There is fire and ice in her eyes as they meet yours. There is fire and ice and raw, bare emotions, and you shudder when she looks at you because she is an open book where you are used to encrypted pages.
You spend hours and days and weeks dancing around her, always finding excuses to leave when she’s close to cornering you, always clinging to the few walls you have left because you’re scared of what would happen if she was ever to look at you and see any more than indifference meeting her, and because no matter how easy it is to talk with the screen shielding you, facing her like this is a different thing entirely and you are far from ready for this.
Maybe you never will be.
You try to scare her away with barbed words and icy looks, but apparently the words are not quite sharp enough and something about your eyes is betraying you, because all she does is smile serenely and retort with something that makes you smile, and that is so extremely wrong that you don’t even know how to respond.
There is no need to try and break through her defenses, no need to be on edge and search for cracks, trying to find double meanings and detect sarcasm and lies. She is brutally honest, and you don’t know how to deal with that.
She pulls you open without even trying.
For every passing day you stay inside you room a little bit longer, trying to convince yourself that you’re only doing it because writing is so much easier to focus on when Dave and Karkat aren’t distracting you by arguing and that it has nothing, nothing at all, to do with their knowing looks and infuriating smirks and the way her voice and her words seem to crack your shields right open at every turn. Eventually you just stop coming out altogether.
They leave you to your childish behaviour for a week or so. You think it would have been a lot less than that if the decision was up to, say, Jade or John, but it isn’t, and so you get a few days in isolation, only talking to the others over pesterchum, blaming your absence on headaches and colds. After the third time you cease answering Dave’s messages in favour of blankly staring into empty space, he has enough.
“Lalonde”, he says through the door you refuse to open. “Come on, this is getting ridiculous. I mean, I get that you need some time alone to write your stupid gay porn, but when you start ignoring us you’ve taken it a step too far, and when you start ignoring me that step went right on through puberty and became a fucking mile. No one ignores a Strider, Lalonde. It simply is not done.”
He’s trying to sound like he doesn’t give a shit, just like always. It’s familiar ground, a routine you’ve both been through a thousand times. “Oh, I do apologise,” you reply, your lips twitching into a small smirk. “Would it perhaps make you feel better if we had a talk about these feelings of neglect? Should I-“
“Rose.” His interruption breaks you off and you freeze up for a second. There is no pretense of indifference in his voice this time and you blink furiously. No. He can’t do that, it’s not fair. “I’m serious here. Tell me what the fuck is going on.”
“Nothing is ‘going on’,” you say as coldly as you can, “and I really would like you to leave me alone now.”
“Why? So that you can keep on ignoring us? Because that’s not-“
“Yes,” you bite back. “Just go, Strider. I am perfectly capable of making my own decisions.”
He remains silent for a while and you find yourself breathing heavily, as if you’ve just run a marathon. A minute ticks by. It turns into two. Just as you start thinking he’ll never leave, there is a sigh from the corridor, followed by footsteps quickly getting further away.
You don’t know if you’re relieved or disappointed. Your thoughts are in disarray, emotions swirling around inside you, so close to breaking through the surface. Everything is chaos and suddenly the light in the room is much too bright, so you turn it off and curl up on the bed like a little girl.
Time passes – you don’t know how much, you aren’t a Hero of Time, it could be minutes or it could be days and you couldn’t care less because you can’t even remember the last time you felt this confused – and then someone knocks on the door.
“Go away,” you blurt out and immediately regret. That didn’t sound like you at all.
“No,” answers a voice you know all too well and your breath hitches in your throat. “Rose Lalonde, you will open this door right now, or I will make a sufficiently large hole right through it.”
“Kanaya,” you say, your air rushing out of you with something that you would call relief or perhaps even wonder if you didn’t know better than that. With a deep breath and a useless attempt to calm yourself down, you revert back into formality. “May I inquire as to why you feel that would be necessary?”
You really don’t know why you even bothered to ask, seeing as you are already half way across the room by the time she answers. “Do you mean to imply that I need a reason to speak with you, Rose? Is there anything wrong with simply wanting to know how you are?”
“Of course not. But Kanaya, generally speaking, people don’t threaten to destroy poor, unfortunate doors while doing so.”
“I see. I will take this into consideration and adjust my tactics accordingly next time I feel the need to examine your wellbeing.”
You’re smiling, now. You’re not quite sure of how you feel about that.
A few seconds pass in complete silence, and then you pull the door open.
You don’t look at her. You don’t look at her, and therefore you don’t see how she looks at you. You don’t notice how agitated and concerned she looks, all because of you, you don’t see the slight hint of anger and frustration in the way she’s holding her chainsaw, you don’t see the way her hair is falling into her eyes a little and it most certainly does not make you want to reach out and push it away from her face because there is absolutely no reason for you to look at her like that.
You keep your gaze away from her eyes. Reading her posture alone is far too easy, and you’re not sure you could handle it if-
“Rose”, she intones carefully, and it’s only now you realize that you’ve been staring at her for almost a minute. You force yourself to turn away.
“So,” you say, and you are proud to say that your voice is quite steady even when you are in turmoil, “I suppose this effectively disproves the myths about vampires being unable to enter without an invitation. No matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to remember ever asking you to come inside.”
