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Blessed are the Ignorant

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===> Be the Dreaming Page.

Are you sure you’re dreaming? When did you fall asleep? How could you possibly be asleep when your heart is hammering loudly inside your chest, fluttering like a panicked bird locked in a cage, aching to escape? There’s a rush of panic thrumming through your veins, making your thoughts race faster than you can understand them, killing any word that you want to say and causing your mouth to go dry. You’re breathing shakily in between choked sobs —when did you start crying?— and your chest hurts as you force words to come out, your lungs burning and begging for air as your vision becomes blurry from all the tears. You can barely make out a figure standing in front of you, feeling their intense stare burning into your eyes as you look up at them pleadingly —what are you pleading for? What’s going on?—.

“I want to be anywhere but here as long as it’s with you!” You can’t seem to hold yourself back, bursting into tears as your body violently shakes with sobs, despite not knowing what or whom you were crying for. Your knees buckle under your weight and you feel yourself falling to the floor when strong, calloused hands stop you from hitting the cold, wooden floor, jerking you up to your feet. The shock of their touch is enough to stop you from crying and you blink quickly in confusion, your vision slowly clearing up.

When you meet face to face with orange eyes, time seems to freeze immediately. You feel the air get knocked out of your lungs as if someone had bodyslammed you into a brick wall, making it hard to breathe again, but you don’t dare open your mouth to gasp. Dirk’s stare is cold and calculating as he holds you up, his nails digging painfully into your skin, but you can’t pull your gaze away. He looks older than you remember, his eyes almost dull and uncaring as he watches you over the rim of his glasses, most likely gauging your reaction for whatever reason. Fear creeps into your system but it quickly disappears as it appeared when you’re pulled in, his lips pressing against yours in a soft kiss.

When was the last time you’ve kissed Dirk like this? Surely it’s been years. It’s only been three years since the game ended for you, three years since he had broken up with you while you were both high on magical candy, three years since you spent all your time with him, running around on your assigned planets, killing monsters and kissing in dark caverns. Three years doesn’t seem like a long time when you look back on it but you still feel a heavy longing in your chest, your hands shaking as you reach out to wrap your arms around Dirk, to pull yourself close to his body. You stop in your tracks though when Dirk pulls away from the kiss, looking unfazed as he cups your face gently, pushing you away carefully so there’s enough space between the both of you.

“I’m sorry Jake,” he murmurs gently, thumbing a stray tear away before slowly pulling his hands away, the heat of his touch leaving with him, leaving you feeling cold and afraid. “But I’ll never let you break my heart again.”

===> Wake up.

You wake up with a choked gasp, gripping your bedsheets tightly with sweaty hands. There are tears streaming down your cheeks, which you wipe away quickly, and your skin is clammy with cold sweat. Your heart refuses to calm down along with your racing thoughts so you’re forced to let all your anguish out, sobbing loudly into your hands until you feel all cried out. Eventually, you get control over your breathing again and start going through some breathing exercises to calm yourself down, hiccuping softly here and there as you breathe in and out. Your head is pounding from all the crying and you know you’re going to feel worse in the morning because there’s no doubt in your mind that you’re not going back to sleep after that dream.

A shiver runs down your spine when you recall the dream, a flash of bright orange eyes burning into yours, so you shake your head and force yourself out of bed, stumbling slightly on shaky legs as you walk across the carpeted floor, heading for the door. You head downstairs to grab a glass of cold water and a bottle of painkillers before returning swiftly to your bedroom, not very eager to linger in the confining kitchen of your small apartment.

It’s been three long years since the game had ended and you and the others began creating this new universe to live in. After establishing a population of trolls and humans alike, all of you were transported five thousand years into the future and settled down in small apartments in Can-town for the time being. At first, it had been nice to have the chance to live among people, being able to have visitors or to be able to visit your friends whenever you wanted without the fear of having to face monsters or an overly eager robot the moment you stepped outside, but with time, you’ve found that the presence of people feels grating on you, creating an itch to get away from it all.

It’s an itch you haven’t had the motivation to scratch, unsure how your friends will react when you decide to branch off. You would hate to make them upset by moving away all of a sudden so you’ll wait to talk to them about it. Roxy and Calliope surely wouldn’t mind! Hell, they’d probably encourage you to go! To spread your wings and fly! Jane probably wouldn’t be too upset by it either but who knows? It’s been a while since you’ve properly spoken to her, still a bit reluctant after everything that happened in the game, but you doubt she’ll react negatively.

Dirk on the other hand… You decide not to think about him too much, especially after the nightmare you just had. You’re gonna need a couple of hours to recover before you can even think about him again.

“Are you sure about that?”

The glass almost slips from your hand but you save it with the other, proceeding to drop the bottle of painkillers onto your foot and spill some water over your hands and feet. You yelp in pain, wincing as you grip your cup tightly in your hands, but you blink back your tears, not wanting to make a bigger fool of yourself. Your vision is blurred from your lack of glasses but you can vaguely see Brain Ghost Dirk sitting on the edge of your bed, resting back on the palm of his hands.

He’s dressed in his pink god tier outfit from the game but it looks rather silly on him now because he’s older now. He’s taller, more muscular than the lanky sixteen-year-old you had met and has longer sideburns. He looks a bit more relaxed than he would be if he was the real Dirk, the corner of his lips twisted upwards in a small smirk. He’s probably a tad bit amused from having frightened you, but you refuse to dwell on it too much because you know he’ll just tease you about it. It’s impossible to hide anything from this guy because he practically lives in your brain. Just a splinter from your old buddy, Dirk, that you like talking to whenever you catch yourself thinking too much about him.

When you approach the bed, you place the glass of water down on your nightstand and quickly grab your glasses, unfolding them and slipping them on before turning to face your nightly visitor with a small frown on your face. “Gadzooks, man! Can’t a man get up to grab a glass of water without getting sprung on like an innocent prey! In my own home as well!” You exclaim, your voice sounding raspy from having been crying earlier. Ugh, it’s probably obvious that you’ve been crying and he’s totally going to make fun of you for that. You’ve never been a pretty crier.

The smirk fades from BGD’s lips and he studies your face for a moment, making you feel small under his scrutinizing gaze. You can’t help but shift uncomfortably as you pick up your glass of water again, remembering the way Dirk had stared at you in your dreams, and taking a quick sip of it. You wince a little at the thought and try to shake it off, but it’s hard when there’s a copy of Dirk right there on your bed, staring at you hard.

“Am I making you uncomfortable?” BGD asks quietly, no hint of amusement in his voice like before. He knows the answer to this question because he can read your thoughts but thankfully he’s polite enough to keep the conversation going while you’re losing your mind from the lack of sleep you’ve been getting these past few months.

“A little, yeah,” you admit with a sigh. There’s no use lying to him because it’ll only make him upset and the last thing you need is some version of Dirk being mad at you.

“I wouldn’t be mad at you,” he mumbles, frowning at you. “Just confused on why you would if you know that I already know.” He’s always been more open with his thoughts than the real Dirk but you suppose that’s your influence on BGD. He is a figment of your imagination after all.

“It’s easy to forget that you’re not actually real,” you blurt out without thinking about the implications of your words. When his frown deepens, you wince a little and shake your head, wanting to take back your words, but the damage was already done. “No, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that, I just mean—”

“I know what you meant, don’t worry,” BGD cuts you off quickly with a dismissive wave of his hand before sitting up in his spot and crossing his arms across his chest. “I know I’m not exactly the “Real Dirk” so don’t worry about having to dance around my feelings like they’re delicate glasswork or something. It’s not like I really care about being real or anything like that anyways,” he says with an indifferent shrug, lips pressed in a firm line. You sigh in response and settle down next to him, the bed springs complaining under your weight. You don’t even bother with coming up with something else to say because you’re too wound up, too tired from your lack of sleep, too confused to come up with something sensible.

Both of you sit in awkward silence, the only sound keeping you company being the faint chirping of crickets coming from outside your open window. Despite all this time living in this universe, you could never get used to the silence of your home, unable to sleep comfortably without the noises of the jungle, be it the occasional sounds of branches snapping or the distant growl of a monster lurking about. Having the windows closed makes you feel trapped within the house’s four walls and only reminds you of the brief period that you spent in jail during the game when Jane went Crockertier for a while. You shudder at the memory, clenching your fists and opening them as you force yourself to think about anything else but that. God, how many repressed memories are you going to experience tonight?

“Do you wanna talk about why you were crying earlier?” BGD finally breaks the silence, giving you the escape that you must have subconsciously asked for. “You look pretty fucked up about something.”

“Don’t you already know?” You retort sharply, feeling a bit defensive. The venom in your own voice surprises you but you can’t stop yourself. “I thought you practically lived in my brain so you already must know what I’m fucked up about.”

Raising his hands in defense, BGD just shakes his head. “Look, man, no need to get bitchy about it. I’m just doing you a common courtesy by asking you to share even though I do actually know. Just thought it would make you feel better and make this silence a lot less awkward than it already is. My fucking bad if I overstepped some boundaries, dude,” he shoots back with a frown, a tinge of irritation laced in his words. It's enough to make you drop your anger, knowing well that there was no point in taking it out on him. Besides, you don't have much of a reason to even be mad in general. He asked you an innocent question, didn't he? So why get your panties all up in a bunch about it?

"Sorry, it's just..." You trail off quietly, gesturing vaguely in the air as you try to find the proper words to express yourself with. "Lack of sleep. I haven't been sleeping too well these past few days so I haven't been feeling quite myself. But you're right though, I shouldn't have snapped at you like that."

BGD nods slowly as he lowers his hands to pick at his pants lazily. "It's the nightmares, right?"

"Well, I wouldn’t completely write them off as nightmares," you mumble, reaching to rub the back of your neck in thought. "And they're not exactly scary, but rather... Unsettling. I mean, not all of them are like that though; I've had a couple that could be considered pleasant if I were to dismiss my initial confusion."

For the past week or so, you've been haunted by different dreams involving a lot of your friends but much older. You remember seeing Jane once or twice in your dreams but you get a feeling of unease when you look back on them. All you remember from those dreams was feeling small under her stare, as if you were a child waiting punishment for doing something bad. You've seen Roxy holding an infant with black unruly hair and bright blue eyes close to his chest, smiling with a fondness only seen in a parent's eyes when they gaze upon their baby. And you've seen Dirk... Yeah, you're not sure how much you want to talk about that just yet.

"What about tonight's dream? I can't imagine your dream could be considered pleasant with the way you woke up sobbing like that," he murmurs softly, a sense of concern lacing in his words. When he turns to face you, you feel a jolt of anxiety shoot up your spine and turn away, unable to meet his eyes.

It's moments like this when you're fully convinced you've created BGD just to torture yourself. He's so much like Dirk that in moments like these when you need someone to comfort you, having BGD there instead only reminds you how you don't have the actual Dirk to keep you company. BGD is everything you've wanted to see from Dirk but it's not real.

But it could be, a part of you whispers softly in the back of your mind. Your hand twitches at the thought but you quickly brush it off, settling to run your fingers through your hair instead. How could you forget your handy-dandy hope powers that could bend reality at will? You could always wish BGD to be a physical identity to always keep you company, not just when you're feeling lonely if you really wanted to.

BGD's expression hardens slightly at your thoughts and he shakes your head. "Don't even think about it. You know well shit like that doesn't fly when it comes to Dirk splinters," he chides you. "I may be a splinter of his with your influence but that doesn't mean that it'll keep us from having any issues. Plus that'd be kinda weird. How would you explain to your friends that you're dating some weird version of Dirk? Like hey Roxy, I'd like you to meet my new boyfriend, Not-Dirk. He's exactly like Dirk but he's not actually him. I made him in my brain but now he's real because of my ridiculously powerful hope powers."

You wrinkle your nose at this, feeling your cheeks heat up in embarrassment. "Boyfriend? Who said anything about dating anyone?" You say with a forced laugh, pointedly avoiding his gaze. "Besides, I don't think I would even do something like that! I've only ever told one person about you but she's dead now so I'd very much like to keep it a secret. Who knows how Dirk would react if he found that a piece of him was residing within my brain..." You gnaw on your bottom lip at the thought. You bet your bottom boombuck Dirk would have a terrible reaction to that. He's never been fond of his splinters after all.

BGD barks out a laugh. "Oh yeah, forgot that the dude has this weird campaign against other versions of himself. He'd probably have a heart attack the moment he sees me before coming back to life only to fight me." He shakes his head with a deep sigh, leaning back on the bed to rest on his hands again. "Yeah, keeping me your dirty little secret sounds like a better idea than letting him find out. He'd probably find a way to blame himself and tear himself apart about it."

You can't help but nod in agreement. "I'm glad you see it my way. I haven't spoken to him in a long time but what I've heard from Roxy and Dave, he's been doing very well so I'd hate to ruin his lucky streak with this whole splinter business."

It's been months since you've had a proper conversation with Dirk that didn't include half-hearted messages on Pesterchum in which you type up a whole paragraph filled with meaningless chatter and he responds with 'oh, cool' or 'yeah'. When you first settled on Earth-C together, you had tried to pick up the pieces of your mangled friendship with Dirk and salvage as best as you could but it soon became obvious that it was too hard on Dirk for him to go on pretending like everything was fine. There were still some issues he had to deal with and being around you didn't really help him so he told you that he was going to need some space, something you had never dreamed he would ever say.

You, being the most supportive friend you could be, said 'yeah, that's fine! Have as much space as you need, buddy! I'll be here whenever you need me,' because you understood the concept of needing space. Being around the same people for too long made you feel caged in seeing as you've long grown accustomed to being on your own. And yes, while Dirk needing space was a surprise to you, you didn't make a fuss about it because he was your best bro! If space would make him feel better, then you'd give him the entire galaxy so he would cheer up again.

But then you realized that he only really wanted space from you.

He'd go to the parties your friends would host and hang out with the others, despite once claiming that they were too suffocating for him. He'd joke around with Dave, Karkat, and John, strike up some ridiculous philosophical conversation with Rose with Kanaya as some sort of referee to their arguments, maybe drink a little with Roxy and Jade if he was feeling up to it, and relax with Calliope and Jane at the end of the night.

All the while, ignoring you.

Not completely, of course. He would say hi to you if you caught his attention but your conversations were always short-lived, a meager 'hey, what's up' and 'nothing much, see you around,'. You've tried not letting it get to you because you did say it was okay that he wasn't going to be around as often as he used to be, but it's hard when you see him smiling around the others, having a grand old time with everyone but you.

You've spoken to Roxy about it on occasion, rarely bringing it up in fear of having a repeat of the mess you caused during your game session, and he's reassured you every time that Dirk is just dealing with some things and that it's not your fault. He needs time to think and be by himself and unfortunately, being around you makes it hard for him somehow. When he feels up to it, he'll come around so don't worry too much about it, ok jakey?

So you've tried not worrying about it because Roxy's right! Dirk wouldn't just leave you in the dark without an explanation. Once he feels better, you can be friends again and everything will be as it used to be when you were young friends, laughing with each other and making jabs at each other. Because really, all you want in life is to have your best bro back and not feel this crushing guilt in wondering if you've fucked things up to the point of no return. For now, you'll settle with talking with your own personal Dirk stand in.

"You really fucking miss Dirk, huh?" BGD murmurs gently, his voice soft and low as he looks over at you. You glance up at him, rubbing your arm sheepishly, before nodding with a deep sigh.

"Boy, do I," you say with a bitter laugh. "Tonight's dream didn't really help my case either. It was kinda weird... I dunno, rather depressing actually?"

"Can I ask what happened?"

Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, you look away as you try to remember the main part of your dream. "I don't remember quite well how it started but... I remember being in a large, empty mansion. Dirk was there with Squarewave... And Rose was there, but she was passed out on one of the chairs. Dirk... He was dressed in dark clothes and he looked much older, a little bitter? We talked for a bit but I can't really remember what it was all about." You furrow your eyebrows as you try to remember but all you can really recall is the kiss and the words Dirk said to you before you woke up.

"What do you remember then?" BGD coaxes, leaning into your side, curious to know.

"I remember crying and begging him to take me with him? I don't know exactly, but I just remember feeling so desperate to be with him that the thought of being without him felt like a gunshot to the heart! God, I was so scared because he was going to leave and I was going to be alone and without him and he—“ You feel your hands on your face, digging your nails into your tear-stricken face slightly, and pause for a moment. "He kissed me… And it felt like no one would ever kiss me like that ever again…”

The pain you felt in your dream returns at full force, constricting around your heart and making it hard for you to breathe. You can feel tears forming in your eyes again but you blink them away, not wanting to start crying in front of BGD. Dirk's words echo in your head and it only makes the throbbing in your chest ache more.

You feel a hand on your shoulder and glance over to see BGD with his stupid pointed shades off, looking at you with deep concern in his eyes. Seeing the bright orange color of his eyes gives you a whiplash when you think about the dull look you saw in Dream Dirk's eyes, so full of emotion and care compared to the cold, unforgiving stare. A beat of silence passes as you stare into his eyes, hands itching to touch, to feel Dirk's heat again, but you keep your hands to yourself, in fear of being pushed away again.

BGD opens his mouth to say something but his gaze flickers downwards, showing a rare sign of hesitation to his thoughts. When he looks back at you, his jaw is clenched slightly, whatever he was planning to say before seemed to have died on his tongue. Instead, he pulls one of your hands away from your face and holds it carefully in his translucent hand, almost as if he was unsure if this was alright.

"You should... probably get back to sleep," he mutters, eyes avoiding yours. "I doubt you'll have any more nightmares tonight but I'll do my best to make sure you get enough rest so you don't pass out tomorrow or something."

"I thought you couldn't control my basic functions though," you joke quietly, relaxing into his touch as you smile tiredly. He glances at you, the corner of lips twitching upwards in a small smile, the closest to a smirk you’ll get.

"Sure I can, I'm still a part of your brain, you dork," he teases before pulling his hand away and standing up. "Go to sleep before I make you sleep," he says, faking a glare at you as you settle back into bed with an amused snort.

"Aye, aye, sir," you reply back as you pull the bed sheets over your body, finally realizing how tired you actually feel. You're exhausted, physically and emotionally, so knocking out won't be too hard. Or at least, you hope.

"Goodnight... Dirk," you murmur, offering BGD a sleepy smile as he stands over you, his sunglasses back on his face.

"Night, Jake."

 


 

 

golgothasTerror [GT] began pestering gardenGnostic [GG]

 

GT: Good morning my dear jade!

GT: While im quite aware its still pretty early and you may not even see this until later i got myself to thinking about some things.

GT: Nothing too serious of course but thinking nonetheless.

GT: And so i realized that we havent really spoken in a friggin long time!

GT: Which i mean isnt any of our faults because were both very busy people! You doing…

GT: Er…

GT: Whatever youve been getting up to these days!

GT: And me…

GT: Well being me i suppose!

GT: So what im proposing is that we should hang out sometime soon and just talk!

GT: If youd like of course no pressure!

GT: It just feels like…

GT: We barely see each other outside of planned events with our friends and i want to…

GT: Change that i dunno.

GT: Anyways thats all i wanted to say i think.

GT: Ill… See you around?

GT: Gosh this is terribly awkward.

golgothasTerror [GT] ceased pestering gardenGnostic [GG]

gardenGnostic [GG] began pestering golgothasTerror [GT]

GG: oh good morning jake!!

GG: wow you must have been up pretty early to send me a message at this hour

GG: have you not been sleeping well?? :(

GT: Oh sorry about that! I really wasnt thinking about the time when i messaged you. *rubs the back of head sheepishly*

GT: But to be honest with you ive been having just… the most terrible dreams!

GT: Not all of them are bad but they just leave me feeling something awful.

GT: Like im running out of time or like i did something wrong…

GT: I dunno its kinda difficult to explain and i wouldnt want to trouble you with my problems when you probably have too many of your own to be concerned about. :(

GG: its really no trouble at all jake!

GG: but if you want, you can come over to my house for breakfast and maybe we can talk about those dreams youre having :0

GG: i may not be able to tell you what they mean or what they are

GG: but maybe just talking about them can help you get that negative stuff off your chest!

GG: besides…

GG: ive been having similar types of dreams too :(

GG: dreams that feel kinda unsettling??? but way too real to pass off as a dream?

GT: Yeah thats certainly how i would describe my dreams.

GT: Almost like theyre happening in real life? But im not in control of them?

GT: Mm.

GG: that sounds like a lot to unpack :(

GT: It does sound like a lot to wrap ones head around doesnt it gosh.

GT: Yes well i better get a wiggle on so i can make it there before breakfast gets cold!

GT: See you in a bit jade!

GG: see ya!!! :D

golgothasTerror [GT] ceased pestering gardenGnostic [GG]

Plopping your phone next to your head on the pillow, you let out a deep sigh as you stare at the ceiling, clasping your hands over your stomach. You feel relieved that your invitation to talk hadn’t been rejected but you hadn’t expected to meet up with Jade so soon. The good part about it is that it gives you an excuse to not spend the rest of the day in bed, rolling around uselessly and fill your head with endless questions in regards to your dreams. The bad part about it is that you still feel like utter shit from last night and you probably look like utter shit.

Even after BGD promised to keep you from having nightmares, you could still feel the remains of the one that woke you up, the unshakable sensation of being detested, of having your mind being picked apart piece by piece until there was nothing left. You would drift in and out of sleep until sunrise finally arrived and put you out of your misery. No longer being able to go back to sleep, you spent the early hours of the morning messing around on your phone, reading all the most recent tabloids about the happenings in each kingdom. Occasionally you would find something about one of your friends and what they’ve been up to but they weren’t anything new. For example, Jane’s recent plans to establish Crocker Corp.

While she hadn’t told you specifically, you had heard her talking about restarting the business that she didn’t get the chance to inherit and make it less… Evil. She wanted to continue her family business, establish something that she could watch grow and tend to on this earth that they had created. You don’t have a doubt in your mind that Jane would make an amazing CEO and create wonderful products that would aid some of the problems of daily living, but it seems a little like overkill in your mind since you were all technically uselessly wealthy. You had thought about doing something similar with re-establishing SkaiaNet in honor of your late grandmother but that requires finding something to specialize in and create in large quantities. Besides, doing it all on your own right now seems like a burden and it’s not like you even have space to create prototypes of things. And while you’re very capable when it came to basic robotics and machinery, you don’t think you could do it by yourself.

===> Get up.

Before your brain can venture into sadder territory, you force yourself to sit up in bed, groaning as a dizzy sensation sets in, filling your vision with black spots and making your head feel light. You stare into nothingness as you wait for it to clear up before grabbing your glasses, getting up from bed, and shuffling over to your wardrobe, quickly pulling out a casual t-shirt and some shorts to wear for the day. Stuffing your phone into your pocket, you head out of your apartment as quickly as you can, not wanting to leave Jade waiting too long.

As soon as you step outside, the cool morning air sends a brief chill down your spine and you stuff your hands into your pockets as you make your way down the sidewalk, her apartment just a few streets away from your own. There's a couple cars driving by, people driving to and from work, you suppose. It's strange to see the life you created mimic the old life you had seen through movies, having almost expected to be it completely different. Of course, it was, in most ways, completely different from life back on Earth, with advertisements with trolls alongside humans and the occasional consort and carapacian walking down the street. While they have their own kingdoms where the majority lies, Can-town has always been very diverse, filled with so many colorful characters from every species that inhabits Earth C.

You let out a deep sigh as you walk the streets of Can-town, staring at all the different shades of gray stare back at you blankly. When you had first arrived, you had been excited to be able to live in an actual city, like the ones you see in old-earth movies, eager to wake up to the rustle and bustle of city life where no one ever sleeps, but you soon grew tired of all the noise, of the lights, of the constant stream of people, longing for the peace and quiet of your little tropical home. This concrete jungle couldn't lift a finger to your previous luscious green bubble of paradise. Even now, you feel your mood dropping as you continue to walk by the same buildings that you've walked past the last three years.

Once you arrive at Jade's house, you knock on the door quickly, looking around absentmindedly. She has a small garden in front with different types of flowers that you're sure that she had genetically engineered herself. It makes you smile a little when you recognize a couple of the plants being ones that grew on the island that you both grew up on but you don't have the chance to dwell much on it when Jade opens the door, smiling brightly at you.

"Jake, hey!" She greets you warmly, throwing her arms around you, her dark curly hair flying everywhere as you hug her back.

"Good morning, Jade," you reply with a soft chuckle. Jade always had this way of making you feel warm and wanted when she hugged you, always pouring every inch of her love in everything she did. She smells oddly of mint and sage, almost like your grandmother used to when she was alive. When she pulls away from you, she grabs your hand and leads you inside.

"I'm making crepes for breakfast but I'm gonna need your help with cutting the strawberries," she informs you as she pulls you into her kitchen, letting go of your hand to walk over to the fridge and opening it up to pull out a bowl of strawberries. She sets them on the island in the middle of the room and searches for a cutting board and knife before setting them down next to the bowl.

"Roger that!" You wash your hands quickly in the sink and make quick work of washing the fruit and plucking the leaves off. "So what have you been up to these past few days?" You ask, wanting to make small talk as you work.

"Nothing too interesting, really!" Jade replies as she flips over a crepe carefully, not wanting to tear it. "I've been hanging out with Dave and Karkat but also hanging out with Rose and Kanaya in the Troll Kingdom! Besides that, nothing besides the usual things I do," she says with a casual shrug.

You hum pensively. "Since when had Rose and Kanaya move away?" you ask curiously. You have never been close with either woman despite having gone to the wedding, but you're sure you had been invited out of pure politeness. You've talked to both of them a handful of times and from those few moments, you can tell that they were an interesting pair. Especially Rose.

The concept of ecto-biological children had always been weird to you, especially when you were around John and Jade at the same time, because while you could see which physical characteristics they got from you and which ones they got from Jane, it was hard to believe that they were actually related to you. Meanwhile, you look at Rose and Dave and immediately, it's easy to see that they are Dirk and Roxy's children. Rose shares a lot of things in common with her father figure; the sharp tongue, the way she seems to be studying and analyzing your every word, her impulsive nature.

"A couple of weeks ago. It was something they had been planning for a while after they got married, mostly so Kanaya can be closer to the Mother Grub while it's growing," Jade explains carefully as she puts another crepe on a plate, picking up a pitcher of batter and pouring it onto the sizzling pan. "It's pretty cool over there, kinda hard to keep up with the being nocturnal thing though," she comments.

"Ah," you reply dumbly as you rinse out the strawberries and put the bowl back on the island so you could start cutting them. "And, by chance, do you ever think of moving out of Can-town?" You ask innocently.

Jade falls silent, the only thing stopping the silence from being uncomfortable being the sizzling of the pan, before sighing. "Maybe? I dunno yet. Besides them and well, John, the rest of my friends are here so why would I want to move away? I like it here!" Her voice sounds a little strained when she speaks and you can’t help but frown.

Ah, yes. John. Not long after the game ended, he moved back into his old childhood home, wanting to surround himself with precious memories of a life long lost. At first, none of you thought much of it, having guessed that he just needed time alone, but lately, his replies to the outside world are between few and none. No one seems to have heard from him or seen him in such a long time that it’s starting to concern you a great deal but you haven’t had the courage to fly over to his apartment and check up on him. While, yes, you got along with him and befriended him to an extent, you still felt a strange barrier around him that forced you at arm’s length, almost as if he didn’t want you to get too close to him. Appearing on his front door out of the blue seemed to be crossing the line of what was allowed in this awkward friend/son/father dance you seemed to be trapped in with him.

“It is a pleasant place… But, er, don’t you feel a little bit restless here? Being in the same place for such a long time?” You offer with an awkward laugh, remembering how in your universe, Jade had travelled the world on adventures to study everything she could get her hands on, taking you along for the ride while you were a baby. Of course, Jade is completely different compared to the woman who raised you, but occasionally you find yourself noticing the similarities here and there, little things that make you smile wistfully. While their experiences shaped them to be different people, the foundation remains the same.

It’s quiet for a while and for a moment, you panic internally, wondering if you said something wrong and made her upset, but you force a lid on your growing anxiety and focus on cutting the stems off the strawberries, whittling out the heart of the fruit. Jade finishes up the crepe sheets, laying them on a plate, and turns off the stove before turning around to put the plate on the island, green eyes focused on you with a glimmer of insecurity in them.

She’s scared.

“Are you getting restless, Jake?” She returns your question, teeth gnawing on her bottom lip worriedly. A pang of guilt shoots your heart and you find yourself struggling to find the words to say without making it worse. Much like you, Jade grew up on an island on her own, isolated from the rest of world with no one but her dead grandfather and a powerful dog deity for a guardian, so you’re not surprised she has grown to hate being on her own, always surrounding herself with friends because she can. You’re also not surprised that she’s afraid of people leaving, of being abandoned.

As much as you’d like to say no, that you aren’t getting restless, it’d be a poorly told lie. Jade has always been able to see through your fibs with startling accuracy, no matter how much you tried to believe in their realness. She is one of the few people who see past the curtain of ignorance that you cloak yourself in, read between the lines of your script, and truly understand what you mean. And while she won’t call you out on it, you’re sure she’ll carry the burden by herself and never address the pain it causes her.

“Just a tad bit, if I’m being honest with you,” you reply carefully, panic bubbling through your veins like poison when you notice her white puppy ears droop comically. “I-it’s not that I don’t like it here! I love it, Jade, absolutely adore living here and being able to visit you and everyone else when I damn well please!”

“But…?” She interjects as she tears her gaze away from you to walk to the fridge, rummaging through it for the whipped cream, a solemn expression on her face.

You pause as you watch her come back with a tub of it and frown. You know why you want to leave so badly, unable to deal with the feeling of being suffocated by the presence of people constantly, but is that really a valid answer? You know if you say this to Jade she’ll turn it around and think that she’s suffocating you. Which she really isn’t because you haven’t seen her in so long! You’ve never found her presence suffocating, it’s just people, in general, put you on edge! Would it be okay for you to say that?

“I dunno, it’s just… We’ve been living here for what? Three? Four years now? And while everything is all fine and dandy, I guess I’m just getting bored staying in one place!” You force out, being careful with your words. “You know how I’m like, Jade, for god’s sakes I was a globe-trotting adventurer in your universe! Being a homebody isn’t the life for me! Of course, I’d start getting a little restless after staying in the same place for too long!”

This seems to shake off whatever negative train of thought was scurrying around in Jade’s brain, much to your relief, and she lets out an airy laugh, nodding along as she opens the tub of whipped cream.

“Yeah, I mean… I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since you were always on the go, venturing through every inch of the island to see what you could learn next,” Jade replies, her voice sounding nostalgic as she thinks back to her childhood days. Her bright green eyes seem to get distant for a moment before she shakes it off and turns back to you, puppy ears perked up once more. “Well, if that’s the case, I think I have a remedy for your restlessness!”

“Oh, do you, pray tell?” Jade gives you an enthusiastic nod as she grabs a spoon and reaches over to grab the bowl of strawberries that you’ve already cut, beginning to fill up the crepes with cream and fruit.

“Let’s go out and explore! You and me, that is!” She chirps happily as she spreads the creme. “We haven’t done much of that since we’ve gotten here, have we? At least, you and I haven’t. A while back I went with Dave and Karkat to uncover a bunch of shitty statue of liberties but besides that, there’s probably a bunch of stuff I haven’t seen yet.”

“Why, that sounds like a splendid idea!” You say with a bright smile, hoping it looks genuine. You don’t have it in your heart to tell her that you doubt a trip will be enough to settle the itch in your bones but you’re willing to go along with it if that makes her happy. Plus, what’s the harm? You get to spend a couple of days with one of your favorite people in the world! Just you, Jade, and the great outdoors like it used to be with your own grandmother! When the both of you were just pen pals, you used to write to her about being able to go on such travels with her, wanting to show her Hellmurder island and venture into the frog temple, unknowing that she was living on the very same island, but just in an alternate universe. Now’s your chance to do just that—so what’s the problem?

Jade grins back at you, the familiar buck-toothed smile that she inherited from you. “Where should we go? There’s still of uninhabited land that we haven’t covered… How long should we be gone?” She fires off question after question, unable to keep her excitement contained. You try to keep up and match her enthusiasm but you’re still doggone tired from last night.

