Chapter 1: Hindsight
Karkat would always remember exactly four things about the night that Sollux Captor left.
The first thing he would remember was the pitiful look on his face.
He'd just returned to the U of C campus' lowblood dwellings, back from a long evening of banging his head against a library table, and honestly hadn't expected to see his blockmate at all. Sollux's schedule had gotten more and more erratic as the last few weeks had ticked on, and by Karkat's count he was missing far more than an acceptable amount of classes. Not to mention not doing his homework, sleeping, or even bothering to stop and say hi, thank you very fucking much.
It was starting to piss him off, with an intensity that he didn't quite understand at the time. Asking the asshole's moirail had proved completely worthless too. While slightly easier to talk to, Aradia seemed to have no useful insight into the situation at all, and what she did say was vague to the point of uselessness. Like there was something she couldn't tell him.
Sollux sure as hell had better not have been avoiding him because of the things that had been happening between them lately. If he was, Karkat was going to break that scrawny yellowblood right over his leg.
It was in that state of fruitless irritation that he threw open the door of their shared respiteblock, hoping above all else that he would simply be able to flop onto his resting slab and not move for the next few hours. What he did instead was freeze in the doorway out of utter confusion, eyes wide and settled on just one thing: Sollux Captor, packing his bags in a tear-stained panic.
He'd clearly been crying, though the tears seemed to have become hot with anger as Sollux worked himself into a frenzy, out of patience for little things like his clothes not fitting in his bag, or the zipper giving him trouble. He was hurling the whole thing to the floor with an impotent cry of frustration as Karkat entered. He looked up, just too late to hide it.
The anger melted away for a fragile few moments as their eyes met, Sollux's expression becoming lost and hopeless, his hands shaking at his sides. Karkat stared back, an aching pain building in his chest, like whatever suffering Sollux was currently experiencing was powerful enough to be contagious. Karkat opened his mouth to speak.
"What the hell are you doing?" he asked, with more anger than he really should have. But he didn't understand, and he didn't know what else to say.
That was the hammer that broke the moment, and Sollux's expression instantly hardened, turning back to his packing.
"I'm leaving," he said.
The second thing Karkat would remember were the traces of blood on his hands.
They were almost imperceptible smears of red left on his grey skin, thicker and darker just beneath his claws. Like he'd washed but hadn't been able to get clean enough. Karkat's eyes widened, his brow furrowing in confusion. There were explanations for this behaviour, but he didn't like any of them.
"The fuck does that mean?" he spat, charging forward, the volume of his voice rising. Sollux tried to ignore him, tried to blindly continue packing like his friend wasn't even there, but Karkat wasn't willing to accept that. "The bulge-splitting shit is even going on, Captor?"
He made the mistake of trying to grab Sollux's wrist to examine the stains. The yellowblood swung a backhand at him that could have easily left a bruise if Karkat was any less quick.
He stumbled back and just barely out of the way. Sollux whirled around to face him, his fury ebbing away as he was consumed by a flash of shame.
"I'm dropping out," Sollux said, trying to be calm for a moment and failing. "I'm going somewhere else. I can't deal with this anymore."
Karkat let out a low growl, a left over, instinctive surge of aggression from the attack playing into his already existing frustration. Sollux reacted, scowling and folding back his ears defensively.
"That's bullshit," Karkat snapped, stepping forward again. Sollux was one of the most effortlessly capable people he knew. He was one of the best technical minds the college had ever seen. He'd passed most of his classes with ease in all the years preceding this one. The ones that hadn't been easy, he'd been able to learn. But now he was throwing his chances of making something of himself away - and for what? "You seriously think can just storm off now?" After everything they'd done? "After all the goddamn work you put into this?"
"I don't care about that anymore," Sollux said, grabbing the bag off the floor and throwing it onto his slab. He paused in his step. He hesitated, softening. "...Just...trust me, okay. Things have changed. I have shit I need to do elsewhere, and it's taking priority."
Karkat threw up his hands, disbelieving.
"What is even going on with you lately? Why won't you just fucking tell me?"
"It's none of your business," Sollux replied, hardening again. He was crossing the room, trying to get further away from him. Fuck that shit.
"Fuck you, 'it isn't my business'!" Karkat shouted back, stomping right after him. "There's fucking blood on your hands!"
The third thing he would remember was his anger.
With those words, something in Sollux seemed to snap entirely. He whirled around on Karkat, hurling the object he'd been trying to pack at him. Karkat didn't even know what it was - he just heard it whiz past his ear and make a heavy impact against the wall behind him. Karkat snarled back, getting his hackles up and trying to match that display of aggression. But in the end, it wasn't nearly enough.
"Leave me alone!" Sollux roared, and for a moment Karkat could have sworn his eyes - his mismatched and mutant iris'd eyes - glowed. Sollux pushed forward, the poison in his glare all it took to steal Karkat's ground. "I'm fucking leaving, and that's it! You can yell at me all you want, because I don't care, and I don't give single half-moist shit about what you think, you useless, loudmouthed runt!"
A shocked silence followed, its edges uncomfortably sharp as they stood there. Karkat felt frozen - his blood pusher hammering at his chest, just hands shaking at his sides. He took a staggering step back, an almost involuntary motion, like it was the only thing he could do to get things moving again.
He sputtered out the only thing that would come to mind.
But his real fight was gone. He couldn't compete with whatever was going on in Sollux's head, and he didn't really want to.
And Sollux didn't look that happy to have won.
The fury faded, and for a moment it looked like he was even going to apologize, or at least like he really wanted to. But in the end, he didn't. He just shrugged his backpack over his shoulders with a hiss, took his other bags in his hands, and moved towards the door.
Karkat stared at him, speechless, letting him pass. It couldn't seriously be happening like this. He couldn't be leaving just like that.
It wasn't until he was already in the doorway that Sollux hesitated. He turned back, only slightly, and spoke.
"You can have my computer if you want." It was spoken dully, is if it'd been something he'd intended to say but would have never wanted it to be in this context. Then he looked away again, something harsh returning to his tone. "And whatever happens...stay the fuck away from Vriska Serket."
And then Sollux was gone. Karkat didn't follow him. Maybe he should have. He didn't know. It's something he would wonder about for many perigee to follow.
Instead he slowly sank onto his resting slab, burying his face miserably in his hands.
The fourth thing he would always remember was how he was sure it was somehow his fault.
Chapter 2: Foresight
White is troll goth.
A little over a sweep later, Karkat was riding his bike to another long night of work when he had an unfortunate collision with the front end of a teal blood's car.
The damage was minimal, all considered. He - and his bike - slid across the hood with a metallic screech, rolling off the other side like a gymnast exiting a somersault. He heard metal begin to bend beneath him as his front wheel hit the ground again, and he took a moment to seriously contemplate that he might be about to die.
He usually refrained from wearing a helmet because it made his horns look small. He was probably going to feel pretty stupid about that when he snapped the things clean off on the pavement, wasn't he.
Thank god for last minute reflexes. Desperate to avoid the face scrape, Karkat rolled into the fall with his shoulder, taking the brunt of the hit with the tough material of his jacket. And after a moment of blind tumbling and an indignant shriek, he wound up on his back. The car screeched to a stop. The dust settled. As far as Karkat could tell from a moment's observations, he was surprisingly unscathed.
That is, until the teal blood slammed open her driver side door, swearing. Her figure was all hard angles, dark features in a vicious scowl as she took a look at her vehicle.
"You scratched my fucking hood!" she snarled, wheeling on him even as he was laying there stunned. He didn't stay that way for long.
At first he was too busy checking for damage, running his hands over exposed skin and making sure he wasn't torn anywhere. As soon as he'd done that in a series of panicked movements, he was hauling himself up to glare at her.
"You hit me with your goddamn shitmobile!" he snarled right back. She didn't like that. But it wasn't until she started advancing on him that he realized it may have been a bad idea.
He scrambled onto his feet, growling at her approach, clenching his fingers at his sides in a way that implied she was going to get a face full of claws if she came any closer. She was thoroughly unimpressed, snarl only deepening in its ferocity as swung a fist at his face. He weaved out of the way - if he was anything, he was quick on his feet - still in awe of the fact that he had gone from going to work to getting his ass beat on the sidewalk in about ten seconds flat.
"Fuck off!" he snapped, trying to shove her back. It didn't have much effect. The thing he was lacking was leverage, and she was at least three inches taller than him.
The next thing he knew his back was being slammed again a nearby hive wall, her claws twisted into the fabric of his shirt. He took a moment to reflect on the fact that if he hadn't been too busy fantasizing about age old college bullshit to notice an incoming fucking vehicle he wouldn't even be in this situation.
"You're going to pay for that," she hissed. He got the distinct impression that the difference between paying in money and paying in blood was immaterial to her.
"You swerved out of fucking nowhere!" he shot back. She clasped her claws around his throat.
"Are you incapable of using your eyes?" she said, tightening her grip, but not enough to cut off air. "Maybe I should remove them for you."
Parts of his brain were on the offensive - sizing her up for strength and apparent combat ability, picking out weak points and the best critical strikes to make to get her away from him. But the more dominant pieces knew better. Very few rust bloods wanted to get in a fight with a blue blood in public, let alone draw blood. Other trolls saw what was happening, but besides at best getting a sympathetic glance, they were continuing to go on about their business. No one wanted to interrupt blue blood putting the lower class in their place.
So in reality he was functionally caught between saying 'please don't kill me' and 'blunt damage only please.' Because whether or not he could win was inconsequential. If this conflict went any further he was going to be in a hell load of trouble - even more than she was currently intending.
He was trying to decide if he was capable of saying something that wasn't inflammatory, and her claw was getting dangerously close to breaking his skin, when he heard something screeching at the two of them.
Oh god it was that fucking mewbeast again.
It had been haunting him all evening. Ever since he'd woken up it had been stalking around the entrance to his communal hive stem, lurking just out of sight and in his peripheral vision. He would have thought he was going insane if he had been any less distracted being disgustingly nostalgic.
And now it was charging them with a somewhat disturbing amount of aggression, howling. Just when Karkat thought that night couldn't get any more ridiculous.
It leapt onto the teal blood's back with a startling amount of vigor, its claws slashing and digging in with the accuracy of a trained combatant. She shouted in anger and surprise, beating it off of her with an arm and spinning around to face it, for the moment completely distracted from tearing out Karkat's throat. She was swearing in quite understandable bewilderment.
"Fucking cat!" she snarled, clearly having no idea why that had just happened. Karkat was similarly confused.
But instead of thinking too hard about it, he was taking the opportunity to slide out of her grasp and run like fuck. He scrambled over to his bike and hopped onto it, wobbly front wheel and all, and was pedaling away from that mess as quickly as the broken piece of shit would take him.
He heard her angry screams behind him, but they faded soon enough. He made sure to take an especially long detour to work. Hell if he wanted any of this catching up with him later.
He was already fifteen minutes late by the time he got to his place of work, somewhere generously titled a 'movie store' by the person who owned it, so he was busy chaining up his bicycle with already considerable irritation when he heard a meow behind him.
"What the sweet slime globbed shit-" he blurted, wheeling around. It was the mewbeast.
The fucking mewbeast.
How had it followed him.
He sputtered incoherently at it for a couple seconds, unsure of how else to react. It was a black furred, green eyed thing, staring up at him like it hadn't the slightest idea how terrifying it was being. Karkat scowled.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" he demanded. Its came over to start rubbing against his legs.
He raised his hands in utter exasperation. And then he melted a few moments later, defeated. Okay, fuck all this nonsense. Fuck every little bit of it.
"I'm going to work now!" he explained, pointing at the building illustratively. "Do me a favour and stay the fuck away from me!"
He stormed into the building, making sure the animal was left outside, when he was rammed in the shoulder by the brown blooded coworker he only vaguely recalled was named Pireza. He hardly even stopped, just continuing to march on towards the exit with a sneer on his breath.
"Way to be late, asshole," Pireza snapped, not looking back. Karkat spun around to face his back, raising his hands aggressively.
"Oh, you know, I just got back from being hit with a car! No fucking big deal or anything!"
But they were already gone. He muttered a series of furious cusses under his breath, stomping over to the counter and largely ignoring the sparse customers that had stopped to stare at him. Fuck them. He needed a moment to calm his nerves.
