Posts by JOHNNY J.

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    Johnny can understand her anxieties about entering her home. He feels similarly; he's been more or less kicked out of the medicine guild, now that he's finished with all of his healing, but sleeping in her home- where Junebug used to sleep, where his children sleep now -feels... odd. It's always better when she's by his side, but even then, he fears what consequences his presence might have on her other children. He wants to be there for Kirsche and Perses and Hesperia as their father, but he also would hate to try and force Junebug's kids into seeing him as another parent. Where could he strike that balance?

    As for missing another relationship, he can't say he does, unless mourning one counted. Gyro still crosses his mind frequently, but he's dead. Johnny knows that, and he can't change it, and he's more than happy where he is now- so why does it still happen? He feels Sangria's nose on his cheek, and he smiles widely, purring with her despite his thoughts being a touch distracted. Quickly he shuffles them all into order. He'd rather focus on her than try and delve deeper into his own issues. He finally focuses his gaze on her as she speaks, and he nods in agreement at her statement, then pinches his face with amused confusion at her question. "I think y' know th' answer t' that," he responds, teasing. "We didn't go fer any swims, no. We all hung out fer a little bit, but they wanted t' go explorin' camp with Syth, so I let 'em go." He doesn't elaborate like she might be hoping for him to. In fact, he'd rather not elaborate, ever. What happened between Ver and himself had been a secret for nearly a year now, and he's not sure that spilling it would make the canine all too happy. He still shivers at the thought of her teeth around his skull. He can feel his muscles tense and relax. Was that something that he should be keeping from Sangria?

    "How 'bout you? Anythin' int'resting?" he asks, hoping to divert the focus away from himself while he thought about things a little more.

    Johnny didn't wield fire, but he feels as though he possesses it, an eternal flame sitting where his heart should be. Often times he calls on the thing to give him courage, or persistence, or anything to help him get through a day. His eyes burn with it. They smolder as they watch the column of flame consume a Ruiner, one that he's glad he doesn't recognize. His head buzzes with thought: Did Evangeline know them? Should I have known them? Is that fate going to be my own someday? Johnny chews the inside of his cheeks as he approaches, blue gaze flicking over the charred husk of a corpse with equal parts apathy and guilt. Much of him didn't feel much for the death of this Ruiner. The Ruins was, after all, an enemy to him now, and rightfully so. They'd tried to hurt Sangria, tried to hurt their children, tried to hurt him, and had done so much more and so much worse to the Kingdom. He still isn't sure how he thought that joining the Kingdom without any hangups was even feasible. He's reminded of his old clan's cruelty now, looking upon the corpse of one, recognizing that it was only in self-defense that they had been killed. Will that excuse ever be used on me? He thinks of Ver's teeth around his head. Should I have ever used that excuse for myself?

    He doesn't say anything as he looks to Osiris, trying to gauge what exactly was wrong with him- people are saying he needs medical help, but Johnny's never seen something quite like this, and is unsure how to react to it. He waves a paw in front of the feline's eyes, wondering if Osiris would follow it with his gaze, or if he would just stare ahead forever. Johnny remembers the feeling of numbness after his own first kill, one he regrets now more than anything. Maybe this was Osiris's? He chews the insides of his cheeks, listening to Dryice and Romani try to get the feline moving back to camp. "Are y' there?" he asks, a bit absently himself. He rests his paw in the sand again. "They're right. Y' should get back t' camp n' have Raeliana er Merlot look 't ya." I would myself, but I don't know what's wrong here. Eventually he steps away to let Romani and Dryice take over, though he can see the way the hellcat keeps his distance. The savannah tom flicks his ears. Poor guy.


    Johnny hadn't been born with powers, and he'd never developed any of his own, either. None of his family had, unless they were hiding that fact from him, but he doubts that his dad could ever be so secretive, or that Nicholas wouldn't be honest enough to share something like that with him. It sometimes frustrates him, not having something like a fire elemental or an earth elemental on his side. He wants to be strong enough that he isn't trifled with, but he's just a savannah cat- and, to add insult to injury, his hind legs are still only marginally stronger than they had been before the Red God had healed him from his paralysis. Walking was a strenuous task on its own. He can't imagine breathing fireballs would be any better.

    Still, he approaches with a tinge of jealousy in his heart. Darjeerling wasn't using his powers defensively, but he could create something so beautiful that Johnny couldn't. Whether that was because of his lacking powers or his lacking hobbies, though, was unclear. The savannah looks on, smiling anyway. He loves Sangria, and seeing her- ice sculpture or otherwise -is usually enough to put him in a good mood. He wonders what she would think of the sculpture, then moves on to pondering whether or not he should be able to visualize a reaction from her more clearly. He stops thinking for a minute. "'at looks great," he praises from where he stands near Maggie. "How'd ya learn t' sculpt like that?"

    Johnny had only really surrounded himself with books a few times. Training Claret meant interacting with the things a lot, but he didn't mind that- they were a sweet kid, and they'd asked him to train them, and he was more than happy to oblige. But even before that, and even before he'd trained with Scarlet in the Flights, he'd tried his best with books. Nicholas had been the one to try and teach him. Their father couldn't be bothered to teach Johnny anything more than racing or 'respect', so his brother was often the default teacher for the more important things in life, things he's still not quite good at. He had learned to read, but not to the level that everyone else could. Racing had always been more important. Something had always been more important. Then Nicholas died.

    Johnny stands outside the Artistry Guild for minutes, staring at the flyer. Should he go in? He can't read very well- it took him a good moment to figure out what the flyer alone said -and he isn't sure that he'll be a welcome presence inside, but that shouldn't stop him. He needs to hold his head higher for his children's sake. Maybe Perses or Hesperia or Kirsche would get a kick out of this little event. He should be inside, waiting for them. So he enters. The savannah tom admires the set-up of the place; it looks like it took a while to put together, from the nicely-packed bookshelves to the soft blankets and couches. It's only when he smells the cups of tea and coffee and plates of food that he is truly appreciative, though. Books alone weren't all too interesting to him, unfortunately, but he did like a good cup of coffee.

