A/N: WELP, I'm about to embarrass myself BIG-TIME in front of the Spongebob fandom…yaaaaaaay. Please no flames, I really don't do well under heat. I've been on a slight PlanktonxKaren high as of late, and, well, this crazy thing came out of it. I'm not usually a humanized person, but it depends on the situation, couple, fic, etc. But in this instance I went full-on humanized. I'M SORRY DON'T HATE ME THANKS FOR READING!
The rushing waves, the bombarding meteors, the hollering citizens, it was too much. She had to get out, she had to run! She had to–
A shrill voice, masked by tears and clunky, sprinting footsteps broke the sweet world Karen had constructed for herself in her book, and she tilted up her gaze to see her best friend running towards her. She shut the book with a snap and breathed in the familiar dust. No emotion lay on her face as he ran over to her, stood only slightly higher than where she sat on the swings, and explained his torment. Tears cascaded down his face, and a twinge of anger at whomever had done this rose in her chest. She beat it back down with a bat.
"They…they called me little! They called me Plankton because I'm short! Karen, I wanna hit them back! It hurts!" Every one of his sentences ended with a bout of new tears, and Karen bit her lip. The bruise on his left eye was bad, worse than she would expect from a fifth grader, but Stitch didn't have a reputation for soft touch.
"Here, come here, let me look at it." Her book never once called to her as she set it down and kneeled in front of Sheldon, examining his eye with a careful touch, brushing out his matted, inky hair. He whimpered and whined like a puppy when her fingers brushed over it, but for the most part, both eyes held tears and hatred. She had to bite back a sigh; if revenge was on his mind there was little in the ways of stopping him. Still, she could try. "You're not hitting him."
Reason. He would listen to reason, the little brat. "What do you suppose will happen if you try to fight Stitch again?"
"I won't fight him!" He announced it like someone in a commercial explaining that you don't get one copper pan, but two! He exclaimed it with all the inflection and thrill that bugged her, because he was using that prodigy child in him for something so stupid and temporary. She knew what was coming.
Sighing, she dug through her backpack in search of a sewing kit. "Let me guess, you've got some mastermind invention, right?" She bit her lip. It wasn't supposed to sound that annoyed.
Thankfully, impervious to insult by his best friend now, he didn't notice. "Correct! I'll invent a wedgie-contraption so fantastic he won't walk right for months!"
Karen smiled. As devious and nutty as he was, seeing him get excited was sort of adorable.
"Where this until you can get a doctor to look at it."
'Plankton' as he would be known for the rest of his life, watched through blurred vision as his best friend, by choice and force, ripped a piece of ebony fabric from her backpack with a satisfying tear, poked two holes in it, and looped some leftover craft string through it. "What are you doing?" Bitter doubt tailed the end of his sentence, but Karen didn't seem to mind, so he shut up. The last thing he needed was his best friend mad at him too.
She looped the eyepatch around his head, and to both kids' surprise, it fit perfectly. She pulled the fabric down until it covered his eye, and a small smile came over her lips. She would miss seeing his burgundy eye for a while, the one that always made her believe her best friend was destined to discover he had magic powers, but it was only temporary, right? Besides, it was better than being reminded of his injury.
He voiced his displeasure quickly and quietly after she handed him a keychain mirror. "I look stupid. What will everyone say?"
The bell, somewhere far away and uncaring towards their feelings and problems, pealed out with unusual vigor, and Karen grabbed her bag, book, and Plankton's hand. "Just tell them they were too ugly to look at."
"You're a genius!" That evil little cackle followed, and Karen grinned. Crisis averted.
"You're not ugly, and I have to wear this around you."
Why did the…compliment, let's call it, bring such a dark, bitter-rose shade to her cheeks? It contrasted wildly with her cerulean hair, it didn't look good with her flat nose, and Plankton always had to say something to make it worse. She looked down at her raven shoes as they walked, hoping if she could distract herself with thoughts of her book, the color would dissolve from her face, and he would just think it was a trick of the light.
