Karl knows things.
And while that in itself isn't impressive, since everybody knows things, Karl knows things that haven't actually happened yet.
His talents aren't spoken about widely - they've been kept with his family, a closely guarded secret that he's been told he can't speak about ever, out of fear of his powers being used and abused, and his free will being taken from him. Karl knows that if his powers were to be found out at any point in time by anyone, if they were to be taken notice by someone, he would never be free again. Karl knows this. He knows a lot of things. He knows more than he wishes he did, and he knows, in his heart, that there is no way for him to ever stop wishing that.
Karl remembers waking up one morning in particular, and he remembers that he woke up knowing that his best friend was going to leave the village they lived in together. It seemed insignificant at the time, it seemed useless, worthless and a waste of his time. He's learnt now that his powers, no matter how much he hates them and wishes he didn't know all these things, are incredibly important, and he also knows that he's the most powerful person in the world who has this very specific set of powers. Karl knows a lot of things, and he knows a lot of things about himself, about his family. He knows a lot of things about the world, worlds, and he knows even more about people and places and universes that haven't even been made yet.
Karl knows a lot about how the world is going to end.
Karl knows a lot about how he's going to die.
Karl knows a lot about how his death will stop the end of the world.
There are a lot of things that he knows, and there are even more things that he wishes that he doesn't. There are far too many things to keep inside of his head, to constantly remember, to never forget. Karl knows that if he forgets, he'll die, and if he dies before he's supposed to, the world will come with him. It won't be pretty - Karl has seen it happen a thousand times, he's watched the end of the world. He's sat on the balance beam between life and death and he's watched his world explode into millions of stars and universes, he's watched as they scattered throughout life, creating new worlds and new beings and new people, all at the expense of his loved ones. All at the expense of his world. All at the expense of him.
He has watched the world die a thousand times over, he's watched his world break and shatter. Karl has watched the universe implode in on itself, and he knows exactly how he can stop it. Karl knows exactly how he can stop himself from watching the world die once again, and he knows that if he doesn't act soon, then it's going to do just that all over again.
Karl knows things.
And he wishes that he didn't.
"Why do you keep doing this? Why do you keep hurting yourself so this..this bitch of a world can stay alive? Why do you keep dying so the world can live? What's the point that, Karl? What's the point in dying every other week so this world, which doesn't care about you, or us, by the way, can keep living? The world doesn't give a damn about either of us, Karl, especially not you. It doesn't give a damn about any of its oracles or its seers or the people it decided should be given powers beyond their grasps. This place is awful, Karl. It doesn't give a fucking shit about any of us."
Karl sighs, narrowing his eyes at the man who sits beside him.
Once again, on the balancing beam between life and death.
Once again, Karl is watching the world end. Once again, Karl is watching another part of himself die. Once again, Karl has one last chance to get this right. Once again, Karl has one last chance to save the world.
"Because I love it," Karl answers, simply. "I love the world. I love this place, it's my home. The world gave me these powers to ensure that it stopped dying," Karl leans back, watching as it explodes into millions of stars and galaxies, forming new universes, spanning across eons of time. It's gorgeous, in some fucked up way. It's so unbelievably pretty and perfect, all in the worst way possible. The world's death is anything but ugly - it's gorgeous. It's beautiful. The world breaks beautifully, Karl has learnt over the years of watching it shatter. "Why wouldn't I?" He asks, thought it's really not a question that has an answer to it. "The world is my home. It's your home, too. I don't understand why you don't act like it. The world is home," Karl closes his eyes, listening to the constant backdrop of music play between his eyes, ringing in his ears. "This place is all I've ever known, and it's told me that I have to save it."
Karl rolls his eyes, leaning back.
"'Cause the world told me to listen," Karl says, not sure what's so difficult to understand about that. "The world gave us a job. The world told us that we had to save it, or else everyone we love and will ever love and have ever loved will be dead," Karl snaps, biting down on his lip a second later, forcing himself to still his nerves, to calm his pounding heart. "Sorry," he murmurs, ducking his head a second later. "But I'm also not sorry," he adds, narrowing his eyes once again. "I'm not sorry, because the world gave us a job and it told us to do that job. The world made us important. The world chose us, out all people, to save it. We're supposed to do what it tells us."
"That's fucking stupid," his companion announces, a bark of bitter laughter following shortly after. "That's stupid, and we both know it, Karl. Why are you so intent on having a saviour complex for some place that fucking hates you? The world wouldn't keep killing you and the people you love if it didn't hate you. You're being used, Karl. You're being manipulated, and this place isn't helping. You watching the world end over and over again isn't helping you. You need to leave. You need to wake up."
Karl scoffs, pushing himself off of where he had been sitting. "You're the stupid one," he decides, sharply glaring down at the man who sits cross-legged on the balancing beam that keeps them stable. That keeps them sort-of okay. "The world doesn't hate me just because it dies," Karl crosses his arms, wishing that he could leave this place without proving the other's point. He wishes he could leave without having to deal with the mocking and scorn that will inevitably follow. "I have to save the world so I stop hurting. It's the deal that I was given, it's the deal I'll follow. This is my job. This is what I was meant to do, and so I'm going to do it. I don't care if you agree with me or not," Karl looks away, watching as the cosmos erupt into millions of colours, spreading across different timelines, sending people from different timelines to new ones, replacing them, replicating them, turning them into someone entirely different but someone entirely the same. "The world only needs one oracle after all," Karl tells his companion. "It doesn't need you."
His companion laughs, tossing his head back when he does. "You know, Karl, if you really plan on being a hero..if you really plan on saving the world.." he trails off for a few moments, staring out into the silence. "The world is going to kill you. You know that, right? The world that you love ever so dearly, it's going to kill you. The world is going to fucking murder you, and then it's going to go ahead and die anyways, 'cause it never gave a shit about you."
