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Characters: John Egbert, Vriska Serket.
Ships: John<3Vriska
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Blood covers the walls.

She ignores the searing ache in her shoulder, ignores the screaming from her eye socket, and writes the code imprinted I nher subconscious. Her pointer finger scrapes against the rough walls of her hive, repeating eights and r’s and k’s for a purpose not even she knows.

Her remaining eye glazes over. This is her fault – no not hers, but Terezi’s. Aradia’s. Tavros’s? Or no, none of theirs, perhaps it’s his fault, and then her fault for thinking she could actually trust him-

She bites back a scream, and presses her finger so harshly to the wall that the nail cracks. But she pays the nail no heed, it’s not important, because she broke it, she broke her friends, she broke her safety net, she broke herself and so she writes it on the walls in a frantic, desperate pattern, with begins to fall apart as planned;

“8r8k8r8k8rkr8r8rkkk8rkkr8rkrk88rk8r88k”

And so she continues, wishing she could break down, though she could never allow it because it would be admitting defeat. And even without an arm, even without seven of her eyes, even without the support of the few people she cared about, the one thing Vriska Serket will never do is admit defeat. Not to Aradia. Not to Terezi. Not to him, and not to her own mind either.

And suddenly she focuses, takes in what she’s done. Her subconscious is still screaming at her - “write a k write a k” - but her thoughts are swirling into figure eights and with a jagged swirl of her finger, she does it.

A point mutation.

She stops.

Where did that thought come from? It certainly hadn’t crossed her mind the first time this happened, though she remembers making the mistake, and it quickly occurs to her.

A dreambubble. Of course.

Vriska kicks her dream-wall in frustration as her arm re-appears and her eyes turn milk white yet again. This isn’t the first time she has forgotten she is dead, and given her experiences so far, she fears it will not be the last. She will be condemned to re-forgetting and re-remembering for the rest of eternity.

Vriska casts a quick look over her remembered respiteblock. As far as she can see, she’s alone in this bubble for now, left alone with her thoughts and her own blood on the wall. She’s not sure if this is better or worse than the alternative.

How did the rest of this memory go again? She turns back to the painted wall, directs her attention back to the “8” that shouldn’t be there. The next few bits of code come to her almost immediately - “rk8krrk” and she taps it out quickly with her finger. Technically speaking she has no more blood to work with, but the letters appear on the wall anyways.

Vriska’s hand drops, and she stares at her handiwork. She knows the purpose of it now, though she didn’t at the time, thanks to a trip to the dreambubbles she had taken when she was still alive. A genetic code, if Aradia is to be believed, that resulted in the creation of their first guardian. Vriska’s eyes narrow.

So if her code was incorporated into his DNA, with the mistake and all-

Trollian “dings!” with an incoming message.

Vriska jumps, whirling around to face the memory of her computer. This isn’t right. She remembers that night well, and nobody trolled her this soon after the explosion. She remembers talking to Terezi (or rather, talking at Terezi, as she never got a response) but nobody messaged her. Too busy reeling in shock, probably.

Curiosity gets the better of her, and she runs at the keyboard as though her life depends on it, but when she opens up the chat window, she sees nothing there. For a moment, she thinks it’s just a faulty bit of memory, like her faulty bit of genetic coding, but then she thinks to highlight the text.

No. Not him.

Greetings
AG: I thought I was supposed to 8e rid of you!
AG: Didn’t you go off and die or something?
And who’s to say that is not precisely what happened?
AG: Ugh!!!!!!!!
AG: How are you even in the dream8u88les anyway?
AG: Why would the horrorterrors let you in?
And again, who is to say that they would not?
Though there are certainly other possibilities for how I could be speaking to you now which do not rely on my physical or spiritual presence in the dreambubbles.
AG: 8luh 8luh who cares????????
AG: I cannot 8elieve I almost forgot how infuri8ing it was talking to you!
But you would rather talk to me than sit alone.
This much is fact.
AG: So?
So.
As I was saying, there is no particular need for me t obe the good doctor in the plush, though I would never wish to eliminate that possibility in your mind.
I could just as easily be a figment of your subconscious, manifesting itself in a manner that is more easily understood than broken code on the wall.
Or perhaps I am simply a mysterious benefactor, taking up this guise to protect my own anonymity.
AG: So which is it????????
I would certainly not live up to my name if I told you.
AG: >::::(
AG: Why are you 8othering me anyway?
I thought you might have questions about the memory you currently find yourself in.
I am only here to help.
AG: Yeah, OK. This memory is kind of weird, I give you that!
AG: 8ut what does it matter? I messed up some stupid code that pro8a8ly doesn’t even mean anything!
”Probably.”
Indicating there is still the chance that it could mean something after all.
AG: Wouldn’t you know, Mr. “Omnipotent”?
AG: That’s all you ever talked a8out, how you knew eeeeeeeeverything!
AG: So why don’t you tell me what it means????????
Being so straight-forward is simply not in my nature.
AG: Fuck you!!!!!!!!
But let us talk this through, and I am sure you will come upon the most logical conclusion.
What do you know about the code on your wall right now?
AG: Aradia said it had something to do with cr8ing the session architect.
Any idea of who that might be?
AG: Stop 8eing so coy! I’m not dum8. I know it was you!
AG: 8ut it doesn’t even matter since you’re dead anyway.
How can you know for sure?
AG: 8ecause that’s all you ever wanted to do! To summon your gr8 “master” or whoever.
AG: I don’t see how messing up your genetic code could do anything 8ut make you more annoying!
Though you are correct in stating my death brought about the arrival of my master into your universe, you may wish to reassess that a mutation could only make me more “annoying.”
AG: OK, so may8e it gave you some sort of disease! I still don’t see how this matters.
AG: Shouldn’t it 8e gone once you’re dead????????
Shouldn’t it?
Certainly once I am dead the mutation would no longer affect me, but that does not necessitate that it has ceased any effectiveness.
AG: W8.
AG: So the mut8tion is changing something else?
I did not say it in so many words.
AG: Shut up!!!!!!!!
AG: I’m trying to think!
AG: ……..
AG: Of course!!!!!!!!
AG: You messed up!
I beg your pardon.
I do not “mess up.”
AG: No! That’s it!
AG: You’re supposed to 8e the one who summons your master!
I am a most excellent host.
AG: So the mut8tion screwed that up!
AG: He was supposed to be some sort of indestructa8le demon, and now he’s messed up!
AG: And I 8et now that we can kill him once and for all!
Do not get too ahead of yourself.
Even if your theory of a harmful mutation is true – and I give you no assurances that it is – Lord English is still the most powerful being in any universe.
He will destroy the Elder Gods and their dreambubbles before you can even figure out a way to stop him.
AG: Shut up!!!!!!!!
AG: I don’t care! I’ll find out how to kill him, and then I’ll do it!
AG: And there’s noooooooothing you can do to stop me!
AG: Hahahahahahahaha!






















