Chapter 1: Chapter 1
This was not one of the nicer classrooms in the school. It was dingy and full of chalk powder and dusty sunbeams and it made Karkat want to shower, his skin feeling filthy and clammy. It was the kind of classroom where once a kid died or got caught having an affair with a teacher or something, and they subsequently didn’t use it anymore unless they really had to, but apparently didn’t bother cleaning it beforehand. There were probably bloodstains under the carpet, or other kinds of stains, he thought, his face curling in distaste. It was getting a bit hard to breathe properly, and the drone of the professor coupled with the rustle of the leaves outside just made him want to get out even more. History was interesting enough, but next he had Latin, and he absolutely hated Latin and was rubbish at it, why did they even bother trying. He tore his eyes away from the window and, after a second of adjusting to the gloomy classroom, looked at the clock – five minutes left – and then at a blond head near the front of the class. It was so tempting to slip Strider a “let’s skip next class” note, but two rows and two to the left was too far to expect anything to make the journey safely, and throwing things in class simply wasn’t worth the risk. Not after last time.
He and Dave didn’t even get along phenomenally, but they’d been each other’s companions for years now, skipping classes together, sitting together at meals, hushed whispered conversations about nothing at night. Over the course of their time at St. Prospit’s this had mutated into a twisted kind of friendship between them, partly because after the bickering they didn’t really mind each other, and mostly because it was convenient; they had most of their classes together and shared a dorm. At any rate Dave’s company was at least better than declensions.
The bell rang, a bitter clanging in his ears that was all too familiar, and Karkat grabbed his things and left the classroom as quickly as possible, leaning against the outside wall and waiting for Strider. He took a deep breath of the clearer air and closed his eyes. It was more hypochondria and stress than asthma; he just worried too much and it didn’t take a lot for him to be on edge.
“Vantas,” came a flat voice from his side, just as expected. “You up for Latin?”
“God no,” he breathe, still not opening his eyes.
“Then let’s go.” He grabbed Karkat by the sweater and they went down the corridor to the main quad. It was remarkably warm for October, completely cloudless and sunny and altogether too perfect a day to be spent learning dead languages. “Last class of the day on a fucking Friday, the weather’s great for once, and they expect us to sit through this crap?” he said, tossing his books in nonchalant emphasis. “Hell no.”
Karkat lay down on his back on the lawn, his eyes closed, the insides of his eyelids speckled orange and red from the sunlight. Dave sat leaning against a tree, throwing breadcrumbs at ducks in the pond, and then throwing stones when he’d run out of bread but the ducks were still hungry. Their squawking and the rustle of gravel drew Karkat out of his reverie.
“What do you want to do when you get out of here?” he asked, opening his eyes but not getting up.
“I try not to think about it,” replied Dave, and he sighed as he abandoned his rock-throwing mission to flip through a notebook, the red one containing his sketches and poetry that Karkat thought were actually decent for all he denied their existence. You don’t spend two years basically living with someone without learning a thing or two about their secret habits. Especially if the someone in question is Dave Strider and the secret habits are perfect blackmail fodder, should the need arise.
Karkat shrugged into the ground and closed his eyes again. He had tried his best at conversation; he couldn’t be blamed if Dave didn’t carry it on. Then the wind blew leaves in his face and he spluttered, sitting up abruptly and wiping dirt and bits of nature off his face. When he finished he found Dave looking at him in a manner that would have been quizzically amused, if Dave did facial expressions. Karkat frowned at him, and threw a handful of leaves in his general direction, catching Dave off-guard and for a moment looking frazzled, which was just about the funniest thing Karkat could imagine. He laughed and grinned wickedly as Dave pulled a leaf calmly off his book before tackling Karkat on the ground.
This would have been fine except where Karkat exempted himself from sports at every possible opportunity, Dave was incredibly fit, spending summers fencing with his brother, or something along those lines; Karkat could never be sure, as Dave kept family stuff more or less to himself. Regardless they were hardly an even match, and Karkat – as always – found himself exhausted and defeated.
“Alright, Strider, enough. You win.”
