Meat was definitely the right choice, you think, as grease drips down your chin. The meat is cold and undercooked, so you have to grab it with both hands while you rend it apart with your incisors. It bursts in chunks, filling your mouth with blood and your throat with mangled knots of gristle and long strings of muscle fiber.
ROXY: yo no offense egbert but like
ROXY: u good?
JOHN: yeah, i’m fine.
ROXY: sry just
ROXY: v wild to see like a normal ass human eating meat like theyre a fuckin lion
ROXY: you sure you dont want some candy too
JOHN: no, i don’t think so.
JOHN: they wouldn’t go well together.
Roxy gives you a strange look as you finish the meat, but her interjection reminds you to stop and actually chew, and it makes the meal marginally less unpleasant than it might have otherwise been. Your hands are still coated in a thin film of oil, and you still feel greasy and heavy and gross, but you finish the meal with at least some dignity intact.
Roxy and Calliope both watch you as you stand up and brush the oil off on your pants. Roxy’s expression remains inscrutable; Calliope, as always, seems serene.
Or maybe you’re just bad at reading people. Who knows.
You take a deep breath, and feel the breeze around you. It feels hot and stale and sour. You fly as often as any of your friends, but you haven’t actually been the wind in years, and suddenly you wonder why. It’s not like you’ve particularly enjoyed being yourself these past few years either.
JOHN: i know what i must do.
JOHN: i have to go back and kill lord english.
ROXY: u sure?
JOHN: i think so. it will probably be hard. but it’s the right thing to do.
JOHN: everyone is counting on me.
JOHN: this feels like a responsibility, and i don’t want to shirk it.
Roxy sucks in a breath through her teeth. You’re not so foolish that you don’t recognize skepticism when you see it, but what are you supposed to say? This is about the weight of reality itself or something, isn’t it? You wish Rose’s explanation had contained practical examples of what might go wrong if you didn’t do this thing. You always look like way more of an idiot than you normally are when she stays entirely abstract.
ROXY: i understand
Moments pass in quiet. It feels simultaneously awkward and not; you have no idea what’s going on in either of your companions’ heads, but whatever it is, you can’t bring yourself to speak for nearly a minute. A bell tower chimes in the distance. Your head darts up at the sound, and as you look, you notice a group of carapacians lingering nearby, watching your impromptu conference of the divine. The attention makes you want to curl in on yourself and disappear, for some reason. You feel gross and awkward; your already-poor social skills are really at an all-time low, and you want so badly to just retreat to your house and never leave again, in spite of your commitment to slay an immortal time demon who you once met when he was a misogynistic alien child.
JOHN: so, is that it?
JOHN: should i, uh...get going?
CALLIOPE: if this is yoUr decision, then yes.
CALLIOPE: there’s no time to lose, if the choice yoU have made is to matter.
ROXY: ok no wait hang tf on
ROXY: why dont we got any time to lose
CALLIOPE: roxy yoU know as well as i do that the conceptUal unraveling of canon is approaching faster than any of Us anticipated!
CALLIOPE: he mUst go now, or else risk everything!
ROXY: yea no fuck that actually
JOHN: roxy, um, not that i don’t appreciate you wanting me to stay longer...
JOHN: but what would even be the point? the fight isn’t going to get any easier the longer i wait.
ROXY: no but youre gonna get better at it
ROXY: john when was the last time you fought anyone
JOHN: um, i guess...when we all fought the condesce?
JOHN: you, me, rose, and kanaya, i mean. callie obviously wasn’t there.
ROXY: yeah that was seven fuckin years ago dog
ROXY: youre just gonna rush off to fight like the biggest baddest endboss in paradox space after a seven year dry spell?
JOHN: ok, well, first of all i would appreciate it if you didn’t call it that.
JOHN: and second...
JOHN: does it even matter? none of us trained for the condesce on the meteor trip or the battleship, and we still beat her!
JOHN: honestly, aside from that fight, i can’t think of a time when any battle we got into put any of us in real danger.
ROXY: yeah but while u were lounging around on a bigass prospit air cruiser me & the alpha squad spent like five months fighting undead minions on skeleton planets
ROXY: and who ended up doing the best in that fight?
JOHN: you, i guess.
JOHN: but i dunno, roxy...
JOHN: it’s just hard to believe that our actual fighting prowess has ever really mattered.
Roxy puts a hand out to grasp your shoulder. Her eyes bore into yours, fierce and focused.
