EPILOGUE FIVE

Chapter

22

TEREZI: H3Y JOHN

TEREZI: T1M3 FOR YOUR R3GUL4R CH3CKUP H3H3H3

JOHN: oh. hey.

TEREZI: “OH H3Y”

TEREZI: PR3TTY T3P1D R3C3PT1ON FROM 4 GUY WHO H4S 1N TH3 P4ST B3GG3D D3SP3R4T3LY FOR 3V3N 4 SCR4P OF MY 4TT3NT1ON

JOHN: i’m glad to hear from you. it’s just... i dunno, a lot’s happened recently.

JOHN: i’m sort of numb from all of it.

TEREZI: SO T3LL M3 4BOUT 1T

JOHN: what are you my therapist now?

TEREZI: NO 1M JUST 4 S1MPL3 G1RL WHO LOV3S TH3 T4ST3 OF YOUR SUFF3R1NG

TEREZI: 1M SO HUNGRY OUT H3R3 4LON3 1N P4R4DOX SP4C3 JOHN

TEREZI: PL34S3 NOUR1SH M3 W1TH YOUR P4TH3T1C M1DL1FE 3NNU1

JOHN: it’s not midlife ennui!

JOHN: i’m not even thirty yet, come on.

JOHN: also... um.

JOHN: i’m married? so... yeah.

TEREZI: LOL

TEREZI: WH4T DO3S TH4T H4V3 TO DO W1TH 4NYTH1NG

JOHN: err...

JOHN: nevermind.

JOHN: so what’s up with you?

TEREZI: OH S4M3 OLD S4M3 OLD

TEREZI: WH4T 4R3 YOU DO1NG R1GHT NOW

JOHN: oh. i’m at harry anderson’s birthday party.

TEREZI: SOUNDS 1MPORT4NT

TEREZI: M4YB3 1 SHOULD L3T YOU GO TH3N

JOHN: no!

JOHN: i mean... it’s fine. i can talk for a bit.

TEREZI: 4ND L34V3 H4RRY 4ND3RSON H4NG1NG?

TEREZI: WOW 3GB3RT

TEREZI: YOUD TH1NK 4N 3LD3RLY M4N L1K3 YOU WOULD KNOW MOR3 4BOUT D3CORUM TH4N M3, 4 ROWDY YOUTH!

JOHN: harry anderson is basically just a baby who doesn’t understand anything.

JOHN: a baby, kind of like YOU.

TEREZI: >:]

TEREZI: SO WHOS H4RRY 4ND3RSON?

JOHN: oh! that’s me and roxy’s son.

TEREZI: OH COOL H3 GOT BORN

JOHN: yeah terezi. he got born like three years ago.

TEREZI: 1TS B33N TH4T LONG?

TEREZI: WOW

JOHN: yeah, wow is right. where the hell have you been?

TEREZI: LOST

JOHN: lost... how?

JOHN: like literally, physically lost?

JOHN: or metaphorically lost.

TEREZI: BOTH 1 GU3SS

JOHN: terezi...

TEREZI: OH NO

TEREZI: DONT YOU D4R3 US3 P1TY1NG 3LL1PS3S 4T M3 JOHN 3GB3RT

JOHN: sorry! it’s kinda hard not to when every time you go i have no idea if i’ll ever talk to you again.

TEREZI: OK YOUR3 OBV1OUSLY NOT 1N 4 PL4C3 TO T4LK R1GHT NOW

TEREZI: 1 D1DNT CONT4CT YOU B3C4US3 1 W4NT3D TO D34L W1TH YOUR W33PY S3P4R4T1ON ANX13TY

TEREZI: HOW 4BOUT 1 M4K3 TH1S 34SY FOR YOU 4ND JUST LOG OFF

JOHN: no, please don’t go!

JOHN: i’m sorry for being all... human and weepy.

JOHN: i’m actually in a pretty ok place for once, i think?

TEREZI: C4LM DOWN 1 W4SNT F1N1SH3D

TEREZI: L1ST3N... 1LL T3XT YOU B4CK 1N F1V3 M1NUT3S

TEREZI: TH4TLL G1V3 YOU SOM3 T1M3 TO 3MOT1ON4LLY PROC3SS THE H4RROW1NG 3XP3R13NC3 OF 4CTU4LLY H34R1NG FROM M3 4G41N >:]

JOHN: promise me it’ll only be five minutes?