“Of course I do,” Dave sighed, “Strider.” He let Karkat go, and they lay side-by-side on the lawn, looking up at the sun through the copper leaves and black branches, moving in the wind. “Hey, you’ve been over to the girls’ school, right?” he asked out of the blue.
“No,” replied Karkat incredulously. “Why would I do that?”
“I don’t know, maybe girls? Really you’ve been here how long, Vantas?”
“Well I’m sure you’re over there every weekend then, charming the hell out of the entire student body.”
“Damn straight,” replied Dave, and even though they both knew it was a lie, they went with it. “The Striders are an ancient, noble family, and we sure as hell wouldn’t have lasted this long if our men didn’t go about spreading the proverbial seed everywhere they could.”
“You’re so full of horseshit it’s a wonder Zahhak hasn’t carted you away yet,” Karkat smirked. “now shut up about your theoretical promiscuity before I empty my bowels over this decent day, forever contaminating the damn duckpond.”
“I’m just saying, Vantas, there might actually be something going on between me and a certain young lady.”
“Yeah, a certain young lady who just happens to be your right hand when you think you’re alone in the showers.”
“Ew, I really don’t need to hear about my masturbatory habits from you.”
“How did you meet her, then? Did you climb up the ivy leading to her window and watch her sleep? Or better yet, make her up in your head because I’ve been your friend for two hundred and forty years and I have never, not once, known you to venture to the girls’ school?” Karkat’s voice was getting strained and higher, as it often did when he was angry, which was often.
“Whoa, calm down, you don’t need to freak out or get possessive and jealous just because I might not always be spending a hundred percent of my time with you.”
“I don’t even really enjoy your company, Strider. We’re really only ‘friends’ because it’s easier than being enemies.”
Dave pulled out his watch. “Yeah, and you know I can’t think of anything I would rather do than sit here and bitch forever about your underlying fear of sexual contact of any kind and your abandonment issues, but come on, if we hurry we can still catch dinner.”
“Fuck you, first of all that’s personal, and second, fuck you, ‘abandonment issues’, you could be expelled tomorrow or get lost in the woods or something and I wouldn’t even bat an eyelid.”
“Whatever, Vantas,” Dave replied with the slightest smile, though Karkat couldn’t see it. They started walking towards the dining hall together, the sun casting their shadows, long and dark, across the lawn. “You know you love me.”
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
In which Karkat has some issues, and talks about his feelings, and John is unsure how to proceed.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
They made their way into the dining hall late, inconspicuously finding their regular seats and just hoping that Professor Mendicant didn’t notice them.
“You missed third declension review, douchebags,” came a familiar lisp to Karkat’s left the moment he sat down. “Additionally, you missed the meat pies, which were the only decent part of this meal.”
Sollux Captor’s plate had at least two and a half meat pies on it.
“I hate you,” murmured Karkat, and set about trying to make the best out of mashed potatoes, murky looking string beans, and a heavy dose of salt. Sollux smiled at him unpleasantly, and returned his attention to his plate.
“Karkat, you can have the rest of mine if you want, I’m not really hungry.”
Karkat looked up, finding himself face to face with John Egbert, who was stupid and obnoxious and maybe just a little bit handsome. Or definitely a lot more than a little bit handsome. Feelings of this nature weren’t supposed to manifest but they did, and as much as Karkat had tried to repress them over the past six months (oh God) here they were. It was certainly not as though this kind of thing didn’t happen in an all-male school – Ampora was evidence enough of this, and made absolutely no attempt to conceal his behaviour in any way – but he and Eridan were very different people – and John again was a separate third party.
All of Strider’s quips about sex – and they were plentiful, and obscene – were irritating, but sometimes Karkat couldn’t help but feel somewhat amused, because if he were ever to share the truth the reaction he’d get would doubtless be one worth witnessing.
Not that he would ever share such truth, with Strider of all people, but it was funny to think about.
He begrudgingly accepted the pie from John, glaring at him by ways of thanks. He couldn’t stand John and that just made it all that much more unbearable.
John carried on, bright as usual. “I was talking to Serket, and--”
“Serket? Who’s he?” Karkat asked through a mouthful of dinner. He caught Eridan rolling his eyes. “What?”
