Karkat Vantas was lying on his back in a dimly lit room. The wooden floor wasn’t very comfortable, but at least the planks had been softened by years of exposure to salt water. He stared up at the ceiling, a glazed look on his permanently grumpy face. Fuck sailing.
The boat wasn’t anything special. Barely an ocean going craft, with a single square sail and only one small cabin to shield him from the elements. The cabin door was old and worn, the boards starting to come apart in places. There was no window, and Karkat only lit a candle at night, so the space was always fairly dark. When his voyage had begun it had been rather cramped, with something like three weeks’ worth of rations lining the walls. As they had dwindled and Karkat had thrown the extra barrels and casks overboard, it had become a bit roomier.
There wasn’t much to do on the boat. The rudder was broken, so Karkat was at the mercy of the wind. During the first week he was always out on deck, scanning the horizon every few minutes, constantly checking the sail, anxious but hopeful that he would make land soon.
Karkat sighed and rolled over. He had been stuck adrift on this godforsaken patch of ocean for a month now. His food and fresh water had run out – was it only one week ago? It felt so much longer – and his supply of ale, the only drinkable liquid left, was beginning to get low. Karkat barely had the energy to move around deck anymore, so he lay in the cabin to conserve his strength. He only ever roused himself every few days to sweep his eyes across the horizon and ascertain that the sail was still securely fastened. The scenery never changed outside, always miles of blue waves in every direction under a blue sky. If he didn’t find land soon, he would probably starve out here on the water, and he didn’t know what depressed him more: the prospect of death, or of lonely survival.
Rolling over again, Karkat’s eyes fell upon a book. It must have fallen off one of the empty barrels at some point. He scowled, picked himself up off the floor, and sourly tossed the heavy volume towards an open cask. Karkat didn’t want to look at the book. He had tried reading it during his first week out, but it had brought back too many painful memories, so he’d put it aside. A piece of parchment fluttered out of the pages as it landed in the cask. Karkat scowled again, picked up the worn paper, and glanced at a sloppy teal signature: “–T3R3Z1 <3.” Her letter, still stuck where he’d left it since reading it last, in the gift she had given him at their parting. He thought of all of them: Terezi, Sollux, Kanaya, hell, even that weirdo Subjugglator kid from all those sweeps ago. A sense of bitter acceptance had begun to settle on the troll during the time that had passed since their parting, but now the wound was opened afresh. Sure they were nearly intolerable assholes, but they had been practically his whole life, the only things left that mattered. And now he would probably never see any of them again. Karkat felt his eyes start to go wet, and he wiped his face on the hem of his tunic. He carefully folded the letter up and placed it back inside the tome, closed and sealed the cask, and set it down in the back of the hold. Then he stomped wearily out of the cabin and onto the deck.
It must have been late in the day. Even though the sky was overcast, the dim light of the sun was beginning to fade. Karkat checked the sail’s rigging, then eyed the clouds with a grimace. They were darkening in the east, and he felt a breeze picking up. Great, a storm. Fan-fucking-tastic. So far the weather had been fair, about the only bit of good luck he’d had on this shitty pleasure cruise. It figured that even that would be taken from him, just like all the other good things he’d ever been lucky enough to have. He had better go secure the cabin, make sure nothing started rolling around. Karkat really didn’t want to get bowled over by barrels all night. Almost as an afterthought, he skimmed his eyes westward as he put his hand on the cabin door.
Karkat stared at the horizon for almost a minute. His mouth was hanging open slightly and it felt very dry. The distant strip of coastline couldn’t be real, no way, not after all this time. A particularly large wave rocked the boat and Karkat shook his head to clear it. He eyed the approaching storm clouds again, then looked back at the shore, half expecting it to have disappeared in the few moments he’d looked away. By Karkat’s estimate the storm would break well before he made landfall, so assuming the boat didn’t sink on him first, he would have to ride it out until he was close enough to swim for it. It was a long shot, but the apathetic look that had been in Karkat’s eyes lately was gone. The ghost of a smile appeared on the edges of the troll’s lips. He could survive. There was hope. Coming to himself, he hurried back into the cabin and began making preparations for the coming storm.
