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Where do I go from here?

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The door closes behind Caitlyn and her parents with a heavy, echoing thud leaving Violet alone in the room. She stands there, feet rooted to the spot, hands opening and closing a few times with nerves. This was Caitlyn’s room. Caitlyn’s bedroom. For some reason it feels vaguely like a violation of privacy being in here alone. The two had only known each other for a few days after all. And yet there is a stirring deep in Vi’s chest when she thinks of her. When she thinks of the closeness that has bonded them. It scares her. And she tries her very best to shove that feeling very, very deep down.

Glancing around the sun is making its grand entrance. Casting the room in a soft pink light and warming the space. It’s completely silent except for the early rising Pilties milling about and the barely audible sound of the Kiramman’s arguing. The bedroom is far bigger than any of the places her family called home and exceedingly more decadent. In fact, it’s probably the nicest room she’s ever been in. Perfectly well kept and not a single item out of place. Gold on almost every surface: framing the panels of the walls, outlining and detailing the door, embellishing every inch of the furniture. She can’t help but scoff at the ostentatiousness of it all.

It doesn’t feel like Caitlyn at all.

Vi’s never felt so out of place with her prison issued striped pants and stolen jacket. Heat flashes on her cheeks, a sudden wave of embarrassment and self-consciousness. Caitlyn couldn’t have grown up any further from Vi’s upbringing if she tried. A voice in the back of her mind is shouting alarm. Don’t touch anything, don’t dirty it with her grime. Don’t leave a mark.

Despite her reservations, being in Caitlyn’s room, surrounded by her things. It has Vi curious. She wants to snoop and learn more. After all what’s a better way to learn about someone than prying into their most personal space?

Eyes roving around the room she moves towards a table near the door covered in massive bouquets and cards.  Carefully, she dusts her fingers over the petals of a few brightly colored flowers. They’re soft and delicate, bruising easily beneath the touch. Not much plant life can grow down in the Fissures, these are some of the first flowers Vi’s come across that weren’t shriveled up and dead or sold from the black market. Even those only lasted a few days, the toxic air below killing them nearly instantly.

She picks up a card, it too is horribly pretentious just like the room. Gold leafing on the front, flaking off with every brush of her fingers. Even the beautiful script inside is inked in gold. It’s simple and clearly for show more than anything from some city official or another. Well wishes and a speedy recovery. Everything Topside feels so cold and calculating. People never mean what they say and always have an ulterior motive for what they do. She drops it back to the table, a bitter taste in her mouth. There is no way she’d be able to survive the upper city. At least when someone in the Undercity wants to kill you, they say it to your face and not hide it behind a smarmy smile and weaseling words.

Intent to move to the dresser behind the table, she accidentally steps on a small bouquet that has been haphazardly tossed to the floor. This one is simple, white flowers. Nothing big and flashy like the others. Now this one… this one is from someone Caitlyn knows. It makes her smile. Picking it up, the only note is a small card with a house sigil on it. It looks like a hammer. The backside is in complete gibberish, clearly some kind of code that only Caitlyn would be able to understand. Vi’s lips tip into a frown, mood swinging suddenly to weirdly offput. That one gets pushed under the table. Hidden from view.

Behind the display is a large dresser topped with at least a dozen trophies. They go back at least ten years. The largest clearly won a few years ago. A figure stands on top with a rifle and a small plate on the base with Caitlyn’s name.  She’d won first, and if the inscription is to be believed, won by a landslide.

Vi smirks, “Excellent shot, alright.” She taps the tip of the golden rifle and moves on.

There are a few hand-painted portraits of the family along another wall, but she doesn’t linger long on those, unwilling to look at the Kiramman’s perfect family. Too many painful images threaten to burst forth in her mind.

The giant map on the floor comes next. Clearly, Caitlyn had spent hours agonizing over it. There are strings and pins and pictures and well… it actually makes sense. Some of the connections she’s made are wrong. But for the most part it’s pretty accurate. It’s fairly impressive given that she’d never stepped foot in the Undercity until the day before.