“Er, maybe five days? Though really it should be depending on where we decide to go?” You offer before focusing on the question, hurrying with cutting the strawberries. Immediately, you think somewhere far, far away from here where there’s dense wilderness. You want to feel like you’re getting lost, too far from the rest of civilization, in a place where all you can hear are the sounds of nature and your own thoughts. But at the same time, you know it doesn’t matter where you go, you’re still attached to the concept of home, always bound to your small apartment in Can-town.

No, home isn’t your apartment. Home had been your little isolated island in the middle of the pacific, thick vegetation that surrounded the remains of the mansion your grandmother had built for you to live in. Home was listening to the bugs and the monsters buzz and flitter about during sundown, the faint growling of beasts lurking by. As lonely as it was, that had been home. That’s where you sought comfort.

“Why don’t we… Take a visit to the old island?” You finally suggest. “Seeing as the waters have receded a long time ago, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’ll be there again! We could even check out the frog temple and see if it’s still intact!”

Jade gasps in delight at this. "That would be so cool! I've been meaning to go looking for it again but never really had the motivation to do it by myself," she replies happily. "Adventures like that are much more fun when you're with other people."

You nod in agreement. "Right-o! Then it's settled; We'll go together in search for the island and wander around, see what we can find and just relax for a while! I'm mighty curious to see if it's still as monster-infested as before or if they've died when the earth completely flooded."

"Or maybe they evolved," Jade tacks on as she continues to prepare the crepes, happy to have avoided the possibility of you leaving. You don't know how it had never crossed your mind what Jade would think the moment you decided to leave. It's a little disheartening to you and a bit irritating to realize that you'll probably have to deal with staying cooped up in this town a little while longer as you try to dance around Jade's feelings in regards to that. Maybe one day, she'll get used to the idea and not react as negatively to it or perhaps she'll move away on her own. But until then, you feel obligated to stay, not ready to deal with the possibility of making her upset if you didn't.

You end up helping Jade finish up the rest of the crepes as you discuss the details of your trip in more depth before settling down to eat. A comfortable silence settles over the both of you as you eat, only the chorus of forks scratching over plates to interrupt it. In this moment of silence, you remember why you came over in the first place, your nightmare having been forgotten in the midst of the conversation now tugging at the back of your head like an unwelcome reminder. You're a little reluctant to bring it up, in case it creates another awkward situation that you could've easily avoided, but it refuses to leave you alone, especially since Jade had mentioned having similar dreams to the ones you vaguely described.

Jade gets up to put her empty plate in the sink, humming quietly as she turns on the water and rinses the chocolate and whipped cream off it, before turning back off and drying her hands on a bright green kitchen towel on the counter. When she finally joins you again at the island, the smile from earlier has subdued and you wonder if you've subconsciously done something wrong again.

"Are you ready to talk about your dream now?" She asks in a gentle voice, one you remember your grandmother using when you were a scared little boy. It stuns you for a moment but you quickly gather your wits and laugh sheepishly, avoiding her gaze as you finish up your breakfast and get up to put the plate and fork in the sink.

"Honestly, I thought you would have forgotten about that," you admit quietly before clearing your throat. "But it's quite alright! I... I actually forgot all about it! Got so distracted thinking about our trip that it downright slipped my mind! Completely flew out the window like an entrapped pigeon!"

When you turn to look at Jade, she's staring at you with an expression that shows her disbelief in your charade but she sighs in resignation. "Well, in case you remember, you know you can always talk to me about it, okay?" She reminds you and you give her a small nod.

"Of course, Jade. It'll be the first thing I'll do!" You promise, crossing your heart in a salute. "Cross my heart and hope to die!"

She giggles, shaking her head at your goofy promise. "Okay, let's not get too carried away but thank you," she says with a grin before getting up from her chair. "Now about that trip..."

 


 


You spend the next few days packing things you'll need on your trip. Technically, you won't be needing as much stuff as you used to carry when you lived on the island by yourself but you still like going through the process of packing the essentials, like clothes, extra food and water, a first aid kit. It makes you feel like you're sixteen again, preparing yourself for one of your little adventures where you liked to pretend that you were the star in some cool action film, humming some made up score under your breath and talking to your friends via the skulltop.

But no, you're not sixteen anymore. You're a young adult at the ripe age of twenty nearing twenty one in the next upcoming months. You've grown so much in these past few years after the game, your short, awkward teenage body blooming into one of a strapping young man. You're a lot taller than your friends now, a lot more muscular too from all the exercise you're fond of doing, and overall everything you had dreamed of looking like when you were still young.

"Pretty sure most of that was your hope powers giving you a boost, dude."

Glancing over your shoulder, you see BGD reclining on the bed once again, sprawled out like a sleepy feline, staring at you with muted amusement in his eyes.

You roll your eyes at his comment and focus on tucking in a folded shirt into your backpack. "Seeing as you are my brain, wouldn't you know whether or not I used my hope powers to alter my appearance?" You reply rather dryly, a habit you can't shake when you talk to him. It's still your immediate reaction to be on the defensive when it comes to him due to him reminding you of Dirk's AR when you were still in the game. Of course, BGD is nothing like the AR, him being part of your imagination, but maybe it's the bitterness you carry from being surrounded by reminders of Dirk but never the real him.

BGD is silent for a moment and you worry that you've made him upset with your thoughts but your concern gets completely eradicated when he replies with a cheeky grin, "I know your ass is totally fake."

"Excuse me, but my buttocks are completely real!" You shoot back at him, practically scandalized. He's grinning at you like a Cheshire cat, completely unfazed. "I work hard to keep them looking as they are and I will not tolerate any unwarranted slander of any kind towards them! You take that back at once!"

He ignores you with a loud cackle as he turns over to lay on his stomach, resting his chin on his folded arms. "Yeah, yeah, I'll remember that the next time you decide to skip out on your daily squats for a month straight and notice your ass ain't looking as plump as before," he replies. His comment makes your cheeks flush in embarrassment and you eye the mirror sitting a long way from you, trying to casually check your reflection to make sure everything was in tip-top condition.

Turning your attention back on the ghost, you furrow your eyebrows at him and cross your arms. "Are you done mocking me or do you have more tricks up your sleeve? If you haven't noticed, I'm rather busy."

"Aw, come on, English, quit acting like you think I appear out of my own will or something. We both know you're very well aware that I only show up when you start feeling lonely and need someone to talk to so let's cut the shit and talk about what's really on your mind," he retorts, his brisk tone making you flinch in surprise. It's not that you hadn't expected it —you know very well Dirk always made himself out to be a cut-to-the-chase type of man— but that you hadn't heard that tone in so long that you feel... Just a bit nostalgic.

You turn away from him to grab some boxers from your drawer, shoving them ungracefully into your backpack, trying to ignore what he was insinuating. "I haven't the slightest clue what you mean," you say simply, a weak defense that he could easily tear apart.

"Alright, so it's up to me to address it then: Do you really want to leave Can-town?"

Your nose wrinkles in question. "It's just a short trip, I hardly see what the issue is here! Plus, I'm going with Jade so it's not like I'm going to isolate myself as a result," you explain, walking across the room to your closet in search for your first aid box.

"I'm not talking about your trip, I'm talking about after your trip, Jake," he clarifies, his tone a little sharper than before. "You and I both know that the moment you get back from this trip, you're going to want to go back but because of your supposed situation with Jade, you won't be able to."

"Wait, supposed situation?" You ask, popping your head out of the closet to look at him in confusion, but he ignores you as he gets up from the bed and stretches his limbs.

"You're really setting yourself up for yet another miscommunication problem and with Jade of all people just because you couldn't bring yourself to tell her you wanted to move out," BGD continues, settling back down to stare at you. "Which, is kinda stupid and rude of you to think she wouldn't be able to handle that. She's not a child, dude."

Getting to your feet, you focus solely on him with a frown on your lips. "Rude? How am I possibly being rude for trying to avoid hurting her feelings? I'd be rude if I flat out said, 'well you see Jade, while I've had quite a spankin' good time here in Can-town, I simply must leave because being around people is starting to grate on my friggin' nerves! Yes, including you, Jade!'"

BGD scoffs at this and shakes his head. "Of course that would be rude, you don't just casually tell someone that they're suffocating you. Especially someone who hasn't even seen you in so long because you're too busy wallowing in your own self-pity and pretending that you're not, to even muster getting up and crossing a couple of streets to say hello." Your glare intensifies as he speaks but it doesn't deter him. "What I mean is that it's rude for you to think that she wouldn't be able to handle the disappointment. She's not going to break just because you want some space."

Not like someone else you know. The phrase lingers in the air unspoken but you know well enough to know it was what BGD was getting at.

"I wasn't assuming that at all! Don't put words into my mouth like that!" You grit in irritation, clenching your fists at your side. "I just... don't want her to be disappointed in the first place! I don't know how I would handle it if she were to get upset with me."

"Bro, it's not even like you're leaving forever. It's one thing if you decided to fuck off for the rest of your immortal life, dedicating your life to the wilderness and becoming some mythical god of nature, but you literally just want to live somewhere more comfortable. Why are you making it a bigger issue than it needs to fucking be?"

"You wouldn't understand!" You groan in frustration, ruffling your soft, black hair in frustration. "I know Jade and I know she'll somehow turn it back onto herself and think herself into circles about my leaving and it'll be just another fucking problem I've caused by just doing what I want and that's the absolute last thing I need right now!"

"Dude, Jade ain't Dirk."

The sentence throws you off and your expression twists into one of confusion. Of course, Jade isn't Dirk; she's absolutely nothing like Dirk! Where the fuck was he getting this from? What was that even supposed to mean?

BGD crosses the room to stand in front of you, his figure shimmering and translucent. On an off-note, you wonder if you were to touch him, would your fingers go straight through him like a hologram? You remember him touching you the other night but that was probably because you wanted to feel his touch. Who knows if it would work this time? Your hands twitch, eager to find out, but the reasonable part of you tells you to pay attention to the conversation, you can find that out later if you really want to. But at the same time, if you touch him and fail, you'll be forced to face the reality that you've resorted to talking to the ghost of your best friend because you're so fucking lonely.

"What in the devil fucking dickens do you mean by that? Of course, she isn't him!" You repeat out loud, stepping back to put more distance between the two of you. You're starting to edge into uncomfortable territory, talking about Dirk with BGD. While you know BGD isn't him, it's still weird talking about him with someone who looks exactly like him, talks like him, and is basically him in every way except on a physical plane. You didn't like doing back when you were sixteen and you definitely don't like doing it now!

"I mean, you're treating her like you would treat Dirk," BGD finally spits out, "Dancing around eggshells like they're actually landmines, armed to blow up at any misstep you make. If you hurt her feelings by explaining it to her, it's not going to kill her; she'll be sad but fine, get that through that thick skull of yours."

Well, shit, you guess you have been treating her like Dirk then. You remember when you were dating him, trying to be careful with what you said or did in case that triggered something in him to freeze up and react coldly to you the rest of the night. It was hard to figure out what made him react as such and you could never bring yourself to ask, too scared to admit that you might have hurt your best bro's feelings. Even after the game when you tried to be friends again, you had moments when you would say something to Dirk and he would tense up uncomfortably, sometimes excuse himself immediately with a poorly made up excuse to be anywhere but there. You wonder if you'll ever find out what was it that made him act like that.

"I know that but it still feels bad hurting her feelings. If I know I can avoid it, why shouldn't I?" You mumble in response, feeling like a scolded child now.

"Because that means putting yourself in a situation that makes you unhappy and the unhappier you get, the more buried resentment you'll have for her when you're the one who forced yourself in the situation as if it were an ultimatum," he explains, crossing his arms across his chest. "That way you wash your hands from the blame when it blows up back in your face, which it totally will if you don't actually talk to her about it."

You huff, glaring to the side to avoid his stare. "That sounds quite fresh coming from you," you can't help but mutter under your breath. BGD actually laughs at this, nodding along with you.

"Yeah, it really is but it's what you need to hear, dude,” he murmurs gently. Your irritation dies a little at the tone of his voice and you let your shoulders drop, sighing deeply as you stare at the ground.

"Why is it that I can handle hearing these types of things from you but not from my own brain?" You mumble sadly, kicking a dirty shirt on the floor, making a mental note to throw it into the dirty hamper later.

"You don't handle them any better hearing it from me though. It's just easier for you to actually fight them if you have a stand-in to prevent you from just throwing in the towel and being like well, there's that!" BGD replies with a shake of his head. "Plus it helps that I look like Dirk, so you're immediately inclined to raise a fit if I call you out on something."

"I'm not that argumentative, am I?" You ask quietly with a pout.

"With Dirk? You kinda are, dude," he retorts. "Or, at least, you used to be when you guys actually talked. Whenever the dude presented you with something that went against what you believed, you would pitch a hissy fit about it before actually thinking about it and finally agreeing with Dirk. Competitive much?"

"Ugh, don't remind me," you groan with a roll of your eyes, walking past him to throw yourself on the bed and cover your face. "I don't even know why I do that still! Is it for the sake of defending my beliefs or just to be right? Thinking back on it makes me feel so dumb for picking those petty fights with him, getting irritated for whatever reason." You roll over on your stomach and stare at the green bedding, eyes tracing the embroidered pattern.

"Now you're left on your own to argue with a ghost version of him because you couldn't bother actually working things out with him."

"We did try to work it out and it didn't work! He asked for space so I'm giving him space, how is that any of my fault?" You ask him, sitting up from the bed as you glare at him in frustration again.

"Not saying it's completely your fault because I know the dude's got lots of issues to deal with. Like if we were to sit here and talk about every single one of them, we'd be sitting here for all eternity and then some," BGD jokes as he approaches the bed. "And even then, he probably wouldn't be finished dealing with them. The problem here is that neither of you bothered to actually sit down and talk about what the real issue was. Instead, both of you resigned yourself to tiptoeing around each other like the awkward exes in stupid rom-coms that still obviously have feelings for each other but can't bring themselves to admit it. Oh, wait, that's because you are them and this is the shittiest rom-com paradox space could come up with."

Heat rises up your neck, flooding your cheeks, but you try not to think about it much. "I'm pretty sure that friggin' train has already left the station years ago. And even if I had wanted to board it, I doubt he would've been gung ho to the max about it! I hurt him real bad during the game with my dilly-dallying around his feelings! I'm lucky he even wanted to stay my friend!"

BGD shakes his head again. "I think you overestimate the amount of damage the both of you actually did to your friendship by yourselves. You seem to forget that there were a fuckton of other factors that came into play and you internalize all that shit as if it was solely your fault," he reminds you but you're having none of it.

It's been years since the mess that was your game session happened but whenever you look back on it, you can't help but think about how could it be anyone else's fault but yours? If you had only been honest with everyone from the start, none of this would have happened! Jane wouldn't have lost her patience with you and taken her frustration out on you while she was being brainwashed and Dirk wouldn't have broken up on you while all of you were intoxicated by magical candy and alcohol. Even now, neither of you guys have seemed to move on from that and whose fault is that? Why, none other than yours, Jake English!

"You're doing it again." BGD's voice stops your negative train of thought before it can get too out of hand, forcing the conductor to slam on the brakes to prevent it from falling off into the canyon where the tracks have been demolished by pesky band of criminals. All the passengers let out a sigh in relief as the train stops inches away from the grip of death. This train is going to be delayed until they find a way to magically fix the trails and return on their merry way.

"I haven't the slightest clue as to what you're referring to, my good man," you reply with a pout, avoiding his pointed stare.

"Okay, first we're gonna have to talk about this whole avoidance issue before we can talk about this Dirk issue because clearly, he ain't the only one who has shit to work out before you guys ever think of picking up your friendship again," he replies dryly, crossing his arms. "And we have to do something about that internalizing shit too."

"Are you done pointing out my flaws or are we going to sit here and list them out for the rest of the night?"

"Nah, I think I'm done for now."

You turn to give him a deadpan look, clearly not amused, but you remind yourself you can't be too angry about it. BGD is, after all, your brain so he's well aware of all the happenings of it like the back of his hand. Had it been anyone else, you would've raised a bigger fit and claimed that everything he said was a lie but you can't. Everything he says is something you've thought secretly but ignored, only to be thrown back at you in a way you can handle a smidgen better than your own thoughts.

"If that's that then, help me pack my things up. I need to find more computers to keep on hand since we'll be gone for quite a while..."

 


 

 

===> Dream.

When you open your eyes, you know you aren't in a dream.

There's a strange, fuzzy feeling to dreams that let you know that nothing that's happening to you at the moment is real. Even the curious dream bubbles in which you did see people who were indeed real would shift and change, keeping them light and mystical as you ventured forth through your memories and the memories of others.

But this, this is not a dream.

Your body feels heavy, each step you take feeling like you're wearing boots made of steel, making you drag your feet as you walk through a narrow corridor; the aging wood creaks under your shoes, practically the only sound that fills the room. The hallway is dimly lit by small metal chandeliers hanging overhead, letting you take a gander at the jaundiced wallpaper covering the walls. You pass by so many doors, barely eyeing them as you make your way to the end of the hall, the sound of a woman coughing killing the suspenseful silence.

You've... You've been here before, haven't you? The house is yours, that you can tell from the amount of taxidermy standing about, but also because it feels like... You. It's hard for you to find the proper words to detail it properly but you just know that this house is your own. The question is, who else in this house with you?

The coughing starts up again and your heart seizes up painfully in your chest at the sound. You stop just before the last door, waiting for something as muffled voices arise from the room, a low voice speaking calmly followed by a hoarse one that makes fear grip tighter at your heart, making it hard to breathe properly. The sounds of footsteps coming towards the door and the wood creaking as it's pushed open forces you to breathe out deeply, trying to pull on a false bravado as you come face to face to an older man with a stethoscope around his neck, marking him as a doctor.

He closes the door slowly behind him, avoiding your expectant gaze, before sighing deeply. You take a small step towards him, mouth open to ask, but he shuts you up with a curt wave of his hand, finally looking at you with an apologetic look in his deep brown eyes.

"There's not much we can do for her anymore. The test results from the laboratory came back but we can't recognize the substance that's coating her lungs," the doctor explains quietly as he stares at you. "Whatever it is, it's starting to clog up her lungs, preventing her blood from being oxygenated properly. Had she come sooner to the hospital, we could have hooked her onto a breathing machine while we investigated but now it's too late. Her lungs are going to collapse soon."

For some reason, the news does not strike you as surprising but it still makes your chest hurt with a pain you've never felt before. It feels like someone had taken your heart and crushed it in their hands, taken your lungs and squeezed all the air out of them like a whoopee cushion. Honestly, you feel breaking your ribs would've felt less painful than this.

"She... She despises the idea of being hooked up to a machine," you find yourself whispering despite your pain, surprised at how deep and sad your voice sounds. "Thank you, Doctor. For everything that you've done for us."

Putting a comforting hand on your shoulder, the doctor looks you in the eye, mouth pursed to say something else, but a beat of hesitation takes over him and he winds up saying nothing. He pats your shoulder gently before pulling away and making his way around you.

"Take care of yourself, Mr. Harley. If there's anything else I can do for you, please don't hesitate to let me know," he says behind you and you nod slowly, waiting for his footsteps to descend down the hallway until you couldn't hear them anymore, before moving towards the door, hesitating for a moment. You're not... ready to face whatever is in the room.

Taking a deep breath, you turn the brass doorknob and push open the door, stepping into the room and bracing yourself for what you're about to find.

It's your bedroom, you immediately realize, but not as you expected. There's no movie posters or comic book covers on the walls, but large realistic paintings depicting different wild animals and flowers. There's no desk filled with spare robotic parts to tinker with but instead, a writing desk covered loose papers shoved in random books sprawled about like an afterthought. The lights are dim so you can't see farther into the room but enough to let you see the large bed with a green canopy overhead and a frail-looking woman resting in the middle of it.

You push yourself to her side and take her hand in your immediately, raising it to your lips in a gentle kiss. When you look at her, you can barely see her eyes, a dark cloud covering her eyes as if censoring her identity from you. Nevertheless, you don't let go of her hand, squeezing it tightly as you bend down to get closer to her, emotion welling up in your throat as you feel how clammy and cold her hand is in yours, how sickly and thin her dark skin looks.

"Mon amour?" She whispers weakly, her once sweet voice ripped apart from the disease destroying her lungs.

"I'm here, love, how are you faring tonight?" You murmur back, using one hand to cup her face lovingly, never letting go of her hand.

Smiling at the tender touch, she leans into your hand, nuzzling close, before sighing deeply, but the action causes her to start hacking up again, ripping away from your hand to cover her mouth with a handkerchief that she had been holding in her other hand. You watch in horror, feeling so helpless, as she coughs up blood into her handkerchief, gasping at the end of her fit as she tries to recover her breath. Before too long, she finally calms down and settles back onto the pillows, blood staining her dry, brown lips.

"I'm afraid not too well, mon Coeur," she admits in a raspy voice. "I do not think I will see the end of this week, perhaps not even tomorrow."

You clench your fist at your side and shake your head. "Don't say such things! You... You can get through this, I know you can!" You insist, feeling more like a child as you deny the reality of the situation. "I can... I can return to Alternia! Yes, and I'll find a cure for this! You'll be just fine, darling, just hold on for a bit longer while I get the godforsaken contraption working again!" You start pacing as you think over your plan, smiling to yourself as you picture a future in which she is no longer confined to the safety of your bed. Yes, it could work! All you need is a little more time, some more machine parts, the key...

"Jacob."

Her voice is tired, filled with so much pity and exhaustion at the same time. When you turn back to look at her, she shakes her head slowly and pats the edge of the bed, gesturing for you to come sit next to her. You do as she asks and she takes your hand once more, rubbing the back of your hand gently as she takes a shaky breath, forcing a weak smile.

"I do not fear death," she begins softly, her throat bobbing slightly as she swallows harshly. "I have lived a good life, done what I've dreamed of doing since I was a child, married a man that was good to no one but me, was blessed with two angels... I have no regrets and neither should you. You've done enough for me, my love."

"No... Please, I can't... I can't lose you," you whisper weakly, your voice cracking under the immense emotion flooding your heart. "What am I supposed to do without you? You're the light of my life, my whole reason to live... Everything I do is for you! What will I do if you're not here by my side?" You grip her hand tightly, tears welling up in your eyes and spilling down your cheeks.

"But mon Cheri, I will always be with you," she reassures you, tears starting to fall one by one from her eyes. "Even after I die, I will continue to watch over you, over Joey, over Jude... I promise I will never abandon you."

Pressing her cool hand against your forehead, your body shakes with silent sobs. You shake your head. "Please, you have to stay... I can't... I can't raise them on my own! I've never been good with children, my love, so you must keep fighting!" You plead with her. "If you leave, I won't know what to do! They're so young, they need you! I need you!"

"I know," she murmurs, her grip on your hand loosening. "But you must... Be strong... For yourself, for them..." You feel the panic rising up your throat as you watch her chest rise and fall heavily as she tries to breathe, but only coming up with wheezy gasps.

"For me, Jake," she rasps out, her body freezing momentarily before slumping back into the bed, her head dropping lifelessly onto the pillow, haloed by her beautiful, dark curls.

And for a moment, you aren't sure how to react. You stare at your dead wife blankly, unable to move or say anything but just cry silently as you hold her limp hand. No... No, she can't... No! She can't be dead! It was too soon! She should have had more time! She couldn't have just died, you need her alive! What's a life without her by your side? Is it even living anymore? What are you supposed to do now without her? It was her that changed your life and made you embrace the idea of domestic life, of settling down in a large home and have children to raise together. What was the point of all of that if she wasn't there with you?

You don't realize how loudly you're sobbing or when you started sobbing until you hear the door open behind you and a small voice whisper meekly, "Papa?"

Turning around, you see a young girl with dark, springy hair —just like her mother's— and wide green eyes —these are yours— staring at you with all the innocence and naivety in the world. Behind her is a small boy with large square glasses slipping down his nose, thumb stuffed into his mouth as he holds onto his sister with the other, looking just as clueless and unaware as to what's happening.

"Oh!" You gasp, wiping your eyes to get rid of your tears as quickly as possible, but you know internally that they've already noticed if they hadn't heard your sobbing from earlier. "Joey, Jude... Sweethearts, i-it's... It's late, shouldn't you be in bed already?"

"Couldn't sleep," Joey replies as she steps forward, frowning as she glances over at the bed before looking back at you. "Papa... Why are you crying? Is Mama okay?"

You pause, unsure what to tell your five-year-old daughter. Your heart swells in your chest with pain. How could you tell her that her mother had just passed away and that she was never coming back, that she had died without a final farewell? How does one explain death to a child, one that has only recently started learning about life? Do you just make something up to soften the blow of her death and wait until she's older to tell her what really killed her mother?

That is, if Joey ever survives to reach adulthood...

The thought makes you grit your teeth in frustration. There’s no way for you to guarantee the safety of your children at this point if what your research tells you is correct. You still need to return to the island to go over your notes but now you’re at a loss because she… She knew how to read the engravings better than you did, even learned the Alternian language as well. She was practically the only reason you were able to even figure out how to decode the damn the confounded temple. How are you supposed to further your understanding of this game and the impending doom that marks the temple’s walls if she’s not there by your side?

“Your mother…” Your voice trembles as you begin speaking but you steel yourself, looking back at your dead wife. You can’t afford to let your children see you like this. No, they can’t see you being weak.

“Get out,” you rasp out instead, clenching your fists in anger. Where is this anger coming from? Who are you angry at? Why are you angry? And why are you directing at the ch—

“Get out!” Your voice booms, the sound echoing against the wooden walls, causing one of them to gasp in surprise. You can’t even bring yourself to turn your head when you hear Jude start to hiccup with cries, having been frightened by your yell. It isn’t until you hear them scurry off, Joey starting to sniffle loudly as she pulls her crying brother along, that you fall to your knees, tears streaming down your cheeks as sobs rip from your lips.

You’ve never felt so alone in your life than you do right now.

===> Wake up

Your eyes fly open and you sit up in your bed, finding your cheeks already wet with tears. It isn't like the other night when you woke up sobbing and gasping for air, but there's still a deep ache in your chest as you try to remember what happened in your dream. The faces of the children flash in your mind, their names echoing softly. Those names... They're so familiar. You know you've thought of those names before, once in a conversation, you had a long time ago with Dirk when you talked about the future. Back when you were fifteen probably and had no idea about the game that would turn your life upside down.

You had long dreamed about leaving the island one day and travel to the mainland, to find someone that makes you fall head over heels and settle down with them. You've thought of owning a large house in a wooded area to raise your children, maybe having a little puppy to keep them company. Joey was the name you chose for a girl, Jude was the one for a boy. So who was the mystery woman in your dream?

Laying back down on the bed, sniffling quietly, you stare hard up at the ceiling, as if you would find the answers to your questions written on it. You wipe your eyes with your blanket and sigh deeply. As much as you wanted to, you wouldn't be able to figure it out with the pain starting to thrum in your temples from waking up all of a sudden. You don't even have Brain Ghost Dirk to take your mind off the pain.

You turn to lay on your side, looking at the other side of your bed and realizing how empty it feels. You curl into yourself, pulling the blanket closer to your body, and close your eyes as you try not to feel the loneliness seep into your bones, locking you in a tight ball of nostalgia, confusion, and sadness.

Oh yes, tonight is going to be one of those nights.

Chapter Text

Not before long, the day of your trip with Jade arrives.

 

You had spent the night before plotting out the supposed location of your island, seeing as you never really knew where it was located. Or maybe you did but you couldn't remember after all these years. Nevertheless, it wasn't too hard to track down because there's only one island in the world that is home to a frog temple (and because the local consorts were able to tell you where it was located).

 

To say that you were excited for your trip was an understatement. You had gotten up extra early to make sure all your stuff was prepped and ready to go, along with making sure that you had the right location on your GPS, before heading over to Jade's house to start making your way out of the city. While you knew you would eventually have to return to this drab urban prison, you were still excited to leave it, the itch to spread your wings and leave burning the more and more you waited. By the time Jade finally stepped out of her house with her things intact, you were practically bouncing up and down on her porch, grinning brightly, eager to start your new adventure.

 

Together you took to the skies, not bothering to walk out of the town like you would have if you hadn't gotten these sweet godtier powers from the game. Jade carries her phone in her hand, constantly looking down at the GPS on the screen as she leads the way to the island. You can't help but take this moment to whoop and dip through the sky in excitement, soaring into the clouds and poking holes through the white fluffiness, just bursting with joy from leaving the cement prison that has been your home. Jade laughs at you as she watches before joining you, tucking her phone away and chasing you through the clouds like two playful birds without a single care in the world.

 

Being up in the sky, it's easy to forget your worries for a while, almost as if you had left them all behind in the stuffy little apartment you've lived in all these years. All the confusing dreams, your shitty friend problems, the awkward deal with BGD... Everything is gone like a poof of smoke as you fly through the air, watching streaks of green, brown, and blue zip under you. You feel a blast of euphoria shoot right through you, an exhilarating sensation that you haven't felt in what may have been years. When was the last time you went out and did something this exciting? Gotten to zoom through the sky like a bird and play with the clouds? Gotten to travel to somewhere somewhat new and exciting? With pleasant company as well?

 

And why did it take you so long to do something about it?

 

You ignore the nagging thoughts that try to push their way into your noggin and face forward, trying to focus on the matter at hand. Even with the fast pace that Jade and you are flying at, it'll still take a while for you two to arrive at the island so you have a lot of time on your hands to just... Wonder about things.

 

For one, you're curious about the state of your lovely little island. Like you had said to Jade before, you're sure that the waters must have receded by now so there must be more land to uncover now! You think back to the good old days when you lived alone back on Hellmurder Island, venturing out by yourself, dodging wild monsters left and right, and avoiding getting your ass handed by the feisty brobot that haunted your jungle paradise. You think of how quiet it all used to be, leaving only the sounds of the monsters lurking about and the rustling of leaves in the wind to be your background music. Sure it was rather lonely at times, but it was nice. Just a young boy stuck in the middle of an island to do whatever the fuck he wanted. Yes, what a life you lived.

 

But was that really what you wanted, Jake?

 

You remember the lonely nights when you curled up in bed, bunching up your blankets and pillows to wrap your arms around it, pretending that it was someone else, your grandmother, a friend, someone to keep you company during the night. On stormy days when rain thundered over your globe and threatened to break through the roof and flood your room, you would close your eyes and think of your friends joining you in your room, offering gentle words of comfort and reassurance. It was nice to pretend that they were there with you, joking and just talking to take your mind off the terrible storm blowing outside your window, but it was never really enough, was it?

 

So now that you have all your friends close like you've always dreamed about, why are you pushing them away? Why are you so desperate to get away from them all? What are you running away from? Are you afraid that you're being left behind somehow and lash out by disappearing into the woods, never to be seen again? Are you hurt by the fact that your friends are living happy lives while you can't seem to let go of your past? Why can't you be happy? What is it that you really want?

 

Ah yes, the question which holds the answer to all your many problems. A question that you can't seem to answer no matter how much you think about it and try to reason it but perhaps, you haven't thought about it enough because if you had, maybe you wouldn't be in this situation, bothered by all these negative thoughts and with your friendships dangling over the edge of oblivion.

 

"—ake.... Jake!" Jade's loud voice shouting over the wind snaps you out of your thoughts and you turn to look at her, hoping that you don't look too upset from your train of thought. You know you have a habit of forgetting to hide your emotions when you get in too deep in your thoughts. The last thing you really need is Jade to get concerned about you when you're supposed to be having a fun trip.

 

"Are you okay?" She asks you, brows furrowed as she stares hard at you. You quickly nod in response, forcing a bright smile.

 

"Yes! Just had a strange thought for a moment, but it's all fine and dandy now!" You reassure her happily with a thumbs up. She stares at you with that same expression that lets you know that she doesn't really believe you, but as always, she doesn't push it and smiles back.

 

"If you say so! I was gonna let you know that we're probably gonna arrive at the island in like..." She purses her lips, rolling her eyes upwards as she makes the quick calculations in her head. "Maybe three or four hours? At the rate we're flying at, anyway."

