In the beginning that comes after the end, Calliope is given a small spot in the little corner of the wide, empty world that belongs to them now. It is a small spot because none of them have big spots yet, and none of them have gone off on their own, not even the trolls—they have not run away to start lonely lives in a bigger corner. Calliope doesn't even think about it, because she wouldn't be allowed to run off; she was barely allowed to live. Only Roxy, who had stood in front of her and growled, at the end, Roxy who called her name, had kept her from death. And now she has her own one-room cabin or hut or house, as small as all the other houses, and it's not really small, but she is rather big now, taller and broader-shouldered than even the largest of the trolls, and it's sickening, she thinks, sitting in the dark, her broad back to the wall, arms curled around her legs, compacting herself as much as she can—smaller, smaller, but she is far too hideous to ever look harmless or even moderately safe—as she shakes with exhaustion.
It's far easier to stay awake while walking around, but she would never do that. Her hands (green, clawed, she's missing her gloves, and wishes she could wear them again, except that that would never do, it would be—would be downright stupid to try and play pretend, while she's here. Like this. It would be the worst sort of mockery, so much worse now there's no screen to hide behind, now that they all know the truth, and now that she—her brother—has grown into something like adulthood. And they probably don't fit anymore, anyway...)
Her hands are shaking, claws digging into the torn, stained, somewhat exploded fabric of her pants. They stink like they've been saturated with the thin, grainy blood that space bleeds, when you damage the structure of it so badly that the universe collapses. There is possibly no one else alive who can also smell it. She is probably not meant to be alive. She is head and shoulders above the humans, the tallest of the trolls couldn't come up further than her nose, and Roxy is even more beautiful like this. When she's present, that is, in person, when she can look at her in the light, and the light's not red or green at all, just clear and bright. In the first fuzzy moments, less like waking up and more like coming to the surface from deep down in turbid waters, there had been an almost aching need to reach out and put her hand on Roxy's shoulder, or stroke along the smooth line of her jaw, her flat, soft cheek, but she'd held herself back. Oh, there was so much to lose, but she'd already lost it all, no matter how many times Roxy had called out into nothingness for her. But she hadn't touched her only protector, and hadn't pulled her close when Roxy had touched her, casual gestures gone wrong because she was too tall and too wide to sling an arm around—why hadn't her adolescence lasted longer? Growing up is terribly, terribly painful, and she missed it all anyway, but now it's just a sort of solid ache, even though her body's long-since adjusted.
What happens when she begins to feel concupiscent stirrings? Because it will be no romance for her. It's like the insides that should fill up her abdominal casing have gone away. Perhaps Roxy stole them, she thinks—voids, rogues, and they are playing a dangerous game, all of them. And Calliope has been the loser too often, even when she's won—better to stay away from games altogether. But Roxy had talked her out of that, too.
And Roxy has Jane, now, Calliope thinks, and there's a certain thrill there, and absolutely definitely no hint at all of regret, or jealousy, or simply of—of lostness, there wasn't even a word for the stupid thing she certainly wasn't feeling.
It was definitely an exquisitely red kiss she'd seen, absolutely crimson, soft and tender and—and enthusiastic and kind of sloppy, oh Roxy, and Jane, Jane had been just a little hesitant, still mapping it out, but she'd been smiling so wide into the kiss, like all Calliope's daydreams but even better, even if it wasn't quite as neat or—or pretty, like the stories made it, but they'd been dirty and battered and alive and Roxy's hand had curled around the back of Jane's neck, and they looked so beautiful together, even if they weren't gray. (She'd drawn pictures of them as trolls before, and they'd been glorious.)
