Chapter 1: Delivery
She is delivered on a Tuesday.
This is not what you intended when you signed up to be a foster home. At the most you got starving kittens or beaten dogs. One time you got a horse with an infected hoof, that was a real doozy. Either way, a bit of love and nursing to health, then his charges would be ready for trial, and a rewarding, happy home.
If you can choke back the pun, this is another critter entirely. Like most of your cases she arrives in a steel crate, a leather muzzle fastened over her jaw. She's sedated- her mouth slack, prickly limbs curled defensively against her body.
"She'll be down for a few more hours. Don't take her from the crate- this one's dangerous."
You'd seen trolls on television and YouTube, they were popular exotic pets with celebrities. Certain breeds were even useful for guide pets and companion animals for the elderly. Since they were almost-sentient, of course. Almost.
Those trolls were well-groomed, sometimes even wearing outfits more expensive than their human counterparts'. This one is barely dressed at all, wearing only a dingy, pale scrub top. You knew enough to know the mottling of cerulean bruises were not markings on her grey skin.
"Wow," you breathe as you crouch to meet her, "What even happened? She looks like she got in a fight with a lawnmower and lost."
That explains the tight bandages around her knuckles and chest, the vicious scarring on her legs, and perhaps her most grotesque feature. One eye is gone- the wound sewn shut clumsily, scar tissue black and burnt. She's a pile of sharp ribs, elbows, matted dark hair and jutting knees, and you want to help her so desperately it makes your insides churn like the sea.
It's too little. Let her out. What did she do? She's not the criminal here.
"No lawnmower, just another troll. Picked her up from a fighting ring. She's a champ if she lived. It should only be a few days, swift and speedy trial and all. I know it's a bit different than your normal fare, John, but can you take her?"
The troll squirms, trying to find a comfortable place on the cage's floor and deciding there simply isn't one. Her body heaves a sigh- rattling the rest of her with it. Dealing would simply be necessary. Five fingers, you note. She's got five little fingers that curl and fist at the bars, torn and bloody from cracking against bone.
"Sure. Does she have a name?"
"Not that she's told us."
Moving her crate does not even stir her. The officer left you with a flimsy pamphlet on Troll care, and basic supplies. In the meantime, you flop across your sofa and flip through the brightly-colored gloss paper. The trolls in the photos were smiling and bright-eyed, with rows of perfect white teeth, like plastic dolls.
Too creepy. Their eyes are hollow! Weird.
All you saw of her teeth were the two sharp fangs that overhung her swollen blue lips, shielded by her muzzle.
Her owner must have called her something.
The sedative must have really wiped her out. Hours later, She's still asleep- she hadn't even budged from her crumpled little ball. Not stretched even once or resettled. This at least gave you time to moderately "troll-proof" the house. Bullshit, you were not going to let her languish inside that crate the whole of her stay. Your house was small- but it was tidy for the most part. The old family home, in a comfortable suburb. It seemed far more aligned to a small, young family than a young twenty-something, but you wouldn't give it up for anything. Besides, the yard is nice, and your swing is still there.
You turn back to your charge, still slumped against the bars.
The floor of that crate CANNOT be comfy. It'd be like sleeping on a rock. Do trolls care? I mean. Sure they do. But hell, cats sleep upside-down on broken lightbulbs.
Hm. Judging from all the bandages, she's probably more comfortable asleep than awake to begin with. You can only guess what the injuries are. It's written somewhere on the manifest. You flip through the papers- broken ribs, cracked knuckles, hipbone, multiple bruises on her head. Yeah, it's probably best you just let her sleep. But you have to feed her eventually, right? trolls have opposable thumbs, so the bindings on her muzzle were made especially tricky. You trust the drugs to do their job as you unlatch the crate and reach inside. First things first- you wipe her down with a warm sponge. Dogs needed baths, groomed themselves- you assumed trolls were somewhere in between. And some animals couldn't have contact with water. You didn't want to get it wrong.
Her face fits into the cup of your palm. The dry, taught texture of her skin makes you draw back. She needed water. Can trolls use straws? Do they need a bottle?
A water bottle should be good enough- you find one somewhere in your mess of a pantry, hiding behind cake mixes you never used but like to keep for familiarity. From a distance you can see how tiny she is, huddled in the corner of her crate. It broke your heart to see dogs nervously bunched up like this, tail between their legs- but seeing her this way is a feeling you can't quite describe. You press the cap down on the bottle, now full of fresh water. It's better than a bowl she could kick over.
She's both too small and too big at the same time. Too slim to seem healthy, and definitely too tall to be jammed into this little cell. You support her cheek gingerly with your hand as you slip the muzzle off. Her nose is bandaged and crooked- probably broken, too. Even her face bears needlethin scars. Once the leather is worked off, you can gently lay her head back down to the threadbare, thin blanket. She should have a pillow at least. But she'd probably shred it. Among your supplies you were given some of the Betty Crocker© TrollChow™, a bland bag of pellets that more resembled shredded cardboard than food. Still, if it's what's best for trolls, then that's what you leave for her in a little bowl at her feet. Only then does she squirm, drawing her legs away from your touch.
Poor thing. What do trolls eat in the wild? Are there even wild trolls? Where do they come from? How long have they been domesticated? Can they use a litter box?
This is going to take some googling.
You'd nodded off, trusty laptop slid off the sofa onto the piles of god-knows-what-John-Egbert-debris scattered around your living space. Troll googling and youtube came before cleaning, obviously.
Did I leave the TV on?
It's soft, raspy- and bored- Phone message?
You'd almost forgotten your new housemate, when you notice your charge is sitting up, the bowl of chow balanced in the fold of her legs. She eats like how children eat cereal- grabbing two fistfuls at a time and mashing them into her mouth. Save for the hooked horns and grey skin, some instinctual part of you wants to let this kid out of the box.
"Hi?" It's the first time you've had an assignment talk back at you.
"So did my owner get caught or whatever?"
For such a little voice, it's gaining volume awful fast.
"Um." Glorious response there, Egbert.
"Man, you must be dumb. I guess they did. They were dumb, too. Dumb! Letting themselves get caught." Another mouthful of chow- she chews openmouthed like a naughty child.
"I'm not dumb!" You're arguing with a troll. You are so dumb. Well done, John. You scrub a hand across your nose, drag it down your eyes. "Do you have a name?"
"Vriska," she cheeped, puffing up, "Prizefighter, champion!"
"Well Vriska, I'm John. Can you at least chew with your mouth closed? That's gross."
She rams her face against the bars and chews as obnoxiously as she can.
Work is dull- or as dull as working in Sassacre's Novelty and Magic shop might be. It was a quiet afternoon and only a few brats came in trying to snatch your trick bubblegum that glues your teeth shut. You hated wagging the hammer at them. Sometimes you wonder what it'd be like if you'd gone to college. But you love the shop too much to think of doing anything else. You'd forgotten it- no, her, no, Vriska, until you came home, a bag of groceries under one arm. She's curled on her side on the floor of her crate, just as you left her. For all of the warnings, she seemed easy to care for. Like a hamster!
Frozen foods go in first- you indulge in some Gushers without even putting the box away. Mmm, delicious processed gummy sweets. In the quiet you can hear her gasping. Casually you wander to her crate, licking the gushers goop off your fingers. Oh. Not a hamster. Judging from the mess in the corner of the crate- she's gotten ill.
"Vriska?" It's strange to ask after one of your animals and expect a response now, "Vriska, c'mon."
She whines to you. "John, I don't feel good."
"No shit," you snap at her- and instantly feel guilt for being so harsh, "Come on."
Tentatively you unlatch her crate- praying she doesn't leap and scratch your face off instantly. She hasn't nearly the energy for that. Her eye only twitches up to watch you. You're not sure how to pick her up- with cats you support their tail and their chest- dogs their neck and side… How do you pick up a Troll? Trolls are relatively person-shaped. So you slip one hand under her knees, and the other against her spiky shoulders. She's hot to the touch, damp with sweat. Picking Vriska up is like holding a coiled spring- every skinny inch of her is wound muscle, waiting to lash and strike. Poor thing.
This close, you could suddenly smell her. Ew.
A bath. Bath first.
"Vriska," you begin patiently, "You need a bath. Can you wash?"
Her head bobs against you. One arm cradling her, you take her into the harsh light of the bathroom. She hisses, burying closer.
"Shh, I'm sorry! Let me get the light."
You flip off a few, leaving the bathroom a dark violet glow, only enough to see by. A lukewarm bath would be best. Nothing too hot or too cold for her system, and not too deep. Certainly you didn't want her bandages getting wet, you don't know how to replace them. You knew that trolls have bizarre body temperatures that varied depending on their blood. Weird. From what little you knew, blue fell into a chillier category. In one swift motion you slip her in and pull away the shirt, back turned. You're grateful for the thick suds obscuring all of… god, what do trolls even have? This is so awkward.
For a long, long time she just soaks, drinking in the heat and comfort. It doesn't take long for the bathwater to turn a dingy color. You offer a scrubby, and she takes it, hands sluggish. At the very least, you can manage her hair. It takes half a bottle of your Pert Plus It Was On Sale Whatever shampoo to finally scrub it clean, and no shortage of cries and shouts from Vriska when approached with a comb. But by the time the water cools, you can at least run a wide-toothed comb through it, and Vriska is too exhausted to fight you. The water and suds drained- and before anything could be seen you swept her up in a thirsty towel.
She's fascinated with the hairdryer, batting at the air with her hands. Her jaw is still slack- you think to try and release the tightness from the muzzle from the day before. Once her hair was dry enough- you grab the first shirt you can find that's clean- some humongous number with a ghost on the front, and pull it over her head. It was a bit hard to navigate the neckhole over her horns at first. So here she stood, this battered troll, asleep on her feet and swaying. You lightly touch her back for permission. She lifts her elbows, enough to let you lift her again.
At least she seems comfortable with letting you pick her up. She's lethargic, sagging in your arms as if she might just melt right through them into the floor, and it bothers you. Where was the troll that gnashed her breakfast at you hours earlier? You leave the bathroom to carry her to your bedroom.
In your research last night you learned trolls nested in piles. Anything would do, really. Piles of newspapers, dvds, piles of broomsticks. It didn't matter. Most owners swore by nesting material, or let their trolls select items from the house to clump together. These were the crazy owners who referred to their trolls as their "grey children," and had Bible verses in their forum signatures. Still, the concept of a cuddly-soft nest made sense to sleep in. In this messed up hole in the wall, though, there was a severe lack of tinder for it. Soft toys were more your sister Jade's deal. You own exactly one soft toy, a ragged, patchwork toy rabbit from a zillion birthdays ago that sits on a high shelf sandwiched between DVDs.
Vriska was light, birdlike. Her hands feebly pressed against you, she whined "noooooooo" in a tinny wail. You sought pillows- blankets- anything. A shoebox of a house had little to yield. Ugh. Fuck it. You carry her into the only bedroom and spread her out on your squashy mattress, propped against the puffy pillow. The room was quiet, with only one window and thick curtains. It could be cool and hushed for her. Even just carrying her inside, you felt her physically relax. She's never laid out flat like this, it's obvious. She's stiff, confused and delirious from fever.
Your bed's a complete mess- the sheet had slithered off somewhere in incomprehensible knots and the comforter was wadded up on the floor, but you spread both over her neatly and tuck the ends in the mattress, almost a feeble attempt to buckle her in. She shudders, her chest heaving, bandages twisting with each breath. Absently you smooth over the covers over and over, hoping to right her with touch.
"Shit," you grumble, "Who do I even call? I mean, what do I even do? Call a vet?"
"No vets!" She screamed, thrashing little hands, "No vets!"
"OK, OK, shush, don't. Damnit, you were fine earlier!"
"The food you gave me made me sick," she whined and flopped back, making a concerted effort to look as pitiful as possible.
You consider her- and the small bump on her skinny stomach, just beneath her ribs.
"How much did you eat?"
"All of it," She huffed, "Of course. Never seen that much food in my life!" She held both hands over her head. "My life!"
Dammit. You sigh, pinch the bridge of your nose hard enough to upset your glasses.
"Vriska, that was supposed to last you all day!"
"How was I supposed to know you were coming back?" She snarled.
You haven't an answer for her now. She's equally quiet, groaning and writhing against the bed as if she had caught the plague. Of course. She's not used to normal meals. Even crummy TrollChow™ was probably too rich for her stomach. God knows what her previous owner fed her. If he fed her at all.
"You've just got a tummy ache," you sigh and press a hand to her head, "Sleep it off."
While you had just carried her and tucked her in, hell, you even bathed her- the touch to her head must have been too intimate. In a flash her teeth have sunken down in the tender skin between your thumb and forefinger, and latched on tight. The sound you make is not exactly human and more of a startled shriek. She continues to clamp down.
Dogs, cats, and other assorted fauna have bitten you- but this is entirely different, entirely alien. Her fangs tangibly flex in your skin like a spider's, threatening to inject venom. Her good eye is locked on you, gaging your reaction. After the initial, er, manly bellow, you calm, sweat beading down your neck.
Don't give her the upper hand. It's just like a dog bite. Don't show fear. Don't reward her.
"Vriska," you say calmly, "Let go. We won't have any of that."
Her eye narrows- blue and ringed in dark circles. She studies you- and slowly, slowly releases your hand. The fangs make an audible pop as they uncork from the skin. She hadn't bitten hard enough to draw blood, but she runs her tongue across the spot and murmurs.
The apology almost seems sincere as she turns over under the covers and buries her face against the pillow. Now you know not to touch her head, at least. Slowly you ease onto the bed, your own bed, god how ridiculous, perched on the side. She's quieting already, comforted by the softness surrounding her. It shows on her face, the way the pinched features ease, the way her brow slowly untwists. The bath soaps and shampoo left her smelling sweet, like vanilla. Your hand ghosts the fibers of the quilt before you lay it against her side. She jerks into a wary knot- but you weave your hand in swirls along her side- her shoulders. Your Nanna did this for you when you were small and couldn't sleep, maybe it could help her?
The expression she gives you is so wearily, heartbreakingly human. Grateful. Pained. Exhausted.
"Get some rest, Vriska. You're safe here, OK?"
"OK." Her face falls to the down, and she is gone.
Chapter 2: Letters and Numbers
Vriska sleeps through the night, still and quiet in your bed. You do too, though it's spent on the couch, so by morning your hair resembles a porcupine and your drool left funny marks on your cheek. Thank god it's your day off. Unlike your buddy Dave- you never quite adjusted to sleeping in and all-nighters. Your dad kept you on a strict sleeping "schedule" until you were out of high school. Besides, it meant you get to watch all the awesome morning cartoons. Sweet. Adventure Time and then all those baby shows. Not to say cartoons were for babies, of course not, cartoons are for cool people such as yourse-
"You have a TV?" Vriska stands in the doorway- she's drug every cover and blanket and pillow with her, a moving pile.
"Oh, sure," You trip over your words- how do you talk to her? She chats with you like an equal.
Is she an equal? Vriska's not even been here forty-eight hours and she's already thrown your sense awareness straight into the gutter. The trolls you'd seen on TV were meek and sweet, babbled like infants- not chat to you like a friend. Or some messed up Vriska-version of friendship. You almost don't hear her as she casually strolls to the sofa.
"I wasn't allowed to watch the TV. I was in the kennels."
The little troll struggles to climb up beside you with all of her stolen covers, pushing you to the corner of your own damn sofa. Once she's situated, she sinks down in the pile comfortably, staring at the TV with an odd expression that fluttered between genuine curiosity and forced disinterest. Even with all of the sleep- she still looks exhausted. It's like she just can't get enough rest, even in a hundred days. But god help her, this raggedy little troll, she looks adorable wound up in quilts with her cheek mushed atop the pillow. Sometimes it was hard to even see the grey.
"Do you want cereal? I'm having some."
You'll have to mind her portions. She could still get sick- don't want that. First off, it was a mess for you to clean, second, it was discomfort for her. You've not even had her in your care for more than two days, but the last thing you want is for this little troll to be in pain for even a minute. She's noticed your fond regard.
"What're you staring at, John? I want some!"
The sass back from your pet charges is still new, though. You scramble to pour her a little ramekin full- just enough to be a bowl for her little hands- and enough not to make her lose it if she eats too quickly. You fetch a bowl for yourself.
"Do you want milk, Vriska?"
That's sort of a cute feature of Vriska's- she seems to elongate words and talk in sing-song, like a cheeping bird. It's really incredible how short amount of time it took for you to be endeared to her. Why exactly were you pouring milk in a bowl for a pet? Because you'd lost control of your life.
"Yes, what, Vriska?"
She stares at you, dumbfounded.
That pains you- you aren't upset with her. The way she squeaks "sir," makes her shrink into her protective nest of quilts. Your heart clenches in your chest, and you find yourself passing her the bowl before you even remember walking to her side.
"Yes, please, Vriska."
"You're welcome." She takes the bowl and munches- openmouthed again.
"Close your mouth."
She does- and you realize it must be hard to chew that way with such big fangs- and decide to praise her for the effort.
"What do you want to watch? Are cartoons OK?"
Her head bobs up and down as she makes short work of her little mini bowl. As the title "Adventure Time!!1!" shoots across the screen, Vriska nearly topples herself from the sofa, pointing enthusiastically with one hand.
"What does that say?"
"…You can't read, can you?"
"No," a pitying jab, "Of course not. Pets don't read, fighters don't read. That's for people to do."
She rolls her eyes- but your stomach hits your heels and you don't want your cereal anymore. Here's this troll- no. No, here's this little girl- no. She's a little troll girl. What do you tell her? That's right, Vriska, people read, you're not a person. You're not a real person as you sit here by me, curled up and eating cereal and watching cartoons out of one eye because the other- no, Vriska, of course you're not a person, no, Vriska, of course you're not worth it.
Who decided trolls should be kept like this? Where did they even come from before this?
You must have been making a troubled face, because she nudges you with one foot, then the next, still wrapped up in the quilt. It's a bit like getting rabbit-kicked by a five-year-old. Wait, how is it different than that? Ugh. This is so complicated. You fish for the remote.
"I know what we should watch."
"Not the funny cat-hat boy and the dog?"
"No, something better," You mumble, trying to remember the number for the public broadcast station.
The channel switches to a brightly colored world with puppets. Vriska wrinkles her nose- but when the puppets began to speak and hold up letters- she lifts her head. Her ears, tipped like a lynx, twitch to attention, and she utterly ignores you. She's transfixed by the screen, jaw dropped and eye wide.
"Today is brought to you by the letter… V!" Ernie explains.
"V! Vriska, that's what your name starts with."
She gasped, repeating. "V! V!"
"V for Vriska!"
"V for Vriska!!!!!!!!" She cheers, holding up both hands- and spilling her cereal bowl entirely.
The Cocoa Puffs tumble down to the carpet with a splat. Both of you observe this as if in slow motion- and are still as it makes impact. She turns to you, squaring her shoulders with an impish smile.
At least Vriska had something to do while you worked now. You show her how to work the TV- and not accidentally order the porn channels- just by pushing the button on so she could see Bert and Ernie and that funny red one. She's contentedly munching again on the sofa when you leave her- and part of you is sad she doesn't throw a fit or whimper when you go. Then again, you remember, she's been left alone her whole life. It's what she's used to.
She's on your mind all day at work. Kids come into the shop all the time to play with the gags and novelties. They laugh like breathing. You've not heard Vriska laugh yet. Of course she can laugh, right? You're so wrapped up wondering if trolls' vocal cords can make the right shapes you nearly miss checking a customer out. Several times during the day you consider slipping back to the house- a quick walk- and checking on her. What if she decimated the house while you were gone? The center said she was "very dangerous", but other than a warning-bite, she's not hurt you once.
While your mind's wandering, your eye travel across the merchandise to an eyepatch prop. It's much better than those crappy plastic ones you sell for kids. It's fabric and "fancy", with an elastic cord. It's not meant for medical cases, of course- but you think of Vriska's eye- all exposed and-
No, ugly is not the word you're thinking. It just is so… there. You scoop up the eyepatch and pocket it. You'll take it from inventory later. Right now you need to focus on running the shop and not the little troll all by herself in your house. You do very, very poorly at this.
It didn't help matters when you shove the door open with your shoulder after a long day- she's already there waiting for you. Has she been sitting there this whole time? She scrambles to her feet, mouth already running, eager to impress.
"Today is broughttoyou by theletter EIGHT, John! Eight!"
"Woah, Hi, Vriska." You dodge her feet as she jumps, seemingly determined to jump on your toes- you've had dogs more excitable than this.
"Eight! Spiders have EIGHT legs! And EIGHT eyes! Half of EIGHT is four, but four is boring because EIGHT nine!"
She must soak up information like a sponge. This is insane. Kids have whole lessons for weeks to learn what she figured out in a morning of Sesame Street. You wonder where her mental development is on a human kid- she's extremely well-versed, though she's as small, or smaller than a kindergartener. Then again, your Vriska was smart. When did she become yours, anyway?
"Eight is my FAVORITE letter," she says breathlessly.
Right in the doorway, you plop down to meet her eyes and little rough face with a smile.
"Eight's a number, Vriska! V's a letter."
"What's the difference?" She stamps one foot- it occurs to you she's still just wearing a shirt.
"Well, letters make words and names. Like Vriska and Spider," you explain- and then take her hand to make eight fingers, "And Numbers make bigger numbers. Like eight and eighteen!"
When she draws her hands away, you know you've made a mistake touching her so intimately. Soon you realize, though, she's trying to hold up eight fingers without your help, and struggling- her hands are still wrapped tight in bandages, making it hard to move each finger individually.
"Here… tuck your thumbs in. There you go! Eight! Can you count to eight?"
"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, Vriska."
"That's what I said!" She huffed, hands on her little hips.
The shirt she's wearing- one of yours, is short on her. Oh. Um. Well, having a person-shaped pet is. Problematic in many ways. I mean, she's not human- of course- but even so, seeing those skinny, bruised legs makes you think that any minute Chris Hansen is going to bust in and tell you to take a seat.
"Uh. Vriska, we're gonna have to get you some clothes, OK?"
"Clothes? More than this?"
She tugged on the shirt hem curiously- raising the hem. You turn around fast enough to near give yourself whiplash.
"Yes. Clothes. Those."
As you stand up she scurries around your ankles anxiously and follows you into the bedroom. Considering you're easily four times her height- it's not like you can wear pants. But you have some shorts she can cuff. They're easy and comfortable to wear. You dig them from the back of your closet- underneath the pop-o-matic and the boxes of pokemon cards. They're wrinkly, no one cares. You pass them to her and quickly face the wall.
"…How do I put them on?" Vriska mumbles and pulls them over her head, letting her horns stick out each leg.
"No, just… look, step in each leg, pull up- then I'll belt it…"
"Why don't you look?" It's honest.
"B-because, that's a part of you I shouldn't look at! It's not modest!"
"My owner always looked."
It's not even sad. She says this matter-of-factly, her brand of normalcy. You can't help turning, watching her hold up the huge shorts on her tiny body. They could wrap around her twice. The belt does. You fasten it tight- and before you can stop yourself, you've swept her close in your arms and crushed her to your chest. The regret is instant as she goes stiff. Dammit. Fuck, she's going to go for your jugular and rip it out. The end, worst episode of CSI ever.
Inch by inch she loosens, from the tip of her horns to the ends of her toes- and she sags into your grip. She was secure enough you could stand, lift her up, hold her against you even tighter. She was just too little for this. Your little, unbreakable Vriska, made of steel and iron and snapped all the same. Your hands muss at her hair, matted and tangled, and you rest your cheek on top of her head- right between her horns, narrowly missing your eyes.
"It's OK, John," she paps your back with a little hand. "Your sad face is ugly."
You forget the eyepatch. She's fine as she is.
The laundry schedule is not built for two. Especially not a troll who seems to have a talent of spilling things on herself and tearing holes in your old favorite shirts with her claws. You wait until Vriska's enthralled by another episode of Sesame Street to call the Animal Control office. She's shrieking along with the songs and numbers- and always interjecting her favorite number. Eight! Eight eight eight! It almost screws you up when you type in the extension.
"Hello, this is John Egbert-"
"What's the troll destroyed now?"
"What? Nothing! Well. Sort of, she knocked a vase over, but no big deal, I'm pretty sure that mastiff I had one time was worse, listen-"
"That was a liability you signed up for-"
God, you hate government officials.
"Listen. Vriska needs some clothes. I can't have her running around in mine, they don't fit. Can I take her out?"
"Vriska? She told you her name?"
"Oh… Yeah. First day."
"We couldn't get a peep out of her. We'll make note of it for the trial."
The case in question was dancing awkwardly with the puppets, swinging her arms about like pinwheels. You lean against the kitchen doorframe just to watch her a few minutes. She could be anyone's kid right now, save for the fangs, horns and… well, everything else. But the baggy pants, the big shirt, her messy hair tied back in a clumsy braid and a scrunchy you stole from your sister… What is Vriska? What is she to you?
"Mr. Egbert, that troll is exceedingly dangerous. I can't tell you more because of the trial. But it wouldn't be prudent to take her outside."
"What if I put her muzzle on? She'll go crazy in here."
"She's already crazy, John-"
"NO, SHE ISN'T!" You roar into the phone.
Vriska's never heard you raise your voice- immediately she finds a spot under the table to hide. You can see her quivering from here, little hands over her soft ears. Shit. Shit, that is not ok. This is not ok. You collect your scattered, angry thoughts.
"I'll be very careful. She just needs to get out and be in fresh air. Please."
"Alright. But you'll have to muzzle her."
"Thank you, America's proud." You slam the phone onto the cradle hard enough you can hear the plastic crack.
She's whimpering. It's a pathetic, totally un-Vriska sound. Your head hurts. Ugh, why are trolls such a handful? You're increasingly grateful to your dad.
God rest his soul.
You wish you could ask him for help on this. She's stopped simpering at least- and has opted to creep from her hiding place to your feet on all-fours- her hair on end. It's awkward- and so funny-looking it makes you laugh, a disarming chuckle.
"Don't worry, Vriska, it's just bad people. Come on, we're going outside. Do you want to go outside?"
All of the anxiety leaves her face at once, and she's bouncing up and down again. "Outside! Outside!"
At least that took the fear from her eye. She's running in circles around the den, tripping over her pantlegs only to jump right back up and continue her excited rampage through your belongings. Where did you put that muzzle, anyway? It's still in her crate- you grab it, and one of the harness-leashes you used at one point on another case. Thankfully it still has the yellow ribbon tied to the lead to warn other people not to come pet her. As soon as you approach her with the items, though, Vriska pancakes herself against the wall.
"Noooooooo!" She cries, squirming and thrashing against nothing at all.
"C'mon! If we go out you have to wear this!"
You look down at the muzzle- it's leather, with bars across the mouth. Like, Hannibal Lecter style. Vriska may be a brat, but she's not a fucking monster. Guilt bubbles up in you- but you don't want to be caught...
"I won't bite, promise promise!"
"…Fine, but I at least need to leash you."
You've handled snarling mastiffs, screeching cats and clawing ferrets- and you are about to be undone by one crying troll having a temper tantrum. Her body goes limp as soon as you buckled the leash on. Ah. The deadman defense.
She's drug along the floor, giving the most pitiful "I am the worst troll in the universe feel sorry for meeeeeeee" face that she could, and a whine that could be an entire sentence on its own
"Oh for god's sakes."
You stuff her under one arm, minding her ribs and wounds, and stalk to your car. Dammit, you hate letting her have her way, and yet she's already got you wound around her little finger. The smug-ass smile on her face would be enough to tell you that.
Not a single inch of the lawn is unscrutinized as Vriska explores. She gives your tire swing a poke, darts to smell the tree. It smells like so many animals, John! It should smell like me! You stop her from whipping off her pants in front of the neighbors. Underwear, that'd be a thing, too, wouldn't it?
Thankfully the closest superstore is not too far to drive. Your Prius has a little crate equipped in the back and you set Vriska inside. Your heart does a little flipflop as you think about there not being seatbelts, but you tell her to stay very still. Vriska gives you the most patronizing sigh in the world and promises.
You swear to god you go maybe 10 miles per hour. Vriska waves at the people honking, shouting and throwing one-fingered salutes.
Over the horns you can hear her cheep, "Yuuuuuuuup, seeya later!"
Thirty minutes pass that should have taken five, but you arrive at the conspicuously bright red super center unscathed and let Vriska down. The leash just seems wrong- it's not bothered you before- but why leash her when you can hold her hand? She's tall enough. Before you can offer it, Vriska's already bolting off and you're suddenly very grateful for the leash. Looks like she's walking you to the store, then.
