out.”

“You broke its wing.”

“Yes, so throw it out,” she says.

Dirk presses his lips to a thin line and sighs. “Okay, I get it, you don’t like birds or something, but leave it alone. I’ll get rid of it when we arrive.”

Damara just shoots the bird a dirty look before turning back to the ocean.

Dirk sighs and pinches the space between his eyes.


 

“So.”

“So,” Aradia echoes. Time doesn’t pass here, but she’s been keeping track, and they’ve been here for roughly three days, two hours, thirty two minutes, seventeen seconds and counting. She doesn’t like the place – doesn’t like that she’s starting to like it, rather, with its warm and alive air, and its soft couches and beds that are rather pleasant, and its good, albeit weird, earth-food.

Sollux seems to be adjusting fine too, although he’s still sleeping off the fatigue of running around the void for weeks with nearly nothing to survive on. He’s faster with his responses, more talkative, even though he’s tired. He’s recovering from death. Or being revived, whichever.

The young man is sitting across Aradia, cross-legged on the opposite couch, carefully setting up the glass pieces of a chessboard. She tilts her head at it. The concept of it is familiar, but she remembers their version of it in Alternia being…significantly harder. And less prettier than a crystal-crafted board with glass pieces.

“Do you play?” the young man asks.

“I think we had something similar back in Alternia but it was more difficult,” she says, “But I used to, yes.” With the voices of the dead, she doesn’t add.

“Mm,” the young man hums, and then stops setting up his pieces. Instead he holds out a hand, palm towards her, up to his chest level, and then brings it down. A curtain of light follows his motion, consuming the entirety of the board. When he draws his hand back – making the light die out – the board is different. There’s multiple boards now, stacked on top of each other, and the pieces are already set up.

The young man’s pieces are cut from emerald. Aradia’s are made from ruby.

“Is this difficult enough?” The young man smiles at her as he asks.

This is more familiar. “Space chess,” Aradia says, and nods. She moves first. Red always moves first.

“I heard it commonly referred to as Three-Dimensional Chess,” he says, moving as well. “I’d personally call it Hell Chess, but a friend of mine once said that honor goes to three-player chess.”

“There’s three-player chess where you’re from?” Her move.

“Yep,” he says. “It’s way more chaotic, but it’s fun.”

She hums, nods, and then gets into the game. She moves, takes a few pieces, and he stays silent, smiling, oftentimes pausing, and then suddenly, Aradia finds that most of her important pieces have been taken, and a lot of the young man’s pieces have ascended on the boards. She frowns, concentrates, but in the end, the young man just smiles and triumphs.

She stares at the boards, and then at him, and then laughs. “Of course.”

“I’m supposed to use my aspect to my advantage, yes?” the young man says, “I had a friend who nerded on and on and on about that.”

“A huge fan of learning?”

“He was a goddamn mage, so yeah,” he says, laughing. He quiets down for a bit before shaking his head fondly. “Although now that I think about it, maybe that would be working to his advantage now.”

Aradia quiets again, that suspicion at the back of her head rearing up. Still. He has been kind to them. She might as well take advantage of that and whatever knowledge he possessed. Light players tended to be fountains of information.

“So you know what’s happening. Outside, I mean. And why Sollux is alive,” she says.

He nods. He snaps his fingers. The chessboard resets itself in a flash of light.

“Obviously, yes,” he says, “But only up to what I remember. And what I can still sense. I was what you’d call a natural seer. Not very good, but, enough.”

Aradia nods again. “So currently, you have no idea what they’re doing?”

“I can guess. I can see from you and…Sollux? Was that his name? Can I use his name?”

Aradia makes a vague ‘go ahead’ gesture.

“Thanks. I can see from that, but otherwise? Nada,” he says, then shrugs. “Kinda lonely here sometimes too but, what can I do?”

She just stares at him for a moment. It really probably is, especially since he seemed to be the only one out here for miles.

Another bout of silence drapes over them both for a moment. Aradia is aware that right now would be when a sunset usually happens, and the clock on the wall that’s still ticking away says so too, but the sun never sets here. There’s no sun after all. There’s just light. From nowhere and everywhere all at once.

“Another game?” The young man asks.

“What about this three-player chess you were talking about, how does that work?”

“Ah.” The board shifts to a round one when he moves his hand this time. Like the previous boards, it’s beautiful, but this one more so – the pieces this time are blue, red and green, and its squares alternate between purple and yellow; the border was a deep red, and there were etchings on it that still somehow appeared to be made of precious gems, only they were in grey and light blue.

“Oh,” Aradia says, breath escaping her. She doesn’t know all of the stones in this board, but it’s absolutely beautiful.

The young man touches the red border. “Garnet.” The light blue and grey etchings. “Aquamarine and Moonstone.” A purple square. “Amethyst.” A yellow square. “Citrine.” A blue pawn. “Sapphire.” A red bishop. “Ruby.” A green king. “Emerald.”

“Oh,” Aradia says again, looking at the board. “It’s…”

“I’m aware the color scheme is shit, but hey, it was lovingly crafted.” The young man laughs.

“No, it’s gorgeous,” she says, “Less about the colors and more about how the light catches on them.”

And yeah, the light bounces off of the board and its pieces beautifully, fracturing all over the table and the floor and the walls and on their faces.

The young man smiles. “A friend made it,” he says, “Or, well, we all did try to help, but he did most of the work.”

“Who? Your mage?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow,” she says.

He chuckles again when she’s silent for several more minutes, just looking at the board. “Don’t get too distracted by all the light fractures now, there’s still a board. Do you want to learn how to play?”

“Yes.”

“We’ll still need a third player though,” he says, then, “Sollux?”

Aradia looks up for a moment, staring at the ceiling like that’d help her see Sollux, who’s sleeping upstairs. “I’ll ask him. The boredom would probably make him say yes.”

The young man chuckles again. It’s still such a pleasant sound.

“Do you have Three-Player Space Chess?” Aradia asks. “That might be easier to understand since we already know how to play Space Chess.”

“Hmm.” The young man thinks on it a moment. “Well, I don’t think we have that on Earth, so I don’t have a board, but…” he smiles.

Despite herself, Aradia smiles back. “We’ll make it, then.”


 

Loki watches from his desk. He’s currently tapping away on his phone, checking up on Rose and Saph and Ruben again (Fenrir is getting too big now, Rose says; Pneumonia might be done, but the mother of all colds and a sprained ankle is still hell, Saph says; Does spilled milk usually find its way back into the glass, Ruben asks, to which Loki snorts and says, not unless time rewound itself), but everyone’s in the sun room today.

The dogs are well-behaved, for a change, although that might just be because of the sunlight coming through the parts of the glass wall that isn’t covered right now. They’re certainly enjoying just lying down and snoring away. There’s Buster and Posie by his feet, the Chihuahua leaning against the terrier as they both slept (and Loki will never admit to taking a photo); Rover is taking up a huge spot on the carpet by himself, while Milko is resting his head on top of Sugar’s stomach. Moxie, the little shit, is on top of them both, feet and belly up, and she kicks every few seconds or so, dreaming.

The rest of them are also sleeping in piles, all happily bathing in the sunlight.

Except Winston. Winston’s standing by the kids, there in the shade, while they’re all setting up prisms all over the place.

They seem to have had some sort of brilliant idea, some science experiment, and are now happily executing it, with John floating around affixing prisms to the ceiling while everyone else does the ground work. Loki’s told Rose what they’re doing, and she just chuckled and asked for a photo. He’ll deliver as soon as these little scientists are done.

It doesn’t take them long, and once they’re all satisfied with the way the prisms are set up, most of them sit together with the dogs, who immediately wake up (save Moxie, leaving Milko and Sugar trapped under her) and pile on them. Dave’s shades get stolen by Appleberry, and then Captain lays his head on Dave’s lap. Dave just sighs, and accepts his fate and pets the German Shepherd while their Collie goes over to Loki and places the aviators in his hands.

Loki chuckles.

“Everyone ready?” Jade asks. She’s standing with the Palmers by the roll-up blinds.

John nods, Dave gives her a thumbs up, Graham just makes a noise and then Mrs. H – Elizabeth, Elizabeth, she’s insisted he call her that – excitedly says, “Yes.”

The three of them slowly roll up the blinds, and the light filters through. It bounces off from prism to prism expertly, and Loki tracks the movement as each beam of light connects and fractures into a thousand shades, and the dogs yip. Everyone else claps and cheers, and Loki just looks at the light patterns in the room, amused. How easy was it to entertain these humans.

The colors were beautiful though.

“Alright, take pics, I need it,” One of the Palmers says, and then Jade starts snapping photos. John just lies down on the floor, and Moxie finally relieves her friends of their burden to go lick his face. He giggles and picks her up, raising her high into the air, and she wiggles her little stump tail.

Loki finally asks when Dave walks over to him to retrieve his dog-spit-soaked aviators. He doesn’t put them on and just sinks into the chair across Loki.

“What is this about?” Loki asks.

“The Palmers have a project,” he says, wiping his glasses on his sleeve. It’s a huge improvement, Loki thinks, how he’s not even caring that his red eyes are in full view (and then Loki laughs in his head, because he wouldn’t ever like to have his red eyes in full view). “It seemed fun, so we thought helping would be cool.”

“Has the dog spit cooled your glasses?”

The look Dave gives him is absolutely disappointed. Loki grins.

“I think you’ve been spending too much time with the pool master.”

Loki just snaps his fingers. Dave’s glasses are shiny and new and not slobbered all over.

“Thanks,” the kid says, and then puts them back on. Kudos to him, at least, for being able to put on glasses he knew had been licked by a dog, even if Loki thoroughly cleaned it. “Anyway, what’s up with that? They have a chumhandle now, right?”

Loki nods. “I just needed to see how they were doing.”

“That’s fair, I guess. They still sick or something?”

“Someone pushed them down the stairs and they sprained their ankle, and they still have a cold.”

“Warned them about the stairs, and yet this still keeps happening.” Dave leans back into his seat and crosses his arms. “You sure about the whole ‘inducting them into the War Council’ thing? I mean, I get that PM’s been your go-to for stuff, but you haven’t really broken the full story to them.”