Vriska sits back in her chair with a triumphant grin on her face. Everything she had tried to do with Bec Noir is happening again - she’s responsible for the creation of the final boss, and she will be responsible for his downfall. She’ll be the hero this time, remembered and revered by all of her friends and even the gods of the furthest ring.

However, it quickly hits her - she’s dead - and her grin fades. She might have been a god, once, but now she would hardly be a fly to a demon like Lord English. A ghost to be swatted away.

No, the one to kill him will have to be somebody still alive. A god who will not die justly at the hand of a friend. Someone who will heed her advice, someone who has the power to be a hero.

A friendleader.

Vriska stands up quickly, her eyes darting to her window. She needs a new memory - quickly. She knows she won’t find him if she just continues to mope around here.

”John!”

----


John finds himself in the Land of Wind and Shade, specifically in the mushroom farms. He had been back here so many times in the past year that he could recognize everything with his eyes closed: the firefly clouds, the salamanders’ market, that one really angry farmer...

Wait, how did that farmer get back here anyway? He was supposed to be on the ship, along with the rest of the consorts Jade evacuated. As soon as he finishes having the thought, the farmer vanishes. John watches this, slightly bewildered, then a smile slowly creeps up his face as the realization hits him: he is in a dreambubble.

Rip.

This is really exciting; he can’t remember the last time he was in the realm of the dreambubbles. Usually when they’re asleep, he and Jade just have regular old dreams, which was something that took a little getting used to when they’d each spent so much time dreaming of golden moons and reexamined memories.

Riiip.

The only thing that he finds a little disheartening is that this bubble appears to be his own, so it’s unlikely that he will be running into any of his friends on the meteor. Apparently it’s too much to ask of the horrorterrors to know how the other half of his team is faring. Even just knowing if they were alive or dead would keep him sated for at least another year!

Riiiiiiiip.

Where the hell is that ripping sound coming from? He hasn’t really noticed it until now, but it seems to be getting louder. He searches for the source idly, wondering if he’d repressed some memory about tearing up fabric...

”John!”

The new voice startles him; so much for being alone. It’s coming from above, seemingly higher than the clouds. He has no idea who or what could be up there, let alone what business they have up there, but they are very clearly calling him. May as well go up there; it’s not like he’s doing anything else monumentally important at the moment. With that thought settled in mind, he kicks up the wind and shoots himself skyward.

At full speed, John is approaching the source of the voice in record time. Every so often he can hear it repeat his name or call something akin to “Where are you?” It sounds like a girl, but he doesn’t recognize it as Rose’s or Jade’s voice. Maybe it’s one of the trolls? He really hopes so, especially if it’s one from the alpha timeline. There’s so much he wants to talk about, he doesn’t even know where to begin.
“John, are you there?”

He’s close enough now to observe two things: first, the source of the voice is somehow outside of his bubble. He hadn’t even factored in that possibility! Secondly, they are trying desperately to get in. Two grey flailing arms are poking through a crack of light, reaching out to either make a bigger space or pull themselves in.

So it is a troll! Excellent, that only left one present question. “Um, who are you?” he asks to the arms that are making surprising progress in entering his bubble. The ripping sounds are monstrously loud from this distance.

“Would you just get over here and help me out?!” the voice snaps at him. Man, she sure is bossy.
Bossy... wait a minute...

“Vriska?” Not wasting another second, he takes hold of one of her arms with both hands and pulls. She protests at first, but is silenced as he successfully retrieves her from the bubble’s membrane. He pulls a little too hard, however, and she crashes into him with a quiet “oof!” as they both tumble back toward solid ground.

John takes this moment to use the wind to slow their descent while getting a closer look at his new guest. Her expression is rigid, but at the same time she looks a little relieved.