There's a brief flicker of worry- Vriska's never been in public, it could be a sensory overload. She got sick from just a little bit too much cereal.
But as soon as Vriska bursts through the doors- she begins a carefully concocted, jaded saunter, her hands in her ridiculously large pockets. For her, her leash is jewelry, and she's walking her pet John Egbert to the store.
You play along.
Almost everything in the girls' section her size is a disgusting pastel shade of Pepto Bismol- both of you grimace. Ew. The boy's section is far more accommodating to her. Yes. Good, big t-shirts with skulls! And pirates!!!!!!!! She must like pirates, because her chirrups are off the scale when she finds a shirt with a ship on it. By the end of this you have an armful of clothes and a troll still wandering to pick more. It certainly didn't take long for her to get greedy.
"Now, Vriska…" You begin.
Damn. She knows how well-armed she is with that pitiful 'just beaten' face. She even brushes her hair aside to show you her missing eye. Ugh, fine. You sneak a few things she's conveniently forgotten about back on the racks. It's only then you notice the employees, a small gaggle of them snickering behind the accessories rounder.
"There's brands for trolls, you know," One adds helpfully, "If you can't afford them…"
"Is it your service animal? Because I mean, no pets allowed… But it's totally cool if it is!"
Before you can sheepishly shoo them off- Vriska interjects.
"I'm not an it, I'm Vriska, and I'm a champion, and I'll rip your face right off."
She delivers this with such confidence just damn moxy it stuns them silent. Merchandise in one hand, troll in the other, you bolt down to the other side of the store, cursing the high heavens that you were given a court case pet that talked. Couldn't they have sent a parrot?
Even so- She's laughing. She's laughing and it's such a sweet, unrestrained sound. It's more cackling than laughing, really, but it's triumphant and powerful and- and you're just so amazed. Here's this bruised, broken, tormented little troll, and here she is, laughing at the world that hurt her.
You set her back on her feet- they make a soft slap against the floor. Oh. She'd need shoes, wouldn't she? Troll feet are tougher on the soles, but even then. She just looked helpless with her feet peeping out.
Vriska is anything but helpless.
You'd ran all the way to the toy aisle. Shit. If she was bad with clothes, she might be worse with toys. So you thought- but she looks at the baubles curiously, unsure.
"What are the little people for?" She asks, pointing to a row of brightly colored CookingTime™ Barbie dolls sporting Betty Crocker© Aprons.
"Oh, uh. Those are dolls, Vriska. Little girls play with them."
Please, for the love of everything sacred, don't let her be a Barbie girl. You'll be stepping on Barbie shoes for the rest of your life.
Wait, when did Vriska become a part of the rest of your life?
"That's dumb," She sneers.
"I think so, too," That's a relief.
In the same aisle, though, something catches your eye and wanders from you. Instinctively, you tug her lead. She stares back at you with great amusement- takes the lead in one hand and gives it a righteous tug- enough to upset your footing.
"Come on, John," she drawls.
"Come on, John, what?"
You are going to get this through to her. If anything she'll stun the court with her manners.
"Come on, John, dumbass."
"You say it," she huffs.
Any of your grumblings fall on deaf ears, as she inspects something in front of her. At least it isn't pink. It's a bright blue set of fairy wings- the kind that strap on over your shoulders, not that you've ever worn any. While sober, anyway. You are pretty sure you had Dave destroy those photos…
"Oh, uh, they're fairy wings, Vriska. You wear them to play pretend."
This is definitely not a conversation you thought you would be having three days ago. Or, hell, ever. You signed up to take care of puppies and kittens when an enthusiastic ASPCA member thrust a brochure at you. You did not want to have… this. This little kid. Even calling her a troll seems wrong. Trolls are monsters that hide under bridges. This is a kid. A kid who's picking out pirate ship shirts and admiring fairy wings in the same afternoon.
Playing pretend came so easily to you, didn't it? You used to play pretend with your Dad- he would sit crouched at your feet while you preformed mundane magic tricks- badly, of course. But he would clap and cheer as if you were Houdini himself. Even now, you played pretend. Perhaps you never stopped.
A harsh scratch on the PA interrupted your thoughts and the droning muzak.
"Security, report to the Toy and Games aisle."
Shit. You scoop Vriska up in one hand and make way to the exit- hoping to check out and escape with your life.
Dammit. You liked this Target.
Vriska's clothes sure are small. Your cheeks color as you unwrap the package of brightly-colored underoos. Spiderman. She insisted. They were boys' pants- because like hell were you going to try and figure out the sizes on the My Little Pony ones, and both of you agreed that having Princess Celestia grinning at you from your "nook", as she called it, was hella creepy. Vriska, on the other hand, is building a happy pile of clothes to roll in triumphantly. It's sort of cute, watching her build her own pile.
And then, she reaches into one voluminous pant leg and produces- those damned fairy wings, tag hanging innocently from one strap.
"Oh, fuck, Vriska, where did you get those?"
"Target," her eye rolls, "Duh."
You snatch the wings from her with shaking hands. Stolen. Stolen fairy wings. Your troll stole. She stole fairy wings, Good god, your troll stole fairy wings from Target.
John Egbert you are going to be arrested. You are going to be arrested from your troll stealing fucking fairy wings from Target.
"VRISKA," you shout at her- not about her, at her.
Instinct kicks in- her hair raises and her eye goes wide- and she shoots to hide- but you are faster, and seize her little wrist. She cries out from the pain- and struggles against you, bites and gnaws at your hand, but you aren't done with her.
"Vriska, you can't take stuff from stores! It's wrong! It's stealing, Vriska, It's STEALING, and it's BAD! You're BAD, Vriska! VERY bad."
She stilled. This was the voice you used when dogs peed on your rug, or chewed up the legs of your tables. Judging by the look of horror on her face- this was not the voice to use. Your resolve threatens to shatter into pieces.
"You can hit me if you want," She does her best to sound flippant, "It makes people feel better sometimes."
Don't crumple. Don't bend. You kneel to her- softening your grip on her wrist but keeping her firm all the same. You don't let her get away with this pity-baiting, as much as it breaks your heart into shards. You ignore her comment and continue, voice quieter.
"Vriska. Why did you take these? Why didn't you just ask me?"
"They were eight whole dollars," she huffed, "And eight is the biggest number there is, and so I took it. Then it's free."
Vriska read that. She read the tag. She read and understood.
This is not a pet.
You don't know what the fuck she is. She's not your child. But she's a person, goddammit. She's not a cat or a dog or anything that should be yelled at like they piddled on the rug. Most importantly, she's yours, and you'll settle with that until you can hammer the rest into the rest of the world.
"It's not free, Vriska," You explain, releasing her, "You have to pay for things. If you wanted them, I would have bought them for you. Honest."
She doesn't understand. Her soft ears are pressed back- and she's dropped her chin to her chest, pointing her horns outward defensively. Come to think of it, being gored by those things would not be pretty. Her arms are pinned to her sides, her heels together like a little soldier. You take the wings from her, slipping the straps over her little bony arms. The wings jingle a little, and you know they're going to get pixiedust all over your house.
But the little, lopsided smile that creeps up her lips damns everything to hell.
"See, look how pretty," you croon to her, adjusting a bent wing.
"You aren't going to hit me?"
Enough was enough- you sweep Vriska right up into your arms, goofy baggy pants, glittery wings, scars and all.
"Never, ever ever. No one will ever hit you again."
Her little hands cling to the back of your shirt, and her head droops against your shoulder. Her legs curl to circle you like a clinging koala against a strong tree. You shift your weight as you stand- bracing her against one skinny hip. Her hold is firm, secure, and you match that with your own, swaying her gently side to side. Judging only from the weight slowly adding against you- she must be so, so tired. The store and excitement was probably too much for her as it was, and then a fight. You can practically hear the adrenaline draining from her.
"Never, ever, ever. Never ever, ever."
"Ever, ever, ever, ever," She gasps, "Ever, ever, ever ever!"
"That's eight times," you tell her.
"I counted," she tells you proudly.
You dare to kiss the crown of her head- expecting a bite or a snap. Instead, she gives a strange sound- a soft, click-click chrr-chrr from her throat. It's not quite purring- it's more of a rumble, like a cricket, more felt than heard. It soothes the both of you well enough, and you stand there in your den, rocking your pixie girl in rags until she drifts off against your neck.
She's asleep on your bed when you call back. As you predicted, the trip to the store and the fight that followed wore her right out. She's a bit warm, but nothing that a little rest in a cool room wouldn't cure. You leave her some cold water in a bottle by her bed and tuck her in. Her pajamas are cute- a giant yellow shirt with a moon on it- one of her feet is kicked out of the covers. You gently slip her foot back under the blankets and leave her to sleep as the phone rings.
The voice that picks up is not the normal, droning office worker you've spoken with before. It's a sharp, rough voice, like a dozen little toothpicks prickling your ear when she speaks.
"Oh, sorry, I meant to call Animal Abuse and Neglect Services-"
"Same difference, I'm the prosecutor. Terezi Pyrope. You may call me Counsel." She says 'prosecutor' like she were shoving her badge right up your nose, and she sounds like she may actually have the badge up her own nose.
"Oh, uh. Miss Pyrope. About the troll case- for 'Vriska,' it's file number-"
Miss Pyrope laughs- and it's a cackling that only Vriska herself could match, "Oh, I know that case. That's one of mine. What do you need to know?"
"Oh! Great! Listen, it's about Vriska, actually! I know she goes into the system- I mean, most pets do, but look- I want to adopt her. I want to keep her."
There's a grave silence, and you think the line's dropped.
"I wouldn't recommend it, John. She's very-"
"Dangerous, so they tell me," you snap- and turn to be sure you haven't woken her, "But I think that's bullshit. She's not even bitten me. I mean, not with blood. She's a good kid."
"John," the woman begins, but you don't let her.
"She's a good kid, and you know what? I think she needs to go to school. Can trolls do that? They should! Vriska's really smart, she's already counting and reading playing cards. That's more than most kids-"
"John," She bites with authority- silencing you.
"John, that troll has killed someone. She's a murderer."
(The drawing I did has Vriska as a pawfeet/tail/scandinavian troll- but I left it ambiguous in the prose on purpose. If you'd like the trolls to just be little funny-looking grey people, that's cool too!)
Chapter 4: Killers and Crayons
Hours later you hear her stir- but don't get up to greet her. You're cemented to your sofa, fibers glued right to your ass. You can't even look at her. Vriska pads to you sleepily, dragging her blankets. When you finally raise your head, you can't tear your eyes away from her little hands, clutching her quilts. Those hands killed a person. How did she do it? Did she beat them? Bludgeon them? Slice them? Did she bite them? When she comes close, you flinch away from her.
The change is noticed instantly. She frowns- not a scowl, but a frown, and tips her head.
"John?" She rubs her good eye with one fist, "What's the matter? Do I smell?"
You'd almost laugh at her sniffing her arm, but your throat is dry and constricted. Your tongue is crisp and useless. You can't even rasp out an answer for her. She climbs right up beside you on the sofa, rests her legs on your knees like you're her chair. You shove them right off with more force than you mean, sending the girl tumbling to the floor. With all the blankets it doesn't hurt her, though she does give an irritated 'oof.'
Perhaps you wanted her to fight back- to hiss and bite at you to feel validated. But other than a click of her teeth and a very disapproving stare, Vriska saunters to your television to watch cartoons, flopping down on the floor. It's too close to sit- she'll hurt the last remaining eye she has. You watch the noxiously bright characters flicker on screen, broken by her silhouette.
She's tied back her hair with a little bow. Without the horns, from behind she could be-
That word churns you inside. Why did Miss Pyrope call Vriska a murderer? Not a killer? Like a killer dog or a killer bee or… Murderer. What was the difference? Who did she even kill? Vriska sets her chin on her knees, captivated and unaware of your grief. What's stopping her from being human? Why is she being passed to you instead of a childcare center? When the fuck did this start? Those questions are too big for you right now. They're choking you, and soon you won't be able to swallow what the Big Red Spoon is feeding you.
"Vriska," you begin, a low, dangerous rumble, "Did you kill someone?"
The response isn't immediate- she waits until the show goes to commercials before she looks back over her shoulder. The look she gives you is incredulous, her brows lifted. It's as if you just asked her if the sky was blue and grass was green.
"Of course. That's what being a champion means. If I didn't kill them, I'd be dead."
"No, Vriska, I don't mean other trolls, I mean another person."
"What's the difference?"
You were definitely not prepared for the literal punch in the chest that gives you. It was as if she had peered right between your eyes and saw in your head. Damn, she was perceptive. What's the difference? Troll's got your tongue. Vriska takes the silence to explain, playing with her toes.
"There isn't one. My owner asked me to kill them so I did. Quick bite and then they stopped wiggling."
That at least answers one question and raises a hundred others. There's still a little murderess sitting at your feet, snuggled in her cuddly pajamas and your blankets. Your mind turns over and over, making sick, repetitive spirals. You have a murderer, a monster living under your roof, packaged like a smiling little girl. How long until she turns her claws on you? Would she want to?
"Did you want to?" It comes from your lips instinctively- you don't even remember forming the words.
"No," Her brow creases- she's never thought about it, "It wasn't fun. But I had to."
If she were a person, this wouldn't even be a question. She was forced. She was enslaved-
She is a person. She was forced. She was enslaved. And that makes one shitfuck of difference as far as the court's concerned.
You stoop to lift her up, pulling her into your arms, settling her right in the crook of your knees. She whines, but doesn't fight you. The soft blankets take the sharp angles of her body away, leaving her nothing but plushness to hold. A bit of fidgeting for comfort before she settled against you, her little shape finding all the cozy slots in your side. A sigh that could be from relief puffs from her in a little cloud of air against your bicep.
She's a murderer. She's a victim.
She's a survivor.
And she's yours.
"Vriska, how would you like to stay here?"
"Forever?" Her ears lift.
"Yeah. I'm not too bad, right?"
"No, you're lame." She deadpans at you, but nuzzles your neck, "But you're good."
That settles that, then.
She must still be tired- in less than five minutes she's back to sleep on you, drooling away on your shirt. Her fate still echoes in the back of your mind as she idly chews and nurses the collar of your shirt. It's a bit like teething- a wriggler instinct.
You're good, too.
This would take a bit of research. The internet provided you with the basics of Vriska's case. A troll fighting ring, unfortunately not uncommon as a bloodsport, busted in the nearest city. Half a dozen trolls were taken- most in such a state they were documented and humanely euthanized on the same day. Euthanized- what a stupid word. You can't imagine- you don't want to. Her owner was a Doctor Scratch- someone who claimed to be a veterinarian. You remember Vriska crying to not go to the vet. Ah.
You glance up from your computer to check on the girl. She's perusing your impressive DVD collection on tiptoe. It's early evening, and you promised her you'd let her watch any movie she liked. Her fairy wings are on her back- she's not taken them off since she, er, procured them from Target. It clashes a bit with her boy's clothes- but it's Vriska, and you don't care.
Back to business. Scratch had a habit of pitting his own trolls against one another and several carcasses were found- carcasses? Even with pets they were at least called "bodies" out of respect, or "corpses" if you got technical. A shiver runs down your spine. What happened to them? Leave it to Vriska to interrupt your morbid train of thought.
She's picked out a DVD case and bounds over to you, holding it over her head. "Looklooklooklooklooooooook!"
It was a bit tricky to parse the title since Vriska was waving it around so much. You manage to pluck it from her and- oh. Oh, god, you thought you threw this away. You thought you got rid of it. You thought you got rid of it with all your dad's things.
"Vriska, let's pick another one, OK?"
"You said any of them!" Her wings jingle when she stamps her feet.
"Just NOT that one, OK?"
Her rampage quiets as she looks down at the box in her hands with a surly, doe-eyed looking dope on the cover over a flaming airplane. The sadness in her eyes is overwhelming. It's not her fault.
"What's wrong with it?"
Mother of. Fuck. You snap the laptop shut and take her hand.
"Nothing. Alright, alright, we'll watch it."
Vriska normally has a hard time keeping quiet during movie and tv time, but from the corniest opening in the universe, she's spellbound. It's just as stupid as you remember it and just as painful. You haven't watched it since after his funeral. You remember every line- god, how many times had you seen this stupid movie? When Poe gives his daughter a ragged bunny, Vriska squirms and giggles, looking back to you with an excited smile.
You had highfived your dad.
The lump in your throat is more like a fucking boulder. Thankfully Vriska turns back to the movie- bouncing along to the ending title credits.
"Let's watch it again!"
Vriska looked between you and the screen, perplexed, and she had every right to be.
"Why do you have a movie you don't like?"
"It's not that I don't like it- look. It just."
She's hanging for your answer.
"It makes me sad."
"Sad?" God, has she never heard that word?
"Yeah. Sad. It's.. It's when your heart hurts," explaining feelings is hard, "It's when your heart hurts and you feel bad."
This will take some time to chew over- by now the DVD is back to the menu. Her face is twisted in confusion, making her scar ripple up. She paws your chest.
"Is it bad?"
"What? Being sad? No, of course not," You run a hand across her hair, "It's not bad to like a movie either. I really liked Con Air when I was younger. Even…. Hey. Hey, look, it's OK."
Cerulean tears have boiled up in her good eye- and are even threatening to press through the damaged ducts of the other. Vriska's very good at faking a crying face for attention- there is no way she could fake this. Her chin bunches, her mouth makes a shape like a squashed letter D and trembles. The pained keen that escapes from her is just too much for you.
"Vriska! Look, it's OK. It's OK to be sad and be happy. It's OK. You aren't bad! Vriska, listen. Look, you're not bad. Stoppit, look…"
If you were drowning you'd probably manage to flail more gracefully than you are now. You set her on the sofa and near tear the shelves apart to grab the single plush toy you keep in the house off the top, toppling some unimportant DVDs in the process. This poor bunny had been through hell- it's stitched together with bits of suiting and fur and its eyes are lopsided. You've not looked at it in a while and it would probably make most small children cry, but it's all you've got to offer Vriska.
"Look, Vriska, look…" You try to pry her face from her hands- but she is so determined to be sad in the way she's determined to do everything, and it's like pulling teeth.
Eventually she peeks through her fingers- and a look of complete and utter wonder spreads across her face, still caked blue. She reaches to touch the bunny with her fingertips- then snatches it to crush to her chest.
Well, that went well. At least she isn't crying anymore. You don't think you could have taken more of that.
"Alright," you sigh, "How about a bit more Big Bird before bed, OK?"
"Big Bird!" Her voice is muffled, buried against her new toy.
You help her through a bit of writing. She can spell her name, and yours, as well as "spider." It's crooked and hard to read, but legible enough. She draws you a Spider and signs it with a flourish. It gets tacked on your refrigerator. The crying must have worn her out- you need to carry her to your bed. Is it even your bed anymore? It's been weeks since you slept in it. Vriska always fights taking her fairy wings off for bed, but tonight she's so engaged with her bunny she doesn't even notice. Tucking her in has become a reflex- as well as giving her head a little kiss, too. She insists you kiss the rabbit and promises to kick your ass if you don't. Her words, not yours. You really need to watch your mouth around her.
As you turn to leave, she grabs a fistful of your shirt.
"John, Can you stay?" She pauses, "Stay please?"
That throws you right off. She didn't even need to be reminded for her manners. You gently unhook her hand from your top.
"Sure, Vriska. Just give me a minute to get my laptop, OK?"
This is the first time she's wanted company. You wonder what prompted that? Did the movie scare her? Chase scenes and explosions were probably not appropriate for her age, really. Whatever that is. You shimmy into pajama pants covered in science equipment and scoop your laptop under one arm. Vriska's conscientiousness ends at saying please, apparently, because she doesn't leave room for you to lie by her. She's small enough to move, though, so you scoot over.
She doesn't cuddle into you as children do. She simply lies nearby and listens, listens to you type, listens to you breathe. Soon her eyelid grows heavy and falls shut, her nose hidden against her bunny's fake fur. A few minutes go by as her breath regulates, and when it's steady and even, you feel it's safe to open her file again.
The trial would begin next week- Miss Pyrope would need to come prep her for her evidence presentation. The rest is a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo. Bluh bluh… proceedings, bluh…
The next words stop your heart.
Evidence scheduled to be destroyed.
You're sick. You're too sick to work, to even look at Vriska. Your head spends the morning having a great conversation with the porcelain god- and you're torn between wanting to squeeze Vriska senseless and run away from her altogether. Other than nervously watching from the door for a little, she leaves you alone. Maybe she's scared? She places a little pile of mints by the sink. She ate one. By the time you can manage to stand and wobble your way downstairs to the den, you can watch her over the landing rail. Thankfully she's too distracted by sitting on the floor and drawing to notice you. She seems to be crafting an exaggerated self-portrait with crayons. She's not bad, really. You wonder if maybe you can send her to an art tutor. Or school.
If she lives.
No, god, please. When Miss Pyrope comes, you'll ask her. There's gotta be an appeal. There has to be.
Before you can even completely descend the stairs, Vriska triumphantly holds up her drawing with both arms over her head.
As you suspected- a self-drawing, clumsy but cute. She's dressed herself in a big black coat with red spiky shoes and her ever present fairy wings. Your heart twists a little- she's drawn her eye intact. It's speckled like a star. You wonder if that's what it looked like before- Trolls can have some odd-shaped eyes.
"Oh? Who's this?" You bend to meet her, hands on your knees.
"Mindfang, duh," She snorts, returning to coloring and perfecting her drawing.
"Who's Mindfang? Is she a superhero?"
"No, dummy," Vriska sighs indulgently as if to say, humans, "She's the best Pirate there is, and she's a fairy."
"Wow," you chuckle, resting your chin against your hand, "She sounds amazing."
"Because she is!"
For a long time, you just watch her, sitting here, coloring like any little girl would be. There are already dozens of drawings. The tires swing, the house. She's drawn you, complete with dumb glasses and big teeth. You suspect she's probably drawing on something important, like tax forms. You don't care. She has dreams and thoughts and she laughs and she thinks and hates and loves and.
And you are done with calling her a troll. 100% done. She's Vriska. She's a person. Just a little bit smaller than you.
Chapter 5: Tapes and Sisters
Getting Vriska dressed for visitors is worse than herding cats. Which you have, in fact, done on multiple occasions, you are the expert at cat herding, it's you. The bandages had come off last week to much squirming and groaning, but the scars would heal. You discovered she's ticklish right along her sides and tickling her rewards you with a champion brawler's left hook to the nose. She laughs at you for almost half an hour, lying backwards pinching your nose to get the bleeding to stop, but at least you taught her to apologize. Satisfied, she dresses without fuss, though her horns get caught on the neck of her shirt. You should cut a slit up the back and add some buttons.
Miss Pyrope said she would arrive between 2 and 3. At precisely 2:30, there a rapping on the front door. Vriska's limbs flail like a swatted spider as she rushed to answer it, shrieking some mess of "igotitIGOTIT!"
"Hold on, Vriska," you catch her gently, shepherding behind you.
When you open the door- there is nothing at eye-level for you to see. A quick jerk down lets you see the top of your guest's head. She only comes up to your chest- and wears a bright red blazer that sears your eyes a little, slim black trousers, and dark sunglasses. In one hand she has a red-and-white cane- in the other, a harness for a nervous, if friendly-looking golden retriever.
Oh. Well then. When she thrusts her hand out, it hits you right in the gut.
"Terezi Pyrope, State Prosecutor."
"Oh, John Egbert. This is-"
Vriska has absolutely flattened herself against the back of your legs. She's hissing, her lips peeled back and her nose wrinkled.
"Vriska Serket," Miss Pyrope finishes for you.
"Oh, she has a last name, too?"
"Her Pedigree name, don't mind if I do!" She steps right over your threshold, dog meekly following her.
Miss Pyrope is small, but curvy and- don't look back there, Egbert. Maybe your time spent with Vriska and running the shop has made you miss- oh, nevermind, get with the program, you've never had a girlfriend, you loser. Vriska's still hissing, but she does not strike- and she seems particularly interested in the dog.
"Senator, sit." She speaks with the authority of the entire court in her voice- sharp as she sounded on the phone.
Even her stance is strong, her legs apart and her chin raised expectantly. When Senator sits, however, she bursts into a squawk that you thought only Vriska could make.
"Good boy, who's my little turdburgler? It's you! You!"
Vriska at least is looking a bit less intimidated and more disgusted. She's unwinding slowly from behind your legs, but still clinging to your pocket with her claws.
"You're the one with the Police."
"Wrong," She scolds Vriska- and you notice there's not a single flux in her voice, like when she speaks to Senator- she speaks to Vriska as she had spoken to you, "I work with the Law Courts. In the Criminal Justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups-"
"Oh my god, are you quoting Law and Order?"
"Excellent program. Now. Terezi Pyrope."
Miss Pyrope sits herself neatly on the floor before Vriska- and extends her hand with upmost seriousness.
"Pleased to meet you again, Miss Serket."
Miss Serket? She sounds so formal with her name like that. You are suddenly very grateful you let Vriska watch TV- she takes her hand with equal gravity and gives it a firm shake. Terezi is almost completely ignoring you. You stand awkwardly nearby, fiddling with your hands.
"Can I… get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Or? Whatever?"
"Can you not see?" Vriska effectively slaughters the elephant in the middle of the room.
"Mostly blind," Miss Pyrope says, popping her sunglasses atop her head, "Nearly- I can still read if I have a bigass magnifier."
Holy shit, you just heard a prosecutor swear. Vriska snatches the sunglasses to play with. At least she's at ease with her. Senator fidgets- you give him a scratch behind his ears, enough to make his tail wag.
"Mr. Egbert, if you have time to spoil my dog, might you bring us some coffee?"
Oh. Er. You scuttle off into the kitchen- and Senator trots after you. His mistress is occupied, and you're far more interesting. Vriska and Terezi speak, and there's something different in the way she handles your girl- even better than you do. She takes out a small recorder and sets it on the floor beside them, blinking red. It's clear she's getting down to the dirty business. You don't want to snoop, but your curiosity is getting the better of you. One ear is aimed to the living room as you fix the lawyer her coffee.
"Now. Miss Serket, Might you state your name?"
"…You just said my name, idiot."
"State your name."
"How old are you?"
"Your pedigree says you're four. In human development, this puts you at eight."
Her favorite number brightens her, "I guess."
Oh, so that's how old she is. Wow. It's incredible to think she's grown that much in such a short amount of time. You spill some coffee beans on the counter. Most of the questions are mundane until Miss Pyrope snipes for the kill.
"How many trolls have you killed?"
Vriska shrugs, playing with the hem of her shirt. Terezi presses.
"How many, Miss Serket, I know you can count."
"I can," She's defensive. "But I don't remember."
"The ones that lived with you, who you killed, you remember them."
Vriska frowns- this game isn't fun anymore. She evades Miss Pyrope, standing to pace and play with anything in the room, still toying with her sunglasses.
"Aradia Megido and Tavros Nitram. Tell me about them, Miss Serket."
"No." Vriska folds her arms and sneers up at Terezi, whether she could see it or not.
Someone else might have struck her, or shouted at her- Terezi simply gracefully dropped logic on her lap.
"Are you not proud of them, then? They do add to your kill count as a fighter. Eighteen. I've heard you have a fondness for eight."
She almost lights up at the number- but then cools, falling back to sit on her ankles. The sunglasses are abandoned- Vriska starts drawing instead, using more pressure on the crayons than necessary.
"Aradia tried to escape. It was really fucking stupid. When I asked her why, she said she had better things to do. Better things than me!" Vriska grumbled, near breaking the red crayon, "Than me!"
"What happened next?"
"Doc told me to make her pay. So I went to. He told her to make ME pay. She took my eye. I got her throat."
The coffee's cold in your hand. So is your heart. You want to find this Doctor Scratch and rip off each of his limbs one by one. Vriska's not even bothered by what she just said- just that she's being pressured to say it. She's drawing a picture of another spider. Her drawing skills are improving.
"And Tavros Nitram?"
She doesn't answer.
"Miss Serket. You did not kill Mr. Nitram in the ring. Or under orders."
Vriska scrawls down harder on her drawing, hunching up her bony shoulders.
"He got crippled. He was stupid. He could've been champion, but he just wasn't good enough."
She rubbed at an itch on her nose. "The Doc wanted to send him in for bait. To fluff up the competition, give them a taste for blood. But he was mine. So I bit him while he was sleeping in the kennel. Fucker didn't even wake up, the coward."
"Court will pardon the explicative." Terezi casually addresses the recording.
"I," your mouth is dry and your words creak, "I think that's enough for today, Miss Pyrope… I brought your coffee."
