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Karolina? What's it like, being in love? Written for Yuletide 2006.
Karolina's hands faltered in Molly's hair for a moment, mussing the last few twists in the braid she'd been making, but she composed herself quickly and got back to work. "Why ask me?" she asked, trying to keep her tone neutral. "I'm not all that lucky with love."
"But, you're the only one of us who's been in love with somebody who wasn't evil, or, or..."
Karolina couldn't see her face, but she could see her distress in the way her hands were twisting in her lap. "It's okay, Mol. I know." And she did; even though years had passed Gertrude's death was still a subject that made something inside of all of them feel twisted and sharp. No, Molly wouldn't go to Chase asking about love.
"Besides," Molly continued after a quick, gasping, breath, "You're... um, you..." She ducked her head, the braid escaping from Karolina's hands, and finished lamely, "You're easier to talk to than Nico!"
Karolina was sure that that hadn't been what Molly was going to say, but she didn't press. She just gave Molly a pat on the shoulder and said, "Give me a couple of days to think about it, okay? I'm not that good at describing things like that off the top of my head."
Molly twisted around to smile at her over her shoulder. "It's okay, 'Lina Bean. I can wait!"
- - -
She did think about it in the days that followed, though from the looks she caught Molly giving her a few times she had the feeling she'd thought she'd forgotten about it.
She thought about Nico, about the time in her life when the other girl could make her face flush and her thoughts come to a stuttering halt with just a look or a word. She'd been so confused and frustrated in those days, when it seemed like she couldn't be normal in any possible way, but then Nico would smile at her and she knew that she'd toss away any type of normal in a second if it meant she'd smile at her just one more time.
She remembered running away for a second time. They'd had no idea where the Leapfrog was headed, or if there was even any place left that they could hide, but her hand had been held tightly in Nico's and she couldn't feel even the tiniest bit afraid as long as she didn't let go.
- - -
"Mol?" Karolina said quietly a few days later when the others had gone out and left them alone together. "I think I've figured out how to answer you."
Molly bounced to her feet instantly, the youthful movement for a moment reminding Karolina of the little girl she'd been when they'd first runaway, and said, "Really? What's it like? I wanna know how you, you know, /know/."
"Follow me, okay? This'll be easier outside." Molly looked confused but followed willingly enough to one of the hidden entrances to their hideout. Karolina stopped there, sliding open the door to let the sunlight in but not going any further. She didn't want anyone visiting the tar pits to see her when she released her human disguise, letting the light sap into her and burst out again in rainbow-colored sparks and flares.
Molly was staring, though she'd seen this transformation thousands of times before. When she noticed Karolina noticing her she blushed faintly and blurted out, "You're so pretty/," as an explanation, then blushed even harder. "I mean," she babbled on, "/normally I just see you like this at night or inside, an' it's still pretty, I mean you're always pretty, but the colors look paler then even though the light looks brighter. I like it."
"It's because of the sun," Karolina said. "I don't really get everything about how my body works like this, but I know that when I'm not in the sun I only have leftover energy from the last time I was in. That's why my glow's more powerful outside." Then she smiled and sat down on the ground, cross-legged. "But that's not what you wanted to talk about, huh? Sit down, Molly."
Molly sat down next to her, close enough that her arm pressed against Karolina's softly and their knees bumped against each other, instead of across from her like Karolina had expected. "So? You better not be stalling."
"I'm not, silly. I wouldn't have said I was ready if I wasn't. Now, just... close your eyes, and breathe."
"Is this gonna be some sort've new age meditation thing? 'Cause I don't think that's gonna help any." But she closed her eyes anyway, and took a deep breath.
"No, it's not that. Though you shouldn't underestimate alternative spirituality." She waved her hand in front of Molly's face a couple of times, making sure her eyes were really shut, then reached out with her light. She allowed Molly's breath to draw it in, slipping down to her lungs, spreading to her heart. She had never done anything like this before, and was ready to pull out in a second if it looked like Molly was uncomfortable or in pain, but there was no such sign. The only indication that she'd even noticed anything strange happening was her eyelids fluttering slightly for a moment before closing fully again. Karolina could feel Molly's heart beating slow and steady within the growing pool of her shine.
