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Trolls molt. That’s a thing. It makes sense, right, they’re big bugs and all. Dave knows it’s a thing, Karkat’s had like four little molts where his skin got all peely and gross and he wanted to rub his nasty, flaky horns on Dave’s cape pretty much constantly. Dandruff to the max. Dandruff on an inadvisable mix of performance enhancing drugs. Dave rubs lotion into Karkat’s skin and gives him warm baths and sometimes helps peel the stuff off when he’s feeling like being particularly gross.

Even with all of this SICK XENO CRED, it takes Dave a while to figure out what’s going on, this time around. In his defense, it starts out pretty subtle. Karkat starts eating more. Going in for seconds or thirds after loading up his plate with whatever they’re having that night. Starts sleeping more, too, which means he goes from basically nothing to sleeping all night and dozing through movies. That’s what clues Dave in, actually. He fucking loves snuggling up against Karkat and not worrying about waking him up, no doubt, but it’s fucking weird.

He’s this close to calling Kanaya and begging for an explanation when, one day, Karkat comes home with bags full of what looks kind of like overly firm pillows and big, soft shingles. Like, primo pillow fort material, does he want to build a fort? Why would he want to--oh. Oh. Dave feels kind of like an idiot. That’s cocooning material, the kind pharmacies sell so that trolls don’t ruin shit around their house.

Karkat explained this to him once, months back, so Dave wouldn’t lose his shit when it did happen.

 


 

“You know we molt, right, Dave?” Karkat says suddenly. They’re eating dinner, some thick, spicy stew Karkat cooked. He’s been working on cooking, lately. Says all the takeout they’ve been eating is giving him heartburn.

“Uh, yeah, dude, I’m the one sitting there whenever you look like the victim of a bad sunburn, all ‘I put the lotion on his skin’ and shit. I know you molt.”

Karkat rolls his eyes and pushes valiantly onward. “Okay, well, listen. Around now is when we’re all going to start having our adult molts. Who the hell knows when I’ll be molting, thanks to my fucking off-spectrum swill it could be in a week or a sweep. But Kanaya and Terezi are midbloods, so if I don’t molt by the time they do we’ll at least know it’s soon.”

“So, what’s the big deal?” Dave slurps his soup. “You get gross and cranky for a few days, so what? I can handle that.”

Karkat sighs. “It’s called the adult molt for a reason, you hairless disgrace of a mammal. We finish up the last of our growth in one big spurt. After that, I’m going to molt less like every year and more like every sweep or so, just to keep my skin healthy. But it’s going to be weird, and I want to make sure you don’t flip your shit.”

“Weird how? Gotta know what signs to keep my eyes peeled for.”

 


 

That conversation is how Dave recognizes the bags of shit as cocooning material. He goes outside to help Karkat haul it all in, because he must be exhausted if the only thing his body wants to do is sleep and eat and make his weird fucking nest thing.

“You’re molting?”

“Truly, I have the most astute boyfriend in all the land. How ever did you figure it out?” Karkat deadpans, collapsing face-down onto the couch as soon as he gets inside. Dave figures he can do him a solid and bring the rest in.

Dave brings in another armload of bags and drops them by Karkat, on the floor. “Don’t cocoon the couch, babe. I love this couch.”

“I won’t cocoon the fucking couch, Dave,” Karkat says, voice muffled by the cushions of said couch. “Let me take a nap in peace.”

Dave finishes bringing everything in and lets Karkat (who’s already conked the fuck out, holy shit) nap in peace. He goes upstairs, bothers John, and resumes work on a project that’s really been stumping him. When he next thinks to check on Karkat, it’s been four hours and thirty six minutes. Time flies when you have an innate sense of it, or something.

There’s noise across the hall, so Dave decides to check their bedroom first. (Mostly because he doesn’t want to walk all the way down the stairs, find out Karkat isn’t there anymore, and have to walk all the way back up).