Karl turns his head away, breathing in stars and breathing in space.
"You're wrong," he announces, because he is. His companion is wrong. "The world won't die if I die the way that I'm meant to. I've made peace with my death," Karl tells him, smiling a little when he realises what this is all about. Of course, he knew it. Karl knew that this is how this conversation would go, but there's a difference between knowing things just because you know them, and knowing things when they're actually happening. "You, Dream, are afraid of death. You're too scared to die, and so you blame it on the world and everyone else around you."
"Because not only are you afraid of death," Karl smiles, "you're a coward, too."
"I'm not," Dream stands up, puffing out his chest, narrowing his eyes, his mouth twisting into a sneer. "I'm not a fucking coward. I'm not afraid of death."
"Yeah?" Karl leans forwards. "Then why is it that I've died a million times, and you haven't died once? Why is it, Dream," he sneers, "that I was born ten years ago and I've already died more than you ever will? Why is it that when the world cried out to you for help, you didn't answer? Why is it, Dream," Karl moves closer, nearly chest to chest with the man now, "that you've decided to destroy the lives of everyone you love all because you're too scared to die?"
And of course, there's no answer.
"That's what I thought," Karl turns away, making a gesture with his hand that allows him to go back home, to go back to his resting place. "You're a coward, Dream. Until next time."
Karl is gone without a second of hesitation, and he's ready to get everything right this time.
Getting sidetracked is arguably one of Karl's biggest downfalls, and he's learnt that a thousand times. A million times, even. Another one of Karl's downfalls is how easily he falls in love with a man named Benedict, though his name changes every other timeline. In the timeline where Karl spends most of his time, later on, of course, his name is Sapnap. In another timeline, it's Mason. And in another, it's James. At some point, he gains the nickname of Rash, and in another, he's called Cameron. Sapnap's name changes constantly, but he himself doesn't. He's always full of life and energy, he lights up the entire room with his grin, with his smile. He's perfect in every possible way, and ever since Karl was young, he knew that he would fall in love with him and all of his reincarnations and alterations.
Sapnap, called Benedict in this world, lays across his lap, his eyes half-lidded, a gentle smile on his lips. His hair falls back into the grass, finally out of his eyes for what seems to be like the first time in his entire life. It's spring right now, though Karl thought it was autumn only a couple of days ago. Sometimes, time traveling nearly constantly to try and save the world gets him mixed up and confused, sometimes it makes his head spin more than normal. But right now, in this exact moment, his head is entirely clear - it's his heart that he has to be worried about. Karl follows Sapnap's gaze upwards, turning his head to stare at the sky and at the clouds. "What are you looking at, Ben?"
"Clouds," Sapnap beams at him, closing one eye as he turns his head to look at Karl. His smile makes Karl's heart stop working, and for a brief second in time, Karl is certain that he's going to die at the way that Sapnap looks at him. "What are you looking at, Karl?" Sapnap questions, his tone borderline teasing. Karl blinks, pretending like he doesn't feel heat rise up to his face, pretending like he doesn't feel nervousness pool in his stomach.
Karl knows that he's going to fall in love with him.
Karl knows that Sapnap is going to love him back.
But knowing things and doing things are entirely different.
Karl breathes out, a smile working its way onto his face. "You," he answers, simply. "Just you." Sapnap grins so hard that it has to hurt, and it makes Karl's chest tighten with happiness and stupid, childlike love. He supposes that they are only children here. They're only teenagers, though Karl feels like he's lived millions of years. He still isn't sure of how time travel works, he isn't sure if he's a millennia old, or if he's only fifteen, twenty, something linear. Karl doesn't think that he'll ever know that for sure, which is bullshit, but it's just something he has to deal with. Sometimes he forgets how annoying it is to not know. Sometimes he wishes that he knew everything, while most of the time he wishes that he knew nothing at all.
"Yeah?" Sapnap asks, already sounding breathless. This conversation has played out in Karl's head a thousand times over, it's repeated in his mind constantly. Yet still the words that he has to say, the words that he wants to say, stick in the back of his throat. Karl bites down on his lip for a second, trying to still his heart that's slamming in his chest, threatening to burst through.
"Yeah," Karl agrees, managing to get that word out. He looks down at Sapnap, feeling the spring breeze move over him, ruffling his hair. "Can I.." he trails off, figuring that Sapnap understands.
"I'd like that," Sapnap confirms. "Hurry up, lover boy."
Karl giggles, leaning down and brushing lips with the boy under him who he'll fall in love with until the moment he dies forever.
Space is freeing, Karl learns.
Of course, the only times that he's actually in space are the times where the world has died, but it's still sort of freeing. He knows, in his heart, that he has to go back to the world, to go back in time and save it, but in the moment right now, it's freeing. It's nice to be able to breathe, it's nice to not have to constantly worry about what's going on around him. It's nice to not have to have the weight of everything on his shoulders, if only for a few moments. His usual companion isn't here with him, which Karl is unbelievably thankful for. He's sick and tired of Dream, he doesn't want to talk to the man or even see him.
He's sick and tired of his mentor putting all the pressure onto him.
Karl leans back on the same balancing beam between life and death, crossing his legs, tilting is head up to look at the stars. Of course, they're significantly less pretty up here than they are on earth, but Karl loves them nonetheless. He's long since been able to burn his eyes out by looking at stars, which he's also thankful for. Karl looks over to the world, watching as it stops spinning entirely, stopping suddenly. He looks away, unable to look at the world as it destroys itself all over again. Every single time that the world dies, Karl is faced with the knowledge that his friends are dying too.
