Chapter 1: > [F] Karkat: Contemplate.
Your name is Karkat Vantas, and you think you are ugly.
Years upon years of cultural conditioning once kept you locked in your hive for your own safety, forcing you to acknowledge that the outside world had no desire to suffer the detestable likes of you. Vocabulary and sarcasm and metaphor-laden anger serve as distractions weaving themselves seamlessly into the fabric of your words. You tuck yourself away behind turtlenecks and jeans, behind long sleeves and loose fabric, behind heavy sweaters worn as half-dresses that end just above your knees. Stress of a lifetime paints shadows beneath unevenly pigmented red eyes, a whole row of blunt fangs stick out in overbite, underdeveloped horns sprout from the top of your head as a constant reminder of your flawed status. Your blood, your body, your sympathies: every aspect of you is malformed and irregular and repulsive, you've accepted it as fact so set in stone that when he calls you handsome you know at once he is lying.
You are wrapped against him in the darkness of a bottom bunk blanket fort, to the backdrop of an action-adventure sequel you've both seen a thousand times. He began kissing you sometime around the moment Liv Tyler graced the scene with her ever-stunning presence, and you wonder if he's thinking of her when his lips touch yours, and you decide you are okay with that if it makes this process easier for him, but suddenly he's tucking your hair behind your ear and looking at you and complimenting you and the weight of it forces you to tug away. The glow of the laptop monitor makes the lenses of his glasses shine as the resolution in your denial taints his expression with pity.
He doesn't return his kiss to your mouth. He pushes it insistently to the side of your nose, repeating in a whisper how handsome he thinks you are. You scrunch up your face and scowl--shrug it off, Vantas, he doesn't fucking mean it like that--but he's hugging you with an unfamiliar conviction that makes the curses catch in your throat. He stamps kisses across the flats of your fangs, he nuzzles at the shadows beneath your eyes as if he knows how hard it's been; his arms are under your shirt, warm and secure around your middle, fingers knitted together at the small of your back in the silent hopes that pulling you in tight enough will convince you of everything you don't believe. He kisses at the fabric covering your neck and asks is this okay; your heart pounds in anxiousness when you mumble under your breath, nodding into his shoulder. You needed this more than you realized.
You shift while he pulls your shirt up and moves clumsily across your body. He kisses your waist, the slight pudge of skin around your stomach, every discoloured scar he finds, soft mouth and soft laughter charting a complete map of you. He whispers hello to the crook of your elbow, his lips greet every fingertip. He kisses your palm before you cup his cheek. You ask him why he's doing this. His gaze disarms you.
And he says it.
Your vision grows cloudy. You are drowning with the desire to sink your teeth into him for daring to catch you off-guard, to tear him apart for breaking you down, but all you manage is curling your hands into fists and letting your body tremble. This kind of shit happens in movies, in books, to fair maidens and passionate partners and people who deserve love, not to you.
The tears tell him you're not as ready as you wish you were; instead, he backs down and embraces you as if you embodied the crack he's left in your resolve. He pushes his forehead against yours, and you feel loved.
His name is John Egbert, and he thinks you are beautiful.
Your name is Karkat Vantas, and you have found someone you despise.
Rose Lalonde's book club once served as your safe zone, a tiny corner of your world roped off with casual debate and light snacks you'd prepared the night before. You found comfort in the company of both her and Kanaya; you had been swept up in their intense discussions of the Alternian romance novels you hoarded within your sylladex, you were cushioned within the atmosphere of their intellect. Here were two women, fluent in the language, whom with you could share profound conversations about the texts you've adored for sweeps, conversations you couldn't have with any of your other peers without defending yourself from a condescending gaze or a silent jeer. For the first time in a very long time, you found yourself happy and carefree amongst your friends.
He enters your life with the force of a jackhammer and pierces your securities with the accuracy of several well-aimed arrows, taking his obnoxious labelmaker and his gaudy orange marker to the trashy romance novel of your life and making a complete goddamn mess of it.
You hated him because you owned the same labelmaker.
From the beginning, you were convinced his existence was crafted for the sole purpose of spiting you--he flashed you knowing looks from across the group, bobbing his knee as he casted his well-articulated, fallacy-laden bullshit into the open with folded arms and a shit-eating grin you punched off his face the very first night he stepped foot into Rose's place.
Rose watched the resulting strife with a curious expression and a hand to her chin.
He now sits opposite of you during Quadrant Discourse, the book-club-turned-spar-circle to "shoot down the birds of strife practice and critical literary analysis with one neatly cast stone".
You are no longer carefree.
He has broken your safe zone.
He is the Helena Bonham Carter to your Edward Norton.
You recall how he has served as little more than a pointy-shades-shaped thorn in your hypothetical side while his calloused hands bundle in your collar.
You watch your colour blossom from his nose.
He's wearing that shit-eating grin.
You see yourself in his lenses and you grab onto his arm tight enough to draw blood.
There's copper on his lips.
He yanks your collar to dig fabric against your skin until you're pressing into him on your tip-toes.
Hold your breath.
This is it. Your fourth quadrant. Everything years of film and literature and romantic idealism have said you needed to be complete, to be an acceptable troll in modern society, came to you gift-wrapped in a t-shirt with a fucking hat on it.