The Movie Store on 113th Avenue was a bit of a dive and, more importantly, had a shitty film selection in Karkat's opinion. The customers were boorish, the hours somewhat unpredictable, and there was frankly an unsettlingly large porn collection. The major bright side was that since he usually worked alone, it was easy to be a dick without anybody caring. That and the job description was just fairly slack in general: help customers, tidy up, refresh the nutrients in the dataworm dispensers...
Simple stuff. Also boring as hell.
The hours passed slowly after he was left to his own devices, falling into the usual routine of tidying and staring into space. It was a slow day and he was restless as hell. It was hard to calm down after after someone earnestly threatened to gouge out your eyes.
It was about four hours into his shift when something broke the monotony. It came in the form of an oddly dressed seatroll with an umbrella.
Her hair was unnaturally fair, bleached white from its natural black, framing her face in a delicately organized mess. Her horns were long and swooped back gracefully over her head. She held herself with a calculated dignity. Her dress was all wispy white melodrama, punctuated by a pair of pinkish sneakers. Her sign, something that looked almost skull-like in shape, was embroidered on her chest, in the same purple hue as her accessories. She gave him a careful smile as she entered, something glinting in her fully pigmented eyes.
"Mister Vantas," she said, clearly doing her best to look pleasant. Karkat narrowed his eyes at her.
"Wow, bonus points for the whole knowing my name without introduction schtick," he said, though the usual bite such a statement would have was lacking. Having a sea dweller show up out of nowhere asking for you by name was just north of completely terrifying. "What do you want?"
"Could we have a moment?" she said, ignoring him for the time being as she looked to the lone customer in the store. They stared back at her, made the quick decision that they wanted nothing to do with whatever this was about, and made a swift exit. Then she looked back to him.
If she was trying to make him shit his pants she was doing a pretty good job of it.
"I need to share some information with you," she said, watching him carefully. "Information that will be vitally important to your imminent future."
He gave her a deeply uncertain and somewhat threatened look.
"Uh. Wow. That's so cool. How you're putting it all ominously like that." The mewbeast from before suddenly leapt up on the counter. He jumped back defensively. "Oh my moulding pus stained god." It took him a second or two to recover from the shock, and then pointed at the mewbeast accusingly. "What is this? Is this yours? No pets in the the goddamn store, I..." He quickly lost some of his flame. Oh right sea dweller who might be about to kill him. Um. "Uh. Miss. Whoever you are."
"Rose Lalond," she said, apparently completely unaffected by his theatrics. "And I'm fairly certain she belongs to herself."
He had no idea what to say to that. So, he tried to ignore the animal for a moment. The most troubling thing was that he couldn't tell if he was in danger or not. If his luck from the rest of the day was holding, he probably was.
"Look, are...are you here to threaten me or something? Is this about before? Because I swear to god, they started it, I didn't even fucking...uh..." His ears folded down, words caught in his throat.
"Earlier?" she asked. Then something occurred to her. "Oh. No, you have nothing to fear from me, Vantas. This is much less about your past and much more about the future. Something that will not involve damage to your person if we have anything to say about it."
He was very tentatively relieved at that assurance, but only very minutely. He furrowed his brow at her. She took his silence as a cue.
"To put it simply - we need to talk, but this location is indiscreet. Could you be convinced to discuss matters with me and a few of my associates in a more secure venue?"
There was a long silence. Karkat cleared his throat.
"Is this an order? Are you going to make me come if I say no?"
She hesitated, narrowing her eyes. "...No. It's your decision."
He narrowed his eyes right back. "Then let me put this simply: Fuck. Off." He glared at her for one more moment, and then looked back to the nutrients pellets he'd lazily been organizing. "I have more important things on my calendar than being toyed around with by you."
He knew he was traveling dangerous waters there, and he half expected that that was when the claws would come out. But they didn't. Instead Rose stared at him for another long moment, adjusted her posture, and prepared to leave.
"If you're certain," she said, resting her umbrella over her shoulder. "Maybe later."
The cat meowed at him. He looked up just long enough to scowl at it. Rose smiled faintly, patting the beast on the head.
"There's always another night ahead of us," she said. She looked up to smirk at him, every so faintly. "Except for when there isn't." She head for the door. The mewbeast hopped down onto the floor, and somewhat reluctantly started following her out.
"I'd recommend acquiring a precipitation shield before heading hivebound tonight," she said, and was gone.
A half hour later it started raining.
Chapter 3: Downpour
It was still raining when he left work. He didn't bother to find an umbrella.
Instead, it was a long and dreary bike ride home, his wobbly front wheel sliding on the pavement. Thunder rumbled and lightning cracked over head, casting haunting purple light over a landscape of hive stems. Falling water splashed into his eyes, obscuring his vision, but he grit his fangs and powered through it.
He didn't have much choice.
By the time he got to his stem, he was completely soaked through and nearly blind from the constant downpour. He chained up his bike, and rushed for the entrance as quickly as he could manage without slipping, hunting for his key in his pocket. His hands were shaking with cold as he pushed it towards the lock. If he died of illness the next day he wouldn't be surprised. He really wanted to pass out right then and there.
At least, he did until he was snapped awake by a shrill meow off to his side. His expression instantly sharpened into scowl. He couldn't fucking believe it.
"You again?" he barked, glaring at the stalker of a mew beast hopped up onto the doorstep with him. "I swear to god, if you rub on my legs again I am going to kick you into the stratosphere, you fucking creepy little pervert." The mewbeast didn't seem overly affected by his threats, instead sitting down patiently and gazing up at him with those bright green eyes.
They stared at each other a moment, the key seemingly frozen in Karkat's hand.
"What are you doing here anyway? Don't you have places to be? Like playing scout for disturbingly dressed fish, for example?" It meowed again. Karkat narrowed his eyes. "Do you have a camera built into your skull or something? Is that what this is about? Some kind of asshole furbeast espionage? Is that where you leaned to kung fu slap blue bloods like that?"
The mewbeast meowed again, pawing at the door. Damn thing was just as soaked as he was, it's dark fur practically dripping off of its body.
"No! You know what, too bad! You're stuck out here because I guess your owner fucked off on you for some reason!" It howled, sounding increasingly pitiful. "No one cares what you think about it!"
And just like that, something inside him came undone. His shoulders slackened with weariness, his already soggy exterior somehow becoming even more defeated in that single moment.
He looked back to the door. Turned the key. Popped it open. Then he held it aside for the mewbeast to enter.
"...But I guess I can do you one solid," Karkat muttered, following the beast as it triumphantly skittered inside. "You did kind of save my ass back there." It hesitated just long enough to rub its dampened body against his legs, then ran off excitedly ahead of him again. Karkat sighed, calling after it.
"But tomorrow you're out, and I don't want to see you again! Fucking understood?"
No response. Goddamn cat.
For some reason it was waiting for him at the elevation carrier when he'd finished shaking himself off. Luck or cooincidence, he wasn't sure, but it was almost like the beast knew. Which was more than a little disturbing, but in ways he was too worn down to fully acknowledge.
"You better not be some kind of psychopath," he commented to it idly as he waited for the carrier to return to the main level.
Communal hive stems were traditionally constructed of one long smooth tube with economy sized hives budding off of it. Every floor there was a circular hallway, branching out into a ring of doors. Karkat Vantas was on the sixteenth floor exactly, so it took a solid minute or two to get there.
After an awkward silence with the furbeast, punctuated only by the occasional exasperated swear on Karkat's part, they were finally home. He unlocked his hive just as a crackle of lightning lit up the series of square windows that decorated the far wall. It was a one room affair of admittedly poor quality, but it had a recuperacoon and a kitchenette and almost enough room to keep his stuff in. And, most importantly, it was all a rustblood could afford in a pay grade like his.
He immediately went to the tiny ablution block he was afforded to start towelling off. The mewbeast went about making itself right at home, shaking its fur dry all over the side of his couch.
He stripped off his soggy clothes and jacket and got into something clean and dry. He was far too restless to even bother trying to sleep yet, he decided. With the storm as thick as it was it was tricking his brain into thinking it was still night time anyway - and he had far too many things on his mind. So instead he curled up on his couch, tugging a blanket around his shoulders and just trying to get warm, flicking on the television to one of his more well worn rom coms in an attempt to calm his mind.
He'd been creating outlandish explanations for the seatroll's visit ever since she'd left, and now was no exception. He just kept rolling over the details in his mind, the exact words she said, trying to imagine how someone like that could ever be involved with him.
The last time he'd dealt with something so personally confounding, he'd spent perigee roving over every absurd option for why it could have happened. And now, his mind had finally come around to reconsidering those theories, trying to work out for the hundredth time just what had gone wrong. Imagining some fantasy universe where the two events were related.
But even a sweep later, he still didn't know why Sollux had left. He was starting to suspect he never would.
All he knew was that both Sollux and Aradia had vanished in a single night, and his only answers he had were fragile guesses and hopes. For example, he hoped that Aradia had simply opted to leave with her moirail - but then he would remember the rust coloured blood on Sollux's hand, and he'd feel ill at the thought of it.
For all the intensity of Sollux's last warning, he never saw much of Vriska after that, either. He knew Terezi had tried to investigate the situation, and while she had implied she knew more than he did, they only ever discussed it once or twice. Things were still too awkward between them to do much more.
By now it'd been nearly a sweep since he'd talked to her. Just one more person drifting out of his life. Typical.
The movie had ended a while ago, the screen long since faded to black, but Karkat stayed curled up there, listening to the sounds of the storm. The mewbeast had curled up next to him at some point but he found he didn't care, absently running his fingers along the fur of its neck as he drifted in and out of sleep.
He was woken up sometime later by the sound of someone knocking on his door. He peeled an eye open, regarding it warily. He considered just ignoring it, hoping whoever it was would just give up and leave, but then they started knocking again with an increasing amount of urgency.
He shifted position. The mewbeast jumped down off the couch. He sat up with a groan, unwrapping himself from his blanket and heading over to the door.
The damn thing didn't have a spyhole, so it was anyone's guess as to who was on the other side. His hand rested on the knob, his ear pressed to its surface.
"Who is it?" he barked. If it wasn't someone he knew, they could rot as far as he was concerned.
"Karkat?" a voice called from the other side. And just like that, he froze.
He knew that voice. He could never forget it.
He wrenched the door open.
"Sollux?" he asked, eyes wide with disbelief. Holy fuck, it was him. Red and blue shades, double horns, dorky oversized fangs-
"Hey," Sollux replied. A particularly noisy and bright flash of lightning cracked behind them, illuminating him ominously and rumbling the furniture. Karkat shrieked a little, jumping back.
Sollux immediately raised his hands in defense.
"Um. Wow, okay, sorry. I seriously didn't mean to make that so dramatic, holy shit." He hesitated for a moment. "...Actually no, you know what, apology rescinded because that was fucking awesome."
Karkat was nothing approaching amused.
"What the fuck? Sollux. What the fuck! What are you doing here? The hell did you come from?" he snapped, taking an aggressive step forward and grabbing the handle of the door like he just might slam it closed.
Sollux stepped forward to block him, any remaining smugness draining from his face. "Wait, no!" he said, desperation sneaking into his tone. "KK, please. Wait. I can explain, I swear to god. I know you're probably not happy at all to see me right now, but it's a long story, and-"
"Save it!" Karkat shouted without thinking. Sollux froze mid-sentence, staring at him with a look of hurt he was clearly trying very hard to conceal. And for the first time Karkat had a moment to really look at him, and to take in how much he had changed.
He was taller, for one. He'd always been on the tall size - compared to Karkat, anyway - but it had apparently gone from average to completely unreasonable over the last sweep. His dual horns were longer to match, the last of the obvious differences, but the rest as comprised of a thousand little things. His hair was cut differently, for example - nothing drastic, but a bit longer and styled in the front, and the lines of his cheeks were subtle harder with added maturity. He was more scarred than he'd been, faint white marks casually marring the skin at his throat and on his hands.
"I'm not in the mood," Karkat added, coming out quieter than he'd like. He braced his other hand against the door, leaving it open - for the moment, anyway. "Just tell me what you want."
Sollux glanced to the entrance way behind him, something paranoid in his demeanor. "Can I come inside first?"
Karkat narrowed his eyes. "No."
