Secrets in themselves are hard to keep. No one questioned it or even brought attention to it. No one brought attention to the feel in the air that they were sheep waiting before the butcher; no one whispered suspicions to each other in small groups, no one even asked any questions. But everyone slept with one eye open, sleep after sleep, hour after hour. Everyone that is, except Karkat Vantas.
The silence of the asteroid had to be what had pulled everyone’s spirits down the most. It was more than a silence though; it was so much more than just that. It was haunting and threatening, making the lab a place most of the inhabitants avoided. Stress was high and hung in the dark corners like a fog, hindering eyesight and hearing into a muffled ringing. But even in that, it was more than itself. Uncertainty seemed to become a common word, what was going to happen and when was it going to happen, and how was it going to happen. As much as everyone wanted to know the answers, no one could really come up with anything that would give them some sort of bearing in this new uncomfortable situation. It stayed quiet and hushed as Karkat kept more to himself, off in his own private quarters rather than sit with the rest of the refugees. As everyone saw it, the Cancer had more than enough on his mind with taking care of his fragile moirail. They made it a point not to bring up the Capricorn, gathering up all the stray pie tins and horns to hide them away in a spare room. There was literally no visible trace left behind by the clown. And maybe that was how they all got along, and the hallways became less quiet and a little more crowded. The humans and the trolls were getting along, as surprising as it was. But if anyone was having a hard time adjusting to the change, it had to be Karkat.
Everyone suspected it was Gamzee’s disappearance that had done it. It was a weight, an anchor that seemed to be dragging the nubby horned troll down. And really, it was painful to watch. Often Karkat and Kanaya would talk in a secluded corner, small signals of a blooming pale relationship visible to all who witnessed it. But afterwards Karkat would still hurry himself away to wherever he was hiding the clown, eyes down and a fierce scowl on his face. He was dealing with so much all on his own, and Dave would be lying if he said he didn’t want to help the troll. He himself had to deal with the death of a loved one, while Karkat had to deal with several, even the ones caused by his best friend. That had to be even worse. And as much as Dave never spoke of his brother and their past, Karkat did the same with Gamzee and their past. It was a cycle of trying to forget and never being able to. And it was sad to watch.
One day he made the mistake of trying to follow the troll. He was curious, more so than he probably should, but he couldn’t help it. He wanted to help, but had no idea how to vocalize his wishes. Karkat had caught him sneaking behind relatively quickly, and that earned the human a black eye and a split lip. He never tried to follow Karkat again, and as Kanaya explained, this was a delicate situation. All they could do was wait and watch. This, in Dave’s opinion, was out of the question.
A little more than a year passed and the only thing that seemed to have Karkat coming back to the group was Terezi. Dave could practically see the pining in his eyes as the human and the female troll invented their own little world of cans and shitty drawings, making up the rules of the town and the justice system as they went. It wasn’t exuberant but it wasn’t mediocre. It was a game, something to pass and bide their time. But the tense air remained, mingled and muffled their words, clouded their minds and their thoughts. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the closest thing they had to comfort. As they tried to pull closer, they seemed to be falling apart just as quickly. Both he and the Cancer had been rejected in their feelings of redrom and for more than a few weeks, Karkat was inconsolable. Terezi hadn’t chosen either of the males battling for her attention, and while Dave thought he would be heartbroken, here he was and he didn’t feel a thing. His heart hadn’t been ripped to shreds, and if anything; he felt happy. He and Terezi continued on with their games, and Karkat kept his distance, eyes narrowed and face glowering.
It was then that Dave tried again to get closer to Karkat, feeling compelled by something that wasn’t a thing he could describe. He wanted to help the troll, he wanted to protect him from any more shit being thrown his way, wanted to lighten the load that the poor soul seemed to carry around on his shoulders for months and months at a time. It wasn’t a trick but it wasn’t pure, it wasn’t made to mislead him, but it wasn’t to guide him. It was what it was, and really, that was enough for the Strider. He started inviting Karkat to run the can town with him, listened more and talked less, finding himself hanging onto every word the troll said with such a rapt attention that he didn’t know was possible. There were little signs that Karkat left him that showed the intention of his actions; fingers grazing over each other for just a few seconds too long, the tips of the elongated ears flushing red in embarrassment when he was caught staring at Dave. And that in itself was their relationship, flushing red. And as little as Dave understood the troll culture, he found he didn’t mind. There was nothing to mind or worry over. They would have loved to believe that, and believe it wholeheartedly, but the darkness in the air prevented the light from fully shining through.
The clipped insults softened to playful pet names, the punches into bats, the glares into mocking looks of disapproval. The two were happy, and Dave strived to make his troll as happy as he could be. Small smiles started to replace the frowns, barely there smiles that could only be seen if you turned your head just so, smiles that lingered at the edges of his lips. Smiles that were Dave’s, all his, and he loved it.
