Actions

Work Header

After the Storm

Work Text:

You’re not a good kid. You’re not a good person. You used to be, maybe, maybe a little, but not anymore. One wrong step is all it takes. And that hurts. It stings. You’d be lying if you said it didn’t hurt. And that’s exactly what you’re doing, every time someone asks, and every time you tell them you’re okay.

 

The bonfire captain said yours was the easiest to clean up they’d ever seen. Even your meltdowns are tidy and unintrustive.

 

It was awkward, the rest of the day. You were going home. You had to say goodbye to Venus and Neptune, and it hurt. They had this look of pity and sadness and guilt on their faces, and you had to smile and laugh and tell them it was okay. You kept reaching for a hair tie around your wrist that wasn’t there.

 

It’s not an easy thing to hear. Becoming the devil isn’t something you do if you’re a good kid who’s trying your best. If you’re really, truly trying. It just doesn’t happen. No one in Group South has ever become the devil.

 

So everyone looks at you differently now, as if they’ve exposed you, as if they’ve just realized you were lying to them the whole time. They thought for so long you were a good kid, that you were trying, that you were giving it all you had. But you weren’t, right? If you had been, the devil wouldn’t have taken you. You fought it until your last moments. But you were just so tired.

 

What’s worse, you can’t stop feeling good about it. You remember it fondly. You cry every time it strikes you. You touched. You felt. For a brief moment, for the shortest of moments, that gap between you and everyone else was closed. You were with others, you were connected to them, you felt them, they were right there. And now the gap is even wider. They keep a distance now. They’re farther away than ever.

 

You sleep a little easier now, too. You hold yourself tight and you grip a pillow and you remember that instant, you remember what it felt like to hold, to touch, to be intimate. And you cry. And you sleep.

 


 

You wanted to see them again. You didn’t want to see them ever again. You desperately wanted to hug them and apologize. You want to keep a distance a mile long at all times.

 

You ran into Venus first, which is nice, because he keeps a distance too. He doesn’t like to be included. Doesn’t feel like he deserves it. You like to include him anyway, of course, but… it means something.

 

“Oh,” he says, his voice so soft it sounds like it’ll float away. “Hey… how are you feeling?”

 

You reach down and snap a hair tie against your wrist. “Oh, uh, y’know.” You laugh, and it’s a little forced, and a little insane. “I’m okay. Holding together? Y’know. Thanks for asking though. Uh, what about you?”

 

He smiles sadly again, that same smile, that pitying and sad and tragic smile. The smile that says “it shouldn’t have been you” is still on his lips.

 

“Okay,” he repeats, as if processing your answer. He probably doesn’t really believe it, but he won’t push the issue. “That’s good.” He’s still hesitating, keeping a distance. But he wants to come closer, you can tell, the way his foot twitches, the way his hands squirm nervously, the way he looks at you, looks all over you, like he wants to come tackle you in a hug. He never would, though. He knows better.

 

“We should… probably get to class,” you say, half trying to be useful and half changing the subject. Venus jolts upright as if the fact that you’re in school just struck him. Maybe it’s hard for him to remember anywhere but the summer scouts. Or maybe you’re just projecting.

 

You hesitate before turning around. You have to go in opposite directions. You want to say something. You want to hug him.

 

You snap a hair tie against your wrist. “See ya later.”

 


 

Neptune had seen them when you transformed, when you were unconscious afterward, when they were cleaning you up. Makes sense. It was silly to think you could hide it forever.

 

“Okay, so let me get this straight,” she says, not looking up from her phone, typing at a furious and inhuman speed.

 

“Uh huh.” You snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

“You’re constantly climbing and falling from shit, you do dumb risky stuff for no reason and get hurt, and you also cut yourself a bunch.” Her tone is familiar in its coldness, but it’s a little lukewarm now, a little thawed. It doesn’t feel good. Feels like she’s pitying you. And she is. She’s got that same look on her face. The look of “it shouldn’t have been you”.

 

You stop and think about what she said. “That sounds about right.” You try to keep your tone light, even though it hurts.

