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It was very carefully that Kanaya left the cabin the next night. The foremost reason for her care was out of the lingering exhaustion and aches. Her thigh stung when she put weight upon it; she loathed to move her once injured shoulder; and her hand drifted to her side no matter how many times she ascertained the lack of a stab wound. It all left her limping, but it was keeping Rose from waking that made her limp as quietly as she could. There was no sudden sound when she closed the door gently, and she smiled with a sigh as she turned away.

Climbing the ladder was a chore she was grateful no one witnessed. By the time she straightened on deck and looked up to the sky, she felt a cold sweat trickling down the back of her neck. Swallowing, taking a deep breath, she looked round. There was almost no evidence of the battle she so clearly recalled. There were no multicolored splatters of blood on the deck; the damage the railings and sails had suffered did not exist. For a moment, she was utterly baffled. She took her hand from her side to rub at her head.

The need to check for bumps was dispelled, however, at the sudden sound of a hammer striking wood. Light streamed up from one side of the ship, and she walked to the railing to look down. A beam extended over the side of the ship, and suspended from the lines rove in the block at its end was a bosun’s chair. John sat in the chair, humming quietly and swaying with his booted feet on the ship. In one hand was his hammer; the other held a lantern level with his head. He paused a moment in his swaying to tap the hammer down. When the lightning faded, he held the lantern high. He dismissed the hammer to hold the lines, and skipped along the wood to examine a great swath of it. Eventually, he nodded, set the lantern between his knees, and put both hands on a line to begin his pull. He paused at the sight of her, but his face broke into a smile.

“Miss Kanaya!” he said. “I didn’t think you’d be out and about so soon!” He hauled himself up within seconds, exhaling loudly as he pulled the rigging in after him. “And in clean clothes, too! How’re you feeling?”

She looked down. “All right.”

“I promise I won’t tell Rosie if you don’t feel great.”

She opened her mouth to refute him, but stopped before he had a chance to raise his brow at her. “I would appreciate that.”

“She did patch you up, right?”

“All my wounds have been closed, yes.” Her hand returned to her side. “I didn’t realize that it still hurts this much despite the healing.”

“Yeah,” he sighed, “you tend to be a little tender after something like that.”

“And yet you have the temerity to conduct what I assume are repairs.”

He blinked. “Temerity?”

“You were shot through the shoulder last night and you’re still climbing around without so much as a night off.”

“Oh!” He laughed, putting his hands in his pockets. “Aw, that’s nothing against you, Miss Kanaya! I just have a lot of mangrit in me. And it’s not like that was the first time I’ve been shot. That was probably the first time you’ve ever gotten hurt like that, and you almost drowned, too.”

“So that did happen.”

“Huh? Don’t you remember?”

“I was stabbed, and I believe I fell off the ship entirely.”

“Right.”

“Could you explain what happened? All I’m certain of is that Rose healed my wounds.”

“Oh, okay.” He set the lantern at their feet and leaned on the railing. “Well, you did fall off the ship. That was the last shot they really fired at us, and you had the bad luck of being right at the edge when it happened. So you and the guy that stabbed you fell off—and then Rosie was right off the deck after you, way faster than anyone else. I don’t think all the chunks of wood finished falling back onto the deck before she was gone. And I would have gone in after you both, except the captain ordered me to stay on deck and take down any of the enemy’s remaining guns. Then she dived in.”

“Vriska came to help us?”

“Yep.”

“But...she said she dislikes dealing with overboard passengers.”

He chuckled. “That’s because she’s the one who goes in first. She always is. She just doesn’t like getting wet.”

“I see. I think.”

“So then she took over one of the dinghies that the other ship sent over with their hands and pulled you and Rose out. She said she thought Rose was really going to let you die, because she wouldn’t use alchemy to get rid of the water in your lungs no matter how much Vriska shouted at her.” He chuckled again, scratching at the stubble that had grown thicker since their last meeting. “But that would have been a bad idea, and Rosie knew it.”

“Why is that?”

“It’s not magic, Miss Kanaya—we can’t just make the water come out of something. The only way to use alchemy to get water out of your lungs would have been to make it change its form—and the only form that would have left your lungs is steam. But you can imagine how bad having a bunch of piping hot steam in your lungs all of a sudden would be, so Rosie didn’t do that.”

“What did she do, then?”

