Since the humans had arrived in the Veil, Karkat had come to have an increased appreciation for how hard the job of a Lusus was. He'd already had a pretty high opinion of them after the hours he'd spent herding ectobiological wrigglers around, so that was saying something. Playing Lusus to the humans in a desperate attempt to keep them out of trouble felt an awful lot like herding wrigglers.
To be fair, Strider and Lalonde annoyed him, but could be trusted not to do anything that had the potential to blow up the asteroid or lead Jack to them or engage in any other life-and-death stupidity. Mostly.
Harley and Egbert were another story.
"Don't touch that," Karkat snapped for at least the third time in the last ten minutes. "Can you not keep your disgustingly soft prehensile appendages to yourself for one god-damned second? Am I going to have to tie them behind your back?"
"I'm not hurting anything," John protested, pouting. Fucking pouting at him, what the actual fuck. "The equipment is all inactive, anyway."
"For the moment it is, but the whole reason we're down here is that we're trying to find something that is working," Karkat pointed out caustically. "Preferably something that will give us some damned supplies."
"Well, what if we walk right by the machine that might save us because it was in hibernation mode or something, and we didn't poke it to wake it up?" John asked in what he probably thought was a reasonable tone.
"And what if we find the machine that might save us and you fucking break it before we can realize what it is?" Karkat countered. "Shut up and keep looking. And for the last fucking time, don't touch anything!"
With only ten hours or so on the timer until whatever was going to happen to the asteroid, none of the trolls had been worried about the fact that they had no source of food. Now that Dave had taken the eight remaining players far into the asteroid's past, however, they found themselves with pretty much unlimited time on their hands. That was great in that it gave them time to come up with some kind of plan, but not so great in that it meant they were all going to starve to death if they didn't find a solution soon.
Karkat had a sneaking suspicion the trolls would outlive the humans if it came down to that - and it had nothing to do with which species could go longer without food. He'd rather avoid them turning on each other, if at all possible.
"I'm sure we'll find something," John said with a confidence Karkat wished he could share. "After everything we've all survived, I refuse to believe we'll die of something as lame as lack of food. Oh, hey, what's that over there?"
Karkat followed John's pointing finger, and his eyes widened as he saw blinking lights on a computer console in the next room. "Finally," he said, picking his way quickly through the lab to the next doorway. "I was starting to think we'd come back so far in time that nothing was working at all."
As they approached, the rest of the equipment came into view and Karkat identified it as one of the many ectobiology stations scattered throughout the labs. He let out an annoyed breath. "Well, that's helpful," he said, rolling his eyes. "So if we want to create more mouths to feed, we can start experimenting with combining our clones. Of course, we could have done that with the equipment upstairs, without having wasted three hours searching first!"
"At least we know some things down here are still working," John replied, as cheerful as always. He moved closer to the equipment, peering at the console. "Huh. This doesn't look quite the same as the one I used to make our paradox clones."
"No, you're right. This is more like the stuff Kanaya and I used to breed frogs," Karkat agreed, moving closer as well. "Only sized up to be big enough for trolls. Or humans, I guess."
"I wonder what it's supposed to be for?" John said, and before Karkat realized what he intended, he reached out to poke curiously at the controls. With a wordless shout of horror Karkat lunged for him, trying to block his arm. Instead all he accomplished was to knock them both on their asses.
Right onto the central platform.
Green light enveloped them both, and it felt to Karkat like something grabbed his body and started to disassemble it, one cell at a time. If he could have combined every other moment of pain he'd ever experienced in the rest of his life into a single, concentrated sensation, it still would have paled beside what he felt right now. He'd have screamed, if his lungs weren't already busy dissolving.
Then the process seemed to reverse itself, and that was even worse.
After untold eons of agony, the green light finally faded. Karkat found himself lying flat on his back, gasping for air and staring at the ceiling. He could barely see it; the room was much darker than it had been before, and what he could see looked strangely blurry. The sudden brilliant light must have screwed with his eyes.
"WHAT DID I JUST TELL YOU ABOUT TOUCHING ANYTHING?" he shouted the moment he had the breath to speak again. The words came out strangely, slurred and indistinct. It felt almost like his tongue was too short and thick, and his teeth too far forward at the front of his mouth. "What the hell?"
Beside him John groaned and stirred. "Ah dinnt meen tu... ow! Wha th he?"
Karkat recognized the last words only because they matched his own. With a growing sense of dread, he forced his head to turn enough to see the human lying sprawled half beneath him.
And found himself looking at a troll.
A very familiar looking troll, with the same features Karkat saw every time he looked in the reflective pane. John was still wearing his glasses, and the frames sat oddly on the troll features, the arms not quite long enough to hook over his now-pointed ears. The look John was giving him was probably a good match for the one Karkat imagined was on his own face. Sheer, utter confusion.
"Please tell me I don't look like a pink, squishy human," Karkat begged, shaping the words as carefully as he could. Unfortunately he was pretty sure he already knew the answer.
To his complete disbelief, the confusion in John's expression was rapidly being replaced by what could only be described as glee. Not only was that a completely inappropriate reaction, it was also horribly foreign on Karkat's face. "Oh, wow," John breathed out, speaking as slowly and carefully as Karkat. "Oh, wow! Karkat... Karkat, you're me!"
"Fuck my life," Karkat groaned, and lifted his hands to stare at them. His soft, pudgy hands, with their blunt, useless nails and skin so disgustingly pale he could see the colour of his still-freakish blood. They were less blurry than the ceiling, but still fuzzy around the edges. "This is not happening. This cannot be happening. NOT EVEN MY LUCK IS THIS BAD!"
"Are you kidding? This is awesome," John raved, pushing himself up to a sitting position. "Why's everything so blurry? Oh, wait." He reached up to his face and touched his glasses, and laughed. "I guess you need these, instead of me?"
He pulled them off and offered them to Karkat, who just stared back at him for a long moment. "This is not awesome, Egbert, it's awful." Reluctantly he reached out and accepted the glasses, and slid them onto his nose. It took him two tries to settle them properly, but the world sprang instantly into sharp focus again.
It was still as dark as a double new moon, though. "Your eyes are completely useless," he raged, rubbing at them under the lenses as if he could force them to function better. "Not only are they weak enough to earn you a swift and very painful culling, but everything is totally dark!"
"Now you know why we keep turning the lights up," John told him, unsympathetic. "And now I know why you guys always bitch and moan and turn them back down again! Wow, it's as bright as day!"
He was getting to his feet now, and Karkat hastily pushed himself up as well. God only knew what other disasters John might precipitate if Karkat didn't keep him restrained. And Karkat wanted off that platform, just in case the machine decided it wasn't done with them yet.
Thankfully John seemed more interested in examining his new body than in playing with the equipment more. He stared at his claws in wonder, flexing his fingers and fucking giggling like they were the most amazing thing in the world. "How the heck did this happen? Ow. And how the heck do you talk without cutting your tongue open on your teeth all the time?"
"I don't know, we just do," Karkat snapped. "Stop grinning like an idiot with my face, bulgemuncher! And stop laughing." It was disturbing to hear himself laugh like that. Did he normally sound like that when he laughed? So... so bright and, and happy, it was sickening. Actually, he couldn't remember the last time he'd ever laughed, so it was hard to say.
Trying to distract himself - and hopefully find a solution before the situation got any more unnerving - he examined the console in the area where John had touched it. "Oh, fuck," he said when he realized just which button John must have pushed. "Fuck me and forget the pail, we are screwed."
John's answer was a soft, startled moan which... did very strange things to Karkat's lower body. Very strange things. He made a startled noise of his own and squirmed, which only made the sensation worse. John moaned again, deeper this time, and Karkat turned to see what the hell was wrong with him.
To his horror he found the former human with his hands around his horns, exploring the base where they met the skull. His eyes were half closed and a blush spread over his cheeks, dark enough that Karkat could see it despite his now pitiful night vision. "Wha... stop that, what the fuck are you doing?" he exclaimed, slapping John's hands down. "Don't fucking touch your horns in public, you wriggler, what the hell is wrong with you?"
"Uh? Oh, uh..." John sounded a little dazed, which wasn't surprising. The effect wasn't as all-consuming when you did it to yourself, but the rush of subduing endorphins was still pretty strong. "I just wanted to see if they were the same shape as yours, and then, um..."
"Yes, they are, and don't fucking do that again, moron," Karkat snarled. "You know what, the depths of your stupidity never cease to amaze me. Just when I think I've reached the absolute bottom, seen the most idiotic move you could possibly pull out of your ass, you do something else that tops everything else combined, and I am stunned all over again. I would be speechless, except that I would explode with the sheer force of my rage and horror if I didn't vent it somehow."
"Hey, how was I supposed to know they were so sensitive?" John protested, blushing harder. "I mean, they're horns, you wouldn't think they'd be, you know..."
"I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT TOUCHING YOUR HORNS, YOU MONSTROUSLY ENOURMOUS NOOKSNIFFER," Karkat shouted, waving his hands as if that would help him drill the words into the idiot's think pan. "I'M TALKING ABOUT YOU FUCKING PUSHING THE BUTTON THAT SCREWED US OVER!" He took a deep breath, and managed to continue at a slightly more conversational volume. "Do you have any idea what you've done to us?"
"Oh, you figured out what happened?" John said, blush fading a little. He still looked excited by the whole thing, and not in the least bit appropriately repentant. Karkat facepalmed, because it was that or punch him. Punching someone who looked like him felt a little too weird.
If they stayed this way much longer, though, he was pretty sure he'd get over the hang-up.
"Yes, I know what happened. There's a function on the machine that lets you scramble the genetic code of however many frogs you put on the platform, randomly reassigning each trait. It's so you can try out different combinations without needing to actually create a million new frogs in the process. AND YOU JUST DID IT TO US!"
"Wow, that's really cool," John said, grinning again. He looked far too much like Terezi for Karkat's peace of mind, the sharp-toothed smile stretching halfway to his ears. He'd had absolutely no idea his face was capable of smiling like that.
"It is not 'cool', it is not 'awesome', and most of all, it is not the fucking 'best thing ever' like you seem to think it is!" Karkat raged at him. "We are stuck in each other's fucking bodies!"
"Yeah, I know," John said, eyes sparkling. "It's totally like in Face/Off, where John Travolta ends up wearing Nick Cage's face and Nick Cage ends up wearing his, and they trade lives for the rest of the movie. Only they didn't really switch faces, obviously, it was just the actors pretending to be each other. This is way cooler! Can you imagine the pranking possibilities of this? My prankster's gambit will be so full it'll overflow and fill the whole asteroid! Oh my god, Karkat, everyone will think I'm you and you're me and we'll completely break their brains!"
