Corvus, Cancer, And Other Constellations

by Togi Kayako (土宜草子)

Clara refreshed her email, twice, double-checked her internet connection, and even made sure it was actually a Thursday. But no, there was no update from CrowJewels in her inbox. In one last attempt to restore normality, Clara checked the fic itself, but there was no change to Jewels’ current WIP at all. They posted like clockwork, in sharp contrast to her own schedule, which she listed in her profile as Updates happen when the spirit moves me, but it’s got noodle arms and damn I’m heavy.

After a quick refresh, just in case, Clara hopped over to her chat with Jewels. They tended to be quiet on the weekdays, busy with their vaguely described nine-to-five accounting job. Things picked up on the weekends, plus when they were collaborating on a story or beta-reading for each other. Clara tried not to send too many messages to Jewels without getting any back, but this was dire enough that she had to reach out immediately.

no update today?!
u dead or what???
(plz don’t be dead tho)

Clara tossed herself in the shower, checked her phone, wrangled her overgrown undercut into something presentable, checked her phone, got dressed, and checked her phone one last time. There was no reply, and she dashed out to catch her bus to work with an uncharacteristic frown. Several hours of mediocre coffee-slinging later, Clara got a chance to check her phone again and finally there was a message from Jewels.

I’m not dead, I promise
But it has been… kind of a bad week, honestly
I should be okay, but I think I’m going to go on hiatus for a bit

aww, hope it’s just something little ruffling your tail feathers
i will somehow persevere through this tragic wasteland of no updates
though I SWEAR if you don’t let them at least kiss soon i’m gonna have to do it myself
and you know how allergic to slow burn i am
so you’re gonna come back to like four PWPs raunchy enough to make satan blush

Given how Satan is usually depicted as red, that would be an impressive feat
But if anyone could do it, it would be you :)

The chat said Jewels was still typing, but it was stop-and-start for long enough that Clara began to wonder if they were writing an update in real time. She desperately wanted to ask, but if there was one thing she knew for sure about Jewels, it was that pushing didn’t work. They were like the human version of cornstarch goop. Poke too much and they only toughened up their walls even harder.

If I tell you something, will you promise to keep it to yourself?

as long as you didn’t murder anybody irl
…well, anybody half-decent
politicians are a freebie
but yeah, of course i won’t share your private stuff!

I don’t know for sure yet, technically
But they did a bunch of tests and then a biopsy
They gave me an appointment with an oncologist next week
So I probably have cancer

Clara stared blankly at the text like it would anagram itself into something that made sense if she willed it to hard enough. She knew Jewels was in her thirties, unless they’d lied about their age for some reason. And kids got cancer too, but wasn’t it really weird for generic, grown-up adults to get it? With a couple quick taps on her forehead to snap out of her tangent, Clara jotted down the first non-intrusive reply she could think of.

oh shit and you hate sickfic too
seriously, sorry to hear it, and happy to talk about it if you need
but you don’t have to if you don’t want to
just say the word and i will write you a better au, any flavor you want
make satan blush content optional ofc

…It’s not self-insert if I don’t write it, right?
Kind of tempted to take you up on that
We’ll see how next week goes though
Regardless, you’re so sweet, seriously
Thank you, CS <3
I’ll keep you posted when I know anything, but I gotta go for now

And with that, CrowJewels went offline again. Clara smiled faintly at the heart on screen, then slumped over sideways in her chair with a gusty sigh. Why did it have to be something terrible? Jewels always seemed a bit burnt out from work and talked about struggling to write all the time. They deserved something nice for a change.

Clara twirled her chair from side to side with increasing force until she caught her bare toes on the corner of her desk and yelped. With any luck, next week the two of them would be laughing about Jewels’ weird medical scare and talking about the fics they were working on, like normal. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to do a little research on cancer stuff. Just in case.

An hour and a half later, Clara regretted ever looking into the subject. Even the calmest, most blandly written descriptions of possible treatments and outcomes — not counting death — were bad enough that Clara had fidgeted three receipts on her desk into confetti. In a fit of self-preservation, she closed every single tab and pulled up her latest WIP instead. Making fictional characters kiss wasn’t a substitute for therapy, but it would do until she had her next appointment.

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆ ☆ ⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

The weekend finally rolled around, though Clara lost the first half of her Saturday to covering someone else’s shift at the cafe. She made it back to her apartment and immediately flung her work uniform into the Laundry Corner Of Shame. It built up every time she procrastinated putting her clean laundry away, which was often. Clara ignored the mostly empty basket in favor of plunking down in her computer chair and pulling her legs up to sit criss-cross. To her delight, there was a message from Jewels waiting for her.

Hey, I wanted to apologize for the other day
Sorry to dump such a heavy subject on you with no warning
I shouldn’t have brought it up out of nowhere

uh, no??
apology very rejected
i said talk about it if you want to and i meant it
and like… seriously Jewels?
‘i might have cancer’ is a real scary thing
and i’d be a big ol jerk if i was all ‘shut up about your health, FRIEND’

I really appreciate that, CS
No heel face turns for you, huh? :)
Only the power of friendship

and smut
don’t forget the smut
or you’ll make me sound way more virtuous than i am

There is no chance I can forget your smut
One, it’s amazing and you should be proud
And two, there is so much I couldn’t possibly ignore it
It’s your trademark!
Like even the first time you left a comment on my fic
I saw your username and went, “Oh, bet they write smut “

yeah i guess ‘CSLewdest’ is kind of a dead giveaway
but hey we can’t all write 250k Epic Literary Works :p

I don’t think Saturn Arising fanfic is what most people consider literature
But I will take that as a compliment
Especially from someone who writes as well as you :)

noooooo shut uuuuuup
my body wasn’t ready for the uno reverse card
(but thank you omg <3 <3 )

But speaking of your writing…
Were you serious about that AU?
The adventures of Cooler Me Without Cancer sounds amazing right now
I’m so stressed I can’t write though

aww, of course i was serious!
anything to make you feel a bit better
wanna just do some light brainstorming and lemme spin off from there?
like if you wanna be in SatAr
are you a human or an alien?
or i guess a human who lives in space??
is there even a word for that?
like, idk, astro…dweller or something

We probably don’t have a word for it yet
Since no one really lives out there
Maybe I should be a flock of space crows? :)

SPACE CROWS!!
a dozen crows in a trench coat
desperately trying not to get clocked
maybe doing some kind of bounty hunter work

Ooh, definitely yes to bounty hunter
But I think I’d rather actually be just one human person
Or maybe a crow fuse
But NO wings!

alright, can i get a gender
and maybe a name if you’re feelin feisty
or even if you’re not
i kinda suck at naming
this is why fic is a blessing
named characters ready to go

Enby, and let’s just call them Jules for simplicity’s sake
What’s AU-you going to be like?
(You are joining AU-me, right?)

sure!!
let’s have a space adventure
us meeting would be a great place to start anyway
i’m gonna be a normal earth gal named Stella
who has stowed away on your ship
i’m gonna write like a paragraph at a time
and then send it to you
just chime in whenever if you wanna change what Jules is doing

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

Stella flinches awake in her storage crate when she hears boots on the metal floor of the cargo hold. Strictly speaking, it isn’t her storage crate, but she’s spent enough time in it to feel some sense of ownership. She makes herself relax against the piled sacks that take up most of the crate and keeps her breathing slow and quiet. Whoever else is on the ship had been in a few times before, but they’d never gone for her container.

The soft click of the crate opening tells Stella that today her luck has finally run out. She freezes in place and clenches her eyes shut. It doesn’t help. Stella can tell when the dim green lighting of the cargo hold reaches her face through her eyelids. Even without the light, the soft huff of laughter that follows is a dead giveaway that she’s been caught.

“I’m afraid you don’t make a very convincing bag of beans, stranger.” The low, calm voice sounds only amused rather than angry, so Stella cracks one eye open to take a look. Presumably, this is the captain of the tiny ship she’d unintentionally stowed away on. With the light behind them, Stella can’t make out a lot of details, but they’re wearing a long, weathered-looking coat and they have small, dark feathers running back from the corners of their eyes to blend into their short-cropped hair. She doesn’t see any weapons, though who knows what kind of crazy science fiction guns they might have in space?

Stella takes a deep breath and pushes herself up. “Look, I’m really sorry about being in your beans, but there were weird aliens — no offense — and stuff got crazy and I needed somewhere to hide and then you kind of took off and I didn’t know what to do—”

The captain holds up their hand and Stella snaps her mouth shut. “Slow down, take a breath. Let’s do some yes and no questions, okay? You from Earth?” Stella nods. “And you want to go back there, I assume?” Stella nods again and the captain pinches the bridge of their nose with a sigh. “Of course you do. Well, let’s get you out of the beans for now, earth girl.”

Stella takes the captain’s offered hand and they do most of the work hauling her out of the storage crate. “It’s Stella,” she says, plastering on her best customer service smile to hide her nerves. “Earth is gonna be a bit out of your way, I’m guessing?”

“Wasn’t planning to go straight back to the place where I nearly got blasted to bits, yeah.” The captain shrugs with one shoulder and turns their grip on Stella’s hand into a handshake. “Call me Jules. No need for formality if we’re going to be stuck together for a while.”

