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I should have known right from the start
This is the aching we've been hearing of

 

 

It is Christmas.

You are not a fan of the holidays. You hate the music. You hate the absolute disaster that is shopping for presents. You hate the overabundance of pine trees. You fucking loathe Santa Claus.

Hard to imagine, when your father thrives on this shit. You find it hard to buy into the pointless exchange of materialistic goods, simply because that is the conventional behaviour encouraged by the media. He still believes in the goodwill of it all, the original message, just as enthusiastically as back when you and your brother were wayward brats unable to sleep because Papai Noel was coming, and he had to tuck you both in assuring he’d still know to find you so he could exchange your sock for a present. 

Then again, your father is what they call a good man, and it was so great to see his laugher-lined face and bask in his sheer joy of being alive (even if that meant you had to try and stay awake during the Missa do Galo). Frankly it’s nothing short of a motherfucking Christmas miracle that such a pleasant man is responsible for producing two emotionally stunted potatoes such as Kankri and yourself. 

But here you are. Surrounded by holiday cheer and a bunch of really fucking drunk jackasses wallowing around in their own intoxicated fumes. The jet lag isn’t helping your mood, either. 

You wish you’d stayed the weekend, approximately two thousand four hundred miles westwards, back in Seattle with your family.

You’re all Christmassed out, and it’s about fuck all o’ clock at the asscrack of dawn. You want to go to bed.

Instead you find yourself perching on the couch, overseeing a landscape of familiar faces lying about like beached whales. They are all drunk. You are not. 

It’s a Peixes party. You wouldn’t give up your sobriety even at gunpoint.

Last time you attended one you woke up with the biggest hangover of your life, your left earlobe chewed raw, incapable of walking straight for three days and a new piercing. 

You’re blaming Meenah.

Downstairs the main party rages on. The music is nothing but a dull bass line throbbing through the soles of your feet despite two solid layers of concrete. You’re glad you’re not sardined between a sea of half naked people mooing like a herd of cows on the cusp of erupting into the orgy of a lifetime. You’d much rather be here, squirrelled away in Feferi’s private quarters, babysitting these idiots.

And such great spankin’ fun that is, sitting there, nursing a cup of water while trying to avoid poking your eye out (Feferi put a festive umbrella in it). The couch is all yours, because the others have arrived at the saturation point of drunken liability where they are unable to properly sit on the couch.

To the right you have Dubious Narcotics Valley, dominated by the hulking purple presence of Gamzee Makara. To your left Lightweight Creek, where John is about to choke on a mouthful of champagne. 

Riveting stuff. 

To prove a frankly moot point to yourself you tune in to Gamzee’s garbling speech —and instantly regret it.

“Shit, brother, you know what would be motherfucking sweet?” he asks Tavros.

Tavros, who’s getting bright eyed and twitchy the more he drinks, grins wolfishly at him. “No, what, would be sweet?”

“Like what if we were all like them, uhm, oh motherfuck what’s them called? Them hoppy beasts getting their jump on at down under? There was a cartoon about that magical place, I’m recalling, with like, cute little mouses and shit, it had this big shiny eagle.” He helpfully flaps his arms at eagle.

“Kangaroos?” Tavros ventures.

“Yeah!” Gamzee exclaims, swinging a lanky arm into Tarvros’ face and pointing enthusiastically. “Straight on, brother. Kangaroos. Shit, man, listen to this… kaaaaangaaaaroooooooooooooo-“

Holy shit.

“-ooooooooooooooooooooooos. Kangaroos. Kangaroos. Kangaroos. Kaaaaaangaaaaaa—”

This is going to go on all night, if you let him. You prod him in the ribs with your toes, hard.

“OOS!” he concludes, with a harsh huff at the impact, blinking as though your poke reset his brain. “What if we had pouches like that? Wouldn’t that be motherfucking sweet? All up and getting your walk on with and stuffing kids inside like it’s motherfucking Easter.”

“Wrong holiday, assclown,” you tell him. Gamzee stares up at you, smiling that gap-toothed grin of his. You think he only just remembered you were here, too.

As though that isn’t bad enough, Sollux feels compelled to add to the inanity: “I could stuff my laptop in there. I could stuff other people’s laptops in there.”

“Karkat,” Gamzee says, blinking lethargically. “Can we watch the movie with them kangaroos later?”

“I think your goddamn kangaroo appears for like a total of ten minutes,” you point out.

“But I need to see the pouches, karbro. The belly pouches for babies.” ‘Babies’ comes out like a soft whine, and he leans his sweaty face against your knee. Oh, fantastic. That’s going to stain.

You should’ve gotten fucking drunk off your ass, no man can endure this blither and not commit bloody murder at the end of the ride. 

“LAP DANCE!” Jade screams, and all but launches herself at Feferi, knocking the latter to the ground in a swirl of skirts. The two of them lie there in a heap of black hair and tanned limbs, giggling madly. There’s some semi-rhythmic wriggling going on.

“I love my girlfriend,” Dave announces to the room at large. Snaps a photo. “Rose. Rose, does Kanaya do lap dances for you? Mine does lap dances.”

Rose’s mouth curves around a secret smile, eyes going towards the elegant champagne flute dangling from her fingers. You’re pretty sure she’s barely tipsy. That might even still be her first glass and you think it’s non-alcoholic cider. She’s always been careful after recovering. Too bad she’s a cold hearted shrew and refuses to form an united front of sobriety with you.

“Oh man,” John snickers, covering his face with both hands, cheerfully scandalised by that look alone.

“Tell us about the lap dances, Rose,” Dave says. “Now you gotta.”

She does, launching into tale about edible lingerie and you tune out with due haste before learning something about your cousin you never wanted to fucking know. Dubious Narcotics Valley might be detrimental to the burgeoning success of your mental capabilities, but it is harmless enough.  

“I think, I found my confidence,” Tavros says, peering into his empty cup.

Gamzee’s leans in, dark hair mingling with Tavros’, to stare into the cup with him. “Motherfucker,” he breathes, awed.

You wonder if you should point out the irony of the empty cup. Nah. No reason to spoil the moment.

“That’s it,” Tavros says, handing the cup to Gamzee who cradles it carefully to his chest as though he’s holding a the secrets of the universe. “I’m going, to have sex.”

He stands up.

Well. That escalated quickly. Maybe you should do something, stop him before he commits an outrageous mistake he’ll live to regret to his dying breath.

…this is going to be interesting.

Sollux flops onto his back trying to keep up with this sudden development. Lies there spreadeagled. Dave stops in the middle of —“it had lights, like my butt was a christmas tree, holy fucking night all up in my colon”— to squint up at Tavros.

Tavros is standing there, legs spread, fists on his hips, chin high. “Vriska!”

Banished to the relative safety of the furthest corner, Vriska’s head snaps up. The way she’s crouching over her cards is reminiscent of a praying mantis. She’s playing strip poker with Nepeta and Equius. The latter is almost naked. “What?” she barks back.

“Get ready for the, ride of your life!” Tavros announces. Then adds as an afterthought. “Uh, that means we’re going to have sex now. If that’s okay with you.”

“Oh,” Vriska answers, going red to the roots of her blonde hair. “Right. If you’ll excuse me,” she clambers to her feet, trips over nothing, oozes over towards Tavros and fuses herself to his body. They disappear out the door to find one of the many, many, many, many guest rooms in the ever so humble Peixes abode.

“You don’t see that every day. Get it Tavros.” Terezi says, removing the same amount of clothes Vriska was missing before taking her place at the table. Grins shark teeth at Equius, who sweats harder. “I’m going to get your panties Zahhak, see if I don’t.”

“I have dibs in those!” Nepeta hammers a fist on the table, making poker chips jump in staccato.

“KK,” Sollux bleats from the ground, milling arms in the air towards you. “Help. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

Alright. You’re reached your limit. They have officially reached the point where they stopped being funny and became annoying instead. Time to go find one of those many, many, many, many guest rooms, barricade the door lest you find yourself sharing your bed with a horny couple and wait out the madness until morning.

That’s when you hear your name drop. By itself not such a big deal. However it falls with the gravity of an anvil, trailing this horrible silence that you just know can’t mean anything good. 

Also John being brick red in the face, is another big tell. 

“Dave, nooooooooo,” he’s going, having curled up like a millipede. “No, Dave. Dave, no. Dave.”

Christ, he’s so drunk.

“John, John yes. John listen to me. John is this the best idea ever. I’m a genius.” He’s convulsively petting John’s hair, treating it as a small fuzzy creature in need of soothing. It’s completely at odds with the manic sparkle in his eyes. “Karkat’s single and he swings like a majestic pendulum across all ends of the sexual spectrum. It’s a master plan, can’t you see it? This shit is better than the Trojan Horse.”