 

“You’re gonna cut your lifespan so short,” she says with a terse smile, like she’s half-joking, but isn’t sure it’s a good thing to joke about.

 

“Well,” and you shrug. You don’t really know what to say to that.

 

“Why, even? It’s not like you’re doing anything so badly.” She rolls her eyes, and smirks. “You’re way better than any of us.”

 

“You can’t say that anymore,” you interject, an unfamiliar determination bubbling up within you. “I became the devil. You didn’t.” You snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

Neptune glares at you for a moment, like she wants to tear you apart for that, but she doesn’t know what to say. Maybe because for once, there really isn’t anything for her to say.

 

“Whatever,” she says finally. The admission stings. If there were anything else to say, she’d have said it. The one thing Neptune hates most is admitting she’s wrong. “Then I guess I’ll just have to do it next time,” she says with a smirk. “So it’s not just you, and you can shut up about it and stop being so goddamn mopey. You’re no fun when you’re like this.”

 

“Haha,” you force out. “Yeah. Guess not. Sorry.” You snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

“If you keep apologizing for stuff that’s not your fault, I’m going to end you,” Neptune bites back. “It’s really annoying.”

 

You laugh again, and this time it’s a little more genuine. “Yeah.”

 


 

Nothing feels like it used to. You sit on the ledge that’s just outside the school, running along the sidewalk on the way home. Well, to Venus’ home. Your house is in the other direction, and it takes you about half an hour to walk all the way back and get home. You’ve never told him that though.

 

Both of you are silent. You just dangle your feet off the side and kick the air silently. You’re a fair distance apart. But it isn’t far enough, just like it’s not nearly close enough. You snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

“Hey,” he finally says, his voice cracking. You turn to look at him. Your mouth opens, but nothing comes out.

 

“I, um… I’ve been thinking about this for some time.” He pulls his legs up and rests them tight against his chest, arms holding them. He’s making himself small, just like he’s making himself safe. You look away, and snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

“Sorry, if this sounds mean, but, uh… well, we kind of saw… a lot of you, that night. A-and…” he takes a deep breath. “I think it’s only fair, you should get to know stuff about us too.”

 

“I thought you said the world wasn’t fair,” you fire back. Not out of animosity, just… on instinct. You immediately regret it, you want to punch yourself. The last thing Venus needs is this.

 

He just smiles though, meekly. “Yeah. But if the world isn’t gonna be, maybe I can be?” He looks a little sad at that, like maybe even he doesn’t believe it.

 

“I thought it was gonna be me that night, y’know,” he says. “I mean it. As early as when we were fixing the lights, I saw… I saw it.”

 

You look at him, silently urging him to go on. You don’t know why. Maybe you hope it’ll make you feel better, even though you know it won’t.

 

“I saw me. Um, the real me… or, I guess, the devil’s version of me? And I guess, it didn’t seem so bad…” he twitches at those words, like he’s afraid someone will catch him saying them. You snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

“I want… I want to be seen,” he says, which is funny, because he’s looking only at the ground. You let a laugh slip involuntarily, and immediately move to apologize, but Venus shakes his head.

 

“I want to. I want to be like you, kind of, but also not really?” He shuts his eyes and shakes his head. “Not… not because I think you’re bad. But like…”

 

“You wanna be a girl, right?” You decide to finally spare Venus the misery of fumbling around with words. “I know. I already knew. I think Neptune knows too.”

 

Venus looks at you, something like panic and confusion and hurt in his eyes. You shrug, not meeting his gaze.

 

“All you have to do is say it,” you mumble softly, after a little while. “That’s… what I did.”

 

Venus looks like you like you’re the devil again. You snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

“I was really little,” you say, quietly, so no one hears. “And mom and dad agreed that I could… I could do it, as long as no one ever found out.” You realize someone just did, and you laugh. “Oops.” And then you shrug. You’re still laughing. There are tears running down your face. “Oh well. I already messed up, anyway.”

 

He stops looking at you, and looks at himself. The ball he made of himself somehow becomes even tighter. It feels like he might pop out of existence.

