Karkat was furious-though really, "furious" didn't quite capture the purity of the emotion that was pounding in his temples. Karkat was so consumed with hate and rage he was practically seeing double. And now, he stormed his way through the quiet corridors of the Veil laboratory, shattering the silence along with anything else he could lay his hands on.
"Goddamn humans! Goddamn trolls, goddamn game-" Karkat flipped a table full of electronic equipment before his eye came to rest on a small cylindrical device sitting alone on a shelf, a fragile tube of glass and metal. He picked it up, holding it for a moment in one hand, then threw it towards the far wall.
"Goddamn!" This last outburst was punctuated by the explosion of glass, and Karkat stood breathing heavily, his rage finally beginning to abate. At the very least, he wasn't seeing the world through vision twofold. Whatever the hell that was.
Karkat took a moment to survey his surroundings. He was at a dead end, a solid metal wall abruptly halting his rampage. Probably the other side was a couple of meters of rock and then the void of space. He'd have no trouble finding his way back, of course. This wasn't the first time he'd stormed away from his computer, frustrated to the point of incoherence. All the tunnels eventually dead-ended where the lab reached the asteroid's edge, winding back to the central chamber where eleven other trolls sat trying in vain to unfuck their situation. So much for that. "What a bunch of bullshit," Karkat muttered. Half of the trolls were convinced it was futile anyway, and had started trolling the human kids out of boredom, or spite, or to satisfy their hardwired trolling instincts. Karkat had soldiered on even as the humans became less and less receptive to his comments on their situation, but even his confidence and determination were waning.
Karkat sent his clenched fist wall-ward. If that asshole Equius tried it, they'd be dead in a matter of minutes, starving for air as their blood boiled. Good riddance. At least then he wouldn't have to suffer the blue-blooded prick's senseless strength, which had made their lives a living hell since they'd arrived at the lab. Karkat was bitterly glad that he didn't have telekinesis, taste-sense, any other sort of bullshit power like the rest of the mutants and freaks on their godforsaken rock. Nor did he have an unfaltering belief in miracles or a faith in prophecy. No false comfort, just the cold hard truth.
The trolls were royally fucked.
Now Karkat sent his forehead wall-ward, one horn clicking against the metal. In a few minutes, he'd trudge back to his computer and try again. Even if it was futile, at least he could give the humans crap-let them know it was all their fault that everyone was screwed. Well, that it would be their fault. His anger pulsed again-Karkat despised the time travel bullshit as much as any part of his situation. What a runaround.
"Karkat?" asked a voice behind him.
"Go away!" he yelled, ire rising in earnest now. It was Nepeta, by the sound of it. He waited a few seconds before glancing around. She hadn't gone, but she hadn't come any closer.
"What?" Karkat yelled, turning to face her.
"Nothing." Nepeta said. She giggled, holding a paw up to cover her mouth. Holding a hand up, Karkat reminded himself. She might think of herself as some kind of deranged catgirl, but there was no reason he had to buy into her madness.
"Are you here to laugh at me or something? Give me shit? Cut me and see what color I bleed?"
"I just wanted to see if you were okay." Nepeta said, her smile shrinking slightly, her tone more serious.
"Okay? Okay?" Karkat practically screamed, flying into a rage again. "I'm trapped on a rock in the middle of space with a bunch of bloodthirsty, backstabbing maniacs and dyed-in-the-husk morons, trying to help a group of equally incompetent human idiots win their game session, but I know that nothing I do makes a fucking difference!" Karkat sucked in two huge breaths. Nepeta was frowning now-maybe she'd gotten the hint. "Of course I'm not fucking okay!" Karkat clenched and unclenched his fists, still gasping for breath, his pulse racing. "God, I feel like my heart's going to explode," he choked.
Karkat slumped against the wall and slid down to sit on the floor, catching his breath as his rage subsided a second time. Nepeta hung back for a few more moments, then slunk over to sit beside him.
"Just leave, already, will you?" Karkat said, bitterly, but a little less forcefully. "I just want to be alone."
"And I don't." Nepeta said. Karkat gave her a look. Nepeta stared back, biting her lower lip apprehensively. Karkat broke his gaze, staring ahead and saying nothing.
The two sat together without speaking for several long minutes, Karkat with his arms crossed in front of him and Nepeta with her elbows on her knees and her chin on her forearms. Nepeta broke the silence first.
