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They don't know it, but they've met once before. It's just that neither of them can remember it.

Their first meeting that either of them can recall happens when they are two and one half sweeps old. It's Lusus Day at the schoolfeeding grounds, and the lusii accompany their charges. Schoolyard boasts are made ("I bet my lusus could beat up your lusus!") and put to the test (more than a few younglings are able to back up their claims).

But one boy has no time for these shenanigans. He doesn't see what the big deal is, his lusus comes with him to schoolfeeding every day. As far as he's concerned, it's nothing special, so he skips the festivities and makes his way to the playground.

He's got a good momentum built up on his swing (and by God, he's determined to get over the bar this time) when he thinks he hears someone crying. He dismisses it at first, thinking maybe it was all in his head, but when he hears it again, he stops himself and decides to investigate.

It doesn't take long to find the source. There's a girl his age, hugging her knees and sniffling under the climbing bars. His lusus has warned him about other trolls before, especially those higher up on the hemospectrum like her, but she doesn't seem so dangerous to him. He crawls up next to her.

"Hey, you, what's wrong? Why are you crying? Stop crying."

She looks up at him. She's seen him around before, he's impossible to miss because he's the kid whose lusus comes with him every day, and the only anonymous-blood in her class. He keeps getting into fights and being sent home, and he doesn't play with most of the others. She's pretty sure this is the first time he's talked to anyone on his own.

"I-I-It's Lusus Day."

"So? Do you hate your lusus that much?"

"I d-don't... I don't h-h-have a lusus." She starts crying again.

He feels like a boneheaded jerk now. "I'm sorry, I didn't know. Did... did your lusus die?" That just makes her cry harder. If he didn't feel bad earlier, he certainly does now, and he tries to reassure her. "No, don't cry! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to make you sad!"

Between sobs, the girl tells him about how she's never even met her lusus, how she has to live by herself and do everything alone. Even at this young age, his heart breaks a little for her. She has to live all alone, and he's pretty sure she's like him and doesn't have a lot of friends either. He thinks nobody should have to be lonely like that if they don't want to be.

"Do you wanna be friends?" His offer takes her by surprise. This boy barely ever talks to anyone, and now he wants to be friends?

She wipes her tears from her eyes, nods and smiles at him. "Okay."

The two of them emerge from under the bars together and tell each other their names before she takes hold of his arm and leads him to the swingset by his hand. "I bet I can go higher than you!"

"No way. I'm the best at swings."

"Oh yeah? Prove it!"

Later that day, his lusus would be furious with him for leaving early. The next week, a group of kids would notice the pair playing together and taunt the boy relentlessly, every day, for a perigree, with chants of "Karkat pities Terezi! Karkat pities Terezi!", an accusation he would vehemently deny as his new friend giggled at him.

Sweeps later, he would remember this day and consider all of that "totally worth it."

----------

They are five sweeps old and haven't seen each other in person much since their schoolfeeding days. He thinks maybe they're growing apart, and while he knows that's an inevitable part of life sometimes, he can't help but be saddened by it. Maybe he liked her? But he won't admit it to anyone.

Not even himself.

The boy isn't fond of FLARP, and he's never been a fan of Vriska, to say the least. But the girl has been spending more and more time with her, to the point where the pair is known as the Scourge Sisters. They are undefeated in their FLARP campaigns and infamous for their ruthless disposal of those they defeat. The two of them are the best of friends, inseperable, and he hasn't heard from her in perigrees. He thinks maybe she really has moved on, until she finally contacts him again and tells him how Vriska used her.

When he finds Vriska has been less than honest about the character of their opponents, he tells her he's staying out of their spat. He continues his declaration of neutrality after he learns of Vriska paralyzing Tavros, and even through hearing the news about how she hijacked his best friend's mind and made him murder Aradia, he remains adamant about not getting involved.

They fight over that last one. She says Vriska has gone too far this time. He says if Vriska was powerful enough to manipulate Sollux, the strongest psionic either of them knows, then what chance does she stand? She says she has to try, Vriska is a dangerous psychopath and needs to be brought to justice. He says she would know all about being a dangerous psychopath, considering her vast wealth of first-hand experience in the field of dangerous psychopathery (and also that he's implying she herself is a dangerous psychopath, just in case she didn't get it). She calls him a coward, too scared to even stand up for his best friend, and tells him to do a multitude of unpleasant, not to mention illegal, things with his bone bulge, among a few other choice insults. He responds with a few insults of his own, and then she blocks him on Trollian. It's not the first time they've done this, and she's always unblocked him by the next day, both making awkward apologies to the other before resuming their friendship.