But they're such wonderful humans, she reminds herself hastily. And friends—they had been friends; would always be, to her, even if they did the most sensible thing and killed her—and she wouldn't change, oh, anything about them, not for the world, except maybe to go back to when they could talk, chat online and she could—well, she'd need to change her preferred pairings, she'd always thought they were all so lovely but she hadn't given quite as much thought to Jane and Roxy, she'd need to fix that—
To when she could be anonymous again. And build fantasies that wouldn't come crashing down. And she was still alive. What else could she ask for? Nothing from them, certainly. Her brother lay in their coffin, probably. She hadn't asked, they hadn't said anything. Reality had shattered all around them. And of course only Roxy could make the Void protect someone while Jane and the rest had built a world and resurrected friends and pulled them through to the end.
And they'd given her one of the plain little structures they'd pulled together, that first day, Equius and John and Feferi and beautiful Roxy tossing logs at each other with varying degrees of care and Jade building delicate stick structures that grew into rough houses with little more than a thought, and Dirk flitting back and forth from Jake to Jane to Roxy, the four of them all orbiting around each other, little tangles and groups coalescing in various formations, breaking apart. It had been easier to watch them than the others, because it's easier for her to see the narrative stringing them together. But she has missed so much. Dirk hesitates, minutely, before he reaches for any of the others, but his hand curls sometimes like it should be holding something, and Jane and Jake smile like the sun's just been rekindled every time he reaches out to them, and Roxy smiles like it hurts, only nicely.
They'd all had the decency to pretend she wasn't being watched, so she'd found the quietest, most public corner she'd been able to find, and waited. And Roxy had showed her her new house—new room, tiny and rough, the dirt floor damp and a few gaps in the walls, but the weather is humid and warm, even if everything is strangely cold now the red sun doesn't hang overhead, a promise due any day to come true—although it's already gone nova, now, and then been unmade anyway. The humidity is new, and makes her fingertips oddly rubbery, almost a little swollen, nothing she'd expected.
And Calliope had curled up in her corner, and sat, and used the little sharp prickles of pain that came from poking the unprotected joint of her wrist with a claw to keep from falling asleep. Because sleeping now could be so bad. All the rules are broken, she doesn't know how alone she is, and what does she do without her chains? She doesn't have any way to guarantee that she'd ever come back from the soft ocean of sleep. Or what would come back instead. Her body is half-empty, in a way, even if she still feels whole. Except for the gap in her stomach, the empty echoing space that used to be air and the spongy tissue of lungs, although she knows it's all still there—it's just that the bottom's fallen out of her world, and she does not—
There's a sudden voice outside her door, so Calliope raises her head out of her hands, looking up with what would be wariness except it's like everything's been covered in thick dust, or ash layers deep, muffling herself. Her claws scrape against her exoskeleton, and it does very little to wake her up.
She's not sure who she's expecting, what she's expecting, but she flinches back when someone kicks the door open, or maybe punches it, but her back's already to the wall and there's nowhere to go; she's trapped there, maybe for the better, because as Roxy looks down at her, face tangled up with all sorts of emotions and none of them good, and Calliope thinks that at least she's at least not very intimidating like this. And the rest of her wants to curl up and die, because this is her last lingering nightmare, only delayed a few days. Which somehow makes it worse. She hadn't been able to keep hope from sneaking in after all, she guesses. A hopeless romantic to the end, even if she has no romance in her future. A future in and of itself could be seen as presumptuous at this point.
“Roxy!” Jane hisses, clearly distraught. “You don't just kick in peoples' doors! ...Roxy.”