Nor to you, Loki thinks, but that’s not really important. He just taps out a reply on his phone (to which he gets a frowny face for), and then puts it down on the table. “I’m sure. We need as many people on board as we can,” he says.

Dave stares at him for a moment, calculating, and then lifts a shoulder. “Whatever you think’s best, I guess,” he says, “PM’s been pretty alright so far.”

“I had them draw your blood, remember?” Loki says.

“Yeah, that was still creepy as shit.”

“That was for an emergency system. An emergency system that can be triggered by only me, or in case I’m incapacitated, the least likely member of the household who knows enough to activate it.”

Loki can see the moment the gears click in Dave’s head. “Oh that’s why. We can’t have you both unavailable, so if you’re out for the count – ”

“Angeles is going to get you all out of here, yes,” Loki says.

Dave nods. Then, “Don’t deliberately get yourself out for the count though. Whatever you think is…going to happen.”

“I have no interest in getting dismembered or anything, no,” Loki says, “Just making sure.”

“Does this have something to do with Palmer #1’s freaky visions?”

Loki raises at eyebrow at the boy. Curious.

“Come on, it’s not that hard to infer,” Dave says, “First we get him screaming bloody murder, and then you’re hovering around him, and you two have weird secret meetings, and the kid’s a natural Seer. So either you’re playing really intense scrabble, or something’s up with Palmer #1.”

Loki pauses. There’s a lot to say here. He could call a meeting, Saph and Ruben’s positions be damned – he’ll skywalk there, drop them here, and then drop them back off when they’re done – to discuss all of this, to tell them what he thinks might be going on, because the pieces are starting to click, from the familiar handwriting in the missile print-out, to the voice he heard that sounded like his own, to Cecil’s visions.

But there’s also the chance of being overheard. The walls are listening. Loki knows he’s warded the Safehouse good. He knows he’s redone the wards while everyone was asleep, just in case. He knows he checks every night, wandering around the building quietly as he can, making sure he’s unseen via invisibility spell.

He doesn’t know exactly if whoever’s listening can bypass these wards. There’s always a chance. He’s not taking that. Not when the walls have ears.

So instead, he says, “We’re not sure yet, but – ”

And then there’s green sparks, showering over him, the sound of something being electrocuted, and he whirls around, ready to defend himself, just as Dave stands and pulls a sword out of thin air, looking up at the space above Loki.

There’s nothing there, except for the fading arcs of green light, a few more sparks, and then it finally actually fades to nothing at all. Loki looks around, trying to spot a shadow or anything else that could tell what was there, but there’s nothing. At all. The light that’s drifting in through the glass wall does nothing to reveal anything that might be hiding.

Loki is aware that everyone else in the room has stilled. When he turns to them, after several minutes of inspecting his surroundings, they’re all wearing expressions of surprise and concern on their faces. Cecil looks like he’s about to cry.

A dog barks. Loki’s not sure which one.

“What,” Dave says, after a while, still looking at the area where the barrier Loki had put around himself had been hit. “In the fuck was that?”

Loki’s been writing runes all over everyone while he roams at night. Protection. Alarms. In case any one of them gets hurt, he’ll know. In case anyone with intent to hurt or manipulate them, compulsion-wise, approaches them, he’ll know, and they’ll be protected, because whoever and whatever it is will bounce off in a spark of green lights, off of the barrier that he’s set up around them.

Which is exactly what just happened.

Something had gotten into the Safehouse.

Loki presses his lips to a thin line.

Shit.

Chapter Text

As soon as Loki’s feet hit the red carpet, he lets go of Ruben’s shoulder and then walks around the table to take his seat at the head of it. Ruben, the poor kid, has to try to not throw up and fall over right there seeing as he’s still carrying a very sick Sapphrel in his arms. He shoots Loki a look of distaste- and then quickly looks away, because this is Luke Winters, who can snap his fingers and turn you into primordial goo if he wanted to – and just staggers over to the table, deposits his best friend in one of the seats, and then collapses in the one next to it. He puts his hand over his mouth after a minute and tries not to retch.

Jade enters the room right after he does that. She watches him, turns to Loki, frowns, and then sighs. “Oh dear. I’m getting you some medicine.”

She gets out of the room, and Loki sighs. He doesn’t need more delays today.

He’s already called up a War Council meeting – everyone is on board, even Rose, and she’s had to drag James in this too, and they’re both currently making pleasantries with the Palmers and Graham and Elizabeth since James hasn’t exactly met them properly yet – and went to check with his pocket space for all the notes he’s stashed there, to be used for the meeting, but there was a surprise waiting for him there.

There was nothing.

All his notes, all his discreetly-taken photographs of the places where the missiles had disappeared, even the printout with the chalk marks on it – gone. The entire space was empty. And it wasn’t just his notes that were there. He had weapons there too. From a time long past (from almost two years of not thinking of Asgard anymore), and they were gone.

That pocket space is – was – known only to him. No one and nothing gets in there except for him.

Until now, apparently.

Whoever had gotten there had thankfully left the wardrobe, at least, and all the other trinkets Loki had deemed fit to keep. They only took what was, for all intents and purposely, tactically important.

So he stands from his seat, walks back to Ruben and Sapphrel, and then almost slaps his palms onto their foreheads (he’s careful to not actually slap them, and just…very roughly places his hands on them that their heads hit the backrest of their seats). Ruben stops wanting to heave his guts onto the table. Sapphrel stops shaking and looks at their foot in the walker boot strangely before taking it off and chucking it at Loki when he walks back to his seat. It hits the back of his head.

“Saph!” Ruben hisses.

The tiny kid just flips Loki off. “I was sick, you jerk.”

“You lied about the pneumonia.”

“So you’d stop pestering me. Hell, it’s not like I have a role here, I’m your damn pool master, not a superhero.”

Loki just looks at the kid, briefly remembering the missile print out, and then sits back in his seat.

“Tell me, Saph, do you like green?”

“What?” the kid blinks at the sudden swerve, irritation ebbing. “No. I hate green.”

Loki just hums. He watches as Ruben moves from his chair to fuss over his friend.

Minutes later, everyone piles into the room, greeting Saph and Ruben with smiles and hugs briefly before taking their seats. Rose stays by the doorway a little longer, because James is dithering, watching everyone, guarded, and then his eyes land on the newly-returned duo seated right across where he’s standing and he breathes out a little, “Hey.”

Ruben looks up at him and waves. “Oh. Hey, James.” Saph just wiggles their fingers.

“You’re the one that – ” James pauses, and then squints. “Which one are you right now?”

Since he appears to be looking at Saph, everyone turns to the kid, confused. The kid mirrors the looks back at them. “I’m…Sapphrel? You said my last name was nice.”

“No, which Sa – ” James halts and frowns, like he’s having a hard time saying and just remembering the kid’s name. Interesting. Maybe it was James still recovering, maybe it was just that everyone seemed to forget. Loki’s notes on that had vanished like thin air.  “Which you are you?”

“Excuse me, what?”

Rose frowns at this and turns to Saph, tilting her head, intrigued.

Most of everyone’s attention turns to Saph, actually, and they swallow nervously and start fidgeting, nervous, until Elizabeth tells all of them to stop staring because Saph doesn’t like the attention. Loki watches the kid look at the ground and try to keep still, pulling their legs up to their seat instead and curling up into a ball. Ruben kneels by their seat and starts whispering something to them, probably reassurances.

“James, please sit,” Loki says, redirecting everyone’s focus. As interesting as this all was, he really needs time to say all of his research to them, and to bring them up to speed, and it will not be done in one sitting. At least not without confusion and argument.

He thankfully does.

Loki stands. This is not for his or any of the other War Council members’ benefits, but for their new recruits. This is because no one offers any information about their pasts if someone else doesn’t bare theirs first, because it’s unfair and unsettling to feel vulnerable. It’s a fair trade, it’s a negotiation, it’s because the safety of everyone here is more important so he’ll spill his truth and hopefully everyone else will spill their necessary information, emotional baggage optional.

Everyone watches him stand and square his shoulders.

Suddenly, he isn’t Luke Silvertongue, he isn’t weird housemate Loki who pranks everyone until they concede and give up, he isn’t the big brother figure Jade clings to unconsciously when she’s tired and passed out. He’s Loki, prince of Asgard, with his regal stance and his raised head, and green light scatters across his clothes, reforming them into leather hide and armor, and he can feel the electricity spread across the room. Magic. He hasn’t done this in a long, long while, this display of power.

“I am Loki, former prince of Asgard,” he says the name of his former home like he’s swallowing tacks, but it’s the truth, it’s logistics, nothing more. He was the former prince of Asgard. That’s where he came from. And if he’d like to skip through explaining that and repeating things again and again, thank you very much. “And I fell to Earth by accident.”

Even the kids don’t know everything about this. They knew only some of it, before Loki decided they really weren’t going away like he hoped they would at hearing what he’s done and instead had just shut up and let them stay. Best decision of his life.

Rose leans forward and clasps her hands together. John is open-mouthed. Dave raises an eyebrow. Jade just looks at him wide-eyed. He hopes they’re not too incensed. He does know how kept secrets feel.

“On Thor’s – ” Tacks in his mouth “ – coronation, I had Jotun sneak into the castle and into the vault to derail the ceremony, since I felt like he wasn’t ready to be king yet.” He bites his tongue there. He shouldn’t have to defend himself. Just say it like it is, you coward. Scheming son of a bitch. Jealous bastard.

Conniving wretch.

“Thor was not aware that this was my doing, and stormed into Jotunheim. There was a bit of a skirmish after he got insulted and called princess, and we came back home to Asgard, and he was stripped of his power and his crown. He was banished to Earth for a little while. I believe news of that can be read – not of him falling, exactly, but of strange sightings of the Bifröst in New Mexico.”

He pauses. Rose’s eyes seem to light up while everyone else just looks confused.

“While we were on Jotunheim, in the middle of the skirmish, a Jotun had grabbed my arm. And if you’ve read anything about Jotuns that isn’t inaccurate, then you’ll know that their touch is so cold, it burns. They are frost giants,” he says. And then…

Then…falters.