    Blue eyes scout out the hellcat as he moves to get his own drink off of the table, though it proves hard to move and hold it at the same time, considering the way his weak hind legs still dragged behind him. "Hey, this's a real neat thing ya got goin' on here," Johnny compliments, earnest. "Did y' do this all on yer own?" He takes a sip of his coffee and notes that it's more milk than not, but that's okay. He's just grateful for anything that wasn't water.

    She was right- he's nervous as the child leads him away from Solaris's camp, though he's doing his absolute best to hide it. It's not like he fears Maggie will turn on him and try to beat him up, or something (though even if she did, he's not sure he could retaliate and still feel alright about himself), but if he's honest with himself, he's not exactly sure how to act around Sangria and Junebug's children. He feels like he should. After all, he'd spent a lot of time in the Ruins feeling like a babysitter for the kids who had needed something like that. He'd tried his best for Royalpaw, for Claret, for Bloodpoppy, and then for Absalom, though Evangeline had never once been absent in her son's life. He was used to feeling like a caretaker, of sorts, for them. Maybe a brother more than anything. But here, he isn't sure. Should it be different, since he and Sangria are dating? He doesn't want to encroach on Junebug's family, but... he supposes he's done that already. He swallows a lump in his throat. All he can do is try.

    Maggie eventually takes a seat, and Johnny quietly follows suit, not wanting to break the silence that has blanketed them since she'd invited him out. I don't know how I feel about you yet. The words fade into his mind, something he's still not quite used to, and he glances down at the child next to him, meeting her intense golden gaze with his own muted blue one. He can see her nerves in the way she shuffles her paws and gnaws her lip, and sympathy floods him. She elaborates and he feels his teeth clench the inside of his own cheek. He's not sure what to say, or if he should really say anything at all, so he follows her gaze down to her wrist, where a beautiful woven bracelet dangles. He has seen Sangria's, and the two pieces of jewelry are undeniably similar, like a matching set. Maggie pushes it towards him, and he blinks, surprised. "Thank you," he murmurs, accepting the gift with a certain softness to his movements, but soon her words are in his head again.

    "I don't 'xpect ya t' call me dad," he says after a beat of thinking about it. I don't want you to call me dad was pretty harsh for what he meant, so he'd had to take a minute to adjust his words. "'Cause I ain't. But I don't... um," he pauses again, ears twitching with thought. "I don't want it t' feel like I ain't gonna be there for ya, either, 'f ya ever need me." His own gaze had taken to darting around the beautiful garden, as it often did when he was nervous. He's not sure that he's gotten his point across entirely, while still achieving the respectful emotional distance he's been trying to maintain while they all figured out exactly how they all felt about each other. But the words are out, and he wouldn't take them back, either. He laces the bracelet around his wrist, somehow keeping his balance as he does. It's a sweet gift. He holds it up against the light, admiring its colors and charm, eyes twinkling. "This's real pretty, Maggie," he comments, glancing back at her. "Thank you, really."

    / nobody saw me post this on my main....... nobody

    His alarm clock blares.

    Johnny's hand falls harshly onto the snooze button and rolls over in his bed, face sinking into his pillow as he groans his protest against waking up. It's not like he has a job, or has schooling to get done. He'd left that all behind when he'd escaped Sanguine Town for Solaris City. The realization hits him as if it were new. Deep inside, he knows that he'd never been planning on going to the stables today, or teaching Claret what precious little he knew, or working with Naomi as the hospital, but remembering all of that just makes him upset. Not that he doesn't love the life he has now- he's close with his family, he doesn't have to pretend that he's something he isn't anymore, and he knows that getting physical therapy here will be easier for him than trying to get it in Sanguine Town. But the guilt for turning on his friends, his apprentice, still weighs him down. Johnny turns back over to glance at Sangria, still asleep somehow beside him, and tries to forget the bad things for a while longer.

    He's soon up and dressed and in his wheelchair, ready for his day. He's fairly certain there's something that he's forgetting to do, but even after a swift double-checking around the house, he can't remember it, so he leaves. Johnny guides himself out of the fancy building where his girlfriend slept, something he wonders if he should be used to, considering the opulence he'd been afforded as a kid. He hates to look at it, though. He doesn't deserve that. So he turns and begins wheeling down the street, a lunchbox in his lap. He's decided that he might as well get used to the town he's living in, since he hopes he'll be able to be here for a while yet. His mind drifts to Perses, Hesperia, and Kirsche. Should he have asked them to be his tour guides? Contemplation laces his features as he moves further along his route.

    There are many stops he makes, asking for job applications and the like, though most of his requests were implicitly denied before he could reach the counter. The frustration from his job search keeps mounting as he realizes he'll need to find his way into the medical school here if he wants to continue his degree. A hand drags down his face, exasperated. The sun has already crept far past the height of its journey, and Johnny realizes exactly how hungry he is at that moment. Well, if he'd failed at everything else today, he knows that he can at least succeed in having a good meal.

    The man finds a stray picnic table along a stretch of green park, across the street from a boardwalk, beach, and the mighty ocean. He's not sure that he'll ever feel comfortable staring across its vast waters, even from all the way over here, but he can't deny that it's beautiful. The deep blackness of it; the way the white foam breaks its surface; the way the sun paints its waves with pinks and oranges and yellows; it's no doubt a very beautiful thing. He just likes to enjoy it from a distance. Johnny reaches into his lunchbox (could it be considered a dinnerbox now?) and pulls out the sandwich that's been traveling with him all day. He bites into it absently, but the moment he tastes its peanut-butter-and-jelly goodness his eyebrows shoot up. It's my birthday. I'm 22.

    He drops his dinner. "Red God."

    He's glad to finally be healed enough that he feels he can be out and about, but the confidence to do so would come later. He does his best to hold his head high with pride, at least for the sake of his children- they deserve a father that is proud of himself. But the weight of Solarian stares is still heavy on his back. He knows that not all of them want him gone, he knows that their kindness extends further than he can dream it might, but even the tiniest notion that he and his family could be separated again puts him off. He can't let himself be an absent father; he never wants to put any one of his children through what he went through when he was young; he never wants to leave Sangria alone to care for them. It's their family, and though they'd never planned for things to turn out this way, it was only right that they should welcome it and do their best with it.