Thankfully, Karkat’s in the bedroom, so Dave doesn’t have to bother with the stairs at all. He’s surrounded by cocooning material, focusing intently on stacking everything into something his weird bug instincts deem suitable. Dave kind of wonders if this is where the urge to build piles of shit started.

Karkat’s also drooling onto his hand and then using it to stick the shingle-shaped pieces to each other and build a curved wall around himself. Ewwwww.

“That’s super gross, dude,” Dave says, flopping down onto the bed so he can watch Karkat. “You’re super gross.”

“It’s perfectly normal, you’re just not evolved enough to understand the merits of doing things this way. I don’t have to put up with months of sounding like a fucking goose while my voice changes, just a week in a cocoon before I come out again. At which point my boyfriend will make me a meal like a gentleman, because I won’t have eaten in days.” Karkat gives Dave a pointed look, and then drips more spit onto his hand.

“I’ll feed you, but I don’t care, man, that shit’s nasty.” It looks weird, too, tinted pink and kind of...viscous? A little stringy in places? “Is that even, like...normal.”

It’s definitely different than the usual. Dave’s swapped enough spit with Karkat to know. Another weird shingle piece gets stuck on into what is quickly becoming an oblong igloo-looking thing.

“It’s totally normal, Dave.” Karkat seems too tired to really have a conniption. “How else did you expect me to stick all this together, weave a thread out of my own hair and carve a needle out of my claws?”

“What happens if you don’t use it to build a cocoon?”

“Then I’d drool all over myself like an asshole and get this shit everywhere, which is way fucking grosser, thank you very much.”

Hmm. Dave considers the possibility of weird sticky spit on all the keyboards. Definitely grosser.

“When are you gonna start your hibernation?”

“When this is done, obviously. My pan is yelling at me to do two things right now; build this, and sleep. I’m not going to pass up this golden opportunity to get more rest than I have in sweeps, even if I could. Which I can’t. Literal biological process of my species and all.”

Dave snorts and stands up.

“Alright, dude. I’m gonna go make something to eat, and by make I do mean microwave, just so you know.”

“Okay. Hey, hand me that sock.”

Dave picks up the aforementioned sock off the floor and tosses it toward Karkat, who smacks it onto the wall of his cocoon. Nasty.

Dave heads downstairs and roots around in the fridge. There’s a tupperware full of spaghetti in there, marked with Karkat’s blocky handwriting. “SPAGHETTI - NO BUGS” followed by the date he made it. Aw, yeah.

Karkat must have eaten the version that did have bugs, because Dave doesn’t see it in the fridge. Makes sense, Karkat makes an effort to always leave Dave something that’s explicitly his to eat, even when Karkat’s busy eating everything else in the house.

Dave reheats the spaghetti and splits it onto two plates. There’s enough to feed Karkat too, and he ate three helpings of food yesterday, so. Dave figures he’s probably hungry and could do with some dinner. Even if there aren’t any bugs in this one.

He carries the plates back upstairs and bumps the bedroom door open with his hip. Karkat’s cocoon looks somewhat bigger than it did, and he’s hauled one of their blankets into it.

“Aw, dude, I thought we bought all that shit so you didn’t molt on my blankets.” Dave sits on the bed and holds out one of the plates. “Also, I microwaved you a gourmet meal. Bone ape the tit.”

“I’m not hungry.” Karkat makes a face and rearranges his blanket pile. He looks kind of nauseous, actually. Dave takes the plate back and sets it on their nightstand.

“You ate enough for, like, three Karkats last night?” Does that mean he’s going to get three times as big? Probably not, right, the Condesce was like eight feet tall and she was literally the top of their species. Fifteen foot tall Karkat makes no sense.

