Chapter

31

Terezi is munching her way through another tin of human fatherly tobacco as john crawls into the back seat. this has been their ritual for several days. precisely how many, they couldn’t say. between her frequent naps and his diligence in keeping a lookout for any additional survivors, they have been losing track of time. john, eyes unfocused, stares at the expanse of nothingness. perhaps he imagines it, but it seems as if the emptiness itself is curving against the staggering weight of the black hole they orbit.

he hasn’t seen any sign of vriska. he’s seen no one at all. it’s just him, terezi, and the sky on all sides. he scoots back to lean against the car door, drawing his knees up to his chest, unsure how to act around terezi or how much room to give her.

she holds out a handful of tobacco.

TEREZI: W4NT SOM3 D3L1C1OUS DRY C4NDY SH4V1NGS?

JOHN: ew, no.

JOHN: do you have any idea what you’re eating right now?

she shrugs and licks the crumbs off her hand. his eyes can’t help but follow the motion of her tongue. it leaves a trail of faintly teal saliva behind that glistens in the strange light coming through the windows.

JOHN: it’s like... a poison plant. you’re not supposed to eat it, you’re supposed to put it in a pipe and smoke it.

JOHN: i think that if i ate it i’d probably get mouth cancer or something.

TEREZI: W3LL

TEREZI: 1F YOU W3R3 BL1ND 4ND S4W W1TH YOUR NOS3 4ND TONGU3

TEREZI: 1T WOULD T4ST3 L1K3 CHOCOL4T3

JOHN: seriously?

JOHN: so, is that kinda like synesthesia?

JOHN: are all trolls like that, or just you? i’ve always wondered.

she gives him a narrow-eyed look. her thick eyelashes shadow her gaze. he feels anxious without knowing why. it’s as if he’s waiting for something to happen. for something to change.

TEREZI: WHY JOHN

TEREZI: 4R3 YOU CUR1OUS 4BOUT M3? H3H3H3H3

JOHN: no!

JOHN: um.

JOHN: i mean... yes?

JOHN: your whole licking thing has always been kind of weird.

JOHN: a lot of things about you are weird.

JOHN: i feel like we talked a lot, but i still know almost nothing about you, since so many of our conversations were just...

TEREZI: BULLSH1T?

JOHN: yeah, i guess.

JOHN: i always felt like you were trying to fight me for some reason.

JOHN: like i can’t just talk to you normally.

JOHN: it always has to be like... a jokey argument!

JOHN: or a snark-off. or something.

TEREZI: FOR 1T TO B3 4 SN4RK OFF YOUD H4V3 TO PROV3 4 WORTHY OPPON3NT 3GB3RT H4H4H4

JOHN: see, like that!

JOHN: you just...

JOHN: always do THAT!

terezi’s expression changes in a subtle way, slowly, like the tide pulling out. she snaps the tobacco tin shut and sets it down on the floor of the car.

TEREZI: 1...

TEREZI: SUPPOS3 1 C4N B3 PR3TTY D1FF1CULT TO B3 4ROUND

JOHN: oh, no...

JOHN: i didn’t mean...

JOHN: i’m sorry, terezi.

he unfolds his legs, so he can set a comforting hand on her shoulder. he wonders if he’s allowing it to linger there longer than it should.

JOHN: look.

JOHN: i’ve been really depressed and antisocial for the last few years.

JOHN: so i guess going on this insane suicide mission out of nowhere has been making me get all, um...

JOHN: philosophical about my relationships and shit?

JOHN: i think i’ve been out here long enough that i’m starting to forget what certain basic things... feel like? if that makes sense.

JOHN: i feel like i’m all numb inside. and this fucking tooth in my chest isn’t helping either.

JOHN: i think i just want to have a REAL conversation with someone?

he pushes her shoulder, lightly, so that they’re looking at each other.

JOHN: terezi.

