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One Stormy Night

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There were many things that he hated about his meager and rather short life on the planet. He hated water, for within it dwelled the purest of their race and their rulers. If you were born on land, then you were royally fucked to begin with. Never mind the fact that land dwellers simply were not permitted to learn how to swim; fine way for the shitty violet bloods on the spectrum to protect their sorry selves.

Second, he hated the stupid spectrum in general. It was stupid, having the ruling class be as such because of some stupid chance birth. Don't even get him started on how unlucky he was because of this probability factor coming into play. Your entire life was determined at birth, more or less. When you hit age, they prick your finger and BAM. Instant job classification. All those with amazing powers and abilities have the chance to be more useful to nobility. The rest? Well... Shit jobs. That was what.

Third, he hated humans. Oh did he hate humans with the passion of one thousand burning suns. All trolls did, really. Humans were a weak race, one that raised their own. No claws. No fangs. No horns. Humans didn't have shit going for them and yet they kept populating and spreading over the planet like a plague of parasites. They reeked and were pathetic beings that were better off culled than allowed to live and thrive. They were good for one thing - food.

So what did all of these things have in common? Well, that would be because Karkat Vantas currently had to deal with his top three most hated things all at once. The sky had been leaking on and off for days, making the trail of humans harder to follow. Their stupid tracks from their caravans were washed away in the wake of the spring showers - showers that were currently dripping on his head. With every drop Karkat twitched, his notorious rage slowly consuming every fiber of his being.

He didn't want to be out here, scouting like all those that had his lot in life did. Karkat was supposed to be someone. A leader. Instead, he got jilted in the spectrum at birth and now had to fucking pay the price. Out of the twelve colors and shades that they took, he didn't even roll a respectable one! The only reason he was even allowed to live was for fucking sport, as he could see. Oh, look at Karkat Vantas - Let's see how long he can last in the harshest condition on the planet with the worst team of hunters ever!

A growl escaped his throat at the thought. His head of the unit sent him out alone, for starters. It was probably a way to procure his death. There was a rust blood in the group, and yet that douche bag didn't send him. Only Karkat. If that wasn't a death sentence, he didn't know what was. The only thing that really filled him with any sort of relief from his self-loathing was the fact that he proved that moron wrong. Karkat wasn't going to die out here in the middle of bum fuck nowhere.

The cliff side wasn't entire an easy scale either. His unit was more or less at the base, having followed a mountain trail most of the way. Now the troll was being forced to proceed with much caution, not wanting to slip on any loose stones or rocks, lest he alert potential humans to his presence. With another growl, he looked to the sky. The clouds did not look too friendly off in the distance. However, he pressed on. Going back to the leader of the unit with nothing to show for it was just asking to be culled.

For a brief moment, Karkat thought his luck was starting to turn for the best. There, amongst some caverns worn away into the rock face, were those infuriating humans. They had picked a good spot to hide; being up this high in the rain surely would wash away their trail. The caravan was covered on three sides with ugly gray cliff sides, almost a mini valley tucked away from view. It wouldn't be easy getting to them, but it was definitely doable. Karkat considered for a moment if he should spy a bit longer, or retreat.

With his hood pulled forward, he decided to wait a moment longer; he at least needed a headcount. It wouldn't do any of them any good if this caravan held too few in number to take back. He would also have to scope the area for weapons or traps, as well. One little mistake wouldn't be just the end of him, but for the others he hunted with as well.

Fucking humans... He thought, to no one but himself.

There weren't many things that he hated about his particularly harsh lifestyle. He didn't really mind the hard labor – nearly every boy was expected to pull the weight of a man the moment they hit twelve years, and he was no different. He didn't so much mind the constant travel, always on his feet or in a wagon. He didn't mind how he was never able to stay in one place for more than a week, or how he completely failed at learning how to use firearms or crossbows, or even the rain that threatened to make him catch a cold as evening approached.

As far as John Egbert was concerned, life was actually pretty good; he had three of the best friends anyone could ask for. Dave was an apprenticed blacksmith, learning to forge some of the best swords he'd ever seen. Jade was learning medicine, and even invented a way to keep certain herbs growing while spending days in a covered wagon. Rose was quite skilled with a needle, always making sure everyone had warm scarves by the time winter rolled around. His dad was chieftain, brave and strong and inventive, even if he preferred to stay in the kitchen with the cooks rather than the battlefield. But his caravan even housed an experienced elder to lead them through even the harshest of terrain – and thanks to that, it had been nearly twelve years since they felt the pain of bloodshed, or the unnerving cruelty of confrontation with any troll.

John was... well, John wasn't sure what he was yet. He knew he had to train to become the next chieftain, and even some of the others called him the heir in a sort of joking tone. ‘Prince John, oh righteous Heir of the Egbert dynasty!’ Dave would mock, but it was all in good fun. Even though his dad was an important man, really everyone in the caravan was a priceless comrade, and a trusted friend. Since years had passed and little battle skills were necessary (though they did constantly train), the title of chieftain remained more of a figurehead. They did a little bit of everything. And one of those things included foraging, usually left for the fleet of foot and smaller members. John actually fit the job description pretty well, so that was a role he revisited often.

Though today, the rain was proving to be a bit of a problem. It was a godsend considering it helped veil their tracks in case there were any prying eyes around, but right now, it was making him shiver. He hoped he wouldn't catch a cold after this. Rubbing his arms and slinging the basket over his shoulder, John continued up the mountain trail, searching for bits of purple and blue along the cliff side. An important medicinal herb to cure fevers only grew in the gray rocks of this particular mountain range – a tiny purple-blue flower that was easy to miss, for it blended in so well with the rocks. But John was going to get enough today to make sure no one would fall victim to a fever for months. Years, even! He'll stockpile so much, even his children's children won't have to worry about climbing up these steep mountain cliffs.

The troll furiously made mental notes about everything he observed. If there was one redeeming quality to Karkat, it was his ability to memorize information, and how much he was able to gain from just watching for a few moments. Give him a few hours watching a 'herd', and often he could find the weakest spot.

It would be enough for an attack, anyway. There were plenty of humans to make this raid worthwhile. This group did have weapons, and Vantas would be certain to relay that information. All in all, it should appease the snooty blue blood that was leading this band of hunters. Finally, after months of tracking this particular caravan down, they'd have him. Maybe then the unit would be able to take a break in a city. Unlikely, but Karkat did so love to cling to hope.

As he started to slide down to make his descent, he heard footsteps. From the sound, the troll guessed human. There weren’t any other hunting groups assigned to this area, as far as he was aware. Certainly it had not been long enough for that snooty blue blood to have sent the rust or orange ones after him-- so all that remained was human.

"Shit," he hissed, taking cover. The storm brewing overhead let out a crack of thunder. He didn't have long to make it back...

John winced at the bright flash of lightning, nearly jumping out of his skin at the rumbling roll of thunder. Ohhh no, this wasn't good! He stayed out far too long, hadn't he? With a nervous glance back down the trail he'd taken, the young sixteen year old boy gulped nervously. Ugh, he hated storms! There's no way he'd be able to make it all the way back before those clouds moved in. When did they get so dark, anyway? From the light of the sunset, he could have sworn they were normal white clouds - but now that they were practically above him, he could see that no, those were definitely storm clouds; angry ones at that. Another clap of thunder made him shiver, and he started running back. Taking a detour, he climbed over a few cliff faces, remembering the staggering wall of rocks farther to the east. If there were any good footholds, he'd be able to make it down back to the caravan a lot faster.

The rain started up again, heavier than the showers the past few days. Noo, why did it have to start raining now? There's no way he'd be able to make it down that cliff without slipping and falling to his untimely death. John whimpered out loud in frustration, staggering a bit on his feet as he shuffled backwards, looking around for any sort of shelter.

He could probably just huddle under one of those scraggly trees and hope the rain-- wait, what was that? John hurried along a rather narrow pathway, a few rocks slipping past his feet as he moved in haste. After another few minutes of enduring the onslaught of rain that threatened to become a full blown downpour, the boy slunk into a crevasse, breathing a sigh of relief.

Not that his rest lasted all that long. Another bright flash made John's skip crawl, and he let out a rather pitiful noise before scampering further into the cave. Nooo, he hated hated storms! There weren't very many things he disliked, but thunder and lightning was definitely one of them. He remembered Dave making fun of the way he'd cling to his dad until he was nearly fourteen every time thunder rolled in the distance. He'd generally get a smack from Rose, considering it wasn't like John was the only person around to be unnerved by storms.

He waited until the sound of feet scrambling across rock tickled his ears no more. Finally Karkat stirred from his hiding spot. Lighting crashed into the forest below, causing the troll to cringe. It hurt his ears and the rain came down harder. This made him more irritable than ever. The humans wouldn't move in this, but neither could they. By the time they got up here, everything would have shifted around.

With another growl, Karkat staggered to his feet as the winds started to howl. They picked up, nearly knocking him off of his feet. With his claws, he dug into a jagged hole in the rock. It anchored him there as he tried to maneuver through this blasted storm. He cursed, rather loudly. Damn the weather. Damn that blue blood. Damn those humans!

Right about then, he realized his luck would never be grand. Karkat turned to look over his shoulder, to see how he could safely scale down. A bright flash of white filled his vision; the thundering, sick crack followed soon after and the force of the lightning knocked him loose from his hold. Karkat rolled against the surface of one of the ledges, uncaring of the rocks jabbing into his side.

His ears were ringing, almost useless as his hands covered them. Karkat curled up, writhing around; anything to make the vicious sound stop assaulting his ears. When his eyes flew open, he saw nothing but white. He cursed again for his rotten luck, hoping that this new problem was only temporary.

It took a minute for the pain in his head to subside enough that he could stand. His eyes were useless, and there happened to be a dull ache in his head - even his ears still faintly rang from the impact. Karkat did consider himself lucky that the bolt of lightning struck in front of him, instead of on his actual person. Now it would just be harder to proceed. There was no hope now that he could reach the other trolls.

They would certainly kill him as soon as his information was relayed. No, Karkat Vantas would need a place to shelter him from the storm, give him time to recover and heal.

Cautiously, Karkat felt around him. He knew of Pyrope and her ability to scent out her surroundings to see, but unfortunately, he did not have such a gift-- or curse. Grumbling and cursing all the way, Karkat felt for footholds and places for his claws. Scaling back up that side, he hefted his being over another edge and onto a path and from there he continued to feel around, stumbling all the while.

The only time he paused was because he picked up a familiar scent, though it was more nostalgic than anything else. A cave. With the troll being soaked to the bone and shivering from the harsh winds, Karkat had no choice but to proceed, uneasy. A young grub's trials in the caves left all trolls with little desire to return to them.

This time, Karkat was going in even more handicapped than before. Back, back, he walked. Further into darkness, though he could not see it. It was a bad sign, considering his foot caught on a stray rock. With his balance lost, Karkat tipped over and hit the cave floor. Hard.


Though the troll's resounding curse should have echoed off the cavern walls, a quite different sound returned to his ears. A startled, almost strangled yelp from farther down the pitch blackness echoed back, followed by a thump, the trickling of smaller rocks, and shuffling of fabric on the cold, uneven floor.

"Wh-who's there?!" The voice demanded, almost drowned out by another clap of thunder.

"None of your fucking concern," he bit out, automatically.

Then he froze. No one should have been in here; this wasn't where they were camped out at, Karkat knew that for a fact. A human? No, the caravan wasn't too far from here. Anyone could have made it back there in time. Troll, maybe. It wasn't impossible. Either this idiot was from his group - Karkat didn't keep track of them now - or there were other reasons that Karkat decided he didn't give two fucks about.

Karkat's harsh reply was met with silence at first, followed by an uneasy laugh. "Uh... were you told to come up this mountain too?" The voice - obviously a boy's - asked, the shuffling of feet following him.

John breathed an inward sigh of relief. It must have been someone from the caravan. Good thing it wasn't a bear or something! Or a troll, but a troll would just kill him, not talk. Do trolls even speak their language? Probably not, it was probably some weird alien-sounding language.

"Gee, no shit!" Karkat huffed, feeling his way around. He really did hate caves, and he hated them even more when he was unable to fucking see.

"And just what the fuck are you doing here, anyway?"

Wow, this guy had a mouth on him! He wondered for a moment if he was from the same caravan, if this was the person that ended up being a bad influence on Jade. Dad wasn't happy when she started learning how to swear like a sailor.

John could tell the poison in the other's voice was harmless, though. In fact, if he wasn't mistaken, this stranger sounded... well, as uneasy as he was. Maybe this guy didn't like storms either? "I was sent out a few hours ago to look for herbs and stuff, and-"

The boy's words were cut off by another bright flash and crack of thunder, shaking the small cave for a few good, long seconds. When John started to speak again, he sounded considerably more timid and nervous. "And... uh... I had no idea it'd start storming!"

Karkat paused with the crack of lighting, nearly losing balance because of it. With another huff, he hefted himself off of the ground, and felt around for the wall. This was so ridiculous, finding herbs and shit? Probably just a troll that decided to live out in the middle of nowhere. Solidary fuckasses and their backass ways of living...

Wait. That didn't make sense. He said he was sent out, right? That meant he had to be part of a unit of some sort. Who would be searching for that shit all the way out here? Augh. He wasn't going to think on that too much-- what he needed to concentrate on was resting, and hoping his eyesight would return in a few hours.

"Are you stupid? It's been drizzling on and off for a few goddamn days now," he grumbled, grunting along the wall as he searched the voice out. "Just looking up would tell you it was going to storm!"

John huffed at that, blindly getting to his own feet. He searched for a place to sit, but the cave had a rough, uneven floor. It was rather hard to feel around for a spot that could possibly prove anything but awkward to rest on. "It just kinda snuck up on me is all... wait, why are you here then? You wouldn't be in here if you knew a storm was coming, would you?" He giggled.

"I was in the process of hunting, obviously," Came another snort with a reply. "Scouting, you could say."

Finally, a surface that he could sit down on without having to worry about a rock going up his ass. Grunting, he lowered himself to the ground, plopping down.

"Ohh," John marveled for a minute. Hunting! He'd never been good at hunting. He could hardly wield a gun or a crossbow or even a sword. The only think he really could use was a switchblade, and even then he only used it to carve or cut up food. He was handy with just about anything, unless it was used against something. Not that it stopped him from dropping his hammer on Dave's foot six times to this day.

But wait, John didn't think his caravan sent any scouts out this late in the day. They have a few sentries around, but he was pretty sure none this far up the mountain. "Are you, um, from the same group as me?" As if this guy was supposed to know where John came from.

God, this guy sounded like this one moron he knew-- the one with the stuttering problem and no fucking back bone. He rolled his eyes, leaning against the cave wall. "Of course not. I know everyone in my shitty group and we don't have a giggling moron."

As if to spite the troll, his response was another good-natured giggle. "Hehe, you're pretty funny!" He commented, taking another few steps forward, carefully taping each foot in front of him before putting his weight on it. So many jagged rocks around! He wished he had the foresight to bring a lamp with him. But it wasn't like he was planning on being out here when the sun went down...

So this guy must be from another caravan! That was pretty cool, he hadn’t met many people outside of his own group. There had been brief times where they'd cross paths and do some quick trades, but it was bad luck for two caravans to stay together long. Well, that was the saying at least - he remembered Dad telling him it was really just because two groups congregating tend to be louder and bigger than a single group, and therefore much easier for trolls to spot. There's strength in numbers, but that only works so much until it becomes impossible to hide. He'd heard of caravans splitting apart because of that, growing too populated too quickly.

John wanted to ask about possible trading, but he wasn't sure it was his place to ask. Dad was always the one to approve that sort of thing; not to mention they had a particularly troubling problem as well. The elder had said for the past few days, he was seeing signs of them being followed. It could just be paranoia, but.... John knew it may be a bit too risky for two caravans to commence trading under such possibly dangerous conditions. It wouldn't go over well.

In the midst of his though, the boy's foot caught on something and he yelped loudly, falling roughly to the ground. Oww, not again!

Karkat growled, but otherwise ignored the other. He had no interest in talking to another living being; most of the other trolls he knew were complete fuckasses. Some of them were pussies, and other were just hiveshit maggots. It seemed to him that the higher on the spectrum one went, the more insane they were. That meant that Karkat Vantas wanted nothing to do with them.

He already had two best friends that were pretty much fucking insane in their own right. The troll didn't need to add another to the list.

The sounds of the other boy shuffling around was lost on him. Karkat was far too busy trying to rub at his eyes in irritation. This was the worst thing that ever happened, except the day they ran the blood tests and the like. The only thing that brought him out of his thoughts and utter self-loathing was the yelp and the sudden pressure on his leg.

No sooner did Karkat jump a bit, and his lap was full of a warm body. Did that fuckass not see he was sitting here!? A different scent wafted over his direction, distracting him from his momentary rage. It was clean, crisp, and something else Karkat just wasn't quite familiar with. He blinked and his rage returned.

"What the fucking shit are you doing!? Can't you see I was sitting here?"

"Wahh, sorry!" John exclaimed, squirming to get out of the stranger's lap. How embarrassing! But what a rude guy - of course he couldn't see in this pitch black cave. He couldn't even see his own hand two inches in front of his face; how did this person expect him to see a leg on the floor?

The boy sighed once he scooted himself backwards, finding the floor there level enough to relax on. "Sorry dude. I didn't hurt you or anything, did I?"

"What am I, two? Like a failure of a fall like that could hurt me," he ground out, rubbing at his temples. God this was a really shitty moment. What a pitiful troll, to be worrying about that shit.

That earned another small laugh from John. "Your social skills could use some work. Why are you so grumpy?"

"Why are you such a giggly, bubbly, thing?" he countered, maintaining his harsh tone.

There was a pause of silence. Maybe Karkat actually offended him enough to shut him up?

"Hmm," No, it was pretty obvious John was just pondering the question. "I dunno dude. I guess because life's no fun if you can't smile every now and then. Shit could always be worse."

"Shit always is worse, fuckass," the troll huffed, leaning his head back against the wall. There was another crash of lighting outside the cave entrance, but he didn't care. It would continue on for a few hours, at least.

John cringed at the lightning again. Oh god, that one was close! The boy sat there for a little while, arms tucked in close to his stomach as he bit his lip nervously. "Not true." He grinned as much as he could. "You're alive, aren't you? Whatever happens, as long as you're alive, you can make things better."

"Aren't you just a little optimistic shitstain," he grumbled and paused. "Afraid of the lightning, too?"

"Hehe, you could tell?" John offered in a smaller voice, nervous as hell but still somehow as cheerful as he sounded from the beginning. "It's kind of embarrassing... I mean I'm sixteen already, and it still scares me."

"It is pretty pathetic," Karkat agreed. "It's your fucking tone that gives shit like that away."

As if to rub salt in the wound, another crash of thunder made John jump, and his voice rose a few octaves. "I-it's not pathetic! Lightning is scary. And it's loud, and it starts fires!"

Karkat snickered. He didn't see it, but he could tell what the other kid was doing. Very pathetic, indeed. "A lot of other shit starts fires too. This is fucking natural and necessary, you know."

"I guess..." John trailed off, thinking about that for a moment. It was true, if forests weren't burned down periodically, they'd have malnourished soil. "Still scary, you know? I don't want to get hurt or die or something."

"You can't die from a single lightning strike. Injured, yeah, but death? Who told you shit like that?"

"It can happen! My friend told me, and she reads a lot and stuff so...." John bit his lip again. "I mean yeah, she also said it doesn't always kill, but.... it has to hurt, right? That's not fun either."

"It wouldn't matter if you're not out playing in this shit! Holy shit, you're sixteen and yet act like such a little whining brat. It's embarrassing," Karkat groaned.

John frowned, fingers digging into his tunic with unease. "I know it's stupid, dude. Don't have to rub it in..." Yeah, he felt pretty insecure about it. Why did this guy have to be so mean?

"Then get over it. You're here in a goddamn cave. Like it's going to hurt you here... Use that matter between your ears."

Matter between his ears? John raised both hands to rub two fingers behind each ear, wondering if... oh, he meant his brain! He giggled out loud. This guy sure was funny, even if he was a bit rude.

The boy stretched his arms and legs a bit, trying to calm himself down enough to relax. This guy was right, there's no reason for him to be so tense and scared while he was safe in this cave.

The conversational silence stretched on for a little while. Rain still poured outside the entrance, some of it blowing in from the harsh winds. With the lighting and thunder raging outside, the sound echoed through the cave. It intensified the sounds of the storm, yet Karkat's ear twitched more from what was not being said than the actual noise of what was going on beyond the stone.

Water started to drip in the cave, little droplets being picked up here and there by Karkat. Great. Either there was another entrance somewhere, or it was raining hard enough to cause water to get in. Just what Karkat wanted. If that wasn't enough, he started to feel the dampness on his head.

With a little growl, he pushed himself away. He hated water, and what he hated more was when he was getting water all over himself. "Fucking shit..."

The human boy certainly noticed it too. Of course water would be able to make it through here somehow, how else would all those stalagmites have formed on the floor? He was pretty sure his foot was in a tiny stream down the center of the cave now, too. It was only a few inches across, but he really hoped it wouldn't get bigger. A few drops hit his head while he sat there in silence, trying to think of other things and not concentrate on the storm.

John perked up upon hearing the stranger's voice again. "Huh? You alright?"

"Fucking fine," he bit out, scooting away further. It was just enough for his hand to hit a nice patch of cold water. "Shit!"

"Well either something's bothering you, or you have to take a massive dump." John snorted. This guy sure liked the word "shit", didn't he? "Both of which are kind of troubling."

"Where are you so I can punch you in the face for making such an awful joke?" he hissed. "What's really troubling is being stuck here with you!"

"Aww, I know you don't mean that!" John laughed. "Isn't it better to have someone to hang with while you wait for the storm to pass?"

"I do mean that. Do I seem like the kind of person that would be lying to you?" Karkat sighed. "Fuck, man, I don't even know you and I'm growing to dislike you."

"Well I dunno, you still never told me what got your panties all in a wad a second ago." John mused.

"...And why would I tell you that, if you were hypothetically correct. WHICH YOU'RE NOT."

"Haha, I think you're protesting a little too much dude!" The boy giggled some more. "Come on, it's okay, you can tell me. Are you really afraid of the lightning too?"

"Like hell I am afraid of lighting, you little shit head..." Another growl, deep in his throat came out before he could stop it, not that he wanted to.

Yeah, John was pretty sure it was just more thunder or something when he heard that growl. Wasn't like a person could make a sound like that! "Oh, okay then," was the simple reply. He wasn't going to pry if he was that uncomfortable with something.

"So you DO know how to just shut your trap," he commented, relieved.

"Well duh." The boy replied, running a hand through hair, feeling a few solitary droplets. "If there was someone who couldn't ever stop talking, it'd be soooo annoying."

Karkat said nothing. Maybe then that kid would get the awkward silence that signified he was that annoying type of person. The stream of water, however, seemed to be getting a little bigger. With that coming to the forefront of his mind, the troll stood up, feeling his way to find a drier spot.

"Fucking water."

"Hm?" John pondered aloud, trying to look in the direction he heard the stranger get up and move - but he still couldn't see a damn thing.

"Yeah, I hope we don't get too wet." He added, tapping his foot to feel that the stream got a bit bigger. It splashed a little more now. "Not as bad as outside though, huh?"

"That's why I'm trying to move further in!" Karkat huffed. He knew this guy would be close by. In fact, the troll nudged him with a boot. Move out of the way or go with him. He didn't care.

"Whoa, hey!" John jumped a bit, dragging his feet in closer to his chest to give the other guy more room. "Why are you in such a rush? A little water won't kill you."

"Have you ever been dumped in the ocean? In a lake? You try feeling the sensation of water bearing down on you from all sides and into your lungs. See how well you goddamn like the water then, huh? Now get out of the way, I can't see worth shit in here because I'm fucking blind as a goddamn bat for now!"

He instantly felt a blush creep on his face. God, he let his temper get the better of him again. Karkat always said the most stupid or incriminating shit when he went on a rampage. If one word of that was going to be used against him, he swore he would rip this guy's throat out and leave it at that. No one had to know...

"Oh...." John replied quietly, a bit of a change from his usual responses. Silently, he got to his feet, doing his best to back up and try to give this guy some room.

The troll still continued to feel his way, a hand on the other boy’s shoulder to help him at least know where the brat was. Karkat cringed at the contact, hoping that no more questions were asked and that a culling would happen swiftly, if it were to happen. When nothing did occur, he moved on briskly.

It wasn't too much farther down, but the fact it was dry was good enough for him. Karkat was perhaps five feet away from the stanger. Grumbling, swearing, and more grumbling, the troll sat down. Finally!

John stayed silent even as he felt a hand on his shoulder, obviously not at all concerned with the contact; he didn't even flinch. He followed the stranger, and waited until he heard the footsteps stop to reach out and feel the walls around him. At one point a hand lightly brushed against Karkat's cheek, the contact followed up with a slightly embarrassed laugh. "Oh, there you are!"

He had heard the footfalls, but what did Karkat care? If the other wanted to be smart and avoid the water, then good for him. Wasn't any of his business. What was his business was the sudden contact on his cheek. Karkat jerked away, looking (more like glaring) in the direction that the other boy should be. It didn't matter if Karkat could see him or not, he knew that annoyance was there.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"Just trying to find a place to sit," The human replied, sitting himself down next to Karkat without a second thought. For a hopeful minute it almost seemed like John would fall into another peaceful silence, but...

"So... water, huh?" Though he couldn't be seen, the smile was evident in his voice.

Karkat was hoping for silence after the stranger sat down. Too bad luck was against him. The universe appeared to be against him, really, trying to find all of the ways to make his life shitty and near unbearable. When the boy spoke again, Karkat just plunged head first into a face palm combo.

"I have a weapon and I'm not afraid to fucking use it if you ever mention that shit, got it?"

John giggled, shuffling a bit in the darkness. There was still some water leaking in, hitting the top of his head every now and then. He's heard some silly things before, but this was.... well, this was really silly! At least lightning could hurt someone, but little water droplets were completely harmless.

Still, for some reason, he didn't bring up any of that. A few moments later, there was a hand beside Karkat's head again, poking a spot next to his ear - before the weight of a soft cloth settled down over his hair, even covering his horns. "There."

That wasn't what he was expecting. Honestly, Karkat was about to tear into him for giggling at the legitimate fear. What land troll didn't fear water even slightly? The dumb ones or sea obsessed ones, that was who. Yet to feel something cover his head? Well... That was a sort of compassion he never experienced before, save from his Lusus.

"I had a hood, you know," he commented. Well, it was true, but wet material on his horns? Ew!

"Oh, really?" John replied back, feeling his cheeks heat up a bit with embarrassment. "Sorry, I just thought... you know, you wouldn't like the water hitting your head." There wasn't any sort of mocking tone in his voice - just pure sincerity.

"I don't, and I guess the hood is pretty fucking wet anyway," Karkat amended, pulling his knees to his chest. Alright, maybe the twerp wasn't so bad. That was just the closest he would get to saying thank you.

John just smiled, settling back against the rocky wall behind them. There was still some thunder and cool wind coming into the cave, but it wasn't quite as loud before. He found himself flinching less and less as the minutes ticked by.

"You know, it's kind of funny." The human boy offered, after another brief silence. "At first I was regretting coming up this mountain to get stuck in a storm. But now I'm kinda glad I did, cause I got to meet you."

"That is the sappiest thing I have ever heard, worse than any novel I've read," Karkat snorted. His romance novels were pretty corny at times, but that could have been read directly from one of them.

"Besides, after the storm passes, chances are we won't even see each other again. How the hell could you be glad for that?"

"Oh, you like to read too?" Karkat's last statement seemed to go right over John's head. "I haven't met anyone else that likes to read novels, aside from one of my friends. Everyone else says it's a waste of time, but I think it's fun."

"When I have the time to," he admitted with a nod. "Most of the assholes I know say it's a fucking waste too. I say they don't know shit."

"Haha, I think maybe some of them just don't know how to read, and they're jealous!" John chuckled. "Hey, have you seen any of Nic Cage's books? They're my favorites! I've read most of his books multiple times."

Wasn't that a human author? He might have read one or two human books in his entire lifetime and only because he confiscated them. Alright, so maybe he kept them in cases of emergencies. The troll community had no idea how humans were able to publish their shit, but in the end, they were too busy trying to hunt humans, rather than squash out their culture. Maybe this dipshit did the same.

"No, can't say I have."

"Ohmygosh, there's this one book called Con-Air, that... ohh wait, I shouldn't spoil it! Ohh, but it's such a good book, you have to read it if you can find it." John smiled bright enough that it almost lit the entire cave. He paused for a moment, wondering if this would sound weird to a total stranger - a stranger he couldn't even see, but he really didn't want to pass this chance up.

"Um, I could let you borrow my copy if you like. If you came to this mountain, that means you have to be camped out close by! We could meet tomorrow somewhere and...." The boy giggled sheepishly, scratching at his head. "Wow, I must sound like a total dork. I guess there aren't many guys my age to talk to around here.”

"You sure you want to do that?" Karkat asked. "What if we leave before I can get it back to you?"

It wasn't as though he was particularly interested, but well. The truth was, it had been a while since he had any fresh material. Karkat wasn't going to be able to get a new novel until at least after his unit delivered that caravan, or even a few humans from it...

"Oh, I guess that's a possibility..." John bit his lip nervously, pondering that for a moment. He'd feel pretty sad if he lost that book, but it wasn't like it was the only one out there, right? There were print numbers on it. "But, I think it makes me happier knowing I could help someone else experience that story, y'know? Even if I don't get it back. Besides, I'm sure I'll run across another copy someday if that's the case."

He didn't want to outright say it. He was also a little excited about being able to meet someone new, to get to know them and exchange stories. Plus, even though this guy had quite a mouth on him, he kind of already liked him. Then again, John Egbert liked pretty much anyone he ever met. But still!

His cheerful thoughts were interrupted by another crash of thunder - closer than they had been for a while. It startled him, and he latched onto Karkat's shoulder and shivered until it died down.

Karkat mulled over the idea. This brat seemed pretty sad about the idea of losing his book. Well, there was always the option of asking Captor to track this kid down later. It couldn't be that hard to find someone on Alternia. Then Karkat could simply find a way to get it back to him. Or he might not take the risk over human material.

"How long around you morons sticking around this area for?" Well, there was a chance that Karkat could read it all in a day or two.

Then came the crash and something clinging to him. Karkat tensed, not liking the fact that someone was touching him. Touching was a bad thing. He leaned away a bit. "Hey, fuckass..."

John blinked and released a breath he didn't know he was holding. "O-oh, sorry." He stuttered, letting go of Karkat's sleeve with embarrassment. "That thunder kinda startled me."

The storm did seem to be dying down though. Even if that last bolt of lightning was close, the majority of the ominous rumbling was now far enough in the distance to be at least partially drowned out by the downpour.

He rolled his eyes. Yeah, he knew. "Answer the question."

"Oh!" John straightened up. "We should be in the area for.... another six days. That’s the plan, anyway."

"Six days? Shit, I could read it in two," Karkat quipped.

"Whoaa, really? That's so fast!" The boy sounded amazed. "You sound like Rose - she can read these huge books in no time flat. I have no idea how you can read that fast, dude."

"I read a lot growing up, ok? Some shitstains would go out and play stupid games, and I preferred to stay in," he huffed. Jealous, actually. He wanted to do stupid FLARP sessions, but his blood... So Karkat always resigned himself to just reading.

"Oh, I get you." John nodded even though he knew the other couldn't see the gesture. "But.... wasn't it hard to meet others that way?"

"I liked the fucking silence, okay?" he snapped.

"You didn't get lonely?" John asked timidly, voice a bit more quiet than before.

"I wasn't always alone," Karkat grumbled, thinking about his Lusus. "I do have friends. Those are actual things, you know. Most of them are assholes, but that happens."

"Haha, your friends are assholes?" John giggled. He wasn't quite sure if that meant they were mean, or if this guy was just being defensive; probably the latter. He probably had some pretty awesome friends and was just too 'cool' to admit it. Dave was like that most of the time.

"That's what I said!"

They were assholes, too. His best friend growing up was probably Sollux—no, definitely Sollux. That guy was just a bipolar fuckass whose mood went through more changes than the guy had bees. There was a lot of black flirtation, Karkat recalled. Then they'd both end up pitying each other and then flipping and flopping all over. Which was fine. Best friends were really the way to go, anyway.

"Sorry, you just kind of sound like one my friends." The boy grinned. "He calls us all lame and stuff, but he really likes us. He just has to be the cool kid and won't admit it out loud."

"I don't like cool shits, kid," Karkat growled.

"Ohh, really? Guess you wouldn't like my best bro, then. He's like, the coolest guy ever." John retorted with pride. "Chill like ice. Or something."

Karkat huffed and leaned more against the wall. The rain wasn't coming down as hard now, but damned if he wanted to go out in that. It would be a few hours before it dwindled down.

Another hour slowly passed as John continued to chat, going on and on even with minimal responses from Karkat. He talked about a few of the books he read (but not Con-Air, no matter how much he wanted to), and about a few of the sights he saw over the past few weeks. There was a magnificent canyon to the west, though he remembered seeing an even bigger one when he was smaller. There was a really cool tree he came across a few days ago that had winding roots, and looked like something alien. He talked about how sometimes he stares up at the clouds to find shapes in them, how awesome his friends were, and little else to be spared. But the thunder would come back every now and then, successfully shutting John up for a while to give Karkat a bit of silence. Though sometimes John would stay quiet, just because he was anxious to see if his new friend (could he be so forward to call him that already?) would add anything to the conversation, and he did at times. As the night went on, John decided that yes, this guy was a really cool guy. He was pretty nice too, if you ignored how much he cursed. But there was something else John picked up on - something a little.... sad. Every once and a while it just seemed like, to him, this stranger would sound a little melancholy. Maybe he had something he was keeping to himself? John decided not to pry. Besides, he could just be imagining it. He probably was - this guy was pretty cool himself. He doubted there was much that honestly bothered him. You know, besides water.

Once the moons started rising higher into the sky, the rain finally started to die down to a drizzle. The thunder was practically gone, and the winds were calmer. "....You think it's over?" John asked, getting to his feet slowly.

This guy was way too excited, Karkat decided. It sort of reminded him a bit of Sollux's former fling, that one explorer chick. He never met her personally, but man did Captor rant and rave about her. Then one day, he just up and told him not to talk about it and that he didn't need to hear about her or from her anymore. Karkat vaguely wondered, while the kid was off on a tangent, what could have happened to break up an obviously pity party like that....

Perhaps he would ask Captor about it once the change was given to him. That was several years ago. Surely a wound like that would have healed by now. If not... Eh.

What the other, the stranger, went on and on about, only stirred partial interest in Karkat's tastes. He complained since the boy only read like actiony books. Where was the romance? The drama? The deep, intricate twists and turns of the story lines? Karkat always did prefer those types over others, not that he didn't read other genres. What Karkat did like, not that he would ever admit to it, was the fact he did have someone to talk to about novels. Not many other trolls bothered to read like he did.

By the time the storm faded into the background, and the rain barely detectable to his ear, Karkat lost track of the time. He turned to the other teen, a bit sad to see this come to an end. The other would leave and Karkat would need to stay a bit longer. Then he scratched that thought under a blunt: "Of fucking course it's over. You have ears."

"Yeah," John frowned a bit, stretching his arms and legs. He really was pretty tired and he couldn't wait to go lay in some dry sheets, and have some dinner. But he was also kind of sad to go already...

"Hey, um... you want to try seeing each other again tomorrow?" The boy asked in a timidly hopeful tone. "I mean, I still want to let you borrow Con-Air, and.... it was fun hanging out with you."

"It wasn't a complete waste of an evening, as far as shitty events go," Karkat admitted with a nod. "Sure, I guess. It would have to be at sunset, though. I am going to have so much shit to get done."

"Haha yeah, same here." John smiled. "But sunset sounds perfect! But, hm.... this cave wouldn't be the best place to meet, would it?"

"Probably not, no. And I doubt you want to fucking climb down the entire thing either," Karkat mused. "I didn't get around to checking the other side."

“Yeah, me neither." John pondered silently for a moment, fidgeting a bit like a kid half his age with pent up excitement to spend more time with his new friend. In daylight, too!

"Oh!" He finally piped up, remembering the trail his caravan took to get to this valley. "A bit farther south... right down this mountain range," He's motioning in the general direction, poking Karkat in his side accidentally. "There's a pass, where a river carved away the rocks. There's this awesome waterfall! I know you don't like water, but we could use that as a point of reference, right? We don't have to go swimming if you don't want to, hehe~"

A waterfall... Well he didn't see it before, but that didn't mean anything. It was a decent point to meet up at. Easy to spot. "All right. Fine."

"Cool!" John sounded absolutely giddy. He took a few steps back towards the entrance he came through, before remembering that his new friend came from the opposite direction. They had to part ways now.

"I can't wait to see you again!" He smiled, reaching forward until his fingers found Karkat's arm. Then, without any prior warning, he leaned in and gave the other boy a quick hug (a bro-hug, Dave called them) before going back to slowly making his way further down the cave. He resisted the urge to turn and wave - because honestly, when would he start to remember that neither of them could see anything right now?

Karkat didn't even get the chance to answer. At first, he thought he heard foot steps going away. However, those weren't near enough to be at the entrance already, right? His pondering was sliced through with the sensation of a warm hand on his arm. Karkat tensed, and then the hug came.

To his embarrassment, his cheeks warmed, and he made an incoherent sound. Stuttering, really. A hug. A freaking hug. No one just randomly hugged each other like that. Humans did, not trolls. Well, trolls only did for particular reasons! Then, before Karkat could recover, the other was gone. Shit! He didn't even get a name.

The troll sighed, still tingling from the embrace. It felt... Weird. He wasn't sure he liked this feeling for a person he hardly knew. Ah well. It wasn't like they wouldn't be meeting again, anyway.

