Chapter 3

Karkat woke late the next morning to the sound of Kankri starting the shower. Considering the ways he'd been waking up recently (in a puddle of his own blood, to the sound of a record ending in hell), it was shockingly uneventful. He stared jealously in the direction of the bathroom, having planned on exfoliating himself past the point of no return the second he woke up. Even after being wiped down the night before and changing into a clean(ish) pair of pajamas, he still felt dirty. Borderline violated.

Idly, Karkat wondered if he had the right to feel violated, having given his consent—but had he really had a choice? The word 'rape' didn't feel right, even settling in his thoughts. Rape wasn't supposed to feel good. Did it count as rape if you had multiple orgasms? With a laugh, Karkat rolled over and buried his face into his nasty pillows. Maybe he should have listened to Kankri's rants about consent instead of screeching over him.

Karkat stared deeply into his pillow, apparently still feeling the urge to seek deeper meaning in inanimate objects. But despite his efforts, he couldn't well up enough feelings of violation to sob into his pillow like a tortured heroine in a romance novel ("Where the Lupine Blossomed" Scarlet Romance Novels Diamond Series #7). Instead, he just felt generally sticky and sad. Also tired. He couldn't have slept for more than five and a half hours.

He rolled again, shifting his hips and managing to contort himself into a position that he hoped would help him inexplicably cope with his feelings. Maybe he should be feeling worse about the whole 'virgin sacrifice' thing. The whole detail about almost being successfully murdered. It wasn't like Karkat could go to the police about it ("You're saying he stabbed you in the chest?" "I got better."), and then there was the whole detail about not being dead. Cronus would be watching the news like a hawk—leaving Karkat dead on the bridge hadn't been the most inconspicuous of murder scenes and some poor bastard would have been bound to find him. There was probably still blood everywhere and Karkat didn't feel like answering questions about why his bodily fluids were smeared across the bridge in the event that DNA testing led back to him. It really didn't have any reason to, considering he wasn't dead.

Stupidly, he resolved to go back out to the bike trails and check out the scene. If worse came to worse, he would just clean it up himself and if anyone stopped to ask about him desperately scrubbing gallons of blood off of a notorious murder bridge, he'd request a DNA test and claim that he'd suffered a particularly violent nosebleed.

Karkat laughed hollowly at the idea, thinking that it might be something Dave would come up with. Before he could stop himself, he'd reached out to his side table and was holding his cellphone. Would Dave believe him? He was the closest thing Karkat had to a best friend who still lived in town (the other being a homeless man in the park who referred to himself as 'The Mayor of Can Town' and the other being John Fucking Egbert who had went away to Ashland to study drama). He'd probably just laugh and then become concerned for Karkat's mental health when he insisted it was real. For a horrible second Karkat imagined Dave's pale face contorted in laughter as he crawled to his laptop and produced 'Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff In: The Sacripice' ("The riDE HOME RUS E WAS A DISTACTION").

Karkat set his phone back down and managed to crawl out of bed and escape his room. Kankri was—of course—still showering, and singing Taylor Swift like he hadn't a care in the world (his opinion of her had recently changed from 'problematic' to 'a genuinely good person' after he'd discovered her Tumblr via a cookie recipe). Downstairs, he could hear the sound of someone moving around in the kitchen. Karkat went down the side stairs that led straight into the kitchen and peeked into the breakfast nook. Karkat's dad's girlfriend Ms. Leijon was spending her lunch break with the family. She was sitting at the table, pleasantly scanning the headlines, while his dad was grilling sandwiches and mumbling to himself. Karkat reached out and knocked on the table to get Ms. Leijon's attention; she stared up at the reverberations.

"Good morning." Karkat signed.

"Good morning," Nepeta's mother signed back, "Did you sleep well last night?"

Karkat nodded his fist in an up-and-down motion: "Yes." He placed two thumbs-up in front of himself, fists held together, and flicked the right thumb forward, left back before pointing at Ms. Leijon with raised eyebrows.

"I'm doing well, thank you," she responded.