    But he's ready for just a short breath of a break. His children's present and future, and where he would fit into that equation, is all that he's been able to think about for a little while now, and now he's laying in his quarters, itching to shift his focus elsewhere. Booze of any sort sounded like a nice distraction, but he'd left his own in the Ruins, and hadn't been in exactly the right state to get any more. Should he get any more? The question lingers in his mind; does he want to bring that around his own children, when he'd been so hesitant to bring it around others'? Probably... not. Probably not. The savannah tom drags a paw down his face, blue eyes flicking up to his window and squinting against the gold light that streams in from it. Oh, was the sun setting already? He heaves himself to his paws, exiting his hut and sitting on its front porch, observing the way the setting sun set the sky on fire. He's not sure he'd ever noticed how brightly the colors flared when he'd lived in the other desert. Then again, beauty was far less appreciated there, he felt.

    He stares for a while, until the sun has sunk nearly below the horizon. It's only then that he hears familiar pawsteps, and though he doesn't break his gaze from the sky, he lets a relaxed grin spread across his face. "Hey, Ria," he greets, warm, and scoots over to make more room on the small stairs that he's sitting on.

    / SANGRIA .

    Things had certainly been hard, but they were getting easier, even if only a little. He and his family had faced much trouble recently, but maybe they were destined to, considering their foundations. He and Sangria had lived together once, but realistically, they should never have reconnected. They only did because Ver died (though apparently not for long), and for some reason, he'd gone to the funeral. They'd never meant to do anything more than catch up with each other after a long period of absence, but now they had kids, and they were in love, and there was so much trouble with it because of one thing or another. He wishes that people would stop reminding him of how much they saw it to be a mistake. Even if it was against all odds, it couldn't be a mistake, could it?

    Early morning sunshine filters through his window and stirs him awake, but Marigold's call is what gets him to his paws. Johnny finds his way to the door, wipes bleariness out of his eyes before opening it, and lets his blue gaze fall upon the late-king curiously. I've got a pot of tea brewing, an' I was wondering if you'd like some. His ears twitch. "Uh, sure," he answers, obviously caught a bit off guard by the offer, but not in a bad way. "Thanks." He's not sure why he's expected much more... harshness from the Solarians. Some of them could be nasty, he supposes, but most of them seemed like they'd rather just not deal with his being here, and went about their day ignoring him, which was much better than being rude. But Marigold was the first Solarian (that knew any better) to invite him to something without being facetious about it.

    He studies the Alcides for a moment, and lets a small, easy smile rest on his lips. "Lead th' way."

    Johnny has had his moments of envy when it came to Naomi's attitude, but he feels more sympathy for her than anything. He isn't in her head, so he can't truly know whether or not her lack of regard for... almost anything was an act or not, but he assumes it to be genuine just for simplicity's sake. He wonders if she knows what she's missing enough to yearn for it. But she seems fine, most of the time; she has her moments of more intense apathy just as she does moments of more emotion than what he's come to expect from her. But that's... just fine. Probably. Maybe that's why he's checking in on her now.

    He spots the kitsune not far from where his gaze had initially fallen. "Howdy," he greets, and moves himself to her side (though still a comfortable distance away). Can I help...? He blinks at her; shakes his head with a small smile. "Nah, I jus' wanted t' know how you're doin'," he explains, ears twitching as he looks at her. He turns his gaze away before long, though, focusing on the way the sun gleamed on the slick sides of the pyramids they lived in. "I dunno. I jus' feel like we ain't talked, really, even though we've worked together fer quite a while now." Does that bother you? It's a question he feels he shouldn't ask, even if she... probably wouldn't care whether he was rude or polite. Still, he could never be mean to her on purpose. He holds his tongue.

    It had been an... eventful week for Johnny, and he's sure that his family feels the same way. Fortunately he feels prepared to be the center of negative attention, even thought it grates on him. He supposes if there's anything he can thank his father for now, it would be the years of lesson-planning for this exact week. Unfortunately, he isn't exactly sure on how to coach his children through this experience in a way that wouldn't turn them against him, but he's got Sangria by his side to help him when he's at a loss for words. He regrets all of the time he's spent in the Medicine Guild's fort healing, trying to get himself into a state where he feels he'd like to be seen in public. It's taken away from time with his children, and though they still saw each other frequently, it wasn't the type of interaction that Johnny wanted their first impressions of him to be as they grew into their own. He wants to be more than their dad stuck in the medicine den. He's reminded of Atlas, how the wolf had unwillingly resigned to a life of rest and detachment in the Flights's physician den. His heart pangs for the canine, but he knows he doesn't want to become that.

    He's finally been showing his face more, though, and although the news of a trial and the questions surrounding it weighed heavily on his mind, he's determined to start making up for what he feels he's already lost, starting today. He'd been meaning to visit the Crater Pond, and had suggested it to Ria as an outing for himself and their family, a sort of history lesson (hopefully... a fun history lesson!) of Solaris, but also one that could open conversation for his own past. He already knows it will be hard to tell them who he was (who he still might be), just based on the way he chews his cheeks when he thinks about it, but... they're his kids. They have to know one way or another, and he'd much rather tell them about the Ruins himself than let anyone else do it. His mind floats to Ver, imagining all of the ways she could skew their views of his old home against him, and his heart clutches tightly for a moment. The idea alone of what her influence could mean makes him feel sick. But she's not here- it's best not to think about it.

    "C'mon, kids," Johnny calls as he somehow keeps pace ahead of them, despite the way his hind legs still dragged in the sand. He'd rounded the kits up before he'd even checked to see if Ria was awake. He hopes she is, but then, sneaking up on Nicholas to startle him awake had been one of Johnny's favorite childhood pastimes. "Who wants t' wake up yer mom fer our trip?" he asks, blue eyes glinting impishly.

