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I definitely deserve this.

Past the overwhelming pain in his lungs, these are the only words that Karkat can manage to pick out of the mess of thoughts in his head. As the petals fall to the floor and blood drips from the corner of his mouth, this one thought screams louder than the rest.

I deserve this.

He coughs violently into the sink, candy red blood spattering on the white porcelain. He stares at it for a moment, trying to catch his breath.

Stupid fucking red blood. Stupid color. Stupid fucking idiot me. Stupid Strider, giving me this shit.

Sharp pain shoots up his spine and he feels his chest tighten, all the air rushing out of him as another batch of petals forces its way up his throat. It seems like the more he fights for air, the more petals come up, and he wishes he didn't need to breathe.

Stupid body, wanting to live. You caused this mess, now fucking deal with it.

His heart squeezes and his vision goes blurry as searing pain makes itself known in his chest, and Karkat can almost picture the vines wrapping around his heart, the thorns stabbing into him, the color of the flowers around his lungs blending in with the blood around them. His hands grip the edge of the sink in a feeble attempt to hold himself steady, but he can feel his consciousness slipping away from him as he starts to fall backwards.

-----

It feels like only seconds later when his eyes shoot open and he finds himself on the ground, but over his gagging and the blood rushing in his ears, he hears a voice that definitely couldn't have been there seconds ago.

Shit.

"Seriously, what the fuck happened to you?"

shit shit shit shit SHIT

"Okay, uh, fuck, we don't deal with weird flower diseases in first aid class so I'm taking you to Kanaya. She'll probably know what to do, right? She seems like the knowledgeable type. The type to know stuff. Yeah?" Dave crouches next to Karkat and slides his arms underneath Karkat's knees and chest, lifting him bridal-style.

"Jesus, you're heavy. Thank god I'm a super suave cool guy who can lift a damsel in distress no problem, right?" Dave gives Karkat a faint smirk as he starts to walk and Karkat's chest tightens again. He gags, choking on the onslaught of petals trying to force their way out of his lungs. Dave shifts his arms in a feeble attempt to give Karkat a better position, but all he ends up doing is turning Karkat toward him.

"Here, it's gonna be okay, you're gonna make it. Just cough on my shirt, dude. Get it out. You don't need all that gunk. Get it outta there."

Karkat tries to protest, but the effort just forces the petals out onto the ground, along with more blood.

"There, see, that's better. They're the same color, anyway. You can't even tell." Karkat notices Dave has started walking faster and faster, and the harsher rocking motion is oddly soothing. "If somebody looks at this shirt, they won't even be able to tell. Nobody's about to be like 'Hey, Dave, who bled all over your shirt?' cause you can't even tell."

Karkat forces his eyes to focus in order to examine the shirt. Dave is right. If Karkat hadn't coughed on the shirt just seconds ago, he would never know there was blood on it. It matches the color of the fabric perfectly. His chest tightens again, but he doesn't feel any pain. He's gone numb. Karkat's eyes travel up Dave's sleeve in search of any noticeable blood, but something else catches his attention.

Just above the collar of Dave's shirt, Karkat can see what looks like a tattoo. Black vines come up from Dave's chest and make their way toward his neck, and a few bright red patches in the shape of falling petals stand out on his skin.

Shit, is it seriously that bad? Fuck. Thank gog he's human. Thank gog he doesn't know what that means. Oh fate, thank you so fucking much for offering me this small comfort in my time of fucking need.

Karkat closes his eyes and tries to take a breath. He manages to get a little bit of air, but then he makes a pitiful wheezing sound and his throat closes again. Dave shifts Karkat and does his best to run, but it's not much faster than he was already walking. The rocking motion has become more of a bouncing, and Karkat isn't sure if he's blacking out again or being lulled to sleep. He's not sure it matters.

He gives one last cough and forces his eyes open just enough to see a piece of stem hit the ground behind them. As his consciousness fades again, he hears Dave yell Kanaya's name.

His voice cracks, and something wet drips onto Karkat’s arm.

-----

The next time Karkat opens his eyes, he's not sure he's still alive. His vision is extremely blurry and, other than a dull hum and a vague knowledge that he's sitting upright, he can't feel most of his body. He opens his mouth to speak, but only a horrible rattling sound comes out. He starts to panic.

"Afternoon, Karkat." Kanaya's voice provides a sense of instant calm, and a wave of relief washes over Karkat. "Rose helped me to alchemize some basic tools. It was not anything special, but we have managed to remove most of the petals from your lungs. You should be able to breathe well enough for now."

There's a drawn out pause, and Karkat realizes Kanaya is waiting for a response. He nods.

"Good. Jade and Roxy will be here in a short while to remove the vines."

Karkat tries to clear his throat. It sounds like he's choking, but it works. “What about my - ?”

"Please do not speak, Karkat. I know you love to, but I have worked very hard to keep you alive, and I would very much like for you to stay that way. We all would." There’s something pointed about the way she says the word “all”, but Karkat chooses to ignore it.

Karkat breathes out through his nose in place of a laugh and blinks to clear his vision as much as he can. It's not much better than it was before, but at least Kanaya doesn't blend in with the wall anymore.