“I’m so glad I finally found you,” she says in a tone that is much less grating than her previous cries for help.

“You were looking for me?” he asks. That new bit of information makes him a little nervous, though he isn’t sure why.

Vriska nods her affirmation. “Yeah, and I’ve broken a lot of shit and probably pissed off a lot of elder gods along the way. But for good reason!” she adds hastily.

John doesn’t give her a chance to elaborate - there’s something else bothering him. “Are you from the alpha timeline?”

”Uh, yes?”

”Then how did you die?”

She deflates, looking crestfallen. The moment only lasts a couple of seconds before her rigid expression sets in again. “That’s not something I can get into right now. I have something to tell you and it’s reeeeeeeeally important and I have to tell it to you now because I don’t know how much time we have--”

“I don’t understand. This trip is going to take three years, and we aren’t even halfway through it! That has to be plenty of time for whatever you have to tell me!”

She shakes her head, scowling. John silently notes that the scowl in-person is a lot more effective than the four-colon scowl. “No no no, you dope! I’m talking about in this bubble, between us! You could wake up at any moment, and I don’t know if the horrorterrors are trying to keep us apart...”

”Keep us apart?” He echoes.

”How else would you explain us not seeing each other one time since I’ve died?!”

”Well, I actually haven’t seen any of the other--, whoa, wait a minute Vriska. How long have you been dead?”

”John, FOCUS!”

He hears something faint. It almost sounds like a cat yowling. Vriska hears it too; she’s turning her head in every direction, seemingly trying to find the source. It’s getting louder, and it’s definitely the yowl of a certain feline sprite.

“Fuck. I guess your time is up already.” As the two of them land, she is grumbling mostly to herself, but in an instant she is well within John’s personal space, the rigidness in her face replaced with pure urgency.

“Listen. I’m going to have to find you again, and when I do, I need you to hang onto my every word like it’s a matter of life or death. Because it is.”


There is a loud crash, followed by barking. No doubt John will be waking up soon.

”It is mission critical that you listen to my message, Understand?”

He doesn’t even have time to hastily nod in compliance before he is jolted awake. Jade is in a corner of his room, crumpling a pink princess hat in her hands. He sighs, suddenly feeling heavy-hearted. “God damn it.”

---

”… John?”

”JOHN?”

She looks wildly around the empty bubble, even though she knows what has happened; he has woken up, been torn away from this gloomy bubble of death to his golden sparkly battleship, and she hates it, hates it like she has hated all these years of being all kinds of lonely and irrelevant.

I didn’t dream about you for sweeps just for you to disappear without saying goodbye!

“You did this, didn’t you? You don’t want us to meet. You don’t want me to tell him what I know, don’t want us to be together - and for what? For spite?”

Silence. She runs past a dozen bubbles of scarlet and purple black, throwing a flushed head back only to cry out into the darkness.

“All of you who call yourself Gods, are you enjoying this? Are you laughing at me right now? Go ahead, laugh!!!!!!!! Laugh at me as much as you want - just know that the laughter will stop when he kills every single last one of you!”

“You may think I’m a plaything to you. You may think John’s a pawn. But we’re the only ones who can help you now, so here! Take it or leave it!!!!!!!!”

Black. Green. Yellow. White.

“GIVE ME BLUE!”

A wave of colors, a thousand dreambubbles being shuffled in front of her like marbles on a table; and then, a bubble blue as a summer day’s sea.

“Thank you,” she spits, and she throws herself in without looking back.

----


I've won by this point, she thinks, smiling a little as she sits down opposite him, taking in his still slightly dazed expression with pleasure. They are probably protecting us now... that gives us more time, time to talk about things other than just the plan...

He's older. Has a few more years under his belt, a few more dabs of sadness in his eyes, and a few more inches to his height.

"We're not going to run out of time?" He asks, and she realizes some time has passed for him since their last meeting. John has had time to think some things through.

"No, not this time," she replies cheerily. "Don't forget we still need to win, though."

"So how did you die?"

She grimaces. So he did ask that question first. "Terezi killed me before I got to fight Jack."

"Terezi?!"

"Stupid seer and gambling shenanigans," she mutters somewhat resentfully. "I don't really want to talk about it."

"But she killed you!"

"What did YOU do all this time, John? How did you even escape the Scratch?"

"I... I don't really know, actually. Jade went godtier - the Dersites and Jack had something to do with it - and she took me through a fourth wall. She brought the planets along, too! So it’s basically been me, Jade and... the sprites."

"Huh. I guess Jade's not as useless as she seems, then.” A pause. “Though has something been bothering you about the sprites?"

"NO! Not at all! I... um... Jade and Davesprite make me uncomfortable sometimes, but that's it. Hey, stop raising that eyebrow suggestively!"

"You're seeing things, John, my eyebrows are perfectly fine. I’d just -”

“What about the thing that you were trying desperately to tell me?” He cuts away, and she finds her expression sombering.

Well. Doesn’t time pass by quickly when we’re having fun.

"It's about Lord English, John. He's the one who has been destroying the dreambubbles and the final FINAL boss of this game, and I think I know how to defeat him."

"Soooooooo..."

"Soooooooo I'm telling you because you're a powerful player, so listen up! I was responsible for a part of his genetic code, and I realized that somehow I had messed up when I did it."

"Wait, you made him ultra-powerful?"