    / perses   hesperia   KIRSCHE   SANGRIA .

    He used to think he was strong. And, really, he had been. As a kid he'd constantly gotten into fights for his and his family's pride and success, and he'd come out on top more often than not. The attention he'd been given for being that way had thrilled him to no end; his father would look his direction, his brother would give him a little extra care (though it was only after Nicholas had died that Johnny realized how much his brother had been trying to stop his hobby), and he would be revered as not only a great jockey, but also a boy of great strength. It was too bad it never translated to support his mental wellbeing. It was too bad that, once he'd been paralyzed, he'd lost every ounce of strength imaginable. He can't say he could have ever beaten Ver in a fight, but maybe he would've had half a chance when he was younger.

    The way she pins him now, hovering like a crane catching fish, only rubs salt in the wound. He flinches as drool hits his cheek; his claws dig into the arm that holds him, ineffective. Why is he even trying? Anger simmers within him, behind his heart-thumping fear, but he isn't sure how long that flame will keep burning. Defeat is sinking in; acquiescing to this treatment would be far easier than trying to fight it. But... no, he can't stand for this. Again his brain throws him back and forth between wanting to fight this as much as he can, and wanting to obey because he knows that he can't win. He's not something to be torn down, but how can he say that when he's already belly-up beneath the beast? His teeth bare again, harsher this time. "Get off of me!" he demands again, harsher this time, more pronounced in his anger. He tries again to score his claws down her limbs to make her budge even a little, unsure of how well that would work, but figuring he ought to try, right?

    But her words come, swift and deft, and both dash his hopes of escape as well as leave him a little... confused. Insulted, maybe, would be a better word.
    You wouldn't understand if I did it any other way. The sentiment rings in his ears and elicits a growl from his throat. "Y' can't say that like y' know it's true," he hisses. "'M not th' same person I was then." But he's silenced again as the woman continues.

    Her statements fall onto him and he absorbs them unwillingly. He knows she's right, at least about the first one- he would be dead if it weren't for Sangria, but he doesn't think that it would be Ver's fault otherwise, or maybe he just doesn't want to give her the credit. His face is still frozen in a deep scowl, creased with hate and anger and indignation. "I know," he growls. He can feel the suspicion in each Solarian's stare that dares to linger; he knows they don't want him here, he knows that it's only Ria's pulling of strings that allows him to stay. For a second, he's reminded of his conversation with the Red God, that bastard. Useless, worthless, burden. He knows that he's all of those things. Johnny thought of Ver then. His eyes sting, but no tears threaten to fall; they simply threaten to form. He's a wreck in her eyes. He doesn't deserve any of what he has, in her eyes. How could she even pretend to tolerate him when she could say all of that to his face? He'd rather just let their mutual animosity run free in each interaction they had the misfortune of sharing. He'd rather have his kids know that they hated each other right off the bat, than try to pretend they didn't and have the illusion crumble.

    ...if you fuck up my grandchildren or if you hurt Sangria.... The words enter his consciousness and stick there like flies splattered to a wall. How could he even dream of doing that to his family? He knows what Ver thinks of him, but... how could she assume that he'd just hurt them? The rage that bubbles in his chest is almost tangible. He can feel the pressure in him, he can feel how it makes him want to scream at her that he's better than that, that he's changed, but he knows she wouldn't listen even if he did. But before he can retort, futile as it was to do so, she growls again. I'll show you what will happen. His scowl melts into shock and his face is fear-drenched as her teeth rush towards him. Her gape sucks the light out of his vision. All he can see is teeth; all he can feel is the dampness of her breath against his face and the way her incisors caress the crown of his skull so unkindly; all he can hear is the rushing blood in his ears and the deep growl form within her throat. Johnny's head spins. He feels like he's been pumped full of air, floating around in his own body, swimming in terror. Drowning in it. Drowning. He wants to scream. I wouldn't ever drop you.

    He throws all of the weight he can into blindly clawing at Ver's face, hoping something might land, hoping his retaliation would startle her into retreating, even slightly. "I F-FUCKING HATE YOU!" he yowls, feeling the tears that streamed down his face against his will, feeling the way his arm tremors (because of her), feeling himself hiccup as he starts sobbing and trying to hold it in, hatred flaring as the stutter slips into his words, as they came out sounding so anguished despite how hard he tried to make them stronger than that. "Get th' fuck away from me! Ver!" His form twists and writhes beneath her weight; his blue eyes are shut tightly against the view of her maw. All he can do is hope that she'll leave him be- but he knows that, if she does, it won't be for his sake.

    He isn't expecting a visitor.

    The savannah tom was on his way to the crater pool for a break from the stares when he spots Ver barreling towards him just seconds too late. She knocks him off of his feet and he yelps at the attack, claws unsheathing as he tumbles onto his back. Soon her paw is pressed harshly into him and he can't move no matter how hard he squirms. His paws flail as he reaches at flesh to scratch (though not deeply) in an attempt to free himself. Curses tumble, somewhere between panicked and enraged, from his mouth. But soon, all of that is put to a stop. Ver's teeth hover close to his face, then surround it; bladed pearls letting beaded strings of saliva drip off of them, a hungry maw fit for the awful beast it was attached to. He ceases his resistance. The will to fight back hasn't completely faded, but it's certainly taken a backseat to the familiarity of this scene, the fear it induces.

    He remembers that night very clearly; it frequents his nightmares, his daydreams, his anxiety-fueled visions of death by drowning. But he remembers it for reasons vastly different than she does. He remembers it for the threat on his own life, while she remembers it for the threat on her family's. He can't remember what he'd said to set her off, probably because he hadn't meant anything serious by it. He'd only knows he'd said it to hurt her. Look where that's gotten you. Something about her family leaving her, he knows, because he knew it was important to her, and he'd wanted to just fucking take her down a peg already, dammit. But it had backfired, and it's still backfiring. He thinks briefly about how he'd never told Sangria about what had happened between him and her mother- he wonders if she was angry at the way he'd been tossed against the wall like a piece of trash.

