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it started out with a kiss (how did it end up like this)

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Karolina Dean stares intently at herself in the mirror. She is clad in an off-white dress that is elegant with lace sleeves and crisscrossed fabric on the chest. With her skin tone, blonde hair, and blue eyes, the dress is arguably perfect for her but she groans, something just isn’t right. She reaches behind her neck to unzip the dress, but her arm can’t fully reach the zipper, and she grunts in frustration.

“That is like the fifth dress you’ve tried on. All were fine, and you look great. Stop changing,” her best friend and roommate, Nico Minoru, complains as she barely looks up from her phone as she lays on Karolina’s bed.

“No, it just isn’t right. I know I have a blue one in my closet somewhere, hold on,” Karolina speaks quickly and races into her closet. She paces back and forth in the walk-in as she examines all the shelves, but she can’t find the dress in mind. The whole closet is in disarray, shoes are flung everywhere, clothes are off hangers and thrown wildly on the floor and shelf. It looks like a tornado tore through the closet, not an anxious twenty-year-old girl.

“Ironic that you’re freaking out in the closet about coming out of it,” Nico jokes.

Karolina turns around and gives the girl a dirty look. “I’m not freaking out; my outfit just looks horrible. And dinner with my parents is important to me.”

Nico leans a hip against the wall with her arms crossed as she looks Karolina up and down with concentrated deep-set brown eyes. “So, all this panic,” she states and makes a gesture with her left hand at Karolina and her messy closet, “has nothing to do with you coming out to your parents tonight?”

Nico has been Karolina’s best friend for as long as she can remember. The pair met when they were seven years old, their parents are family friends along with some of LA’s other wealthiest families. The parents are all part of a charity organization called Pride. They took multiple family vacations, spent holidays together, and went to galas together; it was inevitable for the kids to become inseparable. The Pride kids are very close today, out of all of them, four of them go to the same college in California. Karolina and Nico are two of the four, they’re very close, they even rent an apartment together off-campus. Their friends Gert and Chase also go to the same school as them. Gert is the social justice advocate with quick wit and purple hair, and Chase is her genius athletic boyfriend. The other group of Pride kids are Amy, Nico’s sister, Alex, and Molly. Alex and Amy both go to different schools across the states and Molly, Gert’s adoptive sister, is still in high school.

Out of all the Pride families, about 95% of the people know about Karolina being gay. Essentially the only people that don’t know are Karolina’s parents. She had known she was gay since she was 16, to this day she claims she has probably known her whole life, but the whole thing didn’t really snap into place until her sixteenth birthday when Chase Stein kissed her, and she felt nothing. Instead of feeling any attraction, she spent the whole time wishing it was Julie Power kissing her instead. It didn’t take long after that until everything set into place and Chase was the first person she came out to less than a week later. He accepted her with open arms, his only question was why she didn’t tell Nico first. She remembers telling him through tears that it was easier to tell him, because they weren’t as close as her and Nico and she couldn’t risk losing her. Chase eventually talked her through and she told Nico a few days later. To which Nico responded that she’d always known and didn’t care, because she herself was bisexual.

Most of the other parents know, because either she told them, or her friends told them. She didn’t mind as long as her own parents didn’t know. Karolina has put off telling her parents until now, she plans on telling them now at the age of twenty after holding in the secret for four years. She just can’t hide it anymore, she feels like she’s keeping a piece of herself from her family.

Both of Karolina’s parents are actors. Frank and Leslie Dean are common household names. They both would be considered A-listers, so Karolina spent her childhood in the spotlight as famous people’s child. Leslie Dean is an actress know for being uber religious and because of that, uber conservative. Leslie’s career can be controversial at times because of this, as most actors are liberal. Karolina remembers the shit storm Leslie’s publicist dealt with during the election when Leslie made it very clear that she agreed on the views of Trump much more than that of Hillary Clinton. It was stuff like that that terrified Karolina of ever telling her parents about herself.

“Fine, I’m completely freaking out,” Karolina sighs. Nico looks at her with a sympathetic expression and Karolina shakes her head when Nico steps forward to hug her, “No, if you hug me I’ll cry.”

“Karo, I promise, it will be fine. They’re your parents, they love you unconditionally. Yes, your mom is a bit problematic, but you know Frank will support you no matter what,” Nico states as she empathetically grabs the blonde’s hand. “If dinner goes crazy after you tell her, just text me and I’ll get you out of there ASAP. And if Leslie is a mega-bitch, we can set Tina loose on her,” Nico jokes and it makes Karolina let out a small laugh.

“Okay, I’ll make sure to text you the whole time,” Karolina says.

“Good, now please stop changing dresses. You look fantastic, stop stressing about it,” Nico says sincerely, causing Karolina to calm down significantly.


 

Karolina anxiously fiddles with the napkin on her lap as her entrée is set down in front of her. She pokes around at the food, she can barely even think about eating it, her stomach is too busy freaking out at the prospect of bringing this topic up. Frank and Leslie both chat with each other about their current movie projects, but all Karolina hears is white noise. She thinks about backing out about eight times in the next five minutes, until her thoughts are interrupted when her father says her name several times to get her attention.

“Karolina, what’s wrong? You haven’t touched your food,” Frank asks.

The blonde sighs and looks up at her parents who are staring at her in deep concern. She figures they just gave her the perfect segue, so she lets out a deep sigh and swallows her fear and speaks, “Something has been on my mind and I needed to tell you guys.”

“Of course, honey. Don’t be so anxious, you’re fine,” Franks smiles at her and grabs her hand that is still shoving food around on the plate with the fork clutched tightly in her grip.

The action causes Karolina to relax slightly and with an exhalation she finally is honest with her parents, “Mom, Dad, I’m gay.” Saying the words causes a wave of relief to rush over her and a small smile covers her mouth. The smile slowly fades away when all she is met with is silence and she can see a slight frown on her mother’s mouth. “I’m sorry, I haven’t told you guys before, I just have been scared you guys wouldn’t accept me. Please remember I’m the same person as I was before.”

“That’s great sweetie, whatever makes you happy,” Frank states with a soft smile.

“Mhm, I’m sure you are,” Leslie hums halfheartedly. Her tone comes off condescending and causes Karolina to stiffen her posture in concern.

“What does that mean?” Karolina bites defensively.

“I mean most girls your age like to throw labels around about themselves. You’re young and probably experimenting, but that doesn’t mean this phase will last. You’ll eventually get back to the right side of things,” her mother states offhandedly as she glances at her nails.

It feels like a bucket of ice has been dumped over Karolina. She feels breathless with shock and dismay. The words of her mother sting her to the core and she feels hot tears pinprick at the corners of her eyes. She swallows the worlds largest lump in her throat and turns to her father, he gives her a sympathetic look as she asks, “She’s kidding, right?”

“No, I’m not,” Leslie states evenly. “It’s okay, honey, in a few years it will be like this conversation doesn’t even matter.”

The screeching of wood on wood echoes boomingly in the restaurant causing a few other patrons to turn their heads in Karolina’s direction as she shoves her chair out from the table. The fork that is still in her hand clatters to the floor as she rushes to scoop up her purse, keys, and phone. Her heartbeat is echoing in her ears and the sorrow and anger she feels has her moving quickly and unfocused trying to get away from her mother. She doesn’t want to give Leslie the satisfaction of seeing her cry or getting a reaction out of her by yelling at her. The blonde nearly runs into a waitress and is so out of it she can’t even apologize. All she cares about is getting out of here. The blonde hears her dad calling out her name and she can feel several dozen sets of eyes following her dramatic exit, but she doesn’t care, she just needs to leave.

When the brisk April air hits her face as she exits the restaurant, it feels like her lungs fully open again and she can actually breathe. As she heaves in the air, that is when she feels her legs start to wobble and all the emotions she’s feeling fully engulf her. She leans against the wall and slides down to cement that feels rough on her bare legs. She pulls out her phone and dials the only number she can think of.

“Hello?” Nico’s raspy voice answers on the first ring.

“It went awful, please come get me,” she whispers in a strangled voice as she tries to push away any tears threatening to fall.

She can hear keys clattering in the background and doors slamming, “Send me your location, I’m leaving now.”

When she hangs up the phone, she waits a total of five minutes before Nico comes to a screeching halt in front of Karolina curled up on the sidewalk. Nico steps out of Karolina’s Mini Cooper she was driving and rushes to the blonde on the sidewalk. Karolina feels warm arms embrace her. The blonde can hear Nico speaking to her in a soothing voice, but she can’t comprehend any of the words coming out of her mouth. All she feels is the comfort her best friend is providing her about such an important aspect of her life that her mother won’t recognize. That is the straw on the camel’s back that finally causes Karolina to break down in tears.

It feels like an eternity before her hot tears stop shedding onto Nico’s shoulder, but in all reality, it is probably a few moments, as Karolina has never been fond of crying in public. Nico helps her up to her feet and into the passenger seat of the car. The pair ride in comfortable silence for the duration of the car ride back to their apartment. When Nico puts the car in park, she gives Karolina a cautious glance, but the blonde finds herself too exhausted and upset with her mother to even talk to her best friend.

She storms into the apartment, leaving the door wide open behind her. She makes a beeline for the kitchen and opens the freezer; her hands clasp a bottle of Grey Goose when she hears the front door to the apartment close. Karolina screws off the top of the fifth and brings the brim to her lips. With a deep chug, she feels the burning sensation set a fire in her stomach. Before the fire can expand she takes an even deeper drink out of the bottle.

When she pulls the bottle away from her lips, she can feel a presence standing in the entryway of the kitchen. Karolina doesn’t bother to look at Nico who is probably staring at her with incredible concern. All Karolina knows is she is miserable, and she wants to forget this whole night ever happened. She takes another pull of the bottle and when she stops drinking the liquid all of her insides burn, her teary eyes wander to the bottle to see over a fourth of the liquid is already missing. Karolina is quite the lightweight, so the effects of the alcohol have already managed to dull some of the pain that her mother has caused. After taking another swig, all she can focus on is how badly she needs to get this dress off. The lace on the arms is annoying and the white shade reminds her of fucking Leslie who is always wearing white for some reason.

Her long arms struggle behind her neck to clasp the zipper and she grunts, “Off. I need this off.”

“Let me help,” Nico states softly. She walks up gingerly behind the girl and unzips the dress slowly. Once Karolina feels Nico step away, she slides out of the dress, leaving her only in a bra and underwear. Her hands find their way back to the bottle and before she can get it to her lips, Nico is pulling the bottle from her hands. She fixes the shorter girl with an angry glare, which she’s sure looks ridiculous as she likely has makeup smudged all under her bloodshot eyes, but the raven-haired girl isn’t even looking at her, she is pointedly staring at the ceiling and that’s when Karolina remembers she’s half naked in the middle of her kitchen. “Let’s slow down the drinking, maybe get you into some clothes.”

Karolina’s blue eyes glance her best friend up and down, “Good idea, it’s cold in here.”

Nico starts to lead the taller girl out of the kitchen, and Karolina reaches forward to grab her hand. Her heart speeds up and a comfortable smile covers her face when Nico gives her hand a comforting squeeze.

Upon entering her bedroom, she sits on the edge of her bed while Nico searches through the warzone disaster of Karolina’s closet. She ends up emerging with a tank top and sweatpants for the blonde to sleep in. Once the blonde finishes changing she holds her hand out expectedly, “Can I have my alcohol now?”

“Not until you tell me what happened,” Nico states. Karolina can feel her eyes watering and Nico wraps her up in a comforting hug, “Hey, it’s me, you can tell me anything. I’m here to help, that’s my job.”

The blonde heaves a sigh and lays supine on her bed. Nico joins her, laying right beside her, causing the tipsy Karolina to seek contact and snuggle into her best friend’s side. When Nico rubs a comforting hand on her bicep, it calms Karolina enough to speak.

“She completely wrote it off. Called it a phase, said I was jumping to conclusions about myself and in a few years, I would go back to the ‘right side of things’ and none of this would matter, Karolina rambles. The words become more fumbled as she begins to sob upon recalling the details of her disaster coming out story. “I’m her daughter, shouldn’t she just love me for me?” The blonde covers her face with her hands when the sobs become body wrecking and violent, it doesn’t help that the alcohol in her system makes crying much easier than when sober.

“She should love you for you, because you’re wonderful, Karolina. Any parent would be lucky to have you as a child. Your mom is just a bit too narrow-minded to see it. She’s on the wrong side of history with this, I’m sure with time she will become more understanding of this,” Nico states evenly when Karolina’s sobs turn less violent. “What did Frank do?”

“He was nice about it but didn’t stand up to my mom when she said all that. He didn’t even follow me out of the restaurant,” the blonde shudders as she recounts her father taking a backseat to her mother’s cruel actions. Thinking about the night’s events make her hurt immensely and talking about the issue at hand with her best friend just feels like rubbing salt into a gaping, festering wound. “Now can we please get blackout drunk? I can’t talk about this anymore.”

“Of course, Karolina. Anything that will help.”


 

Ever since the dinner with her parents, Karolina has been secluding herself. Her dad has tried calling her every day, but she’s ignored it every time. Nico has been keeping a close eye on her, constantly getting Karolina food from her favorite place down the street, offering to watch rom-coms with her, and get wine drunk. But despite all this, she’s just needed to be alone. It’s easiest to push people away when hurting, and that’s the motto she’s been living by lately. Luckily her finals for the semester occupied most of her time in the last two weeks. By throwing herself in her studies, she doesn’t have to think about her mother’s harsh disapproval and disbelief or bother talking to anybody else about it.

Karolina walks out of her last final on Friday afternoon and she has the full intention of returning to her apartment and sleeping for the next twenty-four hours straight. It’s a short walk back and within minutes of her arrival, she’s flopping face down on her mattress, clad in an oversized shirt and running shorts. The blonde gets comfortable under the white and gold duvet and once she feels herself start to fall asleep, the bright lights of the hallway shine harshly into her room causing her to open her eyes.

Nico is standing in the doorway, the cause of opening the door and preventing Karolina’s nap. Her roommate is clad in a usual black outfit, surprisingly the Wiccan’s outfit is much more toned down than usual. She is wearing a cute dark gray tank top beneath a black leather jacket, accompanied by a black skirt with prominent zippers and tights. Her hair and makeup are as extravagant and unique as usual. Her dark black lips standout most out of Nico’s makeup as she fixes Karolina with a smirk, “I have a surprise for you.”

“I was about to nap, you know,” she says kindly.

Nico flips the light switch to the room on and sits next to Karolina on her bed, “I know these last few weeks have been rough for you with your parents. And I’ve been giving you your own space, because that’s clearly what you want. But I was talking to Tina-”

“Ugh, you told your mom about the dinner. Why? She’s just going to go running back telling everything to my mom,” Karolina groans.

Nico raises her eyebrows amusedly at the blonde, “Wow, you’ve got a Nico attitude on you today, I’m proud.” Karolina laughs and Nico sighs, “But no, it came up yesterday when I went and got lunch with my mom. You know, she’s been so much nicer to Amy and me ever since the divorce, but she like kicked it into ultra-nice mode when my dad and Janet Stein released their wedding invitations. It’s hard not to finally be close with her when she’s being like this.”

Karolina thinks on Nico’s words for a moment. Out of the pair, Karolina had always been very close with her mom and Nico had a strained relationship with her strict, cold mother. It had only been in the past few years that those mother-daughter relationships switch roles between the Dean and Minoru families. Tina suddenly became the kind mother of the year, and Leslie’s faults kept becoming apparent to Karolina, making her distance herself from her mother. She can understand why Nico would tell her mom, she’s finally having a good relationship with her mother and its so easy to tell your mom everything when she’s being your friend.

“She won’t talk to Leslie about it. She likes me more than Leslie, so by default she likes you better too. I actually had to hold her off, she wanted to chew your mom out,” Nico continues.

“That’s really nice of your mom, but if we’re gonna hang out right now can we do like anything but talk about the dinner with my mom. It just hurts to talk about,” the blonde sullenly states.

“Wait, there’s a point to this story,” Nico interrupts. “So, when I was talking to Tina, after I calmed her down from verbally attacking Leslie, I asked her to use her gigantic bank account as a favor for us – something to make you feel better.”

Karolina watches as Nico pulls out two tickets out of her leather jacket. The shorter girl hands them over to Karolina and the blonde’s eyes scan the papers and she lets out a shrill shriek of excitement, “Lakers tickets!”

“Courtside,” Nico nods. “I figured I could take you to see your favorite NBA team and that would manage to cheer you up.”

Her blue eyes scan the ticket, “Oh my God! It’s tonight, I need to go get ready.” She scrambles out of her bed and into her walk-in closet. While searching through the hangers, she shouts to Nico, “I can pay your mom back for the tickets tomorrow.”

Nico scoffs, “Don’t bother, she said it’s on her. Besides, these tickets cost next to nothing to her.”

“Okay, then I’ll call and thank her tomorrow,” Karolina states as she stumbles across the perfect outfit. She holds up the navy romper and pink sweater combo to Nico upon stepping out of the closet, “This with heels?”

Her roommate nods in approval, “Perfect.” Karolina shrugs out of her clothes and starts to change, and Nico looks down at her phone for a few moments. The girl sitting on the bed speaks up when Karolina is pulling the sweater over her shoulders, “Oh, I almost forgot to mention, Gert and Chase are coming too.”

“How did you manage to rope Gert into that?” Karolina chuckles.

“I may’ve just given Chase the tickets and once he saw the seats he couldn’t resist,” Nico laughs.

“So, you and Gert will both be complaining the whole time?”

Nico shrugs with a smirk, “Probably.”

Karolina fixes her roommate with a genuine smile, one of the firsts in weeks. Her heart flutters with warmth and comfort for this girl, she knows Nico hates sporting events and she’s grateful her best friend would go to such lengths to help her feel better. She’s more thankful than words can describe for Nico, and it has become more and more apparent in the last few weeks how great of a friend she is. “Thanks, Nico. I really appreciate this.”

The tiny goth girl smiles shyly with a shrug, “It’s not a big deal.” A comfortable silence encompasses them for a moment where Nico stares at the blonde fondly, “Well the game starts at seven, so we should leave soon. Go finish getting ready.”

Karolina fixes her with a mocking salute, “Yes, sir. I’ll be ready to leave in twenty.”


 

The blonde sits down in the cushy seat in the booming arena with a smiling look of awe on her face. Being so close to the court with its distinct purple and yellow logo at the half court line is a feeling of astonishment and content. The obscenely tall basketball players are warming up and Karolina feels giddy at the prospect of being so close to the game. She stares directly up at the jumbotron that is zooming in on Lakers players and for the first time in weeks, she feels happy.

A grumbling Nico sits to her left and a giddy Chase is sitting to her right. Gert sits closest to the stairs with a frown and large beer in her hand. Karolina and Chase discuss the prospects for the game, comparing favorite players and possible outcomes. The conversation causes Gert to butt in with a complaint.

“The NBA industry is a load of capitalistic garbage. People that can shoot a ball into a hoop well make more money than a doctor could ever dream of. There are kids starving in the streets but everybody on this court makes millions of dollars,” the purple-haired girl complains.

“Okay, justice warrior, whatever you say,” Chase laughs and grabs her hand. Karolina can see the visible blush taking over Gert’s cheeks, causing Karolina to smile at her favorite couple. The two start to share cutesy whispers, and the blonde decides to give them a moment to themselves and turns to Nico.

“Thanks, so much for these tickets, this is fantastic!” She exclaims. “I know you hate sporting events, so it means a ton that you’re willing to go through all this for me.”

Nico tries to shrug coolly, “It’s no biggie.”

The blonde gives her a genuine smile, “Don’t brush it off. I really appreciate all this.”

“I’m just happy to help make you feel better,” the gothic girl shrugs shyly.