“Um...you know what, I’m not sure. Vriska says she just planted a big wet one on your sopping wet corpse, but that’s not right. You weren’t a corpse.”

“A...she planted what on me?”

“A kiss.”

Her throat slammed shut and she felt heat rush into her face. She whipped her fingers from her side to put both hands over her mouth.

He did not notice; he was smiling and looking the other way. “I think Vriska was just being dramatic. She’s kinda overdramatic sometimes. But either way, Rosie got the water out of your lungs, patched you up, and we hauled you all aboard. After that, me and Vriska went back down in the dinghy with a few of our hands to get over to the enemy ship and capture their captain. I think Rosie just took you back to your cabin and stayed with you, because you guys weren’t on deck when we got back.”

Kanaya put her hands on the railing and looked very carefully at the waves below. There was barely a waver in her voice when she said, “I see.”

John let out a long exhale, but there was nothing but cheer on his face. After a moment, he turned to look at her. “So is Rose doing okay? She wound up doing a lot more alchemy than me. I bet she’s tuckered out.”

“Oh—yes. Yes, she’s all right.”

“I can’t believe you got up here without her trying to keep you in bed. Vriska said she was pretty worried about you, and I’d agree.”

She tried to keep her voice steady, and stumbled over her words for her efforts. “No, she’s—erm, she—we discussed her having rather severe night horrors and I suggested that she rub a little sopor on her forehead before we—she went to bed. It seems to be working, as she didn’t wake up when I left.”

“Wow!” he said. “That’s great! Figures you’d be the one to make up a way to help her sleep!”

She looked up at him, brows rising as her eyes widened. “Why are my efforts the most immediately understandable?”

He blinked and took a hand from his pocket to point at her. “Well, you’re the one who’s traveling with her. Her nightmares probably bug you more than anyone.”

“Oh.” She looked away. “Yes, of course. It makes perfect sense that I would be concerned the most about Rose’s well being if we’re traveling together for such a long period of time.” She nearly let out a sigh. However, she knew it would contain a noise she was not willing to let out into the world, and so shut her mouth tightly.

For a moment, he looked at her with his head faintly tilted. The moment passed; he patted her shoulder as he turned back to the sea. “Anyway, we got the captain of the ship back over here and questioned him about what happened.”

The change of topics was leaped upon with desperation enough to make her ask, “And?” too quickly.

He didn’t notice. “He confessed that he was from the royal fleet, and that him and his crew came out here looking for us.”

“The Mind Scourge specifically?”

“Yep. We’re kinda used to it at this point, but Vriska made him talk. There’s actually a bigger bounty on my head now than there is on Vriska’s.” He snickered. “I feel like I’ve played a big prank on her, so I thought it was pretty funny. But Vriska was pretty pissed and made him talk more. It turns out that there’s actually a bounty on all of us—me and Rose and Jade and Dave. But they’re not actually named, because no one knows their names but us.”

“Why would there be a bounty on your heads?”

“Well, he explained that, too. Jack’s started attacking more places, and the Empress thinks that we’ve got something to do with him because we keep getting mixed up with him. So she’s not wrong, but she thinks we’re helping him or ordering him to do all this stuff.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Right?”

A pause. “And we’re still going to the capitol?”

“Yeah. If the royals are talking about Jack, then we’re definitely going to get more news on him there.” He looked at her with a grin and patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry. Me and Vriska are going to come with you.”

“What? Why would you do that? You’d be abandoning the Mind Scourge.”

“Better that than abandoning you and Rosie. Besides, it’s been a while since we’ve stayed on land longer than how long we need to drop off loot and get really drunk at saloons.”

“Getting extremely drunk is a regular pastime for you?”

“Oh yeah. Vriska’s hilarious when she’s drunk.” He chuckled. “You’ll see.”

“Why?”

“Because we like to have a little shindig before we pull into port.”

“You have an event to carouse and get drunk on board...before you make landfall and carouse and get drunk.”

“Yep.”

She stared at him a few moments before sighing. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to understand gamblignants, no matter how long I keep your company.”

“Aw, you just need to have fun. You and Rosie both, really. But I am definitely going to get her to play her violin during our shindig. We always play music and have a great time.”

A pause. A smile curled her lips; she could do nothing to remove it. “I...look forward to it.”

