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There is something intoxicating about the human world.

It would be more accurate to say “what is left of” the human world, but to be honest Kanaya doesn’t think she would be able to tell the difference. There are echoes, similarities that eerily remind her of her own childhood on Alternia, but so many things are so alien that it’s all she can do to keep up.

The “human world” as they knew it exists only in fragments now, preserved in the homes of the human players. Bits of driftwood, deposited in the new universe that they all created together. They have nothing left to do but cultivate the outside world.

Kanaya keeps a garden, tucked into one of the sharp corners of Rose’s strange hive. The new universe is patterned on the “paradise planet” that the humans would want. It was born of their session, after all, and the trolls have to put up with what they get out of the deal, blinding light of day and all. This fazes Kanaya much less than it does the others; the flowers are as rich and colorful here as she grew them back on Alternia, and she has always liked the sun.

The world outside is nothing but a blank slate, however. Inside is where the fascination lives, sparks of a beautiful, dead universe preserved like a delicate dried flower in the pages of a book.

 

“This is the kitchen,” Rose says, gesturing to the room as a whole. “It’s where we prepare our meals. I assume we’ll still need the Alchemiter to provide for our daily needs until we can become self-sufficient.”

“It’s beautiful,” she says in a rush. She is still riding high on victory and safety and life. She is alive, and so are her friends. So is Rose, who rushed into blackness without looking back and somehow came out alright again on the other side.

Rose quirks her lips up into a smirk that is quickly becoming familiar. “Yes, humans often consider their culinary stations to be the epitome of high design.”

Kanaya blushes slightly. “You are reacting sarcastically, which I suppose implies that my outburst was out of place.”

“Not out of place. It’s difficult to gauge just how different your – hives, wasn’t it? Your homes were from these. It’s natural that you’d react strongly.” After spending so much time interpreting lavender text as Rose’s “voice,” hearing her speak out loud takes a bit of getting used to. Her words are supremely confident, calm and in control. Kanaya has the suspicion that she could be spouting complete nonsense and it would be believable. She does not know if this is natural for humans of her age, but she seems so intelligent that Kanaya has to imagine not.

Rose opens what appears to be her thermal hull, explaining where they keep various food-items, before she stops and seems to reconsider. “It’s a bit useless explaining where the carrots are if you don’t have any idea what that means, isn’t it.”

Kanaya shrugs, not wanting to cause more trouble than she suddenly feels she already is. Rose pulls out a plastic bag filled with moist, plump little orange sticks and sets them on the impossibly clean-looking counter, followed by a tiny crate of something red. Kanaya sidles up closer, picking up one of the lopsided, red fruits by its green leafy stem. It’s dotted with clear little seeds in a pattern that could have been designed. Her mind flashes to all the material she has yet to alchemize for her time here, yards upon yards of bright fabric playing in her mind’s eye.

“Is all of your food so…colorful?” she asks, genuinely curious. She may sustain herself on blood now, but that doesn’t mean she has lost her sense of taste. After a hesitant glance at Rose, she pops the fruit into her mouth. It’s like nothing she has ever experienced and she chews slowly, letting the taste saturate her mouth entirely before she swallows.

Rose watches her closely. “I’m curious as to whether or not trolls perceive the same taste categories as humans do. Care to describe the sensation, Kanaya, of your first strawberry?” She looks intrigued, of course, but there is also an unexpected, shy sort of friendliness in the shape of her words, the tilt of her head.

Kanaya sucks the taste from her teeth. “It’s…very juicy. Mild, but with just the right tartness. I like this. Quite a bit.”

Rose smiles and offers her a carrot.

 

The dirt here is more malleable than on Alternia. Kanaya is fascinated by the ease in which she digs little holes for fresh seeds, patting and smoothing their beds until everything is a perfect, even shade of darkest brown. She does not know if this is an effect of the world being new, as Jade called it a “Garden of Eden” ready for the planting, or if this is simply how things worked in the humans’ world. Sometimes Jade brings her new seeds that she has alchemized for her own garden, and they trade memories of their homes and secret spaces.

