It took a while before Karkat stopped screaming and clutching at the largest of his stab wounds when he realized it didn't hurt anymore.
Taking quick and short breaths, he removed his hands from his chest and looked down at his shirt. The bright red blood that soaked and stained it was gone. In fact, so was the gaping hole in his chest and the smaller wounds that littered his torso just moments ago. He brushed a hand against his chest in confusion. He wasn't just imagining it, was he? He was attacked by the human session's Jack Noir, wasn't he? He and... Terezi were...
He looked around him, and his face fell when he realized he was no longer in the laboratory in the Veil, but in his old respiteblock. It was exactly as he remembered it before they ever started playing that wretched game, grey walls unbroken and his computer sitting unexploded at the desk.
A Dream Bubble. Feferi explained the concept to him not long before Eridan's assault. So either he was asleep, or he really was killed by Jack.
Yeah. Definitely the second option.
Karkat wearily stumbled over to his desk and collapsed on the chair. He buried his face in his hands, blinking back tears. This wasn't supposed to happen. That wasn't how it was supposed to end! John from the end of his timeline said they'd meet after the human boy initiated the plan against Jack. Did John know Karkat would die before they'd ever get to meet face to face? That Karkat's terrified goodbye to John at the beginning of Gamzee's rampage was the last time they'd ever talk? Or was the naïve fool working under false pretenses? Believing the trolls were alive only to be destined to face their corpses and Jack Noir's deadly blade?
Karkat raised his head, eyes wide. The other trolls. They must be in their own Dream Bubbles. The dead ones, at least. Though by now, the number of trolls whose death he was certain of heavily outweighed the number of living trolls... Vriska was probably the last one left. Everyone else was here.
He stood up hastily, and strode up to his hive's door. Feferi told him she met Jade in one of those Dream Bubbles. If a troll could visit a human's Dream Bubble in an entirely different Incipisphere, then surely visiting another troll's dream bubble should be easy. But how did that even work? What was he going to find outside? He bit his lower lip lightly as he turned the knob.
What he found when he opened the door and stepped out to the extraterraneal landing slat was definitely not his old lawn ring. Instead, it seemed like his hive was surrounded by a giant soap bubble. He supposed he should have expected it, considering the name 'Dream Bubble', but seeing it with his own eyes was still astonishing. The opaque, watery film of the bubble wavered lightly, like waves on the surface of a lake, the colors of the rainbow dancing across its bluish surface. Karkat sent a hand forward over the edge of the slat, tentatively poking at the bubble. It was rubbery and damp to the touch, and his finger sent small ripples through it.
Karkat swallowed. So that was it. His world in a bubble. And he was going to step out of it. Visiting one of his lost comrades. Another friend he had failed. Not that he knew how to do that, but... he had to try. He wasn't going to stay in this bubble and wallow in his sorrows forever.
He took a deep breath, not out of necessity but out of habit. That's one habit he'd never want to let go of. Clenching his fists and closing his eyes, he took a step forward into the bubble's surface. This time, the bubble let him pass through, and as the cold darkness of the Furthest Ring consumed him, the only thing in Karkat's mind was the person he wanted to see the most.
Karkat felt it was safe to open his eyes again when the chill was gone, replaced by a mild homely warmth. It smelled like the third autumn back home.
He found himself just where he hoped to be. It was another respiteblock, but much different than his own, its grey walls decorated with crude chalk drawings and colorful dragon scales. The sight of Alternian law books stacked on the floor and the pile of scalemates in the corner was comforting.
The sight of Terezi sitting at the foot of her recuperacoon, knees pulled to her chest and head buried in her arms, was not. She was crying, her shoulders shuddering as she wept. Occasionally she would stop and sniff loudly, only for another round of sobs to start.
Karkat didn't move, unsure what to do. The strong troll who had kept Karkat from falling apart during their game, the psychotic blind tree girl who strutted through life like nothing could ever take her down, was crying. He had known Terezi for nearly his entire life, and not once did he see her cry, and yet there she was.
He scowled. He couldn't just stand there. He didn't come to Terezi's bubble to watch his matesprit cry her heart out.
The troll girl's head shot up, and Karkat took a small step back, his dead heart sinking. Terezi wasn't wearing her red sunglasses, but by now Karkat was used to the burnt red eyes she was hiding underneath. He wasn't expecting to be stared at by blank white orbs that could only be described as 'dead'. Her bangs were mussed up and damp, and tears stained her cheeks a watery teal. Her skin was a paler grey than usual, as if all the blood was drained from her face. “Karkat...?” she whispered, her voice hoarse and broken.
Karkat nodded slowly. Terezi could pick up the slightest movements with her keen smell vision, so he was certain she could sniff that one.
