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Spread Your Wings

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The transportalizers with the symbols only worked for the troll who was supposed to wear said symbol - they'd all tested it, and then they'd tested it again with a few of them in other people's shirts, just in case. Karkat had tested it a third time, because even in a race known for jealously guarding their private space, he took paranoia to a whole new level.

And after all that, he still couldn't bring himself to feel completely secure in the lab room he'd claimed in 'his' section. It was theoretically possible for him to get to someone else's area by navigating the labyrinth of halls and rooms that made up the asteroid. The transportalizers were only meant to be shortcuts, and 'shortcut' implied that there was a long way around.

Granted, the long-kept secret of his freakish mutant blood was quite thoroughly out of the bag - everyone had bled in that final battle, but they'd been a little busy for anyone to react at the time. Since then they'd all been in too much shock over the mess their session had become to think about anything else. Karkat was sure it would come back to bite him on the horns eventually, but he was also fairly certain none of the others were going to try to cull him at this late date.

It hardly seemed necessary, when they were all going to die as soon as this asteroid crashed out of the Veil.

Still, Karkat intended to cling to every second of life he could get, just as he always had. His fucked-up blood wasn't the only secret he was keeping, and he was almost grateful it was the secret that had been uncovered. It was big enough to make the others think that was the only thing he was hiding, and he wanted things to stay that way.

If he was smart, that would mean treating this room as if it was as public as the rest of the asteroid, but he was rapidly running out of options. Nearly six hundred some odd hours of knowing that at any moment Terezi might be watching him on her screen had taken its toll. The muscle spasms in his back had long since passed mere fiery agony, and moved on to soul-destroying levels of pain.

Karkat was used to pain. He'd lived with more of it every day than most trolls would experience in their whole lives, but even he had limits.

With his back as locked up as it was, there was no way he was going to be able to lift his shirt up over his head. He hooked his claws in the front and yanked hard, tearing it off his body. The moment it was clear of his back he braced his hands on the wall and finally let his shoulders slump.

No longer held bound in place by willpower and fabric, his wings unfolded from their unnaturally cramped position. They fell limply from his thorax, pulling at the atrophied muscles that should have held them perpendicular to his back, a disgusting parody of the beautiful wings Vriska had earned when she reached God Tier.

It always hurt like a bitch when he let them out, but he'd never gone anywhere near this long without unbinding them before. Karkat couldn't stifle the scream that tore his throat raw as agony far worse than anything he'd ever felt before ripped through his back.

It was worse than every other time combined. It was even worse than the time he'd tried to tear them right off.

It was worse than dying could ever be, surely.

Sobbing for breath between choked screams, he locked his trembling knees and willed the muscles in his back to relax. They weren't listening at all, and he wondered dizzily if maybe he was just going to be stuck like this forever.

"What the fuck? Are we under attack?" Sollux's voice came from the hallway a split second before the room's giant metal door crashed open. A haze of psionics filled the room, augmenting the dim lighting and turning it as bright as a double full moon.

"Shit, fucking grub-sucking nooksniffer, what the fuck are you doing here?" Karkat spat out, whirling around and pressing his back to the wall in a belated attempt to hide the deformed monstrosity of his wings.

"KK?" Sollux looked equally surprised as he turned his head this way and that, scanning the room. "I wath ekthploring, and I heard thcreaming from in here... wath it the demon?" Then he got a good look at Karkat, and he swore. "Shit, KK, you're bleeding like crathy, it'th fucking dripping down the wall! Where are you hurt?"

Sollux took a step forward, and instantly Karkat's sickles were in his hands. "Back off," he growled, trying to hide the way his hands were still trembling in pain as he brandished his weapons. "I will rip your innards out through your bone bulge and stuff them into your nook if you take one more step, you hear me?"

"What the hell?" Sollux looked understandably confused, coming to a halt and raising his hands. As if it meant anything for him to show that he was unarmed. As if stopping him from getting closer was even to Karkat's advantage, when the psychic twink could tear him to shreds without ever coming in range of Karkat's sickles.

Karkat was fighting a furious internal battle with himself. Every instinct he had, every moment he'd managed to live until now, everything inside him was screaming at him to kill Sollux now, while the other troll was still off-guard. Before Sollux could see, before he could go running off to the others to tell them what a freak Karkat really was. Before he killed Karkat for daring to continue existing.

But this was Sollux, a troll he'd spent a hundred late days talking to online, coding and arguing and flinging insults like they were going out of style, embarrassing themselves and each other and sometimes even making Karkat feel, for brief moments at a time, that he belonged. They'd been through hell and back together, and they were nearly the last survivors of their entire race.

Karkat had killed people before to keep his secret, but he'd never killed someone who mattered to him.