 

“The devil won’t possess you just for saying it,” you tell him. It’s kind of a bad thing to say, because you don’t know for sure that it’s true. But you already said it, so it’s too late now.

 

“I’m…” he struggles, cutting himself off. “I can’t… Jupiter, I can’t.”

 

You shrug. “You don’t have to. But… if you want to, you can.”

 

He nods. “I’m gonna try. All I have to do is say it once, right?”

 

You nod. “Just once.”

 

And Venus unfolds, legs moving back to dangling from the edge of the wall. “I’m… I’m a girl,” she says. And there’s light emanating from her, and she smiles, and she flaps her hands. She’s so bright in this moment. “I’m a girl.”

 


 

“I’m proud of her, aren’t you?” You walk and talk, but you can’t look at Neptune. You haven’t been able to look at her since that night. She must feel awful. She finally shared the sensation of touch with you, and look what came of it. She must blame herself. You wonder if she’ll ever be intimate with anyone, ever again.

 

“Aren’t you proud of her?” You repeat. Neptune is quiet, and eventually, she sighs.

 

“Jupiter,” she says, like she’s commanding a puppy. “You hurt yourself for someone else again. You went and made a sacrifice you didn’t have to make things easier on someone else.”

 

You laugh a little at that. “Yeah. I guess I did. But it’s okay, right? It turned out better, like, easier? And I didn’t really mind.”

 

Neptune scoffs. “Jupiter, I am going to punch you.” You laugh at that a little, and snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

You stop in your tracks, and as soon as she notices, so does Neptune. You don’t know why, but you’re crying, and you can’t stop.

 

“Please,” you beg. Your voice is pathetic, pleading. You feel like you’ll collapse if a stiff wind blows through. And it does. And you do. You’re on your knees now.

 

“Please,” you say again. “Please just tell me I did a good thing for once. Tell me it was right, and you’re proud of me. You don’t even have to mean it.”

 

Neptune kneels down in front of you, too close. She brushes aside some of the hair in front of your face, and you wince, and you snap a hair tie against your wrist. Or you would, but her hand grabs yours, and doesn’t let it move. You can’t breathe.

 

“I’ll say it. But only because of this,” she says. Her eyes are on you, and you can’t take it. You want to scream, but you can’t, and you won’t.

 

“You were right,” Neptune says, the words foreign in her mouth. “You did the right thing, Jupiter. I’m so proud of you.” And you can’t stop crying.

 


 

The last time all three of you together was at summer scouts, and that’s why you haven’t wanted to do it again since then. But it had to happen eventually. And your typical Wednesday afterschool stage crew routine might as well be the place. All of you are moving equipment back and forth to create the set for the first play of the semester. It’s very routine. Very normal. And yet it still isn’t the same. It’s beginning to make you feel like it never will be.

 

Looking at the others, though, you kind of feel… nice? You realize something, with both of them there. If it were Venus who was possessed by the devil, and you had to stop her with Neptune… she might have ended up left out. Isolated. And if it were Neptune, she’d probably hate you for stopping her. She might never talk to you again. So maybe it’s good that it was you. You’re the only one who wouldn’t make a fuss. Maybe that’s why they hate it so much. Maybe they’d be happier if you made a fuss.

 

You stopped moving the major set pieces awhile ago, but Neptune likes to keep picking them up and adjusting them so you don’t have to go back and do more. It’s a good way to get out of the work. And it isn’t just for her sake anymore, you figure.

 

You plop down, cross-legged, on the floor of the wooden stage. “Haha. My arms are so sore.”

 

“I wonder why that could possibly be,” Neptune says with a smile and a roll of her eyes.

 

“I dunno. It’s a mystery.” You’ll play along as long as she will. It’s not real, after all, as long as you don’t say it out loud. And you won’t make that mistake again.

 

Venus’ face scrunches up in confusion. “Am… I being left out of something here?” she asks innocently.

 

“Nah-“ you begin to say.

 

“Yes,” Neptune interjects, cutting you off. “Yes you are. You don’t need to know everything, Venus.”