“What?” you demand, piqued over the dreaded single. Why does he feel the need to rub it in?

“Dave, no,” John repeats.

“Yes. Look here’s Karkat now. Let’s ask him. Karkat, hey Karkat!” he waves at you. He’s literally six feet away.

“I can hear your reactionary, inebriated garbage just fine,” you bite back. “I wish I couldn’t, because I’m going to regret it and to my ever lasting despair I am too much of a coward to staple my ears shut. What is it?”

“Karkat, you’re single, right?”

A muscle near your eye jumps. “We already established this five fucking months ago.”

“Alright, cool,” Dave nods, popping you a thumb’s up. “Okay, so here’s the deal: you should fuck John up the butt.”

You drop your cup of water.

From the floor Sollux lisps: “It’s rainiiiiiiiiing!” 

Dave’s not done. God help you, he’s not done. “We were talking about sex. You know, baking cookies, sexercising, bashing the beaver, a bit of the ol’ bump ’n grind, the four-legged frolic, crashing the custard truck, glazing the donut, makin’ bacon… shit, I’m hungry. We should hit up Denny’s.”

DAVE,” you growl. 

“Storming the pearly gates with your purple-headed devil. The Full Sex, T fucking M,” Dave concludes. “Anyway John just caved under the shameless act of peer pressure and admitted he’s gotten real curious about anal sex. He wants someone to yodel in his valley.” 

At this point John smacks him, and the two go down in a poorly-aimed slapping fight.

It should be ridiculous. Embarrassing, sure, but mostly ridiculous. There’s no reason for the sudden sick, sinking sensation in your gut. They’re drunk. They’re fucking idiots. But you just know why, out of all the sad single fucks present in this whole room, he picked you. It’s common knowledge you had the biggest crush on John when you were thirteen. Literally a decade ago.

And you’re so over that.

“No,” you grunt, face on fire. And then you basically book it like someone lit your ass on fire.

At random you pick a hallway and rush down it. Before you can yank open the first door and lock yourself inside there’s a wait! “Bro, bro, brokat, no wait, hang on!” Dave comes towards you at a drunken gallop, crashing into your chest and clinging there like a barnacle. “Listen, listen!”

“Dave, you’re drunk,” you say, cupping his shoulders and steadying him before he slithers towards the floor like a banana peel. “Right now that excuse still flies, but I fucking swear if you push this any harder I’m going to shove an actual christmas tree up your colon until you shriek holy night like a seasoned operetta singer, am I making myself clear? Dave? Oh for fuck’s sake, stop drooling on my shirt.”

“Sorry,” he mutters, pulling back enough to squint at you glassy eyed. So tanked. He’s going to hate himself in the morning. “I’m your friend right? You gotta trust me on this. You have to do John up the butt. It is your destiny, man.”

It is so tempting to shove him down a flight of stairs right now. Poetic Justice. You think about it rather wistfully. “You’re drunk,” you tell him again, enunciating slowly and clearly. “And I am tired.”

“I know I’m drunk,” Dave splutters, pale fingers twisting into the black fabric of your shirt to anchor you in place. “But you weren’t there—“

“Actually, I was.”

“No, you weren’t paying attention. We were talking about it and he’s curious. He wants to try. And when I said ask Karkat, his face did this… this thing. Jus’ trust me.”

Your chest is doing a thing. You don’t like it at all. You want Dave to back off and let you go to sleep. In the morning they’ll all be horribly sick, it’ll be fantastic, you’ll gloat while holding their hair off their faces as they puke their guts out and nobody will remember a thing.

Carefully, you catch Dave’s eyes with yours. The whites are so bloodshot his irises have gone ill-defined. “Well, fuck, should I hang a red lamp in my apartment and an ‘open for business’ sign across my crotch? I’m looking for a partner. Not a casual fuck and a decade’s worth of friendship down the drain.”

“No, shhh, Karkat. Karkat, c’mere,” his overheated hands grab your face. Gently he shakes your head, convinced you need reprimanding for not playing along with his intoxicated inanity. Long fingers curl around the curve of your ears and jaw so he can rub his nose against yours like a cat. It’d be halfway cute if his booze breath didn’t nearly burn away your goddamn eyebrows. “I got this man. I am right about this. I can feel it man.”

“That better not be pre-emetic response you’re feeling, cause you’re drooling like a geyser.”

Turns out it is a pre-emetic response, because the next thing his face goes green and you have to haul his ass to the nearest bathroom. You’re a lucky bastard like that.

Dave is the first in a long, terrible line of drunk jackasses in need of your expert hair-holding skills. At least that means he’s too busy vomiting his guts out to whine about John, and how you need to fuck him.

***

Despite that, you’re still the first person to roll out of your king sized bed. It’s a fucking guest room, you hardly occupied twenty five percent of that damn thing. What a waste of resources. Rich people, bah. You rub at your face, squint at the clock. It’s sometime past noon, and someone somewhere is ululating a dying whale noise of distress.

Ah, the dulcet hymn of justice in the morning.

Staying sober is one of the better ideas you’ve had recently. 

The hallways are littered with all manner of debris, and you have to restrain yourself from picking everything up. Jesus, you don’t envy the personnel who’ll get to clean up this mess. The place is a pig sty. Everything smells like puke and ass.

After three different bathrooms you find one that isn’t quite as splattered with… you don’t even want to know. A quick shower has you more awake, especially thanks to the asshole banging to be let in halfway through. You nearly fucking brained yourself out of fright. Nobody to be seen when you poke your head back into the hallway, you wonder if he wasted away into vacuum generated by his own intellectual failure.

Nobody to be seen anywhere else, just a wasteland of crumpled paper cups littering majestic Persian carpets. The token bra draped over an ornate lamp. Overflowing ashtrays. One mostly naked dude strewn spread eagled in the middle of the foyer. You step over him and continue on to the kitchen.

Which is less of a disaster than you thought it’d be. Probably because there’s an actual bar elsewhere in the house, copiously stocked, so there was very little reason to raid the fridge. 

This time of the year it is gray and dreary, a perpetual cusp of a rainy dawn, despite twelve o’clock having slid by a while ago. You hate winter. When you were in middle school some professor declared there was no doubt you were a winter child. Your birthday is in fucking June. You love the warm weight of a summer day burning on the bare nape of your neck, the reds and golds and the days that go on forever. 

Winter is a difficult time for you. The long darkness, the cold and the rain -wouldn’t be the first time winter would drag you to a low. One endless black hole, spring a far off dream. Makes it hard to scrape any sort of motivation together.

There’s a coffee machine. After banging through some cupboards you find what you need to brew yourself a nice wake-up call. It splutters to life, and you turn towards the fridge.

It’s colossal. 

You had no damn idea fridges came in this size. Shit, you’d have trouble reaching the topmost shelf. For a single blood-chilling moment you wonder what the fuck you’d do if it had chopped up partygoers inside. You like Meenah, and not because she’s sharp or sexy or fearless, no, you genuinely have admired her for years.

But she’s also really fucking crazy.

It sounds less far-fetched than you’d like, but you’re hungry and you found some bread; making a sandwich is the next logical step. You tug at the handle, half braced for a lifeless arm slapping you in the face.

It doesn’t budge.

You pull again, with all your considerable strength, and it is considerable; you’re built like a linebacker (big surprise, it used to be your position on the football team). Nothing. Not even when you throw everything you got at it, muscles cording under your dark skin in protest. Not even a creak. Right. It’s on. You take hold of the handle, plant your foot against the hull and heave. “Motherfucking piece of crap, why—won’t—you—open?!”

“You got to press the open button,” someone says, and a long finger shoots past your ear to do just that. 

“No, wait—ARGH!” The door hisses open. Your ass kisses the floor. Hard.

“TEMPERATURE IS THIRTY NINE DEGREES,” the fridge announces.

“FUCK FUCKING FUCK!” you seethe, rubbing your buttocks. Shit, all sensation has been slapped out of your glutes. If that bruises and you have an ass like an overly toasted smurf in a few hours, you’re going to be extremely pissed off.

“Less yelling! Less yelling!” someone-who-is-John-of-fucking-course says, because obviously you can’t have nice things (nice things you expressly said no yourself to—stopitnobadkarkat, don’t think about it).

He’s dressed in yesterday’s clothes and he looks… well, like a hangover from the nastiest circle of hell is cheerfully humping his sore skull. Dark circles under his eyes to rival yours, unwashed, crazy hair, faintly green around the nose, not to mention clutching the sides of his head and squeezing his eyes shut.

