They argue, constantly, whether they are engaged in something or not. Kanaya doesn’t understand how they can consider it a matespritship – but then again, they do not. They call it dating, they call themselves girlfriends, and usually one of them giggles and Kanaya does not judge, tries not to judge, holds her judgements to herself. They have welcomed her into their shared hive, shared home. Rose has welcomed Jade and Kanaya into her otherwise empty home.
It remains Rose’s home, even as Jade leaves pieces of herself everywhere, to arguments about messes and organization and who moved what now. Rose is not much neater but it does not matter, she insists, because her supplies of paper and pens and yarn do not hurt to trip on, whereas Jade’s projects are often a haphazard combination of sharp, small, and radioactive threats left out for bare feet to discover late at night.
Kanaya soothes Rose carefully, helps pick the jagged piece of metal from her heel, reminds her that Jade does not mean such things to be intentional, that Jade is not plotting behind her back. She wonders how much Rose believes, sometimes, as the human rages in a brittle, cold and quiet way. Kanaya eases the tensions with a flow of words and helps Rose see that Jade needs her own space in the home where her projects can be made, places that can be hers and not simply borrowed from Rose and subject to her whims.
Rose takes it as a challenge, as she does everything, and Kanaya is grateful that Jade never seems to notice when the human is being intentionally obtuse, intentionally harsh, hoping for another argument to hone the edge of her wits against. Jade is so simple and straightforward that she never sees the layers that Rose painstakingly crafts into her gifts and overtures. Rose sets aside space and orders in supplies and gives Jade a room stripped of Wizards and Breakables and has an entire wall dedicated to shelving and Jade doesn’t even catch the sharp hooked verbal barb about keeping things off the floor or remembering the people who feed her. She throws her arms around Rose’s neck and kisses her fiercely, cheek cheek lips, and Kanaya watches as another brick in the wall around Rose Lalonde falls under the attack that is Jade Harley’s affection.
Kanaya leaves before they remember she is there, before they can accuse her of spying, before she loses her nerve because she wishes she could stay.
She retreats to her room, her block, her personal space that she has hardly put a mark on because she does not know how long she can remain here, and she’s afraid that if she acts as if it is permanent she will only end up disappointing herself.
They don’t share interests so much as they share their enthusiasm for their interests. Rose does not at all care that the Higgs Boson might have been discovered or that bees have emotions as proven in scientific tests or that scientists found life that survives off of a poison called arsenic. Jade doesn’t find fantasy interesting and is bored before she’s halfway through any of Rose’s favourite novels and refuses to even sit in the room when Project Runway is on. Rose reads excerpts from the magazines that arrive like clockwork and Jade’s eyes glaze over in polite interest as the inner workings of the mind is ‘cool and all, but not that exciting’ when compared to the world around them. Jade gets wide-eyed and wild and runs through the house when something particularly exciting appears in her mailbox or newsfeeds, sometimes causing her to go on for the better part of an hour about black holes and dark matter while Rose knits and nods at appropriate moments. Kanaya waits and watches because eventually one of them will realize the other isn’t listening and then it doesn’t matter the reasons why, hurt feelings take precedence to all logic.
When the next argument is about to start she leads Jade out to the garden and away from Rose and she lets the girl take out her pent-up frustrations on weeds and dirt and moving aggravating rocks. Jade is built for physical action and for all that Rose feels she has plenty of space in her hive, her home, it does not compare to an island and the work Jade had become accustomed to. The garden helps and Kanaya is glad for the time to share with her as she rants about people who don’t appreciate how awesome space is or how there is a new answer to the quantum gravity problem and it’s wrong wrong wrong! One day she will show those assholes at Berkeley, and when Kanaya sits back on her heels in the dirt and the sun and says explain it to me it’s worth the lost time in the garden or the stains on her clothes for the way Jade’s eyes light up and she starts in on quantum superpositioning.