Within a few hours the heavens opened, and the wind began to whip the sea into a frenzy. With the onset of dusk and the storm outside, the light had grown very dim. Karkat huddled in the cabin, listening to the timbers creaking and the waves washing over the gunwales. He’d tried staying out on deck at first, but the heaving beneath his feet quickly made him nauseous, and he had to go lie down on the floor of the cabin again. Crawling over to the door and peering out towards the coast, he saw that it wasn’t too far off, but if he had to swim that large a distance there was a good chance he wouldn’t make it. A loud rending of wood and metal diverted his attention, and he ran out to assess the damage. Shit, he’d forgotten that you needed to raise the sail in heavy winds, which were now bearing the mast off into the frothing deeps. He was such a bilgesucker at this whole sailing thing. Miraculously the swell was still bearing his vessel towards land, but Karkat feared the boat wouldn’t last much longer. More and more water was making it over the sides, and he didn’t like the way the planks were groaning under the strain. He hurried back inside and began hefting empty barrels, trying to find the sturdiest one. At least he’d be able to hang onto it if he ended up in the water.
Suddenly there was a deafening crash and the entire boat shuddered. It must have hit a rocky outcrop, which meant that land was closer than he thought, but more importantly Karkat could feel water rising up his boots. He barely had time to grab hold of the nearest barrel and get out of the cabin before the ship left him. He was in the water and sweet almighty fuck it was cold. Holding tight to the bobbing cask, the troll began paddling towards the shore. Karkat could make out a high cliff that was getting closer all the time, then noticed the spray coming off the rocks. If he kept going in that direction–
Karkat altered his course and kicked furiously towards what looked like a rocky beach. He was still headed right at the wall of rock and panic started to set in. He was going to die out here, after all this, he was going to get smashed to pieces against these cliffs. Karkat kicked even harder with the strength of desperation and slowly made his way in the direction of the beach. He was nearly there, just a few more feet to the left–
There was a loud THUNK and the troll went limp; slowly, the noise of the waves and the wind drifted off into darkness.
Bit by bit, Karkat regained consciousness. He was aware of a gritty texture in his mouth, very salty and extremely unpleasant. Groaning, he tried to push himself up, but was immediately bowled over from behind by the rising swell of the sea. Hurriedly getting to his feet, he spat out a mouthful of rocky sand and surveyed his surroundings. He had been washed down the coast from the cliffs a ways, somehow missing the rocks on his way in. Well, mostly. Upon closer inspection, his legs were pretty cut up and they stung something horrible, but none of the gashes looked that deep. There was a dull pain in his head and he raised a hand to feel a large bump rising between his horns. A piece of wreckage from the boat must have hit him over the head.
Out of the corner of his eye, Karkat noticed the cask that had served as his life preserver being washed out to sea again. He stared at it in a daze, still not entirely in possession of his faculties. Then a thought occurred to him and he nearly fell over again as he lunged into the surf. The troll managed to get a grip on the cask before it went out too far. It was stupid, he told himself as he battled back out of the water and made his way inland. There was no way that out of all the barrels in the hold, he’d managed to save this one. Still, Karkat held out a tiny bit of hope, and once he’d made it to the grass he flopped down on the ground, seized the lid of the cask, and forced it open. The heavy book fell into his arms, and after a quick search, the letter too was found safe and sound within its pages. True, the cover and some of the pages were a bit wet, but thankfully the ink was still legible.
Karkat slumped flat in the grass, his eyes shut and something approaching a smile hovering on his lips. He had no clue where he was, or what he was going to do in the morning, but that didn’t seem too important just now. Despite near-starvation and the treacherous seas, he had come through it. He was fucking alive, against the odds. He would have liked to perform a rude hand gesture at the ocean, but his strength finally gave out. Karkat went limp again, and he slumped backwards on his back in the soft grass. Picturing the faces of his four friends, he mumbled as he drifted out of consciousness:
“Hey assholes… I made it…”