A/N: Uploaded to AO3 under the same name a month ago. This is a continuation of my other HS fic set in the same universe (In Our Days We Will Live). It isn't necessary to read that one first, but I'd recommend it, just to understand everything completely.

Are you with me?

I can't see a thing.

Darling, are you with me?

What happened to the light you used to bring?

(Are You With Me, Stars)

There was no onslaught of memories, no jolted awakening from the life you were currently living, no confusion over who you were. One day, you had just been Karkat Vantas, thirteen years old with a dad who was a human rights lawyer and activist, and loved you dearly, living in California and then-

And then you were also Karkat Vantas-Strider, a few hundred sweeps old, husband, mutant, father and most importantly, not from fucking Earth.

It hadn't been sudden, there was no huge disconnect between Karkat the Human and Karkat the Troll, but rather, it was like trying to solve a puzzle only to realise the piece was in your hand the whole time. To be honest, you had literally woken up and gone, oh yeah, that was a fucking thing that happened. And then you had stopped. Taken a moment to shuffle through your memories, who you had been, who you were now and-

Well, you went apeshit. Quietly, because you didn't want to wake your dad, and holy shit , you had a human dad, holy shit , you were human-!

There were many revelations and it was all around a really shitty, really upsetting time. Towards the end of your complete mental breakdown, you had (mostly) managed to accept your situation, at least until you realised that there was the possibility that the others were here. That Dave was here. And you didn't know where he was, if he was even still your Dave, the man you had fallen in love with, had married, had raised a family with-!

(And god it hurt to think about your kids, the little assholes you loved with every fibre of your being, that you had watched grow and become such incredible people and you loved them, you missed them, but you and Dave had agreed that it was time to go, you were both tired and hadn't wanted to outlive your children. So he relinquished his Godhood and you asked Jane and the others who had been involved in extending your lifespan to stop them, so you could grow old properly alongside your husband and children.)

You needed to contact Dave, you needed to talk to him, to ask him what the fuck was going on, where he was, if he was okay .

You were about to bolt to the computer, before you remembered the fact that your dad had placed strict restrictions on the time you were allowed to access it, as well as what you were allowed to access. Alongside that, he had bought an absolute dinosaur of a computer that you could barely run a video clip, let alone a chat client. Your phone was a clunky Nokia that could probably withstand SBURB itself, but had absolutely no possibility of downloading any apps apart from Snake or Pong.

You knew that any attempts to persuade your dad to get you a smart phone or even a less shitty computer would not work, because for someone who was a human rights lawyer, the dude sure had a lot of enemies. So, shitty but well protected computer and phone it was. Your school monitored almost all activity on the school computers after some douchebags accessed a porn site, and the library computers were as crap, if not even worse than your own home computer.

And as for trying to use a friend's device? Well, your personality was as explosive here as it was as a troll, except not a lot of people were amused by it and had sworn off trying to get near you. You were just as much as an asshole as a human thirteen year old as you were as a troll thirteen year old.

So as good as it was to know that somethings never change, it didn't change the all-important fact that you were stranded, with no clue, no idea if anyone else had come, or if you were alone.

No John, no Jade, no Rose, no Kanaya, no Dave -

And it was absolutely terrifying.

Having a dad was both normal and completely foreign to you, because while you had distinct memories of this father, a different side of you had had a giant white crab ( Lusus , your mind hissed) as a parental figure, so there was some slight disconnect there. But even so, you loved him without hesitation, no second thoughts about it, because he was a good person and a pretty great dad, despite his technological short comings.

Kankri Vantas was both similar and wildly different to the Kankri you had long ago known. To be honest, the only similarity was his looks, and even that was flimsy. While he was an avid social and human rights activist, he wasn't a blatant hypocrite like his namesake had been. Troll Kankri had refused to listen to the people he claimed to be defending and had just generally been an asshole, whereas your dad on the other hand literally worked with his clients every day to get their story heard and to achieve proper, legal justice for them, rather than some thin façade of fake support.

(Okay, so maybe you were really proud of him. He'd helped a lot of people, and even though it did mean he was often incredibly busy, it also meant he was an empathetic and understanding father.)

He was adamant that you formed your own opinions on the world, which was one of the reasons (alongside his avid adherence to people's right to confidentiality) that you never found out who he would scream at over the phone at least once a week. All you knew was that they were a huge conglomerate figure, they may be called Betty, and were guilty of numerous worker's rights violations, which they always got out of.

(Maybe something to do with cargo ships or transatlantic shipping? He'd called them a nasty, self-serving sea witch before, alongside a myriad of other... names.)

So, in short, while you were simultaneously used and not used to having a father, you seemed to have lucked out with him, and it was pretty easy to adapt and feel comfortable with him. Your mother on the other hand was out of the picture, so trying to consolidate that fact hadn't been as difficult as you had thought.

You were content with your dad. Your little family didn't need to get better.

And then, when you were sixteen, he began to date someone. Granted, he probably deserved to have someone else that wasn't his son or his clients, and considering most of his time was either spent at his office, at home, or at a protest, he needed to get out more. He tried to be secretive about it at first, mainly because he didn't want you to feel upset or left out or ignored, because despite having the memories of an adult, you were by all rights, still a child. Your father though, was completely shit at keeping secrets outside of a case however. Besides, it had been fairly obvious that he had been seeing someone, and once you confronted him about it, he spilled like a leaky water bottle.

