A/N: gosh you guys are all so nice... i haven't even gotten to the climax of the story... GOSH you're nice
also pls don't read too far into this chapter's flashback shipping lmao i just needed someone... thank you everyone uwu

=== Karkat: Explain

I feel, rather than see, John sit back down on the couch.

Rather unwillingly, I look up to meet his gaze. I can read everything in them; if there's one thing John's utterly terrible at, it's hiding emotions. And they're scared, even if I can also tell he's pushing it back. Scared that I'll just tell him what he expects to head, tell him that I've kept my promise and I just don't care past that.

The uncomfortable thing is… I do.

He saw me at my most vulnerable, the pathetic, weak sobbing that accompanies nightmares, and didn't so much as flinch. Just held me and supported me through the panic and fear nightmares bring. And he still sees me as the same person. Somehow, it doesn't make me weaker in his eyes at all.

He accepts me.

Hell, he likes me, even in this. Knowing how much of a fucked-up, miserable excuse for a troll I am. He looks at me and grins that goofy grin, and tells me that I'm still worth the same to him.

It's so unexpected. This is my defense. It has been since Aranea died. And when someone sees past that, into the scared, frail troll inside, and still makes the conscious decision to love that fuckup… that's when I can love them back. It's why I love Terezi so much. It's why I love Gamzee so much.

And now, it's why I want to love John too.

But he doesn't deserve that. He deserves so much fucking more, because I'm a danger to him.

I sigh heavily. "Okay. We have to break up or something, or whatever the fuck you want to call it when we're not in an actual relationship."

He tries to butt in. "I-"

"No." I hold a finger up to him gently. "I'm going to talk. I'll tell you when I'm done."

After a second of quick deliberation, he nods.

"Good." I run a hand through my hair, breaking eye contact to stare at my lap. "I like you. But you would be in so much fucking danger being this close to me." Closing my eyes unwillingly, I think back. "I have a crazy moirail. The first time Gamzee went insane… he hurt a lot of people.

"I was one of them."

=== Karkat: Flashback

"What the goddamn fuck?" I stare in complete shock and terror at the yellowblood standing in front of me. "Sollux, the fuck are you saying?"

"I'm saying GZ is fucking insane," he spits in my face. "Would I come out of my hive and find you for anything less?"

"No." Not with the way he's literally locked himself in his room for the past three months. "Why'd you come get me? Do we have a lead on him, or are we going to have to get Pyrope in here?"

"Because you know GZ better than any of us. You've talked to him, and… we've got a lead." I really don't like people who constantly wear sunglasses, especially when they normally hide their emotions like this. I can never tell what they're thinking. "You're not gonna like it."

"Like it or not, I need to know."

He stares blankly at me for another second. "Aranea Serket's."

I'm too shocked to really reply for a full ten seconds. When I do, it's faint and unsure. "Oh. Well. That's why you got me then."

"She's your fucking matesprit. Unless you want to see her dead, you should move your ass." His tone is quiet, still not giving anything away.

Just like it hasn't for three months.

"Okay." Trying to still my whirling head and pounding heart, I think to where Aranea's house is. She lives at the edge of the suburbs, which is only about a ten-minute walk, but that's still too far for comfort. Carmine isn't home, but we have a car. I may only have a permit, but this is an emergency.

In a flurry, Sollux and I are on our way to Aranea's, trying to drive quickly but still follow laws. There's absolutely no time to get pulled over right now. I just can't.

The whole way there, I'm absolutely terrified. Thinking of what's going to happen when I get there. I have my sickles, sharp and ready, but they won't do any good if Gamzee's already gotten to my matesprit.

Five minutes to drive there, five minutes that are far too long. I scramble out of the car, grabbing my sickles, my heart stopping as I see that the door's gently swinging, obviously not latched. A blood-purple smiley is painted on the door, a smiley I know Gamzee uses.

And it's painted in Aranea's blood color.

I rush inside, sickles at the ready- but what's inside terrifies me even past the point of screaming.

Aranea's laying there, skin bruised and disfigured, ribs visibly broken, light cobalt blood pooling around her limp body. Slight, shuddering breaths are the only reason I know she's alive; without that, I'd have assumed she was dead.

My feet have somehow carried me over to where she is, sickles falling from limp hands to the floor. "Aranea?" It's a quiet whisper, an unbelieving breath. My knees give out and I'm kneeling next to her, drawing her into my arms, eliciting a breathless gasp of pain from her. "Please, Aranea, open your eyes… don't be gone…"

In response, dark eyes blink open, a smile ghosting her face. "Karkat?" A breathy laugh falls from bloody lips. "I wasn't… expecting you…"

"You're going to be okay." It feels like I've stopped breathing, like my heart's stopped beating, like I'm trying to give my life to her, trade it and let her keep living. "I'm not going to let you fucking die, Aranea, you'll be okay-"

"No." Her smile is sad, eyes still locked onto mine. "I'm dying. I'll be gone soon… you know I will…"

"Please…" I'm begging with her now, pleading with her just to keep living. "Don't leave me." My voice is choking with tears now, those bright red tears welling up in my eyes and choking me harshly, squeezing my voice from me.

"I wish I could stay." With an effort, she brings her hand to my cheek, leaving a cool, bloody handprint there. "I'm sorry, love. I had… a wonderful time… with you." Her breathing's getting more shallow, softer, quieter, but I can't let myself think about that.

I allow myself a laugh, choked as it is through tears. "Shitty romcoms and all?"

Her light, melodious laugh floats breathily into my ears. "Even… with those." With an effort, one that I can tell is exquisitely painful, she pulls herself up to me, lips leaving a fluttering mark on mine. "Karkat… I love you."

