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Karkat follows Dad and Ms. Pyrope into the living room. Dad settles onto the dilapidated sofa he’d bought second hand when they’d first moved here, and Karkat sits beside him. Karen and Feferi are in the mismatched armchairs that had been brought from Chicago. Ms. Serket is standing by the front door, and Ms. Pyrope goes to stand in front of the entertainment center. Her hands are held at chest level in an odd, prayer like pose. Hands clasped, two fingers folded down, and two held together, pointing up. “I ask the High Priestess’ permission to relay the findings of my investigation to unaffiliated citizens of this town.”

“Permission granted, Adept,” Feferi says.

Ms. Pyrope bows, and gives her report. A lot of what she says, Karkat already knew, or guessed. A lot more of what she says, he hadn’t known anything about at all. He and his dad had been set up so that one or both of them would accidentally “contaminate” the initiation ritual, which in turn would discredit the High Priestess. “Joel Morgan was influenced, but can’t name the person who enspelled him,” Ms. Pyrope says. “Neither I nor Priestess Serket were able to trace the spell or identify the caster.”

“We have suspects,” Ms. Serket (Priestess Serket?) says.

“We have completely different sets of suspects,” Ms. Pyrope murmurs. “Not everything can be laid at the Megido family’s door.”

“Except for the part where they’ve hated the Peixes for generations,” Serket shoots back.

“I get along very well with Aradia,” Feferi says. “And her great grandmother was always very kind to me.”

“That was when you were Feferi Foster,” Scoffs Serket. “You’re Peixes, now.”

“And perhaps I will be Foster again, if being Peixes means I must assume my Great Grandmother’s feuds,” Feferi says coldly. “Who are your suspects, Adept?”

“That’s more complicated, High Priestess,” she glances between Dad and Feferi. “Feferi’s half-sister abdicated when Feferi was thirteen. Meenah--”

“The rapper?” Dad asks with a frown.

“You really are related to Meenah?” Karkat asks at the same time. “I thought it was just some weird version of ‘no really I’m related to Elvis.’”

“Yes, Meenah-the-rapper,” Feferi says, giving Karkat an offended look. “Yes, she’s really my half-sister. She abdicated a year after she graduated from high school. It was kind of a horrible big deal and Meenah’s mom had to live with us for a while, and Breath laughed Himself sick in everyone’s heads for weeks.”

“Huldra couldn’t decide whether to blame me, or blame Lucille,” Karen says with a sigh. “She eventually decided to ask Feferi to become her heiress, and Feferi said yes.”

“And you had no say about this?” Dad asks with a frown.

“I had plenty to say about it,” Karen says. “But it was Feferi’s decision.”

“To become the heiress of a religious cult,” Dad says.

“I didn’t want Great-Gran to send anyone after Meenah,” Feferi says. “She would have, and it would have been bad, and people would have gotten hurt because Meenah is really, really powerful. But people still want her to come back and be High Priestess, even though she’d burn the whole town down first.”

“Something to be avoided, but there’s a faction that thinks this is some power move by Adept Foster to put her faction in power, and Feferi on the throne,” Ms. Pyrope says. “And that Meenah was driven away, instead of leaving a letter quite clearly stating her reasons for leaving.”

“I don’t have a faction, by the way,” Karen says dryly. “I wouldn’t know what to do with one. But win a few arguments against her imperious condescension, and suddenly you’re a big wheel in this town.”

“As a faithful member of the not a faction, I’m hurt that our leader doesn’t think we’re a faction,” Ms. Pyrope says. “The faction that supports Feferi is also suspect because Adept Foster is considered a contaminating influence. They want to control Feferi, and make her be a ‘proper’ High Priestess.”

“But Ms. Serket thinks these…‘Megidos’ are involved?” Dad asks.

“While we couldn’t identify who cast the spell that veiled Joel Morgan, it looked a lot like the Demoness’ work,” Ms. Serket said.

“Labrys Megido called off the feud. Why would she attack the granddaughter of the woman who healed her stricken mind?”