(For fuck's sake, who were you, Dave? Shitty metaphors were his thing not yours.)

But it soon became clear why he had been hesitant to let you know. First of all, it had only ever been you and him. Your mother up and left when you were still a baby, you had no grandparents at all, apart from some woman who had helped your dad raise you the first few years alongside her own daughter, before she moved away and your dad lost contact with her. Your father had lost contact with most of his friends somehow. Second of all, apparently their relationship was fairly serious. He'd even confessed that he hoped to marry her maybe in the future. And lastly, she had a daughter a few years younger than you, who was hesitant around strangers and needed time to adjust, and he hadn't wanted to overwhelm either of you.

"Dad, I would react a whole lot worse if you fucking rocked up one day, new wife and kid in tow, without even telling me. As long as she makes you happy, then I'm fine," you said bluntly, and he shuffled slightly.

"Well, obviously it wouldn't go as far as that, of course I would have told you before making any serious decision like that. I just... you are okay with it? Because if it makes you uncomfortable in any way, or you're really against it, then I can talk to Meu about it, she'd understand, because you come first Karkiddo."

"Dad, first of all, stop with the fucking nickname. Second of all, you're really being overdramatic. Look, how about I meet her and her daughter and we have a nice meal, and then I'll dump all my shitty, angsty teen insecurities on you. That sound fair?" He scrambled with his phone, a wide grin on his face.

"That's wonderful, I'll let Meulin know right away, oh man she'll be so happy to meet you! Just a heads up, she's hard of hearing and while she does has hearing aids, she uses sign language more often than not, so if she goes a bit too fast for you, just let me know and I'll translate. And you'll really like her kid, she loves to paint you know, and once she opens up then she's really really chatty! I know I don't have to tell you this, but be nice to her, yes? Sometimes she can linger a bit on a topic she really likes and not know when to stop, so just be kind and not snap at her. I've only met her once, but she's a lovely girl."

"Yeah yeah, I'll be nice. I'm not gonna go fucking scream at a kid dad."

"She's only three years younger than you," he pointed out, "but thank you Karkat. I really really hope- no, I really think you'll like both of them."

Well. He wasn't wrong.

Maybe it should have been obvious the moment he said 'Meulin', but to be fair, it had been literal centuries since you'd had anything to do with the Dancestors, and it wasn't like you spoke to any of them that much. Most of them were absolutely infuriating, or in your Dancestor's case, insufferable . Besides, it wasn't like you had bothered to learn most of their names. In hindsight, maybe you should have.

(Perhaps then you would have been able to stop the absolute guilt and self-loathing that consumed you again. You had managed to move past it on Earth C, but the consequences of your actions, no matter how accidental, still haunted you. You got them killed. You only ever spoke to Davepeta once, but despite their reassurances that it wasn't your fault, it hadn't felt enough. Davepeta wasn't her , they were a completely different person with mismatched memories and their own unique personality.)

You found out you weren't alone in this world at a slightly upscale Italian restaurant on a Sunday, with a shitty cat figurine in your pocket and some hastily learned sign language. Just the basics, like hello, yes, no, please and thank you. Since the kid absolutely adored cats, you figured it would be... nice or something to get her just a small thing, like a hey, we might be brother and sister in a few years, please don't hate me.

Turns out you didn't have to worry about that.

At all.

You had been sitting at the reserved table for ten minutes already, silently wondering (and judging) how long they would take. And then your dad's face lit up in a way that was so heartbreakingly familiar. He had the same expression on his face that you got whenever you had seen Dave, the same disgustingly sappy and open admiration and love blasting across his face. It would have been embarrassing if it hadn't caused a pang to go through your heart. He stood up and waved, and you craned your head to look at who he was beckoning over. The woman was quite tall, with dark brown hair that fell down her back in curls and a small cleft in the middle of her upper lip. She was beaming just as widely as your dad, and you wanted to groan. It seemed like she was just as smitten with your dad as he was of her. She then turned slightly, her grin smoothing into something softer, as she gently tugged a teenage girl in front of her.

You physically flinched at the sight of her.

She had the same cleft lip as her mother, the same wavy brown hair, though it was cropped to her shoulders, and despite the hesitation on her face, there was something excited in her eyes, but that wasn't what had you frozen in your seat. No, it was her hat.

A bright blue, woollen hat, with knitted orange ears and a white button holding the fabric in the shape of a cat's mouth. A very familiar hat. One that was burned into your memories alongside the splatters of olive that had decorated it the last time you had seen it on-

That bastard's head.

She was still wearing a long olive coat with a fuzzy blue tail attached to it, still wore a shirt proudly displaying her sign, still as tall as she had been as a troll, still looking exactly the same, despite the lack of grey skin.

You swallowed dryly, tried to dislodge the knot in your throat, but you could barely move. She ducked her head slightly at your stare, and you wondered if Davepeta had lied, if they did actually blame you, if she actually hated you-

"Meulin! Hi! I'm so glad you're both here!" Your dad stood up from the booth, his hands twisting into words you vaguely recognised from your brief lesson in the language. You forced yourself to look away from their exchange of affection. From-

"Hello Nepeta! How are you? It's been a while!"