“You’ll love it! She’s a great fiddler, and she can play a lot of classical music, too!”

She was horrified to realize she could not keep from chuckling and saying, “I already said I’m looking forward to it. You certainly don’t have to espouse Rose’s good qualities to me.”

His grin widened. “The wind’s usually with us, so we’re making good time. We should arrive in a little less than a week.” He patted her on the back. “Why don’t you go ahead and get some more sleep? No one’ll mind if you do. You can tell Rose to keep sleeping too, since she’s probably exhausted even if she’ll never say so.”

“You’re certain it won’t be a bother?”

“Miss Kanaya, you and Rosie don’t have to work at all. I already fixed up the ship, Vriska’s doing just fine and keeping us on course, and the hands that are still alive aren’t hurt too bad. It’s really okay if you rest.”

“All...all right.” She started back toward the ladder below deck. “Until later, John.”

He waved as she went. “’Night, Miss Kanaya!”

She went below, taking her descent slow when pain reasserted itself. For a time, she stood leaning against the ladder and holding her side. The deckhands that passed by, drowsy and yawning with their early waking, did little more to greet her than small nods and brief waves. She did not respond; they did not mind. Eventually, she made her way back to the cabin. For a much longer time, she stared at the closed door. She breathed slowly and somehow managed to not worry her lip with her fangs. When she opened the door, she stopped breathing.

Rose was still asleep, not in her hammock but settled with her back on the wall between the desk and the nest she had made for Kanaya. Her legs were drawn up slightly, arms folded loosely over her stomach. Her hat sat next to her on the side nearest the nest of mats and covers. On her shoulders was her coat, which she had put on at Kanaya’s insistence. Though she did not tremble with her nightmares, though she was no longer wet with the sea, her breathing still wavered and hitched with chill. Her bare feet were certain to be no help against the cold.

She closed the door and leaned back against it. She stared at Rose in the dark, studying the way her head tilted slightly toward the nest. She pressed her lips together and immediately made herself stop. Still holding her breath, she crossed the room and knelt down slowly. Rose did not stir, even when Kanaya took a cover from the nest and gently put it over her. The most she did was mumble vague noise when tucked the cover around her shoulders and legs.

Kanaya told herself very firmly that she didn’t want the sound to be her name. She slipped back beneath the covers. A long time passed where she looked up at Rose’s sleeping face, so rare in its smoothness. The vague lightheadedness and wandering thoughts that came to mind she attributed to her lack of breath. She rolled over quickly and started breathing again. She closed her eyes tight. When she managed to fall asleep, she did so while listening to the sound of Rose breathing deep and slow.

-------

Helloooooooo, alchemist.”

She neither stopped in brushing Maplehoof nor turned around. “I do have a name, Serket.”

“And I have a title, so I think I’ll keep calling you ‘alchemist’ until you use it.”

“Captain.”

“Lalonde.”

“Is there something you needed? I’m actually occupied at the moment.”

She smirked and moved closer. “You know, when I asked little Miss Fussyfangs where you were, she had the funniest reaction.”

“Kanaya has a name as well. Feel free to use it.”

“Whatever. Don’t you want to know how she reacted?”

She lifted a brow as she stroked along the horse’s flanks. “I assume that she told you I was down here taking care of Maplehoof, given that you’re currently here bothering me.”

She stopped behind Rose and leaned down to murmur in her ear. “I asked her where her matesprit was and she went all jade in the face.”

A pause. “Why did you ask her that?”

“Oh, come on Laloooooooonde. I saw what happened the other night. You kissed her.” She chuckled. “She already told me she refuses to hate you, so the only person that’d be kissing her is her matesprit.”

“That was not a kiss.”

“You put your lips on hers. How’s it not a kiss?”

“It would be acceptable to call it the kiss of life, as that’s a colloquialism for rescue breathing, which is what I actually did. I did not kiss her.”

“Then why’d she get all freaked out about me calling you her matesprit?”

“Presumably because you embarrassed her by making assumptions based upon my simple actions to resuscitate her from drowning.”

Reeeeeeeeally?” She curled her fingers over her shoulders, squeezing slightly. “I saw the way you looked at her, Lalonde. Jumping off a ship to rescue someone who’s not your matesprit and then giving her something you’re calling the kiss of life? I think you’re trying to make it simple.”

“Serket, what do you want?”