The buzzer goes off, indicating the end of warmups and Karolina scooches to the edge of her seat in excitement. When all the players are announced, and the game begins with the tip off, Karolina is screaming and engaging in the game. She’s chanting and cheering for her favorite players and when the Lakers score. Chase joins in readily, but not as intensely as the blonde. Nico has to yank Karolina back down to sit when the blonde stands and yells. “Get off your knees, ref, you’re blowing the game.” Overall, she’s having an absolute blast and the first half goes by exponentially fast. The break allows Nico and Gert to excitedly escape. The pair claim they’re going to the bathroom and getting drinks, but Karolina knows they’re just looking for an excuse to get out of the crowded arena for a few moments.

The pair stand at the edge of the steps, taking concessions orders from Karolina and Chase who have opted out of leaving their seats. Gert counts on her fingers, “Okay so two beers and a popcorn.” She repeats. Gert then stares at the jumbotron showing audience members for a moment, “Ugh, I hope I miss the kiss cam, they are so heteronormative.”

“Thanks, babe. Love you,” Chase jokes and Gert sticks her tongue out at him before her and Nico leave up the steps.

“So,” Chases draws out the words once the duo makes it out of sight, “that was really nice of Nico to get you these tickets.”

Karolina raises an eyebrow questioningly; Chase’s tone is suggestive and she’s clearly missing the punchline. She’s incredibly thankful for her best friend giving her this gift after an awful few weeks, but Chase’s tone is implying that Nico’s kindness means something else, “Yeah, what about it?”

Chase shrugs mischievously, “I’m just saying, no matter how bad things have ever been in my life, none of my good pals have bought me courtside tickets to see my favorite basketball team.”

Karolina, still oblivious, states, “Well technically Tina bought them. So, it’s the thought that counts on Nico’s part, just comes to show she’s a great friend.”

“Sure,” Chase says slowly and shakes his head to himself, which Karolina decides to ignore.

The pair sit in comfortable silence for a few moments. They watch the jumbotron in unison, the cameras keep flashing to people dancing in the stands. Suddenly, loud, romantic music plays on the speakers and the jumbotrons shows the words Kiss Cam in frilly writing as a shot of a couple comes on the screen. People are giving courtesy applauses and coos as a few couples show up on the screen and give each other loving kisses. Karolina thinks to herself that Gert will be happy to have missed the kissing cam. Her thoughts are interrupted when she suddenly sees herself on the screen.

She is sitting with a happy upward glance and Chase is sitting at her side looking at his phone. All the people around her start whispering and smiling and the blonde suddenly feels very awkward and cringey. She’s rather uncomfortable that the camera man is just assuming her and Chase are dating, because they’re a girl and guy sitting next to each other. Gert would have a fit about the heteronormativity of this moment, and because they want someone else to kiss her man. She notices Chase also looks at the screen after a moment and a blush of embarrassment covers his cheeks. The pair both shake their heads frantically in mortification, Karolina even mouths “Not my boyfriend.” People around them apparently don’t get the hint and they start chanting the word kiss. Karolina and Chase both look away from the screen, getting some boos until the frame changes to a different couple on the screen.

“God that was awful,” Karolina complains. “The irony of that situation is not lost on me.”

“At least they took the cameras off us after a bit,” Chase states. “I’m sorry they’d just assume that.”

Karolina shrugs and her eyes follow as another couple kisses on the screen. The frame changes again and she sees herself and Chase on the screen again. She audibly groans and frantically shakes her head. Chase and her both make several hand gestures indicating they are not together and luckily the camera changes again after a couple of boos. Irritation sets in for Karolina, the situation is being made uncomfortable and embarrassing. The first shot was clearly an accident, but the fact that the cameras came back to them wanting them to kiss again is just irritating and annoying. It’s like she needed a flashing sign that says she’s gay, because the camera guy didn’t get the hint and neither did her mom.

Chase chuckles awkwardly and the pair sit in silence for a few seconds that feels like years until Nico comes down the steps with popcorn in her hands. With a smile she sits next to Karolina and hands the popcorn over to Chase, “Gert’s still in line for beers. Did I just see you guys on the kiss cam?”

“Yep, they’ve done it twice now,” Karolina groans.

Nico scowls slightly, “That’s annoying, but they’ve probably gotten the hint by now.”

“I hope so,” Karolina rolls her eyes and watches the screen again.

An old married couple gives each other a loving kiss, dulling some of the irritation she feels. That is until she sees her, Chase, and Nico on the screen again and she is absolutely seething. It pisses her off that these people think they can pester them into getting their way of cheap entertainment. She is gay, and Chase has a girlfriend, clearly, they have no intention of kissing and they’ve made that abundantly clear, but they think they can just keep filming them and pressuring them to get what they want.

With a mixture of this whole kiss cam thing and her absolute distaste and anger for what has happened with her mother, it all causes Karolina to snap. She needs to do something to get these cameras off of her so people will stop chanting the word kiss at her and she can just get the attention off of her. She needs to adhere to their logic, which is to give the people what they want: a kiss.

So, she does the only thing that makes sense to her in that moment, which is turn to her left and grab Nico’s unsuspecting face in her hands. She leans forward and connects their lips in a kiss, and holy shit she is kissing Nico. The sounds of the loudest cheers filling the stadium all night heavily sink into her ears. The loud cheers dull down in her head as she finds herself focusing all her attention on the girl she’s kissing. Karolina doesn’t know what to expect when her lips connect with Nico’s soft ones, but she didn’t expect her best friend to return the kiss immediately with a gasp that sends tingles down Karolina’s spine and all the way to her fingertips that are holding Nico’s cheeks.

They separate, but barely. Lips only millimeters apart, sharing gentle yet unsteady breaths. Her thoughts are racing, terrified she overstepped, but then Nico is leaning forward and connecting their lips again before Karolina has too much time to think. This time the kiss is much more intense, lips are slanted against one another and Nico is putting all her focus on Karolina’s bottom lip like her life depends on it, and the action almost causes her to melt on the spot. She’s hyperaware of every skin cell of Nico’s touching her; her lips and skin are almost vibrating, and this is not what she at all expected. 

She never would’ve fathomed that kissing her lifelong best friend would feel intense, so much so that she didn’t want to stop. Karolina is sure that she cannot stop, that kissing Nico is a new physical discovery, they’re like magnets they are attracted and stuck together, but unable to ever separate.

It’s all too much, and Karolina feels like she’s about to sink through the hardwood floor.

“Oh my God! Nico and Karolina are making out, I fucking called it, Chase!” Gert’s exclamation causes the pair to finally break apart. Karolina’s cheeks are practically glowing red, she can’t bring herself to look at Nico or the couple sitting to her right. She gives a cursory glance to the jumbotron and sees that the kiss cam has stopped, and she wonders how long she kissed Nico for that she didn’t even notice that the segment ended. The blonde looks over at Chase who has a look of shock and Gert with a smile on her face resembling a young child on Christmas morning. “I win, Chase. You owe me twenty bucks!”

“Wait, what?” Nico interrupts Gert’s giddiness and Karolina’s overwhelmed thoughts.

“We had a bet about if you guys were together, or when you’d get together,” Gert explains off-handedly.

Karolina opens her mouth to deny the fact while Chase fishes a bill out of his wallet. Nico places a soft hand on Karolina’s elbow, causing the girl to nearly gasp at the contact, “We’ll explain it to them later.”

“Uh huh,” Karolina splutters out and nods exaggeratedly. She cannot trust herself to form words after being kissed into oblivion by her best friend. The blonde stares at the court as players come running back on to shoot around, she focuses too hard on the players, because she physically can’t bring herself to look at Nico. She can’t risk it, she cannot predict what her gay little heart will do when she looks at her best friend.

“Hey Karolina,” Gert sounds with a teasing voice, “You’ve got a little – a lot – of black lipstick,” the purple-haired girl gestures wildly at her own mouth to indicate the smearing on Karolina’s. She feels her cheeks turn a deeper shade of crimson and all the blood rushing to her face could seriously make her pass out. Her hands move quickly to wipe at her lips and her heart nearly beats out of her chest when she sees all the black lipstick remnants that appear on her index finger.

For the first time, she risks a side glance at Nico who is too calm. She stares at the court and is wiping at her own smeared lipstick without a thought. Karolina feels her heart drop down to her feet, how is she being so calm and acting like nothing happened?

“I’m going to need details, ladies,” Gert says after moments of silence that feel like suffocating years of quiet for Karolina.

The buzzer sounds for the third quarter to start and Karolina heaves a sigh of relief, “Sorry, the game is starting.”

Gert groans and Nico and Chase both laugh. Karolina feels on edge and can’t look at anyone. She doesn’t want to think about the kiss, so she throws herself into focusing on the game. She isn’t nearly as enthusiastic as she was the first half, but she assumes she’s passing as acting normal. Chase and her discuss plays, but she’s speaking halfheartedly. She can feel Nico staring at her several times during the second half of the game, but she doesn’t dare look at her, she can’t trust herself to act normal and not like that kiss just turned her world upside down.

When the buzzer sounds, ending the game. Karolina should feel giddy, because her favorite team won, but all she feels is total dread. Dread, because her best friend she has sworn off ever having feelings for is suddenly occupying her mind to no end. Sure, when Karolina was a baby gay, she thought she had a crush on Nico, but she suppressed it and ignored it, she couldn’t ever risk that. Until today, she never looked at Nico in any other light than as a best friend, but now she’s too afraid to look at her or think about her, because now that she’s kissed her, she’s terrified of having feelings for someone unobtainable.

Gert and Chase walk ahead of them, hand in hand and Karolina awkwardly walks beside Nico. She can feel the girl staring very hard at her, probably in concern for her odd behavior, but she stares straight forward and shoves her hands deep in her pockets. She stays completely silent and Nico doesn’t prod her.

Upon reaching the outside of the Staples Center, Gert turns on her heel, staring at the pair as they wait for their Lyfts. “The four of us should get lunch together tomorrow,” she announces.

“Yeah, that sounds good,” Nico agrees, and Karolina continues to stare at the ground.

“Are you okay, Kar?” Chase asks, concerned.

“Sorry, just kind of out of it,” she shrugs vaguely. She notices that Chase opens his mouth again to speak when her and Nico’s Lyft pulls up. She lets out a sigh of relief and gives the couple a final wave, “Bye, guys.” She spins around quickly before they can respond and climbs into the backseat.

Nico slides in and sits directly next to her. The blonde feels those brown eyes on her again and she pulls out her phone as a distraction, well she tries to at least, Nico snatches the thing out of Karolina’s hand and shakes her head. “Seriously, are you okay?”

Karolina’s blue eyes glance up at the driver who isn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to them and she shakes her head, “Just thinking of my mom’s disapproval,” she evades the question.

“I’m sorry, I hoped the game would help cheer you up,” Nico says sincerely.

“It did,” the blonde says. It all helped her immensely, that is until she kissed Nico and now nothing made sense anymore. She stares out the window and Nico takes the hint that she doesn’t want to talk right now. The rest of the car ride is silent, which Karolina is thankful for.

When they get to their apartment, Karolina barely has her heels off before Nico says the words that terrify her, “Should we talk about how you kissed me?”

All the blood in Karolina’s body rushes up to her face and she feels like she needs to lean against the wall in order not to pass out. For the first time since the kiss, she makes eye contact with the girl and she feels a tiny bit of relief that Nico doesn’t look pissed or disgusted, she just looks concerned. Karolina feels as if there is another emotion being portrayed on Nico’s face, but she can’t read it, making the blonde think that she is overthinking this. Staring at the girl makes her heart echo against her ribcage and it causes the blonde to feel pure fear, fear that she is going to catch feelings after one stupid kiss that was for show and she’s terrified that those unrequited feelings will tear her apart. So, Karolina deflects and looks away, “It was to get that stupid kiss cam off of Chase and me, I’m sorry. I should’ve checked with you first.”

Nico chuckles and shrugs, “I kissed you back, didn’t I?”

Karolina feels herself blush again, she’s thankful the lighting in their foyer doesn’t give her rosy cheeks away. She fakes a yawn, “Tonight’s been a lot of excitement, I’m going to head to bed.”

“Yeah, of course,” Nico nods, and Karolina is thankful Nico isn’t questioning her behavior even further.

The blonde rushes to her bedroom and nearly slams the door shut behind her. She strips out of her romper and slides into an oversized t-shirt. In the darkness of her bedroom underneath her soft duvet, her right hand floats up to her lips where she still feels the faint touch of Nico’s kiss.

Karolina tosses and turns, she can’t sleep. Between attempting to force herself to not think about her kiss with Nico, replaying the kiss in her head, and her phone vibrating every few seconds it feels impossible to get any rest. Once she turns her phone off without looking at the racking notifications, she manages to get some uneasy rest, but keeps being awoken by dreams about the kiss.

She doesn’t know when she manages to soundly fall asleep, but when she does the next thing she knows is the blinding sunlight is being shined in her eyes as Nico rips open Karolina’s curtains. The tired looking raven-haired girl on Karolina’s mind is in oversized sweats and a t-shirt. For once her face is bare of makeup and her hair is in a messy bun. She is grumbling, and frustrated Nico first thing in the morning looks cute. Karolina stiffens at the intrusive thought and covers up her head with her duvet to cover her blush.

Nico rips aside her duvet and hands her the cellphone she shut off a few hours ago, “You really need to look at your phone.”

Karolina cocks her head in confusion and scrambles to turn her phone on. Once it does, she sees that its only six in the morning and she’s confused why Nico is up so early. Her confusion dissipates when she sees the long stream of notifications rolling in. Her eyes can’t even read all the headlines in time to process what’s going on. She unlocks her phone and sees she has seven missed calls and a voicemail from her mom, two texts from her dad, three calls missed calls and a text from Leslie’s publicist, two texts from Tina Minoru, three texts from Amy Minoru, and the list goes on and on. She opens up social media and sees she’s gained almost five thousand Instagram followers and probably even more Twitter followers.

She’s way too exhausted to even comprehend what is going on in her phone and she looks up at Nico in confusion. “What’s going on and why did you wake me up so early?”

“Because your mom and my mom both blew up my phone. Just check Twitter,” she groans as she sits down on the edge of the bed.

Karolina opens the app and sees she has 20+ notifications. The first notification is a mention by some random fan account. When she reads the status, her breath stops cold in her chest and she can feel all the blood drain out of her face. The post is a picture of Karolina and Nico kissing on the jumbotron and the words above it are: just found out that the blonde girl on the kiss cam is Karolina Dean and she has a hot goth girlfriend. dying of laughter at how homophobic actress leslie dean feels lmaooo.

“They think we’re together?” Karolina numbly spits out.

“We blew up on Twitter,” Nico mumbles.

Karolina is thoroughly panicked. She opens up her texts and feels the dread sink even deeper into her veins.

Dad: Hey honey, just heard the news about you and Nico. So happy for you, wish you were able to tell me about it. Call me when you get the chance.

Tina Minoru: Karolina, you better be treating my daughter well. I hope the three of us could grab dinner sometime together this week.

Amy Minoru: Gotta say I called it lol.

Vaughn (Mom’s Publicist): Hello, Karolina, I’ve heard the news about your girlfriend. Please give me a call.

The blonde is nearly drowning in panic and she can’t even bring herself to listen to her mom’s voicemail. She is too terrified. Karolina throws her vibrating phone to the end of her bed and reaches a shaky hand out to take a gulp out of the water bottle by her bed.

“I guess a bunch of people were recording the kiss cam segment and when it showed you and me a bunch of people put it on Twitter. They didn’t even know your mom is famous, it just got a following because two girls were kissing on a kiss cam, which is unheard of. But then when they found out you’re a child of two A-listers, one of which is not very open-minded, we blew up. From what I’ve seen, we have a huge LGBT following.” Nico explains.

Karolina gasps. “Oh god this is all my fault. We need to explain this all was a coincidence. Maybe I can post a video on Instagram explaining it was a prank or something. I can’t handle my mom disapproving me anymore, and I don’t want to drag you into this. Let me post something really quick.”

Karolina leans down to grab her phone and Nico grabs her wrist, stopping her. When Karolina’s movements halt, Nico’s hand stays on her wrist and her eyes are fixated on the contact. She tries to ignore the speeding in her heartbeat, but instead focuses on Nico’s words.

Nico drops her wrist and awkwardly clears her throat, “I may have another idea for you. One that would be less embarrassing and something that could really piss you mom off – payback for her lack of acceptance perhaps.”

Karolina straightens up with an eyebrow raised, the feeling of dread draining out of her. “I’m listening.”

Chapter Text

“So, let me just repeat what you’re suggesting. You think we should go along with this and pretend to date, just to piss off my mom?” Karolina questions.

Nico nods with a small blush, “More or less. And you can avoid awkwardly explaining to the public and your mom that the kiss was fake.”

Karolina sits silently for a moment, thinking. The pause in conversation worries Nico, she fears that she’s overstepped with her suggestion. Karolina speaks after what feels like an eternity, “And if I told her the kiss was fake, she would think she’s even more right in assuming this is a phase.” She shrugs, “Okay, I’m down. But we need to set some rules.”

Nico watches as Karolina pulls out a piece of paper and a pen from her bedside and she stifles a laugh that the girl is actually writing up a contract. Karolina frowns and points her pen at Nico, “Wait, but what are you benefitting out of this?”

Nico pauses, she feels like a deer caught in the headlights. She doesn’t quite know what possessed her to come up with this fake dating idea. It occurred to her this morning when she saw the twentieth tweet regarding her and Karolina being “girlfriends,” that the idea to just go along with it occurred. Maybe she’s just being selfish, by doing this she’ll get more time with Karolina which always makes her happy, but only a small part of her thinks that. A large part of her is screeching that it’s something more, she doesn’t exactly know what it is, but she didn’t realize it until last night when the blonde laid one on her and everything she thought about her best friend shifted.

The panicked goth shrugs herself out of her thoughts and puts on a cool façade, “I mean pissing off Leslie is enough for me. But if you need more reasoning, Tina won’t let up about my love life ever since I broke up with Alex two year ago. This will prevent her from ever getting the atrocious idea of setting me up with a colleague’s kid.” Her words aren’t a stretch, ever since her mom started being nice to her, she has been a little too intrusive about Nico’s love life.

“Alright, so now we can set some ground rules,” the blonde uncaps her pen. “Rule number one, no dating anybody else. We are in the public eye after all.”

“Well you don’t have to worry about that with me,” Nico chuckles. “Oh, rule number two, we need to still be together by Pride vacation to Aruba next month. I really need to drive the point to my mom that I’m not alone.”

Karolina jots the words down, “Rule number three, we can’t let this affect our friendship.”

The shorter girl agrees with a quiet nod but feels her stomach plummet to her feet. She decides she needs to continue ignoring any out of the ordinary feelings for the girl to let their friendship remain intact. When the girls agree that they can’t think of any other rules, they decide to set some boundaries on their PDA.

“Clearly you’re fine with kissing,” Nico jokes and she tries to ignore how cute Karolina looks when her cheeks light up a bright red. “I’m fine with most things, as long as we aren’t like dry humping in public.”

Karolina barks out an awkward laugh, “Yeah, okay, me too. So, what should our backstory be?”

Nico ponders it for a moment, thinking of a solid number to say how long they’d been dating, “Maybe say we’ve been dating three months. That would mean we started dating at the end of January, which is good because its after the holidays when we last saw all of the Pride, so then they can’t question us.”

“Yeah that works, so it’s settled?”

Nico nods, “You’re officially my fake girlfriend. Now should we let our parents know?”

The blonde’s face darkens and Nico frowns sympathetically, “I don’t want to listen to my mom’s voicemail she left me, I’m worried.”

“Hey, let’s just go back to sleep for a little bit. We can ignore the problem for a little longer, it is like the middle of the night,” she reasons, and Karolina’s frown dissipating brings a smile to Nico’s face.

“Yeah, it is pretty early.” The blonde shrugs and pulls her duvet up to her shoulders as she starts to lay back down.

Nico scrambles up to her feet, muttering a goodbye as she closes the blinds to Karolina’s room and exits. She makes her way down the hallway to her room. The dark maroon walls covered in gothic decorations are a complete contrast to Karolina’s room. That could be said about a lot of things for the pair, they are complete opposites in so many ways, but it’s what makes them them. She closes her door and crawls into her bed, her iPhone is face up on the bedside table, and the constant lighting up of its screen disturbs the total darkness Nico needs in the room.