The instant Terezi switches the recorder off, you relax and offer your coffee. She sits back, giving a stretch as if the interrogation were as invigorating as a fresh morning run.
"Well done, Miss Serket, thank you."
"Fuck yourself," she responds, not looking up from her drawing.
"Vriska," you start, just scolding enough she gives a little apology huff, "Manners in front of Miss Pyrope."
She gives you a non-commital hiss.
"Her language is really fucking colorful," Terezi adds, and you hope the irony isn't lost on her, "Are you the only one she speaks to?"
"Well… yeah, right now. We've been out a handful of times, but not… really socializing, no."
Terezi kicks off her high heels- as red as her eyesearing blazer, and they go tumbling under the coffee table. She abandons the coffee- it went cold somewhere between murdering discussions. Her hands search the floor for a moment- before she brazenly scoops Vriska right up under her arms and pulls her into the crook of her knees.
Shit. Shit shit shit, you're going to have to clean the prosecutor off the ceiling- you lurch to stop Vriska from creating another victim. Instead of snapping, though, Vriska simply goes stiff as she's moved, like an alarmed cat, and then settles, reaching back for her drawings.
"Now, Vriska, letters, if you please."
"A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, …." She pauses- of course she only remembers the first eight, "JKLMNOPQRSTU…. V! V like my name! XYZ."
Vriska basks- waiting for the undoubted affection and praise to be poured on her. But Terezi just nods once.
"…Uh?" She frowns.
"Mr. Egbert, you are remiss on your teaching skills."
"I-I'm not a teacher! I'm just-"
"Supposed to care for her. Any caretaker worth their salt should teach their charge. Skipping school is illegal, you know!"
"But I can't-"
Terezi stops you with a firm, flat hand.
"Overuled, Mr. Egbert. Schools are not only in school facilities. Improve her reading. Bring me your laptop. Has she used a computer?"
How the hell did she know you had a laptop? It's only now you notice the soft whirring of its cooling fan from sitting on the table. You stumble to her dumbfoundedly, and set the computer on Vriska's lap. Terezi's presence is making Vriska even more imperious than usual- she doesn't even thank you as she spreads out her little hands to try and imitate your typing.
"Now, Miss Serket. I am going to introduce you to your classmates on the internet."
Her chuckle is low, rich, and completely unhinged.
You are going to regret this.
Oh god, what is Miss Pyrope even teaching your girl to do. They're both cackling like maniacs and it seems Vriska's completely forgotten the uncomfortable interview as Terezi squints to navigate. Vriska picked up on the computer instantly- and while she still types with two fingers and looks at the keyboard- she's already ramming away to beat the band. What have you created.
Eventually, Terezi sets Vriska back down- she's so captivated by Youtube she doesn't even notice. It's a strange thing to her- she has a tool she can control and use and learn with, and everything is exciting. You've not seen her smile so much in the weeks she's been with you. Sometimes a manic grin flits across her mouth, but mostly, it's innocent, childlike wonder. She's watching munchkin cats play with string.
"I need to leave, Miss Serket. We'll be in contact."
"Yeah, OK," she mumbles, uninterested.
Terezi shuts the laptop enough to trap Vriska's hands, then sets it aside.
"Vriska," She speaks with conviction, as if her very words were a verdict, "I am your sister."
…Do what now? She bows her head to bonk her brow to Vriska's little one, an almost reverent action. Vriska's still- but now has all her attention turned to Terezi. She headbutts her with far more force.
"Sisters!" She cheeps, and offers one tiny pinky to Terezi.
It takes Terezi a moment- eventually Vriska prods her with her finger- and they hook pinkies together.
"I'm your sister, and I'm going to fight for you."
The smaller one laughs, snorting a bit, her nose wrinkling up, eye pinching. It's the kind of honest, ugly laugh that's beautiful because it's genuine.
"I don't need anyone to fight for me! I'm a champion! I'm Mindfang and I can do anything!"
"That's right, but I'm the one with the law degree. Now. Use the internet, and fight for yourself there."
She tremendously screws up Vriska's hair, which is already pretty windblown by nature, and crosses to the door. Senator leaps up to follow her, instantly at her side. A police car is already waiting for her outside, but you catch her in the doorway.
"Miss Pyrope-" How do you even start this conversation? "Her records say she's- that after the trial she's going to be-"
"I'm aware, I wrote that report, Mr. Egbert," The conspiratory tone she uses with Vriska is gone, "I will do whatever I can to override it. But."
But? But? How can she sit there with a girl doomed to die from a fucking court order on her lap and say but anything?
"But there are circumstances to consider. This is bigger than her," her voice is hushed as she nods to Vriska, "This is bigger than us."
You're too stunned to respond, your mouth twitching and your hands fisting and curling at your sides, gripping handfuls of your cotton pants. She reaches out to find your arm- then squeeze your shoulder. Her grip is hard, firm, painful.
"But I will fight for her regardless. I'm her sister now."
The lawyer takes her leave, storming down the sidewalk and picked fence as if she were stalking up a court aisle. Vriska whines for you to come sit with her, it's cold, and she wants to know how "Instant Messager" works. You pull the door shut, and settle in for a long conversation about not talking to strangers and lessons. As you guide her through setting up her account- arachnidsGrip- she said that was her star move- your mind is back on Terezi's shoulders as she left, square and firm.
"Vriska, how is Miss Pyrope your sister?"
"Do you know anything about trolls?" she drawls, condescending as fuck, the little shit.
"I read a pamphlet?"
Her good eye practically rolls into the back of her head.
"Come on, Vriska, trolls are pretty rare," you add hastily, "And that's what makes you special."
"Blow it out your ass."
Her whole body rattles with a sigh- you worry a second about her rib- it's been a bit since the bandages and braces came off- but you're sure it's still sore. You loosen your hold around her. She doesn't like that, and grasps your arms to wrap back around her sides, like a seatbelt.
"Sisters are two girls who are close. Like blood-bonding. We used to do actual blood-bonding in the kennels. Aradia and I did."
Aradia was her 'sister'? She picks up on your worry instantly- she has a knack for that, and answers your question before it even leaves your lips.
"She broke her sisterhood. Sisters are always supposed to be together. In havoc and in peace! Mostly havoc. Havoc's my favorite."
"How the hell did you learn the word 'havoc'?"
God, you're going to have to install child-locks. What did Terezi start? Then again- why hadn't you let her use the computer in the first place? She has hands- it would have helped her reading exponentially. Furthermore, she could actually begin to talk to other people besides you- and Terezi, you suppose. You wonder if Vriska has been feeling isolated and lonely all this time. And Terezi, this virtual stranger to you, saw that in her without even needing to see. And then, it dawns on you- it dawns like the bright ass fucking sun after a really terrible hangover.
You consider Vriska- her diminutive shape, the soft fuzz on her ears, her candy-colored horns, her velvety grey skin and little yellow claws. Even when you dress her up, call her everything but a troll- you can't see past it.
She didn't see her. She didn't see her as a troll who shouldn't use computers or people-things, she was way ahead of you.
And if there's anyone you want fighting for Vriska, it's her.
Chapter 6: Words and Parks
Vriska's stupidly adept at the computer.
You have to snatch it from her now just to read recipes and the news. She whines and jumps up and down to reach it, and tackles your legs if you don't let her have her way. Thankfully for you, you have legs of goddamn iron and simply step along with her clinging to your shin. This works grandly until she just gives your waistband a yank and pulls your pants right down. Her shrieking laughter is enough to distract you until she could snatch the laptop and abscond to the sofa.
This just wouldn't do.
Eventually you procure a netbook for her. It's refurbished, but far more adequately sized for her hands. The keyboard takes her a bit of getting used to, but soon she's hammering away at it as if she's going to bang the letters into the table. It was an extravagant purchase, maybe, but her vocabulary was massively improving already, and she spoke like a precocious preteen instead of a child now. She liked big words, even if she wasn't entirely sure of their meaning. You suppose she thinks it makes her sound smart. She's right. She's the smartest little girl in the whole wide world and she's sitting on your sofa wearing your shirt with your rabbit.
Your time at the shop has been reduced- mostly online sales now, which Vriska helps you pack. (And by "help," you mean that she holds the tape and keeps the box shut while you leap on it. Both of you play with the packing peanuts. It's very productive.)
Sometimes you wonder what she's up to. After all, not all of her time is spent on educational websites, you're not that thick. While she sleeps you peek at her browser history searches and can't help but chuckle.
how do i 8ecome a fairy
does brown suck
what color is currulan
rp clothes that are not panties
That worries you. RP brought up awful images of either men huddled in basements sweating or couples in milkmaid and cow costumes also sweating. Ugh. Thankfully her search patterns switched gears.
troll chat pesterchum
You can't have been the only one to give a troll a computer. And Vriska must not be the only troll in the world to know how to operate one. It seems Vriska stumbled upon a troll support site- meant for other trolls. You're grateful for the resource for her. For all the want you have to help her, you just don't even know where to start. Hell, half of the words on here don't make sense. What's an auspistice?
One afternoon, she simply looks up, her mouth an absolute line and her gaze serious as a heart attack.
"I want to go to the park."
That's new. Vriska enjoys your yard- she loves your tireswing and has declared it her flagship. Many afternoons are spent wearing fairy wings and swinging from it. You've also caught her digging in the flower beds for "treasure." Definitely not activities you want to unleash on an unsuspecting public park.
"Vriska, we have my yard! What's wrong with my yard?"
"It's booooooooring." She whines at a decibel normally only reached by dogs.
"Is not, I've watched you play for hours out there."
She fiddles- her feet overlap and she chitter-chatters to herself, squirming. Vriska's pretty awful at keeping secrets.
"Why do you want to go to a park?"
"I wanna meet someone." She mumbles, hugging her little laptop to her chest.
About ten thousand terrible ideas flurry through your head at once as if they were shot from a rapid-fire cannon. Who would she meet? Who exactly is she talking to online? What if they were creepy? Some kind of troll fetishist? They were gonna strap hooves on her and a saddle and do terrible horrible things like you see on SVU (which you started watching on Terezi's recommendation anyway) and then worse, because worse always comes next.
"WHO?" Spills out of you in a crazed frenzy.
This alarms her a little, and she studies your panic with interest.
So you hope. What if they're lying? What if they're abusers, attempting to find their pets again? Still. Vriska's staring at you with damned determination and a pout to her lip. She really, really wants this. It must be terribly lonely. You know you aren't the best company sometimes.
"So which park is it?"
This was the worst idea. You should take Vriska home right now. How could you be such a dumbfuck? Vriska's owner's going through trial right now- he probably has friends outside who can dispose of evidence. Vriska could be in danger.
You let her ride in front to the park- she rolls down the window and slips her hand out to feel the breeze. You warn her she'll lose her arm that way. She shrugs it off, says it'd match her eye. You can't get a word in- and you like that. She chats endlessly and you tune her out, but not entirely, letting the musical quality of her voice edge away your nerves.
When you arrive at the park, Vriska nearly leaps from her seat. You have just enough time to grab her before she bolts, her little legs pedaling the air.
"John, leggo!" She nips and scratches at you, but there isn't any venom in it.
"With ME, Vriska, just in case."
You've barely set her on her feet till she mouths off at you.
"If there were a real threat it's not like you could even protect me," She loses heart halfway through and simply tugs you along.
There's a playground- lots of kids are already climbing all over the play frames and monkeybars. You can tell from the anxious pull of your hand that Vriska wants to play, too, but you suspect her play might leave broken bones in its wake. There aren't any other trolls there, just a bunch of kids and their parents, who only offer you condescending stares from behind strollers and trashy harlequin novels.
Then you spot her- a young woman little older than you, gently leading her own companion along. He hides behind her legs- clinging to the ruffle at the hem of her skirt and burying his face to her knees. His theatrics are certainly making it hard for her to walk, but she's patient as she peels him off. Her eyes meet yours- and a flicker of understanding races behind her glasses. She bends to speak gently to her Troll.
He's smaller than Vriska. Probably younger. There's a streak of violet in his hair, which is slicked back and appears damp. You notice instantly that instead of the pointed, soft ears that Vriska has, he has a row of filmy fins, rich violet and speckled with scales. He's scaly all over, really- and the little flecks give off an iridescent glow. You've heard of this breed- no, this race. He's a seadweller. They're rare, and seldom seen outside of expensive tanks. That explains his scales, and why his eyes are certainly larger than Vriska's. To adjust for the dark light of the sea. They must not adjust well to land, though, since he has a set of eyeglasses balanced on a tiny, pointed nose.
They're both well-dressed, him especially. This must be what tailored troll clothing looks like- it's built for their proportions and frames, instead of dangling. For a moment, you're embarrassed about Vriska's draping Target clothes. He even has shoes! By now, Vriska's spotted him.
It's as if a bolt of lightning flickers between them, because the boy lets go of his caretaker to run in her direction- and Vriska tears away from you. His run is a bit ungainly- you can only hope he's a graceful swimmer- and Vriska streaks across the grass. How charming. Two friends finally meeting. The woman across from you smiles sweetly, matching your warmth. Ah, it's such a wonderful thing to see-
Oh god they're tearing each other apart.
Vriska no sooner makes contact with the other troll that she balls her little fist up and clocks it against his face, sending his glasses careening off into the dirt. He responds in kind, leaping his whole little body on hers, hissing and tearing with his filed claws. They hiss and scratch and yowl and oh god oh christ they're going to kill each other.
His delicate fins are clenched in her teeth and she's pulling, and he's kicking with his powerful swimmers' feet and that bitch is just smiling away, what the fuck!?
"Vriska! Vriska, VRISKA STOP!"
You manage to tear her off of him. His blood's violet- it's beaded on his nose. Vriska's still swinging as you hold her at arms' length.
"John! Stoppit, you're interrupting!"
"Of course I am! You're going to hurt him!"
"Duh, stupid," the little troll at your feet says, warbling, "She's my kismesis."
"Eridan, manners, lovey," The woman has met you now and scolds her troll lightly, her face serene- and commanding, "Why don't you set her down? Let's have some tea."
The trolls are playing- far less destructively. The woman, Feferi, has ordered Eridan, "no blood," and Vriska promised the same. Their play is still rough, but dotted with innocent laughter. Feferi came prepared- she has a cute thermos with cute teacups and god help you, cute tea. All organic! She sings to you. She'd be a complete fucking joke if she weren't so damn sincere.
"It's good Eridan has a Kismesis now," She sighs happily, "His aggression was driving me crazy! My sofas are in shreds."
"Um. What is a Kismesis exactly?"
"Oh!" She gasped, covering her hand like the princesses you see in cartoons, "That's right. Vriska's a rescue, isn't she! You've not looked after a troll!"
You squirm in your seat. It must be so obvious. You wonder what Feferi's relationship with Eridan is. Does she feel the same way you do about him as you do about Vriska?
"Mine is, too. Well, in a sense. He was feral. I found him in my koi pond, fishing out of it with his hands. Enough open cans of tuna, and he came sauntering into my house like he owned the place! So I adopted him."
You find that hard to believe. Especially with how well-groomed Eridan is now. His hair is shiny and his scales practically polished.
"So strange, isn't it?" Feferi says between sips of tea, "Seadwellers aren't often abandoned. But he was hatched with an imperfection that made him impossible for showing. Worthless to breeders."
Her finger flicks at her brow and along her crown- Oh, she means the characteristic stripe of violet in his hair. That alone condemned him?
"Worthless…? Just his hair?"
"Monsters!" She pounds her hands on the bench, near toppling your tea, "Monsters, making him feel that way! They dumped him, but my Eridan survived and came to me. Mess of a boy he is."
You are not sure how someone can sound so infuriated and so fond at the same time. You stare at the flower petals and forest floor floating in your tea. Ulp.
"So as soon as Eridan told me about Vriska, I just had to let him meet her. Oh, John, I'm so glad you let her! Look how happy they are!"
Vriska was enjoying pulling on Eridan's horns like a pair of bicycle handles.
"Um. I guess? What's a Kismesis, again?"
"Oh, right. Ahem. Well!" She hums, crossing her legs the other way, "It's… a bit like a lover. Well a mate! An enemy you love. It's a piece of troll culture, you see. They have four relationships in their life, all of which are equally important! For example, I am Eridan's 'moirail.'"
The way she says "Moirail," is so forcedly natural you almost laugh. It's clearly not a word meant for human lips.
"Okay, and what's that?"
"Well, a Moirail is your life partner, but platonic? Sort of like… Mm. Your soulmate! Protector. Specifically, a protector of your heart. They keep you grounded. And in turn, you keep them grounded!"
Feferi's enjoying this- and you find you are too. You watch Vriska and Eridan tumble about together, tangling and laughing, play-growling like pups. The tender way that Feferi watches him shows her side so obviously it's endearing.
"…And does he ground you, too?"
The question surprises her- and a truly beautiful, honest smile spreads on her face, bunching her glasses up.
The rest of the 'quadrants' as she puts it, are equally confusing- for ease of use they correspond to card suits. You're not sure what yahoo thought that was a great idea- but you admit the concept of feeling 'pale' for one's moirail as enchanting. And very telling. She only touches briefly on the red heart.
"Now, matesprits are easy. That's just actual lovers. Like the breeding-type. But our little ones are too small to really be picking them out."
"Feferi, what is Eridan to you?"
"What? I told you, already, John, he's my moirail."
She leans on the word like a gas pedal.
"No, I mean. As a troll. I mean, do you feel for him."
This registers to her, and she turns to watch Eridan, who has settled with Vriska into picking grass apart. Almost in mirrors of their caretakers, they speak in quiet, conspiratory tones, glancing occasionally over their shoulders to watch for intruders to their plot. Feferi sets her teacup across her knees, considering.
"I feel for Eridan as I would feel for anyone else. The words just make it easier."
"So he's… I mean, he's a person to you?"
You felt like you just spewed Greek to her. Her eyes are large, and you're afraid that tea's about to splash across your face and burn you. But she laughs, the teasing gone from her voice.
"Of course he is! Just as much as you- oh, oh, John, I'm not like that! Don't be ridiculous."
Her attention returns to her boy.
"He was tiny when he came to me, you know. All slender, like Vriska. And all I wanted to do in the world was scoop him up and hide him from things that hurt. But that's what you do with kittens, right? My Eridan, he beat down those things that hurt, he was stronger than them."
She folds her hands to clasp, prop her chin atop them.
"We were stronger than them together! And that's more than any pet can be."
You want to kiss her, but fuck, that'd be awkward. Thankfully her chatterbox tongue spares you thinking any more on kisses and Feferi.
"Now! How did you get Vriska? A shelter?"
"Ah… no. She's… She's an assignment."
Her frown quiets you- but she nods her head. Go on.
"I take in, er, evidence. In abuse cases."
"Oh," She breathes, voice hushed, "She's part of that terrible Scratch case, isn't she. It's been all over the internet."
"Yes. The only survivor in her den."
"What a strong little girl."
Just that she called your little girl a little girl fills you with enough warm fuzzes to make a tribble colony. Feferi Peixes is good. In an almost disturbing manner.
"Feferi- she's… She's evidence- the prosecutor says-"
"…I think they look like they're planning, don't you? Eridan! Come here, darling."
The Seadweller instantly forsakes his "Kismesis" to bound across the grass to her. She bends to sweep him in both arms, hold him to her hip. Eridan whines all the way up, but just as quickly hugs her neck, sharing his scarf with her. Vriska is slower- pondering you from a distance.
"Don't worry," She squeezed Eridan close to her- and her eyes bore into yours with the determination and fire of a conquering Empress, "No harm will come to her. I'll see what I can do."
She turns her attention to Eridan, clicking her tongue.
"Eridan! You've got an enormous bruise!" She tuts, replacing his glasses, "At least learn to duck, sweetheart."
He puffs his cheeks, "She doesn't play fair, Fef."
"She's your kismesis, of course not. Pale for you."
Her lips press to the bruise.
The tiny troll in her arms makes an expression that scatters your mind to the four winds. His brow creases and lifts his eyes to his caretaker's, filled with such devastating adoration that you pity him for it. It's such a raw, human face, his lips parted and so, so hopeful- only to be replaced with heartache, and bitter longing. His cheek falls to his shoulder, and he murmurs in return.
"Pale for you."
Feferi's unaffected by her troll's affection for her, bouncing him lightly in her arms to attempt to cheer him.
"We should do this more. Call me?"
You nod dumbly as she carries him off- his hands tangling lightly in her hair. He loved her. That boy loved her. That was an expression you've worn before on your own face. When Vriska comes close, you hook her into your arms in one swing. She laughs brightly, hugging your neck with both arms. She's bruised and coated in grass stains, but her smile is shining and her eye crinkled into a joyful half-moon.
"Pale for you."
It's experimental and awkward- but the look of utter wonder on her face is only matched by the lopsided smirk and nip to your chin as she answers.
"Someone has to look after you!"
Chapter 7: Doors and Cakes
She's going to court on Thursday.
You tell her over her cereal and the change is almost instantaneous. The trial is coming to a head. To spare yourself- and Vriska- from being biased, you aren't permitted to read or watch any reports, but Terezi keeps you informed. Vriska's to be called as a witness. A witness. Not presented as evidence. Terezi hasn't had the time to come visit again, but she tells you to make sure Vriska is alert and well-rested.
And Vriska is hardly either.
She's losing sleep. You've still got her set up in your room. The sound of the traffic outside, which used to help her, now keeps her awake. Sometimes you carry her a bit, until she falls asleep. She tries to talk to you- about anything, everything, but you know her chatter is just to fill the silence, and you let her until it trails down your shoulder and back, and you can lay her in cool sheets and safe blankets, for even just a little while. Then it isn't long until she stumbles into the den to sleep on your sofa by you, little snatches of slumber dotted with nightmares that make her nose darken with restrained tears. Her bandages are gone now, but the scars remain. Some wounds, it seems, haven't sealed at all.
As you get ready for work she's dozing at least, one arm dangling off the sofa. You spread her favorite quilt over her, orange flannel with a patchwork sun. Her fingers curl and knot at the fibers and yarn. She wears the same expression she did when you first brought her home- utter and complete exhaustion, and it pains you. Your fingers stroke over her worried brow, over her scars. No fever; but the anxiety she stuffs down must be eating her up. She leans into your hand.
Months ago, she bit you for touching her hair.
"John, can't sleep…"
"Shh," you whisper to her, "Go on."
She gives you an affirmative huff and buries herself deep in the covers. You feel a nagging guilt to stay and attend to her- but even at her weariest, Vriska doesn't enjoy being coddled. Your shoes shuffle and scrape no matter how much you try to tiptoe around her.
"John? Put Peter Pan on the TV?"
It's an easy enough request. She probably wants the familiar audio; she can near quote it by now. And as much as she calls it stupid, she watches Neverland with awe and longing. It's obvious she's not exactly intending to watch it so much as listen, her ears lifted and face hidden to the pillow.
"No, you may go, peasant."
At least you know your girl's in there. You give her a little smile and secure the blanket around her. She doesn't even raise her head as you slip through the door.
Time to head to the shop. Business has been dragging. You're not sure if it's because people are not necessarily in constant need of novelty prop vomit, or if your heart simply isn't here. It's near Halloween now, often a big time of year for you. But you had forgotten to order the costume gear you often do this time of year, and shrug half-heartedly when customers ask.
All you can think about is her. Things she can play with, something that might make her smile, make her days a little brighter. However many she has. The closer the trial comes, the sicker you feel. Whatever you feel, you know Vriska feels a hundred times more amplified. Terezi promises not to worry after Vriska- she'll find a way to spare her, if Vriska behaves. While Vriska may not be an angel- hell, she's a handful and she's a little menace, but- she doesn't deserve to-
Why are you here? No one's come in for ages. Vriska's all by herself and not feeling well and needs someone to look after her. After all, she's your "moirail," she's meant to feel safe with you. And when she's at her weakest, you leave her.
Fuck speed limits, your Moirail needs you.
The door's still locked. You're not sure what you expected, but Vriska is gone from her nest on the den, the movie back to the DVD menu.
"Vriska! M'home early. Are you hungry?"
Food was almost always the best way to lure her out. You check each of the downstairs rooms- the kitchen- and your hear a light pitter-patter upstairs. A light plonk of piano keys. You fly up the steps like a rush of wind. She's not in your room.
The door to your Dad's room hangs open.
You've not been inside since his death, since you moved the piano in there. Vriska's peering over the piano with her wings on, your Dad's piano, touching it with her hands that killed someone and smearing dust. You seize her hard enough to make her scream. She shouldn't be in here, no one should, hell, you shouldn't be in here because this was his room and his place and his stuff. It smells like pipe smoke, rich tobacco and starch, and the scent overwhelms all your senses with memory. Your mind vaguely manages to form some screamed reprimand.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN HERE?"
Vriska's scrambling and bucking in your hands, clawing at you with her filed claws. You shake her, you can't even remember what you scream at her. You can't remember anything but pure rage and grief and-
And tears flooding from your eyes as you near crush this little girl with your hands. She's no longer struggling. Her feet reach the floor when you sink down, and she shuffles close, setting both hands on your hair. With patient little fingers she smooths the crown of your head, down your neck, down your back.
"I miss my Lusus, too."
Opening the window banishes a bit of his scent. You are relieved to feel it go. Perhaps enough time has passed that you can't even picture your father sitting in here at all. It's like a doll's house, and you've forgotten the game. The piano is familiar to you, though, the ivory keys as comforting as breathing. You sit on the bench and press the chords down, practicing the scales. It was a high-quality enough instrument that you're grateful it doesn't need tuning. Vriska's hunched by the door. Her messy hair is still prickled a bit. You did hurt her.
Though she calmed you, as soon as you weren't practically burning alight, she scurried from you to watch for another outburst. Some example you are. Thankfully the music catches her curiosity, insatiable as always. After a few notes, she's at your elbow, peering over your arms to the piano. You lift her as gently as you can, touch so terribly tender compared to your manhandling of her before.
"What is it?"
"It's a piano. It makes music."
"Not that, idiot. This room."
Your hands are drifting up and down the keys, playing a mindless, familiar song.
"It was my Dad's room. S'why it's bigger. Even though it's my house now, I just couldn't… Take it. It was wrong."
"What happened to him?"
The keys drop sour as you falter.
"I know. What happened?"
The melody returns to you, guiding you through an old, familiar conversation.
"An accident. He was on his way home from the grocery. It was almost funny, you know? His car smashed up, cake packages everywhere. Like a cartoon."
She's listening, and tries to imitate your playing, fingers prodding at the keys hesitantly.
"Did I hurt you?" You ask as you slip a hand under her tiny one.
She nudges you, lifting her head to bonk her brow against yours, the same way she had with Eridan. You pull her on your lap, let her lean on your chest. For once she's quiet, letting you play around her sides.
"You are too," she mumbles into your sleeve.
"I am what?"
Something inside you cracks, and you fold around her, coating her hair with tears that had been pent away for far too long. She doesn't squirm or run, doesn't shush or coddle you. You don't know how much time passes. It's awkward, and your legs fall asleep and your chest spasms with cries. It's ugly and uncomfortable. She just sits still, letting you use her as a handkerchief to cry into. Even so, just holding her and feeling her ribs expand and fall with breath is comforting. Occasionally she pats you with her palm, thumbing away your tears and snot. Eventually she presses you to sit up- enough to look into your eyes.
"John, I'm hungry."
Her words have little to do with hunger. She tugs you. It's time to move on. There were hungry girls and a world outside waiting for you, that's missed having all of you. You shuffle her to her feet. When you stand you stumble from your tingly feet, and she laughs at you. Her hand pulls you from the room, her wings bob.
You leave the door open.
The cabinets are full of cake mixes. Vriska's sitting at the table, swinging her feet. Cake mixes don't go bad, right? You sniff just to be sure. You kept these damn things for your dad, not for actual baking purposes. She's watching you with interest, her head balanced on her arms.
"Dad liked baking, but he thought mixes were convenient. He wasn't one of those bakers who insists on their own recipe."
It takes a bit of rustling to even find the damn cake pans and mixing bowls. You pause, it's a familiar scene. A child sitting at the table, watching cake creation curiously. Somewhere around here…
You fiddle through the pantry- reaching in deep, standing on one foot for balance. Your fist catches soft, well-worn cotton. Gotcha. Two aprons, one simple and cakestained, one small and loved with a spade embroidered on the pocket.
"Vriska, c'mere. You'll be a big help."
Vriska looks over her shoulder incredulously, as if you're referring to some alien Vriska that must be hidden somewhere- because when would she ever be helpful. Yes, you. She wriggles to the floor and you drag over the stool hidden under the cabinets. You let her hold the eggs, reminding her to be careful. Her face is pinched in concentration as she cups them with the lightest touch she can muster.
