Karkat was the last person he talked to before the Scratch. Then suddenly John is on a golden ship with Jade, who has dog ears now and hovers amid an orbit of planets, and he’s finding out he won't see his friends for three years.
He thinks about them a lot during those three years, Rose and Dave and Vriska and Karkat.
And then the three years is over. Rose only comes up to his shoulder now when he hugs her and Dave has this scruffy blonde fuzz on his chin that John is sure to tell him looks stupid, and Karkat's there and the other trolls he never met, all grey and alien and incredible.
He asks where Vriska is, and they tell him.
It ends up being Karkat who sits with him, backs against the cold steel wall of the lab. John concentrates on breathing through the knot in his throat. Hardly able to believe that Vriska is not there and never will be. Angry at everyone who knew and didn’t tell him until now. Angry at himself for never dreaming that day three years ago would be his only day with her.
“So many of us have died,” says Karkat beside him. “And I’ll be the first to say it’s total bullshit. On Alternia I got used to having the people around me culled. You could be killed off for a million and one senseless, shithive insane reasons, and death eventually became just... Background noise. But I nearly fucking lost it when I thought Sollux was dead, and Kanaya, and now that half of us are gone it turns out it didn’t really prepare me for any of it. I mean, you deal with it, because you have to, but that doesn't stop it all from being bullshit of the highest order.”
John doesn't want to think about the troll world and all its death. The sound of Karkat's voice is nice though. They’re holding hands, though John doesn’t remember how they got like that. “Thanks for staying with me. You didn’t have to.”
“I may not be the leader anymore but letting a group of volatile idiots run around getting emotionally unstable has already fucked us over once, and I’d be the biggest piece of shit ever inflicted on paradox space if I let it happen again."
John didn’t really have a chance to get a good look at Karkat during the excitement of their arrival. There’s not much light where they are and Karkat could almost blend into the wall with his dark skin and dark hair, except for the orange horns. And his eyes, which are really, really bright. John turns on his knees to get a better look at those eyes. Rimmed with deep circles, they have this look like Karkat didn't sleep at all those three years, which doesn't surprise John but makes him want to find a bed and make Karkat take a nap. He looks like a worn out kid in general. Like the worries of the world soaked into his skin and became a permanent part of him.
Karkat scowls. Anger suits his features too, John decides. “What are you staring at?” Karkat demands.
“Your weird grey alien face and your big weird red alien eyes."
Karkat looks so genuinely, childishly indignant that John has to laugh - and it feels good to laugh right then, a shot of light through his black mood. John lurches forward to pull Karkat away from the wall and into a hug. "Karkat, it's so good to see you."
A quiet minute passes before Karkat puts a hand on John’s back and murmurs, "Yeah. You too, John."
There's not enough open space on the meteor for any type of proper battleship storage, so the ship ends up perched on the roof of the widest building, docked at an angle like it ran aground on a sandbar. John is on the uppermost deck when Karkat finds him, legs dangling off the edge and arms draped over the railing, blowing little tornadoes between the lab's blocky structures around them.
Karkat asks John if he's doing okay. What actually comes out of his mouth is "Egbert, if you plan on flipping your shit and destroying our base with your stupid windy thing at least give me a courtesy warning so I can come up with some appropriately vitriolic things to yell at you while you rampage” - but John knows what he means.
"Please Karkat, like you’d even need to plan your vitriol ahead of time," John beams. "You are the best at on-the-fly vitriol. It is you. And don’t worry, no shit-flipping. I'm doing okay." He really is. The world still feels different in a way he knows he can’t reverse, but he has his friends, and things are okay. He has Karkat to ask how he’s doing, which helps.
Karkat sits next to him and they talk about stupid things, like how Kanaya definitely went overboard when decorating the bathrooms, and debate their favorite movies, which always ends with them having to agree to disagree so they don’t go on and on forever. And they talk about some serious things, like this new session they’re heading to and the things they left in the old one. John reaches over and takes Karkat’s hand at one point.
“You’re not, like, cheating on Gamzee with this are you? With the diamond quadrant thing?” John gestures with their joint hands.
"I can platonically make sure my team is holding up. If that failure of a clown has a problem with it I’ll bury him so deep in a shitty horn pile he won't be able to find his own bulge."
John laughs, rocking back from the railing. “What a great quadrant boyfriend you must be.”
