Chapter 1: Overture
Regular font indicates the present.
Italic font indicates flashbacking or dreaming; whether it's a flashback or a dream will be clarified.
Bold italic font indicates thought.
Bold regular font indicates writing/typing.
For LateNiteSlacker, author of the fanfiction that inspired this ('Hopeless and Heartless'), and Yijasha, my supportive older sister.
The world was still and soundless, save for the crickets humming tender melodies and the slow breathing escaping from his mouth. His trembling hand reached forward as means of hopefully grazing the stars with his left thumb and index finger, his fatigue rendering his smile softer than silk and his eyelashes trembling like butterflies against his cheekbones.
For once in his life, he felt at peace with the world around him, soothed by the atmosphere of the night. As he lowered his arm, the limb feeling cold in comparison to the warmth radiating from his chest, he admired the constellations cascaded across the sky like liquid mercury across a canvas of cobalt and amethyst, their age-old patterns and stories carved into his furthest memories and buried within the crevices of his heart.
At any other time, he would have loved to name those constellations and tell the legends behind them, but as his pulse grew slower with weariness, he found himself unable to command the strength of his tongue to speak.
He allowed his heavy eyelids to close for a moment, taking in the serenity of his surroundings to ease his nerves and relax his whole body. He had experienced so many hardships that he had initially found it difficult to let his guard down and calm his mind. But with every rustle of the pine trees and every firefly that coasted on the evening breeze, he found retaining consciousness to be an even greater obstacle to overcome.
He couldn't muster up enough strength open his eyes, his exhaustion too strong to overcome. His world delved into the black abyss as he sunk into the arms of Morpheus, too weak to resist the encompassing wave of bliss as the footsteps grew more frantic, coming closer, faster-
He woke up to see the sunlight drenching his bedroom as opposed to the darkness he had intimately known a few seconds earlier, the plaster of his ceiling replacing the constellations he had counted, reality in the stead of his dreams.
A groan escaped his somewhat-parched throat as he covered his eyes with the back of his hand, the shadows establishing better leverage to his muddled mind as he attempted to force himself back into full-consciousness; those dreams in particular were always so disorienting, muted yet feeling so real, similar to the explosion of senses one experiences after submerging themselves into a bathtub only to come up gasping for air.
And they had been getting longer.
What started off as quick flashes of a starry sky have turned into longer, detailed dreams that have been happening more often these past few weeks, John noted as he sat up in his bed, raking a hand through his messy raven locks in a futile effort to dismiss his depersonalization. I know I should tell Jade or Rose about it, since Jade's always had weird experiences with her dreams while Rose could use her Seer of Light powers to try piecing it all together, but…
His brow furrowed in accordance to his now hooded gaze, recalling the voice that had called out his name with such desperation, and felt his insides tug unpleasantly. It just feels too personal to talk about, even to them.
It wasn't that he didn't trust them—far from it, as they along with Dave had been his best friends for longer than he could remember—it was simply a matter of his own embarrassment at sharing what could easily be dismissed as a meaningless dream and, in a sense, a matter of his own determination to try figuring it out on his own even if it did turn out to be totally pointless.
Yet another groan escaped him as his back collided with his mattress, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. I'm probably just overthinking this.
A small buzzing noise from his pillow put his thoughts on pause as he reached under the cushion and pulled out his iPhone, swiping the lock screen aside with a few slides of his thumb only to reveal numerous notifications from his preferred app of communication, PesterChum. Panic immediately swelled within his stomach akin to an inflating balloon as he quickly opened the app and glanced over the messages from his friends, tentacleTherapist (Rose), gardenGnostic (Jade), and turntechGodhead (Dave) as means of hopefully catching up with what news he had missed due to oversleeping.
turntechhGodhead [TG] at 12:13 opened memo on board BADASS B-DAY PARTY.
turntechGodhead [TG] at 12:13 responded to memo.
TG: were all gathered here today
TG: to witness the birth of the coolest, most badass party in the history of badass parties after nine months of cultivation in the name of the father, son, holy ghost
TG: head, shoulders, knees and toes
TG: turn up your nose, strike that pose
TG: heyyy macarena
gardenGnostic [GG] at 12:14 responded to memo.
GG: i told you to get some sleep hours ago :(
TG: the thing about sleep
TG: is that its kind of hard to do it while driving from texas to washington state in one go
TG: and while im a man of many talents with countless fans that practically engulf me in a sea of their undivided adoration every time i try to walk down the street
TG: id rather not end up in the middle of the fucking california desert because i thought itd be the epitome of places to go take a nap
GG: so youve been driving through the states nonstop just to come to johns birthday on time?
