You are Karkat Vantas and you have absolutely had it with whatever the fuck gender is.
You wish it was like the weather: if only if it were that simple! Partly cloudy, chance of showers in evening, self-hatred setting in by midnight. It’s mornings like these that you wish you could burrow under your covers like a sandcrab and sleep until your head and your body decide on the same thing for once.
From the window, the sun is deliciously warm and your blanket is so, so cozy.
But you have school in an hour and a full schedule of tuning out anything anyone has to say. There’s only a week left of class and everyone’s itching to leave anyway (Gamzee’s got his uncle’s truck and he’s taking you and Terezi and Tavros camping on the beach, he says). In the meantime you have to wait out the last few days. The morning’s too slow and off to an awful start already.
Under the covers, you wriggle your legs. The sheets are smooth, and you still can’t quite get used to them with your legs bare. Ever since Jade convinced you to join swim team last year and everyone shaved their legs with the little pink flowery-smelling razors, even the boys, you haven’t really…felt any worse. It was an improvement, you’d told Kanaya that afternoon, you felt kind of better this way, and she had smiled and helped you find band-aids because holy fuck your legs were bleeding and you hadn't even noticed. She had paused in her serene bandaid-ing to ask if you’d like to do your arms too, and you’d just stared – no, no, arms and legs were completely different. You were not shaving your arms. And therein lays your problem today. Maybe you should have. But you know by now: the next day you’ll regret it because you’ll feel much more like a boy, or somewhere in-between where you like some parts of you but not others, and Kanaya will berate you all the way to school for taking so long getting dressed.
Sometimes you resent Kanaya a little for her composure and certainty. She never doubted for a minute that she was completely female, never had her body feel wrong one day for one reason and still wrong the next for another, never woke up wanting to be a sandcrab.
But she’s always been there for you; years back she had taught you to put on makeup, though you never really put much on because you had dark eyelashes and what Kanaya described as “excellent cheekbones”, whatever that meant, and then she taught you what that meant. She taught you how to make clothes fall the right way over the parts of you that you hate the most; how to fix your hair so it would curl in the back when you wanted it to. You’d spent countless afternoons out in the summer sun painting each other’s nails, hers always a little messier than yours because you’re awful with stuff like that, and she never once complained, never laughed, never told –
There’s a creak in the stair, and you jump out of bed because the last thing you need this morning is your dad to yell at you. You wish it was Saturday, that he would be at work or out with Boxcars. You and Kanaya and Gamzee and Jade and John and Sollux could have picnics in the attic and if you wore that gray skirt Kanaya made you, no one would have given a solitary fuck, probably. And there’s the anxiety pooling in your stomach and under your ears. Shake it off. Deep breath.
Your dresser looms in the corner. You throw on some pants, decide that you hate them, and throw them back down again. Fuck everything, it’s gonna be One Of Those Days.
You could never wear girly clothes to school, but there’s a cottony button-up shirt that you call a blouse (Kanaya says it’s just a shirt, she thinks) and when you put it on it looks okay. Not good but not awful. The pants go on easier this time, when you’re focused on the shirt collar and how it looks kind of like the round kind that Kanaya’s uniform featured back when you were in elementary school. You hadn’t liked skirts as much back then, but now you think maybe you should’ve tried Kanaya’s on back when you were the same size and she was gone at her cello lessons for hours at a time and you had the whole house to yourself and oh god here comes the self-hate again. You take another deep breath and think of walking home after school with your friends. Walking home with Gamzee in the sycamore forests, and the sweet smell of the fuzzy leaves above. Maybe you should tell Gamzee that it might be really okay if he used female pronouns for you sometimes if he didn’t mind and only when it was just the two of you together because you’re not entirely sure how okay everyone else would be with it but with Gamzee it would be okay and now you really feel sick. Focus, focus.
Shoes are the easiest because they’re just black lace-ups. You’re trying to get your bangs to lie flat, and to get your eyebrows maybe just a little smoother when, expectedly, the door swings open.
You whip around; there’s your dad, in a jacket even though you’re pretty sure he doesn’t even work until later today.
“Hurry up.” His eyes linger on your shirt, and when did your heart start beating so intensely? You can feel it in your ears. “You’ll be late.”
Your feet still swing a good inch or so above the ground in the desks. You blame horrible genetics.