In the back of her mind, Karen knew that several possibilities could have followed. He could have pointed out her tint and made fun of it, he could have run away screaming, or nothing would happen and they would get in line. But even with predicting skills rivaling a computer, she never would have guessed that he would grab her hand, hold it in his, and let the connection dangle between them. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him smirking.
She was right on one count.
He always had to make her blush harder.
Three years later…
"YOU SHUT UP!"
Summer heat made for some fantastic friendships and lifelong loves, but for Plankton and Karen, the scalding heat just fueled their bitter moods and rough voices. Ever swat of a fly dragged their moods into the ground until it bled for mercy and came out in the heat of scorching insults.
Karen tugged at her hair, threading her fingers through the violet highlights summer had gifted her with. Knots she had failed to brush out in a rush this morning just reminded her how much she had done for him. How much she had cared for him, liked him, and stood by him. Even when it meant getting the same punishments, the same ridicules, and the same fates.
Opening her eyes, all she could see was a target, standing across the grass, with fireworks of rose and gold burst behind him. "I could have been popular if it wasn't for you!" She stuck an accusatory finger out at Plankton, who, while momentarily taken aback, came back roaring.
"Oh yeah? W-well…you…you're…" Blank. Come on, think! What was bad about her? Thoughts and insults ran through his mind, but they were either too cruel even for battle, or so weak she would laugh at him. He would lose the last person on earth who still liked him.
Somehow, that made him mad.
The smug, pretentious smirk on her lips gave him pause. Since when were Karen's lips vivid green? And when did she get a sparkly shade above her eyes?
The simple command dug into the bottom of the rage elementary and middle school had poured in, day-in and day-out, and for the first time, he wielded it on his best friend.
Finally, a reaction.
Plankton watched in satisfaction, evil satisfaction that felt good, as Karen stumbled back, eyes glaring and mouth curled. She opened her mouth, and he readied for the insult ten times worse than his.
But nothing came.
Right before she ran off, he thought he saw her cry.
Another firework exploded in the distance, light-green and illuminating the ground before him, where she had stood. All was silent apart from the screams of his neighbors, the barking of dogs, and the fireworks rupturing above his head. Strangely, the noise amounted to just a whisper.
Where had all the anger gone?
Drained. No emotion was left. He stumbled, devoid of feeling or thought, through the park until coming to a lone tree, only about twice his height, where he collapsed against the tree truck, slid down, and sat on a collection of worn roots. His hands weaved and ran over the bark, chipping away little by little. It was something to do, but guilt stopped him after a moment. Stupid guilt. If it weren't for guilt, he could quite literally take over the world. Force everyone to finally be nice to him.
Well, not everyone.
It wasn't as if he had gotten mad about nothing. Stitch and his friends had somehow found him, even during the summer, and they ran through their routine, kicking, wedgies, the usual. He could handle it, it wasn't anything he didn't deal with on a weekly basis.
But then…he turned to Karen. Stitch looking at Karen meant bad news for everyone involved, and even at first glance, Plankton had felt rage, a rage he didn't know, balling in his fists. But before he could lurch and deck Stitch once and for all, something odd had happened.
"Karen, do you want to go somewhere sometime?" The voice, usually yelling, making excuses, or insulting someone, sounding so sweet and sincere was like watching the villain of a movie turn good at the wrong moment.
Was…was Stitch asking her on a date?
The prospect sent Plankton's fist into Stitch's eye.
What followed didn't matter. Stitch screamed, Plankton laughed, and Karen looked at the whole situation with horror. The other boys were helpless without their leader, and they carried away the whimpering boy, probably to a parent who didn't know of Stitch's reputation at school. Plankton kept laughing. Joy edged into the conversation, and he grinned wildly as he turned to Karen.
"We won, baby!" The last word slipped in accidently, and he bit his lip. He blamed his mom's sappy, retro, romance movies. "I mean…we won!"