GG: hehe, time ;)
TG: oh my fucking god
GG: thats so sweet of you :D
TG: oh fuck
TG: im lactose intolerant to metaphorical cheesiness
TG: i think im breaking out into hives
TG: swelling up like that one kid from charlie and the chocolate factory after eating one of those everlasting gobstoppers or some shit
tentacleTherapist [TT] at 12:14 responded to memo.
TT: You will die young and leave an Adonis corpse, minus the swelling and red patches; in your final moments, may I inquire as to what method of burial you would prefer to watch upon from the other side?
TG: three words
TG: viking-style funeral
GG: you mean where they load you onto a boat with all your possessions and set it on fire?
TG: gonna die the way i lived
TG: with sick fires
TT: You will be missed. I will prepare a eulogy of extensive detail pertaining to your birth, childhood, rise to fame coupled with the adversaries and strife endured, and the tragedy that was your youthful passing. Not a single dry eye will be present in the scores of onlookers waiting with baited breath to catch even the slightest glimpse of your lakeside funeral pyre drifting off into the sunset to ascend to Valhalla.
TT: It will truly be a spectacle of the ages.
GG: so funeral plannings and viking-esque burial rituals aside, when do you think youll finally get here? im so excited since its been AGES since weve all seen each other in person! :D :D :D
TT: Yes, Skype satisfies the gaping wound of companionship, but it is nothing compared to the real thing.
TG: woah ladies keep your panties on
TG: ill be at his doorstep in exactly ten minutes so you guys go on ahead and ill catch up
GG: okay, rose and i will carpool! it helps that i didnt have to take a car to get here from Hawaii :)
TT: Yes, traveling by package plane definitely has its perks. Alright, we'll see you shortly.
GG: byeeee! :D
TG: catch you later lalonde, harley
turntechhGodhead [TG] at 12:13 closed memo.
John glanced at the clock on his phone screen to establish his sense of time after reading the last segment of conversation, his anxiety levels practically skyrocketing to the top of his Emotion-Echeladder considering the last message had been sent almost ten minutes ago!
"Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap," he muttered beneath his breath as he scrambled out of bed (tangling himself up in his own bedsheets and tripping face-first onto the floor, but hey, he was tall and lanky and therefore allowed to be clumsy) and clambered his fingers around his nightstand in blind hope of reaching his glasses, haphazardly shoving them onto his face when he finally found them. "I really should have set an alarm or something 'cause Dave is going to be here any minute and we haven't seen each other in years and-"
What sounded like marbles hitting his window pane broke him out of his panicked stupor, a quirked eyebrow illustrating his confusion as he managed to escape his blankets and made his way towards the source of the sound. The early afternoon light provoked a grimace when he pushed aside his white curtains and shoved the window open since he was still adjusting to being awake, only for a wide, goofy grin to immediately break out amongst his features when seeing a familiar coolkid standing on the sidewalk with pebbles in his hands.
"You're the ugliest Girl Scout I've ever seen!" John exclaimed teasingly, cupping his hands around his mouth so that Dave could hear him. "Do you have any Thin Mints?"
"Fuck you John, I'm the hottest Girl Scout in Troop 663 and you know it," Dave remarked, putting his hands on his hips in a way that could only be described as sassy. "And no, I've only got Samoas since everybody agrees that they're the tastiest, most scrum-diddly-fucking-umptious thing to grace this universe since funnel cake."
"You got me there," John agreed as he propped his elbow against the windowsill and leaned his cheek into his palm. "Funnel cakes are pretty much the only cake I can stuff my face with, nowadays."
"Even after all these years, your dad making you sick-ass cakes every day still seems like the best problem to have in my opinion," the blond informed (much to the brunet's distaste). "So you gonna let me in or am I gonna have to climb your tree and seduce my way into your house Romeo and Juliet style?"
"Oh, Mister Strider," John announced with a flourish, the illusion of Southern Belle-esque swooning complete with the back of his hand encountering his forehead in a melodramatic manner. "I do declare that you are simply, as one may say nowadays, 'too hot—hot damn', for me to handle!"
"How about this," Dave began, his hands in the pockets of his crimson zip-up hoodie. "Bromeo, oh Bromeo, open the fucking door. No homeo."
Another silly smile graced his cheekbones at that, John unable to hide his guffawing. "That'll work too. Be down there in a second."