You thumb his jugular as his nails dig into your waist.
Your claws ream down the back of his neck and everything is perfect.
...except it isn't.
Your name is Karkat Vantas, and today you've learned that maybe having a kismesis isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Chapter 3: > [F] James: Ring doorbell.
Your name is James Crocker, and you have raised your daughter well.
She is a strong, fine young woman who has grown up every bit as independent as was needed to survive in this world, and in several others, apparently. Years ago, you had always expected her to find a nice young man at her high school, well-intentioned and fresh-faced and college-bound, one you would of course be obligated to intimidate with vague threats and displays of mangrit; then again, you had also always expected to remain in a stable universe. You learn that things don’t always turn out as you planned, and through your many years together, you show her that nothing life throws at the both of you will ever stop you from supporting her, and no one she loves will make you love her any less, even if the fine young woman of her choosing continues making inappropriate passes at you until she turns seventeen.
So when your daughter tells you eighteen years’ worth of Father’s Days is more than enough to compensate for a single event, you are befuddled, but remain open to her proposition.
John opens his front door.
He sees you first.
There’s a flash of recognition in his eyes that jumpstarts something in your heart and suddenly you understand quite clearly why Jane’s brought you here.
“Hey, Jane. Mister Crocker.” He shrugs on the rest of his jacket. “What are you guys doing here?”
“Where are you heading off to?” Jane raises an eyebrow and places a hand on her hip. “Didn’t I tell you we were coming?”
“Oh. Was that last night?”
“Yes, yes it was. I asked if it would be alright to spend Father’s Day together and you agreed to it—given, you misspelled quite a few words in your reply.” She tip-toes to peek over John’s shoulder. “Golly, is your house the same model as ours? I’ve never noticed it before, but the resemblance is uncanny. You even have the same carpe—”
He moves his body over to block her view. “Look, this is great and everything, but I really, really need to get to Karkat—”
“John, we drove from halfway across town to be here today. You’re spending so much time with Karkat lately, you and I haven’t had a proper baking lesson in weeks!”
“No buts, young man. We’re making muffins.”
“OW ow OW ow ow—not the ear, not the ear—Jane, I—c’mon!”
You puff on your pipe and follow them inside.
You learn John Egbert is too familiar for comfort.
He is nothing like your daughter, aside from some aesthetic traits and a shared spunky attitude. Where Jane scrutinizes and investigates every detail to get a handle on her situation, John is much more aloof, much more passive, much more accepting of the world around him. Yet, sometimes you catch yourself staring too closely at how the corners of their eyes crinkle in the exact same spot when they frown. Sometimes an innocent mannerism or an offhand remark makes nostalgia churn in your gut and evokes a sense of longing for something that has never existed. Sometimes you think “Mister Crocker” is too formal for his voice. Sometimes you remember John is what you would have named a son.
You don’t blame him for the disdain in his expression, or the way he flinches when you reach across each other and your elbows bump. You knew what happened to his real father and you can’t decide if your presence here is thoughtful or horribly cruel.
Having allergies to peanuts meant everything in John’s bakespace was already peanut-free, and it was safer to work with his ingredients. Your daughter has brought along the basics—milk, eggs, sugar, flour, and the like. Somewhere between measuring and mixing, Jane remembers she’d left the cinnamon in the car, and scurries off to retrieve it.
There is you and there is John and there is silence.
If there is one thing life has taught you, it’s to never speak unless you can improve the silence.
And so he dares to try, “Why are you here?”
You hold up the end of your pipe, drawing in a breath. “What do you mean, John?”
“You know what I’m talking about,” he snaps. “Why’d she bring you here? Today of all days?”
His tone belongs to that of an animal cornered, one which has been given no other choice but to attack.
You don’t blame him.
“We did not mean to hurt you,” you decide on. “We only thought sharing this time around others would be helpful to your situation.”
“By shoving it in my face? That’s a weird way of being helpful.”
“Do you want us to leave?”
John tenses up as he stops mixing. He picks up his movements a few seconds later, and mumbles, “I never said that.”
You nod quietly. The smoke from your pipe wafts in front of your eyes as you walk across the kitchen—your kitchen, down to the placement of the cupboards and the spice racks and the drawings on the fridge you shouldn’t be able to recognize—and you wonder how long it takes to retrieve cinnamon from the driveway.
You prepare the baking sheets, dropping the colourful pastel papers into the muffin tray.
“You know, sometimes it feels like you’re this stupid ghost meant to haunt me.”
You do not speak. You cannot improve the silence.
“When we met everyone after the rift, Dirk and Jane and Roxy and Jake, at least…at least there were some little differences between them and who we knew in the old world. They were kinda the same but they were raised differently in different places so they weren’t really the same. But you. You dress how he dresses, you sound like he sounds, you smell like he smells. You’re exact!”
He has his back turned towards you. You’re not sure why you nod anyway.
“Is there something you want to say to me, John?”
“Yeah, there is,” he barks. “How come you survived and my dad didn’t? What did I mess up in-game so badly that I couldn’t save him, but Jane could save you? Was I too young? Too stupid? Was I assigned the wrong aspect? The wrong class? What did I do wrong?”