And while he knows that they'll be back, while he knows that they'll come back, albeit a little different, it's still horrible. It's still awful having to know that they are dying, and that he could have fixed it this time around. Karl doesn't know what he's doing wrong, he still doesn't understand why the world keeps dying even though he's been following its exact instructions. He doesn't know what he keeps messing up, but it has to be something, it's got to be something. Karl sighs, knowing that he'll figure it out eventually, though it might take a little longer than he thought that it would.
Karl knows a few things for sure.
Every time his world dies in a certain timeline, that timeline is gone forever, and so are the people who lived there. Or those version of those people, at least. Karl moves on from timeline to timeline, trying his best to fix the world this time around before it dies, before it's too late. Karl jumps between times and space, trying his absolute best to figure out what he has to do, getting his memories back, recuperating, doing everything in his power to make sure the world sticks around this time.
It still doesn't make sense, even to him, and he's been doing this for as long as he can remember.
Karl sighs, looking up at the stars once again, pretending like his world isn't dying in front of him for what seems to be like the millionth time.
Karl knows that he isn't supposed to tell anyone, not even his lover, not even his closest friends, about his powers. Karl knows that, he knows that both in his mind and in his heart - no one deserves to be burdened with that, no one other than himself. This is his job, it's his burden to carry and his burden only.
But even Karl has moments of weakness, and right now is one of those moments.
Karl sobs into Sapnap's chest, though this time around he's known as Darwin rather than Sapnap. He breaks, he cries and he wails, clutching at Sapnap's sleeves and arms, wishing to the god that doesn't exist that he could get himself together, that he could control himself. "Karl, Karl," Sapnap whispers, rubbing his back, holding him close. "Karl, it's okay, come on. Come on, what's wrong? You can trust me, you know that, right?" Sapnap asks, and Karl does know that. He does. He knows that in his heart, but not in his mind. "Karl," Sapnap pulls back, looking down at him. Karl looks up at him, looks right into those eyes that glitter like quartz. He looks into those eyes, and he knows that he can't lie to him. "What's wrong? Talk to me, Karl."
He breathes out, shuddering as he tries to get himself back under control. He can't lie to Sapnap, he can't ever lie to him, he knows that. Karl stares up into those eyes that he can't lie to, and he opens his mouth, but no words come out.
Karl looks away, swallowing back everything he wants to say, because he knows that if he says it, the world will end. The world will die, and this will be one more timeline that Karl can't work in. One more timeline where Karl has fucked it up, all because he's stupid, all because he keeps doing things that he's not supposed to do. All because he's just a kid who's been entrusted with the entire world.
"I know things," Karl whispers, feeling his heart break, because now Sapnap, Darwin, is going to die. "I'm an oracle, Darwin. I'm an oracle, I see things in the future, I know things. I know a lot of things," he looks down, staring at the ground below them, feeling his head spin. "I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have told you, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm-"
"Karl," Sapnap steps forwards, resting his hands on his shoulders. "It's okay," he murmurs, even though it's not. None of this is okay, nothing about this is okay, not even in the slightest. "You're okay. Tell me everything, Karl," Sapnap's voice is soft and kind and gentle, just like it always is, just like it always will be. "I want to know everything, I want to know all of it. All of you," he adds on. "I love you, Karl. This shouldn't just be your issue to carry, okay?"
It should be, Karl thinks. It should be.
"Okay," he whispers back, because he can't lie to Sapnap, he can't even leave out bits of the truth. Karl thought he was so good at obstructing the truth and telling half-lies, but when it comes to Sapnap, all of his logic and all of his skills just fall apart, ripped to shreds. When it comes to Sapnap, Karl is nothing but weak. "Okay."
And so Karl opens his mouth and he speaks, he speaks about puppeteers and devils and demons, he speaks about prophecies and the boy who has to live so he can save the world. Karl speaks about a man with a voice of gold and a tongue made out of silver, he talks about a man who they've both met before, he talks about Gods and how evil they are, he talks about monsters and prisons and wars, he talks about a world where all of these things coexist together. He talks about everything that he can think of, everything that he knows, and he lets the words pour from his mouth, all because he can't lie to him, all because he can't hide the truth from him. All because he's Sapnap.
And when he's done talking, he feels the world stop spinning underneath of them, and he holds Sapnap in his arms as the world dies once again.
There's a place called the Inbetween, and Karl knows so much about it.
Karl knows that he's going to lose his mind there. He knows that he's going to be stuck there, that that place is going to destroy him.
Karl is going to die in the Inbetween, he'll die on the steps there. He'll be running to a tree surrounded by water, and he'll be trying to reach it, and then he'll die. And with his death, the world will live forever. The world will keep spinning, the world won't die. With Karl's death, everything will be okay.
Karl hasn't been there yet, he hasn't been to the Inbetween yet, and he's terrified of it. Karl is scared of being there, because although he knew he was going to die and how he was going to die, he's started to know more about the Inbetween with every passing day, and it's terrifying. It's scary, it's awful. Everything about the Inbetween is horrible and evil and wrong, and Karl doesn't want to die there.
But he has to. He has to die there, on the fifth step down, so the world will live. He knows that.
Doesn't make it easier.
Karl sits by a boy named Ranboo, who won't actually be born for a couple more million years. Ranboo is going to be unbelievably important, he's going to be one of the most powerful oracles in the entire world.
And he's going to be controlled by Dream. He's going to be manipulated and used and hurt, over and over and over again.
