Karkat was sitting at a table in the Grub Street Café, holding a nice warm cup of apple cider and watching trolls pass by outside. It was fall, and the pedestrians were hurrying quickly to escape the chilly bite in the air, scarves in all the shades of the hemospectrum wrapped around their necks. Karkat himself was fine in his normal black turtleneck sweater, but he had a nice warm hat in his sylladex on the off chance that his horns got cold.
He was waiting for a friend of his to show up, someone he hadn’t seen in two sweeps. Someone who had contacted him out of the blue last week, saying that she had found a job in the city, that she thought it would be nice to hang out with him, and did he know anywhere they could m33t up?
Yes, yes he did. And now he was here, feeling just a little bit nervous about the prospect of seeing his childhood friend, though he wasn’t sure why, and it was pissing him off. It wasn’t like they had parted on bad terms, those two sweeps ago – they had just gotten too busy to talk, and slowly drifted apart. This was going to be just like old times. What was the problem with that?
He told his traitorous self to shut up and wait like a man, and took a few sips of his drink.
At 3:30 precisely, the bell attached to the door rang as a slim woman in a long, olive green coat pushed it open. She looked around for a moment, then saw Karkat. Her whole face lit up.
“Karkitty!” she said excitedly, and Karkat’s jaw nearly dropped. Was this Nepeta Leijon? Surely not!
The Nepeta he remembered was short, round, draped in the folds of her overlarge clothing. But the Nepeta in front of him – well, she was still shorter than him, but in all other respects, the previous description no longer applied. He couldn’t be sure that she was still wearing the same green coat as she had when they were children, although he suspected that it was, but it actually fit her now, complimenting her hunter’s grace and strength, rather than hiding them. She still wore her trademark blue hat, gloves, tail, and shoes, but she had let her hair grow out, and now it reached to her mid-back. He noted that it was properly brushed, not shoved up under the hat.
Naturally, the first thing out of his mouth was, “I told you not to call me that.”
Nepeta frowned for a moment. “I’m sorry! I just got so excited! I’ll pay fur your drink to make up fur it or something.”
She slid gracefully into the chair opposite him, and he shook his head, sighing. “No, no, I’ll forgive you this time, cat girl. I know it’s hard for the terminally brain damaged to remember simple requests.”
Nepeta laughed, which surprised him. Most people didn’t laugh at his grouchy insults these days. Except for Terezi, but she’d laugh at anything if the person saying it smelled good enough.
“Have you been waiting long?” Nepeta asked, picking up a menu.
“No,” Karkat said, and she looked relieved to hear it. After a few minutes spent looking at the menu, she ordered a hot chocolate and a plate of pasta salad. Then she looked up at him expectantly.
“So, how are you? What have you b33n doing?”
Karkat answered a battery of questions about his life, and Nepeta supplied information about her own without prompting. Yes, she liked living in the city, Pounce was feeling a little cramped but she was making friends with other lusii, she was very excited to begin her new job, she missed Equius a little but he was going to visit her every week, would he like to hear how Equius was doing? No, he would not, but he sat through it anyway.
At some point Nepeta finished her pasta, and both of them got another round of drinks.
With the introduction of Equius as a conversation topic, the inadvertently wandered onto the subject of quadrants.
“I hear you broke up with Terezi,” Nepeta said.
Karkat grimaced. “She made my life so fucking complicated. She went blackroom with Vriska without telling me, and then some guy called Edaven came along. I told him he could just fucking have her, already.”
Nepeta made a sympathetic face. “She told me all about that. I don’t know how much I like Edaven, but she seems to be happy.”
“Good for her,” Karkat said grouchily. He had mostly made his peace with Terezi leaving him, but that didn’t mean he wanted to hear about her romantic exploits.
Nepeta swallowed a sip of her drink, turned large round eyes on him, and said very seriously, “I think you were better for her, though.”
“You would say that,” Karkat said condescendingly. He wasn’t sure what to feel about that compliment. It sounded like the kind of compliment that really means something else, and he wasn’t about to start analyzing it. “Anything else you want to know about my love life while you’re giving me the third degree?”