“Please don’t make therapy sound like magic, Latula,” Karen says. “I didn’t ‘heal her stricken mind’ I listened to her and helped her find better ways to deal with her mental illness.”

“I think you don’t realize how magical that actually is, Adept,” Ms. Pyrope says with a grin.

“Do you have any evidence beside the design of the spell, Priestess?” Feferi asks.

“Nothing concrete,” Ms. Serket says. “But I’m sure I can find something.”

“Aranea ‘Cotton Mather’ Serket, folks,” Ms. Pyrope mutters. Ms. Serket glares.

It almost turns into a fight, but Feferi says something sharply that makes both women straighten up and murmur apologies. (They still glare at each other though.) Dad asks a lot of questions, but doesn’t get nearly as many answers back as he wants. Eventually the conversation winds down with Dad agreeing to stay in town. He also agrees for both of them to be tutored in the use of their “powers.” There’s a promise from Ms. Pyrope that she’ll keep Dad updated, Feferi says that she’ll call about the tutoring and then the cultists leave.

Dad collapses into the nearest armchair once the cultists are gone. He sits leaning back in the chair, with the heels of his hands pressed against his eyes for several moments. His hands eventually drop down to the arms of the chair, and he relaxes a little. “Can you tell me what happened, while you were…gone?” He asks.

“They didn’t do anything,” Karkat says immediately, wanting to reassure him.

“I think the opposite of that is true,” Dad says. “Do you want to not talk about it?”

“Can I not talk about it?” Karkat asks, voice cracking a little. “They left me in a cave overnight to get my brains metaphorically eaten by psychic kaiju, and it’s been non-stop weird ever since. Karen’s pretty okay? She seemed sorry that I was neck deep in weird, anyway. Sollux brought me homework and assignments, so I didn’t miss much.”

Dad frowns. “Sollux is one of these ‘cultists’?” he asks.

“Yeah. He wasn’t at the initiation thing though,” Karkat says. “He was helping his dad with some kind of database project.”

“I see,” Dad says. He’s silent for a moment, looking like he’s trying to find a way to ask something, but not quite being able to wrap his head around the words he’s looking for. “These ‘Gods,’” he says, and then trails off. “I’m not sure I want to be the father-in-law of psychic kaiju who metaphorically ate my son’s brains.” It’s an attempt at humor. Kind of.

“Braaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiinns!”

The sudden voice and a dark, swooping shape passing by makes both Karkat and his Dad jump. (Dad swears in surprise.) The crow flutters to the entertainment center, claws skidding on the surface. Its eyes are bright red points of light. “Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaains!” It shouts again, and struts along the edge, investigating the stereo.

“How the heck did it get in here?” Dad asks. He warily gets to his feet, one hand lifted, as if he wants to try shooing it off the entertainment center.

“Brains,” the crow comments, poking at a speaker.

“It showed up when I was at Karen’s house,” Karkat says. “I think it’s Time? Or his pet or something? It stole my chips.”

“Time,” Dad says. “Stole your chips.”

“Chips!” The crow pecks at the stereo, turning it on. Dad’s classic rock station is on. “Groovy.”

“It got into the house a couple times. Karen just chased it back out,” Karkat says. “I guess it followed us.”

“Karkat,” the crow says, and then squawks at Dad, who goes through with his attempt to shoo the bird off the entertainment center. It flaps its wings and pecks at Dad’s hand. Dad draws his hand back quickly. “Karkat!”

The crow flaps from the entertainment center to the back of the couch. It hops quickly to Karkat, landing on his shoulder, wings flapping for balance. Karkat freezes, not really liking how close the crows very sharp beak is near his face. It caws, and it’s tone is weirdly smug. It’s eyes are still red, but they aren’t glowing any more. “I--I think it wants to stay with me,” Karkat says.

“Apparently,” Dad says with an uneasy expression. “Do the other ‘Gods’ have animal mascots?” he asks.

“Space likes dogs,” Karkat says. “Heart is horses, and for some reason sea birds. Void and Light both have cats, but Light also has giant squid and octopus. Breath is rabbits, but it’s okay to shoot them? Shooting crows is bad luck though. I think Hope might be dogs too, I don’t know if Life has an animal mascot.”

