Been on a bit of a binge through Trollhunters and now 3Below - I have no regrets. I'm such a huge fan of crossovers (have been forever) and S1E6 of 3Below was just great, loved it so much! Really looking forward to the conclusion of the Tales of Arcadia trilogy. Anyway, this short fic takes place between 3Below S1E9 and S1E10, and during Trollhunters S3E10. There is a minor time skip from Jim's garage (night) and the arrival of Nomura (day), so let's generously assume that in the early morning Jim, Claire and Toby go to school briefly to show their faces and maybe gather supplies before disappearing in the late morning to return to Jim's house. Obvious spoilers for both shows if you've watched up to these points in either (and a bit beyond) so be aware! Hopefully I didn't get anything too wrong aside from my gratuitous stretching of time, but let me know if you spot anything :) I promise the next thing I post will be the next chapter of "A Light in the Dark". No more distractions! Please let me know what you think, it would be much appreciated :D
The bell rang for morning break, and Aja was one of the first to flee the building, her mind still reeling from the recent events that had disrupted their hidden existence on this small planet the humans referred to as Earth. It wasn't so long ago that Halcon, or "Birde", had appeared from nowhere, tricking them into revealing their location and then viciously attacking, a stark reminder that the bright cheeriness of Arcadia could not protect them from the reality that they were fugitives being hunted by the most ruthless assassins known.
The threat had been even more terrifying in the form Halcon had taken as a member of the school board, investigating the mysterious and inexplicable pasts of the two newest additions. That could have easily been a real, human-led investigation, and it could have jeopardised everything. But instead, it all luckily evaporated when Varvatos Vex had eliminated the fleeing Halcon. And yet, Aja kept reliving the moment Halcon had her mother's core in her grasp, feeling desperation and anguish burst in her chest as she lunged to stop the assassin from crushing the core out of existence.
It was all too much.
She just wanted to live the strange peaceful life they found within the walls of Arcadia Oaks High, where the human children didn't have to think about succeeding to thrones or saving their parents or being hunted by outlaws. They instead laughed and played and lived their protected lives. They were happy, and they were carefree. This life was everything she'd always wanted back on Akiridion-5.
Sighing, she decided she wanted to be alone more than anything else right now. Krel made a noise of protest as she pushed past him, but it seemed he sensed her mood and chose not to follow. In their first week at the school, she had stumbled across a ladder leading to the roof, and (after discovering it was not a good idea to climb it while one of the adult supervisors was watching) always kept it in mind when she felt like she needed to be away from everything.
Away from Mary and Darci's endless questions about where she came from, and what her accent was, and why they had moved here, and was Krel really as smart as he seemed, and was she really dating Steve?
Away from Steve himself, because she hated lying to him when he was so open and vulnerable around her, even though she knew that telling him the truth would be the easiest way to push him away for good.
Away from the disappointed looks of their adopted teachers who shook their heads at her poor test scores and looked pointedly at her brother, who was aceing every test he took. Especially the humans' primitive form of mathematics. Well... she was aceing gym, at least.
Most of all, away from Krel's scrutinising gaze, and his strangely expressive human eyes that reminded her somehow of her mother. She was supposed to be the older sibling, she was supposed to protect him. But lately she felt like he was the more mature one of them, that he was the one babying her and reminding her of the bigger picture. He was the future monarch. Not her.
Aja reached the top of the ladder and swung herself easily up onto the roof, landing on both feet with a soft thump. She loved the agility she'd built up over the years, but did not like to admit to herself that they had been years of constantly running away from her royal destiny.
Her noise managed to draw the attention of the other person who had apparently claimed the roof before her, and she realised to her dismay that she was not alone.
It was the human boy, Jim Lake, who had shown them around last night. He'd been sitting on the edge of a large air-conditioning unit, legs dangling over the side and gaze fixed out across Arcadia. But at the sound of her arrival, he immediately leapt down to face the noise, adopting what almost looked like a battle-ready pose, a small metal object clasped in his right hand.