You get to your feet, stick your head in the fridge (no suspicious chunks of meat sight) and grab the orange juice. It’s an honest to god jug, freshly pressed, and you suppose if you’re as rich as the Peixes you can hire some poor sod to come and strangle some vitamins out of fruit in the morning. Pour a glass, mouth watering reflexively at the zesty tang, and hand it to John. 

“Drink slowly,” you tell him. You watch the bob of his throat as he swallows. At first he makes a bit of a face, but then the thirst hits him and he drinks more deeply. His eyes flutter shut as some tension drains away. “How are you feeling?”

“Awful.”

“Good,” you snarl vindictively.

John just sticks out his tongue like the both of you are still in junior high. While you fix yourself a late breakfast, he takes small sips in silence. Maybe you should feel like a creeper for casually utilising someone else’s kitchen, but at least you’ll fucking clean up after yourself unlike the horde of half-baked morons. Bunch of slobs.

John leans back on his elbows against the counter next to you until you’re nearly hip-to-hip. He looks bleary and barely aware of where he is. Good. He forgot. Excellent. Crisis averted. You allow your lips to purse around an exhale of relief.

“So,” John begins, seemingly completely fascinated with the pulp billowing through the orange liquid as he sloshes it around rhythmically. “So, that’s… that’s definitely a no, then?” It hops out of his mouth seemingly despite himself.

Oh, for fuck’s sake!

You toss down the knife with a clatter, and he winces. “You can’t be serious.”

Sure is some fascinating orange juice, he’s staring at it like he’ll get fucking paid for it. He’s gone beyond blushing and found a new, rather alarming level of going red in the face. His cheeks are bright with it, as well as the tips of his ears and the line of his throat. Even his forearms are pink. There’s an awkward silence. “Okay, so that’s a no then,” he mutters, but it still trails of on a questioning lilt. 

You stare at him, livid. “Is this a prank? Cause if it is you seriously should think about absorbing it back into your malformed prankster gland before I kick your ass. It’s not funny.” That last comes out a lot more shaky than you meant it to.

But John heard. His head snaps up. “You think I’d joke about this?”

“Uh, yeah?!” 

Wouldn’t be the first time. He calls your weekly outing to the movies brodates (brodates!), and it wouldn’t be the first time he smacked your ass or kissed your cheek as the punchline to some shitty joke of his. He’s your friend. He’s a total douchebag at times, you know this, but there’s so much good to John to make up for it all. You can take it. But this? This is too far. Way too far.

He stares at you with a vaguely hurt look. “Wha- dude, no. I wouldn’t joke about this! What would even be funny about that?”

“Don’t ask me, you dunderfuck, I generally assume your sense of humour operates under a whole different statute of cheesy and outdated awfulness.”

“Well, it’s not a joke!” he yells and then whites out and makes a pathetic noise as the hangover roils through his body.

“It’s still ridiculous,” you bite back, and oh. Shit.

For a second John looks crestfallen. Not only that, but his mouth tightens like he needs to hold something back, something big, something that struggles under the fringe of his lashes, grapples with the line of his jaw. 

You… you didn’t mean it quite like that, and yet you meant every single word. He’s your friend. You grew up with him, the only boy in the street allowed to play with the foreign kid. The only boy who wanted to. And yes, Dave isn’t wrong, you learned to pleasure yourself to the idea of kissing John Egbert —long lazy afternoons at the height of summer flat on your back and eyes screwed tight with how good it felt, how perfect the fantasy seemed.

There are so many reasons this the worst idea ever. You could excuse it when he was drunk, but this ends right here, right now, on Peixes soil where it was hatched like the demon offspring of intoxicated nonsense and Strider whimsy it is.

“Where did this even come from, suddenly? Attempt to generate enough brain spasms to picture yourself in my place for a single fucking second here. This? What the hell is this?! You woke up one day and decided you wanted a dick up your ass?”

John makes an argh noise and palms his face with his freehand, like he figures if only he rubs hard enough the blush will wear off. “I’ve… I’ve been… sort of. You know, occasionally.” A hand twirls through the air. You note that he keeps his index an middle finger aligned. Your superior intelligence provides you with the answer -easily done, when your competition is a certified moron.

“John,” you say, exasperated. “Sticking fingers up your ass doesn’t make you gay.”

Wow, if he gets any redder his ears might whistle like a teakettle.

“It’s not just- I mean. It doesn’t always feel? Uhm? And the angle! I might get carpal tunnel. You know. It’s just. Urgh.”

“Then get a toy!” you retort, rolling your eyes. “You can just order it online, nobody will ever even know.”

There’s a spell of silence. John is still swirling the orange juice around in his glass and you recognise the jut of his chin; he’s at his most mulish, and he’ll bull through buildings hammering his point home.

Eventually he does manage to scrape together the guts to just finally fucking say it already. “It’s like… like jacking off I suppose? A hand is a hand, right? Only that’s not true, because it’s different when it’s someone else. Feels better.”

So there it is then. John has apparently discovered his prostate, as well as a generous helping of bi-curiosity to get him going, and is prancing about thinking he’s fucking Alice in Wonderland tumbling down the rabbit hole of anal delights. And this makes you, what? The White Rabbit? (hardly)

Sex. Casual sex. With John Egbert. John, who grew up unfairly attractive, lanky, wild haired and bright eyed, topped off with a killer smile. All long legs and energy. John, the boy who stole your heart when you were thirteen during a game of hide-and-seek and didn’t do anything with it. John, the man who steals your clothes and your popcorn and your attention, with the same casual cheer he wanders in and out of your life.

“Why me?” you finally ask, voice rough.

Pause. John shrugs unevenly; one shoulder first, a beat later the other. The gray light makes his complexion truly awful, like he’s wasting away even as you stand arguing about this. “I trust you. You’re my friend.”

“I’d like to keep it that way,” you tell him. 

Eyes on the ground, John nods. Once. “Alright.” 

***

That would have been the end of it, should have been, had it not been for the shadow of that conversation looming over you both wherever you go. And even though you see a lot of John during the following days, it’s decidedly less than you’ve become so comfortably -foolishly- used to.

“Hi Karkat” and “Bye Karkat” you still get, but gone are the endless volleys of utterly ridiculous text messages both of you exchange over the course of a day, gone is the ease he had when sitting squeezed next to you on a couch, sharing each other’s space.

It pisses you off. 

It’s his fault! 

He was the one to stuff that harebrained proposal into your throat until you all but choked on it. You have all the right to deny him. It isn’t supposed to be a big deal. It’s sex. Just sex. And it can be casual and fun and no strings attached and nice and all that happy sparkly shit. It can be.

But not with John.

It’s his fault for bringing it up, for making it a thing, something that preys on the empty spaces between your thoughts to suddenly burst into remembering.

…you worry he might think you turned him down because… because, well, he’s not good enough for you or whatever. He is. It’s John. He’s gorgeous. And if you’d said yes you could’ve had him on your dick and making soft noises for more against your mouth… and. Dammit! Wow, you’re an idiot. Fuck. Right, stop thinking about this.

You try.

You fail spectacularly.

***

Sunday dawns with another party. 

You don’t want to go. You hate holidays. You need to study. You also do not need another session of kangaroo pouches and suddenly buttsex raining on your already soaked parade. 

However, you’re given no quarter. Nepeta hangs off your arm and pleads you. Dave texts you the hour he’ll pick you up. Jade floods your inbox with messages. Terezi blackmails you.

Silence from John.

You go.

It’s an Ampora party. It’s awful. Peixes wealth is flashy and crazy and utterly frustrating; nothing stings as much as knowing that you’d never even be able to afford half the couch currently cradling you unworthy ass. Ampora wealth is almost dignified, definitely clichéd and completely forced.

There’s less laughing and more snickering. Nearly all your friends stay sober. Except for Gamzee, but he arrived astronomically high so he doesn’t count.

Eridan swans around scolding people to use coasters when setting down beer cups, that is mahogany, no don’t, stop touching that, please take off your shoes. The music is this pretentious, Christmas themed lounge music. You and Nepeta find a room that looks like a small theatre. It has a frickin’ WIIU. What ensues is the most epic of Super Smash Bros battles the world has ever seen. You play your hearts out until you’ve a whiplash from keeping track of your characters flying from one end of the screen to the other.

And that’s the only fun you experience for the rest of the evening. As it progresses towards midnight you grow supremely annoyed, you’ve never seen such a trounced up pile of cock juggling thundercunts collected in one small space turning their noses up at each other. People keep stopping you to inform you what drink they want and then this one asshole tells you to fetch his coat for him. You tell him to blow you. He threatens to have you fired.

Right.

Time to pack your shit and get the hell out.

Truly, sometimes you just fucking hate the whole damn world and every single organism crawling over it like the parasites they all are, yourself the leader of this conga line towards imminent disaster.

