Candy was definitely the right choice, John thinks, as he munches thoughtfully on a strawberry swirl mint. It cracks to splinters between his teeth. Incredibly tasty splinters, the consistency of which have absolutely no existential baggage to them. The splinters dissolve quickly, leaving behind the impression they were made of nothing at all, but for a cloying essence determined to linger behind. With some distance from his traumatic anime dreaming, the fatalistic mood that he’s been walking around with all day seems somewhat... melodramatic. Embarrassing, even! Who has time for nihilism when it’s such a beautiful day.

JOHN: you know what?

ROXY: ...

JOHN: maybe i’ll stay after all.

ROXY: r... rly?

JOHN: yeah. now that i’ve had some time to think about, is lord english really that big of a deal?

JOHN: i mean, i know rose said it was a big deal.

JOHN: that canon would... “dissipate,” if i didn’t go do it. whatever that means.

JOHN: isn’t it just as likely that i could mess up a whole bunch of stuff if i go back there?

JOHN: the idea of going back in time, or back into canon, or whatever...

JOHN: and fighting this huge battle that serves some vague purpose i’m not sure i even understand...

JOHN: it feels so... heavy?

JOHN: and i’m not feeling that heavy, suddenly. i feel kind of the opposite, actually.

JOHN: i feel like, maybe i just don’t give a shit?

JOHN: i don’t mean in a bad way, it’s just...

JOHN: well, i’m already HERE. living my life, with my friends, and...

JOHN: i think i just want to stay back on earth, forget i ever heard of lord english, and just... relax?

JOHN: is that selfish of me??

JOHN: i dunno, just seems like a lot of responsibility for one person.

JOHN: so maybe instead of taking the fate of everyone’s existence into my own hands, i should just...

JOHN: stay here and try to enjoy life?

Even John has to admit, his rationale doesn’t sound particularly satisfying. Now that he’s reflecting on everything he just said, it really strikes him as a bunch of empty-headed babble. But then again, it’s like he was saying. His head does feel lighter. Maybe he doesn’t care if his reasoning sucks? Maybe he just doesn’t care about any of the high stakes or existential gravity related to his conversation with Rose. Maybe he doesn’t care about much of anything, except the here and now, the company of his friends, and the pleasant breeze flowing through the park today. He’s feeling quite insubstantial, when he thinks about it. Superficial. And a bit sappy toward his friends. So what if he wants to make an insubstantial, superficial, and sappy decision?

CALLIOPE: are you absolUtely sUre aboUt this, john?

He looks up at the trees, at the sunlight glittering through the crisscrossing fronds. Has the sky always been that blue? A leaf spirals down lazily and lands on his forehead. He plucks it off and studies the veins running through it. At each fork in the veins, he supposes the leaf as a whole is making a certain kind of “decision,” to go this way or that. It certainly seems like one way of looking at a leaf, now that he bothers to really scrutinize one. It also seems to him, with just as great a sense of clarity, that not one of this leaf’s decisions ever mattered even the tiniest fucking bit to anybody. Not to the tree, not to the world, not even to the leaf itself. He flicks the delicate green metaphor away with a flourish of disdain, and sudden conviction.

JOHN: yeah. actually, i don’t think i’ve ever been so sure of anything in my life.

Roxy’s stoic countenance washes away abruptly and she lets out a happy... squeal? No, that’s kind of a sexist way to describe it. It’s definitely a girly noise, though, and not what John was expecting. Without warning, she launches herself into his arms.

ROXY: omg john

ROXY: thats...


ROXY: im so stoked!!! :D

She buries her nose in the crook of his neck… and starts crying. Huh? She’s definitely sniffing a little, and his skin feels wet against hers. John makes incidental eye contact with Calliope when he raises his arms to wrap them around Roxy’s back. He’s startled for a moment, but Callie’s just looking at him with that big, serene smile on her skull. So, okay, this isn’t weird or anything, this super-intimate physical interaction he’s having with her maybe-girlfriend right in front of her. It’s just that Roxy’s been so distant for years, and now John has no idea where the boundaries are drawn.

He grins and hugs her back just as hard as she’s hugging him. Maybe his friendships aren’t as damaged as he’d worried. Maybe it’s like his friends were his actual family this whole time, and they were just waiting for him to pick up the phone, or to come along and hug them.

Roxy pulls back and claps excitedly.

ROXY: this is gonna be so effing AWESOME

CALLIOPE: yes. i think that yoU have made an excellent choice, john!

CALLIOPE: i can already feel the aUra of eqUivocation that’s been hanging over Us all these years fading!

JOHN: equivocation?

CALLIOPE: oh, sorry!

CALLIOPE: what i mean is that i think we’ve all had a hard time moving on from what we experienced in oUr old Universes.

CALLIOPE: now we finally can pUt that Ugliness behind Us.

CALLIOPE: oh, john, this is amazing! i have sUch big plans for yoU!

JOHN: uh...

JOHN: plans?

ROXY: stop asking so many questions dummy

ROXY: its gonna be great

CALLIOPE: it will be more than great.

CALLIOPE: bUt first there is one last thing yoU mUst do with your retcon powers. someone that yoU need to help.

CALLIOPE: someone that *only* yoU can help.

Calliope leans in close. The angle of the sun makes it so that she dips into shadow. The sharp recesses of her skeletal face turn those shadows black. For a moment, her voice sounds the way wind does when it howls through a narrow chasm.

CALLIOPE: yoU mUst free the bard from his prison.

JOHN: ???

Did he hear her right? He can’t imagine she could possibly mean...

CALLIOPE: gamzee.

Calliope puts her hands together and pulls back, smiling sweetly. Her voice is sugar-sweet again.

CALLIOPE: let poor gamzee oUt of the fridge, john.

CALLIOPE: the time has come. u_u

JOHN: poor... GAMZEE??

CALLIOPE: he’s sUrely learned his lesson by now.

CALLIOPE: if we are to tUrn over a new page in this story, we shoUld tUrn that page for everyone.

CALLIOPE: gamzee mUst begin seeking redemption immediately. he has sUffered enoUgh!

JOHN: ...

JOHN: HAS he, though?

CALLIOPE: oh my yes. absolUtely.

JOHN: are you sure?

CALLIOPE: of coUrse!

John glances at Roxy, seeking support. She smiles at him benignly, apparently having no opinion whatsoever on this topic.

Sure. Okay. He can’t help but make a disgusted face at the thought of it, but he shrugs. Why the hell not? He’s feeling lighter, remember? If it’s time to let go of his long-held worries and hangups, then so too it may be time to let loose a long-suffering clown. If this is to be the Age of Redemption, then let it begin, he decides. Not with a bang, but a honk.

> ==>