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It’s strange, not having a time limit. The first SBURB session was so rushed, John barely even remembers half of the crazy missions he was on, killing monsters and running around in real life and dreams and Prospit and the Battlefield and whatever.

Now, they haven’t even dropped their Battlefield into the center of Skaia yet because Karkat wants them to have a fully-formed plan first, so the new session is a big nothing. Just a lot of cool planets for them to hang out on while they have strategy meetings and try to recover from the last three years.

John ends up hiding out a lot with his tiny grandma, because as much as he was looking forward to seeing these people… it’s kind of weird! It is. None of them have talked for three years and it is basically like seeing a bunch of strangers that remind him of his friends.

Rose and Kanaya are always together, tipping their heads together and whispering things that make them both giggle softly and clasp hands. Rose wears a lot of green lipstick these days. Dave and Terezi, no one seems to understand that relationship but Dave’s physically possessive of her, like when they’re together he’ll sling his arm around her waist and pull her in and tighten his grip if Karkat walks by. And Terezi does seem to spend a lot of time licking his face. Dave doesn’t even flinch at it. Like it’s completely normal. He doesn’t even bother wiping his face off.

John already spent three years hanging out with his Nanna, and he doesn’t mind spending more time hanging out with a tiny teenage version of her. Besides, Jane is cool.

“Is gay marriage legal in the Incipisphere?” she groans, flopping down on her back on John’s bed and throwing one arm dramatically over her eyes. “Because I can’t stop myself from thinking about their wedding. I bet DiStri will get one of his intolerable rapping robots to officiate. I am so sick of rapping!”

John shrugs. He is not as convinced as Jane that Jade’s grandpa is hooking up with Dave’s bro. Jade’s grandpa is equally friendly to everyone, with big jovial claps on the back and expressions of boyish fellowship. John likes him, he’s a little dopey but he’s at least the most enthusiastic of the group. John’s group and the trolls are all a little burned out.

“They probably aren’t really thinking about it right now,” he says. They’d probably like to have a universe to live in before getting married.

“You’re right. I’m being naïve again. Why would they get married now when they can just spend all day ravishing each other in a little cabana on Jake’s land? Looking into each other’s eyes and tenderly caressing each other’s faces?”

“Whoa,” John says. “I don’t know about that, Jane. We don’t even know if they’ve kissed yet.”

“How could they not? Jake as good as informed me straight out that his heart was seized by affection for one charming DS. I’m positive that Dirk’s made his move by now. John, have you seen the way Jake goes around in those khaki shorts with his guns in the thigh holsters? You couldn’t possibly understand the irresistible sexual appeal that oozes from his very being.”

Jane’s probably got a point there. John’s accepted that he might well be a little gay, what with the way his heart feels like it’s falling down a flight of stairs every time he sees Karkat’s stupid angry face lately, but he’s immune to the apparently supernatural charm of Jake English. John actually thinks he looks a lot like Jake, and although he wouldn’t want his tiny teenage Nanna to start lusting after him, it hurts a little to see the way that she and Rose’s mom and Dave’s bro follow Jake around like a herd of puppies. Do puppies travel in herds? Litters? Jade would know. Wait, that’s what it’s like. They follow Jake around like Bec trailing after Jade.

John knows he’s the leader of his little group and all (or at least he was; Karkat’s kind of taken over leadership responsibilities for the group as a whole, and John doesn’t mind), but he can’t imagine Dave, Rose and Jade following him around and cooing over his shorts, much less wanting to ravish him in a cabana, whatever that entails. In fact, the thought of what Dave’s face would look like if John ever suggested it is enough to shut down that train of thought altogether.

“He might not have,” John says in what he hopes is an uplifting tone. “Look at you! You’ve managed to resist making a move on him.”

Jane just rolls over onto her stomach, buries her face in her arms and groans again. John pats her shoulder gingerly. He doesn’t really know how to deal with teenage girls having romantic problems. When Jade had problems with Davesprite, he just yelled until the problems went away, and Rose would never talk to him about things like that.

“You’ll find someone!” John tries. Jane makes another muffled noise.

Nannasprite had never tried to tell him about her attraction to Jade’s grandpa’s khaki shorts.

Jane rolls her head to the side so she’s looking at John.

“And how about you?” she says. “How are your travels through the stormy sea of romantic affections?”

“Um,” John manages. Karkat’s face swims into the front of his mind, scowly and fanged. He pushes it away, even though that’s certainly who Jane is asking about. He mentioned Karkat’s awkward hate-love flirtation thing to her once and she’s been harping on it ever since. Actually John thinks she might have kind of a complex about gay relationships right now, with the way she keeps seeing them where there aren’t any. “I don’t really care about that stuff right now? I mean. If something happened I wouldn’t be like, no, romance is not for John Egbert. But I’m still kind of focused on winning the game and, like, creating our new universe and stuff.”

“But we’re not even doing anything right now.” Jane props herself up on her elbows. “We’re just having endless strategy meetings with the aliens.”

“Yeah,” John says, and smiles to himself. “Karkat really likes strategy meetings!” Or at least, he keeps calling them. He probably doesn’t like them so much. They usually deteriorate into one or more members of the group mocking his strategy meetings, and Karkat doing several different types of acrobatic maneuvers off the handle.

John’s stomach clenches when he thinks about Karkat. Which is stupid! There isn’t anything between them and there never was and there never will be. He wishes his stupid brain would just understand that so he could stop thinking about Karkat all the time. Just because he thought he had some dumb crush on him when he was lonely as hell on a boat for three years, three years during which he didn’t even talk to Karkat and honestly forgot a lot about how annoying he is, that doesn’t mean it’s a thing now. But every time Karkat goes off on one of his rants, warmth spreads through John’s chest like he’s watching a baby hoofbeast take its first steps. Oops, horse. Stupid aliens.

