When Rose is thinking, she nibbles the tip of her pencil.
She crosses her legs, clad in smooth, modern black pants like the skin of some night-prowling cat, and shifts her weight towards the edge of her seat. She isn’t ever quite at rest; there is an energy about her that never seems willing to settle into contact with the physical realm. Her movements are slow, precise, like ambition underwater, and she slides one elbow onto the desk with such maddening precision that Kanaya suspects her of chess-like mastery, planning out each action six turns in advance.
She moves without friction. Tiny white flashes of perfect teeth bite into the pink eraser, and too-dark painted lips envelop the edges.
Kanaya spends fourth period sketching on the back of her notebook. Mostly designs for the scarves and shirts and skirts that she might find time to make when she gets home at the end of the day; perhaps that new jacket for Gamzee that she’s been trying to get around to for ages. But sometimes she looks up. One row up and four to the left, Rose nibbles her pencil. Kanaya watches each poised movement of her half-hidden thighs.
She finds Gamzee and Eridan in the lot behind the school. Eridan is collapsed on the hood of his prized “empress blue” Cadillac, limbs sprawled in about fifteen directions. Gamzee sits on the pavement with his back against the driver’s side door, rolling an empty bottle against the wheel. It speaks volumes of Eridan’s mood that he doesn’t try to stop him.
“An’ then she had the nerve to turn me down. Me. What the hell’s this world comin’ to?”
“Feferi?” Kanaya asks Gamzee, who smiles vaguely up at her.
“Naw, it’s that papershaker Nepeta now.” Kanaya raises her eyebrows skeptically, but Gamzee only shrugs and goes back to what he was doing.
“I would be more careful if I were you,” she tells the despondent highblood. “I doubt Equius would take kindly to you talking about this.”
“Aw, I’m not stupid, Kan. The fream’s still in the building. He actually went to class, the square, an’ he might get wrangled into goin’ to Nep’s cheerleadin’ practice too. ” Suddenly he sits up, struck by inspiration, and grabs Kanaya’s wrist. “Kan! That’s it, why don’ you talk to Nep for me? Or auspitize; maybe I can get one quadrant filled, if Vriska-”
Kanaya pulls back in disgust. “How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not interested in mediating your love life?”
Gamzee must have stood up more quickly and quietly than she had given his movements credit for; when she feels his hand on her shoulder she jumps. “Don’t worry about him, sister. How’s about we all go catch a flick?” He smiles in that disarming way he has.
Sometimes she has to wonder about Gamzee. He’s the leader of the Highbloods, or so the rumor mill tells. She knows him fairly well by now (he’s so easy to talk to it’s ridiculous what she gives away sometimes), but there is still something bizarre about the way he keeps them all in line with so little effort.
“Thank you, but I really should go. I’ve got homework-”
“Aw, you should learn to live a bit, doll. Does no motherfuckin’ good to coop yourself up in your pad with fractions and square roots and squares all the time.” He squeezes her shoulder, just barely, and somehow she feels more comfortable. “C’mon, my treat.” He looks up at Eridan smoothly. “You coming, my man?”
Eridan gives a loud, world-weary groan, and they take that as a yes.
In the darkness of the theater, over Eridan’s complaints about the romantic subplot (“It’s like they’re rubbin’ my face all over it, glubbin’ bastards!”) Kanaya whispers to Gamzee about sitting through class, legs pressed tight together, as she watches lips teasing the tip of a pencil.
Gamzee is completely calm about everything that she ever tells him. She doesn’t know how else she would get by, some days; it’s so easy for her to give advice, good or not, because it feels like the right thing to do. When she wants to help she tries her hardest, whether her help is wanted or not. But sometimes it’s difficult to talk about her own wants and desires, either because she doesn’t know who to talk to or she doesn’t know them herself. Sometimes she talks to Karkat, if she wants longwinded angry explosions of romantic advice, but that isn’t always what she needs.
Gamzee’s thin face waxes as thoughtful as it ever goes. The flickering light of the picture plays strange patterns like paint on his left side, reaching over his mouth and into the crevice of an eye. She’s noticed that his gaze never quite focuses when she’s talking to him. There is always something glazed in his expression but she’s learned to ignore that, because it’s just a part of Gamzee and there’s really nothing else to say on the subject.
“Sounds to me,” he says, leaning an elbow against the back of his seat (the way he rests his head on his hand is so casual and close that she isn’t surprised half the school thinks the two of them are jacketed), “like this is on the verge of gettin’ unhealthy.”
Kanaya bristles a little. “I don’t think-”
“Now it’s none’a my business what you broads do with each other. But sister – now this is just my own personal take here – sister, maybe you should make a motherfuckin’ move.”
Kanaya isn’t sure she believes in any kind of higher power. Life throws too many curveballs and quiet Friday nights at home for there to be a concerned God up in the clouds. That was always more of a human belief anyway, though some things drift back and forth across cultural boundaries.
But she isn’t sure she can come up with any other explanation for this.
“Okay, what is it.”
