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As is said by the universally constant John Cusack in the 2000 classic High Fidelity: “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music.”

 Now, dear reader, if you were to replace “listen to pop music” with “watch romantic comedies” then the life story of one Mr. Karkat Vantas would be neatly summed up, in one pithy, insightful line.

 You see, a man can only watch When Harry Met Sally (and the like) so many times before he begins to develop certain unrealistic expectations in life. He wouldn’t go so far as to say that they were the cause of all of his misery – for they had been the guiding force behind 90% of his romantic decisions, holding his hand through the delicate seduction process and soothing his wounds after break ups – but they had contributed to a (shall we say) unique outlook on life, that had lead to so many of his problems.

 Contrary to popular belief, Mr. Vantas was an optimist. His rage and frustration (and rage) was caused largely by the fact that world and the behaviour of those who inhabited it, were constant sources of disappointment to him. He thought of the Earth as a sort of... Garbage ball of misery, held together broken dreams and children’s tears.

 As it may be obvious to you already, dear reader, Mr. Vantas was a grumpy, deeply embittered young man, with very high expectations. This made him rather unbearable in a romantic context.

 He was, as well, a lonely man. Often gazing up at the stars as a child, and finding more of an affinity with them than with any of the people or things that surrounded him. He’d longed to study them, get close to them. Though, his dreams were dashed by a string of awful marks in physics and math – perhaps the first true disappointment he had had.

 Though it cannot be emphasised enough that Mr. Vantas was also a deeply intelligent man, even if he was terrible at physics.

As well as harbouring an odd blend of optimism and cynicism and a strange love of the romantic comedy, Mr. Vantas also harboured a Master’s degree in biology.

He had, in fact, been studying for a PHD, when, for reasons beknownst only to himself, he had suddenly decided to up and leave college in favour of working in a local store that dealt in the buying and reselling of second hand DVDs and games. He cut off all ties with his family, and tried initially to cut off all ties with his friends (thought this had proved far more difficult than he expected and he ended up resigning himself to the fact that they were never going to leave him alone).

 Mr. Vantas was, in short, a loser. A loser who didn’t even have the grace to be lovable.

 Our story begins almost exactly two years after Mr. Vantas had chosen to abandon his PHD, having no desire to return to his studies, (Who needed a PHD? That would only lead to a job, and money and who needs jobs and a good income, dear reader? Not Mr. Vantas, that’s for certain) on a particularly blustery October afternoon. When Mr. Vantas, and a certain Miss. Kanaya Maryam, had chosen to take their regular afternoon coffee in an establishment known as “Auntie June’s Cakes and Coffees”.

 

*

 

“This place is stupid.” Karkat spat, sneering at the cafe’s  homey décor and dragging his feet, as if making a concerted effort to scuff the floor.

The place looked like a kitchen lifted directly from the cover of a 1950s decorating magazine. It had gone past kitsch, beyond ironic and had landed in just plain stupid.

 “Indoor voice, Karkat, please.” Kanaya replied, primly. She took a seat at the nearest table and pulled off her fake leather gloves with her teeth. The act was somehow horribly elegant and feminine, and served to explain why the fingertips of all of Kanaya’s gloves were worn so horribly.

 “This is my indoor voice.” He snapped, throwing himself down in the opposite chair. Kanaya lifted a stylishly tweezed and pencilled eyebrow.

 “I’ve always been curious as to why you feel the need to speak at a level that must be a good twenty decibels above everyone else’s.”

 “Probably short man syndrome, some shit like that.” Karkat replied. He made an honest effort to lower his voice slightly. Not so much that Kanaya would notice, or for her benefit in any way shape or form, that smug bitch – more to prove to himself that he could.

 “Quite.” She gave him a tart little smile.

 “You seem to be wearing a fucking obnoxious amount of green lately.” Karkat ran a disdainful eye over Kanaya’s verdant form. The jade coloured duffel coat swaddled her long, thin body (and made her look fat)  was removed to reveal a green polo neck and green suede skirt.

Karkat didn’t even know suede came in green. But Elvis could have Blue Suede shoes, so why the fuck not.

The point was, was that she was wearing a fucking stupid amount of green.

 "Green is my favourite colour.”

 “No shit.” He rolled his eyes.

 “At least I wear more than just plain black, Karkat.” She said, as she vaguely signalled the older woman behind the counter for service, “Or... grey, if you’re feeling daring.”

 “There’s nothing wrong with black. It’s sensible. Your colour phases are fucking embarrassing.”