“Calliope,” Roxy says, voice rough and hurting, Calliope thinks. (Except Calliope's voice is always rough, or at least prone to the deep rumbles and buzzing growls that allow her to speak as a Cherub; the sounds that turn every R in English into a threat, make the staccato snap of spoken Alternian into jagged knives.) “Callie, I haven't seen you in forever! Half of forever because this universe is two days old, and it is brand new and it is is so not cool that you're just in here—”
“Roxy Lalonde!” Jane snaps, and Roxy doubles over in silent giggles but stops speaking anyway, and Jane takes a deep breath, blushes, and stumbles over an apology. She doesn't meet Calliope's eyes. Calliope feels like she might be sick, like her organs are no longer gone but instead about to be pulled out from her abdominal cavity, ripped from her, long slow agony that burns as fiercely as ice against skin. “Calliope,” she says, stumbling just a little like it's unfamiliar, and she still won't meet Calliope's eyes but she's looking at her. “We're worried about you,” she says, a little breathless. “I'm worried—”
Roxy leans around Jane, one arm wrapped around her waist, and produces a neat green bundle, a perfect match for Calliope's skin. There is a white shirt, a flash of something silky and red on top. A new suit, she realizes, and her eyes are huge in her skeletal face. Tucking her fangs into her mouth only makes her look worse, Calliope remembers, and resists. She's tried. She is all about verisimilitude in her costuming endeavours. As true-to-life as she's capable of being, with alien facial structure and stiff, armored joints and rough, barely pebbled skin stretched over the armored plates protecting her flesh.
“We made you a new suit,” Jane says, fingers smoothing over the fabric, although there aren't any visible wrinkles. Her eyes drop, and you feel bad because she looks upset, but she shouldn't feel any sort of—guilt, or anything of that sort, just because Calliope is nothing like how she made herself out to be. “Yours is tattered,” she adds, gently, sheepishly. “I think we got the sizes right—”
Roxy is being oddly quiet, and both Jane and Calliope turn slightly towards her. Roxy is frowning again. “Calliope, I'm gonna hug you,” she announces, tripping lightly forward, all controlled and apparent chaos, so bright and confident. But then she pauses, and Calliope drops her arms. She hadn't realized she'd raised them. Her head drops, despite herself. Her claws dig into her leathery skin, not hard enough to draw blood but she's making more holes in her tattered clothes, she thinks. It feels like she's choking with each breath, throat constricted and tight with a sort of aching, inevitable sorrow, and Calliope wishes, uselessly, that they never had to meet and that she could just keep on being good friends and she could watch Roxy, beautiful Roxy, and Jane her complement, and how they grow to match each other—
“Fuck everything,” Roxy mutters, and her arms flutter around Calliope, soft-sweet. Surprise tastes like the bright sourness of lemons, finally cutting through the ash of dead universes that has clung to her, the smell heavy, caught in the fabric of her clothes, like spoiled stardust. Her arms move automatically to wrap so gently around the human girl, although there is no reason for it to be automatic, for it to be any sort of instinct that she has. Quite the opposite. Roxy sighs and Calliope's arms drop again, until Roxy growls into her shoulder, into the just-barely-softened by skin plates of her almost-exoskeleton. Calliope jumps when another hand, Jane's, it has to be, Calliope thinks, because Roxy's hands are hard with callouses, and her hands are fisted in the somewhat tattered remains of Calliope's shirt, where she can feel them against her skin, far from hard enough to hurt. She can barely feel them, really, although she thinks, vaguely, that it might be her tough, insensitive skin, so useful for protection, for keeping others of her kind from hurting her too easily if she were to ever encounter another cherub. But despite the fact that she has minimal nerve endings (nerve-analogue endings) in most of her skin, it is like a brand, Roxy's knuckles against her back, Jane's fingers tugging on her with gentle insistence, so heavy with concern and caring that it's as smothering as the smell of sugar beaten into warm butter. Calliope can feel the subtle pressure of warm human skin. Which should not be warm, to her, she has lived with a dying star and a planet burned to desert, but it's hot. She's hypersensitive. No one has ever touched her like this before. Except once, when she imagined her brother hugging her. It had been her own stiff flesh, and she had never seen him, except her own stiff face. But that had all gone to ruin, and they had never had any sort of sibling relationship as humans understood it. Watching Dirk had been fascinating, living with the ghost of his brother.
