Jade's voice is unlike anything she's ever heard before, and Rose doubts she'll ever find anything to compare it to.
There's an oddness there, like the underlying accent is something Jade herself has pieced together from old movies, a long since deceased relative, and her own whims. She used to live on an island, an island that her dear old grandfather legally owned through a number of loopholes that, apparently, were mostly explained away by adventuring. That's how the story begins, at least, and ends a few years after her grandfather died in an accident. Any mentions of said accident are usually accompanied by Jade chewing her lower lip, and she betrays herself by momentarily losing any eye contact she was grasping onto. Because of this, Rose never asks what sort of accident it was, but she forms her own hypothesises and plans to test them in due course.
The most interesting part of an already profoundly ridiculous tale revolves around the fact that Jade claims to have been raised by none other than her dog for upwards of three years, though Rose isn't entirely convinced that Jade just hasn't been hit around the head one too many times. After the accident (or “accident,” as Rose's innermost thoughts deem fitting), and the supposed raised-by-a-dog incident, through several coincidences and sheer luck (either good or bad, depending on what sort of mood Jade is in when she discusses it), her little island was stumbled upon by fishermen who'd gone astray. From there, it was only a matter of time before Jade was dragged back to Australia's mainland, which explains that funny little tinge her accent takes on when she talks too fast.
It's not a bad story, and sometimes Rose even believes it. If nothing else, it's much more interesting than anything Rose has to tell: white, wealthy and American, and perhaps ironically spoiled, in retrospect. Rose speaks French and still remembers summer afternoons spent in Parisian cafés, silently sat opposite her mother, shoulders slumped, always ordering whatever the woman would deem the most childish item on the menu, just to get a rise out of her; Jade, on the other hand, tells her about the fresh, damp soil beneath her bare feet and the cuts she'd get from rock pools, and still bumbles through the troll tongue, four years after having been introduced to it.
There must be something unspeakable hidden in Jade if she feels the need to cover it up with such an absurd tale, and Rose considers whether this is some sort of form of entertainment to her. She wonders if she should make up her own story, and how that would go. Her mother would be stricken from the record, along with any rifle-based antics, any self-sacrifice that awkwardly placed her between a troll, a sofa and her daughter, because it's not as if it did a damn bit of good, anyway, and besides, it's a story about Rose. Maybe she wouldn't have been raised in such a a grand house, and maybe she would've grown up truly understanding the value of money, of what she had. She could be raised by a pack of wild cats, so as to compliment Jade's story, and what a funny thing that would be, to know they grew up on opposite sides of the globe in such a similar manner, but had to be dragged halfway across the galaxy before they were allowed to meet.
Rose smiles at the thought. A little blood trickles out from the corner of her mouth.
There are fingers holding her jaw tight, calloused and pink, not quite as tanned as they were a dozen perigees ago. There's a ringing in her ears, but then Jade's voice strikes through it, and still Rose doesn't know how she could ever mistake it, no matter how her thoughts wander. In trying to open her eyes, Rose realises that they're already wide open; just rolled back into her skull, making flashes of colour blur the dim room black. She blinks, imagines herself to look like a startled cat, and exhales weakly, meaning for it to come out as a laugh. Jade's hold on her jaw loosens, and though Rose's eyes have yet to properly focus, she feels her slump down next to her.
Bringing a hand up to wipe the blood away, Rose only succeeds in smearing grime across her lips, and then tastes it on her tongue short moments later. One of the trolls calls out that she isn't looking so good, and Jade snaps back that he should go to hell; only she translates the phrase literally, and nobody fully grasps what she's getting at. It's not until Jade reaches up to take Rose's hand that she realises she's still frantically rubbing her fingers against her lips and cheeks, brittle nails catching on already bruised skin.
what did you do this time?
Now's not the time for one of your poorly formulated lectures, Harley.
ummm considering the fact that youre going to get your skull CRACKED OPEN if you keep this up
i would say that now is actually the perfect time for one of my lectures
and its not a lecture rose
its actually called common sense
They're not going to crack my skull. Do you have any idea how many pounds of precise pressure that would take? With the way that they insist on using their hands, generally splayed out but often knuckles-first, the force is too widely distributed to do much in the way of reducing my cranium to a mere eggshell. Not to mention the fact that the temples aren't often targeted.
im not sure if thats supposed to make me feel better but it doesnt
not even a little bit!!
now are you going to tell me what you did?
