Chapter

36

So it turns out that “home” is an entirely abstract concept. A state of mind, if you will, rather than a literal, physical construct that can make you feel one way or the other. Terezi’s been gone long enough that her friends seem like strangers: entangled in relationship dynamics that she’s obliquely excluded from, embroiled in petty feuds, obsessed with politics.

Oh, do you want to know how those petty feuds and political obsessions turned out by the way? I thought it was pretty obvious, but I’ll say what’s up anyway.

Jane swept the election, of course. I told you I was going to win. After Jake’s incoherent and scandalous heel-turn at Karkat’s ill-fated rally, no amount of esoteric, three-dimensional jpeg artefacts could have salvaged the Vantas campaign. Besides, Dave and Karkat now have other concerns. Mainly that their BFF Jade has been in a coma for an entire month. They’ve been in and out of the hospital handling her affairs. Her next of kin is listed as John Egbert, and no one’s seen him in ages. It’s like he just disappeared suddenly. Like some great hand came out of the sky and crossed his name off the big list of guys we ever need to give a shit about anymore.

Terezi heard about Jade from a rather harried Kanaya, who is doubtlessly run ragged from the hot-potato plot circles that I’ve been sending her on for weeks to stop her from reading me the riot act for “kidnapping” her lovely wife. The woman is obviously hysterical and needs to chill the fuck out. I mean, she’s hysterical because I’ve been specifically and deliberately causing her to be that way, sure. But still. She should be fine soon enough.

It takes Terezi a couple days to work up the...

The what, exactly? What is she supposed to be feeling right now? I’m not sure myself. Maybe I should take a minute to think about the thing you’re supposed to feel when someone goes through whatever the hell it was she just went through. If I come up with any ideas, I could easily do her the favor of helping her feel it.

Whatever it is she’s supposed to feel, what she actually feels is empty. Colorless, dried up, as she walks beneath a holographic billboard displaying Jane’s glorious victory speech. The ceremony accompanying the speech is patently absurd, stuffed with so much pomp and circumstance that Terezi’s nose can’t make sense of what she’s supposed to be looking at. It’s all just light and color, signifying nothing.

Her internal smelloscope is so discombobulated from the onslaught of pastry-themed floats, and Jane’s tearful soliloquy on the Legacy of Responsibility she is about to inherit, that she mistakes the familiar figure standing in front of the hospital for someone else entirely.

TEREZI: H3Y COOLK1D

TEREZI: HOWS J4DE DO1NG

Roxy turns around and blinks in confusion. Terezi blinks back. Kanaya had warned her that Roxy had been going through some changes, but this still takes her by surprise.

So, in her defense, this was an honest mistake to make. Dave gets half of his genetics from Roxy, after all, and since her big heart-to-heart about the personal politics of queer onion metaphors, and ten stages of galaxy-braining through the many vicissitudes of the phrase “no homo,” Roxy has decided to really step up her gender experimentation. I guess at this point she’s gone beyond Stage Ten. Which I imagine is somewhat like reaching Super Saiyan 2 of gender, and then going even further beyond.

She’s got the Shades™ now, and sports one of those sweep-over hipster cuts Dave loves so much. Nothing ambiguous about this presentation, although if I’m being totally real, it’s a bit derivative. Anyway, I can’t complain too much about her decision to crib the Strider style, since, you know. She’s family. Besides, I’m T-minus ten hours from fucking off this gay Earth forever. It’s her life, her gender, her style—she can be whatever the fuck she wants.

Roxy’s whole face lights up when she sees Terezi.

ROXY: omg terezi i didnt know u were back!

ROXY: what UP???

TEREZI: OH ROXY

TEREZI: UH H1

TEREZI: 1

TEREZI: 1 THOUGHT YOU W3R3 D4V3

ROXY: o lmao that makes sense

ROXY: i thought for a minute u were appreciating my rad new look

ROXY: but i know i got a ways to go b4 i dethrone the original coolkid

TEREZI: NO NO YOUR3 V3RY COOL!

TEREZI: 1N F4CT 1 WOULD PROB4BLY V3NTUR3 TH4T 1F W3 W3R3 JUDG1NG COOLN3SS 1N 4 FORM4L COOLN3SS CONT3ST JUDG3D BY TH3 PROS, ON 4 COMPL3T3LY OBJ3CT1V3 B4S1S

TEREZI: YOU 4R3 4CTU4LLY 4BOUT 4 B1LL1ON T1M3S COOL3R TH4N D4V3

ROXY: wow thx!

TEREZI: WH1CH 1S 4 F4CT TH4T S33MS SO OBV1OUS TH4T 1V3 D3F1N1T3LY KNOCK3D S3V3R4L R4NKS OFF MY OWN P3RSON4L COOLN3SS 4TTR1BUT3 BY 3V3N S4Y1NG 1T OUT LOUD, R4TH3R TH4N 4LLOW1NG 1T TO B3 4SSUM3D

ROXY: lol no WAY

ROXY: terezi ur like the raddest chick i know

Terezi’s jaw tightens. She’s not ready to hear any words that remind her of those few hours with John. Her hand goes to her pocket, where she’s keeping the wallet. She traces the contours of it with her thumb and forces a smile.