Karen didn't look like a winner.
"How could you punch him!?" Again, the voice sounded wrong. Why was the sweetest voice in the world, the one that had always been at his side, roaring hatred at his face? He briefly shot a glance up at the moon. It was crescent. No one had turned into a werewolf, so what was wrong with the world?
Stuttering for an answer, and lacking the clarity of mind to do so, Plankton could only utter, "I…I…he was looking at you…he asked you…"
Even under the cloak of night he could see the hurt in her eyes. Hurt? Why would she be hurting? No, he punched Stitch to save her! He was the hero, not the bad guy! He opened his mouth to voice these brilliant thoughts, but she beat him to it.
"You're no better than he is if you can punch someone just because he asks your best friend on a date!"
The fight had escalated from there, and he could pick out at least three, ok, four things he had said that he probably should not have. And he said it to Karen. He hurt Karen.
Why did those words hurt so much?
Why did saying she was ugly strike such a loud, painful chord?
Why did he even intervene like that when he knew she could have handled it?
Why was there a shadow in front of him?
"K-Karen?" A trembling smile fell over his face, and he whipped around to face her, an apology, brilliantly written in such a short amount of time, already on the tip of his tongue. "Karen, I'm sorry, I can't believe I–"
A firework, boiling red and bloody, shattered in a magnificent light behind him, shining a glow on the shadow's true form, only in time for Plankton yelp before Stitch grabbed his lime collar and held him well above the ground inching closer to the edge of the hill that, to the eighth graders, practically represented a cliff. He tensed. His shoulders shook. His bad eye, beneath the eyepatch, ached and burned against this head. He whimpered.
"You hurt my little lady." Stitch's voice was rough. Coarse. Unforgiving. Another firework, blue, drowning light, smashed the darkness, revealing Stitch's bruised but working eye. It was beady and black and blue, but it worked, something he could never say for his own. The reminder burned in his chest, despite his feet dangling over a fall most kids wouldn't dream of inflicting.
"I never talked to Amelia!" Talked to? Heck, Plankton was lucky if he got in the same room of the held-back-twice blond. Besides, he wouldn't dare risk it – if you messed with his girlfriend, the punishments were worse than whatever your parents would do to you for getting expelled. Which Stitch would also make sure of.
A cackle, somehow worse than his own, rumbled in time with another firework. Plankton's vision blurred in-and-out, and he breathed in too little air to get a good grip on his consciousness and clarity. Fear whispered that if he breathed too much, Stitch would send him flying down the hill in a knotted mess.
"Amelia isn't my lady anymore, Plankton," he spat. "Come on out, babe."
If someone had ever asked Plankton, as an adult, the worst moment of his life, he would have lied and said it was the first time he failed to steal Eugene's formula, and they would believe him.
Karen stepped out of the shadows, eyes pinned to the ground and fingers stuck in white-washed jeans. She refused to look at him, but even at the horrific angle, he could see smeared lipstick and eyeshadow on her hand, blurred and watered mascara under her eyes, and trembling lips.
You lost her.
"Karen!" Breathing too much and ticking Stitch off didn't matter. Had it ever mattered? How could he care? "Karen, what are you doing with him? He's a bully, he's hated us our whole lives, how could…" He cut himself short. He couldn't blame her, even if the words burned his tongue to hold them.
Stitch held out an arm, and Karen stepped into it. "Let go of her!" Plankton thrashed wildly in his grip, kicking, punching, wildly flailing his limbs, and hoping to hit some part of Stitch that wasn't protected by football gear.
"This is a low, even for you, Plankton. First your dignity, now your girl." In a mockery, Stitch paused. "Wait, she never was your girl!" The cackle followed, and even Karen winced.
Plankton looked to Karen, her eyes still stuck at the ground. Her black t-shirt fluttered in the somehow calm breeze, and she readjusted her thin glasses, a habit she was prone to. He drunk in her image. The way she curled her hands inside-out to lock her fingers together. The glow-in-the-dark bracelet from a year ago she still wore. The casual outfit she would wear to school and a ball if she could. The only thing he couldn't see was the smile.