Chapter Text

Most of the night, Karkat sort of slept. In and out of awareness, really. When the sun started to rise, he blinked, blurred vision coming into focus. When he noticed the light coming from the entrance, he groaned. He did not want to fucking travel during morning hours. Yet, it was still dark enough to be comfortable for his freshly healed eyes. Karkat stood up and took off to report into his unit.

He gave the location of the humans to the unit leader, much to the surprise of the blue blood. They truly had thought Karkat was a goner, with not returning that night. Unfortunately, some of the supplies and the like had been damaged in the storm. The unit would not be able to go and hunt them down that night. One of the jade bloods was out and working still, while the other team members rested. Trolls were not their best during the day.

So Karkat aided in what he could during the early morning, only climbing into the trees with a hammock to rest later in the day and in the afternoon. He was being sent out again that evening anyway, to keep an eye on the humans and ensure they didn't travel while final preparations for an attack were in the making.

John was given a much different response when he returned home the following morning. Jade ended up crying and running him down into the ground, before punching him hard in the arm for making everyone worry. Dad was nothing but a concerned, and relieved father for the first few hours, making sure John hadn't caught a cold and got plenty to eat and drink. But once it was established that John wasn't too worse for the wear (just tired and hungry), he made sure to let John know how worried he was with a few stern words. A chieftain would never make his caravan worry.

But of course, John was still a kid. He wasn't reprimanded that much, because really, he did make a good choice to stay where he was rather than risk falling to his death on rain-slickened stone. Dave gave him a good whack on the head for being so uncool, but after that things were back to normal. Even though he was told to rest the day if needed, John continued his chores, helping out gathering firewood most of the day. He tried keeping it to himself - he was pretty sure his dad wouldn't be too keen on him going out by himself to meet a total stranger from another caravan. But still, he was walking around with a grin plastered on his face damn near everywhere he went. Well, more than usual anyway.

By the time the sun started to dip low on the horizon, John snuck away with the excuse his stomach was bothering him. No one would follow him that way, hah!

He even grabbed a few homemade candies to share with his new friend, and of course, his Con-Air book.

Karkat , on the other hand, didn't have any issues sneaking out. He just wasn't going to check on the humans immediately. After all, there was another out there waiting for him. That book could be just what he needed to pass the time. So when it was an hour before sunset, Karkat got down from the tree and placed everything away. Travel like this had to be light. Less noise and more speed. Only his sickle was with him.

It didn't take long to find the water fall. How could anyone miss that deafening roar of water? Karkat took his time hiking down the relatively slick slope. It was a long way down and he didn't feel like hurting himself any further. His eyes noticed a lack of troll, but he could wait for an hour or two before going back to the watch he was supposed to take.

He eyed another tree when he made it to the ground, glaring daggers at the water that trickled through. Yeah, fat chance he was going to lie in wait there. Ha! With the humans being so close, they had to be gathering supplies as well. Better to be up high where they can barely see a troll than on the ground and potentially attacked by one. Element of surprise.

Needless to say, Karkat shot up that tree as fast as he could.

John hummed lightly to himself as he walked, only having to keep an eye on the faint line of the shallow mountain range to make sure he was going in the right direction. It took him about an hour to make it there, but soon enough, he started hearing the roar of a waterfall.

Unable to contain his excitement, the boy started running, a smile on his face as the wind ruffled up his already only partially tamed black hair. The tan bag over his shoulder almost slipped off a few times he ran so fast, panting softly once he saw the waterfall over a steep, white rocky cliff side.

Hmm, no sight of anyone yet though. John decided to walk closer at a leisurely pace, glancing around and adjusting his glasses a bit.

A set of troll ears perked up at the sound of footsteps. Karkat leaned over form his position in the tree. There was a pang of disappointment when what he saw was not a troll, but a human. Then he frowned. What the hell was a single human, a frail teenage boy nonetheless, doing out here alone? Were they unarmed? Just what was that shithive maggots kid thinking?

It didn't matter. Two things shot through Karkat's mind. One was to stay where he was and perhaps it would go away. The other was to just kill him. Present a meal to his new fuckass of a friend that talked entirely too much. Even so, dragging that skinny thing back to the unit would probably earn Karkat some points. He needed as many of those as he could get.

That decided it for him. Karkat kept his eyes glued to the human, slinking out of the tree as silently as he possibly could. Perhaps the human was dimwitted and Karkat could catch him unaware...

John continued to hum quietly, completely oblivious to the danger so close by. He sort of bounced on the balls of his feet for a bit, watching the waterfall with barely pent up joy. That smile of his never died down.

He never would have thought about the possibility of encountering something as dangerous as a troll. He could barely even remember seeing one those twelve years ago, even as... scarring as it was. The truth was, it had been entirely too long since his caravan experienced any losses thanks to predators. They were all starting to fall victim to a sense of security for some abnormal, but not impossible string of luck.

Ooh, berries! These little red ones were good to eat. The boy knelt to his knees and picked them, plucking one in his mouth and closing his eyes to revel in the sweetness.

Karkat actually paused for a moment. Did this kid seriously not hear him? Was this batch just exceptionally stupid? He was completely oblivious and not even looking for danger. What a load of... And then the berry. Fucking. Red. Berry.

Well fuck this shit. He stalked, creeping up on the kid. If he didn't want to be aware, then whatever. Karkat didn't need acknowledgment. Perhaps if the human didn't turn around, he could take that head off in one fell swoop instead of having to deal with the struggling. Now he raised his sickle high over that head, ready to plunge it in the unsuspecting victim's neck.

And John probably would have continued to be blissfully unaware, not a single thought in his mind that wasn't occupied with contentedness. Well, if it wasn't for the fact that a shadow creeped up on him, growing on his back and then, painting the grass in front of him a dark shade.

The boy didn't even bother getting up. He turned on his heels, one knee still on the ground as he looked up, a smile on his eager expression, expecting to meet his new friend. A boy about his age. A human boy.

The light in his eyes died quickly.

Yellow cat-like eyes stared down at him, framed by a gray complexion. Pointed ears, pointed teeth, pointed orange claws... not to mention the tell-tale sign of bright orange horns. In John's mind, he barely even saw the sickle. What was in front of him right now couldn't be real; this was a nightmare, far more terrifying than any blade could be.

He was frozen for a single heartbeat, dread running through his veins like a thick syrup, clogging his throat and paling his face. A troll.

A troll.

With a sharp inhale that sounded like it tried to become a scream but died far too quickly, the boy was on his feet, bolting away as fast as he possibly could.

It went without saying that Karkat enjoyed the look on that kid's face as he turned around. Pure horror. Disbelief. There was something to be said for the expression of sheer terror. It was a fucking masterstroke on a wonderful painting. Karkat, as a troll, drank it in, giving a wicked grin. Yeah, this was your last night on the planet, human. How did that feel?

It felt amazing to Karkat and would never cease to be.

Then the human apparently made the connection between his brains and legs. He took off, Karkat growling in irritation. "Why do they always have to fucking run!?"

Honestly, Karkat did not want to chase. Now he had to, though. If that human got back to the others, then they would seriously have a problem on their hands. It would mean more days tracking this caravan and harder to get to them. The humans would be on alert, basically. Thus, Karkat sped off, leaping over a rock.

He would fucking catch this human and have it's ears for fucking breakfast.

John Egbert was currently lost completely in flight mode.

A part of him was able to just barely rationalize his escape; if he went towards home, the troll chasing him could break away before the caravan could have a chance to retaliate, and the predator could inform the others of their location. However, if John ran away from the caravan, his chances of surviving were.... none. He had no weapon, he hated fighting, not that he was ever any good at it. Trolls were much, much stronger; faster, more endurance. It wouldn't be long before this one caught him.

Tears began to prick at his eyes, lungs already burning and heart rate far too fast even for a sprint. Adrenaline pumped through his veins in a last ditch effort to survive, pure terror overcoming all other senses. With a grim, overwhelmingly heartbreaking realization, John knew he couldn't possibly risk the safety of his entire family for just one life. Even if it was his own.

He turned sharply, in the opposite direction of his home. He was going to die. That much was certain. But he wasn't going down without a fight. No, he had to lead this monster as far away as possible. He'd continue until his legs fell off and his heart stopped on its own.

The troll was already gaining.

Karkat never could figure out why humans ended up running. Trolls were the better hunters. They could chase things down for a while without having to stop. Trolls also recovered more quickly than humans did. It was just some out of many reasons why Trolls were better all the way around. So what was the point of attempting to outrun your fate? Karkat once thought he could, but now look where he was...

You cannot out run the inevitable.

This inevitable thing was that Karkat was going to catch himself a human. However, he paused briefly at that sharp turn. He looked in the direction of the caravan. The boy was running in the opposite direction. Why? Karkat growled and sprinted forward with his entire being, hell bent on catching this kid. The human was going to play hero. Sacrifice himself for the sake of the caravan.

It was sad and pitiful that the sacrifice would be in vain.

It wasn't long before John started to slow despite his best, increasingly desperate efforts to go just one step further. Tears were now streaming down his face, blurring his vision as he just concentrated on breathing. Breathing and running. Nothing else mattered.

But those tears would be the reason for his demise. Unable to see clearly, the boy overstepped a small hurdle over a rock and slipped the second his foot hit the ground. Going at such full force, John fell into a roll, one arm skidding painfully against gravel beneath the grass most likely washed up when the nearby river used to be wider.

He made a loud, pitiful noise, trying to turn quickly to his back and trying to get up. He had to hurry. He had to go farther, he couldn't stop here.

Those bright yellow eyes caught sight of the human and his fall. Perfect. Karkat wasn't going to let the human get back up. He closed the distance quickly, a foot going to the human's back. A shove to keep the thing down on the ground. The troll took a moment to stay in that position, grinning and gloating all the while. It was as if Karkat was trying to taunt the human, by allowing him these few moments instead of just doing him in. Yet, he just had one more thing he had to do, to rub salt in.

"Nice fucking try, leading me away from your caravan. Too bad we already know where you grubfuckers are! By morning? They'll all be dead before they even see us fucking coming. How does it feel, huh? Knowing you can't do shit to save them or yourself?" He sneered, kicking the boy over onto his back.

He then grabbed onto the human's tunic, hoisting him up a bit off of the ground. Karkat wanted to see that face. This was the moment that he had strove for ever since being assigned a hunting unit. With this, he would show he had what it took to do more than just fucking scout work. Karkat Vantas could hunt and kill just like any other troll out there! His shit eating grin turned into a furious glare.

A familiar scent prickled his senses. He knew it, but at the moment he wasn't going to take the time to figure out why.

John's face contorted to one of pure fear and disbelief, hands reaching up to grab Karkat's wrist in vain. His strength was no match for a troll's - he barely made the predator flinch and he was trying with all his might to tear away from him. No, no no no NO, he couldn't kill them! His dad, Jade, Dave, Rose -- he couldn't kill them!

"Please!" The boy finally pleaded, voice between a scream and a whimper, blue eyes staring directly into those terrifying gold ones. "P-please, don't hurt them! Y-you can h-have me, I promise I won't run! Just not --" He hiccuped, body quivering and grip weakening as he gulped down a breath, forgotten bag sliding off his shoulder and down onto the ground as his body started to go limp. "Not my family, please don't kill them!"

"Oh for the love of god, shut the fuck up!" He yelled into the boy's face, punctuating his sentence with a bite.

God that voice got on his nerves. His grip grew tighter and he smacked the human back against the gravel and grass. Karkat didn't care how it hurt. He just wanted the human to stop talking. It hurt his ears to hear all that, through tears and whimpering. He took his sickle and stuck the tip into the ground, allowing the blade to dangerously dangle about the kid's throat. Once wrong move.... Shit Karkat couldn't handle that tone! Fuck, he had to listen to that voice for how many fucking hours last -

Karkat paused. Looked down. Oh no. No, no and fucking no. He practically knelt down further, sniffing at the human's hair. Shit. Just.. Out of all of the goddamn twists and turns in the fucking universe. "Oh my god. Are you absolutely fucking shitting me!?"

He didn't want it to be true. Karkat Vantas wanted to kill humans, not potentially make friends with them in caves. On stormy nights. Shit like that was not acceptable, in either society. With a growl he started to dig out that stupid piece of cloth that had covered his head the other day. Surely this was not that guy…

John stifled a cry as he hit the ground once more, blood dripping from shallow cuts on his arm and now on his cheek. His eyes screwed shut, body rigid under the intense pressure of imminent death, hoping with all his might that it would at least be quick. 'I'm sorry, Dad' he whispered in his mind, hands shaking and lips quivering.

But the pain never came. Nothing came, and then... what did the troll just do? He got real close - enough to make his breath hitch in terror - and... smelled him? What was -

Then he heard the troll's voice again. He was talking, not killing, and good lord there was a lot of swearing.

John braved turning his head back, eyes opening just barely enough to look to see if there was a chance to escape. His muscles tensed and he willed himself to go. The troll wasn't even looking at him anymore, he was pulling something out of his pocket.

"M-my..." John's voice was a very emasculating squeak. His eyes went wide and a whole new torrent of disbelief overloaded his brain. "That's... my.... wh-whu?" He stuttered dumbly. That was his handkerchief he used to clean his glasses with! The one that he gave to... to...

The human boy stayed where he was, making a slew of unintelligible noises. That voice, he knew he recognized that voice! This couldn't be...!

When the human stared at the cloth and then the stuttering began? Karkat was then sold on the idea. The person he spend the other day in the cave with was right here. A human. The troll didn't know what to think, actually. His mind drew a blank. There wasn't exactly training on how to deal with a situation like this, after all. Karkat's hand took hold of the sickle's handle. A comfort that he needed to sort out his emotions.

Though his brows were lowered, his eyes narrowed, there was an onslaught of convictions. His instincts told him to just kill the human and move on. So what if there was compassion and friendship last night? The human didn't even know Karkat was a troll or else things would have played out differently. The human would have attacked Karkat or ran to warn the other humans, despite the storm. Then what... Well the unit would be back to square one.

Yet his other emotion was... Well Karkat wasn't ready to really put words to it. There was a side to him that didn't want to hurt the human at all. This human had, unknowingly, shown him kindness. They exchanged conversation on a level that Karkat found only few ever actually did with him. This guy even offered a book, one that Karkat knew meant a lot to him, to a complete stranger even though he may never see it again. He was even stupidly brave and it was just so pitiful Karkat couldn't deal.

The boy was human and that made all the difference. Humans were food, not potential quadrant fills. It made the rage build up in Karkat's stomach. His fists clenched and it took all he had to not just punch him in the goddamn face. "WHY THE FUCK DIDN'T YOU TELL ME YOU WERE A GODDAMN HUMAN!?"

For the longest time, John wasn't sure what to think either. The troll stood above him, completely capable of ending him in a single swift motion either by claws or by blade - and yet he hadn't. As the seconds ticked by, it really began to settle in.

This was the guy from last night. He spent hours talking, conversing with a predator? He didn't even know trolls could talk, and...

Did that... really even matter?

His blood was still pumping through his veins like liquid fire. Every single nerve in his body was screaming at him to run while he had the chance. He was still terrified, and yet... this troll wasn't killing him. He was showing hesitance, and for what?

The same reason he was hesitating to run.

The troll's yelling brought him back down to earth though. After that, it was an upward slope. John slowly began to feel his legs again, able to lean up on one hand and stare at the boy in front of him with more than just primal instincts to survive. But that accusation was a bit much.

"Y-you never told me you were a troll!" He retorted, brows furrowed in a twist of confusion.

"I thought it was a fucking given!" he shot back, his anger slowly burning hotter with each passing moment. "The distinct lack of knowing shitty human authors. Fear of water. The need to meet after dark! Did none of that fucking add up to you?"

"I thought you wanted to meet at the end of the day, when we could relax!" John replied quickly, mind still spinning. "And, I dunno dude, I thought you just had a weird thing with water? Is that really a troll thing?"

"Most of us can't fucking swim, shit head!" Karkat growled, bring his hands to his face, one holding the sickle and the other pulling his hair.

"I didn't know that!" The human boy defended. "The only thing I really know about you guys is... you eat us!"

"What ever the fuck happened to know your fucking enemy!?" came another growl, accompanied by a hiss. Forget it. Forget it all. He grabbed John by the shirt again, sickle at his throat.

"You know what. It doesn't even fucking matter. You're here now, all human shit which utterly destroys any fucking chance at all for your human disease called friendship. My world is a fucking cull or be culled world and quite frankly, I'm not even ready to die yet. I'll just kill you, turn you over to the shitty blue blood and then I can get off fucking scout duty and hopefully get that bulge stain off of my fucking back!"

John flinched and bit back a noise in his throat when Karkat grabbed him by the collar again. But this time, the boy didn't make any effort to escape, hands at his sides and body lax. His expression wasn't even that of overwhelming fear anymore - he looked at the troll in front of him without the glazed, hazy look in his eyes when he thought he was surely going to die.

"But I..." Contrary to his eyes, his voice did show enough unease to show that yes, he did in fact know there was a god damn blade at his throat. But it was still different somehow, not quite as shaky and desperate as before. Whatever he was going to say died before he could form the words, suddenly looking more melancholy than terrified. Kill or be killed? Did this guy really live in such a harsh world? He knew trolls were different, and they were really ruthless so it wasn't like it was too odd to hear.

".... Will you at least take my book?" He asked quietly, so quiet it was almost pitiful. But instead of crying, he cracked a tiny hopeful smile. "It's stupid, but.... I still want you to have it..."

That expression made Karkat all the angrier. How dare that human look so... How fucking dare he appeal to Karkat's pity! He would not be able to express it to a human of all things! It wasn't fair! This was so fucking stupid and all five flavors of fucking ridiculous. Karkat set his jaw, glaring like he had never glared before. "Fuck you! I will burn that shit with the rest of those wagons!"

His arm pulled back, ready to take the swing that would liberate that stupid head from those equally stupid shoulders. Karkat had plenty of practice at this, mostly with fruit. He was just at the right angle and with the human not resisting, it would be all to easy. Just one swing... One swing and a lot of bright red all over the place. That fucking smile... Gone forever.

His arm came down....

And plunged the sickle into the dirt. Karkat missed the human's face by mere centimeters. His shoulders slouched a bit, like there was suddenly a heavy weight placed upon them. Another growl rumbled deep in his chest, keeping his head bowed and eyes hidden. He couldn't do it. Why couldn't he just fucking kill this brat?

Karkat Vantas then stood up. "Just fucking run already."

John had genuinely prepared for death a second time. He winced, fear and sadness and betrayal passing over his eyes before he winced them shut, tensing considerably. And he waited.

He felt a sharp wind feather over the bridge of his nose, the blade of the sickle whistling through the air until it hit the ground.

The boy almost didn't want to open his eyes. But once again, after not feeling any pain, he slowly looked up. He stared, completely silent. The claws were no longer at his shirt, holding him in place. The troll wasn't even looking at him anymore. He could run. He could make it out alive, probably the first of his entire race to encounter a troll without a weapon.

And yet, he continued to hesitate.

Hesitance held his legs to the ground. He didn't want to run. Something underneath those scream to fucking run for it whispered something strange. This isn't right. He made a connection. He liked this person. Wasn't that enough? Why now of all times - why did it feel so strange that this friendship had to die just because they were different?

A pale hand reached out, slowly, fingertips resting at Karkat's knee. Those deep blue eyes looked up at him with yearning, with confusion and hope and regret. Not fear, not hopelessness and painful sadness.

The touch startled Karkat. He honestly thought the human would just run. Karkat hoped the human boy would run. Instead he was touching the troll with what Karkat knew to be compassion. His gaze turned to the human and god, how he wished he never did. That look in the human's eyes... It cut right into Karkat. He turned away, blush dusting his cheeks. God, this was fucking pitiful.

Slowly, Karkat began to shake. His anger was getting the better of him. He wanted this human, in what capacity was still in question. The problem was... There was no way the troll could be with a human. Not in friendships. Not in quadrants. It wasn't allowed and Karkat grew even angrier because of that. His rage reached new levels due to the fact that he knew he was choosing this human's life over his own.


John cringed a bit the second Karkat started yelling. His gaze drew away from the troll, eyelashes obscuring his eyes as he looked down. He bit at his lip lightly, and reached over to grab his bag that fell of his shoulder earlier, slowly sliding it back up his arm - but not before grabbing something from it and placing it on the ground before the troll.

The human got up in silence, leaving his leather-bound book, faded and worn from years of use, at Karkat's feet. He hesitated, stepping slowly past the predator with a passing glance, almost as if he was going to say something; but he kept his mouth shut, willing away any and all words. What would it matter?

This troll was letting him go. He should run without looking back, without a second thought. Pick up his dragging feet, stop stalling and make a fucking break for it. Live. That's all there was too it.

So he did, a warm tear returning to slide down his cheek for a reason he wasn't quite sure of.

An ear twitched, following the sound of the human leaving the area. Pastel red was already running down both cheeks. Hot and disgustingly displaying his blood color for all to see. The thing was, he didn't even give a damn about that at the moment. He was too busy staring down at the ground. Damn that fucking brat for everything. Damn him to the human conception of Hell and back again. This was not what Karkat signed on for. He did not need to have a fucking emotional break down on a goddamn mountain!

The human left his book on purpose.

Karkat picked it up. He could figure out a way to return it. If he wanted to risk his life, that was. The troll thumbed through the pages, wiping his tears away on the sleeve of his shirt. He would keep this shitty thing and fucking read it. Then he would burn it and the memory of what happened on this stupid mountain would go with it. That would be that.

Finally, he got to his feet. Karkat would go and hunt down that caravan. Make sure that the human got back. Then ascertain if he warns them or not about the trolls coming for them. There was little time left before the hunting unit would strike. Karkat was taking a big risk for this...

Stupid fucking humans...

Chapter Text

John was a zombie the rest of the evening.

He returned with tear-stained cheeks, red eyes and multiple shallow wounds across his body. When his friends tried asking him about it, he just shrugged it off and said he did something stupid while looking for firewood. He probably could have tried coming up with some elaborate story, but his mind was hardly in the right place to even attempt it.

His sister didn't want to leave his side, even when Dave and Rose were trying to tell her John needed his space. She didn't care. She'd /never/ seen his brother look so distraught, so.... heartbroken. There couldn't have been a better word. He cried for hours when he found out he had killed a baby rabbit while training with Bro, he sulked for days when his first crush told him she didn't return his feelings. He's cried after reading a few of his books, when Dad had to leave for days with a group of hunters. She's seen him sad and lost, but not like this.

Nobody bothered him about it after a while, mainly because John let the medicine woman clean his wounds then retired to his bed for the night, hours earlier than normal. He just laid there, eyes half open and he stared at the fraying edge of his blanket.

It may have only been a handful of hours the night before, meeting the troll. But he felt a connection so strong it baffled him. Leaving today, leaving knowing he'd never see him again.... it felt like he was leaving Dave. Or Rose, or Jade. A lifelong friend with untold opportunities and it broke his heart. It made no fucking sense. He hadn't even known the troll for a day. But in those few hours they spent together... it felt meaningful.

And when he left, he couldn't help but feel the troll himself was somehow distraught. Something made his heart sink, hearing those few words he spoke to him, so full of rage and confusion and... emotions he had no idea trolls were capable of.

John closed his eyes, dry and red and weary from crying. He didn't sleep well that night.

The remainder of the night was a sullen one, even for Karkat. When he got to his hiding spot to view the caravan, he swore. Loudly. The human didn't bring it up or something, because there was no indication that the party was going to leave. Like these humans would be able to fight against psychics and shit! Karkat was so furious and... Hurt. Karkat Vantas was actually hurt that this would all be for nothing in the end.

So he did what he did best. He brooded. At one point, he took out that book. With his eyes, reading in the dark was no problem and it would pass the time. Unfortunately, there was something scribbled on the front inside cover. He hissed in silent rage at the blatant message intended for human eyes and not troll ones. Karkat slammed it shut, or tried to.

Unfortunately, he was back to reading it in an hour. It wasn't a bad read. Strange, and full of action and the like, but Karkat expected it with the way that John talked. So that was how he spent his night, reading this book while looking over occasionally to keep an eye on the humans and their night time shenanigans. Karkat sneered in their direction.

When dawn finally broke, Karkat looked up, finishing the last sentence. Now he would have to go back down the mountain and report in. Eventually. In all honesty, Karkat didn't want to. He didn't want to tell the blue blood that the humans hadn't left and were going to be there for another four days. Then again, he didn't even give a damn about all the other humans there, just that one. He did not want that one to die...

Karkat growled, anger hot in his veins as he started to march back to that water fall. He paced furiously at the edge of it, not even caring about the light mist that encompassed the small area. One might say that he was going to wear a hole in the ground from all his furious brooding. The truth was, Karkat cared and it was eating him alive. He attempted to consider all of his options at this point.

Let the humans die. It was the easiest. The pain he was feeling would ease and fade away eventually. Karkat would also prove that he was useful to keep around and please the shitty high bloods. His status as an instant cull with any excuse weighed heavily...

Ask that the human boy be spared. Keep him as a pet or some shit. Only that wouldn't work out at all. Only the royals kept a human here and there. What they did to their "pets" was almost cruel. No troll would ever want to be a play thing for the Empresses. The Empress Elect was different, though. Perhaps... But no. There was no way to reach her in time and that meant getting to Captor too. Fuck!

The other option? Run away himself. Help the humans openly and hope that they spare him. Then the problem would be that Karkat would be a fugitive for the rest of his short life.

Fucking fuck... There were no good options! Karkat punched the cliff side, swearing up a storm in both human tongue and troll.

Oddly enough, John was awake as well when dawn came. After a night of restless sleep, he didn't feel energized at all. He was hoping once a night passed, he'd be able to forget about this entire thing... or at least start to.

But he didn't. The boy continued his daily chores of course, even when Jade told him she could cover for him. He politely declined, and tried to smile. He did smile, of course, but it was empty. And everyone could tell. John Egbert was horrible at lying, and the only person who didn't know that was John himself.

He helped cut vegetables for a while, but Rose's mom sent him away after the third time he cut his finger. He fed the horses but ended up kicking a pail of water over and spooking one - making the caretaker send him off elsewhere too. John went through a lot of daily routines only to fuck up royally without missing a beat, like he practiced it for days, like it was some sort of elaborate prank.

When the boy walked straight into a man carrying half a pot of stew for the day's lunch and effectively spilled the entire contents onto the ground where the dogs lapped it up with eager barks, Dad himself told John to clear his head. The man wasn't going to pry, but as long as John was walking around like a heartbroken zombie, he was making more work for everyone.

John ended up walking. Just walking. He didn't want to be around his friends right now - as awesome and understanding as they were. Jade would keep pestering him, Rose would keep giving him those worried looks, and Dave would keep expecting to exchange a brofist like everything was back to normal. He couldn't keep doing it.

So he grabbed his bag and left. He knew where he was going. He knew it was stupid and he knew a part of him was hopeful for something completely idiotic. He was a brooding child who needed to get over the fact that he lost a friend and there was nothing he could do. They were from two different worlds - he was stupid for ever thinking there was even a chance it could work. No human in their right mind would willingly come even remotely close to a troll, for whatever reason.

The familiar sound of the waterfall caught his attention after walking for so long in a daze. He smiled a bit - the closest he got to a real smile since yesterday. It didn't last though. As he rounded the cliffside, he knew coming here wouldn't change a thing. He was just being overly emotional and none of it made sense.

His gaze was downcast as he walked, somehow feeling that he'd feel even worse once he looks up to see the waterfall. Maybe it wasn't the best idea to come here.

He felt tears prick at his eyes again, but they didn't fall.

The roar of the water fall drowned out the sound of all else. After failing to come up for a solution, Karkat sat down right there. If someone came up on him and culled him right then and there, then so be it. That way he wouldn't have to think about this situation any more. He would be dead and everything else wouldn't matter. Whatever happened in the future would not be on his shoulders. There would be no blood on his hands.

Yet Karkat knew he wasn't that lucky. Despite wishing for death to take it all away, he figured that it wouldn't be by the hand of some random human passer by. So he sat there, uncaring about how wet his face was - from both water and tears. He just glared out at the water pounding into the rocks.

Maybe he would just drown himself instead.

The human boy stepped into the clearing, one hand loosely holding the strap of the bag slung over one shoulder. He looked up, wondering if maybe he should have grabbed his sketch book to try and capture the beauty of this waterfall sometime. No he was just being overly sentimental and horrible cliche, thinking that he wanted to somehow keep something that would remind him of he first troll he met face-to-face, the first person outside of his caravan he felt he truly cared about. The first...

John froze. And this time, due to some unexplainable anomaly, he was the first one to see Karkat this time.

He stared, blue eyes wide. The bag slid off his shoulder and fell to the ground with an unceremonious plop.

Karkat felt the vibration more than he heard anything. His head turned, looking over his shoulder. Eyes went wide at the sight. What the hell was that boy doing here now? For a moment, he just stared at the human. Eye to eye. On the inside? Well Karkat was pretty numb with disbelief. He made no move to get up and definitely no move to attack. Karkat just sat there, like a deer in the head lights.

And that's pretty much how John felt too. Though after terribly long moments passed, he started to regain feeling in his legs. He closed his mouth that he didn't even know had fallen slightly open like some sort of dumb-struck retard trying to understand how the world could be round and not flat.

One of the tears that had welled up in his eyes minutes ago finally fell down one cheek.

And he cracked a weak, tiny smile.

Karkat's shoulders sagged and he sighed. Stupid.... No use fighting what apparently is something he wouldn't be able to escape. His tone, when he speaks, was flat. Defeated. "What the fuck are you doing out here?"

"Hehe," John took some small, hesitant steps forward that seemed to gain a little more confidence each time his foot hit the ground. "I could ask the same of you, you know."

"I'm the troll, remember? You know, the race that hunts yours down? What do you think I'm doing out here? Picking fucking daisies?" Karkat grumbled, fumbling to take out that book. He would be able to return it after all. "And what the hell... I told you to tell the humans to fucking run for it too. Why the fuck didn't you listen?"

John just laughed softly, and while it did carry a bit of that nervous tone the moment Karkat brought the topic up, he didn't stop. The boy continued to walk until he was a good arms length away, before dropping his bag again to sit down next to the troll. He wanted to be friendly, but he gave them both enough space so it wasn't... awkward.

"Okay, now I'm imagining you picking flowers and it's really not helping your image." He grinned, expression lighting up once he saw Karkat grab something familiar. "Oh, my book! Um, are you going to read it still?"

Karkat rolled his eyes. He took the book and practically shoved it into John's chest. The kid was nervous. Scared. He should be. Trolls were fucking terrifying. "I already did, fuckass."

As much as John would vehemently disagree with the accusation that he was still a little scared of the troll, in all honesty, he was. As much as he felt ashamed, it was a little hard to fight sixteen years of being told trolls were anything but absolutely terrifying. He'd heard stories, seen scars, and... that night twelve years ago would never be forgotten.

Yes, he was still scared of trolls. But... this was was different. He had perfect opportunity to kill a weak, defenseless human, and he didn't. He had the perfect chance to take his own caravan by surprise and yet he hadn't.

There was a sense of trust, and it was still pretty stupid. Trolls were still predators, but John couldn't keep himself from staying right where he was. "Whoa, are you kidding? You weren't joking when you said you read fast!" He winced a bit once the book was shoved at his chest, but he took it gratefully nonetheless. The pads of his fingers grazed over the tops of the trolls nails, and he found himself amazed at the texture. It didn't feel at all like human nails.

His face colored a bit at the feeling of his claws being felt by human skin. He pulled his hands back quickly, as if he were burned. Karkat scowled at the human. "I read the entire night while watching you morons fuck around. I needed something to do!"

"Whoa," John gave the troll a curious look, still a bit hesitant. "You were, uh... watching us?" He couldn't help it, it made him nervous. Perhaps not as much that it was /this/ troll, but what if there were others?

"Obviously," he snorted, not at all concerned any longer. There was no reason for him to be nervous or whatever. Embarrassed, maybe! "I'm just a fucking scout, idiot."

"Ohh," John nodded, watching Karkat with interest. "That's cool, I didn't know you guys had jobs and stuff. So you're the cool dude that braves the dangers of the wilderness before anyone else!"

"Don't make it more than what it fucking is: canon fodder. I just happen to have a good memory and pay attention to tiny fucking details more than the others do," Karkat growled. "Which is why you should march your tiny butt back home and tell everyone to get the fucking move on! I didn't let you run free just so you could be killed tonight!"

"Wait, what?" John blinked, eyes wide with surprise. Oh, that's right - this troll told him yesterday to tell his caravan to move. He didn't think much of it, since... well, he sort of thought they were off the hook anyway. It took him a bit to realize that Karkat wasn't the only troll around. "But I... if we go, would we be able to see each other again?"

"You're... You're worried about that over your life?" the troll asked, confused. He didn't get it...

"Well, uh," John stuttered a bit. Well, that did seem really silly, didn't it? He did need to get back to his caravan. As soon as possible. How would he even explain it?

The boy got to his feet after some deliberation. "Okay, I'll go." He finally agreed, slinging his bag over his shoulder. "But, will you be here again tonight? At sunset?"

"I can't guarantee that," Karkat muttered, being honest. It was the truth. He was going to go back there, tell them that the caravan is moving. Perhaps all would be well. Perhaps not. The truth was, Karkat was possibly going to make up a story as to why the humans were on the defensive.

If found out, well. Yeah.

“But," John's voice went quiet again. He didn't move, hands clenching at the strap of his bag nervously. "...I really want to see you again."

He stared at the human for a few minutes. The human wanted to see him again. So now Karkat was determined to make it through this. There was just something so frail about him. Heartbreaking. Mentally, he cringed to use this word again: pitiful. God, it was a flush crush and Karkat Vantas knew it. What was worse was... He had it bad.

"Karkat," he finally huffed, looking away to hide the burn on his face.

John blinked again, not following. ".... Bless you?"

"It's my name, fuckass!" Karkat hissed at the human. "I assume you grubfuckers have those, right?"

"Oh," John nodded - but then his smile grew, finally getting it. This was... progress, right? Did that mean he wanted to be friends? "Oh! Yeah, my name's John!" God, he was smiling so much his cheeks started to hurt. He couldn't remember the last time he felt so happy. "Nice to meet you, Karkat." Haha, that was a bit of a funny name, wasn' t it? Trolls sure were weird!

"It's not nice, John," he replied, trying out that weird name. "It means the potential death of your home if this shit actually goes down. If you're little heart is oh so fucking set on making friends with a troll, then I'll find you, idiot."

The boy's eyes lit up like the fucking sun. Karkat did want to be friends! "You mean it?" He didn't waste time trying to cover up how overjoyed he was.

In fact, he also didn't waste any time dropping back down to his knees, leaning in a little too close to the troll - and wrapped his arms around Karkat's shoulders for another bro-hug. He giggled like an idiot, pink cheek smushing lightly against cool gray.

He groaned at being hugged again. Karkat just thanked whatever guardians were out there that John could not see his blush at the moment. The troll didn't know what to do with his hands, so they lay limply at his sides. Did all humans hug like this?

"I don't say shit I don't mean!"

John just giggled again, pulling back from the troll with a light step. "You better come find me then!" He replied in a joyous tone, turning to run back towards his caravan - but not without slowing to turn around and wave enthusiastically like a kid half his age before rounding the cliff side.

Karkat simply watched. God, what did he just sign himself up for... He sat there for a few minutes, wondering if this one human was worth it all. Essentially he was betraying his natural instincts, not to mention his entire race. Trolls hunted humans. That was how the world worked. Yet Karkat was fighting all of that just for the sake of John and this strange new friendship that was blooming.

That and yes. He had the case of the pities really, really bad.

With a sigh, he looked at the water. Karkat glared, knowing that he probably reeked like human at the moment. He was still angry at the water, knowing it was the only way to get the scent off. The other option... Well If they were in the forest then he could just roll around. Yeah, he was going to do that instead.

He got up and raced down the mountain side. Karkat estimated that the humans needed about an hour or two to get a head start on the trolls. He would be able to track them easily enough, considering he was the only one that knew the exact coordinates. Karkat made a quick side trip about a kilometer away from the trolls' base.

Time to get that human scent off before returning.

John ended up out of breath by the time he made it to the outskirts of the caravan. His eyes were still just a little red from crying earlier, body still a bit shaky from skipping his last meal purely out of melancholy. Okay, he looked the part, pretty much. Let's just rub some dirt over the knees, a bit on the arms... not too much though, or it'd be melodramatic.

The best way to go about this was to tell his father that he saw troops from the western mountain range. Nothing else - he needed to be shaken.

The boy took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. Think. Remember. Remember what it was like the last time.

Blood. Screaming. Sounds of ripping flesh and cracking bones, unearthly laughter and glistening fangs. Jade crying, Dad unsheathing his sword, his mother...

His mother...

Fresh tears stung at his eyes.

He ran into the caravan, calling for Dad in a desperate voice.

Chapter Text

To say that the blue blood was furious would have been an understatement. Karkat made it back to the unit and explained that the caravan was already moving out. Luckily there were no questions as to why they were, considering that the unit didn't even know how long the humans were planning on staying there. The guy was just furious because everything wasn't quite ready to go.

So Karkat was given orders. Shoving some chalk at him, Karkat was given the task of going on ahead. The requirement was that he had to mark out a path for the unit to follow. It wasn't like Karkat could exactly refuse either. He wasn't in a position to. Out of the entire unit, he was the one that was the most expendable. No one else even looked in his direction.

Simply nodding, Karkat not only gathered up some food, which he felt a little bad about in hindsight, but also his bag. Everything that he needed would be in there. On the inside, Karkat hoped that the humans would have the sense to realize that they even needed to keep going during the night. If not, then Karkat would tell John when would be the right moment for that. Some of these psychic trolls were more than just simple threats, like Karkat was.