John closed the window before Dave could go on another one of his monologues, unfortunately not having enough time (unlike Dave) to listen to his spiels that were known to last for several hours if left uninterrupted, what with the blond's wide variety of creative idioms and intense devotion towards circumlocution. Instead, the brunet made haste in getting ready for the day by bundling up his outfit of choice in his arms and rushing to the bathroom, emerging about two minutes later with his teeth expertly brushed, his face freshly washed, and an extra-large spring in his step as he raced down the stairs and opened the door.
And standing there, with fist bump at the ready and a big red gift topped with an ironically-frilly pink bow, was Dave.
John's face was honestly beginning to hurt from how much he was grinning as he ignored the fist bump and instead hugged his best bro with all the strength his noodle-arms could muster, overjoyed at the reality that he was finally reuniting with one of his closest friends whom he hadn't seen for two years, in the flesh. The pale, gangly, kind of sweaty from a long-ass car trip from Texas to Washington, but undeniably-cool, flesh.
"Woah, calm your tit, Egbert," Dave managed to say as he looped one arm around the brunet's waist to return the hug, his other limb concentrating on keeping his gift metaphorically afloat. "Just your left tit—let your right tit be your party tit so it'll fit in with this badass party that we are about to have. I mean, I know that of course you'd want a piece of this smokin' hot Strider bod I've got working harder than a Japanese businessman, but control yourself; think of the baby, Egbert."
John, against all he believed possible, was somehow capable of pulling back from Dave and swallowing his laughter long enough to ask. "What baby?"
"I'm afraid he's referring to himself, John," a familiar, female voice broke in as Rose stepped out from behind the coolkid (where she had come from and how John hadn't seen her until now, he inwardly answered those questions with a simple 'Light powers, leave it at that'), a knowing yet gentle smile upon her doll-like features as she stepped forward and pinched Dave's cheek, shaking it like a mother would do to a disobedient child. "The baby, David—it is you."
"I'm just gonna stop you right there, Lalonde," Dave replied as he plucked her hand from his cheek, a bright red mark a temporary reminder of her teasing actions. "Before you somehow turn this conversation into another opportunity for you to analyze my fucked-up psyche and conclude that I'm suffering from an Oedipus Complex."
A sharp gasp escaped the blonde as she pressed a hand to her heart, her violet eyes wide with faux astonishment. She fluttered her eyelashes several times for good measure, going all-out to maintain her ruse of 'insult'. "How dare you? You are fully aware of the fact that, if anything, I would incorporate implication of your sexual orientation as opposed to that of an Oedipus Complex, drawing on your childhood experiences with hourly strifes and bulbously-endowed puppets. Shame on you, Dave; as my cousin, I thought you knew me better."
"Glad to see you too, Rose," John snickered as he hugged her before the two could go off on a tangent of psychological proportions, wondering if awkwardness relating to hugs was something that ran in their family considering how it took her a moment before she could return his embrace, stiff and formal just like Dave had been a few minutes ago. He'd need to remedy that if such was the case, especially before the two returned to their respective homes! "So, if I give you a quarter, could you tell me if you've seen anything in my future recently with your glowy light powers?"
She covered her mouth to contain a snort, still somehow able to keep an air of classiness about her—whereas Dave was always…Dave and Jade always cheerful, Rose was always good at maintaining the aura of sophistication, even when reading smutty wizard fanfiction starring old bearded men and their 'wands'. "I'm afraid my abilities don't work that way, John; I am a Seer of Light that relies on probability, not a magic eight ball that relies on how roughly you shake it."
"Shake it, shake it, booty quake it, Lalonde." Dave remarked with a ghost of a smirk upon his expression, side-stepping John as quick as a flash and entering the house so that he could avoid the inevitable elbowing Rose would bestow on his ribs. "While you're busy hitting it on the dancefloor, I'm gonna see about some trademarked Betty Crocker goods that have been serenading me with the promise of diabetes since this door opened."
"Don't encourage the Batter Witch, Dave!" John called out as he leaned against the door threshold, the distant shout of 'you can't make me do anything, Egbert!' resulting in the brunet barking out a quick laugh and crossing his arms over his chest. He redirected his attention back towards the blonde, his eyes crinkling at meeting her gaze. "Seriously though, it's nice to see you again, Rose. How's New York been treating you?"
She returned the fond look, brushing a stray hair behind her ear and adjusting her black headband. "It's undoubtedly been interesting, working on my Psychology major and English minor," she informed with a shrug of her shoulders. "But…I'll admit that I've missed you all tremendously in the two years we've separated, so I'm happy to see you as well, John."
He nodded at that, scratching the back of his head after a moment. "So, um…how is your mom doing? With her…stuff?"