She realizes with a jolt that Karkat is still talking to her. They sit in the diner just down the street from the school, surrounded by peppy jukebox music and chattering teenagers from every clique. Karkat and Terezi have nearly finished their milkshakes; Kanaya’s is nearly untouched.
“Usually by now you’ve tried to tell me fifteen different ways I’m doing something wrong.” He leans towards her with a suspicious frown, but Terezi only laughs, one arm draped casually over the seat behind him.
“I know what it is,” she says in that creeping-crawling, jarringly intense voice she saves for when she is hot on the trial of an imaginary criminal. “Or who. She’s sitting at the bar.”
Kanaya gives her a look, though she doesn’t know if Terezi has any way of knowing what she’s doing with her face (how does that even work?) and the blind girl tilts her head with an unrepentant smirk. Kanaya can see the hint of red eyes behind dark horn-rimmed glasses.
“What are you jawing about?” Karkat swivels his head back and forth, trying to see over the crowds. “What?”
“Kanaya’s flushed for a human,” Terezi says, casually laying bare Kanaya’s soul.
“You’re what?” Karkat’s face would be comical, if her insides weren’t doing a particularly twisted tango. “Wait, who? Where?”
“It’s not important,” she says, resisting the urge to bury her face in her hands.
She can see Rose out of the corner of her eye. She’s wearing a skirt this time, black and more form-fitting than could be considered decent. Sitting alone at the bar with a Coke bottle in front of her, eyes moving rapidly over the pages of a book. Naked Lunch. Pretentious. So perfectly pretentious and contrived and every bit the quietly rebellious Beat, and Kanaya’s nails dig into the seat.
Realization dawns. “No,” Karkat says, and Kanaya winces. “You’re - that bitch? Really? Jegus, Kanaya. First Vriska, now this? Your taste is-”
“Terrible, but we knew that,” Terezi cuts in. “Come on, it’s a stupid idea, but don’t get frosted over it.” She thwaps him on the back of the head, probably harder than necessary.
“What the fuck was that for?”
Terezi gives him a shit eating grin. Then the two of them are off, scrabbling and yelling too loud to be in public. Kanaya massages her temples and tries not to seem associated with them, which at this point is basically impossible.
When she glances back to the bar, Rose is looking straight at her.
She starts and wrenches her eyes back to her own table, cheeks heating in a rush of green, and frantically tries to position her arms in a way that looks casual. Resting her chin – no, too daydreamy, she’d look like a space case reacting like that to Karkat and Terezi – combing through her hair – too vain, too frantic.
“Oh for Gog’s sake,” Karkat says, pushing Terezi’s hand out of his face. “Then just go and talk to her already. You look like a flailing featherbeast.”
“I can’t, I don’t even know her. And I thought - aren’t humans unusually particular about the gender of…”
She steals a quick glimpse again, just out of curiosity’s sake. Rose raises a delicate eyebrow, and gives the slightest upwards quirk of her lips.
Terezi snorts. “Oh, she’s being real particular. Sure.”
Kanaya thinks she’s going to suffocate or melt into a hot puddle, and it’s really only a matter of which happens first.
Terezi leans forward. “Just go,” she says over Karkat’s muffled protests as she pushes his head aside. “She’s like, one of those kids with the cigarettes and berets, right? She’s probably into all kinds of kinky shit, for a human.”
How had Gamzee put it? Make a “motherfucking move”?
Kanaya takes a deep breath and stands.
Her thoughts are racing as she slides onto the stool next to Rose’s. She doesn’t have any excuse to be here, and Rose isn’t helping at all – just giving her that same, vaguely amused look as she holds her book open and ignored.
“I…” she glances at the almost untouched Coke bottle. “It seems that your drink isn’t to your preference.” Stupid, she’s going about this all wrong, but charging forward is really the only option left at this point. “Would you prefer something else? I could-”
“You might as well save the money,” Rose says. Her tone is unexpectedly dry and her eyes return to brush the text of her book. Kanaya feels fight-or-flight kick in full strength at the rejection.
“I see. Well, in that case, I wouldn’t want to disturb you.”
She sits awkwardly, waiting for any last flicker of attention, but it’s only as she’s stirring to get up (retreat, lick the wound, you’ve had worse) that Rose closes the book. She chuckles, an oddly dark sound, and rests Naked Lunch on the table, her place saved by one finger. When she looks up her eyes are vibrant and sharply obscure, like broken glass in a closed window.
“I’ve been entirely involved in a series of groundbreaking postmodernist vignettes, and I haven’t had the time to spare for the drink. Have you ever read any Burroughs?”
Kanaya smiles, and it feels like dancing on the edge of a cliff. “Not yet, but I enjoy a good book.”
She cannot shake the feeling that every move Rose makes is intentional.
They walk together through the park (which is, of course, filled with thought-provoking imagery and artistic people smoking cigarettes and it’s just so goddamned intentional), and discuss school and literature and the latest psychological theories. Sometimes Kanaya is at a loss compared to her companion’s vast knowledge, but other times she surprises herself with a bit of insight that Rose hadn’t thought of, or a little-known fact that Rose eats up as though Kanaya has suddenly become the most interesting person in the world. She is growing irresistibly fonder and fonder of those moments, no matter how loudly she tells herself to pull back, pull back, this is too hard too fast-
Then Rose runs an absent hand through her hair, or just barely bumps her knuckles against Kanaya’s, and she’s lost to her machinations all over again.