"Hi Kankitty, I'm purrfect!" Nepeta responded cheerfully back, and you blinked harshly. She even sounded the same.

"That's great! Listen, you've probably seen him already, but I wanted you to meet my son! Karkat, this is Nepeta! Nepeta, Karkat!" Your father introduced you enthusiastically, and you pushed yourself to look up again, to give her a weak smile and some semblance of a greeting, but you froze again at the sight of her looking intensely at your face. Her mouth hung open and even in the dim light you could see her eyes getting damp.

"Karkitty?" She asked hesitantly, and it felt like ice had been dumped over your head.

She remembered.

She knew.

She was alive.

"Hey Nepeta," you had croaked out, before hastily adding on a "nice to meet you." You could fall apart later, but if you began to bawl out apologies to some girl you supposedly had never met, then your dad would ask questions.

"Yeah, you too," she tacked on quickly, hesitating for another second, before plonking herself next to you. Your dad chuckled, and Meulin giggled as well.

"It's nice to meet you Karkat! Your dad's told me a lot about you!" She signed out, and you figured you should be slightly offended at her using the gestures for car and cat to sign your name, but considering it was easier than spelling out each individual letter, then you supposed you could let it pass.

"Hi. You as well." Your hands were less smooth, clunkier, but she still lit up in delight.

The rest of the dinner was... fairly okay, all things considered. Sure, it had that 'future step-family' awkwardness and the reminder that you weren't the only one left from a life you had once lived through, but Meulin was a pretty nice person, even if she could be over excitable, but your dad adored her and she seemed to love him back just as much, so you approved.

You only managed to have a few snippets of whispered conversation with Nepeta though. After the two adults began to enthusiastically chat to each other, you turned to look at her. She was pushing pasta around on her plate, but one of her hands slipped underneath the table to grab yours.

"Is it really you?" She asked softly, and you felt your eyes grow wet.

"Yeah," you mumbled out, hand involuntarily squeezing hers. She sniffed quietly.

"Do you... Do you know if- the others?"

Biting your lip, you shook your head gently, and she twitched.

"Me neither. I... I tried to contact Equius when I remembered... last year. When I turned thirteen. I thought- I didn't- He didn't respond Karkat."

"I know. It... makes no sense. Do... Do you remember anything after...?"

She sighed quietly. "As Davepeta? Not... really. It's... vague. Like seeing someone else's memories or thoughts. They're not... They weren't me."


The two of you fell silent again, but there was a soft sense of relief, of comfort as she gripped on tightly to your hand, as though she was afraid you'd pull back and-


You held on just as firmly, all the way until it was time for you to leave. She laughed her head off at the sight of your phone, and you felt the heavy mood lighten slightly, even through the looming reminder that you couldn't contact anyone else. Grumbling slightly at her snickers, you exchanged phone numbers, and pretended not to see your father's delight.

The two of you spoke every day, some discussions were more light-hearted, some nostalgic, and some resulted in tears, usually ending with a phone call or a visit. Your dynamic with her was... strange. In troll terms, it was bordering on Moirallegiance, but even if you had still used the quadrants, you knew it would never be a thing.

While he had been an absolute prick back then, Equius had meant a great deal to Nepeta, and vice versa. Despite their bickering, they had been a Moirail match made in heaven and in human terms, it was easy to see that they had loved and adored each other.

Still did in Nepeta's case.

She was able to live without him, but it was obvious she missed him dearly. Messages sent to his old handle hadn't gone through, which basically meant she was screwed in trying to find him.

(Just like you. God you missed Dave, you missed his smug face, his stupid metaphors and long-winded comparisons of the dumbest shit in the world, you missed his gentler moments with you, with the kids, his soft kisses, his quiet smiles, his warm voice that whispered love and adoration when the two of you were alone-)

You hadn't wanted to consider the possibility that only the two of you had been sent back, because that... made no sense.

(And you didn't think you could take that chance. You couldn't. You would find them, all of them eventually. Even if it took you years.)

(And boy, did it take you years.)

You really tried hard to ignore it. You really, really did. But the repeatedly flashing icon of a new message kept bothering you, taunting you just like that fucking moronic excuse of a comic artist. If you weren't so absolutely sure who the hell it was, then you would bet... something on it. Something valuable, something degrading. Like leaving a positive review on the garbage he called art.

You had been featured in the New York Times, in the Guardian, in a variety of other highly acclaimed newspapers, writing brutally honest reviews that somehow managed to launch you into this career. You weren't purposefully cruel, but if something was garbage, then you would explain why it was garbage. Thank God for that English degree you had been absolutely sure was useless. Your reviews were held up to a high-standard, often used as an excellent guideline for good pieces of work. You didn't mean to toot your own horn (ha!), but you had made something out of this sorry excuse of a life, and you were doing it well. And yet... And yet this complete bastard waltzed up with that absolute shit-heap he claimed to be a real game changer and-

You didn't know why but it drove you absolutely ballistic. You left a scathing review on the comic's website under a different username, had even planned to write an article on it, but then you noticed that he had responded. Now, usually when a creator responded to your criticism, it was either highly indignant with whiny, self-righteous anger that only showed how incompetent they were or completely apologetic with them practically prostrating themselves before you begging for forgiveness. You didn't like either response, because you wanted your criticism to help the creators grow, to clean up the flaming shit into something decent.