“The word is moirail, dipshit. And,” with just a drop of bitterness, “it’s not like I could cheat with you anyway. I haven’t forgotten about that thing where you don’t do romance with other boys.”
“Karkat, that was three years ago.”
“What the everloving fuck is that supposed to mean?”
John shrugs. “It means I do sometimes like boys.”
Karkat tugs his hand away to scrub both palms over his face. “Holy fuck, three years later and you’re still on a mission to make my think pan leak out through my ears with this horseshit. So tell me John, how exactly did you reach this conclusion on your boat full of sprites and consorts? Have a fling with a particularly fetching chessman? Did a handsome salamander bat his eyelashes at you and set your “not a homosexual” heart aflutter? For the sake of my sanity tell me you didn't fuck that orange feathery douchebag."
"Well, we didn't exactly fuck..."
Karkat sputters and flails dramatically. John can’t help but grin sheepishly at him. He likes that Karkat is so expressive when he talks. Or when he rants at the world, which John likes listening to almost as much as his talking.
"We just kissed, and talked a lot and stuff. I don't know if I even could have sex with him, since he's a sprite and part bird too. He's not even fully human anymore!"
"But I'm not human and you-" Karkat stops himself so suddenly John can feel the void in the air where those next words should be.
John tilts his face towards Karkat. "I'm what?"
Karkat mumbles something John doesn't catch, hunches his shoulders and drops his chin to the railing.
John grins up at the sky, and reaches to take Karkat's hand again.
A day and a half later Karkat walks up to John, clenches his fists in stubborn resolve, and presses his mouth against John's.
John grabs hold of Karkat and kisses back, and kisses him, and kisses him, and kisses him.
There’s a lot to know about the trolls, and about Karkat. Things that can’t really be conveyed over pesterlog, but with the universe’s most talkative troll as his new makeout buddy John finds himself eager to absorb all the new troll-and-Karkat facts he can.
Karkat is a lot less squeamish about physical affection than he would have guessed, he learns. He likes to have his hands touched. He's especially enamored with John's arms and shoulders, which makes John smirk and then discover that being boyfriends won't stop Karkat from calling him a smug nooksucker.
There are things he doesn't like. Once, when John has him against the wall in a private corner of the lab and goes to kiss his neck Karkat seizes up and tells him: “Nearly everything about trolls can be broken down into killing or avoiding getting killed. Ripping out your enemy’s throat is antiquated but we’ve never forgotten that threat” –he bares his teeth to press the point— “so even if I know you won't do any damage having teeth at my throat isn’t going to go over well.” John's a little disappointed he can't give Karkat a pretty pink-grey hickey, but contents himself with dragging his tongue over Karkat's palm and sucking the pads of his fingers.
They learn each other, and they talk, and they decide what they want to do.
They’re kneeling on John's bed, naked, with the door locked and lights on.
"So," Karkat says. "That's what a human bulge looks like."
"Yup. Well, sometimes. For sex it’s usually, um, harder.” John frowns and scratches a spot on his elbow. “Sorry Karkat, it’s just that naked show-and-tell is a lot less sexy than I thought it would be.”
"Yeah, this is pretty awkward. But," he wraps a hand around John's wrist, drags his claws lightly on the inside of John's arm in a way that makes his skin prickle all the way up to his shoulder, "this is important, okay? Remember when we first kissed, and you cut your lip on my teeth and started gushing blood all over me and I started flipping out? All because we went at it like idiot wrigglers with no idea what we were doing."
"It was still some pretty awesome kissing."
"Agreed, it was fantastic. But we're not diving in blind from this point on. There are delicate body parts involved and if either of us gets hurt because of some ill advised interspecies sex my rage and embarrassment will manifest itself into physical being and strangle us both."
"Okay, Karkat, I said I was fine with this! Jeeeez."
John smiles like a dope. Karkat is staring at him like he’s smiling like a dope. “You're hot when you're so leaderly," John says, and sways forward to plant his lips on Karkat's.
“Don't pull or squeeze too hard,” John instructs when he guides Karkat's hand to his cock and helps him through a few instructive jerks. "Uh, no claws either. Definitely no claws." He watches Karkat’s face, enchanted with the look of concentration as he gets into a rhythm. Watches the look become something raw and carnal as the organ swells and hardens in Karkat's hand.
