It's Vriska's birthday. The whole house is chaos, but it's delightful chaos. Little footprints line the hallways from a recent bath, and there's the constant hum of activity. Toys litter the floor, and the refrigerator is covered in drawings. You let a little one duck under your arm on the way to the yard, probably to play on the swing. You'd thought you'd clean for company, but cleaning's for squares. You step over an action figure and nudge it sort of toward the toybox with your shoe. You'd learned about those little bastards hurting early. You got rid of every lego ever.
Visitors will be arriving all day, and while you love all of the kids, it'll be awesome to have grownups to talk to! Some of them you haven't seen in a year.
Mornings were always a bit nuts getting everyone to settle down for breakfast and lessons. If the kids show particular gifts, they go on to a school in Arizona, but even then, some want to stay with you.
You touch the pretty blue wings mounted over your desk on the way to the foyer. A bit of glitter comes off on your fingers. Once you caught one of your kids playing with the wings, and it took all your self control to carefully lift them and explain that these are special. You can at least make a walking path for your guests so they don't fall and break their neck on a toy or an errant sock.
There's a voicemail button blinking- and you manage to thump it with your elbow as you clean the kitchen.
"Hiii John. It's your sister, you butt! I hope I'm not calling at jackass o'clock, East Coast time is lame. Anyway! I'm all set here at the new clinic, Doctor Zahhak is really nice! Also he's built like… Just damn, trust me. I know you've got a busy day but at least C-A-L-L me sometimes, geez. Jake and I miss you out here, but the East Coast isn't bad. Say hi to everyone today! Sorry I couldn't make it out. Sooo yeahshityourmessageisabouttorunoutiloveyouby-"
Good to know Jade's doing well. It was a prestigious position, and while you'd rather she stay close, you know her, and you know Jake. They've always been roamers. They'd come home eventually. Little hands try to snatch a cookie from the jar on the counter, and you manage to snag his wrist first.
"Kesyer, not till after dinner."
The blueblood groans but is obedient enough as you muss his crescent-shaped horns and send him on his way to play. Your Indigo and your Violet are outside playing already, Kiojah and Cypris. Cypris was a trick- your first seadweller, you needed to install special salinity sensors in the bath for her. They play and tumble, cheeping and chattering outside, ever in your watchful eye from the kitchen window.
They were not your first, after Vriska. (You divided your life into before and after Vriska, before you were even aware of it.) Two days after Vriska's funeral, four terrified little trolls were delivered to your house. You remember being awed that they came in a car, were led by the hand, not dropped in a cage like she had been. In retrospect it may have not been wise to take in four little ones so soon after you lost your girl, but nothing soothes grief like four pairs of worried eyes peering over the edge of your bed when you mourned.
At times you wonder if you've quite stopped mourning. Piece by piece, your grief was replaced with fondness, and you wonder if that's how love really works.
Your guests should be spaced apart--you can't handle having everyone come over at once AND the kids. It'd be too much--and you're a full-time expert at this now! Still, you want to see everyone. Vriska probably would've liked that. You keep a photo of her in the foyer, to bump your knuckles to whenever you come in and out. It's nice to see her grinning whenever you come back home.
Whenever the doorbell rings the kids all scatter. They love visitors and will happily love-maul the mailman whenever he comes round. So it's best to just heft as many littles as you can in both arms to keep them at bay and wriggle the door open with your slightly more free hand.
You didn't expect to have to look up.
"Hello----oh, holy shit, Eridan!"
The twig had certainly grown into an oak tree. He was at least a head or more taller than Feferi, built like an olympic swimmer, and hunched to see into the door properly. His height over Feferi wasn't all that surprising, considering she's tiny, but this dude's taller than you. Last time you'd seen him he maybe came up to your armpit. At least his grumpy frown and big, boxy glasses were still the same.
"Right?" Feferi giggles nervously. "He's just kept growing. A natural, organic diet!"