“Have you been associating with him lately?” Jane says.

“Not really,” John says. He doesn’t know where Karkat spends most of his time. Probably following around other trolls and making sure they’re okay under the guise of yelling at them.

It’s just, he really thought that he and Karkat were going to hang out all the time and be friends, but Karkat barely talks to him. And John’s not some dumb kid, he understands that it’s been three years and that their friendship was formed under extreme pressure on one crazy day. They’re all mature people here, he can deal with things not meeting his expectations. But it still kind of sucks.

“Well,” Jane says, with a new tone in her voice, something crafty that reminds John of one of the fictional detectives she likes. “Why not? Why don’t you go and talk to him?”

“Ugh, Jane,” John says, making a face. “Can you just give it up? I am not interested in Karkat.”

“No, John! You can’t simply surrender the fight so easily!” Jane sits up and grabs John’s knee urgently. “One of us has to succeed at this. We are giving the Crocker-Egberts a bad name.”

“Crocker-Egbert-Harley-Englishes,” John says automatically. Can’t leave anyone out, it’s just rude.

“No, I’m not talking about them! They’re doing fine! Jake can have his beautiful gay island romance if he so chooses! I’m fine with it! This is about you and me, John, and how I am not going to go to our new universe until at least one of us has had a successful romantic encounter.”

“Oh, uh,” John says. “I don’t know if that’s going to work out then. I think the session would probably get kind of boring if we’d already won and you just stayed—“

“Talk to Karkat,” Jane says, her voice low and dangerous. Her grip on John’s knee is getting a little painful. “I am not joking.”

“Whoa,” John says. “Okay, hang on. What would I even say to him?” Hey, can we make out so I can see if it’s as awesome as I think it might be?

“You’re right. We can’t leap impulsively into this. That way lies only trouble.” Jane taps her chin thoughtfully with her index finger. This has already gone way past where John thought this conversation would go. “We don’t want you panicking and accidentally saying the exact opposite of what you meant to.”

“Okay,” John says. “What do I want to say, then?” He can’t imagine making any kind of romantic overture towards Karkat that wouldn’t cause Karkat to stare at him wordlessly, and then laugh derisively, call him a few choice insults, and storm off muttering. It’s how Karkat reacts to most things that John says, romantic or no.

Wait. Troll romance.

“He doesn’t like me in a boyfriend way,” John says. “He likes me—I mean, no, wait, he doesn’t like me at all. Or hate me. Or anything. What I mean is, that one time he did maybe like me, it was in that troll way where he actually just hated me.” Which is kind of sad to think about, but also kind of flattering in a way? Trolls are confusing.

“Ooh!” Jane says, her eyes lighting up. She lets go of John’s knee and clasps her hands together. “That’s right! We have to go about this the right way. You have to make him hate you again.”

“Okay,” John says, his chest starting to flutter with nerves. He doesn’t really want Karkat to hate him, but he does really, really want to kiss him a lot. He has his fantasies beyond that point, but they’re all muddied by not being totally sure what trolls have going on underneath their pants. But kissing to start with, for sure.

“How, um,” he says. “How do I do that?”

“You have to do whatever trolls do in that kind of relationship,” Jane says. “What do they do?”

“Get into fights, I think,” John says. He tries to recall the garbled description of quadrants he got years ago, but honestly, he didn’t care much at the time. “Insult each other, probably?”

“Well, that shouldn’t be difficult! There’s plenty to insult at Karkat’s strategy meetings.”

“That would probably make him pretty mad,” John concedes. The idea tugs at him uncomfortably. The madder Karkat gets, the more John likes him, but having him be mad because John is intentionally being mean to him seems… not right. But that’s troll romance for you. Just a different cultural experience that John will have to get used to!

“Perfect,” Jane says. She bounces up and down a little on the bed, giddy. “You should just tell him how much he is wasting everyone’s time and that we should proceed directly to fighting monsters.”

“Whoa, hey,” John says. “Karkat’s meetings aren’t a waste!”

“Have we ever managed to have one productive discussion in them?”

“Well… okay, no,” John says. “But I’m not going to tell Karkat that!”

“John! Do you want to be his extraterrestrial hateboyfriend or not?” Jane narrows her eyes, like she doubts John’s commitment to the cause.

“Umm, yes?”

“Then you must be ruthless! Like a troll would be. Tell him exactly what you think!”

John really doesn’t think Karkat’s meetings are useless, though. They’re mostly funny, although he suspects that saying that would piss Karkat off even more. Hey, maybe he can get the hang of this!

“Okay!” John says, feeling cautiously encouraged. “You really think he’ll still want to hate-make out with me? After all this time?”

“John, you said that he said your hate was cosmically destined. Do you think he would be so flighty as to forget cosmically destined hate so easily?”

No, Karkat doesn’t give up on anything easily. Not one single thing. He is practically the king of holding onto things long after everyone else has already forgotten and no one cares.

But… there are other, more distant conversations that John remembers too. The conversation where Karkat practically asked him on a hate date was the most recent for John, but there were conversations later for Karkat where he didn’t seem to hate John so much. John’s pretty sure by the end of it, his hate had mellowed into something more like exasperation, which Karkat feels for practically everyone, including strangers and features of the surrounding landscape. There’s no troll quadrant for someone who you talk to a lot and maybe like but still yell at all the time, is there? Oh man, what if there is? Then John is in the game for sure.

“I guess,” John says.

