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The Princess and the Lion

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Your name is Feferi Peixes, and you are hopelessly, pitifully, in love.

It started when you were young (although some would argue that you were still young), when your best friend had left, and you were left alone to face people who only saw your mother when they looked at you. People who saw the pastels and bright colors and laughed , because what kind of millionaire dresses like a toddler had picked their clothing for them? But you clung to them, to the soft fabrics and flowery perfumes, to the idea that you were small and soft and feminine . Because your mother was anything but, and you wanted to be everything she wasn’t. You were going to be powerful, and you were going to do it with a smile painted pink and multi-colored skirts with so many bangles on your arms that people could tell you were coming just by the sound.

People were afraid of you. No Peixies had ever been sweet before (Meenah had given the name a sour taste with her sharp tongue and even sharper wit). You were the first, an oddity, a princess amongst tyrants. When they saw you, they saw a ticking time bomb, because someday you would crack and break under the pressure that comes with being kind in a world that was anything but. You would show them that you were a Peixies after all, and you would trade your soft pinks for fuchsias and your teals for navy and all your other colors for black. You feared what you would become when that day arrived.

And then you met her . Nepeta Leijon. She had been at one of the school events as a representative of the sports department, dwarfed next to the football captain and the ace of the basketball team. A not-quite yet fourteen-year old ball of sunshine at the beginning of your seventh-grade year. Honestly, you weren’t sure how you hadn’t noticed her before. You went to most, if not all, the sporting events, especially since it reinforced the image that you cared deeply about your school. If you were going to be president of the student council next year, you had to make yourself someone who appealed to everyone, even if you lost who you were in the process.

Nepeta had unceremoniously left the table dedicated to athletes and bounced over to yours, looking out of place in her olive-green romper next to all the stuffily dressed people sitting next to you. It was a semiformal event (it was middle school—most were surprised that they could look nice at all) but the wealthy kids who had bought their way to the top took the opportunity to show off any time one was presented. “Hiya! I’m Nepeta! You’re Feferi, right?”

All eyes turn to you. It takes all your will power not to squirm. You make sure you look at her and not the hand she extended to you (although you want to look at her hands—you want to know the stories behind the chipped polish and the callouses and the nails that look like she had a habit of biting them). “Yes,” you say slowly, carefully taking her hand in yours. It’s warm, and you feel a little more relaxed when her fingers curl. Nepeta is smiling widely, and even that is endearing, because there’s a gap between her front teeth that screams childish in a way you almost envy. You want to be a child again. It was so much easier when you could cry without shame and hold out your arms and someone would come to hold you. “You’re on the track team, aren’t you?”

Every word is carefully pronounced, and it feels awkward, to take such care in something as simple as idle chatter, but nothing is that simple anymore, not with the name Peixies attached to you like a target at all times. Nepeta doesn’t seem to mind, smile growing impossibly wider as she says, “Yep! That’s me. I’m planning on joining the volleyball team, too. They need a new libero, right?”

“We do,” you say, and you don’t bother to keep the smile off your face. “You have the right build for it.”

“Aren’t you on the swim team?” It makes you wince, and you’re sure your nail’s have dug uncomfortably into Nepeta’s hand by now, but she makes no attempt to free her hand.

“I am,” you manage, voice tight. “Why? Are some of the girls bothering you?” It was a legitimate question. The girls on your swim team were awful , constantly caught up in preteen drama and gossip. It made you bristle just thinking about it. “No. I was just wondering why you weren’t at the sports table, ‘cause you’re a swimmer and all.”

“The student council wanted me to sit with them,” you say weakly, and Nepeta’s expression falls a bit

“Well, we always have room if you want to come join us!” She leans close to you like she’s going to tell you a secret, but her voice only gets louder as she says, “And we don’t have sticks up are asses like some people.” You laugh. Hard. It’s the kind of ungraceful laugh that always makes people stare at you and shake their heads.  Now is no exception. There are even a few gasps from the girls at the table, poorly muffled by perfectly manicured hands. A boy to your right turns to say something to you, but before he can you say, “I do appreciate the offer, Nepeta, but I’m afraid that I’m obligated to sit here.” Keep your back straight, Feferi! Shoulders back. Do you want the world to see how weak you are? “I’m really sorry.” You are, you really, truly are. Nepeta’s expression falls a bit, and her grip on your hand loosens. It takes all your willpower not to try and bring her back. Feferi, have you learned nothing? Peixes women don’t apologize.

“Oh,” she says, and your heart shatters. “Well, the offer still stands, if you’d like it.” Nepeta smiles weakly before heading back to her table. You let your hands fall into your lap and take a steadying breath. “I’m so sorry, Feferi,” one of the girls crowed, and you blearily turn to face her.

“Huh?” You say eloquently, because suddenly you’re so, so tired. I wish Aradia was here .

“I’m sorry you had to talk to that Nepeta girl.” The girl leans forward, and you try not to shudder at the feeling of her hand on your shoulder. “They say she’s a lesbian, you know. And her sister is a huge slut. I mean, have you seen her and her boyfriend?” She makes a disgusted noise, and you try and shrink further inside yourself, letting out a quiet “oh”. “You’re better than that, aren’t you?”

“Of course,” you say weakly. “People like that are disgusting.” Thankfully she doesn’t call you out on your weak delivery, giving your shoulder a squeeze before she settles back into her seat and begins gossiping again. You tune them all out and spend the rest of the night staring at the athlete’s table. Every so often Nepeta looks back and catches your gaze.

And each time she does, she smiles.

cuttlefishCuller [CC] began pestering apocalypseArisen [AA]

CC: ) (ey Araydia.

CC: I reely miss you.

AA: i miss you too feferi!

AA: is everything okay?

CC: -Everyfin is alright, I guess.

CC: The student council girls are really crabby and shellfish.

AA: im sorry feferi

CC: It’s okay.

CC: ) (ey Araydia?

AA: yeah?

CC: Do you know w) (o Nepeta Leijon is?

AA: i think so

AA: why?

CC: Nofin important.

CC: Just curious. 38)

AA: you sure youre okay?

CC: I’m alright.

CC: ) (ow are you doing at your new sc) (ool?

