Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Andrew Hussie. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: This story was written in response to a kinkmeme prompt (homesmut. livejournal 15023. html? thread= 28862383# t28862383), with a dash of added inspiration from another, semi-related prompt (homesmut. livejournal 15023. html? thread= 31445935# t31445935).
Summary: What do you do with your own cadaver? Not to mention the bodies of your friends and guardians? A story of the first days traveling the yellow yard.
Instant Corpse Party (Party Not Included)
Two days into their journey across the yellow yard, John froze in the middle of breakfast with an unpleasant thought. "Uh. Jade?"
His ectosister blinked at him and mumbled something unintelligible through a mouthful of Nanna's waffles.
"We died, right?" John said. "In order to reach God Tier, I mean."
Jade made a valiant effort to swallow. The maple syrup apparently made that tricky. She gave up and nodded silently as she reached for her orange juice.
"What happened to our other bodies?" John asked.
Jade coughed. "They're probably still on our quest beds - hold on, let me check." Her eyes flashed green for a second. "Yep. Yours is on LOWAS and mine is on LOFAF. Weird! I thought I died on top of my house when a little Dersite man floated down with a giant bundle of shaving cream. It exploded," she clarified when John gave her his best confused look.
Ack. That sounded almost like the stuff from his dad's wallet... and what had happened to the funny little carapace fellow he'd sent off with Liv Tyler and the other carapace fellow who'd been wearing his old sheet? Oh well, it had obviously worked out for the best.
"Someone must have moved you before your heart stopped," John supposed. "Anyway, do you think we should, I don't know, do something with them?"
"Why?" Jade asked, sounding genuinely baffled. "They're not hurting anybody. Eventually they'll decompose, if animals or birds don't eat them first. That's what dead things do. Unless you taxidermy them, of course. Hey, do you want to do that? I'm not sure I have all the supplies anymore, but we could probably alchemize them."
Compared to Dave and Rose, Jade didn't sound weird at all most of the time - in fact, John kept forgetting she'd been raised by a super-powered dog in the middle of nowhere and didn't always understand normal people things. Then she'd talk about taxidermied human corpses and he remembered what her house had been like. "Uh, I guess, but maybe we should have a funeral? I feel funny having them lying around like abandoned furniture. And no, I don't want to stuff my own body."
"You don't stuff your own body. I'd do yours and you'd do mine. It's a family tradition, to help you remember - like I kept my grandpa and he kept my dreamself," Jade said. She clapped her hands together and gave him a sparkly pleading look, complete with actual green zappy squiggles dancing around her furry ears. "Ooh, can we, John? You're my slime brother so it's your family tradition too!"
John tried to stop his face from squinching up into a disgusted expression. "Your family's seriously weird. Also, eww. I don't want your dead body hanging around like a hunting trophy or something." Even if it would be great for setting up pranks, maybe on Dave... wait, no, bad John, no Gushers for you. He couldn't do that to a Dave who'd come back in time specifically to stop him and Jade from dying. No matter how funny it would be. Also, stuffing, posing, and sewing up his sister's body? Eww.
"Your loss," Jade said, her ears drooping in disappointment. "Let's not have funerals, though. We're not dead. I don't think you're supposed to have funerals for people who are still alive."
"Oh. Yeah, that would be awkward," John agreed. "It could be funny, though! You could hide while Nanna and Dave and I had your funeral. You'd listen to us crying and saying you were taken from us too young, and then burst in dramatically and say, 'Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated!' Then we'd have a party."
"That doesn't work if you guys already know I'm not dead," Jade pointed out.
John deflated. Durrr, idiot. Just because that worked for Colonel Sassacre didn't mean it would work for everybody else. Stupid, stupid dumb. "Whoops! Even the pranking master can have off days," he said. Then he frowned. He'd gotten sidetracked. "I still don't think we should just leave the bodies out. It's tacky. We can bury them without an actual funeral."
"If you want," Jade agreed. "Let's finish breakfast and then I'll take us down to LOWAS to look at your corpse."
John made a face - seriously, how weird was it to talk about his own dead body when he was sitting here obviously alive? - but he picked his fork back up and set about demolishing his own syrup-drenched homemade waffle, mixed completely from scratch with no hint of batterwitch products involved.
Jade teleported them directly to his quest bed since John didn't want to deal with the salamanders in the nearby village. They'd been way too enthusiastic about the Heir business when all he'd done was accidentally make one hurricane. If he showed up in God Tier clothes, he was afraid they'd all die from excitement. What kind of hero would that make him?
His other body was splayed on its back, still wearing the outfit Vriska had designed. Blood had soaked the front of his shirt and left strange, stiff brownish stains all over the dark fabric. A much bigger puddle had spread underneath his back and looked like it had glued him to the stone of the quest bed.