You find Nepeta to tell her goodbye. The door is in sight. There’s approximately seven long strides between you and an asshole-free environment. Salvation is near motherfuckers. And then, of fucking course, you spot John.

Talking to—

Oh, no. Oh, hell no. That’s Cronus. Within your chest your heart wrenches in shock and horror and unjustified betrayal. What the fuck is he thinking?! And even as you’re looking on in sickened disbelief you witness John gesture, hands arching outwards enthusiastically and making and exploding noise, his eyes far-off and intent as he recollects the scene and Cronus fucking adjusts himself in his jeans, not listening at all. Waiting, so damn sure he’s got this. Got John. 

Your vision goes bright, pulsing red. Short chewed nails bite into the heels of your palms as your hand clench. Right. Not on your watch.

You march over there.

“John,” you bark.

“—and then he has that bunny, right? And he gives it to— oh, hi Karkat! I didn’t know you were here.”

“Surprise!” you bare your teeth at him in a parody of a smile, before grabbing him by the scruff of his neck. “You’re coming with me.”

It shouldn’t be gratifying that some face pulling aside he obeys without question, coming to your side easy. But it is gratifying, comforting even, that despite the strain between you both he still trusts you absolutely. To Cronus you say: “Mess with my friends and I will hardboil your testicles and play ping pong with them, capiche?” 

“We were just talking,” Cronus protests. “Right, chief?” he winks at John.

“Uh,” is his eloquent answer, aware of the sudden tension but completely lost on the origin.

“Right,” you hiss through your teeth and allow your eyes to drop pointedly towards his crotch. Add a little unimpressed quirk of your brow. You keep your hand on the nape of John’s neck, and use it to steer him along with you -leaving Cronus to splutter as he tries to come up with a response. “Let’s go,” you growl to John.

There’s a pile of winter garments overflowing into the foyer, a bright spill of fabric obscuring half of the marled tiles. It’s easy to spot John’s coat (bright blue) and after some digging yours (black).

It’s bitterly cold outside, the air slapping you in the face and biting viciously at your lips. You hurry to get your coat zipped while John is playfully exhaling a long plume of air skywards, smiling when the flare of the streetlight refracts into sparkling prisms through the misty haze.

“Home?” he asks, and you don’t know which one he means -yours or his. It’s in the exact same direction, so it hardly matters. You nod, and begin walking. 

You ball your hands into fists within the obscurity of your pockets to stop them from shaking. Shit. God damn, for a second there you had been very close to doing something violent. Close enough you can still taste the urge on the back of your tongue and the residual need to fucking crush Cronus’ mouth under your knuckles sizzling through your veins.

“What were you thinking?” you seethe quietly.

A surprised blink.

“Cronus?” you growl, the name rolling from your lips like raw bile. “Out of all people you could possibly ask, you’d ask Cronus?”

Now it’s John’s turn to frown at you. “We were just talking, dude, seriously, he just came up to me and started chatting. I was all by myself anyway, what was I supposed to do? He seemed… okay. Ish? Bit of a douchebag though.”

“A bit?” you spit, then laugh completely without humor. “Holy shit John.”

“Wait, whoa wait-“ he grabs your sleeve and pulls you to a stop. “You seriously think I’d— with someone I barely talked to for like five seconds?!”

“Well-“

“And besides, you complete dick, you made it not your business!” he adds, prodding you in the chest with a reprimanding finger.

“Of course it is my goddamn business, you’re my friend!”

“That’s nice of you and all, but I can take care of myself, alright? Or do you want me to run them by you for approval first, my lord majesty? See if they have what it takes to grace my butt with their weenies.”

“I don’t mean… that…” you crack up, and he looks pleased. Goddammit, he did it again. “…weenies, I just. Oh my god how are you an actual person, you’re horrible.” 

“Hehe, made you smile!” he laughs, nudging your shoulder with his.

“It’s that or cry, it was that godawful,” you return, rocking back into him and making him snicker some more. But goddamn, he is beautiful like that, all starlit smiles. It’s very sobering, and your laugh melts away. “Seriously though, John. Not Cronus. Alright? Just-“

Annoyed exhale. “Do I look like an idiot to you?” —he swats fingers against your head, flicking your curls into your eyes— “Don’t answer that. Ugh, dude, your palhonchoness is making this needlessly complicated! You got a list of who’s graduated Karkat’s school of basic decency and butt fucking techniques? Like, who am I allowed to ask that will meet your standards?”

That right there is when you realize that John can and probably will ask someone else. Someone not you. Within days, or weeks, he might be hot and naked with someone else. Someone -someone not you, because you said no- will put their hands on him and their mouth on him and their dick in him, and if they have half a brain they’ll make him feel good about it.

He’s curious, and wants to know what’s it like, and he’s mature enough (fucking miracles) at this age to try and do something about it. What if it is someone who’ll just… take? Not hurt him, particularly, although the possibility of that makes your stomach churn. There’s plenty of assholes who’d just use the opportunity to get off. John’s somewhat of a catch, he’s universally well-liked and attractive as hell, plenty of people will jump at a chance to fuck him. What if they leave him feeling used and awkward?

What if they don’t?

What if they’re great and caring and make him feel so good he’ll never want to leave their bed again?

Well. Well, then he’d have a boyfriend. You suppose.

“Karkat?” John says your name, brows pinching with worry.

You’ve been standing there staring sightlessly ahead as that train of thought flew off the tracks and careened into a ravine.

“I’ll do it.” 

Wow. You really just fucking said that, didn’t you.

From your periphery you can tell John’s jaw drops so suddenly it’s amazing it doesn’t straight up unhinges.

Having the words out in the air between you both feels like an enormous weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Too bad it’s been dropped into the pit of your gut, leaving it enormity of what you just did hard and real and downright painful. You turn towards him, your chin going up that fraction to meet his eyes properly. “I’ll do it,” you repeat, reaching out with your index and middle finger to close his jaw for him.

The click of his own jaw has him jump. “What, really?”

“Yeah,” you answer, and have to convulsively clear your throat to clear your vocal cords from the strange grittiness.

“Oh. Uhm.” He’s blushing again. You note his eyes jumping from your eyes to your mouth and back again, looking utterly confused, like he’s trying to figure out whether he has to give you a kiss now. “Thank you,” he offers, and it comes out so graceless you feel a wave of second-hand embarrassment warm your cheeks.

“Yeah,” you repeat stupidly. And then add, even more ridiculously: “You’re welcome.”

You’re welcome?!

Right, okay, someone can come skipping along and just straight up set you on fire now. What a disaster.

It’s John, thank god it’s John, because he does one fast flutter of a blink and then completely loses it, laughing like a Tickle Me Elmo discovering puberty. In fact he’s laughing so hard he has to grip your shoulder to avoid slumping to the ground, all doubled over and heaving for air, hair in his face and face flushed.

“I am so glad you thought it was hilarious,” you mutter, smothering a grin of your own into the collar of your coat.

“You’re too much, man,” he gasps. “You’re welcome. Oh wow. Alright, alright ouch! stop pinching me, I’m done, okay, no more laughing, only serious business faces here. Heh. So, uhm.” Damn, he has to stop doing that, that shy wry thing he shouldn’t be able to pull off anymore -bright eyes down and partially gone behind his lashes, bottom lip sucked under and pink in the face. 

“Uhm,” you prompt, because you can feel yourself go stupid with much that look is affecting you. You’re so screwed. Ha ha. Dammit. The Gilded Idiot Award goes to Karkat Vantas. The crow goes wild. No, wait, that’s just the roar of your pulse. 

“Now?” John whispers, flicking his gaze upwards before finally proceeding towards the tomato end of the spectrum in the blushing department.

You, however, feel like you’ve been drenched in cold water. “No!” you blurt, getting a little jolt from you both at the vehemence. Gentler, you continue: “No, not now. Tuesday?”

On Tuesdays John has afternoon free from work, and your last class ends at noon. You’ll have time. Time to… to do this properly, not to mention time to contemplate the flawless execution of the bottomless pit you just fucking drilled for yourself in one fell swoop.

“Alright,” John agrees. “Tuesday.”

***

Monday finds you in the library bright (you wish) and early in the morning, desperately trying to catch up with CEPH and failing terribly. You know you’re doomed when your phone buzzes in your pocket, greeting you with bright blue.

ectoBiologist
should i prepare somehow?

carcinoGeneticist
YES. 
IN FACT I REQUIRE YOU TO WAX YOUR ASSCRACK AND TO ENGAGE IN COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF PRELIMINARY BUTTSEX YOGA.

Radio silence after. Damn, if a mild barb like this has already pissed him off tomorrow is going to go swimmingly indeed. Fuck. What were you thinking when you said yes?