“What are you planting?” Rose asks, leaning on the sheet of thick glass that surrounds the porch. Kanaya has the suspicion that Rose’s hive, all intimidating white corners and plastic, is strange even for a human. She thinks it would look much better with some winding green Earth vines up the sides, and she tells her as much.

“Interesting,” Rose says. “You’re probably right. Just so long as they don’t harm the structure of the building or become troublesome, that should be fine.”

Kanaya stands and surveys the bed in satisfaction. “I think they should give your hive a much more welcoming appearance, especially once the small yellow flowers Jade informed me about begin to blossom.”

When Kanaya turns to face her, Rose is watching her almost lazily, cheek rested on her palm. Morning sunlight sets fire to her lovely, alien golden hair.

“You have a good eye for pretty things,” she says, and Kanaya feels green heat rise to her cheeks.

 

“And this is my room,” Rose says, pushing open the nondescript door. “I apologize, it’s a bit of a mess.”

She’s telling the truth. Kanaya has seen Rose’s respiteblock many times on her screen. It’s different, though, standing for herself on the stiff white carpet. She takes in each of the ways Rose has made this corner of the forbidding house her own; knit clothing, mostly in dark colors, is strewn randomly on the floor. Dark posters line the walls, and that strange stringed instrument sits propped in the corner. Kanaya resists the urge to ask if she can touch it. She feels like a child in a vending establishment for sweet substances, surrounded by things that are new and exciting and yet so uniquely Rose that she can’t help but feel safe.

“You may consider this a bit repetitive, given my overenthusiastic response to your eating quarters, but your… ‘room’ is wonderful.”

Rose smiles, and there is that strange shyness again around the edges. It probably feels exciting and new for Rose as well, though she doesn’t show it as openly. They have grown close through so many pesterlogs and snark-offs and frantic advice (Rose Please Don’t I Can’t See You Anymore) that just to be here, standing in the same room, sharing each others’ lives, is almost hard to believe.

Rose wanders to sit on her bed, and Kanaya picks up a purple and black knitted scarf. The stitches are tight and perfectly even. Kanaya wonders if Rose’s life had been what a human would consider “normal” when she made it.

“You know,” she says, and Rose looks up at her curiously. “I think I have a top that would go with this very well, if later you would like to try it on.”

 

In a few weeks, Rose’s house is covered in climbing vines and little yellow flowers. Rainbows of colorful blossoms surround the doorways. When John drags Karkat along for yet another visit he informs them that Rose “doesn’t seem as creepy and weird anymore, since her house is so nice!” Kanaya doesn’t know if this was ever a point of concern for Rose, but she takes the Heir’s words with a grain of salt, giving him another dose of masterfully straight-faced sarcasm about the bodies she’s hidden in the basement. Kanaya wonders if she should be taking notes.

Later, when she has the chance to talk to Karkat alone, she asks him how he’s adjusting.

His complaints are long and punctuated with obscenities and just Karkat enough that Kanaya only has to half-listen as she snips her fabric. It’s a vivid red this time, fringed in green and patterned with seeds like small teardrops.

“So basically I hate it here, I have a nook-licking grub for a hivemate, and there’s nothing outside except for the goddamn sun like a million tiny darts of I-hate-you-Karkat-just-shrivel-up-and-die-already.” He sprawls on her respiteblock floor with an abandon that she finds kind of funny but neglects to point out. She’s done him the favor of pulling the shades shut, though it’s already past evening. John would never make Karkat travel during this world’s long daylight hours.

“Though I’m sorry to say that I can’t sympathize with the sun problem, I can understand-”

“Stop. Just stop, you’ve got nothing to complain about! You’ve been living out some sort of demented, sickly-sweet grub dream. You’re surrounded by your stupid smelly plants, your house isn’t littered with goddamn human pranks, you’ve got Rose, you’re a fucking rainbow drinker! Just start the fucking ensemble number already and give us the big heartwarming finale.”