“Karkat,” John breathes. "Wow."
He’s so intense about everything, about strife training and cussing out Dave and kissing and now sex, like the infrastructure of the universe depends on him giving everything his complete attention. John wonders sometimes if he’s too silly for Karkat. If someone so flippant and pleased with life in general could fit himself together with someone so serious. But then again, maybe. Maybe it’s a good thing that John can grin while Karkat gives him a clumsy handjob, then kiss his nose when Karkat looks up at him nervously to reassure this grim creature that everything is really, perfectly fantastic.
He gets a look of genuine disappointment when John pushes Karkat's hand away. "I just don't want to finish too soon," he explains. "And it’s your turn to show.”
Ears going pink, Karkat leans back and bends his knees apart, runs the heel of his hand between his legs then motions for John to do the same. The skin around his nook isn't much different from the rest of his skin, perhaps a little softer, enough that John is hesitant to touch him with much more than delicate little strokes. The inside of his nook, when he finally pushes in a finger, is far smoother than expected. Sleek, lightly wet with red-tinted fluid that stays slick on his finger when he eases it out, and this whole thing has John's pulse pounding in his throat and between his legs alike.
"Of all the times to actually stay quiet," he prompts Karkat, who hasn't reacted beyond a little heavier breathing. "Come on Karkat, say something."
“Hrrg. Okay, um. The shame globes are stimulated through the nook, usually by a bulge. That's what feels good," he says, voice catching roughly in his throat. "Try with two fingers" -John goes a little lightheaded at how incredibly hot that is- "Put pressure along the bottom, yeah there, and just keep moving and oh sweet grubfucking hell that feels good." His head falls back as he rolls his hips to bear down on John's hand, and even though John's doesn’t feel anything that could qualify as shame globes and generally still isn’t sure about what he’s doing Karkat doesn’t seem to notice, groaning and squeezing John's bicep, claws stinging.
John has never been more turned on in his life. An explosion could go off behind him and he wouldn't look away.
John asks, “So, is that a thing we can do? With my dick and your nook?”
"Fucking yes that's a thing we can do,” and Karkat sounding like an overeager teenager too makes John feel better about how much he wants this. He pouts when Karkat knees at his arm until John pulls his fingers away, then sits up. “I mean, as long as human bulges don't grow spikes or rip out internal organs or anything once they're inside."
"Karkat, I promise my human bulge won't do any of those things." He pauses. "Um, yours doesn't, does it?"
"Only about a third of the time. And it’s less likely without the drones around, we should be fine," Karkat says lightly, then after beholding John's horrified face a few more seconds takes pity. "That was a joke."
"Oh! Haha, good one. Okay let me see this bulge then, which I really hope doesn't have spikes."
It slithers out from a space just above his nook. Mostly the same grey as the rest of him and smooth, when it twists around there's a ladder of ridges along the underside, flushed smokey red. The whole thing is glistening with a layer of the same slick red stuff as his nook; it gets on the back of John's hand as the bulge seeks him out and brushes his skin. He turns his hand over and the bulge slides over his palm, then lower to his leg.
Karkat’s fixing him with an expression caught between worried and aroused. “It's looking for your nook. I know you don’t have one but, uh, it’s kind of hard to control when I’m really turned on.” He tilts up his chin defensively. "I notice you're not running for the hills, which I really hope means you don't plan on freaking out and leaving me here horny and naked and alone."
To which John can only giggle and assure him that no, he has no intention of bailing. The tentacle dick will not scare him away.
There's that look again, wanting and unsure, and Karkat ventures: "For humans, when it’s two males engaging in this thing you bizarrely call homosexuality, it’s common to use the waste chute for sex, right?”
“Oh, umm, that’s – wait, how did you know humans do that?”
“Nevermind how I know. Is it a thing you want to do?”
The bulge is curling thick and heavy against his thigh. John has a flash of himself with Karkat, some other place and some other time, with that alien organ pressing inside him, stretching, moving. A cold thrill runs from his head all the way down to the base of his spine. "Uh...no, I don't think I'd like that. At least not now. I mean, maybe? At some point but right now...uh, sorry."
