Author's Note: If you ever read fic on AO3 you might already have read this here; it was written for the Homestuck big bang challenge and originally posted there. If you don't ever visit AO3 I'd still recommend reading this there! Because it's a big bang fic there's art for one of the chapters that goes with it there, and the one pesterlog section of the fic has the proper font and colors and everything which I obviously can't do here. It's at archiveofourown (dot) org (slash) works (slash) 261911 if you'd like to head over there. But if you don't I'll at least put up a note on the chapter with the artwork so you can head over and see it!
There's also an FST that goes with the story which you can find at haku-kaen (dot) livejournal (dot) com (slash) 138854 (dot) html if you'd like but I wouldn't recommend reading the reasons for the song calls until after finishing the story because they get very spoilery.
Aradia was thirteen years old and already head-over heels in love with the remnants of the past the first and only time that her mother let her along on an excavation. There were reams of rules that she needed to agreed to follow if she wanted to be allowed anywhere near the site-all of which basically boiled down to not being allowed to touch anything no matter how much her fingers itched to grab a brush and join in, or even to step foot in the ruins unless her mom was right beside her-but she would have happily agreed to just about anything if it meant she was allowed to be there.
Especially when the altarnative would have been either becoming somebody's houseguest for longer than they'd probably have wanted her or being holed up in her mom's room in the archeologist's lodgings all day every day. In the past she'd always stayed at home with her dad when her mom was away for work, but that was no longer possible; he had died in a car crash a little over a year before. That trip was the first time her mom had taken part in a dig since his death, and neither of them were really sure what would have been done about Aradia if she hadn't agreed to her mother's conditions.
Later she would wish with everything in her that she'd been more stubborn, that instead of just being happy for the chance to be there she'd pressed to be allowed to help until she'd been forbidden to go. For better or for worse she was sure that things would have happened differently if she hadn't been there, and it would have been very difficult for it to be the 'for worse'.
Later still that wish would be buried in guilt. How could she selfishly want something that would undo all the good that only happened because of that trip just to make herself happier?
But at the time her happiness was almost all she thought of, the great giddy joy of getting what she'd wanted and waited for since as far back as she could remember. Which made it strange that when she looked back on that voyage and the preparations leading up to it she could barely remember any of it.
For the most part her mind held only impressions empty of detail. She could remember the heat, temperatures regularly reaching heights that the northern city she lived in only came at all close to during the fiercest heat waves, so rare that she'd only experienced them once or twice in her life. She could remember an excitement that never seemed to fade though she could only recalls snatches of the things it focused on from day to day-a section of a carving, a fragment of a broken jar just large enough to see its curve. She knew that she'd had to put up with a good deal of good-natured ribbing about her Indiana Jones hat, but that part was only to be expected; as much as she liked the movies, and loved the hat, she knew that the character was nothing more than a grave-robber who did things that would get real archaeologists blacklisted by their peers forevermore.
She wished that she could remember more, kept wishing it regularly even years later. Because what she could remember made her think that even if her father's death cast a pall over it, her very presence a constant reminder that he was no longer at home to watch over her that dug at wounds which still weren't fully healed, those weeks at the dig would probably be the last time she'd ever come close to being perfectly happy.
But those memories were overwhelmed, washed away by what ended it.
It had been meant as a special treat, and a special mother-daughter moment while everyone else were working at other parts of the excavation site. Because she'd been so good about following her mother's instructions and not getting in anyone's way she was allowed to see, for the first time, the ancient temple which was the heart of the ruins.
By modern standards it hardly appeared to deserve the name. It was no grand cathedral or stately chapel, just four stone pillars surrounding a low altar at the base of the mountain the ruins they were researching spread out from. There was nothing but rubble strewn about the area to show that a roof had once protected the altar from the elements, but aside from that it was in remarkable condition even after centuries of erosion. The pillars had worn down until there was nothing left to show there had once been carvings in their surface besides a series of irregular grooves along their length, but the altar itself looked almost untouched by time. It was still a neat rectangle, its corners unrounded. Almost no plant life had grown over it, there was just a little moss around the base that stopped less than a quarter of the way up its side. And though there was only a single simple design etched into its surface, that was still as clear as if it had only been chipped into the stone the day before.
It was that decoration that her mom drew her attention to first, her expression just as excited as Aradia was sure her own must have been. "Look here, sweetie, I'm sure you'll think it's interesting," she said, her fingers hovering over the carving without touching it. "It looks just like it's meant to be a clockwork gear, doesn't it? Of course we haven't found anything that would make us believe that the people who created it were advanced enough to understand what one is, right now we're assuming that it's their way of depicting the sun, but isn't it fun to imagine that someday this summer we might find bits of machines far ahead of their time?"
