"There are layers of meaning, there is potential depth so goddamn heartfelt and a lot of directors think they can tap it with a quick reference to the horn-issue, but it's not that easy at—"
John's glasses glinted into Karkat's eyes as John looked away from the movie to stare at him in fascination. "Movie-horns are a bigger deal to you than real life horns!"
"Don't cram your common sense up your nook, John! It's not a good place to keep it!"
"Sit down, you're spilling the popcorn!"
Karkat deigned to acknowledge that it wouldn't hurt his dignity to sit, and then to wipe the popcorn off the seat and his trousers, and to sit again.
"I'm explaining," he said, "Pay attention. It's a big deal because it's a deeply culturally-rooted issue! Okay, try to organise the sadly deficient neural accidents that stew inside your think pan into a line of thought and imagine: You're in the brooding caverns. You've got to feed and get past everybody else and find a lusus to impress, and it's pitch fucking dark and whatever you can see doesn't make much sense since you're ignorant to literally everything about life. That's where horns come in. They help you feel their way around."
"So they're sensitive?"
"I'm pretty sure that's how Tavros survived - he had a wider sensory range than most grubs. Those knockers probably beat up half the people he was trying to avoid, too. Not being able to fit through most doors nowadays is a small price to pay, I guess."
"Then these are weird antennae!" John climbed over his half of the couch to peer at Karkat's horns. "I thought you guys fight with them, like, head butting. But if Tavros was hitting people with them, wouldn't it have really hurt?"
"That's where the metaphor starts coming in!" Karkat waved him back so that there was space to gesture. "Horns can't stay sensitive all the time. Especially after we lose our grub legs and can get up and use our hands for wielding weapons."
"Shut up! Horns!"
"Okay, okay, tell me." John subsided, smiling, his eyes doing a sparkling thing. That happened a lot, he was too fucking enthusiastic about lots of stuff, like joining in those godawful dance parties with Terezi and Dave, Nepeta teaching him how to kill things with his teeth, and alchemising board games with Jade. It was better to look at something else. Karkat sat back against the couch and focused on the movie playing on the woefully inadequate computer screen, the sound from the speakers tinny and echoing in the lab room they'd annexed as the movie lounge. He missed the set-up he'd had at home.
"By the time you're on your juvenile legs, you've fought with your horns as much as you've found your way with them, and they've been targeted by others as an easy weak spot. Calluses build up really fast on your horns for protection, but they tend to build up on the spots that get the hardest hits. It's still important to have parts that stay sensitive, or it would be difficult to get around."
"Aw, how did you make it out of the caves with your horns?" said John, reaching out to pat one. "So nubby."
"They were pretty big. Relatively speaking. I mean, when I was a grub they were almost the same size as now so - take the popcorn!"
John obliged. Karkat breathed out.
"Well? Aren't you going to keep explaining? I still don't get the metaphor thing," John said, eating a few kernels. "This movie continues to be confusing as heck."
"Sensitivity and," said Karkat, still short of breath. If he didn't keep talking John would get more suspicious. "Protection. It has to happen at the same time. So it's like getting to trust somebody."
"Sheesh, trusting somebody's not that complicated. Can I see?"
Well sure, seeing, that would be inappropriate, you didn't go and stare, but a bout of yelling at John and things would be basically fine. However the definition of seeing had apparently been updated to include touching. Firmly, because among his many faults John could not be accused of a lack of dedication to his tasks. Among his positive qualities were hot fingers, salty-buttered from the popcorn so that they were prickling and smooth at the same time, and palpably inquisitive: and these were truly fucking sterling qualities.
He didn't have the first clue hesitantly waving hello from the distant horizon of an idea of what he was doing.
"Oh, okay," said John. "The colour bands make it difficult to see the tough spots if you're not looking, but there is a pretty big difference. Some bits are so smooth."
"Can't make it easy to identify weaknesses. Even if you, if it's like the movie, and it's someone you're okay with, or whatever ... it'd be fucking dangerous, are you done yet, John."
"Hmm," said John, "fine," (and he didn't move) (why would he say that and not MOVE or at least grow a fucking sense of propriety) "I guess this does make things complicated. It's like there's a really big secret right on your face when you're just getting to know somebody..." Wondering and sympathetic, even above the fascination, he was no doubt getting that dissatisfied expression he got pretty often when talking about troll culture. "I'm not going to do anything weird, okay?"