"Of course not! What I did was a glitch. An aberration. Something that shouldn't have been there. We should be able to exploit it somehow, with your powers and the Time and Space heroes... we should be able to break him from within!"

"I guess I could talk to Jade about it. She's the godtier space hero, after all."

"You go do that. But look, Lord English is not only threatening us. He's threatening everyone. I'm dead so I can't do a whole bunch here - not saying I won't try - but basically you need to get everyone together and figure out how to do this thing. You better get training, too, for if you don't - "

"Vriska - "

"We'll lose," she finishes, staring straight at him. "And then we won't get to banter ever again."

----


Sometimes the thought of fighting Lord English makes John’s chest tight, though he tells no one. They would worry. They would try to comfort him, but he doesn’t need comfort. He doesn’t know what he needs exactly, but it’s definitely not comfort.

Vriska tells him he should train, and whenever the mood strikes him he asks Jade to send him down to LOWAS. As he swings Vrillyhoo, the battle is hardly ever on his mind. Instead, it’s the troll that he shares dreams with. John feels for her plight. Dead and unable to do anything about it; he couldn’t imagine not being able to help his friends.

And then she sought him out so fervently! Even when they first met she seemed to have so much faith in his potential. He doesn’t understand it. He’s not a leader, not really, but they expect him to be. Vriska expects him to be.

It scares him.

What scares him even more is how his fear over the situation could hurt his friends. What if he CAN’T do it? Does that mean they’re all as good as dead? The thought makes him shiver and he tucks Vrillyhoo back in his strife deck so that he can sit down.

John takes a deep breath and makes a mental note that the smell of the oil on the planet doesn’t make everything unpleasant. It’s kind of soothing. He wonders if that was the point; if this was made exactly for him.

Sigh.

It’s during his self-pity party that Davesprite glides into his field of vision unnoticed.

“What’s got your windsock in a knot, Egbert?” He moves to float right beside him, looking out over the oil ocean. “Your salamander girlfriend finally leave you? I told you, bro. I told you about that shitty MMO. No way to get chicks.”

He freezes; changing his face to one of what he hopes is a wry expression. “Dave wow. That was so funny. Did you know that you’re the master of comedy? Because really, it’s you.”

“Add a little more sarcasm, almost couldn’t taste it.” He shoots back.

They both go silent.

“… Hey, Dave.” John’s eyes don’t move from the horizon. “Can I talk to you about something?”

“Look, I know what you’re gonna ask, and yeah, I’ll be your wingman. First, you’re gonna need a bubble wand. Next, you’ll need to steal that one salamander’s hat. You know the one. The ladies will love it.” Davesprite stops after he sees John’s glare.

“Dude, be serious for two seconds. Or maybe a little longer than that.” He frowns. “I really need to talk.”

“Then just talk, you don’t have to ask, dude.” He says it like it’s obvious.

“Just feeling a little nervous about when we get to the new session and all.” His hand slides through his hair as he talks, unsure how to just up and say that he’s scared. “I guess what I’m trying to say is, do you think I can do it?”

Davesprite lets out a short laugh under his breath. “If you’re worried about that, John, then you gotta be dumber than the buck teeth would make me think normally.” He nudges the boy with an elbow. “Seriously, you’ll be fine. I believe in you and shit.”

Somehow he wasn’t sure about that fully, but if Dave thought he could do it.

Maybe he could be the hero?

“So about that salamander…”

“Shut the fuck up, Dave.”

----


Though Vriska doesn’t know precisely how she has affected Lord English, she makes it her goal to prepare him as much as possible when they’re lucky enough to be in a bubble together. She starts by teaching John all the secrets of her dice, which rolls to hope for, which are the most powerful. It’s systematic - John swings his hammer, and she conjures a memory of one of her past rolls so that he’s prepared to deal with whatever attack he swings out.

“Of course you may not eeeeeeeever get an 8^8 roll like I did! Only somebody with aaaaaaaall of the luck can manage a roll like that! But don’t worry, there are still a lot of other powerful attacks you can use, especially since you combined it with your hammer!”

John swings - 4, 5, 8, 3, 8, 5, 7, 8. He’s nearly fried by a bolt of electricity.

“Hey, careful!” Vriska warns. “Remember, if you get hurt in the dreambubbles, you’re going to wake up, and that gives us no time to train! Sharpen up!”

John rolls his eyes as he regains his balance mid-air. “Okaaaaaaaay Miss Bossyfangs! So I need to make sure my hammer doesn’t try to kill me!”

“Not all rolls are good rolls,” Vriska admits. John shakes his head and is about to take another swing to see what it does, but at that moment, they’re both interrupted by a distortion in the bubble. It’s similar to the way Vriska broke in, though the other person slides in much more smoothly. Vriska is the one to recognize her:

“Aradia!?”

The troll in question floats down slowly, her rust-red wings shimmering with remembered sunlight. “Vriska!” she greets with a smile a little too cheerful for her once-killer. “You look well, if dead.” Her feet hit the grass with a small “thump.” “And you must be the alpha timeline John! It is odd to see a version of you with pupils!”

“Uh, nice to meet you too?” John looks as though he’s about to reach a hand out to shake, but Vriska cuts their introduction short.

“Hold up!” she snaps. “This is a private bubble! You can’t just barge in like that - it’s rude!”