“Should I expect more animal visitors?” Dad asks.

“I don’t think so,” Karkat says. “It’s just been crows so far.”

Dad’s brows lift. “Crows, plural.”

“Yeah,” Karkat says. “This one and a couple murders worth of other crows; they were kind of hanging out around Karen’s house.’” He shifts uncomfortably. There is nothing he can say that is going to make any of this sound okay. None of this is okay, and he knows they both know it. He swallows, feeling a little queasy suddenly. “They haven’t hurt me, well except for--” Karkat points to his head--“And it wasn’t actually on purpose? I’m really, really freaked out about this, but also not? Which might be a thing they’re doing to me, because psychic kaiju.”

Dad looks really disturbed at that, starting at the crow. “Kiddo,” he says, and stops.

Jesus fuck, Karkat hears suddenly. How can I protect my kid from this? What am I going to do? Dad’s voice, angry and frightened, but inside his head. I should never have accepted the job offer. I thought the change of scenery would be good after Maureen--

--the thoughts go wordless, just fear and despair. Karkat can feel something build up in his Dad. The same “something” Dad had thrown at Feferi.

Instead of being driven away by the feeling like last time, Karkat is drawn toward it. He gets up so quickly he dislodges the crow--it flaps off with a squawk--and launches himself at his Dad. “No!” He shouts, wrapping his arms around his Dad’s waist. A feeling of burning goes right through him, a line of molten pain that exits through the soles of his feet. Karkat screams in pain, but doesn’t let go as his shoes and the carpet burst into flame.

The fire goes out almost immediately, and the smoke alarms go off. Dad has the presence of mind to push Karkat to the couch, and pull off his shoes and what’s left of Karkat’s socks. The panicked look on Dad’s face turns to puzzlement as he examines Karkat’s feet. “This looks like a bad sunburn,” he says with blank surprise. “I was expecting…something worse.”

“I’m okay,” Karkat says, voice strained. “Are you okay?” He can still sense his Dad’s fear/guilt/anger, but there’s no force behind it, no buildup of pressure.

“You’re the one that set the carpet on fire,” Dad says. “Shit. I set you on fire. What the hell?”

“A Blood thing,” Karkat says, because he knows, without knowing why he knows. “I tried to make the fireball thing not happen? I think.” Because it would have been a fire ball thing, and Dad didn’t know how to make it stop. (Karkat doesn’t know how he knew to make it stop, or how he stopped it.)

“Holy shit, kiddo,” Dad says, looking (feeling) horrified and guilty. He pushes an ottoman over to the couch. “Put your feet up,” he says, and quickly moves around the house, opening windows and waving a towel at the smoke alarms to clear the air and shut them off. He comes back with ibuprofen, a glass of water and sunburn treatment spray.

Karkat takes the pills, and Dad sprays Karkat’s feet. Then Dad’s cell phone goes off, and Dad tries to juggle both the phone and the spray bottle. “Hello? Feferi? No we’re fine--” Dad talks to Feferi, who apparently had a ‘presentiment’ and called to see if they were okay. Dad doesn’t go into too much detail, but he sketches out what happened, and asks questions. (“Why the hell am I suddenly Charlie McGee? Why are Blood powers apparently fire-related?”) After more talking, Dad puts the phone on speaker and Feferi gives them a quick, detailed lesson on How Not To Blow Up, and gets their emails and Skype ids, promising to send more information.

“Sick burns,” the crow comments once Dad ends the call. They both jump, having temporarily forgotten the crow, which is back up on the entertainment center.

Karkat flips the crow off.

Dad eventually shoos the crow out of the house, and Karkat spends the rest of the day on the couch with his feet up. (Though there’s a brief interlude where Dad makes him go to his room to change into his pajamas.) Dad orders pizza for dinner, and they watch movies. Karkat eventually falls asleep on the couch, and is prodded awake at midnight, and helped to his bedroom. Even with his feet feeling like they are still on fire, it’s an incredible relief to be in his own room again. He collapses on the bed, and Dad actually tucks him in, something he hadn’t done in a really, really long time. Karkat goes along with it, too tired to complain even jokingly about it. “G’night Dad,” he says.