    Fear riddles his veins and quickens his breaths. He hates how vulnerable he feels- he wants to just be strong already, dammit. He wants to radiate that same ferocity that she can to protect his family. If Solarians wanted to put him in the same bloody category as the rest of the Ruins, he'd act the part until there were none left to insult his children; to tarnish their reputation. But that idea terrifies him. He's not a Ruiner anymore, and he wonders if he ever truly was. Violence isn't something he likes to advocate for, but his pride is on the line. His children's pride is on the line before they'd even gotten the chance to be individuals. That was unacceptable. That type of behavior is what there should be fucking trials for, he thinks bitterly.

    Ver is no different than them. She'd lumped him into the 'bad apples' the minute she'd set her eyes on him, and she was too stubborn to change. A scowl pinches his face at its middle. She hadn't meant anything by her visit after her attack except to get to him for damage control. He should have never defended her, or chased after her when she'd left the Ruins. She hates him, and he hates her. He doubts she'd change her mind, even for the sake of her grandchildren. Does she hate them, too?

    If you scream I'll break your ribcage. Loathing rolls off of him in waves. He's so sick of being scared. He's been scared for so long, and though he can't ignore the way his heart beats rapidly in his chest, or the way he flinches away from her teeth, or the way that his body feels a little numb, he can push it aside for long enough to let her know exactly how done he is.

    "Get the fuck offa me," he snarls, and makes a half-assed attempt to push her off of him, though he turns his head as far into the ground below him as he can, not wanting to be subjected to her incisors or her hot, rancid breath any longer. "You can say what y' have t' say t' me while I'm standin'. I'm fuckin' done with this fear tactic bullshit!" But his breath is still quick and shallow, and his mind keeps straying to the thick waters of the Nile, and everything else is creeping back in, too, reminding him of exactly where the power here lies.

    He's told himself that he's been trying his best to show his face, to make sure that his pride in himself shone brighter than his former allegiance, but truthfully, he's been hesitant to make much of a presence around the Kingdom so far. He'd been busy healing, for one, but it was also hard to know that more of these people wanted him gone than not. He'd thought that once he'd escaped the prisons of his former home, he'd be free to love Sangria and their kittens with all of the support he thought he deserved- but that was, apparently, too optimistic a view. He's still never felt shame for what he's done. He doesn't exactly think it's wrong- he just feels guilty for making such a mess of his friends and Sangria's family.

    The savannah tom drags himself towards the meeting, seats himself in the outskirts of the crowd, and turns his gaze to Sangria. Even though he'd known her rank in the Kingdom (it was hard not to, considering she was the leader), it was admittedly a strange feeling to be sitting here for a meeting. That could be attributed to other things, though, too. He's not settled in the Kingdom, and he doesn't think he will be for a while, whether there's a trial or not. A trial alone wouldn't allow him to build trust with those who he hoped would become his clanmates, but until that trust exists (or he fees like it does), he knows he won't be entirely comfortable. He just hopes that his children can't feel that sentiment. He doesn't want their feelings about their home to be muddled- although they were born in the Ruins, he'd never wish that clan upon them.

    Sangria announces a co-leader, but he doesn't feel any particular congratulatory feelings rising in him, and he wonders if Meenah would even want them, so he keeps quiet. The news progresses quickly, anyway, but it takes a steep nosedive in terms of happy content. He chews the inside of his cheek at her choice of words. I know my wrongs. I've had children with a Ruiner. 'Wrongs' felt... harsh, but he knows he's sensitive, and he also knows that she can't possibly think of their relationship- their family -as a mistake. He recalls the times that she'd taken him out to the ocean to help heal his back legs, when she'd promised that she'd never let him go, or the times that she'd spent hours doting over their kittens even in that cell they'd shared. That wasn't wrong. Was it?

    The meeting goes on, but he can't shake his unease. It prickles in his stomach; he doesn't want to face a trial on top of what he and Sangria both have been through. Had his betrayal of the Ruins not been proof enough of where is loyalties were (or, in this case, were not)? He'd sacrificed so much there, and the idea of losing more of what little he now has makes his stomach turn. But it had to be fair, didn't it? If it would prove him to the Kingdomers, and if it would make Sangria feel better to do things this way, he'd oblige. His paws tap the ground; his mind buzzes; he can't pay attention to the rest of the words. Only what comes after.

    Merlot is the first to speak up to support the trial; Ver is the first to tear that suggestion down. They fight, and somewhere in there Raeliana leaves it up to fate, and Johnny can feel his stomach sinking further as he tries to find his children again in the slowly-dispersing crowd. Their cries, supportive, frenzied, and angry, hit his ears and his face contorts into a deep frown. He makes his way as quickly as he can to them, wanting to pull them into a hug that would make the rest of their problems vanish. Is this anguish his fault? It has to be, at least partly- they wouldn't be in this situation if he'd just... well, he isn't sure. But there had to be something.

    Sangria beats him to their kits, but he's there not long after she finishes speaking and pulling them into a hug, and he tries his best to join in, nosing at each of his children's heads affectionately. "Ain't nothin's gonna happen t' you kids, a'right?" he drawls, quiet, sincere. He wouldn't let anything take them away, but he doesn't feel like he can say that out loud with the conviction he feels, considering his past allegiance. But words are not his strong suit- he isn't sure they ever has been -and Kirsche's continued questions, as much as he wants to answer, make his throat ache with anguish. A beat of silence passes. "Yer right, Kirsche," he murmurs. "It ain't fair." Life isn't fair, he thinks, but cuts off the thought before he can speak it into existence. He sounds too much like his dad, and that isn't a good thing. He hopes that his statement hadn't come out too harshly; he hopes that the way he looks across the crowd as he speaks isn't tinged by anger. "But Mom n' Dad'll stick with ya- all 'f ya -'till it is." It's as much a promise to his kits as it is a challenge to anyone who'd like to see them torn apart. Out of the confusing mix of sadness, guilt, and understanding, indignation finally rears its ugly head. He'd rather die than be separated from this family a second time, and he wouldn't let these onlookers who didn't know shit about him be the one to decide whether he stayed or left. Calm down, Joestar, his mind whispers, but his flame doesn't want to die. He gives his kids another nuzzle. I'm going to stay here, even if it kills me.