As for the subject of genetics, you’re developing a fond longing for it. For the past week your biology class has been studying reproduction, and what hasn’t made you and your classmates squirm uncomfortably has made you nauseous in a different way. The day your teacher had explained birth, Tavros nearly fainted in class; that night you felt for the nonexistent curve of your hips.
In the beginning of the class, back in September, your biology teacher had talked about how different bodies worked. Boys and girls. (Boys or girls, nothing in between or both or neither or somewhere else, just two little singularity points, black holes you were sucked into and couldn’t escape). Vriska made a joke about Eridan having tits and the whole class laughed and even Gamzee had laughed and oh god you’d felt so sick; and he didn’t know, there was no way he’d have known about you. The teacher was about to write her a detention, too, but the bell had rung, and you almost ran from the classroom. You hid in a tech closet because you really, really didn’t want to think about bathrooms.
You think Gamzee was probably the first to catch on, besides Kanaya. You weren’t even positive that he knew at all – you never really told him outright. You wanted him to know. And Gamzee was always weirdly smart about some things; maybe whatever got him 99s on his trigonometry tests also allowed him to pick up what your brain was saying but the rest of you couldn’t quite. The thought of that had panicked you for a long time, because what if he told someone about all this, someone that you didn’t want to know, this was Gamzee, he had no sense of decency or privacy and could only keep his own secrets. But he was also your best friend, and he’d all but throw himself into the sun before he hurt you on purpose. It's that sometimes he just seems to see through you, like glass, your entire soul. It creeps you the fuck out. It's also reassuring: Gamzee knows all the awful things about you and still likes you just as much as you like him.
This afternoon, you decide. This afternoon, after school when you’re walking back home. You’re gonna say…
Something, you guess.
The sun is awful by mid-afternoon and you’re starting to regret the blouse. There's sweat at the back of your neck, your hair, your socks. You feel like Equius. Only a few more days of it, then you’d be done. No more school for months and months and a cool house and no dad, but lots of Kanaya and popsicles and maybe she could teach you how to make a dress or two.
Gamzee and Tavros are waiting by the gate after your last class finally gets out: they’re caught up in a conversation already, and Tavros is giggling.
“Hey” you say. Your backpack is exceptionally heavy, making you bent over under its weight. Tavros and Gamzee just keep laughing, and, yeah, you guess you look exactly like some kind of hermit crab right now.
The three of you wheel Tavros home. He lives close to the school, in a cheerful house with flowers in the window and a wooden ramp up its concrete steps. He waves goodbye from the inside of checkered curtains, and you go.
Gamzee lives two streets down from you, in a house with his grandpa and a yard full of goats. It takes exactly six and a half minutes for you to get there from your house, which is up on a hill. You’ve been walking home with him since kindergarten and you have never felt more nervous.
Gamzee still glows as you continue from Tavros’s house, and he looks so happy. You’ve seen him angry under all his slouchy carefree happiness. What if he laughs, what if he makes fun of you, what if he hurts you like the last time he was angry even though he said sorry a million times after that? Your heart’s beating fast again as you walk back through the forest. The shortest route to your house is through a meadow and then a wood and then a run across the highway, and you were ready to throw up back when you were kicking dandelions in the meadow. Gamzee notices.
He’s too tall nowadays, he towers over you like he’s trying to be an umbrella. That’s the thing about Gamzee. He would be an umbrella, come springtime mist or acid rain. There’s something like love, you think, that you feel for him, and it’s mutual, and that makes you sick too. You can feel your whole body shiver when you look up at him.
“Yeah ’m fine, Gamzee.”
Oh no. You’re not going to chicken out of this. You aren’t. After all the thinking you did all day on it.
But you never say it. Never shout “Hey actually, Gamzee! I’m not really sure of my gender anymore and I don’t know how I really identify at the moment but if you could use some different pronouns that would be great, that would be so great. The meager – well okay not meager: extremely thorough – research I’ve done on the subject has led me to words like “genderfluid” but I’m not sure actually how I want to label this or if I want to label it at all, though it would be convenient as all fuck and oh god are we still friends”
You don’t say a word, you walk like nothing’s wrong.
Apparently Gamzee knows you better than that. “Aw I know what’s up.” Walks over on his huge long legs and wow when did he get that quick? “It’s this motherfucking backpack being all up and pushin’ you down into the ground, bro, gotta let that go, gotta breathe.”