Adult trolls are still odd for the kids, and they instantly squirm to run circles around him as if he were some great maypole missing its ribbons. Feferi has her arm gently hooked inside the hoop of Eridan's. To his credit, Eridan is trying very hard to not pay attention to the children about to use him like a jungle gym.
"Guys, be nice, let Eridan go."
"Nnooo," they chorus together.
"Oh, I think he'll be fine. Eridan, you should play with them!"
"But they're lil'… fuckin' runts! Tiny runnynosed little…"
The look she gives him silences that particular train of grumbling, and Eridan is dragged away by the lilliputians to play on the swing. At least now your arms are free to embrace her. The most beautiful smile spreads on her face as she throws her arms around your neck. She still has the same sweet smell you remember, but her clothes are not as posh as you recall. Her bright eyes make up for it.
"Wow. You look great. Come in."
She steps inside--trusting the littles to not tear Eridan's limbs off, you assume. "It's incredible, isn't it? He's very healthy!"
"Healthy's… one word I'd use for it, I guess?"
You watch Eridan be toppled over like a great tree. Poor Eridan.
"So how are you?" you ask as you take her coat, "Miss Betty Crocker, hmm?"
"Oh, everything's a horrible mess!" she groans, flopping sideways on the sofa.
She sits on a G.I. Joe and casually reaches to toss it in the TV remote basket. You flop across from her in the armchair, leaning your elbows on your knees.
"Yes, well. Dismantling the Troll division didn't go over well with our stockholders at all, but they can just bite me. I never understood the other divisions, really, we should stick to what we do best, baked goods!"
"Well, your mom was kind of nuts."
You've hit a nerve, and you know it when Feferi draws into herself, hugging her arms.
"Hey, god, Feferi, I'm sorry. I mean, have you spoken?"
"No. And I prefer it that way," she huffs, and bobs her head to you. "How are you?"
"Busy. The guys keep me on my toes."
"I can tell," she chuckles, flicking G.I. Joe's boot with her nail.
You realize she's not got a manicure. Hell, everything about her just seems sort of frumpy. You're beginning to understand what a financial hit she probably took with everything. The money spent on legal fees alone…Her clothes looked like something that came off a rack instead of the fancy couture tailoring she'd worn before. There's wear in her clothes, comfortable instead of starched and new.
She seems happy, sighing out the window to Eridan. That's sort of an odd look on her face, really. It's probably a good time for tea and coffee, and so you shuffle to go brew some, nudging Tastykakes aside to make room for mugs. You deliver them to her, and she drinks gratefully. It's terribly nice, just sitting with a grownup. You didn't realize how much you'd missed it until she arrived. Her eyes trail to your chest and you feel a bit marginalized until you remember.
"Oh, the tattoo? Yeah…"
"Wanna explain that?"
"Look, Jade and Jake and I--we kind of got drunk before they headed east and we all sort of ended up at the tattoo place and I don't even. At least I don't regret mine like Jake did."
"What'd he have done?"
'"He won't tell me. We still have no idea."
You're pretty sure you saw it peeking out of a sleeve at one point, though. Feferi laughs into her tea.
"Pair of pistols on her hipbones. We both at least had the fortitude to talk her out of getting 'yiff yiff' put on her ass. Wanna see mine?"
You oblige Feferi with tugging your collar down enough to see the chestpiece over your heart. Meminero teneo, with a little pirate ship, its patchwork sails open wide from the wind. You realize you've all but pulled your shirt off in front of her and subconsciously tug your jacket back on, clearing your throat. Right, then.
"Are the funds coming through for Forget-Me-Not?" she asks in the businesslike tone you've become familiar with.
"Oh, yes. We should have the house addition put on within the year. People have been really great online."
You're not sure where all the money comes from, to be honest. Between all of you, you organized Forget-Me-Not House, run solely on donations. After the Scratch case, it just poured in, hoping to pay for Vriska's funeral. In the end it helped set up a new future for those after her. It only seemed right.