He starts worrying when day three rolls around with no contact. The worst-case scenarios play continuously in his thinkpan: Vriska manipulated her into jumping into the spider's mouth; Vriska bested her in combat, and dropped her into the spider's web; Equius stepped in and stopped her from assaulting her blood superior with a single punch. And then they fed what was left of her to the spider.

But that's stupid, he thinks. She just finally got fed up with his bullshit for the last time. She's not dead, but their friendship probably is. That's all.

And yet...

He doesn't know how he convinced himself to do it, but he strikes out in the dead of the night, having distracted his lusus with an entire tray of roe cubes ("That ought to keep that asshole busy for a while," he says to himself as he walks out the door). He steers clear of the known musclebeast hunting grounds and it takes him nearly an hour on foot, but he finally finds what he's looking for. The trees in this area at the edge of the forest are colored exactly as she's described to him before.

It's a straight shot to her hive from here.

Getting there proves to be a challenge. There aren't a lot of musclebeasts in the forest, but that doesn't mean it's a safe place by any means. He's constantly on guard, sickle at the ready for the first sign of trouble. Fortunately for him, he doesn't have to use it tonight.

It looks exactly like she said it did, sweeps ago. She doesn't have a proper lawnring, her hive is situated in what has to be the tallest tree in the forest. Well, he thinks, it kind of has to be. She doesn't have a lusus to protect her, after all.

Doesn't make his ascent any easier, though, that's for sure. The elevator isn't at ground level, it's all the way up by her front door, and he can't find a way to call it down, so he'll have to climb the rope ladder. It's not so much a ladder as it is a rope with knots tied in it every few feet, though, and he has to try to force himself not to look down once he climbs beyond the halfway mark. He doesn't succeed, and for a second, he's a bit dizzy. He fights the urge to simply stop, reminding himself that he has to keep going. He came here for a reason, after all.

The boy finally reaches the top and decides to rest for a while, sprawled out on his back, trying to catch his breath. He's not out of shape, but swinging a sickle around in his room like a spazz doesn't exactly prepare one for such a rigorous climb. He's roused to his feet when he hears a crash coming from inside the building.

He knocks on the door three times before calling out. "Terezi? Are you here?" He tries the door and finds it unlocked, and he palms his sickle before entering, remembering her feud with Vriska. If she's here, and if she has hurt the girl, he won't hesitate to run her through.

He prays his mutation will be enough to shield his mind from manipulation as he steps inside. Various items are strewn about, furniture damaged and tipped over, and he's a bit anxious at the sight of it. He calls out again. "Is anyone there? Terezi, are you okay?" He takes another couple of steps and he hears something shuffling around in the room to his left.

He walks to the doorway and stands in it, sickle ready, should it come to that. "Terezi? Where are--" He is cut off by a weapon meant to smash into his head, and he barely has time to jump backwards to avoid it. He feels the wind generated by the attack on his face as he instinctively swears. "What the hell?"

The attacker responds with barely-masked fear and anxiety clear in her voice. "I don't know who the fuck you are, but you're getting the hell out of my hive, right now! If you live, tell Vriska she won't finish me off that easy!" The figure charges him, wildly swinging a wooden stick. He parries the attack and pushes inward, growling and baring his teeth.

Wait. I know you.

"...Terezi?"

"Get out!"

"Terezi, it's me! Cut it out, I'm not here to hurt you!"

"Bullshit! Vriska sent you to finish me off, I know it!"

"No, listen! Terezi, it's me. Don't you fucking know who I am?"

The girl shoots him a puzzled expression, like she might actually recognize him, but she's not sure. She takes a step toward him and puts her hands to his face.

"Terezi, what--"

"Shhh! If you're who I think you might be..."

She gropes around his face, mapping out his features. Gradually, she works her way up to his hairline, then his horns. She tests the points; they are rounded and blunt, more like horns one would expect to find on younglings and wrigglers than the sharper ones found on trolls their age.

She gasps, quietly, and is speechless for a second once the revelation strikes her.

"Karkat. It's you. It's really you. You really came, even after I said those terrible things..."

