Five spindly fingers dug into Rose's shoulder, causing her to wince and look up. Vriska stared down at her with a venomously sweet smile, one that sent chills down Rose's spine. Warning. Warning, cried the alarms in head. This is not a good sign.
"Serket," she stated evenly, closing her book. "Is there something you needed?"
"Oh, you better believe there is." The curve of the troll's lips rose to dangerous levels, and while her smile maintained its façade the narrowing of her eyes telegraphed nothing but T-R-O-U-B-L-E. "A something you seem to want to hide from the rest of us."
Rose's heart seized, and then seemed to make up for the break. "I see. Well, whatever this something may be, is it possible we could delay its discussion until after the meeting?" Rose gestured to the conference room, into which most of the Veil's tenants had already filed into. Jade and Tavros sat chatting, Gamzee staring into space by the boy's side. Dave and Aradia stood nearby, possibly trying to hold a conversation but hindered by Terezi's attempt to show Dave some new drawing. Nepeta tried in vain to place a silly hat atop Equius's head, stretching up as far as her toes will allow her. Feferi walked in at that moment giggling at some joke, cheerily unaware of the dark glare Sollux and Eridan traded on opposite sides of her.
There were only three people who had any chance of placating Vriska, and—of course—they all happened to be absent.
"As a matter of fact, I don't think it can." Vriska's plastic smile began to flicker. "Certain things can't wait when certain snarky broads are sneaking around with your matesprit."
"Kanaya!" The troll snapped, dropping any act of civility. "Don't lie, I know you two met before everyone got here!" Jade's head turned curiously towards the two girls. "Just what were our little snarkers doing, huh?
Oh. Oh. A small weight lifted from Rose's shoulders. "Vriska…I feel there's been a bit of a misunderstanding here—."
"Bull!" Vriska snarled, and Rose spied the turning of more heads out of the corner of her eye. "I read your chat! Just what was that 'urgent matter' you needed to talk about? The one you 'didn't want to discuss in a recordable form'? Sounds a bit paranoid if you ask me!"
"It certainly does," Rose quipped without thinking. Thankfully the sarcasm seemed to go over Vriska's head. "I hate to disappoint, but there is no vampire harlequin romance going on without your knowledge. I simply went to Kanaya's room to borrow something."
"Oh reeeeeeeeally?" Oh lord, and here came the draaaaaaaama. "So why didn't you just ask her for it? You KNOW she'd do aaaaaaaanything for Her Majesty Queen of the Books." She stuck a pointed nail into Rose's chest. "Why be all mysteeeeeeee…"
The octupled e's trailed into silence, at first to Rose's relief, then concern. A stunned look of fury grew on Vriska's face as she stared. Air escaped her blue lips in a low hiss. "Oh my god."
"What?" Rose stammered, unnerved. She looked down at herself for an answer. Nothing out of the ordinary greeted her, just her usual attire, black dress, pink sash, black…
"Sleeves!" Vriska spat, hands clenching into fists, and by now all attention was on them. "Your sweater—HER sweater! I can not believe you—the fucking audacity—!"
"V…Vriska…" Rose started, unsure of what to say. She was in quite the predicament, half humored by Vriska's complete misjudgment of the situation, half very, very alarmed by it. "There is an explanation—."
"What the hell is there to explain? Why else would you have switched clothes?"
"If you would just let me talk-!"
"HOLY FUCK." (Somewhere from behind Rose came a snicker. "Hot damn, noww things are gettin good.") A stomped line of steps sounded outside, and the doors flew open to reveal an irritated Karkat. "Just WHAT is all this yelling about?"
Vriska's head snapped towards him "Oh, perfect." She sauntered up to him, grabbing him by the wrist. "It seems we have a bit of an ISSUE here, oh Brave Leader." With no small amount of yanking she planted the protesting boy in front of Rose. "An issue concerning both of our resident Fussy-Fangs and those 'sloppy interspecies makeouts' you were bitching about!"
"Wha…" Karkat's eyes narrowed at the girl suspiciously, only to snap open as he processed what Vriska was saying. "Oh no. OhhhHHHHH FUCK NO."
"Jesus Christ Lalonde, I expected something like this from your idiot ectobrother or whatever, but—God, I thought you had absorbed all the common sense from those other dumbshits, and then you do this? And Kanaya of all—Kanaya!"