Then his traitorous body took the decision from him, a massive spasm tearing through the muscles of his upper back. He cried out as the sickles fell from his numb fingers, awkwardly trying to reach back and push his palm against the knot to make it release. Despite his best efforts his knees gave way and he hit the floor hard, retching a little with the pain.

Sollux was talking, he realized after a horrible, endless moment of agony. The words were soft, the tone almost gentle, like Tavros when he was talking to his stupid animal pals or something. It took Karkat a wrenching effort to focus enough to be able to understand him. "...not like we're all red for each other or anything, but fuck, KK, I'm not going to finish you off jutht 'cauthe you're injured and weak," he was saying, and he sounded faintly hurt. "Gimme a break, I only want to help you, nookthtain. Your whole fucking back ith drenched in blood!"

Blood? Karkat craned his neck to look over his shoulder, half expecting to find that his muscles had actually torn themselves open. But there was only the smooth expanse of his grey skin, twitching here and there as the knotted muscles continued to try to kill him from the inside out. The twisted, limp remains of his wretched wings draped obscenely over his back.

He started laughing as he realized that it was his damned wings that Sollux was seeing, mistaking for a bleeding wound from a distance. They were the same freakish candy red as his blood, of course, the transparent membrane a paper-thin cover over the blood vessels that pumped all through them and gave them colour.

"It's not..." he gasped out, but another wave of agony choked him off. He hung his head and just focused on breathing through the pain, wondering if it really was going to go on forever.

With an impatient noise, Sollux strode across the distance between them. "Fuck, it'th not like you can even hurt me, ath bad off ath you are... whoa."

He came to an abrupt halt less than a foot away, close enough for Karkat to hamstring him if only he could reach his sickles, but even that effort was beyond him at the moment.

"Fuck," Sollux said, his voice strangled. "Holy fuck. Holy fuck. Are thothe wingth? KK... when the fuck did you reach God Tier? Why didn't you tell uth? What... what'th wrong with them?"

"Cramps," Karkat managed to grit out between his teeth. God Tier? Shit, he hadn't even thought of that as a possible way of explaining away his mutation, but of course it was the obvious conclusion for one of them to come to after seeing Vriska's transformation. Not that it would hold water for long, not when the pathetic state of them was so obvious.

Something solid and yet insubstantial wrapped around him, cradling his body firmly. He felt like a wriggler again, wrapped up tight in a cocoon, waiting to emerge as a troll. Pressure was applied to all the worst of the knots at once, and he choked off another scream as they were pummeled into releasing. "What..." he got out, then bit down on another cry as the pressure moved on to the next worst knots.

"Aradia would to do thith for me, when I got a really bad migraine," Sollux explained, his voice hushed. "I mean, not thith ekthactly, obviouthly. She had to uthe her handth, but it'th the thame idea."

Karkat struggled to open his eyes, not sure when exactly he'd closed them, and he found the other troll crouched next to him, hands outstretched and a frown of concentration twisting his narrow features. It was his psionics that Karkat was feeling, everywhere at once, painful and soothing at the same time. Slowly the cramps were easing, muscles that had been locked in agony for his whole life relaxing and letting him breathe freely for the first time he could ever remember.

It still hurt - it would never stop hurting completely, not when his wings were such a mangled mess. But it was better than it had ever been before.

"Thanks," he mumbled, because even he wasn't enough of an asshole to throw a gift like this back in the giver's face. "Sorry I flipped out on you."

"No problem. Fuck, if you were hurting thith bad, I'm shocked you didn't attack me when I thtartled you." Sollux was obviously trying to sound matter of fact, but his voice was shaking a little. From this close Karkat could see his mismatched eyes behind the equally mismatched lenses of his glasses, and they were as wide as they could go. "What happened, anyway?"

Karkat grunted in response, not quite sure how to answer that. Should he try to maintain the fiction that he'd somehow reached God Tier without anyone else realizing? And then kept his supposed powers hidden in the final battle, when they'd needed every iota of strength they had and still nearly lost? No, the others would probably lynch him just as fast for holding out on them. Maybe faster.

"It always hurts to keep them hidden too long," he finally mumbled, giving in to the inevitable. At least it was Sollux who had found him like this. The bipolar freak was Karkat's closest contender in the 'most fucked up ever mutations' pageant, so maybe some faint stirring of pity would move him to show mercy. "Six hundred hours is way too fucking long."

"Thikth hundred... wait. You had thethe before the game?" Sollux's eyes went wider still, and Karkat gave a strangled yelp as the psionic cocoon squeezed painfully tight around him. "Shit, thorry, thorry," Sollux hastily apologized, and the pressure eased again. "You were hatched like thith?"

