Chapter

23

ROXY: honey u ready to go?

JOHN: yeah, sweetheart... give me a second!

John finishes fixing his tie in the bedroom mirror, taking a moment to check the hallway door in the reflection. Roxy hasn’t come looking for him, which is good because he’s still got a few things to prepare and he’d rather she didn’t see the items he’s about to pull out of their closet.

He hasn’t told his wife what he’s planning, because he doesn’t want to be talked out of it. Typically he rankles at the prospect of spending time with Jane and her family. So Roxy was surprised when he agreed to hold Harry Anderson’s fifth birthday party at Jane’s mansion. But she didn’t question him about it. In fact, all she did was tip her head at him and blink a few times, her long eyelashes catching the light, making her eyes look like mirrors. It was disconcerting for reasons that he couldn’t put his finger on. It’s not like Roxy had ever been argumentative, exactly. He just seems to remember someone from his youth who was somewhat more contrarian in spirit than this person he’s married to now.

Back when they were dating, John thought she was acting a little off. Not quite in a bad way, but perhaps a little too “in love,” too fast. At least she still seemed like herself most of the time. But since the wedding, every year that goes by, she seems to become just a little more conciliatory. Not just toward him but toward life in general. She indulges Harry Anderson liberally and almost thoughtlessly. She doesn’t care that her best friend is slowly turning into an executive overseeing the corporate arm up the puppet ass of a ruthless dictatorship. She still thinks Gamzee is being sincere about all this “redemption” bullshit, even though he’s been casting an increasingly dark and hungry shadow behind Jane: a malicious royal vizier to her burgeoning imperial persona. John’s been frustrated with it in a quiet, guilty way, because he loves his wife. And even more than that, he loves their son. When he doesn’t think too hard about all this stuff, it seems perfect.

But sometimes John can’t help but lie awake at night, staring at the dark ceiling until he loses the grip on his “perfect life” entirely. He starts to fear that if he closes his eyes, he might reopen them to discover it was all an illusion: Harry Anderson, Earth C, Lord English’s alleged “defeat”... or maybe, stretching even further back than that. The trolls, the game, everything important and exciting that’s ever happened to him. Was it all a lie? Like some big prank?

No... at least some of it had to be real. Dave, Jade, and Rose are real. Their friendship is real. At least, it used to feel that way. He needs to believe it still is. And what about Terezi? She’s real too, and John’s got that picture to prove it, burning a hole in his wallet. Yet he keeps it there, because at least that feels like something. It’s the same feeling that makes him do subtle things to push against his wife’s placid demeanor. He never quite tries to start a fight. But at this point, he wouldn’t mind having one either. At least it might help reassure him that she’s real too.

If she doesn’t get upset after what he’s about to pull today, then...

John doesn’t know what he’ll do.

He goes to the closet and unhinges the bottom of the drawer where he keeps all of his identical blue ties. In this secret compartment are some tools: graphene wire, a multi-tool screwdriver, molding plaster... John’s so focused on finding places in his coat to hide all these things that he doesn’t hear footsteps behind him.

HARRY ANDERSON: dad... what are you doing?

John spins around, startled. It’s just his kid, though, already looking uncomfortable in his tweed jacket and knee socks. John kicks the closet door closed. He already has everything he needs anyway.

JOHN: just getting your gifts, harry anderson! it’s your birthday after all.

HARRY ANDERSON: ...but i already opened all the gifts from you and mom.

HARRY ANDERSON: dad... are you telling a fib?

JOHN: ummm...

John ruffles his son’s hair and shoots him one of his patented Egbertian winks. He decides then and there that a good father wouldn’t need to keep any secrets from his son. No, a good dad will always let his son in on the joke, no matter how much trouble he might be about to get himself in.

JOHN: harry anderson, don’t tell your mother but...

JOHN: we’re getting a new addition to the family today!

It’s little Tavros Crocker who opens the door to Jane’s opulent mansion. He’s still so short that he has to stand up on his toes to reach the knob. He stares up at his visitors with a serious expression, the prescription on his spectacles distorting the size of his pupils so that they look like big, wet, depressing sinkholes. John’s heart wrenches at the sight of him. He’s so young, but he always looks so somber and sad.

TAVROS: Oh,,, hallo folks,

TAVROS: You’re a mite early don’t you think?

JOHN: um, nope!