Like magic, Kanaya appeared in the room followed –finally- by a somewhat frazzled looking John. His gaze caught Rose's immediately and he gave a somewhat sheepish grin—one that quickly vanished when the situation registered with him. Meanwhile, Kanaya's eyes swept over the victim, the opposition, and the frozen audience, and within a second's space she shifted into austipice mode. "What seems to be the problem here?"
She strode gracefully over to them, and John made a movement as to follow suit-but was quickly halted by Rose's quickly mouthed "NO." He paused, stepped forward in confusion, and finally sat down at the end of the table, awkward and unnoticed by the spectators. His eyes switched back and forward between Rose and the increasingly angry trolls.
"What the hell were you doing-?"
"Why is she wearing-?"
"IF YOU WOULD JUST—." Rose's voice broke through the twin shouts. "—let me explain myself, as I have been asking, I could tell you. I simply borrowed this sweater from Kanaya because my usual undershirt was dirty." She looked pointedly at the auxiliatrix. "Remember, Kanaya?"
She hesitated the briefest bit, only to nod smoothly. "Correct."
"But why did you need one of her sweaters?" Vriska demanded, punctuating herself with a poke to Kanaya's sternum. "Hell, why would you need the dress in the first place, why not just change into something different? "
"I-I stopped at her room at her room on the way here, I was running out of time and didn't want to…" And she made her fatal mistake—one hand went unconsciously up to touch the extended neck of Kanaya's sweater. Before she could correct herself, Karkat made his move, grabbing the turtleneck.
"Wha-Karkat!" Rose tensed and tried to pull away, but the boy pulled the black fabric down to expose her neck, pale and smooth but for…
"I knew it. I KNEW it!" Karkat had truly gone into Rage Mode now. "Oldest trick in the book, Lalonde, hiding hickies with a sweater! " A gasp came from the trolls too far to see the red marks on the Seer's neck.
"Karkat, enough!" She yelled, trying to pull away from the boy, but his grip was too stubborn. "This is absolutely none of your concern—!"
"It is if you're going around fucking with the one thing keeping Spiderbitch over here sane! And don't think YOU're out of the woods yet!" He added, jerking towards Kanaya.
"Karkat, please!" She dashed forward, trying to pull him away from the Seer. "Karkat, listen, you need to calm down and LISTEN TO ME, I did not…" Her face tinted lime. "Those marks aren't mine."
"Then whose are they, Kanaya?" Vriska, who had been stunned silent from the revelation, finally snapped. "You're the only ones whose fangs could have left that!"
"Exactly!" Karkat chimed in, gesturing at Rose's neck. "Who the hell has teeth that fit those thr-?"
Karkat blinked, then pulled down the fabric further down. With his other hand he pointed to the marks, as if counting the one, two, three bruises on Rose's skin.
"Three…? Three marks?" Behind Karkat, Kanaya cradled her forehead. "How the hell did you manage that?"
Rose gave up, sitting up straight and giving Karkat her most composed look of disdain. "Congratulations, Karkat, you've finally stumbled upon what both you and Vriska were too consumed in your quaint little bubbles of paranoia to realize, what you were too busy playing the valiant knight to hear come from my own lips."
His narrow eyes flickered over her in suspicion. "What the hell are you talking about?"
That did it. Rose stood up, wrenching free of Karkat's grasp in one motion. "Pop quiz, Brave Leader, who in this room could have left three even teeth marks when biting down on something?"
A little to the left of Karkat, Vriska went tense, cheeks going a brilliant cerulean. But the Knight himself apparently missed it, for he went on obliviously. "Well, Miss Lalonde, apparently I fail, because I'm not a tool that goes around memorizing everyone's teeth structure! So, you're just going to fill me in as to who has three idiot teeth like-."
His voice cut off in a strangled sound.
Rose watched him coolly as a faint red tinge bloomed in the troll's face. Slowly, with a look of frozen horror, he turned, along with every other head in the room, to the furthest end of the conference table. Nine pairs of eyes, three pairs of shades, and two empty eye sockets all focused on one John Egbert, who had at that moment discovered that, WOW, that floor was the coolest thing he had seen all day and he should definitely focus all his attention on it. His dedication was a thing of admiration—just look at that huge-eyed, mortified stare, that face burning red with focus, those one, two, three idiot teeth dug deep into his bottom lip.