It returns surprisingly easily to you. How long it takes to stir in the eggs and vanilla, the firm batter evening. To Vriska, it must be magic. She's on her tiptoes, jaw dropped. There's no icing, but it'll be alright. You grab a fingerful of batter and smudge it across her nose. She shrieks with delight and tries to lick it away- pawing at her cheeks. Laughter bubbles in you, not out of pity, but out of fondness.
This must be what your dad felt. You feel closer to him, if only for sharing the same emotions he did.
Sweet cake is not exactly the best thing to feed to a little troll girl who doesn't feel well, but she gobbles it happily and sits at her laptop. You wonder what Vriska's going to do with you some day. Mount up all your wrongs against her and toss it over your head, drown you in it. You clean the stray bowls and wrappers, empty boxes, and indulge on a little piece of cake. The last time you enjoyed cake was your birthday. Your father had teased you, driven over some confection a foot and a half tall, full of frosting and love. Instead of pain, the memory fills you with warmth.
While you're lost in thoughts, Vriska's fallen asleep, some flour dusted on her cheek. You brush the laptop aside, carry her to her nest in your bed. You're grateful for her rest. You tuck her in soundly and head back to the den. Her laptop's still on. She was on IM. It feels a bit wrong- but you wonder.
AG: So yeah, he's really a handful. 8ut he's calm now.
CA: wwell good for you vvris
CA: youre like a pappin master
AG: Right? How's your's.
CA: oh fuck you vvris thats fuckin cold you knoww howw i feel
AG: I think John even does and he's not a genius!!!!!!!!
AG: Yours isn't either.
AG: Must not 8e.
CA: take it fuckin back you bitch
What were they even talking about? Also, you'll need to get on Vriska about her language.
AG: So I have to see him tomorrow. 8luh.
CA: you scared
AG: Fuck no. He can't hurt me anymore. I've got John.
CA: ill be there too
CA: fef an i both
AG: Ugh, it'll be hard to concentr8 with your dumb face out there.
CA: youre wwelcome
CA: <3< Eridan had signed off after. You're not sure what the weird fishes mean, but you shut the laptop and pinch your eyes. It's exhausting.
You need to sleep, too. Tomorrow would be hard on both of you.
Chapter 8: Shoes and Oaths
Terezi comes to pick you up early- the sun's not even up yet. It's hard for you to rouse Vriska- she just looks so comfortable in her dreams, ad you hate to pull her from them. As soon as you pull her from the covers, she's alert. In a rare twist she's not at all hungry. Her skin thrums to the touch, like touching an electric wire. It must be the nerves, but you don't mention them and spare her pride. Even Senator is somber at Terezi's heels. Miss Pyrope brought Vriska clothing to wear that would make her appeal to the jury. Tailored clothing- an undershirt and a pretty tartan button-down. A skirt. You've not really even seen Vriska's knees before. Even Vriska's amused. She twirls in the skirt, playing with the hem. Terezi had even brought shoes- red sneakers. They're big on her, but Vriska clops about in them, admiring the color.
You're having a harder time of it, trying to remember how your dad taught you to tie a tie. Fuck your clumsy fingers. Also doing this in the mirror made everything worse. The tie's a bit short, you don't have a jacket, the pants still need hemming. But you'll do. It doesn't matter what you look like, though you think you look pretty damn dapper yourself.
Terezi raps her cane atop a wooden seat, wordlessly demanding Vriska sit there. She's obedient, if only to spite her. She sets the rod aside, then with bizarre gentleness and accuracy, carefully braids Vriska's hair back into a fat plait. It's like a scorpion's tail trailing down her back. She ties it with a bright blue ribbon, the color of her eyes, of her blood.
"Miss Serket," Terezi begins, her voice stern, "Remember what we've discussed. Act and do exactly what you see the other witnesses do. Doctor Scratch will be there, but he cannot harm you."
"Do I have to talk to him?" Vriska asks, still preoccupied by her shoes.
"Yes. He's mounting his own defense."
She visibly squirms- you take her fidgeting hand in yours. "I'll be fine. I'll be sitting in the gallery with Feferi and Eridan."
Rolling your eyes is hard with only one, but Vriska manages somehow.
"Now," Terezi bends to meet her, manic grin returning to her face, "Who wants to ride in a police car?"
"Me!" Vriska shrieks, dark mood instantly lifted as she starts jumping up and down, "Me me me me me me me me!"
"Race you," Terezi says, and lurches as if she might actually follow through with it.
As Vriska tears off to the Police car singing her own praises- she realizes halfway down the drive that neither of you are following her. She groans and complains as loud as possible and you hope it doesn't wake the neighbors. In the meantime she hops on your old tire swing, turning it in circles to spin. The accompanying officer watches her from the car, amused- and you hope, endeared. While you have a moment, you shift your attention to Terezi.
"He wasn't supposed to be able to speak to her."
"I know. But he fired his counsel. Said they were idiots. John, this may be to our advantage."
"What if he fucks with her, though? I mean. I've heard things."
She hisses, "John, you weren't supposed to be reading anything!"
"I've not let her read them! But I just- I had to know what she'd be dealing with."
"Come oooooooon," Vriska whines from the yard, "I wanna ride in the police car!"
Vriska wants to roll the windows down for the ride, but Terezi tells her it's against protocol. She can, however, turn on the lights and sirens. Vriska gleefully claps her hands and stomps her sneakers, cheering do it do it do it!! So, you speed down the highway, sirens wailing. It's a long drive, and soon she bores of shouting WEE-WOO-WEE-WOO along with it. She watches the scenery- counts cars, chatters about movies and books you had brought her. The driver tunes her out, and admittedly so do you. It's only when her talking trails off that you realized she's catching a quick nap on your knee. You twist your way out of your jacket to let her use it as a blanket. Without her talk, the car is silent.
Terezi's checking over her notes, huge magnifier in hand, barely an inch from the paper. She speaks quietly, so not to wake your charge.
"It's still a few hours until we get to the city. You can sleep a while."
"Can't… Terezi, even if this is successful-"
She folds her papers. The rustling stirs Vriska a little, and you rub her side gently. Her fingers curl and uncurl as she settles back down. Terezi listens to be sure she's entirely gone before she answers you.
"It's still a risk. I'm working on it."
"How hard? Terezi, if this works, She'll be the reason you won your case. She doesn't deserve this. She's-"
"Changed?" It almost sounds bitter, "Really, John. You sound so apologetic for her. You still didn't see the bodies."
"So you want her to die?"
The word hangs in the air as the passengers awkwardly listen for any reaction from the subject of conversation. But she continues to breathe steadily, undisturbed and tranquil.
"Of course not," Terezi whispers, "But this isn't an easy case, John, not when people are ignorant."
"What if more people saw her? I mean, like when she was playing. Terezi, she's just a kid. She's a little girl."
"I know, John," she mumbles, "Which only makes this harder."
You focus on attending to Vriska instead, the rest of the drive spent in silence.
As soon as you pull into the courthouse- they're waiting for you. A ring of cameramen and reporters with microphones, smoking and having their morning coffee. The instant they spot the police car, all cups and cigarettes are abandoned as they mob the doors. A hand slaps to the window and wakes Vriska with a jolt. The minute hairs around her face raise, and her lips peel back in an animal-like hiss. Her claws sink into your leg. You wish you'd trimmed them last night.
"Vriska, calm down, it's alright," You murmur into her hair.
Her teeth click shut, and she hides against you as you carry her from the car. As soon as the door opens, the barrage of questions flood your little group. And none are meant for Vriska.
"Miss Pyrope, is it true a troll will take the witness stand?"
"Statement for the press?"
"Miss Pyrope, are you seeking the death penalty?"
"Troll death is not a charge for capital punishment, why are you pressing a murder charge?"
"Are you the evidence's caretaker? Has it injured anyone else?"
"Where are its restraints?"
Vriska buries against your neck, and you stand firm as you stride behind Terezi, who is equally concerned with getting inside. Your girl clings to you tighter, and you press her closer in return. There are officers to shield the three of you as you try to regally scramble inside. Terezi is better at this than both of you, striding in lead by Senator. Even so, you all breathe easier once the heavy oak doors shut behind you. You set Vriska to her feet and take her hand.
The courtroom smells like wood and dust. It's rich and handsome, as expected of the city. Terezi's pointing things out for Vriska- and you're grateful she's pointing in the right direction- it means she knows the court like the back of her hand.
"The judge sits there. When he comes in we all have to stand."
"Where will I be?"
"Here. With John. I'll be right here."
"Over there. When you go up to talk you stand up there. Your friends will be out there."
Vriska takes it all in, prodding at a microphone. At least being here might take some of her nerves off- but she trembles.
"Are any other people gonna talk?"
"There are other witnesses." Terezi deftly evades the answer, "But you'll be first."
She's pleased enough with Terezi's explanation and pads back to her in her squeaky sneakers. She slips her hand in her sister's.
"Get something to snack on. Court opens in an hour."
There are guards even as Vriska enjoys some vending machine snacks and you drink coffee. She sits on your lap, getting crumbs all over your dark suit, but you can't seem to care. Even the cop is watching her with a fond grin.
"Got a little on your face, pumpkin," he says, not a drop of condescension in his tone.
"Did ah geh ih?" She tries to lick it off her cheek, mouth open wide.
The both of you share a smile as you gently wipe her cheeks. She scowls and batts at you, but her hands are curled indefensibly. You meet Feferi and Eridan in the hall.
"Eridan!" Vriska cheeps first.
They both go in for the affectionate slug-in-the-face greeting but you and Feferi are quicker to catch their shoulders. She looks stunning- almost as if she's done this before. She's in a chic black sportcoat and skirt with stockings, but her power color of fuchsia popping through. Eridan is equally smartly dressed, wearing a suit probably twice as expensive as yours, in tiny violet pinstripes.
"Miss Pyrope got the clothes I sent, I see," She says to Vriska, crouching to meet her.
Oh, that explains a lot. You wondered how Terezi had picked colors.
"And shoes!" Vriska exclaims, offering them to her.
Feferi laughs and pinches Vriska's cheeks, going in for an affectionate nose rub. You're a bit surprised Vriska doesn't yank her hair out, but she seems content to let her.
"Oh, little one, your braid's all messy, come here."
They find a bench to sit on, and Vriska sits cross-legged while Feferi brushes her hair with one of her (you assume many) pocket brushes from her purse. Eridan is left with you. He stands imperiously at your knee.
"Is she ready?"
You're alarmed by how stern and adult he sounds, his back straight and hands held at his sides in little fists. His posture is tall and strong, as if he were a righteous emperor. Napoleonic complex, maybe? You take a page from Terezi's book on how you speak with him.
"I think so. Miss Pyrope has coached her really well. Besides, she has all of us here."
"'A course," he drops his voice slightly, "But she also know-ws to not show-w fear."
Thoughtful words for someone so small. You consider her, her braid now sleek and tied off with a ribbon instead of a rubber band.
"Show-win' fear means she has a w-weak spot," he explains, "Somethin' people can stab. She's a fighter. A' course she'll never be scared. At least, not to you."
"All done," Feferi sings, "Much better."
Eridan leaves you, climbing up beside Feferi to get groomed as well. She dusts his vest and shoulders. combs his hair in place. It's like watching preening-by-proxy.
"Do you need to get wuh-wuh-waxed too?" Vriska drawls at him.
The sea troll affectionately offers both of his middle fingers. Feferi slaps his wrists.
There's a light tone over the PA system. It's time to begin.
You take your seats. You sit behind Vriska- your hands on her bony shoulders. You've given her your smart phone to play with to try and calm any frayed nerves. She's dominating Angry Birds. Feferi and Eridan are both far behind you. Feferi sits Eridan on her lap so he can see. Terezi is arranging her notes; written in braille so she needn't use her magnifier. Senator sits at her heels, attentive and out of the way. The jury files in, too. They're uncomfortable- you can only imagine, having to sit through a trial like this. The bailiff orders everyone to settle down- and you see him enter.
Doctor Scratch is a thin, small man. His suit is so impeccable it's almost insulting, with a bow tie and suspenders. His head is shaved, and his skin a pasty, unnatural white, his eyes the color of ice. The handcuffs are removed, his smile disarming and sinister all at once. Vriska hasn't looked up from her video game, though her ears lift. She's aware he's there.
You want to tear him apart. Your hands tighten at Vriska's shoulders.
"Ouch," she whispers.
"All rise." The bailiff calls out.
The room obeys, except Vriska- you gently push her to stand, slip her game from her. It's time to pay attention.
The judge is a mammoth of a man, burly and husky, you are pretty sure he could throw a tree with one hand. Both of which are huge, by the way. Like trashcan lids. He looks more at home with yeti than in a courtroom. Regardless, he nods somberly and takes his seat.
"Counselor Pyrope, your opening statement."
"I have none. For the sake of my witness, I would move to call my first witness to the stand," Terezi clicks her way to the Jury, small, her hands held at her jacket's waist.
"Motion granted," he gestured with his hand.
"The people call Vriska Serket to the stand."
"Objecton," The doctor stands, "Your honor, trolls must be presented as evidence, they cannot be witnesses."
"Objection," Terezi lifts her voice, "There is no case of precedence where the troll has lived to be called as a witness. Your honor, she can speak for herself."
The court prattled to one another, an awkward game of telephone where you can hear each garbled version.
"Counselor Pyrope, this is unprecedented. One false move and the troll's testimony will be stricken from the record."
Terezi turns to you. "Miss Serket."
There's an audible moan of sympathy as Vriska pads her way to Terezi. This must be a good sign, right? They like her. Vriska whirls at them- and you pray she doesn't ruin this. For herself, for everyone. The judge calls for order. That will probably happen often.
The bailiff isn't sure what to do as he bends to offer the Bible to Vriska. Doctor Scratch stands to object- but Terezi hears his chair squeak first and is instantly on her feet.
"It's only right that she go under Oath. We owe her the same responsibilities as everyone else."
The officer extends the book back to Vriska. She stares at it, then back to him. One hand hovers to touch it, the other curled anxiously. The fuck is this? is written so clearly on her features it might as well have been printed there with magic marker.
"Place your hand here- ah, the right one. Then raise your left like this. Repeat after me. I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me god."
Vriska's unusually articulate. "I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!"
You pray she actually means that. Vriska needs a whole stack of books to see over the stand. She perches on it, frowning at the hard books. This will be uncomfortable in more ways than one. Terezi approaches her, friendly and disarming.
"Hello, Miss Serket."
"Hi, Terezi!" Her casual manner gets a chuckle from the jury at least.
"Now, how old are you?"
"M'supposed to say eight, since that's how old I am for humans." She drawls.
"That's right. How long were you in Doctor Scratch's care?"
"Since I was hatched! So forever, I guess."
"How long did he make you fight?"
"Objection," he calls. "Leading."
Terezi gathers her thoughts. "What was your first memory?"
"Shots," Vriska wrinkled her nose, "He called them prickly-sticks."
The doctor's smile is endeared and sickening. He remembers too. Vriska turns away from him.
"What did you do when you lived with Doctor Scratch?"
"Oh. Well, we lived in a kennel. There was hay. It was warm in winter and we had fans in summertime. And chow."
"The people present Exibit 50. The kennel facilities at Doctor Scratch's home, at the time of arrest."
A screen is pulled down- and Terezi taps a bit at a little remote. The photo sparks to life on the screen. God, it was worse than you thought. The kennels are small, dirty, and blood-splattered in every color.
"That one's not mine," Vriska says, leaning to look, "That one was Aradia's. She liked to write on the walls."
You swallow the bile in your throat at the bloody words on the walls. You wish you could have met Aradia. You wish you could have met all of them and absconded with them somewhere safe.
"How about this one?"
"Yeah, that one's mine!"
Vriska had drawn in chalk on the floors, and built a little nest of hay. No wonder Vriska slept so often; before she came to your house she probably didn't even know what comfort felt like.
"Mine and Pupa's- um, Tavros. We shared. He snored."
"What would you do there?"
"Wait all day," Vriska's playing with her fingers, "At night he'd come get us. We'd either fight each other to stay strong or he'd bring somebody else's in. They'd bet money. I was worth a lot! I got all the money!"
Doctor Scratch is smiling at her fondly in a way that makes you want to leap across the aisle to gut him.
"What made you win?"
She doesn't answer.
"Miss Serket, how did you win?" Terezi presses her.
Vriska bows her head- she doesn't want to answer. The Judge ruled instead.
"Girl, you will answer."
"We won if the other one died. Sometimes it wasn't right away. So we had to wait as they lay there."
She squirmed proudly, her chin up. "I've laid there before. Bleeding hurts. I never let them lie there."
"That was kind of you," Terezi says.
"Sometime's death's kinder than sitting there."
"How many died when you fought?"
"Twelve," it's soft, "Ten in fights."
"And the other two?"
While Vriska is silent, she scoops up the remote again.
"People present Exhibit 55 and 60."
Two trolls pop up on the screen. One is a girl; she's worn and ragged like Vriska. Her skin is pale, like white marble- and her throat is open. Her blood is red- but darker than yours. she's stretched out on a tarp like a piece of garbage. Her eyes are open, glassy and helpless, arms stretched at her sides as if she welcomed it. The other is a boy- he's curled up in the hay that you assume is in the kennels. He's battered- but covered in a scratchy, dirty blanket. Something's wrong with how his legs lay- they're twisted and lie at all the wrong angles. But his head is pillowed on his folded hands, his expression peaceful, as if in sleep. Only two bitemarks are on his throat, perfect fang bites. There's no struggle.
Vriska doesn't look, eyes fixed on her shoes.
"Aradia Megido and Tavros Nitram. Kennelmates. What happened?"
"…Tavros got hurt," Vriska mumbled.
"Speak up!" the Judge bellowed, rattling the dust from the rafters.
"Tavros got hurt! We were playing. I played too hard. I always did," she huffed, "He got hurt- all broken up. Doc said he was going to be put out as bait next fight. It wasn't good. Not a good way to die. So I put him down."
Her fingers picked at her nails- opening the cuticles. "…He didn't even wake up."
"And Miss Megido?"
"She got my eye."
Terezi nods slowly.
"…Now. Tell me about Miss Black."
"Who?" Vriska's genuinely confused.
"Miss Black. You knew her as 'Snowman,'."
Only now does Doctor Scratch bristle.
"Ohh," Vriska puts her chin on her hands. "She was the Doctor's Girlfriend."
"Miss Rowena Black," Terezi explains, presenting the court with a photograph of a beautiful woman with rich dark skin and a wide-brimmed black velvet hat, "A member of the aristocracy. Had you met before?"
"A few times. Miss Snowman was nice. She came to visit and sometimes put her hands through the bar and gave us sweets. She called me Thief."
She was proud of her nickname, puffing her chest out. Terezi nods, flipping her notes over and adjusting her magnifier.
"Why did you kill her?"
The unflinching manner Vriska explains the story with gives you chills. This came so easily to her.
"He asked me to. I guess they broke up. So I bit her."
Terezi takes this time to flip to Miss Black's postmortem photograph stretched out on a steel table. Like Aradia, her eyes were open and empty, jaw slack, perfect lipstick smeared. She had two neat bites in the crook of her neck, just like Tavros.
"The venom got her," Vriska peeps matter-of-factly.
She had venom? You supposed it made sense, what with her long, sharp fangs. You remember when Vriska chomped down on your hand. She could have easily poisoned you.
"Did you want to?"
"No. Miss Snowman was nice."
"I told you already, Terezi! He asked."
"What would have happened if you didn't?"
Vriska leaned forward in the stand to peek at the photo of Snowman's body on the screen.
"I guess that would have been a picture of me, then."
"Objection, speculation! Move to strike."
Terezi holds up both hands in mock surrender.
"Now. Miss Serket, where are you now?"
"I live with John, the goofy-looking one."
She points enthusiastically in your direction and every eye whirls to look at you. You wish you weren't holding the edge of the bench in a death grip looking terrified for your girl's life.
"He teaches me numbers."
"Very good. The people rest."
Terezi approaches the witness stand- and whispers to her, enough that the microphone picks up on only a little.
"Well done, Vriska."
"You're welcome." Vriska sneers back to her.
"The Defense may now question the witness."
Doctor Scratch folds his arms tight to him, a bemused smile twitching at his cocky mouth. He has a strange way of speaking while hardly opening his mouth.
"The defense rests. There's no witness to question here. Just a troll."
Miss Pyrope laughs- a terrifying, low chuckle that's just enough to make you uncomfortable.
"I disagree, Counselor," Terezi sings the last word, off-key and sour, speaking up so all could hear.
"I don't see a difference at all."
The court recessed for lunch. Vriska bounded from the stand and was already demanding burgers and chicken nuggets and wanting to know what a Happy Meal was. Eridan must have told her about McDonald's. Shit. Vriska swings from your arm like a jungle gym, still admiring her shoes. You're glad she's not worse for wear from the trial, but you're exhausted from all the information, and ill from all of the presented evidence.
Feferi lays a hand on your back, and murmurs into your ear where Vriska couldn't hear, "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I mean. I just. God."
Vriska and Eridan are fighting over the toys. Eventually they execute a trade. Which, as fair as that could potentially be between only two people, still became an exotic saga of betrayal and espionage. Only those two could pull that off in a span of ten minutes.
"Too many have been hurt," You whisper back, watching after the little ones.
"The hurt's over now," She says, squeezing your shoulders. "Don't worry. It's over now."
The bailiff calls everyone back inside. You squeeze Feferi's hand and go to collect your girl.
Nothing's over yet.
Chapter 9: Battles and Lullabies
At least Vriska's in the gallery with you now, settled safe on your lap. She's playing Angry Birds again. It takes a great deal of self control not to just smother her right now. Too many eyes are on her, too many flying thoughts, and you know none of them are kind. Terezi's readying herself for battle. By the time the Judge is seated, she's armed to the teeth.
"I call the defendant to the stand."
"Granted, the defendant will take the stand."
His smile revolts you as he casually strolls to the official and rests his hand on the Bible. He swears to tell the truth as if that were the only option. Your teeth grind. Vriska is squirming. Her red shoes overlap. Your hands rub at her tense shoulders. Relax.
"Mr Scratch," Terezi bites.
"Doctor, if you please, Miss Pyrope."
His southern accent is thick and distressingly saccharine, like molasses that could choke someone.
"Doctor, then. How many trolls have been in your care?"
"My, my, I'm a veterinarian, my dear. Many homo alterniam have come into my care."
"How many have you treated?"
"Oh, hundreds! Many came through my practiced. I aided in hatching little ones and sending them on their way when their sweeps are through."
"What is the average lifespan of a domestic troll? In a better situation, perhaps."
"Twenty or so. The lucky ones live till 25. Trolls are quite a responsibility, you know! They may stay small like children, but they're still a great deal of responsibility. Most cannot handle them that long, and so, they come to me. A rescue, if you will."
"How many did you claim as your own?"
"Six," He replies, bemused.
"How many did you have in your home at the time of your arrest?"
"How many are still alive?"
His gaze turns to Vriska.
You feel her shiver.
"Incorrect," Terezi contends, "The last is no longer in your possession."
"The people present Evidence 45a, b, and c."
Terezi flips a button on her screen.
Three trolls pop on screen- the photos clinical. Oh, god. You're going to be sick. They're bloody- a rainbow smear, and god help them, they're still alive. They look to the cameras questioningly, missing teeth, their horns cracked and split open down to the root, bloody, torn, broken, limbs missing. You can hear Feferi whimper behind you. Vriska is still, stiff.
"Trolls seized from your home. What are their names?"
"They didn't have them," he replies cooly, "Simply patients awaiting treatment."
"Incorrect. They were registered to you, Doctor. Elimys Nooski. Euthanized. Malali Vartal, Euthanized. Faurei Asmett. Euthanized."
"I should hope so," he looks to the photos sympathetically, "They look to be in severe pain."
"How did they sustain these injuries, Doctor?"
"Accidents, Trolls are violent creatures, you know. It's in their very nature."
Bullshit. Bullshit, objection, whatever the fuck it is you wish you could say. Terezi takes her cue.
"Incorrect," Terezi offers smoothly, "Independent studies show that trolls are no more violent than, say, humans." Her last word is pointed.
"Careful, counselor," The judge warns her.
"Redirect," She chirps.
"What study is this, Miss Pyrope? Certainly nothing official."
"If by official, you mean Crockercorp-ordained, no." Terezi crosses to the jury.
"Trolls are products, you see, ladies and gentlemen- products endorsed by the Crockercorp. They are the sole holders of eggs and mandate the sale and distribution of domestic trolls."
So that's where they come from. You imagine Vriska's egg, in a cute Betty Crocker red package. It makes you squirm inside.
"They are also the producers of TrollChow, the only food for trolls on the market."
"Monopolies are a necessary thing," Doctor Scratch says in such a cheerful manner you want to rip his throat out.
"Doctor, you are commissioned by Crockercorp to monitor troll nutrition, is that correct?"
"Yes. As well as treating domestic trolls, I also ensure the care of every troll in homes across the world. Which I take great pride in."
You glance over your shoulder to Feferi- she's equally disgusted, hugging Eridan around the waist, her frown pronounced. Eridan is watching the proceedings with a grave face. Both of you silently vow to never feed your little ones that swill, ever again, ever.
"Can't trolls eat whatever their owners choose?"
"Not so," He wags a finger, "Human food would make them sick, you see. They simply cannot digest it. That would make their shorter lifespans miserable, and shorter. For all their tough exterior, their insides are quite delicate.
"Your honor, I have evidence the defendant is lying."
One click- and a beautiful woman pops on the screen- it takes you a moment to realize- she's not only a troll. She's Vriska.
No, she's. Not quite Vriska. But the features are all there. The lips, fangs, the shape of her eyes. She's even missing one, on the same side. Her horns are taller- She's shapely- breathtaking. One of her arms is gone. She's like a painting- so beautiful that you miss all of the flaws until you study her. They make her more beautiful. The photograph was old and stained. She's posed like some sick version of a pinup, with lipstick and eyeshadow and cerulean rouge to cover up her wounds. A lock of her hair's been swept in a victory roll and a posh fur pelt draped over her shoulders. It's definitely risque. Your eyes don't stray below her collarbone, though by the expression of fury on her face, you can tell many others had looked on her that way.
Beyond all that- she's an adult. She's grown.
Besides the obvious developments of womanhood, she's tall- and she is most certainly not the armful that most trolls are marketed for.
"Meet Spinneret Serket," Terezi taps the screen with her fingers.
"One of your charges, Doctor. She's 25. At least, she was when this was taken. And was part of the same underground ring you allegedly attended. Her fighting name was 'Mindfang' and she sired one of your later acquisitions."
"Where did you find that?" If anything was going to knock the Doctor off his highhorse, it was this.
Mindfang. Mindfang was real? The court cannot keep quiet. The judge resorts to pounding his gavel and shouting for order. You make eye contact with Feferi. Her hands are stitched over her mouth, eyes huge. Eridan is equally alarmed- but far more curious. He looks on Mindfang, sizing himself up the way a boy might with a mountain to conquer. Vriska could give absolutely no shits about the court. Her eyes are locked on Mindfang, jaw dropped in awe.
"She's amazing," Vriska sputters.
Terezi speaks over the chatter, her voice carrying to every corner of the room.
"The troll food you market stunts development, growth, and I move to claim, ends their lives long before their bodies are through."
The doctor shouts over the clamor of the courtroom. "Objection, relevance?"
"Patterns, your Honor, patterns!"
She's going in for the kill, winding a noose with her words.
"Patterns of wonton rejection of life, and comfort of others, denying other beings their right to grow and learn, patterns of complete and utter disregard for anyone but themselves. Where is Mindfang now?"
"She ran away, but certainly can't be alive now. Exposure, most likely. She never took care of herself very well."
His tongue ran across his dry mouth. "But she was a beauty."
Doctor Scratch's gaze jerks from Terezi- to Vriska. Vriska flinches back against you. He isn't speaking to Terezi anymore. He's speaking to her. His gaze bores into Vriska hard, pinning her back against the bench.
"Nonsense," he purrs, "We treat them the way they wish. They're violent, they're out of control, despite how you dress them. It is for their own benefit that we control them. They are happier for it. They are animals."
It must have been an old song, Vriska's first lullaby. You're violent. You're out of control. You're happier for this.
"Why else would they be so inclined to slaughter," he continues, "They want this! They enjoy this! You should have seen little Vriska's smile as she tore Aradia apart. Like a baby with a new toy."
