The loud bass blared above the moving bodies in the dark warehouse. All around, there was nothing but the smell of sweat and booze, though that took a seat behind the absolute pulsating of everything. The bodies, the music, the very walls themselves, everything pulsed in a rhythm, as if at any moment the roof would fall down and the walls would give out from the sheer volume of it all.
The body wiggled through the crowd, careful to not be noticed as they tugged a small baggy out of a pocket, careful to not stop moving. No one noticed anything, no one could hear anything, no one could feel anything. It was all so primal and done with reckless abandon.
The crowd was too hot, too many bodies, not enough air, but still, Nico wove through the crowd, eager to escape after she checked her watch and realized it was almost time to meet. Over the course of twenty-four hours she’d become a runaway, a drug dealer, and a pickpocket. All in all, it’d been a productive day for her, and the magnitude of it all was setting in despite the energy of the rave.
When the group split up to avoid suspicion with a rendezvous four days away, Nico knew that money was going to be the key, and being as entrepreneurial as she was, she knew how to get it, or at least, she thought so. And stealing from rich, dumb college kids felt better than going about it any other way.
Their entire plan was based off of bad 90s sitcoms and dramas, but for the most part, it was effective. Who would have guessed that wasting away with hours of television, mindless and numb after Amy, that Nico would have remember random things to help them survive.
The air outside had a chill to it as Nico stepped out into the air and reality once again. She wiped a bit of sweat from her forehead and shoved her hands in her pockets, fiercely protective of everything she owned and earned, all of it amounting to the contents of her pockets.
Quickly, she moved down toward the sidewalk and back to the designated meeting spot. Already nearly four in the morning, and still with no signs of slowing down, she gave up, recognizing that she was barely able to think.
With so much in her life to occupy her mind, Nico found it almost comical, in the grandest, most ironic way, that what seemed to take up the most effort was the leggy blonde currently leaning against a railing and chatting with a fraternity brother who looked like he’d be named Thad. Nico felt as her hands clenched into fists in her pockets before she relaxed them, usure of why she was feeling that kind of way.
“I’m actually not too hungry, thanks,” Karolina smiled politely as the guy grinned at her. “I’m just waiting on my friend.”
“The night is young. Do you want to get back in there and dance?”
“I wish I could, but I am exhausted.”
Sweet and kind, Karolina could get anyone to fall in love with her in a second. When Nico catches her eye, her face changes though, and to anyone else, they might not have seen the relief.
“I don’t want to be that guy that pesters, but I just think you’re beautiful, and I’d love to--”
“She’s too polite to tell you to scram, so I’ll do it for her,” Nico interrupted whatever was about to come out of his mouth.
All parties involved were over six feet tall, save for Nico, but that didn’t stop her. She cocked her head and stared at the chiseled Greek god of a boy pretending to be a man, waiting for him to add something. All Thad did was look back at Karolina for assurances, though he was only met with her nervous glance away from him in general.
None of it helped his ego.
“I’m sorry, was that not clear enough?” Nico asked after too long of a pause. The friends that were lingering around felt the shift in the air. “Scram, Leg Day.”
There was some mumbling, but wounded and annoyed, he nudged his friends and moved back toward the party, shooting a last look at Karolina as Nico stood between them, scowling as she was known to do despite herself.
“I ran out of stuff,” Karolina sighed, crossing her arms as Nico leaned beside her finally. “I could have made a lot on that idiot.”
“I leave you alone for an hour and you’re breaking bad.”
“We need money.”
“How’d you do?” Nico ventured, digging in her own pocket.
For a moment they counted their collective fortunes, disheartened by the fact that crime certainly didn’t pay, though in comparison to their parents, perhaps earning peanuts was enough to keep them on the straight and narrow, or at least as close to it as they could.
“Almost seven hundred dollars isn’t anything to sneeze at,” Karolina offered as they pocketed the remaining bills and baggies of white powder. “It was a really good plan, Nico.”
“That guy was really flirting with you.”
“Him? Nah,” she shrugged and cleared her throat, quickly shoving off of the railing and falling Nico. “No more than the rest.”