"I wonder if it's still damp?" Jade said, kneeling to poke her finger at the thick brownish mess. "It's not quite the same color as a scab."
"Can you not do that, please?" John said, turning sideways so he didn't have to look at the scene straight on. He'd seen this before in one of Skaia's clouds, but it was different without the pure exhilaration and overwhelming rightness of suddenly understanding the wind that held him aloft, the breath in his lungs, the depths of air that wrapped around the chessboard planet beneath him like the most fragile of blankets, and the way everything was in motion and connected to everything else. Back then he'd been too busy to stop and think what it meant that Vriska had basically killed him (for a good cause, but still!), and his first body (his real body?) was lying broken and abandoned while he spiraled further and further into the changes Sburb forced on all its players.
"Sorry, John!" Jade said, scrambling back to her feet. "Here we are. What do you want to do?"
It was one thing to talk about burying his own dead body, but standing next to it was completely different. John didn't want to stick it in his sylladex. He definitely didn't want to touch it. Seriously, eww. But he didn't want anybody else touching it either. Man, this was awkward.
Suddenly a chorus of soft, burbling glubs came from the edge of the tower as a cluster of yellow salamanders climbed up the last loop of the ramp. They were singing and two of them were carrying a blue banner with the symbol of Breath on it. It was hard to make out the words through the thick, watery accent, but John thought he heard something about "rise to glory" and "clear the skies" and maybe even "bring the wandering lights back home."
The first salamanders caught sight of him and Jade standing on the far side of his quest bed and stopped dead in their tracks. The others blundered into them, their song dissolving into a muddle of angry glubs, until the leaders pointed to John and suddenly three dozen glistening eyes were fixed on him, unblinking.
"Hi there," John ventured.
"The Heir has returned to us!" one of the salamanders burbled. "He has returned to flesh from the purity of air, and he will challenge the Slumbering One to break the spell and fix the parcel pyxis!"
"Um," John said. "I'll try?"
Was he still supposed to face his Denizen even though they'd short-circuited the game? It would be a ridiculously one-sided battle now, but if that could help the salamanders and clean up the black oil that was clogging his Land, maybe he should look into it. It would be the responsible thing to do for dear sweet Casey and her people! But not right now.
Fortunately Jade stepped forward before the silence could get too uncomfortable. "Hi, I'm Jade, the Witch of Space!" she said, her ears perked up in what was probably friendly curiosity. "It's great to meet you. We're all traveling along the yellow yard toward a new game session right now, so any time you guys want to visit another Land or spend some time on the ship, just... hmm... why don't I give you a computer and you can pester me or John if there's a problem? Actually, why don't I give all of you computers? You can never have too many computers!"
"The Witch of Space!" a salamander said. "The Witch of Space is talking to me!"
"Yes, I'm the Witch of Space, and I'm talking to you," Jade agreed.
"The Witch of Space wants to give us presents!" another salamander exclaimed. "This is such an honor! This is- oh look, mushrooms!"
Several of the salamanders started to squabble over the bag of blue mushrooms one of them had just spilled all over the tower.
John tried to hide his grin behind a raised hand. Jade's ears slanted backward and she shot John a frustrated glance. "Are they always like this?" she muttered.
John grinned wider. "Pretty much! Wait until one of them asks if you want to buy a crumpled hat or behold its secret wizard robes. Why, are your consorts smarter?"
"I was a little too busy breeding frogs and making a deal with Echidna to pay attention to the iguanas," Jade said. "Especially since I think they were hibernating until Dave and I woke the volcano, and then they were probably hiding from Jack while he followed me around. He liked to stomp on them and the frogs."
"Your loss, I bet they're hilarious," John said. He gave up on hiding his amusement and waved his hands between the arguing salamanders, summoning little skirls of wind to help separate them. "Hey. Hey, guys. It's great to see you and I'm glad we all made it through the Scratch together! We'll come visit again soon and bring you computers and stuff. But anyway, Jade and I kind of need to take my, um, you know." He pointed behind him in the general direction of his quest bed.
"Oooooooh," the salamanders said in chorus.
"Yeah, so, see you later?" John said, checking his sylladex to make sure he wouldn't eject anything useful or dangerous if he picked up something new.
"But how can we decorate the Heir's body and sing the songs of deliverance if the Heir takes his body away?" one salamander asked another.
"Ohhhhhhh," the salamanders chorused, this time with a less happy note.
Erk. Being a legendary hero was weird enough. This? This was almost like his consorts thought he was a god.
Technically he kind of was a god now. Complete with contractual immortality and everything. But still. Awkward.