"Karkat, please," he said, the stress in his tone all too clear. "This is really important, need to know only shit, okay? I can't talk about this with my back flapping to the fucking wind."
And something about Sollux's tone reminded him of the sea dweller in the movie store. He hesitated. Then he held open the door.
"Make it fucking fast," he growled, and Sollux nodded, slipping inside gratefully. Karkat shut the door, following him in. He was looking around his tiny hive like it was something fascinating.
"This is seriously where you live?" he asked. Karkat immediately opted to take offense.
"No, it's just a timeshare, my other hive is the cardboard box down the street. Yes it's where I fucking live!"
Sollux looked back at him, suddenly, and there was something in his expression that Karkat didn't like. It was pity.
"Yeah," he said, a little bit distantly. "I imagine the gig you've got right now doesn't pay very well."
That triggered something inside of Karkat - a hot burning anger in his gut that he'd felt so many time over the last sweep. He'd gone to college. He'd filled out the mountains of paperwork petitioning for a lowly rustblood's entry. He'd passed with fucking excellent grades, too. But despite everything he'd done, he was still stuck there, in that shithole, and it was all because of this wretched, dirt-low blood colour that wasn't even really his.
"No shit," he hissed, words seething in his throat. "Now that you've sized up my economic station, how about you get to the fucking point?"
Sollux flinched. "Shit. Okay." He looked away for a second, composed himself, and then turned to face Karkat fully, a force edge of determination to his movement. "Okay, just...let me preface this with the fact that I am intimately aware of how drastic and stupid this will all sound out of context, but-"
"But..." Karkat prompted impatiently, with a rolling gesture of his hand.
"But there are people after you," he finished. "And I need to take you somewhere safe before they get here."
Karkat's reaction to that was something strange feeling - a mingled mixture of disbelief, condescension, and very real, visceral fear.
Sollux swallowed. "People. People I've been working against since...since I left secondary training." The shame on his face as the mention of that was all too clear. "You're one of their targets now for...for important reasons, and they'll find you eventually if we don't intervene. I'm seriously just lucky as shit to have gotten here first at all."
Karkat took a step back, feeling threatened. All Sollux was doing was saying that he wanted to protect him, but all his mind was hearing was that he was in danger. He didn't want to believe it, so he didn't.
"Bullshit," he said. "Who the fuck would give a swampbeast's lower asshole about me?" He was pushing - hoping that Sollux would give him an answer. What did someone have on him?
"Look, it's complicated. And it was never really inside of your control...but that doesn't mean you aren't going to get fucking dinged for it if you stay here-"
Karkat immediately went tense.
"That fish bitch working with you too?" he snapped. "What is this? Some kind of intimidation attempt build on an foundation of maddening vagueness?"
Sollux scowled with a surprising amount of viciousness at the phrase 'fish bitch', like something reflexive. "Don't call her that," he said crisply. "And yes. She's the one who helped me get away from them before, and now she's trying to help save you too. Just like I am."
"...No," Karkat said, at a delay but with sudden conviction. "No, get out. I'm done with this."
"Karkat..." Sollux nearly pleaded. "Please. Don't."
"Fuck you! I'm done! Give me one good fucking reason I should believe a single salt-stained word that leaks out of your overfanged mouth-"
"KK, they know about your blood colour!"
It tumbled out in one desperate breath, and Sollux cringed immediately after saying it, like he could feel the way it punctured straight through Karkat's heart. Karkat stumbled back, claws defensively clutching his chest, eyes going wide with horror.
A horror that swiftly devolved into all consuming rage.
"Fuck you," he breathed, and then stormed forward like he might be about to tear out Sollux's throat. "Fuck you, how do you know? How the fuck do you know that?!"
"KK, I-" Sollux gasped, raising his hands defensively. Karkat backed him up against the door.
"Get out!" he screamed.
But Sollux was frozen, like something was holding him there. His ears folded back, intense distress on his face.
"KK, please, I can't just..."
"I said get out!" he almost sobbed, something breaking in his voice. "Please."
And suddenly Sollux looked like he was on the verge of tears, too. Something seemed to snap behind his eyes - like he'd hit some kind of internal wall. Then he was fumbling for the door handle, trying to get outside despite all of his previous conviction.
"KK," he said, voice hoarse with emotion. "KK don't...don't fucking let them take you too. I'm not going to let them."
And then he bolted out the door, slamming it behind him. Karkat collapsed against it suddenly, bracing himself against the wood, claws digging shallow ruts. He slid down to the ground, and despite his best efforts, he started to cry - unleashing the exact bright red color that he hated so much. Having been hiding for the conflict, the mewbeast chose then to come out from behind the couch, murring softly as if in question an rubbing against his leg.
Thunder cracked outside, and in the back of his mind, Karkat was imagining Sollux disappearing off into that storm.
He was officially out of options. He would leave before daybreak.
Chapter 4: Crash Space
Some day I swear this will be about something other than Karkat being miserable in rain.
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling gallowsCallibrator [GC] --
CG: CAN WE TALK?
He was packing his things - or as much of them as he could fit into a backpack, anyway. A couple changes of clothes, some easy to store food, and all the cash he had. A husktop and charger for communication and information. There wasn't much room. If he took too much with him, it would just weigh him down, and make him stick out more than he already did.
He hated the idea of leaving his whole movie collection there to collect dust, but he couldn't take everything. He hollowly tried to assure himself that in a week or two when things blew over, he would be able to come back and just feel normal and safe again. He could watch all the movies he wanted, then.
If he wasn't culled first.
He was frozen for a moment, just staring into space. Then he stuffed a few of his favourites into his bag, just in case.
CG: I GUESS I DON'T KNOW IF YOU EVEN STILL USE THIS ACCOUNT
CG: BUT IT SAID YOU WERE ONLINE, SO I FIGURED I'D TRY.
CG: SORRY THIS IS OUT OF NOWHERE AND EMBARRASSING AS HELL SO I GUESS YOU HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO BLOW ME OFF IF THAT'S WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.
CG: I SHOULDN'T EVEN BE BOTHERING YOU.
CG: IT'S JUST THAT
CG: YOU'RE THE ONLY ONE I KNOW I CAN TRUST RIGHT NOW.
He dressed in layers. A long sleeved, deep rust shirt was on the bottom - the style he'd been wearing every since he'd decided that if he was ever going to sell himself as a rust blood, he'd have to start displaying his supposed colours. Above that was a black t-shirt, the same sort he had dozens of, emblazoned with his sign in a red that was a few too many shades too dark to ever feel like he owned it. Over that was a zip-up hoodie so he could hide his face. To finish it all off, he threw on his weathered leather jacket. It had saved him from being smeared on the pavement once that night. Maybe it could do it again.
It was still raining out. He'd hoped it would stop before he'd have to leave, but at this rate he'd have to walk in the downpour. He still felt a little dizzy and sick from his bike ride home (or maybe that was the fear) and he had yet to have a proper sleep. He was going to have to find somewhere that wasn't his hive to rest before the sun came out, or he'd be toast in a sense that wasn't quite figurative enough.
CG: WHO AM I KIDDING WHY WOULD YOU BE ONLINE.
CG: YOU'RE PROBABLY FUCKING ASLEEP LIKE ANY REASONABLE PERSON SHOULD BE RIGHT NOW AND I'M JUST RAMBLING INTO THE FUCKING ABYSS BECAUSE I GUESS I LITERALLY HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO BE DOING RIGHT NOW.
CG: JUST MESSAGE ME BACK WHENEVER YOU GET THIS, OK?
CG: IT'S KIND OF IMPORTANT.
CG: OR IF YOU DON'T, THANKS FOR EVEN READING THIS FAR I GUESS.
GC: 1 W4S JUST GO1NG TO SL33P 4CTU4LLY
GC: WH4TS GO1NG ON >:?
He wondered on the way out whether or not he should bother with his bike. The already damaged wheel was only getting worse with usage, and the moment he put his weight on the seat, it entire thing started bending to the side in an all too unreliable way. He tried pushing it along to see if it would go. It took a whole of thirty seconds for his patience to run out, drained on a combination of shaky steering and too much rain in his eyes to see.
He gave up and tossed the twisted frame to the side of the road without much fight. He wouldn't be able to take it where he was going anyway.
CG: I DIDN'T THINK THIS THROUGH.
GC: BUT YOU 4R3 H3R3 NOW
GC: SO YOU B3TT3R M4K3 1T COUNT 4ND 3XPL41N TO M3 WHATS GO1NG ON
CG: WELL LOOK IT'S COMPLICATED
GC: LOTS OF TH1NGS 4R3 COMPL1C4T3D K4RK4T
GC: TH4TS WHY YOU N33D TO 3XPL41N TH3M
CG: FUCK I KNOW ALRIGHT??
CG: I KNOW THIS IS OUT OF FUCKING NOWHERE AND STUPID AS SHIT AND EVERYTHING BUT
CG: I REALLY NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE RIGHT NOW AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO SO COULD WE JUST
CG: MEET SOMEWHERE
GC: HYST G1V3 N3 4 S3CIND
CG: THE FUCK IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?
The mewbeast followed him.
He wasn't really surprised at that point. It had been practically glued to his side with urgency ever since he'd started packing, meowing almost pleadingly like it needed his attention. When he'd moved to leave the building, it had followed him down, circling around his legs and brushing its body against him. He'd been steadfastly ignoring it, off in his own little world. That was, until it follow him out into the rain.
He made it halfway down the block, shoes already soaked through with water, before he finally lost it.
"Stop following me!" he snapped at it, fingers clenching around the straps of his backpack. It pretended not to hear him (or maybe actually didn't - since when did beasts understand Alternian at all?) and kept padding damply along his side. He clenched his fangs, growling beneath his breath. "I said fuck off! Go! Fucking get!"
It flinched a little at his shouting, but kept moving. And for some reason, after an hours of stress, and a day full of absolutely shit, it was that's stupid animal's insistance that finally caused him to snap. For that moment, he was furious. He stomped his foot aggressively, and it recoiled away with a surprised hiss.
"I said I was done with you!" he shouted. The mewbeast started slinking away, ears folding back. "One night and you're gone! That was the fucking deal! Now go!"
It gave him one last, strangely melancholy look and scampered off into the rain.
GC: OH D4MN 1T
GC: MY H4ND SL1PP3D
GC: 1 S41D G1V3 M3 4 S3COND
-- gallowsCalibrator [GC] has shared H3R3.ANG with carcinoGeneticist [CG] --
GC: M33T M3 H3R3 1N
GC: L3TS S4Y
GC: 4N HOUR
GC: TH4T PL4C3 1S OP3N T1LL SUNR1S3
GC: W1LL TH4T B3 SUFF1C13NT FOR OUR N33DS?
CG: I GUESS
CG: I MEAN YEAH
CG: SO YOU'LL BE THERE?
GC: OF COURS3
GC: 1 WOULD NOT DR34M OF M1SS1NG TH3 3XPL4N4T1ON FOR TH1S ON3
CG: SEE YOU THEN I GUESS.
GC: 4T L3AST ON3 OF US W1LL >8]
GC: NOW DONT B3 L4T3
-- gallowsCallibrator [GC] ceased trolling carcinoGeneticist [CG] --
CG: WAIT WHAT
As it turned out, the ANG location pinged to a lounge in a district just off a city central. A place that, according to the internet, was just over an hour and fifteen minutes minutes of travel, if he managed to catch the rare late morning subway ride, and managed to keep on his feet in the pouring rain.
Ten minutes into his trek and already soaked to the bone, he was cursing himself for not asking for more time. He'd been so nervous about rejection at the time that he hadn't wanted to push it with her any further than he already had, but his cowardliness may have screwed him far worse than being presumptuous ever would. She'd gone offline at the end of that conversation, and he didn't have her phone number. What if she was already gone by the time he got there? What if she never showed up at all?
He supposed he should have been grateful for having a chance at all. It was a rare thing thing for ex-matesprits, especially when he'd been so thoroughly outclassed to begin with.
Lightning crackled overhead.
He'd never really be good enough for her, he figured. Not in status, and sure as fuck not in personality. He didn't even know why he was going to her now, why he thought he could trust her. It felt increasingly like everyone was out to get him, probably because most of them were. Every time he spotted one of the other lone stragglers on the sidewalk, he had to fight an almost maddening compulsion to run and hide. They know, he kept thinking, before biting down hard on his lip and trying to ground himself. This was irrational. This was stupid. They know what's wrong with me, they know, they know.
