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light a candle, burn both ends

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Six minutes - that’s how long it takes for Aradia to realize that the timeline is irrevocably doomed. It takes her twelve minutes to reach the meteor, four minutes to find the bodies, and thirteen seconds before she finds the only survivor. Vriska crouches in a corner, thick layers of blood coating her dress and the floor.

“What have you done?” Aradia asks, aghast. Vriska bares her teeth in a feral grin. In the dim light, they glint like chips of broken glass.

“I did what none of you losers ever had the guts to do. I took Jack down!” Vriska shouts triumphantly.

“At what cost? Everybody’s dead,” Aradia exclaims.

In a flash, Vriska bolts to Aradia. Her wings flap furiously as she leans in close, face only inches apart. Reflexively, Aradia tenses.

“Everyone wasn’t supposed to die. I didn’t expect that!” Vriska spits, “But it happened because I was always meant to kill Jack! Do you have a problem with that?!”

“Yes, I do! You were never supposed to go after him!” Aradia shouts.

“What are you talking about?! I created him! It’s obvious that I should be the one to defeat him!”

“Vriska, you doomed the timeline!”

For a second, there is nothing but deafening silence. Then Vriska reels back in shock, eyes wild and hands trembling, and Aradia can’t help but feel a small prick of sadness. For all her troublesome schemes, Vriska is just six sweeps old, alone in the universe, and crushed under the tremendous knowledge of what she has done. Aradia can almost sympathize. But then Vriska lets out strangled scream, three parts infuriated and four parts hysterical, and punches her.

“Shut up! You’re lying!” Vriska shrieks frantically.

Aradia stumbles ungracefully and rubs her aching jaw. Although they were once friends, as tenuous as their relationship was, Aradia feels an uncharacteristic surge of fury. When she hurls a table at Vriska in a bright blast of psychic energy, she thinks of lights flashing, blue and red, red and blue, and for the first time in many years, she feels sick with grief and hate.

With a crash, Vriska slams into the wall. As she staggers to her feet, a thin trickle of blood runs down her forehead.

“You want to fight?!” Vriska hisses, wings twitching, “Let’s fight!”

She hurls across the room and kicks Aradia square in the stomach. Although pain ricochets throughout her body, Aradia recovers and pivots in the air before she crashes into the ground. Gritting her teeth, she sends another table flying in Vriska’s direction.

Aradia has never enjoyed fighting. Even though she enthusiastically flarped with her friends, she’s never liked the games’ inevitable devolution to violence the way Vriska has. When Vriska’s leg comes swinging down again, Aradia feints and elbows her right in the face. As Vriska reels, sputtering curses and spitting blood, Aradia tackles her to the floor.

It takes about two minutes of dodging sharp elbows and sharper claws, but Aradia finally pins Vriska down. Underneath her, Vriska lets out shuddery breath, like she’s seen her own grave. Maybe that’s what Aradia is to her - a tangible sepulcher, a resurrected apparition from the past, fleshy and real where there was once cold steel.

For a moment, all Aradia sees is her reflection in Vriska’s eyes, porcelain red against endless black. Her fists clench and unclench.

“Fuck you Megido,” Vriska snarls, voice slick with venom. Then with a sharp tug, she yanks Aradia by the hair and their lips collide.

Vriska kisses like she fights: fiercely, frantically, and fanatically, like she wants skin Aradia alive and rip out every organ, muscle, and cell. And that is precisely what she does, nails clawing though clothing, teeth biting flesh.

“I wish you would die,” Vriska hisses into Aradia’s ear. The heat of her breath tingles against her neck. “Better you than me. You don’t deserve to be here.”

For a second, all of Aradia’s fury and grief swallows her whole and frustration overtakes her. She is sick of dying, sick of fighting, and sick to the bones with the knowledge they are trapped in a timeline with no chance for survival. She snaps.

“Okay,” Aradia says. With a flick of her wrist, she snaps Vriska’s neck.

One minute later, Vriska gasps for breath in an aurora borealis of starry light.

