He watches her eat ravioli and wonders if she was fierce in a past life, and if so, then what was he?
He doesn't voice these thoughts, just makes a face when she gets sauce on her chin. She grins at him.
"Something on your mind?"
He turns his glass clockwise and watches the light on her skin.
He thought, a long time ago, that he was meant for something Really Great. He thought, very long ago, that he had a Purpose and it was awful and True, Truer than anything he'd ever heard but as he saw more the Truth got too much and so he escaped with fake things, fake movies, fake books.
But it's too late for any of that now.
He thought he was meant for something great but she, Terezi, she was born for Greatness and it should have been hers. It should have been.
He is bitter when he drinks cheap wine from a coffee mug, bitter when she leaves for work very early and doesn't wake him up.
She was supposed to be a lawyer, but things change. People change. Governments change. Suddenly no one needs lawyers.
"Hey," she says, nudging his wrist. "Cut that out."
He looks at her and her milky eyes and wants to cry.
Sometimes Gamzee shows up on their doorstep in the heat of the day or the middle of the night or the break of dawn and Karkat doesn't how how he got there or where he's been.
Karkat lets him in because Karkat can’t refuse him anything, has never been able to refuse him anything. They sit up and talk, or listen, or stay quiet.
"It's all connected," Gamzee says. "With strings or yarn or rope, different colors and different shapes to fit your head around. Me and you, now, you and me, we're a nice thick rope, fucking red carpet affair, shit looping from gold ball to gold ball. Pale rope to tie tight ‘round your waist so you don't drown. Or maybe to ground me so while I'm all up here floating in the thinair atmosphere I can look down at the tug and say oh hey man how you doing and you'll yell deep from your lungs you know what I'm doing pretty motherfuckin' good and I'll be like preach because we'll have this rope, not dental floss or cheap plastic friendship bracelet string."
Karkat kind of gets it.
"Shut up," he says, "stop trying so hard, I just-- dental floss? The mind boggles. Shut up and go to sleep."
"She walks in beauty," Gamzee says dreamily.
"You cannot quote Byron at me, I refuse to even listen to you. You are bullshit incarnate."
"I dig his alliteration."
"You know what you should dig? Sleep. Sleep is fucking fantastic."
"Cloudless climes," says Gamzee, watching the ceiling fan. "Starry skies."
"You don't even know what that means."
"Don't need to. Feels about right. It's about the taste and feel of the words on your gums and not all those papercut pages in the dictionary."
"You're being pretentious."
"Brother, I am preaching."
"About papercuts," says Karkat. "About gums. About a crockpot of shit, and none of it matters."
"Don't it build a nest in your heart and sing?"
"I think people matter," says Karkat. "Stupid and awful and irritating people, they matter. 'Cloudless climes' doesn't mean anything. You're being idealistic."
"Idealistic and unrealistic, pretty soon we're gonna be just another statistic."
"Don't rap, for the love of Christ. Go to sleep."
"If you built an orphanage," he says, "I would burn it to the motherfucking ground."
Karkat doesn't say anything.
"Don't get me wrong," Gamzee says, "I am definitely all for that sharing shit because it keeps the world spinning, makes it go round. Little bit of sharing ain't never hurt no one."
"But you," he says, something dark curling in the cracks in his lips and the creases at the corner of his mouth, "you, best friend, are not for sharing."
"You can't share a person, you ignorant fuck," Karkat says. "People aren't toys."
Gamzee says, "Aren't they?"
He falls asleep after that.
Karkat sits up awake for a long while.
If it were just the system, he thinks, he would be set. If just the system were corrupt, if just one person was a liar, it would be easy.
But the world is very big.
"I'm going to change some rules," he says. "Fucked-up rules, mind you."
Terezi doesn't pat his face or jeer. She just rubs her thumbs over the back of his knuckles and says, "It's a big world."
"I'm not out for revolution here, sweetheart, I just want you to maybe go through a lunch hour without having to deal with a bunch of god damn assholes? That would be great."
She turns his hands over and begins tracing his life line, his love line, spiderweb cracks that tell the future to those who know how to read them.
"Karkat," she says with a half-smile, "you are the little engine that did not care if he could or could not."
"So help me god, I will stand on street corners."
"And when you are thrown in jail for disturbing the peace," she says, "you will neither quit nor rest."
