Rose sat in a familiar spot as she waited for dawn to bring her friends in for the morning. She was sitting just beside Kanaya's computer, legs dangling off the edge of the table not far from the empty horn pile. The cold metal below almost welcoming. There was a dent there now; Karkat had lectured her about it, but Rose did not mind it. It was her seat, and unless it looked like it was going to get worse, she was not going to let them fix what was just going to break again.
She wore her old clothes, the aesthetically mutilated Squiddles t-shirt and her skirt, covered in just a little dirt and grime from the access tunnels that she had tried to clean with spit and elbow grease. She had her headbandtop on as well, and she looked out from Offline to see if anyone was logging on in their rooms and strained for some activity or other to eat away the time. When she had surrendered her laptop to Jaspsersprite, she had never really imagined she would one day be locked up with nothing to do with so many empty hours and no computer screen larger than a cell phone. Sollux had yet to set them up with their own desktop computers and the others were locked. Rose did not really mind, at least not that morning, with all her pent-up energy. There was nothing more refreshing than a shower when you really needed one, and the one she had just had had woken her up and raised her spirits even higher than they had been with Dave. There was no way, with all this energy, she could hide in her room with an e-reader, playing catch-up on The Brothers Kamarazov. It had been her plan to read a page or two while she waited for someone to talk to, but anticipation got the better of her every time she reached for the application. She knew why she was really here, and all the rest was waiting.
Karkat got in first, ahead of when Rose expected any of the others. He tossed her a look and grunted, heading off to vault the couch at a run and landed with an unfortunate bang on the other side. Rose laughed, but did nothing to help him. She was happy but not stupid, and knew better than to threaten her mood by talking to Karkat. "Uh..." he said, standing up and testing his weight before deciding the couch had survived his landing. Rose heard the sound of a laugh from the transportalizer, and realized that Karkat had not exactly come in alone. He looked back towards the pad with a demanding glare.
Breath caught in Rose's throat as the raw feel of the table's edge caught in her grip; her head went straight from clear as still water to a wretched tangled bundle of nerves. Kanaya, just as early as Rose could have hoped, and who she was not at all prepared to meet. Rose had thought she had planned this through so carefully. Sit, wait, smile and let everything fall back into its old place for just another day. To settle back to normal, like with Terezi and Gamzee, would have been a relief in itself, and besides! There was no way forward, not in the direction they had started. Surely it would be better to take a step back.
But she stood up. "Good morning," she said, reaching up to captchalogue her headbandtop. Kanaya was a mess. Still in last night's clothes – usual for the other Trolls but never for her – and looking more exhausted than Rose, Gamzee or Terezi had even approached. Karkat was no better, but Rose was not paying attention to Karkat, who filed through his things with only sideways glances in their direction.
Kanaya crossed her arms low, over her stomach, and began to chew errantly on her lower lip. Her eyes looked distant and sad, more with sleep than actual emotion, but it was so hard to tell. Rose took another step forward, sidestepping the horn pile.
"...I'm so sorry about yesterday," Kanaya said.
"Oh god, so am I," said Rose.
Kanaya stepped forward, over a horn and hugged Rose, her head nestling gently into the curve of her neck. Rose reached up to return the hug but remembered Kanaya's condition immediately when she saw a patch of jade-inflamed skin peaking out fresh from under her collar. Rose reached up and, a weak laugh escaping from her lips, settled her hands on Kanaya's arms. She laughed as well, squeezing Rose a little closer for the both of them.
"And I'm sorry I ruined your plans," Kanaya muttered.
"That's all right," Rose said. It took her a while, mind soaking in relief, to remember what Kanaya was even talking about. After all, she had not really had any plans beyond figuring out what was the matter, no matter how Kanaya had perceived it. "...I'm sorry you didn't find your dress."
"Actually, I did," Kanaya said, and she pulled away to point to the couch. "It was indeed Karkat's secret room. He told me to get them all out of his sight by tomorrow."
Rose, her fingers gently stroking the arm still in her grasp, and could not meet Kanaya's smile when she turned back. "Kan, I've got to tell you something. After I left I... ran into Vriska." Kanaya's reaction was predictable: an immediate and overt check for physical wounds. "No, no, not that. She and I got to talking. She didn't actually know you had broken up with her as her moirail."
"What, really?" It was not just Kanaya who replied, but also Karkat. Kanaya's expression was sympathy mixed with trepidation; Karkat had said it more in an angry bark. "I'll have to talk with her," Kanaya added.