When everything was all packed up for him to go, Karkat took off as fast as he could. He didn't want to risk falling behind.

The following evening was near absolute hell for the humans.

Belongings were packed away so quickly, many items were left in the grass and forgotten entirely. Children were crying from all the commotion, the horses were all riled up from all the nervous energy, and many of their cattle were left to fend for themselves, far too slow to keep up with the pace needed to make sure they stayed outside of troll radar.

And though John went through the first few hours with complete confidence Karkat would help them, all the negativity surrounding the camp was starting to get to him. He bit his lip so much it became raw, joints hurting from working and running nonstop to get crates loaded and animals tied up. He was starting to come back down to earth after all relief he felt earlier that day, and it slowly weighed down in his chest when he came to the grim realization that this was still a very dire situation. After all, Karkat was just /one/ troll. From what he gathered, there were a lot more in his troop. Unit? Oh god, it didn't matter.

There was still a very real possibility that he and his entire family could die within the next few days.

Even under all the pressure, Dad was still a shining example of a prime chieftain. It didn't take long for him to establish order, making sure every second counted until the time they could finally head out. He worked with the elders to predict paths, possible emergency escape routes, and find the nearest source of clean water within two days' travel.

It had been twelve years since the last time this caravan saw trolls - and in reality, most of the people living here were never a part of it. John's family consisted mostly of an adopted caravan that previously suffered from a very contagious illness - one their medicine woman was able to successfully cure. The only people there he actually grew up with was his father and sister, Rose and her mother, Dave and his brother, and a few of the elders.

But stories about trolls spread like wildfire. John knew only those under the age of twelve had lived so far without seeing those terrifying predators. And it seemed like even then, human instinct was enough to get the younger children into nervous and sometimes crying fits.

It was well into the night, hours upon hours of working nonstop, that the caravan was finally able to move. Doing their best to cover up evidence of their time spent there (Which John had to so desperately keep from telling them it was useless, in fear of suspicion), the humans made their way southbound, sticking to the mountain range in hopes of some added protection in case of an attack.

Unfortunately, Karkat did get to watch a good deal of the humans running around. The troll had hoped they wouldn't take this long, but oh well. What mattered was that they were actually going to get away before the other trolls got up this far. If Karkat had any say in the matter, he would ensure these humans kept one step ahead of the other trolls. Perhaps the unit would eventually give up.

It did happen from time to time. Trolls following caravans would lose track of them, especially the smaller ones. Usually the trolls that allowed for such things to happen were culled on sight, and thus why Karkat simply couldn't allow for them to move without reporting it. He wanted to live a little longer. Either way, if the caravan proved to be too elusive, then when supplies were almost exhausted, the unit would have to retreat. Unfortunately for these humans, the trolls had enough to last at least another month or two.

It wasn't going to be easy and Karkat didn't know if he would be able to continue pulling this off. Really, only time would be able to tell. His life could be forfeit at any moment and then it would also be over for the humans. Surely the blue blood would sent out a different scout, one that didn't have a human soft spot. There was still a chance that he could do that anyway. He could keep Karkat behind to do mundane chores instead of human watching. While Karkat doubted it, since he really was the best at this, he would have to come up with a back up plan in case it did happen.

So when the humans finally decided to move out, Karkat followed in silence. He hugged the rocks, keeping out of sight and upwind as best as he could. All he really needed was to keep following them. Keep marking the path the other trolls had to take. Karkat would keep an eye out for John as well, waiting for the perfect moment to get the human's attention.

He wasn't going to just hop into one of the wagons, after all.

The caravan was able to make good time for an entire day, even with weary and paranoid leaders that went without a wink of sleep for the past forty-eight hours. With the way they kept the younger adults switching out in teams, resting then leading the horses, they probably could have gone four days before having to stop for water.

But the horses couldn't. Only when the first horse stubbornly fell on its ass, exhausted and in need of sleep and not just meager amounts of food and water throughout the trek, the caravan finally settled down for the night. There was no way they could travel without the horses.

John had ended up staying by Dad's side almost the entire time, keeping a watchful eye out. The boy had been anxious about seeing Karkat, but thankfully no one caught sight of any troll. When the sleeping pelts were layed out though, John volunteered for sentry duty. Usually Jade and Dad would be against such a dangerous idea, the chieftain allowed him to go. John was growing up to be a man, and he had to learn how to perform under pressure someday anyhow. Jade was stubborn about seeing her brother go, but she kept close to Dad and trusted his decision.

The human boy swiftly ran north, only slowing to walk once he was sure he was far enough away to get a good vantage point, and be out of under prying eyes from his family. He started climbing up a few rocks up a hillside at the base of the mountain.

Karkat was grateful and also a little paranoid once the wagons stopped. The humans were still wary and that made the troll extra cautious, despite his promise to John. It also meant that the trolls would have ample time to catch up. While trolls did not have horses, their endurance would ultimately win out. Karkat had to be on the look out for them as well, though he believed it would be at least a day before they caught up again, depending on when they left the base of the mountain on the other side.

Just as Karkat started to settle in himself, he caught movement. With a peek over his rock, he knew who that was going south. Karkat snorted. He was actually west of the caravan now, but it mattered little. The troll knew what the human boy was up to. With a bit of reluctance, he stopped what he was doing to venture out to meet up. Like he promised.

That didn't mean he wasn't going to have a little fun with this. John was expecting him to be directly behind. Well now Karkat could easily maneuver to just north of where John was climbing around. While he had no intentions of hurting the kid, Karkat still stalked him like he would any other time. Karkat made sure to keep out of side, creeping closer and closer still.

Then when the noticed John's pace slowed. That was all well and fine with Karkat. He made sure his breathing couldn't be heard as he was pretty much staring at the back of John's head. He mirrored the human's movements until leaning a bit forward and -


The boy gracefully bit back a downright feminine scream, the first half of the embarrassing noise slipping past his lips while the latter was sputtered out like half his mouth had gone numb and he was attempting to pronounce some of the words in Rose's occult book.

And in the meantime, he bolted forward on instinct, tripping over himself like the wonderfully coordinated ballet-dancer he was, and fell on the ground, frantically turning onto his back and holding up a small hunting knife - the only weapon he could carry without hurting himself. His blue eyes were wide with panic and his small limbs were still shaking with terror, heart beating way too fast at being startled like that.

"K-K-K-Karkat?!" He babbled, the knife in his hand now shaking pathetically as he tried to calm himself down, but his arm stayed up and the blade stayed pointed at the troll, body rigid. Oh sweet fucking jegus, he didn't think Karkat would sneak up on him! At a time like this? "Th-that was mean! I n-nearly pissed myself!" Okay, deep breaths. Deeeep breaths.

The only response John got was a snickering Karkat. Yes, he was laughing. That was just too hilarious. It was. The best. Thing ever.

John's eye twitched, and he finally calmed down enough to put his hunting knife back in the holster on his belt. He didn't quite have the strength to stand up just yet though, so he settling with kicking the troll in the shin with his heel. "That wasn't funny! Ahhhh, stop laughing you jerk!" He may have had a mixture of a glare and a pout on his face, cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Ohh, how horrible it felt to have the trickster's gambit taken away from his favor. He was a pro at pranks, how could he have been startled so easy?

The kick stung, but Karkat deserved it. So he let it go. In the next second, he was sitting down, in front of John. "Fuck no. That shit was amazing, don't deny."

John just continued to pout, glaring weakly at the troll. "Yeah, you won't find it so funny when I get you back. Which I /will/, because I'm a pranking master."

Karkat snorted. "Hoofbeast shit. You don't even know how to fucking find me. No way can you get your revenge and besides... This friendship thing of yours shouldn't be based on goddamn blackrom."

The boy blinked, confusion starting to overpower what little anger he actually had. John Egbert was unable to stay in a resentful mood for long, anyway. ".... What's blackrom?" He was sure he never heard that word before. "Is that a kind of prank?"

"No, John," the troll said with a little growl. How the hell did humans not know this? "You don't know what the fucking quadrants are?"

Brows furrowed and glasses slid a bit down the bridge of his nose. John slowly shook his head. ".... No? Is this a troll thing?"

"Apparently!" he replied, rolling his shoulders a bit. Karkat genuinely felt he was not at risk at the current moment. His shoulders were also a bit stiff, so he undid the light armor that covered his chest and arm.

"We trolls function with four very different types of romantic relationships. You have black, red, pale, and ashen feelings to fucking sort out between you and whoever it is that is filling that particular quadrant with you."

"....Ohh," John's mouth slowly opened, staring straight at Karkat as he tried to soak in everything the troll was saying. Though whether or not he actually really comprehended it was up for debate. "Black... that means blackrom?"

"Yeah, essentially. Black romance?" Karkat rolled his eyes. "Feelings based purely on hate or rivalry you could say. It's a glorious thing to hate someone in all the best ways and for them to show you the same. Best fucking feeling ever, aside from redrom."

Again, those brows furrowed. It was then pretty obvious John wasn't quite understanding the finer points of "black romance". "Wait, so... how can you hate and love someone at the same time? That doesn't make any sense, dude."

Karkat glared. What was with that stupid question? "What the fuck is up with that stupid question? Trolls feel varying degrees of pity and hate. I guess from your perspective, with the human novels I've read, there's a fine fucking line between love and hate. They're essentially both passionate emotions, right? They are just opposite sides of the same goddamn coin. There's got to be some person you just want to hate and do whatever it is you can to have them hate you back in the same way."

"But... I don't like hating anyone." John's lips upturned into a light frown, a bit sad at the thought. "And I don't like the thought of anyone hating me either. And I mean.... you guys just feel pity? No love?"

This time he shrugged. Karkat didn't know for sure. He never experienced this thing called love, but there have been a few instances of it. There was a distinct difference between pity and what John was referring to as love. Most trolls were not so deeply committed like that. Quadrants simply were too fluid, allowing for instant changes due to trolls and their shifting emotions. A red relationship easily went into black and vice versa. It was just a thing.

John was silent for a moment. "..... That's kinda sad." He didn't mean it in a mean way, and his voice wasn't anywhere near condescending. It was just a statement, though he did sound a little crestfallen.

"Why? I didn't say it was fucking impossible. It just doesn't happen too often. I sure as hell don't know anyone that has experienced your human-esque love. Redrom is pretty much it. Trolls don't have just one sexual partner, you know, so this idea of one person consuming your entire being is nothing short of ridiculous," Karkat huffed.

"O-oh." The moment Karkat uttered the word "sexual", John went a little red. He was at that age where he was expected to find someone in the next year or two to... procreate... but the idea still got him flustered. There really wasn't anyone in his caravan he felt physically attracted to, so he kind of kept it in the back of his mind. Though Dad kept saying he should hook up with Rose and.... ugh, but she's like his sister! That would just be so weird.

You'd think John was ten years old, the way he was looking away nervously and fiddling with his fingers. So trolls had what, four sexual partners? Well, he supposed it wasn't too weird, since some humans had a few sexual partners for the sake of populating a small caravan. It wasn't unheard of. But... humans did only have one soulmate. Or at least, that's what Jade and Rose call it. Sex could be for the sake of survival, but love was for the sake of... well, love. "So I take it red is.... pity?" A wild guess.

"Yeah, you'd be right," he said, looking down at his armor. He loathed red, actually. For various reasons. None of his quadrants were filled now. Karkat wasn't really good with red relationships because he was always so defensive. It drove others away, since it tended to teeter towards black almost every single time. The other reason he didn't like red was because of his own blood color. It was bullshit, really.

"Red and black are two quadrants that have to be filled in order to reproduce, basically," Karkat bit out, a little bitter. "The other two are there, but they don't really fucking matter. Moirails are only good for people that need them and I don't particular feel the need to auspitice for anyone that wants to jump black. Not my fucking problem."

Most of what the troll said just went waaaay over John's head. But he nodded politely and did his best to look like he got the gist of it. So two of the quadrants were for reproduction, and the other two... weren't. Simple enough. He guessed.

"So where does that leave... you know, friends?"

The ironic thing here was that friend and enemy were the same word in his native language. Karkat started to open his mouth to say as much, but refrained. That would not help the situation at all. Besides, Karkat really didn't think of anyone in terms of enemy/friend anyway. Friends were those fuckasses that always got on your nerves but you tolerated them. Enemies were those fuckasses that always got on your nerves but you punched them in the fucking face and laughed about it.

"Friends are friends, asshole. That's how it works for me."

"Ah, I gotcha!" John finally allowed himself to smile, relieved at least that whatever they had was still simple. None of that weird quadrant stuff. Yeah, they were bros! Like him and Dave.

The boy wasn't quite sure why that last assumption felt just a tiny bit... off. Well, he supposed it was odd enough that he was friends with a troll.

"So... I take it you're doing alright then?" He was pretty quick to change the subject without remorse.

Karkat wasn't about to admit that yes, they were friends, but there was a catch. He did have some red feelings drifting under the surface and he was troll enough to admit that. It was just a matter of pushing them away. Forgetting them. It was just so damn hard when this John human was just so... Fragile. Frail. Giddy. Everything about him was all soft and round. There were no hard edges at all.

"Sort of," Karkat said, doing anything to stop thinking about such embarrassing things. "The others weren't fucking prepared for your departure, so I was sent ahead. I was ordered to mark a trail, so your little caravan here can't let up. Fuck knows when the others will catch up or catch on."

Gosh, John didn't really catch a break just to feel happy tonight, did he? Immediately he felt worry bubble up in his chest, now scared not only for his family, but for Karkat as well. "You don't think they'll catch on that quickly, do you?"

He almost bit his lip. Almost. Karkat didn't mean to make John feel like shit. So he sort of... Lied. "No, definitely not. I'm being overly fucking careful over here."

"Oh, good." John replied with a sigh of relief, smile returning to his face. "I should have known. You're a tough guy, Karkat!"

"Gee? You think?" he said, sarcastically. "This is the fucking hardest position for a troll to take, you know."

"Whoaaa~!" The boy was completely impressed. "That's so cool! I had no idea you were that awesome. I wish I could be strong like that but... I don't really know how to use weapons, hehe."

"You should fucking learn, John," Karkat replied with narrowed eyes. "The fuck is with you? How come you don't know that?"

"Well, uhh... I was never again good at it." The boy started to feel a little self-conscious now. "And I.... don't like hunting. And hurting things. And Dad says chieftains rarely hunt anyway so I figured it was okay?"

"...Dad?" the troll mused, not really knowing if that was a name or something. Karkat was aware that humans actually raised their young. Other than that, he didn't know how their family structure worked. That and the chieftain, huh? So John was the offspring of the leader. Interesting.

"You know, my, dad." John repeated, before realizing that wasn't very helpful at all. "My father? Um, he.... had uh...." He put two fingers together like that even illustrated anything, and attempted at being culturally sensitive. "A redrom with my mom and made me?"

"Your male direct genetic donor," he ameneded, understanding. "I got that much. Sort of."

Wow, that sounded... weird and oddly specific. "Yeah."

He twiddled his thumbs a bit, still staring at Karkat pretty intently.

All things aside, he didn't know why John's 'father' would say something silly like that. However, that didn't matter at the moment. This staring was getting a little unnerving. "What the fuck are you doing?"

John blinked out of his stupor, blushing a little bit from embarrassment. "Oh, sorry! It's just... I never really got a chance to look at you really well before. I kind of don't remember what trolls look like close up." He paused, smiling with admiration. "Your eyes are really cool! Kind of like a cat's."

“They are not like one of your mewing furbeasts," the troll growled. "And what do you mean you don't remember?"

"It's been twelve years since we've, um... encountered you guys." He let out a bit of a nervous laugh. "I was only four. I remember a bit, but not the details." Just mostly blood. Lots and lots of blood. He shuddered inwardly.

Karkat blinked, genuinely surprised. "You're pretty fucking lucky to be alive then."

"Yeah." Another hesitant laugh, the boy's expression looking a little uncomfortable. "So was my dad and sister." There was a pause, and he looked down, still trying desperately to smile but it fell so much it was obvious John was saying something that really struck close to his heart. "But, um... not my mom."

So that's what it was. One of the family members had been cut down by a troll. Karkat's shoulders sagged a bit, ears drooping ever so slightly. He wasn't that troll, but a part of him still felt responsible for that. The troll honestly didn't completely understand why that was either...

"Sorry," he muttered.

John finally looked up, appearing a bit shocked. "Wh-what? No, you don't have to apologize, Karkat. I mean, it couldn't have been you that did it, anyways."

"It was still a troll, fuckass," Karkat glared.

"Yeah but... you're different." John bit his lip slightly, looking at him with the slightest hint of worry, afraid he might have somehow offended the troll.

"Not really," he admitted. "I mean come on. Do you think this is the first time I've been out on a hunt?"

"Uhhh," A bit of a nervous giggle. "Maybe?"

Karkat just stared at the human with a brow raised. No, it wasn't his first one. This was actually his third. The previous two were successful, but Karkat didn't participate in any of the killings. When a pack of humans are taken down, there are some that are immediately slaughtered, but then there are some that are simply captured, to be saved for later. That was what Karkat did, mostly. It was honestly because the sight of bright red still freaked him out.

The lack of response make John's stomach churn unpleasantly. "Er... guess not." He did his best not to think about that too much. After all, that didn't really matter, did it? Karkat wasn't killing him now and that's what mattered. He was a good guy! John was always good at judging people. At least, that's what Rose said.

"Shit," he muttered after a few more awkward moments. Karkat moved, his back hitting against one of the smooth rocks. "You humans wore me the fuck out."

"Hehe, well we were traveling by horse." John slowly fell back into a more comfortable conversation. "They can go a lot longer than we can. I guess we were going at a good pace if you're worn out!"

"Considering I haven't really slept in three fucking days?"

Honestly, trolls could go for a while without sleeping. It was just the amount of energy Karkat was using. Couple that with the emotional stress as well as identity crisis, and there left one tired troll. "So shut up and let me pass out for like an hour."

So trolls needed to sleep as much as they did? "Um, sure, okay." John nodded, a little crestfallen that he wouldn't be able to chat more, but he could tell Karkat really needed the rest or he probably wouldn't have asked. "I'll make sure no scary humans creep up on you." He giggled.

This time it was Karkat nudging with a foot. "Don't give me that fucking look. We can talk more after. It's still pretty fucking early at night and a troll can't naturally sleep until day light anyway."

"Fiiiiiine," He replied melodramatically, rolling his eyes and nudged Karkat back with his own foot. He slid his bag off of his shoulder and leaned back himself, looking up at the sky through the sparse tree line. He wasn't tired in the slightest, even though he knew he should be. But he really did need to continue to stay alert - for both his caravan and for Karkat as well.

He sat up and leaned against a tree trunk a few footsteps away, watching the troll out of the corner of his eye; not because he didn't trust him or anything, but... well, he was just going to wait until he fell asleep.

It took a little bit. Karkat was used to sleeping out doors by now, but never with a human watching. In fact, not many ever watched him at all. The troll with the mutant blood didn't really sleep, not heavily anyway. He always had an eye open, unwilling to be cut down in his sleeping. Karkat was a troll on the verge of paranoia and thus his sleep never came peacefully and he was never fully rested.

However, this time it was slightly different. His eyelids actually felt heavy and his mind was at ease. Karkat didn't really know what this was about, and he was too far gone in the early sleep stages to do too much contemplating about it. There would be ample opportunity later to reflect upon why his eyes were drifting shut and his senses dulling.

Now was only a time for sleeping.

It didn't take long for John to notice that Karkat's breathing began to slow to a shallow, even pace. After waiting another few minutes just to be safe, he was pretty damn sure now that Karkat had fallen asleep.

Slowly, as not to make much noise, the human boy crept lightly on all fours, knees only barely dragging on the grass. He knew he should get up and be on the lookout atop one of the rocks or something, but... how could he pass this up? A troll was right here, asleep, (mostly) harmless, and John Egbert was nothing if not insatiable with his curiosity.

He got close enough that his fingers almost touched Karkat's arm, and he watched the troll's face for a bit. Wow... he never noticed how smooth his skin was - it actually looked like they completely lacked hair on their gray complexion. How weird! And those bags under his eyes... he wondered if all trolls had darkened skin there, or if Karkat was just abnormally tired.

John felt himself gulp silently once he noticed those sharp fangs barely peeking from behind Karkat's dark lips. He knew Karkat wouldn't hurt him but.... it still made him a little nervous. He forced himself to stop thinking about what Karkat had to have eaten with those fangs. And those claws... he had no idea they were so sharp looking. He kind of thought they'd be more like human nails... and not quite so orange. They were kind of the same shade as his eyes. And his horns.

Oh, his horns! The boy immediately turned his head to inspect those. He always heard most trolls had really big, prominent horns... but Karkat's were pretty small and nubby! Not very threatening at all, really. They were kind of cute.

Horns were like bone, right? Like on deer. Like nails and stuff. Bone wasn't sensitive. So maybe.... John could find out what they felt like? They really looked cool, all those shades of orangey-red. Would they be smooth like polished stone, or kind of rough like sandpaper?

The boy reached out slowly, running a single finger up the length of one horn.

Now, for once, Karkat was in a genuine resting mode. He was pretty fast asleep, dreaming about some odd thing about games and new worlds. Just weird shit. For the briefest of moments, he thought he saw a trail of dust in the air and a pair of red wings. Again, it was different than what he normally saw in his mind's eyes. Yet that's just what dreams were: strange imagines conjured up by the subconscious.

Only vaguely did he realize something was touching him. What it was, he didn't know. Where it was, he wasn't aware of. All Karkat knew was something was touching him and he didn't like it. So, he did what anyone would do in their sleep.

He simply tilted his head away.

John flinched the second Karkat moved, freezing completely until he realized it didn't actually wake the troll up. He took a moment to ponder what the horn felt like underneath his fingers - sleek, but like a smooth rock rather than glass. It was also... kind of warm, too. Perhaps there was blood under there or something?

As nervous as some of the troll's aspects made him, Karkat was still really cool. He'd never once thought he'd be able to get such an up-close look at one, at least, not without thinking he was going to die. It was pretty surreal; but then again, this entire ordeal was.

A little worried that another touch might rouse his friend, he instead decided to sit next to him, back leaning up against the same rock. He continued to watch Karkat in silence, a small smile on his face. Only then did it start to slowly dawn on him that the troll sort of... did some odd things today. He had smiled earlier, laughed even. He took off his protective armor without much of a second thought, and even fell asleep in front of someone he hardly knew for a few days. Someone who probably should want to kill him as much as he should want to kill the other.

John thought for a moment that Karkat doing all those things was sort of like John squirting ketchup on himself and tying his feet together. He had to stifle a laugh at how ridiculous of an analogy he had to come up with - that really was more of Rose's forte. He made a mental note to not attempt that again.

John didn't jump this time when Karkat move, but he did watch rather intently. Was the troll.... moving himself closer?

That question may have answered itself when the troll leaned in, their shoulders touching and Karkat's head leaning against John's ever so slightly. It was then the human decided to freeze again, though mostly out of an instinct that John would rather not admit he succumbed to. He knew Karkat was different, but it was like he was biologically wired to freak out at least a little bit whenever a troll's face - or rather, fangs - got too close to something like his freaking jugular.

But after a moment, John just felt himself.... blushing. Just a little bit. Was the troll still asleep? This was actually.... really kind of adorable. Karkat was acting almost affectionate, even if he wasn't exactly conscious. John wondered then, after hearing about Karkat's few rants about his harsh lifestyle... did he ever get to be this trusting around other trolls?

John really couldn't help it. His eyes caught something else this time, now that Karkat was so close. He had no idea trolls had pointed ears! And whoa... he had no idea that his horns had kind of a cool design between shades of orange and red, not just a smooth gradient.

The boy slowly reached an arm around Karkat, fingers lightly running over the tip of his ears, then back to his horns - this time with two fingers and a thumb, rubbing it a bit with fascination.

At first, Karkat shivered. Just a bit. No one just touched ears without like trying to cut them off. On the inside, the troll just felt warm. Protected. He curled more towards the protective embrace, as though he was in his pupa stage all over again. Later, he would probably think he was just having issues, but at the moment Karkat Vantas felt safe. It was a feeling he hadn't known since he was a wriggler.

Again, that little feeling of irritation came back. His awareness came back, but only too late. Karkat made out a panicked 'what' before going a bit limp.

Thankfully for Karkat, John caught the single word he uttered before falling against the human boy even more. John removed his hand, thinking that perhaps he woke the troll... but then why did he go limp like that?

"...Uhh, Karkat?" He whispered, hoping he was still sleeping and wouldn't wake up with such a quiet tone.

Unfortunately, for John and Karkat, the troll wasn't actually able to respond. His limbs didn't want to work right, though his finger twitched. Inside, he was yelling and cursing. Don't touch the horns, fuckass! On the outside it only sounded like tired mumbling... As if his tongue was too thick for his mouth.

Whew, okay. So maybe he was still asleep! John smiled a bit to himself. He supposed Karkat was just cuddling closer? He wondered for a moment if horn-touching was kind of like petting a cat on the head. How they purr and lean in and want more.

Fingers returned to one of the horns, rubbing his thumb up along the outside. This was so cool! Haha, even someone as awesome as Dave couldn't have bragging rights of knowing what troll horns feel like.

This was definitely not one of those things. Karkat was not enjoying this. Not deep, deep down. Yet at the same time, it was as if a tidal wave was crashing down on him and he just didn't care. Karkat Vantas didn't care at all and did nothing to stop the contact. There was a little nagging feeling that he should probably stop this nonsense, but god...

What was he thinking again?

John giggled a bit and finally stopped (after what, two minutes? Two hours?), wondering if he went on much longer Karkat would start to drool on him or something. Besides, he was still sleeping! Even if it felt nice, the boy didn't want to wake him. He needed his sleep right now.

So instead, he just kept his arm looped around Karkat's back - not really in a hug or anything. Just sort of there, to make sure the troll didn't fall completely over.

With John's fingers gone, that nice tingling feeling soon started to fade. His limbs felt weak, as if he hadn't used them in forever, and that little happy cloud of ignorance started to clear out. Those golden orbs with those still gray irises, tiny flecks of red starting to bloom, glared at John. Karkat thought that, even if he couldn't move at the moment, he would be able to kill the human with his glare alone.

He started to struggle as best as he could away from that embrace, growling from deep inside his chest. Karkat needed to get away from the human and get away from him now. Of course, he could just... Fall over...

John Egbert was nothing if not dim enough to be blissfully unaware of something like a fucking troll glaring daggers at him.

But it didn't last for long. The human boy couldn't help himself from stealing a few glances out of the corner of his eye at the sleeping troll - except this time, John was suddenly aware that he was no longer sleeping. And if the growling wasn't enough of a sign, those furious golden-black eyes were.

He couldn't help but feel a freezing chill run down his spine and he squeaked, backing away quickly without much thought other than he did not like how Karkat was staring at him.

Down Karkat went, cheek hitting the ground. He made a few clicking and hissing noises. What he was actually doing was slurred swears in his native tongue. His body wasn't quite ready to listen to him, even if he was wiggling his fingers around better. His eyes, though, were still on John.

The human boy winced when Karkat fell, feeling... well, he sort of felt like a total dick for letting that happen. Even if he wasn't sure why Karkat wasn't moving.

"Uhh..." He cracked a hesitant smile, watching Karkat warily. "Are you.... okay? Karkat?"

It was a whole minute of Karkat opening his mouth to shut it, as if trying to figure out how to make a sound correctly. "No!"

"Oh... Oh!" John suddenly panicked. He crawled back over to Karkat, one hand hovering over the troll's shoulder as he looked about in a rush, trying to figure out what was wrong. "Wh-what's wrong? Oh my god, you aren't going to die are you?!"

"Horn!" Karkat hissed, "Don't!"

Yeah, that was about as much as he could say in the human tongue at the moment. It looked as if he was trying to push himself up now. However, Karkat was just a little too weak to do it completely.

Well, okay, even John could understand that much. Don't touch his horns? He wanted to ask why, but he figured now wasn't the best time. For now, the boy tried to help Karkat up, one arm looping under the troll's shoulder. "Okay, okay, I won't! Um, here let me help you up..."

Karkat was furious, to a degree. Shamed, mostly. Having someone touch his nubby little horns... God it was so embarrassing to think about, much less have happened. He didn't want to explain it, but there was a small part of him that realized the human would ask. The pity portion, the one that was flush for the stupid human, reminded Karkat that John was just that. Human. And humans didn't know about that special thing about the horns of trolls.

So Karkat swore again and allowed John to help him. His nostrils flared as he breathed, trying his best to quell his temper. Something like this was enough to make any troll jump black for someone. God... And what was he even doing, getting that close!?

John helped put Karkat up back against the rock, only letting go of the troll's arms once he knew he would /stay/ sitting up and not have his face meet the ground again. He was pretty sure nce was enough for one night.

"You can't talk? Okay sorry that was sort of stupid to ask... uh, can I help or something? Oh jeez, yeah, you can just reply to that when you can."

He waited. Oh did he wait. His mouth was the first to catch up, even if he was still swaying dangerously. "Don't fucking touch a trolls' horns, John!"

He tensed in reply, watching Karkat with a pair of wide blue eyes. Oh god, touching a trolls' horns was a bad thing? Did it make them sick or something? "I'm sorry!" He forced out in an octave higher than normal. "I didn't know... I mean, I was just kind of curious, and... gosh, I'm sorry Karkat. Are you going to be okay?"

"In a few minutes, douche bag," he growled out, closing his eyes.

"Oh..." John slowly nodded, relaxing just a bit as he sat in front of the troll, a little more than an arm's length away. He didn't want to accidentally touch anything that might send his new friend into a coma.

That's so weird, though! He had no idea trolls had such a feature. Or maybe it was Karkat? Ohh, he had so many things teetering off the edge of his tongue, but he kept those questions inside until the troll could actually answer them. If he seemed like he /would/ answer them. He wasn't sure why, but he got this feeling that maybe horns were a bit of a tender subject. Not like the growling and glaring was much of a tip off.

After a few more minutes, Karkat finally sat upright. His temper was cooling down now as well. John felt bad about it, though the troll in Karkat said he should be. That boy should feel guilty about touching a troll without permission. For the snuggles, and definitely for letting him fall on his face. The human should be fucking glad that Karkat isn't ripping him a new one... Well...

No, he wasn't going to do that, but Karkat sure as hell pounced on John with a growl the moment he was completely able to.

And what else could a human do when tackled by a troll?

John Egbert could feel his stomach drop once he noticed Karkat leaning forward, gaze intent on him - and he stifled a scream, arms shaking as he tried to shield himself, eyes wide with terror in those few moments he was caught completely by surprise.

All the while Karkat just sat there on John, arms crossed. He watched the flailing and the eyes looking at him in fear. His inner troll was pleased by the reaction. Karkat fed on that look for a little bit. A small portion of his being felt guilty for scaring John, but the human really really did deserve this.

So he waited for John to finish. To realize that Karkat wasn't doing shit here.

And thankfully, the human boy did calm down pretty quickly. He peeked out from behind his arms, looking up at Karkat hesitantly, and then blushed with embarrassment. Of course he knew Karkat wasn't going to do anything - he really knew in his heart that wasn't the case. God damn it, that scream was pretty much involuntary.

"Uh... hi?" He grinned sheepishly, lowering his arms back down onto the ground. "Jeez, what was that for?"

"It's for rendering me completely fucking helpless, you shit head," Karkat griped, not moving from his location.

John cocked his head to one side, before the answer finally sunk in. "Oh, your horns?" He asked, pretty surprised to hear that. "That's so weird! I mean they're on the top of your head and everything. All exposed and stuff."

Karkat openly blushed this time, looking off to the side. "That's pretty much why. Fucking... I guess it's to look so pitiful that your enemy will spare you."

"So trolls do have some sympathy." A quiet chuckle. "Sorry dude, I didn't know it was like that."

"I never said we didn't!" he huffed. "It doesn't always work though, John. Trolls will fucking kill anyway."

"O-oh. Okay." He nodded, making a mental note. On another mental note though, John was starting to feel a little... awkward with Karkat sitting on him like this. It was a little weird. Still, he sort of deserved Karkat jumping him, since he probably made the troll uncomfortable as hell with the horn thing. "I guess I shouldn't have gotten all up in your personal space. I just got curious was all..."

"There's a human saying about curiosity and the fucking cat, you know," the troll glared. Ha~! A human analogy.

"Except you wouldn't kill me." John giggled with utmost confidence.

"Couldn't," the troll quickly amended and rolled off of John.

Whew, okay. No more Karkat sitting on top of him. Why did that make him feel so weird? "So... is there any other weird troll things I should know about?" He sat back up, adjusting his glasses a bit since they got a little skewed from the troll tackling him. "Like poking you in the forehead makes you bark like a dog?"

Karkat looked over his shoulder at John. His expression was serious. "Careful where you hug, John. Our remaining grub legs might stab you clean fucking through."

"Haha, your what?" John just laughed, thinking it was a joke. Legs? Stabbing him? With a hug? Now Karkat was being silly.

Of course Karkat was just joking, but he was a troll. It just wouldn't be right if he didn't make things a little difficult. "We're born as grubs with nice, sharp, pointy legs. It's like a fucking gut reaction."

Grubs? Actually, John does remember hearing something about that. Trolls went through some sort of metamorphosis at some point... maybe that's what Karkat was talking about? "Wait, so you still have little pointy legs somewhere?" His eyes grew just a little wider at the thought. That was so weird!

"They're as big as my normal arms, moron," he huffed, keeping up with his little fib

"Pffft, you're just yanking my chain." John grinned, waving Karkat off like his tall tale was some sort of annoying fly. But in reality, the human boy was actually pretty gullible for being a master prankster. Trolls /did/ have some weird anatomy, so what was so different about pointy grub arms?

At this point, John couldn't contain himself. He leaned forward on his knees and grabbed Karkat around the ribs suddenly, hoping to catch him off guard. He'll find out himself if Karkat was kidding around!

Karkat jumped! Then he sighed. "I was kidding, fuckass. What would have happened if I wasn't, though? Don't be so stupid."

John gave the troll a triumphant grin, fingers tickling Karkat's sides a bit. "Haha, I knew it! I knew you were joking."

This time he twitched a bit, in both body and eyebrow. He wasn't ticklish, well not entirely. "Yeah, yeah. You can cut this shit out."

John's grin just grew a little wider.

".....Is someone ticklish?" The human's fingers moved around a bit, going south and more towards Karkat's stomach.

No, he was not! A little, yes, but only because he wasn't used to all of this affection stuff. Karkat grabbed for John's wrists. No way was his stomach going to be next. "Fuck no!"

"I don't know, you seem kind of defensive." John chuckled, still moving his fingers in a tickling motion even as the troll held his wrists. "But fine, I'll stop. You can let go now."

Karkat eyed him for a full minute. He didn't trust John to be anything less than what he was - a prankster. It was odd, this feeling. His defenses were lowered and for what? Just a human. There was nothing special about him or the like. Karkat didn't even know him that well.

Yet he still felt like he's known him for an age. With that feeling, Karkat released John's captive wrists, only half glaring at the boy.

"Aww, don't look so upset. I'll find it another time." The boy assured, leaning back on his hands. "You sure have a lot of weird stuff though, you almost had me with those grub things."

"Oh yeah?" the troll hissed. "Like you have any room to fucking talk. You're weird with your lack of shit."

To prove his point, Karkat tugged on John's ears. "These things can't hear worth shit."

Then to John's hair. "No horns at all!"

"You can barely smell anything with that nose of yours. No fangs. No sharp anything!"

Karkat swiped John's hand next, inspecting it. Feeling the smoothness of the skin there, despite a patch of roughness here or there. Karkat even ran his fingertips over one of those nails. "I mean come on! You little shit stains don't even have claws. There's nothing about a human that provides a fucking natural means to protect themselves!"

John let out little displeased grumbles when Karkat poked and prodded at him, trying to bat him away at one point but only succeeded in getting his hand caught by the troll. He shivered a tiny bit at the feeling of sharp claws on his skin, even though they were gentle enough not to hurt; oh, but then he felt fingertips, not claws. Calloused gray fingers grazing the palm of his hand, before moving to the tips of his own nails. He felt his cheeks heat up for a second, heart skipping a beat.

Whoa, okay. Where did that come from?

"W-we, um. Make guns and stuff?" He stuttered at first, but recovered quickly.

The troll didn't even look up at John. He was a bit fixated. Even the texture of human skin felt so different... Karkat grunted. "Like that fucking counts."

“It does!" John frowned, feeling a little... pathetic that he had to defend his race like this. But Karkat had a point; compared to trolls, humans were downright frail, with no obvious defenses other than their overall hardiness as a species. When he thought about it, they were kind of like mice, weren't they? The only reason they're not exctinct is because they reproduce that much faster than trolls.

"...How much stronger /are/ trolls, anyway?" He asked curiously.

Those eyes finally made there way up to John's blue ones. "That really depends upon the troll. I can tell you know that your skeletal system is calcium based, which ours isn't. I could beat your skull in without too much effort with a blunt object. And I'm-"

He stopped there, about to say 'and I'm the lowest there is,' but that felt wrong. John didn't need to know that. "I'm not a fucking warrior or some shit like that."

"Whoa," The boy couldn't helped but be a little awed at that. He knew some really strong guys in his caravan, but surely even Bro couldn't do that. The strength gap was a little wider than he thought, after all. "I guess we really wouldn't have a chance if we got caught, would we?"

“My unit has several grubfuckers with psychic abilities too," he frowned, letting the wrist go. "So unless you have the means to counter shit like that, then no. Probably not."

John's eyes fell to gaze at the ground between them, brows furrowed with a bit of worry. For a split second he wondered why trolls had to be so ruthless, so relentless.... but reality was harsh. They were just doing this to survive, and so were the humans. One of them living ultimately meant death for the other.