DAVE: actually

Dave and Jade materialize behind everyone, he in a pressed red suit, she in a glittering Space dress. They’re both holding gifts wrapped in spare printer paper. Dave adjusts his sunglasses and smirks at Harry Anderson.

DAVE: you were exactly thirty seconds and like sixty eight nanoseconds early

ROXY: oh eff off dave

ROXY: ur gettin even cornier than john and youre not even a dad

DAVE: idk my guy harry over there seems to be enjoying my material

HARRY ANDERSON: heh heh it’s like you’re a living atomic clock!

DAVE: man i love this kid

DAVE: what kind of five year old is into atomic clocks

DAVE: damn every time i see him i just wanna pinch his cheeks and tell him about what things were like when i was his age and shit

JADE: heheheh if you like kids so much dave why dont you just BUY one?

DAVE: uh jade i know that what you think you were doing there was like

DAVE: smoothly inserting the idea of us one day adopting kids into the conversation

DAVE: but what you actually just described is literal slavery

DAVE: which is both illegal and bad

JADE: sigh......

JADE: maybe YOURE the one whos illegal and bad

JADE: ever think of that???

DAVE: nope never once crossed my mind

DAVE: anyway john roxy you heard the lady can we buy your kid

JOHN: no! he’s not for sale.

TAVROS: Um,,, do you all want to come in or not,,,?

Tavros has been waiting patiently for the adults to finish talking the whole time, like he always does. He leads everyone inside with a stoic countenance more befitting of a footman than the firstborn son of the planet’s wealthiest family.

ROXY: sooo

ROXY: wheres ur mom and dad

TAVROS: They’re still in,,, uh,,, auspistice counselling,,,

TAVROS: W, with,,, uncle gamzee,,,

JADE: oh woof

DAVE: woof is right

HARRY ANDERSON: hey tavros! is vriska here?

TAVROS: Er,,,

JOHN: unfortunately, harry anderson, rose and kanaya aren’t on speaking terms with your aunt jane and uncle jake anymore.

HARRY ANDERSON: why not?

Roxy sighs loudly through her nose. She hates talking about this shit.

ROXY: cuz of the political situation

HARRY ANDERSON: what’s... a political situation?

TAVROS: Mother has been advising the human government that they should do their best to,,, uh,,, exclude trolls from the seats of power in all branches of public service and,,, uh,,, aunts rose and kanaya don’t like it because some of the legislation in the works could,,, erm,,, delegitimize their marriage,,,,,,,

HARRY ANDERSON: um... i have no idea what any of that means, ha ha.

The adults exchange confused looks. It’s more than a little jarring that this five-year-old kid seems so well educated on the intricacies of xenophobic political policy. But then again, this is Jane’s son, they remind themselves.

TAVROS: Anyway,,, wh, why would you WANT vriska to be here,,,?

TAVROS: Why ruin a nice birthday party?

HARRY ANDERSON: um duh... cause she’s super fun!

TAVROS: She’s not fun,,, she’s mean,,,,

HARRY ANDERSON: yeah, to you, cause you’re a wuss.

ROXY: harry anderson egbert!

JOHN: don’t call other kids wusses!

DAVE: hey whats even wrong with being a wuss

DAVE: harry my dude you need to unplug from toxic masculinity

HARRY ANDERSON: from... what?

DAVE: what have you been teaching this kid

JOHN: dave, sometimes i really can’t believe this is the adult you chose to become.

ROXY: its actually great isnt it

JOHN: yeah, i guess so...

Dave ruffles Harry Anderson’s hair. It’s nice that Dave is so woke and great with kids, but that really does invite the question of why he and Jade don’t have any yet. There’s still something sad and wistful about Dave at the moment, as he pointedly avoids letting Jade take his hand while they’re led into the game room. Jade and Dave still laugh and trade barbs with each other like old friends, but there’s something disconcertingly sterile about it. John can’t help but think about the last time they were all together like this in Jane’s mansion, and the look on Karkat’s face when he stormed out of the foyer.

Everyone settles down in the game room except Tavros, who stands by the door with his arms folded behind his back as if waiting to be ordered around. Harry Anderson is opening his gifts from Jade and Dave when a door upstairs slams open so hard it rattles all the crystal glasses arranged on the nearby table.

JANE: You are such an unbelievable dunce, Jake English!

