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once upon a time is one time too many

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When Crow wakes up, there’s something chirping in his ear and his butt feels wet and cold.

This wouldn’t have been that alarming considering the amount of time he spent on the streets in Satellite, but it’s been ages since he had to actually sleep on the ground and he’s pretty sure that it’s not where he dumped himself last night.

Actually, he doesn’t remember going to bed at all.

Slowly, he cracks open one eye and sees the sky (not too alarming), green treetops (less normal), and an actual bird sitting on his face (what the hell?). He jolts up and swats at the bird, which kind of careens to the side but doesn’t stop flapping around his head and screeching at him.

Shhhhh,” he says at it, even though it’s not like real birds have ever listened to him anyway.

He looks around. The place he’d apparently ended up falling asleep in looks like a forest of some sort, but nothing like anything he’s seen around Neo Domino City. He’s not any sort of expert on the different flavors of plant life, but something’s wrong and he just knows.

Trying to think back on what he was doing before finding himself on the ground, he realizes that, no, he never did go to sleep. The last thing he remembers is reading a children’s book to his kids, with Yuusei sitting to the side toying around with a small gadget in hands and Jack pacing back and forth while casting suspicious glances at the children sometimes. He’d turned the page to a colored illustration, and then he’d suddenly felt like the chair he was sitting in was pitching him forward...and he doesn’t remember anything beyond that.

He gets up and dusts himself off (not like that helps much with the wet and cold thing, but whatever), before he hears something that sounds vaguely like groaning coming from a cave to his right.

Debating between following his gut and staying away from the dark cave with the groan-y noises and throwing caution to the wind like the main character in a horror movie, Crow picks the latter.

“Might as well see that what is,” he mumbles to himself before heading over. If it’s a person, maybe they can tell him where the hell he is. The thought is idealistic, yeah, but it’s resourceful. The bird is still following him, but at least it’s quiet now.

When he approaches the mouth of the cave, the bird (Gale, he’s just going to call it Gale) flies ahead of him and lands on a ginormous white lump. Crow can’t really make out what the lump is, but when Gale starts pecking at it it lets out a sad whine and rolls over, unraveling a little, and he sees that it’s...

 

Well.

It looks like Stardust Dragon, if Stardust Dragon was from a children’s cartoon and fed a diet of junk food. So like, adorable, but that’s not the point.

Toon Stardust blinks at him a few times before flipping over abruptly and inelegantly, greeting Crow excitedly with the cartoon dragon version of a smile.

“Woah there, buddy,” Crow says when it starts swinging its tail around so hard that the walls of the cave starts shaking. “So, um. You’re a dragon.”

The dragon shakes its head.

“You’re…not a dragon?”

It lets out a whine and starts scratching something into the ground. Crow squints at the markings on the ground when the dragon finishes and looks at him expectantly.

Kizuna,” he recites, unimpressed. “You wrote the kanji for bonds. Very anime of you, but... is this a riddle?”

Bonds the not-dragon keeps staring at him expectedly like he’s missing something that should be obvious, and it reminds him of a friend who does something similar, and has the same blue eyes, and… has Stardust Dragon.

“…Yuusei?”

The dragon that’s apparently Yuusei—whatever, he’s seen weirder things in his time—nods excitedly and nuzzles him.

 

“Are you serious? Why the hell didn’t you just write your name you big nerd—”

He’s interrupted by Gale, who he sort of forgot was even there, chirping happily and headbutting him in the direction of the mouth of the cave. “I think it’s high time someone told me what’s going on,” Crow mutters, but follows it outside because the headbutts are starting to hurt and besides, Yuusei doesn’t look comfortable at all in this small cave. After exiting, he hears yelling in the distance, from beyond the trees. He can’t really make any words out or see anyone, but he heads toward the voices because they aren’t exactly going to get anywhere by staying here.

He gets maybe twenty feet out before turning around and seeing Yuusei struggling with his limbs, like he’s trying to get by on four feet but his heart is telling him two. Sighing, he pats his friend’s newly draconic forearm.

“You can do it, Yuusei. I believe in you.”

Yuusei grumbles miserably.

~~~

The voices Crow hears lead to a small castle town on the edge of the forest. The sign leading into the town reads, “The Kingdom of...”, but the rest is worn off and unintelligible. The noise is coming from the town square, where someone is making a colossal racket.

Unhand me!” a familiar voice rings through his ears as he gets close enough to actually hear what’s being said. “Is this how you treat your king!?

There’s a great scrambling of people yelling frantically, and if the situation at hand wasn’t so confusing and ridiculous Crow would have burst into laughter.

It’s Jack (of course it’s Jack), and he’s surrounded by people waving papers at him and trying to push him in the direction of a horse-drawn carriage with varying levels of respect to their royalty.

“King Jack, where have you been? Our kingdom needs you!” A well-dressed man cries, to which another shouts, “Like hell it does!”

“Hey asshat, what’s with the new tax law--” A new voice yells, cut off by a guard who says, “Don’t address the King so rudely! I mean, we’re all thinking it, but don’t just go and say it.”

Crow decides he likes these people.

Jack seems to pick up on the insults and is red in the face with frustration, trying to shove the townspeople off of him to no avail.

Telling Yuusei to stay by the trees — sorry Yuusei, he thinks, feeling sorry for the dragon but not sorry enough to pay for any damages he might cause just by walking through the narrow streets of the town— Crow revels in the picture of Jack being uncomfortable for a few seconds before he marches towards him and grabs his arm.

King Jack,” he says as sweetly as possible into his ear, “I have some very important business I need you to attend to.”

Jack’s face is a mixture of shock and reluctant relief when he sees who he is, and for once in his life he lets Crow drag him away at top speed without resistance.

“What is going on,” Jack hisses at him as they dodge the townsmen that are still trying to get a hold of him.

“I have no idea,” Crow says, “but wait until you see Yuusei.”

Jack makes a face at him because he doesn’t like not knowing things that Crow knows for any amount of time, but he doesn’t say anything until they somehow manage to outrun the citizens and make it back to the forest.

“What was that all about?” Crow asks Jack.

“Forget that, what the hell is this,” says Jack, pointing at Yuusei.

Yuusei droops a little and the look on his dragon face tugs at Crow’s heartstrings so he kicks Jack in the knees. “That’s Yuusei,” he snaps.

Jack snorts. “Ha. Yuusei’s not a dragon.”

“And you’re not an actual king,” Crow retorts. Yuusei, meanwhile, is scratching something else into the ground. “Seriously though, what was up with that?”

“I don’t know!” Jack huffs. “They think I’m their king—well, they’re not wrong, I should be—but as soon as I woke up here someone grabbed me and tried to haul me off to their castle! Do they realize how offensive that is? God. If I ruled this kingdom no one would be touching me anywhere, ever.

Crow rolls his eyes. “You know where no one touches you anywhere, ever? Our world, so let’s go do something about this.”

“What’s that supposed to mean!?”

“Think about it.”

“I thought about it already, you little--”

They’re interrupted by Yuusei thumping the ground with his tail, using one claw to point to a drawing he’s made in the ground of three stick figures holding hands. It’s clearly meant to be a picture of the three of them (as humans), but Crow’s hair looks more like a bird’s nest and Yuusei’s marker takes up 75% of his face. Jack sees it and is outraged.

 

“My hair does not look like that!” he yells, at the ground. He grabs a stick and scribbles over the doodle. Crow thinks it looks even worse now, and says so.

Yuusei shoves at the dirt impatiently, and it’s only then that the other two see the words he’s also written next to the drawing: I am Yuusei.

“Ya could have just told him so from the start, Spartacus,” Crow says exasperatedly, but Jack has already disregarded the words in favor of drawing a proper representation of himself, one that takes up the entire patch of sandy ground they’re standing around and somehow still manages to look worse than the stick figure a dragon drew with its claw.

Yuusei doesn’t look affected at all. Instead, he waddles over towards a different clump of trees and sits down, cocking his head at the two of them like he’s waiting for them.

“Did you find something while I was gone?” Crow says, hauling Jack away from his masterpiece and dragging them both over. Gale’s sitting perched on Yuusei’s head, nodding at whatever it is he’s looking at. When they get there, they find out that the clump of trees is, in fact, not just a clump of trees, but what seems like the base of a mountain with a path sitting beyond them.

There are three wooden signs by the path that say, Tired of problems you don’t know where to start solving?

Does it always seem like the wise mentor for your quest is missing?

And why can’t anyone explain what’s going on without freaking out?

Crow squints at it, and then walks a little further into the path to see more similar signs.

Forget about the old maps and the the vague prophecies. The Mountain Sage will provide you with real answers, just for the pleasure of your company! he gets lonely

“What,” says Jack.

But wait, there’s more! Find us at the end of this path today, and get the only life advice you’ll ever need for the lowest price around!

“Why do these signs sound like an infomercial,” Crow states more than he asks.

“I don’t need to be sold anything.” Jack glares at the signs indignantly. But Yuusei and Gale have already started down the path, and Crow figures that a sketchy lead is better than no lead at all.

~~~

“No,” Jack says as soon as they get to the hut at the end of the path, and “The Mountain Sage” appears at the door. Yuusei positions himself behind Jack to stop him from turning around and marching right back down the path again when they recognize who it is.

Godwin?!” Crow sputters at the old man, who’s rubbing his eyes tiredly.

The Mountain Sage squints at them. “How do you know—” He yawns, and waves a gloved hand around. “Nevermind. We’re not open for business today. You’ll have to come back in three days.”

“Or never,” Jack fumes and Crow punches his arm.

“Three days?” Crow repeats with disgust. “Look, we can’t wait three days. We don’t belong in whatever world this is and we need to get home.” He hears some dragon noises from behind him. “And, Yuusei’s a dragon. You’re sketchy but this is urgent.”