"Yeah," Karkat rasped, heaving a sigh. "Lucky me, hit the genetic jackpot. Watch me jump for joy." Wings had long been considered one of the most desirable, attractive traits a troll could inherit - largely because they were so rare. Rumour said only the highest of high-bloods ever had them, but since they'd pretty much died out of the gene pool, it was hard to know how much was truth and how much was legend.

Something ghosted along the edge of his wing, pressure so light he could barely even feel it, and Karkat shuddered. Sollux was trailing the tips of his fingers over the broken surface of them, he saw when he looked over his shoulder. It didn't hurt, a little to Karkat's surprise. Actually, it felt good, really good. His wings shivered under the contact, atrophied muscles struggling and failing to flutter them in a reflexive reaction to the touch.

"At leatht a hundred thweepth thinthe the latht adult troll with wingth," Sollux said softly, almost like he was thinking out loud. He sounded... sad, a little to Karkat's bewilderment. "Probably like a hundred generationth thinthe anyone wath hatched with them. I gueth it only maketh thenthe that even if they did show up again, the gene would be mangled. I'm thorry, kk, that really thuckth."

"The fuck are you talking about, grubtard?" Karkat said, frowning. "Whatever damaged gene caused my fucked up blood, pretty sure it's got nothing to do with the one that gives wings."

"Huh? I mean, yeah, but that'th not what I meant," Sollux said, frowning right back at him. "They're all... twithted and thtunted."

"Yeah, no shit, that's what happens when you force a body part out of shape and then keep it that way for six fucking sweeps," Karkat snarled, wings twitching feebly again at the remembered pain. They'd hurt so much when his lusus had first wrapped him roughly in a length of cloth to push them out of sight, and the pain had only gotten worse over the years as they tried to grow. Troll wings weren't built to fold up flat against their backs, but that was exactly what he'd forced them to do. Not to mention practically bending them in quarters to keep them from making humps in his shirt and pants.

"You..." Now Sollux was gawking at him, there was no other word to describe his horrified stare. "You did thith to yourthelf?"

"For fuck's sake, you're supposed to have twice as much brain as the rest of us, you freak. Use them," Karkat snarled at him. "How in the name of the ever-loving mother grub could I walk around with these fucking things sticking out of my fucking back like a giant 'please cull me now' sign? A neon fucking sign, complete with glittering trails to lead the drones right to me."

"Oh." Sollux finally seemed to get it, eyes dropping to stare at the obscenely bright red appendages lying limply against Karkat's grey skin. "Yeah, I... fuck." Now he looked sick as well as horrified, and when he met Karkat's eyes again the expression in his made Karkat's blood pusher give a weird little twist in his chest.

"Shit, don't let Feferi catch you looking at me like that," Karkat muttered, turning away in a vain attempt to hide the blush that sprang to his cheeks. "Considering the lengths I've already gone to trying to keep my internal organs right where they are, I'd kinda like them to stay that way. She strikes me as the viciously jealous type."

"Huh? Wait, what? No, no," Sollux shook his head. A little to Karkat's surprise, the mustard coloured stain spreading over his cheeks said he was blushing, too. "It'th not like that. We're not... I mean yeah, I think she pitieth me pretty hard, but... the fuck could I pity her for? She'th the fucking heir to the empire, she'th had everything she ever wanted handed to her on a golden fucking platter. She'th way out of my league."

"She was stuck with Eridan as a moirail for more than a sweep just to keep him from killing all the landdwellers, I'd pity damn near anybody for that," Karkat said, rolling his eyes. He'd done his best to comfort Eridan when the seadweller had cried on his virtual shoulder after Feferi dumped him, but he had to admit his sympathies were with the princess in that situation. It had definitely been a very one-sided moiraillegiance, totally unhealthy.

"Heh, yeah, true enough," Sollux said, with an awkward chuckle. "You feeling any better?"

"I... yeah, a lot better," Karkat agreed, cautiously shrugging his shoulders and marvelling when that didn't start a new series of spasms twisting his muscles into knots. His useless wings were still a limp, ragged mess, but that went without saying. The rest of him was in surprisingly good shape.

Even so, he had to bite down harshly on a disappointed noise when the comforting pressure withdrew from around him. The pain didn't return, but the loss of it felt almost like a new kind of ache.

"Well, if you need my help again, jutht athk," Sollux told him, and smacked him across the back of the head hard enough to sting.

"Hey! What the fuck was that for?" Karkat demanded, rubbing his head with one hand and glaring at Sollux in indignation.

"For thinking I'd cull my betht friend for having wingth," Sollux told him unsympathetically. "The fuck kind of douchebag do you think I am, anyway? We all know about your fucked-up blood anyway, and that'th what would really have gotten you culled."