TEREZI: 1F YOU S4Y SO

ROXY: um yeah i fuckin DO say so

ROXY: dont make me repeat myself

Roxy seems almost effusive despite the circumstances. An earthy, genuine effusiveness that lights her up from inside. Terezi’s head is filled with stories about a different version of Roxy—the polar opposite of the one standing in front of her.

ROXY: so....

ROXY: ur here to see jade huh??

TEREZI: Y34H

TEREZI: 1 H34RD WH4T H4PP3N3D TO H3R 4ND THOUGHT 1 SHOULD COM3

TEREZI: W3LL YOU KNOW

Pay respects? No, that’s dumb. Terezi knows that’s dumb. This is just a motion you go through. John would definitely want to be here, though, and technically Terezi is taking him with her. He may be in her pocket, but lately she’s been feeling more like he’s under her skin. She hasn’t told anyone what happened. But at least she knows she can look at him whenever she wants.

ROXY: yeaaa

ROXY: its lookin grim

ROXY: on one hand shes just layin there so theres not rly a chance of her doin anything either evil or heroic to off herself permanently

ROXY: but its also been so long its like

ROXY: is she just gonna sleep forever???

TEREZI: SL33P1NG FOR3V3R D3F1N1T3LY SOUNDS L1K3 4 J4D3 MOV3 TO M3

ROXY: yeah lol i feel bad crackin jokes about it but

ROXY: i think its what shed want

ROXY: us havin hope n all

TEREZI: Y3S

TEREZI: ...3R

TEREZI: WH3R3S C4LL1OP3?

TEREZI: YOU TWO 4R3 ST1LL

TEREZI: TOG3TH3R?

TEREZI: R1GHT

ROXY: oh

ROXY: um GAWD

ROXY: back when jade first got all effed up callie saw somethin and it made them freak out

ROXY: it took me weeks to convince them that it was safe to come home

ROXY: but now we got the opposite problem and they arent leavin the house at all

ROXY: they stay home all day with the blinds drawn paintin some weird ass shit on the walls

TEREZI: WH4T?

ROXY: its not as bad as it sounds i promise

ROXY: some of it is like

ROXY: weird and violent??

ROXY: like lotsa nasty purple blood and um

ROXY: nudity????

TEREZI: >:?

ROXY: yeah yikes

ROXY: but MOST of it is cute stuff like... various combos of all of us being happy and gettin married and shit

ROXY: anyway thats kept callie kinda busy

ROXY: so it was hard as hell to convince them to let me come see jade at all

ROXY: its like theyre traumatized

ROXY: and they think ill drag whatever possessed jade back into our home with me

TEREZI: DO3S C4LL13 KNOW WH4T H4PP3N3D TO J4D3 TH3N?

ROXY: maybe idk

ROXY: im not gonna push them

ROXY: callies got all kinda hang ups about their existence and purpose and potential lack thereof

ROXY: when theyre ready to talk about it i want them to be able to talk about it u know?

TEREZI: Y3S

TEREZI: 1T DO3S SOUND L1K3 PUSH1NG TH3M WH3N TH3YR3 VULN3R4BL3 W1LL JUST B4CKF1R3

Terezi startles a bit when her phone buzzes. Who would even be messaging her now, when the only person she ever talked to is currently dead in her other pocket? She’s intrigued, but she thinks better of worrying about it. It’d be rude to look at her phone while she’s in the middle of a conversation.

ROXY: oh that reminds me!

ROXY: have u seen john lately?

Terezi’s heart skips a beat. It’s almost as if Roxy is the one reading her mind.

TEREZI: WHY DO YOU 4SK

No one else has asked yet.

Roxy gives a shrug. A conflicted look crosses her face, but I can’t see past it. With the Dead Cherub out of the picture, the aura of void surrounding Roxy once again is impenetrable. Those baller shades aren’t exactly improving my odds of reading her, either. I’ll say again what I’ve always felt about her on some level: some riddles were never meant to be solved.

ROXY: he went back to the medium a while ago right??

ROXY: i thought

ROXY: maybe u and he crossed paths

Terezi does not flinch. Her pleasant expression does not falter. She’s good at the appearance of confidence even when wracked with indecision and grief.

TEREZI: NO

TEREZI: I H4V3NT S33N H1M

ROXY: oh....

ROXY: damn thats too bad

ROXY: callie n i have been worried

ROXY: kinda hoped he woulda come back

ROXY: or at least let us know what hes up to

ROXY: ugh between this and whats goin on with jade the lack of closures gonna keep me up at night

TEREZI: 1M SORRY

TEREZI: 1 W1SH 1 KN3W WH4T TO T3LL YOU

ROXY: hey its fine

ROXY: u cant fix everyones problems

TEREZI: 1 KNOW

Roxy pinches her lips together and examines Terezi over the rim of her sunglasses for a moment.

