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In Which a Prying Blonde Tries to Coerce a Not-So-Foreign-Exchange Student into Joining The Slam Poetry Team and Receives Dating Advice in the Process

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The first time you see Damara Megido come into the shop, you're more than a little taken aback. You got used to hanging out at Firefly whenever you had free time from class or other on-campus duties back when you dated Kanaya in your first year of college, since it was the cafe she and her sister worked for during the school year. It's a little out of the way, a few blocks from campus, but the coffee is both tastier and more affordable than you can get in the college's coffee shop or, heaven forbid, the cafeteria.

You and Kanaya have opted to take a little break from your relationship, but, in her words, you Refuse To Let It Come Between You. You know you're still sweet on her, she definitely resides in one of the few soft spots on your heart, but things weren't working out between you in the physical realm. You are demonstrative where she is not, and she was, well, a bit stifling and worrisome where you needed breathing space. It makes you feel a bit weird, seeing her now, and that's mostly because while you miss kissing her, it doesn't hurt as much as you thought it would to not be her girlfriend.

You're confounded to see Megido come into Firefly, in part, because you'd never seen her there before, and moreso because the first of their hopefully monthly poetry nights was about to begin. You have a bit of free-verse tucked into your pocket, and your fingers around a paper cup of caramel latte.

There isn't a microphone, or a need for one; Kanaya turns the radio off and Porrim clears her throat efficiently. There's silence for a moment and you feel like you can hear the way the candlelight flickers off the wall, the soft hum of the dim lightbulbs and brewing machines. You're hesitant to breathe for a moment, because you have the sense it would disturb the universe.

Damara steps to the center, after Porrim introduces the night, then her. She moves sensually, swinging her hips in a way that must be intentional; you wonder if she's practiced it in the mirror to get her skirt flouncing just-so. She looks stereotypically Japanese, to the extent that you'd believed she was an international student when you first crossed paths; it was Kanaya who pointed out that she was a lifelong classmate of Porrim's, not to mention Aradia's older sister. In your defense, the Megido sisters have a mixed parentage; Damara inherited the almond-shaped eyes and straighter mass of hair. From what little Kanaya has told you, something happened to Damara in high school and she moved back to Japan for a few years to distance herself, but Porrim never told her more than that. You're deeply interested in the kind of poetry Damara writes, and you imagine it's quite visceral, carnal, and blunt.

Some of the hair that's fallen out of Damara's bun hangs in her face, and she looks up right through it. She licks her lip, and her weight shifts from one leg to both.

“Not pretty.
Tattooed on body.
Unwanted.

Once was loved.
Tasted affection.
Then abused.

Love is pain.
But my heart believes
It wants more.”

There is a stunned silence, so you imagine it's not just you who is surprised at the more subtle, emotional poem. Someone breaks into applause, though, and like a spell is cast on the room everyone begins clapping. With a curtsy you guess is more than a little ironic, Damara heads back to her seat. Porrim follows and introduces the next reader, and try as you might to focus you find your thoughts drifting. You want Damara for your slam poetry team, reputation be damned. A walking bombshell, practically the picture of a schoolgirl fetish, who can spit out stanzas like they're arrows aimed right for the gut?

It's not until Porrim invites you to take the floor that you realize you might be swooning, just a little bit. A sip of your drink helps you regain your Lalonde composure (which, come to think of it, probably isn't a thing given Roxy), and stride to the middle of the floor with your head held high. When you finish your poem, your eyes focus right on Damara, who has candlelight flickering off of her sharp cheekbones and looks just as intense and put-together as ever, no visible sign of the vulnerability she just displayed. As the audience applauds you, your lip turns up in a smile meant mostly for her, really. And as you turn back to your seat, you manage to succeed in not turning back around to check.

You share your idea to invite Damara onto the slam poetry team with Kanaya the next afternoon, after your only shared class, Early Childhood Development. She hums in what you recognize to be her doleful way, and then shakes her head.

“From what I know of Damara, I honestly can't see her going for it. I don't think she's involved in any extracurriculars.”

“Well, then perhaps it's time for her to start,” you counter. “I'm sure I could convince her.”

“While your powers of seduction are quite impressive, I don't think they're quite ready to take on Damara Megido,” Kanaya shrugs. “She's seductive too, and she isn't very trusting.”

“But she was. We know she has a vulnerable side.”

“Don't tell me you plan on using it against her?”

“No,” you respond firmly. Emotionally manipulating someone who has already been hurt is a low to which you are not willing to sink, no matter how cunning you may pride yourself on being. “I'll just have to figure out how to appeal to it.”

You find Damara in the library's computer room. She has a word processor on-screen, empty except for her name, and there's a chat window open over it with Japanese text.

“Damara?” You call softly, standing a few inches behind her; you'd hate to start this off by startling her. “Damara?”