"Oh yeah? You telling me not one of those high and mighty high-blooded bonebulges out there would rage over the idea that the first troll in a hundred sweeps to have wings is a mutant so low on the hemospectrum he fell off the bottom?"

"Well..." Sollux looked pensive, and finally nodded reluctantly. "Yeah, I can thee why you'd want to keep it thecret. I won't tell anyone. But I mean it, don't let yourthelf get all tied up in knotth like that again."

"Yeah, whatever," Karkat muttered, but he was blushing again. "Watch it, man, I'm seriously starting to feel like you're about to declare your undying pity or something."

"Heh, in your dreamth," Sollux jeered. "You probably uthed to lie around in your recuperacoon jutht imagining thith moment, dreaming of my pathionate pity thweeping you off your feet."

Now they were back in familiar territory, and Karkat finally felt like he had his feet back under him again. "Not half as often as you'd lie around stroking your freaktastic bulges, imagining my face plastered all over your bucket," he replied, elbowing the skinnier troll firmly in the ribs. Sollux snorted and pushed him away, and then they were both laughing.

Karkat surprised himself a little with that. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt relaxed enough to just let go and laugh like this. In fact he wasn't sure it had ever happened before. Maybe having someone find out his secrets wasn't the end of the world after all, if it was the right person.

Too bad it was literally the end of the world anyway, so he wouldn't get much of a chance to enjoy it.

Now that he knew what to look for, Sollux could see countless little signs of Karkat's 'deformity'. It was in the stiff way the other troll always held his shoulders, back muscles constantly clenched to keep the wings down and flat. It was in the tiny flinch Karkat couldn't quite hide when Terezi slapped him on the back, and the pained huff of breath that escaped him when he flopped down into the computer chair. Sollux had to hide his own wince of sympathy for that one, knowing now that the other troll's wings had probably been crushed painfully under his ass by that manoeuvre.

It was also in the way Karkat got progressively crabbier as time wore on, snapping and snarling at everyone around him, the volume of his rants rising until they reached ear-splitting levels. His swearing got increasingly more intense as well, and Sollux half imagined he could count the number of knots in Karkat's back by the number of times the other troll said 'fuck' in one breath.

All of it made the ball of sick horror that roiled in Sollux's chest twist ever harder, until it nearly choked him with the force of his own emotions. He had never, ever imagined that he would encounter someone even more fucked over by genetics and society than he had been. He'd spent his whole life wallowing in a narcissistic sort of self-pity, not even making any attempt to hide how fucked up he was, or making any effort to find ways around it.

Yet there was Karkat, right in front of him this whole time, hiding it so well that even Sollux had never suspected it was anything more than bizarre paranoia that caused him to hardly ever leave his own hive. Granted, everyone knew that Karkat would never manage to have a proper kismesis because he hated himself far more than he could ever hate anyone else, but at least he'd done his best with the sucktastic genetic hand life had dealt him.

Finally Sollux couldn't stand watching Karkat's increasing pain any longer. "KK, come with me," he said abruptly, standing and grabbing the shorter troll's arm. He caught Karkat in mid-rant, jerking the flailing appendage to a sudden and possibly painful halt, and Karkat squawked at him.

"What the hell is your problem, you sorry bulge-licking excuse for a wriggler? Has your rotting think pan completely dribbled out through your ears? I'm in the middle of an important speech," Karkat raged, glaring at him hard enough that Sollux could practically feel the burn on his skin.

"Nobody'th even been lithening to you for the patht ten minuteth or tho," Sollux informed him impatiently. "Come on, I need to show you thomething. There'th a network problem, and I'm gonna need four handth to fikth it."

"Reel-ly? Mine is working swimmingly," Feferi said, tilting her head up to look at him. "I can try to help you, since Karkat is busy."

"It'th intermittent, and thorry, but I need thomeone who already hath thome idea what to do," he lied, shrugging. "It won't take ath long, that way."

Finally he managed to get them to the transportalizer, and they were out of range of awkward questions. "Thank fuck," Sollux muttered under his breath.

"What the hell was that all about?" Karkat demanded, scowling up at him. "The day you admit to needing help with computers, let alone my help, is the day you tear your own horns off."

Sollux couldn't help but chuckle at the accuracy of that statement. "Ehehe, pretty much. But you're the only one who knowth me well enough to realithe that." And that just underlined the fact that this odd red flirtation he had with Feferi was doomed to fail. For all that she pitied him, and was forever pestering him to talk to her about his feelings, she didn't really understand him at all and never would.

Aradia had known him well enough to spot his lie for what it was - presumably she still did, but he doubted she would care enough to comment on it. He had no idea what to make of her odd robot self, but he figured the way she'd barely said two words to him since coming back to 'life' was a pretty good indication that whatever they'd once had between them was over.