“Vriska Serket, idiot,” said Eridan as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “From the girls’ school.”
Oh, lovely. “Don’t tell me you’ve been in on these clandestine shenanigans with Strider as well?” Karkat asked John, his voice pained.
“Well, yeah actually. She’s really nice, and my sister’s there too so it’s kind of nice to see different – familiar – faces every now and then.”
“This is your first year here; surely you’re not tired of us yet?”
“No of course not, it’s just nice to get out! Anyways like I was saying, she was telling me a story about, well it was kind of weird, but it involves treasure and caves and the forest and tomorrow night, she wants to like lead an expedition, and I’ve half a mind to with her.”
“Well you’ve half a mind, that we can all agree on.” This managed to elect a laugh from Strider; Karkat congratulated himself mentally.
“Oh ha ha. Really though, I think it could be fun and you should come. You never go anywhere, Vantas, I think you’re going to stagnate if you don’t leave school grounds at least once before the end of the year.”
“Fine. Fine. I’ll partake in this madness, but I swear to God, if you get me expelled I will hunt you down, Egbert.”
“You worry too much,” said Dave. “Got, Vantas, just calm down for a moment and have some fun.”
As soon as he stepped out onto the grounds, the autumn nighttime weather cold enough to make him wish for a sweater, Karkat regretted his decision. There were school rules for reasons and he’d done well to follow them, albeit it on a “more-or-less” basis (attendance was lenient anyways), during his years there. Dave rolled his eyes at Karkat’s desperate protests, his reasons utter bullshit even by his own standards, and then made their way to the gate where they were to meet John, who smiled at him, and while usually he would be happy about something like this he frowned, unable to let even Egbert convince him that this was a Good Idea.
After outlaying their plan – they were meeting Serket and a few others at the edge of the forest – they headed out, Karkat walking outside of school grounds for the first time since the start of term. Trudging through the mud and grass, Karkat focused his gaze on the back of John’s head and set about to complaining. “I don’t see why this is so important. It’s not like you’ve never interacted with females before, and we do have social events that are, may I remind you, completely within the rules about unauthorized adventures.”
Dave sighed and it took all the self-restrain he had, as well as a subtle desire to not fuck things up between his friends, to not comment about just because Karkat has everything and everyone he’d ever want at St. Prospit’s didn’t mean the rest of them did. Karkat was anything but subtle about some things, and Dave, for all his silence and lack of expression, could read people incredibly well.
Things other than the incredibly unappealing thought of Karkat’s pathetic love life preoccupied his head as they met up with the other members of their party. Vriska, Jade, and Kanaya, whom he had met before, his dear sister Lalonde, and of course, Terezi Pyrope. She almost got a smile from him.
John was of course far too busy talking it up with anyone and everyone he could to notice the look of apprehension growing on Karkat’s face.
“Smugglers used to come here, bringing all kinds of things – gold, slaves… booze… and from what I’ve read, there’s bound to be things left over. All we have to do is find them,” Vriska was telling them, but Karkat was too nervous to really follow. Skipping Latin with Strider was fine, he could skip Latin, because worst-case scenario he failed a test or got yelled at in the hallways. But this was a lot more serious – he was certain that suspension was a potential punishment for people who decided that gallivanting in the middle of the forest at night looking for illegal treasure.
“Dave,” he whispered while Vriska continued her story, which now seemed to involve pirates despite how inland their location was. “Dave I want to go back, this is stupid.”
“Calm down, it’s not that bad. If you really need to go I’m not stopping you, but I’m sure as fuck not coming with you.”
“Dammit, Strider,” Karkat hissed. Vriska glared at him, but said nothing, not wanting to interrupt her story.
“I’ll go back with you, Karkat,” whispered John, sidling up to him. Oh. That was unexpected; the way John had talked about Vriska made it seem like he was pretty into this adventure, but maybe not. He made his goodbyes to Vriska, who seemed less than amused at his flakiness but quickly returned to showing the rest of them a series of maps she’d found, and followed Karkat, who had the flashlight, down the same path they had taken to get to the clearing.