Aradia raises her eyebrows and looks between the two of them curiously. “Well, I am sorry to interrupt!” she says. “But I thought I should warn you about a threat to the bubbles.”

“Lord English?” John and Vriska say it simultaneously.

“Yes! How did you know?”

Vriska sticks her chin out, smug. “We’re training to defeat him now!”

“Well, it is certainly wonderful that you’ve found a productive way to spend your afterlife,” Aradia says. “Though I am not certain it is possible! He’s already killed a lot of horrorterrors and destroyed many of the dream bubbles, which is what I came to warn you about. If he destroys a bubble that you are in, then you will be gone for good!” She pauses, turns to John. “Well, not you. You are still alive! But any dead spirits caught in his attack will simply dissolve and vanish. It’s actually quite a grisly sight to see!”

John visibly pales upon hearing this news, but it comes as little shock to Vriska. Instead, she latches onto another part of Aradia’s statement.

“So you’ve seen him then?”

“Of course! I was at a safe distance of course, but he is pretty unmistakable!”

A wide grin tears across Vriska’s face. “Show us!”

“What?”

“Show us what he looks like! We’re supposed to be training to defeat him, but we can only do so much when we don’t even know what he looks like!”

Aradia’s grin has faded now, but she nods, slowly, and the bubble begins to shift. They are no longer standing on John’s front lawn, but instead in a makeshift diorama of the furthest ring. The horrorterrors are represented by Squiddles, and the bubbles are simply glass domes with nothing inside. But standing at the center of it is the demon himself, still as a statue but for the flashing of his eyes and coat. John and Vriska initially hold back, primordial instincts driving them to stay away, but Vriska finally works up the courage to fly forward. She takes everything in, floating around the back, even plucking at the replica’s coat a few times to test the fabric.

“Are you sure this is him?” she asks finally, frowning. “Exactly him?”

“Yes!” says Aradia. “Quite sure.”

“What’s wrong?” John asks.

Vriska lands next to the replica, looking up at it. It stands nearly twice as tall as her. “I thought-” she starts, before correcting herself. “No, I know I caused a mutation. But I don’t see anything here! He’s supposed to be messed up somehow!”

“Are you sure you aren’t mistaken?”

Vriska feels panic and insecurity begin to well up in the pit of her stomach. What if she is wrong? What if Scratch was just lying to her, trying to get her hopes up? Making her train for nothing. She looks from Lord English to Aradia’s wings to her god-tier shoes to John’s worried expression, back to Lord English.

No, surely she must have missed something. She squints at Lord English’s face - monstrous teeth, flashing eyes and all. And it’s for a split second, but she sees it.

“The eyes,” she says suddenly, and both John and Aradia give her quizzical looks. “Yes!!!!!!!! That’s it! The eyes!”

“Vriska?” John asks, tentatively. “Are you OK?”

Vriska whirls around to face them, a manic smirk on her face. “His eyes are pool balls!”

“And?”

“And! That means that he’s got 8-balls in there! Eights are my thing, John, I’m sure that’s what I did to him! All you have to do is hit him when those eights are flashing, and I bet you can kill him!” Vriska is ecstatic, and it takes every ounce of self-control she has to not just kiss John then and there. The only thing holding her back is the taste of imminent victory.

John looks up at the Lord English replica again and frowns. “But his eyes flash for like, less than a second! How am I supposed to hit him at the right time?”

“Practice!” Vriska says. “And luck!”

“Or a time player,” Aradia offers. “Though how can you be so sure that you’re right? Perhaps that is the way Lord English is meant to be!”

Vriska has no real explanation other than “it feels right” but even she knows that isn’t a good excuse. So she says instead, “Because I’m the best! John is destined to beat Lord English, and I’m the one destined to help him do it! There’s no way we can lose.”

Aradia doesn’t seem convinced, but she also does not care to argue the point further. “Very well!” she says. “I need to warn more friends about the threat to the bubbles, but I wish you both luck!”

Vriska laughs as Aradia flutters out of the bubble, arms crossed triumphantly over her chest. “Pleeeeeeeease! As though I need any more luck!”

----


As his dreambubble training continues, John makes what he considers a remarkably valiant effort to keep his and everyone else’s behavior as normal as possible, despite everyone aboard being aware of his situation. When it comes time for him to sleep, he gives a peppy “goodnight!” to the rest of his crew, returns to his room, and waits for his dreams to take him.

Sometimes it doesn’t happen right away, perhaps because he’s too...excited? Too nervous? Too something to sleep, and he lays there, frowning at the ceiling, wondering if he will keep Vriska waiting for much longer.

Other times he is asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.

It has often left him wondering if Vriska can still do that little sleep trick even from where she is.

----


Vriska spends the time outside of training sessions focused completely on the next session. It isn’t like she was doing anything planet-shatteringly important before all of this, and honestly she’s really grateful to have some irons in the fire again.

What irks her is that this is the way she has to get her meeting with John. This is the way she has to spend time with him: through tactics and strategy and war, things that she’s trying so hard to put behind her.

Just for a moment, she lets her mind wander. She imagines a time and place where she could be with John and not feel like they were both sitting under a ticking time bomb. She imagines a state of mind that emanates peace. She imagines herself enjoying what happiness truly feels like.

