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The Vantases

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     Karkat grumbled, as he did so often, as his dad doused his back in an obscene amount of sunscreen. It was nice, he supposed, that the family got to borrow Slick’s beach house (though Karkat had no idea how or why Slick had a beach house) but it really sucked for Karkat, because he had to deal with his massive, intense family for a weekend. His dad was more than nice; Kankri was… well, a prick, but Karkat could deal with it. Even living with Nepeta and Meulin and their mom was fine, but when it was all of them, and Kanaya, Porrim, their parents, and Nana Rosa, it was more than a little bit taxing. Not only that, but Karkat couldn’t even enjoy the beach to the fullest extent. The sun was probably the worst thing for Karkat, which was why his dad was taking every precaution.
      “Dad, wouldn’t this be easier if you just let me stay at home?” Karkat grumbled.
      “Oh, nonsense, Karkat. How often do we get the whole family together? Just be mindful,” his father answered, as he finished and sat down next to Dessie. Karkat rolled his eyes, but he wasn’t going to argue with his dad, especially about family. With someone of Solomon’s background, appreciation of family only made sense, but Karkat couldn’t help but feel like the black sheep. Or, really, the white sheep, especially when his cousins were around. Porrim and Kanaya both had fairly dark skin, due to their Indian lineage. Nepeta and Meulin and Dessie were tan. Karkat couldn’t recall exactly where Dessie was from; Panama or Argentina or Chile? Well, she was born in America. And Karkat himself, along with his brother and father were hispanic as well, but Kankri and Solomon both had darker skin than him. Not just that Karkat was pale, Karkat was pale. Paler than most white kids. He hated to even think the word to himself. Karkat had albinism. And he was constantly embarrassed and self-conscious about his light skin and white hair and bright red eyes. Karkat checked his appearance in his cell phone camera. Ugh. His roots were growing out a lot, white flecks appearing at the top of his head in a stark contrast to the dark brown-- nearly black-- he’d been dyeing it. The eyes… well, he had his color contacts, but there wouldn’t be a chance to fix his hair before school the next day. Karkat huffed, putting his phone away in the pocket of his swim trunks. He sat under the umbrella next to Kankri while Meulin and Nepeta ran into the waves, letting out a long sigh.
       “Please try to enjoy yourself, Karkat,” Kankri said, hardly even looking Karkat’s way. “Or at the very least, don’t let your negativity affect us all.” Karkat opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it. The snarky retort wasn’t fully developed anyway. Just something about how Kankri’s negativity was affecting him. It wasn’t worth getting in an argument with Kankri, at least, not in front of Nana Rosa. Kanaya seemed to notice Karkat was put off by the whole situation, and smiled at him.
      “Karkat, Porrim and I were going to join Nepeta and Meulin in a volleyball match in a bit; would you like to play as well?”
      “Don’t feel like you need to cater to me, Kanaya. I’m fine,” Karkat said grumpily. That was how he said most things, to be fair. Kanaya frowned.
      “I wasn’t catering to you, I was simply trying to be nice. Remind me not to do that next time.” Karkat sighed. Great, now Kanaya was going to be all huffy with him. Kankri frowned at the interaction, and nudged Karkat in the back.
      “Ugh. Fine,” Karkat grumbled, taking the hint from his brother. “Kanaya! Sorry. Yeah, I’ll play,” he said, before shooting a look back at Kankri. “Only if Kankri will play too. I don’t want to make the teams uneven.” Karkat was grinning as he added the last part. If there was anyone more athletically incompetent than Karkat, it was Kankri, and volleyball was one of his most hated sports. Kankri scowled at Karkat, opening his mouth to say something that would surely sound pompous and overly chaste. Before he could even get a word out, Porrim’s voice came.
      “Kanny~~” she said, almost singing it. If there was one thing that could make Kankri as angry as Karkat was on a regular basis, it was Porrim’s chiding and motherly mannerisms. Kankri’s frown deepened, but much like Karkat, he didn’t want to make a scene in front of Nana Rosa.
      “I would love to play,” Kankri managed to get out between pursed lips. Karkat was far too satisfied with himself for that one. He knew if Kankri wasn’t so against violence, he’d probably beat the crap out of him.

      When all the kids began to get ready for their volleyball match, Karkat stood, shielding his face from the sun. Kanaya lightly shook her head at him.
      “Here, take my sun hat,” she said. Karkat frowned, but took it anyway. He could actually tolerate his cousin’s doting.
      “I’m gonna look so fucking stupid,” he muttered, putting the hat on. Thankfully, they were more or less on a private beach, so at least he didn’t need to feel embarrassed. The kids split themselves into teams (Karkat, Kanaya and Meulin versus Kankri, Porrim, and Nepeta) and began playing. Karkat was incredibly unathletic; he was grateful he didn’t end up falling on his ass in the sand like Kankri did, but the girls were all surprisingly strong. On one occasion, Meulin hit the ball, sending it soaring into the air and rolling up to a group of four kids.
      “Oops, sorry!” Meulin shouted, unaware of how loud she was.
      “Karkat, could you get the ball please?” Porrim asked. Karkat was suddenly very aware of how dumb he looked in Kanaya’s hat.
      “Yeah, but take this first,” he said, taking it off as he passed Kanaya.
      “You really shouldn’t be in the sun,” Kanaya said.
      “It’ll be like two minutes, it’s fine! I’m not fucking walking over there with that dumbass hat on,” Karkat huffed, walking off before he could be told otherwise again. Karkat could see as he ran over, one of the boys had picked the volleyball up. The kid was very blond, tan skin peppered with freckles, and his eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses. He took a step towards Karkat.
      “This yours?”
      “Yeah, fuckface, hand it over,” Karkat was already about to boil over. He could feel the sun’s rays on his pale skin. Shit, he needed to get back into the shade. He reached for the ball, attempting to grab it out of the other boy’s hand, but he just lifted it up. Karkat heard another boy snicker, and scowled. Why’d he have to be so short? Who did these boys think they were?
      “Whoa, you got a temper there,” the blond kid said.
      “Look, just stop being a douche and give me the fucking ball back.” Karkat didn’t have time to come up with a more ornate insult.
      “Maybe you should stop calling me names, then, shortstack.”
      “David,” a girl’s voice said, “stop teasing the boy.”
      “Ugh,” David muttered something Karkat couldn’t quite catch before tossing him the ball back.
      “Thanks, David,” Karkat said, pushing the same button the girl had a moment ago.
      “It’s Dave.”
      “Yeah, whatever,” Karkat said before making his way back to his family.

      After a while, Kankri stood to take a walk down the beach to collect a few shells while Karkat relished the moments he was gone. Karkat made a point of staying under the umbrella, Nepeta sitting next to him.
      “Hi, Karkitty,” she purred, leaning into him. Karkat tried not to be visibly uncomfortable, but she was putting him in an awkward situation. Karkat knew Nepeta had had a crush on him for years, but when their parents started dating, it was weird. When they moved in together it was weird, and when they got engaged it was weird. Karkat didn’t have an interest before, and had mostly just ignored the obvious crush, but now he really didn’t want to hurt Nepeta’s feelings, because that would be just as awkward as long as they were under the same roof.
      “Hey, Nep,” Karkat murmured.
      “Whatcha doin’?” Karkat sighed, tilting his phone towards her. He was reading a romance novel from the Kindle app. Nepeta smirked at him. “Honestly, I don’t know why you read that stuff, it’s so trashy!”
      “First of all, it’s not trashy. Second of all, you read shitty Wincest fanfiction so you’re not really one to talk.”
Nepeta stood, feigning indignance at the comment. “I do not read Wincest,” she said, pausing to stick her tongue out at Karkat, “Everyone knows Dean and Castiel are PERFECT for each other.”
      “Dean isn’t gay!” Karkat bit back, also standing. This was a common argument in the household.
      “Dean could be gay, you don’t know that.”
      “Okay, Dean is not gay. I supposed YOU could argue that he’s bi, but I doubt even that. And anything the writers put in hinting at Dean and Castiel being a thing is blatant queerbaiting, which is gross. They tease and they tease and they tease, saying ‘hey guys, look, we might have this potential gay couple, look how progressive we are!’ And they proceed to jack each other off in some massive circlejerk at how they’ve now attracted this fucking fanbase of teenage girls searching for ~teh yaois~ without even putting the gay couple in the show in the FIRST PLACE, when all the actual queer community wants is some goddamn representation!” Karkat was legitimately upset at that point, whereas Nepeta looked taken aback. Karkat glanced over at the adults, all of which were staring at him wildly. Nana Rosa looked utterly terrified at her grandson using such explicit language. Karkat’s dad and Dessie were used to it, at least, but Karkat’s face reddened due to the outburst. He glanced at his father, whose stern look demanded that Karkat apologize. “Sorry… Nana Rosa.” She still looked surprised, but nodded at Karkat, her face softening a bit as he and Nepeta sat back down.
      “Okay, what about JohnLock?” Nepeta asked.
      “That’s the same fucking problem,” Karkat whispered, now aware of himself again. Kanaya came to sit behind him, running her slender fingers through Karkat’s hair. Normally, he would have swatted her away, but he needed the relaxation at the moment, and Kanaya was one of the only people who could help him with that. Kankri was the same way with Porrim, if a bit more reluctant to admit it.
      “Mother is unable to take me and Porrim to school tomorrow, so we’ll be coming over early in the morning,” Kanaya said.
      “Okay...What’s your fucking point? I’m sure Dad would have told me later.”
      “Porrim still has some black hair dye left.”
      “Why would Porrim have-- oh yeah. I remember, that dipshit at the salon over-bleached her hair when she got the green streaks put in and she bought the dye to fix it up when the color faded.”
      “Right. So, she could touch up your roots if you would like it done before you’re forced to be seen by the general population.”
      “Well I’m sure as shit not going to make it over to the salon tomorrow morning so that would be great, actually.”
      “Though to be honest I still don’t know why you don’t just embrace your appearance. White hair certainly is unique.”
      “It’s freaky as fuck, Kanaya, and I hate it.”
      “Very well, then, it doesn’t make a difference to me.”
      Karkat huffed. How did Kanaya always manage to sound so put off by him? “Not your fault, Kan. I shouldn’t be snipping at you.”
      “It’s in your nature to immediately get defensive, and while I can tolerate it as your cousin, others may not be so used to it, and you should try to work on that.”
      “Jesus, now you sound like Kankri.”
      “Now that is truly insulting,” Kanaya said. Karkat could hear a smile in her tone. If there was one good thing he got out of his mess of a family, it was having Kanaya and Porrim as cousins.

Chapter Text

     Karkat tried not to fidget as the dye set in his hair. He always hated this process; it made his scalp tingle in a way he wasn’t sure was supposed to happen. He’d gotten up early just to dye his hair, and of course fucking Sollux Captor was blowing him up on Pesterchum.


twinArmageddons [TA] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

TA: KK i bet youre flipping your shit about school starting today
CG: Why would I flip my shit about that?
TA: because you flip your shit about everything
CG: Well will you look at this?
CG: Here is my shit, and yet it remains unflipped.
CG: Just sitting there on the skillet, getting burned on one side.
CG: It’s a miracle.
TA: oh no are you into miracles now too because if you are im never speaking to you again
CG: Fuck no.
TA: ok nice
CG: Miracles are like poop stains on God’s underwear.
CG: That’s why he hides them, they’re fucking embarrassing.
CG: God launders in mysterious ways.
TA: eheheheheh right on
CG: You know, I’m pretty busy this morning.
CG: Why are you even bugging me this early anyway?
TA: well the short story is that i have an existential crisis just about every day because i hate every weird quirk about myself
TA: the long story is that were friends so were supposed to tolerate this from each other
TA: heh i guess the long one was shorter than the short one FUCK
CG: That sounds like melodramatic bullshit but coming from you color me unsurprised.
TA: screw you vantas
CG: Right, ok.
TA: hey you havent heard from AA at all have you
CG: Man, no.
CG: I can’t talk to her, she’s so distant.
CG: I don’t know why most of our friends are such weirdos.
TA: probably its because most teenagers are
TA: if you knew what i felt every day i mean WOW FUCK
CG: No, let’s not talk about your fucked up brain.
TA: KK im sorry but really id appreciate it if you didnt speak disrespectfully of my mental disorder
CG: Oh god.
CG: Stop being so sensitive.
CG: It’s a repugnant quality.
TA: ok, how about you take your own advice you are such a blubbering hypocrite
TA: youre lucky im so fucking magnanimous and charitable cause otherwise theres no chance id waste my time on you
CG: What a load of shit, this act that you actually think you’re a hotshot. You know you hate yourself.
TA: nobody hates himself more than you idiot
CG: Yeah well I hate you way more than I hate myself, and that’s fucking saying something.
CG: In fact, I hate you more than I hate myself and you hate yourself and you hate me combined
TA: oh fuck that noise in every leaking orifice its got you know i hate the combined product of you and myself more than you could ever begin to hate me and myself and you and yourself on your worst day so FUCKING DEAL WITH IT
CG: Ok, time out for the idiot
CG: The idiot gets a time out and shuts up for a second.
CG: How do you get out of your bed in the morning knowing you’re the worst thing a universe was ever responsible for?
CG: Also, it must be hard with your hands persistently bothering any set of genitals peppering that ghostly husk you pawn off as a body
CG: Has anyone ever looked at you without at once turning skyward and erupting like a vomit volcano? Answer me that.
TA: this is so immature, im basically just laughing here at how immature you are
TA: what are we even talking about?
CG: I don’t know, you bothered me!
CG: I guess these conversations we have do get kind of embarrassing in retrospect.
CG: Are we not friends anymore because of stuff I said?
TA: ehehehe you LITERALLY ask me that every time are you joking
TA: i cant even tell anymore
CG: It’s a joke, moron.
CG: Honestly I’m just glad nobody else is privy to our conversations.
TA: yeah same
TA: anyway see you later

twinArmageddons [TA] has ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

     What the fuck exactly was Sollux’s deal, anyway? Karkat decided not to worry about it.
     “Porrim, can I rinse this shit out yet?”
     “Karkat, please be patient. Be thankful you don’t need to bleach your hair as well.” Karkat huffed, knowing she was right. “Look, it’s foaming up. Go rinse your hair out.” Karkat stuck his head under the tub faucet, Porrim tutting at him as the water ran. “Really, now there’s black stains everywhere,” she muttered, beginning to clean out the sink.
     “Yeah, well that’s your fault,” Karkat hissed.
     “Hardly. If you didn’t insist on dying your hair this wouldn’t be an issue.”
     “Porrim, I really don’t need a lecture from you,” Karkat said, rubbing his hair with a spare towel. “I didn’t think you’d be against me dying my hair.”
     “I’m not,” Porrim answered, scowling. “I’m just saying you can’t really blame me for the mess. Actually, I encourage you to express yourself in however you see fit. Your body is a work of art.” Karkat glanced at her, swirling tattoos in white ink tracing down her arms and legs, her lips and eyebrows and ears all punctuated by piercings, and a green streak in her dark hair. Really, Porrim was quite attractive and it gave Karkat all kinds of odd, bordering-on-Oedipus-complex feelings. As if puberty wasn’t making him awkward enough. Luckily, Kankri interrupted the conversation, giving Karkat a chance to escape.
     "Please, Porrim, don’t encourage him,” Karkat’s chaste, overly uptight older brother said. Porrim turned on her heel to face him.
     "Encourage him to what, feel comfortable in his own body?” Karkat could already tell an argument was going to break out, so he ducked between the two of them, seemingly unnoticed. He grabbed a black beanie from his room, putting it on over his wet hair—apparently he wasn’t supposed to dry it—as he ran downstairs for breakfast, where Kanaya was waiting with Nepeta and Meulin.
     "Good morning, Karkitten!” Meulin shouted, unaware of her own volume. Karkat winced.
     "Jesus fucking Christ, Meulin, put your goddamn hearing aids in,” Karkat said, not sure whether she’d actually heard him or not while simultaneously choosing to ignore the obnoxious nickname she and Nepeta had given him. He did notice, however, Kanaya scowling at him. She shook her head wordlessly and Karkat rolled his eyes. Nepeta signed something to Meulin (Karkat never got the hang of sign language) and Meulin left the room for a moment. Karkat huffed and sat down at the table between Kanaya and Nepeta after pouring himself a bowl of cereal.
     “Very nutritious,” Kanaya mused.
     “Oh, shove it. I’m not in the mood.”
     “You are never in the mood.”
     "Yeah well I’m especially not in the mood for your snarky horseshit.”
     “Karkitty, be nice!” Nepeta chided, about as chiding as Nepeta could get. Karkat huffed and rolled his eyes again. Meulin re-entered the room, now wearing her hearing aids.
     “Better?” she asked, at a normal speaking volume.
     "Much,” Karkat muttered, just as Kankri and Porrim both came stomping down the stairs.
     "—and you will not be a bad influence on my little brother!”
     “Oh, get the stick out of your ass, Kanny.”
     “I told you never to call me that!”
     And then, Karkat’s dad came into the room. “Alright, kids, enough bickering. Let’s go. Everyone in the car.”

     Karkat thought his dad’s minivan was beyond embarrassing, but it came in handy for mornings like that, when they needed to pile 7 people into one car (even though Porrim had her license, why didn’t her parents just let her drive herself and Kanaya to school?) The younger kids sat in the three seats in the back row, Karkat saved from sitting in the middle by the mere two inches of height he had on Nepeta—“the smallest sits in the middle” was the house rule. Meulin and Porrim were in the middle row of seats and Kankri for some godforsaken reason was riding shotgun. Probably because Solomon was trying to teach him how to drive. Karkat feared the day Kankri got his license.
     "Oh, hey, Karkitty, can I see your schedule?” Nepeta beamed at him, her muddy brown hair poking out from underneath her cat beanie. Why did she always wear that stupid thing?
     “Sure, we may as well all compare schedules,” Karkat said, shooting a glance at Kanaya as he fished his schedule out of his bag. Karkat had different notebooks for each class but that was about as far as his organization went, whereas Kanaya had everything sorted neatly into one large binder. There was a click as the prongs opened, and Karkat sat back up with his own, slightly crumpled schedule, holding it up to the two in Nepeta’s hands as they compared.
     “Aw shoot, I guess we don’t have any classes together,” Nepeta moped, directing the comment at Karkat despite not sharing any classes with Kanaya, either. Karkat felt a wave of relief. Nepeta’s crush on him was beyond awkward.
     “Hey, Kanaya, you’re in my Biology class,” Karkat noticed.
     “Am I? That’s good,” she said.

      Karkat was glad to be away from his brother for a while, all of the kids going their own way once they arrived at Skaia High School. What he didn't realize was that the day was going to be a series of obnoxious interactions. The first obnoxious interaction began with a stick whacking him in the back of the head.
     "Karkles!" a raspy voice called. Karkat knew that raspy voice. He turned and there was Terezi, leaning on her walking stick.
     "Hey Terezi," he said, trying not to let his nerves be obvious. "How was your summer?"
     "Boring. Mom's been working a shitton."
     "Really? Shouldn't she be on leave?"
     "That's what I've been telling her. But what do I know about having babies?" The bell rang. "Well... guess it's time for class."
     "See you later, Ter," Karkat called as she made her way down the opposite hall. He had no idea how she was finding her way around, but Terezi had always been pretty resourceful. Karkat tried not to think about her too much, though. If he did, he'd hate himself even more for ruining his chances with her. Karkat made his way to his first class, geometry. He’d never been terribly good at math. Of course he wound up having to take it first thing in the morning. Upon walking into the room, he saw the two faces he’d dread seeing the most. The first was Vriska. They’d never gotten along very well, but Vriska and Terezi were practically connected at the hip, and so he’d grown up having to at least tolerate her. The second was the blond kid from the beach the day before. David. Karkat huffed. Of course, the only two seats remaining by the time Karkat had dragged his ass to the classroom were either next to Vriska or next to the douche wearing sunglasses inside. Okay, time to weigh the options. Vriska was actually evil. Blondie was just an asshole. Hesitantly, Karkat took a seat next to the asshole.
     “Oh shit, I know you. You’re that shorty from the beach,” blond kid said.
     “Don’t fucking call me short. I have a name.”
     “I bet, most people do.”
     Karkat scrunched his face, completely dumbfounded by this guy’s attitude. “Listen, you little shitweasel, I will not stand for this kind of assitry. Either be fucking polite or leave me alone.”
     The boy chuckled at him and Karkat couldn’t help but notice the laugh lines on his face, the freckles that were sprayed across his cheeks under the dark glasses. “M’name’s Dave. Strider.”
     Karkat was shaken out of his thoughts. “Strider, huh? I’m Karkat.”
     “What fuckin’ kind of name is that?”
     Karkat groaned, slumping his head onto his desk.

     Karkat’s next class was English, in which hardly anything of note happened, and then P.E., which he shared once again with Vriska, and also with Gamzee.
     “Heyyy, what the motherfuck is up, motherfucker?” Gamzee said. He was more coherent than usual. “Be telling me all what the fuck you up and all did this summer.”
     “Was that a question or a demand?” Karkat hissed.
     “Whatever floats your boat, Karbro.”
     “Jesus fucking Christ,” Karkat growled. He happened to notice another kid in the class, the other boy from the beach, who seemed to recognize him, and approached him with a smile. Karkat took a few steps away from Vriska and Gamzee, meeting the bespectacled boy halfway.
     “Hey, I know you!” he said. “You’re that kid from the beach yesterday!” Karkat scowled, causing the other boy’s smile to fade. Just who the fuck did he think he was, coming right up like they were friends or something?
     “What the wet bag of horse shit to the face do you think you’re doing? Oh my lord.” Karkat wanted this kid to step the fuck back.
     “What? I was just trying to be friendly!” He paused for a moment. “Hey, have you ever seen Con Air?"
     “What kind of crappy movie is that? Stupid asshole screws the pooch?”
     “No, it’s about these criminals on a runaway plane, and they’ve got to be stopped by Nic Cage and John Cusack together as a team."
     “Oh.” That, surprisingly, wasn’t a shitty synopsis. “Ok, that actually sounds pretty good, I guess.” The boy smiled again and Karkat noticed his buck teeth.
     “It is sweet. So sweet.”
     “I’ve heard of John Cusack, I think. Wasn’t he in Serendipity? That was pretty great.”
     “Hahaha, oh man, that sucked so bad!”
     Karkat nearly gasped. He had impeccable taste in movies, thank you very much, and this kid was a fucking idiot. “Weren’t you trying to become friends with me? I don’t see how that’s going to work if you recoil from my olive branch like I’m wiggling a gnarled tree monster’s dick in your direction.”
     “You… say some weird stuff. Anyway, my name’s John!” John, huh? What a perfectly hate-able name.
     “Karkat? Haha, beep beep meow!”
     “Don’t make fun of me, I didn’t choose the name.” Karkat blushed out of embarrassment, and hoped John didn’t notice.
     Thankfully, the P.E. instructor came out and gathered everyone’s attention, and Karkat skulked off away from John back towards Vriska and Gamzee.

     Karkat’s next class was biology, where he thank god only knew Kanaya.
     “Karkat,” she said as soon as he sat down, sounding urgent, “you have to help me.”
     “What? What’s wrong?”
     “There’s this girl in my French class—”
     “Oh my lord YOU'RE SUCH A LESBIAN.”
     “—and she’s absolutely gorgeous. I don’t know what to do, do I talk to her? What if she’s not gay? Oh god, what if she is gay?”
     “What happened to your crush on Vriska?”
     Kanaya blushed, growing quiet. “Well… my chances with her are not good. She thinks I’m just a meddler. So if she doesn’t want me around, fine.”
     “You’re so melodramatic.”
     “Coming from you, that’s a laugh.”
     Karkat grumbled and rolled his eyes, sinking into his seat. They had lunch after that, and somehow managed to squeeze all 12 of them at the table, Karkat and Kanaya arriving shortly after a few of the others. They all chattered aimlessly about how their days were going so far, and then Karkat made his way off to Spanish class with Gamzee and Tavros. Karkat sat on the far side of the room, Gamzee next to him, and Tavros on Gamzee’s other side. Lo and behold, who should walk in and sit on Tavros’ other side but Dave fucking Strider. Once the teacher let the kids talk a bit “to get to know each other”, Karkat couldn’t help but notice the prick giving Tavros a hard time.
     “We’re motherfucking entrenched in this bitch. You and me. Welcome to ‘Nam. Now grab my hand before Charlie gets the fucking drop,” Dave rambled.
     “Who’s Charlie?” Karkat heard Tavros’ shaky voice.
     “He’s the guy who’s gonna read our vows. I’m feeling pretty frigging matrimonial all a sudden. Take a look down by your foot; see that little bottle? Stomp on that shit like it’s on fire. Noisy ethnic dudes are flipping the fuck out and waving us around on chairs ‘til someone gets hurt.”
     “Oh my god…”
     When they left class, Karkat couldn’t help but ask, “what the hell was that about?”
     “I have no idea,” Tavros said. “I just…never want to talk to that kid again.”

     Karkat’s last class was history. He shared it with Aradia, who was unconventionally sad and bitter—the two of them spent the day sitting in the back row and complaining about shit—and, of course, Dave. Again. And a girl Karkat vaguely recognized from his English class. She had pale blonde hair kept back by a lilac headband and an aesthetic reminiscent of goth, though he couldn’t be quite sure. Thankfully, he was spared from another interaction with Dave, as the girl he’d walked in with forced him to sit in the front with her.
     “Thank god,” he muttered.
     “What?” Aradia asked, looking toward where Karkat was looking.

     Karkat left that day feeling exhausted, which was only exacerbated by Nepeta’s constant prodding for attention. He was so close to losing his shit at her, which would only break her heart. He could already tell that freshman year was going to be a long one.


Chapter Text

            When Karkat woke up and went downstairs, his dad and Dessie were literally dancing in the kitchen, both of them upbeat and smiling as pancakes cooked on the griddle. Solomon pulled Dessie close, grinning at her before she pecked him on the lips.
            “Gross,” Karkat murmured as he hopped up to the barstool. Dessie served him a plate of two pancakes.
            “Good morning!” Dessie sang at him. He scowled. Much to Karkat’s dismay, this was essentially the greeting he received every morning, with a different kind of breakfast food. He supposed he couldn’t fault his dad for being in love, but did they have to force him to bear witness to it constantly? It was just a reminder to Karkat of something unachievable. Even Kankri had… well, Kankri had something with Cronus, which Karkat honestly doubted would last long. Cronus Ampora, aside from being the brother of one of the most classist douchecanoes Karkat ever had the crotch-blistering misfortune of knowing, had a reputation for being something of a sex-craving horndog, and Kankri was practicing celibacy. The stick was wedged so far up Kankri’s ass that there wasn’t room for anything else, in Karkat’s opinion. And it wasn’t as if there were many people clamoring for the chance to date a cranky albino midget except for Nepeta, and that was out for obvious reasons. There was Terezi. Karkat would be lying to himself if he thought he didn’t still have some lingering feelings for her, but the chances of that working out were slim to none. He had been hoping maybe someone who didn’t already know him from middle school might gain some interest, but it had been a couple weeks and nobody seemed to give a fuck except for Egbert, and Karkat found Egbert so asslickingly annoying that he didn’t even give it a second thought. He’d given it a first thought. Admittedly, John was kind of cute. Messy hair, buck teeth, and eyes so blue they could drown somebody. But every time John opened his mouth in class, Karkat forgot all that.

              It was exactly that voice that Karkat recognized one day at lunch, the eager beaver himself approaching their table.
             “Hey, Karkat!”
             “I’m sorry, did I fucking invite you to sit here, Egbert?” Karkat scowled. Naturally, John was toting 3 others with him; sunglasses douchewad Karkat had come to know as Dave fucking Strider, a pale blonde girl Karkat vaguely recognized from his English class—Rose, he thought her name was; that sounded right—and another girl who looked strikingly similar to John, but a bit more tan.
             “Oh fuck no, you three?” Dave said, gesturing towards Karkat, Gamzee, and Tavros. “These are the pricks from my Spanish class.”
              Blow it out your ass, Strider, Karkat thought.
              “Come on, Dave, Karkat isn’t so bad!” John chirped, finding a seat for himself next to Karkat. Dave sat down, too, introducing himself to Tavros.