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

and this is where i start to stall out
meetcutes yes
describing life in space no
and a plot that doesn’t involve smooching?
hopeless

I can think of some world building you’d like
If it’s a one person ship, there probably won’t be extra bunks…

AND THERE WAS ONLY ONE SPACE BED
you’re a genius, Jewels
tho that definitely sounds like the path to smooching
should’ve picked someone not me
or at least not used my middle name for her lol

Your middle name is Stella?
That’s actually a cool one
My middle name is just boring, but I really hate my first name

aw, is it a gender thing?
my parents are such hippy weirdos they had backup names
one for if i was a boy
and a gender neutral one too
joke’s on them tho i like being a gal

Oh, I mean, I’m not really non-binary!
Just like to keep my gender ambiguous online
And thought it would be fun for the character
I hate my first name for completely different reasons
It’s the main character from the play my parents met at
Which was Romeo and Juliet
They tried to get me into it but I’ve never liked it at all

oh so that’s why you’re Jewels/Jules, huh?
is your middle name crow
legally you have to tell me if your middle name is a noun

No, I just wanted a pun on Jules
So I thought of crown jewels
Then went from crown to crow because it made for an easy avatar

pun names unite!!
mine came to me out of the blue
and now only legal action could pry it from my sweaty fangirl hands
but so far so good on that front

Phone call
Be right back

Clara took the pause as a sign to jot down a few notes about what Stella and Jules might get up to in the future. Daring escapes from the law were a must, and maybe Stella in some kind of dramatic hostage situation. Better yet, a reverse one, where Stella could leap out of the crate of beans and thunk someone on the skull to save Jules.

In a separate file, she outlined a rough romantic arc beginning with the one bed dilemma. It would be weird to add it to the story as-is, but if she changed the characters out it could be a fun project. If the idea really grabbed her, she’d have ask Jewels if they minded. Heck, maybe they wouldn’t care even with the story being technically AU-them. There was no way Jules was an accurate representation of the person behind CrowJewels’ avatar.

Sorry, I have to go
This was fun though
Thank you!

They were offline before Clara could even get the B in ‘bye’ out. Probably not good news, then. Clara’s shoulders slumped and she closed her tentative romantic outline. Probably would be weird to bring it up, especially when Jewels was stressed out and dealing with serious medical stuff.

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆ ☆ ⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

Just got back from the oncologist
It’s cancer
Only stage two
I should be okay
But I do have to have chemotherapy
They’re going to put a chest port in first though
So more surgery soon, joy.

god i’m so sorry Jewels
is there anything i can do??
besides continue the adventures of Jules and Stella obvs
also is joking okay?
or should i be serious about this?
last person i knew that had cancer was my shitty grandma
and basically i sent a couple of generic get well cards b/c dad made me
sorry i’m kinda babbling but i dunno what the right thing to say is
this fucking sucks
and you deserve better

Honestly that last bit is really nice to hear
I don’t think I have the energy to even enjoy your AU right now
Sorry
But I’ll keep you posted on what’s going on
It’s nice to be able to talk about it even if there’s nothing to be done
So thank you for listening

of course, anytime!
just let me know if you wanna chat or whatever

I’m not in a good place to be sociable right now
But I’ll let you know
Thanks again

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆ ☆ ⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

The next few weeks brought sporadic, terse messages from Jewels. As much as Clara wanted to talk to them, she was a bit relieved not to be getting the process in more detail. Even what was basically a dry, bullet point list of surgery, recovery, and preparing for chemotherapy made Clara wince with each new addition. The worst complaints Jewels ever mustered were “tired” or “a little sore” but Clara could guess at how bad it had to be if they were even admitting to that.

Clara had decimated her stash of Cute Crows To Cheer Up Jewels With by the time Jewels was healed up and about to start chemotherapy. Restocking required some serious digging but no brain power, so she’d started using it to wind down for bed or get back to bed on the nights her asshole brain woke her up at three in the morning. The problem was that sometimes Clara lost track of time so she stayed up until three in the morning.

You’re not actually awake, right?
I’m hoping you’re just listed as online for some weird reason
This is an awful time to be conscious

honk shoo
honk shoo
wow, look at how asleep i am!!
also hey, you’re awake too
so pot, kettle, etc.

I’m starting chemo tomorrow and I’m so nervous I can’t sleep
What’s your excuse?

okay you win this round
i just lost track of time
anything i can do for you?
OOH
bedtime story??

How are you conscious enough to think about writing??
Anyway I should probably be responsible and send you to bed
We don’t both need to be awake

that sounds like a yes you feel bad about
more than a no
it’ll take me ages to wind down anyway
and i don’t have work tomorrow so it’s fine
so more Jules and Stella?
or something new?

Whichever is easier for you
As long as it’s nothing complicated
I’m awake but not that awake, y’know?

something simpler, gotcha
well if we want a bedtime story
maybe something fairy tale-ish?
like your amazing beauty and the beast au

<3 <3 <3
If we’re doing that, I call dibs on the beast
I wanna be cool cursed nobility instead of normal squishy human
Also it would be fun to be intimidating

that’s all very doable
it’s late so i’m just gonna keep the same names
if i don’t have to name anyone i can practically write with my eyes closed

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

Everyone knows that the castle is cursed, and that stepping beyond its mossy walls is as good as going to the grave. Even seeing the castle’s lone resident can give you bad luck for years. Stella knows it as well as anyone else in her small village, but she’s so hungry. It’s the dead of winter, rats have gotten into half of her food, and hundreds of ripe fruits hang tauntingly from the trees dotting the castle grounds.

Stella creeps along the walls in the dim moonlight until she finds a small side gate hidden in deep shadows. She tugs off the mitten on her right hand and pokes one trembling finger over the boundary line. The other side feels like the lingering heat of a summer night. Stella steps through straight away and almost weeps as the balmy, flower-scented air melts the chill out of her whole body.

There’s no time to allow herself to bask, no matter how much she wants to. Stella takes her large canvas sack out and heads for the nearest tree to start picking fruit. She keeps to the shadows and only allows herself a few pieces from each tree, in hopes that they won’t be missed. Only a few minutes in, Stella starts to sweat under her heavy cloak and shrugs it off, letting it fall in a heap in the grass.

By the time Stella’s bag is half full, the warm, quiet night has lulled away the worst of her fears. Perhaps it’s not the castle itself but only the being within that is cursed. If they’re asleep, she’s safe. The thought is so compelling that Stella winds closer and closer towards the castle itself, even stopping to savor a lusciously sweet fig straight from the branch.

A distant cry of some kind of hunting bird draws Stella’s attention upward, where she sees the silhouette of its wings and long tail plumes against the full moon. The cry sounds again, and the bird goes into a dive. Its shadow gets larger and larger still, well beyond the size of any ordinary bird. Stella stumbles back to press herself against the trunk of the nearest tree, hoping with her whole heart that she has not yet been seen.

You gave me wings this time, didn’t you?

you didn’t say no wings this time
so yeah unless you want me to delete that
there’s wings
you can pick anything else you want about them tho
but speak now before i manage to write an actual landing

I want to be hot
Is that weird?
That’s weird, isn’t it?
I’m sorry, it’s late, feel free to disregard that

why not have you be hot??
hot crow rights!!!

I mean if it’s your POV, isn’t that a bit…
Okay I literally can’t think of any word but weird again
But my point stands

nahhhhh
unless you’re seven feet tall with a wingspan to match irl
(in which case damn Jewels you’ve been holding out on me!!!)
i’m not worried about it if you’re not
but i can def dial it back to ~ aesthetically pleasing ~ if you want

I mean, if you don’t mind
I feel like it would be fun to be just stupid hot
I’m really not feeling any amount of hot right now
Bunch of fresh scars and a weird chest implant

ok no wings but you ARE a cyborg
which is pretty cool
i’m sure you’re not feeling it right now
but maybe it’ll be cool in the future
anyway!!
let’s get needlessly hot Jules on the ground

Stella’s hair and clothes are blown back as the huge winged being flaps a few times before landing silently on the grass. The figure straightens up, making them easily a head and a half taller than Stella. Their wings fold neatly back like a dark, feathered cloak and they swivel their head to lock two round, dark eyes on her. Stella’s breath catches with both fear and the startling realization that the face watching her is uncommonly handsome.

“Please, I meant no harm,” she says, dropping to her knees. “I was starving and there was so much fruit here — please don’t hurt me. I’ll leave empty handed if that’s what you want.”

“What I want?” The figure lets out an incredulous laugh that is half squawk. “Get up, little human. I’m afraid this place is a prison, for myself, and now regrettably you as well. If it brings you any measure of comfort, I can assure you that you will never go hungry here.” They lean over, offering out one black-gloved hand.