"W-wait," The boy suddenly felt concerned for a whole new reason. "If you don't catch us, Karkat... what will happen to you?"

He blinked and leaned away from the human. This was ridiculous. Karkat knew very well what would happen. "You don't need to fucking know that. Mind your own goddamn business."

"But," John pressed on, not at all comfortable with this epiphany. "I mean, you guys have to eat too, right? If you let us go.... "

"We don't require three meals a day, genius," Karkat growled. It was a warning growl, not that John would know this. "It's getting caught helping!"

The boy went a little quiet in response to the growl - a little bit because that noise in general threatened to make his blood run cold, and because he knew how much he was starting to upset his friend. "I know that," He averted his eyes again. "I mean, I just also thought.... us running is kind of the same as you guys chasing us in the first place. And wait, I thought you said you were being super careful about not being caught!"

"We're hunting, what do you fucking expect?" the troll shot back. "And I'm being careful. All of the fucking careful. The unit is like a fucking day behind us, for all I know. They don't know what I'm doing here."

[00:19] zilleniose: John relaxed a little bit at the reassurance, but didn't look completely convinced. He wished there was some way he could help... but with his feeble strength and lack of psychic abilities like the trolls apparently have, he couldn't do a damn thing.

He really wanted to change the subject. This was something inevitable Karkat had to defend himself against. It wasn't different than any other struggle for survival - for the both of them. Over-thinking it and getting depressed or too worried wasn't going to change things, nor would it help.

"Um, did you want to go back to sleep?" He offered quietly. "You're probably still tired. I promise I won't touch your horns this time... heh."

Karkat thought this over for a moment. Even though John said he wouldn't, the troll didn't quite trust the human boy that much. He shook his head. The time he got was good enough for now. "I'm fucking fine. What do you take me for, a wriggler?"

John chuckled softly. "Of course not, dude. I just thought I'd ask."

"You're a goddamned weird one, John," Karkat commented and moved back a bit. To make himself a bit more comfortable.

"I've been told that." The boy replied in a lighthearted tone. "But I guess we're both kinda weird, huh?"

"Speak for yourself!" he huffed. "Until I met you, my sanity was never in fucking question. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I was probably one of the few fucking trolls that had a good head on their goddamn shoulders."

"But you do have a good head on your shoulders." John smiled, full of confidence.

"I detect a load of hoofbeast shit," the troll replied, but not with as much heat behind his words.

The boy got up to his feet, but only to take a seat next to the troll like he had before. "See, now you're just being bashful." He replied, leaning back to relax a bit as well.

"I am not!" There was a little bit of panic, really just nervousness, in the way that he said that. Karkat never took compliments well, partially because he never got them that often. It was worse when someone was pointing out a weakness.

"Aren't you happy a friend can tell you're a good guy?" John giggled a bit, finding Karkat's reactions to be.... quite silly, honestly. He never met someone who got so defensive after being complimented. It was kind of cute, in a way.

"I'm not a good guy, fuckass. What part of troll society and culture tells you that anyone produced by it would conceivably be good in your eyes?"

"I dunno, dude." John grinned, not at all convinced by the troll's defense. "But whatever the reason, I like you. Doesn't that say something?"

"It says I need a sign around my neck that says 'please fucking cull me and put me out of my goddamned misery," he snorted.

John just laughed, nudging him in the shoulder playfully with his own. It continued like that for a while - whenever Karkat would stubbornly put a negative twist on things or began to beat himself up (however serious he was about it or not), John would denounce practically anything the troll said with a sincere grin. It slowly became clear that there was nothing too cliche or cheesy for John to say, he'd say it regardless without batting an eye.

But after a few hours, the two began to relax a little more and the conversations calmed down. Well, to be precise, /John/ began to calm down. He was in the middle of telling Karkat about one of the books Rose got him for his birthday last year, and he yawned openly, eyes damp and dropping with fatigue now. He had been up for two nights straight after all, and during the day he was usually walking beside one of the wagons to keep an eye on the horses.

"Sorry," He apologized tiredly, rubbing at one of his eyes. It must be getting close to dawn - probably just another hour or two. Karkat was probably tired too, so it felt a little rude to yawn like that. But he couldn't help it!

Even as the night wore on, Karkat still had it in him to be a little more than terse. He would still go on his rants, withholding only information that would definitely make John upset. Besides, the human didn't need to know about the nuances of how the units operated and the like. The human would probably be flipping all of his shit if he knew that Karkat was more or less marching to his own dirge anyway, just because of something like his blood color. Karkat didn't need that. John didn't need that.

However, he did feel a bit more calm. Karkat vaguely wondered, as the boy chattered on and on with minimal comments from him about that book, if John had an affect like sopor. It would definitely seem that way, since the troll fell asleep so easily next to him. To the point of cuddling... Karkat colored slightly at the thought and then rubbed his face. He didn't even realize how tired John was until that yawn.

It was then the troll actually looked at the human. Exhaustion was pretty much Karkat's diagnosis. "Go back and go to bed, fuckass."

"Mn.... I'm supposed to go back at sunrise." John shook his head defiantly, giving Karkat a bit of a stubborn look, but it was more so aimed at his own fatigue. "Besides, I want to spend more time with you."

Karkat lightly shoved the human. Very lightly. "Maybe you hadn't noticed this in your derpable stupor, but I'm following you, idiot. There are going to be more fucking opportunities along the way."

"I knoooow." The boy replied in something only vaguely reminiscent of a whine. "But I'm on sentry duty anyway." He didn't need to add that sentries rarely spent the whole night out - they were in shifts. Generally one would spend as long as they could, but come back when they were too tired to be efficiently alert. John was already way past that point, but what did it matter? Karkat said the other trolls were still far away, and he was pretty sure his friend would be able to detect anything long before his own human ears or eyes could at night.

John yawned again, and plopped down on his side right next to the troll. If he had to rest, he'd do it next to Karkat! "'M just gonna.... lay down for a bit, 'kay?"

"Oh my god, you nookbiting little wriggler... You honestly think that's a fucking good idea?" Karkat snapped a little, some of his nervous energy leaking through.

"Why not?" The boy mumbled, closing his eyes with a sigh. "Just for a little bit..."

"Augh! Fine. Fine! Do whatever the hell you want," he said, pulling his knees up to his chest. Now he really was going to have to keep an eye out. All that tension was back and building in his shoulders.

The boy giggled, eyes still closed but now he was smiling. "Besides... you'll protect me, right?" He asked, a question he was sure he already knew the answer to - not that he felt there was any imminent danger, anyway. From what he heard about the trolls from Karkat, they'd still be pretty much screwed even if a sentry did see them before they got to the caravan. Hell, trolls could probably smell them from a mile away or something. Ages before a human could see them.

It kind of disturbed John that after learning that, sentries seemed kind of pointless. He tried not to think about it.

"No, I'm going to leave your squishy pink nub out here for the wildlife to consume your tasty meat body instead of the trolls - Yes, fuckass," the troll snorted with a roll of his eyes.

John snorted, unsure just how funny or how weird it was to have Karkat say /tasty meat body/. Okay, it should have just been downright wrong, but for some reason the boy couldn't find it anything but amusing. "I probably don't even taste good. Dad says I'm all skin and bones anyway."

"What are you talking about? The bones are the best fucking part," Karkat nearly snickered, only half serious.

"Pfft. Okay, glad to know I must look pretty appetizing to you." John cracked a grin, bringing his hands up to his head as he appeared to try and get as comfortable as one could while laying on the ground.

"Oh yeah. All I want to do is lick your face and taste the sweet, sweet cherry flavor of your veins..."

Well, he assumed it was cherry. That was what bright red tasted like to Terezi. At least, that was what she was always saying. Perhaps that was another reason Karkat was so at risk of being culled. His blood color was no different than being human. It seriously made him wonder why he wasn't culled on the spot.

"Ewwww!" John laughed, lifting a foot to nudge roughly at Karkat's leg. "Okay, I get it, you can be creepy. You better not lick my face if I fall asleep."

"I think it's appropriate, considering you were fondling me in mine."

"That wasn't fondling! I was just curious what your horns felt like." The boy pouted a bit in reply.

Karkat went to ruffle John's hair. It felt different than his own. "Sleep, fuckass."

The boy made a sleepy, incoherent noise - almost a content sigh. As if Karkat uttered some kind of spell, the boy drifted off in a matter of minutes, but not before reaching towards the troll a few inches and loosely grabbing the hem of his shirt just above his hip. He slept well, even if it was barely even considered a nap.

Chapter Text

John returned to the caravan just before sunrise, but not without giving Karkat a parting bro-hug (he made a smart comment about how he didn't get stabbed that time). He got a bit of a scolding from Jade, who ended up worrying something happened to her brother when she woke up and he wasn't there. And though Dad commended him in staying out the entire night, he reminded his son that he needed to keep his strength up, especially once he was chieftain. Thankfully, John was given ample time to sleep in one of the wagons during the day - and he was tired enough to sleep through it, as bumpy as the roads could get on wooden wheels. But then again, he rarely had a hard time sleeping even in the weirdest conditions.

Dave ended up waking him about halfway through the day, when they needed help getting the horses across a shallow river. The caravan paused for a little bit after everyone was safely across to gather some more fresh water. Everyone was still very much on edge, acting like skittish rabbits when they were standing still, afraid that the trolls tailing them would appear over the horizon at any moment. They needed to keep moving, so they gathered water in record time and got the horses moving again, having to eat their lunch on the run.

It was tiring, moving at such a fast pace. John couldn't remember the last time they weren't able to stop and smell the roses. Normally they'd probably spend a full day at a river like the one they just passed, to relax and let the children play in the water. They had all gotten just a little too comfortable over the past few years, he supposed. It was probably more normal for caravans to travel like they were now most months out of the year.

Still hugging the mountain range as they pressed on, John continued to keep a watchful eye out for Karkat, wondering if he'd spot him at any time. But to his amazement, the troll stayed completely hidden even when someone was looking for him. It was kind of creepy, really; knowing that a troll was so close yet no one was able to spot him. If Karkat was any other troll, they would have been dead days ago, and they would have been blissfully unaware of the danger until it was too late.

It was no wonder, with as innovative and hardy as humans were as a species, that they were still so scarce. Trolls were far more efficient hunters than John felt he gave them credit for.

Karkat watched, mostly. Out of boredom, he started to write up the troll alphabet. Okay, it wasn't really out of boredom, since he had to wait for the humans to actually gather up their stuff. Karkat sort of wanted to share one of his books with John. The problem was that they were written in the Troll language, and there was no way a human like that derpy kid would be able to read it. So he would have to write it up himself with the corresponding letters in the human alphabet. It wouldn't take long for him, but well...

Maybe it would give John something to do on those wagon rides.

Following the humans wasn't always easy either. They were on horses. Yes, Karkat had a bit of speed on him, just a bit more than most trolls, but horses on the move were still a bit of a problem. The only real advantage that Karkat had was the fact he could move more easily on these mountain paths than the stupid beasts. It was something the troll was thankful for.

When the humans finally stopped to rest, it was more than enough time to completely catch up. As long as he kept them in his sights, he figured he was doing well enough. The key was staying higher up. That river did make Karkat cringe. The humans could get around that easily enough, but even with how much further up on that mountain Karkat was, he wouldn't be able to cross so easily.

It was mostly little falls and some rapids where he was, and the troll was not confident in his ability to get through that at all. He waited until the caravan moved on a bit. Sure, it was shallow, but water in general made Karkat nervous. Too many years of having stupid secrets and several occasions of nearly drowning - none of which was his actual fault.

He only came down to cross, when he would be out of view. Karkat glared at the substance, hissing at it. There was only one way through this and he huffed. His clothes were going to be soaked after this... He groaned and took off his back and leather armor. Karkat then lifted them both above his head and the troll went to cross. It came to about his chest. However, that was really the problem...

Little muscles that had not been used in an age burned. The second the cool wet feeling hit his chest, that all too familiar stirring along his sides occurred. Karkat set his jaw and tensed his entire being. No, he did not need for this to happen now. There was no need. He could breathe perfectly fucking fine!

Dashing did no good in the river, but Karkat tried anyway. Every second spent in the cold water was another that threatened his self control. The moment he scrambled back on land was a blessing given from the Messiahs or whatever the fuck Makara called those things. Unfortunately, he felt a bit exhausted and realized he had not eaten anything.

Digging in his bag while trying to move also caused a revelation that did not occur to him... He would not be able to eat. Trolls were supplied with dried meat. Dried /human/ meat. Normally this would not be a problem. Now? Well now it was, for Karkat couldn't bring himself to do it. With a curse on his lips, he shoved the container in his bag, threw it over his shoulders despite the still damp shirt, and took off in a dead sprint. He needed to catch up.

It looked as though life was out to get him in the end anyway.

The passing day seemed the drag on more than usual, even though John slept through a good portion of it. A few of the men went ahead of the horses a few hours before sunset, to hunt for whatever they could point their weapons at. It was the first time Dave went out to hunt on his own - usually they were in pairs or small groups, but they couldn't really afford that luxury now. They needed as much food as they could get, /when/ they could get it, in case they don't have the time for it later. Once the red-eyed boy hauled off by himself with only a bow and a hunting knife, John noticed how often Bro was doing little nervous ticks. Running a hand through his hair, sighing heavier, looking around a lot more. It was pretty obvious how nervous the father was, as tough as he could be. Jade and Rose giggled a bit, saying how cute it was.

As the sun began to set, the caravan found a comfortable niche in the mountainside, partially covered by a very shallow cave. It wasn't much, but it was more protection they had last night. Every little bit counts.

John volunteered for sentry duty again, but this time he had a little trouble from his elders. They apparently weren't too happy John stayed out all night - working too hard made him near useless the day after. It took a bit of bargaining and promises John didn't really want to keep, but he didn't have much of a choice. Dad finally let him go on the first shift, provided he only be out five hours at the most. The boy nodded hastily and packed his dinner, deciding to eat it on the way to get to Karkat sooner.

He trudged northward this time, munching on some flat bread and berries a few of the girls found during the trek the other day. He was actually acting a little more like the rest of his caravan now, eying his surroundings very cautiously with a bit of a nervous gaze. He wasn't going to let Karkat sneak up on him again!

When the humans started to make noise, Karkat seethed. They were going out hunting for food themselves. His stomach made a noise just thinking about it as he took to tugging on his hood. Humans tended to make more noise than trolls did, even when trying to be silent. Karkat was surprised they were even able to catch anything like that. Then again, with guns? Yeah, that worked.

Keeping out of sight was relatively easy. Karkat took to being up higher on the ridge again. In fact, he snuck closer to the caravan this time, watching the groups go by from where he was on those ledges guarded with rock. Funny how most humans never bothered to look up. He only calmed slightly when they started to make their way back with some kills as well as gathered berries and the like.

He saw the caravan from his perch a good hundred feet above them. John was so easy to pick out. North this time. Karkat smirked and took off in that direction, setting out a pace so that he could beat him there. When John would see him next? Well, the troll would be sitting on the nearest boulder, waiting for the human like he had been there all day.

It was only when John noticed he was well out of earshot of the caravan that he saw the troll. Wow, Karkat was really good at finding him! And no prank this time. He was thankful for that - though he was still trying to figure out how to get him back one day. There had to be a way to fool someone with such a strong sense of smell and hearing. He just hadn't figured it out yet.

The boy smiled brightly as he trotted up, happy as anyone could be with paranoid fear tugging at the back of their mind. From looking at him, you wouldn't think his caravan is being trailed. "Hey Karkat!"

"Took you long enough," the troll huffed and puffed. It was only a half truth. Honestly, Karkat didn't care too much how long it took for John to venture out.

"Oh, were you waiting long?" He asked, feeling a bit bad he couldn't make it out sooner. "Sorry, it took a while to calm the horses down tonight."

"No shit," he nodded. "They probably know I'm here. Or you definitely had my scent on you, moron."

"Ohh, maybe that's why?" The boy looked a little stunned, bringing and arm up to sniff it, like he could pick out the scent himself. It obviously didn't work. "I dunno, I smell the same to me."

Karkat just stared. Was John really... "Are you fucking kidding me... Of course you can't!"

"Hey, it was worth a shot." John pouted a bit, hands on his hips. "Sorry we don't have the same sense of smell as you guys do. You must be descended from bloodhounds or something. So weird!"

Right about then, Karkat snorted. Bloodhounds were a type of domesticated dog. That had nothing to do with awareness or sense of smell. Most creatures on the planet had superior senses to a human. Humans were simply not creatures of kill or be killed.

And on that, note? Karkat's stomach let out a little growl.

John blinked, a bit surprised at the sound. "... What was that?" Did Karkat growl at him?

He fought the embarrassed flush that threatened to find its way on his cheeks. "You're fucking hearing things, shit head."

The human furrowed his brows a bit, obviously a bit confused at both the origin of the sound and why Karkat seemed so defensive all of the sudden. "Haha, oh I get it." He chuckled. "What, are trolls embarrassed about passing gas too?"

"John, I will fucking throw my book at you. That's not what it was!" Karkat hissed.

"Sure, sure, fine." John grinned, letting it go. Was Karkat being flustered? That was new! Well, sort of. It was amusing in its own right. "Oh, you brought a book?"

The troll took out his bag from out behind the boulder he was sitting on. "I have most of my shit with me this time."

"Ohh!" John looked positively giddy, crawling his way onto the boulder right next to his troll friend. He wondered what some of Karkat's favorite stories were!

Karkat dug out one of his favorite novels, only titled Hitch. It was an amazing story. So full of gut wrenching and circulatory pumping organ breaking moments...

He shoved it roughly at John's chest.

John uttered out a small oof when Karkat shoved the book at his chest, but he took it gratefully, looking at the cover with piqued interest. "Hitch? What's it about?" He smiled and opened it up, noticing there wasn't a preface.

"How about you read it and find the fuck out on your own?" Seriously, did he have to tell John everything?

"Okay, okay." The boy grinned, flipping open the first few pages completely form reflex - but he closed it quick enough. He wanted to talk to Karkat, and besides, he could read it tomorrow when they were on the move again. "I'm sure I'll love it if you do!"

"I don't know about that," he huffed. "We do have pretty different tastes when it comes to actual reading preferences."

"Well I don't think I ever read a book I really didn't like." He replied, slipping the book into his bag. "And plus, you're cool. So ooobviously you have to like cool books."

"That's such a fucking loaded word!" Karkat snapped, stomach growling before he could cover it up.

John was halfway to opening his mouth for a retort, but he stopped. That noise again. And this time, he was pretty sure what it was; he'd heard it often enough from his own self when he'd spend hours working past lunchtime. It was... a little awkward, to say the least. He bit his lip, looking at Karkat with a bit of hesitance.

"Uh... hungry?" He asked, something of a nervous smile playing on his lips.

"I'm fine!" he growled, sort of curling into himself a bit. No, he really wasn't. He was hungry. He had been hungry for some time and would continue being hungry. Hell, Karkat didn't even remember when the last time he ate was. However, it wasn't John's problem so there was no reason to get into it.

The boy grew even more concerned at the reply he got from Karkat. He wondered for a moment, if the trolls hadn't eaten in a while. It would make sense, since they've been trailing John's caravan for days without any luck. It wasn't like he felt sorry his family was slaughtered, but... ohh, this was so weird. John was so conflicted, feeling an odd sense of guilt - what if Karkat was going to waste away? He didn't even think about that! He's been working so hard on making sure John's family escapes safely, but then where does that leave him?

"K-Karkat!" John suddenly looked at the troll with a strained, honestly worried expression. This wasn't right, Karkat was saving them and this is what he got in return? He gulped audibly. "You can have... a f-few of my fingers or something! I don't think I even use them all a lot - just don't die on me okay?"

The troll's eyebrows disappeared into his thick bangs. What on... He slapped a hand over his face and slowly pulled it down. For the love of... "That's fucking disgusting, John. Why the hell would you even fucking suggest that."

"Well you.... haven't eaten in a while, right?" The boy pursed his lips into a tight line, gaze drifting down as he started feeling a little embarrassed. "And you've been helping us escape at the same time, and.... I feel bad about it."

"John...." Karkat started, the grabbed the human's shoulders. He bit his lip a little before continuing. "I have food, okay? It's just... I can fucking bring myself to have it. Now all of the sudden I'm having a stupid fucking crisis about what the hell I should do and shit. Seriously, how the fuck can I live with my worthless self if I'm friends with a human and then eating it on the side? That shit isn't right, no matter what angle you look at it from."

John blinked, a little surprised Karkat initiated contact so suddenly; but it was obvious that the troll was more than a little troubled. Oh... so that was it. So the trolls must keep rations, just like humans do. The thought made him cringe a bit, feeling a slight sick to his stomach even imagining a person being.... and then kept somewhere and.... he shuddered inwardly. It wasn't that he blamed them, but it still felt creepy. And the fact that Karkat said he had some with him? He glanced at the troll's bag for a split moment before feeling weak in his own stomach. Okay, let's not think about that.

"But that..." The boy nervously kneaded his fingers, unable to look Karkat in the eye for various reasons. "What are you going to do? Just starve?"

“I don't know, okay? I have no fucking idea what the fuckity fuck I am fucking doing anymore!" he growled, letting go and sliding off of that boulder. Just to wave his arms around.

God, John was feeling awful now. Would have just been easier for Karkat if they never met? No, no - he shook his head at the thought. That made his chest so tight it almost hurt, just thinking about that. But still... this was causing his friend so much pain. Was there really nothing they could do? This wasn't right, Karkat did nothing to deserve something like this!

"Um," He reached for his bag, fumbling with it a bit and he looked up at Karkat hesitantly. He almost looked like he was about to offer up himself again or something equally as embarrassing, but instead he grabbed a small bundle from his sack, covered in a soft dark brown cloth. He opened it up, showing the troll only partially eaten flat bread, dried beef, and some fruits and nuts. "I know it's, uh... human food, but..."

Karkat stopped tugging on his hair and looked over. John was... John was offering a bit of his meal. The troll looked at him and then the offered food. It wasn't... Well it certainly wasn't anything like Karkat ever had, the stuff he ate as a grub didn't count. He returned to John's side, still staring.

"Why would you do that?"

"Do.... what?" The boy looked down a the food in his hands, genuinely perplexed.

"Give me this, idiot!" he said with an eye roll. He took the dried beef first. Honestly Karkat was too hungry to deny a freely given gift at this point.

"God this is so fucking pitiful," the troll sighed, plopping a portion in his mouth.

"I guess it would be weird from your perspective." John chuckled softly, wondering if Karkat feels like a human trying to eat hay or grass or something. "You've never eaten anything other than, um... us before?"

He decided it wasn't bad tasting. Karkat vaguely wondered if eating something other than human would kill him. Things worked like that for some races and there had to be a reason behind it, right? Either way, it didn't matter. The troll figured he would die one way or another as he took another bite straight from John's hands.

"When we're grubs, but that's pretty natural. Most young creatures don't eat their primary food source until they're older."

"Oh, same for us too." John nodded, offering whatever he had left to the hungry troll. This certainly was better that losing fingers! Not that it seemed like Karkat was enthusiastic about that idea anyway. He just hoped it wouldn't make his friend sick or something - there had to be a reason trolls exclusively ate humans, right?

The boy reached into his bag and got a small canteen out. "I also have some, uh." He paused, looking a little unsure. "....Water?" He had no idea if Karkat drank it. Did trolls have to drink? Not to mention the whole fear of water thing. He hoped the offer didn't sound mean or anything!

Without another thought, Karkat took what was left and sat next to John. He started eating it, and just shaking his head. He didn't need water. Karkat had a canteen with him, actually. "I'm not that fucking terrified of that stuff, John."

"Well, I wasn't sure." He offered a sheepish grin. Wow, Karkat was really putting that food away! John really hoped it would help... he wasn't really sure what they'd do if Karkat continued to be so self conscious about his usual diet. Not that John was comfortable with it himself, but the thought of Karkat starving...

"...How's it taste?"

"Not as rich," was the only comment Karkat had for it. Seriously. How was he supposed to compare it to what he was supposed to be eating? That was stupid. He could have been mean and tossed his own bag of jerky at John, but decided against it. Karkat didn't need to deal with that sort of trama anyway.

"Oh." Was the only response Karkat got, John looking as though he wasn't sure how to process that. "I'm glad I could help though! My dad always makes me pack too much. Says I'm too skinny."

“You are pretty fucking skinny, John," Karkat snickered. John wasn't kidding when the human said he was all skin and bones.

"Not my fault." The boy frowned a bit, feeling a bit self conscious, but then he giggled to himself. "Besides, won't this make me less appetizing to trolls?"

"Nope," he replied now looking to this... Thing. It was a thing that was not meat and it was flat.

"I'd think you'd go after the fat ones first." John looked at whatever Karkat seemed to be inspecting. The flat bread? ".... What, are you scared of bread too?"

"I've never seen it before now, shit head," the troll scoffed, taking a bite out of it. Ew. What a weird taste! "And the fat ones have blubber, not meat."

"Haha, eww really?" John laughed, both at Karkat's reply and that funny expression he made after tasting the bread. "The bread's a little tasteless, but it sure fills you up fast. Guess it doesn't seem as yummy after you had the good stuff."

"Are you trying to tell me you are the good stuff, John?" Karkat said with a complete poker face. Take from it what he would...

For a moment, John wasn't sure what he was going to take from that. At first it seemed as though the comment flew completely over his head, but then he slowly blushed a bit, then actually looked a little flustered. Was Karkat being serious? That was, uh. Well. Why did that even make him blush? That should have just weirded him out. Or make him uncomfortable. Actually, it did make him a little nervous and it showed - but only because a troll said it, not because it was Karkat.

"Uhh," He twiddled his thumbs a bit. "I was... t-talking about the beef. What you had a minute ago?"

This time Karkat didn't say a word. Instead he just continued eating that silly tasteless bread thing. He then moved onto the berries. Sweat. Karkat found he kind of liked that. A small little smile might have shown on his face. Then a little bit of a blush because -


"Hehe," The boy grinned, positively glowing. Karkat smiled again! He really liked it when Karkat smiled - even when it was barely there. The poor guy always seemed tired or stressed most of the he was glad to see his friend was happy right now. "That's what friends are for, right? I'm so glad I could help."

"It's not like you can do much else, right?" the troll commented, looking sideways at John. "I watch what do you during the day too."

Okay, John knew Karkat had to be watching. It sure sounded weird when he said it outright though! "Hey, I can do lots of stuff." He defended quickly, folding his arms. "Pretty much the only thing I don't do is hunt. Rose is even teaching me how to knit!" Oh yeah, that sounded masculine.

"Such a shining example of a human male you are!"

The boy blushed, glaring weakly at the troll. "You're just jealous, dude. I get allll the ladies. Ladies love a man who knows how to knit."

One of Karkat's brows rose in question. "And that matters why?"

"Um. It just does!" Was the intellectual rebuttal. "I got so much swag, you don't even know."

"What the ever loving fuck are you spewing, John?" Karkat said, blinking in confusion. Why specify chicks?

"Oh, I get it. You're not cool enough to get any troll ladies, are you?" The boy teased, patting Karkat on the shoulder. "Don't worry buddy, I have enough charisma for the both of us. I'll show you the ropes."

Actually, that was the extent of "the ropes" he had. Pretty much ninety percent of what he just said was learned from Dave, anyway.

"I had one potential and it was fucking enough, all right?" he sneered, swatting the hand away. "Then Captor and I had this strange quadrant jumping back and forth. Thank fucking god he and I both had the sense to realize that we can't hate or pity each other completely."

Wait.... he? Karkat was talking about quadrants? "Oh.... you had a thing with a guy?"

It really wasn't that weird, John supposed. There were a few people in his caravan with same-sex partners. It was just... uncommon. Especially since reproduction was sort of an urgent agenda. "Are you, um. Gay? Not that I'm not okay with that!"

"...What's 'gay'?" the troll blinked.

John fell silent for a minute. "... Okay, haha. You got me. Really, you don't have to be embarrassed about it or anything. I mean, it's not my cup of tea, but I don't mind if that's how you swing."

"Got you? How I swing? What the fuck are you going on about?" he hissed. Now he was getting irritated. "Don't just bring shit up and not explain it!"

Okay, John was really starting to think Karkat was telling the truth. He didn't like the idea of having the pranksters gambit taken away from him, but he took the bait. "You really don't know what 'gay' means? As in, the sexual preference?"

The only answer John got was a harder glare and a snarl.

"Yikes, okay!" The snarl actually did make him shiver a bit, even though his voice was fairly even. "I mean, it's... when a guy is attracted to other guys. How do you not know this?"

"Because it's not a thing!" Karkat huffed. "How fucking dumb are you? You mean to say that you fucks actually have a term for superfluous nookbiting shit like that? How the hell do you even reproduce so fast if half of your genetic material isn't shared?"

Now it was John's turn to be lost. Trolls didn't even have a term for that? "Half our.... what isn't shared?" Wait, no, he had a guess what that meant. He felt his cheeks burn a bit. "Okay, nevermind that. What do you mean shared? And why does that matter?"

"Oh my god..." he groaned, face palming. "It just doesn't make sense! Who the fuck cares if your kismesis or matesprit is a male or female? It doesn't change the fact you have to fill a fucking pail or die in the end, now does it? It's not like you can fucking control how you feel!"

John deadpanned at the troll. Doesn't make sense? Okay, it wasn't like he thought it was totally wrong or anything, but it did make sense that it wasn't common. "Of course it makes sense! I mean, you can only make a baby with a male and a female together."

Karkat stared. He stared for more. "What the actual shit fuck. I mean I knew humans bred faster, but what. You don't fucking need a male to copulate with a female only! Not for trolls!"

"Whoa, really? Gross!" John cringed, but slapped a hand over his mouth after letting that last word slip. The boy paled a bit. " -- Ohmygosh, that was reeeally culturally insensitive, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, it was. I am now greatly offended asshole," he huffed. It also felt like his little land based circulatory organ just broke. Ouch. Karkat knew it wasn't really a possibility, because hello. Human. He didn't think he would potentially be rejected because of an arcane idea like that. It was so stupid it just pissed him off.

"I'm really sorry dude," The boy really looked genuinely sad, now. "Um, if it makes any difference, it doesn't bother me that much. And uh, if trolls can reproduce like that..." Oh god, how would that even work? John was totally weirded out with that thought now. "It makes sense for /you/ guys. Humans are just... different."

"Whatever," Karkat saif flippantly, wavin and everything. What did it matter to him. It didn't, that's what!

John got a feeling that something was still bothering the troll. He guessed if he can find troll society weird, Karkat would probably find human society weird too. Courtship and reproduction was already kind of an... uncomfortable subject. For him at least. It was embarrassing, sort of! "So, um. Your stomach isn't turning itself inside out, is it?"

"Yeah, but that's because I'm fucking busy wrapping my think pan around ludicrous hoofbeast shit!"

Since that was exactly what it was. Karkat was a little on the defensive now and he knew that. God, why did he feel like he had just been slapped in the face? The troll knew John didn't mean it that way, and tried to apologize. It was just how to you really, sincerely apologize for crushing someone's little fantasy.. Or feelings. Trolls took feelings very seriously, after all!

Oh, okay. Karkat was still really bothered. "Oh, well it's not unheard of in human society. Having same-sex partners, I mean." He offered, hoping that little tidbit would somehow make Karkat feel better. "But if you do, you're still required to, you know. Copulate with someone of the opposite sex. For babies." Yeah, he was blushing again. Pretty badly. "But it's not like it's a rule you can't be gay. At least, not in my caravan. It's just uncommon."

"Oh my god, that's not even the fucking point!" Karkat hissed. It wasn't the point. How humans reproduced was none of his goddamned business. Why they wouldn't be faithful for reproduction, that was just... Strange. Sure, trolls did have sex and whatnot for pleasure and all was well as long as you didn't quadrant jump, but you don't literally fill a fucking pail with anyone but who you're quadranted with! Insulting.

After that, John grew pretty quiet. "I'm sorry, I just... I feel bad I made you upset."

"I'm not upset! Why would you even assume that I would be suddenly stricken by your clearly stated grossed out factor by how my race does shit? Hmm! Seems like it will stay a goddamned mystery!" he groused some more before handing back over that cloth. It smelled like John and the shit he hate.

This time, John didn't have anything else to say. He couldn't think of a good reply for that. Gosh, that was really stupid of him... but he didn't say it on purpose! It was just kind of a reflex; not that an excuse made it any better. The boy just sat there, looking at the cloth in his lap, with a downright pitiful expression on his face. He felt like the biggest jerk ever.

Karkat sat there in silence. He was seething, fuming at everything and absolutely nothing. Everything really was out to get him. God, he was being so stupid. Now shit was awkward and there were hurt feelings all around. Karkat Vantas was just a 'motherfucking' failure in all of the ways. He pulled his kneeds up to his chest and rested his chin on them. Fuck fuck fuck!

Then he chanced a glance at John. It hurt. It hurt so fucking much and he hated himself for caring so damned much. "Stop with that pity act, would you? Seriously, I think that's pissing me off even fucking more than anything you said."

That wasn't true, but he could attempt to lie. God.. Just fuck.

Pity act? "I-I'm not doing a pity act." The boy pouted a bit, still looking pretty forlorn. "I really feel bad I was so insensitive." He was yet to recall 'pity' meant something a bit different to trolls.

"Yeah well stop that shit right now," he replied, just looking away.

Great, apparently he was making things worse! Which made John feel like a whole 'nother truckload of shit. Which made things even worse. Which made-- oh, god damn it.

"Uh.. Your favorite color!" John suddenly squeaked out.

"I don't have one," Karkat answered, instantly. No point in having a favorite color when all of them reminded him that he was lower than shit on the hemospectrum.

"O-oh." Who the hell doesn't have a favorite color? "Favorite... animal?"

"Crab, I guess?" the troll tried to answer. He was pretty fond of his lusus, after all. That counted for something.

"Okay! Crab." John tried offering a small smile. "Crabs a pretty cute. I saw some when we passed a huge lake a few years ago. They were all tiny and running around on the sand."

"There's nothing really cute about them, fuckass," he sighed, uncurling himself to get in a better position on the boulder. "They pinch pretty damn hard and click and fucking fuss and bubble when threatened and shit. The only good thing about them is that they are hardy."

"I thought they were cute." The boy replied with a determined look. "I mean yeah, one pinched me but it was probably because I picked him up. I thought their eyes were cute, so did Jade."

"My lusus was not fucking cute, no matter what you say. He was a pain in the nub is what he was," the troll said, reflecting on his giant monster of a crab.

"It's the troll equivalent to your parent crap," he said, rubbing his head.

"Oh, alright!" Wait, he gave that a bit of a thought. "Your lusus.... was a crab? One of those little pinchy things?"

"No!" Karkat huffed, still looking a little offended. "He was a giant fucking monster crab. All lusii are those giant monsters you sometimes see lurking around."

Giant monsters? "... You mean those huge white things?" John's eyes went wide, jaw slacked in awe. "We were attacked by one of those before! It was a huge bird, but it like, had six eyes and stuff. And weird teeth! Holy crap, you're telling me those are your parents? Do you grow up to look like that?"

"John... We're raised by those things. We don't fucking grow up to look like them! They're just custodians to us! Once a wriggler pops out of his fucking pupa looking like a proper troll, they have to go through a set of trials and shit. At the end of them, you find one of these monsters with the same blood color as you and you fucking skip off in to the goddamn sunrise and leave the goddamn subterranean levels behind."

The human just ended up raising his eyebrows as he tried his best to follow what sounded like some sort of weird, almost horror-ish story. That sounded like it came straight from a book. Pupas? Wrigglers? Ew, that sounded.... kind of gross. He kept that opinion in this time, though. He did remember something about trolls having different blood colors, too. So that was true? "It's really cool how you have different blood colors." The boy grinned. "My dad told me a bit about that... I didn't know it was actually true though."

"It's fucking stupid is what it is," Karkat huffed. "Shit like that shouldn't matter, but it does. All because of the color of blood you were hatched with, it fucking determines your fate. Fucking ridiculous..."

"What? Determines your fate?" That sounded rather ominous.

He sighed and slid down the rock. Karkat leaned back against it. "Trolls have this thing about blood color. Rust colored are the lowest class denizens and the purple bloods are like fucking nobility. When we're fifteen, we get inspected for blood color and then get a list of shitty professions that we could potentially pursue. Some don't even get that option... Lower bloods can be freely culled just because a highblood feels like it."

John was dumbstruck. ".... And you said we had necessary customs?!" He looked positively horrified. "What the.... because of something like blood color? That isn't right!"

"I just said it was shit, didn't I!?" the troll growled. He hated the hemospectrum and everything it stood for. Was John just not listening to him rant about how stupid it all was?

"I know, I heard you." John tensed a bit at the growl. "I was agreeing with you.... god, I can't even try to justify that." Trolls were really weird! "Gosh, I'm so sorry Karkat."

"Life is shit and then you die," he huffed, shifting around a bit. No need to say any more on the matter.

"Change the subject."

John nibbled at his bottom lip. Wow, tonight was.... rather stressful, wasn't it? On one hand, he really didn't like the atmosphere and he certainly didn't like seeing Karkat so upset.... but on the other hand, he also felt sort of grateful to learn more about him. He just wished it didn't have to be so difficult to deal with.

Okay, subject change. That sounded good right about now. "Um," He looked around, finally looking upward. "The stars... are really bright tonight?" Oh, that wasn't painfully cliche or anything. "It's going to be a new moon in a few days. I don't really like those."

With that? Karkat actually burst out laughing. "Oh my god! You've resorted to talking about the fucking stars? What's next? The fucking weather!? AHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

God, it sounded like something you tried to talk about on your first date!

"H-hey!!" John blushed horribly, even to the tips of his ears. Ohh, he knew it sounded stupid but he really wanted to change the conversation! "I couldn't think of anything else! What did you want me to - stop laughing at me! Not cool dude!" He shoved at the troll, like some sort of juvenile kid having a tantrum and trying to start a slap-fight. God, he felt like such a dork!