Mr. Vantas walked over to the breakfast nook, carrying two plates of grilled cheese. He set them down on the table and began to sign to Karkat, as to not leave his girlfriend out of the conversation.

"What time did you come home last night?"

"Uh," Karkat said out loud. "Late," he signed.

Ms. Leijon laughed and Karkat's dad rolled his eyes. Karkat laughed too, the normalcy of the situation feeling absurd. He scooted into the breakfast nook across from Ms. Leijon and dragged a plate of grilled cheese towards himself.

Karkat ate in silence while his dad and Ms. Leijon continued to converse in ASL. He eventually checked his phone, finding a missed text message from that night.

"Did you get home safe," Dave had inquired.

'No' Karkat thought.

"YEAH" Karkat typed.

Xxxxxxxx

After lunch, Karkat had decided to bite the bullet and go out to the bridge to assess the damage. He'd managed to get a quick look at the local newspaper Ms. Leijon had been reading, but there was nothing about a brutal murder scene on the front page. Either they hadn't found it fast enough to hit the presses or the new pool at the aquatics center was really that fucking fantastic (it did boast a waterslide).

The back roads that led up to the biking trail where the bridge was were thankfully void of any cop cars, caution tape, or CSI vans. Karkat pulled his shit-tastic Neon into a dirt patch off of the side of the rode where bikers would park their cars before going out onto the trails. The paths themselves were eerily cheery, full of the kind of birdsongs and squirrel chitters that made up the backtracking for old Disney movies. Karkat was passed by several bikers locked and loaded with Go-Pros and serious expressions. Not one of them stopped to warn him about a bloodsoaked bridge. It was a violent contrast to being dragged through the woods at one in the morning, gagged and screeching into the cotton.

Suddenly, Karkat was awash with dread. What if Cronus had come back to check on the scene of the crime? Would he be waiting there for Karkat with a switchblade? Would he crawl into Karkat's window in the middle of the night to gut him and keep his mouth shut?

The trees suddenly looked very much like the oaks in Snow White—their limbs mean fingers, the knots in their trunks frightening faces. Karkat's heart started hammering, a part of him begging to go back. The other pushed him forward, the curiousity all but killing him.

Eventually, the bridge came into view, painted pristine white to cover up the graffiti and upside-down pentagons that had covered it over the years. There was no summoning sigil in the center, no blood to be seen anywhere on the bridge or in the creek. There was absolutely nothing to show that someone had been there at all last night, least of all sacrificed.

Karkat knelt down to the approximate place where Gamzee had heaved himself out of the hell portal and onto the bridge, his fingers brushing over the wood. A prick hit his finger and he hissed out a "fuck", drawing the splintered fingertip up to his mouth.

"Are you alright?"

Karkat started, legs scrambling below him as he strugged to get up and managed to faceplant onto the bridge. There was soft giggling behind him. He managed to roll onto his ass and crabwalk a few steps away.

Standing on the bridge was a girl who couldn't have been past her mid-twenties. She was dressed in a blue sundress and white crochet top, the ensemble completed with a floppy white sunhat. There was something about her facial features that reminded Karkat of a girl he'd been to high school with.

Karkat pushed himself to his feet, sucking out the splinter and spitting it over the side of the bridge, "No it's good I'm alright."

The girl stood still, continuing to smile serenely at Karkat. It looked sweet, but it was unnerving.

"I—," Karkat started, "You look really familiar."

"Oh?" The girl cocked her head. "Do I?"

"Yeah, you look like this girl I went to high school with."

"I have a cousin that lives around here," she raised a finger to her cheek and tapped it thoughtfully. She was wearing big white cat eye glasses, "Maybe we met through her."

"Maybe." Karkat said. She was doing nothing particularly threatening, but his pulse was rocketing nevertheless.

"Well," she said, dropping her hands. "It's been good seeing you, Karkat."

"Yeah it's—." Karkat froze.

The girl smiled, revealing a pair of elongated canines. Fangs.

Karkat realized where he'd seen her. She'd coalesced out of the tarlike bile he'd vomited—the torso of a human perched on the body of a massive spider, three extra smaller eyes on either side of her existing ones, glittering yellow in the half-light, dark horns the shape of a stinger and pincer jutting from her head.