Vriska is tense- her ears are at attention- and the hair on her arms raises. You try to soothe her, rub her back- but you're shocked stiff. Some help you are.
"Tavros was simply another plaything. She would have shredded him to ribbons if I left him be. I let nature take its course. I simply observe, and host their instinctual battles for territory and dominance. And I am simply the best there is."
The girl in your arms suddenly lurches forward.
"You're LYING! YOU LIAR!" She's screaming, scrambling forward, "I'LL KILL YOU! YOU FUCKING BASTARD! I'LL KILL YOU!"
There's a scratching and screaming behind you. Eridan's gotten started. He's practically tearing Feferi apart trying to get away from her locked hold. The crowd panics, and utter pandemonium explodes in the courtroom. There's slams for order. All you can focus on is keeping Vriska down- there's too much noise to shush her or calm her.
The only one calm in the entire court is Doctor Scratch. And he begins to laugh, high and tinny and grating and horrible. You squeeze Vriska closer as she shreds into your skin with her nails.
When the needle sinks into her skin, her screaming quietens to tears, and then stillness.
You wish it were as easy for you to escape.
She's still under when you exit the courthouse to the dark police car. You don't even notice the mob of cameramen vying to get a photo of the limp, sedated troll in your arms. Her jaw is hanging open and her arms swing uselessly. It scares you, feeling her so lifeless. Even when she slept she squirmed and nuzzled. Now she's just dead weight, and the anxiety rends you into pieces.
They won't leave you alone- and you feel numb; looking dumbly at the flashbulbs as Vriska's arm hangs over your shoulder and her legs sway. Terezi has one hand clamped hard on your wrist, the other holding tight to Senator's harness. There's noise, noise, shoving bodies, shouting and shiny, television-ready teeth, demanding things from you.
The screaming is finally silenced when Terezi slams the door shut.
You sit in the icy quiet for a long time, Vriska still in your arms. At least the drug is wearing off- she's settling into you, fingers twitching and claws poking holes into your vest. Terezi slips her hand across Vriska's lap to reach yours.
"Are you alright?"
"She'll come out of sedation soon."
"Terezi, did we lose? Are we lost?"
She shakes her head boldly. "One battle, perhaps. But other victories came through today. And that's how we'll win the war."
"And what about her?"
"I don't know, John. I wish I did."
Your fingers card at her hair when her eye cracks open. She's still hazy and there's a light milky film over her eye. You can't imagine how nauseous she feels right now, and puking in the back of a police car is perhaps not the best route to acquittal. So instead you heft her a bit closer to your chest and sing her an old lullaby, one of your dad's favorite old songs. Of the pyramids and the sea, and it's enough to lure her back down.
The scars that litter her are testament to her strength, her vitality. You wonder why the instant she came into your care she became so drained? As soon as she feels safe, you vow to take her to a doctor. Not some crooked vet. A real doctor.
"What will happen to her if he's not guilty?"
"Leave it to me, John," Terezi squeezes hard on your knee, "He'll hang."
Chapter 10: Paws and Tails
The first person appears outside the next day. One of the newspaper cronies, you suspect. Though judging by their clothes they're a blogger. Either way, they're hanging around your mailbox, leering at the door. A television crew came at one point. You made sure not to watch the news that night. There's herds of curious onlookers- there's bound to be a dozen outside now. They're like a group of vultures, with their bobbing heads and fluttering wings.
What intrigues you most are the trolls. They come with their people. Some on leashes, some simply holding their hands, the way you walk with Vriska. You can't hear their talk, obviously, as they peer over the white picked fence, holding onto the points with their little grey hands. They seem innocent enough. But right now all that mattered was Vriska's case. You keep the curtains drawn. More importantly, you keep her from the window.
You haven't visited the shop in days. No one's called, no one's asked for opening times- and you find you don't even miss the damn place.
Vriska's ill- something is wrong with her. At the very least she's awake for now, nestled in a pile on the sofa. She discovered video games recently and you doubt you're going to pry her from them any time soon. She's totally absorbed in a very violent game of MarioKart, only her little face and hands visible from her favorite sunny blanket. She has your rabbit, too- well, her rabbit now, snug under one arm.
Your groceries are running low. And Vriska needed medicine. You've been tending to her with children's Motrin- and decidedly threw out the TrollChow the night you came home from Court. Proteins first- Vriska enjoys meat, and it's no surprise. You wonder about all of the trolls out there with beautiful fangs, gnawing on the processed mash Betty Crocker's peddling.
You'll be damned if Vriska isn't perceptive, though. She tugs at you to sit by her and play. She knows you're stressed. While she doesn't climb onto you and fuss, she leans herself to your side, horns bumping the curve of your shoulder. Even sitting with her for a few rounds of bananas and bombs doesn't loosen your tension. So it's not exactly unexpected when the doorbell rings you near plant yourself in the ceiling.
Naturally Vriska leaps to her feet, dragging her blanket to the door.
"I got it I got it!!"
What wolves were waiting for her out there? You just barely manage to snatch her blankets and hold her behind you, behind the stronghold of your skinny knees. Damn, these hawks were getting gutsy. You'll be sure to kick them straight in the engorged ballsack when you-
It's your sister.
Jade, standing in the doorway, her hair a wreck, clutching an oversized duffle bag and rifle case as if she had just crawled through 'Nam itself. More pointed is her expression, twisted in outrage. Bec is behind her, slobbering away, tongue sideways. It's a bit hard to imagine her so pissed when the hood of her sweatshirt has fuzzy white ears sewn to the top.
"John, you fucking idiot."
It's your sister, and she's going to kill you.
The shouts of questions from the peanut gallery around your mailbox are muffled when she shoves both bags to swing behind her (probably not bright to do with a rifle-case, but this is Jade) and hugs you tight around the neck.
"You're a fucking idiot for thinking you can do this all on your own."
When you let Jade into your house- our house?? Ugh, anyway, when you let Jade in, Vriska makes a point to puff herself up. She crouched to all fours, her hair on end. There was an intruder she didn't know, and she was poised to defend her home.
"Oh, this is her!" Jade releases you to crouch before her like she would with her dog- No, Jade, no, "Oh, she's so cute!"
Vriska instantly hisses, her ears pressed back, fangs at the ready.
"Vriska-" you warn her, but she doesn't back down.
Bec is unimpressed, and lollops right on over to give Vriska a thorough sniffing. She eases instantly- after all, she gets along with Senator. Bec approves of her, and soon the two of them are rolling about on the carpet like pals, her cheek soaked with enthusiastic dog-kisses. Jade sighs, straightening herself, her long hair swaying. You almost think you get away with it, when she whirls to face you.
"We need to talk."
"I know… Think Bec will be alright with her?"
"Of course. Don't dodge me. My aim is perfect, you know."
Right. Jade is your older twin, and she reminds you of this constantly. She's not been back to the house since Dad's funeral, either. You can tell she's grieving like you are as she stares into the pantry to find some cocoa. It's on the cusp of winter outside, and Jade was always warm-blooded. She's probably freezing. Vriska laughs from the den, growling and playing. It's the most energy she's had in a while. It's good to hear her laugh.
She lifts her bushy eyebrows up at you over her glasses, arms crossed over her chest. Your turn, John.
"Listen, I didn't really plan for this. I took pets in that were involved in legal cases. This is my first troll."
"And you didn't bother to call me? A vet-in-training?"
"No, listen, Jade, I didn't think she'd be here that long!" You stage-whisper badly.
Jade's mouth makes an unsympathetic line. You never could really lie to her.
"I thought you'd be mad."
"Don't be stupid! I love-"
"Don't say Animals, Jade, for the love of fuck, don't say it, she's not a fucking dog."
Maybe you shouldn't have bit her head off instantly- because it's clearly taken her aback, and she leans away from her cocoa.
"I was going to say kids, John. I love kids. Of course she'd be welcome here."
Oh, god, you want to kiss her. Fuck, what is it with you and wanting to kiss ladies who are happy about Vriska? First Feferi and maybe your sister? Shit, you need to see a psychologist, man, get it together.
"What I mean is- she's not well, John, and you have a three-ring-circus outside our house! Even just an email? I haven't heard from you in months!"
"Look, I'm sorry, I just. Fuck."
Tears are bubbling up and, dammit, do not cry in front of your sister. She reached to take both of your hands in hers. For a while she's silent, and runs her calloused hand over yours in circles, like she used to when you were little. The familiarity of it near breaks you. But she interrupts, sparing you from further embarrassment.
"I'm here now. You don't have to do this alone."
"How did you even find out?"
"Have you even been on the internet? It's all over forums! News! Tumblr really got its jimmies rustled. People want to support you. They want to help you. You and Vriska."
You find that hard to believe, when the deck seems to be so firmly stacked against Vriska. Jade is not a speaker of bullshit, though.
"But how did you even get here, Jade? What about your schooling out in Farthefuckaway Island?"
"My Semester finishes before Thanksgiving. I took my tests early because of a 'family emergency.'" She drew little bunny air quotes, "So I'm done."
"You- wait, you graduated?"
"Well, sort of- I just have my residency. I found a place in the city. John, I'm coming home. You don't have to hole up."
"You keep saying that."
Jade digs around in her bag. She never did figure out how purses worked. She brought a messenger bag to prom. You swear to god she borrowed this thing from Mary Poppins. What the hell is she even pulling out of there? Bullet magazines… cough drops, hair brush, art supplies… She eventually unearths a giant binder and rifles through it to produce a stack of papers with a bunch of Legalese that makes absolute zero sense to you.
"Alright. So, from what I understand, she's slated for euthanasia after her trial-"
"Jade, SHHH." You practically choke her- but she batts you away.
"OK, OK. So she's scheduled for being put to sleep after Scratch's Trial. But… There's noises in the troll movement for her to be considered a battered child!"
"As in, she would be seen as a child, like she is, and not a pet. It's a separate hearing- we'd need to get her a lawyer…"
"Terezi can help! She's the prosecutor! She loves Vriska! Sort of? They're sisters. I don't know. Trolls, Jade, Trolls."
"Anyway, the trial can overturn it- There's no precedence in this, John, this is huge! Vriska could change everything!"
You glance to her, rolling about with Bec in the den. She had already changed everything.
"It'll be expensive, John." She looks down at her hands. "Even if Terezi goes pro-bono, there's still…"
Oh. Oh shit. Your eyes dart all over the house. Fuck, what can you sell? What's not bolted down? And then- it comes to you, practically hitting you square between the eyes.
She seems to catch on. Twin powers, you guess. The conflict on her face is obvious. But for a different reason than yours.
"John, are you ready to let him go?"
"It's…" You pause, trying to phrase it in a way that doesn't make you feel like the worst son in the universe. "It's just a shop, Jade. He's not there anymore. I barely go in- and if we sell all the inventory, and the building…"
She reaches for your hands again- but you're in no need of comforting. You're smiling, hope is bursting out of you in sunbeams. Your excitement rubs off.
"It should be enough, Jade. This is huge! This is bigger than us! This is bigger than Vriska and I!"
Jade shares your smile, reaching to touch the corner of your mouth. She must have missed this.
"Wow," your girl mutters from the door, "That must be really fat, then."
You and Jade hash out the nitty gritty of selling the shop. It had't made profit in years. It was time. Vriska's pulled herself on your lap, enjoying a tall glass of milk. She's not really paying much attention to you, but you appreciate she wants to be beside you anyway. You wonder how much she's picking up on this, how much she understands about what could happen. Bec's on the floor, snuffing at Vriska and trying to beg scraps from her. Or, at least headscritches.
While rubbing one soft ear, you come across scar tissue. She flinches, only twisting her ear from your fingers. Of course she understands.
"Oh, Jade. Can you check Vriska out? I mean, she's not been feeling well."
"John, I'm fiiiiiiiine," She whines, going up three octaves mid-word.
"Shush, you. You've been feverish and lethargic everywhere."
Her eye near rolls a full 360 before she hops down and crosses to Jade, hands on her narrow hips. You silently praise Jade for reigning herself in, professional as she gently feels her brow and neck, gaging her temperature.
"She is warm," Jade comments, "Has she been vomiting?"
"No, I haven't."
Jade turns her attention to Vriska, addressing her instead. "Anywhere sore?"
Her ears twist back. Ah. You've become used to the signs of her lying.
She's not happy- her teeth grit and she turns to give you a nasty stink-eye. Showing any sort of weakness or ailment would've gotten her killed in the ring. You don't waver- and gesture insistently with one hand. There's a swell of self-pride as Vriska groans, turning back to your sister.
She takes Jade's hand, and presses it to tummy- just to the left.
Your sister scribbles some nonsensical notes down. "John, give her the children's cold medicine we had as kids. The yummy grape stuff. It should keep her comfy, help her sleep."
"But… Jade, we haven't had that shit in years. I've been using Kiddie Motrin."
"Then go get some! The Motrin's too powerful, it's knocking her out. What, do you live under a rock?"
Is she crazy? You jerk a thumb to the still-gathering mob outside.
"Ah. Right. Have you got anyone? Friends who can deliver it? What about Dave?"
"Oh, he moved. Heading a club up or something, hasn't talked with me in a while."
"Dave? Not talk?" She snorts, eyebrows lifted, "More like you haven't talked to him, right?"
Vriska studies you both. You realize that it's rare she's seen a human family interact. Jade carefully toys with Vriska's hair. You wonder what it is about girls playing with hair, but you admit you find yourself playing with Vriska's hair when you were both mellow and sleepy. Speaking of, she's getting that kind of droopy-eyed, head nodding look. She twiddles her ear, another telltale sign. Still, she's on alert from a new person in her house. It'll take some careful coaxing to soothe her.
By the time you're at her heel, her hands are up expectantly. This is such a familiar pattern now. You catch her in one arm, lock your hand to your side to keep her there. Normally she would simply drop her head to the crook of your neck, but she watches Jade imperiously instead.
"Your attic room is still there. Haven't moved it or any of your junk."
"I should hope not, fuckass."
"Oh my god, you still use that word? Middle school, Jade, middle school."
Your girl's not up for your shenanigans. She whines, giving your throat a little punch. It's very controlled- and won't leave a bruise- but it gets the point across.
"Alright, alright," you cough, "Let me put Spider Girl to bed then I'll help you move your stuff upstairs.
Jade gives a noncommittal 'mmhmm,' though you can feel her eyes on your back. You cart her upstairs into the sanctuary of her room. She can dress herself- you turn your back to let her squirm into her yellow moon shirt. You tease her with her sunny blanket- she could be whole sky now. When she laughs, wriggles from your tickles and bats your hands, you let the thought enter your mind.
You're already the sun and moon to me.
"So," She interrupts your warm thoughts, bringing her bunny close and settling back against the pillows, "Is she staying here?"
"Yes, this is her house, too. Before it was yours."
With the covers smoothed over her she looks like some odd fairytale princess- and it makes some inner part of you squirm, though you can't put your finger on why.
"Do you like her?" You ask, flipping the light off for her.
"Yes," Vriska answers mid-yawn, "She's a crazy bitch."
"Of course I like her."
This earns her a kiss on the head as you wish her goodnight, and she mumbles a reply that could've been "don't wet the bed," but you'll forgive her. You always will.
Jade is waiting for you at the foot of the steps with her scant luggage. Bec follows her up to meet you as you take her rifle and duffel bag.
"You've got locks and stuff on this, right?"
"Of course I do. I won't have it where she can reach it. I'm a responsible gun owner!"
"You shot a butterfly once."
"It looked threatening."
Your feet tromp up the winding steps to the little attic. When you were younger, you and Jade shared a room- but soon she wanted to go to the attic. Her telescope was still angled toward her favorite constellation, Cancer. It self-adjusted to follow it across the sky. Jade had a cozy, if messy room. Plush toys everywhere, posters of anthropomorphic heroines. Jade tossed herself on her own bed in a puff of blankets and sheets.
Bec took his place in the soft pile, panting happily. He lay his jaw against his paws contently. Jade watches you from her bed.
"John, I like this on you."
"Like what on me? The shirt? Bah, Vriska wiped her fingers on it…"
"No, I mean. This… loving parenting thing. It works for you. I never saw you as the dad type."
"Woah, I'm not her dad. I take care of her, but it's not like… I'm not her dad."
"Well, fine. But really, John. It suits you. You with kids."
"I don't even have a girlfriend, much less a wife."
"You don't need one."
Jade sighs, wiggling out of her shoes.
"Just. Don't sell yourself short, John. You can really help."
You plop yourself beside her, enough to disrupt her comfy sprawl. She squirms to sit up, lean against your back, slip her arms around her waist. The silence is tangible; heavy on your shoulders. Your breaths regulate. God, you'd missed this. You'd missed your sister's hair tangling with yours, her darker skin that she used to tease you with. Mussing your hair. Your twin.
With only Vriska you'd forgotten how much you missed having family.
"Can we do this, Jade? I mean. Fix things. For Vriska and other trolls."
"I think so," She bumps her knuckles to yours. "I've got your back. A lot of people have your back."
She squeezed tight.
"We've got this."
Chapter 11: Sweaters and Ribbons
"I'm going to lose it," Vriska informs you, peering over the foot of your couch with the conviction of the Spanish Inquisition.
"I said I'm going to lose it, I've not left the house in days. Bec's going nuts! I am too. So are you."
She climbs her way across your legs, caring very little where her bony knees jab into. She's almost nocturnal now- sleeping most of the early morning and then tearing about late at night like a cerulean banshee. The flock outside your door has only begun to grow, and you know Vriska is slowly going stir-crazy. She paces in the windowseats- peers past the filmy curtains, paws at the door wantingly. As it is, you're running out of needed fresh air and food. You've started having cereal and popcorn for dinner.
"I want to go out."
"Not yet. Those losers are still out there."
"And they're losers! Can't we mow 'em down? Let's do it, John, you and me, we'll just take them out! Jade can help. Bec too. Let's do it."
You wince a bit as she kneads you, claws prickling like little needles.
"Not really a good plan, Vriska. It'll make too much noise."
She flops her head under your chin, getting a mouthful of hair. Blugh. At the very least, Jade's been taking good care of it. It's soft, straight as a pin, but still manages to stick up in ways you can't seem to smooth with your fingers. Sometimes you like to pet it, just to watch it spring back up. As you're doing now.
"If this is fun, we have a problem, John." She's onto you.
Jade's shuffling down the stairs pulling on her boots, and it's a wonder she hasn't lost her balance yet. Vriska immediately flings herself from you to dance circles around her ankles, bright-eyed.
"Where you going? What are you doing? I wanna go!"
You roll off the couch with as much grace as a walrus and collect your scrambling Troll. Jade is readying her concealed arms and tucking them into folds of her coat. You never understood her obsession with guns. By the time she was attending friends' weddings she was already attempting to jam one into her silk clutch. You think it has to do with your oldest brother, Jake. He obsessed over guns too. Why even. You wonder what he's up to- he took off into the sticks in Africa somewhere. He'd be unreachable for months. Brother material, he was not.
"No way, squirt," Jade gloriously fucks up Vriska's hair, if only to watch it stick, "You gotta stay here and watch this numbnut."
Vriska nods solemnly.
"Vriska, don't be in on this too!"
"Besides, you're gonna have a visitor!"
We are? We are, apparently.
"Someone you know," Jade reassures you, "Just Feferi and her little friend."
"Eridan!" Vriska seethes. "I must set traps."
And she's off and running again, her maniacal laughter echoing through the kitchen. You watch her run- the tightness in your chest twisting ever so slightly.
"She has a lot of energy today," Jade says, "That's good. If I can coax her to take some bloodwork… We can see about what's up with her."
"Why wasn't it taken when she was found?" It's a good question.
"She knocked the teeth out of the vet that tried, according to the report. Both bicuspids!"
Of fucking course.
Jade calls Bec to her heels, and he obediently rushes up beside her, tail thumping the floor. You'd love to hear his internal dialogue. You're pretty sure it's I AM DOG! DOG DOG DOG DOG DOG DOG GOOD DOG DOG DOG.
"Are you okay?"
"Oh. Yeah, shit, I'm sorry…"
"You've not been sleeping, have you?"
"Nah. Not well."
"We're gonna get this, John. I promise," She bonks her brow to yours, speaks into you, "We're gonna get her."
"Now," She says as she parts, hefting up her bullet-heavy coat, "Text me if you want anything."
"Just," You stumble a bit, "A cake mix. But Duncan Hines."
She smiles, and slips out of the door. When the paparazzi lose their shit on seeing her, Jade proceeds to spread her arms and swagger, dare anyone to come ask her about how her night was with their mothers. Goddammit, Jade. They part, and her cute ear-hood bobs over them as she trots to the car. You're lucky you have a "big" sister like her. Most of the time.
Why the fuck didn't she tell you about Feferi coming over?? She was fancy, and the house was… There were cheese curls all over the coffee table, fuck, fuck!
"VRISKA," You shout, "I NEED YOUR HELP."
"SETTING TRAPS. IRONS IN THE FIRE. CAN'T DO IT."
You may have actually gotten everything clean in the hour before Feferi's arrival, but instead you spend it chasing Vriska around and attempting to enlist her help. At least you got the cheese curls off the table by the time you hear her coming. Not from a doorbell. Anyone approaching is going to get mobbed by the stalkerazi. You know she's here when they start shouting details of the Scratch case. You cup your hands over Vriska's ears and she strains to shake you free and listen. Miss Peixes! Miss Peixes! How do they know her name?
Feferi seemed happily impatient, perched on your doorstep like a cheerful stray. Eridan is behind her legs, defensively hissing at the crowd behind her, horns pointed downward like a little ram. In one arm she has a posh boutique bag, and the other a picnic basket full of goodies. You don't give two shits that it's probably more of her underbrush-scooped-into-a-jar organic food, you are so hungry for things not raided from your pantry you near crush the little woman right out of raw gratitude.
They're barely over the threshold, and Eridan reaches into the basket to fetch some bright apples and fruit to offer Vriska. A true gentleman! She's thrilled, as it gives her projectiles to throw at him.
"Have you taken her out at all?" She asks in the doorway- a herd of people frantically dialing cellphones and shouting questions over her shoulder.
"No, I…" You stumble over your words, it's been so long since you've spoken with someone outside your home.
"Ignore them," She orders you, inviting her way into the house.
"Alright," You say uneasily, pulling the door shut behind her.
Vriska and Eridan are already scrambling all over the house in the most deadly game of Hide-and-Seek you can imagine.
"Feferi, how do they know you-"
She lifts a hand, waving your words away like bothersome flies, "Family, that's all. Now. I have a surprise for Vriska!"
"Something better," she giggles, clapping her hands.
When Feferi gets excited, it's damn infectious, and you call Vriska to you. She's proudly dragging Eridan after her, who kicks and swears and makes a righteous fuss.
"What'd you get me? A present?" Vriska releases her kismesis long enough to near tumble into the shopping bag, her horns poking out.
"Something more appropriate for a little girl," Feferi cheers, pulling out a-
Oh, god, it's a snowbeast. It's white and blue and fluffy and are those ribbons? It's got a petticoat. Oh god, oh no.
"I helped pick it out," Eridan declared proudly.
"Of course you did, you hate me!" Vriska recoils from the damn thing like a viper-bite.
"Now, Vriska…" What can you even say to that, "Be nice, Miss Feferi brought this for you."
"At least try it on?" Feferi's already unzipping it for her, undoing all the ties.
Vriska stretches herself on the floor to make the most pitiful display of herself possible, whining an entire sentence with punctuation at you.
"Come on, Vriska," You reach a bit, "You'd look pretty?"
She gives you a righteous glare. You deserved that. Nonetheless, she snatches the little gown and storms off to wiggle into it. Feferi follows, a bit too eager to help. This leaves you with Eridan, who looks entirely too proud of himself.
"It's from my tailor," He declares, "Finest quality, a course."
"You have a tailor?"
"A course I do. Don't you?"
The only time you saw a tailor was when your dad went, and he took you when you became 'a man.' He was so, so proud of you. You hear the faint sounds of frustration and protest, accompanied by Feferi's shushings and encouragement. You think Eridan's enjoying this too much. He's preening his tiny lapels. Come to think of it, this is the first time you've gotten a good look at him. He's certainly bigger- when you met, he barely reached Feferi's knee, now he's at her waist. Granted, Feferi was not exactly a tall woman. But it was still startling when you compare him to the armful of hiss you met a month or so ago.
"Eridan, you look taller…"
"Fef said that," He beamed, straightening himself, "I am, aren't I! Catchin' up. Soon I'll be tall enough."
"Tall enough to what?"
"Presenting," Feferi interrupts, one hand around the corner, "Miss Vriska Serket. …Now, Vriska, come along."
Oh, your poor girl. She's not only incensed, she's going to explode and tear every curtain in your house to shreds. But she looks. So. Damn. Adorable. You almost don't even care about the state of your curtains.
"That's better," Eridan cheeps, giving her a little, condescending applause.
"I'm going to fucking deck you."
Feferi kneels, guiding Vriska into a turn. Oh, god, it's got a big, charming bow on the back. Everything is just so… cute and you're going to vomit rainbows.
"Do a curtsy for us?"
"A what now?"
"Pinch the sides of your skirt and kind of… Bob."
Watching her attempt a curtsy is about the most darling and most frustrating thing you've seen in all your days.
"Vriska you're… it's so precious I'm gonna go blind."
Aaaaaaaa…. God, man, Get it together. She's miserable. As sweet as she looks with all her big blue bows and- a brilliant thought passes your mind.
"Vriska, remember fairies?" You're already rising to go dig through her small pile of toys to fetch her wings.
"Yeah?" She answers warily, and takes a moment to slug Eridan in the arm for snickering at her.
You crouch to share your plot. She catches on, leans eagerly to listen.
"Sometimes," you whisper, "Fairies wear pretty things to catch unsuspecting prey."
That gets her interest, and a wicked smile spreads on her lips. She pulls on her fairy wings with renewed enthusiasm, and quickly puts on the face of an innocent, doe-eyed fairy. Eridan falls for it instantly. The cackle is muffled in her hands. She's got him now.
"Careful, love," Feferi calls after the Vriska-comet soaring through the house. "Don't tear the ribbons!"
"Feferi, that thing- er, dress, was probably expensive, are you sure?"
"Ah, it doesn't matter, honestly. She looks darling in it. Where did you get her clothing from? I understand it was short notice…"
If there is anything you have learned about Feferi Peixes, it's that she can wrap up an offhanded insult in sugar and have no idea she's given it to you. You'll give her the benefit of the doubt.
"It's… I took her to Target, and that's what she picked out."
She watches you, her pretty dark lips pursed in thought, and you are sure she's going to laugh at you. Instead, she squeezes your shoulder gently. "You're a good caretaker, John. She must really love you."
What do you even say to that? You try something, but it comes out like "Uh."
"I'm sorry, I should have asked. But I'd seen her in boy clothes, and I wanted to see what she'd look like all pretty."
"She is pretty, fancy clothes or not." You can't believe that just fell out of your mouth, but you're not going to take it back.
Feferi's alarmed, but she softens- perhaps she's caught on.
"Of course she is, John, that's not what I mean. I've probably overstepped my bounds, I'm sorry."
Vriska's sailing through the kitchen using a cardboard box as a makeshift pirate ship. Eridan's chasing after her with a broomhandle for a sword. Feferi smiles over her, serene and tender. You know the look, you smile that way, too.
Feferi and Eridan are both gone by the time Jade stumbles home. You were beginning to worry. Feferi left all the food she brought, perhaps as a peace offering. You probably shouldn't have been so hard on her. She really was trying to be kind. Vriska, it seems, now thoroughly enjoys the frilly gown, and calls it her "Battle Dress." One of the delicate laces is already torn, but she doesn't mind. She's eager to jump up and show Jade before she's even halfway though the door.
"Look, Jade, look! Feferi gave me a dress to trick dumb boys with!"
Jade shoots you a glance that could freeze hell.
"Did she now," She says coolly, dropping her groceries on the table.
Looks like you're charged with putting them away. You deserved that. Jade squats to get a good look at her.
"Hmm. For a Battle dress, it's got a lot of froufrou."
"Yeah," Vriska mutters, her mouth a horizontal line.
"I can fix that! C'mere."
Your sister leads her to the living room and tells her to stay put, while Bec investigates the house all over, sniffs Vriska up and down. You suppose Eridan probably left a strong scent, and Feferi's perfume lingered.
Ever since she was an awkward teenager sewing her own "alternative" clothes, Jade enjoyed dressing up. Hell, even as a little girl it was hard to pry animal-eared headbands off of her, even on school picture day. Actually, it never really went away, did it? She still puts ears on her hoods. It's just become another cute Jade thing. She hunts about her drawers and produces a seamripper, a tiny little hook-shaped knife meant to unpick seams.