She ignores her vibrating phone that is full of notifications all likely from her mom. The girl tosses and turns for hours, her mind won’t stop whirring at all the events of last night and how the two girls are now going to fake being in a relationship. She doesn’t quite know how to feel about having to hold Karolina’s hand, kiss her in public, or any other pretend couple tasks. She doesn’t know how she feels, all she knows is she has to repress any thoughts about that kiss that keeps resurfacing in her brain. The memory burns intensely behind her eyelids as she tries to sleep.

When her phone obnoxiously vibrates for what feels like the thousandth time, she angrily picks it up without looking at the caller ID. She’s more willing to face her exploding phone rather than think about that kiss one more time.

“What?” She answers irately.

“Good morning to you too, Nico,” her mom states evenly. “That’s no way to answer the phone after ignoring my last ten phone calls. You do know that a phone is for communicating with other people, not ignoring them, right?”

“It’s the morning, forgive me if I was sleeping,” she grumbles. “Why are you blowing up my phone?” Nico decides to play dumb, pretend as if her mom just woke her up rather than bring up her fake girlfriend on her own.

“Leslie Dean has been calling me since four this morning,” Tina states. “Imagine my surprise when she asked if I knew our daughters were dating.”

“Yeah, so?” Nico challenges.

“Is it true?”

“Yes, we’ve been together for a few months,” she states nonchalantly, or at least attempts to sound carefree. She hopes that her voice doesn’t sound as tense as she feels.

“You never thought to tell me?” Her mom states in a quieter tone. Tina’s voice doesn’t sound as strong as usual, and she almost sounds hurt. But that’s impossible, Nico has only ever seen her mother be hurt once and that is when she found out that her husband was cheating on her. Her mom was stone cold and never let anything touch her, but her wavering voice makes it sound like she’s upset. Upset that her daughter hasn’t been telling her about her life after they’ve been getting closer. It delivers a twinge of guilt in Nico’s gut, so deep that she stays silent until her mother speaks again. “You know I’ve always accepted you for who you are. Why couldn’t you tell me?”

Nico actually flinches at her mother’s words; she feels like a total ass, especially because all her mother’s hurt is stemming from a lie. She pinches the bridge of her nose, formulating another lie, “I was waiting until Karolina came out to her parents, then we were going to tell people. But then they took it poorly, so we pushed it off.”

“But I’m your mom, you could’ve told me. I wouldn’t have said anything to Leslie,” Tina speaks again in a clear and confident tone, almost as if her earlier hurt tone disappeared.

“Yes, I could’ve, but I wanted to respect my girlfriend’s decision. Dealing with this and her parents has always been tough for her, you know that,” she defends.

“Why last night then? Why did Karolina suddenly want the whole world to know?” Tina asks, causing Nico to tense up. The main inquisition that questions the whole foundation of their fake relationship is presenting itself to Nico.

She knows she must be precise to help strengthen the validity of their lie. Nico decides to attempt to be as honest as possible as to what happened last night, “Honestly, she did it out of instinct and frustration. If you’ve watched the kiss cam video, the camera kept showing Karolina and Chase while I was at concessions. They did it twice, and Karolina was upset about it, so when I got back she kissed me. She said she was done hiding it all.”

The other side of the phone is silent. Nico hopes that her lie is convincing, she came up with it all on the spot. Sure, it’s flimsy, but she hopes it sells. Both Karolina and Nico’s moms are the biggest concern about people buying the lie. Tina has some creepy intuition that she always catches Nico in a lie and she just hopes that Tina has missed her mark here.

“Okay,” Tina sighs and Nico’s shoulders droop in relief. “Since the world knows about you two now, maybe you could tell me more about you and your girlfriend?”

Tina’s hopeful suggestion causes a smile and a sense of happiness to fall over her.


 

“Um, Karolina,” Nico sounds as she looks out the window to their apartment. She hears the blonde girl hum in response from her bedroom, presumably looking for shoes to go with her outfit. Her brown eyes are wide and horrified at all the people crowded outside with flashing cameras: paparazzi. She knows Karolina has very famous parents, so Karolina is slightly famous as a byproduct, but the blonde is rarely ever followed by paparazzi, let alone in this capacity. There is easily twenty people outside and the volume of their yelling piercing through the window causes her to close the shades. “There’s a swarm of paparazzi outside. They’re camped out in front of our door.”

The blonde comes out of her room and into the living room. She reaches over Nico and pulls the blinds aside. Her eyebrows raise in surprise, “Oh wow, I’ve only ever seen this when I’m with my parents or at their premieres, never like this.”

“Well you blew up on the internet last night and your mom still hasn’t responded. You are front page news,” she says. She looks over at Karolina who is staring with a look of horror. She places a comforting hand on the paler girl’s forearm, “Hey it will be okay.”

“Sorry, I’m just not used to it and it can be overwhelming,” she states softly.

“At least you never seem overwhelmed in pictures when they follow you,” Nico offers.

“I guess I inherited some acting genes,” the blonde states. Her phone buzzes and she looks down at it, “Looks like Gert and Chase are ready for lunch. Are you ready to leave?”

Nico nods and they both take a deep breath before opening the door to their apartment and leaving. Nico is barely able to lock the door before the swarm rushes up to them loudly yelling questions while flashing photos nonstop.

“Karolina, over here! Is this your girlfriend?”

“Is it true you two are engaged?”

“Is it true that you’re just doing this to rebel against your mother?”

Karolina ignores all the questions and tries to lead Nico to her car. When one of the bulky camera bumps into Nico and the flash accompanying it nearly blinds her, she reacts immediately without thinking. She starts to flash a middle finger at the camera, but Karolina interlocks their fingers before the camera can capture the movement, “Be nice.”

The cameras flash even faster as the couple makes physical contact. With some slight shoving and shuffling, they make it to Karolina’s car, where the blonde runs to open up the passenger door for Nico. The shorter girl tries not to blush as she mumbles a thanks and sits down. Karolina slams the door shut behind her and runs to the driver’s seat. She climbs in and gives Nico an exasperated look, “That was intense.”

Nico heaves a sigh, “You’re telling me. How do your parents deal with this all the time?”

Karolina shrugs as she puts the car in reverse, “I don’t know, it’s so exhausting.”

Nico looks through the window as a camera less than ten feet away from her nearly blinds her from the flash. She blinks quickly, “It seems like we’re going to have to deal with it for a while.”

The blonde switches gears to put the car in drive and the tires squeal as she rips out of the parking lot. Blue eyes glance anxiously in the rear-view mirror, a look of relief passes over Karolina’s face before she speaks, “And this all had to happen a week before my mom’s big movie premiere. The press will be all over my parents and us.”

“Too late to back out?” Nico jokes.

Karolina chuckles weakly, “Trust me, all of this paired with my mom is exhausting.”

“Have you listened to her voicemail yet?”

All Nico gets in return is a tiny shake of the head. She reaches into the center console and grabs Karolina’s iPhone. “Hey!” The blonde exclaims.

“Hear me out,” she says as she types in the blonde’s passcode, “I’ll just listen to it myself and if its bad I won’t tell you what she says and if it’s good I won’t tell you either.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” she scrunches her brows.

“That way you won’t know if it’s good or bad. So, can I?” Nico asks holding the phone up. The blonde gives her a hesitant nod and she puts her phone to her ear as Leslie’s voice begins speaking.

“Karolina, hi. I just saw what happened with you and Nico. My publicist will be contacting you to deal with the social media following this has gathered. Call me back.”

Nico places the phone back in the cupholder and ignores the inquisitive look that Karolina is giving her. She feels the eyes on her and anxiously picks at her black nail polish. Her heart hurts for Karolina, the indifference in voicemail is almost worse than a nasty tone. It’s like her own mother doesn’t even care.

“Nico tell me what she said,” Karolina demands as she takes a sharp right turn.

“I won’t be able to say anything if you crash the car,” she tries to joke. She’s fixed with a dirty look and she shakes her head, “I said I wouldn’t tell you what she said, bad or good. It’s up to you to listen if you really want to know.”

“Put it on speaker,” the blonde states.

“No,” she rebuttals.

“Nico, please,” Karolina asks.

Nico heaves a sigh and presses the speaker button. She watches Karolina’s face as the short voicemail plays again. Her face is scrunched up and when the voicemail ends, Karolina calmly pulls the car over to the side of the road. She doesn’t say anything as she unbuckles her seatbelt and steps out of the car. “Karolina?” Nico asks as she follows the girl out of the car. The blonde is walking away quickly, and Nico is fearful, she has no idea what she is thinking.

Karolina suddenly turns around, rushing past Nico at the car. She watches with scared brown eyes as the blonde takes all her anger out by kicking the back tire of her car. The taller girl grunts out in frustration as she kicks the tire like she’s trying to flatten it. Nico waits silently until the kicking stops, she slowly approaches Karolina who is staring down at her dirtied shoes.

“Kar are you okay?”

“No,” she says evenly, shaking her head. “This is bullshit, I’m pissed.”

Nico tries to hide that she’s taken aback. She would’ve guessed Karolina would’ve been upset from her mother’s indifference, but the usually happy girl is seething with anger. Karolina continues to shake her head in disgust as she walks back to the driver’s side door and climbs into the car. Nico scrambles inside. When she shuts the door behind her, Karolina wipes away a few angry tears. She begins driving the car, the pair sit in silence for several minutes. Nico sneaks looks at the other girl whose face is unreadable as she stares intently at the road. After several long minutes, Karolina breaks the silence.

“We’re definitely going all in with this fake dating thing. Let’s piss Leslie off as much as we possibly can. I want to rub this all in her face,” the blonde says evenly.

“If that’s what you want,” Nico begins. She tries to speak evenly, trying not to upset the other girl in any way.

“Don’t feel like you need to walk on eggshells around me, Nico,” Karolina says.

“I won’t.” She pauses, “So what should we do next to piss off your mom?”

Karolina sighs as she thinks heavily, “I’ll announce our relationship tonight on social media and I’m just going to continue ignoring her and her publicist.”

“How do you want to announce it?”

“Instagram. We can go out to the bars, get a really good gay picture so they’ll put it in magazines next to my mom’s name,” Karolina nods angrily.

Nico doesn’t know how to feel. She knows the blonde is likely repressing her feelings about her mom with a plan for anger and revenge. Nico isn’t too fond of Leslie Dean either, which is partly the reason she jumps on board so easily. But a tiny part of Nico, the part that truly felt something during that kiss, feels used. She knows she shouldn’t, she offered up the idea to fake date, but the blonde’s angry declare to essentially use Nico as ammunition against her mom hurts a bit.

“I’m sorry if I’m making you feel used. You can still back out,” the blonde offers after several minutes of silence. Nico can tell the girl has probably been stewing in thought about her mom and the outburst she just had. It doesn’t help that Karolina can read Nico like a book, even while sitting in silence for a few moments while the blonde stares at the road.

She knows her best friend is hurting, and she shouldn’t let her own emotions get in the way of this awful experience for Karolina. So, she decides to deflect being upset and doubles down on being supportive. “I’m the one who suggested this,” Nico laughs. “You’re my best friend, I’ve got your back.”

The blonde exhales and taps her fingers anxiously on the steering wheel as she slows down for a red light. “Do you think everyone is gonna buy this?”

“Gert definitely did last night,” Nico states. “We are going to have to do damage control for why we never would’ve told them.”

“Well, we’ll just stick to the story that its newish and were just waiting for the right time after I came out to my parents. They’re going to be the easy ones to convince, it’s my mom I’m worried about.”

“We’ll just have to smother her with PDA then,” Nico jokes. “But I say we focus on convincing the media first, and then she’ll have no choice but to recognize it.”

“Yeah, that’s why you should post something on Instagram too,” Karolina suggests.

Nico nods, “Yeah, I’ll post something now.” She opens the app on her phone, scrolling through her own profile. She doesn’t use the app much, only about twice a month. When glancing at most of her photos she sees that Karolina is in most of them as well, she even has a few posts of polaroid’s that are just Karolina, which will likely help selling their cause. Her followers have doubled overnight, and she is shocked at how most of her photos with Karolina have climbed in likes, even if they’re from several months ago. She scrolls through her photos and finds a picture that Gert took of the pair last night before the game and sent to Nico. She has her arms wrapped around Karolina’s shoulders and they’re both smiling widely. She does some mild editing on the shot and posts it with the caption of just a black heart emoji. Within seconds, likes come rolling in from random account names she doesn’t recognize.

“Done,” she announces. “This thing already almost has one hundred likes, I think you’ve made me Insta famous. Maybe I can exploit your fame to become a beauty guru.” She jokes.

Nico’s joke causes Karolina to calm down significantly. Her shoulders drop from their stiff posture and she bursts out in body wrecking laughter. Nico feels a sense of warm content spill over her. Karolina hasn’t laughed like this since she came out to her parents, the content laughter emitting from Karolina causes Nico to join in as well. It’s nice to see her best friend happy. It’s also nice to see her best friend as the golden sunlight hits her gorgeous hair that is curled, falling effortlessly over her shoulders. Her blue eyes look crystal clear as the sunlight hits them, and they squint with laughter. Nico realizes she’s stopped laughing and she is ogling the girl that has been her best friend for thirteen years. She feels her stomach drop in dread and shakes herself out of her thoughts, she can’t ruin her friendship with thoughts like that.

When the blonde stops laughing Nico forces herself to stare at the dashboard instead of her friend. “Thanks, Nico. I needed that laugh,” she smiles and wipes at the tears of laughter on her cheeks.

Nico smiles in earnest, pushing her feelings down. “I only captioned with a heart, I hope that’s okay. I figured I’d let you announce the whole thing.”

Karolina nods in agreement as she slows the vehicle outside of the restaurant that they’re meeting Gert and Chase at for lunch. The blonde attempts to parallel park several times to no avail, causing Nico to bust out in laughter. It takes several cars honking at her for her to continue driving, “I’m just going to take it around the block to a parking lot,” she announces.

Nico laughs to the point of tears. Karolina’s poor driving has always been a joke at all the Pride’s kids’ expense. It was typically Gert who poked the most fun at her. Karolina’s driving in the busy LA traffic could always make Nico break down in laughter. The car slows to a stop as Karolina pulls into a parking spot and Nico’s laughter begins to finally slow up and she glances over at the blonde who is staring at her with an unreadable expression. She sobers up and meets those blue eyes with confusion, but Karolina quickly shakes her head, turns the car off, and climbs out. Nico follows, and the pair begin walking towards the restaurant.

She feels Karolina slip her hand in hers, causing tingles to travel up her arm and blood to rush up to her cheeks. “Paparazzi,” Karolina leans into Nico’s ear and whispers.

Nico quietly nods, she can’t trust herself to speak when the blonde is leaning in so close to her. The single paparazzi with a video camera labelled with TMZ on the side, gets closer as the fake couple nears the restaurant. It is a young girl, probably not much older than Nico and Karolina. She lowers the camera from her eyes, “Karolina Dean, could I please ask you a few questions?”

Nico looks over at Karolina who looks from Nico to the girl and shrugs to herself as if to say fuck it. She drops Nico’s hand, wrapping an arm around the shorter girl’s shoulder. A small smile covers her face at the contact.

“Sure.”

“This is the girl from the kiss cam last night, is she your girlfriend?”

Karolina nods, “Yes, this is Nico Minoru.” The woman’s eyes widen and Karolina nods, “Yes, as in the daughter to Wizards’ CEO. Our families have been friends most of our lives and we’ve always been close, we just started dating about three months ago.”

“Does your mom know about this and how did she take it?”

Nico risks a glance up at the girl who’s face hardens for a split second. Karolina pauses and then a fake smile, that only Nico can tell is fake, covers her mouth. “I came out to both my parents a little bit ago.”

“Came out? Are you gay, bisexual, experimenting?” The woman pesters.

“I’m a lesbian,” Karolina nods. “That is not a new fact about me, I always have been, always will be. The only new thing is now the world knows about my fantastic girlfriend.”

Nico can tell that Karolina is upset from the experimenting question. It’s inconsiderate and a reminder of what her mom said. She can feel that the blonde is stiff, her face is masked, but she knows the blonde is hurting. Before the paparazzi can ask another question, Nico interrupts. She places an arm around the blonde’s waist, “I’m very proud of her and how far she’s come. Now we are meeting some friends for a double date, so if you have enough footage, we’re going to head in.”

The woman nods, “Yes, thank you for stopping, ladies.”

Nico can feel the camera following them as they walk to the door and Nico holds it open for Karolina. The pair make their way inside in silence, making their way to a hostess, telling them they have a table for four. As they wait for her to gather menus, Nico whispers to Karolina, “Nice power move stopping to talk to the press.”

“Yeah, Leslie’s publicist is gonna have an even bigger shit storm on his hands in the next half hour,” Karolina announces with a nonchalant shrug, causing Nico to laugh. “It was a spur of the moment decision I’m proud of,” the blonde says with a laugh.

“I have a table for you two if you’ll follow me,” the young hostess says. The pair follow the girl, hand in hand. It feels casual and nice to be holding Karolina’s hand while walking to the back of the restaurant. The hostess stops at the back-corner table, “A waiter will be with you soon.” The young girl is about to walk away when she stops and stares at the seated pair, “Do I recognize you guys from somewhere?”

“Oh, uh, maybe,” Karolina says meekly.

“We are officially Twitter famous, Kar,” Nico jokes as she nudges the blonde girl’s arm. “We were those girls on the kiss cam at the Lakers game.”

“Oh yeah! Karolina Dean,” the hostess says excitedly with recognition. “I saw the video on Twitter this morning, that was awesome. I’m happy for you guys; you make a great couple! Have a nice meal,” she says with a genuine smile and walks away.

Karolina sighs when the girl is out of ear shot and Nico shoots the worried girl a comforting smile, “See that girl bought it without thought.”

The blonde nods to herself, “You’re right, I’m just in my own head too much.”

“It’s okay, this is a lot for you to handle right now,” she says as she places a comforting hand on Karolina’s who is fidgeting with the menu. The blonde shoots her a panicked look but calms down. “It’s just me, think about this like it’s no different than usual. Only difference is you’ll have to kiss me sometimes, which from past reviewers I can say you are quite lucky.”

The other girl bursts out in laughter at the sarcastic humor, “Wow, you’re so humble.”

“Well if it isn’t my favorite couple in the world!” Gert’s booming voice exclaims as her and Chase near the table.

“That’s crazy, I was about to say the same thing,” Nico jokes while turning away from the blonde and looking at the approaching couple.

The purple-haired girl sits across from Nico, and Chase across from Karolina. Gert’s eyes trace both of them intensely and they move to the pair’s hands on the table, it seems like Nico still hasn’t let go of Karolina’s hand.

“I feel like I’m dining with royalty,” Chase jokes. “How does it feel to be famous?”

“Well Karolina’s used to this whole thing, but I was followed by paparazzi today, and in case you were wondering it’s awful,” Nico jokes.

“Yeah, we saw a couple waiting outside the restaurant when we just came in. Looks like they found out you’re here,” Chase nods.

“That may be because I stopped and talked to someone with TMZ,” Karolina shrugs.

“Ugh, TMZ? Really, Karolina? That’s literally the worst platform,” Gert groans.

“They’ve been badgering us all morning, I figured I’d give them some details.”

“Speaking of, why don’t you two give us the details of this secret relationship you hadn’t told us about,” she asks inquisitively.

Karolina and Nico share a look and Nico casually shrugs, “We’ve been together about three months, we just held off on telling anyone because it’s so new and we’ve been best friends so long.”

“Fuck,” Gert groans and pulls out her wallet as Chase gets a wicked grin on his face. She pulls out a fifty-dollar bill and hands it to the boy. “You’re buying us lunch with that.”

“Did you two seriously bet on us again?” Karolina exclaims.

Chase smiles, “Last night we bet on when you got together. I said it was probably new, under the span of four months, and Gert said you two had been together since at least freshman year of college, if not before.”

