Ten years have gone by.
Two minutes before midnight, a teenage boy crosses beneath the neon lights of the Trollish slums, stepping quick and sure-footed atop the cracked pavement as if this is a path he’s walked many times. He’s got on a coat two sizes too big and a brimmed hat pulled down to hide his distinctive buck-toothed grin. Above him, Jane Crocker’s face beams out from a holographic propaganda display, reminding the populace that curfew is in fifteen minutes.
This boy would like to say that he’s too cool and daring to care about curfew, but the sound of Jane’s cloying, prerecorded voice rising above the noisy streets sends an involuntary shiver down his spine. Luckily, the girl he’s come to meet does not suffer from the same instinctive Jane-based anxiety. She doesn’t have many fears or inhibitions at all. About a block from where they usually meet, she swings out of an alleyway and yanks him in by his elbow. He lets loose a shrill, unmasculine noise right into her mouth before she shuts him up with a kiss.
After a few minutes of extremely novice make-out action, Harry Anderson and Vriska part, both wet-mouthed and short of breath. Harry Anderson wipes a bit of blood off of his bottom lip. Vriska pokes him in the chest and hisses.
VRISKA: What took you so long????????
HARRY ANDERSON: hey, give me a break here vris. my auntie has guards breathing down my neck day and night.
VRISKA: Ugh. How’d you get out this time?
Harry Anderson rolls his eyes. He has beautiful eyes. He’s a pretty successful combination of his parents’ genes, all things considered. He’s got his father’s infectious grin, his mother’s long eyelashes, and his “auntie’s” unusually blue eyes.
HARRY ANDERSON: fucking gamzee.
HARRY ANDERSON: he was all like:
HARRY ANDERSON: Yo HaRrY mY dAwG, yOu Go OuT aNd GeT yOuRsElF uP a SlIcE oF tHaT pRiMe BeEf VrIsKeT, mY oNe TrUe HoMiE. lOvE iS wHaT mAkEs ThE mOtHeRfUcKiNg EaRtH sPiN oN iTs AxIs. ThAt, AnD bEiNg PoLiTiCaLlY nEuTrAl, BrOtHeR.
Vriska doubles over laughing at Harry Anderson’s impressively spot-on imitation of Gamzee’s mulish lilt and vaguely lewd posture. Harry Anderson starts giggling too. He can’t help it. She’s so pretty and her laugh is both cruel and infectious.
HARRY ANDERSON: god! he always makes sure to point out that he’s politically neutral in literally every sentence that comes out of his mouth, even though he’s *definitely* still fucking my aunt.
VRISKA: Ugh, so l8me.
VRISKA: This is all so l8me!!!!!!!! All in all, such a Deeply Unsatisfactory state of affairs!
HARRY ANDERSON: yeah. i hate sneaking around like this. i wish i could see you every day.
HARRY ANDERSON: or even, like, tell my mom that i have a girlfriend so she can stop pestering me about it.
Vriska hooks two fingers under the hem of Harry Anderson’s shirt and reels him in close.
VRISKA: In thaaaaaaaat case...
VRISKA: Why don’t we run aw8y and join the rebellion together, Harry Anderson? Wouldn’t that be Terribly Rom8ntic????????
VRISKA: We could be wild rebels in love, like Karkat and Meenah!
VRISKA: Isn’t their story GR8? I get so inspired thinking about it.
HARRY ANDERSON: oh, i don’t know if i could pull that off vriska... i don’t really have the, y’know, rebellious *stature* of someone like karkat vantas.
VRISKA: Pffft, ahahahahahahahaha. He’s Extremely Short in real life, you know!
HARRY ANDERSON: i don’t know if that’s actually true? i think it might just be something people assume because of, y’know, his personality. like he’s overcompensating or something.
HARRY ANDERSON: i mean, i don’t *remember* him being that short.
VRISKA: Oh yeah? The last time you saw him you were like three years old. Get real, Harry Anderson!
HARRY ANDERSON: oh? and when’s the last time *you* saw him?
