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When the Apocalypse starts, Rose Lalonde is tucked away in a corner of the library, up on the second floor balcony. She is so safely enveloped in her book that she misses the calls of panicking friends and family, desperate to know if she is okay. She misses the first and last reports of the undead uprising, just as she misses the first scream as the infected finally break into her building.

She does not, however, miss the second scream, or the third.

And she certainly does not miss when she pulls out her knitting needles and aims for the eyes of the zombies out for her flesh.

——

John Egbert is at home, watching television, when the Apocalypse starts.

He is there as the program he was watching- something about a detective, or perhaps some sort of comedy- is cut off abruptly in favor of an emergency news report on people suddenly attacking each other en masse. He is there when the broadcast goes essentially dead as one reporter turns in front of all the cameras and begins scratching and biting the other reporter, who screams and tries to back away.

The first think he does is call his friends. He can’t think of anything else to do; the situation is too surreal, it’s stupid.

His heart stops when the first two don’t answer.

It starts again when the third one does.
——
Dave Strider is bored, incredibly so, when the Apocalypse starts.

Truthfully, all he’s doing is sitting there on his bed, wondering if he should draw or play Brobox or practice with his katana a bit.

In the end, he can’t decide on what to do, and so he does nothing at all.

That is, until the phone rings, and he reaches for it and answers, and it’s John, all hysterical because apparently the world is ending.

John is a prankster at heart, and at first he almost dismisses his claims of zombies, but something in his voice resonates with Dave, and instead he tells John to grab a weapon, and board up the house, and that he’ll be there soon.

He doesn’t know that when he grabs his katana leaves his home that he has set in motion a grand chain of events.

He also doesn’t know that he is never going to enter his house again.
——
Jade Harley is sound asleep when the Apocalypse starts.

But that does not mean she is unaware of it.

She dreams keenly of rotting, decaying corpses reaching out to devour her and her friends, of humanoid monsters with sagging gray skin and gnarled yellow fingernails.

She tosses and turns as her phone goes off, and cries unconsciously as somewhere in the world, an entire city succumbs to the plague.

When she awakens, she will find her friends in desperate need of her help and a world on fire.

But for now, she is quietly haunted by visions of the present while she sleeps.
——
Karkat Vantas is in the Principal's office when the Apocalypse starts.

He is being chewed out for speaking rudely to both teachers and students, but at this point it’s a formality. They both know he’s not going to change, and that he is only one suspension away from expulsion.

Then the intercoms comes on, and for about one minute it’s a man’s voice, calm, informing them of what is going on. Then it turns into a choking sound, then coughing, and finally something indiscernible.

Two minutes later and the principal is convulsing right in front of him, and Karkat backs away, frightened. He grabs at the pair of safety scissors hidden in his jacket (it’s the closest thing to a weapon he’s allowed to have) and watches as the principal gradually, slowly, begins coughing up blood.

The sight is terrifying, morbidly so, and Karkat can’t look away no matter how much he tries. All he can do is let himself drift into the corner while the man in front of him turns an ashen pale color.

Finally the principal stills, and Karkat hopes the worst is over. Perhaps he’ll be allowed to leave early, on the condition he keeps quiet about what he saw. The thought is foolish, given what he has just heard, but in the moment it makes more sense to him than people suddenly going rabid.

Then the adult turns towards him, and Karkat can see in his rolled back white eyes that this is not a drill.

As the man lunges towards him, Karkat whips out the scissors and holds them in front of him.

This is not the way he wants to die.
——
Terezi Pyrope is in law class when the Apocalypse starts.

She is only half listening to the lecture on the death penalty, because in all honesty, she already knows all of this. After all, she’s going to be a lawyer of criminal justice when she grows up. That’s the dream, anyways.

Then the intercom comes on, and she can only think that maybe all it will ever be is a dream, because if this isn’t a joke and the body count is that high…

Well. You can’t exactly put corpses on trial.

Then she hears the sounds of pain and choking from where the teacher is- she’s blind, not deaf- and she thinks that maybe the reason it’s only going to be a dream because she’s dead.

Then Vriska Serket, her former best friend, pulls out a switchblade and stabs the teacher through the eye, and suddenly they’re fleeing together, as though all of this is according to some vague script.

And maybe, Terezi thinks, that’s because it is.
——
Vriska Serket is having a terrible day when the Apocalypse starts.

She’s in law class, sitting across the room from someone she still thinks of as her best friend, even though she should be thinking of as former best friend, and she can just tell that Terezi isn’t paying attention, because that’s the sort of thing you can just tell about someone when you’re best friends.

The only reason she’s even in this class is because Terezi wanted to take it, and she promised to take Engineering with Vriska if she signed up.

Vriska ponders if Terezi is thinking about her in the same way Vriska is about Terezi, then immediately pinches herself for even wondering about that. She pulls out her phone instead, and is hit with a wave of alerts and headlines.

She gets so distracted looking them over, she almost misses it when static interrupts the teacher.

Almost.

Then the intercom comes on, and she listens to the sound of the world ending.

Somehow, she isn’t as terrified as she thinks she should be.

Somehow, her mind is startlingly clear when the teacher starts frothing at the mouth, and she takes out her switchblade and drives it through her right eyeball.

Somehow, she feels almost giddy when she takes Terezi by the hand and leads her out of the classroom, and her best friend doesn’t even try to fight her, and the other students simply stare at them as they leave.

Somehow, she doesn’t react as they pass by a kid in the elevator being ripped apart by the attendant that was with him.
——
Tavros Nitram is on a tour of the school when the Apocalypse starts.

Following a freak accident in which he lost his legs, he became wheelchair bound, and had to transfer to a more handicap accessible school.

He and his tour guide are frozen for the first minute of the announcement over the intercom, and when the announcer starts gagging and making awful, awful noises, the nice lady that was showing him around wheels him into the elevator.

Why, exactly, she takes them into the elevator and not out the door he never finds out, because suddenly she’s hunched over making the same awful, awful noises.

And then she’s looming over him, eyes all rolled back so he can see the tiny red veins in them, and then she’s biting into his flesh, and he can’t help but scream and whimper at the pain.

The last thing he sees before he dies is the elevator doors opening, and two girls running down the hallway.

He locks eyes with one of them, his brown meeting her cerulean in some sort of desperate plea, although what for neither can say.

And then his vision is blocked, and he is no more.
——
Eridan Ampora is on the verge of tears when the Apocalypse starts.

He’s in the front row of Shop class, closest to the teacher’s desk, because sometimes the teacher leaves out the answer key to whatever they’re working on, and honestly, if you can successfully cheat, you deserve the same grade as those that do honest work.

His former girlfriend clearly didn’t feel the same, because right now she’s about two rows back, holding hands and giggling to a boy that isn’t him, and Eridan can’t decide if he wants to bury himself or bury them.

He doesn’t hear the intercom go off: none of them do. The system isn’t hooked up into the spacious concrete room or the adjoining one next door because both were added after the school was built.

Nobody bats an eye when the teacher starts coughing and bending over. She’s prone to such fits, so they wait patiently for her to finish. It isn’t until she starts spitting out blood that anyone asks after her, and by then it’s too late.

Fe- no, his ex, is the first to notice. “Ms. P?” She calls out “are you alright?” The answer never comes, because that’s the moment the teacher launches herself at Eridan and bites him.

His soul leaves his for another realm soon afterwards, and he watches with both joy and sorrow as his body tears apart his ex and her boyfriend.
——
Feferi Peixes is conflicted when the Apocalypse starts.

She’s in shop class, holding hands with Sollux Captor.

Outwardly, she’s smiling and laughing along to the really not-funny jokes he’s telling, but somehow he’s charmed her and she can’t be bothered by the fact that they are all in really poor taste.

The only thing bringing her down is her ex sitting two rows in front of them.

She sees his shoulders droop, and she can’t help but feel guilty for making him feel like this.She knows it was the right thing to do, because he’s mean to everyone and way too possessive, but she can’t force herself to stop caring about him.

She’s so caught up in all of it, that she almost doesn’t notice how the teacher is leaned up against the board, making horrible rasping noises.

When she does, and points it out, it’s too late, and suddenly Ms. P is lunging at Eridan and biting him, tearing off his skin and leaving a red patch of blood and muscle. Feferi wants to scream at him to move, to do something, but they are both immobilized.

Everyone is frozen in place, then someone screams, and suddenly everyone but her is running.

Sollux has left her by the time Eridan reaches her, and she still can’t bring herself to move as she looks at the blood splattered onto his shirt and scarf.

Then he’s biting her, tearing into her, and it hurts so much, and why can’t she move, and why is this happening?

And then she dies, and she doesn’t have to wonder anymore.
——
Sollux Captor is on cloud nine the day the Apocalypse starts.

He’s sitting in shop class, holding hands with none other than Feferi Peixes, and she’s actually laughing at his jokes, and it’s the most beautiful sound he’s ever heard, just as she’s the most beautiful person he’s ever seen. Sitting in front of them is her overbearing ex, but right now he can’t bring himself to even think about that douchebag.

He doesn’t hear the intercom go off: no one does. It’s not even hooked up to the building, after all.

He doesn’t notice when the teacher starts wheezing and gasping for breath and clenching her hands. It’s normal for Ms. P to have panic attacks, after all. She just needs a couple minutes to calm down.

He does, however, notice the crimson she’s ejecting from her mouth when Feferi notices, and he panics with everyone else when Ms. P lunges at Eridan.

As their teacher feasts on the teen’s torn, bleeding flesh, he is tugging on Feferi’s hand, begging her to move, but she is frozen and staring.

He is the last one to leave her, and that is all the difference it takes to end his life.

One minutes thirteen seconds later, he trips, and suddenly both Eridan and Feferi have caught up to him, only their eyes are rolled back and bloodshot, and they aren’t responding to him.

Then Eridan tackles him and begins tearing the flesh of his arm, and Feferi claws at his face and eyes.

Before he dies, he hears footsteps and the loud, unmistakable roar of a large piece of machinery.
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Kanaya Maryam is not human when the Apocalypse starts.

She has not been human for a very long time.

She’s next door to the shop class, in the room where all the dangerous tools are kept, because she alone has proven that she can handle blowtorches and chainsaws and some of the other dangerous tools the school still has around for some reason.

When the screaming next door starts, she’s working on a sketch for a stage design as a favor to a friend at one of the three work tables there.<

She is calm, collected even, as she gathers her small amount of things into her satchel, which she carefully tucks under her shirt so that it doesn’t swing wildly about when she goes about killing zombies, which she already knows she will. She’s known for a long time this day would come.

Before she leaves, she takes one of the portable chainsaws.

For anyone else, this would be a terrible weapon.

But Kanaya Maryam is not just anyone, and so she picks it up with ease and slips out of the workshop into the classroom with the rest of the shop class students, and from there into the hallway leading towards the rest of the school.

She doesn’t need to go far before she spots two students she was once acquainted with begin biting and eating a third.

She probably could have saved him, but she settles for avenging him instead, and cuts down all three of them, one by one, with her unwieldy weapon.

Not once do they try to attack her.

There is nothing to gain by eating a vampire, after all.
——
Gamzee Makara is lighting up in the boys bathroom when the Apocalypse starts.

His best friend has been called to the principal's office yet again, but as long as Karkat doesn’t leave him for good, Gamzee’s cool.

Gamzee’s cool with a lot of things.

He’s cool with it when the intercom comes on, and the guy is talking all calmly.

He’s still cool with it when the guy isn’t calm anymore, and Gamzee is pretty sure he’s dying. He’s even cool with it when the guy stops making sounds completely.

It takes Gamzee almost seven minutes to decide he should go look for Karkat.

He does so slowly, and it isn’t until he’s just outside the cafeteria that he even sees his first walking corpse. Not that he knows that’s what he’s looking at.

It doesn’t really matter that much to him, anyways.

He’s cool with it as the zombie with a blue cat-ear headband dives at him and begins clawing into his flesh.

He’s cool with it as other zombies join in and begin gnawing on his skin.

He’s cool with it as he takes his last breath in
And he’s cool with it when his heart stops beating.
——
Equius Zahhak is at lunch with his little sister when the Apocalypse happens.

She isn’t really his little sister, but it’s the most natural way to think of her, and so he calls her ‘sis’. She is equally fond of calling him her brother, so neither of them have any problems defining their relationship as familial.

They’re at the back of the cafeteria, because it’s less noisy there, and Nepeta doesn’t like loud noises because her hearing is extra sensitive.

She slides him her milk carton while another friend gives her their extra juice, and he can’t help but wish everything stays like this forever, where nobody is picking on either of them.

Then the intercom comes on, and they are doomed before they even know what’s happening.

The second the Apocalypse is announced, students begin panicking and running out, and it reminds him of the stampede scene from “The Lion King”.

It’s Nepeta’s favorite movie, so nobody will fault him for that being the first thing to come into his mind. (Its also his second favorite, not that he’s said as much to anybody.

Nobody thinks to use the emergency exit doors, and so Equius instead hoists Nepeta onto his shoulders, so she doesn’t get lost in the crowd, and they fight their way to entrance.

They don’t know that all the lunchtime staff have already turned into zombies, and have been biting students since the end of the intercom announcement. It’s impossible to tell who is and who isn’t turned in the sea of people, so Equius powers through as fast as he can.

He’s gotten the two of them about three quarters of the way across the room when he stumbles as he feels a terrible pain in his arm. He doesn’t realize he’s been bitten until they get to the entrance, at which point he shrugs her off his shoulders, and tells her to go on.

She refuses to do so.

He had a feeling she would.
——
Nepeta Leijon is doodling when the Apocalypse starts.

She sitting at lunch with her brother in all but blood and another friend, imagining herself in the future.

She has three cats, and Equius is there, and so is her crush, and everyone is happy and together.

She knows full well it’s a fantasy, but why should that stop her from imagining something happy?

And then the intercom comes on, and everyone is running and screaming, and Equius picks her up and sets her on his shoulders, and they’re running through the crowd.

They’re almost to the door when Equius suddenly stumbles, and he never stumbles, and she knows something’s really, really wrong.

She doesn’t know how wrong until both of them are sprawled out onto the floor, and Equius is telling her to run and save herself.

She can’t. She can’t leave him. She tells him as much.

Then he’s crying, and she starts crying too, until suddenly there’s an incredible pain in her leg, like she’s being eaten by fire ants, only worse.

Then her eyes cross and her vision goes white, and she is gone.
——
Aradia Megido is already dead when the Apocalypse starts.

She can do nothing but watch as the people that kidnapped her use her body for horrible experiments, both of the scientific kind and of the magical kind.

In life, she had come to accept her fate, but in death it has given her nothing but rage.

So her spirit lingers on, and on, in that same white room all those tests took place in.

Maybe one day someone will come along and see her.

Maybe one day, if someone sees her, she can tell them how to lift the curse that started the Apocalypse.

But if she ever is seen, and if she ever does tell, it won’t have anything to do with any adult.

You can never trust adults, is what she’s learned from being in this place.

They were supposed to look after and protect children like her, but instead they have abused her and tried to harm everyone else.

So no, she isn’t going to stop the curse from spreading until she meets someone that understands her.

But she can’t help but hope that it happens soon, because she doesn’t think it’s very fun being as bitter as she is all the time.

But she’s committed to this path, and she isn’t going to change her mind.
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Chapter Text

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When Dave finally reaches Johns house, both himself and his katana are covered in blood.

Later on, he will have nightmares about it. But for now, he is focused solely on ensuring his friend is okay, and judging by how easy it is to get into the house, and the repetitive banging from upstairs, there’s a very good chance that he’s not okay.

Dave isn’t really sure what he’s going to do if that’s the case. He decides not to think about it, and instead sets about scaling the stairs as quietly as possible.

When he hits the top of the stairs, he’s hit with an overwhelming sense of relief.

John's father is ramming himself into the door of John’s bedroom, which can only mean one thing:
John is in there.

John is in there, and he is not bitten or dead.

John is safe.

For the first time that day, Dave’s heart is light as he draws his katana and cuts off the head of the zombie.

Later, he’ll have terrible nightmares in which John blames him for murdering his father.

But for now, when the door opens to reveal a bespectacled face with blue eyes and messy black hair, all Dave feels is relief.
——
When John opens the door, he isn’t sure what to expect.

He’s pretty sure that the noise stopped because Dave is finally there, but what if his fath- the zombie, has wisened up and has backed off to trick him?

John tries to look through the peephole, but he can’t see anything but red, red, red.

But red is also Dave’s color, so he steels himself and opens the door. He is not disappointed when he sees a blonde teen holding a katana, red on his shirt and shades and blade.

He looks like he’s been through hell, but that doesn’t stop John from pulling him into a hug out of sheer relief.

Dave just sort of stands there, like he’s not sure how to react, but John doesn’t really mind. For now, they are both safe and there, and that’s all that matters.

“I’m so glad you made it.” John whispers into Dave’s red stained shirt, and the blonde can do nothing but smile lightly.

“Me too.”
——
Rose has killed almost ten zombies by the time she looked at her phone.

Her hands and needles are covered in gore, and she’s not really sure how she’s still alive, because knitting needles are really impractical weapons in light of the Apocalypse.

Somehow, though, she’s still alive, and the more she thinks on it the more she wants to stay that way.

She has the beginnings of a plan, of course. She’s Rose Lalonde, she always has some idea of what to do.

But first, she needs to know which of her friends are still alive, so she scrolls through her misses calls, responding to each of them one by one.

For the first ten, nobody answers.

She’s nearing the last one, and now she might be starting to panic a little, judging by how much she feels like laughing. What are the odds she’d be the last one standing amongst all her friends?

Then she calls John’s number, and it rings three times, and just when she’s about to hang up forever he answers.

He sounds panicked and flushed, but he’s alive, and right now that’s good enough for her.

She learns that Dave is with him, and they make plans to meet at the small coffee shop between John’s house and the library, because there shouldn’t be many zombies there, since so few people go there.

Rose won’t admit it, but she’s almost scared to end the call, as though if she keeps it active nothing bad can happen.

She’s not stupid enough to believe that, so she ends the call quickly, packs up her few things, and leaves the library.

She is down the street before she realizes she should have taken her book with her.

She is at the corner when she comes to the conclusion it doesn’t matter.
——
Karkat isn’t sure what to do.

Currently, he’s tucked into a ball in the corner of the principal’s office, having somehow gathered himself together long enough to kill the zombie.

It was a brutal fight, though, and he just knows that he’s going to have bruises all over the next day.

He has a lot of experience with bruises.

When he finally stops shaking, he can hear footsteps outside the office. He is about to stand up when the door opens, and two girls he doesn’t recognize rush through and slam the door. They don’t seem to notice him as they drag the desk over to barricade the entrance, but they definitely notice when one of them trips over the corpse Karkat had stabbed.

They see him a second later, and when one of them pulls out a switchblade he’s certain he’s going to die. But then the other puts a hand on her shoulder and walks up to him and offers him a hand.

He takes it carefully, as though one wrong move will see him gutted like a fish.

The girl helps him to his feet, and everyone is quiet for a moment, and Karkat can hear the sounds of groans and thumps from outside the room. It’s with a sinking feeling he realizes that they are trapped.

Neither girl seems to be thinking about this. In fact, both are rather calm, while he’s over there struggling not to have a panic attack. He misses how they exchange glances, and the girl with the knife sighs and puts her weapon away and walks over to him.

“I’m Vriska” she says, and it’s much more gentle than he thought it would sound.

“I’m Terezi” the other says, and they both look at him expectedly, and he belatedly realizes they are waiting for his name.

“Karkat” he blurts out “Karkat Vantas.”

They each give him an odd, lopsided smile, and Karkat thinks he should probably be unnerved, but he’s just too relieved to have found some people to stay with.

He smiles too, and if it’s just as lopsided as theirs, nobody says anything.
——
Vriska and Terezi are trapped before they even get to the first floor.

When they actually get there, Vriska has already put the image of brown eyes and liquid crimson out of her mind. She knows that Terezi knows something is wrong, but she is undeniably grateful that her friend has chosen not to press her for details.

They have enough irons in the fire with the massive hoard from the cafeteria spilling out into the hallways.

They are so close to the doors when it happens.

They’re moving along both quietly and quickly- for a blind girl, Terezi is eerily aware of her surroundings- and they’re about twenty paces from the exit when Vriska sees them.

Standing between them and freedom is about a dozen bleeding, moaning zombies.

Vriska stops quickly, too quickly. Terezi can’t predict her next action, and the result is a screeching noise from Terezi’s boot scuffing the floor.

All at once, the graying, sunken heads snap to both of them, and for the first time in her life, Vriska freezes.

For the first time in her life, Terezi does not.

Suddenly the blind girl is pulling her into the principal’s office, which is located right next to the school exit, and then they are shoving a desk in front of the door, and Vriska unfreezes somewhere in the middle of all of it, and the two of them are back in synch.

Then Terezi almost trips over a corpse, and they become painfully aware they are not alone.

The boy is pitiful, cowering and shaking as he is. Vriska is certain he has been bitten, so she withdraws her knife to end his misery. Before she can even take a step, Terezi puts a hand on her shoulder, and it’s one of those moments where she just knows what Terezi is saying.

The unspoken ‘Wait’ is loud in her mind, but after everything Vriska doesn’t mind backing off and bowing down just this once.

She has a feeling that killing a kid will give her nightmares, anyways.

Terezi quickly confirms that the kid is not bitten, and that he’s probably just having a nervous breakdown. He’s slow to stand up, and Vriska notes the bloody pair of scissors he’s clutching tightly, and she’s relieved they don’t have to kill him.

They might die anyway, she reminds herself, and she soon begins searching for a way out.

It turns out they might not need an escape plan, because moments after she starts looking around, there’s a mechanical roaring from outside, and then all of the pounding from the mindless undead onto the door ceases.

They still don’t open the door for many, many minutes.
——
When Jade Harley wakes up, she does so feeling overwhelmed.

She already knows everything that’s happened; she’s been dreaming about it for weeks. She’s ensured that she has enough to survive for several lifetimes and more.

The Apocalypse has always sounded just a little bit fun to Jade. She’s imagined taking on hordes of flesh eaters alongside their friends, and maybe it would be hard sometimes, but at the end of the day, they’d all be so, so free, and together, and overall rather happy.

She’s come to realize reality is anything but that.

She still needs to meet up with her friends, somehow. But she lives three hours away, not to mention in the middle of a lake, and while she might be considered a genius, she certainly does not know how to drive a boat.

She’s just glad her grandfather died years ago, so she doesn’t have to watch him turn and then kill him.

She’s in the middle of stockpiling her weapons and food into one room when she thinks to check her phone. She ties a loose bit of purple string onto her ring finger to remind herself to do that more often.

She scrolls and sees she’s missed three calls: one from each of her friends. It fills her with a sense of relief, even though she already knew they were okay.

She resolves to call them back, but first she needs to figure out a way off this island that will allow her to get back.

The most obvious choice is one of the many boats or planes her grandfather has left her, but she doesn’t know how to drive a boat and doubts she will be able to land a plane anywhere close to John or one of the others.

That leaves the submarine, but Jade is very, very afraid of being underwater. She can’t see the sun from down there, and she doubts there is anything more terrifying than that.

Then she remembers that if she can’t get herself to where they are, all of them are going to die, and she decides that is a much more terrifying fate.

So she steels herself and sets about packing the food and ammo and her grandfather's weapon collection into her miniature submarine.

She can’t fit all of it, but she doesn’t worry because she knows whatever she can fit into there will be enough.

It has to be.

She takes one last look at her home before she begins her descent into the sub aquatic vehicle. Before she takes the controls, however, she looks down at her hand and picks up her phone.

She has a few calls to make.
——
Kanaya strolls leisurely through the school, as though there are not hundreds of rapidly decaying, shredded former students around her.

They don’t quite part for her like they would for a Queen, nor does she expect them to. While technically undead, she still has much more of a life than these sorry husks ever will, and that is enough for her.

She’s been trailing two girls for quite some time, although neither seems to have noticed her. It’s no fault of their own, though, because Kanaya is very good at staying hidden when she doesn’t want to be seen.

She winces when she hears the booming sound of a shoe scuffing the floor, and feels pity for the both of them when their hearts skip a beat as the horde turns to them.

At that point, she is ready to turn away and find other survivors to try and ally with. These two are probably as good as dead, and she is not about to drink the sour blood spilling out of the reanimated corpses.

Then, one of them does something unexpected, and drags the other into the principal’s office. Kanaya blinks in surprise that the door actually opens, because usually that room is locked tight as a mousetrap.

The ghastly entourage she had been keeping with swarms the door, and Kanaya can’t decide if the two girls are lucky or unlucky. She then decides it doesn’t matter, because she is going to kill these zombies for them, and she switches on her chainsaw.

Minutes later she clicks it off, and frowns in disapproval at the inordinate amount of blood on her clothes. It smells horrible, sour in a way she can’t describe and bitter in a way that makes her want to choke. She looks around at the severed limbs and entrails and sighs. First impressions are important, and if she sticks around, she is clearly going to give the two in there a terrible one.

Keeping that in mind, she leaves to go towards one of her favorite boutiques, located near a quaint coffee shop about fifteen minutes from the library.

She’ll look for them later, once she looks presentable again.
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Chapter Text

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Rose reaches the coffee shop ten minutes before John and Dave do, which means she receives the dubious honor of searching for zombies.

There aren’t many, thankfully. Two former employees and three former patrons, one of which was far too mangled to reanimate.

Once all of them are firmly dead, she searches around for something to eat. It’s a Saturday, so most of the bagels are gone, but there are still plenty of sandwiches to pick from, so she takes one and sets about brewing herself a cup of tea. The machines are easy enough to use, and two minutes later she is steeping a generic green tea in a cup of hot water.

Being idle gives Rose time to think about everything that’s happened, and she doesn’t want to do that just yet. She’s not ready to step up and show everyone what they should do, because for the first time, she’s not really sure what that is.

So she sits there and nibbles on a sandwich- she’s not even sure what kind it is, she can’t taste anything right now- and drinks the too-hot tea, and waits for her friends to arrive.

She hopes they don’t die on the way.
——
Karkat is the first one to leave the room, and he immediately regrets doing so.

The carnage he sees is almost enough to make him want to faint, but he bites his lip and keeps himself from retching because he’s pretty sure that’s not going to make the sight of slimy, bloody organs and mutilated bodies go away.

It isn’t until Vriska gives him an uncharacteristicly gentle push that he realizes he’s been blocking the doorway.

He walks forward on shaky legs- for God’s sake, why can’t he stop shaking- and moves to the side, turning to see the reactions of his newfound companions.

Karkat is oddly good at reading people, so he doesn’t miss the way that Terezi flinches and Vriska’s eyes widen, and he knows that they are just as disturbed as he is. But they are much better at putting up facades, and it only takes Vriska a harsh swallow before she barks out a half hearted “let’s go”.

Neither Terezi or Karkat protest, and soon they are outside, free from the familiar but horrifying faces of former friends and acquaintances. It doesn’t occur to either of them until much later to go looking for any of their other friends.

“Where do we go?” Karkat asks, his voice low and scratchy, as though he had been crying. He sees Terezi trace a finger down Vriska’s arm, and then it’s Vriska that speaks.

“We need supplies and weapons.” She says “Terezi here thinks we might be able to get some food from her place, but before that we need something to carry stuff with.”

Karkat is amazed about how Vriska can tell all that from a single touch. The two girls are obviously really close, and he can’t help but feel envious. In the spirit of survival, he puts a lid on those feelings and suggests something of his own.

“I know a place that has all sorts of clothing with utility pockets. I think they sell satchels and stuff too, maybe we can check there?”

The other two don’t have any better ideas, especially since nobody wants to go back and retrieve their backpacks, so Vriska and Terezi fall beside Karkat as they set off in the direction of the library.
——
Quite frankly, Dave is in awe of what what John can do with a hammer.

It seemes to him that a hammer would be the kind of weapon people destined to die would use, the mind of weapon that’s horribly ineffective, but John has made a showing of bashing in the skulls of any zombies they came across.

Dave wonders why, if John was this competent, he hadn’t ended his father himself.

But as he watches his friend in action, he begins to think that maybe John’s abilities are because his father is no longer there, that the guilt of being unable to go through with it is strengthening him. Then John turns back and gives him a thumbs up, and there’s blood dangerously close to his mouth.

Dave returns the thumbs up, and points this out to John. “Careful, dude. There’s some right here” Dave taps his cheek “you don’t want that shit in your bloodstream.”

John’s eyes go wide and he frantically rubs it off. If it weren’t for the fact that Rose is waiting on them, and that Dave is really worried about his sister, he might have been amused at the scene. John really pulls off the look of an overeager puppy very well. As it is, he still can’t help a small smile.

“Come on, we have to go meet with Rose”. John gives him a determined nod, and the two set off again, their pace just a little bit faster.
——
Kanaya reaches the boutique in record time.

She’s starting to feel hunger pains when she steps into the shop, and she knows she has to hurry, because she’s not sure how long it’s going to take to find survivors, and she really doesn’t want to starve.

She doesn’t want to face what she’ll do if she does.

Then she hears stunted shuffling, and readies herself for another confrontation.

She sets her chainsaw aside for this one, though, because she doesn’t want blood to get on any of the displays.

Instead, she draws a slender dagger from a holster hidden in her boot, and searches or the infected.

It doesn’t take long to find it, and Kanaya swiftly plunges her blade right between its eyes.

It doesn’t even twitch. It only moves when Kanaya braces her foot against its stomach and pulls her weapon out of it.

The other ones go down in almost identical fashion, so it doesn’t take long before Kanaya can start perusing the shelves for a cleaner outfit.

She’s going to keep her blood soaked boots, mostly for sentimental reasons, and her satchel hasn’t been touched by the thick liquid since she had it under her shirt, but she still has a lot of looking to do.

Eventually, she settles on a rather striking skirt with a tasteful slit down the side. (It comes to about her ankles, so she’s not worried about tripping over it.) She finds a black pair of leggings to go with it as well.

Choosing a top is much more difficult, but Kanaya is more than up to the task. Once she does so, she goes into one of the changing stalls in the back, where she critically examines her new outfit before nodding to herself and pulling out her makeup kit.

She knows her appearance shouldn’t bother her as much as it does. There’s the Apocalypse going on, after all.

But her experience has taught her that the more beautiful she looks, the better off she is.
——
Jade is three quarters of the way to land when panic sets in.

She’s been seeing shadows flit in and out of the corners of her vision- wispy black tendrils that remind her all too much of the Incident. Logically, she knows she’s going to be okay- she saw it in her dreams, after all- But part of her can't help but doubt in the things she’s seen.

So now she’s leaning over the controls, trying to catch her breath and get the room to stop spinning, as it fully hits her what it going on.

She’s a teenage girl all alone at the bottom of a lake.

She’s a teenage girl all alone at the bottom of a lake while the world is ending.

She’s a teenage girl at the bottom of a lake while the world is ending, unable to see the sun or contact her friends.

She can’t hold it in any longer, and collapses to the floor of the vehicle with an unrestrained sob. It’s absurd, really, that this is what gets to her and not any of the gory carnage she’s seen in her dreams, and even as she breaks down she is scolding herself mentally for it.

Then she hears a ‘Woof’, and she’s so surprised she stops crying.

The next moment, a massive, fluffy white dog is bounding over to her, pushing its muzzle into her hands, and Jade feels an overwhelming need to laugh.

Somehow, in all her preparation, she did not notice her companion sneak into the sub, and she has never been more grateful for it.

Jade gives herself a few moments to bury her face into Bec’s fur. “Good dog. Best friend.” She mumbles into his coat with a sort of elation. When she pulls away, he’s grinning that unmistakable doggy grin, his pink tongue lolling out of his mouth, and she is hit with an incredible amount of determination to get them to shore. She stands up, careful not to step on Bec’s furiously wagging tail.

“You’re right, we can’t give up! Our friends are counting on us!” Jade feels silly for a moment for talking to her dog, but saying all this aloud makes her feel better, so she continues.

“Don’t worry, Bec, I’m going to make sure that we save this world! You can count on it!”
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
When John and Dave finally reach the coffee shop, only John is surprised at how collected Rose is.

She’s sitting there eating, looking for all the world like nothing is wrong.

The bloodied bodies behind her and her knitting needles, shiny and slick with a crimson tint, tell a different story.

Dave and Rose’s reunion is nothing short of, well, strange. Dave gives her a little half wave and a small smirk alongside a “what’s up”, which Rose returns with a nod and a sniff.

John thinks the exchange makes both of them look snobby and arrogant, all the more so because Rose is holding a teacup with her pinky extended and Dave is still wearing his sunglasses, and it’s really funny actually, because he knows Dave has been doing nothing but fretting since they met up, and he can’t imagine Rose doing anything but the same.

He doesn’t realize he’s been standing there with a goofy grin plastered onto his face until Rose clears her throat.

“John. We need to decide on a course of action.” Her words are smooth, especially next to John’s awkward affirmation of “Uh, right. Yeah.”

His friends politely ignore his verbal fumbling, opting to focus on the more important issue.

“We’re gonna need like, supplies and shit, right?” Dave says casually, to which Rose stiffly nods.

“Yes, but before that, we need to visit the shop next door.”

Dave makes a big show of poking his head out the door to glance at the aforementioned store.

“A boutique? Don’t tell me you’re going all girly on us now Rose, in the middle of the Goddamned Apocalypse!”

“Not at all” Rose replies, and John can see her failing to hide a smirk, as though Dave’s outburst was something terribly amusing. John himself isn’t sure why they’d need to go there, so he stays quiet.

“Then why, dear sister, are we going to a fucking clothing store?”

There’s not really that much heat behind his words, and both Rose and John know this. He’s just trying to get a rise out of his sibling: to both of them, arguments and debates are like oxygen.

“Because we need packs, dearest brother, to carry supplies in. In case you have not noticed, we are not equipped with infinite pockets.”

Dave had, in fact, noticed, but he had not given much thought as to needing anything to carry things around in. His focus had been entirely on making sure his friend and sister were safe, and not on what came after.

“Then it is settled.” Rose says, setting down her teacup and standing up. In a swift motion she had grabbed her bag and needles and had marched past the two boys towards the door. “We should go now, no use in standing around. We still have to get to the meeting point with Jade.”

“We’re meeting with Jade?” John asks, both disbelieving and excited, and Rose arches a blonde eyebrow at him.

“Yes. Did you not receive her call?”

“Uhm…” John hurriedly plucks his cell phone out of his pocket, tapping the screen to see ‘One Missed Call’ in bold letters, to which Rose sighs.

“It’s a miracle how any of you get on without me” She grumbles good naturedly, and pushes the door open, Dave and John following behind.

It seems they have one more party member to pick up.
——
“Are we almost there?” Terezi groans.

The trio has been walking for almost fifteen minutes, oddly unhindered by any zombies. Karkat isn’t sure if he should be grateful or worried for that, and settles on a mix between the two. Vriska seems rather relaxed, but it’s clear the eerie silence is grating on Terezi, because she seems determined to hold some kind of conversation.

“Yeah, it’s just up ahead there” Karkat says, pointing. “Describe it to me” Terezi demands, and Karkat almost hits himself for forgetting she is blind.

“Uh, well, it’s in the corner spot. To the left of it is a laundromat, and to the right is this cafe place I’ve never been to.” Karkat is the first to admit he isn’t great at descriptions. He blushes as he tries to figure what else to say, but is interrupted by Vriska.

“Hey, did you see that?”

“No.”

“See what?”

“Three kids just came out of the cafe” Vriska says, eyes narrowing “it looks like they’re going into the boutique!”

“Our first encounter with another group of survivors!” Terezi exclaims, and judging by her grin and Vriska’s identical one, they are both looking forward to the encounter. Karkat does not share their elation.

“What if they try to attack us?” Karkat worries, and as soon as he says it he wants to take it back. It’s an admission of weakness, and he knows it. He’s still holding the pair of scissors, but he knows they won’t be much use against humans.

They barely worked against the zombie.

Neither girl seems to pay much attention to his concerns though, and instead they speed up, forcing Karkat to jog to keep up with their pace.

Somehow, he has a really, really bad feeling.
——
Kanaya knows she’s no longer alone before the door even opens.

She’s still in the changing room, so she knows she has the advantage. She’s not sure if she should go to greet the newcomers though, because if she startles them they might try and attack, and she really doesn’t want to kill any more humans.

So instead she starts humming a soulless, haunting tune loud enough that she knows whomever it is can hear it. Hopefully they take the bait and come to her, and the encounter can start on a good note.

She packs up her makeup slowly. She figures it will probably take them some time to decide if they want to come find her or leave, and she’s right. It takes a solid two minutes before she hears the curtain rustle behind her, and when she looks up into the mirror, her jade colored eyes meet pale pink ones.

She stops humming.
——
When Rose enters the shop, she’s not really sure what to expect.

Certainly, the carcass of a zombie with blood pooling beneath it is not one of them. She also doesn’t expect the quiet, echoing tune that signals someone else is in the shop.

John is quick to look away from the corpse, and Rose is mildly impressed that he’s remained so composed. Out of the three of them, John is the one most likely to have a meltdown or fit, so it’s quite an achievement he hasn’t so much as shed a tear.

She thinks that will probably change come nightfall, when they have to make camp and they won’t have adrenaline to keep them going.

But for now, she puts that thought out of her mind and focuses on the distant sound of humming drifting through the shop.

She can’t tell if whomever is responsible for the haunting sound is irresponsible or crazy, but right now she’s leaning towards the latter, if only because of the shivers crawling down her spine.

She feels the stares of Dave and John on her back, and can tell they feel the same way. Dave even gestures towards the door, but Rose shakes her head. They can’t leave another survivor like this, even if they end up being unstable, and they can’t leave without what they came for.

She points to the aisle where the satchels and backpacks should be, then to Dave and John. Dave nods in understanding and leads John over to where she pointed to search for backpacks.

Rose herself takes a deep breath and traces the sound to the changing rooms, which are less rooms and more stalls blocked off by a curtain.

She lingers outside of it for just a moment before she finally pulls aside the curtain. She’s prepared for the worst: perhaps a deranged looking woman smearing blood on her face (because the hum is distinctly feminine), or something equally sinister.

Rose Lalonde is certainly not prepared for the beautiful girl with cropped black hair and pale skin she is faced with.

She is even less prepared for the way her heart leaps and her breath catches when she locks eyes with the jade green orbs reflected in the mirror.
——
While Rose searches for the other survivor, Dave and John are rifling through the assortment of purses and bags the store has. There isn’t much for backpacks, but the two of them manage to scrape together four different ones.

Neither of them are sure what to do after that. Rose still isn’t back yet, so they sit there in silence. The humming has stopped, and there hasn’t been any screaming to tell them something is wrong, so they sit back and let themselves rest for a bit.

Suddenly the door swings open with a loud noise, and a female voice echoes throughout the shop, and John can’t help but jump a little and let out a quiet yelp. He slaps a hand over his mouth, but it’s too late.

The damage has already been done.
——
Vriska is feeling invincible when she throws open the door to the boutique.

Her entrance is loud and flamboyant, much like herself, not that she minds. Vriska has learned from her role playing days, which seem to her a lifetime ago, that the more confident you seem the more intimidated everyone else is. And the more intimidated they are the more power you have over them.

Her voice rings throughout the entirety of the store, and has enough volume to it that Karkat can’t help but wince a little.

“Yo, anyone in here?” Vriska almost shouts. Terezi barely restrains the urge to twitch at the sheer volume as the actions of the cerulean eyed girl are rewarded at the sound of a not too distant cry.

Vriska follows the sound to its source with all the pride of a dictator, leaving Terezi and Karkat to trail behind her.
——
Dave isn’t sure what exactly he is expecting when the door is thrown open with the force of a thousand Spartans, nor does he know what to make of it when the person, clearly a female, announces her presence.

Apparently John does, because he’s leaping up and making that startled noise, giving away their position.

God, he hopes Rose hurries up.

It’s too late to do anything but greet the fellow survivors though, so Dave stands up and tries to look as casual as possible, keeping one hand in his katana, just in case.

John is making no attempts at subtlety, and is holding his hammer like a club. Dave would mock him for it if he wasn’t so nervous.

It turns out that Dave’s fears are for nothing, because when the three other survivors come into view, he recognizes one of them with ease.

“Karkat?”

“Oh hell no!”
——
Kanaya turns around and saunters up to the pink eyed girl with the grace of a vixen.

The blonde’s reaction is absolutely perfect, and soon they’re standing only a few inches apart. Kanaya is surprised to find she isn’t that much taller than the other girl, but she is still taller nonetheless.

“Are you lost, Kitten?” Normally Kanaya is not one for pet names, especially not so soon, but this girl is currently her best shot at a stable food source, so she’s turning the charm up as best she can. It has the opposite effect she intends though, as the girl seems to blink and snap out of it, and Kanaya sees one hand go to the knitting needles she’s holding in the other.

“It’s Rose, not Kitten” she says coldly, and Kanaya knows she has lost her advantage, so she backs up a step.

“My apologies, Rose. My name is Kanaya.” She says, awaiting the girl’s verdict. The suspicion does not leave her eyes, but her hand relaxes ever so slightly, and Kanaya takes that as a good sign.

“What are you doing here?” Rose asks, and Kanaya has to think very carefully about what to say next, so she doesn’t come across as even more creepy to the cute girl in front of her.

“For a reason similar to your own, I would imagine” she replies smoothly “I am seeking some sort of device for carrying objects otherwise too difficult to ferry.”

Rose doesn’t seem to be buying it, though, because the response she gets is an acerbic “That explains why you’re in the changing room.” But her posture is no more tense than it was, so Kanaya keeps going.

“No. I am in here because I wanted to wear something not covered in blood.” Kanaya knows as soon as she’s finished speaking it was the right thing to say, because Rose’s eyes widen just a bit, and she takes her hand off her needles, which Kanaya thinks are odd weapons, but probably not as odd as the chainsaw she has left on the counter near the register.

“Oh.” It’s not an eloquent response, far from it, but it’s the best Rose has at the moment, and Kanaya doesn’t particularly mind.

“I suppose I will leave you, then.” Rose says, and Kanaya has a brief moment of panic, because there is no way things will end well if she does not end up going with this girl.

“Are you alone?” Kanaya asks before the girl can leave, and she’s glad she does, because Rose turns back to her.

“No. Why, are you?” And Kanaya can only nod in response.

“I see.” Rose says, and a moment passes where she seems to be debating with herself. “Do you want to come with us?” The blonde eventually asks, and Kanaya whispers a very grateful “yes”.

Then they hear a door slam open and a booming voice rings out.

“Yo, anyone in here?”
——
Terezi is mildly surprised at Karkat’s reaction, not that she’s going to say anything. She knows all about having beef with people, so she keeps her mouth shut.

Vriska, however, has no such reservations, and immediately pounces on the connection.

“You know them, Karkat?” Terezi can just imagine the evil glint in her friends eye as she pops the question.

“Ugh, unfortunately.” Karkat’s reply is unexpectedly acidic, and Terezi wonders what kind of story there is behind the bite in his words.

“What, no man, we’re totally cool. That happened ages ago!”

“It was three years ago. And no, we are not ‘totally cool!” Karkat snaps back, and Terezi’s interest is at an all time high.

“Aw, don’t be like that Karkat!” Vriska chimes in with a falsely high voice “the Apocalypse is the best time to mend bridges!”

Terezi can hear Vriska drag Karkat over to the other person, and can feel the tension in him as the two are forced to shake hands. She almost misses how Vriska’s comment is equally directed at herself.

Almost.
——
John is not sure what he should be doing when the three strangers appear.

He’s stealing glances at Dave for advice, but Dave isn’t acting any different than normal, which is to say that Dave is busy looking bored out of his skull.

So John does the only thing he can think to do, which is to ready his hammer and hope that he doesn’t have to use it, because from the sound of it the girl that just waltzed in is really, really scary.

His thoughts are confirmed when he sees her. He can’t explain why exactly the cerulean eyed girl is so intimidating, she just is. Her companions, an angry looking guy that is even shorter than John and a girl with opaque red glasses, also strike him as scary, but not nearly as much as their leader.

Then Dave recognizes the angry looking dude, and suddenly the atmosphere is lighter, but there’s this undercurrent of tension that continues to linger.

The cerulean eyed girl forces Dave and the angry guy- Karkat, Dave called him- to shake hands, and even John can tell that Karkat absolutely does not want to go anywhere near Dave.

They shake hands anyways.

“So, uh, what’s your names?” John asks, painfully aware of how uncomfortable the situation is.

“Yours first, buddy” the girl with glasses hisses, and John shrinks a little, but he answers anyways.

“Uh, John. My name’s John.”

“Nice to meet you, John” the girl says, still speaking in that odd, raspy tone, and John realizes that’s probably just the way she talks. “I’m Terezi. The scary lady here is Vriska.”

“Aw, you think I’m scary?” Vriska says in a tone that suggests she is genuinely touched by the sentiment. Terezi flashes her a crooked smile and a thumbs up in response, and John is unashamedly unsettled by the interaction.

“And who’s your friend, Karkat?” Vriska adds, causing the boy in question to humph and cross his arms.

“He’s not my friend.”

“Aw, don’t be like that, buddy!” Dave clutches his hands to his chest, as though deeply offended, but the sarcasm in his voice is stifling.

“I’m Dave. Dave Strider.” He tries to introduce himself in the coolest manner he knows, and if it were anyone else, he probably would have charmed them.

But these people are not just anyone, and they are much more amused than charmed, although Dave will later insist that the two are the same thing.

“I’m glad everyone is getting along so well” Rose’s dry voice cuts through the small gathering, and John realizes with a start that he had completely forgotten about Rose and the mysterious other person that was also there. He, along with everyone else, turns to face Rose. Standing behind her is another girl that he can only assume to be the person that was there before them.

“Who’re you?” Vriska asks, and if her words are a bit more clipped and sharp than they were moments earlier, nobody says anything about it.

“Rose. And this is Kanaya.” The newcomer raises a hand in greeting, and even from a distance John notes that she is very pale.

“Right.” Vriska says “And I’m-“

“Vriska” Rose cuts her off “we were listening while you all gave introductions.”

Vriska flushes angrily, and the tension in the room threatens to resurface. Before anyone can break the silence that falls over them, Dave’s phone rings an obnoxious, loud tune and he swiftly picks it up and answers. There is still silence, but this time it’s in the interest of listening to the conversation, rather than growing animosity.

“Yo, Dave here. ‘Sup Jade?” If nothing else, Dave is casual, but even he can’t keep a note of excitement out of his voice as he listens to the person on the other end.

“Wait, you’re here? As in, here here? How did you even-“ he stops, clearly cut off by the person on the other end.

“Uh-Huh, yeah, I’ll let her know. We’ll see you soon, ‘aight? Yeah, bye.”

Dave hangs up, and is treated to numerous curious stares. He ignores them in favor of addressing Rose.

“Jade’s here.”

“Define here.”

“Somewhere on Fuschia beach.”

“Dave, that’s at least two hours away.”

“Yeah. She’s there. We need to go get her.”

Rose sighs and rakes a hand through her own short hair. “Alright. Let’s pack up and get moving, then.”

“Hey, who put you in charge?” Vriska demands, and Terezi buries her face in her hands. Rose fixes an icy glare onto the girl.

“Nobody. Naturally, you three are your own group, and free to go your own way. We will not stop you.”

There’s yet another pause- Karkat is getting really sick of those- as Vriska contemplates the other girl’s words. Finally, she gives a haughty huff.

“Geez, don’t get all bent out of shape. I was just curious is all. And we should stick together, don’tcha think? Safety in numbers, or whatever.”

Rose accepts Vriska’s claim with a simple nod, and everyone quietly gathers their things as they prepare to leave. Dave offers Karkat one of the remaining backpacks, but he declines with a decisive “go fuck yourself”, so Dave offers it instead to Terezi, who happily accepts it.

Vriska selects a stylish purse for herself, while Rose and John take the remaining backpacks. As they do so, Kanaya moves over to the register and retrieves her chainsaw. She knows it’s probably even less ideal now that she’s in a group, but somehow she doesn’t want to give it up just yet.

It doesn’t take very long for everyone to finish getting ready, and soon they have finally left the boutique.

“Is there anything we’re forgetting?” John asks as they spread out onto the sidewalk.

“Everyone has their weapons, yes?” Rose asks, and in turn everyone brandishes their respective tools. When Rose’s eyes rest in Kanaya’s chainsaw, there’s a moment of confusion.

“Where did you get that?” She asks, and Kanaya glances at the street for a moment before answering.

“I took it with me when I left Alternia High.” She admits, and is treated to two different reactions:

“You go there too?”

“That fancy boarding school?”

The two people responsible for the outburst, Karkat and Dave, exchange glares, and Kanaya looks a tiny bit more uncomfortable, and responds with a meek “yes”.

Then Vriska snaps her fingers, as though she has just figured something out, but to be fair, she has.

“You’re the one that took out that horde in front of the principal’s office, aren’t you?”

Surprise flits across Kanaya’s face for a split second and she nods. Vriska whistles lowly and whispers a soft “I knew it” before giving Terezi a victorious smirk.

“What about provisions?” Kanaya attempts to change the subject, and to her relief, it works.

“There’s some perishables and water in there” Rose gestures to the coffee shop “but it’s unlikely that whatever is in there will sustain all of us for any significant amount of time.”

Nonetheless, the seven of them spend about ten minutes rifling through whatever leftovers they can find, taking care to stash as much as they can into their respective bags, and then they’re back on the sidewalk again, following behind Rose as they set off.
——
Kanaya falls into step behind Rose. She’s not sure how to handle the large group, having intended one or two companions for the journey ahead. But Rose seems nice enough, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s cute.

It also doesn’t hurt that Kanaya can smell the uninfected blood in her veins, and that it’s a very, very pleasant smell indeed.

But for now, Kanaya needs to restrain herself, because she’s not about to reveal her nature to the entire group, so she holds back the urge to snap Rose’s head to the side and feel her fangs sink into the blonde’s flesh, to drink deeply of the crimson nectar flowing beneath-

“Like what you see?” Rose teases, twisting around to walk backwards, and Kanaya wonders if her earlier attempt at flirting only failed because she took Rose by surprise.

She replies with an honest “very much so”, and it’s Rose’s cheeks that turn pink, and Kanaya decides the color looks very nice on her. (And it’s because the color actually looks nice, and not because it shows the blood beneath, she tells herself.) She decides to spare her new companion from further embarrassment, and speeds up to walk beside Rose before asking a question that will keep both of them engaged the rest of the hike.

“Do you like to read?”
——
“Are you some kind of cool kid?”

Dave whirls around to find Terezi standing way too close, and almost trips trying to back up mid turn. She’s grinning at him, and he can see that her teeth are both a gleaming white and slightly crooked. She has teal colored hair, and it clashes horribly with her red shades, and it occurs to him that she probably doesn’t even notice, on account of being blind.

Her appearance is a stark contrast to the girl standing behind her.

Vriska is positioned ever so slightly behind Terezi, arms crossed and an annoyed look plastered onto her face, as though she has better things to do.

She doesn’t, of course. It’s the Apocalypse, nobody has anything better to do other than survive.

Vriska’s long auburn hair is neatly arranged to frame her face, which is lightly tanned. She’s wearing a tank top the same black color as the street, over which is a camouflage jacket that partially covers a pair of tastefully ripped jeans, and based on that alone Dave wonders how on earth the two girls ever came to know each other, never mind became friends.

Then Terezi is snapping her fingers in his face, and he doesn’t have any more time to wonder on that.

“Earth to cool kid! Come in, cool kid!”

Dave casually bats her hand away, trying not to let her know that she is dangerously close to getting on his nerves.

There’s only one person he’ll ever allow under his skin, and it’s definitely not the stranger in front of him.

“Sup?” He says, and there’s not even an ounce of annoyance in his voice . The girl in front of him turns back to Vriska.

“You see, Vriska? We have ourselves a cool kid!”

From Vriska’s scowl, Dave expects a retort along the lines of “fuck off”, or maybe “who cares?”, but Vriska stops and gives Dave an appraising look which turns into what he can only describe as the gaze of a predator.

“So we do” She drawls, and the hairs on the back of Dave’s neck stand up of their own volition.

“What are we going to do with him, my darling Terezi?”
——
John slides into place beside Karkat, and the shorter boy is struck with the thought that he sort of resembles a kicked puppy, and maybe that’s something they have in common.

But he immediately dismisses any premature thoughts of friendship, because the kid walking beside him is friends with Dave-fucking-Strider, and he’ll be damned if he allows himself to even like anyone that’s close to that douchebag.

Then John starts talking, and against his better judgement Karkat starts listening to him, but only because he has nothing better to do other than think about how horrible everything is right now, how everyone is dead or dying, even Gamz-

His eyes widen as he remembers his friend, and tears begin to form at the corner of his eyes. He blinks hastily in hopes of hiding them, but it’s too late, John has already seen them.

“Are you… okay?” The question is hesitant and weak, of course Karkat is not okay, anyone paying attention -which is only John, at the moment- can see that. Karkat attempts to dole out something sarcastic, but his voice catches in his throat and all that comes out is a pitiful whimper. John gives him a look of alarm and braces a hand on Karkat’s shoulder, and the shorter boy desperately wants to push him away, but he can’t bring himself to do it.

John does his best to console him, he really does, but he’s not good with words in these situations (or any situation), so all he can do is offer a comforting hand. For now that’s good enough, and Karkat’s silent tears fade away as he scrubs at his eyes.

Neither of them notice that the rest of the group has been stealing looks at the entire exchange as they keep walking.
——
When Jade can finally see land again, she almost cries in relief.

She doesn’t, of course, and focuses on docking the submarine instead.

It’s a tricky task, but Jade is nothing short of a certain kind of genius, so she manages to anchor the vehicle at the private dock her grandfather left her, and once the engine is turned off, she can’t help but collapse to the floor and laugh a little. The relief coursing through her is too great to do otherwise.

Bec sets himself in her lap, and she hugs him again and they spend what could be minutes or hours that way, until finally Jade has to break away because her legs are starting to go numb.

As the ravenette gently nudges Bec off of her and starts to stand up, she glances at the string on her finger and is reminded that she needs to contact her friends. She makes her way over to the other end of the sub (an admittedly short distance, due the miniaturized nature of the vehicle) and plucks her phone off of one of the food crates. She then dials John, because out of the three of them he’s the one she’s closest to. He doesn’t answer, and Jade finds herself frowning at the device before she tries again, this time calling Dave.

Fortunately, Dave picks up, and Jade can just tell by his tone that he’s okay, which means the others must be too. After a brief conversation in that ends with an affirmation that she will stay put and wait for them, he hangs up. She then puts her phone into battery saver mode and pockets it with a sigh.

“I hope they hurry ” the green eyed girl tells her dog with a sigh “because I am really tired of being so alone.”
——
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Chapter Text

——
——
——
According to Rose, they are half an hour away from where Jade is when Kanaya suggests the group take a break.

She does so not because she herself is tired, but because she can tell that the rest of the group need a little time to recuperate, and they are all too stubborn or shy to admit that. But they all agree readily enough to her suggestion, and not long after they are sprawled across the grass, munching on sandwiches and sipping from their bottles of water.

Kanaya can’t bring herself to even pretend to eat (normal food always makes her feel sick), so she tries to casually drink a bit of water while she watches the horizon for any threats.

Oddly enough, the group has encountered very few zombies, and those they did were dispatched by Dave or Vriska, who seemed to be engaged in some sort of contest on who could kill more. Terezi appeared to have taken on the role of judge, although from what Kanaya could tell, she was doing anything but keeping the game fair.

“What do you think about all of this?”

Rose breaks her out of her contemplation, and Kanaya turns to offer a weak smile that she doesn’t put much effort into upholding.

“It’s been quiet. Suspiciously so.” The ravenette says, and the grim expression on Rose’s face indicates she feels the same.

“I agree. We may be in the middle of nowhere, but we still should’ve seen more by now. If there is any lessons to be learned from stories, it is that when everything seems to be going right everything goes wrong.”

Kanaya inclines her head as a means of response. She doesn’t have anything to add, other than that they are indeed in the middle of nowhere. The last house they had seen was well over twenty minutes ago, and Kanaya can’t help but wonder how the patch of grass they are on had not yet been built upon.

As though reading her thoughts, Rose says

“I believe this land was owned by Jade’s grandfather. He was an incredibly wealthy man, although more than a bit eccentric and something of an introvert, if what she had to say was true.”

Kanaya blinks at this.

“More than just something, I’d wager, considering we haven’t seen a single building for at least a quarter mile.”

Rose laughs quietly at this, as though she’s actually said something funny (she hasn’t), and Kanaya can’t help but think it’s the prettiest sound she’s ever heard.
——
Rose has become increasingly more confident that bringing Kanaya with them was an excellent choice.

She’s still not entirely sure what to make of her weapon, or the claim that she took down an entire horde with ease. The girl before her hardly looks capable of that, all slim and angular as she is.

But then, most of their odd party is deceptively competent, if their continued existence is anything to go off of.

So Rose swallows her concerns and instead tries to fill the silence, a feat made much easier by the fact that Kanaya is an excellent conversationalist.

The other girl has a voice that, in Rose’s opinion, falls somewhere between ‘soothing’ and ‘warm’, and she has an air about her that makes Rose think she would be the last person on earth capable of harming anybody, which leaves her wondering:

How did the girl with jade colored eyes become capable of dismembering so many undead?
——
Dave is a horrific mixture of cross and creeped out.

Vriska and Terezi remind him of literally every pair of twins in every horror show, only minus the killing instinct. He’s trying so hard not to say anything since they started finishing each other’s sentences, because that would be really uncool.

Nevertheless, he has taken the opportunity of a break to get some space between them, and has leaned himself against a tree further back from the other six, basking in the small amount of shade it provides him.

Currently, he’s taking a sip of apple juice while he watches them, trying to project himself as the ‘tough, lone wolf, cool guy’ survivor, but he’s aware it’s not working. He doesn’t quite have the build to fit that stereotype.

“Hey Dave!”

John’s voice is unexpected and more than a little loud, and Dave starts and chokes on his juice. He’s able to keep himself from letting out a strangled cry, though, and he’s never been more thankful to be raised by an absolute maniac.

He spends two minutes coughing as quietly as he can while John stands there looking embarrassed, and while Dave can’t hear Terezi and Vriska snickering at his misfortune, he knows that they are most assuredly laughing at him.

Between that, the Apocalypse, and not having heard from his cousin, Dave is not having a good day.
——
Seeing Karkat fighting tears reminds John that his own father died not even two hours ago.

He’s been focusing himself on the group and his friends and just staying alive in general, so he hasn’t allowed himself to really process what has happened.

His father is dead.

Sure, the guy was a right cornball, and probably the most stereotypical of fathers, but dammit if he hadn’t cared for John all sixteen years of his life, and shown him everything he could about being a man.

John’s father was strong, incredibly so, and remembering his last moments as nothing but a graying body mindlessly banging itself into his door while his son helplessly waited for help feels both disrespectful and wrong.

And if John is being honest, he is both ashamed and glad that it was Dave that ended the husk his father left behind, not himself. He thinks his father would be embarrassed of his son’s cowardice, and guilt claws at his insides, but at the same time he knows he could not have brought himself to do it.

For now, he resolves as he walks over to Dave, he will try to keep his eyes dry and his mind focused. He knows it is what his father would want.
——
Karkat watches as John breaks away from him, and he feels just a little more miserable as he realizes everyone has paired off except for him.

He’s used to feeling alone, but not this alone.

Before, he always had Gamzee to turn to if he was lonely. Sure, he was always stoned out of his mind , but he was there for Karkat no matter what, which was much more than he could say for anyone else in his life.

But now Gamzee is almost certainly dead, and even though Karkat is crushed, he feels more angry at Gamzee for leaving him to try and live through this by himself.

He knows it’s unfair, but he can’t help how he feels. At least, that’s how he justifies it to himself.

It doesn’t make him feel any less guilty, though.
——
Vriska is very much aware that to the rest of the group she and Terezi are presenting a united front.

It’s exactly what she wanted, and she’s glad for it, but it unnerves her that Terezi has so easily forgotten the incident that left them on not-speaking terms before people started eating each other.

She wonders if it’s because Terezi has already forgiven her, but that seems unlikely, given that Vriska has yet to forgive herself.

That means that Terezi has recognized her as the most viable ally out of all of them, but Vriska worries that the blind girl’s sudden interest in Dave indicates that is soon changing.

It puzzles her because Dave hardly seems like a great choice. At the very least, he’d make no better an ally than Vriska would.

He’s useful enough when it comes to fighting, but Vriska thinks that he’s otherwise uninteresting. The shades and cool kid attitude are clearly compensation for his otherwise boring life and personality, and it incenses her that Terezi would even think the guy can offer her anything Vriska can’t.

She needs Terezi more than she can admit, but she’s gotten past the point of forcing people to stay by her side.

That does not mean she isn’t going to see to it that Terezi is never given a reason to leave her, and if she has to bring about the end of Dave Strider to do so…

Well. Vriska does not have a ruthless reputation for nothing.
——
Terezi knows something is wrong with Vriska, but she’s not about to broach the subject.

Not only is Vriska an absolute drama queen when questioned on her feelings, this is definitely not the place nor time for an emotions jam. Perhaps tonight, when they’ve secured a safe place to sleep, she will corner Vriska and they can get to the bottom of what’s bothering her.

If she’s honest, Terezi isn’t mad at Vriska for the incident anymore, and she hasn’t been for a long time. Maybe it’s about time to tell Vriska that.

For now, they’re both content enough to sit together in silence, and they do until Terezi picks up the sounds of choking and coughing from Dave, and just imagining what he must look like is enough to get her to laugh.

Vriska’s own laughs indicate that her imagination is most assuredly accurate.
——
Ten minutes later and Rose is the one to prompt everyone to get moving.

It doesn’t take them long to pack up again, and they are soon walking once more. They leave the discarded wrappers and empty bottles behind, because anything that takes up valuable space needs to be equally valuable.

John doesn’t like the idea of littering, but he does it anyways. Peer pressure is a powerful thing indeed.

The sky is somewhere between blue and gray. There’s enough light left to see, but only just. If there were streetlights around they would not be so concerned, but there is not, and each of them walks just a little bit faster. The previous encounters with the undead they held the advantage, but in the dark they acutely sense the disadvantage they will have, and it makes their pulses quicken with anxiety.

The group is mostly silent the rest of the way to the meeting point. The only sound is their footsteps, and even though the quiet unnerves them the idea of breaking it somehow seems worse. The break has mellowed them, calmed them down, and each of them spends the rest of the thirty minute trek reflecting on their new reality.

Karkat is undoubtedly the most worried. He has nothing to offer the group, not really, and if the mass of romance-based apocalypse films he has secretly indulged have told him anything, it is that those with nothing to offer are usually the first to die. But Karkat does not want to die, not until he proves to everyone else that he is someone great, and he is starting to recognize the opportunity for what it is. No longer does he have to cower in the shadows of his father, who he hopes is dead, and no longer will he be pacified by Gamzee, who he had put his dreams of infamy on hold for.

Karkat is going to make something of himself in this new world, but he is not going to die to do it.
——
Similarly, Terezi is also worrying about her status in the group.

At this point, she thinks she can count on Vriska to defend her, at least for a little while (she did save her, after all), but ultimately she is a simple blind girl that hasn’t killed a single zombie, and it’s only a matter of time until the rest of the group realizes she is expendable.

She isn’t sure what she will do if that ever comes to pass, so she starts thinking about what she can do to prevent that.

Terezi wasn’t raised in the art of combat, unlike the rest of the group apparently was. Instead, her guardian fell into a coma when she was young, so all she really has is her mind. The Rose girl is also mentally gifted, so that leaves Terezi uncertain as to what role she can possibly fill.

All she needs, she thinks, is a little bit of time, and she will carve a place for herself.

Terezi is going to make sure she survives in this new world. For her, failure is not an option.
——
Dave is lost, thinking about his and Rose’s cousins, Roxy and Dirk.

Roxy and Dirk are also twins, but they are almost twenty and in college. And at this point, they are the only relatives aside from Rose that Dave cares about.

Dave knows that Dirk is most likely alright (he taught Dave how to use his sword, after all), but he’s not sure about Roxy. He cares deeply about his other cousin, but ever since her best friend committed suicide, Roxy had taken to drinking.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize alcohol and the Apocalypse do not mix well, and Dave knows he’s not the smartest person by a long shot, but he’s not stupid either.

So he can’t help but worry, but he’s not about to take out his phone and try and contact her, because what if she hasn’t silenced it and the noise gives her away, and then she dies for real?

Dave doesn’t know if he could handle being responsible like that.

He certainly can’t handle the thought of calling and getting no response at all.
——
Vriska walks with the smallest of springs in her step.

Truth be told, the Apocalypse is the best thing that could have happened to her.

She’s more than aware that none of the others feel quite the same, so she carefully keeps her features neutral, but there’s too much happiness in her new circumstances to keep all of it from showing.

Not only has she gotten her best friend back, but she knows she will never hear from her slave-driver of a mother ever again.

Sometimes, Vriska wonders how she was ever allowed to go to boarding school at all, considering how she did all of the housework. Then she remembers how she made herself so much of a problem that her mother had no choice but to send her away.

Not that it matters now, she tells herself. Now, she has a second chance to reshape her life.

Vriska Serket is ready to take this new world as her own, and she’ll damn anyone that tries to stop her.
——
The only thing Rose Lalonde is worried about is what they’re going to do once they meet up with Jade.

She’s not concerned about the zombies, or the ramifications that it’s going to have on all of their lives. She’s fantasized about this exact scenario too many times, envisioning herself as a bold survivor, hardened and strong and wise.

The only difference now is that she is not as alone as she imagined, but she thinks she can live with that.

What she can’t live with is how the sun will be setting soon, and they don’t have any semblance of a plan beyond “find Jade”.

Honestly, Rose is just confused as to why their friend left her island at all. She knows that Jade’s grandfather kept her well stocked for doomsday situations such as this, and considering there aren’t people for a considerable distance from where she lives, Jade was probably at one of the safest locations on the planet.

Still, she can’t leave a friend behind if she’s going to adopt the role of a benevolent crusader, bravely struggling against the heinous broods of the undead, so she keeps walking. Hopefully, Jade will have shown some foresight and have ferried some tents over or something, and they can camp for the night before moving on.

Although, she’s not sure how well that will work with all the extra survivors they have picked up.

Privately, Rose wonders if they will try to turn on them and take their supplies. Vriska in particular screams ‘danger’, and Rose doesn’t doubt that the auburn haired girl would ditch them in a heartbeat if it meant her own survival. But Karkat and Kanaya hardly seem the type, and even if Terezi were to help Vriska two against six are not odds anyone sane would want to take.

Then again, none of them are probably sane. Sane people don’t tend to survive zombie outbreaks.

Rose knows very well that all of them should be freaking out, panicking, or dead. Nobody in the party should have been able to kill so easily, even if what they killed was not human any longer.

She supposes that Terezi and Karkat may serve as exceptions, but so far only Karkat has given any indication that he is bothered by what is happening, and even then it was a very brief demonstration.

Rose wonders if maybe the Apocalypse is actually some sort of rapture. She’s never believed in God, not really, but something deeper must be going on if only a bunch of jaded, messed up kids are left over. The idea is stupid, of course, but she can’t deny that the idea resonates with her as holding a kernel of truth to it.

How else would it come to pass that they are the ones left behind?
——
Kanaya is trying desperately not to focus on how hungry she is.

‘Hunger’ being a relative term. The desire to drink blood is more an addiction than a necessity, but addiction is a powerful thing, and to her it might as well be a need. She’s only ever starved herself once, and that ended with a gap in her memory and a city on fire.

She tries not to think about that too much, and instead focuses on what exactly she is going to do.

There’s no denying it: somehow, Rose has caught her attention. She can’t explain why, exactly. Kanaya has met so many people throughout her lifetime, people prettier, smarter, stronger, even darker than Rose is. But there’s a certain appeal the blonde has that none of the others did, and all she can tell for certain is that she wants to stay by her side.

It’s an odd, foreign feeling, but right now Kanaya doesn’t mind it very much. What she does mind is not knowing how Rose, or any of their other companions, might react if she were to tell them what she is.

Normally, Kanaya would not consider doing any sort of reveal, if only due to the fact that if word got out, she might be locked away, and she’s not sure if she would be able to get out. Or if she would even want to.

But that’s not a concern anymore, given the state of the world, and it’s unlikely most of the group will care too terribly much. Attitudes towards vampires and other supernatural beings have changed greatly as a whole.

With zombies a reality though, that might change again, and Kanaya isn’t sure she wants to risk anything just yet. Not until she is better cemented within the group, at least.

It frustrates her, because she knows she could do much more for them if they were aware of her abilities, but even if she does say anything, the chances of them believing her are slim.

No, she’ll wait until they see her as a friend and as a person, and then she’ll tell them.

She can only hope that by that point, they won’t resent her for keeping such a secret.
——
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Chapter Text

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——
When they finally reach the coordinates Jade sent them and the sight of the brown wooden dock with a green awning comes into view, John is ready to cry with relief.

The seven of them have long since wandered off anything remotely resembling a path, and have crossed through a large expanse of trees in order to reach the lake, although John finds that calling it a lake is something of an understatement.

The body of water itself stretches on for what has to be dozens of miles, splintering into thick, wide rivers at three points they can barely see from the shore. Muddy patches of land overgrown with various flora are also visible from where they are standing, and John recalls that Jade once told him that there are five primary areas of forest, and together vaguely resemble a house when viewed from an aerial perspective. John never confirmed that for himself, but he’s inclined to believe her, because that doesn’t seem like something she would lie about.

Jade also told him that the water was as deep as it was wide, and while John knows that it is very, very deep, he’s not sure if it has quite the amount of depth she claims it does. It would explain why Jade has a submarine, however, but then John considers that her grandfather was a very eccentric man, prone to random and seemingly senseless acts, and he thinks that might be a better explanation.

Whichever the case, there’s no denying that beyond the murky surface is a mystery, but it seems doubtful he will ever discover what the waters are hiding.

They still have to figure out how to survive the Apocalypse, after all.
——
Jade sees her friends coming well before they spot her, and she’s taken aback by the four strangers they brought with them. She’s immediately on guard, because she’s fairly certain they were not in her dreams, and that worries her greatly.

She’s currently perched atop the top of the submarine, although it does not offer much of a difference in height than if she was standing on the deck, where Bec is currently laying down. But being surrounded by water on all sides makes Jade feel a tiny bit safer, regardless of her fear of the monsters lurking there.

The sniper rifle in her hands is also very comforting.

Back when her grandfather was still alive, he would regale Jade with tales of how she had grown up wielding pistols, and of how she was so good with them as a toddler that he couldn’t help but introduce her to more and more guns as she grew older. And then he had her experiment with rifles, and she had never looked back, and had even refused at times to so much as handle any other kind of firearm.

Jade was pretty sure he was exaggerating in that last part, but then again, she can’t remember the last time she has handled something other than a rifle, so perhaps it isn’t so much a fantasy as she thinks it to be.

Not that it matters, exactly. Jade is more than happy with her assortment of rifles, and there is no point in considering many of the other types available. Shotguns would be too slow, too loud, and she has no intention on getting close enough to any undead to warrant a pistol, although she has loaded some of each type into the vehicle she is sitting on, in the event her friends want them.

And speaking of her friends, Jade is almost vibrating with anxiety and tension as they draw closer, to the point that even Bec notices as he raises his snout towards her, but Jade is too excited to be meeting her friends in person for the first time to calm down.

Jade has only ever spoken to them online, whether through a video call or through their preferred chat client, Pesterchum. This has been partly because Jade did not want to leave her island, and partly because the other three were never available at the same time. Still, Jade never felt like she was missing out, because she frequently saw them in her dreams, and was therefore always aware of what was going on with them, and so it has never occurred to her to feel lonely. Besides that, Bec has always been there with her to keep her company.

But now, anticipation unlike any she has ever experienced is causing her pulse to race and skin to sweat, and she has to focus on breathing so she doesn’t start hyperventilating from sheer nerves. It’s a difficult, demanding task, and not something she has ever dealt with before, but somehow she is able to get herself back under control before her friends notice her.

She’s still a little breathless when they finally notice her and wave her over, but in the dimming light they can’t tell her chest is rising and falling faster than it should. Jade almost wants to cry at how perfect this moment is for her, but instead she slides the strap of the gun over her shoulder slings the forearm across her back, leaping off the top of the sub and onto the dock, prompting a soft “woof” from Bec as she runs over to meet her friends at last.

She embraces John first, because he’s a little bit closer to her both physically, and she really needs a hug. As he wraps his arms around her back she tries to hold in the waterworks but can’t, so she sniffs and steps away so only John can see the tears roll down her face.

“I’m so glad you’re all here” her voice is thick with emotion, but somehow still quiet and clear, John gives her his best smile. “I’ve been waiting so long for this.” She has to clamp a hand over her mouth, because her throat has tightened from everything she is feeling right now.”

“Me too.” John says gently, and even though they’ve spoken before over calls and video chats, she’s still blown away by how absolutely genuine and kind he sounds, and she’s grateful that the hell he’s been through hasn’t changed him. “Are you okay?”

It’s a dumb question. It’s obvious neither of them are, if only because of the circumstance, but Jade gives him a nod and a smile while wiping away tears. She notices that her other two friends have come over to stand next to John, as has Bec, while the four strangers hang back. She then turns and offers Rose a shy wave, knowing the blonde is not one for displays of emotion, but she can’t deny the sensation of disappointment when her friend doesn’t walk over to offer even a short embrace.

Not to be deterred, Jade awkwardly embraces Dave. The blonde boy really doesn’t do sentimentality, so Jade appreciates the effort he makes when he loops one arm around her back and gives the slightest of squeezes for the barest of seconds.

When he breaks away, she’s ready to meet the rest of the people her friends have dragged along. She takes a moment to scrutinize them, because it really unsettles her that she has never once spotted them in her dreams, despite the fact that she has dreamt of this exact moment before, but she can’t glean anything meaningful from basic appearances (she’s not the best at reading people), and so she begins to make her way around to personally greet them.

Jade first introduces herself to Terezi, because she’s closest to where Dave is. The other girl is just about the same height she is, but the similarities stop there. While Jade keeps her black hair long and straight, Terezi’s is short, messy, and colored teal. Jade’s wearing a set of thin, round, black-framed glasses whereas Terezi’s are red, lenses and frame both. Terezi is dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt while Jade is in a white and gray dress and striped stockings.

These superficial differences mean very little, because Jade can tell that, for all her nonchalant exterior, Terezi is just as scared as she is, and right now that’s enough to consider her a friend.

She’s not sure if she can say the same for Vriska, who is almost vibrating with the same level of intensity Jade herself was moments ago, but for a completely different reason. There’s a gleam in the cerulean eyes of the auburn haired girl and an almost predatory smile on her face when they shake hands. She’s dressed like she’s ready for war: ripped jeans, black tank, camo jacket, black belt. She’s clearly competent, and Jade does not have to wonder at how Vriska has survived this far, but she wonders if the other girl might be a touch too enthusiastic as Jade moves on to greet the only male among the strangers.

Karkat is by far the shortest member out of all eight of them, and the way he’s standing slightly hunched with his hands in the pockets of his red hoodie and a scowl on his face make him look like an angry teddy bear. He’s rude to the point of insulting and refuses to shake her hand, but Jade tries not to pay it any mind because it’s obvious that Karkat is simply being cautious around her, which is good, because blind trust will get them nowhere.

Then she turns to greet Kanaya, who is standing slightly behind Rose, looking very much like a shadow, dressed in as much black as she is, and Jade freezes, because there’s something in those guarded green orbs that have alarm bells going off in Jade’s head, though why exactly Jade feels a stab of panic she can’t tell.

Kanaya walks over and shakes her hand and introduces herself like nothing is wrong, but Jade can tell that the taller girl is very much aware that Jade knows something is wrong, because even though nobody else can see Kanaya’s face is hard and cautious and it doesn’t look right at all on the taller girl. Then, with a swish of her skirt, Kanaya is making her way back to Rose, who has her eyes narrowed at the exchange. Jade does not want to be causing any problems, so she subtly mouths “later” to Rose, who accepts it with the slightest of nods.

They stand awkwardly for a few moments, and it’s Karkat that breaks the deafening silence with a well put “What the fuck do we do now?” Jade and Rose swap looks, and in the end it’s Rose that speaks first.

“It would be most prudent to seek shelter for tonight. The sun is already setting, and I for one am not keen on facing any zombies in the dark.” Rose is looking directly at Jade as she speaks, and the ebony haired teen senses the implied question.

“I think my grandfather had a cabin built on shore not too far from here.” Jade offers “It might be a tight fit for all of us, but it should be enough to last the night. Nobody’s been there for years, though.”

“We do not have the luxury to be picky.” Rose tells her “please, lead the way.” With that, Jade starts down the sandy gray shore, Bec coming to heel beside her on one side and John walking next to her on the other while the rest fall behind. After ten minutes of walking a faded wooden sign comes into view, pointing further into the woods. As they turn to follow the sign, Jade mentions a trail used to exist, but that it has probably been covered by leaves at this point.

It does not take them long-perhaps five minutes or so, to arrive at what used to be clearing. Patches of weeds and poison ivy decorate what was previously a neatly kept lawn, and a circular fire pit outlined with bricks and small wooden stools is being threatened by strong, serpentine vines.

As to the cabin itself, it was a small, wooden building, mostly untouched by the nature around it. True to Jade’s word, it quickly becomes apparent it will be a tight fit, but since it’s only for one night the group decides they can manage it. Nobody wants to even think about finding somewhere else to sleep, because in the back of their minds looms the memory of all the traveling done to reach this point, and the distant but looming threat of the undead. Here, at least, they can feel removed and isolated from the Apocalypse, almost pretend it isn’t happening.
——
The door is locked, and Jade doesn’t have the key.

She is suitably embarrassed, and apologizes profusely, although her sentiments are waved off by the others who are, for the moment, more preoccupied with the problem of how to get in.

There are eight windows total- one on each side of the door in the front, two on the left, a long, narrow one at the top of the right side, and three along the back, but smashing them to get in seems like an absolutely terrible idea, since it will leave at least part of the interior exposed to the elements. Vriska suggests brute-forcing the lock, but none of them are actually aware on how to do that, so they dismiss it.

Then Kanaya withdraws a credit card and a bobby pin from her satchel and asks if anyone knows how to pick a lock. To everyone’s surprise, it’s Karkat that takes them, albeit with great reluctance, and two minutes later the lock clicks and they file into the building.

It’s every bit as small on the inside.

As soon as they step in there is a sort of mini kitchen to the left and a futon to the right, above which is the narrow window they saw from outside. There’s a firm layer of dust on the varnished wood floor, but aside from that the cabin appears to be in good condition, and if they can clear the dust off and find a spare mattress, they can probably fit one person on the futon and one other on the floor.

Directly across from the door they entered from is a hallway that leads straight back, and at the end of it is a door leading to the bedroom where Jade’s grandfather would have slept. Around the middle of the hallway are two doors positioned across from each other. The right path of the splinter leads to an indoor bathroom (something that has everyone feeling relieved), while the left leads to a shallow pantry. Also at the end of the hallway is a second split in direction, where the right path leads to a shallow storage closet stocked with a variety of towels, blankets, and cleaning supplies, most of which are dirty with dust themselves. The left path hooks around to a second bedroom that is unquestionably the largest area in the house, while, as mentioned, the middle path ended in the master bedroom.

Looking into the other bedroom reveals two sets of bunk beds occupy, a surprising find considering the only people ever expected to visit the place were Jade and her grandfather. They also find several thin mats tucked underneath the large queen sized bed in the master bedroom, and a couple more underneath one of the bunk beds, but everything is so dusty nobody wants to touch anything.

The eight of them try to split off into different groups, but with cleaning supplies limited to a single broom and dustpan, as well as a couple bottles of spray cleaner and a severely limited amount of cloths, there isn’t much they can do. Ultimately, Rose and Vriska pair up to prepare dinner while the rest of them divide cleaning responsibilities. John and Dave offer to work on the room with the two bunk beds while Kanaya fixes the other room with Jade. Karkat is stuck with sweeping and straightening the bathroom while Terezi decides to search the pantry for anything useful, and after that to go outside and determine if there is anything to be done with the fire pit.
——
It doesn’t take long for Terezi to establish that the pantry has a great number of canned goods and other non perishables for their usage. She then finds a second broom in the back of the closet and does her best to assist Karkat with sweeping, allowing him to focus solely on the bathroom while she starts with the closet and works her way out to the hallway, and then to the first room with the futon and the stove.

She can almost taste Rose’s surprise as she successfully scoops up majority of the gray powder into the dustbin all at once, and her heart sings at the approval emanating off of Vriska in waves at her showing of capability.

It’s a small act, to be sure, but Terezi is certain they recognize it for what it is; a demonstration of ability. This is her laying the groundwork to being just as vital a member of the group as everyone else, despite the fact that she can’t see, and no longer can utilize the skills she once had to get around her lack of vision.

But she can feel it, this is the start of recovering those abilities she’s gradually lost since the incident.

She just needs a little more time.
——
Jade is grateful when Kanaya takes the covers off the bed and goes outside to shake the dust off.

To put it simply, the tall woman’s presence is stifling. Jade isn’t sure how nobody else has noticed yet, especially Rose, because her friend is nothing if not skilled at reading people, but the more time she’s spent around Kanaya has her quite confident that Kanaya is the most terrifying person Jade’s ever met (although, to be fair, she has met very few people) and nothing Kanaya’s done, aside from having survived, has indicated that she would do so much as harm a fly.

Jade isn’t sure what to do with this sensation, and she does her best to ignore her feelings, dismissing it as her not being used to other people, instead focusing on finishing dusting off the dresser and wardrobe before she leaves the room to steal the mirror cleaner from Karkat.

Hopefully, these feelings will subside by tomorrow, and she’ll be able to form a friendship with the girl, because she’s fairy certain that Rose has already grown attached to her.
——
Dave takes a break from cleaning to start a group message between himself, Rose, Roxy, and Dirk. It’s nothing more than a simple message reading “im not dead yet, r u?”, and it sounds really lame as he reads it back to himself, but it’s too late to change it so he focuses back on helping John clean up.

There isn’t much to do: oddly enough, none of the four beds have any blankets or sheets on them. Settled between the two bunk beds is a chest containing several sheets, which they have managed to wrestle onto the mattresses. There isn’t much more for furniture beyond the chest, given the beds take up most of the room, and John has already dusted off the dresser against the wall between the door and closet. The only thing left is to sweep, but the broom is currently in use, and Dave has no intention of asking Karkat for it. Without anything else to do, sets himself down on the nearest bunk and stares at the bottom of the one above him.

He somehow resists the urge to pull out his phone again, because he knows with it being at only twenty percent he really needs it in case Roxy or Dirk responds. He’s trying to stay calm, but both of them are living together in California, staying at their mother’s (Dave’s aunt) place for college while she travels.

Apparently his aunt is crazy big in the Hollywood scene, and has a bank account to match, but only agreed to cover her kid’s tuitions if they chose to stay in California and watch over her house, which as far as Dave knew, was really more of a mansion. If Dave was offered that deal, he’d take it in a nanosecond, but then, he’d take almost anything over his previous arrangement.

It’s at this point Dave is struck by the fact that John is oddly silent, and looking over Dave realizes his friend has fallen asleep. He’s grateful his friend can still manage to be at peace, despite his father dying just hours earlier. An internal part recognizes that this is a temporary peace, brought on by a mix of shock and adrenaline and a need for survival.

For John’s sake though, he hopes it all lasts a little longer, and Dave decides not to wake him as he leaves the room to find a dustpan and broom.
——
Meal prep is something of a second nature to Vriska, after spending a lifetime doing it for her mother first, and then herself.

She’s not sure why Rose is bothering to try and help her, exactly. She’s more than capable of doing it on her own, and even then heating up cans of ravioli is so simple literally anyone in the group could do it, even that John guy, and if she was being honest he looked about as smart as a bag of bricks.

There’s no way the blonde could actually think her incapable of handling this on her own. Which means she had another reason for partnering up like this, although Vriska doesn’t particularly care what that reason is. She’s going to spin the situation to her own advantage.

“You know, I can handle this on my own. Why don’t you go hang out with Maryam or one of your other friends?” She’s careful to watch her phrasing so that it strikes Rose in such a way to provoke a response, but not so much that it draws ire. It’s a talent picked up over a long time, but usually Vriska doesn’t worry about how her words affect others, and by and large she considers it a mostly useless skill. At least, up until scenarios like this crop up.

Pink eyes snap to hers, a subtle sort of confusion registering in them, and Vriska is quick to recognize the source of the blonde’s befuddlement.

“Maryam? The girl you were acting all friendly with earlier?”

“You mean Kanaya.” Rose corrects her, finally realizing, but Vriska only shrugs in response.

“Yeah, her. Tall, wears a skirt, terrifying as shit.”

Rose furls her brow at this, and Vriska almost wants to laugh at the conflict of emotions on her face. She doesn’t, of course, because that would give away the game she’s started, which entails sharing a bit of knowledge she has about Kanaya and using Rose to find out if it’s true.

“She’s not that scary.”

Vriska fixes her with a pointed stare.

“There is no fucking way you just said that. Do not try and tell me you just said that.”

Vriska knows she has Rose’s attention now. Exaggeration is key to attracting interest, but between the rumor she’s about to slip into Rose’s brain and her own knowledge about Kanaya (primarily, her actions back at the school with the chainsaw), she doesn’t think much exaggerating is actually happening.

“Is there something about her I should be aware of?”

The Look, which Vriska dubs with a capital ‘L’ because it is too priceless not to, would be hung up on a wall somewhere if Vriska has a say. It’s somewhere between curiosity and indignance, the perfect mixture to rope someone into a conversation they might otherwise avoid.

Vriska doesn’t have anything against Kanaya. To the contrary, she has a healthy amount of respect for the girl. It just so happens that she is bored, and boredom gives way to curiosity, and Vriska is not one for idle curiosity. By planting this story into Rose, she is also pushing a question into the other girl’s mind, and Vriska is quite certain that sooner or later Rose will draw the answer out of Kanaya herself, at which point she need only wait for the truth to circle back to her. First, though, she has to actually tell Rose the story.

“Well” she says dramatically, drawing out the syllable “that depends on how much stock you put in rumors. Back at Alternia, your precious Kanaya has quite the sinister reputation.”

Rose takes the bait, hook, line, and sinker.

“How so?” She asks, and the game is afoot.

“A bit of background first” Vriska says, eager to draw out the conversation, but for the sake of personal pleasure, and not for manipulation. In her earlier years, many relatives thought she would be a writer, given her flair for storytelling. “You need to know two things. First, Kanaya transferred in during the second semester of our sophomore year. Second, if you remember, this was around the time people were being kidnapped by that psychopathic cult.”
——
Rose does, in fact, remember.

She had come very close to being a victim of the cult herself.

It has been her own fault, mostly. She had made herself a prime target, pushing the people around her away and all but broadcasting her fascination with the dark and zoologically dubious. When the man had approached her, she was stupidly and utterly captivated by his promise of showing her the true face of the world.

She had been lucky, astonishingly so, that her cousin Roxy, not yet off to college, was nearby and saw the whole exchange, and had stepped in and stopped her from going with him.

To her eternal shame, Rose lashed out at her cousin, angrily shunning her for denying her the opportunity to learn more about the world. Then, two weeks later it was revealed that same man was part of a group responsible for kidnapping and murdering young girls in the area, and Rose had broken down into tears at the revelation while Roxy gently held her close, comforting her.

But Rose is not about to spill that story, because Vriska is a stranger, and she has not even brought it up to her friends, though she wants to, because she needs to talk about it with someone. So for now, all she does is nod and say “yes, I remember.”

“I bet you didn’t know that Kanaya was their last victim, and the only one to survive at that.”

Rose did not, in fact, know that.

“You are certain?” She asks in a hushed tone, and Vriska grins at her.

“Oh, yes. The funny thing is, some people even say she went willingly. No fight or anything. But if my information is even halfway accurate, then she’s also the one that set fire to the building and killed most of the people there on the way out.”

Rose’s heart almost stops at how similar the situations are, but her brain is quick enough to catch up to her emotions and she frowns.

“Your information must be less than halfway accurate, because the official reports said that everyone that died there did so because of the smoke and fire, nothing else, not to mention that the fire started because of a gas leak, of all things. Actually” she taps her chin, thinking. “I am not sure they reported any survivors at all.”

Vriska is still looking at her with that same grin, and Rose realizes with a sinking feeling that the official information is either incorrect, or Vriska Serket is one hell of a liar.

It’s probably both, but right now her intuition is saying it’s more a case of the former than the latter. At the very least, it’s clear Vriska believes in what she’s saying.

“Actually” Vriska drawls, flinging Rose’s words back at her “I have it on good authority that these reports are totally bogus. I know -knew- a guy whose cousin was there that day, as part of the police force, and he confirmed for me everything I told you. Maryam herself admitted to going with them and setting the fire. She didn’t confess to killing anyone, of course, but my source said they found her with blood all over her hands and a knife in her boot.”

Rose gives her a pensive look, not quite convinced, not quite unreceptive, but somewhere between the two. Skeptical, is how Vriska would define her in this moment.

“Why are you telling me this? And why did you not mention this earlier?”

Vriska shrugs, stalling as she draws on her most common excuses she has set aside for whenever she plays this game of hers.

“There wasn’t a good time to say anything earlier! You don’t just talk about someone when they can hear you, that’s not a thing you do. And I just thought you should be aware of what you might have to deal with later. I saw you two acting all chummy earlier, and thought you could use a little heads up.”

All Rose can offer in response is

“I think the ravioli is finished.”
——
Kanaya herself is outside the cabin, pressed against the wall next to the door so she can hear what is happening inside. She had been just about to enter when she heard them mention her name, and had made a split second decision not to go in, and to listen instead.

She’s not sure why she suddenly felt the need to eavesdrop, or why she actually went through with it, but she suspects part of her internal reasoning revolves around how she is not in a good spot in the groups hierarchy. She doesn’t have any real connection to anyone in the group (a two hour conversation with a girl she’s known for about that much time does not qualify as a connection), and even with Terezi and Vriska vouching for her skill, she hasn’t actually proven herself useful in any way.

She’s glad for listening in like she is, though, because now she knows that she has the interest of at least two group members, and that’s enough to save a place for her in the group. They’ll try to draw her in all on their own, she’s confident of that, at least.

Once Kanaya can no longer hear them speaking she counts to twenty, then counts seven more. It would be suspicious if she walked in right as they were done, hence the need to put enough space between her entrance and the end of their conversation. After she reaches twenty-seven counts, she slowly reaches for the door handle.

Before she grasps it, the hunger pains hit, white-hot tendrils of pain and desire coursing through her stomach that leave her curled up and gasping. She nearly blacks out from the unexpectedness of it all, but somehow retains consciousness.

That settles it then, she thinks as the pangs subside and she reaches again for the doorknob. She’s going to have to feed tonight: no way around it.

Mentally, she makes a note to try to suggest the idea of keeping a rotating watch and volunteer for the first shift. She’s sure it will strike at the groups sensibilities: they will need to have some sort of guard when they migrate back to populated areas, where the infected roam. During her turn she can sneak off to hunt. The woods look deep enough to contain rabbit, possibly even deer.

Animal blood is barely satisfying, but it will be enough to keep her sane for another day.
——
John doesn’t mean fall asleep.

It’s just that it’s so quiet, and he’s just so tired, and he’s not used to all this walking and fighting and action that he can’t help surrendering to the darkness tugging at the edges of his vision.

He doesn’t stay that way long enough to dream, something he is immediately thankful for when he awakens to the sound of Vriska calling everyone for dinner. John doesn’t dream usually, but somehow he thinks he might do so tonight, and he’s not sure he’s ready to face whatever his brain wants him to face.

He lays there for a minute longer, at which point Vriska calls again, and John forces himself to stand up with a groan. As he does so, he notices that the floor has been swept and that Dave is gone, and he feels a pinprick of guilt for leaving his friend to finish cleaning by himself.

As he exits the room and enters the hallway, John hears a barking noise. Turning the corner reveals that the rest of the group has made a sort of circle using a bunch of the mats from underneath the bunk beds. In the center of it all is Jade’s massive, fluffy white dog.

Jade notices him lounging in the doorway and beckons him over, scooting closer to Dave who is on her right to make room. John takes extra care not to trip over the canine (or anyone else, for that matter) as he hesitantly crosses the room to set himself down next to to Jade, who pushes a bowl of ravioli and a spoon into his hands the moment John sits down.

“I’m glad you woke up in time to join us! We were worried you would sleep through dinner!”

Her smile is sincere and infectious, and John manages to smile back at her as he slips one of the noodles onto his spoon.

“Me too! Did I miss anything important?” He asks, and places the spoonful of food into his mouth. It doesn’t have that great of a taste, but John knows he’s in no position to be picky. Besides, he’s happy to take canned food over baked goods any day of the week.

“Well” Jade begins, and John listens as he eats “we were actually waiting for you to wake up before deciding anything. We’ve been trying to determine how long we have before we start losing electricity, water, and internet. We’re thinking no more than week for electricity, and maybe a little longer for water. Internet, though, is anyone’s guess.”

John nods dumbly, unaware of what to do with the information. He knows enough that they will be in a much worse place when they lose electricity and water, but he has no knowledge over what goes into maintaining these things. He’s always taken running water and power for granted.

“Is there anything we can do to extend that?” He asks between mouthfuls of ravioli, and Jade’s smile turns a bit more grim before she answers.

“If we stay here, no. That’s why I need to talk to everyone. I know a place where we can secure both those things, but it’s going to be incredibly dangerous to get to.” She mutters the last part under her breath, as though out of shame. John comforts her, giving her a pat on the back.

“Don’t worry, it’ll be okay. I’m sure with all of us we can handle anything!”