The feeling only grew more intense as he finally stumbled into the subway, a rare spot of civilization in the late morning. There was a small crowd of trolls lingering there, mostly lowbloods, and he did his very best to ignore them. There was no small chance of getting robbed in a place and time like this, and the less anyone noticed him, the better.
Of course, that got a lot harder when he saw the train he needed pulling into its stop just as he was buying his ticket. Oh for fuck's sake no. No, this was not happening.
"Wait! Fuck!" he shouted at it, bursting through the security gate and rushing to the door before it closed. It was just sliding shut as he aggressively shoved himself inside, getting whacked by the doors for his trouble. It was already beginning to move as he yelped in pain and squeezed the rest of the way in, just barely avoiding getting his backpack ripped off in the struggle. He stumbled into train, dripping wet, swearing, and frigid with cold.
If anything was going to get him a lot of unwelcome attention, that was it. Almost all of the sparse population of trolls in his cart were looking at him, some of them with very obvious looks of annoyance, others with malevolent smirks. And for a moment he just felt so utterly wretched that he couldn't stand to look at them anymore, and diverted his eyes to the ground, heading to the furthest, most secluded corner he could find and just curling around his backpack and waiting for the trip to be over.
That happened quicker than he'd expected, mostly because he somehow managed to doze off. It was perhaps the single most idiotic thing a rust blood could do on a train in the morning, but he didn't have much time to berate himself. He had almost missed his stop.
From there it was another jaunt through the rain. He was late already, and was swiftly losing hope. She'd probably left already. She didn't owe him anything.
Which was why he almost didn't believe it when he finally drudged into the building and she was sitting there waiting for him.
She was leaned back in her lounge seat, boredly playing with a straw in her drink, staring up into space like someone who was either dead tired or deeply contemplative. This was a strange image for several reasons. The place wasn't very classy - to the point where he barely got any dirty looks for wandering in wet and delirious. But more importantly, it appeared to be a primarily lowblood joint, and she was sitting there like she fit in perfectly. She was wearing a necklace with a teal coloured pendant, in the shape of her sign. With a surge of irrational pride, he realized it was the one he had bought for her almost a sweep ago.
He frowned, hesitated, and then finally spoke. "Hey - Terezi?"
She looked up to the sound of his voice, a slight grin slipping across her fangs. But the moment her focus settled on him entirely, that enthusiasm began to fade. After a moment she was frowning too, though she nodded in his direction, and forced some mockery into her tone.
"Oh, Mr. Vantas. I thought you would never come," she said sweetly. He rolled his eyes, and hesitantly trudged over to her. He was just so tired and sore and completely miserable that there was something actually comforting to her usual bullshit. He dropped his bag to the floor, and dropped down into a chair like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
"Yeah. Hi," he said, scowling at the table. "It's longer of a trip than I thought. Sorry to keep you waiting or whatever."
She quirked an eyebrow over the red tinted shades she was wearing, and sniffed the air.
"You smell like a drowned rodent," she commented. He narrowed his eyes.
"Yeah, well, I feel like one too. So that fits nicely." He looked away. God, this was awkward.
Terezi wasn't nearly so perturbed. She paused for a second, and then asked, with renewed vigor: "So, what are you drinking?"
He blinked at her. "Nothing. I can't afford-"
"Relax, Vantas," she said, cutting him off. There was a tiny hesitation, as some very real feeling concern slipped into her voice. "It is on me."
Concern that Karkat was honestly dumbfounded by, and just like that, all of the fight went out of his body.
"Gold ferment," he said tiredly, looking down. Terezi nodded calmly, and called over one of the servers to place an order for one of those and another of whatever she was drinking - something red in a tall glass. Once that was all finished, she leaned forward to regard him.
"So what was it you wanted me here for again?" she asked. And, at the moment, Karkat realized he didn't even really know anymore.
"I don't know," he said, slumping back in his chair, feeling lost. "I just really needed to talk to someone, I guess."
She tilted her head. "About what?"
He was quiet for a moment. "I..." And he buried his face in a hand. He'd suddenly lost his nerve. "Anything, I guess. Anything. Just. Hi. What the fuck has been up with you?" She was staring at him like she knew he was avoiding the topic. He panicked a little, and added, "how's the Legislacerating going?"
She settled back, considering the question before deciding to take the bait.. "It's not. I am on leave."
That took him back for a second. "What? Why?"
"Unfit for duty," she said somberly, running a finger along the edge of her glass. "The details are confidential, but simply put, there was an 'accident.'"
The words were caught in his throat. He didn't even have to ask. He knew how passionate she'd been about getting onto the force - there was no way she could have been put on leave without some definite sore feelings. He had no idea what to say. Fortunately, she took his stunned silence as an invitation to continue.
"We were in pursuit of a perpetrator, but they got the drop on us somehow. Both me and my partner were injured in the process. Thus, on leave." There was a well contained bitterness to the way she was telling the story, which was explanation enough. The fact that any disabling injuries or defects would put two enforcers off duty until they proved themselves fit again was nothing new. He frowned deeply, trying to think of something consoling to say.
"But what's wrong with you?" he asked after a moment, and almost immediately decided that he had failed in his attempt. "I mean - you look fine - why won't they let you work?"
She turned her face towards him, and then after a long moment, leaned forward.
"This is why," she said, and slid down her shades. Beneath them were two ocular orbs of the exact same shade of red that Karkat didn't want to think about - eyes that were bright and featureless and unquestionably destroyed. "I'm blind, Karkat."
He pulled back, stunned and embarrassed. He looked down at his hands. "F-fuck. I'm sorry."
And at that she actually smiled. "Don't be." She leaned back, pushing her shades into place. "Well, now I have shared my story. Why don't you return the favor and tell me what has you quaking beneath your adorable little horns?"
It was a well placed guilt trip and one that worked perfectly. She'd just been painfully honest with him, and he would feel like a real shithead if he didn't do the same for her. But what the fuck did he say?
"I need a place to crash," he blurted out, not letting himself second guess. She looked at him, or, he supposed more accurately, she looked at nothing and turned her face to the sound. He immediately tried to explain himself. "Just for the day! I just need to stay while the sun is out. Feel free to tell me to fuck off if this is overstepping my bounds because hell if I wouldn't want to do the same but-"
"Karkat," she said forcefully, breaking him out of his explanation. Her brow was knit. "What happened?"
He was startled by that question. He froze. "...I don't know. I just feel really - Sollux just fucking showed up at my door out of nowhere and-"
Terezi abruptly raised a hand, silencing him. "Wait. He what?"
"Uh. Sollux. He wanted to talk to me about something, I guess-"
"Sollux Captor showed up at your door?" she repeated in disbelief. Then her expression suddenly became very serious. "Karkat, you need to stay away from him."
"The hell? Why?" he demanded.
"Because he is a criminal!" Terezi shot back with more force than she'd intended. She immediately reeled herself back. "While I was on duty he was near the top of my hit list. You didn't know?" Karkat was starting at her, dumbstruck. She frowned. "...I know you two were close, but being around him is dangerous, okay? If anyone knew you were involved with him you could get caught up in this..."
He swallowed, roughly. "What did he do?"
Terezi bit her lip, in a rare moment of awkwardness. "High murder. Treason. There is a whole folder of documentation." She thought for a moment, and then her focus became almost frighteningly sharp. "What was he trying to talk to you about?"
Karkat looked away, mentally retreating. "...I don't know. Just stupid shit. It's not like he came to tell me where he hid the bodies or something fucked like that, Terezi. He just wanted to talk to me." He was holding back, which maybe was stupid. But part of him wasn't willing to accept this. And he wasn't going to sell Sollux out until he knew it was true.
And Terezi seemed to sense that.
There was an awkwardly long pause where the server finally came back with their drinks. Terezi was sizing him up from across the table. And, at last, she pushed herself up and gestured at his drink.
"Drink that. Then we are going back to my place," she said, and took her own glass and made a spirited attempt to finish it off. Karkat blinked.
"My place," she repeated, clinking the glass back down on the table. "You wanted a place to stay, did you not? And I am saying yes." He had a flash of uncontrolled paranoia where he imagined her taking him back there and brutally interrogating him, but he forced himself to let it pass. This was Terezi. Terezi wouldn't do that. Right?
"Right," Karkat mumbled, and tried to put down as much of his liquor as he could. He felt like he would need it.
It was a short walk back to Terezi's hive, and Karkat began to realize that the placement of their meet up may have been very necessary. She was strangely confident in her pace for someone who couldn't see, but he didn't imagine travel was easy. She'd produced a walking cane from beneath the table when they left, and she spent the first block contentedly tapping away, pushing through the rain with little complaint. She was moving slowly though, and after a while he could tell that the distraction of the rain was starting to annoy her.
In a moment of confusion, he slipped her arm around hers and started to guide her steps.
"Fuck just - just fucking follow me, okay," he forced out in explanation. She seemed a mixture of offended and surprised at first, but it didn't take long for that to fade into an amused smile.
"Alright," she said, and tucked the cane under her arm, leaning against his shoulder. He shivered tensely. Yeah, heaven forbid they make this weird or anything.
They were almost there before she spoke again.
"You can relax, you know," she said, voice softer than it had been before. "You do not have to tell me anything you do not want to. I am not on duty, remember? I was just worried."
"Well don't be," he said. "It's pretty fucking pointless."
They were both wet again by the time they got into the entrance way of her condo hive, but Terezi didn't seem to mind. She strode ahead of him as soon as they entered, seemingly a lot more comfortable navigating inside her hive than she had been elsewhere.
"You can take the resting slab, or I can pour some sopor into the ablution trap for you," she said, and disappeared into the nutrition refractory. "Are you hungry?"
His instinct was to say no, but he stomach was screaming yes. What he ended up saying was, "uh..."
"What was that?" she probed, amusement edging her tone.
"...Yeah sure, whatever. Don't waste your sopor, I'll just take the slab."
"Suit yourself," she called back. "I will heat up these left overs."
Karkat was stripping off his outer layers and dropping them to the floor with soggy splats when the sound of a voice caught him by surprise. Peeled down to his undershirt, he wheeled around defensively.
"Uh," the other trolls said from the other side of room. "Hi..." It was a brown blood with absurdly large horns, compact but muscular, and nestled into a four wheel device. A blanket was draped over his legs, and there was some bandaging lining part of his face, and large sections of his forearms. He was starting at him like a wild beast caught on the street. He was familiar.
"...Nitram?" Karkat asked after a moment of contemplation, the name finally coming to him. Tavros's face brightened immediately.
"Yes! Uh...You're Karkat, r-right? From secondary training, remember?"
"Uh, yeah..." he said, trailing off and furrowing his brow. Terezi appeared in the doorway almost instantly.
"Tavros..." she said, with a hint of warning, quirking an eyebrow. "Weren't you supposed to be sleeping?" He looked instantly ashamed.
"Yes, sorry, uh...I got distracted...with this book I was reading, and uh...I heard you two come in so I thought I would, you know, say hi, and-"
Terezi just sighed, and addressed Karkat instead. "Karkat, this is my dummy of a moirail. He lives here too."
"Yes, I do live here," Tavros repeated, smiling. "And it's uh...nice to meet you. Uh. Again."
"And now, with sufficient introduction, Karkat is going to sleep. And so should you," she said, giving Tavros a look. She caned her way over to the coffee table, and set a freshly warmed take out box. Karkat had no idea what it was but it suddenly smelt delicious. "So let's give him some privacy. Now go."
"O-Okay," Tavros said, and started clumsily wheeling back into what Karkat guessed was his respiteblock. "Good morning! Or...uh, whenever it is..."
Terezi's sightless stare seemed to follow Tavros as he went back into his room. Karkat was on the verge of saying something but she cut him off before he could.
"Eat," she said. "Then rest. And I will see you in the evening, because right now, I am beat."
"Yeah, okay," Karkat said after a hesitation, and then added, with more tired sincerity than he would normally allow, "Thanks."
She smiled slightly. "No problem," she said, and then head into her respite block. "There are more blankets in the cupboard if you need them," was the last thing she said before shutting her door.