Nope. Karkat was still laughing. In fact, with John whining and trying to start a little physical strife, he laughed even harder. It was all ridiculous and five flavors of stupid. How could he not laugh? Little tears stung his eyes a little and that was his first clue to calm the fuck down. No need to expose things here.

"Talk about yourself, idiot!"

John clenched his jaw and felt frustration burn in his throat. "I like long walks on the beach, talking about animals, and not having my friends laugh at me!"

Okay, even he snorted at that.

"Way to make the cliche complete, fuckass."

John made a growling sound of his own, reaching over to pull Karkat's cheek defiantly.

"HEEEEHY!" Karkat said. He squirmed and flailed a little bit. The troll didn't want to hurt John.

"Ha! Now you're the one who.... Ohmygod Karkat you look so ridiculous!" Now it was John's turn to laugh at Karkat's plight. The way the troll's potentially terrifying fangs poked out of his stretched mouth looked downright comical.

What was a troll to do... Karkat's answer was to carefully take John's cheeks and stretch them!

"No fhaaair!" John clenched his eyes shut, pulling at Karkat's skin as much as he could without pinching it painfully. Not that it would probably hurt even if he tried, anyway. "You-- wahh!"

And the moment he tried getting some extra balance on his knees, the superbly coordinated John Egbert toppled off of the rock, taking the troll with him.

The troll tried to claw back against the rock, but all he left was ten lines of white scratches on the surface. Down he went with the human. Down as in he was down on the ground first, breaking John's fall. His head hit hard against the ground, a screaming 'FUCK' on his lips.

The human made another high pitched noise before they both fell, making a mumbled groan that sounded suspiciously like 'ow my head'. It wasn't like it was /that/ high of a drop, but jeeze, did that jar him. "Kar... kat?" He leaned up, noticing the troll sort of... broke his fall.

He hissed. Now his think pan was throbbing in his skull. Karkat also felt like the air had been knocked out of him, since he coughed a bit. There was a weight on him. Blinking his eyes open, Karkat noticed that it was John. His face colored a little, for obvious reasons. However, since he was also now experiencing a slight headache, it was taking away from the moment.

"Shh! Only recovering now."

John pressed his lips tightly shut. He slowly got his lower half off of Karkat's body, but his hands stayed hovering around his chest. "You okay? Did you break anything?" He asked nervously.

"I'm fine!" Karkat groaned. "We are made out of tougher shit, remember?"

The boy sighed, relieved. If Karkat was well enough to reply in that sort of tone, he had to be okay. "You're made of something alright." He chuckled, closing his eyes and resting his forehead on the troll's chest. "Shit sounds pretty accurate."

His eyes shot open, but he didn't dare move. John didn't see it, but the troll was pretty pink in the cheeks. Just fuck his life. It was tormenting him. Here he kind of wanted John pretty badly, and the boy is not this gay thing. Karkat didn't have a change in the human conception of Hell and yet that same fuckass was touching him in a relatively intimate manner.

Just fucking shit, man.

"Oh fuck you," Karkat decided upon saying, no venom at all.

The boy just grinned. Silently he turned over onto his back, head still resting against Karkat like a pillow. "If you laugh at me I'll shove you off another rock," He commented. "But c'mon, the stars look pretty cool tonight."

Karkat grunted in response. He didn't exactly trust his voice at the moment. God... How was this kid so oblivious?

Chapter Text

John took the troll's muffled reply with a grain of salt, and took that as a cue to keep talking. He started asking Karkat if he knew much about astronomy, and that Rose was really interested in it. He and Jade would go out at night sometimes with her and pick out all the constellations, and when the caravan got together at night, sometimes they'd swap stories they heard about them, and even make up some of their own. John even picked out the stars that he and his three best friends called their own, even though it was silly to own a giant glowing gas ball floating in space. He pointed out a few of of his favorite constellations and summarized some of the stories, like the one about the two bears and the the jar of water and -- well, he ended up talking too much, as usual.

Though he ended up yawning a few hours later, the boy was still stubborn going back. He always was, every night. Their sixth night together, and John still tried to squeeze every possible minute he could out of their time together. He eventually got to reading Hitched, and teased the troll about it the following night, saying how funny it was Karkat loved all the girly romantic stuff. But after that, he admitted he really did like the book, and he probably wouldn't admit it to his other friends, but he enjoyed the romantic bits too. He was always given adventure and action books because well, male stereotyping. Little boys loved stories of rocket ships and high seas adventures, not the finer points of love quadrangles and wacky courtship antics.

They exchanged more books and stories, ended up in a few more lighthearted, barely meaningful strifes that usually ended up with John crying uncle. And he sort of deserved it that one time John tried scaring Karkat when he was waking up from a nap, in hopes of regaining some of his prankster's gambit. He really only succeeded in ticking the troll off and, well.... Running didn't really help him at all. He got his just desserts.

Though every night was fun and something John constantly looked forward to, he couldn't help but worry constantly in the back of his mind. Not just for his caravan, but for his friend. He ended up having a nightmare that he awoke to during a day's nap, of going out at night and not finding any trace of Karkat. Never seeing him again. Learning that the other trolls found out what he was doing and killed him.

The nightmare didn't even involve the slaughter of his caravan. Just the overwhelming sadness of losing someone he felt he's known his whole life. John Egbert really wasn't one to wallow in insecurities or worry too much, but every now and then he couldn't help it. He got scared. And not for the reasons he thought he'd be scared.

And even though he had a good day, tonight was... less so. Not only did Dad finally tell John he would be taking a break from sentry duty, it was a night of the new moon. It was nearly pitch black everywhere. Taking almost an hour to make sure he didn't move so fast he woke anyone up, John was able to find some homemade matches and a small lamp purely by memory. Honestly, he was amazed he didn't end up knocking half the campsite over looking for it.

The moon was already pretty high in the sky when he made his way to the denser part of the forest, knowing it wasn't an area any sentries were deployed to. It made sense, since their lamps were really only for emergency use, and they could hardly see to get past the thick brush and maze of branches and whatnot. John probably ran face-first into his third branch ten minutes into his walk. He could only turn on the lamp when he knew for certain he was far enough from the caravan that they wouldn't notice.

To be honest, Karkat didn't know much about the outdoors. He spent most of his time inside growing up. That sort of restricted the amount of time one gazed at stars. Besides, it wasn't as if trolls really looked up at the sky to create works of poetry and wordy illustrations of the sky. They were too busy. The only real interest trolls had in the sky was to possibly explore beyond it.

Karkat snorted during that conversation. Yeah, trolls traveling to distant worlds through space. Like that was going to happen!

Every night was something just a little different. It was irritating how much the troll actually looked forward to it. While Karkat did have two best friends ( or trolls he would call that anyway ), John was just a different dynamic. Karkat didn't have to constantly have to yell to be heard nor figure out what the every loving fuck he was on. Some conversations were nice and others had Karkat nearly pulling on his ears in frustration. John could be like that too, but simply because of his silly, naive personality.

He decided it wasn't a bad one to have, even if John's taste in books were seriously lacking. The thing that Karkat was still adjusting to happened to be the pranks. Karkat Vantas was not appreciative of the ways that John wanted to tease him and eventually did. The troll realized that it was different than his friends, again. John's intentions were to never hurt or poke fun at maliciously. Trolls usually did. It was kind of nice, Karkat would only admit to himself, to know that his unusual trait of caring at least existed somewhere else on the planet.

However he was still slightly worried about the other trolls showing up. Karkat bathed furiously every morning before the caravan left so that he wouldn't smell of human. When the humans were first settling in for the night, Karkat would check at least a mile from his markings. Anything for signs of other trolls. He didn't want anything to happen to either himself or John. His paranoia at some points would reach all time highs. Karkat simply hoped that the humans would keep up this pace. He would have to suggest to John one day to have the caravan go at least three days without stopping. Soon.

Soon was the night of the new moon. Karkat happened to be able to see just fine in the darkness, his eyes never leaving the caravan. The humans were lucky his hunting unit wasn't here. It would have been the perfect opportunity....

When John didn't come out at his usual time, Karkat thought something was up. He was slightly worried that John wouldn't come out. Perhaps he was found out. Panic slowly started to seep in, the troll tensing up. He released a breath he didn't know he was holding, when the boy finally made his way out. Karkat's eyes narrowed, trying to make out what he was holding...

He gave up pretty quickly, taking off from his location to track down John.

The poor boy groaned and rubbed at one knee, having smacked it pretty hard into a tree trunk. God... he hated it being this dark! He could barely see a foot in front of him, and with his amazing John Egbert brand of coordination, this was a recipe for disaster. Grumbling to himself, he continued on at an agonizingly slow pace, having to feel around every few seconds to make sure he wouldn't impale himself on something or fall off the edge of a ravine.

It wasn't just the inability to navigate that made him uneasy, either. Perhaps it was too many ghost stories or too much teasing from Dave, but John was never comfortable in complete darkness. There could be something menacing lurking right behind him and he wouldn't know it until it was too late. What if he stepped on a poisonous snake or something? Or got too close to a wolf's den?

Or be found by a troll?

John snickered at the thought. Funny how that was the one thing he wanted to happen. He couldn't possibly find Karkat on his own right now, so he just had to hope the troll could smell him or hear him or whatever it is they do. The entire situation seemed horribly ironic. Dave would be proud.

Only after the boy was absolutely certain he could light his lamp without being noticed by his peers, he started fumbling through his pack for those matches.

Karkat found John easily enough. The human was making even more noise than usual. He reminded himself that humans were virtually blind in this environment. After a bit of maneuvering in the dark, the troll snuck up behind John. This would definitely be pay back for the other night. The troll lunged forward, the pads of his fingers on John's sides.


Yeah, that painful feeling of his prankster's gambit falling from his favor was a thorn in his side once more. Or rather, fingers on his side.

John would normally go straight to laughing - he was actually quite ticklish much to his dismay. However, the first thing that slipped past his lips was a girlish, startled shriek and he propelled himself forward two steps before tripping over a tree root and nearly falling flat on his face.

"How fucking graceful of you," Karkat commented, watching the boy fall. Then he snickered a little. No pity there.

The boy yelped again after scraping up a knee and he turned around frantically, eyes moving about but never falling square on Karkat. "D-don't do that!" He whimpered, feeling around for the lantern he dropped, hoping the glass didn't break. "Not on a new moon, dude - not cool!"

The troll rolled his eyes and picked up the lantern. Instead of giving it back to the boy, he snagged the matches and lit it. They were far enough away now that it wouldn't be noticed. At least this answered the question of what John was carrying around earlier.

"I thought it was pretty fucking hilarious."

John felt himself release a sigh of relief once Karkat struck a match. Still, with his human eyes, he couldn't see much past ten feet or so. At least he could see his friend! "It's not funny, I really don't like the dark." He pouted, voice a bit quiet due to embarrassment.

"I know. You mentioned that already," he replied, handing the light over to John. "Most trolls prefer this amount of darkness."

"Really?" He sounded pretty amazed at that, eyebrows raised as he gratefully took the lamp. "I knew you guys had night vision, but how well can you see?"

"I actually see better at night than I do in the day," the troll admitted, now also offering a hand to John. "We spend a great deal of time in goddamn caves as wrigglers and young trolls, remember?"

"Oh, yeah." He nodded, taking the extended hand so he could get back on his feet. "Hehe, thanks. Gosh, I feel like I've fallen on my ass fifty times tonight already. I wish I could have your sight!"

"Twelve," Karkat corrected. He made sure that John was stable before taking his hand back. Not that... He wanted to. The troll didn't, but squishing his hopes always proved to be hard work.

"Whoa, you were counting?" John chuckled, always feeling a bit... odd when Karkat said he'd been watching him. He was waiting though, right? It wasn't weird. "Twelve's a lot even for me. I'm gonna have fun when I have to go back."

"Dipshit," he huffed, walking towards an area clear enough to sit down. "I can just walk you back, you know."

"You'd do that?" The boy followed with a bounce in his step, overjoyed at the thought of not having to make a fool of himself again tonight. "Thanks, Karkat! I should be fine once I'm out of the forest, though. It'd be one thing if I got caught, but you're a different story."

"Once that lantern of yours goes out, they won't even fucking be able to see me," Karkat dismissed. It was true. Cover up his horns and bam. All black and gray.

"Ohh, I guess that's true. Trolls really are suited to hunt at night, aren't they?" John sounded a little too enthusiastic about that. "So cool~ it's like you all have awesome super powers. Super strength and night vision and you said some of you have psychic abilities?"

"We were originally nocturnal, idiot," he sighed, plopping down against a tree. "We've been over the other shit."

Nocturnal, huh? Karkat was seeming more and more like a cat now! After settling himself down next to the troll, John rummaged through his bag and got out a notebook, flipping through a few pages. After finding the right one, he turned the other sheets back and showed it proudly to his friend. "Look! I was practicing Alternian yesterday. I think it's starting to look pretty good!" Granted, he still had that cheat sheet Karkat gave him a while back, and his handwriting was pretty messy already when he wasn't on a rickety wagon. But it was still legible... mostly.

He leaned against John's shoulder, head tilting to get a better look. It was legible and definitely better than the last time John so proudly displayed his lack of writing skills. This time Karkat actually was able to translate the letters. "You wouldn't get a job doing any secretary work, but I guess you're not a complete failure after all!"

"Thanks! Wait, hey!" John chuckled and gave Karkat a playful shove with an elbow. "Can't you ever compliment me without burying it an insult?" Not that he always caught them.

Karkat shoved a little back and scoffed. John might not have always caught the insults, but he hardly took them to heart. It was both infuriating and, well. Good. Karkat didn't have to fret about a friendship falling through because he was such an asshole from time to time. "Do something worthy of no insults and then we'll fucking see."

"Fine then." The boy pouted, grabbing his bag defensively before pulling out a small bundled black cloth. "I guess you don't want the fresh deer meat we had for dinner tonight then." It wasn't rare that the hunters caught food during a travel, but sometimes it wasn't enough for everyone to have a share - and it was pretty uncommon for them to have enough for leftovers. John actually stuffed himself with rice and vegetables earlier so he didn't have to eat his share of the meat since he knew Karkat really preferred it over most everything else.

His ears perked up. If Karkat had it in him to whine, he would have. Instead he sort of leaned closer to John, eyes narrowing. "Oh... That's like a fucking kick in the shame globes and you know it, John!"

"Funny, that didn't sound at all like a, 'oh I'm so sorry John, I know you're perfect in every way and I'm just jealous how much swag you have, you're sooo much cooler than I could ever be'." A smug grin played on the human's lips, voice so confident it almost had a sing-song tune to it.

"You know what?" Karkat huffed. "I'd sooner fucking starve."

"Whaat? Oh come on, no you wouldn't." He pursed his lips into a frown, not at all happy with that answer.

"Care to fucking watch?" the troll smirked.

"I'll just eat it myself then." John wasn't going to budge. Nope, not this time! Karkat had too much of the prankster's gambit on his side. He opened up the cloth and picked up a lean piece of the smoked meat. "Surely you won't mind. Mmmm, smells gooood~"

"You do that," Karkat grumbled and started to dig in his bag. He actually had thrown out the rest of the rations he had. It wasn't like he was going to eat it. John, however, didn't know that. The troll didn't think the human needed to know that.

Oooh, this wasn't fair! How come Karkat never gave in? John even went so far as to open his mouth, food hovering just inches from his teeth. "I'll do it!"

The troll paused. He then looked over at John. It was as if the troll was accessing the human. Sizing everything up. Weighing his options. Then he darted forward and snagged that bit of meat with his mouth with as much speed as a troll could muster. Karkat then pulled back, digging back in his bag like he hadn't done anything at all.

John didn't even have time to react. It was like in one moment the food was there, the next it was gone and he could have sword he felt fangs graze his skin for a split second. "Dwah -- hey!" He whined, instinctively covering the rest of the food back up in the cloth.

Karkat was too busy chewing on the meat to take any real notice of John. Definitely better than eating dried berries and bread. He wasn't sure if he liked it better than the beef or not, but whatever. Karkat Vantas wasn't going to complain. John was being a whiny wriggler, though, and that was a little irksome.

The boy huffed, knowing he already lost. "Fine, you're no fun." He grumbled, shoving the covered deer meat in the troll's face. "Would have been weird to hear an apology from you anyway. Probably would have given me nightmares."

"Now I'm thinking I should have fucking apologized," Karkat replied. He took the offered food with the smuggest smirk he could muster. "I might not be any fucking fun, but who is winning in the end?"

Karkat received the best John Egbert glare the boy could muster - which really wasn't very threatening in the slightest. They both knew John couldn't contain any malice for the troll anyway, even if he tried. "Gloat all you want. My revenge will be swift - just you wait."

"Oh, I'm so fucking terrified. Look at me. I'm fucking shaking like a leaf in the wind!"

John frowned some more, but it wasn't very heartfelt. It wasn't like he could stay upset for long, and it wasn't as if he really was in the first place. A little put off, maybe. "As you should!" He contemplated borrowing one of the younger kids' squirt guns, but he wasn't that mean.

"Oh hey," The boy piped up, digging through his bag again. "You like sweet things, right?" He remembered Karkat really liking whatever fresh fruit he could find.

"Well... Yeah. Why?" The troll asked. He was timid to admit he liked sweet things. It was probably something stupid he should be ashamed for. Yet he wasn't.

"Hehe," John giggled happily, digging out something else from his pack - this time, it was a small plastic container, with something sort of yellow inside. Yellow and white. "My dad likes to bake when we camp. It's a little old, but we were supposed to finish this off tonight."

The boy opened up the container, and stuck a fork in the soft substance before handing it to Karkat. It sort of looked like bread. "It's too sweet for me. I think I ate it too much when I was little."

A plastic container? Those were pretty rare. Not for trolls, but humans having them? Karkat didn't see that coming. It made him all the more curious, shifting to lean more on John. His dad liked to bake. So what? Trolls baked, sometimes. Though what they baked wasn't exactly the same sort of things humans did.

It looked like... Well Karkat didn't say a word with John handing it over like that. He sniffed at it. Definitely no human in this. Quickly, he took a chunk out of it with the fork and shoved it in his mouth.

"It's called pound cake. I think it's lemon flavored." John wiggled his feet a bit in anticipation. "The icing has lots of sugar! They kind of have to churn it like butter to make it. Most everyone likes it but I think it's gross."

John would have to wait. Karkat was pretty much in love right there. His eyes got a little big and the fork dangled form his mouth. Oh god it was like the human conception of Heaven in his mouth. Oh god. Oh god.

Long moments passed as John watched his friend carefully. Did he just short circuit or something? ".... Karkat?" He asked hesitantly, getting a little worried. Oh god, what if trolls were allergic to lemon? What if it made them really sick?

"John. How the fuck do you not appreciate this glorious work of art that is your dad's cake!?" Karkat hissed.

"Whaaat?" John was obviously taken aback. "Ew, you like it too? Gosh, what is it with everyone and loving that stuff?" Well, he guessed he was still a bit pleased. At least Karkat liked it! Even if it was icky.

"Because it's fucking divine, that's what is with everyone and their love of this..." Yeah, Karkat didn't find a good work to fill in the blank, so he stuffed his face full of cake instead.

The boy snickered, never having seen Karkat with that sort of expression before. It was almost like... well, he was acting his age. He was usually so stoic or angry looking. "Well I'm glad you like it?" He didn't sound completely convinced, as if it was impossible to imagine someone enjoying that cake. "I'll start pretending I like it then so I can give it to you later."

"Wouldn't that be a little suspicious?" the troll huffed, with the slightest pout. He wanted a little more. Maybe this was the reason that humans usually tasted so good. They at all this yummy stuff.

"Uh... I guess it would." John pondered for a moment, bringing a hand up to his chin, only to make a weird sound. Bluh! He got some of the icing on his hand. Now it was on his chin, too. Where was that handkerchief....

Karkat's eyes slid over. There was frosting on John. More importantly, there was frosting left. It made his tongue wet with absolute need. Karkat just stared, fighting the urge to tackle John. Frosting. Deliciously sweet frosting. Lickable sugary goodness was just inches away from him. Taunting him!

The boy shuffled around through the bag with his clean hand, only to stop soon after, feeling something weird. Like someone was watching hi-- ..... he turned his head to the side, looking a bit confused once he saw Karkat staring at him. ".... Uh, what?" For some reason this made him a little uncomfortable.

That was it. Karkat lunged again, this time aiming for one thing. Frosting. Like with the meat before, he was going to be quick about this. Or so he thought. The troll snagged the boy's wrist, bringing the hand away from the bag. No cloth was going to wipe away what the troll wanted and the troll wanted to taste that sweet, sweet nectar on his tongue again. Of course, that meant he was licking John's chin.

Okay, so maybe this wasn't going to be quick at all.

The hand was next, as soon as his tongue snagged the icing on John's face. It was so hard not to just suck a little, to ensure that he got all the sweetness. While he didn't do so to John's face... Karkat certainly was doing that with the human's hand. Purring.

It wasn't his fault John tensed - for a moment, he heard his heart stop when he felt the troll's slightly rough tongue on his skin. It was a little unnerving, alien, and ohgod he was pretty sure he felt fangs for a second there. His stomach did a weird topsy-turvy flip, blood pumping in his ears for reasons he was only beginning to actually comprehend, and he was sure he made a sort of pathetic whimper at one point.

And then... ohh no no, there were really sharp fangs in there and was his finger going to get bitten off? Not that he really honestly though Karkat would do something like that, but most everyone would flinch when a freaking knife got a little too close to an easily choppable appendage. He felt his breath hitch for a minute, that odd sensation returning of Karkat's tongue on his skin, and his stomach did a weird dance again, a little different this time. But he didn't get much of a chance to think about it, because Karkat's growling hit John's ears before he could form a coherent thought.

Wait, that wasn't a growl. It was softer, slower.... almost like a purr. The boy gulped and finally opened his eyes, not even noticing he winced them shut in the first place. Whoa, was the troll really purring? It sure sounded like it. "Uhm," He bit his lip, feeling his cheeks burn pink. Uh, okay. Maybe this was a normal troll thing? "Kar.... kat?"

The troll was in his own little world for the moment. Then John's voice pierced his brief hazy happiness. His eyes slid up to the human and oh god. He realized what this probably looked like. Karkat dropped what he was doing and jumped from John like he had been burned. Cheeks almost a bright cherry red ( thank god for the darkness of night ), Karkat felt no greater shame.

"Fuck! Sorry! I wasn't trying to eat you, I swear!"

“I-I know that!" Even with that protest, his voice still shook a bit, complexion probably just a tad paler than normal, though under that blush it might not have really been that noticeable. "It's okay, r-really!" Oh god, his voice was failing him. Stop stuttering, idiot! Karkat already looked so guilty, and he knew that wasn't why he was jumped in the first place. "I just got s-startled a bit, that's all. I'm, uh, not sure I can really help it." Oh yeah, that sounded good. Great job, Egbert.

“Yeah..." was the only thing the troll muttered. He was convinced that he scared John. Nothing would change that.

The boy looked crestfallen. He didn't want Karkat to feel bad! Besides, he wasn't startled because it was Karkat. And, well... something kind of told him he didn't really dislike the fact that Karkat felt comfortable enough to do something like that in the first place. It certainly was a weird epiphany, coming from a human.

"Hey," He sat back up straight, thankful his voice didn't stutter that time. With a little scoot closer over to the troll, he looked directly at his friend with determined blue eyes. "I'm serious, alright? I was just... it's cause you almost never initiate contact much. Just caught me off guard. You didn't scare me or anything you dope."

Karkat bit his lip a little. He wanted to believe John's words. Really, he did. There just wasn't really another explanation of why John would react like that. "I think... I think you shouldn't get any frosting on you."

He needed a subject change. Bad.

John chuckled a bit at that, honestly amused. "Pfft, Karkat." He reached up, pulling at the troll's cheek in an attempt to cheer him up. "It was just frosting. Besides, not like I care if you sneak a few tastes or anything."

Oh, he felt his ears burn after saying that. That did not sound as bad in his head!

He glared a bit at his cheek being pulled. What was the use? Karkat swatted the hand away, missing the perverse undertone that comment could have had. He was really too busy beating him up inside. What Karkat was really worried about wasn't actually John being afraid of him. It was John figuring out that he had a serious pity crush on the boy.

One that was not going away no matter how hard he tried.

"It's deadly is what it is!"

The boy blinked, retreating his hand once it was shoved away. "What is?"

"That cake! It's so sugary sweet that it's fucking addicting or some shit," the troll huffed, scooting back to his original spot.

John couldn't help but really bust out laughing at that, having to actually hold his stomach. "Oh -- oh my god Karkat, you... you..." He chortled, rubbing at one of his eyes. "There is no word for what you are! Hehe!"

The troll really did frown this time. "John! What the fuck! Don't fucking laugh at me!"

"I can't... help it!" The boy really did try to stop laughing, but to no avail. "I'm sorry, it's just.... for some reason a troll getting addicted to my dad's shitty baking is one of the most hilarious things ever!"

With another growl he tackled John. It wasn't malicious or the like, but Karkat did not like being laughed at. At all.

John let out another yelp this time, but it was quickly covered up by more giggles, the boy's hands shoving themselves on Karkat's face. "Oof! Gettoff!" He wriggled his legs, squirming, and yet he still couldn't stifle his laughter. It wasn't fair - it was even funnier when Karkat reacted like this!

Oh how sweet was revenge. Well, the closest he'll probably ever get to revenge, anyway.

There were hands on his face. One still faintly smelled of creamy icing. Of course there was only one natural reaction to someone putting their hand on one's face. Karkat licked the offending appendage, trying to tickle John with his hands. Sure, he was on top of the boy, but like hell that mattered. Karkat wasn't thinking like that. All he cared about was his revenge.

Oh, gross. "Eeeww Karkat stop germing me up!" John snorted, immediately retracting his hand at the feel of the troll's tongue. "You -- AH!" He tried his best to bite back a peal of laughter the second he felt fingers on his sides. He did his best to squirm even more, now trying to crawl away at the same time. "I -- I thought -- FFFF STOP IT! Leggo --I thought you wanted me to stop la- LAFFFF-- KARKAT!"

Nope. Karkat was not stopping. He pretty much became dead weight on top of his human friend. The troll was going nowhere and tickling fast and furiously. "You wanted to laugh. Now I'm fucking giving you a reason to fucking laugh."

"Okayokaystoppit-- PFFF" The boy desperately tried to move, but to no avail. Damn it, that wasn't fair! Trolls were a lot stronger than humans! He had to -- oh no no no not the stomach --

John had to slap a hand over his mouth as a downright girlish squeal came out, his feet kicking furiously. His eyes were now watering pretty bad, red in the face already. In a last ditch effort, he tried tickling Karkat back, hands only able to reach the troll's sides just above his hips.

"Are you seriously trying this shit? I'm not going to squeal like a schoolgirl, John," he grinned, all sharp teeth and golden eyes. His hands didn't still at all, though he was always careful not to claw the human up.

"Not-- fffFF NOT FAIRR!!" John giggled, forcing himself a few inches off the ground, fingers moving northward in a desperate attempt to graze the area just below his arms. If he wasn't ticklish there, then --

Wait, whoa. What was that? It was like there were bumps under the fabric or something.

The troll stilled. His... Fuck!

Karkat scrambled to get off of the human. It was messy and clumsy. The troll succeeded in falling on his ass, screaming profanities in both troll and human tongues. This was not something he needed John to explore. Karkat was already trying to get further away from John. Further away from his guaranteed disgusted look.

John's wide eyes and confused expression wasn't actually from what he felt under his fingers; it was how Karkat reacted to being touched there. He expected a laugh, a growl, anger or even indifference, but not.... cowering. Yeah, that was probably a close enough word.

"Karkat?" The human got up, propping himself with his hands as he watched the troll continue to further the distance between them. "What's wrong? I'm sorry, did I hurt something?"

"No!" The troll protested, straightening himself up. He was not going to give the human another reason to look at him with such eyes.

Yes, the touch startled him. The truth was, that particular area of his body was still a bit sore from having being in the water. Those muscles still ached to be used, after all. To deny them the privilege of working as they should was just as exhausting as actually allowing them to do what they did naturally. Karkat also had a few less than pleasant memories about others discovering that nice little mutation...

Those instances held some of the reasons behind why Karkat loathed water to the degree he did. They also helped instill a slight fear of salt water in particular in him as well. When he was just trying to figure out how to swim as a young troll, not too many appreciated his little mutation. Good thing for Karkat that his Lusus found him before it had been too late...

John was taken aback by the rather curt reply. He wanted to follow the troll, but he stayed where he was, not wanting to overstep any boundaries - though it seemed he may have already. "What.... is this about what was under your shirt...?"

Karkat cringed. So he really did notice. Perhaps he was lucky that John didn't realize what exactly it was that he was feeling. A bit of relief swept through the troll, mixed in with hope. There was a way to get around this! "You didn't feel shit, John."

"Okay, now I know that's what it was." He cracked a tiny smile for a moment, but it faded quickly. The boy got to his feet, taking a few steps towards his friend with a hesitant look, concerned about whatever it was that could make Karkat shrink back like this. "Were they scars...?"

He thought over what should be his next answer. No, John didn't know what he felt. Scars were a silly assumption, considering that there were six, three on each side. They were symmetrical with his body as well. What sort of person would have scars like that? It was fucking stupid, but Karkat clung to that one little straw.

"And if they were? It's fucking life," Karkat huffed, not moving from his spot. Oh, he would if John made any sudden moves.

John frowned, taking the opportunity to close the distance between them, crouching down on his knees about arms length away from the troll. "If it's life... then why are you so upset right now? You think I'll think less of you if you have scars or something?"

Karkat didn't exactly respond. He just sort of looked away. Actually, it was pretty spot on, exception to the fact that no, they were not scars on his sides. "I'm not upset. You fucking surprised me."

Falling silent for a moment, John lowered his gaze to think. He /really/ wanted to know what was making Karkat so upset, but if his friend didn't want to talk about it, it was kind of mean to force it. "Look, Karkat." He spoke again, looking directly at the troll. "I don't know /why/ you got so surprised.... but you know you can tell me anything, right?" Wow, that was so cliche it almost burned. "There's no way I could judge you. You're my /friend/. But if you want me to drop it, I will."

The troll bit his lip, worrying at it a little. He did just John, mostly. Karkat, deep down, knew that the human wouldn't judge him for his faults. His mutations. It was just simply not easy for Karkat to openly talk about this stuff. Feelings were not something the troll expressed to anyone, which was why his potential redrom failed so miserably. He was far too insecure.

"Maybe another day," Karkat finally replied, lying through his teeth. "It's just not fucking easy and I don't need your pitiful fucking face looking at me like that."

The boy let out a small sigh, giving the troll an understanding smile. "Alright." He replied quietly. "I won't bring it up again, okay?"

He breathed out a little. God. Why did it always end up this way? "Fine."

"Hey, don't look like that you dork." John grinned, leaning over to slide his arms around the trolls shoulders, pulling him into a hug. He'd done it enough times by now, so hopefully Karkat wouldn't feel threatened by it.

Karkat Vantas didn't feel threatened by the hug. It was just he didn't hug back, though he might have leaned into it slightly. He didn't know anymore. The embrace might have brought him comfort but he was far too busy reveling in self loathing. Fucking things up seemed to be his specialty, in every possible way. Karkat screwed up relationships of all kinds. He knew what a failure he was. John didn't...

John didn't need to know it either. Karkat was determined that the human would not know all there was to know about trolls and how things worked. He would let him in on the small things, but the bigger picture? No. John was a boy that was relatively sheltered. Karkat sort of liked that about him: his optimistic nature. The troll really didn't want to crush that sort of spirit. It was what made John unique and rather compelling to be around. That quality also made Karkat's pumping organ beat faster when proximities were being invaded.

He didn't know about John, but he was all right with staying this way the rest of the night. However, Karkat knew that John had to go back earlier than normal this time. For whatever reason, the human had snuck out. That did not pass through Karkat's perceptive abilities. Nope. He realized it and after about another hour, he stole the lantern and blew it out, effectively forcing John to go back.

Naturally, Karkat led the way back to the caravan. At first, John slipped and fell quite a bit. Eventually Karkat got so pissy about it, that he just snagged the boy's hand to make it back without leaving a bloody trail. Of course the hand holding did have some effect on the troll's cheeks, but his mild irritation about how the night went sort of killed his nerves and the full sensation of keeping that hand in his own.

When they reached the wagons, Karkat stopped just outside of the sentry points. He wouldn't be spotted, but he wasn't going to entirely risk it. The troll didn't release John's captive palm immediately, but rather conveyed his slight paranoia about the other trolls catching up. They really did need to move at night at some point. Maybe three nights. The other trolls could be catching up with them any day now and Karkat wasn't quite ready for that.

After that was said and done, he watched the human go back to the wagon. In fact, he noticed which one John was heading for. Karkat memorized the details as best as he could in the darkness and from the distance. It was the closest he was going to get to these humans, after all. Perhaps... No. Not even Karkat could risk sneaking in a wagon...

With a grumbling sigh, he rubbed at his sides. It was time to wash up and clean up the areas he and John were at. No sense in the trolls noticing the mixture of human scent and troll scent together...

Chapter Text

It wasn't easy talking to his father in the morning, since John wasn't on sentry duty. As best he could, he tried to stress how he just had this 'feeling', how he was getting progressively restless. He brought up a few things Dad already knew - the trolls were stronger, with much more stamina, and could move quicker on their feet. Dad questioned just when John suddenly got the interest in learning more about the trolls, but his son was able to easily cover it up due to them being tracked. Knowledge it half the battle, right?

Everyone was tired. Days of constant walking wasn't something they were used to; they grew a bit lazy, a bit too comfortable without having prying eyes constantly at their backs for years. If anything, a few of them asked if they could slow down a bit more, at which John nearly became frantic.

"He's right you know," Rose finally spoke up, taking John's side. "If the trolls truly were that close to our camp to begin with, there is little doubt they're already at our heels. And you've said so yourself, chieftain - our John does have quite the remarkable gift with hunches. If we make haste, we could lose them within a week, don't you think?"

The boy sighed in relief and gave the blonde-haired girl an eternally grateful smile. It was a tough decision, risking such a daring feat as a three day continuous trek. The horses might get overworked, and they'd be like fish in a barrel.

But Dad finally agreed. They had everyone get on their feet, with little exceptions - even the youngest of their children were to be carried and not have the luxury of riding in one of the wagons. They dumped more of their less essential food in the next river they passed, hoping it'd make it downstream before the trolls could potentially cross their path and find out which way they were heading. John grimaced as Dad threw the last of the cake he was saving - but not before sneaking a handful for Karkat. The troll would have to make do without the overly-sweet treat, he supposed.

The first night was trouble. They had to constantly keep their reigns tightened on the horses as not to let them rest; they too had grown accustomed to frequent stops - but as long as the humans could stay on their feet, so would they. Exhaustion was already nipping at their feet and arms, but they pressed on. It was near torturous, and everyone began to become increasingly listless.

The third day, the older members began to trip up so much injuries were getting common. More and more people had to ride in the wagons again, and more people were actually contemplating breaking a leg just for a chance at rest. They even ate every meal while walking, making the most of out every minute. Sunset came, and though they did their best to make it through the night, the caravan stopped for a few hours to gather more fresh water at a meager stream. Children cried and whined and their caretakers did their best to hush them, telling them /just one more night/, and they could all rest.

Truth be told, John was almost crying as well - as was his sister. Their feet grew blisters and their legs burned with every step. Even the adults were starting to cave in, and that was hardly a good example for the youngest of the group. The moon was barely beginning to set and the caravan stopped, unable to take another step.

They made it.

They prayed it was enough to lose the trolls completely, prayed that they could camp there and sleep for an entire week. But no such luck - they'd have to start up again once the sun rose. Only after the next day would they get a full night's rest.

Even John was too exhausted to meet Karkat. He wanted to see his friend so badly that he actually attempted to grab his bag and make his way southward, but he tripped himself up and Jade ended up lugging him back to the beds, wondering why he was up in the first place. The boy gave the best excuse he could - nature called - but the minute he hit that soft fur pelt over the plush grass, he was out cold.

The next night was better. While he was once again unable to make sentry duty, the boy successfully crept out undetected a few hours after everyone else fell asleep. He was still tired too, but he preferred sleeping next to Karkat if he had a choice. And that's what he did for the most part when they reunited; a tight hug, a few stories, and the frail human boy was out light a light again, clinging to his friend's jacket.

The days began to run together, but the nights continued to be memorable. John ended up showing Karkat how they would set traps for rabbits and squirrels, how to pick out which berries were good, which ones were best in treats like pies, and which ones sent you to the nearest bush for the next three hours with abysmal stomach pain. He was even able to snag a few leather pouches for Karkat to store any meat he might have the chance at nabbing himself while he followed the caravan.

And that... may have been one of the most remarkable parts.

Nearly a week passed after the three day trek, and Karkat was as well as ever. Perhaps even a little better, with a bit more energy. He wasn't starving nor was he showing any signs of sickness, nothing wrong with his digestion or anything. No losing teeth, no lackluster hair, nothing. It was as if nothing changed – and something did. Not once in over a week did Karkat consume an ounce of human flesh.

The revelation was an astounding one. John was overjoyed almost to the point of happy tears, clinging to his friend despite the protests, all sorts of giddy words at the edge of his lips. It was possible. Karkat was going to be fine, he wasn't going to starve to death or die of malnutrition, and he didn't have to feed that gnawing guilt in his chest with having to eat the same thing his human friend was made of.