Go to sleep.
you cant just tell me to sleep whenever youre avoiding the question
you do this every time
Perhaps. But you honestly do look tired.
this isnt how i look when im tired rose
this is how i look when im worried
you know because ive just spent the last few hours waving my hand in front of your face to get you to zone back in
My apologies. The next time I'm taken for a "physical check-up," I'll be nothing if not entirely compliant. Because surely, being unconscious throughout the whole procedure is a saving grace I could do without.
stop making airquotes
it doesnt make you look as smart as you think it does
And? Out of ways to insult my intelligence already?
and i wish youd stop being such a troublemaker rose
things would be so much easier for you
uuugh what is it now?
What's what when?
whenever you say "i see" it just means that you think im talking nonsense
Now you're the one making airquotes. It's actually vaguely endearing, possibly spurred on by the fact that the high-pitched ringing in the back of my head is making things feel all the more pleasant than they usually do.
As for what I see, it's that you ask me to, presumably, follow in your example, as if you yourself aren't masked in a multitude of bruises.
well duh of course i am
but not as many as you are!!
That's nothing to be proud of.
youre so infuriating sometimes, you know???
but youre not sorry are you?
With a sigh, Jade gives up arguing, but there's a warmth there that Rose finds more and more difficult to comprehend as time passes. Rolling her shoulders back, Rose tries to get comfortable against the wall, as if she's ever managed to succeed in doing so, and inevitably finds that her body only aches less when she rearranges herself fully against Jade. Jade's arms wrap around her in heavy, clunky movements, but it's as close to perfect as Rose will ever experience. Her face ends up pressed into Jade's long, tangled hair, and though Rose tries to breathe in something other than the scent of bleach, dirt and dried sopor slime, that's really all there is to it. From time to time, when she allows herself to think of a better life (or a life at all), she wonders how Jade's hair would feel if she had something other than her fingers to comb through it; how it would smell if the breeze of an island's ocean was the only thing that touched it.
Rose closes her eyes, all of the flat humour she garnered from her recent beating lost to even herself, and listens to the sounds of the cage all around her. The other slaves speak in hushed voices, but they never have conversations. After so many years of captivity, they only have loose, fragmented sentences to throw around, and nobody cares to hear what anyone else has to say. They only want to take in their own voices, as if checking that certain parts of themselves still work. Rose doesn't know how she manages to speak with Jade like this after so long, but she's grateful for it beyond reason. When she wonders to herself why she hasn't simply gone through with the arduous but rewarding process of killing herself, she usually comes to the conclusion that she has to stay here for Jade, because Jade is certainly here in part, if not in whole, for her.
It's a lot easier than admitting to herself that she might be too scared to go through with it. She may goad her handlers into liberally taking the anger they hold against her kind out on her, but there's always a flash of something in the back of her mind when it goes too far that tells her there's a line she can never cross, because there'll be no going back. Rose writes lists, in her mind, of how she could do it; badly formed sonnets devoted entirely to how easy it would be. Humans are a novelty on Alternia, something that the trolls don't fully understand, least of all biologically. They wouldn't know how to save her. Rose imagines herself on her back, bleeding out, fleshed peeled back with a piece of plastic she'd managed to sharpen enough to show layers of herself that should never be on display, gurgling on something that was neither blood or emotion, wanting them to piece her back together, heart pounding the blood out of her body all the faster from the fear of knowing that it's all over.
But it's just a fantasy. One that's a lot more productive than dreaming of escape.
She leaves that much to Jade. Rose knows that she's never given up hope on being rescued in some capacity or another, though they know well enough that neither of them have anyone waiting for them back on Earth. That's the reason they're all there, the humans; they went unlisted, unwanted, dehumanised by omission. Well, that isn't entirely true. There's always Jade's dog. Jade still speaks of him now and again, as if he's going to be the one to save her. She speaks of her island, too, because they (the authorities in some vague sector dealing with island-ownership, Rose assumes) told her that it would be hers as soon as she came of age, and she's almost eighteen now, and isn't that a perfect time to go back home, Rose?
Rose wishes she wouldn't speak like that, but she doesn't have it in her to silence her. Hearing Jade be so unwaveringly optimistic about things never fails to make her head pound, but Rose doesn't know what she'd get out of telling her that she has nobody, not a damn soul, down on Earth. Jade would only say something about how it didn't matter, because she has her, and Rose longs to hear those words as much as the thought of them repulses her. She has grown accustomed to the thought of somebody having her, the whole of her, because she is nothing but a slave now, even though she may not yet have an owner.