“I’m not hungry, Dave, and before you start cramming food down my meal tunnel in a misguided attempt to help, yes this is normal. If it wasn’t normal I would be freaking the fuck out.” He yawns and fusses with the cocoon some more. Just the very top of his head and shoulders are poking out, and it’s big enough that Karkat could lie down in it comfortably. Fuck, it’s probably big enough Dave could fit in there with him. Room to grow and shit. Wild.  

“Hey, man, I’m just tryin’ to help.” Dave starts eating his own plate of food. “Should I, like, stand guard over your cocoon, keep watch and shit?”

“I’ll be fine, assbiscuit.” Even so, Karkat blushes and looks away, busying himself with patching up his cocoon. Bingo. Dave totally stumbled on a romantic trope there, didn’t he. Aww.

“So it’ll be easy, then.” Dave takes another bite of spaghetti. “I won’t let anything happen to you, dude.”

Karkat’s ears are turning red.

Dave leaves Karkat be while he finishes his dinner, and puts the untouched plate back in the fridge. It’s hard to keep his mind off Karkat, because it’s weird, right, it’s weird and kind of startling and Dave wants to make sure everything goes right.

He manages to shower and change into his pajamas without bothering Karkat again, though. Guy seems tired as fuck, he doesn’t need Dave’s endless stream of bullshit.

Once Dave’s in his pajamas, he heads back to the bedroom and leans in the doorway. Who knows what weird instincts Karkat’s dealing with, maybe he wants to be all alone, maybe the idea of Dave sleeping in there freaks him out. There’s a pullout mattress in Dave’s office (and one in Karkat’s too, because they’re both horrible at sleeping like normal people and sometimes you just gotta crash by your lonesome).

“Is it okay if I sleep in here tonight, man? I don’t want to fuck up the bug zone.”

Karkat sits up and pokes his head out of the small remaining opening. He looks half-awake, keeps absently fiddling with various parts of the cocoon.

“You can sleep in here. I’m not going to be awake to give two wet shits, dude.”

“I’m gonna turn the lights off, it’ll be dark.”

Karkat rolls his eyes. “I’m nocturnal, Dave. I think I’ll manage.”

Right. Duh. Dave flicks off the light and gets into bed, mincing along so he doesn’t trip over anything in the dark. He’s restless for a bit, listening to the occasional noises of Karkat shuffling around and moving things, but all in all it’s not the longest time he’s ever taken to fall asleep.

When Dave wakes up, the room is quiet. This isn’t unusual, Karkat wakes up before him all the time and doesn’t even go to bed sometimes, so in Dave’s half-asleep state he doesn’t register this as anything different. He lays in bed for a few more minutes before standing up and heading towards the bathroom.

Karkat’s cocoon is in a strategic location, between the bed and the wall, which unfortunately means that Dave trips right the fuck over it like a tool.

“Fuck!” The cocoon comes up to about Dave’s thighs, and he overbalances when his brain tries to keep moving while his legs are saying no, dude, we’d like to but there’s kind of a roadblock. Dave manages to catch himself before he lands on top of the cocoon, though, thank fuck for god powers. He floats himself gently down to the other side of the cocoon and gets a good look at it.

It doesn’t look organic, not like the purely biological silk things moth caterpillars and troll grubs make when they pupate. That shouldn’t be surprising, really, but some part of Dave expected it to morph into some big old blob of alien goop. It just looks like the cocooning material. The shingle pieces form an oblong dome all the way down, to a base made of the flatter parts. Stuff that Karkat picked up off the floor is stuck to it in various places. Haha, yuck. It’s solid and opaque, without any gaps. Can’t see anything going on in there. Karkat’s clothes are tossed on the floor next to it.

Dave sits down next to the cocoon and gently knocks on it. “Karkat? You awake in there?”

No response. Dave’s not sure what else he expected. Stupid. He goes downstairs and has breakfast.

The house is quiet without Karkat. It’s not so bad, at first, because Karkat leaves the house way more often than Dave does. It’s like he’s off visiting someone, is all.