“I was dating Alex freshman year of college, and Karolina was with Julie,” Nico looks at Gert with a confused glare.

“You dumped Alex very early on and then Karolina and Julie broke up not long after, it seemed very fishy to me,” she reasons.

Karolina laughs, and Nico’s mind wanders about the pair’s friendship. She wonders how many people always thought the girls were dating. It makes her heart pound wildly against her ribs at the thought.

“And I’m not blind, I saw the way Karolina looked at you in high school,” Gert adds.

The blonde’s laughing abruptly stops, and Nico feels her cheeks heat up. She wishes they weren’t under the impression of dating currently, because she wants to question Gert about what she means. Nico needs to know what Gert means, but she forces herself to brush it off and give a kind smile. “Sorry to disappoint, Gert.”

“Yeah, sorry Gert,” Karolina smiles. “Anything else you two wanna ask?”

“Ooh, who made the first move?” Chase asks excitedly, resting his chin on his hands.

“I did,” both Karolina and Nico say at the same time. Nico’s head whips to her right to make eye contact, both of them have wide concerned eyes. She is absolutely astounded by Karolina’s acting skills, because in the span of a second Karolina turns her shocked look into a mocking dirty look. “Nico, you did not. Saying, ‘hey we should get dinner sometime,’ is not making a move,” Karolina chuckles and Nico relaxes, surprised at how good Karolina is at lying.

“That was my way of asking you on a date, dude,” Nico counters, after taking a moment to come up with the lie.

The blonde turns her attention to the couple across the table, “Nico claims she asked me out on a ‘date’ but before that even happened, I kissed her. So, technically it was me.”

“If you two had bet on that, I swear to god- “Nico threatens, but is cut off when the waiter walks up to the table. Her threatening expression turns to one of friendliness as the waiter lists off specials and the group order their lunch.

“We didn’t bet on it, hopeless romantic Chase was just curious,” Gert says when the waiter walks away.

“You can’t call me a hopeless romantic, you’ve been rooting for them for so long,” Chase counters.

The couple starts bickering, and Nico looks at Karolina with a comforting smile. The blonde seems much calmer and happier. Nico knows her best friend is starting to realize they will be able to pull this off, it makes her glad to know that this is going to help Karolina.


 

Chase acts as a makeshift security guard for Karolina and Nico when they all leave the restaurant. Paparazzi clearly had gotten word that the girls were there and flooded outside waiting for the couple to leave. The numbers are even bigger than they were at the apartment. Nico clasps Karolina’s hand tightly and uses her other hand to shield her eyes from the blinding flashes on cameras. Chase manages to clear a path for them and Gert grumbles to herself about how vain entertainment news is. With the help of the other couple, Karolina and Nico make it to the car rather quickly. The couples wave goodbye to each other, promising to meet up later tonight to go to the bars.

The fake couple climbs into Karolina’s vehicle and start heading home. The blonde groans when her phone vibrates in the center console again, “My mom called me in the middle of lunch, I ignored it, but it looks like they’ve already posted the video of my statement,” Karolina frowns. “My dad just texted me telling me to call one of them back.”

Nico looks down at her phone, seeing Frank Dean has texted her too. “Your mom called me twice this morning and I ignored it too. Looks like your dad wants to get ahold of me too.”

“Sucks to be them, I’m not calling either of them back. They can wait,” the blonde shrugs.

She looks over at Karolina with a prideful expression. She is proud of her best friend for standing up to her parents. “I forgot to tell you, I talked to my mom this morning,” Nico mentions.

The blonde’s eyebrows nearly shoot up to her hairline, “And you just thought of this now to tell me. Did she buy it?”

“Yes, and she was like weirdly supportive. She even suggested we all go to dinner together,” Nico says in disbelief. “She’s never had a problem with me being bi, I’m just surprised she isn’t more suspicious. She questioned it a little bit, but I just had to lie once, and she completely bought it.”

“It’s good she’s being supportive. I wish I had that,” Karolina mumbles as she stares intently at the road.

“Kar, I’m sorry- “Nico quickly states.

“Don’t apologize, I’m happy at least one of us has supporting parents. Who would’ve guessed it would be Tina Minoru,” Karolina states jokingly. The phone in the center console vibrates again and the blonde groans, “I’m seriously about to throw that thing out the window.”

“When do you plan on talking them?”

Karolina sighs heavily in response. Nico takes the hint and gives her friend some silence to herself. She turns up the radio and looks down at her vibrating phone. She sees several text notifications from her sister and opens them with a huff.

Amy: Hey, I’m back in Cali for the summer if you want to properly introduce me to your girlfriend (even tho I’ve known her most of my life).

Amy: I’m taking the silence as a yes.

Amy: Why didn’t you tell me? I understand not telling the ‘rents, but not even your sister?

Amy: Btw you should let me stay at your apartment tonight, sharing the house with just mom is hella weird.

Amy: Nicoooooo? I hacked your phone and Karo’s, it looks like you two are together and travelling. Is she kidnapping you? Is that why you’re ignoring me?

Nico rolls her eyes at her sister’s commonly annoying texting antics and responds to her with a sigh.

Nico: What have I told you about hacking people’s phones?

Amy: Ha, I knew I could get you to respond eventually! So, tonight?

Nico: Yeah, sure. We are going out to the bars if you wanna join.

Amy responds immediately, agreeing to the plan. Nico shuts her phone off and looks over at Karolina who is focusing intently on the road. She lets the blonde have her needed silence until they pull back into the parking lot of their apartment. Nico fumbles with the locks on the door as she breaks the long silence.

“Amy is coming out with us tonight.”

“That’ll be nice, you haven’t seen her since Christmas,” Karolina notes offhandedly.

Nico walks past the girl and into the living room. She plops down onto the couch and turns on Netflix. “Yeah, she’s already on her way over. It’s fine if she stays for the night, right?”

“Of course, we can have a sleepover,” Karolina smiles and sits down next to the shorter girl.

“Something tells me she’s probably almost here. She said staying in the house alone with our mom is weird,” she shrugs.

“They never have gotten along,” the blonde responds while taking the remote from Nico to search for movies on Netflix. Karolina ends up clicking on a random Netflix original and looks over to Nico, giving the girl a teasing glare, “But not you. You’re a big mama’s girl now.”

“Ew, don’t say that,” Nico scowls but eventually breaks into a spell of laughter which Karolina joins in readily. It feels good to laugh with Karolina again. Karolina wipes at her blue eyes as she heaves out her last few laughs, and Nico watches her contently. She realizes she has stopped laughing and is just staring at her best friend for the second time today. For some unknown reason, she doesn’t look away when Karolina’s laughs subside, and she makes eye contact with her. The blonde tips her head slightly but doesn’t break it, and the feelings bubbling in Nico’s chest are becoming too much when the door to their apartment opens. Amy yells out her hellos and drops a duffle bag on the floor, rushing over to join the pair on the couch.

Nico heaves a sigh of relief, saved by the interruption.


 

The stoic bouncer hands Nico her fake ID after not taking much of a look. She steps forward towards the entrance of the bar, looking over her shoulder at Karolina who is smiling and chatting with the bouncer as he glances at the ID. The blonde look stunning, even under the awful lighting. Karolina is clad in a black, short high waisted skirt accompanied by a crop top. Nico forces her eyes not to wander by staring down at her own black combat boots. The now smiling bouncer hands Karolina her ID back and the blonde crosses the threshold giving Nico a smile. Nico returns and holds her hand out for Karolina to take.

Their group of friend, Gert, Chase, and Amy, finish showing the bouncer their ID’s and the whole group makes their way inside the bar. The music is too loud and there are way too many people crowding the place. It stinks of spilled beer and sweat. Gert groans at the overcrowding of the bar and Chase murmurs that he will go get her a drink.

“I’ll join you,” Nico says. She looks to Karolina, “Want anything?”

“Whatever you’re having,” the blonde smiles.

Nico nods and hesitates, toying with an idea as her friends all watch the interaction. She ignores the deafening pounding in her heart and leans up to leave a chaste kiss on Karolina’s cheek. “Be back in a minute,” Nico squeaks.

Nico and Chase make their way up to the bustling bar. Nico grabs a small menu resting at the end of the counter. It has a list of drink specials, and her eye is immediately drawn to the top drink that looks like it is incredibly fruity and infused with a shit-ton of vodka. It’s a drink that seems to have been made for Karolina. The bartender comes by and she points at the menu, ordering two of the sickly-sweet drink, and Chase gives his and Gert’s order as well.

“Since when do you like fruity drinks?” Chase asks, “You’ve always been a whiskey gal.”

Nico shrugs, “Karolina said she’d have what I was having, so I got what she liked.”

Chase smirks, “Aw, so cute.”

Nico scowls and hits his shoulder, “Ew, don’t make it weird.”

“I’m just happy you two have finally found your way to each other,” he says.

She ignores that warm feeling that the statement gives her, knowing that it’s all a lie. She tries to formulate a coherent response, but luckily that bartender sets down the drinks in front of them, saving her from having to answer. Nico gives a hefty tip and grabs hers and Karolina’s drinks. The girl makes a beeline across the bar where her friends are sitting at a semi-circular booth in the corner. She slides into the seat next to Karolina, handing the girl the drink.

“Thanks, babe,” the blonde yells over the music.

The term of endearment is new, and it makes her heart echo against her ribs. She nods at the girl and takes a heavy swig of the overly fruity drink. Chase sits down across from her, handing Gert her drink. The group of five talks for a while, the whole time Karolina has a casual arm draped over the backseat of the booth, her forearm just barely brushing Nico’s shoulders. It causes Nico to take large gulps of her drinks and get continuous refills to try and numb all her emotions and thoughts. Karolina is a chivalrous fake girlfriend and takes this as a cue to match pace with Nico’s binge drinking.

“Okay, I’m liquored up, let’s dance,” Gert announces to Chase, grabbing his hand. He readily follows her to the dance floor with a grin on his face.

“We should dance too, Nico,” Karolina looks at Nico like an excited puppy. “Wait, before that, we need a picture,” she thrusts her phone out to Amy.

Amy slides out of the booth, holding up the phone, “How are you posing?”

Nico finds herself being ushered out of the booth by Karolina. She stumbles to her feet and Karolina scoots so she’s sitting at the edge of the booth facing Amy. The raven-haired girl gets yanked abruptly into the taller girl’s lap. Nico’s eyes widen, but Karolina just meets her with an easygoing smile. It relaxes her and she’s already kind of drunk, so it’s easy to wrap her arm around Karolina’s shoulder and relax into her. She presses her cheek up against the side of Karolina’s forehead and gives too cheesy of a smile to the flashing phone camera. She knows she likely has drunk eyes.

“Take lots of pictures,” Karolina holds up a finger at Amy who holds the phone impatiently.

“I’m just going to hold down the camera button,” Amy shrugs.

When the camera’s blinding flash shines in her eyes, she feels the touch of Karolina’s soft hand turning her face. She turns her head and finds herself inches from the blonde, for once she is taller than the girl, causing her to look down and she finds herself looking down at the blonde girl’s lips. She forces her eyes up and finds blue eyes glaring at her own lips. It’s probably the alcohol that causes her to lean forward and capture Karolina’s lips in a soft kiss. It only lasts a few moments before Nico pulls away, but she finds her head spinning and her heart pounding when she sees Karolina’s infectious smile.

Amy shoves the phone on the table, “Did not want to just see my little sister making out,” she shakes her head. “I’ll be at the bar, erasing the memories.”

Amy’s joking tone snaps Nico out of her trance of staring at Karolina, causing her to jump up to her feet. She stares down at her black nails and tries to focus on the pounding music in her eardrums instead of thinking of the kiss she just gave her best friend.

“Good idea on the kiss, Nico. There are some great pictures,” Karolina says as she stares intently at her phone.

A few moments later, her phone vibrates, and she sees she has an Instagram notification. She clicks on it and sees the picture that Karolina tagged her in. It’s a single picture of Nico sitting comfortably on Karolina’s lap, the pair are smiling at each other with their lips millimeters apart, clearly moments after their kiss. The picture is very selling, it looks like a couple deeply in love staring at each other meaningfully. After several seconds too long of staring at the photo, she scrolls down to read the caption. It is a simple black heart emoji, just like Nico’s post, with an additional hashtag underneath it saying: #YouCaughtUs.

“Pretty good, right?” Karolina says, suddenly right over Nico’s shoulder causing the shorter girl to jump. The blonde giggles and reaches to double tap on Nico’s phone screen, liking the post.

“Yeah,” she clears her throat and puts her phone away. “It will really draw in some press and piss Leslie off.”

“That’s the goal,” Karolina states.

For some reason those words make a sick feeling come over Nico. She shakes her head and continues to push the feelings aside. She grabs the blonde’s hand, “Let’s go dance now.”

Karolina follows Nico eagerly to the dance floor. They find themselves situated at the edge of the center of the dancing bodies where Gert and Chase are dancing. Nico is not a dancer, but the alcohol coursing through her veins and all the weird thoughts she’s had about her best friend in the past twenty-four hours fuels her to dance like a drunken idiot.

To no surprise, she isn’t a great dancer and she can feel Karolina’s eyes on her. The blonde looks at her with a fond smile, reaching forward to grab her hand and spin Nico in a circle. It makes her head even dizzier, but she giggles at the prospect of the blonde spinning her to a fast, upbeat song. The pair continue to dance like idiots for several songs, until Karolina grabs Nico’s swaying hips and pulls her in close. The sudden movement and sensation causes a sudden jolt in Nico’s stomach and she looks at Karolina with surprised eyes.

“Do you want to really sell this? Maybe we should dance like couples usually do,” Karolina drunkenly breathes in her ear.

Nico pulls back slightly to look Karolina fully in the eyes, the girl fixes her with an innocent pleading expression and who has she ever been to deny Karolina what she wants. She nods, and Karolina eagerly smiles. She continues to stare at Karolina and feels a sense of awkwardness come over her. Nico’s never been a huge dancer, let alone a grinder. She only has ever danced like that with a few guys at college parties when she was way too drunk. The idea of dancing in such a sexual way with her friend causes a sense of anxiety to overcome her. “So, who should, um,” Nico starts to ask and makes a spinning motion with her finger too afraid to verbalize her question.

Karolina smiles kindly, reaching out to grab Nico’s hand. She spins the girl but stops when Nico’s back is to Karolina. Nico lets out a shaky breath when her back is pressed against the blonde. The tiny hairs on her neck stand when Karolina leans even closer and whispers in her ear, “Nico, don’t worry it’s just me. Let’s just dance.”

Nico nods nervously and closes her eyes. She lets the alcohol running through her veins give her a sense of confidence and she finds herself swaying her hips to the music. It doesn’t take long for the shorter girl to find herself getting lost in the song and the feeling of Karolina’s hands on her hips as they dance in tandem. The song progresses, and their dancing continues in intensity.

The shorter girl finds herself so lost in the intoxicating music, the alcohol roaring through her veins, and Karolina’s touch that her dance moves become bold. Much bolder than they ever were when she had been with Alex or when she danced with those guys at parties. She knows this must mean, something but she doesn’t care. She can’t think, all she can do is get lost in this intoxicating moment. She nearly halts when she hears a tiny moan break through Karolina’s lips that are pressed up next to her ear. The sudden noise doesn’t stop her though, it makes a hunger fill her gut and she continues to dance on the girl behind her. Karolina’s hands are beginning to wander up Nico’s sides and the raven-haired girl glances over her shoulder to see Karolina’s eyes squeezed tightly shut and her mouth is closed tightly. She can tell the blonde is trying to control herself and she almost looks pained.

“Kar,” Nico breathes out and her voice sound so much breathier than usual. Karolina’s eyes fly open and she finds herself staring into blue eyes with blown out pupils. She’s never seen Karolina look like this, but the blonde is staring Nico up and down with a hungry glare. Nico finds herself entranced, and she’s struck with the revelation that she needs to kiss her best friend. She spins in the girl’s grip and the two girl’s lips meet in the middle in a ravenous kiss.

Her hands grip at the sides of the blonde’s face as she feels the blonde’s tongue slide over her bottom lip. She readily opens her mouth in response and she feels Karolina’s shaky breath down to her core making her knees wobble. Enthusiastic hands tug on Nico’s hips, pulling her in even closer to the tall blonde. She pulls back a millimeter to take an uneven, needed breath and Karolina follows her forward to continue kissing her into oblivion. Teeth graze her bottom lip and the noise that escapes her mouth would make her embarrassed if Karolina wasn’t so eager from hearing it. She feels the hands, now on her lower ribs, give a squeeze and Nico pulls away to feel some semblance of control. She thanks any higher power that she decided to wear combat boots that make her tall enough to press her searing lips against Karolina’s neck. She sucks a mark onto Karolina’s slender neck, making the taller girl moan loudly above the music.

The noise breaks Nico out of her stupor and she steps away from the blonde. Her body feels too hot and her lips are on fire. She stares at Karolina who has her eyes closed and her chest is heaving. Her brown eyes trace the girl’s frame, appreciating the skin on display. She shakes her head at herself when she realizes this is Karolina, her best friend. And holy shit she just made out with her best friend in the middle of the bar. She pinches the bridge of her nose and tries to take a steadying breath, trying to push away the thoughts that that was one of the hottest kisses she’s ever experienced.

“We have an audience,” Karolina whispers unevenly.

Nico looks up at the blonde who is looking anywhere but her. She follows the blonde’s eyeline to see that some people in the crowd have phones pointed on them. It probably didn’t take long for bystanders to realize who they are. It’s enough to snap Nico back into reality and she just enjoyed making out with Karolina way too much to be friendly. She needs to get out of here.

“Yeah, looks like it. I’m going to go get a drink and hang with Amy for a bit,” she points a thumb at the bar and Karolina nods.

“Yeah, I’ll just go hang with Gert and Chase,” the blonde’s words fall on deaf ears as Nico nearly runs away to the bar.

The girl sits down on a stool next to her sister with a huff. She flags down the bartender and orders a strong drink to try and push away what she just felt for her best friend. Amy glances at Nico, “Needed to rehydrate after dry humping your girlfriend on the dance floor.”

“We weren’t,” she sighs, “we were dancing.”

“Is that what the kids are calling it these days?” Amy jokes.

“Shut up,” she grumbles and downs her drink, gesturing for another to the bartender. Her eyes trace Karolina who is dancing alongside Chase and Gert. Her heart speeds up at the sight of the blonde smiling widely and dancing badly. It brings a smile to Nico’s face and then the realization hits her like bus. Holy shit, she likes Karolina.


 

The trio of girls stumble into the apartment. Nico struggles to kick her boots off. She throws her arms up in victory when she manages to pull both shoes off. She may have gotten incredibly drunk with Amy at the bar to try and push aside what she felt from kissing Karolina. The blonde is also incredibly drunk, seeming to have snuck drinks throughout the rest of the night. Karolina wraps an arm around Nico’s waist when she sways a bit too much.

“We should all head to bed,” Karolina announces.

“I agree. Now, which bed do you two spend the least amount of time in together?” Amy asks suggestively.

Nico shudders at the awkwardness that the question presents itself with. It’s especially awkward after she’s come to revelation that she likes her best friend that she’s fake dating. Now she has to lie to her sister to answer a question about the two having sex and it makes Nico’s mind wander. She shakes her head and looks up at Karolina whose mouth is gaping like a fish. “Take my room, Amy.”

“Thanks!” her sister yells to her over her shoulder and heads down the hallway. The door to Nico’s room slams and she lets out an exhale.

“Leave it to Amy to make things awkward,” Nico sighs. She is met with silence and she looks up at Karolina who is staring at the ground. Her lungs tighten with anxiety when she realizes this is the first time she’s been alone since they kissed at the bar and they have to share a bed. The girls have shared beds plenty of times in the past, but now this just seems uncomfortable. Nico sighs and walks towards Karolina’s room with the blonde following her. She sits on the edge of the comfortable bed as Karolina walks into her closet. “Can I borrow some clothes?”

