SLAM! The front door banged open hard enough to rattle the wall hangings. Jade looked up, startled, from her seat on the living room couch of her apartment to see a very irate Karkat standing in her doorway. She groaned, but didn't bother telling him to go away. She knew from experience that Karkat wouldn't leave until he got what he wanted, so she carefully bookmarked the novel she'd been reading and set it aside. "What do you want, Karkat?"

"Is that really a way to greet me, Jade human?"

Jade rolled her eyes. "You don't use the 'human' tag for John anymore. Why are you still doing it to me?"

"Because I can actually kind of tolerate John," Karkat replied without skipping a beat. "Now are you going to invite me to sit down or just leave me standing here all night?"

With a sigh, Jade gestured to one of the chairs across from her sofa. "Whatever it takes to get you to spit it out and leave."

Karkat helped himself to the bowl of crackers Jade had been eating from as he sat. She didn't argue. Arguing with Karkat was an exercise in futility. He was one of the few trolls who still annoyed her, despite the fact that she'd gotten to know them all rather well as they made their bizarre journey through space and time to finally end up in this weird place constructed from their own imagination. Most of them lived together in this apartment block, but the interiors varied greatly according to their occupants' personal taste. Jade could tell that Karkat was put off by the bright hues decorating her walls and the assortment of colorful blankets and cushions strewn on her furniture. She'd never been inside Karkat's apartment, but she'd be willing to be it was as gray as he was.

When Karkat didn't speak immediately, Jade prompted him. "Maybe you could start by telling me why you appear to be more angry than usual."

Karkat regarded her for a moment before replying, "I'm still getting used to how easily you humans read emotions."

"It's from years of practice interacting with each other face-to-face," Jade said. "You know, actually growing up with other members of our own species." She felt a little guilty for the cutting edge in her voice, one she often used with Karkat. But after all she'd gone through with him – sometimes out of necessity to win the crucial game they played, other times to help him cope with himself – and all the shit she'd taken, she figured he could deal with it. After all, antagonism was nothing new or unusual for trolls, and most of them took it in stride.

They exchanged glares for a moment. Finally Karkat broke the silence. "Why I'm upset actually has surprisingly little to do with you."

"Well? What is it then?" Asking Karkat what was bothering him was second nature for Jade, even though she was tired of dealing with his angst.

"Nothing," Karkat huffed. "Just another fight with Eridan. That's all."

Jade arched an eyebrow. "Why don't you just ask him out already? He's obviously not going to do it himself." Eridan was too proud to initiate relations with anyone whose blood was more than a few levels below his own. Jade couldn't believe he was still holding on to his bizarre prejudice, but she supposed some things never changed, rather like Karkat's perpetually bad attitude.

"What?" Karkat exclaimed. "It's not like that. I may hate him for what he did to Fef and Kanaya, but…not that way. I could never have a normal kismesis with someone who actually killed my friends."

"Even though they're not dead anymore?" Jade countered. "At least, not any more than the rest of us."

"It doesn't matter," Karkat said. "He still did it, and it's not right." He shook his head. "How little you humans know. A kismesis isn't based on any kind of hate. It has to be a real rivalry, with hate based on competition and true distaste, and maybe anger, but you still have to be able to respect your rival. And I don't have any respect for someone who hurts my friends for such selfish reasons."

"Well, I'm glad humans don't have relationships like that," Jade said. "Why would you ever want to be with someone you don't like?"

"But you're my auspistice," Karkat pointed out. "And that's a black relationship."

Jade's head jerked up in surprise, and she looked Karkat in the face. "Um, Karkat. I'm not your auspistice anymore," she deadpanned before she could stop herself.

It was Karkat's turn to be surprised. "What? When were you planning on telling me this?"

Jade blinked. "Um, Karkat…I can only be an auspistice to two people. Now that we have to interact in real time, I can only deal with one of you at a time. Auspistice is impossible." She may not know as much about his bizarre quadrants as Mr. Expert himself, but she knew that much.

"Well…" Karkat spluttered, searching for words. Finally he said, in a small voice, "You could have told me."

Jade felt a little bit guilty in spite of herself, but she kept it out of her voice and face. "I didn't even think about it. I guess I assumed the romance expert himself would figure it out on his own."

"Ugh," Karkat spat. "For the human who everyone says is the nicest, you sure can be mean."

"I guess we all have people who push our buttons," Jade replied. Once a comment like that would have upset her, even made her cry, but she was beyond that now, especially with Karkat. I sure have changed since leaving home, she reflected. But I guess change is the only way to survive when you're forced into a strange and turbulent world…

Karkat stood abruptly. "Well, I guess that settles that then."

"I thought you wanted to talk to me about something? We got derailed by your mixed feelings for Eridan."

"I did," Karkat said. "I came here to figure out where things stand between me and you. Sounds to me like you're done." Jade was surprised to see a hint of disappointment in his eyes.

"Did you like having me for an auspistice?" Jade asked. "I thought it was a matter of necessity."

