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  1. And just like that, Jade's awake again.
  2.  
  3. Reality comes rushing back to her, hard, fast. Almost too fast. To go from the strange, barely aware conduit she was for someone else's power, to having her own thoughts again, own feelings. Suddenly she can feel the clothes on her body, the air on her face, her ass in the seat she's found herself in, the uncomfortable way her tail is tucked up against it. To have personhood thrust back onto her so suddenly, it's almost overwhelming. Her breath catches in her throat, and it feels strange to even breathe. To force herself to exhale. To put herself in this moment- she's here. She's a person again. She's back.
  4.  
  5. She's back.
  6.  
  7. ...Oh no.
  8.  
  9. She CAN'T be back. She's not supposed to be back! If she's back, then this won't stop. Dirk won't stop. She needs to be gone, she needs to be a barrier against his influence, to save all her friends and keep them from getting any more messed up than they already have.
  10.  
  11. This isn't his fault, is it?? Did he do this to her?? No, he can't have, Calliope wouldn't... but he already put a stop to her once. Acted beyond the cherub's control, and put her conduit to sleep.
  12.  
  13. Where is she?
  14.  
  15. She looks around, examining her surroundings for the first time. A bedroom, unfamiliar to her. Not that surprising. She's lost count of how many times she's woken up in unfamiliar bedrooms. A bed. A couch. A table. A few objects strewn about. A wheelchair, which she realizes she's sitting in.
  16.  
  17. She stands up. Examines things more closely. The bed is perfectly made, untouched. The room is unfamiliar, but the objects aren't. A bass propped on a stand on the wall. A small pile of manthro chaps. A pair of squiddles on the table, carefully placed and tangled together. Things taken from her house, a place she hasn't been to in ages. Some small attempt at making this room that she's been left in her's. A way of saying, "I know it's you, Jade, I know you like these things, and maybe it'll give you some form of happiness as you're afflicted by whatever's wrong with you."
  18.  
  19. An intimate, caring gesture. Maybe where ever she is isn't quite as bad as she thinks.
  20.  
  21. But isn't that his whole thing? Dirk thinks he knows everyone. Thinks he knows what's best for everyone. Toss a few things from her childhood in there in some weird way to try and help her. Suddenly, the message being delivered is completely different. "I know you like this stupid baby stuff, so just take it and be happy while the more important people do their work. That's what's best for you."
  22.  
  23. Her heart's racing, She needs to get out of this room and find out where she is, what happened, why she's back, how to fix it. She approaches the door, looking for the handle, but it's flat. Featureless. Smooth. But there's a control panel next to the door, with a small, green button.
  24.  
  25. Jade Harley hesitate, afraid of what answers she might find beyond.
  26.  
  27. ...Is she? Is she, though? The thought pops into her head, and she has to wonder, is it her own thought? She's awake, after all. She can't trust her thoughts. She's back, after all. The narrative is unprotected. This could be Dirk's way of containing her, keeping her from acting. Try as she might, though, the fear's still real. Still there. Fear of the answers she'll find, and... something else, something she's tried hard to forget. Whether it's real or not, though, she needs to act. Needs to push herself past this fear.
  28.  
  29. Her friends need her. After all, she's back, she can go to them.
  30.  
  31. And she needs their help to be gone again.
  32.  
  33. She presses the button. The door slides open.
  34.  
  35. Jade Harley feels a wave of nausea rush over her at the sight.
  36.  
  37. She almost laughs at how absurd it is that this is what makes her feel that way. After all the blood, and murder, and violence, and death, and her own death, multiple times, that it's this that's almost too much to take.
  38.  
  39. It's a hallway.
  40.  
  41. Long. Metal. Sterile. Uniform. Right across from her, an identical door. On either side of it, more doors. All along the hallway, doors. Like her's. Sleeping quarters. Small, efficiently designed rooms, for a long trip. A long, long trip.
  42.  
  43. Jade Harley is on a ship.
  44.  
  45. And Jade Harley is alone.
  46.  