Stella cautiously meets their eyes. They’re black from corner to corner, but the set of their thick brows and solemn face shows no sign of malice. She takes their hand, and lets out a soft squeak as they pull her to her feet. It’s no surprise that they can lift her easily; she barely reaches their chest.

wait did i have the last you pull me to my feet too
damn it i’m getting predictable
but in my defense it’s a great way to break the physical touch barrier
and yeah show off how big and strong the love interest is
or hotness interest, whatever
oh hang on i think i have the perfect wrap up to this bit

“What do you mean a prison?” Stella asks. Her voice is steady, somehow, though her hands shake until she clasps them together in front of herself. With gentle hands on her shoulders, the stranger turns her to face the direction she had entered from

The gates are gone, every single one of them now nothing but a bare section of wall. Above them stretches a seemingly endless pane of glass, gleaming faintly in the moonlight as high as Stella can see. If the castle grounds are truly a prison meant to hold someone with wings, it had to stretch all the way to the heavens. Stella finds herself shuddering all over as if she had stepped back into the winter chill.

“Anyone who enters cannot leave,” the stranger says, gentle and low. “I know it will be hard for you, but I will do what I can to help you be at home here. Come with me and I’ll show you to a room, little one.”

“Please call me Stella,” she says absently, eyes still tracing the walls for any hope of escape. “You’re tall enough that anyone would be little beside you, so that’s hardly fair.”

The sentiment nets her an amused hum. “My apologies, Stella. You may call me Jules. No need to stand on formality if we’re going to be living together.” Jules steps in front of Stella with the barest hint of a smile on their thin lips. “Now if you would, come inside. It’s late, and we should rest.”

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

bam!
it’s not reusing lines
it’s ~ thematic ~
or something
i’m out of words now
oh you’re idle
looks like that bedtime story worked after all
sleep well, Jewels

Clara did her best to wind down for bed — for real this time, away from the light of her monitor — but Jewels’ worries seemed to have siphoned off into her brain. All of her earlier searches for cancer stuff floated around in her brain like smoke and made her throat tight. She turned over a few times until her sheets were hopelessly twisted around her legs and she had to crawl out of bed to fix them.

After another long stretch in the darkness with her brain racing, Clara got up again to take a melatonin, chug some water, and put on some soothing music. One of the three things finally did the trick, because once she had all her pillows optimally adjusted she finally managed to drift off to sleep. Given how close it was to sunrise, her last conscious thought was deep gratitude that she really didn’t have work later.

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆ ☆ ⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

Sorry to pass out on you last night
I read the rest of the story this morning and it’s fun
Kinda like “handsome” even if it’s usually a guy thing
(Thanks for making me hot <3 )

Getting set up for chemo now
I get a little side room with a bed to myself
Bit of extra privacy for the first time
They have really nice big armchairs out in the main room though
I’m probably babbling and you’re probably asleep
I’ll talk to you later

hot crow rights forever!!
hope the chemo goes okay
def let me know when you’re through
happy to do more later
or another new start lol
watch me single handedly create the HCFU
(hot crow fic universe)
obviously won’t publish any of this without your ok tho!!

Clara stared at the timestamp on Jewels’ last message, almost twenty-four hours old now. There was no way Jewels had been offended by anything she’d said, and all the sane search results she’d found said death by chemotherapy was very unlikely. The list of plausible side effects included all kinds of nasty stuff, though. Clara had coaxed herself to sleep and through work with reasonable if awful scenarios. Hopefully Jewels wasn’t puking their guts up or anything, but at least that would be better than dead.

Tapping herself a few times on the forehead was enough to snap Clara out of her worry spiral. She pushed herself away from her computer and did a quick survey of her apartment. The kitchen sink was piled with dishes. That was a nice, clear problem with a very simple solution: blast some dance tunes and get soaked with an unreasonable amount of dishwater until the pile went away.

The clean kitchen lifted her spirits a little, and belting out some off-key pop hits brought her the rest of the way to a genuinely good mood. When Clara’s phone buzzed in her pocket, she fumbled for a dish towel to dry off her hands with a huge smile.

So it turns out chemo really takes a lot out of you
I slept through part of it
Then I went home and fell into bed with my clothes on
And slept for like twelve more hours
I’m stiff, still tired, and nauseated beyond belief
0/10, do not recommend

well shit there go my weekend plans
glad you’re ok tho
i was getting worried
but don’t you dare apologize!
or the next Jules will be butt ugly
just you watch

Well now I know you mean business
Honestly I’d love more random us AUs
But I can barely make my brain read words

we could voice chat
if that’s cool with you
i can just read each paragraph as i put it in chat
i don’t have like an amazing narrator voice or anything
but hey it’s not reading words!

Maybe
Give me a few minutes
You can ponder what kind of universe we should meet in this time
Anything’s fine by me
As long as it’s part of the HCFU of course :)

Clara double-checked that her mic was plugged in and set up where it hopefully wouldn’t pick up her fan or her loud, clacky keyboard. Jewels hadn’t actually said yes, and they’d never spoken before. Clara drummed out a rhythmic pattern on the edge of her desk as she worked through why she was suddenly so nervous. It felt a little like a first date, which was ridiculous. Jewels wasn’t a stranger, even if Clara had never heard their voice before.

Okay, I think I’m ready
I know this is kind of silly but…
Please don’t say anything about my voice?
I’m not a fan of how it sounds
And I’m sure it’s even more weird than usual right now

not a word, promise
you’ve heard me do podfics, right?
i sound ridiculous when i get too excited about stuff
so glass houses, stones, etc.

I don’t think you sound ridiculous at all
It’s easy to tell that you love the stories you record
Like I can really hear the smile in your voice
Anyway, shall we?

Even though Clara had been expecting the call, she still startled when the chime blared in her headphones. She hit the green button and froze for an awkwardly long moment before managing a weak, “Hey there, Jewels.” Thankfully she managed to stop herself before she asked how they were on autopilot.

“Hello… CS, I guess? It feels a bit weird to call you that out loud.” Jewels sounded tired for sure. Their words were soft and a bit slow, and Clara heard a rustle of fabric that she suspected was blankets. The thought of Jewels all cozy in bed wanting to hear one of her stories hit Clara with a burst of fizzy sweetness.

“You can call me Clara if you want, but whatever’s fine! I’m used to nicknames or screen names or just ‘hey you’ in a pinch.” Clara moved her fingers from her desk to her legs so she could keep tapping them without being obnoxious. “As long as you don’t open a conversation by yelling a coffee order, we’re good.”

Jewels let out a sleepy laugh. “So I’m guessing Jules and Stella won’t be getting a coffee shop AU any time soon, then?”

“Maybe if you’re the one working in the coffee shop, but yeah, probably not even then. Like, maybe if it will literally cure your cancer or something.” Clara stopped mid-tap as her brain caught up to her mouth. “That’s probably a bad thing to joke about now, right? Sorry, this is the downside of voice chat, I don’t even get the tiny bit of filter that typing lets me have.”

“No, I don’t mind. The joking’s better than avoiding the subject or acting like it’s the end of the world.” Jewels sighed and there were more blanket rearranging noises. “I’m going to be fine,” they said firmly. “It’ll only be a few months of chemo if I’m lucky.”

Clara made a vague, agreeable noise. Her words dried up hard the second she didn’t know what the right thing to say was and serious illness was definitely an area she didn’t have any stock phrases ready for. “Fingers crossed,” she said at last. “So, more bedtime story? We’ve hit space and fairy tales so far, so what’s next?”

“How about superheroes?” Jewels offered. Clara didn’t hear any annoyance about her change of subject, or if it was there it was buried too far under a layer of exhaustion for her to notice. “Maybe one of us is a villain, even? Or at least an anti-hero.”

“Okay, now you’re clearly just angling for your precious enemies to lovers trope.” Clara’s smile bounced back instantly with the chance to tease Jewels about them being predictable for a change. “Let me guess, you get to be the brooding one? Works perfectly with the crow theme, honestly. I think this one will be easy.”

She got a tiny puff of laughter back. “You’ve got me there. In my defense, it’s a natural combination, like the peanut butter to slow burn’s chocolate.” Jewels paused with a little hitch that sounded like they had more to say, so Clara waited. “I know you said enemies to lovers, but do you actually want to… write that, with us?” Their voice got smaller and smaller as they spoke, like they were trying to inch away from the question entirely.

“I mean, yeah? Or like, I don’t mind, definitely?” Clara shrugged and hoped that the essence-of-shrug was coming through in her tone. “You know what I usually write. The only reasons for the lack of boning so far are that I keep starting new stories and I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. If you want extra spicy, just say the word.”

Internally, things were a bit more complicated than her blithe explanation, but Clara knew she was always game to write some smut regardless of the characters involved. It did feel different when it was a two steps to the left version of them. She wasn’t put off — if anything, she wanted it more, wanted it to be a fun, sexy thing they could share and something that would cheer Jewels up.

After a pause so long Clara was practically starting to sweat, Jewels finally said, “Well, I’m probably too sleepy for anything like that tonight anyway. Superheroes sounds good, though. Definitely make me a sexy villain.” They giggled, though the sound was quickly muffled. Clara could easily imagine them turning their face into a pillow.

Were they trying to stay quiet because of roommates, because they were shy, because they hated their voice? Jewels was like a character Clara hadn’t quite gotten to the heart of yet and all at once she needed to know everything. For the moment, though, she had a story to write.