Much to his surprise, a small smile broke out against her features. "She's been improving immensely since I've come back to New York, and has been going to Anonymous meetings to help with her recovery; she hasn't touched a drink in almost a year."
"Really?" John asked, his grin growing bigger when the blonde nodded immediately. "Oh God, that's great, Rose! Man, I'll need to send you back to New York with one of my dad's cakes or something, since that's absolutely awesome news to hear!"
"I'm sure she'd much rather have your dad accompany me home," Rose smirked coyly, the brunet groaning and burying his face in his hands at that. "What was it she said when I showed her our graduation photo a few months ago? Ah, yes—'Who is THAT tall drink of water next to Johnny? I'd love to drink every last drop of him if you know what I mean, Rosie, wink wink.'"
"Please don't bring that up again, not on my birthday of all days," John croaked between his fingers, cringing inwardly at the memory. "You told Dave and he went out of his way to make an entire group chat dedicated to that incident, and literally titled it 'Tall Drink of Water Daddy Egbert'! I do not want to be reminded of that, not when I just stopped dreaming about it!"
Only to get another reoccurring dream in its place, he noted bitterly, ignorant to the quirk of Rose's eyebrow.
"Alright, alright, I'll abide by your rules, birthday boy, and cease my relentless torment of your inner psyche. For now, that is." She expressed with both her hands up in a placating gesture, lowering them to her sides after a moment. "Although, speaking of dreams, have you been having any as of late? Anything abnormal?"
"Well I'd imagine that all dreams are abnormal," John retorted, putting his hands in the pockets of his jeans to occupy his body with something to do and hopefully conceal his blooming anxiety. "Why do you ask?"
Should I just tell her? I haven't told anyone about it, but she might know something what with her title and aspect. But…I also don't want to, since I don't want to bother her if it's something stupid and I want to figure it out on my own. Though this is Rose we're talking about, she obviously wouldn't bring up something as random as dreams if her Light powers hadn't given her reason to ask. Dreams are more Jade's area of conversation, not Rose's. Though where IS Jade, anyway? I thought she and Rose were carpooling!
Rose's voice brought him out of his stupor, sending him back into the present with the abruptness of an electrical shock. He blinked several times and laughed sheepishly, tugging the collar of his shirt to ease the tightness of his chest and the rising flush in his cheeks. "I'm sorry, what was that?"
Another eyebrow rose upon her forehead, joining its twin in their dance of combined bemusement and suspicion. "The reason I was asking is because, in a way, you're right: with my 'glowy light powers' as you eloquently described earlier, I have seen something about you. No quarters or rigorous shaking involved."
A shiver caressed John's spine upon reminiscing his latest dream, biting his lip as he contemplated whether he should tempt the fates by inquiring what she saw, or staying blissfully ignorant of where the chips would possibly fall. After a moment of mental debating that felt more like a millennium, he opened his mouth so that he could voice his response only to be interrupted by something falling on top of him, followed by the billowy fabric of a parachute.
"John!" Another familiar voice shouted excitedly into his ear as bright green eyes covered by aviator goggles met his own bright blue eyes, the beaming buck-toothed smile sending wave after wave of memories into his brain as the weight of the newcomer disappeared and the parachute removed. The young lady removed the goggles and put on her round spectacles, her mane of long black hair wild and cascading down the back of her white lab coat akin to a waterfall of ebony, as she stood up to her full height and extended her hand out to him, which he took immediately and was pulled into a bone-crushing hug by. "Oh my gosh, I've missed you so much! How have you been doing? Is Seattle University awesome? Have you discovered who you are, yet? You simply HAVE to fill me in on all that's been going on, since there's only so much you can convey through a laptop screen!"
John laughed as he pulled back from her, readjusting his own glasses that were skewed in the intensity of the hug. "Good, yes, no, and in due time, Jade, I'll make sure to tell you everything, so just hold your horses."
"Embrace your equestrian creatures," Rose added, her hand pressed against her lips in a moot effort to hide her grin. "Cradle them as you would a newborn child, as we discussed Dave was earlier."
"I'm guessing you guys have had a lot more time to catch up than me, if you're already cracking inside jokes that I don't understand," Jade responded as she leaned down and gathered up the parachute in her arms, bundling up the light linen until it appeared that she was wearing robes and inviting all to behold them. "Anyway, I'm super-duper sorry about being late—Rose and I were carpooling when, all of a sudden, Bec jumped out the window when he saw a cat so I had to go after him before he got lost! Thankfully, I was able to catch up with him, but thanks to his needless shenanigans, he's now on Time Out!"