"Maybe," Rose said. "I don't know, she seemed upset at first and then just kind of annoyed. I... Kan, I've got to tell you, I told her... that if she can prove she's actually willing to listen, that I'd auspistice for her and Eridan. I know that..." Rose had tried to keep talking before the news had sank in, but she could see in Kanaya's eyes that she was too late. "I was just so angry! I swear, if no one else was going to do anything about her, why not me? I told her to do some stuff and it's going to take her some time, but it wasn't just that I can't trust her." Rose was not sure how true this had really been at the time, but she knew it was true for her now, certainly that counted for something. "I also wanted to buy some time to sort things out with you. Because you're... what..." Rose was really starting to miss her old plan. "Kanaya, I am so sorry I ran away when things were getting just a little intense."
"No, no," Kanaya said, dark eyes looking away and towards the corner. "It's me. I-I know," she said, putting up a hand a touch in front of Rose's mouth to stop her from speaking up. Her fingers brushed Rose's lips as she lowered them again. "I'm not saying that there was nothing going through your head, or that I wouldn't have... jumped at anything you had to say." Rose chuckled to save from worse, and Kanaya gave a worried smile back. "But I've made a number of mistakes in my past relationships. I mean, I didn't even tell you I was hoping we would be in a relationship when we were online. I didn't tell Vriska how I felt about her. I should have just... This is something I've got to do at least once, don't you think?"
"Yes," Rose said, not really sure what Kanaya was trying to say. "I guess that makes sense. Does this mean you want me to wait on you?"
"No," said Karkat from the corner of the room. Rose looked up to see him flicking angrily through pages of a Garfield collection Jade had left out.
"Not... exactly," Kanaya said. "It's just... Rose, I've got to ask." Rose's ears might have been tricking her, but she thought she heard something odd out of the corner of the room. "If Trolls had..." Yes, definitely a strange sound, she was not mistaking it, because Kanaya kept brushing her hair as an excuse to look to the side. "If Trolls had... friends, do you think we would have just become friends or..."
Kanaya was now definitely looking to the side now, and Rose followed her gaze to Karkat, who had covered up his mouth with both hands and was chanting "No, no, no, no, no, no, no..." over and over as Kanaya went on. Kanaya returned Rose's confused look with a nervous smile.
"This isn't exactly part of our plan."
"N— THE FUCK IT'S NOT!"
"You two..." Rose watched as Karkat disappeared behind the couch back in a huff. "Have some sort of plan?"
Kanaya reached out and took her left hand. "Rose... please. You've been doing everything you can around here the last few days, and if you're willing to work with Vriska, I'm willing to... uh... to..." Kanaya looked deflated, and if Rose had not kept her hand in hers, she might have broken away entirely.
Rose started to shake at their grip. After all, how on earth was she going to stand firm when Kanaya wasn't going to bother? To reassure herself and Kanaya, she slipped her hand out of Kanaya's only long enough to reach up her arm and hold her again from there. "Kanaya, stop. Listen. That you said that means a great deal to me. I know you don't really put much stock in this whole 'lifetime friends' system. But look at you. You're wreck. This isn't what you want."
"No, I'm..." But she was, and Rose was starting to catch up to her. "Rose, this is important. Your Opinions Are Important To Me"
"Hey!" Karkat snapped. He got up on his knees on the couch and pointed at Kanaya. "You're. Doing. It. Again."
"Karkat, this is hard for me!" Kanaya snapped back. "Im Trying To Be Fair To Both Of Us"
Rose was just about to step in, but Karkat walled her out. "What, you think you're doing her a favour running around all chicken-shit? ARGH! It's like I'm talking to Tavros here! Except he knows what he wants these days. Fuck, Kan, what are you afraid of?"
Kanaya's lips set firm, Karkat's words boring into her. It was an angry reaction, Rose could feel it where they touched, but not at Karkat. "This isn't easy, Karkat."
"What're you afraid of, Patchy?" he repeated, and clasped his own arm in his opposite hand. "Don't you trust her?"
Both girls turned to look at Rose's hand, cupped gently on Kanaya's arm, safely outside of the band of moulting skin. Meeting Kanaya's eyes as they both looked up as one, it started to occur to Rose just how much Kanaya was listening to Karkat. She trusted him, explicitly, soldier to leader or maybe even more, and Rose was jealous to see it. She had to work hard to swallow her Human pride, but she was not deaf to what Karkat was saying. If she wanted Kanaya to trust her too, she would have to come full circle, and trust him just as much. She lifted her hand from Kanaya's shoulder and shuffled back a half-step. "...This one's yours."
