Chapter

20

KARKAT: WOW, SURE FEELS WEIRD TO JUST BE HANGING OUT WITH ALL THESE ASSHOLES WE WERE TOTALLY GOSSIPING ABOUT JUST TWENTY MINUTES AGO.

Karkat is loudly whispering to Dave, leaning a bit too intimately into the curve of his chest for two dudes who are dating the same girl, but not each other.

DAVE: i always knew our gossip sins would catch up with us eventually

JADE: SHH both of you!!!

Jade brushes past them holding her dead teen-self under the armpits, while Jake brings up the rear, stripe-tighted ankles in hand. He shoots Dave and Karkat a big, toothy grin. Dave nods back. Karkat continues to look somewhat seasick, keeping his eyes high so that they don’t accidentally graze teen-Jade’s impaled chest.

Jake and Jade take the corpse up the winding, white staircase toward Jane’s bedchamber. The Crocker mansion is a dazzling maze of marble halls polished to a mirror sheen. It’s the kind of place where footsteps echo from one end of a floor to the other, and even the pillows are lined with literal silver thread. There’s a peaked skylight at the top of the foyer that splits the morning sun like a prism, spilling multicolored dots across every surface below. Amongst those dots are drips of teen-Jade’s blood. It’s so dark on the spotless tile that it looks nearly black.

Dave stays with Karkat by the door. They’re waiting to meet Rose, Kanaya, John, and an extremely pregnant Roxy, who all show up together with baby Vriska, who’s really been coming along in her metamorphosis cycle lately. She now has both aural cavities and opposable thumbs, and she’s making good use of the latter by reaching out to mash her hands against the face of any adult foolish enough to enter her range. She grabs one of Karkat’s little nubby horns when Kanaya passes by. He reacts pretty much the same way he would if it were actual-Vriska tugging on any part of his person. He flails and grouses, making a few strangled sounds of impotent rage. It gives everyone a good giggle on a dark and confusing day.

John hangs back with Karkat and Dave while the girls go upstairs.

JOHN: uh, hey. how are you guys doing?

DAVE: oh you know just enjoying a nice night out with our girlfriend when another teen version of our girlfriend plummeted out of the sky and bled all over our picnic pizza

JOHN: picnic pizza?

DAVE: yeah its like normal pizza except that you eat it while sitting on a tablecloth in the fucking grass

JOHN: oh cool. i’d never thought about doing that.

JOHN: i just bring sandwiches to my picnics like a dumbass.

JOHN: then again, the last time i went to a picnic, i ate...

JOHN: actually, never mind what i ate. but it sure wasn’t pizza.

DAVE: your loss bro its the only way to picnic out

KARKAT: STOP TALKING ABOUT PICNIC PIZZA YOU ASSHOLES.

KARKAT: THIS IS IN SUCH POOR TASTE.

DAVE: yeah hes right

DAVE: anyway like i was saying we were in picnic pizza heaven when fucking space tier jade from like

DAVE: i guess seven or eight years ago?

DAVE: basically face planted in a field next to our romantic tripledate

JOHN: damn.

KARKAT: YEAH, IT WAS PRETTY BAD TIMING.

DAVE: or extremely good timing

DAVE: i dont know yet

DAVE: the conversation was veering kinda

DAVE: you know

KARKAT: UGH

KARKAT: WE WERE IN THE “RELATIONSHIP REALTALK” ZONE.

KARKAT: ANYWAY, CAN WE STOP DWELLING ON THIS SHIT AND JUST GO UPSTAIRS?

As they ascend the staircase, they’re greeted by the horrible, bone-rattling sound of a toddler screaming its head off. In the room, little Vriska Lalonde is pulling on little Tavros Crocker’s thick black hair, while Jake Crocker laughs and scratches his head awkwardly. Jane looks quite irritated. Gamzee Makara-Crocker is at her side, serving as her ever-faithful shadow, holding her arm to steady her as she tries to revive teen-Jade’s corpse.

