John was worried.
This in and of itself wasn't a problem, since he had a whole lot of important things to do! Like to try and save at least three universes all while keeping as many of his friends and innocents alive as possible. And for the previous three years of his life, he had also been worried about trying to keep his friends from fighting like sprite-cats and god-dogs - and also trying to teach all the salamanders and nakkadiles and such how to play video games.
But now it was time to get down to Serious Business (c) and he had to start conferring with the other friendleader!
The problem was, Karkat wanted nothing to do with him. And he had no idea why.
He gave Nannasprite a dirty look out of the corner of his eye as he sat cross legged on a bench on LOWAS, staring out into the charred landscape.
"I'm kidding. Hoo hoo!" She chuckled, then as her grandson resumed staring out into oblivion with his chin in his hands, she gave a breathless sigh and floated closer.
"It's hard when someone you like doesn't seem to like you, isn't it?"
John's expression softened, though he didn't meet her eyes. "I just don't know if I did something wrong or not. Maybe he doesn't see me as a leader or..."
Nannasprite said nothing, letting him talk his problems out.
"I guess I should just try and... talk to him again? Maybe I came on a little strong, you know. He's not really that friendly most of the time, eh heh."
Nannasprite chuckled along with him, her voice hollow, ghostly and sounding like it came through cheap speakers instead of a mouth.
"Maybe... he doesn't see himself as a leader?" John stopped, weighing the phrases in his mind, trying to see if any felt right. They sort of did, especially the last one, but it was all still so confusing and dumb and frusterating because he couldn't even talk to Karkat about it.
"Nannasprite, do you--"
And his dad's PDA, much the worse for wear but still functioning, was plunked into his hands.
Karkat was worried.
This, too, was common especially considering all the dying shit that had gone down, and was still going down, and would be going down when they faced down Jack Noir or whoever ended up being the big boss of this messed up clusterfuck of a game. But this time it was a stupid worry. It was a relationship worry.
The problem was that Karkat was afraid to talk to John, or be around John, or do anything involving the windy boy who insisted that they be equal and have 'friendleader meetings' like either of them would actually be competent enough to take down a real threat. He was nervous about sending mixed signals, or sending the wrong signals, or a billion and a half other concerns he had about a boy who he wasn't even sure he wanted in his quadrants.
His feelings were like this big tangle, and he was trying to sort them all out so he could lay them out all next to each other, and then suddenly he would be able to have this magic epiphany that would tell him exactly which quadrant John would fit best in because at this point he had no fucking clue.
Also the fact that John had heard about Vriska's death through Karkat didn't help matters much. Seeing the boy just kind of crumple up for a few moments before forcing a smile had slammed the troll with the kind of mind numbing pity that came along once in a millennium.
But he still kind of hated him, but not as much as he hated himself for overthinking this.
Karkat was still sitting, nervously hunched up in his desk chair when his computer beeped.
-- ectoBiologist [EB] started pestering carcinoGenecist [CG] at 22:39 --
EB: are you
EB: are you there?
Karkat blinked at the now-lit screen, trying to get his eyes adjusted to the light after staring in the dark for so long.
EB: i guess that's a really stupid question, because if you're not then you won't see this!
EB: at least until later.
He shifted in his chair, scooting over closer to the monitor and trying to figure out what to say.
EB: i guess you're not.
EB: sorry for bothering you
EB: it's just that
CG: NO, I'M HERE.
He winced, having sent his message at the same time as John's.
EB: oh, good! because i have something to say.
CG: I HAD NO IDEA THAT YOU WOULD MESSAGE ME BECAUSE YOU HAD SOMETHING TO SAY.
The wince had shifted into a full out grimace, but he couldn't stop. It was like someone had pushed a boulder of stupid down a hill and it was time to get the fuck out of the way and let it roll.
EB: is this a bad time?
CG: WE DON'T HAVE TIME TO WASTE WAITING FOR RIGHT MOMENTS AND WRONG MOMENTS.
CG: EXCEPT MAYBE STRIDER. GOD TIER, NOT SPRITE STRIDER.
EB: i figured.
There was an awkward pause. Karkat laid his hands in various positions on the desk top, trying to find a place that was both comfortable and would let him type a reply quickly without indignant flailing. But by the time he looked at the screen again, he saw several lines of lonely blue text.
EB: i just wanted to kind of... ask you something.
EB: about why you don't really seem to like being around me.
EB: and that's totally okay! no one has to like me.
EB: i'm just me.
EB: i mean, like, i'm sorry if you don't like me and i want you to like me
EB: but i don't want you to like me out of guilt or anything
EB: and i don't want to make myself into something i'm not just to make you like me but i do want to know if there's anything i've done that made you not like me so i can not do that anymore
EB: ugh, i'm a fucking idiot.
CG: IT'S FINE. I THINK I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN.
CG: I MEAN, I KNOW THAT I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN.
CG: WHAT KIND OF 'LIKE' ARE WE TALKING ABOUT HERE?
EB: how many kinds of 'like' are there? do you guys have crazy affection quadrants too?
EB: like, there's bodylove, represented by the lustful green triangle
EB: then there's soulkinship affiliated with the ethereal blue circle
EB: and then hobbyfriends of the harmonious yellow square and then the stressed white pentagon of fixerpairs
EB: where did you go?
