It takes a week.
He rises at the end of one meal, which he's eaten at what might actually be considered a leisurely pace, and he takes Jade completely by surprise when he brings both plates to the sink and washes them off for her.
She's still staring when he ambles back over, plopping back down at the table and hauling his messenger bag over. He pulls out a rather thick book and lets it thunk onto the table.
Jade can't manage to hold in her grin.
She gets to ask one question, and while she's been staying away from the obvious ones, she takes his unnaturally good mood as a green light.
"Why don't you do relationships?"
"Because they lead to quadrant filling."
And that doesn't sound at all like the Eridan she remembers. She wants to ask. So badly. And he knows it. He's staring up at her like he's daring her to break this tentative…thing they have. But he told her, one question per day. So far, he has answered every one without putting up a fight.
She bites her tongue and swallows with a nod.
The tension visibly leaks out of him, and he bends his head to his book rather than packing up and leaving.
The next day, she's sitting at her bench deep in thought, and she actually doesn't even realize he's there until he stops right in front of her. He could have walked right on past, and she never would have caught him, but instead, he's here waiting.
The journey to Jade's apartment is silent, and there's a nearly palpable…something in the air between them. Jade is almost literally vibrating with excitement, but she reins herself in. She can wait. She can do this.
He falls into step close beside her, and that helps. Jade thinks that maybe he knows what she's going to ask. And maybe he's telling her that he's okay with it. He'll honor his part of their deal if she honors hers.
They sit down to a stew that has been in the slow cooker all day, and Jade's apartment is positively aromatic. She spoons some into two bowls and meets Eridan at the table, the troll staring up at her expectantly. Sitting down, she's dipping her spoon in when he speaks.
"Ask already. I know you want to."
Jade almost swallows her tongue. She really, really wants to know, but that desire is warring with the desire not to upset him. She's grown fond of their dinners together, and she hopes that he'll continue to lounge around afterward with his too-large books and their too-small text. She doesn't want to ruin that.
"Harley. Ask me."
And that sounds like he's daring her. What can she do?
"Why did you give up on your quadrants?"
He doesn't look at all surprised, but he draws his shoulders back and takes a slow breath.
"Out of eleven other trolls, from all ends of the hemospectrum, not one a' them wanted to fill a quadrant with me, in the end. The ones that did at one point, they dropped me. I'm well aware that, on Alternia, the only thing I had goin' for me was my blood status. Here? I don't have anything. And don't say I need to try harder, because I did. I really did. An' it only made things worse. So now, I don't bother. I save myself the heartache."
"That's...one of the saddest, most miserable things I've ever heard."
His eyes narrow, and he looks in danger of drawing into himself again. "I swear, Harley, if you have the nerve to find me pitiful--"
"Shut up, Ampora." Jade can be stern, too.
He growls softly and looks away, blatantly violating her order, but she doesn't mind, if it gets him to talk about himself more. "So much of the bad stuff in my life happened because I was tryin' ta fill quadrants. This world… It's a new life for me. I'm not repeatin' my mistakes."
"But what if you found the right person?" As soon as she says it, a hand reaches up to clap over her mouth. She hopes she hasn't just ruined everything. Everything she's worked for with her question.
His answer is blunt and sad. Resigned. "Harley, no one can stand me enough for a romantic entanglement. Unless you're offerin' yourself up?" And yet snarky.
"What? No, that's not what I'm saying."
His laugh is humorless, and it makes her heart ache to hear it. "So even the human finds me detestable. If that's all you wanted to tell me, we coulda just skipped the rest a' this conversation."
"Damn it, Ampora! Stop being so defensive for one moment!"
He glares at her, his fangs glinting between curled lips. "Then answer me one question, for a change. What are you tryin' ta get outta all this?"
"I'm trying to be your friend."
His gaze upon her is solid and steady, like he's trying to gauge her honesty.
"I'm serious. I'm not looking for any kind of romantic entanglement, sexual or otherwise, nor am I looking for any kind of sexual entanglement, romantic or otherwise. I'm looking for a friend, and that's all."
He sits back, still staring, but his eyes aren't quite so hard, now. "You have no interest. None at all." It's a statement, but she knows that he's asking her to verify it.
"I'm not interested in sex, so that's not why I'm trying to be friends with you. I also don't really do the romance thing, so that's not why I'm doing this, either. So I think that covers all of your weird troll quadrants. I'm really only interested in you as a friend. And I think I'm the best option you have. Someone has to knock some sense into you. And you're lonely. Don't even deny that." She glares at him when he opens his mouth, so he shuts it again, sulking a little. "So if you want a relationship with someone who's not trying to date you, not trying to fill a quadrant, and not trying to get into your pants, I'm your girl."
He worries at one of the rings on his fingers, twisting it round and round and watching it catch the light. "Just friends? You promise?" There's a note of hope in there, and Jade smiles both inside and out, finally feeling like they're getting somewhere.
"Yeah. Just friends."
She holds out a hand, and he takes it slowly. Somehow, she expects it to be slimy, like a fish, but his skin is smooth and warm. She doesn't let go until he looks her in the eye, wanting to be sure that he knows she's sincere.
"I'll help with dinner tomorrow, if you want."
Yes. They're getting somewhere.