"Um, are you sure about this?" John turns the thing--the collar--over in his hands. It's small, unremarkable--he'd expected it to be bigger, somehow? More flashy, with tacky rhinestones or big metal studs or something. But no, it's just a thin black leather band with a silver clasp. It looks like it could be jewelry.
Karkat has gone really still. He opens his mouth. Closes his mouth. Opens his mouth-- "No. On second thought, no. I don't know what the fuck I was thinking when I said I would do this. I have never had even the slightest desire to do this."
"Uh," John says. "Okay?"
"You never wanted to, anyway."
That makes him stop short. "Dude," he says, "I said--"
"Don't lie, Egbert. The first time I so much as vaguely alluded to this hypothetical occurrence your face rearranged itself into that grotesque mask of an expression commonly known as Dorkius freakoutus, the common oh my god, Karkat, what. You hated this idea from the beginning."
"I told you," John says, "I don't hate it! I guess I just don't--get it?"
"There is nothing to get." Karkat looks sickly. "There is nothing to get, because as I have already said, any intimation on my part that this was an activity I was at all favorably inclined to was undoubtedly brought about by some feverish delusion and will you stop making that face Egbert."
John is always impressed by Karkat's lung capacity. "What face?"
"That face!" Karkat throws up his hands, although his play at righteous exasperation is somewhat undercut by the fact that he is still on his knees. That can not be comfortable, John thinks. Wouldn't you get carpet burn? How long do you have to stay like that to get carpet burn?
"--don't have to make a fucking mockery of me," Karkat is saying. "I do a goddamn bang-up job of that myself--yes, somewhere in the haze of disturbing fetishes and all-around incompetence, Karkat Vantas does in fact possess a modicum of self-awareness! Alert the presses, and welcome to the fucking five-ring circus."
"Karkat," John starts urgently--
"--come one, come all to see Karkat Vantas, star attraction in the Fruity Rumpus Freakshow Parade! Karkat Vantas, so utterly acclimated to humiliating failure that its absence is bewildering to him. He cannot help but metaphorically shit his pants in whatever he does! Asking him to not be a goddamn embarrassment to existence itself is like asking a squeakbeast to chase cats--"
"--and his entire life up to this point has been one long discordant screech of unsightly and ill-advised decision-making, the results of which have heaped continual doom at the doors of anyone he has so much as fucking come into contact with! Has he ever not be on the receiving end of self-inflicted pain? Is it any wonder that some part of him actually enjoys this? Stop the presses, everyone, the mutant's found yet another plane on which to demonstrate his abject freakishness to the world--"
Everything seems to slow: he can feel his heart pounding and his own breath echoing in his ears. Karkat is frozen, eyes wide and luminous and laser-focused straight at him. John notices the dark circles under his eyes, the bruised skin there. He really has no idea what he's doing.
"Enough," he repeats. He's still shaking. "I don't ever want to hear you talk about yourself that way again, you hear me?"
Karkat's breath is an uncertain rattle, his voice low and hoarse. He does not look at John. "Yes, sir."