You have hopped on the Imperial Mass-Carriage Transport Ship and let it take you into the infinite reaches of space, John Egbert, where shit has gone down in thoroughly researched histories as categorically and irretrievably weird. Weird is the place where we are.
"That's not the point! There's the point!" Karkat flailed at the movie and felt John look that way - infinitesimal shifts in the heat, air, and interest above Karkat's bowed head - and felt those fingers stilling, but staying right where they were. "She decided to show that she feels redrom even though the other woman might be leaning towards blackrom. She has to show she means no harm, but also has to keep building alliances that could be turned against the other one in case of danger. So the shots with the horns - sometimes it signifies hurt, and sometimes it means they're getting over shit or getting stronger, sometimes it means that they both know there's ... there's weakness, but it's, just, it's so obvious, look. Now would you get the fuck over it?"
"This is really interesting," John said in protest, and Karkat curled up a little. From the careful pressure of his fingers and down the length of his body John was close in a perfect way, and the rhythm of his exhaled breaths stayed even and unexcited. He didn't fucking know. "As an ectobiologist - I didn't pick that chum handle for no reason, you know - I am interested in all kinds of biological fields, and xenobiology is also neat! You can have a turn on me afterwards, if you want, so it's fair."
Where? Karkat curled up more, bent over his legs pulled close to his chest, but it only put his horns at an easier angle for John to inspect. Where on you? Every humming nerve threw what he'd picked up about humans' colourful dangly soft bodies at him. It should rightly have got him vomiting over the arm of the couch except that the thoughts were wrapped up in the particular colours of John's eyes and skin, the irrepressible energy, his grin with those blunt fangs.
"Ha! That sounded weird. You know what I mean. Whoa ... these look like teeth marks." A pause, and the taste of tension in the atmosphere got thicker. Was John going to finally fucking get it? Was he going to freak out or something when he did? He still didn't let go. "Hey ... Karkat?"
"Even if it's not a target anymore it still used to be and everyone knows it. It's a fucking big deal because you might not remember every gaping maw that came flying at you as a grub it but you remember remembering the memory of the memory." Breathing, that never stopped being a thing you had to do or anything. "Any time somebody gets close enough to touch and they're trying to be careful about it, that's what they need to get you to forget." It wasn't even an issue right now, with somebody as deeply fucking nice as John.
"Hey, it's pretty soft in-between the calluses!" John's fingertips had fallen to carefully mapping the paths around calluses where the sensory nodes were thickest, almost more like suffocation than stimulation, and Karkat's curled-up body slid out of its tenseness. "That must have really sucked, getting attacked there ... back then..."
The unease in John's voice came into itself. A good time for another 'back the fuck up, take the hint, stop that', but Karkat was busy.
He was lying flat on his back and couldn't close his mouth. This little noise rasped out the bottom of his throat.
Subtlety was no longer working.
"Really?" John said too loudly, as if trying to drown him out. Then he whispered. "You really ... um, you um, like, feel this?"
"Very really. John, so really."
"Karkat, I'm sorry."
The reflexive snap of absence from his fingers left the pressure of cold air on Karkat's senses. It was a little much, a little bit too little but that was okay, he couldn't fucking help kind of making another noise about it but obviously it would have been okay. The entire accidental molestation incident would have been a footnote to Dear Diary, to be obliterated on a makeshift pyre for the shreds of his dignity in due time, all fine. Then John put his hands back on Karkat's horns, grab-squeezing desperately. "Sorry!" he yelped in a whisper, eyes wide and panicked and so close, as Karkat flew up in his seat, that he could see a reflection of himself wearing the same expression.
"Now what in the fuck are you doing?" he said, and felt his teeth bite into his lip the instant he stopped speaking. John watched it, both of them in sensory time-lapse with every motion magnified.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to! It was interesting and now I get that you were hinting but this is so weird that I didn't think of it as a possibility!" John also remembered that breathing had never stopped being a thing. "But, but I started this."
"So you have to finish it?" Karkat hissed, interrupting him, and slammed his fists into the couch when John actually nodded.