"I love you, too." The words tumble from my mouth and shatter on the cold, hard ground, melting and disintegrating as she goes limp in my arms, a hand still hooked around my neck, body nestled into mine. She looks so small, so helpless, so very defeated. Beautiful even in death, her features are relaxed, peaceful. The only things betraying her are the visible bruises, the cracked ribs, the cobalt blood dripping from her fingertips.

"A… Aranea?" She doesn't reply, and I find a sob escaping my lips as my arms cradle her close. "Please, Aranea, don't just fucking die on me…"


I know she's dead.

Shaking hands clasp her tightly to me, breath heaving in a sharp sob that sends shudders through me, and I lose myself to grief. Keening sobs wrack my body as I mourn my matesprit, face buried and hands tangled up in her silky black hair.

After an eternity of cries, of pain, of utter agony, I'm spent. I look up to see Sollux kneeling across from me, close enough to touch but far enough not to intrude. "KK… GZ's still out there."

I nod blankly, but my brain's shut down in an attempt to stop the pain, and I don't really do anything.

"Karkat," he snaps. "We have to go. You might be the only one able to make him sane again, because you're the only fucking one who's even decently close to him."

"I…" My voice is a bare breath, just a shadow of sound. "I can't…"

His hands are on my cheeks, forcing me to meet his eyes, now sans glasses. "He's going to hurt other people until he gets stopped."

"Someone else has to do it." My hands drop, and Aranea's corpse spills into my lap. "I can't."

"You have to." His eyes are pleading with me, begging me to help. "If anyone else gets to him, they'll just kill him. You have a chance of stopping him, please God just fucking take it."

I just stare blankly at him, still unable to muster up the ability to feel and think and help. I can't do any of it.

"What if he goes after your fucking lusus?"

Okay, that snaps me out of it, and I let him pull me up, keeping my eyes off the weight that tumbles to the floor, ignoring the wet clinginess of my shirt. "Carmine… I can't… both of them can't die."

"So we have to go get GZ."

"Yeah." My eyes follow the trail of blue blood that leads out the back door, and I bend stiffly to pick up my sickles, determinedly walking out. "Let's go."

=== Be Karkat Vantas

By the end, I'm a wreck. I'm shivering, remembering the terror and pain I felt as I held my dying matesprit in my arms. My head's in my hands, unwilling to look up and meet John's eyes, unable to take anything I know will be there- pity for my pain, hatred for my helplessness, disdain for my weakness. I choke out a last sentence. "People get hurt when they're close to me… and I don't want you getting hurt too."

For a long time, the only sound is swallowed sobs, my desperate attempt not to completely break down again.

"When was this?" There's no condemnation, which is almost surprising; his voice is just soft and caring.

"A sweep ago," I manage to rasp out. Other words pool at the back of my throat, but can't push their way out.

Again, there's quiet, and my head's still in my hands, so I jump when a warm, soft body pushes next to me. It wraps soft hands, around me, brushing softly in my hair, a gentle touch caressing my cheek. The breath against my hair is pleading with me just to let go and break down, to let the harsh walls tumble down, and, much to my own dismay, I do. My hands curl into his shirt, and I nestle into his neck, thick sobs breaking to the surface even as I try angrily to hold them back.

And he just holds me.

There's a distinctly soft feeling about him, even past the rough bandages, a want to make me better that soaks into my bones and calms me down, soothing my raw pain into a soft murmur, enveloping me in a blanket of flushed love that I just have to accept. I don't even care how small and scared it makes me feel anymore. He's comforting, and loving, and… and safe.

I really don't want to let this kid go.

Eventually, I calm down. John's arms stay around me, and I don't have the willpower to push him away. "I don't want you hurt, too."

"I think you underestimate me, Karkat." His breath is warm against my cheek. "I don't need you to protect me; you don't have to be everyone's protector all the time."

For a second, I'm quiet. "John… he's hurt Vriska. You're her moirail, you know that. I couldn't save her either."

I can feel his quick intake of breath. "Yeah. But… Gamzee hurt her. You didn't."

"I could've stopped him. I should've stopped him."

"Like Vriska could've stopped this?" He gestures to his arms sharply. "You're not responsible for your moirail. You can only do as much as you can."

"I guess."

"Karkat, I won't give up on you because I might get hurt," he sighs. "I like you too much for that."

"And I like you too much to let you try." My head comes up, eyes almost pleading with him. "I can't be responsible for more hurt."

Bright blue eyes bore into mine, soft but unmoving. "No. Trust me, I'm not as weak as you might think."

There's something about this kid that just makes me want to love him. He's so very caring, so willing to put himself on the line for me.

So, against my better judgment, I accept.

"Okay." A breath of hesitation, then, "I do trust you."

His eyes absolutely light up, a sight that I have to admit is cute as hell. "Really?"

"Yeah." I sigh heavily. "But if we're going to do this, we need some ground rules."

He scrambles off me so he's again sitting cross-legged in front of me, though he's closer now. "Sure. I… uh… I probably have to tell you something, too."

That makes me curious, but I just nod. "Okay. We're not going to make this official or anything until I trust you're not going to die on me."

He nods. "That makes sense."

"Second." I stare firmly into his eyes. "I tell you to do something concerning Gamzee, and you fucking do it."

A slight frown creases his features. "I said I can take care of myself."

"Don't be an idiot." As he winces, I soften my tone, taking his hands into mine. "I know Gamzee. I know how he works. You don't need to fucking throw yourself into danger, okay? I'm trying to keep you as safe as possible."

He nods unwillingly. "Yeah, I know." Finally, that nod turns firm. "Okay. I trust that enough."

I sigh. "That's probably all on my end. Your turn."