ROXY: this time it will
ROXY: i fuckin agree w you 100% like, im not the strifing stan out here sayin oooh yeah it ruled that sburb tried to make us into child soldier warrior gods
ROXY: but sometimes you gotta square up with a mfucker and this is the most important square up you are EVER gonna be involved in
ROXY: so i just...
ROXY: i just think you should be ready
ROXY: idk it feels fuckin unconscionable to let you charge off unprepared
Calliope is standing too at this point, and she touches Roxy’s other arm gently, a concerned expression on her face. Roxy’s grip on your shoulder lightens, and she turns the fierce gaze on Callie. It isn’t harsh, but it’s determined, you think. Calliope’s face reflects a deep, terrible concern, and her voice is quavering when she next speaks.
Roxy’s gaze softens instantly, and she puts her other hand on Calliope’s. You worry that you should turn away. This feels too intimate to intrude on, especially for a guy that Calliope barely knows.
ROXY: gimme 2 months
ROXY: karkats wriggling day is on the 12th of june right
ROXY: well send him off the day after
ROXY: we dont know that this is gonna happen all at once
ROXY: we can handle two months of it before he leaves
They look at each other, and you cast your gaze sideways for a moment, unsure of what to do with your hands. You've been feeling like the most awkward fucking dude in the world, lately, and you honestly kind of hate it. You wonder how Dave and Karkat do it sometimes; they've both had their fair share of social fuckups, but neither of them seem to carry themselves with the same sense of discoordination that you feel is constantly hanging over you these days.
CALLIOPE: i don’t know aboUt this, roxy.
CALLIOPE: it constitUtes an enormoUs risk.
ROXY: please trust me
ROXY: our friends at risk too
ROXY: i just wanna try and keep him safe
They keep contact for another beat, and then Calliope nods. Roxy’s shoulders sigh in relief as she turns back to you.
JOHN: wait, what just happened?
JOHN: i’m supposed to train for this fight somehow?
ROXY: i mean not alone
ROXY: im gonna train you my damn self
ROXY: welcome to captain rolals hyperbolic time chamber
ROXY: its the room where you train for a year but only a day passes
ROXY: dont tell me u never watched dbz
JOHN: well, i read the manga.
JOHN: we’re talking about the big white room where goku and gohan trained for a year to beat cell, right? i thought that was called the room of spirit and time.
ROXY: they musta translated it different for the anime
ROXY: anyway yeah
ROXY: gonna take you to a level beyond super saiyan
ROXY: turn you into ssj4 egbert
JOHN: there’s an ssj 4?
ROXY: oh yeah
ROXY: they got ssj 4, golden great ape super saiyan, super saiyan blue...
JOHN: roxy, i am starting to feel like you’re fucking with me.
ROXY: no this is a hundo percent legit
ROXY: its a shorter way of saying super saiyan god super saiyan
JOHN: now i KNOW you’re fucking with me.
ROXY: awwww johnny boy
ROXY: would i do that to u
She winks at you, and you grin back. The wind gusts across the grass again, and the quality of the air your breathe is different now; it feels less stagnant and more directed, as if someone had taken a box full of tornadoes and unleashed it on a windmill. The blades are turning again—a creaky, strained motion, but a motion nonetheless.
JOHN: so, uh...
JOHN: when do we start?
ROXY: mmmm tomorrow morning i think
ROXY: you should go alchemize like a foam hammer or something so u dont actually bash me that hard when we practice strife
ROXY: eat a good breakfast and meet me at 9 ill text you a place
ROXY: sound good?
JOHN: yeah, that sounds really fucking good, actually.
JOHN: i’ll be there.
She nods, waves once, and then turns to offer Calliope her arm. Calliope takes it, and the two saunter off. You give an awkward half-wave back, not quite sure when to move, because apparently you’ve decided that the awkwardness pile just doesn’t stop from getting taller these days.
You sigh as they grow smaller in the distance and drop your hand. Instead of lingering on the embarrassment of your poor social timing, you do something you haven’t in a long time and dissolve into the breeze, floating back to your apartment in wisps.
You feel good, for the most part. It feels good to have something to do, to have a commitment. Now your days can be more than just sitting in your room and playing catchup on video games or movies or whatever garbage you find online to occupy your time. Having a purpose is grounding, and you know that, over the next couple months, in a perverse and fucked-up way, you'll actually be looking forward to this fight.
But right now?
Now you need a fucking shower.