That works for a few hours, but all Dave can think about is how Karkat is home, and he’s not moving around or making noise or anything, and it’s weird. He doesn’t like it. It makes him antsy. Every twenty minutes or so, Dave goes upstairs to check on the cocoon and finds the exact same thing every time. What did he expect? For it to sprout legs and haul Karkat off? For Karkat to pop out like “just kidding! This was all an elaborate prank!” Stupid stupid dumb. It’s just a week. Dave has other things he can do. It’ll be fine.

He doesn’t want to watch a movie, or play video games, or work on music, because that makes noise and something about this is making Dave nervous in ways that remind him of living with Bro. He doesn’t want to focus too much on the noise he’s making and not hear if Karkat wakes up and sneaks up on him, which. Yeah, it’s completely neurotic. It hasn’t even been a day, and Karkat is loud as hell, but some paranoid part of his lizard brain can’t stop thinking what if? What if?

It’s fucking impossible to focus on drawing, either. SBAHJ isn’t exactly fine art, but it still takes effort to make something terrible in the exact way it’s terrible, and Dave doesn’t want to make something that’s just unironically bad. He can’t pay attention enough to really shit out something heinous, it’s all mediocre.

Fuck. This. He needs to get out of the house, he’s going to go absolutely batshit worrying otherwise. Dave shoots a text off to John, because John is easy to hang out with and never does anything, and gets confirmation he can come over.

Before he leaves, Dave makes sure all the doors and windows are locked, just in case. Karkat can’t defend himself, and even though no one probably would do anything to him, Dave wants to make sure. He said he’d make sure nothing happened to him, and even if Karkat didn’t take him seriously, Dave intends to deliver.

 


 

“Hey, Dave. Leave your shoes by the door.” John ushers him into his house, gesturing towards the living room. “I have snacks and everything, because I am the best and actually feed people when they come over, even if they only give me an hour’s notice.”

Dave snorts and toes off his sneakers. “We always have food, dude, my house has more food than your dad’s place on Thanksgiving.”

“Karkat’s gross bug snacks don’t count, Dave.” John waves his hand and two sodas float out of the kitchen, along with a bag of cheetos. Breath powers are so totally cheating, holy shit. “Where is Karkat, by the way? Not that I mind, we need some good old-fashioned bro time. I am feeling a little bit like your side ho!”

“You're my favorite side ho. In fact, I’m promoting you to first side ho, because you always feed me. I’m easily bought.” Dave gets comfortable on John’s couch and grabs a game controller. “Karkat’s molting.”

John takes the other controller and glances at him sidelong. “Oh. That’s kind of nasty, dude. Was it nasty?”

Dave starts up the game; John must have put the disk in before Dave got there. He’s a much better host than pretty much everyone else, even if he spends all day moping like a tool. Probably on account of actually having people over before the game.

“It was super fucking nasty. It was like some shit from Alien, man. I’ll send you a picture when I get back.”

He wonders how Karkat’s doing. Probably fine, right, probably exactly the same as all the other five thousand times Dave’s checked on him, only now he’s at John’s house and can’t take two minutes to go look.

John opens the bag of cheetos and sets it in between them. “Well, he is an alien and all. Of everything it could be like, Alien is probably the least weird. Ready for me to kick your ass again?”

“Oh, you’re on. One day I’ll get you back, dude, just you wait. Just you fuckin’ wait.”

To no one’s surprise, John wins again. And again. And again. Eventually, he pauses and looks at Dave, his eyebrows creased.

“Are you sure you’re really trying? I mean, normally it’s at least fun to kick your ass. This is just sad.”

Dave snorts. “Sorry being a vicious cyberbully doesn’t appeal anymore, now how will you get your jollies.”

John rolls his eyes. “Seriously! I think you’re not trying.”

He just. What if something goes wrong and Karkat needs him and he’s not there? What if the heater doesn’t turn on for some reason and Karkat gets sick, he’s really sensitive to the cold as it is and now he’s vulnerable and can’t go put on another sweater. What if someone breaks in and hurts him? What if he wakes up early and can’t find Dave and freaks out? Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.