 

Venus squirms a little, and smiles innocently, like she doesn’t mind, and she’s trying to show you she doesn’t mind, even though you know she does. You snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

“So, uh…” it’s obvious Venus started to speak with the intention of changing the subject before you had a chance to feel guilty, but she didn’t know what to say.

 

“Weird that we’re all seniors now,” you volunteer. “We’re gonna be, like… legal adults later this year, right?”

 

“I’m so scared,” Venus notes with a chuckle. “Seriously. So afraid.” She reluctantly plops down too, sitting in a tiny ball across from you.

 

“We still won’t be able to legally drink for three more years,” Neptune says with a groan, sitting down as well, on her knees. “Which is super dumb.”

 

You nod. “Well, haha… I… guess it’s… good we did already? Maybe? Or something?” Your neck twitches away from her line of sight and you snap your hair tie against your wrist.

 

When you look back, both of them are looking at you, both Venus and Neptune. They look sad. They look like they want to close the distance between you, but they know they can’t. They never will. You’re going to be alone forever. You scoot back, just a bit.

 

“We should, uh… probably go back and get some more stuff from the closet,” you say. “If that advisor shows up, um, we’ll probably get yelled at.”

 

Unexpectedly, Neptune just nods and gets up and goes to walk off, and Venus reluctantly follows. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. They’re supposed to laugh at you for trying so hard, and then you all just decide not to do it, and get yelled at anyway. Even Neptune is pitying you now. You chuckle at that. You never thought you’d see the day.

 

You snap a hair tie against your wrist. It stings this time, really bad. It’s the best sensation you’ve felt in weeks.

 


 

Nobody is going to save you. That thought occurs to you for the first time in all its vivid glory as you’re changing into your pajamas after a particularly late Friday night shower. The weekend is coming up so, technically, you could stay up as long as you want.

 

You will, now, but not for fun reasons. Your mind is finally catching up to your circumstances, and the realization has barreled over your psyche without remorse.

 

No one is going to save you. They aren’t even interested in trying, they aren’t even interested in faking it and making it look like they’re trying. Despite your best efforts, you just aren’t irreplaceable. There’s nothing you can do that no one else can. And that was okay, for awhile. Even if you weren’t special, at least there wasn’t any reason not to make use of you. And now there is. Now you’re tainted. Forever.

 

When you woke up that day, the captain put a hand on your shoulder. Your entire body shuddered at the feeling, but you didn’t move. Just in case he thought the devil was back.

 

None of the others would look at you. They all avoided it. Only Venus and Neptune would give you the time of day, and you still couldn’t bear them, because of that look in their eyes. They could see it too. There was nothing else left for you in the whole world.

 

You failed. You’re worthless to them, now, to all of them. There’s no longer anything, however small, that you can point to to justify your place in the world. There’s nothing you’ve done that makes you irreplaceable. You’re clearly not a good kid either. You couldn’t have ever been, not if you had the devil in you, even a little bit, even the slightest amount.

 

You’ve already failed so much that there’s no going back and undoing it. Your grades are just shy of being noteworthy. Your performance in sports is just shy of being reliable. And you had just a little bit of devil inside of you.

 

What good are you? You can’t die, so you just… stick around, so your friends will feel better? Maybe you can pretend hard enough, and they can feel like they saved you. You wonder if they’d fall for that.

 

And now, time is passing, and you’re getting older. In less than a year, you’ll be a legal adult, and that’s when you’ll stop mattering for good. You could’ve died in the summer scouts. That would have been better. You could have died a child possessed by the devil, and you could have been a tragedy. And people could pay a little attention to you, thinking about how sad it was. Now, when it happens, it’ll just be embarrassing.

 

When you look at your phone, you realize you couldn’t even get the date right. It’s a Thursday. It seems you really aren’t good for much of anything.

 

You clamber into bed quietly and hold yourself in the tightest ball you possibly can. It doesn’t feel the same when you’re holding yourself. You need to. You need to feel someone else. You don’t know how, you don’t care how. You want to. You need to.

 

You don’t realize when it happens, but eventually, you fall asleep.