Dream, Karl's mentor, the man he once looked up to, is going to corrupt himself by trying to play God, and everyone else is going to suffer for it. Ranboo knows this, and as he sits on this stupid balancing beam between life and death, he doesn't seem all that bothered by it. "You really are not selling me on this," Ranboo laughs, tilting his head back. "I feel like being a puppet isn't exactly what I was meant for, you know?"
"I do know." Karl confirms.
Ranboo scowls at him, narrowing his eyes sharply at the joke. Karl laughs, throwing his head back as he does, nearly doubling over at his own joke. "You suck," Ranboo announces. "You're the worst, I've decided that right now. I think that if I was actually real and alive right now, I would punch you in the face." Karl grins at him, nudging the boy with his elbow. Ranboo is a good kid. They'll be around the same age when they actually meet.
Both of them are going to forget this conversation.
Both of them are going to forget each other.
"Yeah?" Karl teases, grinning over at the other seer, at the other oracle. "When we actually meet for real and not here, you can go ahead and do that."
Ranboo sighs, long and low. "You and I both know that we aren't going to remember this, Karl. It's totally unfair for you to tell me that I'm allowed to beat you to death when we meet," he huffs. "Hey," Ranboo looks up at him, his eyes soft. "Am I going to die, Karl? You know. Like you are? Forever?"
Karl pauses, looking up at the stars.
Ranboo lives. Ranboo is far too important to actually die, and so the world isn't going to let him. Karl knows that. He also knows that being important isn't a cushion from death, given how he's the most important person in the world at the current moment, and that's all just a set up for him to be killed. But Ranboo is different, Ranboo is important in the way that won't get him killed - only hurt. Ranboo is going to go through absolute fucking hell, and he's not going to ever recover from it, but he knows that. Ranboo knows that, they both do, and he's already agreed to it.
"You'll be okay," he smiles, reaching up to ruffle the boy's hair. "You'll be just fine. Just stick to the path, yeah? Stick to the path." He smiles a little more at the words, a familiar phrase that he taught himself when he was younger, a convincing few words that made him want to continue doing what he was doing. Sticking to the path, sticking to his path and sticking to the world's path, is the most important thing that either of them could ever do. Sticking to the path is the only thing they can do. It's what they're both meant for, it's what they were made for.
"Stick to the path," Ranboo repeats, beaming. Karl smiles softly at him, feeling his chest hurt a little. It isn't fair what Ranboo is going to go through, both of them know that. But nothing in their lives are fair, and it's easier if they just accept it. Karl is glad that it's going to be Ranboo, but at the same time he wishes so desperately that it was someone else. "You got it. I'll talk to you later, yeah?" He grins, pushing himself up. "You've got places to be."
"I do," Karl confirms, standing up a moment later. "I actually really do hate how you know that about me, Ranboo." Ranboo grins at him, his eyes sparkling.
You're going to love it here!
Everyone does! It's so cool how time travelers, even though they can go anywhere in the world, still choose to come to this place! Isn't that cool, Karl? I think that's really cool.
When you leave, you'll be back in your library, okay?
Make sure to write everything down!
Karl stares at the book, feeling his stomach churn.
He's going to die here. He's going to die, and if he dies right now, then the world will end. But he can't let the Inbetween know that he knows, he can't do that. The Inbetween is living, it's more than Karl could have ever possibly imagined. Karl breathes out, standing a little taller as he sets the book back on the podium, watching as it disappears into the ground. He turns away from the place where he found the book, moving along the hallways.
The staircase where he'll die forever taunts him as he walks past it.
Karl shudders, but he keeps moving, refusing to look back, refusing to give into the Inbetween, not right now. He still has so much that he has to do, and Karl doesn't have the time to die. Not right now. Karl cries out, his hand flying up to his head at the sudden, piercing pain between his eyes. Fuck. Karl looks up, feeling weak, feeling like he's forgetting, feeling his memories slip from him. Nothing makes sense, none of this, all of this is so fucked and he's forgetting, he's going to die here, but he can't die here, so he..he has to..
Karl stops moving, he feels his heart still in his chest.
He can lie to the Inbetween later, say he was feeling panicked and that he thought he only way back to wherever the fuck he was supposed to go was via the portal. He runs and he doesn't stop. He runs so fast and for so long that his legs go numb. He throws himself through the bars that guard the portal, stumbling through the obsidian and falling into the portal, his chin hitting the hard rock under him.
Karl tastes blood, and then he tastes freedom.
He lays on the ground, staring up at the blue sky, not the cotton candy coloured skies from the Inbetween.
He made it.
He made it.
"Dream," Karl stands as tall as he can, feeling his heart leap up to his throat. "What the hell, dude?" He motions around, throwing out his arms. Ranboo stands at his side, arms crossed, his eyes narrowed. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"
He doesn't know why he bothers to ask - Dream doesn't have the answers he wants. Dream isn't the same person as he was only a few months ago.
Dream has become corrupt on his conquest for Godhood, at the expense of everyone else. "You haven't met me yet," Ranboo moves forwards, his footsteps silent. He's not really here. Ranboo won't really be here for another couple of million of years. Give or take. "But when we do meet, for real.." he trails off, looking away for a brief moment. "When we do meet, for real, we're not going to be friends."
"We aren't friends," Dream smirks, his eyes glazed over. "We're never going to be friends, are we, seer?"
"Seer?" Ranboo scoffs, standing taller. "My name is Ranboo."
Dream rolls his eyes, crossing his arms against his chest. He leans back on his heels, tilting his head up. His eyes shine, but only because of the stars and planets and worlds that orbit around him. Karl breathes out, forcing himself to stare at the ground, to not look at the man in front of him. He could have stopped this. He could have stopped Dream from going insane, he could have stopped him from trying to turn into a God, to rule the universe and everything else.