“Oh, nothing really, I guess.” She let go of her shoulders only to cross her arms, set them on her back, and lean hard against her. The fact that Rose was forced to stop brushing entirely to hold herself up on Maplehoof made her grin. “So you two don’t have a matespritship?”

“Why do you care?”

“No reason.” She drummed her fingers on the back of Rose’s neck. “You know what? She’s actually kinda pretty.”

“Do I need to go tell John you’re planning on being unfaithful to him?”

Vriska laughed. “I could neeeeeeeever be unfaithful to him!”

“Oh? Because it sounds like you’re going to start soliciting Kanaya.”

She leaned in close once more, nearly brushing Rose’s ear with her lips when she said, “Is that such a problem? After all, you’re not her matesprit.”

“I am disbelieving that she would want to pander to your redrom infidelity games.”

She hummed laughter and leaned harder. “Are you suuuuuuuure? I thought she might be interested...based on the way she acted the first time we were alone.”

“When were you two ever alone with each other?”

“A few nights ago. Just before we got attacked, actually.” Her grin slowly grew wider. “She acted surprised when I got her in my arms, but I’m pretty sure she liked it.”

“You did what.”

“Got her in my arms. Wrapped her up tight against the night and held her like I wasn’t going to let go until morning. Not too different...” Her arms unfolded and slipped around Rose’s waist. “From this.”

“First. If I am to believe what you said about never being unfaithful to John, then I know you neither held Kanaya then nor embrace me now like you care. Second. Let. Go.”

“Aw, why?”

“Because I will knock your teeth out if you don’t.”

She snickered. She drew her arms away, but only to catch Rose by the shoulders and spin her about. “You are fun.”

She pushed Vriska’s hands away. “Are we adding an attempt at black infidelity to your list of things to do tonight?”

When her arms were dodged away from, another hug spoiled, she pouted. “But you’re more fun than Ampora! He’s all pointless brooding lately.” Again, Rose eluded her hands; she gave a tiny appreciative smirk when she slipped behind Maplehoof. “You’ve got fire in you, human.”

“You’ll forgive me if I find your statement undesirable.”

“What’s wrong with a little black flirting?” She circled around the horse, putting one hand to her chest and lifting the other. “You hate me, I hate you. How couldn’t this work?”

She turned away and started off toward the door of the hold. “Because I do not find you appealing in the slightest.”

“Now how can that possibly be the truth? I’m a sexy bitch, and you’re not too bad on the eyes.” She paused; her chuckling resurfaced. She raised her voice and said, “And you knoooooooow that it’s not just me being weird about humans. Fussyfangs is aaaaaaaall over how you look.”

Rose stopped with her hand on the doorknob. “Leave Kanaya out of this.” Her hand released the doorknob; her feet turned her around.

One hand to her temple, Vriska shoved her back against the door with her free hand and smiled. “If she’s not your matesprit, then it doesn’t matter.”

“I am telling you to leave her alone. You will leave her alone or I will dissolve your skeleton.”

She held her where she was with the Mindgrip and tilted her face up. “Ooooooooh. Pretty grimdark there, little alchemist.”

She looked at her with little more than furrowed brows. “I am not interested.”

Disbelieving air was puffed between her lips; she released her entirely. “Yeah, sure.”

With neither sloth nor haste, she returned to Maplehoof. “Is there a reason for you being here other than your heavy-handed black flirting?”

“Oh, right.” She turned about, flipped back her hair, and crossed her arms. “We sighted land a little while ago, so I’m ordering everyone on deck.”

“I’m busy.”

“Please. Fussyfangs said you’ve been in here for almost an hour. It’s our last night on board. That means we get on deck and have fun.” She chuckled. “If that’s possible for you.”

“I just said I’m busy.”

“Gog, you’re annoying,” she sighed. “John said that if you kept turning me down about this, I should tell you that you owe him like eight songs on your violin. Also that Kanaya told him she was looking forward to hearing you play when he explained what we do on our last nights.”

A pause. She resumed brushing Maplehoof. “Fine. I’ll be there in a bit.” Her hands tossed the brush down at the horse’s hooves and her feet spun her about once again.

“Oh no you don’t!” Vriska said. She grabbed Rose by the back of the shirt as she was walked over, shaking her as she dropped her other hand from her temple and the Mindgrip to pull open the door. She marched them both out of the hold, forcing Rose to walk ahead of her. “John also said that you’d probably never show up if I just let you keep doing whatever you were doing, so I promised to make sure you’d get your ass the hell on deck with your violin. Come on.”