JANE: Jake!

Vitriol leaks from every letter of his name. John and Dave exchange a knowing look: who’s supposed to be the kismesis here, again?

JANE: Would you take Tavros out of here? Please?

JAKE: Well golly jane i just thought it would be invigorating for the boy to interact with someone else his age for once.

JANE: Well, he doesn’t need to do it in here. Especially not when I’m trying to work!

GAMZEE: HeY nOw ElIxIrTiTs, YoU oUgHt To ChIlL.

GAMZEE: YeLlInG aT yOuR mOtHeRfUcKiNg MaTeSpRiT iS...

GAMZEE: bAd FoR tHe BlOoD pReSsUrE, bAbE.

JANE: Oh, I’m sorry. Is a clown speaking right now?

JANE: It’s the darndest thing. I could have sworn I just heard a nearby, offensively odiferous clown offering some advice when no one asked for his opinion.

ROXY: woah janey u doin ok

Jane wipes perspiration off her face and sighs.

JANE: I... I don’t know.

JANE: I’ve just been under a lot of stress lately, trying to run my business, raise a child, and manage the political situation indirectly through various corporate machinations...

JANE: Jake! Why are the children still in here?!

JANE: Take them to the playroom. Now!

JAKE: Aye aye maam!

Jake scoops up the squabbling children and holds them as far apart as possible to stop Vriska from biting Tavros’s ear off. It’s just one of the unfair advantages she has over him and his blunt, human teeth. John and Dave part to let Jake go by. Quite sorry blokes, he whispers as he takes his leave.

Jane clutches her hands around teen-Jade’s thin shoulders, looking the corpse over with an expression of absolute sorrow.

JANE: I don’t know why, but I’m having an extremely difficult time reviving her.

JANE: Where did she even come from?

The living Jade shakes her head.

JADE: we have no idea

JADE: its like the sky just opened up!

KANAYA: Well Obviously She Is From Another Timeline

KANAYA: Darling Can You Perhaps Shed Some Light On This

Rose sucks on her lower lip. It takes her a moment to respond. Her fingers close around the neckline of her dress as her gaze sweeps across the room. She looks over each person present, but avoids making eye contact.

ROSE: I...

ROSE: I haven’t the faintest clue.

ROSE: It could be anything.

John quirks an eyebrow at her. She doesn’t sound confident. Not like she did a month earlier when she claimed that Vriska had defeated Lord English.

JANE: Well, something is blocking my Life powers.

JANE: It’s as if she has... a sort of poison in her. Not a literal poison, mind you.

JANE: If it were as simple a matter as there being something in her bloodstream, I could revive her lickety-split.

JANE: It’s deeper than that.

JANE: It’s like... a poison eating away at the very core of her being.

JANE: It’s attacking her on... perhaps this sounds crazy, but...

JANE: A metaphysical level??

JADE: huh?

JANE: What’s so odd is that not only can I not bring her back to life, she also, somehow, doesn’t feel entirely dead.

JADE: oh

JADE: i wonder if that has something to do with me?

JADE: like, being here???

JANE: How so?

JADE: well... all of our selves across infinite timelines are actually just one self right?

JADE: like... one ultimate self distributed across multiple bodies

JADE: so in multiple places and states at once

JADE: every jade that exists is like a light being shined through a thousand cracks in the timeline

JADE: but if were outside the place where that light is being split from...

JADE: maybe only one of us can exist

JADE: and thats why shes stuck in this horrible state :(

Roxy places her hand on Jade’s head and gives her a little scritch between the ears.

ROXY: i thiiiink that janey was just bein melodramatic jade

ROXY: its not ur fault

Jade reaches out to take her own corpse’s hand. She remembers being this age, being heartbroken, still newly godlike in her abilities, and on the verge of fighting a battle that could change everything. She can’t believe how young she looks.

JADE: what should we do with her?

Roxy claps her hands together.

ROXY: well

ROXY: hate to be the one who says what were all thinkin but...

