“Heeeeeeeey!” Vriska bellows, sticking her head around the door in a flurry of hair and glittering piercings. For once in her life, the volume is justified; the clatter and roar of the engine swallows her voice. Undeterred, Vriska shoves her way in, bounding over an open toolbox (the fourth-best, or something) and five spare parts. Around two pipes and the gearbox, she finds her quarry, who’s got an access hatch open and is head and shoulders deep in the hyperdrive, dirty rags piled around her feet. “HEY!” Vriska repeats, flicking her long black braid; the other girl’s shoulders twitch, and she might say something, but with the hatch open there’s not a single word comprehensible. “Ja-ADE!” Vriska tries, and smacks her ass.
Jade jumps, but doesn’t straighten; instead she sticks one hand out behind her, shoving three callused brown fingers in Vriska’s face and shaking them. Vriska glares ineffectively, tugs one proffered finger towards her mouth, then considers the coating of space grit and engine grease and thinks better of it. Pouting, she retreats a few feet to lean against the casing of the third main engine, arms and ankles crossed. After a moment, she adjusts the brim of her hat, runs her fingers through the plume on it, and resumes her pose.
Finally Jade pulls herself out of the hyperdrive’s intestines, scrubbing her fingers on the edge of yet another rag. She’s got black smudged across her throat, her forehead, even her ears, and when she sees Vriska, she giggles, shoving her goggles onto her forehead before she slams the hatch shut on the worst of the noise. “Well, hey there, dashing!” she calls, hands on her hips. “What’s up?”
“What do you think?” Vriska snorts, shoving off the engine-case to stand. “When the gravity generator’s working –”
“Shit!” Jade’s already tugging her goggles down over her glasses again, turning for the door, Vriska half-forgotten. “I swear I checked it, it should be fine, I –” she mutters, already reaching for a toolbox; Vriska grabs for one filthy elbow, rolling her eyes.
“It is, stupid!” she snaps. “Geez, it was a joke. Calm down!”
“Oh.” Jade laughs, turning back as her shoulders slacken. Shoving her goggles up this time leaves another smudge along her forehead and tugs a few dark wisps of hair into her face, falling into her eyes. Vriska steps back before she thinks, then shrugs, fiddling with her hat a little more. “Sorry,” Jade continues, cheeks going darker. “I guess I’m nervous. I just don’t want to let you guys down!”
“Jeez, calm down,” Vriska orders, patting the freshly-tuned hyperdrive affectionately. “You’re on the best ship in space. But that’s not what I came down here about.” Jade raises her eyebrows, hooking her thumbs into her utility belt; Vriska rummages through the pockets of her coat, finding half a sausage, a pack of chewable smokeleaf, and four perfectly ordinary dice before unearthing a package of greasy brown paper.
“I brought you a present!” she explains, beaming, and shoves it out, clumsily folding Jade’s fingers around the bundle. Jade bats her hands away and slowly starts unknotting the twine. Vriska twists her hands in front of her and quickly shoves them into her pockets, positions herself carefully against the hyperdrive and then ruins the effect by leaning forward as Jade unfolds layer after layer of paper, smoothing it steadily back, and finally tips out a gleaming pendant the size of her palm, decorated gold with a deep-green stone as big around as an eyeball set in the center.
“Ohhh, gorgeous,” Jade enthuses, turning it over and over in her hands. She leaves faint smudges of grime on the gold, and Vriska grins; then Jade bites her lip. Her hands go still, and she looks up. “Vriska,” she says quietly, eyebrows scrunched together, “you won this in a game planetside, right? Or it’s not real, and you bought it?”
“He was coming at me with a cutlass the size of your arm!” Vriska yelps, gesturing at Jade’s noticeably muscled arms for emphasis. “What was I supposed to do, stand there and let him come at me? He was drunk as a stinkbeast and fucking huge!” She’s half yelling at this point, one hand twisting into a fist inside her pockets, shoulders hunched. “I didn’t even start the fight, I just took that off him afterwards, jeez!” Jade’s still gnawing at her lip, mouth turned down as she stares at the necklace, and Vriska shoves herself standing, huffing out. “Look, if you don’t want it –” She grabs for it, throat tight.