"John," her voice is soft again, "have you gone to see her lately?"
"Oh… Not for a while. I'm going to go tomorrow. On her actual birthday. Give her her gifts."
The 'gifts' were only her favorite candies and her favorite flowers. As much as Forget-Me-Nots seemed to symbolize her now, her favorites were poppies, you remember. Simple and red. You planted them for her; others brought the little blue buds later. Ridiculous to leave anything for the dead, of course. A waste. (Though you partook of a few of the Skittles yourself.) Still, somehow it eased you to see the bright colors instead of the cold stone that read "Vriska Serket, 2004-2012, Remembered." They asked if you wanted to give her your name, but you knew she'd not have that for anything.
"The kids don't like going, and it's hard to tuck them somewhere to be watched," you explain, "But… it's still nice to know she's there."
Feferi's smile is sympathetic as she sets her cup down on the table. Selfishly, you hope Vriska isn't there--that the children's rumors of laughter through your silent halls at night aren't just their imagination, that the soft warmth at the foot of your bed isn't just your forgotten sweatshirt. At the same time, you long for her rest for her sake, remembering those tired eyes and loose fingers in slumber.
Once you're able to clear the whirlwind of self-pity and the haze of lingering grief from your head, it's easier to pester Feferi about her own. She really does kind of look like bargain-bin Feferi. Maybe thrifting is her new thing?
"Feferi… are you okay? I think Eridan's wearing untailored clothes. Do you need a handout or?"
She laughs, not unkindly, dumping some kind of granola shit in her tea from her purse. Same old Feferi, then.
"We've simplified. That's all! Selling the Peixes Estate for my condo instead. Eating things we've cooked. Did you know Eridan can cook? He learned! My smart Eridan knew how to cook. There's so much I'm still learning! I drove here! Driving is good fun, why did no one tell me?"
"But. You're happy." It almost seemed redundant in retrospect.
"Oh yes. Happier than ever, John! Truly. What we're doing… It feels right. Like I'm undoing all my family did."
She does have a glow about her. You really should ask...
"So…" you start, but there's a knock on the door.
The kids outside are curious, huddling together with awe on their faces. You and Feferi exchange perturbed frowns. Who could that be? You'd spaced your visitors very carefully apart so the kids wouldn't be stressed. Very carefully! It had taken weeks to iron out everyone's schedules.
Feferi sets her tea aside and moves to go to the door, but you wave her off. You'll get it, it's your house. Probably errant press again, or a very confused missionary. She still stands awkwardly as you make your way to the door and pull it open.
Your heart falls out of your mouth, tumbles down the steps.
After you manage to jam your senses back together in a way enough to fire coherent synapses, you realize, no. Not Vriska. She's taller, older, with those beautiful hooked horns you remember brushing your thumbs over, that tumbling dark hair, the blue lips, bright white fangs. But her scars are different. The one over her eye has long healed, and she wears a prosthetic arm on her left side. She looks ready to bolt, regarding you and the pile of anxious children with apprehension. As soon as she catches your expression she grumbles and whirls away, muttering to herself.
"Mindfang," you find yourself breathing before you can even say hello.
She pauses on the stoop, lifting her gaze to you, stern, cold as the steel on her arm. Then the loveliest, wry, crooked smile twists her lips, so familiar, even on an older face.
"Lad, no one's called me that in years."
You manage to get Mindfang seated in your house without making too much of an idiot of yourself. You can't tell if Feferi is starstruck or horrified by the way she watches her. Mindfang is elegant in the way Vriska was elegant, her strides long and proud and her head held high, even as she snuffled and wrinkled her nose, scratched behind her ear with blue nails.
"My real name is Spinneret Serket," she drawls, her voice making your insides tie in knots that would make a boy scout proud.
"Yes, Mindfang was your fighting name-" Feferi interrupts, and immediately regrets it.