They find a bench in a quiet area near the back fence. Rose brought her Coke bottle with her, after dropping in an extra straw, but it’s only now that she offers Kanaya a sip. She leans in to oblige. The drink is cool and refreshing, if flat, and she does not pull back when Rose leans in for a sip herself. They sit for a moment, close enough for Kanaya to see the flakes of Rose’s dark makeup, the flutter of her individual lashes.
Rose pulls back slowly, her lips lingering on the straw.
“I can lend you some reading material, of course,” she says, jumping back to a conversation from ten minutes ago. Kanaya’s eyes are still caught by her lips. “Burroughs is a must, but there are other, lesser-known authors who I believe capture the spirit of the generation quite thoroughly.”
“It’s all very interesting,” Kanaya says, and Rose smirks.
“I appreciate your attention, Kanaya, you’re an interesting cat. But if you’re humoring me about the literature I’ll understand.” She leans her elbow on the back of the bench and rests her head on her hand, and it’s close as Gamzee was; closer, maybe, and her breath is coming shallow and maybe it’s now or never. Kanaya steels her nerves.
“No, I really mean that.” She swallows once, hard, and puts her hand lightly on top of Rose’s. “I could tell you every single way,” she strokes Rose’s finger, just barely touching, and her thumb wraps around underneath to Rose’s palm. “But that would take quite a long time.”
Rose raises an eyebrow (perfectly controlled), and leans in closer, letting her breath (mint and Coca-Cola) ghost across Kanaya’s face. “Why don’t you lay it on me.”
And it’s inevitable enough that there’s no use in fighting it. Kanaya tilts her head, lips parting before she realizes it, and they spiral together like hard gravity.
“Who was your friend?” the perky boy working behind the counter asks as Karkat and Terezi get up to leave.
Karkat scowls. “What’ I tell you about talking to me?”
The boy only chuckles, blue eyes bright behind his large, square glasses. “I was just wondering, since she seemed to get along so well with my friend.” He absentmindedly swipes a dirtied cloth over the inside of a cup.
Karkat winces. “Fuck, this better not mean I’ll be seeing more a’ you.”
Terezi giggles in that jagged, almost suggestive way she has. “C’mon Karkles, we told Sollux we’d hang. Thanks for the milkshakes, John.”
“No problem! On the house this time if you don’t tell my boss, okay?”
As they walk out the door, Karkat makes a vague hand motion that could be interpreted as a wave.
Jeez, trolls are funny. John hopes Rose is getting along with her new troll friend. Rose has odd tastes, but obviously she has awesome taste in people, given who her best friends are. He hopes the two of them have fun.
They lay on the grass, ruffled and reddened (and greened), talking about books. Their left hands are interlocked, pulled over Kanaya’s stomach, and her other hand twines absently through Rose’s soft hair.
“You’re rather unusual for a human,” Kanaya cuts in over what was becoming a rather tiring discussion of syntax.
“Mm? How so?”
Kanaya gets the impression she is being humored, but she pushes ahead anyway. “Your interests, for one. In books and - unusual topics, and…companionship.” She turns to face her, and Rose tilts her head, further tangling Kanaya’s fingers.
“I’d rather not adhere to the standards of the generations before us.”
She pushes herself onto her elbows, then turns to brace one hand against the ground on Kanaya’s other side. She leans in quickly at first, then slows to a stop inches above her lips, blonde hair tickling at Kanaya’s cheeks and closing her off from the world. Lips parted, her eyes flicker over Kanaya’s face, as much invitation as pleasure. Kanaya closes the space for the second time today, and Rose pushes back, hot mouth sweet and overwhelmingly heavy. Their tongues slide against each other, their fingers laced and squeezing. Kanaya digs her heels into soft earth, arching her back, and pushes up against Rose’s skin. Their legs interweave.
Rose breaks a moment for air, and when she moves in again Kanaya quickly turns her head to the side. Rose misses, bumping moist lips against her cheek, and draws back. The gleam in her eye is curious now.
Kanaya smiles and sits up. She pulls her hand back slowly as she stands, careful to linger as she brushes against Rose’s fingertips.
“Thank you for a most entertaining afternoon,” she says, and she feels her smile grow unrestrainedly flirtatious. How incredibly forward of her. “Perhaps I’ll see you again soon.”
Rose leans back on her hands, looking up at her with a slightly perplexed expression (perplexed but mostly pleased; she knows this game, she plays it well) and nods.
“Yes, that is a distinct possibility.” Her lips are slightly swollen, makeup smeared around the edges, and her hair tangles appealingly at the back.
Kanaya stretches. Equilibrium has been restored. The irresistibility of Rose Lalonde is still strong and present, drawing her in like some monstrous, lovely black hole, but perhaps she can pull Rose right back.