Crouching down she leafs through a few of her notes. They are incredibly meticulously, all in incredibly perfect handwriting. Each dated, numbered, and with annotations connecting to other notes. It doesn’t surprise Vi at all and she has to suppress an eyeroll.

Stepping around the map and hopping slightly to avoid smashing any of Caitlyn’s notes, she sits on the bed, practically sink into the mattress. It’s soft, so heavenly soft. Her body loses all control of muscle function and plops fully back onto it. The sheet fabric is so smooth, almost velvety, and it’s the silkiest thing she’s ever touched. God, she wants to stay there forever. Every inch of Vi’s body is sore and tired and beaten, and this bed feels like how she imagined clouds felt. It’s almost cooling to the touch, a balm against the bruising on her back. God Sevika knows how to throw a punch.

Vi closes her eyes, letting the morning breeze drift over her. Maybe she can get a few minutes of rest.

No such luck.

There are a few beats of silence from outside the door, before the soft thump of approaching footsteps interrupt her moment of reprieve.

She considers briefly getting off the bed, after all she does have dried blood on her, god knows what else. But in the end decides against it, she’s far too comfortable and besides Caitlyn probably has an army of servants to clean the sheets after. She shifts around, snuggling deeper into the cushion and lets her arm dangle off the side. There are even more notes that Vi hadn’t noticed before tucked beneath this side of the map.   

The door opens and Caitlyn steps in. Her shoulders drop an imperceptible amount, but Vi can tell by the way her face seems lighter and how she lets out a breath that whatever her and her parents had been arguing about seems to have gone in her favor.

“We’ll present our case to the council… tonight,” she sounds shocked, her eyebrows arching in surprise at her own words. Her gaze lifts from the floor to find Vi lounging on the bed.

There is a small part of Violet that sparks with hope, if Caitlyn can convince her mother to help, maybe there is a chance. A small, small chance. But a chance, nevertheless. Though there is the larger more sensible part of her brain that knows trusting Pilties never ends well.

Well except for one Piltie.

“You did all this yourself,” without making eye contact, she motions to the map below, “without even going down there?” Caitlyn’s cheeks dust a gentle shade of pink, clearly embarrassed by the work scattered around. She doesn’t say anything as she walks towards the bed. Well, more like limps towards the bed.

She decides to spare Caitlyn the embarrassment of stumbling through an excuse. “And I thought Powder could get obsessed.”

Regret burns through almost immediately after the words are out. The mention of Powder feels like acid dripping down her throat.

Caitlyn doesn’t say anything as she sits down next to Vi, jostling her on the bed. She’s silent still as her eyes roam over her face. “What happened to her wasn’t your fault.”

It’s said so confidently, so surely. She stares for a moment before leaning back, her body mirroring Vi’s. There is an immediate burn at the back of her eyes, and she has to blink away the impending tears.

How can she tell her that everything that has happened is Violet’s fault? If she hadn’t insisted they go on that last job, if she hadn’t tried to turn herself in, if she hadn’t gone after Vander, if she hadn’t left Powder, if, if, if…

Before she really knows what she’s doing, words are flowing freely.

“When my parents were still alive, me and Powder used to share a bed like this. Except, maybe, half the size,” she can’t help but scoff at herself for the gentle jab. Even in this moment when she’s finally sharing something, she can’t help but try and sabotage it. She swallows down urge to apologize. It’s the truth after all.

“We played a game where we pretended to be bigger and bigger monsters.” Caitlyn shifts on the bed, turning on her side to give her full attention. Her face is soft and open. It’s not often that Violet will share something so intimate, share a memory so close to her heart. But being here, this moment feels significant. It feels safe.

“So, she would say ‘I’m a slug monster with venom for ooze.’ And I’d say ‘Well, I’m a slug eating crab with razor spikes.’” Powder’s face jumps into her mind. Her eyes wide and innocent, hiding behind her threadbare blanket, just tip of her nose visible. Vi can’t help but smile, it was one of the few memories that kept her going while in jail. “Sometimes I…I’d get carried away and she’d get scared.”