  47. Memories are rushing back into her mind, unbidden. Depression. Loss. Loneliness. One of the worst, unhappiest times of her entire life, something she's tried every day to escape from and never have to relive, piled onto all the problems she's already dealing with. The anxiety pile doesn't stop from getting taller. She wants to scream, but she's afraid that if she opens her mouth she'll throw up, or that someone will hear her, that Dirk will come running down the halls.
  48.  
  49. Or even worse, that nobody will come.
  50.  
  51. Jade Harley presses a hand to the wall, steadying herself. Resists the urge to start heaving, to double over. But she can't give in. Pushes the thought out of her head as quickly as they come. Doesn't even matter whether it's really her's or not, she has to act, she has to keep moving. Keep moving. Don't stop. Don't think. At least not too much. Basic thoughts. Instincts. No room for misinterpretation. No room for someone to make her second guess herself.
  52.  
  53. Looks through the guns in her sylladex. Weapons she hasn't touched in years. Went on the shooting ranges of Earth C a few times, back in the early days. Too loud for her sensitive doggy ears. Too violent for her meager human spirit. Didn't care for it anymore. Stopped. Decided to try and do more positive things. Spend time with people. Have fun. Make herself feel good, instead of bad.
  54.  
  55. Off topic. Don't get carried away, don't space out. Remember what you're here for, and why you can't be here.
  56.  
  57. Violence. Don't like it. Made a decision to give up on it a while ago. Dirk Strider must be stopped. But you'd rather not do it like this.
  58.  
  59. Didn't work out last time, though. Tried to be friendly. Make the fighting stop. Got decked for her trouble. Fighting continued anyway.
  60.  
  61. Not this time.
  62.  
  63. A rifle materializes in her hands. She grasps it firmly. Been years, but still familiar. Steels herself. Takes a breath. If she has to do it, she will.
  64.  
  65. Starts running. To the end of the hall. More halls. More rooms. Considers slowing down to check each one. No time. Have to keep moving. Can't slow down. Can't think.
  66.  
  67. Another hall. Still empty. Nobody here. Has to find Dirk. Stop him. Find friends. Help them. Find anyone. Do anything.
  68.  
  69. Running isn't fast enough. Fly. Fast. Faster. Wild hair fluttering in the air. Wind on her face. Weird urge to stick her tongue out in the breeze??? Ignore that. Dog instinct. Couldn't even if she wanted to. Fangs bared, jaws clenched shut.
  70.  
  71. Turns another corner. Flying as fast as she- SEES SOMEONE. SEES SOMEONE. JADE SEES SOMEONE!! Roxy!! And Roxy looks... afraid? Jumps back, holds his hands in front of him, eyes wide, before Jade stops flying- the wind she'd kicked up blowing past Roxy, blowing back his hair and knocking his sunglasses askew.
  72.  
  73. JADE: oh my gosh, roxy! its really you!!! im so glad to see you!!!
  74. ROXY: uhhhh... yeah, hey?? lmao, you really gave me a fright there girl!
  75. JADE: uhh... i did???
  76. ROXY: yeah??? liek, just flyin in all superfast with a crazy intense angry look on your face and your big sharp teeth out and a fucking gun??? flyin strait at me at mach 2??? forgive me for bein a bit, dare i say.... freked out
  77.  
  78. Jade pauses, looks down at herself. Starts to relax. Not completely, but... well, she at least feels like she doesn't need to be on quite as high alert anymore. She can definitely see how she might have been... intimidating, just now. Her feet descend, until they tap against the ground, and she takes a few breaths. Calm, even measured. Jade lets the weapon disappear back into her sylladex. Laughs a bit, and tries not to make it too awkward.
  79.  
  80.  
  81. JADE: haha, yeah, i... guess i might have gone a little overboard there!
  82. JADE: i mean, not that there isnt cause to freak out!!
  83. ROXY: oh yeah ur totally right!! youre finally awake! cmon, we gotta go tell everyone else!
  84.  