There was a tiny hope, one John uttered in a small tone one night, muffled and embarrassed. He was pretty sure Karkat didn't even hear him – but he meant every word. Perhaps.... one day, it wouldn't be so farfetched to believe that there was a chance Karkat and John could live together. In his caravan, even. Like one big dopey family. The idea made him grin like an idiot, and when Karkat asked what the hell was in his damn thinkpan this time, he just laughed and shrugged it off. It was still a wild dream. But it was a dream John kept clinging to and he'd never let go.

He and the troll grew even closer as the nights went by. Nothing truly remarkable happened between them or anything – the time they spent together was actually relatively mundane. A few games here and there, a few small secrets shared, a few awkward moments and times they both sat in silence, enjoying each other's presence. Karkat became a part of John's life, perhaps his closest friend – and he'd known Dave and Rose almost his whole life. There was just something there between Karkat and him that was... different. A few nights he would think about it and find his cheeks burning for some weird otherworldly reason, and at times... he probably thought about it too much. He'd begin to recall all the wrong scenes at all the wrong times.

Like that night he felt Karkat's tongue on his skin, warm and wet; his touch soft and gentle, so contrary to his entire species.

Yeah, he embarrassed the hell out of himself. Why did that keep coming back to haunt him, especially at night? It was weird, and he was weird. John was starting to think that his thoughts were starting to stray just a little too far away from platonic friendship. Which was stupid and made no sense. Karkat was his best bro, a great friend, and he wasn't about to give that up just because his stupid brain liked to run away with weird thoughts whenever he fell asleep.

But John shrugged it off. Nothing bothered him for long, and even though those thoughts were starting to occur more and more, he didn't once show it. It was just an overactive imagination, anyway. That was all.

The past week he was able to get sentry duty once more – and it was abruptly taken away again after John overstayed his welcome. Again. Apparently, six hours was a bit too long. The boy ended up sulking a bit, complaining to Dave how he never got any of the cool jobs anymore. Which was of course, just a convenient way to let off some steam without anyone wondering why John Egbert was upset about not getting a job that took hours away from his sleep schedule.

It didn't stop him from sneaking out and night though, nosiree! And tonight was no exception. Once again, John waited a few hours to make everyone was fast asleep, before grabbing his pack and making his way through the sentry lines, undetected.

Karkat, on the other hand, slept the rest of the new moon away. It was an unnatural thing, but due to the physical demands that would soon be upon him, it was for the best. By the time morning came around, he was up and ready to go with the caravan. The troll was still a little paranoid, though. Hopefully John would be able to convince the humans, again, to move out and keep going. Relief was the only other emotion Karkat experienced as the humans did follow through. How John pulled these things off, the troll never asked. He didn’t feel as though he needed to. The internal conflict Karkat Vantas had been going through on if this was the right thing or not was ebbing away.

Part of it had to do with how the humans treated each other. Deep down, Karkat was a troll that actually cared. He cared far more than trolls normally did. Usually it was considered a sign of weakness in their society, one that Karkat covered up well with his constant seething and temper-tantrums. Naturally, his rage wasn’t something of an act that over the years became just a facet of his personality. Karkat Vantas was a guarded individual. He had to be. Yet these humans seemed to treasure qualities that trolls often would cull on sight for. They helped each other. They worked together in ways that were normally impossible for trolls. Even in his own unit, many of them didn’t get along and wouldn’t aid another in a time of need.

That was what Karkat observed over the last few nights. Even though they were crying and whining, which irritated the troll to no end, they were still determined. It was almost admirable, the way that they trekked on. Karkat didn’t like humans too well, but some respect slowly started to bloom for this weaker species. Perhaps it wasn’t too bad after all. If there were more like John, then perhaps... Well Karkat toyed with an idea one night, while the humans were by a stream. This time he was hunting, but not for human flesh. He actually managed to catch a little hopping furbeast. Cooking it took some effort on Karkat’s part, but the fact that he seemed to be digesting these types of meals well added fuel to his thoughts. He needed to consider what he would do in the future. Trolls and their ways were becoming less and less appealing to him, in some aspects. Karkat Vantas was a glorious troll and nothing would take that away from him. He craved violence and had the temper to go with. However, there was something nice to think about in attempting to join the caravan. There would be no fear of being culled amongst the humans, at least not for stupid reasons like blood color.

The more he thought about that, the more frustrated he became. It was impossible and he should stop thinking on those thoughts. Karkat would be killed on sight. He knew that, even as he pulled out one of John’s books to read for the remaining time before the caravan took off once more.

Time slowly seemed to matter less and less to Karkat. On the night that the humans finally stopped, he also slept. The troll caught John trying to escape, but the boy was too tired. He was irritated that the idiot would even think about coming out that night. Karkat also had that conflicting emotion stirring in his blood pumping organ over the human still wanting to come out despite his tired state. That was why the troll didn’t mind John sleeping on him the following night. Since John needed it, and Karkat was close by there was no reason for the troll to be irritated. In fact, he tried to sleep as well. However, the proximity of John sort of made Karkat blush at the thought and give up altogether. So the troll ended up reading, the only guilty pleasure he allowed himself was running his claws through John’s hair softly. The human would be none the wiser. Karkat never got the chance to tell John that the chalk he had been using to mark the way the humans went broke off, both halves unusable. The other trolls would now have to rely on old tracking methods...

Perhaps that was why Karkat felt less paranoid during the next few days. He was being taught things that he already knew, but never really applied to them as trolls. Karkat was a bit clumsy at first, but then slowly started to get a knack for the traps and hunting down of berries, with John’s help. He realized the importance of this, since food was going to be a problem. John wouldn’t always be able to sneak their rations away from the wagons and the troll didn’t want John getting caught in the act of feeding a troll. Besides, some of Karkat’s pride was on the line. That sparked an argument or two. He was a troll. Karkat could take care of himself and he didn’t need to be fed like some stray animal trailing behind in hopes of scraps.

John was also excited about it since it meant that Karkat didn’t have to eat humans. The boy hugged the troll and was just far too clingy for the troll to be okay with, considering the blush that was threatening his cheeks. To be fair, the troll heard the mumbles that came out of John’s mouth. He pretended not to, since he wasn’t so sure it was really a possibility. Karkat snapped at John instead, and just enjoyed the embrace he was being graced with. In fact, the troll even gave the human a pat on the back. Maybe two.

What did get Karkat occasionally upset was the fact John didn’t listen to him when it was time to go back. They definitely had just bonded to the point where Karkat bit and snapped at him less for stupid things. Now he was getting on John’s case about more important matters. Sleep was important for humans and Karkat would harp on John for staying out too late with him. He knew that was why he was being taken off of that sentry duty. It didn’t take a genius to figure that out. Sneaking out was fine with Karkat, but the troll still didn’t want John to get caught. They were lucky so far, and John shouldn’t be so quick to keep tempting the inevitable from occurring. Of course this was just one touchy subject for the troll, one that John just always smiled at and shook his head, like the human had no fear in the world.

Tonight, Karkat saw John sneaking out again. He rolled his eyes and took off to meet up with the stupid kid. Karkat didn’t catch the additional human male watching from a different wagon...

Dave Strider was an awesome and cool sort of guy. Bro was the worst best guardian, as far as he was concerned. They sparred and fought, which Dave believed to be one of the reasons as to why they were some of the best at wielding swords in the caravan. Things were pretty smooth sailing, at least that was how Dave remembered it growing up. It was almost boring really, how routine never really changed. Yet the last month maybe was different. His best friend came back, all hyper and yelling about trolls in the mountains, being tracked down.

To put it bluntly, Dave didn’t buy it.

He went along with John and his strange new obsession with sentry duty. His best bro was no longer afraid of that sort of thing? Something happened out there and while Dave wanted to know, he didn’t press the matter. Why should he? If John wanted to talk about it, he would. As Egbert’s best friend, there was no reason to pester him about something stupid like that. Men were there for each other, if need be. Cool guys also didn’t wear their emotions on their sleeves. John knew Dave would be there for him, anyway.

It was a little worrying, how John suddenly knew so much about trolls. Even though his Dad seemed to be all right with all this new information, and accepting John’s explanations, Dave wasn’t. He had his suspicions, noticing how John wouldn’t eat everything given to him on some nights. Speaking of nights, the blonde also caught how often John was sneaking out. While Rose or Jade would have perhaps went out to catch him, Dave didn’t bother. Whatever John was doing, he felt it was important to risk his safety. John also came back every time with a dopey smile on his face and pretty much okay. So what did it matter?

One night though, Dave got a little curious. As soon as he watched John leave the wagon, thinking he wasn’t going to get caught, the younger Strider decided it was time to figure out just what was going on. Mostly, it was to confirm if his suspicions were valid or not.

Dave Strider was pretty much convinced that his best friend was hanging out with trolls.

As per usual, John found his way through the sentry lines with practiced skill, footsteps as light as he could possibly manage. He couldn't wait to tell Karkat how he read three chapters of the Alternian book he was given, even though it took him nearly two days to do it. He was getting better and better at it though! The boy slowed his pace a bit once he couldn't see the caravan any longer, waiting for the troll to meet him. He just hoped Karkat wouldn't sneak up on him again.

No, Karkat didn't feel the need to sneak up on John again. The troll was just a touch excited. He wouldn't admit it as John came into view. Karkat just stepped out, enough for John to see him. Now he never waved, never really said a word. Karat just stood there, and sort of braced himself for the hug that was inevitably going to occur.

Since the boy was carefully watching his feel while maneuvering through a mess of tree roots, it took him a bit to realize Karkat was just ahead, waiting for him quietly. But the moment John looked up and saw that familiar dark figure, he broke into a run, arms wrapping around the troll's shoulders tightly once he made it to his friend. "Hey Karkat!"

He let John have his way went it came to this hugging thing. Sometimes John would have a return hug. Tonight, Karkat didn't give one back, seeing how his arms were pretty much trapped at his sides because of the dorky kid and all of his clinging. "Sneaking out again, huh?"

"Hehe, yup." The boy grinned, somehow proud with that statement. "I'm getting real good at it, too. I feel like a ninja or something."

"You're going to get fucking caught is what you're going to end up doing," the troll hissed, wiggling a bit to get the human off of him.

John just giggled, giving Karkat one last squeeze before letting him go. "Are you kidding? Everyone's totally knocked out. Most of us are really hard sleepers after we have to walk all day."

Karkat put a hand on John's shoulder, pushing a bit to get them both to sit down. "The normal shit stains aren't the ones I'm worried about, idiot."

"Eh?" He blinked, sitting down just as Karkat urged him to. What was this about, really? "The normal ones? Don't worry Karkat, I'm being extra careful!"

"The sentries? Your parent?" Karkat just threw out there.

Oh, those. "I said I'm being careful." The boy replied a bit sheepishly, a hint of a pout forming at his lips. "What's with you all of the sudden? Even if someone did find me, you'd probably hear them coming from a mile away anyway."

He sighed, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "That's not the point! You're you, John, and that means you can be a pretty clumsy fuck."

That frown grew a bit, a small, embarrassed blush forming on John's cheeks. "Well it's not like I'm gonna stop sneaking out. I wanna hang out with you."

"Oh believe me, I know," he huffed, already leaning towards John's bag. "You're an obvious little fuckass."

No, not this time. This time, John snatched his bag away, holding it protectively and quite stubbornly at his chest. He glared weakily at the troll - his glares hardly ever really meant anything anyway. "Why do I get the sneaking suspicion that you were just insulting me?"

The troll glared a little at the human. "Sharp as a fucking tack, aren't you?"

Okay, now that frown turned into an all-out pout, bag clutched tightly in his hands. "Well fine then." He closed his eyes for a moment, turning on the sass. "I guess you don't want the smoked deer meat we cooked with that seasoning you like so much."

"You are a heartless little bulgestain, John," the troll huffed. He leaned away, crossing his arms over his chest. "You just fucking love kicking me in the bulge."

"I don't get many chances to do it, so, yeah." A smug grin.

"You fucking manage to pull it off every goddamned night!" Karkat growled, just a little.

"Hehe~" John giggled. "Consider it payback then! It's never fair you get to sneak up on me so easy or hold me down and tickle me till I nearly suffocate, dude. You cheat anyways."


"Being stronger and being able to see in the dark and stuff, obviously."

He lightly shoved the human. "It's not cheating when it's given to me fucking naturally, fuckass."

John lightly shoved back, grinning just a bit, even though he was trying not to. No, he was upset! Totally upset. He was so good at acting. "It's totally cheating. We both know if the playing field was even, I'd sooooo beat you every time."

"Oh you fucking would not. You couldn't even beat a little cub furbeast and you fucking know it," Karkat snorted.

"I totally could!" The boy put his fists up, as if his skinny arms were any good at an offensive posture. "Not that I would. Who'd hurt a defensless little cub?"

"I was talking about a kitten, moron.:

"Ah! That's even worse!" The boy frowned, suddenly looking quiet sympathetic for this imaginary kitten in question. They had a few cats with their caravan that would tag along for scraps of food, and they were soooo cute. One kind of reminded him of Karkat, with the noises it'd make. He smirked to himself just imagining the similarities, not bothering to give the troll any sort of context with his thoughts.

"Kittens are fucking delicious, John," the troll said with a poker face. Was he telling the truth?

John gave the troll a look of absolute horror. Just, horror.

Karkat looked over and shrugged his shoulders. He was lying, of course. However, he was going to let John think on that for a moment.

"But... but they're so cute!" John stared at him in disbelief, before glaring at him outright, pointing a finger that almost touched the troll's nose. "Bad Karkat!"

Those eyes focused on the finger, going slightly cross eyed. Then they traveled up to John's face. "What the fuck do I look like? One of your fucking bloodhounds?

"That doesn't matter, you don't eat kittens! They're cute and nice and they keep mice away from our rations." He really was trying his best to keep up a disgruntled expression, but it broke when he snickered again. "And they remind me of you."

He wanted to say something about the being cute and nice part. However Karkat was fixated on the comment that came after. How the hell was he anything like a cat? He bared his fangs at the human, almost sneering."What the ever loving fuck do you mean by that?"

"Hehe," John giggled a bit, both amused at the mental image and the fact that it seemed to rub Karkat the wrong way. That was a compliment, wasn't it? The troll always took those in a rather odd way. "Because they growl and hiss and purr like you do! And we have this tabby that has your eyes, and I swear she glares at us sometimes with your expression. It's so adorable."

"Take it back or I will fucking make you! I'm not cat like-at all!" he hissed, irritation rising.

"Pfft -- see?" John giggled even more, a hand going to his stomach and his smile widened. "You hiss just like a cat! C'mon, it's a compliment, Karkitty. I mean Karkat!"

With that, Karkat growled. He jumped the human teenager, completely intent on showing that idiot just how much like a cat he wasn't. Okay, so maybe he purred. He growled and hissed. Those things didn't mean anything and John was just out of his fucking mind.

John screamed - he normally did, but when he was expecting Karkat to go for him, the scream was rather quiet and not that heartfelt. First line of defense, shove at the troll's shoulders; though that only normally lasted for a few moments before Karkat was able to push him back onto the ground. The troll was making all sorts of catlike noises, and it was so cute and hilarious, John simply could not wipe that grin off his face. "Ow, stoppit! Fff, Karkat you're not -- not really helping your argument!" He giggled.

Karkat didn't care. He pinned the human down. A wicked grin spread across his face, teeth all white and gleaming in the dim light. "If you're going to fucking associate me with a cat, maybe I should fucking start acting like one."

"But you -- hehe - you already do!" John snickered, but, uh... that grin Karkat was wearing was a little disconcerting. Those fangs made him suppress a shudder, one that made him a little frustrated because damn it he couldn't control it. "What are you gonna do, lick your leg now?"

Instead of answering, he leaned down. Karkat licked John along the cheek, leaving a wet trail in its wake.

A week ago, such an act probably would have made the poor boy freeze with a nervous wince, the thought of those teeth so close to his skin, not to mention how awkward it was. A boy licking another boy was, um. A little weird, right?

But this time, John was tensing up for a few different reasons. A blush stained his cheeks and ohgod he hoped Karkat wouldn't see, but then again his face was feeling so hot right now how could he not see it? His heart beat a million miles a minute, pounding in his chest and ears. He sort of almost hoped Karkat would translate all those reactions as fear. At least he could blame that on stupid human biology. Not his fault!

"K-Kar...?" He didn't even get the last part of that name out. His fingers gripped the troll's shoulder just a bit harder, desperately trying to cover up the stutter in his voice. "Gross, Karkat! Ewww!"

The troll didn't notice. He truly did believe that the human was just reacting out of disgust and in a playful manner. Karkat would never have thought John to be reacting otherwise. That being the case, no, he didn't stop. John wasn't strong enough to push him up, after all!

John pushed harder, his legs kicking in futile. In a last ditch effort, he shoved a hand at the trolls face, grimacing from the feel of ew saliva and it was probably gonna get on his hands now. "Gettooooooooofff!" He could barely suppress a giggle.

Dave spent too much time wandering around, having lost sight of John for about a minute. The derp really did know how to hide when he needed to, Dave would give him that. However, he knew he was close when he heard voices talking. He ducked down, staying out of sight and hopefully downwind. If there was a troll involved, it would be able to hear and or smell him coming. Dave had a blade ready, in case he would need it as well.

As the noises grew louder, he definitely made out John. There were two as he got closer still, the second voice a little grittier than John's. It didn't sound older than them, but who knew? Dave certainly didn't know who this second person was, and the two were coming into view.

Now what one Dave Strider didn't expect was to see a troll and his friend. Actually, he thought he would, but just not like this. Was that troll on top of his friend... Licking him? Biting? Well there was a little of that, but no blood. Dave's hand was on his sword, ready to jump out and help his friend when he noticed the giggling.

Oh. Oh.

And he thought John Egbert didn't swing that way.

This was now a little uncomfortable to watch. It was like he was intruding on something sacred. Something that the likes of Dave Strider was not meant to actually see.

He so needed to crash this party.

Without any further thought, Dave stepped out of his hiding spot. "I though I told you not to feed the trolls, Egbert."

John's persistent giggling ended rather abruptly.

He froze entirely, head turning to the side with panic rising in his chest, face going pale. He knew that voice, he knew it and ohgod please don't let it be true -- "D-Dave?!"

John wasn't the only one going into panic mode. Karkat froze, claws digging a little bit in John's shoulders. He felt the blood in his veins turn ice cold. The troll didn't dare look over. Instead he was just beating himself up. This looked bad. Oh god, just oh god. He was going to die. Karkat was going to die because it looked like he was attacking the human that he sort of had a thing for. Just fuck!

Dave, on the other hand, watched. It was pretty amusing, actually. His face betrayed nothing. He only rose a hand up in the air. "'Sup."

"Wh-wha-" John babbled, eyes wide and face still rather pale. The only thing registering in his mind was oh god someone found them. "What are you doing here Dave?! Auugh, Karkat get off!" Another rough shove.

Karkat obediently made his way off of John. His mind was reeling. Half of him wanted to make a run for it. The other half wanted to just kill this human friend of John's. However, Karkat knew that wasn't really an option. John would be upset and that would leave the troll without one friend in the world. He wouldn't be able to handle that...

The human's friend just strugged. "What are you doing here?"

"Ah, ahhhhhh--!" John's mind spun as he quickly got to his feet, hands up feeling like they needed to do something but they ended up just hanging in the air rather pathetically. "This, uhm! This isn't what it looks like!" Yeah, there totally isn't a troll here! Nope!

"Not here to judge, bro," Strider said.

All the while, Karkat was trying to slip out. He wasn't afraid, but the troll didn't want any part of this conversation. Hopefully... The two humans wouldn't take notice of him now.

"You... what?" Okay, John and Dave were probably about as close as best friends could get, but.... he was not expecting that. Dave was cool and he rarely ever flipped his shit or anything but, this sort of reaction didn't really compute. "Aren't you, uh... hey, Karkat! Where are you going?" Don't leave me here alone!

The troll froze with a groan. "Oh come the fuck on! This shit's between you two. I fucking told you that you'd get fucking caught!"

"That's not fair!" John whimpered, feeling like he was being backed into a corner. He hesitantly turned towards Dave, a nervous smile on his face. "Dave, can you uh... just pretend you didn't see anything? Ahehe..."

"Can't do that, Egbert" Dave said with a shrug.

"See!" Karkat protested with a hiss.

John winced at Karkat's hiss; yeah, that was salt in an already gaping wound now. "Dave, please." He begged again, closing the distance between him and Dave with a few steps, though he was still at more of a distance than usual. "Karkat's different from all those other trolls! He's really not interested in eating us, honest!"

A blonde brow rose high. "I don't recall saying I was going to tattle on you. Best bros don't do that, man."

Karkat's ears perked up. This Dave wasn't going to say anything. His eyes narrowed, teeth bared. "What's the fucking catch?"

"Hey, troll," the blonde replied. "Not talking to you, so take the back seat.:

Despite Karkat's skeptic growl, John couldn't help but smiling at Dave, hope and relief budding in his chest. "Really? Oh gosh Dave, I should have known you'd be too cool for that!"

Dave didn't smile. "Obviously since you were coming back every night, alive and kicking, then your boy friend over there was harmless."

"I'm not fucking harmless you piece of shit!" Karkat growled.

John turned to give Karkat a rather incredulous look. "Karkat, that did not help!"

"Like I fucking care!" he shot back at John. Karkat was starting to hate this Dave Strider already.

"Well you should," John frowned, troubled that Karkat's temper was starting to flare up at one of the worst possible times. The boy turned back to Dave, suddenly feeling... very unsure about all of this after that initial relief. "Really Dave, he's.... mostly all bark no bite. He's really a nice guy."

"I'll take your word for it, Egderp," the blonde human said as Karkat grew silent.

The troll was kind of stuck. He didn't trust this Dave at all. In fact, even his scent just irritated Karkat. Even though he wasn't growling, his posture was very aggressive. The only thing keeping him from jumping the blonde was that John was right there.

John cracked another smile, though he was still not entirely sure how to react to all of this. It wasn't like they could all just forget this ever happened. "Um, so..." He put his hands together, fingers kneading a bit nervously. What was he supposed to say? Thanks Dave, you can go now because I reeeally want some alone time with my troll friend who just just licking my face a few minutes ago?

Oh god. That didn't even occur to him. If Dave really wasn't all that concerned about Karkat being a troll, then was he.... did he maybe take that whole scene the wrong way? Oh no. No no no, that won't work because John Egbert is not a homosexual. He blushed a bit just thinking about it.

"So, I'm going to let you explain why we're now licking friends with a troll."

Karkat shifted around uncomfortably. Were they really going to have to go through the awkward embarrassment of retelling the tale of how they met?

"Haha, w-well see," John blushed even more, trying perhaps just a little too desperately to explain the whole misunderstanding - not to mention completely forgetting that Dave probably wanted to hear more about how they met in the first place. "I was poking fun at Karkat and told him he was like a cat, and... he was just spiting me, is all. I mean, I kind of deserved it, hehe!"

"John," Dave tried again. "I don't care why you're slobbering over each other and playing tonsil hockey. What ever bleats your ironic goat."

This time it was Karkat slapping a hand over his forehead. "Well, Strider human... That fucking storm a few weeks ago just so happened to have us both taking shelter in the same goddamn cave."

"Yeah!" John jumped on that immediately, even though he so desperately wanted to say they weren't playing tonsil hockey. No way! "We, uh... kind of weren't able to see each other. I had no idea Karkat was a troll at first."

"And I was fucking temporarily blinded. Long story fucking short, I found him and decided to spare his miserable little squishy ass," the troll huffed, arms crossed.

"My ass isn't squishy." John pouted, voice really quiet as he gave Karkat a weak glare.

All right, cool. Dave mostly understood what was going on here. For some reason or another, the troll didn't want to kill John. Or, perhaps he wasn't able to. Whichever. It didn't matter either way. Since John wasn't in danger of becoming troll food, all was well. Strider also figured out this was the real reason behind how John knew so much.

"So where are these other trolls now?" That was the important part.

Karkat bit his lip. The truth was, he had no way of knowing where they were. He wasn't psychic or anything like that. Trolls didn't have tracking devices on them either. "I don't fucking know. They were having me follow you shitstains and gave me a way to mark the path. Unfortunately, that shit broke last week. I have no goddamn idea if they'll even find you guys now, but shit... They won't give up."

"Karkat was the one who advised us to go without stops for three days." John added, hoping that bit of information would help Karkat's image. "We probably would have been caught by now if we didn't do that."

"Two hours, Egbert," Dave finally decided. While he didn't care what John was doing as long as his friend was safe, getting caught wouldn't be cool either.

"Two...." John blinked, not sure he understood. "Oh. Wait, no way!" He clenched the hem of his tunic, shaking his head defiantly. "I only just got here! I'm not gonna stay just two hours.... we can have more time than that."

"Please," Karkat chimed in. "Take him."

"Wha--" John turned to Karkat with a clearly betrayed look. "Karkaaaat! I thought you liked hanging out with me!"

"I also have been trying to tell you that you need to be more fucking careful!" the troll seethed.

"You heard Karkitty, John. I don't want to get involved with some strange domestic violence case," Dave said

"But you're the only person to catch us, and you're not gonna tell anyone right? And besides, you... pffft - did you just call him Karkitty?" John had to put a hand over his mouth in an attempt to stifle his laughter.

"I'm going to fucking murder you in your sleep!" Karkat yelled, standing up.

"By licking me to death?"

John snorted rather loudly at Dave's question. "Oh come on, I think it's a cute nickname."

"Fuck you both sideways!"

"He purrs, too." John turned to Dave, looking just a bit to happy to share that bit of information.

"I fucking do not!" Karkat yelled, ready to bash his head on the ground or other hard surface.

"Again, bro. If that's how you like it."

"Hehe Karkat, calm down." John gave the troll a sheepish grin. "But really Dave, I'll be fine. I'll make it back before anyone notices, okay?"

Instead of answering, Dave simply looked at the troll. The troll looked back. If anything, there was a slight understanding in regards to John Egbert. Two hours. That was the time limit. Karkat would be sure to send him on his way in that time and Dave would be looking out for the boy. Really, the two didn't like each other at all. They both knew that.

However, Dave Strider was not going to tell John no. John was a man and could make his own choices. Since the troll, Kartits, was involved in those choices, he would just have to accept that. He did. Mostly. Karkat seemed pretty sincere where his best bro was concerned, so whatever. If it got too out of hand, then he could do something about that. For now, it seemed fine. The troll also seemed willing to be underhanded.

Dave might have fun annoying the shit out of him though.

Karkat, on the other hand, was seething. He hadn't hated anyone so much in a long time. There were few others that Karkat loathed more, himself included. The troll had serious tunnel vision going on. Nothing else besides the human named Dave really mattered. Even John was out of the picture for the full three seconds it took to speak with their eyes and posture. Then Dave started heading back and Karkat growled low, deep.

John spent that time watching both the troll and his best bro stare at each other, presumably having some sort of silent conversation for a series long, increasingly tense moments. The boy began to worry, kneading his hands together nervously as he half expected the two to start clawing at each other the air was so thick with tension. But Dave turned to leave, as cool and suave as ever, apparently immune to the intense glare Karkat was sending his way.

Why did Karkat not like Dave? Dave was so awesome! He was like, the coolest guy he knew. Next to Bro of course.

"Karkaaaaaaat!" John pouted, folding his arms in front of his chest with a huff. He didn't like this one bit! "I get the feeling you don't like Dave."

Two golden eyes slid over to John. Karkat snorted, punctuated with a hiss. "Not everything is fucking rainbows and sunshine."

“That's not cool dude, Dave's my best bro!" The boy frowned. "And he just promised he wouldn't tell anyone about you. He's a great guy!" Really, he wasn't that upset. But it did make him a bit sad.

"You're friends don't have to be mine, fuckass," Karkat snapped, taking a moment to get comfortable again.

Karkat was right, but.... man, that really hurt. He liked both Dave and Karkat so much, it was such a downer to see that they didn't like each other. John gazed at the ground, obviously sad at the turn of events. What if Karkat didn't like his sister, or his dad? Not that he'd probably even meet them.

But he supposed the more important thing was that Dave didn't seem to mind Karkat. At least, he hoped. Dave was pretty good at hiding his emotions.

"I know." John finally spoke. "I guess I just hoped you two would be buddies like we are."

"What you want and what you get are two different fucking things in the end. There's a life lesson for you," the troll grumbled.

"Not always." The boy frowned a bit, voice still a little softer than normal. Ugh, he needed to get over it. Besides, maybe Dave and Karkat just needed to warm up to each other! And if not, well.... John really can't expect everyone to like all his friends. People were different! Even trolls. "But if you growl at my sister like that, you're in a whole mess of trouble!" He tried glaring, but the smirk on his face gave away the fact that he was kidding around. Well, mostly.

Karkat's ears dropped a little. Was John really all that worked up over something so simple as potential hate at first sight? Well Karkat wasn't exactly able to bring himself to apologize for that. It just happened to be the way things were to be for the moment.

"You still have two hours. Use them wisely instead of moping around like a sorry fuckass with a best friend complex," Karkat huffed. "And I'll growl at whoever the fuck is deserving of it."

Best friend complex? Haha, what was that? "I'll stay however long I want thank you." John put his hands on his hips, trying his best to look authoritative. "I dunno why you and Dave are so adamant about getting me home so early! It's silly."

"Because you've gotten in trouble, shit head," the troll responded with an eye roll. He started to dig in his own bag again.

"I did not. Dave found us. That's not trouble." Obviously, John wasn't going to admit that he screwed up. Nope! "Besides, if anything, Dave's probably just wanting me to go back so I can get some sleep. But I like sleeping out here with you better."

Karkat tried his best not to blush at that. John probably didn't even realize what that sounded like. Honestly, the troll meant with his male genetic donor, but the troll shrugged instead. He wasn't going to constantly correct that human. It wasn't that important anyway. What Karkat didn't understand was this...

"Why isn't he going to tell, anyway?"

"Hm?" That actually made the boy paused for a moment, taken a bit aback that Karkat even needed to ask. But John just smiled and walked back over to his troll friend, sitting down beside him like they always do. "Hehe, 'cause he's my best bro of course! That's what friends do, right?"

"Your best friend still makes your life fucking miserable," Karkat frowned. That was true only for him, it seemed.

"Aw, he does not. Dave's one of the coolest guys I know." Absolutely nothing about John showed any sign of doubt as he talked about his best friend. "He's just looking out for me. I don't know if you know this, but.... sometimes I can be a little clumsy!"

"Be still my pumping circulatory organ! Really? You are!? Will wonders never fucking cease!"

"Hey!" The boy shoved at Karkat's shoulder with his own. "You don't have to rub it in, dude."

"Oh no, John. I do. I really fucking do. It's like an impulse sent from the Mirthful Messiahs, telling me how I need to respond to your asinine commentary," Karkat smirked, just ever so slightly

"Ooooh, stop being so mean!" There really wasn't a whole lot of hurt in John's voice even as he shoved a hand in the troll's face. "I could make fun of you with all the silly stuff you do but I don't!" Well, most of the time. Sometimes. Only sometimes.

The response to a hand meeting his face was to, naturally, flail about and curse. John did make fun of him and often, even if some of the time it wasn't intentional. Karkat knew this and also the fact that the human wasn't really offended at all.

"How about I just keep calling you Karkitty?" John finally moved his hand out of the troll's face. "That's fair enough."

"Do that and your name will be permanently fuckass, Egbert," Karkat frowned. He rubbed at his face to get the human stink off, as well as shooting off John's second name for the first time.

"Oh fine," Not like he'd be able to constantly call Karkat something he didn't like. The boy sighed and flopped onto his back, eyes closed for a moment. "I guess it'd be weird to call you some sort of pet name anyway, huh?"

Yeah 'cause that's like, the sort of thing girls do for guys when they're dating. That'd be weird if he did that with Karkat! Yeah. Totally weird.

"Considering I am fucking far from being your pet, I would say yes!"

Another cat joke was at the edge of John's tongue, but he decided to hold it in this time and just giggled softly. "Hehe, it kind of felt that way for a bit when I was sneaking you food. Like that time there was a little raccoon following us and he was sooo cute but Dad said not to feed it but I ended up sneaking him my leftovers at night," and the rambling started up again, completely out of the blue as usual.

This time Karkat simply ignored it. He allowed John to ramble on continuously for the rest of the time that remained. The troll wouldn't say it was nice to listen to the boy go on and on about asinine shit Karkat couldn't care about, but it was noise. He almost preferred the chitterings of the human over the silence. Honestly, Karkat believed that if John wasn't talking about everything and anything, that there would be something wrong.

Chapter Text

Two hours flew by fast - time always seemed to pass far too quickly whenever John had the time to spend with Karkat. He ended up rambling most of the time, offering stories about things that happened the day before, or silly things he heard from the elders that happened when he was young. At one point he actually told the troll about the time he was almost five, and apparently he and Rose had a wedding with flower crowns and everything. Apparently it was the cutest thing and Rose's mom will still bring it up from time to time, asking her where her adorable, innocent daughter went. It made John blush a little when he spilled that everyone sort of expected them to get hitched when they're older - he really didn't mean to go into that much detail. It was embarrassing, he didn't think of Rose that way, and, well...

The troll ended up cutting him short eventually, telling John his time was up. Stubborn as ever, it took a while for Karkat to finally kick the boy's ass back to the caravan. It was only halfway through the evening! John was even more reluctant than normal, but he ended up agreeing to go back because he knew Karkat wouldn't drop it until he did. He actually thought at one point his growling friend was just about ready to sling him over his shoulder and drag him back himself. That would not have gone well!

The following morning was just a little awkward once John woke up. Dave confronted him readily without an ounce of guilt, and started up the twenty questions before the caravan even started moving again. The two boys hung close to the back of one of the wagons, careful to be well out of earshot as John spilled a few of the details he wasn't able to last night. The minute Dave made a chastity belt joke with that perfect poker face of his, John was barely able to contain the blush that rose to his cheeks. Any retort he could think of died in his throat pretty quickly and he changed the subject.

It seemed like with each passing day, John Egbert was digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole. His mind would wander and his dreams would take a life of their own, and slowly the boy began to realize he was seeing Karkat in an entirely different light. He loved spending time with his friends - he'd always get giddy and excited whenever he knew they'd have time to goof off and just be themselves; whenever Dave would invite him to practice with swords (as bad as John was at it), whenever Rose would ask him to sit with her while she knitted or wrote and they'd talk about everything. He loved spending time with Jade while she worked on her crazy inventions and Dad when he'd be trying out a new recipe. He loved it when Bro would tell him he could watch him do his metalwork, or when Rose's mom would ask for some company during her more tedious tasks. John loved everyone in his caravan, in his family. He adored spending time with all of them.

But with Karkat... he would get excited too, just the same. Except lately, he'd get butterflies in his stomach when night fell and slipped away from the caravan - and not because he was afraid of getting caught. He'd think about the next time he was going to meet his troll friend and he'd stutter while talking, sometimes feel his face heat up recalling the last time he fell asleep with his friend, and he'd oh so quietly snuggle up to Karkat's side.

It took too long for any sixteen year old boy to realize these feelings weren't completely platonic anymore. They were different than anything else he's felt. He's had crushes before, he's held hands with one of the cute girls in his caravan, he's felt the tell tale sign of fascination and affection, of infatuation. Just... not with another guy. Because John Egbert was not a homosexual.

But after the umpteenth time the boy started to daydream and recall the previous night where Karkat had him pinned and he felt that tongue on his cheek, and he realized he had to stop recalling it because he was enjoying it just a little too much, John had to come to terms with it.

He had a crush on Karkat.

Really, he knew for a while. He knew it wasn't normal to feel his stomach flip-flop pleasantly when the troll locked gazes with him. It wasn't normal to have more than a few teenage hormonal dreams about one of your best bros. He couldn't let Karkat know. He'd probably be weirded out! And not because he's a guy - he remembered trolls don't really discriminate against gender - but because they're friends. He didn't want to ruin this friendship by asking for something like a flushed relationship. He wouldn't trade what they had for anything in the world.

The following night, the caravan took rest close to a winding river. The water was running just a little too fast to fish, but at least they could distil some of it for sustenance. It was pretty big - John could only remember coming across a river so wide years ago, back when they found a small underground city and he first got a pair of glasses. It was a good thing they didn't have to cross this one!

John ended up following the river, watching it as the moonlight caught on the rippling waves, as he left to meet Karkat. It sounded like the river got just a bit rougher downstream, so he probably wouldn't have to walk quiet as far to make sure they were out of earshot. The waves did a pretty good job of snuffing out sounds!

The troll didn't really want time to be up either. If he were able to have his way, the sun wouldn't come up and John would not have to head back. This was not how life was, and Karkat did not feel like John risking his safety and their meetings just to stay a few hours longer. Perhaps if the human boy actually heeded the words of his family and friends, then they would allow him to stay out longer. Even over night.

So when John put up a fight with him about going, Karkat was determined to win this time, unlike so many times before. He did not drop the subject and he did not change topics. The troll didn't even allow for John to do anything tricky to avoid going. At one point, Karkat believed that he would have to pick up the boy and drag him back, risking exposure. It would have been worth it...

However, John did leave and Karkat was left to do some hunting. Hunting and foraging, really. He was putting the skills that John taught him to use. Morning came and the troll simply continued on following the caravan. There was nothing left for Karkat beyond this now anyway. With all this time with John and learning about humans, he considered himself to be completely worthless. Rejoining troll society was not an option.

Karkat pondered the other options as well. He potentially could run away. Be a fugitive for the remainder of his days. Another option was to join the rebellion. Of course there was one, albeit small. They barely stood a chance against the Empress, though. She was already distracted with the Empress Elect anyway.... Yes, that would be far too messy to even start to get involved in. However, all these options still held one problem:

Being away from John. This was not something Karkat was okay with in the slightest.

