EPILOGUE SEVEN

Chapter

38

But before we get completely out of dodge, there’s one more trifling matter I’d better take care of.

It’s a big day, but not one my dear brotherson and his irascible boywife seem to be relishing. Dave and Karkat are both squatting in their shameful bunker of defeat, all the curtains drawn shut so that the sunlight cannot disturb an atmosphere that was carefully cultivated to facilitate their sourpuss moping.

The only illumination is emanating from their television screen, which broadcasts the bright and sunny scene of Jane’s inauguration. She stands at a podium in front of a crowd of thousands of her adoring fans and subjects, belting out one killer speech. I wrote it, so you know it’s good.

But the mood in here is heavy. I think they’ve been coasting on denial for a while, but today is the day they have to finally accept that there are no take-backs, no do-overs: Jane is the president, and that’s that.

Karkat’s all balled up on the couch as he stares hatefully at the televised production. He doesn’t look up when Dave walks back into the room, carrying two massive bottles of liquor.

DAVE: hey

DAVE: want to get drunk

Huh.

KARKAT: HUH?

DAVE: i went and got all this fucking booze

KARKAT: YOU *GOT* BOOZE?

DAVE: yeah check it

KARKAT: YOU ACTUALLY WENT AND *GOT* IT.

KARKAT: LIKE, YOU LITERALLY LEFT THE HOUSE AND EXCHANGED CURRENCY WITH A REAL, LIVE PERSON TO OBTAIN ALCOHOL.

DAVE: yeah i walked into the boozery all pigeon toed and embarrassed

DAVE: like some fuckin hooch noob

DAVE: was all like yo whats the most pathetic thing you got to drink yourself to death with

KARKAT: THE BOOZERY???

DAVE: passed right by the box wine

DAVE: the bagged wine

DAVE: the shots they put in those little blister packs by the register

DAVE: the wine in the little sippy cups with the disposable plastic straws like juice for fucking babies

DAVE: i made that last one up i dont actually know anything about alcohol

DAVE: anyway two plastic soda bottles of vodka cooler seems to be about where were at right now

DAVE: i think thats what this is anyway

DAVE: i dont really care long as it gets the job done

DAVE: i decided that im an alcoholic now

I’ve always found inebriation to be distasteful, really. Never understood the personal appeal of it, and after seeing how indelicately its effects have touched the other members of our family, I can’t help but feel like it’s a waste of everybody’s fucking time. I’d have half a mind to tell him to dump it all in the sink, if I weren’t cutting it down to the wire as it is.

But you know what? Go the fuck ahead, bro. Might help him ease those ridiculous inhibitions for once in his life. Slide the stick out of his ass. Maybe slide something else up there instead, if you catch my drift. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. At this stage, anything could happen.

Dave sits beside Karkat on the couch, and sets the alcohol down on the table in front of him. He sinks heavily into the cushioning with a sigh.

KARKAT: HAVE YOU NOW.

DAVE: yeah

DAVE: its never too late to develop a substance abuse problem

DAVE: ive been thinking about it for a while and it seems like its time for me to finally get on the wagon of not being on the wagon

KARKAT: THAT’S REALLY GREAT, DAVE.

DAVE: thanks

DAVE: anyway hows the inauguration

DAVE: you having a good time dwelling on every tiny little factor that cumulatively led to our electoral defeat

DAVE: and how if just one thing had been different it would have been us up there

KARKAT: UGH.

KARKAT: YOU AND I BOTH KNOW NOTHING MATTERED IN THAT CAMPAIGN BUT JAKE’S FUCKING SPEECH.