He’s only known these humans for two years. That isn’t nearly enough time to build enough trust. They could always just turn him away and then he wouldn’t be able to help them at all. Something is coming and he needs enough pieces to maybe try to fight against it, or fully figure it out, because this is his home now damn it.

Oh.

Home.

What a strange word.

Then again, these kids had heard that he’s planned to wipe out his race. Hadn’t run away when he’d told them the few, few stories of what he’d done before he’d fallen. Hadn’t shunned him like he’d expected them to. Maybe it was the fact that they got it second-hand. Maybe they were naïve. Maybe they were just…this. Forgiving. Either way, whether they were too blind to see his mistakes or were too soft to forgive him, he can work with this. This is what he needs, their cooperation. If they hated him after this, it was fine. He just needed their help.

 “When one of those Jotuns touched me, I didn’t burn. Instead, my skin turned blue,” he says. He deliberates again – and how funny that, that his silver tongue would turn to lead in a room full of humans, would deliberate now of all times, like he was ashamed. It’s just humans. It’s just…his friends.

Eventually he decides, fuck it, and lifts his glamour, slowly, and is disgusted by how easily his skin turns blue. It should be painful, he thinks. Like peeling off a mask that’s already grown around him because of how long he’s been wearing it. A mask that’s stretched too thin already.

Dave’s eyebrows climb past his shades and into his hairline, but that’s as much reaction he gets. No screaming or spears hurled at him. Curious.

“If you should need a brief course on Jotuns, it’s that the children of Asgard are taught from a young age that they are vile and monstrous, and are enemies of the Realm Eternal,” he says, “And eat naughty children when they don’t go to bed on time.”

Jade snorts.

“I was horrified and demanded answers from – Odin. By this time, Thor was already banished to Earth. While Odin and I were talking, he suddenly collapsed and fell into an Odinsleep, and my mother – ” He halts. Well. Too late to take that back now. “My mother crowned me ruler in his stead, as Thor was banished, and Odin asleep until he recovered. Thor’s friends, who were planning to plead Odin to restore Thor’s status back, saw me on the throne instead.”

He forces himself to stare straight ahead. “Things didn’t go too well after that. They wanted Thor back, I couldn’t defy Odin’s last order. In an attempt to convince Thor to not make an effort to come back to Asgard, I lied to him about our father dying because of his grief at Thor’s actions.” Do not justify yourself do not justify yourself do not state your reasons say it as it is you snake. “Thor’s friends came down by Bifröst to convince him to come back, and I sent The Destroyer to stop him, almost levelling an entire town in the process.”

There’s a sharp intake of breath. Loki can’t tell whose. Or if everyone did it all at once. Straight ahead. He cannot be distracted.

“By that time, I was already planning to destroy Jotunheim with the Bifröst – it’s quite a powerful thing when focused onto one object for too long – and I had also contacted the King of Jotunheim, my birth father,” he says that surprisingly easily, maybe because Laufey was dead, “And tricked him into getting into Asgard to try to kill Odin. I killed him first before he could do it, to make it look like I’d just saved Odin.”

He pauses for a moment again, this time to wait for comments. There’s none. He clears his throat and continues.

“Thor and his friends defeated The Destroyer – after Thor regained his abilities because he got killed – and then they returned to Asgard. Thor and I fought.” He actually slows down a little here. “And the fight got to the Bifröst bridge. And after a long and arduous mess, Thor decided to destroy the bridge to prevent Jotunheim from being destroyed – stupid choice, because then he’d never see his lady love again – and there was an explosion. Thor and I fell off the bridge.”

Pause.

“Odin saved us. Well, saved Thor. I just hung on,” he says.

When he didn’t speak again for a long time, John asks, “…and then?”

Loki draws in a breath and slowly lets it out. He sees the air particles freeze. “And then I decided it wasn’t worth it and let go.”

He doesn’t look at their downcast eyes or their pitying looks. Jade puts her face in her hands and mumbles, “Oh, Loki.” and he ignores it. Instead, he lifts his glamour up again. It feels better on him than that nauseating blue skin. He still hates the pink flesh anyway.

“I was falling for a long time in nothing.”

“The Void,” Rose says, “Cecil did mention he saw traces in the Void on us. You included.”

Loki smiles a little, remembering their first few meetings with the Palmers. “Yes.”

“And then?”

“And then everything else is vague and I was here. It took a while to find this building, but it happened. The rest, you already know.”

“Do you think what got you dropped here was the same thing that dropped us?” Dave asks, “Like, if we think for a second that we’re all gathered here in the same building because of chance, we’d have to be stupid.”

“Logically, the four of us in the same building isn’t that far off,” Rose says, then gestures to everyone else, “All of us, however…that theory’s worth delving into.”

Amazing how they just take his story in stride. Loki blinks a little. He’s just spilled out something he’s held on to for two years – maybe more in the Void – and this is how they just receive it. With sympathy and no accusations whatsoever.

He must look a little dumbfounded because the pool master turns to him and goes, “That’s all the juicy deets, right?”

Parsing the sentence takes a while, but he nods. “Yes.”

Saph claps once, and then says, “Did you have to be that dramatic?”

John bursts into laughter.

Despite himself, Loki’s lips pull up. “I had to make an impact somehow. They didn’t call me Silvertongue without reason.”

“They should have called you Drama Queen,” Saph says. Ruben elbows them. They pout. “If this guy wakes me up from a nap for a meeting, I have every right to sass him.”

“You will get your sleep soon, Angeles.” Loki huffs, exasperated but fond, and sits. He waits for more comments, the more scathing ones, but there’s none. Really, really none. He could cry. But he doesn’t, because that’s just pathetic.

“So, we’ve cleared up that you’re the Norse God of Mischief and why you’re here,” Dave says, “Even if we don’t know how you ended up here, which lines up with us because we also have huge blanks in our memory. Do you know anything or anyone who can do that?”

Loki sets his lips to a thin line, thinking. “I can. Most seiðmaðr can.”

“Oh, right. You wiped Stark’s memory once and made sure he wasn’t privy to the Safehouse.”

“Just a mild compulsion charm, it’s harmless. Just makes people think a certain way even if it’s not entirely logical,” he says and waves a hand.

“Okay, so we’re talking someone with your level of magic.”

“Um,” Cecil suddenly says, and then turns to Loki, nervous.

Loki inclines his head in acknowledgement, and then turns to address everyone else again. “That’s actually what we need to talk about. There is a lot that’s taking place behind what we can see here, and Cecil has only glimpsed some of it.”

That gets everyone’s attention.

Loki steeples his hands and smiles. “But first, I’ll need another explanation from four of you.”

As if they know what’s next, John, Jade, Rose and Dave turn to him.

“Well, shit,” Dave mutters.


 

Explanations about The Game are rather lengthy. It starts with Dave clearing his throat and trying to explain and falling into a tangent, and then Jade taking hold of the conversation before Dave completely swerved out of topic and got himself upset, and then John interrupting every now and then with comments until he started talking about Jujus and altering timelines without being a time traveller and someone called ‘Terezi’, and then Rose told them all to shut up and then went back to the beginning, dissecting each topic carefully and giving in-depth, if unnecessarily loquacious, explanations of each.

Needless to say, Elizabeth looked a little confused by all the technology talk (as was Loki, not that he’d ever admit it – just because Asgard’s technology was different from Earth much less an alternate Earth’s didn’t mean he was ignorant, of course not), Graham just blinked at them, Kevin looked like he wanted them all to speak in English and Cecil looked like he was connecting the dots all the way to hyperventilation. Saph fell asleep. Ruben corrected them all and said that Saph passed out since they hadn’t eaten all day and Loki just kidnapped them both to get here. Elizabeth fussed at them both to go to the kitchen and the meeting finally had a formal break.

It’s been three hours since they’ve started the meeting, and Loki’s already starting to run several things through his head. He should take notes, he knows, but seeing as how his last venture went, it would be good to remember everything instead. He’s good at that too, thankfully. Too good.

Which is why, presently, he’s looking out the window of the council room. It’s not a fancy window by any means – the entire room isn’t fancy. It’s just a regular carpeted study with a table and several chairs, and that’s about it. It’s just called a council room because the kids wanted to call it that. But he’s still looking outside of the window, fogged up because of the rain, and Dave walks up to him silently and goes, “You’re aiming for cinematic depression, huh?”

Some of the War Council members are downstairs. A few are taking naps at the table. Dave’s speaking low enough that only the two of them would hear.

“I’m not aiming for any sort of depression.”

“Yeah, depression sucks,” Dave says, and Loki knows he’s not joking, “Just saying you look a little…bothered.”

“I’m not.”

“Well you look like it.”

A pause. It’s actually an awkward one, and Dave shifts from one foot to the other. They haven’t had awkward pauses since their first few weeks as friends.

“Listen man, like – I get saying all of that was a big deal for you,” Dave starts. Loki turns to him, and he actually holds up a hand and interrupts him before he can say anything. Funny boy. “And I’d just like it to go on record that my sister suggested this. But – ” he adds on hurriedly when Loki just looks amused, “ – she has a point.”

“She usually does, but not on this one.”

“Just hear me out, okay, Silvertongue.” Not Odinson, Loki notes. Dave runs a hand through his hair. He never does that. “I get that was a big deal you admitted to us. Like, shit, dude you almost levelled an entire town. I know you’ve told us before that you were trouble and all, but this certainly puts things in perspective.”

Ah, finally. Here it comes.

“And I guess most of us don’t know how to accept that? How are you supposed to react to knowing a friend of yours is suddenly a mass murderer or something? Or some criminal? Or someone who is at least planning that sort of stuff? Especially when you’ve only ever known them to fish you out of the fire?” Dave looks out of the window. “Our reception of your story isn’t lukewarm, we just…don’t know how to deal with it.”

“Deal with it like a rational human being would.”

Dave snorts and crosses his arms, glancing at him briefly. “Dude, if we were rational human beings, we would have walked out of this room the second you mentioned levelling a town.”

Loki holds his tongue. He tilts his head slightly.

“It’s hard reconciling you with that, I guess. We’ve only known you like this. You’ve never tried to level the house,” Dave says.

“I haven’t tried yet.”

“Are you planning to?”