You’re the only one he comes to for an answer. You know you can’t provide one.
“No one could have expected the game to happen in the first place, John,” you offer. “I don’t know all of the details, but I know you did not do a single thing incorrectly because you are here. You survived, with all of your friends. You tried your hardest. And I am so proud of you.”
You don’t know if you should regret saying the last line because John has gone quiet again and he’s given up mixing the batter to hang his head and grasp the edges of the counter. His shoulders were shaking.
“If I close my eyes really tight, can I pretend he’s still here?”
You recognize the strain in his voice, the struggle to keep tears from washing over him. You walk up and rest your hand on his shoulder.
His embrace is almost suffocating.
He’s much taller than you remember.
His body shivers as he presses his face into your apron. There’s flour in his hair.
“…we are both so very proud of you.”
You fall with him until your knees crash against the linoleum tiling, and you feel him break in your arms.
“I told you to inhale slowly, John.”
“God, this stuff is awful! How can you do this all the time??”
“You learn to get used to it. So,” you continue from before, “is that why your house is a mirror image of mine?”
“Maybe,” he shrugs. “I mean, this place reminds me of him. And being here makes me feel like he’s still here, you know? If I leave this house behind, it’s like I’m leaving him behind. I don’t have to sell the house or anything, but. I still won’t be here. With him. Does that make any sense?”
“Let me tell you a story.”
“Jane wanted to be an astronaut when she was a child. We would lay in the backyard at night and she would point up to the stars and say, ‘daddy, I want to go there’. I told her she could do anything she put her mind to, though things don’t come easy and it would take dedication and hard work in order to get where she wanted to go. These aspirations of hers have changed since then, as all children’s do, once she began consuming every detective novel she could possibly find. Now, at age eighteen, she’s entering university to pursue a career in Forensics and Criminology, but she is still dedicated. And she is still working hard.
I cannot speak for your father, but know this. Most of you kids have fallen into certain advantages that have extended your life spans indefinitely. I have not. I know I will not live forever. Jane knows that, too. And she knows that when it is my time, I would not want her to dwell on a past that keeps her from moving into her future. She knows that I love her, that I am proud of her, and that even though she’s grown from a little girl admiring the night sky, she should never stop reaching for the stars. At the risk of sounding bold, I think your father would have shared very similar sentiments.”
“…I wanted to be a magician.”
“Then,” you shrug, “never let the magic die.”
John smiles. “Karkat was going to help me, you know. He said he wanted me to…”
“Do you love this boy?”
“I.” John glances away and shrugs, tugging on the fabric at his knees. “More than anything.”
“Unless there are safety-threatening circumstances involved, no one has the right to force you into anything you don’t want to do. But unless there are safety-threatening circumstances involved, you don’t have the right to hold him back from who he wants to be.”
“Don’t stay out of obligation to your father. Don’t leave because you think Karkat will be better off with you by his side. Stay because you want to stay. Leave because you want to leave. I’m afraid that is all the advice I can give you.”
John nods, offering a small smile. “…thanks, Uncle Crocker. For everything.”
“You’re welcome. Now, do you have any idea where my daughter has run off to?”
“Ha ha, lemme check.” John pulls out his cell phone. He’s surprised to find a text message already waiting for him. “Um…her and Dave have been out rollerblading since two hours ago. So I guess that’s where he ran off to.”
“…I really should thank her, too.”
“Well,” you sigh, lifting yourself up from the chair, “finishing those muffins would be a start.”
John follows suit and offers you your pipe back.
You tell him you have forty others at home.
You tell him he can keep it.
He wraps his arms around you with much less desperation than before. You hug him back with equal conviction.
He closes his eyes tight enough to pretend.
“Happy Father’s Day, dad.”
“…thank you, son.”
For a moment in time, you let yourselves believe.
Chapter 4: > [F] Karkat: Follow the leader.
Your name is Karkat Vantas, and you are certain those music boxes are not acoustically sound.
Normally, you’re the type to ask questions. The whole fiasco with Sgrub taught you to think your decisions through more carefully before leaping into action, and normally, you would want to get a grasp on what you were doing and where you were headed before you agreed to go along with it, especially under the risk it was fuckall complicated and you would ultimately decide to remove yourself from the situation if given the chance.
But John doesn’t think you can take care of yourself. John doesn’t think you trust Terezi.
And because of that, you have asked a total of zero (0) questions, and now you are gathered in a circle between Terezi and Aradia, about to blindly leap into action because that stunt has always proven to be so fucking beneficial to you before.
Aradia’s music boxes begin to chime. The tune sounds vaguely familiar.
Without warning, Terezi takes a hand and twines her fingers between yours and you feel your breath seize up in your chest before you teleport.
...okay, so maybe you could trust her.
Just this once.
There are two of her here and you can’t keep a straight thought in your head for longer than a moment.
Your group of four is treading along fields of brilliant greens beneath a flashing teal sky patterned with sparking neurons as makeshift clouds. Terezi, your Terezi--erm, the one from your timeline--has suited up in a newer rendition of her Redglare uniform, modified from the outfit she kept when she was younger, and now the teal and bright cherry red fabric was much better tailored to accommodate her increased height and her thoroughly developed...