“So get in there! Throw your proverbial hat into the proverbial ring. For love.”

“Hate,” John corrects.

“Same difference.”

It’s really not. When John imagines things happening with Karkat, well, yes, okay, there’s a lot of anger and a lot of eye-rolling and calling John stupid and incompetent, but that doesn’t mean anything with Karkat, that’s just because he’s imagining doing stuff with a Karkat who’s alive and breathing. Those things are just part of the package.

“Okay,” John says uneasily. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

“Yay!” Jane throws her hands up in the air. John suspects she may be extra excited about John getting some sweet hatemakeouts due to her belief that Jade’s dopey granddad is making out with Dave’s bro. But that’s okay.

“Yay,” John repeats. He thinks hard about kissing Karkat and tells himself he can do this.

 

-

 

“You fucking—that’s it. That’s it forever. Everyone leave. No more meetings, you’ve lost the right. You’ve all managed to fuck up SITTING IN A ROOM AND TALKING ABOUT THINGS, literally the easiest thing that it is even possible to do, that is how much you’re all fucking masterly trained experts of fucking up. You’re all winning at the fuck-up championships, they can’t even choose a winner, it’s an eleven-way tie. In fact, everyone else just gave up and went home because they were so shamed by your egregious display that they knew they needed at least another five years of hardcore fuck-up training before they could even compete. Even the earliest trolls in Alternian history managed to crawl above ground on their spindly limbs and sit around in hives and TALK ABOUT SOMETHING INCREDIBLY FUCKING SIMPLE LIKE WHAT THEY WERE GOING TO DO NEXT. But not this group. Good luck repopulating our new universe! Good luck continuing the glorious legacy of trollkind! Congratu-fucking-lations! I hope you’re proud of yourselves. And humans, I don’t know about you, I guess you’re probably just doing the best you can.”

Karkat pauses for breath, his gray cheeks flushed slightly pink from rage. His little hands are balled into little fists at his side. It’s so cute John can hardly stand it.

Terezi has her chair pulled up so close to Dave’s she might as well be in his lap, one hand resting on his thigh, and he has his hands tight around her waist the way he usually does when Karkat’s in the room, although he’s slumped back in his chair staring into space like he’s barely even noticed Karkat’s presence. Rose and Kanaya are ignoring the proceedings as usual and whispering to each other—from the look of Rose’s raised eyebrow, John probably doesn’t even want to know what about. Jane, Dave’s bro and Rose’s mom are all crowded around Jake again, all of them talking enthusiastically, Rose’s mom pretty loud. Jade is sitting next to John, blinking up at Karkat. Gamzee never comes to these meetings, which is probably why Karkat gets so worked up.

Karkat narrows his gaze at John and Jade.

“Well?” he demands. “Since you two fuckwits seem to be the only ones paying any attention while I try to work out how to save all of our pathetic asses and the entire goddamn universe. Any ideas?”

“Um,” Jade says. “We should probably start the frog breeding?”

“Thank you, Harley. Thank you for saying something that is, A, a comprehensible string of words that make sense when put in a sentence together, and B, actually relevant in some way to the actual mission we are trying to accomplish. Thank you for achieving the most basic level of communication and collaboration that we have all been capable of since we were a sweep old. Thank you for raising my level of expectations for this group from subalternianean to just incredibly low. You’ve really done your part today.”

“Shut the fuck up, Karkat,” Jade says amiably. Karkat grunts, which is the Karkat version of affection.

He angles his gaze at John, and John feels gripped by something he can’t name. He likes Karkat so much, he can’t even help it. It’s just everything about him—his pale gray skin, his little horns that John wants so badly to touch, his scowly eyebrows, his little yellow fingernails, John likes all of it. He likes everything that Karkat does and says, just because. It’s so stupid.

“Egbert?” Karkat says. “Is it possible that our salvation will come from Little Blue Windy Hood? Tell me you have something to contribute to this conversation that will save this meeting from being as productive a form of communication as the moist spit bubbles produced by your consorts. Tell me your weak human thinkpan has shorted itself out coming up with your first good idea in your meaningless human lifespan.”

Whoa. Okay. That… is totally an opening, right?

John looks over at Jane. She’s stopped talking animatedly at Jake and is watching John now, her eyes gleaming. At his glance, she nods firmly, giving him a thumbs up.

John swallows. Okay. Here goes.

“What the fuck is your problem, Karkat?” he says loudly.

Karkat is so surprised he actually shuts up for a second. In the corner, Dave perks up.

“What,” Karkat says.

“You… asshole!” John tries. “You’re just… yelling at everyone! As usual! What is that even about?”

Karkat’s face is making the weirdest expression, like he has no idea what to do with it.

“And this meeting is stupid,” John adds for good measure. Oh yeah, he is totally doing this. He is the master of hateflirting!

In the corner, Dave claps slowly. Karkat whirls around to glare at him.

“I don’t see you being helpful, Strider!”

“Just admiring your leadership skills. Taking notes,” Dave says, stroking his hand down Terezi’s waist to the outside of her thigh. She giggles and somehow moves even closer to him, hooking a foot around his ankle.

“Okay, that’s fucking it. Egbert’s gone insane and Strider is openly trying to initiate a disgusting human mating ritual right in front of us, not even caring that we can all see his fucking repulsive perversions. Everyone. Leave. Go. I don’t give a shit. You’re all giving me a pain in my cranial sphere.”

Rose and Kanaya are out the door before he’s even done talking. Slowly, everyone files out. Jane squeezes John’s shoulder as she leaves. Eventually, no one is left but John, sitting quietly in his seat with his hands gripping his knees and his heart pounding hard in his chest. He’s never tried to do anything like this before. Not actively flirt with someone.