DAVE: yeah

DAVE: i mean, like

DAVE: i just keep imagining what wouldve happened if that absurd rube goldberg machine of life ruining humiliation had been stopped at any point

DAVE: maybe just being backstabbed by his endorsement alone was something we couldve recovered from with some rigorous counter campaigning

DAVE: but what if i had been fast enough to cut him off before hed even said anything

DAVE: what if i hadnt accidentally fallen on him on the stage when i was rushing over there to stop him

DAVE: what if he hadnt freaked out like i set off fireworks next to a nam vet and started trying to fucking scrum me

DAVE: what if id just backed away from his punch with my legs like a normal person instead of warping the flow of time to escape causing him to become so startled he shit his pants

DAVE: what if i hadnt gotten so visibly grossed out by the smell that even the people watching it on tv could tell what had happened

DAVE: what if he hadnt started sobbing when the audience in the front rows started throwing up

DAVE: what if wed had better security and stopped that lady from running onstage during the fracas and announcing that jake has been dodging paying child support for their 3 kids

DAVE: like what was the LINE

KARKAT: IT WASN’T... *THAT* BAD.

DAVE: you think

Karkat falls into a vacant, thousand-yard stare.

DAVE: yeah see thats why im an alcoholic now

DAVE: want a drink

I have sympathy, I really do. It’s tough to devote so much time and effort to something, come so close to tasting victory, just to have it snatched out of your grasp at the final instant. I might even feel bad about it in any other circumstance.

But this was how things had to be. It’s better this way. They know that. At least, Karkat certainly does.

KARKAT: IF I’M BEING PERFECTLY FUCKING HONEST

KARKAT: I’M GLAD I LOST. I NEVER WANTED TO FUCKING WIN IN THE FIRST PLACE.

DAVE: dude come on

KARKAT: NO, I’M BEING SERIOUS.

KARKAT: I’M NOT EVEN DOING SOME SOUR GRAPES “I NEVER WANTED IT IN THE FIRST PLACE BECAUSE I’M A SORE LOSER TRYING TO DELUDE MYSELF INTO THINKING I DON’T CARE” SORT OF THING.

KARKAT: OBVIOUSLY I FUCKING CARE SINCE NOW THE PLANET IS GOING TO BE COMPLETELY RUINED BY THIS JUMPED-UP FASCIST DICTATOR WHO HAS EVERY INTENTION OF GRADUALLY GENOCIDING MY SPECIES INTO NONEXISTENCE BEFORE MY VERY EYES.

KARKAT: BUT I CANNOT FUCKING THINK OF A SINGLE THING IN THE UNIVERSE I WANTED TO DO LESS THAN BE THE STUPID FUCKING PRESIDENT.

KARKAT: THANK HUMAN OBAMA.

DAVE: wait was there a troll obama

KARKAT: I’M THE FUCKING TROLL OBAMA, REMEMBER?

DAVE: karkat

DAVE: you wouldve been so much more than obama

God damn if that isn’t the most romantic fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

If Karkat had anything resembling a spine, he’d turn to Dave with those big, sparkling shoujo eyes and finally open his tsundere heart to consummating their painfully obvious and mutually reciprocated passion. But he doesn’t, so he gives a noncommittal little sniff and turns back to the inauguration instead.

Obviously, I’ve got an agenda here. It’s pretty clear to me what these guys want out of this relationship, despite the fact that both of them being bottoms evidently makes it impossible for them to pass whatever last ludicrous psychological obstacle stands between them and nonstop, animalistic fucking. I’ve let it go on like this for long enough. These stooges clearly need some help.

I could insist that they just fucking go for it already, using the methods available to me. I’d rather not. There are certain boundaries I’m not inclined to cross, primarily in service to the emotional integrity of my friends’ respective personal arcs. The little moments like these don’t mean anything if they’re coming from me, do they?

As such, insistence isn’t the tool I’d prefer. Persuasion is the one I reach for. And in a case like this, I can’t imagine it’s going to take that much.

They fall into another silence that’s more comfortable than it has any right to be. The crowd is really going nuts for Jane now, since she’s hit one of the best parts of my speech. She’s just blasting the fuck off about how good the economy’s going to get. I can feel Dave’s teeth grinding all the way down to the narrative fabric of reality.