You decide on “shape”.
The other Terezi is a mirror of yours, yet she is donned in Prospit garbs, bright fuzzy yellow pyjamas with obnoxiously bright sneakers that match the colour of her eyes. You wonder how her dream self didn’t die during Jack’s rampage.
“Because some alpha dream selves were killed before having any impact on our session,” Aradia begins, as if she’d read your mind, “I was able to pluck them up right before their moment of death and bring them to neutral ground without disturbing the timeline--”
You are captivated by how identical both Terezis’ movements are--the lengths of their strides, the intonations of their sentences, the way their fangs peeked from beneath their lips as they spoke.
“--of course, as soon as your dream self touches ground in this bubble, they immediately fall asleep! Because--”
You're remembering how much you've missed her strength, her resolution, the shape of her face and the shimmer in her hair. Has she always been this stunning?
“--got catching up to do to sync with their alpha forms.”
You nod. “Right. Alpha forms. Syncing. She’s the main program and her dream self’s the external portable music device. Got it.”
Terezi--your Terezi--turns heel.
She presses the head of her stark-white dragon cane beneath your chin, tipping your head up, and the sudden swiftness of her movement almost sends you toppling backwards.
A wicked grin curls at the edges of her mouth before you can blink, “See something you like?”
Dream Terezi folds her hands on your shoulder and leans into you.
“I think he does,” the same voice from before was now much closer, breathy and uttered past your ear, “considering he’s spent the past five minutes gawking at your ass.”
“If you think for a second I’d waste a moment of my precious fucking time ogling something completely non-existent, I suggest getting the fuck over yourself and emotionally detaching from the prospect before your overblown sense of pride collapses under the weight of its own disappointment. There isn’t enough room in this dream bubble for both of your egos, now do me a favour and get me the fuck off.”
“I mean get off m--you know what the fuck I meant!”
“Karkat, now is really not the time for sexually charged outbursts, our concept of time runs much differently here and we should be busy tracking down Terezi’s destination before a significant amount of time passes on our planet!”
“I AM NOT FUCKING SEXUALLY CHARGED.”
“We don’t blame you, it’s not your fault you don’t pail your matesprit.” Terezi’s looking smug as ever, while Dream Terezi giggles by your ear “It was--what was it again? Your self-esteem issues?”
“Terezi, I swear to fucking g--”
You’re interrupted when something warm and wet and all-too-familiar drags up the side of your cheek.
Your backbone trembles. Your knees shake. You’re holding your breath again to keep yourself from making any noise, of any nature.
“I guess some things never change,” the Terezi in yellow whispers, returning her tongue to her lips.
Before you know it, the girls are walking ahead of you.
You’re left in desperate need of a hot beverage and a cold fucking shower.
“Look, I’m sorry about staring at your ass, okay?”
“My ass is amazing, this isn’t about that.”
“So why did you pull me off to the side like we’re about to turn something into a federal fucking issue?”
“Shut up for two seconds. I want you to do something for me. It’s important.”
“...depends on what it is.”
“I’ve been thinking this over, and...even though it’s not a big deal, I want someone I trust to be there when it happens. I know I can trust Aradia but she’s an ex-Team Charge member, it would be just wrong to hand it off to her.”
“I don’t understand half of what you’re spewing out right now--can you, oh I don’t know, tell me what the fuck you’re expecting me to do before I give you my word that I’m capable of doing it?”
“You are capable of doing it. You weren’t when we were kids, but you’re stronger now. A lot stronger.”
“For fuck’s sake, stop dancing a flattery jig around my question.”
“I can’t tell you, it spoils all the fun. Not to mention you’ll probably freak out on me and run whimpering in the other direction with your tail between your legs.”
“Wow, thank you, that is really fucking reassuring! Now I definitely need to know what you want me to do.”
“I want you to trust me.”
“Do you trust me, Karkat?”
You knew this was where you were headed, but you wouldn’t let yourself believe it until now. Not until you’re standing within the trunk walls of a great hollowed periwinkle tree, bright pink leaves raining softly around you. You’re not even sure how this works, with a stolen awakened dream self and a quest cocoon ripped from the memory of a Land long since destroyed, but Dream Terezi and Aradia were sitting silently in the background, watching you poise the sword of Terezi’s unsheathed cane above her chest, and you hope they can't see the red streaming down your cheeks.
You don’t even remember needing to cry.
“Fuck, why did I agree to do this?” Your voice is shaking as badly as your grasp on her weapon.
“Because you care about me, dunkass.”
“Then why couldn’t you ask Strider to pull this shit off, why me?”
(She wanted you here, not Dave.)
“Maybe I did it to mess with him.” She sneers. “Maybe I trust your aim more.”
(Did she value you more than him?)
Finally fidgeting in place, Terezi clicks her tongue. “Can you get on with it?”
“You can’t expect me to just fucking kill you without a second thought. Sorry for not being a psychopath! You’re not expecting it either, so stop putting up the brave front and admit you’re just as scared as I am.”
“We’ve been in this exact position for an hour. You’ve had a thousand second thoughts and I’m tired of waiting.”
