dedication: to Emily, for Christmas.
title: concrete jungle
summary: Can't sleep in this city of neon and chrome. — Karina/Ivan.
Flickering light from the TV filled the common room in Sternbild's Hero's Tower.
It was so late.
Karina ought to have been home, curled up in bed with a book and a cup of hot cocoa. That was her usual routine, after they'd filmed another episode for HeroTV—head home, curl up in bed, drink hot cocoa, and hide from everyone and everything.
But not tonight.
Tonight, she needed a drink.
She sighed, and slurped the grapefruit-vodka thing she'd made herself out of a purple Coca-Cola glass. It was childish and too small—probably Pao-Lin's or maybe Kaede's. Karina didn't even know why she was using.
She flicked through the channels. A man with blond hair and sunglasses in a district in Ikebukuro was on the screen, chasing after someone else, and was that a flying vending machine?
Karina snorted, and flicked away.
There had to be something better than that.
But there wasn't.
Not this late at night, anyway.
The knob rattled behind her and Karina was up off the couch with an ice dagger in her hand in a second. She would not be caught off-guard. The TV light flickered behind her.
There was muffled growling from the other side of the locked door. "God—fuck—damn it— wait—I'm gonna kill Keith for this…"
Karina tipped her head. She knew that voice. "Ivan? Is that you?"
"Hey? Is someone in there?"
"Yeah, hold on, I'll be—gimme a sec—" And then Karina pulled the door open with a flourish, and Ivan literally fell into her arms.
"Um. Hi?" she squeaked.
"Jesus. Thanks, Karina. I thought I was screwed."
"Could you. Um. Get off. Please?"
"Shit," he muttered. "Sorry!"
"It's—um. It's okay. Why… are you… here…?" she asked, slow and steady. She'd stopped panicking when he let her go, and her brain was quickly fizzing out. She didn't understand anything anymore.
"Nathan got Keith got drunk and locked me out," Ivan shrugged. "So I figured I'd…"
"Come here, yeah," Karina said, nodding. It made sense. She tucked caramel hair behind her ear and smiled up at him (wen did he get so tall?). She blinked at the plastic bag he was carrying. "So what's with—?"
"Supper. Want some?"
Ivan grinned in reply. He was almost colourless in the lack of light, but Karina didn't really mind. It would be nice to eat something with someone who wasn't her parents. It would be nice to eat and not strain to keep her voice from breaking out of her throat and screaming until her vocal chords snapped and bled. It would be nice.
The TV flickered again.
Ivan stared at it. "What…?"
Karina glanced up from sorting through the kitchen drawer for cutlery to glance at the still-flickering television. "Oh. That. It's a… show. It's about gold hot pants, drag queens, and guys with better legs than a man has any right to have."
Ivan shook his head, Karina found the cutlery, and they settled into the couch with the food on the coffee table in front of them. Black leather but worn, cracked along the edges and the seams where people had sat. It was an old couch. A good couch.
She opened the first container and stiffened.
Ivan looked up, fork already headed to his mouth. "What? It's just fried rice, it's not going to kill you."
Except it actually sort of was. Karina glared icily, and Ivan realized his mistake.
"Karina, I didn't mean—"
She took a slow, deep breath. Ivan thought he felt the temperature in the room drop ten degrees. "It's okay. I mean…"
She dropped her head down, curls hanging over her face, biting her lip and struggling not to cry. "I mean… he's in love with Barnaby. Even if no one says anything. I know. I'm not blind, Ivan. I know how they look at each other. And I know how… how everyone… looks… at me…"
"You can cry, if you want," Ivan said.
"I don't—I don't—I really—just—"
And then the tears did come and Karina sobbed and sobbed. "Why doesn't he—hic—why doesn't he love me? It's not—hic—not fair!"
Ivan looped his arms around her and pulled her to his shoulder. "Sorry," he whispered. "Sorry."
They stayed like that for a long time.
Karina cried herself out into Ivan Karelin's shirt. When she did pull away, almost a full half-hour later, her eyes were red and puffy, she was splotchy, and her nose was plugged.
"Thanks," she muttered.
"Don't worry about it," said Ivan. "C'mon. Let's eat.