The sharp instrument immediately scares her, and she backs away, giving a little cry that twists you up inside. You're about to intervene when Jade calms her.
"Nonono, look, Vriska! It's like your horn, see? It won't hurt you. Look." She gives her thumb a little prick, and no blood fell.
"It is like my horn." She's fascinated with it then, prodding the little safety ball on one side.
The tension leaves your body like it's pouring out of your fingertips. Even now, after months of living with her, you don't know all the things that would jolt those painful ghosts of memories.
"Now, what bits do you want off?" Jade asks, plucking at the little overskirt.
Vriska identifies annoying pieces of her dress, and Jade very, very patiently removes them without harming the integrity of the garment. First the fussier lace, and the overskirt, and some of the ribbons. She shimmies out of the petticoat, too. Without the frills, she reminds you a bit of Wendy, from Peter Pan. When Jade goes to remove the big blue velvet bow, Vriska stops her.
"No, leave it, I like that one."
"Yeah, it's my color. My blood color."
She pats it fondly. So it is, it's exactly the color of her eyes. Feferi didn't do so badly after all. Without the stiff weight of the petticoats, Vriska does a nice little spin, if only to watch her skirt twirl. It's impossibly endearing, as she looks down at the twisting hem, turning in circles. You mouth a thank you to your sister. She smiles, helping steady Vriska through a particularly energetic spin.
"Hey! It's quiet outside. Maybe those bozos left?"
Vriska scrambles to the windowbox to look, poking her head through the curtains, "They're gone!"
They seemed to have rolled to the bar in masse, or back to whatever terrible, awful rock they crawled from. Well, she probably did need some fresh air. You open the door a crack, and Vriska zips out, as if carried on her sparkly nylon wings. She cartwheels and bounds across the crunchy grass, disturbing the frost. You know she's got a bit more heat insulation than you, but you make note to go fetch her one of your hoodies. It's certainly a look, a pretty dress with a humongous blue sweatshirt. Her laughing and wriggling don't help your efforts to maneuver the hood past her horns.
"Shh, Vriska, people are sleeping," Jade reminds her.
"Whatever, they're probably up watching porn."
You're so glad to see Vriska playing you don't even bother to reprimand her. She's found footing on your old tire swing, and begs you to spin her. Jade watches you play, on that surely-dangerous pogo-ghost, on your old swing. You even help her climb the tree. Still, in what used to take hours, Vriska is flagging in one, and you pluck her off the branches to swing her slowly on the tire.
Back and forth, back and forth. Again, again, again, she asks you. Back and forth.
She swings like a giant pendulum, little fists holding onto the rope, and somewhere in the back of your mind, you hope she jumps off. Swinging must make her so tired. You're not thinking about a swing at all, really.
Eventually she's sleepy enough to pry from her tire. She groans a bit but lets you carry her in. Her hair smells like pine and night air, little hands woven into the collar of your shirt. Dinner first, then you'll tuck her in for the night. Jade must have bought the entire grocery store- between her stash and Feferi's, you won't have to go out for weeks, it feels like.
Still, now there's three people in your house. You could burn through that quickly. Jade and Vriska situate themselves on the sofa while you cook. She's claimed your hoodie now, pulling it tight around her when you attempt to pull it off. You realize it probably smells like you. You let her have it. Jade's showing her around the internet- a dangerous prospect with anyone, but especially Jade. What if they ended up on FurAffinity? How could you even explain that? It seems like they've set up the webcam, and are determined to take selfies. Jade's distressingly talented at making faces, but Vriska holds her own.
You almost burn the beef and swear, turning your attention back to your cooking. You keep your head turned to listen, though.
"Now, do you wanna try one?"
"I don't think I've seen a Troll with a vlog before."
"Well, all the better that I'm the first!"
"Do you need any help?"
"No, I can do it."
She's confident, pulling the small netbook from Jade to batt at the keyboard. Maybe the world isn't ready for her- you think of all the cruel people online, or even worse, people that might cause her harm. Or worse still, Scratch's toadies. When the little light turns green, she straightens herself up and gives her hair a haphazard pat.
"Hello! I'm Vriska Serket. I'm awesome and I like pirates and fairies and whooping ass. Unfortunately for you, the pirates and fairies just left!"
She grins, squaring her shoulders to the camera as if it were her greatest opponent.
"And I can speak for myself."
Chapter 12: Teeth and Bone
No one's reading Vriska's blog- yet she makes a new video to post every day with all the diligence of a postman. It's helpful for her- to explain what she learned in Jade's lessons, what she did during the day. She's recording one now as she's cuddled up in bed, holding her rabbit and playing with her hair. It's so endearingly domestic it turns you into happy flip-flops. You wait until she's done, leaned up against the doorframe with your arms crossed. She's so absorbed she doesn't notice you there.
"Vriska," You call to her, and she shuts her laptop.
You don't even need to ask her to put it away, to listen. You'd even stopped trying. There's a brief flurry of pride. Maybe you've taught her well. Still, she reaches out with one demanding hand to be doted on, as it's expected. Her brows lift into perfect arcs as she wiggles her hand insistently. You play the ever-loving minion and stoop to kiss each finger. There are deep, ropey scars on her knuckles still.
"Captain, if ye please."
Another game. Vriska is perpetually full of riddles and mysteries. It's hard to keep up. But you'll indulge her.
"Captain, the trial ends tomorrow."
She pushes her computer away, creeps into your arms.
"No matter what," You promise, kissing her hair, "You are never, ever, ever going back to him. I promise."
Vriska squeezes you tight, tighter than usual for her, and she's so warm, the back of her shirt is damp. Once this is all over, you'll take her in to be checked out. Jade can coax her, you're sure. It's just gone on long enough. You move to pull the blankets away and relieve her from smothering, but she shivers, yanks them back on, bundling inside them like an eskimo.
You indulge her, you always do. How could you say no to a little face like that? She's got a veritable cake of blankets, and you're pleased to see she's still got her favorite orange one as the closest layer.
"Are you scared?" You ask, leaning back to meet her eyes.
"No," she rolls her eyes, "The long drive sucks, does that count?"
"C'mon, not even a little?"
"Nope!" she sings-songs, dragging out her vowels.
You wonder at her, at all her little peculiarities that have burrowed deep in your heart, as you play with her hands, so small. Her claws are growing out again- rounded little points instead of nubs. She chews them- nibbling them to little stumps. Her fingers curl and uncurl as you turn her hands in yours. You lean your face into her palms, letting her pat you. The face-patting seems to be an aspect of the moirail relationship. Her skin is soft. You don't mind it.
"John?" She asks, a strange, uncharacteristic shy lilt to her voice, "I've never been kissed."
It's so wildly out of the blue it knocks you off-guard. She's a little girl, of course she's never been kissed. Wait- wasn't Eridan meant to kiss her? They're in that weird, hate-love relationship Feferi described. When you looked it up online, you saw that Kismesis did everything couples do. You saw more than you cared to see, that's for sure.
"Eridan's not kissed you?"
She wrinkles her nose, her tongue poking out one side of her mouth.
"Bluh, he'd taste like fish. No."
"You've got a long time to think about kisses. I wouldn't worry about it."
"I want someone to kiss me like Poe kissed Trish."
Ah, so that's what brought it on. She plays with her rabbit, cheeks bright cerulean. That's adorable. God, you can't. You'd even say you can't even. Linguistics be damned.
"You will!" You sing, "You will when you're older."
She doesn't seem to believe you. You set the laptop safely on the nightstand and lie by her, outside the covers. She bundles up under your chin, pout a mile long. Her favorite book sits on the nightstand. Peter Pan. You've never really understood her fixation with it, but reading it to her helps her sleep. She settles into your side as you snag the little volume, bound with blue twill and dotted with stars and ships.
Vriska worms her way under your arm, pulling her rabbit in, too. You let her get situated and open to the first page.
"First star on the right," you begin, "And straight on till morning."
You're pretty sure Vriska slept well last night- but she's still napping in the police car the whole way. The photographers in front of your house are gone- probably already headed to the courthouse. It's a bit of a relief to carry Vriska out in the cold morning. There's a frost. It'll snow soon. You wonder if Vriska's ever seen snow, as you sink into your seat. Terezi's already in the city. You tried calling Feferi, but only reached a cheery voicemail. You like to think that she's spending the whole morning curling her cloud of hair. After a long argument, you let Vriska wear her "battle dress." Jade's mended it flawlessly, though she sits by you in the car checking the seams.
No one speaks. The tension chokes you both.
The mob is ready when you arrive, already crowding around the door. Vriska insists on walking herself. She holds your hand, keeping her gait strong. You can tell she's puffing herself up- her grip on your fingers cutting off circulation. She doesn't make eye-contact with the cameras. She's learning.
Terezi meets you inside, trotting- you don't think you've ever seen her run like that. Her cheeks are flushed, and her red blazer ruffled.
"The Jury's in. They've been deliberating for an hour."
"How's it look?" Jade asks, minding Vriska for the moment and letting her hold onto both of her hands.
"Positive," Terezi snickers darkly, rubbing her palms together.
Terezi's more fidgety than you've ever seen her, and her grin is wide and wicked. You'd almost think this whole thing has turned her on.
"Hey," Vriska waves, trying to get her attention, "Hey. Hey. Hey stupid."
"Hello, hellion," Terezi musses her hair fondly, crouching to feel at her dress, "This feels ridiculously fancy, John, what kind of shit did you put her in?"
"It's my battle dress," she declares, placing her hands on her hips, "It seduces people."
"Vriska, can we find another word for that?" You beg her, but Terezi just cackles in her trademark way.
"Wiles for miles, Miss Serket!"
She crouches to conspire with her in that giggly, hissy way that makes you incredibly nervous for your welfare and the welfare of certain anatomies. Terezi straightens herself, letting Vriska hang off one of her arms.
"She's warm to touch, John. Is she well?"
"I'm fiiiiiiiine," she whines, but Terezi speaks over her head.
"She needs to see a Huldraetician."
"Bless you. A what?"
"A Huldraetician. A Troll Doctor, " Jade pipes up- maybe she's had thoughts on a career change?
Vriska suddenly throws a righteous fit, kicking and screaming, loud enough to alert security around her.
"No! No no no no no no no no!! No vets!!"
"No, shh!" Jade desperately calms her, "Vriska, I'm a vet! It's OK, Huldraeticians are nice people! They aren't like other vets. They're specialists!"
She manages to quiet, though still grumpy, and you think honestly, the tiniest bit afraid. You don't blame her, you'd be afraid too. She's clinging to Terezi for safekeeping, and prosecutor strokes her dark hair. The security officers eyeball your group warily, and their hands slip off of their tasers. Would they really use such a thing on a little girl?
"Ah, there's another case going on that I think you should see," Terezi tells you, marching off with Vriska in her arms.
Vriska waves at you with a smirk- at least she seems to be cheeky again and not screaming. You swear, her moods sometimes. Still, you and Jade tag along curiously. She slips into the back of a different courtroom, much larger, and definitely more noisy.
Oh, there's Feferi. No… She's. Not quite. The resemblance is strong, though. Even longer hair, a dignified, pointed chin, the same mouth, same eyes. However, where Feferi is soft and sunlight, this woman is razor-sharp and darkness. Her eyes are cold, her painted lips flattened in a thin line. She wears a dark, rich red suit, with a tiny pin shaped like… a spoon.
"Oh my god, is that-"
"Betty Crocker," Terezi whispers to you, "Or, at least, the head of Crockercorp."
Jade manages to grab your arms before you go smash her face in on the plaintiff's desk. The woman pays little attention to those around her, her eyes constantly fixed on the wall as if she needed little to do with these peons. A girl is perching to give evidence to the judge- standing on tiptoes to reach. That's Feferi- she's wound her hair up in a big, fat braid down her back, like Vriska likes.
Seeing the two of them together- oh.
"…Feferi's her fucking daughter?"
"Of course. She's a Peixes. Did you not notice that?"
"I- I mean, no. I never asked."
It makes total sense- her clothing, the money, her troll. Why have you never asked? No wonder the paparazzi wants to climb on her back.
"You are so fucking dense," Jade smears a hand down her face.
"What's she doing?"
"Trying to seize control of the company, kill her in court."
"Isn't that her mom?"
Feferi and "Betty" don't even look at each other. Something inside you strikes this as sad. You can't imagine shirking your own family, much less a parent. But really, it's no loss for Feferi. The judge turns the evidence over and the look of shock, awe and disgust on his face is evident.
"Miss Peixes," They both look up- the Judge mumbles, and corrects himself, "Mrs. Peixes, you mean to tell me… This troll was under your care?"
The older woman seethes, speaking through her teeth.
"Care is a technical word. He is in my service. And how dare you intrude on my property. You bitch."
Feferi whirled on her, "Your daughter. "You owned him, and you lied to him."
Shit. Feferi is downright scary when she means to be. If you felt under target with her condescension, the path of her actual hatred is a burning one. Betty bears her teeth at Feferi, almost like you've seen Vriska do in the past. She's more of an animal than the trolls she sells.
"You cage your own troll," she hisses.
"Eridan chose to stay with me," Feferi bites, sheltering Eridan, who you've just now noticed standing at her hip- man, he really is growing, "And he cares for me as I do for him."
"That'll get you arrested, dear," The older woman chuckles darkly, smirk playing at her mouth but not quite settling.
The judge seems to want to interrupt, but is equally invested in the catfight.
"Like what you did with yours?"
Feferi beckons to the gallery. Leaned against the back wall was a figure- you didn't even notice him- wrapped up with his head covered in a hood. Security instantly jump to pull him apart- who even let him in? What if he were a terrorist or, some kind of murderer or something horrible? He doesn't even struggle, the fabric knocked off his head.
My god, it's a troll. An adult troll. You could hear a damn pin drop.
He's tall- easily your height, with elegant twinned horns and dark grey skin the color of polished beach stone. His eyes are mismatched red and blue, his face gaunt and weary. That's what you notice first. He's weary, so weary, it's etched all over his face, ringed under his eyes in golden-brown bruises. Scars lick across his nose and the sockets of his eyes. You've heard of them, psionics. His face is one that hasn't remembered to smile in a very, very long time. He flinches away from the hands of the officers, and they release him. The way he hugs himself for safety is enough to make security hold up both hands in good will.
"Psiiya, come here," Feferi coos, taking his slender hand in her own, draw him close to be seen by the court.
He can't look at Mrs Peixes, either, and while he lets Feferi touch him, he can't meet her face. His fingers don't curl around hers, hanging limply in her hand. He wants nothing else than to be alone, you think, probably someplace dark and warm. Eridan circles about him curiously, eyes large behind his glasses.
"This is my mother's Troll, kept hidden in her office for years. As you can see. He's grown to be used for her purposes. I say that this woman, Contessa Peixes, has been perpetuating cruelty to not only this poor man, but to every troll ever hatched."
Feferi runs her thumbs over the older Troll's knuckles, fond and convicted.
"And should the company pass to me, every Troll would have the rights they needed, and so desperately deserve."
The court bursts, shouts of rage and horror and just overall pandemonium. Vriska covers her little ears with her palms and huddles against Terezi. It's probably too much for her, but you're so wrapped up in the euphoria you don't attend to her just yet. You and Jade exchange glances. The world is changing- it's changing now, and right before your very eyes. Your smiles are mirrored- twins after all, and you take a moment to awkward sibling crush into each other.
"Oh my god, John. Oh my god," she gasps into your ear, wonder-filled.
"I know, Jade. I know."
In all the noise it's a wonder Terezi feels her phone buzz at all. Jostling Vriska a bit, she fishes it from her cleavage- wait, her cleavage? How long has it been there?
"John, come on." She tugs you, "Jury's out."
Once you're outside, Jade can take a breath from her elation, rosy-cheeked and smiling. She does a cartwheel- not exactly the most dignified thing to do inside, but she's Jade, so people just seem to smile on her. You're trying to catch her attention as she's pirouetting down the hall. Vriska's hanging limply in Terezi's arms, her feet swaying.
"Jade, Jade, wait…" You yell after her, but it's lost in the chatter of the building.
Vriska's disoriented- her head is bobbing and she kneads at Terezi with her little nubbed claws.
Terezi pauses in her gait. "Come on, John. It won't be long."
Your teeth worry at your lip. You offer your arms for Vriska, and Terezi happily drops her into them. Her feet brush your wrist- they're softer than you remember. You think she has probably been carried so much in this stage of her life that the soles of her feet have become tender.
"Vriska," You nudge her, "Can you make it?"
"It's important you be there, Miss Serket," Terezi orders her, "This is what we've been working for. Don't you want to see justice for your friends?"
"Mn," She says, lying against your throat.
You stand in the doorway, and every instinct tells you to go home. You'll put the news on tonight and find out. You'll open some ice-cream and cuddle and cool her down, get her something to make her feel better. Give her her bunny. Everything but enter this courtroom, everything but put her near that man.
But you are caught in the flock moving in, and like a lamb you follow.
You're still buzzing from Feferi's plan, and that older Troll. You can't forget his face. Adrenaline may have well been pouring out of your nose. So help you, you'd stand all day. And do laps around the courthouse if you had a chance. The judge settles in, flipping through his notes. Scratch has lost the smug look on his face, and you're pleased to think he's probably shitting himself.
"Have your reached a verdict?"
"We have, your honor."
You're in the second row, behind Terezi. Vriska's sitting on Jade's lap. She looks… miserable. Her eyes are glassy and tired. All of the energy seems to pour out of you as if you were stuck with a knife. Damn the trial, damn everything. Your little girl isn't well and you hate yourself for not acting on it sooner. You offer to take her up, and Jade shifts her into your arms. She's warm alright, and you heft her up to carry her home.
"No, John," she whispers, "I want to see him get it."
"On the count of the second degree murder of Rowena Black, how do you find…"
"Vriska, you're burning up. I need to take you somewhere."
You mop her brow with your sleeve. It's hard for her to suck in air. She props against your shoulder, needling her fingers into your back. How did it get this bad? She seemed okay last night.
"John, I'm okay. Don't take me anywhere," it's more desperate.
"We find the defendant guilty."
This stops your conversation entirely. Guilty. All the color drains out of Scratch's face, and Jade gives a mild "whoop!" Vriska raises her head from your neck, her ears up at attention.
"On the count of first degree murder, Aradia Megido, how do you find?"
"We find the defendant guilty."
Aradia Megido. Tavros Nitram. Each name is listed, each little soul that got snuffed, each verdict crushes him like a mound of bricks. By now the gallery cheered- and even Vriska smiles, sweat on her temples. You bounce her a bit on your hip, try to match her smile. This is it, this is what you've been waiting for for six months.
"Guilty on all charges," the judge repeats, "You'll return at a scheduled date for sentencing."
The gavel is slammed down. The room erupted. You could hear the one down the hall cheering, too. You might as well throw confetti, too. During the hollering and whoops- you could see Terezi shouting for the judge's attention.
"Your honor!" It was nearly drowned out, "YOUR HONOR!"
He turned, face sour, mid-step as if he hoped to escape.
"What of Vriska Serket?"
The rest of the room quietes- not out of respect, but greedy anticipation for something- anything to happen if only to expel more energy. Rage or joy will do. The Judge considers Miss Pyrope, and looks over her head to Vriska. There's almost a full minute of weighted silence before he responds.
"She is evidence for a completed case. She belongs in state custody."
"Your honor, I respectfully ask that Miss Serket stay in her caretaker's custody!" It's completely overpowered by the room- and the Judge doesn't want to hear it.
There's a dull roar-but you don't even hear it now. Vriska cranes to look up at you, her battered face slack with shock and pain, only to crumple in betrayal. You lied. You said you'd always be here for her, and that she was safe. You lied. You reach to comfort her, but right on cue, the bailiffs tear her from your arms, and she begins to scream. She fights like a demon, a blur of silk ribbons and cerulean and hair. The noise is deafening. Cellphones are out, cameras are flashing.
"No! NO! Please, please, she's sick, she's scared!"
You grab for her- no reasoning from Terezi or your goddamn sister will stop you. You need Vriska with you and you need to get her somewhere safe and quiet so she'd never look at you like that grownup troll did, with weary eyes waiting to die. You need to hold her and shelter her and then you could go home and wrap her up and watch every pirate movie you ever found on Netflix and you needed her now or- She's crying. She's crying, face damp, jaw unhinged with her screaming and twisting. She fights like a champion after all. She's sick, she's sick, it's going to make it worse.
There's an awful crackle-pop, and sparks jump from an officer's hand- a taser. Before your brain can process anything like rational thought, you swing your arm around your girl, determined to take the brunt for her. Everything's slowed down now, like an old film- the barbs seem to go right toward you.
You barely feel it. It's almost more like a pinprick.
Like two, beautiful white fangs sinking down into your arm, shooting hot venom into your bloodstream.
Oh. Vriska has instincts of her own.
The taser's barbs hang harmlessly beyond your arm. She lets you go instantly, all fight taken out of her, and a comical expression of alarm on her blue-stained face. Her nose is running- you want to wipe her clean, but your hands feel like lead.
You stare at the wound dumbly, running red down your skin. It's bubbling. Hands catch you. You're underwater, words garbled, but you can hear your name. Faintly you hear the sound of Scratch's laughter, drilling into the back of mind.
There's hardly any sound anymore. The earth swims. Is that Vriska?
The floor almost feels kind when it rushes to meet you.
It's quiet now.
Chapter 13: Ships and Shores
Hello, all! Thank you for bearing with me during my holiday hiatus. We're in the home stretch now. A few notes!
First, there's been some retconning now that UFUT and Loophole are ficmarried. Nothing too earthshattering- Jake had been referred to as John's cousin before. Now they're all siblings. We also set an actual place. Loophole is on the West Coast, in Oregon.
Also, Loophole has a fanmix/soundtrack. Give it a listen!
As always, if you want to talk fic, tag it Loophole, and I can see it!
"Come on, we gotta take it off."
Vriska sat in front of you, shaking her head, curling her toes. It was balmy, you remember back in summer- before she had to start wearing a jacket, and she had tried to cuff up her little pants to cool off. It was evening, and you were in the bathroom's fluorescent lights. A bulb was out, there were fireflies outside. The smell of honeysuckle came in through the window. The gash on her nose had surely healed by then, but the thick bandage was still there. It'd gotten grimy, and it was better to remove it and give the healing wound air. Unfortunately for all parties, the bandage's adhesive was very strong.
"It's gonna hurt!"
"Vriska, you took bites, slices and broken bones probably with more grace than this!"
"Yeah, in a ring! With an audience of adoring fans!"
She was good at evading your hands when you tried to lift her off the tub rim- even if she wasn't exactly trying too hard to escape. You managed to grip her sides, and she squirmed like an unhappy kitten, clawed harmlessly at your thumbs, kicked her feet like a rabbit.
"You mean a ring of horrible, awful people who wished harm on a cute little girl like you," you reminded her.
"Whatever, same difference. And I'm not cute! I'm deadly! Raur!!"
"Quit changing the subject."
"You changed the subject!"
"Come on, Vriska, you're gonna have clean pores for like four years after this if I just. Rip it off."
She shrieked at that, making a more valiant effort to scramble away from you. She knocked over a few bottles of shampoo and conditioner in her fearsome struggles and near toppled all of the funny bath toys you had bought her. An armada of tiny ships and little floating dragons made of rubber cascaded onto the tub floor.
"Ok, look. If I rip it off I'll give you ice cream to soothe your pain and suffering."
This stilled her immediately- and she had looked warily up at you, eyes narrowed. Suspicious as ever.
"How many scoops."
"Vriska, no, you will puke it everywhere."
"Eight or I'll puke it on your bed."
"Which bed? You're in mine."
Vriska sucked in a great deal of air, paused for dramatic effect, and sighed the biggest sigh in the entire world. It had made her ribcage rattle- her bony shoulders shake.
"We're gonna count to three."
"Fine, we're gonna count to eight."
She settled in and braced herself against one of your arms, eyes squeezed shut.
"Okay. One… two…"
You ripped it off on three.
She had screamed like a banshee, battered your chest with her little hands, but her claws never once scratched you. You told her the scar was a pretty color, and kissed it. When the smoke cleared, both of you ate enough Rocky Road you were sick by morning.
When you wake, Jade's slumbering away at your feet, her head cradled on her arms.
Like shit is a good description of your current feelings on the universe. You wish you could write that on your intake form. A number of tubes lead from the back of your hand, and there's a familiar plastic white bracelet. Also, there's a breeze and you are pretty sure your butt could be exposed to the air. Moving your body feels like heaving sandbags, and your head feels like a balloon. It's early evening. Your phone sits on the side table- there are probably a half-dozen messages.
You roll yourself to sit up, hunched over. It takes a few tries to wake her- eventually nudging her head with your knuckles. She lurches awake and looks up to you with a smile, her glasses askew.
She eases you back to the pillows, piling a few to help you sit up. After months of shuffling between the sofa and sharing one with an unruly, wriggling little girl with nightmares, it's so nice to have a soft bed to yourself. You can hear the bustle and beeping of the hospital, the squeak-squeaking of white plastic nurse shoes, police radios. Naturally they'd be here.
"Mn," you grace the world with your commentary.
"How do you feel?"
You casually flip her all the little tweetybirds your hands can muster. She chuckles.
"I called Jake, too."
"Woah, you can reach him? Isn't he out in like Buttfuck, Egypt, shooting tigers or something?"
"He's in Zimbabwe, moron. And yeah, considering the shit you're dealing with, I could get through a fucking brick wall. He's coming home. What would our little brother do without us, anyway?"
Jade sighs- and she reaches over to stroke your goddamn hair. It's such a weird gesture, like the way she pats Bec. But it's so nice, just to lie down, let someone brush your hair and close your eyes. You're almost back to sleep when you hear another voice.
"How is he?" That's Feferi, her tone worn and ragged.
You slit your eyes open to spare her a look, and damn, she looks like shit. Her makeup is gone- not to say she isn't pretty on her own, but it's smeared down her face in those icky lines you see in movies. Were all those tears for you?
"God, Feferi, I'm not dead or anything," You groan.
Wait, surely Feferi wouldn't hang around the hospital waiting for her Troll's Kismesis' Caretaker to wake up. She had bigger fish to fry. HUGE fish. You wince when you sit up, your back crackling like popcorn and your eyes clouding with dulled pain. Both girls help you, stuffing pillows behind your back.
"Feferi, what are you even doing here?"
Her face crumples up- you've never seen her look upset, much less like she's going to start sobbing again. Jade cups the ball of her shoulder- but she waves her away, clearing her throat.
"I. Ah. Psiiya…"
Who? What? Oh. The memories of the day came peeling back to you, like graffiti under paint, spelling each word at a time. The adult Troll you saw, thin and wasted, bundled in his hoodie with such haunting eyes. He didn't look well- Feferi probably brought him in for a check-up.
"He collapsed after the trial and-" Feferi took a deep breath, "He didn't wake up."
Your mouth dries up instantly, and you lean forward as if to hear a punchline. He didn't wake up- hasn't woken up? Past tense. That troll was standing about not ten feet from you this morning. He can't just be dead.
"Some… kind of awful hemorrhage," Feferi hiccuped, this must be awful for her, "They said he was really, really sick- all sorts of problems- as soon as he was taken away from my Mother it was like he just. Gave up."
"Because he missed her?"
She shakes her head, almost smiling, "Out of relief, they said. At least he's out of pain now."
No one can speak- the silence wrapping around the room like a cold fog. You can't forget his eyes- so sad and misery-bright. Out of pain.
"How's the bite?" Feferi changes her tone quickly, touching your wrapped arm.
"They said it'd scar," Jade answers for you.
You look down at your arm- it's a small wound, and against better judgement you peel the wrapping away. A neat little bitemark with two holes. It's still swollen, but not angry or black or-
It's as if a sandblaster came through and tore the paint off the walls of your mind. You jolt alert, tossing the blankets aside.
"Where is she, what happened, where's Vriska-"
Jade seizes you while Feferi calls off the nurses and cops, who were apparently poised to listen for any kind of racket from anything that moved. Your sister tries to calm you, but your eyes are wild. Where is your little fairy girl? She was being drug away from you. She was screaming. She bit you. She bit you. So far, anyone who endured Vriska's bite ended up in the morgue. Why were you in a hospital?
"Vriska jumped on you. She… sat by you and sucked out the venom herself. She was scared, she probably didn't even know she bit you."
Jade's trying to sound soothing, but damn is it not working. Feferi's a bit more practiced at calming people, but it's still rather ineffective against the no holds barred panic you're in right now.