AA: its alright

AA: theres a boy here who is kind of nice

AA: although nobody is as nice as you

CC: ARAYDIA!

CC: YOU AR----E SO SW------E-----ET 38D

AA: i try

AA: fuck my mom is calling me

AA: ive gotta go

AA: im sorry

CC: Oh! It’s okay Araydia!

CC: I was thinking about going to bed anyray

CC: I love you.

AA: I love you too feferi

AA: talk to me soon okay?

CC: Okay

apocalypseArisen [AA] ceased pestering cuttlefishCuller [CC]

You sigh, curling up into a tighter ball against the side of the car. You felt gross, hair beginning to frizz and body slick with sweat. How people survived before air conditioning was beyond you. And even with the air cranked as high as it would go in the car you still could feel yourself sweating, hair sticking to your forehead and with every shift the horrible sound of your thighs un-sticking from the leather of the car seat made you wince.  You couldn't wait to be at home, where you could run the water ice-cold and peel of the false eyelashes that had been irritating you all evening. And maybe, just maybe, if you were lucky enough, you would actually be able to call Aradia. The older girl always knew how to make you feel better, even if you were miles apart. Cod, you had to stop thinking about her, or you'd start crying. You were gross and uncomfortable enough as it was. No need to add fuel to the fire.

Think about Nepeta , a voice in your mind whispers, sounding so much like Aradia that you have to take a shuddering breath to keep from crying. Nepeta. Nepeta was good. Her name didn't eat a hole in your stomach the way Aradia's did (although it did leave a a bitter feeling in the back of your throat, like nausea swallowed down by sheer force of will). What do you like about her? Nepeta was sweet, that much you could tell. She bounced wherever she walked (which was so adorable that you could squeal). There was sunshine in her smile and stars in her eyes and you were jealous of her, really, just a little, because Nepeta looked and acted her age when you did anything but. You were constantly holding on to what little power you had with hands that were too small to grip, like a little kid on the monkey bars. It was either pull yourself up or let yourself fall; there was no inbetween. And if she let go, would anyone be there to catch her? Aradia would , the voice in your head whispers, hesitant. Aradia would try . You don't want her too. She's been through too much to deal with you and your scraped up hands and too beautiful to stoop down to your level to kiss your bruised knees and place ocean-themed band-aids on the cuts that would come from crashing down, down, down.

"Miss Peixies? Are you alright?" You startle, head turning so violently it hurts, to blink at the driver. When did my vision get so blurry? "You're crying, miss."

"Oh." You sniffle pathetically, reaching up to angrily rub at your eyes. "I'm fine. I got eyelash glue in my eye, I think. Don't worry about it."

"Are you sure?" He asks, and you dig your nails into your palm, frustrated by his pity. You don't want pity. Not from him. "I said don't worry about it." You practically snap, and to his credit he doesn't flinch, simply turns back around and adjusts the mirror.

"Apologies, Miss Peixies. We will be home shortly." You sniffle, trying to rub the wetness from your eyes, blubbering an apology back at him because you didn't mean to snap, didn't mean to be so harsh,  didn't mean to sound like Her . "It really is alright," he says, and through your tears you can see the tightness of his smile. It only makes you cry harder, bringing your knees up to rest your head against them, hair forming a curtain around you.

Rule number one, Feferi. Peixies women do whatever it takes to get their way. No matter who you have to step on. Relish in it, darling, because only we can make people submit with a few words.

When the car pulls into the driveway you leave before he had even fully stopped, stumbling as you reach down to try and tug your heels off. As you try to open the front door someone comes crashing into you. Ungracefully you stumble into the railing as whoever you ran into lets out an offended, "What the fuck !"

"Meenah?" You peer up at her, and her expression softens a bit.

"Look at what the fucking tides brought in. Wassup, gillfrond?"

"Where are you going?"

"Out," she says with a shrug. "Why, wanna come?" Her grin could rival any shark's, bordering feral, but you look up at her with a new determination.

"Can I change first?" Meenah looks surprised, letting out a bark of laughter.

"Fucking finally. Come on, princess, I'm going to make you look great ." You let her take your hand and pull you back into the house, stumbling a little on our way up the stairs due to her fast pace. She takes you to her room, which surprises you a bit, roughly forcing you to sit on the edge of her bed. Meenah takes the heels from your hands (which now have crescent-moon indents in them) and tosses them aside. "Rule number one, princess. Peixies women don't wear heels. Ever. Unless you catfishin', then wear all the heels you want. You ain't catfishin' tho, are ya?" Slowly you shake your head, not even sure what "catfishin'" is. Meenah seems undeterred, throwing open the doors to her closet in movie-worthy fashion. "Rule number two. We royalty, ya here? So we's wearin' fuchsia."

"Fuchsia, got it."

"Knew there was somefin in that head'a yours. Here, put this on." She throws several things at you (thankfully none of them are shoes, which she has thrown at you on occasion) and you catch them. More or less. "Hold on. There's somefin' I got for ya that I wanna sea you in. Start dressin' and I'll be right back." She leaves before you can say anything against it, and you begin to change into the clothes she threw at you. They're things she's worn before, you think, ones that don't fit her now with her recent growth spurt. For what it's worth they're comfortable (even if you feel uncomfortable in them because the shirt is practically a bra and as of right now she's given you nothing to cover you from the waist down). Meenah returns just as your slipping into a pair of fishnet tights, brandishing something that makes your heart race. "Meenah?"

"Ya like it, princess? Had it made all special for ya. Just in case you ever decided to stop bein' a krilljoy and join us. Porrim'll be fuckin' hyped to see ya in it." Unlike the other clothes she hands it to you, along with your glasses case. "Figured you'd want 'em."

"Thanks," you say, swallowing the lump in your throat. It's not often that Meenah acts like a big sister (or at least, like a decent one--most of the time she just comes into your room to bitch and gossip) so you'll take it with greedy hands. "Do you, um, have makeup remover?"

