in which kia is met and amil is met again

Start from the beginning

kia yawns and stretches properly in front of nadia's mirror. it's the biggest thing in nadia's room, which is weird because nadia has never been the type to focus on what she looks like, but it's in an old fashioned frame and leaning against the wall. it's just a tiny bit too short for kia to see all of her head in, which make sense, because kia is about half a foot taller than nadia. she collapses so that she's sitting crisscross-applesauce on nadia's rug and stares at her reflection.

nadia, half-asleep, watches kia watch herself from the bed. she's beautiful, some part of nadia's brain supplies, and she's too tired to immediately crush the thought. it lingers there. beautifulbeautifulbeautiful.

kia stares at herself. she's gotten better at seeing herself without immediately thinking of all of her flaws but the thoughts bubble up anyway, like a spring of self-hate. her jaw is too broad, her feet too big to fit any good women's shoes, everything about her just a little too masculine.

nadia helped kia shave her head for the first time a few months ago and it still gives nadia mixed feelings. kia had been growing her hair out for months- it had been how she'd come out to nadia and everyone else, defensive and loud, "i like my hair this long and i don't care if you don't." it had been down to the middle of her back, ginger-red and faintly curly. nadia would finger-comb it when kia let her guard down. it was practically the middle of the night when kia showed up at nadia's window, sitting on a tree branch just outside. she's crying in nadia's memory, but nadia's not sure. some jerk outside kia's house had chopped half of it off and it looked bad, even from nadia's perspective, and nadia knows next to nothing about hair.

they'd shaved it with nadia's dad's electric razor and nadia had swept up the shorn hair and kia had looked so, so tired. nadia had, in that moment, never felt more in love with someone, and it was like someone jumper-cabled her heart.

quinn feels awkward in the tuxedo, it fits too tightly and allu had told them, long ago, that they couldn't wear their beanie for jobs like this. it's not that they don't like their afro, it's that no one else in these situations does. they practice holding the tray in one hand on the way up to the sitting room, a careful balancing act. they drop the tin dome a few times but they've almost perfected by the time they get to the french doors. they can hear voices from inside the glass doors and they slip inside, puffing up their chest and holding the platter in front of them.

"sir," they say. adrammelech is sitting on a loveseat by himself. he's taken the form of an aged white man, wearing a double-breasted suit and a graying carnation in his buttonhole. across from him is...

rani and her parents. oh, isn't this absolutely perfect. nadia and quinn spent so much time keeping her from finding out that sam wasn't exactly human, and she's been dealing with adrammelech this whole time? that's probably where rani gets the money for her solid gold earrings. old money, my ass. quinn barely stops themself from huffing.

rani doesn't even look up at them, not taking her eyes off the coffee table. her father doesn't stop talking with adrammelech, waving his hands.

"sir," quinn repeats, holding out her tray. "allu is waiting for your response." it's what she always says- almost code, in a way. allu is not waiting for their response, but no one wants to know the name of the working class, black ephemeral, so they say allu and not quinn.

rani's father stops talking as adrammelech's attention is diverted, which makes rani look up. rani and quinn lock eyes and rani looks away first, her brow furrowed. quinn stands a little bit taller. now is not the time to be thinking about how to explain this later, now is the time to take pride in small victories and to get this package to where it needs to be.

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