Jade almost subconsciously shoots a glance at Kanaya, who is on the corner opposite Vriska and Terezi, who have drawn Rose into a conversation on if they will find any mutated zombies, and is sat against the wall next to Karkat. And Jade nods slowly at John’s words.

“Yeah. I’m sure we can.”
——
Karkat has never been more acutely aware of how much he sucks at small talk.

It probably doesn’t help that the person he’s talking to is the only individual with a worse reputation than him, but even before he’s been almost incapable of starting conversations. It shouldn’t be too hard, he thinks, because Kanaya went to the same school as him, but then he thinks back to the rumors and instead of saying anything he watches her.

Karkat was not very in the loop with gossip, so when he did hear something, it had to be really big. Which is probably why he is unsure of what to do with the fact that the girl next to him is supposed to be some sort of murderer while she looks even more uncomfortable than he does, and has not eaten so much as a single bite.

“Hey, don’t you think you should eat something?”

He instantly wants to eat those words and take them back, because that is not the sort of thing one says to someone they don’t know. But all she does is give him a strangled smile.

“I’m not particularly hungry. But thank you for your concern.”

Her voice is smooth and elegant, but the flicker in her eyes is something Karkat cannot leave alone. There’s something there he’s seen in himself, and something he’s seen in Gamzee, a sort of resignation to something, and it causes him to toss out any notions of dropping the subject to be polite.

“There’s no way you aren’t hungry! None of us have eaten in ages, and even then, it sure as hell wasn't much! What did you even eat, like, an apple or something?”

She looks away, and Karkat realizes with a jolt what the answer is.

“Seriously?”

His voice is a whisper, low and angry, and it no longer matters to Karkat that he has never even spoken to this girl until just now. He can’t help the sensation of protectiveness that infiltrates his brain and steels his resolve to involve himself and help.

She gives him the barest of nods, and her eyes flick around the room before she leans closer to him.

“Please don’t tell anybody. But I, uhm, I cannot eat in front of other people.”

She draws away, looking embarrassed, and Karkat feels the stirrings of relief that she is at least able to tell him what the problem is. He knows now that she is at least partially open to help, and somehow his brain has already come to the conclusion that help is what he is going to do.

“Okay. Alright.” He peers at her for a moment. “Do you have any sort of plan for getting around this?”

She looks down again, and Karkat wonders how he was ever intimidated by this girl.

“Terezi cleaned off the fire pit earlier. I was planning on sneaking out later tonight.” It’s not a lie, technically. Both these things are true: it just so happens that Kanaya will have no need of the fire pit.

“And after that? When we leave this god forsaken place?” He presses, because he is confident she has not thought that far ahead, and he knows how important it is that she does.

“I wa hoping to figure that out as I go.” She admits, as he knew she would.

“Okay, no. Tonight, once you’ve eaten, we’re going to sit down, and you and I will make a plan to deal with this thing.” It’s not a question, because he knows if he leaves a way out she will take it, and that will get them nowhere.

She nods meekly, and Karkat feels a rush of pride at the small victory. She’s wearing an expression that mixes shame and gratitude, but also something else he can’t pinpoint, though he can’t think on it now, because Jade is currently calling for everyone’s attention.
——
“Okay, um, so!” Jade is even worse at talking to people than she thought she’d be, but at least she’s trying. “I know everyone is really tired, but before we can settle in for the night, we really need to decide on a course of action for tomorrow morning.”

Rose steps up next to her, and Jade is incredibly relieved at the show of support. “As we have already discussed, within the next week many of the facilities we are used to will cease functioning. However, Jade and I have both confirmed the existence of a location where this will not be the case.”

The rest of them are watching her with bated breath and still postures; none of them are ready to give up the luxuries that come with the modern world.

“This place is, unfortunately, quite far, and traveling there will prove to be immensely dangerous. Provided we can access a vehicle, the journey should total around three days, although without knowing road conditions, it could be more or less.”

“For fuck’s sake, spit it out already! Where the hell is this place?” Vriska does not like being kept in suspense, nor does she like being out of the loop, and her outburst is reflective of the annoyance she feels at being both those things.

There’s a short exchange of glances from Jade and Rose, and it’s Jade that answers Vriska.

“Well, should you choose to come...”

“We will be going to California.”
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
“Are you out of your fucking mind?”

Karkat’s explosion is neither unjustified nor unexpected: California is, after all, the most populated state, with almost forty million residents. Throw in the still raging wildfires, and they might as well throw away the entire state, since it’s clearly never going to be a viable place to live.

Karkat doesn’t know enough about California to bring up these facts, not that it would matter, as both Rose and Jade are unmoved by the outburst. Seeing this, Karkat decides to try another method of persuasion and switches tactics.

“How the hell would we even get there? It’s on the other side of the goddamned country!” He aims for a more logical point, unaware that the two girls have already thought of this, and are more than prepared to answer.

“Undoubtedly, there will be more than a few abandoned vehicles” Rose tells him “and given that it is spring, traffic will have been at the lightest possible point. I imagine most drivers would have pulled over when they started turning, and we should be able to skirt around any cars that are left on the roads.”

“And fuel won’t be a problem!” Jade chirps “I know a couple ways of getting it out of the pumps, and that’s only if they stop working. Failing that, we can probably find some other cars that still have gasoline to get us the rest of the way.”

At that point, Karkat leans back and sighs, but he nods. Somehow, it never occurs to him, or to any of the others, to split off and form a different group, one that will stay. In the span of a couple hours, circumstance and necessity have driven them to bond, and none of them can imagine leaving this group they have formed. It’s with this mentality that Vriska points out the only issue with their plan.

“There is no way we can all fit in one vehicle. And correct me if I’m wrong, but you guys look like sophomores. Do you even know how to drive?” There’s a chorus of “no” from Dave and John while Rose, Jade, and Karkat all shake their heads in the negative. Terezi merely taps her glasses, but Kanaya raises her hand and confirms that she is able and has experience.

“So Maryam and I will take on the role of drivers. Obviously, we’ll need two vehicles, so four in each. Terezi’s with me. You all can figure out the rest yourself.” The way Vriska talks is almost callous in how short and impersonal she sounds, and it makes John wince from how much it adds to her scariness factor. Later, he will discover it is all part of her attempt to push them away, believing that if she lets them care about her it will only get herself hurt.

“I would very much appreciate it if Karkat could be in my group” Kanaya says, and the boy in question looks mildly surprised, but agrees all the same, on the condition that Dave is in the other car, because, in his words, “if I have to spend three days in close quarters with Strider of all people, I’m going to fucking kill myself.” John offers to go with his friend, and with that, a plan has been formed for the immediate future. There are still several blanks, such as what they will do for the nighttime, and how they will handle meals, but for now there are more pressing concerns, such as deciding sleeping arrangements, and more importantly, who gets to use the shower first.

They decide to pick beds first, because Jade has an idea for a game to help decide what order they get to use the shower in, and she needs some time to set it up. So they split apart in a mad scramble to choose rooms and mattresses, snatching blankets and pillows from the closets in the hallway and second bedroom.

Vriska and Terezi are more than happy to take over one of the bunk beds, although there is a brief argument on who gets which one. It ends with Terezi staking out the high ground and Vriska grumpily accepting the lower bed. John and Dave take the other set, but Dave easily concedes the top bunk to his friend. Kanaya is content to settle for one of the mats dragged into the kitchenette, although Karkat finds it disheartening she so readily accepts lower standards. He himself puts up a brief fight for the queen sized bed, but is booted out by Rose, who had already decided to share it with Jade and her gigantic woof beast, leaving him with the futon, which he tries to coax Kanaya into taking but fails..

Then Jade returns, and she calls them back into the room, since the mats are still out, and for the most part they take the same spots, with the only differences being Dave and John have moved to the sit on the futon, which is in a couch-like configuration, and Kanaya has swapped spots with Karkat so that the boy is in the corner, and Kanaya is slightly closer to Dave. Vriska and Terezi are still leaning against the counter next to the stove, and Rose and Jade are on the mat in front of the door, backs to the entrance.

Then Jade stands up and goes around, handing each person a stick of varying length before explaining the rules, which turn out to be more complicated than anyone really wants to deal with, and because Dave won’t accept the alternative, they waste ten minutes negotiating the terms down to something more manageable. In the end, the game takes the form of each person going in a round robin style and saying something about themselves. Everyone else must agree if they are being truthful or lying. If the group is correct, the person trades for the shortest stick. If the group is wrong, the person trades for a stick of their choice.

Dave is coerced into starting, because it was his refusal to play something “as lame and uncool as Rock Paper Scissors” that set them down this path. His declaration of “I want to be a professional rapper” is immediately counted a lie, to which Dave returns with “of course I fucking don’t” as he exchanges his branch, the fifth largest with Kanaya, who drew the smallest.

Jade is put up next, and she fumbles for something to say before blurting “I don’t know how to drive a boat!”

Vriska scoffs and declares it an obvious lie, given that Jade has demonstrated the ability to pilot a submarine, but Rose taps her chin in thought and disagrees. In the end, Vriska’s voice is louder, and Jade happily takes the largest stick from Terezi, handing her own to the blind girl.

John volunteers next, and is immediately pinned as being truthful when he identifies himself as a huge fan of Nicolas Cage. He huffs good-naturedly as he swaps with Dave, who tells him that his admiration of the actor is legendary, so much so that his friends have started a counter for how many references he has made. When Terezi inquires how high the counter was, Dave tells her it was “over nine-thousand”, and the girl cackles at the outdated reference.

Rose goes after John, and takes the second longest stick from Karkat when everyone fails to guess that she does, in fact, have a gold-plated vacuum cleaner in her house. Everyone turns to Dave, wondering how he is unaware of this since they are siblings. He shrugs, and Rose explains that they grew up in separate households, and that she had never had a reason to tell him about it.

Terezi follows Rose, and glares accordingly when Vriska tells everyone that no, really, she does hate soda.

“She drinks it if she’s desperate or wants to look cool, sure. But if you watch, you’ll see she cringes between sips.” The cerulean eyed traitor asserts, and with that John finds himself sixth in line while Terezi is in eighth, not that it lasts for long as Terezi quickly shuts down Vriska’s claim of being well versed in all matters of the home.

“She’s actually a terrible seamstress. And has zero sense for decorating.”

“That hurts, Terezi! I’ll have you know I have excellent taste in décor!”

There’s a moment of disbelieving silence, and Vriska eventually confesses to being the actual worst at sewing as she trades with her friend.

Then they’re on to Kanaya, who purses her lips for a moment before saying “I transferred to Alternia from a school in New York.”

It’s enough to give everyone a pause, and to their collective surprise it’s Dave that calls “Bullshit.” Kanaya merely arches an eyebrow at him, to which he responds with “you don’t have an accent.” It’s hardly sound logic, but Vriska chimes in with “statistically speaking, you probably didn’t”, and Kanaya fixes the group with a coy smile when she tells them she did, only not for very long. She gracefully steals the longest stick from Jade, who only looks mildly disgruntled about being moved to fifth.

Karkat is last, and he’s quick to snap out his submission of having never left the state, which earns him searching looks from Jade and Kanaya, who both shake their heads in dissent. Dave, however, argues that he hasn’t, and the other three take his side, on the basis that Dave has some sort of history with Karkat, and would probably know best.

The short teen has never felt more satisfaction as he tells them that not only has he left the state, he’s even left the country. He stops himself from taking the grand prize from Kanaya, however, and instead reclaims his original stick from Rose, who is gazing at him with an odd, measuring sort of look, though whether that’s because he didn’t claim the longest stick or because he doesn’t look like the traveled sort is anyone’s guess.

“So the order is Kanaya, Karkat, Terezi, Dave, myself, then John, then Rose, and finally Vriska.” Jade recites, and there’s a short lull as Kanaya gets up and moves to the bathroom, only to return seconds later.

“Your grandfather wouldn’t happen to have stocked anything we may use as nightclothes here, would he?” she questions, and Jade hums in thought before standing up and making her way to the primary bedroom to check, returning shortly thereafter with a bundle of large flannel shirts and fleece pants in her arms.

“I know these won’t fit anyone, but they should be good enough to sleep in” she says, worrying her bottom lip with her enlarged front teeth. The other seven careful approach the pile, which Jade sets on one the mats, and make their selections.

Then Kanaya retreats back into the bathroom, and, the dynamic broken, the rest awkwardly exchange looks.

“Does anyone know some good games we can play?”
——
It’s almost eleven thirty at night by the time everyone settles in for the night, and Karkat is deeply concerned because Kanaya still hasn’t eaten anything when they turn off the lights.

He knows to be careful with this sort of thing, because back when he still had Gamzee his friend would sometimes become angry and violent, and would lash out when Karkat pushed too much. Even from his own experience, Karkat himself had been thoroughly unwilling to listen to anyone, no matter how good their intentions, and was quick to shut down any attempts to help.

Now though, Karkat wishes he had pushed a little more, because there’s no way Gamzee made it out alive, and now he’ll never be able to help his friend get better. He has a chance to help Kanaya, however, and he’d sooner shoot himself than let anyone else down. Besides, he’s fairly certain Kanaya is more receptive than either himself or Gamzee ever were, or at the very least, she’s too polite to outright deny anything he might try.

Nonetheless, he knows to be patient, because rushing this sort of thing can only result in disaster. So he waits a few minutes, hoping she will say something first, and then he waits a couple more, until it’s stunningly apparent she has no intention on doing as she said she would earlier, and it’s clear he has to make the first move.

“Kanaya?”

He cringes at how loud his voice is, but he can’t help it. Projecting one’s voice becomes a nigh-unbreakable habit when your father hits you for not speaking up. For Karkat, mumbling was a grave, punishable offense as a child, and even after his father’s arrest the habit stuck. Routine is a difficult thing to break.

“Yes?” Comes her reply, leagues softer than his own. He hears her sit up a little, and he moves to do the same, swinging his legs around the side of the futon, which had been moved to form more of a bed. The floor is cold beneath his feet, but he holds back the instinctual hiss in the back of his throat to ask her a question instead.

“Are you still hungry?”

Silence.

“Kanaya?”

“Yes. I am.”

“Okay. Alright. Um, let’s-“

“Karkat?”

“Yeah?”

“Can we… step outside, for a moment?”

“Yeah, let me just-“

“What are you two doing still up?” A third voice whispers from the darkness of the hallway, and Karkat flinches from the unexpectedness of it. Kanaya seems unphased, judging from how calm and quick her reply is.

“My apologies. Karkat is… helping me with something.”

“In the middle of the night?” Karkat recognizes that it is Jade speaking, and he winces at the accusatory note in her voice. For her part, Jade seems to realize that her tone is harsher than she intended, and she instantly moves to ensure they don’t have the wrong impression.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so snappy. I’m just really tired.”

“It’s alright. Your question is a fair one.” Kanaya says gently, and Karkat can imagine her giving a soft smile. There’s a moment as Jade waits for an answer, until eventually she realizes none will be forthcoming, at which point the situation has become horribly awkward for all three of them.

“Do you, uhm, do you need any more help?” Jade asks weakly, and Kanaya mumbles out a “no”. Karkat is too tired to let this drag on any longer, so he does the only thing he can think to do, which is, of course, to blurt out Kanaya’s secret and hope she forgives him.

“Kanaya can’t eat in front of other people!”

He can feel the embarrassment radiating off of both parties, and he swallows harshly as he attempts to figure out something else to say, but his mind blanks and he can’t think of anything else to do. Luckily for him, this ends up being irrelevant, because Jade chooses to make a tactical retreat of shame.

“Oh. Oh!” Jade brings a hand to her face as realization sets in. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know! I’ll, uhm, I’ll leave you to it. But if you ever do need more help, just let me know. Or someone else! I don’t think anyone will judge you for it.” Footsteps signaling her exit traverse down the hall, and once they hear they hear the sound of a door open and close Karkat stands up and stumbles over to where Kanaya is.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking, I-”

“It’s fine. May we please go outside now?”
——
Rose is sitting up and wide awake when Jade comes back, flushed and despondent.

The question of what happened burns on the tip of her tongue, but she waits patiently for Jade to carefully step around her dog, who is taking up most of the space on the floor, and throw herself onto the bed before pestering her. As the ravenette leaps onto the mattress, the consequent squeaking of springs and rustling of the covers causes the both of them to miss the sound of the front door opening and closing.

“What happened?” Rose inquires, trying not to sound overly eager, and Jade groans and throws a blanket over her head in response.

“I don’t think I can ever face them again” her green eyed friend whines from beneath the silky material, words muffled so that Rose has to strain her ears to understand her “I made a complete fool of myself.”

Rose gently peels back the fabric and Jade trains wide orbs on her blonde roommate, the light of the moon from the window behind them barely illuminating the cramped room enough to see each other. “I am quite certain you are exaggerating. It seems quite unlikely anything you could have said would have been as terrible as you are claiming it to be.”

“I just, I can’t believe I actually confronted them like that! Like they were doing something wrong! Ugh, I must be the actual worst!” She wrestles the blanket back over her head, ignoring Rose’s attempt at comforting her. “This is just too embarrassing.”

Rose carefully weighs her words, knowing that she is not getting through to her fellow survivor. “Jade, there is nothing wrong with being suspicious. Not when we do not actually know them. They could have just as easily been plotting to make off with some of our limited supplies as they were… what was it they were doing?”

Jade makes another small noise in the back of her throat.

“Kanaya has social anxiety, she can’t eat in front of others. Karkat is trying to help her with that.”

Rose blinks in surprise.

“I thought they did not know each other prior to today?”

Jade shrugs listlessly.

“All I know is that I came off as a total jerk, being all suspicious and stuff! Ugh, Rose, what am I going to do?”

“Again, I do not think this is as horrible as you are making it out to be. But I am sure if you explain the situation to her, she will understand. She seemed very kind when we spoke earlier.”

“I guess you’re right.” Jade sighs and burrows deeper into the covers. “First thing tomorrow, then. I’ll apologize first thing tomorrow…”

They fall into silence, and Rose casts a worried glance over the form of her friend. They have a long, harrowing road ahead of them without further complication of group dynamics.

“Sleep, Jade.” Rose murmurs “we will fix this tomorrow.”

Sleep does not come easily to either of them that night.
——
Kanaya’s mind races with a half dozen thoughts a second.

None of this was part of the plan. She did not mean to garner Karkat’s attention, nor did she mean to lie to him. She also did not mean to draw him outside, because being as dark and isolated as they are has her instincts screaming at her to take Karkat’s blood even as he looks at her with shiny, concerned eyes.

They’ve walked over to the firepit, although neither one have made a move to sit on the damp wooden benches. The sound of wind and crickets, occasionally punctuated by the cry of a larger nighttime creature and the calls of various nocturnal birds, almost fails to register as she listens to Karkat’s heartbeat, a slow, steady thumping sound she is only aware of because of the hunger heightening her senses.

“Is this better?” He asks her, and the amount of guilt she feels from how genuine his tone is, genuine even as all she can think about is draining all of his precious lifeblood, is overwhelming. She feels like she’s been stabbed through the stomach, although that could also be from the hunger, but she doesn’t remember it ever feeling like this.

“A little bit, yes.” She gives him a weak smile, not that he can see it in the dim light, lips close together to hide her painfully elongating. “I… Karkat, I need a favor from you. Please promise not to panic.”

To the teen’s credit, he remains steadfast, even as the rate of his pulse speeds up and she enters his personal space, laying one hand on his shoulder. “Okay. Alright. What do you need me to do?” He asks, shivering under her cold touch, and she uses her other hand to carefully tilt his head so his neck is clear and accessible. His eyes widen and he tenses, frozen as his brain tries to decide if he should run or fight, and Kanaya is quick to soothe him.

“Do not worry. It will not hurt, I promise. Please try not to struggle, however, because this will be over much sooner if you do not try to fight.” She then leans down and he stiffens as her lips press against his exposed flesh, and shivers as he hears her jaw click as she fits her mouth around the left side of his neck. He’s halfway in a state of shock at how impossible the situation is, so he barely feels it when her fangs puncture his skin and slip into the veins beneath.

As soon as the tangy liquid hits her tongue, Kanaya is almost lost in a state of pure bliss. It’s a testament to her willpower and strength of mind that she does not drain him dry, and pulls back well before she needs to, leaving him in a mild and temporary cloud of confusion and exhaustion, although that is more because of the sedative properties of vampire saliva, and not because of the amount she has taken, which is only really enough to take the edge off, and nothing he won’t have recovered by morning.

Feeding has never been something Kanaya takes pleasure in doing. That is not to say the act itself she finds unenjoyable; to the contrary, the ecstasy of drinking blood is incomparable to even the most intoxicating of substances. Rather, it is the picking and taking of a victim she dislikes, although that is more because she has never been able to leave a victim alive, the danger of anyone knowing too great to let them live. Even now, she will need to remain vigilant during these times, provided she is not chased out of the group by Karkat for this.

Having taken enough to last two more days, she then gingerly withdraws from Karkat, the wounds closing on both vein and skin as she takes a step back, which she does slowly, in the hopes of not causing him further alarm while she awaits his reaction.

Karkat stares at her, blinking owlishly. He’s shaking ever so slight as he traces a finger over the spot where she bit down, only to be met with smooth skin. He can’t bring himself to move or scream, two things he is pretty sure he should be doing. It almost makes him feel like he is back in the Principal’s office, unable to do more than watch as the man he had just been speaking with shuffled towards him with the intent to kill.

Only, Kanaya is not looking at him with any sort of malice or predatory gleam, so when Karkat snaps out of the trance he does not try to run or flee. Much of him is still in disbelief as he calms down, breathes deeply, and tries his hand at a joke.

“I can see why you don’t like doing that in front of others.”

It’s weak and flat, but he can tell that Kanaya is relieved to hear it as she flashes him another small smile, this time one he can see as his eyes have adjusted to the dark.

“Yes.”

Karkat rakes his hand through his hair and sits down on the bench behind him.. The dizziness has already faded, but his head is still in disarray as he tries to understand what has happened, and being able to set his head in his hands seems to be helping.

“So you’re uh, like some kind of vampire?” He asks, not sure of what else to say. Kanaya does not seem to mind his speechlessness as she sets herself down on one of the benches, fixing her gaze on the ashy center of the firepit, where it seems Terezi had placed a variety of twigs and branches. Karkat thinks the moment would be much more fitting with some fire, so he withdraws his pocket lighter, which he keeps on him at all times because Gamzee was always forgetting his, and the days Gamzee couldn’t light up were terrifying, and he flicks it open and touches the small flame to the wood.

“Of a sort, yes. As you have likely noticed, I do not fear the sunlight, unlike my more well known counterparts.” The orange light from the fire helps to illuminate her face, and he feels moderately relieved to see no traces of blood. It helps him that she looks normal, human.

“So there are more like you?” Karkat inquires, curiosity setting in as his fear subsides.

“Not anymore.” She says, eyes darkening just a bit “The rest of the daywalkers have long since been executed by the rest of the vampire community, on the grounds that they were too likely to reveal our existence. Personally, I believe it to be jealousy over our abilities, although I will likely never be able to confirm that.”

The last part is more to herself than it is directed at him, but he nods anyways, mind whirling at the implications of what she is telling him. None of it really sticks, but he retains enough presence of mind to pose another question.

“The whole blood-drinking thing. How does that work?”

“It’s more of a want than a need” she says bitterly “although if we go too long without it, we are liable to fall to insanity, until we are able to acquire some, that is. It isn’t that lack of blood causes death, necessarily: we can’t die from starvation as humans do. But for other vampires, these fits often lead to sunlight exposure, which does kill them.”

Karkat swallows harshly, the image of raging vampires alongside the zombies coming to mind.

“Fan-fucking-tastic. So now we have to deal with two kinds of monsters?” The words leave his mouth before he can censor them “Er, no offense.”

“None taken. Your description is more than accurate. However, I do not believe we will face much of an obstacle from them. Globally, the vampire population is incredibly small, and nationally it’s even smaller. Many of them will likely find themselves in the daylight eventually, and even if we do encounter any I will be more than strong enough to take them on. If there were other Daywalkers, I would be concerned, but since there are not…” she trails off, and Karkat is reminded of something else to ask after.

“If they were killing off daywalkers” he takes care to use the same term she did “how are you still alive?”

Her expression turns bitter, and he almost regrets asking. She answers nonetheless.

“There are multiple circumstances regarding my continued existence. The most important would be my youth, relative to the rest of the community. I am simply not old enough for them to have noticed me. For another-“ she chokes on her next words, then shakes her head and moves to apologize.

“I’m sorry. I’m not ready to talk about it yet.”

Karkat nods in understanding and decides to stop with any personal questions for the time being.

“Uh, that’s fine. You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to.”

“Thank you. Uhm, we should probably head back inside.” Kanaya moves to stand up, but Karkat stops her.

“How often do you need to do this?” She pauses and turns to look at him, and Karkat realizes with a jolt that Kanaya has not been expecting him to let her do this again.

“It usually depends on how much I take” she says carefully “as it is right now, I have two, possibly three days before I will need anything more.”

Karkat takes a moment to consider this, although there’s nothing to consider. He has already decided that he is going to help her, and when he says as much the sheer gratitude on her face threatens to be overwhelming.

“Thank you” she whispers as they walk back to the cabin “thank you so, so much.”

Karkat waves her off.

“What are friends for?”
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
The second day of the Apocalypse, morning comes far too quickly for Dave’s taste.

He isn’t the type of person to sleep more than eight hours at a time, granted. But today, waking up means that he’ll have to face the zombies again, and for as cool and nonchalant as he was about it yesterday the prospect now frightens him immensely.

There still hasn’t been any word from either of his cousins, not that he would know because his phone is dead as a doornail. He hopes that whatever vehicle they end up hijacking has a charger in it. For the moment, he tosses his phone into his backpack, which is sitting open at the foot of the bed.

Swinging his legs around the edge of the mattress, Dave reaches for his glasses, which were placed the night before on the chest between beds. Grasping them by the frame, he quickly places them just above his nose, hooking the sides around his ears and letting them slide into place.

Having done that, Dave begins to take stock of who is awake and who is not. The answer turns out to be that everyone is awake, because glancing over at the opposing bed tells him Vriska is not in the room, and standing up reveals that John and Terezi are similarly absent. He is probably the final one up, unless Jade is still sleeping, which he hopes to be the case, because he just knows Rose is going to taunt him for being the last awake.

Quickly, Dave snatches the clothes he was wearing the day before and begins changing into the red and white t-shirt and denim shorts. Once he has finished, he stuffs the flannel shirt and pants from Jade’s grandfather into his backpack and leaves the room with the intention of getting to the bathroom. Entering the main hallway and looking to the foyer reveals that he is, in fact, the last one up, and that everyone has settled into the same spots they had for dinner the night before, the only exception being Jade’s dog, who is nowhere in sight. The low sound of chatter fills the room, and before Dave can slip into the bathroom he is spotted by Rose.

“So good of you to join us, Dave.” She says, and the conversations grind to a halt as the assembled survivors turn to look at him. Dave leans against the wall, doing his best to appear casual and uncaring.

“Yeah, thought I’d finally grace you peasants with my godly presence.” He tries to play it off, but his nonchalant behavior makes how egotistical he sounds seem genuine, and the attempt at sarcasm fails completely as he comes across as serious instead. He’s not about to take it back, though, because apologizing is just not his style.

“Like you being here would ever be considered anything less than repulsive.” Karkat sneers under his breath, but the room is so quiet everyone hears it, and Dave frowns.

“Look, man” Dave says “If you’ve got a problem, spit it out.” Dave notices Rose giving him a look that clearly tells him to leave it alone, but Dave knows they can’t let this issue carry on. Not if they’re to actually work together to survive Armageddon.

“My problem” Karkat growls, standing up “is that you are a foul, loathsome piece of shit that doesn’t even deserve to share the same oxygen as the rest of us! And you sit there, acting high and mighty and innocent while you’re completely oblivious to how you ruined our- no, my best friend’s life!”

Dave forces himself not to back up, even as Karkat stalks towards him. The guy is intimidating, even if he’s several inches shorter and only has a pair of safety scissors for a weapon, but the twisted feeling Dave is experiencing right now is because he knows who and what Karkat is talking about.

“Gamzee Makara! Does that name mean anything to you at all?” Karkat snaps, and Dave wants to sink into the floor as his suspicions and fears are confirmed.

“Shit” is all he can think to say, and it only serves to incense Karkat further.

“Shit is right, you overgrown moron! Because of your ‘harmless little dare’” he throws exaggerated air quotes around the last part “he was hospitalized, and got addicted to the pain meds they gave him. And you know what else, puke for brains? Addiction doesn’t fade the moment you are released from the hospital! We both know his dad didn’t give a flying fuck, so guess who that left to pick up the pieces when you weren’t fucking there?”

Dave stays silent at first, because it’s true, after Gamzee was hospitalized he never reached out to either of them. But he has always thought Gamzee made a full recovery, that Karkat only hated him for ditching them. Never did he imagine anything beyond that, and the seriousness of the matter and the guilt it’s causing is enough to get him to apologize.

“I’m sorry” he offers at last. It’s not enough and they both know it. Karkat sighs and leans back.

“Whatever.” The response is equally weak, and Dave can tell that Karkat is just as exhausted as he is. The rest of the group simply watches as Karkat stalks back over to Kanaya, who gently snakes a hand onto his shoulder to comfort him.

“I’m, uh, I’ll just…” Dave stammers and points to the bathroom. As he shuts the door behind him, he can hear Rose address the remainder of the group.

“Is anyone hungry?”
——
Breakfast is a decidedly quiet, almost somber affair.

Vriska fixes the group a couple cans of chicken noodle soup, which she opens using her switchblade, and Terezi scavenges some stale Frosted Flakes out of the pantry. They don’t have anything to drink, and none of them want to try the tap, so Jade goes out to the submarine and brings back some bottles of water, as well as some dog food for Bec, who had been lounging on the front porch. It’s hardly a filling meal, but for now they need to work with what they have.

Karkat and Kanaya retreat outside for breakfast, and Jade explains to everyone else the reason why in a hushed voice. She then goes on to help Rose chart their course to California using the still-working Google Maps, which she has access to thanks to her solar powered portable charger. John helps by scribbling the directions down onto two sheets of paper. Dave wonders where he found the paper as he sets himself down in the corner next to his blue eyed friend.

When the soup is done heating up, Jade takes two bowls out to Karkat and Kanaya before reentering the cabin. Everyone eats in silence, and once they are done Rose calls the other two back inside to discuss their next move. Just like last night, when they were playing the game, Karkat is in the corner and Kanaya is closer to Dave.

“So” Jade starts “our goal today is to find a couple of vehicles and get as close to California as we can. The trip will have to be over three, maybe even four days. We’ll be split into two groups, with Kanaya and Vriska as primary drivers.”

“The groups will be as follows: Vriska, Terezi, Dave, and John as group one, and myself, Jade, Kanaya, and Karkat as group two” Rose adds “does anyone have a problem with that arrangement?” There is a round of head shaking.

“Good. We do have one other objective today. I am sure everyone is well aware that our phones are very much low on power?” A murmur of assent rings out from the group.

“We also need to be on the lookout for any chargers. Specifically car chargers, since that will be our main method of transportation. It’s imperative each group always have at least one phone fully charged, if only so we can keep in touch traveling. Please keep that in mind when we search for cars today. I believe Jade has one more thing for us?”

The green eyed girl nods. “Yep! When I came over with Bec, I brought a ton of weapons and food and stuff! Most of it is guns, but before we leave we need to go through and take anything that could be useful.”

“What kind of weapons are we talking about here?” Vriska asks, and Jade lights up at the question.

“All kinds! Rifles, pistols, knives, swords…” She begins rattling off a long list, and Rose politely clears her throat to cut her off. Jade flushes and apologizes.

“For now, let us pack up everything here. It is likely we will not be returning, so please take care not to forget anything.” With that, Rose gets up and all but glides to the main bedroom, the rest of the group slowly following her example.

It doesn’t take long for everyone to finish gathering their meager amount of belongings and assemble outside the cabin. Jade takes point as she guides them back to the dock, John keeping pace beside her. They are closely followed by Vriska and Terezi, who are eager to obtain some better tools. Bec pads along next to Terezi, who lets one of her arms dangle so she rests a hand on his fur as they walk. On the other side of Bec is Karkat and Kanaya. Rose and Dave trail behind the group, Dave out of shame and Rose so she can talk to Dave.

The submarine is small and cramped, so Jade decides to only let one person come down with her at a time. John moves to go first; but Vriska shoves him out of the way and climbs down instead. She returns moments later with two long, curved hunting knives and a pistol. Jade calls for John to come next, and he fills his bag with bottles of water and cans of soup. He’s never used a gun, but at Jade’s insistence he takes a pistol similar to Vriska’s. Jade quickly shows him how to turn off the safety and gives him firm instructions to never point it unless he intends to shoot.

Terezi is next, although it takes her much longer to descend than the others. At first, Jade isn’t sure what would best suit her until she recalls that her grandfather had a cane that had a blade attached to the handle on the inside in his collection. It takes her a minute to find it, but Terezi seems pleased with the acquisition, and practices removing the sword from the cane with great pleasure while Jade shoves as many cans as she is able into the girl’s backpack.

Kanaya insists she does not need any additional weapons, but offers to carry some additional ammunition in her satchel. Similarly, Rose also denies the need for a firearm but is happy to stash some extra rounds in her book bag and some foodstuff in the pack she acquired from the boutique.

Karkat requires an entirely new arsenal, and they try a variety of daggers until he points to one with an odd curve. Jade tells him that it’s a sickle, not a dagger, and probably completely useless against zombies but Karkat shrugs and takes it anyways, although he does grab one of the more jagged looking blades as well. Jade does not even try to coax him into a gun.

Dave doesn’t need much, just a second sword in case his first one breaks and a couple sheaths to match, and Jade is happy to provide. No matter how hard she tries she can’t get him to claim one of the many remaining guns, and it’s with no small amount of sorrow that she resigns herself to leaving most of her arsenal behind. Finally she gives up and takes a couple additional clips and a sidearm for herself, and they fill their own bags with supplies before climbing back out to where everyone is waiting.
——
It’s Terezi that suggests they all take a picture, and Dave does not miss the irony of a blind girl asking for a visual representation of the moment.

John thinks it’s a wonderful idea, and happily volunteers the remaining four percent of his battery life to taking the photo, and then sending said photo to everyone in the group.

Dave thinks it’s a really smooth way to get everyone’s phone number, but he knows John is too much of a dork to even think about that part.

Looking at the picture from Rose’s screen, he is forced to admit that not only is John actually a really good photographer, and that the eight of them actually look ready for the Apocalypse, decked out as they are.

Which is why he finds it unspeakably lame when they don’t have so much as a single skirmish the entire way back to the remnants of civilization. They do pass the bodies of those they felled the day before, and Jade lets out a soft gasp as she lays eyes on her first corpse. Nobody says a word as tears silently stream from her eyes and she brushes them away quickly as they continue to walk.

Dave wonders what is wrong with the rest of them that they remain stoic in the face of all this.

He’s crying behind his shades, too.
——
The neighborhood they have entered follows a grid pattern. The houses are all very similar: two stories with a driveway that leads behind the house to a garage. There’s an abundance of trees planted between the street and sidewalk, casting a shady veil over the pavement, where they are walking. There’s no use in using sidewalks now that the world has ended.

The first vehicle they pass is a tan colored Jeep on the right side, and John goes over to it with a spring in his step. It seems to him to be perfect. It’s spacious, and probably has spare tools in the back and a full tank of gasoline.

John doesn’t anticipate the writhing figure that leers at him from behind the glass, and when he yells and leaps back he comes perilously close to tripping. Behind him, he hears Vriska and Terezi snickering at his actions, and it causes him to blush a little. He scurries back to Dave, who is hiding his own laughter with tremendous success.

There aren’t a great number of vehicles about, and the ones that are seem to have infected in them or are too small. John can feel frustration rising at the lack of progress, although he thinks that most of the irritation stems from the long trek they just endured, because they have only been looking for a few minutes.

They turn the corner and Vriska audibly groans. There are only two vehicles parked outside on this one: a black pickup truck, which is on the opposite end, and a red minivan, which is around the middle of the street. Terezi is almost ready to complain as well, but she knows now is not a good time, and so she follows everyone else without complaint.

They stop and observe the minivan first, and John feels the sting of fear when he sees the husk of a middle aged woman sprawled across the backseat on her back, clawing vacantly towards the ceiling. There’s a collective sigh of disappointment until Kanaya speaks up.

“I believe it is possible for us to get it out of there.”

Vriska shoots her a half incredulous, half hopeful glance.

“If you think you can do it without getting blood all over the seat, go for it Miss Mysterious” She snarks, then seems to straighten up when Kanaya actually walks towards the vehicle.

“Woah, hold up, I was kidding! Seriously, we don’t need you getting bit, it’s just a dumb car!”

Kanaya fixes her with a lopsided grin.

“You all might want to step back” she says, removing her knife from her bootstrap. Rose and Karkat give her equally worried looks, but back away with everyone else. Kanaya tests the car door, and finding it unlocked, opens it.

There’s a moment of held breath as the zombie perks up at the sound and turns itself over, but doesn’t make an effort to get out of the vehicle. Everything seems to freeze as Kanaya flings her knife onto the ground, the resulting clatter finally drawing the husk’s attention as it slinks out of the car and onto the ground on all fours in pursuit of the noise. The members of the group draw their weapons, but it proves unnecessary as Kanaya slips behind the zombie and knocks its head down into the pavement with a well aimed kick. She then plucks her knife from the road and drives it through the base of the zombie’s skull.

The entire confrontation is over in roughly twenty-three seconds, and it’s Vriska that sums up the general feeling settled over the other seven.

“Why the hell didn’t you do that earlier?”
——
They find the keys slotted into the ignition, although the car is off. Turning it on reveals that the minivan has is about three quarters full, and they quickly turn it off so they don’t attract any attention. Jade pockets the keys, citing that they shouldn’t decide who gets the vehicle until they find another one.

Dave searches for a charger, and is disgusted to find that there is one, but for an IPhone. “Gross” he mutters, “how these apple freaks can’t even use a standard size charger like the rest of us normal android people. Honestly…” he continues under his breath, oblivious to the fact that he has just insulted more than a couple people in his own group, who are glaring daggers into his back as he carries on.

“Let’s go look at the truck!” Jade exclaims nervously, doing her best to distract from Dave’s rant. They follow her, some still glaring and reluctant.

To everyone’s delight, the truck is vacant, although locked. John looks towards Karkat and asks if he can pick the lock, but the amber eyed boy shakes his head in reply.

“No. And even if I did, there’s a good chance I’d trip the car alarm. I don’t want every zombie in a mile radius to come running, do you?”

“Why don’t we just search the house?” Terezi rasps “whomever lived there probably doesn’t need the keys anymore.” Vriska nods in agreement, and Rose hums in contemplation before adding that the idea has merit, but that they’ll need to be careful because there are probably still infected inside.

Approaching the house reveals it to be locked, but it easily opens thanks to Karkat. They don’t think to check for burglar alarms, but are fortunate enough that the owner of the house didn’t have any. Vriska, Dave, and John duck inside while the rest stay on the front porch, because too many people will only hinder their progress, and make any potential conflict more dangerous.

Dave is the one to find the keys, which are on a rack in the back of the house. John stops to raid the kitchen, finding a couple candy bars and a box of poptarts, strawberry flavored. He also recovers a half gallon of apple juice from the fridge, knowing Dave would be grateful for it, although he does not have any room for it and is forced to leave it.

Vriska, meanwhile, sneaks up the stairs. She herself is unsure of what she is looking for, but she keeps her switchblade in hand. She isn’t comfortable wielding the knives she received from Jade yet, so she keeps them sheathed but accessible.

She stops in the upstairs bathroom first, and begins rummaging through the cabinets. She finds a bottle that is half full of aspirin and a package of tampons, but nothing else particularly noteworthy, so she tucks the bottle and the package into her purse and leaves the bathroom, deciding to explore one of the bedrooms next.

She is thorough unprepared for the sight of the mangled, torn body of a girl her age on the floor. Her first thought is that there’s too much blood, too much for any human to have. It glistens wetly in the light let in by the two windows of the room, dark and vibrant all at once.

Her second thought is that the dead girl would look just like her, if it weren’t for the torn, peeling skin and pooling crimson beneath her.

It’s with that thought she retreats back down the stairs, too shaken to wonder where the zombie is, and returns to Dave and John.

She must have a haunted expression on her face, because John looks at her and asks if she is okay. Vriska tells him she is, but neither of them believe her as they leave.

Dave wordlessly hands the keys over to Jade, who, seeing Vriska, quietly asks him what happened. Dave can only shake his head, and Jade decides to drop the subject. They move a few feet away from the house.

“We were thinking that my group would take the truck, since then we can put Bec in the back” Jade says hesitantly, as though expecting some resistance from Vriska. The cerulean eyed girl merely nods in assent, still dazed by what she has seen. Jade looks taken aback, and Terezi trails a hand over her friend’s arm, to which Vriska whispers out a “later.”

Rose picks up from there and addresses the other four.

“Both groups have directions written directions to follow, in the event that Google Maps is not an option. We all have each other’s phone numbers, so if anything goes awry, or if we ever need to stop, contact should still be possible. John” She turns to the teen in question “you are going to act as navigator to Vriska. It will be your responsibility to make sure she doesn’t miss any turns. We will be taking a few back roads so we can hopefully avoid being trapped by a long string of vacant cars.”

John nods, and he and Dave move to join Vriska and Terezi while Jade goes with the rest of her group. The two newly formed parties then split and head to their respective vehicles. As they do so, Rose catches up to Kanaya.

“I hope we have not made a terrible mistake” the blonde tells her.

“Are you referring to the fact that splitting in such a manner might incite competition between the two groups?”

“Yes” Rose grimaces “have you taken a psychology course?”

“Yes. Have you?”

“I dabble” Rose admits “I was supposed to take the AP course next semester. Not that it matters much now, of course.”

Kanaya tilts her head. “Which school did you go to? Obviously you did not attend Alternia.”

“No, I went to SBURB academy. My mother wanted me to stay closer to home, otherwise I would have gone to Alternia.”

“Ah” Kanaya says as they reach the truck, which Jade has already set about unlocking.

“Kanaya, can you help me get Bec into the back?” Jade asks, and the taller girl nods. The two circle around the back of the truck while Karkat climbs into the driver side backseat and Rose settles into the front passenger seat. Two minutes later Kanaya and Jade enter the vehicle, and Jade passes Kanaya the keys, who then sticks them into the ignition and turns the truck on.

Rose notices that there is a car charger in the truck as well and plugs the end into her phone, filling her with a sense of relief as the charge begins to climb from two percent. She sends John a message to see how they are doing.

He replies that they are ready on their end, and Rose gives Kanaya the go-ahead to pull out from the curb as the pink eyed girl opens Google Maps.

It’s going to be a long trip, and she can only hope they live to see it through.
——
True to Rose’s expectations, the roads have generally been easy to traverse.

They’ve passed a multitude of vehicles, many either crashed together or pulled over, a rare few simply stopped, but again, precious few infected, all of which attempt to follow them but are quickly lost in the distance.

It gives John a glimmer of hope that maybe things aren’t so bad, until Dave tells him that the only reason they have not seen many is because they are still trapped inside their cars.

The thought is sobering to John, and he starts to realize how much exactly has been lost by this plague. He wonders if there’s any hope of curing it, and decides that there must be. The infected, they’re just sick, and once they find a cure and administer it they will go back to being normal.

He already knows this to be false, he really does. So many of the infected have injuries too great for them to be anything but soulless undead, but John just needs a little bit of hope right now.

If not for himself and his friends, then for those that were like his father.
——
When they pull into a nearly deserted gas station hours later, Dave really wants to stay in the car.

He doesn’t, naturally; it would be rather uncool of him to abandon his friends like that. Plus, he is getting tired of sitting and talking to the same three people, one of which he knows better than himself. There’s only so many variations of Twenty Questions a guy can go through before he really wants to cut all the ‘getting to know you’ stuff.

The gas pumps, blessedly enough, are still functional, so John offers to fill up the minivan while they go inside to look for any food or other supplies. Out of the corner of his eye, Dave notices Karkat doing the same for the other group, and agrees, walking to the door of the small building, where he takes a moment to observe the interactions of his fellow survivors.

To nobody’s surprise, Vriska and Terezi have spaced themselves close together, but also a small, minuscule distance from the others. It gives them a united but independent look, and altogether it’s what they’ve been presenting since they first met.

More interesting to Dave is that Rose and Kanaya are also standing in such a way to give them the identical aura of being paired, and it gives him more than a little pause, because this is his sister, and he’s observed that she has three major rules in her life, and all of them are being broken in this instant.

The first is that Rose hates being touched. It’s an odd quirk of hers, especially because he has it on good authority that Rose has never been intentionally, physically hurt by anyone. But now she’s standing so close to the taller girl, and her hands are twitching ever so slightly towards her, like she wants to reach out and touch her.

Even weirder about this is that Kanaya is really just a stranger. That’s Rose’s second rule: to never allow strangers into her life. The only reason his sister became friends with John and Jade is because Dave was friends with them first, and he spent months talking about them to Rose before the she also agreed to talk with them.

And the third, something he had counted as an anomaly the day before, is that they are talking quietly, enough so that he can’t really hear what they’re saying, but that’s not the weird part. The weird part is that it’s Rose’s lips moving, and not Kanaya’s, and his sister is the kind of person to prefer listening over speaking.

It’s too weird and out of character for her. The only person Rose has ever acted like this for is Roxy, and even then, this feels different. There’s something else going on here, and Dave is going to find out what it is.

He’ll have to wait for later to do that, however, because now it’s time for them to enter the gas station.

It’s with sweaty palms he draws his sword, and moves to follow the others into the building.
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
They stop for the night barely within state lines of Arkansas. Terezi thinks that not having to worry about speed limits and traffic makes a huge difference in how much ground they can cover.

Nobody is willing to sleep in the cars for the night, so they find a relatively small motel to stop at. It’s a square, pale building with two floors to it. Google maps pegged it as only a three and a half star, but none of them want to try for a larger, more infested building for the sake of a better rating, so they pull into the mostly empty parking lot, albeit not without at least a small sense of trepidation.

When she finally climbs out of the minivan, Terezi almost stumbles from how stiff her legs are. They’ve been stopping minimally, never for any longer than fifteen minutes at a time, and as such she has been largely unable to stretch. Thankfully, she has a cane to brace against and prevent herself from falling, unlike John, who unceremoniously collapses onto the pavement.

By contrast, the other group is much more dignified as they file out of the truck, having stopped more often to provide Bec with water and an opportunity to stretch his legs, making sure the canine did not overheat. As a result, they are not nearly so jelly-legged when Kanaya and Jade release the dog from the back of the vehicle, and he jumps about energetically, as though to celebrate his newfound freedom.

Out of the few stops Terezi’s group has made today, most were intense breaks to refuel at gas stations, all of which ended in a fight, dead zombies, and a bunch of candy bars. There’s been more than a few close calls, and many of them came dangerously close to being bitten. The fear of being infected has kept them from wanting to rest often, but Terezi knows they won’t be able to get away with so few pauses tomorrow. For now, however, they have made exceptionally good progress.

Progress towards what, exactly, Terezi is unsure. They could be getting closer to salvation, she supposes.

Or.

Or they could be getting closer to their doom.
——
The motel probably would have been unsettling on its best days, given the peeling gray walls and darkened floors, but now that it’s full of the undead Dave thinks it’s downright terrifying.

Rose decided that they needed to scramble up the groups to partner up for this expedition, so he is forced to go room to room with Kanaya. He figures it’s not all bad, because she’s probably the most normal person left, zombie killing skills aside.

He’s not ashamed to let her do most of the fighting. He tells himself it’s because his sword is not good for close quarters (and it isn’t), but really, it’s because he doesn’t want to face how human many of these zombies still look. At the gas station, many of them were bloodied and shredded; inhuman. Yesterday, he had adrenaline to get him past their appearances. But now, the only thing separating him and them are their eyes, and somehow, that’s just not enough for him.

It’s enough for Kanaya, it seems, because she doesn’t hesitate at all when it comes to sinking her dagger into them, and Dave’s gratitude for their impromptu partnership is renewed. But if there’s one thing Dave dislikes about pairing up with her, it’s that she’s unnaturally quiet. Dave himself isn’t the loudest of people, but he’s learned to fear silence. For him, silence is a warning, it means he’s either terribly alone, or there’s an incoming ambush of swords and puppets from his guardian.

Former guardian, he corrects himself. The guy is absolutely dead by this point. Which is good, Dave thinks with a pang of guilt, because honestly, his uncle was really not a good person, and he had this oppressive sort of aura that always made Dave feel small, like he was being scrutinized through a microscope, and found to be weak and unworthy.

The silence around Kanaya generates a similar feeling of being examined, but it’s more restrained and hesitant, almost like she’s trying not to judge him, but is anyways. He can’t really explain it; his understanding of silence is something he feels on an instinctual level. There is something he knows about this type of quiet, and that’s that sometimes noise helps cover the internal alarm he feels, so he does his best to draw her into conversation, even though this is not the time or place to be talking.

“So, uh, you and Rose, huh?” It’s a total shot in the dark, especially since he has no clue what they’ve been talking about, but it’s the only thing he can think of that explains how close the two of them have been all day.

“I’m sorry?” She says, unsure if she heard him correctly, and he tries to backpedal.

“I just mean, Rose doesn’t talk to people. I mean, she does, but not just anyone, y’know? She just doesn’t get them. And then, bam, she’s introducing you and acting all friendly, and it’s like, I’m thinking, damn, Rose must really like this chick! And there you are, being all engaged with her, like, talking and shit, and it’s-“ he forces himself to stop, because he’s rambling, and he’s only going to embarrass herself further if he keeps going. He steals a look at his companion, grateful that his own expression is hidden behind his glasses.

She’s got her brow furrowed in the same way Rose does when she’s thinking hard about something, and that settles it for him. It’s weird that something as simple as a facial expression can convince him two people belong together, but damn him it does.

Then he remembers she spent last night hanging around Karkat, and it all falls apart in his head.

“Oh, but uh, if you’re already dating Karkat, it’s cool. I mean, I don’t think he’s quite your type, but hey, I’m not one to judge! I’m not trying to separate you two or anything, it’s just, ugh, God, what the hell am I even saying? Listen-“

“Dave” she cuts him off, voice full of mirth “I am not with Karkat. Not in the manner you are thinking of. Nor do I intend to be.”

He turns beet red, but he can’t stop himself from blurting out one more question.

“What about Rose?”

She pauses. Sighs.

“I’m not sure. She is certainly a very interesting and lovely person. That aside, we have known each other for less than forty eight hours. That’s hardly enough time to foster romantic attraction between two individuals.”

Dave laughs a little.

“Damn, you sound like her too. Listen, maybe you’re right on the whole romantic part, but people decide if they’re attracted to each other seconds after meeting them. I’ve listened to Rose recite enough Psych textbooks to know that. And maybe it’s not a good basis for anything lasting, but I don’t think you can deny you find my sister hot.”

“We need to finish clearing these out” Kanaya says abruptly, and turns and stalks to the next room. Dave cheers a tiny bit at his small victory.

He’s going to make sure his sister finds happiness in this world, and if he has to set her up with Kanaya to do so, then so be it.

Hopefully, the friendship the green eyed girl has with Karkat won’t ruin that.
——
Rose pairs herself up with John, reasoning that the two of them have not had much time to talk since this has all started.

“Which direction are we taking, Rose?” He’s beaming at her, and it occurs to her that John only has two moods: chipper and kicked puppy.

“We are handling the northern block” she tells him “Kanaya and Dave are heading east, Vriska and Jade are taking the west, and Karkat and Terezi are in charge of the rest. The sign in sheet indicated that there are approximately five zombies we need to be on the lookout for, although it’s possible there may be more or less.”

“Right.” His smile falters for a moment, and she looks at him curiously.

“Is everything alright?” She asks, and he rakes a hand through his hair and sighs.

“Yeah. Northern block, right?” She nods an affirmation, and he looks around for a directional sign. Spotting one, he forces himself to put on a falsely cheerful smile.

“Let’s go!” His voice is flat, and Rose feels a twinge of concern for her friend. She resolves to talk to Dave and Jade about it later, hoping they will be able to help her pull John out of whatever this is.

“Let’s” She says quietly, and follows him out the door and towards the northern end of the building.
——
Vriska does not want to partner with Jade, and she’s pretty sure the other girl feels the same way.

The ravenette is essentially useless in close quarters combat, which means Vriska has to do all the work. Even her dog-adorable though it is- is unable to do more than alert than alert them to any nearby zombies, on the basis that Jade does not want to expose him any walkers, in case he can get infected. It irritates her, because she did not sign up to be doing everything for everyone all over again, and she wishes she had been put with Maryam, who at least seemed able to hold her own, or with Terezi, whom she does not mind doing the work for.

At the same time, though, carrying all the weight is a source of pride for Vriska, and for as much as she complains she wouldn’t trade the dual burdens of responsibility and recognition for anything.

“We should only have one more” Jade says as Vriska cleans her switchblade on the shirt of a now permanently deceased infected.

“You mean I have only one more” Vriska corrects her, and she knows she’s being rude, but she thinks it’s fair. Vriska is not going to let anyone take credit for her work.

“Uhm, right. You should only have one more.” Jade looks properly admonished,but her voice wavers, and Bec perks up and leans into the younger girl’s side. The scene is pitiful enough that Vriska decides to throw her a bone, realizing that her temporary partner is struggling with something more than a little sidelining.

“Hey, don’t sweat it! Not everyone can be as awesome as I am!” She says, tossing her auburn hair over her shoulder. Jade isn’t comforted by her remark, and if dogs could glare, Vriska would be on the receiving end of one, and she sighs because if there’s one weakness aside from Terezi she carries, it's puppy dog eyes.

“Look. Jade.” The girl in question looks up, and Vriska can see tears forming in her eyes. There’s no way her comment alone is responsible, and Vriska curses being put in this position. She really, really hates having to coddle anyone, but it’s clear that if she doesn’t step in her companion is going to break down. And that’s not going to be of any help to either of them.

“Jade.” She tries again “everyone has strengths and weaknesses! Some, like me, have more strengths, and some have less. It doesn’t mean you’re useless or incompetent, it just means you’re meant for something else.”

The green eyed girl sniffs and scrubs at her eyes, and Bec lets out a concerned whine, silver ears flat against his skull.

“I know that!” Jade says, and Vriska has to give her credit for keeping her voice steady, despite how thick with emotion it is “it’s just… I’ve dragged everyone into this, and I can’t do anything beyond that! I can’t drive, can’t fight! What good am I?”

Vriska struggles against her mounting irritation with the girl. Snapping at her is not going to help, but the defeatist attitude being presented is one of her largest pet peeves, and she really wants to tell the girl off for her behavior. The only thing stopping her are the pleading, glistening orbs of her animal friend.

“Jade” she grinds out “it’s the fucking Apocalypse. We were all involved the moment people started eating each other. We chose to come with, for Christ’s sake! As for not doing anything, you’re the one that brought in all the sweet loot!” She puts away her switchblade and draws the hunting knives to prove her point. “You could have just as easily stayed on your island, but did you? No you did fucking not!”

Jade’s eyes are still glassy, but she gives Vriska a small smile. “I guess you’re right.”

“Damn straight I’m right!” Vriska crows, relieved that the meltdown has been suppressed, at least for the moment. It’s likely the doubts will resurface, but hopefully by that point Vriska won’t be the one to deal with them “Now come on! We’ve got a zombie to find!”

“You have a zombie to find” Jade corrects, smile widening just a bit, and Vriska shrugs it off.

“Eh, who cares? Me, we, what difference does it make?”
——
“So we’re supposed to, what, search for stragglers or employees or something?” Karkat asks Terezi, who merely shrugs.

“Do I look like I know?” She retorts, and Karkat mirrors her shrug.

“Was worth a try. I definitely wasn’t paying attention.”

“That makes two of us, then.”

They stand in the lobby for a few seconds, and Karkat takes a moment to observe the worn out, dark decor before growling.

“This is stupid. Let’s go look for a back room or kitchen or something.”

“Lead the way” Terezi says, not bothering to point out that he’ll be the only one to do any looking, and he does exactly that, leading her around the room in a bid to locate either of the places he mentioned.

Finding the back room isn’t difficult. In fact, it’s directly behind the front desk, where the carcass of one infected is sprawled onto the floor, courtesy of Vriska stabbing it as soon as they arrived. The issue is that it requires a key card for the electronic lock, and neither of them have one. Karkat spends a minute trying to see if there might be a spare behind the desk, but no dice.

“Dammit” he groans “guess we’ll need to check elsewhere.”

“Or we could stay and wait for the others.”

He wheels around to face her.

“No way in hell am I going to sit here all useless while everyone else is off fighting like some god damned action hero! Don’t you wanna be more than worthless?”

His words strike a chord in Terezi, and she straightens up.

“Yes” she hisses “I do.”

“Then let’s go do something instead of loafing here like a couple of penniless fuck-ups!” He strides with newfound purpose to the back of the room and turns around the corner which leads to the dining area. A variety of tables and chairs are strewn about, but thankfully the room is clear of any infected. To the right of the entrance is a buffet bar, behind which are two swinging doors that undoubtedly lead to the kitchen.

“It was daytime when it all started” Karkat reasons “so I bet there are still some employees back there. Probably were doing dishes or some shit.”

“Somewhere between one and three, then.” Terezi rasps lowly “we should be able to handle this.”

As a means of reply Karkat draws his sickle, and Terezi removes the blade from her cane before they sneak around the edge of the bar and slowly push open the double doors. Thankfully, the building has maintained power, so the kitchen is still lit up, and Karkat easily spots two former kitchen staff. Both are slumped together in a pile in the center of the floor, and Karkat feels gooseflesh crawl along his arms and the back of his spine at the sight.

“Terezi” he whispers, only it’s too loud to be a whisper, and four white, rolled back eyes snap to his direction. The bodies attached to them release eerie cracking noises as they untangle their limbs and rise from the ground, shuffling towards the pair in a stumbling, halted walk. They’re slow, extraordinarily so, but Karkat thinks that makes them more terrifying and he thinks back to the principal’s office, how close he came to death.

Beside him, Terezi extends her blade, and Karkat wishes he had chosen a weapon with more reach. If he wants to do any damage, he’ll have to get close to the moving corpses, and right now he’s panicking so hard he’s shaking, and he wants nothing more than to run.

Terezi is not nearly as terrified as he is, and has no problems moving to impale one of the zombies. The world around Karkat seems to slow as he watches the metal scratch the infected’s throat before sinking into the flesh of its torso. There’s a sickening splat as blood and metal erupt from the other side of the body. The zombie releases a wet gurgling sound and keeps walking, forcing more of the weapon into itself. Terezi gasps, feeling the change of weight and realizing what is happening, and tries to back away, but the weapon is firmly stuck.

“Karkat, the other one!” The girl rasps at him, and Karkat turns and raises his sickle just in time to catch the teeth of the other zombie. He easily pushes it back, and with a cry raises his weapon and brings the blade down into its skull as hard as he can. There’s a crunch as the corpse is knocked into the ground, and Karkat desperately yanks his blade out, an act made easier due to the fact he did not reach the brain, and as a result it seems not to notice the damage and drags itself across the floor towards Karkat, snapping at his legs. Red rivers drip from its head onto the floor, and Karkat lets loose another cry as he strikes at it again, and then again.

It takes him five attacks until it finally stops moving. Tears are blurring his vision, and Terezi is calling for his help, the zombie almost upon her. He’s not sure how, but somehow he manages to stumble over to her, and he cries one last time as he swipes his sickle through the air and into the zombies eye. He’s off target, though, and rather than striking through to the brain he catches the edge of the eye, forcing the zombie to the side and causing Terezi’s sword to cut deeper into its torso, oozing blood down its chest. The infected thrashes wildly, almost scratching Karkat as it further injures itself, but he manages to adjust his grip and force it a few steps back. He then withdraws the curved iron and plunges the sickle back in, repeating the action until until they finally force it off the sword completely and knock the zombie onto the floor.

Terezi doesn’t miss this time as she drives her blade into its brain.

Once it’s over, they both collapse onto the crimson-slickened floor. Karkat is wiping the tears away, blinking quickly to regain vision, when Terezi starts laughing.

“We almost just died!” She cackles, and for some reason Karkat feels like joining her.

Hysteria, it seems, is quite contagious.
——
Kanaya and Dave are the first ones to finish, and Kanaya spends the extra time searching for any clothes that might fit her. Dave is in the room next door, although she can’t tell what exactly he’s doing.

So far, she hasn’t had any luck finding anything suited to her tastes, but she has obtained a small, wheeled black suitcase, which she searched thoroughly and found nothing of particular value.

Well, except for the cocaine stashed in the false bottom of it, which could be a useful tool for bartering if they encounter any survivors looking to trade.

Kanaya isn’t sure that she wants to risk keeping drugs around a bunch of traumatized teenagers in the middle of the end of the world though, so she tosses the white bag of powder into the garbage can in the bathroom. Nothing good could come of someone getting addicted to it.

Addiction is a powerful thing, after all.

Kanaya sighs and opens the closet door. As expected, it’s mostly jeans that are too big and ugly, ratty shirts. This room was most likely rented out by someone whose only concern was for their next fix, with no regard to their state of dress.

She takes her new suitcase and leaves the room. The motel they are in did not have electronic looks installed on the guest rooms, and instead relied on internal locks and external keys. They won’t be able to enter most of them unless Karkat and Terezi can get into the employee room to obtain the spare keys, but most of the rooms that were supposed to contain zombies were unlocked, likely as an effect of the infected attempting to escape when they started turning. Of the ones that were not able to be opened, few of them had any discernible noise from the other side, and Kanaya surmised that the renters were not in the motel when it started.

There’s only one room left she can check, and then she will go get Dave so they can return to the lobby and meet with everyone else.

The eastern block had a total of fourteen estimated zombies, but of those they were only able to reach seven. Four of them were together in this final room, and she had to fight not to gag from the sour stench.

Room E14 had been rented out by a family of four; a mother, father, and two young siblings that looked to be about the same age, possibly twins. Why they were still in the room is a mystery to Kanaya, but nonetheless, there they were. Near as Kanaya could tell, the parents had known what was happening, and had unlocked the door, trying to usher the children out. Of course, the panic from the suddenness of it all had seen neither child willing to leave, and so they were mercilessly torn apart once the transformation was completed. The dried crimson stains in front of the door and in the center of the room clearly indicaring where each child was murdered.

If she were to guess, the one by the door was killed first, and the second had backed away further into the room, rightfully fearful. At which point the other parent had probably attacked from behind, biting into the shoulder first, and then tearing into the neck.

Imaging what happened is a gruesome, twisted task, but thinking of these sorts of things is something Kanaya has carried from her past. She used to be the one doing the attacking, after all.

Dave had refused to even look inside, so Kanaya had to take it upon herself to clear it, not that she minded. It’s probably for the best that she be the one to handle most of the combat, considering she is not at risk of infection like Dave is, nor is she as likely to be traumatized by the scene as he is. She thinks that for everything they’ve been through already, Dave is still mostly untouched by the actual horror of what is happening.

She, too, feels unaffected by what is happening, but not out of naivety, like he is. Rather, she remains unmoved because she’s seen worse, lived worse. Done worse. It’s with a sense of numbness she searches the room, stepping carefully over the wet spots of the carpet and the corpses.

Kanaya first locates the mother’s suitcase. Sorting through it, she doesn’t find more than a pair of jeans that might fit, an unopened stick of deodorant, several plain t-shirts, and a thin strapped red dress tucked into the bottom. There’s also a wadded up nightgown that looks worn, but Kanaya is quick to toss it aside. She decides to leave the jeans as well, but takes the deodorant and dress and neatly placed them into her suitcase.

A cursory glance reveals nothing in the closet, and she prepares to leave to find Dave. Before she does so, she bends down over the bodies of the small children, whose faces are scratched, bloody, and frozen in an instant of fear and shock. Gently, Kanaya closes their eyes, and despite their torn, red encrusted bodies, they suddenly seem much more peaceful.

“Sleep well” Kanaya whispers, standing up. “I hope you find happiness in the next life.”

With that, she sweeps out of the room, leaving only a grave behind.
——
John thinks that he and Rose make an effective team, but not necessarily a good one.

They work quickly, splitting the rooms. The five zombies are dispersed into four different places, three on the lower level and one on the upper. Rose tells John to take the upper while she starts on the lower.

John struggles with the door for an embarrassing amount of time before realizing it is locked, at which point he descends the stairs with the intention to join Rose, who has already established two of the rooms are locked, and is working on the third, which hosts two infected.

John stops four stairs from the ground as a sensation of guilt overcomes him, and he has to sit down. The thought of how they so easily dehumanize the undead hits him like a bullet train. Thinking of them as little more than dangerous beasts seems so, so wrong to him, it almost hurts. These were people once, with friends and families and thoughts and hopes and dreams and feelings, and maybe they can be people again. His stomach churns to think of how easily that chance is being thrown away by him and his friends.

It takes little time for Rose to finish clearing the room, and she soon meets him at the stairs, placing one hand on the railing as she peers up at him. “What are you thinking about?” She asks, studying him intently. John sighs, head in between his hands.

“Doesn’t it bother you that we’ve so easily tossed aside the idea that the infected are human? I feel like we’ve sort of been seeing them as monsters, but they’re more than that. It’s just hard to reconcile what they used to with what they are now, I guess.” He draws a hand through his hair, scratching at his scalp “and- and what if they can be human again? They’re sick, that’s why this is happening, what if they’re still actually alive, under all this?”

Rose hums a bit before answering. “I will not lie to you, John. I am unsure if there is a chance for recovery. Some of them, certainly not, you have seen for yourself that they are able to sustain damage no human could and keep moving.” John shudders at the memory of an infected they had passed on the road. It had been thrown out of the windshield of its car and partially run over, trapped under the tire of its own vehicle in the resulting crash. As they had passed by, John had been able to see it feebly reach out to claw helplessly towards them.

“Yeah” he says quietly “but what about the others? The ones not too damaged, I mean.”

“John, many of the infected we see have hurt people. Killed people. Even if we were able to cure them, return them to normal, do you believe that they would want to live with the knowledge that they had become murderers and cannibals? Is it not more merciful to kill them, rather than force them to live with what they have done?”

John blinks. It makes sense, but he still has the sensation of being sucker punched.

“So nobody really cares that we are basically killing people?” He asks, and there’s a wavering note in his voice that betrays his oncoming breakdown. “Even if they are... even if they have done those things?”

“You know that is not true.” Rose says softly, and she slowly walks up the stairs to reach him. “We do care. We just care more about keeping ourselves alive.”

“But it is!” John exclaims “Dave, Vriska, Terezi, Kanaya, you… none of you hesitate! You all seem to know exactly where to… where to…” he buries his face in his hands, and Rose knows she should lay a hand on his shoulder, perhaps even offer a hug, something to give him contact comfort.

She doesn’t, because however much John is seeking a touch right now is how much she wants to avoid it. Instead, she gently reminds him that Jade is in the same boat he is.

“What about Jade? She cried the same as you when she first encountered the fallen.” They’ve never addressed the zombies like that, but she thinks the term makes them sound more tragic, and that right now John needs to feel like he can mourn them.

John draws in a shaky breath.

“Okay. One sane person in this entire mess. Rose, I can’t do this. Leave me here if you need to, but I, I just, I can’t.”

Rose watches as he bursts into tears. For the first time, she’s not sure what to say to comfort him.

“John, we are not about to leave you.”

“You should” he tells her, not meeting her eyes “I’m only going to slow you guys down. You’ll be much better off leaving a weakling like me here.”

“John, having a heart does not make you weak. It’s what you do to follow your heart that defines your strength.” She’s being cringe inducingly sappy, stealing lines almost straight from one of her books. It’s the kind of thing that resonates with John, and he seems to soften just a bit.

“Maybe. But what if I really do slow you all down? What if it comes down to me, and I can’t do it?”

This time Rose has an answer.

“We are your friends, John. That is a chance we are willing to take, and a price we are willing to pay. Now come on” she offers him a hand up, wincing as he takes it, the skin dry and grating. “Now come on. We need to go meet up with said friends.”

“Okay” John sniffles.

“Okay.”
——
Jade is deeply, horribly flushed.

She’s ashamed, embarrassed even, at how easily she fell apart in front of Vriska, forcing the other girl to comfort her.

The two of them-three, counting Bec- are the first to return to the lobby. Jade is nestled into one of the plush couches with the dog curled beside her, front paws and head resting on her lap, while Vriska is laying sideways on the chair across from her, legs dangling over the armrest. Neither is sure on what to say or do, so they linger there in silence.

“Say-“

“Do you..?”

The two attempt to speak at once. Vriska waves for Jade to go ahead, and the glasses wearing teen blushes.

“No, sorry. What were you going to say?”

“I’m just wondering if you can tell me more on why we’re going all the way to Cali. That’s all.” Vriska says, and Jade wonders if she would actually believe the real reason for the trip.

“Yes, well…there is a place there, where we’ll be able to keep both power and water running. There’s enough space for all of us there, too!”

“Surely there are other places like that” Vriska contests “less populated places, at that. What makes this area so special?”

Jade breathes deeply. There’s two answers here; she could tell Vriska it’s because Rose and Dave’s cousins live in California, and it’s their place they’ll be staying at. It’s not a lie; they really will be meeting her friends’ relatives. But it’s not actually the reason they’re the ones on the road. Roxy and Dirk, she knows, would have been just as happy to come to them instead, and find a different place to stay.

But sooner or later she’s going to have to tell everyone, and even if they don’t believe her now, they will eventually. So she might as well speak the truth.

“The real purpose is that somewhere in the city we’ll be going to is the reason the Apocalypse started.”

She has Vriska’s full attention, the cerulean eyed girl sitting up straight so fast she almost falls out of her seat. “What?” She demands, eager and skeptical “how can you be sure?”

“I… that’s a long story. And to be honest, you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Jade says nervously, twisting a strand of jet black hair around her finger.

“We have time.” Vriska says lazily, her causal tone clashing with the vibrant energy surrounding her “go for it.”

“Er, right. I suppose the best place to begin would be with the death of my grandfather…”

“Uh, relevancy? Not to be rude, I get this is probably really tragic and all, but-“

“It’s important, I promise! If not to the point, then to the story!” Jade exclaims, incensed by the interruption.

“Oh. Carry on, then. I do love a good story.” Vriska says, and Jade adjusts her glasses before continuing.

“I was only six years old when he died. He had just settled on the island where I live now. He was supposed to be navigating the depths of the lake there, searching for ancient relics or monsters or ruins. I never learned the specifics.”

“Are there actually monsters in the lake?” Vriska asks, and for a moment Jade thinks she might be teasing, but the look in her eyes are deadly serious, and Jade wonders if Vriska might actually end up believing her after all.

“Yes. I don’t know what it is, though. I’ve only ever gotten glimpses, small details from the corner of my eye. I’ve been meaning to talk with Rose, she’s really into this sort of thing.”

“Your grandfather. He was rich or famous or something?” The cerulean eyed girl is nothing if not an attentive listener, and Jade is very much appreciative of that fact.

“Mhmm. He made all sorts of discoveries and inventions! I wish I could show you some of the things he made, but they’re all back on the island. Anyways, in regards to his death, it was really quite strange. There was never any direct cause discovered, but near as anyone could tell was that he died of exsanguination. The strange part was that there wasn’t a single wound or bloodstain on him.”

“Okay, that’s pretty weird and all, but what does that have to do with our little road trip?”

“I’m getting there” Jade shushes her “there was one more strange thing about the day he died.”

“And that is?” Vriska prompts in a pointed tone, and the green eyed girl takes a deep breath.

“I dreamed he would die the day before it happened.”
——
When Terezi finally recovers, the first thing she does is drag herself over to the body with a gaping hole and search it.

Her fingers glide over cold flesh and slick fabric until they are positioned at about the waist, at which point she moves her hands apart from each other in a circular pattern. Eventually, her right hand bumps into something plastic and rectangular, and she grabs it and holds it up to where she thinks Karkat can see.

“Is this what we’re looking for?”

“Yeah” he says, and she can sense him move a little closer.

“Let’s head back to the lobby” she suggests, and slides the short sword back into the cane, twisting the top back in place before using it to help her stand. Karkat doesn’t say anything, but she can hear him follow her out of the room. Neither of them are feeling very talkative after that experience.

Terezi wonders what they could have done better. Perhaps if she hadn’t missed, they wouldn’t have been so close to dying.

She wonders if she missed because her hand slipped and she was shaking, or if she missed because she is blind.

If she was how she used to be, she thinks, she wouldn’t have missed at all. She was born blind, but there was once a point when that didn’t stop her from doing everything everyone else could. She used to be able to smell colors and words, used to be able to mentally picture an entire room from a single sound. She used to be just as good, sometimes even better, than those that had all five senses.

Terezi used to blame the incident for her loss of ability. Now, though, she wonders if it’s because she ceased trying to sense things when she stopped being friends with Vriska.

Vriska, who always used to push her so incredibly hard. When Vriska was around, there was no other option than to be at her very best, because the cerulean eyed girl demanded nothing more than perfection, not just from herself, but also from Terezi, and the few others Vriska decided she cared about.

“Hey, are you alright? You’ve been spacing out for a couple minutes now.” Karkat breaks her out of it, and Terezi shakes her head.

“I’ll be fine” she tells him.

“I just need a little more time.”
——
“Say, Dave?”

“Sup?”

“What exactly is your relation to Rose?” The question gives him a slight pause.

“Well, we are actually siblings. Twins, if you must know.”

“Yes, I gathered as much. But you did not grow up together, and you have different last names. Yet you seem as close as any siblings I have met.” Dave smiles grimly at her observations.

“Yeah, it’s a pretty fucked up situation. Rose didn’t explain it?” He asks. He’s not opposed to telling her; he’s never once tried to hide how messed up his family is. He’s simply curious as to how much Rose has told her.

“I know Rose lives with your biological mother” Kanaya prefaces “and that the one you live with is not your father. Beyond that, I am completely uneducated.”

“You know most of it, then” Dave grunts “only thing you’re missing is the why. It’s pretty simple. Our mom didn’t want a son; she only wanted a daughter. Rose, in this case. She was gonna put me in the foster care system, give me up for adoption. Only her brother, our uncle, stepped in and took me instead. So I was raised with our cousin Dirk, took on my uncle’s last name.”

Kanaya tilts her head, considering this.

“Your uncle. You dislike him?”

“That obvious? Yeah, the dude is… was, pretty messed up. Had a lotta issues. But he raised the two of us, kept me outta the system, so I guess I still owe him something for that.”

“You only owe him if you asked for it.” Kanaya’s eyes are hard as diamond as he looks at her, and he can feel a story behind those words.

“Care to share?” He asks casually, and she shakes her head.

“Another night, perhaps. It’s a long story, and we do need to meet up with the others.”

“Ah, yeah. Oh, and about me and Karkat-“ he’s cut off as Kanaya raises a hand to stop him, and he raises an eyebrow at the action.

“I am well aware of the situation. Truthfully, I do not think it matters much what happened. What is important is that you work out this issue, and soon.”

Dave swallows harshly, mouth dry. “He actually told you? What-what else did he say?”

“In this instance, it is not what he said, but what he didn’t.” She observes him carefully. “This is purely speculation, of course, but Karkat seems the type to want to forgive. I believe a genuine expression of remorse is all it will take to garner forgiveness, should you wish it.”

She speeds up, flowing down the stairs as a means of signaling the end of the conversation, and Dave follows with the smallest of hopes blossoming inside his heart.
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
Rose and John are the final pair to return to the lobby. In the four minutes it takes for them to walk back, John has done a complete one-eighty, and is acting as though his almost-breakdown had never occurred. He does not notice the way Jade and Vriska are clustered around Terezi, nor does he notice the way Kanaya has protectively positioned herself beside Karkat.

Rose notices, of course, but she elects not to bring up the subject.

“I am glad everyone is still in one piece” she says mirthfully, but not without concern for her fellow survivors.

“Pah, like a few zombies are gonna hurt us” Vriska scoffs, and Dave snickers under his breath, appreciating the irony, which the auburn haired girl ignores “ ‘sides, a bunch of them were either not there or locked in. Kinda lame, actually.” Kanaya adds that they had also faced fewer zombies than expected.

“We took care of two employees in the kitchen” Karkat says, and the small waver Rose hears tells her that encounter has something to do with why both him and Terezi are being comforted by the others, and she makes a mental note to get the full story from Dave later tonight.

“John and I took care of two” Rose reports “the rest were locked in, but I do not think they are capable of escaping.”

“I believe there are still a few remaining employees about. Room service and cleaning, most likely. We encountered one on our way back, so perhaps we should institute a watch of some sort?” Kanaya suggests.

“We should get some rooms first” Vriska interjects “then we can figure all this stuff out. I, for one, want to take advantage of running water for as long as we have it.”

“We will need to get into the back room first and find the master key” Rose reminds her. “Although getting inside might pose a problem.”

“No problem there” Terezi dangles the keycard from her fingers “Karkat and I already solved that issue.” She pushes herself off the couch, moving towards the door leading towards the staff room, and Vriska gets up with her. The other six follow suit, crowding around the front desk as Terezi prepares to swipe the card through the electronic lock.

“Hold a moment” Dave stops her just before she goes to scan it “haven’t you peeps ever watched a horror movie? You gotta know there’s a zom on the other side, just waiting for you to open it.”

Vriska rolls her eyes, but takes out her knives and moves to stand on the other side of the door while Terezi angles herself away from the front of the door.

“Better?” Vriska asks snidely, and Dave pretends to think for a moment before shrugging.

“You’ve just doubled your survival rate.” The sarcasm is almost palpable, and Terezi takes it as the go ahead to unlock the door, which generates a low pitched beep from the scanner and a much louder click from the handle.

True to Dave’s word, the door is pushed open a moment later by a zombie leaning on it. Said zombie proceeds to then fall through the open space, trip over the corpse left on the floor, and land head first on the front desk, where Vriska promptly stabs her knives into the base of its skull before cleaning her blades on its shirt and slides them back into her belt.

“Told you so.” Dave snarks, and receives a swat on the head from Jade, reaching over the other side of the desk just to hit him.

“Don’t be a pest” She quips, and they step over the slumped bodies to enter the back room.
——
The employee area is surprisingly spacious, and all of them are able to fit inside comfortably, fanning out to better explore the place.

Along the right hand wall is a mini fridge, sink, and a couple of lockers. Half of the back wall also contains lockers, but the other half is barren. The center of the room is filled with a long table, around which are eight chairs.

“Probably no more than eight employees, then” Jade muses “we’ve already dealt with four.”

To the left is a cork board covered in various schedules and shift exchange forms. Kanaya goes over to look at it.

“Yesterday would have been the thirteenth. It appears there were only six slated to be here, although one was scheduled to have left earlier than the others. Perhaps there is only a single infected left, provided they did not call in any additional employees for the day, and the one left as they were supposed to.”

“Thank fuck” Karkat mutters.

John takes the opportunity to peruse the rest of the area, which includes an open entryway leading to a smaller office space, inside which is a neatly labeled key rack. At the top of the rack are two keys attached to small silver rings. Each ring has a small tag which reads ‘Master’, and John has to stand on his tiptoes to reach them, but he manages to get both keys down.

“Hey guys, I found them!” He calls out, and skips back into the main room, swinging his prizes from the tips of his fingers.

“Good. Now we only need to check which rooms do not have corpses in them.” Rose says, relieved.

“Yeah. Better make sure the rooms are all together, too. We still haven’t had a boss fight yet.”

“Dave?”

“Yeah sis?”

“Kindly shut up. We do not need any additional bad luck from you.”

“Right. Shutting up now.”
——
Following Dave’s comment, everyone is back on edge, although exhaustion is starting to set in. They quickly set about finding rooms, using the guest book on the front desk to aid the process, and settle on four suites that are up on the second floor.

All of the rooms share an identical layout. Two small, twin sized beds take up most of the space, with the rest being occupied by a nightstand between the mattress and a small table with two hard looking chairs against the furthest wall. A cramped bathroom rests behind the doors, complete with a sink, toilet, and shower. There’s little contest on who is pairing with whom, although Rose has a brief moment of internal struggle when she considers if she should ask Kanaya to board with her. She doesn’t in the end, and spends the night with Jade instead.

This time, there is no game for who gets to shower first, although there is a brief argument on who to send to retrieve the improvised flannel nightshirts from the vehicles, which is broken up by Kanaya suggesting they check the abandoned rooms for pajamas instead. Most of them are tired, too tired to feel up to such a task, but Vriska (and by extension, Terezi) agree to go scouting with her, and the trio disappears into the halls, equipped with one of the master keys.

While they do so, the remainder of the group decides not to start sleeping in shifts, on the basis that between the locked doors and Bec, no zombies remaining will be able to get the better of them. Not to mention that everyone is on the verge of collapse, and that interrupted sleep will not help them in the slightest.

They still have a long way to go, after all, and none of them want to be on the road any more than necessary.
——
Karkat is so tired he can feel the bags under his eyes, but he does not want to sleep.

He barely wants to let his eyes shut.

Kanaya, Terezi, and Vriska have long since returned from their hunt, having scraped together nightclothes for everyone and a second change of clothes for just the three of them. Karkat briefly wishes he had gone with them, because the thought of wearing his grimy, blood-splattered sweat-soaked outfit tomorrow makes him shiver, and he wonders if there will be time to go looking tomorrow.

The mattress is hard and uncomfortable, even more so than the futon from the previous night, and Karkat is thinking that maybe he’d rather be moving than sleeping. The two of them have turned off all the lights, so that the room is bathed in darkness, and he knows he should feel comforted, because both times he’s fought the undead he has been surrounded by brightness.

Fear doesn’t follow logic, though, and instead the darkness makes him even more uncomfortable. It probably doesn’t help that thanks to Strider he is also now worried about the idea that the final infected roaming around could be some kind of souped up mecha zombie.

Coupling that with the dreadful, sullen silence, and he’s restless and uneasy. He wishes for music, for the sound of cars or trains or something, but there’s nothing. Finally, he can’t take it anymore, he needs light, or noise, or both.

“Hey Kanaya?” He whispers, confident she is still awake. If there is anything he’s learned from reading supernatural romance novels, it’s that vampires don’t need sleep.

“Yes?” She asks quietly, patiently, and he mentally chalks up one win for pop culture.

“Would you mind if I turned on the light?”

“Karkat, you need to sleep.”

“I know, I will. But I can’t. Not now, when it’s so dark.”

Instead of answering, Kanaya leans over and flicks on the lamp settled on the nightstand between them.

“Thanks” he says, and they lean back in dreadful, debilitating silence. He can almost feel her debating on whether to say something, and he hopes she does, because he’s going to go crazy without some something filling his eardrums.

“Karkat, are you familiar with the myth of vampires sparking in sunlight?”

“Yeah. But obviously that’s just some Twilight bullshit.”

Kanaya stops, and considers on whether to press him to see if he has read the novels, but she decides against it.

“It is. Daywalkers, however…” she swiftly turns the lamp off, and the room is plunged back into inky blackness, but only for a moment, because a soft white light starts emanating from her bed.

“Daywalkers can glow in the dark.”
—-
“Vriska?”

“Yes, Terezi?”

“I… I’m really glad you’re here.”

The two girls have moved their nightstand against the far wall, and have pushed their mattresses together to create one large bed. Vriska is partially snuggled against Terezi in an effort to comfort her. Earlier, when Terezi and Karkat had stumbled into the lobby, caked in blood and trembling fiercely, she had gotten the story of their brush with death.

It caused terror, a foreign feeling, to grip her heart, knowing how close she had been to losing her only friend.

“I’m glad you’re here too, Terezi.” The words are strange on her tongue. Vriska Serket is supposed to be tough, independent. She’s not supposed to need anybody, want anybody, even. But the admission resonates in her heart, a sort of central truth that just feels right.

Somehow, the blind girl next to her has become an irreplaceable part of her life once again. Vriska thinks maybe she should resent Terezi for leaving her, for doubting her, but she doesn’t. She can’t bring herself to even think about doing that to Terezi.

“You know” the girl in question mumbles “I don’t think I ever really hated you. Maybe there was a time I thought I did, but I don’t think I ever hated you.”

It’s an unexpected confession, one that causes Vriska to struggle to swallow past the lump forming in her throat, and her eyes burn with unshed tears.

She can’t bring herself to speak, because if she does she’s going to cry, and Vriska Serket does not cry. So instead the auburn haired girl moves closer to Terezi, embracing her until she’s collected enough to choke out a “thank you”.

All at once it’s an expression of forgiveness and an apology, and Terezi knows her well enough to recognize this.

Vriska Serket might be completely unable to show remorse, but she also struggles with expressing gratitude.

So to Terezi, that one ‘thank-you’ is worth a lifetime of ‘I’m-sorrys”.
——
Dave is about three seconds from blissful unconsciousness when Rose shakes him awake.

He spends a moment panicking, wondering first if there really is a boss zombie, and wondering second how she even got into the room. Then he remembers Jade had one of the keys, and his attention turns back to why she’s in his room.

“Roxy finally messaged me!” It's the most enthusiastic he’s ever heard her, and she’s grinning so widely Dave thinks it must hurt. Between this and the thing with Kanaya, he wonders if his sibling has gone off the deep end.

“No shit?” He asks, and though he’s every bit as excited as she is, he manages to sound much calmer.

“Read for yourself” She smugly tells him, and shoves her phone into his hands, the screen illuminating his face. Dave glances towards John’s sleeping form next to him, worried the light might wake him up, but he doesn’t react at all, and peacefully continues lightly snoring. Dave gingerly takes Rose’s phone and begins scrolling.

The message is sent from an unknown number, but the style is unquestionably Roxy’s.

Hey Rosie! Your cus is still kickin it in Cali
Both of em since Dirks here
n sum other ppl 2
Im borrowing one of their phones rn btw
P crazy huh? All these zoms n ppl eating each other n stuff...
Gog i hope ur okay
tried messaging Dave but no dice
Hopefully ur together
Lemme know if youre still alive kay?
Luv, Roxy

Dave can see that Rose has already typed a reply detailing their situation, but there hasn’t been a response yet.

“She sounds less drunk than normal” Dave notes.

“Yes. It seems the Apocalypse does not provide many opportunities for intoxication.”

Dave snorts.

“She picked a hell of a time to break her addiction.”

“She most certainly did.”
——
Jade turns over in her bed, Bec whining at the action from his spot next to her. She was only pretending to be unconscious when Rose snuck out, needing some time to think some things over. Her friend still isn’t back yet, but she already knows that Rose has gone to see Dave, to let him know their cousins are still alive. It hurts a little that Rose has not believed her the night before, when she had told the blonde as much, but she thinks it’s still a reasonable reaction.

After all, if she was in that position, she thinks she would probably want concrete proof, and not just someone’s word. Which makes Vriska’s reaction earlier almost inconceivable, and almost unwillingly, her mind wanders back to that conversation.
——
“I dreamed he would die the day before it happened.” Jade says, fully expecting Vriska to recoil in disbelief, to laugh at her, but her partner’s cerulean eyes remain as sharp and attentive as they had before her confession.

“I’m gonna guess that that’s also how you know we’ll find answers where we’re going.” Vriska surmises, and Jade gives her an odd look.

“That’s right. You, you’re taking this awfully well.” The cerulean eyed girl shrugs at the subtle accusation and fixes her with a grim smile.

“Honestly, it’s not the weirdest thing I’ve heard. Or experienced! I mean, really. Most of my life was spent as a lab rat for a non-existent company that gave me literal superpowers. So dreaming the future? Please, try saying something actually outrageous.” Vriska doesn’t mean to say all this, not just because she has only known this girl for two days, but because it’s a pointless thing to say, since she can’t actually use those powers anymore. But Jade’s story has evoked some sort of empathy with her, and she thinks maybe the ravennette needs to know she isn’t alone when it comes to weird abilities.

Jade is floored, to put it mildly. Vriska, who not even twenty minutes ago was giving her the cold shoulder, is now professing belief in Jade, and not only that, but claiming something more unbelievable, without a single spark of deception or trace of doubt.

“I… wow” she says at last, stunned “that is definitely not what I expected.”

Vriska smiles sardonically at her. “I know, right? I’m just full of surprises.”

Jade moves to ask more about, but before she can, Terezi and Karkat hobble into the room, eyes wide and terrified, and they get swept up in comforting their friends.
——
Breaking out of the memory leaves Jade to wonder if anyone else will believe her as Vriska does. She’s told her friends of her ability already, long before the Apocalypse, but for as much as Dave and John claim to believe her, she knows each of them hold at least a small sliver of doubt.

And Rose…

So far, Rose has been backing Jade up, at least with going to California, but Jade knows the blonde’s support isn’t because she believes in Jade’s dreams. The only reason Rose is going along with everything is because by going to California, she will be reunited with her cousins.

Jade knows from her dreams that Rose will eventually come around to help them find the laboratory that contains the answers, but she worries about the cost her assistance is supposed to come at.

She hopes that the unexpected people they’ve picked up will be enough to prevent the imminent tragedy.

Because if they aren’t, Dave Strider is not going to survive the Apocalypse.
——
The third day of the Apocalypse starts every bit as peacefully as the first and second days.

Despite expectations, they are not awoken by the ear-splitting roar of a mutated super zombie, nor are they awoken by the sudden appearance of hostile survivors. Instead, consciousness returns to about half of them around nine a.m, and it is their movements that rouse the remainder of the group.

Preparation for the day is another hurried affair, made quicker by the fact that not a single one of them wants to stick around the motel any longer than necessary. Since they did not bring in much with them the night before, they also don’t have much to return to the vehicles, and by nine forty-five everything is neatly squared away, leaving only the matter of breakfast.

Of the eight of them, only Jade, Rose, and Vriska are proficient at cooking. Well, Karkat is actually a rather good chef himself, but he’s not willing to enter the kitchen again after last night. He’s briefly surprised when Kanaya confesses to being completely unable to make anything beyond the complexity of buttered toast, until he realizes that’s probably because she can’t eat anything she would make.

In the end, it ends up being largely unimportant, because while neither Rose nor Jade are particularly willing to make anything in the presence of corpses, Vriska has no such qualms, and is perfectly fine marching into the back and with the stipulation that at least one other person comes with to help.

Several rounds of rock-paper-scissors, and Dave trudges through the double doors alongside Vriska, only to return a moment later, face ashen behind his tinted shades, and the group springs to their feet in concern.

“We, uh, we found the last employee” he says, almost sounding nonchalant until his voice cracks on the last syllable “she wants to know what we should do with him.”

“Him?” Terezi aks with a frown “is it not an infected?”

Dave shakes his head.

“No, but… uh, maybe you should just come see. Well, not ‘see’ see, ‘cause you’re blind, but you know what I mean. Dude is not in good shape.”

“Define ‘not in good shape’.” Rose commands, and Dave sighs in exasperation.

“Look, just, come look, alright?” He says and turns tail, retreating back into the kitchen without another word. Rose sharply exhales and follows him, and after a few more moments Kanaya gets up to do the same.

“No way in hell am I going back there” Karkat says to nobody in particular, and Terezi nods in agreement. Jade fidgets a little on her seat, but otherwise makes no move to stand.

“We’re… we’re going to help him, right?” John sounds almost desperate with his quiet plea. He simply cannot stand the thought of allowing another person to die, particularly if they can help it.

“Of course!” Jade assures him “we’ll do everything that we can.”

Terezi snorts from her spot across the table.

“No” she contends “we will do what’s best for all of us. We don’t have space for a person that can’t support themselves.”

John winces, thoughts instantly jumping to his conversation with Rose from the previous night. He had been half convinced this morning when he woke up it had been a dream, but now he’s reminded that it was not, and that as it is he is still very much useless to the group.

“You’re wrong!” Jade snaps at Terezi, standing up and placing both palms flat on the table. Bec looks up at her from the floor beside her chair, tilting his head at the outburst. “We can’t just ignore someone who needs our help! Especially now that so few people are left.”

Terezi remains unconvinced, so Jade turns to Karkat for support. “You agree, right?”

He’s not really sure what to say to that. Disagreeing would make him sound almost too cruel, but he knows that they don’t really have the space for another survivor, if only because they don’t have enough seats in their cars for another person.

He’s about to bring this up when the double doors swing back open, out stepping Rose and Kanaya, the latter of whom is guiding a mostly nondescript young man by the shoulders while Rose frowns.

The man is tall with short sandy brown hair and vacant green eyes, no older than twenty. There’s no real defining features about him, other than how he is completely failing to react to anything, seeming to stare right through Karkat when his gaze falls on the shorter male, in a way that’s both unnerving and saddening.

John approaches the employee first, hesitantly getting close until he’s close enough to shake the guy’s hand, which he attempts to do, only the other guy does not react at all, remaining limp, making John shoot Rose a questioning look, as though to ask ‘what’s wrong with him?’

Rose shakes her head in response to the unasked inquiry, bewildered and aggravated.

“The best we can figure is that he was locked in the pantry at the very start” she says softly “the lightbulb was shattered, and his phone was dead next to him. We believe three days in darkness, in addition to watching the world end while he was trapped, was enough to make him lose his mind.”

“Is… is there anything we can do?” Jade speaks up, and Rose looks away for a moment.

“Were I actually a psychologist, and we had the space, it is likely I could. But we have neither of these things, not to mention limited supplies. Our best course of action would be to leave him here, where at least he will still have food and water, should he snap out of it.”

Karkat knows that the guy is not going to do any such thing, that leaving the stranger here means condemning him. At the same time, though, he wonders if leaving him here to die peacefully, without the fear of zombies getting to him, isn’t a kinder fate.

“Can we put it to a vote?” John’s voice is small and weak, overcome with desperation to save this suffering man, and Rose hums a little before agreeing, and they call Dave and Vriska back into the dining hall.

“We don’t have time to be debating this!” Vriska exclaims “we don’t have space, and the guy is just dead weight! Honestly, why do we even need to discuss this?”