But this guy? This asshole?

You had never been the most level-headed of people, but this prick knew exactly how to press all of your buttons at once. Maybe you were projecting, maybe you were just desperate, but it set you off. His smug reply of faux confusion, the jabs at your possible insecurity, the other variety of frustrating shit he pulled completely snapped your already fine temper.

(Only one other person had been able to do that, and- well. He wasn't here anymore. Probably never was.)

It had... been easy to rant at him, to fall back into old mannerisms and furious responses, especially since he kept up so easily. It almost became a game. He'd say some absolute horseshit metaphor and you'd reply with some snarky answer and on and on and on. You were over-simplifying it but there was no way to describe your utterly incomprehensible conversations, if they could even be called that.

And yet... you enjoyed them. Craved them even. At this point, most of your fury was just an act, because it seemed to entertain him so much. It kept the messages going, meant you could still talk to him and- Pretend. For a little while.

It wasn't healthy. It wasn't even remotely appropriate.

But you fucking missed your husband. And this douchebag was so fucking similar to him that it hurt. So what if you maybe flirted a little with him without realising, only to feel so happy when he did the same?

So what if you had to stop yourself from asking for his name, just to keep up the illusion for a little while longer?

You felt... happy for once, was it really that bad that you... just kept up this façade for a little while?

(You could already hear Nepeta berating you, shaking her head and insisting that it wasn't healthy for you to do this, and it wasn't fair on the other person either. For fuck's sake, why did she have to pick up her mother's habits as a relationship counsellor? But she was right. As always. You were still so fucking glad to have at least her in this stupidly confusing world. You were not counting Equius because Equius was a sweaty bastard in every life who could rot in hell if it wouldn't make Nepeta sad. And hadn't that been the weirdest fucking thing ever? Finding Equius because your dad had been arrested at a protest and the cop responsible for it was Horuss Zahhak? You'd already been at college, but the two of them had apparently reunited at the police station and been inseparable ever since.)

You let out an angry sigh. Despite her nagging voice, you decided to ignore her sound advice, and click on the flashing icon. Just one last time, you told yourself, like you did every time, this'll be the last.

God you were a liar.

- - incrediDude messaged exactingCritic at 06:12 - -

incrediDude: so i came up with this rad new idea which i personally think will enlighten you to the ways of SBaHJ to the point of no return

incrediDude: for real i cant believe this shit was birthed by my own mind im a goddamn genius

incrediDude: so get ready to have your mind blown so hard youll never be interested in a bj ever again cause this is gonna make everything else seem like nothing

incrediDude: i was gonna go more sexual but i figured i should keep you on track make sure you dont veer off into a completely different course

incrediDude: nah man we need to stay FOCUSED gotta keep our eye on the BALLS

incrediDude: FUCK i mean ball

incrediDude: yo you there? or are you ignoring me again cause you cant handle the SICKNESS of my creative process

incrediDude: im gonna start rapping if you dont come on so…

incrediDude: fuck yeah sick beats it is

exactingCritic: PLEASE for the love of EVERYTHING THAT IS HOLY, I beg you DO NOT DO THAT. It was BAD enough going through the utter horseshit you were shovelling up there, but I'm already up to my knees in your crap, I really don't need to be fucking buried in it too.

incrediDude: what didnt like my messages gone wrong gone sexual? i personally think its art

incrediDude: art that should be included in my next page

exactingCritic: DON'T YOU FUCKING DARE.


incrediDude: oh shit breathplay, didnt know you were into that

exactingCritic: FUCK. OFF.

incrediDude: well my super incredible idea did involve getting a coffee together then we can see how far things get wink wonk

exactingCritic: You are INSUFFERABLE

[incrediDude is typing...]

There was a lull in the conversation, and you found yourself blinking in confusion. He was taking a surprisingly long time to reply to what you personally saw as a pretty weak jab. Usually he'd be on that within seconds, mocking you or spewing some other fuckery that made as much sense as his comic.

incrediDude: i was serious with the coffee

incrediDude: if you want i mean just a coffee i was just being annoying with the second part

incrediDude: im currently in cali and you said you lived in LA

incrediDude: shit fuck does that sound too creepy?

You reeled back in shock.

He was... asking you out for a coffee? Your mouth felt dry.

exactingCritic: If you're fucking with me then I swear to every fucking God there is

incrediDude: nope im serious

incrediDude: i mean unless not then ha ha got you good bro

incrediDude: but like im serious

exactingCritic: ...If you're serious about the coffee, then

exactingCritic: Okay

exactingCritic: If not then you're a fucking prick who really pranked me good, hahaha way to go my dude!

incrediDude: shit really? like actually? cause im down man

incrediDude: just to like, ask, would this be viewed as some date or just two bros who like to antagonise each other over the internet but have somehow become friends over the months

Holy shit.

Holy shit.