“No, no, I like it!” Jade protests, pulling back. “It’s really pretty, Vriska, thank you.” She smiles, turning the pendant in between her hands again, and Vriska relaxes back against the engine again, sighing into the hum of it against her bones. “I understand, I really do,” Jade continues, tugging at the chain until she finds the clasp, “I mean, sometimes you just have to, right? Especially when they start it, and they won’t listen.” She loops the chain around the back of her neck; the pendant drops perfectly just above her breasts, although it looks utterly absurd over her rough grease-stained smock. “I just don’t want you killing people for no reason,” she continues, eyes focusing somewhere over Vriska’s head as she fumbles with the fastening. “Hey, can you come do this?”
“You’re not no reason, idiot,” Vriska objects, slipping behind Jade and flicking her braid over her shoulder. “You’re my fucking matespirit.” (Purely As A Matter Of Interest Did I Ever Mean Anything To You. Vriska rolls her eyes and shakes the memory off – that was sweeps ago, why is she even thinking about it – and grabs for the clasp, nudging Jade’s fingers out of the way.
“I don’t want you killing random people for me either!” Jade argues, voice echoing off the walls, but she holds herself still and lets Vriska work at the fastening. It’s more complicated than she realized – why didn’t Jade just pull it over her head, anyway? humans can do that, they don’t have horns – and she digs at it with her fingernails, glaring.
“Humans are really bad at romance,” she grumbles, and finally makes the necklace work. She fiddles with the chain a little, making sure it lies flat against Jade’s skin. She’s kind of fascinated by Jade’s skin, actually, a little softer and a lot warmer than hers, golden-brown where Vriska’s used to gray. “How do you know you care about each other at all if you won’t kill for each other?”
“I’ll believe you without you proving it,” Jade promises, fidgeting a little. Vriska lets the chain go and steps away, but not without giving Jade’s rear an appreciative squeeze for luck. Jade grabs for Vriska to do the same, misses, and continues right on, “but I promise if I ever actually need anybody dead, I’ll ask you first!”
“Well, duuuuuuuuh!” Vriska sticks out her tongue, then catches herself and tugs her shirt straight. Jade tugs the pendant up to where she can see it again and sets it spinning slowly on the chain, smiling. Even in the reddish vague light of the engine room, the stone sends flecks of green floating across her face, deeper and darker than her eyes. Vriska sighs, smiling just a little bit.
“It’s really beautiful,” Jade says at last, still watching the stone spin, still smiling. She blinks, lets the necklace fall back onto her chest, clattering against her buttons and beams at Vriska properly, all dull human teeth and dimples. “Thanks!” Vriska is still trying to work out the right answer to that when Jade turns away, digging through the nearest toolbox for who-knows what. “That reminds me,” she muses, settling an oversized wrench carefully on the engine room floor, “one of the crewmembers said something about how some people would have broken up with you for not bringing me anybody’s hearts yet, is that actually true?”
“Uh…” Vriska blinks, watching Jade’s smock pull tight over her thin shoulders before the question hits her. “It hasn’t been that long, only totally needy losers would be making a fuss about it now!” she guesses, really hoping that Jade doesn’t ask Karkat about it. Unless Vriska’s actually right. It probably won’t happen anyway; they’ve been getting pretty black for each other lately. She thinks. “What, do you want one? I can make sure it comes from some asshole, since that’s such a big deal.”
Jade shakes her head hard enough to set her braid bouncing behind her, and Vriska can see her wrinkling her nose. “No! I mean, no thanks,” she amends, discarding a hammer. Vriska wonders if not looking at people when she talks to them is a human thing or a Jade thing. “I just wanted to know if he was fucking with me, that’s all! Let’s stick to pretty things, and, uh… flowers and… food and stuff?”
“Sometimes people eat the hearts,” Vriska offers, and Jade drops a pair of pliers.
“Seriously?!” Her dive for the runaway tool gives Vriska an excellent view of her expression, which is kind of a cross between the face she makes when she doesn’t know why something is broken and the face Terezi made that time Vriska put a dead stinkbug in her strawberry-tomato hoofshit. “That’s kind of gross for humans, Vriska,” Jade continues, sitting back on her heels. “Cannibalism and stuff. Besides, I think hearts are some weird kind of other muscle, although I guess I don’t know if that’d actually change anything...” She trails off, gnawing at her lip, and then shakes her head. “But anyway! It’s kind of yucky, I don’t wanna do it unless I’m starving.”
“Right.” Vriska pauses. “I mean, yeah! Yeah, no hearts. That’s what I thought,” she says, tossing a couple spare dice in her hand. “That’s why I didn’t bring you back that pendant guy’s heart,” she chatters, “because I was pretty sure you wouldn’t want it!” Jade is still hunting through her toolbox, pure focus. She gets serene around her tools, calm. Vriska thuds her way across the room, stops right next to her. “Because I’m just intuitive like that,” she continues, rattling her dice right in Jade’s ear. “Best interspecies girlfriend in paradox space, I bet!”