Jane tucks herself in beside Roxy, smelling sharp with nerves, nervousness, but she pulls Calliope's arm around them as she does, draping it over Roxy's neck like a scarf. Roxy practically purrs. “Wild child,” Jane tells her with a smile that's as much heard as felt—Calliope marvels at being able to hear it, tries to think about how to reproduce that aching, tender fondness in her own works and despairs—and lets her claws curve around the far side of Jane's shoulder, holding her in place. But she's not holding her there by force, she thinks. She's simply holding on. Jane has molded herself to her front, her clothes unexpectedly soft against Calliope's skin, where the sturdier material of her own garments has been burned or torn away. Really, her outfit is in shameful condition. But Jane and Roxy had brought her new clothes.
Spent long enough thinking about her, her size, her alien dimensions, to come up with clothes to fit her.
It's slightly overwhelming. More than slightly. And she can feel the ache of exhaustion in her bones, in her burning eyes, the whites no doubt so bloodshot they're going green. Jane's fingers are rubbing soothingly over her shoulder, and Roxy is mumbling in her ear, nonsensical and the words slurred together, not because of inebriation but because her head is buried against the hard flesh of Calliope's shoulder, as best as she's able. No doubt it's not very comfortable, far less yielding than Jane's body, or even the tight muscle of Roxy's shoulders and back, lean and more obvious since Jane's muscle is partially obscured by pudginess. But Roxy's flesh is just that, flesh, not chitinous plates. Calliope could split Roxy's skin, Jane's, just by dragging a nail too hard along it; she could rip off mouthfuls of flesh, if she wanted to, and for all their strength their bodies are so delicate. So beautiful, despite that.
It occurs to her that Jane and Roxy could kill her, the two of them, in a fair fight. Maybe. Quite possibly. It's something of a comfort. She's not sure she possesses any powers of Space right now, but the pervasive scent of the void still leaches from Roxy's pores, and Jane practically vibrates with Life, no matter how contained she seems. It would probably be no fight at all, Calliope's so tired right now. If she did win, also possible, she thinks she still has her wand, the others would certainly finish her off. But they've made no attempt. Roxy has even protected her.
It makes them seem a little less fragile, though. It makes her seem a little less monstrous, against them. But nothing helps so much as Jane's breath stirring on her neck, and Roxy contorting herself, or trying to, so she can squeeze Calliope tight and still meet her eyes, look her in the face. She's still talking, Calliope thinks, and tries to wrench her train of thought back on the track, but she's exhausted, it's like herding cats—she's seen Roxy try—and at the same time like steering an angry bull. It's so hard to focus.
“—and we're gonna paint nails and when we figure out how to watch movies we're totally doing that, too, we are totes going to do the whole sleepover thing and I'm super excited because it'll be my first time—heh—and Janey's gonna make cupcakes she said and I said they should be colored like us! And she said, Roxy, first we need to find ingredients and an oven, so now we've gotta figure out how to alchemize them. So I snitched some codes from Dave—come on, Jane, stop being a silly goose, he won't even notice they're gone, I'm his big sis kinda and I'm practically supposed to do it, you know it—and Kanaya helped us with fabric and so I guess it wasn't just us but it was totally us, I'm just saying—”
“You're rambling,” Jane says, but there's a smile poking about the corners of her mouth.
“So we made you new clothes because you definitely need them, Calliope, you are totally mindblowing adorable except when you're all huddled up and unhappy looking, but girl, you smell like gross space dirt and old blood, and you are so indecent and I'd be giving you hell for it but—”
“But that would be mean,” Jane says, and pats Calliope's shoulder.
“Later,” Roxy says, like it's a promise, and re-wraps her arms around Calliope's neck, which is better-suited for hugging from Roxy's current position, considering how far (not very) her arms reach around Calliope's muscled chest. She presses a sleepy kiss to Calliope's shoulder, like it's nothing, and practically wiggles with glee, which repositions her so that she can wrap her arms around Jane, too. Without thinking about it—without thinking about it too much—Calliope repositions herself to make it easier for the two humans, to make it more comfortable.