             After that day, they stuck. The group was suddenly expanded to 16, and two tables. Karkat got a lot better at tolerating John, and he actually got along really well with Jade—that was the other girl, he’d learned through a couple name drops. It was Dave that really drove him nuts. He was such an arrogant dickweed. The worst part was that he did fit in. It would be one thing if everyone hated him as much as Karkat did, but Karkat seemed to be the only one. Even Terezi thought he was fun, and she made Karkat aware of that.

gallowsCalibrator [GC] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

GC: Hey, Karkles >:]
CG: How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?
GC: And how many cane drubbings does it take to realize I dont give a shit?
GC: Besides, I thought you liked nicknames
CG: That was before I got called “Karkitty” approximately 8000 times a day.
GC: Oh, only 8000? Nepeta is cutting back
CG: What the miserable shit do you want.
GC: Cant a friend bother a friend just to talk?
CG: Not you.
CG: It’s always some kind of horseshit whimsical buttfuck with you.
GC: Oh, shit, thats a new one
CG: Seriously though, did you need something or are you just being a pain in the ass like usual?
GC: Just being a pain in the ass, hehe
CG: Ugh.
GC: Actually, do you have Daves chumhandle?
CG: Okay, 1—why the fuck would I have that? It would imply wanting to talk to that insipid shitfisted douchebag more than absolutely necessary.
CG: And 2—why the fuck do you want to talk to him?
GC: I dont know, he seems cool
CG: He’s not cool, he’s the total opposite of cool.
CG: He’s an insecure dipshit hiding behind shades and levels of fake irony.
GC: As if YOU dont hide your insecurities, Mr. White Christmas
CG: That’s totally different!
CG: How the fuck would you even know? You’re blind.
GC: I have my ways >:]
CG: Go bother someone else.
GC: Mkay
GC: Bye, Karkles

gallowsCalibrator [GC] ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

             Karkat slammed his head on his desk. Why was Terezi always such a cagey bitch? And why was Karkat always still so drawn to it? He missed what they’d once had. His mind was consumed with romance, analyzing what every small action meant. Damn, his love for romcoms was going to be the death of him. The lesson was so often that you could do something so colossally stupid and still get the girl back with some insanely over-the-top gesture. Gamzee was the one who showed Karkat an opportunity for that gesture, albeit unknowingly, while walking to Spanish class one day after making a detour to Gamzee’s locker.
            "Motherfuck, my bro, you up and all seeing this shit?” Gamzee rambled, indicating the poster on the wall they’d just walked past.
            "What shit? What the fuck are you talking about?”
            "They all be throwing a motherfuckin’ dance, man. Homecoming or some shit. “
            “There’s a dance?” Karkat’s eyes widened. Maybe he could get a second chance. “That’s perfect.”
            "You gonna ask Rezi, ain’t you?”
            “I’m sure gonna fucking try,” Karkat said as the two boys entered the classroom.
            “Try what now?” Douchebag Strider™ asked. Karkat scowled at him.
            “None of your fucking business, windbag.”
            “He’s gonna ask Terezi to Homecoming, motherfucker,” Gamzee drawled. Karkat had to refrain from punching him in the arm. Dave raised an eyebrow above his sunglasses, which was pretty much the only facial expression he ever gave away.
            “’kay. Cool.”
            Karkat grumbled, sinking into his seat.

             Of course, that wasn’t the end of the Homecoming conversation. Feferi brought it up at lunch the next day.
            “Boys, who’re you all gonna ask? Or have you already?” Karkat felt himself turn the slightest shade of pink when she asked. None of the boys wanted to answer, avoiding the question until Gamzee spoke.
            “I ain’t asking nobody, gonna go with my motherfuckin’ self and have a good time,” he said.
            “O-oh,” Feferi answered. “Um, what about you, Karkat?”
            “Don’t put me on the spot!” Karkat snipped. He chanced a glance at Terezi. “What about you, princess? Who are you going with?”
            “Oh, I already told Eridan I would go with him,” she said, smile ever-present.
            "Not worth the time,” Vriska sneered. “He’s such a fucking pain; I can’t believe I ever dated him.”
            “Because you were so fuckin’ peachy, right, Vris?!” Eridan shouted. God, Karkat’s friends were so fucking weird.
            “Eridan, hush,” Feferi said. “He’s not so bad. Anyway...what about you, John?”
            “I, uh...” John fumbled with his words a bit. Karkat sighed. Poor kid didn’t have the balls to ask anyone to the dance
            “John and I will be attending together. He never got the nerve up to ask anyone, and neither did I,” Rose said. Karkat furrowed his brow. He was 85% sure Rose was the girl Kanaya was crushing on, and from all accounts it sounded like things had been going well, but this threw a wrench into Karkat’s thought process.
            “‘s cool, bro,” Dave said, leaning back in his chair. “I wasn’t gonna ask anyone to be my date either. I’m with Gamzee on that one.” Odd. Dave had enough falsified confidence to get anyone he wanted to go with him.
            “Yeahhhh,” Gamzee slurred, fist-bumping Dave across the table.
            “As much fun as a date would be, I thought we could all just go as friends!” Jade said, her typical optimism showing through. “But I’m still curious; who would you ask, Tavros?”
            Tavros blushed, eyes widening at the sudden shift in attention. “Uhm... I was going to ask... um... this girl, from English class. Uh, how about you, Equius?” This whole course of conversation was a colossal waste of time. It was so obvious to anyone who looked hard enough who was crushing on whom. But, Karkat supposed, he was the only one who really looked that hard.
            “I was... going to ask someone. But, if she says no I will go with Nepeta.”
            “You butt! I’m your second choice?” Nepeta pouted.
            "I believed that was our arrangement...” Equius murmured.
             “Naw, it is. I’m just teasing.” Karkat got a terrible feeling about who Nepeta was going to ask, or at least attempt to ask.

             Karkat was even more huffy than usual when he got home that day, and he prepared to do something he never did: ask Kankri for advice. He slouched in the doorframe, the door open as Kankri always left it for just such an occasion. Karkat knocked on the wall, shaking his be-sweatered brother from whatever it was he was focusing on.
            "Oh, Karkat, how unlike you to seek me out.”
            “Yeah, yeah, stow it, Social Justice breath. I have one very specific question; I don’t want you going off on one of your inane tirades.”
            “Well, aside from me pointing out how that was unnecessary in a myriad of ways, what would you like to discuss?”
            “I wanted to know how Cronus asked you out. The time that you actually said yes.”
            “Karkat, is there some suitor in your life, or someone you are trying to woo?”
            “Not that that’s really any of your business, but yeah, I was going to ask Terezi out.”
            “Ah, Terezi. Well, asking a girl out is different than asking another boy out. I do warn you, this conversation will involve homophobia, gender expectations, the pressures of public proposals, dating or otherwise, toxic masculinity…” Kankri began rambling almost immediately.
            "Ugh, nevermind!” Karkat groaned, making his way back into his own bedroom. Nepeta poked her head into the room as Karkat flopped onto the bed.
            “What’s wrong, Karkitty?” she mewled.
            “Nothing, Kankri’s just being a pain in the ass as usual. Ask the guy one question, he goes off…”
            “Oh. Well, Karkitty, there was something I wanted to ask you.”
            Karkat’s heart just about stopped. He didn’t want to have that conversation just yet. “Hey, Nep, did Pounce get dinner?”
            Nepeta’s eyes widened. “Oh shoot!” she said, darting downstairs. Karkat took the chance to hop onto Pesterchum so somebody could rescue him from his hellscape of a household. Every conversation with his family bordered on either imbecilic or incredibly uncomfortable.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] began pestering twinArmageddons [TA]

CG: Hey, assmunch.
CG: Let’s go see a movie or some shit.
TA: what the fuck, why?
TA: and no
TA: i’m going out with aradia tonight.
CG: First of all, you should be glad I even waste my time on a blithering feculent shithole like you, that I bother gracing you with my presence.
CG: Second of all, we’re fucking friends so we should tolerate this asinine bullshit from each other; you said it yourself. So don’t act like it’s so totally fucking absurd for me to want to hang out with you even though you’re a brainless dickfucking nimrod.
CG: Third of all, I really need a reason to get away from my dad and his intolerably affectionate fiancée, my almost-stepsister who undeniably has a crush on me which is so fucking weird you have no idea, and my asshole holier-than-thou prick of a brother. The only bearable family I have is Nana Rosa and Kanaya.
CG: So let’s just go to a fucking movie.
TA: don’t act like a hotshot
TA: you’re not coming
TA: i’m asking AA to homecoming
CG: Well don’t let me stop you!
TA: Jesus, KK, you’re so goddamn stubborn.
CG: You say that like I’m not aware of my own flaws.
TA: you’re not going to leave me alone until i say yes, are you?
CG: Nope.
TA: uuuuuugh
TA: you’re the worst fucking friend i ever had the displeasure of knowing
TA: fine
TA: but we’re not picking you up
CG: What the hell!
TA: you’re insisting on third-wheeling
TA: you can figure out how to get your ass here
TA: even if it means getting in the car with kankri
CG: Fucking Christ, fine.
CG: See you soon, you whining dipshit.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased pestering twinArmageddons [TA]

            Karkat was spared from Kankri’s driving, thank fucking Christ, from Dessie, who happened to be going out for groceries anyway, and let himself into Sollux’s house when he got there.
            “So what movie are we seeing?” Karkat asked as he flopped down next to Sollux.
            “Shit, I ‘unno. What about this?” Sollux answered. Karkat deepened his frown.
            “You mean another rehash of the Disney tripe from years ago? Pass.”
            “Listen, if you’re gonna tag along, I get to pick the movie.”
            “Shouldn’t Aradia pick?”
            “She doesn’t care.”
            “Of course she doesn’t,” Karkat muttered. He saw Sollux grit his teeth for a moment before growling back.
            “Just shut up and get in the car.”
            Karkat sighed, following Sollux and one of his dads out to the car and started to get into the middle row of seats—what was with dads and minivans?—before Sollux tutted at him.
            “Get in the back,” Sollux said.
            “What the fuck, why? There’s three perfectly good seats here!”
            “Watch your language,” Sollux’s dad chided. Sollux smirked at Karkat.
            “Don’t look so smug.”
            “I do actually want a little space with Aradia, if you don’t mind,” Sollux grumbled. Karkat huffed and climbed into the back seat, barely keeping his anger contained on the drive to Aradia’s house, which was not long.
            “Hi Sollux,” Aradia said as she got into the car.
            “Hey, Aradia,” Sollux answered. Karkat flopped over the back of the middle seat between the two.
            “Are either of you assholes intending on including me in the conversation or am I just third-wheeling all your lovey-dovey bullshit all night?” Karkat said.
            “Karkat, shut up,” Sollux said through clenched teeth. “I told you Aradia and I had plans.”
            “Then why the fuck did you let me come?”
            “You fucking insisted!!” That set the tone for the rest of the ride, and for the in-movie conversation. Sollux was clearly trying to ignore Karkat, but Karkat needed to voice his complaints about yet another live-action remake, what the fuck is this horseshit? Sollux elbowed him a few times, and pulled him aside once they got out of the theater.
            “KK, I really am trying to work up the nerve to ask Aradia to Homecoming.”
            “Yeah, you mentioned.”
            “So when we get outside, I need you to give us a few minutes.”
            “Alright, whatever.”

            Karkat did as he was instructed, giving the two space to talk as he tapped away on his phone. Terezi was bugging him again.

gallowsCalibrator [GC] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

GC: Hey Karkles
CG: Ugh, are we going to go over this again?
GC: Just accept that you will always be Karkles within my heart
CG: At least I’m in someone’s heart.
GC: Hey
GC: Do you wanna go to Homecoming?
CG: GOD yes.
CG: I’m so glad you asked before Nepeta did.
CG: That would be weird.
GC: Clarification
GC: This is not a date
CG: Are you doing this just to take the piss out of me?
CG: Who tipped you off?
GC: Karkat, in all seriousness I will admit we had something but I appreciate our friendship so much more than us dating
GC: And I know you were planning something ostentatious and flashy just like in all your trashy romcoms
GC: But I am just not that kind of girl
CG: It was Strider, wasn’t it?
GC: Maybe dont wander in hallways announcing your plans to the world >:P
CG: That douchewad.
GC: So is that a yes or what?
CG: Fucking…
CG: Yeah, just feeling like a colossal idiot.
GC: Well what else is new!
CG: Fuck you, acceptance rescinded.
GC: Seriously?
CG: No. I don’t know.
CG: Fuck it. Yeah. I’ll go with you.
GC: Awesome.
CG: Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go deal with an incompetent asswipe.
GC: Ooh, sounds like a blast!

gallowsCalibrator [GC] ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

            Karkat turned back to Sollux, who seemed to be having trouble with his words around Aradia. Understandable. The two were basically perfect for each other.
            “Hey dipshit, spit it out!” Karkat shouted, dealing with his own embarrassment poorly. Sollux’s entire face crumpled as he turned to face Karkat. Holy shit. Karkat had never seen Sollux so red.
            “KK, you’re such an asshole!” Sollux shouted. He turned back to Aradia, muttered something, and then very tensely marched over to Karkat. “You shithead, I was this close.”
            “I couldn’t hear you guys, you were taking forever.”
            “Well thanks a lot. You totally ruined this for me.”  
            “Don’t act like this is my fault! Just do something else nauseatingly cute to ask her out.”
            “Like what?”
            Karkat shrugged. “Don’t you two have that Minecraft server? Do something in that.”
            “That isn’t a bad idea.” Great, everyone would be a fucking adorable couple with their happy endings, and Karkat was stuck with a friendship that was… well, it was more than lukewarm, but still, until Karkat actually got over Terezi, there would be something off about their friendship. Well, at least he got to go to Homecoming with the person he actually wanted to go to Homecoming with. There was indeed a silver lining.

Chapter Text


            Karkat was pleased with the way things were looking for Homecoming. He’d even been coerced into going to Feferi’s beforehand, when she messaged him one afternoon.

 cuttlefishCuller [CC] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

CC: Hey Karcrab!

             Why did every female friend Karkat had insist on calling him by some stupid nickname?

 CC: I’m getting everyone together for pictures and dinner before Homecoming.
CC: Do you wanna come?
CG: Fuck, I guess, if everyone else is.
CG: I’m not gonna be the asshole who doesn’t show up
CG: Did you talk to Terezi already?
CC: Mhm!
CG: Well, we’re a package deal on this one so if she said yeah I don’t really have a choice.
CC: Oh, did you ask her to the dance?
CG: Ugh.
CG: Not exactly.
CG: She asked me.
CG: While Sollux was floundering over asking Aradia out.
CG: Fuck, your fish puns are infectious.
CC: Oh, he asked her out?
CG: I GUESS. He was trying to ask her outside the movie theater so I can only assume he’s done something by now.
CG: He’s not so clueless as to COMPLETELY drop the ball.
CC: Well good for them!
CC: Okay, I’ve got more chums to pester. Sea ya!

cuttlefishCuller [CC] has ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist

            Well that went well. Karkat was, however, considerably less pleased that his brother insisted being magnanimous and going shopping not only with Nepeta and Meulin, not only with Kanaya and Porrim, but he also insisted on dragging Cronus along, and Karkat had to suffer through Kankri’s driving while being squeezed in the back seat of their father’s van, again. Something about the practicality of carpooling, saving the environment or some other shit Kankri had spouted; Karkat couldn’t be assed to pay attention to him half the time.
            “So, um, Karkat,” Nepeta started. Karkat clenched his jaw. “Were you going to ask anyone to Homecoming?” Karkat immediately knew why she was asking.
            “Actually, Terezi asked me to go with her,” he answered, keeping his voice level and nonchalant. She couldn’t know that he knew that she had a crush on him. He had to act like it was total coincidence he was taken for the evening.
            “Oh,” Nepeta said, disappointment in her voice. Karkat felt bad, but… but they were practically siblings! The whole thing gave Karkat a myriad of awkward feelings, and there was nothing he could really do about it without exacting chaos on the entire household. Thankfully, Karkat got some relief from the awkwardness when the girls wandered into a dress store, while Karkat, Kankri, and Cronus went to find some button-down shirts. Cronus and Kankri immediately went into an argument about the merits of purple versus red, whereas Karkat just went with a grey shirt and red tie. Simple colors seemed to work best for him.

            By the time Karkat re-emerged from the dressing room, the CroKri color dispute seemed tohave been settled (red) and Cronus fished a carton of cigarettes out of his pocket, sticking one between his lips and just holding it there. Kankri frowned at him.
            “Must you do that? You’re going to start lighting them at some point.”
            “It’s a nervous habit, babe, you know that,” Cronus said, slipping his arm around Kankri’s waist almost as smoothly as his ‘w’s slipped into ‘v’s. Kankri stepped out of his grasp and straightened out his sweater.
            “Can we get the hell out of this shithole already?” Karkat griped. He’d never understand why his brother was so averse to public displays of affection. If Karkat had a boyfriend… well, Karkat would never get a boyfriend, so it hardly mattered.
            As soon as Cronus wandered out of earshot to look at some leather jacket he’d spotted, Karkat shot a look at Kankri.
            “What?” the older boy asked.
            “Honestly, why do you put up with that asswaffle?”
            “He is very sweet, in his own way.”
            “What happened to your thing with Latula?”
             Kankri turned the same shade of red as his sweater at the question. “That was a while ago, and very unrequited from the beginning. Besides, she’s been dating Mituna for years now. I can’t sit here and hopelessly pine over someone who is utterly uninterested in me.” Karkat smirked to himself, knowing how enamored Kankri was with Latula Pyrope, while also biting back a comment about Nepeta and unrequited feelings, and then his mind looped back around to Cronus.
            “Seriously, the guy practically fondles your package any chance he gets.” Kankri chose not to respond to that particular comment, just setting all three shirts down on the cashier’s counter. Cronus was in a hormonal rage practically 24/7, from what Karkat could tell, and Kankri had to fight every urge not to give into pressure, even though he would never admit to even feeling the slightest bit of temptation. Until fairly recently, he was even romantically celibate; something about focusing on his studies and activism and getting into a good college. Like he needed it, Kankri Vantas was an honor-roll student from a poor background, and a QPOC, and Karkat could bet that Kankri was going to get into any college he wanted. Somehow, Cronus had been the one to break Kankri down, at least on the dating front, and now Kankri was standing at the register paying for Cronus’ clothes even though the Ampora family had at least three times the wealth of the Vantas-Leijon household. Karkat knew it was a load of bullshit, but Kankri wouldn’t even bat an eye at paying for something for his loaded douchebag boyfriend. 

            When the boys returned home (after dropping off Cronus, and then Kanaya and Porrim), Solomon was on the phone.
            “What? When did you get into town? What do you mean you’ve been here for over a month? Get your ass over here for dinner, man! Okay, okay, tomorrow. Yes, my mother will be here. You shut your mouth,” he said with a laugh. Karkat furrowed his brow.
            “Who’s he talking to?” he asked Dessie. The only person his dad was that exuberant around was already in the room, so Karkat’s curiousity was piqued.
            “Old friend of ours,” Dessie answered. That was incredibly vague and unhelpful. Nepeta came charging into the room from outside, carrying her dress, which had been hung up and put in a plastic bag, barely keeping it from dragging on the floor.
            “Mommmmmmmm!” she squealed, “lookit my dress!” Dessie grinned, and Karkat turned around to see what Nepeta had chosen for herself. Oh god, he was no fashion expert, but Nepeta’s dress looked like a gaudy piece of shit. It was this putrid olive green color, all chiffon or tulle or some shit making up this puffy, tutu-esque skirt with an obnoxious blue ribbon tied into a bow in the back and trailing behind like some kind of tail. Karkat could only imagine what kind of commentary Kanaya had to conceal. Meulin came in to show hers off, as well, and it was a similar deep green, but way less tacky. It was strapless and had a black lace overlay that glittered a little bit. Karkat grumbled, and went to hide away in his room for a bit, putting at least a full floor (his “bedroom” was the repurposed attic) of distance between him and the events currently transpiring in the kitchen.

Meulin Homecoming Dress

             Homecoming was the week after the shopping trip, and Karkat even managed to drag his ass to the football game—although, let’s be real, nobody went for the game, they all went for the halftime show, and Karkat was actually mildly invested in who would win Homecoming Court. Especially since Porrim was running in an attempt to get the school to think more about feminism. Karkat was sitting in the bleachers next to Kanaya, both of them huddled together under a thin fleece blanket, until Rose plopped down on her other side, and Dave on the far side of Rose. Kanaya and Rose shared a blanket Rose had brought, leaving Karkat to hoard his own while the two girls shared quips back and forth that sounded vaguely like flirting, but Karkat wasn’t paying enough attention to catch it. He was busy dwelling on the fact that Dave was still wearing his shades, despite it being night. There was literally no reason to wear them. Eventually, Dave stood up and switched spots to sit next to Karkat.
            “Hey dude,” he muttered, sinking into place on the cold metal. Karkat grunted an acknowledgement, but didn’t say anything. Dave, for once, shut up, instead of making some stupid retort. Karkat couldn’t help but notice the way Dave kept tugging on the sleeves of his sweater, the little motion sending red flags up in Karkat’s mind. And then, Dave shivered, and Karkat felt a little guilty, even though it was really Rose’s fault for leaving him out in the cold.
            “Here,” Karkat said, letting Dave under the blanket with him.
            “Thanks,” Dave said, and they both turned back to the field. Turns out there was very little point in showing up, as the Homecoming Queen wound up being some girl nobody in their group even knew, but they clapped anyway. Porrim would equate it to beauty standards being Eurocentric (which they were, Karkat fucking knew that, but maybe people just didn’t like or care about her campaign?) or something. Karkat, Kanaya, Rose, and Dave all walked out together, still chatting about asinine bullshit. Dave looked a bit higher in spirits, and Karkat pretended not to notice. As they made their way out, Dave must’ve bumped shoulders with Eridan, because the latter turned, anger already seeping out. Didn’t take much to set him off.
            “Watch where you’re going, you fuckin’ peasant!” Eridan shouted. It was clear his animosity was focused on Dave, because he and Karkat were on good terms.
            “Dude did you literally just call me a peasant?” Dave quirked an eyebrow upwards.
            “Eridan, what the actual fuck?” Karkat inquired. “It was an accidental bump. No need to lose your shit.” Eridan glanced over to Kanaya, and there must have been something in her glower (Karkat was well aware of the look Kanaya was most likely giving him) that made Eridan back off.
            “What was that about?” Dave asked after Eridan skulked away.
            “Ugh, nothing. He’s just a prick sometimes,” Kanaya said.
            “Best to ignore that guy when he’s being a jackass,” Karkat added. Every time he spoke with Eridan, it was one of two things: rich classist prick with his underwear in such a bunch it was giving him the world’s worst atomic wedgie, or overdramatic gossipy shitlord. At least the gossipy Eridan was fun to talk to.

             Homecoming was the next evening, and Karkat took pleasure in just being there with Terezi. They hadn’t bothered coordinating colors, which hardly mattered because Terezi couldn’t even see what he was wearing. She, as usual, picked the most obnoxiously teal and red combination she could find, but it was just another thing about her that Karkat found endearing. And, of course, Strider and all his ilk were invited. Dave was wearing a red shirt with a white tie, accompanied, as always, by his dumbass sunglasses
            “Are you fucking kidding me?” Karkat said, when he noticed.
            “Are you seriously wearing your fucking shades to Homecoming? Why do you even wear those things? They make you look like a gigantic fucking douchebag.”
            “It’s none of your goddamn business, Vantas.” Karkat flinched. He never heard Dave’s voice sound so serious. Usually it was light, full of sarcasm and whatever it was Dave defined as irony. Still, he was definitely aggravated. What did that asshole even have to hide? It wasn’t like the things Karkat was hiding. Karkat hid things because they were unattractive and the words ‘unattractive’ and ‘Dave’ didn’t go together. Sure, Karkat pretty much loathed him, but he wasn’t blind. The kid was cute. Karkat frowned, putting himself back in the moment. He was going to the dance with Terezi, and Dave wasn’t.

             Pictures were taken, dinner was had, and then the kids were off to the dance. Terezi was surprisingly nimble, and very enthusiastic. They danced in a group, for the most part, and Karkat couldn’t help but stare when Terezi danced a little too sensually with Aradia and Vriska. But they all looked happy. As the music slowed down—not slow enough to warrant being labelled a “slow dance” but still slow enough for everyone to partner off—Terezi took Karkat’s hand. He twirled her a few times before getting a tap on the shoulder.
            “Mind if I cut in?” Dave said, grinning with some kind of smug satisfaction.
            “Actually, I do mind, you fuckjamming pungent shitmo—” Terezi cleared her throat from behind Karkat.
            “I would love to dance, Dave,” she said, tapping Karkat’s leg with her cane as he stepped aside. Karkat stared incredulously at them while Dave waggled his eyebrows any time their eyes met, then Karkat slunk off to take a seat next to Sollux, who seemed just as disgruntled.
            “Someone else dancing with your girl?” Karkat asked.
            “Yup,” Sollux huffed.
            “Me too.”
            Sollux stood up and stretched. That boy was all arms and legs. “Well, I’ll be right back. That punch went right through me.”
            “Ugh, thanks for that mental image. I may as well go too, beats sitting here by myself.”

             When the two boys emerged from the bathroom, Sollux immediately darted over to Aradia, some kind of situation going on, and Karkat huffed and grumbled, as he was one to do, before wandering outside for a moment. God, this whole night was going to shit, and Karkat wanted some fresh air. He walked in circles, trying to breathe. This was supposed to be a fun evening, and Karkat wasn’t going to let some dick with a sunglass fetish ruin it for him. No, he was going to go back inside and dance with Terezi, dammit! Karkat marched towards the doors, crashing into Dave on the way inside, which sent them both to the ground. Karkat sprang upwards immediately, but Dave fumbled for a minute before he stood up, and Karkat saw him for the first time without his shades. His eyes were red. Karkat paused for a moment, as a horrified look dawned on Dave’s face.
            “You have red eyes…” Karkat muttered, trying to process exactly how to react. “You have red eyes, you piece of shit, that’s the big secret?”
            “Wh-what?” Dave uncharacteristically stuttered.
            “That’s why you wear your shitty Ben Stiller knockoffs all the time?”
            Dave composed himself, putting the shades back on. “First of all, they ain’t knockoffs,” his Texan accent slipped. At least Karkat thought it was Texan. “They’re the real deal, authentically Stiller, Trademark. Second of all, I’m not so insecure to hide the color of my eyes. I wear them because they’re ironic.”
            “Someone needs to be educated on what ‘irony’ actually means,” Karkat muttered.
            “Point being it’s not actually about my eyes.”
            “Then what the hell is it about?”
            “I told you that it’s none of your business.” There was that serious tone. Karkat remembed Dave fidgeting with his sleeves at the football game the previous night, and another red flag went up. Okay, Dave was a pretentious fuckwad, but if what Karkat suspected was going on was actually going on…well, not even Dipshit Strider deserved that.
            “Look… if you need to talk about something…” Karkat started, placing his hand on Dave’s shoulder. Dave flinched, moving suddenly away from Karkat.
            “Don’t… don’t touch me,” Dave said. Karkat bit his lip, not knowing what else he could do in that moment. Dave shook it off, regaining his insipid ‘coolkid’ composure. “You don’t need to worry about me, Karkles. I got it under control.” Karkat scowled.
            “Yeah, whatever. That’s what I get for trying to help.”

Chapter Text

            Karkat made it through the next week or so with very little drama. Sollux was moping over Aradia’s sudden and spontaneous distance after Homecoming, John and Jade were as obnoxiously chipper as ever, Kanaya was fretting over her feelings for Rose while doing exactly nothing about it but poor attempts at flirting, and none of this struck Karkat as being out of character. It was just his infuriating life. What Karkat did notice as being out of character, and he was constantly mentally berating himself for even noticing because it wasn’t as if he actually gave a shit or it was any of his goddamn business to worry, was the silence he was currently receiving from Dave. Karkat supposed it could have something to do with their literal run-in at Homecoming. Whatever. If Stridouche wanted to wear shitty sunglasses to hide some shitty secret about his eyes and make up some shitty lie about it, that was his business. But… but Karkat couldn’t help but dwell on it; the way Dave had all but flashstepped away when he touched him. And of course Dave wouldn’t be the one to budge; he was being a stubborn asshole while also pissing Karkat off even more by building a rapport with Terezi. Karkat was finally getting over his feelings for her, only a mere two years after that ship had sailed, and by all accounts, he knew he shouldn’t care if Terezi and Dave were becoming an item, but he did. Something in him invariably cared, and it was infuriating. Dave and Terezi’s friendship was nothing but an inane exchange of shitty memes and asinine tomfoolery and yet Karkat felt incredibly…replaced. Terezi was a pain in the ass, but she and Karkat had been friends since they came out of the womb, practically. Ugh. Karkat decided it didn’t matter. Maybe she was just starting to hate him as much as he hated himself.


             A week or so passed after Homecoming, and Halloween was approaching quickly. As anticipated, Karkat got roped into going to a party. Social events were going to become the bane of his existence. It was unexpectedly suggested by Tavros one day at lunch.
            “Hey, guys, my parents are out of town,” he said, “so I was thinking of, having a Halloween party, at my house maybe?”
            Vriska laughed sharply. Her voice was always rich with condescension, even if she hadn’t said anything yet. Condescension was a kind term, too; a more appropriate one would be bitchiness. “That’s ballsy, Tavros. What happens if you get in trouble?”
            “Ummmm, I don’t know… Rufioh’s in charge.”
            “Ohhhhhhhh, no nosey neighbor babysitting this time?”
            “I haven’t seen Mr. Boxcars around the last couple days. I think it should be fine.”
            It seemed Terezi had had enough of Vriska needling Tavros, because she piped up. “That sounds really fun, Tavros. It’s been a while since we all had a party.”
            “I’ve been meaning to host more!” Feferi said. “I think the holiday season will be better for parties at my house.”
            “Th- that’s okay, Fef, you shouldn’t have to host all the time,” Tavros answered. “So, yeah, you guys are all invited over for Halloween.”
            “Halloween sucks, though,” Sollux said. Karkat was well aware of why Sollux felt that way. It went back a few years, to when something happened to his brother. Karkat was only aware because of Kankri’s hesitant involvement with the party happening that day, but no one was really exactly sure how it all went down. Sollux’s tone immediately changed, though. “Ah—fine, sounds like a plan then.”
            “Yeah?” Tavros asked. He was beaming. It wasn’t hard to figure out why. He was doing something that he thought might make the rest of the friends actually consider him cool. Karkat had nothing against the kid, he was just too timid for his own good.
            “Oh… where’s Aradia?” Tavros glanced around the table, then glanced at Sollux.
            “Don’t look at me! I have no idea what her deal is,” Sollux said, slouching a bit. Karkat rolled his eyes. He was so overdramatic.
            “Oh no…” Tavros muttered. “Um… Nepeta, you have your next class with Aradia, right?”
            “Yeah… we have PE together!” Nepeta answered.
            “Could you, uh, do me a favor and tell her about the party?”
            “Of course, Tavfurros!”