A small gasp echoed across the still room.
"Well done, well done!" Rose startled everyone with a single, sarcastic clap. "You solved the Mystery of the Mismatched Teeth, Karkat! Gold star!" She applauded lightly as the boy, face still frozen in a gape of horror, staggered numbly to his seat, where he would spend most of the meeting gazing at the opposite wall with a thousand-yard stare. "Now, Miss Serket," she turned with a beaming smile to the blue-faced girl, "have your suspicions of infidelity been quenched?" Vriska flinched, nodding curtly with all eight pupils averted. "Certain? You don't wish to inquire of the meaning of any other clothing I possess? Does my headband need a onceover as well?" The girl scowled, muttering something and stalking awkwardly back to her chair. As she passed Kanaya, she mumbled something that might have been a grudging "sorry."
Rose's eyes passed smoothly over her, to Kanaya, to Karkat, to the room at large. Expressions ranged from horror (Dave seemed to have forgotten how to close his mouth) to amusement (Aradia patting him comfortingly with one hand, concealing her chuckles with another) to shock ("s-so unbelievably lewd" muttered the other Heir, wiping a line of sweat off his forehead) to thinly veiled triumph ("way to go!" mouthed Jade, throwing a tiny thumbs up). Finally, her gaze settled on the boy at the furthest end of the table. After a long, long moment, John stood, clearing his throat.
"S-so uh…. hi everyone!"
"So going by what Terezi said Jack is still somewhere in the Veil, but we have no idea as to where that somewhere is. That's more than a little irritating."
"You, Vriska, or Aradia could possibly scout for him, but there's the possibility that's what he wants. You could lead him back to the rest of us, although Vriska claims that that's impossible…"
Rose trailed off. "John, this would be more productive if you could look at these notes, and that would be more possible if you didn't have your face in my shoulder."
He sighed. "Sorry." But he didn't move away, instead scooting up to nuzzle against her temple. "Buhhh, but you're just so soft and smell nice and—."
"Might I remind you that this is exactly what led to our incident in front of the others this evening?"
That made him pause. After a moment he groaned comically, letting his head drop to bonk her shoulder. "Ugh."
"Ugh," she agreed. "Well, I suppose they would have found out eventually, I was just hoping it might have happened in a more dignified matter than this. One that didn't involve imagined love triangles and screaming"
They sighed in unison. Notes forgotten, Rose leaned into him. "How are you holding up?"
"Seconded." She rubbed her eyes with a grimace. "Planning things without knowing what we're doing is exhausting. And irritating. Perhaps tomorrow we could raise a vote for an expedition to find things to blow up. We wouldn't get much done, but it'd be satisfying."
"Yeah, heh. Aradia'd like that." John drummed his fingers in his lap, something obviously weighing on his mind. "So uh…you and Kanaya, huh?"
"Hmm? Oh well, I just figured she was the only one I could trust not to talk about it. And she tried! She honestly did, but we saw how well that went."
"Um, yeah, but I mean like…how Vriska was thinking…" He bit his lip.
Rose turned to him and straightened up. "John, you did not honestly believe that."
"N-no, I just—! It just seems that you guys are really close, and I know you like Kanaya a lot and she's really smart and pretty and…." He turned away quickly. "And a lot like you and not like me."
An awkward silence. Rose gave him a long, long stare before sighing. "Yes, it's true. You're not like Kanaya at all." Quietly she looped her arms around his waist, arching her neck to settle against his neck. "And that's why I like you. Because you're you.
"…and," she smirked, looking down and going a little red. "One neck-biter in my life is enough to handle, so don't fret about that either."
John blinked rapidly, turning back to her. "Were…were you okay with that, really?" He looked down to where the red marks stood out stubbornly and pouted. "I really didn't mean to bruise you like that, honest…" After a moment he leaned down and kissed the marks gingerly. "Sorry…"
Rose's cheeks went pink. "If…"
He looked up. "Huh?"
She looked away. "If you're really unsure as to whether I liked it or not…well, a scientist would say a single trial is unsuitable to draw a conclusion from, so…"
John blinked…and slowly smirked.
The next day Rose's neck was bare, save for six symmetrical red marks. No one said a word.