"Get dressed first." She ruffles your hair, taking a moment to boop your nose with one finger before moving to the vanity. "And take your contacts out when you're done. Don't undersand how you can wear those fuckin' fins." You laugh, setting your glasses case down to slip into the skirt. It fits perfectly , so much so that you almost tear up. You're just so happy. It never ceased to amaze you how a piece of clothing could change your mood, how you saw yourself. Already you feel better, feel more like yourself than you have in a while. "Yo, princess," Meenah startles you out of your awestruck wonder, and you look over at her sheepishly. "Put ya hair up while ya in there." That one strikes you as odd, just a little, but you shake it off and head to the bathroom to take your contacts out. You throw your hair into a messy bun as well, cringing a little at the way it feels. God, did you want a shower. Even your glasses seem to sit uncomfortably on your face with all the oil your skin had made. God, Feferi, you're so disgusting.

When you come back Meenah is rummaging through one of her drawers, muttering to herself. You sit on the bed and clear your throat to let her know you've returned. "Yeah, yeah, I got it. Remover's on the vanity. Go fucking nuts. Don't bother puttin' a face on, though."

"Thank you." Meenah makes a gagging noise, which makes you laugh, and you head to her vanity. It irritates you a little how messy it is, but you know yours would be exactly the same way if Aradia hadn't made a point of cleaning it every time she came over. How long will it be until she comes over again? She can't be that far away...can she? You push those thoughts away, instead focusing on just how fucking nice it feels to be rid of all that makeup. It was like removing a mask. Now, at least, the real Feferi was staring back at you in the mirror. A little worse for wear, but still pretty. Still you. "Fuckin' finally! Scoot over, princess." Meenah nudges her way into the chair with you, half in your lap. And in her hands is a huge glass jar of...paint? "Relax, it's safe. Promise." You watch as she dips her fingers in the paint and drags it across her face, almost like she was putting on highlighter. Her cheekbones, forehead, cupid's bow, and nose all got some of the bright color. She arches her back a little, grinning, before outlining what you could see of her collar bones. "C'mon, gill, you too."

"Where do I..." You trail off with a shrug, watching as she starts writing letters on her fingers.

"I dunno. Wherever ya damn well please. Get artsy. You're good at that, ain't ya?" You shrug again, hesitantly reaching for the paint. Before dipping your fingers in it you slide your glasses up so they rest at the top of your head. You had an idea, and you weren't sure how well it was going to work, but you'd be damned if you didn't try. Cautiously you dip your index finger into it, surprised at how cold it is. But it isn't entirely unpleasant, and with a steadying breath you carefully spread across your eyelid. Meenah laughs beside you, placing nearly her whole hand into the pot. "There ya go. Atta gill." You flush under the praise, grinning as you move to your other eye. "Listen, princess, if anyone starts gettin' too friendly with ya, let me know. I'll take care of 'em."

"I will," you reply. "Promise."

By the time you and Meenah leave the house it's nearly eleven, and you're sort of exhausted and still unsure how you feel about the still-drying paint on your body, but what you do know is that you're happier than you've been in a while, full of a cocktail of nerves and excitement as Meenah drives faster than probably legal, yelling the lyrics to the rap blaring on the stereo. You wonder who's going, hell, you wonder if anyone will even be your age there. Probably not, but you'd figure something out. Meenah had some...interesting friends. Surely there would be someone you could talk to. Meenah makes a sharp turn and you brace yourself on the dash, glaring at her when she cackles."It's at Cro's place tonight. Listen princess, he's a total douche bag, but he knows how to throw a party. And he's smart enough not to make a move on you, but if he does, just give him a kick in the balls. " Meenah winks at you, and you smile shakily at her. The thought of someone (who was without a doubt older) "making moves" on you made your skin crawl, but you knew you could defend yourself. Probably. "Did I scare ya?"

"A little."

"Sorry," Meenah says, not sounding sorry at all. But you're used to it from her. "Aw, shit. We gotta park on the fuckin' lawn." You instinctively curl up tighter in the seat, bracing yourself on every available surface. Meenah mutters under her breath as she pulls up to the nearest available spot on the grass. As soon as she's parked she begins getting out of the car, not waiting for you, leaving you scrambling after her when you finally unfurl from the ball you had formed in the seat. She at least has the decency to wait for you by the garage, muttering about what a fucking sea slug you are as she enters the house. Cautiously you follow after her, trying your best to keep up. It's difficult with the swarm of bodies, but thankfully you hear a shout of, "Peixes"" and Meenah immediately makes a beeline for whoever called for her. You follow her to a table covered in various cans and bottles, as well as an almost toxic looking liquid that you make a mental note to avoid at any cost. "Feferi, isn't it?"

Surprised that anyone even knew you here you turn. "Yes?" One of the girls on the table laughs, elegantly sliding it off it to come towards you. The first thing that strikes you is how tall she is. She towers a good few inches over everyone at the table, and a quick glance tells you that it's because of the heels she's wearing. You're surprised she can even stand, let alone walk as gracefully as she does. The next thing that draws your attention is the paint on her body. It's much more elegantly applied than yours or Meenah's, winding along her long legs and slender arms. "Like what you see?" She intones sweetly, making you jump. "Relax, darling, I don't bite."

"Sorry," you reply sheepishly as she places a perfectly manicured hand on your shoulder.

"It's quite alright. I remember the first time I came to one of these. Believe it or not, I was nervous too."

"Really?" You honestly couldn't believe it. She was so beautiful . How could someone like her be afraid of anything? She laughs, raising one hand to hide the quirk of her lips. God, if you were anything like her, you would be set for life. "Really. That skirt looks good on you. Does it fit alright?"

"Yeah!" Subconsciously your hands move to smooth the fabric. "It fits really well. I really like it."

"That's wonderful. I was a bit concerned, because I wasn't sure how much you would grow before wearing it."

"Huh?" You tilt your head at her, and she smiles fondly at you. "Oh! You're...Porrim?"

"That's me."

"Thank you for making this!" You flush, embarrassed, but Porrim merely coos over you, gently brushing some of your bangs out of your face.

"It was my pleasure, darling. I love a good challenge."

"Um, Miss Porrim," you begin, glancing up to gauge her reaction. She seems amused, if a little surprised, so you push forward. "Is there anyone my age here?"

"Yes, there is. Cronus banished them upstairs." She scowls a little. "Although he has good reason too, with all these barbarians." You chuckle a little at that, and Porrim reaches for your hand. "I'll show you where they are, if you'd like?"