In the deepest parts of his mind Karkat imagined scenarios where, once they were well away from the others, back in the building that despite its torments offered comfort as well, John confessed certain feelings, certain inclinations, and everything was okay for the rest of the term – more than okay. But of course, none of this fantasy came to life. They walked without talking for a while, both aware of the fact that they were almost certainly lost but neither bringing it up, before Karkat stopped suddenly.
“What is it?”
“I could ask you that same question, John. You wouldn’t shut up about this stupid Serket girl, and then as soon as I suggest leaving you’re all ready to come with me?”
John looked at his feet sheepishly and bit his lip – amusing, with his overbite – not quite sure how to word what he wanted to say. “Well, you’re right, I did want to explore, but then you wanted to leave and I didn’t want you to go alone--”
“Oh, drop the ‘I totally just care about Karkat a lot’ act, John. I can see through that bullshit like it was made of glass.” John was about to reply, when it started to rain – a real proper storm, too; it took only a few stray drops before the downpour started. “Fuck!”
They scrambled around, looking for anything that would provide shelter – a large pine tree, while not ideal, served its purpose well enough.
“Well, this isn’t so bad!” said John, far to chipper for Karkat’s tastes, patting the damp-but-less-damp-than-outside ground. Karkat glared at him in response.
“Don’t use your forest homemaking pride to steer us away from the topic, Egbert. Why did you come with me?”
“Oh, right. Well, to be honest… I wanted to talk to you.”
“Alright, well, you got your wish, at least until you becoming less interesting than listening to the rain, which is going to happen in about five minutes if you keep up with this vague shit.”
“Okay, I’ll be quick then. Karkat, have you ever… been with a girl?”
Karkat scowled and before he could stop himself he growled out: “No, I certainly have not. That’s not exactly my area of expertise.” Too late he realized what he’d said – what he had implied.
John, of course, John could be unbelievably dense when he wanted to be, laughed. “What do you mean, ‘not your area of expertise’?” Then he stopped laughing as he made sense of what Karkat had inadvertently told him. “Wait, are you…?”
“Yes, John, yes to all your stupid questions about business that certainly isn’t yours. A big fucking yes.”
“You don’t need to get angry, it’s okay, don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.” The deep sincerity, the honesty, in John’s eyes should have been reassuring, but Karkat was not easily reassured.
“No, it’s not fucking okay! Do you know what it’s like? It works if you’re Ampora, showing it off like it’s something to be proud of and only escaping getting the shit kicked out of you because you’re willing to do anything to prevent that, but we all know I’m not anywhere near that brave or that outgoing, I could be killed, John!” He was shaking in anger, in fear, as he had every right too; John laid an arm awkwardly across his shoulders. “Not to mention how many nights I’ve stayed up, unable to sleep because no one I’ll ever have feelings for will ever return them, the best I’ll get is some uncomfortable silences and questions about girls of all things while I’m lost in the fucking forest in a God-damned storm with him…” He looked John in the eyes for the last phrase, making one hundred percent certain that what he was saying was getting across. At least in this, he was successful:
“Karkat, you mean you like…?”
“Sorry, I… I don’t really know what to say…”
Karkat could have screamed any number of things at this stupid, perfect, beautiful boy sitting next to him under a tree in the middle of the night, his face hardly visible in the dying light of the flashlight, his hair still wet, his face confused and beautiful in its own way. He could have said so many things to this, but instead, he pulled away from John’s arm – still around his shoulders – and curled into himself, holding his knees to his chest. He was used to misery but this was the worst by far. Neither of them said anything, it was obvious that John didn’t reciprocate, maybe the rain wouldn’t stop and they’d have to stay out here all night, die under this tree together without ever speaking again, the school would eventually send out a rescue party and find two awkward skeletons and resounding amounts of Karkat’s shame and self-loathing.
Karkat was just wondering if Dave would keep or sell his things, should he perish, when he heard voices in the distance. Dave stepped into view moments later. “Shit, I was wondering if you two had made it back before the rain hit. Come on, Kanaya lent me an umbrella for the way back.” He apparently hadn’t noticed the tension between the two boys he’d just unknowingly rescued from a terrible fate, or didn’t care. John and Karkat gratefully stepped under the umbrella, not quite big enough for the three of them but certainly better than a tree, and followed Dave to the forest’s edge – an ironically short distance from where they’d camped out. Dave had been out before; he knew the woods well and Karkat mentally swore that if he ever came here again, he would keep Dave by his side without exception.