“Maybe a little bit.” Dave sighs. It’s only been twenty-three minutes and he’s already flipping his shit. “I’m kind of in two places at once, sorry.”

John sets down his controller. “If you need to go back home, I’m not going to be mad. We’ll just have to reschedule bro time sometime when Karkat’s not molting. Or any other bug stuff I’m not sure I want to know about.”

Dave raises his hand in mock-salute. “You got it. Like hell I’d pass up a chance for some choice hangouts with my favorite side ho.” He stands and brushes cheeto dust off his pants.

“Sorry again for ditching, though, dude, I know it’s rude as hell to spring a visit on you last minute and then bail like half an hour in.”

John waves a hand. “I wasn’t doing anything anyway, it’s fine. Really, Dave, go take care of Karkat and his weird bug thing.”

“Yeah, okay. Seeya. Sorry again, I know I keep apologizing, fuck, it’s compulsive. I’ll see myself out.”

Dave goes home as fast as he can, flying at top speed the whole way.

He’s winded by the time he gets there, panting as he fumbles with the lock. Probably dumb to flip out like this, Karkat would tell him he’s being a paranoid assrag or something. Karkat’s a paranoid motherfucker, too, though; last time Dave was sick Karkat spent the whole time worrying about him and trying to take care of him.

And the first thing Dave does when the tables are turned is leave. After promising to make sure nothing happened to him. Fucking. God, he’s the worst. He’s so bad they made an award show for sucking at everything and gave him a trophy in every category.

Dave shuts the door behind him and makes a beeline for the bedroom, taking the steps two at a time. Any number of things could have happened, what if the cocoon didn’t hold for some reason and left Karkat all exposed while he’s molting, or, or, god, anything. Once he reaches the top of the stairs, he throws the door open, to find…

Nothing. Everything is exactly as Dave left it when he woke up. The cocoon is there, unmoving, and Karkat is presumably inside. His clothes are still on the floor. Dave picks them up and tosses them in the laundry hamper, because Karkat would probably have a fit about it if he knew.

God. This is stupid. Dave is stupid.

“You’re sure taking your sweet time,” Dave tells the cocoon. It’s only been a day, but still. Feels like it’s taking ages, even if Dave knows bone-deep exactly how long it’s really been.

He orders a pizza with all the vegetables and shit Karkat picks off, hauls his laptop into the bedroom, and watches some documentary about digs in the carapacian kingdom. Apparently they have something more exciting than fifty thousand liberties in their dirt. Not that Dave minds digging up the liberties, but. Dinosaurs. Shit that was old when Earth C was still Earth B. That’s cool as fuck.

It’s easier to focus on that when Dave can just glance over and make sure everything’s okay with the cocoon. Well, as okay as he can see. It’s probably fine in there, right, he’s not turning into a puddle of troll goo like moths do, this is just a molt. He only needs the cocoon because he’s gonna be growing really fast and can’t defend himself from the elements. It’ll be fine.

Dave is such a fucking wreck, holy shit.

“I hope you freak out just as bad as I am, man, whenever I do my weird mammal shit. I mean, I can’t think of any weird mammal shit, but it’s not like you think sleeping in a pillow fort held together by magic troll spit is weird, so there’s probably something. Weird shit abounds.”

He finishes the documentary and sends Rose a review of it. She doesn’t care about dead shit beyond her like, whole goth aesthetic thing, but she puts up with Dave’s mindless rambles about licking bones regardless. While he’s at it, Dave shoots off a message in the clusterfuck that is the Earth C Team Memo (Dave wanted to call it fruity rumpus asshole pantheon, but was vetoed). He gives everyone a rundown of what’s going on (sans freakout details) so that nobody gets worried about Karkat going a whole day without chewing someone’s ass.