"I'm afraid we need John's body for super-secret hero things!" Jade said, saving John from his temporary blue screen freeze. "But you could decorate his quest bed and maybe take the dried blood and make dye and stuff! Would that be okay?"
And things went weird again. "Jade! That's creepy!" John hissed. "Ixnay on the oodblay."
"Or maybe make a statue of him," Jade revised. "That'd be cool! You could build one in every village instead of making everyone climb up here, and also you wouldn't have to worry about decomposition. Dead bodies smell awful after a while, trust me."
"Statues?" a salamander said.
"Like the ones the agents broke?" another added.
"We could fix those too!" a third said in tones of great revelation.
"Oooooooh," the others chorused. Suddenly the whole crowd turned and began muddling its way back down the spiral ramp toward the ground, glubbing and cheering at the top of their lungs.
"This is going to be interesting, isn't it?" Jade asked as she watched the salamanders hurry off on their new quest. "Whoops!" Her eyes flashed and a small salamander that had just started to slip off the edge of the pillar vanished in a blink of green. "There. That one's safe on the ground now. Hmm. I wonder if you could talk them into building railings on the platform? It's not like we're going to fall, but I'm starting to understand why Bec kept teleporting me away from the edge of the caldera when I was little."
John shrugged. "Who knows? The salamanders are silly and useless at fighting, but they must be super-genius builders. The parcel pyxis system is incredibly complicated!"
"Your Denizen might have built that," Jade pointed out. "Anyway, stop wasting time. We still have to pick up dead me on LOFAF - and while we're there, we should grab Dave's body too."
John stopped halfway through pulling out his sylladex. "Dave's body?"
Jade's ears drooped. "Yeah. We were fighting Jack for a while. Jack wouldn't hurt me because he thought he was my dog, but he kept trying to stab Dave. So Dave ducked behind me a lot while I shot at Jack, but after a while Jack caught on and teleported the bullets back around the other side and killed Dave. I kissed him to wake up his dream self, and now he and Rose are God Tier for some reason, but his body's still lying out in the forest."
She drooped further. "There's at least one more dead Dave on LOHAC. He's in a green suit and Jack slit his throat near his quest bed. I'm not sure what that was about except I think it might be because Dave made an alternate timeline. He said a couple things on LOFAF that made me think he dies if he makes changes instead of stable loops."
John looked down at the cracked gray stone of the pillar. He swallowed. "Rose is dead on the Battlefield. So is her mom." He remembered the overturned table, the black rain, the blood. All the things he'd shoved into a box in his mind to deal with later, so he could concentrate on starting the Scratch. "And my dad."
"Oh," said Jade. She rested her hand on his shoulder, gently. "I'm sorry."
John made himself nod. "I don't like Sburb very much. The wind is neat and I'm glad the trolls are our friends now, but the price is way too high and it's not funny at all. I want the Earth and everybody back like it used to be, you know?"
"I know," Jade said. "Maybe we can fix things in the new session."
"Maybe," said John, but he didn't mean it. He wasn't sure if Jade meant it either. Some things couldn't be fixed.
Jade squeezed his shoulder and then leaned in to give him a brief hug from behind. "At least we still have each other. Now grab your body and hang on while I see if there are any dead Daves floating around your planet before we move to LOFAF."
They returned to the ship several hours later with a total of eight bodies: one John, one Jade, two Daves, one Rose (still grimdark, and prone to releasing tiny wisps of shadow), Dave's bro, Rose's mom, and John's dad.
The three sprites were waiting in the kitchen, playing Go Fish. It was the only game Jaspers was able to understand and also willing to play, probably because of its name. Dave and Nanna both cheated horribly - Nanna kept making cards vanish in tiny bursts of sky blue light and Dave straight up lied about what was in his hand. Somehow this usually balanced out to Jaspers winning.
"We're ho~ome!" John sang as he banged open the kitchen door. Dave squawked and fluttered half out of his chair, injured wing straining against its bandages. Jaspers was suddenly on top of the refrigerator, hissing. Nanna just beamed.
"We're so glad to see you safe, darlings!" she said. "Where have you been?"
"All the planets!" Jade said. "We've been collecting corpses." She smiled at Nanna and Dave, but John could see her attention sneaking away toward Jaspers. Stupid dog-and-cat thing.
"Dude. Not to impugn your taste in hobbies, 'cause if you peeked around my pad it's obvious I've got no room to talk (unless you want to talk formaldehyde), but since when are you two the morbid ones?" Dave said, floating away from the kitchen table to hover near the stove. "Speaking of which, can I see? I've been thinking I'd like to catalogue the imps and shit, maybe make a 3-D wall of weird."