JOHN: i want to have a real conversation with you.

terezi makes very close eye and nose contact with john, in a way that comes across as intently sincere. this arrangement lasts for about ten seconds before her mouth cracks in a grin, and she doubles over laughing.

TEREZI: 4H4H4H4H4H4H4!

TEREZI: OH MY GOD TH4TS TH3 L4M3ST TH1NG 1V3 H34RD 1N MY 3NT1R3 L1F3

JOHN: oh come on!

TEREZI: 3GB3RT, NO M4TT3R HOW OLD OR YOUNG YOU 4R3, YOU N3V3R CH4NG3

TEREZI: YOU 4R3 POS1T1V3LY, TRULY 4ND UND3N14BLY

TEREZI: TH3 B1GG3ST FUCK1NG DORK 1 H4V3 3V3R KNOWN >:]

JOHN: haha, ok, i get it!

JOHN: sorry i said anything, geez.

TEREZI: OH DONT LOOK L1K3 TH4T

TEREZI: 1 D1DNT S4Y 1T W4S 4 B4D TH1NG

TEREZI: 1 4CTU4LLY F1ND 1T

TEREZI: ...

TEREZI: R3FR3SH1NG??

she pulls her legs up under her. her shoes catch the light and reflect it all over the ceiling in little red dots. john’s heart skips a beat.

JOHN: you’re wearing jade’s shoes.

terezi frowns, and then her eyes widen as if she’s been caught. her reply is defensive.

TEREZI: TH3Y W3R3 1N TH3 W4LL3T

JOHN: oh yeah. i guess i put them in there.

TEREZI: 1 L1K3 TH3M

TEREZI: 1 C4N T4K3 TH3M OFF 1F 1TS CR33P1NG YOU OUT THOUGH

JOHN: no, it’s fine. it just made me think about...

the doomed timeline, he means. the state of the session he entered, where he was confronted with billions of pieces of debris from several shattered planets. he pictures terezi’s lifeless body as it collapses onto a corpse-shaped chalk outline she drew for herself.

JOHN: you know what happened, right? the first time we all met up and tried to fight the condesce?

JOHN: we were completely unprepared and basically got our asses handed to us.

JOHN: by which i mean, everybody died.

JOHN: i think about it a lot.

JOHN: i guess it’s kind of hard NOT to think a lot about seeing all your friends die horrible deaths.

JOHN: but i also think about you from that timeline a lot too.

TEREZI: M3

TEREZI: WHY 1S TH4T?

JOHN: because you were amazing!

JOHN: i couldn’t believe how you could hold it all together while you were literally bleeding to death.

JOHN: almost like it wasn’t even bothering you.

JOHN: like, you were actually in the process of dying horribly, and you STILL went to the bother of dunking on me with your scarf instructions.

JOHN: you were so brave. it was like you were undefeatable that day. like you were refusing to let us lose.

JOHN: i think i carry around that memory whenever i think about you.

JOHN: and maybe why i always feel like you’re sorta, steamrolling over me when we talk.

JOHN: i think i’m still a little... intimidated by you?

JOHN: i guess that sounds kinda stupid though.

suddenly, terezi’s voice is very small.

TEREZI: 1 R3M3MB3R 4LL TH4T

JOHN: you do?

she nods, smiling grimly.

TEREZI: TH4TS WHY 1M OUT H3R3

TEREZI: YOU S33...

TEREZI: TH4T DOOM3D T3R3Z1 M1SS3D VR1SK4 *SO* MUCH, 1T W4S L1K3 4 HOL3 1N H3R H34RT

TEREZI: 1 R3M3MB3R TH3 W4Y SH3 F3LT, B3C4US3 ON3 T1M3, 4LL H3R M3MOR13S C4M3 FLOOD1NG B4CK

TEREZI: 1 3V3N GOT TO S33 WH4T H4PP3N3D WH3N SH3 D13D

TEREZI: SH3 4ND 4NOTH3R VR1SK4 GHOST F1N4LLY FOUND 34CH OTH3R

TEREZI: 1T M4D3 M3 SO H4PPY G3TT1NG TO F33L TH4T, 4S 1F 1T W4S ON3 OF MY OWN M3MOR13S

TEREZI: 1T JUST R31NFORC3D TH3 F33L1NG TH4T TH3R3 W4S SOM3TH1NG SP3C14L B3TW33N US

TEREZI: 4ND 1 JUST K3PT H4NG1NG ON TO TH4T B3L13F, R1GHT UP UNT1L...