“The fact that you promised anything seems dubious at best and unnerving at worst.”

“Bluh bluh, alchemist bitch,” Vriska replied. “I can keep my promises just fine. I’m making you get your ass in gear, ain’t I?” She stopped shoving her along only when they had reached the small cabin, all but kicking open the door to shove her one last time into the room. “Get your stupid violin and let’s go.”

She adjusted her waistcoat, pulling carefully at her rolled up shirt sleeves to smooth out the wrinkling at her back. A moment passed, and she asked, “Where’s Kanaya?”

“On deck already. John brought her up there, and I volunteered to get you when she told us where you were.”

A low breath slipped from her lips. She went to the desk and took up her hat and bag. Setting the hat on her head allowed her to slip past Vriska without meeting her gaze or her smirk, and they went topside in silence. The silence was immediately broken with the roar of the deckhands, tankards in hand, at the sight of their captain. Laughing, holding her hands high, she went to the main mast and the casks surrounding it. Her taking up a full tankard from the many sitting on the casks was met with another roar of approval.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” she called. After a moment, she tipped her glass toward Rose and John, sitting on a bench near—of all things—a piano. Rose could see Kanaya standing beside the piano, staring at the tankard in her hands. “And humans too.” She cleared her throat. “To all the poor sons of bitches that died in our most recent of battles!”

A shout; a lifting of glasses; a brief drink taken.

Vriska smirked, showing fangs shining with the torchlight from above. “But we diiiiiiiid get the head of the captain of the assholes who attacked us. An ugly little blue blood who thought he was higher up than me!”

Howling disapproval.

“And we annihilated them!” she shouted. “Down to the last man! Thanks all to this vicious crew of mine—and to our fancy alchemists! To the alchemists!”

“To the alchemists!” Another lift of glasses; another drink taken.

“And now we’re on the eve of another adventure! Tomorrow we’ll be docking in the capitol city’s port and going our separate ways for a while!”

Boos and hisses.

“Oh shut up!”

Laughter.

“John and I are going to accompany his friends out into the city to look for more information about the demon—but we can’t resist the sea for long! We’ll be back soon enough, ready to hunt the fucker down! And I expect all of you assholes to be ready to answer the call of your beautiful captain when we do!”

A roar, the loudest yet.

“Good!” She lifted her tankard high. “Now let’s have fun and get really fucking smashed!”

The shouting was even louder than before, and the party began in earnest. As Rose picked her way across the deck, packs of trolls conversed in shouts to retell favored tales of battles and bedmates. She pointedly ignored the latter and went to the piano. John was all but giggling when she came up, and he shot to his feet and put the glass down atop the piano. He caught her in his arms, lifting her from her feet and swinging her from side to side.

“I knew you’d come up!” he said.

“It’s not like your captain gave me any damned choice,” she replied. She paused. “Is that...the piano you and your father made when we first arrived here?”

“Yep! I shrink it to put it in my bag! Never leave home without it!”

“Your sentimentalism is charming.”

He laughed. “Says the girl wearing—” He winced at the kick she gave his shin. When the sting faded, he asked “Did you bring your violin?” After a moment, she lifted her bag with a sigh. He laughed again, clapping his hands once when she set the bag on the bench and reached inside. He, in turn, reached over to pat Kanaya on the shoulder. “Here it is, Miss Kanaya! Now you get to hear her play!”

“I would appreciate it if you would stop overselling my abilities with a violin, Egbert.”

He looked at her with a pout. “Aw, c’mon Rosie! You were always complaining about how much your mom made you practice on that thing when you were little!”

“Practice does not necessarily make skill.”

“Oh, that’s a big fat lie. Liar. Liiiiiiiiar.”

She sighed and set the violin under her chin. She drew the bow across one string and fiddled with a peg to tune it. “Dear God, you’ve picked up her speaking habits.” Her tuning continued as she asked, “What did you want to play?”

He snickered and sat down. As he cracked his knuckles, he looked at Kanaya. “Any requests?”

Kanaya’s eyes flicked up to Rose’s face and immediately dropped when she saw the careful concentration there. She turned the tankard this way and that in her hands and shook her head.