Afterwards, when the food is put away and Dave’s in his pajamas, he decides to go to bed early. There’s...not much to do, besides loaf around in his pajamas all night, and at least if he sleeps now, he’ll get to skip ahead eight hours. Without using time travel. Sleep haxx.

He takes Karkat’s pillow and lays it sideways next to him. This way, Dave can at least sort of pretend that’s the weight of Karkat sleeping next to him. Even if Karkat weighs way more than a pillow. God.

Whatever, it helps him fall asleep, and Karkat doesn’t have to know how fucking head-over-heels Dave is for him. Stupid adorable cranky motherfucker, making Dave miss him and shit.

 


 

Dave spends most of the second day inflicting terrible movies on Karkat when he can’t escape them. Although, to be fair, does it count as inflicting them if Karkat’s not conscious enough to know what’s going on? Hmm.

At any rate, Dave kills time by watching awful movies and providing his own running commentary. There’s nothing quite like watching Karkat get worked up into a froth over bad romcoms, but this is still fun. He’s sitting on the floor next to the cocoon; Dave briefly considered leaning against it, and then had a horrible image of breaking it and waking Karkat up mid-molt. Or Karkat not waking up and Dave having to figure out some way to maintain Karkat’s absurd body temperature without a cocoon insulating him. And with his skin all thin. Literally thin, and really sensitive. Dave’s seen Karkat get rashes from his usual brand of soap while he was molting.

So! No touching the cocoon, even if it were made out of steel and held together by the will of paradox space itself. Dave finds himself thankful, not for the first time, that Karkat isn’t awake to see him make an ass out of himself.

 


 

Day three, Dave starts wishing Karkat were awake to see him make an ass out of himself, because the house is fucking quiet. It’s, uh, not great, to go from finally living with and getting used to living with someone who is noisy by default, to silence. He was able to stave it off before by watching garbage movies and bothering John, but now it’s really starting to sink in. It reminds Dave of his shitty childhood apartment in the worst possible ways. He’s back to flash-stepping around the house just in case someone’s there, which is. God, if there were anyone around, they’d probably think it was hilarious to watch a grown-ass dude sprinting into the kitchen like his life depended on getting process cheese food into his body as fast as possible.

He takes to blasting music out of his speakers. Exorcise the ghosts living in his head by playing loud-ass music, hell yeah. The logic doesn’t make any sense, but if his stupid fucking brain thinks that Bro can’t magically manifest in his house if there’s signs of life, then Dave’s willing to work with that.

Dave spends most of his time in the bedroom, still. It’s an easily-defensible location, which soothes the paranoid itch in the back of his mind, and should anything happen to Karkat he’s right there to fix it. Win-win.

 


 

Days four through six progress in much the same manner. Dave doesn’t leave the house—the John Incident proved how well that would go—but he doesn’t leave the house much, anyway. He puts a blanket on the cocoon and sends a picture to the memo with the caption “tucked the fuck in i could snuggle right up to it and get fuckin cozy” to let them all know he’s still alive.

Day seven, Dave wakes up excited. He knows exactly how long it’s been immediately, and Karkat said it’d be about a week. He’s gonna get up soon. Fuck. Yes.

Dave gets out of bed, showers, and starts cleaning up the worst of his mess. Pizza boxes, takeout cartons, and empty bags of chips go into the trash. Laundry is done. Dishes get washed. Dave is the fucking picture of a good housewife, sweepin’ and vacuuming and shit. He’s even gonna have dinner on the table when his hubby gets home from work. Or when he bursts out of his gross alien cocoon, kind of the same thing.

Dave manages to cobble together a meal that smells like curry and not like charcoal, so he counts that off as a win. He has been eating...a lot of takeout, this week. It’s weird, how much Dave’s gotten used to having someone around to cook dinner. Wild.