Your fingers were typing back on the keyboard before you were fully aware.

exactingCritic: Sure

exactingCritic: Hang on, fuck, I mean we should meet up first and then see how it goes, and then decide

exactingCritic: Like... two bros who antagonise each other over the internet but have somehow become friends having a prospective date meeting

exactingCritic: So not exactly a date, but not not a date

Were you coming off too flaky? Too unsure? Maybe you were reading it completely wrong, maybe he had asked that to make sure you didn't think it was a date, you should back up now and correct it-!

incrediDude: hell yeah sounds great to me

Oh thank god.

incrediDude: do you know this sweet ass coffee shop called Dinosaur Coffee?

exactingCritic: Yeah, I live close by

incrediDude: sweet! when are you free?

exactingCritic: I don't have anything after 5 tomorrow, so should we meet at 5:30?

incrediDude: fuck yes awesome!

incrediDude: actually i feel like i should tell you something before we meet

incrediDude: just so there are no... misconceptions or misunderstandings

Oh fuck.

Was he a serial killer? Some creep?

incrediDude: i used to be married but uh

incrediDude: he isnt with us anymore shall we say

incrediDude: and i dont want you to think im holding you up to the standard of someone who isnt here anymore

incrediDude: id like to think hed want me to... not move on but be happy

Oh. He was... like you.

Exactly like you.

Your eyes grew wet. You'd like to believe that... Dave would want the same thing for you. It had been... years and you'd found nothing. You deserved to be happy, right? So far all the evidence pointed to the fact that only the trolls had come back, and those that had died at that.

So there was the possibility that maybe... the humans hadn't come back.

And it was just you.

incrediDude: is that like a deal-breaker? cause its okay if it is

exactingCritic: No no, I was just thinking. I'm in a... similar situation. My husband isn't... here anymore either. I love him dearly, and miss him every day, but I think... He would also want me to be happy

incrediDude: oh. oh man

incrediDude: i can relate

incrediDude: ...so 5:30?

exactingCritic: Yeah. 5:30 works. I'm looking forward to meeting you. Look for the Latino guy with curly brown hair and a dark grey sweater

incrediDude: yeah im... really excited to meet you. ill be wearing something red so look out for that

incrediDude: see you tomorrow

You closed the chat and leaned away from your laptop, scrubbing your face with your hands. Were you moving too fast? Were you giving up too quickly, for just the barest hint of happiness?

You had been honest with incrediDude, you still loved and missed Dave. But the chance of finding him was... slim. And you didn't want to give up, you didn't want to stop believing but…

Didn't you deserve happiness as well? Didn't you deserve to... not forget... what happened, but to try again? The Game had screwed you over so many times in this new world, had left you with clinical depression for years and years, alongside a variety of other mental health therapist had told you over and over that you were allowed to be happy. That you could let go and... forget. That you shouldn't feel obligated to stick with something that's been hurting you for so so long.

If Nepeta and Equius could let themselves forget the Game, forget what had happened... couldn't you as well? There wasn't even any guarantee that this pre-date would go well. There was no absolute certainty that incrediDude wasn't just fucking with you, or was the run of the mill internet creep.

You didn't know where this would go.

And maybe... that was okay.

You would always love Dave. Always and forever. But it was time for you to... continue. To live this life you had built up. And it hurt to think you were abandoning him, that you were throwing away the love you had held but-

You weren't. You had tried for so long to find him, to reach him. But by the time you had gotten a private laptop, Pesterchum had gone under, with everyone moving to more popular chat apps like Discord. You had even looked up Dave Strider on Google like a fucking creep, and there was nothing, no-one that was similar to your Dave.

You had tried the same thing with the other kids and while you had gotten a ping for a John Egbert, he looked so drastically different to the dumbass you had known, who had become a close friend of yours, that you were adamant they weren't the same person.

It... was starting to look exceedingly likely that Dave... wasn't here.

Sighing, you shut your laptop and got up. You could think more on the matter tomorrow, after the 'pre-date' with incrediDude (god you really needed to ask for his name, it was getting embarrassing to refer to him like that), after seeing how everything went.

(And if a small part of you was desperately hoping that it went well, then that was your business, wasn't it?)

You were excited enough to arrive early, having gotten ready well before five in the evening. You had fussed with your clothing for a good half hour, trying to match your best grey sweater with a flattering pair of trousers and shoes. Eventually you had managed to find a good casual, yet nice looking combination of clothing, allowing you to focus on other things to worry about. How should you act around him? What were the two of you going to talk about? Oh god, what if neither of you had shared interests and ended up sitting awkwardly across from each other?

To be fair to yourself, it wasn't as though you had dated anyone in this life, and the only person you had ever gone out on dates with in your last life had been… Dave. And this wasn't even a proper date, it was just a get to know you in case we actually do want to date meeting. So no pressure.

You found yourself unable to concentrate on the newest review you were supposed to be writing, a book called Complacency of the Learned , though you had requested a copy with the name of the author removed so you could have a completely unbiased impression of the novel. The writing style was irritatingly familiar, and alongside your own excitement for your meeting later on in the day, you eventually gave up on finishing your work for now. Depending on how the not-date went, you could finish up later on.