"What's the matter?" The demoness asked, turning in place as Karkat inched past her like a terrified cat.

"I—." he choked, backpedaling as fast as he could down the path.

"Oh, Karkat," her fanged smile brightened and she tipped her head to the side, "You don't have to worry about me attacking you—not right now at least. Cronus sent me here with instructions to check on the crime scene, and due to the nature of our contract I can't act outside of the parameters of his orders."

Well that was fucking helpful to know. And also fucking terrifying. The second the demoness went back to run her mouth to Cronus, Karkat was dead meat. Nevertheless, he didn't elect to voice these emotions, chosing to gape at Aranea in the same way he did when Kankri went on a rant.

"I am genuinely curious who you managed to contract with, however," she went on, crossing the bridge towards Karkat, "And impressed you managed to contact them in the first place. But that just makes this game all the more interesting, doesn't it?"

'Not really, no.' Karkat's internal monologue supplied, but his external monologue was more of a very soft, if high pitched "Eeeeee," Noise.

"Though it is a shame you aren't dead," she continued, this time tapping her lip with her fingertip. They were a deep shade of bluish-red—like blood, "Because, you see, the more blood spilled from the virgin sacrifice, the stronger my covenant with Cronus grows," Her fangs reappeared, bright white between her blood-colored lips, "And that still counts, although you aren't a virgin anymore."

Whoop, there it was.

Ladies and gentleman, Karkat Tantrum Ballet is proud to present: twelve hours of nonstop physical and emotional torture condensed into less than three minutes of profanity loudly flatuated through the face hole of the star of our one-man show.

"So you're FUCKING TELLING ME," Karkat began, wasting no time flying into an all-caps rage, "THAT EVEN THOUGH I SPENT A GOOD FOURTY-FIVE MINUTES GETTING THE GODDAMN DICKING OF MY LIFE AFTER LITERALLY SELLING MY GODFORSAKEN CORPSE TO THE LITERAL BALL-GARGLING DUKE OF THE FIFTH CIRCLE OF ACTUAL HELL," Karkat did not notice the demoness' smile dropping from her face immediately, "I'M STILL GOING TO BE USED AS A RENUABLE GODDAMN RESOURCE FOR THAT DISCOUNT ABORTION AMPORA LIKE I'M A FUCKING WINDMILL THAT SPEWS AN ENDLESS TORRENT OF PLASMIDS MADE OF PLATINUM SINGLES. AND—FOR SOME KNUCKLESHITTING REASON—YOU DECIDED TO INFORM ME OF THIS!"

Much to the spider-demon's surprise, Karkat flung himself back onto the bridge, spread-eagled and facing the sky, "WELL WHOOP-DE-GODDAMN-DO, MIGHT AS WELL MAKE GOOD USE OF YOUR WALMART-PURCHASED AERO KNIFE RIGHT NOW. GO ON, DON'T DISAPPOINT CHEF MING TSAI," Despite the offer, he took to his feet immadiately and grasped the side of the bridge and leaned backwards, glaring at the demoness upside down, "AND TO TOP ALL OF THAT SHIT OFF, YOU ARE APPARENTLY AWARE OF THE SOUL-CRUSHINGLY ABYSMAL CEREMONY OF ASS-GRINDING THAT WAS MY FIRST SEXUAL EXPERIENCE, AN EVENT I WAS TO SPEAK WITH EXACTLY GODDAMN NO ONE ABOUT," he flung himself away from the side of the bridge, stomping purposefully back and forth in four-foot increments, "SO HEY, LET'S JUST TALK ABOUT IT, HUH? LET'S TALK ABOUT IT WITH EVERY CROTCHRUBBING CHUCKLEFUCK IN MY LIFE. BETTER YET—IT MIGHT JUST BE TIME TO TAKE A SELFIE WITH A GIANT PURPLE TENTACLE WANG AND LIST THIS TRAUMATIZING EXPERIENCE AS A FACEBOOK LIFETIME EVENT. WHAT SHOULD I PUT IN THE DESCRIPTION? 'HAD A MEETUP WITH DESTINY, SMILEY EMOJI. THIS WAS A FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH NEVER TO FORGET LOL! HEART EMOJI.' SHITTINGLY PERFECT IF YOU ASK ME—."