…okay you weren’t really, you suppose. Like at all. You’d love to be able to pat yourself on the back, assured you clearly have nothing but his best interests in mind, that you’d want it to be fun, safe and uncomplicated for him —it’d be a stinking lie. Not completely; obviously, you do want all those things to be true, but big part of what spurred you into offering a free ride on your dick was merely because you can’t stand the idea of someone else getting there. 

Making you not only creepily possessive, but also jealous and a total jerk. Jesus, talk about skewed priorities.

Saying yes was a bad idea. The longer you think about it, the more you’re one floundering step away from getting cold feet. What if this ruins everything between you both? John is your boyhood playmate, brodate movie partner, not to mention your friend. This really is the worst idea. 

Stop it, you tell yourself. It’s just sex. Just sex. It’ll be nice and slightly awkward. You’ll get off, and John can stop being curious. That’s all. Sure. Obviously.

Late afternoon rolls into early evening. You hear nothing from John during. Better that way, because eventually you manage browbeat yourself into focussing on your course load. Which is really fucking important because you’re so behind you won’t be able to catch up at the rate you’re going. 

Through the library windows the sky begins to darken to a dreary, bruised shade of dusk. You need to make a coffee run before you can even think of tackling Medical Ethics. Just as you’re shrugging into your coat and leaving the building you get texted again.

ectoBiologist
is there anything i should bring?  

carcinoGeneticist
BRING?

ectoBiologist
i don’t know! like bandaids or condoms or towels?

…bandaids. Towels.

carcinoGeneticist
I AM SERIOUSLY BEGINNING TO DOUBT YOUR CONCEPT OF ANAL SEX IS THE SAME AS MINE. IF YOU’RE GOING TO HIT FREAKOUT TOWN OVER THIS THEN WHY WOULD YOU GO AROUND ASKING PEOPLE TO FUCK YOU?

ectoBiologist
i told you! i didn’t ask anybody, dumbass! it just came up while we were talking and i was drunk, okay?
so i told dave i might want to try it someday and next thing i know he’s asking you.
bad dave. worst friend.

It hasn’t even occurred to him to ask anybody else beyond you. If only you could ignore the glow of warmth cradling your rapidly beating heart. You can’t and you can’t stop yourself from being, well, the littlest, tiniest, smallest bit happy. Absentmindedly you stroke the screen with the pad of your thumb. That’s when the barista clears his throat and you nearly drop your phone -it’s your turn and you were too busy having dokis to notice.

Absconding with your coffee, you stand out in the cold, struggling with frozen fingers to reply. A cascade of twinkling lights caught in the tree overhead alternately reflects bright pinpricks in your screen as you reply.

carcinoGeneticist
IF THIS TRULY IS THE PRODUCT OF SHEER PEER PRESSURE THEN FOR FUCK’S SAKE LET US NOT. FUCK. 
LITERALLY.

It takes him a while to respond, but then:

ectoBiologist
i want to.

Shit, oh shit. You have to swallow hard, take a moment to rub your palm across the ache in your chest. Probably a bad idea to try and take a sip from your coffee now, your throat has gone so tight you can barely breathe properly.

carcinoGeneticist
ALRIGHT.
YOU DON’T NEED TO BRING ANYTHING. JUST TRY TO BE RELAXED.

Haha, relaxed like you are? Your nerves are so haywire you hardly remember how perform completely normal bodily functions. Like walking. Or drinking. Breathing

ectoBiologist
easier said than done, dude.
i’m not sure what to expect? like how this is going to go or what i’m supposed to do.

Almost you respond with don’t worry, I’ll take care of you but there’s no place for such sentimental drivel in an… arrangement like this. How do you respond to that? The truth, you suppose, and why not? You’ll have him naked in your bed in about twenty four hours. Seems surreal.

carcinoGeneticist
FOR YOU IT’D BE EASIEST TO LIE DOWN ON YOUR STOMACH, BUT WHATEVER YOU FEEL MOST COMFORTABLE WITH WORKS.

carcinoGeneticist
ALSO.

Fucking hell you don’t want to tell him. But. He should know.

ectoBiologist
???

carcinoGeneticist
I NEED TO… WARN YOU, I SUPPOSE. ABOUT A THING? 
A THING THAT IS GOING TO BE RELEVANT.

ectoBiologist
oh great, this doesn’t sound totally ominous or anything :|

carcinoGeneticist
SHUSH.
DO YOU REMEMBER HOW I GOT THAT PIERCING?

ectoBiologist
…yeah?

It’s not hard to imagine him making confused faces at his phone right now. You’re not thinking about how cute it is, you are not.

carcinoGeneticist
THAT PIERCING NOBODY HAS EVER SEEN?

You allow him a few minutes to process that. 

ectoBiologist
OH MY GOD

Bingo.

ectoBiologist
OH MY GOD.
KARKAT NO.
I AM NOT PREPARED FOR THIS. MY BUTT IS NOT PREPARED FOR THIS.
WHAT IF YOUR DICK GETS STUCK?

carcinoGeneticist
WHAT A REACTION. CALM DOWN. IT’S NOT GOING TO GET STUCK.

ectoBiologist
i didn’t master downward dog, karkat!

carcinoGeneticist
JOHN. YOU KNOW I WAS JOKING ABOUT THE YOGA RIGHT?

ectoBiologist
what

carcinoGeneticist
IT WAS 
A
MOTHERFUCKING
JOKE.

ectoBiologist
dude.

carcinoGeneticist
WAIT, WHAT IS THAT? IS THAT THE SHRILL SCREAM OF YOUR PRANKSTER’S GAMBIT PLUMMETING INTO ZERO DIGITS? HAVE I OUTPRANKED THE PRANKSTER? WALK OF SHAME, JOHN. WALK OF SHAME. DON’T WORRY. I’LL BE THERE TO LAUGH AND POINT AT YOU. 

ectoBiologist
you didn’t outprank me, you complete nerd! that totally doesn’t count!
seriously now is not the time for jokes, man! i think i pulled a muscle trying to do that bow pose. 
dammit :(

A handful of counter-responses occur to you: I’ll make sure to give you a full body massage or I’ll make sure to kiss it better and even, heavens forbid, tomorrow I’ll pull a muscle for you.

Each of those is more horrible than the last. Reasons why you should not be allowed to try and flirt: see above, and for additional examples, your life in general.

Your phone buzzes. John again:

ectoBiologist
what kind of piercing is it?

carcinoGeneticist
A DOLPHIN.

Which is how you fucking knew it was Meenah’s doing. 

It takes all the way to the library for him to respond again, giving you enough time for the tremor in your hands to dissipate so you can finish your now lukewarm coffee.

All it says is:

ectoBiologist
holy shit.

Exactly your reaction when you pulled down your shorts to inspect the ache in your dick the morning after.

***

Tuesday. 

You are power walking through your small off-campus apartment. 

And it is small, desperately starved for space. Your parents were so sorry they couldn’t afford better, but you kind of like it, actually. The water runs the way it’s supposed to and it’s warm and private. So, fine, it only has two rooms. The bathroom and, well, everything else. Though you’ve shielded the kitchen from the main living room with a folding screen. It’s mostly just your desk, a TV perching on an overturned milk crate and your bed. Eating and studying happens at aforementioned desk. Everything else on your bed. There’s an extra mattress stowed underneath for when you have company. Clothes are folded into plastic containers, which are stacked at the foot end. If you dare cook anything with garlic everything reeks for a week.

You love it.

It’s your space.

Those are your posters on the wall, and your food in the fridge, and your goddamn fairy lights strung above your bed. Your bed that you’re about to fuck John in.

You’re going to be sick with nerves.

Can’t afford to be, not when you’ve effectively agreed to take on the responsibility to ensure John’s wellbeing. It’ll be your job to calm him down and make him feel good. To take off his clothes and put your mouth on his neck and get him close and make him scream for more. Or your name. That’d be wonderful, not going to lie you’ve thought about that a lot, John saying your name with varying levels of urgency. 

And it might happen in just -you check your clock- damn, minutes

He’s late, and you’re worried, but almost relieved, strange though it sounds, and entirely unsure what to make of the chain of events leading up to this point. Goddammit Dave. He meant well. You know he meant well, but he was tanked as hell and nothing good has ever come from that before.

A knock on the door. That’s John, has to be, because all your friends know you vastly prefer them knocking over the shrill buzz of the doorbell.

Your heart hits your teeth, and rattles around in the cavern of your mouth at a meaty trot. “It’s—“ your voice breaks like you’ve regressed to thirteen again. “It’s open.”

Gingerly, the door creaks wider. It is John. He sidles through the small gap he creates, then closes it. Turns the key after a moment’s consideration. All without acknowledging you.

He’s nervous. Of course he’s nervous. So are you.