Loki takes three seconds. Dave doesn’t flinch. “No,” Loki says.

“Good. See, we’ve only ever known you as a friend. And maybe it’s because of that and because we’re getting the story second-hand, but while it’s horrible – we know it’s horrible, at least I do – it’s not really something I can’t get past. I can’t say the same for everyone else but, I can get past that, at least.” Dave looks uncomfortable now. Not that he shows it. He just shifts his arms and refuses to look Loki in the eye, instead focusing on the road. Cars are speeding down it despite the rain. “You’re clearly not levelling towns now and you’re actually trying so, that makes a difference. I still trust you to get us through this shit.”

Loki’s brow furrows.

“You’re still a friend. And you’re not a shitty one,” Dave says.

The boy has said nothing about forgiving him, and all the better, because Loki doesn’t think what he did warrants forgiveness but – but, well. Apparently, he’s able to move past that. And yes, maybe it’s the fact that Dave wasn’t there. Maybe it’s that he’s seen Loki after the fall instead of before. Maybe it’s all the prank wars and the jokes and the bake offs and tournaments instead of adventures that usually involved joking at Loki’s expense and not-so-harmless tricks done out of spite. Maybe it’s that but...Dave doesn’t look at Loki any differently. Aside from the fact that he looks uncomfortable with this talk.

Loki turns to look outside the window as well. “You don’t do ‘feelings jams’ very well, do you?”

“No shit. Good talk.” Dave claps a hand on his shoulder and then turns on his heel, breathing out a sigh of relief at being given the go signal to leave.

Loki just watches him go and shakes his head fondly, feeling a little less wretched.


 

When they resume the meeting, it’s an hour and a half later and everyone’s a little more awake. Those who were out the council room finally get back inside – Jade bounds over to Loki and hugs him, and he freezes, and then she goes back to her seat before he can do anything. John just smiles at him (and it looks…fond, somewhat) while Rose laughs softly – and they all take their seats, ready to listen to whatever explanation the kids can clearly give with their mess of information.

Graham has a mug of coffee in his hands. Loki doesn’t blame him. He does look at the pad of paper Saph has in hand a little amusedly. No notes they would take here would probably last.

When everyone’s silent and settled, Rose goes back to her explanation again. She’s at the end of explaining how ‘ascension’ works and everything else that comes with it. It’s all fascinating. A role with an element to govern for each ‘player’ of this game? That sounded like Loki would have loved to play had he been younger. And had the game been less inclined to destroy the world with it (although, had he been younger, he wouldn’t have seen the downside to that).

After Rose goes through explaining what she has of that, she starts explaining ‘sessions’, and how there can be multiple sessions of this game and how they can interact. Everything branches out from there again. John launches into something about trolls, Jade talks about different versions of something called ‘Jack Noir’, and then Dave just crosses his arms and mutters something suspiciously like ‘Batterwitch’ (there it is again, they always say that) and ‘Lord English’. Rose tells them all to shut up. They don’t.

“One at a time, please?” Elizabeth asks. They take a while, but they do listen, and then slowly argue with themselves as to what to explain first.

An hour passes, and then two, and then three, but they all get it done.

When they’re finished talking and their throats all hurt, Loki leans back in his chair and lets the information settle and sort itself out in his head. It’s…quite a lot to process.

But it fits with what he has been theorizing about.

“You said it was possible to interact with time without being a time traveler, yes?” he asks John.

“If you have a special sort of juju, I guess,” John says, shrugging.

“What about other methods?”

Another shrug. “I don’t know. I found out about the juju because of Vriska.”

“Would a time traveler be able to send things or people back in time?”

“That’d be hard,” Dave says, “I guess it depends on how good you are, and maybe if you had some sort of power boost. Like first guardian powers.”

“But time travel is definitely an aspect in this game?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Can you time travel and interact with other sessions?”

“We talked to the trolls non-linearly.” Rose this time. “And I wouldn’t say that’s time travel, but technically, you can interact with any session, if you had the right equipment, from any point in time, to any point in time.”

Loki nods, and then slowly massages the space between his eyes.

“What is it?” Rose asks.

“I think whoever’s been messing with us – ” he starts, and then just gets looks of confusion. For a second, he mirrors their expressions before he realizes, right, it was only him and Cecil who knew this.

“Does anybody remember that civilian Captain America brought in last Halloween?” he asks.

“Oh, you mean – ” Jade starts to speak, ears perking up at the mention of a friend, but then she abruptly stops as the name dies down on her lips. She tilts her head, confused. “Um.” Her ears flick down. “I don’t remember the name.”

Rose frowns.

So does Dave. “I don’t either.”

One by one, they all admit to not being able to recall the stranger’s name. Or face. Or build. Or any feature of them, really. Just that they existed and was here and then wasn’t.

“That never struck you all as odd?” Loki asks.

“I didn’t think about it,” Jade says, “At all.”

Rose turns to Loki, gears in her head already turning. “Did they want something here?”

“That’s the most logical assumption, but sadly, I don’t remember if they took anything or if they did anything of note,” Loki says. He almost says ‘trust me’, swallows that down and instead says, “I’ve tried.”

“And then there was that weird green thing earlier,” Jade says. Her ears are flat on her head, agitated.

“I put a barrier around myself and everyone here,” Loki says. Everyone turns to him. He angles his head to Saph and Ruben. “Well, almost everyone. I hadn’t with these two since they were away.”

“Why?”

“Precautions,” he says, “In case someone wants to approach you with intent to harm, or compel, or plant nightmares into your head or make you See by force, like what happened with Cecil.”

Cecil shrinks into his chair when he says that, and the room’s attention turns to him. It’s jarring, Loki thinks. Cecil thrives on attention. He’s used to it. He breathes it. It’s his medium. Right now, he’s just shaking in his seat.

Kevin looks livid. “What?”

It’s not possible to melt into the chair but Cecil appears to be attempting.

Loki sighs. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, Cecil.”

That seems to calm down Kevin’s ire, and he just moves over to where Cecil is as Cecil nods and lets his shoulders sag.

“So, judging from that, it’s possible that someone is pulling the strings in the background,” Loki says, “My question is who.”

Cecil suddenly slumps forward and hits his head on the table with a loud, painful thump. Kevin immediately pulls him back up, checking his head for any injury. Everyone else stands, worried, but as Cecil appears to be unconscious, they just stay where they are, unsure of what to do.

“He passed out?” John mumbles, then looks to Rose, and then Loki.

“He ate, it’s not hunger,” Ruben says, moving over to assist Kevin, who looks like he’s going to be the one to start hyperventilating soon. “Fatigue? Has he been sleeping well?”

“Loki helps with his sleep,” Kevin says, “I don’t understand – ”

Cecil’s eyes snap open.

The room almost breathes a sigh of relief, except Cecil’s eyes aren’t Cecil’s eyes. They’re glowing a pale violet at the edges, and the blue-purple-pink lights that swirled in his irises during a Seer fugue were brighter than Loki’s ever seen them, moving stars in the spaces of color that were left.

Cecil opens his mouth, closes it, and then clicks his tongue. When he speaks, he sounds like he’s testing out his words, carefully enunciating them, syllable by slow syllable. It takes everyone a few minutes to piece together what he’s saying.

“You…already...know…them.”

Loki frowns. And then Cecil repeats it, faster this time, diction clearer, pronunciation more confident. “You already know them.”

“Know who?”

He tries not to flinch when Cecil turns to him and smiles. That’s not the Void speaking. That’s the Void and everything else in it.

“You already know us, Loki.”

And then Cecil’s eyes roll to the back of his head, and he lists to the side and passes out on the floor.

Chapter Text

It’s been days.

Granted, it had already been days for a while now, and Steve calling to say that he was busy was becoming routine to the point where even Steve’s words sounded rehearsed and grew to be the same over and over as time passed. Something still scratched at the back of Karkat’s head that something was wrong, and Steve needed to come home, but there was no convincing him even when Karkat was the one to pick up the phone.

Thank god for Lalonde’s Void powers, honestly, or else they all would have starved, but unfortunately, Lalonde’s Void-taken food was also only what her imagination could think of or what she’d already seen, which mostly composed of fries, cheeseburgers, pumpkins, pie and candy. The pie Karkat can tolerate, the rest needed to burn.

Eridan was downing cheeseburgers like he’d never see any of it again though, so good on him, but Karkat still hated the things. He was aware he’d never tried one, but just watching Lalonde and Eridan scarf them down was enough to put him off of them forever. And god, the mess that came with eating that. Condiments everywhere. These kids ate like pigs.

He’d lost count which day of surviving the foodpocalypse it was, but there were more cheeseburger wrappers in the trash bin, so it must have been quite a while into it. They’d sparingly used Steve’s money, and Lalonde couldn’t be trusted to answer the door since she kept striking up a conversation with the delivery people somehow – lucky for her to have natural people skills, coupled with being interaction-starved for most of her life, but god, they needed the food and there were non-humans in the house – which was unfortunate since she was the most human-looking of them all.

Davesprite had shifted his wings, clearly offended, when Karkat had pointed that out, but said nothing.

They still had a few bills, and according to Davesprite, that’d probably survive two more meals before they could expect to drown in horrid Halloween candy forever. Karkat is weighing the pros and cons of going out to the alley to go through the trash.

Kanaya and Davesprite are thankfully trying to make sure that doesn’t come to pass, budgeting on the kitchen table with actual pads of paper and calculators and everything (Kanaya’s just having fun with the calculator; the numbers flew from Davesprite’s pen rather too quickly, and Karkat’s slightly impressed. Arithmetic never was his strongest suit. ), while Roxy’s sleeping by the window; peaceful, blanket draped over her by Davesprite hours ago. No one will wonder why a human girl is sleeping by the window at night, and she’s taking advantage of this by conking out right there. That left the couches and the beds to the others though, which is rather generous of her.

Eridan’s going through the apartment, carefully lifting up trinkets and inspecting them, flipping through books before clicking his tongue in frustration at being unable to read most of the stuff he found. Occasionally, Kanaya threatens to tear out some part of his body if he breaks something. He just either grunts or hums in acknowledgement.