When noting John's confused look, Jade was quick to reach inside the breast pocket of her lab coat and remove a small version of the rambunctious White Shepard, which barked and tried to lick John's cheek from its place in the palm of her hand. John gasped and carefully scratched the dog under his chin with his index finger, snickering when the canine got slobber on his nail from the amount of his kisses. "Wow, you've really improved with your space powers, Jade!" He exclaimed, rubbing his hand on the side of his jeans when Jade put the dog back inside his Time Out Zone. "So I'm guessing the University of Hawaii has been beneficial in helping develop your abilities?"
Jade puffed out her chest with pride at that. "Oh yes, not only is it fascinating to learn how being a Witch of Space can be applied with my major in Nuclear Physics, but the weather is always perfect for my minor in Botany! Plus, it's been great getting to take care of Grandpa as he's gotten older, though let it never be said that he can't sub in as an archeology professor or shoot a rifle!"
"Yeah, your Grandpa's still got it even as he's hitting his late-nineties," John laughed while he stepped away from the threshold of the door. "But seriously, come on in before Dave eats all the cake!"
The distant shout of 'you'll have to pry this delicious concoction of frosting and fever dreams from my cold, dead hands!' resulted in laughter shared between the three as Jade entered the house, John following behind her only to be surprised when his shoulder was touched by Rose. He stopped and looked back at her, noting the hesitance swimming in her lavender eyes with puzzlement as he wondered what she wished to say.
"Later," Rose spoke tentatively, as if afraid the words would crumble in her mouth. "I'll tell you about what I saw later, John."
He nodded slowly, perturbed by her uncharacteristic attitude, but smiled to try dismissing the strange atmosphere that had arisen between them. "Got it," he agreed, grabbing her hand and dragging her inside playfully. "Now come on, before Dave AND Jade eat all the cake!"
She complied, her expression much more relaxed as she allowed him to tug her through the entryway and into the living room where the fireplace crackled pleasantly and his beloved Nanna surveyed them from her photograph.
In the kitchen, it was clear that his father was brimming with gentlemanly joy at the prospect of seeing Dave and Jade devouring his countless cakes with such enthusiasm, as John (his birthday the only exception) hardly ever ate confections given the constant surplus. Nonetheless, the triple-tiered birthday cake placed in the center of the kitchen table had remained untouched by the antics of sugar-craving young adults as it was evident, based on the elegant script reading 'Happy Birthday, John—I am so proud of you' in blue frosting, that John was destined to be the first to have a slice given it was his special day.
Even though the mere thought of Betty Crocker's nefarious baking being digested in his stomach gave him the heebie-jeebies, John was more than willing to choke down a slice today if it meant making his dad pleased. And as he walked over only to be immediately embraced by his parent, the smell of newsprint and shaving cream a pleasant invader to his senses, he was overwhelmed by happiness and inwardly deemed his twentieth birthday to already be the best one ever since he was with his father and surrounded by his best friends.
He broke the hug after an appropriate amount of time, giving off half-hearted protests when his dad ruffled up his perpetually-messy black hair in an affectionate manner, and took his seat at the head of the kitchen table (otherwise known as his Birthday Throne, based on the blue balloons tied to the edges and the streamers crisscrossing the chair like spider webs across a window) with Dave to his left and Jade to his right.
"Let's do presents first," his dad said as he placed a gift in front of John before returning to the birthday cake and setting up the candles. "That way the cake will be ready for blowing out by the time you're all finished."
"Sure," John confirmed as he carefully opened up the present, wary of any pies that might pop out of the gift and smack him in the face, only to see what appeared to be a brand-new laptop depicting the face of famed comedian, Bill Cosby. "A Cosbytop? Woah!"
"I noticed that you only had four computers instead of five, which, as you know, is the minimal amount of computers one should carry with them at all times," his father explained as he began lighting up the candles on the cake until all twenty were emitting a gentle glow. "So it was only practical that you have another one, especially taking into consideration your university studies."
Noting the impish gleam in Cosby's wise old eyes somehow preserved perfectly in the husk of a laptop, John couldn't help but return the expression towards his parent as he couldn't contain his enthusiasm. "Thanks so much, dad."
"Good to see you're prepared for going out into the world, John! Now if only you would let me lend you several of my rifles so that you could be even more prepared…" Jade replied as she reached into her other breast pocket that wasn't Time Out for impish puppies and removed what looked like two tiny Starbursts wrapped in purple and green paper, respectively. "Now, it's Rose and I's turn to give you our presents!"