“I dunno, man” Dave is much more reserved with his opinion “it seems kinda cruel to just abandon him, yeah? We could probably stick him in the back of the truck with Bec.”

“Yeah!” Jade chirps in agreement, and John nods as well.

“We don’t have the space” Terezi repeats, and Kanaya adds that taking another survivor- one that cannot support himself, no less- seems rather inefficient.

“We should not be offering assistance if we ourselves are struggling” Rose intones “and at the moment, we are anything but stable.”

Everyone turns to Karkat then, because it’s his vote that decides whether they are left in a stalemate or they leave this man, and Karkat does not want this responsibility. It should be a simple matter of math, to prioritize his friends over this stranger, but just like John, he doesn’t want to allow another person to die.

Not when so many others have already.

He’s ready to say as much, and let the others interpret his thoughts however they want, when the employee shifts a bit and starts moving dazedly towards the windows at the far side of the room, where light is streaming through, breaking out of Kanaya’s grip. In response, the vampire draws her dagger and follows him while the others watch.

The man stops at the window, pulling aside the translucent curtain and staring at the sun with a muddled sort of clarity. Eventually, he turns to face Kanaya, eyes drawing over her weapon before settling on her face.

“Are you the angel of death?” He asks, voice rusty and low from dehydration “cause- ‘cause if you are, I’m ready.”

Kanaya looks to the others, who are watching with varying degrees of shock and interest. Realizing she won’t be getting any help from them, she turns back to the man.

“If you wish it” She says carefully “or, should you desire it, you have the opportunity to live again.”

The man violently shakes his head. “No! No, please. They’re gone, all gone! I don’t want to go back without them! Mom, dad, Cassidy…” his body tries to break into sobs, but he’s too dehydrated to actually cry, and so the result is something heart wrenching and desperate as the man falls to his knees, essentially begging for his death. He still seems oblivious to the others in the room.

Again, Kanaya looks to see the others reactions, to see if they have any opinion on what she should do. Many of them are looking away from the scene, but Vriska gives her sort of a half shrug half go-ahead motion.

“I shall not deny you your wish” Kanaya tells him, and the man jumps to his feet, thanking her profusely while he stands. “I have been instructed to show you something, before you pass on.” She says, and leads him out of the room, leaving the others to watch them leave.
——
Nobody is especially eager to eat after that, so instead they pack up whatever cereals and non-perishables they can find in the pantry and split them between the two vehicles. Conversation is scarce as they pull away from the motel, and Dave is thankful that Terezi has the presence of mind to push in one of the cds they found in the glove box the day before.

The music is nothing he would’ve listened to before, slow and instrumental as it is, but he thinks it’s fitting, considering what has happened. It seems to be making John feel… well, not comforted, exactly, but maybe more normal? Like letting him know it’s okay to mourn right now.

Dave can’t really gauge how either Terezi or Vriska are holding up, but he imagines that Vriska at least is mostly unaffected. She doesn’t strike him as the type to particularly care about other people, especially strangers.

For his part, Dave is confident he’s in shock. He can’t really feel anything right now, but mentally at least some part of his is screaming behind his walls of apathy. He doesn’t want to spend time contemplating his own emotional state, though, because right now he doesn’t think he wants to feel anything.

He wonders if it’s that feeling that drove his cousin to drinking. He’s heard about the numbing powers of soporifics, but has never really experienced it. He thinks that if that’s the case, he can understand why Roxy took up alcohol.

But not only does Dave not have any such beverages on hand, he would also never do that to his sister. He knows how much it crushed her when Roxy entered a state of perpetual drunkenness, and he doesn’t want to know what it would do to her if another family member did the same.

So instead, he turns his thoughts onto what it must be like in the other car as he looks out the window, staring at the lines of cars on the side of the road, and occasionally he’ll spot an infected, someone that must have crawled out of their vehicle when they started turning, but they’re traveling too fast to be at risk of getting caught.

He hopes that tomorrow everything will go back to normal.

Whatever normal is.
——
By comparison, the other group is fraught with tension. Whereas John has reacted with a sense of moroseness, Jade is visibly angry and upset over how Kanaya so easily killed the survivor, when there was an obvious chance to help him. Rose is doing her best to ignore the rage practically vibrating off her friend, and is trying to distract herself by downloading as many survival guides as she can, while she still has internet.

She thinks that humanity would have had a really good chance at beating the Apocalypse, if only so many hadn't been infected right off the bat.

Still, there’s more than enough knowledge left online that they should be able to recover something of a way of life. The world they left behind had more than a few ideas on how to rebuild post-Armageddon.

“Hey, uh, Jade” Rose almost misses Karkat’s words because of how focused she is at the moment, but as they register she abandons her search in favor of listening.

“Yes?” Jade turns to look at the boy next to her, voice taught and short, and through the rearview mirror she can see indignance spark in the short boy’s eyes.

“So, I get that we’re supposed to be finding this epic place and all. But what are we going to do once we find it?”

Jade is caught off guard. Out of everyone, she never anticipated Karkat to be the one to ask this question, and especially now.

“Uhm, well-“ the ravenette sends a helpless look towards the seat in front of her, unable to formulate a response.

“We rebuild.” Rose supplies “we recreate as much of society as we can, and hope that it is enough.”

“Then what’s the point in going to fucking California? We could do that literally anywhere!” Karkat says, and although he sounds angry, the truth is that he’s more scared of the danger he is just now realizing they are going to be in.

“No!” Jade blurts, wringing her hands as her brain breaks out of the shock “I promise, there’s a really important reason we need to do this!”

“Oh, really?” Karkat retorts. He’s not sure why he’s being so antagonizing right now, and he thinks maybe everything from the past forty eight hours has finally caught up, and that he is just one step from hysteria. “Care to fucking share?”

His hostility is catching all of them off guard; even Kanaya isn’t sure what to make of it as she tightens her grip on the wheel. Jade, disturbed by his outburst, cries out “if we do this, we might be able to destroy every zombie at once!”

There’s a pause, and the only sound is the faint hum of the motor.

“Are you insane?” Karkat means to shout, but he ends up whispering instead “that’s the most impossible, moronic thing I have ever heard!”

Jade winces at how quiet he is, because if there’s one thing everyone has learned about Karkat, it’s that he hates the quiet, but she refuses to let herself be cowered. The indigance stemming from this harsh treatment emboldens her, and she gathers enough courage to respond.

“It’s true! I-I saw it in a dream!” She berates herself mentally for saying so, thinking that Karkat is only going to insult her further, that there is no way he could possibly believe that.

Instead, the boy turns an impossible shade of white , looking very much like he’s seen a ghost.

“You saw it in a dream?” Karkat asks with a sense of urgency, and Jade is taken aback by how he has completely changed attitudes all of a sudden, but she nods all the same. He runs a hand through his hair, exhaling loudly.

“Shit. Fuck. For real?” He asks again, and the panic in his voice makes Jade feel tiny tendrils of fear.

“Uhm, yes? I’m not lying. I- I don’t, I don’t lie.” She stumbles over her words, fighting to keep the rising worry from her voice “why? Does this mean something to you?”

“Yeah, you could say that.” Karkat says hurriedly, fixing her with a wide eyed look “have you ever seen me in your dreams? This is important.”

“N-no” Jade shakes her head “I’ve never seen you. Or Vriska. Or Terezi, or Kanaya! Karkat, please. Tell me what you know about this!”

The boy leans back, and lets out a sigh of relief. “Okay, good, just, calm down for a minute, okay? You’re putting me on edge.”

“I’m putting you on edge?” Jade almost shrieks, and from the front seat Rose and Kanaya wince in unison. “You’re the one being all aggressive and mysterious!”

“Right, sorry. It’s just, ugh, God, where do I even start?”

“Maybe at the beginning” Jade hisses venomously “that would be rather helpful.”

“It’s a long story” Karkat tells her “but basically, I had this friend when I was really little. And she… I dunno, she could sort of see the future? Like you, I guess. She told me I’d meet someone like her one day, and that if I did, I would need to ask them if they could see me. And that if they were the right person, that they wouldn’t be able to. Or something like that. I dunno, it’s dumb. But she, she disappeared after that, and for some reason, I still remember what she said.”

There’s a quiet after his words, a space filled with the absorption of this revelation. Jade steals a look at Rose, wondering what her skeptical friend is making of Karkat, and while she doesn’t get the sensation the blonde is significantly closer to believing her, there is a glimmer of belief in Karkat’s story, and that is enough to give Jade hope.

“I also knew someone that could dream the future.” Kanaya says gently, breaking the silence “but they lost their ability well before the Apocalypse.”

Jade’s mouth goes dry, and she swallows harshly. It was one thing to have Vriska believe her last night, but now with Kanaya and Karkat, she wonders if there might be a connection between their experiences that have led them to believe her and the fact that they are not in her dreams.

“None of you are joking, are you?” It’s phrased as a question, but to all three of them it’s clear Rose has intended it as more of a statement, and her next words affirm this as she twists around to look at Jade.

“You really are able to dream the future.”
——
The remainder of the day passes smoothly. They still haven’t encountered any other survivors, but Terezi is rather thankful for that, in a strange way. She doesn’t think they could handle it if they had to leave another person behind.

They continue to make several stops at gas stations, and Terezi thinks it’s something of a miracle that after three days supplies are still plentiful. Another part of her reasons that with so many people turning like they did, it’s not really that unexpected.

It does get her wondering, though. Wondering about why this happened at all.

Dave’s been able to get a charger for his phone, courtesy of the precious gas station they visited. And while the connection has been spotty, he has been able to get to the internet long enough to discover a reddit page dedicated to survivors sharing knowledge. At Terezi’s behest, he’s been spending what time he can scrolling through, reading aloud the most pertinent and interesting bits.

There isn’t much up, so far, and most of it he discards as unbelievable. What he does consider is the subtopic headlined ‘polling data’ on who turned first, and who turned due to being bitten.

The general consensus is that those afflicted in what has been unceremoniously dubbed ‘The First Wave’ have all been twenty one or older. It makes his heart almost stop, because both Dirk and Roxy are perilously close to that age, just falling shy at twenty. But even as his bloodpusher almost fails, Terezi’s brain goes into overdrive, thinking of the implications of the discovery.

If it was an actual virus, she thinks it would probably would have hit younger kids and old people, those without strong immune systems. But it didn’t, it went straight for the adults, the people in charge, the people most able to stop what is going on.

The Apocalypse is feeling less like a bioweapon gone wrong, or a new kind of plague, and more like a predetermined, targeted attack. Dave fervently hopes that Jade was not pulling his leg when she told Rose about finding answers in California, because he really wants to get to the bottom of this.

Unlike Rose, Dave is pretty sure Jade actually does dream the future. For a girl living alone on an island, she was always oddly informed, not to mention her predictions, usually minor guesses about various small, otherwise unknowable details, always proved accurate. It makes too much sense not to be true.

Of course, there’s also the fact that following her will bring them straight into the path of their cousins, and Dave could really use some more family right now.

He’s happy to be in a group with friends, but Dirk was the only person Dave ever had to look up to. And then he left to look after Roxy, and Dave hasn’t seen him since. If Dave didn’t care just as much as he did about Roxy, the move would’ve felt a lot like betrayal.

But he’s cool about it, Dave tells himself. He gets it.

He does not resent Dirk Strider in the slightest.
—-
They spend the third night of the Apocalypse in New Mexico, only, instead of a motel, it’s a dusty campground.

It’s only April, so none of the cabins have been rented out, meaning the only zombies around would be any groundskeepers or employees, one of which they find in the visitor’s shack and promptly dispose of.

As a joke, John takes the sign in sheet and the pen next to it and writes in bold black ink ‘Survivors Dave, John, Rose, Jade, Karkat, Vriska, Kanaya, and Terezi were here’. He then takes a picture of it with his phone, although nobody is certain as to why.

They find the keys easily enough, because they’re on a rack just behind the check-in desk, left completely unguarded save the zombie they have already dispatched.

The walk to the main cabin is noisy and lively, the trauma of the morning having been forcibly pushed out of their minds. It’s a rather beautiful night, and most of the stars are out to guide their short trek through the whistling woods. Gravel and twigs crunch under their feet as leaves whistle above their heads and gentle skittering echoes around them. They should be more guarded, but after so many hours spent in cramped vehicles apart from each other, they are all eager to relax and bask in the safety that comes from being together.

The cabin they are headed to is poised just off a lake, which is currently smooth as glass, perfectly reflecting the various twinkling lights in the darkened sky. Next to the cabin, which is situated up on stilts, is a a small cement pathway that leads to a medium sized hut. Rose speculates that the building probably contains canoes or kayaks, and the rest are inclined to agree.

The cabin itself is completely unlit, and while not unexpected, John still finds it unnerving. The steps to the door are wooden and creaky, and he winces as the planks groan beneath his feet.

Rose unlocks and opens the door, careful and slow, as though moving through water, and flicks on the lights, carefully watching for any unexpected zombies. To the relief of everyone, the room brightens and reveals an almost homely looking space, devoid of any infected.

The walls are a cheery orange color, complimenting the dark brown floor. To the left of the entryway is a small closet with a couple hangers in it, past which the wall veers off to open up a kitchen space. Straight ahead from the door the group entered from is a sliding glass door that leads out to a small porch that wraps around to re-enter the kitchen. A cursory glance outside reveals a small metal bench on the porch, as well as a spiral stairwell leading to the ground floor. Back inside the room and next to the glass door is an old looking piano, and John is struck with an urge to try and play it, but he refrains, observing the rest of the room instead.

Across from the coat closet is a living room like area decorated with a beige carpet and two matching chairs that overlook a large window showcasing the front of the cabin. Just off of the space are two doors, one that leads to a room with six bunk beds and the other to a bathroom with two shower stalls and two toilets. Both the bathroom and bedroom are connected by a single door.

“Well, this place sure is cozy” Vriska drawls, and Jade is inclined to agree. Certainly, it’s much larger and more comfortable than either of the places they have stayed at before.

Nobody is quite ready to sleep, even after they change into pajamas and clean themselves off, so John and Jade search for any games left behind and return with a pack of UNO cards and a deck of playing cards. Vriska is disappointed that they didn’t find any dice games, to which Terezi explains that Vriska always wins where dice are concerned.

“She has all the luck” the blind girl asserts “all of it”, and it rings true for card games as well, because Vriska wins two rounds of UNO and only loses the third because Terezi ‘accidentally’ knocks the cards out of her hands. It’s all in good fun, though, because Vriska gets her back when they move on to playing Texas Hold ‘Em, using bullets provided by Jade as chips.

“You know” the green eyed girl says when they tire of losing to Vriska “we should play truth or dare.”

“Dude, no. That’s like, the number one way to die in a horror movie.” Dave protests, but Jade has a counter ready.

“Or it’s the bonding scene where everyone finds out a deep, impactful secret about someone!”

Dave still looks unconvinced (although that could also be his default expression), and Jade resorts to begging.

“Come on, please? I’ll even go first!” Jade gives him the most innocent eyes she can manage, and Bec, who is laying beside her, gives him an identical look. Dave finally relents, and Jade lets out an enthusiastic cheer.

“Alright! Terezi, hit me with a dare!” The girl in question looks slightly startled.

“Huh?”

“We’re playing truth or dare! It’s your turn to give me a dare!”

“Alright. I dare you to go outside and yell as loud as you can.”

“Done!” Jade springs up and skips over to the door.

“Isn’t this kind of dangerous?” Karkat asks Kanaya “what if we attract some of the zombies lurking around?”

“Right now, even existing is dangerous.” She tells him “I think, perhaps, we should allow this to play out.”
——
One long half-yell half-howl later sees the eight returned to the bedroom, where it is Rose’s turn.

“Truth” she says simply, and sends John a look, as though daring him to try and convince her to accept a dare. He gets the message, and wisely chooses not to.

“What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done?” He asks, eager to know her response, because if there’s one thing Rose Lalonde doesn’t do, it’s stupid. He figures it’s probably something lame and minuscule, like waking up early for school on a Sunday.

He doesn’t know that Rose Lalonde has only ever behaved idiotically once in her life, and that it had very nearly cost her her life.

“May I-“

“Nope, you have to answer!” John replies, cheerfully unaware of her position, and she swallows hard. This shouldn’t be a big deal, she thinks. She should be over this, or she should be able to lie about it. But she can’t, because she’s already thought about what the answer is, and she’s hesitated too long for a lie to be believed.

“I…” her voice is shaky, and John’s eyes widen as he realizes that whatever she is going to say is not something minor or harmless, and by the palpable blanket of quiet spread over the room, everyone else realizes too.

“Hey, uh, it’s okay!” He says, trying to salvage the mood, but at this point, there will be no reverting back to the game “you uh, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

“N- no. No, I wish answer.” She does her best to steady her voice, but the memories are overwhelming, and she wonders why now of all times her composure is failing her. “I… I almost let myself be abducted.” The words are rushed, forced, spoken too quickly and not at all in her usual composed tone, and she lowers her head, ashamed to look anyone else in the eyes. But now she’s started sharing, and she’s kept the details to herself for so long, and somehow it feels good to talk, even if she’s doing it through a halting voice.

“It was not that long ago. It was… I…” she takes a deep breath, exhales, then takes another, helplessly looking up to meet sympathetic eyes, trying to bring herself to explain. She catches a spark of understanding grow in Vriska’s eyes, and then a sense of empathy in Kanaya’s, the latter of which is so unexpected it moves her to tears, leaving her unable to continue.

Kanaya stands up and moves to sit beside Rose. She carefully wraps an arm around the shorter girl, and in this moment, Rose doesn’t notice the contact as grating or irritating, but instead for what it is: comforting.

She lets herself curl into Kanaya’s side, and they stay that way while the rest look on with pity. Slowly, softly, Kanaya helps Rose to stand, and guides her to the door leading to the main room. As they exit the bedroom, Kanaya shoots a glare at the other six, as though warning them not to interrupt. She then shuts the door behind her and leads Rose through the sliding door to the outside walkway, and sets her on the small bench pushed against the wall of the house, staring out at the lake.

They sit in silence as Rose recovers herself.

“Forgive me. I had thought I was over this, but…”

“It’s alright.” Kanaya gives her a comforting smile and hugs the blonde close. Rose twitches, but makes no effort to separate.

“I think this might be something we have in common” Kanaya whispers softly, and Rose barks out a hollow laugh.

“Forgive me, but I find that very difficult to believe. You hardly seem the type to almost join a cult.”

“You are correct, of course” Kanaya tells her “I’m the kind of person to actually join the cult.”

“And then burn it down” Rose mumbles, resting her chin on Kanaya’s shoulder. The taller girl raises an eyebrow at this.

“Where did you acquire that information?” She asks, despite knowing the answer from eavesdropping back on the first night. “I had been very careful to hide my involvement.”

Rose tenses for a moment, then finally replies “Vriska. She had some connections.”

“Ah.” Kanaya says “yes, in that sense, our situations were very much unalike. But as I am sure you know, sometimes victims of a particularly traumatizing crime seek out the experience again.”

It takes Rose a moment to process what she means, but once she understands she sits upright, fixing a look of astonishment onto her companion.

“That was not the first time you were taken, was it?”

“No. But that is a story for another time. Currently, I am much more concerned about what you have been through. If you do not mind sharing, I think you may find talking to someone who understands to be beneficial” Rose nods mutely at this. She really does want to talk about it, she’s wanted to talk about it for some time. But it has always seemed like an admission of weakness, of vulnerability. And it is, but right now that seems so insignificant, and she thinks she’d rather tell her story now, lest she die before anyone learns.

“Yes. I… would like to talk about it.” She halts for a moment, preparing herself to expose her most kept secret. “I think, perhaps, that such an occurrence was inevitable. I have never been the sociable sort, a trait compounded by my honestly deplorable familial situation.” She has to stop and breathe before going on.

“Speaking frankly, my mother was an alcoholic. I never knew my father, and Dave was, at the time, unreachable in person, as were my uncle and cousin. My aunt was frequently traveling, so she often left my other cousin, Roxy, with us. It was she who essentially raised me.” She finishes the last part with the slightest of smiles, but it’s a bitter sort of expression.

“It was this lack of connection that drove me to books, I believe. Which evolved into a particular fascination for the dark and disturbing, and at some point, an obsession. For the most part, I shut Roxy and Dave out, devoting myself to learning all I could. All the more so because Roxy was to leave for college and, she would not be returning for a long time.”

She pauses again and looks towards Kanaya, who gestures for her to continue.

“At that point, I had become involved with an online group, whom I am sure you can guess to be the cult. Eventually, they extended an invitation to meet, to see if I would be suited to their group. I was enamoured, of course, and there was no one around to stop me, so I went without so much as a second thought.” She breaks off into a rueful smile, and Kanaya waits patiently for her to continue.

“It was pure luck that the location they had decided upon was the same place Roxy was scheduled to meet up with a friend. Even more fortunate was that this friend was running late, and so she was there to notice me about to get into the car with whom was obviously a shady, dangerous character. And she stopped me, of course.”

“I am glad she was there to protect you.” Kanaya whispers, and Rose can only nod.

“I am as well. I think the most terrifying part was waking up two weeks later and hearing on the news what they had been doing, and realizing how that was almost me. How I-“

Rose’s mouth goes dry as she nears the part she really want to say. How the thing bothering isn’t what she was interested in, or that she almost joined a cult, but rather, what they were going to do to her. How they were going to slowly cut her into pieces, watching her slowly bleed out, sacrificing her to a monster that in all likelihood does not exist, after she has given them all her trust, revealed all her insecurities.

They had made her feel like she belonged, all with the ultimate intention of literally stabbing her in the back.

She never stops to wonder if there’s anything preventing her current group from doing the same.
——
Later that night, once everyone else has fallen asleep, Kanaya sneaks outside.

Rose’s story has gotten her thinking about her own, rendering her unable to pretend to sleep, and she knows from experience that sometimes walking can obscure the memories. She is silent as the grave as she unlocks the front door, closing it behind her as she exits the cabin and moves down the stairs into the night air..

She makes it halfway down before she spots two hulking figures at the end of the gravel path they took to get to the cabin. Her eyes widen when she realizes that these are not the average zombies they have encountered to date.

Quickly, she turns around, and all but flies back to the room in a bid to warn the others.

It seems Dave’s warning about a boss battle is going to come to fruition after all.
——
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Chapter Text

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——
——
“I told you we were going to have a boss fight” Are the first words spoken, courtesy of Dave, who seems none the worse for having been woken up so suddenly in the middle of the night.

“Yes. They certainly do not seem to be like the ones we have encountered thus far, although they did strike me as equally slow.”

“Ugh, less talking more getting ready!” Vriska cuts in, having already changed back into her usual attire. “They could be here any moment!”

“Why doesn’t Jade just shoot them?” Karkat growls “we don’t need to go risking our lives getting close.”

“Jade needs to conserve her bullets” Rose informs him “there is going to be many more infected in California, and it will be difficult to scavenge ammunition there. Furthermore, if these are indeed new strains, we need to know what they are capable of.”

“Don’t worry, though! I’ll stay up on deck in case things get too dangerous.” Jade pipes up, tapping one hand on her rifle.

“How fucking reassuring” Karkat mutters under his breath, but he sets about getting dressed anyways, snatching up his hoodie and retreating into the bathroom while Rose notices that John is the only one not getting prepared.

“John?” She asks, and he gives her a mournful expression, head cupped between his hands and elbows on his knees as he sits on one of the lower beds.

“Sorry Rose.” He mumbles, staring at the floor “but I really, absolutely can’t. I’ll just get in the way.”

She gives him a searching look before releasing a sigh.

“I will not make you do anything that causes you discomfort” she tells him “but I would like it if you at least remained on standby with Jade.”

“Alright” he says after a moment, drawing in a shaky breath “I can do that.” Rose flashes him a quick smile, then leaves the room to observe the approaching undead while John readies himself, physically and mentally.

By the time he is prepared and outside, the others have spread out around the deck, and Jade has already set herself up to have a clean shot at the two infected. John steps to stand beside her, leaning on the wooden railing, and thanks to the lights hanging in front of the cabin, he is able to get a good look at the two zombies, only to immediately wish he hadn’t.

The first thought that hits him is that it’s painstakingly obvious what about them alarmed Kanaya.

The pair of them are unnaturally large, with massive, veiny muscles making up the arms, which have elongated past their original length so that their hands come to drag against the ground. The skin of the zombies is a sickly gray, unlike the other undead, who had predominantly maintained their original colorations, having not yet decayed very much. The zombies are slowly marching towards the cabin, more sluggish than the other infected, likely because the legs of the former groundskeepers remain unchanged, and are almost too small to support the weight of the two monstrosities.

It’s hard to tell from a distance, but if John squints he can sort of see that the eyes are still rolled back and white, identical to the others, and that the mouths of each creature is suspended open, revealing jagged yellow teeth. John isn’t sure if that’s because of the obvious mutations they have gone through, or if they simply lacked proper dental hygiene when they were human.

“Is it just me or do those dudes sorta look like gorillas?” Dave asks, and John can’t help but agree that really, they kind of do.

“Never mind that!” Terezi hisses at him “what’s the plan of attack?”

“There’s six of us and two of them” Vriska analyzes, giving John a disappointed look as she speaks “three and three?”

“That seems logical” Rose concurs “my concern is that reaching the head will be difficult. We may need to find a way to trip them in order to kill them.”

To the side, John winces at the use of the word ‘kill’. But he himself is having trouble reconciling these creatures as human, and if not for how utterly terrifying they are, he thinks he could see himself fighting them.

“I really think we should just shoot them” Karkat mutters, but most of the others fail to hear his words, and are more concerned with how they are going to combat these monsters.

“As Rose said, we need to gauge their abilities.” Kanaya reminds her friend “It strikes me as far fetched to think that these will be the only ones like this. We should be prepared to fight them again, without firearms.”

Meanwhile, Dave is struck with the feeling that he’s heard about something like this somewhere, but he can’t place it.

“Is it just me, or is this really familiar?” He wonders aloud “like, I swear I saw this somewhere. Or read about it. Anyone else get that vibe?”

“Let’s just get this over with” Vriska groans, ignoring him, and pushes past everyone to walk down the stairs, knives in hand and pistol at her waist. The others follow, leaving Jade, John, and Bec to watch from up top.

The remaining six of them struggle for a couple moments before splitting into two groups. Terezi, Vriska, and Karkat all veer off to the right while Rose, Dave, and Kanaya move to the left, effectively singling out their targets. A moment passes while they wait for the two former humans to separate, although it quickly becomes apparent that they are not going to split paths, leaving it up to the survivors to drive the infected apart.

They give the behemoths a wide berth as they circle around, giving them a better view of the backs of the zombies. The spines of the infected are distinctly visible through the skin, protruding in a way that looks almost painful, and they can see how the bone curls due to the slouched postures of the monstrosities. Despite this, the former groundskeepers are still taller than any other zombie, and the heads are somewhere between six and seven feet off the ground. Identically tattered navy shorts cling to both infected, serving as the only marking that they were once human.

The six of them can hear the creaking of bones under the sheer weight of the creatures, an eerie snapping noise that sends shivers down the noses of their necks. Jade watches from above, holding her breath as sweat from the warmth of the spring night rolls down her back. She’s not sure which one of the two she should be targeting, exactly, because she doesn’t want to leave either group without her support, but in the end she chooses to focus on the zombie Vriska’s group is going after, since they are more likely to need her assistance.

She wishes she had seen this coming in her dreams.
——
By the time Rose realizes that they have absolutely no clue on how to fight as a group, it is far too late.

Unsurprisingly, Vriska has taken the initiative, lunging forward to plunge her knives into the calf muscle of the closer infected in an attempt to unbalance it. The zombie unleashes a strangled sort of moan, slamming one palm into the ground as it tries to turn to face Vriska, who is struggling to remove her weapons as it twists around. The second infected notices the noise and sluggishly tries to turn and reach around the other zombie to swipe at Vriska, but Kanaya, seeing the opportunity, dashes forward and sinks her own blade into the back of its left kneecap, causing it to drop to its knee with a groan.

The rest of them hesitate a second too long to respond to the openings, and by the time Dave has jumped into the air to deliver an overhead strike the zombie is standing up, and his movement is caught by the zombie’s shoulder, causing him to almost drop the sword as it bounces awkwardly off the hard skin, and he lands harshly on the uneven ground before rolling to the side to avoid getting trampled.

Dave springs back to his feet, weapon raised and ready to defend him from the undead, but the action proves unnecessary as Rose joins the fray, using her needles to poke holes in the softer areas of the infected’s flesh. The movement of the zombie prevents her from accurately stabbing at the vulnerable tendons, but her goal is distract it, and not necessarily to hinder it as Kanaya is.

The taller girl is attempting to slice through the zombie’s heel, and has only succeeded in making a variety of shallow cuts leading from her previous assault of the joint down to the back of the foot. Unlike how the other zombies bled crimson, viscous black sludge leaks from the deeper wounds, slowly trickling down the limb to cover the remaining cuts, and Kanaya leaps back as she realizes her attacks are completely failing. She’s wholly unprepared for this fight, having left her chainsaw in the back of truck, reasoning that it would be pointless to take it with, since they were not anticipating any sort of event that would require it.

The other group fares little better. They have adopted a strategy similar to Rose’s team, with Karkat luring the behemoth away from his teammates by using his sickle to rupture the flesh on the side of one leg, then jogging around it to repeat the action on the other leg. The result is somewhat comical, as the zombie constantly twists from one side to the other, unable to reach Karkat.

As he does this, Terezi is attempting to drive her blade through the back of the infected’s right thigh. However, her weapon is made for cutting, not stabbing, and she struggles to inflict any sort of deep or severe wound. The same dark liquid pools out of the openings she makes, congealing quickly to prevent her from deepening any previous injuries.

Vriska has managed to worm her way inside the guard of the monster, ducking underneath its arms to close the distance to its chest. The constant turning means she has to stay in motion so she doesn’t get clobbered over the head with a meaty arm. The smell is terrible; decay and sweat and sickness rolling together to create an odor threatening to knock her out. Her knives rebound harmlessly off the chest of the creature, and the zombie has raised its head in order to move, making it impossible to reach. Frustration sparks in the auburn haired girl, and in her anger she tosses her knives to the ground and removes her pistol from her belt, aiming the barrel as best she can before squeezing the trigger.

A loud boom sounds throughout the campground as the bullet is spat out of the gun and sent rocketing towards the head of the zombie. In response to the unexpected ringing of the gunshot, many of the group members cease attacking in favor of flinching or leaping backwards.

Unfortunately for Vriska, her aim was imperfect, and the bullet, instead of sinking into the skull, careens towards the lower face of the zombie, tearing through its opened mouth and punching out the opposite end of the throat.

The monster lets out an enraged screech that is more of either a whistle or gurgle, and faster than thought possible it drives a fist towards the cerulean eyed teen, smashing into her and knocking her onto the rocky ground, jagged pebbles scraping her skin as darkness overtakes her vision, nearly sending her into unconsciousness. Terezi, hearing Vriska collide with the ground, attempts to run over to her friend, almost getting bowled over by the rampaging zombie in the process. Karkat, having leapt aside, follows behind the infected, desperately trying to distract it from the two girls by screaming at it, all to no avail.

The second undead responds to the cry of the first with an ear splitting roar, and it’s only through sheer willpower Kanaya doesn’t drop her weapon to cover her ears from the immense volume of the sound. She almost can’t think through the buzzing it causes to resound in her brain, and she stumbles, almost falling onto the stony floor herself. The sudden downwards motion inadvertently sees her plunging her knife into the zombies leg all the way to the hilt, dragging it through layers of muscle until the blade hits bone, at which point Kanaya lets go of her weapon.

The unsuspecting monstrosity pitches forward, the weakening of its support being just enough to make it pause and readjust its distribution of weight, creating another opening that Dave is able to capitalize on, delivering a second downwards blow that results in the partial decapitation of the infected. Halfway through the thick neck of the zombie, Dave loses his momentum, and the weight he is pressing down onto his sword causes it to fracture and break, and once again he falls, only this time he lands on his feet, the shock of the impact almost causing his knees to buckle as he tightly grips the hilt of his now broken weapon.

John watches from above, pale and trembling. He almost can’t stand to watch his friends at all, knowing that they are fighting for their lives while he waits uselessly, and the guilt that he is failing them somehow threatens to engulf him. He wants to go down and help them, but he is paralyzed. His heart stops as he sees Dave make another move towards one of the zombies, and he can’t help emoting a strangled cry as the undead falls forward, obscuring his best friend from view as it twitches. He can see black ooze pouring out of the wound around the base of its neck, where Dave’s sword had cut through, and John realizes with a sinking feeling that it is not dead.

The sound of Jade’s rifle being fired makes John look away from the battles below, and he misses seeing how Rose kicks out the other leg of the undead from beneath it, enabling Kanaya to withdraw her weapon and vault over the back of the monster before finally sheathing her blade in its brain, fully killing it.

He does not miss the sight of Jade’s bullet tunneling through the skull of the other groundskeeper, the reanimated corpse stumbling as it exhausts the last of its momentum before collapsing into a heap to decompose.

“I think” Jade announces to no one in particular, voice projecting enough so that all of them can hear “that we should agree not to experiment any more.”
——
The fourth day of the Apocalypse, the group skips breakfast. Part of this is because they did not bring much for food with them into the cabin, and the other part is that they are afraid of a potential repeat of last night if they linger.

So the eight of them get changed and pack their things as quickly as they can, and walk back to the vehicles. During the hike, Rose takes the liberty of outlining the day’s objectives.

“We should be able to reach California today.” She announces “although it will likely be quite late when we do. Fortunately, we are currently poised to meet up with another group of survivors I have been in contact with, and-”

“Wait, you’ve been chatting with some other not-dead peeps and never told us? I’m hurt!” Vriska gasps. She’s still sore from being used as an undead punching bag, and has red scratches along her face and arms from the sharp rocks, but is otherwise without injury.

“There never seemed a good time to mention it.” Rose shrugs, and continues on as though the interruption had not occurred. “According to my source, these survivors have managed to section off a small portion of the city, and have been able to maintain power and running water.”

“There’s enough of them they can do that?” Vriska asks.

“Not exactly” Rose flashes a mysterious smile “actually, there’s only four of them.”

“Are you messing with me, Lalonde?”

“No. There really are only four survivors. However, the mutations we encountered yesterday are not the only type to exist. Apparently, there is another type that exists in this area that they have taken to calling ‘Carapacians’, on account of how their skin has been hardened to a shell-like quality.”

“Fascinating, Lalonde, truly. But that doesn’t explain how they’ve been able to secure so much.”

“The other thing about this mutation is that they are still able to recognize and follow orders. In fact, they are quite eager to do so, and apparently prioritize assigned missions over eating flesh.”

“Huh. So we have both movie zombies and office zombies.”

“It would appear so, yes.”

The conversation tapers off as they reach the parking lot and divide themselves back into the vehicles. Once more Bec is helped into the back of the truck, and Jade pours out a bottle of water into a plastic bowl from one of their previous stops for him. When he has been fully situated, Jade leaps back into the vehicle and Kanaya pulls out of the lot.

Hopefully, by the end of the day they can say goodbye to all this traveling.
——
The third day on the road is significantly better than other two, in Vriska’s opinion.

For one, she is completely confident that after today she will not have be behind the wheel any more. She’s really getting tired of spending so much time in a cramped metal box, and last night’s fight has reenergized her with the promise that the Apocalypse will be more of a challenge. For now, though, she can’t do more than engage the others in conversation and keep her foot on the gas pedal..

“All I’m sayin’ is that having more reach is a little more useful than having two weapons.”

“Whaaaaaaaat? That’s so not true! Twice as many weapons, twice as many enemies! That’s the rule!”

“Yeah, you’ve probably got a point there.” Dave concedes “at least you aren’t as bad as John.”

“Hey!”

“Sorry buddy” Dave reaches to the seat in front of him and claps his friend’s shoulder “short range, slow, needs a shit ton of force to work? You really got the short end of the hammer there.”

John huffs and crosses his arms.

“If we’re using that, wouldn’t Kanaya’s chainsaw be the worst? Not only is it slow and hard to use, it’s also really loud!”

“John, I’m going to ignore that really dumb thing you just said” Terezi tells him “but only because you don’t know how capable she is with that thing.”

Vriska nods in agreement, and John throws his hands up in mock exasperation.

“She’s really that good?” Dave pipes up, and Vriska lets one of her hands fall from the steering wheel to rest on her knee.

“Yeah.” Terezi tells him “she basically saved our lives back at the school.”

“It’s so weird you guys had school on a Saturday!” John exclaims, and receives glares from the two girls for his seemingly random comment.

“It was a boarding school” Terezi replies slowly, stunned by his shift in focus “although many of us lived in the area. I think I spent more time at my Aunt’s house than in my dorm.”

“How did you get out of there, anyways?” Dave wonders aloud “isn’t a school like, the worst place to be during the Apocalypse?”

“If you want the answer” Vriska says with a grin “we’ll need to start at the beginning. There’s quite a tale behind our daring escape from the school!”

“We’re all ears” Dave deadpans, and Vriska launches into the story of how they found Karkat and survived day one of the Apocalypse.
——
Jade wonders if she should mention something about yesterday.

The thing is that there are too many things she could talk about: the employee they left, Karkat’s childhood friend, Rose’s almost-breakdown, the mega zombies...

Listing them all like that makes her tired, and she wishes Bec were inside the truck with her. She misses being able to reach over and pet him whenever she wants, dragging her fingers through his soft fur. For as long as she can recall, he’s been her only steadfast companion, and now she has the added worry about him being okay in the back, and she’s constantly twisting to look through the back window to check he’s still there and still fine.

Jade wishes that her friends were more like dogs, that they would be easier to read and not so sad all the time. But they aren’t, and that leaves her unsure of how to help them beyond warning them on what she can see is to come. But even then, she’s been seeing less and less since the start of the Apocalypse, and it makes her wonder if they can even depend on her ability at all.

Despite this thought, she presses her cheek against the window and uncomfortably twists herself to a curled up position around the seatbelt in an attempt to doze off.

Even if her dreams only provide the smallest amount of insight or help, it’ll be worth it.

Anything to assist her friends automatically is.
——
.John feels more than a little guilty about last night.

He can’t help but think that he should have been there on the ground, fighting alongside his friends. He feels as though if he had been there, maybe Dave wouldn’t have broken his sword, or Vriska wouldn’t have been hurt, or that Jade wouldn’t have needed to spend a bullet like she did.

If he hadn’t been so weak, none of that would have happened. If only he had been able to put the safety of his friends above his fear.

And it was fear last night that had him immobilized, not the concept that the groundskeepers could have some shred of humanity left. He doubts anyone could possibly believe those monsters were still in possession of a soul.

He’s not yet ready to accept the possibility that the other zombies might not have a chance at recovery like those two did, but he also doesn’t want to watch his friends go through something like that again without him.

He recalls how he had mercilessly struck down some of the infected on the first day, and he thinks that maybe if his friends really needed him, he could do that again.

He hopes he could, anyways.
——
Karkat is amazed at how nonchalant everyone is about last night.

Even when they had passed the corpses on their way to leave the cabin, not a single one of them had spoken a word about the fight, never mind how they had gotten completely thrashed by the two groundskeepers.

To be clear, he is grateful nobody died, and in the spirit of this he’s decided not to bring up how Vriska and Terezi would have died if not for Jade. Besides, there’s something more pressing beyond the near loss of two of their members.

Karkat isn’t sure if it has occurred to anyone else, but the groundskeepers were distinctly not built for the same purpose as the others have been, which is to say, they were not meant to infect humans. He’s not sure they would be any good against people at all, considering that the groundskeepers would have been rather easy to avoid if they hadn’t needed to defend the cabin.

If the zombies hadn’t been so drastically deformed, Karkat might have dismissed this as a glitch, some sort of mistake during the turning process. But given that there were two of them, he doubts that is the case, and it leaves him with a sense of anxiety.

How is it that the corpses were able to be changed so much? And more importantly, why would the undead mutate in such an unbeneficial way? The answers escape Karkat, and all he is left to think of is that they really can’t reach California fast enough.
——
Terezi is making great progress in regaining her abilities, and it’s making her wonder how she managed to lose her skills to begin with.

As of last night, she’s been able to hold a faint, sketchy outline in her head of her immediate environment. It’s how she was able to accurately stab at the monster last night, but she doesn’t think anyone aside from Vriska has noticed her increase in skill.

She’s still missing a large portion of details in her ‘vision’, and she still can’t smell the difference between colors, but it’s so much more than what she had been able to do three days ago , and she thinks that if she can keep her rate of growth up, she’ll be back to normal in no time.

Odd, how she can now say what normal is for her.

But then, ‘normal’ is equivalent to ‘constant’, and the only constant Terezi has ever known to exist is Vriska, who always seemed so unshakable when they were younger.

Even now, Vriska is acting completely unphased from getting knocked around the night before. Terezi would go so far as to say she’s even excited, although why her friend would be enthusiastic about such horrible monsters is something she can’t relate to.

But if there’s one thing she knows about Vriska, it’s that she can’t resist a good challenge, and the groundskeepers more than qualified as such. And if there’s one thing Terezi knows about herself, it’s that she’s not going to leave her friend to face these challenges alone.

Sometimes, Terezi wonders if they aren’t something closer than friends. Nothing romantic (Vriska would never stand for loving someone in that way; she’s far too independent), but perhaps something akin to sisters.

Terezi has always wanted an older sibling.
——
They’re at a gas station to refuel again, and if it weren’t for how she knows Roxy and Dirk and their friends are alive, Rose would guess that the eight of them are the only survivors of the Apocalypse.

Every single stop they’ve made on this trip has been met with exactly zero survivors and plentiful supplies, with the exception being the employee at the motel, although considering how he was not around very long, she’s not certain they can actually count him.

The thought that there might not actually be hope to recover humanity is sobering and depressing, but she thinks it’s fitting that in the end, people are their own demise. Well, perhaps not exactly, considering the monsters from the night before are not anything she would define as human.

Inevitably, thoughts of the night before lead her back to contemplating her own actions from before the encounter with the groundskeepers. Ever since this morning, she has been trying to come to terms with the fact that she did break down in front of everyone. Over a simple question in an inconsequential game, no less.

It’s the kind of thing she could never imagine herself doing, just as much as she could never picture herself actually accepting the support of another as she did with Kanaya the night before. The more she thinks on it, the more her own actions confuse her. These people are still strangers to her, despite what they have all been through together, and even if they weren’t, she thinks she’s had enough experience with being let down and betrayed that she should have some major trust issues at this point.

Her placement of faith into these other four, and how quickly she has decided to place said faith in them, is something she thinks should scare her. In the end, she understands fully well that she barely knows the first thing about them, but here she is, having opened up about her past weakness to Kanaya. Not only that, she has placed her life and the lives of her friends into their hands.

And then there’s the matter of how quickly Karkat and Kanaya have changed her mind about Jade.

Rose likes to believe she is fairly good at telling when someone is lying, but she also knows how to maintain skepticism. Yet, at just their word alone, she had come to the conclusion that they were being truthful, without the slightest pinch of evidence, and while yesterday that might have been fine, today she is more composed, and she feels foolish for having so easily been swayed.

Now that they’ve stopped, she has a chance to further question either one of them, to reaffirm or tear down her viewpoint from the day before. She decides to interrogate Karkat first, because his statement was significantly more detailed, and therefore should be easier to disprove.

Surveying the interior of the gas station, Rose can see the shorter boy is walking towards the back where the drink coolers are. She takes a step forward to try to catch up with him, but stops as Dave walks out of the chip aisle and trots over to Karkat, the pair quickly disappearing from view, and she decides not to interrupt them.

This leaves her to search for either Kanaya or Jade, but she’s questioned Jade at length in the past about her ability, and considering that never resulted in a concrete belief, such an endeavor would likely prove equally futile, meaning that the only person left that might be able to provide her any certainty is Kanaya. Unfortunately, she has not seen her fellow survivor since they cleared out the area several minutes ago.

“Looking for your girlfriend?” Vriska says from behind her, and Rose whirls around, startled. “I think I saw her head outside.”

“We are not dating.” Rose says “but thank you for the information.” She thenturns to leave, but the other girl catches her by the wrist, stopping her, and Rose flinches at the contact. Vriska notices and lets go.

“Hey, about last night-“

“I’m sorry” Rose cuts her off “I need to find Kanaya.”

“No, wait, listen” Vriska moves in time with Rose, forcing the blonde to look at her.

“I’m listening” Rose says, but it’s crystal clear that she doesn’t want to be.

Vriska sighs, recognizing this, but she goes ahead anyways.

“Listen” she insists “I just wanted to let you know that if you ever need someone to talk to, both Terezi and I are willing to hear you out. You’re not the only one to have gone through some tough shit.”

The offer catches Rose completely off guard, and she blinks in surprise. She’s tempted to ask Vriska to repeat herself, but she doubts doing so will result in anything but a sarcastic jibe.

“I appreciate the offer” she begins carefully “but may I ask what brought this on?” Vriska gives her a shrug before answering.

“I just want you to be aware that the rest of us here care too, y’know? Yeah, maybe we can’t relate like Maryam can, but we’re a team now, and teams support each other. At least, that’s what Terezi says.” Vriska tries to cover herself, but Rose can tell that she’s genuinely worried.

“Thank you.” She says sincerely, and Vriska almost looks awkward for a single second, as though she imagined Rose would have a different reaction.

“Yeah. Of course.” Vriska replies, and walks away towards the back of the shop, presumably in search of Terezi. As she leaves, Rose gently grips the area where Vriska had touched and sighs, then pushes through the doors to go search for Kanaya.
——
Vriska attempts to tell herself that she only offered out of necessity, that the only reason she said anything is because Rose is clearly the strategic leader, and should anything happen to compromise her, it would drag the whole group down.

She certainly did not sign herself and Terezi up to potentially be therapists because she’s grown to like these people. That can’t be it, because she’s Vriska Serket, and she doesn’t like anyone. She pushes them, tolerates them, but only because of what they can do for her, or what she can make them do.

The voice in her mind asks her why she stays so close to Terezi then, and she promptly tells it to fuck off. It doesn’t, of course, because it’s not some external being placing these thoughts in her head. Not now, anyways.

Ever since the incident, Vriska’s thoughts have been solely her own.
——
Jade is terribly, horribly distracted.

She had successfully managed to fall asleep when they were driving earlier, and as such had another dream.

It was unlike any dream she has ever had, though, and the difference terrifies her. Normally, she can recall what she has seen with unerring accuracy and complete clarity. But all that remains in her memory from the night before is an image of a lab, and a girl her age staring ahead with ghostly silver eyes.

She wonders what it means, that her ability is weakening. First she can’t predict the other four, and now she almost can’t predict at all.

It scares her, not just because she is depending on the wisdom she will gain whilst asleep, but because she gets the impression that something deeper than simply failing to remember what happened is going on. It almost feels like a film or static is blacking out these memories, like something is preventing her from accessing them. The thought that something could be able to do that, could take away such a fundamental part of herself, sits heavy in her chest.

She hears footsteps and turns to see John walking towards her, and she instantly feels bad. She’s been neglecting John a lot, even though she knows he’s been struggling to stay positive, and has become somewhat detached from the rest of the group.

“Hey John” She says, and it comes out more tired than she wants it to.

“Hi Jade!” He sounds slightly more energetic, but only just. “Are you doing okay? You look kinda down…”

“Yeah! I just… had a weird dream, is all.” Jade tries for a smile, but it comes across as a grimace instead. She hopes he doesn’t notice, but of course he does, and he gives her a look so serious it looks out of place on him.

“I might not be as good as Rose is at analyzing things” he tells her “but if you want to talk about it, I’m all ears!” It’s unfortunate that there aren’t any chairs inside, because this is not a conversation Jade wants to have standing up.

“Let’s go outside” she suggests with a sigh “and we can take Bec for a walk while we chat.” She whistles loudly, and the canine sprints from across the store where Terezi had been tossing him treats, tail wagging eagerly as he skids to a halt at Jade’s feet before they exit the building.
——
Terezi sighs to herself as she hears Bec skip away from her in the direction of the high pitched whistle.

Funnily enough, she’s not really a dog person like Vriska is. It’s the kind of minor detail that people used to get mixed up about them all the time, before the incident. She remembers finding these small mistakes as a source of pride, knowing that the others never understood her the way the auburn haired girl did.

She wonders now if they always misjudged her because she never gave them any indication of what kind of person she is, and if maybe that’s because she herself had no clue.

There were very few facts Terezi could have said without hesitation were true about herself before the Apocalypse. Once, she might have introduced herself as Terezi Pyrope, the girl who loved dragons and justice and was best friends with Vriska Serket. She might have said that she was someone never held back by her disability.

And then Vriska wasn’t herself anymore, and by Terezi’s own morals she couldn’t remain friends with the cerulean eyed girl. It might have been the right thing to do, but on that day Terezi stopped loving justice, because she discovered how painful it could be. Shortly after, she lost her ability to sense the world around her, and had for the first truly experienced blindness.

And just like that, she had been reduced to two facts. Her name and her love of dragons became the only notable things about her. Or at least, the only things anyone bothered to learn about her.

She wonders what they might have thought if she had been more open about her interest in painting, or what would have happened if she had joined the school’s debate team. She wonders if she might have been less lonely if she hadn’t dyed her hair, or didn’t wear her opaque red glasses all the time.

Most of all, though, she wonders what they would have done if she told them that if she listened hard enough, she could hear the sounds of their souls. She wonders if they would have believed her if she told them that was how she could always guess what they were thinking.

She’ll never find out, of course. Not only has that skill been lost, none of them are left alive to ask. The realization strikes a bitterness in Terezi, and she stops to consider that they shouldn’t have died at all. Whether they were classmates or strangers, they were innocent of whatever reason set in motion the Apocalypse, and her heart burns at the unfairness of it all.

Perhaps she hasn’t lost her passion for justice after all.
——
Dave is unspeakably nervous when he catches up to Karkat in front of one of the coolers containing bottles of soda.

He doesn’t really care if his former friend will still hate him after this, but he needs to apologize to Karkat for what happened before. Ever since Kanaya mentioned the possibility of forgiveness, he’s been haunted by the urge to seek the shorter boy out and talk with him. This isn’t the ideal place to do so, but once they reach California Dave knows he’ll probably never get the chance to converse with him.

Karkat glares at Dave as he approaches, amber orbs drilling holes into his shielded ones, and Dave briefly considers taking off his sunglasses as a show of sincerity, but ultimately decides against doing so.

“Hey, uh, can we talk?” Dave asks weakly, unsure of how to broach the topic.

“I have nothing to say to you” Karkat snaps, turning to leave, and Dave’s heart lurches in his chest.

“Please. Five minutes, that’s all I want.” Any other time Dave would be ashamed of how desperate and weak he sounds, but right now he doesn’t care, because Karkat actually stops and turns back.

“You have three” the teen snarls “start talking.” And it’s more than Dave could have hoped for, really, because he was convinced Karkat wasn’t going to listen to him at all. He’s so taken aback that it takes him a moment to say anything.

“I’m sorry” he whispers, then clears his throat and in a louder voice adds “I’m sorry I suggested that stupid dare. I’m sorry that he- that Gamzee- got hurt because of it. And I, I wish I could rewind, hit the undo button, but I can’t. I wish there was something I could do or say, but there isn’t. This apology here-it’s all I’ve got.”

Karkat stares balefully at him for a moment before sighing and running a hand through his hair, leaning back ever so slightly.

“I’m only saying this once, Strider.” Karkat shudders, as though his next words are physically causing him harm. “I don’t hate you for what you did to Gamzee.”

Dave blinks behind his glasses. The confession is more than he dared to hope for.

“Make no mistake. I still hate you, but for better reasons. Like for never checking on us, and for wearing those fucking glasses indoors like some third rate douch-“ he’s interrupted by Dave, who launches himself at Karkat and forces him into a hug.

“Get off me you useless waste of oxygen!”

“Thank you, Karkat.”

Dave’s words are sincere, but the effect is ruined by the amber eyed boy pushing Dave off of him before making a show of dusting himself off, as though Dave had been rolling around in dirt before his unexpected embrace.

“Yeah, whatever” he mutters, his gaze not reaching Dave’s eyes. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go find Kanaya.”

“What, why?” Dave protests “I thought we were bonding. Rekindling our friendship, or something.”

“Did you not just hear me say I hate your guts? Because I did. And I do. Hate your guts, that is.”

“Aw, come on! You know you’ve been missing my company!” Dave teases, sidling up beside Karkat and resting an elbow on the shorter boy’s shoulder. His brain is overloaded with relief, and Dave feels as though he is on cloud nine.

“No” Karkat growls, stepping to the side so Dave’s arm is forced off of him “and even if I did, which I definitely do not, I really do need to find Kanaya. We need to leave soon, and I’m not sure where she went.”

Dave frowns ”what’s her story anyways?”

“None of your business is what it is.” Karkat says angrily “don’t push me, Strider.” He tries to step around Dave, but the blonde blocks him from moving.

“Karkat. I’m only going to ask once, ‘cause I really want to hook your friend up with my sister.”

“Huh. You too? I thought they seemed like they’d make a good couple. If only Rose wasn’t related to you.”

“Ha-ha. Don’t change the subject. What is-“

“No, no. I want to see where this goes. How long have you been shipping them?”

“I don’t have to answer that” Dave deflects, and Karkat crosses his arms in defiance.

“Then I don’t have to tell you anything about Kanaya. I don’t know why you care so much all of a sudden, anyways.”

“Yeah” Dave suddenly withdraws, a frown etched onto his face “neither do I.”
——
“Where to even begin?” Jade sighs, and John gives her an easygoing smile.

“Take your time” he encourages, and she smiles back.

“Well… you know how I have dreams? Ones that tell the future?”

“Yeah! I’ve gotta level with you, Jade, I’m actually kinda envious you can do that! I wish I had some cool powers like you did.”

“Yes, well” Jade coughs lightly “last night’s dream was… different. And not a good different, either.”

“Oh, that…” John furrows his brow, as though trying to decide what to make of this. “That sucks?” He offers lamely.

“It did” she confirms “but I was able to look inside the laboratory we will be searching for.”

John’s eyes widen comically. “Really?” He says excitedly “what did you see?” His innocence in the matter is endearing to Jade.

“Not much.” She sighs, and reaches up to adjust her glasses “I can only remember bits and pieces, but I remember that there was this white room, and it kinda reminded me of a surgery room, one of the ones you see on television. The kind where of the walls is a one-way mirror so the other doctors can watch the surgery.”

The look John gives her indicates he has no clue what kind of room she is talking about, but he nods and asks her to continue.

“Well, anyways, In the dream, I’m standing on the other side of the mirror, looking in. I remember seeing that the operating table had been pushed up against the door, and there’s a girl our age curled up against it. Then she looks up, and I swear, she’s looking right at me.” Jade swallows, waiting for John to say something, but he doesn’t, so she continues.

“Her eyes- they’re all silver white. The whole eye, not just the iris. She says something, but it’s muffled, and I can’t hear. I try to move closer, to hear what she’s saying, and then all of a sudden she’s right behind me, but I still can’t hear her. Then she holds up four fingers, and that’s it. That’s the end of the dream.”

John has his elbows resting on his knees and his hands cupping his cheeks, but he’s still looking at her intently. “What do you think it means?” He asks, and Jade looks away.

“I can’t be sure, but the room feels similar. Like I’ve seen it before. In another dream, maybe. I think, if I had to guess…”

“I would say that room is where the Apocalypse began.”
——
Kanaya is outside, having ventured into the woodland area around the gas station.

She’s deep enough in that the building is completely obscured from sight, but not so much so that her more sensitive hearing will be unable to pick up the sound of anyone looking for her.

She scrapes together a small bundle of leaves and sticks, using her boot to draw a line of dirt around the woody pile before taking out Karkat’s pocket lighter. He doesn’t know she’s taken it, nor will he. She flicks the metal lid open, producing a small flame which she touches to the base of a bundle of sticks. The fire won’t last long, a few minutes at most, but it’s the thought that matters, not the length.

She stands a slight distance away, watching the flickering oranges and reds as she holds her own private memorial for the nameless employee she killed back at the motel.
——
Kanaya is quiet as she leads the man out of the kitchen and into the lobby, guiding him carefully to the parking lot outside of the hotel. He’s hysterical, blubbering nonsense and thanks in a single breath.

The situation is not entirely foreign to her, the taking of life having been necessary to sustain hers. It’s not the first time she has been asked to help end someone’s existence either, but it is the first time her actions have held such weight. In light of the Apocalypse, she has found the life of every human to have infinitely increased in value.

That said, this man is not going to survive long in his current state, even if her companions were to try and help him. The kindest thing she can do is cut short his suffering as best she can.

“Do you see it?” She whispers to him, stopping as he stumbles forward and she slips behind him “do you see the sun?”

He tilts his head to stare directly at the bright star, heedless to the blindness and pain it is causing to his eyes in his madness. “I see it!” He cries ecstatically, pointing “I see it!”

“The afterlife is up there” She tells him, slowly placing her hands on his shoulders “your family. Do you wish to go there?”

The man trembles beneath her touch, though why exactly she isn’t sure. “Please” He all but begs “let me go there. I want to see them again!”

“It’ll be over soon” Kanaya murmurs, nuzzling into the crook of his neck “all you need to do is hold still.”

A few moments later Kanaya licks the puncture wound closed and draws back, the deceased body of the man crumpling to the ground. She debates moving it for a moment, but she doesn’t quite have the time, so instead she kneels down and closes his eyes.

“Thank you” She murmurs, and leaves to go join the others.
——
The pile of leaves is nothing but ashes as Kanaya finishes contemplating the life of the stranger. She wishes she had asked for a name to remember him by, recalling that he had been without a name tag when they found him, but she supposed that his name isn’t truly important.

She stays a minute longer, to ensure the dying embers won’t spark and set the rest of the forest aflame. Once she is confident there is no chance of that happening, she turns around and walks back to the gas station.

They still have a fair distance to go, after all.
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
Approximately two hours from their destination it starts to rain.

At Jade’s behest, they are forced to pull over to the side of the road and move Bec to the back of the minivan so that he doesn’t get soaked. Unwilling to leave her beloved canine, John is moved to the pickup truck so she can stay with the dog. The exchange costs them fifteen minutes, and Bec is more than a little cramped in the back, but overall none of them mind the delay, and are content to ensure the fluffy animal’s safety.

As they continue on, the downpour thickens, slim pellets of water turning into fat droplets that reign down from the blackened night sky, working in tandem with the darkness to obscure the windshields faster than the wipers can clear the water off. It almost becomes too dangerous to continue, especially since they still need to contend with the abandoned vehicles loitering in the road, but neither Vriska nor Kanaya are willing to stop, given the proximity of their goal.

They've been fortunate enough that they haven’t had the scenario arise where two cars are stopped next to each other, and equally lucky that they haven’t had to deal with any zombies blocking their path. None of them are fully certain on how they would deal with either scenario, and without having to improvise a solution to those situations they are able to make better time.

The torrential downpour still forces them to reduce their speed by more than half to avoid potential collisions, nearly doubling the time it takes them to reach the city. Worsening matters is that in order to make their way to the place they are headed to they will need to cross a bridge, which is all but guaranteed to be chock full of cars that will be impossible to bypass, meaning they will need to move from there on foot.

A consensus is reached that they will have to stop somewhere for the night in the city, seeing that they will be far too exhausted to walk all the way to their ultimate destination. The only aspect of fortune going for them is that as they approach their goal the rain lightens to a steady trickle, enabling them to see more clearly as they draw closer to their target.

It is almost midnight by the time they approach the bridge, and in between the raindrops they can just barely spot the outline of the city. Many of the lights have been shut off, making it difficult to distinguish between buildings, but the bridge itself remains dimly lit, likely due to the presence of an independent backup power source.

The dull illumination provided by the flickering bulbs allows them to see that, as suspected, the road ahead is tightly packed with cars, offering no possibility of maneuvering around.

Although even if there were space to drive around the assembled vehicles, there would be no avoiding the massive horde of zombies occupying the space between the foot of the bridge and the stretch of automobiles.

By Rose’s estimation, there must be at least thirty undead shambling towards them, lured by the sound of the running motors. She speculates that some of the cars must have crashed during the first wave, setting off car alarms and causing infected from the outskirts of the city and the attached pedestrian bridge to hobble over, only to remain in the area when the alarms were turned off.

A message from Jade causes her phone to light up the truck, and she quickly opens it to see her expressing concern about what they should do. Rather than type a response, she calls her friend, thankful that the internet has yet to give out, and places the device on speaker so the other three can hear.

Jade immediately answers, and based on the audio quality she also has them on speaker.

“What are you thinking, Rose?” The ravenette asks, the barest traces of nervousness evident in her electronically duplicated voice, and Rose spares a moment to evaluate the state of her companions before answering.

“They are too spread out for us to be able to avoid a fight. I am also concerned more may be further back on the bridge, and will ambush us if we cannot draw them out.”

There’s a pause on the other end, accompanied by the sound of movement and a muffled exclamation of “Hey!”

“You seriously want us to fight these suckers?” Dave’s voice is even, but Rose knows him well enough to determine that he is undeniably anxious “it’s still raining, we can barely see, and we’ve been awake for hours. There’s no way this is gonna end well.”

“We are not nearly as exhausted as you would think” Rose rebuts, glancing at the bouncing form of John in the rearview mirror “and if we leave the headlights of our vehicles on, vision will not be an issue.” There’s a quiet murmur in the background from Terezi, and while Rose can’t make the exact words out she imagines the blind teen is making some sort of comment about vision not being a problem for her anyways.

“There’s still the rain” Dave contends “and Jade says that the water could wreck her gun. Or something.” A cry of indignance from said girl erupts over the phone, and Rose has to tilt the device away from her due to the volume. Next to her, Kanaya flinches at the sound.

Rose gnaws at the inside of her cheek for a moment before answering. desperately trying to think of a way around.

“Are the other weapons at such risk?” She asks.

“Kanaya’s chainsaw probably is” Jade responds quickly, having wrestled her phone away from Dave “but as long as we are careful to dry the others off afterwards, they should be okay. And it’s not a guarantee that the rain will have any effect, especially since it’s pretty light, but you know what they say…”

“What can happen will happen” Rose finishes with a sigh “best not to take any chances, then.”

“My other concern is that I don’t have anything I could use to protect my rifle from the water. I might need to leave it in the van and retrieve it in the morning.”

“Out of the question!” Vriska interjects from the other end “here, I think we have some bags of chips left. Empty one of those and use that.” The crinkling of plastic emanates from the phone’s speakers.

The zombies are only a couple feet from them at this point, so Kanaya puts the truck in reverse, carefully adding more distance between them and the horde, with Vriska doing the same moments later.

“Can we access the pedestrian bridge from this side?” Terezi suddenly asks “we could use that to skip right by them.”

After almost a minute of searching Karkat points out the entrance, which is to the far right of the beginning of the bridge and surrounded by a wire mesh. Through the threads of steel they can catch glimpses of color, indicating the presence of more undead.

“Yeah, no.” He says “and we don’t have the time to find another way around. If we don’t want to backtrack by another two miserable hours, we’ll have to go straight through.”

“I do not mind using the chainsaw here, if you believe it would help” Kanaya mentions “even if it were to become waterlogged, I doubt it will remain a viable weapon for much longer. Truthfully, I am uncertain why I took it with me to begin with.”

Rose takes a deep breath, a plan slowly coming to form in her mind.

“In that case, how would you feel about serving as bait?”
——
The plan is a relatively simple one, and perhaps it’s because of that Terezi thinks they have a good chance of walking away from this without injury.

The probability of safety is all the more important because of the state traveling for so long has left them in. All at once they are both stiff and energetic: a reckless combination that leaves them prone to mistakes, and a single opening is all that it will take to be bitten. They’ve come too far, endured too much, to allow such a tragedy.

In hopes of corralling the undead to one side of the bridge, only the pickup truck has been left on. Unfortunately the collection of zombies remains scattered, effectively forming a sort of undead barrier. Their best bet would be to try and poke a hole in this barrier, but they are uncertain if doing so would draw the attention of the rest of the horde, which could lead to them being surrounded by the thirty or so infected.

As such, they are taking the relatively safer path, which involves Kanaya using the noise of her chainsaw to herd the zombies closer together, at which point the rest of them, excluding Jade and John, will circle around and take as many out as they can from behind.

Despite knowing how capable Kanaya is from the school, Terezi can’t help but feel a sliver of guilt at the peril they will be putting her in. This plan essentially takes all the danger from the alternative and puts it on the ravenette’s shoulders, and Terezi doesn’t know if they rest of them could keep going if something were to happen to her.

“We need to keep them from pushing us back here.” Rose say, gesturing towards their vehicles and breaking Terezi out of her thoughts “if we allow them to trap us, there will be no recovery. We will need to meet them in the middle.”

“But for Christ’s sake, don’t be a hero” Vriska adds with a scowl “we’ve never fought this many at once, never mind all together. And be mindful of how close you are to everyone else! The last thing we need is someone accidentally getting stabbed.”

“What should Jade and I do?” John asks, stuffing his hands in his pockets to shelter them from the cold brought about by the gently pelting rain “since we won’t be fighting and all.”

“Condense as many of our belongings into as few bags as you can” Rose answers, then looks towards Kanaya “your suitcase would be ideal for holding everything.”

“That is alright with me” Kanaya replies, responding to the unasked question “I do not have much in there, at any rate.”

“None of us do” Vriska interrupts “now can we get going? There’s a huge wave of corpses walking towards us, in case you forgot.”

“Of course” the jade eyed girl acquiesces and prepares to march off, but is stopped by Rose, an action that causes Kanaya to arch an eyebrow at the blonde.

“Your satchel” Rose says after a slight pause, Kanaya blinks in surprise, having almost forgotten she was wearing it “It will be best if you leave it here, so that it does not hinder you during the fight.”

Kanaya looks towards Jade and John, then back to Rose. “If it’s all the same to you” she whispers, barely audible over the rain “I would much prefer to hold onto it. But if it sets your mind at ease, I can tuck it underneath my shirt.”

Rose scrutinizes Kanaya for a moment before nodding with a sigh, and the taller girl sets her chainsaw onto the slickened pavement to adjust her bag. As she picks her weapon back up and walks away to meet the zombies, Rose stops her a second time.

“Please be careful” the blonde pleads, amethyst eyes searching green orbs.

“It is not I who needs to be careful” Kanaya tells her with a smile “but all the same, I appreciate the sentiment.” She then turns for a third time to meet the incoming zombies, activating her weapon as she proceeds towards the encroaching undead, the rest of them keeping several steps behind while John and Jade stay behind, sorting out their luggage.

“If you people die now, I swear to God I will not forgive you!” Vriska all but shouts in order to be heard over the simultaneous roars of the engine behind them and the power tool in front.

“Love you too, Vriska” Terezi mumbles from beside her friend, unable to be heard.

“Love you too.”
——
The wait for the infected to cluster around Kanaya is painfully long, and the thought that the movies never really got how slow the undead actually are strikes at Karkat.

They’re in position well before the zombies are anywhere near Kanaya, having been able to sneak around one at a time when she started bringing the infected together. Karkat isn’t entirely sure how well zombies and vampires mix, and while he knows his friend is capable the idea that something could go horribly wrong causes his heart to thunder in his chest, and he grips his sickle all the tighter.

Vriska has already started to target any stragglers she can, the patter of raindrops just enough to disguise her footsteps so she can approach from behind. Rose does the same from the other side of the bridge, but they don’t manage to take down more than two apiece, for fear that the sound of falling bodies will steal attention away from Kanaya.

The reason for that, according to Dave, who got his information from online, is that the infected will pursue the most recent sound they have heard, and not necessarily the loudest. But noises of immense volume, such as the one the chainsaw is producing, will drown out other, quieter sounds, which is why when they all converge on the horde at once, their footsteps should be loud enough that the zombies will hear them over the sound of the chainsaw and will back off to go after them instead.

Personally, Karkat thinks the plan is all levels of stupid. If it were up to him, they would simply punch a hole through and run, or maybe even take a chance with the pedestrian bridge.

But it’s not up to him, and what’s more, he does recognize the merits of this particular course of action. Namely, they won’t have to deal with being chased by the almost two dozen zombies they’d be certain to attract. Even if said zombies are slower than a doped up snail, and about as smart as a bag of bricks. Besides, Karkat thinks he’ll sleep better knowing they won’t be tailed by a bunch of monsters all night.

The infected are almost a foot away from Kanaya, who looks as serene as Karkat has ever seen her, and he wonders if it’s because she trusts them that much to not let her down or if she knows something he doesn’t. And then there’s a split second between when she becomes completely obscured by the infected and when the five of them charge, and in that second there’s a flash of metal and blood and flesh, and she’s carving her way through the closest of the zombies like a hot knife through butter.

The scene is gruesome- chainsaws are far from elegant weapons, after all- but between the rain and the bodies of the other infected he can’t get a good look at the carnage, and he’s grateful for it.

He’s seen more than he’s ever wanted to already.
——
Dave feels more than a bit strange using the sword Jade gave him.

It’s been bugging him almost all day that the weapon is heavier, sharper, sturdier than what he’s used to. The weight feels off, and he puts more force than necessary behind his strikes, unused to having a blade that does half the work for him.

He wonders if it would’ve broken if he used it against the groundskeeper.

The loss of his other sword bothers him, but only because it was the last thing Dirk gave him before he left for college. It was supposedly modeled after some sword from an anime Dave liked in sixth grade, but Dave could never remember which anime or what sword, and was halfway convinced Dirk made the whole thing up.

Still, it had been a cool looking weapon, and despite the obviously cheaper quality of the blade Dave was both delighted and a little honored to have gotten such a thing. At the same time, though, it vastly overshadowed Dave’s going away gift to his cousin, which was comparatively lame and not even worth mentioning.

It makes him more than a little guilty at having so completely wrecked it, and he just knows that Dirk is going to dismiss it as no big deal, that he’s glad Dave is using something better now. It eats at him, this knowledge that his cousin thinks so little about the things he’s done for Dave.

Because if Dirk cares so little about how Dave treats the things he does for him, how much less does he care about what Dave does for Dirk?
——
John absolutely, without question, cannot handle this.

With Jade’s help, it has taken them almost no time at all to pack all of the food and small number of clothes into Kanaya’s suitcase and two backpacks. Without anything better to do, they have moved so they can watch their friends, ready to intervene if necessary.

He’s not sure what he wants to do more: stop his friends from killing these infected, these people, or stop them from hurting his friends. He feels an equal compulsion to do both, but there’s no third path that he can see, and even if he knew what to do, he’s shaking much too hard, and his pulse is racing far too fast, and his legs are trembling too much and-

John’s knees buckle and he falls forward, hyperventilating and clutching at his chest. Jade is one one side of him, kneeling with one hand one his shoulder, asking him what’s wrong, and Bec is on the other, nuzzling and licking at his face with equal concern.

He can’t stand it. He can’t stand the way he’s currently hunched over and hyperventilating, he can’t stand that he’s moved to the side, crying, while his friends fight for their lives and his. He can’t stand that all of these people are dying, have died, and he can’t do a thing about it.

He wonders how, on that first, fateful day, he was able to stand against and fight the zombies.

More than that, he wonders if they’ll ever really be able to help them, return them to normal.

He’s going to keep projecting an outward face of hope, of course, but internally?

Internally there is the smallest seed of doubt.
——
It’s almost too easy, is what Vriska is thinking.

She always imagined the Apocalypse to be a never ending, bitter struggle for survival, but with the exception of the night before, they’ve had almost nothing but smooth sailing. As she slides her blades into the brainstem of the nearest infected, she can’t help but reflect on the thought as disappointing.

They haven’t been hard pressed for food, they haven’t been accosted by other survivors, and until now they haven’t been hounded by massive packs of the dead, although with how well they are doing so far, she wouldn’t consider them more than a nuisance. It’s a shame, really. At least the groundskeepers were interesting challenges, but she doubts that they will encounter anything like them in the city.

They’re maybe halfway through the horde by this point, and Vriska is almost surprised at how quickly they have managed to thin out the crowd of zombies. She supposes that with five people, thirty really isn’t that big of a number, and it feels like even less thanks to Kanaya, who seems completely uninhibited by both the rain and the weight of her weapon.

Vriska is almost caught off guard, seeing her companion actually use the unwieldy tool in a manner she could almost consider graceful. She’s almost jealous of how the other girl is able to swing it around with next to no effort, but then she catches a glimpse of exactly how much blood has been sprayed onto her, and she’s immediately content to keep stabbing from behind.

Some things just aren’t worth the price.
——
For her part, Kanaya is cringing as she cuts down the incoming zombies.

None of them are trying to attack her, of course. They are simply drawn in by the noise of her weapon. It’s almost sad how easy it is to kill them.

Almost.

But at this point ending them is more a mercy, and any other feelings of compassion she might have held are dwarfed by the regret she feels at bloodying her outfit, which prior to now she has gone to great lengths to keep devoid of the crimson fluid. The rain only serves to smear it further into the cloth, and she doubts she’d be able to get the stains out if she tried. It’s insignificant, she tells herself, she’s probably never going to wear it again once she is able to obtain a new wardrobe.

She tries to focus on how the sacrifice of her state of dress is ensuring the safety of the other survivors, and reminds herself that it is imperative to her own life that theirs continue.

She almost slips in a puddle as she moves to decapitate another infected, but manages to turn the motion into a low swing that cuts through the lower legs of the zombie with a muffled crunching noise as it shreds through bone and muscle, toppling the walking corpse and causing it to fall to the side.

As Kanaya regains her footing and backs away from the bisected creature, she idly wonders what possessed her to take such a loud weapon ito begin with. She can hardly hear over it, even with her enhanced senses, and as a result she doesn’t notice the infected hobbling towards her from the side until it is almost upon her.

The former human lurches towards her with a strangled moan, and she turns just in time for it to slam into her at an awkward angle, attempting to attack her weapon rather than herself.

Her reaction is instinctual, a slight shift in weight accompanied by a kick to fling the creature backwards, and the zombie crashes into the pavement. Before Kanaya can finish it off, Terezi is there, surgically plunging her blade into its brain. It twitches weakly for a single moment, making a futile attempt to grasp at the metal it has been impales with before going still.

“Thank you for the assist” the green eyed girl offers, and Terezi withdraws her weapon from the corpse, the rain working to help the blood slide right off the glinting steel.

“You didn’t get bit, did you?” She asks, an almost accusatory note in her voice.

“No. Of course not.” Kanaya replies, but she can feel some suspicion from her companion. She doesn’t think it's doubt from her words though, which leaves her a little wary.

Why now, all of a sudden, is Terezi mistrustful of her?
——
Terezi does not play an especially large role in the battle, although she could if she so chose.

In the span of the entire ten or so hours it has taken them to get from the campsite to this bridge, her mental map has expanded to enable her to picture her environment beyond basic outlines. She still lacks color, but she is now able to ‘see’ everything to the sharpest detail. She can tell where the bridge ends and begins, how far from the water it is, where her friends are on it, and what they are doing and how they are doing it.

Which is why, when she she notices an infected shuffling towards Kanaya, she immediately heads to stop it, desperate to distract it before it takes the ravenette by surprise. She can’t risk yelling out a warning, which could make the situation worse by startling everyone and calling the attention of the remaining undead, few that they are.

Terezi’s heart leaps when she is just a few seconds too slow, and she can feel the zombie collide with Kanaya, causing her to almost turn away from what she thinks will be a tragic scene.

Against her expectations, the infected does not tear into Kanaya, and seems to almost ignore her entirely as it claws at her chainsaw instead. And then Kanaya is forcing it away from her and onto the ground, and for as strange and shocking as that turn of events is, Terezi is not so taken aback that she does not seize upon the opportunity to stab it while it’s down.

She already knows that Kanaya was not bitten, but she asks anyways, because she can’t yet understand what exactly has just occurred. Somehow, the blind teen can’t bring herself to believe that the undead would choose to pursue a sound over a human they have made contact with.

Kanaya, of course, acts as though nothing strange just happened, and Terezi thinks that maybe she can define herself with two more traits: curious, and unwilling to let a good mystery rest.

And what has been presented before her is nothing less than a great mystery.
——
Jade is doing her best to comfort John, she really is.

But she’s completely unused to this situation, and up until a few days ago, she’s had very little interaction with other humans in real life. She does what she thinks she should be doing, but truthfully she hasn’t the faintest idea of what that actually is.

All the more reason she is grateful for Bec, whom John is clinging to like a lifeline as his breathing evens out. The canine is calm and patient, content to stand and allow the boy to hug him tightly, clutching at his dampened fur in a way that must be at least uncomfortable for the dog, and Jade feels a spark of warmth for Bec’s actions.

“Good dog” She tells him as she strokes his muzzle “best friend.” He licks at her hand, and John mumbles an agreement next to her. Noticing that the teen has ceased shaking, she spares a moment to check how the others are doing.

She has to blink right away as a raindrop falls onto her glasses, and she hastily takes them off and attempts to remove the liquid with her shirt. It’s not especially effective, but it works well enough that she can place them back over her eyes and see through the lenses.

It appears that the others have made short work of the horde, and are left with only a few stragglers. Jade breathes a sigh of relief that nothing has gone wrong, and she moves to stand up, carefully keeping one hand secure around the bag protecting the barrel of her rifle.

John looks at her as she does this, but makes no move to detach himself from Bec or get up, and that’s fine with Jade.

As long as they are all safe, they have all the time in the world.
——
The last of the horde falls to one of Rose’s needles, and even as she’s pulling out her weapon from its vulnerable eye socket, she’s looking to make sure everyone is alright. She’s pretty sure someone would have screamed if that were not the case, but she feels the compulsion to check anyways. As a result, she is the first to notice John hunched over and kneeling on the pavement.

But while she’s the first to notice, she is not the first to react, and before she can move Karkat has already made his way to John’s side and is crouching next to him, presumably offering some sort of support. Dave is only a step behind him, and soon all three boys are huddled on the dimly lit concrete, leaving Rose to wonder when exactly they became so close and supportive of each other.

Vriska and Terezi have already regrouped, and are returning to the vehicles to help Jade carry their bags, leaving Rose to ensure Kanaya is unharmed. Nearing the girl in question reveals her to be surreptitiously checking something in her satchel, and Rose decides to do her the courtesy of not noticing, and instead pretends to survey the ground, which the rain has brushed over with ribbons of blood, bile, and other small bits of matter from the corpses.

All at once it’s disturbing and surreal to look at, so she instead focuses back onto Kanaya, who seems to be perfectly fine, which, while expected, comes as no less of a relief, and Rose takes care to say as much, earning her a soft smile in return. Wordlessly, they wait for the rest of the group to walk back to them, Jade trailing the suitcase behind her while John has a backpack slung over each shoulder.

Crossing the bridge is a somewhat tense affair as they are forced to wind between the cars, almost all of which contain at least one or more zombies. Thankfully, they do not encounter any infected not trapped behind metal and glass, and remain safe as they slip through the gaps between the vehicles and enter the city.

Contrary to what they observed from afar, many lights of varying colors remain on in the buildings, whether in the form of blinking red and green flashes at the top of sleek, metallic skyscrapers, or the multicolored range visible in apartment windows, although they do notice that no streetlights remain lit. The city is almost breathtaking in how it contrasts so deeply against the night sky and its own dark constructs with the glowing touches. A sort of quiet has blanketed the landscape, and now that they have escaped the range of the motors they can hear the waves under the bridge beneath the patter of the rain, instilling a sense of tranquility in the eight survivors.

They don’t take too long to bask in the hope brought by the moment of stillness. The adrenaline is steadily wearing off along with the body heat generated by the battle, the cold from the falling water leeching the warmth from them as they walk.

Rose pulls out her phone, doing her best to shield the screen as she types out a message to Roxy, informing her cousin that they will not be able to make it tonight, but are safe and in the city. Without waiting for a response she switches to the flashlight feature, using the resulting beam of light to guide their path as they focus on finding somewhere to sleep for the night.
——
In the end, they decide on a old, small brick apartment building.

The three story structure is tall and gloomy, tucked against a street in the more secluded area of the town. Outwardly, it is not especially modern, to the extent that it is not outfitted with any type of electronic locks, similar to the motel.

As a result, Karkat is easily able to pick open the door, revealing the interior of the building as dark, supported only by red emergency lights. Oddly enough, they can’t find any light switches, so Dave, John, and Vriska all activate their own phones to help brighten the foyer, which is essentially a narrow concrete stairwell with steel steps leading to the upper floors. A small door to the left leads to a room containing a few washing machines and dryers, but unless they can find a key in one of the apartments, it will also need to be forcibly opened.

There are no indications of any infected being present, which the eight of them are more than grateful for. They settle for the first apartment the stairs lead them to, Karkat fumbling to unlock the door before finally opening it with a click. Vriska offers to enter first to ensure there aren’t any zombies hiding inside, and the rest of them agree to stay behind, awaiting her return with more than a little anxiety.

The auburn haired teen is gone only two minutes, but to her companions time seems to stretch on for hours. When she returns there is a collective sigh of relief despite the frown marring Vriska’s face.

“Well, there’s no zombies” she tells them “but there’s definitely not enough space for all of us. We’ll need to take that one too.” She points to the second apartment just across the hall, and Karkat groans as he dutifully storms over to it, carefully maneuvering the bobby pin to force the door to swing open.

This time Kanaya volunteers to search the flat, leaving her chainsaw behind in favor of her dagger. She’s so used to being able to see in the dark she almost forgets to turn on the light to keep appearances up, and it’s only due to Rose bringing it up she does so at all. The resulting suspicion from Terezi makes her wince internally and wonder how much longer she can continue to deceive them.

There isn’t much to the apartment; a small living room, part of which is curtained off to form a mini kitchen area, one bathroom, and one bedroom, none of which contain any zombies. The place looks predominantly well kept, although it still generates a cramped feeling, and as she returns to the others she is left contemplating how exactly they are going to divide the beds and couches.

“It’s clear” She reports to the others as she finishes her round “although there is not much for space. We may need a third room for everyone to be comfortable.”

“Ugh, no. You people can pick your own locks.” Karkat whines petulanty “I’m tired, I’m cold, and I want out of these fucking wet clothes.”

“It would also be beneficial to have everyone on a single floor.” Rose adds “were something to happen, being that separated could prove problematic.”

“There’s two couches in that room, and one of ‘em folds out” Vriska jabs a thumb behind her “so there’s space for three. And Terezi and I can double up on the bed.”

“The bedroom for this apartment only has a single, but there is also a fold out couch.” Kanaya supplies.

Rose feels compelled to claim the bed for herself, so that she will not have to worry about accidentally making contact with anyone else, but instead she points out that the boys should split the two couches of the other room between them.

They don’t put up much of an argument, too tired to do so, and quickly leave to get themselves changed and to set up the mattress.

“Do we need to set any alarms for the morning?” Terezi quietly asks, and Rose hums a moment before responding.

“No” she says at last “let everyone sleep. I do not believe we are in any immediate hurry or danger.”

Terezi nods before following Vriska through the door opposite them, leaving Jade, Rose, Kanaya, and Bec stranded in the significantly dimmer corridor.

“They took all our bags with them” Jade observes, idly stroking Bec’s dampened fur “that wasn’t very nice.”

Thankfully, they are able to locate spare sets of pajamas in the bedroom, although none of them fit quite right for various reasons.

Jade looks around for a towel to help dry Bec off, eventually locating one inside the linen closet adjacent to the bathroom. She is then faced with the problem of how to hold up her flashlight to see while gripping the towel. Noticing her plight, Rose remarks that there are a number of candles in the apartment, and Kanaya offers to go searching for matches or a lighter.

Three minutes later and the space is treated to the warm orange light emanating from the variety of waxy torches, enabling them to shut off their phones. Jade idly wonders if the other apartment had any other light sources, or if they are still stumbling about by the light of their phones.

Her contemplation is broken by a knock at the door, and she springs up to answer it, Bec trailing behind with the towel draped over his back.

“Hey, uh, we thought you might want these” Dave speaks the moment the door is open. In his hands are the two backpacks, and propped up beside him is the suitcase.

“Actually, we already found some clothes for the night” Jade says bashfully “so, uhm, we don’t actually need those. But thanks for bringing them anyways!”

“Uh, yeah, sure. No problem.” Dave replies lowly “so, do you still want them, or…?”

“Yeah! We probably have more room anyways” Jade chirps, moving to take the backpacks from Dave and setting them just inside the entryway before reaching out and grasping the suitcase. “Thanks again!”

“G’night, Jade.” Dave turns and goes back to the other room, and Jade pulls the suitcase inside, the door shutting behind her as she sighs tiredly. Bec nudges her with his cold nose, tongue lolling out of his mouth as he stares up at her, and she gently pats him on the head.

“He’ll be okay, right?” She asks the canine.

“Who will be okay?”

Jade lets out a strangled yelp as Kanaya’s voice seems to materialize from nowhere, and she looks wildly about to locate her before realizing the taller girl is sitting on the couch, which has been pulled out to form a mattress.

“How long have you been there?” Jade asks nervously, trying to deflect the question. The glow of the candles gives Kanaya an eerie, menacing aura, and Jade is reminded of how the taller girl set her on edge the first time they met, and then of how she almost certainly killed the employee back at the hotel.

“A while” Kanaya answers evasively “is there something wrong with Dave?”

“Well-“

“What is going on with Dave?” Rose inquires from behind Jade, who jumps yet again at the unexpected comment.

“Uhm, well, you see…”
——
“What did you want to talk about?”

Vriska wastes no time in bringing up the mysterious topic Terezi had quietly mentioned earlier. The blind girl had been infuriatingly vague, only saying there was something they needed to talk about and offering no further details.

The two of them are awash in a beam of white, courtesy of their phones. Unlike the other apartment, theirs is without candles, and so, with the exception of Terezi, they are forced to depend on the cellular devices to see.

“Something weird happened on the bridge today” Terezi prefaces, and while Vriska gives no outward signs of surprise, she certainly was not expecting this to be what her friend wanted to talk about.

“How so?” She asks sharply, and Terezi sighs.

“One of the infected attacked Kanaya’s weapon instead of attacking her.”

“Oh.” Vriska says with a frown “well, I mean, that’s kinda strange I guess, but not really-“

“After slamming into her” Terezi finishes hotly “it basically tackled her, and then threw itself into her weapon.”

Vriska is quiet a minute. “Well, that’s definitely not normal.”

Terezi hums in agreement “That’s not all. Just a few minutes ago, she was hesitant to bring a light with her. Almost as though she did not need it.”

“So, what are you thinking here?” Vriska asks “because odd as those are, they aren’t exactly conclusive or damning.”

“I don’t know” Terezi tells her, frustration creeping in “all I know is that something isn’t right here. And I’m going to find out what it is.”

Vriska barks out a quiet laugh “yeah, nothing is really right here. I mean, we’ve got zombies, a girl that dreams the future, and a failed science experiment.”

“You weren’t a failed experiment, Vriska.”

“Yeah, well” the auburn haired girl twists to the side “tell that to B.C. Corp. Oh, wait, they’re all dead.”

Terezi has no words to comfort her friend, so she falls silent, and opts to move to under the covers and close her eyes instead.

Against the odds, sleep comes quickly to both of them.
——
Karkat is more than a little grateful that John is not a quiet sleeper.

He hates the idea of sharing a bed, and so took the second couch for himself. It’s definitely more uncomfortable, but it’s worth it, in his opinion.

The only thing keeping him up is how dark it is.

At least last night there was the brightness of the moon to help illuminate the cabin, but here in the city it is blotted out by smoky dark clouds. He doesn’t want to risk turning on his own flashlight and waking up John or Dave, who would most assuredly question him about being conscious.

Knowing that sleep is still a long way off, Karkat turns his thoughts towards the future, spending a moment trying to picture these other survivors. His mind is too fuzzy to do so, and he gives up trying to imagine them, so instead he starts to wonder what will happen once they discover why the Apocalypse happened.

Truthfully, he doesn’t think answers are going to change anything. At the end of the day, they are still going to be left with a world of walking corpses, and unlike John Karkat doesn’t believe there is going to be any chance of saving the infected.

He tries to imagine what rebuilding will look like, and wonders if they will be the kind of group to seek out the infected and lay them to rest. He thinks Vriska would probably be all for that, and that Kanaya likely wouldn’t be opposed to the idea, but the rest of them-himself included- would be just as happy to never see another zombie again.

There’s also the issue of repopulating the planet, but he’s far too sleep deprived to give the matter the serious thought it deserves, and as it stands now none of them are interested in doing so anyways. He supposes they should also wait until they know more about the Apocalypse to think about bringing new life into the world. For instance, they should probably figure out if the zombies will ever naturally decay. So far it’s been difficult to tell if any decomposition has occurred, not that Karkat knows much about the breaking down of dead bodies to begin with.

The thought brings him back to the terrifying, ashen faces of the undead, and he stifles a groan as he carefully turns over on the couch.

Sleep does not come easily to Karkat that night.
——
Rose’s face is kept carefully blank as Jade speaks.

Internally, she’s both seething and understanding. It’s logical that Jade would not want to tell her that her brother is probably going to die, especially given that Rose has been exceedingly doubtful of Jade’s ability from the start.

At the same time, though, this is her brother, her twin, and if anyone has a right to know what is going to happen to him, it should be Rose.

“But things have been playing out differently. And I don’t know how much is actually still going to happen.” Jade is switching between wringing her hands and messing with her hair, and Rose can tell that she’s genuinely contrite for keeping something so important to herself.

But no matter how terrible Jade might feel, Rose can’t just forgive her for hiding something so important.

“I need a minute” the blonde says and holds up a hand, then quickly retreats to the bedroom. It only takes her a minute to find what she is looking for.

“I’m going for a walk” she announces as she steps back into the foyer, now dressed in a size too large bright pink raincoat. “I will return shortly. Please do not try to stop me.” She then slips on her shoes and collects her needles from the nightstand, ignoring the way Kanaya gets up and moves over to her.

“I would like to accompany you” the taller girl asserts, and Rose pretends to double check her coat’s zipper, not meeting her eyes.

“There are no more raincoats or umbrellas” she tells her in hopes of deterring her.

“I do not mind.” Kanaya says, and Rose restrains a sigh.

“You are going to come with regardless of what I say” she accuses.

“Yes” Kanaya confirms “your permission is merely a formality.”

Rose spares a glance to Jade, who looks appropriately ashamed and is hugging Bec tightly. The fluffy canine has eyes trained on Rose, giving her an almost pleading look, and despite the fact that the blonde is definitely not a dog person her heart softens just a little.

“Alright” She relents at last “it is not as though I could stop you to begin with.” With that she turns the knob and exits the apartment, not waiting for a response, although one seems unnecessary as Kanaya quickly falls into step behind her as they leave the building.

The rain has not calmed in the slightest, and if anything, has become harsher, picking up speed as air currents form to push the droplets faster. Rose feels momentarily guilty for forcing Kanaya out into these conditions, but the feeling dissolved as she reminds herself Kanaya chose to come with.

They walk aimlessly and quietly for a time, although Rose is careful to commit the turns they take to memory, so they can find their way back later. Her left hand is loosely grips her needles while her right holds her cellphone, angling the device so that she can use the emanating beam of light to see.

When Kanaya suddenly stops, Rose almost doesn’t register that she has done so, completely absorbed into her thoughts as she is, and the taller girl has to physically reach out to get her to cease moving. Rose flinches at the contact and moves back a step, gazing at her companion with equal parts worry and suspicion.

“We need to leave” the ravenette urges her in a low tone “right now.”

“Why?” The blonde asks sharply.

“Something is wrong” Kanaya insists “we have not encounter a single infected in the past several minutes. I really think we should-“

“Stay awhile?” A lower pitched voice cuts in from behind them, and Rose flinches again while Kanaya slowly turns to see the source of the sound.

Behind them is a towering, broad shouldered, clean shaven man that looks to be somewhere in his thirties. He is dressed entirely in black leather, although he seems unconcerned with the effects the weather is going to have on his outfit. The most worrying part about him is the way his eyes seem to glow menacingly, and when Rose shines her light directly into his face he grimaces, baring sharp yellow teeth that are far too large and far too pointy to be natural.

Later, Rose will have a long debate with herself about which part of him was the most horrifying: the fact that he appeared out of nowhere, the fact that his eyes were unnatural, the fact that he looked like he was ripped straight from a horror movie, or the fact that he tried to kill them.

“No” Kanaya’s voice is as rigid and cold as her posture is, and she moves a step forward to place Rose behind her, an action that would have irritated the blonde in any other scenario. “I dare say that we would be much better off going home.”

The man cackles hollowly, and in the few seconds he takes his eyes off them to lean his head back, Kanaya has drawn her knife and brandished it in front of her. When he looks back he seems undeterred by the weapon, and if anything, his grin widens.

“Aw, come on little lady” He says mockingly, inching forward “I just wanna help get you and your pretty friend here outta the cold.”

“I am quite certain that is not the only thing you would like to do” Kanaya all but growls “and we are hardly so incapable to need your help.”

“Of course not.” The man keeps getting closer, leering down at them, and Rose keeps the light trained on him, not wanting to put it away as she clenches her fist around her knitting needles.

Kanaya is unshaken, glaring at him determinedly. “I will ask you once to leave us alone. If you do not, I will-“

“You’ll what? Prick me with that toothpick you’ve got there? You don’t know what you’re dealing with here, girl.”

“I know perfectly well what I am dealing with.” Kanaya snarls, and although Rose cannot see it the ravenette is flashing her own set of fangs at him, desperately trying to get him to back off.

“Ah, well, that changes things now doesn’t it?” He purrs, and Rose wants to retch at how falsely pleasant his voice sounds “perhaps I could convince you to share?

“I am not an object to toss around at your leisure” Rose icily interrupts, but the man only makes a dismissive motion towards her.

“Hush, sweetie, the adults are talking.” His condescending tone has her grinding her teeth in anger.