Without warning, the waterworks stated again. Terezi made an effort to hold them back, wiping her dead eyes on her sleeve as she stumbled into a standing position, but the tears kept on coming. As she got up, a scalemate fell from her lap, along with her glasses. Karkat recognized the white, red-eyed plush dragon instantly, although he hadn't seen him in nearly a sweep. Pyralspite was Terezi's first and favorite scalemate, and she used to carry him around everywhere when they were small. Karkat wasn't surprised she tried to take comfort in him.
Karkat didn't have even have time to react as Terezi moved forward and grabbed him for a tight hug. She was shuddering again and sniffling loudly.
“God, I'm so sorry, Karkat...” she mumbled next to his ear.
Karkat stared down, arms dangling awkwardly at his sides. “Terezi, what the fuck are you...”
“I screwed up,” she uttered. She pulled back and rested her head on Karkat's chest, hands grabbing at his shoulders. “I could have stopped her, I tried to stop her...”
“No, Terezi...” Karkat mumbled. He raised his hands to the sides of Terezi's arms and gently rubbed them.
She shook her head against him, tears dropping to the floor. “She told me her plan, and I said I won't let her go, and I did the coin flip, and she stole my luck, and I knew she would, I knew...” she hiccupped. “I was going to stop her, I swear, I had my dragon cane, I pulled the sword out, I was going to do it before she took off, but...” Terezi took a long, shuddering breath. “I couldn't. Karkat, I couldn't.” With that, she started sobbing again, her head and arms sinking lower against Karkat's body.
Karkat looked down at Terezi helplessly. All those times she told him to stop blaming himself for everything, and now she was blaming herself for their deaths, her tough demeanor eaten away by guilt. But he could never blame her. He knew she tried her best, as Terezi always did, but he wasn't surprised to learn that she couldn't do it in the end. Terezi may have been all about orchestrating the demise of the wicked, but she was no executioner. The only things that ever felt her wrath directly were scalemates and underlings, not other trolls. And for all her hatred of Vriska and all the good reasons she had to stab her in the back with the dragon cane, Terezi valued their old friendship too much to kill the one she used to call “sister”.
He couldn't pin down the blame on her inability to kill a friend. He knew he wouldn't have done any better in her position. And there were so many other factors that brought about their demise... No, it wasn't her fault.
Karkat reached up and removed Terezi's hands from his arms, bringing them down to hold them like they did in his romcoms. Terezi raised her head, confused, her sobbing reduced to sniffles and hiccups. Karkat considered looking into her eyes, but his innards were tying knots around themselves at the thought and he figured it wouldn't accomplish much anyway.
“Terezi,” he started. “Don't...” He cleared his throat, hoping it would stop him from feeling so choked up. “Don't you dare blame yourself.”
Terezi opened her mouth to retaliate, but Karkat immediately cut her off with a sharp “NO.” He sighed. “You can't blame yourself. Because... fuck, because it's not your fucking fault, okay?”
“No, shut up,” he cut her off again and squared his shoulders. “You tried, okay? You fucking tried. That's more... that's more than I ever did."
"No, fuck, you did your best. You did your fucking best. Fuck, stop blaming yourself. If you want to blame anyone, blame Jack for killing us! Blame Vriska for revealing our location to him with her fucking fairy trail! Blame the humans for not being able to prevent Jack from taking the ring in the first place!" His eyes stung with tears now, and he gritted his teeth. "Fuck, you know what, blame me for being the shittiest leader and failing to bring us to our new universe and keep everyone from flipping their shit."
"You're not a bad leader," she protested quietly, brows furrowing.
Karkat looked in Terezi's eyes. Upon a closer look, there was a faint outline where her irises were supposed to be, before she was blinded. Did that mean she could see him now...? His vision was getting blurry. Translucent red tears ran down his cheeks, and he made no effort to stop them.
"Then as your goddamned leader," he said, squeezing Terezi's hands, "I fucking commend you to stop blaming yourself! That's a fucking order, okay?"
After a moment, Terezi's lips were pulled into a small, sad smile, and she let out a chuckle. "Okay, fearless leader," she said. "I'll... I'll try."
Karkat swallowed hard. "Okay. Good".
It wasn't good enough. Karkat wished she would've grinned and laughed like a maniac, like she always did. He realized it was an unrealistic request, considering the situation, but seeing her in so much turmoil upset him more than he ever thought was possible. But he supposed it would have to do for now. Their mortal wounds were discarded in death, but the inner wounds would take a while to heal.
He pulled Terezi close, wrapping his arms around her. She went stiff for a moment, which he had expected. Terezi was the one who initiated physical displays of affection in their relationship, and he knew she'd be surprised. She quickly recovered, however, relaxing into his embrace and wrapping her own arms around his shoulders.
"Karkat, I'm so glad you came," she whispered into his shoulder and sniffled. "I mean, gog, I didn't want any of this to happen, but..."
"But at least we're going through this shit together, right?" Karkat completed her thought.
She smiled against him. "Yeah."
He closed his eyes, taking comfort in the feel of Terezi's body against his own. It was good to know that even something as harrowing as death had a bright side.