The two of them started roaming around the halls together, talking about anything and everything. Dave mostly talked about Bro. Old games they used to play, the clean ups and bandages after strifing sessions, and mostly: how much he missed his brother. He had never admitted that to anyone before, and really, he couldn’t imagine admitting it to anyone else. As rough and biting Karkat’s attitude was most of the time, Dave could see him soften at the edges when Bro was mentioned.
“You miss him a lot, don’t you?”
Karkat nodded, like he understood, and for a few moments they were silent. Dave had never invited anyone else to his room to sit with him, and he could tell Karkat wanted to ask why he was chosen, but he didn’t make any attempt to. There were too many questions with little to no answers, questions that might not even have any bearing on the situation and the interaction between them. Instead of acknowledging the questions, Dave smiled and Karkat found it hard not to smile back. They were happy. Finally, after everything they had gone through, they both had someone who could understand the weight on their shoulders and not look at them any different. They had each other, and that was enough.
A little more than two years passed and the troll and the human were nearly attached at the hip. They started to share hobbies, show off drawings to each other. While Dave’s style was wonky and lazy, Karkat’s was frantic and scratchy. Dave could never really differentiate one of his drawings from the other, but he supposed that’s what he liked about it. It was Karkat’s, all his, and he couldn’t bring himself to wonder why. He loved the way the troll would get fussy when he pulled him onto his lap for surprise cuddling; he loved the soft murmurs, nearly purrs. He loved the messy hair, the bags under his eyes, the gnashing teeth and prodding claws. There wasn’t a thing he could think of that he disliked about the troll, and for the first time in a long time he felt, well, happy.
One night, though it was hard to tell the time of day and night on a meteor, Karkat did the unexpected and invited Dave to his respiteblock. Dave eagerly agreed. He had never seen the troll’s room before. As Karkat led him through the halls, occasionally playfully grabbing the troll’s rear and exchanging chaste kisses, he thought he heard something lingering behind him. When he looked there were only shadows, only the dark of the Veil sinking in once again. The calm before the storm, sheep before the butcher. When Karkat called from the doorway, Dave shook the feeling off and entered. It was dimly lit, a desk in the far corner and a haphazard pile of blankets and pillows piled into a rickety bed in the other. It was modest at best, and the empty cups of coffee littering the floor reflected the many sleepless nights the Cancer had to endure.
“Nice room.” Dave commented.
Karkat mumbled something that might have been thanks and led Dave over to the bed, both of them sitting against the wall, hand in hand, simply looking up at the ceiling and talking. And though the Strider swore to himself he would never ask again, he had to.
“So what’s up with the Juggalo anyway?”
He didn’t get an answer. Well, not a verbalized one. If a hasty kiss could be called an answer, then they were having a full-fledged conversation, tongue and teeth, hands and fingers grabbing and pulling. Something shifted in the room and this time Dave was sure he didn’t imagine it. He hazarded a glance around the room, not seeing anything stand out to him. It was hard to concentrate the way Karkat was pulling at his shirt, glaring up at him with that ‘don’t you fucking ignore me you asswipe, I’m right here’ sort of way. Dave nuzzled the side of his neck apologetically before returning to his ministrations. He felt he could never tire of this, could never leave Karkat’s side if he tried to, and everything was perfect and whole. They were together, safe and sound, they made it through all the obstacles and hardships life could have thrown at them, and they were alright. They were happy.
Karkat’s expression started to change, slowly growing into a look of horror. Dave followed his line of sight and it was then he realized what the noises earlier were from. Gamzee was in the room.
“Gamzee, listen, it’s not what it looks like-” Karkat tried to explain and suddenly the clown moved, grabbing Dave by his shirt and threw him to a wall, punching and clawing at what skin he could reach. Karkat was screaming, tugging at Gamzee’s arms in an attempt to diffuse the sudden assault.
“What the fuck did you do to my moirail, my blasphemous friend?”
“He didn’t Gamzee, he didn’t! He didn’t do anything, let him the fuck go-”
“You tried to take him from me.”
Air was vanishing rapidly as the Capricorns hands found themselves around the Strider’s neck, squeezing the life out of him. The darkness was in the room again, clouding his vision and making his lungs feel like blocks of ice. He was dying. He was the sheep before the butcher; he was the one that had to be sacrificed. His knees gave out and he fell, Karkat falling with him and shaking his shoulders. Gamzee stood over the two of them, a cold look of satisfaction on his face, clearly saying, ‘Karkat is mine.’
All those months, all those years…
Everything he had worked towards, talked about, cried over…
Everything he had thrived in achieving with his love…
He had always been in the shadow of the slaughterhouse, killing himself slowly with every action he made, and he hadn’t even known it.
The darkness closed in and he was the sheep, slaughtered for every move he had ever made.