It was the last thing that she ever said to Aradia. The rumbling began almost as soon as the words left her mouth. Aradia learned later that it really wasn't considered much of an earthquake, but to a girl who'd never experienced one before it was shocking.
Aradia stumbled, trying her best to keep to her feet as the world tried to buck her off them, her mind turning wildly as she tried to remember what people were supposed to do during earthquakes. She thought she remembered something about standing in doorways, but that wasn't any help when they were at least a forty-five minute hike away from the closest building that wasn't half-rubble.
She was so occupied with that that she didn't even notice anything that her mother was doing. Later she thought that she must have tried shouting to her, and that it was only Aradia's own lack of attention that made her change tactics and do what she did. Whatever the case, Aradia's attention was only pulled back to her when she gave her a sudden hard shove from behind.
Aradia fell forward, landing right on the altar, and even though there was so much else to worry about that was what filled her mind for a moment. She was lying on the altar. That wasn't how you treated the precious treasures of the past! Why would her mother have done that? She'd realize eventually that even then, before she turned around, she should have known that meant that something very wrong had happened; her mother was too dedicated to her job to risk harming such a valuable artifact even in the middle of an emergency.
She rolled over to ask why she'd done that and froze at what she saw, all archeological worries fleeing her mind. One of the pillars had fallen over and crashed down right where she'd been standing, and beneath it...
In her memories she mostly just saw the blood. It was easier to focus on; blood was blood, it could be anyone's. It could even be from an animal. Seeing blood spreading over cracked tiles didn't hurt the same way as seeing a broken bone jutting out of an arm that had given her thousands of hugs over the years. It didn't hurt as much as seeing the body that had curled around her when she'd had nightmares as a little girl pinned beneath the heavy stone. It definitely didn't hurt as much as seeing the beloved face, her mother's face, twisted into a fixed expression of terror, one of her eyes replaced by a hunk of the temple's old roof that she'd landed on when she fell.
Later Aradia would wish that she'd done something. Anything. Even though her logical mind knew just from the way she looked that by the time she'd seen her mother she was already beyond any help, there was still that thought; what if she was wrong? What if she'd still been alive, if badly injured, and just looked like she'd already died because she was stunned? What if the pillar wasn't as immovable as it looked, and if she'd only been able to make herself get to her feet she'd have been able to shove it off her mom, drag her somewhere safer, and save her life? Or even just her body, so more than scraps of her could have a proper burial beside Aradia's dad.
If nothing else she could have at least checked her pulse so she'd know for sure.
But she hadn't been able to move. Hadn't even been able to think; although she'd been given exhaustive first-aid lessons before being brought on the trip just in case something happened, everything that she'd been taught ran away from her in the moment when they might actually have been of use.
All she could do was keep staring, her mind frozen by horror, her only movement a trembling that seemed to shake her even more strongly than the ground managed. She was still locked in that moment when the earth finally began to settle, in truth only minutes after it had started though to Aradia it felt like it had stretched on and on to just this side of forever. She was still stuck in it when the rocks began falling from the mountain above, boulders and debris loosened by the earthquake gaining momentum and picking up more rubble as they slid down the slope until an outright landslide was tumbling down towards her unaware form.
And she was still caught in it when one of the rocks slammed into the back of her head, cracking her skull open. She died almost instantly, stretched out on the altar like a sacrifice.
Only to wake up again at the sound of voices and find herself on a small cot that she recognized as being one kept in a tent near the excavation site for anyone who needed to grab a nap and didn't have time to head back to their lodgings. She'd used it herself on several occasions.
The relief she felt in that instant was another memory that would always be with her, as was the crushing grief just a moment later when she made out the actual words the voices which had woken her were saying.
"-to do with the poor thing," said the first, which she'd recognized as belonging to Anna Vasquez, her mother's best friend on the dig. She sounded like she'd been crying, and might start again at any moment. "She only just lost her father last year, and I'm sure there's no other close family. The whole reason Miriam brought her along was because there wasn't anybody who could take her in for a few months, let alone for the rest of her childhood."
"Tragic," another person said, although the tone of their voice was flat and unconcerned. It took her longer to recognize this one, but after listening to a little more she realized that it was the project director, Dr. Harrison, a man who'd rarely bothered speaking with her, "but there must be someone we can notify. We can't very well allow the child to remain here unattended; you know that I had my reservations about allowing her here even with Dr. Megido watching over her, and now this."
