You weren't even looking for Karkat, which you feel a bit bad about later. He'd only been missing for thirty minutes or so, but maybe you should have known he was in trouble. You are a god now, after all!
Rose says that that isn't how the God Tier works, and if it was then it ought to have been her gifted with the ability to instantly divine a companion's peril, or perhaps Jade, as she is privy to the happenings of all of space and also actually likes Karkat, for reasons as unfathomable as they are improbable. (She says some other things after that, but you've sort of tuned her out.)
Anyway, you were all set to walk right past this door because it was completely unremarkable: it just had one of those various weird game symbols on it that everything on this meteor has, walls and floors and the weird pieces of machinery that you try not to touch too much in case you accidentally make more ectobabies. You were set to walk by it except that there is a crashing sound just as you are passing, and then a dull thud.
You jump. Then you check your Strife Specibus and approach the door.
It clicks open easily, revealing a small gray storeroom, with a few gray crates piled against the wall, and heavy steel cables hanging from the ceiling in hazardous loops at different heights.
There is also a gray boy, crumpled on the floor with his black hair tumbled over his forehead onto his closed eyes, and an open husktop upside down over his hip. A loop of heavy cable swings gently a foot above his face.
You nearly brain yourself on another of the loops of cable getting to his side, your knees hitting the floor with a jarring thump and your heart all in your throat lodged like something sick and cold and awful and – and you can't –
He's breathing. You slump back onto your heels. You feel as though your heart just got kick-started. You have knelt at the sides of too many bodies of people you love, and even though some of them got better it is making you shaky to think about it.
You get busy doing all the things they do in movies, like putting a hand on Karkat's forehead and lifting his wrist to feel his pulse.
Wow, his pulse is really fast! Is that normal for trolls? You don't know.
There's a speck of bright red on your thumb. You carefully put your hand back on his forehead, your fingers threading a little way into his hair. There it is: his hair is sticky, just there. There's blood, where he must have hit his head on the swinging cable. Those cables are seriously inconvenient.
You suppose ... you suppose it's unlikely he would knock himself out and there wouldn't be any blood at all. You suppose probably he's okay? You hope so. You stand up again, careful of your head.
After that you find out two things.
1) You can't pester any of your friends on your glasses; for some reason there is no network connection!
2) The door to this room locks on closing.
You know it's not soundproof, because you heard that thump when you were walking past. But apparently nobody else is walking past. You bang on the door and yell, but nobody comes and after a while you stop because you feel stupid.
You could use your hammer, you guess. You give the hanging cables a dubious look. Banging on the door made them sway in kind of an ominous way; you don't want to accidentally bring them all down on your and Karkat's heads. You think you will save that option for a last resort.
Karkat is still out cold. Man, he's really down for the count!
You take off your sweet blue hood and fold it up under his head. Then you lift the husktop off him, turn it right side up, and look at what he was doing.
PAST carcinoGeneticist [PCG] 0:34 HOURS AGO opened public transtimeline bulletin board I HAVE NEVER HATED ANYBODY AS MUCH AS I HATE WHATEVER FUCKASS FUCKING DESIGNED THIS ROOM.
PCG 0:34 HOURS AGO opened memo on board I HAVE NEVER HATED ANYBODY AS MUCH AS I HATE WHATEVER FUCKASS FUCKING DESIGNED THIS ROOM.
PCG: SO I DIDN'T WANT TO DO THIS.
PCG: BECAUSE IT IS FUCKING EMBARRASSING.
PCG: GUESS WHAT GUYS THIS IS YOUR EX-LEADER.
PCG: HE'S LOCKED HIMSELF INTO A FUCKING STORAGE ROOM.
PCG: WHICH IS DESIGNED LIKE SOME KIND OF FUCKED UP REVERSE PANIC ROOM OR SOME FUCKING SHIT. I HAVE NO IDEA WHO WOULD THINK THIS ROOM WAS A GOOD IDEA BUT THEY WERE CLEARLY A FUCKING DOUCHEBAG WITH SOPOR FOR BRAINS.
PCG: I CAN'T GET ANYONE ON TROLLIAN.
PCG: AND I CAN'T GET INTO ANY OF THE REGULAR BULLETIN BOARDS.