 


 

The idea of a sleepover, when it was proposed to you in school that day, felt like the worst possible thing. It had a degree of intimacy inherent to it, and it felt… too nice for you. But whatever it is, you ended up agreeing without too much pressure. Maybe you just wanted a change of pace. Being at home had become increasingly uncomfortable, after all. But you know that isn’t the real reason. You want to be with Venus and Neptune. You want to be close to them. And you figure that means there’s still probably a little bit of devil left in you.

 

It was Venus who proposed the idea, and that made you curious too. You don’t think you’ve ever been to her house. Well, never been inside. And you really don’t like being in other people’s houses, it’s way too personal, but what’s one more sin at this point? It’s just to sate your curiosity.

 

“Everyone… ready?” Venus smiles, jolting upright in an odd mix of anxiety and excitement, the contents of her backpack knocking around behind her.

 

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Neptune says, not looking up from her phone. Despite her dismissive tone, she’s smiling, just a little.

 

“Uh-huh,” you say with a nod, trying to force yourself to look as enthusiastic as possible. Of course you’re scared. Of course you’re uncomfortable. But this is something big for Venus. She deserves to have a good time, and you won’t ruin it.

 

“This way, then. Jupiter knows the way, she walks with me a lot of the time,” Venus explains. Neptune looks up from her phone in confusion, and you snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

Neptune looks at you for a moment, that miserable glare of disappointment on her face, but mercifully, she doesn’t say anything, and buries herself back in her phone. You breathe a sigh of relief, but you know she’s still disappointed in you.

 

“So, um, I figured… we could play a game? Like, board games maybe? Or we could watch a movie, if you’d like?” Venus looks back with a smile, so you force one too.

 

“Whatever you want, sunshine,” Neptune mutters, half-joking and half-serious. Venus’ eyes widen to the size of plates and her face becomes flush with red before turning back around. She mumbles something, too quiet to hear.

 

“Y’know, this is normally where you say something to fill the silence,” Neptune says, shooting a quick glance back at you. You chuckle a bit, you can’t help it. You snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

“I, uh… well…” and you stop in your tracks. You can’t help but feel frustrated. You don’t know how to process it, but you do. “I don’t understand.”

 

Both of them turn around to look at you. You can feel it. Feel their eyes on you. But you keep your eyes on your feet.

 

“Half the time you look at me like I’m an injured kitten that you have to take care of and carefully nurse back to health, and half the time you try to ignore it and pretend everything is normal.” You hold your head, trying and failing to stop the tears. “I don’t know. I just… I guess I want it to at least be consistent? I can’t handle it like this.”

 

Venus tries to take a step forward, but she hesitates, and you don’t make things any better by backing up on instinct.

 

“I… I don’t know.” Venus shakes her head. “It just… I don’t think you’d be happy if we told you how we really feel. I don’t think you’d accept it? So I, um… I just… try and make you comfortable, however I can.”

 

And your sobbing is becoming even uglier now, you breathe in heavily and let out a little chuckle.

 

“There’s no making you comfortable,” Neptune interjects with a shrug, turning off her phone and placing a hand on her hip. “But I don’t want to beat you up about it. It’s not like it’s not already obvious you hate yourself for it. And I don’t like to hold back being mean, Jupiter.”

 

You nod, smiling just a little. “I know this,” you say.

 

“But for you?” She bites her lip, hesitating, words teetering on the edges of her mouth. “It’s worth it. Because you’re a friend. And you didn’t deserve the shit that happened to you. You actually deserved it LESS than Venus or me.”

 

You can’t help but laugh a little at that. “I was bad, though,” you fire back pathetically. “I let the devil in and you didn’t.”

 

Venus shakes her head, that firm look in her eyes that only appears when you’ve touched on a subject that she feels strongly about. Something she won’t let go of. “We did let him in. Both of us did. Both of us saw him. You weren’t any less good than us. You… you deserved a chance to let out some of those feelings.”

 

You bite your lip, hard, and you can feel it start to bleed. One hand grips your other arm tight. “I hurt you. Why can’t you accept that I hurt you? I was bad, I was awful, terrible. Please tell me I’m terrible.”