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

Lodestar leaps off the edge of one rooftop and conjurs two glittering light platforms under her toes to get her over to the next one. Each conjured step scatters into sparkles behind her heels and those fade away in seconds. Black Pinion dashes left over another gap. They’re nothing but a blur of dark feathers, only visible as a silhouette against the streetlights below. Lodestar chucks a handful of pea-sized lights at them, but only half stick to Pinon’s back. A ruffle of their feathers shakes off all but one, leaving Lodestar chasing a single firefly sized dot as Pinion drops into an unlit alley.

Not a single curse slips out of her mouth, no matter how loudly she’s thinking them. Appearing in Superhero Potty Mouth Compilation 17 had taught her a critical lesson: always assume someone might be recording.

(Jewels let out another muffled laugh. “That would absolutely be a thing, wouldn’t it? And you’d get some edgelord anti-hero who would try to say something so messed up they had to bleep it, guaranteed.”

“And the good guys on teams would have like name and shame meetings,” Clara said. “Then come the public apology videos and so on. It would be exhausting.”)

The danger of unwanted celebrity doesn’t stop Lodestar from letting out an irritated, “Come on!” when Pinion leaps from ground level to a fire escape landing halfway up a building. It takes her twice as long to cover the same distance with light steps and it’s nowhere near as cool as Pinon’s graceful, weightless jumping.

They glance down at her and Lodestar catches a flash of teeth below their feathered mask as they grin. She sees them start to crouch for another jump and yells, “No! Don’t you dare!” Her legs burn as she charges toward Pinion, and she manages to get close enough to hear them chuckle before they launch themself upward.

(“Pinion already has more coolness than I will ever manage in my entire life, and I am here for it,” Jewels said. They let out a happy sigh. “You’ve won me over on hot crow rights.”

Clara grinned. “Just imagine if someone would give me a movie budget. The Hot Crow Fictional Universe would make bank, I feel it in my bones.”)

It’s just her luck that she’d been patrolling near the museum when the alarm went off. Sure, most of the villains who robbed museums are on the better side of things, usually one of the no-murder types, but they’re always deeply annoying to deal with.

Lodestar runs up the fire escape stairs, since it won’t be any faster to use her powers. One landing away from the top, she spots Black Pinion, already halfway across the roof on the next building over. A flicker of sickly green fabric behind them catches her eye and she gasps. Before she can yell a warning, Psyphon gets a hand on the back of Pinon’s neck and they crumple to the ground. Psyphon starts patting Pinion down, but Lodestar catches him on the arm with a light whip before he finds anything.

(“I can already hear you thinking, ‘A new character? Is that even legal?'” Clara said. “And the answer is yes, because he’s going to be here for five seconds and never come up again.”

“He better not be hot then,” Jewels said with a sleepy chuckle. “That’s how you know someone’s plot relevant in the HCFU. Wait, did you call it that on purpose? So it ended in eff you?”

“Ooops, you’re breaking up over there, it’s terrible,” Clara said, making some definitely not plausible crackling noises. “Better just go back to the story now!”)

Psyphon dances back a few steps, pulling a sour face. “Oh, great, a goody two-shoes turning up to interrupt, as usual.” He sidesteps the net of light Lodestar flings at him and waggles a finger at her. “Nope, I think I’d rather not be covered in glitter tonight, thanks.”

“Then maybe you should head on home,” Lodestar says. She stretches out another long strip of light between her hands, ready to use it for offense or defense as the need arises. Psyphon steps toward her and Lodestar whips one end at him as she circles to put herself between him and Pinion. His eyes dart down to where Pinion is stretched out, then back up to her.

“How about a bargain, hero girl? You can take whatever bird brain there stole and return it to its rightful owners, and I’ll tidy up what’s left.” The honeyed tone of his voice is at odds with his nasty smile. “I can promise Pinion won’t be bothering you for a good while too. Little added bonus. What do you say?”

Lodestar gets herself squarely between Pinion and Psyphon before she shakes her head. “Not my kind of deal, thanks.” She tosses her line of light out almost gently, giving Psyphon a nice, clear direction to dodge. He takes it, and catches his heels on a bit of exposed pipe that she’d hoped he hadn’t noticed. Lodestar splits her rope out into a net and pins Psyphon flat on his back.

With Psyphon subdued, Lodestar drops down to Black Pinion’s side and shakes their shoulder. “C’mon, we gotta move. That won’t hold him long.” Behind their mask, one all-black eye flicks open and Pinion gives her a brief nod. She has no idea how long they’ve been awake, but they have to lean heavily on her arm as she hauls them upright.

“You’re going to regret that, Lodestar,” Psyphon hisses. “You can only watch your back so carefully for so long. I’m going to find you, and I’m going to drain you so dry you won’t be able to conjure so much as a spark for months.”

Lodestar winces, but keeps one arm around Black Pinion’s waist and heads for the edge of the building. “We need to take the fire escape down as far as we can so my net will hold longer,” she whispers.

“You shouldn’t be telling me how your powers work,” Pinion says. Their voice is tight with pain, and Lodestar can see some swelling starting along their jaw. “Do you assume I’m going to nobly forget just because you helped me out tonight?”

“Ugh, you’re a big, tough brooding loner villain, I get it.” Lodestar rolls her eyes, even though she knows they can’t see it behind the iridescent shine of her goggles. “Save the back talk for later, would you? If you give me any more shit until we’re back on ground level, I’m gonna take you to the police station instead of a safe house, got it?”

Pinion doesn’t look thrilled, but they give her a grudging nod. “Yeah, that’s fair. I can feel my toes again, so we can pick up the pace.” That’s the last thing they say as Lodestar nudges them in front of her and they both start looping down the fire escape. To her shock, Pinion doesn’t even spout a one-liner when they step off the last of her light stairs onto the pavement.

The silence gets weirder as she starts toward the nearest communal safe house. “I think Psyphon is probably free by now,” Lodestar says. She actually felt the net snap, but after Pinion’s last rebuke, she isn’t going to offer that information. It would be different if they were friends, or even generally on the same side of the law. Lodestar shakes off the thought and punches in the code to the safe house door, carefully blocking the keypad with her body.

“Glad to see you’re learning to trust me a bit less,” Pinion says. They’re managing maybe one tenth of their usual witty banter voice, but it suggests they were genuinely on the mend. Lodestar opens the door, leans in to make sure no one else is already inside, and then drags Black Pinion in after her. With the door locked behind her, she finally feels like she can breathe again. Now she can deal with the tiny issue of being sealed in a safe house with one of the city’s most notorious thieves.

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

Clara paused mid-sentence as a faint snore came through her headphones. Belatedly, she realized she’d stopped reading things out loud several paragraphs ago, and Jewels hadn’t said anything even further back. More points scored for her bedtime story skills. Clara hesitated over the button to hang up the call. The noise of her disconnecting might wake up Jewels and undo all her hard work.

For the first few minutes, Clara felt weird doing her normal goofing around on the internet stuff with her mic muted and Jewels dozing on the other end of the call. After she got used to it, Jewels’ even, heavy breathing turned out to be great white noise. If Clara took a minute to close her eyes, it was easy to imagine Jewels was in the room with her, napping on her bed. The thought made her heart ache a little at the distance. It would be so much easier if she could just give Jewels a hug sometimes.

Eventually Jewels started to stir and let out the cutest sleepy, confused noise. “How long was I out?” they asked. Clara heard their bed creak and some more blanket adjusting noises that made her guess Jewels was sitting up. Maybe they were all cocooned in blankets and cozy.

“Hour and a bit,” Clara said. “I was worried hanging up might wake you and I figured you could use the sleep, so I just left the call going.” It was late, and the realization that it might have been creepy hit Clara like a slap in the face. “Sorry if that wasn’t the right call, I mean, probably kind of weird, but—”

“No, thank you,” Jewels said. Their voice was still a bit bleary but they sounded like they meant it. “Thank you for letting me sleep, and… for staying with me.” She let out a little puff of air that could have been a sigh or a laugh. “It’s honestly really nice to wake up and have someone right there.”

Clara melted at the words and felt a pressure around her eyes that would probably turn into tearing up if she didn’t head it off. “Well, I’m happy I hung out, then. Besides, I was going to put on some white noise anyway, so your snoring saved me from getting lost trying to find the perfect video.”

There was a soft thump of pillow hitting something and Jewels let out a muffled groan of dismay. Clara’s warm fuzzies bubbled up into laughter that she couldn’t hold back. To her delight, Jewels joined in seconds later. Even if she couldn’t see them or reach them, she had this much. Sitting in the glow of her monitor, sleepy and listening to Jewels’ giggles wind down, it felt like enough.

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆ ☆ ⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

Jewels’ treatment continued and Clara’s library of opening scenes expanded. She usually wrote one every week when Jewels went in to the doctor, whether for chemo or lab work, but it got more frequent as their morale dropped. Sometimes Jewels made requests, but most of the time they seemed content to hang out and read or listen to whatever Clara’s mind popped out on any given day. With that kind of freedom and an appreciative audience, Clara had no trouble whipping up first scenes in every conceivable genre, even ones she’d never touched before.