            Welp, that was all worked out. Karkat made his way to his next class alongside Dave, as per usual, Tavros and Gamzee walking ahead as Karkat made a stop at his locker. He was mildly aware of Dave shadowing him, but didn’t say anything, forcing Dave to be the one to break the silence that had settled between them.
            “Karkles,” Dave finally said after Karkat shut his locker, having retrieved his Spanish book.
            “I hate that nickname,” Karkat answered without missing a beat. “What do you want?”
            “Just wanted to ask if I can borrow your textbook for the homework.”
            “What happened to yours?”
            “Lost it,” Dave answered. How infuriatingly vague.
            “Ugh. Yeah, I guess, but if you do anything with it, I swear to God…”
            “Yeah, I know, I’m a fucking inarticulate asswipe for even daring to ask. Anyway you’re doing me a huge favor. If I fuck up this year Bro is gonna kick my ass.” Dave seemed to catch himself, and for once Karkat was the one to raise an eyebrow. Dave took a breath and the boys kept walking until once again, Dave broke the silence. “Can you just forget I said that?”
            “What the fuck are you talking about? That your guardian is gonna kick your ass? That’s a perfectly normal turn of phrase and I wouldn’t have thought anything of it until you brought it to my attention, so now I’m going to god damn drag the truth out of you because whether I like you or not, what I now suspect is happening shouldn’t be happening. So, Dave, does your brother kick your ass?”
            “Pfft. No. That’s ridiculous.” He’d reverted into faker mode. It was so painfully obvious when Dave was lying.
            “Karkat, that’s not my name and you know it. Why the fuck is everyone suddenly acting like they know what’s best for me? You, Terezi, Rose… I’m not some helpless child. I know how to take care of myself; I’ve basically been doing it my whole life.”
            “And you don’t realize that’s a problem? You’re not supposed to take care of yourself, that’s what guardians are for. For once would you swallow your pride instead of standing there choking on it? If you don’t tell people what’s going on, especially in this kind of situation, then you’re gonna die.”
            “You want me to tell you the truth?” Dave was struggling to keep his voice level. Karkat never expected that Dave would drop his guard around him, but god damn if he hadn’t seen enough people go through shitty family situations and do nothing about it. “Fine, jackass. I’ll tell you the fucking truth.” Dave slipped his red flannel off, revealing bruises tracing up and down his arms in various levels of healing and scars that looked like they came from deep cuts. “The shades… well, I wear them all the time. But it doesn’t hurt on the occasion that I get a black eye or some shit. Everyone who sees this shit… they think the same thing, but it’s not… what it looks like. Things get rough, sure, but it’s… he’s training me. We strife on the roof, with our swords, like… practice fights. When he’s home, that is.” Karkat gaped for a moment. They were standing outside the classroom door, but this seemed way more important.
            “Dave, that’s not normal. Your Bro shouldn’t be training you on the roof; he shouldn’t be leaving bruises; he shouldn’t be pulling goddamn swords on you. Ever. And what about when he’s not home?”
            “He goes on gigs with Lil Cal, or just up and disappears for a while.”
            “And does that not strike you as potentially being goddamn child neglect?”
            “Nah, Dirk and I have things handled.”
            “Fine. Whatever,” Karkat scowled.
            “Yeah, whatever. You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dave scowled back before putting his flannel back on and skulking into the classroom. Karkat wanted so badly to break something. Why did he bother trying to help with goddamn anything? He needed to sort his own business out before sticking his nose into Strider’s fucked up life, so that was what he was trying to do.

             Halloween rolled around that weekend, and Karkat couldn’t be assed to make a real costume, so he basically wrapped himself in toilet paper, called himself a mummy, and called it a day. Kanaya, who’d come over to get ready with Nepeta beforehand, was still fretting in the bathroom while Karkat and Nepeta waited. Karkat was leaning against the wall, explaining what happened with him and Dave to her.
            “It’s just like… obviously people are concerned about him; he’s being a batshit stubborn pile of steaming shit about this whole thing.”
            “Yes, Rose has told me about her concerns.”
            “They’re cousins.”
            “Huh. Somehow that makes sense. How are things going with Rose, by the way?”
            “I find it a bit difficult to parse through her sarcasm to find the nuggets of genuinity. However, I do think my flirting is being reciprocated. Regarding Dave, has it occurred to you that he can handle the situation on his own?”
            “But he clearly hasn’t done anything. Isn’t it fucked up that the kid has been gashed by a sword on more than one occasion?”
            “Of course it is, but there’s not much that you or I or anyone other than him can do about it. I thought you didn’t care about Dave, anyway.”
            “Well… I don’t know. I don’t totally hate him.”
            “I would loathe to insinuate such a thing. Though, I do wonder sometimes…” Kanaya’s voice trailed.
            “What? What the fuck are you talking about, Maryam? You can’t just leave a thought there like that.”
            “Is it at all possible that… and I do hope you won’t mind me asking, but, your jealousy of his friendship with Terezi—”
            “I’m not jealous,” Karkat retorted.
            “Of course not. But, it seems you’ve interpreted those feelings as being jealous of him for getting close to Terezi, but could it be that you’d rather be the one close to Dave.” Karkat felt his face heat up with blush, but he couldn’t figure out why.
            “That is so fucking stupid. I can’t tolerate any of his insipid douchebag bullshit. Any goddamn feeling I have near him is more like… twitchy-eyed projectile vomiting while perforating my dick with a fork.”
            “Yes but you say you hate John as well, and yet I recall you finding him mildly cute. Is it so far fetched to suggest that this overemphasized hatred may be an underlying theme with your crushes?”
            “Okay, now I know you’ve been spending too much time with Rose; you’re absorbing her psychoanalysis bullshit. And yes, Dave is cute. I’m not goddamn blind. But it doesn’t matter; I’m an unlovable piece of shit, and Dave is probably straight anyway.”
            “Oh? What makes you say that?”
            “It’s just my shitty luck.”
            “Don’t be so pessimistic,” Kanaya chirped. It was probably Karkat’s imagination, but she had the same tone of voice someone would have if they were winking. Finally, she stepped out of the bathroom, vampire makeup pristine as she did a twirl for Karkat.
            “Okay, you look as perfect as ever; can we go? Nepeta!” Nepeta bounded down the hall in her Catwoman costume, and the three picked up their backpacks full of overnight stuff and made their way the couple blocks down the road to Tavros’ house. The party had already kicked off, the living room filled with music, snacks, and obnoxious teenagers. Gamzee immediately spotted Karkat and made his way over.
            “What is uuuuuup, my brother?”
            “What in the sweet almighty taintchafing fuck do you want?” Karkat growled, surly as ever. Nepeta had already gone off to find Equius somewhere, and Kanaya was nowhere to be found. Karkat supposed he couldn’t complain too much; Gamzee was one of his best friends, but he could be so difficult to talk to.
            “Not a motherfucking thing, bro, other than I be checking out how my best motherfuckin’ friend is at, yo.”
            “I really can’t stand you and I hate how you talk. It just bothers me so much; have I mentioned that?”
            “You say it pretty much every time we talk, yeah. You just got to be going with what feels right at where your heart’s up in, you know? Best friend.”
            “I wonder what kind of shitty thing I did to deserve such an awful best friend, or maybe what terrible thing I’m going to do and get punished for in advance. Maybe I’m just like, preemptively the worst fucking piece of trash who ever lived and don’t even know it yet, but hey, look, your friendship is exhibit A, I guess.”
            “It’s such a beautiful thing, friendship.”
            “No it’s not. It’s like… a mistake. A big joke of nature.”
            “It’s a miracle,” Gamzee slurred. Karkat almost popped a blood vessel at the mere mention of miracles.
            “Oh no. Don’t. Don’t start with the miracles again.”
            “Man, everywhere I look… alls I see is motherfuckin’ miracles. It’s so spiritual, all these miracles and shit…” Gamzee was spacing off, so Karkat skulked into the next room while leaving Gam to ramble on about miracles and Faygo in some twisted metaphor. Sollux was moping alone on the couch. That was a more miserable sight than anything, so Karkat hoisted him up.
            “Come on, fucktruck, we’re playing Bobbing for Apples,” Karkat said. Sollux sighed, but followed Karkat outside.
            “Here, hold my glasses,” Sollux lisped before going into the water. Predictably, he came up with nothing, and then it was Karkat’s turn. The moment he hit the water, he realized his mistake as the toilet paper around his face wilted into a messy blob. Well it wasn’t like he cared about the costume anyway, so he just re-emerged apple-less. He could tell Sollux was revving up for some stupid joke by his smirk. “Deuces,” Sollux said. God dammit! There it was, god dammit!
            Terezi’s head appeared, poking out the back door. “Hey, guys, Vriska’s starting another game,” she said. Karkat scowled at her.
            “So? Does she really need everyone’s attention right now?”
            “Apparently,” Terezi said, sounding almost as irritated as Karkat. “Listen, it’s just gonna be easier if you come in now.”
            Sollux shrugged at Karkat. “Might as well,” he said, following Terezi back inside. Karkat decided not to argue and went with the other two into the next room over. He gave John a small wave as he, Rose, Dave, and Jade were all just arriving.
           “Alright, everyone, it’s time for 7 Minutes in Heaven!” Vriska said in her typical berating tone of voice.
           “Vriska, please, this is so ridiculous,” Sollux said.
           “Shut your lispy mouth, asshat,” Vriska bit back. “You don’t have to play, but there’s always the chance for some alone time with the freaky girl of your dreams. I have taken the liberty of putting all the ladies’ names into this hat, and all the boys into Terezi’s.” Vriska took a broad step towards Tavros. Karkat couldn’t shake the feeling there was something odd going on. “Tavros, if you would do the honors?”
          “Um, Aradia…?” Before Karkat could blink, Vriska was ushering Aradia towards the closet. She turned back towards the crowd and plucked a piece of paper from Terezi’s cap.
          “And our lucky guy is… Equius Zahhak!” Sollux was tense next to Karkat. Everyone else slowly left the room, an aura of uncomfortability settling, and Vriska wasn’t insisting on playing any more rounds, so whatever she’d been trying to accomplish had been accomplished. Karkat went back into the living room, flopping onto the couch. There was a conversation occurring in the kitchen that he couldn’t help but overhear between John, Dave, Rose, and Jade.
          “Man, was that awkward,” Dave muttered.
          “Yeah,” Karkat heard John’s voice next. “There was something weird about that. Did you see how everyone reacted when Equius’ name was called?”
          “I believe Dave meant the nature of the game itself.” That was Rose.
          “Yeah, I just mean, I don’t see why it even has to be split by gender. Listen, all I’m saying is not everybody is into the opposite gender, and we shouldn’t assume that.”
          “Dave, are you… are you gay?” John asked. Karkat’s interest in listening in suddenly tripled.
          “Man, I wouldn’t say that. I’m into girls, but I wouldn’t mind dating a guy. I ‘unno.”
          “So… you’re bi?”
          “Don’t try and put a label on it, Egbert. I’m just saying, people are attractive. Why limit myself to one or the other?”
          In that moment, Karkat realized two things: he was way more gay than previously anticipated and he definitely had a crush on Dave Strider.

Chapter Text

            Fuck, fuck, fuck. That was the one word cycling through Karkat’s mind over and over. Why the fuck? Why was he suddenly admitting to himself he liked Dave? He hated Dave, but there was still something attractive and intrinsically charismatic about him. Where the fuck did it come from, though? Maybe Kanaya had somehow been right. Maybe Karkat had been in denial the whole time. How the fuck, even? Karkat thought back to his interactions with Dave. There was the first time they met, on the beach. But that was hardly fair; Dave had been shirtless. That was the only time, besides recently, that Karkat had seen Dave without long sleeves. He hadn’t been bruised then, and maybe Karkat missed the scars. And then there was the first day of school. He’d gotten close enough to notice the splatters of freckles on Dave’s cheeks and the way the lines around his eyes crinkled when he laughed—god dammit. Yeah. He had it bad, without even realizing. Maybe that was part of why he was pitying Dave so much suddenly; pity and romance were intrinsically linked. Karkat curled up, basically into the fetal position, hoping Dave and the others wouldn’t realize he was on the couch. Sollux had disappeared, Gamzee was outside smoking weed, and Kanaya was just going to give him an ‘I told you so’, so Karkat was left there sitting in the pile of his own emotions until everyone started to filter back inside. Tavros suggested they all watch a movie and the group tentatively agreed. Jade seemed to notice something was wrong with Karkat, so he got roped into essentially a cuddle pile. He was on the end of the couch, next to Jade; Dave was on her other side, between her and John, and Rose was at the other end of the couch next to Kanaya. Everyone else was scattered across the other couch and the floor. Karkat leaned into Jade’s shoulder, letting himself relax a bit. At first he’d expected her to be full of the same idiotic bullshit the boys spouted constantly, but he found himself actually getting along with Jade remarkably well; probably because she wasn’t afraid to call him out on his nonsense. They were equally stubborn.
         After the movie, Tavros’ brother told them it was time to start getting ready for bed, and Dave, John, Jade, Rose, and Feferi left. Dave looked less than pleased when Rose mentioned that his brother was the one picking the four kids up. Karkat let out a long sigh once Dave disappeared out the front door. At least he wouldn’t have to look at Dave’s smug, stupid handsome face. Terezi prodded Karkat in the shoulder with her cane, then let out a cackle when he turned to scowl at her.
        “Having a dilemma?” she asked.
        “No,” Karkat answered. The last thing he needed was to delve into his romantic issues with Terezi. All this left Karkat with too much to think about as he tried to fall asleep on the floor of Tavros’ bedroom. Had he thought ahead to bring his headphones he would just watch 50 First Dates for the 8000th time. It was the only Adam Sandler movie that didn’t make Karkat want to punch him in the face; not even a little. But of course his dumb ass didn’t bring them, so he wound up scrolling through tumblr endlessly until a message popped up on his Pesterchum.

 gardenGnostic [GG] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

 GG: ok, grumpass, whats wrong?
CG: Okay, one: don’t start a conversation with me like that, even if I AM being a grumpass. And two: what makes you think there’s something wrong?
CG: Also, shouldn’t you be asleep?
GG: i have narcolepsy, you asshole.
GG: napping in the middle of the day kinda fucks with my sleep schedule.
GG: whats your excuse?
CG: Routes directly back to your first question.
CG: I can’t sleep because the floor sucks and also a bunch of shit on my mind.
GG: okay so are you gonna tell me or what?!
GG: sooooo uncooperative.
CG: Why are you like this.
GG: oh shush :P
GG: now stop being a crab and tell me what the matter is.
CG: Jesus fucking Christ, FINE.
CG: So.
CG: I may or may not have developed a crush on Dave.
GG: ohhhhhhh my godddddd
GG: thats adorable
CG: Don’t patronize me.
GG: okay well how about you tell him instead of moping?
CG: I just figured out I like him tonight, okay?
CG: Also I just found out he’s not straight tonight, too.
GG: oh man, you heard that??
GG: were you eavesdropping on us?! D:
CG: No, I was just sitting on the couch!
CG: Fuckass.
GG: dont call me a fuckass, fuckass!
CG: Augh, I knew talking to you about this was a horrendous idea.
GG: reeeelaaaaax, im not going to tell him.
CG: GOD, I would HOPE not.
GG: i just think youre being a big fussy baby for no reason!!
CG: Maybe I AM being a big fussy baby, but it’s not for no reason.
CG: It’s not like Dave would want to go out with me even if I DID stop being a baby and asked him out.
CG: I’m pretty much just a pathetic piece of shit.
GG: pessimistic crabby asshole maybe, but not pathetic
CG: Self-loathing is basically the only thing I’m good at; don’t take that away from me.
GG: i bet dave would say yes if you asked him out but i also know the odds of you doing that are incredibly slim
CG: Fuck you, Harley.
CG: Give me more than two hours to absorb my emotions.
GG: okay, i bet you wont ask him by new years’
CG: And what exactly are we gambling?
GG: i dunno, your dignity i guess.
CG: If this will save what little of that I have left, then fine.

 carcinoGeneticist [CG] has ceased pestering gardenGnostic [GG]

           Karkat let out a quiet groan, rolling over onto his side. He spotted someone else shift uncomfortably in the darkness.
          “Kar?” It was Eridan’s voice. “Are you up?”
          “Yeah,” Karkat answered. He heard Eridan let out a quiet sigh that turned into something of a whimper.
          “Can you help me with somethin’?” Eridan stood up, being careful not to wake anyone else. Karkat followed suit, the two boys quietly leaving into the bathroom. Karkat couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous as Eridan locked the door behind them.
          “Don’t freak out, I’m not about to pull any shit.”
          “Okay, well what the hell did you drag me in here for?”
          Eridan swallowed hard. “Um…I’m…uh. I’m about to really confide in you, Kar. Nobody knows about this except for Cronus and Feferi.”
          “What the fuck are you babbling about?” Karkat asked. Eridan sighed again, pulling his shirt off. “Eridan, what the fu—! Oh.” Under Eridan’s shirt was a chest binder.
          “I’m just… not used to wearing this damn thing, can you help me get it off?” Karkat took a moment to wipe the shock off of his face, then unhooked the clasps under Eridan’s armpit, quickly turning away as the binder came off. Eridan pulled his shirt back on immediately. “Thanks,” Eridan muttered, clearly embarrassed.
          “You dipshit, why would you go to bed with your goddamn binder on?”
          “Well I couldn’t damn well go to bed in a room with a bunch of guys I’m not out to with my fuckin’ knockers out.” Karkat frowned a bit.
          “So… you’re trans.” It wasn’t a question.
          “Er… yeah… I confided in Fef when we first met, after I moved here a couple years ago. Mostly ‘cause the teacher called me by my dead name, but I introduced myself to Fef as Eridan. So, kind of had to explain that one.”
          “What about when you and Vriska were a thing?”
          “Think about it… I met all you guys through Fef. She was the only one I actually shared class with except for this year.”
          Karkat thought for a moment. Eridan was right. “So did you get your name changed on the rosters, or…?”
          “Oh. I paid some hacker chick to change it in the school system so teachers think I’m… well, a guy. All the paperwork comes back to my dad with my dead name. It’s very… convenient. And the chick who did the hacking for me turned out to be Rose’s sister, actually. I just have an issue with the binder ‘cause it’s new… puberty, and all. I meant to get one with a zipper but they didn’t have any in the store and I can’t exactly have that showing up in the mail.”
          “Yeah… I get it,” Karkat muttered. He did understand, to an extent. Puberty was not being kind to him, but he couldn’t imagine what Eridan was dealing with. He was half-tempted to ask what Eridan’s dead name was, but knew that would be wildly rude. Instead, he chose to change the subject. “Is Cronus still trying to get in my brother’s pants? ‘Cause I haven’t heard Kankri complain about that in a while.”
           “I dunno, probably. My brother is a gigantic jackass.”
           “Yeah, he is.”
           “Um, maybe we should get some sleep?” Eridan suggested, moving towards the bathroom door. Karkat nodded, hesitantly, and they both went back into Tavros’ room.

            Thankfully, Karkat finally found sleep. He fell asleep thinking about his past romantic experience, which was limited to say the least. He and Terezi were something of a thing through most of middle school, though the most intimate they’d gotten was only one kiss. Karkat remembered it very well; they were both in the school play (well, he was working backstage; Terezi was the one in the play) and he was fussing with something and happened to stand on one of the stage marks.
            “You’re on my spot,” Terezi said. Karkat, who even then had had a crush on her for a while, took an opportunity to flirt.
            “You gotta fight me for it,” he said, and she did. They playfully pushed against each other, but of course Terezi won. She pushed Karkat over into a box of props backstage, and somehow fell in on top of him, both of the kids laughing. And Karkat plucked up all of the courage in his 12-year-old body and kissed Terezi. She leaned back, blushing, and then laughed, and let Karkat out of the box.
             That would be such a good memory if he hadn’t ruined things on the same spot a year later. He was trying to be playful, but this was after she went blind. She was on his mark.
             “You’re on my spot,” he said.
             “Oh… sorry. I didn’t see.”
             “Dammit, Terezi, I was trying to be cute.”
             “Well I can’t really tell. You have that same tone of voice literally all the time. It’s not like I can see your facial expressions to clue me in on what’s going on.”
             “And who’s fault is that? I’ve been telling you Vriska’s terrible for ages.”
             “She’s my best friend! I’m not gonna stop hanging out with her just because you have some kind of complex.”
             “Terezi, she blinded you. She pushed Tavros off the stairs.”
             “I know, but…”
             “Can’t you see what’s really going on?”
             “No! No I can’t see! Stop being such a jackass about it!”
             “Fucking shit… Terezi, I—”
             “Maybe you should leave, Karkat,” Terezi muttered. So he did. Ugh, he was so stupid back then. He should have been more careful with his words, he shouldn’t have been so insensitive about her disability, he should have stayed to console her. Anything would have been better than leaving her there to deal with it alone. Why was Past Karkat such a douchewad? Ugh. Leave it to that guy to ruin everything. And there was another thing Karkat hated about himself; he was constantly detaching himself from his past, so it would be like “another guy” was the one making these stupid, collosal mistakes.

              The next morning was a little rough; Karkat kept thinking about all the shit running through his mind and by the time he got home, all he wanted to do was watch some romcoms. Nepeta flopped onto one side of the couch next to him, and Kankri decided to join on the other side.
              “Kankri, what are you doing? You don’t even like romcoms!”
              “I am seeing how relationships are portrayed in your movies; something currently feels off in mine.”
              “I keep telling you, it’s because Cronus is trying to get into your overly tight pants.” Seriously, how did Kankri even wear those things? Kankri didn’t respond to Karkat’s crabby attitude, instead just waving him off, and Karkat sank into the couch a bit more. Nepeta curled into him, resting her head on his shoulder. “God dammit, Nepeta, leave me alone! I know you have a crush on me, and it’s really awkward and weird and I’m sorry, but I don’t have those feelings for you!” Karkat blurted, tugging away from her. Nepeta immediately cowered a bit, tears pooling in her eyes. “Shit, Nep, I didn’t want to be so harsh, I just—” But he couldn’t even finish his sentence before she ran off to her room crying.
               “Nice going, Kar,” Kankri muttered.

Chapter Text

           Kankri stirred awake earlier than usual, with a problem that was quite uncommon for him, and he wasn’t sure how to handle it. Would taking care of it break his vow of celibacy? Well… it wasn’t technically sex, was it? Kankri let out a sigh, his eyes flitting over to the door to make sure it was closed as he slipped his hand down his pajama pants.
           Kankri was the first to shower that morning, feeling a mix of shame and exhilaration. He hadn’t done that in over a year. No wonder Cronus was always after the real thing. But Kankri still felt a bit of guilt over it. It wasn’t as if he didn’t want to do stuff like that with Cronus, but it felt less important. Being celibate was a challenge, but it was still a promise Kankri had made to himself, if nothing else. He tried to wrangle his thoughts as he let the water run over him, only getting out of the shower when Meulin knocked on the door.

            School was Kankri’s environment. Or, class was, anyway. He was actually pretty cruddy with social interaction. None of his friends seemed to want to listen to him when they started talking about social justice and political issues, but the books couldn’t hear and the teachers called him insightful. Halfway through 3rd period, (AP Calculus) Kankri got a message on Pesterchum.

 coitalAngler [CA] began pestering cancelledGentrification [CG]

 CA: hey chief.
CG: Cronus, I am in class. Shouldn’t you be?
 CA: nah, its just study period.
 CA: besides, i was thinking about ya.
CG: Oh?
 CA: yeah, of course.
 CA: i got a new song to send ya later.
CG: You have got to stop writing songs for me.
 CA: heh, well what can i say? youre my muse, babe.
CG: o///o
 CA: are you blushing?
CG: Yes. That is usually what that emoji means, though it is one Meulin showed to me.
 CA: ahaha, yeah, somehow i always forget you two live together.
 CA: whenre your parents gettin hitched?
CG: They are planning a July wedding.
 CA: a summer wedding, huh?
 CA: sweet.
CG: I hate to seem rude, but was there a particular reason you were messaging me? I really should be paying attention.
 CA: nah, youre not bein rude, chief.
 CA: no reason persay, just chatting with my handsome bf
 CA: was there somethin you wanted to talk about?
CG: Actually, now that you ask, I have been thinking today.
 CA: about…?
CG: Well, I woke up this morning in… a bit of a conundrum.
CG: Trigger warning; this conversation will deal with self-imposed morals, and will certainly be NSFW.
CG: I woke up this morning and it seemed that a part of me had already risen.
CG: So I laid there for a minute deciding whether it would break my vow to… um.
CG: Touch myself.
 CA: oh my god.
 CA: are you tellin me you had morning wood?
CG: Er…
CG: Yes.
CG: And the whole thing has me rethinking my celibacy vow.
 CA: are you serious??
CG: Yes!
 CA: well i cant say im not happy to hear that.
 CA: say, you wanna meet me in the bathroom in a few minutes?
 CA: maybe i can show you how id handle that situation.
CG: Oh… I don’t know about that.
 CA: aw come on chief.
CG: Cronus…
 CA: look, if youre gonna give up your celibacy thing, or are thinkin about it, i wanna show you what youve been missin out on.
 CA: besides, im not talking about doin the whole shebang right now cause clearly you got some stuff to think about
 CA: but youve never even let me do more than just a kiss
 CA: how can you make up your mind if you dont even know what makin out is like?
CG: I suppose that makes sense, in a way.
CG: Oh, all right. I will meet you during passing period.
CG: I suppose I can be a bit late to Ceramics.
 CA: so rebellious.
CG: But if I feel uncomfortable at any point I have to remind you to be respectful!
 CA: come on babe, when have i been anything other than respectful?
CG: Might I remind you of when you consistently groped my, and I hope you’ll pardon my crassness, ass in the pool over the summer?
 CA: alright, alright.
 CA: but you gotta admit ive gotten better about keeping my hands to myself.
CG: Yes, true.
CG: And I also appreciate your patience with me.
 CA: soooo
CG: So I will meet you during passing period.
 CA: cant wait ;)

  coitalAngler [CA] has ceased pestering cancelledGentrification [CG]

