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    "So what made you decide to join... you know... 'The Corps'?"

    "Anger management strategy." Stock explanation number two: 'irritated, perfunctory'. You scowl at the girl over the rim of your beer glass and wait for her to surprise you by saying something intelligent. You know she's not going to.

She doesn't. She traces the globe and anchor on your forearm lightly with the tip of a painted nail. Probably thinks that's a sexy thing to do. It just tickles. You cover the tattoo with the wrist of your glass-holding hand and rub the itch off. She gives a practiced pout.
    "Did it bother you? Fighting your own people?"

    "Wow," you say. "Here I was thinking you weren't going to impress me, but you did." You watch the beginning of pride in her drink-glazed eyes crash into hurt as you go on, "Your stupidity is breathtaking. What fucking 'own people' would those be?"

    "Well excuse me for making an honest mistake," she whines. "You just look kind of Middle Eastern, so... excuse me, God."

    Your name is Karkat Vantas, and you're American, fuckdammit. You were born in fucking Chicago. You served six years in the United States Marine Corps and came home with a purple heart and a titanium knee. You do not have to take this kind of bullshit from spray-tanned college girls or anyone else.

    You enunciate clearly for the thinking-impaired: "You're excused. Fuck off."

    She makes that special little tcha noise a certain kind of girl thinks is scathing, rolls off her stool on the side away from you, does a little oops-where-did-these-high-heels-come-from two-step, and lurches away, muttering "Asshole," under her breath.

    You drain the last swallow from your glass and set it down with a snort. The bartender grabs it and replaces it with a full one she had standing ready.

    She says, "Didn't you once tell me your dad was Iranian, though?"

    "Gosh, when did we invade Iran? I was not fucking informed." You give it plenty of venom, but she just grins. She's used to you. She walks off while you deliver your stock tirade -- understandable mistake, one letter difference, N and Q are next to each other on the keyboard oh wait no they're fucking not -- to your beer glass. It's an excellent listener.

    All told, a pretty standard Friday night. Occupy barstool, scowl, rebuff vapid woman, talk to self, somehow fail to get a decent buzz despite steady, determined consumption of shitty cheap beer. It's not that your life is so empty this counts as entertainment. It's just a kind of penance you need to inflict on yourself for some reason. It makes you feel better the rest of the week by contrast.

    "Excuse me," a man says, and there's a tap on your shoulder.

    You twist the minimum necessary to look at him, and see him bounce back as if he expects you to throw a punch. You take him in at a glance: tall, skinny white guy, short brown hair, jeans and a t-shirt, mid-twenties. He has an unnervingly hopeful expression on his face, like he thinks you're someone famous and he's about to ask for your autograph.

    He's going to hit on you. You brace yourself to be polite about turning him down. Rejecting gay guys is just about the only time you make an effort to be nice; someone has to do something about the stereotype of military men being foaming rabid homophobes.

    "Your name's Karkat Vantas, isn't it?" He has The Lisp. Bingo. He goes on without waiting for your answer; your expression must be enough confirmation. "I'm Sollux Captor. Do you remember me?"

    "No. Did we go to high school together or something?" You're pretty sure you didn't. You would've remembered a name that weird.

    "No, it's... sorry. Shit. I hoped you'd recognize me. At this point I don't really know how to proceed."

    "Proceed by telling me where the fuck I'm supposed to know you from."

    "Mind if I sit?"

    "You better fucking sit, I'm done craning my neck at you."

    He gives a dry, fond chuckle as he takes the stool next to you. It's not the kind of laugh a stranger uses. It weirds you out somewhat. "So you don't... I don't look familiar to you at all?" he prompts.

    "A little. I could've seen you anywhere. This very establishment, for instance. What do you want?"

    "I want you to hear me out and not automatically reject what I have to say just because you're pissed off at reality," he says. Again with that wry fondness. Again with the weirding you out. "I know," he adds quickly, holding up a hand. "I know what you're about to say."

    "Oh really," you drawl.

    His next words come out in a near-perfect imitation of your voice: "Sure, total fucking stranger, please allow me to credulously accept whatever bullshit story you've cooked up to scam me, would you like me to fetch my bank book? I'll just make the check out to Shitbag Douchefuck in the amount of Go Strangle Yourself."

    There's a long pause while you stare at him in disbelief. That's the best Karkat Vantas impression you've ever heard, and he is far from the first guy to try it. "How," you begin.

    A huge grin splits his face. "I thought you'd stay short. I don't know why. I was imagining this scrappy little Napoleonic fucker. At least you're not taller than me. I don't know if I could handle that."

    "What."

    "I also sort of thought you'd be a redhead, for some reason. I can't adequately justify that expectation. I was foolish. This is better. You look more like yourself this way."

    The speech center of your brain finally comes back online. "Who the fuck are you and what do you fucking want."

    There's that forgiving chuckle again. "Okay. Okay, there's no getting around the weird shit without lying, which I'm not gonna do, so just... bear with me." He takes a deep breath, and from the look on his face you fully expect him to confess to collecting used kleenexes out of your garbage.

    He says, "We were best friends in another life. In another universe. On another planet. Twelve of us played a game, and now we're human, and I don't know if we were supposed to remember and it went wrong for the rest of you, or we were supposed to forget and it went wrong for me, but one day I started remembering. I'm trying to contact everyone, but you're the one I missed most. I've been looking for you for thirteen years. I always. Uh. Fuck." He doesn't look like he's trying not to cry, but his voice chokes off and he has to swallow hard. "I kinda convinced myself you'd remember me. Like our bro-ship had the power to transcend universes or something. I'm kind of a dumbass sometimes, sorry."

    "Uhhh. Huh. Wow."

    "I can see you don't believe me, and I don't blame you, but thanks for not flipping your shit. Vriska ran me off her property with a shotgun after the first sentence. She lives in a trailer in Colorado and breeds alpacas. How does something like that even happen?"

    "Wow," you repeat in a stunned tone. "You know what? You're the first person to truly surprise me since Johnny Jihad kneecapped me with exploding roadkill. I think I'm more surprised by this, actually, because back then I lost consciousness before I could really savor the shock. This is some choice bizarro bullshit you're serving me, man. Kudos."

    He swallows again and nods. He's starting to look somewhat dewy-eyed; it's embarrassing to watch. Either he's Oscar-worthy or he really believes his story. "Guess I'll just leave it at that." He gets up.

    Your eyebrows manage to rise even further. "You're just walking away now?"

    "Unless you can think of a way I can convince you. All I can do is... hell, I don't know." He shoves a hand through his hair impatiently. "Let you think about it. Maybe you'll remember something. If I gave you my contact info would you use it?"

    "No."

    "That's what I thought. So I'll try again some other time, I guess." He shrugs helplessly. Then he walks away.

    You watch him go, of course, just in case he does something interesting. All he does is pause at the door to glance back at you. Then he's gone.

    "Holy shit," you intone. "That was some full-auto, belt-fed, water-cooled crazy. I have respect for that kind of crazy."

    "Oh yeah?" the bartender says. "And I was way over there and missed it. What did he say?"

    You shake your head slowly. "I can't do it justice."