But even thinking about what he'd lost with Aradia didn't hurt as much as it used to. It was like all the hurt he was capable of feeling was already tied up in the weird mix of anger/grief/sympathy/regret that he'd been drowning in pretty much since the moment he'd first realized the implications of Karkat's hopelessly mangled wings.

"So what the actual fuck, Sollux?" Karkat was saying, jerking at the arm Sollux still had in his grasp. Sollux tightened his grip, because he had a sneaking suspicion that if he let go, Karkat was going to find some way to eel out of the situation.

Fuck, he really needed to stop with the fish puns. He'd been spending way too much time with Feferi.

"Look, jutht... chill, will you?" Sollux said, rubbing the bridge of his nose under his glasses with his free hand. "Watching you torture yourthelf wath giving me a migraine, that'th all. You theriouthly need to relakth, KK."

"The fuck are you talking about? I wasn't torturing myself," Karkat said, his scowl deepening.

"Are you kidding me? I could thee the way you were hurting more with every pathing minute," Sollux told him, rolling his eyes. "Fuck, I don't know how I never realithed thomething wath up before thith. Then again, you are pretty good at dithtracting people with sheer bitchineth."

"I'm fine dipshit," Karkat snapped, tugging on his arm again. "I've lived with this every day of my life, I can handle it. I don't need fucking pity from a freakjob who's arguably more fucked up than I am!"

"It'th not pity KK, I told you. I'm putting you out of my mithery," Sollux insisted. Despite his words, he was kind of sickeningly sure that Karkat was right about what was motivating him. He'd never felt anything like this before. It was like something was driving him to try to shield Karkat from as much pain as possible, wrap him up in silk and protect him forever.

If that wasn't pity, he didn't know what was.

They reached the main transportalizer room, and Sollux dragged the smaller troll over to the one with his 'II' symbol before Karkat could quite realize his intentions. Once they were through it was too late; only Sollux could go through that transportalizer, so Karkat's choices were to wait until Sollux let him out, or wander through the halls trying to find the long way back to his own area.

"You are such a nooksucker, I'm going to get you for this," Karkat muttered direly as he reluctantly allowed Sollux to lead him into the room Sollux had claimed for his private space. "I'm going to troll you so hard your ancestor will feel it, bulgemonkey. You'll still be feeling the pain a hundred sweeps from now..."

"Thtop being a whiny wriggler and thit down already, KK," Sollux said, shoving him on one shoulder to aim him at the desk up against one wall. He'd collected a pile of computer parts, but it wasn't exactly comfortable to sit on, no matter what Gamzee claimed about the healing power of his horn pile. The desk wasn't ideal, but it would do. "Take your shirt off."

"What?" Karkat gave him a startled and slightly nervous look. His shoulders tensed up even further, though Sollux would have sworn that wasn't possible. "Just what the fuck are you planning to do?"

Belatedly Sollux realized the desk was littered with discarded lab equipment, most of which had either sharp edges or pointy ends or both. "Oh yeah, I'm totally planning to dithect your thorry ath, KK," he said dryly. "I figured I'd cut the wingth off and pin them up on the wall for show, how'th that thound?"

"Sounds like you're about three claws short of a full set and I wouldn't put it past you," Karkat muttered, but he shoved the debris off the desk and pulled himself up to sit on it. "Now what?"

"I told you, thtrip," Sollux said impatiently. "I'm gonna mangle the fuck out of your wingth and hurt you even more, if I can't thee them. Quit thtalling and jutht do it already!"

Still muttering under his breath, Karkat reached down and pulled the hem of his shirt up. Sollux would have expected him to go slowly, gently working it up over the wings, but he yanked it roughly as if he couldn't wait to get it over with. He did hiss softly with pain, probably as his wings protested the abuse, but otherwise didn't react at all.

Because he really did live with this every day, Sollux realized, the knot in his chest twisting a little tighter. Pain was so normal to him, and he hated his body so much, that he didn't even notice when he subjected himself to more of it. It was just automatic.

He didn't trust himself to speak in that moment, so he used his powers to shove Karkat over onto his stomach. The other troll squawked and flailed a bit before settling down with a grumpy expression, crossing his arms to rest his chin on. He watched awkwardly over his shoulder, like he really was expecting Sollux to come at him with the scalpels.

Instead Sollux reached down and planted his hands over the worst of the knots he could see in his friend's muscles, digging his fingers in slowly. Karkat wasn't in anywhere near as bad shape as he had been the day before, but it was still pretty bad.

"The fuck? Thought you were gonna use your powers again," Karkat said.

"Yeah, right. Do you have any idea how much energy that took?" Sollux snorted. "I like you and all, KK, but no way am I doing that twithe unleth you're ath bad ath you were then. Deal with having my handth all over you."

