Karkat was the last person he talked to before the Scratch. Then suddenly John is on a golden ship with Jade, who has dog ears now and hovers amid an orbit of planets, and he’s finding out he won't see his friends for three years.
He thinks about them a lot during those three years, Rose and Dave and Vriska and Karkat.
And then the three years is over. Rose only comes up to his shoulder now when he hugs her and Dave has this scruffy blonde fuzz on his chin that John is sure to tell him looks stupid, and Karkat's there and the other trolls he never met, all grey and alien and incredible.
He asks where Vriska is, and they tell him.
It ends up being Karkat who sits with him, backs against the cold steel wall of the lab. John concentrates on breathing through the knot in his throat. Hardly able to believe that Vriska is not there and never will be. Angry at everyone who knew and didn’t tell him until now. Angry at himself for never dreaming that day three years ago would be his only day with her.
“So many of us have died,” says Karkat beside him. “And I’ll be the first to say it’s total bullshit. On Alternia I got used to having the people around me culled. You could be killed off for a million and one senseless, shithive insane reasons, and death eventually became just... Background noise. But I nearly fucking lost it when I thought Sollux was dead, and Kanaya, and now that half of us are gone it turns out it didn’t really prepare me for any of it. I mean, you deal with it, because you have to, but that doesn't stop it all from being bullshit of the highest order.”
John doesn't want to think about the troll world and all its death. The sound of Karkat's voice is nice though. They’re holding hands, though John doesn’t remember how they got like that. “Thanks for staying with me. You didn’t have to.”
“I may not be the leader anymore but letting a group of volatile idiots run around getting emotionally unstable has already fucked us over once, and I’d be the biggest piece of shit ever inflicted on paradox space if I let it happen again."
John didn’t really have a chance to get a good look at Karkat during the excitement of their arrival. There’s not much light where they are and Karkat could almost blend into the wall with his dark skin and dark hair, except for the orange horns. And his eyes, which are really, really bright. John turns on his knees to get a better look at those eyes. Rimmed with deep circles, they have this look like Karkat didn't sleep at all those three years, which doesn't surprise John but makes him want to find a bed and make Karkat take a nap. He looks like a worn out kid in general. Like the worries of the world soaked into his skin and became a permanent part of him.
Karkat scowls. Anger suits his features too, John decides. “What are you staring at?” Karkat demands.
“Your weird grey alien face and your big weird red alien eyes."
Karkat looks so genuinely, childishly indignant that John has to laugh - and it feels good to laugh right then, a shot of light through his black mood. John lurches forward to pull Karkat away from the wall and into a hug. "Karkat, it's so good to see you."
A quiet minute passes before Karkat puts a hand on John’s back and murmurs, "Yeah. You too, John."
There's not enough open space on the meteor for any type of proper battleship storage, so the ship ends up perched on the roof of the widest building, docked at an angle like it ran aground on a sandbar. John is on the uppermost deck when Karkat finds him, legs dangling off the edge and arms draped over the railing, blowing little tornadoes between the lab's blocky structures around them.
Karkat asks John if he's doing okay. What actually comes out of his mouth is "Egbert, if you plan on flipping your shit and destroying our base with your stupid windy thing at least give me a courtesy warning so I can come up with some appropriately vitriolic things to yell at you while you rampage” - but John knows what he means.
"Please Karkat, like you’d even need to plan your vitriol ahead of time," John beams. "You are the best at on-the-fly vitriol. It is you. And don’t worry, no shit-flipping. I'm doing okay." He really is. The world still feels different in a way he knows he can’t reverse, but he has his friends, and things are okay. He has Karkat to ask how he’s doing, which helps.
Karkat sits next to him and they talk about stupid things, like how Kanaya definitely went overboard when decorating the bathrooms, and debate their favorite movies, which always ends with them having to agree to disagree so they don’t go on and on forever. And they talk about some serious things, like this new session they’re heading to and the things they left in the old one. John reaches over and takes Karkat’s hand at one point.
“You’re not, like, cheating on Gamzee with this are you? With the diamond quadrant thing?” John gestures with their joint hands.
"I can platonically make sure my team is holding up. If that failure of a clown has a problem with it I’ll bury him so deep in a shitty horn pile he won't be able to find his own bulge."
John laughs, rocking back from the railing. “What a great quadrant boyfriend you must be.”
“The word is moirail, dipshit. And,” with just a drop of bitterness, “it’s not like I could cheat with you anyway. I haven’t forgotten about that thing where you don’t do romance with other boys.”
“Karkat, that was three years ago.”
“What the everloving fuck is that supposed to mean?”
John shrugs. “It means I do sometimes like boys.”
Karkat tugs his hand away to scrub both palms over his face. “Holy fuck, three years later and you’re still on a mission to make my think pan leak out through my ears with this horseshit. So tell me John, how exactly did you reach this conclusion on your boat full of sprites and consorts? Have a fling with a particularly fetching chessman? Did a handsome salamander bat his eyelashes at you and set your “not a homosexual” heart aflutter? For the sake of my sanity tell me you didn't fuck that orange feathery douchebag."
"Well, we didn't exactly fuck..."
Karkat sputters and flails dramatically. John can’t help but grin sheepishly at him. He likes that Karkat is so expressive when he talks. Or when he rants at the world, which John likes listening to almost as much as his talking.
"We just kissed, and talked a lot and stuff. I don't know if I even could have sex with him, since he's a sprite and part bird too. He's not even fully human anymore!"
"But I'm not human and you-" Karkat stops himself so suddenly John can feel the void in the air where those next words should be.
John tilts his face towards Karkat. "I'm what?"
Karkat mumbles something John doesn't catch, hunches his shoulders and drops his chin to the railing.
John grins up at the sky, and reaches to take Karkat's hand again.
A day and a half later Karkat walks up to John, clenches his fists in stubborn resolve, and presses his mouth against John's.
John grabs hold of Karkat and kisses back, and kisses him, and kisses him, and kisses him.