His strange glowing device, the one she had mistaken for her serrator. There were definitely some interesting secrets that this human was hiding, that much she knew. Maybe he was even better at keeping secrets than she and Krel were.
"Oh... hey Aja."
"Hello Jim," she said warily, eyeing the ladder and preparing to make her escape.
"Don't leave on my accord," he said apologetically, noticing her glance and pocketing the glowing object. "I just, I dunno... I come up here to think sometimes."
She didn't care to admit to him that that was exactly the same reason she'd come up, and instead simply looked back at him impassively. The weight of her thoughts were heavy on her mind, and she didn't know if she could process them while also dealing with more inquisition from the ever-curious humans.
The silence stretched between them.
"I can go if you want," he said at last.
But that wasn't what she wanted, she realised. He didn't seem like he was in the mood to force answers from her about where she'd come from, and she sensed there was a lot weighing on this human, too.
"No, stay," she said, forcing a smile. "It's a nice view, huh?"
He smiled genuinely, his eyes lighting up, and nodded, turning to haul himself back on top of the unit. He was somewhat nimble for such a skinny lifeform.
She walked over to him, and he extended a hand to help her up. She rolled her eyes with a grin, and leapt easily up onto the unit to sit beside him. He stared at her in mild astonishment.
"Wow, you're... athletic."
She shrugged modestly, but internally she was pleased at the compliment. They sat there for a few moments, and she took in the view. From this vantage point, it was possible to see across the town of Arcadia, especially the main districts. In the distance she could almost make out the part of the town where the Mothership was hidden.
"How come you came up here?" Jim asked finally, then quickly held his hands up at the scowl that crossed her face. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to!"
"To think, also," she said shortly, not really wanting to elaborate. He gave her a small smile, and nodded.
"Sometimes I need to be away from everyone," he said, sounding almost guilty. "My friends, they're the best, and I owe them so much... but in the end, it feels like the amu- um... my issues... they chose me, you know?"
"I think I do," she said, wondering if they might have more in common than she'd previously acknowledged. She looked curiously at the dark-haired human, who was now staring across the town with a forlorn expression.
"I know one day in the near future there will be choices I need to make that are mine alone, that I can't rely on them for," he said, and she detected a hint of sadness in his voice. "And I have to be strong enough to make those choices, for everyone's sake."
She laughed a little nervously.
"That sounds pretty serious, Jim Lake. I thought the biggest concern of the students here was passing exams and who is kissing who this week. It's... lively." She smiled broadly at him, but her smile faltered when she saw he wasn't smiling back.
"There's a lot going on beneath the surface of Arcadia," Jim said sombrely, then hurriedly backtracked. "Metaphorically, I mean! Like, things aren't as calm as you'd think looking around, you know?"
He stared down at his hands.
"I just have a really bad feeling about today."
Aja felt sorry for the human, and put her hand on his shoulder gently. He seemed really torn and rather despondent, and she was reminded of herself when they'd first arrived on Earth.
"My brother and I... we had to leave Cantaloupia because of an uprising," she offered, and he looked at her in surprise, clearly not having expected her to reveal the thoughts that had brought her to the rooftop.
"General Morando wants to wipe out our entire family," she said bitterly, clenching her hands into fists, tears burning at the edges of her eyes in voicing that out loud. "I want to go back and fight him, but right now we can't. And we're not safe here either, and I constantly feel... helpless."
"Not safe?" Jim echoed, sounding concerned. "If you and Krel are in trouble, I can help protect you."
It was kind of him to say, and she suspected his words were not empty sentiment. Perhaps it linked back to his strange metal suit with the glowing stone, and why it seemed last night like he and his friends were in on a secret that neither she nor Krel could comprehend.
Trollhunters. The word echoed in her head.