Karkat stopped his pacing as he turned to face the demoness once again, only to find her gone. A bicyclist sped around a corner and across the bridge, staring at Karkat with his mouth slightly agape, obviously having caught wind of the tail end of Karkat's rant. Karkat chose to glare at him until he was gone, not possessing enough warewithall to nod at him casually like Dave would've done.

Naturally, further searching around the bridge proved that the demoness had chosen to fuck off instead of staying around to torment him. Although Karkat was still terrified of the thought of being captured and slowly bled for the rest of his natural life, his frustration about being esentially caught with his pants down in the awkwardest-slash-worst moment of his life momentarily eclipsed such fears. But the crawling feeling up the back of his neck remained—if she'd managed to pop up out of no where so quickly, there was no telling where she'd manage to show up next.

Xxxxxxxxx

Despite Karkat's fears, the remainer of the weekend passed peacefully, despite him jumping every time a sudden loud noise punctuated the air (which was an unfortunately common occurance in the Vantas household). Kankri wrangled Karkat into helping him study for his GRE, Karkat watched old episodes of Game of Thrones with his dad, Ms. Leijon brought her laptop over so the family could sign with Nepeta's older sister Meulin over Skype, Dave snap chatted Karkat a picture of a white suburban dad wearing a midieval hood. The caption read 'he will save us' with no context.

Life resumed, although the events of Friday morning slunk around the back of his mind like a thick, gooey substance. Karkat woke up in a cold sweat on Saturday morning after dreaming of Dave pinning him down to the bed by his throat, mouth overfull of sharp teeth and red eyes blazing with mania. Gamzee sat in a dim corner of the room, half-lidded eyes like dark and glittering gems. The rest of the day, Dream Dave's hot words in his ear echoed over and over. Karkat felt like he'd been there, hissing them into his head with malicious intent: "Did you get home safe?" Dave's words, but someone else's voice.

Karkat stopped by the park that day to see The Mayor, hoping some light conversation would help get his mind off of things. He ended up becoming withdrawn and watching The Mayor construct a new strip mall out of several cans of Spam while he himself sat and watched on the swings.

Karkat looked down at his forearms, which were almost a bright pink. When he'd returned home after his meeting, he'd climbed into the shower and proceeded to exfoliate himself raw with Kankri's superfulous supply of Lush products and loofahs. His romance novels had led him to believe that shower sessions full of gratuitous scrubbing would result in him feeling pure once more after being throughly ravished, but he felt exactly the same. Only now he was raw-skinned and reeked like an assortment of douchey herbs and fair-trade cocoa butter.

In deep confrontation with his adventures in post-ravishing bathtime rituals, Karkat didn't notice the person sneaking up on him until it was too late.

"Goddamn, Karkat."

"JESUS CHRIST ON A STICK!" Karkat sprang up from the swing and—in the process of taking a defensive stance—managed to wrap one of the chains around his leg as he turned to face his assailant.

Dave Stider stood behind him, an arm full of canned goods and what appeared to be a katana slung over his shoulder. He had carried it everywhere with him from a young age, claming it was an umbrella with a katana scabbard as the handle. Supposedly needed it to protect his paper-colored skin from the "cruel rays of the sun", like his glasses protected his albino-ass eyes. Karkat, however, had never seen the umbrella out, even while it was raining, and continued to suspect that is was, in fact, a real sword.

Dave took no notice of Karkat's violent reaction to his appearance and contined on regardless, expression as blasé as ever, "First you don't respond to my snapchat and now I find you and The Mayor hanging without me?" his glasses pointed in the direction of the vagrant currently mulling over his highend spam stripmall.

"Fucking fuck, Strider, you scared the piss out of me!" Karkat snarled, untangling himself from the swings and giving Dave's shoulder a push. Dave instead grasped Karkat's hand and slid it over his heart.