TEREZI: WHY?

JOHN: because i worry about you!

JOHN: i just don’t want you to leave me hanging for another year, making me wonder if you’re dead.

JOHN: please??

TEREZI: UGH!

TEREZI: F1N3

TEREZI: 1 H3R3BY SOL3MNLY SW34R UPON TH3 BOOK OF DUMB N33DY LOS3RS TH4T 1 W1LL T3XT YOU 1N *3X4CTLY* F1V3 M1NUT3S

JOHN: whew. THANK you!

TEREZI: OK 1TS F1V3 M1NUT3S L4T3R

TEREZI: DONT T3LL M3 4NOTH3R TWO SW33PS H4V3 P4SS3D

JOHN: nah, just a couple of weeks.

JOHN: oh boy, what a couple of weeks though.

JOHN: you would NOT believe what’s happening right now.

TEREZI: H4V3 1 3V3R NOT B3L13V3D WH4T W4S H4PP3N1NG WH3N YOU S41D 1 WOULDNT?

JOHN: no, but to be fair this one is especially wild.

JOHN: here wait, let me take a picture.

-- JOHN EGBERT sent TEREZI PYROPE the photo “ghostrain.jpg” --

TEREZI: WH4T TH3 4CTU4L FUCK

JOHN: it started a few days ago. the sky above the capital of the troll kingdom just cracked open and ghosts began raining down everywhere.

JOHN: actually, now that i think about it, i guess it started three years ago when a dead teen version of jade fell from the sky and crashed into the ground during a picnic.

TEREZI: HUH

JOHN: that only affected our group though. this whole thing with the troll ghosts has been a *huge* international incident.

JOHN: the political situation surrounding trolls was already tense enough without adding a gigantic population of immigrant ghost trolls to the mix.

TEREZI: W41T, WH4T H4PP3N3D?

JOHN: um, well... because of what we know about alternian history...

JOHN: the government decided it was probably a bad idea to let trolls reproduce freely, especially considering how different our planet is from alternia.

TEREZI: 1 SUPPOS3 TH4T M4K3S S3NS3

TEREZI: W1THOUT ST4T3 S4NCT1ON3D CULL1NG, TH3 TROLL POPUL4T1ON WOULD QU1CKLY DOM1N4T3 TH3 PL4N3T

TEREZI: 4ND 34RTH C DO3SNT STR1K3 ME 4S TH3 SORT OF PL4C3 TH4T WOULD T4K3 K1NDLY TO 4 LOT OF CULL1NG

JOHN: yeah. that was part of the government’s official argument.

JOHN: “it’s either this, or culling.”

JOHN: but it didn’t stop there.

JOHN: also a bunch of laws have been passed that restrict the kind of jobs that trolls can have. like, they’re not allowed to serve in the government or rise past a certain rank in the military. they can’t even be judges!

TEREZI: G4SP

JOHN: i know. it’s pretty bad here.

TEREZI: CONS1D3R1NG TH3 GO4L 1S TO L1M1T TH3 SPR34D 4ND 1NFLU3NC3 OF TROLLS, TH1S 4LL S33MS L1K3...

TEREZI: QU1T3 4N 4LT3RN14N SOLUT1ON

JOHN: well... jane is sort of a key political player now.

JOHN: she’s not “in” the government, exactly. but she has so much money she may as well BE the government.

JOHN: her company can do basically whatever it wants. and it seems more and more like what it wants is to make sure the politicians are saying exactly what it wants them to say.

TEREZI: H4

TEREZI: 1 4LW4YS SUSP3CT3D SH3D B33N SW4Y3D BY TH3 COND3SC3 MOR3 TH4N SH3 3V3R L3T ON

JOHN: yeah. i guess she was.

JOHN: although... i dunno, for some reason it doesn’t feel right to me.

JOHN: i KNEW a grown-up version of jane. she was my nanna.

JOHN: i never met her until she came back as a sprite. but she just seemed like a kindly old grandma who liked to play pranks.

JOHN: not a...

TEREZI: G3NOC1D3 F4N?

JOHN: not even close!

JOHN: i just can’t believe how fast everything deteriorated.