“Egbert, what,” Karkat says. He sounds tired. His hair is even wilder than usual, sticking out at angles like someone told it not to, and it responded with typical Karkat defiance.

“You heard me,” John says, obstinate. Oh hell yes, he is so good at this.

Karkat’s giving him the strange look again. “Have you been snacking out of a recuperacoon? What is going on?”

“Nothing,” John says, faltering a little. No, come on! “Just… that you suck! You are the worst! And that is what I think!”

Karkat’s face twists in confusion. “Is this some kind of joke?” he demands.

“No!” John says. “It’s not a joke, Karkat. It is for real. I strongly dislike you! And I would like to express that dislike! With… fighting! Maybe. Uh.” Actually, Karkat could probably kick his ass. “Maybe just words.”

“Right, okay,” Karkat says. “Did something happen to you? Did you get swapped with an alternate timeline dreambubble John or something?”

“No!” John insists. “I am the real John Egbert, and I… hate you.”

Karkat narrows his eyes, disbelieving. “You hate me,” he repeats.

“Yep!”

“Um,” Karkat says. “Okay. This is officially the most confused I have been in all my interactions with your godawful evolutionary mistake of a species. Do you even understand what you’re saying right now?”

John balls one hand into a fist. “Yes!” he says. “I am telling you, Karkat, you are just… the worst. To me. I especially am the one who is thinking that you are the worst. So. That is what is happening.”

Karkat exhales, scrutinizing John like he’s an ectobiology experiment.

“Oh my god,” he says, his voice full of quiet horror. “Are you… are you trying to BLACK FLIRT with me, Egbert?”

“Um,” John says, his confidence dipping alarmingly. “Aren’t I?”

Karkat groans, and slaps his hand to his face. “Oh no,” he says. “No, no. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. No. This is so fucking sad.”

This is not the reaction John was hoping for, and he curls his fingers on his thighs, his face burning with embarrassment. He wants to disappear into his god pajamas. It was so stupid to think Karkat liked him. He is going to kill Jane.

“Sorry,” John says lamely.

“Don’t apologize. Fuck. Egbert. You are so unbelievably inept. This is like watching a new-hatched wriggler try to ride a two-wheeled device.”

“Uh,” John says. Don’t apologize? Right, that’s probably a stupid thing to do in black flirting. Are they still flirting? Is Karkat insulting him in a sexy way, or what? Maybe he still has a chance here.

“I don’t have to take that!” he says, raising his chin. “Fuck off.”

“No, no, stop,” Karkat says. “Hang on, I just need to process this for a second.” He peeks at John through his fingers. John tries to look as hatesexy as possible, but he doesn’t really know what that would look like.

Finally, Karkat clears his throat. “Okay.”

“Okay?” John’s heart leaps. “I can be your kismesis?”

“Jegus fuck, Egbert, you don’t ask if you can be someone’s kismesis. God, this is the worst mistake of my life, I can already tell. I can already hear future me choking to death on his hysterical laughter. Let’s just… try.”

“Really?” John knows he’s supposed to be hating Karkat, but he can’t help but beam at him. This is it, he is totally going to get hate makeouts now!

Try,” Karkat says again. “Maybe just like… get your hammer out. Come fight me.”

Okay. Okay. He can do that. Absolutely. John stands, and grabs Zillyhoo from his strife specibus.

He raises the hammer over his shoulder, shifting into a fighting stance. Karkat has his sickle out, holding it low, the point hooked upwards towards John. The sickle glistens in the dull light, and it looks very, very deadly. Karkat’s not actually going to eviscerate him, right? John’s pretty sure the answer is no, but he’s been surprised by troll stuff before. His grip on the hammer tightens.

There’s a momentary pause and John realizes Karkat’s waiting for him to make the first move. Okay, fair enough, John’s been pretty forward so far. He raises the hammer high above his head and runs forward with a yell, preparing to bring it down on Karkat’s skull.

Karkat leaps back. Zillyhoo smacks into the ground, the shock reverberating up the handle and into John’s arms, making his bones vibrate. John pulls it back up and hoists it over his shoulder again, tense, waiting for Karkat’s next move.

But Karkat just stands there. “I’m holding a sickle,” he says, “and you just jumped up and flew at me, leaving your entire body open. I could have cut you in half.”

What? “No way!” John says. “I would have blocked it. I’m so good with this thing, you don’t even know.” Plus, has Karkat even seen the windy thing yet? Yeah, John didn’t think so!

“Maybe,” Karkat says, eyeing the hammer dubiously.

“Come on, fight me!” John raises the hammer again and swings, this time for Karkat’s side. Karkat blocks it with the handle of his sickle, and then somehow twists around so that the blade is hooked around John’s throat.

Oh.

John doesn’t really want to do the windy thing to Karkat.

He drops his hammer, and it lands on the ground with a thud. “Okay,” he says. “No weapons. Bare hands. Fight me.”

Karkat snorts in disgust, but he throws his sickle to the side and tries to replace it with his hands around John’s throat. John ducks under his grasp and brings his fist up into Karkat’s stomach. Karkat doubles over, gasping, and for a second John freezes, terrified that he’s taken it too far. But after a moment Karkat’s flying at John, a whirl of fists and claws.

Karkat’s full weight hits John in the chest and knocks him back to the floor, and he just manages to keep from his head from slamming down hard. Karkat digs his claws into John’s chest, his other hand finding John’s wrist and pinning it to the ground.

