The moon has been up for hours and so has Karkat, cutting down and sheaving wheat since he rolled back out of bed. A quarter of the field is still left to harvest and something restless and anxious in him wouldn’t let him sleep without doing it. He feels grimy from sweating earlier and not washing properly. Scratched mosquito bites dot his arms with black scabs. His back hurts from bending and his arms and legs ache from running and carrying princes. He’d survived the longest day he’d ever have the misfortune of trudging through, but the night is a gift. The air is cool and Karkat can wear his long-sleeved tunic without sweating through the cloth. The light of the moon is soft and dim and his eyes are wide and he can see everything with perfect clarity. His arms itch, but they’re dry. He’s tired after learning to be awake during the day like people in the human kingdom, but the night welcomes him with open arms and he welcomes it back by harvesting wheat.
He should have learned his lesson after the time when John saved him out of getting swindled while Karkat fell asleep on his feet, but he can’t sleep. Not tonight. And he’s almost glad. The biting air doesn’t make his muscles sting less, but it breathes something back into him he didn’t realize he’d lost. It’s one more thing that gets made right. The air and the dark and the knowledge that John is just fine make everything pretty fucking wonderful. As wonderful as it can be to know the guy you’re totally, irrevocably, undeniably flushed for is safe at the castle and might not be able to leave it ever again after the kidnapping stunt earlier.
Karkat tosses another armful of wheat into a pile. Maybe he’ll be able to get up and sell it off tomorrow when the sun is up like some normal human from Prospit. Maybe not. He’ll worry about it later after he sleeps for a while. The wind kicks up a little and ruffles his hair like the awkward affectionate hand of a boy he’s painfully flushed for. Karkat swears under his breath and tightens his grip on his sickle. He tries not to think about it.
Sometimes it feels like the distance between them is a black hole trying to suck him in. It’s a stupid feeling and Karkat hates himself for it. When he thinks he hears John’s voice he wonders if maybe he should be getting that sleep, but when he stands - his back aching - he sees the prince himself bumbling across the road and into the field, toward him. On a normal day Karkat would be begrudgingly pleased to see him. Tonight, anger clenches in his throat. The cool evening breeze eases it slightly but his indignation remains. A capital-C Conversation is about to take place one way or another, so Karkat puts his sickle aside.
When John arrives Karkat has plopped himself onto a stack of wheat and guzzles water from a skin. The silvery moonlight provides John enough to see by as he looks down at Karkat in silence, and the troll scowls back up at him. John’s lips are parted around his overbite that he’ll never grow into, but he doesn’t smile. He just looks, almost dumbfounded, at Karkat.
Karkat scowls back at the prince and waits for him to sit down, but he doesn’t. John just stands over him wearing what Karkat is sure must be royal issue pajamas instead of his usual poofy outfit. They look soft and blue and he has short sleeves and the royal emblem pale on his chest. He has a lovingly embroidered mantle draped over his shoulders that ripples in the breeze along with his hair. In his right hand he’s carrying that god damn sword - the one John left, the one Karkat left with John.
Any wounds he had incurred earlier had disappeared from view. The one on his face that split his forehead over his eyebrow has a innocuous white bandage. John’s left hand is wrapped with gauze across his knuckles. Karkat wonders about the wound over John’s collar bone that had looked the worst when Karkat finally found him in a shack off of the road, in the woods, miles from the castle and teeming with trolls. Karkat had spilled more blood than he would have liked, but John was safe and that was the important thing. Or at least he was safe when when he was in the castle, that idiot.
The prince is tall and beautiful and he looks so intensely at Karkat that he wants to throw up. Those blue eyes stare right through Karkat, wondering or maybe knowing something, and Karkat glowers aggressively back. He takes a drink of water and asks “where are your guards?”
John blinks and is immediately derailed from his thoughts, whatever they were - Karkat desperately wishes he could know - and the ever-present smile quirks up on John’s lips around his too-big teeth. “Probably still guarding my room,” he says, and laughs the goofiest little giggle Karkat has ever heard in his time knowing John. It makes his stomach twist.
“You’re such an idiot,” Karkat growls and John’s eyes slide down to the left where he deeply investigates the wheat piles in the dark. His dorky smile disappears. The reality of the kidnapping hasleft wounds in him that are still raw, but Karkat continues anyway. “I can’t even believe how stupid you can be. After all that bullshit that’s happened today you come out alone here in the fucking dark where you can’t see a fucking thing, carrying a sword you still can’t fucking use? To protect yourself?”
John’s shoulders lift in defense and the scabbard of his decorative sword jingles with sound. He holds it between both hands and chuckles shyly. “It’s okay though, right? I’m with you! The big hero.”
Karkat scoffs and tightens the lid on his water skin. “You could have been gutted twelve times on your way over here without anyone looking out for you.” And he growls further insults in Alternian while John digs at the ground with his foot, prying with the toe of his slipper. Jegus he didn’t even put real shoes on. “What was so important that you decided to abandon any hope of survival by your guards and come here with no protection at all after everything that happened earlier?”
“I wanted to see you,” John replies, and Karkat’s chest feels tight, a rush of air dashing to the back of his throat. The prince’s blue eyes turn to him, his pupils wide and grasping clumsily for light to see by. His chin is down, scolded and humble. John never looks like that.
Karkat grinds his teeth together to appear invulnerable, immune to John’s... immune to John. “I see that your ganderbulbs have already absorbed my ugly fucking face. You should get back to the castle before the guards show up and cull me for kidnapping you myself.”
“That’s not going to happen,” John giggles and fidgets with that god damn sword. Karkat had memorized the intricacies of it, fueled with anxiety over the missing prince. He had been glad to get rid of it when he did, dumping it off at the castle along with John and taking off as fast as he could in spite of wanting to stay with him. Now it - and John - are back to torment Karkat again.
