Perceptions were all but lost. Time. Space. Gravity. Corporeality. Everything was relatively irrelevant. All that mattered was not even matter itself. Though it was nice that they could see each others' eyes, that they could hear each others' heartbeat, that they could touch each others' hands, that they could smell each others' breath, and that they could taste the peanut butter left behind by the act of passion; none of it was as real as the feeling.
They were Ket and Emeral--Ket and Emeral. A pair. An item. A duo. Lobsters. Caped crusaders, except without the gaudy tights, tacky retorts and visible onomatopoeias.
It wasn't that it felt new; they had felt together for some time now. They were friends after all, and pretty good ones at that. But it was like this feeling was always there, just waiting beneath a thick layer of ice. The ice was melting slowly on its own. All that happened, not a few moments ago, was that one of them had taken a gigantic pickaxe to it.
They realized that they were just waiting for the other to do it. A silly game, it felt like, now that it was real. They could have probably started it a while ago, but were too nervous and scared. They had done little hints--kisses, hugs, kind words--but ultimately those were just reminders, not catalysts.
It was Ket's turn. He spread his fingers to loosen her hands just a little. His fingers twined with hers, paused for a moment, and then his palms surrounded her hands.
They did this action, alternating holder and held, for quite some time. There were no rules to it; there wasn't a set duration of time or any other condition which marked when the change occurred. It just did.
They did not speak or otherwise communicate. Their eyes were locked, freely blinking and occasionally shifting from side-to-side with agitation from focusing so hard on one thing--an action that couldn't be helped. Their communication was through their hands. The holder conveyed nothing but a thought, a feeling, which the held could receive. It would not last forever; their legs, from having been squished beneath them for so long, began tingling with pins and needles.
Their hands twined, as if Emeral were going to be the holder, and at this moment they mutually agreed to let go.
Rather gingerly they rolled off their legs; shaking them, batting at them, cringing and giggling and expressing the irony of the painful relief. As the circulation regulated, they found themselves sitting against the couch, side-by-side, their inner hands locked together and resting in the crevice of where their legs met.
The moment had to be ruined--not ruined-ruined, but normal life did have to return. Emeral would take that fall. "So...what would you have done if I said no?"
"I dunno," he admitted, "I didn't really think about that."
"Would you have cried?"
As if he prepared the answer, he shook his head. "Men don't cry," he muttered.
Her green gaze deepened, "Maybe not real men," she countered. "Not everything your dad says is right, y'know."
"I'm done talking about him," he squeezed her hand, "No more tonight."
"Sorry," she shifted away from him just a little.
He shifted to close the gap. "It's okay...it's just..." He fidgeted with her hand, rolling their combined ball back and forth, "I'm tired of talking about me. I mean, I know the news of my dad was first, so you kept telling me not to worry and deal with my own problems...and heck you even came over here to listen to me..." He sighed, as if what he was about to say would turn her into a vampire and make her suck his blood. "Well now that's over. I've dealt with it. Now...now I wanna help you deal with yours..."
"I already told you," she said with a sour face, "I don't want to talk about it."
His other hand clasped around their ball, "Please, Emmy? I can't help it--I'm your boyfriend now. I have to help you through it."
Her silence was stalwart.
"Please," he repeated, "I...I can't get the look out of my mind. I was so afraid--"
"Yeah right," she countered, and the air was stagnant for a second. "You weren't afraid. You were brave. You said yourself you weren't afraid of Ritzer."
"I'm afraid for you Emmy," he corrected. "I mean...what if I hadn't been listening to your footsteps? I might not have heard his following you. And even then I thought I was just imagining it--but then I decided to go and just check. And then I heard voices behind the door--"
"I don't wanna talk about it!"
He balked, visibly, receding away as if her hair flared up with an orange rage like Hades's.
She felt horrible at his response. Twice as bad as she'd felt last time. She'd shut the gate between them again, separated them with her stupidity. She took a deep breath. "I--" She felt her hand become cold as he let go. She growled, with a bit of a whimper behind it, and clutched him back. They froze for a moment like that, before she began again. "I'm in Jiu-Jitsu," she said, "I'm supposed to be able to defend myself from stuff like that."
"I'm sorry, Em--"
"No, I'm sorry," she interrupted. "You're just trying to help and I'm...being stupid." She stroked the pad of his hand with her thumb. "I don't want to talk about it...I'm not ready. But...if you wanted to do something--"
He righted himself emphatically. "I do." He said gingerly.
"...I-I dunno," she said softly, "I dunno if it's something I can ask..."
His eyes simmered. "If you want me to beat the shit out of his ass, I will." He said lowly.
She receded a little, the sincerity in his voice was somehow frightening even to her. "No, I don't want that. You could get hurt." She gained a bit of backbone, adding with scold; "And don't cuss."