“I’m not sure what you mean by – what does Rose–”

“Oh don’t even pretend.” He sits up and stares her down until she fidgets. Her hands work faster and the line of her cut grows sloppier.

“I –”

“Hey guys, Rose and I were gonna play a card game! You wanna learn?” John’s face in the doorway is ridiculously happy for such a simple prospect, and Karkat’s scowl becomes instantly more pronounced. He gripes about how the last thing he wants to do is sit in a human slop-beast sty and learn to play an utterly shittastic human game, but as he talks he stands and moves towards the door.

By the end of the night Kanaya is laughing hysterically at Karkat’s face as John lays his hand, trouncing all of them thoroughly. As the obscenities start to fly, somehow John turns Karkat’s rage-tackle into a forced tackle-hug and Rose says something funny about repressed urges and Kanaya’s head is on Rose’s soft shoulder. She cannot stop giggling.

Everything, everything is alive again.

 

“What’s this room?” Kanaya asks. As this is her first-day tour, Rose has been careful to explain the function of every corner, but they had almost passed right by this door without a second glance. Rose pauses momentarily before turning to face her.

“That was my mother’s room.” Her words are carefully, cleanly pronounced.

It takes Kanaya a moment before she realizes that Rose is talking about her lusus. She studies the door, trying to decide if what she wants to ask is appropriate. “I’m still unfamiliar with the human concept of ‘mother.’ Could I…would you mind if I took a look?”

For a moment Kanaya thinks that she has done something wrong. Rose stares at her for a bit too long, and her hand brushes her skirt roughly, as if wiping something off.

“If you’d rather I didn’t–”

“No, it’s fine. This is your house too now.” She opens the door.

The room is just as immaculately clean as the rest of the building. There appears to be a bar containing various types of liquids in the corner, and furniture blocks are very conveniently arranged. Though the walls are white, Rose’s lusus seems to have thrown her own personal touch into things as much as Rose had; elements of bright pink stash themselves into corners and drape over the bed.

Kanaya steps forward, drawn towards the array of bright, dainty things on the dresser. A hairbrush, what seems to be a tin of jewelry, and a display box filled with something that immediately catches her eye.

“This is a great deal of lipstick!” The colors on the tubes are bright, brighter than any she could get her hands on in Alternia (no eye for fashion, any of them). And such variety! There are colors that she has never thought of wearing on her face before, but she knows that humans are different and not afraid to be colorful.

Unthinkingly, she reaches out to grab a stick.

All Rose does is touch her wrist, but it’s enough to overcome Kanaya’s curiosity. Suddenly afraid, Kanaya searches her friend’s face in the mirror for signs of anger. Instead, all she sees is an unfamiliar sadness. Too deep.

What is she thinking, putting her hands all over her dead lusus’s things?

She draws her hand back. “I – I’m sorry, I –”

“Don’t be.” Rose gives her a small, wry smile. “I would just prefer if we could…” She glances towards the door. Kanaya nods and leaves the room as quickly as she can, ignoring the pink scarf draped neatly over the rocking chair in the corner.

They continue down the hall in silence. Kanaya trails behind and feels like she’s failed something.

 

The day after Karkat and John come to visit, Kanaya decides that she needs a model.

Rose stands in the middle of her room on a small wooden stool while Kanaya circles with her strawberry-patterned fabric, wrapping her waist in the trailing material of a skirt.

“This is a bit bright for my tastes,” Rose says, holding the cloth up where Kanaya indicates.

“I know. But I’d like to wear it, and I think it would probably look good on you as well.” She balances a tack between her lips, carefully marking on the fabric with a small pencil. She can practically feel Rose’s familiar, small smile, but she does not tear her eyes away from her work. They are close together and at peace, sunlight streaming in through Rose’s window. Kanaya knows that it’s dancing madly through Rose’s fascinating hair as always, and she tells herself that she can look up when she’s done, as a reward.