 

Whenever she does things like that, you can't help but be amazed by her skills. There's no way a version of you could have instilled such intelligence like that, that must have been all her doing. You will admit you can be smart when you put your mind to it, but often times you feel like you're lacking in the brain department when you're around your friends. You try not to think about it too much though. 

 

"Well, maybe we can speed things up a little!" You suggest, clapping your hands in delight. "Last one there is a rotten egg!" You shout before pushing yourself forward, leaving Jade behind with a loud laugh. You can hear her shout at you, claiming that "Hey, that isn't fair!" but you make no move to slow down, only laughing louder as she zooms after you, occasionally coming close enough to shove you off your trail.

 

You fly the rest of the way to the island in this manner, heckling the other and shoving whenever you could, as if you were children again. It's exciting and fun at first, but by the time you reach the island, you're too tired to stick a proper landing and fall face first into the pure, white sand. Jade still manages to have enough energy to land gracefully next to you so when you roll over to look at her, she's standing over you with her hands on her hips and a toothy grin on her face.

 

"I think I win for not crash-landing like a loser," she teases you. You blow off some sand from your mouth and sit up, haphazardly rubbing it off your face.

 

"No, I still win because there was no mention of landing points. I got here first, fair and square!"

 

"No way! You totally pulled my hair a couple of times back there! That was so unfair!" She retorts, kicking some sand over your legs with a pout. You retaliate by tossing a lump of sand at her legs before scrambling to your feet before she can toss more at you in return.

 

"Anyways!" You interject before you end up squabbling with her like a pair of four year old children and turn towards the jungle that covers the island. You can hear the strange sound of birds chattering in the trees, a noise you don't remember hearing back when you lived on the island. Most of the bird populations had died due to being eaten easily by the monsters that your grandmother had brought to the island so you never really grew accustomed to their chirping. It's strange to be back home but realize that it's completely different to how you left it. Almost like you went on a vacation for a couple months and came back to your house expanded and re-decorated. How odd.

 

The jungle looks as thick and crowded as ever and the burning urge to lose yourself in its humid labyrinth of mossy green grows in your lungs. Oh, how you longed to see your precious island once more!

 

"It feels kinda weird being back here again," Jade breaks the awe-filled silence as she steps forward. "I dunno, kinda missed the place, kinda didn't."

 

You can't stop the frown from growing on your face. "Why not? I know I sure as hell missed it! It's so much better than Can town in my honest to god opinion! So much space to venture through and you never know what you may find! It's so lush and full of life, compared to that gray, drab city that surrounds you every day," you gush happily, stretching your arms over your head. "Going out was like an adventure everyday! A stressful but fun one if you ignore the monsters and the brobot, of course."

 

She sighs deeply, crossing her arms across her chest. "I mean, yeah it was nice and all... But it was really lonely," her voice softens as she says this and the reality of it comes crashing back down on you. In your excitement, you had forgotten that the two of you had different views on your little island home. While for you, the island was a place that held much more happier memories of how things were before they got too complicated with your friends and the game. For Jade the island had been a prison, keeping her locked away from the world she desperately wanted to be a part of.

 

Your smile dies a little and you approach her, putting a comforting arm around her shoulders and hugging her close. "Hey, it's alright, Jade," you say softly, offering a small smile. "You're not alone anymore because I'm here with you. We can make better memories on the island, alright? Maybe one day we can bring everyone for a visit! Make a summer home to lounge in and just relax with everyone! Doesn't that sound nice, Jade?"

 

Jade manages a small grin and nods. "That does sound cool..." She agrees hesitantly before eyeing the jungle once more. "If we wanna do that, we should keep an eye open for a nice place to put the house! Probably not near the volcano though."

 

"Psh! That old thing must be dormant by now so I wouldn't worry about that. Even if it isn't, I'm sure there's a way to keep it from erupting somehow. With magic at our disposal and such," you reply as you pull away from her to walk towards the jungle. Pulling out a machete from your sylladex, you begin to hack at bushes and vines, clearing out a trail for you and Jade to walk freely through.

 

"Who would have the power to control a volcano?" Jade asks with an amused snort as she follows behind you, keeping a safe distance away from your aim.

 

"Who knows! Can't John control the weather or something?" You ask absent-mindedly.

 

"Nope, I'm pretty sure it's only wind that he can control."

 

With a small huff, you shake your head. "That doesn't sound like a very useful power but who am I to judge! I have hope as mine after all."

 

"But hope is still a really powerful aspect, Jake! From what Calliope had told me once, hope could be both a blessing and a threat, depending on the person who wields it. Because it's not exactly limited by definition, you could use hope to do whatever you want! Especially since you're a page and all," Jade replies. You blow some of your black hair out of your face with a deep sigh.

 

"Yeah, yeah, I've got all that untapped potential I've heard about," you mutter, words laced with bitterness as you remember back to the game. "I don't see the point of having all that diddly-darn potential if there's no actual way for me to be able to friggin' use it! If I ever managed to access it, it was only by accident! And I haven't been able to replicate the same effect since then!"

 

Jade falls silent behind you, the sound of her footsteps crunching over leaves and twigs the only thing letting you know that she's still following you. You wonder if you've accidentally upset her with your outburst but she breaks the silence with a small hum.

 

"Maybe you just need to get more in touch with yourself? What does hope mean to you?" She suggests carefully.

 

Furrowing your eyebrows in thought, you take a moment to process that question. You're pretty sure you've answered this question before but in a different context before shit hit the fan and you were thrown into an unsettling chain of events that left you vulnerable and questioning who you really were. Your entire life you had spent hoping to become a strapping young man, brave and strong, facing danger with a toothy grin and a random, cool one-liner. Hoping that you would one day live out one of your romantic fantasies, finding someone that would make you fall head over heels in love and you'd live a happy life with them, maybe raise a family together with a cute puppy in a large home.

 

But all of that hoping and dreaming had amounted to nothing.

 

While you weren't exactly a coward when it came to facing dangerous foes and horrible creatures, you can't say the same in regards to dealing with problems that were actually important. You were afraid of hurting people's feelings, of disappointing them in some way, so you either tiptoed around them or completely bulldozed your way through the problem, ignoring any sign that let you know that you've overstepped some boundaries and pretending not to notice the damage that you've caused. The worst thing about it is that you're quite aware of what you're doing but continue to claim that you didn't, that you would have never even guessed that you were doing something wrong! Because you're too much of a coward to admit that you were in the wrong.

 

God, don't even get started on the whole romantic fantasy. You had one taste of romance and you completely messed it up with your buffoonery and cowardice. You'll never be able to have something like that until you can get over your own issues but honestly, you're still having problems admitting that you have them. Maybe BGD was right. Or , you're right. Your subconscious, that is.

 

"Hope... Is a dangerous thing," you begin slowly, unsure of what you really want to express. "Like you said, it's both a blessing and a curse. Hope is believing in something to happen but sometimes, you realize you don't actually want it that badly. Or that you didn't need it in the first place! Sometimes, it can blind you to the actual solution that you need to resolve the issue or cause many more problems than you began with.



"Hearing all of this 'untapped potential' malarkey had always made me feel like I was meant to do something great in the game. That maybe, I'd be a hero or something because I was ridiculously overpowered! Hell, for a spell, I truly believed I would be the one to fight Lord English and put an end to his ghost bubble-destroying tyranny!" You let out a bitter laugh at this, shaking your head at the thought. "But somewhere along the line, I forgot to actually do something and just hoped something would happen to make it all come true. And it never did so I just became something of a cruel joke, a faulty gun with no trigger."



You take out your irritation on the branches in front of you, slashing them out of your way. "It always felt like a cruel joke, my title. Oh, how coy of the game to give me a ridiculously powerful class with an aspect that could theoretically allow me to do whatever the hell I very well please, but wait! I'll never actually know how to access it! Compared to everyone else who seems to just know what to do to use their powers, I'm just a bumbling fool with a power that may as well not exist!"

 

"Jake." You stop in your actions when you feel Jade's hand on your shoulder and turn to look over at her, catching the pitying look she's wearing. "I never knew you were this bothered about your aspect. Why hadn't you said anything about it?"

 

Avoiding her gaze, you lower your arm and glare at the vegetation littering the jungle floor, kicking a stray branch with your boot. "I dunno... Never really thought about it too much until now," you confess softly. "I don't like thinking about things like that because it only gets me heated. Makes me feel like a complete fool and I hate it."

 

The frown on Jade's face grows deeper, lips turned downwards as she crosses her arms, bright green eyes resembling yours scanning your expression. "You're not a fool for not being able to use your powers. Karkat and Kanaya never went godtier so they never learned how to use theirs!" She reminds you, trying to cheer you up, but you shake your head.

 

"But they aren't godtier and I am! Besides, I'm pretty flippin’ sure you could learn how to use them without ascending to godhood," you retort, feeling like a child as tears of frustration sting at your eyes. "It's just... Hard to not feel like absolute shit about your abilities when you're surrounded by so many skilled and powerful figures. It's like being a child filled with a room of adults. Never fails to make a fellow feel underhanded and small."



Jade sighs, dropping her arms to her side as she glances around, unsure of how to respond to that. "Sorry, I don't know what to say," she admits, gnawing on her bottom lip as she glances at you. "I've always felt connected to my aspect so once I went godtier, it was like I already knew what to do. Didn't have to sit down and figure out what I was capable of doing or how I had to do it."

 

You give her a bittersweet smile. "Yes well, can't say I'm surprised. You're an intelligent young woman, if anyone can figure out the impossible, I know you would," you reply. She laughs quietly, rolling her eyes as she shoves you gently.

 

"It's not about intelligence, doofus! It's just— I dunno, feeling what's right?" Jade offers weakly before shaking her head again. "I'm probably not the best person to be having this conversation with since I don't know enough about this classpect business but maybe you should talk to Calliope about it one day. I'm sure they could help you find a way to figure out what triggers your powers."

 

"I have been meaning to ask them about it but," You trail off slowly. Well, there hasn't been an actual reason for you not to visit Calliope and Roxy, it's just that you haven't been in the mood to see anybody. Besides, if they wanted to hang out with you, they would've pestered you about it and set a date for the three of you to have a picnic and talk about whatever crosses your mind.

 

"But....?" She asks expectantly, stepping forward so that she's in the direct line of your vision. You flinch at her sudden movement and look everywhere but at her, feeling guilt tug at the back of your mind as you think about it. Anything you come up with just sounds like a poorly thought out excuse that not even you would believe. 

 

"Er, well, Roxy and Calliope are busy people you know! Always getting involved in interesting projects in the Carapacian Kingdom and all!" You reply with an awkward laugh. "I've talked to Roxy once or twice in the past week but our conversations have been cut short by how busy he is so... I guess I haven't had the heart to distract both of them from their duties."

 

"You aren't a distraction though, Jake! I'm sure Roxy and Callie would be delighted to hang out with you even if it's just for an evening! I mean, we're all busy people but that doesn't mean we wouldn't put some time aside for our friends," Jade reassures you with a small smile. "You should really pester Roxy after this trip and ask him to hang. I'm sure he misses hanging out with your dorky butt."

 

You let out a sigh and nod. She does have a point. If you gathered enough courage to ask Roxy to schedule a meetup, there's no doubt in your mind that he would clear his whole day to hang out! Despite the distance that's formed between you two during these past few years, Roxy is still one of your dearest and most precious friends, one of the few ones that you haven't alienated yet.

 

Facing forward again, you swing the machete once more, clearing out the path in front of you. "Perhaps I'll do just that. Hell, maybe both of them would be interested in helping design the summer house as well!" You suggest brightly, feeling a little giddy as you think about it. Jade hums in agreement.

 

"Yeah! We could make it a whole project with everyone else!" She replies, sounding chipper as ever. "We're probably gonna need a really big space though if we're gonna make a house big enough to fit everyone in."

 

Your mind flashes back to the scenes from your dream that you had the other night, the one where you wandered through a large, dim corridor, but you shake your head. "That's quite alright with me. I've always fancied large houses after all."

 




Wandering through the jungle proves to be more strenuous than you remember it being.

 

The humidity is thick, clinging onto your skin like a suffocating film. Sweat drips down your face, making your black hair stick to your forehead, tufts of hair hanging dangerously over your eyes despite pushing them back over and over again. It isn't until Jade suggest you guys take a break in a small pond to relax that you readily drop your machete on the ground and slump down, pulling off your t-shirt and leaving your binder on. Using your shirt to wipe the sweat off your face, you hear Jade approach the pond, most likely to dunk her head into the cool water.

 

Your guess is proven correct when you hear water sloshing and look up to see Jade wading through the water, shorts pulled up high to avoid getting wet. She's watching the water with childlike wonder, most likely admiring whatever species of aquatic life that inhabit the pond, before looking up at you with a bright smile.

 

"Come on, Jake! Look at these creatures, they're so cool!" She waves you over. Kicking off your boots and pulling off your socks, you hurry to your feet and rush into the pond,  making your way over to where she was standing and keeping an eye at the water, blue waves glistening under the sun's attention. When you reach her, she points up ahead and you squint your eyes as you try to see what she sees. It takes you a moment to adjust your sight before you see ghostly white scales on what seems to be a school of aquatic snakes. They look a lot like the monsters you had grown up, but a lot smaller and less terrifying.

 

"They must have evolved from some of the beasts that Grandma had brought to the island," you tell her, watching as the school swims away swiftly. "You think they would've evolved some color by now but they're still completely white!"

 

"Your Grandma brought these creatures here?" Jade asks and you nod eagerly in response.

 

"Haven't I told you that before? She hadn't brought these ones specifically but she did bring some large creatures that she found around the world and studied them. After she passed away, the creatures just kept multiplying and soon enough the island became infested with them," you explain as you look over the horizon. "For a while, it was hard to even go outside because I was always scared out of my wits that one of them would attack me! Of course, that all changed when my good bro sent me his ridiculous robot." You laugh a little when you look back on it. While yes, it gave you a lot of trouble, especially at the end when the AR changed the sparring setting, it did help in the long run with teaching you to be quick on your toes!

 

Jade looks at you curiously, lips pursed as if ready to ask something, but she keeps silent for a moment. "Tell me more about your grandma! I don't think you really ever told me how she was like," she suggests, slowly wading back to the surface to sit at the bank of the pond. You follow right behind her and take a seat, humming in thought.

 

"Well, she was a very intelligent and brave woman, that I know for sure. She had been raised by the Batterwitch but ran away when she was young and grew up to create a company to compete against her. She had loads of marvelous inventions and was just so friggin' talented!" You gush, a small smile growing on your face as you remember the woman who raised you. "She was an excellent markswoman and loved traveling the world! She used to take me along but at some point, she found this island and built a mansion for us to settle down in."

 

"She studied a lot of the creatures that she brought here and frequently went out to the Frog Temple to discover whatever she could down there. She was always doing such amazing stuff," you say with a small sigh, kicking up a cloud of mud. "But... The Batterwitch must have found her and bumped her off when I was still really young. Blew up the mansion as well."

 

Jade frowns, looking down at her feet as she listens. "If it makes you feel any better, Grandpa died when I was really young too," she murmurs quietly, hands digging into the dirt under her. "But that was kinda my fault..."

 

"Oh, how so?"

 

She is silent for a moment, lips trembling gently before she looks up with a sad smile. "I kinda... Shot him?" She says with a wet laugh, unable to meet your eyes. "It wasn't on purpose obviously, just an unfortunate chain of events involving a dog that can teleport, two guns, and a meddlesome troll with animal controlling abilities but yeah," she rambles awkwardly.

 

You furrow your brows as you try to picture what had happened but it all just sounds ridiculous. What a fitting way for you to die.

 

"Well, I don't really think it was your fault. You didn't intentionally try to kill him so...?" You ask, laughing a bit incredulously. "How young were you when he died?"

 

"Mm, I might have been five or six," Jade replies, shrugging. "I don't really remember everything that happened because I was still tiny! It wasn't until I started playing the game and had this weird troll hit on me and explain exactly what happened because he thought that Grandpa was dangerous. Kinda messed up finding out that you had killed your guardian after spending the past eight years thinking it was some sort of freak accident or worse.”



"I can imagine," you mumble quietly, burying your toes into the mud as you look away from her. It's starting to feel rather strange to hear about another version of you that grew up to raise Jade but not strange in the way you would think of it. Strange as if... You knew this already. Like you were already aware this had happened to you in a different life despite never experiencing it. What was going on?

 

"Jade?" You break the uncomfortable silence with a clear of your throat. When she looks back at you, a melancholy look shining in her eyes, you continue. "What do you remember about your Grandpa?"

 

"Almost the same as you. He was a really smart guy that loved traveling the world and collecting a whole bunch of cool stuff! He filled the mansion with so much stuff, mummies, paintings, knights, and taxidermy," she lists off. "Besides that, I don't really remember much either because it wasn't like he left a lot of personal stuff behind. At least, nothing that would tell me anything I didn't already know."

 

A frown mars your face. "So... You don't know anything about what he did before he raised you? Like if he another family or something of the sort?" You find yourself asking, thinking about the children that you have seen in your dream nights before. She shoots you a confused expression before shaking her head.

 

"No, as far as I know, I was his only family besides his sister that he had left behind when he ran away from home," Jade responds.

 

This makes your shoulders slump a little in disappointment, having hoped she would know at least something about your past, but you nod. There must be a way for you to learn about your alternate self. You're sure if you find something out, it'll give you the answers to the questions your dreams keep posing.

 

"Is something wrong?" She asks after you fail to respond. Quickly, you shake your head and smile reassuringly at her.

 

"No, it's nothing! I've just been thinking about, erm, stuff. Nothing bad, don't worry about it." You wave her off before getting up from the bank, brushing off the dirt on your pants. "We should probably keep going. Maybe we could find the Frog Temple and seek shelter out there! I'm sure the trail to the entrance is somewhere near here." You say before walking over to where you had discarded your boots and socks.

 

Truthfully, this would all be a lot better if you flew instead of walked but something about that made the whole concept of exploring the island a little less exciting. But then again, you aren't too keen on putting on your socks after getting your feet caked with mud from playing in the pond so you have no choice but to put your boots and socks away and float the rest of your journey.

 

Jade follows your lead, floating along behind you but spends most of her time rustling through the trees, looking at the different flora that have made their home on the island. There must be new species that she doesn't recognize because she would occasionally make stops to take a picture of the flower, collecting any seed she could find to grow later in the comfort of her own home. Other times, you would have to stop completely when you came across one of the white beasts that had once terrorized you as a child, hiding in the foliage to watch it lurk away with a throaty growl. You like to think it probably saw you and gave you a welcome back sort of greeting.

 

It's not until sunset that you finally find the inner beach with the path of large lily pads leading up to the entrance of the Frog Temple. It looms over the beach with a foreboding shadow, the stone cracked and covered with lush green moss. You're honestly a little surprised that it's still there, having thought that time might have had its way with it and drag it to the bottom of the ocean to be forgotten with the rest of the previous society. But you're pleased to see it still standing, the rush of nostalgia making its way into your heart as you step onto the beach.

 

"Wow, I guess time couldn't even bring that thing down," Jade murmurs with an impressed expression on her face. You nod eagerly, excited to make your way inside and see what has changed over the years.

 

"Let's get a move on then! It's getting dark real soon and who knows if any of the monsters evolved to be nocturnal," you say quickly, hurrying off the beach to step onto the lily pads. They sink under your weight so you make quick work of hopping to the next one before you lose your balance. Again, flying up to the temple's entrance would be much more simple but you missed this, feeling like a star of an action film as you make your way to a mysterious temple. You bark out a surprised laugh when you linger for too long, letting your foot sinking into the ocean water, before shaking it off and moving forward. To reach the stone entrance, you lunge yourself over the gap and land unceremoniously while Jade just floats over, rolling her eyes at your theatrics.

 

Getting to your feet, you brush off the dirt on your clothes before pulling out one of your flashlights that you had packed, flicking it on and shining it into the temple, the stone walls once engraved with strange markings now covered with vines or cracked apart, weathered away by water and time. If you listen closely, you can hear the faint sound of water dripping inside the temple.

 

"We can head deeper into the temple," you tell Jade. "For some reason, the monsters never liked to venture into the temple so it was a good place to hide when they got too rowdy. It'll be a good place to camp out for the night if it's not too wet." She nods before pulling out a flashlight herself and turning it on, looking around curiously at the walls and ceiling.

 

"Bec never let me go into the temple until the day we started to play the game," Jade murmurs as you venture deeper, her voice soft as if she was afraid to let it echo. "Well, I had kinda snuck in that day but I have no doubt that he knew I was there and just let me venture a bit. I knew Grandpa liked to visit the place a lot but I never had the chance to figure out what exactly he did down here. I just knew the temple was the only reason he decided to settle down here despite being able to live anywhere else."

 

You hum in thought. "Grandma was the same way," you begin slowly. "I mean, while I did do a lot of pillaging here, I never actually realized what it was that she was trying to achieve in there." You furrow your eyebrows as you think more about it, finding yourself a little perplexed. You knew about the machines, which you had used to send your friend things back and forth, but you had never thought to wonder what your Grandma was doing with them. You wonder if she had even managed to use them, seeing as when you had found them, they were pretty well-stocked on uranium, as if no one had dared to touch the machine before you.

 

"Do you think the machines are still functional?" Jade pipes up after a while, glancing over at you.

 

"Well, I'm sure those things were pretty damn old to begin with so it'll be practically a miracle if they haven't completely rusted over! Or even crumbled into nothing but dust!" You exclaim with a laugh, the sound echoing through the hallway. It sounds too loud and a little too forced, making you wince, but Jade seems to think nothing of it so you clear your throat and continue. "But why do you ask? Think of using them to do something interesting?"

 

She gives you a casual shrug, looking pretty nonchalant about it. "Not really, just thought it would cool to check them out if they were. I don't know what we could use them for even if they were," she muses, pursing her lips in thought. "What machine was it again?"

 

"The transmaterializer and the two transportalizers that lead to Prospit and Derse," you list off the top of your head. "Though, I doubt the transportalizers work anymore. If I remember clearly, they might have broken during our session when we were scrambling around trying to get everyone in the game." You let out a deep inhale as you remember that fateful day that changed the lives of you and your friends forever. You don't like thinking about it much, the constant running around to get your present ready for John, the irritating AR and its unwanted advancements, the impending doom of the volcano threatening to erupt. It all just makes your brain ache, feeling a little lightheaded as you look back on the set of events that completely pulled the rug from under your feet.

 

"That's fine! Besides, even if they were still usable, I don't think it would be a good idea. What if it took us back into the medium and didn't let us back onto Earth C?" Jade wrinkles her nose at the thought, shaking her head. "I wouldn't want to find out if that were the case."

 

"Can't blame you. Just thinking about getting back into the game..." You trail off quietly, feeling a chill crawl down your spine, memories flashing through your mind like a terrible movie. "I don't think I could handle it."

 

She nods solemnly and you continue your trek up the stairs in silence. Eventually, you reach the top and enter the large room containing the elevator that leads down to the transmaterializer. You always thought it was rather silly to climb all those many stairs only to go back down on a floating platform to get to the important part of the temple but hey, you weren't the one who created it. Who knows what was going through the architect's mind when they came up with the plans.

 

Making your way to the platform, you can't help but look at the walls around you, a little saddened to see how ruined by time everything was. It looks practically impossible to make out the engravings anymore, the stone crumbling in various parts and other parts covered with vegetation. It makes you think of the dream you had, makes you wonder how you were able to decode the engravings in the state that you had found them in back then.

 

When you step on the platform, the contraption creaks and groans in a complaint like a rusty machine before descending downwards slowly, creaking the whole way down. It brings you down to the lower level where the transmaterializer lies along with the time capsule on the other side of the room. The capsule seems to have withered away like a flower is bound to do, leaving nothing but the green leaves of a memory that once was. The transmaterializer looks even worse than before, it's once yellowed metal having completely rusted over and covered with wild vines.

 

You let out a whistle as you hop off the platform, making your way towards the machine. "There's no way this thing could have survived. I doubt we can salvage any parts either," you murmur as you look over the destruction, the vines had raged over the machine. There are vines that had broken its way through the screen and the keyboard, finding a home in a cold, metal box.

 

Jade hums next to you, putting her hands on her hips. "I figured this would happen. I didn't really have high hopes for the thing to still work. It would've been cool if it did though. The things we could've done with it!"

 

You purse your lips, crossing your arms as you try to figure out what to do with the machine. You could technically learn to rebuild the machine after disassembling it. While you weren't the best at machinery like your good bro, with Jade's help, you're sure you could be able to replicate it and make a functioning one. Maybe you could make it better somehow! Maybe by giving you more freedom to do whatever you want with it. You remember there were times when you had messed around with it and tried to appearify something, all you would get was a puddle of paradox slime. Perhaps, now that you were out of the confines of the game and its stupid rules, you could appearify whatever you want.

 

Glancing at the cracked screen, you narrow your eyes a little. You remember in a conversation that you had with Roxy, he mentioned having a similar machine in the laboratory near his house that had an extension with a blacked-out screen and a red target mark that he couldn't move. He had used it once to appearify a puddle of his mother's paradox slime so he supposed that were it not for the game's weird restrictions, he could've seen his mother and perhaps what had happened to her before her untimely death.

 

Maybe I could use it and look through my past? You wonder to yourself. If somehow, you could manage to replicate the machine, you could add an extra screen that would allow you to scroll through your timeline in Jade's universe and even figure out who was the woman in your dreams and what had happened to the children as well.

 

"Jade, what would you say if I proposed to... Er, rebuild this rusty old thing?" You say, turning towards her with a bright grin on your face. "It might prove to be somewhat of a challenge but no doubt that we can do it! As you said, we could do so many things with it! Roxy had one in his old home and told me that he had an extra screen that could have theoretically allowed him to see in the past so perhaps we could do that as well!"

 

Jade's white fluffy ears perk up in interest at your words. "I mean, we'd have to recreate the parts and stuff and figure out how to wire the thing but..." She trails off quietly as she mulls over the proposition, pressing her lips in a firm line.

 

"Come on, Jade! It would be so much fun though! We could easily take apart this busted-up doodad, study the way it was created, and make something new and better!" You bounce over to her, putting your hands on her shoulders as you guide her closer towards the transmaterializer. "Plus, we could use it to see what happened to our alternate selves! Aren't you curious to see what you were like in my universe?"

 

Jade rolls her head to the side with a small grin. "Well yeah! Of course, I'm curious but I'm just wondering if we'll be able to really replicate it! There's a lot of coding that will need to be done and I dunno if I know enough about whatever alien coding these things were programmed with."

 

"That's alright! We can figure it out as we go!" You reply happily, squeezing her shoulders. "Please Jade, I would really like for us to try this. It would be a wonderful project for just the both of us to work on! Imagine what the others would say when they find out we got a transmaterializer working!"

 

She lets out a laugh and shakes your hands off her shoulders. "Okay, okay, you convinced me! We can give this project a try," she gives in, turning around to face you. "But it's gonna take a long time so we might have to be here a while."

 

You light up at that. You certainly don't mind spending more time on the island so this makes the project look much more ideal. "We can return to the mainland tomorrow and gather our tools and anything else we might need to get started on this," you reply, practically bouncing in place as your excitement grows. "Oh Jade, this is going to be the cat's pajamas!"

 

The sweet smile on her face as she bounces along with you, rambling off a list of things that she wants to bring, makes you feel like maybe... 

 

Maybe things could be alright again.

 




golgothasTerror [GT] began pestering tipsyGnostalgic [TG]

 

GT: Good evening my good sir!

GT: I hope youve had a lovely day today i know i have!

GT: Ah being on the old island again has been a godsend really what a person needed. 

GT: To be away from all the hullabaloo of the city and return to mother nature…

GT: Oh but never mind that.

GT: You didnt come here to listen to me ramble my head off like an old man again.

GT: So back to business i suppose!

GT: Though truthfully i do hate to be such a bother once more but i seem to have run into another dead end again and would greatly appreciate a word of advice!

GT: Of course if youre not busy that is! 

TG: lol just send me the file already u big dork

GT: Oh yes! Right away!

 

golgothasTerror [GT] sent tipsyGnostalgic file “alien coding for the thingamajig.docx”

 

TG: omg holy shit this looks a lot more complicated than the other stuff u sent before

TG: ill have 2 ask callie to help me on this one but they wont be back for a while so :/

GT: Thats completely fine dont worry about hurrying with it!

GT: Jades just trying to get the coding done first but theres still a multitude of things we have to do before we can install the program.

TG: u guys sound like ur rly busy with this thing huh

GT: Certainly! But i really cant complain about it im having loads of fun trying to figure the ways of this contraption.

TG: it sounds like fun! maaaan u shouldve told me u guys were gonna do this i wanna join too :,(((

GT: Well it wasnt part of our plan originally! 

GT: We were just taking a nice trip to our island when we came across the old frog temple and decided to fix the transmaterializer!

GT: Besides! Youre already doing a lot to help us with looking over the coding and such! 

TG: yeah but i wanna be out there w/ u guys!!

TG: its be like for fucking ever since weve legit hung out jake!!

TG: i miss ur goofy ass!!

GT: I know i know im sorry :(

GT: I mean if you want you could come over but i dont think you’ll want to stay the rest of the time here. 

GT: Weve only really left the island a couple times during the week for improvisions and for parts for the machine.

GT: Who knew the nakadiles would be so enthusiastic about welding!

TG: ok valid but still 

TG: when callie comes back from the store ill ask them abt taking a trip to ur island so we can help u guys a lil

TG: but omg have u been asking the consorts to help u making the parts??

TG: thats so effin cute omg

GT: Alright! Let me know if you decide to come over so i can gather up some more food for all four of us!

GT: And yes!! Theyve been a great help since weve started on this project, seeing as we cant really make the parts ourselves.

TG: have u thought of asking dirk to help w/ that :o

TG: im sure hed be p hyped to do some of that shit 4 u

GT: Oh!

GT: Well you see roxy!!

GT: Erm...

GT: Um...

TG: O WAIT FUCK

TG: shit sorry i forgot yall werent on speaking terms or whatever

TG: im just still kinda used to u guys being rly close n shit so

TG: sorry :(

GT: Its fine honestly!

GT: You dont need to apologize i tend to forget myself sometimes haha!

GT: I got so used to him always being one text away that sometimes i find myself chatting him up as i used to when we were younger

GT: Only to come face to face with a disinterested reply or just a patch of silence!

TG: jakey :(

GT: But its fine!

GT: He asked for some space and thats what im giving him!

GT: Lots of space for my bestest bro! All of the space in the world!

GT: At this rate i might as well become the page of space with all this emptiness i keep handing out like a newspaper boy in the midst of the roaring twenties yearning to make a simple nickel to buy some bread!

GT: Have to find some way to keep myself alive!!!

TG: jake...

TG: u know hes not doing this to hurt you right?

GT: Sigh.

GT: I know hes not but its just...

GT: Its hard to deal with his absence...

GT: I dunno sometimes it feels like this is a result of all my fuck-ups and perhaps im losing his friendship for good??

GT: And while i understand why he'd distance himself from me it still feels shitty

TG: dude ur not losing his friendship i can promise u that much

TG: uve gone thru some shitty stuff when u were younger but none of that has to do w/ what dirks going thru rn

TG: i mean i dont think it is

TG: d-stri just has a lot of shit goin on

TG: lots of issues to work thru

TG: and he just doesnt want to drag u along for the ride cuz uve already been thru enough of his shit

GT: His words or yours?

TG: mostly his

TG: weve talked abt it a lil bit a while ago when i noticed he wasnt talking w/ u

TG: but trust me when i say that itll be ok once he gets his shit together

TG: and u guys will be able to be besties again!!

TG: buildin robots n tusslin in the mud like u used to

GT: ...

GT: Honestly roxy i would love to believe you but i dont think this is something we can move on from so easily!

GT: While i understand that he doesnt want to "hurt" me

GT: It hurts more being ignored while hes all chummy chummy with the rest of the world!

TG: i knooooow jake i told him it wasnt a rly good idea but like

TG: u know how dirk is

TG: once he gets smth stuck in his head u can never get it out

TG: so all i can say is try to ride this shit out

TG: hopefully dirk gets his head out of his ass n actually TALKS to u so yall can get this shit organized n tucked away like a bad christmas gift

GT: Haha me too.