"Which one am I?"
Karkat boggled at the question. "Which one what?"
"Am I a bloodthirsty, backstabbing maniac, or a dyed-in-the-husk moron?" She turned and locked eyes with him again. She wasn't smiling. Her look was...predatory. Karkat shivered.
"God, I don't know. A little of column A, a little of column B, maybe." Karkat rubbed his eyes, even more sunken than normal. Exhaustion was setting in for all the trolls. It had become bad enough that they were even running out of the energy to be spiteful, the first instinct their ancestors had evolved when they crawled from the primordial sludge of the undersurface untold eons ago. Karkat felt it. He was hitting the wall. Nepeta was too-her normally sleepy look had devolved to the gaze of the walking dead, and her ever-present feline smile was forced most of the time. Kartkat watched tiredly as she removed her beastskin hat, exposing her unruly hair, a perpetual tangle of recuperacoonhead.
"I think that's the thing that makes me rage the most," Karkat said, speaking what both were thinking. "If we could get a decent night's sleep, maybe things wouldn't be going to shit nearly as quickly as they are. If that asshole hadn't broken the appearifier..."
Equius had, in one of his anger-suffused, mindlessly musclebound moments, destroyed the only appearifier in the lab. And while whoever had designed the Veil had stocked it with plenty of backup rations, medical supplies, and other essentials for humanoid life, sopor slime wasn't on the packing list. Most of the trolls would rather work to the point of collapse than suffer the torture of soporless sleep, a veritable cocktail of ancestral memories mixed with a double shot of incomprehensible horrors and garnished generously with senseless violence. Once the rest of the trolls had realized the consequence of Equius's actions, morale and civility evaporated. Any organization to their trolling efforts was rapidly undone.
"I don't think he meant to..." Nepeta said in a small voice. She hadn't won any friends by sticking up for Equius at the time, least of all Karkat.
"Didn't mean to? That intolerable azure-blooded asshole-God, I don't even have the strength to go over this again-and why are you still here?" Karkat's voice was shaking now, exasperation and hatred the only things holding it together.
"I...I..." Nepeta couldn't quite meet his gaze. Karkat raised his voice.
"What? Say it! Spit it out!"
"I'm terrified." Nepeta said, barely louder than a whisper. But Karkat, for all his shouting, could hear the edge in her voice, something that added, almost imperceptibly, "and you should be too." It was a primal undertone, that of the apex predator who fears nothing in the natural world mewing like a frightened cub at something much larger and much more horrifying than itself.
Nepeta took a deep breath, then looked at Karkat. Her gaze was still predatory, he noted, but now he could see why. It was the look of a cornered animal, wide-eyed and desperate, ready to kill without hesitation to save itself. He shivered again. Nepeta was clearly feeling the duress as much as anyone.
"I'm terrified." She said again, still at there merest whisper, voice steady and body still. "I'm terrified we've lost. That we've failed. That we're all going to die in this place by each other's hands. I'm terrified to stay near anyone, terrified to fall asleep because I know I'll only dream nightmares, and because I'm not sure I'll ever wake up. And when one of us finally does lose it-I mean, really loses it-when the first one of us breaks, I'm terrified it might be me."
"I don't trust anyone any more, Karkat. Because I thought I knew what it was like to be an animal, and now...I see that's what everyone's becoming."
Karkat chose his next words very carefully. "If you don't trust anyone...why are you telling me this?"
"Because I don't trust you the least." Nepeta flashed a small smile while as she said it.
"More than Equius? Or Aradia? Hell, more than Tavros?"
"If I tell any of them, it would be like picking sides. Even Tavros. But you..." Nepeta considered Karkat for a minute, resting her head on her arms. "You wear your heart on your sleeve."
"I do what? Is that some kind of human metaphor you picked up? That's disgusting."
"It means you can't hide how you feel about something. And because of that, no one's afraid of you."
"Oh, great. First you get all weepy and creepy on me, and now you're insulting me. Just what I need to know, that everyone thinks I'm a total joke, even though I'm the only one still trying to fix this mess we're in. Wonderful. Thank you, because of this little therapy session, I am now completely okay. You have made me all better." Karkat scoffed and turned away to look at the blank steel wall.