  85. The words make sense to Jade, but not quite the tone. Or the wide smile. Is Roxy... happy? Why is he happy? Is Jade misinterpreting his face or something?? It wouldn't be the first time she's been confused, having to deal with vocal tone and body language on top of just the plain words that someone's saying. Actually saying, not just typing out. But... no, no, he's definitely happy! He's grabbing her arm and moving to excitedly drag her to the rest of his friends. Why is he happy she's back??
  86.  
  87. She plants her feet on the ground, skidding a bit. Roxy hadn't been expecting it, and stumbles, nearly falling over, having to grasp onto Jade's arm to avoid it.
  88.  
  89. JADE: whoaaaaa, whoa whoa whoa, wait!! hold up, roxy, this isnt a GOOD thing!!!
  90. ROXY: ...is it not???
  91. JADE: of course not!! you do remember WHY i was all out of it, dont you?
  92. ROXY: iunno. some freaky creepy shit possessing you?
  93.  
  94. Jade sighs, and rests a hand on her face, pinching the bridge of her nose.
  95.  
  96. JADE: no, roxy. or... well maybe a little but like, i wouldnt put it so badly!!
  97. JADE: but alt callie is nice, okay?? and me being like that is necessary!
  98. ROXY: is it
  99. JADE: yes!! if im NOT like that, then dirks going to start fucking with all our heads again!
  100. JADE: for all we know hes doing it right now!
  101. ROXY: thats... ok yeah not gonna argue thats prtty bad
  102. ROXY: but do you really gotta be all... like that, to deal with it??
  103. ROXY: cause like i dont care if its good or not
  104. ROXY: it creeps me out
  105. ROXY: and it makes me feel bad seein u like that
  106. ROXY: dead eyes and unmoving except like
  107. ROXY: when u point at shit all mysterious like
  108. ROXY: its a lot nicer seeing you like this
  109.  
  110. Roxy looks... sad? Compassionate? Kind of happy? Jade can't quite read his face, which makes it all the more confusing, when he rests a hand on her arm. Strokes it. Tenderly?
  111.  
  112. JADE: ...uhhhh
  113. JADE: are you like! not in a thing with callie??
  114. JADE: cause, i mean. im not gonna say no, but...
  115. ROXY: PFFFFTFTTT OMG, JADE
  116. ROXY: omg sweetie
  117. ROXY: not everythings always about sex jeez
  118.  
  119. Roxy laughs, and the armstroking changes to some good natured backpatting. Right, of course. Just, friendly stuff! Roxy felt bad for her, and tried to just offer a comforting touch! Even if Jade herself didn't feel bad. Which must be why she got confused by the intent, there! She didn't get confused because it's been so long since she had any real connections with people that weren't flings, or her dropping by Davekat's place to spend at least half her time trying to seduce them.
  120.  
  121. ...Jade's really gotta get herself knocked out again.
  122.  
  123. JADE: oh, whoops! sorry!
  124. JADE: but hey, what can i say! its not my fault that youre super hot ;P
  125. ROXY: oh bby trust me i know it
  126. ROXY: my hotness aside tho, we srsly gotta go let everyone know youre awake!
  127. JADE: well... yes!
  128. JADE: i suppose that is true!
  129. JADE: but its not a celebration, ok??? were only telling them so they can figure out a way to get me back under, and get alt callie back in control of the narrative
  130. JADE: no tearful reunions or fond embraces, ok?? thatd be an absolute disaster
  131. ROXY: super lame but sure i guess
  132.  
  133.     ___________________________
  134.  
  135.  
  136. This is an absolute disaster.
  137.  
  138. JAKE: Oh god, Jade! We missed you so muuuu-uuu-uuuch!!
  139.  
  140. Even after having explained the whole situation, Jake still... keeps doing this. Getting overwhelmed by emotion, and rushing up to hug her, and crying, and just... being an absolute mess. And Jade's trying not to hold it against him- Dirk did a hell of a number on the guy, it's not surprising that he's still emotionally fragile.
  141.  
  142. She just wishes he'd stop getting tears and snot on her shirt and oh god no he's moving in to rub faces.
  143.  