Godwin looks mildly offended (Crow wouldn’t blame him, if he didn’t resent the one in their own world so much; after all, they probably just look like strangers that showed up to his home to badmouth him), but regards them silently for a few moments.

“Very well, I shall grace you with my aid,” he says finally, as if he’s the best thing that’s going to happen to them. “Come inside.”

They follow him into the hut, or at least they try to. Yuusei nudges Jack inside, but only gets his own neck through before he gets stuck in the doorway.

Crow looks at the width of the doorframe, and then at the size of Yuusei’s body. “I don’t know what you expected,” he says. Yuusei gives him a sad sigh and just lays his head on his floor while the rest of him stays on the doorsteps.

"I know what you are," Godwin starts out by saying, as soon as he sits down with a flourish. "You're not of this world."

"We— we literally just told you that," Crow interjects.  Godwin ignores him.

"You were probably sent here for inexplicable divine reasons," he continues. "They're inexplicable, so don't bother trying to figure it out. I can send you back, but in order to complete the spell that will send you back to your home world, I need you to do a few things."

"Yeah?" Crow raises an eyebrow. "Well we don't have your currency, and we sure as hell won't be working for you."

Godwin laughs. It feels wrong. "Oh, I'm not talking about payment. Don't worry about that, I simply enjoy helping people. But you'll have to gather a few items to use on the spell in order for it to take effect. First, though, I need you both to kiss the dragon."

Jack slams his hands down on the table. "Don’t mock me!" he yells, looking like he's ready to sock him in the jaw.

"Calm down, I was just joking," Godwin waves at him unaffectedly. Crow leans down and plants a wet kiss on Yuusei's dragon nose anyway, and Yuusei makes a happy sound. Jack gets even angrier. "Actually, you need to retrieve this list of items."

He pulls a piece of parchment out from nowhere and presents it to them. It looks like some kind of list.

“The Evil Queen's Pendant, Sleeping Beauty's Needle, The Little Mermaid's Comb, and The Twins' Teapot,” Crow reads aloud.

They squint at it for a few seconds.

"Are you serious? You want us to retrieve things from fairy tales?" Jack says incredulously. "Those are fake."

Godwin regards the group silently for a moment, and then hands the parchment to Crow with a gesture suggesting great importance.

"They may not be as fake as you think, Jack," he says in a low voice before he stands up abruptly, swishes his cape over his head, and spins around as dramatically as possible.

And then, in a flurry of robes, he's gone.

"Welp," Crow says as he gets up slowly, rubbing at his eyes, "I guess we'd better get started then."

 

 

Chapter Text

“We shouldn’t trust him,” Jack says loudly. “He knew my name.”

Crow’s inclined to agree with him, but Yuusei turns and looks at him despondently. He sighs. “Well, it's unfortunately the only lead we have now. Unless you have a better idea of how to get out of here.”

Jack huffs. “Why do we have to get everything, anyway? Why can’t he just, I don’t know, magic everything into working IF HE’S SO ALL-KNOWING AND WHATEVER.”

Godwin had sent them off in a direction opposite of the town they’d come from, saying that they’d find the first item they were looking for in the next town over. He’d also given Jack a hat, saying that it was unlikely that many people would recognize him once they got further from the palace, but it wouldn’t hurt to take extra precautions anyway.

“ATM services are in the back,” he’d also said, pointing them to another room in the hut. “Jaeger can take care of currency exchange.” Crow ended up going in reluctantly and exchanging the cash he had on him, because Jack doesn’t have his own money and Yuusei…is a dragon.

They arrive in the town after a pretty uneventful day trip, where they were only stopped once by a man who recognized Jack (bowing to him with, “Good day, King of the Kingdom of Ineffectual Yelling!”, which is probably the most fitting title Jack has ever received, in Crow’s professional opinion). Crow had regretted not asking Godwin if dragons were common in this world, but the man’s lack of reaction to Yuusei answered that for him.

The first thing Jack does when they see the stalls along the road is buy a new hat, going to dump the one Godwin gave him in the trash. Or, at least, he tries to. Someone crashes into him on the way there, and both of them fall to the ground.

“I’m so sorry!” the other person frets, jumping up and brushing at Jack’s cape frantically.

Jack looks like he’s ready to launch into another tirade, but he stops when he sees the person’s face. “Car...ly?”

Carly’s fantasy world counterpart looks relieved. “Oh, good, you know me? Have you come to me for fortune-telling before? Sorry I don’t recognize you, I have a hard time remembering everyone who comes to me. But hey, can I ask you for biiiiig favor then? I’ll give you free visits for a month!”

“I’ve never—” Jack starts, but Crow shushes him because Gale’s started to circle around her head like a quest marker in an rpg, and Gale’s had a pattern of leading him to important plot points so far.

“What do you need help with?” he asks her with a hand on Jack’s mouth.

She looks a little embarrassed. “Well, I’m running from the Evil Queen…and I need help getting back to my home without her finding me, so I was going to go through the forest, but it’s kind of dangerous to go alone, so…”

“DO WE LOOK LIKE AN ESCORT SERVICE,” Jack wrenches Crow’s hand off and seethes (“Yeah, kind of,” Crows says, eying his armor). He turns aside to him and waves his hand around angrily. “We’re supposed to find the Evil Queen, not help someone run away from her,” he says in what he probably thinks is a whisper.

Crow rolls his eyes and yanks on Jack’s hair tentacles so he’s eye level with him. “Idiot, if the queen’s looking for her then she’ll be on her trail—which means this is the best chance we have of her actually coming to us instead of having to run around trying to find her on our own.”

Next to them, Yuusei nods a little and gives Carly a toothy smile.

“Awww, what a cute dragon!” she croons, reaching up to pet his head. “What’s his name?”

YUUSEI, Yuusei quickly scratches into the ground.

“Oh, Yuusei? That’s a pretty unusual name for dragon. Nice to meet you though!”

Crow smiles at her encouragingly (probably). “We’d love to help you,” he says. “You know, just out of the goodness of our hearts and stuff. Where are you headed?”

Carly points at the path she’d apparently been running towards before she crashed into Jack. “My place is actually just a little bit down the road,” she says. “It’s just, I hear there was a group of shady characters who have been appearing around there, and I’d be an easy target if I went alone. I don’t think anyone will bother us if we go in a group though!”

She starts walking and Yuusei follows her without hesitation, leaving Crow to kick a non-cooperative Jack along after them.

~~~

As it turns out, there really wasn’t any reason for Carly to have been worried, because the trip took less than half an hour and they didn’t see anyone else at all. She thanks them profusely for accompanying her anyway, and invites them into her home for food.

The first thing they hear upon making it through the doorway is shrill yelling—or is that laughter?

“WHAAAT ARE THOOOOOOOOOSE???” something shrieks from above them, and then a small form drops from the ceiling on the floor. Upon first glance it looks like a child swathed in too-big black robes, but when the person flips his hood off Crow nearly howls with laughter because it’s Kiryuu and he’s shorter than him.

“Kiryuu, please don’t terrorize our guests,” Carly says, oblivious to all of this. To the side, Jack looks like he’s also going to start yelling and Crow’s not good enough at reading dragon expressions to figure out exactly what Yuusei is feeling, but he’s willing to bet that he’s laughing on the inside because this tiny Kiryuu just looks hilarious.

Crow almost feels like poking fun at him just because the opportunity is literally right there in front of them, but Jack beats him to it with a guffaw.

“How’s—how’s the weather down there, Kiryuu???” he points and laughs, because tact is just one of the many things Jack never deemed worthy enough of being considered by him.

Kiryuu the dwarf freezes and turns to him with righteous rage in his eyes. He opens his mouth and points back at him furiously as if he’s going to bring it to ‘em, but nothing comes out.

“You—!” he manages to shriek after a few offbeat pauses.

Jack just stands in front of him in a tall manner, like the tall person he is.

“You—YOUR FACE IS A WEATHER,” Kiryuu finally screams, and then he abruptly turns around and slaps himself like he’s mortified.

“That was a weak comeback, even for you,” someone says from the other end of the room.

“SHUT UP, BOMMER!!!” Kiryuu shrieks before he dashes up the stairs and out of sight.

Crow gives the scene one last chuckle before looking over. It sure is Bommer, and he also looks like a dwarf, but he’s at least a head taller than Kiryuu still. Next to him is Rudger, who looks the silliest and not the least bit intimidating like this.

“…Is there someone missing?” Crow says, counting the heads. If these are the Dark Signers, then, there should be at least one more person.

Rudger waves his hand. “Demak’s in the bathroom,” he says.

“Who?” Crow and Bommer say at the same time. Rudger gives Bommer a questioning look.

Carly shuffles around awkwardly. “Umm, Kiryuu?” she calls up the stairs. “Can you help me with dinner? You promised today…”

All she gets in response is a shriek from floor above them.

“Guess not,” she sighs, and goes into the kitchen by herself. “You guys can have a seat, we’ll eat as soon as the food’s finished!”

Yuusei, who has long since given up on trying to fit through the door, gives her an affirmative grunt and curls up in the garden outside the window with Gale perched on top of his head..

“I’ll help you,” Crow says immediately, because his conscience would never let him stand by while no one else helps with housework. He throws a glare at Jack while he’s at it, who looks indignantly at him and sits down with flair.

Carly smiles at Crow thankfully and they both get to work, while the three people at the table mostly just stare at each other.

“Where’d you find them?” Crow asks while cutting up some onions.

“Who, the dwarves?” She laughs a little. “They sort of found me, actually. Most of their race lives in the mountains, but they were excommunicated for whatever reason. They’ve never told me, so I’ve never asked. But we all ended up in the same area and they helped me build this home, so it’s been nice living with them.”

Crow nods, wondering exactly what they could have done to have gotten excommunicated from the mountains. Thinking back to what the Dark Signers were like back in their own universe, he probably has an idea.

“So,” Carly says after a pause, “what are you guys doing then, traveling together?”

Crow debates for a moment whether or not he should divulge their entire backstory, and decides to at least tell her the basics. “We’re on a quest,” he starts vaguely.

“Ooh, a quest! That’s so cool! I’ve always wanted to go on one of those. What’s your end goal?”

“We…hm. Well, we need to get…some items. For a spell. So we’re traveling around collecting them.”

Carly nods, like this is a common occurrence. “Whatcha looking for here, then?”

“The Evil Queen’s... pendant, actually,” Crow says slowly.

She looks a little startled. “The Evil Queen?”

“We were hoping we could get some leads on her whereabouts,” Crow continues, “and you seemed like you’ve at least seen her before.”

Carly laughs, a little nervously for some reason. “Uhm, yeah…I guess so? I didn’t know she had a pendant though.”

Crow raises an eyebrow at her. “Are you sure?”

“Y-yeah, I mean. She wears necklaces, and I guess she wears little jeweled headpieces sometimes, but nothing that’d really qualify for a pendant…I think.”

“You seem to be pretty familiar with this Evil Queen you’re running from,” Crow comments.

She looks flustered. “Well! She’s not really…a bad person, you know! I mean, we’re not, like, enemies or anything. It’s just. Right now. Well.” She worries the edge of the towel she’s holding, and frets around the kitchen.  “I-it’s not important! Are the tomatoes ready yet? We should make lots! Demak really likes tomatoes!”

Crow still can’t remember who Demak is for the life of him, but he takes pity on her and helps her finish making dinner for the five of them.

“By the way,” he adds, “you wouldn’t happen to know anything about a ‘sleeping beauty’, would you?”

Carly thinks about it, and then shakes her head. “I don’t think so. What do you mean?”

“A sleeping beauty, like, a princess getting pricked by a spinning wheel and falling into an eternal sleep, a cursed castle with thorny vines surrounding it…”

“Oh!” Her eyes light up. “I don’t know about any spinning wheel curses, but there’s a castle to the east that suddenly sprouted thorns all around it one day. Maybe that’s what you’re looking for! You’d need a boat to get there, though.”

Crow sighs. “I guess we’ll have to take care of that when the time comes then. Thanks, anyway.”