Spinneret laughs, a bright, gorgeous cackle, it's so much like hers, unrestrained and beautiful. You wonder if it would be considered rude to just crush her into hugs and listen to that laugh and decide it probably would.
"Do you mind if I smoke?" she asks, but she already has a slim cigarette out of its pack.
You almost say no, no, Vriska, of course you can't smoke, but your voice dies in your throat. Her prosthetic is fascinating as she works the lighter with the other hand, all moving hinges in brightly brushed silver. The small stamp on it is shaped like an arrow. She gives a mighty puff of smoke in a figure eight and grins at it, pleased with herself. She's dressed in blacks and leather, piped with the blue of her lips, her eyelashes. Her heels are red and that makes you smile. However, considering the weather and her neckline combined, you feel an enormous responsibility to go get her a coat.
"I was told this is--was--where my girl lived. My brood, hatchling, whatever pleases you to call her."
Daughter was one word you wanted to suggest. Instead you dart to fetch the photograph in the hall and bring it to her, frame and all. She takes it with more reverence than you expect, setting it gently on her lap.
"Wow, what a stunner," she says softly, tapping her glass cheek with the pad of one finger. "So you're the boy that looked after her?"
"I- yes. She was my-"
You still haven't figured out a word to say that fits. Or doesn't ever, ever paint her like she was your possession.
"I was hers," you decide, and it fits.
"Mmn," she agrees, taking another drag on her cigarette. She admires the photo for a long time, and Feferi breaks the silence.
"Sorry, um, I'm-"
"I know who you are, lass. Feferi Peixes, pretty savior to Trollkind, are you?"
The tone in Spinneret's voice has changed drastically. She sounded as if she were humoring you. With Feferi she's poisonous. You almost want to defend her- but Feferi ducks her head.
"Let us care for ourselves. Work on changing your laws. We will fight where we can. Otherwise this entire thing will amount to naught."
The grandness of her words warms you. It's so much like something Vriska would read, or watch or enjoy. Not for the first time, you wish she were here.
"Of course," Feferi murmurs, "I need guidance."
This pleases Spinneret well enough, as the same smile returns to her face.
"You shall have it, since you asked so damn nicely," she chuckles. "I confess to you my matesprit is better at this sort of revolution thing. But I'll carry his lance for him anyway."
She focuses back on the photograph, traces her little hands. You think Spinneret wishes Vriska were here too. Feferi perches on the arm of Mindfang's chair, brushing the wood with her fingers.
"She- you were her hero."
You're glad Feferi can manage to string words together, it's better than you're doing.
The woman looks up, and it takes a moment to parse her expression. Confused? Sad? Pained? Proud. She grasps the frame's corners with both hands, warm and cold, sinking the points into her palms.
"And she is mine."
Mindfang- Spinneret, flicks a curl out of her face, smiling. You want to bottle her smile up, stow it away. You don't realize how much you're trembling until Feferi returns to your side, cups her hands over yours to steady you.
"All of us heard about her. We were rooting for her all the way. I could look at her and say, that's my brood! And god, the way she fought. She was a hurricane. I've never seen someone fight so well."
Of course: Mindfang was a fighter, too. You admit that several months after Vriska went, you found the strength to Google her fights. She was right. Vriska was incredible. Graceful as a dancer with blades on the end of her fingers, the twist and control of her body was beautiful to watch, even with the violence it was attached to.
"Eight rounds, did you know? Eight. Even in my heyday I kept five at most."
Spinneret sets the frame on the table beside her, takes one last drag on her cigarette before rising to stand.
"I did only come to say hello. I'm afraid I'm not very much one for staying in one place."
You scramble, near upending a basket of toys on your way up. She's tall for a troll; she almost reaches your nose now. Her metal hand touches your shoulder, and her soft one your chest. It's strangely intimate, but the temperature of her skin is so familiar you don't jerk away.