GT: Oof.

GT: Sorry for… unloading all of that unto you roxy

GT: I really shouldnt have done that.

GT: You arent here to listen to my friend problems.

TG: is all cool man i gotchu

TG: sometimes a dude needs to let loose and unwind

TG: i figure uve been holding that in for a rly long time so ig it was just a matter of time

GT: Sorta... Yeah.

GT: Anyways...

GT: I should probably get back to work.

GT: Lots of irons in the fire you know!

TG: yeah! ill work on this code for u n send it to u once calli gets a peep at it

TG: ill ttyl ok jake?

GT: Yes of course! Talk to you later.

 

golgothasterror [GT] ceased pestering tipsygnostalgic [TG]

 

Tucking your phone away, you let out a deep sigh as you look up at the rainbow mess of wires laying before you. It's been a couple of weeks since you've arrived at the island, having spent every day after dismantling the transmaterializer while studying how it was assembled from the remaining parts. The whole thing was in ruins, nothing salvageable for you to use in the newer version, but that is neither here nor there. It was better to just make a newer part altogether to prevent having a faulty part mucking up the entire machine.

 

You can hear Jade humming to herself as she types away furiously at her computer, bottom lip sucked between her teeth, green eyes narrowed at the screen. Ever since you suggested fixing up the machine together, it had become her only goal and whatever fear of you leaving must have disappeared, letting her relax a lot more with you. She barely talks about going back home anymore, too focused on getting the transmaterializer up and running as soon as you can. It's nice, much better for you now that you don't have to tread on eggshells whenever you bring up the idea of staying here forever. By yourself, mostly.

 

Glancing back at the newer machine, you think about all the work you've managed to finish after so long. The main case of the machine is finished, all there's left to do is connect all the wires to the right slots and finish the program to get it to work. It took a lot of work, in the beginning, to figure out how the damn thing worked but you're lucky to have Jade as your partner to help you unravel the mystery behind the machine. Though, now that you think about it, you could have figured it out a lot sooner if you had asked a certain someone for help.

 

No. No. You refuse to ride that train of thought tonight. While yes, if you had asked Dirk for his help in recreating the machine, he most likely would have said yes and would've arrived at the island with the blueprints already created, that wasn't what you wanted. You wanted to be able to work on something with a friend and not have your work be done for you as if you were incapable of doing anything yourself. You wanted something you could present and say, Yes! I worked on this! This is something made from my own hands!

 

You're sure that Roxy didn't mean to bring him up to belittle your abilities. He knows that you're proficient in machinery, not exactly the best but not the worst either, at least compared to his programming skills and Dirk's engineering ones. You're pretty proud of the few things you've created over the years and this machine is no exception! You can't wait to show them the fruits of your labor.

 

"What did Roxy say to you?" Jade finally pipes up, breaking the atmospheric silence that had filled the room. You turn to look at her, only to see her still staring intently at her screen, walls of text scrolling up through the reflection of her glasses.

 

"He says he's going to need Callie's help with the coding because it's a little more complicated to decipher but since they're not home right now, it'll be a while," You explain, getting up to your feet to stretch your limbs. "He'll send me the coding later though."

 

Jade nods slowly before slumping back against the temple wall, stopping in the midst of her quick typing. "That's okay, we still have a couple of other things to get to before we have to tackle that patch of stuff," she replies as she lays her head back, closing her eyes for a moment. "Hey, Jake?"

 

"Yes, Jade?"

 

She's quiet for a quick beat, avoiding your eyes as she knocks her shoes together as if she is unsure of what she wants to say to you. When she finally looks at you, there's an expression of guilt painted over her face.

 

"It's just... I was thinking about how long we've been working on this machine," she pauses to glance over at said thing in question, smiling a little wistfully. "And to be honest, I didn't think it would take us this long to get it finished so I'm kinda surprised? And a little burnt out at the same time?"

 

You furrow your eyebrows a little. For some reason, you hadn't imagined Jade could ever get tired of doing something but, of course, she's still human apart from being part-puppy.

 

"If you need a break from building the machine, you're more than welcome to take one," you reply gently. "It's not like I would force you to stay until we had finished the whole thing."

 

Her doggy ears flatten a little and she ducks her head. "I know but I feel bad about it!" She says, a small whine in her voice. "I know you were really excited about getting this thing up and running, and I was too, but I dunno, I kinda miss my friends, my home..." Her voice trails off as she looks away from you in the direction of the platform.

 

"And I don't really want to leave you alone."

 

You flinch at her words but you quickly shake it off and clear your throat. "I'll be just fine, Jade. Really! It's not like I haven't spent a large portion of my life alone," you say with a dismissive wave of your hand, forcing a small laugh. Your laugh dies pathetically when you realize Jade isn't smiling, only staring at you hard as if she was trying to figure you out.

 

"Jake, do you really want to be left alone?"

 

Your first reaction is to say no, that you don't want to be alone, but you certainly wouldn't mind being alone. You technically haven't been alone in such a long time, constantly haunted by the memories of others when you kept to yourself in your apartment. Sure, you've felt lonely because of the whole situation with Dirk, but you're not afraid of being alone. Especially because it gives you a chance to let your guard down and not have to pretend to not be bothered to prevent people from getting concerned. Being alone lets you think more clearly and not have to spend all your energy trying not to say something that would upset someone else.

 

But if you say no, Jade might feel obligated to stay despite wanting to go back home. It's a little frustrating, trying to find a way to solve this dilemma in the least conflicting way as possible, but you don't want to hurt Jade by making her stay nor do you want to end up going back home when you desperately want to stay here and finish the transmaterializer up.

 

"No, but I won't be!" You reply, suddenly remembering your conversation with Roxy. "Roxy offered to come help if you ever grew tired of the coding shenanigans so if you're really worried over my being alone, I can ask Roxy to accompany me!"

 

Jade's eyes widen in surprise, obviously not having expected that and she stares hard at you, trying to find a crack in your lie, but there is none. Roxy did say that he wanted to come to the island to help after all.

 

She let out a small sigh, letting her shoulders slump once more as she gives you a pout. "I mean, if you say so," she mumbles, glancing down at her computer. "I just worry about you, you know? I know you've been having a hard time even if you don't talk about it. You talk in your sleep sometimes."

 

Your stomach dips in response, the smile on your face wiped completely off to make way for the expression of shock. "Oh? What have you heard me say?"

 

These past few weeks you've been fortunate to not remember much of your dreams, just skipping over to waking up drenched with sweat and cheeks stained with tears. You've always made sure you didn't accidentally wake Jade up with your nightmares, always getting up as soon as you wake up to calm yourself at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the frog temple's entrance. You'd stay out there until you were cried out, not daring to think of what was making you upset lest you started crying again.

 

You had done everything you could to make sure Jade wasn't aware but apparently, it hadn't worked.

 

"You say Dirk's name a lot..." Jade whispers, eyes flickering up at you anxiously. "I know there was one night you kept whispering "he can't be dead" over and over again but you woke up and left before I could ask you what was wrong. I wanted to ask you about it later in the morning, but you were so happy and energetic so I just let it go."

 

Your heart thumps loudly in your chest as you try to remember which night that was. You don't recall having a dream in which someone died, just the heavy feeling in your chest that something was wrong, but that's always how you feel after a particularly intense dream.

 

"Ah, I don't... Remember that happening," you reply awkwardly, rubbing your arm as you stare down at the cobbled floor. "I haven't been paying much attention to my dreams these past few nights."

 

She frowns, furrowing her eyebrows, almost like Jane does when she's frustrated, but you will the image away quickly. You still can't get used to the fact that Jade and John were a combination of you and Jane's DNA. It's a weird train of thought that you refuse to follow.

 

"You should probably do something about your Dirk problem if it's bothering you so much," she insists. "It looks like it's gotten to be big enough of a problem if it's messing with your dreams."

 

"It's not a problem and I'm fine," you retort, sounding a little annoyed. "Really, Jade, I'm completely fine! I've just had a bad case of the nightmares that just happen to involve Dirk somehow. Plus, we're getting off-topic. If you want to take a break from the project, you're more than welcome to. I can hold down the fort by myself. Or at least, until Roxy comes to my aid."

 

Despite your small outburst, Jade doesn't seem the slightest bit convinced by you but she just sighs and gives a small nod as she shuts her laptop.

 

"Alright, I'm gonna head out with Rose and Kanaya for a couple of days. If something comes up, just let me know, okay?" She asks softly. You let go of your growing irritation and smile at her, hoping it was reassuring enough for her.

 

"Alright, be safe then."

 




Even after Jade left, you kept working at a rapid pace, pushing yourself into the later hours of the night to finish coding the program for the machine. You don't know why but you felt this massive pressure on your shoulders, urging you to finish it. Roxy has been a great help with fixing your coding errors and rewriting things to make them better so it's not like you're tearing your hair out, trying to do everything by yourself. You've managed to finish wiring everything together, including the extra screen which would allow you to see whatever timeline you decide to scope out.

 

With each passing day, you feel your excitement and impatience to get the damned contraption working, leg bouncing as you type away at your computer, eyes peering over every line of code that appears on the screen. You've been giving Jade daily updates on the machine as well as receiving updates about the maturing Mother Grub that Jade is helping Rose and Kanaya tend to. You feel better, seeing Jade smile as she enjoys herself with her friends, having seemed to have forgotten the weird tension that she had left with after she confessed of being tired.

 

But at the same time, you're growing tired as well, your eyes red from staring at a computer screen for so long, and your body stiff from sitting on the floor all day. There are times you take a break from the project to go swimming or take a walk through the jungle, but you never go anywhere far, too eager to get the machine finished as soon as possible.

 

"There, that should do it," you say to no one in particular as you finish typing up the last bit of commands, saving the program on a flash drive to make the transfer much easier for you. Once it finishes downloading, you pull the flash drive from the laptop and make your way over to the machine, slipping it into the USB port before turning the machine on. It hums softly as it lights up, the screens blindingly white at first before turning black with a green loading bar as it downloads the program.

 

"Huh, you really got that thing to work." You jump in surprise as you spin around to face the intruder , pulling out your twin pistols from your sylladex on reflex, only to let your shock and arms drop when you realize it's just BGD.

 

"Stop doing that," you mutter, a little embarrassed, a little irked. He doesn't respond to that and steps forward, gaze focused more on the machine.

 

"So what's the first thing you plan to do once the program is installed?" He asks curiously, turning to face you, his arms crossed across his chest. He's still wearing his godtier outfit, the wine-colored fabric glittering against his dark skin. You frown a little, remembering that he had once expressed his disdain for the outfit, especially for the poofy pants, but perhaps he had gotten used to it.

 

"Well, if everything goes according to plan, I hope to be able to access my timeline in the Beta universe," you explain as you walk back over to the transmaterializer, running a finger over the keyboard lazily. "I have a feeling that I could find some answers to the dreams I keep having if I peruse through it. I have an idea as to what they might mean but I don't want to jump the gun on anything."

 

BGD looks at you with an eyebrow raised before looking back at the machine. "Can I asked what kinda questions you have?"

 

"I'm sure you already know but I'll indulge you since I'm feeling quite generous tonight," you say with a soft huff, walking behind the machine to make sure the wires were properly plugged in. It's not really important because you've done multiple checks before installing the program, but it's just something to do to keep yourself occupied while you have this tedious conversation.

 

"These dreams I keep having, they're not like the dreams I used to have," you begin quietly. "In fact, I don't think they're dreams at all! There's a certain realness to them that it's almost like I've stepped into an alternate reality but I still don't have control of my words or my actions. It's like I'm in a movie, reading off a script and playing out a scene of different realities with other people."

 

"Go on," BGD encourages you, following you with his gaze as you walk over to the extra screen, making sure all the bolts were tightened properly.

 

"The one that I can't stop thinking about was about a dying woman and two children named Joey and Jude. From what I gathered, she was my wife and the children were, er, mine," you laugh nervously at the thought of having kids. "But what threw me off was the fact that she knew things about Alternia and the island? Even though, from what I could tell, we didn't live anywhere near an island! Nor would I have a clue what Alternia was if this supposedly took place in the Beta universe."

 

"What makes you say that?" BGD replies, making you stop in your actions to stare blankly at him.

 

"Why would I know any of that? Jade never mentioned me having any connection with our troll friends in that universe and unless it was written in the Frog Temple then I can't see how I would."

 

"Well, have you ever actually taken a moment to decipher the engravings on the walls before?" he points out. You furrow your eyebrows before looking around yourself at the walls as he continues to speak. "You don't know what the fuck is written on these walls so your Beta self could have very well known a lot of shit about Alternia. Hell, wasn't his company the one who distributed the beta version of Sburb?"

 

"I dunno, maybe?" You say, feeling a little perplexed. "I don't think Jade told me about that though..."

 

BGD shrugs in response, seeming indifferent about the whole thing. "All I'm saying is don't cross that type of shit out. I have a feeling that your beta self was up to a lot of shit before his death with all the scrambling around that he did. How did he know? Who knows, guess we'll just have to find out," he says as the machine beeps suddenly, announcing that the program is finished downloading and is ready to be fired up. BGD moves out of your way as you quickly approach the main keyboard and type in the first commands with shaky hands.

 

Unlike the first transmaterializer, you have a screen that allows you which universe to view instead of using a dial. Two Earths float on the black screen, one labeled B1 and B2. You figured it would be easier like this to avoid having to make a giant knob to turn. Typing in the command box "B1", you press enter and watch as the icon for the first Earth blinks quickly before expanding and asking for coordinate points, a date, and time. 

 

"Er... I probably should tell Jade first before doing anything too hasty," you mumble, feeling jittery as all hell as you pull your phone out to type a quick text to Jade.

 

golgothasTerror [GT] started pestering gardenGnostic [GG]

 

GT: JADE!!!!

GT: WONDERFUL NEWS!!!

GT: I managed to finally get the transmaterializer working! So far it works like a charm!!!

GG: omg really?????

GG: thats so exciting !! how is it !!! tell me everything!!!!

GT: Well i havent done much with it yet but thats why i wanted to message you first!

GT: You wouldnt happen to know when your grandfather was born would you?

GG: mm no i dont sorry :(

GT: Not even an idea of how old he was?

GG: nope! like i told you he died when i was really young and there wasnt really anything in the house that would tell me about these kinds of things about him

GT: Gadzooks alright then!

GT: Then the next best thing would be to ask for the year you were born?

GT: Maybe by locating you first i could find him and track his whereabouts.

GG: same as you silly!! 1995!!!

GG: we share the same birthday remember?

GT: Oh yes of course duh!

GT: Gosh im just a little scatterbrained right now from all this excitement. To be sincere i didnt actually think this would work so im very pleased with myself!

GG: you should be!! you worked really hard to get it finished and without my help! :)

GT: Yes!! I cant wait to show you how it works though its just marvelous.

GT: Im excited to see my grandma again too and see what her life was like before me.

GG: dont look at her timeline before i get back!! i want to see her too!! >:( 

GT: Haha wouldnt dream of it!

GT: Ill just take a gander at my own and make sure everything is in tip-top condition!

GT: Ill keep you updated as i go

GG: you better young man!

GG: heehee!!

GT: Aye-aye maam!!

 

golgothasTerror [GT] ceased pestering gardenGnostic [GG]

 

Tucking your phone away, you turn your focus to the keyboard once more and type in the coordinates of the island along with Jade's birthday and a random time to go with it before pressing enter. The Earth then spins quickly as it locates the island before zooming in quickly on top of the trees. You frown a little, using the arrow keys to scan over the island to look for any sign of human life. The monitor doesn't seem to register anything so you begin skipping ahead a couple of hours in case they were hiding from your view.

 

It isn't until the clock in the corner of the screen marks December 3rd, 1995 14:29 when you see a yacht near the island marked with an atomic symbol and the name Jade on the bow with two passengers standing outside. You let out an incredulous laugh as you zoom in on the passengers, immediately recognizing the tiny baby Jade, holding what seems to be a dirty, knitted bunny, sitting next to a tall, aged man with a large flintlock musket.

 

"Whoa Nelly, is that really me?" You say, almost in disbelief as you admire yourself, pushing up your glasses as you lean into the screen to get a better look. "I'm so old!"

 

Your older self is dressed in a properly fitted suit and bow tie, standing tall and proud as he looks over the ocean, his hair struggling to maintain its black color as it fades to grey and then to white at the tips. He also seems to be sporting a rather handsome mustache that you can't help but feel envious about. You've thought about growing one yourself but something's been holding you back, a sense of slight disconnection when you look at yourself in the mirror, so you've continued to shave it off, convincing yourself it wouldn't look good on you.

 

"Well, of course you look old, you're a grandpa," BGD remarks from behind you before humming. "A really hot grandpa at that too. Jesus, what the fuck? That's not fair."

 

Your cheeks flush red at his comment and you roll your eyes, mouth open to retort but you can't find the energy to deny it. After all, you do look a bit handsome.

 

You lock your target on your older self to make tracking him easier and change the date to a year prior, the Earth spinning backwards before zooming into the northeastern part of what used to be the United States. You find your beta self stepping outside a large corporate building, dressed in a sharp suit and tie. He looks so out of place in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city and there's no doubt that he probably feels the same way if the miserable expression on his face is anything to go by. Behind him, a younger woman that looks strikingly like Roxy before he came out and cut off all his hair walks out, a more noticeably dismal expression on her face.

 

Their mouths are moving quickly, mostly your beta self, but you can't make out what they're saying. The original machine didn't have any speakers to let you hear so you hadn't thought of installing them in this one. Damn, now you regret not thinking about that but you're not sure you would've known how to code that in if it wasn't originally there.

 

"What do you think they're doing?" BGD pipes up, trying to make conversation with you as you stare intently at the screen, nibbling on your bottom lip.

 

"I haven't the slightest clue," you murmur as you watch the two figures talk, the woman following you into a yellow cab, taking you to who knows where. "If I'm correct, that should have been Roxy's beta self, right?"

 

"Looks like him, doesn't she?" he replies and you nod slowly. "Then I guess she is. I wonder if we all know each other in this universe."

 

"I guess it would be fate's plan for all of us to meet one day," you mumble to yourself, skipping back a few days into mid-November. The screen shows your beta self standing in front of a large mansion, the windows and doors were broken open with a myriad of police cars crowding the front lawn. You can see the woman from before talking with a couple of faceless policemen, one of them writing something down on a notepad as she cries, black streaks of mascara staining her brown cheeks. Your beta self steps forward to pull the woman away from the cops and speaks to her alone, eyes shifting from her to the house quickly as he talks.

 

"What the dickens is going on here..." You mutter to yourself as you watch the scene unfold, unable to get a good reading on what they're saying. It's impossible to read your own lips, thanks to your fantastic mustache, but the woman proves to be more comprehensive. You can pick out a handful of words such as "Joey" , "gone", and "portal" but other than that, you're left completely in the dark.

 

Unlocking from your beta self, you take the chance to scroll through the house to find any hint of the children that you have seen in your dreams. But unlike your dream, the house is an absolute mess, filled with so much junk and broken things that you might have thought it was abandoned. It's no doubt your house, filled to the brim with game trophies and paintings of blue women, but there's small traces of the children's presence among the mess like a couple stuffed animals laying about, stickers pressed against the jaundiced wallpaper, and broken crayons all over the floor.

 

===> Investigate.

 

As you head upstairs, your horror grows more at seeing all the mess that litter the hallways. There is just so much junk laying about, paintings and statues among cans of chips and forgotten toys. You wonder how you could've let the house fall into such a state, no sign that you ever did anything to uphold a proper household. The children seemed to have done whatever they wanted with the place!

 

But no, you cannot find any sign of the children, only the things they had left behind. You guess that's why the police were there, interrogating the woman. Something happened to the children and they went missing. But why weren't you there before that happened? Why did it seem that you had arrived to the scene, completely unaware as to what happened to your children?

 

You go back in time, watching as the screen seems to rewind itself, stopping when you see a young girl step out into the hallway from what seems to be her room, looking like the older version of the child that you had seen in your dream. She's taller, her dark brown cheeks having slimmed out a little from losing her baby fat, but her hair is the same inky black, thick curls from before and her eyes still the same vibrant green that you remember.

 

"That's Joey," you say immediately, a small smile growing on your face. Turning to face BGD, you point to the screen. "She was my daughter in Jade's universe."

 

BGD glances at the screen with mild interest, pursing his lips a little. "She certainly looks like you. What's her mom look like?" He asks as he steps next to you, wanting to take a better look at the screen.

 

"I'm not entirely sure. I couldn't see her very well in my dream but I'll look for her in a bit since she died a couple of years back when the children were still young," you explain as you scroll away from Joey in search for her brother. You find him outside, climbing up the ladder up to a quaint little tree house. "Look! There's Jude!"

 

Jude looks a little more like you, his skin a lighter brown than his sister and his black hair straight. He's got bigger glasses than you and the same trademark overbite that seems to haunt your genetic family, minus Joey. You watch him enter the tree house and begin to do whatever it is he's planning to do.

 

"Oh yeah, he's definitely your kid. He looks just as dorky as you," he teases, nudging your arm slightly. You stick out your tongue at him childishly before shaking your head.

 

"He does not look dorky! He's just as handsome as his parent and I will allow none of that malicious commentary to touch my children!" You say with an indignant huff. "You better apologize right or else I'll have to escort you out of the temple myself." 

 

"Oh no, whatever shall I do," BGD replies in a deadpan voice and you can practically hear him rolling his eyes at you. You snicker and turn your attention back to the screen.

 

You go through the house again, looking for yourself but you can't find him. You find Roxy's other self in the kitchen, pouring herself a drink, and you frown a little at the sight. It's been a while since you've seen any version of Roxy pick up an alcoholic drink, not even now that you're adults with a better sense of responsibility will he pick up a bottle of alcohol.  You guess Roxy wasn't in a good place during this time either.

 

Turning back the clock, you try to find a day where you show up at the house but you never do. Months pass before you see yourself inside of the house, leaving behind a couple of game trophies and other old trinkets and then leaving the house once more, not even stopping to say anything to the children.

 

As you continue going back in time, this pattern continues, much to your dismay. You only appear once every few months, bringing things from your latest adventure to dump at the house before leaving on another one. Roxy seems to be the one raising the children, despite rarely being sober often. It doesn't take you long to figure out that after the death of your wife, you've started to avoid the house out of grief, leaving the kids in Roxy's hands while you go out to do whatever you want. Guilt wracks at your brain as you continue going back in time, watching the kids grow smaller as your absences become more frequent.

 

At one point, you find yourself unable to go further, the clock locked on October 3rd 1985 23:46. You're at the house but when he goes into a certain room at the end of the hallway, the screen begins to flicker black, making it hard for you to view what is going on.

 

Not wanting to push the machine, you skip forward a couple of days. The children are dressed in all black as they stand in the foyer, Jude in Roxy's arms as Joey stands behind her, eyes glaring down at the wooden floor. You're at the doorway, wearing a grey suit and a black bow tie, with a couple of suitcases by your side. Roxy is staring at you with a pitiful gaze, saying a couple of words, but you shake your head and gather your things, turning on your heel without another word and head to the expensive car waiting outside for you. You guess this is the first time you left home.

 

"I abandoned them," you whisper weakly, clenching your fists as you stare at the screen. "I abandoned my children," you repeat as you face BGD, unable to stop the tears from forming in your eyes.

 

He doesn't say anything, eyebrows furrowed in the way they do when he's conflicted about something, but he looks away to stare at the screen. "So it seems."

 

"Why... Why did I leave? How could I just leave them like that? And without a goodbye?" You ask, your voice trembling as you watch Jude start to cry in his caretaker's arms and Joey pull away from her, stomping her way upstairs with the passionate anger of a scorned five-year old. "What have I done to these children?"

 

"Wait a second dude, you have to remember this isn't exactly you," BGD stops you, trying to reason with you. "This is a version of you, not you. What he did has nothing to do with you. You haven't done anything to these poor kids."

 

"But I did, Dirk!" You exclaim, your voice rising in an embarrassing pitch that you haven't hit since you were younger. "Just like you had once said about Dave's older brother and yourself, that man is still me! I abandoned those children and for what? Out of grief? What a pathetic excuse!"

 

"Dude no, listen. You're not the same though. He grew up in different circumstances than you, you know that. You haven't gone far back enough to find out what those are but it's obvious that the dude has seen and gone through a lot of weird shit," BGD says, putting a ghostly hand on your shoulder. "You're different. You aren't like this old fucker who abandoned his kids after his wife kicked the bucket. Jake, you aren't him."

 

You tear away from his touch and shake your head. "But I am him!" You shout. "Who's to say I wouldn't do the same if I landed in the same situation as him? I've always been cowardly when it came to facing the worst situations with people so who's to say I wouldn't walk the same path as him? I abandoned my children, who then went missing, but I never seemed to give a shit! I just moved on with my life and didn't even bother to go looking for them!"

 

You breathe in hard as you glare at yourself at the screen. You knew you were a coward to some extent but you never thought you would be cowardly enough to actually run away from responsibilities as big as parenthood. While the idea itself had a grey tint to it in your mind, due to it becoming a somewhat scary thing thanks to Jane's influence, you don't think it was fair for you to have dropped everything and hopped on the next plane to God-knows-where. You should have stayed and have been strong for your children, should've raised them like you had promised your wife. Maybe if things had been different, they wouldn't have disappeared off the face of the earth.

 

You have the power to fix your mistakes, a voice whispers in your head and you turn to look at BGD, thinking it was him but his lips are pressed shut. He throws you a confused stare but you don't break eye contact. Can't he hear the voice? It's clearly in your head, which he is a part of, so he must hear the soft voice whispering, If you really believe, you can make things right. With your late wife, the children... With Dirk.

 

Craning your neck over your shoulder to look back at the pedestal which allowed you to send and receive things, you understand what the voice is trying to tell you. Your fingers twitch slightly as they hover the keys and for a moment, you think you see yellow sparks fly from your hands when you face the screen once more. Without another word, you lock onto Joey and change the year to 1994, the last year that you can find the children in the mansion. Her timeline seems to stop on November 11th 1994, refusing to let you go further. 

 

"Wait, Jake, what are you doing?" BGD grips your shoulder tightly, pulling you slightly, but you don't stop.

 

"I thought you were in my brain," you murmur as you watch Joey run through the house, face smudged with grey and a pair of candy-corn horns resembling the kind of your troll friends. Was she cosplaying as a troll? How did she even know the existence of them?

 

"That was a rhetorical question," he shoots back, his voice stern. "Whatever you're planning, stop it. It's not going to work and just blow up in your face. You're going to fuck something up and not even hope powers will be enough to fix it."

 

"If you want to stop me, then do it, coward!" You hiss, glaring at him. He makes no move to stop you, only pulls his hand away from you, eyes wide with shock from your outburst. "That's what I thought," you mumble bitterly, turning back to watch as Joey runs outside with Jude in tow through the broken doors, not paying any attention to the broken glass or the fire that's burning outside. She seems to be talking excitedly about something but you still can't understand. Oh well, that won't be much of an issue for long.

 

If you remember clearly, sending things and trying to nab things from the past always drained a lot of energy from the machine. It took you a long time to find enough uranium to power up the machine comfortably but something tells you it won't be enough to materialize both Joey and Jude from that universe to this one. Something tells you won't be able to do it at all and only get a glob of paradox slime for your troubles but... You need to try.

 

Locking onto the both of them, you feel your hands grow hot, an orb of yellow light surrounding them as you press ctrl+v. The machine doesn't register the command at first, an alert popping up warning you that there wasn't enough energy to go through with it, but that doesn't stop you. The orbs expand in size, consuming the machine and you with it, its glow practically blinding you. You grit your teeth, closing your eyes tightly as you push through, the machine starting to beep excitedly as you power it up. You can hear various alerts warning you that the machine is at its maximum capacity, begging you to stop, but you can't. You don't know how to make it stop, you're not even sure how you made it even begin.

 

Your hands feel like they're on fire, the heat traveling up your arms, and you let out a mangled cry of pain, trying to pull your hands away from the machine. Crackles of electricity spark in your ears and you can hear the beeping of the transmaterializer speeding up frantically, a rhythm that sends your heart into a panic.

 

"S-stop!" You shout in the midst of the calamity, feeling something warm trickle from your nose and into your mouth. It's blood you taste and you begin to feel a little lightheaded as you peel yourself off the machine forcibly.

 

===> Let go. 

 

The moment your hands come off the machine, the damned contraption explodes from too much energy and send you flying across the room, bits of heated metal and glass cutting your skin. Tumbling onto the floor, you slowly skid to a stop just a couple ways before hitting the stone wall, your skin feeling rubbed raw. Your vision is blurry from having lost your glasses in the explosion and your mind feels hazy and confused, a telling sign that you just gave yourself a concussion, but you do your best to lift your head up, trying to see if you could find BGD in the mess.

 

"Dirk...? Dirk!" You cry out weakly but you can't see his glowing figure in the middle of all the black smoke that has filled the room. You cough it out, your throat feeling someone had scraped the inside of it and left it bleeding out, but you can't seem to eject the smoky sensation from your lungs.

 

Jade's going to kill me, you think to yourself as you begin patting around the floor to look for your glasses but the thought doesn't bother you as much as you think it would. The killer headache that's knocking on your brain like a jackhammer will probably get to you first before Jade finds out that you had destroyed your work of many weeks, almost three months.

 

You manage to find your glasses and slip them on, relieved to see that they were only somewhat cracked. Your body aches terribly as you try to get to your feet, legs shaking violently under your weight. Everything hurts, your skin stinging from all the scrapes and cuts and your body bruised and battered, but you force yourself forward, waving the smoke away shakily.

 

Limping in the direction of the transmaterializer, you squint through the smoke, seeing two figures standing in the spot where the transport pad lays. Your eyes widen in surprise and you hurry over as best as you can, hoping that what you've done what you wanted to do.

 

As the smoke clears, you're able to see bright green eyes looking up at you in confusion but before you're able to say anything to her, Joey steps forward quickly and you feel something slam into your stomach, knocking the wind out of you and sending you back onto the stone floor.

 

Your head knocks back on the ground and black floods your vision, making you lose consciousness for the second time in this temple.

Chapter Text

golgothasTerror [GT] started pestering timaeusTestified [TT]

 

GT: Good afternoon my good bro!

GT: Er...

GT: Good evening?

GT: Or perhaps its already morning where you are im not even sure what time it is here.

GT: Never got the chance to change the clock on my phone so i have absolutely no diddly-darn clue what time it is.

GT: I could possibly take a gander outside but that would mean getting up from my wonderfully comfortable spot on the ground and who on this blessed earth would want to do that!

GT: Especially when your head feels like someone slammed it into a blender and pressed the puree button!

GT: Haha! Who couldve possibly done such a thing???

GT: Oh not to mention you can barely move your legs for some unfathomable reason.

GT: ANYWHO!

GT: How have you been Dirk?? My good buddy old pal!!!

GT: Its been SUCH a long time since weve shoot the shit together im starting to wonder if youve forgotten about little ol me!!

GT: Which is rather preposterous i know but with all this radio silence a fellow cant help but start thinking such ridiculous things!

GT: Not that im trying to blame you for anything because i had said it was a-okay with me that you were going to be absent for a while!!!

GT: Which it still is!!! Dont get me wrong!!!

GT: But i dunno im starting to miss having you around maybe i got too used to you always being there.

TT: Is there a point you're trying to get to?

GT: Well hello to you too! Such a rarity for you to actually respond these days!!

GT: What an honor to finally be graced with your presence.

GT: What have you been up to if you dont mind me asking!

TT: Not much that would be of interest to you, but I've been overall busy.

TT: Now let me ask you this.

TT: Why are you messaging me all of the sudden? And why are you being all weirdly passive-aggressive?

GT: Whos being passive aggressive?? Im not being passive aggressive!

GT: I am genuinely excited to be able to talk to you after so long! Youre such a slippery fellow to get a hold of these days you know!!!

TT: Uh huh.

TT: Now answer my initial question: why are you messaging me?