At twenty past five you were already at the cafe, sat down at a table in the corner with a coffee in your hand as you waited anxiously for incrediDude (the first thing you were going to do was ask for his name, this was getting fucking ridiculous) to arrive. Sitting there, waiting for him to arrive, you felt a strange sense of deja vu, and you took another sip of your coffee. With every jingle of the bell you'd turn your body around to try and catch a glimpse of who had just entered, but none of them seemed to be wearing someone overtly red. You began to feel the impatience rise, especially as the time slowly passed 5:30 and anxiety started to crawl down your back.

Had you misunderstood the time? The day? Was… it actually just an elaborate prank? Had you been wrong the whole time? You bit your lip harshly, fingers tapping a random rhythm on the table. You checked your phone again. Five forty-two. Were you overreacting?

"Oh shit sorry I'm so late, I wasn't sure what to wear so I just sorta threw on whatever and now I'm looking at you and wondering, oh fuck I shoulda made more of an effort because wow you look great! Wait, fuck, you are exactingCritic right? Like, you match the description he gave me so it'd be a bit weird if you weren't but hey, it's the internet dude!"

You startled at the almost incomprehensible rambling, but the tone and sound of the voice it belonged to made you freeze. Slowly craving your neck, you turned to look at a tall, blonde man, sheepishly scratching his chin.

He was wearing sunglasses.

Familiar sunglasses.

Identical sunglasses.

It… fit perfectly. All the pieces came together and you felt like smacking yourself for not realising it sooner, but god, he was here.

"Dave?" You whispered out hoarsely, tears springing to your eyes as you begged, prayed for the affirmation that you had searched for for so long. That you had almost given up on.

He looked startled, confused, but slowly the expression on his face became slack.

"Karkat?" His voice was shaky, trembling and oh so hopeful.

"Oh my fucking god," you gasped out, hands reaching out to grab him and pull him close, "oh my fucking god, it's you."

You didn't care about causing a scene, all you wanted was to have him close to you, was holding him again after so long, your Dave , your husband . He quickly held your face and pulled you close, kissing you deeply, desperately, hands tangling in your hair. You pulled away and let out a breathy laugh.

"I can't… holy shit I can't believe it's you. That it's been you all this time, I thought you sounded familiar but I never…" Dave said fervently, leaning in to kiss you again.

"Of course you would be the insufferable prick I meet on the Internet," you chuckled out, as you both parted to catch your breath, "it's really fucking obvious in hindsight." He let out a blinding grin in response and you couldn't stop the blush rising to your cheeks.

It was shocking, how much he looked the same. How handsome and just… Dave-like he was. You tugged him even closer from your cramped position in the coffee shop booth and he let his forehead fall onto your neck, sighing out contentedly.

"I can't believe I found you," he mumbled out, hand blindly reaching out to grab your own, "after all this time, I can't believe Rose was right, after thinking…"

"So did I," you reassured quietly, tangling your fingers in his. "Hell, I was even… ready to move on. We both were. And we… found each other again. Though I am curious as to what your sister has to do with this, Mr incrediDude. Which by the way, is the stupidest fucking username in the world."

"It is absolutely not!" He protested half-heartedly, "it's ironic, playing on how those grubby thirteen year old gamer bros make their own usernames shit like 69awesomebro69."

"It's fucking dumb, that's what it is."

He snorted into your chest and you chuckled, leaning your head down to rest it on his hair.

"Rose still has some of her weird seer powers, and she told me to go meet the guy I was pestering for the past year, so I decided to take her up on her advice. Turns out she was absolutely fucking right."

"I've never been fucking happier to rely on your sister's matchmaking before, so make sure to thank her when you have the chance." You looked around the coffee shop and fidgeted at the looks you were getting, though Dave seemed unfazed.

"We should probably continue this back at my place," you pointed out, trying to evade the curious stares of the other customers.

"Oh shit babe I didn't actually think this meeting would end up this way, but if you insist, then I'll absolutely play the blushing maiden being led back to the wolfish rogue's place, ready to be ravished-"

"Oh for fucks sake, get off me, we're going home to talk. And we'll see how far we get afterwards," you exclaimed, but didn't actually remove him from his comfortable place against you. You weren't ready to let go of him, a part of you desperately sure that if you did then he would disappear, that this would all just be a dream that you made up to cope with your own loneliness.

"...hey the town hall's pretty close from here right? What do you saw to renewing our vows? Or in everyone else's eyes: actually get hitched. Again. If you want."

You knew your dad would go apeshit if you got married without telling him, but… you honestly couldn't care at the moment. All you wanted was to selfishly ensure the status of your relationship, to make sure that you couldn't lose him again in this world.

"Fuck yes. Though my dad's gonna go fucking insane. Same with Nep actually, and my step-mom."

He let out a loud laugh, lifting his head to press another kiss to your lips, and you couldn't help but smile.

"I love you."

"I love you too. More than you could ever know. Now what's that about your family? You don't have some large white crab creature raising you this time around?" He asked jokingly, and you pushed his shoulder.