            Kankri spent the rest of Calculus feeling incredibly distracted, then made his way to the men’s bathroom in that hall feeling like all eyes were on him. Cronus was leaning against the wall, fixing up his hair in the mirror. Kankri cleared his throat to get Cronus’ attention, and Cronus looked over, giving Kankri a mischievous smirk. He walked over, a bit of a swagger in his hips, wrapped his arm around Kankri, and tugged him into one of the stalls.
            “I do wish you’d chosen somewhere more romantic than a public restroom,” Kankri muttered.
            “’S not about romance right now, is it?” Cronus hummed, locking the door.
            “You’re more… in tune with this kind of thing, Cro—” Before Kankri could finish his sentence, Cronus was pushing him into the wall, his lips pressing against him hard. Kankri couldn’t help but let out a small whimper.
            “You like that, chief?”
            Cronus snickered a bit, then pushed himself into Kankri again, a long, lingering, aggressive kiss. Kankri was instantly overwhelmed with emotion. Cronus’ lips on his, teeth nibbling at his lower lip, a tongue ever-so-slightly prodding for entry. Kankri didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what to think. Cronus began grinding on him lightly, their hips moving in synchrony with each other. Kankri stopped thinking, letting Cronus take control. His mouth opened with Cronus’, and for the first time in his life, he got a French kiss. His hands were at Cronus’ waist. Instincts seemed to take over as Kankri found his fingers tracing Cronus’ skin.
            “Ey, you’re not half-bad at this, babe,” Cronus purred. “You’re super-hot when you’re flustered like this, too.” Cronus had one hand at the side of Kankri’s face, and the other gripping his ass as he began kissing Kankri’s neck. Kankri let out a moan as he felt Cronus give him a little bite. He was so hard. They both were.
            “D-don’t…” Kankri muttered, “No marks… don’t leave a hickey.” Cronus pulled away, moving his other hand to cup Kankri. Kankri was still tracing shapes with his fingers on Cronus’ skin just above the waistband. Cronus grinned, tugging on Kankri by his beltloops. His fingers moved to the fly of Kankri’s pants, the first button coming undone before Kankri tried to back away, but found himself just slam into the wall.
            “Ahh… Cr- Cro, don’t… Cronus…”
            “Mm, you moaning my name all sexy like that, oh my god,” Cronus said, disregarding Kankri’s growing discomfort. Both his hands were at Kankri’s waist as he crouched, teasing the idea of actually pulling Kankri’s pants down. He kissed Kankri’s bony little hips.
            “Cro- Cronus, stop… stop!” Kankri said, his voice growing more forceful. Cronus stood up as Kankri readjusted his pants. That whole encounter was hot. Too hot.
            “There a problem, captain?”
            “Not in the sense that… uh… it was unenjoyable. It was really…”
            “Yeah, I think. But, uh, I don’t think I am ready for more.”
            Cronus groaned. “Dammit! Come on, chief, oral sex don’t even count.”
            “Cronus, I…”
            “And it’s not like I’m even expecting you to reciprocate right now, I’m tryin’ to do you a favor here.”
            “You’re doing me a favor?”
            “Yeah,” Cronus said, leaning back into Kankri.
            “You’re… you’re doing me a favor by completely disregarding the boundaries I am asking, mind you, very politely for, and trying to guilt me into appeasing your sexual desires?” Kankri’s passion was completely thrown into something else; he was mad. He unlocked the bathroom stall, composing himself in the mirror before he left. Cronus was trailing after him in the hallway.
            “When you put it that way it makes me sound like a really callous prick, but I’m just saying, a dude needs to get his rocks off somehow.”
            “I know, but I still… need to focus. I was thinking after we graduate. Then I would feel more comfortable with dropping my celibacy.”
            Cronus groaned again. “I’m gettin’ real antsy, Kan.”
            Kankri turned sharply to face Cronus again just outside the door of his class, which he was certainly late for. “Being in a relationship does not entitle you to have sex with me. If you cannot get that through your thick fucking skull, excuse my language, then maybe I have more to think about.”
            Cronus’ face dropped, his expression reading ‘hurt’. “Like… what?”
            “Like whether we should be in a relationship.”
            Cronus’ expression twisted from one of sadness and hurt to one reflecting Kankri’s bitter anger. “Fine then, see if I care.” And with that, Cronus stormed off. Kankri huffed, rolled his eyes, and made his way into class, plopping down in his seat next to Porrim. She gave him a knowing smirk.
            “Please do not even start with me, Porrim,” Kankri sighed, rolling his sleeves up.
            “You don’t want to talk about it, Kanny?”
            “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t call me that. We’ve talked about this. That’s something you call a child. Do I look like a child to you, Porrim? No, I don’t. It’s been three years, for, excuse me, “fuck’s” sake. I think we can safely retire that particular term of “endearment”. Call me anything but that, even my other nickname. I’m actually okay with that one.”
            “I’m not calling you “Insufferable”, Kanny. Well, not unless I’m using it as an actual adjective. And even then, probably not to your face. Well…”
            “It would be nice if you’d at least use my proper name in front of Karkat, then. It really kind of erodes my credibility, and I don’t need that in the proximity of a fresh-faced youngster who clearly thirsts for knowledge. Why would you want to sabotage a fine young man’s education like that?”
            “Rolling my eyes here.”
            “Could you go roll them somewhere else?”
            “Typical,” Porrim muttered. “A woman threatens your masculinity and you kick her out.”
            Kankri scoffed. “No. Just no, Porrim, we’re not doing this.”
            “Yes, how dreadful it would be for your sixty-nine-million word mental essay to get bogged down by even the faintest reference to the roles of gender in our civilization.”
            “Look, it’s not that I’m insensitive to your concerns on that topic. I’m interested to discuss them with you on an academic, primarily theoretical level.”
            “I just think there is inherent danger in muddying the waters of my personal discourse by introducing social issues which are suspect at best, thus consuming crucial resources from the limited cache of rhetoric which propels these narratives. And furthermore, one could argue it’s more than a little problematic, offensive, even, for you to be appropriating the lexicon of sensitivity used to advance awareness of major issues, thus reducing it to the level of buzzspeak and pseudoscience. It makes it more difficult for those of us who are genuinely focused on positive change to be taken seriously, that’s all.”
            “Appropriating? PSEUDOSCIENCE?!”
            “I’m sorry, I just don’t think there’s much there. Yes, we have specialized roles for both sexes in the process of reproduction, and there are slight social ramifications for the way civilization has evolved, but I still fail to see how gender factors into this discussion in a way that can be effectively and rationally problematized. Where is the room for unexamined privilege in the dichotomy? I don’t see it. And appropriating the talking points and awareness-raising tactics for dubious issues like this is, frankly, frowned upon, to put it politely. Such appropriative gestures only serve to marginalize and invalidate those subject to serious, real-life struggles and oppression, and I guess I’m a little disappointed to see you being so blithely and inappropriately appropriatory.”
            Porrim took a deep breath. “Kanny, I’m starting to feel just a little bit triggered by all this “appropriation” bullshit.”
            “Oh! My sincere apologies. I should have done a better job tagging my statements, but for future reference, it’s helpful to alert your conversational partners to your triggers well in advance. Should I give you space to call your current partner? And if so, who exactly would be filling that role right now?” Porrim’s sexual life was a lot more… involved than Kankri’s. He couldn’t help but be the slightest bit jealous that she wasn’t so bogged down by acadmics that she constantly had to worry about ruining everything by giving in to temptation. Kankri was honestly running himself ragged between school and work, and that jealousy was probably what his petty jibe came from.
           “Alright. You’re in one of your bratty moods. I won’t bother, then.” Porrim quietly returned to her work; they were making pinch pots. Kankri, for once, welcomed the silence.

             Kankri had to crank out his homework that night, then run off to the late shift. He worked nights, manning the reception desk at Skaia Heights Hospital. It was pretty simple; if anyone came in during visiting hours (which ended two hours into his shift) he would give them a room number, walk them up if they wanted help, escort them out when visitation ended, answer phones… it was all pretty typical reception area stuff, but it was a hospital so there was some kind of distinct aura in the air. Kankri couldn’t pin it down. He didn’t run the ER, so not very much happened. Kankri was minding his own business, doing his job, and very distinctly ignoring how many times his phone was ringing. It kept lighting up. Missed call from Meenah Peixes. Missed call from Meenah Peixes. Voicemail from Meenah Peixes. Missed call from Meenah Peixes. Finally, the fourth goddamn time she called, Kankri’s curiosity got the better of him. He and Meenah weren’t even really friends; why would she be calling him so adamantly?
            “Yo, Kancrab, I gotta question for ya.”
            “What is so important that you would be calling me so late, and so repeatedly?”
            “Did you break it off with the greaser or what?”
            “What, Cronus? Well… no, not necessarily. We did have a bit of an… altercation earlier today; an argument of sorts.”
            “Okay well that’s definitely not what he told me. I thought you might wanna know that Cro is home alone and Megido just pulled up. I’m pretty sure they’re goin’ at it.”
            “Are you sure?”
            “Buoy I wouldn’t lie to you about this; I don’t think even someone as insufferable as you deserves to be cheated on.”
            Kankri furrowed his brow, chewing on his bottom lip a bit and trying to keep himself from tearing up. “Okay. Th- thank you, Meenah.” It seemed he’d absorbed Karkat’s shit luck with romance.

Chapter Text

            The result of Karkat’s outburst at Nepeta was pretty much what he’d anticipated. They avoided each other at every opportunity, which was made very difficult by the fact that not only did they live together, but they also shared a friend group. What Karkat hadn’t anticipated was Kankri falling into a slump and being just as much of a grouch as Karkat was being; Kankri was just a more verbose grouch. Apparently something had happened with Cronus (it had only been a matter of time before the greaser went and stuck his dick in someone else). The only one of the kids to be happy was Meulin, and she was off with Kurloz half the time. Karkat didn’t want to think about what they got up to. Meulin seemed innocent, but he had it on good authority—IE Gamzee—that she was usually smoking pot with Kurloz, not to mention the potential physicality of the relationship. 3 weeks of that awkward, depressing aura sitting in the house later, apparently the resident adults decided they had had enough of it, as they finally interfered with the teen drama. Dessie, oddly enough, was the one to come to Karkat. She knocked lightly on the door before letting herself in.
            “Sure, come on it,” Karkat muttered, sitting up on his bed.
            “Okay, at least I knocked. Your father would bust right in.”
            “Hmm. True.”
            “Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about this nonsense with Nepeta.”
            “Dessie, she’s had a very uncomfortable crush on me for ages. At first it was just weird, but since you and my dad got together, it’s been… well, it’s been even weirder, I guess. I don’t know, I see her like a sister, but she was always hugging on me and trying to flirt and calling me by these gross cutesy pet names…”
            “I know,” Dessie said. She wasn’t Karkat’s mom, but that didn’t stop her from treating him like her son. That was the good thing about it; it really felt like Karkat had a somewhat normal family. There wasn’t any awkward tension that Karkat could imagine most people got when interacting with a step-parent, and it was the same way with Nepeta and his dad, as far as he could tell. There was genuine affection in the way everyone was treated. “I’m not saying you’re wrong for saying what you did, in fact I applaud your honesty. But… I do think it was a bit harsh, the way that it came out.”
            “I know. I lost my shit, what else is new?”
            “Nepeta wouldn’t have been so upset if you’d just talked to her.”
            Karkat fell onto his pillows. “What do you expect me to tell her? ‘Hey, I know you’re practically in love with me but you’re making this awkward and uncomfortable for me’?”
            “Well, honesty is the best policy.”
            “Oh lord…” Karkat groaned, burying his face further into his pillows. Dessie couldn’t help but chuckle.
            “Oh, honey,” she muttered, starting to run a hand through Karkat’s hair. “I’m not going to tell you what to do or what to say, but I think we both know that it needs to be something.” Karkat’s next gripe was muffled by the pillow he was trying to smother himself with. He rolled over, facing Dessie again.
            “You would think a romance expert and a shipping aficionado would be perfect,” he muttered. Dessie chuckled again.
            “Shipping aficionado?”
            “Yeah, you know how she and Meulin are always theorizing which of their friends are gonna get together, and how they’re usually weirdly accurate and good at it?”
            “Ah… yeah, that,” she sighed. “That’s… kind of odd, but harmless.” Karkat grunted as Dessie stood from his bed. “Anyway, I think I’ve said what I need to say. Let me know how it goes,” she hummed, making her way towards the door.
            “Thanks, Dessie.”
             Despite the politeness he’d just displayed, Karkat fell back into his pillows and let a groan out as Dessie closed the door behind her. He supposed she was right; something did need to be said. Very begrudgingly, Karkat peeled himself from his bed and made his way downstairs to the room Nepeta and Meulin shared. “Hey… Nep?” he muttered, lightly pushing the door open. Nepeta was lying on her stomach on her bed (lucky bitch had a loft bed; those things were kind of awesome) drawing something in her journal, facing away from the door. She turned a bit when Karkat spoke.
              “Oh, hi, Karkat,” she muttered, scrambling around to face him. Karkat inched into the room, leaning against Meulin’s bed and looking up at Nepeta. She hadn’t called him ‘Karkitty’, so that was something. “Ummm… did you wanna… talk about something?”
              “Yeah, I wanted to…apologize, for blowing up at you a few weeks ago. It was seriously uncool. I had some other things on my mind, and… uh… I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. I should have just come to talk to you about it.”
               “Oh… um… that’s okay, Karkat. I was thinking about it, and I think… if I’m really honest with myself, I kind of knew you weren’t interested. That’s why I never said anything; I didn’t… I don’t know.”
              “You didn’t want to get hurt, but then I just threw it in your face like a gigantic asshole.”
              “Ummmmmmm, yeah! I mean, not the asshole part. Well… maybe a little bit,” Nepeta mulled it over.
              “Yeah… sorry. I just… you know, ever since our parents became a thing, I’ve looked at you like a sister. So, dating and that whole crush thing just felt really really weird.”
             “You think of me like a sister?”
             “DUH. We practically are anyways.”
             “Awwwww! That’s so sweet!!” Karkat scowled, trying to hide the pink in his face. “Well, I’m really sorry for making you feel so pawkward for so long!”
             “And there’s the cat pun. So I take it you’re not mad at me anymore.”
             “I guess not… I was never really mad, just hurt.”
             “That’s fair,” Karkat muttered. A silence settled, and Karkat could feel Nepeta’s eyes on him, waiting for him to say something else. Anything else. He took a breath, not sure if he really wanted to ask what he was thinking. Not because he didn’t want an opinion, but because the more people that knew, the more likely it was for word to get around. Jade knew, Kanaya knew, and Rose probably knew, for that matter, if Kanaya couldn’t keep her mouth shut. Terezi could probably smell it on him. Whatever. Fuck it. “Hey, can I ask you something about your shipping nonsense?”
              “Oh, sure. I didn’t take you for the shippy type.”
              “It’s personal. Um… what do you think of me and… Dave?” Nepeta’s eyes lit up.
              “Oh my gosh, Karkitty, do you have a crush on him? I think you two could be so good for each other. You both have a lot of issues that I think you could help each other work through. I don’t know much about Dave personally but he carries himself a certain way… like he’s trying to convince people he’s a big tough guy, but I think he just needs some affection, and you, even though you yell a lot, it’s because you care. And Dave could probably help you chill out… um. Yeah! I think that could be a really good ship and also just adorable.”
             “Oh my god,” Karkat grumbled. “Alright. Thanks,” he said, skulking out of the bedroom. It was definitely ideal that he got that whole situation with Nepeta handled before the holidays. Before anyone could so much as blink, the first semester was over, and it was time for Feferi’s holiday party. Karkat, for whatever reason, was feeling anxious about it. Maybe it was because it meant his time on the bet with Jade was running out. God, what kind of asshole makes it a bet to ask someone out? And of course, just as that thought ran through Karkat’s mind, the someone he was wanting to ask out happened to message him on Pesterchum.

  turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

 TG: yo
 TG: karkles
 TG: karkizzle
 TG: vantass
 TG: hey bro
 TG: where are you
CG: Jesus fucking Christ, I’m going to need a speedometer for your motor mouth.
CG: Seriously, don’t you ever shut up?
 TG: nope
CG: How charming.
 TG: so you finally admit it
 TG: i have wooed you
CG: Yeah, you wish.
CG: Did you need something, you insufferable jackass?
 TG: a little lackluster one there kar
 TG: i think youre losing your touch
CG: Shut up.
 TG: nah i just need something to think about other than all this shit with bro
 TG: i hate to admit it but you may have been right about him mistreating me.
CG: Yeah, no shit!
CG: So what do you mean, this shit with your bro?
 TG: dude
 TG: youre joking right?
 TG: ive been living with john since halloween
 TG: john didn’t tell anyone?
CG: No!!
 TG: huh
 TG: thats good i guess
 TG: dont want the dude airing my dirty laundry to the world
CG: Okay, so why aren’t you messaging him about whatever’s happening right now?
 TG: idk i feel like ive bugged him enough with my issues
 TG: i fucking lived in his house dude
CG: I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
 TG: dude, fuck off.
CG: Okay, bye!
 TG: no i just mean
 TG: im not sure john would get it
 TG: he didnt know about any of this shit until i showed up at his window
CG: If you’re so concerned about keeping it a secret, then why the hell are you telling me?
 TG: dunno
 TG: feel like i can trust you
CG: You’re confusing me, Dave.
CG: You didn’t tell me when it was happening, but now it’s different because why, exactly?
 TG: complicated
CG: Ugh.
 TG: short version is that dirk and i moved out
 TG: talked about some stuff
 TG: and i wanted to talk to you
 TG: because you were right about me needing to get out of there
 TG: try not to read too much into it
CG: I wouldn’t dare, that might overinflate your ego even more.
 TG: you going to feferis party?
CG: Yeah, why?
 TG: just wanted to know if id get to see a cutie tonight
CG: You asstart, don’t fucking say shit like that.
 TG: i will say whatever i want.

 turntechGodhead [TG] has ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

           Karkat slammed his head on the desk. Thud. Why was Dave so difficult? Thud. When he said shit like “getting to see a cutie” there was no way to discern if it was “ironic” or sincere. Thud. Why hadn’t Karkat flirted back? Thud. Thud. Thud. Karkat sat back up, ran a hand over his face as another window popped open.

 twinArmageddons [TA] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

TA: hey KK
TA: you’re going to FF’s party, right?
CG: Yeah, why?
TA: just wanna make sure there’s gonna be at least one tolerable person there.
CG: I mean
CG: Feferi’s tolerable.
CG: And Aradia’s going.
CG: Honestly I don’t see why you need to bother me just to EASE YOUR PATHETIC SOCIAL ANXIETY.
TA: your finger slipped on the caps lock again.
TA: and also aradia’s being weird around me lately
TA: i guess?
TA: jesus christ don’t remind me
TA: and for the love of fuck you don’t need to write in all caps
TA: it’s giving me a headache
CG: Fine.
CG: Anyway stop being a fucking whiner about it.
TA: you don’t get to give me lectures about whining, you’ve done nothing but whine about getting with terezi for years.
CG: Shut the fuck up, that’s completely different.
TA: no it’s not!
TA: and you’re gonna whine now because she’s showing interest in someone else
TA: so
TA: i guess you and i have that in common

       Fuck, that wasn’t even really what Karkat had been whining about.

CG: Dude there is so much shit between me and Terezi and Dave
CG: But I guess you’re right
CG: Neither of us need to be so pathetic about it.
TA: yeah
TA: anyway
TA: see you later

twinArmageddons [TA] has ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

             Sollux still thought Karkat was crushing on Terezi? Well, the kid was pretty clueless about some things. Though the fact that Karkat had expressed disdain about Terezi and Dave becoming such close friends hadn’t helped, and Karkat couldn’t be bothered to correct him.

             Karkat and Nepeta made it up to Feferi’s house a little early, and Karkat gave his hellos before plopping down on the couch. Sollux moved from the table, where he’d been sitting with Rose and Kanaya, to sit next to Karkat.
            “Jesus, Sol, what’re you doing hanging out with those two?”
            “Feferi’s still putting stuff out I guess? So the only other choice was Eridan. Believe me, I’d rather sit through a snark-off with Rose and Kanaya than deal with that guy.” Karkat snorted. Sollux and Eridan didn’t have the best history.
            “What’re they even talking about?”
            “Hell if I know,” Sollux muttered. “Rose obfuscates half of what she says and Kanaya has no idea how to flirt. But I guarantee they’ll be together by New Years’.” Well, he wasn’t totally clueless about romance. Karkat was surprised at how long it was taking Kanaya to seal the deal, but she was easily flustered by cute girls. Not that Karkat wasn’t equally flustered by cute people.

            Everyone started to join the party slowly. John arrived and started chatting about that shitty Nic Cage movie with Vriska until Tavros showed up, and then those two caused a scene. Vriska left the room, but not before making a scathing comment at Sollux and fighting with John. Feferi looked very flustered. “Um, I turned the other room into a dance floor of sorts! And watch out for mistletoe, I put a lot out!” she said, clearly trying to keep spirits high. There was a lot of fussing for a moment before Dave pulled John away from the whole scene with Vriska. Aradia arrived not long after, and Vriska was back to the same routine. Didn’t she realize everyone was getting sick of that bullshit? Even Terezi was ignoring her; she was sitting at the kitchen table with Dave and John. Karkat was very tempted to take the fourth seat at the table, but somehow it seemed like that would only alienate him further. The whole party kind of sucked because Karkat couldn’t get out of his own head long enough to stop moping. The only consolation, and this sucked because Karkat wanted his friends to be happy, even if he didn’t quite think he deserved it for himself, was that Aradia, Tavros, and Eridan seemed about equally miserable. He supposed Dave had been joking when he was talking about seeing someone cute that night, because he wasn’t paying any attention to Karkat. Karkat huffed, debating whether or not he should just leave early. It wasn’t like anyone would even notice he was gone. He huffed. Parties sucked. Karkat stood from the couch and searched around for Nepeta, just to give her a heads up not to wait for him whenever she decided to leave. She wasn’t with Equius, for once, because Equius was on the couch talking with Tavros and Vriska. Something about building prosthetics. He made his way through the house and found Nepeta on the dance floor with Jade.
            “Hey Nepeta! I’m going home!” he shouted.
            “Okay, Karkitty, see you later!” she said, hardly even turning towards him. Karkat stuffed his hands in his sweatshirt pockets as he made his way out the front door. He paused for a moment, taking a breath. Why was he so afraid of any kind of affection? He refused to accept it when Dave made slightly flirtatious comments, but then got mad when Dave didn’t pay attention to him. Ugh, why was having a crush so difficult?! Karkat stepped off the stoop, still pondering if he wanted to go back inside. No. He’d made up his mind; he was leaving.
            “Yo, Kar,” a voice said a few feet back. Karkat turned. Dave was on the stoop. “Leaving so soon?”
            “Yes, watch my ass as it leaves.”
            “Encouraging me to check you out?” Karkat was not sure what shade of red he turned, but knew it was something. That was another downside to being so goddamn pale. Everyone could always tell when he was blushing.
            “You’re the worst shitting person I’ve ever met,” Karkat muttered. “Why do you say shit like that? Is it to mess with my head? I can’t tell if you’re serious or what. And also! I’m sick of seeing your stupid fucking aviators, when I know, I know it’s like some kind of ploy to hide your true emotions from everyone. Nobody can ever discern what you’re thinking because you never bother showing anyone your damn face. And it’s not even fair, you have the most stunning eyes. Like, red? That’s so…”
            “And you were calling me a motor mouth earlier. Boy you gotta calm down. I’m gonna take you to 7-11, buy you an ICEE so you can find some chill.” The corner of Dave’s mouth twitched upwards in a smirk.
            “What the fuck.” Karkat started to walk off Feferi's walkway.
            “Hey,” Dave said, a bit more seriously,  “you shouldn’t be walking home alone.”
            “Please. I can take care of myself.”
            “What’re you gonna do, shout someone to death?”
            “I don’t need you to play hero, Dave,” Karkat seethed. Dammit. Accept the offer, stupid. “But since I know you don’t know what ‘no’ means, fine.” Dave’s smile at that moment seemed like less of a smirk and more of a genuine smile and he came into stride next to Karkat.
           “So… how far is it to your place?”
           “I dunno… like half a mile?”
           Dave chuckled. “Alright.”

           Silence settled between the two of them, but it wasn’t weighted or awkward, it was… nice. Karkat knew he went a million words a minute most of the time, and so did Dave, so it was kind of calming to feel comfortable without speaking. The most speaking Karkat did was giving directions, and Dave didn’t say anything until they got to Karkat’s house.
           “So, you think red eyes are stunning?” Dave asked. Karkat felt himself turn very red again.
           “I mean, you don’t see them every day,” he said, shrugging.
           “Most people don’t, anyway.” Dave said, an implication hanging at the end of the sentence. “You saying you want to get another look?”
           “I’m… not going to say no,” Karkat muttered. Dave slid his glasses off, remarkably less self-conscious than the last time they’d gotten knocked off by Karkat’s incredible clumsiness. Dave really was handsome, and Karkat was getting mild heart palpitations just looking at him. “Wow…”
           “You act like you don’t see red eyes all the time,” Dave said. Karkat immediately scowled at him.
           “What? What the fuck?”
           “Dude, you being, like, albino is probably the worst kept secret I’ve ever freakin’ seen. And honestly, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I—” Dave was interrupted by his phone going off, and Karkat couldn’t help but be a bit upset by the fact that Dave was taking the time to answer.
           “Who is that?” Karkat quipped.
           “Terezi,” Dave muttered, tapping out a reply.
           Karkat tried not to be bothered by that. They’d been standing on the porch talking for a few minutes. “Dave… would you want to, um. Hang out? Maybe you can come by and watch a movie tomorrow or something.” There. He’d gone for it. Dave glanced up from his phone for a second, looking more than a little distracted.
           “Huh, what? No, um. I can’t. Got plans.”
           “With Terezi?”
           “Uh. Alright,” Karkat sighed. “I should… head inside, then.” Dave furrowed his brow.
           “Okay. Uh. Happy holidays, dude.”
           Karkat slunk inside while Dave dialed a number in his phone. God dammit, all those flirtatious quips for nothing? Dave was definitely trying to date Terezi. Karkat wanted to sink into his mattress. Everything was so hopelessly miserable. High school sucked.

Chapter Text


            Christmas in the Vantas-Leijon household turned into a huge fucking ordeal due simply to how many people they crammed into the house. Midnight Mass was basically mandatory. Solomon made a point to preach, and while he wouldn’t insist anyone show up, they all did anyway out of familial obligation. Karkat did think it was kind of cool to see how people admired his father. Over the years, he’d become something of a community leader. Yeah, his work was primarily with the church, since being a pastor was how he got a paycheck, but he was also crazily involved with local politics and and was constantly advocating for the boycott of the Peixes corporation. Karkat didn’t know how to feel about that; the CEO was Feferi’s mom, and she was power-hungry and corrupt as hell, but they also owned practically everything, so any attempted boycott was basically useless. Karkat didn’t want to think about the resources Candace Peixes had access to; he worried about what might happen if word got out that his dad was trying to undermine the company. He was also advocating for William Vagabond’s mayoral campaign, which posed a direct threat to the Peixes corporation. Gamzee’s dad was mayor, and Karkat was pretty sure the two had some illicit deals. At any rate, Karkat looked up to his father. But staying out until 1:30 in the morning (and awake until after 3) on Christmas Eve made getting up the next morning for presents a bit difficult. Dessie only accomplished wrangling all the kids out of bed by turning up the radio as loud as she possibly could. It was blasting all the way up in the attic, successfully jolting Karkat awake.
            “Good morning,” Dessie greeted an even-more-disgruntled-than-usual Karkat once he arrived downstairs. He caught his reflection in the glass door of the oven. God, he looked awful. That’s what he got with less than 5 hours of sleep. Karkat wished his dad would stop insisting he was too young for coffee. The morning was salvaged (barely) by the 20 Film Collection of romantic movies Karkat unwrapped. Damn, there were some classics in there. Casablanca? Wow. When they were done with gifts, Karkat turned to Dessie and his dad.
            “Thanks, you guys, these are great.” Nepeta, Meulin, and Kankri all made varying noises of agreement.
            “Oh, there’s one more thing,” Dessie said, standing from the couch and bustling down the hallway toward the garage. Karkat furrowed his brow, glancing at his father, who was just grinning. Karkat could hear Dessie fumble with something—a cardboard box?—just before the door squeaked open again and she came back into view. She was holding something in her hands, something suspiciously tiny and fluffy. Nepeta pieced it together seconds before Karkat.
            “OH MY GOD!!! You got us another cat?!?!?” she squealed. The kitten squirmed in Dessie’s hands before she set it down gently. It mewled at Karkat.
            “Yeah, now Pounce won’t get so lonely when we leave.”
            “Do you think Pounce is going to get along with another cat?” Kankri quipped. He wasn’t the biggest fan of the one cat they had.
            “Oh, he’ll be fine,” Solomon answered.
            “We should name it!” Meulin shouted. “Is it a boy or a girl?”
            “This one’s a girl,” Dessie said, hiding a small laugh. Even Karkat had to admit, the kitten was pretty cute. She was a light sandy color that turned a bit more orange around her paws, and her nose and paw pads were mostly pink with a couple grey splotches.
            “Oh! Samantail!” Nepeta suggested. All her cat names were puns. “No, no. Tabbytha? Jennifurr??”
            “Puma Thurman,” Karkat muttered, but as soon as he said it, all eyes were on him. Nepeta was beaming.
            “Puma Thurman,” Solomon echoed. “That is… adorable.” And so it was decided.

            There was a bit of a lull in activity as Dessie took over the kitchen. Karkat helped Nepeta keep an eye on Puma and introduce her to Pounce, filming a bit of the two cats’ meeting and sending it to Terezi.

 carcinoGeneticist [CG] began pestering gallowsCalibrator [GC]

--carcinoGeneticist [CG] has sent file CATS.mp4 to gallowsCalibrator [GC]--

GC: Well, I can’t watch the video but it sounds like you got another cat.
CG: Dammit.
CG: Look at me, being a grade A dipshit as per usual.
GC: I am not going to make you feel bad about it.
GC: You do that to yourself enough as it is.
CG: Oh shut it.
CG: You manage well enough that people who don’t know you wouldn’t even guess you’re blind in the first place.
CG: Seriously, your fucking braille cell phone or whatever the fuck?
GC: Believe it or not, all phones used to come with buttons like that.
CG: Anyway, I just wanted to say Merry Christmas.
GC: Merry Christmas, Karkat!
GC: Hey, have you talked to Dave lately?
GC: Like, since Feferi’s party?
CG: Ugh.
CG: No.
CG: He walked me home because I was feeling like a miserable douchewaffle, but then, nothing.
CG: Why, have you?
GC: Yeah.
GC: He came over the day after to help me deal with some shit.
CG: What shit are you dealing with that you couldn’t tell me about?
GC: Karkat, I do not need to tell you about everything.
GC: Why, are you jealous?
GC: Ehehehe.
CG: No!!
GC: Well, he seemed a bit distracted.
GC: Said he felt bad for blowing you off.
CG: Yeah well how sorry can he be?
CG: He hasn’t even tried to talk to me.
CG: Not that I blame him, I made myself into a total shitting idiot in front of him.
CG: God, I hate this so much.
GC: I am not totally clear on what is happening between you and Dave.
CG: Nothing’s happening, that’s the damn problem!
CG: I have this giant gay crush on him and he’s after you.
GC: Karkat I
GC: Oh my god.
GC: I am not interested in him that way.
CG: Then tell him to back off or something!
GC: We’re not doing anything, we are just two cool friends who like to hang out.
CG: I think he sees it as more.
GC: Well that is just
GC: Not really my problem.
CG: Can’t you just do me a solid this once?
GC: You want me to ruin the best friendship I have had since ours because you think Strider’s trying to get into my boxers
GC: And you like him.
CG: Well when you put it like that…
GC: You’re being dumb.
CG: You’re probably right. I’m usually being dumb.
GC: Anyway, I need to get going
GC: But I will talk to you later when you stop being dumb about this.

 gallowsCalibrator [GC] has ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

             As if the morning wasn’t hectic enough, then Kanaya, Porrim, their parents, and Nana Rosa came over for dinner. It was the first year in forever that they didn’t go to Mr. Slick’s Christmas party, much to Karkat’s dismay. It was a lot easier for him to slink off into Spencer’s spare bedroom and spend the night playing video games with Sollux than it was for him to spend the whole night dealing with his family, since for once they weren’t scattered all over the place.
            Dinner started early, and it was a traditional Christmas dinner: ham, mashed potatoes, bread, salad, asparagus, pumpkin, pecan, and chocolate pies and about a dozen different types of cookies, which, to be completely honest, Karkat didn’t even understand, because his dad was the only one from that side of the family that was even Christian. The Maryams were Hindu, how the fuck did that even work? Karkat vaguely recalled his dad telling him about how he’d explored his faith in high school, and even moreso after Karkat’s mother ran off, and he apparently converted at some point. Karkat couldn’t imagine living his father’s life, being saved from the streets by some kindly woman who already had a family. But, of course, throughout dinner, Aunt Malati started needling him about his love life.
            “So, Karkat, any girls in your life?” She knew better than to ask Kankri—he was still moping over his breakup with Cronus—and Meulin was spoken for, so it came down to him or Nepeta.
            “No… no girls,” Karkat muttered. He was surprised that his aunt had immediately jumped straight to that heteronormative crap considering neither of her daughters were straight. But he was still bitter, thinking about everyone having someone except for him. Karkat was a romance expert, and yet pretty much the only person who had the worst shitting time accomplishing even the slightest romantic gesture for anyone. Aradia was with Equius, which was weird and not going to end well, but they were together. Gamzee was trying to hit on Tavros. Sollux was with Feferi. Kanaya had Rose. Dave was flirting with Terezi. Meulin and Kurloz, Kankri and Cronus (up until recently), Jade was aro, so she didn’t give a shit. Even John ‘dorkiest child alive’ Egbert was having more luck than Karkat, even if Karkat thought John and Vriska would be terrible together.