Momentarily dumbfounded, Karkat could only stare him. Pranks? They were trapped in each other's bodies through the most unbelievable fuck-up in the history of all fuck-ups, and the little grubfucker was thinking about the pranks he could pull? Pranks which undoubtedly involved him going upstairs and making everyone else think that he, Karkat, was making an idiot of himself?
"Egbert, I will crush my own fucking chitinous windtube before I let you go out there and prank the others wearing my face," he said, his voice low and intense, putting all the outrage and indignation he felt into his expression, volume rising with each word. "No, better yet, I will crush your windtube before I let you do that. In fact, I think I'll do it anyway, just because you are the reason I'm am stuck in this soft, squishy meat-sack of a body, with all the offensive capabilities of a fucking wriggler, and even fewer defences!"
He didn't even realize he was advancing on John with his fists clenched until John ran into the wall and couldn't retreat any further, and Karkat found himself shouting the last words directly into his own face. He reached up and caught John's throat between his hands, digging his fingers into the skin and cursing when the blunt nails barely even left a dent. Troll skin wasn't nearly as hard as the shells of the insects they'd evolved from, but it was tough enough to be able to resist what damage he could do with John's weak, pathetic monkey hands.
"I can't even fucking hurt you, look at this," Karkat snarled, squeezing as hard as he could. John coughed and flailed a little, his air restricted by the tight grip, but his throat was far from being completely destroyed the way it should have been. "Your body is weak and soft and blunt, you don't have a single sharp edge, and now I'm fucking stuck in it!"
"K-karkat," John squeaked, fingers scrabbling at Karkat's hands to try to pry him off. Karkat swore again when the sharp claws raked over his ridiculously fragile skin, opening deep gouges. He couldn't stop himself from reflexively pulling away from the source of pain, leaving John braced against the wall drawing deep, gasping breaths.
"Karkat, stop, okay, I'm sorry, I get it, you're pissed off," John croaked, wincing like each word hurt to get out of his throat. Karkat was able to take a certain amount of vindictive satisfaction from that, though not enough to make up for the way his hands were now aching and dripping blood all over the place. "Oh crap, I hurt you, I didn't mean to! I'm sorry, here, let me help."
"Fuck off and die," Karkat snarled, slumping against the nearest solid surface, which turned out to be one of the ectobiology tubes. "Better yet, fuck off and leave me to die. Why does the universe hate me so god-damned much?"
"I promise I won't prank anyone as you, all right? See, look, this is me being nice and good and a great friendleader, giving up the most epic chance ever to fill my prankster's gambit, just to make you feel better," John tried to soothe him. "I'll go change us back right now, just get on the platform and..."
"Don't you fucking dare!" Karkat howled, lunging for him and tackling him straight to the floor. At least John was taller and heavier than Karkat - or rather, he had been, which meant Karkat was now the one with the weight advantage. He pinned John to the floor, torn between rage and sheer terror. "Has your think pan gone so soft you're not even capable of rational thought anymore?"
"Well, I'm not really eager to go through that again either, it really hurt a lot," John said, sounding bewildered. "But it'll be worth it to get back in your own body again, won't it?"
"What part of 'randomly assigns traits' did you not understand, fuckwit?" Karkat demanded, shaking him by the shoulders as if he could rattle some sense into the moron. "Do you have any idea how fucking lucky we are that it switched everything? Next time it might leave us with half human organs and half troll organs, and god knows if they'll be biologically compatible! Next time we might not be us anymore, because it might scramble our fucking brains, too!"
There was a long, drawn-out pause, during which he watched half a dozen emotions flit across John's face - surprise, confusion, horror, and guilt primary among them. "Oh," John said, and the single word contained even more conflicting emotions than his expression did. "Fuck. We're really screwed, aren't we?"
Unable to think of anything to say in the face of such blatantly stupid obviousness, Karkat just leaned down enough to be able to thump his forehead against the floor repeatedly.
"I said fuck no!"
"C'mon, pretty please? Since we're stuck like this anyway, we might as well at least take advantage of the opportunity," John wheedled. The pleading whine in his voice was grating on Karkat's nerves.
"Is 'no' just not a word in your miniscule vocabulary? Is that what your problem is?" Karkat said. "I'd be happy to introduce it to you, especially by way of my fist in your cartilage nub."
"I think you might hurt yourself more than you'd hurt me," John said thoughtfully. "Your body is really tough! It's kind of amazing."
The reminder of his current pathetic condition did nothing to improve Karkat's mood. "You are still not pranking them while wearing my face. No means no!" When John continued to look at him imploringly, he had to resist the urge to snarl. He had a sneaking suspicion that the expression was less intimidating and more ridiculous when he used it with these blunt teeth. "I was serious about crushing your windtube first, you know!"
"Okay, okay," John finally capitulated with an exaggerated sigh. Then he perked up. "Well, it's going to be pretty funny to see their reactions anyway. Can we at least not tell them outright until they realize what's going on?"
"Oh, fuck you and may all your pails have giant leaks," Karkat snapped. "Can't you think about anything other than your nookwhiff prankster's gambit?"
John blinked at him for a moment, nonplussed. "Wow, that sounds like a pretty nasty thing to wish on someone, if what I understand about pails is right," he finally said. "You're really mad about this, aren't you?"
"You're just now noticing this?" Karkat said, seething.
"Well no, I mean, I knew you were upset, but... I suppose maybe I should have realized something was up when you tried to choke me," John admitted guilelessly. "Except you weren't trying all that hard, so I figured maybe it was just a sort of concrete example?"
"Oh, I was doing my best to make it a very concrete example," Karkat said. He would have savoured the memory of his hands wrapped around John's throat, except that it was too embarrassing. "Your pathetic squishy meat-sack of a body is just even more useless than I already knew it was."
"Ahahaha, but you wouldn't really have killed me, right?" John asked, laughing nervously. Karkat just narrowed his eyes, and John's laugh turned shriller still.
"Stop fucking laughing, and stop making that hideous expression with my face right fucking now," Karkat demanded. "Fuck, they're going to think I've snapped completely, and cull me before I can go hiveshit on everyone like Gamzee did."
"I'm sure it won't be that bad," John said, but he didn't sound like he was looking forward to the upcoming conversations quite as much as before.
Too bad for him, because they'd finally reached the transportalizer back to the main room. Growling under his breath, Karkat stepped onto the platform, wincing as the momentary sensation of being molecularly scrambled brought back the memory of the pain of being rewritten with John's DNA.
He stepped off the platform to find the other six trolls and humans clustered excitedly around a piece of equipment that hadn't been in the room before. Presumably at least one of the other search parties had been more successful in their endeavour than Karkat and John had been.
They certainly couldn't have been much less successful.
He heard the zap as John came through behind him, and cringed as he waited for the undoubtedly moronic comment that was sure to come. "Hey guys, you won't believe what we've been up to!" John exclaimed as he stepped off the pad.
The others turned to face them, and there was a moment of surprised silence, along with quite a few double-takes. Karkat just glared back at them, especially at the other trolls, daring them to say something about his newly weakened state. Not that glaring would have much effect on Terezi or Sollux, who were the most likely to needle him about it.
Sure enough Terezi started cackling, and he heard Dave snort in amusement. "Damn, you move fast Vantas," the human said. "I take it you're lifting the ban on sloppy interspecies makeouts, then?"
"What," Karkat said, the word coming out flat rather than questioning.
"What do you mean?" John echoed, obviously confused.
"Well, it's only fair," Dave said, smirking. "If you're gonna put the moves on John, you can't be bitching at the rest of us for the same thing."
"What," Karkat repeated, nearly hissing this time.
"Um, I think you guys are kind of getting the wrong idea," John said, and god help them both he was blushing again. If he kept this up, it wasn't going to take long for the others to finally figure out what colour Karkat's freakish blood really was.
Maybe he could blame it on the genetic mix-up, and claim they both got stuck with John's disgusting human blood? Actually, that might be the one good thing that came out of all this. Not that it really mattered anymore.
"While I would have thought the two of you might take this quest for supplies a bit more seriously, seeing as you are the leaders and therefore responsible for all of us, nobody is upset that you got distracted," Kanaya assured them. "However if you were planning to attempt to hide what you have been up to, you might have wished to take more care when re-dressing yourselves to choose the correct items of apparel. It does make it rather obvious that said items must have been removed at some point during your absence."
Glancing at John, Karkat finally realized just what they were all going on about. Only their bodies had changed; John was still wearing his ridiculous God Tier pyjamas, and Karkat still had his own pants and shirt, though he'd been forced to take John's glasses. So it looked like they'd changed into each other's clothing.
He promptly proved that he was just as capable of blushing as John, much to his dismay.
"No, no, no, that's not what we were doing at all," John exclaimed, horrified and waving his hands as if to shoo away the very concept.
"So you simply decided to exchange outfits?" Rose said, raising an eyebrow at them. She wasn't smirking quite as obviously as Dave, but there were hints of it in her expression. "Was this an attempt to understand each other better by literally walking in each other's shoes? Or perhaps a desire to share the burdens of your recent pasts by sharing such iconic pieces of your identity..."
"We are not wearing each other's fucking clothes, Lalonde," Karkat snarled, unable to stay silent any longer. "Would you all please stop smirking long enough to make an attempt to gather the scattered fragments of your think pans from the far reaches where you seem to have flung them? Maybe if you combine them all, you'll have enough to allow one of you to clue the fuck in to what is actually going on, here!"
Another moment of stunned silence followed his outburst, broken only when Sollux hesitantly asked, "Wait, which one of them said that? It was Egbert's voice, but that sounded like KK."
Fifteen minutes of somewhat scrambled explanations later - John kept jumping in to defend his actions, which made it difficult for Karkat to eloquently convey the sheer depths of the former human's stupidity - Karkat was pretty sure they'd managed to convince Jade. Actually she seemed to believe them after the first, brief statement that they'd switched bodies, but everyone else remained sceptical.
"Wow, that is so cool," Jade said, bouncing on her toes, as gleeful as John had been when he'd first realized what had happened. "You get to see what it's like from the other side!"
"I know, right?" John agreed, grinning right back at her. Karkat didn't think he'd ever get used to seeing that ridiculous expression on his own face. He didn't want to have to get used to it.
"While I will admit that your impressions of each other are quite impeccable - nearly flawless, I would go so far to say - your story does lack a certain quality that might lend it verisimilitude," Rose said, tapping her lips with one finger. "That is to say, realism."
"Doesn't help that we all know you'll do anything for a prank, Egbert," Dave agreed. "Though I'm impressed you managed to convince Vantas to go along with it. I didn't think he was capable of actually smiling, I figured it would break his face."