"Then what? Whaddaya want me to do?"
The way he'd said it was patient and casual, almost disappointed in that he wouldn't get to draw blood. She opened her lips, closed them, then opened them to emit a final deterrent: "You'll just make fun of me."
He sighed, "Emmy, please."
"You'll call me a little sissy!"
"You never said if I was a man."
She felt cornered. Sighed. "I want..." She closed her eyes, and spoke quickly, "I just wanna be held, okay?" She awaited the sing-song teasing or the laughter. But all she received was a disappointed:
She opened her eyes, squinting one. "Whaddaya mean 'that's it'?"
"Just...seems too easy," he replied.
"Well," she hmph'd, "If it's that below you--"
"I said the wrong thing," he interrupted, setting gentle hands upon her shoulders. "I meant...aren't I supposed to be doing that anyway?"
One of her ears fell over. She rose as he did, for his hands were still gently upon her, as though he were touching the glass of an electric globe; they were not so much placed as they were statically attracted to her. She was guided to the couch, where quickly he sat beside her, and though his hands briefly switched from the front of her shoulders to the back, they did not break electric contact.
He stroked, with just a bit of a knead. As his hands passed over her back she felt stress and anxiety being scrubbed away. Her muscles tingled a little, almost like when she'd put Icy-Hot on after her classes a few times, but without the hot. He smiled, and suddenly because it was contagious so did she.
She leaned against him and he pulled her in. The pillow against the arm of the couch served as his support as he moved to lying. She fell into the inner sanctum of their recline, sinking into the cushions between Ket and the back of the couch. She held onto him for fear she might fall through to Wonderland or Narnia.
His left arm was pinned under her, left hand stroking her back. His right hand ran along her side and supported the back of her head, which he held against his chest.
Her right arm was behind her, swallowed by the void of the couch. Her left wrapped around his waist and returned the strokes he gave above the small of his back. She could feel the dub of his heartbeat, and hear the swell and rush of his breath. The air from his nose blew over her scalp, tickling her ear and causing it to twitch.
"So...like this right?"
She had to suppress a giggle. It was so much more than she had ever expected; in this little fort with Ket as her guard and the couch slowly munching away at her stray limbs, she felt more secure than if Superman were her personal bodyguard.
In answer to his question, she could only respond with, "Mhmm..."
They remained enpretzeled for some time. Occasionally their arms or legs would begin to tingle, and they would shift or move and readjust, but in the end they were always back the same way: ear-to-chest, as a prince would hold his maiden to keep her from hearing the violent turmoil of war and chaos. It would have been much more romantic if twice she hadn't had to pull him from slipping off the couch.
"Ket," she said, breaking the silence, "First rule okay?" He questioned why. "Cuz, I'm afraid your heart's gonna take off or something." She kissed his chest, feeling the tachycardia drumbeat against her lips. "You're too young to have hypertension."
"Sorry," he replied, "I'm just...still getting used to it..."
"You're not scared are you?" The question wasn't teasing--it was genuine concern. "It's okay, I know how you are. You might start off a little rough but you'll do just fine."
"No...it's not that," he replied, "It's just...you remember the day we met--the day I got that cat out of the tree?"
She hissed. "Buttons. The neighbor's devil-cat that hates me."
"I think he hated me too," he said as she got up. "Anyway, after you fixed me up, you made me some Insta-Mac, thought I was crazy for not knowing what it was."
"Well, in my defense I didn't know people could live without microwaves," she knuckled his tummy, staring into his lemon-glow eyes, "And if I remember correctly, you started eating it and then as soon as I left the room you split like a banana."
He nodded. "I did. Cuz...it tasted good."
She raised her eyebrow. "Of course it did. Why would tasting good make you leave?"
"Cuz it was good," he repeated, "And...I didn't want to get used to it. I didn't think I'd ever really talk to you again."
She pursed her lips at his pessimism. "That's the second time you said that in like half an hour. When did you finally get that I wasn't gonna go away?"
He thought for a second. "A little bit, when you kissed me in the bathroom. And then when you...first told me you liked me."
She smiled and rubbed her palm on his kneecap. "I've liked you since the first day we met. That's why I kissed you in the bathroom. I swear it was an accident, but...I'm kinda glad it happened."
He smiled. "I knew you liked me."
"Oh you did huh?"
"Yeah," he admitted, "but..." He scratched his chin, "I still...don't know why."
She tilted her head a little.
"I mean...I've tried thinking of everything I could. I've looked at everybody else and I just don't see it." He gestured with his hand, as if the solution was right on his palm yet invisible to his eyes.