PCG: SO I GUESS I'M JUST HOPING SOMEBODY WILL NOTICE THIS BOARD AND CLICK ON IT.
PCG: FUCKING HELL, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE.
PCG: OH FUCK.
PCG: I JUST NOTICED.
PCG: THE NETWORK LIGHT IS OFF.
PCG: THIS IS ONE OF THOSE FUCKING BLIND SPOTS LALONDE WAS TALKING ABOUT, ISN'T IT?
PCG: WHAT THE FUCK HOW DOES THAT EVEN WORK.
PCG: WE ARE IN FUCKING PARADOX SPACE, HOW IS THERE EVEN A SIGNAL TO BE INTERFERED WITH.
PCG: OH GOD, HOW LONG IS IT GOING TO LAST?
PCG: I CAN'T REMEMBER WHAT SHE SAID.
PCG: WILL IT BE LONG ENOUGH FOR ME TO STARVE TO DEATH IN HERE?
PCG: I'M GOING TO DIE IN THIS ROOM, BECAUSE I'M A NOOKSUCKING MORON WHO CAN'T BEST A FUCKING DOOR.
PCG: I'M THE BIGGEST FUCKING IDIOT. IT'S ME.
PCG: OH FUCKITY FUCK, I JUST REFERENCED STRIDER'S MEME.
PCG: NOW I WANT TO DIE.
PCG: I DON'T WANT TO GET OUT, JUST LET ME DIE HERE.
CURRENT carcinoGeneticist [CCG] RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CCG: hi karkat!
CURRENT ectoBiologist [CEB] RIGHT NOW responded to memo.
CEB: i mean hi karkat!
PCG: WHAT THE FUCK, EGBERT.
PCG: THE NETWORK LIGHT IS STILL OFF, HOW ARE YOU TALKING TO ME?
PCG: OH WAIT I GUESS FUTURE YOU HAS A CONNECTION.
CEB: no, it's still off for me too!
CEB: i'm using your husktop.
CEB: actually i'm sitting right next to you here!
CEB: but you're unconscious, haha.
PCG: WHAT THE FUCK?
PCG: OK THAT SOUNDS LIKE SOMETHING I SHOULD WORRY ABOUT.
PCG: BUT YOU'RE BEING ALL FUCKING CHIPPER, SO I CAN'T TELL.
PCG: AND BY THE WAY IT IS ANNOYING AS FUCK WHEN YOU AND JADE DO THE CHIPPER THING.
PCG: A WIGGLER WITH A LOBOTOMISING SPOON WEDGED IN HER THINKPAN WOULD EXHIBIT CHARACTER TRAITS LESS MORONIC.
PCG: WHY AM I UNCONSCIOUS?
CEB: i don't know, dude!
CEB: i think you hit your head on one of these dumb cables?
CEB: these cables are really dumb.
PCG: OH FUCK.
PCG: OH GOD.
PCG: ARE WE STILL IN THIS DEATHTRAP ROOM.
PCG: TELL ME THE FUCKING DOOR IS OPEN.
CEB: ok karkat you're not talking!
CEB: usually you would be saying fuck a lot here and i guess comparing me to weird bits of your freaky troll anatomy or something.
PCG: I'M TRYING TO BREATHE STFU.
CEB: dude i think you should probably calm down.
PCG: WHAT THE FUCK JOHN I AM NOT GOING TO FUCKING CALM DOWN.
PCG: YOU SHAME GLOBE-HUMPING BUCKET OF GENETIC GARBAGE, YOU'RE TELLING ME THAT WE'RE LOCKED IN A FUCKING AIRLESS ROOM WITH NO OUTSIDE COMMUNICATION AND I AM LYING AT YOUR FEET IN A LIFELESS SPRAWL WHILE YOU LOLL AROUND SUCKING ON YOUR OWN FROND LIKE NOTHING IS THE FUCKING MATTER.
CEB: oh man.
CEB: you're right, the air is running out.
CEB: i am actually feeling myself get kind of lightheaded here from the lack of oxygen.
PCG: I CAN'T.
PCG: I DON'T THINK I CAN BREATHE.
CEB: haha psych.
CEB: dude there is totally an air vent in the corner.
CEB: man, i got you good, that was awesome.