John made a face at the orange version of his best bro. "Bluh, Dave, not that kind of corpse! Our corpses. From when we all died in the game. Uh. And your bro, my dad, and Rose's mom, too." Which he didn't want to think about. He hurried onward. "The weird thing is we found you twice, wearing different clothes - since when do time powers translate into cloning powers, anyway?"
Dave blinked. "Two of me? One from LOFAF, right, but I'm pretty sure past me chucked the other corpse into the lava. He and the blind troll chick had the loops stitched up tight, no reason for slips this time around. Don't tell me you dredged up the charbroiled remains of my bones. Not even a helldog could think those have any eating left on 'em."
Wait, what? "We found you in a green suit beside your quest bed with your throat slit," John said, feeling like he'd suddenly lost his grip on the air and fallen a hundred feet without warning. Another corpse? How many times had Dave died? Why hadn't he ever said anything?
"I saw Jack Noir kill that you!" Jade added. "It was awful! Then he killed you again on LOFAF, with my bullets!" She paused. "What do you mean, another corpse?"
"No big, just a dead Dave. They happen when I fuck up and have to reset the timeline," Dave said, his face unreadable behind his orange shades. "It's a game glitch, that's all. Garbage code. Alpha Dave - the Dave from your timeline, the main one - tried to stop some stupid shenanigans, it didn't work, and he tossed the penalty prize out the window." He shrugged in a rustle of feathers. "Beats me why you went on a zombie scavenger hunt unless you want to have some kind of freaky corpse party, but you can just chuck both of mine in the lava like usual. I'm not dead and neither is alpha Dave. No point saving trash."
Jade leaped forward and wrapped her arms around Dave's chest, just above the bandages, and leaned her head against his shoulder. "You dumbass! You're not trash! Resetting the timeline means something went wrong, which means every dead Dave was you trying your best to save us. If John and I want to have a party to celebrate that, we'll fucking well have a corpse party. We can celebrate all the good things Rose did, too - and your bro and Rose's mom and John's dad, because they were awesome and they loved you guys and somebody should remember them."
"Yeah!" John agreed, crossing the kitchen to squeeze Dave's free shoulder. "If you still want to bury yourself in lava afterwards, we can do that, but I'm going to steal your sound system and play all the music files you've sent me and tell Jade every embarrassing dumbfuck thing you ever told me on Pesterchum. That's why we brought all the, um, bodies back here. Because we died - even if we all came back to life right after! - and that matters. And, you know, stuff."
"You can bury Rose and her mother in my mouse-oleum!" Jaspers said, making Jade twitch and growl under her breath, letting go of Dave in her agitation. "That's where they buried me. It's a very nice mouse-oleum. They'd be safe there."
"I would like to bury my son in our backyard, what little of it remains," Nanna added. "A house is not a home until it's known a birth, a wedding, and a funeral. This will make ours complete."
That was actually kind of cool, John thought. And Dad would want- would have wanted- well, better in a familiar place than anywhere else. "We'll bury me there too. It can be our family thing," he said. "What about you, Jade? I'll try the taxidermy stuff if you really want, but is there anything else you'd rather do with your other body?"
"Taxidermy?" Dave hissed in John's ear while Jade scrunched up her nose in contemplation.
"Tell you later," John whispered back.
"Davesprite?" Jade said slowly. "If you really don't care what we do with the two dead yous, would you mind if we put them in my volcano instead of some random place on LOHAC?"
Dave shrugged. "Whatever, it's all cool."
Jade nodded firmly. "Yes, it is. I guess it'd be silly to have dead me standing around as the only stuffed corpse on the ship, especially since my grandpa disappeared after I entered the Medium, so I'll put dead me in the volcano with dead you. We can burn up together, like a rain check for not dying together on the Battlefield." She reached forward and hugged him again.
"Damn, and here I was hoping we could do the whole Viking funeral thing - stack you on a ship, load it with fancy shit and treasure, light it on fire and send it off to sea. Such a wet blanket, Harley, you ruin all my fun," Dave said, but John thought he might have smiled if he were someone else and not so attached to his dumb coolkid irony bullshit. Dave was such a dickhead. Real men weren't afraid to admit their feelings! Especially not after they survived their grueling adventures and reunited with their friends and families!
"So it's decided!" John said, clapping his friends on their backs. Jade stumbled and smushed her nose into Dave's neck, then glared sideways at him in mock annoyance. "We'll have a, not a funeral, those are depressing, but a thing where we remember everyone and talk about why we loved them - there should really be a word for that-"
"It's called a wake, dear," Nanna said.
"-a wake, and then we'll head off to our planets to, um, take care of the bodies."