"Yeah seriously, Karkat, who knew your acting ability was so good?" Terezi chuckled. "Why can't you be this relaxed and easygoing all the time? Maybe you should take a page from Egbert's book and just stay this way."
"Well, he does kind of need to relax," John agreed, eyeing Karkat who was grinding his teeth hard enough that it was likely audible. "Please don't break your teeth, Karkat, I know you're not impressed by them but you kind of need them and there aren't really any dentists available here."
"The last thing this group needs is two mindless morons of Egbert's calibre," Karkat snapped. "Especially since none of the rest of you bulge-munching wrigglers seem to be up to the task of putting two and two together to get four. That. Is. Not. Me."
"Haha, well obviously I'm not you, that would be impossible, since you're right there," John laughed at him. "I think what you meant to say is that I'm not Karkat."
"I don't know about the rest of you, but this is starting to weird me out," Sollux complained. He'd been listening mostly in silence, frowning every time one of them talked, but now he was rubbing at his forehead like he was developing one of his migraines. "I can't keep track of who's supposed to be who when they talk, they sound too much like each other right now."
"Yeah, it was pretty funny at first, but really you guys can drop it now," Terezi agreed, shrugging. "If you drag it out too long the joke stops being funny, you know."
Desperate, Karkat tried switching to Alternian, hoping that would prove that he was who he said he was. None of the humans spoke the language at all. "Would you all just shut up and start taking me fucking seriously?"
Unfortunately he'd forgotten about John's less flexible tongue and strangely shaped teeth. He'd gotten good enough to work around it while speaking English, but human mouths and throats proved to be simply incapable of making the intricate buzzes, clicks and trills of Alternian speech. The words came out even more mangled than his first attempt to speak English after the switch, and what he actually said was something more like, "Would you all just start fucking me seriously?"
Sollux snorted and clamped a hand over his mouth, shoulders shaking as he tried to suppress his laughter. He might as well not have bothered, it was as obvious as a neon sign. Terezi certainly didn't even try, cackling her fool head off, and Kanaya was blushing a brilliant shade of green.
"While I am impressed by your ability to remember such a long string of sounds that presumably make no sense to you, I'm afraid you really would have to work on your accent before it would be a believable attempt to convince us," Kanaya said.
"Why the ever-pitying fuck would I have tried to teach Egbert to say that particular thing?" Karkat demanded, grasping at straws. "How could I have known that would be appropriate?"
"Well, it is sort of the obvious thing Karkat would say when we didn't believe you," Terezi snickered.
"Why, what did he say?" John asked curiously.
"You know perfectly well, and I'm impressed that you were able to stop yourself from laughing," Sollux said, finally recovering from his laughing fit.
"Fine. Fine. His useless human mouth won't let me make the right sounds, so you guys all speak Alternian instead and I'll prove I'm me when I can understand it," Karkat growled, throwing his hands up.
"They're really taking this pretty far, aren't they?" Terezi said, obediently switching to their native tongue.
"Yeah, I'm surprised KK is still going along with this," Sollux agreed, and he at least sounded a little perturbed. "He's usually the one trying to get us to stop kidding around and be serious."
"I am trying to get you to stop kidding around and be serious, nookwhiff," Karkat growled in English. "If you'd fucking pay attention for a god-damned second, that would be obvious."
There was a brief, shocked pause, as all the trolls turned to stare at him. Well, Kanaya stared. Terezi and Sollux both looked blankly in his direction, but their startled expressions were identical.
"There's... no way KK could have predicted we'd say that, in particular, right?" Sollux ventured after a moment, still in Alternian.
"And no way that Karkat could possibly have taught the John human that much of our language in such a brief period of time," Kanaya agreed, blinking. "Unless he is a linguistic genius of considerable talents..."
"The only thing Egbert is a genius at is being idiotic," Karkat cut in impatiently.
"Hey," John protested. "I'm a genius at lots of things. Like pulling pranks! What are you guys all saying, anyway?"
Kanaya looked at John, then back at Karkat, her eyes huge in her glowing face. "Karkat?" she nearly squeaked, disbelieving.
"Yes, fucking finally, now can we all start taking this fucking seriously?" Karkat exclaimed.
"Wait, you're not saying you actually believe them?" Dave said incredulously. "Look, you just don't know Egbert as well as we do, he's really good at faking it to be convincing..."
"Dave! Come on, do you really think even I would go so far as to learn to speak troll in, like, three hours?" John said. "Anyway, you're all right that this stopped being funny a while ago, and I know better than to drag out a prank until it's so dead it's rotting."
"That is true," Rose said slowly, sounding as if she couldn't believe she was considering accepting their story. "Though I've certainly seen John get carried away on occasion, I have never witnessed him flagellating the proverbial deceased equine. Certainly not to this extent. And while I'm sure he has many impressive qualities, some of which I am even cognizant of, I do not believe linguistics is one of them. Or he would not have so much difficulty rendering meaning from my own discourses with him."
"Um, thanks? I think," John said, frowning.
"So we're seriously accepting that Egbert is a troll now?" Dave said, staring from John to Karkat and back again. "And this is, like, forever?"
"Maybe Vriska would have been confidant enough of her luck to risk trying that twice, but I have no desire to die because my internal organs don't connect to each other properly anymore," Karkat growled, slumping back in his chair and crossing his arms. "Or become a drooling idiot because I've got half of my brain and half of his. Though that would be an improvement, in his case."
"It was not a problem with the frogs, because of course they all had the same basic genetic code, it was only small differences that were being tweaked by the machine," Kanaya agreed thoughtfully. "It is actually rather amazing that the two of you fared so well, considering how much more complicated the changes would have to be."
"Yeah, though I do feel kinda bad for torturing the little fuckers, if they went through half as much pain as we did," Karkat muttered.
"I guess we'll get used to it eventually?" John said, sounding hopeful. "And in the meantime, we should just think of it as a really great opportunity for cultural exchange! I mean, we've already figured out why the lights are such a big issue, and I'm sure we'll just keep understanding each other better and better as time goes by. Maybe this is actually for the best! Don't you think, Karkat?"
Sadly, Dave and Kanaya managed to grab him by the arms in time to stop him from making a second attempt to tear out John's throat.
Despite his best efforts to stop himself from nodding off, with a reasonably full stomach and nobody likely to try to kill him in the next five minutes Karkat found it difficult to fend off sleep. His restriction on sleeping was no longer practical now that they might be here for weeks or even months, but he still resisted it as hard as he could. He had no desire to meet up with the horrorterrors again.
So he was grateful when the thunder of someone pounding on his door jerked him out of a half-doze, even though it made him growl and flail in confusion. It took him a moment to re-orient himself, especially since the room seemed so dim to his new eyes.
"Karkat! Damn it, Karkat, open the fucking door! Oh please be there, please let me in. Karkat!"
It was John's voice, his tone wavering from outraged to terrified and back again. Grumbling, Karkat forced himself up out of his pile to answer the door. "What the hell do you want," he growled as he yanked it open, only to be brought up short as he got a good look at the human-cum-troll.
John was frantic, eyes wide and bloodshot, traces of red on his cheeks where tears had dried, and his teeth bared in a vicious snarl. The last part should have looked normal on Karkat's features, except that it was so out of character on John. His hands were clenched into fists so hard his claws had dug into the skin, and sluggish trails of candy red blood dripped down through his fingers.
"Karkat, thank god," John exclaimed, throwing himself at Karkat and clinging to his shoulders like they were the only thing keeping him upright. "I don't know what's wrong, please tell me this is some fucked-up thing your body is doing to me!"
"Well, if I had any idea what in the name of the mother grub your problem was, maybe I'd be able to tell you," Karkat said, but there wasn't as much of a bite to the words as he'd intended. John was shaking against him, his whole body shivering. Karkat still wasn't sure if it was fear or rage causing it, but it made him look completely pathetic.
"I want to kill someone," John blurted out, shaking his head like he could deny the words even as he spoke them. "I just want to... to hurt someone, rip them apart and stomp all over the bits and dig my teeth into their skin and chew them up and..."
"Fuck," Karkat groaned as he realized what must have happened. "You went to sleep, didn't you?"
It had been hard enough for those of them who'd been born trolls to adjust to sleeping without sopor slime to quell the violent urges that bubbled up in their brains while they slept. It had caused persistent problems throughout the span of the game, frequently setting even the closest of allies at each other's throats right after waking up. They'd all developed various ways of coping; after the first experience, Karkat and Terezi had simply agreed that only one of them was allowed to sleep at a time, so that they never again both woke snarling at the same time.
He could only imagine how much worse it must be for John, who had no previous experience with a troll's diurnal delusions - from the sound of it, he hadn't even known about them, so how could he have braced himself for them? It was a testament to his self-control that he'd come running to Karkat for help rather than turning on the nearest person and tearing them to shreds. For that matter, it was pretty amazing that he was only clinging to Karkat now, not attacking him.
Come to think of it, maybe that was why he was shaking. It was the struggle to rein himself in, stop himself from aggressing Karkat, that made his body tremble with the effort. Karkat found himself reluctantly impressed by John's willpower, even as he felt the first faint stirrings of pity for the pathetic human. Troll. Whatever.
He shoved those thoughts away, and concentrated on the much more urgent matter at hand. "Egbert. Breathe. It's just sleep rage, okay? You'll get over it, you just have to wait it out."
"It's just what?" John said, clearly bewildered.
"Sleep rage," Karkat repeated. "From diurnal delusions, made worse by dealing with the fucking horrorterrors now that our dream selves are dead. We don't have any sopor slime to sleep in, so there's nothing to stop the rage from building up while you're asleep and can't vent it in other ways. We're... I mean, trolls are aggressive by nature, remember?"
He himself was only barely starting to get used to the fact that he wasn't constantly fighting the urge to attack something, anything, anywhere and anytime. It was going to be very, very weird to wake up without an excess of hormones driving him half out of his mind with aggression.
"This is normal?" John exclaimed, trembling harder. "You... you deal with this every time you sleep? You all feel like this?"
"Yeah, and as a note, I should probably warn the rest of the humans not to go near any of us when we first wake up," Karkat realized, muttering half to himself. When he brought his full attention back to John, he had to bite off a curse as he realized he'd been absently rubbing John's back in an instinctive effort to comfort him. Acting like... like a fucking matesprit, for crying out loud.
"Sit," he ordered, shoving John away from him abruptly as he attempted to recover his dignity. "Just sit down and fucking breathe, already."
"I can't, I can't stay still, I have to keep moving or I'm going to, I don't know, attack you or something," John insisted, starting to pace, fists flailing in wild gestures. He looked haunted, almost sick, and it pulled at something deep inside Karkat's chest.