PCG: OH SHIT I AM SPLITTING MY SIDES OVER YOUR HILARIOUS JOKE.
PCG: IT IS MAKING ME LAUGH SO MUCH THAT ALL OF MY INTERNAL ORGANS ARE FALLING OUT OF MY SPLIT SIDES.
PCG: WHOOPS NOW I'M DEAD, BECAUSE THAT IS THE STUPIDEST FUCKING EXPRESSION IN ANY UNIVERSE AND ONLY YOUR PRIMATIVE GENETIC MISTAKE OF A SPECIES COULD HAVE FUCKING COME UP WITH IT.
PCG: WHICH CORNER.
PCG: WHICH CORNER IS THE VENT IN?
CEB: the one that's ... huh, this is difficult when you can't see me pointing.
CEB: ok, so i am facing the door right now.
CEB: the corner over my left shoulder i'm pretty sure has a vent near the ceiling.
CEB: no wait my right shoulder.
PCG: OK I CAN SEE IT.
PCG: MAYBE THE NOT BEING ABLE TO BREATHE WAS ONLY IN MY HEAD.
PCG: I THINK I CAN BREATHE OK NOW.
PCG: ALSO HAHAHAHA I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU MIXED UP YOUR LEFT AND RIGHT.
CEB: pffffff, whatever, you just nearly suffocated to death in a room full of oxygen.
PCG: YEAH I GUESS WE'RE BOTH PRETTY LAME.
CEB: yeah, uh.
CEB: i'm just gonna check that your head stopped bleeding i think.
CEB: i kind of wish you would wake up and then i would know you don't have a concussion or something.
PCG: WHAT THE FUCK'S A CONCUSSION?
CEB: ok cool, maybe trolls don't get them!
PCG: I DON'T WANT TO KNOW, IT SOUNDS STUPID AND PAINFUL.
PCG: ALSO AM I BLEEDING.
You set the husktop down, shuffling your knees around till they're near Karkat's head. The folded up hood has slipped a bit, so you readjust it under his neck. Then you skate your fingers over his head, to the place where his dark hair is darker and sticky.
There's no blood flowing, you're relieved to confirm. His hair is all gummed up with the old blood, though. It's matted into tangled locks. Actually the rest of his hair is all flyaway tangles too, but that bit is just a mess.
CEB: you're not bleeding anymore.
PCG: OK. GOOD.
CEB: your hair's kind of gross, though.
CEB: the blood soaked into it i guess?
CEB: and now it feels all clumpy and weird.
CEB: and sort of sticky.
PCG: NO FUCKING SHIT.
PCG: OH MY GOD YOU ARE A GENIUS.
PCG: IS THAT WHAT BLOOD DOES WHEN IT SOAKS INTO SHIT?
PCG: I HAD NO FUCKING IDEA.
CEB: i'm going to try and finger comb it out.
PCG: WAIT WHAT.
You try to make sure you don't tug on his scalp as you tease the half-dried gunk out of his stuck-together locks. It comes out in little flakes, and the hair underneath is dry and clean as it slips through your fingers. It's a little bit longer than yours, sort of shaggy in places, especially at the tips. You don't know if that means he needs to cut it or if that's just what Karkat's hair is like.
You run your fingers through the ends of his hair where it folds in kinks around his horns, smoothing it into nearly regular locks. It's softer than you expected it to be.
CEB: i thought your hair would feel different than this.
PCG: DO YOU ACTUALLY HAVE YOUR HAND ON MY HAIR.
PCG: IS THAT A THING YOU ARE ACTUALLY DOING.
CEB: yeah i guess.
CEB: how can you see when it gets in your eyes like this?
CEB: like, even if i smooth it back it just wants to fall right into your eyes again.
CEB: like that's where it always is!
PCG: OH MY GOD.
CEB: haha, i just thought, this is actually the first time i've seen you relaxed.
CEB: except you still don't look that relaxed.
There's a tightness around Karkat's eyes, and a faint tug at his mouth that's like a grimace. You don't know if that means he's starting to come around or if it's actually impossible for his face to be completely at rest. If his muscles don't know how to go loose, and his mouth can't fall open properly the way normal people's mouths do when they're asleep. Or knocked out, you suppose.