"I'll bake some cookies and alchemize a few drinks," Nanna said. "Just this once, I think you children can be allowed alcohol if you'd like, though there will be plenty of milk and apple juice as well! Hoo hoo hoo! Now why don't you three go clean up one of the main rooms and put some pictures of your guardians and your friend on the walls? John, you should fetch your piano. Music is always nice at a party."
"Heh," Dave said, as Jade shifted under his arm so they were standing-and-floating side by side. "You want music? Careful what you ask for, granny. Me and Harley'll bring music like you ain't never heard before." Which was literally true, wasn't it, since Nanna had died the day John was born. (Or crashed to earth on a meteor. Stupid game!) She acted like she'd known him all along, and already it was hard to remember that she'd been spoiling him with cookies, jokes, and one-armed hugs for less than a week.
"I have some recordings of Rose on her violin," Jade said. "Maybe we can remix them. I bet she'd like that, and then we'll have a present to give her when we meet in the new game session."
"We can make songs about everyone," John decided. Jade had the best ideas.
Everyone seemed to get through the wake in weirdly good spirits, laughing about all the dumb things they (and Rose, and their guardians) had done over the years. John told the Cirque du Soleil story, which he'd never breathed a word of to anyone before. Dave talked about sneaking into clubs to hear his bro DJ, and getting picked up by cops one time when they thought he was soliciting. Jade reminisced about the hunting trips her grandpa took her on before he died and left her alone on her island. They all pretended to be Rose and talked pretentiously about Freud and Jung until the conversation inevitably derailed into dick jokes and they dissolved in helpless laughter. Jaspers told a few garbled stories about Rose and her mom, and Nanna shared some things about her childhood with Jade's grandpa.
Nanna also told them what John's dad had been like when he was their age - it was beyond weird to think of him as a kid, but John thought he would've liked to meet his dad back then if time travel were a thing that was actually useful outside of stupid deathtrap games.
When he caught himself being gloomy, John tried a sip of the glowing blue whiskey Nanna had produced from somewhere. It made him cough and his throat felt like it was burning from the inside out, so after that he stuck to stealing Dave's apple juice and grinning when Dave shot him suspicious glares. After a while they stopped talking and just lay side by side, eating cookies and listening to each other breathe. John could feel Dave on his left and Jade on his right radiating heat, making tiny noises as they chewed or picked up another cookie from the endlessly replenishing plates Nanna had made. If he concentrated, he could feel the air rushing in and out of their lungs, keeping them alive.
Eventually they were so full of cookies they couldn't eat any more. "Time for music," Jade said, pushing herself up from the floor with a tired groan. She brought out her eclectic bass, Dave set up his turntables, John managed to get his piano out of his sylladex without accidentally launching it across the room, and they had an impromptu jam session while Nanna and Jaspers waltzed in midair.
It was a pretty awesome party.
When they buried the bodies, it was a lot harder to keep smiling.
They started with Rose and her mom, right after breakfast. Jade blinked everyone in a green flash from the monochrome gold of the battleship to the coruscating pastels of LOLAR. The original part of Rose's house was as pretty as John remembered, and most of the imps and ogres had wandered off without the game prodding them to attack. Jaspers led them around the back to where a small black mausoleum stood drunkenly askew in the stark white sand of the tiny island. There had been a secret underground passage in the floor, but now it only went down about ten feet before ending in solid grey-brown stone.
"Down there?" John asked, and Jaspers meowed in agreement.
Rose's body was still covered in patchy shreds of grimdark, but the light of her land seemed to speed their evaporation. Then a passing cloud drenched them in a shimmery thirty-second rainstorm and the rest of the smoky tendrils melted into the ground like a bad dream, leaving a pale-haired girl in a tattered black dress. She looked almost like she was sleeping.
"We'll see her for real in three years," Jade said, nudging John's side.
"Bet you ten shitty sidequests she gets all up in our grills until we cough up every detail of the burial and then gives us the pursed lips of disdain for not getting the weather to enact the pathetic fallacy and go all dark and woegothic," Dave said, his tail poking John's shin like a slightly squishy kick.
"No bet, she totally would," John agreed.
They filled in the tunnel with white sand and closed the mausoleum door behind themselves.
Their next stop was LOHAC. Dave told them to back off and mind their own fucking business, then flew off to lay his bro and the dead Dave in the green suit onto a a gray iron gear that looked like part of a stepping stone bridge over the glowing lava sea. John, Jade, Nanna, and Jaspers waited back on the main island of eternally grinding clockwork while Dave hovered, hunched over in the air with one hand half-extended like he didn't quite dare touch anything, not even the sword still shoved through his bro's chest. (Jade had needed to vanish the stone around it before they could captchalogue the corpse.) After a while Dave's fingers brushed the brim of his bro's baseball cap for a fleeting second.