~~~

Looking around the table at the house’s residents when they all sit down to eat dinner, Crow thinks for a bit and says, “I still feel like someone’s missing, besides Kiryuu.”

Carly picks at her food a little, Bommer shrugs, and Rudger looks like he’s about to say something.

Then, they all hear a soft knocking coming from the door. Maybe it’s Yuusei, Crows thinks at first, except they can still see Yuusei in the garden eating a pumpkin.

“Carly?” A female voice calls.

“That’s not Yuusei,” Crow observes.

“Carly, I said I was sorry, please let me in?”

The girl in question looks at the door with a hesitant expression on her face.

Then someone says, “It’s the Evil Queen!” and Crow’s not entirely sure who, because Jack suddenly gets up very loudly.

“WHAT,” he says, not caring that he just knocked a chair over.

The woman outside is still talking. “I have flowers for you! Your favorite kind! And—why’s there a dragon in the garden? Did you buy a dragon? Carly, please talk to me!”

“That’s—Misty,” Carly tells them finally. “Look, she’s not actually evil or a queen, that’s just what the rest of us call her sometimes. She’s my, uhm, girlfriend. We just got into a fight the other day, and…”

Crow snaps his fingers. “That’s who was missing! I knew there had to be five of you.”

“Six, actually,” Rudger corrects tiredly.

“Carly, I went to the market and got you a pendant too! I know you like jewelry, please open the door!”

Jack, instead, is the one who runs to the door and yanks it open, probably ripping the lock off in the process. “PENDANT?!” he shouts at the woman, and then sees a necklace in her hand.

“Who are—” Misty starts, looking completely baffled, but she doesn’t get to finish because Jack grabs the pendant and takes off running down the road before any of them can react. Crow smacks his forehead and gets up too, throwing an apologetic look to Carly.

“I am so sorry about this, thanks so much for the food, I hope you two make up,” he says quickly, and then he runs out to follow Jack.

Yuusei’s gotten out of the garden, and he also gives them a little bow of his head before Crow pushes him along too and they make a speedy getaway.

“—Who was that?” Misty finally gets out. She gets a chorus of “no idea” from the dwarves.

“...So, uh,” Carly says tentatively, taking the flowers from her and smiling at them happily. “…Dinner?”

 


 

“Stupid giant—and his stupid face,” a shrill voice mutters in the darkness. “I’ll show him… I’ll show them all! They don’t know what forces they’ve just reckoned with…”

In the darkness of the night, a voice is heard cackling to itself, “This will be your end, Jack Atlas!”

(Listening closely enough, another voice can be heard saying, “Shut up, Kiryuu!”)

 

 

Chapter Text

After running all the way to the ocean and hijacking a ship they found conveniently tied up at the docks, the three of them had set off in the direction that Carly had told Crow the cursed castle was in. The land they’ve ended up in looks completely different from where they came from; the skies seem to be perpetually clouded, none of the trees have leaves, and all-in-all it looks like something from the set of a dark, supernatural movie.

Crow supposes their own story definitely falls under the umbrella of “supernatural”, even though he’d really prefer to stay away from “dark.”

They don’t get much time to think about it, though, because as soon as they step onto the road, some armored figure on a white horse charges past them and nearly tramples all over Jack.

“My apologies!” the figure calls back. “I must save the princess!”

“WAIT!” Crow starts to run after them, yelling. “HOLD UP, DID YOU SAY PRINCESS?”

The other person slows their horse down and turns around. “Yes, the princess. There’s only one princess in this land; surely you know of her?” They take their helmet off as the group approaches, shaking their hair out and holding their hand out to them. “I am Lady Sherry LeBlanc. Pleased to meet your acquaintance.”

Crow takes her hand and chuckles a bit, glancing at Jack. “I’m Crow,” he says. “You look, like, way more like a knight in shining armor than Jack does.”

“Jack?” Sherry says with mild surprise, jumping off of her horse gracefully. “Do you mean King Jack, of the Kingdom of Blueballus Extremus?”

Jack yelps, looking extremely affronted, but Crow shoves him to the side to stew by himself. “Yep, that’s Jack, that sure is him. But hey, can you tell us more about this princess?”

Sherry gets starry-eyed, and she sighs wistfully. “She’s my one true love,” she says, placing a gloved hand over her heart. “

Then she launches into a long, drawn out story of how the two of them had met as children, spent one perfect summer together, and promised themselves to each other, but ultimately had to stay in their respective kingdoms. They’d kept in touch via letters, but were rarely allowed to see each other, and it was the cause of many years of sad longing (Jack gags and tries to walk away, but Yuusei hip-checks him into listening to the whole story).

“In her last letter to me, she told me that her father was planning on setting her up to be married to the prince of a neighboring kingdom.” Sherry wiped a tear from her eyes. “My poor girl! She sounded so unhappy. She told me she was going to protest this, of course, but she hates to argue with her parents. The next thing I knew, someone sent word that the princess had fallen under a grave curse!”

She pauses, clearly expecting a reaction from her audience. Crow gasps accordingly.

Sherry nods, satisfied, and then clenches her fist and gazes toward a spot in the distance. “It is said that the only thing that can break this curse is True Love’s Kiss. That is why I must journey forth to save her! Only I can wake her from her slumber, and afterwards her parents will surely approve of our union!”

Crow claps idly. “Nice.”

“We’ll accompany you!” Jack, who has been silent this entire time, declares. He brandishes his sword (Wait, since when does he have a sword?  Does he even know how to use that thing?) and gestures at Sherry. “Surely you’ll need our help on this…honorable quest.”

Sherry sniggers. “Not with that terrible posture, I won’t. Didn’t you ever take sword-fighting lessons? Or do kings only ever hold their swords?”

“Why, you—” Yuusei hip-checks him again, and then bends down in front of Sherry. She seems to notice him for the first time.

“Hello, noble dragon,” she says. “Are you offering your aid as well?”

Yuusei gives her a toothy grin that’s probably meant to be friendly and reassuring. Crow wouldn’t have taken it that way, but Sherry at least seems to be at ease with it.

“Well, I’m certainly not so arrogant that I would refuse aid, even from strangers. But why are you so willing to help me on my quest?”

Crow takes their list out and shows her. “We’re actually on a quest of our own,” he says. “We think that the princess has something on this list that we need, and, well…we’re hoping that she might help us when she wakes up.”

Sherry nods approvingly. “Very well!” She smiles, jumping up on her horse again. “We will work together, then. It may turn out beneficial for both of us, in the end.”