Karkat looked like he wanted to keep arguing, but at that moment Sollux finally managed to unknot the muscle under his fingers, and the other troll let out a deep groan instead. Flushing red, Karkat promptly buried his face in his arms as if to muffle the noises he was making.

Because he kept making them, kind of really obscene noises every time Sollux got a muscle to relax. That hadn't happened before, probably because Karkat had just been in so much pain that he hadn't even been able to feel pleasure from the relief of it.

It was making Sollux's blood pusher pound, but he ignored it and did his best not to let his hands shake. Not that Karkat would likely notice, the way he was writhing around under Sollux's touch like he couldn't decide whether he wanted to get away or get closer.

When he'd done everything he could to relax the muscles and Karkat's body was damn near as limp as his wings, Sollux finally gave in to the temptation he'd been resisting all along. Gently he ran his fingers under the edge of the nearest wing, feeling the soft tissue give slightly beneath the touch.

Karkat shivered and tensed up again. For a moment Sollux thought that one impulsive touch had undone all the work he'd just put in, but then Karkat slowly relaxed, still trembling slightly.

Taking that as an indication that it was okay to touch, Sollux ghosted his fingers along the surface until he found the bend where one part of the wing was folded over the rest. With the sort of delicate precision he usually reserved for tending his hives, he slid his fingers under the fold and pried the two membranes apart, stopping any time it felt like there was too much stress on the delicate flesh.

When he finally got them separated and was able to ease the fold of the wing out flat, Karkat made a weird little whining noise, shuddering harder for a moment. "You okay?" Sollux asked, concerned that maybe he was doing more harm than good. "Doeth that hurt?"

"Yeah, but... don't stop," Karkat said breathlessly. "It hurts kinda like when you were digging your fingers into my back, right before the knot would let go."

Nodding even though the other troll couldn't see it, Sollux resumed his careful quest to straighten the wings. They kept twitching under his fingers, like they were trying to pull free, or maybe just flutter in reaction to the touch, but the ruined muscles weren't strong enough to move them. Every so often Karkat would make that strange whining sound, and Sollux always had to stop for a second to get his breath back.

When he finally had them as straight as they were going to go, they covered nearly the entire length of the table. The trailing bottom edges reached down to Karkat's knees, and the top arches were well above his head. The membrane still hung limp and useless, and there were darker patches where Sollux thought maybe the blood flow had been cut off for too long, but for the most part they were slowly flushing a brighter and brighter red as blood reached places it hadn't been able to get to before.

They were absolutely the most wretched, tragic thing Sollux had ever seen in his life. They were something that should have been precious and beautiful, so beautiful. Instead they were battered and abused, warped out of shape, nearly destroyed.

All because their owner had been forced to hide them, to endure the torture of breaking them into pieces, just so he could survive one more day without being culled. All because of their stupid, barbaric, outdated hemospectrum system, which would have culled the only troll alive who'd been hatched with wings just because his blood colour wasn't on the scale.

The rage that Sollux felt at that moment was so strong he had to grip the edge of the table hard enough to make his knuckles go white just to stop himself from exploding. His vision went red and blue around the edges, psionics leaking as the fury stoked his powers beyond the limits of his control. He knew far too well what it felt like to live in eternal fear of being culled, to spend every day waiting for the drones to decide that his fucked-up mutations weren't worth the chance of passing on his powers, even though said powers were one of the most coveted traits a troll could have.

Yes, he knew what that felt like all too well... but in that moment his rage was entirely for Karkat's sake, a reaction to the despair he felt knowing that the owner of those beautiful, hideous wings would never have a chance to know what it felt like to fly.

Karkat was eyeing him nervously, wide-eyed and... and fucking vulnerable, like he thought Sollux was mad at him, like he still believed Sollux would turn on him for showing weakness.

"Leave them out," Sollux said, each word emerging with precise care, because otherwise he was going to garble them all into an incoherent scream. "Don't hide them anymore. Don't fucking torture yourthelf anymore, KK. Thith ith thtupid."

"Oh yeah, because that's a brilliant idea," Karkat snapped, pushing himself up to sit on the desk. His wings fell to drape over his shoulders like an obscene cape, the bottoms trailing off the side of the desk. "What the fuck has gotten into you? Did a grub crawl into your think pan and eat all the bits that involve rational thought? Maybe you're too fucked in the head to take advantage of a weakness like this, but at least one of them will be all over me for it!"

"I'll kill them firtht," Sollux promised grimly. More of the colours in his vision were bleeding into red and blue, and he knew that wasn't a good sign, but he couldn't bring himself to care. "I will rip anyone who dareth even look at them thidewayth into tiny bitth of grubfeed. It'th not right, it'th not fair, it'th dithguthting! They should be beautiful, god damn it, and it'th not right!"