"Now this?" Anna repeated, sounding outraged. "She didn't plan this to cause trouble for you, Charles. The poor girl's mother is dead!"
Aradia moaned low in her throat at actually hearing those words spoken, and the sound must have been louder than she'd thought because an instant later the tent flap flew back and Anna rushed into the room. When she saw that Aradia was awake she pulled her into a hug tight enough to be uncomfortable, murmuring to her, "Oh, honey. Oh you poor, poor baby."
Dr. Harrison followed, his forehead creased with deep worry lines that made the harshness of the things he'd been saying seem a little less cruel when she saw them. "You're a very lucky girl," he said, and that time Aradia thought that maybe it was less that he sounded unconcerned and more that he was attempting to remain controlled in the middle of an incredibly trying situation. "It's amazing that you remained unharmed, given the damage the rockslide did to the area."
"But I wasn't," Aradia whispered, freeing one of her arms from Anna's hug to touch the back of her head. "I wasn't..."
o 0 O 0 o
They assumed that it was the trauma of the experience that made her think she'd been injured, and she had trouble arguing with them even though she was sure that she couldn't have imagined the shattering pain in her head just before she blacked out. There wasn't a single scratch on her. She didn't even have sunburn anymore, even though her shoulder had been bright red and peeling for most of the week. There was no hospital close by but the doctor they brought in said the same thing after examining her closely; unlikely though it seemed she was perfectly fine physically, though he recommended that she see a counselor ASAP because he couldn't speak for how she'd been effected mentally.
She knew that more people than the doctor were worried about that, especially when she wouldn't break down and cry over what had happened. It wasn't that she didn't want to, more than once she needed to sit down for few minutes and be very quiet because she could tell that she was seconds away from losing control and it was the only way of regaining it. Luckily she'd gotten good, since her dad died, at recognizing when tears were coming, because even if she wanted to cry she didn't want to do it around all of them. They were her mom's friends and co-workers, not hers; not only would breaking down in front of them be uncomfortable, she knew that she was already causing them enough trouble without making them worry more about consoling her.
Nobody talked much to her about the problem of what to do with her, although she kept hearing people whispering about it to each other only to hush up as soon as they realized she was close by. They did ask her about her family, but there was nothing she could tell them; her only living grandparent was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's, and her parents had both been only children. The closest other relative that she knew of was an older second cousin who occasionally showed up for holidays, but she wasn't even sure what her last name was let alone her phone number or address.
It seemed like nobody was sure what the right course of action was. If they had been in America they would have just called the police or social services, but they didn't know if that would do any good when they weren't in their home country. Letting Anna or one of the others take her under their wing was the type of thing that only worked out in movies. And even if they could find a place for her most people thought that it didn't feel right to just send her off when her mother was still buried under the fallen detritus.
Aradia went to bed that night, alone in the room she and her mother had shared, with no idea what her future might hold. But then, it would have been difficult for anyone to predict exactly what turned out to be waiting for her.
She heard the music for the first time that night, while she lie in bed trying to somehow get to sleep. That first time she thought it was somebody's TV or stereo turned up loudly enough for her to hear it through the wall, but that didn't bother her. At least it gave her something to focus on beyond her own thoughts, and besides that she thought that there was something comforting about the sound even though it was like no music she'd heard before.
It was a soft tinkling melody that reminded her of the sound of a music box, but the timing of it was strangely jerky like it was being played backwards. She closed her eyes and concentrated on it, and slowly it seemed as if she were able to twist it in her mind, turning it note by note until she was listening to it the right way around. And gradually a low rumbling began to accompany it, growing louder by the instant.
Eventually she would learn that some moments were easier to return to than others. The times that she couldn't let go of. The situations that she turned over and over in her head to try and see if there was anything she could have done differently, done better, to give them a happier ending. The moments she obsessed over. They were so easy to slip into that she hardly even needed to try, as if they were just inviting her back to relive her failures.
And the easiest moment of all as that first.
When the music faded away and only the rumbling remained she sat up and opened her eyes, ready to go next door and ask the person in the neighboring room if they could either turn their TV down or switch to something that wouldn't remind her so much of what had happened only hours before. Until her eyes opened she would have sworn that nothing could possibly happen before the day finally ended that would shock her more than she already had been. But the world seemed fond of laughing in the face of her expectations that day.