 

“Jupiter,” Neptune says, her voice firm, grabbing your shoulders. You shrink at the touch. “Listen really fucking closely, because I’m only gonna say this once in my entire life.”

 

You nod.

 

“I like being near you. I like being touched by you. It doesn’t hurt, even when it’s rough, not from you. Get that through your thick fucking skull.”

 

“But…” your eyes drift over to Venus, who’s looking shy. “If even one of you felt pain, then it wasn’t worth it.”

 

Neptune opens her mouth to say something else, but Venus speaks first.

 

“I feel the same way,” she says. “You… you’re not a bad person, not at all. I think you’re… really sad?” She looks at you, smiling consolingly, sadness in her eyes. “I think you’re hurting so much, and I don’t know what anyone else can do about it. There wasn’t any anger in your touch, not even the harshest of it. There was loneliness. There was sadness and desperation, and… even just feeling that, it made me sad. It was… really gentle.”

 

You’re crying, a crumpled up body supported only by Neptune. “See?” she prods. “Are you happy now?”

 

You laugh a little. “No. I’m not happy.” And you cautiously, slowly, weakly put one hand around her waist. “But I feel a little better.”

 

You hold out your other arm, past Neptune, and after a moment, Venus steps forward, and she looks at it, and she looks at you, and she looks at her own hand, and she takes it, gently, cautiously.

 

Being held by Neptune is like floating in the ocean, supported by gentle waves that don’t seem to want to take you under. Venus’ touch is like a cloud, like a gentle support facing the sun, a bright shine encompassing your entire self.

 

You stay like that, for just a moment, before you realize you’re in the middle of the sidewalk, and you look a little weird.

 


 

You’re almost at Venus’ house now. She’s walking up front, with Neptune slightly behind. You’re walking up high, along the wall that runs with the sidewalk on the way there.

 

“You’re so gonna fall and hurt yourself,” Neptune says. “And when you’re in the hospital I’m gonna tell you I told you so.”

 

You laugh a little at that. “Haha. Yeah. Hey, do you remember when you were a kid, and when you would do something dangerous, people would say “you’ll crack your head open”?

 

“Uh, no?” Venus says, looking up at you in bewilderment.

 

“That’s because you’ve never done literally anything risky in your life, Venus,” Neptune interjects. “Not like Jupiter, anyway.”

 

You laugh again, and snap a hair tie against your wrist. “When I heard that, for some reason, it always made me think that I’d fall and crack my skull, and then my brains would pour out like soup. I don’t know why, but I thought it was like, soup in there.”

 

Venus just looks confused and a little unnerved, and Neptune laughs. “Yeah that tracks. You probably do have soup for brains, you weirdo.”

 

You laugh, and for a moment, you lose your balance, and start to slip. You wonder what would happen if you let yourself fall. If you’d die, or just get hurt really bad, or get hurt at all. If it would matter. You’d probably be fine. You always are.

 

You catch yourself, and regain your balance. You look back at the other two, their eyes wide looking at you. “I’m fine!” you say. “No problem!”

 

They don’t look convinced. You snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 


 

The three of you sit in a small circle, kind of. It’s not really a circle, because you’re a little farther away than the others, but you don’t really know how to describe the shape it makes. Maybe you’re not smart enough to know.

 

“Uno… again,” Neptune groans, like the words physically hurt her coming out. “If either of you changes the color before I can win I’m losing my mind.”

 

“That’s… the point of the game though?” Despite her protesting, Venus is smiling, and she lets out a little chuckle.

 

“Then it’s a bad game, and I hate it, and I’m sick of it, and let’s play something else as soon as fucking possible.” Like Venus, Neptune is grinning in spite of her tone.

 

“Do you wanna play something else then?” Venus offers.

 

“God, uh, yeah, more than fucking anything,” Neptune says. “Jupiter! Got any ideas?”

 

You jolt upright, and a pair of eyes are on you. Your mind races to find an answer, and you snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

“…truth or dare?” You finally say, and you wince.