EB: fuck, i'm sorry, i didn't come here to be culturally insensitive.
CG: JOHN YOU IGNORANT SLUT. I WENT TO GO GET DAVESPRITE BEFORE KANAYA CHAINSAWED HIM INTO DOOMED ORANGE DOUCHE-NUGGETS FOR MAKING A GIANT NEST OUT OF ALL OF HER YARN.
CG: AND I COME BACK TO THIS GIANT SLOPPY PILE OF SHIT.
CG: DO YOU EVEN KNOW HOW STUPID YOU SOUND?
EB: i said i was sorry!
CG: DAMN IT.
CG: NOT YOU. ME.
CG: WE'RE GETTING OFF TOPIC.
CG: UNLESS YOUR TOPIC WAS TAKING A VIOLENT SHIT ALL OVER MY CULTURE'S TRIED AND TRUE SYSTEM IN WHICH CASE, FUCK YOU AND FUCK ME FOR EVER HAVING CREATED YOU.
EB: no, it wasn't!
CG: GET TO IT THEN.
EB: okay, uh
EB: karkat, do you not like me?
CG: AND WE ARE BACK TO SQUARE ONE.
EB: harmonious yellow hobbyfriend square one?
CG: JEGUS FUCK, EGBERT, YOU'RE DUMBER THAN YOUR OWN CONSORTS.
EB: sorry, i couldn't resist!
EB: but what i mean by like is
EB: do you still have your totally-not-weird hatecrush on me or something?
CG: AND IF I DID, WHAT WOULD IT MATTER TO YOU?
EB: well i mean your feelings don't mean nothing but
EB: when i say 'not like' i don't mean 'hate'
EB: at least not blackrom hate.
EB: did i get that right?
CG: SHOCKINGLY, YES.
EB: ha ha
CG: I HAD NO IDEA YOU WERE BEING SARCASTIC THERE. YOUR CLARIFICATION WAS NOT A TOTAL WASTE OF OUR MUTUAL, AND NEED I REMIND YOU, DWINDLING TIME.
EB: jeez, fine.
EB: what i mean by 'like' is, as a person. a friend.
EB: or even friendleader!
EB: i guess what i'm really asking is
EB: i want to be your friend so we can work together and take whoever we end up facing in the end out!
EB: and is that going to be possible?
The waiting was almost unbearable. Sure, it had only been a minute or so, but the last phrase he typed sat there, mocking him. John couldn't stand to look at what he'd said as he'd blundered through their conversation like a fool, but he didn't want to see Karkat's reply a moment too late.
EB: you still here?
CG: JUST GIVE ME A SECOND.
CG: OKAY, YEAH. IT'S POSSIBLE THAT WE CAN WORK TOGETHER. NECESSARY, EVEN. BUT I DON'T KNOW IF I WANT TO.
CG: DON'T YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT SULKING, EGBERT. IT'S NOT THAT I STILL HARBOR BLACK FEELINGS FOR YOU.
CG: AND I TOTALLY DON'T HAVE A TRACE OF RED ONES EITHER.
CG: NOT A SINGLE FEELING IS BEING FELT ABOUT YOU RIGHT NOW.
CG: SO DON'T START FREAKING OUT ABOUT YOUR CREEPY GIRLS-ONLY FETISH AND LET ME FIGURE OUT HOW TO SAY THIS.
There was another long pause. John fidgeted, and started concentrating on sweeping greasy ashes off the cobalt rocks of his planet as best as he could with the Breeze just to keep his mind off things.
CG: IT'S ALL JUST KIND OF DIFFICULT FOR ME, ALL RIGHT? I MEAN, WE BOTH KIND OF FUCKED THE OTHER'S SESSION AND SO IF YOU AND I TRY TO LEAD THIS ASSORTMENT OF GODS, TROLLS AND CONSORT WE MIGHT END UP FUCKING EACH OTHER.
CG: I MEAN FUCKING EACH OTHER OVER. BY GETTING EVERYONE KILLED.
EB: *raises eyebrow*
CG: YOU BETTER LOWER THAT BUSHY BLACK ABOMINATION OR I WILL COME FIND YOU AND CUT IT OFF THEN WEAR IT AS MUSTACHE.
EB: but seriously, karkat! have some faith in yourself!
EB: we can still get advice from everyone but first you and i need to talk. or at least get along.
EB: what a good friendleader does is make sure everyone on the team can work together!
CG: THANK YOU FOR THAT VICIOUS REMINDER OF MY FAILURE.
EB: no, wait!
EB: karkat, did you forget that you got your whole team through the game?
EB: i mean, it can't have been easy getting 12 angry trolls to work together. but you did! you even took out your session's boss, which is more than we can say!
EB: eh heh.
EB: but seriously. i have a lot of faith in you. and i trust you too.
EB: so, what do you say?
There was another brief little pause, the screen shaking slightly in John's nervous hands.
CG: THE FIRST OFFICIAL MEETING OF THE PALHONCO FRIENDLEADERS IS SET TO START IN 3 HOURS.
EB: your place or mine?
CG: SEE YOU THEN.