               After dinner, Karkat hid out in the bathroom for a bit, avoiding playing card games for as long as possible. He had some business to take care of.

 carcinoGeneticist [CG] opened memo on board FRUITY RUMPUS ASSHOLE FACTORY

 turntechGodhead [TG] responded to memo.
TG: what
ectoBiologist [EB] responded to memo.
EB: hey, i am here.
EB: oh, hi dave!
TG: hey
EB: what is going on in here?
TG: some kind of asshole rumpus looks like
CG: Everybody shut the fuck up, I hate you both, etc. etc. etc.
TG: why are you typing in all caps
TG: ok later windbag
EB: yeah, dave, don’t go!
EB: i think we should listen to what he has to say.
TG: nah
EB: haha, dave you’re hitting on terezi? Really??
TG: no
TG: but whatever he thinks im doing im not going to stop
TG: the guys jealous obviously he thinks his girlfriend has a thing for me and you know what hes probably right
TG: but what else is new just another lady mackin on me whatever chance she gets

            Dave was so shitty at deflection. Ugh! Why did Karkat want anything to do with him? He was such an arrogant jerkwad!! Terezi said it herself, she wasn’t interested. And now Dave was trying to claim the same thing. Was it… could Karkat have misread the whole thing? He began questioning the entire series of events.

EB: karkat, is terezi really your girlfriend?

             Yeah, Karkat wasn’t about to jump down that rabbit hole.

TG: pretty sure she is
TG: or he thinks she is or something
TG: why else would he be in a tirade about this
TG: right
TG: sounds like its time to get a clue she is over you dude
EB: this is such silly drama
EB: who cares, jeeeeeeeez.
CG: YES, EXactly. Who cares?
CG: Which brings me to a related point of business.
CG: John, don’t think I didn’t notice how many E’s you just typed.
CG: That’s got to stop too.
EB: what does?
CG: Stop flirting with Vriska. I’m fucking serious.
EB: what!
EB: no way. vriska’s cool, i’ll talk to her all i want!
CG: You jackass, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.
CG: She’s dangerous, and you’re blundering right into her hypercompetitive mindfuck.
CG: You are both fucking hopeless, I give up.
TG: k then bye
CG: You don’t get it.
CG: I do acknowledge that as much as it makes me sick to my stomach, these girls are clearly flirting with both of you pretty hard.
CG: The fact that they have swept you both into their sick games is sadly what makes this obvious. It’s what they do.
EB: oh gosh
TG: what dude i thought you liked her
EB: i don’t think i have ever actually liked a girl before in that way so i am not really sure what i am supposed to feel or do…
CG: Somehow I regret even bringing this up.
TG: you just sound bitter
TG: not like you actually have our best interests at heart
TG: i bet one of them rejected you
TG: probably tz
TG: or both

             Dave had no idea what he was talking about. Even if he was right.

TG: haha wow bingo
TG: see how i look right now that’s a poker face might want to take some notes
CG: First off I CAN’T fucking see you.
CG: Second off even if I could, I guarantee all I would see is a coward behind dark eyewear clearly designed for women and a pair of impudent lips pursed so tight it’ll sound like air squealing out of a balloon when I punch you in the gut.
TG: oh god stop talking about my lips thats the second time
TG: ok youre clearly gay and youve probably got some issues about it

             Augh, that tool! Why was he so spot on about everything? Why did Karkat keep wasting his time trying to get Dave’s attention? He shouldn’t care! It was so infuriating, but the idea of Dave with anyone else, not just Terezi, drove him nuts. Terezi said Dave had been distracted, talking about wanting to spend time with Karkat, but… but he’d been the one to blow it off. What was so important? Or… were the two of them just fucking with his emotions? Karkat didn’t have the energy to just sit there and continue being cynical and overanalytical. It was probably something he’d said to Dave anyway, some asinine shit that turned out to be a huge turnoff. He hated it. He hated romance, he hated having a crush, he hated high school drama, but most of all he hated himself. He always fucked everything up, why would this be any different? Karkat wiped his face with his sweater sleeve. Oh man, he didn’t even notice he’d started crying. God dammit. This would only raise more questions.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] has closed the memo

            Karkat set his phone on the counter, trying to compose himself enough to return to the festivities. Why’d this all have to go down on fucking Christmas? Karkat sniffled, wiping his face again, then left the bathroom, pausing in the hallway for a moment.
            “Karkat.” Shit! “I wondered where you’d gone off to.”
            “Holy crap, Kanaya, you scared the hell out of me.”
            “Are you alright?”
            “Nope! But I’m never alright, so it’s fine,” Karkat muttered. Kanaya puttered over to him.
            “Have you been crying?” she asked. Damn, why was she so good at that stuff? There was no point in lying to a Maryam.
            “Uh… yeah. Just dealing with the Asshole Extraordinaire™.”
            “Oh, Dave? What is it now?”
            “I thought he had a thing with Terezi, but she says she doesn’t like him that way, and he basically pinned down that Terezi and I used to be… whatever we were, and that I’m not neccesarily straight, and I just fucking… can’t with him. I don’t even. I don’t even know why I’m so attracted to him! I hate this! I hate him and his stupid smug face and how fucking handsome he is and how easily he can figure me out! This sucks! It all sucks!” Karkat was bordering on having a shitfit. “I want to rip my fucking hideous white hair out just to alleviate some stress.”
            “Well that won’t accomplish anything,” Kanaya hummed. “I suggest you just talk to him about all this, or confront it.”
            “And how do you suppose I do that?”
            “Ask him out.”
            “What?! He’s so stupid, why can’t he just see that I like him already? Why do I have to be the one to make the first move here? He’d probably say no anyway, seeing as I’m the worst shitting excuse for a human alive.”
            “You might be surprised,” Kanaya said. Karkat got an uneasy feeling.
            “You’re plotting, Maryam.”
            “Don’t be silly. You are my cousin and I simply want you to be happy. Rose wants the same for her cousin, so I am giving you advice that would accomplish both our goals.”
            Karkat felt his eyes widen. “What exactly are you saying?”
            “All I am saying is that if you proposition Dave, he is far more likely to accept than you think.” And with that, Kanaya walked off. She had to know what she was talking about, right? Right?! Karkat slid his phone back out of his pocket, typing a message out as he went back into the main room.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG]

CG: Okay so
CG: I was being a collosal dickweed for telling you to stop flirting with Terezi.
TG: true
TG: im not flirting but true
CG: To be honest, you were right
CG: I was jealous.
CG: Am jealous.
TG: are you serious
TG: look at this
TG: karkat vantas admitting he was wrong about romance
CG: Don’t rub it in.
CG: I wasn’t jealous of you for spending time with her
CG: I was jealous of
CG: Oh god.
TG: what
CG: I was jealous of her for getting to spend time with you.
TG: wtf
CG: God, see?
CG: That’s what I knew was going to happen.
TG: no no
TG: keep talking
CG: Uh
CG: You may also have been right about me being a little
CG: Uh
TG: gay?
CG: Dammit, Strider!
CG: Don’t do this to me.
TG: chill dude im not gonna judge
TG: i appreciate the apology
TG: i was just giving you a hard time i didnt expect id actually be right
TG: not that i think theres anything wrong with it
TG: obviously
TG: cause like my whole family is pretty gay
TG: actually a lot of people i know are gay
TG: egbert tho
TG: kids straight as a ruler
TG: fuckin destroyed me in middle school
TG: uh
TG: i mean
CG: It’s fine.
CG: I overheard you guys on Halloween.
TG: oh fuck
TG: i mean i got over it
TG: it would be really weird if i lived there still having the hots for him
TG: think he was still pretty weirded out though when i told him
TG: i swear that kid looked at me like i sprouted a second head
TG: though after trying his glasses on its entirely possible that it actually looked like i had one
TG: hes blind as a bat
TG: gotta teach him echolocation or some shit in case he loses them
TG: forgetful little dipshit
TG: maybe tz can help him out
TG: blind leading the blind
TG: literally
CG: Stop talking!
CG: I did not message you so you could ramble aimlessly.
CG: You and I are going to dinner this weekend, and then a movie.
TG: are you
TG: asking me on a date
CG: Um.
CG: Yes.
TG: well hang on let me check my fuckin calendar
TG: looks like i can pencil you in just after i drop some sick beats
CG: Oh.
CG: Um.
CG: Okay.
TG: cool
CG: Cool.
TG: saturday?
CG: Sure.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased pestering turntechGodhead [TG]

            Feeling satisfied with himself, Karkat took a screenshot of the conversation.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] began pestering gardenGnostic [GG]

--carcinoGeneticist [CG] sent image—

CG: Suck it, Harley
GG: !!!

carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased pestering gardenGnostic [GG]

Chapter Text

            The great thing about the holidays was that it was the second-most popular time for romcoms to be released, which Karkat had an unabashed love of. Dave left the actual planning of their date to Karkat, which was completely expected, so Karkat took advantage of that and found a movie he would probably enjoy more than Dave would. There was a nice Italian restaurant near the theater, too. Nothing said romance like Italian food. The weekend arrived incredibly quickly, and then it was Saturday, and Karkat was supposed to meet up with Dave in a matter of hours. He had no idea how to process what was happening. His hands were shaking, and he hadn’t even left yet. He found himself fussing in the bathroom for a while, making sure his hair was relatively neat, instead of the constant bedhead he usually wandered around with.  He opened the contact case with his colored contacts inside, the ones that made Karkat look like a normal fucking human. Well… did it really matter, especially if Dave already knew he was a mutated freak? Karkat took in a deep breath, and screwed the little caps back onto the case. It had been so long since he went out in public without them. It was about time. Karkat dug around in his closet for something a little more formal, and found his button-down and tie from Homecoming. Would that be too much? Maybe it would be too much; maybe he was overthinking it. But Karkat put it on anyway, pushing the sleeves up. Okay, that was a little more casual. He continued investigating himself in the mirror, wishing he could do something about the massive goddamn bags under his eyes. He’d ask Meulin about concealer, but considering he already knew the skintone wouldn’t match it seemed pretty futile. Regardless, for once, Karkat didn’t find himself looking awful. He was still nervous, but his appearance wasn’t something to worry about, at least. Karkat let out a breath, ran downstairs, grabbed the money his dad left for him, and went to the bus stop. Or at least, that was his plan, until he saw Cronus coming up the street towards the house, his guitar in hand. He looked utterly miserable, his eyes only barely flicking up to Karkat.
            “What the miserable shit do you want, Ampora?”
            “None a’ your business, kiddo.”
            “Don’t think you can condescend to me. First of all, I understand more about romance than you could ever expect to in your entire pathetic life, and second of all, you fucked up bigtime, so don’t you fucking think if you pull the shit where you play some overplayed asinine bull outside his window, he’ll find it ever so perfect and instantly forget that you FUCKING cheated on him, you sad little cockwaffle.” Karkat’s words were biting, but true. Cronus faltered for a moment, then blinked at Karkat.
            “How do you think I can make things right?” Cronus asked.
            “You really want my help?”
            “Yeah… I know I fucked up bigtime. MAJOR MAJOR mistake. But… man. I really care about Kankri, I know I don’t seem the type, but I do.”
            Karkat let out a sigh. Fixing Kankri and Cronus’ “relationship” was not what he anticipated doing that night, but Cronus wasn’t going to let him by until he said something, and as much of a prick as Kankri was, Karkat wanted his brother to be happy. “Okay, here’s the thing- Kankri wants a real relationship. Yeah, you guys went out on dates and stuff, but did you ever introduce him to your family? As your boyfriend? Or, if that’s not an option for you,” Karkat thought back to Eridan confiding his secret in him, “let Kankri bring you over for dinner. He craves attention and validation, not just physicality. And PLEASE, I do not want to know whatever base you’ve gotten to with him, he’s my fucking brother so don’t even open your mouth. He thinks you were just trying to get in his pants, and threw him aside when you couldn’t do that. He’s… he’s really fucking hurt, Cro, and I can’t even guarantee anything I say will work, but just be honest and talk to him.”
            Cronus furrowed his brow, then slowly nodded at Karkat. “That… yeah, that makes sense.”
            “Okay, great, fucking whatever, now I gotta go, I have my own date to worry about,” Karkat growled, trying not to let his surliness overwhelm him as he made his way to the bus stop.

             Downtown Skaia was pretty small; there were only two stops in the area, and then the train station. Karkat hopped off the bus at his stop and then walked the couple blocks to the restaurant. Somehow, despite the holdup with Cronus, Karkat showed up a bit before Dave. He, a bit nervously, approached the maître d’.
            “Hi, I have, um, a reservation for two, under ‘Vantas’,” Karkat said, fidgeting with his shirt sleeve a bit.
            “Of course. Right this way, sir.”
            Karkat glanced around, hoping Dave would show up sooner than later. He felt really out of place in such a nice restaurant. The only other time he’d been somewhere quite that fancy was the celebration dinner after his dad proposed to Dessie. Thankfully, Karkat was rescued from his increasing level of anxiety by Dave’s appearance at the door. He was wearing a red t-shirt underneath a black denim jacket, and jeans, and his shades were hanging off the neckline of his shirt. God, he looked so good, and Karkat appreciated that he wasn’t wearing those dumb sunglasses inside any more. Dave slid into the booth across from Karkat.
            “Swanky, Vantas. You know how to treat a guy—whoa,” Dave said, his eyes meeting Karkat’s. There was something very satisfactory in actually being able to read Dave’s emotions, now that his shitty shades were gone. “You were right.”
            “About what?”
            “Red eyes being nice to look at.”
            “Shut up!” Karkat said, predictably turning approximately the same shade of red as his eyes.
            “Seriously, Karkat, I think you should just go with the albino thing. You’d kill people of hotness with white hair.” Karkat frowned a bit, glancing away from Dave. He could still feel Dave’s eyes on him, and Dave seemed to notice Karkat was getting uncomfortable. “So why’d you choose this place anyway?”
            “The restaurant.”
            “Oh, right,” Karkat said, perking back up a little bit. Things seemed to go better after the initial awkwardness, even though neither of them could shut up during the movie. Karkat was criticizing the romance (she totally should have gone for the other guy) and Dave was cracking stupid jokes, but despite his slight annoyance, Karkat couldn’t help but laugh at some of them. He felt oddly comfortable with Dave, so much so that he was tempted to lift up the armrest so he could lean on Dave’s shoulder during the movie. He didn’t do it, of course, unable to gauge how Dave would react, but Dave was the one who set his hand on Karkat’s on top of the armrest, and then started absentmindedly playing with Karkat’s hand after a while, seeing how their fingers interlaced in different ways, which, of course, turned Karkat into pretty much a tomato. By all accounts, Karkat would guess things went well. Dave even waited with him at the bus stop, which… well, it got awkward again.
            “Uh… thanks for coming out with me,” Karkat muttered. He glanced down at his sneakers.
            “Yeah, thanks for… taking me out, I guess.”
            “So… um. Are we, like, boyfriends or something?” Karkat regretted it as soon as the question left his mouth. Dave had put his sunglasses back on, so Karkat couldn’t gauge his reaction.
            “Why don’t we… hang out a couple more times before jumping into something?” There was a twinge of distress in his voice. Karkat hoped he hadn’t struck a nerve, but everything in his gut was screaming that he had.
            “So there’ll be another time, then,” Karkat said, trying to maintain his composure.
            “Yeah, this was fun.”
            “Okay.” That was the most he was going to get. He counted it as a victory.

             When Karkat got home, Cronus was still hanging around. His voice was the first thing Karkat heard. 
            “So anyway, here’s Wonderwall,” Cronus said, and then the guitar.
            “Oh you have got to be fucking kidding me,” Karkat muttered, just before poking his head into Kankri’s bedroom. “So I take it you two assholes kissed and made up.”
            “I hardly see how it’s any of your business, but yes. I have forgiven Cronus for his indiscretion under some conditions,” Kankri said, somehow still sounding preachy.
            “You’re a fucking dumbass, Kankri, but whatever. If this idiot makes you happy,” Karkat shrugged, going back to his own room. He couldn’t really be too cynical, for once. But how Dave had reacted… Karkat couldn’t help but dwell on it. Strider was still being cagey. He’d flirt when he thought it was harmless, but didn’t seem to know what to do when Karkat actually wanted to reciprocate. But at the same time there was clearly some kind of chemistry. Karkat took a deep breath. It was fine. Dave said he wanted to go out again, so… so they would go out again.

              New Year’s wasn’t much later after that, and Feferi was hosting another party. Karkat kind of hated going to her house. Her family was so exceedingly wealthy, and the house was ostentatious to say the least. When Karkat walked up, Gamzee was outside the front of the house, puffing on a blunt.
              “You’ve got to quit that stuff, dude,” Karkat muttered. “It’ll fuck up your head for life.”
              “Aw, brother, weed ain’t nothing. Straight up, I’ve seen Kurloz do some shit.”
              “Dude, I don’t even want to know.”
              “Yeah, he used to tell me about sneakin’ off when he was our age—when he talked—he was dropping acid and shit behind the gym, it’s fuckin’ incredible he don’t do hard shit anymore.”
              “Please tell me you’ve never done that kind of stuff with him.”
              “Course not, brother, I ain’t a fool. He’s practically clean. I do that shit with him, I’m gonna get busted,” Gamzee let out a laugh. Karkat couldn’t tell if he was joking or not, but it would not be the least bit surprising if Gamzee was on more than just pot.
              “Of course not. You’re just high as a kite all the goddamn time.”
              “Don’t matter. I’m quittin’.”
              “Yeah, bro, New Year’s Resolution and all that shit.”
              “Alright, man, good for you,” Karkat said before heading inside. He passed by the kitchen table, occupied by John, Rose, Kanaya, and Dave, just in time to hear a snippet of conversation.
              “It’s a long story, Papaya,” Dave said. “Karkat is a—”
              “Karkat is a what, you useless fucking shitweasel?” Karkat said, still standing in the archway of the kitchen. He made his way over to the table, taking one of the remaining chairs next to Dave.
              “Always with the pet names,” Dave muttered.
              “Oh, do not even start with me. Constantly initiating messages with ‘Karkles’, ‘Karkizzle’, and my personal desperate-sounding favorite; VANTASS. I’m not sure if I should take that one as you saying I’m an ass or you saying you like my ass.”
              “Can both not be true?”
              And once again, Karkat got sucked into a bullshit rambling contest with Dave. At first they had been genuinely complaining at each other, but after a while Karkat could feel himself smiling, and Dave’s ever-present smirk was more prevalent than ever. There was something fun about that kind of shit. Karkat couldn’t put his finger on it. He and Dave were eventually pulled out of their argument by Jade prodding at John, who seemed incredibly distracted. Of course. Tavros and Vriska were putting out their bullshit for everyone to see; no wonder John hadn’t been paying attention.
              “John, are you okay?” Jade asked.
              “Yeah… yeah, just thinking about my resolution for the New Year,” John said. Karkat pursed his lips for a moment. He didn’t have a resolution. He supposed he could be less of a crab? Though realistically whatever goal he set for himself was doomed for failure. They always were.
              “New Year’s Resolutions are bullshit,” he grumbled. Dave leaned over, nose nearly brushing Karkat’s cheek as he whispered something in Karkat’s ear.
              “If New Year’s Resolutions are bullshit, guess I won’t get to kiss you, then.” Karkat nearly fell out of his chair, “accidentally” elbowing Dave in the stomach in the process.
              “AT LEAST WAIT FOR THE BALL TO DROP, YOU ASSHOLE!” Karkat slumped off, taking a minute to process what he’d just heard. There was an empty spot on the couch next to Sollux, so he plopped down there to organize his thoughts. There was clearly a mutual attraction. Dave was very forward, and Karkat didn’t really know how to handle it, so he sat, basically twiddling his thumbs for a while. It would have helped to have someone else occupy his mind, but Sollux was just staring into space, not paying much attention to anything.
              “Dude, why are you so fucking quiet tonight?” Karkat finally had to ask.
              “Eridan knocked my vision out earlier. Hard to talk to people you can’t see.”
              “What the fuck?” Karkat hadn’t heard from Eridan in a while; it seemed odd. “Whatever, that guy’s a dick. Why didn’t you talk to Terezi?”
              “Because I had no idea where she was.” Right. Duh. “I can see now, though. I have no idea how she manages.”
              “She’s Terezi. That’s how,” Sollux murmured.
              “Pretty much.” That was all there was to say on the matter. Terezi was oddly good at getting around, both in real life and on the internet. “Anyway, I’m gonna get a drink. You want any?” Sollux shook his head no, and Karkat stood up, walking back to the drink table near the kitchen hallway where Gamzee had been hanging out all night. The punch seemed like a good choice, even if apparently nobody else thought so. Karkat poured himself a small glass, then took a sip. There was an odd burning in the back of his throat. “Why’s this taste weird?” Karkat frowned at the glass, then up at Gamzee, who just vaguely shrugged at him. Karkat had only had that burning experience once before, when his father had a barbecue and he had a cup of what he thought was lemonade, which turned out to actually be margaritas. Alcohol! That was it! He threw the drink in Gamzee’s face. “You piece of shit! You spiked the goddamn punch!” Gamzee just cackled at him, and Karkat was mildly aware he’d drawn everyone else’s attention. It didn’t matter. Karkat skulked into the next room over, flopping face down onto the couch. He could hear Tavros going on a drunk rant—he must have had 3 or 4 drinks—about Vriska being a manipulative asshole, which was true. The couch cushion nearest Karkat’s face shifted, and he rolled over onto his back, looking at the mystery person. Dave, of course, was who he saw looking back. His shades were pushed back into his hairline. Fuck, he looked so cute.
              “You okay?” Dave asked.
              “You know, I don’t need you to always keep checking up on me like this. Not that I don’t appreciate it, I just…”
              “Not used to having someone care? I get it.”
              “Why, though? Why do you care?”
              “Wow, and I thought you were the romance expert. I’ve been flirting with you pretty hardcore, dude.”
              “Yeah but why? Why am I even worth your time?”
              “Why was I worth yours?” Dave asked back. Karkat sat up.
              “What do you mean?”
              “You white-knighted me first, even if I was being a dick about it. I was really messed up about some stuff and still kind of am, and am working on it, but I guess…” Karkat didn’t quite understand why Dave was letting himself be so vulnerable around him. “Dunno, man. It’s almost like… I like you or something.” And sarcastic Dave was back. “So I repeat; you okay?”
              “Not really, my best friend is a drug-happy asshole.” Karkat said, still vaguely aware of the countdown starting.
              “Psht, that dude’s a fucking idiot. Dance with Mary Jane, you’re gonna get your toes stepped on. I grew up in the most fucked up environment imaginable and even I know that. Swords, yes; drugs, no.” 10. “It’s like fucking unconscionable. Seriously, my life is a category four wedding crasher hurricane.” 9. “It’s like when kids loudly try to suck the last of their soda out of the can with a straw even though there are only trace molecular-scale quantities of soda left in there like wow kid stop?” 8. “I don’t know what to really tell you about Gamzee, honestly I’ve only talked to him twice and he seems like either the chillest guy ever or a borderline murderous motherfucker.” 7. “Him being into that ICP shit? Yeah, he needs better taste in music but I’m telling you, that’s why dude’s gotta be better friends with me.” 6. “I can fuckin’ educate on rap better than the ICP. Seriously, fuck those guys.” 5. “But, yeah, I mean if you need to talk about shit you know I can always listen to your fuckin’ melodic voice.” 4. “Shit’s goddamn musical, like Beethoven and Mozart had a lovechild and let them get raised by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Eminem until they could throw down their own sicknasty beats.” 3.
              “Dave!” Karkat finally interrupted. 2.
              “What?” 1.
              “Shut up and kiss me.”
              Dave looked absolutely bewildered at the request, despite having suggested as much earlier, and leaned closer to Karkat, hesitantly, put one hand on Karkat’s chin, and then Karkat closed his eyes and closed the gap. Dave’s lips were soft and gentle, and they slowly pulled away from each other, Karkat resting his forehead on Dave’s shoulder. Dave pressed his nose into Karkat’s hair, and they just sat with each other for a moment. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly at midnight. But close enough.
             “It’s about time,” a voice said. Karkat and Dave both shot up, wildly embarrassed to be caught.
             “ROSE!” Dave shouted.

Chapter Text

turntechGodhead [TG] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

TG: hey karkat
TG: kitkat
TG: nah that one doesnt roll off the tongue
TG: cool initials though
TG: hey
TG: if there were two guys on the moon and one of them killed the other with a rock would that be fucked up or what
CG: Dave.
CG: Go to sleep.
CG: It’s like midnight already.
TG: yeah am i keeping you from your beauty sleep
TG: more like sleeping beauty
TG: all laying there lips primed for a kiss from your prince charming
TG: meanwhile im riding up on horseback to find you locked up in a tower guarded by a giant fucking dragon
TG: hes saying turn back strider
TG: karkat dont want any of your nonsense tonight
CG: Karkat never wants your nonsense but somehow I always end up sitting here reading through practical miles of pesterlogs parsing through your metaphors to figure out what the actual fuck you’re even talking about.
TG: the dragon is your brother all trying to protect you and shit
TG: turns out hes only raging about romance cause theres a thorn in his paw
TG: the thorn is his shitty boyfriend cheating on him
TG: now he lashes out at everyone
TG: cant get to the sleeping prince of enclyopediac romcom knowledge
TG: til you spring yourself from the goddamn tower yourself and yank that shit out
TG: didnt even need the knight but you kiss him anyway
CG: Daaaaaaaave.
TG: come on dude its not even that late
CG: We’re not all nocturnal assholes like you and your brother.
CG: I for one try to go to bed at a reasonable time but that’s been out the window lately because I wind up staying up late entertaining your bullshit.
TG: fine fine ill let you go then
CG: Oh please, don’t make it out to seem like you’re some kind of martyr here just because I want a full night of sleep.
TG: you say that literally every night you know youre gonna have some kind of fit of the insomniac variety and stay up talking to me
TG: hell id bet youd stay up talking to me regardless
CG: Don’t flatter yourself.
TG: hey
TG: are you still coming by tomorrow for movie night
CG: That depends.
CG: What heinous end-of-the-world action movie bullshit or whatever do you have on the agenda this week
TG: i dont want to hear any complaints
TG: we had an agreement
TG: whoever is hosting chooses the movie
TG: and i have sat through when harry met sally and youve got mail so dont act like youre the one whos worse off here
CG: First of all, those are cinematic masterpieces that shaped the entire GENRE of romantic comedy
CG: And second of all, you didn’t even answer the question.
TG: i am legend
CG: Fuck, Strider, I knew you had an ego but that’s saying a lot.
TG: no the movie
TG: i am legend.
CG: I know.
CG: It was a joke.
CG: God forbid Karkat show a little sense of humor once in a while.
CG: And fuck. No.
CG: That’s like some zombie apocalypse trite nonsense, isn’t it?
TG: well i mean
TG: yeah
TG: but its a will smith movie
CG: Fuck.
CG: Fine, you got me.