She has to swallow, her next words turning what little warmth had grown in her chest cold. Like dowsing a struggling fire with water. “I didn’t want her to start crying and wake my parents up, so… I pretended to chase my own monsters away.”

Caitlyn watches her silently, her legs tucking closer to her chest. She won’t interrupt, not a moment like this. “I’d say no monster’s gonna get you when I’m here.” The burn returns, strong and with full force.  

“Then a real monster showed up.”

Vi chances a quick glance at Caitlyn’s face. It’s a mistake. It’s so soft and open and understanding. It isn’t judgement or pity or sympathy. It’s simply open to take whatever Vi has to offer. She can’t take it.

Her eyes scrunch closed, tucking her face into the collar of her hoodie. Maybe if she can hide, if she can hide away from this moment her next words won’t feel so damning.

“And I just ran away.”

She gets the urge to flee. To run away from what she’s done. From what’s she’s caused

“I left her.”

She expects Caitlyn to say something, to accuse her, to agree with her, to leave her and hate her. To realize that every bad thing that has happened in her life is because of what Violet did. Her one stupid mistake.

Instead… instead feather light fingers stroke down her face. The touch is so tender, so warm it almost startles her. She can’t remember the last time someone had been so gentle with her, had been so understanding. And when she opens her eyes, Caitlyn is still there. She’s still there and something inside Violet breaks.

She curls around their clasped hands, bringing Caitlyn’s knuckles close enough that her lips can ghost over the bruising there. When the first tears break through the dam Vi had worked so hard to build up, Caitlyn only shifts closer.

“None of this is your fault,” she breathes. “You were a kid, and the world took everything from you.” Her other hand finds Vi’s cheek again, this time her thumb brushing the torrent that streams down her face. “Powder will understand. We’ll help her understand.”

“I don’t know if she’ll ever be able to forgive me.”

Caitlyn leans in, her forehead knocking softly against Violets. Vi can feel each breath she takes. Each forgiving inhale and slow exhale. She doesn’t give any false platitudes, doesn’t promise that things will be alright. She merely stays close and breathes. “No matter what happens, I’ll be there every step of the way.”

Whatever fortitude of keeping this… this arrogant and pretentious and confusing and dorky and kind and selfless and beautiful, so very, very beautiful Topsider out shatters. Like a glass window smashing to bits and pieces. Because this feeling, this feeling growing in her chest it’s something she hasn’t felt in so long. For a long time, she felt like she had lost it all together. That somewhere along the line she couldn’t remember how to… how to love. And maybe that’s too strong of a word for what is sitting heavy in her chest, but it’s the only word that keeps running through her mind. She thought maybe she could find Powder, make up for lost time. Rekindle the small flame that she had protected deep inside herself.

But Powder isn’t Powder anymore. She’s different and Vi doesn’t understand her. She doesn’t know who she is anymore. But Caitlyn? She was so predictable until she wasn’t. And maybe Vi judged her far too quickly, but Caitlyn is safe. She’s easy and Vi can read her. She knows what Caitlyn is saying without ever having to voice it. And every word, every look has only ever spoken the truth directly to Vi’s heart.

The small little flame suddenly feels like a raging, burning inferno.

Her voice nearly cracks, eyes peaking up from behind their clasped hands where she had hidden, “Promise?”

Caitlyn’s eyes widen and then she’s surging forward. Her arms wrapping tightly around Vi. One tucks into her hair, fingers spread wide, pulling Vi’s face into her neck. The other wraps so tightly around her waist, it surely must take all of Caitlyn’s strength. She feels cocooned and warm and protected.

“No matter what happens, no matter where this takes us, I will be by your side,” her voice rumbles deep and soft against Vi’s ear. “I promise I will stay for as long as you’ll have me.”

Vi let’s out a wet, trembling breath nuzzling as close as she can get.

She has no idea how long this will last. No idea if they are meant to be. Maybe they will only be together for this brief flickering instance in time. But for now, Vi will hold onto this feeling with all of the power in her being. Because they may be from two separate worlds, colliding for a speck of time, but she knows unequivocally and irrevocably that in this moment she is desperately and fully in love with Caitlyn.    

And for now. For now, it’s enough.