“Anything you say to her you can say to me.” Rose snaps, and the stranger sighs in exasperation, looking towards Kanaya with a weary look, only to find that she has closed the distance between them and has her knife pressed against his chest.

He frowns slightly, looking no more worried than he had a moment ago, and the hairs on the back of Rose’s neck stand up, intimately aware that something is terribly wrong.

“You must be as young as you look to think that will work.” He tells Kanaya, and Rose’s brain scrambles to understand the implications of what he is saying “so I’ll give you a chance, here: turn over the girl, and maybe I’ll let you come with us.”

“Us?” Kanaya asks, forcing her voice to waver just a little.

He smirks savagely at her “you didn’t think I was the only one hanging out here, did you? Got two brothers waiting for me. Now, we haven’t got all night. What’s it gonna be?”

Kanaya exhales deeply and leans back marginally, and the man steps to the side, exuding a sense of pride at his apparent victory. “Smart little fledgling.” He croons, approaching Rose, and she backs away, sensations of betrayal sweeping through her as he steps menacingly towards her. Before he can get too close, Kanaya leaps at him from behind, driving her blade through his back, although it’s not quite long enough to completely puncture through to the other side.

The man hisses slightly as he feels the knife pierce through his skin and muscle, but otherwise appears mildly inconvenienced at best.

“Not so smart after all” he grunts and lurches forward, forcing Kanaya to pull her knife out as she keeps a firm grip on it. As he turns to face Kanaya again Rose frantically closes out of the flashlight and sends a message to the others, informing them of what is happening and their location before pocketing the device and readying her needles.

The man ignores her completely as he directs a flurry of punches towards Kanaya, who is somehow able to keep up and dodge them, but is steadily forced backwards in order to do so. Rose is barely able to follow the speed at which this takes place, but she is not about to wait helplessly on the sidelines, and so she gathers her courage and attempts to sneak up behind him.

He senses her coming well before she can try to attack, and whirls around with a strong roundhouse kick that smashes into the side of her skull, blurring her vision and knocking her to the ground, her phone almost spilling out of her pocket as she crumples onto the sidewalk. The split second of turning his back proves a fatal mistake as in that instant Kanaya is within his guard, leaping up and jabbing her knife through his throat while simultaneously using her foot to lash out at the back of his kneecap, toppling him due to the sudden imbalance.

In a flash Kanaya is on top of him, pressing his face into the slickened pavement as she withdraws her knife and clamps her jaws around his neck. The man’s eyes widen as he realizes what she is doing, and he thrashes wildly, trying to scream as the wound in his throat attempts to heal itself. Rose tries to reorient herself, but is able to do no more then sit up and hold onto her weapons as her vision darkens, rendering her unable to see.

The man tries to roll over onto Kanaya to get her off, but is unsuccessful in removing her as she clings to him with a vice like grip, leeching his life and strength with every passing second even as he attempts to smash her head against the ground. Twice he almost succeeds in escaping, but with each motion he exerts more of his waning strength, and soon the hole in his throat stops closing, leaving behind a gaping injury that renders him unable to produce any sound more than a sickeningly wet gurgle.

Eventually, he gives up completely, his struggles ceasing as he recognizes that he is very much doomed, and his final thoughts are to lament that he had let his guard down, and to hope his brothers will avenge him.

Kanaya continues to drink for only a couple minutes, more than long enough to ensure that he is completely dead, at which point she withdraws and pushes him off her with little grace, spitting out a viscous fluid that only partially resembles blood as she rises to her feet and looks around for Rose.

The blonde has her phone in one hand, clumsily typing out a message to the others as her vision slowly returns to her, her other hand massaging her temple as she hits the keys.

“The others are on their way.” She informs Kanaya, and it takes both of them a moment to realize she is shaking.

“Very well.” The ravenette says softly “Do you wish to wait here for them, or shall we go to meet them?”

“I would much prefer for us to wait here.” Rose says curtly “I do not think I could walk straight right now.” Kanaya nods as a means of answering, and they wait in silence for their companions to arrive.

They do not have to wait much longer for the others to arrive, bolting down the sidewalk as urgency hurries their pace, and Rose belatedly concludes that they might not have seen her second message to inform them the danger had passed.

The six survivors skid to a halt as Rose and Kanaya come into view, and Rose can see that everyone save John and Jade, who are carrying the lights, are armed and unprotected from the rain.

Dave rushes ahead of the others, making a beeline straight for Rose, desperate to ensure that his sister is unharmed. He seems oblivious to the way she is keeping Kanaya at a distance, but she makes no effort to draw his attention to the matter either.

“Will someone please explain why you morons decided to go out for a stroll at two in the morning?” Vriska’s voice is painfully acerbic, though not unjustly so.

“That would be my fault” Jade admits with a wince “I… I haven’t been telling you guys everything, and-“

“I’m gonna stop you right there” Karkat cuts her off “because this is clearly going to devolve into some shitty sap-fest, and I refuse to stay here, freezing my ass off, and endure that.”

“I believe there was a cafe that still had lights on back that way” Kanaya mentions, pointing down the street they had just come from “if you do not wish to wait until we return to the apartments.”

“A good a plan as any, I suppose” Vriska says, shrugging “though we’ll still need to watch out for any zombies.”

“That won’t be a problem. Our… friend here will have taken care of any infected.” Kanaya gently nudges the corpse with the toe of her boot.

“How can you tell?” Terezi asks suspiciously, but all she receives is a mysterious smile.

“Vampires are rather territorial creatures.”
——
Kanaya does not wait for a response, pushing past the others and swiftly walking towards the cafe.

She doesn’t make it terribly far before they manage to process what she has said, but she pretends not to hear them calling after her, asking her to explain, and they are forced to jog and catch up to her.

If she truly wanted to, she could probably run fast enough to lose them entirely, and then she wouldn’t need to explain at all. But she can’t help feeling responsible for them in a way, and knowing there are at least two other vampires in the city, she cannot bring herself to abandon them just to feel a little safer.

There’s also the fact that she still very much needs their blood, and as such she was going to have to tell them sooner or later, but right now she doesn’t want to dwell on that too much, because she has to first figure out what she is going to tell them at all.

She reaches the cafe entrance a full fifteen seconds before the others, and wastes no time in pulling open the door and slipping inside.

The interior of the shop is homely and dark, composed of dark wood floors and black marble counters, but still well lit by fluorescent yellow lights and accented with red carpet. All in all, it brings to mind an environment made for either lovers or hipsters, but without any people around it's impossible to tell which group actually made up the clientele.

The door behind her softly creaks as it opens, the others pouring into the shop, equal parts annoyed at her sudden refusal to answer them and relieved to be out of the rain. Naturally, Vriska is the first to voice her thoughts.

“What do you mean he was a vampire?” The auburn haired girl demands brusquely “and also, rude! You don’t just go leaving people behind like that!”

“My apologies” Kanaya says, dipping her head slightly “it was imperative to get all of you out of there.”

Vriska huffs, though it’s unclear if she does so out of disbelief or annoyance or both. “Whatever. Going to explain the whole ‘vampire’ thing?” She throws air quotes around the word vampire, and Kanaya blinks in surprise.

“I am not sure what exactly you want me to explain. He was a creature that subsided on the blood of others and would have perished in the sunlight, much like the kind you are familiar with from fairytales.”

“Yeah, I got that much.” Vriska snaps “but how do you know that?”

“You are one of them, are you not?” Rose speaks before Kanaya can, and the ravenette can almost see the gears click in the blonde’s mind. “That is why he started ignoring you.”

“Yes” she looks away for a moment before looking back “I am sorry for using you as I did. I needed him to think he could let his guard down around me, that I was inexperienced.”

“I understand” Rose whispers, and Dave gives her a questioning look, which she ignores “although I do wish you had mentioned your condition earlier.”

“And for that matter” Vriska interjects “How is it that you don’t burn up in the sunlight? And how does that even work in the first place?”

“I am something of a special case” Kanaya replies “as for how sunlight is able to vaporize them… that is a complicated topic I think you are all too tired for.”

“Eh, probably” Vriska concedes with a shrug “so what now?”

“I believe our assailant mentioned something about there being two more. Once the rest of you are safe, I intend to go out and hunt them down.” Kanaya states plainly.

“We can help you, then!” Jade exclaims, knowing full well that Kanaya’s intention is to head off on her own “with three or four of us, it’ll be a snap!”

“No. Out of the question.” Kanaya is quick to shut her down. Jade waits a second for the vampire to explain why bringing some of them with is a bad idea, but no such reasoning is forthcoming.

“Why?” She presses “surely you could use someone watching your back!”

“No” Kanaya repeats “you would only be bringing more danger to yourselves. I cannot allow that.”

“That’s not for you to decide” Terezi points out “we can make our own decisions. And it seems to me that as long as they are in this city, they are a threat to all of us.”

Kanaya sighs and closes her eyes a moment. “There is nothing any of you could do to harm them” she says at last “vampires are only able to be killed by two things: sunlight, and other vampires.”

Both Terezi and Jade look ready to protest again, but they are beaten to the punch by Karkat.

“Look, can we just talk about this tomorrow? We’re all cold, we’re all tired… let’s just save all the important shit for when we can actually think.”

It’s with great reluctance the two girls agree to postpone the discussion, but Kanaya looks distinctly relieved at the distraction.

“Thank you” She whispers to him as they leave, and he sighs and rakes a hand through his damp hair.

“Of course. Just don’t go running off in the middle of the night, alright?”

“Of course.” She mimics his words back to him, and as they push through the door back into the rain Karkat takes his phone back out to reactivate the flashlight, taking note of the time as he does so.

The fifth day of the Apocalypse is not off to a great start.
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
For the eight survivors, the morning of the fifth day of the Apocalypse starts at varying times.

Among the few whose day begins sooner is Karkat, who has the misfortune of waking somewhere around eleven a.m when he rolls off the narrow couch and hits the hard floor with a resounding smack.

To his simultaneous relief and displeasure, neither Dave nor John give any indication of even slightly stirring from their sleep, leaving him to quietly pick himself up in relatively unnoticed shame. A few moments after he recovers Terezi pokes her head into the living room.

“Are you alright?” She whispers “I thought I heard something crash.”

“Yeah, fine” he tries to whisper back, but only partially succeeds in keeping his voice quiet. “Just fell, is all.”

Terezi is quiet a moment, as though unsure if she should stay and strike up a conversation if she should try to go back to sleep. Karkat internally hopes she decides on the former, and eventually she does, curiosity getting the best of her, rendering her unable resist posing a question.

“Did you know?”

“Know what?”

“That Kanaya is a vampire.” She intones. “You didn’t seem very surprised about last night.”

“Oh. Yeah.” he exhales “she told me.”

“When?” She asks shortly, stepping closer and causing Karkat to sigh and lean back on the couch. He looks away from her, gaze drifting towards the unopened window. Thankfully the rain from the previous night has cleared, leaving the sun to force its rays through the flimsy curtains of the apartment, illuminating the space in a hazy golden glow.

“How long have you known?” Terezi rephrases, voice still a whisper, only fractionally louder.

“Since the first night” he tells her, and even though it somehow feels like a betrayal, he knows that there was no way he was going to lie or even try to evade the question.

He knows better than most the consequences of a lie.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” It’s the obvious question, but one Karkat has an answer for.

“It wasn’t my secret to tell. And who would I have gone to, anyways? The only person I knew was Dave, and he’s an asshole.” He shrugs nonchalantly “plus, she wasn’t hurting anyone. I didn’t see any harm in letting her keep the secret.”

Terezi doesn’t say anything for a time. She had already reasoned this out on her own, well before she had ever posed the question. Truthfully, she’s not even upset that Kanaya never came forward and told them, because she’s certain that in the same position she would have done the same as the ravenette did.

Instead, she directs her attention onto the reasons he has given for not volunteering the information. Like Vriska, Terezi has a certain level of fondness for roping others into pointless, trivial debates, although she often does so with a secondary motive, as opposed to her friend who used to make a sport out of talking circles around people.

“Why would Dave being an asshole make you unable to talk to him?” The blind teen presses, but upon sensing Karkat’s discomfort at the sudden inquiry she backs off a little “I mean, before everything started Vriska was…” she trails off, not quite knowing how to refer to the past version of her friend “and yet I went back to her the moment everything went to hell.”

“What happened between you two, anyways?” Karkat latches onto the opportunity to change the subject, much to Terezi’s chagrin “You were the talk of the entire school for like a month or something.” He props himself up and moves over so she can sit next to him, which she does after some hesitation, internally debating on whether to allow him to shift the direction of the conversation.

“You mean you don’t already know from the rumors?” She says at last, tone bitter as memories of loneliness and ridicule resurface, twisting her expression as she gingerly plops herself onto the couch.

“Never paid much attention to them.” Karkat scoffs “and even if I did, they were probably wrong.”

“I wouldn’t be so hasty to discount lies if I were you. The best of them always have some truth, and the ones that don’t can be easily discredited.” Terezi tells him.

He hums noncommittally, acknowledging her words and filling the silence as he waits for her to respond to his actual question.

She stills for a moment, thinking it over.. She’s not sure she really wants to talk about herself and Vriska, and aside from going to the same school and saving him back on the first day she can’t say she knows much about him. Nonetheless she feels compelled to share, to trust him with their past.

At least she can be sure he won’t tell anyone else.

“Alright.” She concedes at last “But only if you agree to tell me about you and Dave.” The proposal is made in the partial hope that he will reject the deal and they can just awkwardly pretend this conversation never happened. To both of their surprise, he nods in agreement, and she is left to suck in a breath as she tries to figure out what to say.

“Well” She begins at last “it’s actually kind of complicated, so I suppose I should preface this by telling you it started only a few months ago, when we met this really weird man…”
——
In retrospect, the only significant part of that day was meeting the stranger.

It was sometime after school had been let out for the day, although most students remained on campus, whether for the purpose of clubs or studying. Neither Vriska nor Terezi were among those students, both being sufficiently driven to do their work on their own and not having joined any groups meeting that day.

Since Vriska tended to avoid her dorm room like the plague, they had gone to Terezi’s Aunt’s house, as was typical for them to do. From there they would decide from a variety of activities what they wanted to dedicate their time to. Among these were a wide array of events, ranging from going out shopping to engaging in roleplaying with some online friends. Vriska always insisted that the games they played were “extraordinarily lame”, but the teal haired teen could tell that her friend loved them more than Terezi herself did.

On that particular day, however, they had been treated to almost three pages of physics homework alongside two essays they had been putting off all week. As a result they had holed up in Terezi’s room, the blind girl laying on her bed while Vriska curled up on the floor, each with their computers out to type on, although neither was particularly focused on the tasks at hand.

It doesn’t take an especially long time for Vriska declares she has had enough, and unable to concentrate she slams the lid of her laptop shut, drawing Terezi’s attention.

“This is stupid” the cerulean eyed teen groans “we’re never going to need to know this shit! Tell me the last time anyone actually needed to calculate the velocity of a projectile. No, wait, I know the answer: literally nobody.”

“Nobody aside from Mr. Morris, you mean.” Terezi quips, and is pelted in the face by one of her dragon stuffed animals for her comment.

“Come on, you” Vriska huffs as she rises to her feet “let’s go find something to eat. We’re accomplishing nothing laying here.”

Terezi can’t resist sending another jibe at her best friend “says you. I’m almost done with my third paragraph.” But she gets up anyways and follows Vriska down the stairs and into the kitchen.

There isn’t much for options, courtesy of Terezi’s aunt, who is not able to go grocery shopping much due to the long hours she keeps working as a lawyer. Terezi doesn’t especially mind her relative’s absence, as it allows her a great deal of freedom and privacy, but sometimes she wishes her aunt was a little more in touch with the state of affairs at home.

For her part, Vriska is thoroughly unimpressed with the measly selection, and Terezi has to wonder why her friend is even bothering to be surprised, considering that the fridge is no fuller than when they checked the day before.

“Your aunt still gives you an allowance, right?” Her friend asks rhetorically, but Terezi answers all the same.

“You know that she does.”

“Good. Go get your purse, we’re going shopping.” Were it anyone else telling her to do so, Terezi would have been adamantly protesting doing so, if only because she is not particularly fond of being bossed around. But this is Vriska, and as such she doesn’t mind a great deal. Plus, she reasons, any gives excuse to put off homework is not an excuse worth refusing.

“Alright” She says before backtracking to her room. To any onlooker, the space is complete chaos, but Terezi is easily able to find what she is looking for, and is back downstairs within minutes, where Vriska has an odd expression plastered onto her face as she looks out the door.

“What’s wrong?”

“Your aunt isn’t supposed to be back until later, right?” Vriska’s voice holds no traces of anxiety, but underneath Terezi can feel the nervous energy pulsating around her, and it’s enough to make her frown.

“No. Why do you ask?” She inquires sharply.

“Some guy in a white limo just pulled up outside your house. Thought he might be one of her clients.”

Terezi’s frown deepens and she shakes her head “she never gives out her home address. And she’d have told me if someone was going to be over.”

Vriska shrugs “well, there’s someone here now. And I don’t feel like waiting for him to leave.” She starts towards the door, and Terezi makes a small noise of protest that goes unheard before following her out.

Later on she will wish that she had thought to call the police, or had convinced Vriska to wait for him to leave. She knows that if she had spoken up, her friend would have listened to her, albeit with some grumbling, and then the whole mess could have been avoided.

But she didn’t, and they were left to deal with the consequences.
——
Rose normally does not allow herself to sleep very late, but just this once she makes an exception.

It’s more than a little cowardly of her, but she really doesn’t want to face the reality that consciousness brings. She doesn’t want to confront how she almost died last night, or how helpless she was to do anything, nor does she want to come to terms with Kanaya’s assertion that she is actually a vampire, and she definitely doesn’t want to face the knowledge that Dave is probably going to die.

But as her mind gradually awakens and her eyelids are forced open, she finds herself unable to break from these thoughts, and she begrudgingly tries to work through the feelings she had managed to suppress the night before.

Typically, Rose uses a journal to stash her emotions, though right now she does not want to risk getting up to search for paper and wake someone up. The last thing she wants to do-beside confront these tumultuous sensations- is to speak with either of the girls occupying the living room.

She thinks that maybe it’s a little unfair of her to be so resentful of them. Neither of her companions have acted in a way she would deem illogical. After all, it was only very recently that Rose would profess any amount of belief in Jade’s dreams, and it’s not like she’s known Kanaya for very long, certainly not long enough to reasonably expect her to drop such a secret.

Then she remembers how readily she opened up to Kanaya back at the cabin, and with a renewed pang of anger thinks that maybe it wouldn’t have been so unrealistic for the vampire to have shared her secret after all. Granted, there wasn’t a significant amount of time between that moment and last night, but she’s still struck with the sensation of heartbreak.

Rose sighs deeply and closes her eyes again. Soon enough it will no longer matter, as the ravenette will be gone, leaving to search for the other two vampires. She wonders if Kanaya will actually return to them if she manages to put them down, and the more cynical part of her thinks the answer is probably not.

The idea that she might never see the taller girl again eats at her in a way that is almost too strong to endure, slamming her with a deep seated, wrenching twist to her gut that almost makes her gasp with how painful it is, and the only conscious thought that registers is that she absolutely cannot allow that to be the case.

Any ember of rage she might have felt is instantly blown away in the wake of this foreign, unprecedented emotion, and later when she tries to put the sensation into words she will find herself taken aback by how strongly she recalls her feelings to be, and will ultimately conclude that she must have confused the turmoil she felt over Kanaya with the anguish she experienced thinking about Dave.

Because really, how can anyone feel that way about someone they barely even know?
——
“So, what? You went outside and talked to him?”

“Yeah.” Terezi replies “it was a stupid decision on our part. But at the time it just didn’t occur to us that we had other options.”

“Stupid is right” Karkat mutters, receiving a flick to the forehead for his comment. “Ow!”

“Just because I said it doesn’t mean you need to parrot it.” She says mirthfully.

“Okay, okay, calm down, geez!” He exclaims, rubbing at the spot as he shoots her an ineffective glare. “So what happened next?”

“I cannot recall his exact words. But I remember his voice was really smooth. The kind you feel like you can fall asleep to. Like… glass.”

“Glass?” Karkat’s brow furrows, confusion distorting his expression and skepticism lacing his tone “how does someone sound like glass?”

Terezi shrugs helplessly. “Beats me” she says “but that’s what he sounded like. The important part isn’t what he sounded like, though. It’s what he did.”
——
“Who are you and what do you want?”

Vriska wastes no time snapping out the questions at the strange man, who gives her a look of vaguely mild interest. He’s dressed neatly, wearing a crisp, vibrant white suit and a lime green bow tie, not altogether out of place given the relative wealth of the neighborhood, but assuredly strange due to the unusual coloration.

“Good afternoon, ladies.” He greets them, smoothing out a set of non existent wrinkles, and all at once his voice is both soothing and irritating, but also familiar, and Terezi struggles to pinpoint when exactly she might have heard it. “Do either of you know where I might find the owner of this establishment?”

His words carry with them the weight of a kind of confidence that prompts Terezi to listen a little closer, and she thinks that if there’s one thing this man is not lacking in, it’s charisma.

Which makes it all the more suspicious that he would be here, in front of her house of all places. A mental push in Vriska’s direction tells her the cerulean eyed girl is equally skeptical or his presence, which gives her all the reason she needs to begin attempting to channel her senses into evaluating what he might be feeling.

Her concentration is disrupted as Vriska begins speaking, forcing her to halt her attempt so that she can follow the conversation..

“Look” her friend growls “I don’t know who you are or why you’re here, and if you don’t start explaining what you want, I will-“

“Call the police?” His expression is unreadable, juxtaposing tired eyes and an arrogant smile “There is no need for that, miss…” he trails off, as though expecting Vriska to supply her name, but she does no such thing, and for a split second Terezi gets the sense that he is caught off guard by her refusal to answer.

“Your name first, pal.”

“Of course. Please forgive my manners. You may address me as Doctor Scratch.”

“Sounds like a made up name” Vriska snorts, clearly not convinced of anything he is saying “but I’ll bite. What brings you here today, Doc?”

He seems to straighten up a little, if at all possible, and Terezi gets the impression that he kind of resembles a penguin with how puffed up his chest is.

“I am here to extend an invitation to the young lady inhabiting this household to participate in a medical trial of sorts.” He speaks grandly and with purpose, chin raised as he talks “I had not realized there were two of you. Fortunately, I made a spare copy.” Without pausing for a reaction he withdraws two white envelopes from his suit pocket, handing one to each girl, and Terezi has to fight to stifle the urge to laugh.

If there’s one thing that’s gotten no less ironic over the years, it’s when someone hands her-a blind girl- something to read.

She doesn’t say anything, however, because if she does she knows she’ll dissolve into giggles, and somehow she thinks that doing so would not be a good idea, so she bites her lip and hopes Vriska will pose the questions she cannot ask.

“Uh-Huh. So what is this trial, exactly? Because if you’re asking if you can clone me or some shit, the answer is hell no.” Vriska pinches the letter by one of the corners, holding it up as though it is something repulsive, and the Doctor cringes, although Terezi thinks he hides it well.

“Ah, it’s all in the letter, my dears.” He forces out through gritted teeth “But I’m afraid I must be off. I do, however, look forward to hearing from you.” In a flash he pulls open the passenger door and hoists himself inside, shitting the door behind him even as the driver revs the engine and pulls the vehicle pull away from the curb, leaving the two girls to watch in befuddlement as the white limousine speeds away.

“Well” Terezi says, breaking the silence “that was a thing.”

“Yeah” Vriska agrees “it sure was.”
——
“I’m sure you can guess what happened from there.”

“I know enough to say that she ended up participating in this shady deal and you didn’t.” Karkat states grimly “but what even was this… eh...Experiment?”

“It was supposed to be a test run for some kind of neural technology. We were told it was supposed to allow us to interface directly with specific devices they developed, but it ended up being more than that. Much more.”

“More as in what exactly?.” Karkat presses, and Terezi hesitates.

“I don’t know if it’s my place to say.” She offers lamely, and the amber eyed teen elects to drop the matter.

“So what else happened after that?” He asks instead.

“Well, once she started going through with the experiment, we started drifting apart. At first it was little things. Arguments about how she really shouldn’t trust the company behind the experiment, disagreements about using the abilities the tech had given her… that kind of thing.” She takes a moment to breathe, and Karkat waits patiently for her to resume her story.

“And then she took it too far, and some people got hurt because of what she was doing, and I couldn’t watch her go through with it anymore.” She’s almost breathless as the memory plays out in her mind “so I left her. Told her I wanted nothing to do with her.”

Karkat pauses to study her, but he’s terrible at reading people, and he’s left to wonder if underneath her glasses she’s on the verge of tears, and he thinks that maybe she really needed this conversation, has needed it for awhile.

“I can’t say I know what that’s like” Karkat starts “but for what it’s worth, I think you did the right thing. Sometimes… sometimes I think that maybe if I had just stepped back rather than enabling Gamzee he might have-“ he cuts off, throat suddenly tightening, but he doesn’t need to finish the sentence.

Terezi swallows harshly. “I’m sorry he died the way he did.”

Karkat waves off her apology “it’s… it's not your fault.” He chokes out “It’s… well, we don’t actually know whose fault it is. But nobody deserved to die like that. I just hope that when we find the bastards responsible they’re human enough to suffer for what they’ve done.”

“Yeah” Terezi agrees darkly, standing up “me too.” She prepares to stalk out of the room, but is stopped briefly by Karkat calling after her.

“Don’t let this ruin your friendship” he cautions her, and she internally snickers at the irony of it being him lecturing her on this “seriously. It’s pretty obvious that despite whatever went down between you two, you both still care. Don’t let that get taken for granted, alright?”

“I could say the same about you and Dave” Terezi tosses back at him, and he scowls and crosses his arms even as he instinctively looks to the blonde’s sleeping form.

“It’s not about what he did.” Karkat huffs “it’s about what he did after. And that’s the difference between our situations.”

“Want to talk about it?” She asks, but judging from his tone the answer is ‘no’, which he confirms second later.

“Another time” he promises “right now I’m too tired from going over all your emotional bullshit.”

“You’re the one that wanted to know what happened.” She reminds him.

“I know” he groans sarcastically “and I regret it already.”

Terezi turns to retreat down the hall, then stops and turns back. “Be advised that you will not escape this conversation.” She warns him “I think you could benefit from it.” And then, after a few seconds of silence, she adds more quietly “I know it helped me.” And then she’s gone, vanishing down the hallway before he has a chance to deny or brush off her implicit thanks.

He does not manage to fall back asleep after that.
——
Jade dreams of being chased down a long, narrow white hallway.

She’s not sure why exactly she is running, or what she is fleeing from, but she instinctively knows that if she stops or trips or even turns around, she is going to die.

Blood is roaring in her ears, so much so that she can’t hear her own footsteps or even the sound of her uneven, ragged breaths as she gasps wildly for air. Her muscles are screaming in protest as she sprints, but she forces herself through it, desperate to escape her pursuer.

One hand is kept firmly on the frame of her glasses, preventing them from slipping off, and she can see that the path ahead of her ends in a split, enabling her to only go left or right, and with little time to think she swerves around the corner to the left, nearly slamming into the wall as she does her best not to slow down. Her rifle shifts from its spot on her back, and her second hand goes to hold the strap, but she otherwise makes no motion to retrieve it, as the movement would slow her down.

Somehow, she doubts it would be effective anyways.

She continues to dash down the corridor, the overhead lights gradually turning to become flickering and dim, casting something of a strobe light effect that sends a fresh bought of panic through her. The pathway ahead only seems to get darker, and the thought that entering the inky void is just as likely to kill her as stopping is springs into her brain, unbidden.

Equally unexpected is the faint trace of a memory that rings in her mind, hazily recalling a dream from another time that mirrors the current situation, and she wildly scans the sides of the hallway as she moves, searching for the door she distantly remembers leading to her salvation.

She almost misses it, submerged in darkness as it is, but she manages to veer to the side and crash against the gray door, right hand falling from her gun strap and reaching for the handle to force it open so she can fall inside. A green blob of something whizzes past her as she puts all her weight into blocking the passage behind her, making a sizzling noise reminiscent of cooking meat as it narrowly misses her face.

She spares no thought as to what it is as she braces herself against the solid door, but whatever is chasing her makes no attempt to get inside. Nonetheless, she stays with her back to it for as long as she dares, desperately hoping that it will be gone by the time she recovers enough to get up and search the room she has stumbled into.

With her back to the door she can feel her rifle pressing harshly into her shoulder, but she does her best to ignore the pain as she blindly reaches one hand up to the handle, fumbling to lock it. It’s probably less safe for her to bar the door like this, as in the event she needs to flee the space it will be more difficult, but in the moment it sets her mind at ease, and once she hears the resounding click Jade turns her attention to the surrounding area.

The room is somehow still well lit, despite the lights outside being dead, and follows the same generic white and gray color scheme the rest of the building holds to. It appears to be little more than an office space, with several shelves and whitewashed cabinets ringing the perimeter. An identically styled desk sits in the direct center, and two uncomfortable looking chairs are set in front of it.

Gradually, Jade allows herself to step forward, removing the pressure she had been putting on the door. She waits several seconds to see if her pursuer will make any attempt to break in, but for the moment it seems that she is safe, so she tiptoes over to the desk as quietly as she can, as though the slightest of sounds will cause the chase to resume.

A smattering of folders and papers are spilled across the smooth pale surface of the desk in a manner that makes Jade think someone has been frantically searching through them. There’s too many to identify if any are missing, but nothing seems like they have been damaged, and there’s a slight layer of dust that indicates nobody has been in this room or touched anything for quite some time.

None of the files are distinctly marked, and Jade isn’t sure what might be in them. She doesn’t want to waste any time looking through what could be something as useless as financial records, so she takes a few moments to survey the gray drawers of the desk, which have been left open and have some noticeable gaps in them. She surmises that the missing files must be the same ones on the desk, but still can’t find anything to identify them, so she continues looking around the small office space.

The decorations are distinctly impersonal, with many of the shelves being filled with fake, hollow books and little else. Everything about the room gives off a clinical, detached feeling, although if Jade were to guess she would say that whomever worked in this space spent a lot of time there, judging from the copious amount of papers.

Despite that, the only other clue that the room was used by an actual human being is the metal placard laying on the desk, which is shallowly engraved with a name she cannot read due to the gaping hole burned through the last name.

She swallows harshly as she reaches out to gingerly trace the edges of the puncture, marveling at how it smooth it feels despite having been torn through. She is slow to conclude that the damage is a result of that green object that had been lobbed at her, but once she does she glances back to the door in a panic, worried that her mysterious adversary might burn through the door, only to find it as still and unmoved as ever. Jade is then left to conclude that for whatever reason, the monster has either lost interest or, more likely, does not want to enter the room, and reluctantly decides that she is not in any grave danger.

She looks back to the scattered files. If her assailant truly will not attack her here, which she is fairly certain is the case, then she will wait. Hopefully her friends will eventually come and find her, and together they can either combat or escape the monstrosity that is after her.

Her friends! She scrambles for a moment, frantically trying to remember what happened to them, but her mind blanks and the focus of the world around her blurs, a telltale sign that consciousness is drawing nearer.

“Come on, think!” She scolds herself as she paces “you need to remember before you wake up!”

“Well, now, that’s not how the script goes!”

Jade yells loudly as she leaps back, vision blurring even more as she draws her rifle, acting on autopilot as she whirls around to point her weapon between a pair of pure, glowing white eyes.

“You” Jade breathes as she drinks in the owner of the blank orbs, noting the wild, curly dark brown hair and pale oval face “you're the girl from the operating room.”

“Got it in one!” The girl says cheerfully, completely unconcerned with the gun nestled against her forehead.

Jade is left stunned and speechless. Never in any of her dreams has she been in a situation like this before. She’s never been able to stay asleep once she’s learned she has been dreaming, and she definitely has never met someone aware it is a dream.

“What is this? Who are you? What did you mean it’s not how the script goes?” The questions tumble out in a hurried stream, rushed and panicked, but the girl doesn’t seem to mind as she idly pushes Jade’s weapon out of her face, and the ravenette allows her rifle to fall to the wayside.

“Oh! Yeah, I guess I probably should introduce myself. My name is…” she cuts off, tilting her head to the side “oh. Actually, it’s probably better you don’t know my name. Need to follow the laws of the imminently deceased and all that.”

“Laws of the imminently deceased” Jade repeats “you mean, you’re dead?”

“Sure am!” The girl chirps “I’m surprised the glowing eyes didn’t give me away.” She points dramatically at her face and wiggles her eyebrows as she speaks.

“Uhm, right. Sorry, it’s just that the world is really weird right now. I wasn’t sure if that was actually the case or if it was something else.” Jade says, slightly apologetic.

“Hey, no worries! I’d be skeptical of people claiming to be dead too, if only I wasn’t around them all the time.” She claps her hands together “well, anyways. You asked about what all this is.”

“Yeah” Jade confirms “I already know this isn’t just a dream. I thought it was probably the future, but since you’re here and talking to me…” the green eyed teen trails off, waiting for the strange girl to either confirm or deny her thoughts.

The brunette sits herself down in one of the chairs and props her feet on the desk, heedless of the way she causes several of the papers to scatter onto the floor.

“That’s partly true” she concedes, crossing her arms behind her head and leaning back to look up at Jade “by all scientific standards, you are very much dreaming. But we’re dealing with something a little beyond science here. I mean, you’re talking to a ghost!”

“I kind of figured as much” Jade tells her “but is this the future or isn’t it? And if it is, is there anything I can do to change it? Anything at all? My friends, I think they’re in danger, and I need to know if I can save them!” Her tone turns more and more desperate as she speaks, and the girl gives her what Jade thinks is a sympathetic look.

“I wish I could help you, I really do.”’she starts “but I’m not allowed to tell you. It’s a rule of this place; you have to figure it out for yourself.” The air around them seems to waver and ripple “not to mention we seem to be out of time.” She springs up and suddenly grasps Jade’s hand, shaking it vigorously.

“It was nice meeting you though! And don’t worry, Jade, I’m sure we’ll see each other again!”

“Hey, how do you know my-“ before Jade can finish the world around her contracts and bends, the mystery girl disappearing as the world dissolves into a myriad of tiny blinking colors, and she jolts forward as her senses shift back into reality, vision turning red behind her eyelids as she gradually becomes aware of the blankets clenched between her fingertips.

Her eyes fly open as she realizes her state of consciousness, and she all but leaps off the makeshift bed, nearly tripping over Bec as she does so, and her apology to her beloved canine comes out between jumbled stammers as she tries to hold onto the memory of what she has just dreamt.

As she searches for pen and paper to record her thoughts on, she is oblivious to the fact that Kanaya has entered the room, having heard her awaken from the kitchen area, and is watching her bustle about with great interest.

Jade is eventually successful in retrieving a yellow pad of paper and a blue pen, continuing not to notice Kanaya as she sits back onto the bed and begins furiously scribbling something onto the paper. Once she is done the bespectacled teen leans back with a drawn out sigh of relief, and Kanaya determines it would be a good time to make her presence known.

“Is everything all right?”
——
When Vriska wakes up, her first action is to check the time on her phone.

Upon noticing that it is around one in the afternoon she feels a familiar sense of defiance that she knows to be out of place. The emotion is a conditioned one, a response born out of a lifetime where sleeping in was a luxury she could never afford, and it invariably draws her in to reflecting about her life from before. It’s a pattern she’s been through many times, even prior to the beginning of the Apocalypse, but she finds the process therapeutic in a way, and so she permits herself to play through the story again in her head.

Vriska only ever had her mother growing up, and the woman was by no means what Vriska would deem as ‘nice’. Her standards were always set somewhere that Vriska could never reach, and multiple times the cerulean eyed girl was convinced her mother only kept her around because of the free labor she provided.

It had started small, of course. At first she was only assigned small, reasonable tasks. Laundry, dishes, things like that. But as she grew in age so too did the responsibilities, and then it was up to her to wake up and make both of them breakfast, and come home and make dinner, and in between doing all of that it was then on her to ensure the entire house was cleaned every week, all the while maintaining a social life and honor roll. Failure was punished swiftly and harshly, not that Vriska allowed it to happen often.

Vriska doesn’t resent her mother for any of that, though. To the contrary, she’s almost grateful her mother forced so much upon her, because it has made her strong and resourceful and independent, and she doesn’t think that either herself nor Terezi would have survived as they have if not for what she had been put through.

What really makes her remember her mother in a negative light is how she behaved once Vriska was able to drive. The day she had gotten her license, her mother had given her three new responsibilities: to do the grocery shopping, to get a job, and to pick her up from parties.

It was that final task that cost any and all respect Vriska held for her mother.

The parties didn’t particularly bother Vriska- she herself snuck out on more than one occasion to go to some, although she found them to be lame and a waste of time after her third one. But her mother was her own person, and if she wanted to attend Vriska wouldn’t begrudge her that choice.

No, the parties and clubs weren’t what raised her ire. It was the sudden dependency on drugs and alcohol her mother contracted at one of these gatherings that disgusted her.

All at once her mother had transformed from a proud, strict woman into someone that couldn’t even keep her directions straight. Even when she had been forcing Vriska into doing everything the cerulean eyed teen had never once gotten the sense that if she stopped her mother would be incapable of fending for herself. Vriska knew that if she truly wanted to she could have gotten her mother to rescind some of the chores, but she hadn’t, interpreting the tasks as challenges, hurdles placed in front of her because her mother knew she would be stronger for it.

But it became something different. No longer were her actions meant to better herself, but rather, to support her mother, who was no longer able to do so for herself. Vriska hated the idea that she was being taken advantage of in such a way, and the moment she was able she arranged for her own dormitory at the school and moved out.

The most pathetic part of it was that her mother barely even tried to stop her.

Though she supposes that in a way, it was for the best she allowed the parting to happen easily, like she was admitting that she knew Vriska would be more than fine on her own, or that she would only drag her daughter down if she tried to make her stay.

And it’s because of that knowledge, the knowledge that her mother had given up well before the Apocalypse, that prevents Vriska from truly caring about the fact that she is dead, lost to an undignified end she never had a chance to struggle against.

Or perhaps it was the more graceful end for her, Vriska amends. It would have been far more humiliating if her mother had simply sat there, too addled to notice or even combat her approaching demise. Certainly, it would have been an insult to the woman she once was, the woman who raised her.

The woman Vriska has already mourned, and accepted as dead for a long time.

Vriska forces herself to push away any additional thoughts as she sits up, noticing the absence of Terezi. She doesn’t have the time nor energy to expend any additional contemplation on a dead, inconsequential person. Not when there are more pressing matters to deal with, like reaching this promised safe haven, or preventing Kanaya from leaving completely, or figuring out why the Apocalypse happened in the first place.

The auburn haired teen slowly gets out of the bed and stumbles over to the dresser in the room, taking a moment to grimace at her disheveled appearance.

And before she can dedicate any effort to dealing with those things, she really needs to find a hairbrush. She looks like an absolute wreck, and while that was fine for the past couple of days, she doesn’t want to meet these new survivors looking anything less than casually perfect.

Impressions matter, after all. And impressions, she has learned, are tantamount to appearance.
——
Kanaya comes very close to leaving at least five separate times throughout the night.

She doesn’t of course, partly because she does not wish to break her promise to Karkat, and partially because she does not know where this impulse to leave stems from.

Really, last night’s reveal could not have gone any better for her. Almost too well, the more skeptical side of her contends. Somehow, she has been able to divulge her nature without any of her companions truly understanding how horrific she actually is.

In a way, their lack of comprehension makes her feel like she is taking advantage of them in some way. And while that was her intention from the day she met them, Kanaya thinks that something in their dynamic has changed to make her no longer comfortable with that. It makes her stop to ponder when exactly she became soft enough to care like this, but the answer is something she only knows half of.

She knows that she became invested when humanity became scarce. But the exact moment of when investment became concern and concern became empathy is lost on her. She supposes it’s not particularly important, especially since she is not going to be around them soon.

Therein lies another thought shrouded in mystery: how is it that she can be so certain that she is not only going to break from this group, but she is also never going to return to them? While confronting the other vampires on her lonesome strikes her as logical (not only will her companions be unable to harm them, they will actually slow her down, as she will have to deal with the infected on their behalf), she has no reason to not go back to the others. The ravenette still desires to protect them, and once the vampires are taken care of the best way to do that will be by staying with them.

Not to mention that without their blood, she will prove a far greater threat to them than any zombie.

Kanaya has only ever been blood-starved twice in her life. The first time had been a side effect of her transformation: an unavoidable occurrence that had been planned for well in advance by the one who had turned her. The second time had been a misguided attempt to starve herself to death after…

No. She’s not going down that rabbit hole. The past should stay in the past, she reminds herself. Remembering now is only going to lead to unwanted grief.

But it’s grief that she deserves to feel, and as she subconsciously reaches into her satchel, she thinks that the pain of memory is something that she should have to bear the burden of, that it’s unfair of her to so suddenly decide that she is better than what she has done.

Gingerly, she withdraws a small white box from her bag. She moves to open it, but stops as she hears a noise from the living room. Coming to the conclusion that Jade must be awake, she stashes the box back into her satchel and leaves the kitchen to go and greet her.

Perhaps, at least for the time being, some things are best left forgotten.
——
John wakes up only a few minutes before Dave does.

He feels confused and disoriented as his eyes flutter open, and for a few simple seconds he is left unsure of where he is, and the resulting fear causes him to jolt wide awake and rush into a sitting position.

Next to him, Dave is jostled out of his state of blissful unconsciousness by his movements, not that John notices. The blue eyed teen is too preoccupied reviewing the events of last night to register the way the blonde stealthily reaches for his pillow, determined to peg his friend with it as punishment for disrupting him.

Unfortunately for Dave, his plan is cut short by Karkat, who decides to interject himself into the moment.

“It’s about time you assholes woke up.” The teenager grunts “do you have any idea how long the rest of us have been waiting for you?”

“Good morning, Karkat!” John happily exclaims, all but ignoring everything the other survivor has just said.

“It’s not morning you dimwit. It’s afternoon.” Karkat snappishly corrects, but John is not affected in the slightest by his waspish tone, and Dave can’t help but admire that about his friend.

“So what’s the plan for the day?” The blonde asks, reaching for his sunglasses as he does so.

“Same as last night; get to the safe house. But if you two morons keep laying there instead of oh, I don’t know, getting up, it’s never going to happen.”

“Someone woke up on the wrong side of the couch” Dave jokes, and John suppresses a snicker as Karkat scowls in an almost comically exaggerated manner.

“Or maybe it’s because we don’t have any food, and I’ve been starving while you two have been sleeping!” He retorts, and Dave holds up his hands in a placating manner.

“Okay man, geez. No need to get so upset.” He pushes himself off the edge of the bed and stands up “look, I’m up, see?”

Karkat merely rolls his eyes. “Whatever” He says “I’m going to go check on the girls. Make yourselves useful and get dressed.” With that he sweeps past Dave, yanking open the apartment door and nearly slamming it behind him as he exits, leaving Dave puzzled and confused.

“Any idea what his problem is?” The question he poses to John is purely rhetorical, but asking it makes him feel slightly better. After last night, Dave had been sure that the tension between them had dissolved at least in part, but now it seems to have been not only restored, but strengthened.

“Eh, who knows?” The response comes not from John, but from Vriska, who has been listening in on the conversation from just inside the hallway. “He’s been moody all morning. He was right about not having any food though, so chop chop! We have a lot of walking to do as it is.”

John springs up to do as she bids, but Dave remains still, trying to decipher Karkat’s behavior.

“Any idea why?” He asks, but even as he poses the question he thinks he knows the answer.

As expected, Vriska treats him to a shrug.
“Don’t know, don’t really care.” She informs him “maybe it’s ‘cause he doesn’t want Maryam leaving. Maybe he’s just the type to get like this when he’s hungry. Who can say, really?”

Dave hums noncommittally, and Vriska disappears down the corridor to let John pass by, the blue eyed boy heading towards the bathroom so he can get changed, and Dave is left completely alone with his thoughts.

Somehow, he’s done something to make Karkat angry with him again. It’s the most logical explanation he can think of, because he doubts the black haired sophomore would single out himself and John for this kind of treatment if it weren’t.

At the same time, though, he can’t think of a single thing he might have done to set the shorter boy off like this, and the silence on the matter vaguely reminds him of his cousin.

Dave tried not to begrudge Dirk for the way he treated Dave, he really does. When their guardian made it clear he had no intention to care of either of them, Dirk had stepped up to take the role of both parent and brother, and Dave knows that it took a great toll on his cousin.

At the same time, however, Dirk’s style of teaching him was… well, it was cold, if Dave had to attach an adjective to describe the experience.

Most things Dave had to figure out for himself, but he could always tell when he was doing the wrong thing because of the quiet disapproval he received from Dirk.

He always hated that type of silence the most.

Dave supposes that he should at least be grateful that Karkat is making no effort to conceal his anger, and is only hiding the reason, but it doesn’t feel any different, not really. With Dirk, he always knew when his cousin was unhappy, but never why.

And it’s always that question, the why, that haunts him. It’s never about what or who or how, only why. Why was he so unwanted? Why didn’t Dirk care more? Why did the world end?

Why doesn’t he have the courage to ask Karkat why he’s still so mad at him?
——
When Rose finally believes herself calm enough to leave her room, she almost immediately wishes she hadn’t.

Jade and Kanaya are clustered together on the mattress, Kanaya positioned slightly behind Jade to look over her shoulder at a pad of paper. Bec is curled around the two of them, asleep, and they’re sitting close- too close, she can’t help but think- and the implied intimacy of the scene makes her feel sick for reasons she is not ready to investigate.

Jade looks up and seems to notice her first, face brightening as she spots Rose. “Good morning!” She exclaims, and the blonde feels a tiny pang of jealousy that she is careful to mislabel as anger.

“Good morning” she returns curtly, and she receives a spike of vindictive pleasure at the flash of hurt and confusion that appears on Jade’s face. She knows later she will regret the sharpness of her words, but in the moment it is mildly satisfying.

“We, uhm, we have some good news. About Dave.” Jade says with the slightest of wavers, and Rose arches an eyebrow, crossing her arms as she stares down her friend, silently prompting her to continue.

“I, uhm, I was talking with Kanaya, and we think that the visions I’ve been seeing… well, they might not be accurate.” She stammers, the cold treatment she is suddenly receiving causing uncertainty to blossom.

“What Jade means to say is that we have reason to believe her visions are from an alternate future” Kanaya supplies, looking at Rose with an odd, inquisitive look “more specifically, a future where myself, Vriska, Karkat and Terezi are not present.”

Rose breathes deeply as a flicker of hope sparks up in her. “How can you be certain?” She asks, voice a thousand times softer, and Jade is noticeably cheered on by how she has dropped her icy tone.

“It’s a pretty logical conclusion to make” Jade admits, pushing her glasses up as she talks “honestly, I can’t believe we didn’t think of it before. But you remember how I said that I couldn’t see any of them in my dreams, right?”

Rose nods and uncrosses her arms. “Of course.”

Jade mimics her nod “at first, I thought that was just because I wasn’t seeing any moments where they would have been around. Kanaya was helping me sort through everything, and I realized that there was one dream I did have where I should have seen them.”

“And that is?”

“When we all met up on the beach, back on the first day. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but earlier that day I had dreamt that you, John, and Dave would come. I never saw the others, though. That’s why I didn’t know who they were.”

“That would have been the turning point in the timeline.” Rose muses “up until then anything could have happened. Is there any other evidence?”

“Mostly just circumstantial” Jade tells her “but it fits. I never dreamed about the groundskeepers because if Terezi wasn’t there, the dare never would’ve happened, and I wouldn’t have been outside yelling for them to come in get us.” The last part is spoken with a trace of guilt and a lowered head.

“That was not your fault” Rose consoles her “we had no reason to believe that would happen.”

“Maybe” Jade mumbles “but either way, I don’t think we can depend much on my dreams anymore. Not when it comes to specific events, at least.”

Rose pauses a moment, thinking it all over. She wants to ask how any of this is possible, why Jade of all people is able to do this, but she knows doing so would be a waste of breath.

“Just… please make sure you tell him.” She instead asks with a sigh “even if it is not going to happen, he deserves to know.” She glances about the room, searching for her bag before remembering her clothes are still hanging up in the bathroom. “I am going to go get changed. We still have a lot of walking to do today.”

The sound of her footsteps echo as she retreats back down the hallway, and Jade holds her breath as she hears the sound of the door open then close.

Sometimes, her friend really does scare her.

Then Kanaya taps her shoulder, and she has to awkwardly twist around to look at her.

“You did not tell her about your dream last night.” She prompts softly, and Jade let’s her gaze drift back to the hallway.

“I didn’t think she’d believe me.” She answers softly “I don’t think she does, even now.”

“Perhaps” the vampire concedes “although I find it unlikely she can hold onto her disbelief for much longer.”

“You’d be surprised. Rose can be incredibly stubborn when she wants to be. I just wish there was some sort of proof I could offer her… anything at all.”

“Well” Kanaya begins gently “she will have no choice but to believe once we locate the laboratory.”

“I hope so” Jade exhales.

“I hope so.”
——
By the time everyone is finally ready to leave the apartments, John is absolutely famished.

Though he is far from the only one with a growling stomach. In fact, only Kanaya seems to be perfectly unaffected, and the observation leads him to recall some of the unasked questions he had from last night.

“Say, Kanaya?”

“What is it, John?” She asks, and the others, who have been walking in relative silence, surreptitiously tune into the conversation.

“Well, Uh, I was just wondering…” John scratches at the back of his neck, suddenly overcome with embarrassment, but all she does is give him a patient look.

“How did you become a vampire?” He blurts at last, and she blinks, not having expected that particular inquiry to come from him of all people.

John hastily backpedals, misinterpreting her stunned expression as something akin to a glare “or, uh, in general, I mean! Is it just like in the movies, where you have to bite someone? Is there some kind of special venom you guys have to turn someone, or do you need to drink another vampire’s blood? Or is it completely random? Like, you just wake up one day and bam! You’re a vampire. Oh, do you think I could become a vampire? Because I don’t think I’d make a very good vampire, and-“

“Dude, I think you need to chill there. Give her a minute to answer.” Dave places a calming hand on John’s shoulder, and the blue eyed teen instantly clams up.

“It’s quite alright” Kanaya asserts gently “I was simply surprised. May I ask what prompted you to pose this question?”

John flushes crimson and looks away “Uh, well, I was just thinking about how the rest of us are over here starving, and you don’t seem hungry at all. That’s because you drink blood, right? So you don’t need food like the rest of us do?” He phrases the second half as a question, but even he is fairly sure that the answer to both of them is ‘yes’.

“That’s correct” Kanaya tells him, and her expression darkens just a little, not that anyone notices. “Although if your intention was to attempt to become a vampire-“

“Ah, no, no, that’s not it!” John hastily denies “I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with a vampire, but I, I don’t think I’d really like it. Y’know?”

Kanaya scrutinizes him for a few moments, more than long enough for John to feel uncomfortable, but eventually her stare lessens as she decides that he is being truthful.

“For the best, I should think. The odds that you would even be capable of contracting vampirism are… slim. For all of you, actually.”

“How so?” Terezi chimes in, abandoning any pretense of not paying attention.

“There are certain prerequisites one must meet.” the ravenette states carefully “For starters, there is a particular gene that needs to be present. Not just anyone is able to be turned.”

“So what are the chances any of us has this gene?” Vriska pipes in, an invested gleam in her eye.

“Almost none. Procreation is very strictly controlled within families, and the likelihood any of you were able to mutate it outside of those families is next to zero.”

“But say we did” Vriska insists “obviously the gene itself isn’t enough. What would be next?”

“It differs by each individual, but generally there is a period of priming. Technically, the minimum is ten years, but most spend between thirty five and forty,”

“Why so long?” Rose cuts in “and what exactly is this priming process?”

“Multiple reasons.” Kanaya informs her “but the primary rationale is that vampires, once turned, are incapable of procreation. The extra time is necessary to ensure the bloodline continues. As for the priming itself, there are different forms, but the most common is that the… fledgling…” she hesitates around the word, struggling to pick a term that her friends will easily understand “will be exposed to drinking blood well before the transformation.”

Rise opens her mouth to pose another question, perhaps something along the lines of how humans do not respond well to drinking blood, but she is cut off by Vriska.

“Look alive, people!” The cerulean eyed teen crows “we’ve got undead up ahead!”

True to her word, approximately eight undead are scattered across the damp pavement up ahead, crowding out both the sidewalks and the street.

“Any way around?” Karkat groans “I really don’t feel like dealing with them.” John subtly winces at how venomously Karkat spits the word ‘them’, but he wisely elects not to say anything..

“There will probably be zombies anywhere we go” Terezi points out “we’ll save no time by going around.”

Karkat releases a long, suffering sigh, but truthfully he hadn’t expected anything less, and so he draws his sickle with only partial reluctance. “Fine.” He says “how are we doing this?”
——
The battle is a quick one, but certainly not the only strife, much to the group’s general dismay.

Following almost an hour of walking and at least two dozen corpses, they are not only still a kind distance away from the safe house, but also still starving, having not yet encountered a grocery store and reasoning that anything they will find in a restaurant is probably rotten or stale.

“Not even a goddamned Walmart in sight.” Karkat has taken to mumbling insults directed at the city over the past twenty minutes, as an effort to keep the silence at bay. His whining grates at the others, prickling at their ire that really is directed at the situation and not at him, and it’s taking all of Vriska’s willpower to not yell at him to shut up.

Honestly, she gets it, she really does. The world is a mess, the designers of this place were stupid jerks that couldn’t be bothered to think about convenient locations for Apocalypse survivors, they’re all hungry, and they’ve been traveling for days. She understands and hates all of this just as much as he does.

But she also knows that whining never solves anything, and it disappoints her that he would choose to waste his time and energy engaging in such a behavior.

“Could you stop groaning for two fucking seconds?” She snaps at last, whirling around and surprising herself just as much as him. “We get it, okay? You’re fucking miserable. Well guess what, jackass, so are we! But you don’t see us whining about it, now do you?”

Her ire slathered words give Karkat cause to raise his chin defiantly, amber eyes blazing as he meets her pointed glare, and even though he knows there’s a better way to go about this he does not want to be seen backing down from her implied challenge.

“Did it sound like I was talking to you?” He growls, stopping dead in his tracks “because I wasn’t.”

“You didn’t have to be.” She retorts “because you were talking so damn loud I’m surprised the zoms haven’t come running.”

Next to her, Terezi cringes harshly. The teal haired teen had been quietly hoping her friend would slowly allow the matter to drop instead of escalating the tension, despite the fact that she knew Vriska would do no such thing.

“Maybe that’s because they don’t want to be anywhere near you” He sneers, but his words fall flat, deflated by his own knowledge that it is far from true, and the auburn haired survivor is quick to pick up on it, releasing a short, hollow laugh.

“I think you meant to direct that statement towards yourself” she says, falsely sweet “but I’ll forgive the mix up. Clearly, you aren’t that bright to begin with, and I need to take that into consideration.”

Karkat’s cheeks fill in with a vibrant pink-red, and he becomes visibly flustered, hissing out an incoherent string of what is probably a mix of insults and indignance, and he steps forward in an effort to seem more intimidating.

An effort that fails as he trips over the fluffy canine that picks that exact moment to wind in front of Karkat, who then tumbled head over heels to find himself sprawled across the pavement.

He sits there a moment, utterly bemused by the turn of events, and John is the first to laugh at the scene, Dave quickly joining him, and then Terezi and Vriska, all of whom Karkat shoots a violent, ineffective glare at before he too realizes the absurdity of what has just happened.

Kanaya moves over and offers Karkat a hand up, which he takes. “Not one word” he tells her, more out of embarrassment than frustration, and she treats him to a mirthful smirk.

“Of course.” He huffs at her response, but for the moment the tension has been sufficiently resolved, and he comes across as more playful than annoyed.

Rose coughs lightly to draw the group’s attention.

“If you are all quite done, I do believe there is a CVS just around the corner up ahead. We will not find anything filling, of course, but there should be something for us to eat.” She speaks stiffly, as though trying to convey that she is above all the shenanigans her group members are participating in, but Kanaya can see the faintest of smiles has worked its way onto the blonde’s face.

It’s an expression that sets off the slightest of flutters in her chest, and all too soon Rose turns back around, leaving the vampire unable to see her face, and she is left with a bitter and regretful wish.

If only they had a little more time, she thinks to herself.

If only.
——
The CVS, they discover, is one of the many buildings that did not retain power.

Jade isn’t really sure why some buildings were able to keep their lights on and others weren’t, and the discrepancy is itching at her brain. She feels that the difference there is something potentially important, because she’s quite certain that it’s not a natural result of gradually losing power.

But none of them know much about infrastructure as a whole, and so she can’t really say if it is or not. Nonetheless it strikes her as suspicious, so she pulls out the paper and pen she had used earlier and scribbles out a note to bring it up later.

She then pulls her focus back to the task at hand: acquiring food.

Stepping into the store, there are no immediate signs of any zombies being present, which has alarm bells going off in her mind, but the others seem generally unconcerned, so she pushes the feeling aside.

“I’m going to ensure there are no infected lurking in the back of the store.” Kanaya announces to no one in particular, and after a murmur of concession she turns to leave, then stops.

“Rose” she asks hesitantly “would you care to accompany me?”

Jade carefully watches her friend’s reaction, noting how her vibrant pink eyes almost seem to light up at the offer.

“Of course” the blonde says smoothly, following after her, the other six watching them go.

“Well” Vriska speaks once they have left “I definitely need a drink. Don’t these places usually have drinks somewhere?”

“Generally they keep them against the far wall” Terezi pipes up “but who knows? Each store is different.”

“A scavenger hunt it is.” Vriska sighs “anyone else wanna come with?”

“Sure, I’ll tag along.” Dave looks to John “you coming with, buddy?”

“Oh! Uh, actually, I’m really more hungry than anything… I’ll catch up later, though!” The blue eyed teen fidgets a little as he speaks, although considering his typically energetic disposition his behavior is not out of place.

“I need to find something for Bec” Jade adds “So I’ll go with you. Karkat, do you want to-“ she cuts herself off as she looks around for the short male, realizing he is no longer with them.

“Hm, okay then. Do you guys want to take one of the backpacks to put some extra drinks in?” Jade directs the question towards Dave, who answers by nodding and holding out his hand.

They split up quietly after that, Jade, Bec, and John all veering off into the snack aisle while the other three continue down to the furthest part of the building, and Jade tries to distract herself from her sensations of uneasiness by opening a bag of beef jerky for Bec.

Still she fails to shake the feeling that something is about to go terribly, horribly wrong.
——
“That’s odd” Kanaya comments as she and Rose approach the back counter of the store, where the pharmacy is located.

“That there has not been a single infected?” Rose inquires, only for the ravenette to shake her head.

“No” she says quietly “the blood.” She circles carefully around one of the tiles, which has been stained with splatters of dried burgundy liquid, and Rose almost wants to hit herself for not seeing it.

“What in particular is so odd about it?” She asks instead, and Kanaya pauses before answering, kneeling down to closer inspect the tile. “It is only natural that there would be blood if someone was attacked.”

“The pattern is wrong” Kanaya frowns “if it were from a bite wound or a weapon, there would be more of a smear from when the victim tried to step back.”

This time it’s Rose’s turn to pull out a dissonant expression, and she moves over to just behind Kanaya, looking over her shoulder to observe for herself, but the back of the store is dim enough that she’s having trouble seeing what Kanaya is.

She reaches for her phone, intending to once again make use of the flashlight feature, but before she can Kanaya has stood up and placed a hand over her wrist, stopping her.

“We need to leave” she hisses urgently “now.”

“Why?” Rose whispers back, instinctively lowering her tone to match Kanaya’s, and when her companion’s green orbs flick to the ceiling Rose’s eyes do the same.

She doesn’t need a light to see the whites of the lifeless eyes staring down at them.

What she does need is all her self control to resist the urge to scream.
—— —— ——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
“Shh, it’s okay.” Kanaya attempts to calm Rose down as she hears the blonde’s heartbeat speed up “they cannot see us. So long as we remain quiet, we can leave without them noticing.”

“How is this even possible? How can they do that?” Rose asks, voice nothing more than a shrill whisper, as she stares up at the monsters looming above them.

The natural lack of lighting in the back of the store casts a dull shadow over the infected, making their skin look decayed and sickly, and the limbs of each zombie are unnaturally splayed and contorted to stretch to the side, the hands fully rotated backwards so that the fingers can clutch at the creases between the panels while their bodies face parallel to the ground.

Many of them are hanging with their mouths agape and tongues lolling out of their heads. One of them, a woman that vaguely resembles her mother, rests with snarled golden hair obscuring her face and eyes, arms spread wide and feet close together to form a cross shape.

Rose isn’t sure she wants to think about the implications that symbol provides.

“That is not important right now.” Kanaya lowly reminds her, and Rose blinks, interpreting her words as a response to her thoughts “we need to find the others, before they do something to draw their attention.”

“Right.” Rose closes her eyes a second, angling her neck down and away from the grotesque sight. Behind her eyelids rests the image of it being her mother up there flashes, and with a deep breath Rose forces her eyes to open, enabling her vision to return.

“They should be either with the drinks or the snacks” she reasons “since time is of the essence, we should split up. If you do not find anyone, leave as soon as you can and wait outside. We will regroup from there.”

Kanaya inclines her head as a means of response. She thinks that splitting up is a terrible idea, if only because in every horror situation doing so results in death, but she cannot deny that it does seem to be the most efficient method available to them.

“Please be careful.” She says instead of sharing her concern “I am worried there is more to this mutation than the ability to climb.”

Rose nods. “You as well” she whispers, shifting one of her needles to her right hand before spinning on her heel and turning down the nearest aisle to search for her friends.

She can only hope that she will not be too late.
——
Karkat isn’t really sure what he’s looking for.

What he does know it that ever since they entered the CVS, he has been feeling some kind of pull to the back of the building, and despite his better judgement he has snuck off to investigate alone, not wanting to hear the others dismiss his concerns.

Besides, after that argument with Vriska, he really needs a moment to calm down and just be by himself for a few minutes.

Loneliness is something Karkat does not often crave, given how it is almost synonymous with quiet, but he thinks he can make an exception just this once, especially after how utterly deplorable his performance was in that verbal sparring match.

As he rounds the corner of the last stand in the row of shelves cluttered with makeup and beauty supplies, he has to withdraw and duck back around the edge almost immediately in order to avoid being spotted by Rose, who has just turned around to walk in his direction.

Once he is confident that she is gone, he cautiously peeks out from behind the display, confirming that nobody is still there. He doesn’t know why she and Kanaya seem to have split up, but he ultimately concludes that it probably doesn’t matter, since if there was any zombies they probably would have take care of them.

Slipping around the display unit and out into the walkway, Karkat is quick to notice a hallway branching further back into the store. Following it he comes a split in the pathway leading to the right, down which are the bathrooms. More interesting to him is the set of double doors ahead of him, bearing a sign labeled ‘Employees Only’.

For the briefest of moments, he stops to consider whether he should hide in the bathroom or try to enter the back. Eventually, curiosity gets to him, and he wonders what might be hidden behind the gray painted doors. He’s never worked at a place like this, and he’s always kind of thought it would be interesting to see the inner workings.

He gingerly places a palm against the door and hesitates, halted by the thought that he should probably go tell the others, get someone to come with him, just in case.

But just as quickly as the idea reveals itself it vanishes, erased completely from his memory as he forcefully shakes his head. He can handle himself for two goddamn minutes, he thinks, and it’s not as though he plans to stray far from the exit.

And then, having assured himself successfully and calmed his nerves, he pushes against the cool wood and enters the space.
——
When John sees Rose walking towards them, he instantly raises a hand in greeting, preparing to call out to her with a smile.

He stops himself before he can utter a sound, deterred in equal measures by the finger over her lips and the scared look in her wide fuschia eyes.

As she nears himself and Jade, he opens his mouth to ask her what’s wrong, but again she cuts him off.

“We need to leave” she hisses the moment she’s in earshot “right now.”

“Why, what’s wrong?” Jade asks in a nervous whisper “where’s Kanaya?”

“Kanaya is fine, she is getting the others” Rose tells her before sparing a quick look to the ceiling. Both John and Jade are puzzled at the shift in attention and make to follow her gaze, but she halts them by tapping their shoulders with her needles, knowing that John will likely have a panic attack if he learns how much danger they have been in the entire time.

“I will tell you once we are outside.” She promises “now please, we need to hurry.”

She brushes past them and they follow for several paces until John recalls something important.

“Uh, Rose?” He whispers as quietly as he can, hoping she will hear.

“Yes, John?” She whispers back, neither turning around nor pausing as she guides them back to the entrance, and John has to step to the side in order to hear her.

“Er, was Karkat with you guys? He kinda… left us as soon as you two were gone.”

Rose stops and spins around so fast that Jade, who has been closely following behind the blonde, very nearly crashes into her. Rose glares at her and Jade frantically mouths a ‘sorry’ in return, only for her friend to turn away without acknowledging the apology.

“No, we did not see Karkat. Is he not with the others?”

John mutely shakes his head, stunned by the sudden shift in Rose’s demeanor. He’s used to her being closed off and even cold at times, but he’s never seen her be so mean before.

He hopes it’s only a temporary effect of whatever has her so stressed out.

Rose, for her part, remains unaware of his thoughts, instead biting back a curse at his response. They’ve stopped at the front of the store, just by the registers, and the entrance is only a couple paces away. She knows they cannot leave without Karkat, but at the same time, every second they spend inside is a minute of danger.

The blue eyed teen watches with bated breath as Rose’s face twists with concentration, and she looks about a millimeter away from impatiently tapping her foot on the tile, like in the movies. She doesn’t, of course, and after a moment her expression clears, a plan apparently formulated in her mind.

“John” she asks suddenly “do you still have that pistol Jade gave you?” He’s caught off guard for a second but nods nonetheless, gingerly withdrawing the small handgun from the pocket of his hoodie, an act that results in Jade cringing.

“That’s not proper gun safety!” She hisses at him, and he gives her a sheepish and apologetic look as he offers it to Rose, who takes a moment to shush the ravenette.

“Give it to Jade” she orders him “and wait outside. When the others get here, tell them we went looking for Karkat.”

“Rose, what is going on?” Jade asks worriedly as she takes the pistol. In response, Rose points to the ceiling, this time allowing both John and Jade to fully feast their eyes on the terrors staring down at them.

Jade can honestly say that she had never switched the safety off so fast before in her life.
——
Terezi is the first one to detect that Kanaya is speedily walking towards them.

Instantly, she can tell that something is terribly wrong, but not because of any hints in the vampire’s body language (Kanaya is strikingly difficult to read, she has found). Rather, she knows something bad is happening because Rose is not with her.

Silently, she reaches out and taps a finger on Vriska’s wrist twice, then slides it in the direction Kanaya is walking from, feeling a bout of satisfaction as her friend understands the message and looks over to see the ravenette approaching.

This system of touch based communication they've developed over the course of their friendship was one of the most rewarding, yet challenging, things they have done together. Terezi can’t remember whose idea it was or even why they decided to make it in the first place, but it has proven useful too many times to matter.

Case in point: by alerting Vriska in this manner, Dave has remained blissfully unaware of the stealthily approaching vampire, who, when she makes her presence known, startles the oblivious cool kid enough to cause him to actively jump back a step in a manner reminiscent of a shocked cat.

In unison, both she and Vriska release a muted, raspy chuckle, but Kanaya quickly shushes them, frantically glancing at the ceiling.

“Be quiet.” The ravenette warns them sternly “there are infected about. We need to leave, now.”

“Yeah guys, not funny.” Dave grumbles, his pride moderately injured as he puts away his sword. It’s not his fault he has been conditioned to respond to sneak attacks like that.

“Hey, where’s Rose?” He asks as he realizes his sister is not with Kanaya. “Is she okay? What happened?”

“Rose is fine” she assures him “she went to locate the others and bring them to the entrance. As I said, it is imperative we leave as quickly and quietly as possible.”

“Woah, wait, why are we running? We can handle a few zombies.” Vriska cuts in “I mean, caution is great and all, but-“ She silences herself as Kanaya points upwards with a sigh, and the teen looks up, paling dramatically as she realizes that only a few feet above her head is the crusty, bloodied torso of one of the infected.

“Oh.” She says lamely “I guess that would be a problem, yeah.”

“Yes. I would suggest leaving now.”

“Right behind you.”

“Wait, hold on a sec” Dave interjects before they can move “Did you guys find Karkat at all?”

“No” Kanaya frowns, feeling a twinge of alarm “Why? Is he not with the others?”

Dave answers by tossing his backpack to the floor and placing a hand around the hilt of his sword.

“I’m going to look for him” he mutters as he brushes past Kanaya “if I’m not back in twenty minutes, don’t bother c-“

“Do not be foolish” she snaps in the softest manner possible “you will only be putting everyone into more danger running off by yourself.”

“Karkat is my friend” Dave fires back “and friends don’t leave friends to die.” Having said that he zooms off, ducking behind the nearest row of shelves as he begins his search.

Kanaya spares the other two survivors a look that’s a cross between helpless and annoyed, and Vriska responds with a shrug. Letting out an aggravated huff, the green eyed girl hefts her chainsaw a little higher before retreating back the direction she had just come from.

It takes Vriska only a moment to start after them, but Terezi is quick to reach out and stop her.

“Hey, what gives?”

“We need to let the others know what is going on.” The blind teen states plainly, and Vriska crosses her arms, frustrated.

“We’ll be quick. With four of us searching-“

“With four of us searching, they’ll assume the worst.” Terezi counters “and anyways, we need to get this” she gestures to the discarded pack still lying on the floor “outside. Away from the spider-zombies.”

“They are kind of like spiders, aren’t they?” Vriska uncrosses her arms and moves to retrieve the bag “fine. But as soon as we drop this off, we go right back in. I’m not letting those two take all the glory!”

Terezi really doesn’t think there’s any glory to be gained from this, but she pots to not mention that, instead nodding silently as she falls in line behind Vriska.

As the two exit the building, they instantly notice that only John and Bec are outside, and a mountain of impending anxiety begins forming between the trio as Vriska sets the backpack against the outside wall.

“Where are the others?” The auburn haired girl demands, and John’s face twists in further concern, if at all possible.

“Jade and Rose went to look for Karkat” he tells them “not too long ago. I think they were headed toward the back.”

“I think that’s where Dave and Kanaya went” Terezi comments, and John starts as his eyes widen in panic.

“They’re all still in there?” He cries, a note of hysteria creeping into his voice, but even as he rests on the verge of a breakdown Terezi turns away from his exclamation and towards the entrance of the CVS, the sound of movement hitting her more attuned ears.

“Vriska” she murmurs, continuing to ignore John’s crisis “I think the zombies are moving.”

Her wavy haired friend spins around to peer through the glass.

“Shit.” She curses as she sees that they are, and behind them John quiets down as he too notices that the infected are on the move.

“Oh, no” the teen mumbles miserably, hands flying up to cup his head, and Bec brushes against his leg, sensing his distress “this isn’t good. What do we do? What do we do?”

“Obviously we go and help!” Vriska snaps, and he whimpers slightly at her aggravated and hostile tone “God, pull yourself together! These are our friends, for fuck’s sake. Friends don’t leave friends to go get eaten by a bunch of fucking corpses.”

Unwanted tears spring into John’s eyes, and he does his best to brush them away, but all he manages to do is stain his blue orbs a pinkish color.

“I-I know that!” He sniffs “b-but I’m just so useless… I c-can’t fight at all, I’ll just get in the way…”

“Ugh, see, that’s your problem! You’re way too negative about this!” Vriska growls and walks up to John, placing a hand on each shoulder and forcing him to meet her eyes.

“Do you care about your friends, John?” She asks seriously, and he straightens a little.

“Of course I do!” He cries “but I can’t just-“

“Are you sure you care?” Vriska presses “because caring means that you’re willing to face your fears for them. And you aren’t willing to do that at all, are you John?”

“What, no, that’s not it!” John protests “I don’t want to go in there because I don’t want to kill anyone!”

His exclamation is enough to give Vriska pause. “Why would you be killing anyone?” She asks, thoroughly puzzled.

John feels a sickness seep into the pit of his gut.

“The, the infected. There’s still a chance for them. They’re not- they’re not dead yet. They can’t be.” He whispers, refusing to meet her eyes.

“Wha-? Who told you that?”

“Nobody” John admits “but, on the news, before they were infected, they said it was a virus. That means it’s a sickness, right? And a sickness- a sickness can be cured.”

“Look, John” Vriska starts, then shoots a look back to Terezi, who taps her wrist several times to signal that they need to get going. The auburn haired girl swallows harshly before snapping her eyes back to John.

“Look” she repeats “we don’t have time to argue this. And quite frankly, I don’t know if it is a virus or not. But here are the facts- your friends are in there, and they’re in danger. They might need your help. And if you’re out here, cowering, you can’t give them that help.” She draws back from him, retrieving her own gun from her waistband as she prepares to re-enter the building.

“We’re going in there” she asserts “whether you do or not is your choice. But do you really want to stay here, like a wimp, hoping everything turns out okay when you could be in there, making sure it does?”

He doesn’t have an answer for her, but as he helplessly watches the two girls leave, he thinks that she really doesn’t need one.

He does.
——
Karkat isn’t sure what exactly he expects when he pushes open the door, but it certainly isn’t the well lit, wide warehouse-like area he is treated to.

The door behind him swings shut with a click that bounces off the cavernous walls, but he pays little mind to the noise, still secure in the belief that there are no infected around to hear, and he begins scanning the new environment he has found himself in, eager to know what a place like this is like.

But as he paces towards the very back, he quickly discovers that all there there is to see is the concrete floor and identical rows of flaking, red-painted steel shelves, upon which various nondescript cardboard boxes have been placed. Upon closer inspection he can see that some of them are decorated with indecipherable monochrome labels, imprinted with meaningless codes of letters and numbers, which he thinks are supposed to represent their contents.

Deciding there is nothing to be gained from the shelves, Karkat continues towards the back of the room, hoping to find something of interest. He’s never worked in a job that had a place like this (only shady, temporary deals at local carnivals and fairs where he would be paid under the table), but he’s fairly certain that there should be some kind of manager’s office he can hide in.

And maybe then he can calm the fiery anger pulsing in his veins.

As he moves deeper into the bowels of the warehouse, a dark gray door comes into view. Nearing it, he is suddenly overcome as a sliver of dread and anxiety pierces his insides, twisting them into a spiky knot that screams at him that he is not alone, that he needs to leave, that he should be anywhere other than where he is.

The hairs on the nape of his neck raise of their own accord, and he bites down hard on his tongue to prevent the release of a strangled yell as the deafening sound of a shelf being tipped over rocks the chamber, and for a second it almost feels as though the ground itself is shaking as the shelf swings over into the next, sluggishly causing a domino chain reaction as the entire row collapses to the floor, one after the other.

His pulse accelerates and before he knows it his sickle has leapt into his hand, fingers curling around the brown leather handle with an instinct he had not known he possessed, and he springs forward, racing for the exit as his brain screams at him to get out of there,

And then the lights cut out and his vision is lost to a field of blurry black static that mercilessly assaults his eyes, and he has to stop, lest he risk running into the wall.

Slowly, he resumes his movements, carefully keeping one hand outstretched in front of him as he stiffly marches, and all he can think is that this must be some kind of nightmare, and that any moment he will wake up screaming, maybe even in his bed at home, and it will turn out that everything has just been one cruel joke, a trick played on himself by his own demented brain.

It would make sense, he thinks to himself, if the truth was that he had actually been in a coma this entire time and had imagined everything. At the very least, it’s a more plausible explanation than zombies and vampires and forgiving Dave being a reality.

But then, just as his fingers brush against the smooth metal of a doorknob, he hears something shift in the darkened distance, like something is climbing out of the pile of toppled racks, and he knows that where he is is the real world.

But even if it were a dream, would that truly make it any less real?

Somehow, he doubts it.
——
When the sound of the cascading shelves reaches her ears, Kanaya simultaneously experiences both immense relief and immense panic.

The relief stems from how she instantly knows where Karkat is, having little difficulty tracing the sound to the back of the building.

The panic stems from how all of the infected become aware of the exact same thing, and are scurrying across the ceiling with clunky, rough steps in what is almost a coordinated movement towards the same exact location.

She’s not entirely sure where exactly Dave has gone. The sunglass wearing teen has proved surprisingly elusive, despite her being only a couple paces behind, although she thinks that if she were hungrier and was able to better pick up on scents, she could have tracked him down with ease.

But she isn’t and she doesn’t, leaving her to choose to either pursue the noise, which she is fairly certain is because of Karkat, or continue searching for Dave.

A second noise, this one a screeching sound of scratching fingernails on metal, draws her attention, this time coming from above, and as she notices that the infected have begun to crawl across the ceiling, slowly digging sharpened and elongated claws between the cracks of the panels as they move, stretching one limb at a time in a sluggish pattern, the decision is made for her.

She can only hope that Dave will be alright.
——
Jade is really regretting not bringing Bec with them.

Not because she’s terrified, though- between the pistol, the rifle, and Rose, she’s not overly worried. Plus, they shouldn’t have to engage with the undead, and despite how creepy it is to have them looming overhead, she knows that unless they do something to make a loud noise they won’t really be a problem.

No, the reason she wishes she had brought Bec is because he could have helped them track down Karkat.

Instead, at Rose’s suggestion, they are currently loitering outside the boy’s bathroom, trying to decide if it would be better to knock or to simply go in.

Somehow, despite the end of the world, it still feels like an invasion of privacy to Jade, and Rose is worried that instead of finding Karkat they will find a zombie, and that interacting with the door in any way will lead to an ambush that will result in enough noise to draw the rest of the horde.

“How about we try the same thing we did at the hotel?” Jade proposes at last “I’ll stand over here and open it, and you can wait against the wall over there to see if any infected come out.”

After a terse moment of thinking it over the blonde nods out a begrudging approval of the plan, and Jade’s eyebrows knit together and she frowns. The green eyed teen had been certain her friend had dropped whatever animosity lingered from the previous night and the morning, but after the glare and now this it’s quite clear she has not.

“Whenever you are ready.” Rose tells her, voice sharp and crisp, and Jade hesitates, wondering if she should say anything to address this tension that seems to be between them.

This is hardly the time or place for such a discussion, however, so she shoves the idea to the back of her mind to be forgotten about, and instead slowly opens the door.

After a minute or so of nothing happening, Rose taps the wall next to her with one of her needles, producing a rapping noise just loud enough that anyone inside would be able to hear, but nothing appears, animated corpse or otherwise, and Rose silently shakes her head at Jade, who then slowly closes the door, careful not to let it slam.

“What now?” Jade asks as she adjusts her glasses.

“Perhaps we should check the women’s, just in c-.” Rose is cut off by the loud sound of something massive falling from behind where the restrooms are.

“What was that?” Jade asks shooting Rose a worried look.

“I am not sure.” Rose answers “although I would wager that whatever it was is not good.”

Jade gnaws on her bottom lip for a moment. “Do you think that maybe Karkat is there?”

“I hope not.” Rose offers worriedly “although if I were to guess, that seems likely. We probably should-“

“What are you doing?”

Jade jumps at the unexpected arrival of Kanaya, and in a flash has her pistol drawn and pointed at the taller girl, who looks thoroughly unimpressed by the display.

“Looking for Karkat” Rose informs her “we thought he may have simply gone to the restroom..”

“Ah” Kanaya says, sounding wholly unconvinced “I heard something from down there.” She points down the hallway, where the storeroom is located “and I have reason to think he is back there.”

“Yes, we heard it too.” Rose supplies, moving away from the doors to the bathrooms to join her, and Jade does the same. “But what makes you so certain he will be there?”

“Call it intuition.” Kanaya smiles grimly “But we should hurry, we will have company soon.”

As if on cue, there is a loud smacking noise as one of the zombies drops from the ceiling outside the passageway to collapse onto the floor, flattening for a moment in what looks to be a belly flop before gradually pulling itself together to stand up and continue shuffling forward.

“Yeah” Jade says, backing down the hall to reach the door to the storeroom “we should definitely get going.”

Despite the shadowed path in front of them, which promises little to no visibility, neither Rose nor Jade nor think to pull out their flashlights to assist their vision..

Later, they will wonder if the lapse in judgement had been due to fear, fate, or something else.

In the end, they will decide it to have been a combination of the three.
——
Dave has somehow managed to find himself behind the medicine counter in the back corner, and really, he’s not sure why he thought he would find Karkat there.

Scratch that; he does know why, it was just a really stupid idea.

For some reason, he had thought that perhaps Karkat had been looking for some painkillers, or maybe some sort of sleeping medication (the poor guy had been turning enough last night that Dave figures he would need it), but in hindsight, he should have known the amber eyed boy would want nothing to do with the pills.

After all, they’re what led Gamzee down a path of self destruction.

Cursing his moronic brain, he reaches for the shiny door handle and attempts to turn it, only to find that it is stuck firmly in place, minus the slightest amount of jiggling and consequent clicking.

Dave steps off for a moment and tucks his phone beneath his chin. Because he has refused to take off his sunglasses it was necessary for him to turn on the flashlight in order to see, although even if he took off his glasses the light probably still would have been necessary.

He tries again to open the door, this time with both hands, but to no avail, and it’s with no small amount of terror that he again steps back, palming his phone with his left hand and drawing his sword with his right as he attempts to figure out what is going on.

Gulping, his attention turns back to the rest of the room as he swings the beam of light from his phone over the small space. There isn’t much to it; one half is essentially a reception desk with a ledge built into the wall for papers and pens to rest on. A glass pane divides most of said ledge from the rest of the building, a small slot included beneath it for paperwork and pill bottles to slide beneath. Inside the room are two red rolling chairs, completing the desk area.

The rest of the room is sectioned off by two shelves sandwiching another door between them. Dave doesn’t know what exactly is behind the door, but he’s fairly certain there’s at least one zombie back there, considering there aren’t any in the room he is in.

Still, without any better options he’s going to have to see if it will at least open. With great trepidation he glides over to it, brandishing his light in front of him like it’s a weapon as he checks to see if he can get through that way.

No dice. Unsure of what else to do, he flips over his phone and types out a group message to everyone, explaining the situation, and he feels about twenty times more idiotic for not simply messaging Karkat and telling him to get out, or even just asking where he is. He facepalms loudly in the dark, the resulting smack helping to alleviate some of the oppressive silence that has settled in, now that his blood has stopped roaring through his ears.

And then something wet and slimy trickles down the back of his neck, and he freezes in place, almost paralyzed as his heart starts racing once again, and he slowly angles his phone upwards towards the ceiling, craning his neck as he does so to locate the source of the substance.

He wonders how he failed to notice the monster stuck to the ceiling, especially when he knows that just moments earlier he had swept his flashlight over the entire room to reveal nothing at all.

More than that, he worries that he’s just led his friends into a trap.

Cautiously, he looks back down towards his phone, keeping his ears trained on the infected directly above him. Again he prepares to send a group message to his friends, to at least warn them, but just as his fingertips begin to ghost over the keypad the screen freezes, closes, and turns a horrific, haunting black, robbing him of his sight, and his eyes blink furiously behind his shades.

“Shit” he can’t quite restrain himself from blurring out, and the rustle of fabric from above tells him that he definitely, absolutely, should not have opened his mouth.

Well, shit, he thinks as he tosses his dead cellphone to the ground, shifting his sword so that both his hands wrap around the handle, pointing the blade skyward in case the zombie decides to simply detach itself from the ceiling to tackle him.

If he had known this would be the result of getting breakfast, he would have asked Jade to save the chips.
——
John very nearly misses Dave’s message.

In fact, the only reason he sees the notification (not hears, because the eight of them have long since ensured their cellular devices are perpetually silenced, with the exception of sometimes Karkat, who hates keeping his phone quiet) is because he has it out and is flipping it between his fingers in a nervous, rhythmic pattern.

It’s an old habit of his, started during a time when he would rely heavily upon a coin flip app to make decisions, because using an actual coin inevitably meant someone would steal it from him.

People used to steal a lot of things from John.

And then he met Dave, and suddenly they stopped trying to take his things. More than that, though, John no longer needed some stupid piece of metal, digital or not, to help him through those trivial choices. He had a friend- a real life, flesh and blood friend- that he could talk to, that he could depend on, that he could turn to for a second opinion.

Dave was his first friend, and for John, that meant more the entire world.

But now Vriska’s words are swirling in his mind, taunting him, and for the first time he has to stop and ask himself.

Does he really care?

John violently shakes his head. Of course he cares! Just because he wants to protect those that are infected doesn’t mean he finds the safety of his friends any less important. Concern for the infected and concern for his friends aren’t exclusive to each other.

Or at least, they shouldn’t be. He should be able to help his friends, while also protecting those suffering from this virus. It should be a goal they can all share, to help the rest of the world recover.

But how? How can he do that, make them see that they don’t need to kill anyone else?

His phone vibrates, the screen flashing a white notification, and John immediately turns it back over, forgetting for a moment his current line of thought as he gleans what he can from the mostly garbled, slang-ridden messages from Dave, and all at once the answer is clearer than a crystal ball.

Quickly, John shrugs off his backpack and leans it against the outside wall of the store next to Kanaya’s suitcase, which had been left there before they had gone in the first time, and the other backpack that Vriska had placed near it.

“Bec” He says, voice thick and shaky as he points a stern finger towards the three bags “guard.”

He doesn’t actually expect the canine to listen to him, but to his surprise Bec wanders over to the small pile, looking up at him with an almost smile as the dog lays down in front of their belongings.

“Good boy.” John tells him “stay.” And then without a single look back he all but runs into the CVS, one hand gripping the shaft of his hammer while the other types out a response to Dave, alerting the blonde that he is on his way.

John Egbert is a lot of things. He’s a self proclaimed geek, for one. He’s also the kind of person that cares too much, and the type to miss all the fine details. He’s the kind of person that’s a total coward on his worst days and a steadfast support on his best.

But never will he allow himself to be the kind of person that won’t drop everything to help a friend, nor will he allow himself to be the kind of person to hurt someone else.

And to prove it, he’s going to rescue Dave without allowing a single infected to be slain. Then, maybe his friends will see that there is a better way.
——
Vriska doesn’t really have the faintest idea on where Karkat would be, but she figures following the zombies would be a good place to start.

She’s careful to keep both herself and Terezi behind the last of the undead as they trail behind the horde, the slow pace they are forced to take only serving to stoke her irritation, and she has to force herself to regulate her breathing to calm down.

It’s just that John’s attitude about this whole thing is so unfair! Really, she can’t stand how selfish he’s being by expecting the rest of them to protect him, even as he condemns the very thing it takes to do so.

Okay, so maybe there is a chance of a cure. Maybe they still are, in some way human, although she really doubts it. Even if they are, unless they happen upon some kind of miracle elixir, they aren’t going to be able to help anyone, and they sure aren’t going to be able to save every single person.

Lives are going to be lost. Many already have been. And Vriska doesn’t want that number to include their group of perfectly healthy, non-miracle requiring members. If the cost of that is the end of people that are already sick and dying, well, that’s just a price she’s willing to pay.

A price everyone else is willing to pay, too. Well, everyone except John, apparently.

There’s something that annoys her even more than John’s opinions, though: the fact that she didn’t notice he felt this way!

Looking back, she thinks it should have been obvious from the moment he didn’t participate in the battle on the bridge. At the time, she had just assumed it was because his weapon of choice was terrible, and as such the blue eyed teen was simply not comfortable fighting in such a dangerous encounter.

By this point they’re about three quarter of the way into the store, and she is almost vibrating from how hyper her anger is making her, to the point that Terezi has to reach over and provide a comforting touch to help calm her.

Vriska smiles ruefully, albeit gratefully, at the action.

If she’s being completely honest with herself, it’s not really the fact that they have to care of John that bothers her, or even that she didn’t see this coming. Besides, technically speaking, he never actually asked them to provide for him. Plus, the pros of having another living human around far outweigh the cons of him not being able to do very much combat-wise.

No, what is actually eating her is his implication that by killing these zombies, they’re killing humans, and that makes them- makes her- a murderer.

Vriska Serket is a lot of things. She’s a self proclaimed mastermind, for one. The kind of person willing to do whatever it will take to achieve her goals. Sometimes that means taking a shortcut across the lines of legality and morality. She’s stolen, she’s lied, and once she committed what was technically assault, even though nobody was able to trace any of these things back to her.

But murder? No. That’s a path she’s never go down.

The image of two pleading muddy brown eyes springs up in front of her vision against her will, and while she doesn’t pause in her steps she does slow in her thoughts.

Right?

She wouldn’t actually kill someone.

But she would leave them to die, the traitorous voice inside murmurs.

And really, isn’t that basically the same thing?
——
Karkat feels an excessive amount of relief as he braces against the cold wood behind him.

The room he has entered is dark, blindingly so, although Karkat can’t tell if there’s any difference between the amount of light in this room or the other. What he can tell is that he feels at least moderately safer in here.

He stands there for some time, hoping his eyes will eventually adjust. They don’t, of course, but whether that’s because he’s too impatient or because there is simply too much darkness for them to be able to adjust is beyond his knowledge, and he slides a hand against the wall as he blindly stumbles about the room, faintly hoping that by some miracle he will find some sort of light source.

Naturally, he does not, and it isn’t until he painfully trips over the side of a chair and lands in the seat that he remembers he already has a flashlight in his phone.

“You fucking idiot” he berates himself under his breath as he sits up and fishes out the device “why couldn’t you have remembered this earlier?”

He angrily mashes the home button of his cell phone, but nothing happens. He then presses a finger against the power button, holding it for several seconds, but nothing happens, and he is instantly reminded why he didn’t think of it as an option.

“Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck” He swears loudly, the noise only mildly alleviating the terror swelling inside him. “What the fuck do I do now?”

The answer is rather simple: he resumes doing what he does before, blindly feeling around the rest of the room, discovering there to be two chairs and a table on one side, a cupboard and sink on the other, and a long, expansive desk against the back with a third chair in front of it.

Overall, definitely not he would expect from a local drugstore.

Stopping behind the desk, he brushes his fingertips down the sides, feeling for any drawer handles. One by one he opens three of them, reaching around for anything that might feel like it would produce light. Hell, he’d even take one of those weird black-light pen things that they use to check for counterfeit money.

His hands brush over the tops of files and paperwork, paper clips and scissors, and even ordinary pens and a stapler, until finally he does manage to locate one of the counterfeit light pens, which he realizes to be labeled UV light once he flicks it on.

Not that it matters much he was wrong about what it was, of course. For the moment, at least, he is happy enough being able to see.

“Okay, that’s good.” He continues narrating to himself, filling the silence “but now what? I can’t exactly go back out there…”

His attention drifts down to the top of the desk, where he can see that two Manila folders have been left out, each chock-full of loose white papers. One folder is placed atop the other, a neat white label across the middle reading ‘Confidential’, and his curiosity is invariably roused.

“Well” he whispers “what have we here?”

He reaches to open it, setting his sickle down so one hand holds the light and the other can grasp the front of the folder. As he flips over the plainly colored flap he squints at the first page, a ghost white sheet with a bold red black string of characters stamped over it.

“What the hell?” He mutters to himself, then turns over the page, then the next, flicking through them with almost reckless abandon. “What the fuck kinda language is thi-?”

His sentence is cut short by the muffled thud of something hitting the carpeted floor, and Karkat instinctively springs back with a yelp, letting the folder fall shut and abandoning his weapon as he crashes unceremoniously into the wall behind him, hissing as the collision spikes a ball of pain into his shoulders, leaving him to wonder if he will be sporting bruises come morning.

But as the thin pinprick of light shines from his palm to reveal what it is that caused the sound, he has to wonder if morning ever will come for him.

Because here he is again, alone and unarmed while in a corner, facing a single zombie that is approaching him from behind a desk.

And somehow, he doubts that there will be a magic pair of safety scissors or chainsaw wielding vampire to save him this time.
——
Rose is the first to realize entering a dark room without light during the Apocalypse is an absolutely abysmal idea.

Consequently, she is also the first one to reach for her flashlight.

Because her device is still open to view Google Maps, she does not see the notification that Dave has messaged her, therefore remaining wholly unaware of the danger her brother is in.

As such, she keeps her mind focused on finding Karkat, and as she activates the beam of light she tucks one of her needles behind her ear so that she can better hold her cellphone, her other needle still firmly clenched in her left palm.

Jade gives her a grateful look as Rose sweeps the ray of white over the room, partially illuminating the space to reveal that Kanaya is conspicuously absent, and the blonde guesses that in the short time it took for her to get her phone out, the vampire must have already gone on ahead.

She tries her best to ignore the stab of hurt at being left behind like that, and instead cautiously gestures to Jade that they should go further into the storeroom.

The ravenette nods hesitantly, then points to indicate Rose should go first, since she has the light, and after a second of trying to figure out what her friend is trying to say with her gestures the blonde steps forward, intending to lead the way.

They make it about five feet in, just enough to notice the first knocked over shelf, when there’s a cacophonous series of crashes to their right, and it’s only Rose’s quick thinking to place a hand over Jade’s mouth that prevents the green eyed girl from screaming and revealing their location.

A swing of the flashlight reveals the source of the sound to be a cluster of three infected, prompting Rose to swiftly check the ceiling to ensure that no more are hiding, although she thinks it’s a safe bet that there aren’t any more above, and she’s right.

Jade gently pries the blonde’s hand off of her mouth, eyes shiny with fear and concern as she points a finger to their left. Stealthily, the two girls retreat in the opposite direction of the zombies, taking the longer route around the series of shelves to avoid a prolonged confrontation, Rose shining her light down each column as they walk.

Soon enough they reach the back left corner of the building, without having found either Karkat or Kanaya.

“Where do you think they went?” Jade asks, quiet enough that Rose almost doesn’t hear her speak at all.

The fuschia eyed teen frowns and shakes her head, not quite trusting herself to speak. She then tips her head to the side, as though suggesting they should investigate the rest of the back area.