But that would have killed his world.
Karl stopping Dream, Karl saving Dream, it would have ruined everything.
So he didn't step in.
"You're all the same to me," Dream scoffs, waving a hand, batting a planet away from him. "Seers, oracles, humans..you're all the same."
"You're human, too," Karl reminds him, the anger inside of his chest getting the better of him. "Just because you live forever doesn't mean you're anything more than either of us."
Dream smiles. "Okay, time traveler."
In his conquest for power, Dream gave everything he loved up. He gave up his best friends, he gave up his life and his mind and his ideals and morals. He gave up everything, he gave up himself, all because he was a greedy son of a bitch. A power hungry human who clearly didn't care that much about the things he gave up, or else he wouldn't have given them up in the first place.
Karl thinks that he hates him.
Karl knows that he'll hate Dream even more in the world where they all meet.
He bites his tongue, looping his arm with Ranboo's. He silently takes them away from Dream, moving further into the vast, never ending void of space.
Until their time comes, they aren't supposed to talk with him anymore.
Karl thinks he can do that very, very easily.
It's a slow dance, a sad song. Karl has his arms wrapped around Sapnap's waist, and together they sway back and forth in the ballroom, moving gently. Sapnap is named James this time around, but it's not like that's all that important - they're all the same, even if their names are different. "I think this is the first time we've actually got a moment to ourselves," Sapnap jokes, his voice soft, a little rough around the edges. Karl hums in agreement, feeling his chest hurt. This timeline will be closed off to him after his dance with Sapnap. Everyone in here will die with the world, and Karl will have to figure out a way to get to the next timeline in a matter of minutes. Everything about his job and his life are so confusing, he doesn't even know how to make sense of it half of the time. "You okay, Karl?"
Every time Karl enters a new timeline, there's a good chance that that timeline isn't the one the world wants him to save. The one timeline that Karl has to save is the one that has a nation called L'manberg in it. The one timeline that will save the world is the timeline with a boy named Tommy at the forefront of everything. Karl has to go from timeline to timeline and do little things, set things up in a certain way, and then leave and watch the timeline collapse in on itself, but that's okay, because it sets everything else up. Karl knows this, he knows that he has to do it. It hurts, because he always gets attached to the people within those timelines, but he knows that they'll be back, even if they're just a little bit different.
"Karl?" Sapnap asks again, and Karl jolts up, blinking rapidly as he realises that he hadn't been listening at all. "You all good there?"
"I am," Karl assures him, even though he's most certainly not. "It's nice to not have to deal with the rest of them," he smiles, taking a few steps back, intertwining his fingers with Sapnap's. "They're all lovely people, I'm sure, but..you know?" He smiles a little, because he knows that Sapnap doesn't. Karl is the only one here who actually knows.
Well, other than the butler. The butler doesn't have a viable name, not one that Karl knows, but he knows the butler. He's seen him a hundred times over, he's told him all that he needs to know, he's seen that boy more than he's seen Dream. Ranboo hasn't even been born yet, but copies of him are still popping up, they're still spreading throughout different timelines like wildfire, and while Karl still doesn't entirely understand it, he's not all that bothered by it. He isn't meant to understand everything, after all - his job is to just make sure that everything works the way that it's supposed to. His job is to know the things that he knows, as well as making sure that the world lives throughout at least one timeline.
Specifically, the timeline where all of them meet at least once. The timeline with the boy named Tommy and the silver-tongued leader named Wilbur. The timeline with the Piglin hybrid named Technoblade, whose ancestor is currently here, hosting the masquerade that they're participating in. Technoblade has far too many ancestors for Karl to list off of the top of his head, but he has them all written down. Sir Billiam is the one hosting the masquerade, and Karl's got the oddest feeling that Technoblade would fucking hate this specific ancestor of his.
"It's nice that we get to be with each other right now," Karl murmurs, taking Sapnap's hands and moving back and forth, ignoring the way that Sapnap stumbles over his feet. "You good there, James?" Karl teases, looking down at their suddenly tangled legs. "I think you made a mistake."
Sapnap grins at him. "And what if I did, Karl Jacobs? What would you do then?"
"I think that I would teach you how to actually dance," Karl grins back at him, letting go of his hands, putting his own hands against Sapnap's chest, shoving him back a little. Sapnap laughs, stumbling on his feet as he tries to catch himself. Karl swoops forwards, looping an arm around Sapnap's waist, dipping him, leaning above the man that he'll always, no matter what, fall in love with. "Funny seeing you here, isn't it?"
"It is," Sapnap confirms, looking breathless. "I think that you've got me just where you want me, isn't that right?"
"I think that I might," Karl beams down at him, feeling his heart flutter. As much as he hates this specific timeline, he loves this moment right now. "I should really teach you how to dance properly, James. I think that you need the lessons."
"Do I?" Sapnap beams right back up at him, his eyes alight with challenge and love. In this timeline, they've been married for a few years now.
There's something about the way that Sapnap took on his last name in this timeline that makes Karl's heart soar.
"Yes," Karl confirms, leaning forwards, "you do."
He doesn't waste another moment of his time, knowing that this timeline is going to close within a matter of moments. Karl leans down, kissing Sapnap softly, holding the man that he loves as closely to him as he can, taking his hand and holding it up, closing his eyes.
For a few blissful seconds, Karl forgets that he knows far too much, and he feels human for the first time in a million years.
The timeline that Karl has to save has shown up at his front doorstep, and he isn't entirely sure how he's supposed to feel about it. He wanders into the place, staring at the buildings and at the landmarks that he's known about for years. This place is home, but it feels like a deathtrap waiting to happen. He looks over at a trio of people who are laughing together, throwing their arms around and making grand gestures with their hands as they walk together. The man on the left makes Karl's heart leap up into his throat, and he feels his face heat up.
