Tanvi had been working on her homework when she heard the knock.
Before the knock, she had tried to ignore the constant scuffling on the carpet outside her door. Quick shuffles and abrupt thuds, copious amounts of agitated mumbling. Without even feeling his presence, she knew Vin was pacing outside. It wouldn't have been the first time he pulled something like this. Whenever he needed to talk about something that really bothered him, he always wrestled himself to the dirt trying to figure out how exactly to say it. That was just how he was.
Afraid to say something wrong.
Afraid to articulate any true and honest feelings.
Afraid of being used, as if he were not a human being, but a tool.
Having known him for so long, the sounds amused Tanvi more than anything, but they also puffed excited bouts of bubbles into her stomach. What was he here for? The anticipation of it had caused her ears to constantly twitch and flinch, acting like frisky foxes prancing around in a fresh snow. Homework was barely even a thought.
So when the knock finally came, she burst to her feet in a firework, and was at the door impossibly fast despite her blindness. She swung it open.
She heard him swallow roughly. The subtle rustle of his wing, and the slight augmentation in his body temperature. "Hi, Tanvi. Can I...um. Can we talk?"
"You know you don't have to ask."
Stepping aside, she urged him in, and listened until his footsteps became less solid as he crossed the threshold into a territory of criminally soft carpeting. The door shut with a click. The gears on the lock crackled into place, and they were basking in the temporary vacancy of words.
"So, what's up?" She asked, bouncing back onto her bed. Her fingers patted the sheets to signal him to sit too, but he didn't move. Didn't even flinch.
In fact, the only change that she could recognize at all was the sudden heftiness in the pounding coming from his chest. That wasn't anything out of the ordinary. She knew, having lived for years without the capability of expressing himself, that any little thing could make him so nervous he was practically flipping over himself. He was a fragile book, and his yellowed pages had to be handled with the utmost care. They were far too crisp, too water-damaged, and prone to ripping.
There was a light rustle in his throat, and the sound of fingers scrunching deep into pockets. The tinkling and the clinking indicated that, as always, they were stuffed full of miscellaneous junk.
"I...I uh...you..." He seemed to lose his voice to an unseen wind for a moment, but caught it again within a second. "You...know. Tomorrow is a holiday."
"Yes," Tanvi confirmed. "Valentine's Day. It's where couples celebrate being in love." Her face scrunched. "Kind of silly, but cute too, I guess."
A nervous chuckle bumbled from his vocal chords and stuck to the back of his throat. "Yeah...silly. And we don't even get off school."
"I know. Messer and Claire are going to go out to dinner. I think Miles and Tricia are going dancing, and Nik and Nora are going to seize the opportunity to watch Titanic."
There was an awkward gap of silence. Tanvi toyed with her pencil, waiting for him to explain himself. Normally, these pauses weren't so uncomfortable, but there was something about his presence today that set her on edge too, and before she knew it her fingers had taken fistfuls of her hair and begun to contort it. "So...what about it?" She asked.
Each feather on Vin's solitary wing shivered, as if a glacial breeze had just penetrated him. "Yeah, about it. I- well, I was um...sitting in my room, sort of, and thinking about life and stuff while I was working on something and one of the screwdrivers was red and then you popped into my head and...and...uh- wait." He paused. "I don't mean you look like a tool," he blurted, and his temperature escalated. "Shoot. I just- I was..." A sound like something being shoved into a mound of straw filtered through her ears, and she guessed he had just driven his fingers into his hair. "I'm an idiot. Nevermind."
"No, you're not an idiot." Tanvi almost stood, but pulled herself forward on her bed instead. She couldn't help cracking the smallest of smiles at his fumbling. "Keep going. You're doing fine."
He drunk in a long draught of breath. It was undoubtedly twisted- probably from frustration. The hitch in his lungs pricked in her ears, and it was more pronounced than usual, jutting out like a rusted screw in old plywood. "Okay. Well, everyone...here has something to do, and I just...I...got...thinking, about...m-me and stuff, and stuff I...just...yknow, and Valentine's Day is coming up...so I thought about people, and the dance and all that. And I thought ab-bout you...?"
Tanvi cocked her head, red curls tumbling over her shoulder. "Uh...okay? Not sure I follow. Try some more?"
Vin blew out a heavy breath. "I-I..." Another swallow, so coarse it made her cringe. His poor heart was beating so violently now that she felt as if she were in the middle of two rogue pirate ships exchanging canon-fire. "J-just forget it. Nevermind, I didn't- there's nothing important."