“We were just about to head out when the rain started; Vriska got pissed off so we decided to leave it for another time. Some adventure. I’d say I hope you guys didn’t have such a shitty time, but judging from how I found you, I wouldn’t bet any money on it.”
Karkat glared; John bit his lip. They made their way up to the main gate – God, it was so close, only a few minutes’ walk, why hadn’t they gone on a bit further and avoided the whole thing – and successfully got into the building without attracted the notice of any hall monitors or stray teachers. Karkat and Dave parted ways with John, and made their way up to their dorm. Only once they’d dried off and changed into their sleepwear did Dave press for conversation.
“So mind telling me what the fuck happened?”
“I had been beginning to doubt that you’d noticed. I’ll give you something, Strider, you read people well.”
“And yet, I’m so unreadable myself. Anyways, talk.”
“I… I said something stupid, I told John more than I should have, more than he needed to know. Because I’m pathetic and stupid and I swear I am never, ever going to talk to him again.”
My apologies that people actually read my dreadful fanfiction, and then I didn't update for five months. In all honesty, it's hardly my best writing, and I wasn't really feeling the AU as much as I initially had, and have been working on a few other projects. But here finally is chapter two! Chapter three, the final part, should be up soon. Expect makeouts.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
The glorious end? John makes Karkat's life better. The old tropes have lasted because they make for adorable boyfriend times.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Karkat’s previous attempts at never talking to people again had always gone awry in the past, so he was somewhat shocked to find that now, a good six months later, he and Egbert had still hardly exchanged more than a passing glance or the odd “excuse me” during breakfast lineups. He was shocked, and he was more than a little heartbroken – even though he’d made a complete fool of himself in front of John, even though John was not a homosexual and that was okay, he hadn’t exactly expected it to be quite this bad.
And worst of all, it wasn’t uncomfortable only for the two of them. They were more or less both in the same circle of friends, and for someone like Dave, the stress must have been pretty bad. Still, Strider kept it up. He was a really good guy; Karkat had spent a good part of his schooldays being secretly thankful for Dave. They spent less time together now though, finals were approaching and Karkat reasoned that staying in class would probably help out with those, and as a bonus, he and John only had one class together. Fittingly enough, they shared English, the only period where Karkat felt slightly productive. Recently he’d taken to writing passive-aggressive letters to John, letters that would never be sent or read by anyone but their writer. Writing furiously, his face a grimace of concentration, made him look overly enthusiastic in English, but obviously off-topic in chemistry.
As soon as he took his seat – he’d relocated, and was now at the front, because even that was better than having to sit next to John – he pulled out his notes and continued. Angry letter writing was a particular talent of his. He had just gotten to the part where John was ruining something that didn’t need to be ruined when a smooth voice interrupted him.
“Mr. Vantas, you’re meant to be doing a comprehension review in preparation for the exam. I fail to see what could be so relevant that you would have to write a novel on it.”
Shit. “I was taking notes, I just…”
“Shall I see these notes, then?” Mr. Noir was a cruel, cold bastard of a teacher and Karkat would not let these pages fall into his hands over his dead body. He’d come back as a damn ghost and haunt the fuck out of anyone who even got so much as a glimpse of his terrible pining for John Egbert. It was embarrassing, not to mention illegal, unthought-of, and his classmates would never forget it, and would remind him of this constantly.
“I’d rather you didn’t, sir.” The classroom fell silent; Mr. Noir started at him and his gaze went through Karkat’s soul, or so it felt – he did have a certain flair for the dramatic.
“Then I will be forced to give you detention, Mr. Vantas. That or you hand over what you were doing this instant and carry on with your work.”
“I’ll take detention then.” He didn’t even have to see it; he could feel John staring at him from a few rows back. What did it matter, though? An evening spent cleaning blackboards and one missed dinner was a small price to pay; he was, he reasoned, protecting not only himself, but John too.
