Title: taking turns holding this world
Characters/Pairings: Feferi, the Condesce [Troll Kids]
Ratings/Warnings: R, strong violence, fantastic racism
Written for: womenlovefest
Author's Note: And thus commences a week of continuous postings, hopefully - two fics per day! They will mostly be a) in the same post, and b) shorter than this. Title from "Trust Me" by The Fray.
She looks less like you than you imagined – tall as your stretched-out shadow, skeletal in a way that almost doubtless shrank from slender – but she’s still twisting your own mouth at you, your own eyes hard and glinting from the shadows, and you hope that means you’ve got a fighting chance of staring her down.
The hollowed-out wreck behind her still has enough shine to the hull to reflect – the bones caught in her hair, the gaudy little doll you make – and it’s there that you see Karkat step forward, sickle in his shaking hand. The echo of the snarled “Get back!” hits your ears just as you realize you’re saying it. The points of your trident don’t tremble at all.
The Condesce arches an eyebrow like she doesn’t know she’s torn to rags, like she doesn’t know that she rules nothing anymore, and the worst part is that you’re not sure either of those things matters. You watch Karkat’s wavering reflection shrink until he’s with the others, watch your ancestor look you over, and you wait for her to crack the moment.
She starts to smile, throws her arms out like she wants you to see every scar and muscle on her. "Rejoice, wriggler!” she laughs, half-coo, half-sneering, “your Empress has come home!”
You’ve got the distance of sand between you half-closed and your trident angled at her stomach in the time it takes her to glide two stately steps across the desert. You watch her stop, watch her eyebrows rise together and know you’re seeing sheer astonishment as she shakes her head, laughing again (and you’ve laughed exactly like that, you know and you remember), and you decide she is well-titled and well-named.
“You won’t kill me, child,” she explains slow and drawling, sweet enough to drip with it. “I’m your kind, your ancestor, your blood. I’m all you have left.”
“I have my friends,” you say, clear and cold as you can manage, reaching for how you always thought she’d sound. You know she’ll snicker before you hear it, know she’ll roll her eyes; she shakes her head as she does, all shame and sorrowed disappointment.
“These rustbloods and mutants?” she asks gently, and you nearly choke at the flutter of terrified protest behind you. “They’re no more your kind than animals are, little one, less than our lusus ever was.” She hesitates. “The seablood’s got some worth to him, maybe. Not Darkleer’s bastard, but the Subjuggulator boy, if he grows into himself.” In the glass behind her you see Gamzee’s blurred face crumple, see him wiping at his eyes, and you tighten your grip and shift your stance.
“But not like me.” The Condesce smiles like she’s explained it all, fins fluttering as she brushes back her hair. “I’m you, little princess. Blood to blood.”
This time as she advances she brings herself within your reach, and you rake through what’s left of her regalia without a second thought; she’s close enough you can see the tiny drop of fuchsia slide along the gleaming prong, and your teeth nearly rip through your jaw as you stop the weapon there, take in the sick-pink scabbing along her ribs as you tilt to meet her eyes. She towers over you like your lusus never did, all tangled hellish hair and utter certainty, yourself more powerful than God Tier, and you have never wanted to kill anyone before.
“You’re not my kind,” you say, aware that it’s a poor argument; your voice shakes, and it’s a surprise to realize that you’re not afraid. You amend: “You’re not my Empress. I’ve hated every choice you’ve ever made, and I could have made this empire a thousand times more than what you ever let it be.” Her eyebrows arch again, and you flick the trident-tips across her skin before she starts to speak, ending with one point raking into the edge of her gill. She hisses, and with bile swirling in your throat you press a little more. “And yes – if you take another step, I will gut you where you stand.”
She gapes, fins shrunk against her head as she stares open-mouthed at you; then her eyes slice narrow and the flash and clatter of metal is all the warning you have before your only weapon spins into the sand. You’ve never fought a tridentkind user before, and the import of that only hits you as she twirls her long-snarled twin weapon to yours back into her Strife deck, slides her fingers under your chin. You wish she’d hold you hard enough to hurt, but she doesn’t, only tilts your gaze to her.
“Silly child,” she says, and at least she’s angry now, pure steel and murder. “I’d have let you keep them, you know – we grow fond of pets, I understand.” You’re still trembling – terrified now, yes, but not of her – and she isn’t guarding herself at all. You’re close enough to the gold at her throat to see the patterns the tarnish makes, to measure the distance from collar to chin, and you clutch your hands to your chest and watch her smile, count the time down as she breathes, “I’m almost tempted to make you cull them yourself, so that you’ll learn.”
You’re not the fastest fighter you’ve ever known, but you’re faster than a dying empress who believes herself absolute still.
It’s almost a surprise how easily your hands fit around her neck, how easy it is to twist her ankles out from under her and bear her down; she rakes at your arms, your cheeks, savages every bit of you that she can reach as you press her to the sands, but all you really need to do as she twists and bucks and rolls is not let go, and you don’t.
It takes her a long, long time to go still, longer for you to realize that she has, even longer for you to pry your fingers loose. Disentangling yourself from her and the sand, you realize that it’s a dreadfully humiliating way to go, and for a moment you feel sorry for her.
Then you stand enough to see your friends. Aradia’s wings shine in the moonlight; Tavros is staring at you with Gamzee’s hands pulled close to him; Karkat is holding Sollux back, just now dropping his arm as they both start hesitant towards you.
Shakily, you try to smile; step forward and the dizziness hits you, so you stand and sway and wait as they walk towards you, start to run. Your tongue hurts – you are, in fact, something of an orchestra of pain, between scrapes and inch-deep scratches, the burn of sand and wrench of muscles and the dull ache of surfacing bruises – and the liquid clogging your mouth spatters thick and fuchsia onto the sand as you spit.
Karkat hugs you the moment he’s within reach; Sollux takes your hand, and you can see the others starting towards you now; Eridan salutes you, Equius nodding with his fist over his heart, and you don’t want any of it but somehow you can’t shake your head.
Kanaya strokes your hair as she comes near enough; Nepeta presses herself against your side, and as the group of you start stumbling across the desert towards your camp every last one of them finds some excuse to touch you – a touch to your shoulder, a quiet squeeze of your hand, everyone who can hold your weight hovering beside you until you shake and let them take you, smiling against the warmth of them. (They all feel warm, to you.)
You look back once and hope the desert creatures find the body before it’s buried in the shifting sands.