JANE: I can’t believe that I work so hard and have to come home to your feckless tomfoolery every day!

JANE: My goodness...

JANE: What gives you the right to talk to me that way?

Jake’s side of the conversation is too far away to hear, but Gamzee’s unmistakable mush-mouthed voice floats down the hallway between the sharp edges of Jane’s shrieks.

JANE: And you’re not even... you’re not even proficient in bed anymore!

JANE: What is even the POINT of you if...

GAMZEE: HeY hEy.

GAMZEE: cAlM yOuR tItS bAbY.

JANE: SILENCE, CLOWN.

Tavros stares at his feet, wearing a strained expression.

TAVROS: It’s fine,,, my parents are kismeses after all,,,

Jane storms downstairs. Her guests are completely silent as the sound of her heels echoes down the hall. She steps into the room, her face still twisted in rage and disgust. The moment her eyes fall over her gathered friends, however, her expression changes like someone flipping a switch. She smiles, looking cordial and perfectly pleasant, fluttering her lashes like there’s nothing in the world more important to her than being an excellent host.

JANE: Oh. Hello everyone.

JANE: I’m sorry that I was not able to greet you at the door. I had some pre-appointed business to attend to.

JANE: I trust that Tavros led you all inside without trouble?

TAVROS: Yes ma’am,,,

JANE: Good boy.

Jane pats him on the head as she goes by, patronizingly, like you’d pet a dog. Or Gamzee.

JANE: Harry Anderson, my dear!

HARRY ANDERSON: auntie jane!

Jane stoops down to her knees and throws her arms open. Harry Anderson bolts across the room and throws himself into her ample chest, nuzzling into her cheek as she laughs and ruffles his hair fondly. John turns his head aside so that no one sees the queasy face he’s making. Jane is, unfortunately, Harry Anderson’s favorite aunt. She gained his affection the same way she gains everyone’s affection: she fucking bought it.

JANE: Look at you! You’ve gotten so big and strong since I last saw you!

HARRY ANDERSON: i grew a whole three inches!

JANE: Yes, I can see that. You’re going to be quite the strapping young man before we know it.

JANE: Since it’s your first milestone birthday, I’ve instructed my staff that you are to be spoiled like a little prince today!

JANE: Right now they’re finishing off your cake. It’s a recipe I invented just for you!

HARRY ANDERSON: gosh!

JANE: And I’ve got your present all wrapped up too!

JANE: It’s too big to keep in the house, however, so after cake and tea we’ll go see it in the backyard.

HARRY ANDERSON: you’re the best, auntie jane!

JOHN: oh no...

JOHN: jane. please don’t tell me you commissioned one of those drone thingies for my son.

Jane rises to her feet, huffing.

JANE: And if I did, John, what would be the problem with that?

JOHN: um...

JANE: Are you saying that you don’t want to assure your son’s safety? In troubled times such as these, one can never be too careful.

JOHN: roxy, back me up here honey.

JOHN: there’s no way you’d be ok with that, right?

Roxy fiddles with one of her earrings and casts her gaze around the room, looking at every and any thing but her husband. Dave and Jade have also developed a profound interest in the patterns woven into the expensive carpet under their feet.

ROXY: er

ROXY: well i cant say im comfy with it but

JOHN: but???

ROXY: janey means well john and itd be rude to just refuse a gift from my bestie like that

ROXY: besides ur just ASSUMIN she got harry anderson an imperial drone

ROXY: she never said that was what it was

ROXY: did u jane

JANE: ...

Jane’s tight-jawed silence confirms that she did, indeed, have a literal instrument of government oppression crafted for their son on the momentous occasion of his fifth birthday. John has to pinch his nose and practice controlled breathing to keep himself from getting mad for real. Getting in an argument right now would totally fuck up all his plans.

JOHN: ok. fine. you know what?

JOHN: i don’t care.

ROXY: rly

JOHN: yeah! it’s... it’s whatever. i get it. jane’s just trying to show that she cares.

JANE: You know I do adore little Harry Anderson.

JOHN: what i DO care about, however, is that cake.

JOHN: and not eating it, i mean.

JANE: Excuse me?

JOHN: nothing personal, jane, it’s just that i’m not the biggest fan of cakes.

JOHN: instead, i was wondering if maybe i could go visit the trophy room? you know, the one where jake keeps all the memorabilia from that dumb show he used to be on?

