-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] began trolling gardenGnostic [GG] --
CG: FOR THE RECO
CG: I JUST WANTED YOU TO KN
CG: I REALLY SHOULD HAVE SAID EARLI
CG: HARLEY IF YOU ARE THERE PLEASE FUCKING ANSWER.
CG: FOR ONCE I AM ASKING YOU NOT TO TREAT ME LIKE THE DESERVING BARK-BEAST SHIT CRUSTED ON THE SOLE OF YOUR APPARENTLY PERFECT YET IMPRACTICAL FOOTWEAR.
CG: BECAUSE THIS IS KIND OF IMPORTANT.
CG: THERE IS SOMETHING I NEED TO TELL YOU
CG: IT’S SOMETHING THAT I REALLY THINK YOU SHOULD HEAR.
CG: AND IN ABOUT FIVE MINUTES I WON’T BE ABLE TO SAY IT ANYMORE.
CG: BECAUSE FUTURE KARKAT DESERVES EVERYTHING THAT IS COMING TO HIM.
-- carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased trolling gardenGnostic [GG] --
It’s not that you aren’t patient.
You have waited years upon years for a petal to turn or the stars to shift. You have spent so much time sleeping that the years you have spent waiting have doubled in glittering, cloudy-eyed splendour. You have spent so much time waiting that sometimes you thought that you would never meet John Egbert and that the rest of your life would be pruning purple tomatoes with your calloused fingers, humming songs that you heard echoed in the halls of Prospit’s moon. You know patience. You are actually really fucking good at patience.
But this is not a thing that your patience is made for. Your patience is for flowers and the sky and dogs who know how to fold the universe in half but not how to fetch an irradiated steak. You don’t know how to do this part at all. The first time you’d ever hugged someone in years was Dave Strider and even then, he flash-stepped out of the way with a sarcastic comment that you laughed at even though it hurt your feelings a bit. Not ever a real hug since Grandpa.
John is the patient one. You wouldn’t guess it from the way that he’s admittedly never been two levels into a video game because he throws down the controller in frustration the second time he dies. He’s always bouncing foot to foot impatiently, bounding ahead without all the answers, bustling with enthusiasm that borders on indefensible irresponsibility. John Egbert doesn’t let people finish their sentences! But John Egbert also had a father who sat beside him and taught him how to play Chopsticks to Chopin no matter how many notes he stumbled on. John Egbert is patient with people - it’s the sort of patience that you’ve never learned on the lonely end of your sniper rifle. See, you’ve spent all your time in an empty house full of dead people. You have been waiting your whole entire life to see your friends breathing and laughing and even crying and because of that it is totally, completely, stupidly unfair that Karkat Vantas doesn’t say a word when you “accidentally” jab the spoon right into his eye. Sure, he lifts his hand and warily brushes it away as your cheeks puff out and turn red, but that is no indication that he is alive. Grandpa could do that too, right up until the end (at least you thought that he could).
At least if he got angry that would be something.
“How long do you think?”
Rose sighs. She’s always knitting these days. She’s got a room up in the observatory because no one else can stand to sleep in the same room with the stars, especially not you. You have been the Witch of Space your entire life. You can hear the stars no matter how deep in the asteroid you run and how many earmuffs you alchemize to block them out, so why would you need to spend the whole day looking at them? You told Rose that, with your hands made into pale fists, and she just tipped her head to the side and said “Hmm. Interesting.” Rose has never picked and pried at you the way she does to Dave - actually, that’s always been your job. You used to be able to fluster Rose easily in the beginning, and with minimal effort even at the end. You love your friends and you love the people they are and the people they can be, and the best thing about Dave and Rose are the people they become when they stop trying.
Rose is always trying these days. The scraf she’s knitting coils around the observatory like a pastel serpent and it makes you think of Echidna, speckled in crayola glamour. You asked Rose earlier how long the scarf was going to be and she said ‘As long as the trip through paradox space’ which is why you asked your second question.
“Longer than the scarf will be, no doubt.” Rose says cryptically.
You frown, pressed up against the glass. Your glasses are squished into the grooves between nose and eyes, your eyelashes folded against the lens. If you look hard enough maybe you can see the right place to pinch everyone home immediately. But of course, you couldn’t do that. Your space powers will never be that powerful, not now.
“Your riddles aren’t even cute anymore,” you frown, “Why can’t you just say it out loud?”
Rose’s needles click together somewhere behind you and she inhales audibly. It’s a beat before she exhales, “Because it’s not a pleasant topic, Jade. I thought that it was general policy to ignore our impending doom, if not cheerfully, with a modicum of politely faked ignorance.”
“Nope. I want to talk about it.” you spin around so that you can look at her, poised on the edge of her bed with a mountain of yarn in her lap.