TEREZI: OH, 1 DONT KNOW

TEREZI: NOW???

TEREZI: 1V3 PR4CT1C4LLY D3VOT3D MY L1F3 TO C3RT41N M3MOR13S, TO TH3 1D34 TH4T TWO P3OPL3 C4N B3 M34NT TO B3 W1TH 34CH OTH3R ON SOM3 COSM1C L3V3L, 3V3N 1F TH3Y 4LW4YS S33M TO G3T 34CH OTH3R 1NTO TROUBL3

TEREZI: 4LL TH4T 1NV3STM3NT, 4LL TH4T S34RCH1NG...

TEREZI: 4ND FOR *WH4T*?

TEREZI: OV3R 4 SW33P TOG3TH3R, 4ND SH3 JUST D1S4PP34RS 1NTO THE VO1D 4G41N?!

TEREZI: WH4T 4 HUG3 B1TCH

JOHN: terezi...

his hand is on her shoulder again. and his other hand has found the other shoulder. john notices his own palm grazing up the side of her neck to cup her face. the act was made with barely a thought, and his own boldness surprises himself.

JOHN: you SAVED everyone!

JOHN: you’re the only reason we were able to defeat lord english and win the game at all!

JOHN: if it weren’t for you, me and roxy would have just floated around in paradox space like a couple of losers with no idea what to do!

JOHN: even worse, i might have tried to fix things MYSELF!

TEREZI: OH D34R GOD

JOHN: yeah!!!

terezi shrugs out from under his grasp but doesn’t move away.

TEREZI: S1GH

TEREZI: DONT G3T M3 WRONG

TEREZI: 1M NOT D1SCOUNT1NG TH3 OBJ3CT1V3 V4LU3 OF MY OTH3R S3LFS ACT1ONS

TEREZI: 1M GL4D TH4T W3 D1DNT 4LL D13 1N 4 DOOM3D T1M3L1N3 4ND L3T LORD 3NGL1SH F1N1SH 34T1NG 4LL OF SP4C3T1M3

TEREZI: BUT 1 DONT...

TEREZI: 1 DONT *F33L* 1T

TEREZI: 1TS NOT 4 R4T1ON4L 3MOT1ON JOHN

TEREZI: 1TS L1K3 YOU!

JOHN: me?

TEREZI: Y34H YOU

TEREZI: WHY 4R3 YOU ST1LL OUT H3R3 W1TH M3?

JOHN: um... because i’m not just going to leave you here to die?

TEREZI: YOUV3 M4D3 V3RY F3W OV3RTUR3S R3G4RD1NG TH3 SUBJ3CT OF GO1NG HOM3

TEREZI: YOUR3 JUST *L3TT1NG* M3 CONT1NU3 TO PO1NTL3SSLY C1RCL3 TH1S FUCK1NG BL4CK HOL3 3V3N THOUGH 1TS OBV1OUS TH4T VR1SK4 1S D34D!

TEREZI: 4ND YOUR3 JUST L3TT1NG *YOURS3LF* B3 OUT H3R3 TOO, 4S W3 SP1R4L DOWN TH3 LO4D G4P3R TOG3TH3R!

JOHN: oh.

JOHN: i... don’t know?

JOHN: i hadn’t thought about it, to be honest.

TEREZI: 3X4CTLY

TEREZI: 34RTH C 1S P3RF3CT 1SNT 1T?

