Chapter

17

Three months later, John is still thinking about his last conversation with Terezi. It’s kind of impossible not to, when Rose and Kanaya keep saying the name “Vriska” every five minutes. He really thought they were done with hearing about Vriska all the time, but apparently Rose and Kanaya were intent on breathing new life into that tradition.

ROSE: Vriska, don’t chew on your chair’s dinner tray.

KANAYA: Darling She Is Only A Grub She Hasnt Yet Grown Her Aural Canals

ROSE: Yes, but I believe strongly that we should get in the habit of speaking to her like an adult. It will be good for her social development.

KANAYA: Is That How Your Mother Raised You

ROSE: I would have loved it if my mother spoke more frankly with me. But she was...

ROSE: Let’s just say, a rather awkward person.

ROSE: Er. No offense, Roxy.

ROXY: lmao none taken

ROXY: i cant even imagine all the ways id fuck up a kid in a timeline where i didnt sort out my drinking tbh

ROSE: Oh, you weren’t awful.

ROSE: I just have...

ROSE: How do you always put it, dear?

KANAYA: A Penchant For Melodrama

ROXY: well yeah

ROXY: ur dad made sure he got some of himself in u

ROSE: I suppose he did.

And then everyone in the room observes a moment of silence for their dear, departed friend, Dirk Strider. Except for John, who takes advantage of the solemn distraction to anxiously tap at his phone. He’d sent Terezi a text an hour ago, when Roxy was fixing her makeup in her compact. He’s not sure why he feels the need to hide the fact that he’s talking to her. It’s not like there’s anything untoward about what he’s doing. Just texting an old friend. What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, he thinks, as he closely monitors his silent, praying wife, ready to stash the phone in his pocket the moment she shows the slightest sign of movement.

She lifts her head to speak. He’s like Houdini with that phone.

ROXY: damn i still cant believe dirks gone tho

ROSE: Yes, it was so sudden.

ROSE: But the best we can do to honor him is simply to move on with our lives.

ROSE: I’m sure it’s what he would have wanted.

JOHN: huh?

John shoots Rose a weird look. She smiles back benignly, then goes to collect her troll daughter from her booster seat. She holds baby Vriska close to her chest and leans over to give Kanaya a kiss on the cheek. The precious grub is framed between them, and the two wives are ringed in a halo of pale light at the peak of this magical moment. It should be a beautiful image, but something about it roils John’s gut. Rose sits back down, cradles Vriska in one arm, and begins to unbutton the top of her shirt with the other. John instinctively finds something else to look at. Anything. His fidgeting hands will do.

KANAYA: Have You Two Thought About What To Name Your Grubs

ROXY: its just one grub lol

KANAYA: Oh Thats A Relief

KANAYA: Ive Actually Been Very Worried About Your Wellbeing Considering How Human Grubs Are Born

ROXY: errrr

ROXY: why

KANAYA: Well Dont They Have To Eat Their Way Out Of The Womb

ROSE: Kanaya...

KANAYA: Its What Karkat Told Me

ROSE: Karkat gets all his information on humanity from the movies. And Dave, which is even worse than the movies.

JOHN: wait a fucking minute.

JOHN: what MOVIES are they watching??

ROSE: Nothing too graphically misleading, I suspect.

ROSE: I equally suspect that any time there’s a human birthing moment on camera, Karkat probably turns away, too disgusted to watch, while Dave continues filling his ear with more lies about human biology.

JOHN: lol.

KANAYA: Then

KANAYA: I Was Given Inaccurate Information

ROSE: Yes.

KANAYA: Whew

ROSE: If that was true, how would our species have survived? We would have had a one hundred percent maternal mortality rate during childbirth.

KANAYA: Yes I Forgot How Primitive Medical Technology Was On Your Planet

KANAYA: Then How Are Humans Born

ROSE: Use your head for a moment, darling.

KANAYA: ...

KANAYA: ...

KANAYA: Oh I See

ROXY: lmao

JOHN: um.

ROSE: I’m sorry, John. All this girl talk must be making you uncomfortable.