“Why the fuck are you even doing this in the first place?”
“Because being an immortal Seer of Mind is the perfect formula for the best legislacerator the universe will ever see, of course.”
“You’re doing it for your career?”
“I’m doing it because I want to be the best possible troll I can be.” Impatient, Terezi wraps a fist around the end of the sword. The teal in her eyes levels the red in your own as her blood drips contrast down her cherry red glove. “Now, will you help me get there or will I have to stab myself through this?”
You shake your head quickly and wrap a hand around hers.
“...this is what you want?”
Teal trickles down your fingers as she grins the most honest smile she’s ever given you.
“More than anything.”
You lean forward to press your lips to her forehead. She breathes a laugh as one of your tears touches her nose.
She grasps at the end of your shirt with her blood-soaked hand as you raise the sword.
There is no regret in her eyes when the life fades from them.
You drop her cane to the ground and fall backwards.
Your name is Karkat Vantas, and Terezi Pyrope is the bravest person you’ve ever known.
Your name is John Egbert, and you are watching your laptop screen like a hawk.
None of the friends you want to talk to have been online yet and at this point you are really starting to worry about them. One, in particular. Dave’s been trying to cheer you up all day with moderate success, using everything from his video games to his self-made music that’s actually somehow evolved from shitty nerdy rapping to half-decent rhymes you’d get sick of hearing after he becomes a YouTube sensation and has his tunes remixed seventy different times over with the Space Jam theme.
But you can’t stop worrying.
Terezi and Karkat are out there somewhere with Aradia; they left before you could reach them and you can’t chase them because you don’t know where they’ve gone. You picture them on an epic journey where they grow as people and ascend to God Tier together and realize their true feelings for one another and have a big troll romantic revelation scene. It would be like something out of one of Karkat’s lame movies, where you’re just the nice guy the lead character dates for a while before said lead character ends up with the girl he’s wanted since the beginning.
You remember telling Terezi you didn’t care if Karkat hated you.
You’ve been sitting in front of the fireplace for the past hour and a half trying to convince yourself that was true.
The only thing that matters to you now is that wherever he is, he is happy.
You realize this was how Karkat felt before you got together.
You realize it only makes sense these things come full-circle.
You turn Karkat’s scalemate in your hands, his prized possession made by someone he never really stopped loving.
Your name is John Egbert, and deep down you know it’s already too late.
Chapter 5: > [F] Karkat: Look to the stars.
You cannot look to the stars, for you cannot remember what they looked like suspended within your planet’s sky, but translucent teal wings obscure your field of vision and they shimmer just the same.
Your body feels heavy as you lay flat against stone. Sweeps ago, you’d stumbled upon your cocoon during your private exploration of your planet, and you’d spread yourself silently across your quest bed, just as you are now, shutting your eyes and wondering exactly what it would feel like to die. Everything--from being hatched with a mutant blood colour, to being cast into a game session that wiped your universe clean and left you floating on a space rock waiting patiently for murder to come knocking on your front lab door--everything about your existence has groomed you for the event of your certain death, so death itself was one of the first things you learned to stop fearing.
But instead of providing relief, an escape, a firm goodbye to an overstayed welcome, you choose to accept it as a prologue to a new beginning. What better way to exercise power over your fate by deciding it yourself? What better way to exhibit control over your life by choosing exactly when and where and how it would end?
You’re snapped from your reverie as Terezi giggles at your thoughtful expression.
(Maybe it’s pride in her eyes, after all.)
Aradia and your dream self are across the room, wearing matching party hats. Aradia flashes you a thumbs-up as she blows on the colourful noisemaker sticking out of her mouth.
Terezi’s whispers reclaim your attention as she strokes your bangs away from your face. “Just breathe.”
And you breathe.
The air is fogged with the scent of slate and gravel, with the heated, stomach-churning aroma of the bright, viscous rivers you were once convinced existed only to taunt you. But no longer. The troll laying here is not the same as the one who lay here all those sweeps ago. Your hands are folded upon your stomach. You are confident. You are strong. You are proud of who you are.
“...I am a good person.”
Terezi kisses your forehead. You smirk at how easily her mockery puts you at ease.
“I deserve to be happy.”
There’s still teal at the end of her sword as you feel its tip point against your chest.
“I am one super handsome jerkwad.”
There is a smile on your face and a tear down your cheek as you finally, finally learn the meaning of sleep.
It’s ten forty-five in the evening when you hear the front door unlock.
You’re at the top of the staircase when you find him standing in your living room, his suitcase in his hand.
You’d expected to follow-up with a long, drawn-out conversation, a couple of mugs of hot cocoa between you while the soundtrack to Inception played on the stereo in the background, a set up for a good old-fashioned feelings jam explaining how things went down, a verbal drumroll leading up to the grand reveal of his final decision. Very common movie script. Very dramatic.
But as soon as his eyes find yours, you already know.
You try not to float down to greet him in too much of a hurry. For one thing, no matter how much you try to analyze his expression or spot the differences in how he carries himself, you cannot deduce exactly how much he’s forgotten after merging consciousnesses with his dream self. For another, no matter how much your heart’s lifted at the mere sight of him in your home, you’re still technically supposed to be mad at each other from a few days ago, and Karkat isn't one to forget.