          Much to Karkat’s dismay, this was pretty much how every conversation with Dave went. He was glad they’d been talking pretty much every day, and hanging out outside of school at least once a week (movie night having been established shortly after New Year’s, and they were nearly a week into February at that point) but they hadn’t kissed at all again and Dave was only slightly affectionate even when they were in private. Karkat thought maybe Rose’s snooping had something to do with it. The most dramatic thing that had happened to their group was when Aradia got in an incredibly one-sided fight with Vriska and then got suspended.
          Even more to Karkat’s dismay, his Pesterchum was blowing up the next day. It started when he messaged Kanaya.

 carcinoGeneticist [CG] began pestering grimAuxiliatrix [GA]

 CG: Did you tell your girlfriend to keep her snooty nose out of other people’s business?
GA: I beg your pardon?
CG: She was spying on me and Dave on New Year’s and I can only assume she and Dave have talked about shit.
CG: Ever since then he’s been all weird about being affectionate.
CG: Even if that’s not her fault she shouldn’t be going around snooping on people.
GA: I would hardly consider that to be snooping.
GA: We were invited guests in someone else’s home.
GA: It is entirely possible that she happened to wander into that room.
GA: However, yes, I will see if she knows anything about Dave’s behavior.
GA: Also, I would prefer you did not refer to her as my “girlfriend”.
CG: Well aren’t you?
GA: I like to think of her as such, but we have not established any such titles.
CG: Huh.
CG: But you two are practically inseparable.
GA: Yes, well, there is some kind of relationship established but we have not “made it official”, as it were.
GA: The truth of the matter is, I would like to, but am not sure how to ask.
GA: She has not even kissed me yet.
CG: Are you kidding me?
CG: How did I get my shit together faster than you?
GA: It is something I would very much like to remedy, if you have any suggestions.
CG: You two obviously like each other.
CG: Just go for it.
GA: You make it sound easy.
CG: It’s pretty much the same advice you gave me.
CG: If you know the other person is already interested, what do you really have to lose?
GA: I suppose…
GA: I suppose you’re right.
GA: I will talk to her the next time I see her.
CG: Let me know how it goes.

 carcinoGeneticist [CG] has ceased pestering grimAuxiliatrix [GA]

terminallyCapricious [TC] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

TC: karbro
TC: i think im
TC: not doin so good
CG: What do you mean?
TC: i mean I’m motherfucking clean bro
TC: but its fucking with my head something crazy
CG: Yeah, that’s what happens when you quit cold-turkey after being on God knows what for years.
CG: Just keep breathing, dude.
CG: You’ll be fine.

 carcinoGeneticist [CG] has ceased pestering terminallyCapricious [TC]

caligulasAquarium [CA] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

CA: kar
CA: i really got to talk to you about somethin
CG: God, what is this, ‘harass Karkat with menial problems’ hour?
CA: my problems are anythin but menial
CA: i dont fuckin need this from you i take enough shit as it is from the rest a you i thought you and me had a kinda pact or whatever
CG: Ok fine, shut up, I apologize. I know it’s tough being you.
CA: nobody gets it
CA: im havin a harder time than anybody with this school
CA: its really fuckin unfair what challenges i get saddled with
CA: i would fuckin murder to just get blinded or paralyzed and just fuckin deal with that
CA: but no
CA: im like the only trans kid in this fuckin shithole town
CA: and my house is so lonely sometimes
CA: hey guys anybody want to come hang out with me in the home of wrath and angels
CA: anybody at all I know it isn’t anything like one of your flippin picnics
CA: anybody please ill even settle for the kittycat shipper girl
CA: but that had to be my most humiliatin rejection yet
CG: Ok, but to be fair, I’m pretty sure she was still obsessed with me.
CG: The whole thing was a very unfortunate, very unrequited situation I tried to tiptoe around for a long time.
CG: Her disinterest in your advance wasn’t a reflection on you at all.
CG: Come on, we talked about this.
CA: yeah, i guess
CG: Anyway I don’t know how you were expecting to make any sort of traction if you see her as the kittycat shipper girl, she’s a person with feelings, you raging douche.
CA: i know kar its not even the point im over that embarrassment
CA: im just saying where the fuck were you guys
CA: im dealing with this shit all by myself
CG: Yeah and I’m sorry about that but I just don’t see how I can help.
CG: I thought Feferi was kind of assisting you with stuff.
CA: she cut contact with me after new years
CG: Yeah, from what I heard you busted in and got in a fistfight with her boyfriend.
CG: Fuck, I’d cut contact after that too.
CA: she was supposed to come with me
CG: Come with you where?
CA: im leavin’
CA: headed up north to the bay area
CA: there’s a doctor there who can help me without parental consent
CA: maybe gettin me out of this fuckin body before it changes too much will help
CG: Eridan, don’t be stupid.
CG: Changing your appearance isn’t going to change how we see you.
CG: A lot of your problems, to be frank, have to do with how you treat people, not the other way around.
CG: I’m not saying you shouldn’t transition or whatever you want to do.
CG: But running away is completely fucking ridiculous.
CA: kar i swear you have no idea what youre talkin about
CG: Believe me, I do.
CG: I’ve spent years trying to look like someone else and things didn’t change at all until I tried being someone else.
CA: you dont see how people look at me
CA: or what its like trying to look for a gender neutral bathroom
CA: just trying to pee somewhere im not gonna get harassed
CA: or havin a dad who calls me by a name i hate and treats me like the gender im not
CG: Dude, my point is only that you can’t blame all your shortcomings on being trans.
CG: It’s not a free pass to act like a dickweed to everyone.
CG: Go if you want, it’s not my goddamn job to stop you.
CG: But I think going by yourself is stupidly dangerous.
CG: And where would you come back to?
CG: Your dad doesn’t know about any of this.
CA: i dont need him to find out im a stubborn 14 year old with a credit card
CG: Do you really think any hotel is going to put you up?
CG: And who gets your statements?
CG: You really need to think this through before you make any rash decisions.
CA: well
CA: i cant say thats what i wanted to hear
CG: Yeah, you just want me to blindly agree with you so you have some kind of validation on being an idiot.
CA: yeah but its probably what i needed to hear
CA: or read i guess
CA: i gotta go
CA: gotta talk to some other people
CG: Do whatever you need to do, man.

 caligulasAquarium [CA] has ceased pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

         After that, Karkat turned his phone off. He couldn’t take dealing with more shit. That was enough for one afternoon. He stuffed it into his pocket, along with his wallet and his housekey, before heading downstairs. He was on his way out the door when his dad came in with another man who looked vaguely similar to Sollux. They were both laughing.
         “I cannot believe that Hana got hitched,” Solomon said, just before literally bumping into Karkat. “Oh, hey, Karkat. This is my friend Simon,” he gestured toward the man, who gave Karkat a small wave. “from college. He and I and Dessie go way back.”
         “Yeah, you’re Sollux’s uncle, aren’t you?” Karkat asked, looking at Simon.
         “The resemblance is striking,” Karkat muttered.
         “So, where’re you headed, son?” Solomon asked, Karkat directing his attention back to him.
         “I was on my way to Dave’s. Movie night.”
         “Right. Okay, have fun. So, what were you saying?” Solomon turned back to Simon. Karkat watched them start to unload the groceries for a moment, as Dessie came bouncing down the stairs. She had the same energy as Meulin or Nepeta in that moment.
         “Simoooooon!” she called, leaping into a hug. Simon looked caught off guard.
         “Watch it, Dessie, you’re gonna make me jealous,” Solomon chuckled.
         “Anyway, yeah, Hana got married. To Spencer’s buddy Daniel, actually,” Simon continued the story. Karkat rolled his eyes and shut the door. They were about to start gossiping about his friends’ parents.

         Dave lived in a more urban part of town. Apparently before he moved out of “Bro”’s place, they were in a fancy-ass apartment on the top floor, in the town itself but on the other side, before the roads wound into the hills where Eridan and Feferi lived. Regardless, it was a bit of a ride on the bus. Karkat had thought about asking Kankri for a ride but he was at Cronus’ place anyway. Ever since they’d gotten back together they were practically fused at the hip. It was disgusting. It almost made Karkat regret giving Cronus advice. Almost.
          He made it over to Dave’s, a few coins jangling in his pockets as he climbed the stairs—the elevator seemed to be perpetually broken—to the 5th floor, then down the hall, third door on the right, and knocked. He was amazed he remembered the directions so well, having only been there once. It wasn’t Dave who opened the door, though, Karkat could only guess it was his older brother Dirk. He had the same blond hair as Dave, though slightly lighter, and styled back into spikes, and he was wearing stupid pointy anime shades.
          “’sup?” he asked, looking down at Karkat.
          “Hi… um… is Dave here?”
          “Oh, yeah, you must be Karkat.” Karkat nodded. “Come on in. Dave! Your boyfriend is here! M’name’s Dirk,” he introduced himself.
          “Nice to meet you,” Karkat said, shuffling a foot, not quite making eye contact with Dirk as they waited for Dave to appear.
          “He’s not my boyfriend!” Dave’s voice called from the hallway as he walked into the room, then turned red when he saw Karkat was already in the apartment. Karkat swore he saw the corner of Dirk’s mouth turn up in that signature Stri-londe smirk. There was something about that family.
          “Alright, well I’ll leave you to it,” Dirk said, retreating into the depths of the apartment. Dave didn’t say anything, just crossed the room to grab Karkat’s hand and pull him onto the couch.
          “Can’t believe you’re making me watch a zombie flick,” Karkat mumbled.
          “I promise you’re gonna like this one.”

          Surprisingly, Dave was correct. Karkat found himself pretty engrossed by the movie, neither of them making snide comments. When the movie ended, he was completely laying down, his head in Dave’s lap.
          “Told you you would like it.”
          “Alright, yes, for once your selection did not suck ass.”
          “This is literally only the second time I’ve picked the movie.”
          “Yeah, and last time you made us watch Battlefield Earth,” Karkat huffed.
          “Your movies are not much better.”
          “You are blatantly incorrect, but fine. What would you suggest for next week?”
          “I don’t know, I think a romcom might actually be appropriate,” Dave muttered. He shifted his legs a bit and Karkat sat up. Oh fuck. Dave dropping a hint about Valentine’s Day? “Unless you had something specific in mind.” Dave’s hand slid into Karkat’s while they talked.
          “Maybe… we could go out again?” Karkat suggested. Dave’s hand clenched a bit.
          “Oh, uh, I don’t know.”
          “Not to a movie; maybe like… minigolf or something?”
          “I’d rather just… hang out here? Or at your place.”
          “Sorry,” Karkat muttered. “I just… all we’ve done is hang out and watch movies, and. I don’t… I’d rather… I want this to be something,” Karkat blurted. “There was a reason I asked you out, there was a reason we went on a date, and things seemed to go okay and now you’re all embarrassed and contrite?”
          “It’s complicated.”
          “Apparently I will never understand the enigma that is Dave Strider,” Karkat sighed. “Ugh. I don’t want to get into this. I only said we should go out because of Valentine’s Day.”
          “And that’s exactly why I don’t want to go out next week,” Dave said. “Another time.”
          “Okay. Fine… it’s fine,” Karkat grumbled. He stood up from the couch. “I’ll message you later.”
          Dave grabbed his wrist. “You don’t need to leave, Karkat.”
          “No, it’s fine. Let’s watch a show or something.”
          Karkat let a breath out through his nose and plopped back down. “Fine.” Dave smiled, flipping through the channels until he settled on some HBO comedy special.

          Karkat didn’t let that conversation get him down. It was nice to spend a little more of that afternoon with Dave, even if Dave passed out on him 20 minutes into the special. It was endearing, and Karkat brushed his hands through Dave’s hair. It was so soft. Karkat had anticipated Dave using a lot of product, but apparently it was naturally like that. Dave was so cute when he was sleeping. Well, Karkat thought he was cute all the time, but when he was asleep, only moreso. Karkat couldn’t help himself. He planted a soft kiss on top of Dave’s head.
          Eventually the comedy special ended and some ninja movie came on. Dave seemed to stir a bit, like he was partially awake, but it wasn’t evident until a sword-fighting scene came on and he bolted upright, sunglasses fallen off and eyes looking a million miles away. Karkat glanced at him, Dave’s breathing shaky and muscles tense.
          “Dave? Are you okay?” Karkat took his hand, trying to decipher what was happening. Shit, the swords. On the television. The sounds must have triggered him. Karkat muted the T.V., moving both his hands to Dave’s face. He turned Dave towards him, their eyes meeting. “Dave, Dave look at me. You’re okay, you’re with Karkat. You’re safe.”
          “Karkat?” Dave managed to stammer.
          “Yes, it’s me, it’s Karkat. Shhh, listen. Look at me. You’re okay.” Dave’s eyes seemed to refocus a bit. “Breathe. You’re okay.” Dave took a few slow breaths, then let his forehead sink onto Karkat’s shoulder, still shaking a bit. Karkat wrapped him into a hug. “You’re alright,” Karkat kept repeating. “I’ve got you."
          “S-sorry. It was the… the sound.”
          “The sound,” Karkat echoed. “I know.”
          “Fucking… threw me back to all those times on the roof… getting my ass beat…”
          “Shh, it’s okay. Dirk!” Karkat called, not knowing how else he could help.
          “Fuck, man, don’t call Dirk in here,” Dave muttered, laughing a little bit. “He’s already seen me break down too many times.”
          “Too late. And that means he can help you better than I can. Dirk!” Karkat called again. Dirk appeared in the main room, taking the scene in.
          “Oh fuck, swords on T.V.?” he asked. Karkat nodded and Dirk walked over, sitting down on the other side of Dave, placing a hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright, bro, you’re safe.” Dave shuddered a bit, then let go of Karkat.
          “I know, I know,” Dave muttered. “I’m fine, sorry.”
          Dirk nodded at Karkat. “Hey, order a pizza and get some drinks poured,” he said. Karkat stood, walking into the Strider kitchen. “Apple juice for him, orange soda for me, and help yourself to whatever else.”

          The pizza arrived, Dave managed to pull himself together, and the three boys spent the rest of the evening eating and cracking jokes. Dave cleared his throat.
          “Hey, Kar,” Karkat looked up, mid-way through a bite of pizza. “Sorry you had to see that. Some things just really freak me out.”
          "It’s fine, Dave,” Karkat answered. “You’ve been through some shit; it’s okay.”
          Dirk insisted on giving Karkat a ride home in his gaudy orange truck (“it’s ironic” okay, apparently that one ran in the family) and Karkat couldn’t help but dwell on the day’s events. He felt like it was going to put a damper on hanging out with Dave, like Dave might be too embarrassed after that to have movie night again, let alone go out on a date or anything. Ugh. Of course that shit would happen.

            And, of course, Karkat was forced to watch the most awkward proposition imaginable the next day. Vriska had been moping about something or other, Karkat couldn’t be bothered to figure out what her problem was. But he had a feeling that the idiocy of John Egbert was about to attempt to repair the damage. It happened during P.E., John bursting out of the locker room past Karkat and Gamzee (who did look all out of sorts) to run over to Vriska.
            “Uh… hey, Vriska.”
            “Oh! Hey, John!” Vriska answered. Karkat hated that he could hear this entire thing. “What’s up?”
            “Well. Um. …well, um, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I was just wondering if you… well… if you’d want to… maybe do something? With me?”
            “I w-was wondering if you’d want to maybe hang out for Valentine’s Day… you know… like a date?”
            “I…I just…wow. I mean, yeah! I’d love to hang out! I’m just surprised… you haven’t been talking to me a whole lot lately.”
            “Yeah… I’m sorry about that…” Karkat was basically seething with anger. Maybe it was contempt that John was refusing to take his romantic advice or bitterness that Dave didn’t want to have a Valentine’s date, but Karkat had to channel it somewhere, and that somewhere became a message to John that afternoon.

 carcinoGeneticist [CG] began pestering ectoBiologist [EB]

EB: did your finger slip on the button again?
EB: i never asked for your advice.
EB: ew
EB: what reason would i have to think you were actually trying to help?
EB: from my perspective it looks like you told dave to stop flirting with terezi because 1) you used to like her and 2) you wanted dave for yourself
EB: so it seems like you’re actually the selfish one here.
EB: i don’t know, you really hate her for something!
EB: maybe it’s payback!
EB: maybe you’re trying to emotionally hurt her or some shit
EB: wait you thought i was cute?

           Of course Karkat had to let that slip, as if things weren’t goddamn complicated enough.

EB: do i just attract dudes or something?
EB: fucking
EB: you’re really such a jerk sometimes.
EB: go suck dave’s dick or something and stop giving me a hard time.

            Fuck, that wasn’t even an unwarranted proposition; Karkat would probably go for it if Dave asked. The problem was that Dave didn’t seem to want a real relationship, which was exactly what Karkat was trying to get.

EB: i will hang out with whoever i want to hang out with
EB: romantically involved or otherwise
EB: i won’t, cause that’s not gonna happen.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] has ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB]

            Why even bother? Why even goddamn bother trying to help people? It was a waste of Karkat’s time and energy that could otherwise be channeled into fixing his own problems. He decided to send one other message.

 carcinoGeneticist [CG] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG]

 CG: Hey
CG: If you’re embarrassed about what happened this weekend and that’s why you haven’t been talking to me
CG: Don’t worry about it
CG: I should have realized when the movie came on that there would be swords
CG: And I should have realized that might be an issue for you.
TG: hey
TG: dude its fine
TG: im sick of that shit happening
TG: was just gonna message you to see if youre still down for movie night this week
CG: Oh
CG: Yeah
CG: I didn’t think you’d want to
TG: of course i want to
TG: i owe you a kiss on top of the head
CG: Shit, you noticed that?
TG: i notice everything dude
CG: Don’t lie to me, you were asleep, you fuck.

             And just like that, they were back to normal.

Chapter Text

            Karkat couldn’t help but glance at Cronus across the table every time he looked up. It took everything in his power not to just glare at him. Kankri may have forgiven him, but Karkat hadn’t, even if he’d been the one to give him advice in the first place. Meulin was also weirdly put off by him, but if Karkat had to guess, Cronus had probably hit on her at some point. Solomon and Dessie seemed a bit befuddled as well—after all, he’d hurt their son—but were faking sincerity a lot better than Karkat was managing.
            “So, remind me, how long have you two been dating?” Solomon asked.
            “Uh… well,” Cronus stammered, eyes darting over to Kankri. “How long’s it been… 9 months?”
            “Are you counting from the beginning or since Kankri took your groveling ass back?” Karkat growled. Kankri kicked him underneath the table.
            “Karkat, please, don’t be rude,” Kankri chided, sounding more embarrassed than preachy for once. Nepeta and Meulin exchanged a look, then started signing at each other rapidly. Meulin made a gesture and Nepeta cackled, but judging by Dessie’s glare it was probably something inappropriate.
            “Girls!” she said sternly. “Be polite.”
            “Oh my goodness, I am so sorry,” Kankri said, burying his head in his hands.
            “It’s fine, babe,” Cronus said, seemingly unfazed by the family’s behavior. Kankri, however, was increasingly embarrassed.
            “Father, may we please be excused?” he asked, basically pleading for a means of escape.
            “Hold on a minute,” Solomon answered. “Cronus, I apologize. We’re not usually like this.” What a lie; they were always like that. “But you must understand, Kankri was very distraught after what happened. Now I trust his decision to give you a second chance, but everyone is a bit wary.”
            “Nah, I get it,” Cronus said, preparing to smooth-talk his way out of the situation. “You’re just looking out for him. We’re on the same page, really. We both just want Kan to be happy. I fucked up; I acknowledge that, and I know how lucky I am to even be with him right now. It’ll never happen again. Things are different now. I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life.” Karkat rolled his eyes. Cronus sounded mostly genuine, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t “fuck up” again.
            “Might I ask what’s different this time?” Solomon prodded, raising a single inquisitive eyebrow.
            “Well, Kan and I had a long talk about it, and we both made some concessions. I promised to take things more seriously, make an effort to be more present in his life, ya know? And he—”
            “Shut. Up. Cronus,” Kankri hissed, a bit terse. Cronus let out a little sigh and sank in his seat. Solomon’s eyes darted from Cronus to Kankri, and then he cleared his throat.
            “Well, if you two have an understanding, and are happy, that’s fine by me. You’re always welcome here, Cronus,” he said, looking back at Cronus.
            “Thanks, man. Er—I mean, Mr. Vantas.”
            “Thank you, father. Now may we please be excused?” Kankri repeated.
            “Yes, you can go,” Dessie answered. Despite his words, Solomon didn’t look like he’d made his mind up about Cronus. Kankri stood immediately, walked around the table, and hoisted Cronus up, pulling him upstairs.
            “I smell something fishyyyy!” Nepeta sang. Karkat set his fork full of food back down, not sure what to make of Nepeta’s insinuation.
            “God,” he muttered, “I just lost my appetite. I think I’m done too.”
            “Good!” Solomon said with the biggest fake smile he could muster, then let it immediately drop when he spoke again. “You three can do the dishes. I think Dessie and I have some things to talk about.” The two adults quickly left the table, leaving just Karkat, Nepeta, and Meulin. Meulin immediately let out a laugh.
            “Ahahaha, did you see how embarrassed Kankri was?”
            “Why do you think he wanted to get out of here so fast?” Nepeta asked. Oh god, Karkat didn’t want to know how Meulin was going to respond to that.
            “Why do you think?” Meulin chirped, before miming sucking a dick. Nepeta laughed along with her sister, but Karkat couldn’t help but be mortified.
            “Would you two knock it off? That’s my brother; that’s the last thing I want to think about him doing.”
            “Don’t be such a baby, Karkat,” Nepeta pouted at him.
            “I’m not being a baby! Do you want me to stand here and talk about how Meulin sucks off Kurloz?”
            Nepeta faltered, squinting her eyes and turning towards Meulin. “Ewwwwwwww…”
            “I do not!” Meulin shouted.
            “Oh please,” Karkat rolled his eyes before walking down the hall.
            “Where do you think you’re going?” Meulin called after him.
            “To pee! Stop being so fucking nosy.” He turned in the hall, but thought better of using the downstairs bathroom. It was well-known in the house that you could hear everything in the master bedroom from in there, as Kankri was one to discover on an unfortunate afternoon and later described in an uncomfortable amount of detail to Karkat later. He had no idea why everyone in the house was obsessed with talking about sex. In that moment, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know what Dessie and his father were discussing, so he went upstairs. Maybe he was wrong about Cronus. It was entirely possible. He’d been wrong about Dave, and he felt vaguely guilty about his snide comments at the dinner table. Kankri’s door was the slightest bit open, just a crack. Fine, Karkat conceded. He would apologize. He stepped towards the bedroom door, starting to talk before he pushed it open a bit.
            “Hey, Kankri, just wanted to—AGH!”
            Both Cronus’ and Kankri’s eyes darted over to Karkat in horror. Cronus was on his knees in front of Kankri, one hand on Kankri’s dick and the other at his waist. Kankri’s pants and underwear were pulled down a bit, and his dick was up like a mailbox flap with Cronus’ lips around it. All three of the boys froze for a moment, just staring wildly at each other. Cronus pulled away, wiped his mouth and stood up and Kankri covered himself, stammering wildly at his brother. “K-Karkat, I— p-please don’t tell father.”
            Karkat slammed the door. “Shut up and put your pants back on! Holy fuck!”

            Karkat had to lock himself in his room, turning his computer on and pulling up YouTube in a futile attempt to sear the image out of his mind. Pesterchum alerted him to another thing to occupy his mind. 

twinArmageddons [TA] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

TA: hey
CG: Hey.

twinArmageddons [TA] is now an idle chum!

CG: Sollux?
TA: yeah, sorry
TA: sup?
CG: I don’t know, you messaged me.
TA: right
TA: i dunno, i’m not feeling myself right now
CG: Jeez, what else is new?
TA: ugh
TA: why do i ever think i can talk to you seriously?
CG: Please.
CG: I am not the friend you message when you want to have a serious talk.
CG: I am the friend you message when you want to get your mind off your shitshow of a life and kick my ass at Overwatch.
TA: shit man you’re right
TA: wanna play a few rounds?
CG: Fine, but you can’t use Bastion
TA: fuck

            At the very least, it proved to be a distraction for a little while, even if Karkat got chided for bailing on helping with the dishes.
            “I thought you were supposed to help the girls clean up dinner last night,” his father told him the next morning. 
            “Yeah, well, I walked in on Kankri getting a blowjob so forgive me if my mind wasn’t clear,” Karkat bit back. Kankri glared at him from the couch.
            “I asked you not to tell, you… you… FUCKER!” Kankri shouted. Ho. Ly. Shit. Karkat could not believe Kankri was that worked up. Solomon set his jaw.
            “Right. Okay, boys. In my office.”
            “But— ” Kankri objected.
            “Now!” Solomon said, his voice booming with authority. Both Vantas children scrambled into Solomon’s office as fast as they could make themselves, leaving Nepeta and Meulin staring befuddledly at their mother.
            “Don’t worry, ladies, we get our own talk later,” she said with a smirk.

             Karkat sat on the floor of his father’s office, while Kankri took the chair in the corner. Solomon was standing, leaning forward with both his hands on the desk. “Okay boys, since it doesn’t seem like I can put this off anymore, it’s time for… The Talk.” Karkat’s eyes widened, then he shot a glare at Kankri.
            “This is all your fault,” he growled.
            “My fault?! If you hadn’t said anything, we wouldn’t be dealing with this right now! Besides, you’re off with Dave all the time doing God knows what.”
            “Excuse me?!” Karkat snarled. Kankri was pushing all his buttons. “You great blubbering hypocrite! For your information, Dave and I kissed. Once. Meanwhile you’re getting sucked off while preaching about celibacy.”
            “Enough!” Solomon immediately put an end to the argument. “Both of you will sit down and pay attention. Kankri, you are a bit of a late bloomer, which there is no shame in, and Karkat, you’re getting to that age anyway, and I only want to have this conversation once. Stop fighting with each other and listen to your father, or so help me I will put both of you through the GODDAMN ringer.” Solomon rarely brought out that authoritative voice, but when he did, the Vantas boys knew to take things seriously. Both of them sat back down after that. “Good. Now… clearly this isn’t just a biological discussion, because both of you are dating guys. So, we’re going to start with the basics. Condoms.”
            “Dad, Cronus and I are not having sex.”
            “Oral sex is sex, Kankri.”
            “No buts. Now…”         

            After about an hour and a half of the most uncomfortable situation imaginable, Karkat hid himself away in his bedroom again. He logged into his computer, pulling up the web browser and running a couple Google searches. His dad had talked about the physicality of relationships, but he needed help with the emotional aspect. He and Dave had had a few more movie nights since Dave had his panic attack, but still no other date dates. Karkat typed into the searchbar, ‘how to ask a guy to be my boyfriend’. It was stupid, and probably wouldn’t help at all, but Karkat still clicked on the useless wikihow article. As anticipated, it was all very basic and pedestrian, and recommended going out on more than one date. Just reading that sentence made Karkat want to smash his keyboard.

 carcinoGeneticist [CG] began pestering turntechGodhead [TG]

 CG: Okay, dickweed.
CG: Time to stop putting this off.
TG: what
CG: We’re going on another date.
CG: A real date.
TG: sure thing
TG: what did you have in mind sweetcheeks
CG: You’re insufferable.
TG: you love it <3
CG: Ignoring that for the moment
CG: There’s a karaoke place downtown.
TG: oh shit
TG: yeah man i am so down for that
TG: i can finally show you what a dope rapper i am
CG: Please never string together those words again.
TG: yo im fly as fuck
CG: Now you’re trying too hard to sound terrible.
TG: you know it
TG: hows tomorrow
CG: Tomorrow’s fine.

