The air outside is sharp with winter cold, but Kira finally kicked the broken heater's ass last weekend, so it's nice and toasty-warm inside the apartment where Lydia sits, curled in a chair with a book on her lap. Working and studying as much as she does, it's not often that she has the apartment to herself, so the quiet is strange. Nice, though, even if the neatly decorated rooms do seem a little dull without Kira's bright energy filling the space. Though she's off work for Christmas week, Kira scrambled into a pair of jeans this morning and shoved a piece of bread into her mouth while she hopped up and down to pull on her shoes, then yelled something about last minute Christmas shopping before running out the door. That's Kira for you. A whirlwind of kindness, always rushing off to do her next good deed.
Lydia tugs up the sleeves of her sweatshirt, resting her book on her lap. She closes her eyes for a moment, willing away the odd feeling that always comes when she thinks of Kira's abundant altruism. She'd like to say she doesn't know what the feeling is, but that's silly. She's Lydia Martin. She's carefully examined and catalogued this uncalled for emotion: inadequacy.
Inadequacy is not a feeling Lydia likes, so she ignores it, shoves it away. It's not like dwelling on it will do anyone any good. Kira deserves someone a million times better than Lydia, so Lydia has no business crushing on her like a hopeless schoolgirl. Sucks, but there's no use wasting thought on it.
Pressing her lips together, Lydia applies her attention once again to her reading, familiar with the practiced pattern of dragging her thoughts away from Kira.
Naturally, this is the moment that she hears the scratching of a key in the lock seconds before the door bursts open, revealing Kira with cold-flushed cheeks, arms heavy with plastic bags.
"Successful trip?" Lydia asks, eyes following the bulky shopping bags as Kira staggers down the hallway and dumps them in a heap in the middle of the living room.
"Yeah," Kira says. She looks at the mountain of bags she's just dropped, seems to consider them for a moment, then drops her keys onto the coffee table and throws herself down on the couch.
"I," she declares, "hate the holidays."
Lydia arches an eyebrow. "You?" she says, surprised. "You, Kira Yukimura, queen of all things sparkly and happy, actually hate something?"
Kira rolls her eyes. "Yes. I'm not always cheerful, you know."
Lydia's eyebrow climbs higher, but she doesn't press the topic, choosing instead to pursue further information on this curiosity. "All right," she says, marking her place with a slip of paper and setting down her book, "I'll bite. Why do you hate the holidays?"
Kira lets out a groan, tipping her head back and closing her eyes. Lydia is quite positive that she's never seen her roommate this glum. Lydia's seen her mad, of course—that time their landlord implied what Kira could do if she wanted to pay rent a week late; that time some asshole yelled at her co-worker at the animal shelter for speaking Spanish to the cats; that time the toaster maliciously burned three of her fingers—but never this glum. Aside from her periodic fits of righteous, kick-ass anger, Kira is the most sunshiny person Lydia's ever known.
Lydia presses her lips into a sweet smile. "Spill it, sweetie," she pushes.
"It's my family," Kira admits, picking at the hem of her shirt instead of looking at Lydia.
Lydia blinks. "Your family? I thought you loved your family."
A sigh precedes Kira's dejected: "I do. Of course I do." She chews on her lip. "It's just, now that I'm out of college and into my life, they keep asking why I'm not dating anyone, you know? And if I'm single at pre-Christmas dinner there's always this big pity-party, and it's... not fun."
"Ah," Lydia says. Tingly, irrational excitement washes through her lower stomach at the reminder that Kira is single. It's entirely ridiculous. Lydia is not a high schooler with a crush, she is a sophisticated young woman who is comfortable with her sexuality and is more than capable of pursuing what she wants.
Except... this is Kira. This is Kira Perfect Yukimura, the girl who cries at happy movies and keeps a stock of water-bottles and granola bars in her car for homeless people by the road and who would likely adopt every animal at the shelter if not for Lydia's persistent reminders that their lease doesn't allow a single pet, much less thirty.
Crossing her legs and folding her hands in her lap, Lydia presses her lips out in a thoughtful, coy smile. "Well," she says, smug but nonchalant, "it sounds like Christmas dinner would be perfect if you just brought a date."
The squishy green couch cushions seem to swallow Kira, sucking her into their depths. "Yeah, but I'm not dating anyone."
Lydia's lips twist with a sharp smile. "You misunderstood me, sweetheart. You don't have to be dating anyone to bring a date."
Despite its initial appearance as a great idea, this turns out to be a terrible one. The problem: Kira has already latched onto Lydia's offer to be her fake date to Christmas dinner, and she's clinging to it like a life raft.
"Okay," Kira says. She's sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor, having tugged Lydia down with her, because apparently working out the logistics of their "relationship" is more important than the pork Lydia has in the oven. "Closer to the truth is always better, right? So, we say we've lived together for three years, which is true, but we only started dating... when?"