“Do you have a meowrail?” said Nepeta innocently.
Karkat rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I do, if you must know. I was with Gamzee for a while, but now I’m with Kanaya.” He pulled up his sleeve to show her the jade green bracelet hanging from his wrist.
“Ooh, that’s purretty,” Nepeta said, nodding appreciatively.
“If you say so,” Karkat said, pulling his sleeve back down. He could see from her outfit that there was no way in hell she had broken up with Equius, so he didn’t bother to ask about it. “In case you’re wondering, my other quadrants are empty. No, you may not suggest your friend, your neighbor, or your neighbor’s friend to fill them. So don’t get any ideas. I know you still keep that gogdamn shipping wall.”
Nepeta blushed. “I wasn’t going to! But how did you know about the shipping wall?”
“You just told me,” Karkat said, smirking.
Nepeta laughed. “Furry good, Karcat,” she said, still grinning. Karkat could almost hear the ‘c’ in his name. It frustrated him that he found that simultaneously irritating and endearing. He had half expected Nepeta to grow out of these ridiculous puns, although he had remarked that she was no longer spontaneously roleplaying in chat.
There was a pause. Nepeta cocked her head to the side. “What’s the matter?”
“You said my name wrong,” Karkat said, his tone perhaps a bit more biting than he had intended.
Nepeta opened her mouth, but Karkat wasn’t done. “What do I have to do to get my name fucking pronounced right, over here? You’ve known me for how fucking long, now?”
“Five sweeps, Karkitty,” Nepeta said. Then she clapped her hands over her mouth, blushing.
Karkat stared at her, opened his mouth, then closed it. For some reason, Nepeta’s face seemed to be twitching under her hand.
And then he understood. She was desperately trying to hold in laughter.
Trying, and failing. She burst into peals of laughter, her hand still cupped in front of her face.
“I swear I didn’t mean to do that,” she managed to get out.
Karkat felt the corners of his mouth begin to twitch. A yellow blood and a brown blood sitting at a table next to him were giving them dirty looks, but he didn’t notice.
And then, he, too, lost it, and began laughing.
After a few moments, he calmed down. Nepeta wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and tried to catch up her breath. She then bent down to pick up the napkin which had fallen off of her lap.
“I can’t believe I actually missed this bullshit,” Karkat said, in a tone that he knew Terezi would have classified as ‘adorably grumpy.’ That made him scowl harder.
Nepeta squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, a strange gesture of happiness he did not understand but somehow made his heart skip a beat.
“I missed you too,” she said. “We should do this more often.”
“Do I really have to subject myself to this fuckery on a regular basis?” Karkat said.
“Well, no…” Nepeta began.
“Rhetorical question, dumbass,” Karkat retorted. “Of course I can take precious time out of my day to listen to an hour of inane jabber about the domesticated purrbeast. Just – just don’t expect me to pay or anything retarded like that.”
“Of course not,” Nepeta said. “And I didn’t. I mean, this isn’t a date or anything, right?”
Karkat looked directly at her, with her face somehow familiar but somehow new, her carefully arranged bangs crammed under that ridiculous beanie, and her expressive eyes, sparkling with the laughter they had just shared, and mentally kicked himself around the block and back.
“You’re about one fifth less annoying than you were when we were six,” he said. “And that is not a fucking conservative estimate.”
“What does that mean?” Nepeta said. Karkat could have sworn that her horns had just perked up like the ears of an excited purrbeast.
“Exactly what it sounds like,” he growled. Nepeta grinned.
“In that case, thank you,” she said sweetly. “You are about twenty purrcent more adorabloodthirsty than you were befur.”
“What?” Karkat said, before he could stop himself.
His heart made a strange sort of leap, and he had to grab his cup before he accidentally knocked it off the edge of the table. When he came to the coffee shop, he wouldn’t have believed that he’d want to come back here again every other day, or that that would be exactly what he did for the next half sweep. But now he did.
Nepeta just smiled.