I made the stars for you.
-And for you, I made a garden.
These were Karkat’s initial delusions: he thought everything about John was soft, the way his skin was, the way his smile was, the way his whole smooth-edge world was, the way he laughed so easy and smiled so simple and never once raised a hand to harm.
This was, in retrospect, very stupid.
John’s opinions were as follows:
If the trolls were wounds: Terezi would be a cut, a quick and clean slice that left you stinging afterwards, after the knife left, after you looked at your spilling guts and realized all numb and stupid that you were bleeding. Sharp little chin, sharp horns, sharp edges all over her mind. (No wonder Dave likes her! Terezi is practically a sword.)
Karkat: belaguered, browbeaten, always two words from screaming and three words from weeping. Karkat who winced, Karkat who flinched, Karkat who boiled over and Karkat who couldn’t sleep, whom John found curled in corners more often than not, who shook and shivered. At first you’d think he was a blister.
Really, Karkat was a bruise.
The sort of guy who made you want to handle him delicately.
If you asked Karkat and Karkat was in a particularly honest mood, the most humbling thing about the human children was that they’d gotten them all wrong, hadn’t understood what they’d created, hadn’t fully realized that when they made creatures with blunt teeth and soft fingernails they were not, in fact, making a species of easy marks.
The empire built itself on the ruins of its conquered, put up palaces on graveyards. Construction came natural, an urge to raise things up, to plan out and accomplish. It was practically written into the genome, right next to war.
Humans, though - not the worst, but the best of them, the brightest, the most human of them - they have a pull to create. Written right into the genome, alongside the hunger to destroy.
It’s John, looking at the fresh universe of their godhood and deciding, instead of sitting on his laurels, that it would be fun, it would be worthwhile, it would be a great game, to make things in it.
How do you tell if a garden is loved? Say you come across a garden, just for example, in the middle of nowhere. How can you tell if someone loves it?
Not by the extent to which it has been permitted to run wild, spill over its edges, grow fallow and fight weeds, strangle itself in a riot of unrestrained growth. Untempered indulgence is really just neglect. And not by the extent to which it has been pruned, trimmed, kept small and orderly and rigidly perfect, by the extent to which nature has been trampled and forced into squares. Such heavy control kills the spirit.
If a garden is loved then it has been carefully shaped and carefully built to preserve the liveliness, the individuality, and the best natural qualities of the living things inside it. It has been constructed in such a way that the inherent good is drawn out and the faults are carefully pruned away, channeled into harmless ends. Do not allow the vines to strangle the other plants - build them a lattice to climb. Do not allow one tree to steal the sunlight of another; snip and shear the errant limbs and teach them to share their space. Weed regularly, but allow wildflowers.
Operating under this general principal, cake is for birthdays, not lunch and dinner.
John believes you can have gardens of plants, and gardens of people.
These are some things that Karkat learned by observation (specifically, by observing John):
You can be gentle without being weak.
You can be strong without being cruel.
Some people, when they find themselves above you, will gladly take the opportunity to trample you into the dirt; but some people, finding themselves above, will raise you up.
There are people who have the capacity to love without living in terror of loss.
Sometimes, knowlege of his own faults becomes so overwhelming Karkat cannot look anyone in the eye, and cannot look at John at all. It rises like bile in the back of his throat. It’s possible to be so much better, so much better than he is. Why isn’t he?
It is in these moments that John has a knack for finding him, swooping in out of the blue; because whatever other qualities he may possess, John has a preternatural ability to be irritating as fuck.
If only John hated him for his faults. (If only.)
Karkat is just so small.
Small and, he makes all that noise, all the time, he never stops running at the mouth, lives in a perpetual state of freaked out, John wonders if he’s ever relaxed in his life. He wonders what might allow someone like Karkat to calm down, really calm down, a serenity that he could carry outside of his moirail’s arms, something he could live with.
Because Karkat has such a nice smile, such a nice laugh, such lovely eyes when they aren’t ringed with exhaustion and shot through with an angry fear.
John doesn’t know.
He wishes he did.
If he knew, he’d do it all the time.
(Dave says just kiss him already, Egbert, you minx. John laughs and throws the controller at Dave’s head, but, the thing is, he doesn’t think it would work. Would it? Would Karkat feel better?)
How do you introduce peace to someone who’s never known it?