GT: Egad cant a man just message his good bro whenever he pleases?? I wasnt aware that was going to be a federal friggin issue.

TT: Jake, just cut the shit out and tell me what you want.

TT: Like I said before.

TT: I'm kinda busy.

GT: ...

GT: Alright well.

GT: Uh im not sure if youve been speaking at all with roxy these past few days or hes even told you about this at all but uh.

GT: Jade and i started working on this project on my old island to make a new copy of the transmaterializer which was fine up to...

GT: Erm lets say recent events.

GT: But im afraid to say ive gone and done something terribly reckless with the darn thing like i tend to do with lots of things in my godforsaken life.

GT: So what im asking from you is a little bit of help to see if we can salvage whats left of it because dear god it is not looking very pretty right now.

GT: Gosh a three months work gone in a poof of smoke.

TT: What the fuck did you do to it?

GT: Thats kind of a long story that im more than willing to explain to you!

GT: If you agree to help me fix the transmaterializer that is.

TT: ...

TT: Sigh.

TT: Jake, I don't think that's a good idea.

GT: And why the fuck not?

TT: Listen, I get that you're feeling pretty fucking hurt by my not being there and I'm sorry for that.

TT: I'm sorry that I left you hanging without a proper explanation but don't you think it's... Sort of ironic?

GT: So you are holding a grudge against me! I flipping knew it!!!

TT: Don’t get your fucking panties in a twist, that's not what I was trying to get at.

TT: Nor am I holding a grudge against you for... 

TT: All that mess that happened.

TT: I told you that I'm over it. I'm not mad at you for whatever happened in the game or how things ended between us.

TT: I promise you that I'm not holding a grudge.

GT: If youre not holding a grudge against me then why wont you speak to me?

TT: I'm speaking to you right now, aren't I?

GT: I mean you are now but im talking about before!!

GT: Yes i know i promised to give you space when you asked for it because i understand what its like to feel suffocated and worn out by the constant presence of people.

GT: But what hurts me is the fact that you only really needed space from *me*!!!

GT: You were completely fine with everybody else that it almost felt like you were jumping impossible hurdles to avoid having anything to do with *me*!!!

GT: And even the few times i thought of sparking up an innocent conversation with you youd completely blow me off with disinterested remarks or not even respond at all!!

GT: Just leaving me in complete darkness wondering if ive finally balled up this jumbled up mess we call friendship for good.

GT: Maybe i do deserve it after everything i put you through but gadzooks does it hurt like *HELL* knowing ive pushed one of my closest friends away because i was such an idiot who couldnt ask for some space.

GT: This is absolutely ridiculous im lying on the ground of this stupid temple and im pretty sure ive broken some ribs apart from giving myself a concussion and having this pointless conversation with you because i *know* that if i were in the right state of mind i would *NEVER* actually message you.

TT: Jake, what the fuck? How did you give yourself a concussion?

GT: Sigh.

GT: Dont worry about it i think ill just message jade and explain everything to her.

GT: I apologize for blowing up on you like this you really didnt need to know all of that.

GT: Oh gosh im really going to regret this later arent i?

GT: Fantastic just another thing to add to my list of regrets it just never seems to end!

TT: Wait, Jake.

TT: Don't message Jade yet.

TT: Give me a second and I'll let you know if I can come over to help.

TT: I'll be right back, I promise.

GT: Alright its not like ill be going anywhere!

GT: Take all the time you need!!

 

timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering golgothasTerror [GT]

 

===> Be the Conflicted Prince.

 

You stare down at your phone, scrolling through your most recent conversation with a prominent frown on your face. This isn't something you had expected to happen any time soon so you're not exactly sure how to react, if you should be angry at Jake's accusations or upset because you ended up hurting him despite your attempts at avoiding just that.

"Well, that must have been a pleasant conversation," Roxy comments dryly, settling down on a kitchen chair with a bag of chips that he had nabbed from the cabinets. Any other day, you would remind him that he's not allowed to take from Dave's snack cabinet because he always knows when something has gone missing and never fails to lecture you on the importance of his snacks and the breach of trust it is to steal from his beloved hoard. But today, you can't bring yourself to care after the emotional roller-coaster you've been forced on, thanks to one certain person named English.

"Did you know about Jake's project to rebuild the transmaterializer?" You reply instead, watching as he opens the bag and tosses a couple of chips into his mouth.

"Mhm, he told me a little bit after he started it, said he was gonna work on it with Jade. I helped him with the alien coding a little but yeah," Roxy explains, taking a moment to chew his food. "How come?"

"He just messaged me for help. Apparently, he did something reckless and now the machine is broken but he wants my help to see if we can fix it before Jade finds out," you say quickly, glancing at your phone to make sure he was still logged on. "Any thoughts?"

When you look back at Roxy, he's staring at you in what you think is a mixture of confusion and disbelief. "How'd he manage to do that? I didn't think he had finished already."

"He won't tell me but I'll blame that on the fact that he's probably dazed the fuck out right now. He was rambling a lot and mentioned something about having a concussion and some broken ribs."

"He's got a concussion?" Roxy repeats in shock, voice laced with concern, as he gets up from the table, crossing the room to reach for your phone. You unlock it quickly and hand it to him to read over your messages, watching as his expression changes with each line that he reads. He eventually hands it back to you slowly, almost as if he wasn’t sure he had understood the conversation well.

"Well, he does sound like he's kinda fucked up," he supplies, frowning. "So what are you thinking of doing?"

"That's what I was going to ask you." You drop the phone onto the counter and cross your arms, leaning back. "What do you think I should do?"

Ever since the game had ended for you guys, you found yourself coming to Roxy a lot for help, seeking out his advice on what to do when your brain would start to give you shit about things you've done. Roxy's no therapist, you're aware, but he's helped you reason out a lot of your batshit thought processes before they could get too out of hand. He's sort of like your impulse control, stopping you from doing reckless things just because your brain told you it was a good idea. Or maybe because it was the first thing that popped into your brain and you decided not to think about it thoroughly enough.

He's been a really good help when your problems with Jake started to rise up again. Even after you supposedly made up with him, you couldn't help but feel the same incessant urge to constantly be messaging him, to have him by your side always, to know what he was doing every second of the day. Being apart from Jake felt like constant hell, a constantly itching within your own skin that begged a relief that could only be granted by his presence. You remember the hours you spent when you were younger, constantly running your mind into the ground as you thought about how much you wanted him, wanted him to want you, to need you as you needed him. You were endeared by everything he did and said, adored everything you thought he was and what he could've been, but never actually stopping to see who he really was.

It's terrifying to look back on how blind he made you feel, how easy he made you lose control of your emotions, making you feel like if you just gave in to his ridiculous fantasies and did everything that made him happy that you would find your own happiness. Your entire world revolved around him for so long and you couldn't even grasp the reality of the things slipping through your fingers.

So when he started to pull away from you, you felt like your world was crashing and burning and suddenly, breathing became too hard of a task. You struggled to get a grip on the situation, pulling tricks out of your ass so he wouldn't get bored of you, so that he wouldn't lose interest in you, so that he wouldn't see you for the tragic mess that you felt like but every attempt to reel him in only worked in pushing him further away. He started to walk out early in the mornings when he thought you were sleeping (you never slept) and come back later in the day with a half-assed excuse to why he was absent all morning (you already knew the truth).

Conversations with him became pretty one-sided with you doing most of the talking and him barely giving you a response as he stared off into the distance, getting lost in whatever fantasy world he was building in his own brain. By then, you were already losing your mind, hands shaking at the thought of him breaking up with you. So when he finally decided to haul ass to LOMAX, any sense of self-control launched itself out the window. You texted him consistently, spamming his phone with messages asking him where he was. It didn't help that you were being mocked at by your AR at the same time for your neediness. The world just hated you that day, throwing you shit after more shit until you found yourself suffocated by your own emotions.

But that's all in the past now. Or at least, you hope it is.

You decided to take a break from being around Jake, knowing that if you continued to hang around him with all these open wounds you would just end up right back where you started, suffocating and demanding the world of him.

It was hard to get used to, feeling like an abandoned puppy the first few days you stopped texting him. Despite knowing very well that this isolation was of your creation, there was still this irrational anger that you harbored towards him for not breaking his promise and messaging you like he was prone to. You cursed his name often for being so easy to fall for, to adore, to get addicted to. Why out of all the people in the world did you go and get attached to the one person who would never let himself get tied down?

But like with all things, you started to move on. Instead of wallowing in bed and screaming at yourself for the many ways you ruined your friendship and for the other possible ways you may ruin the ones that follow, you began to distract yourself. You worked on new projects, building new robots with different purposes just to see if you could. You've created a couple of new prototypes for a series of fighting robots to spar with, all installed with a different type of fighting style, be it with a weapon or a type of martial arts. You went out with your other friends more often, helping Jane with her upcoming plans to open CrockerCorp or just relaxing with Roxy and Calliope in the Carapacian Kingdom. Sometimes you would have Dave and Karkat over at your place while you worked, just enjoying their company and listening to their ridiculous discussions to prevent yourself from sinking into the depths of your own mind.

(Not only that, but you've started seeing one of those silly psychologists that Roxy had insisted would be good for you. While none of them could tell you anything that you hadn't already known, it was nice to be able to talk about yourself for an hour straight and not come off as egotistical and vain. Plus, they were always good at pointing you in the right direction, to see what was really happening rather than what your own broken mind thought was happening.)

"You're a big boy now, Dirk. I'm not gonna make any choices for you," Roxy says suddenly, a serious look on his face. "From what I can tell you've been doing pretty dang good with the whole "not being obsessive and clingy" thing but I just don't you falling back on your face 'cause you thought it would make Mr. English here happy."

You scoff, rolling your eyes at him. "I'm not going to do that. I said I was over being a pathetic little puppy, didn't I? I don't intend to fall back on my promise," you reply, your words a bit sharp. 

He raises his hands in defense. "It's up to you then, dude," he shoots back. "Like I love Jakey as much as you do, but I know the dude has some weird effect on you and I just don't want to see you getting hurt again because he's too busy dealing with his own shit and taking it out on you? Just because he's going through some stuff, it doesn't mean you gotta put up with it."

Letting out a deep sigh, you nod. "Yeah, I know," you murmur before putting your hands on your hips, staring at the tiled floor under you. "I mean, I don't want to get dragged into another ridiculous shit-show with him but I can't really leave him hanging. Plus, he was sort of in the right to get mad at me for basically turning the tables on him. It wasn't fair of me to do that."

"Fair, shmair," Roxy says dismissively with a wave of his hand. "On the one hand, it gives him a taste of his own medicine. On the other hand, yeah it was kind of a dick move." He shrugs before sighing as well. "Well, if you're gonna go help him, you should go soon. Flying to the island is gonna take you a long time and the poor dude's in a fucked up condition. I know we're like gods and shit, but who knows what that concussion can do to his head."

"Good point." You pull up your phone once more to shoot Jake a message.

 

timaeusTestified [TT] started pestering golgothasTerror [GT]

 

TT: Bro, you still there?

GT: Unfortunately yes.

TT: Great, try not to fall asleep on me since you said you're concussed. I'm going to need you to send me the coordinates for the island and I'll be there as soon as I can.

TT: Is there something I should bring for you?

GT: First aid perhaps.

GT: Uh.

GT: Maybe some extra food?

GT: Oh! Do you still have your handy dandy hoverboard or whatever it was?

TT: Yeah, I do...?

TT: What do you need it for? We can fly, remember?

TT: If you need to get off the island, I could probably carry you.

GT: Oh. Well youll see!

 

golgothasTerror [GT]sent timaeusTestified [TT] file "heres the stupid island map.jpeg"

 

TT: I'm still not sure how I feel with your insistence on being a vague motherfucker.

GT: Trust me strider its a really fucking long story and i hardly have the strength to keep sending you messages so you will just have to deal with it.

GT: When you get here I will explain *everything* to the best of my ability if i havent passed out yet.

GT: Now if you would please hurry because im starting to see spots again.

TT: Got it. I'll see you in a bit, bro.

TT: Hang in there, Jake.

 

timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering golgothasTerror [GT]

 

You put your phone away and look up at Roxy, who had preoccupied himself with eating Dave's chips once more. "I'm gonna go look for some supplies. If Jake's in a really bad condition, I might have to stay on the island with him for a while until he heals enough to handle being able to fly. After that, I'm dragging his ass to Jane's so she can heal him."

Roxy stops in mid-chew before swallowing his food. "Do you want me to come with you? I don't think staying on the island is a good idea, Dirk," he replies with a frown. "He's got a concussion, if he doesn't get healed soon, he's gonna need a lot of rest and I don't think they got good beds up in the Frog Temple."

"It's fine, Roxy, I can handle Jake myself," you insist as you walk to the wall cabinets, flinging the doors open as you begin to pull out cans of non-perishable food to take with you. "I'm taking the hoverboard so I'll carry him on that if I have to. It'll be fine, don't worry," you say, pausing to look over your shoulder at him.

He's staring at you with a firm frown, eyebrows furrowed, but he sighs and shakes his head as he goes to take another chip from the plastic bag. "You better text me when you get there and let me know what's up or I'll track down your asses and drag you back home myself."

"Yeah, yeah, do me a favor and help me find a first aid kit, will you?"

 

 


 

 

 

Much to your dismay, it takes you close to two hours to arrive at that godforsaken island.

The bitter part of your brain wonders what the fuck was Jake thinking before deciding to fuck off to the middle of the pacific ocean just to tinker on a stupid machine that no longer served a purpose to them, but the more reasonable part of you tells yourself to shut the fuck up, Jake doesn't need any reason to do anything he wants to do. He could've just simply done it because he could and that's that, end of story. Not every action needs to have a well-thought-out reason behind it.

You kept messaging Jake on your way there to make sure he was still conscious but there were brief periods when he would stop in the middle of a sentence and not respond, moments that would make your heart clench itself in fear. What if there were still monsters on the island and they got inside of the temple where Jake was basically vulnerable as all hell? He could've easily passed out on the ground and not have been able to hear the growling of a beast as it approached and even if he had heard it coming, his reactions would've been completely slowed down by the head injury.

But then he would message you again with a half-assed apology and reassure you that he was fine, which did wonders for your worry-stricken heart.

(No matter how much time you spend apart from him in order to forget about your attachment, your heart seems to remember the effect he has on you.)

You hover over the island, scanning over as you look for the entrance of the Frog Temple, and type up a quick message to Jake, letting him know you have just arrived. Upon seeing the trail of large lily pads leading up to the mouth of the temple, you dive down quickly and zoom into the temple, being careful not to hit your head on the crumbling ceiling or to bump into the walls. Your heart is beating itself against your rib cage as you search for him in the main room but see no sight of him.

Landing on the large circle platform, you flinch when it begins to groan and slide down under your feet, jumping into the air to prevent yourself from falling into whatever abyss lies before you, but you relax and settle back down when you realize it was lowering you to the lower floor. You had forgotten about that.

Hopping off the platform, you land on the ground with a resounding crack and immediately scan the room for Jake. You eye the broken machine curiously, the smell of burning metal making your nose wrinkle in discomfort, but you push on, figuring you would have enough time to investigate that mess later. It isn't until you come across a pair of unfamiliar faces with familiar eyes that you stand still, unable to hide the confusion on your face.

A girl and a young boy stand before you, the girl stepping in front of him defensively with a large, black flashlight in her hands. Her eyes a dark green, much like Jake and Jade's eyes, and her black, curly hair is sticking out from under her grey hoodie. Her face is smeared with grey paint, almost as if she had been trying to cosplay as a troll, and over her hood sat a pair of broken candy-corn horns.

Well alright then.

You can't really take a look at the boy who you assume to be her brother, but there's no doubt that he looks like a combination of Jake and John, albeit a bit dorkier. He's holding onto his sister's hoodie tightly as he stares at you in fear, hazel green eyes glazing over with tears. Unlike his sister, he isn't decked out in that odd troll cosplay, but his face is smeared with dirt, black hair messy with leaves and a stick? You can't be too sure.

"Dirk!"

You whirl your head around to see Jake descending from the platform (when had that gone up?) and step back carefully from the children but not letting them out of your sight, not wanting to let your guard down in case the girl got brave with her flashlight. Jake stumbles off the platform, holding a wet canteen in his hands which you guess he had gone to get filled, and runs over to him, throwing his arms over you and pulling you into a tight and slightly sweaty hug. You can smell the scent of blood and smoke coming off of him, almost like he had been burnt, but he certainly seems fine, if you were to ignore the bandages messily wrapped around his head and hands.

"Jake, what the fuck is going on here?" You ask abruptly, untangling his arms from your neck to put some distance between the two of you. You can't help but feel a bit awkward hugging in front of strangers, especially children that oddly look like Jake.

Jake looks at you with the expression of a confused puppy as he pulls away from you, even tilting his head to the side. His gaze is unfocused and he seems to be blinking a lot but you chalk that up to the concussion. "Whatever do you mean Dirk? Am I not allowed to hug my old friend after not seeing him for too long?"

You grit your teeth in response. "No, that's not what I meant," you force yourself to remain level-headed, not wanting to blow a fuse over something so small. You can feel irritation crawling through your blood, a feeling caused by the whirlwind of emotions you've been forced through tonight because of Jake, only to see him seem unconcerned for the state of his own well-being and raising so much more questions than you thought you had to ask. "You said you would explain what happened to you if I came and now I'm here."

He stares at you blankly for a beat before brightening up with realization. "Oh, oh, yes! Fiddlesticks, I completely forgot that I had asked you to make this perilous trek! I really must have done a number to the poor noggin when that blasted contraption exploded," he giggles, rolling his eyes as he waves it off like it was just a minor inconvenience.

"Yes, well, long story short, I accidentally overpowered the machine with my silly hope powers in an attempt to zap these two." He pauses to gesture to the children behind you before continuing, "into this reality and it exploded, knocking me into the wall and giving me a concussion. Then! I made the mistake of scaring them and received a well-deserved flashlight to the gut and passed out for quite some time!" He then looks over your shoulder to the children. "Did I miss anything else?"

Your mind is reeling by the end of his explanation and you can already feel a headache coming on as you try to wrap your mind around it. "Okay but that still doesn't explain who the fuck these kids are, Jake. Nor why you even thought it was a good idea to zap them in from wherever the hell you snatched them from. Fuck, isn't that basically kidnapping? You fucking kidnapped these kids, Jake."

Jake frowns in response and he shakes his head quickly before wincing immediately, having regretted that action. "Don't be silly, Dirk! I did not kidnap them and besides, had I not acted fast they would have disappeared from the face of the earth! I promise I wouldn't have done something as hasty as this if I didn't have good reason to do so!"

From behind you, you hear the young boy whisper, "disappear?" in a small voice but you ignore it, still trying to piece this mess of a mystery together.

"Jake, who the fuck are these kids and why did you think it was a good idea to bring them here."

The seriousness in your tone is enough to make Jake slump his shoulders, very well aware that he isn't going to get away from this without being scolded, and he sighs deeply before stepping away from you to approach the children. You turn to see the girl back away from him, putting more distance between him and her and watching him with a distrustful look in her eyes. The action doesn't go unnoticed by him, his frown growing deeper, but he continues.

"Dirk, this is Joey and Jude Harley," he introduces you quietly, avoiding your eyes. "They were... No, are my children from the pre-scratched universe where I grew up to take care of Jade."

The floor feels like someone had pulled it from under you and you fight the shakiness in your legs, not wanting to collapse in front of Jake right now. You don't know why you feel so anxious all of a sudden, your mind racing with questions and your hands shaking slightly. In order to hide this from him, you cross your arms across your chest and look back down at the children.

It's strange to think about the Beta Universe, the one where your friends and you were the ones who raised your guardian figures. Whenever you think about it, you only think about who you were in that universe and the abuse you made Dave go through, never once thinking of what your friends had been like in that universe. You only really knew about Roxy from the few conversations you've had with Rose about the Beta Universe in which she told you about how skeptical she was towards Roxy in regards to their feelings. While being an alcoholic parent, they had a habit of smothering Rose with affection and gifts that it made every act of love feel insincere, almost passive-aggressive.

(Of course, after meeting Roxy and getting to know him, Rose was sure that it hadn't been as she had previously thought and blamed it on her thirteen-year-old mind for staining the image of her guardian with resent.)

But you digress. You had never thought of asking what Jake was like in that alternate universe but then again, you never had anyone to ask. It wasn't like you were close to Jade (you're pretty sure she hates your guts for whatever reason) and you couldn't really ask Jake himself because you doubted he knew. But to imagine that he had lived a life where he had gotten married, had kids, a life in which you had no part of, it kinda throws you off.

"My name is Joey Claire, not Harley, " the girl spits out, breaking the awkward silence as she glares at the both of you. "Claire was my mom's last name."

You can't help but wince a little. Ouch, her disdain towards Jake tells a compelling story that you're a bit curious to hear but now isn't the time to question and analyze her psyche. You turn your attention back to Jake, who's shifting his weight awkwardly on his feet as he fiddles with his hands uselessly, glancing at Joey as he gnaws on his bottom lip.

"Right..." You draw out the word. "So that answers that question, but I still need to know why they're here."

Jake furrows his eyebrows. "Um yes... About that," he turns to the kids with a weak smile. "Please excuse us for a moment." He doesn't wait to hear a response and grabs your arm as he pulls you away from them, far enough to keep them out of hearing distance, before he faces you with a crestfallen expression.

"I know I did something absolutely ridiculous in breaking the machine in attempts to bringing them here but I couldn't just leave them in that universe, Dirk!" He whispers hastily. "I was such a god awful father, abandoning them soon after the death of my wife! I wanted to see what happened to them afterwards if maybe they had grown up to live good lives as adults without me, but their timeline cuts off at such a young age! They just completely disappear off the face of the Earth and I..." His eyes are glassy with tears, a sight that makes your heart ache in your chest, and he drops his hands.

"I couldn't just let them disappear. Even after they disappeared, I didn't seem to even care! I made no move to search for them! Just completely moved on with my life until I found Jade and moved to this stupid island, just to barely raise her and get killed because of my own negligence!" Jake hisses, frustration dripping from his words like icy water.

"I thought, maybe... I could make things right by bringing them here. Give them a chance to survive and grow up in a world that isn't being threatened by some greater power. That perhaps! I could fix the mistakes my beta self made in not raising them and maybe they could be happier!" His voice wavers as he continues to speak quickly, his eyes no longer focusing on you. "After all the pain and agony that my absence has caused him, they deserve to live a happy and long life with a supportive family that will love them and cherish them, something that I had failed to give them in that universe."

"Jake..." You murmur softly, snapping his attention back towards you. You're not even sure what to really say to him after hearing all of that. A part of you wants to hug him and reassure him that it wasn't his fault and that he didn't have to take on the responsibility of his actions in an alternate reality but that would be hypocritical of you since you basically do the same thing with your splinters. Another part of you wants to sigh and say "well, that's not surprising" but it's such a cruel thing to say when the poor dude is concussed and clearly fucked up about it. It's not easy to come to terms with the fact that there are alternate versions of yourself that are shitty people after all.

Glancing towards the kids, then to the machine, and then back to Jake, you let out a deep breath. "Listen, don't sweat it, man. You might have fucked up by we can salvage this shit. The transmaterializer can send shit back to a specific time, right? All we have to do is fix it back up and send them back to the moment where you snatched them and it'll be like they never disappeared," you explain calmly to him.

A nagging thought reminds you that there's a big possibility that in snatching them from their reality, Jake might have accidentally doomed their timeline but you wave it off, hoping that it hasn't crossed Jake's mind yet because that'll break him even further.

"But that thing took months to create! All the parts we had custom-made are destroyed, I doubt any of it can be of any use anymore!"

"That's the least of our troubles, dude," You reply as you rest your hand on his shoulder carefully. "You forget who you're talking to. I literally created a robot version of myself in a tiny apartment suspended on stilts in the middle of the ocean. Has it never occurred to you that I had to make every single metal part by myself?"

Jake's eyes widened a little in awe and you can't bite back the small smile growing on your face. "What I'm trying to say is don't worry about it. I can make the new parts if I have to and we can even make it ten times better than the original. Hell, even if you don't have the coding anymore, I could literally type that entire shit up myself with my eyes closed and give it a ton more cool features."

He smiles back slightly, looking rather shy. "I mean, I still have the coding on my husktop but I wouldn't be against you going through it and buffing it up a little more," he replies, trailing his gaze towards the machine. "Though it's going to take a mighty long time to get it fixed because now we have to worry about the platform in which to send things since that got destroyed in the explosion too."

You shrug casually. "That's the least of our problems. Whatever needs to get done, we'll do it, no matter how long it takes," you reassure him. "I got your back."

He stares at you for a moment, almost as if he's in disbelief at your words, and you stare back like the idiot you are because wow, it's been such a long time since you've actually looked at him. There's no denying that you've missed having these one-on-one conversations with him where his attention is solely on you and he isn't pretending to be someone he's not. You've missed being near him, being able to talk to him, being the one to make him smile at you. Why did you ever think cutting him out of your life was a good idea?

Clearing your throat, you tear your gaze away from him to look back at the machine and the kids that are staring at you warily. "So what's the game plan for now? They're gonna need a place to stay while we fix this shit up, you know."

Jake purses his lips, putting a hand on his chin as he thinks it through, squinting his eyes a little. He's quiet for a beat before opening his mouth. "I haven't the faintest clue!" He chirps brightly and you fight the urge to smack yourself in the face. Of course, why did you think of asking him something like that, knowing very well that he just recently got his head bashed in and his brain scrambled like eggs? Getting a semi-serious plan from him in this state will be harder than convincing Dave that puppets aren't that bad.

"Alright then, guess I'm taking control of the situation," you mumble to yourself before pulling Jake with you as you approach the kids. Joey stares at you in distrust, raising her flashlight once more, but you stop just far enough out of her reach, lifting your hands in a gesture of defeat.

"So, I'm well aware both of you are pretty scared and confused the fuck out of your mind right now by everything that has just happened," you begin carefully. "Once Ja-- Your... Dad here gets coherent enough to process a fully-formed thought, he'll explain everything to you and why you're here. For now, you're going to have to listen to me if you want to get off the island and to a safe place."

"We're on an island?" Jude pipes up from behind his sister, peeking over her shoulder to look at you and you nod.

"Yup, and it's monster-infested so getting you guys out of here is our top priority right now. It'll take a while, especially since you'll be taking the hoverboard since I'll be too busy carrying your old man here," you reply, trying not to wince at your choice of words. Joey doesn't attempt to hide her discomfort, wrinkling her nose as she glances at Jake, who's staring sadly at the broken machine, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. 

"And why should we trust you?" Joey replies defiantly, glaring back up at you. "Just because he's supposedly our Pa doesn't mean I'll trust anyone he's friends with. Pa wasn't really trustworthy, to begin with."

You press your lips in a firm line. Yikes, yeah there's a lot of shit there that you're not to keen on investigating right now. "Yeah, well like I said unless you want to stay here on this monster-infested island where no one else lives, then feel free. The plan was to get you to a safe place while we figure out how to fix this machine that brought you here in the first place so we could send you back, but if you really want to spend the last few days of your life in this crumbly ass temple, then be my guest."

Joey clamps her mouth shut and hums angrily, furrowing her eyebrows. You can see how conflicted she feels, glancing over at her brother and then back at Jake, probably trying to decide whether it would be worth it or not. If you focus closely, you could probably read into her thoughts, light blue words floating around detailing the pros and cons of going along with you. And maybe... Just maybe, if you just reach out a little to her thoughts, perhaps you could... Mold them--

"Fine," she snaps you out of your thoughts with her sharp tone. "We'll go with you but any funny business and this thing will crack some skulls," she says as she shakes her flashlight, her voice dripping with seriousness but you can't help but think it amusing.

"Alright, no funny business then, Ms. Troll Wannabe," you joke before pulling out your phone and turning towards Jake. "So first things first, once we get off this island, we're taking you to Jane so she can do something about that concussion. Can't have you sitting on your ass in dreamworld while we're trying to fix this shit."

Jake hums softly, still not really acknowledging you, before practically snapping his neck when he realizes what you had just said. "Janey? Are you quite sure about that? Don't you think we'll be just a big bother to her if we go now?"

"I mean, we won't be getting there for a couple of hours so she'll have time to prepare herself," you reply as you unlock your phone and search for Jane's chumhandle. "Plus, she's the only one that can do anything about your head, dude. It's not like we have any other choice unless you like feeling doped out of your mind."

He furrows his eyebrows in thought. "Still... I don't want to inconvenience her just because I got myself into a tizzy! I can sleep this off, I'm sure I can. What's the point of having this ridiculous immortality if it won't protect me from simple injuries such as this one!"

"Immortality is just prolonging of life, man. What you want is invincibility which would prevent you from suffering any major injury," you clarify with a roll of your eyes. "You know damn well why the game decided not to give us invincibility as well. How was it supposed to get its jollies off if the kids couldn't die?"

"Dirk!" Jake hisses quickly, eyeing Joey and Jude cautiously. "Don't say things like that in front of the kids."

You bite back a sarcastic "sorry, honey" and look down at your phone as you start to type a quick message to Jane.

 

timaeusTestified [TT] started pestering gutsyGumshoe [GG]

 

TT: Yo.

TT: So I know it's probably really fucking late where you are since it's probably almost dawn over here.

TT: And you're probably asleep like any normal person would be because who the fuck stays up late in the night and is still able to function perfectly well enough the next day to go to boring ass meetings and talk to faceless investors?

TT: That's like another level of fucked up.

GG: But Dirk, don't you stay up countless hours of the night to work on your many projects?

GG: And last time I checked, you were *also* helping me with these meetings the next day, albeit a bit grouchy! :B

TT: Yeah, well that's kind of irrelevant now.

TT: I hope I didn't wake you though. That'd be really shitty considering the favor I'm going to ask from you.

GG: No worries, it's actually already morning over here! I wake up pretty early to get ready for all these boring meetings, remember?

GG: Though now I'm curious as to where you are since you implied a grand shift of time differences between us.

TT: It's a long story that I'm sure you'll be hearing in great detail soon enough.

TT: But are you busy today?

GG: Well, I only really have one meeting to attend to go over some more investment deals but afterwards I think my schedule is empty!

GG: Why do you ask?

TT: Fuck, alright.

TT: I'm gonna need to drop by your place later today.

TT: Well, Jake and I need to.

TT: Jake's got himself in a bit of a mess that resulted in a concussion and some bruised ribs so I'll be counting on you to use those life powers of yours to heal him up.

GG: ??????

GG: Gosh, what did he do to himself????

TT: Again, long story.

TT: Plus, I'm sure it's better that he tells you yourself.

GG: If you insist, but gosh, now I'm curious. Is he okay??

TT: A little ditzy, but fine for the most part. It'll be a while before we'll get there so don't worry too much.

TT: Actually.

TT: If it's not too much to ask, do you think you could whip up some food to feed a couple of stragglers?

TT: We've got company.

GG: Dirk, I must say I'm very concerned with everything that you're saying to me right now.

TT: Yeah, I know but trust me, you'll understand soon enough.

GG: If you say so. I guess I'll have enough time to cook something up!

GG: Anything specific?

TT: Nah, whatever you think is good should be fine.

TT: I'm sure they'll appreciate anything at this point.

GG: ....?

TT: Yeah, uh.

TT: Thanks, see you in a couple hours.

 

timaeusTestified [TT] ceased pestering gutsyGumshoe [GG]





 

 

 

Time flies faster than you can count on your hand and before you know it, you're standing on Jane's doorstep with Dirk holding you up, your arm around his shoulders for support, and the children waiting behind you curiously. You're rather surprised they had agreed to go along with you and Dirk, seeing as they were insistent on having nothing to do with you when they appeared, Joey especially.

You don't remember much of what happened after Joey knocked you out, having fallen back and injured your head further, only the blurry images of orange text on the screen, Dirk's worried tone when he found you, his warm hands on your body as he carried you off the island. A small part of you wonders how Dirk was even able to lift you when you were a lot bigger than him but you're too exhausted to think about it, too sweaty and bloody to really give a shit right now. Maybe after you get a shower and some sleep, you'll ask Dirk if he's been working out but for now, you'll lean into his side.