Somehow, his gaze brought hers up like a magnet, and they locked gazes. She mouthed a simple, "Goodbye," before Stitch dropped him over the hill.
He hardly felt the tumble rolling down the hill. Karen's eyes still burned in his memory.
Ten years later…
"Watch where you're going!"
"Did you see her hair? It's neon pink!"
"Come on, give him something."
Karen breathed in the familiar scent of real pizza, trash, and thousands of people in one place at the same time, and smiled.
Even if she hadn't been born in the most fantastic city on Earth, she would have still considered Times Square her home, smack in the middle of the shouting, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, and businesses squeezed together on every street. Her bag lay at her side where she could see all the pockets, she had her pepper spray on the front pocket for easy-access, her money was on the inside, and she had no destination in mind but the entire city memorized.
There wasn't anything to ruin her post-graduation vacation.
Too busy admiring the Mickey Mouse short playing several tens of feet above her head as she walked, Karen's feet chose to lead her into the same pathway as someone else, and she did what you should never do in New York:
Make contact with someone.
"Watch where you're going!" The words were reflexes on her tongue.
"You crashed into me!" The voice sounded just as rehearsed.
Her head titled up, hand in her bag, she brought her eyes to the man she had collided with, and she froze. Again, usually a major mistake, but Plankton seemed just as frozen as she.
Don't panic. Don't breathe. And whatever you do, don't make a fool out of yourself.
A grin split her face.
"Sheldon?!" Years' worth of silence, petty small talk and wistful, nostalgic memories hid behind their hats as she threw her arms around him and hugged him so tightly he almost pushed her off. "What are you doing here?"
No answer came at first, he simply hugged her to him. It wasn't awkward like they imagined it would be, it wasn't even tense. It was the type of hug she saw on TV, on reality shows, where one person's hands bent around the other's body to hold them in buckles so they can't ever leave again.
Did he miss me?
Of course he had missed her. She was the one that 'dumped' him, so if anyone had done the missing, he was it.
Snapping her thoughts, he pulled back, eyeing her with his uncovered eye. Ticked-off pettiness flicked at her chest when she saw that he had replaced the eyepatch she had made, then adulthood creeped in and gave her a good smack on the head. Of course he had replaced it. It had been ten years.
"You've changed," he remarked quietly, though something else lay at the tip of his tongue, and if it was an insult, she really couldn't blame him much.
"So have you."
Ah, there was the awkwardness. It hadn't come from having nothing to say, it came from having everything to say and no way to say it. How was she supposed to tell him how she had missed him, how much she could beat herself up for that day? How could she confess that Stitch had only wanted her to rub up against him, like everyone didn't already know it? She couldn't, and that's why she simply asked him to go for coffee so she could regret everything in his presence a little longer.
"You dating?" Apparently, Plankton would only speak to her in two-word bursts. She shook her head. That was fine. If he was going to act reserved and emotionally haywire, she would just beat him at his own game. A smile nearly crept up at the thought. One of their games, that only they could play.
She motioned to him, and somehow, he understood, and replied, "Me neither."
Why had he expected she would still be dating Stitch, still wear her hair on her shoulders, and still hate him like he had always assumed? Why in the world would he have assumed everything he had counted on would stay the same? Why was he such an idiot?
Neither held the door open for each other at the café, but Plankton did reach for it first, so Karen had to take the blame for their hands touching. Well, he assumed. I guess some things never change.
"You still like black coffee?" Desperation clung to her lips, he could tell. She always sighed a little at the start of her sentence.
He smirked. She wasn't the only one who had changed. "Nope, I want a milkshake. I'm guessing you don't want a latte?" A swift nod. "Black?" Another nod. "Ok, I'll get them, you stay there." He winced, why did he have to sound like an egotistical jerk after every word?