Dad smiles. “Good night,” he says, and quietly leaves the room.

Karkat drifts off for maybe an hour to two, and comes awake with the realization that he’s not alone in the room. There is someone sitting backward on his desk chair, arms resting on the back of the chair. There’s just enough light in the bedroom to pick out blond hair and a pair of shades. A boy his own age, but who is not actually a boy or his age. (He looks almost normal, but there’s a faint reddish light behind the shades, and he’s surrounded by a faint, pulsing distortion.) Time lifts a hand, wiggling his fingers in a wave. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Karkat says warily. “How long were you sitting there?”

Time shrugs. “Since your dad left. How’s your feet?”

“Painful.”

“I could fix that for you,” Time offers.

“Sure, why not,” Karkat says, and by the time he finishes saying it, his feet have stopped hurting. The feeling of sudden relief is amazing, and a little surreal. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” Time says, and is somehow sitting on the edge of Karkat’s bed. “So about the matrimonial revelation causing severe heart palpitation--meaning your bloodpump not Bro’s designation or His doki doki situation--and the reverse of celebration due to tentacle infestation for the duration--put your fears to rest of kaiju devastation or butthole squid babies--that’s not how We get down with Our gentles and ladies.”

“I am reassured, I am totally reassured,” Karkat says. “And you’re an amazing poet.”

“Don’t I know it,” Time says. He lies down next to Karkat on the bed, and Karkat finds himself making room automatically. “You have questions, go ahead and ask them.”

“Where do I even start?” Karkat asks. “Why me?”

“We like you,” Time says. “So We’re pitching woo.”

“Are you going to keep rhyming? I lied when I said you were an amazing poet.”

“If you kiss me, I won’t rhyme,” Time says.

Karkat had the definite sense that eyebrows were being waggled at him. “Somehow that’s creepier than when you were just feeling me up,” he mutters. “Stop it.”

Time makes an amused sound at him, and leans in to kiss him almost chastely on the cheek. “We like your soul,” Time says. “It’s shiny? And you’re brave and the turning of your mind calls to Us. Your span in time and space dances between the folds of Our Aspects.”

“I didn’t understand any of that, but okay,” Karkat says.

“Our spouses interact? Harmonize? With Us. You have qualities that We want to interact with.” There was more eyebrow wiggling going on, even though Karkat couldn’t see it. He could sense it. “In bed and other places.”

Karkat--just barely--doesn’t give in to the urge to punch the God. “And I get no say in this?”

“We miss you, would miss you, you were never gone and We never knew you. We waited for you and you were always there waiting for Us,” Time says in an deeply intent tone of voice. “We found you, and you were never lost, Our wedding is inevitable and has never occurred. The paradox wraps right back around in a loop shaped like a Moebius Strip, and We will pursue you until you pursue Us.”

“Still not understanding a thing you said,” Karkat says uneasily. His head spins with the contradictions and the intensity of Times voice. You have qualities We want to interact with. He shivers. We will pursue you until you pursue Us. “I-I bet you say that to all the girls,” he says, voice shaking.

“It’s always true,” Time says. He leans in to kiss Karkat on the lips this time. The gentle pressure makes Karkat’s heart speed up out of proportion to the contact. Another kiss, sliding just along his jaw. Karkat’s head tilts back without even thinking about it, baring his throat to more kisses.

Time covers him, leg between Karkat’s thighs, knee pressing against his dick. Karkat moans and arches, hands reaching up to grip Time’s sides. He isn’t quite sure of what to do this his hands. Not sure what to do about the heat radiating from his groin. He is filled with wanting, and he finds himself kissing back, hands tentatively wandering over Time’s body.

They kiss and touch like that for several minutes, and Karkat is embarrassed by the needy sound that escapes him when Time pulls away. “We can do more, later,” Time murmurs. “If you want to.”

Karkat’s face heats up. “I--” he doesn’t know what to say. “You’re going?”

“I can stay,” Time says and kisses him on the mouth before curling up around him.