TEREZI: BUT NOT FOR YOU

TEREZI: YOU DONT *F33L* 1T

john swallows a thick breath. he reminds himself that he never wanted perfection, never asked for it. and yet he feels guilty every day for failing to enjoy it as much as he believes he was supposed to.

JOHN: ...

JOHN: you’re right. i don’t.

TEREZI: 1F YOUV3 B33N D3PR3SS3D 4ND 4NT1SOC14L TH3S3 L4ST F3W Y34RS, 1 B3T TH4T YOUR FR13NDS M1SS YOU

JOHN: probably.

JOHN: but for some reason, i don’t feel like i have anything to go home to.

JOHN: heh... you’re right. it’s not a rational feeling.

JOHN: but it’s there anyway.

a tear hits his knee, staining his pants dark. he rubs his eyes furiously. he’s afraid terezi will mock him for his childish display of emotion. but she just watches him, patient and sympathetic.

she tips her head to one side, and asks,

TEREZI: WH4T 3ND3D UP H4PP3N1NG W1TH ROXY?

JOHN: i...

JOHN: dunno.

JOHN: we just sorta stopped hanging out regularly.

JOHN: then she got close with callie and i felt too awkward to try to figure out where our relationship stood.

TEREZI: R34LLY?

TEREZI: HMM

JOHN: what?

TEREZI: 1 JUST 4SSUM3D TH4T BY NOW YOU TWO M1GHT H4V3 GOTT3N TOG3TH3R

JOHN: really?

JOHN: why?

TEREZI: NO R34SON. JUST 4 HUNCH

TEREZI: 1 DONT TH1NK 1T WOULD H4V3 WORK3D OUT THOUGH

JOHN: what makes you say that?

she taps her nose and winks.

TEREZI: 1 DUNNO

TEREZI: TH4TS WH4T H4V1NG 4 HUNCH FUCK1NG M34NS, N3RD!

JOHN: ugh!

JOHN: you’re impossible.

TEREZI: TRU3!

TEREZI: BUT YOU L1K3 M3 4NYW4Y

JOHN: y... yeah.

JOHN: i actually missed you, you know.

JOHN: more than i thought i did.

john wonders, after he makes the statement: what if she just needed someone to tell her that she was missed? a bit late to consider the question, but he considers it anyway. perhaps this will make her want to end this search and come home with him.

he wonders if the time is right. the time to ask.

JOHN: terezi... come home with me.

she shakes her head. her face is turned against the light so he can’t read her expression.

TEREZI: 1

TEREZI: 1M NOT R34DY Y3T

JOHN: when WILL you be ready?

TEREZI: 1 DONT KNOW

TEREZI: M4YB3 N3V3R

TEREZI: 1F YOU H4DNT FOUND M3, 1 PROB4BLY WOULD H4V3 D13D R1GHT?

TEREZI: 1S TH4T WH4T 1 W4NT?

JOHN: um, obviously not, dummy!

JOHN: if you wanted to die so bad you wouldn’t have...

JOHN: ...eaten all that disgusting shaving cream and tobacco!

he gestures to where she still has a smear of shaving cream on the hem of her shirt, crusted over from sitting there for hours. she sniffs at the residue, then lifts her shirt to lick it off, crinkling her nose.

TEREZI: HMM

TEREZI: YOU COULD B3 ON TO SOM3TH1NG

JOHN: at least let me make a supply run.

JOHN: maybe i can get you some REAL food?

it seems to him like an uncontroversial compromise to offer, so he pulls back, preparing to travel back to earth c via his retcon capability. but terezi grabs him by the wrist.

TEREZI: W41T

her eyes are wide, her voice cracked and desperate.

TEREZI: DONT GO

TEREZI: PL34S3 JOHN

TEREZI: ST4Y W1TH M3 JUST 4 L1TTL3 LONG3R

TEREZI: 1F YOU L34V3 M3 NOW...