"Fuck, don't apologize." Karkat pushes his bulge out of the way and slides his hands to John's hips, leans in to bump his forehead against John's. "I could walk up her Imperious Condescension right now and drop a pail of my disgusting mutant jizz at her feet and tell her to kiss my throbbing bone bulge if she doesn't like it, I'm so fucking amazed you want any of this. Fuck, John, you have no idea how good this all is, and you're so fucking gorgeous, I can't believe-".
John takes Karkat’s harsh, grim, blindingly beautiful face in his hands and kisses him desperately, with all the inexperienced elegance of a cat in water and all the passion of the world’s greatest love stories, because honestly, he’s just as amazed.
The learning-curve shyness of earlier is gone when Karkat grabs John's cock, works him with fast, short pumps, and there’s a certain quirk to his grip in the way he curves his fingers to keep his claws out of the way that has John writhing in no time. He’s so wound up that he’s reduced to clinging to Karkat’s neck like he’ll die if he lets go, nails biting white marks into the skin of his back and shoulders. One more tug, one last shout and John comes over Karkat’s hand.
Karkat topples backwards as John sags his all his weight against him, and ends up on his back underneath the floppy, very pleased human.
Karkat inspects the issue on his hand. "Huh. Points to me for being able to get a human off.” Wipes it off on the sheets with only a mild grimace of distaste. “Don't you dare do that inside of me, though. I don't care if you use a bucket but there's no way you're using me as a bucket."
“Hnngg,” John declares, as the white noise between his ears slowly dissipates and he retroactively processes Karkat’s words. “Bluh. Yes, all the points to you. Wow. So many points. And yes to the other thing too. No Karkat bucket. Got it.”
“Gross, John,” but the impending lecture on cultural sensitivity ends with John running his fingers over Karkat’s bulge.
John shuffles down the bed until he can properly stare down this very interesting piece of troll biology. It’s moving too much to jerk off like a regular dick, he quickly determines. John grips it with both hands and tries running them up and down its length as best he can. The bulge is working against him though, surprisingly strong in its thrashings and trying to coil around his wrist, and on top of that his post-orgasm coordination isn’t the best.
“Hey, do trolls do oral sex?” he asks, then, when Karkat gives him a confused look: “You know, with licking and sucking and stuff.” His eyes flick to Karkat’s bulge and his tongue flicks out to wet his lips.
“Are you fucking serious? Oh right, you have those useless flat things that shouldn’t even count as teeth for all the damage they can’t do. You squishy defenseless pink monkeys, you wouldn’t last a minute on Alternia, do you even know what troll teeth could do —”
A pinch to the hip cuts him off long enough for John to flash his teeth and curl his tongue to run across their fronts.
Karkat sucks in a long breath.
“Okay. Yes. Any teeth and I’ll be forced to kill you, and I don’t want to do that, Egbert.”
Even with both hands around it the bulge is writhing impressively, too much to actually put it in his mouth. John ops to drag his tongue along the ridged underside, and gets a loud, startled groan from Karkat in return. They sink straight to his bones, these sounds Karkat’s making as John touches him. It spurs him on in exploring, testing, teasing, inexpert as it all is. Feeling out each ridge with the flat of his tongue. Sucking wetly up and down the length of him, letting the red fluid collect on his lips.
The only change John notices is the sudden slowing of the bulge’s movements, but then Karkat is pushing him away with a growl rolling deep his chest. He rolls and swings his legs over the side of the bed, hooks his foot around the pail stashed on the floor to kick it between his legs, and shakes as he comes.
John watches with his mouth hanging open. He shuffles up behind Karkat, peeks over his shoulder, leans into the troll’s heaving, sweat-slicked back.
Then John giggles. A giggle turns into a laugh, turns into John tipping back onto the bed and failing to stifle his laughter with his hands.
"I think you just made buckets sexy for me!"
Karkat tries to punch him in the arm but fumbles his aim and ends up flopped down on top of him instead. He curls his limbs around John, and John loops an arm around his back. He can feel Karkat smiling against his shoulder.
The next day John can't stop thinking about it.
He'd believed, with the conviction of a kid brought up by Hollywood love stories and a loving, sheltering father, that his first sexual experience would be something to be remembered. But it takes him by surprise how tenaciously it sticks to him. It's like when he’s seen a really good movie and afterward can't stop giddily replaying the scenes in his head, only amplified by a million and accompanied by vivid, distressingly tactile memories.
