You zap back to Earth C with the last of your energy. And I do mean last. You place your first foot on the ground, stumble forward three steps, and cough up blood. Terezi has to catch you under your arms, but you’re already going translucent around the edges. Your skin is cooling to the touch. The poison is coursing through your blood so furiously it’s making your veins feel like cords.
Terezi can tell you’re dying. She’s not in great shape herself, but she manages to tug you to your feet.
TEREZI: JOHN COM3 ON
TEREZI: L3TS G3T YOU TO J4N3
You try to remember if you’ve ever been revived by Jane before. You honestly can’t recall. So much shit has happened. Maybe?
It doesn’t matter. This isn’t a wound you can recover from. It’s Game Over this time: no healing, no afterlife, no cosmic clock proclaiming your sacrifice as Heroic. The poison needling through you is antithetical to narrative relevance. You’re not dying, John. You’re being erased. Cherubs don’t fuck around. We’ve both been learning that the hard way.
I guess it’s tragic, though maybe not in the conventional sense. My view is, the real tragedy with you, John, is that you never mattered all that much. To those on the level of the cherubs, and now my level as well, you were never all that special, despite the critical role you played. You were just a middling glob of human glue used to seal one glaring gap left in canon. A simple tool to be wielded by a mechanic whose consciousness has risen high enough to see the machine for what it is. Your complete lack of remarkability, specific motivation, drive, opinion on where to direct your own fate—these deficiencies are exactly what made you so useful, so susceptible to being endowed with the you-ness I’ve borrowed to satisfy my purposes.
You slip from Terezi’s grip and face-plant into the grass. You hitch an elbow beneath yourself so you can roll over onto your back. You want to see the sky.
What was it that you thought when you went home, John? Back to your real home? That the sky here is too bright? That it looks like someone nudged the contrast a couple degrees in the wrong direction? How does it look now?
You close your eyes against the light.
JOHN: i don’t think it...
JOHN: i don’t think... this is a wound jane can fix.
TEREZI: DONT B3 R1D1CULOUS
JOHN: terezi, f-for once in my life...
JOHN: i’m being serious, ok...
JOHN: as s-soon as i got bit... i was dead.
JOHN: even before that...
JOHN: i was dead the moment i...
JOHN: woke up that morning.
Well, that’s a little melodramatic. Not quite, John.
You died the moment you made the decision to go meet your destiny. You would have lived if you made the other decision, under a certain definition of the word “living.” You might have even lived until the end of your immortal life span, as shitty as that sounds. The objective reality of that life might be in dispute by some of the more pedantic canonistas out there. The outspoken sophists when it comes to what “counts” and what doesn’t. They know who they are. But whatever kind of life in a bubble you’d be living, at least you’d still be breathing in it.
That was the actual choice Calliope was giving you that day. That’s why she looked so sad when you decided to fight Lord English, even though you knew both then and now that it was the only choice you possibly could have made.
It was, John. This will be the best outcome for everyone. I promise.
JOHN: hey, come here.
Terezi kneels at your side. She doesn’t do anything sappy like take your hand, though. Mostly because she knows how this is going to go, and doesn’t want to experience the tactile sensation of feeling your pulse slow under her palm.
JOHN: i’ve got, um...
JOHN: dying words to say and stuff.
TEREZI: “DY1NG WORDS”
TEREZI: OH MY GOD 3GB3RT, YOU R34LLY 4R3 TH3 L4M3ST P3RSON WHO H4S 3V3R L1V3D
TEREZI: TH1S 1SNT 4 MOV13 YOU COMPL3T3 DUMP4SS
TEREZI: YOUR3 DY1NG 4ND YOU WONT 3V3N L3T M3 H3LP YOU
JOHN: are you... crying?
She wipes her eyes and nods.
JOHN: i can’t believe it...
TEREZI: 1 R3S3NT TH3 1MPL1C4T1ON TH4T 1 WOULD PR3T3ND TO B3 UN4FF3CT3D BY YOUR D34TH 4FT3R W3 H4D 4N 3MOT1ON4LLY S1GN1F1C4NT S3XU4L 3NCOUNT3R 1N TH3 B4CK OF TH3 FOUR WH33L D3V1C3 ONC3 B3LONG1NG TO YOUR D34D HUM4N LUSUS
JOHN: i guess even after all that, i’m... still a little intimidated by you, huh?