"You're just going to leave them?" Jade asked when Dave flew back to rejoin them. "Drying is a decent preservation method, but what will you do with the mummies?"
Dave shrugged. "The bridge isn't constant. The gears pop up to the surface every six hours, hang around thirty minutes, then pop back down. It'll sink, they'll burn, no fuss, no muss."
His voice wobbled a little. John pretended not to notice, and turned away so he wouldn't embarrass Dave by watching when Jade hugged him.
John poked the edge of a gear with his shoe, wondering what would happen if he stuck a hammer between the grinding teeth, when a flash of green light zapped them all to LOFAF. They landed at the base of Jade's house, surrounded by red flowers, purple birds, and the rusty-hinge croaking of a million frogs. Not very frosty. Jade ought to rename her land now that all the ice and snow had melted. Maybe LOLAF, for Land of Lakes and Frogs. Or LOVAF, for the volcano.
If he beat his Denizen and cleared the skies, would he have to rename LOWAS? Or would it still be dark enough that Shade would make sense as a description? Come to think of it, how did his and Dave's lands stay dark, and Rose's and Jade's lands stay bright, when none of them had a sun and should all get the same amount of light as they floated in one of the battleship's empty rooms? Sburb was weird, even when they weren't in the Medium anymore.
"Any reason you dropped us off down here instead of up top, Harley?" Dave asked, breaking into John's thoughts. "I know you're just gagging for my memes, but I gotta break it to you: mountains don't have stairs."
"Fuckass," Jade said fondly, punching Dave's uninjured wing. "I wanted to cool off, not jump right from lava to more lava."
"Climbing a volcano is hard work," John pointed out. "We'll just get hot again!"
"Witch of Space, durr! Never underestimate the zappy green powers of doom!" Jade said, wiggling her hands in his face. Sparks flickered between her fingers. "Also, I thought it would be nice to show Nannasprite where her brother lived. Come on in, guys! There's still fruit and steak and stuff in the refrigerator, if the imps didn't get to it after I died."
They went inside and had an impromptu lunch in the remains of Jade's greenhouse. John thought he would have been nervous at the height and lack of windows, back before everything, but now he knew the wind would catch him in a heartbeat if he lost his balance for any stupid reason. He could also fly without the Breeze, just because; it was a God Tier thing, probably a holdover from a dream self thing. Despite that, he couldn't shake a sense of awkward nerves as auroras danced across the sky of Jade's land and cast their neon-colored shimmer on the white floor of her house. They weren't really here for a picnic.
Heat slammed into him like a hammer when Jade teleported them to the lip of the volcano. Lava bubbled and seethed in the caldera like a burning lake. The volcano was hotter than LOHAC, molten stone glowing nearly yellow-white in places as it burst its whisper-thin crust, instead of a cooler, even red. It stank of sulfur instead of iron.
"God's own forge," Dave muttered to himself. "Damn."
"It's impressive!" Jade agreed. "I probably would've died waking it up if Dave hadn't time jumped us away when it blew, so tossing our bodies into the lava is a rain check for that death, too."
"Guess we're doomed to do the Romeo and Juliet dance forever, babe," Dave said. "But soft, what light on yonder mountain breaks? It is the east, and Harley is the sun. Arise, green sun, and let's do this shit already, I'm not down with moping around sick and pale with grief all day, it's not congruent with my image. That's Rose's shtick."
Jade snorted with laughter and fumbled her first two tries at getting the bodies out of her sylladex, mismatching cards as Dave raised his eyebrows at her. John looked back and forth between his friends and wondered if Karkat's shipping grid might have been less silly than he'd thought. Or it could just be that Jade thought Dave was funny! John didn't get it himself - Dave was his best bro, of course, but his riffs were more annoying than hilarious and he didn't always appreciate a masterful prank - but as Colonel Sassacre had said, "You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time." Or in other words, some people just had weird senses of humor. And slime twin solidarity or no, Jade could be really weird.
She finally succeeded in getting the bodies laid out on the jagged stones. Hers was bruised and oddly twisted, like important things were broken under the skin. Dave's was less contorted, but his torso looked like someone had tried to turn it into a cheese grater, forgetting that humans were made of meat and blood instead of metal. John looked away as Jade knelt and crossed the corpses' arms over their chests.
"I'm glad I got to meet you two times over," Jade said to Dave. "I wouldn't have minded dying with either of you, though obviously I'm glad both you and alpha Dave are still alive."
"...Same to you," Dave said.