And so the four newly met companions start in the direction of the cursed castle, together.

~~~

The village they end up having to cross through on their way there is quiet and dreary, just like the rest of land.

“It’s like a ghost town, except there’s still people,” Crow comments. “Why is everything so dark, anyway?”

Sherry shrugs. “It’s likely that the curse tampered with the environment surrounding the castle, especially with everything it’s done to the actual fortress. It must have been a powerful witch to have done this.”

“Creepy,” Crow says. Jack scoffs.

“Whatever. Let’s just storm the place and get this over with.”

Sherry nudges him with a sharp, armored elbow. “Oh yeah? Confident you can take the witch down?”

Jack makes a face. “I don’t even have to answer that! I’m the king. Some witch would be no match for me.”

“Yeah,” Sherry says with a chortle, “maybe if you knew how to hold your sword the right way.”

“How dare you—”

“Are you planning on trying to free the princess of her curse?” a voice says from behind them. They all spin around—except for Yuusei, who tries but takes about three times as long to get his entire body rotated—and see a man and a woman standing there. They’re fancily dressed and adorned with jewelry, but they look completely distraught.

“Please reconsider!” the man says. “Many people have tried, and they’ve all failed. The curse’s defenses are impossible to penetrate!”

Jack levels him with a glare. “Who are you to tell us what we can and can’t do?”

The man gestures at the crown on his head and sighs. “We’re the King and Queen of this land. The cursed princess is our daughter. We should have looked out for her more, but...now it’s too late. There are too many deaths on our hands already.”

“Hold on,” the Queen says, peering at Jack. “Are you not the King of Wearing Your Initials as Earrings Like a Tool? We did not realize we were in the presence of fellow royalty.”

Jack’s face gets so red that Crow’s pretty sure it’s burning more than his soul, and he looks like he about to start screaming at both of them. Sherry, however, gets there first.

“Really?!” she rages, getting all up in the King’s face. “She’s your daughter! How dare you just give up on her? Did you care nothing for her, after all?!”

The King’s jaw drops and he makes a sound as if to argue, but then he just looks ashamed. “You don’t understand. Every single person who tried so far has perished.”

“Well, I haven’t tried yet,” Sherry says with a huff. “I’m going to rescue the princess, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

She takes her horse’s reins and Yuusei’s front claw and marches away from them, leaving Crow and Jack to shrug helplessly and follow her.

“Assholes,” she’s saying under her breath when they catch up to her. “What wimps. She deserves better. I’m going to save her today.”

“That’s admirable,” Crow says, “but, like, I’m pretty sure we’d only be able to get there by today if we flew there.”

They all stare at Yuusei, who perks up at the implication of being useful.

“Pretty sure he’s too fat to fly,” Jack says, and Yuusei droops again.

“Aww, it’s okay,” Sherry says, patting him on the head. “You’re cute. You can be my mascot.”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it,” Crows adds and kicks Jack on the shins. “Let’s just focus on finding somewhere to stay before it gets dark.”

“Jack Atlas isn’t scared of the d—”

“Honestly, Jack, no one cares.”

~~~

They end up finding an inn, but as soon as they walk in, the innkeeper takes one look at Jack and exclaims, “Oh! Could it be King Jack of Being Unable to Hold Down a Job? Your kingdom has been waiting for your return!”

Jack immediately storms out and refuses to go back in.

Yuusei finds him stubbornly trying to sleep under a tree and lies down next him, curling up around him carefully. Crow sighs fondly when he sees both of them asleep, handing Gale off to Sherry and settling down in the crook of Yuusei’s neck.

“Sorry about him,” he says to her. She waves it off.

“It’s no problem. I do not mind sleeping outside.”

Crow laughs. “They’re kind of weird, and Jack especially isn’t always easy to deal with. We’ve been together for as long as I remember, though. I guess ya get used to it.”

“I understand the feeling,” Sherry smiles. “It’s good that you have each other.”

Crow leans back against the warmth of Yuusei’s scales and Jack’s shoulder. “More like they’re lucky to have me,” he quips, but he’s smiling as he says it.

~~~

It’s the afternoon of the next day when they start to near the castle. As they travel closer, they start to see the garden of thorns that the rumors talked about, twisting and towering over any paths that would lead them into the castle. Some parts look like people had started to cut through them, but nothing seemed to go all the way through.

Sherry stares somberly at the evidence of everyone else’s failed attempts. “They call this the Black Garden because of how many deaths it has caused. They say it changes on itself, and if you get tired and stop fighting, it swallows you whole.”

They stare on in silence, paying their respects to the deceased.

“I’m gonna wreck it,” she continues.

Jack is immediately in front of her, facing the thorns and brandishing his sword like a baseball bat. “I will be the one to wreck it.”

“Ha! I’d like to see you try!” she sneers, drawing her own sword and elbowing him out of the way.

“JACK ATLAS LOSES TO NO ONE!”

“EAT MY DUST, KING OF SAD WANKING!”

Jack lets out a furious howl and Crow sniggers, watching as the two of them start hacking away at the garden with their disproportionately-sized swords at record speeds.

Meanwhile, Yuusei is…actually trying to fly over them.

“Uhm,” Crow says as Yuusei flaps his wings but only succeeds in sort of rolling face-first into a particularly thick vine. He lets out a sad whine and switches tactics, opening his maw wide and inhaling.

Holy shit, has he been able to breathe fire this whole time? Crow thinks in awe.

But then Yuusei heaves out a great huff, and the only thing that comes out is a trickle of smoke. He sits on the ground, dejected.

Crow walks up to him and strokes his back comfortingly. “Don’t worry about it, buddy. We’re doing just fine as we are, see?” He gestures to the crazed duo that’s still competing to see who can cut through the thorns faster (Sherry’s winning). “You’ve been a great help in other ways. How about…do you want to carry me through behind them?”

Yuusei perks up at this, turning to look at him with his eyes sparkling.

“I mean, I’m not wearing armored boots like those two,” Crow reasons, and Yuusei enthusiastically crouches down to let him on his back.

The two of them teeter off, following Sherry and Jack’s trail of destruction.

~~~

Crow must have nodded off at some point, because when he comes back to consciousness, Jack and Sherry are yelling loudly at each other about who trampled through more thorns. He feels warm, and realizes it’s because Yuusei’s been covering him with his wings. He’s walking in a more unbalanced manner than usual, because dragon wings are definitely not supposed to be held like that.

He pats them and gently tucks them back into their normal resting position, before he tunes back into the yelling.

“You guys, it doesn’t matter who won,” he starts.

“IT MATTERS BECAUSE I DON’T LOSE,” Jack fumes.

“It doesn’t—”

“Were you even there?! You’re just being a SORE LOSER!”

“I AM NOT—”

“LOSER!”

“Oh my GOD, YOU GUYS.” Crow slides off of Yuusei and starts walking forward without them. “It doesn’t matter because woah, hey, look, there’s the entrance to castle, do you wanna maybe go do what we came here to do?”

Sherry manages to look marginally chastised and Jack just looks constipated, but at least he shuts up. That’s when Gale, who hasn’t done much of anything this whole time, flies out in front of them and lands on the top step of the doorway. It hops a little bit, as if to say “Come on!”

Giving one last look to Sherry and Jack, Crow starts after it. Sherry seems to finally take a hold of her conviction again, and all but runs after Gale to catch up.

“Does the bird know where it’s going?” she asks.

Crow shrugs. “Probably.”

They follow it inside, stepping cautiously because, well, this castle is supposed to be cursed. But beyond the utter silence and thick layer of dust covering all of the tapestries, it doesn’t actually look that eerie. There are no flickering lights and there especially aren’t any skeletons, which Crow has been hoping they never come across.

Gale leads them up a spiral staircase, stopping every now and then to let Yuusei catch up. Now that he thinks about it, it feels a little cruel to be making him climb so many stairs in the first place when he still isn’t fully accustomed to all his limbs. Crow lingers behind a little to make sure he doesn’t trip and fall.

It gets a little darker further up due the lack of windows, and everyone tenses up when they hear something like scuffling at the end of a hallway. The entire area seems to be shrouded in mist, and they approach it cautiously.

As they get closer, Crow spots a small, dark shadow that looks like it’s having a choking fit. Sherry’s hand jerks toward her sword, gripping the hilt.

“Stupid mist,” the figure coughs, swatting at it, “Just… go away.... you won’t be missed! Get it!? It sounds like mist!

“Stand back,” Sherry orders, “I’ll take care of him, and his wordplay!”

The mist clears and, as Sherry moves to strike, Crow sees… Tiny Kiryuu.

Yoooou!” Kiryuu yells, pointing at Jack dramatically, “If I had a dime for every time someone made a bad short joke at me, I’d have a lot of dimes, but if I stacked them up, they still wouldn’t be as tall as you!

Yuusei lets out an unimpressed groan.

“The witch is speaking in tongues!” Sherry says, “Be on guard!”

“That’s not the witch,” Crow groans, “It’s a twerp who Jack offended.”

Sherry doesn’t loosen her grip on the sword, still eyeing him suspiciously.

“And I have another bone to pick with you!” Kiryuu continues. “You stole my boat! I had to use Demak’s boat to get here! Duel me! Duel me right here, right now!”

Jack rolls his eyes. “He’s not really a threat,” he says to Sherry. “He’s just got a short temper.”

Face red with fresh anger, Kiryu screeches, “Short temper!?”

“Heeere we go,” Crow sighs.

Sure enough, Kiryuu starts babbling, “I’ll have you know that my temper isn’t the only thing short about me— wait, no, damn it, I mean— I know you are but what am I!? Wait no. I mean... your face is short! Wait… oh hold on, that one was actually good. Your face is—!”

“Shut. Up!

The door behind him slams open, revealing a woman dressed in a red and black dress adorned with flowers and fit for royalty. “Princess Aki!” Sherry cries.

“A girl can’t even take a nap around here,” the woman continues on, marching towards Kiryuu. “I thought I was done with this when I kicked the last guy’s ass! Said he was a wizard, couldn’t even take a punch or two—”

Picking Kiryuu up by the collar, Aki hisses, “Were you sent by that ‘Divine’ guy?”

Kiryuu screams.

“No, he’s after us,” Crow pipes up. Aki turns to him with a glare, dropping Kiryuu to the floor. Crow gulps and adds, “Also, uh, your girlfriend was looking for you.”

The princess brushes her hair out of her face and seems to notice Sherry for the first time. She gasps. “Sherry! You’re here!”

Sherry’s eyes tear up and she launches herself at the princess, knocking Kiryuu out with an accidental(?) boot to the head in the process. “You’re safe! They told me you had fallen into a deep sleep from an evil witch’s curse!”

Aki looks a little sheepish. “Aah…that would be me.”

“…What?”

“I, uh, was the one who cursed me.”

Everyone gives her looks of varying degrees of confusion (varying because Crow still can’t really decipher Yuusei’s expressions most of the time). “Please explain,” Sherry says with a crease in her brow.