"Pretty much, I guess, it's only fair? I'm really sorry." Not obliviously confident anymore, he only ran light fingertips across the shallow ridges of Karkat's horns. He meant it this time. "Um, it's okay, right? I mean if you don't..."
"Stop talking forever," Karkat said, and went back to having his teeth dig into his bottom lip.
"Wow, you're going red."
"Like you aren't blushing!"
John laughed, sounding more like himself. "Yeah, I guess. But it's weird on you, you never blush."
Typically trolls only blush enough for their blood colour to be easily detected during highly emotionally or sexually charged situations, but I'm not telling you, dipshit, because impromptu sociobiology lectures are probably officially some kind of twisted sexual hot button for you. You're watching me squirm.
Avidly. The way John's eyes ran over Karkat - the reactions of heels and hands digging into the cushions, the eyes falling half-shut - was almost like the wholehearted interest in horns of a moment ago. Karkat tensed up and sagged back against the arm of the couch and John shuffled up to straddle him as his fingers kept working, and if he'd only grind down... "Is it almost, um, bucket time?"
That wasn't even embarrassing right now. Karkat nodded, moaned, and tried to rub his horns harder against John's hands.
"I have one in my sylladex..."
"What? You! Why?"
"Prankster's gambit. It is a long but totally not indecent story!"
Karkat considered the fact that, in spite of that answer, his next words were struggling to be 'KISS ME YOU FOOL'. Maybe he should lay off romantic cinema a bit. Maybe one day life would shoot him in the back of the head and be done with it.
The bucket clattered on the floor. Impromptu movie marathons tended to scare the others away, so there probably wasn't anyone around to hear or care. Karkat grasped for the handle, stopped when John let go of his horns, and then went on reaching and pretended he hadn't noticed anything.
"Do you mind if I go while you...?"
"Yeah, get the fuck out." Karkat was struggling not to just grind against the bucket. He sat up as John scrambled off the couch and out the room, then slid to the floor and bent over the bucket. One hand stroked his bulge and the other played around his seed flap - then dipped in.
"Tell me when you're done!"
Karkat knocked the bucket over, and so got to live out his most deep-seated fear for his first sexual encounter. At least it was empty. "John, what the fuck!" he hissed towards the closed door, leaping after the bucket.
"Tell me when you've finished!"
"Just do it! I'll ... I'll be over here."
Possibly not listening. Possibly just hanging around like the triple-distilled essence of an awkward fuckup who had no idea where boundaries ought to be drawn. Nonetheless the idea cut down Karkat's questions and had his imagination latch onto an image of John pressing a hot cheek and ear to the cool metal of the door. It was probably the most stupid possible image to ever make someone bite the rim of a bucket in sheer sensation overdose and who even did something like that.
At some point he'd have to track his descent into disturbing and pathetic perversion in order to know the exact degree to which to loathe himself more. He could possibly work up a shred of self-respect for the fact that he wasn't actually making a noise, not much of one, even as his hands worked furiously and he thought of John, listening—
—and when he did groan, he couldn't be blamed for it by even his own standards, tensing and relaxing with the waves of release.
Karkat had a distinct idea his face was going to feature a permanent blush. He had probably popped every blood vessel that could ever potentially be. It felt like he ought to be exhausted, but over and above that every jellied limb was filled with energy. He wobbled upright, captchalogued the bucket, and put his clothes back in order. Then he listened.
Shuffling feet. Wow. John actually had stayed out there.
"Okay," Karkat said to himself, and was surprised by how loud his voice was, even though that was the normal volume. He'd meant to take a breather, but now John was turning the doorknob.
He didn't open the door all the way, speaking through a crack. "Can I come in? Ehehe ... are you decent?"
Never again. Maybe. Sort of. "Sure."
Karkat turned on his heel and deposited himself on the couch, and then concentrated furiously on the undeservedly neglected cinematic masterpiece. John shuffled over, walked around the back of the couch, and slid into his seat on the other end.
A few minutes later, when the movie dialogue seemed to be turning back into actual words that made actual sense, he took Karkat's hand.
"You are an asshole," Karkat said. At times it was best to be succinct, to-the-point.
"I'm trying not to be," John said, blatantly lying. There was no way his voice needed to be that soft. "It's, um, not gentlemanly not to cuddle. Afterwards. I'm pretty sure."