This time his name is actually Sapnap. This time, he's actually Sapnap. This time, he's not Darwin or James or Benedict or Mason, no. He's Sapnap. Karl has known for far too long that Sapnap was going to be the death of him, that Sapnap was the one person that he'd always fall in love with, no matter his name, no matter who he was shaped up to be. "Hey!" The middle man, Dream, calls out. Karl feels rage twist in his gut, he feels himself bite down on his lip and has to resist the urge to raise his fist and slam it into the man's face. He knows better. After all, Dream won't actually try to ruin everyone's lives for another few months now. "How'd you get here?"
Of course Dream doesn't recognise him. Karl knew that, but there really is still a difference between knowing something because you know it, and knowing something because it's happening. "Uh, I just.." he shrugs, waving a hand, not entirely sure how he's supposed to explain time traveling to three people who don't believe in time travel in the slightest. Especially not the man on the right - George has never believed in magic, especially not right now. He never will. "I'm Karl. Who are you guys?"
It sort of hurts to pretend like he doesn't know them. Just a little.
"Well," Sapnap pushes Dream to the side, grinning. Even though Karl knows that Sapnap will fall in love with him, even though Karl knows he will fall in love with Sapnap, the words still make his heart melt. They will fall in love, they always will. Karl knows that, he's always known it, but love never gets old. It never gets dull. At least not between him and Sapnap. "I'm Sapnap. This is Dream, and that bitch over there is-"
"He's not a bitch, Sapnap," Dream laughs, wrapping an arm around George's shoulders, only to get promptly shoved off. "Oh, fuck you!" Dream wheezes, shoving George back with a bright grin and even brighter eyes. It hurts even more to see Dream being a good person. It's painful to see him happy. It's awful to know what happens to him in only a year or two from now.
Knowing things, Karl has learnt over the years, is horrible.
At least he won't have to know for much longer. This timeline is laced with magic and the presence of old Gods, and Karl knows that he'll lose his memories here. Slowly but surely, he'll forget everything and everyone, but his head will still be filled with things he knows. He won't be sure about why he knows them. Karl has seen himself lose his mind, and from what he's seen, it's awful.
But it's to save the world. It's to save Sapnap and everyone else who he loves, so he'll do it, and he'll do it without complaint.
He has to.
"Well," Karl clears his throat, offering a nervous grin. It's odd seeing them all so happy, knowing what happens to them only a few years from now. "You guys mind if I tag along? It's sort of lonely all on my own." Karl pauses, biting down on his lip for a second. He opens his mouth a moment later, unable to stop the words from falling off his tongue-
It's been a few years in this timeline now, and Karl has done absolutely everything right.
He didn't fight in the war between L'manberg and Dream, even though he wanted nothing more than to join Wilbur and beat the shit out of Dream. He didn't for two reasons, the first being that the world would have ended right then and there if he did, and the second being that it would have broken Sapnap to know his sort-of lover joined the opposing side of a war to get at his best friend.
L'manberg won, just like it was supposed to.
Schlatt came to L'manberg and the world, all because he received an invitation from an unnamed man.
Schlatt won the election, which Karl spend countless restless nights over, forging votes and changing the tides of the election as much as he could. It hurt him so badly to watch Wilbur nearly break down into tears when he realised that his worst enemy had won the country he held so deeply to his heart. It nearly made Karl cry when he saw the look on Tommy's face, even though he's seen it a million times before it his dreams and in his mind.
Karl spent months building the ravine that would become Pogtopia, and he still has the scars on his hands and on his arms from the rockfalls that nearly killed him a few hundred times over.
And right now, Karl sits on the steps of the prison with Sapnap and Quackity on either side of him, listening to the prison hum behind them. The ocean laps at the beach behind the prison, a soft murmur that rivals the buzzing of the prison. Sapnap is going to go into that prison and talk to Dream, he's going to go and face the man who he used to consider his best friend.
Karl looks up at the sky, watching as the clouds move slowly across the vast blue.
In about a month, Tommy is going to die at the hands of Dream. Two days after that, he'll be brought back to life.
Wilbur will be resurrected, and although Karl knows that Dream thinks the man will be on his side, he's dead wrong. Wilbur is unstable and violent right now, and Karl has to get him under control before he causes the destruction of the world that Karl loves. Wilbur is a good man - he's just incredibly fucked up right now, and Karl knows that he can fix that with a few simple words that will make him think for just long enough. Deep down in Wilbur's heart, he still loves Tommy, and if Karl threatens his life just enough, Wilbur will put aside his rage for the world and focus that on Karl.
Just long enough for Karl to fix what he has to fix. Just long enough for Karl to save the world. Easy.
"It'll be okay," Karl murmurs, letting Sapnap scoot closer to him. "It'll turn out okay, right? If anything happens, we're both up here. Sam might be the warden, but it'd be two against one, and we'd both do anything to get you back."
"True," Quackity agrees. Karl feels a little guilty hearing his voice. He falls in love with every version of Sapnap in the romantic way, but he's never loved Quackity like that. At first he thought that it bothered the other man, but he soon enough learnt that Quackity didn't care, that Quackity only ever loved the both of them platonically, thank fucking god. "I'd beat the shit out of that fucker if it meant dragging your dumbass back up here."
Sapnap laughs, ducking his head. "Yeah?" He asks, just like he always has.
"Yeah," Karl confirms. He moves a little closer, tilting Sapnap's head up. He presses a gentle kiss to the man's lips, resting his head against his. "You'll be okay."