Aki blushes a little. “I got really angry when my parents wouldn’t listen to me. They wanted me to marry some wimpy prince, can you believe it?!” Sherry makes a disgusted sound at this. “So I guess I lost my temper, and um…altered the landscape a bit…? It wasn’t intentional, mostly. I wanted everyone except for you to leave me alone, and I think my powers responded to that.” She takes Sherry’s hand and smiles at her. “It’s been kind of lonely in my room all by myself, though. I’m glad you’re here.”

Sherry sweeps her off her feet and bends her over, pressing a deep kiss to her lips that Jack looks away from.

Cute, Crow thinks, happy that everything turned out fine even if the reasons behind the events are mostly just confusing.

He thinks back to his conversation with Sherry about the people they appreciate in their lives, and looks at his companions fondly. So maybe one’s a dragon right now and the other one’s got official titles in douchebaggery, but he’s glad they’re here too.

“Hey. We need your needle.”

…and there’s Jack, demonstrating his first point thoroughly.

Aki pulls away from Sherry and looks a little baffled at them. “Needle? Like...a poke-y needle?”

“What other kind of needles are there.”

She makes a face at him. “I don’t have any sewing needles, if that’s what you mean. I’ve never sewn anything in my life. There are, like, thousands of thorns outside though? You could have just taken one.” She reaches into her pocket and takes out one, long thorn and presents it to them anyway.

Jack stares at her outstretched hand and just gapes. “You’re telling me we could have just picked one of these things off of the ground and left.”

Aki shrugs, handing the thorn to Crow instead. “Yeah, guess so.”

Jack’s scream of rage echoes throughout the empty castle halls.

 

Chapter Text

They leave Sherry and Aki with their best wishes and the assurance that they would finally be able to get married to each other, and set off on the big blue sea.

“Are we there yet,” Jack says after a few hours, staring ahead at the large expanse of water.

“No,” Crow replies. “Clearly.”

“WHERE THE HELL IS THIS MERMAID,” Jack yells in frustration. He makes a grab for Gale, who turns it into a game of tag.

“You’re gonna capsize this friggin’ boat,” Crow tells Jack as he runs after the bird. At one point, he leans a little too far forward and looks like he’s going to fall off, but then suddenly a pair of arms shoot out of the water and push him upright.

“Careful!” a familiar voice says, and a head emerges.

“WHAT THE FUCK!!!” Jack shrieks, punching the newcomer in the face as soon as he regains his balance.

“Why?!” the person cries as they splash back into the water. Yuusei looks over the side of the boat curiously.

Crow joins them and squints at the bubbles rising to the surface. “Yo was that…Bruno?”

“Hey, how did you know?” Bruno’s face appears again, grinning at them as if one of them hadn’t just socked him in the nose. Jack makes as if to punch him again, but Yuusei holds him back.

Then Bruno hoists himself up onto the edge of the boat, swinging his lower half over onto the deck. Oh, Crow thinks, we’ve found our mermaid.

“Hello! I don’t see a whole lot of humans around here. Whatcha guys up to?”

Before they can reply to him, though, they hear another tinny voice calling out from somewhere beneath him.

“Get back in the water!” the voice says, and there are a bunch of scuttling sounds before they see a lobster crawling up the side the boat. “You’re not supposed to be interacting with humans!”

“Aw, loosen up, Aporia,” Bruno says, picking the lobster up and dropping him back into the ocean. “What Z-one doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

The lobster snaps his front claws at them angrily. “It’ll hurt me if he does find out and he reports it back to your brother!”

Bruno waves his hand idly. “Antinomy doesn’t need to know about this either. Seriously, I’m just talking, what’s the harm? Come on. Just enjoy life, like Paradox.” He points at a squid swimming in furious circles a few feet away from them, twitching and gurgling at nothing.

Aporia the lobster sputters irritably before he throws his claws in the air. “Whatever! Do what you want!” He whirls around with as much force as a small crustacean is probably capable of, headbutting into Paradox and dragging them both away.

Crow stares a little disbelievingly at Bruno, who’s waving fondly at the place Aporia and Paradox have disappeared from. Dwarves are one matter, sea creatures are another entirely, but who is he to judge at this point? Bruno catches his gaze and misinterprets his tired expression. “Don’t worry, Antinomy never gets too angry at me. He just has a bit of an inflated ego just because he has legs. I got the head and arms and torso though, so honestly I don’t know what the big deal is.”

“What,” says Crow.

“Well, we’re sort of twins,” Bruno explains vaguely. He idly pulls out a fork and starts toying with it. Crow is wondering if it came from a shipwreck when he spots a small charm hanging off of it like some it’s some school kid’s cellphone instead of a piece of junk. “Fraternal.”

It’s that moment when Yuusei makes a sort of bleating dragon noise, and Crow looks over to see Jack half flattened by Yuusei’s excessive bulk. Despite Jack’s considerable struggles (he’s yelling a lot, which Crow has long since learned to tune out for the most part), Yuusei is focused on Bruno, and pokes his nose over the side of the boat as if trying to draw his attention.

“And what’s your name?” Bruno asks brightly, stroking the dragon’s head. Yuusei responds with a purring noise, but his eyes look sad.

Crow feels a pang for his friend. “This is Yuusei,” he says, placing a comforting hand on Yuusei’s neck as Jack finally frees himself, gasping a curse. “I think you’ll like each other.”

“You just let him sit on me,” Jack interrupts.

“Come on, Jack,” Crow hisses. “It’s Bruno. At least behave for a few--”

“Well if he sits on you, don’t expect me to help. In fact!” He turns indignantly and stomps his foot. “Yuusei! Sit on Crow! Fair is fair.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Yuusei,” Bruno says, paying no attention to the exchange. Yuusei shuffles as close to the edge of the small boat as he can without capsizing it, and Crow and Jack are forced to move back to compensate for the dangerous shift in weight. They exchange a look that says, this again.

“Yuusei,” Jack tries again. The lack of acknowledgement makes him shuffle uncomfortably, and the two of them stand by awkwardly for at least ten minutes while Bruno talks about a string of seashells he’s wearing. Yuusei is almost comically attentive.

Crow sighs. If there’s anything Jack can’t handle, it’s being ignored, and he’s starting to get a bit annoyed himself. “Anyway,” Crow announces over Bruno’s one-sided chatter.

It takes another minute or so to get Bruno’s attention without being able to walk to the other side of the boat, but Crow is finally able to ask what he needs to ask.

“A comb?” Bruno has his hands on the side of the boat, his fork laced between the fingers of his right hand. Crow can see that the little charm dangling off the end is shaped like an anchor. “Um, well, not a dedicated comb.”

“Dedicated comb,” Crow echoes blankly.

“My smart phone has a comb app,” he continues. He twirls the fork in his fingers and then pulls it through his damp hair with flair. “I developed it myself.”

Only Yuusei reacts, nudging the side of Bruno’s head with a happy trill, and Bruno grins widely, seeming proud of himself.

“I guess electrical stuff wouldn’t work underwater,” Crow says out of the corner of his mouth.

“Shame,” Jack scoffs, crossing his arms. Crow can’t help but feel a little bad for this version of Bruno, though. He’d always equated Bruno with his role as their mechanic, and seeing him unable to exercise that ability was at least as disorienting as seeing him with a fish tail.

“Do you think it’d work for what you need?” Bruno says, holding it out to him. “You can have it!”

Crow looks at his outstretched arm and takes the fork hesitantly. “Are you sure? It looks like you put a lot of work into this.”

“It’s not a problem! I can make another one real quick, and besides, making things is really fun.”

“Wow. Thanks then.”

He starts to slip the fork into his bag, but Jack shoves into him and grabs it. He squints at it suspiciously and gets all up in Bruno’s face. “Really? Just like that? WHAT’S THE CATCH, HUH?”

“Is that a fish joke,” asks Bruno uncertainly. Yuusei gives Jack a disappointed look.

“Nevermind,” Crow interjects. He snatches the fork back out of Jack’s hands before he can argue. Making sure to keep eye contact with Jack, he adds loudly, “you’ve been very helpful, Bruno.” Jack turns and huffs.

Bruno seems to relax a little, and he gives him a bright smile. “It’s really not a big deal, I’m glad to be of help! But, uh.” He leans sideways a little and points at a spot on the water behind Jack’s shoulder. “Do you know what’s up with the mist over there? It’s been getting closer for the last few minutes.”

Crow whips around and stares at where he’s pointing to. “Oh god,” he groans, “him again?”

A little alarmed, Bruno motions for him to use the multi-purpose comb, sitting up as straight as he can with a tail instead of legs. “An enemy?” he whispers, looking ready to dive at it.

Jack stops him with a sigh. “Don’t bother.”

The mist clears, and all of them see a little dwarf cackling to himself.

“Bet you never thought you’d see me again,” the small man says haughtily.

“No,” Jack deadpans.

“And if I have a short temper, doesn’t that mean you have a tall temper!?”

“Oh, come on, that wasn’t even close to good,” Crow says, Yuusei is groaning as if the comeback actually hurt him, which it might’ve. Noticing the confused look on Bruno’s face, he adds, “His name is Kiryuu. And he’s as annoying as he is short.”

“Which is to say, very,” Jack adds.

Crow rolls his eyes. “Can you just, like, apologize to him so we don’t have to keep dealing with this?”

“I didn’t even SAY ANYTHING this time.”

“You two used to get along pretty well,” Crow notes, overly casual. “Wonder what happened.”

Jack scowls hard, but doesn’t say anything else. His ears are a little red. Crow grins to himself; he wouldn’t have brought it up, but Yuusei is distracted anyway, and Kiryuu can be a touchy subject depending on the mood. A mood like this was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

“I remember the good ol’ days,” Crow begins dramatically. Jack kicks him in the shin and Crow stumbles to the floor of the boat laughing. The fork clatters down beside him, but as Crow reaches for it, it shudders and expands, morphing into something larger and blockier. “Uh,” he announces.

