Of course he'd caught the little glances. Sneaky or not, they'd been going on for perigees now; he would have had to be blind, and also to be hit on the head with something heavy and not skull-friendly.
At first he hadn't cared because of course it was Leader-envy, or admiration or secret crushes or what the fuck ever they had other shit to do and if someone wanted to speak up they could and in the meantime fuck you, and after that for a while he'd mostly gritted his teeth and tried to tell himself it was just paranoia and/or perfectly normal group dynamics in a long-term close quarters arrangement; it wasn't like he'd socialized much at all before the Game, and even then only one-on-one, so how would he know. Right? Right.
Only they'd never looked at him that way before he and Gamzee hooked up, and then he realized it wasn't him people looked at, it was at them.
Which was so fucking far past not okay it had done a whole revolution around okay and gone right back to cross into fuck you, no territory again.
Sollux was blind, which ought to have meant he was physically unable to do that shit (and Karkat had somewhat subconsciously expected like a stupid moron that he wouldn't judge even if he could have) but Terezi'd been teaching him tongue-o-vision, and there he was with his head tilted their way and his lips parted to breathe in deep. So when, after a last shoulderpat, Gamzee ambled off to the transportalizer and left them on their own, Karkat was off like a bomb.
"What the fuck is your problem?! Even you, Captor, even fucking you, thank you very much, you're my best fucking friend you judgey asshole! Reasons why Karkat Vantas sucks as a leader, friend, and person, case seventy-five billionth and three--"
And now the nookwipe was making a startled face and looking all woundedly innocent, hah. "KK, what the fuck are you going on about now--"
"Clause one, having already established that the defendant is an unreliable piece of shit who falls asleep on the job or otherwise drops the ball into varied manners of bottomless holes and snake-filled hell pits --"
"KK! You were fine a thecond ago, seriously what!?"
"Clause two, having established that the defendant's moirail represents a grave threat to the community--"
"Theriously I will bitchslap the stupid out of you if you don't calm the hell down!"
"--am presenting a motion to declare the defendant fucking incompetent to be a fluffy hopbeast's fucking moirail, much less his, and thanks guys for your trust in my abilities, and thanks again for putting your nose in our private business and what's your goddamned problem with me and Gamzee!?"
Sollux stared his way (sort of, but he'd never lost the habit of facing people he talked with the way Terezi had) with a look of dawning -- what? Embarrassment? Horror? Karkat couldn't tell -- and then scrunched his eyes closed like he was bracing himself for pain, or maybe like he'd found something really disgusting in his shoes and he was going to have to clean it up.
"Oh hell. KK. No. No, for fuck's thake, that's not -- oh hell." Karkat took a deep breath, less to brace himself and more to be ready for another barrage of fuck yous. Sollux raised his hand, palm out and in his face. "No, shut up, just. Listen. No, actually, just look at this."
He turned to his computer and expertly navigated his way through computer stuff Karkat didn't give a flying fuck about when he was trying to get a goddamn explanation on being treated like a failure waiting to happen in the one good thing he'd --
"As it happens I do have working eyes, so yes."
"That was a really cheap shot."
"... Yeah okay it was. But honestly what the fuck? It's a file folder, congrats, your grubtop has files in it, now it's a little more useful than a giant paperweight."
"Alright I am going to speak slowly now, and once I'm done we will pretend I never did say anything." There was silence for a couple of seconds. "This is the porn database that everyone pretends doesn't exist."
Karkat's cheeks heated up a little; his anger floundered, caught in terrain he was most decidedly not ready for. Who had told Captor he could switch the field of battle on him and blindside him with such -- such random counterattacks?
(Now that he thought of it he recognized a couple of titles.)
"This is the blackrom section. Over two hundred titles, over half of which were downloaded straight from your own husktop, thanks for your contribution."
Karkat could do nothing but splutter.
"Look at the number of hits," Sollux indicated, pretending like he didn't notice his utter mortification, that smug asshole. (The number of views was ridiculously high, of course. Almost a sweep in space with no internet access, no file sharing but what was on the meteor's intranet. No surprise.)
"Okay, now, this is conciliatory."
There were maybe a hundred and twenty files in that database, two-thirds of which pale. Good ashen porn was a lot rarer -- demanded more effort on an actual plot -- and so, Karkat suspected whenever he thought about what made for good porn movies which was never, less often kept.
It seemed like a lot at first glance, but ... Karkat hadn't needed much pale porn for the last sweep and yet even weeding out the ones that didn't ping him (mostly the ones with horn-polishing, it gave him twinges of horn envy that distracted from the movie) he still recognized pretty much all the titles.
"Where are you going with this?" he demanded, though it came out all strangled. Snarking about supposed (and therefore outrageously wrong even when accidentally right) porn-watching habits was one thing, perfectly acceptable between friends, but a clinical study of the group's actual patterns, backed up with hard data...