JANE: You mean “Poppin n’ Hoppin’ Pistol Lockin’ With Jake English”?

JOHN: no.

ROXY: or do u mean “doing the charleston with notable social figureheads: stars versus enemies of the state with your host jake english”

DAVE: that ones still running isnt it

JANE: Unfortunately, yes.

JOHN: um, yeah... that’s DEFINITELY not the one i was talking about.

JADE: oh! you probably mean “afternoon gilly gaffy amongst the common folk with your host j. gishy gun mcgee”

JOHN: no, god! these all sound so bad.

JOHN: i mean the one with dirk!

DAVE: dude

JANE: You mean the classic prime time program, “Rumble in da Pumpkin Patch”?

JOHN: yeah! that one!

JADE: ew... why do you wanna go look at stuff from rumble in da pumpkin patch???

JOHN: why not?

JADE: i dunno, it just seems kind of morbid with dirk dead and all, dont you think?

JADE: also that show was REALLY gross

JADE: i support jake in whatever he does but it was so... so.....

DAVE: sweaty

JADE: yeah!

JOHN: i dunno. i just feel like it was an important cultural milestone, and i missed it all by being mopey and depressed for like five years straight.

JOHN: so what do you think, tavros? wanna show me all about your dad’s glory days?

Tavros blinks up at John in surprise.

JANE: Oh, I can take you there, John.

JOHN: NO!

JOHN: i mean... no, that’s fine.

JOHN: i’d like some time to get to know my nephew.

JOHN: or, uh... cousin?

JOHN: ecto brother?

JADE: omg dave i just realized that when we get married thatll make john and rose siblings in law

JADE: which is funny since i guess john is technically already your father in law

DAVE: yup thats totally what our friendgroup needs

DAVE: to be even more incestuous

HARRY ANDERSON: what does incestuous mean?

ROXY: it means that everyones rly good friends harry anderson

ROXY: just a dumb fancy word for bffs

ROXY: its a big hard word for grownups tho so feel free to unknow it now sweetie

DAVE: oh yeah

DAVE: thats totally it

TAVROS: Um,,,,,

JOHN: hey tavros.

JOHN: let’s go, buddy!

John sets a hand on Tavros’s back and pushes him out of the room. When they’re upstairs together, far enough away from the party, Tavros wrenches his hands together and asks:

TAVROS: Uncle john,,, what’s the real reason we’re up here,,,?

JOHN: oh. i could see that you were getting uncomfortable.

JOHN: you don’t like being around big crowds like that, do you?

TAVROS: ,,,

JOHN: but you don’t like to be alone, either?

TAVROS: ,,,,,

JOHN: well, not in this house at least. i wouldn’t want to be alone here either. it’s not a very nice place to live, is it?

TAVROS: I’m,,,, uh,,,, not sure i understand your meaning, uncle john.

JOHN: here, come with me.

John grabs Tavros by his chubby wrist and begins dragging him around a corner, from one featureless white hallway into another.

TAVROS: This isn’t the right way,

JOHN: i know. hey tavros, why don’t we just go to your room for a minute?

TAVROS: Oh,,,

Tavros tugs on John’s hand and leads him back a few steps. With his free hand, he pushes a door open, revealing a large, tidy bedroom. Four-poster bed, perfectly arranged bookshelf, not a single toy out of place or on the floor; the room obviously belongs to a five-year-old judging by the colorful wallpaper and irreverent, clown-themed bedsheets, but there’s nothing in it to suggest individualized expression of a developing personality.

Tavros sighs, his facial expression unchanging. He looks resigned. To life in general, as well as whatever it is he’s expecting from this particular situation. Wait... what is he expecting from this situation, having been led away to a secluded part of the house by an adult? What has he been taught to expect?

JOHN: tavros...

JOHN: is everything ok?

TAVROS: ,,,

TAVROS: Yes, uncle john,,,

TAVROS: Why do you ask?

JOHN: you just seem...

JOHN: i don’t know.

JOHN: sad?

TAVROS: I feel okay,

TAVROS: It is a happy day, after all,,, it’s harry anderson’s birthday,,,

TAVROS: There is good reason to be happy,

JOHN: yeah.

JOHN: but what about YOU.

JOHN: are you ACTUALLY happy about it?

JOHN: about... everything going on here?