“Oh, that’s inconvenient,” Bruno notes, pulling back. “Don’t worry, that’s just the motorcycle app. You just need to give it some space until it’s done loading.”

“What.”

Bruno doesn’t need to explain. True to his words, the object that was once a fork, at least temporarily, is rapidly enlarging in a way that seemed to be constructing a primitive D-wheel from the inside-out. Yuusei chirrups as the phone charm situates itself along the left handlebar.

“Well. Okay.”

“I probably should have moved the trigger button for that,” Bruno says sheepishly as he reaches over and tugs on something, and they all watch as the D-wheel folds back into a fork. “Give me one sec, I’ll fix it for you.”

They let him fiddle with his gadget, turning around to look again at Kiryuu. He’s still waving his arms around angrily and approaching them at a very slow pace, screaming “Duel me!!!” in the general direction of their boat.

“What do we do about him,” Crow says to no one in particular. They continue to just stare at him until Bruno’s finished.

“Here you go!” he grins, and hands the fork back to Crow. “Is that guy going to give you trouble? I have something else that I can use to propel you guys away from here, if you’d like.”

Crow chuckles under his breath. “That’d be great—”

“YES,” Jack interjects, and Bruno slips off of the ship and into the water, holding something to the back of it.

“It was great meeting all of you!” he says, looking up them. He turns and gives a little wave to Yuusei. “The time I spent with you—” Bruno begins. They hear something roar to life and the boat jerks, drowning out the rest of what he says. As they jet away, they can see his lips still moving, and Yuusei lets out a high croon that Crow bets Bruno can hear even after he dips his head back into the sea.

The last thing that reaches them is Kiryuu’s voice in the distance screeching something like, “ARE YOU JUST GONNA LEAVE?!”

Yuusei looks glumly at Crow, and Crow opens his arms invitingly with a little quirk of the mouth. He’s too chubby to put his arms all the way around, but he gives Yuusei the biggest squeeze he can muster, and then they pull Jack into the hug when he huffs for the third time in twenty seconds.

“Where to next?” he murmurs against the warm scales of Yuusei’s neck.

 

Chapter Text

After a day of travel on the open seas without spotting land, Jack gets impatient and angry. Actually, he gets impatient after about fifteen minutes of travel without spotting land, and he was always angry, but it really starts to get annoying after a day. Jack’s childish behavior is, in small amounts, something Crow has learned to handle, but even the mightiest of patience masters can fall when faced with over five-hundred whines of “Are we there yet?” and what had to be over a thousand more of “I’m bored.”

Jack sighs loudly, lying on the boat’s floor with Yuusei. “Are we theeer--”

“Don’t,” Crow snaps, tired from a night of looking out for land. “We’re not.”

“And why not,” Jack cuts back, equally angry. “We’ve been sailing for forever! There must have been land you missed somewhere.”

“Jack, I swear to god, if you say one more word I’m throwing you overboard.”

Jack confrontationally crosses his arms and huffs. “I’m not any happier than—” but is cut off when Crow grabs him by the neck of his armored suit and drags him to the side of the ship. “CROW.”

“That was more than one word,” Crow shouts at wit’s end, but Yuusei swats his tail at them before he can make good on his threat. They’re thrown into Yuusei’s warm hide, but Crow jumps right back up when he spots something floating a meter or so away from their little boat. “Hey, what’s that?”

Yuusei sticks his nose into the water and mouths at what looks like a bottle bobbing up and down next to them. He grabs it in his jaw and pulls back to drop it in Crow’s hands.

~DRINK ME~, the plastic label on the bottle says.

Crow wrinkles his nose. “Hell no.”

“Let me see,” Jack says, shoving in front of him and taking the bottle. “THIS SAYS ‘DRINK ME’.”

“Yeah, we can all read,” Crow says. “Let’s just. Put it back and—”

He’s interrupted when Yuusei makes a little noise and dips his head over the side again. This time, he drops a small box in Crow’s hands. He stares at it blankly for a moment.

“That one says ‘EAT ME’,” Jack supplies. After a second, he snatches them out of Crow’s hands. “Wait, these are cookies.”

Crow is pretty hungry, but he spent the better part of his youth feeling hungry, and a day out on the open water isn’t enough to persuade him to trust a too-convenient smorgasbord floating up to their little dinghy. Jack has no such reservations it seems, and is halfway to shoving a fistful into his mouth when Yuusei’s tail comes up and snaps the box out of his hands and back into the water. They tumble out of the box and dissolve with an explosion of pink glitter, illuminating the sea momentarily.

Jack stares at the spot the cookies landed in with his jaw hanging open and then at the cookies still in his hand.

“You should’ve let him eat them,” Crow says to Yuusei. “He would’ve deserved it for not sharing.”

Jack has the sense to look chastised. He mutters something under his breath and Crow hopes it was a thanks for saving me from turning into sparkledust, Yuusei, but doubts it.

~~~

They don’t see any semblance of land for what Crow guesses to be another two hours. Normally he’d have no problem estimating the passage of time by the movement of the sun, but it and the moon were both skimming opposite sides of the horizon, half the sky bright and the other half dark. They had been in those fixed position since the motor Bruno had given them ran out of fuel half a day ago.

Jack’s the one who cries out first, having been doing nothing but staring into the distance. He yells out something like “LAND” and Crow and Yuusei both scramble to his side of the boat to look at whatever it he’s pointing at. The boat teeters wildly while they frantically try to urge it forward. Yuusei even sticks his tail in the water and tries to recreate the action of the propeller by splashing it around, but the sails are carrying them on the gentle wind, and there’s not much more to be done.

Crow is just about ready to jump into the ocean and swim the rest of the way—not that he’d beat the ship, but at least he could get rid of his restless energy before he’d feel inspired to kiss the dirt in relief, which is really what he felt like doing at the moment—when they hear a distant, too-familiar voice.

“Is that the tournament announcer?” Jack sputters in disbelief. He cups a hand around his mouth and barks an unfriendly, “Hey!”

“OOHHTTOOH!” the announcer says into his microphone. His pompadour is as wild as ever, and his voice is some how magnified despite the lack of speakers on the upside-down umbrella he’s standing in. He drifts toward them much faster than he should have been able, narrating. “And here are our heroes! Will they get their last item and complete their quest? And how will Team Kizuna get out of this pinch?”

“LISTEN,” Jack shouts.

The announcer is already passing their slow-moving boat though, and gestures at them dramatically. “Crow is frustrated beyond measure and Jack has failed to contribute for the entire quest! Their leader is a dragon! The team is at an overwhelming disadvantage!”

Too quickly to seem possible, his voice is fading. He’s heading in the direction of the moon, where they’d traveled from. Jack seems to notice it for the first time as soon as the announcer is too far away to see. “It’s already getting dark,” he notes, both unhelpful and incorrect.

As they get rapidly closer to shore, they realize that the trees on this island seem to come in varying shades of pink, purple, and blue, and the ground is checkered instead of, like, being dirt-colored. They also realize that none of them know how to actually slow this boat down. The three of them scramble helplessly as it rams straight into a large rock on the edge of the beach and some probably-important parts of it collapse and break off.

“...Shit,” Crow says. Yuusei clambers off of the wreck and looks sadly back at it.

“WHY DIDN’T YOU SLOW THE BOAT DOWN,” Jack yells at him, stomping onto the beach and kicking a dislodged plank angrily.

Me?!” Crow shoots back incredulously. “Since when have I ever known how to steer boats? If anything, you should have at least tried, you were standing right on top of the steering wheel!”

“OH, SO YOU’RE GOING TO BLAME THIS ON ME NOW?!”

“Well maybe if you weren’t so USELESS—”

Jack screeches and is about to launch himself at him, but then they both hear crunching sounds behind them. They turn around and see Yuusei, who’s somehow gotten himself up into a pink tree, eating its entire production of fruit at record speed.

“How did you get up there,” is all Jack says, before Crow runs at the tree and tries to shake the dragon out of it.

“You were there when the exploding cookies happened, right?! You can’t just eat weird fruit off of a weird island! We don’t even know if those are safe!”

Yuusei’s stomach growls loudly and he looks a little embarrassed, spitting a pit to the ground. When Crow looks, there’s a good pile of them beneath him already.

“Yuusei…”

“I smell coffee,” Jack announces. Yuusei slips out of the tree and gives a panicked flap of his wings that forces him into an unexpected somersault, causing several of the fruit to tumble to the ground after him when he hits the ground with a loud thump. Jack looks momentarily bewildered and shuffles over to make sure he’s not hurt.

He seems to recover gracefully though, shaking the dirt and leaves off of his back and sitting up primly like he had been in that position the whole time.

“What was that about coffee?” Crow says to Jack, who waves his hand at some place to their left.

“I smell it,” Jack repeats. He plucks a few fruit off the ground and inspects them. Crow does the same, encouraged by Yuusei’s apparent lack of negative reaction, and waits for Jack to add anything useful. Jack bites into a fruit instead. “God I was hungry. Are you going to eat those,” he continues, arms probably unable to carry more anyway. Crow just sighs.

He doesn’t get to eat all of them though, because a blur of red drops out of another tree and someone starts running down a path lined with what looks like cotton.

“I’M GONNA BE SO HECKIN’ LATE,” the blur cries, nearly swerving into a pole. This gets Gale’s attention though, and it squawks a little and flaps its wings at them.

“Hey!” Crow yells, getting the message. “Wait up!”

“I can’t, I’m gonna be late!” The figure stops running though, and when they turn around Crow sees that it’s one of those guys from Team Ragnarok...wearing bunny ears. “Sorry, but—wait a second.”

The guy with the bunny ears turns around completely, running back to stare at Jack. “Yo, aren’t you the King of Ass? Jack Ass? Amazing! What are you doing here?”

Jack drops all of his fruit to the ground and roars wordlessly. Yuusei’s body is shaking with laughter. The other man seems to be completely unaffected.

“I’m Brave! I’m—SHIT, I’M LATE IS WHAT I AM, SORRY, FAREWELL!”

“Late for what,” Crow says, but he’s already taken off down the road. They stare for a few seconds to process the situation. “We should follow him,” he decides.

“What if I don’t want to,” Jack grunts, still offended.

“Your feelings don’t matter.”

Yuusei places the end of his tail on the top of Crow’s head, a gentle reprimand, and Crow sighs.

“I think Gale’s saying that it’s a plot point,” he revises.

Jack harrumphs loudly, the closest he’ll get to an ‘of course, whatever you say, Crow’ and they all hurry after Gale.

They seemed to be running along a red path, and the landscape goes from strange to stranger; the trees are thick and twisted, unsettling enough for a bunch of city kids, but the leaves and trunks are an array of pastel and gem tones. They catch movement in the branches at times, but the creatures Crow sees are too bizarre to contemplate.

The road eventually reaches a dead end, and Jack is gearing up for another bout of complaining when Gale nudges aside a curtain of vines and reveals a small clearing in the trees. They hear someone humming something in a baritone before they really make sense of what they’re seeing, and they smell something warm and rich wafting through the air.

“That’s Blue Eyes Mountain,” says Jack, sounding affronted and greedy.

“Yes, it is,” someone replies, and they see the rest of Team Ragnarok sitting around a table with cups in their hands. Brave is shuffling around at the end, still mumbling about being late.

“What is this,” Jack demands.

Harald, who has an elaborate-looking top hat sitting on his head, raises an eyebrow at him. “We’re having a coffee party,” he says like it’s obvious.

“A what,” Crow says, because the cups they’re using are clearly western style tea cups.

“A co-ffee par-ty,” Harald repeats, slowly. “Similar to what you miscreants might call a tea party, but with coffee.”

Crow bites his lip to keep himself from getting offended on reflex. He stares at the table a bit, feeling like something’s missing. “You’re having a tea—uh, coffee—party without a teapot? I mean a coffee pot?”

Harald heaves a world-weary sigh at them. “Unfortunately, someone lost it in a bet.” He throws a dirty look at Brave, who twiddles his thumbs and finally sits down. “Anyway, you hooligans weren’t invited. What are you doing here?”

Suddenly Dragan, who has been staring at Jack this whole time, asks, “Isn’t that the missing king of the Kingdom of Unrequited Hateboners?”

“That’s what I thought!” Brave pipes, nodding.

Crow lets Yuusei restrain Jack from jumping on the table and attacking them, and turns back to Harald. “We’re looking for a teapot. Are you sure you don’t have any?”

Harald glances past Crow, looking something between confused and repulsed. Yuusei is half sitting on Jack, curled around him and rumbling affectionately. Probably trying to tell Jack that his hateboner isn’t actually unrequited or something. “Even if I did have one, I wouldn’t give it to you.”

“Well, can you at least tell us who has yours now?” Before Harald could reply with an obstinate no way, he adds, “so we can leave you alone.”

Harald considers, and finally says, “The twins.”