HARRY ANDERSON: ha ha! :p
Vriska shoves Harry Anderson. Not playfully. He hits the bricks behind him with a soft ‘oof,’ then keeps laughing.
HARRY ANDERON: oh my god, vriska, you always talk so big but you’re not any more of a rebel than i am!
VRISKA: Oh shuuuuuuuut up. You don’t know shit, Harry.
VRISKA: My moms are totally gonna get me a Prime Commission in the Resist8nce when I turn sixteen!!!!!!!!
HARRY ANDERSON: yeah yeah, whatever you say.
VRISKA: It’s TRUE!
VRISKA: But until then, guess we’ll never know whether it’s an official f8ct that Karkat is short or not.
HARRY ANDERSON: i guess so!
HARRY ANDERSON: but anyway i wasn’t talking about his height. i was talking about the eyepatch.
HARRY ANDERSON: i mean, i believe in troll rights and everything...
VRISKA: Um, I should HOPE so.
HARRY ANDERSON: ...but not enough to lose an eye over it.
Vriska snorts at him condescendingly.
VRISKA: Don’t be ridiculous Harry.
She pushes him up against the wall again and kisses him hard.
VRISKA: If we really do end up absconding from our mediocre Hot Teen Lives to become rebels, then OBVI8USLY I’m going to be the one with the Extremely Dashing And Sexy eyepatch. H8h8h8h8h8h8h8h8!!!!!!!!
ARADIA: hmm its getting pretty bad down there
SOLLUX: wh0 cares.
SOLLUX: this is 0fficially s0mething we d0n’t care ab0ut, right?
ARADIA: i dont know
ARADIA: is it
JADE: this world is inconsequential.
ARADIA: well there you have it
Aradia lies with her chin in her palms and looks over the edge of the meteor station. Under the shade of night, the cities of the Troll Kingdom form a twinkling filigree over the rocky landscape below, a hundred rivers of gossamer lights in all the colors of the hemospectrum. Jane’s fleet is so massive that it blots out the lights of the capital. Is this what Alternia looked like from the sky as well? Aradia lived far from the city, and that all seems so long ago anyway. Sollux comes to stand by her, popping open a can of fizzy drink.
ARADIA: karkats really going to fight that war isnt he
SOLLUX: i didn’t think he had it in him, but apparently all it takes f0r him t0 bec0me the her0 he was meant t0 be was f0r things t0 get extremely fucking stupid.
SOLLUX: like, WAY m0re stupid than usual.
ARADIA: it really is too bad hes reaching this heroic apotheosis of his in a world that doesnt matter
JADE: please do not mistake the essence of my words for indifference.
JADE: when i said that this world was inconsequential, i was talking objectively. we’ve moved far beyond the realm of canon relevance, but on a subjective level we can view this world as a glass bubble.
JADE: fragile, solitary, with a surface uncracked.
JADE: the actions, struggles and feelings of its inhabitants are certainly not inconsequential to them.
JADE: while abstracted heavily, and fully freed from all forces of narrative gravity, these events still represent possibilities that slept within the hearts of all who reside here.
Sollux tosses Aradia a can of fizzy drink. She catches it without looking, cracks it open and takes a long, refreshing sip of the hissing liquid.
ARADIA: in that case i guess we should keep watching
On Earth C, months go by at a breakneck pace. Teens fall in and out of love and hate. Alliances change, revolutions fully germinate, wars commence. And somewhere within that mess, John Egbert is the best man at Jade and Dave’s wedding. He lasts nearly two hours before he gets a ruinous case of the sniffles.
The event is being held semi-clandestinely in the mansion of one of Jake’s wealthy television exec friends, staged as a “reunion party” for whichever one of his old, stupid television shows people get nostalgic about these days. It’s a smokescreen meant to throw the human government off the scent of political radicals like Rose and Kanaya partying just twenty miles from the seat of power. Jake claims there’s no way they’ll find them, but John sometimes gets the feeling that the whole planet’s bugged. After nearly ten years of unfettered monetary interference in the upper echelons of the global hegemony, could something like this possibly fly under Jane’s radar? It can’t, right? John likes to think she’s not so far gone that she’d tip off the government to send troops to arrest her friends and family on the occasion of her ecto-daughter’s wedding.