"You. Cannot. Be serious."
"It would be mean - or rude or something, to just leave..."
The thing was, though there was hesitancy in the way he spoke his grip was unwavering. The other thing was, he was still flushed, his face shiny-ruddy, and Karkat knew it didn't have the same intensity of meaning for humans but it felt like...
"You were definitely listening." Accusation, statement of hope, mockery. "So curious about this whole thing, huh?"
"Hm," said John, not quite willing to fall for it. "Mhmm. Karkat, come on..."
"You were." He returned John's grip - maybe too lightly, it should have been an equally firm hold. Didn't matter too much, though, and it was freeing how he was making so little time to hate himself in the past few minutes.
John was looking at his horns. "It all really happened just from that?"
"Yeah. Well. Not like you had any stimulus at all."
"Oh, jeez." John puffed out his cheeks with a sigh and darted his gaze to the wall and to the movie as if looking for a way out, but he didn't look at the door for more than a split second. "Oh, jeez."
He shifted closer. Karkat lowered his head, horns proffered. John let go of his hand. Karkat shifted closer - then lower, sliding in a sort of preparation move to lie down, and it already felt good when it made John lean in at the same degree even though they weren't touching. Yet.
The process was so much fucking better with the grinding down.
John lay stretched out on top of him, a solid weight but still oddly comforting - human, fairly safe. He was hard too, as much as a bone bulge, but it seemed like with a lot more sensitivity. Karkat tilted the leg he had between John's to change up the angle of pressure, and totally understood the way John liked to watch for responses.
"You can lay off the horns now," he rasped, placing a hand on John's back, kind of grinning when that got no protest. "Starting to get sore."
"Whuh!" John started up, and then screwed an eye shut at the unintended friction.
"Relax, okay, relax, it's the salt. From the popcorn. It's stinging."
"I can clean it off! Sorry," John said. He was wide-eyed and shaky with semi-uncertain excitement. "Didn't mean to be kismesis-y, or anything, don't worry."
Karkat wasn't worrying. He was vaguely berating himself for finding new blood vessels to blush through at the thought of John cleaning his horns, torso on display as he used his shirt for wiping, no doubt tenderly (possibly with a crescendo in the background music). "Don't worry," John insisted, because he had no idea that 'don't scream' would be a better instruction when taking a horn in his mouth.
Like breathing water. Karkat hollered against John's collarbone, wrenching his head to the side and then turning back to nudge the horn against John's breath and teeth, his lips, oh, his tongue. He rolled his knuckles into John's back and sides, remembered about nipples and put the information to good use. Oh shit, fangs, that would be - no, he'd done it lightly enough, and John breathed out in a high whine and made wet heat turn into a slice of chill.
"Bucket!" Karkat said, cursing his lack of foresight.
"Nnn-not yet. Gimme a - a bit more, I guess!" John laughed, the words not settling easily. He knuckled at Karkat's shoulder experimentally, looked like he felt silly, and dipped to mouth and suck the other horn clean. Despite this Karkat managed to get out the bucket, and he set it firmly on the floor as a matter of imminent necessity. A good leader under all circumstances, fuck yes! He bit at John in triumph - only grazing his chin, not letting his instincts really run away with him, and this time John laughed properly.
"That's not how," John said, chortling, "It's okay, you can—" He didn't kiss properly. But Karkat leaned forwards after their mouths parted, John licked his own lips thoughtfully, and then he gave the next try his very best shot. Karkat made it under John's shirt, worked the other hand into his hair, and the movements of John's hips got erratic.
"Bucket," Karkat said, and wriggled them both off the couch. He'd actually successfully got someone all the way to a bucket, the drones to eventually be released by the eventually to be pupated mother grub could go fuck themselves, ha!
"I don't need it! It's not - a thing that humans ... Karkat, you know," John said, tugging away from Karkat's grip. "You've seen our internet!"
"Be fucking decent for once today, John! Wouldn't human Jesus or something want that?"
Typically it was undesirable for a romantic partner to burst into wild laughter during the tryst; but what else would you expect from John Egbert? "You don't even know what you're talking about!"
"Oh Jesus," John said after all, grabbing his shoulders as Karkat tugged questioningly at one of his belt loops. He gripped harder as he let Karkat undo the trouser button and zip. There weren't going to be bruises, but it was nice to pretend.