ROXY: sounds like its time for another funeral lmao

JOHN: lmao??

JOHN: roxy, jade is dead, and you’re probably going to give birth within the week!

ROXY: yeah so we gotta start planning this one right now

JADE: ???

ROXY: cmon guys

ROXY: how longs it been since we were all together like this?

Roxy looks around the room searchingly with a big, bright grin. Karkat snorts from the far corner of the room where he’s been pouting the whole time.

KARKAT: I’M SORRY, WAS THAT A RHETORICAL FUCKING QUESTION OR WERE YOU GOING SOMEWHERE WITH IT?

ROXY: it was not rhetorical at all

ROXY: the last time we were all together was

ROXY: dirks funeral!

JANE: Roxy, at the time, we were mourning the death of a dear friend...

ROXY: i know right

ROXY: nothin like the death of someone we love to bring us all together again

ROXY: weve all been so busy with being pregnant and birthin a thousand trolls and the political situation that regulates the troll birthin...

ROXY: we dont even have time to catch up anymore :(

Jane’s eyes flutter wide beneath her spectacles. Unbidden, her gaze flickers to where Rose and Kanaya are standing shoulder to shoulder, very much in stable, devoted, interspecies Love. Kanaya catches that gaze, and holds it, for a very long, tense moment.

JANE: Um. Roxy...

Kanaya interrupts, tone clipped and dry.

KANAYA: Perhaps We Should Not Talk About That Particular Subject

KANAYA: If Your Concern Here Is That We All Continue To Be In The Same Room Its Probably Best We Avoid Bringing Attention To The Reasons That It So Rarely Happens

ROXY: aw cmon politics should never get between friends

KARKAT: UH, EASY FOR YOU TO FUCKING SAY.

Jade interjects, tiredly.

JADE: karkat... lets not ok?

JADE: i mean, not now?

KARKAT: LET’S NOT WHAT?

KARKAT: LET’S NOT TALK ABOUT THE GIANT FUCKING TRUMPET BEAST IN THE ROOM?

KARKAT: LET’S NOT TALK ABOUT HOW KANAYA, TEREZI AND I WORKED JUST AS HARD TO CREATE THIS WORLD AS ANY OF YOU, BUT OUR PEOPLE DON’T EVEN GET A SAY IN HOW THEY GOVERN THEMSELVES?

KARKAT: LET’S NOT TALK ABOUT HOW THE CRIMES OF ALTERNIA ARE HELD UP TO UNFAIR SCRUTINY ANY TIME A TROLL WANTS TO FUCKING DO OR SAY SOMETHING ON THE NEWS, BUT WE’RE NOT ALLOWED TO GENERALIZE HUMANS BASED ON THE WORST THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN YOUR HISTORY?

KARKAT: LET’S NOT TALK ABOUT HOW ALTERNIA WAS BASICALLY THE SACRIFICIAL FUCKING MILKBEAST UPON THE ALTAR THAT THIS UNIVERSE WAS BUILT ON, BUT YOU ALL ACT LIKE WE’RE SO LUCKY YOU DEIGNED TO ALLOW US TO EXIST ALONGSIDE YOU INSTEAD OF JUST LETTING US FUCKING DIE OUT THE WAY IT WAS INTENDED?

ROXY: um excuse you karkat but no one acts like that

KARKAT: OH? NO ONE???

Karkat pushes off from the wall, furious, practically spitting flames. He points at Jane, his whole arm quivering.

KARKAT: I LISTEN TO THE FUCKING NEWS, YOU KNOW. I’VE HEARD ALL THE ARGUMENTS, THE ONES BASED ON THE POLICY ADVICE YOUR CORPORATE THINK TANK FEEDS THE PRESIDENT.

KARKAT: DO YOU THINK THAT IT’S BEING BROADCAST AT A FREQUENCY ONLY HUMANS CAN HEAR OR SOMETHING? DO YOU THINK WE’RE THAT STUPID?