"That's what it's like, Molly," she said, as she filled her chest with her warmth, then began drawing it slowly out again. "I couldn't think of a better way to put it."
Molly's eyes were shining when she opened them again. "Thanks, 'Lina. That helped a lot."
- - -
That night Karolina thought of Xavin, though most of the time she tried very hard not to. After such delicate use of her body's power she couldn't help it, her memories drifting back to their time together in space when she'd first learned how to manipulate her glow in ways like that.
She'd been so happy then. Xavin had seemed so different from anyone she'd ever known, and the things she'd shown her on both their worlds had been unlike anything Karolina had ever imagined. And she had been so /beautiful/. Karolina hadn't been able to believe she was really that lucky.
It had been like she'd been starting her life fresh. Like, with Xavin's help, she'd been reborn as a new, stronger, Karolina who felt more secure in her own skin than she ever had before.
Then it had all come crashing down.
It had been Molly's doing, and Karolina had never been quite sure whether to thank her or fault her for that. She had kept pressing about how often Xavin had chosen to be in male form, and, finally, Xavin had tried staying in his female human form all the time unless she needed to switch to his natural form to fight.
He had realized after a few weeks of this that he wasn't as comfortable switching from male to female as he'd claimed.
Karolina had loved him, and Karolina had never wanted to leave him. But the night she'd met him Karolina had decided that she'd never live a lie again, and she wouldn't let him continue living one for her sake.
It was the strength he'd helped to give her that had let her let him go.
- - -
"I've got another question." Molly said seriously a week later. "Well, I already had it before, but I thought you'd wanna break after the last one."
"There are three other people living here, Molly. Don't you think Chase would like a chance to play big brother and answer one of these questions of yours?"
Molly shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest, a picture of resoluteness. "Nope. Nobody else can answer this one."
"Okay, Molly Doll--"
"/Don't/ call me that," Molly cut in. Karolina blinked, startled by the sudden aggression, and Molly's face softened. "This is /important/, so don't talk to me like I'm still a little kid, okay?"
"All right, /Molly/. What do you want to know?" Karolina leaned against the wall, preparing herself for another question she'd need lots of time to think about.
All of the resolve seemed to drain out of Molly now that she was actually being listened to. Her eyes darted around, never meeting Karolina's, and twisted her hands together in a familiar nervous habit. "I, uh, how do you... how did..." she stammered, then took a deep breath and slowly said, "How did you know for sure that you only liked girls?"
Karolina hand flew up to her mouth and her eyes widened. "But, you wanted to marry Wolverine!" she blurted out before she could catch herself.
"I was /eleven/, 'Lina," Molly said, rolling her eyes.
Karolina could admit that that was a good explanation. She could remember being that age, and telling everyone that she wanted to marry Joseph Fiennes when she grew up because she'd loved Shakespeare in Love. She'd just quietly pushed the thought that the only 'man' in that movie she'd really been interested in was Gwyneth Paltrow in drag to the back of her mind. "I just knew, Molly. I tried hiding it, and I tried forcing myself to be straight, but it was a part of me, just like I'm a girl or like I'm Majesdanian. It's not something I could ever change. And if it's the same for you, it's just part of you too. As much a part of you as your super-strength."
Molly was frowning slightly, staring thoughtfully at a patch of the wall slightly above floor-level. After a moment she nodded to herself. "Thanks, 'Lina. That helps," she said again.
On a whim, Karolina leaned forward and kissed Molly lightly on the forehead. "You don't need to worry, Molly. Nobody's going to mind either way. I don't bother them, do I?"
Molly's smile was all the response she needed.
- - -
Karolina remembered Topher.
She hadn't loved him, couldn't have loved him even if she'd known him for more than one day and he hadn't been an evil vampire. But, at that time of her life, she'd loved what he might have represented.
She had been so confused, and so frightened by the thought that she was a freak that she'd wanted nothing more than to at least try being normal. He'd been so easy to talk to, and they'd had at least a few things in common, that she'd thought if she'd just tried hard enough, just wanted it hard enough, that maybe she could change herself enough to fall for him.