You keep a modest distance as you pray it’s recognition sparking in his eyes. “Hey.”
His brow knits together. “You look like shit.”
It was true. Your hair was a mess, you hadn’t seen sunlight for the past few days, and the shadows under your eyes from your sleepless nights almost rivalled that of his own.
(His old eyes, anyway.)
(You notice Karkat doesn’t look quite so tired anymore.)
“Shut up, dude,” you start, smirking, “I told you I’ve been a mess.”
“When did you tell me that?”
The colour drains from your face.
“Do you...not remember having that conversation?”
“You’re worse off than I thought you’d be!”
“As soon as you told me you might be forgetting stuff I researched it a little and did you know there’s two types of amnesia? There’s retrograde and anterograde and we need to find out where you’re at so I know how much you remember and how much you’ll be able to remember in the future!”
“Like, how much you’ve forgotten and whether or not you can make new memories and--oh my gosh, what if you’re like troll Drew Barrymore in troll 50 First Dates and you can’t make any new memories so you just keep forgetting new things you’ve experienced with people important to you and we have to make a brand new DVD about your life every day to remind you who you a--”
“Wind Waker is your favourite Zelda game.”
“Wind Waker’s your favourite, though Majora's Mask is mine. Your classical music jam sessions with Rose are what inspired me to pick up the cello. Your favourite pokemon is an Articuno named Nicolas, for some random fucking reason you find the way I only smile from one side of my mouth ‘great’, you hid in a classroom and played Roller Coaster Tycoon with me two hours into our graduation because you were too nervous to attend the ceremonies without your father in the audience, and you squeak like a fucking chew toy on helium whenever we make out. I meant ‘when did you tell me that’ literally, time passes differently in dream bubbles so I don’t know how long ago that chatlog was for you here.”
“Oh,” you say, dumbstruck. Your feel your ears go warm. “We. Had that conversation earlier today. Around noon.”
“Almost eleven hours ago, then?”
He knows the hug’s coming long before it hits him and still he makes no effort to move.
Your towering form holds him pressed close to your chest as you crane down to rest your head against his shoulder.
“I’m sorry I called you a selfish prick.”
He has to tip-toe to hug you back properly. He scoffs his laughter. “Out of all the stupid shit that’s come out of your mouth, you think that’s the one I’d take seriously?”
“...I’m sorry I told you to get out of our house.”
He stiffens in your arms and guilt pangs through you at once.
“I’ve missed you so much, Karkat,” you mumble quickly, voice muffled into the fabric of his shirt. “So much. You don’t even know. All this stuff didn't make my house home, you did. And it was just. So empty without you.”
He nods, softly. “I forgive you, alright?”
You don’t sense as much conviction in his words as you wanted to hear, but you understand you can’t be expected to be redeemed overnight. It will take time to regain his trust completely, and that is okay, because you know he is worth the effort one hundred percent .
You stay in place with him for a little while, rocking slightly as you both let the familiar shape of one another fade back into memory. You don’t realize you’ve fallen asleep against him until he taps your back and calls your name a few times.
“John, let’s go. You need to get some fucking sleep.”
“Will you come?”
He doesn’t even try to resist.
Neither of you have moved from the warm tangle of your mutual smother-hug, though now you’re curled up on the mattress of the bottom bunk in the living room. You’re wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt that hasn’t been changed in over fourty-eight hours, he’s wearing the same black turtleneck and grey jeans he’s been in for the better part of several days. Your hair’s all greasy and his sleeves are still splattered with teal; you are both fully aware of how gross this is and how much you both stink, but you still spend the next half-hour debating who has it worse as you keep yourselves wrapped into one another like some rank double-layered human-troll burrito. It’s less than the ideal for the romantically glamorous, but you are both too exhausted to care.
You have his face in your hands and you leave sleepy kisses everywhere you can reach; his forehead, his cheeks, that spot at the corner of his nose that crinkles when he sneers.
“Is this annoying?” you ask, drowsy with love and exhaustion.
“Extremely,” he replies. “Don’t stop.”
“I don’t want to smother you with kisses, though. That would be the weirdest cause of death ever.”
“I don’t think ‘suffocation by gratuitous amounts of affection’ can be considered Heroic or Just.”
“Could be Just. Since you deserve it.”
“Polish me up and stick me on Hammond’s cane, John Egbert has officially covered me in fucking sap.”
“Pfft.” The kiss you drift past his lips is an afterthought as you move down to his chin. “Hey, Karkat?”
“Can I see your wings when we wake up?”
“If you promise to keep your inevitable laughter locked up inside that dumb head of yours.”
“Did you wanna go flying together later tonight?”
“Sure. I’m not as skilled as you are, though, you’ve got several fucking years of flying practice on me, so I’m applying the ‘inevitable laughter’ clause to this, too.”
“It’s still technically the twenty-first, so it’s still your birthd--erm, wriggling day, for another three minutes. Can I sing before I miss my chance, now that you have something to celebrate?”
“Go for it.”
So you sing.
You sing because you’ve missed the sound of his laughter, and when you sing, he refreshes your memory.