"There's nothing that I have that nobody else has. Ritzer's not book-smart but he's just as cunning as he is strong; Goren's not that strong but he's really smart when he wants to be; Vergil's twice the athlete I am and looks better. You can pick anyone, really, and find at least one thing that sets them apart from me." He felt the squeeze on his arm. "And it's not...that I have to know, it's just..." His head hung backward looking up at the ceiling. "You could really have anyone you'd want...but why me?"
She fell back on him, nuzzling her cheek against his with a purr. "Oh Ket," she said downwardly, "No wonder you can't figure it out. You're looking at it all backwards." She pulled him up so they were both sitting. "I don't like you because of anything you have--and of course other people have some things you do; no one stands out in every crowd." She purred again, kissing his cheek. "I first liked you because I saw something that you didn't have, that everyone else does."
The twisted confusion on his face was priceless. "What is it?"
She giggled. "I...I can't really describe it," she replied, "It's like...when other people just stand and watch, you act. And when others stand and watch you...you'd rather they just ignored you." She lied down across his legs, claiming the pillow. "Like how I was in trouble when we first met. Any other kid would have just laughed and walked away, but you..." She raised her arm and pointed, "you just jumped right in and climbed that tree like a hero."
"Well," he replied moderately, "You weren't gonna climb it and Buttons wasn't gonna come down..."
"That wasn't the only time either," she continued, crossing her arms, "I could name a ton of others. Like Lyza's birthday party--there you have both. Ritzer making it look like you crashed the party--you just let it slide, even let Lyza believe you had done it for a while. And then she wants an expensive prize and doesn't have enough tickets, so what do you do? Bam," she slapped his arm, "Like magic."
"It was her birthday," he explained, "I had more than enough tickets. I was just going to get some of those little slinkys but...I didn't really want them as badly as she wanted the bunny, and plus I didn't get her a present."
"Oh would you stop it?" She shoved him gently. "Okay what about this: I was trapped in a troll's cave with the ugly thing breathing down my neck, and then you burst in out of nowhere and scare the little creep off." He must have gotten the reference immediately; he became somber. "Where did you even learn to kick like that? Certainly not from me."
He shook his head. "When I was littler dad made me take Tae-Kwon-Do lessons." He felt her shiver. "Are you cold?"
"...A...a little," she replied softly.
He moved her legs off of his lap and stood, shaking his own legs to regain circulation. He held out his hand, which she took, and he pulled her to a stand. "C'mon," he ushered, walking with her in his grasp."
"Where're we going?" She asked stupidly.
"I have some warmer clothes you can cover up with," he replied, pushing open the door to his bedroom.
Emeral froze as he let go of her hand and proceeded into his most intimate domain. It was a place that she had, at most, glimpsed only through the crack of the door. She was left to imagine what she saw much like a computer scanner--piecing together an entire image from only flashes of inch-wide segments. But now the narrow strip of light was blown open, as the mouth of a cave-in is with dynamite.
He turned and motioned with his hand to come inside; he also spoke but she didn't hear the words, as if the air in the room was greedy for his voice.
She looked down at the beach-sand colored carpet, sharp contrast to the brown-and-white stripes under her feet. It was full and fluffy, like freshly mowed grass; it invited her. She took a deep breath, and ascended. It yielded to her foot, conforming to her shape like those metal pin art toys. The bristles gingerly caressed her feet as if she were the only other person to ever set foot upon them--which was probably true.
With no other directive, she stood waiting as he dug through a dresser-drawer. In a few moments, black sweatpants and a matching shirt were fished from the presumably infinitely deep drawer.
He straightened up, shutting the drawer with his foot, and tossed the clothes onto his bed. He nodded, and started to leave.
"Where're you going?"
"To the bathroom," he said, rolling his eyes. "Unless you want me to stay while you change--or you could come with me I guess."
Her mouth closed at his sarcasm. "I'll stay here, thanks," she said embarrassedly. The door shut behind him, and suddenly she was found to be master of his room.
She couldn't help poking her eyes around.
In contrast to the outer-cloister that was the playroom, his domicile was clean and orderly; she noted that there was no underwear lying on the floor. His bed was small and plain, unmade and rather low to the ground. Between the mattress and the wall was a headboard with a series of cubby-holes. There were five niches: a large one in the center, two tall-box ones at its side, and two long-box ones at the top which were divided by a broad square of wood.
On top of the headboard were a few action figures and race cars, a rubix cube and a small pyramid made out of magnet-toys. The upper niches were left bare. The outer two had several more books in them. In the main compartment was another book--all of these books very thick novels--with a tasseled marker at just a little over halfway through the story. The novel rested between the only other two items in the compartment, one of which was a lamp without a shade. The other was a small and white box-radio, with blue numbers reading 9:17, decorated with peeling and curling stickers.