“Hey,” you offer, and surprise yourself with how soft and careful your voice has gone.

It gets him to face you, at least, but he’s staring at you like you’re an exam he didn’t study for. It’s about as flattering as it sounds.

You can’t help but wonder whether this truly is the first time he’s ever seen you as sexual, something that might actually happen. You have. Obviously. Thought about him, that is. More than once, always knowing it just wasn’t going to happen. Shows what you know, huh. Jackshit is what.

“Hi,” he manages, after swallowing against his clogged throat four or five times.

Your bed is right there. John can’t seem to take his eyes from it. This is awkward. There’s nothing sensual or sexy about it. Yet your dick is painfully hard, complete sack of shit that you are.

Both of you study each other in the hushed winter darkness of your room. The fairy lights glow to life in soft blooms of light, before dimming again. They reflect in John’s glasses, glint off his deep dark hair. Which is damp, and the rest of him scrubbed pink around the edges. Must’ve showered right after work. Probably why he’s late. 

You should say something. “Do you want to, fuck,” -argh, worst time to be throwing fuck around- “I don’t know, watch a movie before we—“

With a firm shake his head he cuts you off. “No, no it’s fine. Let’s just. Do it.”

You take a step closer.

“Karkat?”

You stop. “Yeah?”

“Nothing.”

Right. Taking the hem of your shirt between your fingers, you curl forward and pull it off. Let it drop to the floor in a whisper of cloth. John’s still all donned out in his coat and scarf and mittens, it’s ridiculous and adorable. Two more steps has you right in front of him. You begin with the gloves, aware of his eyes raking up and down your torso as you pinch the wool at the tip of his ring finger together and tug it off. One, then the other, which he presents to you of his own accord. Scarf next, unwinding it like you’re unwrapping a present. His coat. Sweater, mindful of his glasses as you tug it over his head. Undressing him.

Button up shirt underneath. John’s face is a dull pink, dusting the curves of his ears as well. So tempting to kiss it. You don’t. 

He’s shaking like a leaf in the wind. 

Ah.

To give him time to find his words you lift your hands towards the buttons of his shirt, begin to work them open ever so slowly -this, instead of kissing him the way you want, or putting your hands on his body. He’s warm though, and he smells nice. It’s intimate even though you’ve only freed two buttons, with barely any of his skin to show for your efforts. All close and breath rebounding off one another’s faces.

John takes your wrists, holds them. His fingers are cold. “Okay. I— I can’t do this.”

You allow a tiny curve of the lips. “Alright,” you say, putting more distance between you both so he has room to breathe.

He huffs, shoulders rising and falling. “I’m sor—“

You flick his forehead.

“Ouch! Hey! What was that for?”

“Because you’re a goddamn idiot. Don’t be sorry. It’s okay,” you tell him. Mean it, too.

“Oh,” he blinks like that possibility hadn’t even occurred to him, that he wouldn’t have to go along just because he asked for it. “Phew. Uhm. Hahaha, oh damn.” He sits down heavily on the edge of your bed, rubbing at his eyes and smiling giddily. 

Almost like he feels he barely avoided a dead-on collision with a high speed train; all blitzed with adrenaline and prickles of fear. Weirdly enough? You feel exactly the same: close call. It’s okay though, you think, because he has a sheepish smile for you as you retrieve your shirt. You ruffle his hair, and that’s okay, too. And it’s still okay when you sit down next to him, your mattress dipping under your weight and tipping him sideways until your shoulders bump.

After tugging your shirt in order you cross your arms. “Now what?” you demand. Arch a brow at him, because you’re still a bag of dicks and he deserves some needling for scaring the screaming crap out of you.

John, still suffering the scarlet-faced aftereffects from his mortification, points at your TV. “Can we watch that movie now?”

“Sure.”

You watch one movie, and then another, and by then it’s dark outside. There’s leftovers in the fridge, he helps you polish them off. Minecraft on your laptop after that, until he’s a drowsy puddle at your shoulder. You wonder if he slept as poorly as you did last night.

“You’re falling asleep on me,” you point out, elbowing him in the ribs.

“Hnngh,” John answers, dislodging his glasses as he tucks his face in his arms. “Can’t I crash here?” comes his muffled whine after a delayed pause.

His own apartment is quite literally around the corner. Remarkably enough the whole group of your friends has always been close-knit like that, always keen on keeping one another in sight. John could’ve been an express delivery courier just as easy in Seattle, but he followed the lot of you to New York regardless. For which you’re more grateful than you’d like to admit.

Despite that he sleeps over a lot. Everybody seems to like your little square metre of living space as much as you do, and it’s uncommon for more than a week to go by and not have someone spending the night. “Let me guess, you need to borrow my clothes again. Just bring your own set, you pyjama thieving magpie,” you grumble at him, worming forward on your belly until you can pry at the lid of your plastic container wardrobe.

A pair of sweats and an worn old shirt later he’s set. The mattress is retrieved from under your bed, complete with extra pillow and a sleeping bag arranged on top. You give him one of your extra blankets so he won’t freeze during the night, and tug aside the sheet you nailed to the ceiling as a makeshift canopy so you can see him properly.

Odd. To realize he might’ve been in your arms, in bed with you. A sharp-clawed sense of loss skitters along the insides of your ribs.

Is John thinking the same, you wonder? Hard to tell, he’s squinting up at the ceiling, face strangely bare with his glasses safely on the ground next to the mattress. You’re slightly amused at the familiar red dapples on the bridge of his nose at either side. Then, between once space of a breath and the next, his eyes find yours, and you feel a sharp tug in your chest.

“Do you remember when we used to play doctor?” he asks, completely out of the blue.

You make a face at him. Really? This? Now? After what just happened?

John realises it, too, face furrowing as it fully processes. “Okay, that sounded way less innocent than it was. It’s only. I just remembered.”

No need to ask how he stumbled across that recollection, with the shadow of everything that went down this afternoon still crouching at the back of your minds. Or didn’t happen. It’s true though, you played doctor. Heavy-handed scenarios with life-and-death situations where you had to cut him open and perform totally valid medical practises to convince his heart to beat again -like Neo did to Trinity in the Matrix, pretending to knead the damn thing like a handful of silly putty.

It usually involved lots of sharpies, your mother’s white fuzzy bathrobe and Kankri’s inhaler as the magical cure.

Okay, now you’re smiling. He’s grinning, too. Those are good memories. 

“We stole so many ketchup bottles,” you say. It drove your mother completely apeshit. John’s dad was more practical; he simply chased you both into the backyard and hosed you down.

“So many,” John agrees. “It’s kind of cool though. That you went on to really do that.”

“Just a nurse,” you point out, chin propped on your palm and frowning down at him.

John rolls his eyes, because he probably thinks you’re being a downer even though it’s the miserable truth. Your grades weren’t good enough to try for doctor, no matter how hard you worked your ass off. If you keep it up he’ll smack you with a pillow, he has before. 

“Still. Cool,” he repeats, rather pointedly. “Nurse Vantas.” Salacious wink.

Ugh. You can’t remember how old and stale that particular quip of him is. Very. “Goodnight, John,” you snort, tipping onto you back and reaching over to tone down the fairy lights until they’re barely a noticeable swell of golden twinkles in the dark.

“Night,” he says, softly. There’s something else you don’t quite catch, but when you peek at him from over the edge of your bed, he appears fast asleep, hand tucked under his chin like a child and black hair everywhere.

You observe him for a while, watching the angles of his face and the slope of his nose, the sweep of his lashes and the bow of his mouth, trying to make peace with the whole of, well, everything that happened and what you’re feeling.

Fall asleep like an idiot, balanced on the edge with your knuckles trailing the sheets on John’s mattress.

***

He’s awake before you, and spooning cereal into his facegash like a ravenous animal, standing at the kitchen counter instead of sitting at your desk like a civilised person. Pawing sleep from your eyes you lever your meatsack of a carcass up, shivering as your toasty warm sheets pool into your lap.

“Morning!”

“Hrn,” you reply, trying not to be too obvious in your staring.

John has this horrible (fucking awesome) habit of not only borrowing your clothes -which, categorically, are all too big  for him- no, he also wears your pants with nothing underneath. This means he habitually shuffles around with your sweats loose around his prominent hipbones and the sleepy full swell of his cock straining against the soft fabric.

It’s. really. fucking. unfair.

He leaves ten minutes later fully dressed and brimming with energy, unlike you, left staring at the closed door.

Standing by the window you can see the bright speck of his blue coat dash into the streets, around the corner, gone. “Meu Deus,” you groan, covering your face with your hands and gulping down air like you’re drowning. Sit down on the floor with your head between your knees, trying to cope.