 “I don’t have colour phases.” She said, “I love green. Always have. I seem to remember having a brief red period-” Karkat sniggered, Kanaya held up a manicured middle finger, her face not so much as flickering “- In high school. And my recent foray into blue was merely an infatuation with... a more morose way of looking at things, shall we say.” She examined her nails (painted, shockingly, green) then combed them through her stupid, ‘individual’ hair.

  “A whole two years is not a foray.” Karkat snapped, taking a glance down at his own grubby, bitten finger nails.  “And I will give you a whole fifty dollars if you manage to go one whole conversation without being a portentous, wordy, douche bag.”

 “What can I say, I am the apotheosis of a bombast.” She replied, with a slight flourish.

 “You’re the apotheosis of a-” Karkat’s doubtlessly witty comeback was then interrupted by the hollow, plastic clatter of a pile of trays falling to the floor.

 “... Shit.”

 Karkat and Kanaya looked toward the source of the trays and the profanity, to see a gangly young man, bright eyed, bespectacled and bucktoothed, staring gormlessly in the direction of their table.

They exchanged a glance, before Kanaya got to her feet to help.

 Apparently she’d misinterpreted the glance. Karkat had been giving her a “why the fuck is he staring at us” look, not a “Golly let’s help the weirdo right away!” look.

 She got down on her knees and began piling up trays, while the boy apologised and urged her to go back to her seat. She ignored him though, and handed him a pile of trays, and he scampered away, red faced, dropping them on the counter and apologising profusely to the woman who stood there.

Though the woman at the counter assured him that it was nothing to worry about.

 Kanaya returned easily to her seat, brushing a little dirt off her legs.

 “That was weird.” Karkat grumbled. Kanaya rolled her eyes, and the Waiter had appeared back at their table.

 He was younger than they were. A high school senior, probably, based on the over stretch limbs he sported, and the puppyish look to his face and wide, blue eyes.

The buck teeth and a spattering of freckles across his cheeks made him look even younger.

 Though when he opened his mouth “Hi, I’m John, sorry about that, can I take your order?” his voice was disconcertingly adult sounding, and was completely mismatched to the rest of him.

When Karkat looked carefully, he could see the clear outline of a five o’clock shadow.

 He might have been a college freshman, then. But he was definitely younger than they were.

 “Coffee. Black.” Karkat barked.

 “Black?” Kanaya questioned. “You won’t drink it.”

 “I didn’t sleep last night.” Karkat argued.

 “You won’t drink it.” She said. All smug and shit, like she knew what was best for him. “Make his coffee strong, but do put some cream in it.”

 The waiter, John, looked toward Karkat for confirmation. Karkat, defeated, slumped down in his chair and blatantly gave Kanaya the finger.

 “What Mom said.” He spat. Instead of looking uncomfortable, as Waiters tended to do when he and Kanaya bickered over them (apparently thinking themselves in the middle of a lover’s tiff) John seemed to be smiling faintly.

He was distant. He was... kind of staring at them both. Karkat, more so than Kanaya, if he was feeling paranoid.

 “And what will the lady be having?” He asked. Kanaya smiled, only slightly (because Kanaya rarely smiled properly, she was almost as bad as Karkat.)

 “Green tea.” She said, before blinking innocently in Karkat’s direction.

 “Are you fucking kidding me.”

 “I like green tea.”

 “You’re just doing this to piss me off.”

 

*

 

John’s hands shook as he hit the speed dial on his cell.

 “Rose?”

 “Oh. Hello John.”

 “Karkat and Kanaya are at my work.”

 

A pause.

 “Pardon?”

 “They’re at the Cafe! They look like students. They look a little older than us, actually. Which is kind of weird. But I think they’re at the same college as us. I mean. There’s only one college in this town, so...” John trailed off, and a puff of air crackled down the phone line.

 “Are you sure it’s them. Are you positive.”

 “Yes. Completely. Just... They’re exactly the same. Down to the haircuts, they’re just... human!... Rose?”

 “Sorry. It’s a lot to process.”

 “Karkat picked a fight with her over nothing. And she was all monotone and... she looks so pretty, Rose. And tall, too.”

 “And Karkat?”

 “He’s a redhead! I think he looks good... He’s still got the same dark circles under his eyes and everything... Listen, can you hear him yelling?”

 “Oh... Goodness.”

 “Are you freaking out right now? Because I’m totally freaking out.”

 “I thought they’d have different names, at least.”