On the opposite wall was a doorless closet. Clean clothes hung from the hangar-bar while dirty clothes were left in a pile on the floor that spilled beyond the threshold of the door. If any underwear was in there, it was lost to her eyes. Beside the closet was a bookshelf two tiers high, containing more novels that spanned the shelves nearly end-to-end.
Between the shelf and the closed door were several thin boxes stacked one atop the other. Each one was a puzzle: 300-, 500-, 750-pieces.
The last thing her eyes fell upon was the first thing she had ever glimpsed. Even though she'd seen into this entire place half a dozen times, she distinctly felt jamais vu, especially at this last corner. It was almost a shrine, consisting of a collection of artifacts all of Egyptian theme, decorating his dresser-drawer set. There was a sphinx, a partly-disassembled pyramid-puzzle, a couple information books and several figurines of pharos, warriors and of course Anubis. Tacked upon the wall were two posters: one was labeled Diagram of the Tomb of Tutankhamon, and the other was a matrix of hieroglyphs and their phonemes.
It was everything he was, all in one place. It had taken her so long to learn about him, to get to know him so intimately that she could guess with degree how he felt and what he thought. And here, in this little nook, she could have learned it all in her five-second glance. It made her own room's character seem shallow and boring.
She fixed her eyes back on the door as he knocked. It felt so very strange when she said, "Come in," to the very person whom this realm belonged.
He stepped inside, and immediately noticed the lack of changing she had done. "Do you...need different clothes...or more time?" He asked.
She gasped, "N-no," she stammered, rushing to the bed, taking the sweatpants in her hand, "I just...got distracted," she whipped them into the air and stepped into them, pulling them up over her skirt and trying the strings. She grasped the shirt and draped it over her, rolling up the baggy sleeves just a little bit.
He regarded her only when she was done, pretending to have been straightening the stack of puzzles. "So..." he began, "I...can get the other bedsheets and change it out in like...real quick. You can sleep here and I'll sleep on the couch."
She stepped over to him, shaking her head with disapproval while doing so.
He rethought the arrangement, "Okay...if you want the couch you can have it. I'll put the sheets on there."
Again her response was a contemptuous side-to-side chin-dance.
They stood at the doorway for a moment in silence.
"We could...stay up all night I guess," he said, trying to predict her thought.
She sighed, her hand reaching up to the light switch and extinguishing it. Bathed in the quiet darkness, she slid her arms beneath his in a blind embrace. The room was so quiet, aside from the gentle tap of raindrops on the windowpane concealed by drapery. They hugged rigidly for a little while but then one of them--or perhaps both of them--began to sway. The feeling was peaceful and somnolent; as their kiss had been, but without the rush and butterflies.
"...Who's sleeping where?" He finally spoke, as if not knowing would tear apart the fabric of the universe.
She giggled. "Stop being silly," she said, and broke the embrace. She guided him through the darkness, basing the location of her destination solely on short-term memory. They alighted on his bed, which she had forgotten was lower than normal, and so landed with an oof!
They stared at each others' softly glowing eyes for a moment, before she asked a question that had been on her mind for just a little while: "Are we going to tell anyone--about being together?"
"You wanna brag about sleeping with a boy?" He asked, partly a joke.
She was glad he couldn't see her blush--but knowing her luck it glowed brighter than her eyes. "N-no...just...about being boyfriend and girlfriend. ...And I'm only asking what you want--I don't care any which way."
His disembodied eyes fell away as he moved to lie down. He was followed, immediately embraced and hugged. She snared his left leg between hers at the knees, and she squeezed him lovingly. "It's still dangerous...but I need to be able to be around you. We'll be friends at school, I think everyone knows we kind of are anyway--at least the three of us." He included Lyza.
"So when we're friends, to everyone we're strangers; when we're friend-friends to everyone we're friends. I think I see the pattern."
They chuckled together.
"Ket? Could you...could you hold me again--like you did on the couch?"
He was glad she couldn't see him blush--but knowing his luck she already could tell anyway. He complied with her request, resting her head upon his chest. He heard her whisper first rule, but it was no use.
She sighed contentedly, kneading his stomach. "You know what Ket?"
"Hm?" He asked, amidst a click. A wash of timid light fell into the room, its source a dozen meek Christmas lights that lined the window on the wall above them.
She smiled up at him. "I don't care what anyone says--even your dad. You're a man and that's that."
The corner of his mouth twitched. "Th-thanks..." was all he could manage.
She smiled dreamily, cooing as she kissed his heart. "I love you, Ket," she said, staring into his eyes.
He blushed; his stomach did a flip-flop. Staring down at her, expectant of his reply, he managed more easily than he thought possible to say the words he'd kept under his tongue for so long: "I love you too Emmy."
Her cheek fell upon his chest, and he brought the sheets up to her chin. His hand began floating across her back, petting her tenderly to keep her warm as her purrs turned to slow breaths...