    He's been keeping a vigilant watch of their little hallway when he can. He doesn't want anyone surprising them; his little family, his sleeping girlfriend. He hates when his clanmates- people he thought were his friends -came to torment the Solarian Queen, but then, if he hadn't wanted that, shouldn't he have done something differently? He wonders, locked in this cell, why he hadn't simply up and left the Ruins once he'd realized just how deep his feelings for Sangria ran, but he knows the answer, too. The Red God had given him a gift and told him to walk far from the line of treason. It was something he hadn't ended up fulfilling, but he'd tried his damnedest, at least for a while. Another factor was the friends and family he'd found here- Evangeline, Claret, Naomi, Absalom, Bellona, Bloodpoppy, just to name a few. He didn't want to leave them; to uproot and turn his back on them without any explanation, because he knew that if he did explain it would get him killed. But he wonders if it was any better this way.

    He hears pawsteps echoing down his hallway, and the feline's ears twitch minutely, trying to discern who it might be from the sound alone. His eyes strain in the dark to make out the silhouette that approaches, but soon he recognizes them.

    "Claret," he murmurs, a sorrowful greeting. His face has pinched with guilt, his brows furrowing together and his mouth pulling down into a deep, deep frown. He didn't want them to see him like this, but he'd forfeited protecting them from it when he'd attacked Elian. When he'd chosen love over his clan. Why? Even now, the question sometimes creeps into his mind, but he knows why- because it's his instinct. Though Johnny had never experienced love from either parent, with one dying too soon to meet him, and the other being an asshole when he wasn't absent, he'd gotten the chance to feel true familial love thanks to his brother. Nicholas had always looked after him when their father didn't. Nicholas had always been the one to patch his wounds from racing or roughhousing. Nicholas had always been the one to listen to him cry or laugh or yell about whatever he needed to. And then Nicholas had died. But he'd still gotten that chance to see what love really looked like, and felt like, and he never wanted to lose that love again. He's already done that twice- Gyro, who had walked these sands with him once, is dead now. Atlas, though they'd never admitted anything to each other, is in a coma in the Flights. He's loved so much, but he feels like he's lost so much more, and he just isn't willing to take that chance again, even if it meant betraying the friends he's made along the way. He's awfully selfish in that respect.

    "Claret, 'm so sorry," he utters finally, holding their gaze as best as he can. He can't read their expression too well, but he knows that they don't look happy. He hates that he's made them unhappy. After they'd asked him to be their mentor, he'd always tried to look out for them, to bond with them in what little ways he knew how, but he wonders if he'd ever done enough, and if he had, if it had all shattered after... all of this. He feels tears sting at his eyes, but they don't fall.

    Johnny's squinted gaze finds Crybaby not long after she arrives, and he feels his muscles tense briefly, a sort of just in case. Not that he's in any condition to fight, though. As he tries his best to remain vigilant, he realizes just how much energy his escaping stunt drained from him. He can hardly stand now. Then again, whether that was solely exhaustion or not was up for debate- his head still pounds terribly, and he still feels queasy, and his wounds sting like a bitch. At the girl's question, he laughs humorlessly. It was such a long story to pour through now, and he was so tired, but making a bad first impression (as if he hasn't already) isn't in his list of to-do's. Suck it up, Joestar, he thinks, and notes the way he sounds like his dad.

    "'S a long story," he prefaces, brief. He pauses to let his stomach settle more, but continues not long after. Don't fuckin' stutter. "I 'scaped from a Ruins prison, n' now I'm here." He leaves out the part where he admits himself to be a former Ruiner, partly because he doesn't think about it much, and mostly because he doesn't want to give them all a worse impression than they're already getting. He pauses to take in the rest of the girl's offer, closing his eyes against the harsh sun for a bit of respite from the invasive light. He shakes his head; he's walked all this way on his own, he'll be alright to keep going. But soon she seems to have second thoughts. Just stay put, she instructs, and he nods, listening to her dash away, likely in search of a medic. The idea makes his stomach prickle with fear; he's never liked receiving treatment from others, even those he knew. A stranger would be even worse.

    Raeliana's voice is familiar. He remembers when he'd made 'traps' here, as another excuse to see Ria, and this girl had been present, too, snarking away like she had a medal to win. It reminded him of his younger self, and it still does, so he manages to find enough humor in her attitude to not feel indignation. Besides, he shouldn't be getting upset over her wariness (or anyone else's, for that matter). He's a Ruiner. A former Ruiner, but he still smells like them, and there's no doubt that they'd have seen him there in the raid, near the prisons. With Sangria. Johnny's quiet as she jabbers. "I'd be happy t' explain when..." -he trails off, riding a wave of nausea before speaking again- "...when I ain't fightin' a migraine." He lets his gaze linger on her face, remembering the day that Evangeline had captured her to inflict the same pain she'd felt. He's reminded of just how intense some of these people's grudges might be. His ears flick backwards slightly, but he keeps standing.

    Fortunately for you, you're injured. He hears Merlot's voice before he sees the wine-red feline, but as soon as he does, he recognizes the other to be one of the Solarians that attacked his friend. Shouldn't they have? She was guarding the prisons, he tries to reason, but he remembers his conversation with Evangeline during one of his nights held captive, and he can't help the feeling of distaste that settles in his stomach. At least it's mutual, it seems. As Merlot starts to attempt to heal him, he flinches away. The idea of facing the same treatment he'd gotten after his paralysis frightens him more than he's aware of. "F-fuck, sorry," he grumbles, his attitude sinking farther as his stutter creeps into his words; he doesn't want to be seen as ungrateful or aggressive to these people, accepting him into their sands to heal, even when they didn't want to. As the Healinghand continues, Johnny forces himself to sit still, wincing at the stinging pain of his wounds as Merlot works to patch them up. He listens to their words, upset by them despite himself. He knows- he knows, dammit -that he won't be popular here. But he wants to see Sangria and their children so damn desperately. He chews the inside of his cheek in his frustration, both with himself and with them all. Did they know that he'd been the one to attack Elian, to make sure that their Queen- his girlfriend -wasn't hurt? But then, maybe dating her in the first place nullified that.