And then the worst possible thing happened. There was a flash at the transportalizer. Then another, and a third. They were arguing, and oblivious to what they had interrupted. Kanaya began to shrink away.
"Holy crap, Eridan, you are the Troll Yoko Ono of timeless literature. Piss the hell off!"
"hey i think ive got more right to be wwith my matesprit than you do you crazy bitch"
"Uh, Eridan, I wanna spend time with Vriska too, you know."
"There, see? Seeeeeeee?" Vriska grabbed Travros by the shoulders and pushed him toward their computers. "Now if you'll excuse us, we have a chapter to write."
Eridan stamped his foot. "And I don't see why I don't get to read any of it!"
"That's because you're a little douche, Eridan!" Vriska reached over and cupped his head in her hands, smooshing up his face to open and close his mouth. "Aren't you?" Her voice climbed to the next octave. "Aren't you a little douche?" Tavros looked his usual helplessness.
Rose reached vaguely in Kanaya's direction, unable to tear her eyes away. "Uh... look, Kan, maybe we should finish this later when there aren't so many people."
"vviper" Eridan said, and he spat in Vriska's face. Vriska snarled and threw herself at Eridan, teeth snapping shut just short of his nose.
"...No," she said. "No, you wish I'd bite you, you little..."
"Yeah!" Eridan said. "Yeah I do!" Vriska stopped dead in shock before breaking down laughing. It took Eridan a pause of his own to work out exactly what had happened. "...Dammit." He said, and began to mutter incoherently. "Dammit, Roz!" he called. "Don't you see what I was saying about this bitch?" Clearly Vriska had not shared the news with him.
And then Jade appeared, and Dave and John, chatting amicably. Next came Sollux and Feferi, reuniting on the lab side of the transportizer. Feferi wrapped his arm back around her shoulders and they talked with grins on their faces, grins that Rose could not mistake and set Eridan's blood to boiling. Jade and John waved over to Rose and, with a frown she tried to hide, Rose started toward her friends.
She did not get two steps. Kanaya reached out with one hand, then the other and brushed them up from Rose's shoulders to her neck in one slow, smooth motion, stopping Rose dead. One hand moved up to Rose's jaw and Kanaya stepped forward, guiding more than pulling Rose toward her to set a lingering kiss on her cheek, just aside her lips. Rose could hear Kanaya's wavering, faulting breath on her cheek in the pause that followed, as though it was all she could hear. But any worry that might have been heard on Kanaya's breath was unfounded, for Rose's delay was only surprise followed by the time it took to find her hand a cautious purchase on Kanaya's side, to pull her closer and press one kiss on her cheek in reply and then another, because she could.
The world had returned to normal around them when they decided to listen again. Rose heard Karkat fall back to the couch with a contented slam, now reassured as to its durability. Jade was twitching with excitement, looking like she might burst at any moment, and Dave was looking coolly and politely away with John only managing the later. Just over Kanaya's head, Rose could make out Eridan and the others. Eridan had shoved his face in front of his computer, trying to occupy himself in the only direction that did not face Rose or Feferi. Tavros slipped Rose a thumbs up, but it was Vriska's expression was the one that really caught Rose's eye. It was jealous and hating, but it was also sad and observant. Once upon a time, it might have been her job to screen Rose before things got this far. Once upon a time, this might have been her. Rose wondered if she knew that. Rose did not know what to do about Vriska any more than she could remember how to think. Kanaya leaned forward, toward Rose's ear.
"Be my girlfriend?" she asked, and Rose tried to stifle her laughter long enough to reply, Vriska forgotten.
"Yes." And once she had calmed, she returned: "Be my matesprit?" And Kanaya nodded. Elated. Ecstatic.
John suddenly ran up to their side. "Guys, guys!" His face had a smile, the smile that generally forecasted the horrendous crash of an perfectly reasonable joke in the hands of a bad pilot, but his whispered tone was as dire as required: "Nepeta is coming!"
One eye roll from Rose later, and the rest of the room was quick to get back to its business. Tavros had talked Vriska back into taking turns to recite and record a grandiose monologue being given by King and Prince Consort of their fictional land. Sollux was saying something to Feferi about "language conventions" while he pointed to her computer screen and she listened with a nervous nod. Nepeta emerged into the room none-the-wiser, finding Rose and Kanaya in their usual spots, Kanaya at her chair and Rose atop the desk, talking. If she had bothered to take a second glance, she just might have realized they were not doing any work at all.