----


Their sessions are making steady progress, and they are both doing much better with staying focused, but every once in a while they will catch each other staring off into space. John is more prone to zoning out than Vriska. Every time she tries to ask him what he’s thinking about, he gets this deer-caught-in-headlights look, blushes, says “It’s nothing!” and goes back to wildly swinging his hammer. She chuckles. What an interesting effect “nothing” had on him.

----


“Vriska?”

“What’s the matter?” she asks from her makeshift perch about a stone’s throw away.

“I’m tired.”

She purses her lips and crosses her arms, just like he knew she would. “I’m sure you are, John, but we don’t have a lot of--”

“I know I know, we’re working on a schedule here. But if I pass out from exhaustion, this session’s just going to end early anyway.”

She pauses, then nods slowly. “So what do you propose we do?”

He drops the hammer, flexing his hands and rubbing at his sore forearms. “We could just talk?” he suggests.

“About the plan?”

“... About anything but that,” he says with exasperation.

She looks so taken aback by the suggestion that he’s almost ready to brace himself for rejection. Instead, she scoots over on her perch and pats the space next to her. He smiles gratefully and takes the seat.
They talk. It is a stunningly normal moment.

----


Thump.

Thump.

Thump.

One chance now. One chance to settle it all.

One time, before the curtain closes...


She's lying spread-eagle on the bed, her face to the sky; there's dried blood on her golden godtier hoodie, blood the same color as the slab, and his breath catches as he takes in the absurdity of it, the fact that she's dead and on his quest bed and oh God no, please don't let this be an omen of some kind. She doesn't stir when he sits down beside her and thinks of all the things he has to say; she sighs, rather, and looks wistfully towards the grey horizon, undecipherable emotions in her dead-white eyes.

"Your time's running out, isn't it?" she asks.

Fuck. More ominous sentences like that. "Yeah. We don't have long now. Jade says I've only got enough time to say goodbye, and..."

"And it could well be a final goodbye?"

Fuck.

"Come on, John! I know that's what you're thinking, but just look at this place. You died here years ago - and then you didn't. You thought you were doomed, that Rose and Dave must have died at the Green Sun - but they didn't. This is the last battle now. If we win, we win for good!"

"How," he jumps off the slab, biting through every word, "are you so optimistic? You're dead. Lord English is like over nine thousand bosses put together. We don’t stand that much of a chance! Not everything is always going to be golden, Vriska, just look at you now! Sometimes it feels like you-"

"You -"



And then he feels it, her arms wrapping around him.

She's warm; dead, but warm, like she's the sun, glowing bright from a hundred million miles away. Her fingers forms a firm lock over his heart, almost like she now wants the role of guardian instead of killer, and he shudders as he feels her jaw on his shoulder, close, but almost fragile.

How can two people be so close but yet so far away? How can we care so much but be separated by life and death?

"I care, idiot," she whispers. "Don't you ever, ever imply that I don't. Want to know why I don't think about losing?"

She hugs him closer until he thinks he can no longer breathe.

"Because it hurts too much."

He starts to tremble then, a little. "So, dying - like, dying for good... it hurts?"

"Not the way that you think it does." She's breathing heavily, and he stands rooted to the ground, staring at nothing in particular. "We can only bleed so much. When I died, I thought I lost everything... though I lost you. I looked through space and time for you, the you that I knew, the you that remembers..." Vriska stops, inhaling sharply. "John, why are we afraid of dying?" His heart's beating fast and shallow, thump thump thump thump as she continues to cling onto him. "It's not really because we care about the body parts, right? We're afraid that we'll never see the people we love again. For the rest of eternity."

He remembers walks on LOWAS, those lonely moments when he'd sit by a mushroom farm and wonder about love. Calling out her name, wishing she could just magically appear, whole and healthy.

"What choice do we have, now? We've got to try, to know that we fought for each other... yes, you could die, I could die, but hey, we already have..."

He smiles at her words and puts his hands above hers. "You’ve taught me a lot,” he says. “But I hope I've also taught you something, too. Vriska, my lesson is that the past matters, because the great moments in the past are the reasons why I - why we'll - fight for the future."

"Damn straight." She chuckles, picking him up (to John's horror) and spinning him in midair. "Today's not going to be doomsday."

He kisses her under the light of a million fireflies; it's the most romantic thing he can think of, he says, and she kicks him, claiming she'll easily surpass it once they go on the next journey, together.

She asks him to hold her hands until he wakes up; he does, and eventually she finds herself staring at the contours of her own hands alone, trying to imagine another pair in between the cracks, filling up the chilly air, filling up her heart.

Everything's a dream.

Except when we make them reality.


"Did you remember, John, that I didn't say goodbye?"

----


Jade is right - John doesn’t see Vriska again. His last eight nights on the ship are filled with either normal dreams, where he shows up to his big science test without pants, or the anguished screaming of dying gods.

He finds that he prefers the pantsless nights much more.

The week to the scratched session feels like an eternity, and Jade outright forbids the question “Are we there yet?” John rewatches all of his favorite movies several times over, and does his best not to think about what it would be like if Vriska were alongside him. Jade tries to keep him company, but even she can’t stand the thought of watching Ghostbusters a fifth time, and so she just ends up spending more time with Davesprite. It doesn’t help.

But even though two weeks feels like an eternity, the waiting finally ends. With a triumphant crash the ship breaks through into the new session, and the whirlwind begins.

