Heather shot up from her seat at the Aardvark as I walked in the door, waving a hand with a smile on her face. I scowled, limping over as I juggled my cane, coat and my bags. Heather immediately made an aborted motion to hurry over and help me, incessant samaritan that she is, but I shot her with a glare before she could make it more than a few steps. The full ‘sadistic bitch’ glare, the one that saved me for unwanted attention on the rare occasions I was forced to be amongst the swarming masses; two decades of curdled venom and bitterness sharpened by three nights of stress dreams, an icepick headache above my left eye, and the dull, watery twinges of unfed caffeine deprivation-
All of which slid off Heather Morell like water off a poorly-socialised paranoiac duck.
“Are you sure you don’t need a hand?” she asked as I approached, that little half-nervous smile of hers making an appearance once more, the one that transmuted the worried creases of her face into laugh lines through the inexplicable alchemy of personality that was eternally her forte.
“I’m a cripple,” I said, “not an invalid.”
“There’s nothing wrong with accepting help, Evee,” Heather reprimanded me gently.
“Yes, yes,” I waved the statement down, “I know how much help you accept from Raine.”
Being Heather, she immediately blushed beet-red. It was a wonder she had enough blood left for it, considering how much she splattered all over my house whenever she practised her ‘brainmath’ (which, I should note, I still object to as the nom de jure).
“E-evee,” she stammered, covering her eyes with one hand and peeking through the fingers. “That’s not- I wasn’t-!”
As ever, I was slightly too late in realising the implications of my own words, that I’d just implied that Heather was offering to-
Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. If you just bloody thought for once in your life, Saye...
“It was a bloody joke,” I muttered, avoiding eye contact. “Relax, I know you have no intention of sticking your hand down my pants in the middle of a coffee shop.”
I stalked past her to the table and pulled out a chair before she could notice the stain of crimson that I could feel burning across my face as my sickly bag of meat continued to find new and exciting ways to let me down.
Pathetically, I couldn’t quite suppress the sigh of relief as I settled into my chair. My hip was currently protesting the short walk from the bus station to the Aardvark’s premises in a way that heralded an extremely shitty and pain-wracked night ahead. Over-the-counter medications did very little for me, and the stronger stuff had a tendency to leave me feeling somewhat clouded-over mentally. Not, strictly speaking, always a downside, but I preferred to be in my right mind with Heather, preferred the clarity of memory over the comfort of pain relief.
I’m no stranger to pain, besides.
On top of the usual aches and pains, the howls of arctic chill wracking the streets of Sharrowford had no love for my joints, and if I failed to be sufficiently diligent, the lasting chill in my prosthetic could give me frostbite at the socket. Winters usually heralded a series of improbable and ludicrous fantasies about moving somewhere sickeningly warm, Bermuda or Australia or the bloody Congo for all I cared. This year, however, they’d mostly been absent, distracted as I was with other matters.
One of which took her seat across from me, picking up her drink through the oversized sleeves of her jumper and nursing it just below her chin.
“Do you want something?” she asked, eyes wide on the other side of the steam curling up from her mug.
A spot of tea would’ve done my joints some good. “Believe it or not, I am capable of ordering at a cafe on my own. Despite what you seem to believe, I didn’t spend the years before we met completely unable to complete the most basic tasks.”
She sighed, and took a sip of her drink. “Evee…”
“...I’m fine, thank you.” I shuffled my items around slightly, resting my cane against the side of the table and draping my coat over my lap. “How… was your class?”
That had the intended effect, thank god. Heather’s face lit up immediately as she started telling me about her literature course. One hand tugged absently at the drawstring of the pink hoodie that Raine had gifted her, the other resting on the table to display a litany of small, self-inflicted scars and ragged, uneven nails starting to grow back more consistently. Her skin was still sallow, hair still shaggy and eyebags still deep and dark as a Stepford Wife’s bruises, but compared to the young woman I’d met a few months before, she was practically brimming with life. Her eyes sparkled as she spoke about a novel they were studying that she thought I might enjoy - a Japanese-American woman whose name failed to stick in my head, whose works in literary fiction she thought might go better than my aborted forays into the works of Murakami and Marquez.
Everything about her - her nervous, watery eyes, her defensive posture, the jittery cast to her actions, the anxious, fluttery stammer of her voice - spoke of a young woman utterly terrified of the world around her. A cartoon scaredy-cat, liable to jump out of her own skin at the slightest provocation.
Of course, she had plenty of justification for being so - I still couldn’t think too hard about my brief time in ‘Wonderland’, after all. But to an outsider, to someone with no knowledge of her history or of the pneuma-somatic life that surrounded them, she seemed something pitiable, the runt of the litter of humanity; an object of protection at best, a target of manipulation and control at worst.