TAVROS: I suppose,,,

TAVROS: My mother tends to get displeased when i’m unhappy, so,,,

JOHN: sigh.

John walks a little further into the room, inspecting the surroundings. He can hardly find a single fault. Not a wrinkle in the sheets, nor a... John looks down. He takes a step back to set his foot on the part of the floor he just stepped on. He lifts it again, with some tacky resistance tugging at the sole of his shoe. The floor is sticky here, like the floor of a movie theater. He bends down to touch it, and give it a sniff. Just as he thought. Faygo.

JOHN: tavros... does gamzee ever come into your room?

TAVROS: Possibly,,,?

TAVROS: He so often is found to be in,,, so many places,,,

John glances under the bed, then sees it. A half-finished bottle of Faygo.

JOHN: isn’t that his faygo there??

TAVROS: Oh,,, my, no,

TAVROS: Please, uncle john,,, don’t tell my mother,,,

JOHN: tell her what??

TAVROS: The faygo is mine,,, my uncle gives it to me sometimes,,, my mother strictly forbids it, of course,,,,,

John nervously ponders this response, and everything about the boy’s life it could be implying. He takes a deep breath, and becomes very serious. He places a hand on Tavros’ shoulder, and looks him directly in the eye.

JOHN: tavros, listen to me.

JOHN: are you... getting... bad touched by your uncle gamzee?

Tavros seems taken aback by the question. Then appears thoughtful.

TAVROS: Oh,,, uh,,,,

TAVROS: No??

TAVROS: But, yes,,, i can gather how you might draw that conclusion,,,

JOHN: you can?

JOHN: why?

TAVROS: It just seems like a thing that would eventually happen to me, does it not?

A look of sadness washes over John’s face. A sadness deeper than either kind he could summon for the previous two funerals he’s attended.

JOHN: what would make you say that?

TAVROS: Well, i think,,,

TAVROS: For the same reason that led you yourself to wonder, uncle john?

TAVROS: He is a very,,, very bad clown uncle,,, but i think i am not allowed to say or think such a thing,,,,,

JOHN: why not?

TAVROS: Because,,, uncle gamzee has undertaken his redemption arc,,,

TAVROS: With a spirit of great sincerity, i’ve been told,,,

TAVROS: So,,,,, the truth is, no matter how i may feel about him,

TAVROS: Mother tells me that he is not actually bad,

TAVROS: And therefore,,, anything he does cannot truly be considered bad either,

TAVROS: Otherwise, we are not respecting his repentance,

TAVROS: Or the others he has saved,,,

Tavros sighs again. John makes no effort to disguise his look of grave disapproval and sorrow.

TAVROS: I don’t want you to worry,,, too much, though,

TAVROS: His occasional sojourns in my room are not of any especially ill intent,,, i don’t think,

TAVROS: He has told me in confidence that his intention is to train me,,,,,

JOHN: TRAIN you???

TAVROS: Yes,

TAVROS: In matters of combat,,, philosophy,,, life,,, love,,,

TAVROS: I suppose to behave the way a mentor does, as he sees it,,,

Anger wells up in John anew. He gets to his feet in a flurry—a literal one. A gust of wind whisks through the room, clattering open the closet door and rustling a perfectly arranged stack of papers off the desk. They flutter through the room like dead leaves caught in an autumn storm. Soon the room is howling with his sustained winds.

JOHN: that’s IT!!!!!

JOHN: tavros, start packing right now.

TAVROS: Packing,,,?

JOHN: yeah. one bag with some of your clothes, your favorite toys and books, that kind of thing.

TAVROS: I don’t understand,,,

JOHN: tavros. i have to get you out of here.

JOHN: *NOW*.

TAVROS: Uh,,, what?

JOHN: i’m going to take you away so that you can live with me, harry anderson, and your aunt roxy.

JOHN: you wouldn’t have to live here anymore. no more being alone all the time.

JOHN: no more weird troll maids, or listening to your parents fight...

JOHN: and no more “uncle” fucking GAMZEE.

TAVROS: That does sound jolly good uncle john,,,

JOHN: then what are you waiting for? start packing!

TAVROS: Well,,, i would, except that we can’t go out without tripping the security,,,

TAVROS: Mother has taken great precautions to make sure i never,,,,,,,

JOHN: don’t worry, kid. i came prepared.

John produces his screwdriver and a length of wire from the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

JOHN: we’re leaving through that window, one way or another.