And now Sollux was turning away, cheeks and the tip of his ears gone grayish-gold, a claw scratching the underside of his chin in a really bad attempt at looking casual and not embarrassed. "I don't think there's anyone who doesn't pretty much know them all by heart by now. Is all. Tho. I'm thorry if it makes you uncomfortable, but." His voice went quieter, awkward and cautious and soft. "None of us are waiting for you to crash and burn, KK, we -- actually, we... we think you do a pretty good job. And it's... hard. Not to pay attention. It's."
Karkat slowly felt behind him for his abandoned chair and sank back into it. "I," he choked out. "I'm not sure I -- I get --"
Only he was certain he was getting it just fine, but surely he was wrong, he was always wrong, it was one of the pillars the universe was built on.
"It's not voyeurism, okay, it's not like anyone sneaks around spying on what the two of you do behind closed doors, but having those hints right there, it's a bit of a tease I guess. Oh gog I'm making it sound like you guys are flaunting it and being all slutty in public, that's not it at all! Hell, maybe if you were a little less cagey and all shy it'd be less intriguing aaaaaand I'm going to just shut up now."
Karkat sat in silence as he tried to reboot his brain. Sollux pretended to fiddle with random shit on his computer. His face was pretty much mustardy by now.
In the end the weirdest wasn't that people were living vicariously through a successful romance. He had nothing but platonic feelings for Kanaya and yet there was something strangely fascinating to the way she handled whatever dipshits tumbled feuding into her path. Made him think he wouldn't mind -- well, not with her -- but someone like her, maybe. Might be nice. Was nice to daydream about anyway.
The weirdest was that he, Karkat Vantas, was part of that relationship that fascinated people so much. (He'd have expected Nepeta and Equius, they were really kind of shameless, but while pretty cuddly whenever she happened to be in public Nepeta tended to prowl the back corridors of the asteroid a lot more than she hung out with the rest of the group. Also Equius was gross.) The weirdest was that he wasn't the only one to feel, to believe, that this was serendipity, gorgeous and special and perfect.
Karkat wondered if Sollux missed what he'd had with Aradia, whenever he looked at Gamzee and him, what kind of tangle of yearning and pain...
It was voyeurism, actually. He got up and pushed his chair back. "This is the point where we rewind and erase everything that just happened. Leader's order."
Sollux sighed, shoulders slumping, and he couldn't tell if that was relief or resignation. "Yeah, yeah. Go away."
Karkat paused, opened his mouth and found no words, and in the end what came out wasn't what he'd wanted to say at all; but then again he didn't know what would have been. "It never happened, okay?"
"I don't remember what you're talking about," Sollux managed to quip back, but he wouldn't turn to face Karkat.
Karkat absconded the fuck out of there, before he was tempted to ask Sollux if he wanted to maybe have a very short feelings jam, no strings attached.
If he started getting pale on him, he might as well get pale on the rest of the fuckers that comprised his team. Hey, assholes, cuddle orgy, bring your hairbrushes and your nail files, pay no attention to that murder-happy clowny fuckass I'm cheating on...
(Only they were feeling lonely.)
(And fuck did he pity them, even the ones he hated. But not half as much as he pitied Gamzee.)
It was true that compared to Nepeta and Equius, Karkat and Gamzee were a model of self-restrain and modesty. Objectively the only thing they did that Karkat didn't do with anyone else was that they stood a bit close to each other sometimes, and from time to time there'd be a well-timed nudge to bring one back down from funtime delusions turning worryingly somber, or random derailing of some awesome rant via flopping into the next chair over so they'd be shoulder to shoulder. Heck, if their first make-out hadn't been such a huge public drama, Karkat was starting to wonder if anyone would even have noticed. Which was fine, being discreet was a great quality...
Only it was starting to dawn on him that this was all Gamzee humoring him, because left to his own device his clowny failure of a palemate would probably spend half his days slumped across the back of Karkat's chair watching the screen go funny colors over Karkat's shoulder as he braided little tufts of hair into a crown around nubby horns. Only Karkat tended to shrug him off after five minutes with the excuse that he was so clingy Karkat felt smothered.
He wasn't 'being discreet' at this point; what he had was a hang-up, and Gamzee was being a great moirail by not pushing even though he wanted things different, just because he knew how uncomfortable it made Karkat feel, how he always felt like everyone was staring at them and then couldn't stand it and had to break away.
Well, actually. Everyone was staring at them.
Only, not to judge them. Which still blew his mind and which he still couldn't make himself believe. But he didn't need to believe jack shit about anyone else to know how not to be a selfish dickhead of a partner there.
"Hey, Gamzee. Come here."
He stayed on his chair, just turned it around and away from the screen. Gamzee rose from the junk pile, ambled his way, hands in pockets as if saying 'no worries brother, won't touch you, see?' It broke Karkat's heart a little.
He crooked his finger, voice low, but not too intimate (no need to make a spectacle of it) as he said, "Your facepaint's smudged, you look like an idiot. Get down here."