So he smiles his way through his best man duties, then smiles his way again through the gallows-humor speech Rose gives at dinner, backlit by the flames of the Imperial Drone factories churning away on the horizon. He wears a possibly genuine expression for a few moments as he dips down to give Jade a kiss on the forehead. She looks beautiful in her dress, and Dave doesn’t look especially uncomfortable beside her. There is still joy to be found on the eve of a war, Rose says in her speech, but John found precious little to be happy about in this world even before everything went off the fucking chain. He is conspicuously unaccompanied. Not alone, of course: he’s been put in a honored seat at the head of the wedding party with Jade to his left and Rose to his right. But Jade is with Dave, and Rose has Kanaya and their daughter, and everyone knows that John has lost his family to Jane Crocker.
Well, not literally to Jane Crocker. What drove Roxy away was him being depressed and just an all-around huge wet blanket who was impossible to live with. John is totally ready to own the fact that he was a bad husband, but maybe not the fact that he was a bad enough husband to drive his wife to passively support a brewing genocidal dictatorship. She looks happier, though, whenever he’s caught sight of her behind Jane—Calliope faithfully at her side—in any of the propaganda broadcasts that Jane passes off as business press conferences. By the time Roxy finally cut things off between them, he hadn’t personally seen her smile in years.
John has no idea how Harry Anderson is doing, but he definitely caught Vriska texting him under the table when he got up to get another flute of champagne. She’s texting Tavros in another window, which is weird, but probably not as weird as John craning his neck to read messages over a teenage girl’s shoulder. The idea that Rose’s shitty daughter has more contact with his son than he does makes his eyes start to itch. He wanders out onto the ballroom balcony so that no one else has to see him cry for a second time tonight. It’s a balmy evening, and John can smell the oil burning at the forge across the harbor.
There’s someone else occupying the balcony already, and it’s not one of the party guests. A shadow, standing with its back to the ocean, arms crossed, gaze fixed firmly on the ballroom windows. John takes a step closer and immediately recognizes Karkat’s nubby horns and distinctive shoulder-hunch. Of course.
John snorts back his tears and jaunts forward with a jolly wave.
Karkat blinks and looks up, startled out of his thoughts. He’s grown gaunt since John last saw him in real life. In his Alternian military fatigues, and his admittedly bitchin’ eyepatch, he looks almost imposing. Kind of dashing, actually. When he opens his mouth, however, he’s just the same old Karkat.
KARKAT: HI AGAIN IDIOT.
JOHN: what are you doing standing out here alone like a creep?
Karkat’s frown gets deeper, and he picks at the red cording that runs down the breastplate of his uniform.
KARKAT: I REALLY SHOULDN’T BE HERE.
JOHN: why not? you were on the guest list.
KARKAT: OH, HMM, I DON’T KNOW. MAYBE THINK ABOUT IT FOR TEN SECONDS, JOHN.
John chews his lip and thinks about it for ten seconds.
JOHN: i guess this would probably be pretty hard to watch if you were still, you know, all heartbroken about it.
KARKAT: I WOULDN’T SAY THAT I WAS STILL “ALL HEARTBROKEN” ABOUT IT.
John joins him at railing and bumps his shoulder. Karkat groans and runs a hand down his face, obviously still a little “all heartbroken” about it.
KARKAT: IT’S JUST THAT BREAK UPS ARE HARD, AND OFTEN HAVE UNEXPECTED CONSEQUENCES THAT CAN LINGER FOR YEARS.
JOHN: you’re telling me. when my wife left me, she took an entire political faction with her.
JOHN: those chess guys sure do love roxy, don’t they?
KARKAT: YEAH, THE CARAPACIAN-HUMAN ALLIANCE HAS BEEN CAUSING US NOTHING BUT PAIN TO BE ENTIRELY FUCKING HONEST.