Tavros takes in a sharp breath before spinning on his heel and stumbling toward his closet. John catches the ghost of a smile on his face before he turns and that’s all it takes to turn the pounding of his heart from terrified to thrilled. Yes, what he’s about to do will probably send shock waves through their already fragmented friend group. But Jane’s the one who started it. She brought this on herself.

John starts opening the window, using all the tricks he’s memorized from tutorials on the deep web to bypass the security bolt. He whistles to himself, thinking about how happy Tavros is going to be with him, Roxy, and Harry Anderson. Jane barely even seems to like the kid. But Jake does. Jake loves him, even though he was totally trapped into this unhappy relationship because of the pregnancy. So it seems to John the only way to save Jake from this unspeakable prison is to subtract the only thing he cares about.

Roxy will be mad at first, but John is certain that she’ll... she’ll what? Acquiesce? Is that really what he wants? He considers with a sense of guilt how exhilarating it would it be if she finally fought him on something. John starts laughing to himself when the window pops open suddenly. No alarm goes off. The deep web was right.

Fresh summer air rushes in and fills John’s lungs. His head swims with the giddy, high feeling of being on the verge of getting away with some shit. Wow, is this why people commit crimes? It feels so good. He can’t wait to tell Terezi that he’s done something so BOLD and 1LL3G4L. He starts laughing louder. Tavros is laughing too, quiet and cautious at first, but picking up steam as he begins to taste the sort of freedom he never allowed himself to imagine.

John turns, shocked to see Jade standing in the bedroom doorway. She looks like a shadow with her dark hair hiding her face. John can’t tell what kind of expression she’s making under there. She speaks softly.

JADE: john...... what are you doing?

JOHN: um...

JOHN: nothing!

JOHN: just, uh... fixing this damn broken window, is all.

She twitches her dog-ears and raises her face. Her mouth is a neutral line, but her eyes are burning furiously.

JADE: i heard everything

The two of them stare at each other for a long time. John isn’t sure how he’s supposed to read this moment. He used to know Jade better than he knew anyone, but in recent years she’s passed him by, just like the rest of the world. Tavros is cowering in his closet, fiddling with the strap on his backpack.

JOHN: so, what are you going to do?

JOHN: tell jane?

Jade flinches like she’s been hit. She flicks her tail, breaks eye contact.

JADE: john...

JADE: i wouldnt do that to you

JADE: youd probably end up on jakes stupid execution dance off show

JOHN: then are you gonna help me?

She shakes her head.

JADE: i cant do that either

JADE: you know that this is just going to make everything worse right???

JOHN: jade, i don’t know where you’ve been these past few years, but i don’t think things CAN get any worse!

JOHN: i mean, even today, jane was up here hollering at jake about how his dick doesn’t work right when she KNEW we were all waiting for them downstairs!

JADE: i know...

JADE: but all youre going to do by kidnapping him is piss everyone off

TAVROS: Excuse me dearest aunt but,,, is it kidnapping if i badly would like to go?

JOHN: see!

JADE: siiiiiigh

JADE: i understand where youre coming from but i dont think youve actually thought this through

JOHN: yes i have, because i’ve been planning it for years.

JOHN: i know that i’ve been pretty, um... flakey in the past?

JOHN: but this is really important. i know what i’m doing.

Jade sighs in frustration and pushes back her bangs.

JADE: john, jane is one of the most POWERFUL people on the ENTIRE PLANET!!!

JADE: do you REALLY think that you can keep him away from her if she wants to get him back???

JADE: im sorry but you just dont know them like i do

JOHN: if you know them so well, jade...

JOHN: then you know why i have to do this.

JADE: im on your side here! i know that jane hasnt been the best parent...

JADE: but stealing somebodys child???

JADE: there has to be another way :/

A gust of wind blasts in through the window and blows back Jade’s hair, leaving it all mussed over her shoulders. John points at her.

JOHN: if there was another way we would have found it by now!!!

JOHN: but there isn’t one, because everyone’s been all... brainwashed by marriage, or whatever the hell happened over the last few years that made things be this way!

JOHN: it’s like everyone just talks past each other all the time!

JADE: john...

JOHN: i’m the only one who ever seems to realize that something...

JOHN: that something’s WRONG!

TAVROS: I would really be chuffed if the two of you,,,

JOHN: even you, jade!