"Please." You hate how desperate you sound, but the music had only gotten louder and more and more people were pouring in. You were beyond uneasy at this point, which Porrim seemed to understand. "Meenah," she says loudly, causing Meenah to turn to her, scowling.

"What?" She snaps, and Porrim rolls her eyes.

"Stop face fucking Aranea for a moment and listen to me. I'm taking Feferi upstairs. Don't forget about her."

"Blah, blah, blah," Meenah replies, and your eyes widen when a face peers from around her shoulder.

"I won't let her forget, Porrim," the person (Aranea?) says.

"Thank you," Porrim replies sharply. "Come on, Feferi, let's go."

Once the two of you are safely out of hearing range (not that it was very far) you turn to Porrim and ask, "Who's Aranea?"

"She originally went to the Prospit schools, but has since joined the Skaia district. She and Meenah have this sort of...on again, off again, relationship going on right now."

"Oh." Why didn't she tell me? You knew why she didn't. She was worried you would tell, and while Meenah had no trouble defending herself from others, your mother was a whole different story. If your mother found out, hell would be raised. It was the same reason that you still hadn't quite told Aradia that you might, just a little bit (okay, more like a whole fucking lot) be interested in girls. Romantically. You were afraid of what would happen, and, more importantly, you were worried you might lose your best friend. "Careful," Porrim says with a chuckle, reaching to steady you. C'mon, Feferi, snap out of it.  "You alright, darling? You've been awful quiet."

"Just thinking, is all." You reply, and Porrim narrows her eyes, and you know she can see through your bullshit excuse, but she squeezes your hand once before heading up the rest of the stairs. Quickly you follow her, thankfully not tripping on anymore steps (although your hand is gripping the railing so tight your knuckles have gone white, just in case). She navigates the hall like she's been here all her life, stopping in front of one of the doors and lightly rapping on it. A girl who looks a lot like her (her sister, maybe?) opens the door and peers at the two of you curiously. "Is everything alright?"

"As alright as it usually is. Do you have room for one more?"

"Of course," the girl says, opening the door fully. "Do come in." After glancing at Porrim you step in, cautiously glancing around the room.

"The little brat not here?" Porrim says conversationally, and you hear the other girl huff.

"His name is Eridan. And no, he's not. It's his mother's weekend. Do forgive my sister, she can be a bit...crude." Porrim laughs, leaning down to whisper something to the other girl that you don't catch before leaving with a wave. "I don't believe we've met, have we? I am Kanaya." She extends her hand, smiling softly.

"Feferi," you reply, taking her hand, hoping she doesn't feel how badly it shakes. "Is it just you up here?"

Kanaya shakes her head. "Nepeta should be back in a moment. I believe she went to try and find something non-alcoholic to drink." Nepeta? Oh cod, I'm so screwed. "You're welcome to sit down."

"Thank you," you reply shakily, sitting next to the pile of blankets and pillows on the floor.

"You know, if you act quickly, you may be able to put a movie in before Nepeta gets the chance." Kanaya's lips quip up fondly as she shakes her head. "It's always The Aristocats with her. The movies are the box over there; help yourself to any of them." Instead of answering you crawl over to the box and start rummaging through it. Out of the corner of your eye you see Kanaya settle gracefully onto one of the blankets splayed across the floor. Most of the movies you recognize, but one of them sticks out to you the most. Piglet's Big Movie . It makes you a little nervous, because out of all the titles in the box it's probably the most childish movie of the bunch. But you had memories with this movie, memories that make your heart race and hands tremble and stomach do fucking backflips. It made you think of nights when your mother was home and Aradia would come over as soon as you called brandishing a bottle of pink lemonade and one of her sweaters and a blanket thrown across her shoulders like a cape. She'd help you into the sweater and pet your hair and let you curl up against her. She wouldn't complain when you squeezed her hand too tight or cried into her shoulder or asked her over and over to tell you that she loved you. God, did you miss her. You always missed her, even when she lived nearby.

"Can we watch this one?" You ask, brandishing the case to her, hoping that your hands aren't shaking as much as you think they are. Kanaya raises an eyebrow, because you know that the movie is childish, you know it, but you need something familiar right now and this is about as familiar as it gets.

"I cannot say I've seen this one," she says, glancing up at you. "Of course we can watch it. Here, I'll put it in." Carefully she takes it from you, taking an extra moment to gently squeeze your hands before she rises.

"Thank you," you say, voice shaking. I'm sorry I'm such a big baby.

"I'm quite surprised I haven't seen this one. My friend and I watch quite a lot of Disney movies. I suppose this one just hasn't been on our list yet. Perhaps he hasn't seen it either. I'll have to ask him." You sigh in relief, and Kanaya turns to glance at you. "He gets nervous in these sorts of situations, too."

"Sorry," you say weakly, and Kanaya tuts.

"There is nothing to be sorry for. It happens to the best of us. Why don't you grab a blanket and I'll go and grab something to eat. I'm sure no one will miss one of the snack bowls. Would you be alright with that? I can wait for Nepeta to return before I leave, if that would make you feel better?"

"No, I'm fine. By myself, I mean. Thank you. I'll, um, be okay." You mumble, avoiding her gaze.

"Are you sure?" She repeats, and you nod, trying to sound more believable when you say, "I promise." Kanaya narrows her eyes, and you try to distract yourself with the jade markings on her neck and not the fact that she looks vaguely disappointed (but mostly concerned). After a moment she sighs, and you follow the way her shoulders sag under the weight of it. "I'll be but a moment." As soon as the door shuts behind her you reach for the blankets, wrapping them around you as tightly as you can. The movie had already started, and you watch the opening sequence, bringing your knees to your chest. After a moment you begin to relax, breathing just a little easier, letting your knees fall into a more comfortable position. The door swings open and you turn, greeted by an almost familiar voice saying, "I got the drinks, Kanaya! Mew won't believe who Purrim was dancing with. Oh...Kanaya?" Oh cod. You swallow thickly, peering up at Nepeta from your blanket cocoon. She cocks her to side curiously, pouting in thought. "No...Ah, it's Fefurry, isn't it?"