It was a trap I still fell into on occasion, when my thoughts strayed. Thinking of her as weak, or fragile, a burden or a handicap (and no prizes for guessing the origin of those thoughts).
Seeing her like this, though, let alone staring down an eldritch horror, shaky and bleeding and afraid but unbowed-
Waxing poetical, Saye. Never a good sign. I reigned my rambling musings in as Heather continued talking, made the appropriate noises and asked the appropriate questions.
“Is this it?” I finally asked at an appropriate pause in conversation, and immediately regretted it. The way she flinched and withdrew into herself slightly set a sick, curdled-milk feeling stirring in my stomach. “Not that I don’t- appreciate talking to you,” I added a little hastily, “but I don’t see why you asked me here to talk about your classes?”
“Ah,” she said, a little guiltily. “Right, well. I actually wanted to… ask you something?”
“And, again, you couldn’t do that in the house where we both live because…?” I was perfectly aware I was being crabby, but I’d had to venture outside for this conversation, and the biting cold didn’t leave me particularly inclined to generosity.
“I just… thought it would be better if we spoke privately?”
Expression flat, I waved a hand at the throng of people filling the Aardvark alongside us.
“Okay, not that kind of private. I wanted to just talk, you and me, without- uh, the chance of anyone else interrupting.”
That piqued my interest. “Oh?” I murmured, leaning forward slightly. “Heather Morell, afraid to speak when Raine could hear? This should be interesting.”
“I’m not scared,” she insisted, quite firmly. “It’s just- oh, blast. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but sometimes you and Raine can… feed off each other? You fall into old habits, and it makes it hard to have a productive conversation.”
That was… not an entirely invalid point. I wasn’t going to admit as such, but it was.
“Fine,” I said, waving a hand. “Out with it, then.”
Heather gathered herself, face setting in determination. “Is… everything okay?”
If we hadn’t been in public, I might have burst out laughing. “What sort of idiotic question is that? Of course everything isn’t alright, Heather. I might even go as far as to say nothing is alright.”
Her nose scrunched up in what I’d come to recognise as they closest thing to anger the other girl expressed at other people (under normal circumstances, anyway). “Like that, yes. I don’t think it’s my imagination that you’ve been… prickly, lately? Er, more than you usually are.”
Oh. Oh, bollocks. “What makes you think they aren’t?” I responded, sounding more evasive than I’d have liked.
(I was being evasive, I simply would have preferred to not sound it).
“Well for one, ever since we got back you've been glaring at Raine whenever you think she isn't looking. And I'm sorry, but you're not hiding it particularly well. She's worried that she's done something to offend you without realising it."
Has she ever. I forced a laugh. "If you think Raine actually cares about things like that, Heather, then you clearly need to be spending more time getting inside each other’s heads and less time getting inside each other's pants."
She flushed, but remained undeterred. “A-and you’ve been… brooding? A little more than before?”
I let out a little snort. “Oh, how Byronic of you. I haven’t been brooding.”
The brooding had been Heather’s fault, of course.
Like everything bloody else in my life these days, good or bad, it was all Heather’s fault.
I’d been perfectly well-off for years without sex or sexuality in my life. It was a little lonely, maybe, but it wasn’t as if I was unaware of homosexuality as a concept. Even discounting the ‘tween dyke terror of Beetham Comprehensive’ declaring herself my bodyguard, the fanfiction circles of most of the anime I watched tended to lean in that direction, and I'd taken to perusing them out of intellectual curiosity. But that was only a detached awarenesss; in reality, it simply had nothing to do with me, nor I it, and all parties involved were quite comfortable with that arrangement.
And then, of course, Heather Morell had tumbled into my life with the grace and subtlety of a runaway lesbian forklift, and made a right fucking mess of things. She just had to butt her nose in to my life, had to ask questions and care and make me do thought experiments and-
-give me the best god-damned shoulder massage I’ve ever had.
The most intimate piece of physical contact I’d had in ten fucking years, the only piece, and I’d immediately turned to putty in her hands. I’d been so snide about how easy she had been with Raine, how little it had taken to turn her into a blushing, stammering mess, and as if by some sadistic twist of fate, she had immediately turned around and done the same to me, reduced me to a flustered, panicked teen with two questions and a hypothetical.
Now all this… nonsense was I could think about, and not just about Twil, oh no. That would be entirely too easy for the ridiculous lesbian farce that my life had somehow become.