“Thank you,” Jane says, and squeezes a little bit again as she curls her head into the exaggerated dip of Calliope's collar bone, hair tickling a little—well, she imagines that it would tickle, if she were a human or troll—along her neck. The space is perfect.
“You two are soooo cute!” Roxy informs them, wiggling her way onto Calliope's lap. Calliope lets her legs relax, go straight, so there is an actual lap for Roxy to sit on, not a narrow wedge of space as uncomfortable as a half-opened folding chair. She pats Calliope's hollow cheek, then traces the swirl, curious, fingers dancing with the restless energy Roxy always seems to have. She's not relaxed much, now that they're safe—safer—now that they've won, but she does seem—
More something. Calliope knows there's a word, but it's gone missing. Her brain is like a hive of bees on a chilly morning, sluggish bodies piled up around each other, all confusing, confused, threatening humming.
“Roxy,” Jane says, shaking her head, but just a little. She moves a little, but she keeps a hand anchored against Calliope's shoulder—just balancing herself, Calliope thinks, because she's on her knees and leaning forward; she's not pushing away—so she can kiss Roxy, with just a hint of apology. She no longer smells so nervous, which is nice, because Calliope is nervous enough for all of them, but she's pretty sure that they can't smell it at all. They might not recognize it even if they can, since Calliope's so different.
It's largely impossible for Calliope not to stare as Jane, still snuggled up next to her, presses her lips to Roxy's, blue eyes half-lidded and Roxy's fluttering closed, Roxy's mouth, bright shell pink with lipstick, fading Jane's to a muddy rose that was still beautiful, their skin—still not gray, but the two shades of brown were unexpectedly complimentary, warm and soft and comforting and so unbelievably beautiful as Jane sighed softly and Roxy smiled, before they slowly drew back. Jane wiped a little lipstick off her lips, then laughed, softly.
“Seriously absofuckinglutely adorable,” Roxy repeats herself, turning to smile just as widely, just as sweetly, at Calliope, too, including her in the not-quite-a-joke. It makes all eight chambers of Calliope's heart stutter a little, one-two-three-four. “It took waaaay too long for this to happen. Janey and Callie and me—I have wanted to do this for so long!”
“Yes,” Jane says, unexpected agreement, smiling a little before she puts her hands to her face, covering it. Her smile wiped off as she takes a deep breath to speak. “Calliope, I'm so sorry, I know that I shouldn't just clamber all over people I hardly know—hardly know face to face, at least—oh, I always loved talking to you and I did know you, I guess, but I'm also fairly certain that this is still different. And I was being fairly forward, wasn't I! Aren't I, I suppose, because—”
Jane trails off to laugh a little, wry, faint little puffs of sound. “—because I'm still hugging you. And I guess I knew you as well as I was able to. And I'm sorry I wasn't very good at listening. And this is all so new and I never expected you to look like—well, like you do. Which is terrible to say, but I still wanted to hold you. To—to touch you, to hug you, I guess I'm too small to really properly hold you! And it's strange because I'm probably not supposed to want to hug you so badly. Even if what I'm supposed to do isn't really relevant at the moment, because I'm no heiress anymore, there's not even a company to inherit, you know.” This time her laugh was a little watery, but if there were any tears, they were hidden by Calliope's shoulder, where Jane hid her face. “Or anyone to judge me. I talked to Roxy about it. I never imagined—well, I never really imagined falling for someone and, and having it work out, but it all worked out with Roxy. So I wasn't expecting...”
She falls quiet, voice constricting to a squeak and then silence as she tries to find the right words, and shakes her head, mutely, worry and a painful sort of fear telegraphed through her tight shoulders, her fixed expression. “I wasn't expecting to want to touch you so badly,” Jane says, voice a little shaky like she's forcing out the words. Like she's afraid, despite everything she's faced, like what she's feeling is as dangerous as the end of everything. “Because I never expected—any of this. I really didn't. I had so few friends. So few playmates. And with the assassination attempts...”