“We should find a place for the night.”
“Were you jealous?”
All that Karolina earned was a glare, and that confirmed a few things, namely, that Nico was very tired and cranky, and thus not to be teased, but also, just as importantly, that she was, in fact, a little jealous of the guy at the party. The news was enough to make the tired feeling of her body worth it.
But Karolina kept quiet, and for that, Nico was grateful. They day had been too much to think about, and she certainly wasn’t ready to add anything else to it. Instead, she had the capacity to focus on one singular task, and that was finding a place to stay.
For a few blocks, they walked away from the warehouses, finding a main road and following it toward something, they hoped. Nico added buying a car, quickly, to their list, because she was sick of physically walking away from her parents. Running away wasn’t supposed to be as literal, she thought.
“You haven’t said much about what happened today,” Karolina ventured as she shoved her hands in her pockets and hunched her shoulders against the cold, the thin fabric of her old flannel not really doing enough against the late hour.
Blank and disinterested as always, Nico simply stared forward, waiting for the light to change. They didn’t have any clothes to change into. That went on her mental list. Like a chant, she repeated it until it was memorized. Bed. Clothes. Food. Car.
“Nothing to say.”
“Nothing to say about any of it?”
“Nothing to say about our parents attacking us? About the police chasing us for a crime we didn’t commit? About your father’s affair? About Amy--”
“Don’t,” Nico interrupted, clenching her jaw. “Please.”
The addition of the please was new, and Karolina knew it. She could also see the exhaustion in Nico’s face as she fought off all of those thoughts in her head constantly, no doubt.
Without another word, as they crossed the street, Karolina slipped her hand into Nico’s pocket, winding her fingers between the tightly clenched fist until it relaxed. It took another block for that to happen, but she didn’t mind waiting.
They actively didn’t talk about anything. Dog tired and practically dead on their feet, the pair found a seedy motel for thirty dollars, and trudged toward it. There was the sound of a television from the room next door, and the parking lot was full of junky cars and actual, serious drug deals going down, but still they locked the door, drew the curtains, and found themselves a home.
The carpet was matted, the bed was lumpy and the comforter was about twenty years old, the walls were musty, and the dresser was missing two drawers, but for thirty dollars, it seemed like a steal, and for five in the morning, it couldn’t have looked better.
“I wonder how the others are doing,” Karolina ventured as she surveyed and frowned.
Without a noise, Nico plopped down on a corner of the bed and began tugging off her boots. She reached over and turned on the television, flipping a knob of the relic and hoping at least some channel came through okay. If anyone had been caught, they’d be on the news. Their parents offered large enough rewards for everyone’s ears to perk.
“If Alex and Chase haven’t killed each other yet, I’d say they have a good shot,” Nico grunted, as the other boot joined the pile on the floor. “Molly and Gert just have to get there and keep a low profile.”
“With a dinosaur in tow.”
Karolina sighed and started to run the water, letting the sediments drain out of the old pipes that creaked with every second they ran. It ran brown then tan, then clear, finally. She washed her face and stared at herself in the mirror for the first time in a long time, or so it felt. For some reason, it felt as if she’d aged ten years in a day. Deep bags sat under her eyes, heavy and hollow, so deep, in fact, that she had to run her fingertips over them to assure herself that it was real and not make up. With another splash of water, she watched Nico rub her neck, rolling her head to the side to work out some soreness.
Twelve hours ago, that girl kissed her. Twelve hours ago felt like the difference between eras.
Karolina ignored that fact and swished some toothpaste in her mouth, doing the best she could without a toothbrush. She missed Nico sneaking a glance at her, and she might have missed the staring, had she not attempted one more look herself.
The news prattled on about the missing kids, but neither cared that much anymore. They were seventeen years old and outrunning the cops. They were seventeen years old and already had simultaneously too much experience, and a complete lack of understanding as to how the world actually worked. They were seventeen and just plain exhausted.
“Tomorrow we work on blending in,” Nico sighed and pushed herself up from the bed as Karolina toweled and broke the glance. “And getting more money.”
“I’m blending. You’re the one in all black.”