“Fuck you Megido!” she screams and punches so hard that Aradia reels to the ground.

Three minutes later, Aradia chokes on her blood and expires. When she comes back to life, the coppery taste still lingers.

 


 

What happens first, grief or revenge?

For the next few weeks, Aradia tries her best to sympathize and understand. Her life has been a lesson in patience - she has waited to live, waited to die, and patiently, ever so patiently waited as she unraveled the non-Euclidean mysteries of time. She is no stranger to death or loneliness. Handling Vriska should have been nothing.

However, Vriska is spiteful and harsh, and her bewildered hatred contagious. Although they never mention what happened on the first day, the memories of death and rebirth burn on in their thorny embrace. No matter how hard Aradia tries to be kind, sometimes it’s just easier to let Vriska’s hatred become her own. She loses herself in angular curves as she claws down Vriska’s back, leaving behind trails of splintered scars like an EKG. Even though it discomforts Aradia how easily she descends into caliginosity, it’s hard to think at all when Vriska arches beneath her, hissing her name like a malediction.

Still, as days pass by, the enormity of the emptiness settles in. Aradia has always been comfortable with the dead, maybe unsettlingly so, but Vriska is shattering under the pressure.

Sometimes, Aradia catches her talking to the dead bodies. It’s Terezi she speaks to most often, sometimes cursing, sometimes crying, and sometimes, though very rarely, apologizing. Once, Aradia even catches her by Tavros’ side, staring at him with such self-loathing and grief that it catches her by surprise. She hates seeing Vriska like that, all scrunched up in miserable forlornness, like there’s nothing left in the universe but death and sorrow, because she understands the feeling well. When Vriska is out of sight, Aradia too sits by their side, Sollux’s fingers tightly interlocked with her own as she whispers into the cold silence.

Then the inevitable happens: Vriska breaks. She shambles across the meteor with wild eyes, not quite living, just existing in a muddled state of half-life and half-death, a Schrodinger’s cat in a special kind of hell where you know your bitter fate and can’t do anything about it. Although it frightens Aradia, it hurts more to watch her – Vriska Serket was never meant for a life of choked sobs and strangled laughter. There is no light in her eyes and Aradia would do anything to bring it back.

One day, Aradia whispers, “It’s not your fault”, and Vriska flinches back to her former self. Her eyes flash, vibrant and awake, as she scratches and snarls and screams into Aradia’s face. Yanking Aradia’s hair, Vriska shouts, “Of course it’s not my fault! I beat Jack, I won the game! Why is it that you’re the only one alive when everyone else is dead?! You’re the Maid of Time! Why don’t you do something about it?! I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”

Vriska pulls Aradia into a kiss like she’s scrabbling for purchase in an unknown world, like she’s verifying her existence, trying to confirm whether she is alive or dead, if she’s lost in some horrible dream where the blood of her friends paint the walls or if everything is terribly, painfully real, and in that moment, Aradia cannot bring herself to hate her.

 


 

By the second month, Aradia’s hatred dulls into a persistent throb, leaving nothing but a deep ache under the dense weight of stress and loss. She knows she should loathe Vriska more - for the unfairness of it all, for dooming their timeline, for being the only one she’s stuck with at the edge of the universe - but for all the bruises she brings, Aradia finds Vriska very hard to hate. There is little left but resigned apathy now.

Despite her spiteful cursing, Vriska sticks to her side like a burr. Aradia can’t blame her; the empty grayness, the black stillness, and the smell of blood all over the walls is overwhelming and company, no matter how virulent and begrudging, is better than none.  More often than not, the atmosphere is still tense and their conversations fraught with bitterness, but sometimes they just sit together in soft silence. It’s not uncomfortable, not really anyways, and it’s much better than fracturing an arm, so Aradia lets her.

Still, the thundering loneliness is unavoidable. Those days, Aradia curls up in a corner of the ectobiology lab. The thrumming machinery stills her nerves. She likes it because it’s deep in the meteor, away from the ever-present darkness of the sky and from prying eyes. She doesn’t cry, not very often at least, but when she does, at least the gentle hum of the machines covers it.