JOHN: can we change the subject to something less gross and weird?

ROXY: pff

ROXY: wuss

JOHN: so...

JOHN: is vriska really the name you’re going with?

Kanaya gives John an inquisitive, wide-eyed look. As if there could be no conceivable reason for someone to ask this question.

KANAYA: Yes Of Course

ROSE: Why would we change her name when she’s nearly a year old?

JOHN: well it’s not like it would hurt or anything. didn’t kanaya just say she doesn’t have ears yet?

ROXY: omg john dont be rude

JOHN: i’m not trying to be rude!

JOHN: i just think it’s a little... weird.

KANAYA: I Dont See Why I Mean She Is Practically A Clone Of Vriska

JOHN: uh, yeah kanaya, i know.

JOHN: that’s why it’s weird!

ROSE: I appreciate your concern, John. But it’s not that weird to name a child after an important figure from your youth.

ROSE: What were you thinking of naming your own child?

John hesitates, adjusts his glasses for want of something to do with his hands. This is a conversation he’s been dragging his heels on for months. Back when Roxy first got pregnant it was all they talked about it, but now that she’s so close to the due date, all the subject does is make his pulse go shaky.

JOHN: um...

ROXY: harry anderson egbert

JOHN: roxy! we hadn’t...

JOHN: i mean, i didn’t think we were decided on that.

ROXY: i dunno you seemed p set on it

He was. What’s bugging him about it is that Roxy didn’t seem to have any suggestions of her own. Rose stops breastfeeding Vriska, and hands her off to Kanaya. She comes to sit beside John, setting a hand on his knee. She speaks kindly.

ROSE: Wasn’t that the guy from Night Court?

JOHN: yeah.

JOHN: which was...

ROSE: A show that reminds you of your father.

JOHN: ...

ROSE: I think that in this new world we’ve created, it’s important to carry the torch of what we’ve left behind us.

ROSE: We must name the next generation for the fallen heroes that we admire.

JOHN: wait. we ADMIRE vriska now?

ROSE: It’s true that Vriska was a controversial figure even at the best of times, but...

ROSE: She did defeat Lord English, John.

This remark seems to cure John of his shaky pulse problem, if only because for a moment his heart seems to stop beating altogether. It shocks him in a way that causes him to feel the planet turning under his feet. He whips his head up to look at Rose intently. She seems alert. Her gaze is precise. She doesn’t seem ill, or off, or confused at all.

JOHN: no she... didn’t?

JOHN: vriska didn’t defeat lord english.

Rose doesn’t say anything. No one says anything.

JOHN: rose, no one knows what happened to lord english.

ROSE: Of course we do. Vriska used the juju and her accompanying ghost army to defeat him.

ROSE: Why else would we be here?

JOHN: i don’t think that’s what actually happened though!

KANAYA: Then What Did Happen John

JOHN: i... i JUST said!

JOHN: no one knows!

JOHN: rose, come on... you’re the one who told me all this!

ROSE: I told you what?

JOHN: about a year ago. you were feeling bad, and asked me to come over.

JOHN: and then you gave me this big speech about canon, and being like, OUTSIDE canon, and NOT canon, and other shit like timelines, and fate and...

JOHN: and my anime dreams!

ROSE: That’s all in the past, John.

ROSE: Everything worked out in the end.

ROSE: Why are you getting so upset about this?

JOHN: you gave me a list of instructions and told me that i had to use my retcon powers to go back to a very specific point in time to defeat lord english when he was still just a kid.

JOHN: and you told me that i HAD to do this to... to validate the sequence of reality?

JOHN: but i didn’t.

JOHN: i was all ready to go. i... i thought i was going to die, honestly.

JOHN: but then YOU...

John swivels around to point a finger at his wife. It comes across as more accusatory than he means it to be.

JOHN: roxy, you and calliope told me that i had a choice!

JOHN: and i MADE my choice, which is why i ended up staying.

JOHN: but did it really all “work out in the end”?

JOHN: if i didn’t stop lord english, then... then...

JOHN: are we even really here at all???