Roxy kisses her jaw, frowning for once, which would unnerve Calliope but she's wincing too, even if it only makes her face look worse, her visage even grimmer. More like her brother, she doesn't think. Much. But Jane's not paying attention to them, just staring at a midpoint like it's the only thing keeping her going.
“—that's not really the point, though. I'm sorry! What I'm trying to say is that I was terrified that I was, was sabotaging everything I'd managed to find des-despite myself.” She chokes on a muffled sob, and before Calliope can stop herself, she's gently stroking her dagger talons through the soft fluff of Jane's hair, like nothing she's ever touched before. “I've found out just how good I am at sabotaging myself,” Jane says, morosely, and Roxy can't take it any more.
“Janey! Jane, you're wonderful, you—you can't fuck this up, I won't let you but I know you won't—”
Jane musters a grin, and her small hand curls around Calliope's rough wrist, stopping her cold. Calliope's insides burn. She does not deserve to touch Jane, to touch either of them, like this. She will die alone, and as it should be, her whole race nothing but monsters and she should have never thought she was any sort of exception— It sickens in her stomach, like a star about to collapse.
But Jane pulls Calliope's hand into her lap, and entangles her fingers through Calliope's, their hands clasped together. Her fingers are warm brown stripes, the color all wrong for shadows against the unnatural green of Calliope's skin, which looks so terribly out of place in here. Not so rough. Warm skin against hers, because Calliope's body is cool with inactivity.
When Calliope manages to sneak a look, Roxy is beaming, even though she still looks somewhat anguished.
“The point is,” Jane says, and draws a deep breath, soldiers on, indomitable. “That I was—that I am—I'm so sorry, Calliope, but you took me by surprise, and I wasn't expecting you to look... quite like this...”
Calliope makes a noise despite herself, a little rumble of hurt that she shouldn't have made, oh no, oh no, what if it sounds like a threat? What if Jane thinks she's angry? Or Roxy? She—she shouldn't be hurting, it's just obvious!
“And I shouldn't have been so—judgmental. I should have believed in you. But I'm not very good at—at being a good person. The person I should be.” A wet sob of laughter. “I had it all wrong, for a long time. I'm apologized to you, too, Jane. I know! I know you won't let me do it again. But Calliope, I'm so sorry, and then it started to fade—and Roxy yelled at me—”
“Roxy,” Calliope says, mild reproach that she can't help, because Roxy can't help that Jane reacted the only way you could expect.
“You just needed a little help,” Roxy says, patting Jane's cheek like she's a cat, or the same way that she'd touched Calliope, just minutes before. The intimacy shivers along the exposed knobs of Calliope's spine.
“And I started wanting to hug you and touch you and. And now I'm imposing.” Jane manages a real smile, for that, because it's so ridiculous to call this whole situation imposing. It's an insufficient, inaccurate word. She's sitting on Calliope's lap! Touching her like—like this, even though they've just met! And now...
Jane pulls Calliope's hand up and presses a kiss to the bony, plated extensions along the back, rough and designed to crush and scrape, a delicate little butterfly kiss.
Roxy kisses Calliope's cheek with considerably more enthusiasm, a wet peck crossed with a smooch, matched with sound effects. “Muah! Good talk, you guys! You are so adorable I swear.”
“Roxy!” Jane says, blushing dark, just barely visible in the dim light that's mostly filtering in through the cracks between the structure's unshaped logs. Calliope is sure it's a beautiful color. Breathtaking.
“Gonna tell you 'til you listen!” Roxy carols, like it's a threat. Jane laughs.
Unexpectedly, Calliope finds herself laughing too, and lets herself continue, out of exhaustion and fear—evaporating now, maybe, maybe things will be okay—and because Roxy and Jane don't flinch. Roxy grins. Giddy with something effervescent, like joy.
“So Callie c'mon you got to try on the clothes we made, seriously.”
Jane looks like she's about to protest again, maybe out of something like habit, but then she stops herself, grins sheepishly. “You don't look very comfortable in those,” she says, picking at a singed hole, careful to avoid possibly-singed skin underneath.
