The only thing that saves them is that even in the throes of berserk rage Kankri has no clue how to fight.
It saves them because when Karkat hits him before the teal can stab him with her spear Karkat is the one Kankri throws himself at (he cannot concentrate on a single target) and when Karkat has led him far enough away he doesn't know how to stop Karkat from whirling around him and catching him in a chokehold.
Karkat drags him kicking and clawing into an old unused tunnel, behind a long-dead truck. The shell is still intact, even if the cushions have rotted away; Karkat lets go, all at once, and Kankri faceplants in the truck, and when he whirls around with a snarl rising from his throat Karkat is on him, fingers finding the release points on his brow with precision born of terror.
The snarl cuts off like Karkat flipped a switch. Kankri's lip is still curled up over rows of dull little fangs, so white they hurt to look at in the light, and his stare is full of insulted contempt.
Outside a pack of hunting trolls passes them at a run. The teal is yelling at her men to hurry up. Karkat massages Kankri's forehead in little circles, trying to unknot his brows.
"--about that tunnel?"
Fuck, fuck, fuck. He rests a hand on his sickle. Kankri isn't pacified enough yet that he won't revert to fury the second Karkat lets up. He'll kill the first one who finds them, and dodge Kankri as he goes for the second, and... hope for the best. He supposes.
Footsteps. Kankri's lip curls up higher. Karkat imagines him with blood all over his face and then he's on him, slowly but mercilessly bearing him down to the floor, hands bracketing his temples. He brushes his mouth against the side of Kankri's nose and breathes out a shoosh.
Even as he burrows in Kankri's neck, praying to who knows what to be overlooked, his hands keep rubbing little circles on Kankri's forehead, between his brows.
Someone walks up, slower and slower as they go. "Why do I have to go alone?" they complain as they go around the back.
Light blinds Karkat. He can't even breathe. Under him Kankri is a ball of drum-tight muscles, quivering with tension they ache to release.
"Ain't no one here!" the lamp dude yells, and the teal yells back, "you sure?" and someone else tells her, snidely, that there's a reason they sent Lamarr in as bait, no way that crazy mutant fuck would be calm enough not to attack.
"Hey, you sent me as bait?! That's not fucking right!"
Lamp asshole stomps off. Karkat relaxes in long shudders.
Kankri is rattling under him, growling in this odd seesaw pitch like his voice hasn't broken, or like he never does growl and his vocal cords don't know what the fuck. It's gaining in volume, too. Karkat grits his teeth, crawls up his body, and presses their foreheads together, exhales almost straight into his mouth.
His thumbs are light and cautious over Kankri's eyelids, but he refuses to let him open his eyes again until that terrifying rattling has ceased.
He might be purring, himself, but it's not happy-pale, it's terrified trying-to-trick-himself-happier.
Kankri's instincts are fooled, at any rate; after a while his growls soften. Karkat switches to low hums, the precise pitches that resonate through a troll's body and sometimes -- if you're fucking lucky -- trigger their pale hormones.
It's dark and damp and cold and probably full of vermin, but outside is full of murderous bastards. He cuddles with a half unconscious dude and hates himself, and hates Kankri because he's almost him and deserves it.
When Kankri goes loose and starts purring he keeps petting him anyways, because the pattern his hands have found is easy to keep up and even though he knows it's just a trick of biology the sound soothes him, makes him feel less terrified of being found. He could probably escape if he was ready to leave Kankri behind, but he's not.
"You're on Alternia now, you stupid fuck," he whispers, eyes closed tight so he won't cry.
He's not sure how long before his hands start to cramp up, fifteen minutes, a half hour. They'll still be around, but nowhere too close. He cracks his fingers, shuffles to the side. It smells weird in here, like old death and damp growth. He hopes neither of them catches fungi.
It takes Kankri so long to come back to himself that Karkat sits up, eventually, pokes him in the shoulder, still hesitant to just lift an eyelid to check his pupils.
His eyes flick open when Karkat touches him, anyway. He looks weird. Disoriented, but oddly not offended about it.
"Do you remember what happened?" Karkat snaps. "Assholes in the street, you opening your fat mouth, blind rage? Attempting to maul me? Any of that rings a bell?"
Kankri's hand rises to touch his own brow, and Karkat flinches.
"Are those memories truly mine?" he asks, detached, professorial. Karkat hisses with the need to yell.
"Even back in the dreambubbles that shit didn't work like that! If you remember trying to maul people then yes, it damn well was you! You turdfucking pan-gutted moron--"
Kankri is still touching his own face in an odd, puzzled way. "Papping releases behavior modification hormones," he says. He still sounds floaty. "Which are no better than drugs. Unwanted papping to trigger an altered state carries the same charges as using date rape drugs."
Karkat's throat is dry. It's -- it's not cool to do it to someone for the purpose of hurting them once they're under -- it's fucking despicable, and their quadrants will hunt you down later, but... "... Even to save their life?"
Kankri blinks fuzzily at him, mild and still halfway under. "Personal autonomy is paramount. The proper response to public disturbance is to call the authorities..."
Karkat barks out a bitter laugh. "What fucking authorities, bulgeface? We're on Alternia. They only care if you're indigo and up, and even then, only once you're up in the fleet."