After gathering the items in her palm, she closed her eyes and creased her brow until the square objects started to float, growing in size until it was revealed, in a glow of black and white, that they were presents as opposed to Starbursts!
"Woah, Jade! You shrunk the gifts and had them in your pocket the whole time?" John wondered out loud when Jade handed him the presents, staring at them with wide eyes that poorly hid his awe.
Jade grinned. "Yep! One of the benefits of Spacey powers is making things smaller or bigger, so I took the presents and made them tiny for safe keeping, although Bec thought they were Starbursts so he tried eating them."
It was at that point that John noted that the green gift had traces of dog slobber on its glossy surface, and wiped the saliva off with the hem of his sleeve after grimacing. "Ew. But cool! I guess I'll open yours first, then."
Jade nodded quickly, provoking John to tear off the wrapping paper until he came face-to-face with a brown package delivery box, which he opened with the aid of some kitchen scissors Rose handed him. As the tension reached its full might, he pushed aside the tissue paper, reached inside, and pulled out a briefcase entitled 'Colonel Sassacre's Elaborate Gadgets of Magical Frivolity and Practical Japery'.
Good God it was so heavy, he could probably kill someone if he dropped it.
Nonetheless, the sight of a prank set compiled by the great Sassacre himself was a sight that made his eyes crinkle with delight and (yet another) smile grow amongst his features as he opened the briefcase and observed the glorious loot of impish intentions. Smoke bombs, blood capsules, fake moustaches, hand buzzers, whoopee cushions—everything a professional prankster needed to complete his art and more was inside, nothing amiss in the cultivation of comedy.
"This is so awesome, Jade!" He expressed as he closed the briefcase and hugged it to his chest, setting it aside gently so he could investigate the contents further at a later point in time. "I've been running low on supplies lately, so this came just in time!"
"Glad that you like it," Jade chirped, handing him the second present wrapped in violet. "This one's from Rose, if you couldn't tell."
"Oh man, and here I was thinking this gift was from Dave's bro since everyone knows how much he loves this shade of lilac," John claimed, his tone drenched in sarcasm as his guests laughed, John joining in when Dave stated how he wouldn't be surprised if that was the case. "So Rose, should I be careful not to shake this gift in case there's something alive?"
"You should at least take caution in that there may be a few live tentacles within its contents," Rose retorted effortlessly, her grin giving her humor away. "They may not be pleased with how much Jade jostled them in her dramatic entrance."
"Well, I guess I'll just have to take my chances, then," he decided as he unwrapped the gift and administered the scissors to undo the duct tape keeping the delivery box secure, noting the layers of rose petals and expensive-looking tissue paper with a raised brow. "Again with your passive-aggressive tendencies in gift-giving?"
She shrugged. "It's a hard habit to break."
With a roll of his eyes, John brushed aside the petals and paper only for his hand to meet a glossy surface, pulling out a collection of books bound by a fancy leather strap. Upon undoing the strap, he glanced over the covers only to see that they were all novels of the paranormal genre, which was one of his favorite genres if his previous Pesterchum handle of ghostlyTrickster was anything to go from. He sent a smile towards Rose who returned the sentiment, opening the first book and clearing his throat so that he could read a few lines.
"'He reaches between my legs and pulls on the blue string… what!'" John began, his sentence making Rose chuckle, Jade blush, and Dave burst into laughter immediately; one of the ways he liked to toy with people was by taking items they were reading and inserting his own lines of dialogue, usually perverted ones that Dave tended to send to him. Today's choice of words? Straight from 'Fifty Shades of Grey'. "'And gently pulls my tampon out and tosses it into the nearby toilet.' Good God, Rose, why would you give this to me? Think of the baby! Dave, cover your ears!"
"I thought you of all people would appreciate my gift, John," Rose managed to say between gasps of giggles without breaking her otherwise flawless poker face. "Let it be known that John Egbert is a connoisseur of the erotic arts, only accepting the finest pornography. He can't even open it up to read it because it will decrease in value; it's pretty ineffective as pornography itself, but it's a good collector's item."
"He's a pornnossieur," Dave muttered when the hilarity died down, his words akin to an earthquake in an ocean as it resulted in a new tsunami of amusement amongst them all. "To the point where even Bro would be envious of his exquisite taste in raunchy content."
"Anyway, thanks so much, Rose," John continued, taking off his glasses and wiping away some stray, mirthful tears. "It'll be a lot of fun to read before I go to sleep."
Maybe it'll give me something else to dream about?