"Gross," Quackity complains, standing up with a laugh. He turns away, covering his eyes as he stares out away from the two of them. "PDA is disgusting, you sick fucks. You're awful, horrible people. Gross."
"Mwah," Sapnap giggles, standing up and reaching out to ruffle Quackity's hair, though he just succeeds in messing with Quackity's beanie. "Love you too, Q."
"I don't love you at all," Quackity announces, but he's grinning, which means he's lying through his fucking teeth. Karl can forgive him for that - it's endearing as hell. It's what makes Quackity Quackity, after all. "Neither of you. You're both gross. Go on," he laughs, waving a hand. "Get out of here, lover boy. Your boytoy will be right here waiting for you when you get back."
Sapnap grins. "So you'll be waiting for me, Q? That's so sweet of-"
"Oh, fuck off!" Quackity laughs, shoving him away. "God, you are the fucking worst, dude. Get outta here, dipshit."
And off Sapnap goes, his grin fading a little as the gates to the prison swing open. Sam stands behind them, his arms crossed, looking firm and tired, just like he normally does.
Karl sits back down on the steps, resting his head against his knees.
Sapnap is going to tell Dream that he'll kill him if he ever tries to escape.
That's going to be Dream's breaking point.
If Karl had told Sapnap not to go to the prison today, he would have listened, and Dream would have kept himself as pieced together as he could be. It would have been another few months before he broke, and that would have prevented what's going to happen to Tommy.
Karl breathes out, squeezing his eyes shut.
He hates knowing more than he could ever say.
Karl stands at the edge of his perfect world and the Inbetween, feeling tears trail down his face.
Today is the day.
He takes a step forwards, feeling his heart pound in his chest as he moves, taking another step forwards, then another. He doesn't want to die, but he has to. He has to die, he has to die so the world lives, he has to. It's what his job is, he's got to do this. He has to. He has to.
Of course the world is cruel to him in his final moments. Karl turns slowly, looking over at Sapnap, whose eyes are full of tears.
"Hey, Sap," Karl responds, weakly. "You're not supposed to be here."
And yet he is. And yet Sapnap is right here, yet he fucking is. The world is cruel, and Karl sometimes can't believe that he's spent his entire life losing himself and the people he loves just for the world to spit in his face once more.
"What are you doing, Karl?" Sapnap's voice trembles, he sounds broken and hurt and scared. "Karl. What the fuck is that in front of you?"
Karl laughs, ducking his head, feeling the tears trail down his face even faster than they had before. He knows that he can tell Sapnap without the world ending, but he thinks it would be so much better if Sapnap just didn't know. But when Karl looks up into those blue-grey eyes, he knows that he can't just say nothing. Just like last time, just like when Sapnap was Darwin, Karl still can't lie to him.
"Okay," he whispers. "We've met a hundred times before," he says, even though it's been more like millions. "I'm a time traveler, Sapnap. And an oracle. I can see the future, and I've been trying to save the world ever since I was born," Karl explains. Sapnap stares at him, his mouth hanging open. "Yeah, I know. Trust me, I know," he laughs, albeit a little more bitterly than he wanted to. "Every single time that we meet, I fall in love with you. Every single time. Doesn't matter who you are or what you do or anything like that, I still fall in love with you. And I.." he trails off, swallowing. "And this is the last time we'll ever see each other."
"What?" Sapnap moves forwards, reaching out but hesitating a second before his hand lands on Karl's shoulder. Karl flinches, feeling hurt settle in his chest. He's not surprised, he knew this was going to happen. "Karl, what the fuck does that mean? You're a..what? You knew..you.."
"I'm sorry," Karl offers, feeling the tears trail down his cheeks even faster. "I'm really sorry. I had to do everything I did to..to make sure the world was alive, to make sure it stayed alive. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Sap, I'm really sorry. I have to go now, I've got to go," he looks away, staring back into the portal, that leads to the Inbetween. That leads to his death. Karl turns his head back to look at the love of his life, the man who, no matter what, he'd always fall in love with. "I love you, Sapnap. I love you more than you could ever know."
Sapnap stares at him, and now he's crying, and it makes everything else so much harder, because how the fuck is Karl supposed to leave him when he's crying? "I don't understand."
"I know," Karl smiles, because he does. Sapnap will never understand. Sapnap will visit his grave for the rest of his life, and he'll never understand at all. "I have to go. I'm..I'm not going to come back," he murmurs. "I'm going to die when I leave here," Karl pauses, swallowing back the lump in his throat. "I left books in my library. About everything, about all of my experiences and all the timelines and worlds and everything. You can read them," Karl smiles. "With my death, Sap, the world gets to live. This is what I was born for. I always knew this was going to happen."
"That's not fair," Sapnap's voice breaks. "That's not fair. Karl, this isn't fair."
"I know," he whispers. "Trust me, Sapnap, I know. I love you. Please say it back," Karl blinks at him. "Because if you don't, I'll never have gotten to hear it before I died."
Sapnap stands there in silence, shock written across his features. "I love you," Sapnap whispers, reaching out, taking Karl's hands in his own. "Please don't go."
"I have to," Karl squeezes Sapnap's hands, feeling like he's dying already. "I love you, Sap. You'll be okay," he lets go, taking steps backwards into the portal. "We'll meet again. I don't know that up here," he reaches up, tapping the side of his head. "But I know it in here," Karl moves his hands down to his heart, setting them over his chest. "I love you, Sapnap. Stay strong. Stick to the path."
And then Sapnap is ripped from his vision, and Karl is left alone in the blankness that he's come to know as the Inbetween.
Ever since he was a kid, Karl knew how he was going to die.