He eats his share and watches some shitty, mindless television while he waits. Karkat decides to be fashionably late, and once the food gets cold, Dave puts the rest of it away. There’s a sort of fluttering panic in his gut, but Dave manages to push off most of it and convince himself the rest is indigestion from his shitty cooking. Karkat will be fine. Unlike Dave, most people’s biological processes do not follow a precise clock. A week was an estimate. He’ll be fine.

Karkat remains in his cocoon the rest of the night. Dave stays up as late as he can; he doesn’t want Karkat to wake up and then leave Dave asleep or feel guilty for waking him up. Unfortunately, Dave was never good at pulling all-nighters, not like Karkat, and eventually he falls asleep.

He wakes up to sunlight shining directly into his fucking eyeballs. What dumb fuck thought putting windows in a bedroom was a good idea? Augh. Dave gets up and blearily shuffles over to the window, pulling closed the blackout curtains Karkat had installed.

Karkat. Right. Dave glances over; the cocoon is the same as it ever was, but that’s more concerning than it is comforting, now. Maybe he got sick in there? Maybe he’s stuck? Or, wait, no, he’s probably not stuck, he’d be making noise if he was. Unless he can’t. Godddd, this is ridiculous. Dave sighs and pats the cocoon.

“You’re late,” Dave says, before heading to the bathroom to get dressed.

He spends most of the day alternating between “Karkat is sick, something is wrong, I fucked up, what do I do” and “it’s fine, stop being such a baby, he’s only a little late, you neurotic fuck.”

Urghhh. It’s not great. Dave can’t muster up an appetite to do more than pick at some shitty snacks, and he doesn’t feel like messaging anyone. They’re all too good at picking up on his tells, they’ll know how bad this is getting to him. And it’s stupid, it shouldn’t be bothering him, so no one needs to know.

He’s downstairs, lamenting his fate while the TV plays something he’s not actually paying attention to, when there’s a loud thud from upstairs.

“Dave?”

Oh! Oh fuck! Karkat! Dave jumps off the couch and bolts up the stairs, nearly tripping over his own feet in the process.

When he pushes open the bedroom door, Dave feels the last weight of his anxiety fall away. Karkat is fine. The thud was a chunk of his cocoon; the top has been broken off and tossed onto the floor. Karkat himself is sitting up in the cocoon, leaning over the side and squinting blearily at Dave.

Karkat’s irises are bright red. They were starting to tint with color before, grey streaked with red in a frankly kind of spooky bloodshot effect, but now they’re completely bright fuckoff fire engine red. Damn.

“Good morning, sleeping beauty. How was your nap?”

“Help me up, my legs feel like half-set gelatin.”

Dave walks over to the cocoon, kicking the loose pieces aside, and bends at the knee. He gets his arms under Karkat’s and slowly stands.

It might turn from helping Karkat up into a hug, but hey. It’s been a week without any Karkat hugs, Dave’s allowed. He leans down and presses his face into the crook of Karkat’s neck, closing his eyes. Karkat leans heavily on him and purrs quietly, a low cicada noise in his chest.

“You’re nakey,” Dave says, eventually.

Karkat lets out a long sigh. “Yes, Dave, I opted not to wear clothes given that I was probably going to grow out of them. What a novel concept. If you’re done sniffing me, I would actually like to get dressed so I can eat. It’s been a fucking...week, probably.”

“Seven days, fourteen hours, twenty-six minutes, thirty-five seconds,” Dave says automatically. He clears his throat. “And, uh, counting. Obviously.”

Karkat generously does not comment on Dave’s brain-clock. “So even longer, clearly food is of utmost importance. Help me out, I’m not stuffing my face naked and my walkstruts still aren’t listening to me.”

“Well, that’s what you get for not using them all week, man. They’re mutinying.”

Karkat rolls his eyes. Dave stands back up straight so that Karkat can lean on him while he gets out of the remains of his cocoon.

When he steps out, Dave can see the blanket he stole balled up in there, a stray pillowcase, and…

“Dude, is that one of my shirts?”