John breathes in sharply, pain blossoming on his chest in little points of heat, but at the same time his pulse is hammering in his temples at the feel of Karkat’s warm body on top of him. He brings his knee up hard, connecting with Karkat’s hip, and Karkat grunts. John exploits his moment of imbalance to flip him over, and punches him again. Karkat grabs at John’s shirt, pulling him closer, and for a moment John’s chest seizes so violently it scares him, but instead of kissing him Karkat slaps him across the face. John rears back, surprised, and remembers too late that he’s supposed to be holding Karkat down. Karkat’s already squirming out from underneath him, and then he kind of leaps at John, pushing him back onto his elbows.

John is overheated and overstimulated, aware of every centimeter of his body that’s in contact with Karkat’s. He’s never really touched Karkat before. Karkat has one hand fisted in John’s shirt, one gripping his shoulder, and John wants to feel his skin. Up close, it’s fascinating, gray and smooth as paper, and his yellow eyes are burning in a way that makes John’s stomach flip. He wants to ask if this is where they kiss, but before he can Karkat leans in and does it, presses their lips together.

John’s whole body is lighting up, neurons firing in his brain that have never fired before, sensations happening that he doesn’t even have words for. Karkat’s lips are warm and slick, and John brings a hand up to the back of his neck to feel his gray skin. It’s smoother and more slippery than a human’s, like an eel’s. Karkat opens his mouth, and John licks experimentally. Karkat’s mouth is all teeth and it’s hard for John to use his tongue without feeling like it’s going to get bitten off. It’s like kissing a viper. It’s the best thing John’s ever felt in his life.

Karkat breaks off, and presses a line of toothy, scratchy kisses along John’s jaw line. John will never breathe right again, god, he knew he liked Karkat but he didn’t know how much until this moment, with Karkat’s lips grazing his throat. A shudder rolls through him and he slides his hand up through Karkat’s hair, grabs tight, and pulls.

Karkat whines, like a cat, and bites down hard at the juncture of John’s neck and shoulder.

John chokes, and oh god that is not sexy, Karkat has actual fangs, that hurts. He claps a hand to his neck and it comes away smeared with bright red blood.

“Ow! Fuck!” he says, his voice weak.

Karkat draws back, the look on his face one of trapped horror. “Is that not okay?” he says urgently.

“Uh,” John says. He is bleeding. He’s making out with Karkat and he is bleeding from the neck and the blood is soaking into his god shirt.

“Fuck, fuck,” Karkat says, his voice rising. “I forgot you’re a human, shit, sorry, you’re so fragile!”

“No, I’m not!” John insists, dimly aware that “you’re so fragile” is not what a troll says to his kismesis. “It’s fine! Sexy! I’m so turned on! I just think I should go clean this, probably. And bandage it. But then I’m down for more hate makeouts!” His throat is bright with pain. He clenches the fist in Karkat’s hair and squeezes hard against the sting.

“Fuck,” Karkat says again. “Ugh, this was so stupid, I can’t have a human kismesis—“

John yanks him forward by his hair and kisses him to shut him up. The panic rising in his chest is telling him this is his last chance to make it happen, to make Karkat his for real, and he can’t let a little blood streaming from a neck wound get in the way. Karkat relaxes into the kiss, and John is struck by how easy it is to get past his spiky outer layers. One kiss and he’s melting against John like a big stuffed animal.

Okay, ow, fuck, ow, it really hurts. John breaks the kiss and sucks air through his teeth, his chest tight with trying to keep himself together. “Okay,” he says. “I’m gonna go. Uh. Yeah.”

“Okay,” Karkat says, unfocused. Wow, he must be really into John, because he has nothing else to say on the subject. John pats his fluffy hair, and then remembers that they’re kismesises or however you say it and digs his nails into the soft spot right behind Karkat’s ear. Karkat hisses, and a spark lights up behind his eyes again. Good.

John pushes Karkat off, and absconds.

 

-

 

John spends the next day hanging out with Jane on her land. He’s had three years to explore his, and he’s pretty positive he’s gotten everything out of his consorts that he ever will. But Jane’s land is brand new and exciting, even if it is a little dark.

He’s bandaged up the wound on his neck, but it’s still a little sore. John’s too embarrassed to tell even Jane that it’s technically a love bite, so he tells her an imp caught him unawares and that nothing happened with Karkat. It feels bad to lie to Jane, but every time John thinks about being Karkat’s kismesis he feels more nervous than happy, and he doesn’t want Jane to make a big fuss over it.

He’s just not sure if he can do it. All that aggression seems like a lot to keep up. But he would do just about anything to kiss Karkat some more.

He doesn’t hear from Karkat all day, which only makes his stomach churn more. This wasn’t supposed to lead to him talking to Karkat even less. Is that because Karkat’s supposed to hate him now? But he’s not even calling another meeting.

John pesters a few people about it, and Jade tells him that Karkat’s over on LOFAF helping with the frog situation, so he must have more important things to do than worry about some stupid human kismesis who can’t even take one simple little neck evisceration. John’s starting to wonder if maybe he made up that Karkat seemed to enjoy it, if maybe Karkat would rather forget the whole thing. He gets pretty sad thinking about it, to the point that Jane keeps asking if he’s okay and if he wants to talk about it.

He doesn’t want to talk about it, but he lets Jane think that he’s just pining over unrequited love, rather than requited hate. She makes him some cookies that he has to admit are really good, even if they are Betty Crocker. He and Jane focus on getting through LOCAH, getting Jane higher up on her echeladder, which is no easy task without imps to beat up.

Night falls on LOCAH (presumably, it’s hard to tell), and John still hasn’t heard from Karkat. The whole situation seems awful now. John obviously did something very wrong and Karkat’s obviously regretting the whole thing. Stupid. Everything was fine and then John had to mess with it and now it’s terrible.

