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All They Ever Were

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What does it mean to fall in love?

 

Your name is Nepeta Leijon, and you haven't the first clue.

 

You sit slumped over your desk, drumming your glittery green pencil, lost in your own thoughts. The writing prompt taunts you with its lopsided red letters up on the white board. Scribbled recklessly on your notepaper in your slanted, curly handwriting is your name and a far-from-perfect doodle of a cat, but nothing more. You say you like school when asked, but do you really? It's not as fun and easy as it was when you were younger.

 

A few years ago, the only thing on your mind was, well, nothing. Your big sister (reluctantly) let you run around at the park, despite the fact that you were eleven years old. You were practically queen of the neighborhood playground. Everything was a game, every story could be made into an adventure, and worrying about winning took out all the fun. All the kids wanted to play with you. Grade school was a breeze. Those five years were filled with silly projects that didn't require much of your attention. You never bothered to focus on one thing at a time anyway, so that was a bonus. Cut out this picture here, glue this paper there. You slacked off and giggled your way to an easy A plus.

 

But look at you now, a freshman in high school. You still play at the park on weekends, regardless of the fact that you are now fifteen. You hang out at the playground by yourself; the younger kids run away if you come near. Everything is still a game to you, but a cruel one at that. Every story, every adventure is yours alone. Nobody wants to share with you. None of the kids want to be your friend. Winning doesn't matter because you win every time; you're the only player. School's the same story. You don't belong to any clubs or cliques, and you don't participate in any team sports. You don't have any study buddies or best friends for life, and you certainly don't have a boyfriend, which you like to think that a little bit of faith and longing can change. You're failing all of your classes (except for maybe gym, which is virtually impossible to fail). And no-one is willing to help you either, so you guess it's going to stay that way. Really, the only thing you want is somebody to talk to. Anyone, really. But preferably somebody you know from school. And even more preferably, Karkat Vantas.

 

Karkat, Karkat. You mouth his name as you idly twirl your pencil between your fingers. How you wish he'd notice you. He's just so... perfect , with that unruly hair that sticks out in every which direction, with those gray-brown eyes so dark you can barely see his pupils. He scowls at everybody and is probably the most cold and detached person you've ever met, but you don't even care. Because you know he isn't really apathetic like that on the inside, he couldn't be. Nobody is, you're positive. It makes you giddy to think that you know something that others don't, even if it's something so small.

 

But to you it isn't small! To you this is huge because it's Karkat, because it's the boy of your dreams. It's the boy with the eyes like raven's wings, like two black coals smoldering, engulfed in flames. The boy with a stare colder than these frigid winter mornings, the boy that stole your heart by accidentally knocking you against a locker while storming down a hallway in blind fury...

 

Your daydreams are interrupted by the piercing drone of the bell, signaling the end of the school day. Your paper is as it was at the beginning of class, devoid of any response to the prompt. You hastily crumple it in your hands before tossing it across the room and into the recycling bin, (and missing by a lot, causing you to run over, pick it up, and place it in gently) and speeding out of the classroom without looking back once.

 

***

 

Your sneakered feet slap the cracked pavement at full force as you dash down the streets you know so well. Your school bag bounces against your hip as you run. Your short, dark hair flops by your shoulders, and your blue knit kitten hat (complete with little pointy ears) threatens to fall off. This feeling you get when you run at top speed can't be compared to anything else, except for maybe playing make believe at the park.

 

The brightly colored plastic of the playground can be seen through gaps in the leafless branches of trees, and you grin with delight, thinking of all the fun times you've spent there. You reach the fence and quickly undo the latch, almost squealing as you amble over to place your bag on one of the wooden benches. This place is the closest thing you've ever had to a home. Living in a crappy apartment with your big sister, Premna, certainly didn't count.

 

You head straight for the swing set, humming quietly to yourself as you go. You hop on the third one from the end, your favorite, and kick off as forcefully as you can. Pushing your legs forward, you sail into the sky, then back down again. Next time I could touch a cloud if I really tried, you think to yourself as you launch upwards once more.

 

You extend an arm hopefully, but the swing drops back down. You glide backwards with your eyes closed, and suddenly you have the wings of a bird, graceful and white. A few strong flaps and you're cruising through the air. People passing below you are like little bugs, small and helpless. You could crush them with ease. But you're too busy drinking in the night air, too busy leaping and diving through the hazy, star-sprinkled sky to care. And you're too consumed by your over-active imagination to notice that you've let go of the swing and truly are soaring through the night, but not for long.

 

The happiness drains out of you when you realize you're falling, and you're screaming at the top of your lungs. Time slows to a painful crawl, and your eyes grow wide. The ground is coming nearer every second and theres nothing you can do. It's all your fault, it's always your fault. It's always, always, always...

 

Theres a loud crunch as you hit the ground, and you let out a pitiful yelp as pain blossoms in your wrist. You're tumbling forwards through the bristly grass, clutching your arm and whimpering. Your cheek stings, your head is throbbing, your lips are covered in blood, and you ache everywhere. When you finally stop rolling, you curl up in a tight fetal position. Salty tears make your cuts burn as they flow from your eyes. Your loud whimpers can't be controlled. You're a complete mess: covered in dirt, leaves stuck in your tangled hair. You feel terrible. You feel worse than terrible.

 

So terrible, in fact, that you can't hear the hurried footsteps and the breathy “Oh fuck, oh fuck,” coming from above you. Somebody is shaking your shoulders and spewing foul language nervously, but you don't open your eyes. You're too ashamed to look at anybody right now.

 

But the stranger doesn't stop.

 

“Wake up!” he's shaking you harder now. “I said get the hell up! No, no, no, you can't be dead. it's just a swing set, she's not dead, she can't be...” his voice cracks and he trails off. It's a familiar voice, one you can't put your finger on but know you should be able to. It's the tone you can't recognize: concern.

 

You moan and grasp your arm again, beginning to shake. You didn't think you were dead either, but you weren't usually right. You squint a little bit and the world swims in front of you. But you force yourself to open your eyes and carefully, ever so carefully, you look up.

 

“Oh, thank God!” The stranger exclaims, sighing with relief. “Jesus fuck, I thought you were...I thought I'd just witnessed...”

 

You've sat up and you're still confused, and your eyes refuse to focus long enough for you to get a good glimpse of this person. He's anxiously rambling about something and wiping his palms on his gray jeans, inserting a “Holy shit, thank God you're not dead,” every few sentences. He's repeating himself over and over again and shaking his head. You slowly drag yourself into a sitting position.

 

And then, all of a sudden, you've been pulled into the tightest hug you've ever received. It might as well be the only hug you've ever received, and you have no idea how to react to the butterflies flitting around in your stomach. But the stranger is shaking just as hard as you are. His arms are wrapped so tightly around you that you can barely take in a breath, and you wince a little as your wrist is crushed between your two bodies. You don't care though, or at least you try not to care. You know you'll never get a chance to experience anything like this ever again, so you savor the feeling of melting into him instead.

 

And as quickly as it began, he pulls away. You cradle your arm once more, biting your lip in discomfort. Your vision is more clear, and you can see the stranger a little better now. He's mumbling an apology and wringing his hands.

 

“It's okay,” you whisper, your voice quivering. It's the first thing you've said all night. He runs his fingers through his messy black hair, and stares back at you with a pair of licorice black eyes, not speaking.

 

Your face becomes such a bright shade of red that you're thankful for the dark. Because the stranger, your rescuer, is none other than Karkat Vantas: the boy of your dreams.