"A month ago," Lydia responds. "Long enough that it's not just a fling, but not long enough that we'll be expected to have couple stories and all that."
Kira nods. "Okay, good. That's smart. This is gonna be great." She smiles that radiant, happy smile of hers, and Lydia is hit right in the chest with an overwhelming urge to lean in, cradle her cheeks, and kiss her. Great going, Martin, she thinks, blur the lines of this relationship even further. Pretend to be her girlfriend. Brilliant idea you had. Real winner.
"Right," Lydia says, forcing a curt smile. "Why did we decide to start dating?"
"...And Lydia just looked at me and said, 'I really like you, you know?' and things just kind of... went from there!"
Ken Yukimura chuckles, and Noshiko's eyes crinkle with the force of her smile. Lydia can see where Kira gets it. She forces a smile of her own, placing her hand over Kira's on the couch between them.
"It was quite romantic," she says. "We talked it out right there over our Indian take-out."
Noshiko's the one who laughs this time, and Kira flashes Lydia a bashful, sparkly-eyed smile that makes Lydia's stomach twist.
Dinner is over, and they've relocated to the living room with mugs of coffee courtesy of the Yukimuras and a plate of snicker-doodle cookies courtesy of Lydia. ("Guaranteed to charm any parent thoroughly," she'd told Kira that morning when Kira complained about the mess in the way of her morning milk and cereal.)
Lydia has been a hit with the parents (as always), and Kira is warm and relaxed at Lydia's side, her smiles easy and her laughter free. It's been a nice evening. It would be nicer without the recurring traces of guilt that remind Lydia she's intruding here, that she's not really a part of this family, that she's not as significant a piece in Kira's life as she'd like to be. But still, it's been nice. Kira's parents are almost as warm and friendly as she is, Lydia has been armed with an arsenal of embarrassing stories from Kira's childhood, and aside from one awkward moment when Ken told them that from the way Kira talked about her roommate he always wondered if they'd end up together, it's been lovely.
Perhaps the loveliness is exactly why Lydia feels so bad about barging inappropriately into this warm little family where she doesn't truly belong. It's worse than a white lie about how much she'd had to drink Friday night on her weekly phone call with her mother—she's pretending like she has a place in this home, deceiving Kira's parents into liking her just for the sake of avoiding a few uncomfortable questions. It's immoral.
And worst of all, Lydia loves every moment of it.
She loves every warm smile from Ken, every tease from Noshiko, every glance and touch and laugh from Kira. She wants this to be real. She wants to really belong here.
But she doesn't, and she never will, because for one thing she has her whole life planned out, and settling down while still in her twenties is not involved, and for a second thing she will never be the girl that Kira Yukimura deserves.
Like she said. This was a terrible idea.
Lydia makes the most of her terrible idea, but it's a relief to repack her overnight bag the next morning and head for the door.
"I'm going in for a hug," Noshiko warns her, and Lydia sets her bag down to wrap her arms around Kira's mom. Noshiko beams at her when she pulls back, only stepping away to allow Ken to shake her hand.
"We're glad to see Kira with someone who clearly makes her happy," he says warmly.
Lydia smiles back, finding Kira's hand and tangling their fingers. "I'm just happy to be a part of her life," Lydia says honestly.
There are more goodbyes, and more hugs, despite the fact that they only live three hours away.
Kira finally breaks away, saying they should really get going, only to be stopped by Ken asking, "How about a picture of the two of you to tide us over until your next visit?"
"Da-ad," Kira hisses.
Lydia's lips twitch with a smile. "Of course," she says graciously, tugging Kira into her side.
Kira rolls her eyes, but her smile could power a small household. "Fine. One picture."
Ken pulls out his phone and tells them to "Smile!"
Kira's arm finds its way around Lydia's waist. She's warm.
This is all you get, Lydia, Lydia tells herself. This is it. It's over once you leave.
At the last moment, Lydia turns to press her lips lightly to the arch of Kira's cheek, closing her eyes. Kira would be a little taller than her, but in her heels, Lydia has to bend down just a touch. The flash as Ken snaps the picture makes the backs of her eyelids flicker white.
Opening her eyes, Lydia pulls away from Kira, ducking to pick up her bag in hopes of hiding the heat in her cheeks.
Three hours is a long time to be stuck in a car with someone. Lydia is acutely aware of this as she steers them home, fingers curled tightly around the wheel. In the passenger seat, Kira is slouched down with her her head back and her eyes closed, her feet propped on the dashboard. Her shoes were discarded minutes into the drive.
Her socks are pink.
Lydia shifts her grip on the steering wheel and stares out at the expanse of road ahead of them and the winter-bare forest on either side.
"That was kinda fun," Kira says randomly. Lydia glances over. Kira is picking at a loose thread on her jeans. "And hey, I don't know if I said thanks yet. That was way nicer than being treated to the 'poor lonely Kira' session I've had the last couple years."