Sharp scuffles let her know he was sliding backwards. She leapt to her feet to stop his escape before it could truly begin.
"Vin, it's alright. You're doing absolutely fine, okay? Is something really wrong?"
The knob on her door jangled. His hand had twisted around the cold metal. "N-no, it's not. I-I don't know what I was thinking, I just- I'm fine, okay? Forget it."
Tanvi crossed her arms. "One, no way I could forget this now. And two, you're not fine."
"Yes I am."
"No, you're not."
"Yes. I. AM."
"Vin, your body temperature is high and your heart is-"
"I KNOW! Geez, I can't- I can't help it, okay? I'm sorry."
His breathing became more labored. If she had sight, Tanvi imagined she would see pale knuckles gripping that knob, and his face so red it would be like staring directly into the eyes of an apple. If apples had eyes, anyway. "Vin, you don't-"
"I-I'm sorry. I didn't...I just..." His voice cut out, and she recognized the sounds that came next. Breaths so minced there was barely a space between them. The tiny tremors she felt cascading through the air. The ruffling of his wing, awkward and clumsy, as he struggled to push oxygen through his veins. And the desperate gulps that accompanied the light whimpers clogging his throat. He was a roiling mess of sweaty palms and uncontrollable thoughts and repressed emotions.
In essence, Vin was having a panic attack.
Swiftly, Tanvi urged herself forward. She found his shoulders and squeezed them, directing her face in the direction she best guessed his was. His sweatshirt was achingly warm and filled every space between her fingers. This close, she could feel his heart racing, and when she touched him, it seemed to forget it was supposed to beat for a moment. A skip in the chaotic rhythm. Two, three...
He quivered beneath her grasp.
"Vin, calm down," she said gently, putting as much tenderness into it as she could. At this point, she was convinced something had to be horribly wrong. What else would have him so upset? "It's alright. Just breathe."
"I-" His chest convulsed, carelessly throwing his lungs. "I-I can't."
"Yes you can. Just focus on-"
"I-I mean I can't...breathe."
"I know. Just-"
"N-no, you don't understand!"
"I don't under-what?"
"That's not- I mean- no!"
"What are you-"
"I love you!"
Tanvi blinked, confusion knitting her brows. "I love you too. Vin, what's going-"
"No, T-Tanvi, I mean...like..." He sucked in as deep a breath as he was capable of, which wasn't very deep at all. A tide pool where it should have been an ocean. "This," he squeaked. Clumping his fingers into fists, he leaned forward, squelching the distance between them.
And brushed his lips up against hers.
Tanvi couldn't help but gasp herself.
Her senses hummed, clamoring and thrashing and banging against each other until she was a sloppy cacophony without a conductor. This...was everything she wasn't expecting.
She breathed in, and she discovered an amorphous blend of tangy metal, mint shampoo, sharp medicine, fresh paper. Without realizing it, her fingers had moved to explore the nape of his neck. They moved past the scars embedded there and twisted up into his hair, and it had never felt softer, lighter- like brushing her hands along the lamb ears planted in her garden. He was a map. An unexplored, untainted map of colors eyes couldn't hope to see.
And she was traveling his lips.
Cracked. Rifted, but soft on the sides of those rifts, and tiptoeing so painstakingly on hers.
Never had she imagined a kiss. In the back of her mind, something had always warned her that she could never handle such a powerful thing- such an immense tidal wave of passion. It would overwhelm her.
And now, more than ever, she was right. Her entire body was near to exploding from the contact.
But it was not overwhelming in a bad way.
He was...gentle. He didn't crash against her, and in fact, by the sound of groaning wood, he kept his hands pushed up against the door, as if he was afraid of touching her. When the kiss began, he had barely even touched her lips.
That was something she needed to fix.
Barely able to suppress her grin, she leaned further against him and deepened the kiss. She curled one arm around his back, and twirled her fingers deeper into the recesses of his raven black hair. Vin whimpered, and she wondered in a split moment whether his eyes were open or closed.
Shakily, tentatively, she felt the quiet inch of fingertips tapping onto her cheek. But he didn't dare touch her past that.
Standing there, kissing her best friend, Tanvi could have been content to never break away.
But she felt the starved rattle swelling in Vin's lungs. He couldn't breathe well- especially when he got emotional- and right now, she was devouring what little oxygen he was able to ingest. The back of his neck had become damp.