His mouth twitches down at the corner, the grimace more pronounced, and he moves his head a tiny bit, a restless motion. Maybe he's in pain, you think. Or maybe he's dreaming.
Oh man, maybe he's dreaming but he's not safe in a dream bubble. You all sometimes slip out of dream bubbles, even with the practice you've had now, and sometimes you just can't find one at all. Karkat could be dreaming about cold cold space full of horrorterrors. It makes your chest feel achy to think that. It's just really sad.
You stroke his hair back from his eyes again, with intent this time, trying to smooth out the lines in his forehead. To your shock, it sort of works. Karkat's expression relaxes a little, and he even turns his head just the tiniest bit towards your hand.
You are the Karkat Whisperer.
You grin, all the stupid bubbling fondness coming up out of you, and smooth his hair back around his horns again. His horns are warm, not like skin is warm but like your glasses are warm where they rest against your nose, comforting borrowed heat. You can feel the variegated rings under your thumb when you swipe it over the join between orange and yellow, and the texture is sort of smooth and rough at once.
You do it again, and Karkat squinches his mouth up a bit, one of his shoulders hitching. But not in a pain way, just like, in a ticklish way or something.
This is what you do for Jade, when she can't fall asleep. She finds it really hard to go to sleep without somebody telepathically making her, now. Her ears are softer than Karkat's horns, but his horns are funnier. Which is sort of amazing, since her ears are furry and also belong on a dog.
Jade doesn't sleep like this, though, with her face drawn and a frown in her forehead as though she's hurting.
Karkat turns his head slightly to the side, that one stubborn lock of hair falling to cover his eyes again. One short fang is digging into his dark gray lower lip. His mouth isn't quite as black as the other trolls; you're not sure when you noticed that.
CEB: i wish you didn't look so sad.
PCG: I. WHAT.
PCG: I DO NOT LOOK SAD, WHAT THE FUCK.
PCG: I AM FUCKING UNCONSCIOUS.
CEB: you do. you look really sad, dude.
It's not quite what you mean. It almost is, but you mean that looking at him makes you sad. It makes you sad in this weird helpless way where you feel like you need to be doing something about it, but you don't know what.
PCG: JOHN ARE YOU TRYING TO
You push back the lock of hair that's fallen in his eyes again. Karkat turns his head a bit, making a tongue-muffled noise and arching up a little like he's trying to follow your hand. It's just like Jade! Except that Jade sort of twitches all over and jerks her head back into your hands when you're scritching her ears. And Karkat stretching in his sleep is weirdly graceful: the way his toes point and a bit of dark hair falls over his ear as he turns his head, baring his neck. He's graceful in a way that is strange and almost painful to look at. Like a twisting feeling in your stomach.
Like it's hurting you that he exists.
You make a decision.
CEB: i'm going to draw a smile on your face, ok.
PCG: OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK
PCG: IF YOU COME NEAR MY FACE WITH A MARKER PEN I SWEAR I WIL';k[pkl][pl]pk]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]
CEB: oh shit, i think you just knocked yourself out!
You turn, checking on Karkat again – as though him being knocked out is suddenly a new thing! He still has his eyes closed, but he shifts his head again as you watch, a restless motion that musses his hair against the folded shape of your hood. His hand twitches at his side, two of the fingers curling inwards.
A low chime sounds from the husktop.
FUTURE turntechGodhead [FTG] 1:03 HOURS FROM NOW responded to memo.
FTG: ahahahaha oh god you realize you totally hit on him
CEB: did the network connection come back?
FTG: yeah just came back on
FTG: nobody knew where you were dude we were like oh fuck egbert and vantas are mia they probably fell off the meteor or some shit
FTG: just floating out there in the ring dodging space rocks and tentacles
FTG: people were worried as fuck but i told them chill
FTG: theyre just sucking face in a closet somewhere its fine
CEB: wow, shut up.
CEB: can you come and get us out?
CEB: we're in this room near, uh, storage bay f i'm pretty sure.
CEB: down the corridor from that tank with the thing with three snake heads in it.