"The pleasure is all mine, John," she imparted with her hands folded daintily on her lap as if she hadn't just snickered herself silly a few moments prior. "Now David, if you will be so kind as to exchange your present?"
"Coming at ya, Cleopatra," Dave quipped as he slid his present across the table and into the waiting hands of the birthday boy, who went to work at unraveling the pink bow and wrapping paper before seeing the brown delivery box. Upon using the scissors to snap the duct tape, he opened the box only to see yet another box covered in black wrapping paper, and groaned.
"Dave, please don't tell me that my gift is in a box which is in a box that is in another box?" John sighed, raking a hand through his hair when Dave said nothing, instead giving a smirk. "Goddammit, you and your incessant need for irony."
"Gotta keep you on your toes, Egbert," the blond spoke with a hint of delight in his voice. "I'm not going to abide by the societal expectations of making gift-unwrappings easy for you—you gotta work for it."
"Ugh, Daaaaaaave," John drawled as he worked his way through his fifth box, pausing in his complaints when seeing tissue paper instead of wrapping paper. Suspense crawling in his stomach and curdling through his veins, he reached into the box until his hand grazed what felt like cool leather, gripping the item and pulling it out until he saw a…hammer? "What the-?"
"That, my friend, my bro, my amigo, my compadre, my ami, is not just any hammer," Dave started, John glancing up at him as his confusion soared to the sky. "That is the Zillyhoo, the mother of all hammers. A hammer so fine that Thor's hammer would look at it and weep, saying if it had a mouth, 'Gods, why oh why was I not created like the Zillyhoo, that fine piece of hammer ass that makes me want to do a fucking pirouette off the handle and into the pits of depression?' A hammer that was hand-crafted in the fires of Mordor, embellished by the hairs of unicorns, and shoved up the ass of Batman. Note the stripes of sky blue and gold wrapped around the handle like a hooker wrapped around a Senator in a money suit-"
"I am noting," John interrupted, twisting the artifact every which way to observe.
"-Gaze upon the bright pink sphere perched at the top of the rainbow cone, cradling the edge of the claw like it's Mary holding eight pound, six ounce newborn Baby Jesus-"
"I am gazing."
"-And behold the majesty of the giant blue face, so square and so fair that you have the insane, improbable urge to-"
"Shove it up my ass like Batman supposedly did?" John grinned as Dave actually took a second to process his remark, his fair eyebrows rising above his sunglasses.
"Jesus no, Egbert, what the fuck is wrong with you?" The blond retorted jokingly as the brunet snickered, unable to hold it back for much longer. Goodness, if there was an amount of times he laughed today, he would have lost track a while ago! "No, the insane, improbable urge to use it like you should use a hammer, not stick it up every crevice in your body like some deranged psychoslut. Christ in a sidecar, I should have given you a Bible instead."
"No, no, no, I'll keep the, uh, Zillyhoo," John backtracked quickly, looking over the gift so he could take in the details better. Despite its large size (which made him wonder how in the hell Dave had managed to shove such a huge object inside multiple, small boxes, though again, he answered that question with 'Time powers, leave it at that'), it was remarkably weightless on his fingertips and incredibly detailed what with all the colors and stripes making up the majority of the design; hell, if he peered close enough, he could see small symbols decorating the hilt of the hammer that pulsed with dark red light every couple of seconds. "Though what's with these weird signs?"
"Time runes," Dave enlightened, making John 'ahhh' in appreciation and wonder. "Just…things to keep you safe while you're still out discovering yourself and whatnot, since you never know what could happen."
"Did the AATA approve of this?" John questioned after a moment, meeting Dave's eyes as best as he could with those Ben Stiller shades covering his best bro's face.
Dave shrugged, leaning back in his seat. "What the Agency doesn't know won't hurt them. Plus, I've already taken the liberty of triple-checking the timeline to ensure that thing doesn't result in any anomalies, so if they have a problem, they'd be knocking at the door by now."
"Eat your heart out, Santa Claus," John exclaimed as he set down the hammer beside his other gifts. "Dave Elizabeth Strider goes the extra mile by checking his list three times instead of two."
"Hell yeah I do," the blond agreed, the conversation put on pause when the lights of the kitchen were turned off to leave the soft glow of the candles as the source of luminescence. With that, Dave, Rose, Jade, and John's dad began to sing.
"Happy birthday to you," everyone sang, Dave bringing in the "Cha cha cha" between each verse. "Happy birthday to you-"
"-Cha cha cha-"
"-Happy birthday dear Joooooohn-"
"-Cha cha cha-"
"-Happy birthday toooooooo youuuuuuuuuu!"