Dirk leans over carefully to ring the doorbell, making sure not to let go of you in case you were still unsteady, and keeps his gaze on the door, practically glaring holes through it as he avoids your stare. It really has been too long since you've been this close to him, your skin pressed against his. You're close enough that you could probably smell the faint scent of his shampoo, something that you've embarrassingly missed. He smells like comfort, linen, soft.

Before you can tell him that he smells good, the door opens and you whip your head around too quickly, going dizzy for a moment. Colorful spots flood your vision but you don't need your eyes to know that Jane is staring you in utter concern and confusion. "Hiya Janey!" You greet her brightly, waving at her with a toothy grin. When your vision clears up, your suspicions are confirmed correct and she's eyeing you down, hand raised to her mouth in horror.

"Jake! What on earth happened to you?" She gasps as she steps forward, seeming to forget the long-standing tension that has haunted your every interaction after the game. She presses a hand to your face and you jerk back immediately as if her touch had burned your skin, the smile dropping from your face. Your vision goes double as you stare at her in shock, but instead of seeing Jane in her casual outfit, you see an older version of her, a disdainful look on her face as she taps her shoe impatiently. She's dressed in a sharp business suit, her face beautifully done with makeup and her hair styled flawlessly, but none of it can soften the hate shining in her eyes.

"Cool it, Jane, he's kinda jumpy right now." Dirk's voice grounds you and your vision seems to return to normal, allowing you to see Jane's hurt expression. You immediately want to apologize for your inappropriate reaction but she quickly looks away and focuses on Dirk.

"Sorry, I just... Didn't expect him to be this bad," she replies, shooting you glances here and there, before looking behind you to look at Joey and Jude. "Uh...?"

"Right," Dirk snaps. "Jane, meet Jake's kids from an alternate universe, Joey Claire and Jude Harley. Joey, Jude, meet Jane."

"Harley? Like Jade's Poppop?" Jane stares at him in befuddlement, earning a small nod in response.

"The same one," he replies before readjusting his weight, jostling you a little. "Not to be pushy but could you let us in? Jake's kind of heavy and I really don't want to let this concussion linger. I don't want to find out if it'll leave any weird side effects with all the many blows he's taken to the head."

Jane jumps in her spot, remembering herself. "Oh yes, of course! Come in," she says as she steps aside to let all of you in. Dirk tugs you along carefully inside, making sure you didn't accidentally trip over your feet.

"Where do you want him?" Dirk asks as he shuffles you awkwardly into the living room, pausing when he realized Mr. Crocker was there, sitting on a large armchair with a newspaper in his hands. "Hello."

"Howdy, Mr. Crocker!" You greet eagerly. He glances between the both of you before offering a curt nod in greeting and returning back to his reading.

"Oh, just take him to the bathroom. I can heal the worst parts of his injuries but the superficial parts might still need some bandaging," Jane calls out to Dirk. "Let me get the children some supper in the meantime." 

Doing as she instructed, Dirk leads you to the small bathroom downstairs and sets you down on the toilet carefully. "There we go," he murmurs under his breath as he straightens up, resting his hands on his hips. "How are you feeling, bro?"

"Too bright," you mutter, squinting your eyes slightly to shield yourself from the harsh light of the bathroom. "Hurts."

"I'll turn them off for now but Jane's probably gonna need them on when she comes in to heal you," he informs you, flicking the lights off so the only light that is coming in is from the hallway. You only nod and close your eyes, leaning forward so you could rest your head in your hands, your head throbbing with pain.

Silence floods the tiny bathroom as you wait for Jane to come heal you, seconds stretching into minutes and minutes seem to stretch into hours. A voice in your head nags at you, telling you to say something to Dirk, a meager thank you or something for putting up with you when he really didn't need to, but your brain feels too mushy to come up with coherent thoughts right now. All you really want to do is go sleep.

The sound of Jane's footsteps makes you lift your head carefully but you hiss and cover your face when she flicks the lights on without much warning. "Gosh, sorry! I should have warned you I was turning on the lights," she says apologetically but you wave her off weakly, refusing to open your eyes.

"No, no, it's f-fine," you force out. You can feel both her stare and Dirk's stare on you, making your skin itch in discomfort, but one of them seems to turn away before you can react.

"Dirk, you can join Joey and Jude in the kitchen if you like. I made enough rice for everyone," Jane speaks softly, most likely not wanting to hurt you. You hear Dirk grunt in reply before his footsteps descend down the hallway, leaving you alone in Jane's company.

Fear crawls down your spine as this realization settles into your bruised mind. You bite back the urge to call Dirk back to avoid leaving you alone with Jane, knowing well that it would definitely hurt her feelings if you did, and steel yourself for what Jane plans to do to you. Along with fear, guilt seizes your heart at your own thoughts. It's been years since the events of the game and you still can't seem to let go of the way she treated you leading up to the end of the game. You've been friends with her for so many years, so why are you letting a couple of bad days ruin the friendship you have with her?

"I'm going to touch your head," Jane warns you in a gentle voice. "If it starts to overwhelm you, let me know and I'll stop."

You let out a soft "ok" , unable to hide the weakness in your voice. Clenching your fists, you prepare yourself for her touch before letting out a deep breath when her fingers press lightly against your temple, warmth pooling wherever she touched.

She works in silence, not bothering to fill the room with unnecessary chatter. She's very well aware of your reluctance towards her, always has been, but she never mentioned it. You never thought of mentioning it either because you were too afraid to make Jane upset and make her think you were afraid of her, which is the last thing you need right now. Besides, sometimes when you stop to think about it, you can't help but wonder if you had deserved all those cruel words.

Maybe, if you had realized that she had lied when she told you that she didn't have feelings for you, you wouldn't have overloaded her with your problems with Dirk. And then perhaps, she wouldn't have gotten so upset with you, to the point of screaming at you and insulting you. You could've avoided that strange trickster episode and the terrifying moments in jail where she threatened you with marriage and lineage of children (you're still not sure how she was going to go about that, considering your circumstances).

What if you hadn't pressured her into lying to you? Because that is what you did after all. You were well aware of her feelings before that whole mess but because they complicated the situation that you had with Dirk, you decided it was best to pretend that they weren't real, relieving yourself of the guilt of not being able to return them and forcing her into this cursed friendzone for six whole months.

But if you had let her confess, what would you have done? You know you wouldn't have been able to let her down if she had managed to tell you her real feelings. You couldn't say no to her even if your life was on the line. The thought of ever upsetting her makes your stomach wrench painfully like someone had taken it and rang it out to dry. You probably would have lied and told her that you felt the same way towards her to avoid making her cry, ending up in a relationship that you're sure would have made things a lot worse. If she resented you now, you're sure as hell she would've loathed your entire being if you had gotten romantically involved with her.

Pulling her hands away from your head, Jane moves her hands lower before pausing. "Could you lift your shirt up for me?" She asks hesitantly, her voice unsure. "I need to see your ribs and see how badly injured they are."

"O-oh, sure," you reply with a lot more clarity in your voice, blinking your eyes quickly as you adjust to the dim lighting. Your head still hurts a little but it's not as fuzzy as it had been before. You raise your t-shirt up to the edge of your binder, revealing the angry red and purple bruises littering your body. Jane winces a little at the sight and lays her hands on your ribs gingerly, bright blue magic glowing from her fingers as she mends your cracked ribs and soothes your bruised lungs.

When she finishes, she drops her hands with a deep sigh, looking a bit more tired than when she started. "How does that feel? Can you take a deep breath for me?"

Dropping your shirt, You breathe in deeply and slowly, afraid to feel bruised pain in your lungs, but being delighted when it feels normal. "I feel fine," you remark quietly. "Thank you, Jane."

"How about your head? I think I got rid of the concussion but you still have a bunch of little scrapes here and there," she replies, avoiding eye contact as she looks at your forehead. "I would heal them but that really drained a lot of my energy. You'd have to come back tomorrow or whenever if you wanted to get them healed as well."

"No, I can handle it," you say with a weak smile. "Really, I appreciate you doing all of this for me and forgive me for coming out like this. I feel terrible for intruding like this."

"Save it, Jake," Jane waves you off. "It's fine really. I'm just glad you didn't decide to keep these injuries to yourself because you were too embarrassed to ask for help."

"Well, that you can thank Strider for that," you say softly, looking out the door. "I probably wouldn't have dared ask, but not because of embarrassment." You can't exactly see the kitchen, but you can hear the clatter of plates and soft chatter taking place. You wonder if Dirk managed to strike up a conversation with the children or if Mr. Crocker had decided to join them and was talking to them instead. Maybe they were all caught up in a conversation.

Jane purses her lips in a firm line, watching you carefully before looking away and straightening herself up, getting ready to leave. “Come then, let’s go join the others for lunch. You have a lot of explaining to do.”

“Jane, wait—” You grab her wrist quickly as she turns on her heel and the sudden action surprises the both of you. You’re not quite sure why you did that, mirroring her surprised and confused expression, but as you slowly let go, you figure that this is probably the last chance you’ll have to clear the air with Jane. You doubt you’ll ever get the courage to sit in a room alone with her, in an atmosphere that didn’t feel so suffocating as they usually were. Maybe it’s the effects of Jane’s powers on you but you feel a little more level-headed, calmer. 

“I… Er, if it’s alright with you, I’d like to explain here,” you say quietly. She turns to face you and nods quietly, crossing her arms as she waits for you to start. 

Letting out a deep breath, you try to remember to the best of your ability what had happened. “Well, I’m not sure if Roxy told you or not, but I had gone with Jade back to the island on a small trip of sorts. You know, just to get away from the busy city life for a bit. We found the transmaterializer from our childhood and decided to patch it up! Just for kicks, I suppose!”

“So we spent a pretty damn long time working on that contraption, making the pieces from scratch and recreating the program for the machine to the best of our ability,” you continue, making typing gestures with your hands as you spoke. “Jade eventually had to drop out because she grew tired of being on the island and I dedicated the last week or so to finish it up on my own, occasionally asking Roxy for help!”

Jane begins to look a little exasperated as you talk and you feel a pressure in the back of your head, a voice telling you to get to the fucking point already. “And so I finally got the machine to work last night…? Last night I believe and because I had installed an extra screen, I was able to take a peep at the timeline of our two universes , the beta and alpha sessions.”

Her eyes widen in surprise. “You did all that? Why?” She sounds incredulous, almost shocked that you were able to manage such a feat. 

You just shrug. “Well, I remembered Roxy having something similar and I thought perhaps I could see what happened to my Grandmother before she passed as well as see what happened to myself in Jade’s universe.”

“And what did you see? Did you see any of us?” She asks, excitement starting to creep into her voice, something that you haven’t heard directed towards you in what might have been years. 

“I only got far enough to see Roxy, I’m afraid,” you say sheepishly, scratching your elbow awkwardly. “Unfortunately, I only got to see a couple of years of my life before I found Jade since the machine… Um, exploded.”

Jane’s budding smile falls at this. “Exploded? What did you do to it?” 

Frowning a little, you shake your head. "It hadn't been intentional, alright! It's just..." You huff in frustration as you try to organize the thoughts in your mind. "Jane, you see... When I went back on my timeline, I discovered that before Jade and the events of the game in her session, I actually had a family. Found myself a lovely wife and had two beautiful children."

She stares at you, biting her bottom lip as she listens intently, so you continue, avoiding eye contact with how severe she was staring at you. You could practically melt under her gaze.

"Unfortunately, I wasn't a very good father. My wife passed when the children were very young and my reaction was to run away from home and go on multiple trips around the globe, only returning to the house every couple of months. The children were left in Roxy's care meanwhile but... I was basically absent for a very long time," you confess, ducking your head in shame.

"I grew curious about the future of the children, wondering how they made out after I passed away when Jade was a child. Maybe they managed to live a satisfying life before the world ended you know!" You force a bitter laugh, clenching your fists. "But... That's not what happened. Their timelines cut off at a relatively young age and I can't find any trace of them after a certain date. I know my beta self knew about it but I didn't seem to care! I just continued living as if nothing had happened and moved to that stupid island after finding Jade!"

"So the children in the kitchen..." Jane begins quietly, quickly adding two and two together. "They're from... That universe?"

You nod solemnly, sighing deeply. "I couldn't just let them disappear off the face of the earth like that, Jane." Your voice quivers slightly. "I felt so awful knowing that even after they were gone their own father wouldn't even mourn them! Nope, he just hopped on the next ship he could catch and travel to the middle of fucking nowhere, pretending as if the past sixteen years didn't happen! What kind of shitty father does that?!" You can't help your voice rising with anger the more you think about it.

She shushes you quietly, eyeing the hallway. "Tell me what happened next," she says softly, redirecting your attention away from your anger.

"I thought, perhaps... Since they were going to disappear anyway, I should bring them here. They deserved better than an anti-climatic end, Jane! They deserve an existence in a world that isn't threatened by an imminent doom, a place where they could grow up and do whatever they dreamed of doing, a family... One that would love them and support them."

"And you thought you could provide these things," she says, not ask. The sharp tone in her voice makes you flinch and it sends your mind through a whirl. Are you going to be able to provide all these things for them? A place to stay, perhaps, but would they be happy with you? You already know Joey hates you with her entire being so wouldn't this decision just make her unhappy and bitter? What if she grows to resent you even more after discovering what you're really like? Or what if she proves your greatest fear and reveals to you that you're nothing different from the father that abandoned her?

"I want to provide them with these things. It's what they deserve," you murmur quietly.

"Jake, but is this what they want?" She asks you seriously. "Just because you think they deserve it doesn't mean they'll want it! I'm sure if their father abandoned them, they won't take well to seeing a younger, alternate version of him!"

You wince a little at this. "Well, I'm already aware that they weren't exactly fond of seeing me. Joey greeted me with a blow to the stomach but I'll confess I deserved that."

"Jake!" She shrills in surprise, eyes wide with shock. You open your mouth to defend yourself but she cuts you off with a shake of her head. "So if I am understanding this correctly, you used the transmaterializer to materialize your children from the beta universe to Earth-C, broke the machine in the process, and got knocked out by your daughter?" 

You run the sentence through your head before nodding. "Right on the dime, Janey!" Her shoulders slump as her expression changes into one of exasperation.

"Jake, you can't honestly expect things to turn alright like this! It wasn't your job to fix whatever broken relationship they had with their father, regardless that it was an alternate version of you," she says in frustration. "No matter what you do it won't fix or make what he did alright! Now you've brought in two children into a world that they don't know, without an actual place to keep them, without any knowledge of how to care for them properly, and with so much disregard to their feelings!"

With each word, you can feel yourself inching yourself deeper in your cloud of negativity. Guilt nags at the back of your mind the more you think about it and how right Jane is. You know nothing about taking care of children! What were you even thinking, believing that this would be a good idea for them? Were you truly looking out for them or were you so caught up with the fact that it was because of your shortcomings that they ended up disappearing with no one to mourn for them? Was it because you refused to let your mistakes go because they are your mistakes, regardless of whatever reality it took place in? What were you trying to prove with this stunt, Jake? And to whom were you trying to prove it too?

 

===> Defend yourself.

 

"I needed to do this!" You shout and the world seems to have fallen silent, the chatter in the kitchen having ceased at once. When you meet Jane's eyes for the first time in a while, you don't feel the urge to back down. "Jane, I really needed this. I've fucked up so many things in my life, I didn't want to add those children's fucked up disappearance to add to the list of things I've had a hand in. If I have the ability to make things for the better, why shouldn't I? I'm the page of hope for god's sakes! It's completely in my power to do these things!"

"Just because you can doesn't mean you should, Jake!" She retorts, clenching her fists in anger. "You're being selfish again! Thinking about what you need and convincing yourself that everyone else will just sing along to your hopeful little tune while ignoring what they're going through. Because as long as you're happy, everything is all fine and dandy!"

You shoot up to your feet, irritation prickling through your skin. "You want to talk about selfish? How about the time in the game when you went Crockertier, Jane?" You reply angrily. "Oh yes, I remember that moment clearly, especially everything you happened to tell me while you were "brainwashed". Tell me, Jane, how much was that actually the mind control and not your own coveted thoughts flying through because I doubt the Batterwitch was making you say that. I mean, why would she be telling you such things? She didn't know our history! She didn't know what we had been through together!"

Jane looks like she's at a loss for words, mouth hanging open as she stares at you dumbly. "I-I didn't think... You'd remember that..."

"How could I not, Jane? We've been friends for so long, of course, I would remember every single moment we've shared," you say with a hint of bitterness in your voice. "The good, the bad, the ugly. Everything, Jane. All of it. So again, tell me about me being selfish! It's so fresh to be hearing that from you!"

"I'm sorry I said those things to you!" She shouts back, gasping at how loud she's being and covering her mouth. You're pretty sure that everyone can hear your argument but you're too heated to give a shit about that right now.

"Apologies won't fix the damage you've done, Jane," you say through gritted teeth. "I've been told so many times before."

Her blue eyes are shining with angry tears but she refuses to look away. "I know that but I'm still... Sorry! I shouldn't have ever said that, mind controlled or not, nor should I ever thought that! It was such dumb, petty resentment that I harbored towards you and you didn't deserve all of that! The way I spoke to you was just absolutely horrible and I regret it because now every time you look at me, all I can see is all the fear in your eyes and it makes me wonder if we'll ever be friends again!"

By the time she finishes her spiel, she's panting, a little winded by her own rush of emotions. You stare at her long and hard, your anger diminishing as tears start to roll down her soft, brown cheeks. Is this what you wanted to do? Did you push her too hard? Is she going to break apart in front of you now?

"You know I can't accept your apology, Jane," you murmur gently. "I have terrible dreams about that moment. I can't sleep with the windows closed or else I feel the walls are caving in on me and that I can't breathe correctly. What you did wasn't alright and I can't brush it off all willy-nilly."

She begins to sniffle loudly, lifting her hands to wipe the tears from her face. "I know... And I didn't expect you to. What I did was unforgivable and I regret it with all of my heart." She lets out a shaky sigh as she stares at her hands. "You have every reason to hate me, Jake. I wouldn't blame you if that were the case."

Your gaze softens and you shake your head quickly, stepping forward to put your hands on her shoulders. She hugs herself, turning her head away, but doesn't move away from you. "No, Jane, that's not what I meant," you reply, cupping her chin gently to make her look at you. "Despite all of that, I don't hate you. I can't hate you. Maybe I should but I don't know. I really don't want to hate you because you have been my friend for so long. You're still a very important person to me, Jane."

This seems to be enough to break the dam. Jane bursts into sobs and she throws her arms around your neck, hugging you tightly as she buries herself in your chest. It takes you a moment to relax into her touch but you reciprocate the hug, wrapping your arms around her waist and resting your cheek on top of her head as you hold her. She sobs into your chest, hiccuping incoherent apologies, but you just rub her back, rocking her slowly as you try to comfort her.

You can feel tears forming in your own eyes as you hug her. It feels like a pressure has been lifted off your chest due to this conversation. For a long time, you couldn't help but wonder if Jane secretly hated you because of everything that happened but never said anything about it to keep from disrupting the loose circle of friends that you have. That perhaps she meant everything about you being useless and good for nothing but eye candy.

After a while, Jane pulls away from you, her cries having quieted, but she looks like a messy, her eyes puffy and red-rimmed from crying and her cheeks wet from all the tears. You loosen your hold, dropping your arms to your side, before offering a small smile.

"I should've been a better friend," she whispers hoarsely. "I was so gosh darn awful..."

"There, there," you wave her off before reaching to thumb some of her tears away gently. "None of that now. We were both awful to each other to a certain extent. I should've have acknowledged your feelings and been upfront about how I felt about you from the start instead of running you around like a chicken with its head cut off. I'm sorry for being a terrible friend too."

Jane laughs bitterly. "We were such stupid kids, weren't we?" She mutters, eyes flickering up at you. "God, it felt like the world was going to end because you didn't feel the same way but now when I look back on it... It was all pointless drama for nothing."

"I figure it's a part of growing up," you reply, shrugging."Everything seems like a big deal because our world is still rather small at that time. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't matter. Those emotions were still real and affected you a great deal, Jane."

You can't decipher the expression she wears on her face. It's a mixture of awe and surprise. "When did you grow so wise, Jake?" She jokes and you laugh along with her.

"I wouldn't call myself wise but I've got myself to thinking about these things as well," you admit. "Besides, I think I lost any right to that title after last night's little mishap."

She glances towards the hallway and sighs deeply. "Yes, I suppose so," she trails off momentarily. "What are you going to do with the children? I don't think your apartment is big enough to maintain them until they're grown."

"Oh, I'm quite aware. Now that I think about it a little better, I'll admit I jumped the gun on zapping them here so I'll have to get back to rebuilding the transmaterializer to send them back. It'll take a while since we had to recreate many of the parts, but it'll be easier this time around because I already have the blueprints and the coding in my husktop."

"So...?"

Resting your hands on your hips, you stare outside into the hallway. You'd have to find yourself a new home to move in while the children are staying with you. You're not worried about that because thanks to your god status, you'd probably be given whichever house you wanted. Plus, you've been wanting to move out anyway so it's the perfect decision. That way, you have a reason to move out that isn't your own selfish desires and no one can say that you're running away or something.

"I'll have to speak with some realtors soon. Maybe I can get a large house outside of Can-town," you reply, feeling more excited than before. "In the meantime, do you think I could let them stay with you while I get everything situated? I promise to make everything as quick as possible."

Jane purses her lips, hesitant to agree to the favor, but she nods. "Alright, yes. I have a couple of guest rooms they can stay in but you better come back to get them," she says with a stern tone. "Don't want to repeat the same mistakes of your alternate self."

You shake your head. "Of course not! I would never do such a thing. If it pleases you, I'll search for some realtors after lunch and head out as soon as possible to find a house."

The small smile returns to her face. "You really are starting to grow up, aren't you?" She asks and you just shrug once more.

"I'm just trying to do what's right. I've been running away for too long now.”

 

 





===> Be the overwhelmed girl.

 

Your name is Joey Claire and boy, what a day it has been! One moment you're running out of the house, troll disguise and all, with Jude by your side and the next, you're zapped into a strange room filled with so much smoke! For a second, you had thought that maybe you've been discovered by that evil figure that people have been telling you about, Doc Scratch, but your horror only grew the second the smoke cleared and you saw what looked to be your father, only a lot  younger. Nevertheless, you reacted the same way a normal person would to seeing their estranged father.

By knocking the wind out of him with your heavy flashlight.

Okay, so you might have overreacted a tiny bit, seeing as he was already terribly injured somehow, but it was the only thing you could think of! It's not your fault he snuck up on you guys out of the smoke, bloodied and covered in dirt! Doesn't he know what you've been through the past few days? You've been running around all of Alternia, meeting new trolls and discovering the dangers that surround that world and your own! You've spent so much time, dodging drones, trying not to be killed by the high-bloods, and trying to figure out how to get the cherub portal to work so you could get back home! Hell yeah, you're going to be jumpy as heck!

Even as you sit on top of the bed in the guest room that you were offered by the woman that looks an awful lot like the mysterious girl in the photograph with your Pa , you can't stop thinking about everything that's happened and wonder what's going to happen next. From what you've been able to piece together, you've been zapped to an alternate reality by a different version of your Pa, but due to him having a terrible head injury, he hasn't been able to tell you or Jude anything else.

And it wasn't like you could really ask his friend, Mr. Strider, what the heck was going on. He was kind of an imposing man, silent and blunt with his responses that made you a little uncomfortable. You had tried to talk to him during lunch while Pa got healed up by the pretty lady but everything fell silent when you started hearing them yelling at each other in the bathroom. Afterward, it was hard to even get Mr. Strider's attention because he couldn't keep his eyes off your Pa, looking somewhat concerned regardless of your Pa's strangely sunny attitude.

The rest of lunch passed like a blur. Your Pa didn't make any effort to really talk to you, probably having learned his lesson from earlier, and spoke mostly to Mr. Strider and the lady of the house. Occasionally he would ask Jude something, but Jude spoke in short phrases, keeping his eyes glued to the bowl, unable to look him in the eye. Honestly, you were never too sure about how your brother felt about your Pa, seeing as he never really openly cursed his name as you did. He never defended his long absences or even complained about his horrible hoarding, so you assumed he didn't really care as much as you did but seeing him interact with him now lets you see that he was probably as hurt as you were.

Much like you expected, your Pa excused himself and left with Mr. Strider as quick as possible, telling you guys that he would be coming back later once he "got the house ready" but if you're being honest with yourself, you expect to see him in a month or two if he's anything like your version of your Pa.

"Joey?" Jude calls out to you, snapping you out of your thoughts, and you turn your head to look over your shoulder at him.

"Yeah?" You ask quietly, not wanting to break the comfortable silence that had settled over the room.

"Do you think he's really going to come back?" Jude's staring up at the white ceiling, laying on the twin bed next to yours.

That has to be the question of the century. Your initial reaction is to say no, you don't think he's actually going to come back. Why would he? He has no reason to come back for you guys. He's not even the man that "raised" you, so why would he? You're still not sure what's going on with this whole alternate universe nonsense and at this point, you don't really care anymore. You just want to go back home and forget about this nonsensical nightmare.

"I don't know, Jude," you say softly, focusing your gaze on your dirty sneakers. "I kinda hope he doesn't."

The two of you sit in silence for a while, listening to the sounds of downstairs. You can hear Mr. Crocker walking around, speaking softly to whom you presume is his daughter, a warm sound that feels so foreign to you. Hearing other voices other than Jude or yours is always something you can never get used to. Apart from school, you had gotten used to talking to as few people as possible, despite your desperate attempts to make friends. How dismal.

You hear footsteps coming up from downstairs and brace yourself, eyeing the door carefully. Even though you were expecting it, you jump in your spot when you hear a knock on the door. "Come in!" You call out to the person, feeling your heart starting to race in your chest anxiously. Why are you feeling like this? What are you afraid of?

The door opens to reveal the young woman and you feel your shoulders drop in disappointment. Wait, what? Why would you be disappointed? Who else did you think it would be? Certainly, you didn't believe it would've been your Pa knocking on your door, coming in for a second attempt to talk to you, did you? That's such a foolish thought, one that you would never entertain in your life! Your Pa doesn't care about you, you've known this for years now. What makes this version of him any different? Nothing!

"I do hope I'm not interrupting anything," the woman says as she opens the door wider by bumping it with her hip, holding a stack of folded clothes in her arms. You shake your head, smiling reassuringly.

"Not at all! We were just relaxing a little bit. Today has been very overwhelming, I admit," you reply. She gives you a small smile before nodding as she comes in, placing half of the stack of clothes on your bed before going to put the rest on Jude's bed.

"I can only imagine what's going through your mind right now," she says. "I was able to find some old clothes of mine that you could perhaps change into so you don't have to go to bed in your dirty clothes."

You wrinkle your nose as you look down at your outfit. The hoodie you borrowed from Xefros was stained with troll blood and dirt, signs that let you know that your adventure hadn't been a dream. You hadn't paid much attention to it after getting home, too frantic to gather things that you found in your Pa's study that could potentially help your troll friends, but after being zapped into this alternate universe, your adrenaline levels started to decline and you became more aware of your appearance.

"Could you show me where the bathroom is?" You say as you hop off the bed. "I really could go for a bath right now."

She nods and gestures for you to follow her out of the room. She leads you down the hallway to the last door and opens it for you. "There are extra towels in the closet. If you need anything, just yell for me and I'll be right there. I'm going to show your brother the other bathroom so he can get cleaned up as well."

As she turns on her heel to leave, you realize you haven't asked for her name yet. "Oh, wait!" You grab her wrist automatically before letting go when she looks at you in surprise. "Um, sorry. I— I didn't catch your name earlier at lunch, Miss?"

Her eyes widen and she giggles sheepishly. "Oh, how rude of me! I didn't realize I never formally introduced myself to you. Forgive me, today has been a rather strange day for me as well, so my mind is just up in the clouds," she replies, touching her cheek gently. "My name is Jane. No need to call me Miss."

You think back to when you saw her coming out of the bathroom with your Pa, her cheeks wet with tears and her eyes puffy. Of course, she would be rather distracted as well. It seems that your Pa has that effect on everyone he encounters, just making things unnecessarily confusing and overwhelming. 

"Alright, thank you... Jane," you tack on awkwardly before closing the door behind her as she left, locking the door subconsciously. You're quick to pull your dirty clothes off, dropping them into the hamper in the closet before turning to the tub. You fiddle with the knobs a little, trying to figure out how to turn it on and gasp when warm water shoots out from the spout. You plug the tub and wait for it to fill up with water before settling in and turning off the water.

Busying yourself with shampooing your hair, you let yourself get lost in your thoughts. Once again you're left in a situation in which you have no idea how to navigate through thanks to your father making lousy decisions. You had managed to hear Jane yelling at him because of this, mentioning something about not caring for your feelings, but you hadn't gotten to hear his desperate reply. It was obvious to you that there was a lot more going on in the fight beside the initial discussion about you and your brother but you didn't have a chance to hear the rest when Mr. Crocker brought your attention back to lunch.

You grimace as you scrub the dirt and paint off your face, using a washcloth you had grabbed from the closet, and watching as it stains the water. Now you're left to your own devices in the hands of yet another babysitter. Will this constant cycle of disappointment from your father ever end?

Dropping your hands in the water, you stare up at the ceiling, unable to contain the anger bubbling through your core. What made him think this was a good idea?! Did he honestly think he could just waltz into your life again and take you and your brother in as if you didn't have a turbulent relationship? What was he trying to prove by doing this? Doesn't he know how much you hate him? How much you would rather fight scary monsters and face terrifying high-bloods before even giving him a chance to explain himself? He can't fix anything your relationship with him! There's nothing to be fixed! Can't fix something that never existed after all.

You splash your reflection in the water once you realize tears were slipping down your cheeks. What are you crying for? You cry for nobody! And certainly not for your good-for-nothing father who's done nothing for anybody but himself! He only cares about his stupid adventures, and his stupid mummies, and his stupid paintings of blue women. God, you hate him! Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid—

You let out a shuddery sigh, trying to calm yourself down. There's no reason for you to be crying like this honestly! You told yourself many years ago that he wasn't worth any of your tears. No matter how many nights you spent crying yourself to sleep and asking yourself why he wasn't coming back, he would never change because he didn't care enough. Never stopped once to think of what his actions were doing to you. He probably didn't even care that you were hurting.

That thought makes your chest grow tight and you decide you've had enough of sitting in the dirty bathwater. Unplugging the tub, you climb out and grab one of the towels from the closet and hurry to dry yourself off, using an extra one to dry off your black curls. You get dressed and toss the used towels into the hamper before exiting the bathroom, feeling fresh and comfortable from the bath. You just hope it isn't obvious that you were crying earlier.

 

===> Head downstairs.

 

Not ready to lock yourself back in the guest room, you decided to go downstairs. Maybe you could talk with Mr. Crocker again and ask him about the world that you're existing on. Maybe you could ask Jane about your Pa.

When you walk into the living room, it's empty so that crosses off the option of striking up a conversation with Mr. Crocker. You hear noises coming from the kitchen and walk over to see Jane sitting at the table, surrounded by millions of papers and a strange device in front of her. She seems to be busy, not even noticing your presence as she reads over separate pieces frantically before typing something on the device.

It isn't until you turn to leave that she pops her head up from the device. "Oh, is there something you need, sweetheart?" Jane asks. You turn back to face her and ignore the tightness in your chest that squeezes your lungs from the nickname.

"Not really... It's nothing important if you're busy right now," you reply sheepishly, playing with a loose curl as you avoid her eyes.

"Oh, I'm not...!" She pauses to collect her papers quickly, stacking them and bouncing them on the table to settle them down. "I'm not busy, don't worry! I was just working on some things but I can do them another time. Come, sit," she reassures you as she places the stack of papers down and closes her device, putting them aside. You walk over and take the seat next to her, unsure how to begin the conversation.

Thankfully for you, she seems to notice your awkwardness and smiles. "Feel much better after your bath?"

You nod. "Yes, thank you. I didn't realize how badly I needed one until I got here. It's kinda hard to find a chance to shower on Alternia... When you're being chased by drones and stuff," you laugh awkwardly before sighing.