As big as the meteor is, it’s only a matter of time before Vriska finds her. On the ninth week, Vriska stumbles into the room and freezes when she sees the rusty trail of half-dried tears down Aradia’s cheek. From her watery vision, Vriska appears a glowing orange blur of light against stark grey, painfully bright but nebulously so; she floats faint and half-real, a dreamy tendril of blue dust trailing after her.

“What do you want?” Aradia chokes out. Vriska stares back with an incomprehensible expression, fidgets, and then sits down next to her.

For a moment, there is silence. Then carefully, with the sharp stutter of self-loathing and uncertainty, Vriska says, “Sorry.”

“For what?” she asks.

“For killing you,” Vriska says tightly and crosses her arms. Her knuckles are white as she tightly grips her upper arms. “For ruining everything.”

“It’s okay,” Aradia says. She’s almost surprised how okay she is about everything now. She is tired of dying, tired of trying, but she’s not tired of living just yet. “I’m also sorry. I tried to kill you too, so I guess we’re even.”

“And what a pathetic attempt it was Megido,” Vriska drawls, “The universe had to bring me back to life because it was just so laaaaaaaame!”

Despite herself, Aradia laughs. Vriska looks incredulous for a second, but then grins. It’s nowhere as vivid as her arrogant smirks of old, but it is bright and sharp and cracks the walls of her despair. For a moment, Aradia feels black and red all over, maybe even a little pale too, and she wants nothing more than for Vriska to be her enemy and her lover, her rival and her friend.

Two hours later, when Aradia gets up to leave, the backs of their hands brush. It lasts for only a fraction of a second but in that touch, she knows they both understand the many things still unsaid.

 


 

By the end of the third month, Aradia is tired of hate.

Amidst all the anger and sorrow, she feels nothing but pity for Vriska, a pity so exquisite that her heart aches from the wanting of it. It’s a pity born from the loneliness of blackened stars, from watching the raw vulnerability of Vriska Serket ungracefully unfurl beneath her hands and loving every inch of those knife-like angles. All Aradia wants to do is to press her lips gently against Vriska’s and ask: Why so sad, why so alone? We don’t have to be lonely, not anymore. We could be happy.

More than anything, she wants to see Vriska happy again. Amid the darkness of the meteor and their dying world, there is still light, and Vriska is the brightest of all lights. Maybe it’s a foolish wish but Aradia wants to hold the burning warmth of her smile in her hands. Light may be radiation and light may be fortune, but to her, light is cauterization and consolation, all wrapped up in the small, angular frame of Vriska Serket. Even if they will both eventually disappear into nothingness, she is sure that the blinding force of Vriska’s personality would somehow remain.

“I think I could love you,” Aradia says to Vriska one day.

“You think?” Vriska asks, sarcastic and startled all at once. She almost sounds hopeful. But when Vriska doesn’t say anything else, Aradia tries not to feel too disappointed.

“I’m sorry. This was stupid,” Aradia replies. When she turns to leave, Vriska catches her arm.

“Wait, come back!” Vriska exclaims. She stands stiffly relaxed, pretending to be casual, but her hand twitches nervously against Aradia’s skin. “Did you mean it?”

“Yes,” Aradia replies. Vriska lets out a shuddery sigh, the tension in her body unraveling all at once, but her nails dig tight into Aradia’s arm.

“Aradia,” Vriska says. It comes out in a tangle of fury and adoration. Maybe that’s what Aradia has become - love and hate in its shortest form: a word, a name.

“That’s my name,” Aradia replies and Vriska laughs, raspy and bright.

“Shut up,” Vriska says and breathes her name again, Aradia, in a sighing hiss of a prayer, and leans in close to swallow her with a kiss. With a moan, Aradia falls back against the wall. Vriska pushes her into stone, so forcefully and desperately that it feels like they’ve fallen through the walls and into space. Under the lights of a thousands stars, they burn freezing hot and searing cold, and the fires of the green sun scorch them whole.

Against the curve of Aradia’s lips, Vriska smiles.