“Yeah,” Karolina yells from the closet and leans out to throw a pair of shorts and an oversized t-shirt at her. Nico makes a point to quickly change and crawl under the covers to avoid any conversation about what side of the bed they should take. The blonde comes out dressed in pajamas and flips the light switch off.

Nico’s breathing increases when she feels the slight dip in the bed when Karolina climbs under the covers. The silence between the pair is deafening, she knows the other girl is still awake and it feels suffocating to not address the elephant in the room. She blames it on being drunk that causes her to break the silence, “Should we talk about tonight?”

She tries not to stiffen when her drunk friend snuggles up to her side and exhales against her neck causing her to shiver. “No, let’s just sleep.”

For some reason, Karolina’s words sting. They keep Nico wide awake staring at the ceiling for hours. The blonde’s nonchalant attitude towards the whole situation makes her chest bubble up with pain. In her drunken stupor, she made a mistake and kissed her fake girlfriend with way too much enthusiasm that the lines blurred for her. It made her believe she likes her best friend, but that can’t be possible, she can’t ruin what she has with Karolina, not when the blonde is brushing everything off like it never happened. She must continue avoiding all the emotions, she can’t afford to get confused and ruin the best thing she has. She promises to herself as the early morning rolls around that she will not fall for her best friend, she can’t.


 

Nico is awakened by a cell phone ringing. She grumbles and squints an eye open and the sunlight bursting through the window nearly blinds her. It causes her head to pound and her stomach to rumble with nausea at her nasty hangover. She blinks a few times and realizes Karolina is still cuddling into her side and then she is hit with a bunch of memories from the night before. It causes the girl to scramble quickly out of the bed; she needs out of this room. She stumbles out of the bedroom and rushes to the kitchen to chug a glass of water. She rubs her hands on her face and tries to push away the memory of Karolina’s lips on hers.

“Good morning,” her freak out is interrupted by the girl on her mind walking into the kitchen. “Were you woken up by my ringing phone too?”

“Uh yeah, I guess,” Nico stutters and looks away from the blonde with adorable bedhead.

“Sorry about that,” Karolina moves past her and into the refrigerator. “I’ll make you a hangover breakfast to make up for it?”

Nico ignores the content feeling that rushes over her, “Are you not even hungover?” She grumbles.

Karolina shrugs, “It must just be my great genetics. Now go sit, I’ll help you feel better.”

The shorter girl forces herself to leave the kitchen, so Karolina will stop making her feel emotions she is forcing herself not to feel. Nico plops face down on the couch to try and take a nap until her breakfast is ready. She is finally on the verge of falling asleep again when a sharp knock on the door wakes her.

“Can you get that Nico?” Karolina’s voice yells from the kitchen.

She grumbles and pulls herself up from the couch. Dragging her feet all the way to the door, she unlocks the deadbolt and swings the door open to see who could be disturbing her at such an early hour. When she sees the other women standing outside with a frown on her freckled face, Nico straightens her posture. The strawberry blonde looks her up and down, and Nico is rendered silent in shock at who is in her doorway.

“Nico, who is it?” Karolina’s voice grows louder as she comes closer. She hears the girl step out of the kitchen and let out a small gasp when she sees whose standing in their doorway. “Mom, what are you doing here?”

Chapter Text

Karolina’s feet are glued to the floor, frozen in place. She stares at her mother blankly. Seeing the woman after actively avoiding her feels like jumping in a pool of ice-cold water. Leslie Dean steps over the threshold and Nico closes the door after her with a dumbfounded expression on her face. The beeping of a timer in the kitchen breaks Karolina out of her trance.

“I have something on the stove, give me a minute,” she mutters and races into the kitchen. Her body is on autopilot as she scrapes the food onto the plate and pours a mug of black coffee. She steps out of the kitchen and sees that her mother has made herself comfortable on the couch and Nico is standing protectively by the kitchen doorway.  

“Nico, if you don’t mind, could you give Karolina and me a moment alone?” Her mother breaks the silence after an intense staring match.

Nico looks at Karolina as if asking if she is okay with being left alone with her mother. The blonde takes a deep breath and nods at the girl. Nico nods back then steps up to Karolina, grabbing the plate of food and coffee mug out of her hands. She stretches up on her toes and presses a chaste kiss to the taller girl’s cheek. Nico pulls away and gives Leslie a smug smirk as she watches the interaction. “Thanks for the breakfast, babe. I’ll eat in our room.”

The blonde watches her exit the room in awe. She doesn’t look away from Nico’s retreating figure until her mother clears her throat. Karolina shakes her head and sits on the opposite end of the couch; her posture is ramrod straight and she uncomfortably chances a glance at her mom. Her mother is staring at her with an unreadable expression until Karolina looks down at her lap.

“You’ve been ignoring me,” Leslie states. Karolina continues to stare down at her lap and gives a meek nod. Her mother continues, “And your father and my publicist. We just want to talk to you, Karolina.”

The blonde rolls her eyes nearly out of her head, “I’m sure you do. Your voicemail sounded like you were quite interested and happy for me,” Karolina shocks herself at the snarky sarcasm that she spews out in anger.

“Why would I be happy for a relationship that’s fake?”

When those words hit her ears, her heart stops in her chest and all the blood drains out of her face. Karolina feels caught and embarrassed, only for a moment before her genetics coding for acting kicks in. She looks at her mother with a facial expression that hopefully appears confused, “What are you talking about? Nico’s my girlfriend, mom. There’s nothing fake about it.”

“It’s all very convenient. You guys come out about your relationship after you stormed out of that dinner angry. And I’ve seen the video, anyone with eyes can tell you kissed her just to get the cameras off you, not because you are dating,” Leslie states easily. “And if Tina Minoru wasn’t so dead set on suddenly trying to be a cool and relatable mom lately, she would be able to see this too.”

The blonde feels her heart sink deeper and deeper into her chest as her mother speaks. Her mom hit the nail right on the head, but she will fight trying to make it seem as if her mother is totally off the mark. Karolina decides to have an angry, passionate response, as it seems to be appropriate for the scenario if Nico was really her girlfriend.

“How dare you?” She spits out in disgust. “She is my girlfriend; don’t you dare spew lies about my relationship just because you’re unsupportive that I’m dating a girl.”

Leslie waves a dismissive hand, “Don’t turn it into that.”

“No, that’s exactly it, mom. You are sick at the thought of your only child being a lesbian. And now you’re in denial, saying my relationship is a lie, to try and discredit my happiness.” Her face is crimson, and she lets out an angry breath. Perhaps, it isn’t all acting skills that’s making her argument so passionate, but she’s finally releasing all her anger that she has about her mother.

“I’m not a homophobe, Karolina. I’m saying this relationship of yours is fake because of the facts that are as clear as day.”

Karolina scoffs, “You’re in denial, because you don’t approve of this.” She stands and starts walking towards the front door, “Now please get the hell out of me and my girlfriend’s apartment.”

“Karolina Lucy Dean, I don’t know where you suddenly have this notion that you’re allowed to speak to your mother like this, but this is not your apartment. It is mine and your father’s money that pays your part of the rent. This is mine, not yours, and you cannot kick me out,” Leslie evenly states. “Now sit back down.”

The blonde slouches defeatedly back to her seat on the couch. She stares down at her hands waiting for her mother to speak again.

“Fake or whatever,” Leslie begins, “my publicist thinks its best if you and Nico come to my movie premiere this Friday. It will show I support this and give us good publicity.”

“Why would I go when you don’t even believe my relationship or support it?” Karolina shakes her head. It hurts, her mother truly doesn’t even care about this, she’s only worrying about her self-image.

“A limo will be here at five on Friday to pick you both up.”

Karolina opens her mouth to speak and angrily tell her mother off, when Nico’s voice pipes up form the mouth of the hallway, “We will be there, Mrs. Dean.”

“Excuse me, Nico, this is a private conversation,” Leslie interrupts, but then stops herself when she realizes that Nico agreed with the plan. “Wait, you will come?”

Karolina looks at Nico with a deep frown, anger boiling in her gut at her best friend for taking her mother’s side. The brunette holds a hand up to Karolina when she notices the blonde’s angry expression. Her fake girlfriend leans coolly against the wall with her arms crossed, “I couldn’t help but overhear your arguing from the bedroom, thin walls and all. And I don’t appreciate your disbelief of my relationship, Mrs. Dean, but we will come to your premiere on one condition.”

“Which is?” Leslie challenges.

“You and Mr. Dean have dinner with Karolina, my mom, and me. Maybe then you will see that I truly care about your daughter and this relationship could never be fake. My mom has already agreed to this, because like a good mother she supports my relationship, maybe having dinner with all of us you can take a page out of her book,” Nico smirks smugly at Leslie. A small, prideful smile covers Karolina’s mouth at Nico’s snark.

“That’s the only way I’ll go to this premiere. It’s this plan or I’ll go to press saying you don’t support my relationship,” Karolina pipes in and she smiles proudly at Nico who shoots her a small wink.

Leslie sighs angrily, “Fine, if that’s what it takes. Just let me know of what day you plan for this dinner and I will check my schedule.” Leslie stands up from the couch and starts walking towards the door, “Remember, the limo will be here at five on Friday. Try to coordinate outfits.”

Karolina’s mother nods at her and exits the apartment. The blonde stares at the wooden door for several seconds, shocked at the interaction that just occurred. Her heart sinks at the disapproval of her mom. The pain makes tears sting at the corners of her eyes, and she looks away from the door blinking rapidly to shoo away any tears. Nico sits next to her on the couch, putting a comforting arm around her shoulder. Her blue eyes look over at her best friend who is staring at her with deep concern and the grief that was festering in her gut dissipates at the sight of looking into Nico’s eyes. Nico’s brown eyes light up and something in her expression changes to something unreadable. Her heart flutters in her chest at the proximity to the other girl.

A large yawn interrupts the moment and Karolina whips her head around to look at Amy exiting Nico’s bedroom with her arms stretched above her head as she continues to yawn, “Good morning ladies, what have I missed?”


 

On Friday afternoon, Karolina puts the final touch on her hair by putting a bobby pin in place, securing her updo. She spins around in her body length mirror to appreciate her outfit. Her long sleeve burgundy gown looks fantastic. She sits down at the edge of her bed to slip her heels on. She is thankful she’s sitting because Nico walks into the room unannounced and the sight of the girl could knock her off her feet.

Nico’s hair is half-up, half-down. It falls in elegant curls that rest comfortably beyond her shoulders. Her burgundy lipstick matches Karolina’s dress and the tiny detail makes the blonde’s heartrate pick up. Her blue eyes trace down to Nico’s outfit that leaves her breathless. She is in a black lace, sleeveless jumpsuit and burgundy heels that match Karolina’s dress. The lace doesn’t do much to cover skin and the blonde has to force her mouth shut so she doesn’t drool.

“You look great,” Nico’s words cut through Karolina’s staring and she barely even notices it.

When the compliment manages to fall on her ears a deep flush covers her foundation covered cheeks. She motions towards Nico and opens and closes her mouth several times before stuttering a semi-coherent response, “You look, wow. Wow, you’re one to talk. You look,” she pauses and takes a deep breath, “wow.”

Wow, thanks,” Nico mockingly chuckles. Karolina is so focused on looking at the other girl, she swears she can see a tiny flush covers Nico’s cheeks, but it’s too hard to tell because of her makeup. “I came in to ask if you were almost ready. The limo is gonna be here soon.”

The blonde forces herself to finally look away from Nico. She looks back at her feet and focuses on finishing putting her heels on. “Now I’m ready.”

The pair make their way out to the living room. They sit on their phones and idly chat with one another until a honking horn blares through the front door. Karolina walks over to door and peaks out to see a black stretch limo waiting in the parking lot. She reaches to the table by the door to grab her clutch and keys.

“Nico, limo’s here,” she announces over her shoulder.

She opens the door when the shorter girl makes it to her side and they exit the apartment hand in hand. The driver is waiting at the door and gives them a warm smile and greeting. He opens the door for them and Karolina motions for Nico to go before her with a smile. The other girl smiles softly and shuffles into the seat and the blonde quickly follows. She lets out an audible groan when she sees who else is sitting in the limo.

Frank and Leslie Dean are sitting with champagne flutes in hand. Her mother is in an overly extravagant white gown, and she tries not to roll her eyes at how typical the outfit is of her. Her mother’s blue eyes trace the fake couple and Karolina attempts to subtly wrap an arm around Nico’s shoulder.

“Hello, girls,” Leslie breaks the silence when the limo begins moving.

“Why are we riding in the same limo? Can we not afford two for the night?” Karolina snarks. The girl sitting under her arm chuckles and looks up at her proudly with a fond smile. Karolina side glances at Nico and fights off the blush covering her cheeks.

“It shows a united front,” Leslie states. “It will look best to do this.”

“And we haven’t seen you in so long, it’s nice to spend some quality time together,” her father pipes in and Karolina fights an eyeroll. It seems her mom didn’t tell her dad about the threatening visit she made to Karolina earlier in the week.

“Thanks dad,” the blonde plasters on a fake smile.

“I figured that this would also convince the public of your fake relationship and my support of it, since you two haven’t bothered to go out in public since you were seen at that bar,” Leslie pipes up.

Seething anger fills deep in Karolina’s gut and she grinds down on her teeth to avoid arguing back. Arguing with her mother has proved to be quite useless over the years. The blonde focuses on her breathing to try and calm her anger. It doesn’t help that the dig her mom made is a blatant reminder of that night at the bar when Karolina and Nico went way too far. A moment that they still haven’t talked about, and the sole reason Karolina hasn’t left the apartment in nearly a week. She couldn’t risk leaving and having to be affectionate with Nico in public. She doesn’t trust herself around Nico and she’s scared of the emotions she could develop.

“Stop saying my relationship is fake,” Karolina eventually settles on responding with.

“I’m just stating fact,” Leslie shrugs and challenges her daughter with a glare. The younger woman meets her mother’s glare and matches her with a frown on her face.

“I’m gonna need this,” Nico mutters as she leans forward and grabs a bottle of champagne, breaking the silence. She pours two generous glasses for them both. Karolina swallows the contents of the flute in two gulps. She takes the bottle from Nico and pours another generous glass and swallows it just as quickly as before.

Her dad’s eyes follow her movements intently, then look over at his wife and he lets out a sigh, “Well this is going to be fun.”


 

The nearly silent, awkward limo ride is filled with Karolina drinking most of the alcohol on board and Nico and Frank attempting to make small talk. The blonde finally feels like she is no longer suffocating when she steps out of the stuffy limo. She is met with a barrage of flashing lights that quickly sober her up. She turns to hold a hand out to Nico, who gratefully accepts it as she climbs out of the limo. Leslie and Frank quickly follow suit and the flashes grow more aggressive to get a picture of the Deans with their gay daughter and her girlfriend.

Karolina follows her parents lead as they stand and pose at the beginning of the red carpet. The overlapping noises of photographers and interviewers yelling combined with the flashes makes the girl woozy. She feels frozen and her lungs are like straws desperately trying to suck any oxygen out of the air. She feels her hand being squeezed and drawn out of her panicked trance she looks down to see Nico looking at her with concern and squeezing her hand a second time. The shorter girl leans up on her tiptoes and delivers a kiss to Karolina’s cheek, leaving the blonde breathless for a whole different reason.

Nico uses the kiss as a cover to lean and whisper into Karolina’s ear, “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, I just hate these things. And it just seems so much more intense now,” she mumbles and Nico nods sympathetically.

“I’ve got you,” the other girl smiles at her sweetly and pulls the blonde towards the carpet, helping most of the anxiety fade away.

They stop and pose at several spots in front of cameras as people typically do at red carpets. The pair take the typical pose of Nico standing to Karolina’s left, turning slightly into the blonde and wrapping an arm around Karolina’s waist. The blonde fully faces the camera with her left arm wrapped snuggly around Nico, resting casually on the border of her lower back, using her height as the determining factor for taking the typical “male” pose of the red carpet. She hopes they look completely natural, and not like they rehearsed this in their living room last night. She tries to radiate her usual sunny, smiley demeanor that she usually has in front of cameras, but the anxiety in her veins make the smiles feel forced. The blonde tries to focus on Nico’s comforting presence and constant reassuring squeezes to make her smile bigger and more genuine. She feels that it works for the most part.

When they’re in the middle of the red carpet, the anxiety creeps even further up on Karolina. She knows that they need to kiss, most couples usually do on red carpets. Her and Nico never discussed it, they wouldn’t dare, not after that night at the bar. She’s terrified to kiss Nico again, it will be the first time since the bar where she was sucked in and any semblance of control she had with the girl began crumbling beneath her feet. Over the last week, she has tried desperately to regain the control on her emotions by concealing them and pushing them away. She’s just trying to place all her emotions in a tiny box and store it away, never to be seen again. She is worried what kissing the other girl will do to that tiny box.

The blonde takes a steadying breath and prepares herself to lay one on Nico when she notices the logos of a few news sources she likes. She figures since this is fake, she might as well give the sources she likes some good material. The blonde lightly taps the shorter girl’s lower back and Nico looks up at her.

The raven-haired beauty has a giant smile on her face, clearly doing well in front of the cameras. Her smile softens when her brown eyes land on Karolina. The blonde feels her anxious exterior soften and a soft, genuine smile covers her face. The constant flashes illuminate the left side of Nico’s face and Karolina appreciates all her true beauty, focusing on her gorgeous cheekbones and her beautiful eyes. Her eyes are torn away to Nico’s burgundy lips when she sees white incisors bite down on a full lower lip. Then all her attention is on those lips, which is the whole point of getting Nico to look at her. It feels like every atom in her body is pulling her towards Nico and even though her mind is screaming at the damage this will do to her, she allows herself to be pulled in.

Their lips meet in the middle. Karolina feels lighter and giddy at the feeling that overcomes her at finally kissing Nico again. Not kissing her for almost a week made her feel like she was going through withdrawal. She pushes away the worrying thought that she enjoys kissing Nico a bit too much to the back of her mind and focuses on those burgundy lips that match her own gown so well. She pulls away after likely kissing the girl for too long, and she forgets she’s on the red carpet for a moment until the blinding flashes sends spots into her eyes. Nico gives the taller girl a shy smile and wipes at her lipstick with her index finger as she grabs Karolina’s hand and pulls them to the next spot.

As they near the end of the carpet, Leslie Dean runs up to girls, seemingly out of nowhere. She has a giant fake smile plastered on her face. She inches in between Nico and Karolina, the latter giving her a dirty glare. The blonde feels her mom wrap an arm around her shoulder and she notices the other arm wraps around Nico.

“Smile for the cameras, sweetie,” her mother says to her through a clenched smile.

The blonde meets Nico’s brown eyes that are looking at her in confusion. Karolina sighs in defeat when she realizes all the eyes on her; she can’t start a scene with her mother, which is probably Leslie’s whole reasoning for jumping in to pose with them. She shrugs at Nico and turns to the camera to give a fake smile, “You’re trying way too hard,” she smiles to her mother.

“I just figured we should have a picture together before the night is over,” her mother says and steps away from the couple who are both looking dumbfounded.

The blonde fights the urge to roll her eyes. Of course, that statement is a lie, her mother’s whole point of getting a picture with the couple is to try and show her “support” for her gay daughter. Karolina tries to ignore the sting resonating through her chest as her mother walks away from them and towards a reporter.

Nico must notice her defeated expression, because she squeezes her elbow sympathetically, “We can ditch this premiere now, right? We only had to come for the red carpet, so let’s just get out of here.”

A smile at her friend’s concern covers her face, “I like your idea.”

“Maybe we should sell it as a little more,” Nico suggests, and Karolina tips her head at her in confusion. “Follow me, we’ll make it look like we’re leaving to go hook up, it’ll mess with Leslie’s good press she gets tonight.”