"Yeah." It takes several tries to get it out past the lump in your throat, and Nepeta squeals happily when you do.

"I didn't know you were coming! Too furocious for mew down there, huh?" She wiggles her eyebrows and settles down on the pile of blankets beside you. "Here, which one do mew want?" She leans towards you display the collection of cans in her arms, and you hesitantly reach for one of them. She giggles a little and puts them on the ground, taking one with a green label you don't recognize. "Well, we're going to have a better purtty up here, anyway."

"Yeah," you reply weakly, idly playing with the can in your hand.

"Mew feline okay, Fefurry?" Nepeta turns to face you, and when you don't look at her she lets out a distressed noise that makes your heart flutter. "Did one of those meanies downstairs do something to mew? I'll claw their eyes out if they did!" The determination in her voice causes you to look up, and god, you could kiss that cute little pout of hers. Fuck , did you have it bad. You blink at her, unsure of what to say, before blurting, "It was the student council."

"The...student council?" Nepeta blinks at you, and you scramble to find something to say. "Well, I'll claw them a new one, too." You giggle weakly, and Nepeta seems to take that as a good sign, because she continues. "What did they say to mew, Fefurry?"

They say she's a lesbian, you know . You freeze up again, wondering where all your Peixes cool and charisma had gone. And where was Aradia when you needed her. "Just their usual things. Rumors and gossip." You manage after a moment, and Nepeta hums in response.

"They don't deserve mew, mew know." She says fiercely, and you burrow deeper in the blankets, skin feeling like static. "I mean, I've nefur seen them work half as hard as mew do. Mew aren't afuraid to get your paws dirty. And you're always kind to everyone. They're all hypurrcrites." She makes a surprised noise before saying, "Not that they're bad people. I mean, um..."

"Nepeta," you say, bringing her out of her flustered mumbling. "Thank you." You smile at her, and even if you're sure that your eyes are watery, and your smile uneven, she grins back at you.

"You're welcome!" She says brightly, moving closer to her. "Mew know, whenevfur I'm feline bad, Meulin will cuddle with me. Do you wanna cuddle?" Nepeta's arms are already opened up to you, and with a sniffle you ungracefully tip into them. She let's out a noise that sounds a little like a purr (and it makes your heart stop and your brain restart) as she wraps her arms around you. "Aw, Fefurry. I'm sorry mew are feline so bad."

"I feel better now," you mumble into her chest. Her cuddles are a lot different than Aradia's, but they're still nice. Really nice. The I-could-stay-here-forever-if-she-would-let-me kind of nice. Nepeta gently untangles you after a moment, and you make an embarrassingly needy noise in the back of your throat, and Nepeta doesn't laugh but merely shushes you gently and manuvers you so you're settled between her legs, back pressed against her chest as she rests her chin on your shoulder. "See? Isn't that more comfurtable?" You nod, jostling her head a little, but she doesn't seem to mind.  

"Sorry."

"Why are mew sorry? We all feel bad sometimes. It's okay. I know mew'd do the same thing purr me." You don't know how she knows you would, but you honestly would. You would do a whole lot of things for Nepeta if she asked. Instead of giving a proper response you lean into her a little more and reach for one of her hands. "Thank you."

"It's not a purroblem, Fefurry."

---

You must have dozed off at some point, because when you open your eyes you're no longer sitting up but laying down. Blearily you look up and see Kanaya kneeling next to you, smiling softly. "I'm sorry to wake you, but we're getting ready to go."

"We?" You say blearily, snuggling back into the blankets.

"Your sister is heavily intoxicated," Kanaya says with a huff, which draws your attention.

"She's not driving, right?" You say worriedly, and Kanaya shakes her head.

"Of course not. Aranea is going to take her car and drive her to her house. Porrim and I are going to take you and Nepeta home, as her ride is currently...occupied." Kanaya made a face in the dark, and you nod. Gracefully she stands and offers you her hand, which you take. Easily she supports your trembling form, and once you've steadied she drops back down to gently coax Nepeta. You watch as she does, curious, and Nepeta makes a soft whining sound that makes a smile tug on your lips. Kanaya practically has to pick her up, and Nepeta immediately clings to her when she does. "Kanaya," she whines, using one hand to rub at her eyes. "It's too early."

"Says someone who is frequently up until odd hours of the night," Kanaya chides, shaking her head. "You can sleep in the car. I promise." Nepeta makes another disgruntled noise before reluctantly letting go of Kanaya. The three of you make your way downstairs, Kanaya leading the way so she could catch either of you if you stumbled. By the time your in the kitchen you're feeling more awake. Nepeta reaches for your hand, causing you to still. "Fefurry," she drags out your name as long as possible, and you smile sweetly.

"Nepeta," you drag out her name as well, teasingly, and she makes a happy chirping noise before clinging to your arm. "Someone's a cuddly kitty, huh?" Your face burns at the remark, but Nepeta makes a noise of agreement and grips a little tighter.

"Gotta make sure mew don't fall down."

"That's very sweet of you." God, you're ninety-nine point nine percent sure you're in love with her. She's the cutest person alive, possibly ever. With every point of contact you feel heat, warm and not at all unwelcome. You feel the way you do when you're with Aradia, but a hundred times more intense. But you don't feel overwhelmed at all (or at least, not traditionally). You almost feel...at ease. "Alright, do we have everyone?" You look up to see Porrim smiling fondly at the two of you, and you can feel your face heat up. "Arenea and Meenah have already taken off, so I guess that just leaves the five of us. Feferi, darling, do you get car sick at all?"

"Huh? Oh, um, no."

"Just making sure," Porrim says gently. "Alright, kiddies, let's get to the car." She and Kanaya begin to herd you to the car, Nepeta switching from her iron-grip on your arm to hold your hand. She chirps happily when you start swinging your hands slightly, mumbling to herself as you walk. "You're in a good mood," you say conversationally, and Nepeta sighs.

"I'm holding hands with a pretty girl, why wouldn't I be happy?" She turns to face you, grin so wide you wonder if it hurts. You know that it makes your heart stop. Unsure of what to say (mostly because her words still hadn't fully processed, and your brain had short-circuited) you squeeze her hand, hoping it conveys everything you can't say.