"Thank you. For looking after her. Don't let her death just be another casualty. Fight."
Then Mindfang releases you and finds her own way out the door. Eridan's bunched up by the stoop, his hackles raised. He must have been worried for Feferi--or maybe the expression in his eyes is the same one of grief and wonder in yours. Spinneret stops before him, sizes him up. He's so much taller than her, broader. This doesn't intimidate her in the least, as she reaches up and paps his face with the tips of her fingers.
"Stand up straight, boy. Get yourself some scars and maybe, then."
You notice the shadow lurking about your mailbox now, in artfully shredded clothes, with wide-set horns. He's leaned up against a polished motorcycle, and he offers his arm to Spinneret before she even reaches him. They share a kiss, and climb onto the bike. Sneaky. Trolls couldn't drive cars yet, legally. This is so much more badass, anyway. It's only now you spot the tacky, bright blue butterfly wings emblazoned on the back of her leather jacket as she roars away.
Feferi wanted to meet all of the children, of course. She exchanged spots with Eridan, seating herself amongst the kids like some kind of fairytale princess in the land of fairies. They find her fascinating, of course, play with her hair, tug at her skirts. She pulls them onto her lap one at a time, asking after their studies, showering them with kisses, playing. You always figured Feferi would be good with kids--but seeing her this way warms you all over. Maybe the shock of meeting Mindfang is making you emotional.
Eridan sidles up to you, a mountain of bright scales. In your mind you always sort of pictured him as that kid in the park, or that boy beside the coffin. But now he's so grown, his face sharper than yours. He bows his head to reach you, muttering an almost-polite hello.
"Hey, Eridan. I just. Man, I can't get over it."
'"I w-was alw-w-ways meant to be this tall!"
Wow, he really butchered that one.
"No, man, I meant about-"
"Oh, Mindfang… Yeah, fuckin' wow. I don't know-w either."
Awkward. Aw-wkw-ward. You stand side-by side, watching Feferi happily flop back to the grass to tug Cypris into a cuddle.
"Soooo… What are you up to?"
"Studyin'. I'm gonna be the first troll to get a college degree. Classes are online, but it's still a lot a' w-work."
You don't really do well holding your surprise. Online classes, of course. It was only the next step after everything else. Your heart feels like a dovecote. Of course. Your little ones would be going to school! Going to college, degrees. Your ears ring with all of the possibilities, and your chest twists with pride, all of those little ones with diplomas…Right, Eridan.
"What's your degree?"
You have a few guesses. History, literature. Something artsy and probably pretentious.
"Engineerin' in Modern W-warfare."
It's impossible not to squeak, "Not history?"
He rolls his eyes behind his glasses. "That's my minor."
The Peixes Princess sits up, lifting her smile to Eridan. Then you finally recognize it. That was the same look Eridan gave her on the day you met.
"More an' more trolls are getting' out," he stated. "From the labs, too."
Right--you tried not to think on them. Experimental testing on trolls. It was sickening enough to think of Vriska's situation, but a whole facility of trolls caged up…Thankfully, months after the Scratch case, the statutes began falling one by one, nationally, internationally.
That hits you right between the eyes, dries your mouth. You're amazed you can respond without sounding like you' re going through puberty twice.
"What? I thought you were a stray."
"No such thing- w-we busted out. I had help cos' I w-was little. A hatchmate. Cronus. Still lookin' for him. He's a sneaky one. Hidin'. Let me know-w if you see him, okay? I don't get out a lot, w-watchin' after her royal highness here."
"Yeah. I guess he looks like you?"
"Just no v-violet. He dyes it. V-vain bastard."
Eridan Ampora must not be entirely adept at looking in the metaphorical mirror as he grooms his coat lapels. He turns his attentions back to Feferi, and sighs a sound that could be blissful.
"John," he mumbles, almost bashful, cheeks flaring violet, "I'm tall enough."