KARKAT: NO ONE WANTS TO BE AGAINST THE *CARAPACIANS*. THEY’RE HARMLESS.
KARKAT: THE FACT THAT THEY DIDN’T EVEN GET TO VOTE ON WHETHER OR NOT THEY SHOULD RATIFY THE TREATY REALLY COMPLICATES THE MATTER. THE WHOLE THING IS A DISASTER ON JUST ABOUT EVERY LEVEL.
JOHN: oh. sorry about that.
KARKAT: OH MY GOD JOHN, STOP BEING SO FUCKING PATHETIC FOR JUST A MINUTE. COULD YOU DO THAT FOR ME?
JOHN: i don’t know. that’s a pretty big favor you’re asking me there, karkat.
KARKAT: LOOK, I DON’T PERSONALLY BLAME YOU FOR ANY OF THIS.
KARKAT: FIRST OF ALL, FOR YOU TO HAVE HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH A MASSIVE SHIFT IN GEOPOLITICAL ALLEGIANCES?
KARKAT: THAT PROBABLY WOULD HAVE REQUIRED YOU LEAVE YOUR FUCKING HOUSE FOR MORE THAN AN HOUR.
JOHN: good pep talk.
JOHN: i’m 100% over my separation now. thanks karkat.
KARKAT: JOHN, SERIOUSLY THOUGH.
KARKAT: YOU DO HAVE TO GET OVER ROXY EVENTUALLY. WITH EVERYTHING THAT’S GOING ON, CAN YOU REALLY AFFORD TO WASTE ANOTHER FIVE YEARS MALINGERING IN YOUR BEDROOM LIKE A PIECE OF FUCKING GARBAGE?
KARKAT: YOU KNOW
KARKAT: THE REBELLION COULD REALLY USE A GUY LIKE YOU.
JOHN: if you think that i haven’t been given the exact speech you’re about to give me, except about six or seven times the length, then you don’t know rose lalonde.
KARKAT: OK. THEN WHAT’S THE FUCKING PROBLEM?
KARKAT: YOU HATE WHAT THE GOVERNMENT IS DOING AS MUCH AS THE REST OF US DO!
John turns around so that he can rest his elbows on the bannister. The angle of the moon is cutting a sharp stroke of light over the water, like a blade descending from the night sky to shear the harbor in half. He takes a despondent sip of his champagne and sighs.
JOHN: i dunno. it doesn’t seem responsible, really... to dedicate my life to something so important when i’m in a place where i can’t even find the energy to think that getting out of bed in the morning is “important.”
JOHN: in fact, it seems like it would be a pretty fucking selfish thing to do.
JOHN: what if i get distracted because i’m sad?
JOHN: what if i fuck up by staring too tragically into the distance on an important mission, and i get killed in a stupid way?
KARKAT: JOHN, AREN’T YOU TECHNICALLY IMMORTAL *SPECIFICALLY* IN CASES OF “GETTING KILLED IN A STUPID WAY”?
JOHN: yeah. but you aren’t. and neither are most of your followers.
Karkat’s expression turns hard, regretful. It’s a frown made of granite, or some other manly kind of rock that chips easily when dropped. His one eye is glinting bright gold, reflecting the light from the party. He opens his mouth to say something, but is distracted by movement from inside the ballroom.
KARKAT: OH SHIT.
KARKAT: HERE COMES DAVE. I HAVE TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE.
He fumbles with something at his wrist, and out pops a grappling line. With unexpected smoothness, he hitches it over the edge of the balcony and leaps the railing in a single, elegant bound. John watches him rappel down the cliffside until he disappears beneath the precipice shadows. Wow. Karkat grew up to be kind of cool. Who would have guessed?
John spins on his heel to see Dave in the doorway, holding a bottle of champagne. He looks smart in his three-piece tux, but he’s still sporting the same old Stiller shades, which always serve to remind John how hard it is to believe this guy’s almost forty. Jesus Christ, are they seriously almost forty? Yes, they’re technically immortal—that doesn’t mean the encroaching milestone isn’t making him feel dizzy nonetheless.