His hands go slack around Zillyhoo's handle as a vision of Karkat's fire-bright eyes peering at him through a fringe of messy hair suddenly floods him, and Rose who he's supposed to be sparring with knocks him back with a sucker-punch shot from her wands. There's a flash of Karkat's hand on him, colors standing out in his memory like someone turned up the contrast, deep grey against flushed pink and claws a streak of yellow as Karkat pumps his cock. There’s the sensation of Karkat's bulge against his thigh, bright and intense like a burn. At one point John rushes to the bathroom to shove up his sleeve because he swears he can still feel that grip on his bicep and the clawmarks he left must be huge, but they're not, just pinprick in his skin that feel so much more significant than they look.
There are weird looks from the others and even as he laughs it off John's sure they must know, because he's so full of it he thinks he could burst, like he must be radiating with the knowledge of last night.
Karkat's respiteblock is the closest after dinner, where John's hyperawareness of Karkat has him slopping spaghetti sauce on the table at the first corner-of-the-eye glimpse of the troll, where Karkat snaps at Jade when she points out that he just added salt to his coffee instead of sugar. They catch each others' eyes just once, and smile like conspirators before looking away.
Karkat’s through the transportalizer first and John three seconds later, then another three seconds before they’re on each other with eager mouths and greedy hands. Now when Karkat touches him there's a rapid-fire overlap of the familiar and the new, exploiting the comfort zone and pushing boundaries at a whirlwind pace. The fingers stroking the nape of his neck he knows, a favorite thing for Karkat do when they kiss. The rake of claws over his ribs is a shockingly new sensation that has John whimpering into Karkat's mouth even as it's followed by a soothing caress. It’s dizzying, like what he imagines being drunk is like.
"How the fuck could one night of awkward fumbling turn me into such an airheaded moron.” Karkat growls against John's lips. "I haven't been able to concentrate all day because of you."
"Think of it as long-term pranking, if you want. Revenge for all the times you've called me a moron." John curls his fingers around the base of Karkat’s horn and relishes the full body shudder that runs through the troll, which in turn sends a spike of desire through his own gut. “Except for the part where you do the exact same thing to me.”
There's a spread of pillows and blankets on the floor from the last time John slept in here - Karkat grumbling and burying himself under piles of bedding like a bug under a rock until John has to burrow in too to reach him - that they maneuver their way down to, John pinning Karkat on his back and pressing hard against his hip as they kiss. John sits up to strip off his shirt, then helps Karkat out of his sweater. Yesterday was the day for the slow reveal of flesh, for shaking hands to shyly peel away each garment, but tonight they just want to get naked as fast as possible. At least as well as they can, as Karkat fumbles with John’s belt and swears under his breath. John has to roll off him to get his shoes and pants and boxers off, then waits impatiently for Karkat to shimmy out of his so he can climb back on top. They’ll have to practice streamlined clothing removal later, John decides.
One hand back around Karkat’s horn, John leans in and says into his ear, "What do you want to do?
Karkat replies, breath tickling, "How about I suck your cock."
"What? No, you asshole! Weren't you the one who said you’d bite it off?"
"That is so far away from what I actually said it’s microscopic. And I meant just using my tongue, like you did last night, but “lick your cock” makes me sound like a drooling woofbeast, so fucking excuse me for trying to bring a little class into our bedroom talk.” John rolls his eyes, but then Karkat rolls his hips. He's always been good at getting John's attention. “But if that’s out, you could always fuck me.”
John can't help the smile that curves his lips. "You haven’t changed your mind about that since last night? It’s okay if you have.”
“If I didn’t mean it I wouldn’t have said it. I told you there wouldn’t be any bullshiting around with this stuff, didn’t I?”
“Heh. I was hoping you would say that."
A bottle ejects from John’s sylladex and hits the pillow next to Karkat’s head. "It's, um, lubricant,” John explains as Karkat flips the cap. “After last night I figured it would be useful, so I alchemized some. Because I guess your dick-bulge thing makes its own slippery stuff and mine doesn't."
"Look at Egbert putting his think pan to use with a bona fide good idea. Being with me clearly is good for you."
Karkat drips some lube on his fingers while John gets Karkat's legs on either side of him, determines it okay to use then takes it upon himself to upend the bottle and generously slick up John’s junk.