Because, if you were honest, you were very, very afraid of the implications the words you wished to say would be.

The rest of the walk to the car goes without incident, Nepeta mumbling to herself as the two of you walk. Kanaya sits up front with Porrim, leaving you, Nepeta, and a boy you don’t recognize (or remember when he joined you) in the back. The poor thing looks dead on his feet, and he’s asleep before Porrim even backs out of the driveway. Nepeta had settled in the middle, rubbing at her eyes sleepily. God, you couldn’t wait to go home and go to bed. Better yet, you couldn’t wait to go home and shower .  You slump against the window, sighing so loudly Kanaya turns around to look at you. “Feferi? Are you alright?”

“Tired.” Kanaya’s brows furrow in concern, and you feel bad that you don’t even have the energy to muster a smile at her. 

She relaxes a little, shoulders sagging in relief, and she whispers, “You can sleep for a little, if you would like. We have to run Kankri home first, and then we will take you home.” You nod, eyes already fluttering shut when a weight on your side causes you to turn your gaze. Nepeta was asleep (if the soft snoring was anything to go by) and she had her arms wrapped around one of yours, cheek pressed against your shoulder. It makes you smile, because she looks perfect like this. Your heart begins to pound against your ribcage and you know you can’t sleep now. So, you untangle her arms from yours as gently as possible before wrapping it around her shoulders. She’s so small .

At least, she was compared to you. Her shoulders were slimmer than yours, and you knew for a fact that she was shorter than you. But she was strong, too. You had seen her run once or twice, and she was fast. And from what you had heard she was practicing to throw shot put for the track team. She’s going to join volleyball, too; you’re going to get see all those muscles up close . You weren’t going to survive volleyball season. Better call Aradia now and ask her to plan your funeral.

Nepeta curls closer to you, practically burying herself in your side. With a start you realize she doesn’t have a seatbelt on and adjust accordingly, bringing your arm lower so it’s around her wait. Kanaya giggles, and you look up to see her cover her mouth to keep them back. “I do apologize. Nepeta can be quite cuddly in her sleep.”

“It’s okay.” It is. God, it’s more than okay. You feel a little like you’re floating. “I don’t mind.” Kanaya raises an eyebrow before smiling knowingly and turning back around to give Porrim some more directions. You grab your phone and open Pesterchum only to see that you have several missed calls from Aradia. Fuck . “Can I call my friend?” You can’t keep the panic of your voice. What if something happened? What if she needs me? I have no way of getting to her if Meenah is drunk. Oh god. Oh god.

“Of course you can, dear. Is everything alright?” Porrim says, and Kanaya turns back around.

“I don’t know.” You reply honestly, dialing the number you’ve long since recognized. It rings once, twice, and you’re about to start giving Porrim directions to Aradia’s house when the line crackles to life and you here a quiet whisper of, “Feferi.”

“I’m here,” you whisper, “I’m here. Are you okay? Do you need me to come get you?”

“No, I’m okay. You didn’t answer and I got worried. Mom and Damara went out and Dad’s at work. I was going to call because I couldn’t earlier. And then you didn’t answer. I thought you had gone to bed, but you’re usually a light sleeper and answer when I call and I just got nervous and I’m sorry.”

“Araydia, it’s okay. I’m okay. I promise. I’m sorry for not answering. I just...I felt really shitty, and Meenah offered to take me out to some party and I agreed. Honestly it was a pretty awful party.” Aradia chuckles weakly on the other end of the phone. “I felt really uncomfortable and one of her friends took me upstairs and there were a couple girls our age there. We watched some movies and I fell asleep. I’m on my way home right now. Do you need me to come over?”

“You don’t have to do that.” Aradia insisted, and you sighed in relief. “Thank you for telling me. I’m glad you’re okay. Is Meenah driving?”

“No. She got drunk, I guess. One of her friends is taking me home.”

“That’s good.” She sounds so relieved. “Who were the girls our age? Would I know them?”

“Kanaya Maryam and Nepeta Leijon.”

“You asked about Nepeta earlier. Is something going on between you two?” Aradia makes a thoughtful noise. “Do I need to fight her? My dad knows how to hide body.”

“Araydia!” You squeal, glancing at Nepeta when she shifts in her sleep. “No, it’s not like that. It’s...complicated.”

“Good complicated or bad complicated?”

“I dunno. She, um, asked me to come sit with her at the school banquet thing. In front of the student council. And they really don’t like her, I guess.” Because she likes girls. Because she doesn’t fit their cookie-cutter mold of how a girl should be. And she doesn’t force herself to fit into it like you do. “She seemed really sad when I didn’t. I guess I just feel bad.” Ashamed that you hadn’t had the guts to stand up and defend her. Ashamed that something as simple as a handshake had your heart racing and set your body aflame. “I don’t know, though. I’m rambling. You can ignore me.”

“You always say that when there’s more to the story.” There’s no accusation in Aradia’s voice. She just sounds tired, and maybe a little sad. You think you sounded that way, too, but with more desperation and less pity. “Feferi, you don’t have to let them rule your life. You don’t have to be like your mom.” The words hit hard, too close to home. You inhale sharply and Aradia makes a soothing noise, knowing without being told that she had hit the nail on the head. “I’m going to come over tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I know I don’t have to. I want to. You’re my friend, and I’m worried about you. I love you too much to just let this sit unsolved in a phone call, alright? Let me do this for you.” God, you’re pretty sure you’re crying now. These are the exact words you had said to her when she had her first panic attack at your house. The same words you said when you insisted on buying her lunch, or clothes, or coming to pick her up when just a phone call wouldn’t chase away the shadows on the walls. Let me do this for you . If this was The Fault in Our Stars it would be your always, your okay. “Please,” you whisper, and Aradia is humming. There’s shifting on the other end of the line, the crinkling of not-quite-static as (you assume) she rolls out of bed.

“Dad’s home. I’m going to ask him right now. Stay on the line, okay? I might put you down for a second, but I’m not leaving you.”

“Okay.” Araid makes a pleased noise, and you hear the sound of a door opening and shutting. You look to see Kanaya offering you a tissue, and you take it with a shaky grin. “Thank you.”