TEREZI: DONT T3LL M3 3V3YON3S JUST T4K1NG TH1S LY1NG DOWN

JOHN: of course not! kanaya and rose are both heavily involved in grassroots activism right now.

JOHN: and karkat...

JOHN: he’s gone completely off the grid!

JOHN: at first we all assumed that the reason he ran away was because he got fed up with his shitty poly relationship.

JOHN: which was probably part of it, honestly. but now i keep seeing his face on all the resistance posters!

JOHN: i think they may have actually put him in charge?

TEREZI: H3H

TEREZI: 1 4LW4YS KN3W H3 H4D 1T 1N H1M

JOHN: yeah!

JOHN: dave’s heartbroken though...

TEREZI: WHY DO3SNT D4V3 JUST GO 4ND JO1N H1M TH3N

JOHN: i don’t know.

JOHN: he worries about jade i guess?

TEREZI: J4D3 WOULD B3 F1N3

TEREZI: SH3S TH3 MOST R3S1L13NT OUT OF 4LL OF YOU

JOHN: sigh. you know how dave is.

TEREZI: Y34H

TEREZI: LOY4L TO 4 F4ULT

JOHN: yeah. he...

JOHN: oh my god.

JOHN: holy shit, hang on. i gotta take another picture.

-- JOHN EGBERT sent TEREZI PYROPE the photo “PBandJ.jpg” --

TEREZI: ...

TEREZI: WH4T TH3 FUCK 1S TH1S?!

JOHN: heheheheh.

TEREZI: DONT TYP3 YOUR L4UGHS 4T M3 4FT3R TR1CK1NG M3 1NTO LOOK1NG 4T TH1S 4BOMIN41TON

JOHN: i thought you might find it interesting. :-)

TEREZI: WHY WOULD 1 *3V3R* W4NT TO S33 G4MZ33 M4K1NG OUT W1TH T4VROS 4G41N???

JOHN: again?

TEREZI: UGH D1SGUST1NG

TEREZI: 1N PUBL1C 4ND 3V3RYTH1NG

JOHN: oh, it’s always in public.

JOHN: this is how gamzee helps people have their “redemption arcs.”

TEREZI: BY M4K1NG OUT W1TH TH3M???

JOHN: well, not always. sometimes he has them make out with each other. usually he just feeds them milk out of that stupid baby bottle he keeps with him all the time.

JOHN: i think it’s supposed to be like, some completely idiotic form of baptism he made up.

TEREZI: >:?

JOHN: anyway, speaking of tavros.

JOHN: what do you think about the morality of kidnapping someone if they’re really unhappy and possibly also being abused?

TEREZI: UH

TEREZI: WH4T

JOHN: ok, so like, if you kidnap someone and the situation you’re kidnapping them into is way better than the one you kidnapped them out of, that’s not morally wrong, right?

TEREZI: JOHN

TEREZI: 4R3 YOU TRY1NG TO G3T M3 4LL 4FLUST3R3D W1TH SUCH H1GHLY ILL3G4L SW33T T4LK

JOHN: um, no.

JOHN: ...

JOHN: ARE you flustered?

TEREZI: 1 M1GHT B3, 1F 1 THOUGHT YOU WOULD 4CTU4LLY BR34K TH3 L4W

JOHN: hey, i could totally do it!

TEREZI: 1LL B3L1EV3 1T WH3N 1 SM3LL 1T

JOHN: ok, i guess i’m gonna do it then!

TEREZI: SUR3

JOHN: i’m totally going to do it! next time we talk, it’ll be me telling you all about my successful and highly illegal kidnapping venture.

TEREZI: WH4T3V3R YOU S4Y

TEREZI: 4NYW4Y, N1C3 HUDDL3 3GB3RT, BUT 1 H4V3 TO GO

JOHN: wait!

TEREZI: WH4T

JOHN: you’re going already?

JOHN: you barely said anything!

JOHN: you just listened to me ramble on about earth c’s problems.

TEREZI: 1SNT TH4T HOW TH3S3 CONV3RS4T1ONS USU4LLY GO

JOHN: um.

JOHN: yeah, i guess it is.

JOHN: but it doesn’t have to be like that, you know.

TEREZI: HMM

JOHN: so.

JOHN: what’s going on with you?

