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Before the Sun Comes Up

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Playing outside is a necessary part of any young troll’s development. Nepeta was very aware of this, and so spent most of her time playing outside, role-playing either on her own or with her friends. Her hive was well-positioned for this; out in a field, grass and plants sprouting up all around. Her sliding doors were usually left open for her to wander in and out of as she pleased, growing progressively grubbier in the mud as children do. Sollux was also aware of this, and so spent most of his time inside, at his computer. His various friends had tried in various ways to convince him to leave his high flat, but he generally considered these trips not worth it. They could speak online just as easily, so why would he bother with going out?

Nepeta, however, prided herself on being persistent to a fault. Threatening to turn off her wifi worked a trick in convincing Sollux to come along on her role-playing adventures. As much as he pretended otherwise, he cared about his friends, and he wouldn’t let her cut him off like that. So, whenever she decided she was bored, he would make the trek out to her hive.

He always made a point of emphasising how far away she was, and she had the same answer every time.

“We both know you flew here, Pawlux, do you want to role-play as purrbeasts or not?”

Sollux snickered and crouched down beside her in the tall grass.

“What’s our plot this time?”

Nepeta launched into her plot description, giving him far more prompt than was probably necessary, but he appreciated it. Knowing exactly what she was hoping for made it easier to play along.

It was a good session. Most of them were. It's hard to have a bad play-pretend session when you're all of three sweeps old and barely tall enough to prove it. Nepeta, with her wide range of role-play partners (as they were still far off growing out of her antics), had managed to have these elusive bad experiences, but never with Sollux. It was why she kept inviting him back. He was good at playing his part, and playing it for however long it took her to tire.

Tonight, she didn't tire. They played and rolled and messed in the fields until the sun's rays started peaking over the horizon and Sollux started to get concerned.

"AC," he called, lisp strong. "Sun's coming up. We should get inside."

"We've got a little longer, don't we?" Nepeta popped out of the grass, a little ways onwards. She looked towards the sun and her face dropped. "Uh oh. You're gonna have to stay over day."

"I usually do anyway. C'mon, we gotta get going fast."

The two of them rushed for safety, using branches and each other and anything else they could to shield from the growing sunlight. They weren't far from Nepeta's hive; it should have been a safe and easy enough journey. Nothing prepared them for the sight of flames licking higher than they could see with dangerous flickers.

Neither of them had seen anything quite like it. Nepeta ran before Sollux could stop her, knocking down her own door in the process. Her Lusus wasn't outside. Where else would she be if not inside?

Smoke surrounded her. Everything she owned was burning, and she could hardly see a thing. Her vision was completely clouded over as she scampered from room to room, desperate to find Pounce de Leon anywhere in the small hive. She could feel herself slowing down, losing energy fast. Where was she? Not in the lounging room, not in the respiteblock, not anywhere. Not anywhere. Not...

Like the life had been sapped right out of her, Nepeta collapsed. She tried to pull herself back towards the door, but her limbs weren't responding correctly. Nothing was moving, except her chest heaving with heavy coughs.

Footsteps. Behind her. Pounce? No. Arms wrap around her middle and she's out of the house before she can register any movement. Her lungs are still heaving, there seems to be no room for air. The sun burns. It's so bright. So warm.

Sollux could see the moment she loses consciousness. Her breathing calmed far too much and all at once. He didn't know much about CPR but he could guess enough from TV shows; enough to start doing compressions. He tried to avoid putting his mouth anywhere near her, but when it became clear not enough air is getting into her lungs he sucked it up. Sollux may not have known how to probably treat her, but he could at least make sure air was going in and out.

Nepeta woke up not long later. Sollux had dragged her into the shelter of some trees as the sun grew stronger, and Pounce had found them moments later. She stayed curled around the children as they waited for Nepeta to wake.

Her eyes were heavy, and her chest still ached, but she awoke. She breathed a sigh of relief seeing Pounce, who immediately started checking her over, licking her, and bringing her into her fur. Sollux shuffled to the side to give them their moment, but Pounce pulled him in to check him too, despite his protests.

“We need to find somewhere to stay for the day. We can’t get back to my hive in time, we’ll burn if we stay out here.”

Pounce nodded firmly and tugged Nepeta up onto her back. He offered a spot to Sollux, but he shook his head. His powers would get him around much faster.

They stayed close to trees and other large foliage. The shade helped, if only minimally, to shield them from the more major burns the sun was beginning to bring. It felt that everywhere they looked was just filling with blazing sunlight, no shelters to be found. Nepeta lived so isolated from other trolls that there were no other hives, abandoned or otherwise, to take refuge in.

In sheer desperation, Sollux started taking short bursts into the sky to get a better view. Pounce yowled in protest every time, dragging him under her when he returned from each flight. He tried to act proud, but he was grateful for the extra shade. Blisters were already forming along his arms.

Nepeta passed out again during their travels. Pounce kept a close watch over her breathing, making sure she well, but it made Sollux search that much more desperately. She would need somewhere safe for tonight, tomorrow she could come back with him. He could get her help in the city. There was no help out here.

He didn’t notice the exhaustion creeping up on him. Before he knew it, his feet were dragging and he was almost tripping himself over. No energy remained to fly. Pounce de Leon eventually dragged him up onto her back and continued the search alone. His arms sleepily slipped around Nepeta, feeling the shallow movement of her breaths, and letting that movement lull him into sleep.

Pounce brought them into a small cave. A few smaller beasts scattered from the back as she entered, but nothing that worried her. She did a cursory trip around the cave to be sure it was safe, before lowering the children to the ground and curling around them. Safe, for now.