Rose comes out later, joining them as a silent sort of apology even though she only digs half-heartedly and inches around the dirt and bugs. She tries though, which is all Jade notices or cares about, and all three spend the afternoon with dirt under their nails and weeds in a pile and pumpkin seeds all in a row because Jade really wants to grow pumpkins. Rose is out in a thin shirt and no hat and it’s far too late when anyone realizes she’s burnt. They lead her carefully inside and Jade laughs and Kanaya winces even as the girl’s hands are gentle as they soothe aloe across Rose’s bare red shoulders. Jade doesn’t know to stay when she’s finished – she has projects to do! So she kisses Rose’s dirt-smudged cheek and dashes off to her math and her work and Rose’s face goes horrifically hollow and then, even more frighteningly, blank. Kanaya tugs her to the couch and it takes several hours of recorded television – What Not to Wear and Project Runway and Fashion Weekly before the colour returns to her cheeks and the light to her eyes. She falls asleep tucked against Kanaya’s side and the troll spends the rest of the night sketching, gathered waists and long trains and a palette of violet and pink in her mind’s eye. It’s a pointless exercise – Rose has all the clothing she could need and she doesn’t require more dresses when – as she has pointed out – she hardly has reason to dress up. Kanaya keeps the distraction because otherwise she will bend down and kiss the girl’s pale forehead and she cannot. She will not.
Vriska asks her what the hell she thinks she’s doing and in a fit of honesty she tells the troll A Sort Of Ashen Mediation Between Two Matesprites and Vriska laughs so long and so hard that Kanaya blocks her, shuts off the computer completely and spends the rest of the day wandering the woods around Rose and Jade’s home. When she returns they ask if something is wrong and she says it’s nothing and they let her lie.
Autumn comes cold and hard and Jade grows more and more restless, as though she’s really more plant than human. The daylight grows short and it’s too cold to garden and for a little while she handles it by throwing herself into projects. She spends three days straight trying to recreate the transportalizer and she doesn’t stop so much as her body shuts down. Rose finds her delirious in the kitchen, pouring coffee into her cereal and every can in the pantry stripped of their labels and stacked into a castle on the table. She has to convince Jade that there are no monsters under her bed before she will sleep and Kanaya finds them later, curled together with their feet tangled under the Squiddle sheets, Rose brushing Jade’s hair as Jade talks about the dream she had where she was a fish and she swam through rainbows and it was wonderful she never knew how fun normal dreams could be!. They both look up at Kanaya and the troll thinks her smile is normal and not at all noteworthy as she nods and backs out of the room and shuts the door behind her but Jade and Rose share a look even if neither of them quite know what to make of it.
The peace doesn’t last, of course - there are only so many things Jade can fix or make before she’s mad with cabin fever and it’s only October. The solution comes with the sound of gunshots and makes Rose pale but Jade glow. Suddenly hunting is the only thing they argue about; Rose refusing to let Jade get a licence and Jade hurt that Rose might think she can’t look after herself. Kanaya knows it isn’t that, not really, not at all. Rose is worried for Jade - of course she is – but it’s because she finds hunting distasteful and she wants to keep it away from Jade, wants to change her nature. It isn’t fair – but neither are the words that Jade throws at Rose when she’s upset. Rose ends up storming out of the room before she can cry and Jade doesn’t understand, not at all, why Rose would cry when she’s angry. Kanaya has to explain that it isn’t anger and that Rose is not attempting to be a Lusus; she worries that if she pities these two humans any more her heart will, in fact, break from the strain.
Rose doesn’t accept but she does relent when Kanaya finds her later and promises to stay with Jade and ensure she doesn’t get in trouble. She reminds Rose that Jade has hunted for herself for years and that she may not always need to do so, but for now it is something for her to do, something physical and active and familiar. Rose does not give her blessing – she sleeps through the early mornings they leave on and never wishes them luck. She doesn’t comment on the things Jade brings back, her lips pressed together in a thin line. She spends the time Jade works cleaning and dressing her kills – such strange terms – typing on her computer or knitting, both leaving the room filled with an aggressive clicking sound, as if she can take her frustrations out one clack click at a time.