Worst part? You regret it. You regret not getting to fuck him, and you hate yourself for it -because what does that say about you, huh? That’d you’d rather get your dick wet instead of preserving a decade’s worth of friendship, is what.

You wanted to. You really wanted to.

Dammit.

***

The skies are steely through the high library windows. Matches your mood most excellently, which sunk to morose with a sprinkle of brooding on top ever since John left that morning. Feels like you’re waving the sceptre from atop your very own freshly built shitbrick tower of incompetence. Another layer added for every single time you fuck up, and damn if you’re not reaching for the goddamn skies here.

You’re not even studying. The books are spread across the gleaming tabletop, but your eyes are fixated beyond the glass walls. You just don’t want to be at your apartment right now. At least here you’re left alone.

A respite barely lasting a few more hours, and then it’s back into the fray. Because it’s Wednesday, and there’s one last party looming ahead.

New Year’s.

You don’t want to go. You really don’t want to go. You don’t want to go, you don’t want to go, sweet mother of fuck you do not want to go. You need time to regroup.

Time you’re not going to get. After, you promise yourself. One last evening of grimacing your parody of a smile, granting the poor brain-addled dinguses that are your friends the dubious blessing of your company. They genuinely want your company, baffling though it is, and it’s one of the few things you can freely give, for all the good it’ll do them. After that, however, it’s just you. Just Karkat Vantas. Phone off. Just you, a coffee, and the spacious gleaming desks at the library. At this rate you may as well set up camp here permanently. Wouldn’t be so bad, even, now the librarians have ceased circling you like vultures, having pegged you for a thug conniving to vandalise their books.

Before long you have to pack up to head home to shower and get ready. Usually it’s John who comes to flush you out of your hiding hole; he lives closest, he’s your friend, it goes without saying. Tonight it’s Dave for once, and you couldn’t be more relieved.

“Sup,” he greets you as soon as you open the door.

Your first impression is: red. So much red. Too much, no, make it stop. You shield your eyes to keep them from watering. Where the hell did he unearth a bright red tuxedo?

“What the fuck,” you respond by ways of protest.

“Glad you like it,” Dave nods. “Looking quite dashing yourself.”

Sure. In your less-creased-than-usual jeans and borrowed vest.

“Yes, ravishing,” you grunt, rolling your shoulders uncomfortably. The fabric strains. “Let’s just… let’s just go, alright?”

His brows inch up, telegraphing his apprehension. Waits to say anything until you’ve locked up and are heading towards the bus that will fare you to Lalonde’s big townhouse. The skies are wide and bleak, tasting of snowfall before dark. Dave, scarecrow that he is, is shivering already.

Seeing him rattle his way through winter makes you glad for the extra meat on your bones. 

You give him your scarf at the bus stop, unwilling to envision the consequences Rose would visit upon all you hold dear if you kinda sorta accidentally allow him perish in the streets.

“So,” Dave begins, as casual and smooth as a truck full of screeching babies who simultaneously pooped themselves. “How’d it go?”

For some reason the question hits home. It hits home hard, puncturing a hole through your carefully constructed armor, patched and rusted though it is, knocking the wind and wits out of you in one fell swoop. A sob hops its way into your throat, but you bite that useless sucker right back down. Punch Dave’s shoulder instead, then again for good measure, even as you turn your face away because your eyes are treacherous bastards that are glazing over. 

Which they are doing because there’s a lot of wind and it’s congealing your eyeballs with its freezing breath.

Baffled silence. Dave is utterly floored, it’s clear this was absolutely the last reaction he expected. A hand awkwardly brushes your curls, he’s not very good at comforting gestures, but he’s trying all the same. 

“I’m sorry,” he says softly, and his voice is really nice like that, slightly hoarse around the edges, but warm.  

“We didn’t,” you rush, before he makes any assumptions. “It’s okay, we’re still friends.”

“Wait, correct me if I’m wrong, but if you didn’t fuck what happened to turn your smile all upside down. Er. Than usual.”

You squeeze your eyes shut hard, breath in once, hold it, let it out. “Nothing,” you answer.

Nothing happened.

Nothing, and you wish it had. Because you’re stupid, and a liar, telling yourself all those soothing pretty words until you fucking believed it like a chump, that John Egbert in your arms and in your bed is something you stopped wanting long before you hit twenty. 

Because you totally didn’t curl back up in the spot John had occupied, smelling him on your sheets, just this morning. This morning, and all the other times he’s stayed the night. Nope. Never. And if you did it meant nothing.

Didn’t lock yourself in your room and cried like a child, big fat tears and heavy hiccups, when he got his first girlfriend either.

Never vindictively wondered what he’d do if you’d turn your head during one of his off-color bromance quips, so he’d get your mouth instead.

And last few days certainly were not spent daydreaming about holding his hips, sucking his cock or putting your hands on the slats of his ribs.

Nope. Not you. Not at all. Hell no.

You’d moved past your crush on him, no reason to believe you’d simply learned to love him instead.

Right?

Right.

Dave is still patting your head, looking upset as well as mildly panicking. “You need a drink,” he mutters, going on tiptoes to peer down the street, as though this show of urgency will mean the bus will arrive any earlier and not fashionably late as usual. “A drink, and one of those jumbo shrimp things covered in garlic and shit.”

You huff out a small laugh. “Only if you pinch off the head and legs, dickrag.”

“Anything for you, babe,” Dave promises, keeping his hand on the nape of your neck until the bus finally deigns to show up.

He’s sorry. 

And he shouldn’t be. He might have started it, but damn if you didn’t finish it.

***

He does, in fact, fetch you a drink and pre-peeled shrimp. 

You get more than that, in fact: a kiss from Aradia and a tie from Terezi, because she likes her men pre-packaged with festive nooses around their necks and you were sorely lacking. Kanaya attempted to gift you the token horrible holiday sweater, but already it’s the nicest damn article of clothing in the whole of your lousy wardrobe. A book from Rose, the real schmoopy, smutty stuff, currently smuggled away into your inner pocket like the illegal contraband it is. You have plans for that baby. Intimate plans that involve ice cream and a blanket fort.

So far the evening is proceeding tolerably, it’s calm and pleasant, and not nearly as crowded as you’d feared. Only a minimal amount of dancing taking place, if you ignore Roxy and Callie enthusiastically doing the chicken dance -god knows why even, because you can hear Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in the background.

You munch on the shrimp while glowering at the towering Christmas tree Lalonde has crammed into her living room, bedecked with baubles and tinsel and figurines. It’s color-coordinated with the rest of the interior. Gamzee’s lower half sticks out from underneath the branches. He’s missing a shoe and you can hear him croon about fireflies. 

There’s still presents scattered around the topiary disaster, but you’re pretty sure they’re merely empty carton boxes lavishly bedecked with paper and bows. Just another feat of Lalonde’s showmanship. One of them is shaped like a frightfully enormous penis, with the bow wrapped around the testes. Which, all things Lalonde considered, is rather tame. God, your friends are such weirdos. 

Though… huh. That one appears to breathing. One of these is not like the others.

“Tavros?” you address the package.

Out of the paper pops a head. It is Tavros —big ribbony bow perching on top of his hair. “Shh!” he hisses, and then looks around fearfully, hunching into his shoulders.

“Okay,” you answer, lowering your voice exactly jack fucking shit. “What the fuck?”

“Oh, Karkat, please keep your, voice down. If that even is something, you can manage.”

“Alright,” you agree placidly. “Give me a damn good reason not to scream your name at the top of my lungs.”

Tavros blinks up at you. Jesus dicks that guy must have the longest lashes in history, shit’s criminal. “Uhm. I’ll do your laundry for a week?”

“Two.”

“Ten days.”

“Twelve.”

“Deal.”

You hum with satisfaction, pop the last of the shrimp into your mouth and turn around, strategically placing yourself so Tavros is hidden from view behind your broad back, but close enough so you can still hear him over the music. “What the fuck are you doing, if I may ask?”

“You may,” Tavros whispers back. “I’m hiding from Vriska.”

“Really.”

“Remember when I had sex with her?”

“Vividly,” you grumble, suppressing a shudder. Take a good mouthful of champagne to wash the memory down.

“Well, apparently, I am a such a, uh, stud in bed she can't get enough of me and now dick hurts." His predicament would sound a lot more convincing if he didn't sound so fucking chuffed about about his vigoreously exercised genitalia. The bow on his head puffs up with pride.

“My condolences,” you say sarcastically.

Tavros grins. “Thank you,” and then: “Oh boy!” when -guess who- Serket approaches with a purpose. Tavros shrinks back into his gift-wrapped bastion until only the bow remains visible. You cross your arms and initiate your best thundercloud impersonation.

“Hello, Vantas,” Vriska greets you.