"Stop that," he says. "That pseudo-mysterious omnipotent voice might trick the soccer moms at the local Renaissance fair, but due to my inherent cynicism it's going to take a hell of a show to convince me."
"Oh, no," she says. "You, Mr. Vantas, are a fake cynic, the worst and most tragic kind. For the record, I have never even been to a Renaissance fair, a fact I find both depressing and negligent!"
"You wouldn't like it," he mumbles. "Too many smells."
"No such thing."
"I'd have to hold your hand the entire time."
"Are there dragons?"
"Oh, sure. Trained ones. You can ride them."
She squeezes his hands and laughs.
There's a demonstration at some college, a protest or a peace rally.
He doesn't really know, he was heading for the library and then the cops showed up and he ending up getting arrested and thrown in jail along with some of the protestors.
He shares an overnight cell with a kid named John.
John has blue eyes and a deck of cards so they play Go Fish and then BS and a couple rounds of Texas Hold 'Em before John laughs so hard the aces fall out of his sleeves and Karkat demands reparation.
"You're right, you're right," says John, wiping tears from his face. "I owe you-- what were we using this time?"
"Aliens," Karkat says, sweeping up the cards into a deck. "You owe me two xenomorphs, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and three of those flesh-eating freaky fucks from Riddick that we can't remember the name of."
"I will be eaten within probably a day," John says solemnly, taking the cards. "But, ha, you owe me the San Andreas fault line and all the salsa in the entire world from our Carmen San Diego, Why Would You Even Steal That? round."
He shuffles the deck. Karkat sits back and watches. John glances up, notices him watching, and smiles.
"Tough break," John says. "Now the cops'll think you're a yuppie. They've got you black listed."
"God forbid," says Karkat. "Let's avoid the y-word, shall we? I was just going to the fucking library."
"You looked unhappy."
"And you know what, that's why they got me, because I wasn't prancing around singing praises to the President. Now my girlfriend is going to have to eat cold ravioli and reread the same god damn Jules Verne novel because I couldn't even walk to the library in peace. " He smacks the table. Cards flutter to the ground. "Fuck this country."
John doesn't say anything. Karkat rests his head in his hands.
They stay up until John's sister comes and bails him out at daybreak.
Her mess of hair is in a high ponytail. She's got laugh lines and big green eyes but she looks furious. She crosses her arms over her WWF t-shirt.
"John," she says.
"Jade," he says, smiling kind of tired.
"You are so stupid," she says. "I just-- Christ, I should just leave you here."
"Okay," says John, holding up his hands in a gesture of peace, "okay, makes sense, but hey," and he pulls on Karkat's arm, "I owe this guy a favor. Like a Wookiee life debt."
Karkat tries to tug his arm away and says some stuff like "no" and "fuck no" and "leave me here to rot, my legally blind pseudo-girlfriend and my stoner best friend will find their way here eventually."
Jade glares at the both of them.
"Yeah," she says finally. "Okay."
John crashes on the couch the moment he walks through the door.
Jade and Karkat stay up and share a six-pack.
"He's a good kid," she says, starting to smile a little after a couple of cheap beers. "He deserves way better, but with things the way they are--" She shrugs. "I know he wants to do something worthwhile." She takes a long drink of her beer.
"And what about you?" Karkat asks, looking at the inky thumbprints under her eyes.
"Me? I'm just chugging along. Choo choo." She smiles. "I was gonna be a scientist. Had it all planned out. I was going to have a gigantic mansion and a big old fluffy dog." She laughs at herself.
He doesn't know why, but he says, "What's stopping you?"
"Lost opportunities," she says finally. "Before all this. You know."
He does know. "You should do something about it," he says, and Jade's face hardens.
"I'm sorry," says Jade, topping off his glass, "but you can't talk like this when you go around spitting in people's faces."
"Of course I can," he says. "It doesn't make me a hypocrite. It makes me qualified. Do you honestly believe I can sit back and notice this festering puss-knot on the back of humanity's neck and not feel?"
"It's sad. It's something to be sad about."
"Sadness is jack shit, sadness is an empty balloon, no one anywhere ever got anything done while being sad. Anger moves people. Anger changes the world."
"It's destructive," she says.
"It works," he says.
"Love works," she says, watching him.
"I'm not fucking stupid," he says. "I'm under no such delusion that you can move mountains with love."
She considers him.
"I think you're pretending," she says.