Jade's eyes flashed and the two bodies blinked from solid ground down to the roiling surface of the lava. They lit up like pillars of flame for a handful of seconds before the churning of the lake pulled them under forever.
Then only LOWAS was left.
Jade dropped everybody off in John's living room, between the cruxtruder and the sofa. "There's not a lot of room to stand outside," she said apologetically.
John pushed the cruxtruder out of the way and glanced out the door - it had been a while since he'd been down in the lower levels of his house-tower-thingy. He winced in agreement. "Nanna? There's not a lot of room for even one grave. I think there's more out back, but not very much." He hated to screw up their plan. She'd been so determined about bringing his dad home.
Nanna patted him consolingly. "There, there, John. That's easily solved! We'll simply cremate the bodies and put the urns on the mantle instead. Nothing simpler!"
"Until some derp knocks them over, sure," Dave said. "Or an imp gets curious, or an ogre stomps around all, 'wow, I'm Mister Earthquake, watch me sling my shit and make this house shake, oh wait what's this, human ashes? Omnomnomnomnom.' Too bad, so sad, now Daddy and little Johnny are lost forever. Wonder what kind of grist that'd make."
Jade pulled a rolled up newspaper out of nowhere and smacked him over the head. "Bad Davesprite, worst friend!" Dave smirked and drifted out of her reach, snagging the newspaper with his tail. Jaspers snickered in the background.
John couldn't help a guilty twitch as he remembered knocking over Nanna's own ashes right before they started playing the game. "Maybe we could bury the urns?" he suggested.
"Yes, that will be lovely," Nanna said. "We'll put you and your father under the maple tree out front. Your poppop planted that tree when your father was born, you know. Goodness that seems so long ago! Look how big and strong it's grown! Just like we Egberts do. Hoo hoo hoo!"
"Not to throw cold water on all this family reunion crap," Dave said, "but lady, I gotta raise one minor technical detail, just a little roadtrap, nothing serious, won't hardly bump your car or blow out your tires, send you spinning off the highway over the median strip careening into oncoming traffic whoops twenty vehicle pileup somebody grab the jaws of life looks like it's raining corpses and guess what, they're on fire... but. It may have escaped your eagle eyes that we're short one crematorium plus two urns and also shovels."
"Urns are just fancy jars, right?" Jade asked. "I have lots of jars. See?" She blinked and two glass canning jars appeared in her hands.
"And a crematorium is just a fancy oven, my boy," Nanna said. "Mine can be as hot as I like." A beam of sky blue light shot from her eye and created her floating oven, hovering over the remains of John's driveway. "John, dear, fetch out the bodies and I'll turn them into ashes lickety-split."
In her oven? Which she used to bake cookies? That was sick and wrong and... not any weirder than some of the other stuff she'd done with it, now that John was thinking about it. And she'd made it wider somehow, big enough to fit his dad lying down with his legs stretched out.
"Are you sure?" he asked anyway. He didn't care so much about his own body. But it seemed disrespectful to treat his dad that way, especially now that he knew Dad had been a pretty serious guy and mostly went along with the magician and prankster stuff because he thought John was into it. Then again, he was Nanna's son, and she was Colonel Sassacre's daughter, so he must have grown up with jokes. Dad probably wouldn't mind being a little silly after he died.
John fussed with his sylladex until he found the bodies. He handed his to Nanna and blinked at the sudden blue-white glow pouring off her oven as it heated.
His dad's body lay on the ground, limp and accusing. His tie was spotted with dried blood and his hat had fallen off again - John had tried to stick it back on his head before captchaloging him, but it looked like somebody had stomped on it and it wouldn't sit right.
"Jack Noir killed him and Rose's mom," John said to nobody in particular. "They were in a castle on the Battleground, drinking wine. I guess maybe they were on a date? Jack killed them and waited until Rose and I got there, to gloat at us or something. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't go back and change time, I couldn't see ahead to stop anything, I couldn't make Jack back down and feel ashamed. I couldn't even help Rose fight him; he just blinked away and stabbed me from behind."
"I'm so sorry, John," Jade said, resting her hand on his shoulder. "That sounds awful."
"Some things you can't do jack shit to change, bro," Dave said, touching John's other shoulder for a fleeting second. "Alpha timeline's gotta go the way it's programmed to go, no deviations allowed. They had to bite it, just like my bro had to kick the big bucket in the sky. It sucks donkey balls, I know, but that's life. I'm pretty sure your old man'd be glad you made it through. You know, he'd be all, 'Son, today you survived an abominable hellbeast, kissed a sweet-ass chick back to life, and rewrote the whole goddamn universe by scratching up a giant-ass record. Today you are a man. I am so proud of you.'"