She turns to you brusquely, but you're not sure she actually looks to see who you are. “This computer is taken,” Damara snaps. “I have an essay.”

“Oh, no,” you reply. “I'm not here for the computer. I'm here for you.” You pause to let that sink in, and then continue, “I was hoping you had a minute.”

“Lalonde?” She asks curiously, after she turns properly. “What do you need?”

“I heard you perform at Firefly's poetry reading last night. You were incredible.”

Damara eyes you somewhat critically, but you keep a genuine smile on. She smiles too, eventually, and her shoulders relax a little. “Thank you. That was my first time reading in public.”

“But not your first poem, right?”

You wonder if that is really a bit of a blush on her cheeks, or if it's just makeup catching your attention as she shifts her head. “It was a simple haiku,” she says. “Three of them.”

“It was brilliant.” You reaffirm, but instead of more delight she seems a little put off.

“Do you need something? Flattery will get you nowhere.”

“It's not empty flattery,” you're quick to add. “I wanted to ask you to join the slam poetry team.”

“Slam poetry...?” She echoes, and you can tell she wasn't expecting that. “What's that?”

“They're competitions in which participants write and perform original poetry onstage, typically free-verse. The result ends up sounding a bit like hip-hop, or rap. And there is a judging, of course, but winning isn't always the objective, it is about the craft. And you are a natural.”

“Again with flattery,” Damara finally says. “Aren't you little Maryam's girl?”

“Not anymore,” you say, and curse yourself because that was a little too quick. Damara laughs at you, and pets your cheek.

“You cannot go from the kiddie pool to swim in the ocean. Especially not when you are so in love with your kiddie pool.”

You're forced to swallow the condescension because you really do want her for your team. There is only so much of Dave's not-rapping you can tolerate, and you're pretty sure the judges are on the same page.

“I am pretty sure slam poetry has nothing to do with 'swimming'.” You snap anyways.

“That is what your eyes were asking for,” Damara responded, turning back to the computer. “Better luck next time, Rosie.”

Kanaya puts the coffee cup down in front of you, and her lips are pursed into her ever-present worried pout.

“Your poor ego,” she coos at you. You glare but she's immune enough to it that she just laughs. “Don't give me that, I did try to warn you. There were other good poets here, why not go after one of them?”

“It has to be her. She's the one who caught my attention,” you huff. “She's so raw. Nothing like Dave's self-censored, 'I'm not gay,' bit.”

“Raw, hm?” Kanaya echoes, cleaning the filters out of the decaf machine. “Is that your taste these days? Am I too refined for your liking anymore?”

You sit up quickly. You didn't detect bitterness, but then again, it's Kanaya and she's good at that.

“Damara did compare you to a kiddie pool,” you shrug. “She also said I still seem to be in love with that kiddie pool.”

One of her eyebrows arches elegantly. “I see. I don't think there's a point to asking if you still are?”

You look at Kanaya and she's looking at you, and you realize you miss her. But you're hesitant to do anything about it right now. You don't want to hurt her more. So you shrug and she seems to understand, taking the used coffee filters to the trash wordlessly.

“Damara Megido, this is a formal invitation from the founder and president of the Slam Poetry club, requesting that you join us in club activities starting immediately.”

You've found her on campus, and you're pretty sure she was talking to a boy but you don't care. You are a woman with a mission. Sensing your no nonsense attitude, or maybe sensing an opening, the boy scurries off, and Damara turns to you with a huff.

“Hello Lalonde,” she smiles artificially. “I have a poem for you today.”

“Oh?” You say, trying not to get your hopes up. “Alright, lay it on me.”

“Wouldn't you like that,” she teases, then clears her throat and stands up a little straighter.

“Reclusive
And I prefer that.
It is no.”

She's smiling demurely, and you huff.

“Is that so?
You need a hobby.
Come with me.”

You feel smug to see Damara's eyebrows shoot up, and even moreso when she actually, genuinely grins.

“Play my game?
If I am crazy,
You are worse.”

“Freestyle?
Perfect for slamming.
Bring it on.”

“Understand!
Nothing can make me
Join your team.”

You look her in the eye and do your best to let your guard down.

“We need you.
More importantly,
You need us.”

Damara looks uncomfortable, and you realize that, unfortunately, a few students have stopped to witness your impromptu poetry battle. You give them a sharp, withering look, and most of them have the grace to look ashamed, and walk away.

“So, what you do say, Damara? Will you join us?”

“...On one condition,” Damara finally said. “You will stop forcing yourself into unhappiness and return to little Maryam.”

She smiles knowingly at you, and you can't help but smile back.

“Deal. Oh, but then how will I find the angst to write good poetry?” You ask dramatically, and Damara rolls her eyes. You like to think it's affectionate.

“You will manage,” she nodded. “And I will help.”