And then she dives into him, arms locked in grateful embrace, face nuzzling his. She doesn't cry, but she thinks she might.

"You were right, Vriska was bad news. I'm sorry I didn't listen, I'm sorry I said those awful things about you, I'm sorry I blocked you, I'm so, so sorry, Karkat."

"I... I'm just glad you're okay. I--"

"Karkat, I'm, I'm not okay. Can't you see what's wrong here?"

"...See what?"

"T-Try not to freak out, okay? I don't know how bad it is yet." She faces him and slowly, her eyes open as it dawns on him that they've been closed the whole time. His vascular pump jumps into his chitinous windpipe when he sees burnt red orbs staring back at him.

"Terezi, your eyes! What the fuck happened to you?"

"Is it bad? Do they at least look normal?"

"You don't know?"

"...I can't see anything, anymore."

He's not entirely sure what happens next. He doesn't remember pulling his sickle back out, and he doesn't remember turning back around to leave. All he remembers is a burning desire to see one Vriska Serket's blood staining his blade and a willingness to march all the way to her hive to do it. He's never platonically hated anyone so much in his short life.

"Karkat, you can't! You won't stand a chance. I knew how to get past her defenses and look at what happened to me! As far as I'm concerned, this stupid feud is over. I got her pretty good, too, if it makes you feel any better. 'An eye for an eye', I guess."

He stops and tries to collect his thoughts. He's a little thankful when she suggests he stay at her hive. "I could use the extra muscle if she tried to finish me."

"Okay. That crabby nooksniffer back home can get his own damn roe cubes or get off his ass and hunt for once." He falls into the couch.

"...Hey, Karkat?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm glad you're here." She sits next to him, leaning on him. "Think I could get another hug?"

"...Yeah. Sure." And she does.

She'll tease him about it for the next sweep, of course. "Karkles is such a softy!" she would tell anyone willing to listen, regardless of his protests. And every time, he'd do that thing where he crosses his arms with a scowl and refuse to talk to her for like, a hour afterward.

But despite her blindness, the night Karkat came to see her is one of her happier memories.

----------

They are six sweeps old and fighting for their lives.

It was supposed to be just a game, and in a twisted sort of way, it still kind of is. But none of the twelve ever thought the stakes would be this high. With no homeworld to return to, they fight on, and the constant stress has taken its toll on the boy.

He has designated himself the leader of their effort. He has denied himself the right to rest since the beginning of the game, and it's starting to manifest in ways that do him no favors. His reaction times are sluggish, his actions delayed. He's missing openings in battle and leaving openings of his own. Openings his foes are more than willing to take, as an oversized fist crashes into his face and he loses a third of his health vial.

By his count, he's surrounded by two ogres, three basilisks, and a few dozen imps on the Land of Pulse and Haze. The small army the game sent after him this time would have been no trouble even days ago, but his insistence on going without sleep is counteracting any equipment upgrades or echeladder rungs he may have gained between then and now.

One of the gates above his hive crackles and hums to life, glowing bright white. Someone or something else is coming through. He stands back on his feet, or tries to, but his knees wobble and give way, sending him crashing back to the ground.

He thinks this is it, he's finished. They'll have to go on without him, and that means they're doomed. They won't stand a chance, they'll crumble for the lack of leadership. It is not unwarranted self-importance, he truly believes the eleven cannot win the game without his guidance, and that worries him more than his own impending death.

The figure who passed through the gate rockets toward the boy, screaming and trailing smoke and fire. He tries to raise his sickle to meet the new threat but his arms shake and refuse to cooperate. He braces for the end.

He is dumbfounded when it collides with a group of imps, killing at least a dozen of them at once.

"Hey Karkat, looks like you need some help." The girl, his server player, captchalogues her rocket pack and draws her cane.

"Heh. Karkat fucking Vantas doesn't ever need help and you know it. I'm on to your game, you just wanted to smell me bleed. But as long as you're offering, I'm not fucking refusing." She takes his hand and helps him to his feet. The two of them stand back-to-back; he, with the Claw Sickle; she, brandishing the Dragon Cane.

"How many do you think we're up against, here?"

"I count twenty-two imps, an ogre and a basilisk on my side. Yours?"

She sniffs the air to get a bearing on her surroundings. "Eighteen imps, another ogre and two more basilisks over here."

"Heh heh heh... Disappointing."

"Gotta agree with you on that one, Karkles. I almost thought it'd be a fair fight."