It wasn't really funny, but John laughed anyway. "Yeah, that sounds like one of his notes."
He stepped back as Nanna used her glowy sprite powers to dump his ashes into one of the jars, which Jade promptly caught and cradled in her arms. Then Nanna scooped up his dad's body in an eyebeam and floated it into her oven to burn.
"Bye, Dad," John whispered as the door slammed shut.
He wanted to treat the rest of the day as normally as possible, but they were stuck on a giant golden battleship flying through greenish whooshy hyperspace between one world-warping game session and another. There was no normal. No school to attend, no homework to gripe about, no neighborhood to wander, no stores to shop in, no television to watch or radio to listen to. They still had the internet, in a way, but only up to the point when Jade had entered the Medium; nothing new would ever be added.
"We should do something," John said when they got back from LOWAS, via a short hop to leave Nanna and Jaspers on the Battlefield to do something mysterious and spritely. He scrubbed the back of his hand under his nose - crying was itchy, who knew? - and stared hopefully at Jade and Dave.
"Yeah, sure, cool. Do what?" Dave asked.
"I don't know! Something. Anything. We have to figure this stuff out sooner or later or we'll go flipping cuckoo in a lot less than three years," John snapped.
"We'll watch a movie," Jade said firmly. "With popcorn. I've always wanted to try popcorn."
"Popcorn is a go, but fair warning, I'm putting my foot down. No Nick Cage, no Matthew McWhats-his-ass, no Bill Cosby, no to everything you have a poster of in your bedroom, Egbert," Dave said, twitching his good wing. "I am not up for the mental effort of resisting the tsunami of derpitude right now. We're going to watch something for Harley, 'kay? Your choices are Beauty and the Beast, for the furry romance, or- wait, there is no 'or,' we're officially gorging ourselves on Disney fairy lies all lubed up with twinkly songs to slide their saccharine rainbow memes into the dark recesses of your brain and convince you happy endings are real. This is irony at its finest. Deal with it."
Jade was making a half-hearted effort to hide her snickers behind her hand, teeth biting desperately into her lower lip. John just rolled his eyes. "Sure, Dave, whatever. We'll watch it for Jade and for the irony."
"Be still my heart. He can be taught," Dave said. Behind him, Jade lost her fight and cracked up laughing. Dave ignored her in style.
"I'll get the popcorn," John said, and absconded to the kitchen by way of the alchemiter they'd installed in a neighboring room. When he made his way through the shining corridors to the room Dave had set up as an entertainment center, he found his friends curled into opposite ends of the sofa, zapping the remote back and forth in little blinks of green and orange and poking at each other with feet and tail.
"Cut it out, guys," John said, and dropped down between them with the popcorn in his lap. "Movies are sacred time and should be appreciated, not interrupted with dumb shenanigans. Unless you're three years old. Or a salamander."
"Nak nak glub," Dave said, deadpan. He stole the remote back from Jade and turned the movie on. After a while Jade curled up and laid her head in John's lap, forcing him to hand the popcorn to Dave. Sometime after that, John noticed that Dave's tail had sneaked around his ankle and their shoulders were nearly touching. He didn't say anything. The movie was funny and sweet, the fights with the wolves and with Gaston were more tense than John remembered, and only the bad guys died.
Dave let it play all the way through the end credits song. Then he brought up The Wizard of Oz without asking anybody's opinion.
Jade fell asleep around the poppy fields. John fought to keep watching, but his ectotwin's weight was warm on his legs, the sofa was just the right level of soft, and even if they hadn't done much today, it felt like his heart had been running a dozen marathons. Despite himself, his eyelids drifted down and he listed sideways.
Dave shoved a cushion under his head.
"'M not sleepy," John said, trying to pull himself upright with a tendril of wind. The air slipped out of his mental fingers, ruffling playfully through his hair.
"Shhh, bro, catch all the zees you need," Dave murmured. "No one's dying on my watch. Not you, not Jade, not anybody ever again. I promise."
"Stupid promise," John mumbled. "Thanks."
For a second as he shifted on the sofa, trying to find a more comfortable angle for his neck, John thought he could hear his dad's voice wishing him a happy birthday like it was still April 13th and Sburb had never happened. He knew it was only his imagination, only an echo on the breeze. Some things couldn't be fixed. Some things would always hurt. Some things didn't have any bright side.
"Only dreams now," Dave whispered, and Jade shifted in her sleep, her breath fluttering reassuringly against his knee. John smiled and let himself fall into the black void of sleep.
The game hadn't taken everything. None of them were alone.
AN: Thanks for reading, and please review! I appreciate all comments, but I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.