If it had been any other troll, Karkat would never have dared to consider what he did next, but John wasn't a normal troll and didn't understand even the most basic rules and taboos of their culture. With a hand that shook slightly from the sheer audacity of his actions, Karkat reached out and grabbed at the base of one of John's horns, pressing his blunt nails hard against the spot where rough horn gave way to soft flesh.
"Oh," John breathed out, a soft, surprised exclamation. Then he went limp, his knees giving way beneath him, and only luck and a quick push by Karkat let him land in the relatively soft pile of movie cases. "Um," he said as he stared up at Karkat, looking dazed.
"Breathe," Karkat reminded him yet again, and this time John obeyed, drawing in a deep breath and letting it out again slowly. "Better. Don't ever, ever do that to another troll, by the way," Karkat warned him, kneeling beside him in the pile. "They'll fucking rip your head off."
"Why? Wow, that felt really good," John mumbled, blushing. "Actually I feel a lot less like taking your head apart and eating your brains for breakfast now, thank you."
The weirdness of being thanked for invoking someone's submission reflex made Karkat pause for a second. Hearing John outright admit that he'd enjoyed it was even stranger. "Just don't," he insisted, struggling not to blush himself. "It's fucking rude. You couldn't be ruder if you just reached out and grabbed someone's bone bulge, all right? Actually, that might be less rude."
"Then why did you do it to me?" John asked, blinking.
"It got you to calm the fuck down, didn't it?" Karkat retorted. "Emergency measures, that's all. Nothing short of that was going to get through the density of your think pan when you were that deep in sleep rage. You're fucking welcome."
"It did help, although..." John squirmed and looked uncomfortable. "It, um, is kind of doing weird things to..."
"Stop," Karkat shouted, clapping his hands over his ears and squeezing his eyes shut for good measure. "Just seal your seedflap shut before the vomiting geyser of your awkward social ineptness can drown us both in spewing shame. I don't want to hear it!"
Especially because he knew exactly what was making John so uncomfortable. Like most young trolls, Karkat had explored the sensations evoked by touching his own horns a few times - in private, with several locked doors between him and the possibility of anyone realizing what he was doing - and he was certainly familiar enough with his own body to know how his bulge was likely reacting to the touch.
And knowing that, imagining John reacting that way, was doing things to his ridiculous human body that made him just as uncomfortable as John had looked. Whatever it was that made John not a homosexual, it either wasn't genetic or else that bit of DNA hadn't transferred over with the rest of it, because Karkat was one hundred percent disgustingly certain that what was happening to his body was supposed to be a symptom of sexual arousal.
"Sorry, it's just, um, there are some parts of your body that really kind of freak me out a little," John said, and unfortunately Karkat was able to hear him just fine despite the fingers plugging his ears. "Like, really. Oh god, I think going to the bathroom earlier was the most embarrassing, horrifying thing I've ever done in my life."
"Tell me about it," Karkat muttered, cautiously opening his eyes and unplugging his ears again. Since it wasn't helping anyway. "I swear to god it's like your revolting meat-sacks are designed to be as vulnerable as fucking possible. How do you manage to get through life walking around with your most sensitive parts just hanging out there like a giant fucking target?" He'd been horrified when he realized what the dangling bit of flesh between his legs was supposed to be, and how easily someone could hurt him because of it.
It also made the early stages of arousal kind of really fucking obvious, since there was nothing to hide the shift in his anatomy other than the far too insubstantial cover of Karkat's pants. Hopefully John wouldn't look down. On second thought, Karkat shifted from a kneeling position to sit with his knees drawn up to his chin. Much better.
"Well, whose fault is that?" John countered, managing a weak smile. "I mean, you keep reminding me that you created us. I guess you only have yourself to blame, huh?"
"Oh, go fuck yourself," Karkat said. "You would throw that in my face right now. Bulgemuncher."
"Ugh, oh man, suddenly it's so much grosser when you call me that," John said, pulling a face. "Now that I know what a bulge actually is, I mean! And nooksniffer, oh my god, if that's what I think it is, so disgusting, I don't even want to think about it."
"So if you're feeling better, you can feel free to go back to your own damned respite block now," Karkat pointed out, rolling his eyes. Not that he actually had anything better to do than sit there talking to John, but he didn't want to get involved in a conversation where they explained the various more personal and less obvious parts of their new anatomies to each other.
"Um." John's slowly returning cheer evaporated immediately, and he hugged his knees to his chest and gave Karkat a forlorn look. "But, what am I going to do? I have to sleep sometimes. I don't know how to handle this! What if next time I run into someone in the hall before I get here?"
"Sollux said he's going to fiddle with the molecular inversion paradox machine to try to make it produce sopor slime next, so you should have some soon enough," Karkat said. "I'll tell him to make sure you get the first batch, you're the least equipped to deal with diurnal delusions. Just stay awake until then."
"But, I don't think I can," John protested, shoulders drooping. "I've been awake since before we started our game session, well, unless you count dying, but that was surprisingly not very restful. Oh, and the times Vriska sent me to sleep, but those were pretty short naps. It's been, like, nearly two whole days, I'm really exhausted."
Karkat grimaced. He'd forgotten that the human's session had been so ridiculously short, and so packed with events that of course none of them had been given a chance to rest. From his point of view, scrolling around on the humans' timelines, jumping from important point to important point and skipping all the boring bits, it was easy to miss the fact that there hadn't actually been many boring bits.
He couldn't send John back to sleep alone in his respite block, though. John was right that the next time he woke up, he might not be as lucky, or he might not have such amazing control over his urges the second time. Karkat would feel responsible if John maimed or killed someone while in the throes of a sleep rage.
It had absolutely nothing to do with how pitiful John looked at that moment, huddled in on himself and peering up over his knees at Karkat with bloodshot, woeful eyes.
Heaving a massive sigh that was only slightly exaggerated, Karkat gestured his defeat. "Fine, then just go to sleep here. Bury yourself in the pile, it makes you feel less vulnerable if you're closed in, that's why we made the damned things. I'll make sure you don't hurt anyone when you wake up."
He was fairly certain he could handle John if the troll woke and came after him, since he'd be expecting it. His new human body might be nigh-on useless, but he still had his sickles and still knew how to use them.
Looking somewhat doubtful, John nevertheless began to burrow himself into the pile of movie cases. Karkat helped, scooping up more cases from the sides of the pile and heaping them on top, until only John's head remained in the open. "Huh, that actually does kind of make me feel better," John said, yawning. "Even though it's sort of really uncomfortable, what with all the hard corners."
"Obviously," Karkat said, chucking one last case on top of him with a little more force than was necessary. He stifled a yawn of his own, wondering how long it had actually been since he had last slept. At least a full day and night cycle. Longer? Not since he'd passed out while Kanaya was hacking off Tavros' legs with her chainsaw, and he'd finally woken up as his dream self just in time to see Prospit destroyed. That hadn't exactly been restful, either.
"Karkat?" John said hesitantly, after a long moment. "Um, this is probably going to sound kind of weird, but... do you think you could... maybe touch my horns while I fall asleep?" The last words came out in a rushed mumble, and Karkat was half certain he'd heard wrong. "It really did help earlier, and maybe that way I won't wake up quite so angry next time, since you're going to be right here next to me and I won't have time to cool off a little before I find you. I don't want to hurt you."
"That is completely depraved," Karkat told him flatly. John's expression fell, and Karkat cursed silently to himself. Was it understandable or just messed up that it was harder not to feel pity for the little fucknub when he was wearing Karkat's own face? "Oh, fuck it. Move over, grubtard, you're taking up all the space."
He didn't bother to bury himself quite as completely, since humans apparently didn't need that sort of enclosed, protected sensation to help keep their sleep peaceful. John's position in the pile, combined with the need for Karkat to be able to comfortably reach his horns, meant that Karkat wound up half curled up around John's head, so that they were perpendicular with John's head near Karkat's stomach, facing each other.
Swallowing hard, Karkat reached out and found one of John's horns with his fingers, trying not to think about how sick and screwed up this was. John let out a little sigh and tilted his head into Karkat's hand, rubbing his horns gently against the soft flesh of Karkat's fingers. He reached out and caught Karkat's other hand, careful not to re-open the barely healed scratches from earlier, twining their fingers together in a gesture that was entirely too sappy for Karkat's dignity to acknowledge. So he ignored it.
And that was how they both fell asleep, tangled up in each other, both of them with the faintest of smiles on their faces.
Dreams with the horrorterrors proved to be not quite as bad when he didn't have to deal with the added build-up of aggression and violence, Karkat discovered. They were still pretty bad, but bearable. Which was good, since he really wasn't going to be able to avoid sleeping again.
As he slowly returned to wakefulness, however, he had another reason entirely to be horrified. That part of his body was hard, the way it had started to do earlier when he'd been reacting to John's squirming arousal. "Oh my god, humans are sick," Karkat mumbled as he forced his eyes open.
He'd forgotten about the fact that he had company, until John stirred and made a questioning noise. Turning his head, he was startled to find that the two of them had shifted until they were completely curled around each other, heads pillowed against each other's stomachs. They'd released their joined hands at some point, but Karkat still had the fingers of his other hand loosely clasped around John's horn.
That was apparently a good thing, because when John opened his eyes to look back at Karkat there was no sign of the enraged aggression he should have been feeling. Instead he looked a little dazed, with an edge of arousal that made the tightness in Karkat's groin even worse. So the submission reflex worked even better than sopor slime to suppress sleep rage, who knew? Somehow Karkat didn't think he'd be informing the others about the discovery any time soon.
"Why are we sick?" John asked, the word drawn out and sluggish, like he was struggling to remember how to talk. Probably a combination of the effect of Karkat's hand on his horn and the still-unfamiliar configuration of his new mouth.
"Because you apparently get turned on by dreams of horrorterrors," Karkat informed him, hastily withdrawing his hand before he could make things worse. "If that's not sick, I don't know what is!"
"Huh?" That seemed to wake John up a little more, and he stared at Karkat blankly for a long moment before blushing. Hard. "Oh. Oh. No, it's not... it's got nothing to do with dreams, well, unless you're having those kind of dreams, which I guess we can't anymore since we only dream in bubbles? Um, anyway."
"Then why?" Karkat demanded, fighting his own blush.
"Uh, well, you know how you wake up all angry and wanting to kill someone?" John stammered, refusing to meet Karkat's eyes. "Human guys tend to wake up, um, well, it's just a reflex, it's not really the same thing at all. It's not like we're driven to go out and, you know, hump something the way you guys seem to need to go hurt something."
Humans woke up aroused the way trolls woke up angry? Karkat considered that for a long moment. "Okay, that's still unbelievably fucked up, but slightly less sick," he conceded grudgingly. "How do I make it stop?"