“Oooo, Jane! You're being dirty. But I knew you'd help me get her naked! C'mon cutie-pie, gotta get up so cutie-pie number two can strip—”
“That is not appropriate! Calliope, you know that I—not that I don't—it's not like that! But your clothes are a mess—”
“What she said! Okay, we're waiting outside, you've got ten minutes, then I'm busting in again to help with the buttons.” Wiggling blonde eyebrows and laughing, Roxy extricates herself from Calliope's lap, careful in ways she doesn't need to be with Calliope's leather-tough armored skin, sashays towards the door, which isn't quite closing anymore. Roxy broke it a little when she kicked it in, Calliope thinks, and tries not to smile too widely (all her teeth) at Roxy's unnecessary care. Nobody has ever treated her like she's fragile before. But it's not fragility. Like there's something worth protecting about her.
With that much care.
Mechanically, Calliope changes clothes, but she can't help but smile as the fabric goes on. It's soft, more delicate than she's used to; it will wear out too quickly, with her skin and the protrusions of her bones, but in the meantime, it's like an echo of Roxy and Jane, as much so as their lingering scent in the air, the ghost they've left behind, except not at all sad because they're coming back. Or Calliope's going to them. But they're not running away, every cell of her sings. She hadn't suppressed her dreams as much as she'd hoped. But she'd had friends. Real friends.
And still did, so she fumbled carefully with a neat button-down, which is—new. But there is no reason to wear her brother's shirt, and every reason not to. The white shocking-bright against her skin, making it look even more intense, more menacing than before, but the jacket covers up most of it. Everything fits, which is a shocking relief. Not least because she's forced to experience herself again as she dresses, changed as much as she'd feared. Sharper claws. More muscle, even if it hasn't padded any of the skeleton-sharp contours of her body. She'd been hoping. Taller, broader, over-all bigger, face hardened and sharpened. At least her eyes are the same, she thinks. She can't actually tell, but they have to be. Unless her brother had decided that their eyelashes, which he'd always hated, had to go.
She checked her eyelashes, suddenly relieved. Still there. It left her feeling a little silly. But there's no mirror, and so much has changed.
Calliope has to duck to get through the front door, and the hunching only makes her look more apologetic as she emerges, blinking, into sunlight. One of the trolls—Kanaya, intimidatingly beautiful—is lurking in the background, but it isn't unexpected. A guard or two is only natural.
Roxy squeals. “You are so perfect! Calliope let me see you—twirl!”
“I'm so glad they fit,” Jane says, going on tiptoe and leaning against one of Calliope's arms. She looks up at her, expectant, until Calliope, blinking away exhaustion, suddenly flushes and leans down, understanding. Carefully, Jane rearranges the touch of lace at her throat, so it lays straight beneath her bow tie, straightens the red knot of fabric as well. “You're beautiful,” she says, blushing as she backs away again and Calliope straightens, but Jane—she looks like she means it and because it's Jane, because it's Jane, Calliope thinks she might believe it, too. She can believe it's honestly met. The surprise of that is like sunrise.
“Thank you,” Calliope says, just a touch unsure still, but there's a smile growing. She carefully smooths a hand down one arm, cautious of her claws, not wanting to pick the fabric or make an unintentional hole so early. “Roxy, Jane, thank you.”
“Don't say that!” Roxy says, leaning against her like a cat insinuating itself for pets, one arm going partway around Calliope. “It's a downright flipping honor to doll you up. You are a fucking dream in a suit, Callie!”
“You are,” Jane says, hiding her face with one hand out of embarrassment, but not regretting the compliment—someone, probably Roxy, has carefully painted her nails a pale lime green that's almost Calliope's color, only softer. Prettier, part of her says, but the rest of her is caught up in staring with a sort of want and happiness she'd never imagined for herself. A sense of potential, not at all what she'd imagined the ending would be like, for her at least. But of course Jane, of course Roxy had won. Jake, Dirk, all the others. And they'd pulled her along, too. “I hope we got it right,” Jane adds, a moment later, pushing herself back towards safe ground. “I wasn't sure quite what you'd want to wear. Kanaya helped, I think she's got ideas—but there's no need to follow them. I had to turn down a dress she made for me once already.” She looks somewhere between peeved and embarrassed.