JOHN: you’re not listening to me right now!

TAVROS: ,,,would stop quarreling and listen to me for a spell,,,

JOHN: that’s why karkat left!

JOHN: because you didn’t listen to him!

JOHN: just like you don’t listen to dave!

JADE: what the fuck, john?!

JADE: this isnt about me and dave

JOHN: yes it is!

JOHN: i mean, not directly, but cosmically, yeah it is!

JADE: cosmically?????

JOHN: you KNEW that dave and karkat were in love with each other, but you went ahead and totally messed with their relationship anyway!

JADE: wh... what!

JOHN: jade, don’t pretend you have no idea what happened.

JADE: i.... i cant believe.....

JADE: john thats such a low blow!

JADE: you dont know the first thing about me and daves relationship!!!

JOHN: i know more than you think i do!

JOHN: i know that you pressured them into that whole relationship.

JOHN: i know that they both hated it, and only went along with it because they care about you and felt obligated!

JOHN: and jade, i love you, but honestly, how does that make you any different than jane?

JADE: im nothing like her!!!

JOHN: well, you’re nothing like the jade i used to know either!

The wind in the room picks up. It skates against the walls, dislodges books from the shelf, gets under the bedsheets and balloons them off the mattress.

JOHN: the jade i used to know was caring and selfless! all you ever wanted was for your friends to be safe!

JOHN: you weren’t this... this SELFISH!

JADE: oh? is that what this is about john??

JADE: you dont like it now that im not some helpless princess in a tower anymore???

JADE: you dont like that im doing things for MYSELF now?????

JOHN: what the hell are you talking about?

JOHN: seriously, jade... i don’t even know who you are anymore!

JADE: well!!!

JADE: i can certainly say the same for you right now!!!!!

TAVROS: Aunt jade,,, uncle john,,, you should really, uh,,,,,,

John and Jade stop. There is another shadow cast in the doorway. A much darker one.

JANE: Excuse me.

She says in a sugar-sweet voice.

JANE: But what the FUCK is going on in here?!

TAVROS: Oh,,, no,,,,,

JADE: jane!! haha!!!

JADE: we were just

JANE: Hollering at each other so loudly that everyone in the darned house can hear you?

JOHN: oh, like you’re one to talk.

JANE: John, I know that we have not been as close in recent years as we were in the past, but I would like to think that at the very least our familial relationship would make it so that you felt you could talk to me face to face if you think that my method of parenting is insufficient.

JOHN: are you sure?

JOHN: do you really want to know what i think?

JADE: oh no........

JANE: Please, John. Illuminate me.

A lash of wind whips from window to door and down the hall in time to meet the rest of the partygoers, now including Jake Crocker himself. They’ve all come upstairs to investigate the noise. Tavros flinches when a book slams against the closet door, two inches from his face.

ROXY: wats going on

DAVE: oh shit

JOHN: i don’t know, jane. i feel like if i really speak my mind here, it might be dangerous.

JOHN: how do i know you won’t have the secret police come and arrest me in the night?

JANE: Excuse me?

JOHN: that’s where this is all going, right?

JOHN: your whole... thing with the trolls?

JANE: If you have something to say, then say it plainly, John.

JOHN: fine.

JOHN: i don’t think that you had bad intentions to start out with, jane.

JOHN: in fact, i think that you probably honestly thought that you were doing what was best for the world.

JOHN: you’ve always been a perfectionist, right? but over the last few years you’ve morphed into a complete control freak!

JOHN: and it all started with your relationship with jake.

JOHN: you forced him into a relationship when dirk’s corpse wasn’t even cold!

JAKE: (Er i would like to point out... )

JANE: I’m sorry, but you’re calling me a control freak? Dirk was the control freak.

JANE: After he died, I distinctly remember loosening up, in fact!

JANE: I let go! I was actually RELIEVED to hear he died!!!

ROXY: uhh

ROXY: janey wut

JANE: Okay, that was a misleading statement. What I really meant was—

JOHN: jane, you’re missing the point!

JAKE: (...that jane and i were involved in a romantic dalliance at the time of his death...)

JOHN: dirk is dead. this isn’t about him anymore.

JOHN: you’re the one cheering the government along as it marches toward genocide!

JANE: John, I hardly think you’re qualified to opine on the nuances of the current political situation, thank you very much.