KARKAT: EVEN I CAN TELL THAT THE ATMOSPHERE IN THE TROLL KINGDOM IS CHANGING, AND I HAVE NEVER ONCE WILLINGLY HAD A CONVERSATION WITH MY NEIGHBORS. EVERYONE’S STARTING TO GET SCARED.

KARKAT: MORE THAN THAT, THEY’RE STARTING TO GET PISSED.

Jane folds her hands in her lap. Her voice is ice-cold, and varnished to a shine.

JANE: Is this meant to be a threat of future violence, Mr. Vantas?

JANE: I’m not sure menacing me is making the most compelling case for your political claims.

KARKAT: HOLY SHIT.

KARKAT: ARE YOU ALL FUCKING HEARING THIS?

JANE: Yes, Karkat, we are all most definitely hearing this. It’s somewhat unavoidable with you shouting it all at the top of your lungs.

KARKAT: SORRY, I THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE KIND OF DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO HEAR ME, WHAT WITH YOUR HEAD SHOVED ALL THE WAY UP YOUR *BIG*, **FAT**, ***ASS***!!!

ROXY: woah damn

Gamzee steps out from behind Jane, putting himself between her and Karkat. He raises his hands in a calming gesture

GAMZEE: hEy BrOtHeR cHiLl OuT

KARKAT: FUCK OFF GAMZEE.

GAMZEE: wOaH wOaH, kArKaT mY DUDE wHy ArE yOu AlL lAsHiNg OuT aNd ShIt?

GAMZEE: i ThOuGhT wE wErE mOtHeRfUcKiNg GoOd.

KARKAT: NO, WE ARE NOT “MOTHERFUCKING GOOD.”

KARKAT: WE WILL NEVER BE “MOTHERFUCKING GOOD.”

GAMZEE: yO c’MoN mAn I mOtHeRfUcKiNg ApOlOgIzEd AbOuT gOiNg AlL oVeRbOaRd WiTh ThE mAlIcE aNd MuRdEr AnD sHiT.

GAMZEE: a MoThErFuCkEr ReDeEmEd HiS mOtHeRfUcKiN sElF!

GAMZEE: Y’aLl CaN’t GeT sAlTy WiTh YoUr HoMiE nO mOrE. tHaT bE aLl ThE rUlE oF rEdEmPtIoN, mY bRoThErLy BiTcH.

KARKAT: I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY THE “RULES” ARE, DUDE.

KARKAT: I DON’T CARE IF YOU PROSTRATE YOURSELF AT MY FEET AND LICK THE FUCKING DIRT OUT FROM UNDER MY TOENAILS.

KARKAT: DON’T FUCKING TRY TO DO THAT BY THE WAY. I’M OBVIOUSLY BEING FACETIOUS. IF YOU ACTUALLY TRIED TO TOUCH MY FEET WITH YOUR DISGUSTING, ROTTEN SMELLING TONGUE I WOULD PROBABLY BE FORCED TO REACH DOWN MY THROAT AND PULL OUT MY OWN PUMP BISCUIT.

KARKAT: THAT WAS ALSO ME BEING FACETIOUS. MY POINT IS, DON’T TOUCH ME, DON’T SMILE AT ME, DON’T WINK AT ME, DON’T HONK AT ME, DON’T DO *ANYTHING* IN MY DIRECTION, GOT THAT?!

KARKAT: WE ARE *****NOTHING***** TO EACH OTHER, DO YOU FUCKING UNDERSTAND ME, “““““BROTHER”””””?????

Gamzee gets up from where he had been crawling across the floor in preparation for some righteous attritional toe sucking. He looks positively crestfallen.

GAMZEE: kArKaT... yO tHeRe’S gOtTa Be SoMeThInG i CaN dO.

KARKAT: NO.

KARKAT: NEVER IN THE WILDEST DREAMS OF YOUR SOPOR SOAKED PEABRAIN WILL WE BE “MOTHERFUCKING GOOD,” GAMZEE.