Dave reaches out for the booze. It’s past time to get wasted, he thinks.

But Karkat is starting to realize how much all of Dave’s efforts mean to him. It’s really welling up inside him now. He’s so emotional about it that he can’t help but say something.

KARKAT: HEY.

Dave stops with his arm outstretched. His gaze turns to meet Karkat’s, but Karkat can’t bear to hold the eye contact for long. Looking at Dave is like staring straight at the sun. He is awfully handsome, isn’t he? Then again, crawling out of a primo gene pool does have its benefits.

DAVE: yeah buddy whats up

KARKAT: I JUST...

DAVE: hey dont worry about it

DAVE: you dont have to explain yourself to me

DAVE: i get it

DAVE: it makes sense. id always felt the same way kind of

DAVE: like about all my shit with sburb and whatever. the reluctant heros journey

DAVE: that feeling where youre being dragged along to being a kind of guy everyone is saying you have to be but youve never felt like theres any way you can really BECOME

DAVE: where every second you feel so sick with your own self doubt and fear that you cant bear to even imagine the future

DAVE: and you think

DAVE: why me

DAVE: even though you know it cant be anyone but you

DAVE: and thats why you do it

KARKAT: YEAH.

DAVE: lol

KARKAT: I WASN’T TRYING TO EXPLAIN MYSELF, THOUGH.

KARKAT: I JUST WANTED TO THANK YOU.

DAVE: huh

DAVE: for what

Karkat’s eyes drift from the TV to the floor. The slightest of smiles tugs at the corners of his mouth. He feels something warm inside of his chest. It feels right. It’s something he needs to say.

KARKAT: FOR... EVERYTHING.

KARKAT: EVEN IF WE DIDN’T WIN, I’M GLAD WE TRIED.

KARKAT: I’M GLAD WE WENT THROUGH THIS TOGETHER.

DAVE: me too

KARKAT: MORE THAN ANYTHING, I... YOU...

KARKAT: YOU BELIEVE IN ME IN A WAY NOBODY EVER HAS BEFORE.

KARKAT: MORE THAN I’VE EVER BEEN ABLE TO BELIEVE IN MYSELF.

KARKAT: AND I’VE NEVER REALLY...

KARKAT: FELT LIKE THIS BEFORE.

DAVE: felt like what

KARKAT: I MEAN, LIKE

KARKAT: YOU KNOW.

KARKAT: IT’S NOT LIKE I’VE NEVER HAD FRIENDS BEFORE. PEOPLE I CARE ABOUT.

KARKAT: BUT WHEN PEOPLE TELL ME THEY CARE ABOUT ME, ON SOME LEVEL IT’S HARD FOR ME TO REALLY BUY IT.

KARKAT: THEY CAN LIST WHATEVER JUSTIFICATIONS THEY HAVE FOR LIKING ME AND IT ALL FEELS LIKE BULLSHIT.

KARKAT: IT’S LIKE, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? YOU CAN’T REALLY EXPECT ME TO BELIEVE YOU SERIOUSLY THINK THIS ABOUT ME.

KARKAT: THERE’S NO WAY YOU ACTUALLY SEE ME THAT WAY.

KARKAT: YOU JUST FEEL BAD FOR ME. YOU’RE TALKING DOWN TO ME LIKE I’M SOME SORT OF PATHETIC WIGGLER WHO NEEDS TO BE CODDLED.

KARKAT: OR YOU’RE JUST IMAGINING I’M WHATEVER WAY YOU WISH I WOULD BE, SOME PERSON WHO’S BETTER AND SMARTER AND STRONGER AND KINDER AND MORE VALUABLE THAN THE PERSON I REALLY AM.

KARKAT: I CAN NEVER UNDERSTAND WHY ANYONE I CARE ABOUT WOULD EVER WASTE THEIR FUCKING TIME ON ME.