Feferi disperses the children and comes to Eridan, her hands already outstretched. He near engulfs her in his arms- she leans into his chest happily, enjoying the nuzzling on her hair. Oh. Tall enough.
"John, I really hate to do this, but we've got to get going. Especially with Min--Spinneret offering her help! Wow."
"Yeah, uh, wow." You're trying to keep your face straight as Eridan winds his fingers with Feferi's.
"What are you grinning at?"
"Nothing! I just--don't be such a stranger, Feferi! You should come see the kids more often. Ladies' touch."
The kids agree with you, bouncing up and down around her waist, calling for her, Miss Peixes, Miss Peixes pleeeeeaase!!
"Alright, alright, kiddos, time for school," she giggles, herding them with both hands.
They whine, but obey her, a tiny stampede to the room that functioned as their little schoolhouse. Self-study today, but you'd be sure they were actually working and not just doodling male anatomical parts in the margins as they enjoyed doing from time to time.
"They're never gonna nap," you groan. "Too much excitement in one day."
"Oh, don't be so sure! I think they'll tucker themselves out."
You find Feferi's jacket, and Eridan gently helps her shrug her way into it. He tries to help with the buttons, but she just as gently swats his hands.
"Take care, John, okay? If you need ANY help, you know how to reach me. And give all my love to Jade, the next time you see her!"
The mid-afternoon sun was going down, sinking behind the other houses. Feferi slid her arm into the hoop of Eridan's and together they walked to their car. Look at that; for the second time that day a couple kissed by your mailbox.
You had some time before your next guest. You get the kids settled with their work, give them their lunch to snack on. Something to balance out all the excitement and sugar, you think. Veggies, green things. You know that the cooler bloods need more protein, more meat. But the warmer bloods are happy to ruminate on the greenery.
This is the perfect time to chat with Jade on Skype.
The ringing lasted a bit before she picked up and the camera turned on. She's sitting on her bed, covered in god-knows-how-many plushies, Bec happily panting away at her back. It's a bit warmer on the east coast, but it still doesn't quite explain her tanktop. Whatever, Jade's hotblooded. She leans down, hair curtaining as she waves. Her room's in the familiar state of cozy disarray you remember. There are guns everywhere.
"Hey dipshit!" she sings.
"Hey butthead. How are the pistols?"
Jade inched up her tank top to show her hips, firing with both fingers. Bec sniffs her wrists, probably thinking she has a treat in the curl of her hand.
"Pchoo, pchoo! Still shooting!"
"Feferi just left. Oh, and guess who came to visit? I mean, holy shit, you will never guess, Jade!"
"Uh, I dunno. The President?"
"Hardy-har-har, no, Jade, Mindfang."
She near falls off the bed, taking Bec with her. But she leans on her elbows, grasping the laptop. "No shit?"
"How did she even find you?"
"I've no idea. She's apparently got this underground revolution happening with the Trolls and she and Feferi are gonna go into cahoots!"
The smile fades from Jade's face, and she looks down at her nails. She's trying not to tell you something, you know your twin too well.
"What's the matter, Jade?"
"I--well, something really strange has been happening here. I guess it's because of the case, but--John, people are leaving little trolls out to die."
"Oh, god." You turn the volume down and scoot close, hoping the kids didn't hear. "Leaving them out how?"
You carry the laptop into the kitchen, far from the classroom. Better to talk about this away from young ears.
"Like, in ditches...cardboard boxes…Dave found one."
"Dave? Dave Strider? Shit, really?"
"Yeah, he took him in. But like…two weeks later another one showed up. It's a really scary trend."
"I wish I could take them here." You were already doing the math--more beds, more rooms.
"East coast, fuckass."
"Seriously, Jade, that word's so middle school, and the kids are listening!"
"You're in the kitchen!"
"But I mean, they're okay?"
"Yeah, they're fine. Doctor Z and I treated them ourselves. You should really say hi to Dave, John. I think he needs friends."