By the time you finish, sleep is so very rudely tugging you into its comforting embrace.
You squeeze him tighter and leave one last kiss on his forehead.
“I can’t let you go to California by yourself. I’d miss you too much.”
“Wait wait, no, that came out wrong, I didn’t mean for that to sound all creepy and possessive, I meant that as in, like. I want to go with you to California. If that’s okay. If you still want me there with you. I mean, I know I said I’ve had enough adventures for one lifetime, but. I’d go on every adventure if it meant spending a new lifetime together with you. I really do support you, Karkat, but now I want to actually prove that I do. I want to be the wind beneath your awesome troll wings, man.”
You suspect he’s really tired, too, from the way he reaches up and gently rests his hand on your cheek without even trying to look you in the face.
“You are not Bette Midlering me during this proposition.”
“...so I was the one with all the glory, while you were the one with all the strength.”
“A beautiful face without a name for so long.”
“A beautiful smile to hide the pain.”
“Did you ever know that you're my heeeerooooo?”
“And everything I would like toooo beeeeee?”
“Fuck fucking fuck jesus doucheshit ass bulgefucking christ.”
“We can fly hiiiiigher than the eagles.”
“‘Cause I’ll be the wind beneath your wings.”
“If I let you come to California, will you promise never to butcher that song again?”
“I don’t know if I can do that, Karkat. The music is in my soul. You can’t mute the soul.”
You hum the tune under your breath when he presses a kiss to your lips.
He kicks you in the shin and you decide it’s still worth it.
Chapter 7: > [F] John: Breathe.
You can feel the world at your fingertips.
Rivers of oil dance to the mercy of your control, slick whirlwinds suspended in mid-air behind you as you drain the Land’s heart of its poisonous blood. You raise ground and channel the oceans of black, redirecting their natural flow into an isolated pool where its venom could not longer harm the population. Hours pass, and when the rivers run dry, your feet touch down upon the outer staircases of the Slumbering as you wipe the sweat from your brow.
“You clean up good,” Dirk says, coming up behind you. “But may I ask who vomited rainbows into your pringles this morning?”
You are suddenly aware of your smile.
“Dave, most likely. His smelly gay face is probably the most capable of vomiting rainbows everywhere. Uh. No offence.”
“None taken, his face is in fact quite smelly and gay. Now’s probably not the best time for him to be hearing that, though.”
Dirk nods in the direction of a nearby ravine.
Puddles of black surround Dave as he kneels motionless at the side of a large shape soaked in jet black, something too heavy to be carried with the currents and instead had sunk to the bottom. Nothing strikes you as particularly abnormal until you notice the pair of aviators in Dave’s hand and you realize Dave is still wearing his.
“There was an alternate version of himself who came here to maintained a time loop,” says Dirk. “This oil shit’s like tar. Preserved the body perfectly.”
You watch Dave staring down the dead body of his own thirteen-year-old self and you can feel how recollections of the game are flooding back to him, clouds of ink staining the blank slate he’s tried so hard to keep clean. Years of burying the past under the soil of new memories have been reversed within a single moment. You can’t imagine what it’s like to look yourself in the eyes and be reminded of how young you once were.
Dirk rests a hand on your shoulder.
“Go cover Typheus, John. I’ll take care of things here.”
And you leave knowing this wasn’t something that could be taken care of.
You leave knowing your best friend will need your help more than ever.
All in all, it’s a simple piece that doesn’t require much effort or concentration in comparison to the classical music you’ve played before, but for some reason, this composition consumes you.
The wind sweeps around your fingers and you press the keys hard enough to hurt because somehow you know you will never get another chance.
Vrillyhoo hadn’t seen the light of day in years, yet her weight and her shape is familiar in your hands. There’s familiarity and safety in having her by your side, and it makes you feel less lonely as you cross the the echoing corridors of your denizen, as you descend,
Once you reach the bottom, he isn’t hard to find.
The stretch of his scaled body towers to a height you would have imagined impossible upon looking at the castle from the outside. His arms tangle in reptiles, of dragons and snakes and lizards with tongues the length of bodies, coiling and slithering and whispering to one another in manners utmost serpentine. His words echo in hundreds, thousands of hisses from his fingertips and every syllable wounds you with its importance. You can barely see the light in his eyes.
Ｙｏｕ ｈａｖｅ ｂｅｅｎ ａｂｕｓｉｎｇ ｔｈｅ Ｂｒｅｅｚｅ．
You are not sure if it’s truth or fear that resonates through you.
Suddenly, you are thirteen again.
Suddenly, you are looking yourself in the eyes and you are reminded of how young you still are.
Ｉ ａｍ ｔｈｅ ｐｒｅｓｉｄｅｒ ｏｆ Ｂｒｅａｔｈ．
Ｉｔｓ ｕｓｅ ｂｕｒｒｏｗｓ ｉｎｔｏ ｍｙ ｄｒｅａｍｓ ａｓ ａ
ｉｔｃｈｉｎｇ ｍｙ ｍｉｎｄ ａｓ ｎｉｇｈｔｍａｒｅｓ ｉｎ ｐｌａｃｅｓ Ｉ
Ｉ ｂｌｅｄ ｖｅｎｏｍ ｉｎｔｏ ｔｈｅ ｓｔｒｅａｍｓ ｂｅｃａｕｓｅ Ｉ
ｗａｎｔｅｄ ｙｏｕ ｈｅｒｅ．
“You’re telling me you killed hundreds of poor innocent salamanders just to get my attention?!”