“You and your friend are alright, aren’t you, darling?” Porrim asks, grip tight on the steering wheel.

“We’re both fine.” It felt like a lie, a bitter taste in your mouth that made you feel nauseous, but you pressed on. “She was just worried when I didn’t call. I guess I was really out of it.”

“You’re sure?” She asks again, and you rub at your eyes instead of answering, hoping to buy yourself a little more time. “Darling, if something is wrong you need to let me know so I can help you.”

“Dad? Can I ask you something?” Aradia’s voice crackles on the other end, a different sort of hesitance that Porrim’s.

“I’m sure.” You whisper, comforted by the way Aradia had laughed on the other end in response to whatever the deep, rumbling voice had said to her. “We’re okay.”

“No, no, I don’t need you to hide a body. I promise! You’d be the first person I’d ask if I did, though.” A pause, more of the other’s voice. “Yeah, it’s about Feferi. That obvious, huh?” Silence. “No, she’s okay, I think. She’s not hurt and she’s in safe hands. For now, it’ll have to do. Huh? Really? Thank you so much!”

“I’ll be okay,” you whisper, the weight in your chest leaving with a shaking exhale. “Araydia’s gonna come over and I’m going to be okay.”

“That you are,” Aradia’s voice filled your ears, warm and gentle. “Do you want me to stay on the phone until you get home?” This was another thing the girl did when you were feeling like this. Unlike Aradia, you preferred choices. You wanted some control; Aradia preferred to have little to none. It was comforting to know that she trusted you enough to take care of her, and that she was willing to do the same. “Feferi? Babe, you’ve gone quiet.”

“I love you.” You blurt, startling even yourself.

“I love you.” Aradia replied without hesitation. “Do you want me to stay on the phone until you get home?”

It takes a moment, but you finally manage a soft, “No.”

“Do you want me to hang up? Or would you like to?”

“I’ll do it.”

“You’ve done really well answering my questions, Feferi. I’m proud of you.”

“Will you stay a little longer?” You whisper, hating how much your voice gives you away.

“Of course I will!” Aradia says easily. Like it’s easy for her to be around you when you’re like this; like speaking to you as one does a frightened animal is as natural as breathing. It’s as if the idea of you being so fucked up has never occurred to her. To her you’re still Feferi, even if you’re crying and feel empty on the inside. Not a Peixes, not Meenah or your Mother, not some girl with a mask pretending to be what was expected of her. Just you.

This time you don’t hold back the tears. Her words wrench an ugly sob from your chest, and you nearly drop your phone as you bury your face in your hands. 

It’s uncomfortable, and you’re half on top of Nepeta now, but you’ve started sobbing and you just can’t stop. Aradia begins whispering comforts into the phone, giving you information about a boy named Dave who’s blond and wears hoodies to big for him. Who talks to the crows that flock on the streets when he thinks he’s alone. The boy who almost got expelled the first day they met because he got in a fight to defend her. You whimper pitifully in response, brain too fried to come up with any proper response. She simply hums and keeps going like you would have asked her to. “He’s very pretty. Like, romance novel pretty. The tragic love interest of whatever dumb heroine the other chose this time pretty. I think you’d like him. He can be blunt, and his sense of humor is a little dark, but he’s good. I can feel it. He’s the kind of person you just want to protect, even if they can protect themselves. Kind of like you.”

“Really?” You say, sniffling pathetically.

“Really. Take a deep breath for me?” After waiting for the telltale rush of air Aradia continues. “Good. Let it out, nice and slow for me, okay?” It’s easy to follow Aradia’s voice, and she goes through it for you several more times until you’re breathing regularly. “You did so good, Feferi. I’m proud of you.”

“I love you,” you whisper, not trusting yourself to speak any louder. “I love you.”

“I love you,” Aradia said soothingly.

“I’ve got to go.” Exhaustion hits you like a fucking truck. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry; there’s nothing to be sorry for. Try and text me when you get home, okay? Just to let me know you got there safely. Sleep well, Feferi. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.” True to here word, Aradia waits for you to hang up. You let your phone fall into your lap, sighing. The calm that comes after a good cry washes over you, and you rub at your eyes and stare at the heels of your hands when they come back pink and sticky. “Feferi.” Kanaya offers you a packet of tissues. “Are you feeling alright now?”

“Better, now. Sorry for making a scene.”

“Oh, darling, it’s alright. You didn’t do anything to be sorry for.” Porrim says gently, and you notice she’s pulling into a driveway. “I’m going to take Kanny inside, alright? The three of you wait here.” Porrim parks the car and elegantly gets out and walks around to the side of the car the boy is on. Before she can open the door you reach over and nudge him until he lets a soft, distressed noise. “Porrim is going to open the door,” you say softly. He slowly sits up, rubbing at his eyes. The door opens and Porrim smiles softly, reaching to brush some of the hair out of his eyes.

“I don’t need you to mother me,” he murmurs sleepily, and Porrim laughs quietly.

“I know you don’t, darling. That isn’t going to stop me, however.” She reaches across him and unbuckles his seatbelt. “Do you think you can stand?” He nods, but Porrim ends up helping him out of the car. The door shuts and there’s a distinct click indicating that she had locked it. There’s another click and Kanaya has fully turned around, rolling her shoulders back with a soft noise. She smiles at you fondly, before gesturing beside you. Oh!

Nepeta’s hands had curled into your top, face tucked under your arm. She’s like a cat . The idea is only strengthened when she makes a mewling noise in her sleep before she settles and begins snoring again in a way that sounds almost, almost , like she’s purring. You slip an arm around her shoulders and she curls impossibly closer. Hesitantly you thread your fingers through her hair and you can feel her melt , sagging under your touch. “She was very excited to see you at that party.” Kanaya says, and you tilt your head, confused. “Nepeta thought she had upset you at the banquet.”

“No. She didn’t upset me. The only person I was really upset with was me.”

“Oh?” Kanaya says inquires softly. A gentle invitation for you to spill your guts.

“One of the girls said she was a lesbian and it made me upset. I wanted to go with her, to the sports table, because the student council is just so mean and it’s so hard dealing with them by myself again but I couldn’t go or else they’d know .”

“Know what, Feferi?” Kanaya’s expression is unreadable.