“You did open the door,” she points out.
“That hardly counts as an invitation.”
“I believe the phrase goes ‘desperate times calls for desperate measures’,” she says, and you can hear the quotation marks in her voice and it’s so very Kanaya that you don’t know whether to laugh or scream.
“I fail to see how these are desperate times, Miss Maryam.”
“Then perhaps you should consider taking a closer look.” The playfulness in the atmosphere is gone in a matter of seconds, and you sit back down on your bed because you’re not sure how long you’d be able to keep standing.
“Rose. You’re frightening us,” she says, and it should sound accusing but it doesn’t and somehow that is even worse, “and coming here I’m starting to believe we were right to be afraid. Have you been eating?” And yes, of course you have, but not like you should and not like they’d want you to. You subconsciously wrap your arms around yourself in a fragile embrace.
“Kanaya,” you whisper, “Please don’t-“ and you are begging her, but you don’t know what for and you can’t believe you’ve really sunk that low-
“What, Rose?” she asks and the frustration is apparent in her voice. “I don’t understand. According to Dave, whose words I unfortunately have no choice but to trust in this particular instance, this is not some kind of ‘human thing’ not yet familiar to me, and most certainly nothing you should be encouraged to do, which means that something is wrong, Rose, and you’re not telling us what it is.”
Your throat is dry. “Nothing is wrong,” you insist, but you are well aware that she knows you well enough to realize that you are lying. You both know that something is wrong. The funny thing is that neither one of you can pin point what it is.
You want your mother.
The realization hits you like a train wreck and you fight to blink the tears out of your eyes, but it is already a losing battle. You want your mother. She might not be able to give you good advice about the situation but you sincerely doubt anyone would be able to(So, mother, I might have a crush on this alien chick and I really don’t want to be near her because if I start feeling one thing everything else starts falling apart too), and if nothing else, maybe she would hold you and let you feel like a child again.
You’re just a child. You don’t enjoy admitting it, not even to yourself, but you are, and right now you are a child who hasn’t eaten or slept properly in days, who is dragging herself through puberty without anyone to guide her and who has lost her mother.
Your next breath is more of a sob and there is no way Kanaya missed that. Your grip around yourself tightens and you make one last token effort to get your walls back up, to once again push your emotions as far away as possible, to stop the tears from falling, but it’s too late.
“I’m sorry,” you gasp, and you’re not sure why you’re apologizing and you’re not sure who you’re apologizing to, but you can’t make yourself stop and your breathing is irregular and wrong and you can’t fix it can’t calm down can’t breathe, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry-“
And then Kanaya’s arms wrap around you and you cling to her like a life line. She’s holding you like you’re something precious, but not fragile, and you bury your face in her shoulders and cry. “I should’ve been better,” you sob helplessly, “I should have been faster, I should have helped her-“ and you can almost feel the moment she realizes what’s going on because she tightens her hold on you and you know that she understands, because even if trolls don’t have parents, she knows the feeling of being a disappointment and a fuck-up. You all do.
“Shhh,” she murmurs and softly treads her fingers through your hair. She doesn’t tell you that it will be okay, because she knows as well as you that there is no guarantee, but just this once, her presence is more comforting than distressing and you allow yourself to let her fix you. “You did your best, Rose. We all did our best. It wasn’t our fault. It wasn’t your fault. You did your best.”
This isn’t fair to her, it really isn’t – she’s been through just as much as you have and perhaps you should be the one comforting her – but right now you can’t do anything else than relax into her embrace and commit every single detail to memory.
You’re not sure how long you sit there, holding each other, but eventually your breathing has returned to normal, your mind is clear and your tears are gone. You pull away from her.
“I do apologise,” you start, “For my behavior. It wasn’t my intention to-“
Her hand caresses your cheek and you fall silent. Eyes fluttering closed, you can’t help but to slightly lean into her touch. You sit silent for a few more moment, not wanting to break the moment. But there is something that needs to be asked, and you’re the only one who would think to ask.
“What is this? From a troll perspective, what are we doing?”
She hesitates for a moment and you can feel the fear rising in your chest. “If we were to look towards the traditional values of the quadrants, I suppose this would fall closest to moirallegiance,” she admits, and you’re glad you have no more tears to cry. Of course it would. You exhale in a soft sigh as you open your eyes. Contrary to before, when your emotions had escaped their confines and tore away your control, you don’t feel anything. Just empty.
“But,” she states calmly with only the slightest hint of insecurity, “I have already gone down that road once, and I believe it will be quite some time until I’m prepared to do so again.”
She leans forward and kisses you.
It is short and chaste and sweet, and you smile at her when she pulls away because she has once again dragged out feelings you weren’t aware you still had, and maybe, when it’s her, that isn’t all that bad.
“Well,” you say, linking your fingers together and leaning in for another kiss, “I suppose that if the quadrants aren’t sufficient to describe us, we shall have to fall back onto the human way. How do you feel about the term ‘girlfriends’?”
Her answering smile and the way she kisses you is more than enough to answer.
Your walls are down, your shields are broken, and you’re not sure if you will ever quite be able to recreate them. That’s fine. And Kanaya Maryam may be an open book, but you’re starting to believe she’ll never run out of empty pages.