TEREZI: WH4T 1F YOU C4N N3V3R F1ND M3 4G41N 1N TH1S MOM3NT?

JOHN: well, we can’t stay here forever!

TEREZI: 1 KNOW

he has no idea how to react to her behavior. he’s never seen her this vulnerable. she’s shaking where she is touching him, and her lower lip is visibly trembling. he nods, and she slowly lets go of his arm.

they are silent for a minute. they both stare ahead at the car seats in front of them, sitting close enough to hear the beat of each other’s hearts.

TEREZI: ...DO YOU

TEREZI: W4NT M3 TO T4K3 4 LOOK 4T YOUR WOUND?

john had gotten so used to the pain, he’d almost forgotten about it. he looks down at the place where his shirt has grown stiff from the congealed blood. now that he dwells on it, he can feel the ache again, both from the tooth piercing his flesh and, more insidiously, from the poison it has been delivering into his bloodstream.

JOHN: oh, um.

JOHN: yeah, we should probably do something about that.

JOHN: i feel like if i was gonna die from it, i would have done that already. but it’s really lodged in there, huh?

JOHN: i thought maybe it’d just come out on its own, like when you get a splinter in your foot.

TEREZI: YOU R34LLY 4R3 DUMB 4R3NT YOU?

he rolls his eyes. terezi produces her cane and unsheathes the blade in one fluid motion. the metal rasps against the grain of its sheath, rather loudly. I’m sorry, what? No it doesn’t. the noise resounds throughout the sealed interior of the car Actually, drawing a sword is pretty quiet. It only makes that sound in the movies. and rings through john’s skull like a gunshot.

Are you seriously manifesting inaccurate physical properties of swords for the sole purpose of antago john reflexively backs up against the door at Oh, fuck this. the sight of the blade.

JOHN: woah!

TEREZI: HOLD ST1LL 1F YOU DONT W4NT TO D13 FOR R34L

he holds still. her eyebrows are knitted with fierce determination. she sets a hand on his thigh and draws the blade up under his shirt. he shivers, letting out a breathy laugh at the coolness of the metal against his bare chest. there is a pinch when the congealed, bloody fabric rips from his skin.

he glances down. the wound looks worse than he was imagining, is far more than just a puncture. an uncanny darkness spreads across his chest. the gash is scabbing at the edges, bruised all around. his entire torso appears to be a mottled mess of purple and yellow, like a sort of fancy earth cheese. terezi’s blade cuts into it as easily as if it were.

JOHN: oh FUCK!

JOHN: ow!!!!!

JOHN: could have used some warning there, terezi!

TEREZI: WH4T TH3 H3LL D1D YOU TH1NK 1 W4S *GO1NG* TO DO W1TH TH1S SWORD, 1D1OT!

she’s close enough that her breath washes over his face. it smells like shaving cream and tobacco, which is jarring to him, if not surprising. she is without her glasses, and so close that john notices things he hasn’t had occasion to before. like how lovely her eyes are. the length of her eyelashes, now that he’s really seeing them just inches from his face, is astounding to him. he has never thought of terezi as particularly feminine, at least in the way humans understand this idea. but he has never been forced to reckon with her features so unavoidably.

the dark borders around the perimeter of her eyes are thicker and darker than what most trolls have. the tired bags under them are ditches in the shadows cast by her angular features, made more gaunt from hunger. when she blinks, her lashes brush the ridges of her cheekbones.

her nostrils are flared, assessing the scent of his blood.

TEREZI: 4R3 W3 DO1NG TH1S OR WH4T?

he presses his eyes shut, and nods. he feels numb, clammy, jittering down to his bones from a particular sensation. a feeling he still seems to be denying to himself. as his own thoughts struggle to be honest with him, he cannot disguise the truth from me. what he is fighting is an intense desire to kiss her.