KARKAT: BECAUSE YOU’RE SLEEPING WITH THE GODDAMN ENEMY.

KARKAT: BECAUSE I STILL HAVE NIGHTMARES ABOUT WHAT YOU DID.

KARKAT: AND BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE FUCK YOU EVEN DID WRONG IN THE FIRST PLACE!

ROXY: woah ok karkat i get ur all fired up about politics and stuff but lay off gamz ok

JANE: Yes, can’t you see that he’s sincerely trying to have a redemption arc?

ROXY: i get if u dont wanna forgive him that totes your business

ROXY: but you gotta at least admit that hes makin an effort here

GAMZEE: hOnK.

KARKAT: THAT’S!!!

KARKAT: IT!!!!!!

Karkat points at Jane again, then at Roxy, and then at Gamzee.

KARKAT: FUCK YOU, AND YOU, AND ESPECIALLY YOU.

KARKAT: IN FACT, FUCK ALL OF YOU. I’M LEAVING!

Karkat whirls around to leave, but Dave tries to stop him, hands on his shoulders. Karkat wrestles out from his under his gentle grip, hissing. He jabs Dave hard in the clavicle, hard enough that Dave is forced to take a shocked half-step backwards.

DAVE: dude

KARKAT: WHAT PART OF “ALL OF YOU” DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND, STRIDER?

KARKAT: ARE YOU AS DEAF AS YOU ARE STUPID?

KARKAT: GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY WAY.

Dave folds out of the way, stunned and compliant. Jade gapes at her stunned boyfriend, and the empty space in the doorway left by her other boyfriend.

JADE: dave what the FUCK did you say to him downstairs?

DAVE: uh

DAVE: nothing?

DAVE: tbh i think hes been holding all that in for a while

Karkat leaves a stunned silence in his wake. Jane fuming silently to herself, Kanaya and Rose exchanging a knowing look about World Politics, John chewing his lip and mulling about how Karkat is probably right, and how if he were braver, he would have backed him up.

This unpleasant spell of poorly attuned togetherness is interrupted by Jake looking all toothsome and fatherly with Tavros asleep in his arms, and a placated Vriska riding his broad shoulders.

JAKE: By jove chaps what was all that commotion?

JANE: It was nothing, Jake. Go back to the playroom.

ROXY: no wait

ROXY: jake were havin another funeral

ROXY: we dont got much time so im appointing you officially third in charge of the planning committee

ROXY: after me and callie obvs

JOHN: oh my god, roxy, are you really serious about this funeral idea?

ROXY: yeah why wouldnt i be?

JOHN: christ.

JOHN: i’m all for like, honoring the memory of this departed version of teen jade we barely know, but...

JOHN: you’re SO pregnant!

ROXY: yea im pregnant as shit but i dont see anybody else steppin up to the plate

ROSE: Roxy, I understand the sentiment, but are you really sure it’s...

ROSE: Appropriate?

ROXY: yup

ROXY: its even more appropriate now

ROXY: after all the bullshit thats happened we need a good bash for the sake of team unity

KANAYA: I Admit To Still Being Ignorant Regarding Many Aspects Of Human Culture

KANAYA: But A Funeral Is Not What I Would Call

KANAYA: “A Bash”

ROXY: lmao thats cuz youve got no imagination kanaya

ROXY: well make sure its lit AF right jake

JAKE: Golly i do love me a good soiree no matter the circumstance.

JAKE: Id be chuffed to the nines to be your third man on this one rox.

ROXY: then its official

ROXY: this time next week well corpse party like its the end of the world!

ROXY: er

ROXY: again!!

JOHN: ...

ROSE: ...

DAVE: ...

KANAYA: ...

Jane pushes up her spectacles so that she can pinch the bridge of her nose.

JANE: How is it that no matter how hard I try to keep the foolishness in my life confined exclusively to my romantic partners...

JANE: I invariably find myself surrounded by clowns regardless?

GAMZEE: hOnK.

> ==>
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