“Give me a few hours sleep and I’ll have comebacks for you.”
With a grunt, Nico went about washing her face as they swapped positions, orbiting around each other. Karolina shut off the television, afraid to hear anything at all. She kicked off her shoes and tugged at her shirt, hanging it on the chair beside the bed. Her pants came next, joining the pile as she then sat on one side and took off her watch. She set an alarm for a few hours away.
By the time Nico turned around, Karolina was crawling into bed in just underwear and an undershirt, and the image made her sleepy head blush, though do nothing else. It, like every other thing that happened to her in the past few weeks, was added to a long list that would need to be addressed at some point.
In a weird way, Nico almost considered the inevitable demise of their group as a rescuing point in which she wouldn’t have to deal with anything. Repression could work if they weren’t going to last the week.
The bathroom light went off with a snap, and the buzzing from the old light stopped, which left the room oddly quiet despite the normal noises of the city outside. Nico tugged off what she could and slid into bed as she turned off the light.
All was quiet and all was still. A streak of light ran across the ceiling as a car drove past outside. The television next door mumbled unintelligently while someone grabbed ice from a rickety machine at the end of the second floor. And all the while, the only thing Karolina heard was Nico’s breathing as she remained very still on her side of the bed.
“Karolina Dean, infamous church-girl and model daughter, spent the night selling powdered milk in tiny baggies to college kids at an illegal rave,” Nico whispered, turning over and staring at the outline of the girl in her bed. “A sentence I never thought to think of, ever in my life.”
“Pretty well, too,” she smiled and turned over to face the middle.
“This is our life now, huh?”
“I haven’t felt this good in…” Nico thought about it for a moment before confessing. “Since before Amy.”
“It’s worth it then,” Karolina decided.
In the small, double bed, they were close but not touching. Both inched forward though, until their heads and knees were brushing.
“If you tell me it’ll be okay, I’ll believe you,” Nico murmured.
“It’s going to be okay.”
Nico nodded before shifting closer, just enough. She placed her hand on Karolina’s neck, running her thumb against her jaw. She didn’t have a plan for this, and she certainly didn’t want to think about it. She just needed comfort. She just needed to exist as someone.
Before Karolina could offer anything else, she felt the hand on her neck grow heavier as the girl in her bed fell asleep, diving headfirst into exhaustion as a welcome reprieve. She didn’t mind the weight though, as it kept her from flying. Instead, she closed her eyes and put her hand on Nico’s hip, falling asleep to the steady breathing beside her and the warmth of a palm on her neck.
The beeping of the alarm went well with the honking of a horn outside. And all at once, every noise existed. Flung into consciousness, Nico groaned against the morning and dug her face into her pillow, hoping to escape it for a few minutes. The sheets smelled like stale bleach, which was probably better than any alternative. It just meant that she had to come up for air sooner than expected.
“Hey, I grabbed some coffee from the front desk,” a sugary sweet and all too awake voice interrupted the attempt at going back to sleep.
Nico growled again and tossed the blankets over her head.
If she opened her eyes, and if she woke up, then she would be forced to remember everything. For just a little while, she could keep her eyes shut and she could pretend everything was different. But the noises of the street and the odd smell of possibly burnt coffee reminded Nico that she was not home in Brentwood, and she was a wanted criminal who pickpocketed strangers just hours before.
“I came up with a plan,” Karolina ignored the complaints from the body in the bed as she moved around the small hotel room, preparing for the day as best she could. “There’s a little bit of a risk though.”
“How are you awake?” Nico huffed, emerging into the air finally. She dug her palms into her eyes furiously and frowned as she tried to wake up. “You’re a sick, demented morning person, aren’t you?”
“I’ve already done my meditation, read the paper, and had breakfast.”
“You’re a monster.”
“A monster who snagged you a banana and some cereal,” she grinned, tossing them on the bed. “Are you awake yet?”
“No,” Nico growled, still not interested in opening her eyes. “How are you up?”
“I slept really well.”