It was months before she finally accepted that she had always been normal, and when the day finally came that she could look herself in the mirror and be perfectly happy just being herself she had found herself so stupidly glad that he'd tried to kill them all.
It almost made her feel sick to imagine what her life would have been like if he'd been exactly what he'd seemed and had chosen her over Nico. Putting on a happy face when he found ways to take her out without calling any attention to themselves, pretending to fall in love with him, pretending to feel anything, to like it, when they kissed. She'd heard stories about people who got married just to try and force themselves straight, ending up spending years of their lives living a miserable lie, and she hated to think that maybe if things had gone a little differently she could have ended up being one of them.
At least she could try to help keep Molly from ever making that sort of mistake.
- - -
She was starting to get used to the questions that came every time she and Molly were left alone together. Or maybe she'd just been expecting it because of the way Molly had been staring at her for the past half-hour. "Yeah Molly?"
"I've gotta ask you one more question."
She smiled reassuringly, trying to get across the feeling that she'd always be there for Molly to open up to as she tried figuring out her sexuality. "I figured. You can ask me anything, Molly."
"Can I kiss you?" This time there was no stuttering or hesitation, and she held Karolina's eyes calmly the entire time. Karolina couldn't imagine how hard it must have been for her to steel her nerve like that, until she remembered what it had been like the long-ago night when she'd finally worked up enough courage to try stealing a kiss from Nico.
"You want to--" she started slowly, but Molly broke in before she could continue.
"It's not just me wanting to see what it's like. And it's not me just using you because you're the only lesbian I know. I don't know if I just like girls, or if I like both, or if I don't like anyone but you, but I look at you, or I hear you, or I think of you, and..." She slowly raised a hand to press it against her chest, over her heart, and looked at Karolina with her eyes wide and sincere, "And it's like sunshine, Karolina."
She had never been on the receiving end of a declaration of love before. The closest she'd ever come to it was the first time Xavin had called her his love, but by then it was something they'd both already known and it was only natural to start putting it into words.
But she was surprised to find that this felt natural too. What else could all of Molly's questions and blushes and touches have meant? Even if she'd never let herself think about it, of course she could recognize the way Molly had been acting. It was just the way Karolina herself had been around Nico when she'd been about the same age. And, now that she finally allowed herself to think the thoughts she'd been unconsciously dancing around for weeks, she found that it didn't feel that strange at all.
"Go ahead," she said quietly.
Molly accidentally bumped her nose against Karolina's with a giggle as she leaned forward, then she figured out how to hold her head and pressed her lips against Karolina's, all softness and bubble gum lip-gloss. Karolina suddenly found herself wondering, as Molly's tongue cautiously pushed against her lips without the other girl seeming to have any idea what exactly she was supposed to do with it, whether this was Molly's first kiss or not. As soon as she thought that she realized that it must be, since she barely knew anyone outside of the tar pits.
Maybe that should have made her back off, let Molly learn what she was doing from someone her own age a few years down the line when she could rejoin the outside world at last, but instead she pressed herself closer, quietly taking charge. Her own first kiss had been a bland disappointment, but at least she could make sure that Molly's was one worth remembering.
As Molly enthusiastically imitated what she was doing, a detached part of Karolina's mind quietly thought with wonder that she should never doubt Molly's uncanny ability to pick up new skills with just a little observation.
When they broke apart at last Molly's cheeks were flushed and her eyes were shining. They just stared at each other for a long moment, taking in small panting breaths, then the corner of Molly's lips quirked up and she quietly said, "Sorry, I lied. I've got one more question."
Karolina almost laughed at the strange normality of it all. "What is it," she asked, her voice just as soft.
"Can I kiss you again?"
For just a moment Karolina imagined Molly's eleven-year-old self standing where she was now, thought about how back then she never would have believed that anything like this would ever have happened with that little girl.
She knew she probably would had yelled at anyone who'd even suggested such a thing for being a disgusting pervert.
Then that vision faded away, and all that was left was the beautiful young woman in front of her and the taste of bubble gum lip-gloss in her mouth. She found that it wasn't bad at all.
"Chase is going to kill me," she said, then her eyes drifted slowly closed as Molly beamed and leaned forward to kiss her once more.