"Do you know how long I slaved over that meme for you?" he whispered in a serious voice. Karkat rolled his eyes and produced a saliva-ridden scoff. Dave shook his head, feigning the deepest hurt.

"It was hand-crafted by me like the finest of silk robes to be worn by the emporer of memes himself. Do you know what kind of things I had to search in order to come across that masterpiece of a picture?" he squeezed Karkat's hand which, despite the slew of absolute bullshit running from his mouth, made the other boy's heart flutter, "It had to be perfect: from the soulful look in his eye to the dissonant pictures of his cat and children in the back. Do you understand the things I did to bring it to you? The kinky-ass porn ads that are going to get generated because of my endless googling? Do you even know who this man is going to save?"

Nonplussed, Karkat stared at Dave as he pointed into the street, as if the subject of the meme were waiting there in his glorious medieval hood.

"Not you," Dave whispered, shaking his head in derision, "Because you couldn't even take five seconds to snap me back. And on top of that, where do I find you?" Dave produced a bitter laugh, "Alone with the mayor. I thought we had something, Karkat. I'm wounded to see you taking part in this veritable liaison."

"Would you kindly fucking cease your endless stream of meme garbage, you flatulant Boohbah?!" Karkat howled at last, yanking his hand back. His cheeks were going pink and he wanted to disguise them under the guise of anger.

"Well, that attitude means that you and the rest of the story people aren't getting a present today," Dave observed, eyebrows shooting up so high that they showed a little above his shades, "Mrs. Lady is going to be so disappointed—she was waiting for that present, you know."

"What the chicken fried fuck are you talking about, Strider?!"

"You can't use Boohbahs to insult me if you don't know the first thing about that modern classic piece of television." Dave retorted instantly. Karkat slid his hand down his own face, attempting to take it with his palm.

"There is nothing classic about those furry foreskin creatures."

"How would you know if you've never seen it?"

"We are NOT having this conversation, dickcheese." Karkat turned away from Dave and plopped his ass back down in the swing set. During the midst of Dave's meme monologue, The Mayor had walked over and was politely waiting for their banter to finish. Dave greeted him and handed over the new cans (the baked beans were decided to act as a Boudin Bakery for the new strip mall, while it was decided that the corn was to be put into reserves for the Can Town convention center).

Dave returned moments later to find Karkat swinging slowly, scraping his toes over the bark. Dave's appearance had—very momentarily—been enough to distract Karkat from his onslaught of feelings, but the general gloom he'd been feeling had encapsulated him once more in nearly an instant. Frowning a little, Dave sat down on the swing next to Karkat and swung sideways, bumping into Karkat's hip.

"What's up, buttercup?" He asked, popping the p attractively. Karkat shrugged, but didn't make an effort to hide his mood. It was hard enough putting up a front for his family; he didn't want to put one up for his best friends as well.

"You all talked out or something?" Dave pressed, swinging a little harder and bumping to Karkat's hip yet again, "I mean, I know The Mayor is a riveting conversationalist," There was a pause, "The joke is The Mayor doesn't talk."

"Yeah, I got the fucking joke, Strider." Karkat replied with a bit more venom than he intended. He instantly felt bad for taking his feelings out on the person he liked most, "Sorry, that came out wrong."

Dave stopped bumping into Karkat and took a moment to ponder his tongue piercing. Karkat watched it with wilting attention, typically much more excited to see that particular habit, "So why are you really out here, Karkat? What's on your mind?"

Karkat struggled to make words. He found that he was left speechless more times that weekend than he had been within the last several years. He thought back to his earlier desire to text Dave and ask for advice, but THE SACRIPICE kept flashing across his mind's eye in comic sans. Karkat folded his hands together, worrying the inside of his cheek with his teeth. Talking about it would definitely help, but how the hell was he going to phrase things?

"You okay—?" Dave began, but Karkat quickly cut him off.

"I got into an argument with Kankri."

"Okay. Unsurprising, but okay. Go on."

"We were—he was going on one of his rants and the issue of consent came up," Karkat lied, "I. Okay. What if someone was holding a gun to your head," even as he talked, he felt the mock story create answers in his mind, "And they'd shoot you unless you agreed to have sex with them." Karkat paused, but Dave was resting his chin on his steepled fingers, listening intently.