KARKAT: BUT WITH YOU...

Karkat draws a breath and curls up on himself. His instinct is to pull back, but he’s fighting it now. He needs to see this one through to the end.

KARKAT: BUT WITH YOU, IT MAKES SENSE. I GUESS.

KARKAT: WHEN YOU SAY SOMETHING NICE TO ME, I’M LIKE... YEAH? OK?

KARKAT: THAT’S COMPREHENSIBLE? I SEE HOW YOU GOT FROM POINT A TO POINT B.

KARKAT: I CAN KNOW YOU THE WAY I DO AND THINK ABOUT WHO YOU ARE AND I CAN UNDERSTAND WHY YOU’D WANT SOMEONE LIKE ME BESIDE YOU.

KARKAT: I DON’T HAVE TO WONDER WHAT’S MISSING.

KARKAT: YOU’RE ON MY LEVEL. AND I’M ON YOURS.

KARKAT: I BELIEVE THAT YOU SEE ME IN FRONT OF YOU THE WAY I ACTUALLY AM, FOR BETTER OR WORSE, AND STILL LIKE ME ANYWAY.

KARKAT: SO EVEN THOUGH IT’S STILL HARD FOR ME TO BELIEVE IN MYSELF A LOT OF THE TIME,

KARKAT: I BELIEVE IN YOU, SO I DON’T NEED TO.

DAVE: so what youre saying is you believe in me who believes in you

Dave. Please.

KARKAT: YEAH, KIND OF?

KARKAT: FUCK, MAN. THAT’S KIND OF DEEP.

DAVE: i know

KARKAT: SO, YEAH.

KARKAT: THAT’S WHAT I’VE NEVER REALLY FELT BEFORE.

KARKAT: AND I’M GLAD YOU’RE...

KARKAT: THAT WE’RE...

Come on. You’re so close.

KARKAT: I’M GLAD YOU’RE MY FRIEND, DAVE.

Oh, for the love of god.

This is practically slapstick at this point. “My friend”????? That was the most excruciatingly overblown and socially maladapted love confession I’ve ever had the displeasure of witnessing, including my own, and he still managed to fumble it into obscurity at the last moment. The guy was barreling in for an unimpeded touchdown and took a hard left straight into the friend zone.

It’s not like Dave is stupid. He’s picking up on the subtext. It’s just Karkat’s cop-out that’s filling him with doubt. It was a little too obviously sentimental. So obvious that maybe the “friend” thing was a deliberate warning. Maybe relationships aren’t a thing Karkat can really “do.” Maybe if Dave crosses the line he’ll ruin everything. Better this excruciating liminal space, something more than friendship but not quite love, than nothing at all.

I look Dave right in his mind’s eye and tell him to cut it the fuck out. He wants it, you want it, so just go for it, my man. It’s now or never.

DAVE: oh

DAVE: same

I feel every brain cell in my immortal body begin to perish in real time. Dave, you cannot actually be that bad at this. How the hell are you walking around with my genes and still acting like this?

DAVE: so...

Look. Even you can manage to top this guy. You’ve got it easy, dude. He’s gonna open up for you like you just rolled up on a Denny’s at 3 a.m. with all the boys and a Groupon. You can do it right here on the couch if you want.

Dave scrunches up his face a little like he’s constipated. Okay, maybe I’m getting a bit worked up. I need to dial it back.

KARKAT: IS SOMETHING WRONG?

DAVE: huh

DAVE: no

DAVE: sorry i just had an absolutely insane train of thought that kind of sent me for a loop

KARKAT: UHH... WHAT?

DAVE: no its extremely better that i dont tell you

DAVE: i kind of forgot what we were talking about because it was so awful

KARKAT: ...

You were talking about Karkat’s feelings? He just dropped some touching-ass bomb about believing in you believing in him or whatever. You should really get to the root of where this is all coming from.