"W-well, you can, uh, just wait it out," John said, blushing harder still. "But it's faster to, you know, take care of it oh my god I can't believe I'm having this conversation. A-anyway it can't be that fucked up, my body is, um, kind of, I think I'll just shut up now." He rolled over and buried his face in the movie cases.
Karkat sort of wanted to do the same thing, but he refused to act like a wriggler the way John was doing. "That's because you made me touch your horns, stupid, which is even more fucked up. And if I knew how to 'take care of it' I wouldn't be asking you, would I?"
"Just, just take care of it," John insisted, still not lifting his head. It didn't matter - he was blushing so hard Karkat could actually see his ears turning red, what the fuck. "With your hand." He finally peeked up through his messy black bangs. Karkat just gave him a blank stare in return, and waited impatiently for the grubtard to start making sense. "Trolls must do that too, right? I mean, what do you do when you get... like this?"
"Go find our matesprit or kismesis, obviously," Karkat replied impatiently. "I don't have either of those."
"So what do you usually do, then?" John asked, looking confused. Sort of adorably confused, actually, but Karkat told himself it was just the fucked-up human hormones talking.
"Nothing, stupid," Karkat snapped, realization slowly dawning. "Wait, you mean you... you fill pails by yourself? What the fuck is the point of that?"
"I keep telling you we don't fill pails, and yeah, what's wrong with that?" John asked, hiding his face again. "I mean, it's not something you talk about, and I don't know why we're talking about it right now, but everybody does it. Even girls, I think, though I'm not quite sure how."
"But it's totally useless," Karkat protested, stunned by the thought of the monumental waste. "And you do this every morning? How do you even have any genetic material left by the time you need it?"
"It's not like there's a fixed amount, you just keep producing more," John replied. "Anyway you don't have to if you don't want to, you can just ignore it until it goes away, it's just annoying and takes a while. I guess that's what I'm supposed to do? Do you guys only ever have sex to reproduce, not just for fun?"
"Yeah but you can only produce so much, so fast," Karkat said. He finally lost the battle against his own embarrassment, and buried his face in his hands so he wouldn't have to look at John. "Of course we do it for fun, but you have to restrain yourself for the perigee before the drones come or you won't have enough material to fill the pail, and then you're dead. And you certainly don't ever waste it doing it alone!"
The perigee after the drones visited tended to be rather full of sloppy makeouts as a result of the forced dry spell, which made the waiting pretty worth it, or so Karkat had heard.
"Well, there are no drones coming and nobody needs to fill any buckets, but you can do what you want," John finally said, pushing himself up with a clatter of movie cases. "I'm going to... go back to my room for a while."
"Yeah, fine, whatever," Karkat said, waving him off without looking at him. He waited until he heard the sound of footsteps and the door opening and closing, then let out an explosive breath and curled up in the pile, tugging his knees tight to his chest.
He knew perfectly well what John was going off to do, and he couldn't stop himself from imagining it. Trying to picture it without someone else involved was a little harder, but it wasn't that difficult. Hell, there were probably trolls who did it; there had been times when Karkat's curiosity had gotten the better of him and he'd worked himself up to the point where he'd semi-seriously considered it himself. If you didn't do it very often, you could get away with it, you just had to be careful not to drain yourself so that your future matesprit or kismesis wouldn't think you weren't capable of producing enough genetic material to fill a pail. Fuck, nothing would get you dumped flat on your shame globes faster than that.
But John was right that there weren't going to be any drones coming for them, so it didn't really matter anymore. They could all do it ten times a day and the only result would be that they'd hardly need to worry about buckets, they'd be coming so little each time. Sloppy makeouts ahoy.
Realizing that he was breathing hard, Karkat whined and pulled his legs in tighter. That crushed his still-hard bulge - or whatever the humans called it - between his legs and his stomach, putting pressure on it in a way that made him squirm helplessly. Or maybe that was the thought of John with his hand down his pants, coaxing his sensitive bulge out from behind the bone that shielded it, stroking his fingers over it and oh what the fuck, why not...
Karkat had a hand inside his own pants before he'd even consciously accepted that he intended to give in to the urge. He cried out as his fingers brushed against his bizarre bulge, and promptly clamped his other hand over his mouth to muffle any further sounds.
It was weirdly not as sensitive as he'd expected, but maybe that was natural considering it was always just hanging out and being stimulated all the time. Without the bone shield to protect it, if it had been as sensitive as a troll's bulge the stupid humans would just be orgasming constantly all the fucking time. Or else walking around in eternal agony.
There were places where it felt amazing to touch, though, and actually it was all pretty fucking good. The lack of claws and softer skin of his fingers proved not to be a down side here, since he could handle himself pretty much as roughly as he pleased. The tip especially felt good, and a spot just under the ridge of the widest part of the head. When he slid his hand down further he discovered that the squishy sac hanging beneath the bulge was sensitive too, though the lack of a nook was a little bizarre.
Mentally shrugging, Karkat returned to exploring the bulge, arousal winding tighter and tighter in his groin. That part was familiar enough, though he was rapidly approaching a point that was farther than he'd ever dared to push himself before. It felt good, so good, and yeah, okay, he could maybe see why the humans would do this as often as they could if there was no pressing reason not to, fuck. And the knowledge that John was back in his room doing exactly the same thing made Karkat feel so overheated he almost wondered if he would explode.
The shrill chime of his husktop interrupted him just as his breathing was starting to turn into short, sharp panting. Startled, Karkat jerked his hand away from his bulge in a reflexive attempt to pretend he wasn't doing anything wrong, as if someone had just caught him at it. Well, maybe they had - as far as he knew none of them had figured out how to troll their own timeline as well as the humans', but what if Sollux or someone had finally managed it? Fear and humiliation did a wonderful job of shutting down his arousal.
Groaning, he stretched out one shaking hand and pulled his husktop closer, checking the Trollian status window. He snarled when he realized it was John that was pestering him, and nearly threw the husktop across the room in sheer frustration.
ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]
EB: um, karkat?
EB: this is going to sound like a weird question, and you're probably going to make fun of me a lot, and i don't really blame you.
EB: but, um... how do i get, er, alternian stains out of fabric?
EB: are you there?
CG: YOU FORGOT THE FUCKING BUCKET, DIDN'T YOU
carcinoGeneticist [CG] blocked ectoBiologist [EB]
"What do you mean, it won't be ready for days?"
Sollux sighed, and rubbed one temple. He looked exhausted, like he'd been up coding for three days straight - which he probably had, actually. That made Karkat feel a little guilty for dumping on him, but this was an urgent problem.
"Look, KK. Converting energy into matter takes a fucking lot of energy, ok? The stupid molecular inversion paradox machine can only hold so much of a charge at once. It can produce exactly so much mass, and then it has to recharge for a while before it will work again." Sollux gestured at a readout on the machine, where a green bar was creeping slowly from one side towards the other. "If I'd set it to make nothing but sopor slime from the moment I got the code written for it, maybe there would have been enough for one person by the next time we need to sleep, but I doubt it. And that assumes we were all willing to go without food until then."
Growling, Karkat worked the numbers over in his head, but he couldn't make them contradict what Sollux was telling him. Even if one day was enough to produce sufficient quantities of slime for one troll, and even if they were all willing to go without food until then, it would still take at least another full day for there to be enough slime for John. Realistically, it was going to be more like two or three days.
"Well, you heard him," he said to John when he finally admitted defeat. "You'll just have to stay awake until then."
"Ahaha, yeah, sure," John said, but he didn't exactly sound enthusiastic. "No problem, I'll just, um, watch a lot of movies. Or something."
"Oh, fuck, that's why you're so anxious," Sollux realized, turning his blind gaze in John's direction. "Yeah, I guess letting him sleep without it isn't really a good idea, since he's not used to it. Sorry, Egbert."
The sympathy in his voice made Karkat's hand twitch into a fist at his side. Was Sollux pitying the pathetic sack of epic-level fail? Why the hell did Karkat even care if he was? Oh, right, because sloppy interspecies makeouts were forbidden, and it was his job as the leader to enforce his rules.
Did it still count as an interspecies makeout now that John was a troll? Fuck, this was all getting too complicated for him to keep track of.
"We could always just tie him down so he can't hurt anything when he wakes up," Karkat suggested, half seriously. "Then he can sleep all he wants."
"That's not a bad idea," John agreed, but he sounded so miserable it made Karkat feel guilty despite himself. The memory of the frantic look in John's eyes the day before, when he'd come running to Karkat for help controlling the vicious urges he was suffering from, tugged at Karkat's conscience. Tying him up would make the violent impulses ten times worse, as his instincts fought against the perceived threat.
"Fuck it, we'll figure something out," Karkat muttered, patting John awkwardly on one shoulder. John looked briefly confused, then hopeful, and Karkat promptly changed the subject before the grubtard could blurt out something incriminating.
Like, 'does that mean you'll touch my horns while I sleep again?'
"So I take it that means you've at least made more food today?" Karkat asked Sollux.
"Yeah, and this time I managed to make it produce something a little better than 'vaguely nutritious glop', or whatever Kanaya said it was labelled as," Sollux said, perking up a little."I can't promise whether the human food will be any good, but Harley helped so it should at least be edible."
"Um. That might be debatable," John said a little nervously, glancing over at where Jade was standing with Dave and Rose on the other side of the room. "But it's got to be better than last night's mush, that's for sure."
"Hey, that was still better than nothing," Karkat retorted. "And 'nothing' is exactly what we'd have gotten if it had been entirely up to you and me, thanks to your fuck-headed antics. We're just lucky Pyrope and Strider found this damned thing, so you'll take whatever you're given and shove it down your protein chute, and like it."
"It's not entirely unpalatable, actually," Rose commented, apparently overhearing them. "There is still vast room for improvement, of course, but considering that our culinary conductor is both unfamiliar with the terran gastric palate and literally working blind, the result is quite satisfactory. Indeed, even deserving of adulation."
"The grubloaf is pretty damned good too," Terezi put in, and shoved a plate of it at Karkat.
He sniffed, and squinted at it suspiciously. It looked half decent, if a bit dry and crumbly, but there was definitely something off about the smell. The scent was sour instead of tangy, and something about it made his gastric acid bladder churn uncomfortably.
Well, he could hardly protest after he'd just gotten finished lecturing John about being grateful for whatever they had, so he scooped up a pronged utensil full and shoved it in his mouth.
And promptly spat it right back out again, struggling mightily not to retch as the rancid flavour coated his tongue. It was horrible, the worst thing he'd ever tasted, and he'd eaten some pretty dubious meals while travelling through the Medium. Coughing and scrubbing at his mouth, he groped blindly for something to get the horrible taste out until someone apparently felt sorry for him and put a glass of water into his hand.