“You ran a saloon! How can you not have a favorite drinking tune?”

“I—never particularly drank.”

He blinked. “That’s too bad.”

“Just start playing something, John,” Rose sighed. “I’ll follow and try to improvise.”

Snickering, he grinned. “Now that sounds like fun.” He waggled his fingers over the keys and called over his shoulder. “Here’s a tune for everyone!” A shout of cheery laughter was the reply given to him, and he began to play. The first strikes of the keys were only met with faint nods of Rose’s head, but she soon took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and followed his lead.

The melody was so bright and so cheery and so utterly diametric to what she had seen of Rose before that it made Kanaya simply stare in shock. The deckhands broke out in more laughter, tapping their feet to the rhythm or clapping at the wrists of the hands holding their drinks to echo the sound. As the tempo picked up, sharper notes from the strings under Rose’s fingers and louder plinks from John’s piano, a few trolls began to dance. Ale splashed onto the deck with their haphazard jig, and the mess widened when the dancers were hollered on.

Vriska climbed on the casks and began to conduct between deep swigs. The hands cheered and jeered their captain in equal measure, and howled with laughter when she shouted abuse in return. A woman with corkscrew horns pulled an accordion from somewhere and began to sashay through the dancers with music to accompany the humans. Another deckhand, a man with horns that stuck out to the sides of his heads in sharp angles, abandoned his drink entirely and swept up another man, horns long and curved back, to lay a deep kiss on his mouth.

With that, Kanaya looked away from everything and down into her drink. She made herself breathe carefully, but could not fully overcome the tightness that gripped at the center of her torso no matter how steady her breathing. Her ears focused on Rose’s violin naturally, listening close to the skitter of the bow along the strings. When it began to lead the song, twisting about the notes from piano and accordion alike to leap ahead, she pinched her eyes shut. She turned to put her back against the piano and stood by to sip slowly at the warming ale in her hands.

The carousing was as wild as she had imagined it would be. She felt stomping on the boards of the deck beneath her feet and the vibrations of the piano at her back. The singing that started up, sloppy bellows of a drinking song, she did not pay attention to. Songs came and went, both well known and improvised with the tunes naturally created. Eventually, she let her eyes drift open; they ached with how long they had been shut. Very slowly, because the violin seemed even brighter than before, she turned to look at the scene.

John was grinning, eyes glittering in the light as he played. His giddiness was infectious; it was little wonder why the deckhands were so stirred up by his songs. The giggles and near cackles that came over the noise from Vriska were a little ridiculous, but the way she danced atop the casks spoke of how very little she cared.

And then, with more hesitance than she had ever moved with before, Kanaya looked at Rose. There was a faint flush in her cheeks; her head, eyes closed, was tipped diligently over the violin and its chinrest. Her fingers hurried back and forth across the strings, swaying and pressing quickly to make the notes sigh through the air. Her shoulders tilted with the fierceness of the music, hiding her face under the brim of her hat when she turned in one direction.

She had every intention of looking away. She told herself that, repeated it in a louder and louder voice in her head to try and make herself drop her gaze. Then Rose turned back, tilted her head slightly up and to one side, and opened her eyes. The fact that she was perfectly able to keep playing when Kanaya would have sworn her own heart stopped was terribly enviable, and it was one Rose did not seem to notice at all. She continued on in her luster, bow still caressing the strings and seducing brilliant notes. But she did not take her eyes from Kanaya.

Her drink was plucked from her hands before her wrists were caught in a tight hold. “C’mere Fussyfangs!”

Only the widening of Rose’s eyes betrayed anything at the sight of Kanaya being pulled away by Vriska. The deckhands simply laughed and goaded Vriska on in leading their sudden dance. It was as wild as Vriska’s hair, all swift sways and turns and pulling. More than once did she nearly stumble off her feet only to fall flush against Vriska. Each time, her hips were taken in hand, fingers stroking up and down, until she pushed her back with a laugh. In her bafflement, Kanaya could not think of how to react. When she was taken in a dip, one hand holding her back easily and the other closed around one of her wrists, she choked. Vriska, smirking, leaned in close enough for her heated breath to wash over her lips; her throat closed entirely.