FTG: yeah ok got it
FTG: im like an hour ahead of you though and I havent seen any surplus daves running loops
FTG: so youre gonna have to hang tight till you catch up
FTG: do something to pass the time
FTG: interspecies sloppy makeouts i guess
You would reply to that (with, um, something), but there is a low groan to your left. You turn around with a jerk, dislodging the husktop from your lap.
Karkat has finally woken up all the way. He's pulling himself into a sitting position, curling his legs up. He folds his arms over his knees and rests his head on them, groaning again.
Your hands are prickly with nerves. You press them against your pants, surreptitiously rubbing the sweat away.
Karkat lifts his head a fraction and gives you a baleful glare from under his folded arms.
"What the fuck was that about?" he asks. His voice is a low rasp, throatier than usual. Then he winces and turns his face to the side, pressing his forehead against the inside of his elbow. "Ugh, my head hurts."
"How are you feeling?" you ask, because when you're nervous you say stupid things. This is a particularly stupid thing since he just told you how he's feeling, and you're not at all surprised when he lifts his head again so that he can give you the scathing glare more directly.
"Like I got walloped by some crazy douchebag's idea of interior design and then spent thirty minutes unconscious, while the world's most confusing idiot fucking ... petted my hair, or something. What the fuck, John. And also: ow, and double also: you'd better not have drawn on my fucking face."
You laugh, nervously. "I didn't get time!" Then you notice a dark trickle up near his hairline. "Oh shit, I think that cut opened up again?"
He reaches a hand up, fingers gingerly exploring the bump on his head. "I hate head wounds," he rasps. "They ... ow, fuck. They always bleed."
"Can I – " You're reaching out before you really know what you're doing. He goes still, his eyes wide, as you walk your fingers over the patch of hair that has gone sticky again. There's only a little blood, but you pick up your hood with your other hand and wad it up anyway, pressing it against his scalp.
He's blinking really fast. His expression is wide open and vulnerable, and he isn't looking away. Then he closes his eyes tight, biting down on his lip. "Fuck, stop that," he mumbles. "There is something wrong with you. You don't even know what –" He breaks off, setting his jaw.
"Don't move," you say. "You'll dislodge it."
Your hand is unsteady, holding the wadded hood against his head, but he doesn't try to take it away from you. He still has his eyes closed, squeezed shut, and you want to – you want –
You wonder, suddenly, if this is what Karkat meant when he talked about pity and hate. If it is this twisting ache in your guts, and the way you want to look at Karkat forever and also press your face against his neck or something so you never have to look at him again and feel that yawning helpless ache, and also maybe you would be able to smell his hair because probably that would be really great. If it is the way that you can't hate anything about him, even the little things, even the big things, even though he is kind of an enormous douche. But also kind of the most amazing person you have ever met.
He opens his eyes again and you lean forward and kiss him.
On the mouth.
You kiss Karkat Vantas on the mouth.
He makes a strangled sound in his throat. You are both frozen, and he is so close and his hair has fallen in his eyes again. His irises are so dark and wide and your heart is going as fast as his. As fast as a freaky troll metabolism makes a heart go.
His expression changes, just a little, like a dawning realization, and some of the tightness eases from his mouth. He lifts his hand, not quite touching your shoulder but almost, his fingers curling in on themselves.
You feel like you should either follow that up or lean away, and your mind is empty of follow-ups. It is like a razed field of emptiness. You have used your one move. But you can't bring yourself to lean away, not when he looks like that and you can still feel the ghost touch of his mouth against yours. "Um," you say. You laugh a bit, a breathless silent laugh that is all nervousness.
"Oh," he says. For half a second his mouth tilts in a crooked smile, the quickest smile you have ever seen. And then he leans forward and kisses you back.
His teeth press too hard against your lip and the angle is awkward because you are still holding a bloodstained God Tier hood against his head and also you have never kissed anybody in your life before today.
It is pretty much amazing.
His hand comes to rest on your shoulder, moving both of you so that the angle changes, and it gets better.
FTG: yeah so im pretty sure this is the right door
FTG: narrative inevitability basically ensures im gonna walk in on something ill wish i hadnt right
FTG: see something that scars my already delicate puppet-tormented psyche
FTG: just so were clear any part of vantas i dont normally have to see is gonna qualify
For the record, when Dave comes to let you out you are having an animated argument about movies.