There were a lot of ones set in space, but Clara strayed pretty far from Saturn Arising. The two of them were on a generation ship together, or terraforming a new planet, or even trapped on a space station controlled by a malicious AI. That last one got a very sleepy Jewels to admit they’d thought the AI in the Wormhole games was sexy and then be horribly embarrassed about it the next day. Clara swore to take the secret to the grave, but also didn’t hesitate to make the next AI she wrote flirt with Jules.

Slowly, she even let Stella start to flirt a little and got no protests from Jewels. No direct compliments either, but Jewels did mention they liked their various alter-egos being attractive. Eventually Clara floated the idea for an arranged marriage AU, with them being from two rival families who wanted to forge a peace treaty, and got Jewels’ blessing. In the end, she chickened out of dipping her toes into serious romance or sex, but things were definitely trending that way.

As Jewels reached the end of the lowest amount of chemo the doctor had said would be necessary, they went in for more scans to check their progress. They’d done the same ones at the beginning, but it sounded like they sucked just as much on a second go around. Clara offered up story time a few nights running, but Jewels said they were too nervous to enjoy it so she wound up streaming some games for them instead.

So the scan results came back
There hasn’t been as much progress as my oncologist wanted
So instead of two more days of chemo it’ll be two more months minimum
Everyone keeps telling me how brave I am
And to “keep fighting”
Like I’m doing anything but dragging myself to the doctor
Sitting there while they pump meds into me
And then dragging myself back home to be dead on my feet for days
I’m not a fighter, I’m just the battleground
And I’m so fucking sick of it

Clara started to type a reply, even though nothing but generic sympathies came to mind, but Jewels was still typing. Their messages popped up one after the other at breakneck speed, so fast that Clara just froze and let the text scroll by.

I know I’ve got to be leaning on you too much
Dumping all my feelings on you, keeping you up late on chats
I only got through the last couple treatment days because I knew you’d be there when I got home
And I could just lay down and listen to you read me a story about us
But I know it has to be cutting into your personal writing time
You’re not posting that much anymore
I guess I just want to know for sure if you’re tired of all this
So… are you?

It broke Clara’s heart a little that Jewels could possibly think she might be tired of them, but by now she was pretty sure it was a Jewels thing, not a her thing. She was a smut writer, not a miracle worker — or a therapist. Reassurances she could do, though. Clara didn’t hesitate for a second before pouring her heart out into the chat window.

of course not
like on one hand, i love writing
(plus this doesn’t even make me commit to a single story)
on the other hand, stuff sucks for you right now
i can’t do a lot
but i can do this
and i love you
so i want to do anything i can for you

Do you mean that romantically or platonically??

yes?
i don’t even know where the line is for me
in general, not just with you
but what i DO know
is that you matter to me a lot
and i wish i could be there with you
but since i can’t
i wanna write silly stuff that makes you happy
or do literally anything else that makes you happy

You make me really, really happy, Clara.
Even just listening to me and encouraging me to complain about stuff means so much
I’ve felt like everyone I know is burnt out on even hearing about it
But you’re always there for me
And then you go to the trouble of writing stuff just for me on top of that
I don’t even have words to describe how much I appreciate it
Also while I’m not exactly sure how either, I definitely love you too

okay
i mean
aw hell give me a minute
i’m totally crying about it

Clara grabbed a couple tissues from the box by her desk and mopped up all her tears. Her eyes refocused on the words “I definitely love you too” again and a squeaky little hiccup sob snuck out of her mouth. If this kept up much longer, her nose was going to run. Her brain suggested that at least she could leave the gross parts out when she wrote her own version and she broke into very soggy giggles.

Even I have to assume that’s good crying
Which is really kind of cute
I vote you put that in your next AU

There was no way Clara could let that thought stand, even if it meant she had to hunt and peck with one hand while scrubbing at her eyes with the other.

nope
absolutely not
veto
unless you have a crying kink
and then MAYBE
but you’re on thin fucking ice buddy

I really don’t
But it’s sweet of you to offer to indulge me
<3

Jewels
darling
i literally just did my motivation monologue up there
did you somehow miss it???
anything to make you happy
i mean it.

I feel so gross right now
(Spoiler: I was also crying)
But also… maybe something sexy?
I’ve been thinking about it a lot
It feels like a natural progression
And at least Jules can have fun, even if I can’t

heck yes something sexy
tho is 1k slowburn even possible??
mostly joking
but seriously suggestions welcome
your fade to blacks leave me
. . .
in the dark ;)
about what you’re into
meanwhile anyone with an internet connection knows my kinks

Honestly I didn’t assume you were into every single thing you wrote
But it’s a fair point regardless
Okay, if we’re doing this
Maybe I can give you a basic idea
And let you run with it from there?
This is definitely kind of embarrassing

you know i’m a zero judgment zone
i LOVE learning what makes people tick
in fact you get bonus points if it’s something new to me
but you can tell me as much or as little as you want

I’ve thought about this before actually
Asking you to write me something sexy
But I was always a chicken about bringing it up
Anyway, I figured tropes that cut to the chase might be good
Like sex pollen, aliens made them do it, etc.
But maybe we’re in some kind of magical labyrinth
And there’s monsters, or sexy traps
Or even whoever created it bossing us around

oh Jewels
it is a CRIME that you don’t write smut
that is such a hot idea
couple quick questions
do we know each other already or do we meet there?
you still wanna be nb?
if yes what do you want below the belt?

Let’s meet there
I’m addicted to meetcutes now, good grief
One of us from the fantasy world and the other from Earth
Definitely still enby
…I know I said I wasn’t irl, but I’m kind of having second thoughts?
After I shaved my head a cashier called me ‘they’ one time
And it just felt really good
But everyone at the cancer center calls me ‘she’ so that faded fast
I don’t completely hate ‘she’ so it’s probably fine?
Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked

hey if they/them sparks joy go with that
i bet you could change it with your doc easy
and dunno if it means anything
but i’ve always thought of you as a they
even after you said you weren’t nb

It means something to me for sure
You’re right that it would be an easy swap at the cancer center
I’ll have to think about if I want to tell anybody though
Anyway, let me loop back to the story
Now that I’ve put it out there I want to see it through
…Which means I need to decide on what I’ve got in my pants

there’s not a wrong answer
i’m def fine writing whatever you want!
unless it’s like a ten foot dick
b/c that’s gonna mess up 99% of sex positions I know
and make scene blocking a nightmare

Even ten inches is a bit much, honestly
But… maybe something along those lines but smaller?
Augh, feels so weird to even say
But it’s fine, it’s a fantasy
So yes, one reasonably sized dick for me

please hear my eyebrow waggling over there
but can do!
oh wait, one last thing
you wanna do voice or text?

I guess I assumed you wouldn’t want to read it out loud
Which is silly, given the stuff you’ve recorded

haha, yeah, i have read some filthy stuff
so either way’s fine
whatever you want

In that case, I want you to read to me
Please

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

Stella stands in her silky nightgown and stares out her bedroom window into the cloudy evening sky. “I wish I wasn’t stuck at home alone tonight,” she mutters. As the words leave her mouth, thunder rumbles loud enough for her to feel it in her bones. Lightning flashes nearby and Stella throws a hand over her eyes a bit too late. Her head spins and she reaches out blindly to brace herself on the window, but her fingers slip against the glass.

The room tilts violently to the side, the window hinges open, and she goes twirling out into empty air. Her sight comes back seconds before she plunges feet first into a cloud bank and she’s left with nothing to see but dense mist. There’s no way to tell how fast she’s falling, but the wind isn’t whipping her hair around any harder than a brisk breeze.

When the clouds clear, Stella wishes they hadn’t. There is a lot of gray rocky something below her closing in way too fast. She clenches her eyes shut and screams at the top of her lungs, waiting for her body to hit the ground. The impact never comes. Stella’s fall slows and she drifts to the ground light as a leaf until she settles down with her knees on chilly stones.

Basically all she can see is stone as she eases her eyes open. Stone walls tower up several times her height on both sides of her with a stone pathway between them, and a few loose rocks scattered around for some variety. The only thing that isn’t stone is a vivid red lichen creeping along cracks in the walls and path that looks like nothing so much as fresh blood.

(“Oh good, color theory,” Jewels deadpanned. Clara snorted out a laugh, caught off guard, and had to retype the word she was on twice.)

Heavy footsteps pound closer and then a figure in some kind of dark, feathery cape steps out of what had looked like a blank stretch of wall. They glance both ways and their dark eyes widen when they spot Stella. “What are you doing?” they ask. “You can’t just sit there, get up, now!”

Stella stammers out a few things that aren’t quite coherent words and then slaps her palm on the ground in frustration. The stranger makes an exasperated noise, but comes over to offer her a hand. They haul Stella to her feet—

(“Where does that leave the score on us helping each other up?” Jewels asked. “I think it was at least two to one in my favor last time I counted.”

“I refuse to keep count of my perfectly valid recurring motif,” Clara said primly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I was about to raise some stakes.”)

They haul Stella to her feet and immediately take off down the pathway so fast that she can barely stay standing as she stumbles after them. There’s an oozing, wet noise coming from behind them, just starting to become audible over their footsteps.