“You were downright delicious in that dress!” Roxy purrs, making Jane squeak, and Calliope decides she wants to see it. Or maybe another dress, one that Jane likes, not just Roxy. She wants to have an excuse to tell her just how pretty she is. She wonders how her nails would look painted pink, or blue. If—if it wouldn't be too terrible, with her claws. There's no disguising them. But maybe it would be okay, anyway. Maybe—maybe even a handkerchief, embroidered with Jane and Roxy's colors, folded into a pocket. It wouldn't even need to be a public display.
She just—part of her—
It's not the right time to be thinking about this. There's the future, after all. That hits her like a bolt of lightning, as crushing as the universe collapsing, but that's okay—it was remade too, after all. This might be a second chance. She might have a chance to have things work out. For her. Jane and Roxy thought of her. They're still touching her, like there's no excuse but that's not enough to keep them away.
Jane's talking again. Calliope pulls her attention back to focus, working hard. When Jane looks at her, there's a subtle hint of concern lurking in the backs of her eyes. “Calliope—goodness gracious but you look exhausted,” she says, biting her lip and frowning. Calliope swallows against the bile that rises instantly, illogically, from Jane frowning at her, critical. “Are you alright? Calliope?”
“You look kind of like shit,” Roxy adds, not unkindly. “I want you happy and okay, and not all—whatever, seriously Callie, what's up?”
“I haven't slept,” Calliope says, pleading. She's been so good. She doesn't want the wrong person to wake up. The thought is enough to make the sunlight on her skin sickening. She doesn't want to know what her talons could do to human viscera, human skin. But she's shaking with exhaustion. It's a film over her vision, worse now that she's thinking about it. A dull pounding need in her abdomen, sleep would be such a relief.
“Calliope!” Jane's hand flutters over her arm, before settling to rub a soothing circle, thumb stroking gently even against her hard flesh, unyielding even though it's covered in fabric.
“You slept before,” Roxy says. “When we found you.”
“We'll keep watch,” Jane says, shoulders squaring, steel in her eyes. “I know you'll be—you have to be fine, Calliope, I can believe in you. But if it's not—you know we won't fail you.”
Calliope knows. Roxy can see the acquiescence, the acceptance in her eyes even before she's made up her own mind, or before the slow trickle of her thought process manages to fight through the fog that is her stalled thoughts. But oh, she's so used to fighting herself. Or at least her body. Is it all her own, now?
“I have to sleep eventually, after all,” Calliope says lightly, and doesn't manage to keep herself from looking terrified, despite her height, the obvious power of her frame, the grim lines of her face. Jane rubs her arm; Roxy clambers up her to press a kiss to her cheek. They hold each other, the three of them.
“And Calliope,” Roxy says, casually matter-of-fact but also looking kind of nervous. “When you wake up, I'm gonna kiss you.”
“That—that would be fine,” Calliope says, feeling like she's dissolving, like she's not quite all there anymore, because how else could she fit all this happiness into her? It's leaking out of all the contours of her body. Everything is turning out not at all liked she'd imagined.
“Oh good!” Jane says, completely unexpectedly, and she doesn't stop the smile sweeping across her face. “If—is it okay if I do, too...?”
“Of fucking course,” Roxy answers for Calliope, but it's okay, she knows the right answer anyway. And they lead her off to bed, the two humans flanking her, hand in hand in hand. Smiling. Everything okay.
Jane curls up next to her, a soft round shape against her side, holding her arm like it's a comfort. They both kiss her before she lays down.
And for the first time, when Calliope sleeps, she dreams.