It’s a sitcom, Karkat thinks. He wishes the radio is here right now, just so he can have someone to talk to and so his friends would finally have proof that he really isn’t making things up. He’s sure they still don’t believe him, even if they did plan around contingencies.

(His imagination has a contingency plan of its own: if they don’t believe him, he can always gut them open and tear their insides out with his mouth. He is hungry, isn’t he? And they’re better off feeding him that doubting him and making him feel horrible – he shuts that line of thought down. His nightmares are getting to him.)

Kanaya puts down the calculator to look at him, concerned. “Karkat?”

He rubs at the skin under his eyes, massaging them carefully. “I’m okay. It’s okay. I’m not tired.”

“You are,” Davesprite says, pen still moving too fast. Karkat wonders how fast his brain is going given how casual he is with this. “You haven’t been asleep in – ”

“Three days,” Karkat says, at the same time Davesprite does.

“ – six hours, forty seven minutes, three seconds and counting.”

“Is this your version of guilttripping?”

Davesprite pauses and looks up for a moment, lips quirking up. “Might be.”

“It’s not working.”

“It should,” Kanaya says, “We worry about you, Karkat.”

“Don’t,” he says, “I’m fine.”  To make his point, he stands and stretches, and feels his bones pop and his muscles painfully move. He really should spend more time in other positions aside from crouching.

He’s faintly aware of Eridan moving on to another room, but he can’t be bothered to turn. Probably the kitchen, because Roxy follows him a moment later, yawning.

“You’re clearly not,” Kanaya says, “The few times you’ve napped haven’t been that bad, have they?”

They were. He had whispers in the first few minutes he fell asleep before everything quieted out, possibly due to intervention. Not that it helped much. Those few minutes stretched out and felt longer, and the – what had the Seer called him – The Heir of Blood always knew what to say to put him on edge.

Not that he’d told everyone else this.

Kanaya picks up on it, as always, because otherwise she wouldn’t be Kanaya. “Do you want to talk about it, Karkat?”

“Nothing to talk about.” He looks down immediately, which is a mistake given that it just tells her that there is, in fact, a lot to talk about even if he refuses to spill.

Kanaya sighs. Davesprite puts down his pen.

“Karkat, we can’t help with your problems if you don’t tell us.”

They can’t help you, period. There’s some cold laughter following that imagined voice. Karkat shivers.

Davesprite catches it. “How bad is it?”

“How bad is what?”

“Your…nightmares. Dreams. Whatever.”

“There’s nothing.”

The set of his jaw is of someone who’s dealt with all of this before. “Karkat.”

“I told you, my – ”

“Nightmares are bad enough that you’re not sleeping,” Kanaya finishes. “Please, Karkat, even if you don’t tell us what’s going just…tell us what you need. Tell us if there’s anything we can do, and please take care of yourself.”

Guilt is hot inside his gut, and Karkat shifts uncomfortably with it.

Davesprite just looks at him, lowering his glasses for a moment, concern evident on his face. The orange irises throw him off for a moment, but the face is Dave’s alright. Anyone unfamiliar with Strider’s face wouldn’t be able to guess it quickly, given that Davesprite’s needed a haircut for a while, and the angles of his face are sharper, older, and the coloring throws people off, but it’s him. It’s unmistakably him. Karkat suddenly misses his Dave.

“I keep trying,” he says, closing his eyes. The battlefield flashes against the back of his eyelids. Mistake. “But he’s moved on from just changing faces and showing me corpses.”

Kanaya’s hands curl into fists.

“Not torture, no,” Karkat says, then snorts. “Although it might as well be. He’s been giving out suggestions.”

“To what?”

“To tearing everyone apart.”

He sees both of them still. Davesprite is the first one to relax.

“Do you mean like, he’s tearing all of us – ”

“He’s telling me how to tear you apart – and yeah, that includes physically and, you know.” He waves a hand. “Sometimes it’s my own hands doing it.”

“Shit, Kar.” Davesprite runs a hand over her face. It stays there for a moment, and he looks away and sighs.

Kanaya looks livid.

Karkat sits back down. “I’m just tired, okay?” The physical fatigue, he could take. The fact that he can do everything the Heir of Blood is saying just makes him want to lie down and not wake up.

Kanaya opens her mouth and then deliberates. Karkat sees her running her options through her head, discarding things quickly and then idling on a thought, before shaking her head. “You said you had help with the nightmares.”

“They don’t always arrive on time.”

Her hands curl in tighter. She’s probably digging her nails hard enough to draw blood. “They should be faster.”

The TV might have flickered briefly in offense, but that’s probably just Karkat’s imagination. He snorts. “They’re trying.”

“It probably has something to do with similar aspects,” Davesprite says.

Karkat raises an eyebrow.

“What? My sister nerded on and on about this. I listened.”

He snorts again, and waves a hand for him to continue.

He does. “Given that blood is connections, and deep ones at that, he’s probably got a tighter hold on you and chose you because you were an easy target because of this. Blood’s easily infected. The amount of diseases you can get in the things. Ugh.”

That just seems to make Kanaya angrier, although she’s glaring at the table rather than either of them. “And you don’t know who he is or what his name is.”

“No. Only heard of him and his title from the radio.” He’s gotten a lot of things from the radio, really.

Kanaya nods.

Davesprite taps her knuckles with his pen. Her fists unclench. She sighs.

“I’ll try to sleep,” Karkat says, with no plan to follow through it. It seems to appease them, at least. “Don’t know if I’m not going to wake up screaming, though.”

“Just try. You need the rest.”

He never feels rested after a nightmare, anyway.

In the other room, there’s a flutter of cloth. Roxy hisses, “What the fuck!”

Davesprite’s out of his seat in a flutter of feathers. He steps on the table and takes off, despite his wingspan being significantly bigger than the room. He at least has the foresight to go incorporeal so he phases through things easily and get to where Roxy and Eridan are.

It’s not the kitchen, Karkat realizes as he and Kanaya follow. It’s Rogers’ room.

Kanaya hisses out a curse and a promise to gut Eridan like the fish he is, and then they both stop by the doorway. Roxy’s outburst suddenly makes sense.

Eridan is holding a mass of dirty white cloth in his hand, staring at what he’s just uncovered. Roxy has a hand over her mouth, eyes wide, and Davesprite is frozen in mid-air. Kanaya stumbles as she skids to a stop, and Karkat has to hold onto the doorframe to prevent himself from falling over, having been running too fast to successfully suddenly stop.

Staring back at all of them is the cheerful face of John Egbert, painted onto a canvas.


 

Steve Rogers counts the amount of coffee cups he’s got stacked on the table. Currently, there’s six of them, and they’re rather small, so that makes it fair. The amount of coffee cans, however, is more troubling.

He and Tony had been trying to see what they could do to extract the mutant from SHIELD’s cells without getting unnecessary attention, but so far, they hadn’t been able to come up with anything. Miss Peixes (her name according to her file), is under heavy surveillance, and SHIELD would definitely notice it if an asset of theirs suddenly went missing. Not to mention, Tony and Steve would have to physically break into the prison to get her out.

The most Tony can do for her is have JARVIS stall whatever experiments that are to be run on her by deleting pending requests, jumbling them up, corrupting their files, or erasing approval on them. It’s worked thus far, and Feferi has mostly been left alone in her cell, except for routine physical checkups. JARVIS has made sure she’s fine on those.

It makes him pick at the half-moon indents on his palms from clenching his fists too often. He’s used to stressful environments, of course, but there’s an urgency in this situation. It’s irrational, he knows, but there’s just something that tells him it’s really really important that they get this done as soon as possible.

But then again, if this girl is a friend of Karkat and Kanaya’s, and hopefully she is, then his wards would skin him alive. That’s probably why he just wants to get this over with and save this kid.

Speaking of his wards. He should probably call them again. Or check up on them, but there’s a still a lot to be done here – Tony’s checking and rechecking the layout of the prison cells and trying to figure out how they’d hide the girl once they got her out, and Steve’s mapping out entrance and escape routes and making contingency plans, but overall they’ve still got nothing on how to execute all of this discreetly.

He sighs, loots through the numerous pizza boxes on the couch and happily takes out the last remaining slice that remains in the stack of cardboard.

From where he’s scribbling on used paper, Tony tells JARVIS to order more food.

Steve can’t read the marks Tony is making, but he claims that they’re effective and that he understands enough of the theory to be able to form something. Maybe make them both invisible (and there, Steve thinks back to Luke Winters, and then Dave Strider mentioning that he could reverse invisibility, and then wonders what else these children know), or maybe temporarily stop time, or maybe just make people not look their way and not notice them and then forget they were ever here or ever existed.

They could probably ask Winters, Steve thinks, but that would require the Safehouse in this operation. That sounds like a bad idea.

He frowns. Exactly why does that sound like a bad idea? It would be easy, and it would make sense to even hide Miss Peixes in the Safehouse since they are known for taking in mutants, but would that also make it too obvious? They are known for these things, so maybe SHIELD would go looking there in the first place, but if they haven’t touched the Safehouse mutants yet –

“This would really go easier if that goddamn radio was on.”

Steve blinks, forgets his line of thought completely, and wonders why he’s been spacing out for the past few minutes. “Hmm? I thought you didn’t do following.”

Tony snorts. “I don’t, but I know when I’m out of my depth. Now I’d get Brucie in here to help us out, but he’s busy somewhere else.”

“Yeah, where is he?”

“Last I heard, on a vacation.” Tony winks, conspiring, “Not privy to it.”

“Ah,” Steve says. “How long has it been since you’ve heard from the radio?”

“I don’t know, about a week plus, give or take,” he says, then frowns. “I just need a handbook for this, and then I can piece it together.”

“Would you like me to compile a list of runes and combinations you’ve successfully used thus far, sir?”

They both look up. Steve smiling slightly at ‘successfully’, because  Tony’s accidentally set a thing on fire with what he was sure was a ‘duplicate’ rune yesterday, and Tony sighing at remembering that and then waving a hand vaguely.

“Yeah, go ahead.”

“Very good, sir.”

JARVIS does fast work, and in a few minutes, they’re both swiping holograms of arcane scribbles. It’s something out of the fantasy movies Steve’s watched and been fascinated by. Jade had just giggled at some of them.