“Spiderbitch,” you respond. “Nice bra. I think you forgot the rest of your dress. It’s like minus ten outside. Your nipples will fall off.”

“It’s a bandeau, you ingrate,” she huffs, crossing her arms and basically pushing he cleavage towards optimal viewing pleasure. You’re pretty okay with that. In fact, Vriska looks absolutely stunning. She’s always been, too bad about… well, the psychotic tendencies.

“Well, pardon my uncultured ass,” you snarl back. “Did you want something?”

“Have you seen Tavros?” she asks. 

You scoff. “Yes, clearly it is my goddamn job to keep track of your wayward fuckboy. Give the kid a break, Serket. Nobody should be exposed to the grand synthesis of your personality disorders for prolonged periods of time. Downright unethical of you.”

“Oh, go suck a dick, Vantas,” she hisses, flinging her hair back over her shoulder with a toss of her head.

Sure. I’ll be right on that,” you snort, pulling the last of the shrimp from the cocktail pricker with your teeth.

“Hi, Vriska! Hi, Karkat!”

Down the wrong tube your shrimp goes. You hack and splutter most attractively.

“Wow, dude, you okay?” John asks you.

“Hey, John,” Vriska goes, instantly gentling to give him a toothy, but genuine smile. “Enjoying yourself?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty nice. Actually, I am supposed to be rounding everybody up cause the fireworks are about to start,” he says ,jerking a thumb over is shoulder at the patio and presenting you a blinding smile while bouncing on the balls of his feet. He looks way too excited about it all.

“Are Dave and Terezi in charge of the fireworks?” you ask, dreading the answer you already know.

“Yup!”

“We’re all going to die,” you sigh, setting your glass aside and trudging towards the patio for a bit of recreational terror including but not limited to pyrotechnic devices in the hands of two disordered gigglefucks.

John’s right on your heels, but not before he goes: “Oh, hi there Tavros. What are you doing dressed like a present? You look ridiculous.”

Vriska’s face lights up in what you can only assume is predatory delight. She descends on the presents. Paper crackles. Bows are ripped off. The baubles in the tree tinkle ominously. Tavtos says uh. Gamzee honks in distress. Things you do not want to see in your life: this. Tavros is obviously much to preocuppied to continue your nice little chat so you better save your brain the visual trauma and abscond like your ass has been lit on fire.

There’s twin throaty moans behind you.

Right, time to go!

Outside it is bitterly cold and your throat clenches against that first lungful of air. Underneath the soles of your sneakers there’s a delicate crunch as you thread across a fine layer of hoarfrost, and it is snowing, these tiny slivers of white floating down from the wide black skies.

You stake out a spot to the side. The patio is packed, everybody crowing around the fire pit for warmth and you’d rather not be caught in the press of bodies. Further in the backyard Dave and Terezi are squatting over a box. Somewhere in the distance there’s a feeble wheeeeee of firework as some or other impatient moron begins setting off. A scraggly star paints itself above the darkly outlined cityscape.

“Wow, impatient much?”

You close your eyes for a full, heavy beat of your heart. Of course. John. You look at him, and shake your head. Like he’s got a fucking leg to stand on, the brat. Somewhere along the way he obtained a sparkler.

It’s cold as balls, you’re already shivering in your borrowed vest, and John has completely missed the ‘formal wear’ subitem on the invitation and is dressed in a long-sleeved shirt on jeans, with his brightest yellow sneakers to top it off. The sneakers are fluorescent. Literally. He handles the cold much better than Dave does, and stands twirling the sparkler between his fingers quite at ease. The flecks of snow melt upon contact with his skin, pearling into beads of water that you want to smear into wetness with the pad of your thumb.

Unable to talk around the crushing weight in your chest, you opt for a wordless shrug, watching the glints of gold reflect in his eyes instead. It’s a bright star in the darkness, spitting brilliantine glitters in all directions. John’s smiling as it splutters to an end, and both of you watch it spew out one last defiant sparkle, which dies to darkness before it ever reaches the ground. Without its sharp fizzle the hushed anticipation from the others seems ever more pronounced. 

Must be close to midnight.

As though on cue, the crowd begins to count, not only your friends gathered in the backyard but the whole of the city, a perfect chain reaction directed by the flow of time and tradition, its result one resounding voice booming at the sky: “TEN. NINE. EIGHT-“

“Thank you,” John blurts out in a rush of breath, between eight and seven. “For being so great about this.”

You stare at the edge of his jaw, lips parted in surprise. A little grin, followed by a shy downwards glance. “I’m glad I asked you,” he admits in a whisper, shrugging. It should be soft edged in this darkness, dreamlike, but those words penetrate your skull like bullets. 

“SEVEN. SIX—”

Asshole is being unfairly attractive, why are you suddenly so devastatingly aware of this? You don’t even fucking know if you learned how to deal with it over time, or whether you simply fell head over heels all over again like a complete loser.

There’s a pause as you try to get a hold of your emotions, but you’ve gone warm inside out, like he lit a sparkler at the core of your being and golden light is shooting from your nerve endings.

“FIVE. FOUR—“

“It’s okay,” you answer, between four and three. “I- I’m glad. That you asked me.”

“THREE. TWO. ONE…!”

The dark nights sky becomes a wash of colors, bright and glorious bursts of fire. Both of you look up reflexively, blinking as Dave and Terezi set of theirs, streaks of blue, then red. Colors crash overhead like waves streaking the shore, and the noise is deafening: unearthly screams, followed by cracking pops and bangs.

“HAPPY NEW YEAR!” everybody screams, adding to the racket, John included, hands reaching skywards in celebration. To you, softer: “Happy New Year, Karkat.”

You press the heel of your hand against one eye and just smile helplessly. 

There’s something small and shy about him in that moment, they way his eyes trail over your face, your mouth. Hopefully.

You can feel moment of dawning comprehension all the way up to the roots of your hair, like a door opening somewhere deep inside and all the light coming on at once. 

He wants you to kiss him.

Deliberately, you let your eyes drop to his mouth. His breathing stutters, it makes you ache, you feel something draw tight and hungry in the pit of your stomach, and your chest is filled to bursting with nerves. You can tell he feels the same, it’s there in his eyes, the way they hold yours just that one telling fraction of a second too long, the way he tries to hide certain emotions in the corners of his mouth. 

You don’t say anything. Just kiss him.

His mouth is cold and warm at the same time, winter and wanting under yours. At first it’s barely a connection, the contact coming in stutters as you allow your lips to catch by their natural fullness and hollows. John exhales hard, shivering a little, rests cold fingertips against your chin, three cool points of pressure. You softly stroke his lips with tiny swipes of movement and watch him from under your lashes, loving the unsteady stutters of air, the way his brows pinch as though in pain.

It goes from there, just sliding nuzzles at first, and then he answers by pulling at your lips with his: thick, damp, slow and unhurried before going back a little deeper so you can feel the searing soft heat of his tongue. Your pulse accelerates with a painful wrench as the kiss goes searching and hungry, his tongue sweeping into your mouth so you can taste him.

Distantly, you are aware of the alternating colors hazing through your closed eyelids, of laughter and music and the sound of glasses meeting in a tching of well wishing. You pull him closer, sliding hand down the line of back and stopping right above the swell of his ass. John folds his hands around your cheeks to cradle your face, keeping you steady for the taking. 

You feel too light for your own body, legs shaking and chest burning, giddy and so stupidly happy it’s a miracle you don’t burst apart in a flash of sunlight. You don’t feel the cold at all.

A throat being cleared. Tittering laughter. A cat call. Fucking finally someone grumbles.

“Does that mean Karkat fucked him up the butt?” Terezi.

“I am so confused,” Dave answers.

You release John long enough to flip them both off without breaking the kiss.

Eventually it does break; John’s smiling so widely his mouth fails to align with yours, so you back off and just… hold him, flush against your front. Marvel at the realness of his chest against yours, the swell of a thigh slotted between your legs, his fingers wound through your hair. Close enough to feel him breathe, close enough to feel the grin against the corner of your mouth.

“Happy New Year,” you murmur against his skin, breathing in deep and just trying to understand that this is real, this is happening, John is in your arms and he’s smiling.

It’s all you ever wanted.

“Hmm,” he goes, content. Pulls back to nudge the tip of his nose against yours  —both of you laugh sheepishly at his clouded-over glasses. The kiss got a little too heated. “Hey, so, maybe instead of our usual movie brodate… we could finally have a real one? A date.”

God, he’s killing you.

“Shit, John,” you mumble roughly, hugging him close. “I thought you’d never ask.”

 

 

And yes I'm gonna
lay you down
So tell me you've been found
You knew what I was coming for
—Gabriel Rios, “Gold”

-fin-