DAVE: oh right

DAVE: yeah

DAVE: all that shit you said about us being friends and on the same level or whatever

DAVE: yeah i feel the same way basically

DAVE: or like

DAVE: well

KARKAT: WHAT?

DAVE: im not sure that i like...

DAVE: hm.

Go on.

DAVE: im kind of getting the feeling that... maybe...

DAVE: theres a level to what were thinking that isnt entirely coming across in words

DAVE: and since we dont have the right words we arent getting to the right actions either

KARKAT: WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT.

DAVE: like maybe we feel the same way about certain things

DAVE: but what were saying and what were feeling

DAVE: maybe those arent exactly the same thing

DAVE: and maybe... we should...

KARKAT: WE SHOULD WHAT?

DAVE: maybe its time to

DAVE: talk

DAVE: about... that

Well, I guess this is progress?

KARKAT: THAT???

DAVE: yeah, like

DAVE: how... when you say were friends

DAVE: what... does that mean

KARKAT: THAT WE’RE FRIENDS?

DAVE: yeah but

DAVE: is that it?

DAVE: just friends

Karkat looks like a deer caught in the headlights.

KARKAT: OF COURSE NOT.

KARKAT: YOU’RE MY...........

KARKAT: B......

KARKAT: ......EST FRIEND.

DAVE: oh

DAVE: i see

I’ve literally been decapitated and that was less unbearable than this. I don’t understand it. I just want you to be happy, man. Why can’t you make anything easy for yourself?

DAVE: well

DAVE: ok then

Whatever. I kind of don’t have time for this shit. The gloves are coming off. The anime ninja training weights are history. It’s time to get down to business.

You look into Karkat’s eyes. You see that twinkle? That’s devotion, you unbelievably dense neutron star of a dumbshit. It’s sparkling like a visit from your fairy fuckin’ godmother. That shit is pure and true. A supernova of all your hopes and dreams swirling together like a radially effervescing kaleidoscope of more hot boy peckers than you could ever imagine.

KARKAT: D... DAVE?

But you aren’t imagining any peckers other than the one right in front of you. Karkat’s probably quite modest and feminine alien penis is the only one you’ve thought about in years. Suddenly, you can’t even comprehend how it is you’ve gone so long without kissing him. You want to so badly. It would be so easy, and you know he wouldn’t turn you away.

DAVE: karkat

DAVE: i

You lift a trembling hand and slowly close the scant distance between you to brush your thumb against Karkat’s cheek. He freezes in place, terrified.

DAVE: i think i

Karkat’s lips part, his breath held. His eyes are wide with anticipation. He looks beautiful like this, you think. All you have to do is press your mouth to his, and he’ll finally know he’s yours.

You start to lean in. Karkat closes his eyes and relaxes into your hand. He’s ready. It’s happening. It’s FUCKING happening!!!

DAVE: wait

DAVE: fuck

What? What are you doing? Oh my god. I’m throwing my hands up in the air in the middle of the other shit I’m doing because this sucks just that much.

KARKAT: WHAT’S WRONG?

KARKAT: DID I DO SOMETH—

DAVE: no

DAVE: i just cant

DAVE: shit

DAVE: it just feels like

It feels like nothing, Dave. Don’t worry about it.

DAVE: what the fuck is going on

DAVE: this feels really off

KARKAT: ????

DAVE: idk

DAVE: i just keep having thoughts i know id never think

Oh, come the fuck on.

I’m going to have an aneurysm. He’s hearing me but not listening to me. This dude has such a titanium grasp on his own born-again virginity that not even the literal hand of God can compel him to kiss his own goddamn boyfriend.

KARKAT: WHAT IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?

DAVE: i have no idea

DAVE: im sorry

Dave pulls away. Karkat looks like he’s about to throw up. I’m about to throw up, if I’m being perfectly honest.