John meets the session’s new players - younger versions of their guardians - which is cool. Jake at least appreciates his taste in movies. Then they take a trip to the Veil to find a meteor that shouldn’t be there, occupied by trolls and humans alike.

Rose and Dave are greeted with a group hug that lasts five minutes, at least. Jade attempts to fill the two of them in on everything that happened on the ship with rapid-fire speech, but John doesn’t know how much they catch based on the way they look at her ears.

Rose’s summary of their time on the meteor: “We spent three years exchanging vital cultural information. Troll romantic comedies are about as horrendous as they sound.”

John can’t help but laugh and hug her again.

When it comes time to meet the trolls, Karkat is exceedingly awkward, and when John offers him a friendleader fist bump, he eyes the fist with some trepidation.

“It’s a standard human form a greeting,” John explains. “I thought Dave would have taught you much that by now! Didn’t you guys basically have a three year powwow where you learned all about human things?”

“It’s not that, you flaming moron.”

“Then what?”

Karkat looks at his shoes for a moment, then looks up again. “Look, before I can participate in your inane human greeting ritual, I need to come clean with some things. I know you were looking forward to meeting Vriska, but-”

John sighs. “But she’s dead. I know.”

Karkat actually looks somewhat taken aback. “You know?”

“I ran into her in the dreambubbles! You’re about a year and a half too late on that one. But come on, don’t leave me hanging!”

And so Karkat rolls his eyes and returns the fist bump.

From there, the session goes surprisingly smoothly. No more deaths, no hiccups in the plan. Jade’s battlefield substitutes for that of the alpha session, and without prototyping, there aren’t even any imps or ogres to take down. It’s peaceful.

The calm before the storm.

----


Vriska wanders the remaining dreambubbles while she waits for some sort of sign that things have gone according to plan. She doesn’t have any idea of what that sign might be - after all, if John is the one to come on top, then won’t he just go to the new universe? There’s no assurance that the dream bubbles will still be accessible from the new reality, though she desperately hopes they will be.

She supposes that the sign that he’s won will simply be in her continued existence, but with the dreambubbles as they are, it could take 100 sweeps before Lord English finally reaches her. It comes as no assurance.

Yet even as she thinks this, she can hear the agonized crying of the horrorterrors, a terrifying whisper haunting her at the edge of every bubble she enters. It only grows louder and louder until-

The bubble simply ceases to exist.

It isn’t destroyed like the others have been, or else Vriska is sure she’d have gone with it. The structure has simply vanished, leaving her a lone figment of memory in the vast expanse of paradox space. Perhaps the horroterrors have finally found themselves too weak to keep it up; she sees a severed tentacle slide by.

So maybe this is it. He lost. The horrorterrors and dreambubbles are doomed, and so is she, once he finds her.

But even as Vriska begins to think this, she feels a tug at the base of her neck, telling her she has somewhere else to be, and so she allows her spirit to be pulled through paradox space, just to see where it leads. She passes through the remains of gods and shreds of bubbles, and finally, she sees the new session. Eight planets orbiting around Skaia, four she knows, and four she’s never seen before.

As her spirit descends on the battlefield, she sees him. Lord English, standing massive and green, his eyes flashing every color of the billiard table.

And then she sees them - the remaining trolls, the new players of this session, and the players before the scratch - Jade, Dave, Rose, and--

“John.”

It begins now.

----


John feels him before he sees him.

This massive supergiant exudes power, much more than he’s ever felt before. This should worry him, but it doesn’t. Instead, he feels electrified. He can do it, he knows this now. Perhaps he always did, underneath all the worry.

He thinks about her and his chest tightens a bit.

Are you watching, Vriska?

The thought of her possibly being destroyed totally and utterly by Lord English tears him up inside. He’d never see her again, not in reality, not in dreams. It hurts to think about and he shoves it away because now is not the time for that. Mourning her memory is for later. A ghost of a smile crosses over his face as he imagines how she’d berate him for allowing himself to be distracted.

He can almost hear her telling him to suck it up right now.

Now the power is moving closer and everyone moves together in turn, trying to draw strength from each other. John hears Jade and one of the Daves talking under their breaths, and he’s pretty sure he catches the phrase “if we don’t make it” among the rest. He grits his teeth. This isn’t goodbye. He won’t let it be.

The air starts to shimmer and he knows that they’re no going back now. He’s already here. The sarcophagus lands with a menacing thud. The lid slides open, and he steps out. The monster known as Lord English looks over at all of them and gives a wicked grin. John looks back at his friends and gives a subtle nod; it’s time for the plan.

Then everything erupts.

It’s a rush of weapons flashing and a flurry of attacks. They don’t rush on Lord English himself, but instead try their best to hinder him. John slips between his attacking friends as they slow the beast to allow him to get closer. This was all about timing, and he needed to wait for the perfect moment.

Everyone moves delicately, orchestrated. The trolls take the left, the new kids take the right, and his friends are front and center; Rose deals destruction with her wands, Jade darts in and around the battlefield, and there are about ten versions of Dave at once, maintaining a stable timeloop while kicking ass. He smiles despite the situation - his plans are working and that’s a big deal! No one is dead. At least not yet.

Then the good Lord brings in reinforcements.

A timehole opens and green carapaces rush through it, each with a different color motif and a dirty look on their face. They lunge into the fray. The dance becomes more complicated, but doesn’t change all that much.

He was prepared for this, too.