 “The lord works in mysterious ways... And by the lord, I mean Us.”

 “You’ll never grow tired of that gag, will you?”

 “Nope.”

 “We have to tell Jade and Dave.”

 “This is so exciting. I have coffee to pour.”

 “Then shoo. Before you lose your job.”

 

*

 

Coffee/Tea was otherwise uneventful, and Kanaya and Karkat parted ways, with plans to meet on Wednesday.

Karkat liked being with Kanaya. She kept him sane, he felt, being most of the rest of their group of friends were essentially a ball of dysfunction, psychopathy and various personality disorders.

It’s not even like he was the picture of a functioning human being himself.

 He made his way to the bus stop, with his mind on the Waiter. John.

 There had been something,  vaguely... something, about him that Karkat just couldn’t put his finger on. He felt like they’d met before.

It was like some kind of time delay déjà vu that was only really hitting him now. Coincidently, an empty plastic bag, caught in the breeze hit him full in the face at that moment, and it took several seconds for him to detach it. He balled it up, throwing it viciously into the nearest trash can, while silently hoping that no one had seen that.

 He carried on dragging his feet while he walked, slouching, which he knew he shouldn’t do because it only made him look shorter, but who gave a shit. He was over being short.

Not so over it, however that he still didn’t make a considerable effort to stand between Aradia and Nepeta if someone was taking pictures.

 Nepeta would almost be worth dating for the sheer fact that she made him look like he was a reasonable height.

But that sounded like the kind of reasoning Eric would have for dating a girl. And Eric (never Eridan, never his stupid, nickname - seriously, who the fuck makes up a nickname for himself?) was a fucking douche bag.

The guy had once gone out with a girl for like... three months because her hair matched his favourite scarf.

 By the time Karkat was at the bus stop, all thoughts of the strangely familiar waiter had given way to Eric based loathing. Karkat enjoyed seething, it was one of his favourite activities, and he always found himself with a thousand and one topics to seethe over.

There was... Kanaya wearing all the green, his mean dentist, the fact that the bus was never on time, Vriska’s continual existence, that one neighbour he had that never picked up his dog poop, the fact that he hadn’t gotten laid in almost year... the list went on.

 Point being, he was never short of things to sit and be bitter over, which he found provided an excellent level of entertainment for his many bus journeys.

 There was another one, the fact that he couldn’t afford a car.

 Karkat was very content in his misery, until the bus pulled up. After stepping on to said bus, he was somewhat disturbed to see Teri sat right at the front, face set in that default crocodile of hers. Good God, she was mortifying. He crept past her, trying not to sound too... Karkat-like. Or to drag his feet too much.

 

Alas, he felt a hard hand curl around his bony wrist.

 

“Trying to get away from me, Karkat?” She purred, tugging Karkat down in the seat next to her, with quite a force. She gave her dry, raspy chuckle and Karkat winced. “Your sneaking is like any normal person’s stamping... You’ll never make the audition for the ballet company that way.”

 “Fuck you. I’m the Swan Queen.” He grumbled. Teri rasped again, and slapped his thigh.

 “Always a such a comedian.” She cackled.  “Aw, Sweetie, I remember when you used to make such an effort to be with me. And I was only too happy to let you.” She made a kissy face, and Karkat glared. Not that there was any point in him glaring at her.

 “Why do you always talk like we haven’t seen each other for thirty years. I saw you this morning, you idiot.”

 “Because you hate it. And you’re so adorable when you’re mad.” Teri cooed at him. She reached round, and gave his cheek a harsh squeeze.

 “You can’t even see me!” He slapped at her hand, and she only grabbed his wrist again, drawing it toward her mouth.

 “I can smell your cute. I can taste it on the air.” She licked the back of his hand, which he promptly snatched back, groaning with irritation. He’d gone past the point of being disgusted by Teri’s saliva. Not just because they’d dated for so long – she just... licked people. Few of their friends were phased by it any more. Many just ignored her, now.

“Baby, don’t be that way.” She whined, when Karkat started wiping his hand on her jacket.

 “How’s the internship going? Licked your way to unemployment yet?” he snapped.

 “Oh, Karkat, I didn’t know you cared.”

 “I don’t. Not in the slightest, I’m just trying to make this bus ride less awkward.”

 “It was so not awkward. And it’s going pretty awesome.” She then smiled cruelly and gave him a sharp elbow to the side. “How’s squandering away your time and intelligence going?” She asked, with that horrible laugh of hers.

