—HEY LOOK I DID IT. Two chapters in one day. This one’s about a page longer, too. And includes MATERIA. WHEE~
(This chapter’s alternate title is: “In which Equius is the biggest cockblock. It is him.”)—
You would think that it would be slow going in the tunnels because of how many of their party was injured – namely, more than half of them – but, owing to the materia they’d had stockpiled for an emergency such as this, after about five minutes they were all as good as new. They were nearing the exit to the tunnels that Jake and the others had taken the previous night, the one leading to Banora.
Jake peered at the small yellow sphere that had been in one of the two slots in his gun since before the whole thing had started, not having noticed it until now.
“I still have no bloody idea which one this is, Strider,” he called ahead as the six made their way down the tunnels. Sollux and Roxy were in the lead, Dirk behind them, and Jake was in the rear behind John and Karkat.
“It’s yellow, right?” Dirk called back. “That means it’s command materia. Meaning it adds an attribute to you or your weapon.”
“How will I know how it works?”
Dirk rolled his eyes and stopped, waiting for Jake to catch up to him. “Let me see it,” he said when the younger had matched his pace.Jake obliged, handing him the pistol without complaint. He studied the man’s orange eyes through the shades as he examined the materia, and realized he’d just caught himself ogling.
Dirk carefully extracted the small yellow sphere from the slot on the underside of the gun, and held it in his palm before rolling it to pinch it between his thumb and forefinger.
“This shouldn’t be in a gun,” he finally stated.
“It’s a Slash-All materia. And guns don’t slash,” he added. “It’s basically meant for a sword or similarly bladed weapon to slash all of the enemies you face. It could work in a gun, but it really works best with a blade.”
“You have a sword, don’t you? You take it,” Jake said, holding out his hand for the gun, which Dirk returned.
“All right, but let me give you another one. Then it can be an equal trade.”
Jake quirked an eyebrow, but allowed Dirk to drop a small green sphere into his hand. “All right, but I’m still not used to the bally stuff. I probably won’t use it very often.”
“That’s why I just gave you a Cure materia. I figure you’ll be the type to rely on brute force, anyway. Kind of like me.”
The two paused as John approached them, having separated from the other three when he realized Jake and Dirk had fallen behind. “What are you two doing back here?” he asked. “Come on, we should catch up to the others.”
“Then why did you come back here?” Dirk started, but was cut off by the rumbling of earth above them. He grabbed John’s wrist and tugged the boy behind him, and shoved Jake back as well, as the roof of the tunnel not two yards away cracked and shattered, causing a cave-in of the wall and roof before them. And when the dust settled, Jake blinked, coughing, and stared ahead of them. He realized the cave-in must have been larger than he’d thought.
The entire passageway was sealed off. They were separated from the rest of their group.
“Strider, English, are you and Egbert okay in there?” Sollux’s ever-present lisp seemed somewhat more pronounced than usual from the other side of the newly created wall.
“We’re all fine,” Dirk replied, then turned to his companions. “You are, right?”
“Yes,” Jake affirmed, while John nodded his head. “What about the three of you?”
“We’re okay, too,” Sollux replied. “Hold on, we’re gonna dig you out.”
“No, you’re not,” Dirk said firmly. The sound of rock shifting from the other side had started, but faltered as he replied. “Captor, get those two out. I’ll deal with these two. You worry about yourselves.”
“…All right,” Sollux said after a pause, and his voice was reluctant. “Meet you in Kalm, then?”
“Karkat!” John suddenly called frantically.
“It’s okay, John,” answered the gruff voice from the wall of rock that separated them. “Stick with those two, and you’re going to be fine, okay? And so am I. We’ll see each other again, I promise.”
“You’d better keep that promise!” John growled, but his harsh tone cracked with worry.
Dirk shoved aside yet another boulder and wiped sweat from his brow. It seemed they had been digging for hours, and the three of them had yet to create even a small hole in the thick wall of debris. He had long since told John and Jake to unroll their traveling cots and get some shut-eye, while continuing to dig himself; it had to be nighttime by now, and they needed their sleep, while one of them had to stay awake in case WRO agents came down the tunnel. Because not half an hour before, he’d received a text message from Dave telling him of the news broadcast.
They had to work fast, but they wouldn’t be able to if they were exhausted.
Finally, Dirk’s hand broke through another layer of rock, and pushed through to the other side of the blockage. He allowed himself a small smile and retracted his hand, deciding it was time for a small break. He may have made a small hole, but it had to be large enough to allow passage for at least one person so they’d all be able to get through. And then maybe they should fill in the hole again to hinder their pursuers.