Then Karkat was left alone. He found himself staring into space for a while before he finally set in on those left overs, and once his stomach burned a bit less, he took off the rest of his wet clothes. He dragged enough blankets out of the closet to burrow in like a nest, and for the first time in hours he started to feel warm again.
Eventually, the rain slowed and the sun began to peek out through shuttered hive windows. With nothing left to do, Karkat drifted into uneasy sleep.
Chapter 5: Voodoo People
AND NOW I RISE FROM THE GRAVE WITHOUT WARNING!
(Also note that this chapter has a warning for violence and I mean it for reals this time.)
He didn't tell anyone he was leaving.
He wasn't even sure why. He'd woken up before the others feeling unsettled, like danger was imminent, like he was running out of time. He contemplated waking up Terezi and trying to talk to her, but the paranoia had already set in thick, and before he even really knew what he was doing he was getting dressed and packing up his bag to go.
Maybe he was just taking a walk, he explained to himself. Maybe he was just catching a breather before having to deal with any more awkward social situations. The excuse seemed to fit for a moment or two, but if that was the case, why was he taking his stuff? And why was he almost certain that once he had left he wouldn't come back?
After some tense deliberation, he finally settled down to leave a note for Terezi, thanking her for her help and explaining that he needed to catch a bus or something idiotic like that. He felt guilty just thinking about it, but as far as his skewed psychology was concerned, he didn't have a choice.
Forget about him getting in trouble with Sollux. What would happen to her if she was caught hosting a fugitive?
The sun had apparently been blistering enough during the day that it had baked away a portion of the moisture from the streets, but not nearly enough. It air felt thick with humidity as he exited the hivestem, but at least it wasn't raining anymore.
He started heading down to a nearby corner store, thinking about how he probably should have been at work already, and how he'd probably already lost his job. He wondered, if things ever got better, if he'd be able to find another one. It had been hard enough the first time.
He bought something cheap to eat from the store and discretely paid in cash, scarfing it down before going back outside. He actually had no idea what he was doing anymore, or even really what he was trying to escape from. Maybe catching a bus to another city for a while would be the best idea.
He was starting to wander down the sidewalk again when something distracted his attention.
"Hey!" a familiar voice shouted, and Karkat felt himself go a little bit numb.
"Hey!" she shouted again, running up to him. It was a tall blue blood with long, wild hair, a horn in the shape of a pincer, and dark shades. She was obviously dressed to thrill, with skin hugging clothing and a sly smile already firm on her blue lips. "Vantas, right? Don't I know you from secondary?"
It was Vriska Serket in all her obnoxious glory, and Karkat already felt sick. One of the last things Sollux had told him before running away was ringing through his head.
And whatever happens...stay the fuck away from Vriska Serket.
"Uh. Yeah. Hey Vriska," he choked out, continuing down the sidewalk with or without her. "Been a while."
She followed along at his side. "Yeah! Weren't you the one dating Pyrope?"
"At one point that did happen, yes." They'd actually broken up a fair while before he'd stopped seeing Vriska around, but that wasn't a point he felt the need to argue.
"Ohhh," she drawled out like she was trying to be understanding. "Ouch! Not anymore, huh? I'd say too bad, but considering this is Pyrope we're talking about you're probably better off-"
"Did you want something?" Karkat growled at her, and she raised her hands defensively.
"Hey, no need to get like that! I just saw you on the street and thought I'd say hi. It's not every night you get the chance to catch up with people from the schoolhive." She paused. "But now that you mention it, I kind of wanted to run an idea past some of you guys...you know, if I ran into you."
"Hmm," Karkat said contemplatively, stalling for time. Time that would only be relevant if he managed to form some shred of a plan in the next five seconds. Perhaps some subtle excuse to-
Oh fuck it, he was running.
"Fuck!" He heard her swear and take chase, and his pace just became more frantic. He was all too aware that if she attacked him, no matter how blatantly, the odds of someone intervening was minimal. It was too early in the evening, most trolls would still be sleeping, even if any where inclined to give a shit. Whatever she wanted with him, he was basically on his own.
He turned a corner, skidding on the pavement. Vriska was quick to follow, catching up just in time to bowl him into the next alleyway. He slammed into the wall with her on top of him, her claws digging into his shoulder as she forced him to turn around and face her. She was close, close enough that for a second he had the absurd thought that she was going to try to kiss him, but instead she just pressed their foreheads together, pinning his arms at his sides.
"Leave me alone," he growled, still struggling, flinching and squirming and trying to break free. "The fuck do you even want?"
"So dramatic!" she replied with a smirk. She moved one of her hands to press carefully around his neck, fingers pushing against his jaw and positioning his face to look at her. He stared back, stricken. "I just want to chat, is that so hard? So why don't you be polite and actually look at me when I'm talking."
She slipped down her shades, and a twisted cerulean eye stared back at him. It was like it's partner in almost every way - every way except for how the yellow sclera was dotted with not one but seven pupils, and how the sight of them seemed to drag him inside, like everything else about the world and himself was slowly fading away.
He was confused as his struggles gradually began to cease, even his fear numbing as if was overwhelmed by a pervasive feeling of complacency. His muscles relaxed in her hold, his stare becoming distant and foggy. Vriska was talking. He needed to listen. Everything would be fine.
She smiled, and for some reason that made him happy too. She loosened her grip on his neck, instead sliding a single finger beneath his jaw to hold him steady at the chin.
"That's better," she said. "Now, you and I are going to go on a walk, and then you're going to do everything I say. Sound good?"
"Yeah," he heard himself reply, voice sluggish and dazed. He couldn't quite connect the words to his thoughts, but he didn't disagree. What she wanted was what he wanted. (He wanted to run, why couldn't he run?)
"Great!" she said, smile twisting into something darker. "Follow me and-" She was interrupted as a third party's hand suddenly fell on her shoulder.
"Hey, Serket!" Sollux said, and punched her hard across the face, knocking her clear away from Karkat on onto the alleyway floor. He move to stand between them, a smirk on his lips, but fury in his eyes. "Hands off!"
Karkat found himself still unable to move, hazily watching as Vriska twisted on the ground, righting herself with an undignified shriek. "I was here first, Captor!"
"Wrong. I actually took the time to book this one in advance - so why don't you have some fucking manners and move to the back of the line?"
Vriska just growled in response to that, rising to her feet with a snarl as he eyes began to flicker with strange light. With a flick of the wrist, she produced what looked like a number of multifaceted blue gems, and was rolling them threateningly in her hand. Sollux took a step back, and then glanced at Karkat with a bit more urgency. Karkat was staring dumbfounded, still dazed and unsure of what was going on around him and why.
"Sorry, KK, this is probably going to blow your mind a bit," Sollux muttered quickly, before hissing something foreign under his breath and throwing out his hands at the very same moment something went off like a red and blue flash bomb.
There was a shockwave of force. Karkat woke up enough to let out a horrified shriek.
Then someone was grabbing his hand, and moments later he'd been pulled out of the fray of thunderous light and into the street. He was dizzily relieved to find the person pulling him was Sollux.
"KK, we gotta go," Sollux said, dragging Karkat down the sidewalk as he haltingly stumbled along.
"Ampora!" Vriska was shouting behind them. "Get your scraggly ass over here and catch them!"
"What the fuck is happening?!" Karkat managed to sputter out, finally breaking the surface of his own tampered mind.
"Bad guys - coming to get you," Sollux replied briskly as they ran. "Pretty sure I explained this shit not even twelve hours ago."
"It's not like I believed you!" Karkat snapped.
"Well, that's your mistake," he said, before abruptly stopping, pushing Karkat back. "Fuck - quick, get behind me," he said, just as a lanky sea troll in a long purple coat appeared at the other end of the block. He had thick rimmed glasses, a long striped scarf, and he looked distinctively irritated to be there.
"Yeah, yeah, Vris, calm your fuckin tits I got it," he said through a thick accent, and levelled the strangest rifle Karkat had ever seen right at them. Before he had much time to take in the details, the tip of it's elegantly rune-inscribed but strangely mechanical frame took on a vicious glow. "Hey mustardbreath, sure doesn't look like any of your other chumbuckets are here, so you beta hand over the scum blood before I start shootin you all full of holes."
Sollux took one step back, growling, and clawed at the black wrappings around his forearms, revealed by his now rolled up sleeves. "Just try me!" he said, and grabbed Karkat again, breaking from the sidewalk and cutting across the street just as Vriska began to catch up and converge.
Many things happened at once.
Sollux was hurling Karkat ahead of him in a way that sent him stumbling across the pavement, just as the sea troll aimed to fire. Vriska shouted some words that didn't make any sense, motes of blue and silver congealing around her fingers to match the white light bleeding off the end of the sea dweller's gun. Sollux was turning to face them, sheltering Karkat with his body, his claws dug deep into his wrappings as he tore them free with one violent motion.
The last thing Karkat saw was the intricate red and blue tattoos running up and down Sollux's forearms, and how they took on their own impossible light right before all hell broke lose.
The gun fired. Vriska sent of hail of luminescent knives at them, from a source Karkat couldn't quite grasp. Energy flowed through Sollux's arms like electricity as he chanted, words soft and harsh and completely incomprehensible beneath his breath. And just as the other troll's blows were about to connect, with a vicious cry, he let it all go.
Lines of red and blue light spread in front of him like a wall of broken glass, fusing and melding together with vibrant flashes of energy. The pieces swiftly pulled together, forming a glimmering whole - a flickering, transparents barrier that was many feet in height and marked with interlocking circles of runes nearly identical to the ones that now encircled Sollux's arms.
The gunshot hit its surface with a hot crackle of energy, as did the knives. The opposing fire was stopped in its tracks, and moment later the force of the collision cause the entire thing to go up in streams of red and blue flame.
Sollux lurched away from the impact, grabbing Karkat's arm as he did. Together they staggered into the nearest alleyway, weaving through the architecture until the explosion of light was far behind them. The moment they were in anything resembling the clear, Sollux whipped out his cellphone, and contacted someone on his speed dial.
"WHAT THE FUCK?" Karkat finally bellowed.
Sollux ignored him.
"Hey LL, status report," he said the moment he received a greeting from the other side. "I've got Karkat with me, but I've also got Ampora and Serket haunting my ass. Looks like I'm going to need some back up, preferably of the kind that shows up before I'm an ugly yellow smear on the pavement. What ETA are we looking at?" He pulled Karkat around a corner, and pressed both of their backs to it. Then he listened.
"Give me a moment," a voice said on the other side, just loud enough to be heard by a third party, if only faintly. "Support is on its way. Rest assured that it will arrive in a timely manner."
Sollux made a thoroughly exasperated sound beneath his breath. "Goddamnit LL, why do you always have to do this to me?"
"Try to understand, Captor, I have very few agents at my disposal that can blink across a city quickly enough to save you from such imminent peril. I'm simply being practical."
"Yeah well, I was hoping for Jade. She could get us the fuck out of here."
Karkat started to pull away from the wall. Sollux made a harsh, impatient noise and pushed him back, earning a snapped, "fuck you!"
The voice continued. "That would be my preferred tactic here as well, but unfortunately we have no idea where she is. Space mages can be a bit tricky that way."
"Awesome," Sollux drawled. "In that case, make sure to tell him that he's my absolute last choice for this mission before you send him on his way. That's important."
"All in due course. Godspeed, Sollux."
"Later." Sollux shoved his phone into his pocket, accomplished.
"Wow!" Karkat snarled from against the wall. "Could you waste anymore time with your witless banter, Sollux? What the fuck?"
Sollux rolled his eyes behind his shades, and started to tug him down the alley again. "Would you stop? I'm working."
"No you fucking stop!" Karkat growled back, prying his arm away from him. Sollux stopped to stare at him. "The fuck was that back there? That was fucking - that was fucking bullshit is what it was! Why don't you tell me what the fuck is happening!"
Sollux hesitated for a long moment.
Then he said, with a certain weariness: "It was magic, KK. The answer to all of your questions is magic."
Karkat just scowled. "Fuck you."
"Yeah, my thoughts exactly." He reached out to him again, but more gently this time. "Look, I promise I'll explain every fucking thing to you later, but right now we need to get to my car and get out of here before...well." He sighed. "We get magicked to death, or whatever. Please just give me the benefit of the doubt for, say, fifteen minutes more and we'll be in the clear, okay?"