“Whatever you do, don’t look back,” the stranger says. Stella looks back.

There’s some kind of horrific patchwork wall of flesh that fills the entire pathway, dotted all over with mismatched, grasping arms. Every skin color Stella has ever seen is represented somewhere in the mass, along with shades of blue, green, and gray that definitely don’t occur on Earth. Hands stretch out to clutch at jutting pieces of stonework and haul the whole thing forward. It shouldn’t have been effective, but the thing is absolutely gaining on them.

(Jewels made a pained noise. “Okay, veto on the flesh wall, please. That is definitely not what I had in mind when I said sexy monsters.”

“Oh, no, I wasn’t going to let it catch us,” Clara said. “It’s supposed to be scary so we have to run for our lives.”

“Just some good old-fashioned danger bonding time, then.” Jewels let out a relieved sigh. “I can live with that.”)

Stella shrieks as one long arm catches at the hem of her nightgown and pulls it so hard the straps snap. She holds the thin fabric against her chest with her free hand and keeps running. Before the thing can make another grab at her, the stranger yanks her hard to one side into another invisible side path. It’s narrower than the main route, and Stella huddles back against her rescuer as the arm monster slides on by. She gets one glance of its back, covered in legs that help push it along, and then shuts her eyes tight until the awful noise fades away.

When she opens her eyes again, all of the stone walls have been replaced by hedges. The foliage is dense, dark, and dotted with thorns the size of her thumb. Stella turns and beams up at the stranger. “You saved me,” she says, her voice breathless with fading adrenaline.

They drop her hand and shrug off her thanks. “Didn’t want that thing to get any new limbs, that’s all. You’re on your own from here.” Despite their stern words, the stranger doesn’t rush off but only looks away to glare down a side path.

Stella spins in a quick circle, but at a glance every path is the exact same thorn hedges with no indication of where she should go.

(“Okay, so what does classify as a sexy monster for you?” Clara asked. “I figure one should come barreling in here pretty quick so we can get this party started.”

Jewels hummed thoughtfully. “Something humanoid, I think. Bigger and stronger than us. Although… I did have an idea for a bit of a plot twist, if you’re interested?”

“Literally always interested in your ideas, Jewels. Hit me.”

“So what if Jules was secretly the person running the maze? They’re testing Stella to see where her weak spots are, but then maybe— no wait, that would be a huge tone shift, never mind.”

“C’mon, Jewels, if it sounds fun, just tell me,” Clara said gently. “As long as it’s not super depressing, I don’t mind a tone shift.”

Jewels paused for a long moment before they said, “What if you jump in to save them from something and they’re so moved they don’t want to do anything bad to you? Is that too dumb? Sorry.”

“Nun-uh, no apologizing for no reason. Besides, that’s a great idea, it’s really sweet! Lemme set it up, and you better jump in if you have more ideas.”)

Before she can decide which path to try, Stella freezes in place as a low yowl cuts through the silence. It’s like an angry cat, but bass boosted enough that she can feel the rumble in her bones. She braces herself for a huge monster to appear, but the fuzzy green ball of rage that comes scampering around a corner is roughly the size of a guinea pig.

It turns to face the grumpy stranger — Stella assumes it has a face under all the fur somewhere, anyway — and bristles, almost doubling in size. Stella dives forward as it leaps at the stranger’s back and bats it out of the air with a strength born from pure panic. The creature lands on its side with four stumpy paws flailing at thin air until it manages to flip over again.

When the stranger turns and glances down, the ball of fur flattens against the ground and lets out a series of very small chirps. “She did what?” the stranger asks. They turn to look at Stella and raise one dark brow. “You stepped in to defend me?” Their cloak ruffles up and Stella realizes too late that it isn’t a cloak at all, but a pair of massive wings.

(“You know, I would have sworn you said you didn’t like wingfic,” Jewels said. “But at this point I think you’ve written as many with wings and without.”

“I plead the fifth.” Clara did her best to let out a grumpy huff, but she was smiling too hard to do it right. “More seriously, it’s different when it’s you.”

Jewels made a small, startled squeak. “Okay, fair enough, never mind. You can go back to the story now!”

“I think I can practically hear you blushing over there,” Clara said.

“Shut up and write already,” Jewels said with a flustered laugh.)

Stella takes only a single step backward before several thorns poke into her back and she has to stop. “Who are you?” she asks. With the stranger’s attention fully on her, the fuzzy creature takes the chance to scuttle silently away into one of the hedges. Stella’s heart sinks at the sight — if something that fierce is scared of them, she’s in for a world of trouble.

“You may address me as Jules, or Your Majesty if you’re so inclined.” Up close, they tower a solid head over Stella, but the smile on their lips looks fond enough to keep her fear from getting out of control. “And how may I address you, oh brave protector?” They wrap one gloved hand around Stella’s wrist and reel her gently toward them.

“I’m Stella,” she says absently. Something about Jules’ dark eyes mesmerizes her. It’s so effective in fact she doesn’t realize her nightgown is still caught on the thorns until she hears the fabric tear and feels the breeze run down her bare back. Stella clutches the tiny square of intact fabric she has left to her chest with one hand and ducks her head.

(“Ooh, okay, I know where to go from here,” Jewels said. They sounded more energetic than they had all evening. “So Jules says something like, ‘Don’t worry about that. I have a reward for you.’ and then teleports them to a throne room.”

Clara nodded along, jotting down the dialogue as Jewels said it. “Sounds good, but two quick things. Why a throne room and what’s the reward?”

“I guess I was thinking oral sex with Stella on the throne, if that sounds good to you? Have some sexy ‘I don’t kneel for just anyone’ sort of deal in there?” Jewels sounded unsure, but they didn’t apologize so Clara counted it as a win.

“That all sounds amazing, and once again I have to repeat that it is downright criminal that you don’t write smut.” Clara rubbed her hands together gleefully. “This is gonna be so stupid hot, just you wait.”)

Jules takes a loose fold of the nightgown in their free hand. Stella shakes her head faintly, but Jules only smiles wider as they yank it free and leave her topless. The only clothing Stella has left is a wisp of lace masquerading as underwear that isn’t covering much. Combined with the way Jules is looking her over, Stella’s never felt more naked in her life.

“I think a change of scenery is in order,” Jules says. They cover Stella’s eyes with one hand and the air around her goes from chilly to comfortable between one breath and the next. Jules removes their hand and Stella gets a brief look at an austere stone room softened by thick, dark-colored rugs. Then Jules fills her field of view as they nudge her backward until the back of her legs catches on something solid.

Stella sits down on pure reflex, realizing belatedly the soft cushions she’s landed on are on a throne. “Why am I — no, actually, what are you going to do?” she asks. She tries to tug a cushion up to cover her chest, but they’re all wedged too far under her to pull loose.

“I think you’re clever enough to figure that out for yourself,” Jules says. They pluck a cushion out from behind her, drop it to the ground, and sink down onto it. “Though you should know that I don’t kneel for just anyone. Do take it as an honor.” Jules looks downright wicked as they gaze up at her and gently set their hands on her knees.

Stella’s breath catches as Jules slides their hands smoothly up her thighs and hooks their fingers under the edge of her underwear. “I trust this will suit as a reward? I would hate to offer you something you weren’t interested in, so please, speak freely.” The leather of their gloves is warm and soft as their thumbs brush idly over the top of her thighs. Stella shivers all over even as she nods enthusiastically.

(“Aw, sneaking in some consent even with a villain character, classic CS,” Jewels said warmly. “I always appreciate it, though the thing I appreciate most in this AU is how freaking sexy you made me. I almost wish I was that hot in real life, but I bet it would be inconvenient.”

“Yeah, hard to get through your doctor’s appointments if all the nurses are swooning at the sight of you,” Clara said. Jewels let out an undignified snort-laugh and Clara grinned.)

Jules grabs the front of Stella’s underwear in both hands and tears it apart with no visible effort. Stella squeaks as they grab the back of her thighs to pull her forward and drape her legs over their shoulders. The feathers of their wings are softer than she would have guessed, almost pillowy under her heels. “I’m not going to hurt your wings, am I?” she asks.

The laugh she gets in response is warm against her inner thigh and followed by a delicate kiss. “You’re surprisingly sweet for a human, Stella,” Jules says. “There’s no need to fear hurting me. I’m far, far stronger than you.” It sounds as much like a threat as a reassurance, but Stella decides to take it at face value for her sanity’s sake.

She doesn’t have to think about anything for long, because Jules is done taking their time. They lean in and lick a line up to her clit with a hum of deep satisfaction. It turns out running for her life and getting her clothes torn off is better foreplay than Stella would have guessed. She arches up into Jules’ mouth and locks her legs against their back, not that they seem to have any intent of pulling away.

Jules stays focused on her clit, applying enough pressure with their tongue that it toes right up to the line of too much. Stella mauls the cushions under her hands, grabbing onto them in a useless attempt to anchor herself. She would be embarrassed about how loud she was getting, but she has no functioning brain cells left and Jules is moaning almost as much as she is.