  144. KANAYA: Okay Jake I Think Thats Quite Enough
  145. KANAYA: After Four Of Those Hugs I Think Jade Quite Gets The Picture
  146. JADE: yes!!! very much so, thank you!
  147. JAKE: Yes yes, i suppose youre right. Gadzooks, im just happy to see you up and about again!
  148.  
  149. Jade has never been more grateful to Kanaya in her entire life, as she assists in pulling her grandfather/grandson/father/friend off of her.
  150.  
  151. KANAYA: Still Though
  152. KANAYA: Though I Do Not Quite Share His Exuberance I Do Have To Agree That Its Nice To See You Again
  153.  
  154. Nope nevermind, gratitude rescinded.
  155.  
  156. JADE: i really wish youd all stop saying that...
  157. DAVE: ok yeah but see jade
  158. DAVE: youre like our friend?
  159. DAVE: our weird horny dog friend thats a little too fond of yiffing but still our friend
  160. DAVE: like even if its technically a bad thing its just like
  161. DAVE: iunno a little too hard to really wrap our minds around and junk
  162. JADE: yes, i know its confusing, but-
  163. DAVE: no its not confusing
  164. DAVE: like i get it. i already wrapped my mind around that part, how it works and everything, controlling our thoughts
  165. DAVE: i just mean in the sense that like
  166. DAVE: its such a not urgent seeming problem right
  167. KANAYA: I Would Like To Disagree
  168. DAVE: ok ok yeah vampires on the warpath again everyone stay the fuck out of the way
  169. DAVE: nothings standing between her chainsaw and the person who took her true love
  170. DAVE: thats not irony or anything by the way i mean that
  171. DAVE: like damn when you get going youre really scary
  172. DAVE: terrified out of my boots here whenever you get that look on your face where i know youre thinking about how hard youre gonna split my bro in half
  173. DAVE: which like i get it i have some hella complicated feelings about the guy right now but i get it
  174. DAVE: the guys like my bro and all and for a while i thought we really connected and were chill but then everything just-
  175. KARKAT: OH MY FUCKING GOD, GET TO THE GODDAMN POINT.
  176. JADE: yeah, i gotta agree with karkat here :T
  177. DAVE: ugh fine
  178. DAVE: ok so the point is its just sort of a threat thats a little hard to get riled up about in the immediate sense?
  179. DAVE: like he gets in control of the narrative. which is like kind of mind control but not really because its just a bunch of words and like
  180. DAVE: believe me i know its bad i know its hells of bad
  181. DAVE: but its just so
  182. DAVE: abstract
  183. DAVE: insubstantial
  184. DAVE: its hard to get worked up about when i cant see or feel anything
  185. DAVE: and all of us kinda know what to look out for now and i dont think anybodys noticed any unusual thoughts going through our heads
  186. DAVE: so all im really seeing and feeling is
  187. DAVE: im seeing that youre back
  188. DAVE: and im feeling pretty good about it
  189. DAVE: and i dont see whats wrong with enjoying that youre back until we get this sorted out
  190. DAVE: see even karkats happy to see you again
  191.  
  192. Dave gives an affectionate nudge to Karkat's side with his elbow, and gives a thumbs up, with that subtle, barely noticable signature Strider smile. Karkat rolls his eyes, and uncrosses his arms to give a somewhat half-hearted thumbs up as well.
  193.  
  194. And... Karkat doesn't move away from the affectionate touch, Jade notices. Doesn't immediately put a large gap between them. They're very nearly touching shoulders- close enough that they actually ARE touching shoulders occasionally. And neither one seems bothered by it.
  195.  
  196. ...Are they... still together?? It seems like it's been a while, since Alt Callie put the narrative on hold. Turned it all to white noise, and put an end to Jade's ability to see through her. She hasn't really been able to think in that time, hasn't really existed, but... still, she kinda thought after Dirk's machinations came to light, they'd... get distant again? Realize it wasn't really them feeling those things and getting that close?
  197.  