Karkat jerked his body away from Sollux's reach reflexively, but then paused contemplatively as an afterthought. He frowned deeply, furrowing his brow. "...Fine."
Sollux smirked, but for once it felt more like an actual smile. "Sweet." And he gestured for him to follow. "Let's go."
It was a short dash from the alleyway to the parking complex Sollux has allegedly left his car in. Karkat suddenly began to resent the weight of his backpack as he watched Sollux's stupid leather coat tail flapping in the wind front of him.
"You took the time to park?" Karkat snarled at him, nearly out of breath. Sollux growled back.
"See how much fucking good it does us when I leave it to get towed, smart ass!"
They were two thirds there when the purple blood emerged at the other side of the street, his rifle aimed and ready to fire. This time he wasn't going to waste time with threats. Karkat saw him preparing to fire.
"Sollux!" he shouted desperately, and the other turned around to notice just a few moments too late.
"Fuck," he breathed, and was already turning around, getting ready to try to block it again - it was all happening too fast, and this time Sollux seemed much more worn down than he had before. All the same he was moving forward without hesitation and shoving Karkat behind him, when things got confusing once again.
A rustblood in shades appeared out of literally nowhere, surrounded by a ring of rotating runes marked in the air, a similarly marked katana in hand. He bowled into the violetblood with a well aimed kick, sending his rifle shot wildly off course. And just as the seatroll snarled and redirected his next attack at the new arrival -
The same rustblood appeared again, joining his duplicate in the fray, shoving back the rifle end with a flash of steel. Moments later, a third copy appeared, cornering the troll's back, the three of them moving together to trap him in a cage of blades.
"Hey," the first one said, tone calm and cool despite the situation. He raised his sword towards the violetblood's neck. "How many rusts does it take to cull a purple?"
"Get off'a me, you goddamn fuckin' scum!" the seatroll yelled, the aura of white spreading across his entire body.
The one at the seatroll's back looked up, shouting: "Move it, Captor!"
Sollux didn't hesitate to listen.
He dragged Karkat past the toll booths and into the parking lot, unhesitating even as he heard the blast of energy tear through something in the lot behind them. Karkat couldn't bear to look either, his body on terrified autopilot.
"Second level," Sollux told him, pointing towards the ramp leading upwards. Karkat gasped out his acknowledgement and kept running, but it was only a matter of feet until he found his feed stop dead like they'd sunk into something thick and sticky. Sollux yelped out a similar kind of surprise.
A net of glittering blue lines appeared around thier feet, as if their legs had been enswathed in spider webs. The revelation was assisted by the triumphant cackling tone of Vriska Serket.
"Bad move, Captor!" she said, appearing from behind a pillar, rolling those little blue gems in hand. "You didn't even see me pass, did you? Sloppy, sloppy."
"Fuck," Sollux rasped, not even looking back to face her. He seemed suddenly panicked and tense - more than he had been at any other point in this mess. He seized at the nearly transparent threads around them and, mumbling a few words to himself, managed to grab a handful of them in his fingers. A flicker of energy traveled down his arm and into the webs, and with one tug he tore away most of the magic binding Karkat's legs. Karkat stumbled forward, breaking through what was left.
"Go!" Sollux screamed after him. "I've got this one - just keep running, someone will find you!"
He whirled around to face Vriska, tearing away more spider webs, just in time for one of her magical spike things to pierce right through his pant leg and into the concrete. Karkat just stared.
"Hey! You! Vantas!" Vriska shouted at him, a flash of defensive anger in her voice. "You stay right there or Captor dies, got it?"
"As if!" Sollux shouted back at her, hurling another one of his flashbomb bolts of energy in her direction. She was quick to leap out of the way. "KK, please."
It was something about his tone that finally convinced him. Karkat cast Sollux one last fleeting look before running like hell up that ramp. Vriska was hissing in frustration behind him, and moments later Sollux was grunting in pain, and then they were out of sight and the only thing Karkat could hear was the beat of his own panicked footsteps.
Fuck he was going to die. Sollux was going to die. They were both going to die and it was his fucking fault for not listening to Sollux sooner, when they still had a chance to do this easy way, before the world had completely stopped making sense and people started whipping magic glowy shit out of their pocket and -
And he had no idea where he was going.
He was on the second level. He didn't have the keys to any cars. He didn't know how long Sollux or the rustblood(s?) he'd seen outside would continue to provide a distraction. There was literally nothing he could do but run and hide, and the sinking sensation told him in his gut that without Sollux there to help him even that wouldn't last very long.
He ran towards the end of the parking lot, and then realized that he had nowhere to go. He started to come back, and then realized that trying to pass by Vriska was just as hopeless.
He moved to the edge of the floor, to the railing, and looked over the ledge. It was a floor's drop, but maybe it was doable. He swung a leg over the edge, his heart pounding in his chest.
A long moment passed. Images of him trying to jump and breaking his ankle, only to take away his only dwindling chance at survival flash through his mind. He swore, and pulled his leg back, bracing again the railing as panic filled his mind.
When he finally looked back, it was down the nose of a rifle.
"Now don't give me any trouble," the violetblood told him, "and I can make this real easy for the both of us."
Karkat stared back at him, shaking, chest heaving. His eyes were focused on the end of that rifle, thinking about the blast he'd seen come out of it before. The seatroll hissed impatiently, and gestured at him with the gun.
"Come on before I blast ya," he said, and that threat sent Karkat staggering forward, coming closer and closer-
Until something suddenly snapped in his head, his fear and panic taking over completely. In a fumbling, frantic movement, he ran. He ran hard and fast with very little thought to his destination, his only semblance of salvation a large cement pillar just past a row of parked cars.
The seatroll growled, and after only a moment's hesitation, swung around his gun.
"Aw, ta hell with this," he said.
Karkat saw the bright flash behind him, and felt a sharp searing pain in his back. Blood and lightning burst from his chest, and he couldn't even breath as he collapsed down onto his knees.
After that, death came quickly.
Chapter 6: Fruit Salad
Another chapter. FYI, I'm doing this for Nanowrimo, SO EXPECT MUCH MORE OF THIS IN THE FUTURE.
She'd woke up to a headache and an empty couch.
Karkat - and all his belongings - appeared to have vanished in the night. For a few moments she was nothing but worried, but then a more aggravating thought occurred to her.
She felt around in the coffee table with her fingers. There hadn't been much on it before, so it was easy to pick out the piece of paper that had appeared in Karkat's absence. She lifted it up to her face, and hesitantly gave it a sniff. She immediately got the sense that there was something written on it, and that the author had been Karkat.
She slapped a hand to her forehead. Sure, she thought. Leave a note for the blind girl.
Moron or not though, he'd been a moron under her watch and she wasn't content with this turn of events. He'd seemed so rundown and on edge the day before - what if something was actually after him? She knew there was more to his situation with Sollux than he'd been letting on, and she didn't doubt for a second that he'd end up regretting any trust he had given that criminal.
After all, hadn't they all trusted him, once upon a time? The thought of all that made her very unhappy.
She woke up Tavros just long enough to tell him she was leaving, and then set out onto the streets. She traced her walking stick along in front of her, but with a breath of resolution she opened her senses.
Scents lingered like stains on an otherwise blank canvas. At first they were faint, barely recognizable, and she started to doubt her suspicions on the matter. But as she approached an alleyway two blocks down, one particular stench hit her full force.
Blueberry bubblegum was thick in the air. Blue like ceruleans, blue like highbloods. But most importantly, it was blue like Vriska Serket.
She knew this connection as confidently as she knew anything, but she still didn't know why. She moved further down the alleyway, investigating deeper. Another scent was there, intermingled. A blue and red like apple and berry, streaking out towards the other side of the street.
She recognized that scent, too. Her head was filled with images of red and blue shades, and an awkwardly fang filled smile. She scrunched up her nose, and pressed on.
The bubblegum returned, along with trails of salty white and plum purple. Further along it was all washed away in another hail of appleberry, which conspicuously led down the next alleyway.
There was more salt along the way, and another scent she didn't recognize. It led her to a parking lot, and truly copious amounts of something sharp and purple like grapes. Its scent was punctuated harshly with intense emotion, to the degree it almost startled her.
The Grapes of Wrath, perhaps, she thought amusedly, pausing for only a moment to enjoy that thought.
Because it was also fresh - far more recent than she was comfortable with dealing with, and before she could change her plans she heard voices from the level above. She hid around the ramp ledge, listening very carefully.
"Fuck. Fuck, shit, no," a voice said as if through tears, and through a pair of oversized fangs. Terezi's gut twisted inside of her. Sollux Captor. "This can't happen. This wasn't supposed to happen."
"Fuck's sake," said another voice, strained by almost aggressively calm in the face of the other's panic. "Can you stop chewing the scenery for a second and help me get the body into the trunk, holy god."
"Don't fucking touch him!" Sollux growled, snapping. "We have to...we have to call somebody. We can't-"
"So they can do what? Have you even looked at this? He's dead, Captor. Not only is he dead, he is winning the goddamn three event death race of being dead. He is taking home the gold, silver, and bronze all at once. No one is patching this up, and so he goes in the trunk."
"There's a pile of blood everywhere, you dumb fuck," Sollux sobbed.
"Seriously? Nobody has blood this color, man. If anybody sees this we tell them we were painting some kind of celebratory coronation mural or some shit, and that would make as much sense as anything else."
"They're going to be after us any second now, alright? You want us all to get caught?"
There was a shuffling of bodies, and the sound of liquid dripping.
"Great. Thanks for making this super easy and not melodramatic at all, bro."
"Go to hell, Stridr."
A car door - a trunk door - slammed shut. Then two more followed it as they presumable got inside. The engine roared and they turned and pulled out. She ducked behind cover as they effortlessly escaped her grasp. The whole thing made her want to break somebody's neck.
Especially since when she decided the coast was clear and headed up to investigate the scene, she was met with the scent of the promised splattering of blood - a blood that was as bright as cherries and as fiery as burning coals.
Chapter 7: Regret
He's angrier than he's ever been, in those moments. Rage sings in his heart like a symphony, setting his step alight with a power that burns like fire. He unmakes the gate to her domain with a sweep of his hand, feeling the threads and patterns of woven reality break apart with a push of his will.
She could fight him, and she's not. He knows this. But he doesn't care.
The core of her world shimmers like water, translucent stone and strange plants born nowhere else in the universe. The air is cool and shifting like liquid but as breathable as air. She sits in the center of her room on a throne of crystal stone, her feet resting in shifting streams around her.
"What did you do?" he barely manages with shaking breath. She says nothing. "What did you do to him?"
"Nothing," she says, after a moment. Her voice is cold and crystalline, like he's never heard. Something in her has changed. "I took nothing he wouldn't have given me himself.
He looks down, air stolen from him. So it's true. Mituna is gone.
"You can't," he breathes. "Not to him. Not to one of our own."
She laughs, and swaggers to her feet, black hair trailing in the water at her feet. She still doesn't look at him.
"You're not listening to me," she sings.
"I understood you fine," he snaps. "You killed him, Meenah."
"No," she says, and finally turns to him. Her magenta eyes are alight with power and something much worse. Designs of her color decorate her cheeks and her fins. "He lives in me, because I am life itself. Something none of you will understand unless I prove it. You've made that much clear."
She walks past him like he isn't there. His legs feel frozen, feet cold in the water.
"I won't let you," he says.
"You won't have a choice. With or against me, you mean nothing."
"Just like him, then." A bitterness appears in his voice, and he finds his essence reaching into her heart. Pulling free strands of guilt and misery in all the places they should exist but haven't been. "Just like Mituna was nothing."
She stops, a shiver going down her back, shaking her to her core. A soft gasp breaks from her lips, and a sob. She shakes with sorrow, and then with rage. He feels her bite back with snapping fangs.
"How dare you?" she nearly screams, turning on him. She drags her claws across his cheek, and they come away red. He doesn't flinch. She looks like she wants to do so much more, but something stops her. "Never touch me again, you wretch." She lunges forward and grabs him by the jaw, forcing him to look up at her. He lets her. He isn't afraid of violence. "Do you like guilt? Sorrow?" She pushes him away. "Because I will happily give it to you."