TEREZI: D1D 1T OCCUR TO YOU TH4T M4YB3 TH3 R34SON 1 C4LL YOU 1S B3C4US3 1 W4NT 4 BR13F R3PR13V3 FROM “WH4TS GO1NG ON W1TH M3”?

JOHN: oh.

JOHN: yeah, that makes sense.

JOHN: i just don’t want you to feel that you’re like, my psychiatrist or whatever.

TEREZI: AWW TH4TS CUT3

TEREZI: DONT WORRY 4BOUT M3 JOHN

TEREZI: 1F YOU W3R3 BUGG1NG M3 1D JUST STOP T3XT1NG

JOHN: well...

JOHN: cool. if i’m not bugging you, then... can i ask a favor?

TEREZI: 1TS C3RT41NLY W1TH1N YOUR POW3R TO 4SK M3 4 F4VOR

TEREZI: 1 C4NT PROM1S3 TO FULF1LL 1T

JOHN: ugh, now i feel even dumber for what i’m about to ask.

JOHN: i don’t know if i even wanna do it now.

TEREZI: 4RGH! OUT W1TH 1T 3GB3RT!

JOHN: ummm...

TEREZI: F1N3! 1LL DO 1T, WH4T3V3R 1T 1S

TEREZI: JUST SO YOU C34S3 TH1S M4DD3N1NG N3RDBOY 1NS3CUR1TY

JOHN: ok, ok!

JOHN: uh...

JOHN: can you...

JOHN: take a selfie?

TEREZI: WH4T

JOHN: and... send it to me?

JOHN: oh my god, i probably sound so creepy right now.

TEREZI: 4H4H4H4H4H4H4

JOHN: hey, don’t laugh!

JOHN: look, it’s just that... after all the talking we’ve done over the years...

JOHN: you’re pretty important to me, terezi. and with everything getting so weird, i’ve been getting scared lately.

JOHN: so in case things go to shit over here, or things go to shit wherever you are...

JOHN: i just want to make sure i have something to remember you by.

TEREZI: OH

JOHN: so will you do it?

Terezi doesn’t answer, which is what John was expecting. He frowns and pockets his phone, blinking at the sudden brightness above him. The sky is ripped open in a dozen places, spilling ghosts and razor shards of unreality. John shields his face against the neon glare and scans the park for his family. Roxy and Calliope usually come listen to Gamzee preach, and John’s long since grown tired of trying to talk them out of it. The best he can do at this point is tag along to make sure that young Harry Anderson isn’t hearing all this utter nonsense without the tempering influence of his skeptical father. It’s the responsible, adult thing to do.

Well, it would be the responsible, adult thing to do if John were actually doing it. Instead, he just spent the last ten minutes surreptitiously texting Terezi under the hem of his suit jacket. Now he’s lost track of his wife, his son, and his wife’s sort-of-ex-girlfriend in the enraptured throng of all these brainless clown worshippers. The crowd is mostly ghosts, but there’s a substantial number of carapacian and human citizens out here tonight as well, straining to get a good look at the newly “redeemed” acolytes.

John’s eye wanders toward the center of the crowd’s focus. Looks like a conversion is taking place right now.

GAMZEE: NoW We wElCoMe iNtO ThE DoPe aRmS Of mOtHeR ReDeMpTiOn tHiS lOwLy PeNiTeNt WhO’s AlL kInDs Of SoRrY aBoUt HiS pAsT dEeDs.

ERIDAN: oh yeah im vvery redeemed

FEFERI: )(mm are you s)(ore?

ERIDAN: fef you dont believve me

ERIDAN: wwhat do i havve to fuckin do crawwl on the fuckin ground at your feet

ERIDAN: snortin and snufflin at your shoes like a mushroom sniffin porkfiend

ERIDAN: sizin up those covvetous swweaty delicacies stuffed wwithin

ERIDAN: like a couple of premium shrimp loavves garnished wwith ten exquisite pygmy soiree wwieners

ERIDAN: im a wworm fef

ERIDAN: im the lowwest of the wworst

FEFERI: Okaaay. If t)(at’s really )(ow you feel, i guess i can... accept your apology.

GAMZEE: NiIiIiIiCe.