 “It’s fucking amazing. Life is beautiful. It’s a motherfucking miracle.” He sneered, all false enthusiasm. Teri’s face, however, lit up at Karkat’s crude impression of one of their group.

 “Ah, dear, sweet Gamzee.” She sighed, giving Karkat a wistful look. “It’s been so long.”

 “You saw him yesterday. You were at our fucking apartment.”

 “I forgot how easy you were to piss off.”

 “No you didn’t!”

 Teri smiled and pinched his cheek again. “So easy.” She seemed to stop and think for a moment. “I feel like we’re almost at my stop.”

Karkat glanced out the window.

 “Looks that way.” This was a lie. They were actually one stop before Teri’s stop – but there was nothing like tricking your blind ex, to make you feel like a big man.

 “Who knows when we’ll meet again.” Teri said dramatically as she stood.

 “We’re all going to Vagabond’s for drinks on Friday, it’s Kanaya’s birthday, remember?” 

 “Obviously... Is Spider Bitch coming?” She asked, face twisted.

 “Kanaya likes her.” Karkat replied, injecting as much disdain into his voice as possible.

 “Eww.” Teri made a show of gagging, before the bus stopped. She blew Karkat a kiss as she exited, “Tragically separated again, Môn amore, and who knows for how long,” and practically sashayed off the bus.

 Karkat decided then, that nothing would ever compare to the joy he felt when confusing that blind girl, and making her walk another four blocks to her apartment building.

 

*

 

 

When Karkat stepped through the front door of his crappy fucking apartment, he was immediately concerned. The smell of soft drugs and bad candy was decidedly fainter than it usually was. Which could only mean Gavin (or Gamzee, rather, as he preferred his “clown” name to his “slave name”) had either a) wandered off somewhere, b) been totally conked out on his meds all day, or c) was dead.

As much as option c) would be convenient for Karkat, options a) and b) were far more likely. He hoped Gamzee just hadn’t made it out of bed today, because Karkat really didn’t want to have to organise another Gamzee hunt. Though those often started out kind of funny, they only ever ended in tears and yelling. Mostly from Karkat.

 “Gamzee, I’m home.” He called. “Gamzee?” Karkat kicked off his shoes in their narrow entrance hall, and stumbled his way into the kitchen. Gamzee wasn’t there... And only Saturday and Sunday’s bottles of Faygo was present in the recyclables.

Now deeply concerned, Karkat entered the living room to find Gamzee’s usual spot vacant, barring a few crumbs, and a fuck ugly, partially bald, three legged cat that got in there sometimes. All of the time.

Gamzee had named him “Sticky”.

 

“What have I told you about letting that gross cat into the apartment?” He yelled. There was no answer.

 As much as Karkat hated going into Gamzee’s creepy ass room, desperate times called for desperate measures.

 After a three minute wrestling match with Sticky, (Upon trying to remove him from the apartment, Karkat has noticed that he was gnawing on a bottle of Gamzee’s pills) Karkat kicked open the door of Gamzee’s room. He was hit by a wall of darkness, smoke and terrible rap music.

 “Sup.” A wobbly voice came out from the ether.

 Karkat stared into the smoke filled room. He became aware of Gamzee’s blue tinged, backlit silhouette. And everything suddenly looked like a shitty 1980s music video.

 “Did you take your pills today fuckass?” Asked Karkat, deliberately louder than usual, and shaking the small bottle of pills obnoxiously.

 “Nah. Busy.” Gamzee replied. Karkat threw the pills with as much violence as possible, and was thoroughly pleased when he hit his roommate on the head.

 “Busy with what?” Karkat asked. Gamzee gestured to the lump in the bed beside him.

 “Um. Cheryl-”

 “Steve.” Interrupted the lump.

 “Whatever. This is my best friend, Karkat.” Karkat saw Gamzee gesture vaguely toward him, as a head popped out from beneath the lump... Steve.

 “What kind of fuckin’ name is-” he began, but before Karkat could tell him to fuck off, Gamzee began to speak.

 “It’s like ... the Hindu version of the star sign Cancer.” Karkat frequently had to remind Gamzee how one went about tying their shoe laces – this, however, he remembered. “His mom is like this... crazy motherfuckin’ hippy crab lady.” Karkat could make out Gamzee making pincers with his hands.

 “Shut up about my insane hippy mother and take your pills.”

 “I’m self medicating.”