The statement was the verbal form of a shrug, but it made Nico open her eyes finally and give her friend a quizzical look. Karolina Dean was not one to be flustered, nor was she one to not know exactly what to do, and yet she seemed a little disinterested in acknowledging how well she’d slept. In bed. With Nico.
Nervously she paced a bit before Nico grinned to herself and started to peel her banana, simultaneously starving and not at all eager to sit up or get out of bed.
“Did you eat something?”
“Kind of thought I’d wake up beside you,” Nico muttered, looking at Karolina and watching her pause and stare, her body a statue beside the bed.
“You were out, but you did drool on my shoulder, if that helps paint the picture,” she grinned and watched Nico groan at the observation. “Also, you are a fierce big spoon.”
“Okay, nevermind. We don’t have to talk about any of this.”
Satisfied that she won the round of teasing, Karolina sat on the bed, watching as Nico opened the little box of cereal and began to eat, careful to avoid most forms of eye contact save for the occasional glance.
They were just going to be stuck in this weird place forever, Nico decided as she crunched at the bunches and let herself look for less than a second at Karolina. Forever, they would just circle around each other and not talk about anything, because who could think about how pretty the blonde goddess of a perfect person, or how that made them feel, when everything was on fire? Nico couldn’t, or at least she shouldn’t, she told herself.
“So what are we doing today?” Nico asked as Karolina sipped the terrible coffee and made a face.
“Going to the bank.”
All that Nico could do was cock her head to the side and wait for more of an explanation, though none seemed to be coming.
With a grin, Karolina pushed herself out of bed and kissed her, tasting of coffee and bananas and everything that morning should. She smiled against Nico’s lips and pulled away. It was quick and quiet and altogether perfect, and more perfect than normally allowed.
“I don’t care how much you kiss me, I’m not robbing a bank,” Nico retorted.
Her words were stern, but the blush that crawled up her neck and ears made them a little less forceful. Instead, she just took a little more cereal in her hand and refused to look anywhere else.
“This is dumb. This is dumb. This is so dumb. This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever thought to do in your entire life,” Nico whispered as they stood in line at the bank.
“I dunno,” Karolina shrugged. “I kissed you, didn’t I?”
With a glare, Nico crossed her arms and grumbled to herself, though it was nothing of substance or to fix her wounded pride.
She was now someone who followed cute girls into stupid plans. She was that idiot that she often mocked. She was Alex. She was stupid Alex following herself around. She was the complete and total idiot who gave into batting eyelashes and stupid smiles.
“That at least did something productive. This is just dumb.”
When the group split, they all had their roles, and they all had a set time to reach the designated point at which time they would decide what to do moving forward. There were really only two options, one being to stay and fight, the other being to run away. Neither were sure which camp they belonged in, but it was always in the back of their head.
Gert and Molly were responsible for getting to the meeting point first and making sure it was secure. Chase and Alex were tasked with papers and tech. That left Karolina and Nico to secure as much money as possible for their group.
It meant risks.
“Hey, don’t worry,” Karolina tried to soothe, nudging Nico’s shoulder gently. “Everything’s going to be fine.”
“You look like Karolina Dean, and everyone knows you’re missing or a runaway. We’re fucked.”
“For one day that’s been out. I told you it was a risk, but we need this.”
“You can wait outside, just in case--”
“No,” Nico interrupted, looking around and then meeting Karolina’s eyes for a moment. “Where you go, I go. I’m not letting them…” she lowered her voice nervously. “They took you once. I’m not doing that again.”
No one would have ever considered calling Nico overly empathetic or even caring. She was cold and callus and that was because everyone wanted to believe in her tough exterior. To Karolina she was much more interesting, much richer, much more vibrant and layered and she was so warm and full of hope, it physically hurt her to express. It was physically difficult for Nico to be as protective and caring, and she just couldn’t bear the pain of it. So she hid it away.
“You kissed me,” Karolina offered.
The bank was quiet, and neither moved much save for the shuffling of feet and the shifting of weight from leg to leg as they waited and moved forward every so often.
“Are we really discussing this here? And now?” Nico sighed and shook her head.
“We’ve got nothing else to do.”
“We’re not talking about this.”
“Let’s talk about your mother then.”