He gets home.
Terezi presses her nose to the shallow dip in his neck and inhales.
"I met someone yesterday," she says against his throat.
"So did I," he says. He is very tired.
"He is a gentleman," she says, "a real cool kid. Probably about six years my junior."
"You're a creep," he tells her. "Meanwhile I get stuck with a pair of twins in desperate need of orthodontal aid."
She tilts her head up and breathes under his jaw.
"One girl. One guy. Who's this douchebag?"
"No one important," she says.
"I just wanted to bring you a stupid book," he tries.
"It's okay," she says.
He thinks it probably isn't.
He ends up back at John and Jade's house, ends up drinking Jade's beer again, ends up playing Marvel VS Capcom on John's old Dreamcast while Jade is out.
"I don't even know," John says, tapping the A button. "I think she has like five different jobs. Personally I think she should get the hell out of Dodge, she's kind of meant for more." He pauses the game. "You know those kinds of people, right? The ones who belong in a story?"
"Yeah," he says. "But those kinds of assholes don't do well in real life."
John looks at him.
"I think you'd make a good hero," he says.
"No," Karkat says, frustrated, "that's people like you, I'm just--"
John unpauses the game and kicks his ass in the three seconds it takes Karkat to recover.
They end up on the couch because John is a lightweight and Karkat has a thing for bright eyes.
"You must be an alien," John says against his shoulder, working Karkat's pants open. "I just-- your pupils are too big."
Karkat hooks an ankle around John's calf and says, "Oh my god, shut up." John smiles.
He plays the piano in the morning, something like Chopin, half-naked and bright in the winter sun. Karkat only gets up when the notes stop sounding like rain.
At home there is blood on the walls and a pale stranger in the living room.
Karkat opens the door and sees Terezi hit Gamzee in the back of the knee with her cane.
"You are out of line," she hisses, placing a foot on his back and forcing him to the ground. "This is no way to behave in front of a guest. What on earth is wrong with you?"
"I don't like him," he says, muffled against the carpet. "I don't care for his motherfucking tone of voice."
The stranger is sitting on the coffee table, managing to look impeccably bored even with a black eye.
"What the hell is going on?" Karkat says, throwing his keys down and storming inside. "What the fuck are you doing?"
"Karkat," says Terezi, pressing down on Gamzee's back with a pointed knee. "He is a danger to you."
"Who is that?" he asks, jerking his chin in the direction of the boy on the couch. "Why is he in our god damn living room?"
Terezi's lips tighten. "That," she says, "is Dave Strider, a friend whom I had wished to introduce to my friends in a polite and civil manner! However I see now that this is impossible. Where have you been, Vantas, while your friends fight like alley cats? I smell sex."
Karkat flinches. The stranger stands up, moseys towards the door.
"I'm gonna go," he says. Terezi nods.
Terezi sits next to him and is silent.
"You can't please everyone," she says.
"I don't want to please anyone," he says.
She takes his hand.
"I don't know what you're trying to do," she says. "I don't know what you want to fix or change or build. I know you're confused. But I will help you."
He rests his head on her shoulder and shuts his eyes.
A war is announced and the block falls silent. There's less ravioli and no more cheap wine. Rumors of a draft float around. Work on bomb shelters is begun.
The President appears on the news and smiles a lipsticked smile at the camera and assures everyone that All Is Well.
There is a demonstration at the same college campus, but this time there are guns.
No one knows what started it, an angry word, a misplaced shove, but they sure as hell know what ended it:
Karkat Vantas elbows someone in the face and pushes his way past a mass of warm bodies and gets up on stage, steps behind the podium, taps the microphone.
"Hey, assholes," he says, weary. "Settle down."
A mob falls quiet. John cradles his broken wrist in a hand and watches him.
"You've been lied to," Karkat says. "I'm sorry, but that's what's going on. She's turning you against each other. Simple as that. You know why?" He spreads his arms. His palms are bloody. "A hundred years ago, a woman murdered the last king and said 'freedom.'" He lets his arms fall. "And you believed her." There is not a single noise in the entire crowd. "You're fighting the wrong cause, you-- you think you're free. Why, goddammit? Because there aren't any chains around your neck, because she doesn't sit on a fucking throne? This is a lie and she is a liar and hundred years ago, a king died, and a dictator took his place."
In the middle of the crowd, a young woman named Feferi Peixes holds her breath.