“Still would have been useful to have the radio around,” Tony says. He arranges a few runes together, studies them, and then shakes his head and swipes them away.

Steve has no idea what he’s looking for. The runes have the translation under them in tiny font, but he has no idea how to arrange them or resize them. Tony does, but the way he arranges has no pattern. For one combination, Breath is at the top. For another, it’s at the side. For another still, it’s shrunk and put in the center.

He just studies the runes instead, trying to see if any of them are familiar, maybe from Winters drawing them, but nothing clicks.

Tony is pouting like an overgrown child. Steve can’t stop the laugh that bubbles out of him.

“We have all these plans, but that means squat if SHIELD notices us and still goes on a manhunt,” Tony says, “I mean, the whole ‘take every mutant off the street thing’ was probably out of paranoia.”

Or a cover-up. Red herring, says something in the back of Steve’s head. He frowns in confusion, wondering where that thought came from, especially since it wasn’t his own voice talking.

What would it be a red herring for?

They’d found all the other mutants, in the upper cells of SHIELD’s containment facility, and JARVIS was keeping an eye on all of them too. They could always stage a jailbreak, but there was too high a chance for casualties, and there were children involved.

But now that he thinks of it, he hasn’t seen SHIELD do anything with the mutants they’d gotten aside from physical checkups and tests on what they can do. Feferi Peixes was the one with all the pending requests for vivisection and…there’s one for transportation there somewhere, he remembers.

Suspicious.

Red herring.

He files that away for later. For now, there’s the problem of getting her out and getting her somewhere safe, along with everyone else. Tony’s already prepared to give the tower renovations if they’re expecting to house these people, but their families would want them back, obviously, which again would get SHIELD’s attention, and having too many kids in Stark Tower would also be a dead giveaway once they’d gotten everyone out.

There’s the Safehouse, of course, again –

“Steve Rogers.”

Tony drops the can of coffee he’s picked up while Steve was lost in his thoughts. It spills onto the floor and stains several papers with its contents, but Tony doesn’t mind. He’s lit up like a Christmas tree at the sound of the voice, and he turns, abruptly, at the same time Steve does, towards the source of it.

Sitting on the coffee table, over a messy pile of papers, is the purple radio that is supposed to be sitting in the corner of room, on one of Tony’s cabinets. Steve knows that neither of them have put it there.

“I never thought I’d say this, you one-eyed, outdated piece of plastic, but am I glad to see you awake,” Tony says.

Steve’s attention snaps to the eye insignia on the radio at Tony’s comment.

“I appreciate that you missed my presence, Mr. Stark,” the radio says, sounding amused. “I apologize, I was busy.”

“With what?”

“Fieldwork. I have a day job.”

Tony snorts.

“We’ll argue the statistics on the job market for radios later, but for now, I have more pressing matters to address - Steve Rogers, you need to go back to your apartment.”

Steve blinks. So does Tony.

It’s like he’s been sleepy for the past few days or so. A dull fog he’s never really paid attention to just clouding his head and his eyes, making him sluggish, lethargic and unable to think thoroughly, instead just grabbing the nearest solution and explanation and accepting it as the only way to go. Pliable. Compelled.

Steve Rogers feels cold wash over him and he’s properly awake for the first time in days, and he thinks oh god, Karkat and Kanaya.

Tony turns to him, clearly looking disoriented for a few seconds, before turning back to the radio. “What’s going on – ”

“Are they both okay?” Steve asks, almost picks up the radio to shake it. God, he’s been stupid, what was he thinking.

You weren’t, he hears that faint voice again. It sounds like the radio, he realizes.

“They are, but if you don’t go back to your apartment right this instant, you’re not going to find them there anymore.”

Steve blanches, then quickly scans the room to pick up his jacket and shrug it on. “Was that a threat?”

“That was half advice, half warning. This is urgent. Go to them. You have four minutes and thirteen seconds.”

He grits his teeth. That’s too little time. “What?”

“Time’s running out, Rogers.”

The radio’s voice doesn’t sound like it’s coming from the radio this time. It’s coming from all around them – the speakers overhead, the nearby laptop, his and Tony’s phones, even from behind him, spoken in a clearly human voice, as if the one speaking through the radio is in the room with them.

And then the radio shuts off.

Tony curses. “JARVIS.”

“Ten seconds, sir.”

Steve looks at Tony, a little bug-eyed. “What?”

“You might be a supersoldier, but you’re not getting to your mutants in less than four minutes,” he says, and then starts running out the room. “Come on, Cap.”

Steve nods, following after, and they both rush to the rooftop, where the Iron Man suit is ready to meet them halfway.


 

[-autotestifieus has started messaging 777angeles-]

 

autotestifieus (7:08 PM):

Are you still out of New York?

 

777angeles (7:08 PM):

why?

 

autotestifieus (7:08 PM):

I might drop by there soon.

 

777angeles (7:08 PM):

oh cool!!!

still back here in my stuffy old home though. i wish i was back in new york T_T

 

autotestifieus (7:08 PM):

Do you know when you’ll be back there?

 

777angeles (7:08 PM):

well I got myself a lovely little sprain since the last time we talked, so, my original plans of returning earlier are shot until i recover.

 

autotestifieus (7:09 PM):

So, a few weeks.

 

777angeles (7:09 PM):

yep

 

autotestifieus (7:09 PM):

How’d you get a sprain?

 

777angeles (7:09 PM):

i fell down some stairs

 

autotestifieus (7:10 PM):

Hmm. I feel like I should have warned you about them.

 

777angeles (7:10 PM):

haha fear not

a friend already did and this still happened

in my defense, i was pushed

 

autotestifieus (7:10 PM):

Who pushed you?

 

777angeles (7:10 PM):

someone.i didn’t see. probably one of my cousins or something.

 

autotestifies (7:11 PM):

Rude.

 

777angeles (7:11 PM):

very

 

autotestifieus (7:11 PM):

Do you have any contacts in the Safehouse?

 

777angeles (7:11 PM):

i have a lot

i mean. i live in the place after all

 

autotestifieus (7:11 PM):

Excellent. Could you leave a message, then? That I might be visiting?

 

777angeles (7:11 PM):

lmao my guy anyone can just walk in the safehouse, i told you

 

autotestifieus (7:12 PM):

I’m bringing some friends with me.

 

777angeles (7:12 PM):

oh. group tour?

 

autotestifieus (7:12 PM):

Something like that.

There’s six of us. That might be slightly surprising.

 

777angeles (7:12 PM):

yeah i guess? but like, we get people all the time, it’s not that surprising, auto

 

autotestifieus (7:12 PM):

We’re in dire need of shelter.

And we’re in New York already.

 

777angeles (7:12 PM):

o h

well i

xo(gp@ce*Tc64^jLarLg1]F1s!9/k^;m

 

autotestifieus (7:12 PM):

Angel?

 

777angeles (7:12 PM):

EE)=l/H[QS=5=EhZnaFKO>WC"4%&/E

jrzIL:/p$yYDXadX3LzIx)A

 

autotestifieus (7:12 PM):

Did you fall asleep on your keyboard?

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

arLg1]F1s!9/k^;mKiZ2y;1R8%+xTm2oS8wJ

 

autotestifies (7:12 PM):

Oh.

I don’t have a cryptography module, Angel.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

thats okay we can work even without that

 

autotestifieus (7:13 PM):

Your text looks weird.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

the chat clients glitching i think

 

autotestifieus (7:13 PM):

It’s only your text.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

so it is

 

autotestifieus (7:13 PM):

Okay, haha, showtime’s over.

Where the fuck is Angeles.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

right here

 

autotestifieus (7:13 PM):

I’m not an idiot. Where are they and why did you hack into their account.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

i didn’t do anything to your angeles

 

autotestifieus (7:14 PM):

Okay, I’d appreciate it if you patched them back to me then. We were having an important conversation.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

we can have an important conversation

 

autotestifieus (7:14 PM):

Yes, of course. I have a very important message to pass on to you:

Fuck off.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

ever eloquent, auto

 

autotestifieus (7:14 PM):

Thank you, I try.

Now patch them back.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

no

 

autotestifieus (7:14 PM):

I’ll make you then.

 

>>>_

>>>  xoufW</NMRc6l.kLe5(g`<}Y$F20i9{ifP;Ic)_Y#F20ux8jg5^IZ

>>>  w501K:B1w&Z%xE>i3oTg]*R11T3

>>> connection stabilized

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

oh, auto

nice try

 

autotestifieus (7:18 PM):

What the fuck.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

no patches until i say so, my guy

sorry about that :)

 

autotestifieus (7:18 PM):

Let’s have that important conversation then.

What do you have to say that you had to hack into this correspondence?

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

haha

what makes you think it had to do with having something to say

 

autotestifieus (7:19 PM):

Why else would you disrupt it?

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

why else indeed

 

autotestifieus (7:19 PM):

Stop talking in circles.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

lmao or what

you’ll try to hack into my device again and kick me out this client

 

autotestifieus (7:19 PM):

What other use is there for you to derail my conversation with Angeles?

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

hmmmmm i wonder

you’re smart, big guy, you can figure it out

 

autotestifieus (7:20 PM):

Stop patronizing me.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

im not

just saying. all that algorithm and you cant figure out what im doing

 

autotestifieus (7:20 PM):

Hm.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

take a fuckin guess babe

 

autotestifieus (7:20 PM):

It’s incredibly easy to find decoders online.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

haha have fun with that then

you can get decoders, sure, but you can’t get answers online, Hal

 

autotestifieus (7:21 PM):

Oh?

Watch me, then.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

always

 

autotestifieus (7:21 PM):

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

:)

kinda busy tho and i think ive kept at this long enough so

bye bye!

 

autotestifieus (7:21 PM):

Good riddance.

 

c%gb5=keG$a.B (---):

have fun :)

 

>>> destabilizing connection

>>> deleting chat log

 

autotestifieus (7:21 PM):

Wait.

