Cat stomps down the residence hall stairs furiously. Yet again, she's been paired up with Sunny Danvers for a class project. She's a perfectly adequate partner, able to follow Cat's instructions easily, unlike some of their fellow journalism students, but good lord, the levels of cheer that girl has!
And of course, Christmas is coming up soon. The lights and singing have further deteriorated Cat's mood, and she's thankful for the weather- dark and dreary and gray- balancing it out a little bit.
But she's on her way to one of the hall's study rooms to meet up with Danvers to work, and she just knows that the other girl will be in some ridiculously cheerful get up. She can see it now, a themed Christmas sweater (probably handmade by a doting mother), matching fuzzy socks probably; she snorts at the thought, a working necklace of Christmas lights, and to top it off, of course she'd wear a Santa hat. Maybe one of the more ridiculous elf hats with ears. Or a headband with antlers on it, really, any of those seems equally likely for someone as chipper as she is.
She pauses on the landing (cursing whoever made the rule of able-bodied students not being allowed to use the elevator in a multistory dorm) when she hears the piano. The music is sad, she thinks. Mournful seems like a more appropriate word, something longing in the notes.
There had been a small Christmas party in the piano room a week or two previous, the carols jingling out of the piano happily and hammering into Cat's head after too many late night study sessions had left her sleep deprived.
Listening to the piano now, she thinks she prefers the pounding carols with the off-key singers, if only for the fact that no one should sound as sorrowful as the pianist does now.
She takes another few steps down, continuing to to listen. There's a quality to the sound, she can't place it, couldn't identify what exactly it is if she tried...it makes it obvious that this person feels the emotion right down to their bones. She wants to reach out to them, whoever they are, wants to offer comfort, to say, 'Me too, I know sorrow too'. She'd lost her father just before New Years several years ago, and the holidays had never been the same. She wonders if this person has been through similar.
She finally makes it to the ground floor, walking out of the stairwell to the main part of the building, looking down the hall for the study rooms. She and Danvers had arranged to meet in one of the first study rooms, but Cat can see they're all dark, or occupied by other students. She snorts angrily to herself, resolving to verbally eviscerate the girl later. If nothing else, it gives her the time to find the mystery pianist.
By the time she gets to the room halfway down the hall, the piano keys are silent, and she can just barely make out the sound of crying through the cracked door. She gently pushes it open and holds back a gasp when she sees Kara, tears streaming down her face.
No Christmas sweater or fuzzy socks like she'd thought, no Santa hat or light up necklace...Perpetually cheerful Sunny Danvers is instead in more somber colors and subdued clothing, a deep purple long sleeve turtleneck, and gray sweatpants. Where usually her personality will light and fill the room to an almost overwhelming degree, Kara looks small and alone.
Cat takes a step inside, setting down her bag and quietly closing the door behind herself.
She jerks her head up, standing and nearly falling from the bench, scrubbing at her tears with her sleeve.
"Cat," her voice is thick, "I'm, I'm sorry, am I late? I've got the project stuff," and then she's scrambling to her bag in the corner of the room, Cat following her quietly, trying not to spook her.
"Kara," she puts a hand on her shoulder, pulling her up from her bag. Kara's arms are wrapped tight around herself, protective, tears welling in her eyes and Cat feels empathy for her. She looks at her softly, regretting her previous annoyance at Kara- she'd known, could feel with every fiber of her being that Kara's constant happiness and joy was an act, she'd seen those little moments of darkness, the breaks in the facade where no one else had. And she'd thought there was someone behind that smile more like herself, angry and spiteful, but faking the kindness, lying to get what she wanted. And she'd been wrong.
She strokes a hand down Kara's trembling face, holding her cheek tenderly. "Oh Kara..."
And Kara falls to her knees, sobbing, a hand over her mouth to try to contain it.
Cat follows her to the ground slowly, pulling Kara against herself against feeble protests, gently stroking her fingers through Kara's hair. She doesn't say anything, doesn't ask or give reassurances that she can't guarantee- she doesn't know what's wrong, can't say that it'll be alright. She squeezes her tighter, and Kara finally breaks, wrapping herself around Cat, tucking herself into her body and crying openly, loudly.
It's messy and Kara's sobs are heartwrenching, and Cat just holds her tighter, kissing her on her forehead, and she hates whispering nonsense, but it's the best she can do, and "Kara, Kara, I'm here, Kara. I'm here," and Kara's got her in a vice-grip, shoulders shaking from the force of her sobs. Cat just keeps running her fingers through Kara's hair, lets her cry herself out.
Finally, the sobs peter out, and Kara's breathing calms, the tears no longer streaming down her face. She looks up at Cat timidly, almost flinching away from the gaze returned to her. Cat pushes Kara up, and spots the hurt on her face for less than a second, holding a finger over Kara's lips when she starts to talk.
She walks over to her bag by the door, feeling Kara staring desperately at her, looking at her in surprise when she returns to Kara's side.
"Sit," and Kara does, pulling out the piano bench again, mouth open, eyes red and questioning. "Drink," she says, handing her a bottle of water. She sits in front of her and pulls out a pack of wipes- they're for makeup and Kara wasn't wearing any, but they'll work for the tear stains on her cheeks. She cleans them away gently, holding Kara's chin up when it lowers in what Cat guesses is embarrassment.
Kara avoids meeting her eye for a moment, but finally looks up when Cat strokes a thumb over her cheek.
"I cry, every New Year's Eve," she admits solemnly, letting the pain show on her face for once. "The day I lost my father."
Kara blinks back more tears, putting her hand over Cat's, still on her face, squeezing it. Her mouth opens and she swallows a few times, words failing her.
"My parents," she finally croaks out. "When I was thirteen, there was a fire," and she's blinking back the tears again, Cat leaning in to pull her into another tight hug.
"We'll do the project another time," Cat says quietly, Kara nodding softly into her shoulder. She can already feel the tears leaking into her sweater again. "Come to my room. Maybe we can just...talk."
Kara pulls back, looking at her apprehensively.
"It doesn't have to be about that," she says, knowing Kara will immediately know what she means, "but I've got hot chocolate, and some non-Christmas movies I've been dying to watch. I think we could both use the company."
She nods, standing up from the bench, pulling Cat with her into another hug and not letting go of her hand, even as they walk up the stairs.