I don’t know what to do at this point. He doesn’t know it’s me, but he’s fighting my influence with every ounce of strength he’s got. If I push any further, things could get messy, epistemologically speaking. I could try more of a backdoor approach and nudge them towards the sauce, but I don’t know if even that would help at this stage. And my timetable for direct physical intervention is fairly limited.

I take a deep breath and get myself under control. My light psychological intrusions may have only made things worse. Invested as I am in the outcome of this encounter, I know forcing their hand would be a mistake.

If Dave passes that threshold not of his own will, it’d be a hollow victory anyway. There’s nothing I can do but settle down, step it back, and trust my boy to bring it home.

The gears are turning in Dave’s head. He knows he stands at a precipice, and what he decides here could mean everything. Maybe that forced kiss seemed wrong, but he knows what he feels doesn’t. He can’t deny that. And he can’t just forget the fact that when he went for it, Karkat wasn’t pulling away.

At the end of the day, he knows what the truth is. Really, he always has.

So what are you going to do about it, Dave? This time, it’s really up to you.

Dave meets Karkat’s eyes in a rare moment of clarity. It’s then, I think, that they both finally realize what’s been obvious to everyone else all along. With a measured motion, Dave pulls his shades off of his face.

If Karkat was stunned before, he’s even more stunned now. The privilege of a Strider Eye Moment is about the most earth-shattering experience a young man will ever have in his life. For once, neither of them have anything stupid to say. All they have is an electric connection that is no longer possible to ignore.

Dave brings his hand back up to Karkat’s cheek in a gesture much more confident than the last. He’s not rushing anything this time. He’s only doing what feels right, taking it each second at a time.

Karkat’s tension begins to dissipate from his body in stages. His stiff shoulders drop. His guarded expression relaxes. And when he covers Dave’s hand with his own, he’s not shaking at all.

Karkat helps Dave slip his hand from the side of his face around to cup the nape of his neck. It’s a tender, steadying touch. Dave applies only the slightest of pressure to draw him forward, and Karkat follows his lead.

They’re so close that Dave can feel Karkat’s shallow breath ghosting over his skin. Karkat’s eyes are shimmering and wet as they flutter closed, moisture beading in his thick eyelashes. His tongue darts out to wet his lips. All that’s left is just one more step. Just one final inch, and it’s over.

They both move to close the distance at the same time.

There’s a second where both of them freeze like that, still in the intimate contact. Nothing but the warmth of each other’s bodies and the dawning realization of a significant boundary crossed. Dave draws in a sharp breath, lets his lips part and... just... a little more. That’s it. Yes! Wait. Dave, don’t linger. Some lines of stress appear on his face. He’s struggling with something. No. Dave, don’t fucking do this. He’s grinding his teeth, and putting both hands up to his temples. Beads of sweat dot his brow. This is so fucking unreal. Holy shit, Dave, if you so much as—

DAVE: GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HEAD AND JUST LET ME DO THIS MYSELF!!!

KARKAT: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DAVE: dude

DAVE: come here...

He... oh my god. He.

He fucking just... wow. Dave lunges forward and kisses Karkat directly on the mouth. It’s like a dam has burst. Neither of them could hold anything back now even if they wanted to. It’s like...

God damn. I’m sorry. I’m blowing the description here, and missing a lot of good shit. It just caught me so off guard. Dave, my dude. I’m so proud of you. Okay, I can do this. I fucking NEED to do this justice. *Cracks the mother fucking knuckles of a yaoi poet and gets down to business.*

...

...

Eh...

You know what? Nah.

I’m not going to intercede with a single word further, and I won’t let you, either. I won’t cheapen this beautiful moment with my base editorialization just to satisfy your voyeuristic curiousity. Frankly, I’m offended you’d even expect me to. What they’re getting up to here is nobody’s business but theirs.

Davekat is canon, and that’s really all there is to say on the matter. Let’s give these crazy lovebirds some privacy and move on.

> ==>
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