"Crab-Dad was a fucking great guardian thank you very much you shit gobbling nook stain, but yes, I do have an actual human family this time and they're… fucking amazing. Incredible. My dad's a human rights lawyer and my step-mom is a relationships counselor. Do you remember Nepeta? She… died before you guys came to the meteor. But she's my step-sister now. She and that asshole Equius, the troll who was used to make ARquiussprite, they live in some small town in Oregon together. What about you? Rose is… here too?"

He grinned. "Yeah. And we've got the same parents, though I grew up with our dad and she grew up with mom. Our dad makes Rose and I call him fucking bro. But he's not like… the asshole I had before. He's more like Dirk. Actually he's probably exactly like Dirk. But more… fatherly? Same with mom, she reminds me of Roxy, but she's taken her motherly instincts to the extreme. It's… really nice actually."

Your hackles had been raised the moment you heard about his 'bro' but you felt yourself relaxing at the easy contentment in his eyes.

"It sounds nice." You smiled, and leaned back in to give him a kiss.

"Oh wait, shit," he pulled away, fumbling with his phone, and you hesitated, worried that he had changed his mind, "I really need to call Rose and let her know that I found you, she'll be so happy! She's not been handling… Kanaya's disappearance well." He looked at you hopefully.

Your heart lurched at the mention of Kanaya. After Terezi had left, she had been the only original troll remaining, and the two of you had built up a close bond with each other.

"I haven't seen or heard from her either," you croaked out, and watched his face fall.

"Oh man… hopefully she… won't ask? Who am I kidding, she's gonna ask. I better… let her know though, at the very least."

You half heartedly listened to their conversation and grimaced when Rose hung up. He tried to call her again, but it didn't go through.

"I'm guessing it went kinda shit?" You tentatively asked, and he shook his head.

"Nah. I'm just gonna let my mom know to call her and make sure she's okay and doesn't do anything… stupid. She's had a few… problems in the past, but it's not really my place to tell," he explained and you nodded.

You waited for him to finish his call to his mother, carefully wriggling out of your spot on the seat to go pay for your coffee. You doubted Dave was going to buy anything, and the two of you had already garnered enough nasty looks from the people surrounding you. By the time you returned to your table, Dave had hung up and looked slightly more relaxed, despite the worried crease between his brow.

"We can just go to my place if you want and wait until you get the all clear with Rose?" You asked tentatively and he hesitated, before shaking his head.

"Nah, she's pretty close to mom, so talking to her should cheer her up. I'll text her later, after I get the chance to legally call you my husband again," he said cheerfully, and you grinned.

"Well then, I guess that's what we have to fucking do then!"

He grasped onto your hand, smile softening into something gentle, something loving, and you ducked your head.

"What Strider?"

"Nothing, just admiring how incredible you look and wondering how lucky I managed to be to find you again."

"Don't be an asshole, dickface," you muttered out, but from the smug smirk on his face, you knew that he knew you weren't even remotely serious.

Blushing, you squeezed his hand tighter, uncaring of how love-struck you both must have looked as you made your way to the courthouse.

The blur of the LA lights slowly faded away behind you as you yawned into your hand and leveled a glare at your new (old? Did this count as renewing their vows or not?) husband, slightly pissed off that you had been torn away from your warm comfortable bed for some wild goose chase concerning Rose. You got Dave's nervousness, you really did, but at the same time, she was a grown woman who could make her own choices. Most likely her phone was turned off or ran out of battery and she couldn't be fucked to recharge it. It happened to you all the time when you were trying to dodge calls from shitheads you weren't in the mood to interact with.

"Just for the record, you are completely over-fucking-reacting Strider," you muttered out, ignoring his snort.

"You're a Strider too now babe. And look, you haven't seen Rose in a while, you don't understand… she's been… fragile, ugh I fucking hate that word but it's the best one at the moment, she's been fragile since we woke up here. Not having Kanaya really hit her hard. So please, just… trust me on this," he asked quietly, and you sighed, trying to not feel like a complete asshole.

"Okay. I get it, that's… fair. Nepeta was also really… insecure after everything. So was I. Hell so was you. But we can go check up on her. I'd… probably do the same if Nep went off the grid suddenly without Equius with her."

The smile of relief he gave you made you want to kick yourself for being pissy before. "Thank you Karkat. This… means a whole fucking lot to me. Me and Rose have gotten really close since coming back, and she's my sister you know? I love you so much, but I love her too. There's no comparing, just so you know," he tacked on hastily and you chuckled, reaching over to pat one of his hands on the steering wheel.

"Yeah yeah, I get it you huge fucking sap. I love you too, and I love Nepeta as my sister as well. You're both equally important in my life."

Speaking of Nepeta, you knew you were going to have to bite the bullet at some point and call up your own family to… announce your recent nuptials. Your dad would probably be fucking furious for a whole ten minutes before he'd start sobbing his eyes out. Meulin would be overjoyed to the point of creepiness. And Nepeta would… be happy that you found Dave, and go absolutely nuclear that you didn't tell her. A part of you wondered if you should call her up now, since you hadn't spoken to her in a few months. Her and Equius has been setting up their phone plans and internet so you hadn't heard much from them apart from a few scattered calls and emails.

But at the same time, it was three in the fucking morning and you didn't have a death wish. You'd call her later on, at a more reasonable time.