The look Karkat was giving him now was about equal parts nervousness and dawning wonder. "Okay, that's... really starting to sound like a declaration of pity. Sollux, do you...?"

Something about his expression let Sollux back away from his anger just a bit. The rage was still there, simmering beneath the surface and ready to explode at the slightest provocation, but he took a deep breath and was able to think a little more clearly.

Enough to reach out and pull Karkat into a hug, arms wrapped around the other troll's torso with care not to pinch his wings but otherwise holding tight enough that it would take a real battle to push him off. "Fuck, how could I not?" Sollux mumbled, feeling heat rushing to his cheeks. "Even if we weren't the latht of our thpecieth, there wouldn't be anyone elthe in the whole fucking univerthe who could be more fucked over by life than you've been. I thought I had it bad. Shit."

"You've had it pretty bad," Karkat said, slowly like he was testing the waters. Or maybe like he couldn't believe what he was saying. "I mean, hell, at least my mind is my own. You can't even say that, you mutant-brained freakjob."

Sollux huffed something that was meant to be a laugh, but sounded kind of like a sob when it escaped him. "So doeth that mean you pity me, too?"

"Well fuck, I'm not gonna throw the galaxy's most epic confession back in your face," Karkat said, and his arms wound themselves around Sollux's torso, too. "Even if the lisp did kinda ruin the effect a little."

"Thtuff it up your theedflap," Sollux retorted, and Karkat chuckled softly.

They were thoroughly twined together now, Karkat sliding far enough forward on the desk that his legs dangled on either side of Sollux's hips, and they were pressed together from chest to groin. Sollux could feel the feather-soft membrane of the other troll's wings against his arms and face, and the heat of Karkat's body through the single thin t-shirt that was all that separated them.

On a hunch Sollux turned his hand enough to let him run his fingers over the surface of the wings. Sure enough Karkat whined again and shuddered against him, and they were pressed close enough that Sollux could feel his bonebulge swell in his pants.

"Oh, you like that, do you?" Sollux murmured, and did it again. This time Karkat groaned and arched back into the touch. "Tho 'yeah it hurtth, don't thtop' ith KK code for 'fuck, get the bucket already'?"

"Pretty much, apparently" Karkat gasped, writhing a little beneath Sollux's continued stroking. "Fuck, they never... never felt like this before, ever. Sollux..."

"Yeah," Sollux agreed, more than a little breathless himself. "Fuck yeah, KK, you are tho hot like thith. Motht pitiful, gorgeouth thing I've ever theen, fuck."

Karkat keened and arched into his hands again. Sollux had to be exquisitely careful not to let his claws catch on the thin membrane, worried that he would tear it and damage it further. Karkat had no such restrictions on his actions, and his claws dug into Sollux's back hard enough to make Sollux's eyes roll up in his head with pleasure.

"Shirt. Off. Now," Karkat insisted, voice little more than a growl. "So help me, you've got three seconds before I rip it the fuck off you."

"Why wait?" Sollux said, feeling more than a little giddy. "It'll be fathter if you do it like that, anyway. I've got more."

"Fuck yes," Karkat agreed, and promptly put actions to words. Sollux shivered as he felt the chill air of the room against his back, contrasted with the burning heat of Karkat's body at his front. They rocked their hips together, both of them crying out as their bulges ground against each other.

Sollux wasn't entirely certain just how they got out of their pants. He was too busy concentrating on memorizing the feel of every inch of Karkat's wings, draping them this way and that on the other troll's body, admiring the patterns of red dust left behind. They didn't shed as much glitter as Vriska's, no doubt because they'd been rubbed raw by being confined all the time, but that just meant Sollux had to work at it a little harder.

He wasn't complaining.

He only really realized that they were both completely naked when Karkat drew in a sharp breath and pulled back a bit, staring down at him. Belatedly Sollux blushed and fought the urge to try to cover himself, to hide his strangeness. But Karkat was spread out and completely vulnerable in front of him, and Sollux couldn't bring himself to do less.

"Fuck, you really do have two," Karkat breathed out, raising his eyes to stare wonderingly into Sollux's face. There was no sign of the disgust or fear that Sollux had been half afraid he would see - not really surprising, maybe, but definitely relieving. "I was only kidding! Holy shit, Sollux, that is fucked up. You pathetic loser. Why are you all the fucking way over there?"

"Becauthe you pulled back, moron," Sollux pointed out, but he closed the distance between them again happily. Karkat reached down and ground the heel of his hand against the twin mounds of bone at Sollux's crotch, until the bulges finally extended out from behind the protective shield.

The moment Karkat got his hands on them, Sollux knew he was lost for good. Nothing had ever felt that amazing, and he knew he would do anything, absolutely anything, to feel it again. And again and again and again, as many times as they could squeeze in before the world ended.