“That I...That I’m…That I like girls too.” The last words come out a whisper. You had never admitted it to anyone. This was a secret, and Kanaya could tell. She reaches one perfectly manicured hand out to you, and you take it. “So do I, Feferi. I can confirm the same about Nepeta. You are safe here with us.” An unspoken “ I will keep your secret to the grave ” hangs in the air between the two of you. Kanaya squeezes your hand once, twice, three times before turning back around. “You’re the first person I’ve ever told,” you whisper, like you have to explain yourself.

“Porrim suspects, but I have not told her. You are the first to know, too.”

“You’re green,” you begin, before backtracking. “Your color, I mean. For the party.”

“Jade,” Kanaya corrects gently. “The color of the mothers.”

“The mothers?”

“Yes,” there’s a soft sigh, and you follow Kanaya’s gaze to see Porrim coming out of the house. “Those destined to take care of others and provide a better world for them to live in.” The distinct click of Porrim unlocking the car. “It’s an honorable, but pitiful color.”

“And fuschia?” You whisper, throat feeling painfully tight.

“The color of tyrants. It is the highest in our spectrum. Wear it with pride, Feferi. Only you have the power to change the meaning behind the hue.” There’s a weight in her words you don’t understand, but it fills you with a new determination. Anything that you wanted to say dies on your lips when Porrim slips into the car looking much, much older. “He was drinking again. Passed out on the couch. Some pastor he is. Poor Karkat was scared out of his wits when I came in. You’ll check in on him, won’t you?” Kanaya nods, pulling out her phone to check on whoever Karkat was. “Poor Kanny was exhausted. He could barely get to his room by himself. Karkat thought he was bleeding because of the red paint. He came in saying he’d kill me if I hurt his brother. He’s a good kid. I don’t think either of them are sleeping well. Their father is going on a mission trip in a week to one of the inner cities. He’ll be gone for a month or so. Tell Karkat we’ll be over as soon as he’s gone for me, okay? And let him know our door is always open.” Kanaya is nodding as Porrim speaks, and you subconsciously begin to run your fingers through Nepeta’s hair, desperate to do something with your hands. “That goes for you too, Feferi. I know Meenah can be a lot to handle, even when she means well. You can always call one of us and we’ll come get you.”

Her words make you jump, and you tug a little too roughly at Nepeta’s hair, making her whimper in her sleep.

“Thank you,” you whisper, meaning it from the bottom of your heart.

“It’s not a problem, darling. Here, put your Pesterchum handle in my phone. I’ll give it to Kanaya later.” You take her phone with trembling hands, quickly typing your information into it before handing it to Kanaya. Taking a shaking breath you find the courage to ask, “Are they going to be okay?”

“Kanny and Karkat? Yeah, the’ll be okay. They’re tough. Besides,” Porrim turns to give you a wide grin. “They’ve got Kanaya and me looking out for them!” Kanaya seems embarrassed but pleased, quietly murmuring something along the lines of “please pay attention to the road” while Porrim laughs. You relax, sinking into the carseat with a quiet sigh. The car falls into a soothing calm, and you are lulled into sleep by the quiet murmurs of Kanaya and Porrim.

---

When you awake it’s once again because someone is shaking you. This time it’s Porrim, and she brushes some of your hair behind your ear with a quiet, “We’re here, darling. Aranea and Meenah are here as well. Do you want help getting inside?” You nod, and she reaches over to help you undo your seatbelt. “Do you want me or Kanaya to go with you?”

“Kanaya,” you mutter, letting her untangle Nepeta from you. Kanaya looks back at you in surprise, and from the light provided from the street lamps outside you can see a blush on her cheeks. Nepeta whines in her sleep at the loss of heat, and you murmur a soft apology. Porrim brushes your hair while she waits for Kanaya to climb out of the car. Before you and Kanaya can begin your way up to the house Porrim pulls you into a hug, pressing her lips on the crown of your head. “Sleep well, darling. Goodnight.” You’re sure you’re blushing, but Porrim doesn’t say anything, just giving your shoulders and extra squeeze before returning to the car.

“Hold my hand?” You whisper, and Kanaya takes it. She adjusts when you lean against her, moving so her arm is around your shoulder. Kanaya hesitates at the door, whispering, “Do you need me to come in with you?”

“No, I should be okay.” You turn so you’re facing her and, after a moment, ungracefully throw your arms around her. She gasps, but slowly returns the gesture. “Thank you,” you whisper into her shoulder.

“You’re welcome,” she whispers back, “thank you, too.”

“Text me whenever, okay? I might not...I might not understand but I’ll try.”  

“I will,” Kanaya says, and she sounds like she means it. She pulls away slowly, studying you for a moment before she leans down and presses a kiss to your forehead like Porrim had. You make a soft chirping noise in response, and from the porchlight you can see that she’s blushing again. She looks like she’s about to apologize when she pulls away, so you put your hands on her shoulders and press a kiss to her cheek. “Message me when you get home, okay?”

“Alright.” Kanaya is red to the tips of her ears, and you giggle at her. “Sleep well, Feferi.”

“You too, Kanaya!” You watch as she heads back to the car and wait until Porrim has pulled out of the driveway before heading inside. Turning off the porchlight you slip your shoes off and head upstairs, pointedly ignoring the whispers and light coming from the kitchen. You check your phone to see it’s nearly four in the morning and thank god it’s Saturday.

The walk upstairs is uneventful save for you almost tripping on the stairs, but that happens so often you’re used to it by now.  You grab the comfiest pajamas from your closet (a pair of sweatpants that belonged to Meenah and a sweater that was once Aradia’s) and head to the shower, typing out a quick message to Aradia to let her know that you were home. Your shower is done quickly, too, slipping under the spray before the water had begun to warm up and scrubbing at your skin until it’s practically raw. It’s soothing to watch the pink trail down your arms and legs and chest. The word tyranny rings in your ears, and you feel like you’re washing that away, too. You’re finally, finally peeling back the layers of expectations to reveal who you really are at the core. And if some tears mix in with the now-warm water and the paint, well, it’s not like there’s anyone there who will now.

It’s just you, Feferi Peixes, and that alone is enough to make you cry a little more.