She felt a leg slip into the tangle of hers and Vriska’s; she felt a hip sway in hard to push Vriska away. In tandem, an arm slid across her stomach to push beneath Vriska’s and a hand moved up her arm to break the hold on her wrist. There was no drop of her body to be had, the new grasp was so strong. She felt another leg sweep in as she was turned, lifted, spun about and finally returned to her feet. Over Rose’s shoulder, she saw Vriska stumble back and away, eyes wide in surprise.

Breath stuttering, brows high, Kanaya let herself be pulled into another dance. Though Rose led her to follow the swift tempo, it was nothing like Vriska’s motions. She turned them round each other, pushing gentle at Kanaya’s hip and pulling soft at her arm. When she made them step forward and draw back, it was careful enough to keep Kanaya from stumbling. She stood up on her toes to lift Kanaya’s arm high and guide her in a spin. The spin was completed and Kanaya was the one to step back in. She drew close enough to feel their knees bump together and the way Rose’s stomach swelled against her with her deep inhale. Swallowing hard, she dropped her hand to curl her fingers in her belt loops.

They stopped. Standing at the edge of the drinkers and dancers, they were ignored. As suddenly as everything else, Rose took her hand from Kanaya’s hip and held tighter to her hand. She tugged gently to lead her toward the ladder below deck, only letting go when they climbed down. Back to Kanaya, she strode down the hallway and stopped many paces away. Kanaya followed slowly after her.

“I did not kiss you before.”

She halted.

“I didn’t mean to kiss you.”

She looked down. With her eyes aimed at the floor, she saw Rose’s feet first, turning about and coming back.

“Vriska said that she called me your matesprit when she asked you where I was before.”

She did not look up.

“You told me you think I deserve happiness.”

She pressed her lips together and closed her hands tightly.

“I think you are far too kind.”

She breathed in. She murmured, “I’m not. I’m terribly selfish and cowardly besides.” A curled finger tapped the underside of her chin. She looked up and watched as Rose paused, took off her hat to hold it behind her back, and rocked up on her toes.

“Hardly,” she whispered. And she leaned in to kiss Kanaya properly.

The muffled, short exhale that left her carried a great many things. It told of her surprise, and it was blended with a whimper at the sight of Rose’s eyes remaining open. Her hands opened in fits. At first, she reached out to lay her fingers on her hips. When she felt her hips begin to sink down, she lifted her hands to cup Rose’s cheeks and hold her steady when she broke the kiss and settled back on her heels.

Kanaya followed her immediately and tilted her head up to press another kiss to her mouth. A moment passed where she drew back, but she quickly leaned in again to tap kiss after kiss to Rose’s lips. It was only when Rose caught her chin in her hand and stood up on her toes to return those kisses with a very firm one of her own that she stopped and lifted her head to stare.

A pause. She blinked, put a finger to her lower lip, and lifted a brow when two spots of blood came away. “Ow.”

Her staring persisted, but she leaned down once again to enfold the tiny wounds with a kiss. There was a smile on Rose’s face when she came away, and she curled up the corners of her mouth tentatively. “Then,” she said haltingly, “you did not tell Vriska the truth when you refuted her claim that—about us?”

“I didn’t tell her she was wrong. I didn’t tell her anything, actually. It’s hardly her business.” She frowned briefly. “Though she’s determined to make it her business to try to get a rise out of me with black flirting.” She shrugged. “Regardless, I have no reason to keep avoiding the subject when it’s causing you distress.”

“You’re telling me just to comfort me?”

“I wanted to tell you. I don’t see how that makes my indirectly comforting you a bad thing.”

Kanaya sighed and put her forehead to Rose’s. She smiled and said, “So you do pity me.”

“I prefer the human terminology used in relationships such as ours.”

“Is it different?”

“Yes. Instead of pitying you, I feel far more comfortable saying I love you.”

“Oh.” She moved one hand to slip her fingers into Rose’s hair and dropped the other to her waist. She curled her fingers in her belt loops, paused, and gently pulled her closer. “That sounds like a very pleasant concept.” She kissed her again and drew back only to be able to breathe against her lips. “Would you be willing to explain it in greater detail?”

A chuckle. “Aren’t you forward.”

“I’d claim that you’ve rubbed off on me slightly.”

Rose put her hands on Kanaya’s hips and held herself steady as she stood partway up on her toes. With her lips brushing against Kanaya’s, she murmured, “That wasn’t a complaint,” and kissed her again.