Karkat's bulge was already peeking up from behind the bone, and when Sollux trailed his fingers over the tip Karkat bucked up into the touch with a shout. "Fuck, oh fuck, oh fuckohfuckohfuck," Karkat moaned, like a program stuck in an endless loop, one that Sollux had no intention of breaking any time soon.

Then he had a brilliant idea. Grabbing the trailing edge of one of Karkat's wings, he carefully pulled the membrane forward until he could run it over the heads of both their bulges. Karkat's shout was incoherent, and Sollux dizzily thought they might be crying out in unison, but he couldn't be sure because all of his attention was focused on that fucking amazing sensation.

He repeated the motion, and now Karkat was whining again, the sound high and desperate and pleading. "The. S-sollux... the..." he stammered out, obviously having trouble forming the words. "Nnnnngh fuck, the bucket, Sollux!"

"Shit," Sollux exclaimed, because damn it he hadn't thought that far ahead. "I don't... don't have anything, fuck, nothing captchalogged either, KK..."

"I do, but, fuck, I'll never get it out in time," Karkat panted, squirming against him. Sollux wondered if he should stop, or at least slow down, but his body was acting without any conscious direction from him now and he didn't think he could really do anything about it.

Desperately he tried to think. Karkat's modus was... fuck, right, that stupid hacker modus, the one Sollux had given him as a joke, and kind of as an attempt to force him to become a better hacker. Karkat was truly useless at getting anything out of it.

"Thankfully I'm not nearly ath much of a lother ath you are," Sollux said, clenching one hand hard against Karkat's hips as he fought for control. "Grab it, I'll get it out."

"Show-off," Karkat muttered, but he obediently pulled the relevant card out of his deck.

It took Sollux all of maybe two seconds to decode the thing and get the bucket out, which was good because he was pretty sure in about five seconds it was going to be a moot point. Karkat growled at him, but snatched at the bucket the moment it was available.

Just barely in time. Sollux cried out as he came harder than he ever had before, shaking against Karkat with the force of it. Karkat was squirming and moaning against him, just as overwhelmed, just as desperate.

Afterwards they leaned against each other, still wrapped in each other's arms and barely managing to stay upright. Sollux was breathing hard, and he could hear Karkat panting in his ear. Beneath his hands, the soft tissue of Karkat's wings was twitching, like he was trying to flutter them again.

"I am not leaving them out," Karkat growled when he had his breath back. "No fucking way in hell. The only one who gets to see them is you."

Sollux had been intending to argue, but the last words sort of took the wind out of his sails. He pulled back enough to let him see Karkat's face. The other troll refused to meet his eyes, but the blush on his cheeks spoke volumes for him.

And, Sollux was a little startled to realize, he didn't actually want anyone else to see them. There were really only two possible outcomes - either they'd be outraged, as Karkat predicted, or they would be driven to pity as Sollux had been. Sollux was more worried about just how many of the trolls on the asteroid were likely to choose the latter reaction.

And Terezi would spend the rest of their short existence trying every trick she could think of to get close enough to lick them.

With a little growl of his own, Sollux tightened his grip. "Yeah, fine," he agreed. "But you're not hiding them when we're alone. I want them out."

"Who died and made you leader?" Karkat asked indignantly. "Oh wait, I'm the leader and I'm still alive, so fuck you. I'll make my own decisions."

"And your dethithion had better be to leave them out when you're with me," Sollux replied implacably.

"Whatever," Karkat said, and rolled his eyes. Despite his words, there was a softness to his expression, a vulnerability Sollux had never seen there before.

They separated completely, and started to look around for their clothes. What was left of them, anyway, Sollux realized with a blush as he found his shredded jeans. The only thing left in one piece might be Karkat's shirt, since he'd had it off before they started.

"So," Karkat said, suspiciously casual. "I guess this means we're moirails, huh? Since you pity me and all."

"Moirails?" After everything they'd just done, Karkat wanted to be moirails? Completely floored, Sollux whirled to face him, sputtering incoherent denials and objections. To his shock he saw Karkat was laughing at him, laughing his ass off, in fact, holding his stomach and snickering hard enough that he couldn't catch his breath, wings trembling with the force of his mirth.

"You are thuch an athhole," Sollux said, but his tone came out closer to 'fond' than 'exasperated'. "I hate you tho much. Fuck, you are gorgeouth like that. You should laugh more."

"Not a chance," Karkat said. "The only one who gets to see me like this is you, I told you."

'Like this'... He wasn't just talking about his wings, Sollux realized. He was relaxed, not in pain, and maybe truly feeling like himself for the first time ever. And Sollux was the only one he wanted to see him this way.

Sollux could live with that.