“To answer your question, your emotions should remain perfectly intact after the procedure.” Karkat raises an eyebrow. “How shall I put this?” She crosses her ankles and smooths her skirt. “The procedure we will be performing is based mostly on existing medical knowledge, but, as to be quite direct, we are fucking magic, Karkat. We can do things doctors cannot.”

Karkat really does laugh this time and regrets it almost instantly. The pain in his lungs when he coughs is several times worse than before. Kanaya is true to her word, though. There are no petals.

“And if something goes wrong, I will kill you, and you can give me a stern ‘I told you so’ when I next see you in the dream bubbles.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

Karkat gives a weak smile and closes his eyes, tired of fighting to make sense of things through his blurry vision. They sit in silence for a while, and he drifts in and out of consciousness several times, eventually being woken up by a light knock on the door. Jade and Roxy enter shortly after, and they both give him a weak smile.

“Hey, Karkat! We’re gonna patch you up in a jiffy, okay?”

“Yeah, we’re gonna do some magic stuff and fix you right up. Some real wizard shenanigans. You’ll be back to your old self in no time.”

Karkat gives a hesitant thumbs-up and resists the urge to roll his eyes. Kanaya stands and retrieves something from the floor beside her foot before walking over to the side of the bed.

“Let us not prolong this any more, shall we? We are ready. Thank you, Vriska.”

The last thing Karkat sees before he passes out is Kanaya’s lipstick. He doesn’t quite have time to recognize how worried the expression underneath it really is.

-----

Before Karkat opens his eyes, he’s almost certain he’s no longer alive. He can feel his body, but there’s no pain. The metallic taste of blood is gone from his mouth. He can hear soft murmuring, but he would have to strain to make out any words. He takes a deep breath and nothing hurts.

“Okay, but you’re sure I won’t kill him, right? He’s not gonna see me and get all mad and have a troll heart attack and be like ‘Hey, you almost killed me, nice going, get out of my room?’ Or whatever you call bedrooms. I can’t remember right now, but you get it.”

Yeah, I’m alive. Shit.

“I assure you that will not happen.”

“And he’s still asleep, right? I’m not gonna look like a total asshole, just waltzing in?”

“He was asleep when I first encountered you, yes. If you would like to ensure he remains that way, I suggest you expedite this process.”

Karkat rolls his eyes and opens them, his vision finally clear. On the chair where Kanaya sat, there now rests a card, propped upright in front of a knitted, stuffed crab. Inside, there are signatures and messages in various colors, some more readable than others. He shakes his head and fights the urge to grin, but smiles anyway.

“Right. Thanks. Okay. Doing this. Wish me luck.”

“You will be fine, Dave, but I will extend a wish for luck to you regardless.”

There’s some shuffling, and Karkat can hear fading footsteps. He looks at the door and waits. Only a few seconds pass before the knob clicks and the door swings open.

“Hello, you total asshole.” Karkat’s voice is scratchy from disuse and the strain of the past few days, so his delivery isn’t as solid as he would have liked, but he suspects it did the trick. Dave freezes in the doorway, and Karkat can’t recall seeing anything more beautiful in his life. His shades are pushed up onto his forehead so that Karkat can see his eyes, as well as the faint tear tracks and slightly puffy skin around them. The black ink on his skin has turned to a dark green, and the vines have made their way even further up Dave’s neck, blending upward into the back of his hair and across his shoulder. His hand is still on the doorknob, and just below the end of his sleeve Karkat can see even more vines, a full red flower on the back of his hand. There’s a pang in Karkat’s chest and he braces himself.

Oh, yeah, you’re not a diseased, lovestruck idiot anymore. Just a regular lovestruck idiot.

Dave clears his throat and reaches for his shades, moving to slide them back into place, but his fingers pause when they touch the plastic frame. He looks away from Karkat and pulls them off of his head, folding them and slipping them into his pants pocket.

“Good to see you’re back to your regular old self. If you hadn’t called me an asshole I would have thought something terrible had happened while they were doing their magic surgery, but I see that wasn’t the case. Everything went a-okay. You’re all patched up. Those creepy cabbage kids would welcome you with open arms.”

“Yeah, I’m fucking fantastic, Captain Monologue. Are you gonna sit down or not?” Dave lets out a low chuckle and takes his hand out of his pocket to rub the back of his neck as he kicks the door closed and walks over to the stuffed crab. Karkat takes another moment to admire the tattoo as Dave rests a plastic jewel case against the crab before leaning against the wall beside the chair.

“When somebody gets out of the hospital, we usually give them flowers but, uh…” Dave gestures vaguely with the hand by his neck. “That probably wouldn’t have gone so well. ‘Hey, sorry I almost killed you with a flower-related troll germ. Here’s flowers!’ Kind of a dick move, so, uh. I made you that instead.” He points at the CD case. “John and Rose helped, but they’re still authentic, hot off the presses, one of a kind, new, official Dave Strider hits.”

“Is it called ‘Flowers’?” Dave smirks.

“How’d you guess?”

“Because that’s the exact type of ironic hoofbeastshit you love to pull.”

“You know me too well.”