John pauses at the sight before him. Karkat's body is silhouetted darkly against the blanket, red his in eyes and in his swollen bulge, teeth glinting between his black lips like a predator's. It makes John's breath catch. Dealing with Karkat can be like staring into the sun, and when the moment passes, seconds or minutes or longer, you come away surprised you haven’t been blinded and burned to a crisp. Right now, with Karkat's bare flesh under his hands and an erection like hot stone between his legs, John's not sure he's out of danger yet.
He thinks he should say something, like "Are you sure?" or "This... this is fucking spectacular!", but maybe it's too soon for movie quotes and his tongue feels too thick in his mouth anyway, so he adjusts his grip on Karkat’s hips and pushes in. It feels good, really good, and thank god, Karkat’s not bothering keeping quiet this time. Ego swelling over the low moans puffing from Karkat’s lips, John jerks his hips forward.
Karkat seizes up all at once, face flinching with pain. "Ow! Oh shit, ouch, stop, stop."
John nearly falls backwards he moves away so fast, horrified. "Sorry!" he cries. "Are you okay? Shit, I'm sorry, sorry—”
"Stop apologizing. It's not your fault, it's just that troll bulges aren't so..." He gestures in a way that in no way conveys what troll bulges aren't. Then, shoots out a hand that latches on to John’s arm. "Don’t you fucking dare run off like scared little squeakbeast and leave me here. I still want this to happen, alright? We just have to work something out.”
"Okay," John begins cautiously, the shock of fright subsiding, "What if we change places..." He leans forward and slides an arm around Karkat's back, levers them both up and over so they're chest-to-chest with Karkat on top. It’s a neatly athletic move, one Karkat seems to like as he gets his bearings and pins John with a look sharp with lust. He gets his meaning though, nods and sits up to straddle John’s legs. John immediately misses the heat and weight of him.
"Kaaaarkat," he croons, though the troll doesn't acknowledge him, continues palming John's cock and stares at it like it'll speak secrets to him if he puzzles it out long enough. "Karkat, stop staring at my dick! You're making me nervous."
"Like you weren't staring at my crotch the exact same way yesterday," Karkat retorts, but goes up on his knees, positioning himself. Holds his bulge against his stomach with one hand and nudges the tip of John's cock inside himself with the other. Shifts to reposition the angle and lowers himself, slowly, slowly. “God-," he groans, a low pitch that vibrates through John’s blood and settles right in his dick— and he’s fully engulfed already, just a few seconds while he held his breath, "-it’s so solid. Troll bulges sure as fuck don’t get this...hard.”
He's heavy on John's hips and indescribable around him. John chews the inside of his lip and makes a concentrated effort to not thrust upwards, determined not to mess this up as Karkat pauses like he's adjusting to the feel of it, but that's okay because this is good, this is great and John might need a minute too. Then Karkat says, "Oh right, yours doesn't move on its own. So I have to-" and rolls his hips. He steadies himself, leans to brace himself on John's chest and starts up again and they're suddenly rocketing up the intercourse echeladder from "Successfully Not Awful" to "Brain-Meltingly Amazing, Holy Shit".
John spreads his palms over Karkat's chest, surprised at the heat radiating from him. Runs them down over his stomach, his sides, his thighs, everywhere he can touch as Karkat rocks above him. Maybe it's the heat under his skin or maybe it’s the way he's moving, uncoordinated jerks that drive the breath from his lungs in a stream of groans and babbled profanities, but it's like there's an electric current running through Karkat, brightening his eyes beneath their heavy lids, compelling John to bring his arms around this unbelievable object of his desire and draw him down against his chest. "Sorry," he whispers as Karkat hisses at the change in position, but Karkat twitches his hips and whispers back, "No, this is good. John. Fuck."
They're moving again, and it's been barely five minutes but with hot breath on his neck and Karkat's bulge squirming between them as John clutches him close it's becoming too much. “Karkat, I’m sorry," he chokes out, moving his hands to Karkat's shoulders and hoping with the bit of clear-headedness he has left he doesn’t have to abruptly shove him off. "You have to get off, I can’t go much longer.”
Just a brief, rolling nod in response, like Karkat too is too far gone for words. They groan simultaneously when Karkat slips off him, exposing them to the air, not so much cold as lacking the intimate heat of bodies so closely tangled.