"You're good at it," Karkat replied. "That's why I accepted you in the first place. But I guess I…got used to it." His eyes narrowed. "I guess I thought something more might happen." Jade was surprised to see a spot of red bloom on each gray cheek. She realized then, with a start, that Karkat's eyes were also beginning to fill in red, matching the color of his blood. A sign of sexual maturity in trolls; the beginning of the end of adolescence…at least, that's what Feferi had told her. Fef's own eyes had just finished filling in purple.

The realization was weird for Jade; she'd always seen Karkat as a little kid, too immature to even experience his own strange notion of romance normally. Maybe that was changing now. Not that I'd ever want anything to do with him. What a piece of work!

She felt bad, though, for letting him down, especially after the remarks she'd made to him earlier. She struggled for a moment, not sure what to say.

"You really are an idiot, aren't you?" asked Karkat after a moment, blushing harder. Jade realized with another start that he was staring at her intently.

"Karkat, are you…attracted to me?" Jade asked tentatively. She couldn't keep the slight edge of incredulity and distaste out of her voice.

Karkat scowled. "Aren't you awfully forward."

"Forward? I never said I wanted anything to do with you! I don't like you at all!"

"But you don't hate me."

Jade opened her mouth, then closed it again when she realized exactly what he was getting at.

"Well," Karkat began, then took a deep breath to steady himself. "Just so you know, I hate you. The more I interacted with you online, the more I despised your perpetual goodness and perfection, your naïve idiocy, your overconfidence…it's like you thought you'd always be better than me. And I know it wasn't prejudice, because you're friends with so many of the other trolls. I just thought…that maybe…"

"That I hated you too?" Jade asked.

"Well…yeah. You sure acted like it." Karkat's shoulders slumped. He sat down again suddenly, as if all the air had gone out of him.

Jade regarded him thoughtfully. She'd never wanted what Karkat was asking her for, or had been intending to ask her for at any rate. But she had to admit, as she looked at him sitting there, that he was something to look at, and she'd gotten so…used to him…over the course of the game that she realized if he were to simply walk out of her life, it would leave a hold behind, even if it was a hole based on, well, something other than affection. She wasn't sure if it was hate, exactly. But maybe it was worth a shot…maybe, despite what she'd just said to Karkat, she could give this weird black romance thing a try.

"Karkat," she said quietly. He looked up, the intensity still there in his reddish eyes. Jade was pretty sure that intensity never left. It was a part of who Karkat was, and a part of why he was so appealing.

"What," he spat out in response.

"I think maybe I might hate you too. Just a little bit."

"You're doing it wrong," Karkat said, derision now thick in his voice. "Stupid human. You don't even know how to hate-flirt. You're not supposed to sound so damn tender." He buried his face in his hands.

"Ugh. You are so frustrating."

Karkat peeked through his fingers. "That's a little better. Barely."

Jade raised her eyebrows. She hadn't even been trying – just speaking her mind. Maybe…maybe that's the key.

"Stupid troll," she shot back. "You're so caustic all the time. That definitely one of many reasons I don't like you."

Karkat lifted his face up, and a light of hope glinted in his eye. He leaned forward; the intensity inside him began to run throughout him, and Jade could sense it in the way his muscles stood out in his neck, the way his strong hands clasped his knees. "You know, stupid human," he growled, "I'll give you this. You'd make a fair rival. And I never thought I'd say that to a human."

"You mean besides John?" Jade scoffed.

"That was just a naïve crush! Past me is such a moron."

"And you're a narcissist. I thought by now you'd be over your past-and-future self-hate bullshit. But you never fail to surprise me with your idiocy."

"Or you with yours," Karkat breathed, then, gathering himself visibly, leaned the rest of the way in and kissed her.

Jade had never been kissed quite like this. She reached up and threaded her fingers through Karkat's hair, carefully holding her instincts in check, and resisting the urge to wrap her other hand around his right horn – she remembered Feferi telling her what that would mean to a troll, and she was pretty sure she didn't want to go that far right now. Even so, kissing Karkat was exhilarating. He pulled away just long enough to step smoothly over the coffee table and join her on the couch, then pulled her close. She could feel the desire radiating off of him, mixed with his hate to form a strange emotional concoction. But she realized this was just one way to him – and maybe to her too, now that she was giving it a try – to channel his negative emotion, a way to manage it and put it to use.

After a few very intense moments, they pulled apart and glared at each other for a while. Jade wasn't sure why this felt so good. The intensity of her dislike for Karkat was stronger than ever, but it wasn't sitting inside her and growing caustic. Instead, it was flowing out of her and setting her afire. How strange…

The two jumped and pulled apart at the sound of a knock on the door. "Who is it?" Jade called in what she hoped was a normal voice.

"It's me," Dave replied from the other side of the door.

"I think it's time for you to go now," Jade growled to her partner. "Get out of my sight, you lousy imbecile."

A slight crooked smile formed on Karkat's lips, as if he approved of her banter. "As long as I can count on you next time I'm in a really bad mood."

"We'll see. Maybe I can make the time." She replied coldly.

Karkat scowled and picked himself up as Jade called for her friend to come in. He muttered under his breath – probably about how dumb she was and how much he hated lousy humans – while he brushed past Dave with barely a nod and stalked off down the hall.

The look on Dave's face, when he saw Jade still flushed and breathing rather hard on her couch, was priceless.