Kanaya doesn’t know how to fix matters, this time, because she loves the mornings with Jade more than she could have been prepared to. Jade – loud and rambunctious and vibrant and always thinking of a thousand things at any moment - is so very different when they leave at first light, false dawn tinting the world a strange and murky blue. She is quiet, focused, intense. She’s never hunted in this sort of place, she admits, this sort of ecosystem, but the ideas remain the same. She moves like a troll, Kanaya thinks, and it’s so beautiful she can forgive how terribly noisy the gun is in the otherwise silence. Jade never misses a shot, and the older men in muddy brown and green print and orange vests laugh when they see both girls at first – and then stop laughing and turn thoughtful when they see Jade’s kills. When one of them finds out her grandfather was Jake Harley he nearly follows them home, until Jade tells him off. She’s fiercer, with a weapon in her hand. More confident. More controlled. She tells Kanaya it’s because she has to be – that accidents happen when she isn’t careful and guns can kill.
Kanaya thinks there is more to it than that, the way Jade looks away and her voice drops, but Jade doesn’t elaborate and instead of questions they go home and Rose has tea waiting for them.
The first major snowfall has them stuck inside the house for days. Rose isn’t worried – they have more than enough to keep them set for a month if it comes to it, she assures Kanaya and Jade, not that Jade is worried. She lived alone on an island, she reminds Rose, she’ll be fine. That confidence lasts for five days as the snow builds so thick going out into the woods is impossible and Jade has taken apart every appliance and put most of them back together in somewhat working order. She paces around the house, drifting from room to room until Rose sets her down on the couch between her and Kanaya and forces her to pick up a pair of knitting needles.
It’s the knitting that finally does them in.
Rose isn’t patient when she teaches, and Jade turns to Kanaya for help. Kanaya flushes when Rose glares but she sets Jade back on track, guiding her fingers and showing the pattern rather than describing it. And Jade kisses her cheek in thanks because the pattern is so simple and Kanaya just wants to abscond, but she cannot, she has a lap full of yarn she is detangling for Rose and so she tries not to blush further and listens to the crackle of the fireplace and the clicking of needles. The peace lasts for all of an hour.
It’s a pattern, and so Jade understands it. It doesn’t take long for the muscles in her fingers to retain the action and her first scarf looks like an example piece from a book – the first few inches lose and wavering and the last foot tight and clean and perfectly even, the transition period not all that large between the two. Jade is bored so Rose teaches her a new stitch – and then another, and then another, one Rose herself has been struggling with, Kanaya knows. Jade masters it in the hour and wiggles on the couch, needing movement and action and declaring it all too dull and boring and easy – which is the very last straw.
The fight covers half a year’s worth of grievances – everything from who uses all the hot water to things thrown out that weren’t garbage to sunburns and burnt food and erased television shows and animal brutality and Kanaya tries to interject but they both turn and tell her to mind her own business – and then Rose is accusing Jade of cheating on her, on her with Kanaya. She accuses her of red infidelity and Kanaya finds she cannot breathe, no not at all. She absconds even as she hears the slap of a hand against a cheek and oh Mother, by the Mother, she is lost.
She spends the night packing her things carefully – she does not have much. She knew somehow that this was doomed before it even began. You cannot be ashen for those you are red for – she knew that and still she tried – and if she remains she will no longer be able to lie to herself and think that she is helping. Now she is hurting and she will not be the cause that drives these two girls apart. They are good together. They love one another, fiercely and passionately and if she leaves they will learn to deal with their differences with each other together, they won’t rely on her to help, they will be better for it. She tells herself this as she folds away fabric and sketchbooks, the dried flowers from the garden wrapped in the jade green shawl that Rose had given her only a week prior.
She realizes her folly as the morning light pierces through her window and burns away most of her self pity. She is still trapped here until the roads are cleared of their abundance of snow, until she can make a path from the door to the driveway, until she can find a place to go, and somehow get there. She is as trapped as Jade has been and she can only sympathise with the girl further – which is the wrong feeling to have, she cannot have it – so she locks her emotions away and washes her face and neatens her hair and heads downstairs to face the day, the girls, the truth.
Rose and Jade are bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, circles under their eyes as they look up at Kanaya from their seats around the kitchen table, matching cups in their hands. One holds coffee, one hot chocolate, and Kanaya thinks she will miss that mingled scent in her mornings terribly. They’re sitting side by side and she tries not to show how relieved she is that they’ve come to an understanding. She’s surprised when Rose stands and motions for Kanaya to take her usual seat – and pours a cup of tea for her, the hot water ready as if they knew she was coming.