"Wake up," Karkat says, and gets off the stage.
There is blood on the steps. He does not slip.
Terezi is asleep when he gets home. The telephone rings.
"Hello?" he says.
"Hi," says a voice. "My name is Feferi Peixes and I'm running for President."
He hangs up.
Terezi acts differently the next day, tilts her head towards him and twitches her lips.
"You are changed," she says.
"You talk funny," he says, and she laughs throatily.
"My little cool kid thinks you're nifty," she says, pinning him to the kitchen counter with a swish of her hips. She picks at his collar. "Saw your little stunt on television. He says he wishes more people were like you."
"What, fucked-up assholes with insomnia?"
"No," she says, circling his wrist with her fingers. "Brave."
He kisses her and thinks maybe they can just stay here, her fingers on his pulse and their bare feet on kitchen tile and monsoon rain tapping at the window.
He sees a damp poster on the way home, no bigger than a placemat.
FEFERI PEIXES WILL CHANGE THE WORLD.
He stares at it a long moment.
He writes down the campaign number.
He meets Feferi in a dull office three stories up.
"I am so happy to meet you," she says, shaking his hand. "You really caused a stir."
"Okay, whatever," he says. "I don't need to hear it. I'm just here to make flyers or some shit."
"This is amazing," she says, walking over to her desk. She has good posture, he thinks. "I have a really great feeling about all this."
He watches her dark mess of hair and is reminded of cheap beer in the stale summer night.
"Hey," he says, starting to clear off another desk. "I know some people who can help."
"I'm going back to work," Terezi says, her feet in his lap.
"What, your new boytoy inspire you?" Karkat says, turning a page in his book.
"No," she says, smiling. "There's change coming. I want to be a part of it." She leans her head back on the armrest and closes her eyes.
"It's probably bullshit," he says, looking at his book without seeing it.
"I don't think so," says Terezi. "Someone new is running for president. I believe it."
"Believe this," he says, "we are a totalitarian state dressed up as a democratic republic. One party. One leader. This woman cannot run for president."
"But she is," says Terezi, and grins.
He stays up under the dim light of a lamp with John, working through some campaign slogans. Jade is asleep on a pair of folding chairs.
"It's not like it fucking matters," Karkat mutters, flipping over another page in the notebook.
"People will like it no matter what," John says, tapping the end of a pen on the table. "But, shit, it's gotta be at least optimistic, okay?"
"Oh, right, silly me," he says, pretending to cross something off his list. "What was I thinking with this one: 'why bother voting, we're all going to get arrested and die!'"
"Shut up, Karkat," he says, grinning.
People flood in. Jade takes to bossing around some lost-looking college students and Feferi installs a fish tank and things get bigger.
He is sure he is the only one glancing behind his shoulder whenever he enters the building. Good, he thinks, he wants it that way.
One person worries so the rest can hope.
He writes Feferi’s speeches and passes out sandwiches at 3 in the morning and one day she is booked, she is on TV.
People clap and cry.
He watches from the wings like a nervous playwright. She has good posture and great hair and she is down-to-earth, happy, relatable.
She is not an untouchable figure of beauty and stone. The audience loves her and he is very, very proud.
The office is gone the next day. The entire complex is demolished.
He sits down and watches the dust rise from the rubble.
The others show up later.
Karkat stands up and turns around and there are so many of them now; concerned, tired, dirty, afraid, angry, tearstained faces.
They are all looking at him.
Feferi smiles, like, oh well.
"We can start over," she says.
"No, we can’t," he says.
"We can try again," she says.
"No," he says, “we fucking can’t,” and he points at the wall.
The poster that read
FEFERI PEIXES WILL CHANGE THE WORLD.
FEFERI PEIXES WILL
CHANG E THE WORLD.
Her face does not change.
"You want us to give up?" she says.
"I want you to live," he says. The lump in his throat is choking his words.
She lifts her chin, proud, high, beautiful.
"It would be worth it," she says, but he knows she is wrong.
He sleeps for a long time.
He sleeps the entire night and the entire day and when he wakes up the sun is setting and Terezi is at his side.
"Rise and shine," she says.
"I'm a failure," he says to the pillow.
"Gamzee cooked you breakfast," she says.
"Dave is using your DVD's as ninja stars."
"Karkat," she whispers, nose to his cheek, "you changed the world."