She leaves him standing in her domain, a dark feeling consuming him. Because as she disappears, there is vengeance in her heart.
Chapter 8: Hold Your Colour
Further bloody artworks are occurring here so be warned.
He couldn't breathe.
Karkat was in a dark place, waiting. Bodiless and voiceless, he was wrapped in a veil of dull, cold ache, like his being was screaming for something it could no longer reach. It was impossible to tell how long he'd been there, and increasingly difficult to remember that he'd ever been anywhere else.
Even his fear of eventually fading was starting to escape his grasp when something something found him in the darkness, a pressure like a formless embrace. He sank into its protective arms, and he could tell it shared his agony.
He felt its love shelter him from the darkness, warming his soul and soothing his mind. For a while, he felt something like peace.
But even that faded with time, and as it was torn away he was left with nothing.
The emptiness hurt, he thought. More than living pain ever could.
His waking moments proved him wrong.
The darkness broke around him, leading to a world of sharp, painful light. There were people speaking around him. One, so very close, was familiar.
"What if he doesn't wake up?" Sollux asked.
"Then you have the wrong guy," another voice said. "But the red paint everywhere suggests otherwise."
"But it's not happening," Sollux persisted, increasingly panicked. "Nothing's happening! He's still..."
"Look, it probably just takes a while. He's obviously our mark, and from the looks of it he was basically just running in circles shitting his pants when Ampora got him and damned if there's anything heroic about that-"
There was a hiss, and a sudden movement. Something smashed against a wall.
"Get out!" Sollux snarled.
"Dude, calm your fucking vestigial nubs-"
"I said get out."
There was a tense pause.
"...Fine. It was about time I reported back to Lalond anyway."
A flash of light and a silence followed. Karkat tried to speak - to even move - but when his lungs finally wrenched into action it came with a pain that was suffocating. He barely choked out a shaking, drowning gasp. Blood bubbled over his lips.
He distantly felt Sollux back at his side, his hand on his face and shoulder.
"KK?" he asked. "Fuck, KK, are you here?"
His chest was on fire, shattered apart at the center, and every movement only worsened the pain. His eyes were begging for help.
"No," Sollux gasped, "Fuck, KK, you don't want to be awake right now. You need to...just calm down, I'm going to help you."
There was trepidation in Sollux's eyes as he raised his hands, the exposed runic marking on his arms taking on a bluish glow. He chanted words beneath his breath, his brow furrowing in worry and concentration as every syllable seemed to weigh on him. His enunciations were as careful as he could manage, but they were panicked.
And as he lowered his hands down to Karkat's chest, all Karkat felt was pain.
Something both cool and hot flooded through his burned and bloody flesh, and he choked out a scream, writhing beneath Sollux's touch. The yellowblood gasped, his friend's discomfort immediately breaking his resolve.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck, no," he muttered, lifting his bloodied hands and brushing Karkat's hair away from his forehead. "Shit, just-" He pressed his fingers to Karkat's forehead, and said something in a language Karkat shouldn't have understood, but he did.
The command resonated through Karkat's thoughts, and his body happily obliged.
That excruciating agony had faded to throbbing ache by the time he was awake again, and the room was dark and quiet. Before, he'd hardly been able to think, to process his surrounding, but as his eyes hazily flickered open he realized he was on a resting slab in an unfamiliar hive.
Fighting through a fog of confusion and hurt, he very very hesitantly shifted his body. His chest panged with pain, and his found his fingers reaching up to his own chest, half expecting to find a blood soaked crater where his heart had been. Instead he found damp bandages and a subtler dip in his skin beneath them.
Slowly, consciously, he breathed. His lungs were sore, but they obeyed. His heart was beating slowly in his chest.
He turned his head to the side, and Sollux was sleeping beside him - face down and shades askew in a way that made it clear he had intended to stay awake. Memories of what had just happened were coming back to him, and with them came a realization.
His blood was all over Sollux - on his hands, and on his sleeping face. It was all over the slab, and on the white sheets. And it was on Karkat, too. It was his. This disgusting shade of red had come from him.
He crawled off the slab in a panic, barely able to stand but his fear overwhelming any care for his body. He scrambled to the first thing that looked like an ablution chamber and turned on the light, clutching the countertop and turning on the water in the sink without ever looking up.
But when he finally did, the sight was enough to set his entire body shaking.
He choked and fell back from the counter, clutching himself in abject terror. No, this shouldn't have happened yet. They shouldn't be like that. The rusty gray he'd had before he could deal with - people could believe that it was something you'd see on a maroon. But not this.
This was unconcealable. This was fucking hideous.
He all but fell into the bathtub, desperately scrambling to turn on the shower. The water doused him coolly, blood pooling redly around his mostly bare form and dampening the knees of his worn down pants. He was crying uncontrollably, consumed by his own own panic. He was clawing at his hair and face, trying to make the blood leave even though he knew, in all the ways that mattered, it never would.
He was curled up in the corner of the tub, sobbing brokenly, when Sollux found him. At first the other troll just stood in the doorway, staring like he'd suddenly forgotten how to move.
"KK," he breathed, finally, coming forward. Karkat flinched away from him, hiding his face. "KK, fuck, you're going to mess up your bandages and..."
Karkat felt a hand on his shoulder. He tried to pull away.
"Don't," he sobbed, shaking his head. Sollux didn't let go, but instead gently pulled at his shoulder, trying to get Karkat to look at him.
"It doesn't matter, okay?" he said, as softly as he'd ever heard his friend's voice get, for anyone.
Karkat finally let himself be turned, opening his eyes and staring at the other troll, as if the sight alone would prove his point. His face was twisted with pain, but nothing like the kind that had been ailing him before.
"Just fucking look at them," he choked, the sound of pouring water filling the silence between them. "They'll cull me."
Sollux gave a very small laugh that sounded more like he wanted to cry.
"Look, it's cool," he said, and pulled down his bicoloured shades. "I've got one just like it."
He tugged at one of his eyelids to give a better showing. Sollux Captor's eyes had always been strange, in that the irises has been two different shades of yellow instead of one. It was weird, but basically acceptable. Just a quirk.
But now they were a red as bright as Karkat's blood and a blue as clear as highblood royalty.
"They change when you manifest your power," Sollux explained, but Karkat wasn't really listening. "We're going to take you somewhere safe, so it won't even matter who sees."
Karkat didn't bother trying to figure out what he meant. He didn't bother questioning, or arguing. He just fell forward and clung to Sollux's body, crying into that stupid leather jacket.
Sollux froze with surprise for only a moment, but then carefully requited, the action, moving around the other's wounds with care.
"I'll get some stuff so we can clean up. Then I'll clean up the other room so you can go back to sleep. Trust me, there's really no point in being awake through this. Backup is going to be here soon."
Karkat was pretty sure he offered some kind of assent to that, but maybe he had just clung to Sollux tighter. It was already so hard to stay awake, that the moment he had the opportunity and the blood was finally gone, he let consciousness leave him once again.
Chapter 9: The Rising
AND I APPEAR AGAIN. You can place the picture featured in this chapter for it taking so long. Complicated architecture sucks.
As you may have noticed I tend to work in spurts, but I'm going to try to be more steady with this one now. Furthermore I do have a tumblr that you can follow which is good for seeing what I'm up to fanfiction wise and also for harassing me if I'm dragging my ass.
For best effect read this chapter while listening to "The Rising" from tyrad.org. Or rather, that was my inspirational song for this chapter so there you go.
In retrospect, Karkat wasn't completely sure how he ended up in the car. After having been given some of Sollux's clothes to put on - all of which were much too big for his size - he had drifted off on the couch, only to vaguely remember being asked if he could walk. In the end, he figured Sollux may have had to settle for wrapping him in a blanket and being done with it.
With the initial burst adrenaline gone, it felt like there wasn't anything holding him up anymore. He curled up in the back seat of the car as it took him somewhere he couldn't remember, feeling cold.
There were other people, when he got to wherever they had been going - the place Sollux had assured him was "safe". He didn't pay much attention to any of them, past the point he had to in order to get inside. He could take in that it was a large estate of a hive he was entering, through a series of discreet underground tunnels. Something larger and more luxurious than he'd ever been anywhere near.
He was offered a number of different things to drink and medicines to take, most of which he obliged mostly because he couldn't be bothered to listen to what they were supposed to be. He wound up on a resting slab in an unusually posh room.
Sollux was the only one still there when he fell asleep.
When he woke up again, he was alone.
The mansion hive was quiet as he stirred under his blankets, slowly sitting with a lightness that was foreign to him. The lights were low and ambient - gentle pink and green moonlight filtering through the windows. The space was calm and empty now, almost sacred in its stillness.
His bare feet met the floor in a haze, the overlong legs of Sollux's sweatpants wrapped around his heels. He swayed on his feet, but not with faintness, taking in his surroundings with a blankness he couldn't describe.
It was peaceful, here. He was no longer afraid.
He found himself wandering, first to the door, and then out into the hive's grand halls. It was only vaguely familiar, from his foggy and pain filled first entry, but now it was empty. The realization didn't bother him, and he kept on moving, making his way down the hall with his fingers hazily brushing the wall at his side.
He was in an exterior hall lined with great glass windows when he felt the touch of something on his shoulder.
I've waited for so long to meet you.
He turned to meet the voice as it spoke, but there was nothing there. He stared into the moonlight with foggy red eyes.
But I knew you would come. You've finally awakened to me.
It was behind him again. Karkat turned once more to face the voice, but there was no one in the hall but himself. The voice was soft and genderless, like something speaking straight into his heart.
"I don't see you," he mumbled, a flash of worry coming to his mind for the first time.
I have so much to show you, Karkat. So much we'll accomplish together. You're everything, now. You're all that's left.
He felt another touch - one on his face, as if by a hand from behind him. He turned around again. The emptiness of the hallway endured.
"Where are you?" Karkat asked with more urgency.
I'm a part of you. As much as your heart. You soul. It's only now that I can speak to you, now that you've been reborn.
Karkat pressed his back to the wall, fear rising in his chest. The sudden realization that this was strange and out of place - it almost felt like waking up.
"What do you want?" he breathed.
I only want what you want. Freedom. Peace. Even as his back was to the wall, he felt arms wrap around his shoulders in an embrace. He felt a hand lovingly stroking his hair. Don't be afraid. You are precious to me, and as you are mine, I will protect you.
Though the hands were invisible, intangible, Karkat found them no easier to escape. But as he felt that warmth, that protection, that love - the less he was sure he even wanted to.
"What am I supposed to do?" he whispered.
Only take my hand and let me guide you. I will keep you safe. And together, we will be free.
Karkat closed his eyes, vaguely nodding his head in assent. He felt the hands slip to his waist. He felt a chaste kiss, glowing warm, press against his neck.
I love you.
He opened his eyes.
He was back in his room, lying back down on a resting slab. The blankets were pooled around him comfortably - and while his chest ached again, he could still feel that lingering embrace.
Chapter 10: Car Talk
And now - this!
Sollux was just about the pull the car out of the garage when Rose abruptly appeared at the passenger side door and let herself in. She seated herself, smiling, and neatly clicked on her seatbelt. She was wearing a bulky hoodie over her dress.
He cast her a sideways glance, the engine purring away on idle.
"Okay then," he said after a moment, and eased his foot onto the gas.
The tunnel was definitely the longest way out of the underground parking lot connected to Rose's ridiculously vast seadweller mansion, but it was also the only one Sollux was allowed to take. After all, there were reputations to uphold, and said reputations were especially crucial when they were one of the main factors allowing Rose to house half a dozen probable fugitives in the basement levels of her hive.
It was long and winding and lead to two separate dummy buildings set up a safe distance from the hive itself. He remembered the time when Rose had explained to him the history of the inheritance, and how her ancestor had been whimsically orchestrating this set up for many sweeps before she was ever hatched.
Rose had thus far continued her ancestor's legacy of being a notoriously eccentric public spectacle, and just as before it was an elaborate coverup for something much greater.
Not that Sollux could earnestly suggest that all of the violetblood's eccentricities were an act.
They were in the middle of the tunnel when Rose finally spoke.
"We should discuss," she said, without prelude.
"Discuss what?" Sollux asked. He already knew where this was most likely going, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to make her work for it.