"Sure," Lydia says, making her tone easy. She looks back to the road.
Kira's quiet for a moment. Then: "Hey, you okay?"
"Hm? Of course."
There's another brief pause. Kira shrugs. "All right."
For the next three days, the mood in the apartment is notably cooler than usual. There's no outright hostility, but Lydia makes a point to be in the shower while Kira eats dinner, and leaving to lead a late tutoring session when Kira gets home from work, and done in the bathroom in the morning before Kira has even gotten out of bed. On her end, Kira's omnipresent sunny mood perseveres all through the first day, but by noon on the second she picks up on Lydia's distantness, and when they pass each other in the hall she acknowledges Lydia only with a nod and a tight-lipped smile.
And then all of a sudden it's Christmas Eve and Christmas is looming ahead of them. Lydia's parents are traveling, so she plans to burrow into a blanket on the couch with a book and a cup of tea; Kira got called in to cover a Christmas day shift at the shelter at the last second, so she's home, too.
Lydia claims the couch while she hears Kira warming leftovers in the kitchen. Expecting Kira to eat at the kitchen table, Lydia ties back her hair and curls up with a blanket and the TV remote—only to jump when Kira's suddenly standing in front of the couch a moment later, smiling hesitantly.
"Can I?" she asks, gesturing at the couch beside Lydia.
Lydia nods without saying anything. Kira sits next to her, just close enough that her elbow brushes Lydia's arm when she sticks her fork into her plate of pasta.
Feeling strangely hollow despite Kira's physical closeness, Lydia clicks on the TV and picks some cheery Christmas special at random. Tinny music fills the living room; without the lights on, the television screen casts pale blue flickering light over their faces.
Lydia barely watches the program, distracted by Kira next to her and the conflicted swirl of emotion in her chest. She wants both to loop her arm around Kira's shoulder, and to get up and retreat to the safety of her room. Things are even harder now that she's further confused the boundaries of their relationship; now that she's kissed Kira's cheek and held her hand, she wants to do it all the time.
Lydia takes a slow breath, folding her hands in her lap.
Kira finishes her pasta and sets her plate on the coffee table. She twists her torso to face Lydia. Her gaze is a hot pressure against the side of Lydia's face.
LIps pressed together, her stomach warm with a mix of emotions, Lydia mutes the Christmas program and faces Kira, eyebrows raised.
Kira gives her a sheepish smile. "Um," she says, glancing down. "Well, I got this before the last few days happened, and I feel like I should still give it to you, even though things are... weird now. And I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for asking you to come to dinner with me, I didn't mean to mess things up, I just thought—" she cuts off abruptly, looking away and shaking her head. "Anyway," she says, holding out a small rectangular box, "I know you think Christmas is just a capitalist plot to take money from idiots, but I saw this and I thought of you and—here."
Lydia holds out her hand, and Kira drops the box into her palm. While Lydia examines it, Kira gets up from the couch and speeds away. Distantly, Lydia hears the front door open and close, but her attention is focused on the the contents of the box. Underneath a rectangle of elegant card-stock, a necklace sparkles from a soft bed of white cotton. Lydia picks it up, turning it over between her fingers. The pendant is a tiny red rose, its petals made of what might be real red jewels.
Frowning, Lydia picks up the discarded piece of paper that came with it and scans the printed words.
In ancient Greek and Roman mythology the red rose was closely tied to the goddess of love. The rose was sacred to Aphrodite (Venus) and was her emblem of beauty. The red rose became known as a symbol for love and fidelity and represented all things sensual, sacred, pure and romantic.
Lydia's lips part; her brow furrows. She looks up, staring in the direction Kira ran off.
She's reading too much into this, right? For years she's been deluding herself into thinking that every smile, every bump in the hallway meant something more than it did... but really, how else is she supposed to interpret this?
Thrilled excitement tingles in her chest, clogging her lungs—and then cold apprehension douses it as she remembers in a rush that Kira just ran out the door thinking that Lydia's unhappy with her, that the fake dating stunt broke everything they had.
In a sudden hurry, Lydia leaps to her feet, dropping the necklace and its box carelessly on the couch. She runs for the front door, leaving her keys, leaving her shoes, not stopping to think about what she's wearing—a tank top and sleep shorts and a blanket like a cape—until she's down the hallway and in the stairwell, sprinting to find Kira.
If she believed in such things, Lydia would think that someone up in Heaven is looking out for her—but she doesn't believe in those kinds of things, so instead, when she sees Kira walking down the street ahead of her, she just thinks thank fuck, and she runs until she catches up to her.
"Kira?" she says, her breath stolen by anxiety and all the running.
Kira glances at her, keeps walking. Lydia falls into step beside her.