The blonde blushes and dumbly follows the girl holding her hand to a slightly secluded spot but is still in the eyes of several people and cameras. Nico leans up and whispers into Karolina’s ear, “I’m not really saying anything, just trying to make this look suggestive.” The blonde really should laugh at the other girl’s humorous display, but she can’t, all she can focus on is Nico’s breath tickling her neck as she whispers to her. She can barely focus on the words as Nico whispers utter nonsense into her ear, “Not gonna lie, I saw the trailer to this movie and it looked awful.” She continues to say random things in her ear and the blonde desperately tries to focus on her words and not how she feels at their proximity and the feeling of Nico’s breath ghosting her ear. “Okay, I’ve probably whispered long enough for cameras to catch a glimpse of us. Kiss me when I pull away, really sell it.”

Nico doesn’t have to tell her twice. The shorter girl has barely backed away when Karolina wraps an arm around her waist and swoops her lips up in a kiss. The kiss is much more thorough than the one on the red carpet. She is intent on kissing off every last bit of Nico’s expensive lipstick and she does so by focusing on her lower lip. Her teeth graze the other girl’s lip and Nico groans into her mouth and hands squeeze firmly at her ribcage. Karolina can feel herself spiraling out of control when Nico pulls away slightly to take a shaky breath and then captures Karolina’s lips in a kiss so thorough and filthy that she feels like she needs a cold shower immediately. It’s electric and her hands start drifting lower and lower on the rough lace of the jumpsuit that has been frustrating her since the beginning of the night.

Somehow, the blonde begins to realize how into this kiss she’s getting, and it feels like a bucket of ice has been dumped over her. She forces herself away and her lips make an awkward smacking noise at the suddenness. Nico’s eyes are cloudy and staring intently at Karolina’s face for a split second before the other girl smiles at her and shoots her a sly wink.

“Good job,” she whispers and grabs Karolina’s hand, pulling her away from the event. Karolina’s body is on autopilot as she follows her best friend who is confidently leading them. She can see camera flashes pointed in her direction and she fights a blush off her face. She is dumbfounded by that moment with Nico, it felt too real and it was way too much.

They stop at the corner of the sidewalk and wait for their Lyft, which only takes a few moments to arrive. Karolina follows Nico into the backseat, wiping at the smeared lipstick on her mouth as her best friend acts as if nothing ever happened.


 

Karolina barely sleeps, which isn’t a rare occurrence as of lately. She tosses and turns, pushing intruding thoughts out of her mind until she passes out from exhaustion. When she awakes from a dreamless sleep, she checks her phone to see it’s just after 11 A.M. She can’t quite bring herself to get out of bed, not when she can hear Nico rummaging around in the kitchen. That red carpet and all the kissing last night had messed with her neatly stowed away box in her mind that held her feelings for Nico. Those said feelings are threatening to topple over and take control at any moment and the blonde is terrified. She’s convinced herself that avoiding Nico will help file away her emotions and she plans to do so for as long as humanly possible.

She groans to herself when she remembers that the dreaded parent dinner is this evening. So much for avoiding Nico, she has to go out in public and try to convince her mom of this relationship.

For hours, she is lost in thought until she forces herself out of bed to get ready. When Karolina is shampooing her hair in the shower she is sure she can push aside any feelings for Nico. It’s Nico, she tries to remind herself, she can’t have a crush on someone who has always been a constant in her life. When she is blow drying her hair, she thinks about how stubborn Nico is, she surely couldn’t be falling for that. When she places the finishing touches on her makeup, she thinks about how Nico is way too sarcastic and she won’t fall for that. When she finishes getting dressed in a casual dress, the blonde realizes everything that she’s been telling herself today about why she shouldn’t like Nico, is what she likes about Nico. 

And later when Nico gives her a small smile when they get in Karolina’s car to attend dinner and it makes her heart race, all Karolina can think is that she is completely fucked.


 

It doesn’t surprise Karolina that both her parents and Tina Minoru beat them to dinner. All the parents in the Pride are strangely punctual. When the fake couple walks up the table hand in hand, they can see Tina and Leslie having their typical best friend conversations and Frank is looking at his phone.

“Hey,” Nico announces their presence to their unaware parents as she pulls out a seat and motions for Karolina to sit. The blonde gives her a shy smile and sits down in the chair. “What’s the extra chair for? Is dad coming?”

The older Minoru’s already perfect posture straightens, and her face hardens with a frown. She shakes her head, “No, he isn’t. That is not funny, Nico.”

“I wasn’t joking, I was just asking,” the girl defends.

Tina visibly sighs as if to collect her anger and her exterior toughens, “Since you are so curious, it is for your sister.”

“Oh, I didn’t know Amy was coming,” Nico comments with a shrug. She then mutters to herself, “God forbid I’m ever allowed to see my dad.”

Karolina looks at Nico sympathetically and places a comforting hand on top of hers. It’s not a gesture used to sell the point of their fake relationship, but an actual gesture of comfort. Nico’s parents divorce didn’t take an awful toll on her, she always spoke of how unhappy their marriage was, but it’s still hard at times for her. And she can tell Nico is now in a crabby mood, it’s tiny things like that interaction that set her off about the whole ordeal.

It doesn’t take long after that for Amy to show up, and a semi-normal dinner conversation occurs, although Nico is tense most of the time. Karolina’s mom even manages to be civil towards the fake couple. It isn’t until a worker takes away dirtied dinner plates and recognizes Karolina and Nico from a magazine cover that their relationship is even brought up.

When the worker walks away, Karolina looks at her dad and tips her head, “I was on a magazine cover?”

“Yes,” Leslie speaks before Frank can answer, “it was the picture of you, me, and Nico.”

“Ah, you’re welcome for the good publicity,” Nico comments sarcastically. “You know even though you think this is all fake.”

“Nico,” Tina scolds. “Don’t be rude.”

“What? I’m just speaking the truth, ask your bestie, mom she’ll tell you that she doesn’t believe this. She doesn’t even believe Karolina is gay,” the younger Minoru’s voice raises in anger and they catch a few glances from bystanders. The blonde feels the need to sink into her seat at the attention being set on her, especially by Tina Minoru.

“Karolina is this true?” Tina asks, and shushes Leslie when she tries to speak. Karolina gives the woman a tiny nod and she can feel the glares from her mother. “Leslie, I can assure you your daughter is gay, I’ve known for over three years. And our daughters clearly make each other happy, don’t try to diminish that.”

Both Karolina and Nico’s eyebrows nearly shoot into their hairline at Tina disagreeing with Leslie. It has been historic that Leslie and Tina were a dynamic duo that were never to be messed with. They always agreed and were problem solvers, that is until this very moment, which is becoming increasingly awkward. Frank breaks the silence by mumbling about going to the bathroom. Not long after he leaves, and the silence and glares persist, Amy pretends to answer a phone call and rushes outside. With the two buffers of the evening removed, it leaves for Tina leveling Leslie’s glare with a confident smirk and Karolina feeling scrutinized. Something snaps in both of the moms after that, causing them to go into a full-blown argument. An argument that is becoming way too loud and they’re talking about Karolina and Nico like they aren’t even there. Eventually the argument becomes too much for Karolina to watch, so she decides she’s the only one who can stop it.

“She’s never going to change her mind on this. If she’s so set in her values that she doesn’t understand my happiness, then there’s nothing we can do,” Karolina ends up breaking the tension. “I appreciate your support, Mrs. Minoru, and your daughter does make me very happy,” the blonde pauses to look at Nico with a genuine smile. She feels all the tension leave her body when Nico smiles back and squeezes her hand. Karolina can’t wipe the smile off her face for a moment until she speaks again, “When I wake up in the morning, I’m immediately happy, because I know Nico is going to be in my day. She’s the person who is always there for me, she experiences my highs and lows with me. She makes me laugh and she makes me feel important. We balance each other in a way other people don’t understand, and she makes me such a better person because of that. I’m so happy Nico and I have found our way to each other like this. And in the end, that’s all the matters; she’s the girl I’ve been falling for since the day we met.”

Karolina feels her eyes drift back to Nico again after her statement. In the back of her mind, she is screaming at herself that there is way too much truth to her statements. Nico hums and smiles at her, while brushing a finger over her knuckles.

“Shit,” Leslie breathes out and Karolina tears her eyes away from Nico. Her mother is vehemently shaking her head and a look of distress is clearly on her face. Her blue eyes look at Karolina and the younger girl notices how teary they are. The strawberry blonde opens and closes her mouth several times before speaking, “Karolina, I was wrong.”

“What?” The shocked statement falls out of Nico and Karolina’s mouths at the same time.

“You two are dating, I never should’ve thought you weren’t,” Leslie states while shaking her head at herself. “I couldn’t see the truth until now, how you spoke of her, I see how genuine your feelings are.”

It’s her mother’s statements that causes the emergency sirens in Karolina’s head to start blaring. She comes to the body shocking revelation that she wasn’t just acting out this scenario very well, but was speaking from the heart. These feelings for Nico are much deeper and genuine than she thought. They aren’t emotions she can just shove in a tiny box and forget, but something that need to prevalent in the forefront of her mind. She doesn’t just have a crush on Nico, she’s falling in love with her.


 

The rest of the dinner after that seems like it would be much less painfully awkward, but for Karolina she is internally dying at the revelation that just hit her. She realizes her feelings are never something she can act on and its something that would never work. It’s something that would require for Nico to return the sentiment, which she doesn’t. So, when she is forced to sit there, holding Nico’s hand while Tina and Leslie ask questions about their relationship, it’s like rubbing salt into a deep, deadly wound.

Eventually Frank and Amy return around the same time, the blonde wouldn’t be surprised if the pair were hiding together and waiting for the situation to diffuse. She can’t focus on anything happening, she’s too busy freaking out internally while trying to pretend she is completely fine. When the families decide on ordering dessert, Karolina quietly excuses herself to the bathroom.

While wobbling on shaky legs towards the front of the restaurant, she finds herself continuing to walk towards the door instead of turning to use the bathroom. Before she knows it, she is out in the parking lot and unlocking her car. Her body is on autopilot as she slams the door shut behind her and presses her forehead against the steering wheel.

She’s falling in love with her best friend. Her best friend that is unobtainable and has never showed interest in Karolina.

Her chest heaves and tears form at the corners of her eyes. She can’t handle this suffocating truth while in the presence of family and the girl who is unintentionally causing all this heartache. Karolina is panicked and there’s only one thing she can do: she needs to get out of here. So, she turns on her car and does exactly that.

Chapter Text

She doesn’t even remember driving away from the restaurant. It’s like she blacks out and suddenly comes to in the parking lot of Gert’s apartment complex with rap music blaring from her car speakers. Karolina should be concerned for the safety of the road if she doesn’t remember her panicked driving, but her car seems to be in one piece which is all that matters. She didn’t even check to see if Gert was home or if she could come over, the blonde just knew she had nowhere else to go. Going back to her apartment means Nico will eventually be there and reminders of Nico are everywhere, it’s truly the last place she needs to be right now.

The blonde is about to text Gert, when she notices the purple-haired girl walking her pit bull mix named Old Lace that Gert rescued a year ago. The music reverberating through her car must be so loud that Gert can hear it outside the car, because her friend whips her head towards the car and raises a surprised eyebrow when she makes eye contact with Karolina.

Her hands shake as she turns the key and pulls it out of the ignition. The car door beeps as she opens it and her ears ring at the loss of sound of the blaring music. She stands, frozen with her hands resting on the open car door as Gert approaches her.

“What’s up with the surprise visit?” Gert asks when she is within range of the blonde.

Honestly, Karolina doesn’t know what to answer. She doesn’t know why she ended up here, why her brain subconsciously decided to visit Gert. She knows she can’t be honest, she can’t tell Gert she came here in a gay panic about her not-so-surprise feelings for Nico. Karolina sighs and decides to give an answer somewhere in the middle, “Parent dinner was exhausting, I needed to get away.”

“Oh yeah, how’s everything with your mom?” the purple-haired girl asks when Old Lace sits at Karolina’s feet asking for pets.

She rubs the dog’s head and sighs, “Still weird, in the middle of dinner she suddenly decided to be somewhat supportive of my relationship. It was really odd and overwhelming, so I ditched.”

“You can come in,” Gert thumbs over her shoulder. The blonde closes her car door and falls into step with the other girl. “But why didn’t you just go back to your own apartment?”

She exhales and sifts through acceptable responses to give the girl, “Because I may have left Nico at the dinner alone with our parents. And that’s a lot of wrath I’ll be dealing with.” She’s not lying at all, another reason she’s terrified to go home is to face Nico who will likely be pissed.

“Yikes, rookie girlfriend mistake,” Gert chuckles and unlocks the door to the building. “Why did you leave her though, you guys could’ve just ditched the dinner together?”

Karolina knows Gert isn’t intending to make this feel like an interrogation, but her friend is asking all the questions that are intensifying her panic and she’s about to break down. Lying to all her friends and family was hard, but now she is lying to Nico and herself about her feelings, and she feels like she’s bursting at the seams with secrets. Gert gives her a questioning look at her silence when they enter the first-floor apartment. Karolina inhales shakily and her lungs suddenly feel unbearably tight. Her legs are wobbly, and she has to rest against the arm of the couch not to fall over, “To be completely honest, I’m overwhelmed with my feelings for Nico.”

The blonde feels a load of pressure being lifted off her chest at saying the truth. It’s a truth that won’t give away her fake relationship, but still seems legitimate to her friends who believe said lie. Gert unclips Old Lace’s leash and sits on the opposite end of the couch, “Why are you overwhelmed? You two are perfect for each other and have always lowkey had a thing for another.”

The words that are supposed to be comforting cause a tidal wave of anxiety to rush over the blonde. She can’t hear about how Nico is the one for her and always has been, because it makes her heartbeat pick up in false hope. An ugly sob unintentionally rips out of her throat when she desperately tries to inhale. And it’s like the dam holding all her tears in breaks and the floodgates are open. Her mascara begins to stain below her blue eyes as she sobs; Gert moves quickly across the couch to give the blonde a comforting hug. She doesn’t know how long she sobs onto the other girl’s shoulder, but when the tears finally slow and her eyes are exceptionally dry, making her feel tired, she readies herself to respond to Gert.

“I think I’m falling in love with her and I’m terrified of how its going to effect our relationship,” she whispers, and her dry throat causes her voice to crack. She’s being completely honest, and it feels great, even if she’s technically lying by omission.

“I get it, I was terrified when I realized how intense my feelings were for Chase at the beginning of our relationship. It’s something you have to come to terms with by yourself, but that fear you have is completely valid. Love is very scary, because it can make or break you. But you’ve known Nico your whole life, you two better each other, and in one way or another you two have always been in love. Even if it had been platonic love for years, it’s still love and it made you two flourish.” Gert gives her an easy smile and a comforting squeeze on the bicep. “Besides, I see the way she looks at you, and I think she loves you too.”

The blonde nods her head, letting the words sink in. She finds some comfort in Gert’s words and she tries to ignore the pang of hope that shoots through her at Gert’s last statement. She settles on sinking back into the couch and staring at the TV that has the news running. She sighs, “You’re right. Do you care if I stay here for a little bit? Nico is going to be pissed at me, and I want to avoid it for as long as possible.”

Her friend shrugs, “Sure, I’ll just text her now and tell her you’re here and alright so she doesn’t go on a wild goose hunt.” Gert states as she heads into the kitchen.

Karolina nods thankfully and pulls out her iPhone and steadies herself as she presses the home button. She feels a cold sweat form on the back of her neck when she sees six texts from Nico and one text from Amy.

Nico: You’ve been in the bathroom awhile, are you okay?

Nico: Okay getting concerned, I’ll come check in five minutes if you’re still not out.

Nico: You aren’t in the stalls, I checked the parking lot, your car is gone. I’m freaking out, text me so I know you aren’t kidnapped.

Nico: Lied to the parents and said you had to go back to the apartment b/c the food gave you the shits, if you don’t like the lie that’s what you get for ditching.

Nico: Leaving dinner now, and you’re still ignoring me, so I’m asking Amy to track your phone.

Amy Minoru: Nico asked me to track your phone, she told me you’re MIA. I told her you’re at an apartment complex, she said that it’s Gert’s, but please just text her, she’s worried and upset.

Nico: You’re an ass.

Karolina shakes her head at herself for not looking at her phone. Nico was just being a concerned friend and then that concern clearly turned into anger since Karolina ditched her. The blonde is pissed at herself, she can’t blame Nico for being mad. Instead of responding to the messages, she would rather continue avoiding the conflict, so she turns her phone off and throws it onto the coffee table. At that exact moment, Gert walks out from the kitchen with two mugs in hand.

She hands a mug off to Karolina with a soft smile, “In trouble with the missus?”

“That’s an understatement,” she sighs.

Gert chuckles and grabs the remote off the coffee table. She pulls up the Netflix menu and begins scrolling through movies. Karolina snuggles into her seat in the couch, focusing on the movie that begins playing on the screen. She tries to focus on the events happening in the film to avoid her thoughts of Nico. She focuses so hard on the screen that it begins to exhaust her, and she feels herself blinking slower and slower, until her eyes don’t open anymore, and she passes out on Gert’s couch.


 

Karolina startles awake at the sound of a car horn. She sits up quickly and looks around panicked at her unknown surroundings. It takes a moment before she realizes she’s in Gert’s apartment and the horn she heard was from outside the apartment. She looks over and see’s Gert is passed out in her respective corner of the couch. She feels a sense of dread overcome her when she realizes that the sky outside is pitch black and she must’ve slept way longer than intended.

She pulls out her phone and checks the time to see it’s past two in the morning. The several notifications from Nico also catches her eye when she glances at the phone. She jumps to her feet and somehow manages to knock several contents of the coffee table onto the ground.

“Shit, shit, shit,” she mutters as she jumps around with half a shoe on searching for her car keys.

Gert grumbles and sits up, bleary eyed, “What’s going on?”

“I overslept, and Nico is going to kill me,” she spits out as she manages to slip her second shoe on. She uses her phone as a flashlight and finds her car keys underneath the coffee table. “I’m so sorry, I gotta go!”

She races out of the apartment and hears Gert yell good luck after her. When she sees another notification from Nico appear on her screen as she climbs into her car, she knows she needs all the luck she can get.


 

Karolina pulls into her usual parking spot after reaching her apartment in record time. She turns the key in the ignition but doesn’t yet pull the keys out. Her eyes are fixated on the windows of her apartment and she heaves a worried sigh when she sees that the lights are on. She knew the whole ride that Nico was going to be up and angry when she arrived. Nico has always been a night owl and can never fall asleep before 3 AM, Karolina really wishes that Nico broke that routine tonight. With a final sigh, she pulls her keys out and steps out of the car. Her footsteps are slow, and her strides are shortened, she has no desire for this confrontation that she is about to endure.

She creaks open the front door and tries to step in silently, maybe if she is sneaky enough Nico won’t notice her arrival. Karolina barely takes two steps into the foyer when Nico, who is sitting stiffly on the couch, turns to stare at her with a pissed expression.

“Uh, hi,” Karolina chuckles awkwardly.

Nico rolls her eyes so hard Karolina is concerned they’ll fall out of her head, “Hi? Really that’s all you have to say to me?”

The blonde toes off her shoes and cringes when she says, “How are you?”

Her best friend shoots up off the couch and wildly gesticulates with her arms, “Seriously? Fuck off, Karolina.”

Karolina is taken aback, nobody has ever told her to ‘fuck off’ in an angry manner. She would never expect something like her best friend to say that to her. A spark of anger lights deep in her gut, “Okay, I know I’m in the wrong here, but you have no right to tell me to fuck off.”

“I think when you ditch me at dinner with both of our parents and have me worried you’ve been kidnapped because you’re unreachable is a good enough reason to tell you to fuck off.” Nico seethes. The shorter girl frowns and starts stalking towards Karolina and the blonde has never seen her so angry, “So, fuck off.”

Karolina rolls her eyes at that and brushes past the girl who is approaching her, “Real mature, Nico.”

“You’re just going to walk away from me,” Nico yells at her back.

The blonde ignores the girl and keeps heading for her bedroom. She just wants to change out of this dress and she is feeling both pissed off and incredibly guilty at the same time. She only makes into the mouth of the hallway before Nico intercepts her by lightly grabbing her shoulder. She huffs and turns around the face the other girl. She notices that the girl’s face is clear of makeup and behind her seething frown she can see the worry in her eyes. She must’ve freaked her out so much.