 

“Okay, horrible idea,” Neptune cuts off immediately. “The actual worst idea you could’ve possibly had.” Venus smiles at you apologetically.

 

“Uhh…” you continue, still intent on offering a good solution. “7 minutes in heaven again. With you two. Have fun.”

 

Both of them look at you confused, and you immediately stand up and walk over to the closet by the floor where you’re sitting, a little spacious, compared to the one in that shack.

 

“In you go!” You say cheerfully, trying not to let them interject, to read into it.

 

“Y’know what, fine, sure, fuck it, why not?” Neptune grins as she says that, grabbing Venus by the arm and dragging her along inside. “It’ll be fun to make you squirm.”

 

You wave, and she shuts the closet door behind you. And now you’re alone, for seven minutes.

 

This is good, you think. They’ll get closer. Maybe they’ll get so close, they won’t need you. That would be for the best.

 

You sit back down, cross-legged on the floor, and start packing up the Uno cards again. After a moment, you can hear something between the crack of the door. Neptune is giggling, and Venus is making a sound like she’s a squeaky toy that just got squeezed.

 

You tense up for a second, and you remember. You scoot yourself a bit farther away from the door, and keep going.

 


 

“How was it?” you ask with a forced smile as the two exit.

 

“Venus kept squirming SO bad. It’s like she’s never been touched by another girl before,” Neptune says. You snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

“I uh?? I haven’t, really?? I like, just came out??” Venus’ face is beet-red, her hair is a little more ruffled, but she looks happy, satisfied.

 

“That’s good,” you say, looking back down at your phone. You went and got absorbed in this mobile game, and you’re in the middle of a match now…

 

“Oh!” you hear, and you look back up. Venus is dancing in pace like she forgot something, which is weird, because the last place she was just in was a closet, and also right there, so it wouldn’t be hard to go back for.

 

“My homework! I need to do some homework!” She kneels down immediately and starts digging through her backpack.

 

“Jeez, that’s it? What are you in such a rush for, you have all weekend!” Neptune says with a sigh. “Wouldn’t it be nice to instead fixate on all the time you just spent with the prettiest girl you’ve ever met?” and she smirks.

 

“Haha, yeah, sorry,” Venus looks sheepish, but doesn’t stop digging. “It’s just, uh, if I don’t do it now, I’ll forget the formula? Like, physics? Most of the formulas I know, but I just want to… um, y’know.”

 

“It’s okay,” you say, looking down. “I can help, if you want?”

 

“You haven’t even done your OWN homework for like, the past two weeks, Jupiter,” Neptune interjects. “Your teachers are pissed.”

 

You laugh. “Haha. Yeah. But, uh… I don’t know. I can help Venus, and that would feel better? Like… more useful?”

 

Both of them are looking at you now. You look away meekly, and snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

“Like… I can still… help people, but I can’t succeed? Not anymore.” You bite your lower lip. “I can’t do… anything really, anymore. But I could help Venus do something, and that would be nice.”

 

You look up. Neptune is staring at you. “Jupiter,” she says. “I’m gonna kill you if you talk like that. I mean it. Stop.”

 

You laugh a little. “No, I mean it, though… like…” and you sigh, and you snap a hair tie against your wrist. “Sorry.”

 

There’s a moment of silence before you speak up again. “You know how sometimes, little kids will keep asking you why something happens, even if you don’t know? I feel like I’m kinda like that.” You smile weakly, so they know you’re fine. “I’m not saying it to ask you to explain why I shouldn’t hate myself. That’s not… your job.” You shrug. “I guess I’m just… not sure what I want? But I want to be good. And I’m… not.”

 

Neptune kneels in front of you, and she reaches forward to you, but stops, just in time. For a moment you see it again, floating in the air behind her, just like before, in the dark of the closet.

 

“I’m gonna say this right now,” she says, eyes narrowing on you. “Fuck the captain, and fuck the devil, and fuck God.” Her gaze is unrelenting. “You’re plenty good already, I don’t care what anyone says.”