Jade nods in understanding, and Rose turns away, directing the light to shine down the the back pathway of the store.

Impossible is the first word to come to her mind.

There, standing only a short distance in front of them, are the same three infected they had gone around at the front of the store..

Rose comes very close to panicking. She knows that neither of them have been particularly loud, certainly not enough to warrant being followed as they have, which can only mean that these particular zombies rely on something other than hearing to find them.

And without any clear indication of what exactly that is, they’re in significantly danger.

Jade reacts to the incoming threat first, grasping Rose by the wrist (an action that has her subtly wincing) and dragging her backwards in a bid to create some space between them and the undead.

Then Jade herself is being grabbed from behind, wrenched away from her friend by cold, rough hands, and something is clamped around her shoulder, painfully squeezing and grinding the muscle and bone.

And she can’t help but to scream.
——
Terezi is definitely more than a little suspicious about the behavior of this mutation.

While majority of the zombies have seen fit to stumble and collapse their way through the double doors, a select few of them have remained just outside, almost as if they are deliberately trying to block the entrance.

Or, more accurately, blocking the exit, since their backs remain turned to herself and Vriska, making them easy pickings for the two survivors.

So easy, in fact, that none of the zombies have the chance to do much as turn around as Vriska messily pushes her knives through the spinal cords of two of them while Terezi spears a third through the brain, painting the floor with splatters of darkening red-violet blood.

“Ugh, why can’t we have an actual challenge for once?” Vriska whines as she kicks the corpses slide off her blades, and Terezi snorts in response.

“I don’t think that is what we should be worried about right now.”

“No, of course not. But still! I thought this whole Apocalypse thing was supposed to be difficult!”

Terezi has nothing to say to that, so she pushes open one of the doors instead, and Vriska quickly follows suit by opening the other door.

“Shit, it’s dark.”

“They aren’t here” Terezi muses, ignoring her friend “they must be further in already. But why?”

“Who knows? They’re a bunch of rotting corpses, not criminal masterminds. Now hold on a sec, I gotta get my phone out…”

“Well, hurry” Terezi chides “we might not have much time.”

“Sorry not all of us have weird super awareness powers!” Vriska scowls into the dark, tucking one dagger under her arm while she hurries to unlock her phone.

She really needs to get a shorter password.

Meanwhile, Terezi impatiently taps her feet against the concrete, producing a noise she hopes will be just loud enough to draw at least one zombie in, but knows won’t be.

There’s a worm, somewhere in her mind, that is telling her she is missing something. Some crucial, indescribable detail that would explain this new branch of monsters.

“Are you ready yet?” She barks teresely, sounding just a little more irate than she means to.

“Gimme a sec, geez.” Vriska snaps back, opening up the app “now I’m ready. And just to warn you, I’ve only got like ten percent left.”

Terezi opens her mouth to tell her that’s fine, that they shouldn’t take that long.

And then the shrill, unmistakable sound of Jade screaming splits the air, and threatens to tear ever thread of safety and assurance asunder.
——
Dave isn’t sure what to think about the fact that the zombie has yet to try and drop down on him.

He supposes he should be grateful that it has yet to attack, and that the only danger he is in is from the perpetual line of slick, gooey saliva trailing from the mouth of the zombie above him, but honestly, it unnerves him that it’s behaving so weirdly.

He’s also still not sure how he failed to see it before, when he first entered the room, and that definitely isn’t soothing his nerves. His arms are starting to shake too, exhausted by the strength it’s taking to keep his sword extended, but he knows that he can’t afford to let himself rest. A lowered guard equals a lowered coffin, as his uncle used to say.

At the same time, however, he can’t stay like this forever, and there’s a broiling, sinking sensation that if he can’t manage to get rid of this infected before John shows up, something really, really terrible is going to happen.

Maybe, he thinks bitterly, if this were the same John that had been with him on the first day, the one who had been all too happy to fight alongside him, the one who had had zero trouble bashing in the skulls of the undead with his hammer, he wouldn’t be so concerned.

But it’s not. This John is timid, docile, sensitive, and altogether far too much like the John he first become friends with what seems to be a lifetime ago. The John that was afraid to look at his own shadow the wrong way, and held the people around him on pedestals so high they broke through imaginary silver clouds.

And that’s the same John they have now, and Dave can’t help but think that’s probably his fault. He’s been so focused on redeeming himself to Karkat that he hasn’t even stopped to consider what John must be going through, how he must be feeling, especially since John’s father is dead.

Dead by Dave’s own hands, no less.

Did he ever apologize for it?

Suddenly he can’t remember, and his legs tremble and threaten to buckle beneath him.

Did he ever apologize to John for killing his father?

Somehow, he doesn’t think he did.

Breathing deeply, Dave does his best to steady himself. He’s about to do something reckless and stupid and probably get himself killed, but he know that he can’t afford to let anything happen to John. Not without getting the chance to make everything up to him.

So he backs up, letting the drool from the zombie wash over his hair and glasses, stopping only when he’s certain that he’s directly beneath the monster’s head.

And then, carefully, he extends his sword as far as he can, and jumps.
——
The moment that Kanaya enters the storeroom, she instantly bolts for the back.

It’s not so much that she doesn’t want to wait for Rose and Jade as it is that she doesn’t think she can afford to. Every second spared could be the second that costs Karkat his life, and she refuses to take any chances by waiting any longer than she needs to.

Kanaya scans each isle as she walks down the center, but finds nothing of note beyond the column of shelves knocked over and leaning against each other. She knows that Karkat is incapable of causing such destruction on is lonesome, and quickens her pace, if at all possible.

She doesn’t think to check the ceiling, believing such an act to be unnecessary. After all, she is not the one in danger. She never has been.

It takes her no time at all to spot the office door at the back, but it does cost her several precious seconds to check the remaining aisles for Karkat, whom she does not find, to her increasingly growing dismay.

When she does reach the far wall, she hesitates, glancing first to her right, and then to her left. There is still no sign of the sickle wielding teen, which means that they have either been walking circles around each other, or he is just beyond, inside the manager’s office.

She looks again to her right, where she can just make out the dim red letters spelling out an emergency exit at the end of the path. It would be easy to leave now, and doing so would mean her companions would not get the chance to convince her to stay later when they reach the safehouse.

Besides, the chances that Karkat is actually in danger is pretty low. More than likely, he fled into the room when the shelves were being knocked over, and is now waiting to see if the danger has passed. Not to mention he has a weapon of his own to defend himself with.

He doesn’t really need her help.

Her grip on her chainsaw lessens slightly, the tension leaving her body as she thinks over the situation again, this time being more critical of her own fears and worries.

Her concern is founded solely on the fact that he is human, that he cannot fight the infected as well as she can, that he is in danger of being turned himself. But he’s not entirely incompetent, and she does not want him to feel as though she believes him incapable of looking after himself.

Kanaya steps to the side, then stops, twisting back to the door. She takes another step, then repeats the motion, trying to justify that she does not really need to check on him, that she has the opportunity to leave now, that really, she needs to take whatever chances she has.

Yet, she can’t quite bring herself to leave.

Growling to herself, she marches back to the door. Twice she raps her knuckles on the hard plane, faintly hoping that Karkat will open the door, if only so she can know he is alright, but to no avail. Realizing this, she takes the cold silver knob into her hand and twists, flinging the heavy door open and slamming it against the wall as she puts far more strength than is necessary into the action.

The room that greets her is far more familiar than it has any right to be.

Perhaps it is only her imagination, this feeling that she has been there before. Nonetheless she stands there in the dark, framed by plaster and wood, transfixed by the subconscious cry of a repressed dream, or maybe a memory.

And then she sees it: cloudy twin pearls staring through her from across the room, suspended just above glinting stained teeth, dark scraps of cloth wedged between the gaps of some of the yellowing spikes, the lower half of its body hidden by the wide mahogany desk in front of it.

She blinks once, twice, and then gently sets her chainsaw down while fluidly drawing her dagger out of her boot.

The zombie lurches unsteadily in her direction, tripping and tumbling over the desk as it does so, sending folders over the edge to skitter across the floor, creating a blanket of white, loose sheets accompanied by the clink of metal.

It’s with no small amount of rage that she realizes the object is not a stapler or name card, but rather, a curved, silvery blade.

Karkat’s sickle.

“You do not know what you have done.” She whispers softly, without any traces of resentment “but from one monster to another, you should know your actions are unforgivable.”

It turns its head in her direction, but just like all the others, fails to perceive her presence, blank eyes glazing over in a blatant refusal to acknowledge her, and Kanaya takes the time to observe the infected, to make it more than a husk.

Murder is so much more impactful when it’s a person being killed, and not simply one of the masses.

Studying the zombie, there isn’t much to signify it as a person. Other than the fact that it appears to be a female, most likely in her thirties, she can’t locate anything especially distinguishing. She’s in what Kanaya presumes to be the standard uniform for a manager, and has no distinguishing jewelry or tattoos. Thick, curly brown hair is draped over her shoulders, but offers no insight as to who the person that Karkat’s murderer used to be.

A name will have to suffice, then.

Wagering that whomever this is must be wearing some sort of name tag, she moves closer, brushing aside stiff chestnut hair to reveal a small metal pin.

“So that is who you are.” Kanaya murmurs to herself, then adds, slightly louder “you should know that there is much power to be gained from a name.”

Grasping the infected by the wrist, the vampire guides it to the nearest wall, a blank, uncovered section of gray, then yanks harshly, sending the undead careening into the smooth surface and capturing it in an improvised hold, pining it by the throat with her left hand and brandishing her weapon with her right.

“I think, perhaps, a tribute is in order.” Kanaya draws the knife through the exposed forearm of the zombie, rending flesh and muscle in deep crimson gouges as if they are angry crevasses of molten lava. She scoops the sickly blood as best she can onto the metallic slip of her dagger and smears it onto the wall, droplets messily spilling off the surface to decorate small patches of the wall and floor.

The process is, overall, a quick one, aided in part by her naturally enhanced strength and stamina, and after only a couple minutes she steps back, satisfied that she has done what she can, and with a precise, surgical strike, she impales the heavily marred and scratched zombie through the temple, enabling the corpse to at last sink to the ground, no longer burdened with the task of maintaining an illusion of life.

Sighing, Kanaya moves to explore the rest of the room, taking care to avoid both the sickle and the spilled paper until she can find Karkat’s body, or at least, what is left of it. Presumably, he had been torn up to the extent that he was unable to turn, and that is why she was only against one zombie, and not two.

An assumption she is forced to toss out of the proverbial window when she slides around the side of the desk and bends down, intent on checking the filing drawers, and the shallow, faint sound of breathing reaches her ears.

Well, she thinks, the graffiti she left is going to prove embarrassing if he was not actually bitten and pulls through.

But somehow, she can’t bring herself to feel embarrassed, or care at all, really.

Not when there is still a chance for the amber eyed teen.

Not when he is there, tucked into the corner, chest still faintly rising and falling.
——
“Jade!”

Rose is not typically the type of person to scream, but just this once she makes an exception, every part of her petrified save her vocal cords

Later, she will blame the shock for her sudden incapability of action, but in the moment her reason is lost in a sea of disbelief, overtaken by towering waves of terror as she watches her friend struggle to hold the infected off long enough to point her pistol at its head and squeeze the trigger.

Rose has never really seen a gunshot wound up close, not even when they were at the campsite. Certainly, she has never seen one inflicted before.

She thinks that it’s far too clean a process

In a fraction of a second the slim metal pellet has torn its way into the soft, fading mocha flesh of the zombie’s forehead, leaving behind a small, splintering red crater that is only slightly larger than a dime. There is no firework of poppy colored liquid, nor is there the snapping sounds of bone.

Although, that is most likely due to the ringing that has infested her ears, courtesy of the sound produced by the bullet being fired.

Still, it proves to be enough to snap her out of the almost hypnotic state she had been ensnared in, and she skips forward just as arms snatch at her from the side, the movement rendering the cruel, gnarled hands unable to find a purchase on her clothing, and Rose sweeps forward, uninhibited by either her mental state or the zombie’s flanking her.

What she is limited by is her inability to keep up with her momentum.

Unable to keep her feet in front of her and balanced, Rose stumbles. It’s only a slight misstep, but it does cause her to trip forward, spilling into the almost waiting arms of an infected, who gnashes it’s teeth and snarls at her, even as its hands dig into her shoulders. She’s too close, too low to the ground for it to be able to actually bite her, but it tries anyways, leaning over to nip along her spine, pinching both her skin and her clothes as it unsuccessfully tries to transmit the disease as best it can.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling, a painful one, made all the worse by the fact that should she attempt to break out of this hold, she risks opening herself to additional danger. So she does her beat to stay in the position she is, curled in on herself just enough that the monster can not find enough purchase to break open her flesh.

And then suddenly there’s a second gunshot from Jade. It’s more muffled than the last, but no less discernible, and she flinches. Seconds later the zombie is limp and lifeless, dragged downwards by gravity as it collapses onto the blonde, who wastes no time shoving the corpse off of her.

“Thank you” She whispers, and even though she ends up speaking in a much louder tone, Jade still fails to hear her, keeping her handgun trained on the third zombie as the ravenette slowly retreats backwards, arms slightly shaking.

Rose swings her light towards Jade, directing the beam across her friend’s shoulders. To her relief, there is no evidence of her shoulder having been ripped open, leaving the blonde to conclude that the zombie must have been unable to get through the fabric of her dress, much like how her own assailant could not get through her shirt.

She doesn't know how she would have lived with herself if Jade had actually been bitten.

Thankfully, that is not a concern she needs to think about, at least for the time being, and she joins Jade in leaving, the two girls turning tail as the undead that had been poised to attack her from the side fully round the corner, and the duo slip onto a haphazard, panicked sprint.

The nature of their escape is such that they fail to notice the equally fast approach of Terezi and Vriska, meaning both groups are also equally unable to stop once they do notice the others. The end result is an almost comical collision that sees all four girls sprawled across the floor, with Rose sustaining a minor scratch from one of Vriska’s unsheathed daggers, an action that has her hissing in pain.

“What the hell, guys?” Vriska groans, clutching a hand to her head, but Rose can barely hear her.

“Apologies.” She offers, trying to regulate her volume as best she can, but judging from the odd look she gets, she is not quite achieving the sound she wants. “We were surprised by a few of them. Jade had to use her gun.”

“I know, we heard.” The auburn haired teen snaps back, rolling her eyes “but how did a bunch of bumbling undead morons sneak up on you?”

Rose shakes her head and stands up, gesturing for the other three to do the same.

“Unimportant. We need to find Kanaya and Karkat, and get out of here as soon as we can.” She then spares a look behind her, checking to see how close the zombies are.

“Oh, great. Because of course we needed one more missing person.” Vriska snarks as she climbs to her feet and dusts her jeans off “that makes what, Terezi, three?”

To the side, Jade frowns in concentration, attempting to read Vriska’s lips, but with little luck. She isn’t about to press for the older girl to repeat herself, however, and so elects not to say anything on the matter.

“Listen, I don’t think they’ll stop coming after us” she says instead “it might be best if we just… ended them, and then resumed looking.”

Vriska shrugs “sure. Whatever you guys wanna do.”

“Jade, would you mind holding the light for us?” Rose asks, thrusting her cellphone towards her friend before snaking her second needle out from behind her ear, thankful that it failed to tangle in her short, cropped hair.

“Alright, then” Vriska cracks her head to the side.

“Let’s go kill us some more zombies.”
——

John does not know what to expect to explain why Dave had found himself locked behind the medicine counter.

Among whatever possible explanations might have existed, he would not have counted an infected amongst them.

And yet, that is exactly what he sees: a young woman, perhaps in her mid twenties, has impales herself upon the rectangular door handle, embedding it all the way through her stomach, her sticky intestines poking out through the side in order to make room for the metal handle.

John wants to vomit at the sight.

By some sort of cosmic miracle, he doesn’t, instead slowly backing away to the reception desk, where he tries to look through the glossy windowpane to see if he can spot Dave at all, but it is far too dark in the back corner of the building to see more than a few inches inside.

Frustrated with worry, he knocks on the window, pitting hope against concern in an attempt to elicit some sort of response. The next several seconds are knotted with frayed nerves and an erratic heartbeat as he waits.

If he’s honest, though, he’s only waiting like this because he doesn’t know what to do about the woman slumped over the outside door handle. Truthfully, he can’t even comprehend why it -she- would have done such a thing in the first place.

Time crawls by at an unregistered pace, and John counts to thirty in his head, rather than check his phone. Still there is no response, and he raps his knuckles against the glass a second time, already knowing that no acknowledgement will be forthcoming, and counts again.

Biting harshly on his lower lip, John frantically looks around, trying to figure out how he can peacefully get past the infected and enter the room.

Then, just as his eyes traverse over the still stocked shelves, it hits him.

The infected are drawn to sound!

Bouncing over to the nearest display, John quickly inspects his options. He needs something heavy, but not morbidly so, something he can throw easily.

The nearest items are various bottles of differing amounts of saline solution and other contact cleansers, and he scoops up one of the larger bottles, tossing it slightly into the air to test the weight and catching it with ease.

He turns back to the infected, nearing her as close as he dares, then tosses the bottle further behind her, silently praying that the noise will be enough to get her to slide herself off the handle in order to pursue it, but all the diseased lady does is jerk backwards a little and squirm, ultimately unable to free herself from the silver claw of the door.

It looks as though he will have to push her off himself.

But for as much as John does not want to harm the infected, he has no intention on getting bitten himself. His hammer is far too short to allow him to safely make contact with her, which means that he will have to find something with more reach to it.

Another idea flashes inside his mind, and he can’t resist snapping his fingers in delight as the pieces of a plan fall into place.

Skipping off, John can only wish that Dave will be alright just a few more minutes, just long enough for him to gather what he needs.

What John really needs, though, is just a little more time.
——
Karkat is afraid to die.

More than that, he’s afraid of becoming a mindless, cannibalistic drone, and he’s afraid of the idea that he will never get to make something of himself, to achieve that greater destiny he has always longed for.

He’s afraid of never seeing his friends again.

It is through this fear that something akin to clarity falls over him, settling in his heart a crisp, singular goal.

He is not to allow himself to die today.

A hand slips down to the pocket of his jacket, a movement subconscious in nature that turns into active thought as the pads of his fingers brush dull, warm metal and he removes the pair of safety scissors and spins them around to more firmly hold them in his palm.

Karkat is all too aware that scissors are a painfully ineffective tool, but for the moment they are all he has, and so he raises them up, preparing to bring them down and into the eye socket of the zombie once it gets close enough. If he is lucky, it will be just enough to puncture the tip of the brain and either kill or impair the zombie, at which point he can probably kick it away and retrieve his sickle.

If he is unlucky and fails…
Well, he doesn’t want to think on that.

The infected closes in on him, only an arm’s length apart, and Karkat springs into motion, arching his weapon down and through the air as he steps forward to close the gap, the air whistling ever so slightly as the metal flies downwards and into the face of his adversary.

He misses by less than half an inch, the rounded end of the scissors embedding itself into the glistening burgundy tear duct of the zombie’s right milky eye, staving off just enough momentum that Karkat doesn’t manage to pierce through the eyeball when he corrects his direction seconds later.

Heedless of the weapon, the infected continues marching forward, pushing Karkat back with a strength it definitely should not have had and slamming him into the corner wall, his head whipping forcefully against the wood harshly enough that his vision warps and blurs, causing him to sink to the ground out of sheer dizziness.

Through half shut eyes he looks up at the corpse looming over him, and for the briefest of seconds he thinks he can see the outline of a pure white circle just above its head.

Then the zombie is lunging down at him, twisted, veiny arms outstretched to hook around his shoulders and the image is all but forgotten as he struggles as best he can, his hands flailing as he presses against the neck of the zombie, desperately trying to force it’s face away from his own, even as the hands of the infected scratch and claw along his arms and face, leaving angry red streaks in their wake.

Karkat attempts to raise one of his legs to try and kick the monster off as it climbs onto him, pressing him against the floor with the aid of gravity and pinning his lower body in place as the shift in position gives the infected just enough leverage to scrape its teeth against his forehead in an audible gnashing of teeth, his pushing against its chest and neck just enough to prevent the skin from being broken.

Without any other options, the young teenager rolls over to the side, hoping to try and reverse the hold the zombie has on him, his fingers cupping around the neck of the infected and squeezing as he does so.

It does not go as planned.

Midway through the roll the zombie thrashes to the side, breaking his grip and throwing Karkat onto his side, leaving the area between his shoulder and his throat exposed for a single instant.

An instant the animated corpse is all too eager to capitalize on as it bears down on him, pressing its teeth eagerly onto the exposed flesh as the bottom of its jaw digs into his jacket before tearing into both skin and fabric with wild abandon.

The pain is not something Karkat was ever prepared for.

Each tooth sends a unique spike of pain coursing through his system, like a dozen needles pouring liquid fire through his bloodstream, turning his limbs to lead and his organs to ice. As his skin is forcibly peeled off he considers the sensation to be something like tearing off a piece of duct tape, only, it’s a dozen times stronger and being used to rip out nails from his skin.

The zombie gets up and saunters away after that, drifting to lazily stand just behind the desk as he shivers feverishly, seemingly content to allow its poison to slowly work through him.

“Y-you fucking bastard” he hisses through chattering teeth, feeling all at once like he’s in both a blizzard and a sauna, his breath coming in short, harrowing puffs “you couldn’t even finish the job, c-could you?”

There’s no response, but then, he knew there wouldn’t be. Even still, he can feel the anger welling up, the pure, untainted rage that comes with being robbed of his life and aspirations in such an undignified manner.

He wants to yell, speak, scream, do something. He does not want to accept this fate.

But he can’t. His chest and throat have gone cold and numb, and he can’t feel them anymore. His tongue sits heavy in his mouth, and he doesn’t know if he could produce any coherent sounds at this point.

Then the door is slammed opened, and Karkat hopefully twists his neck to the side, trying to see who it is, but without his light everything is dark, too dark for him to see.

He listens for a time, but hears nothing, only the static of silence invading his ears, and it isn’t until he can feel someone reaching out to him, gently taking him by the shoulders that he realizes he has lost his hearing entirely.

A soft whitish blue light fills the room, and Karkat realizes that it is Kanaya holding onto him, watching with mournful eyes, and the anger resurges, filling his entire being.

It’s not fair, he thinks. All of this is wrong.

He tries to stand and stumbles, falling back down. He looks imploringly to Kanaya, who understands instantly what he asking, and she helps him up.

God, why is he so cold?

She helps him over to the desk, which he notices is devoid of the files from earlier, and a stab of muted worry breaks through the numbness, intermingling with the persisting fury.

“The files” he rasps, and Kanaya points to the floor on the other side, where the papers have been scattered.

“S-something important” he slurs, nearly collapsing again as his legs give way “hurry.”

She takes the time to help set him on the chair first, then rounds the desk, quickly picking up and examining the papers, the light filling the room shifting with each movement she makes.

A wave of nausea churns inside Karkat’s stomach, prompting him to shakily turn to the side and rest his head between his knees. It does not help him very much as his innards continue to twist with the urge to vomit, his mouth flooding with saliva in preparation to do just that.

“Karkat?” Kanaya asks, concern laced into her voice, but he can’t hear her “Karkat, are you alright?”

She moves back around, settling the stack of papers onto the desk. Taking note of how he is slumped over, she reaches a hand out, placing it on his back to rub soothing circles.

Karkat shakily draws in a breath, still shivering, but not from the cold. For several tense seconds they remain, until finally he can’t take it anymore, pitching forward as he spews a sickly colored substance onto the floor, both of them cringing at the action.

He continues until his body is satisfied there is nothing left in his system, and he spits hurriedly, frantic to remove the foul, bitter fast from his mouth. His shivering subsides a little, but the numbness sticks.

“C-can you… r-read those?” Karkat stammers in reference to the papers. “They’re in s-some weird f-fucking language.”

“I can try.” Kanaya grimly tells him, gently taking the sheet on top of the stack.

It almost doesn’t occur to Karkat that he can hear her this time.

Almost.
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
Rose is mildly impressed at how Jade has remained so composed, despite very nearly dying.

She won’t say so, of course, not with doubt still burning in her mind and the other, unidentifiable feeling scorching her heart, and certainly not with there still being more than two zombies to take care of.

But she won’t deny that her concern and panic has mostly tapered down, tempered by the presence of Terezi and Vriska, both of whom seem confident and self assured, walking with a series of invisible threads binding their movements together, marking them as a unit more than as individuals.

Rose wishes she had that type of link with someone.

Once, there was a time she felt she may have had that level of closeness with Dave, or at least, had the potential for it. But growing up separately and with little contact has left them strangers, and sometimes, it’s only too easy to forget that he actually is her brother, never mind her twin.

She thinks that Vriska and Terezi are closer to being siblings than she and Dave are, and she feels another stab of that mysterious feeling, only, now she’s certain she can identify it.

Jealousy.

But why would she be jealous of Jade?

The question is put on hold by Vriska tapping her shoulder, and Rose makes a half hearted attempt to move out of the way of the auburn haired girl’s fingers before giving her a questioning look.

“What is it?” The blonde asks warily.

“Figures you haven’t been listening.” Vriska grouses “alright, fine. Terezi and I are gonna take these guys straight on while you go around and see if you can take any of ‘em out that way. Got it?”

“Seems simple enough.” Rose offers, setting off at a brisk pace before Vriska can tack on any sort of snarky comment, fully aware that the proud teen will be irked by her failure to attain the last word.

And indeed, Vriska is decidedly irritated by Rose leaving in such a manner, not quite enough to take her mind off her current mission, but certainly to a far enough extent that she makes a mental note to enact some sort of petty revenge in the future.

Rose is oblivious to Vriska’s newfound commitment, although even if she were aware she would not have been especially prone to caring, concerned as she is about Karkat, Kanaya, her own feelings, and the inexplicable behavior of these zombies.

Currently, it’s the last of those four she is trying to focus her thoughts onto, knowing that emotion is only going to cloud her capabilities. In less than a minute she will be fighting again, and training her mind on anything other than her upcoming opponents promises only grief and a greater potential for a fatal mistake.

There is something wrong about this mutation, she thinks, something beyond their freakish ability to climb the walls and cling to the ceiling, but she can’t seem to think of what it could be.

Not that she has the time to continue pondering, of course. As she the corner of the shelves, Rose cautiously watches for the infected, staring down the same aisle she had fled down moments earlier, noting that Terezi and Vriska have yet to engage the group of undead.

Terezi is the first one to notice her, which Rose thinks is more than a little strange, given that she is the only one of them without sight. The blonde supposes that she should not be surprised by how many hidden talents their band of survivors has, but she nonetheless takes down a mental reminder to inquire about the teal haired teen’s supernatural awareness.

Although right now, she is significantly more interested in how the infected are equally aware of her presence, two of them turning around in sluggish clockwise turns to face her, limp arms rising from their sides in preparation for grasping at her.

Instinctively leaping back a pace, Rose exhales deeply as her left heel makes contact with the cool gray wall, her flashlight, which is being held by Jade, shining brightly from the other side of the horde to strike at her eyes, blinding her until she tilts her head to the side, fingers tightening around the base of her needles.

The direction of the light means that each zombie is cast in a deep indigo shadow, blending them against the pitch black darkness of the storeroom and the gray background provided by the diffusion of the bright beam, displaying a jarring sort of contrast that isn’t entirely unwelcome, as it prevents her from making out any defining features of the zombies.

Just because she knows they are already dead does not mean killing them again is something she wants to do.

It is something she needs to do, however, so she makes herself focus on the encroaching infected, fixing them with a glare that is decidedly catlike in nature, a gaze that screams ‘predator’ and not ‘prey’, a look that would give any animal cause to turn tail and flee with the speed of a desperate, frightened squirrel that almost went too close to a speeding car.

They do not slow in their approach.

Rose does not formally know any self defense, but her cousin Roxy does, and Roxy had shown her more than a couple techniques after her near-abduction. It had been one of the conditions her almost-sister had imposed upon her in exchange for keeping the matter away from her mother.

The lessons had been brutal, to put it mildly. For nearly two weeks Roxy had put her through the paces, waking her about an hour early every morning to go for a run, forcing her to lift weights in the basement, and coercing her into other activities that Rose grew to detest with a passion unmatched by anything she had ever felt before.

Of course, all that was nothing in comparison to the so-called spars her cousin was dead-set in doing.

Every day of those two weeks contained two sparring matches, although Rose thinks that Roxy’s definition of a ‘match’ is at least a little skewed, considering each ‘match’ consisted of four rounds, each only a minute or so long. The first match would be dedicated to teaching Rose what she was actually supposed to do, and the second comprised of Roxy beating Rose up in the guise of teaching her.

At least, that’s how Rose thinks of it.

But while the now former student certainly did not keep up with the exercises after her cousin left again for college, she absolutely remembers the steps and forms she had been shown.

In hindsight, that small amount of informal training was likely what made the difference on the first day.

And now, those same lessons are making the difference once again, even if it’s not in the manner Roxy had anticipated.

Among the drills the college student had instilled in her were how to fend off knife attacks, which meant that in order to demonstrate what to do properly, Roxy had to teach her a variety of ways to use a knife, including a swift jab from a sideways stance.

It’s that particular strike Rose is making use of now, shifting her weight forward and lashing out quickly with her right hand, twisting her arm slightly in the process for more momentum and slamming her needle through the eyeball with so much force that her weapon sinks in deep enough that her fingers are scraping against the squishy, milky flesh, and she has to use an even greater force than anticipated to remove the metal rod from its brain, emitting a sickeningly wet plop that goes unheard, courtesy of the persistent, albeit dying, ring in her ears.

Recoiling, Rose is narrowly able to avoid the lunge of the second monster, who leaps at the spot Rose had occupied seconds before. Met with nothing but air the zombie hunches over, spine bending and cracking in a painful, inhuman manner in order to arrest its movement and prevent itself from sprawling onto the floor.

Then, in a way that the blonde can only describe as ‘hauntingly robotic’, the monster arches backwards, overcompensating as it tries to right itself, bones releasing eerie popping noises that are somehow loud enough to bleed through the noisy film blocking her hearing.

Unfortunately for the zombie, Rose is not one to be deterred by something as menial as a sound.

Again she lashes out, this time in a low, sweeping kick that succeeds in knocking the zombie‘s legs out from underneath it, its imbalance of weight causing it to tumble backwards and clash its head against the harsh cement floor.

And for the second time that day, Rose’s slim, unassuming needle meets a wide, unsuspecting eye.
——
“Well? Can you read it or not?”

“Karkat, aren’t you supposed to be dying right now?” Kanaya deflects in as close to a joking tone as she can manage, setting down one of several papers she had picked up.

The truth, of course, is that she can indeed understand and read what has been typed and stamped into these files. What she does not know is why Karkat thought she would, and she is not about to admit how or why she knows and is fluent in this particular language.

Although, it really isn’t exactly a language, but rather a code, seeing as it is essentially a variation of common demonic, only written as if it were reflected in a mirror. While revealing that in itself is not an especially big deal, discussing the origins of it is, since the code is used mostly by one individual in particular, and having to explain her connection to said individual...

Well. That is a scenario she is neither prepared for nor wishes to have to endure.

“Oh, hah-ha, very fucking funny.” He coughs “make fun of the guy that probably just got infected with the world-ending plague, why don’t you?”

“If it is any consolation, none of those that were successfully transformed into the undead had the reaction you did.”

“What, you mean none of those bastards went and puked their guts out, then went deaf for several minutes while suffering a fever of a thousand degrees?”

“I am fairly certain that your fever was not that high, and that you reversed the order of events.”

“Psh, does it matter?” Karkat scoffs “point is, I’m probably still dying over here. Have some empathy!”

There’s a lightness to his voice, one that tells Kanaya that even Karkat no longer believes he is still on death row, and she smiles despite the situation.

“No” she says “I don’t think you are. If you were going to turn, I believe you already would have done so.”

“How fucking reassuring” he grumbles under his breath, but his tone is still airy and high, and he genuinely does feel as if his chances have improved.

“As for these files” Kanaya starts, flipping over another paper “I cannot say I recognize the language, exactly.” It’s not technically a lie- as established, it’s not a language, but a code.

This does not make her feel any less guilty.

“Damn. Thought for sure if any of us would know some weird-ass language, it would be you.”

“What made you think that?” Kanaya asks curiously.

“I dunno” the teen shrugs “I guess it just seemed like you would. Maybe ‘cause you’re a mysterious vampire and all?” Uncertainty colors his words, devolving the latter sentence into a question.

“Ah” Kanaya offers, lapsing into a brief pause “I suppose that makes sense.”

A second pause threatens to engulf the two in a wave of treacherous silence, but stops just short of doing so as Karkat unsteadily rises to his feet, bracing himself on the back of the plush chair for support.

“Well” He grunts “we’re sure as hell getting nowhere waiting here. Let’s go see if one of the others knows what it is.”

Kanaya arches an eyebrow at his declaration.

“Are you quite sure that is the best course of action? You were just bitten. What is to say that they will not send a blade through your skull the moment they realize that?”

“You say that like you aren’t going to be there to protect me.” Karkat taunts, and Kanaya winces internally, thinking how just minutes earlier she was almost willing to abandon him entirely.

And not just him, either. All of them.

The pervasive sense of guilt is not something she is used to.

“Of course.” She murmurs quietly, and the amber eyed teen nods victoriously.

“See? But if it makes you feel better, all we really need to do is find John. I doubt even Vriska would risk trying anything if that blue clad oaf stepped in.”

Kanaya nods mutely and stands, tucking the haphazard pile of papers back into the folder. Then, thinking better of it, she withdraws the stack and neatly folds it in half before tucking them into her satchel.

“I left my chainsaw by the door. Please take care not to trip over it.”

Karkat nods in an effort to conserve his strength, and she walks around to the side of him, once again providing support as he hobbles out of the room, only pausing so she can grab her weapon.

He does not notice the artistically morbid splatters of blood on the wall, nor does he notice the carved up and butchered corpse slumped just beneath it.

If Kanaya has any say, he will never know it existed at all.
——
Dave’s plan does not go as well as he had hoped.

His awkward attempt to dislodge the zombie by stabbing at it from below has failed almost entirely. He can’t seem to jump high enough to leave anything more than a shallow cut, causing beads of thick, lumpy dark blood to drip slowly out of the wounds, which the zombie appears not to notice at all.

He wonders if it remains motionless because it is waiting for something, or if it’s somehow defective, assuming a reality defying drooling corpse is capable of being defective in the first place. Which must be the case, because Dave honestly cannot think of any other reason why this flesh eater has not attacked him already.

It makes him wonder if the monster is merely biding its time, holding until Dave lowers his guard enough that it can strike without fear.

Again, though, that would require the infected being capable of both feeling fear and knowing when Dave has lowered his guard, and the teen really isn’t sure that the zombie can do either of those things. If it could, it should have attacked him before he noticed it.

Then again, the Apocalypse should not have happened in the first place, so maybe he shouldn’t be making assumptions about the nature of violent, undead bodies.

Dave backs off several more steps, carefully moving out from underneath the zombie and towards the door he came in, fumbling blindly for the handle. Internally, he sincerely doubts it will be any less stuck than when he last tried to open it, but he knows an attempt doomed to failure is still a better option than posing as a sitting duck.

As anticipated, the metal writhes hollowly, moving only out of the sheer force Dave exerts upon it and sending a renewed pang of panic coursing from his heart up into his throat. He feels a compulsion to pound on the door and call out but doesn’t, knowing all too well that doing so will greatly increase the likelihood that the zombie will drop down and pursue him.

Given that initiating a fight in the dark seems all but a surefire way to get himself killed, Dave is not about to attempt anything else relating to knocking the zombie down, especially now that he can’t even place where it is exactly.

Fear sets in with a renewed strength as the silence around him turns electric, becoming charged with a tension that straddles a paper thin line of stasis and action, the room itself seeming to hold in a breath as he awaits for even the slightest movement to break through the intimidating sensation of impending danger.

He does not expect the sound of shattering glass to be what disrupts the blanket of quiet.

Against his expectations, however, that is exactly what he hears; a thousand splintered bells tossing out one last, unified ring before bouncing down to the counter and the floor, emitting soft chimes smothered in finality as they fall, only to be drowned out by a much heavier noise thumping onto the ground.

Dave lowers himself into a fighting stance, hand slipping off the door handle to join his other hand on the hilt of his sword. A light shines into the room from the other side of the broken glass, illuminating the narrow space and casting an orange-yellow outline over the frame of the zombie that has dropped from the ceiling.

Translucent shards crunch underneath sleek black shoes as the infected shuffles towards him, but with vision partially restored Dave is ready, mentally measuring the distance between them as he holds his stance, waiting for the monster to get within striking distance.

It never does. Instead, John comes barreling through the empty pane, sliding precariously over crystalline shards to deliver a steep kick to the zombie’s side, knocking it against the nearby shelf, where it slumps to the ground. Before Dave can even think about moving his blue eyed friend is straddling the humanoid beast, one arm keeping its head pushed against the tiled floor while the other struggles with a roll of packing tape.

With only a second of hesitation, Dave is there, forcefully grinding the skull of the zombie against the floor. He does not know what John is planning, not in the slightest, but he knows they don’t have time to argue or discuss his friend’s chosen course of action, and he’d much rather deal with the fallout of a failed plan than risk John getting bitten because he let his friend go it alone.

His hands now free, John is able to peel off a long strip of tape and hold it just in front of the zombie’s face. Realizing what he intends to do, Dave swallows harshly, but lightens the pressure he is exerting on the infected’s head anyways.

The zombie snaps to attention, snarling and growling and spitting as it violently squirms underneath John, trying to dislodge him and twist its head around to bite at his forearms. The bespectacled teen is having none of it, jamming the sticky side of the tape against the undead’s mouth and wrapping the roll several more times around to create a secure gag.

Having done this, John is still left holding a roll of tape and looking a little lost, as if he had not planned on what to do after reaching this point, but then produces a pair of scissors from his hoodie to snip the adhesive band off from the roll. After this he smooths over the part that is still sticking up and nods towards Dave.

“Can you get his legs?” The younger teen asks, eyes shining with exhilaration and worry.

“Sure.” Dave mumbles dazedly, reaching out to take the tape and scissors, setting his sword down so he can grab both tools. Scooting down to the lower body of the infected, Dave can’t help but find it a little strange that for all the thrashing the monster is doing, its legs are almost entirely still.

He can’t say if that’s anything significant, but it sure makes his life a hell of a lot easier.

Completing the task takes little time, and once done Dave leans back with a modicum of relief, but not for long, as he notices the infected has dislocated its arms in a feeble attempt to reach back and scratch at John, its blunted nails rendering the motion all but useless, although Dave guesses that it must still be at least somewhat unsettling.

‘Unsettling’ might be too underwhelming an adjective, but Dave doesn’t particularly care. It’s not like he’s going to be writing poetry or anything.

“You, uh, you need some help there?” He moves back beside John, fighting to keep a smirk off his face as he poses the question with a faint trace of sarcasm.

“Yes, actually!” John huffs, face tinged with the barest of flushes from the effort of keeping the infected pinned.

“Okay, alright. Shit. Uh, I guess the best thing to do then would be to stand up?”

“Right. Could you hold down that arm for me? It’ll probably be easier if I’m not being clawed at from both sides…”

Rather than answer, Dave does as his friend suggests, pinning the clammy, writhing limb by the wrist, where the zombie struggles to dig its fingernails into the flesh of Dave’s hand.

With the speed of a frightened gazelle John is up and stepping off the infected, leaping back a pace as the monster twists violently, spine snapping to an unnatural angle as it follows the teen’s movement and pushes against the ground in a futile bid to crane its neck around enough somehow bite him.

Dave almost feels pity for how miserable this creature is.

Almost.

“Thanks for the save.” He says, picking himself up off the floor and retrieving his sword “I, uh, I really appreciate it.” He awkwardly rubs at the nape of his neck. He’s not great at saying thanks, not in the slightest, but given his earlier epiphany about John he feels as though some effort is in order.

His friend lights up at the praise, reminding Dave just how puppy-like he is, but the expression is so wholesome and joyful that something twinges in his heart, resonating with the pure happiness swirling inside this moment.

He’s never wanted a moment to extend to eternity before.

But dammit if that isn’t exactly what he wants right now.
——
Jade really hates feeling sidelined.

She knows it’s only logical for her companions to try and keep her out of harm's way: not only is her weapon limited in usage due to the scarcity of bullets in California, but they also stand to lose access to her dreams, should she be bitten.

And with the addition of the silver eyed girl, her nighttime visions have become exponentially more valuable.

Jade still isn’t sure what to think of her. She should probably be suspicious, at least. After all, she’s never met anyone else while asleep, and the fact that she couldn’t -or wouldn’t- give her name is concerning all on its lonesome.

Then, there’s the matter of her claiming to be dead, although that’s not nearly as important or alarming as it probably should be, not when compared to the reality of vampires, precognition, zombies, deep sea monsters, and technology beyond what should be possible. Is a dead girl speaking from beyond the grave really so hard to believe in?

The answer, of course, is no. It is not.

But she does have to wonder at the why. Why now, of all times? And why her? Thanks to Kanaya and Karkat she knows she isn’t the only one with this type of ability. Surely, someone else with her power has also survived this long.

Although, come to think of it, she isn’t sure how many people are still alive at this point.

“Vriska, Terezi…” she calls gently, and they turn to her, wariness sharpening the former’s gaze while the latter seems relatively unconcerned.

“Hm? What’s up, Harley?” The casual use of her last name by Vriska takes her aback, causing hesitation to color her question, so much so that even Rose stops to peer curiously at her.

“Uhm, well… I was just wondering… how many people do you think survived? This far, I mean.”

Vriska frowns slightly, and Terezi takes the lead on answering.

“Not many, I would guess. Why do you ask?”

Jade shrugs, not entirely sure herself. “I dunno. Just curious, I guess.”

“Hm.” Terezi hums a little, contemplating her answer “perhaps you should save the curiosity for after we find our missing members.”

“Ah, yeah, you’re right! I don’t think Kanaya and Karkat could have gone that far, though.”

“Oh, it’s not just those two we need to look for” Vriska pipes up before Terezi can stop her from saying anything, the auburn haired girl turning to Rose. “Your brother ran off on his own when he heard Vantas went missing. Maryam went after him, but they must’ve gotten separated.”

There’s a sharp intake of breath from Rose, quiet enough that only Terezi notices, but nobody is especially surprised when the blonde speaks.

“I am going to go look for him.” She announces in a tone brokering no argument, then marches past Vriska and Terezi to approach Jade, taking care to step over the fallen bodies of the slain infected.

“My phone, please.”

Jade hands it to her without a word, but as Rose continues to walk away the ravenette is met with the urge to call out to her, to rush and join her in the search for Dave.

And then she remembers the way Rose has snapped at her and brushed her aside, the way she has been treated with nothing but coldness, and she stops short, words dying on the edge of her tongue.

Regret is quick to sink in; a deep, invasive sort of guilt threatening to bury her under a torrential avalanche of self-imposed reminders that this is not how a friend should act, that a real friend would offer to go with, that a real friend would try to figure out what she did wrong.

But she didn’t and she doesn’t, leaving her empty save the desire to hide and lock herself away again, preferably back on her island, with only Bec for company.

She can’t do that, though, and what’s more, she won’t. She knows better than to run away from her problems.

That does not mean that she won’t put solving a small, inconsequential issue over one that is much larger.

“C’mon” Vriska nudges her “we’ve still got some people to find.”

“Right” Jade sighs, mustering up a smile she doesn’t feel.

“Let’s go.”
——
John’s plan changes in the middles of gathering everything he needs for it.

The stunning conclusion that he doesn’t actually need to get the infected woman off the door hits him somewhere in the middle of the toy aisle, where he was searching with little luck for a fake robot arm he could use to grab onto the infected from a distance.

But, as his mind is now just telling him, there is more than one way into that room, and hammers tend to be very good at breaking glass.

Sprinting back towards the medicine counter, John presses his face against the windowpane, trying to see if he can spot Dave once more, but near as he can tell there is no sign of his friend.

Then, just as he’s drawing his arm back to smash the glass, the light from his phone catches on something long and metallic, which he recognizes to be Dave’s sword.

Following the direction of the blade, John feels a shot of panic tear through his stomach as he realizes just above Dave is another infected, this one a man, but he can’t make out any other features.

Not that it matters, exactly. A life is a life, and he has to make sure that neither the infected nor Dave does anything to hurt the other, which is definitely no small task.

For the moment, it looks like Dave and the infected are at a stalemate of sorts, so John focuses his attention on how he can peacefully restrain the infected, a thought he has been considering on and off throughout most of the road trip.

Tape. He needs tape.

John runs full-tilt to the photo booth, which is back near the front of the store. He’s never worked at a CVS, but he had taken a variety of part time jobs before the Apocalypse, and he knows that as a general sort of rule most counters in any store are packed with a variety of office supplies.

He can only hope this place will be no different.

In what is an unbelievably lucky strike of fate, just behind the photo counter is both a roll of sturdy looking packing tape and a sharp pair of red scissors, laid neatly atop a half sealed cardboard box.

Not wasting a second, John takes both the tape and scissors, shoving them into the pocket of his hoodie, and then, after a short pause, he grabs the box too, marveling for a moment at how it is much lighter than anticipated before skipping back to the window.

A quick glance inside reveals that Dave is slowly backing away from the infected, retreating towards the door. For the time being, he appears to still be relatively safe, so John turns away, looking at the row of shelves facing the window.

Setting the box down with care, John then turns his attention to clearing off the top of the shelf, occasionally turning back around to check that Dave is still alright. Having made a small, clear space John then sets the box atop the shelf, then pulls out the roll of tape and scissors, cutting off a long strip, which he then uses to secure his phone to the box, careful to angle the protruding beam of light at the windows.

Confident that the tape will hold, John pockets the roll and scissors once again, then withdraws his hammer. Mustering as much strength as he can he grips it, then turns and hurls it towards the middle sheet of glass.

John has never had the chance to watch glass shatter before, not in real life at least, but he definitely was not expecting his weapon to completely destroy the entire plane.

He can’t deny it’s a beautiful sight to see.

Not that he has much time to admire the systematic falling of the jagged, crystalline shards that disappear in the blink of an eye, because not a second after he’s vaulting himself through the slim, tight crawl space and flinging himself straight at the infected, removing all doubts and hesitation from his mind as he springs into action the second phase of his plan.

He really, really hopes he can make this work.
——
By the time they are exiting the room, Karkat has regained enough strength to walk.

Truthfully, he’s still kind of surprised he isn’t dead yet, or worse, another mindless shambling corpse.

He supposes he should be grateful for that fact, but he can’t seem to bring himself to feel anything about it at all. It’s like he’s still in shock, unable to comprehend his own mortality, and therefore equally incapable of realizing how any second now he should be dropping down lifeless.

He doesn’t drop dead though, and aside from the bout of vertigo and the feverish shaking earlier, and the fading weakness and brief lapse in his senses, he doesn’t really feel like he’s going to be dying anytime soon.

At least, he hopes not.

A tapping on his shoulder alerts him to Kanaya’s effort to garner his attention, and he utters a quiet “yes?” In return.

“Would you be alright waiting here a moment?” Kanaya asks softly “I wish to check on something.”

“Huh? Uh, yeah, sure, whatever. Just, be quick, yeah? I don’t wanna be caught without backup right now.”

“Of course.” She replies, inclining her head. Then she’s gone, vanished behind the banging and click of the door being opened and closed again.

Sighing, Karkat slumps against the wall, allowing his body to be dragged down to the floor by gravity. Even if he’s not feeling sick anymore, he still has to contend with the gnawing hunger and bone deep tiredness permeating his entire being.

Time flies by at an unregistered pace; an unfortunate side-effect of trying not to fall asleep when every other part of him wants to do nothing but that.

As a result, Karkat finds himself teasing the skin between his fingers with his sickle, poking and prodding at the delicate flesh with no clear goal in mind other than to cause enough discomfort that he does not fall into unconsciousness.

Consumed with the task of keeping himself from slipping into the realm of dreams, Karkat does not notice Terezi, Jade, and Vriska approaching him, but he does notice when the latter shines a piercing glare of white into his eyes, courtesy of her cell phone, and he hisses in response, throwing up an arm to defend against the invasive brightness.

“Karkat! Thank goodness you’re okay!” Jade tried to run to him, presumably with the intention on delivering a hug, but Vriska throws up an arm to stop her.

“Watch it, there. We don’t know if he’s been bitten.” The cerulean eyed teen murmurs, and Jade backs up a step, visibly deflated. Then, in a much louder voice, Vriska adds “why don’t you stand up, Vantas?”

He bristles at the command, but strives to do as she bids anyways, struggling to use the smooth surface of the wall to help himself up.

It takes him an embarrassingly long time to fully rise to his feet, and once he does it’s a continuous battle to remain upright, albeit one growing slightly easier with each passing second.

As he turns to fully face the trio there’s a gasp from Jade, and Karkat has to turn his head away, unable to fully face the amount of horror contained within that single sound.

“Karkat, your eyes…” she breathes, and his gaze snaps back up to her, an action that has her reeling just a little.

“They’re so… red.” The ravenette finishes lamely, and he blinks, not having expected that to be her source of anxiety.

“They are?” He blurts out, a hand reaching to brush the tips of his eyelids, as if doing so would provide any insight. Due to this motion he does not notice how both Vriska and Terezi relax just a bit at hearing him speak.

Then the door between them swings open, and out steps Kanaya, who is holding a small, folded white slip of paper in one hand and her chainsaw in the other, a decidedly worried expression plastered across her face.

An expression that instantly turns neutral and cold when she spots Vriska and the others.

“Where is Karkat?” She asks snappishly, the pressure of caring honing each syllable into a deadly, pointed sound.

“Hm? Oh, he’s right there.” If Vriska notices the daywalker’s aggravated tone she gives no indication, casually pointing to just behind the door, where the survivor in question continues bracing himself against the wall.

Without missing a beat Kanaya stalks over to him, expertly slipping through the distance between Vriska and the closing door. She then ducks down, guiding one of Karkat’s arms around her shoulder to support him.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” He asks, voice little more than a low rumble in her ear.

“Yes.” She replies “I will tell you about it once we get out of here.”

“Tell us what?” Vriska interjects impatiently “and while we’re at it, mind sharing with the class what the hell happened to Karkat to give him demon eyes?”

Kanaya fixes a severe, measuring look into her, although Vriska is largely unmoved.

“I will tell you when we get out of here” she repeats “and not a moment before.”

Having said that, Kanaya turns away to the nearest aisle, slowly helping Karkat as they leave. Behind them, Vriska huffs in annoyance and exchanges a tap on the arm with Terezi, but otherwise says nothing, before following them, Jade trailing even further behind as the bespectacled teen shoots furtive glances back at the room from where Kanaya had come out of.

Ultimately, herd instincts win out over her inquisitive nature, and she follows the others, rather than investigate the back room as her curiosity would dictate.

She can only hope that whatever Kanaya has to tell them, it won’t be anything too horrible.
——
Ordinarily, Rose would not be so concerned for her twin.

She knows as well as anyone that Dave is perfectly capable with his sword, and consequently, more than able to defend himself as needed.

Still, there remains a certain warning bouncing inside of her head, a mournful soundtrack telling her that Dave is going to die, and that is something she simply cannot accept.

Even if the source of this information is… a little less than trustworthy, Rose is not one to ignore any kind of warning, not when the safety of her family is at stake.

Finding him is a simple enough task: the store isn’t especially large, and is only made to seem that way because of the vaulted ceiling. Not to mention the overall lack of interesting areas, and the mini clinic is the only place among those she has yet to visit.

The missing sheet of glass that comes into view only affirms her suspicions, although as she comes closer, she realizes that it’s not missing, exactly.

It’s broken.

Thankfully, there aren’t any noticeable traces of blood, which means that whatever the reason for smashing the glass, Dave is more than likely alright.

Then again, she has to wonder why the glass was broken at all.

A quick peek around the corner reveals the answer to that question: a bent over undead is blocking the handle.

And by ‘blocking’, Rose means that the zombie has completely enveloped the handle within the flesh of its stomach.

The sight is gruesome, fascinatingly so, but unfortunately for the blonde she does not have the time to stop and admire the scene. She still needs to find her brother, after all.

Given that there is not any glass on her side of the counter, Rose wagers that her brother is probably still in the area, perhaps even still inside the clinic itself, which leads to her jumping up and sliding through the gaping entrance left by the missing windowpane.

Shards of the transparent, delicate material crunch underneath the soles of her sneakers as she swings her legs inside, gingerly placing her weight down, careful not to let any of the jagged edges cut through the bottoms of her shoes.

Her focus is so completely set on her task that she almost misses the luminous, milky eyes staring at her not a foot away.

Almost.

With the speed and grace of a falling cat Rose leaps forward down the center aisle behind the counter, where a sweep of her flashlight reveals the presence of a door. A check behind her shows that the zombie has yet to follow her, but she is not about to wait to see if it will take pursuit, instead throwing open the path in front of her.

She does not stop to consider why, if Dave had come this way, he did not kill the infected.

At first glance, the new room she has found herself in seems ordinary enough. Its painted walls are a sterile white, and the tiled floor is a light cream color. Two more branching doorways are presented to her- one at the back of the room, and the other all the way to the right, each a cheery off-pink color that is somewhat faded. A receptionist area claims the far corner of the room, and somewhat comfortable looking chairs for the remaining available spaces along the other walls.

Overall, the space presents the average appearance of a standard waiting room, only, Rose is fairly certain that such a small walk-in clinic like this should have no need for this type of area.

More important than the odd layout is that there isn’t any obvious sign that Dave has passed through here, or even an indication of which door he may have taken, but Rose hypothesizes that he probably went through the one across the way, given that he was searching for Karkat.

With fast, light steps Rose bounds over to the furthest door, pulling it open with no trepidation and slipping inside, only to be greeted by a scene that looks like it was ripped directly from a crime show.

The standard patient chair and scale are all there, but both have been moved to the center of the room, and the other, normal chairs typically reserved for family members have been overturned and are resting at the base of another wall, which has a strong indent in it. There is also a series of unassuming cabinets against the back corner that have been thrown wide open, and a smattering of diagrams depicting various areas of the human body have been scattered across the floor.

Frowning to herself, Rose moves to investigate the cabinets. As she gets closer, a soft sort of whistling sound becomes increasingly more audible, and when she ducks down to view the lower set she is more than a little shocked to see a large, gaping tunnel in place of where ordinary shelves should be.

It looks to be damp and cold, and Rose definitely does not want to go down there. More than ever, she is certain this is no ordinary drugstore, and something tells her that she does not truly want to find out why that is.

But if there’s one thing she knows about her family, it’s that they are all invariably drawn to danger, which means her brother is doubtlessly under there.

It also means that she is going to be there, too.

Shuffling her needles to be held in the same hand as her phone, Rose begins her descent down the craggy tunnel, wrists splayed to the sides of the pathway to grip at the uneven rocks. As she passes the threshold between the cabinet interior and the cavernous hallway, her fingertips brush over an indented wooden slate which, upon closer inspection, appears to be a fake back panel for the cabinet itself.

It’s an interesting mechanism, one that Rose would not be adverse to studying further if she did not currently have a much more important mission in front of her.

Climbing down is a tense, albeit not especially difficult, affair. Despite the chill in the air her shirt seems determined to cling to the uneven walls, and while the slope of the tunnel isn’t terribly steep she is not about to risk falling any distance, and as such grasps at the walls with more force than strictly necessary.

Thankfully, the passageway is not a particularly long one, and after only a couple minutes of sliding down the passage she can see a bright light marking the end of it, a light that has her even more on edge, given both its unnatural quality and the fact that the rest of the facility has been seemingly without power.

As the blonde prepares to exit the mouth of the rocky corridor, the sound of arguing reaches her ears, and a sense of relief wells up internally as she recognizes the voices as belonging to Dave and John. Her relief turns out to be short-lived, however, as she tunes in to what exactly they are fighting about.

“We can’t just leave them here!” The louder voice -John, judging by the higher pitch and squeaky undertone- cries.

“John, buddy, listen. I get that you wanna help them, I really do. I do too. But letting them loose like this- it’s not gonna help anyone. They’re too far gone.” Dave speaks lowly, in a measured tone with a severity that Rose has never heard him use.

She thinks it suits him more than it probably should.

A pained noise rings out from John, the kind that starts in the throat and escapes through closed lips, particularly when one feels a conflict between mind and heart, and Rose feels a pang of sympathy for both boys. Sometimes it’s all too easy to forget what they are going through themselves, especially John, having actually lost someone he cares about.

Cared about, she corrects mentally. Past tense.

“I know that.” John whispers brokenly, and the distant echo of footsteps tells Rose that her brother has closed whatever distance was between the two of them. She imagines Dave laying a comforting hand on his shoulder, or perhaps even embracing him.

The thought is revolting, but at the same time it provokes a craving for a similar interaction of her own, and with it, an almost jealous sensation in her heart.

It seems that particular emotion is going to be one she becomes all too familiar with.

“Listen” Dave says, drawing her attention away from her own thoughts “I get it. And I’m really, really sorry about what happened to your father. If there was anything I could’ve done differently, I would’ve. But there wasn’t, and protecting these guys now isn’t going to change that fact.”

There’s a tense, static pause, and then:

“I never blamed you for doing that, Dave. I-I know you were only doing w-what you thought w-was best.” His voice is wobbly and unsteady, like he’s on the verge of tears, and Rose feels very much like an intruder, but leaving might give her away, so she stays.

“That doesn’t change the fact that I feel like shit about it.”

Another pause, this one interlaced with sniffles from John, who Rose knows will be breaking down into full on sobs anytime now, if she knows anything about him at all.

Twenty eight seconds later, he does.

Thirty two seconds later, Rose leaves under the cover of John’s loud, ugly cries, and the sterner sound of Dave trying to comfort him.

Her curiosity about the hidden chamber, and the aforementioned ‘them’, is abandoned somewhere between the two.
——
When Dave and John enter through the mysterious back door, Dave is instantly taken aback by how much the reception room definitely does not belong.

Being raised by his older cousin has left him seeing his fair share of small walk-in clinics, and more than once he’s gone into one at a CVS, and he can confidently say that they do not have rooms like this.

“Well, that’s weird.”

“What’s weird?” John pipes, not quite off the high brought about by successfully sparing the infected man in the room behind them.

“What’s weird is that this room has about as much business being here as a unicorn does at a baseball game. Provided said baseball game is actually a cover up for a catfish fighting ring, and the unicorn is attracted to only the purest of maidens.”

John blinks, trying to make sense of what his friend is saying.

“You know, I was wondering when you were going to go back to your stupid metaphors.”

“Shut up, my metaphors are great and you know it.”

“Only If by ‘great’ you mean ‘indecipherable’.” John teases, and Dave scowls, marching towards the door on the opposite end of the room as a way to brush the comment off.

“Psh, whatever man. You’re just sayin’ that ‘cause you don’t get ‘em.” He yanks open the door, gesturing for John to go first. “Seriously, though.” He continues as the blue eyed teen enters “there really is something wrong here.”

John stops cold in the doorway, causing Dave to stumble into him from behind.

“Dude, what the hell?” He exclaims, prodding his friend in the back, but John has gone stiff as a board, and is all but unresponsive.

“C’mon, man. This ain’t the time for getting cold feet. We gotta find Karkat, remember?”

The reminder sets the blue eyed teen in motion, pitching forward into the room and ducking behind the door frame to allow Dave a look at what has him so shaken.

The room, which he would otherwise define as an ordinary exam room, has been completely ransacked, with chairs and papers knocked over and strewn about, as though whoever was responsible was searching frantically for somethings, and to that end the cupboards stacked against the far side of the room have also been thrown open.

A glance to the ceiling shows that the perpetrator was, at the very least, fast enough to escape the room before turning, but escape to where exactly Dave doesn’t know.

“Hey, Dave, do you hear that?” John’s voice distracts him from having to think too terribly hard about what the person responsible may have been trying to do.

“No.”

“Over there, by the cupboards.”

Dave still can’t hear what exactly his friend is talking about, but rather than admit that he moves closer to the location in question, peering inside the wide open storage spaces as he nears, the area illuminated by John peering over his shoulder with his flashlight.

All at once, both the noise and the answer to his previously burning question become abundantly clear.

“Dave, you’re seeing what I’m seeing, right?”

“You mean the big-ass tunnel that belongs in one of those goddamn nature shows about caves?”

“Yeah, that.”

“Unless we both took a wrong turn into wonderland, and this is just some batshit hallucination brought about by falling asleep in a magic pool of weed, yeah. I see that.”

John giggles at this, and even though it’s supposed to be an innocent act, the uncannily high pitch reminds Dave of some kind of third rate villain from a series of terrible horror movie spin offs he used to watch. Combined with the dark atmosphere of walking corpses and near silence, it’s downright creepy, and he can’t repress the gooseflesh that crawls across his arms and spine.

“I’m gonna go ahead and guess you wanna investigate the dark spooky cave.” The blonde adds, sighing to cover up the waver of fear that gets expressed in his words.

Were he with anyone but John, they undoubtedly would have noticed his blatant attempt to hide his fear, and might have even offered to let him wait outside the tunnel, or perhaps even called off going down there without additional backup.

This is John, however. And while John is a great many other things, he is not anyone else. As a result, Dave’s concern goes unnoticed, and is even mistaken for enthusiasm.

“You know me so well!” John exclaims without a single ounce of sarcasm “do you want to go first, or shall I?”

“Naw, I’ll go.” Dave says, knowing that if he declines the offer to go first, it will make him seem cowardly “just be careful with the light, yeah? I don’t want any goddamn surprises. Not one, ya hear?”

“You got it, chief!” John gives him a mock salute, an earnest smile stretched across his face, and with a final exhale to steel his nerves Dave flattens himself to the floor and inches into the cool, rocky burrow, John following close behind.

Dave is almost completely covered in sweat by the time the tunnel deposits them into a bright, spacious room, and he isn’t perspiring because of exertion.

Thankfully, he is able to wipe away most of it onto his sleeve before John can notice.

A cursory inspection of the room has the blonde relaxing just a little, but only because the room does not appear to be home to any zombies. Instead, the space is bisected by a simple white curtain, beyond which Dave can only guess as to what is being hidden behind it.

As long as it isn’t another infected, he’s pretty sure it can’t be that bad. Probably a meth farm or some other drug related operation, were he to guess.

Although it figures that the one place they stop at for food would not only have a bunch of weird spider zombies, but would also secretly be a cover up for a cartel or gang. It seems that the unusual is attracted to their group like pilot fish to sharks, only the fish are leeches, and not the small kind either.

At least the part of the room they can see doesn’t appear too horrifying. A series of filing cabinets are placed against the far wall next to a row of shelves, the latter of which contains a variety of neatly labeled vials, which are held in these special white containers that reminds Dave of the rings used to contain cans of soda, the ones that people are always complaining about getting into the ocean and killing wildlife.

Or rather, were complaining. Dave supposes now there isn’t enough people left to care about that kind of thing.

Not that the thought is especially pertinent to what they are currently doing, which is searching for Karkat.

“Dave, I don’t think he’s down here.” John ventures, and even as Dave is forming the same conclusion the blonde still finds his lips curling to protest.

“Let’s search back there first.” Dave points to behind the curtain, and a flicker in John’s eyes tells him that his companion really does not want to.

“You can wait here if you want.” The sunglass wearing teen offers “I’ll only be like two seconds.” He starts walking as he speaks, and out of instinct John follows him, mostly due to the fact that he is more scared of being left alone than he is afraid of what they might find.

The curtain is thick and heavy, and the rungs attaching it to the ceiling screech loudly as Dave pushes it to the side and out of his line of vision.

Out of everything he expected to see, shiny silver cages was not one of them.

More specifically, shiny silver cages containing what appear to be the corpses of half a dozen people, ranging in everything from age to gender to skin color. All of them are dressed in white hospital gowns (a fact Dave is mildly grateful for), and some of them are even bound and handcuffed.

He doesn’t know what to do.

Beside him, there’s a sharp intake of breath from John, and then his bespectacled friend is racing towards the closest cage, where a girl no older than twenty two is curled into a tight ball, silver duct tape wrapped around her legs and arms. Her back is to the wall, her head slumped between her knees.

There’s no response as John approaches her, but then, Dave didn’t expect there to be one.

“We have to help her.” John mutters, more to himself than Dave, who is still too shocked to do anything, before brushing past the blonde, presumably to search for the key ring that unlocks the heavy locks on the doors.

The subtle contact made as the blue eyed teen walks past is enough to shake him out of his stupor, and he dazedly turns around to watch John as he speeds over to the desk and begins rifling through the desk and filing cabinets.

For several moments Dave simply watches as his friend searches through drawer after drawer, becoming increasingly distraught as he turns up nothing resembling a key that would allow him to unlock the doors.

“John” He starts quietly “we should leave.”

“No! We can’t just leave them here!” John protests loudly, and Dave winces a little.

“John, buddy, listen.” Dave tries again, pausing to swallow harshly “I get that you wanna help them, I really do. I do too. But letting them loose like this- it’s not gonna help anyone. They’re too far gone.”

They don’t that for sure, of course. But even if they haven’t been turned, Dave knows that human beings can only go so long without food and water, not to mention contact with others. It’s all but certain at this point that these unfortunate souls are either dead or zombies.

John closes his eyes, and they wait for what feels like an eternity. Then, in a torn, broken whisper, he says “I know.”

It hits Dave like a sucker punch, hearing this admission of defeat from his friend, even if it’s more or less what he wanted.

“Listen” He repeats after a few seconds, shuffling towards his friend and laying a hand on each of John’s shoulders “I get it.” John looks up, blue eyes wet and gleaming “And I’m really, really sorry about what happened to your father. If there was anything I could’ve done differently, I would’ve. But there wasn’t, and protecting these guys now isn’t going to change that fact.”

“I never blamed you for doing that, Dave.” John replies, lip wavering perilously “ I-I know you were only doing w-what you thought w-was best.”

Dave has never been more grateful for the sunglasses that hide his expression.

“That doesn’t change the fact that I feel like shit about it.” He mumbles softly, looking at the floor behind his dark lenses and letting go of John as he backs up, no longer able to hold John’s earnest gaze.

“Dave…” the hoodie clad teen bites his lip, trying to think of something else to say, but the blonde is already turning away.

“Well, we should regroup with the others. I bet they’ve found Karkat by now. Maybe we can drag him down here and get him to open up the cages. At least give these poor bastards some kind of sendoff.”

“No, it… it’s okay.” John contests “we need to get to the safe house anyways.”

Dave takes a long, hard look at his companion.

“John” He says slowly “it’s not okay. If we can’t take the time to remember everything -everyone- we’ve lost… well, what’s even the fucking point of looking for answers?”

It’s odd, how easily their stances have reversed. But John still nods, finding sense in his words.

“Alright” he agrees “let’s go get the others.”
——
When John and Dave join them outside the store, Terezi just knows that things have gotten increasingly complicated, and probably not in a good way.

Not to say that they weren’t screwed seven ways to Sunday already. But their arrival is certainly the poisonous icing on an already deadly cake.

Kanaya and Karkat may be keeping their lips sealed about what happened to give him cherry eyes, but the coppery tang of blood looming over Karkat, coupled with the way he is favoring one arm over the other, provides a pretty clear narrative.

At least, a clear narrative to her.

Vriska doesn’t seem to have caught on to the extent she has, but her auburn haired friend also seems more concerned with the tension forming between Rose and Jade, and the reason for that is currently eluding the blind teen.

Terezi isn’t going to pry, though. She doesn’t like involving herself in unnecessary drama. Besides, she doesn’t need to do everything Vriska does.

Currently, she’s sitting on the ground in the shade of the building, absentmindedly petting Bec while she observes the others.

On the other side of the fluffy canine is Jade, who is also petting the dog whilst nodding along to Vriska, who is trying to coerce both the rifle wielding girl and Rose into discussing how surprising it is that John actually summoned up the courage to go after Dave.

A conversation that Rose is very clearly not listening to, as the blonde is instead staring in Kanaya’s general direction with an aura that resembles determination, and Terezi can only guess as to what her thoughts actually are.

Meanwhile Kanaya, having fussed over Karkat long enough, has resigned herself to anxiously watching the door for the arrival of the other two, whom Rose has assured the group were not far behind her. As she observes Terezi notes that the vampire is subconsciously twisting the small slip of paper in her hands into a variety of shapes, and finds it strange, considering Kanaya has thus far been extraordinarily calm throughout the five days they have known each other.

Compared to Karkat though, Terezi would be hard pressed to call her anything but relaxed.

The now cherry eyed boy is pacing in a circle, muttering with a volume that is not quite under his breath. Despite his best attempts to keep his worried murmuring quiet, Terezi is fairly certain that absolutely everyone can hear his whispers, and that someone (probably Vriska) is going to snap at him if he doesn’t stop.

Thankfully, he does cease his blathering when the missing duo shows up, bursting through the doors as if being chased by an entire stampede.

Without missing a beat,, John, marches up to Karkat and grasps him by the arm, causing the shorter boy to hiss and recoil in pain.

“What the fuck are you doing?” He grinds out, eyes flashing, and only Terezi notices the way both Kanaya and Dave shift their weight and tense, each ready to jump in and break up any potential fight.

“Ah, s-Sorry” John gasps, noticeably winded, and Karkat blinks, aggression fading from his body “there’s… something in there we… n-need your help with.”

“Hell no. No fucking way am I going back in that death trap.”

“Dude, please.” Dave steps forward, and Terezi takes a moment to silently admire his decision to let John speak first so he could catch his breath, thereby making it appear as if he was perfectly fine after running.

Too bad she can hear his heartbeat telling the true story.

Even before Karkat responds she knows he’s going to agree, and he does, but not before shooting a backwards glance to Kanaya, who gives him a half nod half shrug that is quite possibly the most ambiguous gesture Terezi has ever known anyone to use.

And she’s best friends with Vriska Serket.

“Alright, fine. But what do you need my help for, exactly?”
——
“You do know that it would be much faster to just have Kanaya cut through these, right?”

Dave’s response if stunned silence is more than a little amusing to Terezi as she listens in on Karkat’s tirade as he begrudgingly picks open the padlocks.

“And why the hell do you even want these open in the first place? I know you’re kind of an idiot, but it would be a new level of stupidity if you think there’s a chance these guys are still alive. Hell, they could be infected for all we know!”

“They’d have to be the worst zombies in the world not to rise at all your whining.” Terezi cuts in mirthfully, no longer able to keep out of the conversation, and she feels a wave of success as she detects Dave biting hard on his tongue to avoid snickering.

Karkat huffs angrily under his breath, ire raising at her jibe, but he doesn’t do anything more than that, focused as he is on the lock in front of him.

“Hey, ‘Rezi, get over here!” Vriska suddenly shouts from the other side of the curtain, and Terezi hops up from the floor and gives Dave and Karkat a mock bow.

“Excuse me, boys. Duty calls.” She sing-songs and exits the room, not missing the sigh of exasperation from behind.

He’s not really upset with her, though. In fact, Terezi is fairly certain that the real reason Karkat is being so short right now has to do with why his eyes are red.

Well, that, and the fact that both John and Dave have yet to notice or comment on it.

Speaking of John, the student turned survivor seems to have taken up Karkat’s role, as he is currently pacing along the walls, Bec padding beside him as he goes.

The scene is, in one word, adorable, and it almost makes Terezi wish she had taken the opportunity to get a pet of her own back when she had it.

Almost.

Rose is over by the desk, searching through each drawer meticulously, probably for something that can identify what was going on here. A few paces away from the blonde is Kanaya, Jade, and Vriska, the latter of them holding the same slip Kanaya was earlier while Jade holds open a slim file of other papers.

“You rang?” Terezi calls out as she skips over.

“Look at this.” Vriska gestures to the papers in Jade’s hands, and Terezi gives her a mirthful stare from behind opaque crimson shades that she knows her friend can feel.

“Terezi.” Vriska prompts in a low, serious tone, and the teen in question instantly drops her playful demeanor, recognizing that this is not the time for messing around.

“Fine, fine. Give it here.”

Jade wordlessly hands over the file, watching with curiosity as Terezi brings it to her nose and sniffs the topmost page, recoiling almost instantly.

“Shit” she coughs, and she can feel Vriska’s mood turn even more grim.

“Shit is right.” Her cerulean eyed friend agrees, and Kanaya gives both of them an alarmed look.

“What is it?” The vampire asks apprehensively.

“Well” Vriska drawls “it’s kinda a long story. But the long and short of it is that we know someone that uses this script and he’s a goddamn psychopath.”

Terezi snorts. “That’s putting it mildly.”

“Everyone, I believe you may wish to take a look at this.” Rose calls from the desk, holding up a folder that is almost identical to the one Terezi is holding.

Then, before anyone can move, the curtains are rustling and Dave is sticking his head out.

“Yo, dudes. You are not gonna believe this.” He says, and John stops his pacing and perks up.

“Are, are any of them alive?” The blue eyed teen asks hopefully, and Dave winces and shakes his head.

“Uh, no. Sorry. But there is somethin’ else. You might wanna come take a look, sis.” He directs the last part of his statement towards Rose, who nods and gets up to follow him, as do the others.

Terezi follows last, lingering behind long enough that Bec comes up and nuzzles her leg, and she leans down to give him a gentle pat behind his ears.

“We really don’t do normal, do we boy?” She asks aloud, and he sneezes in response.

“Yeah, didn’t think so.”

She pets him a moment longer, just until she hears Vriska call for him to hurry up.

“Guess we should go see what all the fuss is about.” She straightens her spine, and Bec walks close enough for his fur to brush her leg as they move to join the others.

She really, really hopes that things aren’t about to get even worse.
——
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Chapter Text

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——
——
Miles away, but not many…

A young adult woman stands in a spacious kitchen, carefully balancing a plate of waffles onto a tray. After six days of watching the world around her be consumed by the living dead, and in that time not encountering a single survivor outside of her friends, she has been informed that she will be meeting not just one, but eight others that have also lived this far.

Normally, she would be apprehensive about letting strangers into her home, but there are more than a few extenuating circumstances around this group.

For starters, two of the eight are related to her best friend. Are her cousins, in fact, and she is not one to begrudge family ties. If her friend is going to vouch for them, well, they can’t possibly be bad to begin with.

More than that, she really could use the reassurance that there are other people out there. She loves her friends, she really does, but four people against the entire world are not odds that she particularly likes. To be fair, twelve against the entire world is not significantly better, but it would at least make her feel a little better.

“Everything all right in here, Jane?” A heavily accented voice calls from the doorway, and Jane half turns to see him.

Sunlight from the large window illuminates a tanned face, atop which tousled, messy dark brown hair rests. Deep forest colored eyes peer curiously at her from behind thick square glasses that are altogether both dorky and charming. The rest of his attire also matches those particular adjectives, Jane notes, observing that her friend has chosen a green polo of similar shade to his eyes and his trademark tan cargo shorts, which are held up by a slim back belt, attached to which are dual holsters for his twin pistols.

All in all, he looks decided good for someone living in the End Times.

“Good morning, Jake” she sighs, mustering up a smile that is clearly fake but she knows will fool him anyways “yes, everything is in order here.”

“Ah, good, good.” He says nervously, hands moving to fiddle with his collar, despite the fact that it remains crisp and straight. For a time he says nothing, continuing to awkwardly lounge in the doorway as he waits for Jane to continue the conversation and ask after what is on his mind.

Perhaps, if Jane were not so concerned with Roxy, she would be inclined to delve into what is bothering him. Heaven knows that before the Apocalypse she was always lending an ear to his problems.

Even when said problems has her wanting to rip her heart out.

It’s not his fault, of course. Jake English simply has an incredible talent for being wholesomely oblivious, while she has the complete inability to express any kind of feelings towards him, including but limited to emotions resembling annoyance and a little four letter word that starts with ‘L’ and ends in ‘E’.

Although living with him for so long has certainly helped to extinguish sensations of the latter sentiment.

And perhaps that, more than anything, is why she does not respond to his silent plea for a conversation, instead allowing the atmosphere around them to lapse into uncomfortable silence as she pretends to fuss over the arrangement of the tray, switching the butter knife over to rest on the opposite side of the plate as the fork, pretending to think better of it, changing it back, and then straightening it.

Jake does not get the hint.

She knew he wouldn’t.

She had to try anyways.

“Is there something you needed, Jake?” She caves at last, annoyed with herself both for surrendering and for being annoyed with him at all.

It’s of little consolation that she retains a single ribbon of dignity by not turning around to face him.

“Oh! Yes, um, well actually…” he stumbles around his words for a moment, as if surprised that she spoke up at all, and she’s reminded that he really has not changed a bit from their first days of friendship.

A friendship that started almost three years ago, when they both were still in high school.

He had been the mysterious transfer student from the U.K, and she had happened to be one of the only student leaders with a free first period. She had been charmed by his nature as an outsider and he had latched onto her as the first person he had talked to.

Later that night, after she had gone home, she had struck up a video chat with Roxy and confessed her (admittedly superficial) attraction, and naturally the blonde saw fit to interject herself into the matter, somehow not only learning Jake’s school email, but also hacking into Jane’s, from which she sent Jake an email asking after the rest of his schedule, and if he wanted to meet up during lunch.

Jane has been far too afraid of the entire debacle coming across as a cruel prank after it was discovered they had the same lunch, as suddenly turning around and saying that she did not mean to email him would probably crush his spirits.

She knows it would’ve crushed her own, had she been in his position.

“... and I’m not really sure if I’m ready for something like that…”

From that point on, however, it was relatively smooth sailing. In terms of a strictly platonic friendship, at least.

Which was fine, even if not exactly what she wanted. They were still just in high school, after all. There wasn’t truly a point in rushing anything.

And then summer came, and that changed everything.

Every summer, for almost as long as Jane could remember, Roxy would come visit for a month or so, staying in her mother’s estate during that time to look after it. It was over one of these stays the two had met, in fact, and so it had become a custom for the two girls to dedicate that entire month to doing as many stereotypical high school girl things as they could.

Three things changed that dynamic entirely. Or, more accurately, three people: Jake, Dirk, and Calliope.

For despite being as well-liked in school as she was, Jane did not have a high number of people that she considered ‘close friends’, and as such, had never needed to split her attention during these months between Roxy and someone else.

On her end, Roxy had never been accompanied by her twin, and neither of them really had any clue in how to handle it. Dirk, while mostly content to stay in his room doing who knows what, had never had much of a chance to get to know his sister, and had switched between a mix of wanting to develop a relationship and trying to respect her routine.

And then, there was Calliope.

“... but that’s not really fair of me. Why, I haven’t even met them yet! For all I know, they could be-“

“Jake” she interrupts “breathe.”

He does so, pausing dramatically to inhale a lungful of air before exhaling deeply with a loud sigh that is dangerously close to aggravating, and Jane has to take subtler breaths of her own to calm herself.

She wonders if maybe it’s just getting closer to that time of the month, then discards any further thought into her current mental state.

For now, she needs to focus on helping Jake so she can go take care of Roxy.

“Now” she says serenely, not betraying in any way her emotions “why exactly are you so worried about the newcomers?”
——
“And why exactly did you want me in particular to examine these?”

Dave shrugs, an aura of nonchalance masking his growing uncertainty about asking Rose to look at the strange symbol burned into the skin of the prisoner’s neck.

Granted, that is not the only oddity about the dead woman he wanted her opinion on. But it is the one he felt his sister would know about.

“I dunno. You’re the one that was into all that Eldritch shit in the first place.”

Her face twitches, caught between a grimace and a preemptive readiness to deliver an acerbic retort, neither of which fully happen.

“You are not entirely incorrect, I suppose. I do, in fact, recognize this symbol.” She says slowly, as if the admission itself is something painful, and Dave feels a sense of both victory and relief that he is not coming across as a complete moron for turning to her for this matter.

“And what, pray tell, does it mean?” Vriska demands impatiently, and Rose delicately traces a finger over the smooth burn marks before responding, still kneeling over the corpse on the cool floor.

“Bearing in mind that I am by no means a complete expert in this sort of thing, it is my personal opinion that this symbol is almost identical to the one used to symbolize the Guardian.”

She doesn’t bother to explain who or what the Guardian is, but whether that is due to her attention being captured by the brand on the throat of the dead girl or a deep reverie about her days of researching mythical gods of darkness, none can say.

It feels almost like some kind of verbal trap to ask about it, however, so none of them press her on the subject.

“O-kay then.” Vriska drawls “Terezi, what are the odds it actually has something to do with… whatever the hell a guardian is?”

“Not a guardian” Rose absentmindedly interjects “The Guardian. The First Guardian, if you wish to be precise.”

Behind her, Vriska rolls her eyes, but decides it to be a waste of breath to bequeath a sarcastic reply to the blonde.

“Fine, then. Terezi, what are-“

“Low. Unless you consider our lives are essentially a giant mash of statistical improbability and nonsense, in which case I must inform you there is a high chance of correlation.”

“Really?” John blurts out “I think this was all pretty probable.”

There’s a moment of silence, and then:

“The court motions for that sentence to be stricken from the record, and for the jury to disregard, out of sheer stupidity of said sentence.”

“Motion fucking seconded.” Karkat adds with a scowl, and John raises his hands as he tries to defend himself.

“No, wait, hear me out!” He cries, and despite how nobody is really focused on him, he continues “it’s like this, right? Everything either happens or it doesn’t. Fifty-fifty!”

Terezi wrinkles her nose.

“What, like a coin toss?”

The world slows around John for just a bit, memories of mockery and teasing boiling to the surface of his mind for the barest of instances, bringing with them one memory in particular that he does not wish to focus on.

“Yeah” he says, subdued “something like that.”

She arches an eyebrow at him, and he knows that he’s been far more obvious about it than intended, but she doesn’t ask about it.

At least, for the time being she doesn’t.

“Kanaya” Rose calls out, seemingly finished with her internal ponderings “does vampire culture have anything to say about different deities?”

The ravenette nods, then, realizing Rose is not looking directly at her to see the action, clears her throat to speak aloud.

“Yes” she says “although most of it is heavily dependent on the family. There is no centralized ideology.”

“Hm.” Rose hums “Well, odd as the brands are, I do not believe we have enough evidence to say anything conclusive about the reasoning behind the marks.”

“What, you’re not gonna tell us about this mysterious ‘Guardian’?” Dave draws quotation marks in the air with his fingers, and Rose treats him to a small slip of a smile that is sure to infuriate him.

“Why would I, when we have a much more informative document right here?” She taps a slim folder next to her, and Dave experiences a surge of recollection, remembering that she too had something to share with the group.

“Well, don’t keep us in suspense. Unless you were planning on starting a goddamn betting ring over its contents.” Karkat snarks from the corner, arms crossed as he radiates an aura of bitterness, still not over being forced to agonize over picking the lock.

Rose taps her chin, pretending to consider the teen’s sarcastic suggestion, and there’s a collective groan from both Vriska and Terezi.

“Just open the fucking folder, would ya?” Vriska snaps “In case you’ve forgotten, we do have somewhere to be.”

Under ordinary circumstances, the fuschia eyed survivor would have drawn out her contemplation longer, if only for the sake of getting under the other girl’s skin.

But these are not ordinary circumstances, and try as she might to not show it, Rose is as tired of traveling as the others are. With this in mind, Rose concedes, reaching for the file, and in the span of the few seconds it takes her to do so a large, furry white blur streaks across the room, leaping over Rose’s lap and scooping the papers into his jaws before retreating just as quickly to back behind the curtain.

“Bec!” Jade cries, tearing after the canine, and after a round of exchanging befuddled looks the others follow, not quite believing what has just occurred.

By the time Rose peels back the curtain and enters the other room Jade has already wrestled the pages away and is scolding Bec, who looks as ashamed as any dog Rose has ever seen, with his head lowered and ears flat against his skull, eyes staring pleadingly upwards to meet Jade’s.

“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over him!” She apologizes to her friends, casting a worried look over Bec, who is now making a high pitched whining noise from deep inside his throat.

“He is not usually like this, is he?” Rose inquires, ignoring Jade’s comment, and the ravenette shakes her head.

“No. You saw how he’s been the rest of this trip. Normally, he’s super well behaved.”

She offers a hand out to Bec, who carefully steps forward to sniff it, and then allows Jade to stroke his fur, even as he continues to make the same keening noises.

“Here” the green eyed survivor whispers “go ahead and take it.” She extends the file out towards Rose, who grabs it gingerly, anticipating that at any moment Bec could leap up at her and try to take it again.

Deciding that proximity to the animal is probably not the smartest idea at the moment, she moves away towards the desk, holding up a hand to the others to signal for them to stay.

She isn’t even five paces away before Bec strains forward, his movement halted only by Jade gripping the scruff of his neck.

“Shh, shh” she tries to calm him down, but he doesn’t even seem to register her words, growling and snarling as Rose opens the folder, preparing to share what is inside.

And then the lights die, and all they can see is black.
——
Jane is still only half-listening to Jake when he finally reaches the conclusion that worrying about the new survivors is pointless.

By this point, the waffles have gone cold, as has the cup of hot chocolate she had made earlier, knowing it to be one of the few drinks Roxy can handle drinking, aside from water.

Honestly, she’s kind of amazed at how well her friend is recovering, given that she has essentially gone completely cold turkey in ceasing her consumption of alcohol.

She doesn’t blame Roxy, of course. Between her trying home life and what had happened, she doubts many other people would have been able to handle the situation as well as she did.

Provided alcoholism is considered a good outcome, of course. But to Jane, who knows how much her best friend was hurting, and how close she was to following in Calliope’s footsteps, she thinks frequent intoxication is a small price to pay for continued life.

Footsteps accompany a loud “Thank you for your help!” From Jake, and once he is gone she can’t help but sigh in relief, as she can now focus on recreating the breakfast she had put together for her friend.

The hot chocolate is an easy enough fix- a minute and a half in the microwave is all that is needed to return it to the warm temperature of earlier. Jane is reminded that she still needs to deliver her gratitude to Dirk for ensuring they will still have power, even after the rest of the city doesn’t.

She knows he won’t accept an up-front ‘thank you’, but whether that’s because he’s bashful or if he simply doesn’t think the work he does is worthy of praise remains to be seen.

Which is why she has arranged something else to express her appreciation.

She can only hope he won’t reject that, too.

For now, she contents herself with being thankful that she had chosen to use the frozen waffles instead of making them from scratch, and that it is an easy remedy.

The shiny surface of the freezer door reflects back her current state, and Jane freezes a moment, drinking in her reflection.

The woman that stares back at her is plain, even if she is distorted by the smooth black of the refrigerator door. Her hair is short, black, and neat, styled in such a way that none of it hanged in front of her glasses, which frame unremarkable blue eyes. She’s short and curvy, but more in a way that suggests her figure to be plump and not necessarily voluptuous.

For the most part, Jane isn’t especially concerned with her appearance. She never has been, always preferring to better her skills and experiences rather than her looks.

The same holds true now, only, she thinks that maybe she looks a little too normal.

Her clothes aren’t ripped or bloodied or dirty, her eyes aren’t haunted the same way Roxy’s are, and were it not for the pitchfork leaning against the counter, she would appear wholly unguarded and at ease.

And she is, really. Aside from the first day, she hasn’t seen any more of the undead. None of them have, actually, and have instead been working on preparing the mansion for the long term future and setting up for the arrival of the other eight.

She opens the door and removes the package of frozen waffles and wonders how much of their current lifestyle is going to change when they arrive.

When she takes two of them out and loads them into the toaster, she amends her thoughts to ponder how much her current lifestyle will change.

Jane Crocker is not a fighter, not by a long shot. She’s a support unit, meant to stay behind in safety.

This isn’t a role she minds, necessarily. Without someone to ground them, her friends are all prone to spontaneous self-destruction.

The toaster dings and she removes the waffles, scooping them onto a new plate and tucking the cold waffles back into the fridge. Someone will eat them later, she knows.

But as she loads up the tray a second time and starts towards the basement, she has to wonder.

Is she really the one that keeps them bonded? The one preventing their group from falling apart?

Somehow, she doesn’t think so.
——
The sound of footsteps can be heard over the absence of light, and nobody is more terrified about it than Karkat.

Or at least, nobody would be more terrified if it weren’t for the explosion of pain attacking his brain, invisible swords leaving imaginary trails of misery as they repeatedly stab into his cranial organ and withdraw, each time bringing with them a renewed torture that has him clutching the sides of his head, all other senses robbed from him as he gasps, suddenly wholly and completely convinced he is dying.

A light shines onto him and a shriek tears the atmosphere asunder, rending it into static particles of charged silence that just barely contain echoes of the same noise. He flails wildly, lashing out to do something, maybe to try and collect the particles- he’s not sure himself. They don’t collect in his hands or his nails, however, and he wails, distantly concluding that if only he could get enough of them, maybe the agony ripping through his mind would dissipate.

He’s not sure where exactly he decides that using his mouth to try and get them would be a good idea. Later, when he talks over his experience with Kanaya and Rose, the latter will suggest that it is perhaps tied to a memory of capturing snowflakes on his tongue.

In the moment, no thought such as this occurs to him. Instead, the fleeting idea that he needs to somehow get these flakes- which he can see only in his mind- and that they are falling, and his hands are not working, and he needs to do something.

So he bends his neck downwards and opens his mouth, intending to try and snap them up.

He is stopped by something invisible and strong, something with the feel of a thick plastic coated cable, only snaked around his neck and torso, and he thrashes animalistically, trying to be free of the restraints and secure his survival.

He can’t break free.

He can’t break free, and that terrifies him more than anything.

The flecks in front of him flicker, dancing in a tantalizing pattern across his vision, just out of reach. There are thousands of them, beckoning for him to take them and unleash the music contained inside, music that faintly plays in the corner of his mind, like a word half-remembered, where only the meaning sticks and the word itself is incapable of being spoken.

But unlike in those times, Karkat knows that if he could just touch them, if he could just impart some tiny, tiny piece of the physical world onto them, he could set free the imprisoned notes and ease the pain.

Instead, he is caught in a state of being constricted, unable to move, and therefore he has to bear witness to the slow decay of the sound and surrender to the silence. Liquid trails down his face but he doesn’t notice, and at some point he closes his eyes but doesn’t notice.

Then the pain stops.

And that, well, that is something he notices.
——
Kanaya is surprised, but not caught off guard by, the sudden failure of the lights.

There is not much that can catch her completely off guard, something that can be attributed to a combination of her harsh upbringing and her own supernatural abilities.

Abilities that have her subconsciously covering her ears when the screaming starts, which is only milliseconds after the lights go down, due to how amplified the screeching is to her ears.

Although based on how Jade does the same and how Rose drops the file at the cry, she imagines that it must be a terrible sound without any enhancements.

The reactions of the rest of the group are taken in mere moments, Terezi reaching for her weapon while Vriska fishes out her flashlight, John leaping several inches into the air, Dave flinching dramatically and throwing his hands up in front of his face, Bec scrambling for the file…

… and Karkat, who is hunched over with his fingers tangled in his hair, shaking.

The decision to go to him is made instantaneously, and goes against all of her trained instincts, which would be to seek out and eliminate the threat, but she will later conclude that if there ever were a crossroads of a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ choice in her life, this would be one of them, and that selecting to go to Karkat was the ‘right’ choice.

In the time it takes for the others to recover and pull out their lights and phones, Kanaya has already made her way to Karkat and discovered the problem in the form of blank rolled back eyes.

She can’t explain why she doesn’t choose to end him there. It would be simple, and not altogether foreign to her, to retrieve her knife and hilt it between his eyes before he even has the chance to move.

But she doesn’t. Instead, Kanaya glides around him and loops one arm around his neck and the other around his waist. On a typical human the hold would be ineffective and easy to break, but as an infected Karkat lacks the ability to think his way out of the situation, and as such, is far easier to retain.

The natural boost to her muscular abilities, courtesy of vampirism, does not hurt, either.

He does not seem to notice her actions for a time, remaining relatively still up until the others recover from the surprise blackout, at which point John pans his light around, confirming to himself that everyone is not in the throes of dying, nor the source of the agonizing cry.

When his beam alights on Karkat the shorter boy stirs, as if brought to life by it, arms stiffly clawing at the air like he is moving them through water. Just beyond the curtain the screaming fades to a scratchy and hoarse whimper, and he picks up his struggle, snapping animalistically at nothing but air and reaching out for the nearest person, which happens to be Dave.

Kanaya holds fast, unable to do much more than restrain him. She is certain that the screech is somehow responsible, and that it is the dead girl they were observing heartbeats earlier that is the one doing it.

She knows because the symbol on her neck- a delicate, round circle surrounded by four squares and topped with a triangle- is one she is very familiar with.

And wishes she wasn’t.

Which is why she is also confident that if they can silence the hollering corpse, Karkat will return to normal.

But if she releases him now, he will almost certainly go on to attack the others, and no matter how fast she is she doesn’t think she can get to the next room and put an end to the suffering creature without risking both the life of Karkat and the lives of her friends.

The desperation to protect them sees her glancing helplessly at each individual, silently begging them to understand the knowledge written in her eyes, but they can’t. She’s too unknown to them.

Well, almost all of them.

When her eyes drift to Rose’s there’s a spark, recognition and understanding melding and coloring in her irises. Kanaya tips her head to the side, gesturing to beyond the curtain, and amidst the confused stares of their companions Rose pitches to the side and draws her needles, body responding before her conscious mind to the signal as she disappears behind the white blanket.

To the casual observer, which is the majority of the other six, the exchange is flawless and precise, merely performed with a great, albeit warranted, sense of urgency.

To both Kanaya and Rose, the connection is marred by the latters mental hesitation, her thoughts only a second out of synch.

Neither of them will remember their tiny shard of imperfection in this instance, the reality of the event being rewritten by the relief of Karkat going calm when Rose kills the shrieking zombie and by the events that come to pass on the seventh day.

The overture of memory- this memory, in particular- is not one of cosmic significance. The Universe is flexible concerning cognitive changes to history, and Fate would see to it that a single slanted second would not tear apart the necessary future, should the splinter caused in such a moment prove chaotic.