“I’m sorry I left, I just needed to get out of there,” Karolina apologizes.

“If you wanted to leave, why didn’t you just tell me? You didn’t have to ditch me,” Nico responds staring down on her feet. Her posture is slouched, and her soft tone emanates hurt and Karolina feels guilt settle deep into her bones. She didn’t only piss off Nico, she did something much worse; she hurt her, which she never has wanted to do.

Karolina knows she’s been an awful friend tonight, but she can’t be honest with Nico. She can’t tell her that she left the dinner because she was overwhelmed by her feelings for the girl. Karolina will make sure Nico never discovers her feelings for her. So, she does the only thing that makes sense, she lies, “I just needed to be alone. It’s my mom, she’s just too much to handle.”

“If you needed to be alone, that’s valid, I guess,” Nico scowls. “But that doesn’t give you any excuse to ditch me there, I had to get a Lyft back and lie to our parents about it. And it definitely doesn’t give you an excuse to ignore me all night and show up in the butt fuck middle of the night.”

Karolina feels her body shrink in on itself as Nico’s voice elevates throughout her sentence, tone laced with anger. The guilt she feels resonates deeply in her core and she frowns at herself, “Nico, I’m sorry.”

“No, Karolina if you were actually sorry you would’ve been back like four hours ago, not trying to sneak back in the middle of the night. You’re being a fucking coward, Karolina,” Nico yells.

The blonde’s jaw drops at the insult. All the guilt in her body dissipates and turns into full fledged anger. Sure, her and Nico have had arguments in the past, but they were tiny tiffs, nothing like this. Nothing that made all the blood rush into Karolina’s face and maker her feel like she is going to boil over in anger and steam will come out of her ears if she doesn’t scream. No matter how in the wrong Karolina was, Nico has no right to call her a coward.

“A coward?” Karolina exclaims, her voice echoing against the high ceilings.

“You heard me,” Nico crosses her arms and gives her a smug dirty look.

Karolina stares down at the girl, using her height to make her feel bigger and meaner. Nico’s words sting and ignite a fire in her, “You know what, you’re a cruel, bitter person, Nico. And your words hurt.” She shoulders past Nico, racing towards the front door. Her heartbeat is echoing in her ears and she needs to scream she is so angry. She needs to get away from Nico.

“Oh, did I hurt your feelings?” Nico mocks. “Too bad I don’t give a shit.”

Karolina chuckles to herself as she nears the foyer, “Of course you don’t, you only care about yourself. You don’t give a shit about anyone. I ditched you at dinner and you’re making it all about yourself.”

“Who is it supposed to be about? You? I’m just not supposed to be angry at you being a shitty friend?” Nico continues to mock and follows her footsteps closely. Karolina grits her teeth and slides her shoes on, searching for her keys that she just set down a few moments ago. Nico is being a stubborn ass, and she knows her friend won’t let up until they are both hurt beyond recognition. And she’s letting Nico’s words get to her, she is on the verge of completely losing it, and the usually smiley girl needs to get out of here before she becomes someone she doesn’t recognize. “Oh nice, Karolina, you’re just going to run away again.”

“I’m leaving because you’re being mean, Nico,” Karolina says through clenched teeth, keeping her back to the girl. Nico chuckles mockingly and the blonde can tell the other girl is barely standing a foot behind from how the laugh travels to her ears. She can’t turn around, she can’t trust herself for what she’ll say.

“No, Karolina you run away from all your problems. You ran away at dinner tonight, because you were overwhelmed by your mom. And let’s not forget how you ran out of your dinner with your parents when you came out. That’s what you do Karolina, you run away like a coward,” the lilt to Nico’s voice is so teasing and cruel.

She spins around on her heel, finding the shorter girl standing incredibly close that it disarms her for a moment. Only a tiny moment though, because she’s yelling her response in a matter of milliseconds, “Don’t you dare bring my parents into this. You know how much my mom has hurt me.”

“You can’t hide behind the shitty things that happen to you and use it as a defense for being a shitty person,” Nico stares up at her red in the face.

Karolina takes a breath, she feels like she’s on fire. She swallows, “Nico, stop! Shut up!”

“Why don’t you make me?” Nico challenges.

The blonde continues to stare down at her and she realizes her chest is heaving. So is Nico’s. With the angry fire boiling over in her gut, she realizes how close in proximity Nico is to her. The heat from the other girl’s body is radiating to her and she can see just how dilated Nico’s pupils are right now. Karolina looks at her best friend’s face, the angriest she’s ever been at her. She stares into the face of the girl that is causing her so much anger and the girl that she is falling in love with. Their angry breaths and glares are charged, and Karolina needs to shut Nico up.

She grabs onto Nico’s sides, spinning her smoothly and pressing the shorter girl against the wall and quickly following to press her lips against hers. For a moment, behind the haze of the anger, she worries Nico will shove her off, disgusted. That moment is quickly over with Nico’s response of eagerly kissing the blonde back.

The other girl’s kisses are fierce, she’s all tongue and teeth. Nico kisses her as if she’s marking her mouth as her own. She’s angry, Karolina can taste that. And despite the blonde having Nico pinned to the wall, she feels completely out of control as the other girl kisses her aggressively. She feels Nico’s hands everywhere, her entire body coming to life. Those hands are moving all over her dress like a second set of skin, and every inch of her body burns in its wake. She barely even notices that Nico is backing her up until she stumbles slightly. Luckily the wall that meets Karolina’s back steadies her.

Nico pulls back, and their shaky breaths mingle for a moment, before their lips crash back together again. She feels like she’s in the fight for her life, as her and Nico kiss each other, fighting for control. Her chest is heaving against the other girl’s, her lower back arched off the wall. Her head feels dizzy, her lungs aching and depleted of oxygen, but she refuses to ever stop this.

The shorter girl pulls back again and Karolina gulps in air like someone came up from drowning. Drowning is a good analogy for how she feels, because in a moment all the oxygen is sucked from her lungs again when Nico’s lips attach onto her neck. She hears a thud and after a moment realizes it was her own head falling back and hitting the wall. As Nico’s scorching lips drag their way down her neck, toeing at the edge of the neckline of the blonde’s dress, she grips onto the other girl’s oversized t-shirt for purchase.

When she feels like she’s absolutely going to melt into a puddle from the line of bruises Nico likely left on her neck, the other girl finally pulls away and their eyes meet for the first time since the kiss. Brown eyes are darkened with pupils so dilated they’re almost completely erasing the iris. Nico’s bun is disheveled, random hairs falling out making her look like a full course meal. Their chests continue to bump into each other from their heaving. When Nico’s hand comes up to touch Karolina’s face and her eyes flutter close at the contact she comes to the realization that she must have this girl in front of her.

Her hands that are holding the fabric of Nico’s shirt in her fists begin to tug upwards, and the shorter girl quickly catches on, stepping back to pull the sleep shirt off. Blue eyes bounce around, focusing on the new display of skin in front of her, trying to not stare to much, bouncing to looking down at her feet, then back up to Nico’s brown eyes.

In a second, lips are on hers again and the hunger in her gut spreads. She feels a hand tracing her side, along her ribcage until the zipper on her dress is grabbed and pulled down. Nico steps back, giving her a seductive look, that makes Karolina’s lungs collapse and her stomach clench. Her dress pools at her ankles and she steps out of it, feeling scrutinized as Nico eyes her. She should be freezing, half naked in this apartment that always has AC running, but she feels overheated as eyes trace over every inch of her skin on display.

Nico’s mouth is hanging open and a sense of smugness overcomes the blonde. She chuckles and uses it as an advantage to get the upper hand. She backs Nico up, with a leading hand placed on the girl’s sternum. Heading into the direction that she thinks is near the closest bedroom. Karolina is so intently focused on Nico, they only manage to make it into the hallway leading to the bedrooms before they bump into a wall and fall into one another again.

Nico’s back is pressed against a decorating table and Karolina is taking her turn marking the girl’s neck. In the silence of their apartment, besides the intermingling of uneven breaths, Nico lets out a loud groan that echoes in the hallway. The noise only motivates Karolina more, as her hands begin to get a mind of their own, traveling over Nico’s body, as she pushes in even closer to the girl.

Her mind is a whirlwind, all her senses engulfed by Nico. The girl has singlehandedly lit all of Karolina’s nerve endings on fire. She is so caught up in the moment that when she hears a nearby crash, it scares the living shit out of her. She jumps away from Nico, rebounding off the parallel wall. Her eyes are focused on Nico who is panting with wide eyes, looking a bit ridiculous in a bra and sweats. The blonde then notices, shards of a vase, that used to reside on the table they were against, broken all over the floor.

It’s that loud crash that tears Karolina out of the moment and it feels like a bucket of ice-cold water has been poured over her head. Her mouth is gaping, and she tries hiding her bare stomach with her arms when she realizes the situation she’s in. She was about to have sex with her best friend that she’s falling in love with. They’re both stone cold sober and would’ve gone through with it if it weren’t for the shattered vase on the floor.

The same thought must cross Nico’s mind, because the other girl is soon blushing and covering herself the same as Karolina. The blonde doesn’t trust her voice or herself, so she stumbles into her bedroom and slams the door shut behind her. In a panicked state, she tears through her closet and throws on a pair of shorts and a tank top. Emerging from the closet, she presses her ear against her door, listening for sounds of Nico. When she hears nothing, she heads out, ready to clean up the crushed vase that just saved her from making a grave mistake.


 

Nico Minoru lays supine on her mattress staring at the ceiling. Her mind reels with memories of whatever the fuck just happened with Karolina out in the hallway. She tries to suppress the thought of what would’ve happened if they didn’t break that vase. It leaves little to imagine what would’ve happened, she was going to sleep with her best friend. Her best friend that is the most important person in her life that she refuses to lose, especially over making a stupid mistake like sleeping with her. They already crossed the lines that were blurred to hell and she doesn’t know how they’ll recover.

The pair have no reasoning for that kiss. It was not in a public setting, so they didn’t need to do it to show affection for their fake relationship. And neither of them has the excuse of being drunk. They have no excuses for that kiss, and Nico has herself to blame. Sure, she was pissed at Karolina for ditching her at dinner, but she shouldn’t have started a screaming match, because that anger mixed with the electric feeling she gets when she’s near Karolina turned into something explosive. A kiss so explosive it led to a point of no return. Nico doesn’t know how they can come back from this. Nico doesn’t know how she can cover up her feelings and think of a valid excuse for why she was pinning Karolina up against a wall and taking her dress off.

The tiniest part of Nico hopes that Karolina meant it when she kissed her. She hopes that it means Karolina has feelings burning as deep as hers do. But Nico quickly suppresses that thought, there is no way that’s the case.

Nico likes to call herself a realist, most others would call her a pessimist. In Nico’s mind the two are the same thing, the world is such a bad place and bad things happen all the time, pessimistic ideals tend to be the reality. So, Nico hones in on her realist mentality to remind herself that the kiss with Karolina meant nothing. Karolina probably kissed her because she egged her on to do it by telling her to make her shut up. She’s sure the only reason it got so far was because they were both so mad.

She’s seen what love can do to people. She thought her dad loved her mom, then he cheated on her with a family friend and is now marrying his mistress. Love leads to inevitable heartbreak and will burn everything good to ashes. Karolina is her best friend and because of that she’s the best thing in her life. She refuses to let her developing feelings and inability to keep it in her pants ruin that. Nico will do whatever it takes so her friendship with Karolina isn’t ruined, even if it means causing herself endless emotional harm.


 

She doesn’t sleep at all. Nico eventually climbs out of bed at eight AM. She knows Karolina Dean like the back of her hand, and the girl is likely awake right now and won’t come out of her bedroom until noon to try to avoid Nico. She is going to make sure that Karolina doesn’t avoid her, she needs to talk with the girl and set everything straight.

She passes time by brushing her teeth, showering, and doing her make up. When the blonde still isn’t out of her room after that hour and a half routine, Nico takes to cleaning the apartment. The shattered vase that Nico is sincerely thankful for, is gone. The floor is pristine, and she knows Karolina went back out and cleaned it last night.

Her heart beat quickens when she is vacuuming, and she sees her shirt and Karolina’s dress scattered and wrinkled in the foyer. All the blood rushes to her face at the memories and flashes of half-naked Karolina Dean flash behind her eyes and she can’t move for a minute. She eventually shakes herself out of her thoughts and calls herself a perv. She picks up the clothes and crosses the apartment to throw them in the hamper in the laundry room. She reminds herself that she’s seen Karolina in bikinis before, so last night is no different and she really needs to stop perving on her best friend in her mind.

Deep cleaning the apartment helps clear her mind of her repetitive thoughts. It also manages to kill a good two hours. When she’s done cleaning, she sits on the couch in the living room, giving her a good vantage point of Karolina’s doorway in case the other girl tries to sneak out. She only has to wait a half hour until the blonde emerges from the bedroom with a messy side braid and a giant yawn erupting from her.

Nico feels a tiny smile form on her mouth at how cute tired Karolina looks. Then she forces herself out of her thoughts and focuses on the mission ahead. The blonde stops in her tracks when she makes eye contact with Nico.

“Oh, hello,” Karolina awkwardly mutters.

Nico takes a breath, steadying herself. She tries to channel her inner Tina Minoru. She has half of the woman’s DNA and she is the most calculated person she’s ever met. And that’s how she has to be right now.

“We need to talk about last night,” she speaks evenly with her eyes pointed on the ground.

“Yeah,” Karolina drags the word out. The taller girl crosses her arms in front of her stomach, giving Nico a flashback of the night before when Karolina did the exact same action to try and cover herself.

“We took it too far,” Nico starts. She focuses on remembering the speech she’s been planning out for the last eight hours. “When we started this thing, you made a little contract and one of our rules is this can’t affect our friendship. I fear that we’ve affected it greatly. We fought last night, we never fight Karolina. I screamed at you and was cruel and I think it’s because this whole fake dating thing is putting a lot of stress on us.”

She stops to chance eye contact with Karolina. Nico thinks it’s in her head, but those blue eyes look watery and Karolina is just standing there frozen. She ignores the pang in her chest and persists.

“And then we both know what happened after the fight,” she gestures to the foyer.

“What are you saying then?” Karolina’s shaky voice interrupts her.

Nico can’t bring herself to look into the blonde’s eyes because she can feel her own heart breaking. She stares at the wooden floor and speaks slowly, “I would say we should end the fake relationship, but with your mom and the media it wouldn’t go well. I’m willing to keep doing this but we need to set strong boundaries.

“No more kissing, that’s what got us into this whole mess. PDA can just be hand holding and arm around the shoulder stuff. I say we ride this out until after the family vacation and we can amicably fake break up.”

The room is silent, so silent she can hear the shakiness to Karolina’s inhales. She eventually looks over at Karolina who has an unreadable expression. She waits patiently until the other girl nods her head slowly, “Um, I agree. Good plan. I am sorry about last night by the way. I’m sorry for all of it.”

“Me too,” Nico sighs out.

It’s suffocating in the room. Karolina’s eyes are anywhere but Nico, and Nico can feel herself dying on the inside. Her words and this plan sting, she’s hurting herself. She’s breaking her own heart before Karolina Dean can do it herself. After a few more seconds that feel like years, Nico mutters a shitty excuse and races out of the apartment. She keeps walking until she’s crossing to the other side of the road and it finally feels like she can breathe. The oxygen rushes back into her lungs and a sob breaks through. She sinks down to the ground with her head in her hands as her heart is smashed to pieces by her own actions.

Chapter Text

By the time Nico makes it back to the apartment on wobbly legs, Karolina is gone without a trace. Her car is missing from the parking lot and the inside of her home feels empty and cold. Her eyes are dried out from the tears and her limbs feel like they’ve been filled with lead. She doesn’t bother to text the girl asking of her whereabouts, she knows she would get no response.

The girl collapses onto the couch and she feebly attempts to push away all thoughts of Karolina. She tries to ignore how much it hurts to think of Karolina and how her heart is breaking beyond repair. Unfortunately, she cannot stop the intrusive thoughts. Which is how she ends up staring at the ceiling while throwing herself a pity party.

The exhaustion of staying up all night and violently crying eventually sets into Nico’s bones. After staring at the ceiling for only a few minutes, she finds herself falling into a deep sleep.


 

She awakens to her phone ringing loudly right next to her ear. Through bleary eyes she sees that Karolina is calling her. She ignores the call and the screen shows an influx of incoherent text messages from the blonde. Most of the messages look like someone just banged on a keyboard then wrote the words “best friend” sporadically. She rolls her eyes, of course Karolina is getting drunk. She notices that it is 8:00 PM and is surprised to see that Karolina is already so drunk so early in the evening.

Her phone rings again, she sees Karolina’s name inscribed at the top of the screen. She wrestles with her thoughts on if she should or shouldn’t answer. Eventually she picks it up on the last ring.

“Hello,” she says.

“Hi, is this Nico?” A deep male voice says.

The girl straightens up in concern for the wellbeing of her friend, “Yes, who is on Karolina’s phone?”

“The bartender at Atlas. Your friend has been here drinking my whole shift, I eventually cut her off about an hour ago, but she seems to have been sneaking drinks on the dance floor, because she’s even worse than before. I was going to throw her out, but she can’t even stand. She keeps asking for you, is there any way you can come get her? Or at least order her an Uber or Lyft?” the man rambles.

Nico is already on her feet throwing on a pair of shoes and reaching for the door handle, “Yes, I’m on my way.”

As she stands on the sidewalk outside waiting for her Lyft, she ponders the correlation of Karolina’s drunkenness and their fight last night. She feels a rush of guilt that her cruel words were likely the cause of this. A tiny black car pulls up to her and she climbs into the backseat. She anxiously fiddles with her phone for the duration of the ten-minute car ride. The seconds tick by slowly and she practically throws herself out of the car before it has even stopped.

She hands her ID to the bouncer outside the dive bar, luckily there isn’t a line to get in because it’s still early. When she walks past the threshold, she is hit with the scent of stale beer and sweat. She wrinkles her nose in disgust and squints in the darkly lit room. Shitty music is playing too loudly for only being 8:00 PM and she moves quickly to get Karolina, so she can leave. When she approaches the bar, she finally sees her. Her head is slumped onto the bar and she looks so small. She isn’t even sure if the girl is conscious and she frowns to herself when that persistent guilt presses deeper in her gut.

Nico places a light hand on Karolina’s back, “Hey, it’s me. How are you doing?”

The only response she gets is incoherent grumbling. A short man with dark hair spots her from behind the bar and rushes over to her, “Hi, are you Nico?” She nods, and he reaches under the bar for something, “Here are her car keys.”

She snatches them and presses the cool metal against her palm, “Thanks for looking out for her.”

He nods kindly and she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a twenty-dollar bill to slide into his tip jar. She rubs a hand along her best friend’s back, Karolina has yet to pick her head up from the bar and she’s genuinely worried she will have to take the girl to the hospital. “Karolina, it’s Nico. Do you think you can pick your head up for me?”

“Nicoooo,” the word is slurred into the grimy bar countertop. After her name is slurred out, a series of grumbles follow.

The girl sighs to herself in some irritation and brings a hand up to the girl’s blonde head. She attempts to stroke her hair comfortingly, she’s never been good at that type of thing and she just feels creepy doing it. “Look at me, Karolina.”

The blonde heaves a sigh and tosses her head back with such force it would send her drunk body flying off the bar stool if Nico didn’t secure an arm around her waist in time. It leaves Nico in a precarious situation where her face is unintentionally too close to Karolina’s. It gives her a bunch of flashbacks of the night before, causing her stomach to tighten and her cheeks to redden at the memory. A dopy smile covers Karolina’s mouth and her blue eyes are unfocused and foggy, “My night and shining witch. I told that bartender call my Nico, she’s my bestest.”