The bucket hits the blanket with a muted clang. John rolls to his knees and leans into Karkat’s side, who’s also up on his knees and putting on one hell of a show with two fingers of one hand in his nook, the other squeezing and steadying his bulge over the bucket. The edge looming, John fits one arm around Karkat’s waist. “Karkat,” he moans, because his tongue wants to say something but his brain can’t latch on to anything else, “Karkat, Karkat, Karkat-”
He sees Karkat’s head turn. His gaze shifts to John’s lap where the boy is furiously pumping his cock, then rakes upward along his bare and flushed body, and when Karkat reaches his face and meets his eyes it’s the end for him. John’s climax hits him like a hammer hitting glass. It’s sharp and debilitating, eyes squeezed shut with red behind his lids, and a shout that could be from him or from Karkat, he can’t tell.
Karkat’s body solid and hot at his side grounds him as he comes down from the high. As he clings to him one-armed he realizes that Karkat came too, filled the pail with his vivid red. A shame John missed it, but, next time. John collects the milky liquid streaking his leg on two fingers, leans over while Karkat watches to wipe it off on the edge of the pail, adds what he can of his genetic contribution with that of his boyfriend, his matesprit.
Later, but not much, when sticky skin has been wiped down and the makeshift bed put back in order Karkat stretches on his back and rubs lazy circles into John’s shoulder. John’s lying crossways with his head on Karkat’s stomach, rising and falling with his breathing, and Karkat says, “John. You’re okay with this, right? I mean, I know things are weird."
John’s half asleep already and before he can wrap his head around that Karkat continues: "Because that whole thing about being clear with each other so we don't act like complete idiots about this, that’s not just for the physical stuff. You can tell me if you’re getting sick of this and want to break it off. I wouldn’t blame you.”
“Don’t be stupid, how could I get sick of this? Having an alien for a boyfriend is pretty much the coolest thing ever." He tilts his head to face Karkat. They’re both naked except for their underwear, and from this vantage point John’s treated to a view of Karkat’s bare chest, the curve of this throat. John would be embarrassed by the intimacy of it all, except he's not. "You know when you're looking forward to something, like on your birthday when you wake up knowing you're getting a big present and you're excited all day even if you're not actually thinking about whatever it is that's making you happy? That's what it’s like all the time now for me."
"You're such a mushheaded sap. That feeling will wear away soon enough."
"Stop being such a cynical jerkface, you jerkface! You love the mushy stuff even more than I do. And there's no way I’ll not feel like that, not as long as you're around."
The hand on his shoulder goes still. “You should go to sleep,” Karkat says.
“Mmm, sounds good.” John lays himself out alongside Karkat and drapes an arm across him, all loose and tired and rubbery. He remembers Karkat telling him that trolls don’t get sleepy like humans do after sex, something about how idiotic that would be with a drone looming over you, or something. “You should too.”
“I’m not tired.”
“Then stay here anyway.”
Karkat makes a sound almost like a laugh. John doesn’t get what’s so funny, but Karkat pulls him close and John’s too tired to do more than enjoy the warm body against his. “Yeah,” Karkat says, “I will.”
"Do you think we'll need this?" John asks, balancing on his palm a small box with a picture of a slinky on the side. "We alchemized it with one of Jade's guns so it shoots bullets when you push it down the steps.”
Any day now, according to Rose, they're going to enter the new session. They can see it already, a shimmering bauble against the black of space, Skaia-blue among its assemblage of portals and planets and already the size of his fist as Karkat gazes at it through a porthole. The pieces are in place, four new players now entrenched in their game, and it's time for these travelers to punch through the walls of this horrorterror space time maze and join them.
After hearing the news John decided he wants to go through three years and one game session's worth of accumulated objects, sort out what is and isn't coming with him. He sits cross-legged on floor of his room surrounded by the contents of his emptied sylladex, all the alchemized oddities and collected loot and little golden things he and Jade and Davesprite found on their battleship treasure hunts.
“Maybe we can use it against Jack...No? Yeah, you're probably right, we've got better weapons anyway." He places the box carefully in the leave-behind pile.
Karkat turns to the window, then back to John, asks like he can't bear to leave it unasked, “Do you think I could introduce you to Gamzee?"