It is, however, a time of personal significance.

And sometimes, that is enough.
——
It isn’t until they have evacuated the building that Jade remembers Bec’s odd behavior just moments prior.

The others are naturally far more concerned by Karkat and the not-quite-dead-dead-girl. Jade can’t fault them for being more focused on those issues. After all, they don’t have as much investment into Bec as she does, nor does she expect them to.

If anything, she’s the one with skewed priorities.

But she can’t quite reconcile the image of her beloved companion cowering in front of her with the way he is confidently sitting upright beside her now, sporting a huge doggy grin as his tongue lolls out of his mouth, exhausted by the humidity from last night’s rain.

Currently, they have stopped in a park a long ways from the cursed CVS, Karkat adamantly refusing to explain what had happened to him until they were far away from the building. Only Vriska and Terezi has offered any form of protest, but even they did not wish to linger, and so Rose had guided them to the most isolated spot the blonde could find that was on the way to their destination.

They’ve stopped underneath one of the long, run down pavilions, the kind with a concrete floor and wooden covering with beams that birds like to nest in, and large picnic tables that typically lead to the area being rented out for large local events.

Jade guesses it probably isn’t as popular a place as it used to be, if the lack of zombies is anything to go off of.

She still expects a swarm to approach out of nowhere, or for there to be some hiding up above that they cannot see, and judging by the uneasy looks the others are frequently tossing around the park, her companions feel the same.

“So” Vriska says, placing both palms firmly on the table “what the actual fuck was that?”

Kanaya and Karkat swap looks, each hoping for the other to explain the events that have taken place. A silent battle occurs, neither quite wanting to speak, but in the end Karkat is the one to do so.

“I just wanted a moment to myself” he mutters sheepishly, looking away and refusing to meet anyone’s gaze.

Vriska is not impressed by his attempt to avoid the conversation.

“And?” She snaps, more than a little incensed at his futile verbal dodging.

He licks his lips, swallows, and opens his mouth to speak, but no sound comes out. Jade gives him a pitying look. They all know what happened, really.

It just doesn’t seem real. And it won’t be, either. Not unless he says it.

“You were bitten, weren’t you?” She asks quietly, and he nods.

“Yeah.” He confirms, still not looking at them. The syllable lasts much longer than it should, drawn out by his uncertainty of whether or not to add any more details.

“But you’re not a zombie?”

“Do I fucking look like a brain-dead corpse?”

“Then what the hell was that back there?” Vriska demands “because that sure as hell looked like you were a zombie.” Her words are pointed at Karkat but her eyes are directed at Kanaya, who meets and holds her stare until Vriska looks back to Karkat.

“...I don’t know.” He admits, briefly tilting his head up before immediately looking away again, and the conversation lulls, nobody quite sure what to do or what to say.

And then Rose is speaking, having apparently recalled something of great importance.

“Has anyone seen the file?”

“Which one?” Terezi asks, knowing which one is being referred to even as she poses the question.

“The one that I had.” A round of headshakes answers her, and Jade can see that the blonde is harshly biting the inside of her cheek in order to reign in her evident frustration.

Bec lets out a low, sudden whine, at the mention of the file and drops his head to the floor, burying his eyes behind his paws and flattening his ears against his skull. Jade swiftly gets up from the bench to crouch down and stroke his fur. He does not respond to her at all, and it is on his behalf that she looks up to give the others a pleading look.

“Maybe… maybe we should just drop it. The matter, I mean.” The bespectacled teen suggests nervously, and Bec’s tail wags just a little.

Rose’s gaze sharpens to an all out glare at the canine, and Jade gnaws her bottom lip as she awaits her friend’s judgement. Eventually the blonde sighs and leans back.

“Fine. For the time being, I suppose we have no choice but to let this slide. A dog does not answer to interrogation, after all.”

A stray breeze rattles the structure, as if nature itself is answering to Rose’s assertion, shaking it just enough that those underneath worry about potential collapse.

“Perhaps” Terezi suggests “we should continue this conversation once we reach the safe house.”

Jade is relieved when the others seem to agree, standing up and shuffling from the pavilion to the grass, where they are no longer in danger of the building being knocked over and toppling onto them.

She does not notice the way the suspicion does not leave Rose’s face.

She also does not notice the inordinate amount of relief stamped across Kanaya’s.

But then again, nobody does.
——
Jane really, really doesn’t like the lab.

It’s not that the room is scary or creepy, exactly. In fact, it’s rather well lit and well kept, likely due to the need for sterilization around such easily contaminated materials as DNA and other medicinal supplies.

Why a Hollywood set designer such as Roxy’s mom would have a fully equipped laboratory in her basement is beyond Jane. According to her friend, however, Ms. Lalonde has a penchant for recreating some of her favorite designs in the mansion.

Which would explain why there are so many bedrooms, but not why Roxy knows exactly what to do with the variety of scientific contraptions, as evidenced by the fact that the young college student has all but holed herself away, trying to analyze stolen flesh from the undead to discover what it is that makes them… well, makes them undead.

In the entire week they have been hiding here, Jane has seen her friend a very, very small number of times. Were it anyone else, she would dismiss it as simply wanting to find some clue about the Apocalypse.

But Roxy Lalonde is not just anyone, not by a long shot. And it’s because of this that Jane knows her best friend’s efforts are about more than getting to the bottom of this mysterious plague.

It’s a distraction. And distractions, Jane knows, are incredibly dangerous.

“Roxy” she calls softly, and the blonde woman starts, pink scarf whipping through the air as Roxy turns to face her, chair swiveling around to the side.

“Hey Janey” she sighs, and Jane sets the tray on one of the clear, unused work tables in the center of the room.

“I brought you something to eat” Jane says. She’s been practicing for this conversation, and knowing her friend, she needs to start slow. Jumping into an argument is not going to help.

“Thanks, you’re the best!” She puts on a smile for her bespectacled friend, but quickly turns back to peering into a nearby microscope as a polite way of telling Jane to go away.

Jane refuses to take the hint.

“So Rose and Dave will be here sometime later today.”

“Mhmm.”

“You haven’t seen them in a long time, have you?”

“Nope.”

“And they are bringing quite a few friends, too.”

“That’s right.”

“Have you met any of them before?”

“Once, yeah.” They pause, Jane thinking of something else to say in order to pester her friend into further conversation, but before she can Roxy leans back and sighs, twisting back around to look at her.

“Jaaaane” the twenty year old whines “I’m busy.”

“You’re always busy, Roxy.” Jane smiles at her antics “and surely you can make time for your best friend?”

“That’s not fair, Janey. I’m doing world saving sciency stuff here, and you’re just going to pull out the best friend card like that?” The blonde huffs and crosses her arms in a playful manner, but quickly uncrosses them and smiles.

She never has been able to stay upset with Jane.

Or at least, not for very long.

“You’re the one driving me to this” Jane teases “I’ve seen you maybe twice in the past two days.”.

“Fiiine” Roxy sighs, but a twitch in the corner of her mouth betrays how happy she really is. “I guess I can squeeze you into my busy schedule. A gal should take time off for her friends, after all.” Her body language is loose and relaxed, but her eyes have dark circles under them, and Jane notices that her left hand has her nails digging sharply into her palms, most likely an attempt to slake off the desire to sleep.

“You can’t keep this up, Roxy.” Jane whispers, slowly approaching her friend “you’re going to burn yourself out.”

Roxy lowers her head, and Jane feels a prick of guilt for making her friend look so defeated and downtrodden. It’s almost enough to make her want to back off and avoid the rest of this chat, if only to temporarily suppress these emotions.

Almost.

“I know.” Roxy whispers “I know, Janey, God I know. But it’s like, I think about stopping, about resting, and then I think of how maybe, the time I spend researching down here will save one of us one day. And what if, in that time I spend resting, I end up missing what it is that will save us?”

“You’ll be more likely to miss something if you carry on like this.” Jane cuts her off, voice warm, but also firm. Then, more quietly, she adds “But please, do not pretend that is the only thing bothering you.”

A second sigh, this one exhausted and wholly different from the first.

“I can’t hide anything from you, can I Janey?” The blonde murmurs, hand grabbing at her scarf and tugging at it.

“No, Ro-lal” Jane says softly, moving closer but not so close that it’s uncomfortable. Roxy is then forced to look at her, the motion drawing her attention against her will. “I don’t think you can.”

Roxy exhales, smiles, fails. “What do you want me to say?” She asks and winces. The question is a callous one, and perhaps more than a little unfair to pose in this situation.

Jane does not mind.

“What do you think needs to be said?” She asks gently, and Roxy looks almost confused by the question.

“Uh, for neglecting you? Both now and… and before. I’m sorry.” Her voice breaks right at the end, and Jane can tell that Roxy isn’t really sure what she is saying herself.

Then again, the blonde’s eyes have gone glassy and shiny with tears, so maybe it’s just the tiredness scrambling her words.

“It’s okay.” Jane says “It wasn’t your fault. There wasn’t anything you could have done.” The ‘I forgive you’ she had prepared goes unspoken, withering in her tongue, because if Jane forgives her Roxy will assume guilt.

Because forgiveness is only needed if you have wronged someone.

Jane just needs her to see that she only really needs to forgive herself.

“There’s always something you can do.”

“Not this time, there wasn’t.” A bitter swallow “if there were, she would’ve found it. You know she would’ve. Calliope is- Callie was one of the most optimistic human beings to ever walk this earth. If she couldn’t find a way, that’s because there wasn’t any.”

Roxy jerks back as if she’s been stung, and her eyes screw shut, as if closing them will make reality any less real.

They don’t, and when she opens them again she’s crying, and Jane wastes no time in closing the distance between them, wrapping Roxy into a firm hug.

They remain in an embrace for a long time, Roxy trying to stifle her sobs while Jane holds her, and the dark haired girl wonders if her friend ever allowed herself to cry after Callie’s death. If she were to guess, however, she would say the blonde has yet to let herself fully grieve, and it shatters her heart.

“I miss her” Roxy cries between her tears “I miss her so much!” Jane gently rubs her back.

“I know you do. I miss her too.”

“Why? Why did she have to do that? We could have- could have helped her!”

“She did what she felt was right. She wanted to protect us. She knew there was no other way.” Jane repeats, and suddenly the woman in her arms stiffens and breaks away.

“No” she shakes her head, standing up “you’re wrong! We could have found a way! We could have done something!” Pitying blue eyes follow her as she paces. Both of them know there was nothing to be done, nothing that could have been done, and Jane thinks part of Roxy’s problem is that she is not accepting this.

Roxy has always been a very hopeful person, the kind to never give up, no matter what. But right now, that same Hope is preventing her from recovering and truly moving on.

“Roxy” Jane says, mouth dry, and she has to lick her lips before she can continue “Roxy, if there was another way, she would not have done what she did. I know you know this. Please…” she steps towards her friend, to hug her again, but the blonde recoils at the movement, and Jane’s heart sinks.

“No, no. You- you’re wrong. C- she didn’t need to die. She could have- we could have-“ and then she’s in tears again, and this time she doesn’t push her friend away when Jane wraps her arms around her.

“It’s going to be okay” She shushes her friend “maybe not now. Maybe not for a while. But we need to live for her. She- she gave her life for us. We need to honor that. Do you understand? We need to live for her.”

Sluggishly, Roxy allows herself to be tucked back into Jane’s arms.

“We’ll be okay” Jane says once more.

“We just need a little more time.”
——
Hours later, but not many, and Dave is finally standing with the others on a porch that far exceeds the length of a normal porch.

He’s never been to the mansion before, but aside from Rose he’s also never had much contact with his female relatives. He’s seen Roxy maybe once in person, and while they do chat occasionally online he still can’t say that he knows her especially well.

Although he guesses that will probably be changing soon.

Rose steps forward to knock on the door. John stops her to suggest ringing the doorbell and then hiding so as to prank them, and Rose tells him that right now is not the best time for that. Dave feels some sympathy for John, but he’s also fairly sure that Rose is knocking to alert Roxy who is at the door, so that they don’t end up with a gun pointed at them.

He doesn’t think that would make for a good first impression.

The door doesn’t open for many, many seconds, and Dave knows better than to think they have the wrong place, so instead he wonders if Rose knocked loud enough or not.

His question is answered ten seconds later when Rose raises her fist to knock again and she very nearly punches their cousin in the face, and is corralled into a vicious, bone-crushing hug instead.

Dave wishes he could have photographed the moment, but when he gets the same moments later he’s glad he did not.

He does not notice John capture both hugs with his camera.

“Ohmygod, I’m so glad you guys are here!” Roxy exclaims “How was the trip? Pretty long, right? Is everyone okay? Do any of you need medical attention?”

Dave isn’t really paying any attention to her question, too overwhelmed by the sudden feeling of safety to keep his brain focused. Not that it matters much, since Rose takes the liberty of answering.

“We are glad to be here as well. Yes, the trip was long. For the most part we are not in danger of dying, nor do we have any injuries, although Karkat could likely use an examination.”

“How about hell fucking no to that?” Karkat snaps, and Dave cringes as Roxy breaks away and glares at him, eyes narrowing into slits at the perceived insult to Rose.

Before anything can escalate, or any of the others can jump in, the door opens again to reveal a poised man with slicked blonde hair, a pointy pair of shades, a katana across his back and a neutral expression stamped across his face.

“Yo Ro-lal.” He calls “I thought I told you no more strays.”

Dave knows he’s just teasing, but his heart still speeds up as nervousness eats away at his composure, and he really hopes nobody notices.

Terezi and Kanaya both do, of course, and are puzzled, but Dave doesn’t notice that they notice, which is just as well.

“Aw, but they’re so cute Di-stri! Can’t we keep them, pretty please?”

He gives the group an intense once over, and Dave trembles just a bit. Not enough that Dirk notices, of course, but he still does it.

“I suppose we can spare a couple rooms. Jane’s been looking forward to having more people around anyways.”

“You say that as if you haven’t been waiting for them with baited breath.” Roxy teases and Dirk shrugs.

“Hi, yes, I still exist over here!” Karkat speaks up again, and Dave has to repress the urge to cringe at his actions.

“So you do.” Dirk says mirthfully.

“Yeah, I do. So kindly explain who the fuck you are.”

“Ah, right. I guess introductions are in order.”

“Not here, though!” Roxy chirps “you all are probably exhausted. Wait until we’re inside, so the others can meet you too.” She then pushes past Dirk to get back inside the mansion, who twists his head after her, shrugs again, and follows, leaving the door to slam behind him.

“I believe this is where we part ways.” Kanaya speaks before anyone can move, and everyone looks to her so fast that Dave is pretty sure at least one of them got whiplash.

“Wait, what? You’re seriously just gonna bail? After all we’ve been through?” Vriska demands, hands on her hips, visibly put-off, but Kanaya maintains a cool visage.

“It is too dangerous to allow any other vampires to stay in the area. I at least need to confirm if they are still here.”

Dave steals a look at Rose, and he is mildly surprised to see determination hardening in her eyes.

“I am going with you.” His sister declares, and Kanaya shakes her head.

“No.”

“I was not asking.”

“I know.”

They lock eyes, entangled as they are in a private battle of wills. Dave doesn’t know if anyone else can see it, but he can tell Kanaya’s heart isn’t really into it, not in the same way Rose’s is.

“You cannot really stop me.” Rose asserts.

“Yes I can.”

“But you will not.” It’s a challenge, to be sure, but Dave is confident that Kanaya won’t rise to it.

“You do not want to stop me.” Rose declares then, pressing her advantage by stepping a bit closer to Kanaya, whose mouth twitches into a small semblance of a smile.

“I suppose I do not.” The vampire concedes, and there’s a collective sensation of relief, although the atmosphere does not seem to lighten.

“Stay for tonight.” Rose implores “we can leave first thing in the morning.”

Kanaya hesitates and looks to Karkat, who gives her a steadfast nod, and Dave makes a mental note to thank him later as she blinks.

“Okay.” She tells Rose “first thing in the morning.”

Dave would die a thousand times if it meant he could replicate the smile that splits his twins face.

“Now come on. It is time we head inside, before they start thinking we have run away.” She turns and pulls open the door, Kanaya just a step behind, and Dave pulls Karkat aside as the others enter.

“Thanks, man.” He tells the shorter teen, and Karkat’s face scrunches up in confusion.

“Huh?” He asks “what for?”

“If you hadn’t done anything, I’m pretty sure Kanaya wouldn’t have agreed to stay. And I know that we are both aware how much they need each other.” Dave explains, and Karkat gives him an odd look.

“Dude, I don’t know what kind of bullshit you’re on. I did that ‘cause I don’t want her leaving myself.”

“Ah, yeah. Of course.”

“But if it’s any consolation, she probably would’ve stuck around anyways. Kanaya likes Rose a lot more than she lets on.”

“Didn’t we establish this already?” Dave asks, frowning, and Karkat nods.

“Yeah. But back then it was just wishful thinking.”

“How is now any different?”

Karkat stares as if Dave has just grown three heads.

“Were you not watching that at all, or are you just that stupid?”

“What? No, man. Just tryin’ to understand.” Dave protests, but Karkat is already walking away to the door.

“If you can’t figure it out on your own then you’re more of a hopeless idiot than I thought.”

“I resent that!” Dave calls out, but Karkat has already slipped inside. Huffing in annoyance to himself, Dave follows suit.

The blonde can’t say exactly what awaits them in a world full of dead people.

But he does think that whatever survival is going to look like, it might not be so bad.

At the very least, he knows that things are going to be changing.

And change?

Well, change isn’t so bad.
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
Terezi would be lying if she said that she isn’t moderately relieved that the four new people all seem to be older than their group of eight.

It’s not necessarily because they are now the closest thing they have to adults, and as such will assume those responsibilities. To be sure, she’s fairly confident that’s what’s going to happen anyways, and she doesn’t especially mind putting any difficult decisions into someone else’s hands.

No, the real reason she’s thankful they’re older is that she doesn’t think it would bode well for the rest of her companions if they were all the same age, or worse, younger.

She thinks they’re going to have enough personality clashes and leadership contests and other problems to deal with as it is.

Case in point: currently, Rose’s cousins are not taking her decision to leave with Kanaya very well.

“But why do you have to leave tomorrow? What’s so important that you can’t wait a couple more days? And why just the two of you?”

Of course, the situation is not helped by Kanaya not telling them the exact truth of their expedition. Not that Terezi blames her. It seems unlikely at best that they would believe her, and if they did, the chances that they would feel comfortable allowing Rose to journey alone with a vampire are slim to none.

“I’m sorry. I cannot say much about the matter, other than leaving it unchecked is incredibly dangerous, and I do not wish to involve more people than necessary…”

That said, the truth is probably going to come out sooner or later.

Terezi knows better than most that lies have a funny way of unraveling themselves. Especially when the keeper is desperate for them to stay buried.

Roxy sighs in aggravation, and Terezi can feel her intentions shift from investigating why to shutting the two of them down altogether, or at least, trying to prevent Rose from leaving. Again, Terezi can’t really blame her: were she in a position that someone she cared about was going to take off into a zombie infested cityscape with seemingly minimal backup, she would want to stop them, too.

But she’s not the one in that position, so she stays quiet about it and allows the situation to unfold.

As it turns out, there is not much left to unfold, because just as Roxy is about to press further Dirk lays a hand on her shoulder, and Terezi can smell the unspoken message, which equates to something along the lines of ‘later’. To everyone’s relief (but mostly Kanaya’s) Roxy seems to understand and she leans back, clearly indicating she is not going to start anything.

“Alright.” The blonde says, conceding to her relative and digressing all in one breath. “Before we show you guys your rooms, does anyone else have somethin’ they need to get off their chest?”

Roxy’s words contain just a touch of irritation, and again, Terezi doesn’t think it's completely unwarranted, but she can feel Vriska tense beside her, and it’s hard not to guess at why.

Her auburn haired friend has always had issues with authoritative figures, and between how the elder Lalonde is clearly the spokesperson for the other four and how she is older than the rest of them, she is definitely the closest candidate for Vriska to direct her distrust onto.

It’s for that reason, that split second judgement, the eight of them shake their heads, electing not to bring up the CVS or the files or Jade’s dreams or even the general search for answers they are engaging in.

Even if some of them don’t acknowledge it, Vriska holds a good amount of sway over them, and as such they take cues from her, even if only subconsciously.

As they rise and are led to the stairs, Terezi can only hope that staying silent does not go on to cause them future grief.

Somehow, she is fairly sure that it will.

But for now, that’s not really her concern.
——
Jake is doing his best to not let it show, but the eight newcomers are really, really intimidating.

To be fair, he’s never been that good at interacting with new people, nor has he been good at interacting with multiple people at a time. Meshing those together and stirring them with the added pressure of a looming onslaught of the undead is definitely not helping his nerves.

Truthfully, he probably shouldn’t be as wary of them as he is. Even if they aren’t terribly younger than he himself, they are still kids, and they don’t pose him or his friends any danger.

Well, probably don’t pose a danger. Jake knows better than most not to underestimate what others are capable of, if only because he has lived his life constantly overlooked and undervalued.

And besides that, there’s a look in their eyes, a jaded, cautious sort of gleam, as if they are sizing up everything around them in preparation for a fight that only they know is coming.

If he were to meet the eyes of Dirk or Roxy, he would know that they see it, too.

He doesn’t, though, focused as he is on his own thoughts and worries.

For that same reason, he trips on the final stair and sprawls onto the floor in an undignified heap, arms reaching out in a delayed attempt to catch himself, although all that truly accomplishes is to bang his elbows onto the carpeted floor.

It’s only because he’s distracted, or course. Distracted and nervous. Anyone would be the same way, allying with strangers while the rest of the world dies.

At least, that’s how he justifies it to himself. In truth, he’s just something of a klutz.

“Oh my gosh! Are you okay?” One of the kids- John, if Jake is not mistaken- pushes past the others (who are either snickering or trying to suppress laughter) and offers him a hand up, which Jake gratefully takes.

If anyone notices how his face has turned the color of a bruised tomato, they do not say anything.

“Thank you, my good sir. It seems I have taken yet another misplaced step.”

John doesn’t seem to know exactly how to respond, instead giving Jake a nod and a mumbled “no problem” under his breath.

Jake is not upset by this. He knows many people are put off by his unique way of speaking, which stems from an overdeveloped attachment to his Dungeons and Dragons character that he made a long, long time ago, back when his dreams of adventure were still just that- dreams.

Nowadays, it seems adventure has been the one to find him.

Nowadays, he isn’t so sure adventure is something he really wants.

At least, not when it comes at the expense of so many innocent lives.

He and the others spill out into the common area, which is a large room with three branching hallways that form a short of ‘T’ shape. It’s a much more lively looking space than the rest of the house, with cheery gold walls and white carpet. The common room has a brown leather couch pushed up against the wall right next to the left hallway, and is facing a small tv screen hooked to the top of the smooth wooden pillar in the center of the room and is larger around the base, which is actually a large revolving cabinet.

A cabinet that had previously been filled with a variety of gaming consoles, but has since been cleared to contain nails, short wooden planks, and non lethal weapons plus extra ammunition, in the event of human home invaders.

Something tells Jake it is no longer breathing humans they need to be concerned about, but the dead ones.

The stash makes him feel better anyways.

“... while Jane and I have our rooms on the left. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask! We’re all in this together, so we need to be able to rely on each other.”

One of the girls shyly raises her hand.

“Uhm, Miss Roxy? Do you happen to have any clothes we could change into?”

Roxy opens her mouth- probably to tell the girl that there is no need for honorifics, if Jake were to guess- and is immediately cut off by the sound of someone’s stomach growling.

“Or food.” Dave cuts in, wholly unmistakable between the shades and brightly colored hair that mirrors Dirk’s almost completely. “Food would be good.”

“Yes, we thought you might be hungry.” Jane butts in “we do have some food for you downstairs. It isn’t much, but it is warm. If you’d like, you can go ahead and choose your rooms, and then Jake will show you downstairs.”

She then marches past the small crowd to the staircase, leaving in such a way that conveys urgency where Jake knows there is none, not that he is going to mention such a thing.

He knows that they need to show solidarity, especially in front of these strangers.

Hence why he also does not protest being picked to guide them to the dining hall, despite the consequential beads of sweat forming under his collar.

Jake English has never been exceptionally good at talking with others, particularly those he does not know.

“Unfortunately we didn’t know your sizes, so we don’t have much for clothes here.” Roxy tells them “but I’m sure we can find some for tonight after you’ve eaten.”

There’s a pause, and if Jake didn’t know better, he would assume the eight high schoolers are all hosting a private conversation without a word. Even Roxy and Dirk’s relatives seem privy to this, and appear far more guarded than Jake had assumed they would be.

The shortest of them- a runty male with scrappy black hair with red colored contacts whose name Jake can’t remember- steps forward.

“If it’s all the same to you, I think I’m just going to sleep now.” There’s a bite hidden beneath his mumbles, as if he is just on the brink of having a meltdown but is still keeping himself in check.

Then, without another word, he sweeps down the left hallway, opening the first door he comes across and shutting himself inside.

“I will go check on him.” Kanaya- who Jake can only recall because of the chainsaw she is carrying and the blood stained onto her clothes- announces even as she follows him.

Once they are gone, Jake can see Roxy shoot her younger cousin a questioning glance.

“He came very close to being bitten earlier.” The shorter Lalonde offers as a means of explanation, and the four older survivors can only nod, uncertain of what else to say.

Whether that’s because of the disparity between the groups, or because there is nothing to say in the first place, Jake cannot truly say.

He’s not sure he ever wants the responsibility of being the one to say, either.
——
In John’s opinion, dinner is much more awkward than it should be.

For a long time, nobody speaks, instead maintaining focus on the bowl of heated soup and somewhat freshly baked bread in front of them, or otherwise directing their attention onto the decorations of the dining hall.

It really is a beautiful room, John thinks. The walls are a rich, ornate shade of crimson, adorned with golden patterns that he thinks might be gold foil but could also just be a really shiny paint. The table and floors are both polished mahogany, somehow well kept despite the circumstances, and an eye popping white tablecloth is draped over the top of the former.

Atop the tablecloth rests several electric candles, mostly for ambiance, John is sure, because there are also some chandeliers dangling from the ceiling with multiple lights on them. This knowledge does not detract from the sensation that he is in a formal setting and is completely underdressed for the situation.

A glance around tells him his friends are feeling similarly.

The fancier than necessary silverware and china does not make any of them feel more comfortable, either.

“So, uh, how’ve you guys been keepin’?” It seems the silence has finally gotten the better of Dave, who is no longer able to keep quiet from his spot next to John.

“As well as anyone can, bro.” Dirk- at least, John is pretty sure it’s Dirk, given how he looks almost exactly like Dave- answers, and Dave nods in response.

“Cool, cool.” John’s best friend says, and the distant sounds of a clock ticking alongside the clinking of spoons fill the room with tension.

“Hey, uhm, so your friend…” Jane starts but cuts herself off as several pairs of eyes snap to her, and she visibly shifts with discomfort before continuing “he will be okay, right?”

“Who, Karkat? Pft, he’ll be fine. If anything, he’s just being dramatic.”

More ticks sound as John gives Vriska an uncertain look. He isn’t sure why Rose, and now her, won’t tell them that Karkat was bitten, but seems fine.

After all, it’s not like anyone would consider putting a permanent stop to the infection.

Not as long as he’s still human.

Right?

“Ah. I see.” Jane says in a tone that suggest she doesn’t actually see, but is choosing not to press the issue. “If you don’t mind my asking, what happened?”

John expects Vriska to hesitate, or cower, or do something to the effect that she would convey that something deeper is going on. Instead she grins and straightens, and the taut, fraying thread that is everyone’s nerves slackens, and he realizes that he’s been projecting more than a little bit onto the older cerulean eyed teen.

In a way, he’s grateful that she is significantly more composed than he himself is, but he worries that means he’s the one being obvious.

He probably is. He’s never been good at keeping secrets, as Dave has reminded him numerous times. He likes telling them way too much.

Looking around for a window John knows is not in this room, John tunes out Vriska as she regales the others with the tale of their adventure, Terezi jumping in on occasion to playfully correct the other’s exaggerations, providing a distraction that John is more than thankful for.

He thinks he would probably melt under any sort of scrutiny.

“Hey, dude.” Dave notices his nervous glancing about; of course he does. John should have anticipated the blonde would be aware of his current state, regardless of anything else going on.

“You need to step out for a bit?”

John smiles weakly, but it lasts only a second before dissolving.

“I think maybe I’m just tired.” He tells his friend, and while it’s only half the truth, he certainly cannot discuss what is actually bothering him.

Not here, anyways.

Dave nods, getting the message, and stands up suddenly, getting surprised looks from everyone sans Vriska, whose face is sculpted from pure annoyance in that instant.

John wishes he had thought to have his phone out to snap a picture. As it is, he still reaches for it and unlocks it while they regain composure and begin to speak.

“So, uh, John and I are gettin’ kinda tired. Think we’re gonna turn in for the night.”

Roxy looks mildly surprised, and Rose’s brow is furrowed in a way that suggests she knows something is up, but she isn’t sure what.

“Oh, uh, sure!” The former exclaims “if you need anything, feel free to ask! You know where to find us.”

“Will do.” Dave replies, ushering John out of his seat and towards the exit, Vriska already resuming her story and the others already discarding the absence of Dave and John from their minds.

Just before they leave, John can’t resist turning around and snapping a picture of the scene with his phone.

It’s not a good picture, not by a long shot, but most of the ones he’s taken on this trip haven’t been.

He can’t say he minds very much. All he wants is a record that this is real, that everything they have been through has not been some kind of twisted dream.

Dave watches from the side but says nothing. He doesn’t understand, but he isn’t about to admit he doesn’t. It’s easily one of his worst flaws, at least in John’s eyes, but he’s not going to badger his friend about it.

It’s just not his place to do so.

Quietly, they turn and find the staircase, climbing up it at a slow, determined pace. Dave, unlike Rose, is not the kind to press for information not volunteered, but typically it does not matter, since John is the type to offer what is on his mind freely, provided he knows the person well enough to feel comfortable doing so.

Not tonight, though. Tonight he doesn’t want to speak, not unless someone asks him a question.

It doesn’t have to be any question in particular, either. At this point, any sort of comment would have him spilling his guts.

But Dave doesn’t say anything, maybe because he’s tired, or maybe because he’s misinterpreting John’s quiet and wants to give him some space.

Either way, Dave says nothing for the rest of the night.

And neither does John.
——
The fifth night of the Apocalypse, Jade dreams.

She dreams of a dark, damp cave with no light, where she knows she shouldn’t be able to see but can anyways. The sound of water rushes around her in an indistinguishable, confounding pattern, as if she has been encased in a sphere of stone and submerged in liquid.

Distantly, a part of her feels as if it recognizes this place, but rather than feel comforted all Jade can feel is an invasive, paralyzing fear that screams at her to run, to flee, to do anything but stay or press onwards.

She places a hand on the cold, smooth wall and moves forward, even though each new step has her legs shaking and tears pricking at her eyes and a whimper building in her throat. Her heart beats thrice as fast as her feet move, and she thinks is it might explode out of her chest at the rate it’s going, but somehow the idea of turning back seems infinitely worse than continuing.

The path stretches on for what seems like eternity, and Jade idly wonders if it might be looping around or if she is simply being impatient. Several more undefined increments of time see her reaching down to untie her shoe, with the intention to lay the shoelace down as marker, only…

Only she is not wearing sneakers anymore.

Because strapped delicately around her feet are two abnormally shiny crimson heels, and she knows she was not wearing those before.

It does not occur to her to wonder why she was able to so flawlessly walk in them, nor does it occur to her to think on why she did not notice she was wearing them before.

Instead, she is shaken further by the pervading sense of wrongness caused by her state of dress, fear temporarily suppressed by this unnatural set of circumstances as she tries to remember how she got where she is.

But she can’t.

She can’t remember.

Where are her friends? The question is an unbidden, albeit relevant one.

She has not been alone for the past several days, save for when she has been asleep.

No, that can’t be right. She hasn’t seen her friends in at least several hours.

Time has no more meaning here. The realization is slow to dawn.

Water drips from an unnoticed crack in the craggy ceiling, rolling down a stalagmite without rush and parachuting onto Jade’s brow, where it begins a steady trek down to her lips, trailing cold in its wake as it slides groundwards just millimeters away from her glasses and inches past her nose so as to gently wet the corner of her lip, where she brushes it away.

She doesn’t remember hearing the drip of water.

She reasons that must mean she is on the path to something new.

She keeps walking, abandoning her thoughts behind her.

The landscape never changes, remaining a slick stony gray that, again, she should not be able to see, but she can hear the gentle, tiny sound of water plopping onto the floor behind her gradually shrink and dim, and she knows she must be achieving some measure of distance from her starting location.

But at what cost? The panic continues to rise through her, radiating out from her heart to her legs to her feet to her arms to her fingertips, but still she can’t explain why.

It should be obvious, she knows. She’s going to do something she’s been dreading since the time she separated from her friends, and it’s probably going to-

Wait. No. She isn’t apart from her friends. They’re still back at the mansion, where she is.

Well, sort of. Obviously she’s in a cave. An underwater cave.

Or at least, the dreaming version of her is.

“It took you long enough to figure it out!” A familiar feminine voice chirps, and Jade whips around, barely restraining a startled yell.

“It’s you!” The ravenette exclaims, and the silver eyed girl gives her a smirk and a resolute nod.

“Right you are! So glad to see you remember lil ole me.”

“Of course I do!” Jade assures her, fear and shock gone and forgotten “the- um, the silver eyes make it hard to forget you.” She gestures to the area around her own glasses, and her newfound companion smiles.

“You might not say that if you met some of the others!” She says cheerfully “but I appreciate it all the same.”

“Huh? Others?” Jade is initially caught off guard, but her own surprise quickly strikes her as foolish. If this is the afterlife, or at least somewhere dead people can remain as spirits, it would only be natural for more than one person.

“Mhmm! But I wouldn’t worry, you probably won’t be meeting them. Not here, at least, and definitely not tonight.” She then glides past Jade, who notices that in what can only be described as in typical ghost fashion hovers just above the floor.

“Now come on! We should get somewhere safer. I have some important ghostly wisdom to impart, and I do not think we should be doing it here.”

Jade does not waste her breath arguing or asking questions. This is partly (mostly) because it takes every scrap of energy she has just to keep up with the mysterious spirit.

Sometimes, she wishes she had bothered with a more intense training regime beyond the lengthy walks she would take with Bec.

Then she remembers how much lonelier it made her feel, and even though she still regrets her preference for living in the realm of dreams, she can at least justify to herself why she chose sleep over self betterment.

This does not actually bring her comfort.

Minutes later and the walls start to close in around them, the ceiling gradually lowering until Jade has to lower her head to avoid the spiky rocks jutting out from above. Shortly thereafter she and the ghost girl are squeezing into a narrow crevice in the right wall, and when they come out she is treated to a rather beautiful sight.

In front of her is a narrow strip of glittering blue crystal that blends into a transparent lake that stretches on well past what Jade can see. At the bottom of the pool are millions of gleaming gems refracting a variety of colors, tinting the water with multi colored hues that are without a readily discernible pattern.

The surface of the liquid is interrupted in several places by massive triangular slabs of the same crystal she is now standing on, creating slick platforms she is halfway tempted to parkour across, despite her knowledge that such an action would be inevitably doomed to failure.

“Breathtaking, isn’t it?” Her companion asks, observing Jade’s reaction.

“That’s putting it mildly.” Jade whispers, continuing to drink in the view “What is this place?”

“We call it the Nexus.” The spirit says reverently “it’s basically a visual representation of the energy behind the universe. As far as anyone can tell, it’s what keeps the afterlife up and running.”

“It’s incredible” Jade murmurs “But why bring me here?”

“Well-“

A deafening roar rocks the spacious cavern, causing, causing overhead shards of crystal to shake ominously with a threat of falling.

“Denizen” the other girl mutters, appearing both distressed and relieved “eight minutes, maybe ten.” She then straightens, fully turning to face Jade.

“It seems we do not have as much time as I thought we would. So here’s what we’re going to do…”
——
Rose wishes she could figure out why she cannot seem to fall asleep.

Well, perhaps that is not entirely accurate. She knows full well why her mind is unwilling to drift into a darkened, ignorant state, even if she does not wish to acknowledge this being the case.

What she is willing to admit to herself is that remaining in her bed and hoping for the embrace of temporary death will only lead to the opposite of what she wishes for.

So she wanders, pacing the halls like a deranged insomniac, wistfully awaiting an event of unknown proportions that is a mystery even to herself, but nonetheless guaranteed to happen.

If said event happens to be a subconscious retreat to the deck on the roof, and not the systematic shutting down of her body and its organs, then so be it.

But if said event happens to be a subconscious retreat to the deck on the roof and the coincidental meeting of a certain vampire there, well…

“Good evening, Rose.”

She supposes she will simply have no choice but to go along with it.

“Hello, Kanaya.”

A moment. Silence. Then:

“You can come and join me, if you wish. I promise not to bite.”

Rose remains quiet as she shuffles forward to join the ravenette at the silvery railing. She doesn’t know if there is anything she should be saying, if she ought to try and vocalize her justifications for being awake, or if perhaps she should apologize for the behavior of her cousin earlier.

In the end, she does neither, instead opting for what she knows to be the lamest icebreaker in history.

“A lovely night, is it not?” It isn’t, not really. Most lights of the city are dimmed or dead, and thick droopy clouds, products of pollution and circumstance, blot out any hope of seeing stars or the moon.

“Yes, I suppose it is.” It’s a lie and they both know it. Kanaya isn’t even looking at the sky, and instead has her head angled downwards to the ground below, which is somehow even less attractive than the contaminated cityscape.

“What is our plan for tomorrow?”

“I aim for us to return to where we encountered the other vampire. His body should have disintegrated by now, but I believe we should still be able to find some sort of clue.”

Rose is quiet again. She had already determined that this would be their course of action, and merely needed affirmation.

“Rose, are you certain you wish to come with me like this?”

“What do you mean?” Rose asks sharply, and although she does not notice, Kanaya winces at how accusatory her voice is.

“Alone. Are you sure that you want to be alone with… with me?”

It takes Rose a moment to puzzle out what she is trying to say.

“Because of your condition?” She inquires, just to be sure, and Kanaya nods, looking painfully composed despite how apparent her embarrassment is.

Rose wonders if that composure is due to her vampirism or because of something else.

She supposes it is not especially important. Not at the moment, at least.

“I do not see how it would pose an issue.” Rose tells her “not unless this is actually a subtle warning that you intend to do me harm, once we are away.”

Kanaya looks pained and affronted, and Rose almost wishes she could swallow her words or take them back, but she knows any backtracking she could do now would not help.

“No, of course not.”

“Then I believe we are without problems.”

Kanaya hums under her breath, a melody both foreign and familiar to Rose until she recalls it to be the same one she had heard back on the first day.

“Where is it from?”

“Hm?”

“The song you are humming.”

Kanaya says nothing for a time, and Rose is halfway convinced she must not have posed the question aloud when the ravenette responds.

“It was a gift. From someone I have not seen in a long time.”

Rose peers curiously at her, promoting Kanaya to elaborate, the daywalker sighing and leaning more of her weight against the railing.

“It doesn’t mean much now, I suppose. But the melody is a bit too catchy for me to forget.”

“I see.” Rose replies, knowing it’s a lie but deciding that particular question is not worth her time. “Who taught it to you?”

Another heartbeat of silence, this one broken with a sigh.

“I don’t know.”

Rose blinks, taken aback. She tries to ask for a clarification- surely she misheard- But her mouth is dry and she can’t seem to successfully formulate a sentence.

Fortunately, Kanaya seems inclined to speak anyways.

“For most immortals, memory is a far greater curse than actual immortality. Lifetimes and centuries add up into uncountable memories, and were we to try and sort through them, we would doubtlessly be left confused and mad.”

She stops again. Swallows. Licks her lips.

“To combat this, our minds sort of… shed memories, much quicker than yours would. Sometimes, if it is a strong memory, we can hold onto them, but even those fade eventually.”

Her words are fast, but spoken with enough melancholy that Rose does not perceive them as such.

She wants to ask how many memories Kanaya has lost, how many lifetimes the other girl has endured.

She doesn’t.

“To be clear, I am not so old to have had my memories vanish with age. Rather, I chose to forget them.”

“Why?” Rose doesn’t mean to ask, she really doesn’t. But inquisitiveness is her cross to bear, and all too often it makes her slip under its weight.

“Why what?” Kanaya teases, a slight smirk plastered onto her face. Rose can tell her heart isn’t really in it, but she elects to play along anyways.

“Why were your memories too painful to keep? Do you know?” The phrasing is far more blunt than she would have liked, but if there’s one thing Rose knows it’s that the past can never be taken back.

No matter how much you want to rewrite it.

Kanaya closes her eyes, leans just a bit more on the railing.

“Yes. I am aware of why I tried to get rid of them.”

“Tried?”

“They were too strong to lose.” The daywalker explains dismissively “Although I did manage to suppress them, for a time.”

“Ah.” Rose makes a small noise of understanding at the back of her throat, but she doesn’t really.

How could she? She’s hardly immortal.

“I should go get some rest.”

Kanaya shrugs. “If that is what you wish.” She says, and something in her voice nurtures a desire in Rose to remain where she is.

“But if you’d like to stay, I would not mind telling you a story.”
——
Karkat can’t explain why, but he feels far too anxious to fall asleep.

Scratch that, actually. He is fairly certain he knows why he can’t fall asleep, and that knowledge is precisely what is keeping him up, like some sort of shoddy mental paradox that just reinforces itself every time he tries to think it over.

Oddly enough, he is not currently suffering a migraine, instead attempting to cope with a swell of frustration at his thoughts that has him barely suppressing a scream.

Well. It’s not his fault he never developed any other positive coping methods.

Or maybe it is. He’s seventeen, for fuck’s sake. He should have been able to figure out something slightly more productive than indeterminate screeching.

But he didn’t, and what’s more, he won’t. Instead he’s going to curl up on this bed that isn’t his, god knows how many miles away from his previous life and his dead best friend, and he is going to cry into this pillow that also isn’t his, and he’s going to try to not let anyone catch onto the fact that he is definitely not okay.

Based on the fact that nobody has noticed his distress and is knocking down his door, he thinks he’s doing a pretty good job.

Only, he isn’t sure he wants to be. Doing a good job, that is.

He knows from his father that it’s a sign of weakness to seek comfort. Right now, however, Karkat is so, so tired. He’s been strong this whole time, he thinks, all of them have.

Well, almost all of them, he corrects mentally, recalling John’s behavior.

He wonders if the blue eyed teen would understand how he is feeling right now.

Then, before he can really consider if John would be able to empathize, he decides to stop wondering and go find out.

He’s already out of bed, body moving without conscious input, and the next thing he knows he’s thrown open his door (not so much that it slams against the wall, but definitely with more force than necessary), only to be faced with the conclusion that due to his early retirement he has no clue which room John has picked.

Before the Apocalypse, Karkat would have been the kind of person to take this as a sign, and would have retreated back to his room with a shameful gait and a burning face.

Now, though, he cares too little about how desperate and sensitive his actions might him come across as, so he instead he goes to the door next to his, which he knows Kanaya chose because he had kind of forced her to choose a room that would be close, another action that should have sparked embarrassment but does not.

It takes him five knocks and an opened door before he realizes she is no longer in her room.

In retrospect, that perhaps should have been obvious. What kind of vampire actually needs sleep? She has probably been faking it this whole time.

Although that’s not especially important, not at the moment. What is important is learning which room John is, because if anyone else is able to understand, it’s probably going to be him.

Dave won’t, he’s pretty sure. Not when he still has his family, and not when he had been the one to cut Gamzee out of his life in the first place. And Karkat knows neither Vriska nor Terezi would be able to relate.

At least, not in the way he needs them to. Karkat thinks they might not have been without emotional issues even before the Apocalypse.

He doesn’t know enough about Rose to say if she would be able to listen in the way he needs her to, and he doesn’t particularly want to find out, not in this way.

But he probably won’t be able to say anything to her without her brother finding out, anyways. And he thinks that right now he doesn’t want Dave to know how weak he’s feeling.

He very carefully avoids thinking about why that might be.

So with Kanaya out and doing whatever it is Daywalkers do at night, his only choice of comfort is John.

Since the now red eyed teen is not inclined to go randomly knocking on doors and encountering an irate Vriska, (or worse, Dave) he realizes he now has two choices to consider.

One: he fitfully returns to his room to endure a sleepless night.

Two: he risks knocking on one of the older kid’s doors and asking, with the slight chance that one of them is as scary as Vriska is.

For a moment, Karkat cannot determine which would be worse.

Then he remembers that if he annoys Vriska he will also have to deal with Terezi. The not-quite-adults don’t seem to have that level of closeness, and he reasons he has a better chance of surviving one of them than he does both Vriska and Terezi.

Not to mention he is fairly confident he’ll never get to sleep if he doesn’t find someone to talk to.

So he sneaks out into the lobby and turns down the hallway he vaguely remembers as being pointed to when the almost adult version of Rose was pointing. He can’t remember if they said whose door was whose, although it doesn’t really matter to him.

As far as Karkat is concerned, each of them are just as likely to be secretly hostile as the next.

This does not stop him from knocking, but it does drag down the action with a considerable amount of hesitation.

He pauses. Waits. One heartbeat, two heartbeats. Three.

Four.

He turns around, face warm but ashen.

He steps away.

A single step.

Another.

The door opens. Karkat hears the individual yawn, and determines it’s one of the females. He can’t tell which.

He turns around.

The grown up version of Rose stretches in the doorway, blinking drowsily. She glances down the other side of the hallway, then his.

Karkat isn’t sure why at first, but she snaps awake, leaning back into some kind of martial arts stance- maybe Karate, maybe Tae Kwon Do- and he is confused as to why she is reacting like this, and perhaps a slight bit frightened.

He wonders if his earlier perceptions that they are oblivious to the horrors of the Apocalypse were wrong.

Then he remembers that his eyes are still red.

Then he remembers that he should not be able to see in the dark.
——
“Hey, I know you can’t tell me your real name, but do you have something else I can call you?” Jade’s voice is loud, not quite a shout, but her words are still emphasized with far more volume than she typically uses.

The reason for this is so she may be heard over the wind, which has picked up to become a passionate roar in her ears, drowning out both silence and noise as best it can.

Somehow, Jade never wondered what it would sound like to fly. The feeling she could picture over and over again, living it down to the way her stomach flips and turns with her movements. But sound? That was never she had thought to imagine.

Now, she doesn’t have to.

Currently, both she and her ghostly companion are hovering about the middle of the lake, or at least, what Jade perceives as the middle.

Apparently metaphysical representations of incomprehensible structures tend to have unpredictable effects on the brain.

“You may call me by my initials, if you like!” The spirit girl yells to her, and before Jade can even ask what those initials are the answer is spoken within her mind.

A.M.

“A.M?” Jade asks in confirmation, but the girl in question is already spiraling downwards, well out of earshot, and Jade directs her focus to following in her wake rather than garnering assurance of potential telepathic communications.

The landscape suddenly shimmers and shifts, all at once transforming from a beautiful underground lake to a snow filled plane, the sparkling gems now beaming down from above instead of below, casting patches of varying colors onto what is otherwise a fluffy blanket of white. Jade feels as if she has done twenty somersaults in a row, her head spinning vigorously, and she strays from her otherwise close trail behind A.M, almost slamming into a too high pile of snow.

Almost.

Instead she manages to straighten herself just in time to avoid the veritable mountain of frozen water, but not enough to avoid skidding into the softer collection of snowflakes that covers the ground.

She tumbles head over heels, and through the newfound wave of disorientation she takes a moment to appreciate the irony in how she is now literally doing somersaults. Bits of quickly melting white cling to her, but she pays them little heed, far more concerned with how her momentum suddenly halts and she is left sprawled face down in the unwelcoming heaps of freezing flakes.

A.M touches down next to her, gentle and graceful, only a hair's breadth from decomposing into an uproarious fit of laughter, and Jade pouts unhappily, silently wanting to tell her off but also remaining fully aware that her misfortune was indeed comical.

Somehow, she manages to recover herself without setting A.M off, and it’s only the not quite real cough and unrestrained smirk that tip Jade off on how the dead girl is feeling.

“Why are we here?” Jade asks, standing and brushing clumps of half melted snow off her sleeves “and where even is here?”

A.M hums before answering.

“This is the space that represents you.” She says, and Jade frowns, confused.

“It can’t be!” The ravenette exclaims “it’s so cold, and, and gloomy!”

A.M nods in agreement.

“It is. But that is only because you have not tied yourself to this space.” She points to a seemingly random spot in the distance, where upon closer inspection Jade can just barely make out a slim, shimmering stone tower.

“Do you see it?” A.M asks, and Jade nods mutely “we need to go there, so you can wake up.”

“Wake up? But I just got here, and you haven’t explained anything yet!”

“Not literally awaken.” The ghost sighs, exasperated, right foot tapping against the snow but leaving no footprints “mentally. Spiritually. Whichever you prefer.” She then glances around frightfully, as if suddenly remembering something.

“I’ll explain more once we get there, ‘kay? But we really can’t afford to stay here, not right now.” She doesn’t wait for a response, taking to the air and tearing off into the direction she had outlined earlier.

Jade can’t see any option but to follow, so she too pushes herself completely off the ground and floats after the spirit.

It does not occur to her that there is always another choice.

The tower is tall, far taller than it had first looked, and that surprises Jade because she has always considered herself to be good at measuring things from a distance.

A.M does not seem to be shocked or even concerned in the slightest, and Jade wonders if that is because of what being dead exposes one to, or if it’s because her companion has been here before.

The answer is most likely both.

“I can’t go any further than this.” A.M announces suddenly, brunette curls rustling in an imaginary wind “it’s up to you to climb the rest.”

Jade fusses with her glasses. “Can’t I just fly up there? It seems like we’re on a schedule.”

The ghost pauses, considering.

“I suppose you could. But the journey is what really counts, don’t you think?”

Jade hums noncommittally. “What’s up there? Do you know?”

A.M shakes her head. “No. Only you can. I just know that it’s important.”

She doesn’t offer anything else, choosing to meet Jade’s eyes until the dreamer lowers her head and wordlessly crosses the threshold of the odd tower.

She can’t see it, of course, but once she does a beacon of bright green light flashes from atop the tower, and the spirit left behind smiles bitterly.

This is only the first test of many, she knows, and she’s confident the unsuspecting girl can handle it.

She only hopes forgiveness will be in the cards once it is all over.
———
“Is there something I can help you with?”

Roxy is startled, tired, and most importantly, confused. She had gone to bed fairly confident that none of the kids would be trusting enough to actually seek them out for help, and as such had not expected to actually be awoken some time during the night.

She had also not expected to be treated to the sight of two glowering, crimson eyes down the hallway.

So if she sounds a little bit on edge, it is far from intentional.

She still wishes she could take it back when she sees the boy cringe at her tone.

“John. Do you know which room is his?” His voice is loud and not at all scratchy, which once again throws her for a loop, because it doesn’t match his appearance in the slightest.

“First door on the right.” She responds automatically, and really, she’s impressed with herself for even remembering which room anyone chose, never mind the awkward kid that went upstairs during dinner.

She supposes she has the lack of alcohol in her veins to thank for her somewhat newfound strength of memory.

“Yours or mine?” He gives her a look that is not really a glare but feels like one, and his syllables are choppy, restricted.

“Er, mine.” He turns on a dime, and before she can consider what she is doing she is already snaking an arm out, grasping him gently by the wrist.

She pretends to ignore his flinch and the way he instantly moves to wrench her hand off.

“If something is wrong, you know you can tell me.”

She speaks in a feather soft tone, focused on him, but he won’t meet her eyes.

“You wouldn’t understand. You don’t know me.” She’s pretty sure he meant to say that in a growl but doesn’t, and she reasons that it probably has to do with how shiny and wet his eyes are.

“I don’t have to know you to understand.” Roxy slowly tells him. He doesn’t respond, and she sighs.

“You lost someone, didn’t you?” His head snaps up, eyes widened and tears forgotten.

He still doesn’t say anything, but right now he doesn’t need to. She can read his questions just by looking at him.

“I did, too.” She smiles, but it’s bitter and twisted and all the things a smile should not be “and do you know what the worst part is?”

He shakes his head, but she can tell he knows the answer, and maybe it’s just a little sadistic of her that she keeps going.

Whether the pain she is striving to inflict is onto herself or onto him, she really can’t say. The answer is probably both, but mostly her.

“I think I could have stopped it.”

He exhales, as if her words have sucked all the breath out of him, and in a way, they have.

“Who was it?” He asks hoarsely, and even though it was him seeking help and not her, and even though she is supposed to be the adult now and turn the question back onto him, she doesn’t.

Maybe that makes her cruel and selfish. Maybe it’s just a testament to how messed up she is, that this kid, who isn’t even that much younger than her and has been out killing what used to be people, thinks she needs help more than he does.

Never mind that she’s known him for about ten minutes, provided she doesn’t include the time he didn’t spend at dinner with the rest of them.

She doesn’t.

“Calliope” she tells him “her name was Calliope.”

He takes her hand and drags her over to the common room, setting them both on a couch.

“Tell me about her” he half-asks half-demands.

She knows she shouldn’t. Not when she doesn’t know him. Not when he’s clearly hurting just as much as she is. Not when she’s supposed to be the one listening.

Not when Jane, who is much closer to her, has been attempting to get her to talk about this exact same thing for weeks.

Which is why she feels equal measures of guilt and relief when her story -Calliope’s story- spills out from between her lips.
——
Kanaya, as it turns out, never gets a chance to tell Rose her story that night.

This is not because she changes her mind or gets cold feet, but rather because both she and Rose are distracted by the way all the flickering and twinkling lights of the city all die at the exact same time, bathing the landscape in darkness just as quickly as a puppet whose strings have been cut plummets.

The dying of the power in the city is not what halts their conversation, however. Rather, it is the long wails of sirens booming from somewhere in the distance that accomplishes this.

“Do you hear that?” Kanaya has to ask, because sometimes she isn’t sure what still falls within the realm of human senses.

But Rose nods, and for some inexplicable reason, Kanaya experiences a sinking feeling, like something has swallowed all of her confidence and buried it somewhere far away.

Later, she will recognize the feeling as dread.

“I did not think the city had any weather sirens.” Rose says, and if at all possible the sensation worsens.

“I did not think power should be lost just yet.” Kanaya confesses.

“It should not have gone out, no.” Rose peers closely at the city, eyes narrowing slightly “not yet, at least.”

Kanaya stays quiet, thinking.

“Somehow I do not think it was the zombies that set it off.”

“Most likely not.” Rose concurs “which means it’s either survivors or-“

“-or the vampires we are looking for.” Kanaya finishes with a sigh “it would make for an ideal trap to lure in survivors.”

“But it would also attract the infected.”

“That would be of little concern. They pose no danger to us, and other survivors would most likely be wary once they see the infected.”

Rose frowns, largely unconvinced in the likelihood of that being the reason behind the sirens, and while Kanaya feels similarly the ravenette knows they have vastly different rhetoric.

“Storm sirens are generally warnings to remain indoors. Triggering them would not have a high chance to lure survivors, especially given that it is nighttime.”

Kanaya subconsciously drums her fingers in the railing. Rose notices but says nothing about it.

“Based off of the one we encountered, I would surmise that the other vampires are in some state of bloodlust. They are most likely not equipped for any sort of elaborate thinking.”

“Survivors, then. A final effort to either find other survivors or make the city safer by drawing all the undead to a single place.”

“Or something else.” Rose looks startled, but only slightly. “Vampires are far from the only immortals to walk the earth.”

“Of course.” The teenager murmurs “so what do you think-?”

Her question is cut off by the sound of the doors behind them being thrown open, and Kanaya is more than a bit concerned that she had not been paying attention to their surroundings, and had not been aware that anyone was coming.

It does not matter to her that it is only Karkat and Rose’s cousin that find them. For the moment, her mind is preoccupied with alarm at just how relaxed she was before they arrived.

She wonders if bringing Rose with will prove to be a mistake.

She knows there is only one way to find out.

“Were you guys woken up by the sirens too?” The older Lalonde is the first of them to speak, loose and calm in both tone and posture, but Kanaya does not believe for a second that either she or Karkat were jolted from unconsciousness by the distant callings.

This is more because of how Karkat reacts to Roxy’s question than any ability on her part to distinguish lies from truth.

“Something along those lines.” Rose replies, and although her voice is even Kanaya thinks there’s just a touch of discomfort hidden in it.

It takes her several moments to remember why.

If Roxy notices she brushes it off, opting to instead worm her way in between Rose and Kanaya, and the vampire finds herself stepping to the side to create more space between them.

She can’t say why, but there’s an aura of danger around the taller college student, as if getting too close will see her burned like her brethren in sunlight.

Kanaya has not experienced fear in a long time, and maybe it’s still too strong a word, but she thinks it comes very close to how she feels right now.

Karkat slips in on her other side and she barely notices, too preoccupied with the sudden need for space that is threatening to overtake her more logical demand to stay calm and give nothing away.

She still almost flees then and there.

Almost.

Instead she tries to focus in on the conversation that Roxy and Rose have started up.

“So you’re really just gonna take off? Even though there’s a bunch of flesh eaters out there?”

“It’s important.” Rose says shortly. She then seems to realize that her words make her sound just a bit too aggressive, and she hastens to amend her tone. “We will only be gone a couple days.”

“And what happens when it’s longer? What happens when you don’t come back?” Roxy cries out, voice cracked and raised, and then she suddenly composed herself, as if she has realized she has overstepped some invisible boundary.

“I just… I’m worried, okay? So many people have already died. I don’t want you to die to.”

Rose doesn’t respond, not right away, at least. The continual drones of the far off sirens fill the void left by her unspoken words.

“You know that we will be okay. We made it this far. You know that we are capable.”

“It’s not a question of capability!” Roxy snaps. Rose meets her gaze unflinchingly, but from behind her Kanaya can feel Karkat shift awkwardly.

She understands. They are both outsiders in this conversation.

But leaving might make it worse, so they stay, tense and anxious and fraught with the sensation of intruding on something that should be private.

Although she supposes that to the two conversing, it is as good as private.

“Kanaya believes there may be someone she knows in the city. We are going out to look for them.” Rose eventually says with a sigh, and all at once the atmosphere changes to something that still isn’t quite welcoming, but is at least not quite as hostile as the vampire was imagining it to be.

“Ah.” Roxy turns to Kanaya for the first time that night, and the ravenette has to fight to keep from cowering under her stare. “Didn’t want everyone getting involved in your business, eh?”

“Something like that.” Kanaya repeats Rose’s words from earlier and offers a tight, strained smile. Roxy’s eyes narrow, pink orbs that are just a shade off from Rose’s transforming into slits, but before the situation can escalate into anything more Karkat is drawing their attention.

“Hat to interrupt whatever weird pseudo interrogation you have going on, but the sirens have stopped.”

Both Rose and Roxy look out towards the city in alarm, but Kanaya frowns. She can still hear faint echoes of the warning chimes, even if the others can’t.

It leaves her unsure of if she should say anything,

In the end, she says nothing at all.

There are few memories that Kanaya Maryam regrets in her life.

But one day, this moment of silence will be one of them.
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
The sixth day of the Apocalypse, Dirk Strider is awake well before the sun is.

Waking up for him is much less like finding himself in a new world and much more like gradually becoming aware that there is more to the world around him than previously known. Dirk finds that the best way to put the sensation into words is to say it’s like he’s been teetering on the brink of unconsciousness, in a trance, and has decided to get up instead of giving in to those dark, preying edges of his mind.

Truthfully, a more accurate metaphor would be to say it’s like someone has snapped their fingers and released him from a spell he hadn’t known he was in.

But Dirk Strider will never, ever, acknowledge when someone holds power over him, even in his thoughts. Because maybe if he doesn’t say it, then it won’t be true.

He’s all too aware it does not work like that, which is perhaps why everyone that knows him- including himself- also knows that his personality is essentially limited to ‘obsessed workaholic’.

Dirk has many excuses to use when asked why he is the way he is. His favorite is to say that he is searching to perfect himself, and that perfection has a very steep price.

It’s not a lie, not really. He is trying to better himself, of course he is. More than that, though, constant action means there’s less time to commit to reflecting on just how much he’s already screwed up.

Even if the time seems to find him anyways.

Sometimes, however, it doesn’t. An admittedly rare occasion, but usually it’s enough to keep him going long enough for the next break from his thoughts.

Today he knows he will not be getting any reprieves, but he’s still going to get up and do something and try to exhaust himself enough to get one, because the alternative is to take the rope out of his closet.

So he rolls out of bed and springs to his feet. He does it faster than he should, not that it matters. He doesn’t care if he pulls a muscle or if sprains anything, and as such slowing down is would be something of a pointless activity.

Well maybe not pointless. Given the opportunity, Dirk knows he would welcome the pain.

He’s just as quick to get dressed as he was to get up, if not a tiny bit slower, but only because he takes the time to smooth out the wrinkles in his shirt and replace his shades over his eyes. If not for his jeans, which are slightly darker than his other pairs, he would look identical to how he did yesterday.

Which is just as well. Dirk thinks it’s a sign of control to appear unchanging even as the world fluctuates around him. If he wants to reach out and twist this plane of existence and carve a place for himself there, he first needs to prove that he is better than it. That he deserves to be listened to.

Even if he has, on multiple occasions, convinced himself that he really doesn’t.

This has not and will not stop him from trying. In Dirk’s mind, giving up is almost as bad as failure.

Almost.

Satisfied that he looks decent enough for Roxy to leave him alone, Dirk slips out his door and silently treads downstairs.

If he stops by the entrance to the hallway Dave is residing in, contemplating on whether or not he should check on his younger brother, nobody says anything.

Cousin. His younger cousin.

Sometimes it’s difficult to keep his relations straight.

He wonders if Dave has the same problem.

Then he reminds himself that wondering is useless, that it never yields results or knowledge, and he immediately tries to discard any further thought on his younger male family member.

He doesn’t succeed, of course, but he didn’t really think he would. What he does manage to do is to turn his thoughts from how Dave might be feeling now to how Dave might have survived the Apocalypse.

The admission costs him a single pang of guilt, but Dirk had been certain that if something like this were to ever happen and he were not around, Dave would not be one of the ones to survive.

It’s a callous thought, even if it is logical. Dave has always been… sensitive, even if he tries to act the opposite when around Dirk. Dave’s just not cut out for being a harsh survivalist, willing to do whatever it takes to see another day.

Or so Dirk had believed. Perhaps that’s still the case, but the fact of the matter is that his little brother is here, alive and breathing and all together not a zombie.

Cousin, he corrects himself. His little cousin.

He turns the corner and trudges down another set of stairs, these ones leading into the basement. As he nears and opens the door at the bottom cool air whistles through the new pathway to kiss his skin, and the walls shift to hardened stone instead of the slick wallpapers of up above.

His mother had been one hell of a weird individual, that’s for sure. Seriously, what kind of millionaire has a literal dungeon built into the bottom of their house?

The question is meant to be rhetorical, but he’s considered it too many times for it to just be idle thought.

When it comes to his mother, though, thought is all he really has. Sure, he’s met her once or twice, and she clearly trusted him (felt guilty) enough to let him stay here with Roxy, but…

He still never knew her. Never knew why he never knew her. And now he never will.

He just can’t understand why their mom didn’t want to keep him around. It obviously was not a wealth related problem, and Dirk can’t imagine any other scenario great enough for anyone to not want their child around.

Anyone except his mother, of course.

Perhaps that’s his problem: he simply can’t read into the motivations of other people. Certainly, it would explain why he can’t imagine any of his companions caring about him.

But really, why would they? He’s just the silent fuck-up that only comes around long enough to make sure they don’t forget about him, and then vanishes until they are almost to the point that they forget to remember he exists.

Sometimes, Dirk thinks they don’t believe he cares about them. He wouldn’t blame them for assuming so, either.

But he does. He cares, he cares more about them than he does himself, and he wants to take them and protect them and absorb all of the terrible things in the world, if only so they are never touched by it. He wants an endless moment where Calliope is still there and Roxy is a blinding beacon of smiles and Jane is perpetually laughing at some dumb thing Jake is doing, and he’s just there watching it all, watching and drinking in a happiness he never attained for himself.

He can’t have any of that, though, because Calliope isn’t here, and Roxy doesn’t smile much, and Jane doesn’t laugh anymore, and Jake is far more serious than he ever should be.

And somehow, Dirk just knows it’s his fault. It has to be.

Because if it’s his error, his responsibility, then that also means he is the one that can have a chance to fix it.

Now that chance is finally here, in the form of Dave and Rose and all of their friends, and Dirk just knows that it’s on him to make sure they all stay alive and stay together and stay happy. If that means getting up early to sneak off to the basement and tinker with metal scraps until his hands bleed…

Well. That’s exactly what he’s doing, now isn’t it?
——
Contrary to popular belief, Vriska Serket is not actually a heavy sleeper.

Sure, there is very little she enjoys more than a consecutive twelve hours of shut eye. But it's the rarity of such an event that makes it so coveted, and not any natural inclination to remain unconscious for as long as possible.

No, her mother trained that out of her a long time ago.

Even still, Vriska is determined to acquire as many hours of unconscious bliss as possible. To that end, she has made it a habit to practice the art of ‘faking it ‘till you make it’ when it comes to sleep. Oftentimes, this consists of waking up at ungodly hours and pretending to sleep until she actually feels like getting up, at which point she will pretend to be grumpy and somehow still tired.

Okay, so she doesn’t actually have to fake anything past the point of getting out of bed. The point remains that even while sleeping Vriska Serket is still very, very aware of her surroundings.

Typically, this means very little, as the cerulean eyed teen is often inclined to do nothing about anything she might hear. She’s watched enough horror movies to know that investigating the sound is a surefire way to die, and quite frankly, she has no interest in dying, especially not in such a lame way.

This morning is a fair bit different, however. This morning, when she hears the gentle creak of the floorboards outside her room, she is up and out of bed in an instant, one hand retrieving the switchblade from under her pillow while the other supports her in pushing off the bed.

And when the sound fades and the coast is presumably clear, Vriska, rather than going back to sleep, retrieves the second pair of knives Jade had given her, which Vriska had stashed inside the internal pockets of her camouflage jacket the night before.

The rest of her clothes Vriska fully intends to burn. But her jacket is something special, even if it is currently splattered with dried maroon blood and covered in various bits of dust and silver dog hair.

The jacket itself isn’t really anything unique. It’s old, about as old as Vriska, and somewhat worn. The best thing Vriska can say about it is that the pattern is cool (camo, by default, always is) and that the material is above average in grade.

Well, that, and it’s the last thing her mother ever gave her.

Her real mother, that is. The one that pushed her and pressed her and was stronger than iron. Not the one that leapt at her own shadow and batted her eyelashes at everything that moved.

Now is not the time to be bitterly reminiscing, however. Vriska has far more pressing matters to attend, namely, she has to investigate the mysterious noise like any other moronic protagonist.

At least, she thinks, she has enough common sense to bring weapons with her.

The auburn haired teen leaves her room just in time to see a wisp of blonde hair vanish down the staircase. She takes a moment to appreciate her decision to take the room closest to the common area, knowing that if she had taken Terezi’s room as she originally wanted, she wouldn’t have gotten such an opportunity.

Luck, it seems, still rides strong with her.

Vriska counts to eight before following down the stairs. Technically, five is a much more opportune number to wait when trailing someone, but in Vriska’s experience eight works just as well.

You never know when your mark might decide to turn around, after all.

Her steps are light and airy as she sneaks down the stairs, but she doesn’t catch sight of whom she is pursuing until she reaches the living room. At first she is worried she has completely lost her target, the carpeted space being bare save for furniture and the smoky gray light spilling in from between the blinds.

Then, she hears the careless slam of a door from the direction of the staircase, turning just in time to see the form of Dirk Strider fade into the basement, and she mentally kicks herself for not remembering the flight of stairs going downwards.

She wonders if her lapse in judgement is due to how much they have been moving around the past several days, or something more sinister.

Honestly, she wouldn’t put it past these strangers to have slipped something into their food. All the more since it had been prepared before they arrived, and therefore all four of the older kids have had ample opportunity to spike their dinner.

The motivation for doing so eludes her, but then that is why she is following whichever blonde is up at this ungodly hour: to determine the threat level they pose.

Nobody does anything for free, after all. Now more than ever, given how resources are going to become more and more scarce. If she is going to keep herself and Terezi from being taken advantage of, she needs to know their expectations.

Before, the reasoning was simple: mutually assured survival. As a group, they had a much higher chance at fending off infected than they did alone. The small voice that’s telling her there was another reason can fuck off.

If there is one thing she does not want to do right now, it’s contemplate sentimental, foolish reasoning such as companionship and camaraderie.

She still has better things to do, such as making sure the door to the underground floor opens and closes quietly enough that the person ahead of her does not hear her slipping through it.

Once the wooden plane has slid back to its original position Vriska finds herself ensconced in darkness. She stretches her hands out, reaching for a wall to brace herself against, and trails her fingers along the walls as she cautiously makes her way forward.

Footsteps echo somewhere to her right, nearby inaudible over her racing heart. Vriska can feel her veins begin to itch, a byproduct of the adrenaline snaking through her body.

The sound of another door clicking shut emanates from somewhere, but Vriska can’t place the exact location without being able to see anything. So she stands, blinking, until the stone around her brightens just enough to distinguish it from the night colored corridor.

From there, she inches forward, still not removing her hand from the wall.

And then, when the stone gives way from underneath her digits and is replaced with something smoother, something colder, something pointier, she grasps it, recognizing it for what it is.

A door handle.

Her roaring pulse reaches a crescendo, overtaking her sense of hearing, but Vriska’s smile is wide and toothy as she takes the handle and twists, pushing it inwards to grant her access to the room behind.

She does not see the way gentle red light floods the corridor just beyond this particular door, nor does she realize that the person she has been following did not enter the same room she did.

Not until it is far too late, anyways.
——
Terezi is concerned.

Not because they’re down two people, or because Vriska hasn’t gotten up yet (she doesn’t anticipate her friend facing the world until the evening), or even because she’s in a strange new place with people she doesn’t know.

Rather, her anxiety is because Dave has been pacing nonstop since this morning, shoes clicking all over the place, up and down and around the length of the living room and the kitchen, and all it’s doing is driving her crazy.

Terezi thinks it wouldn’t be so bad if he had just kept his shoes off. And really, what kind of person would wear them indoors in the first place?

The answer is clearly an insane person, because only someone with a frenzied mind would be okay with making as much noise as Dave is.

Finally, she can’t take it anymore, and when she hears him approach she growls lowly. “Coolkid, I’m going to ask you only once. Sit down.”

He stops, and Terezi feels a wave of relief from the ensuing silence. “That’s not a question.” He snarks, and she lifts her cane high enough that he backs down and sinks despondently into a chair. Victorious, Terezi sets the flat end of her weapon back onto the floor, but doesn’t let go of the handle.

The silence does not last, as just seconds after sitting down Dave begins to drum his fingers on his leg.

“Y’know, you’ve really nailed the ‘ancient-as-dirt wise-as-grass mentor’ aesthetic. What with the cane and the blindness and all.” He comments.

Terezi stays silent. Another day, she might have laughed at this comment, or perhaps she might have played along.

She still tries to do the latter, but it falls flat, probably because she’s just too irritated by all this noise.

“You’ll find I fit the role much better than just those traits.”

“Yeah, I kinda thought as much.” Dave sighs and Terezi hears him shift in his seat. “Gonna share some of your great wisdom? Or are you one of those people that talk exclusively in riddles? ‘Cause I gotta warn you, I suck at those. Like, vacuum cleaner on dry roll levels of suck. As in that thing was set to max and then dialed up twelve levels, and then chucked into space ‘cause the suction was too much for the atmosphere. That’s how much suck we’re talking here.”

Terezi sniffs. “Dave, I’m insulted you would consider me to be on par with a cryptic maniac that makes people want to jump into the void.”

“Uh, not the metaphor I was going for.” Dave mumbles under his breath, and Terezi decides to ignore him.

“However” she presses onwards “I could be convinced to ignore this slight if you tell me what is bothering you.”

From across the room, Terezi can feel as Dave goes from letting his shoulders sag in relief to how his hands leap to form fists, and she can taste the anxiety building in his chest and the fear hardening his eyes.

All in all, it’s not the reaction Terezi had been anticipating, but then, she had been careful not to set very many expectations in the first place.

“I dunno” Dave says, the back of the chair rustling as he shrugs. “I guess I’m just a little worried about my sister and her girlfriend. That’s all.”

The stench of the lie is potent, more so than Terezi has ever encountered, and she finds herself choking on her tongue before she can point this out; an act that ends up in her favor, because it seems Dave Strider simply cannot handle a moment of quiet.

“Well, maybe not all. I mean, a bunch of people are dead. Sort of. Half-dead? And I mean, that’s pretty fucked up. Not to mention that nobody knows why.”

“That’s not what is bothering you right now.” Terezi observes “If it were, you’d be more like John.”

Dave squirms, filling Terezi’s ears with the scraping of fabric on leather, and she has to bite her lip in order to resist the urge to snap at him to stop.

She’s just as anxious as the rest of them, after all. His behavior does her just as few favors as it would anyone else.

Dave gradually settles down, but not before Terezi takes a deep breath to steady herself. The blonde seems reluctant to say anything more, but the blind teen doesn’t especially mind, if only because doing so gives her ears enough of a break to get some of her patience back.

“I know you have issues with someone in this house.” She says, and he exhales lightly, which she takes as a chance to continue.

“I know it’s someone in the other group. And I know it’s one of your cousins.”

She feels his fingers dig themselves into the cushions, a clear sign that she is not only correct, but that it’s getting to him as well.

“In fact, I even know which one it is.”

“But you don’t know why.” Dave says lowly, and Terezi supposes his voice would be considered menacing to any ordinary person.

Too bad that all the ordinary people died six days ago.

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“Why not? If you really knew anything, then you wouldn’t have to ask.”

Terezi shrugs. “Maybe I just wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”

Dave growls. “That’s a load of horseshit and you know it.”

Terezi briefly snickers in appreciation of the pun, then snaps to a much more serious expression.

“No, it’s not.” She tells him, forcing as much conviction as she can into her voice.

He freezes again, and this time Terezi can tell it’s because her words are sinking in, and not just because he is desperately trying to keep his cool.

Personally, she thinks it’s a little late for him to do that anyways, but there’s not really any harm in letting him try to keep the facade.

Not when everyone can already see right through it.

Dave opens his mouth- maybe to respond, maybe to deflect, Terezi can’t really tell- but before he can they are cut off by someone storming down the stairs.

“Guys!” It’s John. For some reason, Terezi doesn’t find herself surprised by this.

“It’s Jade! She- she won’t wake up!”

That, however.

That surprises her greatly.
——
Kanaya Maryam doesn’t really know what to do around Rose Lalonde.

Not because she’s uncomfortable, necessarily, although there is something tense and coiled that strains between them like a piece of taffy being torn apart, just waiting for the middle to fall through.

She wants to imagine it as something akin to desire, or perhaps longing, but in truth she thinks this sensation is closer to anticipation.

The question of what they’re waiting for surfaces, but it’s easy enough to answer.

She just doesn’t want to.

It’s a shame, really. They had been getting along quite well, and Kanaya does not mind admitting that she is more than a little fond of the girl with fuschia eyes.

She supposes that she should have found it suspicious that they would click so easily, especially since in their first encounter her behavior should have come across as nothing short of deranged.

And yet, she didn’t, which leaves her where she is now: alone, with Rose, who is undoubtedly waiting for them to take down the other vampires before making any sort of move.

Kanaya is honestly surprised that Rose is secretly a hunter, or at least, one in training. She just doesn’t seem the type, given her self-professed proclivity towards dark creatures and how she had been caught off guard when they were attacked two days ago.

Although it’s all too possible for it all to have been an act. Kanaya does not have a great deal of experience with hunters; she should not assume they would all be exactly the same.

That does not mean, however, that convention should be ignored. And for as much as Rose does not seem the hunting type, her cousin does, if the blessing surrounding her is anything to go by.

And it is; Kanaya has never encountered an angel-touch strong enough to make her want to run before. The only way to receive one would be to have an exceptionally pure heart, which in Kanaya’s experience equates to ‘being very good at eliminating the supernatural’.

Hunting tends to run in families, Kanaya knows, much like vampirism itself does. The odds that Rose would not at least be in training are incredibly slim.

In fact, the only question the ravenette really has is why Rose does not have a blessing herself.

Perhaps Kanaya is meant to serve as Rose’s test. It would, at least, explain why her cousin did not try to kill Kanaya immediately.

“What are you thinking of?” Rose’s question breaks her from her pondering, and Kanaya turns her head to look at her companion.

“I am worried about Karkat.” The lie rolls smoothly off her tongue, so much in fact that Kanaya doesn’t even have time to think about what she’s saying.

“What for? He seems to have made up with Dave well enough.”

“I have reason to believe he is still in mourning.” Kanaya pauses. “Karkat, I mean. Not your brother. Although- and I hope you’ll forgive me for saying so- Dave seems to have his own share of issues to worry about.”

“You are not wrong to say so” Rose says “although personally I am more concerned with the rest of our group.”

Kanaya arches an eyebrow. “How so?”

Rose shrugs. “They do not seem inclined to trust my cousins and their friends. Not that I blame them, of course. Considering the lack of adults in many of their lives, their skepticism is… valid.”

Kanaya wants to ask how she can make that assumption about their companions, because as far as she’s aware Rose has not spent much time with any of them, but she holds her tongue..

“We are getting close.” She says instead.

Rose glances around, taking in the only vaguely familiar streets and shops, then nods to herself.

“What will you do then? I do not imagine there will be much of a body for you to search for clues.”

“No. But his clothes should still be left behind.”

Rose goes quiet for a moment.

“What will that achieve?” She asks “most people do not carry their home address around with them.”

“Vampires are not most people. But in the event you are correct and there is nothing there, there are other methods.”

Rose hums an acknowledgement, and they carry on in silence for several streets.

Kanaya thinks the city is too quiet without people, too quiet without rain, too quiet without the sounds of anything besides the wind.

She thinks it suits her far more than the noises of the previous world ever did, because silence is but one aspect of isolation, and if there is one fate Kanaya knows she deserves it’s to be separated from everyone, everything,

She’s hurt enough people to warrant that kind of punishment, she knows.

She wonders if Rose already knows what she’s done, and if that’s why it’s come down to this. She thinks that the blonde probably doesn’t, because if she did there’s no way Kanaya would have been allowed to leave the mansion alive.

“Rose” Kanaya starts “once this is over, I am going to leave.”

Rose falters briefly mid-step, the only indication that she is surprised by the declaration, but she soon enough returns to her previous, steady pace.

“Where?” She asks, and Kanaya’s suspicions are sealed, because she knows that the only people that never ask ‘why’ are the people that already know the answers.

“I cannot say for certain. Somewhere far away. Perhaps I will return to Carolina. Perhaps somewhere else.”

A look of concentration overtakes Rose, and for just a moment her features are twisted by her thoughts, a sight that could almost be considered poetic.

“I believe you will find nothing good in leaving.” The blonde says “given that you are not only lacking a direction, but also a purpose.”

Kanaya wants to bristle at this, because they both know why she wants to get out while she can, before something happens they both regret. But she doesn’t, because if she does then she gives up this game, this illusion Rose seems to want to maintain, the one that portrays everything as being fine.

And if Kanaya is honest, she wants to keep it, too.

“Maybe” Kanaya tells her companion “although I somehow doubt staying will be much better.”

“Oh, I would not be so sure about that” Rose says coyly, and Kanaya makes the mistake of looking at her eyes, which flash with emotions she can’t read, emotions she doesn’t want to read. “I am quite sure I could come with up with something to make it worth your while.”

And Kanaya has to stop breathing for a bit, because with those words her resolve crumbles and she is faced with the fact that she is completely, utterly, absolutely doomed.

Judging by the lingering smile on Rose’s face, her companion is all too aware of her reaction, and they don’t speak the remainder of the journey.

Then again, they don’t really need to.
——
John is not particularly great in a crisis.

He knows this. His friends know this. Heck, even Bec knows this.

It didn’t always matter very much, though.

Before, this meant stumbling over every single word on a school presentation. It meant giving in to anybody that asked him to do something, or relegating all decisions to a single coin toss.

Now, it means cowering from the infected, and letting his friends continue on their paths of war. Now, it means that even if he can make a choice, he still won’t do anything to stand by it.

It also means that when he finds Jade, unmoving and unresponsive, that he panics, because the first thing he can think of is that she’s dead.

The second thing he thinks of is that he needs to get someone who can deal with this, because he already knows he can’t.

As he bolts to the stairs, he can’t help but wonder why it had to be him of all people faced with this, and then he immediately feels guilty, because this is his friend lying there, and he should be thinking more about how he hopes she is okay and not how he wishes he wasn’t the one to deal with this.

All he had wanted was someone to talk to, someone that could understand.

Instead he had opened the door to a crying dog and his comatose friend, and now he doesn’t know what to do other than find someone who might.

By the time John spills out of the stairwell and into the living room he has already called out for help. The memory of doing so is already gone, having been lost in a whirlwind of panic and self pity and scattered, half-formed thoughts. His pulse is erratic and his is breathing irregular when Terezi and Dave force their way past him to rush upstairs, and John soon turns to follow them back upstairs.

It does not occur to John to wonder where everyone else is until he collides with Karkat on the upper floor.

“Fuck!” Karkat yells “the hell is wrong with you? Why is everyone running like a bunch of goddamn headless chickens?”

John winces a little. He isn’t really prepared to answer this, and he can’t seem to figure out how to string his words together. By this point Karkat has pushed himself off the floor, crossing his arms and bearing a scowl that makes John think he is a stammer away from getting beat up.

John should know. He’s been beaten more than once by bullies.

Karkat doesn’t act like a bully, though. At least, not the ones John knows. If anything, John is more inclined to label Karkat as someone who has been a victim, although the reason why eludes him. He certainly hasn’t heard anything to give him that impression...

Unless, of course, he considers that thing with Dave.

John doesn’t know much about the thing with Dave, or at least, he doesn’t want to. In truth, he knows enough that he could piece the full story together if he wanted, but…

If he does that, then he also has to face the fact that Dave isn’t nearly as perfect as John likes to think he is. Likes to think all his friends are. And John doesn’t know if he could handle having his view of his closest friend shatter so completely.

Karkat is staring now, visibly unnerved by John’s lasting silence, but also more than a bit peeved at the lack of response. The outline of his jaw shifts, indicating he is grinding his teeth to keep from saying anything, and it’s only a matter of time before he snaps.

John knows that if he lets Karkat get to that point they’ll have more problems than just Jade, so he hurries to reply and then-

A door is thrown open from the hall behind Karkat, and both boys move to stare at the two women who emerge. They both look composed and at ease, and it’s almost enough for John to convince himself that everything is fine.

Almost.

“Hey, guys!” The taller of the two- Roxy, John remembers, because she looks exactly like Rose- calls out, and her voice is chipper, too chipper, and it makes John cringe. “What’s up?”

Karkat glares at John but doesn’t say anything, and John blinks, because he hates being put on the spot like this, and his mind is blanking and he feels like he should know what to say but he can’t he can’t think of what it is and where are Terezi and Dave they should be here they should be hearing this they would know what to say.

Wouldn’t they?

He’s taken too long to say anything, he knows he has, he knows it because something in Roxy’s expression has changed and now she and the other woman (Jane, he reminds himself, her name is Jane. He remembers because she has the same name as his nana) are exchanging worried looks, and when Jane speaks her voice is the softest thing John has ever heard.

“John, it’s okay.” She tells him, and he believes her, because he’s never heard a lie told that gently.

Later, when they talk about this, and John asks how Jane knew what to do, she will tell him she simply did what she used to do to the scared and shaking puppies they would bring into the shelter she volunteered at. He will tell her he never even realized he was trembling in the first place.

In the moment, her voice is enough to return his racing mind to him long enough so he can point down the hall and whisper a single word.

“Jade.”
——
“John. It’s okay.”

Jane tries to keep her volume low and her words soft, although really, she doesn’t have to try very hard at all. Roxy is giving her an odd look from the side, probably because she’s used to Jane being proper and stiff but never exactly gentle with others.

And normally, Jane isn’t. She’s courteous, yes, and polite, but any of her friends would be quick to peg her as ‘firm’ in the best cases and ‘commanding’ in the worst.

Roxy was always the closer of the two of them to being nurturing, at least where people are concerned.

It’s not because Jane doesn’t want to be soft and gentle and motherly. If anything, that’s the kind of person she thinks she would be, if left to her own devices. Certainly, those are the traits of the person she wants to be.

But those aren’t the traits of the person she was raised to be. Jane was taught to be cordial but cold, to work her way into the hearts of others but never let them into hers. She was born to be a business woman, a successful one, and that meant that she had to adopt the temperament of someone who was, in the eyes of others, emotionless.

In the past, Jane had been fairly successful in maintaining this mindset. She had, after all, managed to keep the knowledge of her crush on Jake English from the man himself.

There was only one person Jane had ever broken her mold for, and that was Roxy Lalonde.

Roxy… Roxy was special. Roxy had drawn her in by a fluke (a chance collision when both of them were running late) and then pulled her back again (another chance meeting, this one in front of a coffee shop) and somehow made her stay (a sticky note with two names and a smiley face) and then broken down her walls (a late night confession about everything that mattered and some things that didn’t) and then made her whole (an invitation, an informal one, to meet at a park).

So for Roxy, Jane would make any exception. The blonde was her first friend, her closest still, and Jane would trust her with anything.

Her own life. Someone else’s. Anything.

Appearing gentle and weak and vulnerable is something she had reserved especially for Roxy. She had made an internal vow to never appear like that to anyone else.

A vow that had only been broken for one other. Until now, that is. Now, it’s been broken twice.

It doesn’t matter, she tells herself. It doesn’t matter because she’s never going to be a corporate worker. It doesn’t matter because the people who taught her to think like that are dead. It doesn’t matter, because the kid in front of her is pale and shaking and scared, and it hurts her to see him like that. No, that promise is long gone, invalid, expired. It doesn’t matter.

It still feels like it matters, though.

She goes ahead and breaks her self imposed promise anyways.

It makes her feel better and guilty and relieved and afraid all at once, and she honestly can’t say where most of these emotions are coming from.

But when John points a shaky finger down the hall and whispers out in a voice so quiet she thinks she imagines it, her blood turns cold and her skin numbs, and all she can think of is that they’ve lost one of them, that one of the kids is dead.

It doesn’t matter to Jane that she doesn’t know them. It also doesn’t matter that they aren’t really kids, and that she’s barely older than them.

What does matter is the urge to protect them and shelter them from the horrors they’ve seen, and the fact that she’s already running down the hall to Jade’s room by the time John finishes speaking.

The eyes of Roxy and John and Karkat trace her hurried path, burning holes into her back, but she presses on, consumed with the single minded need to make sure Jade is okay, that she’s not dying or dead or a zombie or-

A lone howl echoes from within the walls, emanating from Jade’s room, and Jane’s panic increases if at all possible. Her pace picks up and she yanks open the teen’s door harshly, causing it to bang into the wall, and her instinct to wince is summoned, but not triggered. Jane hurries into the space, somehow taking stock of the situation despite her tumultuous head and heart.

Jade’s bed is pushed against the far side of the room, just below the window, where golden rays are streaming through to illuminate the unconscious girl’s form. Bec is curled up next to her, his snout laid across her chest. His eyes are closed, but he’s whining and whimpering, as if making noise will somehow return his owner to him.

Dave is kneeling next to the bed, fingers twisted into the sheets with his head bowed, and Terezi is standing behind him, hands placed in his shoulders. The scene is one of mourning, and it makes Jane’s heart stop, because she doesn’t understand, this shouldn’t be happening, and it scares her because it’s too familiar.

Jane brushes past them, dread guiding her steps as she nudges them aside. They’re reluctant to move at first, and Jane understands, she really does, but she refuses to believe the evidence in front of her, not until she’s checked for herself.

Jane leans over the bed, slowly reaching for Jade’s wrist to check for a pulse. Bec stirs slightly but doesn’t get up, doesn’t turn to face her, and Jane’s heart breaks and she’s caught in the urge to pet him and whisper some kind of reassurance, even if it’s more for her sake than his.

She doesn’t, though, because she’s too busy ghosting her fingers over Jade’s skin, looking for the spot that will tell her if the ravenette truly is dead.

She finds it, and her first thought is that Jade’s skin is unnaturally cold, cold like her skin was, like Calliope’s was, and it makes her want to pull away and cry.

Her hands stay where they are.

One second passes. Then two. Then three.

Then John and Karkat and Roxy are entering, and they’re much more quiet than Jane was, but nobody really cares.

Nobody really cares, because they’re too busy focusing on the way that Bec starts licking Jade’s face and barking.

And then Jane feels it, feels her pulse like a tiny fist beating against her finger, and it makes her want to laugh and cry all at once, because she knows it wasn’t there before, and that it probably hadn’t been for a while, and that’s a miracle all on its own.

But it also makes her the tiniest bit resentful, because while she’s grateful that this child (stranger) is going to be fine, Jade’s not the only one who deserves a miracle.

She’s just the only person to get one.
——
There’s a zombie in the basement.

There’s a fucking zombie in the basement.

Vriska supposes she shouldn’t be surprised. She knew these people were too good to be true, that they were too generous last night and too normal to anything but the opposite of what they appeared.

But she had expected dangerous, not stupid. And even though the struggling corpse is strapped to an operating table (which Vriska has decided not to wonder about), any person with a functioning brain should still know undead monsters are to be killed on sight.

At least it appears incapable of harm for the moment. There’s no way the creature is getting out of those restraints, and even if it does, there’s enough duct tape around its mouth to secure a building.

Orange yellow lights line the edges of where the ceiling meets the walls, and the color makes Vriska shudder. Sure, the illumination is welcome, but it’s not the color any sane person would have in a room that looks like a makeshift operating room.

Which leaves the question: why the hell is this in the house at all? Somehow, Vriska doubts it’s a new addition, which means it’s been here for a long, long time.

Vriska glares at the struggling infected as if it’s the only thing keeping her from answers, then softens as she realizes it’s all too likely this zombie was imprisoned long before she was turned.

And a ‘she’ it most definitely is. Even with all the straps covering the skin of the monster there’s no mistaking the curvaceous frame or the long, wispy hair. Vriska guesses that she had probably been in her late forties when she had been turned, and her curiosity raises just a bit more.

For the moment though, there’s nothing to be learned from the squirming corpse, and Vriska briefly considers ending it before deciding that doing so would draw too much attention to the fact that someone has been downstairs.

They might not have been told that the basement was off limits, but Vriska has no doubt in her mind that the discovery of her presence will result in some type of punishment.

And for all she knows, ‘punishment’ could mean ending up side by side with the dead woman. As much as Vriska wants to think they are strong enough to prevent something like that, there are just too many unknowns to take such a chance.

Not to mention that with Kanaya and Rose gone, they don’t have a two-to-one advantage anymore.

So she turns her attention to the rest of the room and begins searching.

There isn’t much to really search through, aside from a couple medical carts, neither of which contain anything useful beyond additional weapons in the form of scalpels and syringes. A few cabinets lounge overhead, but are completely barren on further inspection. The lack of any kind of information- even just a name would be nice- is annoying, and it makes Vriska’s skin itch with the desire to lash out and wreck something.

She doesn’t, because she’s better than that, better than her destructive inclinations. Or at least, she is now.

A memory surfaces, and she remembers laughing as the ground shook and the walls of the building across the street crumpled together like someone stepping on a tin can. She remembers grinning as the people inside fled like ants running from a boot, and the sinking feeling as one of them was only halfway out before the ceiling crunches down onto his legs.

Terezi still hasn’t brought it up, which is both sensible and ridiculous, because while the past might be irrelevant when a zombie infestation is on the rise, that day was still the single most important in their relationship.

Because that was the day Vriska pushed Terezi away for what should have been forever.

It was also the same day that the Doctor decided to take away the powers he had Vriska.

The cerulean eyed survivor tries not to focus on the second part, because it’s selfish, and the trials were what separated her from her friend in the first place. She shouldn’t cling to them or long to be back in those memories where she had the power to rule the world all tied up in her brain.

But she does, she wants that strength back more than anything, and not just so she can see can have something to show for all the pain she had been through.

She doesn’t even want her powers back because of the Apocalypse. Sure, zombies look scary, but they’re stupid and they’re slow, and as long as Vriska is smart (and she always is) they won’t be any kind of problem.

It’s not fear that really drives her, Vriska thinks, but caution. Always having contingencies in place has taken her far (her switchblade being a prime example), and it gnaws at her that she doesn’t have any now.

Still, it’s not like they can do anything about it now. Even if the older kids were capable of cracking open her skull and repairing whatever Scratch did to her, she wouldn’t trust them to do so.

Even if they didn’t have a corpse in their basement, she wouldn’t trust them.

And anyways, Vriska is resourceful. She doesn’t need powers to be a badass, and she certainly doesn’t need them to figure out what’s going on here.

This does not make her any less frustrated at the lack of progress, and she glowers at the ceiling, only to stop as her eyes make out the faint, square outline of a hatch.

Clearing off the nearest cart is a longer task than anticipated, but only because Vriska takes the time to lay the tools on the floor in the exact same manner they were arranged on the cart. She isn’t going to get caught because one of the others has a stupidly keen eye for detail.

Having it happen once before the Apocalypse is enough for her.

So when she pushes herself up into the cart she’s careful and slow, using her hands to brace herself against whatever she can until she stands up enough to reach the panel, which she then pushes upwards. From there, she grips the edges of the newly made opening and hoists herself up into the hidden room.

Vriska is prepared for a lot of things.

She is not, however, prepared for what she finds.
——
Aradia Megido watches Jade Harley enter the looming tower with guilt weighing down her heart.