“Were you harvesting in the middle of the night?” John asks, and Karkat wonders how he could be in so deep for a boy as dumb as the wheat he’s sitting on.
“No, I was just sitting here thinking about dismembered trolls and fondling my shame globes out under the stars for selfish public arousal. What does it look like I was doing? And you’re out running around blind in the dark with a sword you could fall and gut yourself on. It’s a miracle you survived the human brooding cavern trials.”
While Karkat speaks John looks down at the sword in his hand like he had forgotten it was there, but he laughs and some of his characteristic cheer finally returns to him. “Humans don’t have brooding caverns, Karkat!” John doesn’t have a polite laugh, it all just comes out of him from his stomach up through his heart. “Gross,” he adds with a shy giggle, tightening both hands around the scabbard. Karkat’s muscles tighten defensively, but he knows the worst John can do is maybe drop the thing on his foot. Hopefully while still sheathed.
“Why not learn how to use it?” Karkat says, and John looks up at him expectantly. “That way the next time you’re kidnapped you can save yourself.”
John huffs a laugh and eyes the sword in his hands, goofy smile on his face where it should be. He rolls it on his palm and clenches his fingers around it. “Maybe,” he says, “you could teach me?”
Karkat lets the last of the water from his skin fall against his tongue and he closes it, his eyes drifting back to the wheat in the field. He has another half-day of work ahead of him at least and he wishes he had managed to finish it all the day before instead. Karkat stands up and John watches him as he stretches his back, scowling as he aches. John steps toward him a few paces, hands twisting the sword between them.
“I don’t know how to use a sword, John,” Karkat says, and contemplates stepping away from John but the wheat bundle pushes against the back of his ankles. “Get someone at the castle to teach you.”
John nods and looks at Karkat, his eyes wide and so blue and sort of prying and the prince is a bit closer to him than he would like. Karkat has to pace his breathing carefully like Kanaya taught him to settle the nerves in his stomach, and he hides his face by bending to pick up his sickle.
“Are you going to be working on this all night?” John asks.
“I guess,” Karkat says, and is going to say more but John purses his lips together and his gaze flicks between Karkat’s eyes. All thoughts flee from the troll’s think pan and instead he reads desperately into the situation. Why is he doing that with his mouth? Why is he looking at me like that? Karkat begins to feel light-headed. The breathing isn’t working. Or he’s doing it wrong. Or maybe he forgot to breathe altogether.
John steps forward, sword twisted with his knuckles white between them and Karkat tries to retreat backwards in spite of himself but the wheat at his heel holds him there. John - clumsy, stupid John - moves so slowly like Karkat is a lion or a cougar or something you need to move slowly for. He lowers his forehead and it bumps against Karkat’s. He hears John catch a nervous breath, a little rush of sound over Karkat’s stillness, and that John is scared too makes the troll’s urge to flee that much harder to resist.
“Uh,” John says, with a nervous smile and almost pulls away from Karkat. Almost. Karkat hopes John can’t see the blush on his face in the dark. “Thanks, Karkat.”
“Yeah, well,” Karkat keeps his eyes down and away from John’s, instead watching his long-fingered hands gripping that sword like his life depends on it. Karkat’s own hand squeezes his sickle sympathetically. “I couldn’t count on anyone else to do anything right.”
John laughs - bubbly, happy - and Karkat stands paralyzed as John shuffles a little bit closer. The sword gets squished between them and John’s cheek presses against Karkat’s. His skin is weird and clammy as he leaves breathy giggles in Karkat’s ear. Karkat wants to drop his head against John’s shoulder and nuzzle up into his neck but he doesn’t dare.
“Karkat, uh...” John mumbles, and beats a little nervous breath against Karkat’s neck. His hands twist, knuckles digging into Karkat’s chest. “I kinda want to kiss you,” he says with another nervous giggle, and his cheek slides against Karkat’s as John turns his face toward him. Karkat can feel stomach butterflies (John’s words, not his) in his wrists. “That’s what heroes get, right? From princesses that were kidnapped. Not that I’m a princess or anything, obviously!”
John ums, cautious, before he plants a little nervous kiss against Karkat’s cheek. Karkat moves his head toward John and meets the prince’s mouth with his own, receiving a shy hum in reply. They’re clumsy and it’s weird and Karkat wants to say fuck you for making me wait so long but it comes out in a long breath out of his nose against John’s face. The prince giggles and Karkat wants to punch him, but instead he drops his sickle and digs his fingers into John’s mantle so he can kiss him a thousand times more. John drops his sword and it falls largely unnoticed against Karkat’s boot. He hooks his free arms under Karkat’s and holds him tight but not tight enough, kissing Karkat until his confidence grows.
Later, when they give up on kissing because they’re afraid they might pass out, they greedily sneak kisses anyway. John offers to sit down and watch Karkat do his harvest thing, to keep him company. Karkat will try to get some work done, but it’s hard when the boy he’s flushed for is right there, restless, warm and safe and eager to kiss him some more with the biggest happiest goofy grin Karkat has ever seen on his face. Eventually Karkat will walk John home as close to the castle as he dares and they realize that John left that damn sword with the artfully carved metalwork back on the farm. Karkat will just have to hang onto it until he sneaks out again in a few days.
For now it’s the night before the third day into the harvest, the sun is a few hours away and John in a lucky nudge discovers how ticklish Karkat is. For now Karkat barks back at him that he’d better keep his hands away from his armpits or he’ll bite the prince’s nose off, how he doesn’t even care of they hang him for it, and later he’ll have trouble sleeping again John, that idiot, actually likes him.
For now, John is shoving his hand under Karkat’s arm and laughing and Karkat wonders what the hell he sees in him.