Another rose wilts in East Harlem
And uptown downtown a thousand miles between us
She's waiting for the night to fall
Let it fall, I'll never make it in time
Her head barely passes the stretch of your waist, but she’s pointing to the chairs and you're tugging Karkat's arm to get him to sit down; too worried about being disrespectful to realize how jumpy your actions seem.
She looks at the two of you over the rim of her glasses, surveying you, deciding if you’re good enough to trust with a kid.
You wonder why every parent doesn’t have to go through this process; it seems unreasonable, being on display, but you know that it’ll be worth it.
Her name is Ms. Poke and, though you've known many herptiles in your days, she might just be the most intimidating. She’s only a few feet of solid pink, but you can already tell that she’s filled to the brim with sternness and intelligence. The sight of her commands respect and you won’t be the one to go against that.
It takes her an extra moment to hop into her chair, grabbing what you think might be your and Karkat's personal files. She ruffles through them and you're not really sure if the drumming she's performing on her shell is a good sign or not.
"So,” she says, laying the files back on the desk in order to look at you, “the two of you want to adopt?"
You nod, and you have a feeling she isn’t going to make this easy.
There are home visits to prepare for, classes on CPR to attend, loads upon loads of paper work: are you a criminal?, what is your high achievement in education?, what is your profession?, are you a social reject?, are you actually fit enough to care for a kid?, are you sure you don't want to back out now (this shit requires commitment!)?, are you only here to abuse the system or do you actually maybe give a fuck?
Okay, so, some of those aren't actually real, but you list them off to Jade as you attempt to slog through a current bundle.
She laughs and reminds you that you made this choice and if you really think it’s too much work then there’s no shame in letting it all drop. No one would be angry at you as long as you feel like you’re making the right decision.
You think hard about it for a moment and Jade doesn’t mind as you fall silent on your end. You think of all the times you clung to your dad, thinking that he might be one of the most embarrassing and irritating people that you will ever know, but you will always love him. He’s yours and he loves you, and your heart pounds as you think of how much you want to be on the other end of that.
How you want to hold a kid in your arms, knowing how much you’ll love them and cherish them and protect them and, god, you want to always be there for them. Even if they hate you sometimes, even if they want to pretend like you’re not there, like you were never there.
But you know that you’ll always, always be there, even if they don’t see you.
And you think, yeah, this might just be worth it. What’s a few days spent on paperwork, anyway?
You're on the waiting list for almost a year before Ms. Poke suggests fostering.
"These things take time," she explains, "requirements have to be met and there's a lot of mix-and-match going around before a good placement can be made. There are plenty of needy kids, believe me, but there are also a lot of hoops to jump through first.”
You understand what she means, but the thought of only being a temporary shelter sounds intimidating. How quickly will you get attached? Will you be able to keep track of the kids after they leave you? How can you even think of helping them in the short amount of time that they’re with you?
“Fostering is less about you,” she says, pulling off her glasses and tugging them between her fingers. “It’s about giving these kids a bit of rest. These kids are being pulled through the wringer every day and they’re usually reaching a point where they feel like there is no one to trust. You can’t save them all, but you can show them that some good does lie in the system.”
You look at Karkat and you can see the hesitance he’s feeling too. There are so many good reasons, but it’s the fear of the unknown that's holding you back.
“You’re both good people, and you’re exactly what these kids need.”
Then you think of how selfish you are, and scared too, compared to these kids. Kids, half your age, wondering if their next home will be good to them, if they’ll be treated decently and fed on a regular basis. You’ve done enough research to understand that some people are only in it for the government support, like it’s just one more way to take without ever giving back.
And it shouldn’t be like that. You’re supposed to be opening up your home because you know that you can help them, not because they’ll help you cheat the system.
You meet Karkat’s eyes and you know all of the same thoughts have gone through his head and he nods at you.
It's more paperwork, but maybe you can do some more good in the world.
You meet some good kids over the next two years, some scared or angry or hurt, but they all need loving, even if they try to pretend like they don’t.
Karkat and you do your best to give the kids a safe haven during their transitions. It’s a small reprieve sometimes: one stayed for barely two months before being reunificated with their family, another lasted almost a whole year before being adopted by another couple. But you were happy for all of them and you knew they would be okay.
Sometimes you ask Ms. Poke how they are doing and she’ll nod and tell you as much as she can without breaking confidentiality. You’re grateful to her for that and you think that she does it because she knows how much you need to hear those words.
“They’re getting through each day, just like the rest of us.”
And even if each day feels like three years and counting, you know you’ll get through it as well.
There's a boy who doesn't leave as quick as the others did. He had greeted you with a bag thrown over his shoulder and a grimace on his face at the thought of learning how to live in yet another new environment.
“The name’s Fionn.”
He says in it a voice too old for a kid and you wonder what he lived through (or, at least, what happened outside of the information you learned from his file).
He's fourteen years old and full of energy, but he's been caught in the revolving door of the system for long enough to know how things usually play out.
And he’s been hurt by all of it.
He settles into one of the spare bedrooms, claiming a small space for himself, even though you’ve offered up the rest of the house.
It’s months before you see the real him, crouched in front of Liv’s cage, feeding her bits of grass hay, and he sits and laughs as she chews through each piece like she’s thinking she’ll be starved tomorrow.
It’s the first time you’ve seen him free of the weight he’s always carrying around.
And you’re stuck, standing underneath the kitchen doorway, staring at his face as it blooms in delight, and you think you love the heck out of this kid.
