You were in the YA romance section.
Technically it said ‘teen romance’, but you, Karkat Vantas, nearly ten sweeps old (or approximately 21 human years) and verifiably a young adult preferred to address it as such, if only in your head.
Besides, the only other person or troll in the bookshop that you could see was Kanaya, and she was sweating just as much as you looking for a trashy lesbian vampire novel.
The bell above the door rang and another group of college-age kids walked in. You didn’t recognize them. You still didn’t want them seeing you perusing teen books with a laser focus, so you shifted behind the stacks just slightly and examined the group as they noisily entered. Laughing raucously. Fucking idiots.
You came here to get away from all the noise, you couldn’t help feeling a little bitter that you and Kanaya weren’t the only ones who sought the fortitude of an old bookshop, the three humans who had walked in and now split their own ways didn’t even look like they belonged here. More like on the cover of some fashion magazine, Karkat couldn’t help but follow them with his eyes. Was it his imagination or were they…glowing?
He shook his head. Just another group of human jerks, probably. One of the girls, one with short black hair and cherry red glasses made a beeline to the recipe books, much to the apparent entertainment of the other two, as they shared a meaningful look.
The other girl turned back cheerfully and spared her cooking companion a fond look before she ambled off through to look at old cassettes and records. Her very pink skirt matched the very pink clips scattered haphazardly through wild, blonde hair, and she danced through the aisles to music it seemed only she could hear.
The remaining human was a guy about Karkat’s own age, messy blond hair that, unlike his companion, looked intentionally so, and darkly reflective shades perched on a strangely delicate nose, headed straight for him.
No. He was headed for the comics a few stacks short. Karkat let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. He turned around to look at Kanaya, she had picked up some trashy vamp novella and was perched in an overstuffed armchair in the far corner of the shop. Definitely wouldn’t be moving for a while. Karkat absentmindedly selected a book without looking at it and pretended to skim the book sleeve as he peeked through the shelves to see what shades coolkid was looking at.
Shades gingerly plucked an exceptionally old comic from the rack and something strange passed over his face. Nostalgia? Humor? Bitterness? Impossible to tell. The cover was tacky, some old, super famous comic Karkat had heard of but never bothered reading. The background was black, almost like space, but it was shattered like a prism, rainbow cracks in space and time. What was it called? Karkat wracked his brain. Homesafe? Homestruck? Homestuck. Based on mythology and the ways of the Old Church, it was supposedly a classic, although some particularly nasty New Church members had tried to get it banned in schools a few years back. They said it was nothing but, “lies and sacrilegious content, meant to rot kids’ brains out”.
Religion had never been Karkat’s thing.
Shades held up the comic to show the girl in the music section. He waved it tauntingly and she rolled her eyes in return. He set it back down and continued to search through the old comic books aimlessly.
Was he being creepy? Karkat definitely felt like he was being creepy. It was something about the asshole, he was too well dressed, but still somehow managed to look sloppy. If Karkat looked sloppy it was because he couldn’t afford to look any better. This fuckface was in a long black coat, darkwash jeans, clean red converse, and a red sweater over an untucked black button-up. And he had a long red scarf. Stupid asshole. Stupidly tall.
Stupidly attractive. Stupid-
“Karkat? Are you almost done?” Kanaya materialized behind him with a respectable stack of books in her arms. “Would you like me to wait for you before I check out?”
“Um,” Karkat recovered from having had to resist the urge to leap back fifty feet. “No, yes. No. Um. I haven’t…”
He looked helplessly down at the meager pile of books he’d collected. He felt no particular attachment to any of them, or if he had when he’d pulled them he had forgotten his intrigue almost immediately.
Kanaya smiled patiently. “I will see you tomorrow for coffee as planned, yes?”
“Yes,” Karkat nodded emphatically. “Absolutely. Fucking yes. That.”
Kanaya hid a smirk as he turned to walk away before pausing. “Oh, by the way,”
“Hm?” Karkat responded distractedly as he stole a glance back toward the comic section. Shades was gone.
“Get his number, will you dear?”
Kanaya laughed and winked as Karkat fought to avoid turning bright red. Fucking figures.
Karkat sighed and looked at the pile of books at his feet. He slowly began to put them back, peering through the shelves as inconspicuous as he could. He couldn’t explain why he was so fascinated by this guy, this dumb human boy. It was more than that he seemed attractive, more than that he looked like the usual asshole Karkat liked to get his heart broken by, he seemed familiar. Like out of a dream, or a drawing. Like-
Karkat really did leap back this time. He had peered through a crack in the books and a pair of darkly reflective glass frames met him eye for eye. Fuck.
There was a wild scrambling from the other side of the bookshelf, then the human appeared at the end of the aisle and stopped in his tracks. He was breathing heavily. Or he was holding his breath? Karkat couldn’t be sure, but his heart sped up of its own accord.
Something about this human boy who stood there, stance wide, long legs planted apart, firmly. One arm reached toward the shelf as if he’d used the edge to spin around about-face, the other limp, distant, at his side. Face passive.
“Did she. Um.” His voice was crackly, rough around the edges. As if he hadn’t used it in some time. Or as if he had been crying. “Did she call you Karkat?”
Karkat blinked. “Yeah? What the fuck is it to you?”
Shades exhaled in an almost-laugh, breathy and disbelieving. He half turned around as if to say something to someone at his side, but upon realizing no one was there, spoke to himself.
“After all these years,” he muttered. “Fucking millennia. Like a bad joke.”
“Can I fucking help you?” Karkat said.
“Do you like comics?” Dave asked, taking a step closer. He pulled a shiny copy of a popular comic Karkat definitely recognized, Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff.
“Not that fucking bullshit,” Karkat made a face. “If you have anything that’s actually good, then maybe.”
Shades didn’t seem particularly offended by this scathing review. Just continued toward Karkat, a small smile gracing his face. He got the sense that this was a barely contained emotion.
“You know, I really fuckin’ think I do,” Shades lifted his namesake off his nose and pushed it to the top of his head, scraping any pale hair up and out of the way. He fixed Karkat with a pair of bright red eyes. Karkat, who was no expert on humans, was fairly certain that eyes were not supposed to come in that particular shade. After all, even as a troll, his own weren’t.
Shades looked off toward his friends and gave a nod in their direction. “I’ll be seeing you around, Karkat.”
There was a sudden sound of ticking, gears turning, and then Karkat was alone in the shop.
Shades was gone, and so were his female friends. It was almost as if Karkat’s brain had missed something, skipped a step. They were there, they were gone, and his brain had blinked in the middle during the process where point A bridged to point C.
Karkat searched through every stack, as if maybe the three human strangers were all in on some elaborate prank and just really good at hiding, but it was useless. He ended up right back to where he started.
Only now, there was something on the ground where Shades had been standing. The old comic he’d been looking at earlier. Homestuck, volume I. And a note.
“yo. its not perfect obviously because what really went down was a mad shitshow, and its missing some stuff. gotta simplify if you wanna spread the word i guess. anyways, this might fill in the spaces. or at least, i really, really fucking hope it does.
Karkat looked around the shop, as if he might catch whoever was responsible. No such luck.
“What the fuck?” He whispered. He had a feeling it was going to be a very long day