As the day wore on, Karkat was so preoccupied with his thoughts that he didn't realize when the caravan stopped. So he was a bit surprised to see them so close to a huge river. The thought of the water actually bothered Karkat, thinking that there would be preparations to cross that giant thing. For him... Well that would be too much discomfort. Unwanted discomfort. He didn't want to have to cross another body of water again, if he could avoid it. Perhaps when all was said and done with John that night, Karkat would hunt down another way.

Speaking of John, Karkat was made even more nervous when the human went walking off in that direction at night. With an anxious sigh, the troll went to hunt John Egbert down. The stupid human would probably drown himself or something and Karkat Vantas was not going to deal with the aftermath of those hoofbeast shit shenanigans.

John stopped at a spot where the river bent at a sharp angle, forming a pretty cool place to look out over the water. There was about a twenty foot drop though, so he couldn't see the surface as well as he could back at the caravan where the water's edge had a rocky, sandy shore. But man, was it cool how the moonlight caught all those little waves. It was almost mesmerizing.

So mesmerizing in fact, that he totally forgot about Karkat's dislike of water. Waiting here was probably a bad idea, but it didn't occur to him just yet.

That was exactly how Karkat found him too. The troll didn't like this one bit. John being so close to the edge made his stomach to weird flips. It made him want to rush over and drag John back by the collar. Back to safety. Away from the water and the ledge that the stupid, clumsy boy could easily fall over.

"I swear to god. It's like you shitstains have never seen a river before!"

It should have, but Karkat's disgruntled voice didn't startle John this time since it was muted slightly by the raging water a bit further down. The boy turned around, a happy grin on his face. "Of course we have! But this one's just so big, isn't it cool?"

Karkat was about as far away from that ledge as possible while still trying to maintain a closeness to John. He was not about to get closer. "No. It's just goddamn water. Now get the fuck back over here."

"Dude, the water is like, way down there. It's not even close!" John did look a bit sheepish, only just now remembering about Karkat's understandable fear of water. And while he wanted to do as Karkat wanted.... the troll did look kind of cute with that expression. Like he didn't really know what to do with himself. Maybe he'd stand here for just a moment longer....

"John!" he snapped at the human. It was bad enough that they were near water. Now John was on a high ledge. One that had the potential to give away and the kid down with it. "This isn't a joke, shit head!"

"Gosh - okay, fine fine." John rolled his eyes, sighing in defeat. He made his way back towards Karkat, just about to give him all sorts of jeeze I was fine comments -

But really, the complete cliche irony of it all just wouldn't stand for that. His right foot stepped a good few inches from the ledge, careful and soft - but apparently it was just enough to lodge a few mud-clumped rocks loose, shifting before falling to the water below.

John really didn't even have time to assess the situation. The heel of his foot slipped, only just close enough to the crumbling dirt to be pushed off balance. Thin arms waved uselessly in the air as he desperately searched in vain for something to grab onto, before his knee buckled under him and he slipped right off the edge.

Into the turbulent water below.

Karkat took it all in with horrified eyes. The troll watched, almost in slow motion as John took a bad step. John was falling and Karkat was already rushing forward to try and grab the other teen's hand. It was just like he had warned against, and later he would be pissed and tell John off about not listening to him.

That time was not now. John was now in serious danger from the current. Karkat didn't even find his voice. Couldn't really. His eyes were skimming over the surface in hopes of seeing a stupid head pop out of the water. He knew it was impossible. Karkat also realized the only way to save his friend. The fact he even had the desire to was oh so telling. Trolls simply didn't care enough under normal circumstances.

An uneasy feeling settling in his stomach, Karkat was already ripping off his armor and kicking off his boots. Anything that would weight him down was coming off. These were critical seconds and the troll was not about to use them to debate if he should jump in or not after John.

He was just going to do it.

With his jacket gone, the troll took a running dive off of the ledge and into the water. Immediately, the little flaps on his sides opened, allowing airflow. Karkat didn't quite know how to swim, as he was out of practice for so many years. That wasn't going to deter him from finding John. How hard would it be?

John tried opening his eyes many times the second he slipped under the surface, but it was so dark it didn't do a damn thing. It was cold, and he was sinking - oh god he was sinking too fast. Like he was a leaf being tossed into a hurricane, the current knocked him back and forced him under. No matter how hard the boy kicked his legs, the undertow continued to drag him. His lungs ached already from the pressure. He reached out, hand clipping a stray rock (was he at the bottom of the river, or was he close to the side?) but he couldn't keep hold of it.

No no no, this was a stupid way to die! This just wasn't going to happen! With a rush of adrenaline, he grabbed the side of the next boulder his hands came in contact with, skin scraping along the sides so hard he bled. He held on for a good two seconds before slipping once again, back hitting a rough surface so hard he almost gasped, water threatening to fill his lungs.

Even Karkat was knocked around a bit by the underwater current. His eyes though, remained on John. He saw the human, even if he couldn't quite reach him. Determination settled in and Karkat growled. He kicked his feet with all his might, clawing at the water in hopes that it would get him closer still. He was able to latch onto the side of the ledge and stay there.

From that point he had an easier time making his way to John. The human looked worthless in the throes of the river. He was going down way to fast. Karkat winced, knowing that there was only one way he was going to catch up with John.

He let go.

It was hard to let the current take him down, down, and further down in a furious flight. Karkat was still panicking on the inside, needing to get to John as soon as possible. While he was breathing, everything else seemed to be more important than that mutation of his.

When he was close enough, he went to grab and grasp for John's hand. "John!"

By now the boy was getting light-headed. He was woozy, lungs on fire and throat clenching in desperation for air. He must have started to fade away, he realized, because he almost thought he heard the muffled sound of his voice. But of course that just wasn't possible. Perhaps it was just his subconscious wanting to hear the troll's voice one last time...

But for whatever reason, he reached his arm out again, the back of his hand brushing against Karkat's palm - and he was shocked out of his stupor one last time. Did he really just feel that?

John really had felt that. With the idiot not helping Karkat at all, the troll made one last push towards John, grasping onto that wrist. He was already tugging the human closer to him. That was pretty much as far as Karkat's plan went. He knew the human would be close to drowning. Karkat bit his lip, hard enough to break the skin this time as he didn't know what to do.

An idea popped into his head and Karkat didn't know if it would even work. Looking up, he knew that there was no way to reach the surface with the current how it was. It was the only option that remained. Karkat was desperate and limply floating there, holding John to him. This would be awkward as hell to explain later. However, the life of his friend was more important than that.

Thus Karkat brought John's face to his and kissed him. Sharing that much needed air they both needed.

Yeah, John was pretty damn sure he died. He was dead, congratulations John Egbert, you really are the clumsiest moron on the face of the planet. He must be miles down the river now, floating like a dead fish somewhere.

Because it was only in his dreams did he ever feel those lips on his.

It was shocking, almost alarming - then it was painfully intoxicating. He didn't have to see to know who's lips those were. Oh god, if this is what heaven was like, maybe he didn't really mind dying, and --

But then both their mouths were open, and John panicked, jumping right out of that last drift towards unconsciousness. There was a sharp swell of air, and the boy realized he had gasped all too late. But there wasn't a rush of water filling his lungs. Only warm air - oxygen. His lungs swelled in relief, head warm as his brain practically rebooted itself. He slowly began to think clearly, feeling the warmth of Karkat's lips, pressed so hard against his own he felt fangs brushing against his skin.

He was breathing. But how?

The troll didn't give time for John to process. He was already throwing an arm around the human's waist. His free hand was grabbing along the bottom of the riverbed. Karkat was focusing on several things. The most important thing was the exchange of air. One breath for himself and then one for John. He kept up that pattern.

Then it was holding onto John. Hopefully the human boy would realize what was going on and help him out later. At the moment, Karkat would have been content to just get him to hold onto the troll for dear life. His arm around John's waist only did so much. Karkat was just determined not to let go and let the current sweep him away.

Lastly, Karkat was shit at swimming. The current was too strong to push off of the bottom to reach the top. That left another option. He would basically keep to the bottom of the river until they were able to reach a spot where the current was no longer an issue. Then and only then would the troll attempt to launch them up to the surface.

Somehow, John knew exactly what the troll was trying to do. They moved slowly at first, since John was practically blind and it was horribly difficult to keep their lips locked together under such circumstances. Once the threat of dying was over, John was sure to freak out about this later. Hopefully when that happens, he'll be back at the caravan away from the troll as not to show how his face will forever be permanently red and how he wouldn't be able to stop smiling like some sort of preteen girl.

His feet moved clumsily against the rocky bottom of the river, only moving when he felt Karkat move first. He shakily moved his arms after that first step, sliding them around Karkat's neck to keep them close.

Even under the circumstances, now that the danger was relatively gone, Karkat had the decency to blush. John would hold onto his neck and make this some weird 'homosexual' embrace, as he would call it. Karkat was grateful for John's help, though. Slow going it might have been, they did reach a calmer portion of the river.

That was when he decided to get them out of there. His feet touched the bottom and he crouched, John in tow. With all the strength that he could muster, Karkat pushed forward. They would break the surface easily enough. Then it would just be a matter of getting close to the river side.

It was instinct when they finally reached the surface - John gasped heavily against the waves lapping at their necks, effectively breaking the contact between their lips. If the adrenaline wasn't still running through his veins like fire and hazing his thoughts, he would have been kicking himself from ending that 'kiss' so soon.

He coughed heavily, eyes wincing open as he searched for the riverbank. They must have been swept downstream pretty far, because side of the river wasn't quite as steep as before. It was going to be a bitch to climb, but at least it wasn't a twenty foot sheer drop.

Karkat wasn't gasping. While his body wanted to go back under the water's surface, he was making sure it wouldn't do just that. His gills would not need to be working now. His eyes scanned the surrounding area and landed onto a place where they could read.

"There," he hissed, not letting go of the human for a moment. Karkat was already pushing with his feet and free hand in a mock breast stroke towards land.

John was shivering now, the cold finally sinking in and the gravity of the situation taking hold of him. He didn't dare take his arms away from Karkat's neck. He continued to hold onto him desperately, feeling horrible as a deadweight but terrified of being swept away if he chanced letting one arm go to aid the both of them in swimming.

It was only when they made it to the shore did John finally muster the courage to let go. One hand grasped desperately to an overhanging rock and he pulled, making sure his waist was above the water line before letting go of Karkat completely. And while he knew trolls were far stronger than humans, John couldn't keep his eyes off his friend, worried that he might slip back into the river.

The troll was keeping an eye on John. He was ensuring the human got out of the water first. In fact, Karkat was kind of pushing John up. Only when the human was on dry land did the troll heft himself out of the river. His eyes locked onto John's immediately after the ordeal was finished.

"Are you all right, idiot?"

John was still gasping, mostly from over exertion and limited air for... god, it felt like hours. He could only limp his body uselessly to the ground, stomach against the now wet grass. He did his best to lean up, arms still incredibly shaky as he got to his knees. He coughed a few more times, remnants of river water still agitating his lungs.

Blue eyes met gold ones. John didn't reply. He looked at the troll with such relief and overwhelming apology, perhaps still a little scared. He forced himself to move just enough to wrap his arms around Karkat's chest, pulling them both to the ground as he clung desperately to his friend, tears only just now stinging his eyes.

To say that he was surprised wouldn't be the truth. Karkat wasn't surprised in the least to have arms wrapping around him again. John was a very touchy person and this experience naturally would have him seek comfort. The troll didn't fight it, since deep down he needed it too. His arms also were thrown into the fray. They went around John and held on tight.

The truth was Karkat wasn't thinking straight. All his nerves were still on fire from what happened. While John might have been starting to cry, the moment the boy latched on? Karkat let pastel red fall from his eyes, willingly. He wanted to tell John to never fucking worry him like that again, but words just died. Caught in his windhole.

By now John's shoulders shook lightly and he hiccuped, face burying itself into the crook of Karkat's neck even though his glasses pushed roughly over his nose bridge. He didn't care. The last time he was that scared.... it was probably back when he thought Karkat was going to eat him.

All that wonderfully numbing adrenaline was gone. John felt relieved but vulnerable, terrified even though it was over, he wasn't going to drown. He was safe. He'd never felt safer. The warmth of Karkat's arms around him was enough to make those tears fall down his cheeks, a lump rising in his throat.

The only thing that was overpowering that sickening feeling of helplessness was his overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Of love. And god, he just wanted to stay here forever - he didn't care that their bodies were wet and they were chilled.

"K-Karkat," He finally choked out, voice half sobbing and he felt pathetic for sounding like that. He wanted to thank him, he wanted to tell him how much the troll meant to him, but all he could do was repeat his friend's name like a crying toddler. "Karkaaat...."

Karkat didn't mind at the moment. His blood ran hot enough that the chill from the air hitting his wet skin didn't bother him. As John clutched onto him more, the troll buried his nose in wet strands of hair. Karkat was attempting to quell his own sobs threatening to shake his entire system. John didn't need to know what Karkat wasn't coping all that well either.

Then he heard John speak. Sure, it sounded wet and hoarse. It was still John's voice. Saying his name. He didn't know what the emotion was that start to swell in his chest cavity. It wasn't pity, but something else. Karkat didn't dwell on it for too long. He took in a shaky breath. "Don't fucking do that to me again you shitty little half brain dead douchebag."

The boy whimpered, whatever words he had thought up died in his throat. He nodded instead, a tiny smile finally appearing at his lips. The gravity of the situation sunk deep into his bones - Karkat.... Karkat risked his own life to save him, didn't he?

And John didn't think he could fall any harder for the troll. It would have been sad if he wasn't so okay with it now it wasn't even funny.

"Th-thank you," He finally muttered, lips close enough to Karkat's neck for his breath to cool the damp skin there. "Karkat... I-I'm so sorry.... "

The troll didn't say a word. John's hot breath was tickling his neck and sending way to pleasant feelings through his system. It needed to stop and it needed to stop now. He sat up, with John and all. A free hand of his went to rub at his eyes, hiding the evidence that he was crying among other things. His lip stung where he bit it, but the troll didn't care.

Immediately he went to work, searching for any injuries on John. With the way that water was throwing them around, Karkat wanted to be sure that the human was completely okay before continuing to find their way back to where Karkat stashed his stuff.

John inwardly whimpered when Karkat sat up and they were forced to break the embrace, but he tried his best to look indifferent about it. He blushed lightly as he felt Karkat's hands move on the bare skin of his arms, and it was only then that John realized he was just looking to make sure he wasn't injured. Though, that was far from the truth. He was pretty sore in more than a few places, a few light bruises marring his skin and he knew one of those was going to look hideous the next day. Maybe Dave would help him by backing up a story of oh John just knocked over one of the crates again or something.

But not all the rocks in the river were dull for bruising. There were a few scrapes and cuts on his arms and calves, most of them only bleeding so shallowly that they were sure to stop within minutes. But there was one good sized cut right along his forearm that dripped with crimson, and the inside of one palms (fingers included) that were torn up pretty badly.

"I can take care of it later," He offered quietly, feeling embarrassed. He'd need to dry off before returning to camp - and only then would he be able to dress the wounds. They'd probably stop bleeding by themselves before that. "They don't even hurt that much,"

He dismissed the boy's words. Karkat was already staring at these cuts and scrapes. His ears drooped a bit. Karkat was feeling failure seeping into his very core. The troll wasn't quick enough to spare John from this. Now it would look horribly suspicious upon his return. Karkat returned to biting his lip. He wanted to take care of it now. It was just... If John returned with bandages, then everyone would wonder. Strider wouldn't, but...

He tugged the human to his feet. Karkat decided he wouldn't dress them, but he would definitely clean them. What they needed to do was to get back now. John needed to dry off and sitting down wouldn't help that. Karkat was fine, though standing caused a bit of a reaction from his sides. They were sore. He coughed a bit, the gills sputtering open to get out the last remnants of water.

"We need to get back first, idiot. Then we'll at least disinfect that shit."

It was like John didn't even know Karkat said a word. Immediately blue eyes fixed themselves on the gills at either side of the troll's middle, right about where his ribcage was. Those were.... yeah, those were.... were they?

"Karkat, do you have gills?" Came the tactful question, eyes wide.

Karkat paused and glared at John. "How the fuck do you think we were breathing under water, fuckass?"

"I-I dunno! My mind was kinda fuzzy and I really didn't think about it!" The boy hoped Karkat would think his blush was from him realizing how stupid of an excuse that was - and not because he was starting to recall the fact that their lips were touching. Kissing. Ohgod he had kissed Karkat. He kissed Karkat.

"John you raving fuckass," Karkat sighed. He was drained and oh so tired. Without thinking, he took John's wrist. Part of him was scared to let the human out of sight. The troll already knew what direction they needed to go in so he was walking back to the ledge.

"So..." He didn't really mind at all when Karkat grabbed his wrist. The contact actually made him relax a bit more. He thought back to a few of the conversations he had with the troll, as well as some of the stuff the others in his caravan would mutter about (now that he was finally paying attention to all that troll stuff they were talking about). "Does that mean you're a highblood?"

Karkat visibly flinched. He wasn't quite expecting that question. Then he almost slapped himself. Yes, he should have expected that. "No."

Okay, now John was really lost. "I thought only highbloods had gills?"

"They do," he responded, being curt.

He wasn't going to beat around the bush anymore. "... I'm confused."

"We're not going to fucking talk about this, John," Karkat snapped, tugging just a little harder.

"Ow!" John winced, a small sting of pain trailing up his arm at the tug. The deep cut on his arm was probably trying to clot and heal but after that, he noticed little red beads forming again. Well, okay. He supposed this was a minefield right now - best not pry. He could tell from the tone in the troll's voice that this was a pretty tender subject.

No wonder he reacted so badly that one night, when he felt those things under Karkat's shirt. He thought maybe they were embarrassing or shameful scars, but now he knew that wasn't the case. Why would Karkat have gills if he wasn't a highblood? He kept himself from questioning further. Karkat would tell him when he's ready. But still...

"Karkat," The boy dug his heels into the ground, hand grabbing at the troll's own wrist in return until they stopped. "Look at me for a second, okay?"

The troll groaned. Karkat was half tempted to just keep dragging him along, even if it meant hurting the little nookwhiffing pink monkey. Despite what he wanted to do and what he should do, the troll turned around. He tried to keep the scowl on his face, jaw set and brows furrowed. "What?"

John gave the troll a determined look, lips pressed into a thin line. "I'm not going to ask again, okay? I know for whatever reason, this is a touchy subject for you." His expression softened, just a little bit. "But just remember there's nothing you can do or say that would make me think any less of you. You're like, my best friend and I care about you, alright?"

That was an understatement.

For the third time in the last hour, the troll bit his lip. Now he really was in deep shit. Here John was, spouting all this crap and making Karkat feel lower than the subterranean caves that he spawned from. The troll let go of the human's wrist. There was so much guilt building up in his system now. Didn't he trust John?

"Look," he finally said. "It's complicated shit. All it really fucking comes down to is that I'm pretty much one of a fucking kind. That's all."

Then without another word, Karkat kept moving.

John wasn't sure he knew what that meant. One of a kind? Was Karkat really special in some way? What was he even talking about, of course he was. For whatever reason, he wasn't a highblood and he had gills. It was odd, but also.... really kind of cool. But John took the serious tone in Karkat's voice for what it was worth, and didn't say anything more about it. He said what he wanted to say. The boy caught up with the troll silently, giving him a small, encouraging smile, hoping every ounce of his sincerity would show through.

... And then he promptly tripped on a rock and fell flat on his face.

Karkat looked down at John. He then proceeded to laugh. Yes, he was the best of friends.

"Aaauuw!!" John whined, kicking himself for fucking up something else yet again. He rubbed at his nose, brushing the dirt off. "Ah! Karkat stop laughing!" He blushed furiously. Ow ow, god that hurt. A few of the cuts he had on his legs stung, though he wasn't sure if they were open anymore.

Oh god damn it, now his palm was bleeding all over again. Why did everything hurt so much? Oh wait, that's right - he almost died.

"It's what you get for getting your cartilage nub into everything," Karkat snickered, helping the human up. His eyes fell on that palm. The troll was worried already about infection and the like. He barked out a hold still and took the hem of John's still wet tunic in an area void of dirt and mud. Without warning he ripped a portion off, taking the human's wrist. Until they got back to Karkat's bag, this quick cleaning job would have to do.

"Ah! My tunic!" The boy freaked, because nooo his dad will notice that! But that cut on his arm and his palm was really hurting. Pretty bad. He looked at the red in his hand, biting his lip.

"Wait," John stopped Karkat before he put the torn fabric over his hand. "Uhh," He felt his ears burn a bit. He couldn't believe he was about to ask the troll this.

"Do you, uhm.... want it?" Oh god, that sounded like all sorts of wrong. "I-I mean 'cause, it's kind of going to waste."

Karkat blinked. He was in shock. His ears surely didn't hear that right. "What."

".... The blood." John was sure his blush was noticeable now. His eyes sort of just stared at the ground. The idea didn't really bother him at all, but god did he feel weird even bringing it up. "You, uh.... like it, right? I don't mind."

Even Karkat blushed. Did John even realize what he was asking? "John. You don't really mean that."

"Well why wouldn't I?" He was finally able to look up at the troll, expression just a bit sheepish. "It really is going to waste, you know."

"I... I don't know about this John," the troll stuttered.

"It won't bother me or anything," John replied, voice a bit quiet. "I just thought, um.... you know, it seems like you're not too crazy about a lot of our food, and.... I mean, come on Karkat. I'm not five. I know we taste good to you."

"You're so fucking oblivious," the troll snorted and tugged the human closer.

The truth was somewhere in there. It wouldn't be so much a troll licking human blood for its taste. There was a bit of intimacy involved now. Karkat was shirtless after literally kissing life back into the human. He also had very strong feelings, confused but strong none the less, about the boy. Part of it just... It felt so wrong to think of it as nothing more than getting a bite.

Yet John was being persistent about this. So Karkat would give in. He lowered his head, sniffing a bit at John's wrist. John didn't smell appetizing. He just smelled good to Karkat. It twisted him up inside in all the right ways. Then his tongue slide against the offered palm, the troll choosing not to think on this too much.

John made a tiny white lie. Simply knowing those fangs were so close to his skin - so close to an open wound made the boy's breath hitch slightly. It was a dull nagging sense in the back of his mind, as his body was trying to trigger a fight or flight response out of desperation. This was not normal. This was something that was probably supposed to send him running.

But being around Karkat so much probably muted that voice in the farthest corners of his mind a bit. It was only loud enough to make the boy wince, only one eye half open as he watched Karkat's tongue move against the sensitive skin. The sensation made him gasp ever so softly, teeth nervously biting at his lip. It hurt a bit, like any damaged skin would after feeling some sort of abrasion. But it... also threatened to send pleasant shivers up his spine. He kept his jaw tightly clenched to keep himself from making any noise.

The troll purred. His tongue tasted blood, but it didn't do anything to ignite his hunger for food. Hunger for other things of a more scandalous nature, yes. He was careful, cautious not to cause John any unneeded pain. Karkat tasted the bit of grime that had collected in the wound, but ignored it.

John couldn't help but grin a bit once he realized Karkat was purring. It was cute. So cute he couldn't help but let the quietest of giggles pass his lips, though part of it was also because how sensitive his palm was.

He did his best to concentrate on that.

Karkat growled at the giggle. He knew what that was about. John did not need to carry on like this was a good time. It wasn't. Even so, Karkat paid attention to every cut and scrape on that palm. He sucked just a bit at each one, ensuring that everything was clean. Yeah, that was what he was telling himself mentally. Otherwise he wouldn't be able to deal.

Next he moved to the forearm, an arm of his own around John's waist. To keep the human steady, Karkat told himself. Ignore the fact he practically kept his tongue on John's slightly salty skin to meet the cut.

The sensation of Karkat's lips moving against his skin was already almost too much - so when the troll started to suck lightly, John found himself really having to concentrate on not making any noise. A part of him was freaking out just a tiny bit, and at the same time was a little thrilled at the thought that maybe Karkat was doing that because he did taste good. The thought made his stomach flip in the weirdest of ways.

And when that arm went around his waist, the boy couldn't help but tilt his head back just a bit, face no longer scrunched up in a hesitant wince. A blush stained his cheeks, eyelids falling halfway in a vacant stare towards the canopy line of the forest not far from them. His breath went a little ragged when he felt Karkat move to the cut on his arm. Wow, he didn't really miss a beat, did he?

His mind must have wandered just a bit too far, because he let out a tiny whimper once he felt the troll's tongue on his arm.

The whimper brought Karkat back to reality. His head shot up, looking at John. There's a bit of red on his lips, but worry is in his hazy eyes. Oh god. Did he hurt the boy? Why was John looking up like that? Fuck. He messed up, didn't he?


Immediately the boy blinked, looking back at Karkat with a bit of a surprised, embarrassed expression. Oh god, did he just make that noise? And.... shit. Why.... why did John blush even harder upon seeing red staining those lips? That was not the right reaction to had. He should have been grossed out or even scared, not..... thinking why is that hot.

"Y-y-yes?" He attempted a nervous grin, wanting to kick himself in the groin for that fucking horrible stutter.

"What the fuck is wrong?" Karkat asked, now actually concerned. The human was probably cold. Hence the red cheeks and stutter. That was the only thing that Karkat could think of at the moment.

"N-nothing. Nothing! Hehe," He laughed a bit, but it probably looked really freaking awkward. "Just... uh... was wondering how I'm going to explain these bruises and stuff to Dad. That's all."

"Where were you supposed to be tonight?" he huffed, eyeing the boy warily.

"Be what now?" John may or may not still have his head in the clouds a little bit.

"Pay attention!" the troll hissed. "What were you supposed to be doing tonight?"

"Sleeping?" He grinned stupidly.

"You fucking snuck out..." Karkat groaned, still holding onto John. "This is just fucking brilliant. Come on. We need to get going. Think of something to say as we head back. I doubt you even know how to get the hell back."

He seemed to punctuate that by licking his lips clean.

John was pretty sure he brain threatened to short circuit when he saw Karkat lick his lips. He babbled for a minute as they started to walk, trying to keep his mind going in a good direction. "Uh... I could, um... I got in a fight with a bear?" Totally legit.

"As if they'd fucking believe that," the troll thought. "Maybe you should just be honest."

"You're right. I guess I could just say I decided to sneak out for some reason....."

"Skinny dipping."

"That would work!" The boy gave Karkat an over-enthusiastic smile, but it fell quickly. "... Except wait, that's weird. Why would I want to do that at night when I couldn't see?"

"So no one would see you, fuckass," Karkat said, throwing a look at John.

Well, everyone did know John had a bit of a reckless streak, and he did enjoy adventures. So he could probably just pass it off as he wanted to see more of the river. "I could just say I needed some time to think, or needed some alone time or something." He didn't even realize how badly that last part could have been taken. "And you know, got too close to the river. I think they'd buy that."

"P-probably," Karkat sputtered, definitely taking it the wrong way.

John glanced at the troll, offering a small appreciative smile. "... Thanks again, Karkat." He paused for a breath before doing something a little bold - he grabbed Karkat's hand in his own (thankfully the one that wasn't riddled with scratches), and gave it a light squeeze. "I mean it. I'd probably be dead now if it wasn't for you."

Color quickly rose to his cheeks. A nod was all that Karkat could manage. He didn't trust his voice. It would probably stutter again or something equally stupid would burst forth. John was just too fucking friendly and it was putting Karkat on an emotional roller coaster.

Why did he have to be 'not a homosexual,' anyway?

It took a bit longer, but they did reach that ledge. Karkat never actually let go of John's hand during that time. However, he did long enough to tell John to stay put so the troll could fetch his things. Once he obtained his armor and shirt plus boots, he went back down. His back and supplies were a bit further up the way.

"Come on. At least put this on for a few fucking minutes until your shirt dries so you don't get sick on me or whatever the fuck you weak ass humans call it."

"Oh, uhm... okay." The boy nodded, taking Karkat's shirt gratefully. He looked around for a minute, as if expecting anyone else to be out here besides the troll. He set the shirt down and grabbed the sash of his tunic, untying it wish easy before pulling the hem up to about his stomach - before he paused. "Can you turn around for a sec?"

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Karkat hissed, gesturing to his half dressed state.

"I-It's just embarrassing!" The boy stuttered, cheeks darkening for the umpteenth time that night. He didn't move his arms - his shirt stayed halfway up, only a bit of his stomach exposed. He was acting like a little girl who hasn't been changing in front of other guys his whole life.

"Whatever, fuckface," the troll said with an eye roll. He proceeded to turn around, blushing as he did so. Exposing skin...

John made a muffled noise as he pulled the tunic over his head, letting it flop to the ground with a wet plop. It already felt better not having such heavy, damp material clinging to his skin. He grabbed Karkat's dry shirt, looking at the gray symbol that his armor usually covered up. Well, he supposed it didn't really, since the same exact symbol was on his armor in the exact same place.

He blushed a bit as he slid it over his head, noticing that it was a bit big for him. Karkat was a bit taller, and he had more muscle on him, so of course it was going to be a little loose. Whoa.... he didn't think he'd notice it smelled like Karkat. It felt... oddly intimate, wearing the troll's shirt like this. It was like he was surrounded by Karkat's presence. He liked it.

"Done," John announced, grabbing his wet tunic and stepping up to his friend.

Karkat wasn't really prepared to turn around. When he did, air seemed to be a luxury he didn't catch in time. He was, simply put, breathless. It took all of his control not to blush furiously at the sight of John wearing his clothing. God, was that even a thing? Was it okay to be turned on by something like that? Granted, it was big on the human. It was loose in places and made John look rather tiny in comparison. However, it was almost as if it identified John Egbert as property of Karkat Vantas.

It was, in a word, fucking hot.

Immediately Karkat realized that he was in a bad situation. Without a word, he ducked his head down, hiding his face in his hair. He snatched the wet shirt up and stomped away. Anything more and Karkat had a feeling he could potentially jump John. That was a big no no in the thing that was human friendship.

John's expression fell blank once Karkat snatched the tunic from his hands and started walking, head turned a bit downcast. Was something wrong? "....You okay, buddy?" He asked, following the troll but keeping a little bit of distance between them just to be courteous.

"Nothing's wrong! We just need to keep moving, all right?" Karkat said, voice wavering slightly. He huffed.

"Fiiine," John rolled his eyes, fingers playing a bit with the hems of Karkat's sleeves. Would it be weird to ask the troll if he wanted to trade shirts for a while? Yeah, that'd be weird. He decided he'll just enjoy it now.

"...Is it at least fucking warmer?"

"Yeah!" John smiled, perhaps just a little too much. "A lot warmer."

He really meant it. John was probably almost too warm by now, a pleasant warmth now practically all over his body; and it wasn't all thanks to the shirt. Well, not directly anyway. John could pretty much hear Rose saying infatuation. She'd be right.

As they continued walking, John timidly patted Karkat's shoulder. "You wanna wait here? I'll go find the bandages and stuff and come right back."

"Yeah, I'll be extra careful!" The boy nodded, full of confidence. "Don't worry, I'll be back before you know it."

With that, John hustled his way back to the camp, careful to slow down once he got close enough and time each step just right. Over the past few weeks, he got pretty good at slipping in and out silently, so it wasn't anything he wasn't used to. Well, mostly. Making his way into one of the wagons was tough work, having to move inch by inch as not to make any of the wooden panels creak. But he made it, shuffling quietly through a few of the chests blindly, but he knew where most things were by heart. Old shirts, an old blanket.... ah-hah! He felt the roll of soft fabric beneath his fingers, along with flexible pins. He also grabbed the disinfectant, but he had to be sure not to use a whole lot, since that stuff was a bit hard to come by.

Once he was sure he had everything, the boy slowly made his way out of the wagon, sighing in relief once he made the first step onto grass. He couldn't believe he made it without making a sound! Proud with this triumph, John continued to tip-toe past his group's sleeping area, slipping by unnoticed.

Well, almost unnoticed.

Dave Strider wouldn't say he was a light sleeper - but yeah, he was a light sleeper. He already knew when John left that night, about an hour ago he supposed. So why was he back so early? The red-eyed boy roused from his slumber the minute John made it back into camp, but he didn't say a thing. He had, in fact, gotten up on his elbows, watching John think he was a freaking ninja as he made his way to the closest wagon. Specifically, the wagon he and his Dad used to store most of their personal belongings as well as a few special things like ceremonial robes and a few antique weapons. At first, Dave thought he might have been seeing things (it was dark, after all), but when John made his way back out of the wagon, the cool kid was sure that John Egbert was not wearing his usual tunic. No, it was something darker, with sleeves.

Oh, it had that dorky symbol on it. Karkat's shirt? Well, okay then. Apparently John "I'm Not A Homosexual" Egbert worked pretty damn fast. Whatever, it wasn't any of his business. If his best bro decided he liked troll dick, that was his life. Not his cup of tea, but whatever floated the dude's boat.

It was only after John crossed past the sleeping area once more that Dave got a better look. John wasn't just wearing the douchebag's shirt, he was pretty sure he saw a cut along John's cheek. His hair was a mess, and it looked wet. Wait, what was that red on his hand?

Oh, hell no.

Chapter Text

When John left, Karkat set himself to work. He needed to get several things done. First he took his hammock out of the back and started climbing up a tree. There would be a few hours in the morning where he would be able to sleep before the humans actually started to move on. In order to rest peacefully, he needed it fairly high up. So Vantas scaled to branches that were still secure, but high enough that he wouldn't be seen.

Next he took John's wet shirt and also removed his own pants for the time being. Using some twine he had in his bag, he set up something akin to a clothing line. He would use this to dry the clothing that was still soggy. While he was normally adverse to being virtually naked, there was little choice in the matter, since everything was wet and chafing was a big no no with Karkat.


"Karkat," John smiled as he came up to the troll, looking triumphant. "I got the bandages and stuff. You're not hurt anywhere, are you?"

Needless to say he was up in the hammock, bag hanging on another tree limb when he heard the sound of footsteps. Karkat was covered in a thin blanket. His head popped out over the edge of the hammock when John started to speak. "No, fuckass. I'm fine. Do you even know how to bandage yourself?

"Whoa!" The boy jumped, before he started looking up in the trees in the general direction of Karkat's voice. Where was he? "Where'd you go? I can't see a thing!"

"I'm in my makeshift recuperacoon, fuckass," the troll hissed. "One second."

"Recooperwhat?" John titled his head, trying to squint to see better through the black leaves. What was Karkat even up there to begin with?

"Recuperacoon, John! Now let me get some fucking pants on. Shit..."

Pants? John found himself blushing. Perhaps if he kept that pattern up, his face would forever look like he had a permanent sunburn.

Oh, wait -- there were the pants in question, hanging on some rope strung between two lower branches, along with his soggy tunic. Great, he really should have grabbed a pair of dry pants while he was back at camp! Uuugh, he didn't want to spend the rest of the evening in these things, but he didn't want to run around half-naked in front of Karkat, either. Maybe he'll go back once he makes sure Karkat doesn't have any injuries that need to be tended to.

Karkat dug into his bag once more. The thing was pretty big, since it had to hold everything a troll would need on their own. Karkat just happened to remove things he certainly did not need. This was all to make room for his personal med kit and change of clothes. Karkat was pretty picky on that, in reality. When he was younger, he would find that a change of clothes would be immanent if he got into strifes with others. As an adult he didn't really want to wear his blood color literally on his sleeve should he be injured. Thus the extra two sets of clothing.

It took a minute and Karkat sighed. This really wouldn't be fair to John, now would it? With an irritated growl he dropped his second pair of pants on the boy's head, working his own on. Only when he was appropriately covered, did he come down.

"And for your information? No. I'm not hurt at all. Fucking tired since I don't use these stupid things on my sides ever, but what the shit do you expect?"

The boy let out a surprised, albeit muffled reply once the pants were dropped on his face. He took them though, looking up once Karkat came down from the tree. "Oh," He sighed with relief, a smile on his face. "I'm glad you're not as beat up as I am. Sometimes I forget how tough trolls are."

"Yeah, and might I inquire as to why you're so beat up, Egbert?"

John jumped and turned on his heels, cringing when he saw Dave standing not far behind them, arms folded at his chest with a quizzical eyebrow raised. It was worth while to note that this time, the blond-haired boy came with a sword sheathed at his belt.

"Uhh...." Was John's eloquent reply.

The troll froze, glancing over at the new arrival. A growl escaped his throat before he could even think to stop it. Strider. Fucking Dave Strider. What the hell was he doing out here, anyway? Then it hit Karkat. John must have been caught. The human was bleeding too, which probably didn't look too good to the overprotective best friend.

"What fucking business is it of yours, Strider?"

"Pretty sure we all know why, Karkles." Dave continued to give the troll an even stare - but this time he unfolded his arms, one hand resting on the hilt of the sword at his hip.

"Dave!" John took a few steps forward, trying to intercept the two as best he could. "Look, okay it, uh... probably looks kind of bad, doesn't it?"

The only response John got was a deadpan look from his best friend.

Oh great. Ohhhh, great. "Look, stop worrying okay? I ended up falling in the river and Karkat rescued me. Honest!"

Karkat's eyes remained on the sword. He never really did understand humans. Wouldn't have been better to bring one of the firearms? In hand to hand combat, trolls usually came out on top. While Karkat did not have his weapon, he would do fine on his own. If Strider wanted to fight, Karkat would be ready. He was already taking a defensive stance against the other human.

Then John opened his mouth. The human said what happened. Karkat neither confirmed or denied this. In his mind, it wouldn't matter if he did or didn't. Strider had no reason to believe him.

Dave's red eyes kept darting between his friend and the troll just a few paces behind him. It was hard to tell if he was believing John or contemplating an attempt at slicing off Karkat's neck - with that poker face of his, hardly anyone knew what was going on in his head.

".... Your hand isn't like that because of him?" He asked John in a fairly flat tone.

"No, it's not! And, uh.... I've also got a few cuts and bruises elsewhere. But it's just because I was stupid and clumsy okay?" John finally turned to Karkat, giving him a rather apologetic look. "Right?"