Today is his 15th birthday and you want him to know how important this day is.
You and Dad have been in the kitchen since waving him off to school and you think you understand why Dad always loved baking those cakes for every birthday.
It’s one more thing to pour all of your love into, one more tiny show of affection and gratitude for having such a great kid at your side.
You’re careful with every measurement even though you’ve been cooking for years now and Dad teaches you how to hold the icing just right to give the words an extra sense of perfection.
Your friends walk through the front door four hours before Fionn is supposed to be home. Feferi and Terezi make a game of throwing streamers between the blades of your ceiling fan before pulling them across the room. Kanaya sets the table while Rose and Dave finish wrapping birthday presents. Jade grabs each present as they're finished and hides them throughout the house.
They’re almost too many cakes waiting for him when he walks through the door, but Fionn eats through every one of them. His mouth is covered in frosting by the time you and Dad and Karkat and everyone else are singing birthday songs and he doesn’t even protest when you reach over to wipe the icing off with a napkin.
It’s far past his bedtime and he’s barely awake as he waves everyone goodbye, but you catch him as he starts to sway a bit on his feet and you cradle him in your arms as you carry him up to bed. You won’t say anything about it in the morning (the kid is 15 and all), but you feel such an overwhelming sense of love pouring out of you as you pull the covers up and he mumbles out a sleepy goodnight.
You leave a kiss on his forehead and you promise yourself not to say anything about that either.
Fionn sleeps over at a classmate’s house one night and Karkat uses the opportunity to take you out to dinner.
You forget sometimes how little time you and Karkat have to spend alone, but you can’t find any hint of regret or agitation at the thought; you know your time is being well spent.
He’s staring at you now and his eyes seem to be glowing in the dim corner of the restaurant. God, how you love him.
“John,” he says and his voice is soft, “I know we’ve talked about it before, but that was mostly in passing. And I think it’s time we start talking about it seriously.”
He holds out a hand across the table and you take it, giving his palm a gentle squeeze.
“I want to adopt Fionn, John. I can’t imagine our house without him in it now.”
You want to tell him how much you agree, but your throat squeezes tight and all you can do is nod and tighten your grip on his hand.
He understands though, he doesn’t need to hear you say it to know how much you love the idea.
You’re sitting in Ms. Poke’s office a week later while Fionn’s at school.
She nods, but her face isn’t as cheerful as you would have expected it to be. “The birthmother has been taking steps to regain her rights. She’s made progress in therapy and has started the discussion with our lawyers.”
The two of you nod, but you try hard to convince yourself that you still have a chance.
“I can help you start the process if you’re still interested, but I wouldn’t advise you to get your hopes up.”
You leave the office feeling a bit less excited about the future than when you had walked in, but you’re not going to give up so easily.
Karkat drives you home and you practice your speech for Fionn; you won’t start until you know if he wants to be adopted.
The hours slip by slowly, but soon he’s walking through the front door, slipping off his shoes and book bag.
Karkat calls him over to sit on the couch and he joins you, hesitant and maybe even a bit weary.
You wonder if he sat through other discussions set up just like this only to be greeted with disappointment. He should never have to experience such feelings, and, if things go right, he won’t ever have to again.
When he jumps up to hug you, you feel like everything is falling right into place.
You’re sitting in a shared planning meeting and you’re listening to them talk about permanency planning and you know you’ve run out of time.
Fionn is sitting at your side and you can see how torn he is, how indecisive.
You want to challenge this; beg Ms. Poke to take everyone to court and prove to a judge how much better you and Karkat would be for Fionn. But you know such thoughts are hopeless.
”Undermining birthmothers,” she had said, “is the one thing you should never do. And reunification is always, always the number one goal in these types of situations.
I’m so sorry, John.”
And you look at Fionn’s mom and you can see the fierceness in her shoulders, the determination in her jaw. She’s done so much to improve herself, trying so hard to grow stronger and better as a mother so she can hold Fionn again.
You can’t deny her that and you can’t put Fionn through any more pain than he’s already survived.
Karkat’s arm wraps around your waist and you know your time has come to a close.
You bury yourself in underneath blankets and sheets and, god, your house feels so empty now.
You haven’t slept in days and you’ve hardly eaten in those long hours that you’ve kept yourself awake. How did Rose and Kanaya survive this? How did they find the strength to live through such grief?
Light is suddenly spread across the bed and you know that Karkat is standing in the doorway. Has that much time passed since you wrapped yourself up or has he come home early from work?
He doesn’t say anything as he shuts the door and climbs on the bed. The blankets surround you completely, but he manages to wrap his body around your frame and tuck his head into the back of your neck.
He lays there and you can feel the small puffs of his breath push against your hair, and then he takes a larger breath and he starts to sing.
You’ve begged him frequently to sing for you in the past while you play on your piano, but he always shakes his head and feigns embarrassment. It’s disappointing, but you’ve learned not to pressure him about it.
“And I see you hiding your face in your hands”
His voice is quiet here, though; quiet, but still strong.
“Talking ‘bout far-away lands”
You can’t say anything to him right now, you don’t know when you’ll ever be able to talk about this, but you listen and you love him for trying.
“You think no one understands”
Your eyes are growing heavy and, this time, you don’t fight against it.
“Listen to my hands.”
You don’t speak of this night for the next year; in fact, you hardly even mention Fionn.
The world is quiet between the two of you now.
Sound is the colour I know, oh,
Sound is what keeps me looking for your eyes,
And sound of your breath in the cold,
And oh, the sound will bring me home again.