 “Take your fucking pills or I will jam the bottle into your useless, lazy ass.” Karkat said this through clenched teeth. He looked and sounded like an idiot, but Karkat saw Gamzee give in and swallow his pills.

“And don’t you try and fucking take any.” Karkat pointed at shape Gamzee appeared to have been sleeping with... Steve. “I know you’re probably some whacked out clown fetishist, just trying to look for his next buzz, but that shit’s just going to knock you the fuck out. If I have to deal with unconscious one night stands, I swear to god, you’ll-”

 “Okay! Jesus, I fucking get it.” Snapped Steve. “He’s a peach, Gavin, he is an absolute peach.”

 Karkat gave them both the finger, then slammed the door shut. Job well done. If there were prizes given for the ability to mother a twenty-five-year-old, drugged up, mentally ill man-child, Karkat would have won all of the fucking prizes.

All of them.

 Karkat flicked on the TV, and sat down next to Sticky, who sort of wriggled toward him, in order to lie a furry cheek on Karkat’s thigh.

 Sticky gazed up at him with the haunted eyes of a Vietnam veteran. Every time Karkat made a conscious effort to remove the cat from the apartment, Sticky would gaze up at him with that same look – you weren’t there man, you weren’t there, said the look – and Karkat would just feel too guilty to put him back outside.

 “If your filthy ass face stains my pants, we will be taking a trip to the vet, and only one of us will come back alive.” Karkat grumbled, petting Sticky’s head, then immediately regretting it because... there was a reason that mangy old flea bag was named “Sticky”.

“What is fucking wrong with you?” He asked Sticky. Sticky only stared back at him, with eyes that had seen far too much. “You’re taking your whole fucking... being sticky shtick way too far.” Sticky blinked. “Cats are supposed to clean themselves, you know.”

 “Mow.”

 “I guess you’d probably die of some horrible fucking disease if you tried to lick yourself, huh?”

 “... Mow.”

 “Maybe you’ve fermented. Should I have Gamzee lick you, huh Sticky? Huh? And if you get him high, we can start whoring you out Sticky, yes we can.” Karkat mockingly cooed, Sticky continued to stare. He pulled the sleeve of his shirt down over his hand, and patted the cat.

“Who’s a disgusting, ugly, disease ridden old kitty cat?”

 “Mow.”

 “That’s right Sticky! You are! You Are!” He gave the cat an even more enthusiastic pat. Sticky... stared. “Who’s going to get put down the minute I can get him into a cat carrier?”

 “Mow.”

 “Such a smart Kitty!”

 “Man, you are one creepy motherfucker.” Said Gamzee from the doorway. Without his weird clown makeup shit, and with his hair flat and no fucked up clown based t-shirt, Gamzee was actually pretty attractive.

Not that Karkat would touch him with a ten foot ski pole, or anything, it was always just something of a shock to the system to see Gamzee looking normal. Karkat usually thought of him as Gavin like this. When he was dressed, he could never, ever be anything other than Gamzee.

 “Why do you keep letting the fucking gross cat into the apartment?”

 “’Cause he’s just a lonely little kitty. Looking for a little shelter and some motherfuckin’ love.” Gamzee strolled over to the couch, and hoisted Sticky into his arms, cradling him like he was Gamzee’s own gross, mutant cat baby.

“Look at him man.” Gamzee looked tenderly at Sticky. “Look at all the love in that furry little miracle’s eyes.” He dangled Sticky, till the cat’s face was level with Karkat’s.

 “Gamzee, you are mistaking a loving gaze, with the gaze of someone who has looked long into the abyss, only to find that the abyss gazed back into them.” Karkat sighed. God that cat was fucking ugly.

Gamzee gave an appreciative gasp, dumping Sticky on the ground. Karkat made a mental note to make a special effort not to have any physical contact Gamzee for the next few days. He probably had Cat AIDs now, and Karkat really didn’t want to have to explain that to his Doctor.

 “Shit man. Shit. That’s deep.” Gamzee marvelled at him. “Did you come up with that?”

 “... Gamzee. You have a Master’s degree in philosophy.”

 “I know, and I couldn’t have even come up with that shit man!” Gamzee grinned. All Karkat could do was stare in disbelief. It was a motherfuckin’ miracle in itself that Karkat had not beaten Gamzee to death with his own shoes, out of sheer frustration.

Gamzee’s grin faded. His jaw slackened and his eyes narrowed. “What was I even doing out here.”

 “I don’t know.” Karkat sighed. “Fuck off, Gamzee.”

 “Can do, buddy.”