"You're going to be fine… Not enough got into your system that couldn't be flushed out. You're very lucky, John, she could have killed you."
"It was an accident! Where IS she?!"
"It took two tazes to get her off you."
For a bare instant you're proud. That's your girl, putting up a massive fight. That's your champion, that's your little Mindfang. This was only crashed over by the overwhelming horror that she had been shocked with those awful barbs not once but twice.
"Feferi, stop fucking around and being a politician and whatever else the fuck you are and tell me where she is."
Her lips suck in to make a flat line, and she softens with a sigh, turning to the door instead.
"Nurse? He's awake. We need him discharged, Pronto."
You probably shouldn't have sworn at someone who makes everyone in the ward squeak "Yes ma'am!"
Jade's behind the wheel of your car, which is just wrong on so many levels. You lean against the passenger door, fighting down your stomach ache and swallowing back sickness every few minutes. Jade drives like a bat from hell, taking corners like The Italian Job and sailing over speedbumps. It's a wonder you aren't arrested, but you're beginning to think Feferi sprinkled some kind of Peixes Dust on it to ward cops away.
Your sister doesn't speak. Her hands grip the wheel in two tight fists, her jaw tight and her eyes focused on the road ahead. You'd gotten directions, and they were so familiar to you it terrified you in a deep, untouchable place in the bottom of your heart. Maybe the medicines you've been shot with are lifting, but you feel doubly alert, and it's hard to control your breath.
The house is on the way. You swing by, enough to hose down, try to look less dead. Coming home to a house without Vriska curdles your insides. You duck into her room, intent to grab her comforts. What would she want? Her favorite sunny blanket, her ragged bunny. You pause at her wings- maybe they would give her strength- but decide against them.
By the time you pull into the Animal Control center, your heart's in your throat- Terezi's cop car is already sitting outside.
She meets you in the lobby. Senator's at her heels, his tail between his legs.
"John, you can't be here, you need to be resting."
"I have to see her, Terezi, you wouldn't understand."
What a slap in the face to a blind girl. You don't even apologize for it. She swallows, stuffing her hands in the pockets of her red coat.
It's a poor defense, and you will hammer at this wall until it crumbles.
"Where is she," you growl at her, teeth gritted.
"John, stop," Jade takes your arm, voice soft, "You've been through a lot today."
"I didn't get tazed twice! Where is she!"
The official behind the desk relents- and leads you back. It's an awkward formation- you at the head, with Jade and Terezi fanned out behind you. There's rows of barking dogs in steel cages, cats huddled inside their litter boxes, fur pricked, backs arched. Some throw themselves at the door, screeching. Eventually they come to one on the end, and your heart stops, drops to your shoes.
There's your girl, curled up on her side wearing a muzzle. She's lying on a flimsy pad, and dressed in a thin scrub shirt, just like when you first brought her home. Her eyes are open, but they're glazed over and her gaze indirect.
"Vriska!" You shout for her, clutching the bars of the door, "Vriska!"
It takes her a great deal of effort to raise her head to you, try and focus on your shape. She's been drugged, that much is obvious. What the hell did they give her?
Her voice is so little.
This is wrong, this is so wrong. She has a voice like lightning and a laugh like thunder, wry and loud and so full of light. Not this broken rasp.
"Let me in. Let me in, let me in, please, let me in."
Maybe the desperation in your voice triggers something, because the keys jingle, and the door swings open. You don't even wait for the door to open all the way before you press inside, rush to gather her up in your arms, pull each of her limbs against you, crush her to your chest.
"Can he do that?" Jade whispers to the official, all nerves.
"I don't see stoppin' 'im. Besides, she can't hurt anybody now."
She's drooling on you, hands sluggish as they cling to the hood of your sweatshirt. She's heavy, she can't hold her head up on her own, so you guide her temple to your shoulder, rub at her arms. She's colder than she should be.
"Hello," she manages.
"Hi, Vriska. It's gonna be okay, you're gonna be fine! I got you."
Terezi kneels beside you, her words curt.
"Miss Serket. You nearly killed this man. Do you feel remorse?"
"Mnn," She tries to sleep on you, curling her fingers around the fabric of your hoodie.
"Miss Serket," she raises her voice, "Do you feel remorse? Are you sorry?"
Terezi almost sounds desperate, "Do you feel remorse?"
"No," she says.
There's a strange quiet, as if the dogs barking had faded out. Terezi stands slowly, straightening her legs and her back with a series of little cracks. Then she turns, her coat whipping after her. Jade tries to catch her arm, tries to stop her- but she won't listen.
"There's nothing I can do. I did all I could."
"Terezi, please- Come on, you can't judge her on that! No, listen! Listen, goddammit!"
Nothing she could do? Nothing? She's the fucking law, surely she could- Right now you focus on the weight on your lap. Your sister chases the prosecutor down the hall. Terezi could really stalk if she had the mind to.
This leaves Vriska with you. She's yearning to try and sleep- whatever they've given her must be strong. Only now do you remember the comforts you brought for her. You swaddle her in her favorite blanket, stuff the bunny in the crook of her arm. She's vexed by it at first, but the recognition clicks, and she drags it up close in a hug and something inside your chest crumbles to pieces.
"Vriska, you aren't… sorry you almost killed me?"
Vriska toys with her bunny's ears, thoughtful.
"No," She mumbles, "No, I'm not sorry. I'd never be sorry for trying to protect you. You just got in the way."
Of course you did- you lunged in front of her- her instincts were probably already cranking. Stupid, stupid you! You can hear Terezi and Jade arguing down the hall, near drowned out in animal sounds.
The idea blooms in you like a weed bursting from concrete. There's a key in your pocket. You force your jelly legs to stand, lifting up your bundle of warrior girl in both arms.
"We're getting out of here, Vriska."
You can't go home. They'd find you. Your mind races- slotting through escape plans. Your only buddy, Dave, lives on the East Coast. You can't exactly haul to Baltimore with a fugitive Troll in arms.
"Where are we going?"
The answer formed perfectly.
"I'm gonna show you where pirates are."
It's distressingly easy to slip out of the building. You juggle Vriska in one arm to reach for your keys as you wobble-run to your Prius. It's a bit of a fumble to pry the door open, but sheer willpower lets you yank the handle. It's probably not entirely wise to buckle her into the front seat- but you don't want her straying too far from your sight. Some cowardly part of you, that clearly does not understand you just jailbroke a murdering Troll, squirms unhappily when you sail past the speed limit. You had to- you had no idea how soon they would notice you were missing.
You drive straight along the highways, dead-set on your mission. Your medicine was wearing away, leaving you with a killer migraine, but you press it from your mind. Vriska's coming out of her own drugs; her eyes are alert, ears turning curiously. Eventually she unfolds from her uncomfortable coil, rolls down the window a crack, lets the wind catch her hair. The stars are out.
The beach is closed, theoretically. No one's patrolling it- but it's on the edge of winter now, you're hardly going to be skinny-dipping. When you stop the engine, it's easy to hear the ocean through Vriska's open window.
Neither of you speak as you gently help her from the car. She holds your hand. Her feet are bare in the sand. Instinct tells you to pick her up, keep her from feeling the cold shoreline, but your intuition tells you to let her feel sand between her toes. She's a bit awkward, toddling, holding onto you for balance.
"Where are we?" It's certainly more cognizant than your previous conversation.
"This is the Pacific ocean, Vriska."
"Have you ever been to the sea before?"
"No, I've just seen it on TV."
It's a clear night. The moon reflects broken shards across the water, the stars like glitter spilled over a velveteen sky. You wish you could have given her blue skies, sunshine, seen the sea at its most beautiful, not this dark shadow. Vriska lets go of you to explore. She finds a few shells, first with her tender soles- she curses- before she stooped to pop them into little grey palms. You watch her pick across the damp tideline, dart from the oncoming surf. The waves are quiet, hushed, like the sea soothing the earth to sleep.
You and your dad, your sister and brother, you used to all come here when you were young. Then you were all Harleys- but you took your dad's family name, Egbert. You'd play, collect the tiny crabs that scurried away from your fingers, run up and down the beach all day long, endless sunny afternoons.
Vriska's not playing. In her thoughts you hadn't noticed her stillness as she stands shin-deep in water, staring into the darkness. The moonlight frames her, catches all the flyway, frayed hairs and shreds at the shell of her ear. Against the sea, perhaps she is feeling how small she really is, as if the world has not told her over and over. Fuck it, you wade to meet her, damn your shoes.
"Pirates really came through here?"
"Well. On this sea, not necessarily here."
"Like Captain Hook?"
"Yeah, like Hook. Can you see the lighthouse? Look, over there."
"What's a lighthouse?"
She found the little spot of light in the distance with some guidance from your pointed finger. It flickers as the bulb turns.
"That's how ships would find their way back home."
Her skin is ice-cold, but she doesn't shiver. You slide off your thick coat, drape it heavily around her, buttoning to keep the heat contained inside, keep her warm.
"First star on the right."
"First star on the right, and straight on till morning."
Oh, right. Peter Pan. Those were his directions to Neverland. It's quiet except the roar of the ocean, and the puffs of your breaths billowing steam. Now's a good a time as any to ask her.
"Why is it you like Peter Pan so much?"
"I've always wanted to see Neverland, I guess. It sounds so cool. It changes with every season! It comes back to life when Pan comes home. There's princess warriors and the wilds and mermaids. I wish I could go."
She meets you with a smile, knowing and wise. Her shoulders shrug, the fabric of your coat rustling.
"I'm not Peter, or Wendy, or even a lost boy. I'm Hook, and always have been."
The words sink in a letter at a time. She sees herself a villain.
You kneel before her, the sea soaking through the denim over your knees. You take her frosty cheeks in the cup of your palms, and you kiss her chastely. It's innocent- her lips are like paper, but she purses like she sees in her damn movies, and it makes your heart ache that she will never be kissed how she wants to be.
When you pull away, she's smiling again. Her one eye is squinted up happily, like the little blue half-moon you love so much.
You lift her in your arms as you stand, and just gaze out to sea. The water's soaked through your shoes. You can't bring yourself to care. The lights flicker from behind you before you hear the cars come. Red and blue, fanning out over the sand, captured in the seafood. There's a brief whirl of the siren, but only enough for two notes. When you turn to meet them, Terezi stands at the top of the dunes, flanked by two officers, hands on their guns. She's emotionless. Maybe if she could, she'd be watching the sea too.
There's nowhere for you to run, but you tense with the instinctual movement.
She touches the back of your hands, wriggles to be set down. Her eye meets yours- boring down deep, glinting with the same light you saw in court.
"Let me go."
When she's set on her feet she stretches her back and legs, straight as a board, stiffening, squaring her shoulders. Then limb by limb, hair by hair she loosens, and walks up the hill. Her head is high as you watch her go to fight.
Chapter 14: Departure
"They've scheduled it for morning, when the first doctor can administer it." Terezi stacks her folder.
No one looks at you as you walk into the center. Nurses shuffle, vets turn away. Only the secretary keeps her head up, brow creased in sympathy. Vriska holds your hand, shackled with handcuffs. They've left the muzzle off of her. She's unusually silent as they nudge her back into her cage. The cuffs come off then, and she pulls up her sunny blanket, bunny in arms. She curls against the wall, bedding down on the cot.
Seeing a troll bundled up with a security blanket, cuddling a toy, one of the officers leaves, rubbing his mouth. He couldn't take it--you desperately want him to say something. You want her to say something. You want to hear her say it.
"Terezi, what have they scheduled?"
"Euthanasia," a nurse attempts to correct her, "It's called euthanasia."
Terezi sounds out each syllable painfully. She wanted it to be that word. Did she want Vriska to feel punished? Did she want to punish her personally?
"Euthanasia implies," Terezi explains, "that she is an animal being put to sleep from some suffering, debilitating disease. It takes away her personhood. You are executing her. Use the correct language."
It almost warms your heart, if not for the horrifying realization of what she is spelling out. The nurses whisper within earshot of Vriska, but Terezi does not hold her voice down. You wish she would.
"Can I stay with her?" you murmur.
"And have you sneak off again?"
"Why does it even matter?" you roar at her. "Scratch is in jail--"
"Scratch is dead!" she shouts over you.
What? You just. Literally just saw him two days ago at the trial. Was it two? Was it yesterday? The days are mushing together. Terezi sets the folder aside and gently scratches Senator's head, calming herself.
"He was found with his head smashed in in prison."
You almost laugh. The bastard deserved so much worse than that, but it's satisfying to think of him spilled on the floor of a dirty cell.
"Not sure. A troll-lover inside, I'm guessing."
"But then the real criminal's paid. Terezi. Terezi, she's your sister."
The word digs at her--she scrubs her face, knocking her sunglasses aside as she takes deep breaths, steadying her voice.
"She is, John. She's my sister. And if you escape with her, what then? Even if I don't chase you, someone will. Eventually the law will catch up. And if not the law, some extremist. Either way. Someone with guns, someone who can see her and aim and fire. She'll die scared, on the run and hiding. You'll be put away for the rest of your life, and she'll still be dead."
She is through with you. She turns to the officer and nods her head.
"Let him in. Make sure he doesn't leave."
You want to stay here and shout at Miss Pyrope all night, scream yourself hoarse if you must. But right now, minding your girl matters more. You're let in--then locked inside with her. You grasp the bars, press against them to call after Terezi's retreating back.
"Where's my sister? Jade?"
"She went home--she thought you'd go there."
Or maybe she'd given up. Nah. She probably needed to reload her ammo. Contact Jake. You brush them aside and go to Vriska, flopping down on her cot beside her.
"It'll be okay, Vriska."
"Don't worry, it'll be fine."
You're midway through scooping her, blanket and all, on your lap when you stop to listen.
"John, you're a shit liar."
Vriska bundles to your chest, sighing contently into her bunny's fur. How can she be so fucking calm about this?
"Vriska, I'm sorry. I'm--I'm so sorry--"
"Shut up, I'm tired."
You shake her with both hands, rattling her. You can't bear to let her spend the last hours she has on earth asleep. It's not fair. You want to spend the night sitting up and watching dumb movies and eating ice cream until you're sick again.
"Thanks for kissing me," she says with a one-shouldered shrug, bedding down against your shoulder.
"Stay awake. Please?"
"No way," she chuckles, "I need my rest, right?"
She has all the time in the world for that, you want to tell her, she'll sleep when she's dead.
"Relax, John. I'm not scared."
Her grin is so relaxed and self-assured it near breaks you.
"I'm Mindfang! Arachnid's Grip. I'm Vriska Serket, John. Now shut up and let me sleep. I'm gonna go down fighting. I always knew I would."
It's hard to swallow, it's hard to breathe. She feels so heavy in your arms, her skin soft, the pads of her feet no longer calloused and painful. She drags the bunny under her chin, burrowing her little face to your chest. You pull the blankets up to her cheek, keep her balanced in the cradle of your arms, wrists propped on each knee. It's so loud, and bright, and uncomfortable--stiff-backed and hunched over her in this little cage. But she's serene as she chases dreams in your arms--cracking open one good eye to look up at you. She can't really sleep, and you wonder how she thought she could.
Your phone is still on you. Settling Vriska briefly in the crook of one arm, you fish for it in your coat pocket, fiddle a bit with the apps. The familiar opening music of her favorite movie begins, and you settle in, letting it sit on her tiny knee. The nurses take kindness on you and dim the lights. The glow lights her face--and she smiles as she mouths the words she knows by heart.
While she's watching, you study every little part of her- the length of her fingers curled around your thumb, the tickle of her hair and the sharpness of her elbows. By the time the plane tumbles across the Vegas strip, she is asleep.
You wish you could sleep at all.
They come after daybreak. You can hear them clocking in, you can hear the chatter of their aides, hear their laughter and it sickens you. Vriska sleeps on against you, pillowing her head with her hands. You bend to kiss her hair, her face, dot her cheeks with brushes of your lips. Once she had been so prickly to touch, now she was full with warm health.
Terezi approaches the cage bars. She has not slept either, but this does not comfort you. She holds her hands before her. Senator is not with her. You lift your head haggardly to her, rubbing Vriska's back in slow circles.
"Can't we do this while she's still asleep?" you beg, you bargain. "Don't make her face this. Let her sleep."
But she shook her head.
"She has the right to face her end, Mr. Egbert."
You near crumple--but you steel yourself. Not yet. Not now. Not when she needs you. You bow your brow to meet hers, bump her awake.
"Vriska. Wake up."
Her lashes flutter, and she stretches--crackling all the little bones in her body, bunching her shoulders. She sheds the blanket and the toy as she leaves, sheds you. You stand to follow her as she pads down the stainless steel hallway. Her steps are lost in the clacking of boots. You trail behind, holding her useless comforts in both arms. You're mechanical, dumbstruck, as you follow the procession to the operating theatre.
There's a padded table, with leather straps. Vriska regards it with little more than a wrinkle of her nose, huffing. It doesn't impress her. They're reading legalese reports in such a monotonous tone it becomes liturgy in your ears. Vriska lifts her hands up to be lifted onto the table. Her eye meets yours briefly--she's going to go down fighting.
Vriska blurs--claws out and teeth bared--but they are ready for her. The tranquilizer slides in before she can land a single slice.
"Damn," she says tiredly. "It was worth a shot."
They lay her head back on the flat table, strap her down, limb by limb. Her legs are still kicking when they get her ankles--she gets a good bop across a nurse's nose, and your girl cackles. The woman leaves the room, face buried in her hands. Once she is secured, the party stands around the room silently, a ring of sentinels, of statues. No one wants to proceed. You all wait for the door to fly open, you wait for a mistake, you wait for Terezi to change her mind.
"Continue the procedure," she says quietly.
The needle is prepared. You, you useless lump of flesh, you stupid worthless excuse for a human, for a guardian, for a friend, for a moirail, you stand there and watch the needle be loaded with clear liquid. Vriska's struggling, even under the restraints, turning her chin, snapping her teeth at no one. Another nurse leaves, throwing down her surgical mask in the sink. Just a few more people. Just a few more refusing. Your girl is settling down. She turns to Terezi, blinking up at her slowly.
The doctor is more resolute. He grips Vriska's forearm with one hand, and inserts the needle. She meets his gaze--and--and he hesitates. His lips part behind his mask, and his brow creases. Please. Please.
"Push it, Pyrope," Vriska tells her sister.
Terezi's mouth makes a hard line--and she finds the doctor's wrist, trails her fingers along his hand, inches up the needle. And pushes the plunger.
It's not instant.
First she grimaces, squinting her eyes shut like when it was just a bandaid. Then she makes the most awful sound--a cry--and it's not an animal's yowl, it's a little girl's cry. The doctor leaves, and doesn't look back. Terezi steps away, but keeps her hand over Vriska's knuckles. Your girl arches her back, gasping silently, face scrunched up. This isn't supposed to hurt her. This isn't supposed to hurt. This isn't. This isn't supposed to be happening at all.
"Please. Please let me hold her. At least let me hold her. If you have any fucking heart at all."
The last nurse undoes the binding. You sweep her into her blanket, cradle her up in your arms. She's squirming- not discernible movement--just wriggling, jittering. A bit of froth is on her mouth, and you thumb it away, pull the blankets up close over her trembling shoulders. You offer her bunny and she curls around it, grip sluggish. You find a steel folding chair and sit in it, rocking her side to side.
"Vriska," you whisper a mantra to her little ear, "Vriska, you're good. You're really, really good. You're so good. You're a good girl. You're so good, Vriska."
She's watching you, but she's so very tired, and you can see her drifting. So you smile for her, brace her against you for strength as you sway back and forth with her.
"You're good, you're a good girl, you're a good person, you're so good."
With all the strength in her she smiles, and pats your chin with her hand, meeting the stubble there. Then she draws in close, curling up safe. It's slow, and gentle, as she lets her eye slide shut, squeezes her rabbit. Everything is so slow.
You don't notice her breathing stop.
"Time of death, 9:18 AM."
There's papers being passed about, forms signed. Only one nurse is left, and Terezi Pyrope. You only vaguely hear their mumbling. Eventually you realize the sound of your sobs into her hair are echoing off the walls. You press her close. She's so light, so quiet and still, not loud or fidgety as she had been just minutes--just minutes earlier.
And she could have stayed that way. Absolutely nothing would have stopped her, your comet, your shrieking bundle of light. Rage and sorrow are bubbling together in you to make a terrifying cocktail, and it takes you several minutes to perceive someone is trying to actually talk to you.
"John," the nurse says softly, "it's John, isn't it?"
You look up to her dumbly, still rubbing Vriska's shoulders uselessly.
"We need to take her now, hon."
"No." You clutch tighter.
"Mr Egbert, we have to take her."
"John. Let go."
The woman slides her hands under yours, carefully lifting the girl swaddled up in her bright blanket into her arms. When lifted her slack arm drops, the bunny tumbling to the floor. You reach to scoop it up without thinking--Vriska needs her bunny, she throws a fit without it. You raise your head long enough to watch her cover Vriska's peaceful face with the edge of her blanket.
You gag--you hold onto your rabbit--her rabbit--and stumble over vowels and consonants after the nurse leaving with your girl-shaped package in her hands.
"Nurse-" you choke, "what are you going to do with her?"
"Oh, well. They're usually cremated, sweetheart."
"NO--" you scream, hysteria creeping into your voice, "No--no. I--Maidenhead Funeral Home--They--they handled my dad--call them--please don't...Please don't burn her."
She nods to you, and disappears through steel doors, taking your little girl with her.
Everything is emptiness as you stand there with this ragged, shitty rabbit toy in your arms, your sun and stars and really fucked-up moon having just been pulled out of your hands. Small hands touch your elbow, and you lay your fingers on them until you realize it's Terezi, and wrench away.
"Don't fucking touch me."
"You could have stopped this. She could have lived."
"You're a fucking monster, Terezi Pyrope. You killed your sister and you're ten times more of a murderer than she EVER was!"
The hurt in her expression almost makes you apologize--her chin crinkles up and her eyes fill up, but you don't care, and you're glad for every tear.
"Get out of my sight," you snarl as you thrust her aside. "And be glad I won't be in yours."
You wonder if the only one at peace with everything is Vriska.
Chapter 15: Stones and Screens
Did you hear about that little Troll girl? What was her name? Vicky? Something. I heard she got put down. Damn shame. She was really cute. In a messed up kind of way.
In my day, when animals acted up, we took 'em out in the back and shot 'em. Tax dollars shouldn't be used makin' little hellspawns comfy.
I saw her on TV. She looked so much like my daughter. You know, except for the skin and the horns and fangs. But. Something in her eyes. I don't think it's right.
There are WAY bigger issues at hand here than Trolls. Why do they get to hog the spotlight? I can't wait until the whole media brouhaha over this stupid case is over.
Well, I think it's shameful. Shameful! That they let them out in public without muzzles. This was just bound to happen, everybody could see it coming.
Some people are saying she killed dozens of trolls. That's fucked up, man. One of them should have done it, that'd be fair.
I don't get why they didn't let her go back to that guy who was, like, I dunno, taking care of her? After the bad guy got convicted and all? Like, what was the point?
She was just a little kid. There's pictures of her going around in the cutest dress ever, look. How could that have hurt so many people? She's just a little kid.
Serves 'em right, if you ask me. Growin' the little trollkids like some kinda mushroom, it ain't right. I'm not surprised this happened, just thought it woulda happened sooner.
I can't believe Crockercorp is letting this happen! I mean, can't they just come out with a statement? Anything. This silence is just hurting the brand.
There's video on YouTube of the girl getting killed, you know. Have you seen it? They keep playing it. God, it must have been awful for her, poor thing. If she were human, it never would have gone viral. No one would let it.
They say somebody held her when she died and sang to her. How romantic is that? Everyone should hope to be so lucky! What did she do, anyway?
Clearly whoever owned her didn't train her properly! My little angel never wanders or doesn't do what he's told, he knows better!
She was crying. Why does no one see this is wrong? We need to stop this.
You're tired of television.
An officer had escorted you home two days ago. Jade had met you at the door, Jake behind her. He was confused, but then again, when isn't he. His eyes were wide and his dumb mouth parted. It'd been a year. He'd grown so much and you saw so much of your dad in him it near broke the little pieces left of you. But he didn't hesitate, and pulled you straight to his chest, stinking of airport and jungle and spray-in shampoo. We'll get through this, lad, he'd mumbled into your cheek. We've got you now.
The next day, the police came to clear away the last of the case. Anything Vriska touched, wore, smiled at, or enjoyed was swept into cardboard evidence boxes. You screamed at them--you nearly got slapped with an assaulting-an-officer charge, but Jade talked them down. You'd sequestered yourself in your bedroom. You did manage to keep her wings, her rabbit, as you watched them carry her memories away in the back of their car.
You rolled over in bed and went back to sleep, bunny pressed to your heart.
In your dreams, Vriska wears orange, the color of her blanket. She twirls in bright red boots and her wings shower you with pixiedust. She's warm, her skin soft. You can remember the curve of her laugh-- but have forgotten the arrangement of her face. It appears as a distressing smear of blue-grey that wakes you, fearful and coated in sweat.
Sometimes she's sleeping, draped over your knees, the crown of her head nestled under your chin. You can feel the expansion of her ribs against yours, and you feel with your touch you give her breath. She rests her wings in a fold over your arm, gossamer and silky. You ask her to wake up, to come play. She says she's tired. Then you kiss her head, and tell her you're sorry, and you wake with tears, empty and cold.
It's the second day.
Your bones ache, and the television's incessant commentary drifts up. Ignorant people, stupid people, people who never met Vriska, never knew her smile. Sometimes you hear the door open, hear Jade's muffled chatter. The dog's whining. You think he knows she's gone too.
It's afternoon when Jade slips inside with barely a knock, Bec at her ankles. The bright colors of her clothes hurt your eyes.
"John? Jake made something for us to eat. He says it's 'smashing,'" she uses an exaggerated voice that's meant to make you laugh and it just grates your ears.
You lay still, toying with a fraying thread on your rabbit. One eye is lopsided. You wonder if that's why she liked it. There's a pressure on the mattress by your feet. She's sitting by you, her hands splayed open, kneading into the covers.
"John, you have to eat, come on, come downstairs."
"'M not hungry, Jade. I'm just tired. Let me sleep."
"You've been up here for two days wallowing in bed. You have to come eat. Feferi sent a basket of fruit and candy."
The laugh you make is bitter. What good is candy and fruit? She was powerful enough, she could have done anything. You force your body to sit up, hunched around the bunny. It still smells like her sweet bath soap. Jade makes an irritated sound in the back of her throat, not unlike Bec.
"John, stoppit. Vriska wouldn't want this!"
"What right do you have to say what you think Vriska wants?!" you scream at her. "You didn't fucking KNOW her, Jade!"
"I lived with her, too, John!" She could match your volume. "She's gone and I loved her, too, but she wouldn't want you to shrivel up and die! Or worse, POUT! She'd make FUN of you right now, John! She'd LAUGH at you!"
You whirl out of bed before you remember your feet reaching the ground. You aren't sure what you were meaning to do, but it must have been rash, because Jade's knuckles meet your jaw enough to knock you right back to the mattress, clutching your mouth.
"Don't you fucking tell me otherwise, John, you are BETTER than this, and she would expect BETTER of you."
Tears and snot and blood and all assortment of horrible things spill from your face. Jade digs in her pocket, pulling up an awful handkerchief dotted with anime characters. She mops your cheeks, leaningover you. It's an awkward stumble to the bathroom. She washes your face clumsily, getting water up your nose, washes your hair in the sink. Her hands are rough, they're used to grooming Bec, but her voice is kind.
"You gotta just let us take care of you. Stop fighting so much. We've got this."
By the time you get clean, Jake is in the doorway, anxiously rustling Bec's fur.
"Lunch is ready downstairs, I suppose. I don't know what meal it even is! Jetlag and all! Now come down, at least give a good effort to swallow something."
Supporters staged a protest outside the capitol today for Troll Advocacy. The now-notorious Scratch case is over, but with the government-ordained death of its young posterchild, activists and citizens alike are speaking out.
Still no word from the new head of Crockercorp, Feferi Peixes. Stockholders are growing anxious as stock prices plummet due to the recent company turmoil.
Picketers surrounded a decommissioned Crockercorp Brooding Facility this morning, demanding the release of its resident trolls. The police are on standby if the crowd becomes any more agitated. They wait on a ruling from the Supreme Court.
More and more adult Trolls are coming to light in the days following the end of the revolutionary Scratch case. The latest lives with her owner in what they call a mutual relationship.