"Your feelings regarding these turn of events."
"Which ones? You mean the ones where I let Vantas get fucking skewered on my watch?" He leaned his head to the side, paying far too much attention to the rearview mirror. "Because it should be a surprise to no one that I feel pretty fucking shitty about those."
"A good start," Rose said, not missing a stride. "But perhaps we should open this discussion up to a wider volume of material. Say, the broader emotions pertaining to your relationship. Or, barring that, your up to date take on the state of your etheric destiny."
"God," Sollux said, dragging a hand down his face. "You don't fuck around, do you, LL?"
She smiled. "Have I ever?"
"Okay, well," he said, raising as hand off the wheel to gesture, "nothing about the fucking doom prophecies have changed so I don't know why you're even asking about that since there is absolutely zero reason for me to have changed my mind on it. I guess it's cool that we possibly have another guy on team good, but that's only if he doesn't freak out and run away."
"Does he have a history of this?" she asked.
Sollux grimaced to himself. "Well...no. But I'd have it coming based on what I did in secondary."
"You know that wasn't your fault. You were presented with limited options, and at that point you didn't know of any reason why you would want to take him down with you."
"I could have done something different," he hissed in frustration.
"You were facing an ancient cult and a low murder charge," Rose said, levelly. "There are limits, Captor."
Sollux growled through his fangs, staring out the window resolutely as the exited one of the dummy houses in the lowblood sector of the city. He slowed the car on the driveway, muttering under his breath. After a moment he smacked his palm against the steering wheel and turned on the signal light.
"Whatever," he eventually conceded. "It's not like he knows that."
"So tell him."
He made a disbelieving sound in her direction.
"What? So, just like that then? While he's in a coma or whatever?"
She crisply rolled her eyes. "He'll come around, with time," she assured him, patting his shoulder. "He's the one. We know this now. Mission accomplished, by the way."
Sollux sighed, but he didn't argue. There was a stretch of almost comfortable silence. Sollux started tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, increasingly entrenched in his thoughts.
"So what now, Guidance?" he eventually asked. Rose smiled.
"Now," she began, "we fortify and prepare. She isn't going to leave him in our hands, we know that much. The upper deities have much larger goals than we've observed so far, and the Coronation is almost upon us. Our next course of action can only be to discover the specifics of those goals and become ready to intervene."
Sollux shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "It's got to involve the Skaia Gate somehow, otherwise what would be the point in getting the Inflamed's descendant?"
"Revenge, perhaps," Rose said with a shrug. Sollux gave her a look. "The Goddess of Life is an exceptionally petty woman, I'll have you know."
"Yeah, maybe..." he started, hesitantly. "But during the fight, Serket was trying to piss me off again, and I'm pretty sure she managed to let something slip with all her embarrassing as fuck posturing."
Rose's eyes lit up. "What came out?"
Sollux thought back to the confrontation with Vriska after he'd ordered Karkat to run. They'd been at a stalemate - him unable to escape her webbing trap, and her unable to put him down completely. She'd started smirking it up as was the usual for their encounters, but something about it had just sounded so...final.
Like it was the last chance she'd ever give him.
"After Ampora snatches that mutant, I probably won't even need you anymore!" she'd said, as he deflected another one of her stupid transforming rocks. Her fingers laced through the webbing that strung them together, abruptly yanking him forward onto his knees. "So how about you get smart and make the right choice for once while I'm still feeling merciful?"
Normally he would have taken it as just another one of her usual threats, but for just a moment something had been there that he usually didn't see.
"Fuck you, Serket. I'll fucking kill you first!"
Urgency? Regret? Was she even capable of that last one?
Whatever it was, there was a flash of something almost like hurt and resignation in her eyes, very quickly followed by pure resentment.
"Well just see if I ever try helping you out again!"
"...I don't know," Sollux said after a long moment of thought. "It just seemed like she thought that after they got a hold of Vantas the fight would be a done deal."
"Are you certain it wasn't just arrogance?" Rose suggested, cautiously.
"No." He folded back his ears. "I guess I just got a bad feeling about it."
She watched him for a long few moments, and then nodded.
"Then I will accept the warning with due diligence." She sat back, watching the road ahead. "Where are we going, anyway?"
"Oh, I was hoping to swing by KK's place to grab some of his stuff before some asshole sets it on fire," he said.
"Hmm." She contemplated the idea. "That seems highly risky with minimal chances of noteworthy return."
More silence followed.
Finding her conclusion, she gave a solid nod of the head. "Very well. Proceed."
Sollux glanced at her, and then sighed and reached over to pap her on the face with his hand. She froze, gun halfway pulled from the pocket of her hoodie.
"Pardon me for trying to preempt the situation," she replied, arching a brow.
Sollux snorted, and navigated them into the forest of hivestems, a smirk resolutely on his lips.
Chapter 11: Star Dazed
AND THEN SUDDENLY THIS MESS APPEARS AGAIN!
Short chapter, but the next one will at least give you lots of tantalizing setting details, so keep an eye out.
The stone of the balcony was cold on Karkat's feet as he stared up into the night sky, awestruck and aching with a hunger that seemed to rise from from the very bottom of his soul. Like the light of the moon and the stars were the only nourishment that could heal an eternity of starvation.
The feeling wasn't his, he sensed distantly, but it surrounded him so thickly that he was no longer sure where it ended and he began.
They're still so bright.
A feeling of warmth spread through him, alight with affection and gratitude.
Thank you for this.
He felt like he could have basked in that embrace forever, like he could have just stood there under the stars for eons and remained content. But before he could let go and sink into its hold, his peace was broken by a flood of disjointed feelings, alarm and worry that struck against his mind but failed to penetrate.
He lost that tenuous feeling, his own confusion rising up to meet the choir. As the comfort began to fade, so did the fog clouding his thoughts. He blinked, his eyes refocusing, like he was waking from a dream.
The cold felt so much more intense, his toes and fingers stiff with it. He heard someone shouting his name. His ears twitched lazily as faintly began to recognize the voice.
Suddenly, a girl with horns shaped like barkbeast ears appeared in a crest of radioactive green light. She stared at him for a moment.
"Found him!" she shouted to no one Karkat could see, and then grabbed him by the arm. "Come here, you goof," she said more softly. There was another nuclear flare of green, and a transition occurred that Karkat was sure he would have been left stunned by if he weren't already disoriented.
He abruptly discovered that they were standing in a completely different room. His eyes went wide, but he found himself unable to put his thoughts into coherent words. The greenblooded girl kept holding his hand as she beckoned some others over, like you would with a wriggler you couldn't be sure wouldn't wander away if you let them.
Everything that followed that was unbearably loud and chaotic.
"Out on the balcony!" the girl supplied.
"Why was he out there?"
"I don't know! Why don't you ask him?"
"Vantas! You've returned to us," said the woman who had spoken to him at his work. She seemed very casual. The rustblood who has just been talking to the other girl groaned, adjusting his shades.
"Well, someone let Captor know before he piddles his jimmies." There was a pause. Karkat vaguely observed some shouting in the background. "Oh, there you go."
Surrendering to pandemonium, Karkat settled for passing out.
He woke up a few seconds later with Sollux in his face.
"Oh my god!" he was saying.
"Shut up," Karkat grumbled, smearing a hand across his face in an attempt to shove him away. Sollux swatted him away in immediate annoyance, but took a swift turn for relief.
"What the fuck!" he said, in a way that was almost fond. "What the fuck was your limp bulge doing out there?"
"I'm going to punch you," Karkat replied wearily, conscious enough to be irritated but apparently not enough for coherent trains of thought. Sollux turned around to face the others.
"Hey, can you assholes fuck off?" he snapped. "You're freaking him out!"
"I'll freak you out," Karkat mumbled hazily. Sollux ignored him.
"Jade, can you take us back to his room?" he asked the greenblood with the woofbeast horns.
"Oh! Sure, Sollux. Just hang on," she said. The rustblood put out his hand in warning.
"Hey, wait a second-" he started, but before he could finish, there was another flash of green and Karkat found himself back in his room with Sollux and 'Jade'.
He sat up, gasping, brow furrowed in confusion and annoyance.
"Fuck! Stop!" Karkat said. "Whatever that is that you keep doing, I fucking hate it."
"She's a teleporter," Sollux said. "Don't worry about it."
"What," Karkat snapped.
"I can magically warp half of space time!" she explained, cheerfully. That visibly didn't do anything for Karkat's comprehension. "Because I'm a Muse?" He frowned. She looked over to Sollux. "Sollux, I think he must have a head injury, he's acting really weird."
Sollux exasperatedly ran a hand through his hair. "JD, do you mind?"
She blinked, glanced to Karkat's increasingly defensive expression, and then back to Sollux. "...Oh. Okay. Nice to meet you, uh...Karkat. I'll talk to you later!"
She vanished in another flare of green.
Karkat shuffled himself back against one of the walls, resting his head on his knees.
"God, can someone just cull me already?" he said. Sollux sat down on the floor across from him, frowning.
"Are you okay?" he asked, hesitantly.
"What the fuck do you think?" Karkat snapped. Sollux furrowed his brow and fell silently. It was a while before he said anything else.
"...KK," he said, finally. "What were you actually doing out there? Were you...trying to get away or something?"
"No," Karkat said quickly, lifting his head for just a moment before burying it again in embarrassment. "I...I don't know what I was doing."
That was only half true, Karkat noted. But even as he was desperate to explain what he at least thought had happened, something deep inside was urging him that it was something he should really keep to himself.
They can't know, yet. It's better this way.
"I think I just zoned out, or something," he said. "I feel like shit."
"...I don't even know how you managed that," Sollux said, after a moment. "We had like three guys watching the area. Everyone thought that maybe..."
"Well sorry for giving your whole freakshow here a scare," Karkat growled. "I can't imagine what that's like."
Sollux froze for a moment, before leaning back with a heavy sigh.
"...I'm sorry for all of this, KK. Like...I really, really am. My introduction into all of this was really shitty too, which is why I kind of..." He trailed off, awkwardly. "I was hoping I could get to you before any of this happened."
Karkat shook his head. He realized now that he was starting to tear up, and he couldn't even put his finger on why. He snorted in a way that came off sounding more miserable than scathing.
"I still don't even fucking understand how I'm alive right now," he said, ghost sensations of searing heat and pain flashing through his mind.
"You died and...came back to life," Sollux said, with knowing inadequacy. He shrugged his shoulders tiredly. "It's kind of a complicated thing. We don't have to talk about it right now if you don't feel like it. It's normal for us, though, so...that's cool, I guess."
Karkat didn't lift himself up again. He didn't know if he could process that, or all the things he had felt while he wandered the halls. He didn't know if he wanted to.
After another small silence, Sollux spoke.
"Hey," he said. "LL and I got a bunch of stuff from your shitty hivestem while you were sleeping. Clothes. Your dumbass fee fee movies." Karkat looked up, his eyes shining in the dim light. "You know, the works."
"Seriously?" he asked. Sollux shrugged.
Karkat slowly lowered his head into his hands. "God, you're such an asshole. I can't even tell you how much of an asshole you are."
Sollux was quiet for a long moment, and then snickered very faintly.
"You know, most people would be saying 'thank you' in this context, but shit talking is okay too I guess."
Without even looking up, Karkat flashed him a middle finger. Sollux rolled his eyes, and started to get up.
"Right. Looks like grump grump needs his naps or something, so I'm going to leave you alone so you can rest. Or..." He crossed his arms. "Well, just...I'm going to go get some shit in order and you can come meet people whenever you feel like it. Or just talk. Or...whatever."
"I am fucking salivating with anticipation for this theoretical event," Karkat mumbled. Sollux just tried to soldier on, regardless.
"LL can explain to you the specifics about what's going on here, she...she's got it all down a lot better than I do. The immortality, the magic...all that stuff."
Sollux stood there for a while, waiting some some kind of reaction. When he didn't get one, he sagged and slowly went for the door.
"...Later, I guess," he said.
Sollux looked back to him, eyes wide with surprise. "Wait for what?"
"Just...just tell me exactly one thing," Karkat said, looking up at him. "What am I?"
"Oh," Sollux said, with a moment of hesitation. "...You're a demigod."
There was a pause.
"Oh. Okay," Karkat said, numbly. "You can go now."