The combination of skill and obvious enjoyment is too much for Stella to handle. Jules gets her off so fast and hard that Stella comes with nothing but a strangled gasp. She can’t even breathe for a long moment, so she melts back into the cushions limp and lightheaded.

(Jewels made a thoughtful noise and Clara stopped typing. “Is that the sound of another good idea I hear?” she asked.

“I guess so,” Jewels said slowly. “I had an idea of how the rest of the scene could go, if you want, but… I’m kind of embarrassed, I guess.”

“Jewels. Darling. I am writing explicit sex literally as we speak. What stones do you think I’m gonna be throwing from inside a house this glassy? Your ideas are good, just spit it out!”

“Okay, all fair points.” Jewels blew out a breath that made their mic crackle. “I want Jules to get Stella off a few more times, and then fuck her once she’s all wrung out. Maybe end on an ‘I’m keeping you’ kind of note?”

Clara let out her best wolf whistle. “Damn, Jewels! You absolutely have been holding out on me. If I get stuck on a sex scene ever again, I’m bringing you in as a consultant, you filthy genius, you.”)

Jules pillows their head on Stella’s thigh with a lazy smile. “I suppose you’ll need a moment’s rest before we continue?” They stroke a hand along her hip, not quite light enough to be a tease or firm enough to be soothing.

“Continue?” Stella asks incredulously. “I don’t think I have anything left in me after that, seriously. If you meant for me to return the favor, yes, absolutely, but I definitely need a few minutes first.”

“I have no intent of taking my own pleasure until I’ve brought you to climax at least twice more.” Jules grins, showing off a set of teeth with worryingly sharp canines. “Feel free to believe it impossible if you like. It will only make it all the more satisfying when I prove you wrong.”

Before Stella can come up with a rebuttal, Jules wins the argument by leaning in and tracing gentle circles around her clit with their tongue. Just like the first time, they push her right up to the edge of overstimulation and just keep her there, no matter how Stella squirms to try to ease the pressure. Jules’ hands lock her in place right where they want her to stay, and they don’t even seem to notice her drumming her heels on their wings.

There’s no escape and not even anything Stella can do to slow things down. She starts pleading incoherently, unsure if she wants Jules to relent or not. They clearly have no intention of stopping, and in the end Stella comes again with a low groan, her back arching so hard only her shoulders are left on the throne.

Jules pulls back and Stella catches a glimpse of them licking their lips before she has to flop back and close her eyes. She whines softly when Jules teases the tip of one finger inside her. “One more, and then I think I won’t be able to resist having you myself,” they say.

“You can’t be serious,” Stella says. She barely has the energy to tip her head to the side, let alone come again. “There’s no way, like I’m pretty sure I’ll pass out any second now.”

“I find it very telling that you’re only doubting rather than objecting,” Jules says. “One might come to the conclusion you want to be shown how mistaken you are.” They dip their finger further in. Stella is wet enough that it’s an effortless slide, but sensitive enough that even one finger makes her feel impossibly full. “Go on, ask me to stop and you have my word I’ll obey.”

Caught in a rhetorical dead end, Stella has no response beyond a tiny shake of her head. With one very earned smug laugh, Jules ducks their head and goes back to driving her crazy. Stella would have said having two orgasms was impossible, let alone three, but Jules has her winding tight again before she can even get her arms to cooperate enough to grip a cushion.

When they pull their hand free, Stella has a split second of hope that she might get a breather. Instead, Jules presses their face in even closer so they can slide their tongue into her. Their delighted noises and the obscene sound of their tongue fucking her drives Stella wild. She writhes, she begs, and when they finally get their mouth back on her clit, she comes in seconds.

Over the sound of her pounding heartbeat, Stella hears Jules undoing their clothing. They lift her hips higher and slide their cock in with one smooth thrust. It’s way too much, and it’s glorious, and Stella can’t do anything but hang in Jules’ hands and take it.

The tiny corner of her mind that’s still functioning is thrilled at the way Jules seems to be losing control. They pound into her, breathing hard, with their teeth gritted almost as if they’re in pain. Jules doesn’t last long, but Stella is still teary-eyed from overstimulation by the time they snap their hips forward one last time and come inside her.

Jules eases out slowly and then bends down to scoop Stella up in their arms. She gets a dizzying glimpse of the room as they turn and carry her off down a thankfully empty hallway to what has to be their bedroom. The sheets on the massive bed are cool against Stella’s too-hot skin and she sighs with pure relief. Jules’ footsteps move away, and there’s the faint sound of water before they return.

“You did very well for me,” Jules says. They drape a damp cloth over Stella’s forehead and then gently wipe the rest of her body clean. “I think I may have to keep you for a while, Stella. You’re too much of a treasure to give up right away.”

Stella can’t muster the energy to speak, but makes a drowsy noise of agreement and grabs blindly for Jules. They obligingly settle in at her side and stroke her hair until she falls asleep.

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

(“And then they boned happily ever after,” Clara said, doing little jazz hands purely for her own amusement.

Jewels let out a sleepy laugh. “That was really fun, Clara, thank you. For writing it, for reading it, for everything. I feel a lot better than I did when I first messaged you tonight.”

“Then my work here is done!” Clara said. “Little did you know, the antidote to sad was horny the whole time.”

“I think the antidote was the friends we made along the way, actually.” Jewels yawned hugely and then broke into giggles. “Yeah, I’m not long for the waking world over here, but seriously, thank you.”

“Anything for you, Jewels.” Clara closed her eyes and quickly added, “Love you.”

“Love you too,” Jewels said. “Good night.”)

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆ ☆ ⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

As insult to injury, Jewels’ first day of their extra chemo got pushed back a week because they didn’t have enough white blood cells. They wound up crying on voice chat while Clara hunched up into a sad ball at her desk and tried to find something soothing to say. It took a few more days, but Jewels bounced back like they had after every single setback so far. Clara knew better than to voice it, but she thought Jewels should give themself more credit for all the fighting they were doing.

The night before their next chemo appointment actually happened, Jewels tapped out only a few paragraphs into a story. Clara tried to apologize almost in unison with them, which helped lighten the mood a little, but Jewels still left hours earlier than they usually would. The rest of the evening dragged, and Clara woke late the next morning from sleep so restless she felt like she’d been fretting nonstop all night. Her only relief was that she didn’t have work, since she had swapped days with someone so she could always have Jewels’ chemo days free.

Okay, I’m back home
Not up for a story just yet
I’m a total zombie right now
And I need to find something to eat that doesn’t make me want to hurl

that’s all a-okay
anything you wanna talk about?
happy to do voice or text

I mean, it’s nothing new
Waaah, chemo sucks
I feel like crap
I can’t believe I have to keep doing this
Etc.

if it makes you feel better to vent, vent
there’s no minimum originality quota
and i’ve got emotional support spoons for days over here

I don’t even know if I have venting spoons, honestly?
Like I’m sick of saying it, if that makes sense
I just wanna be done
Or failing that, I wish I had company
The nurses are nice
But it’s like five hours on treatment days
It gets lonely
And I’m in no real state to socialize after
I wish you were here, honestly

so i’ve been thinking
obviously i can’t go to every treatment with you
buuuuuuut
i may have been saving up a bit
cuz i thought it would be nice to go to your last one
only if you want, obvs!

Of course I’d want that, Clara
That would mean so much to me
But I am paying for half of your ticket
And I won’t hear any argument about that!

alright alright
no arguing
but i am making the grumpiest face at you
you don’t even know

Mm, I bet it’s adorable though
I bet I’d wanna squish your grumpy face between my hands

how DARE you
and idk
i don’t think my face is that cute
but it’s MY face
so y’know
would be weird to be all narcissus about it

I mean, if you want an objective opinion
I’m happy to offer mine

mm sounds like fancy talk for send nudes
but sorry your majesty
you gotta at least take me to the same time zone first for that
(dinner optional)

I’m 96% sure you’re joking but I did NOT mean that
I would be very happy with a normal, clothed selfie
Though I… don’t know about sending one back
Not terribly fair, I know, but I look awful
Right now especially
Doesn’t help that I’m definitely working through some gender stuff
Which I super do not have the energy to get into right now

there’s no law of balanced transactions here Jewels
you don’t have to give me a pic back
for any reason or even no reason at all
so hold on a sec
i’ll send you my face

Clara took the time to get exactly the picture she wanted, even though it was absolutely ridiculous. After half a dozen tries, she managed to get as close to a perfect shot as she was going to. Her hair was kind of a mess, but she was mostly in focus and she’d got her fingers in the shape of half a heart perfectly at the edge of the picture. Clara dropped it into chat before she could agonize over any of the details.

Did you take that just now??

yep!
i realize that took way too long
but now you have a dorky picture
of a huge dork :)

Jewels didn’t say anything else, and they didn’t seem to be typing. Clara fidgeted, recrossed her legs in her chair, and set her phone firmly face down to fight the urge to double check the photo. No matter what her anxious brain wanted to tell her, there was zero chance her face had scared Jewels off for good. They were probably just in the bathroom, or getting food, or had very abruptly fallen asleep. Those were all good, reasonable options.