She finishes her marking, pinning the fabric in place and stepping back to survey her work. “All I need to do now is hem and sew the fabric. It should be done by this evening.”

“Kanaya.”

She was right about the sunlight, of course. Such a bright halo for someone who has quite literally been to hell and back. Rose is giving her one of those careful, even looks that she cannot interpret, and she fights the urge to fidget under her gaze.

“I’ve been performing some self-analysis, and I’ve come to a decision. There’s something I’d like you to have.”

She nods towards her dresser. When Kanaya moves closer she can see behind the large purple ball of yarn to a display box full of lipstick.

“I…”

She reaches out to touch it, running her hand down the smooth, descending tubes.

“This is your…mother’s.”

“Was,” Rose says, and it doesn’t sound like breaking at all.

She stands with shoulders back and chin lifted, the picture of strength. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be a cathartic experience for me to make use of these. In human society, lipstick was often a mark of maturity. In order to come to peace with the past world and embrace the future, I think it would be helpful to use these instead of letting them sit behind a closed door stewing in regretful memories. However…” Kanaya pretends not to notice how one hand wanders to clasp her other arm. Rose was the one who taught her about posture, and what it says about a person’s thoughts. Some things seem to be universal. “I feel that you would make better use of them. I only wear one shade, and it’s much darker than most of these. I…assumed these would be more to your interest.”

Kanaya breathes deeply, trailing a finger along the strong, clear color markings on each tube. She never met Rose’s lusus. She wonders what she was like, beyond the sometimes contradictory stories Rose tells. She seems to have been a master of mental manipulation and the most subtle forms of human sarcasm. Rose speaks of her with respect, but more hesitantly than she speaks of most things, as though respect is not something she is used to giving this memory. Either way, this is important to her in ways that Kanaya can only barely comprehend.

She feels Rose’s gaze on her back. Waiting.

She picks the display box up, careful not to disturb the gleaming tubes, and sets it down next to Rose’s stool. Choosing a bright, juicy red, she unscrews the cap and examines the makeup inside. “I think…” She grabs a tissue from the desk and hands both things to Rose. “This shade would go quite well with that skirt. If you’d like to try it.”

Rose takes the lipstick and the tissue. She seems reluctant to break gaze with Kanaya, but when she does she closes her eyes and takes a long, slow breath. When she opens them again, she is back to normal. A smirk just barely bordering on playful dances around her lips before it’s hidden behind the tissue as she begins to smear off her own purple-black shade.

Kanaya kneels down on the floor to examine her new treasures. Surprisingly, the greens and blues that are standard fare for trolls are missing entirely. The majority is made up of pinks and reds, and she finds herself impatient to try some. She chooses the palest pink available, almost bordering on white. Gently unscrewing the cap, she presses her finger to the smooth stick, pulling it back to see the blotchy, pure substance against her skin.

When she stands, Rose is slowly applying the red to her own lips. She presses too hard.

“It’s not necessary to wear it so heavily,” Kanaya says when she’s finished. “Here, blotch it.” She holds the back of her hand up to Rose’s mouth. Rose kisses it.

It feels unthinking at first, the way she leans down from her high spot on the stool to scrub off some excess makeup with a kiss. But Rose slows once her lips have touched Kanaya’s skin. Her eyes flicker towards her face, and everything stops for a moment.

When she pulls away, the beat in Kanaya’s chest is double-time.

She swallows and raises the pink-white lipstick to her mouth with fingers that almost shake, stretching her lips and expertly tracing over them. She doesn’t need the mirror to apply makeup, but she turns to see the results with some rising excitement. It looks strange, of course, with her complexion, but somehow –

“Exquisite,” Rose says, red lips smiling.

“I’m not skilled enough in the art of sarcasm to determine if you are mocking me.”

Rose doesn’t answer. Kanaya swallows and grabs her hand. She flips it over and presses a kiss to Rose’s palm, lingering there as she works up the courage to lift her eyes. She meets Rose’s gaze steadily this time.