She knows she shouldn’t feel bad over something that hasn’t even happened, but this time she can’t quite help it. Truthfully, she isn’t quite sure that Jade is the Witch and not the Seer. It’s just a hunch, really.

But if she’s wrong, it’s Jade that will pay the price.

Aradia doesn’t have the time to be certain, though. Not if she still wants a chance to atone for her mistake.

“And what a mistake it is.”

Aradia does not turn around to face the direction the voice comes from. She’s been exposed to this situation long enough to know it’s nothing more than a power move, and that if she remains facing the way she is the individual will soon enough make himself known.

Two minutes later, he proves her right.

He appears in front of her as if between blinks, her mind registering his arrival not quite as instantaneous as it is.

Even ghosts have limitations, it seems.

“And you more than most.”

“Talking about a lady’s flaws whilst in front of her is ever so impolite, Scratch. Surely you were raised better than that?” Aradia takes on a lofty, haughty tone. It’s one of the few things that can annoy him, aside from accusing him of being anything less than courteous.

But really, it’s only a fraction of what he deserves.

“Me? I am merely making an observation. It is hardly my fault if you take offense.” His voice is silken and smooth, and it seems to come from inside her mind, resounding with a volume just a notch louder than her typical thoughts, and distinct enough for her to separate it from the others she sometimes hears.

“But,” He states firmly “I will advise you, in the name of being a good sport, not to address me as an equal again. I am, after all, the man who raised you. Would it not be more appropriate for you to address me as ‘sir’? I would even be willing to allow you to call me ‘Doctor’, should you find yourself not quite ready to call me such.”

Aradia does not answer. Being ignored is another peeve of his, and she doesn’t really need to respond to him anyways.

They both know she’ll never anything he asks, not after everything she’s already done.

Scratch sighs, a long, low whistle that has her gritting her teeth, because he has no reason to sound tired or exasperated, and it makes her wish he had a corporeal form in the afterlife so she could punch him.

He doesn’t, though, so she restrains herself. Not that she needs to, as he already thinks of her as a petulant child, but it does give her a slice of satisfaction to not rise to his bait.

“Do you have a reason to be here, or shall I assume the end of the world has given you a case of boredom?” She speaks aloud despite the fact that she could just as easily converse with him from within her mind.

She likes to think it’s a way of keeping them on an even playing field; he may be louder in her head, but outside her skull there is nothing he can do to control her.

Not anymore, at least.

“You know that I do not engage in frivolous acts.”

“Of course.” She replies sarcastically, doing her best approximation of an eye roll, not that he can tell “because turning almost everyone into walking corpses was such an important event to trigger.”

“I believe I have already explained to you the urgency behind our actions.”

“Your actions.” Aradia snarls “not mine.”

“But they are, my dear. Were it not for you, none of this would have been possible.” His outline shifts forward, an action made less intimidating by the fact that it has about as much mobility as a cardboard cutout.

If it had actually been him, Aradia would undoubtedly have stepped back, fearfully ducking her head. Had she been feeling especially bold she may have raised an arm in a preliminary block.

But it’s not, and so she does neither of those things, instead defiantly raising her chin. She still doesn’t know if he can see her or if he can only hear her, but she doesn't want him knowing his influence on her extends beyond what it did in life.

She’s fairly sure he knows anyways.

“That may be true,” she concedes “although we both can agree the fault lies with you.”

“The responsibility lies with me.” He corrects smugly, and her hands curl into fists with newly christened rage at his arrogant tone.

Said arrogance is not without merit, Aradia has to admit, which makes it all the worse.

After all, how many can claim they are responsible for wiping out an entire planet?

“The responsibility,” Aradia repeats “how can you claim responsibility if you have yet to reap the consequences of your actions?”

“A fair a point as any.” He says “but if you think this” an impression of him gesturing grandly to the tower blooms in her mind “will have me receiving my just desserts, you are sorely mistaken.”

“I know all about your agents.” Aradia replies “if that is what you mean. You should know that I have no doubt their minds can be changed.”

“Of course,” He says smoothly “human nature is naturally fickle. In fact, I anticipate that they have already had a change of heart, even if they are not aware of it themselves.”

Aradia frowns. She had anticipated he would be aware that the loyalty of his chosen had been shaken, but she had not prepared herself for his confidence.

“What, then?” She asks at last “What has you so certain in your complete victory?”

Aradia can hear the smile in his voice as he answers her, confidence strengthening each syllable.

“It’s quite simple, my dear. And I must say that it surprises me you have not already considered it.”

She huffs, an irritated sound that escapes her lips without permission, and she can feel the self satisfaction oozing off his presence in her mind.

“Fate, my dear.” He tells her “minds can always be changed. But fate?”

“Fate is irreversible.”
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
When Jade enters the tower, she isn’t really sure what to expect.

At the very least, she does not anticipate the stony entrance to lead her not to an equally stony, narrow stairwell, but to a brightly lit garden, the likes of which bear an uncanny resemblance to the one back at her island.

And she certainly doesn’t expect to be greeted with the silhouette of someone she knows and has missed for many, many years.

“Grandpa”

He turns, the lights illuminating his familiar grizzled face. A harsh glare settles over his glasses, obscuring his eyes, but Jade doesn’t especially mind.

Not when she knows they’ll just be a blank, haunting silver anyways.

“Jade” He says warmly “my precious treasure.” He extends his arms as if in anticipation for a hug, but Jade doesn’t move. She doesn’t want to embrace him, doesn’t want to pretend like everything is fine.

Because it isn’t. It may not have been his fault that he died, but he still left her to live alone for years on a small chunk of land surrounded by monster infested waters.

Land that she was too young and too scared to leave, but neither of those things were her doing. Jade knows that if she had been a little less clever, a little resourceful, she would have died there, despite her dreams and despite Bec.

Jade has done her best to remember her grandfather as kindly as she can, to only bring to mind his best traits.

But now that she’s faced with him, all she can think of is that he failed her. If only someone had known about her, maybe she could have had something close to a normal life.

Maybe she wouldn’t have had to wait years to have real contact with other people. Maybe she would have been able to go to school and have been with her friends and lives outside of her dreams.

But he robbed her of all of that. And she isn’t quite as ready to forgive him as she thought she was.

He seems to realize it too, because he lets his arms drop back down to his sides.

“You’ve grown.” He says “you’ve grown into such a beautiful young woman, and I-“

“Why are you here?” She asks icily.

Because I love you. Because I care about you. Because I’m sorry.

That’s what she wants to hear.

“Because I have an offer to make you” He says instead “and I don’t think you should refuse.”

It’s her turn to feel deflated, and she thinks it’s really unfair of him, because the odds that he doesn’t know what she’s feeling are low.

Very, very low.

“What is this deal?” She asks, barely restraining a sigh of disappointment.

“Offer” he corrects “you have a chance to stay here, to act as an intermediary between this world and the one you live in now.”

“No. I refuse.”

“Jade, please…”

“No, grandpa.” She crosses her arms and looks away. She shouldn’t have to explain herself to anyone, especially him.

He should know that she isn’t just going to leave her friends behind. Not when they’re all counting on her, depending on her.

Well, maybe not all. Rose definitely isn’t. But the blonde is still someone Jade counts amongst her closest friends, and Jade will be damned if she isn’t there for her.

“I don’t think you understand what an opportunity this is.”

“I don’t need to.” She says petulantly “all I need to know is that my friends won’t be here.”

“They will, eventually. They will die, some soon, others later. If you accept, you can be here for them, waiting.”

And there Jade hesitates, because this is something she knows. She knows that one day they will lose, whether to each other or to the zombies or to disease or old age or any number of things.

She doesn’t want to be there for any of that. She doesn’t want to see them die.

“They won’t forgive me.” She tells him, and he smiles, a gentle, mournful thing.

“They will, if they are your friends.”

“I won’t forgive me.” She amends, and his smile dips.

“I know. But in time, you will learn to forget.”

He walks towards her slowly and methodically, and she feels like maybe she should back away but she doesn’t. He stops just in front of her and she thinks for a second he might try and hug her again, but he doesn’t.

She doesn’t know whether to hate him even more or to feel grateful for that.

Then he extends his hand, and the decision is made for her.

“Jade” He says “Please”

She looks at him, looks at his hand. Looks back to him and bites her lip, blinking. She starts to reach for it but stops herself.

“I’m sorry. I can’t do this.”

He jerks back, surprise overtaking his features for just a moment before he rights himself, hand dropping back to his side.

“I was afraid you would say that.” He says, but there’s a smile, both on his face and in his voice, and Jade’s heart lightens. She smiles back and he sighs, but it’s not nearly as crestfallen as she thought it would be.

“At least let me give you a gift, before you leave.”

He cups his hands in front of his chest, a soft green glow forming just above his palms. A necklace materializes from the light, and he walks forward to clasp it around Jade’s neck.

It is only then that Jade realizes the garden has been fading out of her vision, steadily becoming replaced by a canvas white color.

“And Jade” He says, stepping back, and she has to strain to hear him, her senses stalling.

“I’m so, so proud of you.”

The word around her drops out, and all she knows is the feeling of falling.
——
Vriska Serket knows how to deal with a lot of things.

Finding a locked treasure chest in a hidden room in a giant mansion during the zombie Apocalypse is not necessarily one of them.

But just because she doesn’t already know how to deal with something doesn’t mean she can’t figure it out.

Obviously, the first step is to open it. The issue with that stems from a lack of a key. Vriska supposes she could just try and break it open, but not only would that ruin the sense of mystery and grandeur, it would also ruin all of her attempts to remain stealthy.

And if there’s one thing Vriska Serket can’t stand, it’s wasted effort.

Since she still doesn’t know how to pick a lock (there’s hasn’t been a good time to get Karkat to teach her), that means she has to find it instead. A difficult task, considering it could be anywhere in this place, and there are probably dozens of hidden rooms just like this one.

Not to mention, she just doesn’t have the time to go on such a long scavenger hunt. Not when they could all be in danger.

It doesn’t help that not so much as a clue has been left behind. The rest of the room is completely barren save for dust and cobwebs, and Vriska is confident none of those are hiding the key.

She moves closer to the chest and runs her fingers over the wood and lock, observing the smooth varnish. As she thumbs over the lock it shifts, as if not entirely attached. Curiosity piqued, she brushes the face of the lock to the side, and it peels off entirely.

A number lock stares back at her and Vriska grins. These she knows how to work.

She does not spend much time considering the absurdity of this defensive mechanism. These people are rich, and rich people are just flat out strange. It follows they would have strange stuff in their house too.

Closer inspection of the number keys reveals that three numbers in particular have been heavily used: one, three, and four.

There isn’t anything to convey the order, but that’s fine with Vriska. In these sorts of cases, her intuition is usually enough.

Although even if it weren’t, there’s something significant about these numbers that Vriska thinks she could have figured it out anyways.

4-1-3.

The day the world ended.

The lock clicks and Vriska gently raises the lid, eager to discover the contents but not so much so that she is going to do anything to jeopardize her still unknown position.

She is only somewhat disappointed.

Inside are two objects: a slim, silver whistle attached to a cord, and a pink leather bound notebook.

The color makes her want to gag, but Vriska is mildly appreciative of how secretive the person responsible was.

A good mystery is always fun, after all.

Maybe she shouldn’t be thinking of fun during the Apocalypse, but Vriska can’t really help it. What’s the point in surviving the end of the world if you can’t enjoy it?

The answer, to her at least, is none. There is no point.

She picks up the whistle and loops it around her neck, then grabs the notebook and closes the chest. She desperately wants to open up the book and start reading, but she knows better than to linger at the scene of the crime.

So instead, she tucks the book under one arm and begins her descent, landing precariously on the med cart, which rolls minimally before stopping. Vriska reaches up and draws the panel back in place before dropping into a crouch and sliding off the cart. Then, she begins replacing the tools she had taken off, carefully covering her tracks.

All the while ignoring the snarling zombie behind her.

Once finished, she sneaks over to the door and waits, listening for the sound of anyone outside. Convinced the coast is clear, she leaves, retreating back to her room as fast as she can.

The contents of the book- which she will discover to really be more of a journal- will take her the better part of the morning and some of the afternoon to read. Even then, she will not quite understand everything she finds.

What she will understand will alter the future of their party irreversibly.

Not that she will realize, of course.

She’d have to know the original future to know she’d changed it.
——
Rose Lalonde is currently suffering what can only be described as the world's worst migraine.

Rose is not the kind of person to have headaches very often, and perhaps it’s for that same reason that this particular one is even worse than it should have been.

Or perhaps it’s because she is refusing to vocalize her suffering. Rose is fairly confident that Kanaya would be willing to slow down if she mentioned her headache, and that doing so would definitely help.

But Rose needs to prove that she can handle this. Not just to Kanaya, whom she knows didn’t want to take her with, if only because she stands no chance against the vampires, but also to herself.

Rose is not used to failure, and she hates being weak. Maybe if she doesn’t admit to being either, then she won’t be.

She’s also fully aware that is not how that works, but she has to try.

They’ve finally returned to the alley in which they had been attacked. Kanaya has taken over the job of searching the abandoned clothes of the deceased bloodsucker, whom apparently disintegrated when the sun came out.

At least, Rose hopes that’s what happened. In her experience, bad things happen when corpses go missing.

Not that she can spare much thought to that, as her head currently feels like it’s being attacked with a thousand tiny chisels from the inside.

At some point she closes her eyes, although when exactly this happens she’s not sure, because the next thing she knows Kanaya’s by her side, gently asking if she’s alright.

“I am fine” Rose waves her off, vision warping with the appearance of tiny, blinking dots whose color she can’t really tell. “Did you find anything?”

“Yes. A driver’s license. I will be surprised if it turns out to be their actual address, but it is a start.”

“Hm. What kind of person carries their license with them during the Apocalypse?”

Belatedly, Rose realizes this might not be the most sensitive thing to say. For all she knows, Kanaya still has her license with her.

Thankfully, Kanaya doesn’t seem to mind her abrasive comment.

“What kind of person indeed?”

Rose thinks that if this were a novel, she would laugh quietly at this, only to break off into wistful staring. If this were a novel, Kanaya would reciprocate, and they’d draw slowly together, meeting in some sort of embrace, maybe even a kiss.

But it’s not, and she doesn’t laugh.

They still find themselves close, close enough to touch.

Kanaya lets her take the initiative, and Rose is glad, because even though she’s wanted this- wanted it for awhile- she doesn’t trust herself to not push the other girl away when their skin meets.

She doesn’t realize that her headache has vanished until her hand comes to rest on Kanaya’s arm.

The only reason she realizes at all is because the world falls away into a sea of white, and her mind is filled with the impression of a memory that she knows isn’t hers.

She pokes at it, prods it, willing it to unfold into a scene she can understand, and to her surprise, it does, unveiling itself in an aerial perspective that probably shouldn’t exist, functioning for all intents like a dream.

She waits, an instinct that comes from nowhere but that she listens to nonetheless. Everything is forgotten, save the story she has taken it upon herself to witness.

And witness, she does.

The white fades, becoming painted with a sky consisting of dark, roiling clouds. A schoolyard materializes beneath them, and pearls of water begin peeling off from the angry fixtures, pelting students with the torrential onslaught as thunder rings across the scene, scattering the children below as they rush to avoid the rain.

Among them is a young girl, no more than thirteen, and it’s her Rose focuses her attention on. She’s dressed in a green raincoat a size too large, the hood obscuring her face and eyes but not the curly locks of raven hair poking from beneath.

Unlike her peers, she walks without rush, and it comes to Rose that the reason for this is that the girl is weighed down with the knowledge that safety from the elements is a far off goal, and that running will get her there no faster.

She is supposed to stay inside the school until someone arrives to pick her up, but both she and Rose know no such person will be forthcoming. It is because of this the girl has snuck out of the building, the staff too distracted by the storm to notice.

She does not pause in her movements, keeping glued to an imaginary trail only she can truly see. The sun is blotted out almost completely as the noise and people around her fade into the background, then the distance, and soon, out of sight altogether.

The storm is loud, so much so that she does not notice when a black car with tinted windows appears from behind her. Rose does, of course, but she knows that she cannot change what she is seeing, so she stays quiet. The girl’s head is angled down towards the soaked sidewalk in an attempt to keep the water from her eyes, and so she remains oblivious when it speeds up only to park a few feet in front of her.

A door opens, and out pops the end of a black umbrella to be unfurled and raised, shielding the woman that follows the device from the downpour. The girl looks up then, and mechanically moves over, making to simply pass by the stranger and continue onwards.

She’s stopped by the woman, who needs only to extend a gloved arm out to get her to halt in her track. The girl gazes dispassionately at the older female, the interruption to routine merely an annoyance, rather than the cause for alarm it should have been.

“You’ll catch a cold being out here, darling” her voice is silken and refined, but projected enough to be heard over the sound of raindrops “We’ve been sent to retrieve you, to take you home.”

It’s an obvious bluff, one even Rose recognizes, and one the girl calls on with a shrug and a nearly inaudible “no you weren’t.”

“Indeed not” the woman admits, and she fixers a critical eye over the child “but perhaps you would like to come with us regardless.” It’s not a question, but young as she is, the girl doesn’t notice, and after a moment of contemplation, whispers a reply that is drowned out by a sudden boom of thunder.

“Okay.”

Then it ends, and Rose is tumbling back into reality.

She doesn’t stay very long, however, as a world of black is quick to claim her.
——
Karkat cannot believe how stupid he is.

Scratch that- he doesn’t want to believe how stupid he is. It’s not a matter of capability, and if Karkat were to guess, he’d say he isn’t the only one fully aware of how much of a shithead he is.

But seriously, yelling at a kid that was clearly in shock? That’s a new low, even for him. Not to mention that said kid is arguably the most innocent person to have ever lived. Even Jade, who apparently grew up on an island with only her monstrosity of a dog for company isn’t as naive as John.

Jade. Maybe that’s what’s making Karkat feel even worse- he knows exactly what it’s like to be in John’s position. Karkat can’t even count how many nights he would come back to their dorm, only to find Gamzee collapsed on their floor, out cold with a bottle in hand.

Whether that bottle happened to have once contained pills or liquor just depended on how lucky they were that day.

Karkat remembers each night before getting back was spent believing that would finally be the night he would find his best friend dead. He also remembers thinking that the police would have two bodies to find, and not one.

Sometimes, Karkat wishes he had done something to get Gamzee help, that he had reached out to some kind of therapist or psychologist. Doing so would have been worse than pointless, though. He knows they would sooner have locked Gamzee up than help him, and then he would have lost both his friends.

He knows, because they tried to do the same to his father.

Karkat doesn’t know if he would have preferred them to succeed or not.

His father is… was… a complicated individual. Karkat knows he suffered from his time spent in the military, although the reason why is not something he was ever made privy to.

Not that it matters, exactly. Karkat only knows the man from how he was as a father figure, not as a soldier.

And no amount of post traumatic stress will ever let Karkat justify why his father decided that corporal punishment was okay.

The point that turning to anyone in the medical field would have been a terrible decision remains, and Karkat refuses to consider any guilt stemming from not making that choice.

“Hey man. It’s going to be okay.”

It’s Dave. Of course it is. Who else would be so completely unable to see he wants to be alone right now?

The fact that he’s sitting on the bottom step of the staircase, in a very public space, matters little. Anyone with half a brain should be able to see that Karkat does not want to talk to anyone, least of all Dave Strider.

“Fuck off.”

If Dave is surprised, he doesn’t show it. In fact, he even has the nerve to sit down next to Karkat and put his hand on the shoulder of the shorter boy.

“Look, I-“

“Don’t fucking touch me.”

“Right.” Dave doesn’t move “listen, Jade’s going to be perfectly fine. Jane thinks she’ll be up in just a couple hours.”

“Does it look like I care?” Karkat snaps and stands up, and Dave doesn’t even have the decency to flinch. “Because I don’t.”

“Then why were you crying?”

“I wasn’t crying. Now piss off.”

“No.”

Karkat glares at him. “I hate you.” He tells him “I really fucking hate you.”

That seems to get the message across. Dave’s shoulders slump and he sighs. “I know.”

“Then why do you keep bothering me? Why can’t you just stick to your other friends, instead of trying to pretend like everything’s fine between us?”

“Because…” Dave cuts himself off, and Karkat basks vindictively in the fact that Dave can’t even defend himself.

“Because why? Because you care?” Karkat taunts “please. If that were true, you would have been there. Tell me, do you even know how many times Gamzee was in Jade’s position?”

Dave doesn’t answer. Karkat doesn’t expect him to.

“No. You don’t. Because you weren’t there. And now that you are, you expect me to pretend everything is.”

“No, that’s not-“ Dave moves to protest this, but Karkat cuts him off.

“Tell me, Strider. What makes Jade so special that you can be there for her and couldn’t be there for us?”

Dave’s mouth opens and closes, but no sound comes out. Karkat thinks he should be enraged even further by this, but he’s not. All he can feel is a sense of defeat.

“I’m done here.” Karkat announces wearily “please just leave me alone.”

He stalks past Dave, who reaches out and grabs his arm. Karkat scowls at the action and stops, but his anger is spent, and he can’t even pull away.

“How many times?” Dave asks, and Karkat is thrown off guard. “How many times was he… you know.”

Karkat glares at him again, but Dave refuses to shy away. Eventually, he has no choice but to answer.

“Every day for the past three years.”

Dave recoils, defeated, and Karkat marches off to his room. He takes care to slam the door behind him, not that it helps him to feel any better about what he is doing.

Throwing himself on the bed, Karkat curls the sheets around himself. Misery is quick to set in, and he wishes someone, anyone, even Dave, would come and comfort him.

It’s a stupid, pointless wish, he knows. He’s done this routine before, many, many times, and it’s never once yielded anything beyond self loathing.

Yet here he is, continuing to do the same old thing. He’s still every bit as pathetic as he was before, and the thought makes him feel even worse.

Then there’s a knock on the door, and he has just enough time to pull himself into a more neutral expression before Vriska waltzes into his room.

“Get up” She says “we need your help.”

He jerks into an upright position.

“What could you possibly need my help for?” He asks bitterly, and she sighs, clearly aggravated.

“Look, I don’t have time for your attitude. Rose and Kanaya are in danger, and if we want to have any chance of helping them, we need to leave now.”

Karkat doesn’t bother to ask how she knows this, or what kind of danger, or how they’re even going to find their friends.

Because right now, in this moment, he’s been offered something he’s never had before; a chance to actually do something that matters.

And without hesitation, he takes it.
——
Dave thinks he shouldn’t be as surprised at Karkat’s reaction as he is.

Honestly, he knows that his friend (sort-of friend, now) is somewhat unstable. He always has been, if Dave is honest. Something to do with a terrible home life and an even worse social one, not that Dave ever bothered to learn much about either.

And maybe that’s the problem. That because he never showed any concern in the past, Karkat doesn’t trust him now that he is.

Were that solely the case, Dave wouldn’t blame him. He’s fully aware that past Dave was a horrible, moronic shitstain that cared only about himself and his own misery.

But.

That was also past Dave, from three years ago. Current Dave might not be significantly better, but at least he’s trying a hell of a lot more.

It just so happens that all of his attempts are misguided endeavors that crash in a fiery blaze of shame and misery.

Dave wonders if he should go after Karkat and try to apologize again.

But he’s already apologized, and he’s already tried to patch things up. And it’s clear that Karkat doesn’t want to, or isn’t ready to.

So he stays on the stairs, where he is, and tries to focus on other thoughts, such as the fact that Jade is going to be fine.

Even though Dave knows for a fact that she shouldn’t be.

Somehow, the thought doesn’t make him feel relieved, just tired.

The stairs behind him groan, and Dave can tell just from the spacing between the steps that it’s John.

“Hey, Dave.”

God, even John sounds weary. That’s never a good sign, not in Dave’s experience.

“Sup”

John stops on the step behind where Dave is sitting, and it makes Dave uneasy. Even though he knows John would never hurt him, having someone poised when he is vulnerable is not something he enjoys.

In an effort to remedy this, he rises and walks into the living room, throwing himself onto the couch. John follows and sits on the floor across from him. Dave almost offers his friend the spot next to him but stops short, recalling that John has a rather unique preference for either sitting on stairs or the floor.

It’s not something either of them understand. John comes from a relatively peaceful home life. Or at least, he did.

Just another casualty of the Apocalypse, Dave supposes.

“I saw Karkat storm off.”

“Ah, yeah. He does that.”

Dave doesn’t know what he’s thinking, deflecting the situation like this. It’s not really what he wants to say, and he knows acting cool and aloof now is not going to win him any favors.

John seems to know this too, because he frowns in a rather reproachful manner, so much so that Dave wants to take back his words and ask if John thinks Karkat will be okay.

He doesn’t, probably because he’s a fucking self-sabotaging idiot that just can’t seem to show that he cares about the people that are most important to him.

“Dave…”

“Chill, man. He’s probably just a bit twitchy from his episode yesterday.”

And there he goes again, saying something that would probably have been best left unsaid. In truth, all of yesterday would be better left forgotten. Karkat getting bitten, the strange documents, all those poor dead people with the symbols carved into them, Bec’s behavior, the missing file, Karkat going ballistic…

Yeah. All of that would be better off deleted from his memory, and probably everyone else’s, too.

Really, they should probably call off the search in general. It’s unlikely to help anything at all, and might even lead to one of them getting killed.

The world is screwed up enough without losing friends.

“Maybe. But wouldn’t that mean you should go talk to him?”

“He told me to leave him alone.”

“And since when do you listen to other people? You’re Dave Strider! You make your own path!”

Lies. All of it. Dave isn’t independent like that, and he definitely doesn’t ‘make his own path’, whatever the hell that's supposed to mean.

“Just drop it, alright? I’ve screwed up enough as it is. If he wants some space, I’ll give it to him.”

John huffs angrily, but Dave doesn’t care. He’s already checked himself out of this conversation.

“You’re making a huge mistake.”

“Probably.”

Not that that’s anything new, of course. His whole life has just been a series of mistakes.

There’s a sharp tug on his arm.

“John” He warns “stop”

“No. I refuse to let you ruin your life like this. That’s not what friends do.”

Dave doesn’t really know what to say to that. He wants to protest, but not very much. He owes it to John to not be that much of an asshole.

So he allows himself to be dragged to his feet, offering minimal resistance. He puts up a little bit more of a fight when John starts leading him to the stairwell, though.

They don’t get any further than that, mostly because that is the precise moment that someone decides to come down the stairs.

Dave isn’t sure whether he should be grateful or angry that the moment has been broken.

Then, when he sees just how panicked they are, he decides that neither emotion is wholly appropriate.

This does not stop him from feeling both, anyways.
——
For the first fifteen seconds after Rose wakes up, she has absolutely no idea who she is.

Then, in a manner reminiscent of being thrown underneath a waterfall, the memories come crashing back to her and she opens her eyes.

It’s just as dark as when she keeps them closed.

She debates on calling out for Kanaya, but ultimately doesn’t, because giving out her position seems foolish, especially since Kanaya would be able to find her anyways.

She wisely chooses not to think on how she can be so certain of that.

Instead she waits and feels the area around her, trying to get a sense of where she is. The material underneath her is somewhat soft, but if she presses far enough she can feel the hard surface underneath.

A mattress, then. Which means she’s either in a house or an apartment, and that she’s at least relatively safe.

She can’t find her needles or her phone, which worries her a bit, but not much. It would make sense that Kanaya would take them from her, if only so that she wouldn’t hurt herself or roll over onto them while she was unconscious.

The more cynical part of her argues that it also could’ve been to ensure she would be defenseless, but somehow Rose doubts that was the motive.

The moment they had was far too genuine for that to be the case.

Rose shifts her position, somehow retaining enough special awareness to not fall off the bed. She’s not sure she’s ready to think about what had happened just yet.

Maybe if it hadn’t been ruined by her… vision? Dream? Rose isn’t sure what term is most appropriate, although it’s likely irrelevant. Whatever it was, it definitely ruined the mood.

And if she needed any more evidence for that, well, Kanaya isn’t here, now is she?

Almost in response, there’s a click from somewhere outside the room, so soft that had Rose been doing anything other than laying perfectly still she would have missed it.

Rather than call out, Rose continues to wait quietly. She isn’t particularly fond of being loud, all the more so since noise plays a factor in luring infected.

It doesn’t take long for the door to her room to open, courtesy of Kanaya, who is cradling a slim red candle in her hand and allowing Rose to finally observe the space she is in. She doesn’t spare much of a look around, only glancing around long enough to locate her needles and phone, which are on a darkly colored nightstand just inches away from her head.

Well. So much for spacial awareness.

Rose retrieves them with care, trying to ignore the way that Kanaya watches her with a look that is something akin to guilt, but not quite.

She really hopes it’s just for leaving her behind.

Somehow, she doesn’t think it is.

“I surmise this means we have finally lost power?”

Kanaya blinks as Rose gestures towards the candle, but answers with an ease that indicates she is not surprised by the observation.

“This area, yes. I am unsure about the rest of the city.”

“I see.” Rose hesitates, but she knows she has to ask. “How long was I out?”

“It is still the same day, if that is what you mean. Truthfully, I was not expecting you to be awake until tomorrow.”

Rose considers asking why it is that Kanaya felt she would be unconscious so long, but decides that particular question might be too abrasive, not to mention unfounded.

“Is that why you went ahead and investigated the address?”

Not that that inquiry is significantly less provocative, but still.

“Partially. I mostly just needed something to keep myself occupied. Going there simply happened to accomplish the most.”

Rose doesn’t say anything at first. She knows this to be a logical reason, and that were she in Kanaya’s place, she can imagine herself doing the same.

She still wishes that Kanaya had stayed, however.

She does not realize she had spoken aloud until Kanaya answers her.

“I’m sorry. Had I known you would wake up so soon, I would have remained here.”

“It… it’s alright. I was simply worried you had decided to leave me altogether.”

Kanaya looks away towards the floor, and Rose already knows what she is going to say.

“I considered it.”

The admission hurts, maybe more than it should.

“But I couldn’t. I… I do not want to leave you.”

“I do not want you to leave, either.”

Kanaya looks at her and smiles something small and wispy and genuine.

And then just as quickly as it comes it’s gone, and Rose wishes she could make it come back.

“We have much to discuss.”

It can wait. That’s what Rose wants to say. She wants to bring that smile back and have another moment.

But she doesn’t, because she knows that putting off talking about what happened is a foolish idea, especially since she’s feeling rather rested at the moment, and neither of them have any idea what morning will bring.

So she gets out of the bed and makes her way to the door.

“We can talk in the kitchen” she says “I have a feeling these are not topics suited to an empty stomach.”

“No” Kanaya agrees “few things worth discourse are.”

They walk together out of the bedroom, perhaps a little closer than they should, given how narrow the hallway is.

And if Rose reaches more than once for Kanaya’s hand, only to pull away at the last second, well…

Nobody says anything.
——
Jake English is not having a good day.

Although, this entire week is not something he would define as good. Today just seems so much worse though, mostly just because he has to actively deal with the passing time, which right now, is a lot easier said than done.

Sometimes, Jake wishes he was more like his friends. He wishes he could be as focused as Dirk, or as driven as Jane, or as free spirited as Roxy, because all he is is optimistic.

At least, he prefers to think of himself as optimistic. Before the Apocalypse, he was mostly dismissed as simply being naive, which he knows that he is.

He knows he’s not the smartest person in the world. He never has been.

He also knows he’s not the bravest, or the most capable, or the most… anything.

He’s not even the most normal, because if he was, then he wouldn’t be avoiding talking to the other survivors like the complete wimp that he is.

Jake wishes that he could talk to someone, anyone. He just needs some reassurance that everything is going to be okay, even though it’s not. He needs someone else to assume the responsibility of guiding them all into the future, because he knows that he can’t.

But Dirk is hiding in the basement again, and Jane is looking after Jade, and he’s not really sure where Roxy is, and there is absolutely no way he is going to approach any of the others on his own.

Maybe it’s a stupid thing to admit, but they scare him. They scare him even more than the zombies do.

Not that he’s seen much of the undead, of course. According to Dirk and Roxy, many of the infected in the neighborhood mutated into a type that could recognize and obey orders. Jake has yet to see them, but the two of them have claimed that is due to the orders they had given.

Jake doesn’t know what exactly the orders are, or how his friends had discovered that mutation. He isn’t sure he wants to know, either.

In many ways, Jake is grateful that he doesn’t, that he had been home alone at his apartment when the Apocalypse started. All he had had to do was to wait for the others to come get him.

Sometimes, he feels guilty about that. He’s heard bits and pieces about what his friends went through- he knows that Jane was sitting in on a board of directors meeting when they spontaneously began to turn. He knows Roxy was here, alone with her mother. He knows that Dirk was at the college, but he doesn’t know which class it was.

It probably doesn’t matter, but Jake likes to think it does.

He likes to think that everything matters. It makes everything seem more impactful when there’s an imagined purpose behind it.

For instance, he likes to imagine that the reason he’s listening in on the three survivors beyond his door and not going out and talking to them is that they wouldn’t believe anything he would tell them.

“-trust them. Who's to say they didn’t have a hand in whatever happened to Jade? We’re much better off not telling anyone.”

Okay, so it’s a little less imagining and a little more ‘they literally said that’. Still, the point remains.

“And what about Jade? Is it really a good idea to leave her here, where they can do who the fuck knows what to her?”

“Karkat, we don’t have the time to drag along an unconscious person. Don’t you want to save our friends from getting mauled?”

“Of course I do! I just happen to also care about making sure our friends here don’t get experimented on or some shit.”

“Even if they do, they’ll probably be fine.”

“That’s not a fucking comfort. How can you even be so sure that these guys really are out to get us? Or that Kanaya and Rose even are in danger? For that matter, how do you even plan on finding them?”

Jake thinks he would like to know the answers to those questions, too. Not that he’s going to go out there and ask after answers, of course.

He hears the sound of something being tossed and caught, but he isn’t entirely sure what it is until he hears Vriska (at least, he thinks it’s Vriska. He remembers her as being the one that told all the stories last night) tell the boy- Karkat- to read it.

“Where in the everlasting fuck did you find this?”

“Basements hold so many secrets if you know where to look.”

Jake feels a mild wave of irritation and jealousy at this. He had once scoured the mansion looking for secrets and tricks, including the basement, but beyond a couple hidden pathways he had never found anything of note.

“And here I thought we were over being a bunch of fucking cliches.”

“Who, us? Nope, never. Don’t know what you’re thinking.”

“Guys, please. Let’s focus on finding a less public way to leave, shall we?” A third person chimes in, and Jake really has no clue who it is.

He should probably work on getting better with names and voices. Something tells him that might be a valuable skill.

Or at least, an even more valuable skill.

“Does it even matter? We could always just waltz right out the front door. I doubt any of these bastards would have the spine to stop us.”

“They might not stop us, but we can count on at least two of them coming after us. That’s the last thing we need right now.”

“They won’t come after us, I’m sure.” Karkat says bitterly, and Jake thinks that just for that he would go after them. Maybe.

Jake knows that if he ever wandered off, his friends would come find him. They cared enough to rescue him the first day of the Apocalypse, after all.

“Not come after you, maybe. Terezi and I, on the other hand… well, that doesn’t matter. They couldn’t make us do anything if they tried. What they could do is slow us down or get in the way, and this is life or death here.”

They go quiet a moment, and Jake wonders if he should try and do something.

The decision is made for him when his door is forced open, confirming that one of them at least is in fact Vriska.

She’s also holding a knife to his throat, demanding that he tell nobody about this. At the other girl’s suggestion, she also asks after a way to discreetly leave the mansion.

Yeah, Jake thinks as he stammers out the location of a hidden back door.

He really is not having a good day.
——
When Jade comes to, she is lying in the snow just outside the tower, staring up at the sky.

It takes her longer than she wants to admit to realize that is where she is because she finds herself distracted by the green aurora slashed across the starry sky, and she can’t feel the cold of the snow wrapped around her.

Once she does come to the conclusion that she is still dreaming she sits up, one hand reaching to confirm the necklace from her grandfather is still there while the other boosts her into a standing position.

It is. She isn’t sure how to feel about that.

Jade also isn’t sure on how to wake up. She’s never actually pulled herself out of a dream before; it’s always just kind of happened.

All she’s ever had to do is wait.

But waiting is really, really boring, and not something she likes doing very much. Most of her life has been spent waiting, after all.

She wonders if she should try to look for A.M.

“Hey, there you are! I was getting worried!”

Well, at least she doesn’t have to wonder anymore.

“Congratulations on your ascension! How does it feel to be a fully realized Witch of Space?”

“Um, not super different, I guess?”

“Yeah, that’s pretty normal. Don’t worry, though. You’ll definitely be feeling it when you wake up and start using your powers.”

Jade isn’t used to not having all the answers. Her dreams have kept her well informed over the course of her admittedly short life, and being kept in the dark is not something she is used to.

And it’s definitely not something she likes, either.

“Powers? And what do you mean by ascension?” Her voice betrays a bit of desperation, but the ghost seems not to notice.

“Mhmm. Did your Guardian not explain any of this to you?”

“No. Was he supposed to?”

“Not really. Each guardian does things differently. But they should have told you a little bit about what is expected of you.”

“And what is expected of me? I don’t know what any of this is! I just want to go back to my friends.”

Now A.M seems to notice that Jade is not completely okay, and Jade vindictively thinks that it’s about time. Then she feels even more upset at herself for behaving like this.

“You know, it’s okay not to understand. There are more important things you should be worrying about.”

“No” Jade rebukes harshly “I want to- need to- know what’s going on.”

“Alright” A.M concedes “I suppose you are owed an explanation.”

“Please. I just want to understand. What is this? Why am I here? Who do you expect me to be?”

“I don’t expect you to be anyone other than yourself.” A.M answers easily “and I’ve told you what this is. This is a small piece of the universe meant to represent you.”

“But why?”

Aradia sighs. “It’s a long story. But if it makes you feel better, you aren’t the only one with a place like this.”

Jade stares at her, not sure how she should react. Part of her recognizes that she really isn’t ready for anything she’s going to be told; her conversation with her grandfather has unbalanced her far too much.

But she also recognizes that if she wakes up without getting any answers, she may never get them. And this is something big, maybe even bigger than the Apocalypse itself. It would be irresponsible of her to leave it be.

Even if she doesn’t really want to be the one to deal with it.

“There are three others in this world that have their own unique spaces, all meant to serve as mediums for their ascension.”

“Ascension to what?”

“Godhood. Or rather, an approximation of it. You won’t truly reach that level until you die. The world as you know it is only meant to test the aptitude of godlings, to see if they are worth further exploration of their potential.”

Jade’s head spins. She knows A.M isn’t lying; she can feel it within herself that her words are true. But the implication of being a god, or a god-in-training, is not something she is ready to accept, and neither are the consequences.

“I know it’s a lot to take in, but-“

“Wait.” Jade interrupts, and A.M goes quiet “you said this was a test. Is the Apocalypse… did all those people… was that…?”

“No! No, no. The Apocalypse, that was not part of it. You and the other godlings have nothing to do with that.”

“Oh.” Jade can’t quite hide her relief “then why…?”

A.M bites her lip. “The Apocalypse here is the result of a bitter god. I don’t know that much about it, honestly. But this god came from another world. He was supposed to watch over twelve godlings on that world, to serve as their Guardian.”

“Guardian…” Jade whispers, the word striking her as familiar “Rose mentioned something like that. A First Guardian?”

“Yeah, that would be the term the Nexus uses. Gods that tie their powers to overseeing the ascension of godlings are usually imposed into that world under that title. They’re supposed to be bound there.”

She shakes her head, as if doing so will shift her thoughts into order. “I don’t know why he was able to come to this one, or why he’s done any of the things he has. But I can tell you where to go to find out.”

Jade quirks an eyebrow. She’s calmer now, even though there’s so much she still doesn’t understand. “Really? That doesn’t break the laws of the imminently deceased?”

A.M chuckles a bit, and Jade feels a little bit of weight lifted off of her.

“It would, but since you’re ascended now, those rules no longer apply to you.”

“Does that mean you can also tell me your name?”

“I can tell you much, much more that that. But yes. Address first, though. I have a feeling you’ll be waking up soon.”

Jade blinks, about to protest that she’d know if she were on the verge of waking, and then she feels it. A dizziness starting from the back of her head that begins to crawl along her scalp, taking with it her ability to think.

“The place you’re looking for is the Bay County hospital, or B.C hospital. There is a hidden floor underground, right near a river. That’s where you want to go.”

“Thank you.” Jade says, and she means it.

“Of course.” A.M replies, and Jade’s eyes close of their own accord, her head feeling fuzzy and light. “And Jade?”

“Hm?”

“You can call me Aradia.”
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
John is not really sure why he’s so insistent on getting Dave to apologize to Karkat.

He knows that it’s unfair for him to be pushing so hard on his friend. It’s not really his place to question Dave’s decisions, and it’s not like he knows Karkat well enough to say for sure that leaving him alone isn’t the better option.

But he does know that there is more than enough hurt and regret between the two of them to last a lifetime. He doesn’t want to see them add any more to that, not when he knows that they used to be friends.

And honestly, he thinks that they were really close to being friends again. Maybe that’s why he’s trying so hard; because he knows how close they were, even if they don’t.

He sees it in the way Dave spares Karkat longing glances when he thinks no one’s looking, and in the way that Karkat always looks tired and pained when he snaps at Dave, but never before the blonde has his back turned.

John thinks that if he were in Dave’s place, he would want to make things right.

Only, Dave isn’t doing the best of jobs.

It’s not entirely Dave’s fault, of course. Karkat is perhaps the most stubborn person John has ever met.

But lying here and refusing to go talk to Karkat is definitely not helping matters. And so while it might not be John’s place to meddle, he is going to do so anyways.

It’s selfish of him, but he doesn’t want Dave to have any more regrets than he has to. And he owes Dave, he owes him far more than John will ever be able to pay back.

John wonders if Dave is aware that he saved his life. But he knows the answer is ‘no’ because he’s never told the blonde.

Nor will he, especially now, because doing so would come way too close to guilt tripping or flattery or something, and John doesn’t want to do that to his friend.

So instead he gets up from the floor and moves over to Dave and pulls on his arm, forcing him to either stand up or fall onto the floor.

Dave elects to do the former, which is nice, because then John doesn’t have to carry him up the stairs, and the blue eyed teen isn’t actually sure he could manage to do that.

He does still have to lead Dave over to them, but that’s fine, he’s capable of that much.

Out of what few things John can actually do, he can do that.

They don’t make it very far- one step, maybe two- before someone comes down the stairs, calling out for help, and Dave leans over to him and whispers “deja vu” like it’s supposed to mean something.

Then John remembers that it wasn’t all that long ago he was doing the same thing.

They step back into the living room to wait, and John idly wonders why either of them are calm, all the more so since Jade’s still unconscious. He thinks that he, at least, should be freaking out.

But he’s not, and he’s not really sure what that makes him.

Then Jake English spills out from the stairwell, and he doesn’t have the time to wonder anymore.

“You- they- your friends- they-!” Jake sputters incoherently, and John freezes, his heart clenching painfully, because he has absolutely no clue on what to do.

A glance over to Dave reveals that the blonde has even less than that, so John inhales deeply and tries to ignore how his legs have started shaking.

He opens his mouth to tell Jake to slow down and breathe, but the words catch in his throat and the sounds die before he can use them. He looks to the floor in shame and waits with Dave until Jake wears himself out enough to calm down.

It’s an awkward, horrible experience for all three of them.

But eventually, Jake does slow down, his panic subsiding with his adrenaline, and it’s only when his labored breathing lightens and steadies that John looks up at him.

Jake doesn’t speak, at least, not at first. It won’t be until later that John realizes he was waiting for them to ask about what had him like this.

In the moment, both he and Dave simply wait for Jake to tell them what’s going on.

Although John will later reflect on his actions with no small amount of guilt, both his and Dave’s calm demeanors actually assist Jake in coming down from his frenzy.

“It’s your friends” Jake says at last “they-um, they seem to have abandoned the premises.”

“What.”

John isn’t sure at first who is talking. It takes him an embarrassingly long time to realize that it’s Dave, only his voice has gone as sharp as his sword.

Jake seems to take the blonde’s tone as anger towards him, because his eyes widen and his hands dive for the pockets of his cargo shorts.

“Y-your friends. The, ah, the two ladies and the chap with the red eyes?”

Jake’s tone falters as he speaks, and John can see Dave realize that he is unwittingly terrifying the older male.

“Why?” The blonde demands, and it’s precisely at that moment that John blurts out “where?”

It’s a surprise to both of them that Jake actually seems to relax at the questions, despite them being asked in unison.

“Your companions” Jake starts, straightening his spine and squaring his shoulders, and honestly, John kind of wants to laugh at how he looks, because the guy vaguely resembles one of those stereotypical, egotistical knights.

Like the ones from ‘Monty Python and Th Holy Grail’, is what he wants to think, but he very carefully avoids that thought, because if he starts thinking about movies he’s going to start thinking about his dad again-

-and he’ll find himself remembering llate nights spent on the couch with a large white bowl full of hardened popcorn kernels that never popped, and rants about what they had seen that cost them more than an hour’s worth of sleep, and-

“I think that Rose and the other girl might be in danger! We have to do something!”

-and a thousand and one moments that somehow manage to mean absolutely everything, and yet still change nothing.

Just like this one.
——
Jane knows that her behavior is irrational and borderline obsessive, but she can’t bring herself to leave Jade.

She’s been sitting in a chair brought up from the dining room, poised just a tiny bit away from the younger girl’s bed, in case Jade should have a violent reaction when she wakes.

When she wakes. Jane’s mouth curls into a bitter, angry smile, although in actuality it resembles a thin, hardened line.

In a way, Jane feels very sorry for the girl. None of Jade’s so-called friends are here waiting for her, and they should be. They should be far more grateful than they are that Jade is going to wake up, that they are going to see her again, that she is breathing and living and altogether just there.

Maybe it’s unfair of Jane to think so harshly on them. Maybe they simply don’t want to face how close their friend was to death, don’t want to imagine her perishing after they came so far.

But Jane has seen someone actually die, right in front of her.

She knows what it’s like for that person to not wake up, to know that person is not going to wake up.

And she had stayed, she waited, she prayed and cried for hours beside her.

Just as she is still doing for Jade, who, by some miracle, is going to do just that.

So why aren’t they here, waiting for her?

Jane knows she shouldn’t be so angry at them. She doesn’t know any of them, after all.

And yet, by some twisted intervention of intuition, she feels like maybe she does.

Maybe that’s why she cares so much.

Not just because it’s a familiar scene with an only slightly better outcome, but because in some other life, Jane knew them.

Jane isn’t an especially religious person. There simply wasn’t any room in her upbringing to ascribe to some higher, holier-than-thou being.

That does not mean there aren’t concepts from different religions she does not believe in.

Reincarnation just so happens to be one of them.

Jade shifts, blankets rustling as she moves wearily, and Jane pauses in her thoughts, waiting to see if she is finally going to wake up.

Green eyes flutter open, peering dazedly at the ceiling. Just as quickly as they open they close again, and for a second Jane thinks that she has fallen back asleep.

Then Jade sits up, eyes still closed and a hand massaging her head as if doing so will help her to adjust to the bright light streaming in from behind the curtain.

For the moment, Jane is content to simply watch her. She knows that she should probably let Jade’s friends know she is awake, but a small, vindictive piece of her thinks that they can stand to wait a bit longer.

So she waits, allowing Jade to get used to being in the real world again. She’s still not sure if Jade has noticed her presence or not, and she really doesn’t want to startle the teen.

“How long was I asleep?”

Ah. So she has. Jane can’t say she’s surprised, exactly.

“How are you feeling?” She asks rather than responding to Jade’s question.

“I-“ Jade hesitates, and Jane can almost see her thinking about whether or not to press her question “I feel fine, I guess. My head hurts a little, but that’s normal.”

“You typically wake up with headaches?” Jane asks sharply, her concern raising just a bit even as she internally yells at herself for prying.

“Mhmm. But they don’t last very long.”

They fall silent. Jane has many, many questions prepared, not all about the ravenette’s current state, but she isn’t sure how much to press. She doesn’t know if now is the worst or the perfect time for an interrogation, and the potential consequences of finding out could be rather terrible.

Then again, it’s the end of the world. There isn’t a whole lot left to lose at this point.

If Jane were to continue with this line of thought, she would invariably find herself thinking that because she’s already lost so much, whatever is left has become exponentially more valuable.

If she had come to that conclusion, she would have decided to remain quiet, and none of the answers she is seeking would have come to light.

As it is, Jade chooses that moment to ask for a glass of water, and Jane is effectively prevented from reaching that conclusion.

“Next to you” Jane replies “it may be a bit warm. We have turned off the electricity for the moment, in the interest of sparing whatever is stored in the generator for moments of great importance.”

Jade nods shyly at the explanation and twists, reaching for the cup. As she does so the covers fall off and Jane notices something glint on the younger girl’s neck.

“Jade” she asks softly “you weren’t wearing that necklace earlier, were you?”

Jade tenses and swallows a large mouthful of water, and Jane can tell that the answer is ‘no’.

A shiver crawls down Jane’s spine, and she barely manages to repress a shudder.

“Jade, what’s going on?” Her voice is still soft and even, not coming even a little close to betraying the anxiety that is slowly but surely growing within her. “Why did Rose and Kanaya leave?”

“That’s… not really my place to say.” Jade mumbles and looks away.

“Jade.” Jane takes Jade’s hands in hers, forcing Jade to look at her “you were dead. Your heart had stopped. We need to know what’s going on.”

Jade blinks owlishly, then looks away again.

“It’s… complicated.” She mumbles, almost pleading with Jane to drop the matter.

“Then we can take it slowly, one thing at a time.” Jane says in what she hopes is a comforting manner “I know that none of you trust us very much, and I can’t say that I blame you for that.”

She takes a breath, allowing her words to sink in. It’s hard to tell if they are, though, because Jade is adamantly avoiding her gaze.

“But the world is ending. Has ended. You don’t have much left to lose by trusting us.”

Jade closes her eyes again and drops her head to her knees.

“I know. Believe me, I know.”

“Then tell us what’s going on. Let us help you.”

Jade is quiet for a while, then she sighs and looks up.

“Okay.”
——
Roxy is hiding in the kitchen when Jake storms down the stairs.

Okay, so maybe ‘hiding’ isn’t the most accurate of verbs. ‘Eavesdropping’ would really better describe what she’s doing. But at least it wasn’t completely intentional! She had just been looking to get a drink when she heard Dave and John start talking.

She simply didn’t want to ruin whatever kind of moment they were having, that’s all.

Okay, so she was totally eavesdropping. And it was definitely intentional. She just wanted to make sure that everything was okay with Dave, that’s all.

They might not know each other very well, but he’s still her younger cousin. Roxy knows better than most to value family as much as you can, if only because she also knows how absolutely awful family can be.

Cherish the good, toss the bad and all that.

Although Roxy thinks that right now, she’d still be fine with the bad, if only because then there would be more people around.

In that way, she’s very different from the rest of her surviving family. Dirk, she knows, prefers to keep both distance and silence. Dave also seems to prefer to stay at arm’s length, but Roxy knows enough about him to know that he can’t help but to crave noise.

Rose is still something of a mystery. For as close as they are, Roxy can’t get into her head, although not for lack of trying. Still, she likes to imagine that her younger cousin wants to be around people, just as she does. Or, at least, she did.

Roxy knows that Rose has changed from her experience, all those months ago. But any time that she thinks she has a grasp on her, she always seems to find herself surprised.

Roxy supposes that’s just a side effect of the distance that had lain between them, physically more so than mentally.

They’ll never quite have a perfect relationship, she knows. None of them will. But they sure as hell are perfectly capable of either tearing themselves apart or growing closer.

It’s just a damn shame how much more of the former they have been doing.

She’s not even sure if either of them are truly at fault, or if it’s just a natural thing. Because while it’s certainly true that neither Roxy nor Rose made a particularly outstanding effort to keep in regular contact after Roxy had moved, it is equally true that such continual contact might not have been the best thing for either of them.

They can’t rely on each other forever, after all. Not for everything, anyways.

The hundreds of miles between them certainly wasn’t helping matters either.

Not to mention-

“-And I think that Rose and the other girl might be in danger! We have to do something!”

-that that thought, and the ones preceding it, are now overwhelmingly irrelevant. Roxy does not waste any time barging into the living room, subtlety be damned.

“Did someone mention my ‘lil ‘cuz?”

Her question is framed to be somewhere between lighthearted and teasing, even as worry begins to claw at Roxy’s insides, demanding that she grab Jake by the shoulders and press for every scrap of information he knows.

Thankfully, Roxy is much better at listening to her head over her heart these days, and she manages to retain just enough nonchalance that none of the three boys think to accuse her of spying.

For the time being, at least.

“Jeez, Rox, what are you, part Djinn? All a guys gotta do is say Rose’s name and you just show up to grant ‘em wishes?”

Roxy isn’t really sure whether to be relieved or flattered by the comparison. Probably neither, since this is Dave talking, and most of his comments are really him just thinking out loud, and not him looking for a reaction.

“C’mon, Davey, you know every gal’s got at least a little magic in her,” she shoots back with a smile. “But seriously, what’s this about Rose?”

They don’t look at her, not at first. Jake stares pointedly at John, as if willing him to represent them. John, in turn, looks pointedly at the floor. It’s hard to tell where exactly Dave is looking because of his shades- and for the life of her, she can’t remember why or when or where he decides to pick up Dirk’s habit of wearing them literally everywhere- but if she were to guess, based off the direction of his face, he’s staring at the immensely boring wallpaper.

Perhaps, if the words ‘Rose’ and ‘in danger’ were not strung together, or if this weren’t the Apocalypse, Roxy would have laughed at how absolutely inept the three boys are in social situations. She might have poked additional fun at each of them- in good conscience, to be sure- hence the ‘fun’.

But this is the Apocalypse, and this is Rose they’re talking about. Her little not-quite-sister-but-might-as-well-be cousin. The same one that has already been through way too much for Roxy to let her go through any more.

“Jake” She says “what’s going on?”

The man can’t help but jerk his head away from John to look at her, and that proves to be his mistake, because once they lock eyes she hits him with a look that somehow manages to convey both disappointment and desperation.

It had taken her a long, long time to perfect that look.

He freezes, a deer caught in headlights, or perhaps a fly caught in a web. He shoots one last, futile look towards John, who adamantly refuses to meet his gaze. A smart kid, Roxy thinks, or maybe just an intimidated one.

The difference between the two isn’t always crystal clear.

“I- ah, the other three kids, they were having a discussion in front of my door, and they- um, just one of them, really, she, she had some kind of journal? I speculate she found it here, but it- Well, I don’t actually know what it said, but-“

In Jake’s case, it is exclusively the latter. He’s kind of skittish, and more than a little awkward.

Triple emphasis on the ‘more than a little’ part.

Roxy surreptitiously looks back over to Dave, all but begging him to step in. Even if he doesn’t have as many details as Jake, he’ll definitely be much more concise.

Fortunately for her, Dave seems to have relaxed a little, and he’s quick to translate Jake’s ramblings for her.

“Some of our companions left. They seemed to be under the impression that Rose and Kanaya are in danger.”

Well, that’s definitely not a good sign.

“Are they?” She asks breathlessly, and she can just feel his stare, even though it’s supposed to muted by those dorky sunglasses of his.

“It’s the Apocalypse, Rox. I don’t think they’re riding the safety train.”

No.

She hadn’t exactly thought so, either.
——
The longer they walk, the more Terezi becomes increasingly aware that they have no idea where they’re going.

For the better part of an hour, Vriska has been leading them throughout the streets of the city, slipping around corners and turning down new streets with just enough frequency that it’s clear she’s searching for some sort of direction.

“Do you even have any fucking idea where we’re going?”

Apparently, it’s so clear that Karkat has noticed too.

“Of course I do.” Vriska scoffs, but despite her projected confidence neither of them fully believe her.

“Are you going to bother informing us, or are we just going to have to blindly wander until you figure it out?”

Karkat isn’t really as angry as he sounds. Of that, Terezi is certain. He’s most likely just worried, perhaps even afraid.

“You’d know if you bothered to read the journal.” Vriska sneers “But since it seems you aren’t quite capable of reading, I’ll just tell you.”

Terezi fights to hide a cringe. Normally, she enjoys listening to Vriska’s insults. There’s just something amusing in how they manage to be so exaggerated and true.

Although, that isn’t the case right now. Even if it was, this is definitely not the time to be getting on each other’s nerves.

“We’re looking for a hospital.”

Terezi can’t quite hide her flinch.

It’s not that she’s afraid of hospitals, or that she’s had a traumatizing experience in one.

But everyone in her family has died in a hospital.

Her father, who survived a horrific car crash only to bleed out on an operating table.

Her mother, who had been left in a coma up until the first day of the Apocalypse.

Her aunt, whom Terezi knows had gone to see her mother that same day.

Both sets of her grandparents, although the specifics around those situations are lost to her.

Okay, yes, maybe she does harbor just a little bit of fear for hospitals.

But Terezi knows that it’s less about the place itself and more about being afraid to die.

“That’s still really fucking vague.”

“Yeah, well, it’s all we’ve got for the moment.”

“And how again are you so fucking sure that they’ll be there?”

There’s a displacement in the air and a muffled “Hey!” From Karkat as Vriska chucks the journal at him a second time.

Imagining the blank look on his face makes Terezi want to laugh.

“Didn’t I already say I can’t read while walking?”

“You asked how I was sure they are in danger. That’s how. It’s not my fault you don’t believe me.”

Terezi picks up on the rustling of pages, and she wills Vriska to not make a snarky comment about how he’s looking through it despite his claims that he is currently unable to.

“Why the hell is it in cursive?”

Vriska shrugs. “Who fucking knows? Maybe it was just easier for the author to write like that. Or maybe it was to keep incompetent fools like you from reading things you weren’t meant for.”

“To be fair” Terezi interjects “I can't read cursive either.”

“Terezi, heart of my heart, you can’t read anything.”

They both grin, and Karkat mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “get a room, assholes,” which Terezi ignores wholeheartedly, because even the notion of there being anything like that between them is simply ridiculous.

They’re friends. Ridiculously good friends, maybe even sisters. Anything beyond that is not only ridiculous, it’s-

“Alright people, we have infected.”

“No shit. There’s gotta be at least eight.”

“There is exactly eight, dipshit.”

“Who’re you calling dipshit? I was right!”

“Please. You were guessing!”

“I was still right!”

Honestly, their banter strikes Terezi as nothing short of amusing. As long as it doesn’t devolve into a fight like it almost had yesterday, she would be perfectly content to listen to them argue about nothing for hours.

Although right now, the zombies really should be taking a higher priority.

“Enough. We need to find a way around them.”

“We have a way. Through them.” Vriska counters “every zombie that dies now is one less to deal with in the future. They’re a limited resource, y’know?”

Karkat shudders from next to them.

“Don’t ever call the walking nightmare fuel a resource again.”

Terezi expects Vriska to smirk and repeat herself, if only to get a rise out of him, but the knife wielding survivor only shrugs.

The blind teen wonders if sometimes her best friend doesn’t like the things she says any more than everyone else does.

“Fine, whatever. We’ll put our course of action to a vote. That way one of us will have the unalienable right to say ‘I told you so’.”

And yet another surprise from Vriska. Terezi debates throwing her some questions about their childhood, just to make sure that whomever is talking is still the same person.

“It sounds so lame when you put it like that” Karkat whines, but he sees fit to put in his two cents anyways “but we’re wasting enough time here as it is. If they’re really in as much danger as you seem to think they are, we should just go.”

Terezi can feel Vriska’s disapproval and irritation.

“I know they’re in danger. What I don’t know is how much. But we have an opportunity here! Wouldn’t it be worth a few extra minutes to have eight less zombies in the city?”

“They could be mutations. We don’t know if there’s anything else they’re capable of.” Terezi offers.

“Eh, look at them! All the others had physical deformities. I’m sure we’d know by now if there was something off.”

“Hm.” Terezi pointedly resists commenting that it’s impossible for her to look at them.

The vote comes down to Terezi, but then she had already expected it to. What she does not expect is the way her mind blanks at the situation.

It should be an easy choice. Terezi knows that agreeing with her best friend tends to have the best outcome.

And yet…

And yet, when she imagines opening her mouth to support Vriska, she gets this impression that if she does so-

(Vriska, kneeling in pain and scratching at her scalp, barely able to restrain a cry of agony- Karkat, red eyes rolling back into wax-flavored white- herself, clutching at the fire in her neck, unable to put it out)

-something very, very bad will happen.

“I think we should stick to the mission at hand.” She says at last, and Vriska shrugs, not seeming the least bit surprised or even disappointed as they move.

Terezi does not miss the warring threads of relief and irritation dangling from the brunette’s soul.

And she has to wonder, again, if this is really her friend at all.
——
Roxy is the one to tell Dirk about the three runaways.

She barges into his workspace with little concern for whatever he might be doing, practically buzzing with anxiety. Her entrance is loud, and if Dirk were to guess, intentionally so, because sometimes the tools he uses are difficult to be heard over. Other times, it’s his own thoughts that drown out all external noise.

Today, they are both fortunate enough that neither scenario is taking place. They are even luckier that he is not dealing with any delicate equipment when she storms in, because flinching the way he does would surely have had adverse effects.

Instead, he had been taking an admittedly short break to reorganize his work station, and the worst that had come of his cousin’s interruption is the tossing of a wrench in her direction and a bout of mild annoyance.

He can’t really tell if she notices what he’s feeling or not. She doesn’t waste any time in informing him of the reason for her impromptu visit.

Then again, he would have only been more provoked had she hesitated.

“Three of the kids went missing.”

He isn’t sure how to respond to this. Most of him doesn’t really care- he has no obligation to worry about them. Not like he does with Jane and Jake and Dave and Rose and Roxy.

He tries to remind himself that caring about them is a choice, not an obligation. He only partially succeeds.

Caring about Dave, at least, was never a choice.

This is not to say that he doesn’t, of course. Dirk likes to think that he’s done everything he possibly could have done for his little bro-

Cousin. His little cousin.

“Which ones left?” He asks, and Roxy gives him a sideways look, like she knows that he’s stalling to hide the fact that he doesn’t really care.

In all fairness, she almost certainly does.

“The scary one, the blind one, and Karkat.” She ticks them off anyways, and Dirk thinks that he should be feeling an undercurrent of gratitude towards her for knowing that he wouldn’t have picked up on their names.

Well. Most of their names.

To be fair, though, he already knows who Karkat is because Dave knew him, and it’s Dirk’s business to know everything that his family knows, because how can he possibly protect them if he doesn’t know what’s going on with them?

He can’t. Dirk knows that. He knows because he’s lived it; he lived it when he discovered Rose almost got kidnapped, he lived it when he found out that Dave had torn himself from his friends, he lived it when Calliope-

His thoughts choke themselves and stutter, looping that last sentence back through his brain like a hamster trapped in its wheel. It seems he still can’t even acknowledge his greatest failure to himself.

No matter. He has a new crisis to dedicate his energy to.

“I see. What do the others intend to do?”

Roxy sighs. “Nobody has gotten around to telling Jane yet. Presuming that Jade is still unconscious, I think it’s safe to say both of them will remain here.”

“For the best.”

“Mhmm. Jake insists he wants to go after them, and so does John, but I doubt either of them would last very long out there.”

“No, probably not.” Dirk hesitates, but only for the barest of seconds. “What does Dave think?”

It’s Roxy’s turn to hesitate, only she takes much longer than he does.

“He’s… torn, I guess. I think he wants to go after Karkat, but he’s scared to.” She frowns, face twisting in a muted form of anguish. “Me, I could go either way. I don’t want to leave when there’s still so much to do, but…”

“But you don’t want to abandon them to their fate.”

That’s a sentiment Dirk can understand.

Perhaps he even understands it a little too well.

“Yeah” Roxy agrees “something like that.”

Dirk isn’t listening that much, though, mostly because he had figured that’s what she would say.

Instead, he’s trying to figure out the best course of action.

“Do we have an estimate of when they left?”

“Mhmm. Jake thinks they left maybe fifteen minutes ago. They took one of the secret passages, though.”

Hm. On the surface, that’s not a very long amount of time, although the exact timing is difficult, because sometimes groups move much slower than a single person.

Still, that does not mean they won’t be difficult to find.

“Do we know where they were headed?”

Roxy shakes her head. “Nope. Jake thinks they were headed after Rose and Kanaya, though. Something about them potentially being in danger?”

Dirk can tell that she means to say this flippiantly, because she gives her best approximation of a casual shrug, but there’s still something heavy and cold in her voice.

This only makes his decision easier.

Sure, Dirk knows that what he’s doing here is valuable, incredibly so. Maintaining electricity and figuring out how to recreate the internet is something he sees as being the edge they need to survive, and he knows that he’s the only one in this house that can do that.

But Dirk himself doesn’t really care about either of those things. Yeah, electricity is hella convenient, but he doesn’t need it. He’s plenty capable of surviving on his own.

But Dirk wants to do a little more than just survive. He wants to live. He’s spent his whole life surviving, and while he doesn’t regret it, he can’t help but want just a little bit more.

For him, that ‘more’ is the sight of the people that he has chosen to care about, together and carefree and happy. His ‘living’ is watching them and making sure that they can have what he himself wants.

Because no matter how much he wants it, he knows he’s already too broken for happiness. At least, for the wholesome, all-encompassing kind of happiness that radiates through one’s entire being.

But a shard of that happiness- that he can have. And for him, that means contenting himself with the knowledge that everyone else is happy.

So he turns to Roxy, and they both already know what he’s going to say, but he says it anyways.

“I’ll go. The rest of you need to stay.”

And then he walks over to the other end of the room, retrieves one of his many, many katanas, and prepares to leave.
——
Kanaya would like to say that she’s doing okay, really, she would, but not only would it be a lie, it would be an unconvincing one.

Following Rose’s… episode Kanaya had been more than a little panicked. She had known something wasn’t quite right with her companion, but she had never imagined that it the blonde would be coming into her powers.

She had never imagined Rose having powers at all.

The prospect scares her, but it also kind of excites her, maybe more than it should. Definitely more than it should, because Rose having abilities should not be even remotely thrilling.

And yet it is, and a piece of Kanaya yearns to know what exactly it is that the blonde can do.

But for now, she lets herself remain patient. Her question can wait until Rose has exhausted her own list.

If there’s one thing Kanaya knows, it’s that when fishing for information, timing is key. And right now, that timing is still a distance into the future.

So while Rose busies herself with searching through the tiny kitchen for something edible- a task whose difficulty will largely be determined by how picky an eater Rose is- Kanaya slides her thoughts back into her memories.

There aren’t a great deal of them. She had discarded a vast amount shortly after the Apocalypse had started, mostly ones of mundane, school-related pieces that had been vital to maintaining her cover.

Cover. What had she been doing at Alternia again?

She hadn’t been there to hide from the rest of the vampire community, Kanaya recalls that much. Her benefactor had seen to it that she did not have the need to strictly pass as a human.

Which was just as well, seeing as how doing so would have been rather impossible. Makeup can only go so far to stimulate aging.

No, there must have been a target. She was never sent anywhere without a purpose. That meant she was either supposed to gather information or she was supposed to kill someone.

Somehow, Kanaya doubts that there was much intelligence to be gleaned at a boarding school of all places.

But the only thing she had done that was noteworthy was take down that cult, and that had been… well, she doesn’t actually remember how long ago it was. But it had been a while, and if that had really been her mission she would have been extracted shortly after.

There had been something else, there must have been.

Kanaya really hates how fickle her memory is.

More than that, though, she hates that she’s only thinking about all of this now. She hates that she never would have recalled any of it were it not for those small slivers of information she had found at the vampire’s home.

The thought that he actually had lived at the same place listed on his driver’s license is for another time.

But it’s not just those little clues she found there that are scrambling her mind. Kanaya knows that Rose has something to do with it, too. She’s not sure how far the Seer’s power extends, but considering how the memory she had pulled out of her was old enough to have been forgotten dozens of times over…

Well, the realization that Rose could, at any time, reach over and learn more about Kanaya than she herself knows is a terrifying one.

The knowledge that there wouldn’t be a thing Kanaya could do to stop her is even worse.

Kanaya Maryam is not used to feeling powerless.

She thinks it’s a feeling she just might have to get used to.

The thought makes her want to run away, just as nearly every other thought has, and she hates that too.

“Kanaya?”

The daywalker is unnaturally relieved at the interruption. Her mind is not something she wants to spend much any more time in.

What she really needs is a distraction. It makes her feel a little guilty to think of Rose as being just that because really, the blonde is much, much more.

But ‘more’ isn’t something that either of them need, certainly not now, and maybe not ever. So Kanaya will have to settle for ‘distraction’.

“Kanaya?” Rose repeats, and the vampire realizes she’s been spacing out for just a bit too long “Is everything alright?”

“Yes” the ravenette lies “I am just… hungry, is all.”

Wel, it’s not that much of a lie. She is, a little, but not nearly enough to drain her focus the way these snarled memories are.

“Oh” Rose says abashedly “do you need to-?”

“No” Kanaya says quickly, perhaps too quickly “its, ah, better. If I wait longer before… partaking.”

She doesn’t bother to explain why, and Rose doesn’t bother to ask. It’s not an especially important topic for the moment.

At least, Kanaya doesn’t think so.

“Okay, but if you ever need to, know that I will be glad to assist you.”

Kanaya can only nod stiffly in response, because really, the offer is tempting. But she has more self control than that, and who’s to say that Rose won’t browse more of her memories if she were to accept?

No, for the time being it is much safer to refuse this kind of offer. Just until she gets the courage to open that thrice-damned box and review her past herself.

But once she does that, that’s it. She’ll be doomed to forget them again, only there will be no way to get them back beyond whatever she can manage to write down.

And considering she is not likely to have an opportunity to do so any time soon, she will wait.

If she’s honest, she doesn’t even want to live through them again anyways, if only because she has no idea what she’s going to find.

And that scares her more than an eternity of loneliness.

Rose is watching her, quieter than Kanaya has come to expect from her. All things considered, it’s not necessarily an outlandish reaction, just an unanticipated one.

Kanaya has thought of Rose as the type to value knowledge over privacy. Perhaps that’s still the case, and Kanaya is just overthinking things.

Regardless, she’s going to accept that as being the case, because the alternative is that she doesn’t know Rose at all, and even just imagining that makes her throat suspiciously tight.

Although, it has been made clear that she’s already been very, very wrong when it comes to her presumptions about Rose.

And as she meets the blonde’s gaze and prepares herself to make some sort of plan for tomorrow, she has to wonder.

If she can’t trust her memory, and her perceptions are just as untrustworthy, what kind of faith in herself is left?

The answer, of course, is none.

She wonders if that will change.

Watching Rose smile at her makes her think it just might.
——
The instant Jade leaves, Aradia can feel his presence nagging at her.

She’s not surprised. It seems all he does these days is bother her, as if everything he did to her in life wasn’t enough.

This time, he skips the whole power play thing and if he weren’t such an absolute bastard she might have felt grateful, because she’s just not in the mood for mind games today.

“I believe congratulations are in order.” He says- purrs, really- into her mind.

“Save it” she snaps back “I’m not even their Guardian.”

And she’s not. She’s just a dead girl that’s lived one life too many and suffered way too much in both.

“Nonetheless, an ascension is quite an achievement. And in so little time, too.”

“It’s taken her years to get here,” she points out.

“As it did for you.”

She pauses. So does he.

“We asked for a second chance,” Aradia says accusingly “we did what we were supposed to.”

He considers her, tilting the head of his sparkling white silhouette. “True,” He concedes “and yet sometimes doing as Fate decrees is not the correct choice.”

“Are you suggesting that condemning an entire world to this end is?”

Aradia already knows it’s not.

“No.” He agrees within her thoughts and she bares her teeth and snarls. He always hated watching her act like an animal, even when it was him that had locked her in a cage.

“It is, however, the better choice. For them, for me… I suppose that, in the end, it is only the twelve of you who really stand to suffer.”

That’s not true. Suffering is not exclusive to the context of eternity. Everyone on this planet, and on the one before it, has suffered.

“And what of the other four? They may be able to ascend here, but considering what you have done to their Guardian-“

“They will be perfectly fine, I can assure you.”

That does not bring her a significant amount of comfort, even though she’s fully aware he is telling the truth.

“You have only managed to cause the death of eight of us,” she says “you will never meet your own end unless all twelve of us are gone. And if even one of them ascends-“

“That will not happen.” He speaks too harshly and too quickly, and she smiles at the realization that he doesn’t fully believe what he’s saying.

She’s never seen him scared before. It’s a powerful feeling.

“They’ve already done the work. All it will take is one good night’s sleep.”

She feels something slacken inside her mind, and Aradia curses herself for sighing in relief at his sudden retreat.

“They do not have any more nights.” He asserts.

“They have one,” she corrects, but that’s not really what he means and she knows it.

“Do they?” He asks anyways and spreads his arms. “One of them never sleeps. Another already has me in her head. A third cannot even come here on her own, and the fourth-“

“-the fourth already has your poison in his veins. Yes, I know.”

“Our poison.” He amends. “You always seem so eager to forget that neither of us could have done it without the other.”

She isn’t sure whether to smirk at that or to scowl, because finally, she knows something that he doesn’t.

“Yours” she repeats, sounding far more bold and decisive than she feels “Karkat is incapable of being a target for my…”

She doesn’t know how to end that sentence. She’s not even sure what it is that she’s left behind.

Her pain? Her rage? Her sadness?

Her ghost?

It feels like all of those and yet none, because she’s still here, and she still feels everything.

She remembers even more.

And yet, she knows that something of herself still lingers on that crying blue planet, because no matter how terrible Scratch is, he’s not much of a liar. He means it when he says that she is as equally responsible for this plague as he is.

But just because he thinks it might be true doesn’t mean that it is.

And she means it just as much when she says that he’s the one that should shoulder the consequences.

“We have already been over this.” He says, and she feels a renewed sense of hatred that he is back in her head.

He doesn’t seem to care. She wonders if there was ever a time when he actually did.

The voice inside her skull says yes, but her heart says no.

She thinks that if he did, he would have at least a little remorse, or maybe some measure of sympathy. He has made it very clear that he has neither.

“You can’t win this.”

Aradia doesn’t know where the words come from, but they spring from her lips anyways, bold and assertive and overall just unlike her.

“Can’t is a very different word than won’t, my dear.”

“I think you will find both of them equally applicable to your goals. Are you not aware that all your plans are built upon glass?”

No, definitely not her words. But since she has no way to tell whose they actually are, she may as well claim them for herself.

“Glass” Scratch mumbles, this time aloud instead of within, and Aradia wants to smirk at the slight victory. “Yes. A fitting analogy.”

The urge vanishes in an instant. He continues to both ignore her and not care.

“Tell me, Aradia, how do you envision victory? Does it stop at picturing my failure, or do you imagine for yourself a happy ending?”

“Your failure and my happiness are identical.”

“Hm.” He makes a small noise of disbelief, and she hates that too. She hates the little things he does to pretend to be human when he’s not.

“What about the others? Is their happiness entwined with my failure?”

She has to think about that for a moment, because honestly, she’s not sure. When it comes to the others, she’s only weighed their outcomes in terms of ‘terrible’ and ‘worse’.

He slips back into her mind, a slimy tendril that she just can’t seem to dislodge, even though she wants nothing more than to shove it far away from her.

“Tell me something, my dear,” -why can’t he just leave her mind alone-

“Do you really think them capable of fighting for something meaningless?”

Her voice is hoarse when she answers- dimly, she realizes she’s panicking, even though there’s really no reason to.

“Meaning is very different than purpose.”

He sighs, all at once long and slow and patient.

“Dearest Aradia, where I am concerned, they are one and the same.”

And then he’s gone, vanished, and the protest her heart has prepared dies on her tongue.

And all that is left unsaid between them is a simple “you’re wrong.”
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
Dave waits anxiously in the living room, afflicted with the knowledge that he’s about to do something very, very stupid.

He’s sitting cross-legged on the carpet, his sword across his lap. He’s trying to remain as still as he can, like Dirk has taught him to, but it’s a futile effort, and soon he finds himself drumming his fingers on the smooth metal.

After Jake had finally explained the situation, Roxy had made for the basement, not even bothering to explain what she was doing or why. It doesn’t matter to Dave, because really, there’s only one reason to go down there.

Dirk. It seems like everything always comes back to him.

Dave wonders what it is that makes him such the obvious choice for solving problems. Why is it that Dave is never given a chance to make something right?

Especially when it’s his own failures raining down the consequences.

But he knows they won’t see it that way. They never do.

Which is why he’s sitting on the living room floor, waiting for Dirk to show himself so Dave can persuade him to take him along.

And by ‘persuade’, what Dave really means is that he’s going to fight his cousin for the privilege of accompanying him.

Because above all else, Dirk Strider values strength, not sentiment.

Dave’s incessant tapping blocks out the sound of Roxy’s approach. It doesn’t make a huge difference, because Dave’s not waiting for her, and even if he was perfectly still, he would not be able to hear Dirk coming anyways.

It’s just one more way his cousin is better than him.

Roxy emerges from the stairwell only a minute before Dirk does. Her eyes widen when she spots Dave, and he stops his movements and gives her a small wave. She closes her eyes for just a moment, opens them, and backpedals through the hallway towards the kitchen.

Well. That’s definitely not encouraging.

Neither is the suffocating silence that follows.

But he sure as hell can't back down now. He has to prove to everyone- not just himself- that he is capable, that he is still worth something.

That he’s worth Karkat’s forgiveness.

But first, he has to be worth his own, and that starts by proving himself as being more than worthless.

The door to the basement creaks open. It’s either intentional or sloppy, and Dirk is wholly incapable of being the former, which means-

White smoke pours out from behind the door, and Dave can feel sweat start to bead at the nape of his neck. It’s been so long since he’s had to endure this, he had almost convinced himself that it was all over.

Almost.

Dave grips his sword, careful not to clench his fingers as tight as he can around the hilt. Doing so will only be taken as a sign of weakness, and Dave knows his cousin will not hesitate to take advantage of anything Dave lets him.

A pillow is flung at him from behind, and in seconds Dave is up and has spun around, knocking the object to the side with the pummel of his sword, which he moves as quickly as he can into a parry.

Nearly the instant he does so, Dirk is on him, his greater height pressing an advantage as he clashes blades with Dave, the latter’s focus almost entirely taken by simply keeping the former’s weapon away from his throat.

“Dave.” Dirk says, voice gravely and tired. Dave can feel the irritation spike within him, irritation that his cousin thinks so little of these spars. “You need to stop.”

Dave grits his teeth and pushes back just a little bit harder. The fog continues to flow into the room, restricting his vision. He can barely even see where the couch and other furniture are, which puts him at a disadvantage.

Although it isn’t like he wasn’t at one already.

Dirk leans back, lifting his weight in hopes of catching Dave off balance, but the younger blonde manages to save himself from pitching forward. Dirk strikes at him from the side and it’s only by the miracle of intuition that Dave manages again to catch his cousin’s blade on his own.

They repeat the ritual two more times, and Dave’s arms shake a little more with each clash of their weapons. He can’t keep this up, not like Dirk can.

Failure may be an option, but it isn’t one he wants to ascribe to, so Dave backs away, putting a bit more space between them.

It’s a very stupid idea, because the next moment sees Dirk melding into the fog, and by doing so Dave has already broken the first rule of sparring.

Never take your eyes off your opponent.

Dave holds his sword carefully. His breathing, thankfully, is still steady, even though he’s shaking and covered in sweat. Were it anyone but Dirk, he probably wouldn't be struggling so much.

And just like that his thoughts have deviated from his surroundings, and he’s broken the second rule of sparring.

Don’t lose focus.

Dirk lunges at him from behind, and it’s not really a surprise, because Dave knows that he always goes for the most vulnerable spot.

This knowledge does not make defending himself any easier, however. It’s called a ‘weak spot’ for a reason.

Dave turns, sword poised, but he’s moving too slowly and they both know it. In two seconds, maybe three, Dirk’s katana is going to pierce his guard and stop just a millimeter from Dave’s chest, and just like that the fight is going to be over.

If only he had a little more time.

Dirk’s katana flies towards him, but now it feels slow, like it’s moving through a curtain of invisible water. Dave freezes, bracing himself to accept the inevitable, to accept his failure.

And then, before it can get anywhere near Dave’s throat, it stops.

And Dave knows something is very, very wrong, because there is no way in hell Dirk would ever break his third rule.

Never abandon an opening.

Dave wonders if Dirk has already knocked him out, and all he’s doing is dreaming. He must be, because things like this have only ever happened while he’s been asleep.

Even if it is a dream, though, Dave isn’t about to break all three rules.

He owes it to his friends to not be that much of a failure.
——
Karkat thinks that if he ever has to go outside again, it will be far too soon.

Not only does he have to deal with the stress of his only remaining friend being in danger, he still has no clue where they’re going or what kind of threat they might be facing. Vriska is still refusing to explain, and Terezi isn’t much help either.

Not to mention how ungodly hot it is outside.

They haven’t been traveling very long- half an hour at the most, and he’s already soaked to his sneakers in sweat. Quick as they were to leave, they don’t have so much as a drop of water between the three of them, and nobody wants to chance entering a grocery store to get any, Karkat even more so than the others.

Because while they may be more than content to leave the memory of the CVS in the void, Karkat can’t seem to go more than five minutes without his attention being drawn to the fact that he was bitten, that he’s still somehow not a zombie, but he came really fucking close to turning into one.

Or maybe he is a zombie, and he just doesn’t realize it yet. Maybe he’s a new flavor of monstrosity, and he only shows his true, infected colors when he’s around monsters of a similar nature.

If he’s honest, that’s the real reason he didn’t want to engage that small cluster of infected. He’s scared of becoming one of them again.

More than that, he’s scared of dying. He knows he won’t live very long if that happens to him again, because he’s certain that neither Vriska nor Terezi will hesitate in cutting his head off.

All the more reason they need to find Kanaya and Rose. Rose may be in the same boat as his two current companions, but Karkat is confident that the vampire would be reluctant to let them do anything to him.

She didn’t let them kill him last time, after all.

Sweat leaks from his forehead to his eyelids, and Karkat brushes it away with the back of his hand. He grimaces at the action, his skin gritty from the tiny particles of salt that have been collecting there.

Somehow, they’ve managed to lose themselves in a more residential part of the city, although Vriska insists that they’re still going the right way. As much as Karkat’s mouth feels like a box full of static yarn, he doesn’t think he could handle facing the decaying owners of those imposing brick cubicles, and based off their relative silence, Karkat guesses that Terezi and Vriska feel about the same.

Still, there’s only so much of the oppressive sun he canhandle. Even when they stick to the shade of the imposing apartment buildings, the rebounding heat from the pavement still seems to find them.

“I can’t take this anymore. Either we find something to drink now, or we wait until it’s darker to keep going. This is fucking ridiculous.”

Karkat is quick to cringe at his own outburst. Normally, he’s not one to try to take his words back- his father had always been very clear that any man worth his salt would own every word out of their mouth, even the stupid ones.

But as Vriska whirls around, murder gleaming in her hard blue eyes, he thinks there’s stupid, and then there’s suicidal.

Unfortunately, his complaint seems to be leaning much more to the latter.

“What the hell did you just say?”

Heat creeps into Karkat’s cheeks, burning even hotter than the weather. A warning echoes in his mind: he needs to say ‘nothing’, or else he should apologize. So long as he doesn’t put his foot in his mouth, they should be able to continue on like he hadn’t opened up his idiotic trap.

“I said that we should stop and cool off for a bit, dumbass. What are you, deaf?”

And just like that, his foot has surpassed his mouth and dived all the way into his stomach.

Not an unusual position for him, but still.

Vriska glares harder, if at all possible, and marches up to him. He tenses, startled but determined not to step back as she intrudes upon his personal space.

He manages to resist the urge to backpedal, but he’s starting to think that maybe would actually be the smart thing to do. She’s much taller than him, and probably stronger too. Both their weapons may be short range, but he has no intention of pulling his on her, because then Terezi would step in and he’d be screwed.

She, on the other hand, could shank him at any time, and easily pass it off as his eyes starting to roll back or something. Karkat knows that Terezi has super-senses, but he isn’t convinced she would be able to figure that out.

Or that she would even care if she did.

“Look, Vantas. We don’t have the time. Our friends could be dying. If you want to maximize our chances at keeping them from joining the realm of the dead, then you need to suck it up.”

“And I suppose that’s oh-so-important to you? Because last I checked, you were perfectly fine wasting some of our supposedly precious time killing some infected. Or was I just imagining that?”

A vibrant red slashes across Vriska’s face, and she reaches for her belt, where Karkat knows she keeps at least one of her weapons stored.

He does not hesitate to back up a few steps this time.

A glint of metal broadcasts itself from her hand, and for a second Karkat truly thinks that he’s going to die.

And then her gaze shifts, staring at something just above his shoulder, and before he can even turn to look at what it is she’s already pitching her hand forward, the knife launching out as if she was simply extending her hand, rather than throwing something.

Karkat spins around, anxious to see what it is that she’s throwing at.

It never occurs to him that it was a simple diversion for her to slam the side of her shoe into his temple.

Not until his vision goes starry, then black, and then ceases to exist altogether, anyways.

But there, just above Vriska’s own shoulder, is the imprint of something white and spherical, and Karkat’s brain has just enough time to think ‘hey, I’ve seen that before!’

And then it promptly gives out, leaving him stranded far from the shore of consciousness.
——
Jade is discovering that she is something of a rambler when she’s nervous.

She only comes to realize this fact after Jane-for the fourth time since she’s started talking- asks her to slow down and repeat herself.

The revelation makes her fists curl into the sheets and causes her eyes to harden. Jade thinks that Jane probably assumes it’s due to the younger girl’s irritation at being asked to repeat herself, as Jane never poses that particular request again, but that’s not it at all.

Well, okay. Maybe it is a little bit grating to have to say the same thing over. But it’s not the root of her annoyance.

What’s really getting to her is that she should have already known this about herself.

But she didn’t, and the one responsible for that didn’t have so much as an apology for it.

Only a stupid piece of jewlery that she didn’t even want. At least Aradia tried to be helpful, even if the address she had given Jade means absolutely nothing, considering she hasn’t the slightest clue on how to get there.

“Jade, are you alright?”

“Huh? Uhm, yes, of course!” Jade gives Jane what she hopes is a reassuring smile.

“You have been staring at that wall for the past couple minutes. Also, your necklace is glowing.” Jane says.

Jade looks down quickly, eyes wide. Sure enough the green gemstone, which has been molded in an odd, not-quite-a-sun shape, is casting a gentle sort of light onto her shirt.

And then, just as quickly as she looks at it, it stops.

“I… have no clue what that was.”

“That makes two of us.”

Jade runs her thumb over the silver chain of the necklace, waiting to see if it will respond to the touch. It doesn’t, but she hadn’t really expected it to.

Jane coughs lightly. “I believe you were telling me how you knew it was so important to come here?”

“Right, yes.” Jade is struck with how little she has actually explained, and how much more she has yet to share. “I guess, to put it simply, I can kind of dream the future.”

Silence. Deafening, heavy silence.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

Jane blinks slowly and Jade looks away. This is usually the part where she gets called a liar.

Or the part where she thinks she’s supposed to be called a liar. She hasn’t had this conversation enough times to really say if there’s a standard reaction.

And whose fault is that, again?

“I understand if you don’t believe me. I know it sounds crazy-“

“No.” Jane shakes her head “no, it’s not that. It’s just, we knew someone like that. Before, I mean.”

And now it’s Jade’s turn to be bashful.

“I- I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Even so, they didn’t deserve to die.”

“No,” Jane agrees “she did not. Very few do.”

The older girl then clears her throat, and it breaks the aura of somberness that had threatened to overtake the both of them.

“You still haven’t told me what Rose and Kanaya are doing.”

Jade winces. “That’s really between them…”

Jane fixes her with a stern look that isn’t quite a glare but certainly feels like one, and Jade wilts just a bit under the pressure.

“Um, but I did promise to tell you, so-”

“No, no. You shouldn’t tell me simply because you feel obligated to.” Jane stands up, the movement abrupt and swift, leaving Jade with the sensation that the room is shifting up and down.

“Um, what?”

Jane sighs, and Jade can’t tell if it’s supposed to be gentle or exasperated. There’s a dull pinging in her ears, and her vision is starting to spot over.

But right now is not the time to fall asleep.

Jade reaches for the glass again, only to blink in dismay when she realizes it’s empty.

“Here, let me.” Jane says. Without waiting for a response she takes the cup from Jade and leaves the room, closing the door behind her.

Jade lets herself fall back, her head crashing against the pillows. Her head is spinning, and she’s fairly sure that she’s seeing double right now, maybe even triple.

She closes her eyes, trying to block it all out. Still the shapes linger in the form of purple stars and the sensation of another presence, like when she can just tell that Bec is nearby, even though she can’t see him.

Her sense of space bobs like she’s floating on top of water, and if not for the blankets hugging her legs she would mistake herself as being in a river. Heat leaches from her spine downwards, replacing itself with an icy chill, and her eyes snap back open as she throws herself out of the bed.

Exhausted from the sudden motion she slumps to the floor, curling her knees to her chest as she gasps for air, mind straining for an explanation of what exactly is going on.

Bec whines from somewhere in the room, but whether the noise is from the opposite side of the bedroom or from right next to her she isn’t sure.

“Bec!” She cries out, and something wet and slimy licks at the side of her face. Jade fumbles, arm scrabbling at her side until it comes to rest on something soft. Bec.

Hesitantly Jade moves her hand, keeping it close to the surface of Bec’s fur as she pets him. Gradually, the chaos of the room settles and her breathing calms.

“Good dog” she whispers “best friend.”

They stay like that- curled up on the floor, simply comforting each other and reassuring the other that they are real- for what seems a long time.

At some point, it occurs to Jade that Jane should have been back by this point. Her breath hitches again and she stands up, her mind sharpened by the reactivated pulse in her chest.

As if reading her mind Bec gets up and bounds over to the closet, his nose to the carpet as he searches for something.

He barks as he finds what he is looking for and gently grasps Jade’s rifle by the barrel, dragging it towards her. He lays it down just within her reach and she gives him an appreciative scratch behind the ears.

“Good dog,” she repeats “best friend.”
——
John passes Jane in the hallway, but she doesn’t say anything to him.

That’s okay, though. John isn’t sure he could actually hold a conversation with anyone right now, because if he does he just might break down and lose the thin sliver of courage that is urging him to get his hammer so he can join Dave.

But first, he needs to go check on Jade. At least he has one friend that he knows will be staying safe. Still, he can’t just leave her without telling her what he’s doing, or at least, leave a note explaining what he’s doing.

He’s fairly certain she knows anyways, given the whole ‘dreaming-the-future’ thing’.

Still, John figures she would appreciate having her friends try to keep her in the loop. He remembers that she would always listen with a smile to his stories about his day during their video chats.

Even when she already knew exactly what he was going to say.

He remembers how their first contact had been a simple warning from her. He hadn’t meant to click on the chat invite, seeing as how he didn’t know her username and had assumed she was a troll, but he had.

And then she had scared the daylights out of him by sharing a bunch of information that she had no business knowing, including his middle name, the name of his late nana, and a ton of other stuff that was definitely not public knowledge, such as his favorite movie.

He had been very, very tempted to hurl his computer through his window and convince his dad that they needed to flee the country.

Thankfully, all she had done was tell him to bring some band-aids and Advil with him the next day, because he was going to trip and cut himself on a rock on the way to school.

He had turned the power off on his computer, refusing to respond to whomever his online stalker was, and had gone straight to bed, determined to forget what happened before morning.

He had not been especially successful.

Later, Rose claimed that John’s injury was the result of what she called a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. John was not convinced.

And now that they’ve proven Jade really can dream the future, John thinks he owes his friend a well earned ‘I told you so’.

But if he wants to do that, he needs to find her. He’s not going to waste such a moment on a text message.

He just hopes that luck will be on his side in finding her.

Breaking from his thoughts, John knocks on the door to Jade’s room.

“Jade?” He calls out, but there’s no answer. John reaches for the handle, but before he can twist it the door swings inwards, and a massive white blur flings itself at him, knocking John to the ground.

“Bec!” Jade cries, and the dog obediently extracts himself from John. “I’m sorry. He’s not usually this excitable.”

“It’s fine.” John says, picking himself up. “I’m just glad to see that you’re awake!”

“Yeah, me too.” Jade bites her lip “where is everyone? I have something really, really important to tell them.”

“About that… um, Karkat, Vriska, and Terezi left earlier. Jake says they were going after Rose and Kanaya. Something about them being in danger?” He peers at Jade, hoping she can elaborate.

Instead, she shakes her head. “It’s too early to tell.” She mumbles. “What about Dave?”

“He was going to go with his cousin to find Karkat. I’m not sure if they’ve left, though.”

Jade shuts her eyes, and John realizes her hands have curled themselves into fists. “Please tell me we at least have internet to contact them.”

John shifts his weight, bouncing from one foot to the other. “We, um, haven’t tried yet. Dirk seems convinced that it’s going to shut off today, though. What’s going on?”

Jade glances around again. “I’ll explain while we walk. Do you have your phone on you?”

John nods. “Where are we going? Do you know where they are?”

“No,” Jade tells him “but I know where they will be. I just don’t know when they’ll get there. Which is why we need to hurry.”

John nods for a second time, but he doesn’t move, more because he doesn’t know where she wants them to go than anything else.

Then he notices the gun strapped to her back, and a tremor tears itself through his stomach.

She seems to realize where his eyes have gone, because her eyes immediately soften.

“John,” she says, voice scarcely more than a whisper “it’s not what you think.”

“How can it not be?” He cries, louder and harsher than he means to “There’s only one reason you’d need a weapon like that. You're going to kill someone…”

“John, no, please that’s not it.” She’s pleading with him, but all he can focus on is the gun on her back, and blood and graying bodies and his father, scratching and manic and dead but still somehow so, so heartbreakingly alive.