She gives his hand a squeeze before they charge their assailants and proceed to beat the asses of forty-five game constructs. The both of them are barely standing after the battle, their bodies scored by bruises and cuts given to them by their opponents, but they come out on top.

"Hey. Thanks," he tells her.

She shoots him a grin as she replies, "It was nothing."

----------

The strategy meeting in the Land of Thought and Flow is adjourned. Nine trolls and one robot make for the gates to their worlds to prepare, for tomorrow is the day they move against the Black King. "We wait any fucking longer," he explains, "and he'll just get stronger. We've gotta strike now before he becomes invincible."

The girl is about to leave when he stops her. He is quite nervous, and not just because they'll face the game's final boss within 24 hours.

"Hey, Terezi? Can we... can we talk for a bit?"

She shuts off her rocket pack and nods to him. "Of course. What did you want, to go over the strategy again?"

He shakes his head. "No, no, I think all of you should fucking know what to do by now. It's just..." His voice trails off.

"Nervous, Karkat?"

"Well, yeah."

"So am I. Can't say I blame you, tomorrow's a big day. We take on the King tomorrow, and then we've got a universe to ourselves. I still can't believe it."

"No, it's not about that, Terezi, I..." How does he put this without sounding like an enormous tool? She looks at him and thinks she knows what he's nervous about.

"You're afraid we won't win the fight, aren't you? You're afraid we might lose, or that some of us might not make it."

"Uh... sort of. But it's not just that, it's..." He's struggling to put what he's thinking into words. "One or both of us could be dead by this time tomorrow, Terezi, and I..."

"Yeah?"

"I... I don't fucking know what to say here, I'm absolute shit with words." He takes a deep breath before he continues. "I guess, what I'm trying to say is, I wanted to make things fucking official. Between us, I mean. I kind of didn't give you a chance to respond when I sent you that message, and we haven't talked about it since, and I mean, if I'm wrong and you never wanted that then I guess I'm sorry for being a dumbass about it."

She thinks she knows what he's trying to say now. "Karkat, are you asking if we're...?"

Bulls-eye. His face turns an interesting shade of red. "Well... yeah. I guess I am."

She grins at him. "Karkat, I think that became official when you tried to kiss me and I didn't stop you."

He blushes even harder with the memory of it. "Maybe, but, I wanted a chance to do things right, you know? Like, to not be a clumsy shithead and fuck it up and ruin everything like I did then."

She takes a few steps toward him and takes both his hands into her own. She doesn't think he ruined everything, far from it. But the boy wants to be able to do this the way he wanted, and she's not about to stop him, because the thought of it makes her smile. "Then go ahead. Ask me now."

He swallows, which does nothing for the lump in his throat. He already knows what she's going to say, but if anything, that makes him more nervous. The few seconds it takes for him to open his mouth to speak feel like sweeps. He wants to make a grand speech, because he feels she deserves one. Words fail him, however, and what he does ask of her is naught but a simple question.

"Do you want to be my matesprit?" His offer kind of gets her, right in the cardiovascular pump. This boy, who rages at the friends he secretly loves, who she's been through hell with and will continue to stand against unfavorable odds with, he wants nothing more than to be, together, with her. How could she possibly turn him down?

She wipes her tears from her eyes, nods and smiles at him. "Okay."

He embraces her, arms wrapped around her waist as she cups his cheek, cradles the back of his head and pulls him into a soft kiss. She's grinning the entire time; he's a creature of fury, and it's so rare that he allows himself to feel anything but that constant anger. She savors the scent of sweet cherry assaulting her senses, because red is good but his red is the best there is.

His heart races, finally so close to this girl he cares so much for. Her lips are soft against his, and he can feel the heat in her face as that lovely shade of bluish green creeps up into her cheeks. He won't admit it, but he thinks her teal is his favorite color. All of his rage melts into nothing when they're together like this, and he burns as red as his mutant blood for her.

As the two of them consider their matespritship, they remember everything they've been through together and how it all lead them to this very moment. The good times, and the bad, the sum of all their experiences, and now this, the confirmation of their flushed emotions for one another. Being together feels right, and the boy notes with not a little irony that he would find a matesprit after spending sweeps looking for a kismesis.

The two of them join hands and watch the patterns in the sky as they resolve to fight with all their strength in the upcoming battle.

After all, it's not just the fate of the new universe they're fighting for, now.