"I can imagine! From what I heard, Alternia wasn't a very pleasant planet to begin with," Jane replies. "It must have been much more difficult for you to venture, being a human and all."

"Yeah, it was really... Scary. I mean, I had a friend to help me get through okay, even helping me find a disguise to wear to avoid getting caught sooner, but yeah," you trail off, furrowing your eyebrows when you think about Xefros. You hope he's doing alright.

Jane's smile falters a little and she sighs. "You must have gone through a lot in one day. Being here probably doesn't help much, does it?"

You fall silent for a moment as you think about it. "Not really," you confess, your voice almost a whisper as you sink into your chair. "I'm not really sure... How to feel about being here. I still don't get why I'm here. Like I know I'm on some alternate universe with a different version of my Pa but... I don't get why he brought us here."

She purses her lips, looking away from you. "From what I know, you aren't very fond of your father, right?"

"That's one way to put it," you mutter under your breath. "After my mom's death, he was never really been around so I rather not even consider him my dad. As far as I'm concerned, he's dead to me," you reply bitterly.

She surprises you with a small laugh, one you're pretty sure is forced. "Yes, well I can't be too shocked about that. He only told me a little bit of what he saw but it's not too hard to see why you're reluctant to approach this version of him."

"What's he like? This version of him?" You blurt out, unable to contain your curiosity.

Taking a moment to think the question over, Jane taps her chin in thought. "I'm not sure if I can compare him to the one you knew as your father, but Jake... He is...?" She furrows her eyebrows, wrinkling her nose a little. "He is an interesting person, a mixture of contradictions. On one hand, he can be intelligent, kind, charming, and strong but on the other, he can be a coward, selfish, weak, oblivious."

You frown, huffing slightly. "Selfish and cowardly are good ways to describe him," you mutter and she chuckles with a nod.

"He means well, even if his actions come off selfish sometimes," she offers in his defense. "He's always been like that since we were children, doing his best to make everyone happy but at the same time, shying away from anything that would make him unhappy. He was never one to complicate things."

"How long have you known him?"

"Oh, it's been years now! He and I met online through our mutual friends on Pesterchum. Really, it felt like fate when we discovered that we were all friends despite having different interests," Jane explains with a small grin. "It was fun back then, talking to them and having nothing to worry about. Things were much simpler back when we were children."

You furrow your eyebrows in question. "What's Pesterchum?"

"You didn't use Pesterchum? It was a chat site online where you could just talk to people. Of course, I used a different site because it was run by the company I was to inherit but eventually I had to switch over to Pesterchum to keep in contact with the others."

"Oh, kinda like Trollian?" You reply, tilting your head to the side in confusion. "I wasn't really an online kind of person. The interwebs always looked kinda boring to me, plus we didn't even have a computer at home. Jude liked using the ones at the library in town, but I never got what was so fun about it."

Jane stares at you with a puzzled expression, almost as if you had just grown troll horns from your head. "You didn't...?" She asks in disbelief. "Joey, what year were you born in?"

"1980, why?"

She lets out a gasp. "Goodness, you'd technically be my senior then!" She says, covering her mouth in surprise. "I wasn't born until 1995!"

Wait, what? Now it's your turn to stare at her like she's gone mad. "How...? How is that even possible if you're older than me? Like right now?"

"Alternate universes, remember?" Jane replies and your shoulders slump. Of course, how could you forget? She wasn't from your universe.

"Wait... So if you're from a different universe, does that mean there's a version of me and Jude in this one?"

Jane's smile drops and she avoids your gaze, fiddling with her fingers a little as she tries to answer properly. "Well, I'm not... Entirely sure. I don't know if I can really explain how this alternate universe thing even works because I think it's a little different than what you know from science fiction!" She says with a nervous laugh. "I've never really given a thought to the mechanics of the universe that surround us because it's all quite confusing! Especially explaining how we got here because we weren't originally from this world."

"And where were you originally from...?" You ask hesitantly, struggling to wrap your mind around her vague responses. For once, you wish Jude was here with you because you're sure he would be able to connect the dots a lot better than you would but you're sure he's not feeling up to the task of talking to strangers. He's always been shy with people, getting jittery and jumpy after spending too much time around them. Just another effect from your social isolation.

"I think that's something for your father to explain to you," Jane murmurs in response, looking apologetic. "He's the one who brought you into this mess so I think it's only fair that he be the one to catch you up on everything and answer your questions. Perhaps once he comes back, you can ask him whatever you want."

Looking down at the countertop, you try not to glare at the stone and appear rude but just the idea of having to talk to you Pa makes your stomach churn with anger. You would much rather pretend that he didn't exist and ask someone else to explain everything to you. Even spending time in the same room as him is starting to make you see red.

She must have noticed your internal struggle because she gets up, going around to pat your shoulder gently. "I know it's hard to talk to him, considering what a version of him did to you, but unfortunately, you're going to have to. He's somewhat insisting on doing well by you and I know he won't stop until he achieves his goal," she says softly, rubbing your shoulder. "But if he ever steps out of line, just let me know and I'll have a stern word with me, alright?"

You sigh and nod begrudgingly. You still have no intentions of trying to get on better terms with him. He could shower you with all the lavish gifts in the world but it will not be enough to even mutter a single word to him! He doesn't deserve your forgiveness and that's that!

"Thank you, Miss Jane," you reply with a small smile. When she pulls away from you, you get up from your chair. "Thank you... For everything. I think I'll be going back to my room now."

"Of course, if you ever need anything, I'm here to help!" She reminds you cheerfully, smiling warmly at you.

Thanking her once more, you turn on your heel and leave the kitchen, your heartstrings all tied up in knots. Guess you'll have to play the waiting game once more.

Chapter Text

“You did WHAT?!”

Wincing at Jade’s rising voice, you internally remind yourself that technically had this coming. From the moment the transmaterializer exploded, you knew she was going to have a fit and eat you alive, especially after finding out why the machine had exploded. Nevertheless,  it still hurts a lot and you try to fight the urge to run away, to distract her from the problem on hand and make your escape before she can realize what you were doing. You've only seen Jade get angry once and that was when she went grimbark and transported you into the jail cell that haunt your nightmares. Oh, you had forgotten she had a hand in that whole mess. How interesting.

"Perhaps I should've thought out the whole thing a little more, but I just couldn't let it go, Jade!" You defend yourself, clenching your fists on the counter. She standing across from you, her white doggy ears pointed upwards and her canines bared in that way that lets you know she's pissed. And she has every reason to be! You destroyed a three month's worth of work in one night! Who fucks up that badly?

"Jake, you're telling me you understand the implications of what you've done. You overloaded the transmaterilizer with hope energy, destroyed the damn thing, and managed to zap two kids from the beta universe into this one. That shouldn't even be a thing that could happen or even if it is, you might have just caused a doomed timeline for these kids! Or even us!"

Your wince grows deeper. Oh, you really didn't even think about that. You had forgotten that doomed timelines were a thing to begin with, seeing as you hadn't had to think about the mechanics of the game in years.  There's just more layers to your fuck ups, aren't there?

"It only really worked because of my hope powers," you offer weakly. She slams her hands on the counter top before throwing them into the air with a loud groan.

"I thought you couldn't even use those things! Why now? What was so different this time that you actually were able to access them?" She asks, irritation dripping from every word. It stings, every single thing she says burning your heart like a cigarette to the skin. You saw this coming, knew that her anger would consume you once she found out, but you couldn't prepare yourself for it.

"I-I'm not sure... Honestly, I didn't think it was going to work either but then it started happening a-and I couldn't stop. Jade, I promise if I had any control over them, I wouldn't have overloaded the machine! It was never my intention to do that," you stammer quickly, trying to defuse the situation. "I'm such a goof sometimes, I really should've thought the whole thing through but I didn't and now I've caused such a jumbled up mess of everything."

When you look up at Jade, she's pinching her nose in irritation, her eyes closed as she tries to calm down, most likely counting her breaths. Oddly enough, her anger reminds you a lot like how Jane gets when she's cross with you and it makes you shift uncomfortably in your chair, the urge to run growing inside of your chest and making it hard to breathe.

An eternity of silence seems to pass between the two of you and she leaves the kitchen without another word, not even sparing you a glance as she leaves, and you bite down on your bottom lip, not even flinching when you taste blood on your tongue. You can feel your eyes stinging with tears threatening to spill over, a lump of anger forming in your throat. You shouldn't really be getting mad about Jade being upset with you. Getting mad at Jane when she yelled at you the other day was different because she didn't understand you or the reason why you thought it was a good thing to do. She didn't realize the heaviness of your mistakes from alternate realities weighing down on your shoulders like a boulder. Didn't realize how guilty you felt for all of this.

But looking at Jade now, you can only think about how much effort had gone up in smoke because of your careless actions. Sure, you felt guilty but does that validate your actions that resulted in destroying the transmaterializer? No, of course not! Just as much as you wanted to learn about yourself, Jade was excited to discover what kind of woman she had grown up to be in your universe. She had questions she wanted answered and things she wanted to see and you, like absolute idiot that you, ruined that chance for her. Nice going, Jake.

Before you can start crying pathetically, she comes back into the kitchen, looking a little more collected than before. She lets out a deep breath and pressing her hands together before opening her eyes once more to look at you, her expression more relaxed but still rather intense. "Okay, let's just..." She pauses, trying to reign her anger in as she thinks about it a little more. "Do you have the codes that we had typed up?"

"Yes, of course! I had them saved on my handy dandy husktop! Thankfully, it had been spared by the explosion somehow," you reply quickly.

"Okay, so do you still have the blueprints?"

You pull them out of your sylladex, holding them out for Jade to see. "Always carried them with me!"

She lets out another sigh and drops her hands, shoulders sagging in relief. "At least we don't have to start completely from scratch," she mumbles before rubbing her temples in frustration. You lower the blueprints and frown once more.

"Uh, if you don't want to help, that's quite alright. I've actually asked Mr. Strider to help me so we can get this done a lot sooner and not worry about causing too much damage to their timeline," you say quietly, coughing into your fist awkwardly. Jade looks up at you immediately, staring at you with confusion.

"You're asking Dirk to help you?" She asks incredulously, her initial anger having disappeared in an instant. You're quite aware that she was never really fond of Dirk, from the moment you started coming to her for advice whenever things between the two of you got too hot to handle. She knew about your tumultuous relationship with him and grew more resentful of him with each time that she met him. 

"Yes...? Is there a problem with that?" You ask, straightening up in your seat as you shift your gaze away from her, unable to hold complete eye contact with her.

"I mean, no? But I thought you guys weren't talking?" Jade replies, wrinkling her nose slightly. "Why are you going to ask him?"

Frowning at her disapproval, you shift your weight on your seat, looking down at your hands. "I mean, I already feel bad that I'm monopolizing so much of your time with this project and I thought, perhaps, we could fix it up sooner if Dirk were to help! Maybe he could even make it better than we had it!"

Jade's expression falls and you can tell she's not amused by your decision. "Jake, do you really think that's a good idea? For both of you?"

The corner of your lip twitches in irritation and you cross your arms. "Yes, I don't doubt it'll be a great idea! Dirk is very talented with machinery and alien technology as you very well know and he has the space to make the parts in his house!"

"Then why hadn't you asked him to help you out the first time to help you rebuild it?"

"Because things were terribly awkward, Jade! You don't just call up a person you haven't interacted well with in over a couple months and be like "Well, hello ol' chap! Say, do you think you could hope over onto my island that's thousands of miles away from you? Oh, it's for nothing much! Just this old machine that I'd like to fix up for my own fancy! Yes, we will be staying here for months on end! Together! Alone! On an island! You and me! " You shoot back, shaking your head.

"Well, then why did you call him to pick you up from the island after the machine exploded?" Jade spits back, mimicking your stance and crossing her arms.

"Because I was concussed and missed the hell out of him!"

It takes you a moment to realize what you had said and your eyes widen, bringing your hands up to cover up your mouth, as if that would bring back what you had confessed. Well, it was no surprise to anyone that you missed Dirk's company, it was still embarrassing for you to say it out loud to anyone else. No matter how many times you denied it when someone would ask you if you were feeling bad about Dirk not being around, it was clear as day to see that it affected you in a negative manner.

Your cheeks burn hotly as silence settles within the room like dust, filling your lungs and making them burn. You can't bring yourself to look at Jade after that, staring at every corner of the kitchen to avoid her hard gaze.

She hums in disapproval, shaking her head slowly. "I can't say I understand why you still go back to him after everything that had happened to you, but..." She purses her lips as she thinks about it a little more. "It's your life, I guess. You can do what you want, even if it does seem kind of a bad idea."

"Is he really that bad for me?” You ask hesitantly. "I've missed him so much, I hardly even think about the bad things. Or at least not in a way where I don't wonder if all of that was my fault or not," you clarify with a deep sigh.

You've never... Really thought of the idea of being near Dirk as being bad for you. While you will admit to thinking of your earlier relationship with him as being toxic and bad for the both of you, you never thought that would extend to your friendship. Besides, it couldn't have been all his fault! There were some bad things that you did and seem to continue to do if the hesitant manner that Dirk is treating you with has anything to say about it.

Deciding you don't like that train of thought, you wave it off. "Regardless, we've managed to clear the air so it's fine now. There's no pending issues between us so we'll be just dandy, Jade! I swear on it!" You say confidently, trying to make sure that your smile was just as so, but one look at her face and you can tell she doesn't believe you. Not even a little bit.

"I dunno, Jake. It just feels a little like you're jumping the gun here," Jade mumbles. "I still don't trust Dirk but if you really wanna work on the project with him then be my guest. Just make sure you don't get caught up in his drama."

"I doubt anything of that sort will happen but will do," you reassure her, still unable to stop frowning. It's rather irritating to think that she doesn't really seem to trust your ability at keeping things civil with your good friend. You hadn't really hashed everything out with Dirk like you had told her, but just enough to start talking again and that's good enough, isn't it? It'll take you two a while to get back into the swing of things but it'll happen eventually! You're actually kind of excited to get this project started, ready to get your missing dose of Strider Company. You're sure you're going to be talking his head off so much that he'll be the one to get sick of you. 

"So what about the kids?" Jade asks, turning around to walk to her fridge, opening it up and scouring the inside carefully.

"Oh, yes! They're staying with Jane for the meantime while I get the house situation settled," you reply, happy to have a change of conversation. "There's a large house on the edge of Can-town that I've got my eye on and I think it'll be a great place to settle down with the children! The yard stretches into the forest nearby, so there's a lot of space to just explore and frolic through!"

"So you're going to move?"

Your brain comes to screeching halt as you notice the edge that you're trekking on and how close you are to falling in headfirst. Jade's not looking at you, but you can hear a hint of sadness in her voice as she notes that you're finally moving out, away from her.

"Well, I kinda have to, Jade!" You reply with an awkward laugh. "The old apartment doesn't have enough space for two children and I know they'll get rather bored of being cooped up there all day while I go work with Dirk on the machine. Plus, it was something I've been... Thinking about for the longest time! I just don't feel well in that little old apartment anymore, brings back way too many bad memories..."

Jade remains silent as she pulls out a bag of grapes, tossing them haphazardly onto the counter top, and slamming the fridge shut before walking over to another of her cabinets to look for a bowl for the grapes. You watch her, unsure of what else to say as each action becomes more aggressive and angrier. Yup, she definitely inherited Jane's fury.

"How long have you been thinking of moving out?" She asks, her voice deadly calm. You let out a deep breath and roll your eyes to the ceiling, trying to think of when the idea of leaving Can-town really popped into your head. From the start, you hadn't been too keen on moving in, seeing as everyone was so closely packed together. It was too overwhelming for you, in good ways and in bad. You only really stayed because all your friends were here and you wanted to be with them! Why move far away from them when you've spent your entire life wishing to be in their company always?

But as always, even if it was something that you deeply craved, you found yourself quickly growing tired of the same old thing. Waking up to the same four walls, wrapped in the same old blankets, seeing the same old buildings, and watching the same old people go by. As much as you tried to ignore it, the stay at home life wasn't for you. You needed change and you needed it fast but you've always been afraid of what consequences would follow if you were to fall to your self-indulgent desires.

"I think... I've always really wanted to move out," you confess quietly, lowering your gaze to your lap as you fiddle with your hands uselessly. "I've been meaning to bring it up to you a lot sooner, especially the day when we decided to go on that trip to the island, but... I couldn't bring myself to say anything in regards to leaving because you..."

You lift your head finally and find her staring hard at you, her eyes difficult to read. Your thoughts falter a little, her glare leaving you a little discombobulated, but the train picks up once more and you press forward.

"I know how the thought of people leaving hurts you, Jade," You say carefully, knowing well that now you were playing with fire. "And I was afraid that in telling you that I was thinking of moving, you'd get upset and think it had something to do with you, which it doesn't!" You say quickly, raising your hands when you see her open her mouth to retort. "But I would like to apologize for not being upfront with you from the beginning. I should've told you instead of dragging you to the island for three months."

Jade stares at you silently, the fire in her eyes slowly dying out, and she lets out a deep sigh before pushing her curls out of her face. She's tired, but tired of what? Putting up with your nonsense? Tired of being lied to? Tired of being left behind? Or perhaps you're just projecting Dirk onto her once more. Wow, you really don’t like that thought either so you ignore it, waiting patiently for her response. You don't dare make a noise, afraid that it'll startle whatever thought she's having and make her hide within herself once more. You feel like you shouldn't even breathe.

"To be honest, I kinda already knew that you wanted to leave," Jade confesses, much to your surprise. "I always knew deep inside that you weren't really comfortable being here but you always stayed no matter what happened so I figured that you ended up growing to like it here in Can-town. It was a silly thought, seeing as you've never really been one to settle down in one place for a long time. If it weren't for the Frog Temple and his untimely death, I'm sure Grandpa would've moved us to different places."

When she looks up at you, she's forcing a weak smile and your heart aches. "You shouldn't have to apologize. If anything, I should for making you feel obligated to stay," she replies, her voice rather shaky. "It's fine though! You won't be leaving too far, right? I'll still be able to visit you?"

"Of course, Jade! Like I said, it'll be on the outskirts of town! While I prefer to have my own space, that doesn't mean I'll completely isolate myself from the rest of my friends!"

Are you sure about that? The voice whispers in your head and you fight the urge to swing at the empty air, as if you were swatting away a pesky fly, but you're sure Jade would look at you like you had gone mad. You really wish you could shush that nagging voice though.

This seems to be enough to lift her spirits, her smile becoming more genuine, and she claps her hands together. You wonder how she does it, hop seamlessly from emotion to emotion without a stutter and not feel overwhelmed by it. It's kind of worrying as well but you digress.

"I'll visit you when  you finally move in then! I really wanna meet these kids and see what they're like!" She says brightly, turning back to put a bunch of grapes into the bowl she had pulled out from one of the cabinets. You rub the back of your neck awkwardly as you think of Joey and Jude, wondering how they would react to seeing Jade. There's no way you'll be telling them that she was your adopted granddaughter in their universe.

"Er, well... I'm not sure myself. I've made myself pretty scarce lately because my presence just seems to make them both ill at ease," you admit sheepishly before sighing deeply and dropping your arm. "It's going to be really tough to get them to warm up to me but I suppose I have enough time to make it up to them! Or at least I hope I will."

Jade giggles as she zips up the bag of grapes and puts them back in the fridge. "I'm sure you'll do just fine. As long as you don't give up on them, what's the worst that can happen?"

You refrain from saying something negative, in fear that you'll kill the mood, and just shrug. "I suppose you're right. If everything is to go as planned, I'll be signing the papers today in the afternoon and the movers will start taking all my things from the apartment tomorrow and into the new house! I wanted to take the children to see it first but again... Things are a bit tense."

She washes the grapes carefully under a gentle stream of water. "I'm sure they'll love it. Especially if it has a lot of space to roam around so you guys aren't cramped in one small space. It'll be good for when they get fed up with being to close, I guess," she says with a wrinkle of her nose, almost as if she couldn't fathom the idea of wanting to get away from people.

And you guess, she really can't. Her life has been filled with so much loneliness, thanks to your negligence and also because of the cruel game that governed your lives. Your shoulders slump at this thought as you watch her turn off the water and pour the excess water that was trapped in the bowl before carrying it over to the island to sit next to you.

You can't help but wonder, had you been a better guardian, could you have prevented the curse that seems to surround her?

 


 

 

Much to your own surprise, it takes a lot longer to move into the house than you anticipated.

You hadn't realized you had so much... Stuff. The movers were coming in and out like busy ants, trying to do their best to hurry as much as possible to get you settled in quickly. You had done your best to reassure them to take their time, that it's fine if they get done a little bit late, but your comforting words fell on deaf ears. They drove everything down to the large house on the outskirts of town and managed to get everything into the house by sundown, which blew you away but also made you feel relieved that you weren't going to have to sleep in your old apartment again in a sleeping bag.

Jane had dropped off the kids as soon as you called her to tell her that the movers had finished. She gave you a small smile, telling you that the house was very lovely, before leaving, her red heels click-clacking against the cobblestone path that lead up to the entrance of your brand new home. You watched her get into her expensive looking car with the chauffeur sitting patiently at the wheel before driving off carefully, leaving you with the children standing awkwardly behind you.

Which leads you to now.

You turn quickly to face your children (gosh, that still sounds so weird to say) and smile as warmly as you can. "So! Um, this is... Our brand new home! I hope you'll like staying here in the meantime."

Both Joey and Jude look at the house at the same time, neither of them uttering a single word, before sharing a secret look between the two of them. Joey finally looks up at you, crossing her arms across her chest with a frown on her lips. "It just looks like the one you ran away from," she says sharply before heading towards the house, head held high. Jude follows after her silently, his head ducked down as he holds onto the straps of his book bag that Jane had bought for him to carry the clothes she had gotten for him.

Your pride is very much wounded but you force yourself to maintain a positive attitude as you follow after them. The house is two stories high, covered with stones of different shades of brown and large windows to let in the light. There's a little garden surrounding the outside of the house, trimmed uniformly in a way that you're sure that will bother you until you ask Jade to help you mess it up a bit. Maybe you could ask her for some of the seeds of the planets she has at her apartment so you can add some variety to the garden. Make it a lot more comfortable.

The door is unlocked because of the movers so Joey wastes no time in going inside, looking around carefully at the mostly empty house. While you had a lot of stuff to move, it wasn't nearly enough to fill the many rooms and hallways so you're sure you're going to have to go shopping for more furniture. The only new furniture you have now are the two beds you quickly bought for the children. 

"What do you think about the house though?" You ask, trying to make some conversation. "I know it feels pretty empty now but we can fill it with anything you like! There's enough room to have things like a game room or a movie room!" You say as you level down to meet Jude's gaze. He pointedly avoids your eyes, looking at everything but your face.

Joey seems to be the only one who can look at you right now but she only stares at you with a look of disdain. "What's the point if you're only going to fill it up with all of your useless junk anyways?" She sneers, narrowing her eyes at you. "We're not even going to stay here long enough for it to really matter anyways so why bother?"

"Joey..." Jude hisses under his breath, eyes glancing over at her, but she's undeterred. You straighten yourself up and clear your throat awkwardly, unsure how to address this hostility. For a fourteen year old, she's terribly mean! You don't recall any of your friends being that mean when you were that age!

"I mean, it still matters a little bit," you reply weakly, pulling at your collar. "You'll be staying here with me for a couple months while we get the transmaterializer working once again so it's best that you get settled in a nice and comfy place in the meanwhile," you explain, trying to maintain the smile on your face.

"I would rather sleep outside, thanks," she shoots back before walking past you, glaring forward as she walks into the living room, plopping down on your cheap couch and dropping her book bag on the ground with a low thud. You sigh, glancing over at her once, before turning towards Jude, who's just watching you warily.

"I can show you your room, if you like," you offer quietly, unable to fake your sunny demeanor any longer. Jude only nods and follows you up to the staircase leading upstairs. Your footsteps echo against the wooden planks, making you wish you had bought a radio or something to have something to kill the unbearable silence that floods the house. At this point, you're going to need to make a list to figure out what things you need to buy yet, starting with that radio.

You stop at one of the bedrooms that you had picked out for Jude. It's still bare, the light blue wallpaper staring back at you blankly, but there's a bed with a pillow and a blanket for Jude to use. Maybe you should take them shopping so they can choose what things they want to decorate their rooms with, to make them look nicer and livable.

Jude walks in quietly, placing the back bag on the bed and looking around the room, admiring the small details of the wooden base and crown that cover the room. You're not sure what to say so you're standing awkwardly in the doorway, shifting your weight to one foot to the other. When the younger boy finally looks up at you, you flinch, almost expected some snarky reply from him too.

"Try not to take Joey's remarks too personally," he says softly, hopping onto the bed. "I think she's still having problems with coming to terms that you're a different version of our Pa so she just expects you to be a dead-beat. It's weird for the both of us to see you being... All nice and stuff."

"Ah," you say dumbly, unable to keep yourself from frowning a little. "I should've expected that, seeing as what you've been through, but it still hurts a little," you confess before walking into the room, closing the distance between you and Jude. "What about you? How do you feel about being here?"

The boy presses his lips in thought, an action so familiar to your own that it gives you whiplash, before shrugging. "Kinda confused a little? I still haven't gathered enough intel to understand what exactly happened but I'm not as upset as Joey is about it," he replies. "I suppose it's because I don't harbor the same resentment towards our Pa that she does that I'm not as bothered? I still resent him for leaving but I wasn't really close to him to begin with. He left when I was still a toddler."

"Joey was close to her fa— Um, me?" You ask, quickly correcting yourself. He shrugs once more.

"That's my theory for why she hates him so much," Jude clarifies. "It only makes sense for why she resents him if they were close when he left. Since she’s older, she probably has more memories of him than I do of before and felt more betrayed because she knows he wasn't originally like that ."

You can't help but wince a little. "Has she ever told you about what he was like before your mother's passing?" You ask hesitantly, unsure if it was a sore topic for him. Jude doesn't seem to flinch, doesn't seem to react in any way that would make you back off, and just shakes his head, kicking his legs slightly.

"She doesn't really like to talk about him unless it's to badmouth him. At this point, I think she's probably forgotten any happy memories of him in favor of being able to hate him more easily," he notes.

What an intelligent and observant child, you think to yourself. Could he really be mine?

"That's quite an observation, Jude," you reply with a small smile. "I'm guessing you're very close to your sister."

He looks at you with a sharp gaze, unlike the insecure expression that he had carried since he had arrived on Earth-C. Your smile drops and you move to raise your hands in defense, in case his words are just as sharp and wounding as Joey's, but he softens his presence by shrugging once more.

"Doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the obvious," he says sagely. "But yeah, I think we're rather close. Besides my friends at school, she's the only one I really trust. We need each other to make things work out, you know? Whenever we argue too much, Roxy always said that at the end of the day, we were still siblings. Whether we like it or not, we only really have each other. I thought it sounded kinda cheesy and lame when she said it, mostly because she was kinda... Buzzed all the time?" He wrinkles his nose at this and you frown a little. "But I didn't really get it until Joey was whisked away to Alternia through the Cherub Portal."

"About that," you reply as you settle down on the bed next to him, the springs in the mattress groaning under your weight. "What happened that night? I wasn't able to see much through the transportalizer because the screen kept blacking out at various points of the day, to the point that it just blacked completely until I changed the date."

Jude blinks at you in confusion. "I'll tell you only if you promise to tell me what your deal is too. I wanna know what's up with that gizmo you keep mentioning," he replies firmly. His serious gaze catches you off guard but you smile and stick out your hand for him to shake.

"I promise I'll tell you everything ," you say sincerely. He eyes you up and down suspiciously before taking your hand and gripping it firmly as he shakes it.

"Alright!" He pulls his hands away to clasp them together. "Gee willikers, where to start?" He says as he stares forward, furrowing his eyebrows in thought.

"Wherever you see fit, I suppose."

Jude remains silent for a while, his lips twitching a little as he tries to collect his thoughts. "To sum a long story short, Pa had this contraption up in the attic called the Cherub Portal that I had spent many years trying to study but to no avail was I able to uncover any important information about it. Like where it came from and what it really did," he explains as he pulls out a folded piece of  aged paper from his sylladex and unfolds it. "However, I did find this diagram that showed me how it's built and such but the handwriting on it is practically impossible to decipher!"

You lean over his shoulder to take a peek at the diagram and huff a little. That's your messy handwriting alright. You're sure you were quite in a hurry when you scribbled these descriptions down because even you yourself is having a hard time trying to make out what you wrote! Though you will admit your artistic ability is impeccable! Truly you have mastered the art of sketching blueprints, it would even make Dirk shed a single, manly tear upon lying eyes at your beautifully and painstakingly drawn mechanics.  That is, if you ever dared show him the diagram.

"Yeah, no clue how to aid you there, buddy," you say sheepishly when he looks up at you expectantly, the small glimmer of hope in his eyes that you would be able to tell him. He pouts and folds the paper once more before shoving it into his sylladex.

"Well, regardless, I could never figure out how to get the thing to open or turn on, no matter how much I prodded and poked at it. It had a keyhole in the center but I never knew where the key to it was so I just let it go in the meantime," Jude says, clenching his fists slightly in frustration. "Joey must have been holding onto it without knowing what it was because she managed to get the thing open after heading into the attic to save herself from the serpents invading our home!"

"Serpents?" You can't help but sound a little amused. Were you anyone else, you would've laughed and dismissed Jude as silly, but because you are you, you know that anything like that is possible. Especially in any universe that has to do with the game.

There are universes without the game?

"Serpents!" He declares dramatically. "The came in out of the nothing and ransacked the house! I was able to abscond to the safety of my tree-house but Joey ran back to the house and had to scurry around to find the key to the attic. Once there, she unlocked the Cherub Portal somehow and got sent to Alternia, all the while switching places with this rude troll named Dammek!"

"Oh, so you got the chance to meet some trolls, huh?" You ask curiously.

"Not really, just Dammek. Joey met a whole lot more since she was stuck on their planet." He puffs out his cheeks in irritation, kicking his legs slightly. "She's so lucky! Gosh, what I wouldn't give to go to a new planet and meet aliens!"

You laugh softly at his excitement and fight the urge to ruffle his hair affectionately. "Well, we don't really consider them aliens anymore on Earth-C but I'm sure I could introduce you to a troll or two."

Jude settles down and looks at you with wide-eyed wonder. "Earth-C? Is that what this place is called?" When you nod, he scrunches up his face again. "Why?"

Letting out a deep sigh, you wonder where would be a perfect place to start. Even though you've talked about the game with the others various times, you constantly feel like you've missed out on a lot of information. Usually it would be Rose explaining the details of their session and while you've grown accustomed to Strider's eccentric vocabulary, Rose's manner of speaking often made it hard for you to really understand what she was trying to say. It's fair to say you probably aren't sure of the whole story.

"I'll do my best to explain it to you but you'll have to forgive me because it's been quite a few years since this whole thing came about and there's so many parts that I don't understand myself," you confess before launching into your retelling of the game. 

You begin with the explanation of your universe and the circumstances that you lived in along with your friends before telling Jude about the game that would ultimately cause the end of the world but also bring all four of you together. You skip over the messy parts of your session, not really keen on letting your son know about the emotional hiccups you went through due to your cowardice. You tell him about how the hidden scriptures in the tombs told about another four players that were to come and "fix" your void session, which did come to pass, all four players being younger, alternate versions of the guardians you had grown up.

"Their universe had been titled B1 while mine was B2 so when the time came to name this new universe, we all decided on it being called Earth-C," you explain to him, unable to hold back your grin when you look down at Jude, seeing how he's staring at you in awe and clinging onto your every word.

You tell him about the final fight that lead to your victory and the creation of this universe, along with all the ectobiology nonsense that you had to do to re-populate the Earth once more. By the time you finish, Jude is practically bouncing in his spot, the bed creaking loudly with each movement.