"Did you..." Lydia starts. She hesitates. This is not like Lydia—Lydia always knows the right words to say, always knows the phrase that will get her what she wants. But this is Kira, and nothing about Kira is normal for Lydia. "Did you... mean that?" Lydia asks. "Did you mean everything that the rose is supposed to mean?"
Kira rolls her bottom lip into her mouth. She doesn't look at Lydia. She keeps walking.
Lydia closes her eyes for a second, her jaw clenching in a frustrated smile. She takes a few quick steps to catch up with Kira again. "Look," she says, tone all business, "I ran out onto the street after you in pajamas and a blanket. I'm not wearing make up. I'm not wearing a bra." Kira looks at her, eyes curious. Lydia digs her fingernails into her palm. "Do you like me?" she bites out. "Because I'm going to feel pretty stupid at this point if you say no."
Kira stops walking, turning to face her. Lydia scans her face, worry running hot through her veins even though the cold air is biting at every inch of her exposed skin.
Slowly, terribly slowly, Kira's face cracks into a smile. "Do you like me too?"
Lydia rolls her eyes. "Do you honestly think I would've pretended to be your girlfriend if I didn't like you? Do you think I'd be out here right now?"
"I don't know why you do anything you do, Lydia."
Lydia doesn't stamp her foot, because that would be childish. But the temptation's there. "Yes," she snaps. "I like you."
Kira's eyes glitter. "Oh," she says. "Well, that's good, because I like you too."
Lydia rolls her eyes. "Thank god," she murmurs, and leans in, holding Kira's jaw between her hands and pressing their lips together. The kiss lasts only a few seconds. Kira's lips feel blazing hot in comparison to the cold breeze zipping around them.
Lydia pulls back, drinking in the sight of Kira with her eyes closed and her lips parted.
Kira blinks a few times. She frowns.
"If you like me," Kira says slowly, "why have you been so weird the last few days?"
Lydia wraps her arms around herself. "Can we talk about this inside?"
"Just answer the question," Kira orders, but she starts walking back in the direction of the apartment, linking her fingers through Lydia's between them.
Sudden embarrassment floods Lydia's veins. "I was—I was worried I wouldn't be able to keep my... feelings in check after we pretended like that." Her voice catches on the word 'feelings,' which is embarrassing, but to be fair, Lydia's never been fond of conversations like this.
"Oh," Kira says. "Okay, then."
Lydia blinks. "That's it? We're good?"
Kira shrugs. "Of course." She bumps her shoulder against Lydia's. "That means we get to make out when we get home, right?"
Startled, Lydia laughs. "Please," she says. Exhilaration makes her feet light all the way home.
It's late at night when Kira wakes up—or, very early in the morning, rather. It's one fifty-two now, and Lydia's been sitting up since one twenty.
"You okay?" Kira murmurs, blinking sleepily and propping herself up on her elbows. They're both still dressed, because Lydia doesn't put out unless her date buys her dinner, but they both fell asleep in Lydia's bed.
"Yeah," Lydia whispers back. "Go back to sleep."
Kira shakes her head. "What's up with you?" she presses.
Lydia sighs, closing her eyes. The words feel heavy on her tongue before she speaks them, and she thinks she wouldn't say them at all if it wasn't so late, if it wasn't so dark, if this wasn't Kira. "Are you sure this is what you want?" she asks eventually, her voice quiet but clear, crisp.
"Of course," Kira says easily.
"No," Lydia says, "I mean really. I'm not—I'm not a nice person, Kira, I'm not—optimistic like you, or caring, or..." Lydia trails off, shaking her head.
A hand finds her own over the blankets, Kira's warm fingers wrapping around her own. "That's what this is about?" she asks quietly. "Because Lydia, I have some news for you. It doesn't matter if you're good enough for me or not, because I really don't care. I like you. It would make me very sad if I didn't get to keep you. You wouldn't want to make me sad, would you?"
Despite everything, a smile tugs at the corners of Lydia's mouth. "No," she says, "I certainly wouldn't."
"Good," Kira says definitively. Her hand leaves Lydia's; she rolls over, tugging Lydia's blankets up to her chin. "I'm going to sleep now," she announces. "Wake me up when it's Christmas."
The smile wins out, stretching Lydia's mouth wide. Her chest feels warm with adoration for this sleepy girl lying next to her, so full of enthusiasm for life and love and every holiday she's ever heard of, regardless of religious orientation.
"It already is, Kira," Lydia says quietly.
Kira sits bolt upright, her eyes gleaming in the dark room. "What?! And you made us talk about feelings while we could've been opening presents?!"
She scrambles from bed and runs for the living room, where a mound of presents sits under an tiny, half-hearted tree. "I'm gonna make pancakes!" she yells from the other room. "How many do you want? And how many marshmallows in your cocoa?"
Smiling, Lydia climbs out of bed and follows her.