“John! John!”

She’s calling for him, he knows she is, but he’s not sure how. He can’t hear a thing; her lips make no sound to him, and he wonders if this might be a dream, and he’s just on the verge of waking up.

But even as he closes his eyes and waits to find himself back in his bed, he has to wonder if it’s really more of a nightmare.

Somehow, he gets the feeling that it just might be.
——
Jake is in the dining hall, relaxing as best he can, when Jane enters holding an empty glass.

“Does this mean Jade is awake?” He asks, and she flinches just a bit at his question.

“Yes, Jake.” She says “she is.”

“Ah” he says “that’s good, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Jake. It’s very good.”

He then watches as she stalks over to the fridge and pulls it open before withdrawing a pitcher of water. It’s warm; everything in the fridge is, considering that the electricity has been turned off almost all day.

Not that there is much in the fridge at this point. Nearly a week of living in the Apocalypse has left them with little in the way of perishables.

Thankfully, they’ve already stockpiled enough canned goods and dried food to last them for the next twenty years.

Assuming all of them live that long, of course.

“How, um, how fares she? Is there anything she needs?”

Jane finishes pouring the glass.

“No” She says “just this. And she’s as well as anyone that has just come back from the dead can be.”

And then she marches out of the room, refusing to so much as look at him, and he sighs.

“You just had to poke the bear, didn’t you Jake? You know how she gets when someone’s hurt…” he mumbles aloud.

He scarcely finishes his verbal musings when she storms back in, her eyebrows pinched together and her lips twisted into a scowl.

“Dirk and his cousin are fighting in the living room.”

Jake frowns.

“I don’t hear any shouting?”

“Fighting with swords. And that fog machine Roxy gave him for his birthday, for some reason.”

Jake tries to imagine Dirk swinging around the heavy box-like contraption, white smoke spewing out of it all the while.

“That doesn’t sound like a very effective weapon, Jane.”

“He’s not actually swinging it around, Jake.” Jane growls “he’s filled the room with smoke. And since I don’t want to get impaled, I have to wait until they’re done to go back up.”

“Oh.” Jake laughs nervously “that does not sound pleasant. The being impaled part, I mean”

He chances a look at her expression, and he can almost see the winds of a tempest beginning to rise in them.

“Not to say that being unable to check on Jade is great, either! Just, getting skewered seems the worse of the two. I imagine the trip to the hospital would definitely be-“

“Jake” She interrupts coldly “there aren’t any more hospitals.”

“Right, right” he hastily amends “hence the trip would not only be excruciating, but more than dangerous. Especially given the likelihood of you bleeding out before we retrieved the supplies necessary to treat such a wound.”

He steals another peek at her face, but to his dismay, the winds have been joined by shards of ice and crackles of lightning.

“We have a medbay downstairs, Jake.”

“Er, but what about stitches?”

“What about them, Jake?” She spits, and it occurs to Jake that she might be using his name as an insult. Not a good sign.

“Don’t we need special equipment for stitches?”

She pauses, mouthing his words to herself, and oh god he knows he’s in for it now.

“Jake, do you know what stitches are?”

“Um, I don’t-“

“Thread, Jake. You can stitch with thread and a needle. Nothing special about it.”

“Ah…” Blessedly, he is interrupted by the distant sound of the front door being closed, and he realizes that whatever had been happening in the living room has been resolved.

“It appears you live to see another day, Jake English.” Jane tells him, making it clear that she has realized it too. With that she sweeps out of the kitchen, leaving Jake free to release a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.

“Ouch, Jakey. She really roasted you this time.”

Jake cannot contain his startled yell at the unexpected appearance of Roxy.

“How long have you been there, Rox?” He demands as she steps out of the pantry closet.

He’s not sure he wants to know what she was doing in there, either.

“Oh, y’know” she says with a smirk “long enough to hear everything.”

“E-everything?” He exclaims, and he can just feel the blood draining from his face “as in, everything everything?”

“Everything, everything. Even your little monologue about how screwed you were.”

He groans and buries his face in his hands. “Promise you won’t tell Jane?” He begs, and to his horror all he gets is a chuckle. “Pretty please?” He tries again.

“Well, alright. But only because you asked so nicely!”

They exchange a smile, and Jake feels a pressure lift from his chest.

“So, do you perchance know what that tussle was about?”

The smile vanishes, and for what has to be the hundredth time that day Jake feels the killings of regret at his words.

“‘Course I do. It’s just- promise me this stays between us, ‘kay?”

“You have my word.” He says solemnly, and Roxy chuckles. Not much, but just enough to restore a semblance of life into her eyes.

“Alright, so basically, Dave wanted to be able to go with Dirk to find Karkat and the others. He knew Dirk wouldn’t want him to go with, so he sorta challenged Dirk to a duel over it.”

Jake swallows. He’s not really sure where Roxy is going with this, but he has a feeling it’s not anywhere especially good.

“See, dueling like that is something of a right of passage for Dave. The two of them grew up together, y’know? Only, their caretaker, our father, basically removed the care and embraced the taker.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Dirk did his best, but he’s not exactly parenting material, y’know? Makes me feel pretty awful. No contest that I got the better part of the divorce.”

He doesn’t have any words to offer her. Sure, his parents died in a plane crash when he was little, but he had always had his nana. She had died just after he graduated high school, and her last words to him was that she was proud to have him as a grandson.

He’s not really sure what Jane’s story is, but he’s confident it isn’t really a happy one. And maybe his isn’t the best, but it’s certainly leagues better than the rest of them.

“I’m sorry.” He says, and she gazes serenely at him.

“Don’t be” She says “we’re all stronger for our suffering.”

And then she too makes a speedy exit, leaving him all alone in the kitchen, which for all the sun it’s getting still feels so, so cold.
——
Dave has just gotten in place behind his cousin when time starts moving again, and he’s really not ready for it, because he still has no fucking clue what’s going on.

Thankfully, it seems Dirk doesn’t either, because it takes him a full three seconds to twist himself around and find himself face-to-face with Dave’s sword.

Or, more accurately, throat-to-sword. Dirk had been very clear that aiming for the face was a waste of time when it was a fight to the death.

They stare at each other, tinted lenses preventing any real eye contact, each tense and ready to react to the slightest move by the other.

“I don’t know how you did that, Dave.” Dirk says, and Dave’s legs threaten to give out from under him, because he’s never heard that cold of a tone from his cousin before, and he’s pretty sure it means that he’s three seconds away from getting his ass kicked.

“But… I am proud of you for bringing me to this point. For holding nothing back.”

Dave’s hand trembles, and he has to draw back just a bit, because if he doesn’t he’s going to lose control and leave a scratch across his cousin’s throat. That’s the only rule they’ve ever had between them: bruises and broken bones are fine, and blood is okay to draw, but only when it isn’t over a vital organ.

Sometimes, Dave thinks that rule is the only thing comes convincing him that Dirk really does care about him.

“You can put the sword down now, Dave.”

Dave hesitates and starts to lower his blade, then stops and points it at his cousin again.

“Promise it’s over? No sneak attacks or anything?”

Dirk smiles, and Dave thinks that’s probably not a good reaction to have when he has a deadly weapon millimeters from a vulnerable location.

“You have my word, Dave. No ambushes today.”

Convinced, Dave stows his weapon back into its scabbard. He knows that Dirk generally has few qualms about lying, but his word is as sure as the sun.

Dirk puts his own weapon away. “It’s not like you to pick a fight.” He intones.

Dave shrugs. “Yeah, well, I heard you were going after them. Figured you wouldn’t let me come with otherwise.”

Dirk nods, but says nothing else, and Dave gets the impression that his cousin is analyzing him very closely from behind his triangular sunglasses.

It’s not a foreign feeling.

“So, uh, we got everything we need? Map, water, that kind of thing?”

Dirk casts a lopsided grin at him. “Don’t you?”

“Well, if you count a phone as a map, then yeah.”

Dirk shakes his head, but his smirk stays, and Dave feels his heart clench at the realization that his cousin really, truly is proud of him right now.

All because the matrix or whatever shitty simulation software the higher ups are running decided to pick that exact moment to glitch the fuck out.

It makes him want to ask Dirk for a rematch, just so he can prove it was a fluke.

But doing so is not going to help Karkat, and right now that’s a little more important than outing himself as a fraud.

“No, Dave. Under normal circumstances, yes, but we don’t know when the internet is going to decide to give out.”

Ah, right. The Apocalypse eliminated more than just people.

“Fortunately, we have no need of one. Let’s go.”

Dirk doesn’t wait for a response, instead marching right out the door, and Dave has to scramble to catch up.

“Wait, why don’t we need a map?” He calls out, but Dirk doesn’t respond, and Dave wonders if he’s already gone into work mode.

Work mode. A funny little name a young Dave had given the moments when Dirk would shut off everything around him, focusing solely on one singular objective. It had been amusing, at first, and there were times Dave would try and prank him, doing stupid things like hiding a tool on him or waving a feather in front of his face in hopes of a reaction.

There never was, until the day Dave had taken it too far.

He hadn’t meant anything by it, of course. He was just a dumb, bored kid that had never been told to leave his cousin alone.

And like the dumb, bored kid, he was, he had thought it would be funny to get his cousin to trip, to see if, in his focused glory, he would simply face plant into the ground or if he would catch himself.

That he had chosen to enact this ‘master plan’ near the top of some stairs simply attested to the level of idiocy Dave Strider was blessed with.

The worst part hadn’t even been that Dirk never acknowledged the incident. No, it had been seeing his older cousin lying there at the foot of the stairs with blood spilling out of his mouth, unmoving, Dave thinking that he might be dead until Dirk dazedly touched the pooling crimson.

And then he had gotten up and walked away. He hadn’t looked at Dave, hadn’t yelled at him, hadn’t even told their uncle about it.

It’s at this point Dave realizes that he’s been trailing Dirk, even though he hadn’t been aware that his limbs were moving. He racks his brain, trying to recollect how long it’s been and where he is, but all he can draw is a blank.

Huh.

Dave guesses he might have something in common with Dirk after all.
——
“Very well. Let’s have a chat, shall we?”

Kanaya shifts at Rose’s words, but the blonde pretends not to notice. They don’t have time to be feeling bashful, not when they have yet to complete their mission.

“Shall I start with what I found?”

“That would be for the best.”

Kanaya nods as if Rose has said something profound, then withdraws a small notebook from her satchel. It’s approximately the size of a pocket bible bound in black with a thin, green ribbon tying it shut. Thin gold letters stretch across the base of the cover, and even looking at it upside down Rose can see that they spell out a name.

A name that is not Kanaya.

Kanaya gently unwinds the ribbon and opens the book to a seemingly arbitrary page, flipping through the sheets of paper until she has apparently found what she is looking for. She then slides the book towards Rose.

“It isn’t my best work,” the vampire explains “but hopefully it is enough for you to get the picture.”

Rose frowns at the sketched image. “Why didn’t you use your phone?”

“It’s dead,” Kanaya replies “and electronic mediums tend to be less than ideal for the supernatural.”

“Ah.” Rose nods and turns her full attention to the drawing. It’s not something she would consider amazing, but it is clear in its depiction of a room splattered with what she can only assume to be blood. Strange symbols and half written words litter nearly every inch of the space, many of which are written in a language that Rose can’t identify.

“What is this?” Rose asks, not bothering to tear her eyes from the page.

“I was hoping you could help me with that.”

Rose shakes her head and flips the page, revealing more detailed sketches of the strange markings.

Tapping a finger on the paper, her frown resurfaces. “This one here is the same one we saw yesterday.”

“The First Guardian?”

“Yes. It can’t be a coincidence that it’s drawn here as well.”

“Can you place any of the others?”

Rose hesitates, inspecting the other sketches closely. Of all the markings, only four others are actual prints, the rest being half written words and exclamations.

The drawings themselves were ultimately simplistic. They had each been placed within the boxes of the First Guardian symbol, which was still capped with a triangle. The upper two boxes were occupied by a gear and two squiggles, which reminded Rose of a river. The bottom right box contained what looked like some sort of explosion, and the bottom left-

Rose brought a hand to her head, a piercing dagger of pain splintering through the sides of her skull while vibrant afterimages clouded her sight.

“That last one,” Rose mumbles “it represents light. Represents me.”

Kanaya offers no words of acknowledgement.

“Are you alright?”

Rose doesn’t answer. She can’t, not when she’s busy trying to dig the pain out of her head with her fingernails.

Kanaya bolts out of her chair and races herself to Rose’s side, but the blonde has her eyes shut, trying to block out as much sensory input as she can.

“Rose, you need to breathe.”

Rose tries to focus on her words, she really does. But they sound too distant, too far away, like a warning that came after disaster struck.

A gentle pressure appears on her shoulders and Rose freezes, her stomach twinging as she realizes someone is touching her, and nobody is supposed to touch her, because bad things always seen to happen when people do.

People like her mom, who hugged her once when she was nine and then picked up a bottle and never put it down.

People like her brother, who was born clinging to her and grew up even lonelier than she did.

People like Roxy, who showed her affection up until the day her best friend died.

“Please don’t touch me.” She whispers, and Kanaya immediately backs off.

“I’m sorry.” The vampire says.

Rose is tempted to apologize, to say that she didn’t mean it, because as soon as the pressure disappears the pounding returns. But she can’t get her mouth to form the words, so instead she grits her teeth and digs her nails in deeper.

“It’s fine.” She chokes out “is there anything else you found?”

“There is.” The ravenette says “although I’m not sure we should discuss it tonight.”

“Better to get everything out tonight, so we can move faster tomorrow.”

Kanaya nods slowly. It’s clear to Rose that she doesn’t truly agree, but is simply going along with it so she doesn’t risk making anything worse.

Rose isn’t sure whether to be grateful or annoyed.

“As I said, the vampires themselves were not there. However, there was record of a location they are likely to be at.”

Rose withdraws her fingernails from her scalp and sighs in relief as a majority of the pain subsides. A glance down to her hands reveals grains of crimson have collected underneath the nails.

A slight intake of breath from Kanaya reveals that she has, too.

All too late, Rose realizes that drawing attention to the fact that she is bleeding at least a little is probably a bad idea, or at least, an insensitive one.

“I’ve written everything of importance in there.” Kanaya says “I will see you tomorrow.”

And then she turns on her heel and leaves, the air behind her displacing from her swift movements.

Rose doesn’t call after her, instead embracing the sinking feeling that is threatening to swallow her entire body as she prepares to flip the page, only to stop as she notices a small note written just below the symbol beside the one she knows to be light.

‘Space’ reads the pretty cursive, and Rose’s heart comes perilously close to beating out of her chest, because just as she knew the sun next to it is meant to be light, she knows that Kanaya shouldn’t know what any of them are.

Not unless it’s hers.

But there’s nothing to say, nothing to do with this knowledge, so even though Rose’s hands are shaking a little, she does nothing but turn the page.

There’s only a small line written on it, but it’s enough.

Bay County Hospital.
——
For the first time in maybe her entire life, Vriska Serket has no goddamn clue what the hell is going on.

Because to her, ‘hell’ is what seems to be going on, and considering the last thing she remembers is going upstairs to find Terezi, that should definitely be impossible.

But clearly reality cares little for impossible, because she has managed to find herself in a dull gray wasteland with nothing but an empty-looking stone mansion in the distance to suggest there are any traces of life beside herself.

Oh, also there’s the fact that it’s dark outside, and she is definitely seeing more than one moon whenever she looks up. That’s sure not normal, either.

Also, it’s cold. Like, way colder than the weather has any right to be.

Vriska knows she should probably be dedicating a little more brain power to figuring out how she got where she is, but honestly, the more interesting question (to her, at least) is where here even is.

Maybe if she can figure that out, the rest will come naturally.

“Yeah, you would think that, but no.”

Vriska definitely does not shriek as she whips around at the unexpected voice behind her.

But she does throw a knife.

“Wow, rude! Do you greet all your friends that way?” The owner of the voice- a young brunette that is several inches shorter than Vriska- chirps. Vriska scowls as her pulse calms itself down.

It threatens to climb again when there is no sign of her knife.

“Who the hell are you? And where the hell are we?” She demands, an itch rising in her throat as an unspoken command from her body to calm the fuck down.

“Um, woah, okay. Chill out for a second. I’m…” she hesitates for a second, and there’s a flicker in her smile “not allowed to give you my full name yet. But for now you can call me A.M, alright?”

“What do you mean you’re not allowed?”

A.M winces. “Sorry. Rules for the imminently deceased. They’re stupid, yeah, but since the alternative is being erased from existence, you do what you gotta do.”

“Rules for the imminently- Wait, are you saying I’m dead?” Her fingers subconsciously find their way to her second knife, brushing over the smooth hilt. “So this really is hell.”

“No, no! You’re not dead, you’re… unconscious, I guess? I’ll be honest, you’re really not supposed to be here, so I’m not sure what’s going on myself.” A.M is quick to try and reassure her, but hearing that she is equally confused is not helping Vriska’s nerves.

“Okay, that means absolutely nothing. Do you at least know where we are?”

A.M hesitates, and Vriska stares intently at her. Now that she’s not on the verge of a meltdown, she notices the girl’s eyes are completely silver.

Right. Imminently deceased. A ghost.

Vriska wonders how she so spectacularly failed to notice that.

“Well, normally when people come here, I tell them that we’re in a physical reflection of their soul. But that’s not entirely accurate for you.”

Vriska snorts. It figures that her soul would resemble the fields of Asphodel.

“Buuuut, seeing as you are a special case and, as I said, not supposed to be here, I can tell you this isn’t actually your soul. Think of it as a representation of what your soul desires, if that makes any sense.”

“Nope!” Vriska says “but for the sake of sanity, I’m going to pretend it does.” She pauses “so how do I get out of here? Is there like, a secret portal or something?”

“No, not exactly.” A.M says “but I think you could probably get out through the mansion.”

“Of course I could.” Vriska groans “a whole wasteland to ourselves, and the only exit is through a creepy-ass haunted mansion. Just my luck.”

“Well, you could always stay here and wait to wake up. But the odds of that happening anytime soon are very, very low.”

“Alright, alright, I get it. Adventure calls, I guess.” Vriska looks around “any chance I can get that knife back, though? I think I’ll probably need it.”

“I already gave it back to you.”

“Huh, really?” Vriska pats at her belt to be sure, but as stated it’s already there. Fucking ghosts and their creepy ways. “Right, then. I’m just gonna go.”

“I can teleport you to the entrance, if you wish.”

“Naw, that’s fine. It doesn’t look like it’s too far away.”

“Vriska, please. It’s much farther than it seems.” A.M insists, and Vriska feels just a small twinge of annoyance in her stomach. She can handle a slight jog.

“Seriously girl, I’m fine. Feel free to swoop in if I’m about to collapse though, ‘kay?”

Vriska doesn’t wait for a response, instead turning back around to face her destination. By her estimate the house isn’t any more than a mile away, although it is elevated just a bit more than the surrounding plains. If she were to run, Vriska thinks she could be there in ten minutes, give or take a few for the soft consistency of the grainy ground.

She’s not really that eager to face whatever is in there, though, so she sets off at a walk instead.

A.M does not follow her, and Vriska isn’t sure whether or not to be grateful about that.

The walk itself is nothing short of boring. It takes Vriska a very short amount of time to determine that trying to keep the sand out of her boots is pointless, and there’s only so many times she can look up at the nighttime sky before there’s nothing new to see.

At some point, she debates calling out to A.M, just to see if her offer still stands, just because it’s so ungodly boring. She decides against it, though, because she can just imagine the smug look she’ll receive, an unspoken ‘I told you so’, and Vriska does not want to have to deal with that.

Nope, no way. She can afford to let her mind wander for a while. Anything is better than proving herself wrong.

Still, though.

The mansion really doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.

And she’s been running for a lot longer than ten minutes.
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
John wakes up to cold raindrops pelting his entire body.

He doesn’t react much, at first. He just continues to lie there, steadily becoming more and more aware of the hardened ground beneath him, the puddles teasing at his fingertips, and the water that has collected on his face, no doubt waiting for his eyes to open.

It’s peaceful. If he listens long enough, he can tell there’s a pattern behind the drips, and if he focuses on that enough he can block out the chill from the rain. And all there is then is the dark of his eyelids and the water that has snaked its way up to his palms and the tiny streams that slither off his face like trails of tears.

There’s an unpleasant itch somewhere in his brain, like he’s forgetting something important, or maybe even someone, but it fades when the liquid rises up to his wrists, making him shudder. The action causes John to realize that his body is still tense, and a memory of learning a new way to meditate springs to mind.

With no other thought, he extends his senses to his muscles, paying no heed to the water that has latched itself to his elbows. He focuses on isolating his arms, his legs, his neck, his hands, and his feet, and letting go of them, surrendering to the water.

And then he’s falling- no, drowning. There’s too much water, covering his head, and he can’t breathe. His eyes snap open but he still can’t see- he must be very, very far down. He needs air, he wants the sun, he should be able to remember something more than how to let himself perish in the ocean.

His name is John Egbert, and he is terribly, horribly alone.

He flounders, his limbs cutting through the water like a dull butter knife through a biscuit as he forgets how to swim but still clings to the instinct that movement just might be the key to life.

His name is John Egbert, and he does not want to die.

There’s a light from above, but John isn’t looking up. He thinks he remembers hearing somewhere that air is the trick to floating, and he tries to inhale, but all he does is take in even more water at the cost of whatever oxygen he had left.

His name is John Egbert, and nature does not care about what he wants.

He’s choking now, his lungs crushing themselves as they try to get the water out, but there’s just too much for it to go anywhere. The light is closer now, but he still hasn’t noticed. He can’t notice, because his eyes are shut again, trying to return to the serenity from moments ago.

His name is John Egbert, and it is not his fault.

The light is upon him now, cradling him in its harsh glow. He notices, but only because it illuminates the backs of his eyelids. It matters little, because he’s pretty sure water is already spilling from his insides into his brain, and he doesn’t think they’ll be able to get it out.

His name is John Egbert, and he blames himself anyways.

The light takes him completely, and he whites out.

When he wakes up his skin is slick, and the ground beneath him is soft and damp. He can still hear the pattern of rain all around him, and his eyes snap open, wide and fearful and alert.

He remembers himself, now. He remembers his friends, and his family, and everyone he has lost and is afraid of losing. What he doesn’t know is where he is.

“That’s what I’m here for, silly.”

It’s a voice, a girl’s voice, and one he doesn’t recognize. It makes him hopeful more than it makes him nervous, but he’s still slow to turn around. He flinches when he sees her: she looks just as waterlogged as he feels, only he thinks she might not have been as lucky as he is.

Her eyes are white, after all. Completely, unmistakably white.

“They’re actually silver, John. But we’re not really here to talk semantics, are we?”

He stares, at first. He doesn’t think he spoke aloud, but maybe he had.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

“What-“ he coughs, water shooting up his throat and out onto the sand. They’re on a beach, he realizes. A small, narrow one threatened by the storm, but a beach nonetheless.

“You shouldn’t be speaking right now.” She tells him, her voice soft and wispy “you should be saving your strength. I’ll tell you what I can though, alright?”

He nods, more because he’s afraid of more water coming out if he tries to speak again.

“You were about to ask what you are here to do, weren’t you?” She asks, and he nods again.

“You’re here to be tested,” She says, “and I’m not allowed to tell you why. It’s not a long test, and for most people that take it, it’s not a difficult one, either. Yours shouldn’t be, either.” She then looks up, staring at something beyond John.

He twists around, trying to see what she’s looking at. He can’t resist a gasp at the steep, mountainous rocks behind him, gray and sharp and hugged by clouds. Angry waves that are more of tsunamis separate them from John, but if he squints enough he can see a faded lighthouse peeking from the opposite shore.

“You see it, don’t you? The lighthouse. That’s where your test is.”

“I can’t- I’ll never make it.” He whispers, scratchy and hoarse. She smiles grimly, and he remembers he wasn’t supposed to talk.

“On your own? No. I can get you there, though. But after that, you’re on your own. The test itself will be up to you.”

John looks at the expansive ocean, at the tall waves, at the merciless depths that had almost claimed his life for their own. He thinks that nothing could be as terrible as that.

“Alright,” He says “let’s go.”

And they disappear in another bubble of blinding light.
——
Dirk is trying to keep himself focused on the task at hand, he really is.

But they should be celebrating right now. He knows they should, because the day he beat his own father in a duel they did the same thing.

Granted, it hadn’t been much of a celebration, at least by Roxy’s standards. His father had ordered a pizza, and they had sat in silence on the floor of the living room, nothing left to say between them.

It was the longest time Dirk could remember being in the same room with the man responsible for his existence.

It had also been the first night he experienced liquor- an experience he had sworn to never repeat again.

But now that Dave has gone and done what Dirk did, he thinks there is an exception to be made. It’s a tradition, he thinks, one that speaks of strength and character. Something to cling to, if nothing else.

If there’s one thing he doesn’t have to cling to though, it’s his sword. Now that Dave has finally beaten him he can hang it up, just like his father did when Dirk defeated him.

It’s a relief, if nothing else, to know he can trust his brother- cousin, his cousin, he’ll get it right one day- to protect them. Dirk doesn’t think he’ll be around much longer to do so himself.

He’s under no illusions, here. He knows he’s going to die young.

It might not be today, or tomorrow, or even the day after. Or maybe it will. Either way, he can feel it; his personal doomsday clock is ticking down, and the hand is in the home stretch to zero.

He can’t say he minds much, either. Life has given him all it can. His friends, too, and he knows they realize it. They’ve already been given their chance to change the world. It’s nobody’s fault but their own that they failed.

Failures don’t get happy endings.

But Dave and his friends? They haven’t had that chance yet. And if Dirk has to burn himself up so they get it, he’ll light the match himself.

It’s just easier knowing that Dave will be able to protect himself from the sparks, that’s all.

They turn a corner, aimlessly furthering their search. Neither of them knows where to go, exactly, but they do know that their marks are going after Rose, and Dave says she probably retraced their steps from yesterday, so at least it’s not hopeless.

Dirk’s instinct is telling him they should search out some high ground, maybe figure out a way onto the roofs. Doing so would be advantageous in more ways than one, affording them a wider view and less danger.

But not only would it take a fair amount of time to get up there, they wouldn’t exactly be able to travel far before they’d have to come down. They aren’t superhuman, after all; there’s no way they could leap across the gaps formed by roads.

So they walk, fast and quiet, listening for the slightest clue that could guide them.

Dave trails behind him, uncharacteristically silent, and Dirk wonders if it’s because of their duel or because of his missing friend. He has to remind himself that wondering is still a useless pastime, but he still decides on the answer being both to placate his mind.

After a while of walking they pass a series of cafes, and Dave mentions that they are nearing the place they had stopped for the night. His words are soft and strangled, and Dirk knows he’s not sharing everything but he doesn’t care enough to press.

Or maybe it’s that he cares too much to press. Dirk has never had any luck identifying most of his emotions.

Either way, it doesn’t matter. Whatever Dave isn’t saying will come out, sooner or later.

It’s just a matter of if it’s going to kill him or not, that’s all.

A scream- although it’s more akin to a howl, really- calls out from the distance, faded and far from where they are. It’s from somewhere behind them, probably three blocks back if Dirk had to guess, and two blocks east.

He tries not to be unnerved at hearing something from so far away in the city, and he succeeds.

Mostly.

Dave doesn’t fare quite as well, jumping and drawing his sword, not that Dirk blames him. His little cousin has had a pretty terrible day, all things considered.

There. He finally got it right.

“That’s them.” Dave announces. He still hasn’t put his sword away.

“Rose’s friend, or-“

“No, not her. I doubt she’s even capable of sounding like that.”

Dirk nods, because there’s not really anything to say. Dave seems to know this too, since he sheathes his sword and starts running in the direction they had come from.

Dirk takes after him, lagging only seconds behind, but he’s quick to make those up. And then he’s surpassing Dave, pushing himself so that he can get there at least a minute before his brother does, because he’s not sure what they’re going to find, and he’s even less sure of what Dave will do.

Dirk can’t risk him doing something reckless, he just can’t.

But as long as he gets there first, he should be able to-

An unexpected wind whips past him, something red and colorful blurring with it. It takes Dirk a moment to realize that it’s Dave, doing whatever he had done to win their duel.

He jogs to a halt and pivots, checking to see if it really was Dave or if he’s just gone crazy. Sure enough, his brother (cousin) is gone, with nothing to suggest he had even been there to begin with.

He looks to the sky and barks out a curse, hoping that deity is out there hears him and realizes what a stupid idea it is to give his relative super speed.

And then he resumes running, because like hell he’s going to let Dave face whatever this is alone.

Because this is his brother, goddamn it, and Dirk is going to protect him, even if it kills him.

Especially if it kills him.
——
Karkat doesn’t expect to ever wake up again, but when he does he chalks it up to life spitting in the face of everything Karkat Vantas expects it to be.

And when he wakes up in a place that is definitely not planet earth, he knows it can be attributed to just one more shitty occurrence in the already shitty life he leads.

But really, this is ridiculous, even for his standards.

Thin cracks of piping hot lava run through the gray stone beneath his feet. They’re about the width of pencil lead, but he doesn’t want to chance his shoes catching on fire- now that would really ruin his already godawful day- so he’s on his tiptoes, walking as fast as he can like the world’s dumbest velociraptor.

Not that there’s anyone around to see him like that. Somehow, it’s worse that way. Karkat is no stranger to looking like a jackass. It’s something he even prided himself on, once, when he was younger and even dumber than he is now.

But at least then there were people ready to acknowledge his existence. But here- wherever the fuck here is supposed to be, anyways- there’s no one. Not any of his friends, not a stranger, not an alien or a bird or even Dave-fucking-Strider to remind him that he is still a real person.

Now, it’s quiet, and there’s nobody but him, running over this endless expanse of possible death, trying against all odds to avoid that final push into obscurity.

Or maybe, he thinks, he’s already been forgotten, and this is just his own brain refusing to believe it.

After all, he has no idea how much time has passed since Vriska knocked him out. He supposes it’s possible she killed him instead, but with the way he his pulse is hammering in his ears and his throat he thinks it’s unlikely.

Then again, everything from the past week has been unlikely. How the hell should he know if he’s dead or not? It’s not like this place is handing out tour guides to explain which backwater part of existence he’s managed to blunder into.

“You really shouldn’t speak so soon, Karkat. Or think, I guess.”

To his everlasting credit as a tried and true failure, Karkat trips over himself and lands face-first on the hot, smoldering ground. For a lesser amount of points he recovers before he can sustain any injuries.

Besides the ones to his already battered pride, that is.

He starts sprinting again.

“For the record, you don’t actually need to keep running. The lava doesn’t actually burn.”

“Right,” Karkat huffs. He can’t see who’s talking to him, but at this point he doesn’t care. Even if it’s just a piece of his imagination, the sound of someone else makes him feel more than a little relieved. “Because a mysterious unknown person that magically knows my name is just so trustworthy.”

“Look, I know it seems suspicious-“ and now that Karkat’s actually listening, he can pick out two distinct qualities to the voice- feminine, and familiar. He wonders if it actually means anything.

“-but I can’t prove anything to you until you stop running. So would you please quit moving around?”

“Listen, uh, ghost lady. Whatever the hell your name is. I’m not that dumb, I can literally feel the heat. And I refuse to die in such a lame manner.” He speaks out loud, feeling increasingly awkward as he does.

“Well, it’s either you stop now or you run yourself into exhaustion and then stop. The more sophisticated fate would be to accept your demise here.” She pauses, then adds “of course, you’re not actually going to die. So really, your options are to stop now or to let your body shut down later.”

Karkat doesn’t say anything, at first. Most of him wants to just flip this voice-ghost-thing off and keep going. There’s no way all this magma can go on forever, after all.

But the rest of him, the part that says whoever he’s hearing is not unfamiliar to him, tells him he has nothing to lose by listening. Even if it’s a stupid decision that is all but guaranteed to see him burnt to cinders.

Well. Karkat Vantas is known for nothing if not his questionable life choices.

So he jogs to a halt, bracing himself for flames to start crawling up his legs and turn him into overcooked barbeque.

Flames that, naturally, don’t come, because of course this place says ‘fuck the laws of nature!’

“I told you you’d be fine.” This time, the voice is external. It’s also unbearably smug, so much so that Karkat twists around more forcibly than necessary, intent on delivering a sharp retort.

A retort that does on his tongue as he recognizes the person who’s been talking to him.

“Aradia?” He asks, quietly at first, because what are the fucking odds it’s actually her? Her eyes are missing, but everything else is so definite there’s no mistaking his childhood friend, or at least, he doesn’t think there is.

She nods, evidently surprised, but not really confused, and he repeats her name again, just to make sure.

“Yes, Karkat, it’s me.” She says, a slippery smile on her face.

“Shit. Goddamn. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m fucking ecstatic it’s actually you and not a figment of my imagination, but-“ he starts, only to stop because he’s choking up a little, his brain finally catching up to events. “I guess this means you’re dead? Or something.”

“Or something is probably closer to the truth,” She says “although I did die.”

He swears again, because what exactly is he supposed to say to that?

“Wait, I’m not dead too am I?” He grabs at his face, as if doing so will tell him if his eyes are the same as hers. “Shit. Is that why I’m here? ‘Cause I got shanked by Vriska?”

“Vriska?” Aradia asks, and this time she actually looks confused “no, of course not. You’re both alive. In fact, she’s here too, although very, very far from here.”

“What?”

Aradia cocks her head, clearly concerned. “Yeah, she showed up a while ago. Long before you did. I was really worried, because neither of you are supposed to be here.”

Karkat shakes his head. “No, that’s not possible. Vriska’s the one that knocked me out. There’s no way she was here before me.”

Aradia takes a small step back. Or rather, she floats backwards a bit. Odd how Karkat is only just realizing that she’s not touching the ground.

“I’ll be back,” she says “I need to check on Vriska. Will you be okay for a few minutes?”

“Yeah, sure,” he grumbles “I’m not going anywhere.”

She nods and then vanishes, and just like that he’s all alone again.

He starts running.
——
“John! John!”

Jade Harely is freaking out. She knew that her friend was having issues with reconciling zombies and humans, but this…

Frankly, this is all a bit much. John might be sensitive, but he’s not exactly a coward, even when he thinks he is. And he’s definitely not the type to faint, either.

But he has, and Jade’s not quite sure what that means for the rest of them.

Because really, it makes sense that John would be so different. The entire world has changed; why shouldn’t he? It’s the rest of them that are all still the same. Maybe it’s because the whole Apocalypse thing hasn’t sunk in yet.

Or, more likely, it’s because they don’t care. Jade has no real knowledge of what the world was like before this happened. Sure, she’d watched television and talked with her friends and dreamt, but she had never been there. Had never actually experienced it.

In many ways, it’s logical. Jade has gained far more through the destruction of the word than the survival of it, and if she were to guess, so have the others. But John… John thrived on that life.

Bec whines quietly, reminding her that she needs to do something about John. She can’t leave him here in the hallway, and taking him with in his unconscious state is guaranteed to end in disaster.

Although right now, she thinks that even if he was awake taking him with would've been a mistake.

It hurts to think that, because John is easily her best friend (after Bec, of course!). But she has to worry about her- their- other friends too.

So she bends over John’s sleeping form, grabs him by the arms, and starts dragging him into her room.

And thank god they’re right in front of it, because John is much, much heavier than she expected. So much so that she doesn’t even try to get him into the bed.

Still, it feels wrong to just leave him there. So she pulls off the covers of the bed and drapes them over him, then takes the pillows and does her best to slide them under his head.

At least he looks a little more comfortable that way.

Satisfied with her work she turns to leave, only to be stopped by another low whine from Bec.

“What is it, boy?” She asks. Bec drops something at her feet, and as she bends to pick it up his intentions become clear.

“Oh, yeah. I guess I should let them know where we’re going, shouldn’t I?” Jade says, and Bec looks up with a wide grin, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. “Good boy.”

It doesn’t take her very long to scribble something out; the only things she needs to write is where she’s going and a reminder to look after John and Dave instead of coming after her. She doubts anyone will listen, especially Dave, but she has to try.

She leaves the room with Bec in tow, taking care not to look back at John.

This does not stop her from feeling guilty about leaving him like this.

But she knows she’d feel even worse leaving the others to fend for themselves, so she gathers all the scraps of courage she has and presses further along the hall, stopping only when she reaches the staircase, where it occurs to her the others may try to stop her from leaving.

“You wouldn’t happen to know any secret ways out, would you boy?” She asks Bec, who seems content to stare at her. “Thought not.” She says.

Jade takes a step back, mind pulsing as she considers her options. She knows she’s almost out of time (really, how long does it take to get a cup of water?). She could go back to her room and pretend like nothing happened, but if she did that who knows what will become of her friends?

If only she had a little more time, maybe she could have managed to climb out from the balcony, or jump from one of the lower windows.

Her pendant glows again, only this time Jade takes notice. She frowns bitterly at it. Out of all the things her grandfather could have given her- an apology, an explanation, some information- he had chosen to gift her a luminescent piece of jewelry?

 

Reaching around to the back of her neck, Jade unclasps the necklace. She hasn’t really had a chance to look at it, and without any kind of a plan now seems to be as good a time as any.

Looking at the piece of jewelry draped over the palm of her hand, it doesn’t seem like anything special. The chain is bland and uninteresting, and if not for the fact that her grandfather had no qualms about spending money, she might even call it cheap.

The pendant, however, makes her hesitate, because it means something more than that.

“Space,” Jade says distantly “this… what is this?”

There’s no answer, not even one from Bec, who is now sprawled across the carpet.

Still the necklace continues to glow, and now that she’s recognized it, Jade can feel a tingling sensation pour from it down into her hands and across her arms.

‘Witch.’ Something whispers ‘Witch of Space. Accept what is yours, and reshape the world.’

Jade isn’t sure where the voice is from, or whose it is. She feels like she knows, an impression in the back of her skull taking the form of a nameless answer that still means something. She doesn’t think it intends any harm, at least.

But what it means by reshaping the world… that much eludes her.

Or, she wants it to. In all honesty, she’s pretty sure she knows what it means. There’s not very many interpretations to ‘reshaping the world’, after all.

Still, she hopes she’s wrong. Jade isn’t sure she’s fit to have that kind of responsibility.

The glow from the necklace peaks, bathing the entire room in an eerie green light. Acting on autopilot, Jade closes her hand around it, protecting the walls from the color.

She does not expect the same shade of green to fill her vision, smothering every inch of her sight.

Not does she expect, once she can see again, to find herself in a familiar white hallway with flickering lights, and none of her friends to be found.
——
Terezi doesn’t quite know how things managed to go so wrong, but they have.

And she’s not really sure what to do about it, either.

As they’ve been walking she’s been monitoring Vriska. She knows something is wrong with her friend, that she’s not herself somehow, but any details about what is going on are nowhere to be found.

Even trying to listen in to her soul has yielded exactly zero results, although whether that’s because that skill has yet to fully return or because of something else Terezi doesn’t know. She can hear Karkat’s, at least- it’s a loud, boisterous thing that manages to somehow project confidence and uncertainty with every pulse- but it’s so strong that Terezi thinks it’s not a good indicator.

Besides that, Vriska’s soul has always been quiet and difficult to get a hold of. Terezi was never sure why- with everyone else she had met it seemed willpower was what made them stand out or shrink away.

But Vriska is the most willful person she has ever met, and her soul is one of the flimsiest Terezi had observed.

It’s for that reason she has yet to reach a conclusion on whether or not something was truly wrong.

Well, until now, that is.

“Vriska, what the actual hell are you doing?”

“What does it look like, my dear Terezi?”

Now she can smell something is wrong. Something is in the air, something that smells like burning rice and tastes like danger.

It takes her far too long to realize that the signature scent of Vriska’s raspberry blue is missing.

“I’m blind, not stupid. Who are you, and what have you done to my friend?”

“Well now, that depends on which friend you are referring to.”

Terezi snarls, and there’s a desperate itch from somewhere in her mind that this is familiar, that she should know what’s going on already, that she needs to do something, but none of it makes sense and all she feels is dread.

She doesn’t realize she’s drawing her weapon until it’s in her hand, the handle grating at her fingers.

“There’s no need for violence, my dear. We can handle this civilly.” The worst thing about this, Terezi thinks, is that it’s still Vriska’s voice, even if the words definitely aren’t.

“You knocked out Karkat. Nothing about this is civil.” Terezi says, tightening her hold on her weapon. There’s not much she can actually do with it, because no matter what’s going on it’s still Vriska, and Terezi does not want to hurt her friend.

“To be fair, that was actually your friend. I was simply along for the ride at that point.”

Vriska moves closer- or rather, her body does. There is nothing ‘Vriska’ about whomever this imposter is.

“You still haven’t told me who you are.” Terezi reminds them.

They stop, and Terezi tries to push aside the inordinate amount of relief she feels.

“Of course. It slipped my mind that you would not recognize me like this. My name is Doctor William Scratch.”

Oh.

Oh.

“You’re the bastard that ruined my best friend’s life.”

“Well now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say ruined-“

“It figures you would be the one miserable adult to survive all this. Out of everyone, it just had to be you, didn’t it?”

“Ms. Pyrope, if I may-“ he starts, but Terezi doesn’t want to listen to a word he has to say. She’s still not sure how he’s still alive or how he got back into Vriska’s head, or why or how he managed to get Vriska to knock out Karkat.

She doesn’t care, either. She just wants him gone.

“No you may not. Get out.”

“My dear, please-“

“No!” She snaps, a touch more emotional than she wants to be. “Get out of her head. Now!”

He pauses, and she can feel him observing her, as if she’s some kind of interesting insect and he’s trying to figure out which species.

She knows it should probably unnerve her, maybe even scare her. But right now all she can feel is rage.

This is the man that ripped open her friend’s skull and put something poisonous inside. This is the man that drove Vriska to almost-murder, that had her injuring innocents on a whim Terezi is confident wasn’t fully hers.

This is the man that destroyed their friendship and buried everything that made Terezi special.

And now he doesn’t even have the courtesy to die like everyone else, to leave her and Vriska alone to try and mend what should never have been broken.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair that he’s still here, while millions of undeserving people are dead, their remnants spreading disease and horror in their wake.

“You should know that I am just as surprised at this turn of events as you. It had completely slipped my mind that she knew about the safewords, let alone written them down. I hadn’t anticipated them working if only read, either.”

“Shut up. This is your fault. Why did you do this to her in the first place? Why couldn’t you have left us alone?” Terezi bites out “why won’t you leave us alone now?”

“First,” He says, holding up a finger “I want to be clear that this situation is not my doing. There are many things I claim responsibility for, but this is not one of them. Second, I am not going to tell you. Not yet. Our paths are going to cross again, perhaps even soon. I shall tell you then. Third,” he adds a second and third finger to the mix “I think I shall take my leave now.”

As soon as he finishes speaking Terezi can feel Vriska’s eyes roll back into her head, the brunette’s body dropping to the ground before Terezi can move to stop it. A scream, louder and harsher than any Terezi has heard before escapes Vriska’s lips, only to be cut off as her head knocks against the pavement, and Terezi drops her weapon to place her hands against her ears because it’s just too much.

Time passes- a minute, maybe more. A freshness springs into the air, as if a breeze has blown by, but Terezi knows that one hasn’t.

It takes her a moment to shift back into action- her legs feel frozen to the ground, and her hands are so tightly pressed against her head that she fears they are stuck that way- but eventually does, picking up and putting away her weapon before moving over to her fallen friends.

She’s not sure what she should do, or what she can do. But it isn’t safe to leave them out, not with the sun as hot as it is and with zombies still lurking about.

So she does her best to pick them up (Karkat first, because he’s smaller) and drag him over into the shade of the nearest building. It’s hard, and she’s not sure she can manage the same for Vriska without injuring her.

And then Dave Strider shows up, and things get just a little bit better.
——
Roxy knows she’s done a really good job of hiding it, but in all truthfulness she’s actually really, really scared for the missing kids, Rose included.

A large part of her wishes that she was the one to go with Dirk instead of Dave, but she knows her combat skills are far more detrimental than they are helpful. Zombies don’t exactly react to pain, and getting close enough to land a kick or a punch is not exactly what she’d call safe.

They were enough to get her through the first day, though, so she knows better than to underestimate the value of her mixed self-defense abilities.

Which is why she’s in the basement, going through the motions of a warm-up in a room that she repurposed for sparring.

Of course, she’s never actually used it for sparring. Dirk’s too terrifying a partner to ask, and Jane has politely refused to take lessons from her on multiple occasions. As for Jake, well…

Roxy hasn’t asked Jake. She doesn’t plan to, either, because doing so might upset Jane, and it’s already stressful enough maintaining friendship with both of them.

Roxy doesn’t think it’s either of their faults for it. Mostly, the tension is due to Jane being stressed by the upheaval of her entire life, and not understanding how Jake can still be so upbeat.

Jake definitely isn’t helping matters though. Roxy knows he’s oblivious even at the best of times, but the level of insensitivity towards the Apocalypse- and even the events that came before it- is somewhat staggering.

To top it all off, there’s the difference in their experiences on the first day. Jake may not have been in any danger, simply waiting at his house for Dirk to get him, but Jane had been in the thick of it, sitting in on a meeting full of board members that turned within seconds of each other.

How Jane got out of that situation, Roxy doesn’t have a clue. But she does remember getting that desperate call to go get her friend, and she remembers going.

She remembers almost dying, too.

It was Saturday, sometime late into the afternoon, but not a time significant enough to remember. Her mom was missing, as she was often wont to do, but whether she had gone out or was still in the house Roxy didn’t know. She also didn’t care, mostly because she was nursing a hangover in favor of going to class like she was supposed to.

Not that it mattered much. Roxy was already planning on just scraping by on the bare minimum this semester, then dropping and continuing online. College just didn’t hold the same appeal as it used to. Not with Calliope gone.

So there she was, laying in bed with the curtains closed, desperately trying to will away the pounding in her head. A half finished bottle of something that could’ve been vodka was on the nightstand within arm’s reach, but today she didn’t even have the heart to reach for it.

Her phone, situated just underneath the bottle for reasons unknown to the currently sober, suffering Roxy Lalonde, seemed to have other plans, as it rang out a painfully loud tune, causing Roxy to turn away and nestle further under the covers.

Covers which were naturally not sound soundproof, and therefore did nothing to block out the chipper ringtone.

She groaned and turned back over, reaching blindly for the source of the infernal noise. In the process she managed to knock over the bottle, it’s contents running eagerly down the nightstand to ruin her carpet, but at the moment she didn’t care very much.

It wouldn’t be the first drink she had spilled, anyways.

Roxy scooped up her phone, holding it as far away from her face as she could. Drunk Roxy rarely had the courtesy to turn the brightness down for hungover Roxy.

For a moment, she considered sending the caller to voicemail and trying to go back to sleep. But a glance at the ID showed it was Jane, and Jane almost never called because she preferred to see Roxy’s face when they talked. Something about it seeming more like a real conversation.

Or something like that. Roxy wasn’t in the best frame of mind to pay attention that day.

Either way, it was probably urgent. And Roxy owed it to her to try and be a slightly better friend, so she flicked the small green circle and brought the phone to her ear, instantly forgetting the brightness was not the only thing turned up.

“‘Hello, Roxy here. Wassup Janey?”

“Roxy? Oh my god, please tell me you’re okay!” Jane was gasping, her words coming out in stalling gulps of air even as Roxy winced at how loud she says.

“A lil quieter, Janey. I’m not doing so hot right now.” She said, then pulled the phone a bit away from her ear.

“Never mind that! Have you- have you seen the news? Do you know what’s going on? You’re not bitten, are you?”

Roxy blinked and sat up, a pervading sense of dread overriding the misery from her hangover.

“No. Wait, what’s going on? Jane, are you alright? Do you need me to come get you?”

“I- yes. I’m fine, but I don’t know for how long. Please, please hurry. I’m at work, do you remember-?”

She’d cut off abruptly, and Roxy heard the sound of her friend’s phone collide with the ground, followed by a loud, shrill yell.

“Jane? Jane, are you okay? What’s happening?”

The call ended, and Roxy stared at her screen in horror for a full ten seconds before she leapt out of bed and raced downstairs to grab the keys to her motorcycle.

For once, it was a blessing to have fallen asleep in her clothes.

There’s a knock on the door as Roxy breaks from her memories.

“Come in!” She calls out, halting in her stretch.

Jane opens the door, and Roxy immediately catches the wild, harrowing look in her eyes.

“Hey Jane, what’s-“

“Jade’s missing.” Jane says “and John’s sleeping on her floor.”

Well, shit. That’s definitely not good.

Not good at all.
——
“So lemme get this straight. Vriska went berserk on Karkat and knocked him out, had a meltdown, and fainted?”

Terezi nods. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

She doesn’t bother to bring up the fact that it wasn’t Vriska at all, that in reality, she has no clue what happened to her friend. She doesn’t trust Dave to believe her, and she definitely doesn’t think he’ll believe Vriska when she wakes up.

If she wakes up. Terezi doesn’t know much about cybernetic brain implant induced comas.

They’re still outside, but thanks to Dave they’ve managed to drag both their friends into the shade. It’s not much cooler there, but hopefully it will be enough to keep them from suffering heat stroke or something equally horrible while they’re unconscious.

Speaking of Dave, Terezi can feel him eyeing her behind his black licorice shades, aware that she’s not telling the whole truth but not sure how to call her out on it. Which is just as well, since she’s not sure she could bring herself to lie in an interrogation.

“How did you manage to find us, anyways?”

“Hm? Oh, we followed the scream. I’m guessing that was Vriska, right? She’s got some lungs, I’ll give her that.”

“We?” Terezi asks, and as if on cue she picks up the vibrations of footsteps too fast to be a zombie.

“Dirk.” Dave tells her- and ah, there it is, the scent of bitter orange peels, offset only by an aftertaste of cherry pits. Yes, there’s no mistaking the connection between those two.

“Why weren’t you together?” Terezi asks, and he shrugs.

“I kinda raced here. Y’know, since screaming and zombies don’t tend to go together very well.”

“And you managed to beat him here?”

“Well-“

“There you are.” Dirk breaks in, and Terezi very nearly joins her companions in dreamland, because good god nobody should be able to sneak up on her like that.

“Hey, Cuz.” Dave says casually, like his heart hasn’t been jump-started in a way that’s even worse than Terezi’s. “What’s up?”

Dirk just stands there, statue than a statue, and at some point Terezi wonders if he’s actually still alive, because there’s almost nothing to indicate that he’s a real person and not some kind of automaton.

So the three of them just look at each other, their friends still sprawled out on the shadowy sidewalk, silence and awkwardness pouring off each other.

“Is this about leaving you behind? ‘Cause I’m sorry about that. Well, not really sorry, more like I haven’t a flying fuck of an idea of how I did that. If that was what you were wondering. Uh, but if you’re curioser- curious- is that a word? Uh, more curious about what’s going on here, Terezi can probably explain better than I can. Although she doesn’t really know either, so I guess it doesn’t matter? So, I mean-“

Dave continues to ramble on, apparently desperate to say something that will get a response out of his relative. Instead, Dirk shifts his focus onto Terezi, prompting Dave to clam up.

“What were the three of you hoping to accomplish by sneaking out here?” His voice is distant and hollow, like he doesn’t actually care. Terezi would not be surprised if that were the case.

For a second, she considers trying to avoid the question. She’s not sure what Dirk’s reaction would be to them snooping around, and she doubts there’s anything she could do if he turned violent.

But they’re in enough trouble as it is, and withholding evidence from the court rarely ends well. So she steels herself and prepares to share as much as she knows.

“Vriska did some looking around this morning. She said she found a notebook somewhere that led her to believe Rose and Kanaya are in danger.” Terezi pauses, waiting to see if either Dave or Dirk have anything to say, but they stay quiet. Dirk gestures for her to continue.

“That’s all there is to it, really. We didn’t want to freak anyone out, so we left quietly. Vriska had an idea of where they were going, so we were headed there when she freaked out.”

“Where is the notebook now?” Dirk asks, and Terezi shrugs.

“I assume it’s still with Vriska. She was flaunting it earlier, but I don’t think she dropped it.”

Rather than answer, Dirk makes his way over to Vriska and begins to pat her down. Terezi has half a mind to stop him, because the way he’s doing it makes it seem like Vriska is no better than a corpse.

She doesn’t, though, because not only is it practical for them to search Vriska, saying something might provoke a fight she knows she can’t win.

Soon enough Dirk withdraws, the notebook clenched tightly in his hand. He doesn’t bother opening it, instead giving it to Dave.

“Here,” He says “look through it, see what you can find.”

“Wait, what are you going to do?”

Dirk doesn’t answer at first. Dave repeats himself, at long last eliciting a sigh from his cousin.

“I’m going to find Rose and her friend and bring them back. You two are going to watch over your friends until they wake up. Once they do, you are going to go back to the house.”

“Like hell we’re just gonna wait here!” Dave exclaims. Terezi has to repress the urge to laugh when Dirk starts running, not interested in hearing the younger blonde’s protests. “Hey! Don’t ditch when I’m trying- aw, fuck it. He’s gone.”

The sound of shoe scuffing on gravel rings out, but in all honesty Terezi is kind of relieved that they’re not going any further than this.

She has a feeling that if they do, it will not end well.

“How about helping me get one of these doors open? No point in waiting out in this heat.”

“Yeah,” Dave agrees, suddenly sounding a lot more upbeat. “Might as well, since we don’t know how long we’ll be waiting.”

They work without words, but somehow, there isn’t a lick of silence between them.
——
Kanaya doesn’t know why she’s surprised to find herself wanting after Rose’s blood, but she is.

Well, perhaps ‘surprised’ isn’t the most accurate description. Disappointed is probably closer to the truth.

She’s not sure why it matters so much to her that Rose isn’t different from any other human in that regard. She knows Rose doesn’t mind much- the blonde had offered to help earlier, after all- but it does. The idea of feeding off Rose, while appealing to her baser instincts, is also repulsive to the highest degree.

Even now, being tailed by someone while she walks as far away from the house as she dares, her emotions continue to clash on the subject. She knows she needs to stop thinking about it, because whomever is following her could pose a threat, if not to her then to Rose, and right now it’s on her to protect them both.

She just hopes she’s not already making a mistake by separating them. From what Kanaya does remember, she’s never been the one on the defensive side.

With that in mind, she stops where she is, which happens to be an unlit road ringed by boarded up buildings and outlined with sidewalks and abandoned streetlights.

“You know,” The ravenette says, aware her stalker can hear “this would be much easier on everyone if you reveal yourself.”

There’s a pause in the air itself, and just when Kanaya thinks they’re going to leave they sigh, stepping out from one of the many slim alleys between buildings.

She doesn’t turn to face them, at first, instead extending her senses to learn what she can about them. Based off the deepness of the sigh it’s a male, probably on the older side, which implies they are also supernatural. If she strains hard enough she can still pick up a heartbeat, so they aren’t immortal like she is, and based on that they aren’t a significant threat. There’s a spice in the air, something like pepper or ginger, and if she were to guess, magic, of either the fire or the summoning variety.

Kanaya hopes for the former, but assumes the latter. Fire might take a while to recover from, but if this stranger happens to have demons under his employ, it could be centuries before she walks the earth again.

Considering she likes the people left on this planet now (or really, one in particular), she does not want to spend the next hundred years as a bloodstain.

So she turns around, ready to reach for her knife if necessary, but equally prepared to negotiate.

“Who are you, and what do you want?” She asks as harshly as she can, noting that most of her assumptions seem to be correct. Her follower is, in fact, a man, and he does appear to be older, given the black stubble dotting his chin. He’s dressed darkly, a matching fedora pulled low over his eyes.

She feels like she knows him, but she can’t tell if that means she should be relieved or even more concerned.

“Name’s Jack. You can call me Slick, if ya want. Most everyone does. Or did. An’ I’m just here to deliver a message from the Boss-man. That’s all.”

“How did you find me?”

“Boss told me.”

She looks at him, this time with a more critical eye. Without being able to see his face she can’t tell if he’s lying, but she gets the feeling he isn’t.

“And he knew how to find me?”

Jack shrugs. “Seems so. Not a lot that guy doesn’t know, anyways. Look, could ya just take the letter already? Streets aren’t safe anymore.”

He withdraws a green envelope from his jacket, and just the sight of it makes Kanaya want to flinch.

“He has nothing left to offer me.” She says, even though she’s not sure what she’s talking about “what kind of contract is this?”

Jack tilts his head up, and now that Kanaya can see his face- and the scar across one shut and swollen eye- a third name for him springs to mind.

Spades.

One of, if not the, most dangerous summoner to walk the planet. Not for his strength, but rather, his willingness to cut any deal necessary to reach his goal.

She takes the envelope, not bothering to press him on the fact that he’s ignoring her question.

He grins as soon as the letter is out of his hands, and she steps back quickly, more alarmed than she probably should be.

“Chill, Sylph.” He says and she shudders, because that name- her name- is not his to say. It’s not anyone’s to say, not anymore. “I’m not here to fight. Not you, not your girlfriend, not any of the others, either.”

“A simple delivery then, Spades? I never pegged you as the messenger type.” She shoots back, but she knows it isn’t fair of her. Their boss- just his boss, now- has a tendency to downplay the abilities of those beneath him.

He grimaces, but whether that’s because of the name or the insult or the thinly veiled reference to his boss she isn’t sure.

“Nothing simple about it, Sylph.” He puts extra emphasis on her name, and she reasons it’s probably a combination of the three “it’s bringing back yer memories, ain’t it?”

She blinks, because he’s right. In the span of the few minutes they’ve been trading threatening and defensive looks so much has come back to her.

And now that she’s realized it, she’s also become aware of how much she really doesn’t want them to.

“Jus’ make sure you read it, yeah? Otherwise the Boss might send us after you for real, and nobody wants that.”

She nods and he turns around and walks away, whistling something under his breath that is low and sad and familiar.

In her palm, the letter crumples beneath her fingers, and she just knows something terrible is going to happen if she opens it.

Even so, she takes care to extract the gaudy letter from her fist, doing her best to smooth it out before sliding a nail underneath the seal, breaking it.

Because even though she doesn’t want to face this, she knows the others don’t deserve to. And if taking it all upon herself now is what it takes, then that is exactly what she will do.

For Rose’s sake, if no one else.
——
——
——

Chapter Text

——
——
——
The sun set two hours ago, Karkat and Vriska have yet to wake up, and Dave Strider is very, very worried.

He’s worried about Rose and Kanaya, and if they’ve found the vampires yet or if they’re still searching. He’s worried that his sister might be injured somewhere, or worse, but he can’t find the words to describe what ‘worse’ would look like.

He’s worried about Karkat and Vriska, and what the hell actually happened between them. Sure, Terezi explained her side of events, and Dave knows that heat can make people do crazy things, but Vriska didn’t seem like the type to snap.

At least, not in so obvious a manner. Dave guesses she’s more the ‘stab you in your sleep’ type.

And Terezi, Dave’s worried about her too. He can’t imagine what it would be like to have one of his friends snap like that, and it’s obvious what happened is having no small effect on her.

Then there’s Jade, and John, and everyone else he and Dirk left behind. Dave wonders if Jade has woken up yet, and if she has, that she’ll panic when she finds out how many people are out in the zombie infested city.

Although, he thinks it’s possible she may already know. He’s not really sure how her ‘dreaming-of-the-future’ thing actually works.

He’s not sure he wants to know, either. It seems like such a burden to carry that kind of knowledge around.

There’s no denying it would be helpful right now, though. Dave wishes he had some sort of dream ability, so he could know how Dirk and everyone else is doing.

Then again, with all the worrying he’s doing Dave isn’t sure he could actually get himself to fall asleep, so it probably doesn’t matter.

The building they’ve broken into has turned out to be more of a clubhouse than anything. This is both fortunate and terrible, because it means that any number of infected could be roaming around, but at the same time it feels more natural to be there.

Even if Dave has never been in a building like this before, it still seems less callous than entering someone’s home and invading their space and stealing their belongings, as they did two nights ago.

At the time, he hadn’t thought anything of it. Staying there had been logical, and they had been in desperate need of the amenities available to them there.

But now that he’s had a small taste of normalcy with staying at the mansion, it makes him feel guilty. That place belonged to someone, once. It meant something to them. And Dave and his friends had so carelessly forced their way in and had taken everything that had been meaningful and used it without a second thought.

At least the lobby he’s in now is something public and impersonal. He’s resting on a chair too uncomfortable to belong to anyone, and the coffee table is too small for someone to actually use. The plant in the corner is too green to be anything but fake, and the walls- bland pastels that are probably meant to be soothing- don’t seem like colors real people would use.

“Dave.” It’s Terezi. To be honest, Dave had sort of forgotten she was still up. He had figured she would be in dreamland with the others, who are laid out in the room next door.

“Yeah, wassup?” He asks.

“We need to barricade the door,” she says “in case anything tries to get in.”

Oh, right. The door. Since neither of them had any lock picking skills, nor anything to even try and pick it with, they had simply broken in, resulting in the large wooden rectangle coming loose from one of its hinges. They had put it back as best they could, but there was more than enough space for a determined infected or two to worm their way in.

Or, Dave supposes, something else. Something like a vampire, maybe.

He wishes desperately he could take that thought back, because quite frankly the idea of a vampire clawing their way in here and ripping all four of them to shreds is not something he really wants to think about it. But now that the idea has already sprung to mind, there’s nothing he can do about it. Even as he gets up to help Terezi push some of the small, decorative tables behind the slanted door, he thinks of how easy it would be for a monster to break through them.

“Dave, you need to calm down. I can feel your anxiety from here.” Terezi speaks, and he mumbles something, intending to protest her claim, but his heart isn’t in it. In fact, it’s beating rather loudly, infiltrating his eardrums with a steady beat, and he could really use his sword right now, and-

“Dave. Strider. Coolkid. Come on.”

She’s snapping his fingers at him, and he’s not really sure why she’s doing that, but at least it’s reminded him that he left his weapon next to one of the other chairs in the lobby. It’s also reminded him how stupid a move that was, because what if something had been there, waiting to attack them?

Stupid, careless, dangerous.

Then Terezi is shoving him, and he falls hard onto the wooden floor, his breath leaving his lungs in a rush. He looks up and she’s somehow managing to glare at him, despite the fact that she is wearing glasses even more opaque than his own, and is blind.

“Can I help you?”

“Get up, Coolkid.” She says “you’re overdue for a chat.”

“Um, what?” She’s already walking away from him, and he has to scramble to get up and follow her.

They return to the room he had just been in, and Dave is chagrined to see that she’s already moved two chairs to be facing each other. He wonders how she managed to move them so fast.

“There you are.” Terezi gestures to the chairs “sit, Coolkid.”

“Yeah, no thanks. I’ve had enough psychotherapy nonsense from my sister to last the next twenty lifetimes.”

She gives him that same impression of a glare, then whips out her cane and whacks him with it.

“Ow!” Dave cries, his hands going to massage the rising bump on his scalp. “Terezi, what the hell? I thought we were friends!”

“Sit.” She orders again, and this time he does so, not wanting to get hit a second time. Once he’s situated she takes the chair opposite him.

“What did you want to talk about?” He asks.

“You and Karkat. Whatever is going on between you two, I’m getting to the bottom of it. We can’t afford your squabble to get one of us killed.”

Oh.

“Are you sure that’s necessary? ‘Cause I mean, we’ve gotten this-“

She thrusts her cane again, this time onto the arm of his chair, and he just barely restrains a startled yell.

“Now, Strider. I’m not taking no for an answer.”

He sighs. Squirms a little. Sighs again.

“Fine,” He says at last “What did you want to know?”
——
Jane Crocker is furious, and she isn’t sure she even has a right to be.

Or at least, she thinks she’s furious. Roxy’s told her many, many times that she has a tendency to disguise concern as anger.

But why would she be feeling concern and not anger when it’s clear these kids don’t actually care about each other at all?

Okay, so maybe it still isn’t her place to judge or say anything, but she’s going to. She needs to, because if they keep splitting up and not talking to each other before doing aforementioned separating, one of them is going to get killed.

Jane doesn’t know if any of them could handle having that on their conscience. She knows she certainly wouldn’t be able to function if it was on hers.

In that regard, she’s almost glad John is the one left behind. From what she’s been able to learn, he’s not a fighter like the rest of them. It seems unlikely he’d be able to last very long out there with the infected, at least by himself.

But the point remains that his friends shouldn’t have left him here by himself, especially in this condition, passed out and unconscious on the floor. Sure, Jane and Roxy and Jake are all here, but friends don’t just leave friends like this, no matter what.

It doesn’t help that Roxy, noticing how upset Jane is at the situation, has kicked her out of the room, claiming that her frustration might freak John out when he wakes up.

Normally, Jane would’ve considered that a fair argument, even if she would’ve been surprised that it was Roxy making it for that same reason. Normally, she would’ve been fine to step away, able to recognize that her current emotions are not constructive to someone that has been through so much.

It probably wouldn’t be so bad if she had something to distract herself with. Before the world ended, there was always something for Jane to do. Whether that something was getting ahead on homework or double checking paperwork or attending a meeting or working just depended on the day.

But now, with Roxy hovering over John and Jake hiding somewhere (not that she actually has the patience to converse with him) and everyone else traipsing about the city, she has nothing to do, and that’s killing her as much as anything.

So here she is, tucked away into one of the many, many unused rooms of the mansion. It’s completely barren, save for the grandfather clock standing against the wall across from her. It’s almost comforting in a way, if only because it’s such an unfamiliar concept to even have a space like this that she can convince herself that she’s simply moved somewhere far away.

Her own home had been on the smaller side, geared towards practicality despite how her adopted mother’s job as a CEO meant they had more than enough money to live in a place like Roxy’s.

Which is just as well, because Jane thinks it would get really lonely living in a place like this.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Roxy comes from money, just like Jane herself does. The blonde never seems to act like it, always managing to stay so selfless and humble.

If she thinks on it, maybe that’s why she was able to place her trust in Roxy so quickly after they met.

The clock on the opposite end of the room continues to click and swing, the only indication that time is still passing. Jane wonders what allows it to keep going, since the electricity has been off all day. An internalized battery, perhaps?

It doesn’t really matter what it is, but somehow she can’t seem to tear her mind from wondering why this clock is still going. Her musing leads her to drift over the the large tower-like structure, and soon her hands are tracing the smooth glass of the clock face.

She ghosts her fingertips over the numbers, trailing them counterclockwise as she imagines dialing the numerals like an old payphone. There’s no specific pattern or reason to the ones she chooses. It’s all whimsy- or maybe instinct- behind her actions. But as long as it keeps her from invading the kitchen and cooking up some of their precious, limited supplies, it’s fine.

At least, it’s fine until the glass actually spins beneath her hands, and the clock slides into the corner, revealing a small, narrow passageway.

After that happens, Jane isn’t sure whether she’s in a better position or a worse one, because she’s definitely excited to have something to do now.

It’s just that secret rooms in giant mansions don’t exactly have a reputation of containing anything good. Not to mention that she neglected to bring anything resembling a weapon with her.

On the other hand, Jane’s not sure she can afford to leave now. If she does and there is something dangerous inside, there’s no guarantee it will actually wait for her to return to start doing… whatever it is dangerous things hidden in secret rooms do.

Considering that the only other people left in this house is an unconscious teenager, an unsuspecting Roxy, and Jake, Jane doesn’t want to leave anything up to chance.

So she offers up a quick, mental apology for doing something so obviously stupid, and makes her way into the corridor, where to nobody’s surprise the clock slides back into place behind her, leaving Jane completely in the dark.

Jane slaps her hands against her glasses more forcefully than she intends to, and she winces involuntarily at the vibration that runs through them. But really, does she deserve any less, having talked herself into falling for the most predictable trope in horror?

Jane doesn’t think so.

She’s so busy berating herself for her stupidity that she doesn’t notice the four soft, glowing green eyes staring up from the shadows.

At least, not until something warm and furry brushes against her leg.

Then, she notices.

And she screams.
——
Reaching the lighthouse with his new friend’s help doesn’t take John very long.

Actually, it doesn’t take them any time at all, considering that once the light fades, they’re standing right on the stoop of the lighthouse, facing the slim, worn wooden entrance.

“Thank you.” John says, looking at A.M. She smiles at him, but it’s not a happy smile. It’s mournful and sad, he thinks, and it makes him want to cheer her up for real.

“You’re welcome.” She replies “be careful in there, okay?”

And then she’s gone, not so much as a glimmer left in her place, and he’s alone again, left with only the lighthouse in front of him and the deadly, raging waves behind him.

He doesn’t know why, but every time he looks at the door there’s this feeling of dread, like he’s going to lose something the moment he steps through. It hurts, but more than that it scares him, because he has no idea what he could be losing, and he doesn’t want to risk what little he has left.

But he knows that’s an absurd thought, because everything he still treasures is elsewhere, and the only way to get back there is through this tower.

And yet he hesitates, distracting himself by pretending to observe the way the horizon looks and how the waves are still so large and so brutal, and how leftover drops linger in the air and fuse into a mist that dampens his skin.

There’s a path to his right that leads back down to the beach, but John knows that following it would be pointless. The waters hold nothing but death, a coward’s way out, and he doesn’t want to imagine how disappointed his father would be in him if he tried.

He doesn’t want to imagine how disappointed he’d be in himself, either.

So before John can continue to second guess himself, he pushes his way inside the lighthouse, only to realize that the place he has found himself in is anything but a lighthouse.

In fact, it looks suspiciously like a kitchen.

The door slams shut behind him, and John jumps, startled. By the time he twists around it’s gone entirely, leaving nothing but smooth white wall in its wake.

That’s definitely not a good sign.

But there’s nothing he can do about it, so he turns back and cautiously sets about exploring the kitchen.

Although, John is hesitant to describe it as a kitchen. It’s too big and too neutral, all whites and greys and large silvery contraptions for various forms of baking and cooking.

He thinks it should probably be unnerving, because it a funny sort of way this whole thing vaguely reminds him of “The Shining”, but there’s something of comfort here too. He can’t quite place it, but despite all the horror flags he’s been seeing (and there’s a lot of them, including his brush with death and meeting an actual ghost) he doesn’t feel afraid.

Maybe it’s the lingering scent in the air, which sometimes resembles roasting cookies and sometimes smells just like his dad’s curry recipe. Or maybe it’s the distant hum of the machines, distracting him from what should be an eerie silence.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because he’s seen this place before. He’s not sure where- a different movie, perhaps, or some kind of baking show- but there’s no denying the familiarity that itches at his senses.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” John knows it’s a stupid thing to call out like this, but he can’t help it. He needs to know if he’s alone or not, and for better or for worse, revealing his presence is undoubtedly the quickest way to do that.

Then he takes another step forward, and the tile beneath his feet sinks downwards, and John freezes because floors definitely aren’t supposed to do that.

And then the tile disappears completely, and as the teen tumbles down into the earth, all he can think is that floors aren’t supposed to do that, either.

He falls for what feels like forever, his body scraping against smooth plastic like he’s in some sort of slide. It’s dark so he can’t see, but John’s not sure he wants to anyways. Not when he has no clue what he’d actually be seeing.

The world around him veers sharply to the right, and he feels like he’s being pulled back into the ocean, wind rising up around him as it envelopes him in a different kind of wave. His breath catches and doesn’t resume until well after he crashes into something hard and cold.

John lashes his arms out, his thoughts stilted and jumbled. He can’t think: all he can feel is the water again, flooding his ears and his eyes and his nose, forcing out everything that wasn’t it and replacing it with clear, crystalline liquid.

A light turns on from overhead, but unlike when he was in the water John notices it. He calms a little, forcing himself to still as he remembers being saved by the light.

“John? Oh my goodness, are you alright?”

John doesn’t quite recognize the person speaking to him, but the voice at least has a certain quantity of familiar. It’s measured and feminine and almost what John would describe as gravely.

“I- I think so.” He stammers, because it’s only polite to answer someone that is asking a question. “Um… where am I?”

There’s a sigh of relief from them. It sounds loud and close, and by instinct John looks up to face who is talking to him.

“N-Nana?”
——
For the first time in a long time, Aradia doesn’t know what’s actually going on, and it scares her.

When Vriska had shown up, she was surprised, yes, but she could understand it. With Scratch just inches away from his goal, it made sense he would try and give her one more chance to stop him. It was simply in his nature for his idea of fairness to give rise to arrogance.

Arrogance that, loathe as she is to admit it, is not entirely misplaced. The odds that Vriska will accept her assistance in getting to her trial are, at best, so low that it may as well be a guaranteed win for Scratch.

Still, a chance is a chance, and if there’s one scrap of information he is not privy to, it’s what will happen before and during the trial. He should have deemed it a fair enough opportunity, and left her at that.

But now Karkat’s here, and for all Scratch’s borderline narcissistic confidence in himself, he’s not so stupid as to so blatantly jeopardize his entire goal.

Or so she thought. The fact is that both Vriska and Karkat are here, and considering how Scratch was boasting that neither of them would even get the chance to do that, Aradia has no idea what to do.

At least she can count on John being occupied for a while. She just has to hope that a while is long enough to solve this mystery- and, hopefully, find a way to counteract it.

Aradia stays hidden as she approaches Vriska. Unlike the others, the road to Vriska’s test isn’t meant to get her thinking in tune with her aspect- the cerulean eyed teen is plenty competent at that already.

Instead, it’s intended to set her on the path opposite of what she’s supposed to be. It makes sense, at least in terms of difficulty. Still, Aradia can’t help but think it’s slightly unfair for the Nexus- or whoever is actually designing these trials- to single Vriska out like that.

Not that it matters. Aradia’s role here is to help them skip to the Question, not ask any herself.

It doesn’t stop her from wondering, though.

Vriska, as it turns out, isn’t doing very much. She’s slowed down to a mild walk, and there’s a slight frown on her face as she watches the endless stretches of sand.

If they had more time, Aradia thinks, Vriska could definitely manage this on her own.

But time is the one thing they absolutely don’t have, which means she has to step in now. Which is a shame, because she really doesn’t want to do that unless she is asked to.

“Hello again!” Aradia chirps, dropping her concealment. Vriska jumps, only to immediately disguise it with a scowl.

“Oh, it’s you again. What do you want?”

Well, it’s not exactly the warm welcome Karkat had given her, but she hadn’t really expected anything more from Vriska.

“I want to help you get up there.” Aradia tells her, hoping she comes off as sincere. “It’s important that you do. Like, worlds-level important.”

“Yeah, no. This world’s already doomed.” Vriska crosses her arms. “I mean, I’m going to go there anyways, but only because the rest of this place is such a hellhole.”

“I’m sorry,” Aradia says “I know you’d be able to get there on your own if you had enough time. But we don’t. And it’s not this world you’d be saving. It’s hundreds- maybe thousands- of others.”

“Of course.” Vriska scoffs “because clearly a bunch of planets I can’t even confirm exist mean so much to me.”

“No,” Aradia agrees “they don’t. But I’m not asking you to do anything about them. I’m asking you to let me take you to the mansion.”

Vriska glares at her, and Aradia does her best to seem impassive as she stares back. Aradia’s not sure what she did to make the brunette so distrustful- the Vriska she knows would have been the first to jump for a shortcut, no matter how shady the source.

It’s a cruel reminder that for all that they have stayed the same, they’ve also changed far more than they ever could’ve prepared for.

“Yeah, how about no. You said yourself that I can do this. I’m not some wayward soul that needs to be dragged around to accomplish something.” Vriska then spins on her heel and walks away from Aradia, heading further into the desert.

“Hey, wait!” Aradia calls, and to her surprise Vriska actually stops and does a half turn towards her.

“What is it now?”

“I-“ Aradia stops as small wisps of silver rise from the ground. Vriska doesn’t so much as blink, a clear sign that she can’t see them. They aren’t doing anything other than floating at the moment, but Aradia can take it for the threat that it is.

Don’t break the immersion, or there will be hell to pay.

She’s taking too long, Aradia knows. She’s taking too long and Vriska is going to walk away, and there’s no way the cerulean eyed teen is going to talk to her again.

But that’s not what happens at all, and somehow that scares Aradia even more.

Because instead of walking away Vriska is coming back and walking towards her, expression close to soft but not quite.

“What is it?” She asks again, only this time her question is almost gentle.

Aradia stays quiet for another moment.

“I’m sorry,” she says at last, “I’m not allowed to ask. I thought I was, but-“ she breaks herself off there, because it’s only now that she’s realizing she’s still every bit as trapped as she was when she was alive.

It’s just that the cage has changed shape, is all.

“Is this because of the whole ‘Rules of the Dead’ or whatever it was you were talking about?”

“Rules of the Imminently Deceased,” Aradia corrects “but yes, that’s right.”

There’s a gleam in Vriska’s eyes now, a sharp and slim piece of something that could be glass or could be light trapped within her blue orbs.

“All rules have loopholes.” She declares “where’s yours?”

And all Aradia can do is point to the mansion.

“Take me there, then.” Vriska says “what are you waiting for? We’re on a time crunch, aren’t we?”

Aradia isn’t really sure what’s changed Vriska’s mind, but she isn’t about to question the change.

She’s not sure she’s allowed to, anyways.

Aradia holds out her hand and Vriska takes it, and then they’re both gone in a flash of silver light.
——
“Why does Karkat hate you so much?”

The question makes Dave’s chest tighten, and for a moment it feels like he can’t breathe. It’s too blunt, too direct, and even though it’s something he’s asked himself many times, it’s still hard to formulate an answer.

“I- it’s complicated.” He says, but it’s really not.

“Then uncomplicate it.” She replies, and he has to swallow to clear his throat, because damn if that isn’t the most valid reply he’s heard in a long time.

“It’s stupid.” Dave warns “I don’t want so much as a snicker from you.”

“I won’t.”

“You better not. This is serious shit, alright?”

“Alright.” She says, and he can’t sense any insincerity from her, so he gathers what courage he has and lets it all spill out.

“It happened a few years ago. We were in middle school, although I guess that part’s obvious.” He waits, trying to see if Terezi is still interested in listening, but her expression gives nothing away, and so he keeps on.

“Well, anyways, we had this other friend named Gamzee. He was… weird. But Karkat liked him well enough, so we just kinda fell together. The teachers hated us anyways, so I guess it worked out.”

“Until it didn’t.”

“Yeah. Until it didn’t.” Dave agrees.

“Why didn’t it?” Terezi asks.

“I gave Gamzee a stupid dare. He got hurt. Like, weeks in the hospital levels of hurt.” Dave stops and looks away. “It was all my fault. If I had chosen something a little less risky he would’ve been fine.”

“Is that why Karkat can’t stand you? Because he blames you for what happened?”

“Weren’t you there that first night? I think you know the answer to that.”

“Yes,” She says, stressing the syllable so it comes out in a hiss “but I think you need to say it.”

“No, I don’t need to say anything. This is all a choice, me deciding to humor you with this because I’m such a nice guy.”

Terezi snorts. “Sure, coolkid, whatever you say. So what’s the real reason he won’t forgive you?”

“Well, it’s probably because I- hey, wait, how’d you figure that out?” Dave stares his teal haired companion down.

“It’s obvious, Dave.” She’s smirking now, apparently amused by… okay, he’s not actually sure what’s so funny. Either way she’s a step from laughing at him, and it’s really kind of infuriating .

“No it’s not. Day one, the guy yelled at me for causing Gamzee’s injury, remember? Not for abandoning them once it happened.” Dave pauses a moment as he realizes what he has said. “God fucking damnit.”

But rather than laugh at him, her expression shrinks into a neutral line. “So that’s why…” she mumbles “yes, that makes sense.”

Dave decides to ignore her comment. Frankly, he just doesn’t have the energy to deal with her pretending to be all cryptic and shit.

“Right,” He drawls “perfect sense. Of course it does.”

“Down, Strider,” She snickers “I just meant that Karkat seemed way too upset for there to only be one reason he was so mad.”

Dave shrugs. “If you say so. He’s got a pretty short fuse, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if that was the only thing making him hate me.”

Terezi just shakes her head, but she doesn’t try to refute his words, even though Dave can practically feel her disagreeing with him.

He does his best to prevent himself from snapping at her to explain, he really does, but between his worry and his guilt he fails to soften his words, and each of them leaps from his tongue like tiny needles.

“What the hell aren’t you telling me?”

She frowns reproachfully at him, and it crosses his mind he should probably apologize for being so harsh, but she speaks before he can and the moment dissipates.

“A lot of things, coolkid. But right now, I think the important part is that Karkat really isn’t the type to hold grudges.”

Dave chokes on air. “Are we still talking about the same person here, or is there another Karkat I haven’t met yet?”

Terezi shakes her head again, but at least she isn’t frowning anymore. “I mean it, Dave. Remember the other day, when he almost got into a fight with Vriska? If he was really the type to bear a grudge, do you honestly think he would’ve chosen to come with us?”

“Okay, but that’s different. Vriska didn’t hurt and abandon his best friend.” Dave stops for a moment “and anyways, I’ve tried apologizing and stuff. He still doesn’t want anything to do with me.”

Terezi sighs, announcing her aggravation. “Wear him down, coolkid. He’s impatient, remember? Keep bugging him about how sorry you are, and I’m sure sooner or later he’ll snap and come around, if only so you stop.”

Dave slowly nods. That plan sort of makes sense. “What if he doesn’t, though?”

“Then I’ll have a talk with him about how much of an ass he’s being.” Terezi replies, and Dave can’t help but chuckle.

“Good luck with that.” He says, but it doesn’t come out as sarcastic as he intends, and he feels light, like some kind of weight or tension within him has been resolved, even though he hasn’t actually done anything yet.

“I make my own luck.” Terezi replies “but thanks, I guess.” She stands up and stretches, nearly hitting Dave with her cane again. “I’m going to go check on our resident sleeping beauties.”

She leaves then, but even though she’s gone Dave somehow doesn’t feel like he’s alone.

He’s just starting to stand up so he can go get his sword when there’s a loud, heavy knock from just outside the barricade.

Dave does not forget his weapon when he goes to investigate, but he can’t deny a small feeling of hope that Dirk might be back, even though he knows it’s a stupid thought because Dirk said he’d meet them at the house.

Still, Dave isn’t thinking about that right now. Besides, no zombie he knows of is capable of knocking.

He makes the mistake of forgetting about vampires.

It doesn’t matter, because once he nudges the broken door aside all that is waiting for him is a green envelope.

A green envelope with his name on it.
——
Vriska doesn’t really want to admit it, but she actually is surprised when the dead girl takes her to the front doors of the mansion.

It’s not necessarily because she thought the ghost was going to turn on her or something (although the idea did cross her mind). It’s just that spirits are rarely depicted as being helpful, so Vriska hadn’t expected the ghost to keep to her word.

But here she is, facing two towering stone doors with ornate carvings gauged into the surface. They don’t appear to mean anything in particular at first glance, but a closer inspection shows a pattern too vague to describe.

Whatever. Her priority right now is to find a way inside so she can get out of this nightmare, not stare at weird squiggles.

Vriska drifts to the side of the doors, pausing to observe the space where a doorbell would normally be located. Protruding from the wall are two slim blue buttons, one positioned above the other.

As far as Vriska is concerned, of them is guaranteed to be a trap. The nature of the trap eludes her, as there’s nothing to suggest it has ever been triggered, but not knowing shouldn’t be a problem because she doesn’t intend to be hit the wrong switch anyways.

She hesitates, carefully raking her eyes over the buttons. There’s nothing to differentiate them, save the slight difference in how they reflect the sparse amount of moonlight hitting them. It doesn’t seem to be any kind of clue though, so Vriska goes back to the door carvings, hoping something will stand out there.

A metallic screech rings out from overhead, and Vriska instinctively leaps back, barely swallowing down a yell. She’s instantly glad that she moved, because moments later the doors swing outwards, unveiling a massive black screen that’s at least three times as tall as she is.

“Yep, definitely nothing unusual about this.” Vriska grumbles, but she approaches the screen all the same and gingerly places her hand on it, only for her hand to fall through. She quickly withdraws it and tests the screen again, and it quickly becomes apparent she’s meant to walk through.

Of course this place can’t have normal doors. Why would it?

Rather than try and answer herself, Vriska steps through the odd screen, coughing as the smoky surface rises into her lungs. She barely even notices her eyes shutting themselves, instead focusing on fighting her way through to the other side.

It’s not until a surge of vertigo hits her that she opens them again, seeing first the violet carpet beneath her and the large, dimly lit stage second.

The details of the room are quick to present themselves after: the dozen or so rows of navy seats, the multicolored spotlights resting over seemingly random spots, the way the curtain of the stage is blue instead of red…

It’s an odd curtain color for sure, but Vriska is hesitant to call it an ineffective one. At the very least, she can’t say it clashes with anything.

What few lights are still on begin to flicker out, darkening the room further. It’s a gradual change, probably intended not to be noticed right away, but Vriska, as on edge as she is, watches as the first spotlight is shut off, and then another, and she realizes that something is starting.

With that in mind, she slides into the nearest seat that’s by the aisle. It’s perfect for a quick escape, but where she’ll escape to Vriska doesn’t know.

Hopefully, she will be lucky enough that she won’t need to run at all.

The last light flicks out, and for several stomach pinching moments she can’t see anything at all.

There’s a wave of light that rings across the room. Vriska thinks it’s coming from the stage, but just as quickly as it appears it vanishes. It’s disorienting, and ruins any adjustments her eyes have been trying to make for the darkness.

Thankfully, there’s a second flash not much later, and then a third, followed by a fourth and a fifth until the light is blinking so fast it may as well be on. It’s still too bright for Vriska to directly look at it, but at least it’s consistent.

The rings condense into a large column, allowing Vriska to observe it from her peripherals. Someone steps out from the light, and for a moment Vriska feels a twinge of respect for them for being able to handle the brightness. Said respect almost instantly turns into anger, because what kind of person is so inconsiderate as to try and blind their audience?

As if in response to her thoughts, the pillar of light begins to separate into thin streams, turning into a dark blue hue as they do so. Vriska rubs at her eyes, restraining a sigh of relief as the light level dims to something her eyes are actually okay with.

She settles her gaze back to where she last saw the mysterious figure and- yep, they’re gone, just as she really should’ve expected. Vriska is almost beginning to regret how weird her life is right now. A little normal would honestly go a long ways towards maintaining whatever sanity she has left.

Long fingers press down onto her shoulders, and it takes Vriska only a matter of seconds to launch herself out of her seat and into the aisle, withdrawing her knives with practiced ease as she moves, rolling into a half-kneeling half-sitting position.

“Don’t fucking touch me.” She snaps, only to realize that she’s talking to air. “Fuck.”

Vriska rises to her feet, glancing cautiously about her. Aside from what she first saw and what she just felt, there’s no real indication that anyone else is here.

“Yeah, I definitely don’t get paid enough for this level of bullshit.” Vriska announces to the empty auditorium. She’s tempted to just go ahead and leave now, but part of her also wants to stick around and see what happens.

Besides, she’s no coward. She doesn’t want to run just because someone else can’t face her head on.

Someone taps on her shoulder, but rather than jump away like she did the first time Vriska lunges towards them, knife tilted to deliver a fierce stab. Cold fingers clamp around her wrist, halting her attack.

“Touchy, touchy,” the stranger chides, and gooseflesh trails down Vriska’s spine, unrelated to the cold grip she is in “but at least you’ve got good instincts.”

The next moment Vriska is being flipped onto the ground, the knife flying from her hand as her arm loosens its grip in an involuntary attempt to keep itself from breaking.

Vriska thinks that she really should’ve left when she had the chance.
——
The seventh day of the Apocalypse is not one Rose looks forward to, but it is one that comes nonetheless.

Somehow, she has found herself fond of the tiny apartment Kanaya brought them to. There might not be much space, and she might not have spent any longer than a few hours here, but it feels welcoming. Inviting. Safe.

At the very least, it makes it hard to remind herself that it isn’t really safe, not so long as those other vampires are around.

Part of her wonders if going after them is truly the right thing to do. They’re clearly sentient after all, and now more than ever this world needs people that can work to rebuild it.

Provided they still can rebuild it, that is. Or that it’s even worth doing so.

Rose knows she shouldn’t be so pessimistic, but she’s not convinced there’s anything left on earth for them.

Because even if they manage to get rid of the infected, what could they possibly do? They’re not architects or electricians or anything remotely close to being capable of restoring everything they have lost.

They’re just a bunch of kids not even out of high school. They don’t have the skills for long term survival, period. And even if they did, this isn’t what she would call a world worth living in.

“Rose? Are you ready to leave?”

Yet for all that, she doesn’t want to die. She doesn’t want to take the easy way out to the next stage of existence, whatever that may be.

“Just a moment, Kanaya.”

And somehow, she doesn’t think it’s because she’s afraid to die, or even because she’d be leaving her friends behind. They’d join her eventually, she knows.

Kanaya, however…

Rose isn’t sure if Kanaya ever would, and that scares her more than she wants to admit. She doesn’t want to think of the vampire wandering this desolate world, lost and lonely, wondering how she got to where she was.

Rose shakes her head and leaves the bedroom. She doesn’t have much, just her phone and her needles, which are now nestled between her skin and a thick wristband she found last night. It’s not exceptionally practical, since it takes time to get her needles out, but for now it’s better than carrying them.

Kanaya is waiting for her in the kitchen, satchel slung around her torso like she’s getting ready for a shopping trip and not a supernatural hunting spree. The notebook from the night before is in her hands, closed as if she was just reading it, although Rose isn’t sure why Kanaya would be bothering to look through it.

 

“Shall we?” Rose asks, and Kanaya shakes her head, then tucks the book away.

“In a minute,” she says “there was something I wanted to ask of you.”

“What is it?”

Kanaya bites her lip, and it’s at this point Rose realizes how tense the daywalker is, how her entire body seems to have frozen in a state of apprehension.

“I was hoping you would be agreeable to keep something safe for me when we confront the vampires.”

“Of course.” Rose nods “what is it you want me to hold on to?”

Kanaya wordlessly places a small box on the table. Rose picks it up and examines it. She knows that it’s not the box itself she’s meant to look after, but whatever is inside. She grasps at the lid, intent on opening it, but Kanaya stops her before she can.

“Please don’t.”

Rose looks at her, curiosity warring with her desire to just do whatever the vampire asks of her.

“Kanaya,” the blonde says “it would be beneficial to know exactly what I am guarding.”

Her companion’s eyes flick to the box, and then to the table, and then to Rose herself.

“A regret.” She says at last “and a desire. Something that would be best left forgotten.”

Rose wants to press further. She wants to know exactly what it is she’s carrying and why Kanaya has given it to her. She wants to ask about last night, about what Space means and how it’s connected to Light.

But she doesn’t, because there’s a plea scrawled in Kanaya’s unnaturally green eyes, one that begs her to drop the matter. So she does, even though the questions she has to swallow to do so scorch her throat and twist her stomach.

“Okay.” She says “I won’t ask. Just- please say you will tell me one day. It does not need to be today, or tomorrow, or even in a week. Just… eventually.”

“Eventually,” Kanaya repeats it like she’s tasting the word, and for all Rose knows she is. “Yes. I can do that. Eventually.”

Not really satisfied but pretending to be, Rose slips the box into her pocket. “Shall we?” She asks again.

Kanaya nods and the two of them start for the exit. Before they get too far she stops again, and Rose turns to look at her curiously.

“What is it?” She asks.

“I just wanted to thank you.” Kanaya says “this… this means more to me than you may ever know.”

Rose gives her what she hopes to be an earnest smile. “Of course. What are friends for?”

Kanaya returns the expression. “What indeed?” She mumbles, and it tugs at Rose’s heart just a little, because in that question she senses an honest, genuine desire to know.

And then they leave, and there is no more time to ask any questions.
——
Karkat knows that it’s really stupid of him to keep going like this, especially when Aradia could come back at any moment, but he can’t really help it.

Right now, running is just the easiest thing to do. Sure, he’s exhausted, and more than a small part of him hates himself for carrying on like he is, but at least while he’s moving he doesn’t have to worry about bursting into tears at the slightest provocation.

Although, he thinks he might just end up doing that anyways.

He always had a feeling something bad had happened to Aradia. The way she had just disappeared, and the way nobody had talked about it, or about her, had been impossible to miss, even as a child. But Karkat had always held out hope that maybe she had just moved away, and had never been given time to say goodbye.

It’s pretty obvious now that that’s not what happened.

But as twisted as it is, Karkat’s sort of glad that whatever went down ended with Aradia here. The only other dead person he knows (or at least, dead person that he knows and that cares about Karkat) is Gamzee, and Karkat doesn’t think he’s ready for a reunion.

He doesn’t think he’ll ever be ready.

Because really, when he stops to think about it, he’s just as responsible for Gamzee dying as the zombies are.

Well, okay, maybe not as responsible, since he wasn’t the one that literally tore his friend to shreds. At least, Karkat hopes that’s the fate Gamzee met, because he definitely doesn’t want to think of Gamzee as a zombie.

Even if it is scarily easy to imagine.

But that’s not the point. The point is that, when it came down to it, Karkat abandoned Gamzee, just like Dave did.

Only, Karkat’s even less forgivable, because when Dave left, Gamzee was recovering and Karkat was still there for him. But when Karkat left, he condemned his friend to die alone.

And maybe someone somewhere could justify it, could say that Karkat had just gone through some very heavy trauma between the principal turning into a zombie and running a pair of scissors into said zombie, and that of course forgetting Gamzee was understandable.

Karkat doesn’t want excuses. He doesn’t want ‘understandable’. He wants to undo his actions, he wants his past self to remember Gamzee. He wants this whole nightmare to be over.

Mostly though, he just wants his friend back.

The ground beneath Karkat begins to slope downwards at a steep incline, and he slows his pace as he travels downwards. He’s not paying very much attention to where his feet go (he doesn’t care if he trips or falls, not right now), so when his toe manages to slip into a thin crack in the ground, it catches him completely by surprise.

Part of that surprise also stems from how just before he smacks into the stony ground said ground decides to disappear f