Rose waits another deliberate moment before continuing, “... and because if we are going to actually have this conversation,” she adds, “I am going to have to ask you to do something you don’t want to do.”
You shake your head, “Rose. I said I wanted to talk about how we were all going to die soon! Not about Karkat.”
“The two issues are depressingly inter-connected, I’m afraid. If we have any hope of surviving this trip we will need to conserve grist. Unfortunately, it appears that two of our stalwart crew members are wasting what little we have on alchemizing canned beans and Pogos.”
You steel your jaw against the truth of this statement. Because it is true. It’s so true that it makes your eyes burn and you knuckles ache. Rose begins knitting again, so you sit beside her on the bed and pick up her scarf. It’s not very well knit, all clumsy and dotted with bloated blossoms of loose stitching like when a tree gets cancerous knots. You’ve never read any fancy psychology books like Rose, but even you can tell that means that something is wrong.
“Why don’t you ever say stuff like that to John?”
“Because... I don’t like the way he looks at me when I do.” she say hesitantly, “The Easter Bunny is not real and must be shot behind the shed. John Egbert is not the kind of person meant to hear things like that.”
You shake your head sympathetically. Not like you have room to talk - you’ve spent years not telling John the truth about a lot of things. You can trust him with all kinds of stuff, but not always that. You shoot Rose a sidelong glance and then raise the scarf to loop it once around her shoulders. She looks at you oddly and you tug it tight.
“If making Karkat Spaghetti-O’s is really gonna kill us all, why don’t you stop us?”
You’re not very good at reading faces anyways, but Rose’s face gets so unreadable that it does a double moebius reach around and suddenly you are terrified by the emotion tugging at the edges of her lips.
“Because, Jade.” she whispers, and her voice sounds so very far away, like it’s in a different universe (and it might be too) “Some things are more important than whether we live or die here.”
You learn a lot of new things about your friends on this asteroid.
Karkat won’t eat a lot of things.
He won’t eat anything to be more specific.
To be even more specific: he won’t eat a pork chop or a piece of toast with marmalade on it or Cheeze-String(tm) that John pulled into a funny shape or any flavour of lollipop (which is a crime!) or a spinach salad with boiled eggs and raspberry dressing that you worked really hard to prepare. He won’t eat Fruit Loops or Fruit Roll-Ups or any kind of fruit you alchemized so far.
“Maybe trolls are carnivores?” John wonders idly, “I mean, look at their pointy teeth. Those are teeth made for tearing flesh off an animal’s corpse. So “fierce”.” John does air quotes with his fingers and you roll your eyes when you scold him.
“John! Don’t be culturally insensitive about Karkat when he’s right here. He can hear you!”
“I know!” John laughs, but it’s a little hollow. Rose is right, John Egbert should never be made to laugh hollowly, “But I figure maybe if we piss him off enough to tell us to stop, that’s a good start, right?”
Karkat doesn’t budge or say anything, but he does make a low hissing noise that whistles between his teeth. He’s gotten vicious a few times, but never around you. John’s smile gets a little weird so you pull another grape off the vine and flick it at him with a grin.
You don’t leave them alone.
Dave’s the worst, though. John says that it’s just Dave being himself, but you don’t think that’s true at all. Dave’s always been nice to you. Sure, he’s made you robo-punch yourself more than once, but he’s also stayed up to talk to you when you’ve felt lonely even more times that that. He’s indulged a lot of your hobbies with an earnest sincerity that you’re sure Rose will never believe, but that’s okay because you keep it to yourself. You aren’t used to dealing with Dave acting like this just like you aren’t used to being patient when Karkat refuses to eat your salad.
So when Dave mutters about how “little orphan karkat is a lost cause” for what seems like the six hundredth time you finally give up trying to be patient with him too.
You don’t yell (not yet), but you do whirl around and put your hands on your hips and say very firmly, “Dave. Shut up!”
Dave takes a step back. A real, physical step back. All the way back and you’re satisfied with that, with the fact that you managed to surprise him.
“Woah,” he says. That’s all he says too. It sort of hangs in the air like he’s intending to say something else, but no other words come which you take as an opportunity to repeat yourself.
“Just. Shut. Up!!! You are being so mean and there isn’t even any point to it!!! It’s not like us trying to help Karkat is hurting anyone! It’s not like you have to do anything except just mope around the asteroid like a fucking piece of garbage all day.” you wiggle your fingers angrily and make a sort of mocking ‘ooOOOoo’ sound around the reference just so that he gets it.
You can see him blink behind his shades, “Oh, we doing this now, Jade? Real original jab there. Did you think of that one yourself?”