She was there again, somehow hovering in the air above the temple. She saw herself, her head smashed open just the way she'd been sure she remembered. She saw her mother just in time to watch both of their bodies vanish under the rocks, too late again to do anything that might help her.
And she saw the altar begin to glow, the boulders covering it falling away until her body was free. Her blood sank into the stone and seemed to feed the light. It grew brighter until it covered her shattered body, and under her shocked eyes she watched that other her's wounds heal flawlessly closed, even her clothing losing its dirt and tears. When the light faded the Aradia on the altar was in the state that she'd be found in later, for all the world looking like the only thing that had happened to her was an understandable fainting spell.
It would be weeks before she really started to understand how the powers granted to her by the altar worked. She didn't even realize then that it was the altar, still reeling too much to really process the implications of what she'd just watched. Besides, she had something much more important to think about.
Somehow, if she hadn't just fallen asleep and given herself a dream that would let her fix the world for just one night, she had gone back in time. If she'd done it once, why shouldn't she be able to do it again? Why shouldn't she be able to go just a bit further?
Why shouldn't she be able to unmake the day? She could go back to that morning and convince the ignorant care-free her who had no idea how the ruins she loved so much could destroy her life to play sick and beg her mother to stay with her. They'd both be safely in their lodgings when the world began to shake.
The music returned to her easily when she concentrated on going back again, even though she didn't know it was what she was reaching for. The sound of it turned even more quickly from back to front since her mind had gotten the trick of it, and that time she kept her eyes open and was able to see exactly what happened while it played. It was like watching a movie rewind. The ground below her magically cleared, debris flowing back up the mountain it had fallen from. Her body on the altar regained its wounds, vanished again and reappeared in a better state. The blood that covered the altar flowed back into her gaping head wound until there was only a small pool mostly hidden by her hair left, and then...
Then she seemed to slam into a metaphysical brick wall. No matter how hard she scrambled after the music, trying to force it to play on, she could go no further.
She slumped over, tears that she'd been holding in all day burning her eyes as she crumbled under the terrible unfairness of it. Why had she somehow been allowed to go back in time if it wasn't to save her mother? Why did she need to watch it all again and still be as helpless as the first time? Even if she could work out how to make it to the ground from her position in the air there was no way she'd be able to reach it before the rockfall swallowed her mother so she couldn't even drag her out of the way in time.
She didn't want to be there anymore. Not only there in the temple, but there in the whole country where she was just a burden that her mother's co-workers didn't know how to deal with and where the looks on their faces every time they spotted her reminded her of what had happened all over again.
And she knew exactly where she did want to be, although she hadn't mentioned it to anyone asking if there was someone that they could contact that day. She knew they were only interested in family, or other possible guardians. They weren't interested in best friends.
But the music was, it seemed, for as her mind turned towards him it started up once more. The tune was livelier this time; it would take her awhile to start recognizing how different melodies indicated different situations that she'd find herself in once she re-entered the normal time stream, but even then she could tell that visiting a dear friend made for a much more cheerful sound than going to watch herself die.
The room was instantly recognizable as soon as she appeared in it, with its computers, its games, and the weird beekeepers equipment that she never understood his interest in collecting when they lived in the city far away from any bee farm. And, of course, even if she couldn't have recognized all of that, the fact that he was sitting at one of his computers busily coding would have been a big hint that she was in the right place.
"Sollux," she said, then her voice cracked and she couldn't get any other words of greeting out around the lump in her throat.
He almost fell out of his chair, clutching his chest like an old man having a heart attack when he whirled around to face her, his eyes wide behind the colored lenses of his glasses. "Shit," he gasped, "AA, you scared the life out of me. Lucky thing it looks like I've got a spare." He turned towards his bedroom window, the age-old passage that she'd used a billion times to sneak into his room when she wanted to see him but wasn't supposed to be there, and that he'd used just as often to slip out and visit her. Busy trying to work out how she'd gotten in so quietly he missed seeing the pained expression that flit over her face at his choice of words. "Aren't you still supposed to be living it up in South America with all those broken buildings you love so much? How'd you get-" He cut himself off when he turned back and finally seemed to take a good look at her, his mouth twisting into a deep frown. "Aradia, what's wrong with you?"
Even though they'd been best friends since they were in diapers Sollux had never been very comfortable with physical signs of affection, so when she flung herself at him and his arms closed tightly around her without any hesitation at all she knew just how terrible she must look, but she didn't care. "Sollux..." she said, the word almost a whimper as the tears finally started to flow. "Sollux, I don't know what to do. Everything's gone wrong. It's all wrong."