  198. Maybe they just decided they didn't care where the feelings came from, now that they were together. Or, maybe they were going to wind up together anyway, even if Dirk hadn't interfered. His presence was just a pushy, annoying, insulting commentary on events he had little to do with. That it was just a natural result, once Jade was out of the picture. She sure as shit didn't help matters in that saccharine sweet timeline she witnessed.
  199.  
  200. She's just... better off alone, really. Better off staying out of everyone's lives. Better off suffering, alone, for years, while everyone else's lives improve and they all have 3 years of fun together. Everyone happy but her. Better off an empty, meaningless, unfeeling vessel, so everyone else is protected. They should be glad she's gone, banished to irrelevance so everyone else can be happy.
  201.  
  202. ROXY: hey uh
  203. ROXY: jade
  204. ROXY: u ok
  205. ROXY: got kinda that freaky look on your face again
  206.  
  207. There's a hand on her arm again, and Jade suddenly realizes how long she's been quiet. How her gaze drifted down to the ground, lips pursed, an intense look in her eyes. Fists clenched. Everyone's looking at her, a bit uncomfortable. Dave's smile has faltered, and Karkat now is letting actual concern show on his face.
  208.  
  209. Jade shakes her head, trying to dispell the pile-up of thoughts in her head.
  210.  
  211. JADE: yeah, im
  212. JADE:
  213. JADE: no
  214. JADE: no im not ok
  215. JADE: maybe you all, are, but
  216. JADE: theres something going on with me!
  217. JADE: i just... im having all these thoughts! about... things!
  218. KANAYA: What Things
  219. JADE: things!!!
  220. JADE: things i
  221. JADE: dont normally let myself think about!!!
  222. ROXY: ok yeh but wut things
  223. DAVE: yeah like cmon
  224. JADE: its none of your fucking business!!!
  225.  
  226. Jade's shouting, and her fists clench tighter. She can feel her nails digging into her palm- she's never actually believed that someone getting so worked up they cut themself that way was something that happened in real life, but suddenly she can see how someone might actually do it. She's angry, and she's, sad, and she, feels hopeless, and it's all just spiraling out of control all of a sudden, and she can't remember ever feeling like this before. The last time she woke up she was angry about what Dirk did, but she was focused, and she was determined to tell them, share the messages she needed to share, do what she had to do, but now... her emotions aren't fueling her, they're destroying her. Making her useless. Jade Harley cannot be useless. Even if she needs to suffer for it, even if she needs to disappear, she needs to help her friends and SHE ISN'T. WHY IS IT GETTING WORSE. WHY, WHY IS SHE AWAKE WHY IS SHE HERE WHY AREN'T THEY HELPING PUT HER BACK TO SLEEP WHY ARE THEY HAPPY SHE'S BACK WHY IS SHE LIKE THIS?!
  227.  
  228. KANAYA: Jade I Understand If It Might Be Upsetting But We Really Do Need To Know
  229. KANAYA: If Dirk Is Manipulating Your Thoughts Then We Need To Know How So We Can Understand What He Is After
  230. JADE: SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!
  231. JADE: BACK OFF!!!
  232. KANAYA: I
  233.  
  234. Kanaya stops, takes a step back. She's never seen Jade like this before. Nobody has. Everyone's uncomfortable. Everyone's uncomfortable and it's all her fault. There's a brief moment of silence, save for Jade's breathing, labored, hissing through her teeth, before Kanaya steps forward again, voice quiet, gentle, caring.
  235.  
  236. KANAYA: Jade
  237. KANAYA: Please
  238. KANAYA: I Need Your Help
  239. KANAYA: I Might Never See Rose Again If You Dont
  240. JADE: AAAAAAAA!!!!!
  241.  
  242. Jade breaks. She screams. Tears are streaming down her face, as she lets out a primal howl. All she needs to do is talk, it's so simple, it's so easy, just say what's in her head, but her thoughts are so awful, so horrible- no, no, they're not, she's right, SHE'S horrible, better off gone, she's right she's right she's right she's right she's right she's completely right so why does she feel this way, why are these thoughts ruining her, why are they making her feel so bad.
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