That his tone is so even is the absolutely worst part. You cannot believe how mean he is being. You cannot believe it so much that you actually reach out and shove him. With your hands. On his chest. Hard enough that he stumbles backwards and his shades sort of fall askew. He doesn’t flash step away from this one like he did your hug way back on LOFAF.
“Auugh!!!” you yank at the ends of your own hair and yowl in frustration, “Would you get over yourself? Did it ever occur to you that maybe I came down here to hang out with you because I didn’t want a lecture about Karkat? Did it occur to you that maybe I was seeking you out for a reason and that maybe this isn’t about how much you hate Karkat for whatever stupid reasons but maybe it’s about how I just want my friend to maybe not be an asshole and make me feel better!!!??”
He’s braced against the wall where he fell, glasses still half off as he listens to you rant like he still can’t completely believe you pushed him. You glare at him and he adjusts himself. Slowly, eyes down-turned. After an awkward silence he rolls his shoulders back and says, quietly.
You huff out through your nostrils. You hate how good yelling at him felt. Every since you died on Prospit, yelling has been just about the best thing ever but it always makes you feel so shitty afterward.
“You and Rose,” you begin lowly, “The two of you wouldn’t say things like that if it had been one of your trolls.”
He still doesn’t look at you.
“If it had been Terezi, you’d be right up there with her, drawing her comics and trying to make her laugh.”
His shoulders tense a little, “Yeah, well,” he snorts derisively, “It wouldn’t have been her.”
Karkat Vantas has the right number of limbs. They’re all there, you counted. He has two adorable horns sort of like a baby goat, which would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. You have always thought him really sort of cute in a strange way - when he first got here you examined him all over to make sure he wasn’t bleeding anywhere. His hands were soft, unlike yours, but his nails felt more like Bec’s claws than human fingernails. His hair is black enough to eat light. Not like yours and John’s - your hair shines in the sun just like in the animes. The light makes him look strange. It pools in all the wrong places, like he’s sharp at incorrect angles. He’s bruised purple just like a human, which is strange because you thought trolls had weird blood colours like magenta and purple and orange and green. All the colourful trolls you talked to are dead and the one that’s left bleeds red just like a human.
You sit on the edge of his bed and say nothing. That’s okay, he says nothing too. You say nothing for a whole half hour, just listening to him breathe until finally you calm down. So you say:
“You know that Dave thinks you can’t get better.”
Karkat doesn’t reply.
“I think you should get better just to prove him wrong.”
Karkat’s back is impassive and silent.
“I thought that you liked proving him wrong. It would be pretty fun, wouldn’t it? Even I’d enjoy it at this point.”
Karkat’s arms lay loose, caging the still air between them. You turn around and look at him, blowing your bangs out of your face.
“... Dave also said... he didn’t think Terezi would act like this.”
Karkat’s back twitches under his shirt.
“Strider’s right,” he rasps hoarsely.
Your eyes flutter wide and you feel your heart take a running jump to thump against your ribcage. This is the first time he’s said a word beyond hisses and growls and grumbling since you four picked him up. Your fingers tighten and twist in the bedsheets.
“Fuck him, but he’s right. Terezi would never debase herself like this.”
“I-I think that’s a little silly.” you say carefully, “Anyone would act like this if they were the last.”
“Not Terezi. She was trying to save everyone while I was hiding in the basement and crying like a fucking wriggler losing its vestigial limbs. She wouldn’t deserve this.”
You want to say something to him, but you realize that this is a delicate thing. Like a prey animal in a wide, open space. Grandpa always said that staying out of sight wasn’t enough. You have to be as still as your surroundings. Only breathe when the trees breathe and shift with the sun. Of course, then he’d fire the rocket launcher and ruin the whole illusion, but you’d always thought it was good advice even if you’ve never used it to kill an animal.
You let Karkat talk.
“What a fucking joke that she “let” me be leader. If she knew how it was all going to turn out I bet she’d put up a fight and let me wallow in my own inadequacy. She always thought I was better than I really was and I always treated her like she was a moron when the only stupid thing she ever did was trust me.” he rolls over on his back to stare emptily at the ceiling. His limbs are akimbo, but his eyes are dry. He’s not visibly upset. His voice is droll like he’s reading a list of chemical formulas or reciting an assembly manual, “And I’ll never get to say I’m sorry.”
“You must have really loved her,” you murmur.
“I loved all of them,” Karkat replies listlessly. Honestly. “Even the ones who weren’t fucking worth it.”
You don’t hug him. Not yet - he’s not ready for that yet, but this at least proves that you and John are getting to him. Chipping away at him bit by bit like revealing an ancient ruin buried under volcanic ash.
What you do is that you take his hand and clench it really, really tight.
He lets you do that for a whole hour.