Nepeta took advantage of this lapse of attention to put her head on his shoulder.
"Oh, come on!" Karkat yelled, whipping his head around just in time to get a mouthful of hair. He wasn't entirely sure, but while he was sputtering he thought he felt Nepeta giggle. "What the hell did I do to deserve this shit," Karkat asked the empty hall. Then, mustering up an authoritative tone, "Remove your head from my shoulder."
"I'm not your fucking armrest, get off." Karkat tried to shrug her away, but Nepeta just scooted closer.
"I'm not dicking around here, Nepeta," Karkat growled.
"Then push me away if you don't want me here," Nepeta replied, with surprising defiance.
Karkat raised a hand to shove her away, but paused, then slowly lowered it. He was exhausted, Nepeta wasn't worth the effort...at least, that's how he rationalized it. Maybe his unwillingness to meet her challenge was something else entirely. Karkat dismissed the possibility out of hand. "Whatever," he muttered.
More silence. Karkat felt uncomfortably warm with Nepeta at his side.
"Do you really think there's no way out for us?" Nepeta asked, softly.
Karkat sighed. "I don't know. Hell, I'm only half sure I understand how to win the game anymore. The human kids have screwed up so much already...maybe if they just keep breaking the rules they'll wind up winning somehow."
"Sollux says no matter what, we're all going to die."
"Yeah, well, Sollux has a broken brain and mood swings that go from bad to worse."
"...is there anyone here you don't hate? I mean, that you don't really just despise?"
Karkat could have written a book about who he hated, and why. Most of the other trolls would even get multiple chapters. But with Nepeta at his side, his usual eagerness to deliver an inspired monologue about hatred seemed to have dried up. Instead, Karkat floundered for a response. "I don't know...Tavros, I guess. He's a dope, and a lousy troll. Hell, he'd make a pretty poor human. I pity him, I suppose. But he's so harmless, it's hard to hate him much."
"Gamzee. He's a weirdo but a pretty good troll in his own way. And Terezi, I suppose."
Nepeta squirmed slightly against Karkat's shoulder. "What? She's good at what she does, whether it's playing mind games or just annoying the shit out of me-" Karkat stopped suddenly as his mind finally caught up to the moment.
"You're just trying to find out how I feel about you, aren't you?"
"Well..." Karkat's mouth was dry. "I think you're pretty much batshit crazy, that the entire roleplaying as a cat thing is way out of hand, and the fact that you wear a fursuit is creepy as hell. And I think you're pathetically weak, especially for coming out here and confiding in me, then trying to find out how the hell I feel about you."
"Are you saying you...pity me?"
Nepeta practically vibrated with happiness. "I knew it!" Suddenly she was pressed up right against Karkat. He felt even more hot and uncomfortable, though not in an entirely unpleasant way.
"Oh great, just because I don't think you're pathetic, invade my personal space some more. No, really make yourself completely comfortable, I don't mind in the slightest."
Karkat wished very quickly he hadn't decided to be sarcastic, because in an instant Nepeta was curled up, catlike, over his entire lap, head buried in his stomach with her horns lightly gouging him. Karkat wasn't exactly big on physical contact to begin with, so having a girl curled up in the larval position on his legs (and quickly cutting off the circulation to them, he noted-Nepeta was graceful but surprisingly heavy) practically made his brain shut down.
Nepeta was giggling again, and turned her head enough to roll an eye up to look at him. She was grinning horn to horn.
"The hell am I supposed to do now?"
"Wellll..." Nepeta said, long and drawn out. "You could scratch my head?"
"No way." Karkat said firmly, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "Not happening."
"Come on, try it. I've heard it can lower your blood pressure."
"My blood pressure is fine, thank you."
Nepeta shook her head, a nuzzling motion against Karkat's stomach. "You and your stupid blood. I bet if I so much as pricked you you'd cover the walls in it."
Karkat took it as a threat. "You wouldn't dare."
Nepeta sighed. "Karkat, the one person who doesn't care at all what color your blood is has just curled up on your lap. And I swear I won't gut you or anything," Nepeta punctuated the word "gut" with a gentle nudge of a horn. "Hee hee."
"I can't believe I'm doing this," Karkat said, placing a hand on Nepeta's head. Her hair was soft, even (perhaps unsurprisingly) a little catlike. "So...how do I...?"