He climbed back down and sat beside Jake’s cot a yard or so away from the cave-in, leaning back against the wall, and stopped himself from closing his eyes – he needed to stay awake. But the strain on his materia-healed injuries was beginning to be too much; his side and leg were very sore.
Before long he felt movement in the cot beside him; Jake shook uncontrollably, in the throes of some dream. After a minute or so of this, with Jake not calming down a bit, Dirk sighed, laying his hand on the other’s shoulder in an attempt of pacification.
“Jake. Wake up,” he said softly, trying not to wake John as well. When Jake didn’t stir except to let out a small whimper, however, he began gently shaking him. “C’mon, man, wake up.”
He was finally rewarded with the sight of Jake’s eyes flying open, still rimmed with fear from his dream. He sat up, staring around wildly, and his eyes landed on Dirk.
Before Dirk could say anything, Jake’s arms were suddenly around him, and the other man was making snuffling noises in the crook of Dirk’s neck.
“Whoa, hey,” Dirk said, startled. “What’s wrong?” His arms went around Jake, too, and one hand softly held the back of his head, fingers laced through coarse black hair.
“N-nothing,” Jake replied, voice cracking and muffled by Dirk’s shirt.
“Bullshit. What was your dream about?”
“I think… I remembered something,” Jake answered after a brief silence. “I mean, mostly everything. I think. But… I think I would have preferred not to have remembered anything.”
“Why? What happened?” Dirk paused. “You don’t have to answer that.”
But he answered anyway. “I think I was a science experiment.” His voice was soft, barely audible, but Dirk heard him.
“I was in some sort of glass tube. That was one part of my dream. Then the creature that attacked me before I lost my memory drew some blood from my arm with a syringe. He was huge and pitch-black; had wings, and catlike ears, and a gash across one glowing eye – ”
“Jack Noir,” Dirk breathed. “You’re telling me you were a science experiment in Jack Noir’s lab?”
“I suppose so,” Jake said, then continued. “And then we were outside – there, where I was attacked. By him, actually.” His arms were getting progressively tighter around Dirk’s neck, and he swore he could feel a wet spot where Jake was hiding in his shoulder, as if Noir were here and threatening him right now. “He was the one. He attacked me, to see if I was strong enough. I wasn’t. So he left me to die.”
Yes, there was definitely a wet spot there now, coupled with the sounds of the normally tough man weeping quietly. The hand that Dirk had holding Jake’s head began petting him gently.
“Sh,” he whispered. “You’re not dead now. And I doubt that’s going to change any time in the near future.”
“How can you trust me? How can you, when I don’t even know if I can trust my bloody self?”Jake’s voice was bitter.
And Dirk found himself struggling for the words. The words he’d meant to say from the beginning, that people normally had a hard time saying for the first time anyway, but he was Dirk fucking Strider. Why was it so hard for him? Finally, after moments that felt like years of deliberating, he just said it.
“Because I love you, Jake.”
Jake paused, pulling away to stare at him with wide, tearstained eyes, and Dirk suddenly felt as if that was not what he should have said, that he should have said something else, anything but what he had. He looked away. “Damn it, forget I said that,” he said. “I shouldn’t have – ”
He was startled when Jake embraced him once more. “No, no, you just surprised me, that’s all. I’m just surprised, that you would say that even after all I’ve just told you.”
They sat like that for a moment in each others’ arms, before Dirk spoke again. “Jake, whoever you were in the past, he’s gone now. You’ve made decisions now that your past self probably wouldn’t have. I’m not judging you for your past. I’m not judging you, period. I don’t care who you were. I care about who you are. And I didn’t fall in love with some science experiment. And these emotions you’re spilling all over my sleeve are what make you human.”
This time it was Dirk who pulled away, but he leaned right back in – not for another hug, however. His hand found Jake’s chin and brought it up towards him, and as his eyes slid halfway shut he saw Jake’s own eyes closing.
Before their lips met however, Dirk noticed movement in the corner of his eye, and he instantly snapped to attention. Zahhak was there, an arrow on his bow aimed straight at Jake.
Dirk shoved him aside and turned slightly to catch the arrow in his back, and with a grunt he fell to the ground.
“Dirk!” Jake exclaimed, though Dirk barely heard him. His eyes were shutting of their own accord now, and he struggled to speak.
“Jake. Get out of here. Get John out of here. Run.”
“I’m not leaving you!” Man, what a cliché thing to say. As Dirk fought for breath, fought to stay conscious, he smirked.
“I think… I was kinda hoping…you’d say that,” he managed to gasp out before he lost the fight and fell into deeper darkness.