Maybe, having watched her own friend group suffer stress fractures recently, she understands the weight of those words as uttered by this specific person. Because Terezi is a fixer, and it has been a very difficult lesson for her to learn that some things are simply out of her control. Maybe it’s just that Roxy can hear the bone-deep sorrow in her voice.

TEREZI: (OMFG)

TEREZI: (1TS “H1M” YOU FUCK1NG O4F!!!)

ROXY: wat

ROXY: who u loudly whispering to

TEREZI: OH

TEREZI: NOBODY

Oh, my bad. Why not send him my regards? Tell him he makes a kickass him for me. It suits the hell out of him.

TEREZI: (1M NOT FUCK1NG T3LL1NG H1M TH4T)

Whatever was bothering Roxy, it passes quickly, and he says nothing about it. He puts his hand on Terezi’s shoulder and gives it a warm clap. The fraternal kind, which a couple of solid dudes might exchange after having just “bro’ed out.” It’s convincing, actually. Reasonably authentic, and quite masculine. He’s off to a great start exhibiting the mannerisms associated with his chosen gender. I’m genuinely proud of him.

ROXY: ummm

ROXY: kay well i should get goin

ROXY: was nice catchin up!

ROXY: dont be a stranger alright?

TEREZI: STR4NG3R TH4N WH4T

ROXY: lmao ur a riot

ROXY: but u know what i mean

TEREZI: Y34H

TEREZI: S33 YOU

ROXY: 8)

As soon as Roxy’s gone, Terezi regrets lying to him about John. It’s a hard secret to keep, but probably a harder one to reveal. Maybe it would have been better if she had run into Dave instead of Roxy. It would have been easier to confide something like that to Dave, wouldn’t it? Well, maybe it would have been easier. Years ago, in a different timeline. And even then, she messed that up, didn’t she? But we can’t beat ourselves up too much for our teen mistakes. Let alone the stuff we can’t even remember, because it technically never even happened to us. We have enough to worry about as it is, right, Terezi?

TEREZI: UUUUUUUGH

I know you can hear me.

TEREZI: OF COURS3 1 C4N H3AR YOU!!!

TEREZI: YOUV3 B33N BRO4DC4ST1NG YOUR NONS3NS3 4T M3 NONSTOP S1NC3 JOHN Z4PP3D US B4CK!

TEREZI: 1 KNOW TH4T 3V3RY M3MB3R OF YOUR F4M1ILY 3XC3PT TH3 ON3 1 JUST H4D 4 PL34S4NTLY BR13F CONV3RS4T1ON W1TH 1S G3N3T1C4LLY 1NC4P4BL3 OF SHUTT1NG UP

TEREZI: BUT C4NT YOU JUST L3T M3 B3 D3PR3SS3D 1N P34C3?!

I feel depressed all the time. But I can’t remember ever having the luxury of feeling peaceful about it. Why should it be different for anyone else?

TEREZI: WH4T DO YOU W4NT?!

Come on, Terezi. You don’t belong here. You know you don’t belong here.

TEREZI: 4ND WH4T TH3 H3LL DO YOU KNOW 4BOUT WH3R3 1 B3LONG?

TEREZI: WH4T DO YOU KNOW 4BOUT WH4T 1 “KNOW”??

TEREZI: H4V3 W3 3V3N H4D 4 S1NGL3 SUST41N3D CONV3RS4T1ON TH4T L4ST3D MOR3 TH4N T3N M1NUT3S???

To be honest, I’m not sure if we’ve ever exchanged any words at all. But why should that matter? Here we both are. It’s a beautiful day. You’ve got your dead boyfriend in your wallet. And we’ve already managed to strike such a nice metatextual rapport. So hear me out.

I know that you’ve always felt out of step here on Earth C. I know that you could easily put on a brilliant act that would fool everyone. You could potentially do that for the rest of your life. But it will eat into you, hollow you out like a parasite, because you’ll always refuse to allow yourself to be understood.

You know you’ll never be happy here. And neither will I. Because this place isn’t for people like us.

TEREZI: D1RK, 1 H4V3 NO 1D34 WH4T YOUR3 T4LK1NG 4BOUT

You’ll see, if you come with us.

Hey, here’s an idea. Why don’t you bring him with you?

TEREZI: H1M?

Yeah. You saved his body for a reason, right? Maybe it doesn’t even have to be the end for him. Endings are kind of overrated anyway.

I’ll give you some time to think about it. My door is open, but not for long.

And I do give her the time. I ease the throttle back a bit, just enough so that I’m not whispering directly into her ear when she slips the wallet out of her pocket. She clutches it so hard in her palm that she’s digging dents into the leather, and bites her lip. The gentle breeze is all she can hear. It’s louder than my voice, and in some understated way, makes my case for me more persuasively. She knows I’m right.

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