    A child appears out of thin air, and Johnny tries not to be visibly uncomfortable as Vinko appears, takes a terribly long sniff, and then falls back into place. You smell bad. He can't help but laugh. "'M sure I do," he answers, suddenly spirited. I've spent the last couple weeks in a prison surrounded by blood and death and worse. "I'll... w-work on it." His voice still holds humor despite the pauses. He shuts his eyes tight and he grimaces as his head pounds, shaking his skull from the inside out, but as soon as the wave of pain passes he manages a smile full of nuanced emotion. Defeat, humor, fear, excitement. Anxiety still rode high above all of them, though, knocking at his skull and screaming into his brain. He hates the way that Sangria isn't here, and the way that Merlot is healing him, and the way that Meenah might send him away when all of this is over, despite his efforts. The thoughts ball and form pressure in his chest. He dislikes the way it sits.

    You're him. A new voice. He opens his eyes and flicks his gaze down to the new face, letting his attention rest upon Forsythia. His ears prick. You're the father. He isn't quite sure how to react. There's no doubt Sangria told her clan what had happened, but he'd not thought about it. Even though Merlot had reacted with an implicit understanding of who he was, he hadn't had the mind to focus on how they might have known him- but this was so... blunt. Out in the open. After so much time hiding his and Sangria's relationship, his first instinct is shock and fear, but he swallows those emotions quickly. He'd come here to be with his family. The whole clan would know sooner or later, if they didn't already.

    "That's right," he answers after a beat of hesitation. He wishes he hadn't hesitated. It's only after he confirms her statement that he notices the heart on her chest, and his own heart aches just slightly. He wishes Sangria were here. He wishes a lot of things, he realizes. He lets his eyes close again as he battles the urge to shy away from Merlot at their every move, wishing that this- whatever this was -could all be over quickly.

    He wonders if he should have waited for this damn migraine to pass before he tried to traverse from desert to desert. The pounding, pulsing headache is all-consuming. The light hurts, but the midday sun shines cruelly anyways. He feels nauseous in the same way he had after Ver threw him into the Nile. It's a feeling he really, really wishes he didn't have to be reliving right now, but then, escaping a Sanguine Ruins prison and transversing Orcadia didn't seem like the best treatment plan for this sort of thing. Jokes aside, he knows he's hurt pretty badly, and he needs a good recovery plan to get him back into good shape. The migraine was awful but familiar, but he's also earned a good number of wounds from the various claws and teeth he'd been facing in the Ruins lately. The freshest one still drips blood down his back; that damned mastiff was an idiot, but he'd been quick to try and pull Johnny back into his cell once he'd realized what was happening.

    But that- all of the hurt looks from his friends, all of the harshness with which he'd been treated, all of the fear that he'd had for Sangria's and their kits' safety -is behind him now, at least physically. The scent of the Ruins still clings stubbornly to him as he finds the now-familiar Solarian border. The creeping fear of what if his family hadn't made it? begins to sink in now, although it was something his aching mind hadn't dared to let him consider while he was still locked in that hopeless cell. He stands anxiously now in their sands, his front two paws being his only support. After he'd summoned what strength he could to leap at his guard, his hind legs had refused to obey any further command, but that was okay- he was here. He would heal here.

    As long as they let him in.

    The tomcat's mouth feels dry. His heart beats heavy in his chest; is echoed by the way his head pulses with pain. He has to try. He'll try anything to be with Sangria and their children after all that they've been through, even if it has to be... brief. But he doesn't want it to be brief. Anxious thoughts and endless hopeless imagined scenarios swarm his brain, and he can suddenly feel his nausea again, and he hopes his leg isn't shaking. Is she even here? Are the kittens okay? Did everyone make it out alright? He'd never heard news of the Solarian queen's re-capture, so he tries to chalk it up to being irrationality. Nobody had told him of any fatalities. Evangeline would have told me, he reasons, and manages to calm himself enough to start thinking of a greeting that wasn't too assertive or too timid.

    "Hello?" he called out, ashamed that it took him a few beats of silence to think of something so simple. He rides a wave of nausea for a moment, letting a few more beats pass before he even tries to speak up again (he wants to be as stutter-free as possible). "I-I want... t' join. If y'all 'll let me."

    Johnny had woken a morning or two ago- the day after the raid for Sangria and Nissr -with a migraine not dissimilar from the one he'd suffered once before at Ver's jaws. He almost found it humorous, if it weren't for the crushing realization of what he'd sacrificed to keep his girlfriend and their kittens safe. He'd been in no shape to leave, even if he had a plan for escape, or had the brute strength needed to get it done. He'd been shaking, nauseous, and unable to face the light outside. He needed to recover. But his will to get the hell out of the prison was far too strong to wait around. Constellationdreamer's telepathic message to him and Sangria alone rang in his head when he felt like giving up; the memory of Evangeline's secret gift; the small faces of his tiny children; they all gave him far too much hope that he can make it out of here with his life. It was stupid hope- dangerous hope. But it was hope.

    Despite his ailment, he'd spent the past few days channeling his inner Gyro and Littleflame (and, to be fair, his own past self), wearing down one of the NPC's that guarded his cell with his words over time. Finding a nerve to strike had been hard at first- his first few attempts had bounced off of the guard like rubber. But once he'd found his in to the man's mind, he'd been surprised at how simple an insecurity it was: his position. "Hey, buddy," the savannah chimes now, harshly from within his cell, "when th' fuck're you gonna leave me th' hell alone?" His drawl holds a hefty growl within it, which makes the NPC- a large mastiff -very... interested in what he has to say. The canine turns, facing Johnny's back (as the savannah has chosen to look away from whatever light filters through his bars).