 carcinoGeneticist [CG] has ceased pestering turntechGodhead

            Karkat didn’t stress himself out about the second date as much as he had about the first, even though it had been literal months, which he imagined was out of the ordinary. He caught a ride with Kankri, who was incredibly upset with him, feeling as though he’d fallen out of grace with their father.
            “I really don’t appreciate that little stunt you pulled yesterday.” Kankri said, his posture stiff and gaze focused on the road.
            “What, telling Dad?”
            “Shit, dude, it just kind of slipped out. Besides, how the fuck do you think I felt?” 
            “You shouldn’t have just barged into my bedroom like that.”
            “I was trying to apologize for being a jerk at dinner. And your door wasn’t closed all the way, just so you know; be more careful next time. And also, Dad’s not even mad. You’re acting like he went all ballistic on you because I ratted you out or some shit, but he just gave us the ‘safe sex’ talk which would already be uncomfortable for you and me but he was uncomfortable too talking about us being with guys.”
            “What do you mean?”
            “Don’t you think Dad was being kind of awkward about neither of us turning out straight?”
            “Well… I suppose…”
            “Besides, if anything I should be upset with you for subjecting me to the torture that was The Talk. Anyway, neither him nor Dessie think it’s weird for a couple of hormonal 17-year-olds–”
            “Cronus is 18.”
            “—to explore their sexuality with each other, since Dad and Dessie were probably doing the same thing at 17.” Kankri was silent for a moment. “So was that the compromise you made? Cronus promised to take the relationship more seriously and you promised to put out?”
            “Not exactly. I will remain celibate until my 18th birthday. Until then, well… Cronus convinced me that other things don’t necessarily ‘count’, as it were.”
            “Ugh, okay, point made. What made you change your mind? You were pretty sex-repulsed for a while there.”
            “Karkat, just because I was not partaking in sexual acts doesn’t mean I didn’t want to. In fact, it is very difficult to stave off desire. Cronus was sexually frustrated, I was sexually frustrated… it makes sense. That frustration was the only reason he invited Damara over in the first place. Not because she cares about him as I do,” Kankri explained, his tone turning bitter when talking about Damara. “So… that’s the kind of thing we talked about the day you ran into him.” Karkat sighed, remembering it was the same day as his first date with Dave. “Hey… you alright?” Kankri asked. Karkat was a bit surprised; normally Kankri would have gone on an absolute rant about his own problems. For someone who claimed to have others’ best interests in mind, he never really talked about them seriously and very often gave backhanded compliments. Karkat remembered the time Kankri told Mituna not to wear his helmet because it made other handicapped people look bad, even though Mituna was one of those people who needed his goddamn helmet.
            “Yeah, I’m fine, I guess. I just… I don’t know. I’m kind of jealous you even have a boyfriend.”
            “Well, you have Dave.”
            “Yeah, but he’s all weird whenever I mention wanting to title it.”
            “I’m not sure I can help you with that.”
            “I didn’t think so,” Karkat grumbled. Kankri pulled into the parking lot, not really sure what else to say. He wanted, one day, to be as well-spoken as their father. The most major obstacle was learning when to shut up. Kankri sighed as Karkat hopped out of the car. “God, this sucks,” Karkat grumbled to himself as he walked up to the karaoke place. Dave was already waiting outside, leaning up against the brick wall until he saw Karkat walking up.
            “Hey Vantass. What’s up?” Dave said, his smug little smile appearing. Karkat rolled his eyes.
            “Why… why are you like this.” Dave barely covered a little snort of laughter.
            “You know you like it.”
            Karkat smiled a bit. “Yeah.” As Dave turned to walk inside, Karkat decided to make a grab for his hand. Dave paused for a second, glancing back at Karkat before slightly pulling his hand away. What the fuck. This put Karkat off throughout the entire date. He couldn’t even smile at how Dave actually managed to get through Eminem’s Rap God, proving that he could rap, it was just his lyrics that sucked. At the end, Dave made a gesture like he was going to drop the mic, but didn’t actually do it, instead pulling it back up for a moment.
            “Please do not drop the mic, audio equipment is expensive,” he said to the crowd. A few people chortled, but Karkat was surly as ever. “Your turn, KV,” Dave said as he sat back down. Karkat huffed as he walked up to the stage, and began flipping through the song selection until he saw the perfect title. The music began and Karkat started to sing, watching Dave smirk up at him from their table the entire time.
            “When you were here before,
            couldn’t look you in the eye.
            You’re just like an angel.
            Your skin makes me cry.
” Dave’s smirk faded.
            “You float like a feather,
            in a beautiful world.
            I wish I was special.
            You’re so fucking special.
            But I’m a creep.
            I’m a weirdo.
            What the hell am I doing here?
            I don’t belong here.
” Karkat felt the weight of the lyrics, closing his eyes.
           “I don’t care if it hurts.
            I want to have control.
            I want a perfect body.
            I want a perfect soul.
            I want you to notice,
            when I’m not around.
            You’re so fucking special.
            I wish I was special.
            But I’m a creep,
            I’m a weirdo.
            What the hell am I doing here?
            I don’t belong here,
” Karkat felt himself tearing up through the second chorus, but he didn’t even care.
           “He’s running out again,” his lips changed the pronouns before he could even process. He opened his eyes a bit, looking at Dave, whose expression was turning to a mix of concern and embarrassment.
            "He’s running out… he run, run, run, run, ruuuuuun!
” Karkat was seriously crying at that point and he didn’t know how to make it stop. 
            "Whatever makes you happy.
             Whatever you want.
             You’re so fucking special.
             I wish I was special.  
             But I’m a creep,
             I’m a weirdo.
             What the hell am I doing here?
             I don’t belong here,
” Karkat’s voice grew quiet as he wiped the tears off his cheeks. “I don’t belong here,” he simply spoke the last line, putting the microphone back on its stand and walking down the stage stairs, leaving the audience unsure of whether to clap or not. Karkat didn’t sit back down, he just walked past the table towards the entrance doors. Dave stood, following him.
            “Kar! Karkat!” Karkat didn’t want to wait for him. He kept moving, walking down the street. “Karkat, wait up!” Dave kept calling after him. Karkat started walking faster, hearing the sound of Dave’s converse hitting the pavement as he chased after him and eventually caught up, actually pulling in front of Karkat. “Kar, what the fuck was that?”
            “You can stop acting like you care now, Dave. I’m tired of being on the receiving end of pity,” Karkat grumbled, trying to shove past Dave unsuccessfully.
            “What the hell are you talking about?”
            “Dude, what are you after here?” Karkat raised his voice. “I think I’ve made myself pretty fucking clear on what my intentions are but every time I actually try to act like we’re dating or whatever the fuck, you get all weird about it! I’m tired of letting you fuck around with my feelings, okay? In fact, I fucking hate this! Just figure it out already, your wishy-washy bullshit is making me hate myself even more than I already did. So what the fuck is your issue? Am I not good enough for you? If that’s the case fucking say it instead of saying yes when I ask you out. Just cut me off, because I can’t keep playing your goddamn games.”
            Dave glanced around. People were starting to stare a bit. “Karkat, I think you’re, uh, looking for more than I am.”
            “So… what, I’ve been wasting my time hanging around?”
            “Nah, man, I like hanging out with you. I just… don’t really want a commitment right now,” Dave said, his face giving away nothing.
            “God, you’re such a prick!” Karkat shouted, tearing up again as he pushed past Dave.
            “Kar, Kar, Kar, wait, no,” Dave said, grabbing Karkat’s shoulder and jerking him around to face him again. “I’m not sure I understand what I’ve done wrong.”
            “Dave, I don’t want to just hang around, okay? God, why is this so fucking difficult? I want you to be my boyfriend. I don’t want you to be embarrassed to hold hands with me, and peck me on the cheek, and do cheesy stupid duets at the karaoke place, and ruffle my hair, and do all the stuff every fucking normal couple gets to do instead of rescind like I just threw up on your shoes every time I try to show you some kind of goddamn affection. If this was all bullshit, then why did you always flirt so hard with me? I don’t fucking get it.”
            Dave faltered for a moment. “It wasn’t all bullshit, Karkat, I… ugh. You wouldn’t understand.”
            “Try me, asshole.”
            “Man, it’s really complicated and I just…”
            “I’ve had it with your ‘it’s complicated’ nonsense, okay? It really just feels like you’re jerking me along or something,” Karkat said, starting to walk away again.
            “‘But’ nothing, assmunch!” Karkat shouted one last time. Dave took a step towards him, grabbing his hand. Karkat yanked away from him, trying to keep himself from crying again. “Leave me alone!” he said, not even wanting to look at Dave for any longer than he had to. Thankfully he was rescued by a passerby, a man who looked like he could decapitate someone with pure strength alone.
            “Is there a problem here?” the guy said, staring Dave down. Dave, amazingly, seemed to shirk in place.
            “N-no problem, sir,” Dave stammered.
            “Really? Cause it seemed like you were harassing this kid here.”
            “It’s okay, sir,” Karkat said. “I was just leaving,” he hissed at Dave before making his way to the bus stop.

Chapter Text

            Karkat and Dave didn’t speak to each other for quite a while after that. Karkat was still bitter and angry, and he doubted Dave even cared, seeing as he wasn’t making an attempt to explain anything. It had been a month, and no progress was being made, both of them being too stubborn to do anything, apparently. The next time Karkat heard anything from Dave was in a group memo Sollux started. Karkat was lounging around in the living room while Nepeta and Equius were doing some homework at the kitchen table.

twinArmageddons [TA] started group message: aradia’s birthday shenanigans

TA: okay guys, so
TA: aradia’s been away from skaia high for a couple months,
TA: but i thought it would be cool of us to throw her a surprise party.
TA: i’ve already arranged things with her dad, and tavros and i are taking care of snacks and decorations.
TA: all you guys have to do is show up to prospit park at 4:30 on friday.

adiosToreador [AT] has responded to memo

AT: actually, if anyone wants to help me set up, that’d be great

cuttlefishCuller [CC] has responded to memo

CC: Shore! I’d love to be there for Aradia.
CC: I can’t help set up, though. I have swim practice after school.
CC: Sorry, Tav.
AT: that’s fine

arachnidsGrip [AG] has responded to memo

AG: You mean you’ve actually done something helpful, toreadork?
AT: um, yeah, actually
AT: sollux told me about this on friday
AT: we’ve been planning
AG: Whatever, as if I’d go to a surprise party for ARADIA, of all people.
AG: Finally gonna ask her out, Lispy McAsshat?
TA: maybe.
AG: Hahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!
AG: Fine, I’ll show up just to watch that disaster unfold.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] has responded to memo

CG: What the fuck is your problem?

ectoBiologist [EB] has responded to memo

EB: wow, vriska, calm down.
CG: Aradia has always been a good friend.
CG: I don’t get why you hate her so much.

grimAuxiliatrix [GA] has responded to memo

GA: Yes, Aradia has been helping me with my romantic problems, despite having her own, and despite being quite away from us.
GA: I would love to attend.
CG: Yeah, shut the fuck up, Serket.
CG: I’ll go.

turntechGodhead [TG] has responded to memo

TG: im in
TG: rose and jade too probably
TA: are they not in the chat?
TG: i dunno theyre not online right now
TG: but im seeing rose later so ill let her know

       “Hey Nepeta, there’s a party for Aradia’s birthday this Friday,” Karkat announced, leaning his head back over the back of the couch to look at her and Equius.
       “Oh, is that why Pesterchum’s going nutso right now?”
       “Yeah, do you wanna go?”

CG: Nepeta says she’ll come too.
TA: if you hear from gz, let him know too
CG: Yeah, okay.
CG: He’s been making himself scarce lately.

       It was true; the last time Karkat had heard much out of Gamzee was shortly after New Year’s. He was in class, but had been spending lunchtime elsewhere.

 TA: yeah I know
CC: Eridan wants to know if he’s invited.
TA: eugh
TA: yeah i guess
TA: equius too
TA: though that might be awkward

        “Equius, you’re on the guest list too,” Karkat said.
        “Really? I didn’t think Miss Droog would want me there.”
        “Yeah well Sol is in charge and he said it’s cool, so…”
        “Very well then, I will attend.”
        “Can’t you two assholes let him know yourself? Whatever…”

CG: He’s here too.
CG: He says he’ll go.
TA: ff what the fuck is eridan doing at your house?
CC: We’re still friends, Sollux!
TA: whatever
AG: Okay, we’re all fucking going, can this pointless chat end now?
TG: what about Terezi

            Ugh, ever since their argument, Dave had been back to being attached to Terezi. Together, they made a blind idiot.

 CG: Why don’t YOU tell her, Strider
TG: no need to be jealous karkles
TG: you know id never dream of anyone but you
TA: you two are fucking gross.
TA: see you all at the party, then.
CG: You’ll see us at school tomorrow, dipshit.
AG: Hey, yeah, why couldn’t this idiocy have waited for then?
TA: fuck, this just seemed easier.
TA: you don’t have to get up my ass about it.
EB: oh, tavros, i’ll help you set up if you want!
AT: oh, yeah
AT: thanks, john

 twinArmageddons [TA] has closed group chat: aradia’s birthday shenanigans

             Karkat frowned at his phone. Why was everything so difficult?
            “Hey Karkitty!” Nepeta called.
            “I’m gonna head over to Equius’ place.”
            “’kay,” Karkat answered as Nepeta and Equius walked out the door. He collapsed facedown onto the couch, only barely cognizant of his father walking into the room to putter around in the kitchen.
            “Karkat, you okay?”
            “Do you want to talk about it?”
            “Alrighty then,” Solomon hummed, pacing around, pilfering the cupboards for a snack.
            “Dave still hasn’t talked to me.”
            “Then it might be in your best interest to move on; I know that’s not what you want to hear.”
            “And Gamzee’s been acting stranger than usual, and Eridan is being a prick and… basically all my friends are clinically insane and I can’t fucking handle it anymore.”
            “Karkat, all you can really do it look out for yourself,” Solomon said, finally actually looking at Karkat from over the counter. Karkat sat up, watching his father. He always had the most thoughtful expressions. Karkat may have been dealt a bad lot in life, but at least the family was pretty damn good, and it was clear that his father loved him a lot. “Life isn’t smooth, and all relationships are difficult, even friendships. You can’t expect to control everything.”
            “I know, I just… everything is such a mess right now.”
            “Things will work out, Karkat. Don’t stress yourself out about it.” Solomon smiled at Karkat. Karkat didn’t quite smile back, but his frown softened a bit.
            “Thanks, Dad,” Karkat muttered. His phone went off again as Solomon left the room.

terminallyCapricious [TC] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

TC: honk
CG: Gamzee!!!
CG: Fuck.
CG: There you are, you’ve had me worried, dude.
CG: Uh
CG: Yeah
CG: Where have you been anyway?
TC: honk
TC: honk
CG: Yeah, I get it, wise guy, you’re a fucking clown, who cares?
CG: Quit the bullshit partyclown antics and get your ass over here.
CG: The shit has hit the fan and I really need my best friend right now.
TC: shut up
CG: What…?
TC: honk honk honk
CG: Dude.
CG: Are you okay?
CG: You’re really freaking me out.
TC: uh, yeah…
TC: but it’s all good, i’m chill with it
CG: Oh God.
CG: No no no, please don’t tell me you went crazy, I couldn’t take that on top of all this.
CG: I’m just freaking the fuck out.
TC: heh heh
CG: “Heh heh”??
CG: What the fuck is wrong with you?
CG: Seriously, come over here now, and smoke some pot to relax or something.
TC: there is no more pot, brother.
TC: shit was motherfuckin poison, didn’t you know?
CG: Uh…
CG: No? I mean, I would never do it, but…
TC: it rots you
TC: and the floor all stares up back at you through the motherfuckin hole
TC: only under motherfuckin standing of who all i was made out to be all along
CG: Oh my God.
CG: No no no no no no no
TC: i’ve been kicking the wicked ignorance on this shit
TC: all up in lifelong denial about who i’m supposed to be
TC: we are better than you, brother
TC: honk
CG: Gamzee
CG: Please, no.
TC: and now, i finally motherfuckin understand
TC: they were always both me
TC: and now
TC: i am going to motherfuckin kill all your motherfuckers
CG: Oh God
CG: Oh man
CG: Oh God
CG: Equius?
CG: Oh man
CG: Oh God

 carcinoGeneticist [CG] has ceased pestering terminallyCapricious [TC]

            Karkat was out the door as fast as he could move. Gamzee had honestly scared the absolute shit out of him, but left no doubt that he actually would kill Equius without intervention, and then probably Nepeta. Karkat found himself running, sprinting down the roads towards the Zahhak house, trying to work out how this was happening. It was no secret that Mr. Makara was corrupt as fuck. He was mayor but he was also probably a mafia boss or gang leader—Karkat was about 95% sure of that, and about 85% sure that was where ‘The Subjugator’ came from—and he showed no qualms about silencing, oppressing, and even straight-up murdering members of the lower class. But Kurloz was never like that; Gamzee was never like that. They were druggies, sure, but neither of them had ever hurt anyone (intentionally; there was Kurloz accidentally deafening Meulin, but he’d already shown remorse for that in the most morbid way possible.) Was Gamzee brainwashed or some shit? Karkat’s hands were shaking as he turned the last corner. Equius’ front door was open, and there was surprisingly no car in the driveway. Karkat ran in to a scene of complete mayhem. Equius was on the floor, seemingly trying to catch his breath, a thick string or wire of some kind abandoned beside him and bruises ringing around his neck. Gamzee’s juggalo makeup was smeared and messy, and he had a single long scratch across his face. It wasn’t too deep, but was bleeding profusely regardless, the pocketknife that appeared to have caused it cast aside, and Gamzee himself was standing over a cowering Nepeta. It looked like she’d taken more than one hit, a few bruises on her face and arms, and she was curled into herself, trying to protect her stomach as Gamzee circled around her and kicked her. There were dribbles of blood on the wall near them, and a small pool forming around Nepeta’s face.
            “Why won’t you stay down, motherfucker?!” Gamzee shrieked, kicking Nepeta again. She let out a small whimper, trying to keep herself together. Karkat set his jaw, thankful Gamzee hadn’t noticed him come in. He took a running jump and clung to Gamzee’s back, pulling him away from Nepeta long enough for her to recover her pocketknife, though she still had some trouble standing up. She scrambled over to Equius, making sure he was okay. Gamzee shook Karkat off, turning around to face him.
            “Karbro,” Gamzee said, not snarling as he had at Nepeta, but with a note of surprise in his voice.
            “Don’t you ‘Karbro’ me!” Karkat spat back, then immediately thought better of it. Shouting would only escalate things. He had to be peaceful; he had to talk Gamzee down off his rage-high… he had to be like his father.
            “You shouldn’t motherfuckin be here, motherfucker.”
            “Neither should you. Gamzee, we’re your friends. Why… why would you do this?” Karkat shifted himself so that he was standing between Gamzee and the recouping Nepeta and Equius.
            “Get out of the way,” Gamzee growled, a guttural quality to his voice.
            “Someone’s fucking with your head, man.”
            “You don’t want to hurt me. You don’t want to hurt them. This isn’t right.” Gamzee suddenly looked a bit confused, like he didn’t quite understand what was happening. Karkat kept talking. “There’s something wrong here, isn’t there? Take a breath, Gamzee. Look at me. We’re friends.”
            “Shhhh…” Karkat very hesitantly patted Gamzee’s shoulder, and a little bit of the fury that had been fueling Gamzee drained from his eyes. “Come on. This isn’t you. Where’s Gamzee? I want to talk to my pal,” Karkat said, his voice turning almost sweet. He was softly smiling a bit, trying to coax Gamzee out of a violent rampage.
            “My head’s all… fucked, man. Shit. I… I didn’t want to… didn’t mean to…” Gamzee put both hands on his head, gritting his teeth like he was in unsurmountable pain. “You sh-should go, man. Before this gets ugly again.”
            “Yeah, I’m gonna take Nep home,” Karkat said. “Are you okay? Can you keep it together for a bit?” Gamzee nodded a bit. “’kay. You should go, too, before someone calls the cops.” Gamzee slowly nodded again, then went out the front door. Karkat knew he should have stayed with him, but Nepeta was in a worse state at the moment. He turned around, facing Nepeta and Equius, only then truly letting his fear show. “Holy shit… are you okay, Equius?” Karkat asked. Equius was standing back up, and other than apparently being choked, he looked pretty okay. Nepeta was still sitting on the floor, clearly in pretty bad shape.
            “Yes… a bit unsettled, but I am physically fine. Nepeta jumped in when Mr. Makara attempted to, uh, choke me to death.”
            “He was literally trying to kill you?” Karkat asked. Equius grunted an affirmative. “Okay,” Karkat exhaled. “So you’ll be okay, if I take her home?”
            “Yes,” Equius answered again, and then he and Karkat hoisted Nepeta up, slinging one arm around Karkat’s shoulder. Her other hand was holding a towel up to her nose, which looked broken. Karkat shambled towards the door, Nepeta doing her best to walk along with him. “And Karkat?”
            “Please make sure she’s okay,” Equius said. Karkat nodded at him.

            “Karkat, I’m fiiiiine,” Nepeta insisted once he’d gotten her on the bus.
            “No you aren’t, you’re bleeding everywhere. Hang on, don’t lose that towel,” Karkat said while he fished his phone out of his pocket.
            “The bleeding is slowing down.”
            “Good, maybe you won’t have to go to the hospital,” he muttered at her. That would be ideal; Karkat hated hospitals. He took a breath and typed in the number to a local mental health clinic. “Hey… my name is Karkat Vantas, and… I think a friend of mine needs some help.” Karkat explained the situation, gave the woman Gamzee’s address, and hoped for the best. Any sane person would have called the police considering a murder attempt was just made, but Karkat didn’t really think that would actually help. He escorted Nepeta back inside and laid her down on the couch once they got home, calling out for Dessie.
           “Dessie! Dess, are you home?” he called out. She appeared in the hallway, peering down at Karkat.
           “What’s wrong, Karkat?” she asked. Karkat just pointed to the couch, and Dessie immediately darted over. “What happened?!” she insisted, probably wanting to exact revenge.
           “There was… a situation. With Gamzee,” Karkat explained, trying to leave details out.
           “I’m okay, Mom,” Nepeta insisted. Thankfully, Dessie was a nurse and could definitively tell that Nepeta was not okay. There was no internal bleeding, just a lot of bruises, and the only thing that was broken was Nepeta’s nose, which Dessie just set right then and there, concluding that Nepeta got off pretty lucky considering nothing was ruptured or too severely damaged.
           “Did you at least get a good shot in at him?” Dessie asked.
           “Yeah, I got ‘im with my pocketknife,” Nepeta smiled through the swelling around her nose and eyes. “Right in the face.”

           Gamzee wasn’t at school for the rest of the week, and as if Karkat’s life couldn’t go from one terrible situation to the next, Dave approached him the next day.
           “Hey… Karkat,” Dave said, a bit awkwardly. “How’s it, uh. How’s it going?”
           “Seriously? Practically a month and that’s the best you could come up with? I don’t even know what to say to that. How am I, let me see… oh yeah. I had my best friend committed yesterday, so there’s that. He beat the shit out of my sister and her best friend and guess who had to rescue them? That’s right! Fucking Karkat! I am so close to losing my goddamn mind, I really don’t have the mental capacity to deal with your shit, okay? I swear I’m gonna have a fucking breakdown and for once your bull isn’t fucking helping, alright? I can’t fucking do this anymore,” Karkat ranted. Dave didn’t say anything for a moment, and neither did Karkat. The two just looked at each other for a moment, until Dave pulled Karkat into a hug. Karkat was startled, but didn’t pull away either, until some asswipe jocks passed by and Karkat heard one of them mutter, “what a couple of faggots.” Dave stiffened, and Karkat yanked away from him, following the jocks down the hall.
           “Hey dicksniffer! You got a problem?” The two jocks turned around, one of them taking a few steps towards Karkat.
           “Kar, don’t,” Dave said behind Karkat.
           “You should listen to your boyfriend, freshmeat.”
           “Ouch, wow, I am so wounded by your insult.”
           “I don’t wanna see you and your fucking boy toy here displaying your blatant homosexuality in public.”
           “Okay, meathead, apparently I need to break this shit down for you. First of all, the assumption that two guys hugging must make them gay is absolutely fucking absurd. Just because your masculinity is more fragile than glass blown by a hummingbird doesn’t mean that affection actually is this weirdly feminine thing. I can hug my friend; it’s not a fucking anomaly. In fact, you should try it some time. Something tells me you didn’t get enough affection as a child. Secondly, even if we were a gay couple, that’s not a bad thing. It’s the 21st century, dipshit. I don’t know if you realize this, but newsflash! Gay people exist! And they’re allowed to do so in public, so get off your high horse.” Karkat scowled furiously at the guy, who had over a foot of height on him and was probably three years older. Karkat was prepared for a beating, but it didn’t happen.
           “Brigham, don’t. You’ll get suspended from the team,” the other guy said. Brigham grit his teeth, groaning as he walked away.
           “You got lucky this time.”
           Karkat exhaled, calming himself down a bit before he went back to Dave.
           “You’re an idiot,” Dave said.
           “Wow, thanks,” Karkat muttered. “What did you even do that for?”
           “Dunno. Seemed like you needed it.” Dave sighed. “I wanted to apologize for being so difficult.”
           “Yeah, whatever.”
           “Are you still mad at me?”
           “Of course I am! Asshole.”
           “Well I’m sorry! I’ve got issues, okay?”
           “And I don’t?!” Great, another screaming match, this time in the middle of the school hallways. “Everyone has issues!”
           “Alright… okay…” Dave calmed himself down. “I want to make this right, Karkat. Do you wanna come watch a movie tonight?”
           “Why the everloving fuck would I want to do that?” Karkat snarled.
           “Cause… I miss hanging out with you.”
           “Yeah, blow it out your ass. Talk to me when you’ve got an explanation.” Karkat walked away, leaving Dave dumbstruck in the hallway.

           Aradia’s birthday party was that Friday, and it seemed to be going well. Karkat spend a disproportionate amount of time explaining his relationship with Dave to Sollux, in order to avoid Gamzee, who he hadn’t even expected to make an appearance. His dad probably bribed the clinic or something. It would ruin the Makara image to have the youngest son locked up in a mental hospital. Eventually, Sollux had had enough of Karkat’s bullshit.
          “Dude, why the fuck do you care so much about Dave fucking Strider?” Sollux asked, glaring at Karkat. Karkat huffed.
          “Well… I guess. I mean. He and I have been hanging out a lot lately. Like one on one. I…” Karkat’s voice trailed off, not sure how much he was allowed to say.
          “KK, we both already know practically none of us are straight.”
          “Listen, Dave and I are” were, Karkat mentally corrected himself “kind of a thing? But he won’t” wouldn’t “call me his boyfriend. I don’t understand him sometimes.” Well, that much was true. The entire experience had been beyond confusing, and Karkat was not a patient person.
          “Went from hating him to fucking him,” Sollux muttered.
          “At least I could get someone to look twice at me. Besides, we’re not fucking.” Weren’t doing much of anything at the moment.
          “I didn’t mean it seriously! Jesus Christ.”
          “Shit, man, I don’t know! Wilder shit has happened.”
          “I was just teasing. I don’t think anyone should have sex until they’re, like, 16. At least.”
          “Man, at least that’s reasonable,” Karkat answered, grateful for the change of subject. “You should hear some of the shit Kankri spouts.”
          “Is he still doing that celibacy thing?”
          “Yeah,” Karkat answered, trying not to think about it too much, “but Cronus is really pushing him—” Karkat paused, his phone going off in his pocket. “Hang on, I’m getting a call.” Karkat glanced at his phone, the screen displaying Dessie’s name. He wandered away a bit, trying to get somewhere that wasn’t too noisy. “Hello?” he answered.
          “Karkat! Oh my God,” the voice was panicked and shaky, and it sounded like she’d pulled away from the phone a bit when she said ‘oh my God.’ “Karkat, honey, meet me at the hospi—there’s so much blood! – the hospital.”
          “What? Why? What’s going on?”
          “L-listen, just get Nepeta and get to the hospital, I have to—no, keep that there, it might staunch it a little—there’s not a lot of time to explain.”
          “What happened?” Karkat insisted.
          “I-it was… I came home, there’s a bullet, and blood everywhere, I… I—Solomon!” she shouted.
          “Is Dad okay?”
          “No, he’s… oh god. He’s been shot. I have to go!”
          “HOLY SHIT!” Karkat shouted, gathering everyone’s attention by mistake. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
          “Karkat, you FUCKER!” Sollux shouted back, stomping over. “Can you not lose your shit for one day?!”
          “Well excuse me, shithead. My dad just got shot.”

Chapter Text

             “Come on, Nepeta,” Karkat said, grabbing her wrist before running off, barely catching the look of concern on Kanaya’s face.
             “Karkat, shouldn’t we call a Lyft or something?” Nepeta asked after a few minutes.
             “Yeah… yeah, do that,” Karkat answered, his head spinning. God, everything was falling to shit. Why did life have to happen so fast, and why did his have to be a complete disaster all the time? Karkat took a breath. Maybe it would be okay. Gunshot wounds weren’t always fatal.