"Can't make it point down," Karkat observed, doing his best not to sound judgmental as fuck. It wasn't really that bad, even up close.
"Uh-uh. Nope, not like that, best not to, I can, ha, handle it." John's voice was deeper, although it was supposed to have finished deepening a while ago, according to him. Karkat gave him a half-suspicious look but John was focused on the contents of the bucket. "That's really all yours?"
"Yeah." Karkat shrugged a shoulder. "Um, pretty standard, I guess."
"Whoa. Don't judge me."
By rights, he should. John said, "So weeeeiiiird," and then came a few seconds later in silence, chin snapping back like he'd taken a punch. It made a mess, mostly right in Karkat's hand, and they had to tilt the bucket a downright dangerous amount to get any genetic material at all. Not that it technically needed to go in. But decency!
It left John looking bleary, and oh, shit, so bewildered-weak - but that cleared as he watched Karkat working at himself again, thighs shaking and so close to blowing he nearly couldn't move right to get there. John's fingers twitched but fuck he didn't make it to reaching out, but he kept watching. And then quick kisses, one to each horn, licking the tip of one. Finished, done, fucking yes, oh— Karkat grabbed him to stay steady and John leaned weight on him, too.
They cleaned up in silence. Of all things, it was the movie that Karkat felt most embarrassed about, with the voices onscreen in no way changed by everything that had happened. That was stupid. It was an absolute classic.
"Are we going to rewind this?" he said, grabbing John by the arm again. "Or are we going to mark it on the chart for later and switch to another movie?"
John fell back against the couch where Karkat gently shoved him. "So weird!" He flung an arm over his eyes. "Karkat. It's so weird!"
Karkat sat down gingerly. "Hey, you, um." He waited a second for the words to come through. "You wanted to?"
A whisper: "So weird."
This would be the most stupid thing he'd ever said, including all conversations with Sollux, every kind of mess he'd made with Terezi, and those comments that involved more than one Jade at a time. "Quit whining and do your duty. It's time for fucking cuddles afterwards."
He didn't give John time to laugh, or himself time to get a sickle from his strife specibus and perform a mercy self-culling. He elbowed John into the corner of the couch and wedged himself into the opened space, flinging an arm around John's neck. "There. Human social requirements fulfilled. Feel better." What a desperately shitty way to act. Karkat nearly thanked John for relaxing, except that he was too surprised.
"I kind of do." John leaned his head on Karkat's shoulder. He heaved a sigh and his body relaxed further. "Oh, wow. That sure was something."
Karkat nodded cautiously. After a little while he relaxed too - surely it was okay under the circumstances? Even required. Right.
"Hey, Karkat? This movie..." Relaxation was definitely the thing to be doing. John sounded much calmer. Warm. "The characters were really staring at each others' horns, and there was just some really dramatic touching. Did you secretly make me watch a kind of troll porn?"
"What? No!" Karkat sputtered. "It's widely regarded as a high point in Alternian cinema. Erotica at best. Tasteful erotica!"
"That just means classy porn!" John gave a snort. Then he said, "You could've said exactly what I was doing. I would've stopped if you were straightforward, I'm not, like, Chester the Molester."
"Is ... is that an actual human job title?"
"Ew. Of course not, duh."
"It's not my fault you redefine stupidity with all the dedication you possess."
"Karkat." John brought the softness of his voice and his lips to Karkat's ear and gently said, "Fuck you."
A simple but effective strategy. Karkat jerked and drew in a breath, and then realised that his retort had been pre-empted and used against him in one smooth, brain-overheating shot.
He growled, and John shoved his face into Karkat's shoulder to smother giggles or to share the way they shook him, knocking his glasses askew. Karkat considered punching him, and then considered punching himself, and squeezed John hard like that was a remotely decent retaliation and swore he'd seriously fucking punch anyone who knocked right now.
There was probably another hour of the movie left. There were more important cultural subtleties raised by the horn issue, and they could learn valuable stuff at this weird juncture in interspecies relations. John's hair tickled his neck, and Karkat was worrying too much about his own ending to pay attention to much else aside from that and John in general, no matter how good the movie.
Still. His arms stayed around John, and ... he couldn't bring himself to be too worried.