“We need to talk.” Rose says, as she sets the mug in front of Kanaya, motions still slow and tired.
“Well, we need to talk to you. We already talked to each other all night.” Jade explains, blowing on her coffee and sipping at it in tiny motions, wincing as it scalds her tongue.
Kanaya locks her hands around her own mug so she will not show the trembling in her fingers, her hands, her own exhaustion. She stares at the liquid, focusing on the floating teabag. The little string and label meant to help extract the bag are floating inside the cup. The paper is slowly soaked and starts to sink and Kanaya tries to sympathise with that instead of her own conflicted feelings. “I have already packed my belongings. As soon as arrangements can be made, I will leave.”
There’s a heartbeat of silence, one, two. “Do you want to leave?” Rose asks, so carefully it is obvious she is trying to be careful, not judgemental, as though she does not want this outcome herself.
“We weren’t going to ask you to, that wasn’t it at all!” Jade insists, and reaches for Kanaya’s hand, only stopping when the other girl flinches away.
“I must. I can’t stay. I...” She will be honest, she will be strong even if it terrifies her, to admit such weakness to the two humans she cares the most for, who let her into their home and shared themselves with her and she dared to want more from them. Physical strength comes easily to her - this sort of bravery does not. “I thought I was helping. Now I see I was only weakening your matespritship. I was, perhaps subconsciously--” no, coward, dreadful coward, “--perhaps rather more intentionally, trying to place myself in your relationship. I thought I could remain distant from my feelings but I have discovered I cannot.”
“You pity Jade.” Rose says, and it’s so gentle, so quiet, but the words are like nails into the soft wall of a hive, sealing a door shut. Kanaya winces and before she can defend herself Jade interrupts.
“I said you pitied Rose.”
She has to raise her head at that, because there’s no anger, no ire – and both humans are looking at her with gentle, tired expressions and smiles on their lips and she dares to find the strength to admit, hesitating on every word: “I – I believe... I have always... I pity you both. I’m sorry.”
She doesn’t see them move but they both have arms around her and she doesn’t realize she’s crying until Jade sniffs and pulls out a box of nose clearing tissue that was distinctly more full last night. Jade empties her own nose and the sound is more like a honk than anything Kanaya could otherwise call it and all three of them laugh, stress and anxiety and tension forcing them all to the point where they must laugh or they will cry.
“If you leave who will I have to share all my terrible fashion shows with? Who will proofread my stories?”
“And I can’t manage the garden in the spring on my own. Well, I could, but it wouldn’t be half so much fun!”
Kanaya shakes her head at the pair of them as they hold her hands and sit on the table in front of her and look down at her and smile at her. “But you fought over me. And I can’t remain, my feelings are stronger than my will, I would want – “
Rose is the one who leans down and kisses Kanaya’s cheek, stopping the flow of words as the troll’s lips work but no sound emerges. “I thought I was losing Jade to you. I couldn’t bear it, and I was jealous that she and you have so much in common. I should have said something sooner, but I’m occasionally too stubborn for my own good.”
Kanaya hears Jade giggle, but it’s a sound that seems miles away. Her cheek is still burning from that kiss. Jade was free with her affection. Rose was decidedly not.
“Jade and I spoke about it,” Rose continues, “and we’re both willing to compromise, if you are. I can’t bear to lose her. But I wouldn’t be. I’d be gaining you. We both would be.”
Kanaya meets her gaze, meets clear eyes that are open in a way she rarely gets to see. This is not a trick, not a sacrifice Rose is making for Jade’s happiness. This is Rose Lalonde at her most honest, her most true.
“I don’t want to go.” Kanaya admits, her voice so think with emotion it’s inelegant and embarrassing and she can’t find it within herself to care. Rose tugs her upwards and Kanaya folds the girl into her arms, against her chest, drinks in the motion and warmth and emotion that she never felt she’d allow herself to have again. Moments later Jade’s arms are around her back, her voice reverberating into Kanaya’s shoulder blades.
“You were silly to think you had to. You’re home, Kanaya. You don’t ever have to leave.”