A switch had been flipped in my head - and in other places - and I couldn’t even take her to task for it because I just knew that she’d ask questions that I’d be unable to lie about, and I would rather lose the other bloody leg than admit to her face that I was-
That I had feelings for-
Despite all evidence to the contrary, I wasn’t completely stupid. Fine, the direction of my thoughts had to be pointed out to me on occasion, but I was perfectly capable of keeping track of them after that. I knew what I felt, because she’d bloody well explained it to me in foolproof terms.
And it shouldn’t have mattered - just because I was thinking about something didn’t have to mean anything. I certainly had no intention of it doing so, not in this case or with Tw- Hopton. It was too much bloody nonsense, and we had bigger things to deal with, and I would be able to handle it just fine if not for the fact that Heather kept-
She kept looking at me.
I had been alone all my life; the closest thing to a friend I’d had for the longest time had been the demon cohabitating my body. And then Heather Lavinia Morell pranced into my life, with her shaky smile and her heavy bags and her kind eyes and her bloody morals-
-and she looked at me, and saw me.
She tore through every barrier and every defence mechanism I had, peeled away every protective layer I’d enclosed myself in with just a glance until she was right down to the bare, wretched centre and then had the audacity to tell me I was beautiful-
How could I not fall a little bit in love with her?
How could anyone?
So, fine, yes. I, Evelyn Saye, had recently come to the realisation that I had feelings for my best and only friend.
A friend who was desperately, animalistically in love with Raine Philomena bloody Haynes.
And it was fine.
Absolutely, totally fine.
Heather was staring at me, worried and a little afraid. I could feel the scowl that my face had unconsciously contorted itself into, and forced it back to something neutral, but the fear remained.
“For god’s sake, Heather,” I snapped, “I’m not angry with you!”
Excellent idea, you braindead moron. Yell at her about how not angry you are.
She flinched, but attempted a grin. “She said, angrily.”
I suppose I made some noise as I pinched the bridge of my nose with two fingers, but I don’t entirely recall the specifics. “Yes, fine, not the best manner of communicating that, whatever. It’s nothing to be concerned about.”
“Evee, of course I’m concerned. You’re my friend. I want you to be happy.”
A scornful laugh slipped out before I could stop it. “No, you don’t.”
She drew back slightly. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You don’t,” I repeated. “You just want… oh, I don’t know. Some abstract idea of me being ‘happy’. You don’t actually know what that would entail, because if you did-”
I managed to reign my mouth before it could ruin everything, snapping it shut with an almost-audible click.
Heather’s ridiculous expression of concern hadn’t abated; now, if anything, it was worse. So sickeningly caring and genuine as to set off my primal fight-or-flight. Her expression, her eyes, were achingly sincere. She offered me her hand, laid palm-up on the table between us.
“It’s okay, Evee,” she said gently. “I don’t really know what’s going on, but I promise it’s okay. You can tell me about it, if you want to.”
I dug the fingers of one hand into my thigh, just above the twisted mass of flesh that led into the prosthetic, focusing on the dull, distant throb of pain. “Not all of my demons are able to be exorcised, Heather, least of all by you alone.”
“I-I know that. But I can at least offer, can’t I?”
I sighed, staring down at the table and refusing to meet her eyes. Ignoring the instincts screaming at me otherwise, I took her hand in my own and squeezed gently. “Thank you, Heather,” I said, trying to overlook how sweaty and clammy my hand felt in comparison to hers. “For offering.”
“...but it’s nothing I can change?” she finished, fondness bleeding in at the edges of her tone.
Oh, you have no idea what you could do. “Something like that.” Of course, it wasn’t her fault.
...and, as loath as I was to admit it, neither was it Raine's.
“I suppose,” I allowed grudgingly, “that I’ve been… somewhat more acerbic of late. Which was… unfair to the two of you.”
It was about as close to an actual apology as I felt capable of, but Heather seemed to recognise that, her posture relaxing. “Does that mean you’ll treat Raine normally again?” she asked, smile playing around her lips. The hesitancy in her tone, though, showed that she truly had no idea how much she was low-balling her own persuasiveness.
There was very little I couldn’t be talked into when it was her asking.
As if the past few months hadn’t already been enough indication of that.
I lifted my free hand to my heart in faux-sincerity. “I do so solemnly swear… that I will make an effort.”
Sun parting through the clouds; the smile broke through in its entirety. Crooked-toothed and lopsided, bunching up the skin at the corner of her eyes, and for once the tripped, uneven two-step in the beat of my heart wasn’t simple arrhythmia.
“That’s all I ask,” she said, releasing my hand and sitting back like she it was resolved, despite the fact that she might as well have asked me to pluck the bloody stars from the firmament for all that it was possible.
But fine. I’d try. What choice did I have?
I'd bury it all down, treat Raine normally, and in a few weeks this stupid crush would fade away, and everything would be fine.