JOHN: huh? don’t do what?
DAVE: oh you looked pretty bummed when you left the reception and then i find you staring at the ocean like you just snorted six lines of powdered midlife crisis off the bathroom counter
DAVE: so i guess “the joke” was like
DAVE: haha dont literally commit suicide at my wedding dude lol
DAVE: not to commit suicide at my fucking wedding is pretty obvious
DAVE: but in retrospect i guess its not that funny
DAVE: but seriously john dont kill yourself
JOHN: i wasn’t going to kill myself!
DAVE: id miss you and also itd bum out jade pretty bad and i have so thoroughly hitched my star to that yifftrain in case you havent noticed
DAVE: yeah man you see she-
JOHN: i don’t wanna know!
JOHN: anyway, i was just, uh...
John decides it’s probably better not to mention what he was actually doing. And definitely not to mention who just rappelled off the balcony with alarming stealth and grace.
JOHN: ...appreciating how pretty the view is.
DAVE: hm yeah i love the sight of the military industrial complex destroying the landscape in the evening
JOHN: come on, that’s obviously not what i meant.
Dave comes to join John at the bannister, gazing out over the water with a look at least as existential as John’s. John isn’t sure what to say about that, so he wiggles his empty glass, looking for another shot of sparkling social lubricant. Dave tops him off before taking a long swig off the bottle himself.
JOHN: you okay, dude?
JOHN: having been married once before, i gotta say... it’s all kind of overwhelming, huh?
DAVE: yeah i guess
DAVE: i dunno jade and i have been together so long this all just feels like
DAVE: i was sort of hoping that
DAVE: i mean considering that were working together in the rebellion and everything
DAVE: i was hoping that karkat would show
John looks down and twirls the stem of his glass between two fingers.
JOHN: so you’re still not... um, over that?
JOHN: the whole karkat thing?
DAVE: i mean will i ever be over it??
DAVE: the way i felt about him probably isnt the kind of shit you just get over
DAVE: you just sorta
DAVE: live with it
DAVE: no matter how it turns out
DAVE: but hes with meenah and im with jade and the whole worlds gone fucking batshit so whats the point in looking backwards now
John swallows a lump down his throat. Terezi’s picture is still in his wallet: faded, dog-eared, marred by ragged white lines down the center from being folded and unfolded so many times, deep enough to be called valleys at this point.
They fall silent for a moment, soaking up the atmosphere, sipping their booze, contemplating the suckiness of being an adult. Dave lets out a soft laugh and slaps John on the back. John swallows his champagne wrong and starts coughing.
DAVE: yo dude thanks for being my best man
JOHN: *cough* oh. th-thanks, man. no problem!
DAVE: cuz you are
DAVE: ya know
DAVE: youre my best bro
DAVE: my main man
DAVE: my most devoted dude
DAVE: cheers john
JOHN: cheers, dave.
They toast, lip of the glass to rim of the bottle. The sound rings out above the noise of the party inside. It rises up above the ocean, to where the stars are turning and dawn is already breaking on some other part of the planet. That’s how the years pass. Faster and faster the longer it goes. For those living on this iteration of Earth C, like John and Dave, it appears to be an illusion of age, an old adage about perception changing the older you get. The days get shorter the more the regrets pile up.
But that’s only part of it. Above this Earth, the dead cherub is still meditating, waiting for the day when she can have her own heroic apotheosis. Waiting for the day when she can confront the one she calls the Prince. And on this Earth, John is just waiting for the day that feeling finally stops. That feeling that he’s still waiting for something, and the even worse feeling that years ago, he missed his only chance to put an end to it. If you stand on a very high hill at dawn, you can watch your shadow move in an arc around you.
Ten years to the day he last spoke with Terezi, John finally gets rid of her photograph. He stands at the top of a very high hill, rips it into six pieces and lets the wind carry it away. Whatever else happens now... it doesn’t matter.