Still clinging to him, she forced herself away. He immediately grappled for a breath.
"Are-are you okay?" Tanvi asked, fighting the anxious rise in her chest.
After a few messy breaths, Vin managed to reply. "Oh...дерьмо. I totally...ruined it."
"Ruined it?" A laugh bubbled into Tanvi's throat, and tasting it, she let it flow into the warm air between them. "You didn't ruin it."
"Yes I...did," he grumbled. "I...was...out of breath before...I even...kissed you. That's only supposed to...happen after."
Her laughter became lighter, rising to the top of the room until it combed the ceiling. "It's okay, I know it isn't easy."
"I'm...sorry," he apologized. "I shouldn't...have done...that." He tried to move away from her, but she held him firmly in place. Now that this had happened, she wasn't going to let him slip back into a labyrinth of uncoordinated feelings.
"Vin, you do realize I kissed you back, right?"
"That means I liked it."
"...oh. Yeah, I-I guess so."
Soon, he was chuckling right along with her. It was the strangest, most bizarre pair of sounds- one low and broken by uneven breath, the other so shrill and painfully giddy it hurt her own ears. So really- nothing had been wrong at all. The thought was so churlishly amusing to her that she could barely restrain herself from bursting into hysterics. The best part- it was the most imperfect first kiss ever.
"I can't believe you did that," Tanvi said, cracking through her effervescent laughter.
Vin stiffened, and the nerves echoed through his body. "Believe me, I...can't either. I'm...I'm really sorry, I didn't...ask."
She giggled and shook her bouncing curls, unwinding her hand from his hair and resting it on his shoulder. The other she settled atop his chest, where his vagrant lungs laid bursting beneath. She was eternally glad that he was unable to detect her own state. "Calm yourself," she told him. "It's really okay."
Vin shifted uncomfortably. "I'm...trying...my best, okay?"
"Would it help if I let go?"
"NO!" He blurted. His face lit up, and she felt the flames lap at her cheeks. "Well, I mean..."
"Okay. I won't," she smiled, crumpling her palm into a fist.
"This isn't..." He gulped. "This isn't...overwhelming, is it?"
Tanvi nibbled on her still-tingling lip. "Very." His heart jumped fearfully against her fist, and she quickly moved to correct her statement. "I mean- yes, but in a good way. It's um, amazing, Vin, really. It's like...being overwhelmed in a...good way?" Her face darkened in a rosy flush that she had just begun to notice. How long it had been there, she had no idea, but she suspected it had been painting her since the moment their lips had touched.
He breathed out a sigh of relief. "Слава Богу."
"I don't know what that means, but by the tone of your voice, you sound relieved."
"To say the least."
As they stood there, the tension in the silence resolved, she felt his wing press up against her back. It brought her closer, and soon she had melted totally against him. She remained silent until he had returned to a state of relative normalcy.
"What exactly did you come in here for?"
He paused for a few beats. "Uh...to ask...if you would be my Valentine." His chest rumbled with a slight chuckle. "Reaaaaally stupid, I know, but...I don't know, it seemed like a...sort of decent way to tell you. How I...um, yknow..."
"Feel," she finished.
Tanvi crunched her head up against his shoulder, nestling comfortably into the crook of his neck. "Well, the answer is yes. And, do you know what else?"
"...please don't say anything embarrassing."
"I love you too." She paused and swept her hands up on his cheeks. "Like...this."
She connected her lips to his, and lost herself in the beautiful bliss of feeling complete.
When they broke away, Vin's pleasure gradually slid into a groan.
"Oh, fantastic. Claire's going to be...fangirling over us now." He shuddered.
Tanvi smiled. "I think I can live with that."
The following day, when the two settled down on the couch and Vin- with tomato cheeks and clammy hands- pulled his arm around Tanvi, Claire squealed and raced into the kitchen. There, she stretched out a vacant palm to her husband and brother.
"See? I told you so."
"I...can't believe it."
"Doesn't matter what you believe. There's the adorable evidence- right THERE. Now, pay up and say it."
Miles slipped her a few green bills. "I don't know how you did, but you called it. With freaky accuracy."
Shaking his head, he did the same.
"You were right."
"And how often am I right?"
The two exchanged looks. "Always," they deadpanned. Zarek rolled his eyes.
"And don't you two forget it. I'm gonna use this to buy them a proper date." With a wink and a squeal and a pocket full of bills, she fluttered giddily out the door.