"Oh god, what was that?" Karkat cried when he could speak again without vomiting all over the computer lab. "Egbert, if that was one of your stupid pranks, I swear I am going to rip all your limbs off and grind them up for the next meal!"
"It wasn't me, I swear," John said, and he sounded as ill as Karkat felt. Surprised, Karkat rubbed at his watering eyes until he could see again, and found John leaning hunched over against the wall, making faces like he was trying equally hard not to throw up. "But whoever it was, damn, well done. You got us both pretty good, that's a heck of a prank!"
"But it wasn't a prank," Jade said, and she looked bewildered and hurt. "Really, John, that's the same meatloaf the rest of us ate!"
"Indeed, and as I stated previously, the quality was not so abysmal that it should have induced such repugnant reactions from you," Rose said, brow furrowed.
"Yeah, seriously bro, it wasn't that bad," Dave agreed.
"Perhaps this is an indication that it would be best to ensure that the food supplies of each species are not inter-mixed in the future?" Kanaya suggested hesitantly. "It would appear that our tastes do not appeal to each other in the least."
"You mean I can't eat perfectly good food because of this revoltingly useless body?" Karkat exclaimed, staring at his plate in horror. "Oh my god, what else is going to go wrong because of this?" He snuck a look at the plate John was carrying over, and grimaced. The food on it was brown on the outside and pink in the middle, and it looked completely disgusting.
"Um, your food is green, is it supposed to be that color?" John asked, with a similar look of distaste on his features. "It looks kind of like somebody ground up snot as the main ingredient"
"Well, yours looks like one of you freak-blooded failtastic mammals bled into it, so I'd say that makes us even," Karkat grumbled, snatching the plate out of his counterpart's hand.
They each scooped up a scant portion of their new food, traded hesitant appalled expressions, and shoved the food in their mouths.
It... wasn't half bad, actually. Karkat chewed with a little more enthusiasm after the first few moments, though it took him a few tries to get the hang of the grinding motion required by the ridiculously flat back human teeth. His second bite was larger, and it was just as edible as the first bite. Glancing at John, he found the human-cum-troll taking another mouthful as well.
"Well, that settles that, I guess," Karkat sighed when his mouth was clear again. "No interspecies taste testing parties."
"Aw, too bad," Terezi said, reaching out to pat him on the shoulder and nearly clawing half his cheek off when she missed. "Sollux was gonna try to make grubghetti tomorrow, isn't that your favourite?"
"Yeah," Karkat snapped, pulling away. Damn it, she didn't have to rub it in. "Whatever, probably would have been half-assed anyway."
Finishing dinner was difficult enough, when he had to eat his food without looking at it and kept sneaking longing glances at the much more appealing-looking grubloaf the others had. It was worse when the four humans left - well, three humans and a former human. Without them, the conversation naturally switched into Alternian, which was far easier for troll mouths and tongues to manage, especially while eating.
Karkat tried twice to join in the conversation in his native tongue, shaping the sounds as carefully as he could. He wouldn't even have cared if the result had been that he sounded like a mentally deficient grub, if it had only been understandable, but his human mouth just was not capable of making the sounds required. He gave up after the second try made Sollux choke on his grubloaf and Kanaya and Terezi both blush, even though the sight of Terezi blushing would have been worth boonbucks to him on any other occasion.
He stuck to English after that, which was certainly functional enough; it wasn't as if the other trolls couldn't understand him that way, or as if he was prevented from being able to understand them. But it felt awkward and left him thoroughly miserable with the reminder that he was no longer properly one of them, and never would be again. What was worse was that the others seemed equally awkward towards him, as if they didn't quite know how to react or treat him now that he looked like one of the humans.
It made him feel alien, that was the word he was looking for. And it wasn't like he could just go off and hang out with the humans and feel at home that way, because he was even more alien to them despite his new superficial similarities.
By the time he was done eating Karkat was thoroughly sick of socializing. "I'm going back to my respite block," he announced, standing abruptly. "Troll me if there's any problems."
"Yeah, sure thing, KK," Sollux agreed. A little too quickly? And did Kanaya look faintly relieved? Or was that Karkat's overactive paranoia talking?
Hurt and trying desperately not to show it, Karkat turned and stormed off, making an effort to keep his posture angry instead of pained. At least until he got out of the main room. Then his shoulders slumped and his stomping stride turned into a miserable shuffle, and he couldn't decide whether he ought to hate or pity himself as he dragged his feet through the halls to his respite block.
He slammed into his room with every intention of throwing himself down into his pile and indulging in a massive and well-deserved rage fit, only to be brought up short when he turned the lights up high and was met by a pained cry from someone already inside the room.
John sat huddled on Karkat's pile, looking every bit as miserable as Karkat felt, wincing and shielding his sensitive eyes from the painfully bright light. For a moment Karkat considered leaving the lights up, as a way of chasing the other boy out again, but in the end he dimmed them back to something only a little higher than the trolls preferred, but not so dark he couldn't even see John sitting there.
"What the fuck are you doing here," he snapped, too depressed even to swear creatively at him.
"I... I just..." John pulled in farther on himself, a pathetic ball of wretched troll curled up on the pile. "I couldn't stay with the others. It was so awkward, and they kept trying really hard to make me feel better and that only made me feel worse, because it meant they were rubbing my nose in how different I was."
"At least you can speak your own fucking language," Karkat snarled, refusing to feel sorry for the other boy when by all rights he should feel sorrier for himself. "I can't even have a fucking conversation with my friends without it being painfully obvious with every word that emerges from my seedflap that I am not one of them and never will be again!"
He flopped into his pile, uncaring that he was scattering movies everywhere, and winced as the sharp corners dug into his ridiculously soft skin. He kept forgetting about that, forgetting how stupidly, uselessly vulnerable this body was, how ridiculously easy it was to bruise and tear the skin. He wondered if he would ever get used to it, even as he despised the fact that he needed to get used to it.
"I hate this body!" he yelled into the pile, pushed past the last limits of his tolerance. "With the burning fire of a million flaming suns gone supernova, with the destructive power of a hundred thousand Imperial planet-crusher missiles, I hate it! I hate it even more than I hated you the first time I ever talked to you! It's stupid and useless and soft and blunt and I can't fight and I can't see and I can't talk and I..."
He ran out of breath and was horrified to realize he was unable to draw another because of the sob caught in his throat, the tears pouring over his face. He was even more horrified when he felt hard fingers combing through his hair, the touch delicate as if their owner was afraid to hurt him, which he probably was. Which he probably would, if he pressed even a little harder, sharp claws dragging against the soft skin of Karkat's scalp.
"Don't you dare," he growled, thrashing but not quite throwing off the comforting hand. Because it was comforting, and as much as he hated it, as much as he couldn't admit it even to himself, he wanted that comfort so badly right now. He wanted not to feel alone. "Don't you dare pity me, I am not pathetic, I am Karkat fucking Vantas and I am more badass than you could ever be! I am so fucking unpathetic that I will never be able to experience redrom, because nobody will ever be able to feel anything but awe and adulation towards me. And even if I was the most useless troll in all of fucking Alternian space, I would still be less pathetic than you!"
"I'm sorry," John whispered, his voice choked with what might have been tears of his own. "This is all my fault, and it's not fair that you're suffering so much more than me. And don't say that you aren't, because now that I know kind of what it feels like to be a troll, I can understand why you'd feel so helpless in my body. And you're right, at least I can speak my own language, and I don't have to worry about my friends turning on me or something because I'm suddenly helpless or whatever, and... oh my god."
Karkat yelped as the fingers tightened abruptly in his hair, claws digging into his skin. "Oh, my god," John repeated, in the dazed tone of someone who has just had a revelation. "I get it now. I think I do. Oh my god, Karkat, I get it!"
"Get what, nubwit?" Karkat demanded, turning his head enough to let him see John. He looked just as stunned as he sounded, staring down at Karkat with an utterly gobsmacked look on his face.
"The whole pity and hate thing, I think I finally get it," John insisted, eyes wide. "I could never understand why it was supposed to be a good thing to pity the person you cared about most, but... you're hurting so much and all I can think about is how much I want to take that hurt away, wrap you up like you're made of spun glass and make sure that nothing ever hurts you again, and... Karkat, I think I totally pity you, and it feels amazing!"
The words should have left him flushed and reeling, blood-pusher pounding with the overwhelming feelings invoked by such a passionate confession. Intellectually, he was, but emotionally Karkat found he was kind of angry, and a little hurt, because it felt like John was totally looking down on him. And that didn't make any sense, because hell, Karkat had even had a few stray pitiful thoughts directed at John since this whole thing had started, so why was he getting mad about it now?
Was it possible that humans just really, truly were built in such a way that emotions didn't mean the same thing to them? And because Karkat was now a human, even though his mind could comprehend that what John was saying was a good thing, his stupid hormones and emotions couldn't grasp it?
Even the anger and hatred he'd experienced since becoming human had all been of the platonic sort, Karkat realized now, not a single blackrom emotion slipping in anywhere. That just wasn't natural for a troll... but maybe it really was natural for a human?
"Fuck," he breathed out, dismayed all over again by this new revelation. "All this time I thought you were just so deficient in your think pan that it was more like a think cup, but it actually wasn't your fault that you couldn't understand a simple concept like the quadrants. I am so fucking mad at you for saying that shit to me, I could tear your face off, it hurts."
"Oh. Oops?" John looked chagrined. "If it helps, I never really pitied you before this, I liked you a lot and I mean I felt bad for you when Gamzee was chasing you around killing people, but that was because I was worried about you and I didn't want anything to happen to you! Which I guess is kind of like pity, but not quite the same."
"You liked me," Karkat repeated, and there was a queer throbbing feeling in his chest which he had previously taken for pity, but now that he was examining it, it wasn't really pity at all. Because actually it felt stronger when John was smiling, happy, the furthest possible thing from pitiful. Seeing him upset like this made Karkat hurt, but in a different way from pity. It wasn't so much a drive to stop him from feeling bad as it was a need to make him feel good, and even though those things might seem to be equivalent on the surface, he was realizing that they really, really weren't.
"I think... I understand what you meant by that, now," he admitted, his voice so low even he could barely hear the words.
"Really?" John's expression went from wide-eyed wonder, to soft happiness, to hesitant confusion. "So, I mean, you like me? Like-like me? In a, uh, romantic way?"
"Maybe," Karkat mumbled, looking away briefly before wrenching his eyes back to meet John's. Be damned if he'd let the moron think Karkat was ashamed of his feelings somehow. None of this 'but I'm not a homosexual' crap for him. "What about you? Pity is romantic for trolls by definition, you know. Your equipment is pretty fucking freaky, but I'm definitely still a guy."