It didn't seem to matter much, and Karen silently sat down in the corner, moving her purse onto her lap. The New York sunset faded fast behind her, orange dominating one moment and pink the next, before he crossed both out and assumed purple.
For once, the line was short, and he had gotten their orders within five minutes, possibly a record for the city. "Here ya go, if they're poison, tell me." She didn't laugh, and that one was on her.
He tapped his foot against the floor. That would annoy her.
She hummed the theme song to a cartoon. He had to say something.
"Ok, come on, you have to say something!"
"Just start talking already!"
The entire café, it seemed, glared in their direction, not that they could notice as they stared blankly at each other.
Finally, the sweetest sound entered the conversation, and the best friends laughed under their breath. Egos had flown out the window. Resentment crawled off. Grudges (well, most of them) vanished.
In a weak moment, Karen reached across the table and grabbed Plankton's hands. "Now tell me seriously, how are you?" If he didn't give her a real answer she would slap him, and that had to be a sign something about their friendship was still intact.
Shrugging, thinking better of it, and sighing, he admitted under shaky breath, "Not so good. My restaurant is under the ground, all of my inventions are deadly, and I–"
"What inventions?" Plankton paused at the inflection in her voice. She sounded like a woman who had been starved of an intellectual conversation for years, and without him by her side, that was probably true.
Some pride in his voice, he launched into a presidential-campaign explaining some of his latest findings and creations, leaving out the most fatal ones for another coffee date, just in case she had changed more than he assumed. Her eyes glowed at almost everything he said, and more than once he had to catch his breath. They were back in the fifth grade, sitting under a tree and marveling over the world with nothing but their minds and a good book from the library.
"Ok, come on, I'm closin' up!" A man with the thickest New York accent bellowed form behind the counter, and only in that instant did the pair realize they had talked for hours, and not once let go of each other's hands.
"Keep your shorts on!" Plankton hollered back, earning an evil laugh from Karen. Still, the man had the law and a gold tooth on his side, so they exited their corner, Plankton helped her with her coat despite her eye-rolls, and they headed out into the brumal air. The wind nipped at their skin, the moon howled at them, possibly on purpose, and Karen shivered. Plankton put his arm around her. Both screamed in their heads it meant nothing.
"Where are you staying?" The question, which really should have come during their lengthy catch-up, slipped through the silence, and Karen pointed across the way.
"The Infinity Hotel, but I'm leaving tomorrow morning. When do you go back again?"
Again, silence couldn't help but stick its nose into the party.
They stopped at the entrance to the hotel, glittering gold reflecting the city lights and illuminating just enough to show their blush that couldn't be hidden.
"Sheldon," she looked up through her scarf, smiled a little as he smirked, and continued, "About what happened when we were kids…"
"Hey, look at me." His hands went to her forearms, and the red of her cheeks would contrast the sunrise that was sure to be coming any moment now. She stuck her hands in her pockets and played with the lining as he whispered, "That was when we were kids, right? None of that stuff matters."
Did that stuff include everything from when they were kids?
"Well, I should get in and try to have five seconds of sleep."
"Yeah, before long I have to call Eugene and make sure he knows I'm still alive and ready to put him out of business."
Her emerald eyes met his ruby one.
She wouldn't cry.
Would she ever see him again?
She couldn't handle a goodbye. That's why she didn't give him one the first time.
He wouldn't tell her.
Would he ever get to?
She wouldn't feel the same way. That's why he hadn't told her the first time.
Neither objected as he grabbed her waist and pulled her lips against his.
Karen froze. Not in the pretty way they do in movies, but she went stiff like a board, her heart stopped and refused to start again, and the world was surely ending.
Then, as she felt him pull away, she kissed him back.
Only a moment later, both broke off, breathing heavily and unsure what the world had come to when two best friends were kissing as adults in a strange city.
Plankton smiled. Not a smirk, but a smile. "Goodnight, Karen."
Some things never changed.