Man, his face was REALLY beginning to hurt from how much he was smiling as he supplied the last "Cha cha cha" under his breath, scooting in his seat towards the birthday cake as he placed both hands on the table, leaned forward, and contemplated his wish. Yet as his gaze darted around the room, seeing his friends and his father gathered around him, all together instead of separated by states or continents, he found himself thinking-
I wish this moment would last forever.
The air he had gathered in his lungs to make his wish escaped him in a haggard gasp when a gust of wind swept through the room, blowing out the candles and submerging the kitchen in a crimson glow, so deep and so dark it was as if he was drenched in a sea of blood.
"What's happening?" John shouted, unable to hear his own voice much less anyone else given the violent breeze that was tossing papers around and sending unoccupied chairs tumbling to the floor. He could see his father grasping the counter top for dear life, Rose covering her ears and shutting her eyes, Jade huddling under the table with the fully-grown Bec to protect her, and Dave standing up with his sword unsheathed, his mouth moving yet his speech muted by the swift gale, but other than that, everything else was a complete blur of sound and sensation in a dizzying twister of fright.
John's heart completely stopped in his chest when an earsplitting roar ripped through the kitchen, his entirely body trembling as it was unlike anything he had ever heard make it stop make it stop-
It seemed that that was the birthday wish to be granted, for as suddenly as it had begun, the wind, the red glow, and the shrieking had stopped. Gone, as if it was all just their imagination.
But as John warily looked towards his friends and family, seeing the alarm in his dad as he gingerly let go of the counter, the terror in Jade as she carefully emerged from under the table, the horror in Rose as she hesitantly her removed her hands from her head hands, and the caution in Dave as he kept his sword poised for attack, he knew for a fact that what had just transpired was undeniably real.
Silence stretched on akin to hours as all struggled to grasp what had happened, each frozen in place and unable to move. Eventually, Jade was the first to speak.
"What…what was that?" She whispered, jolting everyone out of their trance as John's father ran over and turned on the kitchen lights, Rose jumped in her seat, and Dave slowly lowered his sword. "T-that was….c-completely unlike anything I've ever heard before."
"I don't know," Rose admitted as she held herself tightly, breaking her usual, straight posture in favor of hunching over in her seat. She shuddered, her breathing uneven. "Something truly evil, that's all I could tell."
John raked his hands through his hair as he struggled to slow down his heart, which, after its brief pause, was beating so rapidly against his ribs he wouldn't be surprised if the cage was bruised. "Well…whatever that was, at least it's all over now, right?"
Dave shook his head slowly, his collected façade broken by the white-as-a-sheet complexion he was wearing, one that was ten times paler than his normal skin color. "I wouldn't be so sure about that," he murmured as he leaned over the kitchen table and picked up a ripped piece of paper that...didn't seem to be there before, his shaded eyes scanning over the paper with only his rising eyebrows an indication of his emotions. After a moment, he swallowed thickly and extended the paper to John. "It's for you."
"Me?" John choked out, his eyes wide with fright behind his glasses. "W-what could it-?"
"Just read it," Dave broke in, taking John's hands and forcing the paper into his palm. "It's…it's important, apparently."
His breath caught in his throat, John reluctantly accepted the paper and slowly unfolded it to reveal that it was ripped near the bottom and stained with droplets of what was probably blood, John was at a loss for what to expect.
So he began to read.
John Egbert, I address this to you and you alone.
John, you will find that if there is one consistency, it is that I love you.
I love you more than anything I've ever known. More than anything I ever will know. More than anything I could even hope to dream of, much less experience. I love you so much that my heart physically hurt whenever I saw you, and I would feel both exhilarated and scared to pieces.
You stole my breath away.
Author's Note: And so marks the beginning of the end, as they say goodbye to the world they thought they lived in.
This work is inspired by LateNiteSlacker's amazing fanfiction, 'Hopeless and Heartless', the Homestuck OST 'Serenade' (Symphony), as well as the song 'In Any Other World' by Mika.
 – His Emotion Echeladder, which is a concept he devised when he was about thirteen years old, is a hierarchy of his various feelings which include levels such as Rapturous Hooligan, Dismayed Rapscallion, and Apoplectic Whippersnapper.
 – Our protagonist, ladies and gentlemen.
 – The AATA, or Agency Against Time Anomalies, is an organization run and occupied by those who correspond to the aspect of Time; it is their responsibility to oversee major events that are soon to occur in the Alpha Timeline and ensure that it does not become a Doomed Timeline.
Thank you for reading, I'll try to update soon with the next chapter.