Hours after security tapes of Vriska Serket's euthanasia surfaced online, Youtube pulls the viral video, stating that it violated their Terms of Service. However, the video is still being distributed and drawing millions of views. Investigations are being made to discover who leaked the footage.
Independent studies have been released revealing Troll anatomy and psychology once held top secret by Crockercorp Executive Contessa Peixes. This is the biggest discovery since Trolls themselves thirty years ago on a remote island.
Candles and toys line the Metro Animal Shelter gates, where child troll Vriska Serket was humanely euthanized on Friday. Some witnesses claim that it was not humane at all, and the entire medical team that administered the order have resigned. Doctor James Abraham says, "We're vets, not murderers."
Adult trolls, now out of hiding, are calling for the release today of the Mother Grub, and want her recognized as a victim of crimes against humanity by the Crocker Empire.
Prosecutor Terezi Pyrope has stepped down after the Scratch case, citing that she has chosen a new field in Troll Rights, already drafting a document she calls "Vriska's Bill." New Crockercorp head Feferi Peixes has pledged to lobby for its successful pass through Congress, in her first statement since her induction.
You're bundled up with Jade, sharing the candy basket Feferi sent. Naturally it's full of Crocker-endorsed chocolate, and just the little red spoon makes you ill. Jade's fishing out the M&Ms for you.
"Did she leave a note?"
"No, it was delivered. Crockercorp is hers now."
"Yeah, come down from your cave. You need to grieve, not become a hermit."
She holds up both hands helplessly before you can strike back. She knows she's gone too far. Jake's food still tastes a bit like overborne camp cooking, but that's somewhat homey and reassuring. The phone rings--your sister has stupidly quick reflexes. She scoops up the receiver and pads into the next room, her dog trailing after her. You busily craft a sculpture from Jake's meal, only to realize he's right there, watching you. You apologetically shove a big spoonful in your stupid mouth. Ulp.
"John?" Jade's nervous--her hand cupped over the phone. "It's Maidenhead."
Oh. Right. You force yourself to think the words. The Funeral people.
God, it's all coming back to you. When your Dad died, suddenly there were decisions to make you never in a million years thought about. What kind of wood for the casket, what kind of handles, matte or glossed? What did it fucking matter, your dad was dead, and the casket was shut anyway and you don't even remember the half-assed eulogy you gave. Even so--you remember it comforted you, seeing everyone there, gathered around where your Dad was. You hope the same will be true for her, even if her family was tiny. You slip the cordless from Jade's hand and cross into the sunroom.
"Hello? John Egbert."
"Ah, Mr Egbert. Please understand how sorry we are for your loss."
No one had said that. We're sorry for your loss. You didn't lose Vriska, you knew exactly where she was. Wait. Please understand? Not, "please know?"
"Do I need to come in and choose things? I mean, I know where, but--"
"Mr Egbert… We understand that you've lost someone dear to you, but a troll can't be buried in a human cemetery. There are laws in place--we only authorize human remains here. Now, we know several close pet cemeteries that would be pleased to serve you--especially with your plight so known, but the law reads that only legal family can be interred here."
The look on your face must be obvious, because both Jade and Jake are desperately snatching for the phone, mouthing 'give it here.' You turn your back on them, hunching sideways over the phone to listen and keep it from snatching hands.
"So you're… telling me that I have to put her in a cemetery with the dogs?"
You're surprised that even Jade, dog-lover that she is, hisses a near silent 'what?'
"Dogs are loved members of the family, too, Mr. Egbert, there's no shame in that."
You have had it. You have finally had it, and you let your rage burst out of you in a spill of fury and language. It's pouring from your mouth, your eyes, shit, it's going to come out your nose.
"NO. FUCKING NO."
"John-" Jade tries to be firm.
"NO. I am DONE with this bullshit. What does it matter now? She's dead! It doesn't matter what she was! She's dead, she was hurt because she wasn't human enough, she was used because she wasn't human enough and then she was killed because she wasn't human enough!! When will it be enough!!"
"John," Jake breathes, flabbergasted.
He's staring with wide, horrified eyes, his teeth clicked together. Of course he's surprised, he's not fucking been here. Jade has her hands cupped over her nose and mouth, eyes pinkening at the edges with tears. She's only been here a little. Of course they're shocked. You don't care. Let them be. They don't try to stop you now, standing still on either side of you, listening to you scream.
"They walk and talk and feel and cry and hurt and laugh. They fucking laugh! She sang and was terrible and she trusted me to take care of her even after--I couldn't fucking save her from the needle, she was put down like a goddamn dog! And now I can't even BURY her."
It's the first time you've said the words aloud. Your conviction leaves you, leaking away through your eyes.
"Please. Please just let me bury her." Your voice is more pathetic than you mean. "Let me at least bury her."
You don't wait for a response, thumbing the phone's off button and throwing it in the general direction of 'away.' Jake goes to fetch it like an earnest puppy and for a moment you hate him for his innocence. Bec had hidden under a table, watching you with the frightened eyes Vriska had once. Jade pulls her hands from her face, smoothing them on her skirt. She does not talk to you. She doesn't know how to handle you, you horrible mess. You comb your fingers through your hair with both hands, knotting into it, pulling. Forget this. Forget everything. You storm upstairs like a twisting hurricane, making for your room.
They were probably going to burn her, and you'd never get the ashes. You'd never see her again, never get to say goodbye, not know where she is. You could call back--agree to have her in some pet cemetery wedged between Fido and Cuddles, but it's just too wrong. You want her with your dad. You want to go see her and tell her things, bring her flowers. You want to remember her.
You've slumped to sit on the edge of your bed, and have been there for some time judging by the damp of your face and the stiffness of your back. You didn't even hear Jade come in. She stands at your knees, waiting for you to look up, until she sits beside you. Wordlessly she tips you into her, guiding your head to her shoulder.
It's easy to lie there and forget time altogether.
You wake two hours later, spread out in bed under a blanket. Vriska's rabbit is by your pillow. It's Jake again, holding that damned phone.
"It's for you."
"Tell them I don't want to speak to them. And tell them they're sacks of cowardly bullshit."
"That's not sporting, John, please. She really wants you."
She? Feferi. Of course. You sit up to take the phone, only to flop back against the pillows with it pressed to your ear. Jake hovers around the door, swaying from shoe to shoe.
"The service will be the day after tomorrow. I settled the details."
You lurch upright again, pressing aside your anger and disgust at her to try and digest her words.
"Maidenhead, then your cemetery. The arrangements have all been made. I assumed that you wouldn't want to deal with them."
Your mind reels--and part of you registers the stern emptiness in Terezi's tone, so unlike the cackling laughter that echoed in the house, barely muffled by Vriska's hair. Shame fills you and you pinch the bridge of your nose, rubbing your eyes with your knuckles.
"It's at 3. Please dress yourself accordingly, people will probably sneak photographs."
She hangs up on you, and the piercing dialtone drills into your ears. You hold the phone away and Jake lifts it from your fingers to shut it off.
"Well? What's the news?" he asks.
"The funeral's the day after tomorrow at three. Where Dad is."
He smiles and instantly regrets it, pursing his lips together instead in a very bad example of concerned. Still, he rubs your shoulder with his callused hands, rough from holding guns and rifles. All of a sudden it rushes to you, all the stupid details. The family plot isn't very big. Your dad's spectacular insurance had let you buy space for everyone, but. No one extra.
"Oh god." Each roll upright hurts your back. "There's no room for her."
"In- in the plot, the ground, they- there's only room for the three of us--not--shit. I can't--afford to buy more space, there's… Fuck--"
"John," he steadies you. "Easy."
Sometimes it's easy to forget he's the oldest. He's babyfaced like you, like Jade. He left while you were still young, much older, but seemingly not much wiser. He kept your original name, Harley. It had been your mother's name. Your dad loved her so much he took her name instead. After his death, you took his original name. Egbert. You wonder what that'd look like on a gravestone. You wonder if Vriska would want your name. Fuck, she can't--there's no room for her.
"John," Jake starts again, soft. "This little girl was very important to you, wasn't she."
"I wish you could have met her, Jake, you'd have been a riot together. A little pirate, god, she tore up the house so bad. Always adventuring and conquering…"
Slowly, slowly he nodded.
"Give her my space."
The thought hadn't even occurred to you. You reel to meet him, hunching cross-legged by his back.
"Give her my space! Come on, you know I've never been one much inclined to stay home. I'd like to be cremated when it comes to it, you know! Ashes on the wind."
That doesn't make you happy--he's your brother, and you definitely want to know where he is when the time comes. But, then again--you never do know where he is. You never have. He turns to grasp your shoulders.
"This is important to you. If it's going to help you, then by golly, I'll do it. It never mattered much to me! But it clearly matters to you."
He gives you a squeeze.
"The world's not ended, John. People are still here. I am, and Jade too, and she's worried herself into a tizzy. We're all still here. And your girl is, too. Just not where you can see her."
You almost fall into his hug--near squashing both your ribcages. You'd missed your hug fights.
hey did you hear? vriska's memorial is gonna be at 3 on the 28th. here's the directions.
Ugh I hear those awful protesters from Westboro have already decided to come. Let's outnumber them! If you're in Oregon, try and come.
wow so now they're going to treat her with respect? assholes. #tw: slurs #tw: death
~* On the 28th wear blue to Support Vriska Serket *~ RIP baby girl!
Hey, is there any way I can help? A donation button or something?
I'm not in the area. Reblogging for people who are. I so wish I could go and support.
what can we do?? i mean really i wanna help
but wouldn't it be weird? i mean I'm a weird stranger what do
Can we just all agree that this is awful. Always reblog.
You manage almost a normal dinner. Rather than stomach another of Jake's failed attempts, you go and get fried chicken. It's nice, all of you piled in a car. Jade lets you drive, and the sound of their voices mixing with the rock radio eases you. You find yourself laughing at one of Jake's stories of the savannah. They're curled up talking shop about their guns in the living room. After everything they probably think you're asleep again. The privacy will help you through this.
Vriska's little netbook still sits on the nightstand. She's gotten everything locked--but it was easy to guess her password. M8NDFANG!!!!!!!! She used it for everything. And wrote it down constantly. God, her background was ugly. It was a bunch of 8balls probably snatched from a twelve-year-old's Geocities website. Which is probably true. You find her browser, her home page is her blog. You'd never really looked at it. The latest entry is from Jade, explaining the situation. There are- wow. That's a lot of notes.
A bit of scrolling down- and there's dozens of videos. She seemed to make one every night. You wonder if you're ready for this. Setting the archive to chronological order gives you the first video she made on down. It's time to let her speak for herself. After steadying your breath and steeling your heart, you press play.
It takes all night. Her videos aren't long--but you sometimes replay them.
Here she is, smiling at you, laughing, scrunching her nose up, leaning her head sideways. Making funny faces, playing with her hair, picking at scars. She's chatty as ever, talking about herself as usual. In one she found Jade's guitar and was attempting to play. It was way too big for her, and while her claws made for nice picks, they were in the way of pressing the frets. She demonstrates Arachnid's Grip on a giggling Jade. You're in them, too, as a background character in her life. Cooking, fiddling with your phone. You remember each of those moments and regret not walking over to scoop her up, spend the time you had left with her instead of fucking around with a phone.
One by one you pick off the months of her blog, laughing at them, shaking your head, brushing the screen with your fingertips. Just before sunrise, you reach the last video. The night before the trial.
She's propped herself on pillows, wearing her favorite nightgown. Her fingers twirl at the end of a lock of hair.
"So, the trial's tomorrow! Finally. This stuff takes way too long to do."
Her rabbit's under one arm, and Vriska picks at the stitching a little.
"I know he's gonna get it! But I dunno about me. I mean. I fucked up. I don't think I'm gonna get out of this one. No without taking somebody else out, which is probably frowned on, ugh."
She smiles, crooked and honest.
"But it's OK. I mean, I feel like something big is going to happen now. Really big!" She spreads her arms. "HUGE! And I'm gonna be a legend."
You didn't realize you'd scooped the little computer onto your lap, supporting the back of it with both hands.
"I'm just glad I'm awesome enough to do it. You can count on me!"
Little awkward thumbs-up are pressed to the camera, and it's so strange to hear your own voice inquiring after her. Vriska, get some sleep.
"Just a second, John!" She smiled in the camera, saluted with one hand, and shut the laptop.
The video goes back to cycling through thumbnails. She's smiling in all of them. You can count on me!
You're surprised how easily sleep comes to you. And you're so relieved when her face is whole in your dreams, smile still in place.
Chapter 16: Papers and Forget-Me-Nots
This is the last chapter, but there will be an epilogue! And the Epilogue is where it will all come together. Thank you so much for reading so far, and thank you to coldhope/CC for betaing/proofing this for me!
Anxiety hits you between the eyes like a goddamn brick.
You spend the day between panicking. What if she's in some black bag? Or if she's messed up? You've never seen a body before. You don't quite count Vriska, because in your mind she just fell asleep, like the hundreds of times she had before. What if people come make trouble? God, what if no one's there? And it's just you pathetically standing by a hole? You're regretting this whole decision.
But Jake's already fixing your tie, and there's no going back now.
All black. Jade looks odd in all black, but it suits her somehow. She's even tied her hair back with a blue ribbon, one of Vriska's. Jake's always worn a suit well. You notice a blue pin on his lapel, too.
"God, Jade. What if--"
"Shut up, John. It'll be fine. She'll be fine."
"This is for you," Jake reminds you, "and for people who loved her. Vriska doesn't mind. It's fine."
"Is Feferi coming?"
"Yes. It's her first public appearance, so…" Jade trails off.
"There may be a bit of a kerfuffle," Jake finishes, dusting your shoulders. "There. You clean up nice, if I do say so."
"The car's here," Jade checks her phone. "Are you ready?"
You inspect yourself in the mirror, attempt to get your hair to lay smooth, make sure there's no gunk on your glasses. In the reflection you see Vriska's bunny propped up on the bed. She'll need it. You scoop it up with both hands.
"Yeah. Let's go."
You're a ball of nerves in the black Town Car. Jade and Jake are discussing other things. Like where to go and what to do next--future things. You're mostly concerned with the present. God, why did you want a funeral? This is going to be horrible and everything is awful and you are pretty sure you want to open the door and roll into traffic. Unfortunately you're sandwiched between your siblings, and you are sure they did that intentionally. You remember the drive too well to the cemetery, the funeral home.
The sky is a white-grey that only happens in winter when the clouds are laden with snow. The earth is dry and dirt-brown, ugly to look at. You play with the rabbit a little. There's little bitemarks tearing the stitches. Vriska must have gnawed it in her sleep.
"Shit," Jade gasps. "John, don't look. Don't give them the satisfaction."
There's herds of protesters, bobbing signs and shouting slogans outside the gates. When you turn to try and read them, Jake grabs hold of your head and pushes it to your knees. They're ducking, too. Cameras flash over your head. Once you're past the gates, it's just a dull roar. Motorcyclists circle the protestors with big blue flags, hiding the signs from sight. It's a relief at least. Even if it's noisy and it looks like the ringleader of the bikers could take off your head with one hand.
The noise outside is drowned out as soon as you enter. A little sign reads "Serket." You turn to escape, to bolt out and probably fling yourself at that biker and insult his mother, but your brother and sister catch your arms. Lead you in. You remember this building, you remember sitting in the mass-produced chair holding a plastic cup and a napkin with a stale cookie on it for hours while people told you how sorry they were and you sure as hell don't want to do that again. What possessed you to think this was a good idea?
No, no, no, let go, let go this was a mistake I didn't want this.
Piano music is playing and you almost laugh at the melancholy of it. There are flowers everywhere. Where did these even come from? Some have tags, and you idly read them. Who are these people? You don't recognize the names at all. They're all blues and whites, with splashes of red. Red like her favorite shoes. The whole thing is so ridiculously formal and you are pretty sure if Vriska were present she would be bored to tears and knock all the candlesticks over or throw up in the planters.
That voice you know. Feferi. You turn to greet her, but her arms are already scooping you into a squashing hug, as if she was trying to pull you right into her heart by force. She smells sweet, and her black dress is soft. When she pulls away, you are suddenly aware of how much more grown-up she looks. The way she holds her head, the squaring of her shoulders. Even the makeup is older, but there's some smearing of her mascara already.
"I'm so glad you could come. I'm so sorry, John, I'm so sorry."
She gives Jade a hug too--your sister has to bend over to let Feferi hug her properly. When she releases Jade, she briefly tries to touch up her eyes with the pads of her fingers and decides not to care. On her it almost looks pretty. Feferi rubs her arms, trying her best to smile for you, but you didn't expect sunshine gleaming today. She spots the bunny in your hands and smiles, patting it.
"Here," she says, lifting a bright blue forget-me-not flower cluster from a table to pin to your jacket. "We're all wearing them."
There's more people than you expect. No one you know. But it's--it's clear they're grieving. You recognize a vet who treated her in court, and was always kind to her. People involved in the case. How did Vriska know them? What surprises you most are other trolls--weaving carefully between people's legs to navigate the room.
"Eridan's over there with her."
Eridan. Oh, God. You didn't think about Eridan. You'll need to find him.
"Feferi, did you do all this?" You gesture, "I mean. I can't afford--"
She stops you. "It wasn't me."
"It was her supporters."
"Terezi," Feferi heaves a sigh--she's next on her hugging victim list.
Damn does she have a lot of nerve to come here. To come to the funeral of the girl she killed! She personally pushed the plunger on the needle! You're going to fucking kill her. It'll be a casketside brawl and there won't be room for another body. But when Feferi parts--Terezi wears black, not her normal colors, and there's a forget-me-not on her breast. You can't bring yourself to shout, just standing dumbly.
"Might we have a minute," she asks your entourage.
Feferi herds them off, whispering softly to get coffee or tea for their guests.
You stand awkwardly in the foyer of the funeral home opposite the woman who murdered your little girl.
"How did you…get her here?" There was probably a better way to ask that.
"There was," Terezi begins, lifting a file-folder from her bag, "a loophole in the burial contract. It only said that "legal family" can be buried here."
She offers a neat stack of crisp white papers in a manila folder, but avoids your gaze subconsciously.
"She's legally your family now. You adopted her."
The papers were all in order. It was all in legalese of course, but you got the gist. Vriska was part of your family. On paper. It was only paper, but it punched you hard in the chest. This must have taken her days to pass.
"A fitting memorial is the least I could do for my sister."
She hugs her arms, swallowing thickly, though she keeps her mouth in a straight line. Of course she did. What choice did she have? What choice really? Away from the cold steel of the animal center you realize if you had run with Vriska, she would've been hunted down. She would've died miserable and terrified. Terezi was thinking of what was best for Vriska. In everything the blind girl was able to see what you couldn't.
"Terezi. I shouldn't have said what I did."
"It's fine, you were grieving."
"So were you."
When Terezi takes off her glasses there's tears swelling over her eyes. You are a monster. She fought for Vriska, just like you. You touch her hands--pulling lightly for permission to hug her. She leans into you, wrapping her arms around your waist. In turn, you engulf her in your own, hoping your skinny arms might offer some sense of apology. When you separate she straightens herself, gives Senator an authoritative tug. She slips one arm in yours to let you lead her through the rooms, piano music following you.
"So who paid for this?"
"You're unaware of how many people loved her, aren't you?" She chuckles, but it's so dry, and drained.
"Er, it seems I am…"
"She had many fans reading her blog, rooting for her. Supporting her. You. Though you were oblivious as ever to it, it seems. Not all press was bad, though I know it's hard to believe when you wake up to find a camera in your Fruit Loops. Halfway through the trial, people wanted to help. They started a fund, for her. Footing the bill for this barely put a dent in it."
"Yes. The Forget-Me-Not Fund," she tapped her flower, "we thought it suited. It's blue, like her, so I'm told."
You're beginning to register just how many people are here. Humans, trolls. Did Vriska bring all these people together?
"You should go see her," Terezi says.
"I… don't know, Terezi, I mean, I know it doesn't matter for you, but, I'm scared to see her."
"Don't be. It's just her."
You round a corner and- oh, god, no, shit, fuck, oh no, god damn shitting fuck shitfuck. There's the casket, surrounded by blue flowers and the damn thing is open. Everyone in the room turns to you--and you are pretty positive you're just going to fly out the window. As if that were possible. Terezi feels you buckle, and clamps her hand on your arm to prevent your escape.
Focus. Focus on the people there. You are going to talk to everyone in the damn room before you go up there if you have to. One small shape in particular catches your eye, in his tiny, perfectly tailored black suit. The forget-me-nots on his lapel are almost too big, and he stands perfectly straight, like a little soldier. He formally greets whoever approaches. Of course. They were Kismeses, they were--well, in his world, she was his girlfriend, and the pain is evident on his features. Though he always looked grumpy, there was a hopelessness in his face that just gets to you.
You're going up for him, that's all.
Terezi lets you slip from her as you come to Eridan. You no longer have to kneel to meet him.
"Hello," he replies, looking up to you with a sorrow-filled face.
"Eridan, I'm--" Do you apologize for Kismesis? "I'm sorry."
"No, I am," he sighs, "I'm her kismesis. Kismesis protect each other."
Oh, god, he's too little to carry this on his shoulders. Is he? He stands so regally now, you wonder how old he is.
"It's," you fumble, "not so simple, Eridan. This whole thing, it's. Not something anyone could control."
"No, a' course not," he argues, rolling his eyes, "but I still could 'a defended her."
He eyes the rabbit--and then lifts his face to you with such conviction you daren't turn away now. Eridan leaves you, taking Feferi's hand and leaning against her. She strokes his hair, his horns, with elegant fingers, tracing the lightning-bolt shapes.
This leaves you with her. You can see the edge of the polished wooden casket in the corner of your vision. Maybe to make everyone happy you can just kind of disconnect your gaze and turn like a panoramic camera. No one will no you're not staring at anything. Good. Here you go.
The plan collapses to ashes as soon as you lay eyes on her face.
It's just Vriska.
She's sleeping--tucked in with her blanket, wearing that damn battle-dress she probably tore holes in. She's comfortable, hands crossed one over the other on her tummy. Her blue lashes are fanned on her cheeks, brow relaxed and expression peaceful, dreamy. Her hair spilled out and curled, shiny and soft and probably better than she'd ever cared for it in her life. There's a ring of eight blue roses around her head on the pillow like a halo.
But, it's not quite Vriska.
They've taken makeup to her--and covered every single scar and blemish. Her skin looks perfect, airbrushed, like a doll's. Even her eye is tidy and clean. There's a bit of blue lipstick on her lips, lightly parted. They painted her nails with her favorite color--one Jade often used. But without her scars--it was just wrong.
Slowly, slowly you reach in, as if afraid to wake her. Your thumb brushes across her nose, smudging the makeup away. Her scar was right where you knew it would be. She's cold to touch, but you're not scared. It's just Vriska. Idly you free one perfectly curled strand to muss, leave hanging on her cheek. She was always self-conscious about that.
There's still your rabbit in your hand. As gingerly as possible you slip your hand under her elbow and tuck it in with her. Already it looked more at home. It's wrong, seeing her so still and so quiet, tucked in like a pretty doll. Yet she's comfortable, and the lines of weariness and care on her face are gone. For that alone you can try to be grateful as you kiss her forehead.
There's an awful lot of milling around, but this lets you observe who comes to her. All ages, really. They come to you, too, squeeze your hands thoughtfully. Eridan keeps his vigil, so you feel comfortable enough to slip your way to Feferi's side.
"So, Eridan. Is he… I mean, will he be okay?"
"Yes, though it's very hard on him. You see, Trolls believe their partners to be fated for life. So Eridan--"
"Feels as if he'll never find someone again. God, he's just a kid."
"I really shouldn't have let it go so far," she sighs, "but she made him so happy. Well. Miserable."
"Alive," you chuckle, and it's refreshingly genuine.
"Yes," she says. "Alive is a good word for it."
Eridan occasionally steals glances--but otherwise glowers at the floor, inspecting his bespoke shoes. You can't imagine grief that huge in someone so small.
"It took me the last few days to direct him from just wanting to avenge her, though."
"Yeah. Like. Go after them with swords and rifles and stuff. Had to lock up all sorts of things!"
You find it endearing, in a kind of fucked-up way, that Eridan would go so far. You smile on him. He's confused, but tries to reciprocate.
"I'm sure she'd have done the same if roles were reversed."
There's a murmuring in the room, not exactly crying, and it surprises you. Then again, perhaps they didn't know Vriska as well. At the same time, it comforts you to watch others coping. You catch snippets of conversation. Politics, society. Still, the little anecdotes from her life filter in. Clips from her blog. You can see her through other's eyes. Maybe you can cope, too. Terezi sits near by Vriska, listening. Senator's laid his head on her lap.
"She left the DA's office, you know."
It knocks the wind right out of you. Terezi was the pretty sculpture of blind justice. She lived for this, didn't she?
"She left. She's gong to be fighting for Troll rights. Everything's changing, John. I…I know things are dark now, but, please know. Things are changing. This will never happen again. It's going to get better."
You almost want to believe her. An attendant comes and speaks softly to you. Everyone treats you so carefully, brushing their words over you like silk over glass. They're going to close the casket. Is that alright? Sure. The water seems to move under your feet, and you drift from place to place. Everyone disappears from the room, save your family, Feferi and Eridan. Terezi moves to go--but you ask her to stay, despite yourself.
She'd be glad everyone was there to say goodbye.
You're pretty sure some words were said. You'd be damned if you can remember what. You were asked to stand in front of the little coffin covered in a spray of forget-me-nots and blue roses and say something, but you just sort of shook your head. The fuck were you supposed to say? Feferi stepped in. How strange for the new head of Crockercorp's first speech to be a eulogy. You remember her saying that Vriska was loved, and that she tried to love back even if she didn't remember how. But more than anything, she spoke of who wasn't there, of the other trolls in Vriska's ring, of Psiiya, and others who had died before her.
You kinda missed it after a bit, staring at the dead grass out the window. A squirrel was bounding by, you couldn't help yourself.
And before you were aware of it, you were asked if you wanted to help carry her. You're a bit confused until you remember you did this for your dad. You took a handle--Eridan asked if he could, too. You're a bit alarmed that he's actually tall enough to help.
When you leave the gates, it feels like the number of people outside have doubled. But instead of angry protestors, it's people with candles. Flowers. Little Trolls, peering through the bars. Adult trolls minding them. You’re filled with a blossoming sense of awe, pressing down the sadness with its roots.
"Who are they?" you ask Jade, leaning over her to look out the window.
Only the six of you go on to the cemetery. It'd been a while since you'd come to see your dad, so it's strange to see space beside his stone. Feferi seems strangely old hat about this. Did she have a lot of funeral experience? This whole day has filled you with strange, conflicting feelings, but you're a bit unnerved at how reserved they are. Maybe you burnt it all out crying and shouting before. Maybe you've become numb.
There's a distant birdsong--strange in this weather. It's freezing, and the sky grows darker.
It's Jade's hand on your wrist. She presses a clump of dirt in your hand. Ah. This part you remember. When you look down you can see the reflections of clouds and tree branches over the gloss of the casket lid. If you lean, you can see your own face.
You let the dirt slip from your fingers, sprinkling across the wood.
The others follow suit, one by one. And it's over.
You can still see it--still picture Vriska nestled inside with her rabbit--but somehow your mind doesn't let you think of that more than a few moments. The others linger as long as they feel appropriate, until one by one, they too turn their backs until only you and Terezi remain. She offers her hand--tentative, and you take it. The two of you leave together.
"What?" she asks.
You pause in the field to observe, and realize that Terezi won't be able to see it. So you gently inch back her sleeve, let a few flakes fall on her bare wrist.
"So it is."
The others are far ahead of you, bobbing along. You notice Feferi doesn't scoop Eridan up anymore--he's probably too tall now. Jake and Jade are leaned against one another, near pushing each other off the sidewalk. You have them. You have these people, and all of those people who loved, supported Vriska. She's gone, but they're all still here. They're all still here.
"Mr. Egbert," Terezi begins. "If I might offer a proposition."
"That sounds kinda wrong." It's amazing how the humor's come back in your voice.
"Within the last few weeks, and more closely within the last few days, more and more Trolls have been set free from death sentences and released. Near half a dozen in just this state."
"That's great," you sigh, and it truly is.
"Mr Egbert, they have nowhere to go."
Only then do you realize what she asks of you. You stop, your companions still bounding ahead. The snow is coming down around you in big clumps, blanketing Terezi's hair and eyelashes, steaming your glasses. There's still dirt from Vriska's grave under your fingernails.
"Whatever I can do."
Chapter 17: Epilogue
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.