A slow, painful death that would be made to look like a disease. In the end, it would be the Inbetween that wrapped its hands around his throat and strangled him, but it would be covered up. It'd be made to look like he died of natural causes.
Karl is going to die in fear, and he's known that from the moment he started to actually know things.
Karl moves forwards, looking at the staircase where he's going to die, feeling the Inbetween already start to wrap its hands around his throat, squeezing, its grip getting tighter and tighter and tighter. Karl runs, desperately trying to escape fate and destiny one last time, scrambling up the first stair, the second, the third, the fourth.
He trips on the fifth. He knew that this was going to happen, and yet it's still terrifying and awful and horrible. He screams for help, though he knows damn well that there's nothing helpful in this entire Inbetween. He cries out until he can't, he gasps for breath and begs the Inbetween to let him go, feeling his chest hurt and tighten with regret and uncertainty. For the first time in his life, Karl doesn't know if this was all worth it. He doesn't know if it was worth it.
He doesn't know.
Karl falls, gasping for air as he stares up at the cotton candy coloured skies, watching as they blur as his vision starts to swim.
And just like that, he's done his job.
Just like that, the world is saved.
Just like that, Karl Jacobs takes his last breath, and he dies on the fifth step of the Inbetween.
Just like he knew he would.
Karl sits on the balancing beam between life and death. It's the same place where he's sat for more eons than he could count on both of his hands, but time isn't really that important to him anyways. Not anymore, at least. Karl looks up at the stars and at the world that still spins, smiling softly as he watches it turn on its axis, over and over and over again. The world is okay, and that's all that's really important.
Though a part of him knows that's not true. There's a part of him that knows that there's something, someone, far more important than the world, but it's much easier to pretend like that thing doesn't exist. Karl watches the world from his palace made out of memories, standing on the edge of the Inbetween, leaning on the railing that he doesn't quite remember being there. There are a lot of things that he doesn't quite remember, but that's okay.
He knows a few things for certain. The most important things, he thinks.
His name is Karl Jacobs.
He's the most powerful oracle and time traveler in the entire history of the world. He's always going to be the most powerful oracle and time traveler in the entire history of the world.
His one goal was to save the world, and he did that.
He's dead - he isn't sure how he died.
Karl sighs, tilting his head back, staring up at the skies that hang over his head, nearly suffocating and nauseating to look at. There's something about this place that makes him feel off, and yet he still can't seem to figure out what that is. For an oracle, he thinks bitterly to himself, he doesn't know a lot of things. Karl throws his legs over the railing, moving himself to the edge of the Inbetween.
For some reason, he feels like if he takes another step forwards, he won't fall.
Time is a concept, gravity is a concept, happiness and success are both concepts, too. Most things in his life, he's learnt, are just concepts. So long as Karl realises that, so long as he realises that he's more than those concepts and that those concepts can't actually hinder him or hurt him, he'll be okay. It's taken him a very, very long time to understand that, but now that he actually does understand that, it's something he can use.
He won't fall. For some reason, Karl is entirely certain that he won't fall. He doesn't know why, he isn't sure why he knows that, but he does, and that's more than enough prompting for him to walk off of the edge and into the void of space and nothingness and everything all at the same time.
So Karl takes that step forwards, and though terror worms its way into his chest, he doesn't fall.
Karl stares ahead of him, at the world in front of him, at the fake memories behind him. At his prison. Karl blinks, gasping for air, gasping for the oxygen that he hasn't been able to breathe for eons now.
And in a beat of silence, he remembers and knows everything.
And in another beat of silence, a voice rings out into his head, soft and low and melodical and perfect, rumbly and rough around the edges, yet so unbelievably gentle at the same exact time.
"Hey, lover boy. Figured it was about time that you showed up."
Darwin, James, Mason, Calum, Benedict, whatever his name is this time doesn't matter, because it's still him.
He still has the same blue-grey eyes, the same eyes that Karl has never been able to lie to. Same haircut, same stupid grin on his face, same clothes and same heartbeat. Same everything.
"I know." Karl answers, feeling his heart soar. He does, he does know.
Sapnap laughs, grinning so hard that it has to hurt his face. "Come here." And so Karl does, rushing into the arms of the man that he will always love, holding him tightly, refusing to let go, refusing to forget, refusing to ever leave him ever again.
"I missed you," Karl whispers. "Are you okay?"
"Missed you too," Sapnap murmurs back, holding him just as tightly. "I'm better now that you're here. It was hard, but you're back, so it'll be okay. I stuck to the path," Sapnap laughs, pulling back just a little. Karl locks eyes with him, reaching out to wipe away the tears that slide down Sapnap's cheeks. "What about you? You're okay?"
"I'm good," Karl promises. "I love you."
Sapnap smiles, soft and gentle.
Full of love.
"I love you, too," Sapnap reaches out, wiping away Karl's own tears. "Did you know this would happen?"
"Here?" Karl raises a hand, tapping his temple. "No," he admits. "But here?" He lowers his hands, setting them against both his and Sapnap's chests. "Yeah. I knew."
"Well," Sapnap beams, placing his hand over Karl's. "I think we've got the rest of the world to spend some time together, don't we?"
"Yeah," Karl confirms, feeling like he's going to cry even harder. "We do. Sapnap?" He smiles, feeling so unbelievably happy. "I love you."
"I love you more, nimrod. Wanna go watch the world?" Sapnap takes him by the hand and drags him along, laughing and explaining what's happened in the past years, what's gone on while he was away, everything. F or the first time in his entire life, Karl doesn't have to know in his head that he's finally managed to get his happy ending. He knows in his heart, and that's the only important place to know anything.