With a skinny arm he lifts the backpack right off your shoulders and he smiles at you, because he knows that’s not what was bothering you at all and suddenly you really want to curl up on the forest floor and cry. Gamzee sets his own backpack on the ground, there’s probably a few papers scattered in there and a gross old apple because he never brings his books home. In a lazy calculated motion, he slings yours over his shoulder with the terrible grace of one who’s practiced juggling. Then he loops the straps of his empty backpack around your arms and oh fuck you really are crying now fuck fuck
“Aw, Karkat.” He puts his arm on your shoulder and you start sobbing really awfully then, sliding down, sinking to your knees down to the mossy ground. He follows, pulls you into his arms, up against him under his chin, and he flops over in the tree-scattered sunlight. Arms around you. The same way you’d done when he was screaming after the last time his dad came to visit. It’s hot and itchy against him, and your head hurts but you feel a little better.
But you can’t pull any sounds together besides just gross crying ones. Gamzee just holds you close and tight and whispers “shush, shhh” into your hair, until you’re too embarrassed by how your voice sounds to keep on going.
Eventually, you’re not even sniffling; you lay half on his chest and half on the ground, with a foot wrapped around his leg. It’s really distressingly intimate, but at some point in time when he started smoothing his hand down the back of your head, you stopped caring about that.
The woods hum with a strange resonant calm, like all the birds and the wind are far more interested in the two of you. You want to disappear, and Gamzee keeps bringing you back. He combs your hair with his long fingers, and it feels so horribly nice. You still hurt, and he knows. You sit up: he sits up.
“Karkat.” It’s not a question, not even something to call your attention. You’re getting less and less fond of your name, though it’s not time for that yet, not yet, you don’t even know what you’d like better.
You take a breath. The words don’t come out like you want them to. “Can we talk about this somewhere else?” He looks around, questioning. You look away quickly don’t want to say it face to face because what if you hate me, what if we aren’t friends anymore “I mean, somewhere like a chat.”
Gamzee hmmms in affirmation, and he pulls you to your feet. He brushes the leaves and grass off his shirt, then does the same for you. He takes your face in his hands, and you panic for a second because what if he kisses you; you’re not really sure you want that at all. But he just clunks his forehead against yours, and he does this thing where he siiiiiighs out, really slowly and it’s warm on your face and it should be disgusting but it isn’t. There’s a moment when you feel utterly safe. It leaves you feeling empty instead of anxious. Not happy. But not explosively worried anymore.
You don’t talk for the rest of the walk home; there is a wordless backpack swap outside your house. You watch him go, same as always. Kanaya isn’t home, neither is your dad. You flop down on your bed and flip your laptop open. Hesitate on the pesterchum icon, finally click it.
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] began pestering terminallyCapricious [TC] --
CG: HEY SO BACK THERE IN THE FOREST
CG: I SHOULD HAVE TOLD YOU WHAT I MEANT TO SAY, EXCEPT THAT I REALIZE NOW I AM PANTS-SHITTINGLY AWFUL AND STUPID AND ONLY ENDED UP CRYING LIKE A FUCKING FOUR-YEAR-OLD.
CG: I KNOW YOU’RE NOT BACK YET AND MAYBE THAT’S OKAY FOR THIS.
CG: I THINK I JUST HAVE TO LET ALL OF THIS OUT TO SOMEONE
CG: SOMEONE OUTSIDE MY IMMEDIATE FAMILY, I MEAN, KANAYA ALREADY KNOWS
CG: KEEPING IT BOTTLED UP IS LITERALLY MAKING ME SICK BUT AT THE SAME TIME I DON’T REALLY WANT TO TELL EVERYONE
CG: FUCK HOW DO I EVEN SAY THIS.
CG: YOU KNOW HOW ARADIA WAS TALKING ABOUT GENDER THE OTHER DAY? LIKE HOW SHE SAYS THAT IT’S MORE OF A PSYCHOLOGICAL THING AND NOT REALLY A PHYSIOLOGICAL THING.
CG: I DON’T REMEMBER EXACTLY WHAT SHE SAID BUT YOU WERE THERE SPACING OUT AND LOOKING AT THE STUPID WATER-SKIIER ON YOUR CAPRI SUN POUCH.