When they both pull back, they do not feel any further apart.

Rose steps down from the stool towards her, and Kanaya feels dizzy.

Kanaya kneels down to grab the brightest, strangest shade that she can find. It’s hidden the corner, and the stick inside looks barely touched.

“I wasn’t aware that my mother owned costume makeup, but I can’t think of another explanation for that,” Rose says, looking skeptically at the stick. It’s a bright, shining gold, filled with gaudy sparkles like spangled stars. Kanaya has never seen anything like it.

“No, it’s…wonderful.” Like the sun, streaming in the window and glancing off of Rose’s beautiful white house to feed the starburst of flowers in the garden.

She raises it to put on her lips over the lighter shade, but Rose grabs her hand. She takes it from her, holding towards Kanaya’s face herself. Kanaya obliges. The lipstick she is already wearing makes a small smacking noise as she parts her lips.

Rose applies it diligently, still pressing too hard, but careful to follow every contour of Kanaya’s lips. She smears a bit at the corner and uses her thumb to wipe off the spill, more maddeningly slow than Kanaya had thought possible. She stands completely still, breath caught firmly in her throat. That would explain the oxygen-deprived twisting of her insides, the way something burns deep down in her core while goosebumps shiver across her skin.

Rose steps back, and Kanaya looks in the mirror. A part of her knows that this looks ridiculous. It really isn’t her shade, or anyone else’s, for that matter. But Rose is standing over her shoulder, Rose whose strawberry red lips are slightly parted, and somehow it feels like living.

Kanaya smiles. “You may need a few lessons in the finer application of makeup, if you always wear it this heavily.”

She leans in to remove the excess, kissing the spot where Rose’s neck meets her chin. She draws back only enough to ghost across her skin, leaving kisses down her neck. Rose tilts her head back, and Kanaya feels fingers twining with her own. They move closer, legs brushing under skirts. Rose makes a small humming noise, and Kanaya feels it reverberating deliciously through her throat. Her kisses grow more open-mouthed, pressing hot breath against flushed skin. The hum becomes choked.

When she pulls back, Rose has a stream of glittering gold cascading down her neck. She smiles, and her lipstick accentuates her reddened cheeks, the moist gleam in her eye.

Rose lets go of one hand to slide her palm across Kanaya’s back, and Kanaya closes her eyes. She feels lips against her forehead, just giving the slightest hint of pressure before they move on. Then the same coolness against her heated cheek. Then the corner of her lips, just barely touching.

Rose starts to pull away, and Kanaya moves to meet her, pressing their lips together firmly, completely. She leans in, hands and body and ventricle system and soul. Her fingers ghost across Rose’s shoulder blades and splay on her lower back, and Rose wraps her arms over Kanaya’s shoulders.

Their movements are not perfect, but they fit.

Kanaya tastes Rose’s red staining her mouth. Not quite strawberries, but the thought is there.

 

Sometimes Rose wears the strawberry skirt. She does it mostly around the house, where Kanaya can see her handiwork swishing around her legs. She is wearing it when she comes out to see Kanaya’s progress on the garden.

Blossoms explode from every possible crevice now, and dangling vines on the walls intertwine with flowered plants and brightly-dotted little fruit patches. Kanaya is watering the sunflowers that rise up in the back. They’ve almost reached the kitchen window now, but Rose hasn’t complained yet so she hopes she’ll be allowed to keep them anyway. They are such funny human plants.

Rose wraps an arm around her waist and Kanaya smiles. She is wearing a reddish-purple lipstick today, and is quite proud of the effect when combined with her latest fashion creations.

“What do you think?” she asks, gesturing towards the flowers.

“You’re really offsetting my reputation as a harbinger of doom,” Rose answers lightly.

Kanaya chuckles. She will probably always be amused by that, no matter how much of a reoccurring theme it becomes for the two of them. Because right now the sun is bright and lovely like Rose’s hair, and her garden is beautiful and extravagant and the world is filled with color.

Everything, everything is alive again.