"Holy moly, that's absolutely incredible!" He exclaims excitedly. "Who would've thought the whole alternate universes theory would be correct? It's a little confusing to think about, the fact that there's so many worlds existing at once but relying on the destruction of the other to also begin?" He wrinkles his nose as he tries to organize it in his head properly before shaking his head. "Never mind that! But all the new technology you got to use, including alien programming! Everyone back home said it was a load of baloney! HA! I'd like to see those nonbelievers try to explain themselves now!"

You can't stop yourself from snorting and laughing at Jude's excitement. In all honesty, it's endearing to see him gush like that, words rushing from his lips like a roaring river without a single hint of hesitation or fear. It reminds you a little about when you were younger and spent hours upon hours talking about your favorite movies with Dirk, seeing as he was the only one who really seemed to listen and take you somewhat seriously. Roxy was often intoxicated so having a productive conversation about movies was as common as you being able to beat the Brobot, which was close to none. Jane was never that interested in your movies either, never actually having seen them or finding them too boring to even talk about. While Dirk might have criticized you about your lack of taste in movies, at least he was willing to talk to you about them and remind you why they were your favorite through your explaining it to him.

"It is quite fascinating, isn't it?" You reply, earning a nod from the boy. "I'm sure you have lots of questions still, seeing as there were many details I wasn't too sure about, but perhaps when we visit Dirk, we can ask him about it! I know for sure he has spoken with Rose about their session to tie up all the loose ends and understands the game a lot better than I do. If Dave shows up, I'm sure Karkat will be with him so you could ask him about what happened on Alternia and during his session."

Still telling yourself that? Don't be so coy, English, you hear BGD's voice echo in your head and it takes every ounce of self-control you have in your body not to snap out loud and swat at your ear. Ever since you had destroyed the transmaterializer, he's made himself scarce, his voice the only reminder of his existence.

"This still feels like something out of a dream, to be frank with you. Like this universe has everything I've ever dreamed of seeing! Aliens, advanced technology, conspiracies becoming unraveled! It's all so incredible but..." He trails off, gnawing his bottom lip with his signature buck teeth.  "We can't stay here for too long."

His words makes your mood drop like a yo-yo and your shoulders slump a little. "Yes, unfortunately you can't. I'll admit I hadn't been thinking straight when I zapped you both into this universe, not once having stopped to think if this would be alright with you two or what it would mean for your universe. It was a selfish action that I hope I can still have a chance to repair."

Jude glances at you, lips pressed together, before turning his gaze towards his shoes, kicking his feet together. "I'm just worried about Dammek and the others. Joey said there was something bad happening on Alternia and there was something in the basement that could help us but I can't remember what it was that she said," he mumbles, clenching his fists. "I guess it doesn't really matter now because we're here on this universe and not home but I still worry. I just hope Dammek is doing okay, despite whatever may happen."

You sigh a little. "Well, I wouldn't worry too much about your friends or the idea of arriving late to their aid," you reassure him, reaching out to put an awkward but comforting hand on Jude's shoulder. He looks up at you in surprise, not having expected your touch, but he doesn't pull away, something that makes you smile a bit. "Lucky for us, the transportalizer has the option to send things at specific moments so I could just zap you back to the exact moment that I took you from so you can continue whatever you had planned on doing," you explain.

"That sounds like that shouldn't be possible but I know better than to be skeptical of such things! Apparently, anything can be possible at this point," he replies with a more relaxed tone of voice.

"You got that right," you mutter, looking down at your hands as you recall the way yellow light shone from them that night. Couldn't you technically wish them back to their universe and be over with it? It is in your power to make the impossible possible.

But where's the fun in that? Don't you want to see where this leads you? Might as well see it to the very end, don't you think?

Ignoring your thoughts, you get up from the bed before turning to face Jude. "Well, I'll leave you to unpack for now. Maybe one of these days we can head out to the shopping district to buy whatever tickles your fancy to make your space a lot more nicer, alright?" You reply with a smile. Jude shyly returns it and nods.

"Yes, thank you," he replies quietly.

Not wanting to make things awkward, you head out of the room swiftly, closing the door behind you and quietly fist pump the air in success. Well, that went a lot better than you expected it to go! Jude seems to be a lot more forgiving than his sister, which is honestly a relief because you have no idea what you would do if both of them hated your guts with every inch of their souls. At least you know you'll have someone to talk to and not have to deal with the awful silence that echos throughout the house —really, you need to get a radio real fucking soon—.

You walk down the hallway, looking up at the brass chandeliers that hang from the ceiling, before stopping at the door leading to your bedroom. You grab the doorknob, moving to turn it, when you hear the floorboards creak a couple feet away. Glancing towards the side, you're surprised to see Joey standing at the end of the hallway, a neutral gaze on her face as she stares at you.

You're not quite sure what to do, afraid that addressing her will only cause her to say something mean to you. Ignoring her would be just as terrible of an idea as that so you just wait by the door, hoping she'll make the first move.

She crosses her arms and narrows her eyes at you, a sharp look that cuts through your very being and makes you feel small. "Jude might be playing nice with you, but don't expect me to do the same any time soon. You're not my actual dad and you never will be so you might as well cut the act while you're ahead," she says sternly before walking to the nearest room, the one you had picked out for her room. She slams the door behind her, leaving you alone in the hallway with only your thoughts to keep you company.

Letting out a deep sigh, you press your back against your bedroom door and stare at the ceiling. This is going to be a lot tougher than you thought.

 




===> Watch her Dance.

 

Well, no one has to tell you that twice!

Jazz music lingers through the air as you fan yourself with a show pamphlet, the hot summer air attempting to suffocate you. It doesn't help that the room is crowded with so many people, all of them talking among themselves and other smoking their pipes. If you could, you'd tell them to shush or to get out so you could hear the music better and focus on the dancing star on stage but honestly, it would be a waste of breath. No one would care that they were bothering you or that they were being rude to the dancer performing. You are just a faceless nobody among the crowd, here to watch another performer tap her shiny shoes in the middle of the room on the dance floor. You are no one.

Dropping the pamphlet, you sigh deeply to yourself as you rest your chin on your hands, your elbows rudely pressed onto the table. You can't take your eyes off the lovely dancer as she smiles coyly and shakes her hips fluidly, moving from partner to partner. The way she moves almost makes it seem like her bones have molded into something softer, letting her move her limbs in ways that shock you. Her flashy steps makes you eager to get up onto the dance floor to join her and see if you're any match for her quick footing but you're a little too old for that, you think. Your bones are starting to ache when you move too fast, often times popping in ways that make you rather embarrassed so you don't dance as often as you used to.

The dancer glides across the dance floor with her partner, the spotlight following wherever she moved, reflecting off the crystals on her immaculate white dress. She's so beautiful, it practically makes your heart hurt. You wish you had brought some flowers with you to leave at her dressing room but you hadn't been expecting to be so taken in by her! You had only showed up to her performance because one of the guys at the company said she was an amazing dancer and that her performances were always incredible to watch! Sometimes, she would take guys from the crowd to dance with her!

While you weren't expecting her to choose among the throng of many handsome and younger men, just watching her was enjoyable enough for you. She's bright, the star among a night sky. A small part of you wants to ask if she dances here on regularly so you can come often and perhaps leave her a gift or two. You don't think you'll actually approach her any time soon though. It's not to say you're shy or anything but you think it's best to lay low when it comes to anything in regards to romance, considering the misfortune you tend to have with your lovers.

(You swear you're not thinking about your first wife, nope. There was no way to avoid that, you swear on everything that is sacred. You couldn't avoid it. How where you supposed to know that h—)

"And now, our lovely Ms. Claire will choose one of you lucky fellows for a dance or two! Hope you're looking bright and ready to cut the rug because here she comes!" The announcer booms into the microphone, snapping you out of your thoughts and you sit up in your seat as you watch Ms. Claire come off the dance floor, flitting about the tables as she inspects every gentleman with a coy smile. Some of them beg her for a dance, promising her that they'd be a good dance partner but she just giggles and glides past them.

Your heart starts racing as she starts approaching your table and you find yourself trying to busy yourself with something so you don't look like an utter buffoon, staring at her with your eyes wide and your mouth open. You can practically feel her presence as she comes over, despite you having your head down as you fiddle with the edge of the tablecloth, the scent of her sweet perfume washing over you like a gentle wave.

"Evenin'." You look up at her and you feel like you're staring at the sun with how bright she's smiling at you. Her eyes are so warm and full of joy as she looks down at you and gosh, your face is feeling a little hot now! Your hands might be a little sweaty too? Oh, yuck, you're a mess.

"Oh, wonderful evening, Miss!" You stammer, gripping the white tablecloth tighter between your fingers. "Is there something I can do for you?"

She laughs warmly and you fight the urge to slam your head into the table from embarrassment. You're sure that everyone's eyes are on you, glaring at you as you fumble up your one chance to speak to this angel in front of you, but you can't be too upset when you just made her laugh. It makes you feel a little tingly inside, the butterflies in your stomach fluttering a little more gently. Now that you think of it, you wouldn't mind making an utter complete fool of yourself if it means making her smile at you like that.

"I was wondering if you'd like to join me for a dance, chérie ," she replies, extending her hand for you to take.

For a moment, you feel like you can't move due to how surprised you are. She wants to dance with you? Out of all the men in the room, she chooses you? You glance around your space, wondering if perhaps she had made a mistake, before looking back at her and pointing yourself dumbly.

"Are you sure about this? I may not look my age but I don't think you'll want an old man like me as your partner," you reply sheepishly and she shakes her head.

"Old man, you? I wouldn't have guessed it! Come, darling, there's no need to be shy," she insists kindly. "I will slow down if you'd like but I'm sure you will be fine. A man like you looks like you'd be quick on your feet."

"Can't argue you with that one," you mumble a little. "If there's anyone who can run away fast enough before awkward situations can form, then it's me."

She laughs once more and grabs your hand, pulling you out of your seat and leading you to the dance floor, fingers intertwining with yours naturally.

If people weren't staring now, they're definitely staring now. She leads you to the middle of the dance floor, turning around and taking both of your hands before grinning at you cheekily. You offer her a shy smile in return before glancing around you to check out the crowd. It's practically impossible to see the people's faces due to the spotlight casting a shadow on them, something that makes you feel a little more relieved than you expected. If you really wanted to, you could pretend no one was watching and it was just you and Ms. Claire dancing to your hearts' content.

The music starts up again and she leads you in the dance. It takes you a moment to get your limbs moving like you want them too, too dorky and too hesitant to match her speed, but not before long, you find yourself moving freely as she does, tapping your feet along with the music. You pull her close before coming back again, a surprised laugh ripping from your lips as you manage to spin her without a single problem.

"I told you you could do it!" She shouts over the blare of trumpets and you just shrug before pulling her close so that you could hold her slim waist, her arm automatically coming up around your shoulders. Gee, how you wish you could spin her and flip her around like those professional dancers too but you don't want to risk dropping her on accident and hurting her.

You do however get a chance to twirl her a couple times before dipping her, eliciting a loud giggle from her as she holds onto you. For a moment, time seems to stop, the music muffling in your ears and all you can see is her. Her black, curly hair forming a halo around her heart-shaped face. She's staring at you with an expression of happiness mixed with something soft... Something gentle. Your heart skips a beat but you don't linger, bringing her back up and twirling her away.

Her expression changes and now she's staring at you with determination in those hazel eyes of hers. Every time she comes close to you, it's enough that you can feel her breath fan over your face and gosh, wouldn't you give everything to plant a kiss on her ruby painted lips. You're totally jumping the gun with this, seeing that you've only been recently widowed, but how can you help yourself when she makes you feel weak in the knees with just one look?

The song comes to an abrupt end as she spins out of your arms, striking a fantastic pose, and the crowd goes wild with applause. You didn't realize you were panting by the end of it, your chest rising and falling heavily from the sudden exercise, but you can't bring yourself to care when she runs up to you and plants a smooch on your cheek, most likely leaving a red smudge on your skin. Your heart swells in your chest, your legs trembling and threatening to give out, but you manage to walk off the dance floor with everything intact, slumping onto your seat and watching as she chooses someone else for the next song.

For the rest of the show, you watch her with a dazed look, unable to pull yourself together like the man you are. She's just so lovely and so full of life! She makes you feel like you're ten years younger, ready to take her in your arms and ask her for her hand.

But alas, that's just another little fantasy you'll keep in the back of your mind. She finishes up her last number with one of the professional dancers before bowing deeply and clapping for her partners. Her eyes scan across the room and for a second, you think she stops in your direction, but you wave it off when you remember that seeing the audience in the spotlight was completely impossible due to the shadows.

She leaves soon after, another performer taking her place, but you have no interest in staying to watch the next one. As you gather your coat and belongs, a waiter comes over towards you with a slip of paper in his gloved hands. "A note from Ms. Claire," he says, leaning into your ear as so not to speak loud enough for others to hear. You take the note, thanking him with a tight smile and wait for him to bow and leave before unfolding the piece of paper.

"You danced amazingly tonight. Care to show me a trick or two sometime?

xoxo

~A. Claire"

Upon seeing the lipstick mark on the corner of the page, your heart shoots up into your throat, thrumming wildly. There's no doubt about it: Cupid has shot you dumb through the heart with one of his gold-tipped arrows. You ask one of the other waiters to find out when Ms. Claire performance before leaving, a bounce in your step as you make your way outside, the cool night air sending a chill down your spine.

You wonder what kind of flowers you should buy for her.

 

===> Wake up, loverboy.

Much to your surprise, you wake up without a single tear. The room is dark, the moon still peeking in through your large open windows, letting in the night air. You can faintly smell the scent of what seems to be jasmine, the same scent of Ms. Claire's perfume. You frown a little as you push yourself up from bed and stare down at your covers, feeling a little conflicted with yourself. 

You really wish you had gone far enough in your timeline to see your interactions with this mysterious woman who haunts your dreams. Not only that but you remember mentioning another wife? What in the world? What did your beta self get himself into before he died? How many kids did he end up having all together? The question makes you feel uncomfortable, squirming in your bed. You wonder how you made it work in that life but at the same time, if he had similar abilities as you, then you're sure he may have unlocked them much sooner than you.

Returning your thoughts back on Ms. Claire, you can't help but think about how much Joey looks like her. The same bouncy hair and her dark complexion, the shape of her eyes with your shade of green. No doubt in your mind that once Joey grows up, she'll look like a splitting image of her mother.

This thought makes your heart hurt when you remember about Joey's circumstances and you sigh deeply to yourself. You wish you could just fix everything and make it so they didn't have to worry about their circumstances back home and just live a normal life on Earth-C. As mean as it sounds, you don't think anyone would miss their absence besides Roxy. Not even their troll friends, seeing as Alternia ultimately gets destroyed due to the game. But you can't disregard their feelings about it so you have to continue with your plan to fix the machine and send them back. Plus, there's always that threat of dooming their timeline that you aren't too keen on playing with. Perhaps you could watch over them using the transmaterializer, hoping it won't black out again.

You lay back down and stare at the ceiling blankly. The warm sensation in your chest refuses to leave and you find yourself rather puzzled by it. It's not like you haven't had a crush before because you've certainly have, on fictional people and real people alike, whether you knew them well or not, but because of how familiar it feels, it feels strange. It's a gentle kind of warmth, like drinking a cup of rich hot chocolate on a fall afternoon in Roxy's kitchen. It swells inside your lungs but it doesn't feel suffocating like other crushes you've had before.

Not like what you had with Dirk. Confusion, anxiety, and insecurity all wrapped into a grotesque gift to a teenager. Never understanding why walls of orange text made your heart race or why inappropriate comments from his AR made you second guess your relationship with him. The prospect of having a single crush on him made you unsure, worried, and concerned. Unsure if his feelings were actually real, worried that perhaps you wouldn't match up to his standards of you, concerned of what your friends would think about you if they found out.

So even after you finally made things official, the pressure on your chest whenever you looked at Dirk refused to let you breathe. Sure you felt butterflies in your stomach whenever he did something semi-romantic for you or even just laughed a little at something stupid that you said but there were other times when you felt an ache in your core when he became too distant, his mind somewhere else that you couldn't follow.

You shake your head and pull your sheets over yourself, hiding yourself from the world. These are too many thoughts to be having in the middle of the night, if you ask yourself. Time to shut your brain down and get enough rest so you don't make a bumbling fool of yourself during breakfast in the morning when Dirk comes to visit to talk about your plans for the transmaterializer.

But for some reason, you can't bring yourself to sleep and ignore the fluttering sensation in your stomach, a feeling you haven't felt in so long.

 




===> Answer the door.

The doorbell chimes and you drop the towel that you had in your hands onto the marble countertop, shouting a quick "coming!" before excusing yourself to the children, hurrying over into the foyer to open the door. You successfully ignore your heart that squeezes painfully in your chest as you swing the door open and come face to face with Dirk once again. You let out an exhale before picking yourself together again and smile brightly at him, even more when Roxy appears next to him, grinning back at you.

"Oh, hello ol' chaps! I didn't realize both of you would be coming to my humble abode today!" You greet them before moving to the side and ushering them in. "Come, come! The children are still eating breakfast so if you find yourself craving something, feel free to raid the cabinets! We don't have much yet so I'll have to go shopping for more groceries later."

Dirk nods silently and steps inside, looking around the house carefully. Roxy is a little more bouncy, whistling as he glances around as well. "Nice crib, Jakey! This place looks like it was practically made for you," he compliments, spinning around to check out the candelabra hanging in the foyer. You laugh a little, closing and locking the door behind them, before leading them into the kitchen.

"I thought so too! I've always dreamed about having a large house like the mansion I had lived in with Grandma but I think this one is still a tad bit smaller. That's alright though! It's still got a lot of room and it's cozy enough for the children, I believe," you reply as you walk into the kitchen. "Joey, Jude, we have some company!"

Jude looks up from his soggy cereal, sleep still clinging to his eyelids, while Joey pointedly ignores you, but his eyes widen when he sees Roxy and he drops his spoon with a loud clatter. "Joey!" He hisses under his breath, nudging his sister with his elbow. When she looks up to shoot him a glare, he points towards Roxy and her gaze follows slowly. She gasps immediately and hops off her stool, staring at Roxy in shock.

"Uh, hi...?" Roxy waves awkwardly, noticing the tension in the room. Joey says nothing and runs into Roxy, wrapping her arms around his waist and hiding her face into his chest. "Whoa, okay! Hug time, it is then," he exclaims with a sheepish laugh as he loosely wraps his arms around the smaller girl, shooting you a questioning glance. You just give him a shrug and mouth a quick "I'll explain later" to him. He nods and looks down at Joey with a small smile.

It doesn't take Jude long before he's hopping off the stool, making it screech against the floor, and running towards Roxy, throwing his arms around him too and clinging onto his shirt. The taller man accepts him easily, wrapping his other arm around Jude and holding him close.

When Joey finally pulls away, you're almost starstruck by the sweet smile on her face, a smile that reminds you too much of her mother, but it's wiped off completely when she remembers where she is and the fact that the Roxy that she's hugging isn't the one she had grown up with. She pulls away silently, the warmth from her eyes draining quickly, and looks down. "Cripes! I... I'm sorry, that was so dumb of me... I just forgot that you're not actually..." She trails off, her lips trembling as she tries to force out the words, but she can't seem to summon the strength.

Jude lets go of Roxy and comes to his sister's side, teeth chewing on his bottom lip in worry as he watches her clench and open her fists. Roxy bends down a little to be at the same eye level as them, pushing up his heart-shaped glasses so they were resting on his pink curls, a small frown on his face.

"Hey, hey, it's okay, I don't mind it at all, mamí," he reassures her, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder and rubbing it gently. "Things must have been topsy-turvy these past few days for you guys, huh? It's okay if you forget, I've been there before too." He offers them a smile, which Jude returns shyly with a nod.

Joey watches him carefully, her eyes narrowing a little. "You're a lot different than our Roxy though," she says quietly, shifting her weight on her feet a little. Roxy straightens up and raises an eyebrow at her.

"Well, I don't doubt that for a second! Me and her had lots of different life experiences, different people in our lives to influence us," he replies sagely before resting his hands on his hips. "So you guys come from the Beta Universe... The one Rose and the others came from originally, right?" He directs the last part of the question towards you.

"That is correct!" You reply with a confident nod.

Roxy hums thoughtfully. "Then that mean you two must have gotten to meet Older Lady me!"

"She was our babysitter," Jude pipes up, fiddling with his hands in the same manner that you tend to do. "Since Pa was barely around the house, she was always around to take care of us. We really liked her and thought she was cool and all but... She was kinda..." He turns his gaze downwards towards the floor, biting his bottom lip once more.

"She was constantly drunk," Joey supplies for him, crossing her arms. You flinch at her words and glance over at your friend, hoping that didn't come off as rude.

He seems fine though, giving a little shrug. "Yeah, I kinda figured that'd be the case. I've heard a little bit about what I was getting myself up to in that universe so I'm not surprised to hear that," he sighs deeply, pulling his glasses from his hair to clean the lenses. "Sorry to hear that though! It must have been unpleasant to deal with but at least I can tell you that ain't a problem I have anymore. Hopefully, I can give you a better impression than what she did, even if she was still kinda cool." He smiles at them, earning a shy response from Jude. Joey doesn't smile back but her expression is a lot softer than you're used to, making you wonder if you could ask Roxy to visit a lot more often.

Ruffling Jude's hair playfully, he circles around them, clapping his hands. "Anyways, let's get back to breakfast then! Your old man said he's got some food so I'm going to raid his fridge and see what he's got before we continue talking some more," Roxy says playfully as he makes his way to the fridge to pull out the carton of milk. "Dirk, you want anything?"

"I already ate before we came here," Dirk supplies as he takes a seat across from where the kids had retaken their seat. You furrow your eyebrows at him in disbelief, knowing well that he had never had a clean record with taking good care of himself. In the early days that you had spent together, you remember having to drag Dirk out of bed late in the afternoon to get him to eat something after staying up all night working on his projects. To get him to actually eat breakfast on his own was such a rare occurrence, whenever it happened it felt like it was the end of the world for you.

"Yeah, bullshit, I'm getting you some fruit," Roxy shoots back, grabbing the carton of strawberries and closing the door with his foot. You settle next to Jude and rest your elbows on the table as you watch Roxy rummage around your still fairly empty kitchen.

Glancing at Dirk, you watch as his shoulders slump but he says nothing else, his lips pressed in an annoyed line. There was no fighting Roxy when it came to things like this. If he thought you weren't watching out for yourself well enough, he would pick you up by the back of your pants and shove you forward, whether you asked for it or not. In the heat of it, it was annoying as all hell and you'd have half a mind to tell him off but when you look back on it later, you always think "yeah, I probably needed that".

Dirk turns his head to glance at you, making brief eye contact with you, but you quickly turn away from him in embarrassment, not having meant to be caught staring at him like a smitten fool. You look over at Jude, who had started to properly eat again, and tap your fingers on the table, trying to find something to distract yourself with.

"So, do you have the blueprints?" Dirk asks and you whip your head back to face him, blinking a couple times. It takes you a moment to realize what he was asking you before smacking your head.

"Of course, yes!" You exclaim awkwardly as you pull the blueprints from your sylladex and hand them to him, careful not to brush your fingers against his. "Er, they might be a little sloppy because I drew them as best as I could but luckily, Jade wrote the descriptions for the parts. If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them."

He nods quietly and unfurls the prints, holding them like one would hold a newspaper and setting a barrier between the both of you. This action makes your smile drop and you look down at your hands, busying yourself as you pick at your nails. You only look up when you feel eyes on you and catch Joey and Jude looking at you in confusion, Joey's expression a little harsher than her brother's. Your cheeks color in humiliation and you just shrug, not wanting to address the situation with them. You definitely don't need to know what your deal is with Dirk.

Roxy approaches the table with a bowl of cereal and another filled with freshly washed strawberries. He slides the bowl of fruit towards Dirk before settling down with his cereal, glancing over the blueprints to take a peek at them.

"Oh damn, wow, you really went ham with this shit," he compliments you with a thumbs up. "I know I saw a couple shots of it when you and Jade were chatting me up but like seeing the blueprints really shows how much work ya'll were putting into it."

You grin shyly and shrug. "It was nothing too unusual. We basically took apart the machine to see how it had been put together. Most of the sketching I did myself as a guide but I believe there was some stuff that we had to do differently as we reassembled it because it didn't make sense," you explain carefully. "So it's not really accurate but I'm sure we can figure out where everything goes again!"

"Accurate or not, the blueprints are still pretty good," Dirk comments as he lowers the prints to make eye contact with you. Your heart skips a beat at his words but you refuse to back down.

"You think so? I appreciate hearing that from you, buddy!" You say with a small grin. "Though honestly, if there's something we can do to make it better, feel free to change anything! I'm sure you've got lots of tricks up your sleeve."

"May I see the blueprints?" Jude pipes up, much to your surprise. Dirk glances over at him with a raised eyebrow before carefully rolling up the prints and handing them over to him. The smaller boy has to get up to his seat to reach them but he settles back safely and unfurls them again, forgetting his breakfast as he immerses himself in the prints with Joey looking over his shoulder, not very discreetly.

"I mean," Dirk begins again, your attention returning towards him. "I think it looks pretty good right now so I don't have much to say but if you say there were things that you changed in the process  then we'll just see what we can do when we get to that part," he says carefully. You nod, a bit too eagerly than you intended, before looking over at Jude who was still studying the blueprints.

"I also have the coding saved on my husktop, which I could show you later. Roxy really helped a lot with that so you know it's already pretty good," you say, earning a cheeky grin from your friend.

"Damn straight!" He exclaims before using his spoon to point at you. "Though I gotta give some cred to Calli too. Some of the shit you were sending me was practically nonsense to me so I had to get them to help me figure that shit out. Skaian tech is weird as fuck, nothing like the Alternian shit that they used to show us," he says with a shake of his head.

"Alternian?" Joey asks quickly, tearing her gaze away from the prints to look at Roxy. "Like from Alternia?"

He nods. "The one and only. I only really taught myself how to read Alternian to hack into some of the old sites that the Batterwitch had up but other then that, I dunno anything else," he explains. 

"I didn't spend long enough on Alternia to learn the language but it did seem really hard to understand," Joey replies, wrinkling her nose as she things back on it. "But uh... Who's the Batterwitch, if you don't mind me asking?"

Roxy looks over to you with a raised eyebrow. "You haven't told the kiddos about our dark and mysterious past?" He asks.

"If I did, that would make it less dark and mysterious," you joke with an awkward chuckle, noticing the small glare Joey was shooting at you. You cough into your fist and clear your throat. "Um, I told Jude a little bit of what I remember but if you want to tell them, I'm sure you'd do a bang up job at explaining it better than I did."

Rubbing his hands together, he turns towards the children with a dramatic expression on his face. "Guess it's Uncle Rox's Story Time then!" He explains, mouth ready to start detailing the horrors of their reality before the game.

Dirk nudges your arm gently, making you flinch in surprise as you look at him, but he ignores it and cocks his head towards the foyer before getting up from his seat silently, not wanting to disrupt Roxy's storytelling. You get up hesitantly, worried of whatever Dirk wants to talk to you about, but you follow him nonetheless, walking out far enough so they wouldn't hear you in the kitchen.

He stops near the staircase and settles on the third step, taking a moment to admire his surroundings once more before stopping his gaze on you. "You feeling okay?" He asks simply, something that you weren't expecting.

"Oh? Yes, I'm fine!"

"I mean, your head," he clarifies, pointing to his own. "Jane did a good job fixing that big old  noggin of yours?"

You nod, knocking on your temple. "Screwed everything just right! But really, I am okay. Even the scrapes and such are healing nicely, look," you say as you tug up the sleeve of your shirt, revealing the scabs forming on your arm, among the other faded scars that you've collected over the years. 

His lips twitch a little but you can't tell his exact reaction thanks to those stupid shades that cover his eyes. He just nods and looks back up at you with a tight smile. "That's good then. You were in pretty terrible shape when I found you, you know that? You looked like someone beat the absolute shit out of you and left you for dead." His smile becomes a more prominent frown as he thinks about it. "If I'm being honest with you, dude, you kinda scared me when you messaged me."

Guilt trickles into your mind and you look away, ruffling your hair in thought. "Um, yeah... Sorry about that," you mumble meekly. "I've just been going through some things and I guess that explosion was enough to knock down my filter and let a lot of things out!" You force a laugh that dies instantly when you see Dirk staring intently about it.

"Wanna talk about it?"

There's two ways this could go for you. Either you could talk about your dreams and how much you've been thinking about him lately, possibly making things a lot more awkward than they already are, or you could brush him off and say no, that it's nothing for him to be worried about, that things are fine now because they are, aren't they? You guys are talking again, you've moved out of your suffocating apartment, Jade isn't too upset with you, and you've managed to settle things with Jane finally! The only thing you're really concerned about is fixing the transmaterializer and sending Joey and Jude back to their universe and clean up the mess you caused by intervening in their timeline.

"Um, maybe another time?" You suggest carefully, eyeing him shyly. "I dunno, it's just a lot of stuff and I'm not sure I'm ready to really talk about it right now. I don't even know if it's worth losing my mind about anyways," you reply with a small shrug.

"That's fine, just thought I'd offer," Dirk replies calmly, showing none of those signs that would tell you if he was irritated with you or not. "But in case you ever change your mind, you know you can talk to me." You let out a small sigh of relief, worried that if you had declined his offer he would get offended and get up to leave like he used to, but you suppose that's not giving him enough credit. Roxy had said he was working on those kind of things and the results are starting to show.

"Yes, of course! I will keep that in mind," you say with a grateful smile. He doesn't smile back, but the corner of his lip turns upward in one of those small gestures that you've learned to recognize as him forcing a smile down. It's enough to make your chest fill with warmth, a heat that pools through your entire body. For a moment, you feel like you're sixteen again, sharing a secret moment with the boy you've been harboring feelings for quite some time now.

Before the silence between you can grow, you hum in thought. "So, uh... About the transportalizer," you begin. "Do you think we can build it at your place? I don't really have a room where we could get to assembling and making the needed parts so..." You trail off slowly, tapping your pointer fingers together.

 "Yeah, I was going to suggest that anyways," Dirk replies, resting his elbow on his knee before pressing his cheek on his fist. "I'll have to clear out the basement a little so we can have some space to work in because it's kinda crowded in there right now," he confesses with a huff. You smile knowingly. Your friend has never been the most organized, despite putting up the front of a man in control. When you visited him, you were always tripping on random robot parts and tools whenever you ventured through his room, always in danger of losing a toe or two.

"That's fine! Really, take your time with that. I'll probably be busy the next couple of days getting everything settled properly in the house. Make it nice and homey, you know?" You say as you rest your hands on your hips, looking around the hallway. Maybe you could go to one of the artist alleys that they have in town and find something to hang up on your walls. Liven up the walls a little. 

"Mm, yeah. You really picked a nice place, English," Dirk replies, bringing your attention back on him. "I bet it'll be real nice when you're done with it."

His sincerity shouldn't come as a shock to you but you still feel floored by it. Perhaps it's because you haven't had an actual conversation with him where he's looking for a way out, shutting you down at every chance that he gets to avoid talking to you. You missed this, missed being able to just spend time with him without feeling like every second was escaping out of your hands like writhing snakes.

Though, now that you think about it, you can't help but wonder, did Dirk miss you too?

"Thank you," you murmur before clearing your throat, bursting your own bubble and looking over your shoulder at the kitchen. "We should... Head back before they get concerned," you say awkwardly, jerking your thumb to point at the doorway. Dirk stares at you momentarily, and you fear he's going to respond negatively, but he just nods and gets up from the steps.

He walks past you quietly, leaving you behind at the bottom of the staircase by yourself. He probably didn't mean to make it feel so cold but there's a lingering hurt that you can't ignore from being brushed off like that. You follow after him, gluing on a smile on your face as you approach the table and retake your seat, barely listening to Roxy as he continues the story of the game session. The children are so taken in by his storytelling, clinging onto every word that falls from his lips, but you have no idea what he's saying, too lost in your own thoughts.

You glance at Dirk who's watching Roxy as well, but less intently. Occasionally, Roxy will pause to ask Dirk to clarify something but besides that, he says nothing else, does nothing else. He doesn't even look at you, despite your obvious staring.

You wish he'd look at you again.