It was easy, no need to overthink it, it was easy, just keep telling yourself that fucker, oh and also we're alone here, yeah, that's it, totally alone and also you're not blushing...
But then Gamzee went down on a knee before him, long thin body graceful and absolutely no question, just trust, pure and immediate. Just a faint smile, almost floaty and vague, only he was meeting Karkat's eyes straight on, and it said 'I know what you're doing' and 'anything you need, it's yours'. And then it was easy, and then they were alone, and it was like Terezi was cooing and Equius looking all nostalgic and approving in some other room that wasn't worth paying attention to. Karkat tugged a paper towel out of his pocket and nudged his moirail's jaw up a little with just his fingertips and started working, careful as he dabbed away at some parts, smoothed down a line with his thumb until it was straight and neat along the startlingly graceful line of his cheekbone once again. Stupid paint and stupid pattern but they were part of Gamzee, so he would just love them.
It didn't last two minutes. It felt like... hours, days, a moment in time -- a milestone.
"Wicked, brother," Gamzee said through an easy grin when he was done, "now I feel all prettified and shit," and that was it, he unfolded his miles and miles of legs and they exchanged a look that said more things than Karkat had words for and they turned back to their separate businesses.
Karkat spent the next half hour clicking blindly through link after link on pages he didn't read. Success, right? Gamzee was happy with it. Nothing else mattered. The people in the room had gotten their voyeuristic jollies on, grabbed a bit of happiness by proxy, which he guessed was like the red pit-fruit on a cake, wholly unnecessary but... not so bad... Hah, he felt so generous now, a goddamn prince, that was him. He felt...
It was hard to explain. Even to himself. Embarrassed, yeah, his face still burned a hour afterwards, even after people stopped watching him pseudo-discreetly or sighing dreamily at their screens. But something more.
Powerful, too -- no, powerful was the wrong word, but something in a similar vein. Something that tingled in his limbs, a bubble of exhilaration. Like he could do anything now.
Proud. Because he always told himself he was a kickass moirail, and more importantly Gamzee told him that (and if only one opinion counted, his counted before Karkat's own) but he couldn't help but doubt always.
But everyone had watched them, and they all wished it could have been his own square, short-fingered hands touching their faces, or theirs cupping Gamzee's with such absolute trust, thumb pads brushing closed eyelids, jaw cupped in hands that might choose to twist and break his neck instead, and that didn't, wouldn't, ever.
It made him feel stronger and humbled both, it made him feel a rush of such overwhelming pity for all of them. Because he had Gamzee and they didn't, he had his pale half, he was complete.
They were not. He didn't know what to do about that.
He knew who to talk it out with, though.
"Goddamn -- no, no, no, don't fail on me you miserable excuse for a husktop, I spent hours on that file, you can't do that to me!"
Click. Click click click. Apparently it could. "Aaaaargh!"
Gamzee ambled by, paused by his chair. "Aw, bro, what're you getting your angry on at?"
Karkat pointed at the empty blue screen. "Guess! Go on, just guess, I bet even your shattered think pan could figure it out!"
He kept ranting for a little while. Hours of work, down the drain, and he couldn't even bitch Sollux out because he'd warned him that some of the memory grubs were getting ready to molt and there was nothing he could do to fix it save breed more, and that'd take another five weeks. Karkat couldn't wait five weeks! Except now apparently there was no goddamn choice anymore and what was he going to do for five weeks, all the software he needed was on this machine and, and Gamzee's hand was on his backrest.
He closed his eyes, took a shuddering breath, and tilted his head forward a mere half-inch. Even that much had him flushing, scrunching his eyes closed. Off to the side he could hear Feferi going "oh" very quietly.
Gamzee's long big-jointed fingers cupped the back of his neck, his exposed nape; his thumb ruffled the short bristly hair there, and then pressed into the muscles at the base of his skull. Karkat shuddered again, and let his air out.
All around the room was quiet, breaths held back, watching magic happening right before them. Behind him, his moirail was kneading the tension out of hard, knotted muscles, massaging the burgeoning headache out with miracle fingers.
And it was a gift to him and to them; it was worth Karkat's embarrassment, it was worth his need for the peace and balance only moirallegiance ever brought made bare for all to see. (It was past time he stopped pretending Gamzee needed him so much more than Karkat needed him, anyway.) He might have felt guilty using his moirail to get others' pale jollies off, but the way Gamzee grinned in the reflection of his screen, Karkat knew he didn't mind at all, he knew he'd never minded, and maybe this ridiculous overblown self-consciousness was one of the many sources of pointless stress Gamzee wanted to free him from anyway.
Maybe he was right, though Karkat still drew the line at making him purr in public, damn it.
Fucking Eridan and his fucking video camera glasses. Amateur Palemates Smuttin It Up!!, video number one hundred twenty-one. Karkat told himself he was not going to track the number of views. Nope. Not even a little.
No matter how warm that made him feel deep in his chest, behind the mortification.