JOHN: ha! is that how you talk to your husband too?

JANE: He’s actually, at the moment, my kismesis. And if Jake didn’t want any of this, he shouldn’t have knocked me up.

JAKE: Hello chaps i am right here.

JOHN: oh yeah, like that was suuuch an accident.

JOHN: can you honestly say that he wanted any of this!

The wind rises with the pitch of John’s yelling, turning Tavros’s bedroom into a miniature tempest. The gale upends the bookshelf, snaps open the toy box, and sends all the debris spinning in every direction, smashing against the walls and bedposts. John doesn’t seem to notice, encased in his own cyclonic armor.

DAVE: oh my god i am so sick of all this domestic relationship shit every fucking day

DAVE: can we talk about something else for once

JOHN: yeah dave, i’m sick of it too!

JOHN: that’s my point!!!

DAVE: ok

DAVE: then john can you just

DAVE: stop all this windy shit at least

JOHN: no! i can’t!

JOHN: i can’t stop, because i’m not the problem!

JANE: Are you saying that I’m the problem? That’s extremely reductive.

JOHN: ok, yeah, there are lots of problems!

JOHN: but i’ve got to say, jane, you kind of ARE the problem?

JOHN: a lot of this awful garbage revolves around you!

JOHN: you’re the one always selling everybody on gamzee’s “redemption arc,” which is TOTAL BULLSHIT!

JOHN: putting him on billboards, organizing “redemption rallies,” and, and...

JANE: John, the people need something to believe in, if we are to live in an organized society. You simply wouldn’t understand.

JOHN: and letting him... letting him sleep in your and jake’s bed!

JOHN: and feeding him that... that weird MILK all the time!

JOHN: UGH!!!

JANE: Hey! My relationship with my loyal auspistice is none of your business, let alone who it is I decide to share a bed with.

JOHN: isn’t it?!

JOHN: you sure go out of your way to shove it in everyone’s face!

JANE: John, that is just uncalled for.

JOHN: it’s bullshit, jane!

JOHN: it’s!

JOHN: all!

JOHN: BULLSHIT!!!!!

The wind surges again. The window bangs open so hard that it smashes against the pane, sending shards of glass whipping through the storm. Everyone cowers from the rain of sharp projectiles. John catches what he’s doing when he sees how terrified the kids look. He shuts his eyes and digs his fingernails into his palms, doing everything in his power to calm himself down.

When he opens his eyes again, the room is completely destroyed. Tavros is all the way in his closet, clinging white-knuckled to the edge of the door. Everyone else is clustered around the doorway. Jade stares at John with a dark expression. After a beat of silence, Harry Anderson starts crying.

JOHN: i... i...

Roxy won’t meet his eyes. Dave won’t either. John turns to Tavros, opens his mouth to apologize, but the kid just ducks deeper into the closet, trembling.

JOHN: i’m sor—

JANE: No one wants to hear it, John.

John staggers back a few steps, toward the broken window. His vision is blurring beneath a pool of angry tears that he can’t hold back anymore. He wipes his face with both hands, all sloppy and clumsy, the way he used to cry when he was a kid. He doesn’t open his eyes again until he’s jumped through the open window. The sky outside is dark.

He flies higher and higher, high enough that the air starts to get thin and chilly. Up here, the Human Kingdom looks so small. He can see the sun setting over the curvature of the Earth, a brilliant arc of orange and red. It’s like looking down at a little toy city, a ship in a bottle. That’s what the world feels like now: a tiny, fake model planet living inside a bubble. Look too hard, and the illusion cracks around the edges. Like the black hole in John’s anime dreams. There’s a trembling in his hands that he hasn’t felt in years. He looks up at the glimmering stratosphere and imagines piercing through it. Would that pop the bubble, he wonders? Or would he go hurtling through space, forever?

He’s contemplating that—just flying up as far as he can, until he flies into the sun or stops existing or whatever—until he realizes that his phone is buzzing in his pocket. He takes it out, almost drops it because of how cold his hands are. His breath is frosting in the air as he looks at the screen. The color of the text sends a jolt through his blood. With shaking fingers, he answers the text.

TEREZI: JOHN

TEREZI: 4R3 YOU TH3R3

TEREZI: 1 R34LLY N33D TO T4LK TO SOM3ON3 R1GHT NOW

JOHN: yeah. me too.

> ==>
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