If somebody is going to lay claim to her, it may as well be Jade. She may as well keep her arms wrapped tightly around her, and let Jade hold her until she is all but unconscious; and when she wakes, there they'll be, under an orange-gold sun that seems so much more impressive now that she has nothing but the memory of it burned into the back of her mind to go on. Back on Earth, on an island that she's never set foot on. An island that probably doesn't even exist. But in the grand scale of things, it doesn't matter what is and isn't true about Jade, because the fact that she's there is more than enough. Staring through the obvious cracks in Jade's mind is enough to keep her own loosely intact, because there's nothing like observation to make her all the more self-aware.
Rose has problems. She knows that. After all the time spent on Alternia, she'd have problems if she didn't have problems. Her fingertips are red-raw from working and the way she rubs them against the backs of her wrists, the corners of her jaw, the protruding bones in her shoulders, like there's something to wear away. She eats less than the little she's afforded, as if her handlers are going to care that she tries to use up more calories than she consumes, in a passive-aggressive shitfit of displaying her disdain for their culinary skills. (Besides, it's more important that Jade gets to eat than she does.) At times, she wants to ask Jade about her own little quirks, the way she endlessly brushes at her own hair, twisting it around her fingers, batting it out of her eyes, like any of it matters when every day it's the same thing over and over, until the overall effect is that they've lived their miserable little lives for no longer than a day, but no less than a lifetime.
She wants to ask Jade about the truth of her past, but then Jade would ask her about her mother, and for some reason, keeping thoughts of the woman down saps away all the energy that she'd otherwise use to formulate lies about her. So in the end, Rose lives out her days on Alternia with Jade, never questioning the girl's stories out loud, beyond what could probably be written off as playful teasing. Although she says it all flatly, and more often than not, Jade gets offended. When the dizziness in the back of Rose's mind momentarily retreats into the shadows, Jade repositions them both, and Rose finds herself lying with her head on Jade's chest.
The gentle rhythm of her breathing in and out lulls Rose's mind into a state of false security, and makes it a little easier to think clearly. As easy as it can ever be, at least. She thinks of the next night, of what they'll be taught, what they'll have to learn. It's strange to think how much she misses her early days in the institute, when the handlers were concerned mainly with teaching them the troll tongue. When she'd actually been allowed to sit and write, even if the symbols she scrawled with a shaking, bony hand weren't of her world. Jade always says she likes the way the writing looks, because it reminds her of the characters carved into the ancient stone walls of the ruins around her house. Quite the archaeological find, Rose thinks, and a shame that nobody ever got to properly excavate it. (Not that what isn't there can be excavated, but she digresses.) Jade always says that she dreams of golden cities and smooth, white faces, and Rose tries to smile at this, because she can't imagine anything further from her own nightmares.
They don't write anymore. Nor do they read, or get to sit in some sort of parody of a classroom where corporal punishment was not only employed, but its use encouraged. They clean. They scrub, they wash, and then they scrub some more. Rose wonders how many household chores they can be expected to be put through, but every night, it's some new gruelling monotony to sweat through. She goes to work with Jade, and she stands with her shoulders hunched and her nails digging crescents into her palms when Jade does something wrong and has to learn from her mistakes. Rose never tries to intervene, these days. After the first few mutual efforts, they came to the silent agreement that it just wasn't worth it. But she always watches, unable to take her eyes off Jade, because she wants her to realise that she knows she's strong enough to withstand it. She's far stronger than Rose has ever been, if only because of the unfaltering belief in her own imagination.
Feeling Jade's chest rise and fall, a flash of a life that could be tears through Rose's mind too quickly for her to take any of it in. But she thinks she might like it, if they were both on Earth and they were both free; she truly does believe that something other than the circumstances they've found themselves in allows her tolerate Jade as she does. They may be worlds apart, despite being from the same planet, but that alone should not dictate what they mean to one another. A sensation beyond desperation brings them together, and Rose could be struck a thousand times around the head until her skull fell to pieces like jigsaw puzzle and still not forget what Jade has said to her, meant to her, whether it was all true or not.
If nothing else, Rose knows that even when they're eventually torn away from one another, she'll always be able to share in the familiarity of knowing that they'll both continue to breathe until their very last breath. Through bleary eyes, Rose looks up at her, nose pressed to the line of her jaw. Jade bows her head to kiss her, and they both taste as bad as one another.