            By the time Karkat and Nepeta got to the hospital, Solomon already had a room and was being more than thoroughly examined, Dessie was trying not to cry on the phone with someone else, and Kankri was sitting aside, silent, his head down in his hands.
            “What’s happening?” Karkat asked, feeling nothing but an overwhelming panic. Dessie hung up her phone, blinking her tears away.
            “I-I-I walked in, and… oh, gosh, it was terrible. One in the shoulder, one partway through his liver… it’s lodged. They need to take it out to prevent infection but they’re worried about him bleeding out, and he already lost so much blood. God… Karkat, I’m so sorry, I should have been there, I could have…”
            “What? No, no, Dessie, don’t feel guilty. You’re the one that got him here,” Karkat said. Dessie sank into a chair next to Kankri, choking out a sob. Karkat didn’t know how to handle it, but apparently Nepeta did, as she crossed in front of Karkat and gave her mother a hug. Dessie took a breath, steadying herself.
            “God dammit,” she muttered. “Where’s Meulin? Uh… Simon and your grandmother are coming, too.” Dessie glanced back at her phone again, seeming more than a little frazzled, and very impatient. Karkat couldn’t just stand there and watch her face anymore. He peered into his father’s room through the window. It looked like he was stabilizing. The doctors were finishing closing up the wound on his shoulder. His hand went to the doorknob, hovering for a moment before he went inside.
            “Dad,” he muttered to himself.
            “He’s stable for the moment,” the doctor said. Karkat hadn’t realized he’d heard him come in. Solomon let out a murmur. Karkat couldn’t help but step closer, taking Solomon’s hand in his own.
            “S’alright… been through worse,” Solomon gave a weak smile despite himself. It was clear he wasn’t totally lucid; Karkat was a little amazed he’d said anything at all. He turned to Dessie when she walked in the room behind him.
            “Hang in there, love,” she said.
            “Dessie, do you… do you know who did this?” Karkat asked. “You said you walked up. Was anyone else there?”
            “Muh… Dar,” Solomon muttered. “Zahhak.” And then he dozed off.
            “Mr. Zahhak was leaving as I drove up,” Dessie answered. “I don’t know if they’ll believe me. It’s my word against his.”
            “Wha- what do you mean; there’s no evidence? No nothing?”
            Solomon stirred in his bed, shifting a bit, and Dessie indicated that it might be better for them to leave the room. “Karkat, honey,” she explained, “I wasn’t there; I don’t know if police did a thorough investigation. I don’t know. There’s a lot going on.”
            “Mom!” They both turned to see Meulin at the end of the hall. “What happened?” Karkat started pacing in the hallway as Dessie explained everything again. His phone went off.


twinArmageddons [TA] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

TA: hey KK
TA: how’re things looking?
CG: What, with my dad?
CG: Not good.
CG: He got hit right below the ribcage and it went through a vital organ…
CG: The kidney or liver or something?
CG: He bled a lot before Dessie got there.
CG: I don’t know, I’m too panicked to remember most details.
TA: what do the doctors think?
CG: I don’t know, dude!
CG: I’m getting all agitated even talking to you about this
CG: Pacing around the hallway in the hospital.
TA: shit dude im sorry
CG: Ugh
CG: It’s fine
CG: You’re just being a friend.
TA: i’d be lying if i said i wasn’t curious though
TA: weren’t your dad and my uncle simon pretty close?
CG: Still are.
CG: Dessie said he’s coming soon.
TA: huh
CG: And Nana Rosa
TA: that makes sense
TA: hey
TA: do they have any idea what even happened?
CG: What do you mean?
TA: well he got shot… someone had to be behind the trigger
CG: Right, right.
CG: No, he hasn’t been very lucid.
CG: He muttered something about Mr. Zahhak though.
TA: yeah, equius had to catch a ride home from Daniel
TA: which is weird
CG: Doesn’t he have a fucking butler for that?
TA: yeah that’s what’s weird
CG: Huh. Noted.
CG: Oh shit.
CG: Doctor’s back. Dessie looks… distraught.
CG: I have to go.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased pestering twinArmageddons [TA]

            Karkat tried to listen in on the conversation as the doctor told Dessie what was going on. It didn’t sound very positive. It was clear Kankri and Nepeta were trying to catch all the details as well, and Nepeta was signing everything she could hear to Meulin. The gist of it was that they were going to hold off on surgery for a couple days to see if his system would be fine without removing the bullet, but apparently it was doubtful because… more lead than normal bullets? Karkat wasn’t sure. Simon and Nana Rosa arrived before too long had passed. Simon seemed very agitated, and Nana Rosa made a point to go into the room immediately, stroking a hand on Solomon’s face as the rest of the Maryams piled into the hall. They were making quite a large crowd, up to 11 of them at that point. Kanaya hugged Karkat tightly, patting his hair a bit.
            “Are you okay, Karkat?”
            “As okay as I can be right now. How’re you doing?”
            “About the same. Is he okay?”
            “I don’t know… they’re going to keep him here for a few days.” Kanaya took Karkat’s hand, clenching it tight.
            “This family is a strong one. We can get through this.”
            Simon hugged Dessie, and then Malati hugged Dessie, and everyone was silent for a long time. Nobody knew what else there was to say; a family member was in the goddamn trauma center because someone broke into their house with a gun. Eventually, Karkat heard Dessie’s voice again; she was talking to his grandmother.
            “Um, Rosa, I hate to put you out, but do you think the kids could go with you tonight? I would prefer to stay here until Solomon is released, but I don’t feel comfortable with them staying here.”
            “What? No, I want to stay,” Kankri said. It was the first time he’d spoken all afternoon.
            “Kankri, please, no,” Dessie said. “Please, go home with your grandmother and get some rest.”
            “Dessie, with all due respect, you’re not my mother and you have no legal authority to tell me what to do.”
            “Excuse me?”
            “Not to mention I work here. I’m sure I could find somewhere to take a nap if my rest is really your concern.”
            “Kankri, don’t be rash,” Rosa said.
            “Come on! I’m practically an adult, and if I want to stay I should stay, right?”
            “You disrespectful little shit!” Simon shouted.
            “Simon, please!” Dessie matched his volume. “This is a family matter. And we are in a hospital! I will not tolerate arguing right now. Please. I am stressed out enough; we all are. So can we all… please just cooperate? Kankri, fine. If you want to stay, fine. The rest of you should go; it’s getting late and they’re going to make us leave soon.”
            “If Kankri gets to stay, I want to stay,” Karkat said.
            “Karkat, I—fine. Fine,” Dessie resigned much easier that time.

            That weekend was exhausting. Hospitals were terrible, and Karkat hated seeing his dad in such pain. It was quiet and serious and sterile. Kankri and Karkat were fidgety and anxious, waiting to get more news, and when they fell asleep it was just as restless. Karkat fell asleep in his chair in the hall, and Kankri wandered off to pass out somewhere else with employee-only access. On Sunday afternoon, the doctors finally came back, talking to Dessie about putting Solomon in surgery that night. Karkat was beginning to get too tired to eavesdrop anymore. Dessie nodded a few times, then the doctor walked away and Dessie came back over to the boys.
            “Okay, so… here’s what’s happening. Your father is going to be in surgery tonight… they’re going to try to take the lodged bullet out of his liver, and patch everything up, and hopefully everything will be fine!” Dessie explained. Her voice cracked, a clear indication of what little hope she had. “And… then they’ll release him tomorrow and we can all go home.” Karkat frowned. She was trying too hard to convince herself; it wasn’t at all convincing him. And the fact that Dessie was worried only had him worried, too. It didn’t help that they couldn’t go with Solomon when he was wheeled away into the surgery room; they couldn’t say anything else to him. They just had to sit. And wait. As Sunday bled into Monday, and Dessie didn’t say anything about the boys going to school—it seemed like a low priority at that point—Karkat’s worry only grew. Kankri sat up in his chair as someone ran down the hall in the same direction Solomon had been taken, and got up and followed. Karkat glanced back and forth down the hall, and then followed as well.
            “Boys, where are you going?” Dessie asked, and then she trailed behind them as well. Kankri seemed to know exactly where he was going, and the three moved through the halls faster than they had on any of the previous days. Karkat turned a corner to see Kankri arguing with the doctor to get access to the room, accompanied by the beeping of a heart rate monitor.
           “I’m sorry, Mr. Vantas, I can’t let you in there.”
            “You don’t understand, that’s my father, that’s my fucking father!” Kankri shouted. Karkat had never seen him so vitriolic and angry—usually that was Karkat’s thing. “Please let me in, I want to see him; I need to see him.”
            “Kankri, you don’t want to be in there right now,” the doctor repeated, softer that time, but Kankri stepped past her anyway—actually, it was more like shoving her aside—and went into the room. Karkat walked up to the doorway, Dessie behind him, and Kankri was standing at the foot of the bed, angry, bitter tears rolling down his cheeks as the doctors tried to staunch the bleeding from under his ribs. Solomon was struggling for breath. Kankri turned sharply to Karkat.
            “Karkat you need to get out of here,”
            “What? No! Why?!”
            “Please, just go, Karkat, I don’t…”
            “Kankri, you’re being stupid. He—”
            “I don’t want my baby brother to watch our father die!” Kankri shouted again. Karkat withered, then took a couple steps back, out of the room. With Dessie sounding so broken and Kankri shouting at him, things looked awful, and Karkat did something that, despite being part of a fairly religious family, he never did. Karkat got on his knees in the middle of the hospital hallways and he prayed.
            “Dear God…” he murmured to himself. “That sounded so stupid. I’m… I don’t know how to do this sort of thing. Please, my dad is a good person. He’s always followed your rules; he’s always done his best to do right by you, and he doesn’t hesitate to admit when he’s wrong. Don’t take him away. I’m only just now realizing how he does what he does, and I want to be able to do that, but I can’t if he’s… I think people need him. People need him to unify them, to show them how to fight back. To show them how to be better. I need him to show me how to be better. He doesn’t deserve… to die,” Karkat felt himself tearing up. “Amen…” and he stood up, and slouched against the wall. He could hear the heart monitor beeping. Bee-beep. Bee-beep. Bee-beep. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.
            Everything else inside the room was muted. Solomon was gone.

             Nobody said a word on the drive home. Dessie was trying incredibly hard not to lose her shit while she was driving, Kankri was contemplative, staring out the window, and Karkat was… well, he was crying, just letting tears roll down his cheek. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything or think anything else other than what was now fact. His father was dead.
            Nepeta and Meulin came back from Nana Rosa’s that afternoon, and were both told the bad news. Nepeta fell into a silence much like Karkat’s, whereas Meulin started bawling as soon as she heard. Dessie spent the rest of that day on the phone. Karkat couldn’t help but feel bad for her; having to explain over and over again to friends and family that Solomon was gone. She was the one who had to tell his best friend; she was the one who had to tell his sister; she was the one who had to tell his mother, for Christ’s sake. Karkat couldn’t listen to her crying on the phone anymore. He went upstairs, feeling simply numb by then, pointlessly booting up his computer.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] has started memo: FUCK

 CG: Hey everyone.
CG: So…
CG: Bad news…
CG: My dad…he…
CG: Didn’t make it.

cuttlefishCuller [CC] responded to memo

CC: Karkat, I’m so sorry!

turntechGodhead [TG] responded to memo

TG: fucking blows dude
CG: Don’t be sarcastic, Strider.
TG: im not
TG: it may shock you to know that i am in fact
TG: capable of sincerity
TG: give me the benefit of the doubt dude
TG: instead of hopping all over me the minute i open my mouth
TG: all up in my business like youre trying to hop on my dick
CG: GROSS, fuck off.

                    Karkat hardly even had the energy to be angry.

TG: nah man the fuck is on
TG: your sympathy fuck i mean
TG: looking for one?

twinArmageddons [TA] responded to memo

TA: wouldn’t put it past him
TG: haha nice one man

                   Why were they always like this? Why were all Karkat’s friends objectively terrible? He never asked for anything from them, and now, when all he needed was a little sympathy, all he got was a myriad of jokes and fucking around. It was more than a little infuriating.

CG: Stop ganging up on me, it’s seriously not cool.
CG: I’m having an honest to God crisis.

arachnidsGrip [AG] responded to memo

AG: Honestly, Karkat, when aren’t you having a crisis?
CG: UUUUGH forget it.
CG: Why did I think I could talk to you assholes?

ectoBiologist [EB] responded to memo

EB: guys, come on
EB: karkat just lost someone important to him.
EB: i don’t think it’s the time for dick jokes.
TG: what are you like his boyfriend or something?

             And Strider was back to his deflection; his “no homo” bullshit even though he’d already admitted he wasn’t hetero either.

EB: dave, no.
EB: i’m not…
EB: i’m straight, dave.
TG: sure
TG: youre about as straight as i am
TG: but sure
CG: Egbert, PLEASE. I DON’T need your fucking help.
CG: Strider, SHUT UP.
AG: Soooooooo
AG: What exactly was the point of this group chat?
AG: Half of us aren’t even online right now.
TA: man i wish i wasn’t
CG: I was trying to get to that.
CG: I could honestly really use some moral support right now.
CG: So you’re all invited to the funeral.
CG: Not that any of you will actually show up.
CG: Now leave me alone.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] is now an idle chum!

            All Karkat wanted to do was curl into a ball, but he couldn’t even bring himself to get up and move to his bed. He started pulling at a loose thread on his sweater sleeve, finding some kind of satisfaction as it unraveled. It kept him from staring blankly at the computer screen, until another message popped up.

 apocalypseArisen [AA] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

AA: hey karkat
AA: i know you want to be left alone right now
AA: but i just wanted to say im here for you
AA: ive been there
AA: and if you need someone to talk to you can talk to me
AA: ill be at the funeral and ill make sure sollux is there too
AA: just because some of them are being jerks doesnt mean you dont have friends to help you through hard times
AA: dont seclude yourself for too long
AA: it doesnt help

            He hesitated before putting his fingers back on the keyboard. It was a bit odd to be hearing from Aradia, but any kindness was more than Karkat really expected.

CG: Thanks.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] ceased pestering apocalypseArisen [AA]

            Messages and calls came consistently from all of Karkat’s friends, apologizing for his loss. School that week wasn’t mandatory. Nana Rosa, Aunt Malati, Uncle Aarav, Kanaya, and Porrim came over one afternoon for tea and to console the family, despite needing some consolation themselves. Karkat couldn’t bring himself to cry anymore. He'd cried plenty that first day. Kankri was surprisingly quiet as well. Karkat supposed he’d done his mourning already. Karkat made a rare appearance outside of his room one evening, walking quietly down the stairs to scavenge something from the cabinets for dinner, but he overheard Dessie on the phone again.
            “I don’t know how we’re supposed to pay for the funeral, mother. We didn’t have any life insurance. And that’s not to mention the state doesn’t know what to do with the boys. No, Solomon and I weren’t married. I’m not their legal guardian. The next of kin would be Malati or Rosa. I’m sure the boys would be fine going to live with their cousins, but I… no, I just can’t imagine losing them too. No, I know Solomon and I were only together for a couple years. I still feel like these boys are my sons. Well it’s not as if they had a mother before I got here. I agree, shame on her. But that’s not the problem right now. I’m at a loss, mother, I have to do all sorts of paperwork, and even if everything does get approved, I would need to start working more hours. Yes, that’s why I’m so frustrated by this. I…” Dessie sobbed. “I’m sorry. N-no, you don’t need to. That’s so… Mother, please. Don’t. H-hi, Dad. I told Mom, no, you don’t need…” she sobbed again. Karkat felt uncomfortable listening in. He didn’t realize money was so tight. “Th-thank you. Yes, it will help. A lot.” Karkat had never met Dessie’s parents. Apparently they moved to a different state when she went away to college, but he didn’t doubt he’d be meeting them soon.

             The funeral was the following weekend. It had been put together pretty quickly. Of course, Karkat had no idea what the average time for arranging a funeral was. Maybe two weeks was normal. Karkat sat in the front row, Kankri on one side and Jade on the other. Of all his, Nepeta’s, Meulin’s and Kankri’s friends combined, Aradia, Sollux, Kanaya (duh), Terezi, Equius, Feferi, John, Jade, Dave, Rose—though she was there for Kanaya—Damara, Porrim (also duh), Latula, Horuss, Kurloz, and Cronus were there, among a ton of adults who knew Solomon for his charity work or efforts as a pastor or the myriad of other things he’d done. Karkat was a bit surprised so many of his friends had come, but also a little bitter that it wasn’t all of them. He was also more than a little frustrated with Dave, but that was just a twinge of emotion in what was currently a raging shitstorm. He kept his head down while the pastor spoke, and Jade squeezed his hand tight. It was all generic anyway. What the family would say was what meant everything. Dessie took the podium next. As if she wasn’t stressed out enough losing her fiancé, trying to keep the family together, and keeping in contact with the police for their investigation, she also insisted on writing a eulogy. She sniffled a bit before even speaking.
              “Solomon Vantas was… one of the kindest, greatest people I ever had the pleasure of meeting. He was so inspirational to me, so influential to the word; how he was just… always trying to help whoever he could, always trying to make peace or find a diplomatic way around a problem- that was all he wanted to be. A diplomat. He wanted to make a better future for his kids, for my kids… Solomon was…” Her voice cracked. She was about to lose it. “…my best friend, and my first love. When we met in high school, I knew I’d found someone I could confide in. Someone I knew I wanted in my life. He had such an idealistic concept of what the world could be. And… oh, the way he lit up when we talked about how we could improve the world, leave our mark… and then we fell in love… and then… both left for different colleges. I never thought I’d be lucky enough to find him again, but I was. I swore I’d never lose him again. And yet, here we are. Solomon Vantas was… a great man, who did great things, and I will not let that be in vain. He may be gone, but the impact that he’s had will be with us forever.” Karkat was scrunching up his face, trying not to cry. He didn’t want to cry in front of everyone. He didn’t want to cry at all anymore. And then Dessie took a step down from the podium, wiping her cheek as she came down to the kids. “You all have an opportunity to say something if you’d like,” she said, directing her attention more towards Karkat and Kankri than Nepeta and Meulin. Karkat shook his head no, instead letting his brother take the stand.
           “My father was an ambitious, idealistic man. He was always trying to do something to help someone, and help this town. Someone I always admired, and from this day on I will be taking up his cause and do my best to be as he was. Thank you for everything, Dad.” Somehow Kankri still managed to sound pretentious as fuck. A few other people from the community came up and said stuff about Solomon, and that was it. The coffin was lowered, Karkat threw his handful of dirt in, and it was over.
            Karkat stayed quiet, standing by his chair as he watched the exchange of lots of emotional hugs before everyone started heading off to the house for the reception. The last people to approach Karkat were Dave, who looked like he had some shit to say, and John, who had the most perfect sympathetic look on his face. Somehow, it still made Karkat want to punch him. Some things never changed.
             “Hey,” John said, placing a hand on Karkat’s shoulder. Karkat could feel the morose frown on his face, and John looked at the ground for a moment. It was an awkward silence, until John pulled Karkat into a hug. Why did people keep doing that? But after a second, Karkat accepted it, leaning his head into John’s shoulder and letting himself cry for the first time that day. He hadn’t cried since the day it happened, but now that the funeral was over, everything felt so… so permanent, and John’s hug was just so. Perfect. Warm, friendly, all-encompassing… it was everything Karkat needed in that moment, to just be enveloped by the walking embodiment of friendship. He just hoped John didn’t notice him crying into his shirt. Karkat took a breath before breaking the hug off.
             “Are you, uh, coming to the reception?” Karkat asked. He hated what an ass he’d been to John all year. The kid was nothing but nice.
             “Um…no, sorry. Jade and I have to catch the bus home.”
             Karkat didn’t say anything, but the look of guilt that flashed across John’s face was evidence enough that his disappointment was obvious. “Oh. That’s fine,” he said, glancing at Dave before walking back over to his family. Karkat looked over his shoulder again at the two boys, very quickly engaged in conversation, as he walked away.

             Karkat didn’t want to deal with the reception. His house was full of essential strangers tossing around words of false pity. He hid himself away in his room, turning up some music to drown out his thoughts. A knock came on the door and Dessie let herself in.
             “You should come downstairs,” she said.     
             “No. I don’t want to and I don’t have to.”
             “Everyone just wants to make sure we’re okay.”
             “Yeah right. They don’t care about us. They just don’t want to feel bad about not saying anything. It’s a load of shit.”
             “Your friends are here… Aradia, Sollux, Feferi…”
             “Not even Terezi could stick around…” Karkat muttered.
             “You’re in mourning. I get that. Come down when you’re ready,” Dessie said, walking back out. Karkat turned his music back up. “Title and Registration” was somewhat calming, until he heard the line “souvenirs from better times”. Fuck, why couldn’t he have any souvenirs from better times? Karkat spent his whole life lashing out at people, and isolating himself. Everything sucked. He changed the song. “Things We Lost in the Fire” came on. Well, the lyrics weren’t much better, but Bastille’s tone wasn’t as dismal as Death Cab, anyway. Another knock came on Karkat’s door.
             “Go away!” Karkat called. The door opened and someone stepped in anyway. Dessie. “I thought I sa—oh, it’s you.” Aradia. 
             “Who did you think it was?”
             “Dessie. What do you want, Aradia?”
             “Oh, nothing,” Aradia said, hopping onto Karkat’s bed. She was uncharacteristically chipper. “Just wanted to be a friend and make sure you were okay.”
             “I don’t need your help, alright? Just leave me alone to mourn.”
             “I’ll let you mourn, but first let me say my piece. Listen; I know how losing a parent feels, and take whatever time you need, but you still have plenty of people around you to help you get through this. We love and support you. Your dad isn’t gone either.”
             “Yeah he is.”
             “No, he’s in your heart.” Aradia smiled, and Karkat made a sound halfway between a scoff and a laugh.
             “What is this, some Lion King shit?”
             “Yeah, except you’re gonna figure it out faster than Simba did.”
             “Or you?”
             Aradia’s smile faded a little bit, but didn’t vanish. “Yeah. I felt… pretty dead there for a while.
             Karkat furrowed his brow. “So… what are you now?”
             “I feel… very much alive. And I intend to stay that way.”
             Aradia and Karkat weren’t close enough friends to warrant a hug, but she patted him on the shoulder, and then left. Karkat took a breath. People… cared about him. He needed to get his act together. By the time Karkat felt composed enough to make an appearance, Aradia had left. He found Sollux lingering around and leaned against the wall nearby.
             “Hey,” Karkat muttered, feeling slightly less terrible.
             “Hey,” Sollux answered. “You okay?”
             “No. But… I will be.”
             “What did Aradia say to you?”
             “Nothing. Basically told me not to be an idiot.”
             “Well that’s impossible,” Sollux said, a tiny smile forming. Karkat laughed a bit. It felt good to laugh.
             “Yeah. That’s a hell of a girl you’ve got, Captor.”
             Sollux frowned at him. “Not my girl.”
             It was Karkat’s turn to frown. Sollux was such a fucking idiot when it came to romance. He’d been blundering over his feelings for Aradia since the 6th grade. “You gonna do something about that or what? You know me, Sol, and you know I’m a romantic, so shut up and actually take my advice for once: date that girl. You love her, and she loves you. You know it, I know it. Now man up and make it happen. She’s got a good heart. Wants what’s best for everyone. I don’t say this a lot, and maybe it’s because of my own issues, but you two are perfect for each other. Gotta be honest, Sol, I could see you marrying her.”
             “Jesus Christ, KK, don’t even talk to me about marriage yet.”
             “Fine. But ask her out. For real.”
             “Why are you pushing this so much right now?”
             Karkat groaned. “Because, you never know what curveball life is going to throw. We can’t waste time feeling sorry for ourselves, feeling sad and not acting because we don’t think we’re good enough, because we think we’re too broken to deserve love. You and I are alike in that way, and the difference is that you actually have a chance. So take it.”
             “Are you going to take yours?”
             “I don’t know. Dave confuses me. And I’m in no shape for that right now.”
             Sollux was quiet for a moment. “Is that what Aradia told you? To take action?”
             “Not exactly.” Karkat paused, taking a breath. “She told me I can be sad—I should be sad. But I shouldn’t let myself be alone in my sadness. She told me… people care. And if I need them, they’re there. But… it’s kind of the same thing. Isolation does no good. She’s right about that much… Sollux, please. It would—ew, I’m about to get really sentimental, don’t hit me. It would make me a bit happier to know my friends are happier.”
             Neither of them said anything for a moment, then Sollux smiled, laughed, and frogged Karkat in the shoulder. Karkat rubbed it, but smiled.  “Hey! I told you not to hit me.”
            “That was nothing. Besides, it wasn’t for the sentiment. It’s ‘cause you’re right.”
            “Yeah. And, I’m gonna ask her out.”

            Karkat was glad at least one good thing came out of that day. Things were going to be okay. It was a little bit of relief when little things fell into place. It was still weird and depressing not to hear his dad humming around the house while he cleaned, or wake up to him and Dessie making breakfast, and Kankri was only more up his own ass about things, but the world didn’t feel completely off its axis. But, Karkat was still surly. He couldn’t help it, it was in his nature. He was getting really tired of the flowers being sent to the house and people bringing frozen meals over every two hours as if Dessie or Kankri weren’t perfectly capable of cooking. Dessie was starting to work on adoption paperwork for Karkat so he could still live with her. Kankri was almost 18, so he didn’t need to be adopted. It was pointless. The other thing that set Karkat off? All the asinine “sorry for your loss” cards and messages from people who didn’t really care, or at least didn’t care enough to show their faces. Karkat got one of those messages two days after the funeral.

adiosToreador [AT] began pestering carcinoGeneticist [CG]

AT: hey karkat
AT: i know you’re probably getting a lot of messages
AT: i just wanted to apologize
CG: Don’t give me that bullshit, ‘sorry for your loss’ speech I’ve been getting from every single person in town who doesn’t actually give a shit
CG: My dad knew a LOT of people
CG: But none of them actually give a shit about me or Kankri or Dessie
CG: They just say it to alleviate some of their guilt
AT: no, i mean
AT: yeah, i am sorry for your loss
AT: like genuinely i feel really bad about it
CG: Yeah, could have fooled me
CG: You know, the one time I ask for ANYTHING from my friends, from you guys
CG: It was to show up to my fucking dad’s goddamn funeral
AT: well
AT: that’s what i meant
AT: i was messaging you to apologize for not showing up
AT: but i was in my operation
CG: Right.
CG: Guess I’m the asshole here now
AT: no you’re allowed to be upset
AT: and i would have rescheduled if i could
AT: i know you’re not the sentimental type and we’re not really close
AT: but i’m here for you if you want to talk
CG: Yeah, well,
CG: Thanks
CG: Sorry I’m being kind of a dick about it.
AT: it’s okay
AT: i think i would be acting the same way

            Karkat couldn’t really be mad at Tavros; that kid had a pretty shit lot in life, too. Karkat heard a knock on the door, and had to bring the conversation to a close.

CG: Tavros, you couldn’t be an asshole if you tried.
CG: Anyway, I have to go.

carcinoGeneticist [CG] has ceased pestering adiosToreador [AT]

            He stood from the couch and went to answer. The first thing he saw was a giant fucking bouquet.
            “Oh no, not another one. Get this shit out of here! Do you really think this is what— ” The person shifted the bouquet, showing their face. “Dave? What the shit are you doing here?”
            “Wanted to…apologize.”
            “Don’t act like you cared about my father.”
            “Dude, I met your dad. Your dad was cool. But that’s not what I meant. I mean, yeah, I’m sorry about that, it sucks and all, worse than a vacuum cleaner sucks up all the little carpet fibers and gets stuck to the floor. But… I meant about the relationship junk.”
            “Oh…that…” Karkat muttered. “Come in.” He stepped aside as Dave came inside and thrust the flowers into Karkat’s hands. Karkat went to the kitchen to find a vase, even though he was pretty sure they were all being used. “So… you ready to tell me what the fuck happened?”
            Dave huffed, flopping onto Karkat’s couch. “I know I was a huge wishy-washy pain in the ass. I’m…still trying to deal with some shit. But. I want to be… a thing. With you.” 
            Karkat dropped the flowers in the sink, gaping up at Dave. “You… want to be boyfriends. Do you really think right now is the best time for that?”
            “You said to talk to you when I was ready to explain; well, I’m ready to explain. And… to answer that question, yes. Er… no… I mean. I want to date you. And I want you to date me. And I want us to not date other people.”
            “Yeah, shitlips, that’s what being boyfriends means.”
            “Okay, no, I mean, look. I don’t handle affection well, especially publicly. But I want to get better, because I shouldn’t be ashamed of who I am. My bro seriously fucked me up, and it’s like, I gotta be manly, and tough, and… fuck, do you know how exhausting that is? Like yeah it’s chill to not be straight in theory, but when I try to actually do things… it’s all this toxic masculinity and internalized homophobia and shit that Rose used to say that I thought was a bunch of bullshit, but it’s real, and it’s in my head and I know I let it get to me and I fucked up. Cause like, Karkat, I gotta be honest, I liked you the first time I saw you. That day on the beach. And this entire thing has been the person I want to be fighting the person I thought I was supposed to be. So, I didn’t want to hold hands in public, I didn’t want to do all that fluffy shit, and putting a label on us really freaked me out. But I want to make this work, because I do… really like you, and I hate this shit, and I know I’m absolutely rambling right now but I had to get this out there, once I understood what was happening. So, if you want to give me another chance, maybe we can, like, ease into things? In public, anyway. I’m all for the makeouts behind closed doors. Because it was never that I didn’t like you or you weren’t good enough. I just didn’t know how to handle my own feelings.”
            Everything clicked into place the more Dave talked. Of course he would pull away. Of course he would be all cagey. Flirting was easy; commitment was hard. “Look,” Karkat finally answered, “you know I’m dealing with a lot of shit right now too.” He paced over to the couch and flopped down beside Dave.
            “Of course you are. Your dad just died.”
            “Well, Dave, I… still like you. I never stopped liking you. I was just put out for a while. But now that I know why… well… okay.”
            “Okay. I want you to be comfortable. No titles until you want it. Not too much PDA. We can work our shit out together."
            “So we’re dating now,” Karkat said. “And you can start by holding my hand.” He slipped his hand into Dave’s, not expecting anything more than that in the moment. Dave flicked his sunglasses up, letting his red eyes meet Karkat’s red eyes, and then Dave kissed him on the lips once again.

Chapter Text

        Things were moderately normal by June. Kankri had graduated and was planning on going to a four-year a little ways up north, but not out of state. Cronus was moving with him, since going to trade school didn’t lock him into any one location. That particular summer day was graduation for Kankri and Meulin, and as always, it was a project rounding everyone up and getting them out the door in time, but Dessie was managing. She seemed to cheer up when everyone brought their significant others over for dinner; him and Dave, Kankri and Cronus, Meulin and Kurloz, and even Nepeta had found someone; some guy named Oliver she met when she took Pounce and Puma Thurman into Petco for some reason. Whatever. Karkat was just glad everyone was happy. He thought having a lot of people need her was fulfilling for Dessie, too. She was so sweet. He couldn’t believe everything she’d gone through, and she was still such a beam of sunshine. The one thing that changed? Karkat stopped wearing his contacts. He stopped dyeing his hair.
        Kankri and Meulin ran off to their assigned places while Karkat, Nepeta, Oliver, and Dessie met up with the Maryams, who “happened” to also be sitting with the Lalondes and Dave. Dave lit up when he saw Karkat approaching.
        “Hey,” Dave said.
        “Hey you,” Karkat said playfully, grabbing Dave’s hand. They sat down together, Karkat leaning his head on Dave’s shoulder as they waited for the ceremony to start. It really was the little things in life.