"But, when you had sex with them," Karkat continued, "It ended up being really, really good. But afterwards you still felt… kind of violated and," The revenge of the nervous lip-licking made Karkat take pause once more, "Really fucked up for enjoying it. Is that—," he looked at Dave, eyes wide and desperate, "Is that rape?"

"Well, yeah." Dave's dreaded answer was delivered immediately, "I mean, if you didn't consent, that's still rape. I guess if you changed your mind and consented eventually—," He shook his head, "Well, no, that'd still be rape," He nodded decisively, "As long as you didn't consent, that'd still be rape."

"But I did consent—." Karkat started, and then dread trickled into his chest as he realized what he'd just said. Dave sat up, all his half-hearted thoughtfulness instantly gone and replaced with genuine concern.

"Woah, wait—what do you mean you?" Dave's hand shot out to grasp Karkat's shoulder, his mouth was twisted with worry, "Did something happen—something at Eridan's party? Are you okay?"

"Look, no—I'm fine, it was nothing."

"Bullshit," Dave shook his head, "You definitely said 'I'. Look, I'm not going to make you say anything, but Karkat—listen. You're not alone in this—whatever this is."

Karkat was awash with a simultaneous sense of comfort and humiliation. Dave was acting like Karkat was a drunk sorority girl who'd tragically been taken advantage of at a frat party. But there was so much more to the story that made it even more painful—he'd literally done it to save his life. He felt more like a survivor than a victim—but he still managed to feel victimized, especially with Dave's reaction. It made him feel pathetic and small.

"Does this really have to be such a big deal?" Karkat said with the hope that minimalizing the situation would help to minimalize the pity as well. He stared hard down at the bark around his feet, foolishly seeking knowledge from inanimate objects as he oft did.

"'Such a big deal?' I mean, you tell me," Dave took a deep breath, dragging a hand through his white hair, "If you got hurt, it's important that we do something about it, one way or another," He took the hand steadied on Karkat's shoulder and secured it around Karkat's hands comfortingly, "We need to keep you save," He added quietly.

"Do something?" Karkat laughed incredulously; what the fuck could be done about it now? What would they do, show a reenactment of the covenant being forged on Dateline?

"Yeah. Do something. Like, make sure that no one else is hurt either," Dave confirmed, squeezing Karkat's hand, "I care about you, and even if you don't care about you, I want to make sure that no one else gets hurt in… whatever's going on."

"Who said anything is going on?!" Karkat snapped, wrenching his hand away, Dave stared, his expression as unreadable as ever behind the tint of his glasses.

"Look, I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, okay? I just…" He sighed, "I know Kankri does go on about a lot of 'hashtag trigger warning' things," Dave did a little wave with both hands to dictate Kankri's hashtag, "But you seem particularly invested in this one. If anything has gone on, I'm gonna do everything in my power to help you. I just want you to know that, okay?"

Karkat was suddenly aware that he'd started crying while Dave talked—is was from a combination of the rare sincerity and concern that Dave was showing and the gravity of the situation finally catching up with him. Everything became so much more real whenever someone was there to confirm it.

Dave started, his hands hovered awkwardly over Karkat's shoulders, as if he were suddenly too fragile to touch, "Oh shit buddy, are you okay? Come on, let's talk it out."

At the sound of Karkat's crying, The Mayor had walked back over to the swings and was frowned at his young friend, eyes clouded with concern. He and Dave exchanged nervous glances, "I think we're gonna get out of here for now," Dave said to The Mayor, who nodded with understanding. Dave turned back to Karkat, who was gripping his jeans and dissolving into gross sobbing, "Hey, do you want to go somewhere to talk? Did you drive here?"

Karkat shook his head, "Walked," he managed to say, voice full of stuffy-nose weight.

Dave sucked in his lips and gave a single, head-bobbing nod, "Okay. Yeah. We're going to my house."

Waving goodbye to The Mayor, Dave helped Karkat up off the swing and, keeping a reassuring arm around him, led him away.