JOHN: i mean... you have black feelings for me.
JOHN: but i... i just can’t feel stuff like that.
JOHN: i’m just a human after all.
TEREZI: JOHN 1...
JOHN: it’s ok.
JOHN: i’m glad that... i got to be with you... even if it was just for a little while.
JOHN: do you... mind if i say something st... stupid?
JOHN: potentially... even multiple stupid things?
TEREZI: WOULD YOU ST1LL S4Y TH3M 3V3N 1F 1 S41D NO?
JOHN: p... probably.
TEREZI: TH3N 1LL B3 YOUR D34THS1D3 CONF3SSOR
TEREZI: S4Y 4LL OF TH3 STUP1D TH1NGS JOHN
TEREZI: 1 W1LL R3M3MB3R TH3M FOR YOU
JOHN: wow... that actually sounded kinda... romantic?
She doesn’t confirm or deny the intent of her statement. She cries quietly, and waits for you to say whatever dumb shit is rattling around in your poison-addled mind. There’s a chilly breeze rolling in from the mountains. It rustles through the trees, breaking the perfect silence of an autumn afternoon.
You try to touch her face, but you can barely see now. You miss, and lovingly caress the air instead. Your hand lands back on your chest. You feel blood soaking through your shirt. You’re bleeding again.
JOHN: oh man...
JOHN: now that i’m on the spot... i can’t think of anything significant to say.
JOHN: i always hoped that if i was in this position... i’d have something really awesome and memorable to say...
JOHN: like nic cage would.
JOHN: if he died.
TEREZI: DONT WORRY, 1LL T3LL 3V3RYON3 YOU S41D SOM3TH1NG R34LLY COOL
JOHN: would you... really do that for me?
TEREZI: 1F YOU W4NT M3 TO
JOHN: i don’t... i don’t think anyone will believe you.
TEREZI: NO TH3Y W1LL
TEREZI: 1 PROM1S3 1LL W4TCH 3V3RY SH1TTY MOV13 YOU L1K3
TEREZI: 4ND F1ND JUST TH3 R1GHT STUP1D FUCK1NG QUOT3
TEREZI: SOM3TH1NG TH4T NOBODY WOULD 3V3R DOUBT JOHN 3GB3RT WOULD US3 4S H1S F1N4L WORDS
TEREZI: TH3YLL B3L13V3 1T, TRUST M3
TEREZI: 1LL *M4K3* TH3M B3L13V3 1T
JOHN: ah... haha...
JOHN: terezi you know...
JOHN: i think... i really lo—
TEREZI: DONT YOU D4R3
JOHN: i... r-really lov—
TEREZI: DONT YOU D4R3 FUCK1NG D13 ON M3 1N TH3 M1DDL3 OF 4 LOV3 CONF3SS1ON!
TEREZI: 1 FORB1D 1T!!!
JOHN: but... i...
Then John dies in the middle of a love confession.
Terezi leans closer, then holds perfectly still. She tilts her ear toward him and sniffs once. There, she can hear it. The slow seeping of blood, like a distant stream. The scent of his life leaving his body, strangely unmistakable, like the quality of the air before it rains. She listens to him bleed while she smells him die.
Terezi presses her ear to his chest and confirms that his heart has stopped. Her tears dry up at that. She’s so devastated she can’t even fucking cry. What is she supposed to do now, when John was the one who asked her to come back to this place? Would she ever have had any intention of returning if it weren’t for him? She doesn’t know anymore. She remembers his voice, so earnest and friable, asking her over and over again to come home. In multiple realities, all he wanted for her was this. To be home safe, with all their friends. And now that she’s here, she’s lost.
Legs shaking, she gets to her feet and takes a whiff of the horizon. Where the fuck am I, she thinks. How do I just get on with living here after everything that just happened?
That’s definitely a fair question. But I have one that’s much more important for her to answer.
Terezi, are you seriously just going to leave the body here?
Of course not. Terezi’s a practical girl, after all. She digs the wallet out of her blood-stained pants, and captchas the corpse. She holds it close to her heart, like a secret. Like John’s stupid last words: a confession whispered for her and no one else.
And then she starts walking home.