Jade finally, finally looks up, beaming, and nods. “I sure like you!” she chirps, and grabs Vriska’s hand, pressing a kiss into the center of her palm, licking along her little finger for good measure. Vriska, because she is Vriska fucking Serket, does not melt like butter in an Alternian noon, and she doesn’t shove three more fingers into Jade’s mouth and beg her to do anything at all. She crosses her arms, burying her damp hot tingling fingers in the folds of her sleeves, and eyes the top of Jade’s head as she burrows through the box again.
“What are you looking for, anyway?” Vriska finally demands, after what feels like an eternity and is probably another twenty-seven seconds. Jade sits back again, barkbeast-like, and shrugs lopsidedly, stilling her hands on the edge of the box.
“I have a present for you too around here somewhere,” she explains, “or at least, I think it was in here, but I’ve been through most of it so maybe it’s in one of the other toolboxes.” She sighs, shoving a hand through the mass of screws and loose paper at the bottom of the box in front of her, and starts dropping tools back in. “I need to start using my reminders again, or something, your ship is too big to keep track of all my stuff.”
“Here.” Vriska rummages through her pockets, gives up after the third half-eaten bit of saltwater taffy that she pretends she doesn’t chew, and grabs for a fraying strand on her coat. Tug, tug, tug, and she snaps the thread between her teeth, rolls the hunk of it in her palm and tosses it to Jade, who snatches it from the air perfectly, bemused as she looks. “Improvise, right?”
“Sure,” Jade agrees, rolling the thread in her hand. She glances from Vriska to the twist of blue, then back, forth, back. Just when Vriska’s getting nervous, she stands, grin cracking open again as she breaks off a shorter length and ties it around her left ring finger. “There’s my first reminder, okay? Find Vriska’s present!”
“What is it, anyway?” Vriska asks, looping a propriety arm over Jade’s shoulders; she’s just a little bit too far away for it to work properly, and it’s awkward for a moment as she inches in to fit the two of them together properly, but Jade pretends not to notice, just loops her hand around Vriska’s waist, under her coat.
“It’s a surprise, silly!” she snorts, running her fingers along Vriska’s ribs, over the thin cotton of her shirt. She’s almost certainly staining it. There are no words for how completely Vriska does not care. Unfortunately, she can’t actually do anything similar except rub Jade’s shoulder, which seems weird, so she just leans into the touch for a moment and then starts steering Jade towards the door.
“Hey, where are you taking me?”
“Uh… dinner!” Vriska shrugs as best she can without dislodging either of their arms. “It’s pretty much dinnertime, and you’ve been all locked up in here with the engines foreeeeever. You gotta come out of there or you’ll never get used to having people around!” She barks her shins against the toolbox by the door and suppresses a wince. Jade hops over and grabs for Vriska’s hands, tugging as she hops across.
“I’m used to having people around!” she protests, once Vriska lands. Their faces are inches apart, and Jade leans in and pecks Vriska lightly on the mouth, too quick to see coming. “But it’s sweet of you to still be thinking about it.”
“Did you actually just call me fucking sweet?” is what Vriska does not say, because she is almost – almost – used to Jade Harley. Not, however, completely, which is why she doesn’t actually have it in her to say anything else; she just blinks, swallowing twice, and notices that Jade’s breath smells like applesauce and wheat. It isn’t particularly unpleasant, or pleasant either, but she notices anyway.
“Um,” Jade says, quietly, squeezing Vriska’s hands. The reminder-thread is still clutched in one, soft against the backs of Vriska’s fingers. “Just to be sure – don’t assume that just because I say something, it means I’m asking you, okay?” She bites her lip. “Like… if I say I want somebody to, to, to take a walk out an airlock, I don’t mean that I want you to take control of them and make them do it. Or… you know, anything like that. Make sure I was actually asking, okay?”
“Well, duh!” Vriska snorts, tucking the information away the way she does everything that’s important to remember. She looks away, tugs at Jade’s hands. “So, are we gonna go eat or are we gonna stand around in the doorway until we get cobwebs?”
Jade grins, dropping one hand to lead Vriska out by the other. “We’re going to go eat,” she says, lacing her fingers through Vriska’s. It’s comfortable, this time, and the calluses on her hands are wonderfully familiar.