He could hear the snickering of his less-pleasant classmates and Mr. Noir sneered. “I’ll see you here tonight at nine then.”
His sentence given out, he accepted his fate and opened his comprehension book. God, this was dull, even terrible collections of Vantas were more interesting. He sighed, and looked out the window, around the classroom, anything for a distraction. Anything except John – their eyes met for a moment before he quickly turned away.
This was such a disgusting classroom, as Karkat could only fully appreciate now that he had been made to clean it from top to bottom. The dead bugs in the windows alone could have, well, they could have done something that required a whole lot of dead bugs, he thought to himself angrily as he dropped yet another dustpan full into the garbage. Still, it was better by far than the alternative. What a terrible piece of life he’d been given, that scooping dead shit out of a window was the better alternative. He set the dustpan down and slumped against the wall – only too late remembering that this was the chalkboard, and that his shirt would be streaked white for days. To fucking bad.
“I guess every kid thinks their life is shit,” he said to himself, “but fuck, if this is what it’s like…” He cut himself off from further depressed philosophizing as footsteps echoed down the hall. At this hour? He’d been there for so long; it must be close to midnight. Professor Noir had said that he wouldn’t be back, that Karkat would know when the room was clean, so who was this? A janitor, come to laugh at the irony of the same boy who had stuck spit balls to the ceiling of the washroom that one time he thought he was cool now doing an even dirtier job?
John Egbert’s face, followed by the rest of him, poked itself in through the doorway.
An uncomfortable silence; what else was new?
“Why are you here?” Karkat’s voice came off a little more defensive than he had intended, but it didn’t seem to perturb John.
“Well I, uh, you missed dinner, so I thought you might want something to eat?” He presented a sad little napkin bundle, which upon closer inspection revealed the remnants of what had probably been an unexciting dinner as always, but it was food, and Karkat appreciated the hell out of it.
“Thanks,” he said between mouthfuls of what was mostly bread. It was the most sincere thing he’d said in a long time.
“Sucks that you have to clean this place, what are—are those all dead bugs? That’s gross!” Karkat rolled his eyes in agreement. “What were you writing that was so important you did this instead, anyways?”
“It was just journal entries, memos to myself, mostly.” Then he stopped, and looked straight at John, their gazes holding each other’s again and everything went still in the room and John looked concerned. Damn, that hurt. He’d missed this. “I was writing about you, John. Not in a terrible creepy way, just in the sense of ‘here are all my feelings for you in the whole universe, and we’re not talking anymore so I just have to write them myself, please forgive me because you’re perfect and I need us to be friends again that is the one thing I need in this life’. Because John, I don’t care, I just need you to--”
He was cut off by John’s hand reaching up and stroking his face, his hand cool and comforting against Karkat’s cheek, hot from stress and emotion and everything that was taking place, everything that was so unreal and yet so grounding.
“I can’t get through alone. I need… you…” Karkat choked, summing up almost everything he had ever felt in these last three words.
John was breathing loudly and Karkat could feel it on his face as their mouths met hesitantly. Actually kissing John was unlike anything Karkat thought it would have been, but it was so completely real and so Entirely John Egbert that it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered apart from the fact that he was kissing John Egbert and maybe his miserable life could start being meaningful now.
They broke apart and John dropped his eyes to the floor. “I missed you, you know that right?”
Karkat stopped eating and gently put the napkins down before answering. “I missed you too.”
“I think we should definitely go back to talking and hanging out and liking each other. And maybe even kissing some more? If you want to, of course.”
“Of course I want to,” Karkat replied quietly. Then he looked up, met John’s eyes. “Of course I want to, you stupid fuck!” he said, louder, almost… happy. John smiled warmly, and damn, it was beautiful. They were in a room full of dead bugs and dust and bad school memories, but everything was beautiful.
So here is part three! Sorry it is a bit later than I thought it would be but at least it is still... timely... no more months of not writing for me. Thank you and much love to folks who kudosed / commented, honestly I wouldn't have finished this piece if it weren't for yall, and idk it's just really nice to know that someone out there likes what I do! (Even what I do is horrible au fanfiction, haha)