"Eh, I mean, it's been so long now, he probably thinks I'm some dumb kid who trolled MMOs with him forever ago. Does he know I'm your brother?"
"He's not asked. Different last names, yanno. I've not told him about Vriska, either…"
You tip your head, snacking on some chips you keep hidden from little ones. You hope they don't spot you with junk food.
"It's not really my story to tell, John. It's hers. It's yours. Besides, it's best to keep looking ahead."
You casually glance at the clock and near choke on a chip.
"SHIT! People coming in like an hour, I need to get the kids into their baths."
Jade waves you off, laughing. "Go, go, Absent-Minded Professor."
You don't need to tell her you love her. You both know. The laptop darkens when it snaps shut.
Getting the kids into the bath and settled into bed is a trick--but you've gotten it down to a science now. You just wish you had ten pairs of hands. You fluff their pillows, read to them. Tonight it's The Little Mermaid; they like that one. You read the modern version, though. Encouraging little ones to turn into seafoam doesn't seem like a great thing to do. A kiss for each of their heads, snatching a dangling foot or hand to tuck in.
Your last guest had to come after dark. Her hours were late. You don't even let her knock--you can hear Senator barking at the end of the drive. You pad down the steps with a towel slung over one shoulder and get the door, one hand raised to knock.
You scoop her into a hug before she has time to react. She's not as posh either; gone are the business suits, she's settled instead for some bright mishmash of clothes that makes her easy to see from miles away. Terezi wraps her arms around the small of your back.
"Hello, Mr. Egbert."
You kind of shuffle her in, minding Senator at her feet. It's the zillionth time today, but you go to make her coffee.
"How are you?"
"I'm well, thank you."
She knows where to sit, and Senator instantly settles at her feet, his jaw on her knee. "How are the new batch settling in?"
"They're good, just put them to bed. So," you begin, as you set the mug carefully in her hands. "I hear someone got Vriska's Bill into congress!"
"And I hear someone chained himself to a government building and started screeching Les Miserables."
It'd been ages since you've seen her outside of a television screen. She's cut her hair again. Terezi carefully slips off Senator's bright blue vest, letting him roam free. She sighs into nothing.
There's so much silence.
"Have you gone to see her?" she asks.
"Not yet. M'going tomorrow."
"Over a year now, right?"
"Yes. Just after Christmas."
"God, I totally forgot Christmas that year, it messed me up for a long time holidaywise," you pondered. "I should have given her a Christmas. I mean, I wasn't even thinking about it…"
"I wasn't, either."
She's hiding something, the same way Jade was. You squeeze her knee, hoping to reassure her. You've never seen Terezi look so vulnerable, so--deflated.
"John," she says quietly, "John, you were right, I am a monster."
Those words have haunted you, churned the bile in your stomach. You shift to sit across from her, face her. So she could hear your voice in stereo, not only from one side.
"Terezi. Terezi, I was hurting, I was angry. You know it. I didn't mean anything I said or did then. I was grieving."
"I should have fought harder."
Her voice sounds so broken.
"I should have fought harder! I was her sister! I should have fought for her harder! I should have been holding back the needle myself, not pushing it in!"
"She asked you to-"
"She didn't know better!"
"Terezi, yes she did. Give her that. Give her that credit."
You sigh, heavy and thick. It's time you told her.
"Terezi. A month after Vriska died, Jade got her blood tests back. Terezi, her liver was in near failure--it was why she was sick. Malnutrition, bad conditions… Something--Jade tried to explain it. She was a very sick little girl. She probably wouldn't have lasted the rest of the year unless she found an exact donor--"
"Don't you think I know that?" she snapped. "I pulled her files, you idiot!"
It alarms you--when you heard from Jade about Vriska's condition, you were out of commission for almost two days. Vriska had been sick--she was dying. She must have been in terrible pain, and you had no damn idea. You could've taken her to the hospital, gotten her tested sooner, fed her the right things. You had grieved anew, as if you'd lost her twice. Terezi knew?