GAMZEE: NoW tHiS iS wHaT i’M tAlKiNg AbOuT. AlL tHiS fOrGiVnEsS aNd ShIt Up In ThE mOtHeRfUcKiNg HoUsE.

GAMZEE: aFtEr AlL, wHaT’s A lItTlE

GAMZEE: MURDER

GAMZEE: BeTwEeN mOiRaIlS?

FEFERI: I guess t)(at’s true! It )(appens to t)(e best of us. 38)

GAMZEE: YoU bOtH aRe So ClOsE tO tHe ReDeMpTiOn NoW.

GAMZEE: fIrSt, A LiTtLe RiGhTeOuS sPlAsH oF tHe NaNnA nEcTaR tO cLeAnSe ThAt DaNkNeSs FrOm YoUr SoUlS...

Gamzee takes out a baby bottle and flicks it, covering them both with little drops of milk, as clergy does with holy water. He then takes a swig from the bottle himself before returning it to his codpiece.

GAMZEE: NoW...

GAMZEE: kIsS, mY mOtHeRfUcKeRs.

FEFERI: Ummmm...

ERIDAN: FINALLY

ERIDAN: pucker up fef and plant one on me

FEFERI: 38\

ERIDAN: you gotta its the rules

GAMZEE: tHe MoThErFuCkEr’S rIgHt.

GAMZEE: It AlL bE fUcKiN cRiTiCaL tO bOtH yOuR rEdEmPtIoN, tO kIsS aNd MaKe Up :o)

FEFERI: Sig)(. If it’s for redemption, t)(en...

FEFERI: Very well.

ERIDAN: oh fuck yeah

ERIDAN: RUB A DUB DUB COME GIMME A GLUB!!!

John makes a disgusted face as Gamzee grabs the two trolls by a horn each and mashes their faces together. One of them looks extremely into it. The other... not so much. John would have been transfixed by the spectacle for longer if his phone didn’t start buzzing in his pocket again. He fumbles it out of his coat and checks.

-- TEREZI PYROPE sent JOHN EGBERT the photo “H3R3.JPG” --

He looks around, then presses “accept,” embarrassed to realize how fast his heart is beating. Before he can look at the photo, a familiar voice breaks through the din of the crowd.

ROXY: yo john

ROXY: over here hon!

John puts his phone away quickly. Roxy’s holding Harry Anderson up on her shoulder. John can see his son’s face, grinning and bright-eyed, bobbing above the crowd. He returns the smile and starts to make his way toward his wife.

Just then, a dark shadow passes over the park. The crowd falls silent as they raise their heads to watch a drone ship pass by overhead. Its design is insect-like, splitting into many jagged branches, each decked out with weapons and cameras. It’s completely silent, and encased in armor with a bright red finish, smooth and seamless. It’s often cited by Jane as the crown jewel of Crockercorp’s various military contracts with the government.

John reunites with his family and takes Harry Anderson from Roxy. The toddler buries his face in John’s chest to escape the horrible sight crawling across the sky above them. Calliope clasps her hands together and stares at the ship with a terse expression.

CALLIOPE: it’s getting less and less UnUsUal to see those in the troll kingdom, isn’t it?

JOHN: yeah.

JOHN: i can’t help but think the government’s getting ready for something big.

ROXY: lmao you worry too much

ROXY: janeys got her head on straight shell show you yet

JOHN: ugh, let’s not talk about this right now.

ROXY: yea ur right

ROXY: its gettin late anyway we should head home

ROXY: see you next week callie?

CALLIOPE: oh. yes. always, roxy.

That night, after he and Roxy put Harry Anderson to bed and Roxy retires to their room for the evening, John goes to his office and prints out the picture of Terezi. He doesn’t have any nice photo paper to put it on, so it comes out too dark with the colors all smeared. He scrubs the printer history settings when he’s finished.

When his anxiety is assuaged, he flops down in the spinny chair at the center of the room and studies the picture. Terezi doesn’t look that much different from how he remembers her—a little more worn, maybe, thinner and older and more tired, but it’s her. She’s smiling, and holding up her hand in a cheeky wave that suggests neither a greeting or a farewell. The light from the phone screen is reflected in her glasses. John can’t see her eyes.

He folds the picture into quarters and slips it into his wallet, behind Harry Anderson’s baby photo. Then he turns off the light and goes to bed.

> ==>
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