"Yeah, um... that doesn't really seem to matter much," John said, and now it was his turn to blush and look away. "Actually the weirdest part is being attracted to someone who looks like my twin brother or something. I'm sure Rose would have all kinds of things to say about the Freudian meaning behind this."
"Lalonde can go fuck herself," Karkat said succinctly. "This is about you and me."
"I..." John finally looked back at him, cheeks flushed with embarrassment... and something warmer. "I couldn't stop thinking about you, this morning. When I was... you know. I kept wondering if you were going to do the same thing, and then I couldn't stop picturing it, and then before I knew it... I realized why you guys are so insistent on the whole pail thing."
Karkat couldn't quite stop himself from snorting in amusement, despite the irritation provoked by the reminder of his earlier frustration upon being interrupted. "I was doing the same, until you fucking pestered me just as I was getting to the best part, and totally killed the mood."
"Ahahaha, uh, sorry?" John offered, smiling weakly.
"Well, you'll just have to make it up to me," Karkat huffed, and finally gave in to the need to look away. He peeked back from under his lashes, however, and was pleased despite himself to see the heat building in John's eyes. "So? What are you waiting for, an invitation engraved onto your bone bulge to remind you what you're supposed to be doing with it?"
"I'm actually not entirely sure what I'm supposed to do with it," John admitted, flushing harder. "Maybe you can show me?"
"Fuck, only you would need instructions on something any wriggler would know by instinct," Karkat said, rolling his eyes. "Fine. I'll teach you yours, if you teach me mine."
"Deal," John said, and his smile was only a little shaky as he reached for Karkat.
They quickly learned that kissing was going to have to be led by Karkat, unless they were trying to recreate one of Kanaya's rainbow drinker novels. Karkat had known that his teeth as a troll were sharp, but he hadn't quite appreciated how sharp until they were gnawing on the much more delicate skin of his new human lips.
He pulled back and readjusted, and they managed to find an equilibrium that felt pretty good. Then John slipped his tongue out and Karkat met it with his own, clumsier tongue, and 'pretty good' didn't even come close to describing how it felt.
Then John started growling in the back of his throat, the deep rumble overlaid by a higher whine, and the sound ran straight down Karkat's spine into his bulge. It was an aggressive, needy sound, normally reserved only for a matesprit or kismesis, intended to tell the troll's partner to brace themselves because they were about to get thoroughly fucked.
Karkat braced himself, hanging on to John's shoulders and shivering, just in time as John tore his mouth away and lowered it to Karkat's neck. "Teeth," Karkat hissed, embarrassed that he had to beg for mercy but not finding the knives buried in his shoulder nearly as sexy as they should have been.
John eased up with a mumbled apology, licking and kissing the spot he'd just savaged, and Karkat managed to take his first deep breath since they'd started kissing. "Okay, just... take it easy, you're letting your instincts run away with you," he coaxed, his voice trembling a little. With need, not fear, though there was a tiny curl of that making flutterbeasts dance in his acid sack as well.
Moaning, John let Karkat push him back by the shoulders, until they were laying stretched out flat on the pile. Karkat squirmed until he was on top of John, finding it much more comfortable to sit on the other boy than the hard cases. And also enjoying the sounds John was making, like Karkat's wiggling was driving him out of his think pan.
Panting like there suddenly wasn't enough oxygen in the room, Karkat lowered his mouth to John's neck instead. His blunt teeth could hardly do any more damage than his soft nails had been able to that first day, but he gave it his best shot, biting down hard on the tough skin of John's throat. The growl kicked up a notch, and John writhed beneath him, hands coming up to clutch at Karkat's back and dig into his hair. His claws pricked, but it didn't hurt nearly enough for Karkat to want to stop him.
Troll sex tended to be rough and a little painful, even between matesprits. Karkat was able to infer from things the humans had said and his own experience in this frail body that human sex was probably gentler. In some ways it was a very good thing that they were doing this for the first time now, when John's sweet nature tempered his instinctive drive to dominate and damage, and Karkat's socially-ingrained appreciation of roughness overcame the greater amount of pain this body experienced. If they'd done this in their own bodies, Karkat might very well have irreparably damaged or just frightened John off before he ever realized what he was doing wrong.
Instead they managed to balance right on the line between too much for one and not enough for the other, and it was amazing.
When John's stupid God Tier hoodie got in the way of Karkat's explorations, he snarled and broke off long enough to claw it up out of the way. John sat up enough to help him, then insistently pulled at Karkat's shirt as well before he would let Karkat return to what he'd been doing. Only when they were both half naked did Karkat manage to get his mouth back on John, biting and sucking as hard as he could at the expanse of grey skin.
John slid his hands up over Karkat's chest, dragging his claws just lightly enough to sting but not break the skin, and Karkat couldn't stop himself from squirming in reaction. Then John reached the odd, flat little disks of darker skin on the upper half of his chest, which Karkat had been highly confused by and had finally written off as very weird scars.
They weren't scars, as it turned out. They appeared to be the human equivalent of horns, at least for sexual purposes, because the moment John tweaked them Karkat nearly went through the roof.
"Oh fuck, do that again," he pleaded breathlessly. John happily complied, and Karkat moaned and arched into the touch as he scrambled to get one hand up to John's horn to return the favour. He was careful not to apply much pressure, ghosting his fingers over the base of it, because he only wanted to start the endorphin rush, not leave John limp and unmoving.
He seemed to manage the trick of it, because John's growl doubled in volume and he shivered under the touch, but he didn't stop running his hands all over Karkat's body. They traded a few sloppy kisses, and part of Karkat's brain giddily noted that he really was going to have to lift his ban on interspecies makeouts, because he wasn't selfish enough to keep them all for himself.
Then John's squirming took on a slightly more frantic tenor, and his growl was interspersed by a desperate moan. "Yeah, okay, this is the part that kind of really freaks me out," he said, his voice shaking with need and a bit of discomfort. "Seriously, Karkat, your body is kind of weird."
"Only because you lot apparently have no issues with walking around letting your most sensitive parts hang out there," Karkat retorted, biting at his neck again. "You're just aroused and feeling safe enough to let yourself be vulnerable, don't fight it."
John moaned again and arched against him, and Karkat finally let go of the other boy's horn in favour of pushing his ridiculous blue pyjama pants down over his hips. John's bulge was about half extended from behind the bony sheath, writhing a bit with the intensity of the sensation of airflow and skin against it. Carefully Karkat took it in his hand, for once grateful for the lack of hard claws because it let him be a little less delicate than he might otherwise have to be.
The noise John made when Karkat touched him there was almost painfully exquisite, a chirping whine that made Karkat's breath catch in his throat. Sliding his fingers along the twitching surface of the bulge, Karkat decided somewhat giddily that it was his new mission in life to force John to make that noise as often and as loudly as possible.
His own bulge was hard enough to hurt, pressed against the front of his pants. Karkat was just about desperate enough for relief to let go of John long enough to undo them, when John suddenly dropped his hands and did it for him. He moaned and jerked his hips into the touch as John tentatively drew his fingers over the tip, which seemed to be weeping colourless fluid. Karkat really hoped it was supposed to do that, but since John didn't say anything he figured it was safe to assume that was normal.
They both took a moment to wiggle out of the last of their clothes, then returned to exploring the bodies that were so familiar and yet so different when someone else was wearing them. Karkat gently untangled his fingers from the length of John's bulge, now fully extended, and slid them down to rub over the edges of his nook. John gasped and retaliated by wrapping his fist around Karkat's bulge and pumping, an action that would have been incredibly agonizing on a troll's body but which apparently a human's very, very much appreciated.
There was no way in hell Karkat was going to be able to get his monstrous alien bulge into John's shallow nook, but that was okay, because thanks to the lack of claws there was nothing stopping him from using his fingers instead with no fear of hurting the other boy. He had to bite down on his own tongue to help him concentrate, because that steady pumping on his bulge was more than a little distracting, but he managed somehow.
Trying to mimic the writhing motions of a troll's bulge by rubbing his fingers together inside John apparently worked well enough, because John gave a startled shout and arched up until Karkat was amazed his spine didn't crack. "Buh, fuck, bucket, Karkat, I need..." he gasped out, clearly struggling to hold on with everything he was worth.
"Are you fucking kidding me? You just came earlier today, fuckass, you're not gonna have anything left," Karkat informed him, just as breathless. "Just fucking go already!" He felt like he was trembling on the edge of something huge, something that would sweep him away and leave him completely senseless, and he wanted to make sure John was taken care of, first.
Sexually frustrated trolls had been known to seriously injure their disappointing partner, after all.
Finally John gave a high, thin, warbling scream and his whole body shook against Karkat's as he came. It turned out he did have some genetic material left, a thin trickle of red fluid leaking down over Karkat's fingers to coat his hand, easing the friction of skin against skin as he pulled out.
Then John recovered enough to shift his grip on Karkat's bulge, running his thumb over the weeping slit at the top with careful delicacy, and that was it for Karkat's self control. He thought he might have shouted as he came, too, but he couldn't be sure over the rushing sound of his own blood in his ears. He collapsed down onto John, spasms wracking his whole body, as it felt like he emptied everything inside of him over John's hand.
It took a long moment before he could move again, but when he tipped his head down enough to see he was amazed to find that he'd hardly produced any more material than John had. No wonder humans didn't understand the need for pails, if they always only came this much.
"Wow," John said, somewhat fuzzily. He was nuzzling at Karkat's neck, teeth safely tucked away behind his lips, and the gesture felt... affectionate. A concept a normal troll wouldn't really grasp, but which Karkat was discovering felt pretty damned good. "Wow, that was really... wow."
"Yeah," Karkat agreed, his voice husky. "Okay, maybe human bodies aren't completely useless at everything."
He shifted so that he wasn't completely crushing John anymore, but arranged himself so he could still use the other boy's body between him and the hard movie cases. Lazily he slid one hand up into John's hair, resting just the tips of his fingers against the base of John's horns, and enjoyed the way that made John shudder against him.
"I'm tired," John said, as if he was surprised by the discovery.
"No shit, I wonder why," Karkat snorted, but there was no heat behind his words. Not the heat of anger, anyway - there was a different sort of warmth there, something that he thought might be what the humans seemed to mean by 'love'. "Go to sleep, nookwhiff. We can do it again in the evening."
"Mmm, yeah, okay," John agreed, sliding his hands up to rest on Karkat's back, holding him close but not crushing him. His eyes fluttered shut and he drifted off quickly, his breathing slow and relaxed as Karkat gently stroked his horn.
Karkat stayed up for a surprisingly long time, just watching the human/troll sleep, feeling a sappy smile playing over his mouth and a stinging fist squeezing his emotions in the best possible way.