Ｔｈｅｒｅ ｗａｓ ｎｏ ｏｔｈｅｒ ｗａｙ．
“Well, I’m here now, asshole, and you’ve got my attention loud and clear! Who do you think you are, going around making everyone sick like that?! You’re lucky I’m even talking to you right now, I could. I could totally kill you, if I wanted to! I’m strong enough.”
(Threats of violence always sounded so foreign in your voice. You hope he doesn't notice.)
“Oh yeah, and how can you be so sure?”
Ｔｈｅ Ｗｉｔｃｈ ｆｏｒｍｅｄ ａ ｃｏｎｔｒａｃｔ ｆｏｒ ｔｈｅ
Ｍｙ ｆｉｎａｌ ｂｒｅａｔｈ ｉｓ ａ ｖｉｏｌａｔｉｏｎ ｔｈａｔ ｗｏｕｌｄ
ｂｅ ｈｅａｒｄ ａｃｒｏｓｓ ｔｈｅ Ｌａｎｄｓ．
Ｔａｋｅ ｍｙ ｌｉｆｅ ａｎｄ ｐｕｔ ｔｈｏｕｓａｎｄｓ ｉｎ
“But we’re the ones who saved you, jackass! We’re the ones who took you along with us and prevented you from being totally erased from existence! And then you turn around and pull this crap because you’re mad I’m using my powers?!”
Ｔｈｅ Ｗｉｔｃｈ ｓａｖｅｄ ｕｓ ｆｒｏｍ ａｎｎｉｈｉｌａｔｉｏｎ．
Ｙｏｕ ｄｉｄ ｎｏ ｓｕｃｈ ｔｈｉｎｇ．
Ｔｈｅ Ｏｔｈｅｒｓ ｈａｖｅ ｒｅｓｅｒｖｅｄ ｔｈｅｉｒ ａｂｉｌｉｔｉｅｓ ｆｏｒ ｔｈｅ ｄｉｒｅ．
Ｙｏｕ ａｒｅ ｎｏｔ ａｗａｒｅ ｏｆ ｔｈｅ ｉｍｐｏｒｔａｎｃｅ，
ｆｏｒ ｙｏｕ ｈａｖｅ ｎｏｔ ｅａｒｎｅｄ ｔｈｅ ｒｉｇｈｔ ａｓ
Ｙｏｕ ａｒｅ ｎｏｔ ｗｏｒｔｈｙ．
“I’m just as worthy of my powers as anyone else who made it through the game!”
Ｃｏｎｖｉｎｃｅ ｙｏｕｒｓｅｌｆ ｂｅｆｏｒｅ ｃｏｎｖｉｎｃｉｎｇ ｍｅ．
“Fine, what do you want me to do to ‘earn’ the right to my powers? Go on a big journey of self-discovery? Dedicate myself to doing what I should’ve done when I first entered the game? Do you want me to go on a quest for you or something?”
Ｙｏｕ ｓｅｅｍ ｔｏ ｂｅ ｕｎｄｅｒ ｔｈｅ ｄｅｌｕｓｉｏｎ Ｉ＇ｍ
ｗｉｌｌｉｎｇ ｔｏ ｇｉｖｅ ｙｏｕ ａ ｓｅｃｏｎｄ ｃｈａｎｃｅ．
Ｉ ａｍ ｎｏｔ ｒｕｔｈｌｅｓｓ．
Ｉ ｗｉｌｌ ｐｒｅｓｅｎｔ ｙｏｕ ｗｉｔｈ ａ Ｃｈｏｉｃｅ， ａｓ Ｉ
ｈａｖｅ ｏｎｃｅ ｂｅｆｏｒｅ．
Ｒｅｔｕｒｎ ｉｎｔａｃｔ ａｎｄ ｌｅａｖｅ ｙｏｕｒ Ｌａｎｄ ｔｏ ｄｉｅ．
Ｏｒ ｆｒｅｅ ｔｈｅ Ｌａｎｄ ａｎｄ ｓｕｒｒｅｎｄｅｒ ｗｈａｔ ｉｓ
Reality sets in.
No matter how frightened you were, you would not kneel.
And so you continue to stand before the denizen.
For a very
He has all the time in the world.
And so do you.
You imagine a life without your powers, without an ability that has grown to become such an intimate part of your entire being. You imagine a life without LOWAS, or worse, a life in which you were responsible for the consequential destruction of everyone’s worlds. You would never be able to look your best friends in the face again.
Your grip on Vrillyhoo tightens. It’s Karkat who forms your words, and it’s Vriska who keeps your voice from breaking.
“I want to complete my quest.”
“I want you to free the fireflies from the sky. I want you to keep your venom to yourself. And I never want to see your oil or your fucking venom flooding this place again.”
Your body is already limp from defeat when every snake of the world wraps around you.
Fangs pierce the side of your neck,
and he steals your Breath away.