"I dunno, you just...scratch?" Nepeta said. Karkat ran his nails experimentally along Nepeta's scalp. Nepeta purred. Quite literally.
"Okay, you're going to have to cut that out," Karkat said. "I'm not sure I can take this seriously."
"I can't really control the purrrrrrrrs," Nepeta said, drawing out the last word happily as Karkat set to scratching again.
"You know, this is actually kind of fun," Karkat mused, even smiling slightly. "I can make you shut up whenever I want to."
"Hey, that's not the purrrrrrrrrrr...pose. Of this. Hee hee." Nepeta giggled happily.
It was a bit relaxing, Karkat had to admit, as the two of them sat there letting the time slip away. Nepeta was a bit of a dope, in her own unique way...but maybe there was something there. Karkat felt he'd cultivated a pretty cynical opinion of romance, treating it as something to be dissected and analyzed. After stripping away the flesh and bone to examine what made it tick, he'd put it under glass to admire, always keeping it a distant curiosity that existed solely in awful romcoms and the lives of his crazier peers. Now, with Nepeta so close and so...vulnerable...Karkat felt like every assumption he'd ever made about troll relationships was falling apart. And, even more oddly, it felt...good.
After some time, Karkat noticed Nepeta had stopped purring, and was breathing slowly and evenly. Even Karkat would agree, she was adorable like that. But he certainly couldn't appreciate it now, because for Karkat, a sleeping Nepeta was a very dangerous thing. Namely because she was still wearing her claws. And because of the unfortunate fact that sometimes, thanks to the haunting subconscious echoes from millennia of senseless violence, warfare, and bloodshed, young trolls woke kicking and screaming, lashing out at anything within reach. To sleep without the soothing influence of sopor slime, or the reinforced walls of a recuperacoon...Nepeta's earlier promise not to gut him now meant nothing to Karkat. Both of his legs had gone numb long ago, and there was no chance he could shift her off his lap without disturbing her. The only recourse was to try and wake the sleeping beast.
"Nepeta?" Karkat whispered. His hand rested limply on her head. He was afraid to remove it-who knows what a sleeping would-be feral predator troll might construe that as. "Nepeta?" Slightly louder this time.
She growled, in her sleep, the first noise she'd made in minutes. Karkat's blood ran cold, but the growl became a slightly higher pitched purr, and Nepeta harmlessly stretched out, flexing each muscle down her arms and her legs, out to the tips of her fingers. When she balled her fists just so, both claws deployed, then retracted, safely removed from Karkat's chest. He sighed in nervous relief.
"Mmm," Nepeta said, blinking sleepily and rolling an eye up to Karkat. "Hello. You're still here?"
Karkat chuckled, not entirely unkindly. "Where would I go?" Nepeta returned to her curled up position against his chest. "I was worried for a second you might disembowel me in your nightmares."
Nepeta was silent for several long minutes, and Karkat was almost convinced she'd fallen back asleep. Then, in a happy, sleepy whisper, "You know, I don't think I was having any. Not with you here." She gave Karkat another slight nuzzle with her head, then was fast asleep in moments.
Karkat sat with Nepeta for a long time, enjoying the warmth of her cuddled against him.
Some notes from the author:
This is the first fiction I've written in about two years, the first I've shared with anyone in four, and the first fanfiction I've completed in five. And let me tell you, it feels good to be writing again! Special thanks to Andrew Hussie, author of Homestuck, and to the MSPA forums for offering another place to publish among fans.
I didn't really expect this to blossom into three thousand words practically overnight. It started as a pretty small little idea, just an image in my head sparked by Nepeta's shipping wall. I tried to keep it relatively true to the Homestuck universe-even since I started writing it, I have doubts that it would fit neatly within the comic's canon, but hopefully what I set out to capture remains at least somewhat plausible.
And for the record, I don't consider myself much of a shipper, even if that rings hollow after an admission about this bit of fluff practically being born from shipper-bait. In fact, the parts of this that qualify as shipping were an enormous pain in the neck to sort out-troll romance is a royal pain in the ass. Eventually, I figured rather than pinpointing whether this was blackrom, redrom, or one of the other definitions I don't pretend to understand, I'd JuSt Be GoInG wItH wHaT fEeLs RiGhT aT wHeRe My HeArT's Up In, YoU kNoW?
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.