He’s feeling moody and annoyed, with both himself and Karkat. In a last-ditch attempt to keep the flirtation alive, just before curling up on Jane’s couch for the night, he sends Karkat a quick “Fuck you” over pesterchum. Then he logs off, miserable, and goes to sleep.

 

-

 

John wakes up to a message from Karkat blinking at him: Fuck you too, Egbert. Come by LOFAF.

Instantly, he’s awake and buzzing with tension. Karkat wants to see him! He almost fist-pumps before remembering that Jane is probably around somewhere.

His good mood as he gathers his stuff into his sylladex is unflagging. Maybe he didn’t screw everything up after all, maybe he’s still Karkat’s kismesis. He hugs Jane, and sets off for the tedious journey through the chain of gates that leads through all the worlds. Well actually, it’s a lot less tedious when you can fly.

After a quick stop at LOWAS for breakfast and to grab a coat, John alights on the snow-covered ground of LOFAF. He trudges up to Jade’s house on foot, mostly because Karkat’s already made too many jokes about his flying abilities, comparing John to various types of flying Alternian animals which John has never seen but gathers are very insulting to be compared to.

He finds Jade in the ectobiology lab, peering at endless screens of frogs. She perks up when she sees him and gives him a little wave. Not being together 24/7 has improved their friendship a lot.

“Hi, John!”

“Hey!” he says, making his way over. “How’s it going?”

“Okay! Karkat is a big help!”

Okay, she brought him up first, so now John can ask. “Where is he?”

“Frog hunting,” Jade says. “We ecto-slimed all these frogs, so now we have to go mess with them to fulfill their future destiny that prevented them from being appearified.”

“Cool,” John says. He sits down on the stool next to Jade’s, set up in front of the screens.

“What happened to your neck?” Jade says. John claps a hand to the bandage, self-conscious.

“Uhhh,” he says. “Scraped it. Do you know when Karkat’s getting back? He asked me to meet him here.”

“He’s not far,” Jade says, pointing to one of the screens. Karkat is there, shivering in just his turtleneck, muttering something to himself as he chips at the ice around one of the frogs with a rock. John feels something go funny in his chest to see him, and it basically just confirms that he is even more gone for Karkat than he thought.

He hangs out with Jade while he waits, keeping one eye on Karkat on the screens. The screens have no sound, but John can tell Karkat is keeping up a steady stream of curses as he frees frog after frog, and there’s no reason why that should be so endearing. Maybe that’s what being someone’s kismesis means—that things that should make you like them less instead just add to the warm feeling pooling in your stomach when you see them. But no, John suspects that might just be what regular liking someone means.

Finally, Karkat’s little troll form leaves the screens, which means he’s coming into the lab. When he sees John, he stops short.

“Hi, Karkat!” John says, grinning and waving, before remembering. “Oh! I mean. What the fuck are you doing here!” Wait no, too far in the other direction.

“You’ve been sitting here waiting for him, John,” Jade says by his ear. Well, okay, yes.

“Harley,” Karkat says loudly, staring at John. “I need to talk to Egbert alone.”

Jade snorts. “And where do you expect me to go? Outside in the snow?”

“It’s not my fault your land is a fucking iceberg,” Karkat says.

“No.”

“Fine!” Karkat yells. He turns sharply and walks out, slamming the door of the lab behind him.

Jade pushes at John’s shoulder. “I think you’re supposed to follow him,” Jade says. John gets up and goes. Maybe he should be embarrassed of how quickly, of how it doesn’t even occur to him not to follow Karkat, even out into the cold.

The cold air hits him like a wall, and he huffs out clouds of misty breath as he trudges out into the snow. Karkat’s shoulders are hunched up, his hands balled into fists, and he’s glaring at John like John stole his romance novel.

“This is stupid,” Karkat says immediately.

“What?” John says, caught off-guard. Karkat looks tense and pissed off. “Are we gonna fight again?”

Karkat’s expression gets even sulkier, his lips pressed together. “No,” he says, and then, “Maybe. Antagonize me. I can’t just fight you straight away.”

Jeez, who knew trolls needed foreplay for their hate makeouts? But okay, John can try.

“Uh,” he says. “Karkat, you… you are a terrible leader! And trolls are stupid. Humans are way better! Also, you’re not even God Tier! And, uh…” He’s running out of things to insult. “You’re not that tall. And—“

“Okay, god, stop,” Karkat says, burying his face in his hands. “Fucking hell, you’re the worst kismesis I could even possibly imagine. Don’t you know anything about how this works?”

John stiffens up, his heart sinking.

“A kismesis is someone who gets under your skin,” Karkat says. “I’m not mad at you. You’re fucking impossible to hate. It’s like hating Nepeta’s stupid cat lusus or something.”

“Oh,” John says. “Is that… bad?”

Stop,” Karkat says again, looking repulsed. “Ugh, you’re so likable it’s stupid. It’s fucking disgusting.”

Is that good? It’s starting to sound like it’s good. John’s entire body is tense, he’s holding everything in stasis waiting for this to resolve into some kind of answer or conclusion.

“But I thought—“ he says, his voice coming out breathless. He tries again. “I thought you wanted me to be your kismesis?”

“Yeah, like, forever ago. I was fucking wrong, okay, the point has been made, it’s done. A dedicated artisan has been working on the point for years and now it’s made. Wanting you black was the stupidest moment of my life and I’ve been sufficiently punished. Can you just come here now?”

“What?” John feels hot.

Karkat actually growls in annoyance. “Just come over here, Egbert, you nooklick.”