“So?” Karkat stares at him, daring him to say something about it.

“That’s simultaneously weird and adorable. You like my man-stink.”

Karkat sits down on the bed, grumbling good-naturedly under his breath. Dave heads over to the dresser and tosses a set of clothes at him. It’s nice, having him back. Dave might be smiling to himself.

Dave turns his back politely while Karkat gets dressed, just because he gets self conscious and Dave doesn’t want to contribute to the Vantas Self-Hate Parade. After a moment, Karkat makes a disgusted noise. Dave turns back around and makes a valiant effort not to laugh. Succeeding is a different story entirely, but he did try, and it’s the thought that counts.

The shirt rides up on Karkat’s stomach, and the sweatpants only cover his ankles part of the way.

“Very fashion,” Dave offers, grinning when Karkat flips him off. “We’ll get you new clothes, it’s no biggie. We can donate the rest or something.”

Karkat opens his mouth to say something, but his stomach interrupts with a loud rumble. Dave snickers.

“You better have made something edible, because if I have to make up for molting with the measly nutritional value of a bag of doritos, I will eat you instead.”

“Nah, bro, I’m the best boyfriend, there’s a veritable feast with your name on it in the fridge. With gross little buggies in there and everything. I had to touch them. With my hands. You’re welcome.”

Karkat’s expression is something approaching fond. “We’re still waiting on a verdict about its edibility.” He stands; his legs seem to have woken up with the rest of him now. “Come on, then, let’s watch something while I judge your cooking skills. I get to pick the movie.”

Dave groans as he follows him down the stairs, but doesn’t protest.

They don’t end up watching much of the movie anyway, letting it play in the background. Dave hangs off of Karkat while he’s reheating his food, wrapping arms around his waist and humming nonsense into his hair.

Karkat’s still shorter (goodbye, Dave’s fantasies of giant bara boyfriend), but his horns brush against Dave’s chin now. He’s bulked out some, too. Not that Karkat was by any means a delicate guy, even before he put on pre-molt weight, but his shoulders are definitely broader.

After the third time Dave bumps into a counter because he doesn’t want to stop the snuggle party, Karkat tilts his head up and gives him a quizzical look.

“Did you seriously miss me that badly?”

Dave shrugs.

“I’ve been gone longer before.”

Dave talks into Karkat’s hair. “Yeah, but when you were gone before I knew what was going on, and you could talk to me, and it wasn’t some health thing I might accidentally fuck up when I was supposed to be keeping you safe and shit.”

Karkat makes a low, thoughtful sound. “You actually took that shit about standing watch seriously?”

“Yeah, man.” Dave can feel his cheeks heating up. “I’m not gonna leave a bro defenseless. I mean I, uh, I visited John, but then I got worried you might get hurt when I wasn’t there to fix it, so…”

Dave trails off. Karkat is still for a moment (one point three five seconds), before he turns around and pulls Dave into a kiss.

And then the microwave beeps. Karkat growls, Dave laughing against his mouth, before pulling away again.

“Couch, now. Grab snacks, I’ll be over in just a second.”

They talk through the rest of the movie, with Karkat steadily replacing all the calories he spent growing a whole two inches taller. Dave has wormed his way firmly into Karkat’s lap, stretched across the rest of the couch with his head on Karkat’s chest. Occasionally he feeds Dave a chip. It’s nice, just being able to cuddle up on him again. Their personal bubbles are a venn diagram and shit.

“I missed you,” Dave says eventually. Karkat looks down at him with his new laser pointer eyes.

“I know, dipshit.” He’s not scowling.

“New and improved, bigger and badder. Tallkat. Still-kinda-smallkat.” Dave clears his throat. “Seriously though. I’m glad you’re back.”

Karkat runs his fingers through Dave’s hair. There’s probably chip dust in there now, but Dave can’t find it in him to mind all that much.

“Yeah, me too.”