Kankri's eyebrow twitches like it wants to furrow but Karkat's fingers have smoothed all the frown out of it. Karkat flinches and turns away.
"I'm not fucking sorry," he says to the buggy's shell. "You can hate me as much as you want, I won't regret that I saved your moronic, cullworthy ass from getting speared through the face."
"Shut up! I -- I do regret that I didn't find a better way. There was no time and I -- fuck. I saved your fucking life and why are you still lying here like a runny turd, what's wrong with you?!"
When he turns back to glare Kankri's eyes are closed, his jaw is set. He looks in pain, skin tight around the eyes, like he's got a headache. How you can get a headache after a papping like the one he just got, Karkat doesn't know. (Jesus, he's a horrible person. It's rape, Kankri is living it like a rape, with his bullshit Ďautonomy is paramount,' it's like for him there's no difference between fucking someone while the drone's at the door and there's no time to discuss that shit and you don't want them to die and fucking them because you're a rapist who rapes.)
"It's hardly as if my body was accustomed to such a hormonal surge," Kankri says, oddly blank, at the roof.
Karkat stares at him for a minute before it clicks. "You've never--"
"It requires trust and I never wanted to depend on someone else like that."
"Oh." Oh. Oh no. "Your, uh, abstinence vow? I mean, even for pale?"
Kankri closes his eyes again. "The vow just made it easier to have it respected that I didn't want to. I never--"
He chokes. Karkat's first reflex is to reach for him. When he catches himself he jerks back, presses his back against the buggy's wall, hugs his knees. Everything feels wrong.
It's not rape here, it's survival. It is. He'd rather die than tell Kankri that, than try to justify actions that are not justifiable, merely not entirely horrible, so he will feel better and the victim will feel worse.
"I'm so sorry," he whispers. "I couldn't see another way."
When the only tool you have is a hammer, he expects, but Kankri turns his head on the dirty floor to look at him and goes, "Me neither," and then he starts crying.
Karkat doesn't know what to do, all his instincts are wrong here, he wants to pat and hug and hum, he wants to curl up all around him and purr, and it'll all make it worse.
"I lost control," Kankri is saying, "I've never lost control, I wouldn't, it's not me but I couldn't -- there was no control, control is the foundation of my life and there wasn't, and I could have hurt someone, I could have killed you, I, they always said I was, i was wrathful and I tried so hard and--"
"Oh my fucking god, no, stop."
He says wrathful like one might say quadrant murderer, like Terezi might say corrupted judge, Sollux might say they sold faulty hardware. Karkat hovers over him on his knees, hands reaching and not quite getting there.
"No, no. All Vantases are wrathful, I'm the most wrathful fucker you'll ever meet, it's okay, I'll teach you. It's just about bleeding pressure strategically, is all, you get more pressure in a shitty place like this one, that's why, you weren't braced for it, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
When Kankri's hand lands on his cheek he chokes on a hiccup and stops breathing.
Kankri looks hesitant, looks like he regrets it, eyes scanning Karkat's face and not finding what he wants, and Karkat grabs for his hand with both hands and holds it there.
"You. You can. if you want. It's okay." He breathes deep, forces himself overboard into the sharkwaters. "I wouldn't let you just because, just because I did you. Not like that. I uh. Think I'm a bit pale for you?" Oh fuck, oh fuck, he is.
Kankri's eyes widen.
"It could just be the -- this situation, it could just be that, no need to fret, I know you're not interested anyways, Jesus just say something!"
"Very well, I will."
Silence. Karkat stares down at him, on tenterhooks.
"I assumed we were still in hiding?" Kankri says. "Far be it from me to curb your self-expression but you might want to be quieter."
Karkat flops into a ball and yells into his own knees.
"Are you feeling better?" Kankri inquires detachedly when he's done. "Or are your, ah, pale twinges still a thing?"
Karkat would take his asshole act at face value except he's still sprawled on his back and staring at the roof, his neat, precisely combed hair picking up all the dust and bugs. He shuffles closer reluctantly, and then flicks him in the shoulder.
"I know it's a rare thing in academia, but I am possessed of the great and terrible power of emotional complexity," he says, and he's not sure why it comes out all soft and nice. "I can hate your guts and still have it make me feel paler. It's my secret psychic power."
He sits in silence for a while. Kankri doesn't look at him for any of it.
"I'm sorry," he says, very very quietly.
"I need to think," is all Kankri will reply, still without looking anywhere but straight ahead.
Karkat nods on automatic, like a doll, rolls onto his hands and knees. "I'll. Go scout for a bit. Let you have some space."
Kankri's hand closes around his wrist.
They stare at each other. Karkat can't figure out what he's reading on Kankri's face. It's like looking at a stranger, a third Vantas neither himself nor the obnoxious know-it-all he was saddled with on the way out of the game.
Kankri curls on his side around Karkat's lap, a hand coming up to tug almost too lightly to feel at the bottom of his sweatshirt.
"Stay," he breathes, eyes closed like it hurts. His perfect hair is mussed and his bright red sweater is a mess of dust and mud; he looks like a man who just figured out he knows nothing, and that ignorance kills.
Karkat curls around him and purrs and lets him soak his black clothes through with pink tears.