John cautiously takes a few steps forward, and Karkat grabs him by the front of the shirt and kisses him hard. Heat rushes through John’s body like lightning, and a noise escapes him that might embarrassingly be described as a whimper. Karkat just kisses him harder, his sharp teeth pressing against John’s lower lip just hard enough to make John shiver. John cautiously flattens his hands against Karkat’s back. Karkat’s body is warm in the frosty air of LOFAF, and John is giddy with sensation, with Karkat’s body pressed against his and Karkat’s tongue in his mouth. Even though John can feel all his edges, his pointy teeth and his claws resting against John’s chest, Karkat is softer than ever before. He presses closer, his hands coming up to loop around John’s neck. He wobbles for a second, and John realizes in a flash that Karkat is standing up on tiptoes to kiss him, and it makes his chest absolutely ache.

Karkat breaks away, gasping. “Fuck LOFAF,” he says, “seriously, it’s impossible to do anything here in the snow.”

John’s head whirls at the implication. “Wait, wait,” he says. “I don’t get it, why are we kissing, I thought you said—“

“Fuck’s sake, Egbert, what do you call it when you don’t hate someone but you want to kiss them? You call it matesprits, you ignorant pail-licker. Now shut up.” He kisses John again. Oh god, John is desperately into this, and even more stupidly into Karkat calling him his troll-boyfriend. Every part of him is light, he belongs on Jane’s planet with the balloons. If it weren’t for Karkat’s hands on him, he would be floating. Karkat kisses like it’s a challenge, and John has never liked anyone so much.

“Okay,” he says, pulling away with difficulty. Someone has to follow up on the exploration of what exactly they can do in the snowy wilderness. He backs up to the outer wall of the ectobiology lab, pulling Karkat up against him. Karkat melts again, going from a mass of tensed muscle to a soft weight against John the moment their lips touch. John rubs his thumbs into the small of Karkat’s back, and Karkat grips his shoulders, presses him against the wall with his hips.

It occurs to John hazily that they’re approaching the moment where all his fantasies run out, because it’s the moment where troll anatomy becomes important. What if troll genitals are located somewhere weird? What if John has no idea what to do?

He presses a kiss to Karkat’s throat, right where Karkat bit him. And then he remembers the look in Karkat’s eyes when he dug his nails in the other day and bites as hard as he can with his dull human teeth. Karkat hisses and arches his back, reaching up and digging his pointy fingernails into the back of John’s neck, and it hurts but it’s fine. It’s like Karkat’s insults, not serious enough to really sting. John wants more.

He mouths at Karkat’s throat and nips at his jaw line, and he has no idea what the fuck he’s doing but Karkat’s whimpering like he’s doing a good job of it. Karkat rolls his hips, and John chokes on a gasp—okay, troll genitals are probably in the right place, because, um, wow. Karkat’s clinging to him like a cat, pressing their bodies together like he’s trying to get inside John’s skin. John’s brain trips up trying to figure out exactly what he wants Karkat to do to him, exactly what he wants to do to Karkat, he doesn’t know, he just wants more of Karkat’s body heat and his tongue and teeth and the way he’s breathing in short little pants against John’s mouth like John’s pulling him apart.

“Fuck,” Karkat whines, and pushes his hips against John’s again. John seizes up, the sensation hitting him like a shock. He buries his face in Karkat’s neck, his cheeks burning hot as Karkat rubs against him. He can feel his pulse hammering in his temples, and he’s suddenly aware of how exposed they are, out on the snowy plains of LOFAF. It’s somehow not right, John wants Karkat in a small dark space where it’s just the two of them, not out here where they’re being stared at by frogs frozen into walls of ice.

But it’s hard to complain when Karkat’s grinding against him shamelessly, and John can’t take a proper breath because something in his chest keeps catching every time Karkat moves his hips. He’s so ridiculously turned on by this angry little alien with the gray skin and blunt horns, he can’t stand it.

Struck by sudden curiosity, John slides his hands up from Karkat’s back, up his neck through his hair, and rubs the nubby points of his horns with his thumbs. The noise that tears out of Karkat is one of pure shock, and his entire body goes rigid, shuddering hard against John’s chest. He leans on John like he can’t hold himself up anymore, and it’s fucking amazing, so John does it again. Karkat whimpers something completely incoherent, his grip tightening so hard on John’s hips that John’s sure he’ll have bruises.

John rubs his horns again, and Karkat jerks back sharply, grabbing his wrist.

“Stop,” he says, gasping for air, and for a second John’s heart rate kicks up another notch, did he do something wrong? Karkat squeezes his eyes shut, trying to catch his breath. “I can’t pail you out here, fuck, we don’t even have a pail and we are in a field of snow.”

Okay, there’s some weird troll stuff in that sentence but John thinks he gets it, and the implication makes him go weak. Like, not only is John the greatest mate sprite ever, but he’s actually so good that Karkat can’t take anymore. Which is probably good because John doesn’t want to come in his God Tier pants either, and he was embarrassingly close. But what, he’s just supposed to stop now and go back inside and hang out with Jade? With a giant boner?

“Let’s get Harley to come out and give us ten minutes alone in there—“ Karkat says, nuzzling John’s neck.

“No, Karkat, that is incredibly rude,” John says, but he can’t pretend it’s not tempting. But also, no, he is not going to ask Jade if he can just really quick get Karkat off in her ectobiology lab while she waits outside in the snow.

“Why don’t we just go to my land?” John says, grabbing a handful of Karkat’s turtleneck.

“Too far,” Karkat groans, his hands closing around John’s hips again.