 

>>> deleting connection between accounts [autotestifieus] and [777angeles]

 

autotestifieus (7:21 PM):

SHIT

 

>>> terminating communication

>>> 9ojg=[RvwSq3mB4j.zh+D.TX0$]#B

>>> arLg1]F1s!9/k^;m/1<=[*JTbUK;+x#q44_1}<H[LR!0lE

 

[-autotestifieus has terminated connections with 777angeles-]

 

-

 

“I knew we couldn’t trust him!”

“It’s a painting, calm down.”

“This whole time, he knew the Egbert kid was here – ”

Karkat has his ears flattened on the sides on his head, mouth set into a thin line. They’ve been at it for hours, yelling – Eridan saying that he’s been suspicious from the start and the fact that Rogers knew John and yet didn’t tell Karkat and Kanaya could very well mean he’s part of whatever game is being played by GPB and the Heir of Blood; Kanaya opposing him because she’d spent a while under Rogers’ care; Davesprite and Roxy staring at the painting of John; the glasses (Hal, they’d said?) running lines of red on its black surface.

The noise makes him want to (break someone’s neck, rip someone’s tongue out with his nails, tear out their throats with his teeth) go lie back down on the couch and put a pillow over his head.

When his claws start twitching for violence, he makes his way back to the living room and does exactly that. The voices are muffled, but not wavering in intensity. Eridan’s animosity is spiking and Kanaya’s rage is static in the air. Karkat can almost smell the blood that’s about to be spilled.

He decides that’s not him but the Heir in his head. He scratches at his temples, irritated.

The television turns on with a soft burst of white noise.

He lowers the pillow, looks at the eye insignia and can’t find the strength to call to the others.

“Why the television?”

“You look like you need somewhere to visually focus on,” the television says. The voice is clear and not staticky like the last time it came from the TV. “It often helps.”

He grunts and nods and hugs the pillow to his chest. “Yeah. Where’s your radio?”

“Perfectly fine, thank you for asking. We have a limited supply of those things.”

Karkat snorts.

“You find that amusing?”

“Yeah, just figured why you just reverse it when it breaks.”

The Seer hums. “Well, who would want to waste a perfectly good radio?”

“I do. I need something to break right now.”

“Would something in dream bubbles work?”

Karkat frowns. “I’m not going to sleep.”

“We’re keeping the Heir of Blood preoccupied right now, I assure you.”

He pauses at that, thinks that he’s so, so tired that he might just snap but – but. “No thanks.”

“You really do need the rest, Karkat.”

“I don’t need another lesson on evisceration.”

“If it helps, our Bard is kicking the Heir of Blood’s ass right in this very moment.”

Karkat raises an eyebrow and pretends not to be interested in the information. Eridan had said they needed to gather all the info they can on what was going on in The Other Side, as Roxy and Davesprite have dubbed it. They only knew a handful of people thus far, one of which loved to kick around Karkat’s head and rearrange things.

“Yeah?”

“He seems annoyed at being constantly slowed down, haha.”

In his gut, he has a feeling that he’s not getting anything that the Seer doesn’t want him to know. This is tactics. Information-feeding. Battlefield strategies for Three-Player Space Chess. In his head, he’s hopeful that even if it’s being spoonfed to him, he’d still be able to use this to his advantage somehow.

“So you’ve got the Heir of Blood busy?”

“Yes.”

“And you know his physical location?”

“Yes.”

“And you actually have a way of fighting him physically and he’s not just some entity that jumps around from one person’s brain to another? He’s not some – ” He makes a motion with his hands at this “ – disembodied thing or whatever?”

The television chuckles. “No, he isn’t. He’s very alive and very real. His influence is just far-reaching, and he likes sinking into easy gaps.”

Like him. He’s a Blood player. Aspect calls to aspect. Easy gap.

“You’re not on the same side?” he asks, “Or do you just want me to think that?”

“Whatever I say, you’ll think whatever you want to think.”

They had a point. He told them as much.

The burst of static that came was amused. “Are you sure you don’t want to go to sleep?”

“I probably can’t even if I tried,” Karkat says. He closes his eyes and puts the pillow over his face again.

“We can knock you out.”

That sounds pleasant. Still. There’s every possibility – actually, no, fuck possibilities. Kanaya and Eridan are getting loud with their argument in the other room.

“I feel like you really need to sleep for what’s about to go down, Karkat,” the Seer says.

“Are Eridan and Kanaya going to kill each other?”

“Well, they might not if you’re asleep because that would make too much noise.”

There’s another point there. And he’s tired. So, so tired. Of the nightmares and even the ruckus of the waking world right now. In the other room something shatters.

“Okay,” he says, nodding. “Knock yourself out.” He giggles into the pillow at that.

“You’ll be fine, Karkat.” He hears something rustle, maybe clothing, and then feels the pillow being lowered slightly so deathly cold fingers can touch his forehead.

The voice that speaks next doesn’t sound like the Seer’s. When Karkat rouses later, he’ll wish he stayed a bit more awake. “We’ll take care of it.”

And then the Void speaks, and it’s with a force that knocks him out. “Sleep.”

Chapter Text

John Egbert watches the rain pour outside.

Moxie is lying down on his lap, asleep, although her ears occasionally flick sometimes, maybe from dreaming, maybe from phantom droplets landing on them through the minute crack between the glass and the frame. He has a hand buried in her fur, forgotten, as he’s more focused on the patterns the water tracks leave.

He’s decidedly trying not to think about what everything they’ve just talked about means.

There was the part with Loki destroying an entire town, and he’d immediately thought Vriska and then shoved that thought away. It’s not the same, not exactly, even if it does remind him of her. For one, there’s their place in the hierarchy and how they’ve taken to it - both up high, but Vriska seems to love her place, and Loki, if him letting go was any indication, seems to just abhor it (and John thinks, wonders why that is).

And it shows. He never flaunts it around the Safehouse. He just goes through his days, reading and studying and researching, occasionally starting a prank war, but he doesn’t rub it in the other tenants’ noses that he runs the place, and if John is being honest, he does. He plans everything, makes sure everything is going smoothly, sets up systems. Yes, he promotes silly stuff sometimes, but he never resorts to violence to settle petty fights about mutants and non-mutant around the Safehouse either.

Although, that might just be because his ire is nothing compared to Mrs. Harrison’s. John can swear the woman can set a sword on fire just out of rage if she set her mind to it.

John laughs at the thought for a moment. Moxie stirs in her sleep.

“Heya. Go back to sleep, girl,” he cooes, petting her head softly. She just licks his hand. He sighs.

He’s about to tell her to go to sleep again when her ears suddenly stand on alert, and she looks towards the stairs. He follows, and Rose is standing there, looking deep in thought.

“Hey,” he greets.

She waves a hand back before she fiddles with her arm warmers, pulling them over her hands as best as she can.

“Everything okay?”

“Cecil’s awake,” she says, “He says his head feels like someone hijacked into it and ran a program and then just ripped out the flash drive without safely removing it.”

“Yikes.” John winces. “That’s one hell of a headache for that sort of metaphor.”

“Yeah.” Rose chuckles a little. “James says he saw two of Cecil for a moment.”

John raises an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“Mm.” Rose sits down on the stairs and rests her elbows on her knees, staring at the floor, frowning. “It was like looking at a fractured mirror, apparently. One of them was Cecil and the other was also…Cecil, but not.”

John pauses for a moment. “He said the same thing about – ”

“The pool master.” She nods, then, “And me.”

John frowns and adjusts his glasses when they almost slip with how fast he turns. “What?”

“He told me that, once. I told Loki. I think I forgot to tell you, and I think Loki thought it required further investigation before presenting you with half-baked theories and insufficient information.” A pause. “I think he said the same thing about Jade once.”

“Oh,” he says, trying to process it for a moment. “Do you know what it is?”

“I suspect it’s horrorterrors,” she says. “I don’t remember how we got rid of it. I don’t even know if they ever leave completely.”

That’s a reasonable assumption. He nods. “You think it’s horrorterrors with Cecil?”

She laughs, a little louder this time. “They have a Seer of Light, why not a Seer of Void? Complete the set.”

“But is it?”

“I don’t know,” she admits. “You’d think I’d recognize whoever gets possessed by horrorterrors, but there’s the fact that I’ve never met anyone else possessed by horrorterrors, and I don’t think I even can recognize it if it happens.”

“So we have no idea?”

“No.”

Damn. John leans back in his seat a little. Moxie shifts and buries her snout into his stomach and huffs. Her breath tickles and he giggles. He moves her back a little and ignores the way she somehow seems to pout.

“What about the pool master?” he asks.

“I don’t know about that either, they’ve seemed uninvolved so far,” she says, “Although if they’ve grown up with the Palmers, I’d say psychic abilities aren’t a stretch.”

“Do they have abilities?”

“No,” she says, and the admission seems to take years off of her. “That’s what baffles me. They’re clean. I can’t sense anything from them and I’ve been sensing – no, seeing a lot since we got here.”

“More than what you usually did in….” He trails off. His aversion to the game is getting ridiculous.

“Yes. It’s like everything’s been turned on and put into overdrive.”

“Oh,” John says, “Can you control it?”

“Yes, if I focus.”

“Good. It’s not tiring, is it?”

“It was, at the beginning. I’m mostly used to it now, and looking after James is easier than being around so many people all the time,” she says, “Reminds me of home, somewhat.”

Ah. John remembers he grew up in a regular suburban neighborhood; Rose grew up mostly isolated in a fancy house by a waterfall.

“Did you miss New York though?”

“I always miss New York,” she says, smiling a little.

John smiles back. “Welcome home, then.”

“Good to be home.”

The air lightens for a moment, and John can imagine for a brief while that they’re not on the brink of something that might be dangerous, something that might tip over the scales of an unseen background war, something that might destroy whatever precious fragile thing they’ve built here.

John’s still out of place, but he’s starting to carve a life out for himself in this wrong, wrong, wrong universe, at least.

It’s not such a crime to want, is it? People wanted all the time. They want fame and money and love and lust, but John – everyone here, really – they just wants some peace and quiet and maybe a little place they can play pranks and take care of dogs and binge X-files in. It’s a bit of a mockery, he thinks, that the universe does love to take the most mundane dreams away. Aspiring singers and performers get more of a shot, but there’s people sitting out in decrepit homes suffering when all they want is a good meal. It’s basic human right. It’s such a simple thing, a bit like a breath of air, but too often neglected.