John continues to tumble through the fray, using his wind powers to knock some of the enemies off their feet and to knock some of allies away from danger. His eyes dart from them to Lord English whose gun never seems to run out of ammo.

He watches the beast’s eyes cycle and tries to pinpoint the moment where both of his eyes flash eight. Yes… its quick, but he can see it. It reminds him of a roulette game. Now it was about precision, and maybe a little bit of luck.

Hopefully he’d inherited a little from a certain someone.

He surges forward and slams Vrillyhoo against the side of the creature’s gun, knocking it off-kilter and Lord English snarls back at John, taking a swipe at him before reverting his gun back to a cane.

The waltz turns to a tango, deadly and intimate. John narrowly avoids slashes to his torso, parrying blows from his opponent’s cane in between. He clenches his jaw against the power surges that reverberate through the hammer.

But something isn’t right; they are too on par. John’s eyes dart up to Lord English’s face and he finally sees. He’s smirking at them. He’s mocking them. He looks back and sees everyone backed into a perfect straight line.

Oh shit.

Lord English rears back and John knows this is his only chance. There’s no time to call a time player - it has to be now.

It happens in seconds. He grips his hammer tighter, watching his enemy’s eyes closely. A voice in his head screams now and he swings.

He could have sworn he’d seen those 8 sided dice come up 8 on every side.

There’s a crack like lighting and, just like that, the light from Lord English is gone. His eyes are stuck on double 8-balls. His expression is so surprised it’s almost comical. It turns to a snarl and he tries to lunge for John.

He stops in the middle of it, letting out a choked noise, and then he falls onto the ground with a sickening thud. He doesn’t move.

John stares down at him for a long while, only turning finally when he hears a crackle of energy behind him. He turns, the carapaces have stopped fighting. They wail and seem to be aging. Eventually there’s nothing but dust.

He doesn’t give Lord English a second glance and Karkat, bloody and pissed off, breaks the silence.

“Fucking finally it’s over.”

The silence barrier is shattered and they all rush at each other. There’s a flurry of ‘are you okay?’s and ‘I can’t believe it’s. Hugs are exchanged and smiles are the expression of the day. John’s is bittersweet.

“You were right, Vriska. No doomsday in sight.”

-----


Vriska stands transparent, watching the celebration take place without her. Karkat’s crying again, being shoosh-papped by Gamzee and mocked by Terezi. The post-scratch kids are all hugging one another, the boy who looks most like John playfully ruffling the hair of the rest. And John - John’s getting attacked on all sides by hugs, from Jade, from Rose, and even Dave offers a sort of cool-kid one-armed hug.

She is torn. On the one hand, she’s happy that John won, that her hero saved the day. Thanks to her. It’s almost as good as winning herself. But on the other hand, she’s a ghost, and there’s nothing for her here. Soon they’ll enter the new universe, and she’ll be left behind, standing invisible at the scene of a battle she did not even participate in. She doesn’t even know if she can leave.

But before she can even attempt to return to the remains of the bubbles, she a stab of pain through her chest, just like Terezi’s sword. She lets out a silent scream and falls to her knees, clawing uselessly at a ground she cannot touch.

And she feels the tug at the base of her neck, just as she did when she was drawn here, connected by a point mutation. But instead of pulling her away, it’s pulling her together, atom by atom, and she can feel it and it hurts, more than losing an arm, more than losing an eye, more than dying, and just when she thinks she cannot take it anymore, the word that undid her flashes through her mind-



-and she’s whole again.

Vriska lets out a hacking cough as her lungs remember how to breathe, and around her all she can hear is silence. And she is so sure she’s back where she started, alone in a bubble, that she can’t force herself to stand. Can’t even force herself to open her eyes.

“...Vriska?”

It’s John’s voice.

Vriska’s eyes snap open and she looks up to see too many sets of eyes looking right back at her. She wants to revel in the shocked expressions of the other trolls - how Kanaya looks paler than usual, how Terezi looks as though she’s about to barf - but even a vindictive streak can’t keep her eyes away from John.

He’s looking right at her, his mouth wide open in disbelief, and he looks like he’s holding back. She stands slowly, every inch of her body aching, and she looks right at him as though. And she wants to say something cool, something suave, something that will make the Heir of Breath swoon on his feet.

But her throat is heavy with relief that she’s not alone not anymore, and instead she chokes out, “You’re here.”

And that’s all it takes for John to come barrelling towards her, closing the yards between them, and wrapping her in the tightest hug she’s ever been given. Vriska very nearly loses her balance, but the wind catches her as John buries his face into her shoulder.

“How are you here?” he asks, his voice just as strained as hers. “I thought you were dead!”

And she tries to articulate it - tries to understand how the mutation might have caused a connection somehow, how she was caught up in his DNA and spit back out once he was killed - but she can’t, so she settles on, “I guess sometimes miracles happen.”

John extracts his face from her shoulder, and he looks right at her, a grin stretched all the way across his face. “Vriska,” he says. “That is the lamest line I have ever heard, and I have watched every Cage movie there is.”

Vriska flushes with embarrassment, knowing her chance to sweep him off his feet has passed.

John kisses her anyways.

















































































































































































































































































































Date: 2012-08-22 02:03 am (UTC)
asherdashery: (Default)
From: [personal profile] asherdashery
What a great Good Ending.

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HSO 2012 Collab Round Sector 4

August 2012

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