“Let’s talk about yours,” she retorted, her jaw set and not excited for the sour mood she felt coming in her bones.
“I’d love to. I’d love to take the time to do that.” It was genuine and for a second, Nico could see the anger and fear and worry that was hidden behind Karolina’s can-do attitude. “But you’re kind of a handful, and I have bigger things to take care of.”
It wasn’t a complete lie, and the longer they stood there in silence, Nico recognized that Karolina really was taking care of her in many ways, putting her needs ahead of her own. After they shuffled forward another step, Nico relaxed and leaned to her side to kiss Karolina’s cheek. She didn’t hold her hand because she didn’t know how, but she did play with the fabric of her shirt between her fingers. She stared at her hands as she watched them toy with a button of another girl’s shirt, before looking back up and ignoring the stare that came from the surprised girl in line beside her.
“We’re going to be okay,” Nico decided for them. If she said it, it’d be true. Karolina said it, and it was true.
They waited in line to unlock the safety deposit box, well aware of the risk and unable to think of any other plan that would work. Small change at local parties wasn’t going to feed six people and a dinosaur.
“Do you really believe that?” Karolina ventured, almost afraid of the answer.
It was meant to be honest, but it made Karolina laugh, and so Nico was okay with it being lost completely.
The next seedy hotel at least had thicker walls and a new carpet. Other than those real selling points, nothing was much different. The decor was about twenty years too late and maybe ten years too early to be cool again. All pastel and not matching at all, it was slightly nicer in that there weren’t stains on the walls that were readily seen, but instead had to be squinted at to find.
The safety deposit box was a goldmine, or at least it felt like one to them. They pocketed the money and items inside with reckless abandon before turning over the key and thanking the manager. As soon as they left, they found a junk dealer and bought the world’s most dented van and set off to put more miles between themselves and their families.
There was a truce for them, somehow, as long as they had something to do, to distract them from their lives, they could pretend that the kissing and touching and avoiding and running, that it was all normal, and that it was something they could survive. It was when they stopped moving or thinking that things got violently real for them.
But Nico was the one that was ready to distract Karolina, making her splurge on a pizza order that was too big for two people. She was the one that let her vent and be upset while they watched terrible cable movies and finally filled their stomachs. It wasn’t even something she had to think about, to be someone that Karolina would need or want. Instead, she just did it, and only caught herself afterwards wondering how.
When it got to be too late, when they ate too much and yawned too much, Nico was the first to stand from the nest on the bed that they made. It wasn’t until they were under the blankets and facing each other again, that she realized she was suddenly wide awake.
There was a gentle whirring noise from what she thought would be the ice machine outside. If she really held her breath and listened, she could hear the noise of the cars passing on the street outside. If she closed her eyes and held her breath, Karolina could hear Nico breathing, and that helped some of the anxiety that seemed to attack her in the dark.
“Have you thought about what you want to do,” Karolina whispered. “When we meet up with the group?”
Nico shifted closer, slowly, slightly, until their knees were touching, and event hen, she straightened out her legs and got as close as possible. There really wasn’t anything she wanted to think about, and the easiest way to not think was to be close to the girl sharing her bed. That definitely wiped all of her thoughts away.
“He murdered Amy,” Nico muttered.
The words came with a hand running through hair and Nico swallowed and relaxed into the touch. She wasn’t good at intimate touches. She wasn’t familiar with wanting to touch someone, though she desperately needed everything Karolina offered.
“Have you decided?”
“Wherever you go, I go.”
“I won’t ask you to vote just because--”
“They lied to us, to me, about what I am. I don’t know what exists anymore. But I do know that wherever you go, I’m going. This I know.”
There was a fierceness there that Nico enjoyed. That was the thing that most people didn’t recognize about Karolina, that she was always fierce and angry and ready to fight. Nico loved it more than anything.
With a tentative move, she placed her hand on Karolina’s hip.
“Whatever the group decides,” Nico sighed.
All that existed was touching. All that there was, just Karolina’s hand running through Nico’s hair, and the unsure and unsteady gliding of fingertips along her ribs in response. Nico was surprised by the shifting of legs closer to her own when her hands moved lower before retreating to the safety of lower back.