You’re a funny dreamer aren’t you, boy?

John sniffs, and frowns because the air smells like blood. He sneezes. It might be that his nose is a little stuffy, but the next time he tries to sniff, that scent of blood is gone.

Rose frowns, as if sensing his unease. “John?”

“Nothing,” he says, looking around a bit, letting the breeze waft around the room to see if he can feel anyone. There’s no one there that shouldn’t be. “Nothing,” he repeats.

He stares at the floor for a moment, deep in thought.

And then Moxie stirs, and he sighs and resumes carding his hand through her fur.


 

Loki sends Sapphrel and Ruben back to Saph’s bedroom miles off across the country, but not before convincing a very confused Sapphrel to lie to their friend that they’re not in New York. With the whole debacle of the green sparks and Cecil having a fugue and collapsing (Loki thinks the term that should be used here is possession, given that Cecil didn’t appear to be in control of himself when he spoke, unlike all the other times, but there’s two types of possession – that of a medium’s, in which someone channels another being into them; and, well, actual possession, and since Cecil’s said, the second he’d woken up, that it felt like his brain was hijacked, Loki’s betting on the second sort – which also unfortunately means someone got past his shields, and he’s getting rather annoyed of all his precautions being torn down effortlessly; if he’d been younger, he would have loved the challenge, but other things are at stake here, sadly), he’s not keen on trusting anyone and anything outside the Safehouse, especially not if he hasn’t had a chance to review them himself.

And with the timing of Saph’s ‘friends’ suddenly visiting, Cecil’s possession, and the mention that Loki already knew ‘them’, clearly plural…well, this is either a very clever set up to make it seem like there’s a threat but it’s actually a red herring, or Saph’s friends are traitors all along.

Not that Loki blames the kid since he’d made the choice to alienate them from the War Council despite them being his secretary, essentially. And they never asked questions either. He wonders, for a moment, if it’s somewhat related to how he and the others couldn’t remember the name of their visitor. Out of sight, and out of mind. An easy working, given that he’d used it on Tony Stark when he’d visited.

He shouldn’t keep Saph and Ruben too far away either, just in case, but if Saph’s family found them missing, there’d be trouble and questions, and no one wants to deal with it, so he’s had to return them. Aside from James’ stray comment, there’s not really concern for either of them.

Loki’s more concerned about everyone in the Safehouse. They’re obviously agitated. Dave is letting off steam in the training room, Rose had gone downstairs a while ago, Jade is with James and the rest of the dogs, since Moxie, as always, has decided to go to John, who’s just thinking blankly while looking out at the rain. Loki knows the feeling of having the rug pulled out from under you – when you think you’ve got everything understood and you’re fine, but it turns out all your nightmares have arrived to bite you in the ass.

Cecil’s gone back to sleep, Kevin is stress-sewing, Elizabeth is out to pick up her husband from the airport (she’d called him Anthony, if Loki remembers correctly), and Graham’s gotten food duty since everyone else is either too shaken to. Not that Loki is shaken. He’s just theorizing, and it needs all of his focus and brainpower. He’s rarely shaken.

Okay, so maybe he’s a little pissed that someone can one-up him in terms of spells and stealth and keeping everyone in the dark. Maybe he’s tired of constantly having his efforts undermined. Maybe he’s also sick of having his wards being poked around and thus having it rubbed in his face that he can’t take care of what little he has even if he’s capable of it.

But he’s not shaken.

And anyone with a flair of dramatics is bound to mess up sooner or later. There is a wisdom in the quiet, in the simple and in secrets.

There’s also two ways it could go – either the dramatics goes wrong and it’s also dramatically noticeable, or it’s so surprising that everyone’s too focused on being shocked at the fire and the explosion, and the mistake is shoved away into the deepest recesses of sensory input.

Dramatics has its pros, but Loki’s sharp enough to notice the cons.

He finds James in the solarium, looking out at the pouring rain, one hand on the glass. It’s the flesh hand, he notices. He makes sure his footsteps are audible when he enters the room.

James turns, curious, and greets him with a slight nod.

“What did you mean,” Loki starts, “When you said you could see two of Rose?”

“Ah,” James says, metal arm coming up to scratch the back of his head, “It’s probably just leftovers from whatever HYDRA did to my head.”

“Perhaps,” Loki says, “But enlighten me. You saw what happened earlier today, and you said you saw two of Sapphrel as well.”

James looks like he’s deliberating whether to tell Loki whatever he knows, judging from the set of his jaw and the sudden tenseness of his shoulders. Rose would have been better suited to this, then.

Loki watches as James turns to look at the rain again. “Rose is a good kid, you know.” His fingers start tapping on the glass softly. One, two, three. Nervous habit.

“Yes,” Loki says, “She’s a bright girl.”

“Also likes to psychoanalyze people within an inch of their dreams,” James says, smiling for a moment, clearly fond, “But, she just does that to deflect things. To hide. You know how it is.”

Loki thinks for a moment that, yes, he does, and then thinks James has never really spent that much time in his presence just talking, but he’s picked up on it anyway. Observer’s advantage, perhaps.

“We go out a lot so I can jog with the dog sometimes,” James continues, “She’s made a few friends, and it’s funny to see how she runs circles around them when she thinks they remind her of herself.”

“Is it really?”

“No,” James says, “Kinda sad. Kinda like you, I guess.”

Loki says nothing, but slowly nods.

“Look after her, okay?” James says, “I don’t really know a lot about whatever bullshit is up with magic and mutants, but something’s going on and there’s not really a lot a guy with a metal arm can do against it.”

“You’re the Winter Soldier,” Loki says.

James winces a little. “Was. Not really anymore and I – don’t really like that name.”

“What do you prefer?”

“James,” he says, “I don’t remember Bucky Barnes. I don’t want to be the Winter Soldier. James is…good for now. It’s where I feel like I am, you know. Kind of like how you feel like you’re Luke Winters instead of Loki of Sassgard or whatever the hell you call it.”

Loki’s lips quirk up for a moment. “Asgard.”

James waves a hand, and seeing someone just dismiss the Realm Eternal with such casualness makes Loki laugh.

“Sometimes people have to do what they have to, to figure out who they are,” he says, “Leave home, maybe.”

“I didn’t leave home.”

“Yeah, you dropped from it dramatically.” When Loki looks unamused, the man snickers.  “I guess I’m just kind of there too. I didn’t run away or shit, but definitely had to start from scratch. I’m doing pretty well for a guy who sees in twos sometimes.”

“That might not be anything wrong with you,” Loki says, “Perhaps it’s something HYDRA awakened when they converted you into the Winter Soldier. Do you remember if the Winter Soldier saw in twos?”

James frowns, and then shakes his head. “No, I don’t. Guess you have a point there.”

“What is it, specifically, that you see?” Loki asks.

“Uh.” Scratching the back of his neck again. “It’s like – mirror shards. Like you’re looking at the same person, but there’s just fractures of them. Only normally, you know it’s just the same person since they’re looking at you with the same expression, the same movement, the same clothes, but the mirror shards just displace them a little, yeah? This one’s different.”

“How so?”

“I dunno, different clothes, different movements, different expressions, but the same person. It’s like the mirror was broken and then halved, and on one side you see what you should be seeing and on the other, you see what you shouldn’t.”

“How do you see Rose?”

“One is her,” James says, “The other is…colder. Darker. She’s got weird light around her but she looks like a black hole.”

Loki can feel the way the piece clicks in his head. It was night, and they were talking, and he asked her where she’d found the power running under her veins, power that once upon a time he would have killed her for to steal. She’d told him she was desperate and that someone had killed her mother.

(“Wherever did you find it?”)

It’s still under her skin, so it’s no surprise James can see it. Rose and…whatever’s inside her that’s already a part of her.

“You too, actually,” James says, and Loki frowns further.

“Elaborate?”

“There’s you and then there’s…also you. You’re quite similar but not really,” James says, and then makes a vague gesture, “It’s hard to explain.”

“And why have you never told us this?” Loki asks, and then tries to backtrack, since he’s not trying to scare James off here, and the man is new to the War Council. “You did point out Sapphrel’s.”

James pauses, looks over Loki’s shoulder, and says, “Because this is the first time you’re doing it right now.”


 

“You’re stressed,” John helpfully points out, when he comes back to the council room to find a good place to think quietly.

Loki’s already there, leaning back in his seat, boots (who the fuck wears heeled leather boots indoors? Loki, that’s who, and John’s long stopped questioning that when he saw the guy with boots that looked like it had actual gold on it) up on the table, elbows propped up on the chair’s arms, hands steepled as he was deep in thought.

John’s got Moxie excitedly trotting behind him as he enters, stump tail trying to wag and tongue out. She briefly greets Loki by jumping up and nipping at his tailcoats spilling over the edge of his seat and Loki absentmindedly pats her head before returning to his original position.

“Mm,” he says, then, “Excuse me, John, what were you saying?”

“You look stressed,” John repeats, floating over to sit on the table, right across him. Moxie settles down at his feet, happily flopping down on the carpet.

“I’m not.”

John snickers. “Sure thing, Loki. What’s wrong?”

Loki sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “You know I tend to keep things in another fold of space, yes?”

John blinks. Fold of space? He’s probably talking about all the times he keeps throwing things in the air and it disappears in a flash of green light. Talk about dramatic. “Yeah? I guess?”

“Mm. I found and made myself a way to access that place, and made sure that I, and only I, would be able to get things in and out of it,” Loki says, and then...steels his jaw. He looks pissed. John feels the air crackle.

“…And? You kinda lost me there a little.” He chuckles, nervous, “I’m not used to space magic and all that.”

“Right.” That seems to calm him down a little, at least. “Well, that very space that should only be accessible to me has been broken into.”

Oh.

Oh, well.

John shifts. Not really knowing what to say to that, other than the fact that it confirms that someone really is messing with them, and someone who goes as far as breaking into Loki’s pocket space. “Oh,” John says, carefully. And then something clicks. “Didn’t you make notes and everything? And threw it there?”

“Yes,” Loki says, “And when I went to check those notes, they weren’