There is a story about a beast with thorns in his paws.
And how the story goes, is, nobody ever helps it.
And how the story ends, is, they kill it.
John isn’t around a lot. There’s a whole universe out there and godhood doesn’t get boring. Karkat cannot fly and he cannot do much besides stay in his hive and remember to eat and sleep at mostly regular intervals, attempt to go outside, attempt to see people without snarling and snapping. That, alone, is exhausting enough. Sometimes he curls up in Gamzee’s arms. Sometimes he has the ability to go to the roof and look up at the sky and wonder, among the distant lights, where John is.
And when John comes back for some reason or another, Karkat wishes, every time, that he had thought to run away, instead of staying right where he is. Right where he always is.
John smiles his stupid bucktoothed grin and says “Right where I left you!”
And he doesn’t seem to mind or listen, when Karkat tells him to fuck off.
It’s not a very large planet. It’s smaller than Earth. It’s only a couple thousand miles around, always summer.
And there’s no one there, so John covers it in flowers. Every inch, the whole planet. Easy to scatter seeds when you’re the wind; easy to regulate the rainfall when you’re the air; easy to eradicate the weeds, when you are the breath of every living thing. Honeybees take well to the place. He spends a month or two alchemizing hives for them, little white boxes, blobby misshapen faces drawn on the sides with a marker. There are earthworms, and little white hummingbirds.
The atmosphere here is nacreous. He likes to lie on his back in fields of daisies and cornflowers, and watch the sky shimmer.
It would be better if Karkat were here, John thinks.
He likes to think about: the way Karkat breathes in, the way the air creeps into his alveoli, sinks into his bloodstream like pebbles dropping underwater and out of John’s consciousness. The way Karkat exhales, the air bubbling back up from his blood again, returning. A tiny, precious thing. One labored breath after another. If only (if only) the way John feels about Karkat were airborne. It could permeate his lungs, and sink right into his soul.
There are roses, here, white and pale pink and yellow and creamy, smelling heavy, smelling thick and sweet in the air; but before they were planted John was careful to pluck out the little strings of genes for expressing thorns.
John flutters in through the open window, laughing about something. His eyes are blue. His arms are gentle, but firmly locked around Karkat’s middle. His body, like Karkat’s, is almost too warm. Surely people shouldn’t be this warm. Surely they’ll burn up.
“Were you raised in a fucking barn, John,” Karkat asks.
“I missed you too,” John breathes. His breath tickles Karkat’s ears, spills warm over his scalp.
“I don’t know why I bother,” Karkat says, making a few furtive squirms in a useless attempt to escape being cuddled. They’ve had this conversation so many times it barely counts as an argument, anymore. “You’ve never knocked once.”
“I made you something,” John says.
Something soft and helpless in the pit of Karkat’s stomach hurts. He wavers. He’s dizzy. Hope and terror are a very heady mixture.
“I did,” John promises. He coaxes fingers through Karkat’s hair. He tucks Karkat closer. “Come with me this time. Come see.”
From space, it looks like a beautiful blue-white-and-green crystal ball.
This is a fact about picking roses: when you snap a stem in half, the insides are soft, white, and tender.
When John makes Karkat snap, when John sets him down in a gently waving field of milkwhite roses, when John kisses him on his perplexed forehead and tells him:
“I made you a world with no thorns, only flowers.”
- he breathes very harsh all of a sudden, like a death rattle, in gasps and sad little heaves. When John gathers him up and holds him he cries so hard, his small body shakes.
It turns out that kissing him makes him cry even harder, but he clings to John’s arms and presses his mouth back desperately, like he’s never tasted kindness and doesn’t fathom permanence. Like John (like the way John feels for Karkat, a slow and singing honey through his veins, liquid air) is something impermanent, that it might be taken away.
This, too, is stupid of him.
His lips are soft, resembling petals.
Their teeth click once or twice, but they get the hang of it.
Karkat breathes in, and Karkat breathes out. They sit back and look at starlight, refracted through an atmosphere of haze; a starry night for sure.
If it would keep the hurt from Karkat’s tender feet and hands; if it would mend the bruises on his heart; if it would shutter out the pain forever and let him breathe like this, clear and easy, like he had some relish for it, then, John would make the universe a garden.
Karkat laces their fingers together.
“You don’t have to,” he tells John. “Just here is fine.”