    "What did you just say to me?" the dog rumbles, humor in his tone, but cored with a thin line of anger. Nobody likes being spoken down to, but when it comes from a savannah like this one, it's just kind of funny.
    "I said," Johnny starts, adding heaps of annoyance into his own words. "When the fuck 're y' gonna leave me th' hell alone? Don't you got better shit t' do than stand around guardin' me all fuckin' night? Like... Red God, I'm fuckin' disabled- where th' hell 'm I gonna go?" This line of reasoning makes the guard's expression twist and shift like malleable clay, but it doesn't get any happier. Insult dashes the crooks and crannies of the nameless canine's face. "Elian told me to stand guard in these prisons- not just for you, by the way," he reasons back.

    Johnny twists to face the goon, blue eyes squinting. "Elian told you t' stand here 'f all places?" he asks, as if incredulous. "He must fuckin' hate yer ass."

    The mastiff's scowl deepens considerably. "What do you mean by that?" he asks quickly.

    Johnny raises a brow. "He stations th' nobodies at the prisons. What're you in for? Dumb as rocks? Weaker'n a pansy? Traitor t' yer clan?" He laughs at his own jokes, doing his best to ignore the pain that resonates throughout his skull, but the guard isn't amused. In fact, he looks pretty pissed off, now- the way his eyes widen in anger, and his nostrils flare, and his muscles tense... oh! It's too much! Johnny grins at the way he can see his plan working; hopes that he'll actually be able to pull it off in the end.

    "In case you haven't heard, you're below me, asshole. You're beneath the sand that we all walk on," the guard growls in an attempt to save face and cut off the argument there.

    "Then put me six feet under, 'f that's how you feel," Johnny challenges, lips peeling back into a snarl of his own, baring yellowed teeth at this canine as he'd done the King not long ago. "'M sure Elian'd love t' see a traitor dead."

    Whether it's the opportunity for a promotion, the anger at being insulted, a bloodlust that certain Ruiners seem to share, or all three combined, the mastiff doesn't take long to leap on the opportunity. Johnny's snarl falls as he watches the dog bound closer, slamming the cell door so that it opens from the force- now, he thinks -and he musters up every small ounce of strength he possibly can into his back legs, and he jumps like hell. The height of the mastiff was enough to where Johnny feels a good window of opportunity lies between the beast's legs, so he aims as low as he can possibly aim, darting miraculously through the small opening, and-

    "FUCKING OUCH!" the feline howls as the canine claws at his back, scrambling to keep the prisoner imprisoned. But Johnny's not ready to die- he's going to get out of here, whether his luck wants him to or not. The savannah tom slams his weight backwards into the cell door again, trying to shut the guard's arm within it before the mastiff can put more of his bodyweight forward to overwhelm the feline. He hears a yelp to indicate his success, and Johnny shuts the cell's door and gets the fuck away from it as fast as he can, huffing with the effort. His hind legs tingle and ache strangely with effort; his back stings, and liquid red drips down it, warm against the chill of the prison's drafts; his head is pounding so hard, he can hardly hear or see. But he's free. He's free. Now he just has to get out of the territory, but living in it for over a year has proven him pretty much an expert in Ruins geography. He starts his course, ignoring the indignant barking of the Ruins's newest inmate, a wide grin on his face.

    Sangria, I'm on my way.

    And then he's gone.

    / feel free to powerplay the mastiff guard for dialogue and actions if y/c wants to ask him what happened! he would likely tell it how it is: he was going to kill the prisoner for insubordination, when the prisoner somehow managed to escape the cell and lock the mastiff inside.

    / also johnny has managed to fully escape the ruins territory at this point!

    His tension eases as he hears her voice, hushed as it is. The savannah lets himself relax; he visibly eases into his weak haunches, lets his blue eyes flit around her moonlit form before they settle on her golden gaze. It's just Evangeline. Just Evangeline feels like an underwhelming way to put it- she means a lot to him, especially now, after offering what quiet help she could for his desperate situation. It's a type of kindness that's rare in Agrelos, let alone in the Ruins of all places. But he wonders if he can say he's fully surprised. She's always been this way (that he can remember), after all- kind to all, though her obligations to her clan may have changed how it shone through. He likes to think that he's like her, too, but he certainly hasn't been kind for all of his life, so he's not sure it's a fair comparison.

    "Hey," he utters, clearly exhausted, but truly grateful to see her. Sharing a cell with Sangria helped ease the gravity of the situation, but he knows that he's betrayed his friends; made himself their enemy. He is not the only one to be making sacrifices recently. He just hopes they can understand why he's done it. "Thank you," he murmurs as she sits. "Fer everythin'. Even jus' stopping by." He leaves it there, because he's afraid that if he continues he won't be able to stop. Silence settles between them for a moment, but it's one that he feels comfortable in. He's been more comfortable in silence lately.

    He watches her gaze settle on the kittens and their sleeping mother, and he manages a soft smile. Are they all healthy? "Yeah, they're doin' well. Jus' gets chilly," he replies, trying not to let too much sorrow into his tone as he elaborates on the temperature. Sangria had been using her wing as a buffer between the kits and the cold floor lately, but worry persists that it isn't enough. He does his best to contribute what warmth he can. She talks about the herbs she'd brought when the kits were born, and he nods along with her explanation- even though he was the physician, she truthfully knew more about him in the field of pregnancy, and what herbs did what. He'd never had much need for the knowledge in his practice, since he'd never encountered a birth on the Ruins's sands or the Flights's jungle. Thankfully, Sangria was a medic, too. "She took some earlier, along with a couple o' poppy seeds," he comments, gesturing to Sangria with a gentle jerk of his head. "She's been okay since." His voice dwindles, and he lets a few long beats of silence pass between them, listening to the soft shifting of the kittens as they slept. He lets his gaze drift back to them, full of love and sorrow- he wishes that things didn't have to be like this, but it's his own fault, isn't it?

    Deciding that he'd rather not think on that, he turns back to Evangeline, brows knitting upwards. "How're you doin'? I..." he takes a breath, drops his gaze briefly; settles it on her paws. "I'm sorry. I'm jus'... I'm real sorry, Eva."