"I still could have fought for her, John, I could have given her that time to find a donor, to have a Christmas, John, but I saw the means to the end!"
"If she hadn't died--"
"NO. Don't you DARE tell me it's better now," she cries, and you're just so taken aback by those tears, raw and aching. "Don't you dare tell me it's better she died. Don't you dare tell me that her death was necessary."
Because I already know it, you finish for her.
"Of course it's not better. Of course not. God, Terezi, I'd give anything to have more time with her. But," you try and lift her spirits, "let's be entirely honest, Terezi, Vriska would be like the worst Make-A-Wish kid ever. She'd terrorize the hospital, she'd probably milk people to get all the chocolate she could eat or something. Vriska wouldn't have wanted that, she--"
"She wanted to go down fighting," Terezi whispered.
It hits both of you at once.
The heaviness sits on your shoulders like a pall.
She knew. She knew.
She knew and she went anyway.
"Maybe she thought it'd--be better for people after?" you ask.
"No, get real, John," Terezi laughs through her tears, and it's a lovely sound, "she just didn't wanna be reduced. She had to play hero. It's what she always did. What she always does."
You fumble around for the tissues and press the box into her hand. She uses her sleeve instead.
"God, I'm a mess!"
"You've got snot all over you."
"Gross, thank you for that unnecessary information. Redirect."
She flinches. "Sorry, habit."
"Go on. I think Vriska'd like us to redirect."
Terezi grooms herself, drying her face, her eyes, and slouching back to pretend that whole ordeal didn't happen while she tucked those thoughts away for later.
"Did she make her way here? Mindfang?"
You slapped your knees with both hands. Of fucking course.
"I knew it! I knew you sent her!"
"She was a slippery bitch to find, but I expected nothing less," her voice is dry now, wry, "I sent her your way as a birthday present for Vriska."
It occurs to you what you just said to a blind woman.
"No, I think so too. She's very beautiful. Beautiful like she was."
Her tea's cold, she sets it aside, stretching out her feet. A whistle is enough to bring Senator to her. The hardest part is over. You sink into conversation like a warm bath, discussing the kids, their schooling. Any new cases to come in. The building project. Other homes. Vriska dances around your conversations, graceful and lithe.
It was almost midnight by the time a little one padded down to the top steps. It's Cypris, her braid down and a heavy book in her arms.
"John," she whines down the stairs, "Kiojah had a nightmare."
You sigh. Indigos are prone to them. Your knees crack when you stand.
"I'll see myself out," Terezi says, snapping Senator's vest back on.
"You can't see yourself out of anywhere."
"Ooo, I'll need to save that one for later." She offers one hand, and you take it.
"Have you got a ride?"
"Squad car's always on call for me, DA's office or no. Wee-woo."
Your charge is impatient, but curious, hiding behind your legs.
"Are you Miss Pyrope?"
"Yes, I am, little one. Miss Cypris, was it?"
And bless you, your girl curtsies with her nightgown and shakes her hand.
"Thank you for sending me to Mr. Egbert," she piped.
You can't help but bend down to scoop her up, squeeze her tight. The others have followed her down, reaching up. You can pull most of them into your arms--the rest cling, hug your neck. Your hands are full. Your heart is full.
Terezi closes her eyes--listening, you think, to all of those little heartbeats around you.
"I am glad to have someone like him to send you to. Everything will be well."
You know she can't see you waving, but you make them all wave to her anyway, a tiny chorus of goodbyes and come-again-soons. She disappears down the block, her chin level with the dark horizon and her shoulders proudly back. There’s the woman you know.
The night was late, too late for little eyes. You needed to take them in. You’d rehang the portrait of Vriska by the door in the morning. She was gone. She was still here. And you are glad of her.
As you ascend the steps, the children hang from you like leaves on a great tree, and you are happy to support their weight.