You balk at the door. You can feel your heart slamming against your sternum like it’s trying to escape. Your pulse is throbbing in your throat, your skull, your temples—buzzing in your arms, your wrists, your fingertips. Dave’s words resonate through the deafening ringing in your ears. You imagine for one horrific moment what it would be like for every beat of your heart to cause you pain; every pulse of blood sending agony surging through every corpuscle of your body. You flinch. You squeeze the Caledscratch, one hand on the grip and the other cupping the pommel. You swallow and imagine the anguish that might have caused Karkat. You’ve gathered your resolve. You’ve shoved all of your emotions and selfish desires deep into your gut and lashed them down with Dave’s cold logic. You love Karkat. You love him more than you love the happiness you feel from being with him. You love him so much, and you don’t want Karkat to hurt any more. If plunging a sword between his ribs will cut his suffering short, then that’s what you are prepared to do. You bite your lip and lean your weight against the door to shoulder it open.
You falter slightly. You stumble. You freeze up. For a moment, the way Karkat’s laying sprawled on the stone slab with blood caked in—fuck, his hair, his lips, his fingertips, everywhere—your heart freezes and ice runs through your veins. You’re too late. You took too long getting your nerve back, and you’ve missed him. You abandoned him and he passed alone, cold, and scared. You almost fumble the hilt of the sword as a tremor of grief and compunction ripples up your spine. Shock sends a wave of nausea through your gullet, and you clap a hand across your mouth as you wretch dry and choke down a remorseful sob.
There’s a soft whimper in response. You crumble and fall on the crypt. You lose the shattered sword somewhere on the slab in favor of scooping Karkat up in your arms and cradling him. His eyes flutter and your stomach tightens.
How could he be so much worse? You couldn’t have been gone for more than a half hour. You thought he was coming apart at the seams before, now you’re not even sure what’s holding him together anymore. He’s coming undone all over the place. You’re so gentle with him, and still he winces in pain. You choke on a quiet apology and he looks up at you with his deep, sunken eyes and you expect a look of fear or agony or reproach, but all you can see in his expression is love. It breaks your heart. You lose your nerve completely. You shiver and coddle him, biting back your soft weeping.
His fingertips tremble against your arm and he grimaces, croaking marred pleas for you to stay. Just please don’t leave him. You shush him and touch him dotingly, murmuring softly, repeatedly how much you love him. Fuck. You’ll never leave him again. Over and over you remind him how much you love him and he makes the most pitiful, woeful sound in response. It breaks your heart and you can’t fucking stand it. He struggles through all of the unimaginable bodily torment his blood has subjected him to, and here right at the fucking end there’s nothing you can do to ease the pain without ending him. You were so sure you could do this. You were ready to do everything in your power to end his suffering. What is it about him that strips you of your power? Fuck. You love him so fucking much. Why are you so incompetent? Fuck. You’re going to lose him and you’re too much of a coward to do anything to help ease his passing. You’re going to cling to him until he’s ripped from your fingers, and then his blood is going to be on your hands.
You can’t do that to Karkat. You love him too much to fail him now. You’re careful with him, setting him down as if he was made of glass and plaster. You clench your jaw as you reach for the blade, patting around the slab for it without taking your eyes off Karkat. Your fingers find the hilt and wrap around it with renewed determination, but as you lift the jagged sword with the intention of ending Karkat’s suffering, you come up short again. You look down at his wasting figure, a hollow shell of his former self, and you remember. You remember years of him. You remember the first time he targeted you and your friends with his shitty attempt at harassment. You remember talking to him, and learning him slowly. You remember all the work and determination you poured into solving the enigma that he is and discovering the etymology of Karkat Vantas. You remember the existential crises, and the self-discoveries, and the hardships. You remember the rocky patches, and the arguments, and the fights. You remember the begrudging apologies, and the heartfelt confessions, and the forgiveness. You remember the sweet affection, and the tender intimacy, and the love. You lock up. How could you ever kill all that and live with yourself?
Your thoughts are interrupted by the meekest of whines that trails off into a quiet breath and you watch in confusion as Karkat’s expression shifts from tortured to wistful and finally escapes into vacancy. You recoil as his eyes glaze over with a sickly red fog and a bead of blood escapes past his lips and trails down his cheek.
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!
“Karkat!” Your voice breaks and ice shocks through your body. There’s no answer this time, no quiet plea for you, no soft whimper of pain. This time there is silence in response.
You panic. You definitely panic. You had one duty. You had one fucking requirement. You were supposed to cut his pain short. He asked you to end his suffering. He fucking trusted you! He trusted you and you failed in his most pivotal moment! You betrayed him. Fuck! This can’t be happening! You can fix it. You can salvage the situation! You have to! Stop hesitating and do something!
You squeeze the Caledscratch, one hand on the grip and the other cupping the pommel. You lurch, and you shift your weight forward. There’s a slight give as the jagged tip presses against Karkat’s chest, and you almost double back on yourself, but your weight keeps bearing down on the sword until there’s a sickening crunch. Your stomach turns and for a soul-shattering moment you lose all focus on reality. Your entire world becomes the snapping of Karkat’s ribs and the feeling of the shattered blade sinking into his chest. Carmine blood gurgles up from the back of his throat and wells up around the cross guard, and your entire existence becomes that color.
Your mind becomes a torrent of red and mortal anguish and your hands slip from the hilt into the growing pool of sticky crimson. You reel and pitch forward and you clutch at Karkat, blood soaking through your clothes and into your skin. You cradle the back of his head. You shake him gently. You cry softly and beg him to say something. Anything. Everything is going red. There’s blood everywhere. God, you can’t do this without him. You can’t make it on your own. Why isn’t it working? Why isn’t he resurrecting? You double over. You mash your lips against his. Anything. Anything to pull him back! You just want him back!