The three gals in the room exchange a series of concerned glances. Do they truly think he’s crazy? Are they hiding something from him? John can feel himself trembling. It’s not possible that he’s remembering this wrong, is it? It can’t be. If he presses his eyes shut, he can still see the lines of the black hole cracking space apart around him. It seemed like such a big deal at the time, and then suddenly it felt like nothing at all. Why?

Roxy leans over and sets a cool hand on John’s forehead.

ROXY: u doin ok there babe

JOHN: i’m fine!

You’re the ones not doing okay, he nearly shouts, but then realizes it’s just going to make him sound crazier than he already looks. He brushes Roxy’s hand away and stands abruptly, looking woozy and sweating at the temples. His skin is tight and clammy, too hot and too cold all at once.

JOHN: i just... need some fresh air.

ROXY: want me to come with u

JOHN: no!

JOHN: i... i mean, no. i need a moment alone.

JOHN: i think i’m just getting those um, you know...

JOHN: new dad jitters!

JOHN: haha, that must be it.

ROXY: oh of course that makes sense

ROXY: take care of urself hon

John grabs his coat and sprints out of the hive. He vaults into the air and follows the breeze up, coasting over the treeline and out of the troll suburb that Kanaya and Rose have made their home in. Furiously, he begins typing on his phone.

JOHN: terezi. i know that you’ve got important stuff to do out there in paradox space, but i really need to hear from you.

JOHN: on my side it’s been months since we’ve last talked, and i can’t figure out if it’s because i said something wrong, or...

JOHN: if it’s because something terrible happened to you.

JOHN: things here on earth are...

John shuts his eyes for a moment and takes a deep breath. The breeze that rattles over the forest seems foul, somehow. Stale, like air that’s been recycled multiple times over.

JOHN: they’re not great.

JOHN: i mean, on the surface everything is fantastic! everyone’s so happy and it finally seems like we’re all making real progress as adults.

JOHN: but at the same time...

JOHN: everyone is also acting crazy!

JOHN: i feel like i’m the only sane person left in this entire universe.

JOHN: i’m the only one who seems to... care about anything?

JOHN: i mean, care about anything... BIGGER.

JOHN: bigger than like, what to name a baby, or who’s stuck in a terrible relationship with who.

JOHN: oh my god, this probably sounds so pathetic.

JOHN: terezi, i’m seriously pathetic.

JOHN: it’s so selfish of me to even be messaging you at all.

JOHN: i’ve got a beautiful wife who loves me, but it’s not enough. i can’t even talk to her about what we’re going to name our stupid kid without it turning into some weird thing where she just goes along with whatever i want.

JOHN: even when all i want is for her to want something different than what i want!!!

JOHN: ...

JOHN: ok, wait, i take that back. our kid’s not stupid.

JOHN: well, ok, he hasn’t been born yet, so maybe he’ll turn out to be stupid eventually. what do i know?

JOHN: anyway, the point is, i’m just popping off on random things at people who don’t deserve it, because i’m really upset right now.

JOHN: not at anyone in particular... probably just at myself.

JOHN: like, wow, can you believe how shitty i’m being right now?

JOHN: you could be dead for all i know, yet here i am begging for your attention even though my life is perfect.

JOHN: but i don’t know who else i can talk to. even rose is acting weird all of sudden.

JOHN: i guess what i’m trying to say is...

JOHN: you’re the only thing that still makes sense to me, terezi.

JOHN: right now i... i just really need you.

JOHN: please come make some sense at me...

John notices his fingers are shaking. He makes a conscious effort to keep them still, and exhales. Come make some sense at me? Good lord. He’s got to pull it together, before he blurts out something really embarrassing. He braces himself, as if splashing an imaginary glass of cold water in his own face, and reminds himself once again that he has a wonderful life. A perfect life. He’s HAPPY, god damn it.

He’s about to pocket his phone when he catches some movement at the bottom corner of the screen. It’s an indication that someone is typing.

He stops breathing until the text actually appears.

TEREZI: OK4Y LOS3R, T3LL M3 WH4T H4PP3N3D TH1S T1M3

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