~~~

Unfortunately, Crow was right the first time; the creatures in these woods are seriously creepy. It’s even worse because the directions Harald gave were not only cryptic and unhelpful, but, by Crow’s estimation, impossible to follow. Crow had been relying on Gale to get them to where they needed to be, but even their reliable guide seemed to be disoriented.

The red path they’re traversing seems to appear before them rather than lead anywhere in particular. At one point they double back, believing they missed a turn, and find a new path winding around the other side of a big old tree, parallel to the first. A cleaning bot rolls down the first path and sweeps it away, chanting osouji, and disappears into the dark woods. Jack doesn’t handle it well.

They start hearing voices in the trees, giggling at them whenever one of them stumbles over a branch or makes a comment about being lost. At one point, Jack gets his foot caught in a croquet hoop and trips, and whoever it is that’s laughing at them apparently finds it so funny that they tumble out in front of them.

“Haha, this is awkward,” the familiar-looking, bright-haired child says, jumping up and brushing his trousers off with a flair.

“When will you stop being so clumsy, Rua?” another voice says, and his sister jumps down after him. She makes him turn around so she can wipe the dirt off of his back, chastising him lightly. Then she turns to the disoriented trio and gives them a friendly smile. “Hello!” she says, as if they didn’t just drop down from the trees.

Crow had been so distracted by navigating the woods, he hadn’t even considered that “the twins” would mean the only twins they know. Or rather, strangers who look like the only twins they know. This world is giving Crow a headache.

It probably should have been obvious, though.

“Woah,” Rua says suddenly, pointing. “I didn’t realize it before, but you’re King Jack! King Jack of the Land of Obvious and Unnecessary Statements! That’s so cool!” Yuusei has a grip on Jack’s cloak before Rua is even done speaking. “I hope I get to be as cool as you some day!”

“You’ll never be as cool as me,” Jack barks. Yuusei seems to have less patience for Jack yelling at children, because he’s flattened in no time.

Crow rubs his eyes in exasperation. “Take my advice and get a better role model, kid. Anyway...are you guys the twins that Brave bet his teapot away to?”

“Hm…” Rua laces his fingers behind his back and grins at him innocently. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“...Are you sure,” Crow says, narrowing his eyes.

His twin jabs him in the side. “Ow! Okay, fine, yeah, we have it. What about it?”

“We need it,” Jack says bluntly.

Rua blinks at him and frowns. “But we won it fair and square. Why should we give it to you?”

“You like Jack, right?” Crow tries. “It’d really help him out.”

“Um, I want to be cool like King Jack. I have an action figure of him! When you bop its head, it says ‘FIGHT ME!’ So you’re gonna have to fight us if you want the teapot.”

Crow stares at the children. “Are you...sure you want to fight us?”

Ruka rolls her eyes. “We don’t mean actually fight. More like...hm....Rua, what do you think a good challenge would be?”

The boy seems to ponder this for a minute, smirking mischievously when he thinks of something. “Limericks!” he declares.

Jack, who had been gearing up to actually do some punching, stops and gapes at him. “...What.”

“Oh, that’s a good idea!” Rua says. “Okay, how about this. You make up three good limericks for us, and we’ll consider that a good trade for this teapot. I think that’s a good deal, don’t you?”

“What the f—” Jack is about to say, but Crow slaps a hand over his hand because this is at least way better than an all-out brawl with a bunch of twelve-year-olds.

“Fine, we accept,” Crow says. “Explain.”

“Well, for example,” Rua starts, “Something like this. ‘The twins of the woods had a bet, made to a trio of dudes they just met. Three verses to make, a teapot at stake, and failure means Whoops! Game-and-set.’”

“You want us to write poems?” Jack yells incredulously.

“Don’t you like challenges?” Rua grins at him. “I never thought I’d see you back down from a fight, King Jack. But it’s okay, if you want to forfeit before trying.”

“WHY YOU LITTLE—”

“Shhh,” Crow says, tugging hard on his cape to hold him back from launching himself at the kid. “I’m thinking.”

Yuusei pokes his head forward, looking at him with mild excitement.

“There once was an asshole named Jack,” Crow starts, thinking hard, “who needed a really good whack.”

Jack glowers at him angrily, but Rua urges him on with, “Go on, you’ve got it!”

“He claimed to be King, but his people would sing, ‘He just wants a Yuusei to mack.’

Yuusei makes a sound of bewilderment and looks up from whatever he’s scratching into the ground.

“Brilliant!” Ruka says. “Two more, two more!”

“We friends are a party of three,” the marks in the ground read, “Blackfeathers, resonators, and debris. With our bonds we fight, using all our might, and in the end we always succeed.”

“That’s not silly enough to be a limerick,” Rua pouts, “But I’ll allow it.”

They all turn and look expectantly at Jack.

“What,” he grunts.

Rua grins widely. “Your turn!”

Jack scoffs. “Hell, no.”

“Oh,” Ruka shrugs lightly, “I guess you don’t want this tea pot that bad then. Let’s go, Rua.”

“WAIT,” Jack grinds out as they start to turn away. “FINE. I’ll write your stupid poem.”

Everyone looks at him and waits.

“There’s only one king, and it’s me,” he begins slowly.

Crow groans inwardly.

“And the only one who can beat me is… me.”

“Oh come on,” Rua says.

“I have excellent taste, have you seen my great face, gosh am I glad to be… me.”

Ruka looks like she’s cringing. “Nice...effort? Whatever, we’ll take it.”

“Congrats!” Rua says, throwing a handful of confetti into the air. He produces a teapot out of nowhere and presents it to them with a flourish. “Here’s your prize!”

Crow snatches it out of his hands and stashes it into his bag quickly.

It’s then that they hear rustling in the bushes next to them, and a small form they’ve gotten very acquainted with tumbles out.

“Say it,” Kiryuu pants, out of breath, “one more time. Say what you said to me one more time.”

“What did I even say?” Jack asks, staring at the heaving mess in front of him.

“Do you have short-term memory?!” Kiryuu screeches at him. “You said— Wait.”

“I said ‘Wait’,” Jack says, unimpressed.

“No, no, not you. I mean… ha-hah! I’d ask you how the weather was up there, but your memory’s so short, I’d have to ask you how the weather was down there instead! Man, I’m good,” Kiryuu says, pleased with himself.

The others are not as delighted, Rua and Ruka cringing from the lack of wit while Crow and Jack drag Yuusei away.

“Are you just leaving?! Again?!” Kiryuu yells, running at the retreating forms as fast as his legs can carry him. “I’m not through with you yet!”

Run,” Crow urges, elbowing Jack to switch from stealth to pure speed. They take off sprinting with Kiryuu following not-so-quickly behind, dodging bramble and branches on the sides of the path with varying levels of success.

Running along the path with Kiryuu’s shouts far behind, Yuusei makes a loud noise of distress.