A second picture popped up in chat and Clara went stone still. Jewels did genuinely look bad — their skin had a gray tinge to it, their buzz cut was patchy in spots, and their eyes were red like they’d been crying a lot. But there was a tentative half-smile on their face that reached their eyes, and they had gotten their hand perfectly positioned to make the other half of the heart shape.

Now we both have dorky pictures
Though personally I call myself a nerd rather than a dork
Anyway, couldn’t leave your hand heart hanging
Please don’t show that to anyone else though

not a soul
scout’s honor
and thank you Jewels
that was super sweet
<3 <3

…You started it
<3 <3

⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆ ☆ ⋆ ⁺ ₊ ⋆

ok i definitely got on the wrong bus
but I noticed pretty quick and got back off
and a food cart guy helped me find the right now
in unrelated news
i have two slices of cake
which will hopefully make it there intact
eta 30 min or so?

That’ll be fine
I told the nurses a friend was coming so they’ll let you in
I should be heading back in just a few minutes
But I’ll see you when you get here
I’m really looking forward to it <3

me too!!!
i’m so excited
see you soon!
for reals this time!

Clara navigated the rest of the trip to the cancer center without any trouble and the pretty frosting flowers on the cake only got a little smushed. She barely got her name out before the nice lady at the front desk was waving her through to the ominous-sounding “infusion center.” It smelled like antiseptic and most of the people that weren’t obviously staff were her grandma’s age.

Under the harsh fluorescent lights, Jewels shone like her namesake to Clara’s eyes. They were nestled up in an oversized armchair with an IV running into the collar of their baggy v-neck shirt, fidgeting with their phone but mostly watching the door. Their eyes met across the ugly linoleum floor and Clara felt her brain shift all her feelings for a little square picture of crows onto the very real person looking at her. She had no idea what her face was doing, but Jewels kept smiling, so it couldn’t be that weird.

“Hey, Jewels,” Clara said. Her voice was choked up and her hands were full of cake boxes and there was nowhere to set anything or even sit down. “Um, cake? I have cake? Should I go get a chair or just sit on the floor, or…?” Before she could fumble anything, Jewels reached up and took the boxes from her.

“Hi, Clara.” Jewels sounded as calm as they usually did, but way happier. “I’m glad you made it here okay.” They were right there and happy to see her, and all of Clara’s nervous tension evaporated as those thoughts sunk in. Jewels asked a nurse if he could grab a chair for them and Clara scooted it as close as the plush armrest of Jewels’ recliner would allow.

“Yeah, new bus system is always tricky, but I didn’t wind up in another city or anything so I’m calling it a win.” Clara casually snagged the piece of cake that had gotten the most messed up in transit. “I asked the cake guy for something light — I think these are both vanilla and some kind of flower, but I’ve totally forgotten which flower.”

Jewels popped open the plastic box and gave it a careful sniff. “I think it’s lavender, but it’s definitely not very strong — and thank you for that, I’m not really up to exciting food right now.” One of the friendly aides swung by with two plastic forks and they both tucked into the cake, though Clara’s was gone before Jewels had even managed half.

By unspoken consensus, neither of them veered too far into fandom discussions in the quiet room. Clara found it deeply strange to talk about “normal” things like how work had been, good food they’d had recently, and the like. It wasn’t unpleasant, though — Clara felt a little bit like a secret agent trying not to blow her cover. Honestly, they could have been discussing hot new shades of beige paint and sitting right next to Jewels would still have left her drowning in warm fuzzies.

Somewhere between the third and fourth bag of who knew what getting dripped into Jewels, they fell asleep. One was a vivid red and Clara had to look away as the line of it crept down the IV tubing. Whatever it was, this was the last time Jewels would have to have it, and that helped a lot. Clara poked around on her phone and watched Jewels sleep. The actual balance was tipped in favor of the latter and it felt a bit creepy, but just watching their relaxed face made Clara bubble over with happiness.

As the last IV bag started to empty out, it seemed like every nurse in the building stopped by to check on its progress. When it was done, they all gathered in a loose circle around Jewels’ chair. The nurse who had brought them a chair earlier handed Clara a small vial with a bubble wand in it and said, “We like to celebrate a bit when it’s someone’s last treatment. Would you like to wake them up?”

Clara grinned at the use of them. Whether or not Jewels had their gender all figured out, she was proud of them for trying out the pronouns they liked in a public setting. She reached out to gently pat Jewels on the shoulder. “Hey, sleepy head,” she whispered. “Come back to the waking world for a minute, okay?” Jewels made a grumpy noise but nodded slowly.

As their eyes opened, a woman at the front of the group said, “Congratulations! You are officially done with chemotherapy!” Everyone broke into applause, even the other patients and their visitors. Clara whooped as a thousand tiny soap bubbles drifted over her and Jewels. Jewels broke into tears and grabbed Clara’s hand so hard it hurt a little, but they were smiling with the force of a couple dozen suns.

A bunch of the hospital staff drifted by one at a time to give Jewels their personal congratulations and say a little heartfelt something. One of the more pragmatic nurses dropped a box of tissues into Jewels’ lap and pressed a bottle of water into Clara’s free hand with a quiet but firm insistence that she get Jewels to drink it. Given that chemo was dehydrating and Jewels was still crying off and on, Clara happily agreed.

Their fingers were still twined together when the last well-wishers were done and Jewels gave her hand a little squeeze. “Guess I’ve got to actually get up now,” they said. “Or rather in five minutes when I finally convince myself that standing isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

“Pretty sure the worst thing in the world is the fact they canceled Saturn Arising before it got a second season,” Clara said. On impulse, she wrapped an arm around Jewels’ shoulders and gave them a quick hug. “I’m sure standing is at least third place, though.”

Jewels tipped their head gently against Clara’s and relaxed against her. “You know what? That’s a pretty fair point.” Their soft laugh was warm against Clara’s cheek and she had to close her eyes as some capital-F Feelings washed over her. “Don’t think I won’t tease you about it later though, you huge dork.”

Inspiration hit Clara with a suddenness she normally only experienced with fic ideas at three in the morning. She shifted away from Jewels and onto her feet, keeping their hands joined. Jewels pouted for a second until Clara caught their other hand and tugged them gently upward into a hug. “I usually go by Stella,” she whispered.

Jewels broke out laughing hard enough to draw a couple stares from the other patients, but they were all smiling indulgently. “Hi Stella, I’m Jules,” they whispered back, still giggling. Jewels pulled back to look Clara in the face, and their eyes were suspiciously watery again but they weren’t quite crying. They reeled Clara back into a tight hug and said, “It’s really, really wonderful to meet you.”

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7 thoughts on “Corvus, Cancer, And Other Constellations

  1. Oh my god this is so cute!!! Legitimately made me cry.

    “Little did you know, the antidote to sad was horny the whole time.”

    “I think the antidote was the friends we made along the way, actually.”

    AND IT WAS

    • Not sure if that should be a sorry or a you’re welcome on the crying front, but thank you so much! I’d love to know what you got you, if you don’t mind sharing.

      • Oh, I started sniffling pretty early on! The tenderness and care of like. Offering even silly ways to comfort friends. The extremely real conversations between the two of them interspersed with these tropey AUs! It’s just so like…idk! Tender! Sweet! Familiar! Bonding with strangers whose names and faces you don’t even know over porn sounds so weird to people outside of fandom, but here, you really captured how much it’s the same as other relationships, coming from the same place.

        Definitely good crying, thank you!

        • Yessss, that is EXACTLY the vibe I was going for! I’m a huge fan of goofiness as a social bonding option, and the idea that like… when someone’s going through some shit, you don’t have to find the “right” thing to say/do or figure out how to fix it. You just need to show up and show you care, y’know? I’m so happy all this came through. Thank you! :)

  2. I initially read this on my phone so the formatting wasn’t as obvious, but that fact did not mean I didn’t NOTICE, nor did it make things difficult to follow, so I’d say you used your formatting quirks exceptionally well! Stories where people bond over shared interests are a favorite of mine, so watching these two who already share a particularly modern flavor of friendship (how else do you describe “I don’t know this person’s name, face, or voice, but I absolutely know some of what makes them tick based on the horny fiction they make”, after all?) hesitantly explore that in the name of not feeling so alone during a horrible time in their lives (especially for Jewels/Jules, but it’s not like Clara/Stella wasn’t affected, you know?) was a satisfying read. The difference between Clara’s authorial voice and her casual-conversation voice was pretty fun! While we didn’t see any of Jewels’ actual writing, the back-and-forth they had about how it contrasts with what Clara writes for them helped me get a pretty good idea in my mind, too.

    Wherever these two go, and whatever their relationship and/or gender journeys end up looking like, I wish them the best. Who knows, maybe Jewels will even offer to help finish some of that infinite dresser drawer of started-but-never-expanded stories some day. Stranger things have happened!

  3. I want to send this to my therapist and say “THIS! This is how internet-friends work!” (she doesn’t believe that chat is “real communications”)

    • That sounds incredibly frustrating! It’s certainly good to have in-person connections, but it’s a bit ridiculous to shrug off relationships that stay in touch in other ways. For whatever it’s worth, you have my blessing to send this to your therapist if you want to. XD

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