“Well, yeah, I do, but also because you wrote it on the disc in black sharpie and the case is clear.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Dumbass.”

“You love it.”

It takes a moment for the statement to sink in. They both clear their throats and pretend to be very interested in the floor.

“Hey, uh. For whatever the fuck it’s worth at this point, I’m sorry.” Dave looks back up at Karkat and slips his hands into his pockets.

“What are you sorry for, dude? I’m the one that almost killed you.”

“Hanahaki isn’t that cut and dry, Dave. If it’s anybody’s fault, it’s mine, as per fucking usual. You’re gonna be stuck with that for the rest of your life just because I got it bad for somebody way out of my fucking league.”

“What, the tattoo?” Karkat nods. “I don’t give a shit. It’s badass.”

“Seriously?”

Dave shrugs. “Yeah. I'm just glad I know where it came from now. Besides, I've thought about getting a tattoo before but I never knew what to get. Probably would've just been some sick ironic joke thing. Which, I mean, would have been awesome, obviously, but this is way cooler. I’m like a hipster now. I wonder if I could get free coffee somewhere.”

“Free coffee.”

“Yeah, why not?” Karkat just shakes his head. “Hey, so, while we’re apologizing for stuff. I, uh. I’m sorry I didn’t… make you feel loved enough. Or however it works. Kanaya tried to explain it to me but troll biology is still pretty confusing. I didn’t really get it.”

“Even we don’t really know how it works. Troll hospitals aren’t the greatest at keeping people alive or finding cures for things.”

“Yeah, well. In any case I’m not really great at being emotional or vulnerable or whatever most of the time and… this probably wouldn’t have happened if I was , ya know? I mean, John’s been my best bro since forever but you… you’re my best friend.”

“I don't get the difference between those two things.”

“That’s not the point. The point is… I got a lot of shit to work on before I can like. Process my feelings and figure out what I want and show emotions in non-ironic ways. So, I can’t give you the romcom ending to this scenario that you deserve. Not right now. But... I do care about you. A lot.”

Karkat doesn’t realize he’s crying until he feels a tear hit his arm. He pulls his knees up and tries to hide his face, rubbing his eyes and willing himself to stop, but now that he’s acknowledged them, the tears just won’t stop coming.

“Shit, are you okay? Did I…?”

Karkat shakes his head and a single sob racks his body before he coughs, lungs still not quite ready for something as strenuous as crying. “I’m fine, I just. I think I’ve still got some fucking plant in my throat or something.” He lowers his knees and rubs at his face again, refusing to make eye contact with Dave.

Dave seems relieved, and he looks away. “Yeah, Kanaya told me that could happen. Here, try these.” Dave pulls his shades out of his pocket and unfolds them, crossing the room and holding out one of the legs to Karkat. Karkat hesitates and almost sobs again from the significance of the gesture, but he keeps it together long enough to grab them and put them on.

Dave sits on the edge of the bed. “Feel better?”

Karkat nods. “Thanks.”

“Any time.”

“...”

“...”

“Gog, how the fuck do you see with these things on?”

Dave laughs. “I don’t. Not really, anyway. That’s why my music skills are so next level. I adapted to have better hearing.”

“No, you fucking didn't. Stop lying to a sick person.”

Dave gasps in mock offense. “Who do you think I am? I would never lie to a sick person.”

“Then prove it.”

“What?”

“Well, you've got a ‘sick new mix’ just sitting over there. Why don’t you play it? Show me how amazing you are.”

Dave raises his eyebrows. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. Fine. Be prepared to be blown away by my amazing production talent.” Dave stands and grabs the CD, fetching a player from his sylladex as he sits back down on the bed. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He pops the CD into the player and sets it between them. Soft piano music fills the air and Karkat crosses his legs, propping an elbow on his knee and leaning his head on his hand.

“Don’t fall asleep on me over there.” 

Karkat scoffs. “I won’t.”

They sit there for a while just listening to the music. Karkat occasionally taps his fingers on his leg in time with the rhythm, and Dave occasionally attempts to create offbeat, impromptu raps over the songs. Eventually, the CD finishes and they both end up on their backs looking up at the ceiling. They talk about how much Rose teased Dave before helping with the violin parts. They talk about potential improvements to Can Town. They talk about how Terezi tried to lick Kankri’s sweater a week ago and he’s probably still ranting about it.

“Hey, Dave?”

“Hmm?”

“Did you mean what you said earlier? About the… the romcom ending?” Dave considers the statement for a moment before a look of recognition pops onto his face.

“Oh, yeah. Course. In a probably temporary but currently totally platonic way: you deserve the world.”

“...Huh.”

“Hmm?”

“Just checking. Making sure you weren’t just spouting insane fuckery.”

“I do tend to do that.” They both smile and fall back into a comfortable silence.

I deserve this.

It’s a mostly foreign thought to him, but the change is certainly a welcome one. Above all the self-deprecating thoughts swirling in his head, Dave’s weight on the bed next to him reassures him, and this thought screams the loudest. He slides Dave’s shades up so that they rest on top of his horns, and he presses start on the CD player. Soft piano music fills the air again, and he closes his eyes.