You glanced over at Dave, who continued to focus on the road with an intensity that he usually adopted in serious situations. While you weren't quite sure what the whole… thing about Rose was, his expression made your heart sink in worry.

"Hey, it'll be okay probably. And if it isn't then… we can work through it. I know that… probably isn't really fucking helpful but it's all I got at the moment. Do you want me to try calling again?" You asked gently, picking up his phone after Dave nodded stiffly.

You dialed her number again and waited, worrying the skin of your thumb between your teeth as you waited for an answer.

No-one picked up. Sighing, you put the phone down.

"Still no answer?" He asked hesitantly, and you shook your head.

"No, nothing. But she probably just has her phone off."

He nodded absentmindedly. It went on like this for several hours, with you calling, getting no response and steadily becoming more and more anxious over Dave. Until finally, you had enough.

"Next motel we're pulling the fuck over and getting some sleep. We barely rested before and we need to recuperate," you exclaimed loudly, steamrolling right over his attempts at protest, "no, no, you aren't gonna help fucking shit if you fall asleep on the road and kill us both. So help me god we're getting some fucking sleep and continuing this in a few hours. Please Dave."

Your quiet beg at the end of your request seemed to win him over, as he sighed deeply and simply said: "Okay."

You breathed out in relief, and reached over to hold his wrist. "Hey, we're gonna do this together and we're gonna find her. But we can't do it half-delirious due to fucking sleep-deprivation."

True to word, he did pull over at the next motel, and despite the tense atmosphere, you managed to hold each other close and find a few hours of respite together. And in the dark of the night, despite the neon glare outside the window, he whispered a thank you. Your response was to kiss him gently, to let him know that you were a team, that you loved him, that you couldn't bear to watch him self-destruct. Limbs tangled together, you managed to find a restful sleep together.

You set the alarm for ten in the morning (despite Dave's attempts to set it earlier, but you just swatted his hand away and glared until he relented) and by ten thirty, you were already back on the road. Somewhat well-rested and more at ease, the journey wasn't as fraught with anxiety and tension as it had been several hours previously. While Dave still made you call Rose every hour, the desperateness that had clung to it before, didn't seem to linger.

By four in the afternoon, you managed to arrive in the small Oregon town that Rose had apparently settled into, driving down the story book pathways to her block of apartments. Dave practically ripped the keys out of ignition, tossed them to you with a silent request to lock the car, and bolted through the door towards the intercom. Slightly exasperated, you watched him incessantly ring the doorbell over and over until an expression of relief overtook his face and he darted through the open door. Leaving you to realise that you only had a short space of time to dash after him before the door closed and locked. Cursing under your breath, you locked the car and sprinted to the door, barely making it through.

From above, you heard relieved mutterings and you slowly made the trek up the stairs, until you came across Dave holding a young blonde woman tightly.

"You are an absolute shit swallowing asshole Strider," you complained loudly, delighting in the shocked grin that overtook Rose's face. She looked exactly the same as she had all those years ago.

"Hey Rose, I see that you're looking absolutely fine, just like I told this fucking moron, but no, he had to come make sure at one in the fucking morning."

"And yet you came along," she pointed out tactfully, and you felt yourself blush. It had been a fucking no brainer when Dave asked you if you wanted to go with with.

"Yeah well, I wasn't going to let him out of my sights. He probably would have gotten lost again for another ten fucking years," you groused out, and she laughed.

"You have no idea how good it is to see you Karkat." She stepped forward to pull you into a brief hug, which you easily returned before letting her go.

"Yeah yeah yeah, it's good to see you too." Dave was looking at you lovingly, and you couldn't help reaching out and holding his hand, yet again. Rose rolled her eyes, inviting the two of you in to meet someone.

And there she was.

Kanaya, in all her human glory, a gentle smile on her face as she looked at you.

"Kanaya?" You choked out, and she reached out to hold your free hands, before pulling you tightly against her. She was exactly the same, if a bit softer and less chitinous, but you were the same. It was still her.

"Fuck, Jesus, I thought you were- Fuck," you mumbled into her shirt, and you felt her lean down to press a kiss to your head. Gods you had missed her.

"So did I," she whispered hoarsely back, "so did I."

You could hear Dave and Rose talking in the background, but you were too focused on finally seeing your old friend again, at least until Dave made his way to you and gently pulled you out from Kanaya's hug, before pulling a stupid pose with you.

"Rose, Kanaya, meet my husband, Karkat. Who I married yesterday at seven in the evening, a full twelve hours before you. Suck it bitches, we win." He stuck out his tongue, before pulling away when you reached out to whack him away furiously .

"Don't fucking do that you asshole, did you fucking lose all sense of shame when you woke up? Oh no wait, you never fucking had any you absolute-!" You ranted, but it wasn't serious, and from Dave's laughter, he knew it too, even as he darted out of your way.

Then it was you who was laughing at his desperate attempts to dial his parents and tell them the news of your marriage, even as the reminder of your own looming reveal hung over your head, but you could worry about that later.

Now though?

Now you were home.

Are you with me?

Have you been with me all the time?

I sent a message to your memory last night,

It read I'll see you somewhere down the line.

(Are You With Me, Stars)