"He fell into the fucking river and sliced himself in the fucking current pulling us down," Karkat reluctantly admitted. Only for John's sake.

Dave stared at Karkat for another few tense seconds.

"Daaave," John whined, rolling his eyes rather dramatically. "Do you really think I'd be hanging around Karkat if he hurt me? Come on, bro."

"Yeah," The blond boy replied, still as calm as ever. "He seems like too much of a pansy to do that anyway. You coming back to bed?"

"I am not a fucking pansy you shit head!" Karkat hissed, drawing closer to the second human. He wasn't entirely thinking correctly, blinded by his extreme dislike of one Dave Strider.

But Dave didn't seem intimidated in the slightest. In fact, his hand went off the handle of his sword as Karkat stepped closer - like a smack in the face. He obviously didn't see Karkat as a threat.

"Not for a while. Karkat was going to help me dress a few cuts I got, and I.... kinda wanted to just hang with him for a bit longer."

"Cool. Am I going to have to give you the talk again, or are you going to stay out of each other's pants this time?"

"Daaaaave," John could have sworn he was blushing to his toes now. "Stop that! We're totally not like that!"

As soon as Dave said that, Karkat stilled. He froze in place and his face felt hot. It didn't take a genius to know what Strider meant by that. Judging from John's protest too... Oh god. That was embarrassing and he knew he was blushing. He sharply turned his head, hoping to hide the evidence.

"T-that grubfucking bulgemunch probably would have gotten a shitty cold, so I offered my dry shirt, numbnuts. Way to fucking assume shit that's nowhere near being true."

Dave just watched them both for a moment, soaking their reactions in. Oh yeah, they weren't hiding anything from him. It would be pretty damn obvious even to Jade.

"Whatever, ladies. I'll leave you to doing your nails and playing truth or dare. Don't stay out for more than a few more hours, okay John?"

"Ugh, fine." The boy pouted, cheeks still red. "And.... thanks. You know, for being worried about me. But I'm fine if I'm with Karkat, really. I'd be at the bottom of the river right now if it wasn't for him."

"Yeah, yeah." Dave replied, reaching to muss up John's wet hair a bit. "See you back at camp, dude." He gave Karkat a look that only god knew what it meant, before turning and walking back towards the caravan.

Karkat didn't get Strider's references. All that he knew was that he was being insulted. Somehow. He shot the human a glare and watched him retreat for the night. Stupid fucking...

"I fucking hate him..."

John turned to the troll once Dave was gone, chuckling softly. "Aw c'mon Karkat, he's a really good guy. He was just looking out for me like last time."

"Still doesn't mean I can't hate him, fuckass."

There was a bit of a pause, before John's smile fell just a little bit - then turned into a bigger grin. ".... Are you waxing black for my best bro, Karkat?"

The troll stared at John. He was disgusted that he would even suggest that Strider was worth that much. "Oh fuck no."

"Haha! I'm just messing with you." The boy giggled, somehow sounding a little relieved. "I still don't even know how that hate-like stuff works anyway. It's so weird."

"You wouldn't," Karkat said with an eye roll. "Now come here so I can get your clumsy ass injuries cleaned up."

"Yes mom," John replied in a drawn-out tone, making his way back to the troll and rolling his sleeves up. There was still some blood on his wounds - mainly the ones on his hand and arm - but it was mostly dry now. Still hurt pretty bad, though. "I can get the one on my arm if you just help me with my hand."

"Do you even know how to do this shit properly?" the troll half mused, taking a seat and forcing John down as well. He snagged the items that John brought with him and began to work. Karkat started with the injury on the human's palm. The first step was cleaning it with the disinfectant first.

"Of course I do! What do you think I--" John was cut off when Karkat dabbed on the gel, hissing at first and then whimpering as he tried to hold any pathetic noise in. His feet crossed over themselves and he tensed, and he bit his lip softly. God he forgot how much that stuff stung!

"Wriggler," Karkat scoffed, softening the pressure to just dabbing. He would make this quick. For John's sake.

"'m not a wriggler," John mumbled, still wincing from the sting. "That stuff hurts."

"Oh it fucking does not. Stop your endless whining and take it like a fucking man or however humans may phrase it," he snapped.

Normally, that sort of retort would make most young men (John's wasn't a boy anymore!) seethe and get red in the face. Well, John did get red in the face, but only because he took Karkat's comment to heart, and literally held his breath, wincing so hard his face scrunched uncomfortably. But he wasn't saying anything anymore!

He stopped what he was doing. Karkat looked at John's face. It was hideous to see and almost laughable. Almost. His pity gland simply wouldn't be able to handle the pile of derp and shit that was John Egbert. This was a dangerous situation and clearly there was only one way to derail the increased pace his vascular organ was experiencing.

Karkat flicked John in the forehead.

The boy sputtered in surprise, uninjured hand reaching up over his forehead where the troll flicked at him. "Ow, what was that for?" He gave Karkat a rather incredulous look.

"I felt like it," he shrugged and continued working. It wasn't the truth, but John knowing the real reason would just make things even more awkward. Stupid fucking Dave Strider....

As soon as Karkat believed the hand to be sufficiently clean, he took out the gauze and linen bandaging. Karkat was practiced at this, perhaps too much so. There were many days, considering how often he played with his sickle growing up, that he needed to know how to mend injuries and the like. No one else would be able to, after all. His crab monster of a Lusus was great, but when it came to stuff like this? Well...

Some things were better left unsaid.

John let him dress the cuts on his hand, oddly silent as the troll got to work. He watched him, smiling faintly even though he jumped more than a few times whenever something sore was touched. Karkat seemed to have some experience with this sort of thing - and John didn't have to really ask why. With the stories he heard about troll society, he wouldn't be surprised if they got injured every day thanks to bad tempers.

Once the troll was just about done with his hand, John almost offered to take care of his own arm again. But it died in his throat. Hoping maybe Karkat would forget he offered it earlier, he just rolled up his sleeve. It was really kind of stupid but he liked the contact. Karkat's hand gentle on his skin, fingers moving so carefully he didn't once worry about those sharp claws doing even more damage to his already battered skin.

It was just another excuse to be unreasonably close to the troll. He knew it. And he enjoyed it.

So Karkat did move onto John's arm. In reality, he would have anyway. As much as he liked John, the kid was still clumsy. There would be no way to know if John would be ale to do a good job. Therefore Karkat simply decided to avert that discussion by not even giving him the choice. Now when John pulled up his sleeve, the troll glanced at him. It would appear that there wouldn't be a discussion at all.

Karkat truly didn't mind. He was okay with being this close to the human. The silence was comfortable and the company welcomed. His eyes did sneak glances up at John, attempting to judge how he moved his hands by the reactions the human had. That was not the only reason. The other was to simply look at the human boy that Karkat simply felt for.

Yeah, John decided he was happy like this, just sitting in silence - and it wasn't an awkward silence, either. Somehow he sort of knew Karkat felt the same way. It was peaceful, even though the boy ended up hissing and whimpering a few more times despite his best efforts.

"....Hey Karkat?" John finally spoke up once the troll was done dressing the wound on his arm. "Um, these pants are really uncomfortable now. Can you turn around for a sec while I switch?" He almost completely forgot about his sopping wet pants he was so entranced with moments before.

"What? Oh," the troll said, finishing up. Without making a deal about it, he just stood up and turned around. "Hurry it up so I can hang that shit up."

John just rolled his eyes, untying his pants once Karkat had his back turned. He knew the troll wasn't watching, but he still blushed a bit once he removed his shoes and kicked his pants off his feet. The night air felt a bit cold on his bare skin, and he couldn't help feeling a little embarrassed just knowing Karkat was in such close vicinity.

He pulled on the troll's pants, marveling at the fact that they had a button and zipper. Whoa, metal! That was luxurious. But then again, trolls probably did control a whole lot of resources humans had a hard time coming by, it wasn't that surprising.

The boy didn't even announce he was done. He just walked over, grinning a bit as the grass tickled his bare feet, and gave Karkat a warm hug around the shoulders.

Karkat's ears twitched all the while. He found it hard to ignore the sounds of clothing being shuffled about. The troll knew when John was finished. However he didn't turn around because who knew what the little shit would do. Well, the other reason was because Karkat was pretty sure he wouldn't contain himself very well. His reaction to John just wearing his shirt was bad enough... Imagine him wearing all of this clothes. His cheeks felt slightly hot.

He tensed when arms wrapped around him. It was only his shoulders, but that blush grew even more furious. "What the fuck are you doing Egderp?"

"Hehe," John only squeezed a bit tighter, a smiling warming his cheeks to a light pink. "Do I need a reason to hug you? You sort of saved my life tonight, I'm just feeling super grateful I guess!"

"Wouldn't have needed to if you would have just listened to me in the first place," he muttered. Karkat needed to save his ego.

"How was I supposed to know that'd happen?" The boy giggled sheepishly as he slid his arms off the troll to take a seat next to him, perhaps just a little closer than usual. "But, uh.... yeah I probably should have listened to you anyway. My bad?"

The troll hardly noticed that John was closer than he normally was. John invaded his personal space on a nightly basis. This was nothing out of the ordinary so it did not raise any alarms. In response, Karkat simply and lightly slapped John upside the head.

"That's for being stupid."

"Oww!" The boy screwed his eyes shut in response, hands going to the back of his head where he'd been assaulted. "That was mean! I wasn't being stupid!"

"By not listening to me?" the troll smirked. "Yeah, that's fucking basic level stupidity right there."

John just grumbled, giving Karkat the best frown he could muster as he rubbed his head. To be honest, even though he nearly lost his life, the boy couldn't find the decision to ignore Karkat's warnings completely stupid. Because really, the troll had an unnatural (however understandable) fear of water, and he just thought that's why he was making a fuss. Maybe he was. And besides...

Not that he really had time to enjoy it while it was happening, he sort of did share a kiss with the troll. Oh god, his first kiss from someone who wasn't a family member. Or from Rose when he was really little. Or from Dave that time they all played truth or dare and Dave decided it was the best form of irony to translate "kiss" to "kiss on the fucking lips".

Okay, so maybe John had been kissed plenty of times in his life. A lot of people in the caravan viewed John as a little brother or adoptive son. But still! That was the first time he kissed someone he liked. Like, really liked. A lot.

He had to stop thinking about it so much or he was going to be painted red all over again.

"I'm soooorry, okay? I'll listen to you from now on." Came the sort-of pout, since he was practically too giddy from his thoughts to truly be that upset.

Karkat just watched the human. Sometimes John would get this gaze that meant he was anywhere but there with them. Like, he was physically next to the troll, but his mind what out flying with the clouds or some strange shit like that. John looked that that right about now and Karkat couldn't help but thing that his thoughts were going about a thousand miles a minutes. Fucking hop beast trails all over the meadows and suddenly there is a massive collision.

"Good. Now give me your pants."

"Wh-" John freaked for the first half second, about to fly off the handle until he finished coming back down to earth. Oh, okay. Yeah, his wet pants. Got it. "O-oh, okay." He nodded and got up, grabbing the still fairly wet article and fanning it out a bit so that the legs weren't quite so inside-out anymore. Then he turned back to Karkat and grinned, before flinging it at his face.

The troll's eyes went wide before he ducked. He looked to where the wet article of clothing landed and then back to John. Karkat did this a few times. Then he sneered. "Oh you little shitstain."

With the pants forgotten, Karkat launched himself at the human. It was time for some revenge.

John was pretty sure his pupils dilated once he saw the troll sneer at him, even though he couldn't do a thing to wipe that damn grin off his face. The boy turned tail to run just a little too late, making a loud noise that was somehow a mixture of a scream and laugh.

Karkat tackled the boy and thus began their usual little faux battle. The troll would tickle the human and John would squeal and laugh. It gave Karkat that little feeling his inner troll needed from time to time. He wasn't in this to hurt the human, after all. When said human was finally laughing so hard that tears were falling out of those sky blue eyes, Karkat would quit and get off of him.

This time that didn't happen. Karkat just sat there on John, watching him. At that moment, everything hit the troll all at once. He realized that he almost lost him tonight. John would have died and then Karkat would have truly been alone. He didn't know what was gripping at his vascular organ or why his gut was all twisted up. All he knew was that if John Egbert died, then what did all this mean. It would be like something inexplicably important would have been ripped out of his life and Karkat Vantas would not be able to deal. In fact, he knew he couldn't.

Out of nowhere, he embraced the human all over again. The first time had been for relief and comfort. This time it was out of fear. Deep down, Karkat admitted that John Egbert was someone that he would not willingly part with. His hug was tight and laced with shaking shoulders. Karkat was the biggest crybaby.

It was him.

It had been something of a common routine once Karkat tackled him to the ground. They often got into playful strifes over the silliest things, and every time John would be the one calling uncle. Then it would end and they'd take a breather and John would often laugh at how childish they could be.

But not this time. This time, as John was catching his breath the moment Karkat stopped assaulting him, he noticed the troll was still watching him. Just as he was about to say something, ask what was bothering him, Karkat embraced him. Quite frankly, John was shocked. It wasn't like hugging was weird between them or anything, but other than the moment he was pulled from the river, when had the troll been the one to hug John?

The boy blinked, completely taken aback as Karkat shivered a bit. For a moment he wondered if his friend was cold, that perhaps they needed to grab some blankets or something from his caravan because their hair was still a bit wet -- but as it sunk in, he knew that probably wasn't the case. Gently he moved his arms up, returning the hug gently but without hesitation. His dull human nails gripped into the back of Karkat's shirt, lightly rubbing the pads of his fingers in small circular motions.

He felt words well up in his throat but he couldn't quite form them. So he just lay there, closing his eyes in content, in sympathy and allowed them to linger in this embrace. He eventually whispered his friend's name, calm and understanding, full of mutual relief and fear of losing the one he cared for the most.

The way that John held onto him made it all the worse and better. Worse, since Karkat's tears came in greater numbers. Better, because it did remind the troll that John was still there. He was still there and alive. Karkat knew this reaction was not normal for trolls. Trolls didn't give a damn like this, matesprit or anything else.

He didn't know where he fell anymore, but it didn't matter. After a few minutes he started to calm down, breath hitching here and there. God, he was so pathetic and stupid. Crying like a wriggler over something he should be happy about. Or rather, as happy as Karkat Vantas could get. Now John's shoulder was probably wet with tears. Fucking great...

John continued to gently rub the troll's back every now and then, but for the most part, they just sat there in that warm embrace. By now it should have been awkward. By now, two guys should have been pried apart, somehow feeling guilty about showing emotion or weakness or whatever crap John hears about stereotyping. As Dave once told him, there was a limit to how long bro-hugs should last.

Not that John seemed to care in the slightest. He'd never seen Karkat like this - the troll had always been the image of strength, of fearlessness and tenacity. He didn't cry, he didn't get openly emotional. So this.... this somehow felt special. Like they had gotten to a point in their friendship where Karkat wasn't afraid to wear certain things on his sleeve. And while John didn't like that his friend was crying, it still somehow felt... intimate.

"I'm right here, Karkat." The boy whispered, a small smile on his lips even though he still felt guilt and worry because he somehow knew why the troll was crying in the first place. He felt his own eyes sting softly, dampened slightly now. "I'm right here."

He didn't respond to John's soothing words verbally. Soon enough, Karkat calmed down, breathing shallow. He heard the soft thumping of John's heart and the troll felt his own vascular organ time itself to those heartbeats. It was weird, but Karkat decided it was easier to focus on that than anything else.

Karkat soon realized how awkward and ridiculous this was. Suddenly he was sitting up. The troll blinked a few times to clear his eyes out, hands going to rub the traces of bright red it would have left on his face from crying so much. Shit, his eyes were probably slightly bloodshot as well. Fucking...

Just fuck.

John didn't waste much time once the troll finally decided to sit up. He followed timidly, staying close even though the embrace had been broken. They just sat there, and John watched Karkat rub at his eyes with a tiny smile. He could see the red stains his tears were leaving on his cheeks, and though he may come to a realization about his blood color with that later, for now all he could see was a person. A person whom he loved and however bittersweet, he didn't want this moment to end.

He gently leaned in, arms sliding across Karkat's shoulders as he pulled him in for one last hug. Nothing else, just one more warm embrace to assure his friend he wasn't going anywhere. There's no way he could. John wanted to tell him so badly, how much he loved him, how much their friendship meant to him, how happy he was that they met, and how he felt as though his home was with Karkat as much as it was with his caravan.

But he held it in, keeping words to himself as he tried to pour all the emotion he had as he cradled the troll in his arms.

Karkat's arms were trapped for the moment. Trapped in John's gentle, yet meaningful hug. Being a troll, he didn't understand what it was that the human was doing. This was not a typical John Egbert standardized issue hug. It was something more than that and it was enough to make his cheeks burn.

Sadly, Karkat was coming back to his senses after his little emotional outburst. Now he was starting to feel embarrassed and ashamed. When he thought it would be all right, he pushed at John a little. Wordlessly, he stood up and went to fetch those pants that almost pelted him in the face earlier.

"I'm just... Look I'm hanging this shit up. Be back in a minute," he huffed, back still facing the human. With that said, he slowly scurried up the tree to the clothing line he had created. God, he was so embarrassed.

John watched as Karkat left up the tree, still sitting in the grass. He was blushing a bit himself, but this time, he didn't feel quite so desperate to hide it. It was kind of one of those mutual times between friends that they knew they sort of overstepped some boundaries, but it wasn't something they regretted. At least, John hoped! There are always times where stuff like that is okay, right? Nearly dying is probably one of those times.

The boy sighed with a surprising amount of contentedness and laid himself back on the ground, arms spread out and he just closed his eyes. He wasn't sure where this friendship was going, but... maybe it wouldn't be so bad if it stayed right where it was.

Up in the tree, Karkat knew he should be panicking at the moment. What if John found out that the troll got all bent out of shape over him? Surely John wouldn't want Karkat to have romantic inclinations towards him, considering the homosexual thing that was really a thing for humans. It just wasn't possible for the human to be okay with that. Karkat was worried that this friendship thing would be ruined forever.

That was something that would probably break him at this point. This friendship of humans was so much better than the troll version.

Instead, he was emotionally drained and somewhat numb by the time he was hiking down from the trees. Karkat slowly made his way to John, as if he were on autopilot. Suddenly, he was just so exhausted. He felt as though he would tip over any moment.

John's blue eyes blinked as he watched Karkat re-approach him, a bit concerned with how tired the troll seemed to look now. "You okay, buddy?" He asked, getting up on his elbows.

"Fine," he grumped, though it was but a murmur. The use of his gills combined with the emotional roller coaster he experienced today was just taking its toll. When he sat down, he nearly toppled forward.

"Whoa!" The boy jumped once Karkat sat down, cause man did it look like he was about to pass out or something! Not that John wasn't already feeling really tired himself. Really, the only thing keeping him going right now was the fact that he could spend more time with Karkat the longer he was awake. He was about to offer that they call it a night, that Karkat go back up to his hammock and he goes back to his caravan a bit early, but he had a better idea.

"Uh, want to just chill for a bit?" He asked quietly. "I'm kind of tired, too."

"Chill?" Karkat asked, rubbing at his face. He wanted the tired feeling to go away.

"I meant take a nap, dude." John smiled faintly, his own eyes looking pretty tired now as well. "I've got a few more hours before I have to go back anyhow."

The troll frowned and shook his head. "You do it, then. Someone has to fucking keep watch."

"No way, you look so much more than me." It didn't helped he yawned after that statement.

"Fuck you," he bit out.

"But you do." John replied without missing a beat.

"So what? You couldn't protect us both if shit hit the whirling device."

"Ehehe...." The boy laughed with embarrassment, hand going up to play with his bangs a bit. "I guess you're right." Yeah, he was pretty bad at fighting, even for human standards. "Would you... lay down with me though? It's, um, kinda cold. A little bit."

Karkat eyed the human suspiciously for a bit. Then he gave up. The troll simply didn't have the energy to keep up his glares and his scathing remarks. Laying down just felt like it was the most important thing ever at the moment. "Whatever, fine."

John really couldn't contain his smile even though he tried. A bit bolder than all the other nights he ended up dozing next to the troll, he took off his glasses and laid himself down oh his side, one hand ever so timidly grasping the side of Karkat's shirt. His head leaned in, nearly touching the troll's shoulder as he closed his eyes, their bodies close enough to start feeling the heat between them, but not quite touching.

"Thanks," He muttered quietly, taking in a shallow breath.

"Sure," Karkat replied.

His eyes moved to John and then back to the canopy above them. He stared at the treetops while the human boy held onto him for the sake of contact. It was ridiculously cute, Karkat decided. So cute he wanted to punch himself or John to be rid of the feeling in his gut that he enjoyed to immensely. However, he also thought that this would require too much energy. There would be nothing gained from doing such a silly thing anyway.

Karkat also thought that oh god. Why was he arguing with himself when there was John Egbert right next to him, sharing the same napping space? God, he was so fucking stupid. Perhaps Sollux's bipolar shit was infectious.

Chapter Text

John fell asleep quickly, as he does most nights. There was a content smile on his face as he dozed, however exhausted he was with the night's tribulations and emotional ups and downs. He slept for a good hour or two, waking up about the time he would have been heading back to camp in the first place. Though he did his best to keep himself from blushing, it was a bit embarrassing when he woke up with an arm draped over Karkat's chest, one leg woven under the troll's legs, like Karkat was some oversized pillow. Well, he knew at least if it really bothered his friend, he would have been shoved off some time ago so he didn't fret over it too much.

Karkat himself looked really tired once John woke up. Great, he didn't even think that staying here meant he'd be keeping his friend up! If he had just gone back to his caravan earlier, Karkat probably would have gone back up in that tree and slept in his hammock. The boy uttered an apology and a few thank yous, giving Karkat one last hug before awkwardly getting back into his still damp clothes. The cool night air and lack of sunlight didn't really do much to dry them, but at least they weren't sopping wet anymore. He'd just change whenever he got back to camp.

The following morning was horribly awkward. John was able to hang his wet clothes over one of the rails on the caravan and they ended up mostly dry by morning, but he couldn't hide the number of bruises and cuts over his body. Granted they weren't horrible, but it looked a bit like someone shoved him down a shallow hill and he hit half the rocks on the way to the bottom. Which was a pretty close analogy, he guessed.

Somehow, Dad seemed a bit suspicious when John explained that he just wanted to get some air, some time alone, even going so far as to insinuating certain urges because really, not many of the men in the caravan were too shy about that kind of thing. It wasn't uncommon that a few of them would just up and leave for stuff like that. Though usually, they'd tell at least one person.

That's when Dave came to his rescue. He told the chieftain that he knew John was going out for a midnight stroll, and helped him get all bandaged up when he got back. And that Dad shouldn't worry, his son got a few smacks to the head for being so clumsy and stupid. It took a while, but it seemed like after the red-eyed boy backed up John's story, Dad believed him.

Once everything was ready for another day's trek, John was glad his family wasn't quite as soft with him now. Usually if he had gotten into trouble and injured himself like that, even with fairly superficial wounds, they'd offer him to ride in one of the wagons for at least a few hours. Most of the people in his caravan were like that. But then again, it's been twelve years since they didn't have to worry about predators trailing their shadows - if someone complained of even a mild stomach ache, they'd be allowed a few breaks; mostly because not a lot of people threw that privilege around. But today, they needed as many people on their feet as they could get.

Which was good, because John was sure if he was left to lay in one of the wagons, his mind would have started to wander like it did last night. No, he wasn't going to deny it to himself. John Egbert spent just a little too much time remembering how it felt to have Karkat's lips on his, how warm he was when they embraced, and.... well, he didn't need to spell it out. What else were teenage boys going to do after thoughts like that?

A part of him was getting increasingly embarrassed that he was even thinking of his friend like that. It was like he was doing something bad behind Karkat's back! It was so weird. But.... it was kind of humbling last night, when he was wearing Karkat's shirt. He could smell the troll on the clothes, and the fact that his grey symbol was plastered right on the front of his shirt, it sort of made John feel like they were... he wasn't sure how to even describe it in his head. An item? Like he was Karkat's and that symbol was proof of it.

Oh god, not now. John shook his head and willed that blush away. He couldn't possibly be daydreaming while walking. Oh great, and Dave was giving him a look. One of those Strider looks that seemed like he just might know what was going on in the boy's head. Or maybe he didn't. But no, he probably did.

Night just couldn't come fast enough. With each passing day, John felt more and more anxious to meet the troll once more. After talking to his Dad a few times throughout the day, he was even able to get a job as a sentry this coming night. Awesome! He'd be able to stay out just a little longer then. He couldn't wait to tell Karkat!

Needless to say, Karkat didn't sleep well at all with John there. It was a light sleep. Considering that John was cuddling up to him, Karkat simply blushed and mentally cursed his luck. It was one of those situations that someone found it very hard to actually sleep and not get turned on by. So the troll only half dozed, half watched the human. At some point, Karkat found that his claws were lightly going through the boy's hair gently. He put a stop to it.

Then John woke up. Karkat was so exhausted and so grateful that the human noticed. Part of the troll was disappointed to break contact, but rest was needed at that point. Tiredly, Karkat returned the awkward hug, not even thinking too much about it. He didn't even watch John go back. As soon as the human began to change, Karkat hiked back up the tree and into his hammock.

He was going to regret that.

It wasn't the daylight that woke Karkat Vantas. What stirred him from the unusual deep sleep was the feel of psychic energy yanking him down and out of the tree. He would have landed on the ground with potential broken limbs, but the troll was suspended in stead and then dropped. Karkat grunted and immediately scrambled to get on his feet.

His vascular organ sank into his stomach as the blue blood commander of the hunting unit was standing there, not pleased at all. A glance to the right and Karkat saw what woke him up: the rust blood. Karkat inwardly started to panic, knowing that this what not good. Not good at all. The other trolls had caught up to them and much faster than Karkat thought they would.

As he started to open his mouth, Karkat realized why it was that the leader looked so pissed. Karkat Vantas very much reeked of human. They were expecting a kill to be close at hand. Instead what they found was nothing, Karkat being empty handed. It was unacceptable...

Karkat cursed his luck, wondering if he should get out his weapon. The answer to that was clear the moment the blue blood started to speak. Karkat Vantas, disgusting mutant blood was a complete failure and a disgrace to the unit. Apparently he was caught in the act of being friendly with a human, and Karkat growled in response. They were going to cull him after all and then go after the humans.

There was no way that Karkat was going to let this happen. Before any of the trolls could act, Vantas lunged for his sickle, rolling and going for a direct attack on the blue blood.

Like hell he was going to just sit and take a culling without a fight.

By the time night fell, John was getting butterflies in his stomach again. He wasn't quite sure why - he was always excited to see his friend, and perhaps lately he'd been getting a little flustered before each visit, but this time.... this time felt different, and he couldn't quite place why. The way his heart beat in his chest was almost nauseating somehow, not elating and uplifting.

The boy gripped at the handle of his shoulder bag as he left for sentry duty, lantern in hand but not yet lit since the sun was just starting to set. He just looked forward to seeing Karkat and perhaps this dis-ease he felt would drift away once he saw his friend's face.

Things were not looking too well for Karkat. By now the sun was starting to set and he had been running around for the last few hours in a bleeding panic. After attacking the blue blood, it had all gone downhill. He was caught up in a whirlwind of a fight. Luckily for him, it was only a small portion of the entire unit. However, the others were nearby at that time. Five of them, including the blue blood started in on their own form of attacking.

Vantas was now not only fighting for his own life, but that human caravan's as well. His priority was to escape, knowing that he could not possibly kill all of the trolls that were now coming at him with weapons and other abilities. Karkat's advantage here was that he was well suited for battle, being practiced at the art since his Lusus was anything but fragile.

What it came down to was a fast and flurry of blades. Karkat was smaller than the others and quicker on his feet. His first decision was to incapacitate the rust blood, the one psychic user that would pose a threat. All he needed to do was concentrate one at a time.

It was apparent the rust blooded troll didn't realize what was coming, unprepared for Karkat to go after him instead of taking on the blue blood once more. He caught him off guard and paid the price. Karkat was generally against the slaughter of trolls on principle. However, this was a matter of life and death. So when Karkat liberated the rust blood's head from his shoulders in a single blow, the rest of the trolls realized that Karkat was serious about this.

It wasn't enough to warrant any fear in the remaining four. None of them had psychic abilities to disable the mutant blood, so it would be a clash of weapons and strength. An orange blood came at him next, the blue blooded leader taking the opportunity to sneak up behind Karkat while there was a distraction. The result was Karkat dodging to the left and right into the blue blood's thrusting blade. He hissed as steel pulled back to reveal the candy color of red.

The other trolls froze in place to gaze. They had heard about Karkat, but never actually saw that blood color before. Karkat was usually too careful. He had no time to be embarrassed or ashamed while they gawked. Karkat took the opportunity to whirl around to the blue blood, sickle swinging in an arc. The blue blooded troll threw up his own blade and blocked at the last moment. Karkat's killing blow was deflected. He growled in frustration as the steel ground against each other, sparks flying in different directions.

All the while another troll came at Karkat, a lower class green blood. Karkat ducked from the incoming punch, the green blood missing her target for the moment. That was when Karkat struck his former leader. It wasn't enough to cut off a leg, since the blue blood stepped back, but with a swing of his sickle, Karkat managed paint a nice splatter of cerulean onto the ground.

What Karkat never saw coming was that fourth troll with the throwing knives. Pain laced Karkat's own leg this time and he looked down to see the small blade sticking out of his thigh. This was such shit. Even the female green blood was already taking another swing and Karkat found himself rolling onto his side, ignoring the fire that came with the injury there.

He needed to abscond and quickly. Luckily enough for him, that roll was enough to get away from the four trolls out for his blood. Karkat fled into the woods, heading straight for the human caravan. They were his only chance now.

That was how he spent the last few hours, since now the entire unit was out to get him before he could reach at least one sentry. They kept herding him away just as he would get close enough. Karkat was already worn out and still bleeding from the different strifes he had encountered for the last few hours. Now there were two dead trolls on their side and one bleeding and bruised Karkat still needing to get to the humans.

This was his last shot. His vision was already starting to grow blurry in some places as two trolls blocked his away. How were they getting around so quickly? Karkat could only guess it was through the use of psychic abilities. His breathing was harsh and he was clutching onto his side. Pain wracked his system. Hindered his movements. Karkat didn't know if he would be able to make it through this one or not. His energy was going and going fast. The only thing that kept him going right now was the thought of John.

It was an unbearable thing to think that John would die if he didn't survive this. So Karkat took a deep breath and braced himself. All he needed to do was play a good defensive game. Dance around until their positions changed and then he could run...

But before Karkat could breath another ragged breath, a familiar scent fluttered through the air. A clattering of metal, the sound of something wet splashing against the grass - and tell tale wide, white eyes stared in horror.

A man, probably only five years older than Karkat, stood across the small clearing in the forest nestled at the foot of the mountain. He froze, hand at his belt and fingers grasping the pistol there, but he couldn't move. The fragile human happened upon not one, but three trolls, with a lust for blood so thick even the evening birds seemed to mute themselves in fear.

Karkat froze at the sight of the human. It was a beautiful thing and a horrible one at the same time. The poor shit head looked like he was going to piss himself on the spot. Karkat wouldn't blame him with the sight he was walking in on. However, that human was almost a miracle, at least to Karkat. He growled. "What the fuck are you waiting for? Get the hell out of here and back to John, dammit! Fucking... go and warn them!"

There was no way that the human would survive this if he decided to fight. Karkat needed to at least get the message of trolls being out here to the humans and this douchebag was his best chance for that. With another growl, he sprinted, ignoring the wounds he sustained, and waved his sickle around. Karkat was going to take the other trolls head on, perhaps as a distraction.

The human obviously jumped the moment Karkat hollered at him, confusion and terror washing over his face like someone dumped a bucket of cold water over him. He stumbled backwards, removing the pistol from its holster with shaky hands and pointed it at his front, desperation welling up in his chest as he yelled.

Whether or not he truly took Karkat's warning to heart was up for debate - but he did attempt to flee, but wary eyes kept returning back towards the three predators so much it slowed his escape, feet fumbling awkwardly in the dark forest. Bullets were expensive - each sentry only had two. He couldn't blindly shoot, no matter how badly he wanted to.

The greenblood shot off away from her commander, crossing the clearing in only a few heartbeats. Before the man would retreat even a stone's throw away, the troll was upon him and his voice reached a pitch that would curdle the stomach contents of any human who had the misfortune to hear. The gun fell from his hand in a metallic clatter, blood raining down on the grass and tree roots below - a severed arm following with a sickening thump.

Karkat cursed his luck, once again with steel clashing with that fucking blue blood. Of course the human would do something stupid and not fight back. However, as much as he wanted to blame the human, Karkat was a bit at fault too. He wasn't able to distract both trolls. Fucking hell, this was just not his day.

It was also a pain that he would have to confront the leader again after managing to avoid another strife with him in the last few hours Karkat had been fleeing. Now here they were, right back where they started battle-wise. However, unlike before, they were both slightly handicapped by injuries. The blue blood to the leg and Karkat happened to be bleeding all over.

There was no time to fight this with honor. Karkat would definitely lose, what with the blood loss and general fighting he had been doing today. He realized that he needed to use everything to his advantage. There was now a need to play dirty, and as much as Karkat Vantas hated the very notion of being an underhanded douchebag...

It was the only way.

This time as blades met, Karkat growled and kicked at the still bleeding wound on the blue blood's leg. As the troll growled in agony, Karkat twisted his wrist slightly, enough for the curve of his sickle to hook around the saber-like blade of his opponent. With one good, firm yank, it came free of the blue blood's weakened grasp. The weapon clattered to the ground.

Things were starting to go in Karkat's favor. However there wasn't enough time for a killing blow. That green blooded troll was now coming back, smeared with candy red blood of a human. The sight made Karkat sick to his stomach. He was out of time going one on one so he made a quick decision. While the blue blooded commander was on his knees and weaponless, Karkat turned and slammed the handle of his sickle into the troll's head. The troll dropped with a thump onto the ground, likely to be out for a few hours.

He then turned his attention to the green blood. Karkat twirled his sickle and glared at her. Now it was more even...

The other troll hesitated upon seeing her commander fall, a growl on her lips. She sneered at the disgusting mutant blood in front of her, fury evident in her eyes. Her weapon was long gone, lost hours earlier in the struggle - now all she had were her claws. A formidable weapon on its own, but not when her opponent had the advantage of a longer range with those sickles.

But she rushed him, fangs bared with a guttural roar. To take down a traitor that managed to bring her commander to their knees would be an achievement to brag about for years.

Karkat would have to time this just right. With his injuries, dodging and exchanging blows just would not be the best course of action. He needed to reserve what energy he had left for the flat out sprint he would have to make to reach the humans in time. All that really left Karkat with was making one attack with everything he had in it.

He waited until the best possible moment. His eyes took in her movements, trying to predict which hand would strike first. When it came down to it, it was either Karkat or this green blooded troll. With a growl of his own as a challenge and a warning, Karkat swung his sickle, attempting to gut the troll. Stomach or neck... Either would work.

There was a clash at first, feral noises and complimentary bloods spilling. Karkat was knocked back at the first sign of weakness - the younger troll obviously taking the toll from fighting three experienced warriors and psychic lowblood at once. Claws grazed at his arms and hands, in attempt to knock his weapons from his hands and spell his death in that hideous cherry red blood of his.

But he overpowered her. How, the greenblood didn't know. Perhaps it was just a lucky swing - but in that moment she made a fatal error, the blade sinking deep into her stomach. She cried out in pain, staggering backwards with a furious glare and suppressed turmoil. Without any other choice she fled, though with a wound that deep, it was unsure if she'd make it back to the troops at all.

Karkat took a moment to fall to his knees, gasping a bit for air. He was tired and sore. The troll didn't feel like he could go any further, though his eyes were still glued to the area in which that green blooded troll took off. He didn't understand how he managed to pull that off, but he did. All Karkat really wanted to do was sleep for the rest of eternity. With the battles, Karkat knew that he wouldn't be able to fight off unconsciousness for too much longer.

That was why he needed to go. Now. Despite the protests his limbs and joints screamed, the troll got to his feet. He staggered a bit, unsteady. Karkat felt like he could tip over again. However, he knew that there were more important things at the moment. Karkat glanced at the fallen blue blood. With a wince, Karkat took off in the direction that the human ran. There would be more humans.

He needed to find them quickly to warn them they only had hours left before an attack would occur. The life and death of that caravan now rested on his shoulders. John's life. His friends and family. All of them now weighed heavily on Karkat's shoulders as he ran. They just had to believe him. His lungs were on fire and his vision blurred, but he still carried on.

This had to work.

That night seemed like any other night. The caravan was now beginning to think they had put enough distance between them and their pursuers that they'd only need to keep up this pace for another week or two - but they'd be fine. Like they always were. After all, they had the blessing of the wind spirit at their backs.

Most everyone was currently tending to tonight's dinner. Their rations were lower than ever, bare bone nutrients only supplemented with whatever the hunters and gatherers could find during the day. Sparse vegetables, a deer and a few rabbits were tossed in a stew, the luxury of herbs and spices now a thing of the past. However, with several wonderful cooks including the chieftain, they were able to make do and continue creating dishes even the young ones would be able to get down easy enough.

It was a harder life than they were accustomed to, but peace still somehow found its way to the caravan as they settled down for the night. There was little chatter and even less reckless entertainment - everyone did their best to eat and rest, because they knew they'd have to be on their feet the moment the sun rose.

However, tonight... the peaceful air was shattered with the resounding thunder of a pulled trigger. Two shots, one right after the other - it had been years since many had hear the fire of a bullet, but everyone recognized it. Everyone feared what it meant, and their suspicions turned into a grim reality the minute a scream erupted from the front of the first wagons.