“I can fly us—“

“No, no, I am not going to let you carry me like some fainting moirail over to your planet to ravish me—“

“Well then you think of something!” John says, aware that he’s whining, but fuck, come on, Karkat’s still breathing hot on his throat and that’s not fair.

“Ughhhh,” Karkat says, the least sexy groan of all time but it still makes John’s stomach flip. “Fine! Let’s just—let’s just do it, and then go back to your shithive of a land to clean up, like we’re four sweeps old and just discovering the miracle of our fucking bodies, okay?

“Heh,” John says. “Our fucking bodies.”

“Shut up before I change my mind,” Karkat says darkly, but then John grabs his horns with both hands and he trails off into a squeak. It’s maybe the cutest sound John’s ever heard come out of him, and the look on Karkat’s face says that he knows it and he’s considering leaving John in a snowdrift.

Karkat closes his eyes again and rubs his horns against John’s palms, shuddering. And okay, if they’re going to do this, then they’re going to do this, so John takes one hand off Karkat’s horns and palms himself through his god pants, because his dick really needs some attention.

Karkat cracks an eye open and says “No, let me—“ and then Karkat Vantas is slipping his hand down John’s pants.

It’s incredible for one fraction of a second, before Karkat shrieks and pulls his hand out again. “Oh my god, what! What do you have!”

“What do you have?” John huffs out, frustrated. “Can we save show and tell for later?”

Karkat wavers. John can actually see him thinking it over, weighing his freak-out about alien physiology against his desire to get John off. Getting John off wins, and he cautiously slips his hand under John’s waistband again, ghosting his fingers over John’s dick so slowly that John thinks he might die.

Karkat,” he says desperately, curling forward. He loses his grip on Karkat’s horn and his hand falls weakly to Karkat’s shoulder. Karkat seems to be feeling him out, probing with his fingers all over John’s dick, and then he finds John’s balls and John thinks he might cry with how good this feels.

“Grip the—“ John starts, and then falls silent because how embarrassing to have to explain this to him. But he needs to come, and Karkat’s an alien so what does he care.

“Grip the—shaft,” he says, his voice falling off on the last word. He can feel his face burning red, but it doesn’t matter because Karkat does, wrapping his fingers around, and John is so, so close.

“Yes,” he gasps out, “yes,” and then Karkat sort of rubs him a few times and that’s enough. John’s hips jerk and he comes, pressing himself back against the wall so he has something solid to ground him as it rolls through him.

Karkat yelps and pulls his hand back again. When John looks at him, he’s staring at his hand—oh, at John’s come on his hand.

“Fucking weird,” Karkat says. John tries to focus.

Now that his mind is no longer clouded with desperation, it hits him that Karkat just did something really nice and kind of scary for him, and that now he has to do the same back. He takes a deep breath. Okay. He can do this. He reaches for the waistband of Karkat’s jeans.

His fingers falter on the zipper. “Just—warn me,” John says. “What’s under here? Tentacles? Feathers?”

“It’s just a bulge, Egbert, calm yourself,” Karkat says.

John has no idea what that means, but okay. Sure. He undoes Karkat’s fly, and sticks his hand down Karkat’s underwear.

Karkat is definitely not human. There’s certainly something under there, something that John grabs and tries his best to jerk off, but it’s smooth and slippery and kind of squishy in a completely different way than it should be, and also it seems to be doing some of the work itself. John doesn’t even want to think about that. Karkat is leaning into his touch obscenely, his eyes shut and his mouth drawn tight, huffing out little puffs of breath through his nose. So okay, whatever the fuck John is touching, he must be doing something right. He moves his hand experimentally, rubbing with his thumb, and Karkat grunts. He raises a hand and idly touches one of his own horns, rubbing the tip lightly. John gets the hint. He brushes Karkat’s hand out of the way with his free wrist, gets a good grip on Karkat’s horn, and twists.

Karkat cries out, and then he’s shuddering and leaning his head forward onto John’s shoulder and John’s hand is wet.

He pulls it out, and it’s dripping with crimson fluid, matching the stain that’s forming at the front of Karkat’s pants.

“Oh my god,” John gasps. “You come blood?” That’s possibly the most disgusting thing he’s ever heard, or even thought of, and it’s a little discouraging that it doesn’t do a thing to dampen his desire to fuck Karkat some more.

“No,” Karkat says between huge gulps of air. He must be wrecked, because he doesn’t even add an insult to it. It’s not, “No, Egbert, you lump of diseased thinkpan matter,” it’s just no and Karkat leaning further into John to catch his breath. John brings his arms around him, careful not to touch his shirt with his sticky hand. Wow, this was a bad idea, they really should have waited until they got to John’s land for this.

“It’s not blood, fucksponge, it’s genetic material, and yours is creepy,” Karkat mumbles.

“Okay,” John says, “come on, windy express to LOWAS leaving now.”

“Fuck you,” Karkat says, but he loops his arms around John’s neck and lets John catch him around the waist, levitating them both into the air.

Karkat’s heavier than John expected, but lighter than a car, so it’s pretty easy to let the wind carry them back through the chain of gates that leads to LOWAS. With the breeze supporting them, it’s not necessary for Karkat to hold on to John, but he does anyway, like it hasn’t even occurred to him to let go.

Somewhere around LOLAR, John leans forward and says in Karkat’s ear, “Hey Karkat, what actually is a matesprit?”

“Oh no,” Karkat groans, “I should have known this matespritship was going to be Wriggler’s First Day of Schoolfeed. I can’t wait to see how spectacularly you show your incompetence at filling this quadrant, I really can’t. I should sell tickets. Come see the hornless human alien fuck up his second quadrant of the week.”

Which is basically Karkat for “I love you,” so yeah, John feels pretty fucking great.