Pounding broke through the quiet of slumber, rattling the metal door in its frame. Karkat mumbled an incoherent protest as he tried to burrow further into his pile to escape the noise.
Something warm and solid beneath him prevented him from going any deeper. He cracked one eye open in irritation, then smiled again when he saw that it was John and remembered what had happened. John frowned and stirred, twitching with the first signs of waking rage, but Karkat stroked his horn and he subsided again.
Now, if only whatever was causing that god-awful racket at the door would go away and let them sleep. It couldn't have been more than an hour since he'd closed his eyes, surely.
"KK! C'mon, wake up, this is important," Sollux called over the noise of his pounding.
With a groan Karkat tried to order him to go away, but the words wouldn't form right and he couldn't seem to raise his voice enough. Giving up on the attempt, he buried his face in John's shoulder and decided to ignore it until the irritating freak went away.
Unfortunately Sollux was more determined than Karkat had given him credit for. "Okay, KK, I'm sorry for invading your space like this but seriously I need you to wake up," he said, and to Karkat's disbelief he opened the door and came inside. If Karkat had still been a troll his natural territorial instinct would have driven him to try to rip out Sollux's throat for the invasion, especially since he was half asleep.
As a human he didn't seem to have the same urge, but unfortunately it appeared that John had come to regard this respite block as his space as well, and he was waking up enough to register Sollux's presence. The growl that resonated through the room had very little in common with the sexy sound he'd made earlier for Karkat - this one made the hairs on the back of Karkat's neck rise, a very strange sensation.
Sollux stopped dead in the doorway, staring blankly into the room. "What the... KK? Humans don't make that noise, do they? Ohhhh... fuck, Egbert's in here, isn't he," he realized, and hastily retreated back into the hallway. "Sorry, sorry, just... get out here as soon as you can, will you?"
Embarrassed that Sollux had caught them naked and vulnerable in the movie pile, Karkat scrambled to retrieve their clothes. At least Sollux couldn't actually see them, he consoled himself.
"Egbert, wake the fuck up, and stop that, it's not a threat," he ordered, smacking the half-asleep troll hard in the shoulder. A moment later he was appalled at his unthinking action, and braced himself for John to rip him a new one. Literally. Horn-dazed or not, any troll would attack someone that struck them while they were half asleep, unless it was their matesprit.
Somewhat to his amazement, John grumbled but didn't attack, only opening his eyes and yawning instead. "Whaa?" he said, a bit incoherent still but obviously aware enough to be asking questions. And not deep in the throes of sleep rage, thankfully.
"I don't know, Sollux wants something and it must be damned fucking important for him to actually come in here," Karkat grumbled, quickly pulling his pants on. He tossed John's clothes at him, and after a befuddled moment John started dressing as well, clearly waking up more by the moment.
"This had better be fucking good, Captor," Karkat said as he yanked the door open again, tugging his shirt down with his other hand. "Like seriously, everyone else in the asteroid had better be dead or dying because Noir finally found us, or something equally life-threatening. Are you out of your fucking think pan?"
"Yeah, sorry about that," Sollux apologized again, and Karkat was marginally appeased to see a hot splash of yellow across his cheeks. "I thought it was just you in there, and it doesn't seem like the humans care much when someone wakes them up, so I figured it would be okay. Why was Egbert sleeping with you? Though it at least means we don't have to go hunt him down."
"So I can keep him from going hiveshit on anyone when he wakes up," Karkat said bluntly, grateful the other troll couldn't see his answering blush. "It's a fuckload better than tying him up."
"Sollux?" John said, finally stumbling up behind Karkat, rubbing at his eyes with one hand and trying to stifle a yawn with the other. "What's going on?"
"I think we've figured out how to reverse what happened to you," Sollux said, and it felt like Karkat's blood pusher stopped dead in his chest.
"You what?" he and John exclaimed on the same breath, staring at the blind troll like he held the answer to life, the universe, and everything.
"I've been trying to reprogram the machine that switched you, and I finally managed to parse the damned code," Sollux explained, shuffling his way down the hall. He was getting better at navigating by scent thanks to Terezi's lessons, but he was still going far too slow for Karkat's peace of mind, especially if what he was saying was true. Karkat grabbed his arm and hustled him along, and for a miracle Sollux actually let him without protesting.
"When the fuck have you had time to be working on that?" Karkat demanded.
"Pretty much constantly since it happened," Sollux told him. "I lied about the molecular inversion paradox machine not being able to produce much mass, I just haven't had a chance to touch its programming beyond making slightly better food. I didn't want to tell you what I was really doing and get your hopes up, in case I couldn't find a way to fix it."
"You can really change us back?" John said, practically bouncing along behind them, now wide-awake and eager.
Sollux turned his head as if he could look back at John, and his expression was a mixture of confusion and unease. "If you just woke up, and I invaded your space, why aren't you trying to kill me right now?"
"Huh? Oh, because Karkat figured out that hemmmphghhhn." Karkat tightened his hand a little more over John's mouth, glaring bloody murder at him, uncaring that he'd just nearly made Sollux brain himself because he'd let go so abruptly.
"Never mind, that's not important," Karkat snapped, only releasing John when he was certain the idiot had gotten the hint. John gave him a slightly shaky smile, blushing, and nodded sheepishly. Thank fucking god.
"Ooookay," Sollux said slowly, and shrugged. "I don't want to know, do I?"
"No, you fucking don't, so get back on topic," Karkat said, taking his arm again impatiently.
"Anyway, yeah, I've remapped it so that there's basically an 'undo' function now, that will exactly reverse whatever its last action was," Sollux said. "So unless somebody's been mixing frogs on there since you two stumbled into it, it should switch you back to the way you belong."
"How sure are you that this will work?" Karkat asked, blood pusher pounding in his chest.
"About... ninety percent sure," Sollux admitted. "I can't get it any closer than that, KK, I'm sorry. It's up to you whether you want to take the risk."
To be able to be himself again, with proper teeth and claws and horns and bulge, to not have to feel like a weak, vulnerable, pathetic sack of fail who couldn't even speak his own language and who felt like an alien even in a group full of aliens... fuck yes, it was worth the risk. To Karkat.
But Karkat wasn't the only one who needed to make the decision, and he couldn't force John to risk death or drooling idiocy if the other boy didn't want to. No, he probably could force it, but he wouldn't. Was that pity, or love? He wasn't even sure any more.
"Egbert?" he asked, turning towards the other boy.
"Do you even have to ask?" John exclaimed, shaking his head. "This stopped being funny a long time ago! I'm not as miserable as you, but ninety percent sure sounds good enough to me!"
"That's still a one in ten chance it'll fail," Karkat felt compelled to remind him.
"And nine in ten that it will work," John countered. "C'mon, I'm sure Vriska must have willed me some of her luck. Otherwise how would we have managed to survive this in the first place? I say let's do it."
"Fuck yes," Karkat exclaimed, relieved more than he could say.
It seemed to take forever for them to reach the room where the up-sized frog-cloning equipment was. As they approached Karkat realized that Kanaya was there as well, and frowned. "The screen has not changed since you left," she told Sollux as they drew closer. Karkat realized that Sollux must have needed her to read the screen to him, since he couldn't see it and couldn't read by smelling yet the way Terezi could. "I did not look away even for a moment, as you asked. There have been no blips or alterations."
"Thank god, I really did not want to go through all that again," Sollux breathed out. "Not that I thought it was likely something would go wrong, but I didn't want to take the chance. Thanks, Kanaya, I couldn't have done this without you."
"Is this why you two were so relieved to get rid of me after dinner?" Karkat exclaimed, and a weight lifted from his shoulders that he hadn't even realized was there.
"Were we that obvious? I apologize," Kanaya said, blushing slightly. "I did not mean to give you the impression that we were not comfortable with your company, Karkat."
"Yeah, I knew we were close to solving this and I wanted to get it finished before something could go wrong," Sollux said.
"If this works, I will forgive you for just about anything short of leading Noir to us all, so don't worry about it," Karkat told him fervently. "Let's fucking do this, already!"
He turned to step onto the platform, more than ready to brave the excruciating pain again. A tug on his hand stopped him, and he looked back to see John standing there uncertainly, worrying at his lip with his sharp teeth. "Changed your mind already?" Karkat asked, voice tight with anxiety. Once again he reminded himself that he would not push John into this if the other boy didn't want to take the risk.
"No, it's just... Karkat?" John gave him an imploring look. "Will we... I mean, if things go back to normal, and... what about..."
Realizing what he was getting at, Karkat snorted. He flicked a quick glance at their audience, but decided that this was important enough that he didn't even fucking care who was listening. "Are you kidding me? I'll have even more reason to pity the pathetic sack of utter fail that is all things John Egbert, now that I know just how weak and useless you really are."
John's eyes lit up, and he smiled wide enough to show off all his fangs. "Yeah, well, I guess I'll have even more reason to like you, now that I know you're not a jerk all the time."
"You sure about that? Not going to go back to being not a homosexual?" Karkat couldn't resist taunting him.
"Um. I guess since you're an alien with totally different parts anyway, it doesn't really count?" he said, blushing.
"Yeah fuck you, I'm still definitely a guy," Karkat retorted, unable to stop himself from smiling just a little. "You're the one with the weird parts."
Sollux coughed awkwardly, interrupting them. "Uh, not to interrupt your touching moment of pity or anything, but you might want to get this over with? I'm a little worried about the power burping and erasing the program, that's why I left Kanaya here to watch it in the first place."
"Right," John said hastily, and stepped up onto the platform, pulling Karkat up after him. "Okay, I'm ready."
"Do it," Karkat ordered, gritting his teeth in anticipation of the pain.
He wouldn't have believed it was possible, but the process hurt even worse the second time.
Karkat tasted blood in his mouth when he finally came back to himself, and when he swallowed painfully he realized he'd actually screamed himself bloody. Other than that and the lingering pain of transformation, however, everything seemed to be working well enough so far. He was breathing, and his blood pusher was pounding, and he could feel all of his arms and legs and fingers and toes.
"Oh, ow," John moaned beside him. Half afraid of what he would see, Karkat turned his head, and was relieved to find the same pasty, puffy human face that he'd seen through his Trollian viewport so many times.
A slightly blurry version of it, anyway. Wincing at the effort it took to move, he lifted his hand and pulled off the glasses, shoving them at John. "Here, stupid, these are yours. Take them before I crush them out of sheer gratitude not to need them anymore."
"I love you too, Karkat," John said happily, if somewhat painfully, as he accepted the glasses. His derpy smile had never looked so good, and Karkat definitely preferred seeing it on John's face instead of his own. "And uh, you certainly look pretty pitiful at the moment!"
"Yeah, shut it," Karkat muttered, but he let himself smile just the slightest bit in return. For once, they understood each other perfectly.