"Thank you, Jim," she said, patting his knee in what she had learnt was meant to be an affectionate gesture. "But this is our fight. And... I think I am right in saying you have your own fight, hmm?"
Jim hesitated, blue eyes wary as they scanned her face, then sighed.
"Yeah," he admitted in a low voice, looking down at his lap again. "I just don't want to lose anyone else."
His words struck Aja painfully, and she thought of her parents' cores sitting in the Mothership waiting for them to find some way to repair the ship. A look of deep sadness had settled on Jim's face, and she recognised it well. Sometime recently, he'd lost someone very important to him. But unlike her parents, who one day could be rebuilt as long as their cores were preserved, she knew the fate of other lifeforms was often to stay lost. The grief she and Krel felt at the loss of their parents was nothing compared to when a loved one was lost who could never return.
"I'm sorry, Jim Lake," she said quietly. "I know what it is like to lose someone... but not the same as your loss."
If he noticed her strange choice of words, he did not show it.
"Draal didn't deserve that fate," he muttered, closing his eyes, his brow furrowed. She did not know who Draal was, but it was obvious enough that this was the one Jim had lost recently. "That's why when it comes down to it... when it comes down to my choices... I need to keep everyone safe. That's what matters, more than anything else."
"For what it's worth," Aja began, hoping to lighten Jim's mood. "I think you are super lively. We have met many wonderful people since coming to Arcadia, and especially you and you friends showed us much kindness in touring us around your town. It is strange to say, perhaps, but being around you felt so familiar, and comfortable. Almost like we knew each other already, in a past life."
"I know what you mean," Jim said, looking back at her with a curious look. "But that's crazy, right?"
"This world, this galaxy, the Universe... it's all kind of crazy if you really think about it. But I was taught that you're always in the right place at the right time, where you're meant to be, making the right choices no matter how strange things seem. It has been a little hard to believe that lately, but coming here to Ea- er, Arcadia... it has also been pretty amazing. I am happy Krel and I came here, of all places, and I'm glad we met you, Jim Lake. Whatever choice you have to make, it will be the correct one, I'm sure of it."
"Thanks, Aja," Jim said earnestly. "I hope you're right."
"But... you shouldn't do it alone," she added softly. "I couldn't do anything without my family. I wouldn't want to, either. They help me to make the right choices."
Jim bit his lip, looking like he both agreed and disagreed with her words.
But before he could say anything, his phone buzzed in his pocket, and he gave her an apologetic look while hastening to pick it up. She could hear the strained voice at the other end.
"Jim, where are you? We've dealt with things here, and we need to get back to your house now, figure out what to do about you-know-who."
"Sorry Claire, I'm coming. Meet you at the front of school." He hung up, seemingly quite aware of Aja's questioning gaze fixed on him. His cheeks reddened slightly.
"You're leaving school already?" Aja asked incredulously. "It's only the morning."
"Why not make it 44 days, right?" Jim joked lightly, but she also heard regret in his voice. He got to his feet, shouldering his backpack. "It's been nice chatting to you though. Maybe we can meet up here on the roof again sometime to think... out loud."
"I'd like that," she said truthfully. She watched him jump down and head towards the ladder. "And Jim..."
He looked back, his eyes clouded and his mind clearly already a million miles away, fixed on his next battle.
"One day, I hope we can share our fights with each other."
His attention snapped back to her, and he nodded, the edge of his mouth lifting in the ghost of a smile. Their eyes met, one warrior to another.
"I hope so too, Aja. One day."
And then he was gone, down the ladder, their briefly intersecting worlds now apart once more. Deep down, she had a melancholic feeling that it would actually be a long time before they met again.
Post-fic note: it only occurred to me after having decided the setting for this and writing most of it, but notice where Jim ends up after his transformation in S3E11? Aside from it being the same setting (so check it out for reference, and note the ridiculously large air-con units), maybe he was secretly hoping he'd find Aja there. Well anyway, that's my interpretation and I'm sticking with it! ;)