TC: I LiKeD ThE OcEaNy pArT On iT, lOoKeD So cOoL AnD CaLm aNd rEfReShEd tHe fUcK OuT.
CG: OH FUCK
CG: NO NO GO BACK TO BEING IDLE
CG: FUCK I DIDN’T PLAN ON YOU ACTUALLY BEING HERE
TC: WeLl yOu wErE SaYiNg yOu wAnTeD To cHaT So hErE I Am.
TC: BuT If yOu wAnT To wRiTe mE A MoThErFuCkIn lEtTeR I CaN Go fEeD ThE GoAtS AnD ReAd iT WhEn i cOmE BaCk, If tHaT’S WhAt yOu’rE FeElInG.
CG: NO YOU CAN STAY
CG: I JUST
TC: I ReMeMbEr wHaT ArAdIa wAs sAyInG, aLl aBoUt tHaT StUfF, sHe aNd tAvRoS WeRe dOiNg a rEpOrT On iT.
CG: OKAY WELL YOU KNOW THE PART WHERE SHE TALKED ABOUT CALLING PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT TO BE CALLED, LIKE IF TAVROS WANTED YOU TO START USING “XIE” OR WHATEVER THAT ONE WITH THE XES IS.
CG: YOU’D CALL TAVROS THAT, RIGHT?
CG: OKAY THEN DO YOU THINK
CG: THAT YOU COULD CALL ME SOME OTHER THINGS
CG: BESIDES “HE”
TC: LiKe wHaT? aRaDiA HaD A WhOlE BiG LoNg lIsT, dIdN’T ShE?
CG: MAYBE “THEY”? OR “SHE”!! YOU KNOW, I WOULD BE SO GLAD IF YOU USED FEMININE PRONOUNS SOMETIMES. LIKE TODAY, MAYBE?
CG: FUCK, HALF THE TIME I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO CALL ME. TODAY IT FEELS REALLY WEIRD TO USE "HE", BUT SOMETIMES I DON'T WANT TO BE CALLED "SHE" EITHER. IT'S FUCKING CONFUSING. I COULD MESSAGE YOU ON PESTERCHUM WHEN I WANT YOU TO USE A CERTAIN PRONOUN, I GUESS. OR ON YOUR PHONE. DO YOU EVEN CHECK YOUR PHONE?
TC: CoUrSe i dO, I'M TyPiNg oN It rIgHt nOw. aNd iF YoU WaNt mE To mIx sHiT Up iN ThE PrOnOuN DePaRtMeNt, I’D Be hApPy aS A MoThErFuCkIn cLaM At hIgH TiDe.
TC: CaUsE YoU’D Be hApPy tOo, I GuEsS. So, yOu wAnT Me tO UsE GiRl oNeS ToDaY?
CG: YEAH, THAT WOULD BE GREAT. JUST IN PRIVATE BECAUSE I'M NOT OKAY WITH EVERYONE ELSE KNOWING YET. BUT. YEAH.
CG: GAMZEE, THANKS FOR THIS. IT MEANS A LOT TO ME.
TC: No pRoB, wE'Re hErE FoR EaCh oThEr, kArKaT
CG: I'VE BEEN FREAKING OUT ABOUT THIS FOR SO LONG.
TC: I ThInK It's aLl rIgHt tO Be fReAkEd oUt aBoUt tHiS KiNd oF ThInG. SoMe pEoPlE CaN Be rEaL HaRsH AnD MoThErFuCkIn tErRiBlE. bUt yOu kNoW I GoT YoU.
CG: OH MY GOD YOU'RE BEING SO FUCKING CHEESY
CG: THANKS, AGAIN, SO MUCH. YOU'RE THE BEST BEST FRIEND I COULD EVER ASK FOR.
CG: HEY ACTUALLY IF YOU HAVEN’T FED YOUR GOATS YET, CAN I HELP?
TC: Aw yEa, SuRe yOu cAn!
CG: OKAY, BE OVER IN A FEW MINUTES.
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased pestering terminallyCapricious [TC] --
You are Karkat Vantas and you are putting on your shoes so you can run to your best friend’s house in the summer heat to feed a bunch of animals that think your fingers are food, and for the first time in a while, you feel absolutely happy.