JOHN: g... go for it.

she grinds the sword between two of his ribs. the pain returns instantly, his acclimation erased nearly as quickly. he clenches his jaw hard, and his head spins. terezi’s blade catches against something.

TEREZI: HMMM

TEREZI: 1TS LODG3D 1N TH3R3 PR3TTY GOOD

TEREZI: BR4C3 YOURS3LF 3GB3RT, TH1S 1S GO1NG TO ST1NG

he can feel the tooth moving around against his flesh, the fibrous, spasmodic contractions of his muscles around it. when she wrenches the blade and pops the tooth out, he isn’t proud of the sound he makes.

he finally opens his eyes. terezi’s arms are covered in his blood. she tosses the sword down to the floor of the car, in what suddenly strikes john as a fairly unhygienic surgical situation, and grabs his shirt with two clenched, red fists.

TEREZI: 1 N33D TO STOP TH3 BL33D1NG

TEREZI: JUST FOLLOW MY L34D

she peels him out of his hoodie and then his shredded t-shirt. he’s dizzy. his vision wavers, fades. it takes terezi’s sudden grip on his shoulder to bring him back from the brink. the brink of what, he doesn’t know. unconsciousness. canonic dissolution. he has no cognizance of what the poison in his veins does to someone, or that it’s even in his system. all he knows is that terezi is the only thing keeping him moored. she holds him firm, her thumb in the dip of his clavicle, her sharp nails etching scores in his back.

he watches her tear his t-shirt into a long strip. he lifts his arms obediently as she wraps it around his chest and ties it off. her hands slide over the bandage and linger there. her fingers splay on his collarbones, her right hand resting above his heart. she slides her palms down his stomach, then around to his hips, leaving long bloody streaks along his torso. his blood, ten uneven tracks of it, one for each of her fingers.

when his arms come down, they wrap around her shoulders. pulling her into his lap feels natural to him. a simple redirection of her momentum, to guide her closer. what comes less naturally is the first kiss. her lips are there, hovering just over his. yet he hesitates. his mind is still lying to itself, casting doubt on what it really wants. i don’t see a purpose in allowing his self-deceit to continue for much longer. it’s wrong to contradict one’s true thoughts and feelings. irrational. unbecoming of an existence governed by free will.

what are you waiting for, john?

JOHN: um.

TEREZI: FOR FUCKS S4K3 JOHN, DONT S4Y 4NYTH1NG STUP1D R1GHT NOW

he nods stupidly, and leans forward to kiss her. terezi attacks, closing the gap between them swiftly. she bites into his mouth, drawing blood when she sucks his lower lip. he twists his hands in the fabric of her shirt so hard it rides up her back.

john can’t tell if it’s the pain or the arousal that’s emboldening him. it is neither. he is simply being barred from ignoring his true thoughts. even without the aid of a juju, he is fortunate enough to be blessed with the only true form of divinity. to be released from the prison of nonsensical inhibitions which so often psychologically hobble the more primitive forms of life. in his newfound clarity he discovers bravery, pulls terezi’s shirt off all the way, and does what he really wants to do, which is ghost his hands all the way up the curve of her spine.

she sighs into his mouth.

TEREZI: OH MY GOD YOUR BLOOD SM3LLS D3L1C1OUS

JOHN: woah.

JOHN: um, wow.

JOHN: ok...

JOHN: i think you’re really pretty, in... the light of the dead universe?

terezi rears back with a faint snarl and wraps both her hands around his neck. she doesn’t press down, but the weight of her thumbs above his throat makes his heart race.

TEREZI: D1DNT 1 T3LL YOU

TEREZI: DONT

TEREZI: S4Y

TEREZI: *4NYTH1NG* STUP1D

careful of her grip around his neck, john locks his arms around her waist and pulls her flush against him. she’s ravenous when their mouths collide, her desire intensified by the taste and scent of his blood. she doesn’t give him a chance to say anything else for a while, stupid or otherwise.

> ==>
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