 

You scoot back, and grit your teeth. “Stop it,” you say. “You’re not supposed to talk like that. I was the devil. You’re not even supposed to be around me.”

 

“Jupiter,” she says, still firm. “Listen closely. I don’t give. A. Shit.”

 

And there’s silence for some time.

 

“I guess…” Venus begins softly, from that small distance away that feels like an eternity and also far far too close. “I guess we’re all kinda bad then, huh?” And she smiles, weakly, like that’s okay. Like even she believes it’s okay.

 

Neptune slowly moves a hand to you, hovering just in front of your knee. It’s like it’s mocking you. But she normally doesn’t hesitate this much. Eventually, she withdraws, and you should be relieved, but it hurts, hurts more than anything else in the world.

 


 

It’s time for bed, and all three of you have sorted out a place to sleep.

 

Venus gets the bed, because it’s already hers, and why would you take anything from her?

 

Neptune gets the spare mattress, laid out just underneath, because she’s a light sleeper and she needs to be comfortable.

 

You’ve got your sleeping bag, and it’ll do just fine for your purposes. You could probably sleep on the floor and be just fine, anyway. It’s just the way you’ve always been.

 

Regardless, all three of you dread sleeping. Maybe it’s just the ordeal of being together again, like this.

 

“Um…” Venus begins, crawling meekly and nervously to the side of her bed, peeking over the edge at you. “I have. Something. For you.”

 

You twitch in place a bit. “For me?”

 

She nods, and reaches back behind her, and pulls out a decently sized plush cat. It looks like it would fit perfectly in your arms.

 

“I thought… you might like to have a pal to sleep with?” She smiles shyly. “Do you want it?”

 

You look back at the cat, then at her. You can’t wrap your head around it. “But it’s yours…” you mumble. “If I have it, and it’s yours, then…” and your voice trails off into a whisper. “I’ll taint it,” you say.

 

Venus shakes her head, that same firm look in her eyes like she’s gotten set on something again. “If you don’t want it, that’s okay,” she says. “But if you’re just saying no because you think you’re bad or whatever… then… no. I won’t accept that answer.”

 

“She wants it,” Neptune yells from the other side of the bed. “God damn, let her have fucking SOMEthing to touch before she loses her shit completely.”

 

“But I…” and you tilt your head, and look away, and you snap a hair tie against your wrist.

 

“Take it,” Venus says. “Please.”

 

And you do. And you hold it, and you cry. It doesn’t look very cool at all.

 


 

You lay in place, across the floor, holding and petting the plush cat in your arms. It almost feels like enough, almost. But it’s not enough. You know it isn’t.

 

Right by your head, the other two are sitting. Venus is talking about an idea she had to upgrade all your radios, and how next year they could be more reliable, if she could get the tools. Holding her hand, Neptune is listening intently, but her eyes are still on you.

 

“I’m cold,” you whisper eventually, and you don’t know why. You don’t know what possessed you to say it. You shudder.

 

“I…” Venus begins, and stops herself. She sounds like she’s barely keeping it together, like you broke her.

 

“Jupiter,” Neptune says. Her voice is soft, and it’s gentle, and it isn’t mean at all. It almost doesn’t sound like Neptune, but it does, it’s her, it’s undeniably her. And your name on her lips makes you feel a little warmer.

 

“I can touch you. I can hold you. But only if you want,” she says. “No devil is going to possess you. There’s no one else but us three. We’re all right here.”

 

Venus chimes in too, and her voice is firm, and determined, and full of love and care that you don’t deserve even a fraction of. “I’m here,” she says. “And I won’t leave you behind, ever.”

 

You feel yourself crying again, and you reach a hand up nervously. You’re scared, but you ache, you yearn. They’re both so close. They’re so very close. But they’re still too far away, right now.

 

“I want…” you whisper, so softly that maybe even God could’ve missed it. “I need…”

 

You can’t bring yourself to say it. But it’s enough. Neptune’s hand runs through your hair, and you feel a wave of warmth across your body. Your hand is filled by Venus’, and she clings to it tightly.

 

There are no more words, just in case God catches you. You don’t need words, anyhow. All you need is touch.