“Gamzee? Oh, sure! It’s weird to think I’ve never actually met him after hearing you talk about him so much. I’ve only seen him, like, once the whole time we’ve been here. What’s his deal?”
“He’s a fucking piece of work is his deal. But he’s been better lately. I don’t know what it is, maybe the new game session." Karkat rakes his hand through his hair. "I just...think this is a good idea. Today, if we can? Let me talk to him first and make sure he’s not going to pull any murderclown nonsense and then, yeah. You can meet him. You can meet each other.”
Karkat nods. John pushes a stack of miscellaneous metal gears into the leave pile as he watches Karkat pace, back and forth in front of the table of DVDs and game grubs he's supposed to be sorting. His face is drawn and pale with lack of sleep again. Taking a moment to ponder the pair of feathered compushades Davesprite gifted him last year before slipping them into his sylladex, John asks, “Are you nervous about the new session?”
“Of course not," Karkat spits. "I lead my team flawlessly through our game. And I should get honorary player status and a fucking bronzed statue on LOWAS after all the lobe-splitting headaches I endured in helping your group through your session.”
There’s a pile of glowing blue mushrooms that John immediately starts captchaloging. Not that they do him any good but Casey goes into fits of bubbly, fidgety delight at the sight of them, and anything for his loving daughter. “But…”
“But..." Karkat begins, arms crossed over his chest. He's stopped pacing. "You weren't there the first time, when we finished our game, so maybe you won't get it. I'm just remembering standing on that platform after finally beating all the shit that was thrown at us, and then being told nope, no reward for you, you get to spend the rest of your lives living and dying on a cold rock in space." He drops his gaze, avoids John's eyes and addresses the vicinity of his knees instead. "The way Lalonde’s been talking it’s clear this is a session for the human players. There’s no guarantee the universe you create is meant for us. The trolls, I mean.”
“So you’re worried that we’ll stay stuck in the game?” John studies Karkat's face. He puts down the mushroom in his hand. Sometimes he's very glad Karkat is so bad at hiding his emotions. “You’re worried I’m going to leave you behind.”
“I know my crippling self esteem tends to leave its festering mark on everything I do, but give me some fucking credit. I don’t think you’d—” He stops, corrects himself, “I know you wouldn’t purposely do that. But, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, my life has been largely a sequence of the universe making me its bitch at every possible turn, and something as good as successfully entering a new world with you is a huge flashing target on my back. I may not have a choice. You may not either.”
“But that can’t happen, you’re with me now.”
“This isn’t a movie, John. In the real world true love isn’t something fate takes into consideration when deciding who to shit on—”
“That’s not what I meant,” John interrupts, shaking his head. “And you just said being happy with me is a reason for the universe to screw you over, so why shouldn't you believe the opposite? If fate is capable of making bad shit happen to you then it's just as capable of good too. But that doesn't matter anyway. I don't mean just with me, with Dave and Rose and Jade too. Didn’t you hear what Rose said? The new session is making way for the gods.” He stops and makes sure he can see Karkat's eyes. “Gods, Karkat. We will make it world you can live in.”
Karkat inhales like he's going to speak. He doesn't, just breathes deeply, chest expanding beneath his folded arms. John looks past him at the table. "You haven't picked out what movies you want to bring."
The aura of tension around Karkat falls away all at once. He rolls his shoulders, drops his arms to his sides. "You know you're just going to take all of them,” and his voice is strained, his face is beatific, “you massive dork." He scoops up a bottle of soda that’s an unnervingly ectoslime-esque shade of green and drops it in the pile with the other rejected items. Then he kneels behind John and wraps his arms around him. Rests his forehead in John's hair, lips brushing his neck so when he speaks the sound vibrates in the back of John's ears. “I’ll talk to Gamzee, then text you to meet us?”
“And you’ll come to my respiteblock tonight?”
“Heh. Very okay.”
The hold on him tightens. John relaxes into it, into Karkat who's not good at staying quiet and faced with a genuine bout of wordlessness holds John until there's no space between them, as if he can press his meaning into John's body.
John touches the back of Karkat's hand, because it works; he gets it.
They stay like that, fitted together, until John starts fidgeting. Karkat delivers one last squeeze before he gets to his feet, and John fondly watches his ass as he leaves.
Smiling to himself, John returns to his task, slips into his sylladex an oil-stained fedora, a faded black shirt, a battered old sickle.