But Karolina relaxed, shifting closer, and her hand slid lower, to neck and jaw and chin and lips until it stalled and stilled and Nico was certain she’d put her to sleep with her soft caresses.
“I really want to kiss you,” Karolina whispered. “I really want to kiss you pretty much all of the time.”
“Why don’t you?”
She wasn’t sure where her voice came from, that it was so low and husky and oddly inviting. She’d never sounded like that, and Nico was almost embarrassed by how much she wanted that. Karolina’s fingertips scaled along her cheeks, and down her jaw, enjoying the movement.
“I’m afraid I won’t stop.”
Karolina felt Nico’s cheek flash in a smile for a second before they regained the composure she was always fighting to maintain.
“We’ve almost died at least four times since Saturday,” Nico scoffed. “Please don’t ever miss a chance to kiss me. I’m sure not going to--”
It was gentle, and she felt her approaching, but Nico couldn’t help but try to form words. The first time Karolina kissed her, Nico hadn’t been ready, but she’d chased the feeling that came that instant their lips touched, and it was over too soon. When she kissed her back just forty-eight hours ago, she did it because she was so damn afraid of losing her, and she needed her to know. But now, this was different. It wasn’t for a particular reason, other than needing nothing other than to taste her lips.
Karolina leaned forward more and cupped Nico’s neck. She wanted to be rougher, but she didn’t have it in her. She was gentle, she was adoring, she coaxed her forward.
Of course, Nico, didn’t shy away. She was brave, even when she was falling and not sure how she was going to land. She fell violently, she did everything with vigor. But she would never admit that it was her who made the breathy little moan. She didn’t make little noises like that.
Except she did, and when Karolina heard it, she pushed forward even further until she was on top of Nico, hovering, kissing her as if her life depended on it. And then she felt tongue skate her lip, and she was too overwhelmed to think.
There were lips on her neck, and Nico was dizzy despite laying down. Her hand was grasping at Karolina’s naked back, beneath her shirt until it slid around toward her ribs where she felt muscles clench under her fingertips.
It probably wasn’t fair that she was such a good kisser. Nico wanted to be upset, but someone was sucking at her neck and it felt so good, her hips moved against the thigh that settled between her own.
“We can stop,” Karolina offered, coming up for air.
“That feels good.”
It might have been that moment when Nico fell in love. She wouldn’t know it or couldn’t recognize it or even put words to such a feeling, but she was insanely full of probably feeling something, which was, so very very very much the opposite of how hollow she’d felt for years, from even before this thing with their parents.
The weight of the body above her settled a little more atop her and she ran her hands up Karolina’s clavicle and neck and over her cheeks.
“Did you mean what you said?” Karolina whispered. “That where I went, you went?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t mean it to sound creepy.”
“It didn’t,” she promised and smiled softly, pushing hair from Nico’s face, allowing her hand to linger on its trip.
With a final kiss, she agonizingly tugged herself off of the girl beneath her. Karolina setted beside Nico in the small, still lumpy bed of their hotel. Outside, there was still the noises of the city and the world itself. Neither moved to do anything.
“Everything’s different now, isn’t it?” Karolina asked. It was dark, and that was the time that someone asked those things-- the things that were too scary to be answered in the sunlight of the morning.
“We don’t have families.”
“We kiss now.”
“I think I’m an alien.”
“Forgot about that one,” Nico nodded, turning to her side.
She wasn’t sure how, but Karolina rolled over with her, bringing and arm and draping Nico around her, which was not altogether unwelcomed, though she was certain she’d rather go back to the heavy petting that wa happening. That was what kept her mind clear.
“Tell me it’ll be okay and I’ll believe you.”
Despite herself, Nico smiled at hearing her own words said with an equal amount of need and earnestness.
“We’re going to be okay.”
In her honest fashion, it really was all she needed, and Karolina felt herself relax into the arms of the weird, goth girl who was nowhere close to what she expected, and never had been, and probably never would be.
Nico closed her eyes and shifted closer before relaxing as well.