Turning back quickly, Crow asks, “Are you hurt, Yuusei?”

Shaking his head, Yuusei uses a clawed paw to point at something behind Crow. Crow turns around once again to see…

“How did we not NOTICE THIS BEFORE?!” Jack screams, looking at a large hole in the ground that’s tearing it apart. There’s a sign in front of the hole reading, ‘Jump.

Crow assesses their options. There are bramble and thorned plants to their sides, a gaping hole in front of them, and—

“Wait up, you giants!” Kiryuu screams.

And a tiny annoyance behind them. Crow looks to his companions and deadpans, “It’s the hole or it’s Kiryuu.”

The three jump instantly.

After about three minutes of falling, Crow remembers that this is supposed to happen at the beginning of the story. He also begins to wonder if they made the right decision. Just as he doubts himself, however, they see light at the end of the hole—how that’s possible, Crow doesn’t want to know. Falling through the light, they find themselves in the sky, falling straight to the completely normal (a good sign, after today) dirt ground.

Yuusei stretches out his wings, gliding slowly to the ground. Crow, thanking his excellent parkour skills for being useful for once, manages an impressive tree-to-tree hop and lands safely. Jack isn’t so lucky, falling through a tree face-first, hitting every branch, and landing ungracefully but mostly unharmed on the ground with a resounding thud.

Brushing himself off, Crow notices that they landed conveniently closely to Godwin’s mountain hut. He also sees that he landed next to a sign just like the one at the top at the hole, one that just reads, ‘You’re welcome.’

Chapter Text

They stare at the other wooden signs in front of them; the exact same ones that they’d seen when all of this started. Or, well, almost the same—the last few signs have “WE’RE ON VACATION” tacked over them.

“He’d better not actually be on vacation,” Crow growls and starts up the mountain.

“I doubt Godwin knows what a vacation even is,” Jack snorts, and they all trudge forward until they see that hut again.

When they knock on the door, there’s some shuffling noises and a voice calls, “We’re on vacation!” from inside.

In response, Yuusei takes a hold of the door handle with his teeth and nonchalantly removes the entire door from its hinges. Someone in the house makes some angry sounds, and then they see Godwin stomping down the stairs in pajamas.

Vacation,” he’s mumbling under his breath, “does no one know what that means anymore? I was going to sleep in today…”

“That’s fair,” Crow says, “but it’s us, ya old geezer. We finished getting the things from that list you gave us, now please send us home.”

Godwin just blinks for a few moments, like he can’t remember who they are. Then, “Ohhhh. You guys.” A weary sigh. “Come on in, then.”

They all stumble inside except for Yuusei, who doesn’t even try this time. He sticks his head in behind them and waits patiently.

Godwin sits down at his table and holds his hand out. “Well? Where are the items?”

Crow drops a bag with everything inside on the table, wincing a little as the teapot clangs against the fork.

“Okay. First, I need you to kiss the dragon—”

“YOU TRIED THIS ALREADY,” Jack interjects.

“No, no, I’m really, actually serious this time.”

“I DON’T BELIEVE YOU, ASSHOLE.”

“Kisses are powerful, you know.”

“Okay,” says Crow, and kisses Yuusei’s nose as dramatically as possible, making sure to angle himself so that Jack can see everything.

Godwin looks as pleased as Jack looks furious. “Go on,” he says to Jack. “He needs a kiss from both of you.”

“WHY,” Jack seethes.

The wizard rolls his eyes. “Haven’t you learned anything from your adventure? True love’s kiss will break the spell. If I send you all back like this, your friend is just going to stay a dragon. If you’d kissed him earlier like I asked, you could’ve broken the spell a while ago.”

Yuusei’s eyes widen and he whips around to glare at Jack. Crow covers his own face with one hand.

“OH MY GOD,” Jack says, inching toward him a little but not looking him in the eye. “FINE.” He bends over slowly and Yuusei lifts his head expectantly. Jack, who has kept his face mostly turned away, presses his lips briefly to Yuusei’s nose and quickly steps back.

The outline of Yuusei’s dragon body flashes and, with a small popping noise, bursts into a shower of pink sparkles. Crow jumps back to avoid getting covered in what he quickly realizes is basically craft glitter, but Jack is trapped in the cloud by a finally-human Yuusei throwing his arms around him and immobilizing him with a deep kiss.

Jack gurgles something incomprehensible into Yuusei’s mouth and stumbles backwards while Yuusei continues their lip-lock on his tiptoes. Crow estimates that they’re both going to be brushing pink glitter out of their hair for the next week, at least. Then Yuusei lets Jack freak out to side, reaching out for Crow and giving him a much sweeter kiss.

“Glad you’re back,” Crow laughs against his mouth.

Yuusei hums and pulls back, throwing a look at their other companion. “No thanks to Jack.”

“Guh,” Jack replies, beet red.

“Anyway,” Godwin says loudly. When Crow turns to look at him, he’s busily shuffling papers and looking slightly nauseous. “Getting home and all. Leaving.”

Yuusei tests his restored human limbs by shuffling back and forth as Crow brightly replies, “Oh, right.” When Yuusei stretches his arms above his head, Crow slips one of his own around Yuusei’s waist with a bright smile to answer Yuusei’s shy one.

Godwin coughs and breaks eye contact with Crow. “So. Thanks for these.” He gets up and simply places the items on a vacant spot on one of his shelves, and sits back down.

“Uh,” says Crow, “don’t you need those for the spell?”

“What? Oh, no. I just wanted them for my collection.”

Jack finally seems to recover, slamming his fist into the wall. “YOU HAD US WASTE ALL THAT TIME FOR NOTHING?!”

Godwin shrugs, unaffected. “I said you didn’t need to pay me, I didn’t say I didn’t want a favor or four.”

Jack looks like he’s about to start a screaming match, but Yuusei strokes a hand down his arm and laces their fingers together. He grunts and turns away instead, propping the other hand on his hip with a red-faced pout.

Crow bites his own lip to keep him from yelling too, and just nods slowly at Godwin. “Okay. Okay. That’s fine. Can you send us back now?”

The wizard hums and steps out into the center of the room. “Okay, all of you stand together over here.” He takes out a piece of chalk and draws an “x” at his feet.

The three of them shuffle, a little reluctantly, to the spot he’s marked, and he starts drawing a big circle around them with strange letters along the edges.

“Stay there,” Godwin says. He steps over to a rope hanging from the ceiling that none of them had noticed before and gives it a quick yank, and Crow looks up just in time to see a basin of water tipping over and dumping its contents all over them.

“WHAT THE FUCK,” Jack yells, hair completely drenched. “WHAT WAS THAT FOR.”

Godwin only laughs hysterically. “Nothing,” he gets out between a guffaw, “I’ve just always wanted to do that.”

Jack is already shoving past Crow and Yuusei, growling, “You son of a—” when Godwin snaps his fingers and the pattern on the floor begins to glow.

“Okay,” Godwin continues, wiping a tear from his eye from laughing so hard. Jack is moving but can’t get any traction, looking murderous but unable to advance or speak. He kicks at the air and shouts soundlessly while Godwin ignores him. “Okay, for real. I promise this isn’t a joke this time.”

Crow could kill him. Again.

“Just click your heels together three times and say, ‘There’s no place like home’.”

“Are you kidding me?” Crow protests. For whatever reason, he can speak just fine, but his movement is still limited. “That isn’t even a fairy tale!”

“Bye now,” Godwin hints with a wave of his gloved hand. “Nice doing business with you.”

Yuusei’s the first to actually comply with his instructions, and they watch as he disappears into another puff of pink craft glitter. Jack is spitting it out of his mouth when Crow quickly clacks his heels together and says the line in a rush.

His vision lurches until the ground seems to resolidify beneath his feet. Yuusei is a few feet away, dusting glitter onto the floor and offering Crow a smile so endearing that he can’t bring himself to scold Yuusei for the mess.

When Jack appears, he’s so coated in pink magic dust that Crow doesn’t even notice at first that he’s still wearing armor. “FUCKING HELL—” he spits, trying to brush it all off of his mouth.

“Holy shit,” Crow says as he takes in their surroundings. “Has no one done any cleaning while I was gone?”

Apparently he says it louder than he thought, because they all hear rustling coming from another room and the sound of little footsteps rushing toward them.

“Crow nii-san!” a chorus of voices cry as his children stumble down the stairs and run toward him. “Where have you been?!”

Crow chokes up a little as he crouches down hug all of them.

“We missed you!” one of them says, and another one starts crying.

“I missed you too,” he says, rubbing their backs comfortingly. “Have you been good while we were gone?”

The child in his arms just starts wailing, and Crow turns and laughs a little at the awkward expressions on Jack’s and Yuusei’s faces.

They’re home.

~~~

Time goes by, and slowly all three of them push the strange incident to the back of their minds. Crow, at least, makes sure to hide that storybook away somewhere no one would be able to find it unless they were looking. All three of them go on with their busy lives, and Yuusei turns Jack’s old armor into scraps for repairs. Maybe that’s why, a few months down the line, when Jack’s D-wheel sputters to a stop after a duel with Yuusei, he gets a face full of pink glitter.

One day, though, Crow comes back home and the house is warm and silent. He calls for Yuusei and gets no answer, so he heads quietly for the work room and pokes his head in to see if he’s out or just ignoring him for the sake of a project.

What he sees, instead, is a large amount of scrap metal pieces hoarded into an impressive, shiny pile. When he walks in to examine it closer, he sees that Yuusei’s curled up on top of it and sleeping peacefully.

He takes his phone out and snaps a picture, smiling to himself and sending it to Jack.

[ hes like a dragon on his hoard of gold. maybe u didnt kiss him good enough ;o ]

It takes a few minutes while Crow shuffles around in the kitchen, but eventually his phone pings. He unlocks it to a short message.

[ STFU ]