Nico pushes away the way her stomach swoops when Karolina says, ‘my Nico,’ because she knows its just drunken rambling. She straightens her posture and grabs ahold of Karolina’s hand, such a tiny gesture that still increases her heartrate. “Do you think you can stand?” The other girl gives her a messy nod. With some slight maneuvering she is able to get the other girl onto her feet and they manage to walk out of the bar with little to no problems. 

The brisk air bites at her skin as the dilapidated doors of the bar swing open from her booted heel kicking it open. To her luck, the wind causes Karolina’s neck to straighten and for her body to de-slump slightly. Nico grunts as she finishes their final stretch to Karolina’s car sitting in the parking lot. She’s thankful the paparazzi has finally stopped caring so intensely about the pair, because nobody is taking a picture of her practically dragging Karolina out of the bar.

She places firm hands on the taller girl’s hips and presses her back to the car as she fiddles with the lock. When the blonde begins to lose the ability to stand, she pushes her own body closer to keep the girl upright. The car clicks unlocked, and Nico turns her head towards Karolina when she notices how close the pair are and that she has pinned the girl up against the car, sending her wildly vivid flashbacks of her pinning a half-naked Karolina against the wall last night. It makes Nico more embarrassed than anything, she is trying to help her drunk best friend and her brain is still fixated on the night before.

“Just get over it, Nico,” the short girl mumbles to herself as she yanks the passenger door open. With some slight shoving, she manages to get the blonde into the seat. She lifts her legs and reaches across the girl to buckle her in. When she begins pulling back to get her upper body out of the car, a sloppy hand is slapped onto her cheek.

“Thank you, Nico,” Karolina slurs and the stench of vodka on her breath is so strong it could make Nico drunk. The blonde pinches her cheek like a grandmother would, “You’re so adorable, ugh, does anyone tell you that?”

Her brown eyes roll nearly out of her head, “Yeah my grandmother when I was about four.” She steps back and closes the door behind her.

She moves quickly into the driver’s seat after reaching into Karolina’s messy backseat to grab an old paper McDonalds bag. The shorter girl shoves the bag into the blonde’s hands, “If you puke, aim in here.”

The blonde attempts to salute her then plants her face into the opening of the bag with a huff. She gives the blonde a once over and turns the key in the ignition. The first half of the ride is relatively silent albeit some sporadic hiccupping from the passenger.

“Food!” Karolina screams. Her scream is so loud it nearly pierces Nico’s right eardrum and the surprise almost makes her swerve off the road. She let’s out an irritated sigh but realizes drunk Karolina will never let up if Nico deprives her of a drunken meal.

“Where from?” She responds.

“McDonalds,” the blonde lifts her head out of the bag with a dopey smile, “this bag smells so good.”

Luckily, they’re in LA so there’s a McDonalds a few lights up the street. When she’s waiting in the obscenely long drive thru line, she regrets handing Karolina the paper bag that ignited her desire to go to the fast food chain. Karolina mutters a few nonsensical words for the duration of the wait. When the bored worker hands her the order, Karolina snatches it out of Nico’s hand and is shoving chicken nuggets into her mouth within seconds. They aren’t even out of the parking lot and half of the contents of the nuggets are gone.

Nico’s eyes catch Karolina’s when she is looking to make a turn, the blue eyes are squinty and hazy, they squint even more when the blonde gives her a smile with a chicken nugget hanging out of her mouth. It’s so ridiculous and so adorable that it causes the shorter girl to smile back, even though she should be irritated with her belligerently drunk friend.

“I think I’m in,” Karolina states suddenly when she comes up for air. Nico turns her head slightly when the blonde doesn’t continue her statement. Karolina’s head is resting on the window and she is staring at Nico with a handful of fries clutched in her left hand.

The raven-haired girl raises an eyebrow, “You think what?”

Karolina shakes her head and reaches for her drink to take a long sip. She let’s out an exhale when she sets the cup down, “That Sprite is crisp.” She let’s out a low whistle and Nico smirks to herself at Karolina’s endearing antics.

The blonde stays silent for the rest of their ride, she munches on her fries and bobs her head to an imaginary song in her head. Nico pulls into the blonde’s designated parking spot and moves quickly out of the car to retrieve Karolina. She unbuckles the other girl and pulls her out of the seat. Long arms encase her body and squeeze her as Karolina embraces Nico. Nico reciprocates the hug in earnest, she knows Karolina is a touchy drunk, the girl hugging her is nothing to think of. “Love you,” is grumbled into her ear and Nico’s body stiffens.

Being Karolina Dean’s best friend for thirteen years entails touchy moments and the blonde always telling her she loved her. It was a thing Karolina does with a lot of her friends. Something very typical of girls to do when they’re friends, especially when they’re drunk. So, when Karolina nonchalantly says she loves Nico, the shorter girl knows she’s saying it in a best friend way and nothing more. And somehow those two words sting Nico to her core, because she knows Karolina sees her as a friend and nothing more. The casual friendship declaration of love implements such fact. Nico pretends it doesn’t hurt her as she painfully smiles at the blonde and leads them into their apartment.

She manages to get Karolina to change into pajamas on her own, then she places the tall girl on her side in her bed with a bucket sitting on the floor. She places a water bottle with medication next to it. When she flips the lights off to Karolina’s room, the blonde is already snoring loudly. Nico ignores the way it all makes her heart ache.


 

Nico wakes up late the next morning. As she shuffles out of bed and heads towards the kitchen, she assumes Karolina is still passed out in her bed. When she walks into the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee, she finds Karolina laying prone on the tiled kitchen floor. She lets out a chuckle to herself and lightly toes at the girl’s back. She gets a groan in response.

“Good, you’re still alive,” she muses as she measures out coffee beans.

“Barely,” Karolina groans.

Nico waits for the coffee to brew, then pours herself a mug. She slides down onto the floor, back resting against the cabinet as she gazes at the blonde on the floor. Her cheek is pressed against the tile and her eyes are squeezed shut.

“Aw, it’s your first hangover,” Nico coos.

“I hate you,” the blonde mumbles.

“I’m surprised you’re up,” she states. “Do you want coffee? It will help,” Karolina crinkles her nose in response. “Well you at least need to eat.”

“I can’t even think about food.” The blonde mumbles, then her face turns in disgust, “Wait, did you let me get McDonalds last night?”

“I would never deny a drunk Karolina Dean food,” Nico chuckles.

The blonde squeezes her eyes shut and presses her forehead against the cool floor. On instinct, Nico finds herself reaching her right hand down to squeeze the blonde’s outstretched hand. The taller girl is too hungover to even notice the action, and it takes a moment of the soft contact of Karolina’s skin to make Nico realize she acted without thinking. She unnecessarily and unconsciously touched the other girl’s hand. She drops it like she’s been burned and forces herself onto her feet.

“If you aren’t going to eat, at least shower and go back to sleep. Laying on the floor isn’t going to help,” she states and begins to head out of the kitchen.

She hears the blonde shuffling, then in a soft tone, “Hey Nico?” The girl spins around and see’s Karolina swaying on her feet, with raging bed head and blood shot eyes. “Thank you for helping me last night, I’m glad to have you in my life. And I’m really sorry I ditched you the other night and everything got out of hand.”

“I’m sorry too, I didn’t mean any of the awful stuff I said,” she gives her a half smile. Karolina returns the gesture and Nico begins backpedaling towards the living room, “Also, you’re now indebted to me. Next time I get hammered, you have to help take care of me.”

Karolina chuckles weakly, “Ha, will do. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to lay on our shower floor for a few hours.”


 

Karolina stays true to her word. The girl disappears into the bathroom for two hours and then emerges from the steamed bathroom only to escape to her bedroom for a nap. Nico spends the duration of that time curled up on the couch watching Netflix. It’s almost therapeutic for her, she gets to spend several hours without the subject of her thoughts over the last few weeks sitting right next to her.

Nico’s about to start the fourth episode of The Haunting of Hill House, when her phone begins to vibrate incessantly. She ignores the nuisance until she finishes the episode, the annoying phone becomes too much, and she turns her attention to her screen. She rolls her eyes when the glowing notifications on the screen are all from the group chat titled Pride Kids, Cooler Group Name: Pending. She hates group chats with all her heart, it causes an unnecessary amount of notifications and can just be obnoxious. And when there are people in the group like the Pride kids that feel the need to send something in four different texts that could easily be sent in one concise text, it causes for an influx of notifications. She huffs and scrolls to where the conversation began about an hour ago, skimming for the gist of the conversation.

Alex Wilder: Hey guys, I just got back to LA for the summer. Pride kids hangout tonight?

The responses entail affirmations from everyone but her and Karolina. She rolls her eyes when she sees Gert and Amy’s response to Karolina and Nico’s lack of participation in the chat.

Amy: Karolina and Nico we are waiting on you to get this hangout started.

Gert: They’re probably too BUSY.

Gert: and by busy, I mean banging.

Amy: I almost puked on my screen, that’s my little sister. Disgusting.

Nico: That’s false, I’ve just been ignoring you’re annoying asses.

She pushes herself off the couch, grumbling to herself. Nico knocks lightly on Karolina’s door, before pushing it open. In her giant bed, Karolina looks so small, she’s wrapped tightly in the blankets in the center of the bed. Only her blonde hair is visible, emerging from the cocoon of blankets. She gingerly sits on the edge of the bed, nudging at the other girl’s shoulder.

“How are you feeling?” Nico questions when the blonde stirs and looks up at her with slightly less bloodshot eyes.

Karolina yawns, “Better. What’s up?”

“The Pride kids are blowing up our phones. Everyone wants to hangout tonight,” she says.

The blonde looks at her phone and her eyebrows raise comically at the notifications. Her blue eyes trace every detail of the chat until her thumbs begin moving rapidly on the screen, causing Nico’s phone to vibrate with a new notification from Karolina in the chat.

Karolina: Ignore her, she’s crabby. We’d love to hangout tonight! You guys could come over to our apartment!

Her phone begins to roll in more notifications and she groans as people begins pestering on what time. Karolina eventually decides on a few hours from now. Nico shoves herself off the bed, “I guess I need to go get ready then. Maybe we should order food and go get alcohol for everyone?”

“Don’t say alcohol,” the blonde groans as she sits up.

Nico chuckles and exits the room. After taking a quick shower and styling her hair, Nico spends a good twenty minutes covering up the hickey that Karolina had left on her neck the other night. It requires multiple coats of foundation and the dark shade is still slightly visible underneath it all. She strategically uses a few strands of hair to cover the spot. She knows she’s being a bit extra with covering up the mark, but she knows if any of the Pride kids see it, they will tease her endlessly. And Nico really wishes that the night with Karolina is never brought up again.

When her makeup is completed to her satisfaction, Nico makes a quick run to buy some food and alcohol that are typically a must for their hangouts. By the time she gets back to the apartment with arms full of plastic bags and pizza boxes stacked to her chin, she finds Karolina sitting in the living room with Amy, Alex, and Molly. She yells out a hello and rushes into the kitchen to set everything down.

She heads out into the living room with a glass of water in hand, she hands it to Karolina who smiles at her in thanks. Nico slouches down in an empty seat next to the blonde. The taller girl smiles at her and holds her hand out, which Nico grabs a hold of. A rush of heat covers her cheeks and she looks away quickly from the other girl.

“Gert and Chase are late?” she asks. Nico receives a collection of nods and she cracks a smile. “Ha, I wonder why.”

Molly’s face turns in a scowl, “Ew.”

“Now you know how I feel when they’re all gross,” Amy laughs and gestures at Karolina and Nico.

“Yeah, I’ve only read about this online. How did this all happen?” Alex asks.

Nico lets out a sigh of relief, earlier today she had been slightly concerned about seeing Alex after all this. She was worried it may be awkward for her ex that she’s on cordial terms with. The raven-haired girl gives a nod to Karolina who gives the sparknotes version of their fake relationship to the group.

Alex nods when it’s over, “Hm, to be honest I’m not surprised.”

“Exactly what I said,” Amy pipes in.

“Yeah, neither was I,” Molly adds.

Nico rolls her eyes, “Clearly they knew about our feelings before we even knew, Karolina.” The group chuckles and the girl forces a laugh out. She knows that her statement is not even acting but the whole truth. Apparently, she’s had feelings for Karolina, before she even knew about it, but it was blatantly obvious to everyone else. She risks a glance at the blonde who has a wide smile on her face and her heart echoes against her ribs, she doesn’t know how it took her so long to realize how she felt. She looks away quickly and reminds herself that the pertinent feelings need to be ignored.

“Does anyone want pizza while it’s still hot? We don’t need to wait for Gert and Chase, who knows how long they’ll be,” Nico speaks before her fake relationship is brought up again.

Molly jumps to her feet and grumbles to herself about her sister’s tardiness. Amy and Alex follow shortly behind into the kitchen. Once they’re out of sight, Nico drops Karolina’s hand.

“That barely took any convincing,” Nico states quietly.

“To them, we’re basically married,” Karolina jokes.

“Well they’re going to be heartbroken when their moms get divorced,” Nico shrugs.

She is met with silence and she eventually looks over at Karolina who hasn’t responded. The blonde notices her staring and gives her a sideways glance with an unreadable expression on her face. Karolina gives her a weak chuckle and stands up, “I’m gonna go get pizza. Want anything?”

Nico nods her head and Karolina quickly exits into the kitchen. She fiddles with the TV remote, looking for an appropriate show to put on. She eventually decides on a random sitcom when the group emerges from the kitchen with dinner on paper plates.

Karolina sits next to the girl and hands Nico a plate of food, which she gratefully accepts. Selling their relationship to the group of their friends is easy. It’s the endless teasing that is difficult for Nico. Throughout the duration of dinner, she finds herself glaring at Amy who keeps poking fun at the couple.

By the time they finish eating, Gert and Chase finally make an exceptionally late appearance. Nico is thankful, because the teasing is shifted to the late couple and her and Karolina are shoved out of the stressful spotlight. Chase only meets the group’s teasing with a smirk.

Soon after their arrival, the group decides on playing Monopoly, except they play with a drinking twist. It’s been a ritual for their hangouts ever since their parents forced them to play board games during pride meetings as kids, which eventually led to them sneaking into the liquor cabinet and making the game extra fun. They immediately pair off (in order to make the game go by faster) into groups of two, Gert happily sitting out of the “capitalist greedy game.” The pairs are: Amy and Alex, Chase and Molly, and Karolina and Nico. Karolina and Nico have always been a pair for this game, Karolina’s calm demeanor usually grounds Nico when she gets too competitive.

After about an hour, Chase and Molly are out of the game and it comes down to the two pairs. Karolina and Nico own most of the properties and Alex and Amy’s bank is dwindling.

Amy shakes a pair of dice after making Alex blow on the dice for good luck, and Nico is red in the face yelling at her sister to distract her. It’s likely the alcohol coursing through her veins that is causing her behavior. Nico and Karolina both have had their fair share of drinks from unfortunately getting sent to jail various times, making them chug their drinks to be released.

“Amy, roll a four so you land on our Boardwalk and lose. That way you can go back home and hang out with our mother. The sooner the better,” Nico teases.

Amy rolls her eyes, unphased, “I’m spending the night here again and you know it.”

Karolina chuckles at the interaction and Nico looks over at the girl. Somehow throughout the duration of the drinking game, Nico has been scooting closer and closer to the girl. As a courtesy for their fake relationship, Karolina’s arm has been resting on the couch behind Nico for the whole game. But as the pair became drunker and drunker, Nico has effectively pressed their sides together and has her hand casually resting on the insides of the blonde’s knee. Karolina’s arm has made its way tight around Nico’s shoulders and she unconsciously traces a finger on Nico’s bicep.

Amy rolls a ten and Nico groans as Amy and Alex’s piece makes it past the property on the board that would bankrupt them. Her older sister sticks her tongue out mockingly and gives Nico the finger. Karolina rolls the dice, making them land on the ‘Chance’ spot. The blonde pulls a card that states “Go to Jail.”

“Okay, this means business,” Nico announces.

“Please don’t flip the board,” Karolina pleads.

She rolls her eyes and grabs at Karolina wrist to pull a spare ponytail off. The alcohol and large number of people in the room are making her exceptionally hot. She quickly undoes her hair style and pulls her hair up into a messy bun.

“That’s you’re fifth time in jail, you both need to shotgun if you want to leave,” Alex states the annoying rule.

“I know the rules, bro,” she snaps. “Chase, beer me.”

“Let’s go to the patio,” Karolina states. “Less messy.”

The group makes their way out the sliding glass door to their patio. Nico impatiently waits for Karolina to pull her hair up into a bun. When Chase hands the girls the cut open beer cans, the fake couple puts their respective beer cans to their mouth. She pulls the tab to the can and chugs with all her might. The pair finish around the same time, unfortunately for Nico’s competitive spirit, Karolina finishes chugging the beer first. That doesn’t stop Nico from spiking her own empty can on the ground when it’s finished. She turns to high five the blonde for their success of getting out of jail.

“Wow, goals,” Gert sarcastically drawls as she points her phone camera at the pair.

“We know,” Karolina smirks and wraps Nico in a hug. The shorter girl squeezes her arms around the blonde’s waist tightly and a content smile covers her face.

“They’re so in love, it’s gross,” Gert mumbles.

“You’re one to talk,” Karolina rebuttals when she pulls away from Nico, keeping an arm around the girl’s waist.

“She makes a valid point,” Molly states.

“Thanks, Molly,” Karolina smiles. She pulls on Nico’s hand and leads them back through the door.

Karolina plops down on the couch and nearly yanks Nico onto her lap. The shorter girl is painfully aware of how her whole left side is pressed to Karolina. She forces another drink down to try and dull how hyperaware she is of the blonde.

Luckily the competition of Monopoly distracts her. It’s a tough battle, but after twenty minutes of intense gameplay and a few sisterly arguments between Amy and Nico, Karolina and Nico emerge victorious.

Nico raises her arms above her head, cheering at her win. She takes a second to jokingly flip the bird at her sister. She’s so caught up in her excitement, she even leans over to press an excited kiss to Karolina’s cheek. When she pulls away, their widened eyes meet in alarm. Nico stares into blue widened eyes, and internally curses herself for breaking her own rule against kissing. Karolina’s eyes soften, and she gives Nico a comforting smile, making the girl calm down somewhat. Her staring at Karolina is cut short when Amy and Alex begin demanding a rematch and she tears her eyes away from the blonde to roll her eyes at the sore losers.


 

Karolina Dean is absolutely fucked.

It’s the only though reverberating in her head as she watches Nico and Chase argue over the Xbox controller. The raven-haired girl looks so determined and adorable as she glares up at the screen and is killed for the thousandth time in the weird game that Alex brought. The blonde realizes that an uncontrollable smile has taken over her face and she shakes her head and escapes into the kitchen.

She’s sure that it’s the multiple drinks she’s consumed that has made her lose absolute control of her feelings for Nico. Karolina blames herself, she knew she shouldn’t have drank tonight. She remembers every second of the night before, although some moments were blurry. And she knows she almost told Nico she was falling in love with her, and she can’t risk something like that occurring again. Yet here she is, staring at her best friend like a creep with her emotions on the verge of overflowing.

The blonde decides to focus on cleaning her kitchen to ignore her prevalent feelings. She’s in the middle of putting away the extra boxes of pizza when Amy walks into the kitchen.

“Hey, Karolina,” the older Minoru states and pushes herself up onto the counter.

“Hey, didn’t want to join in on the game?” Karolina quizzes.

“Oh no, my sister is so bad at it, it was making my head hurt.” The pair share a laugh, and Karolina stops her cleaning to lean against the counter a few spaces away from Amy. The older Minoru continues, “I came in here, because I saw you escape into the kitchen. It seemed a little weird that you would escape being social, just wanted to make sure everything was alright.”

“Yeah,” she lies. “Just figured I’d clean up some of this mess.”

Amy nods and remains silent for a few moments. Then levels Karolina with a stern look, “I know you’re one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, but I need to remind you that if you hurt my sister- “

“Ah, so that’s why you really came in here,” Karolina interrupts with a chuckle. “The shovel talk.”

“Yes, and if you hurt Nico, she seems tough but she’s quite soft for you. So, I know you’ll do a lot of damage if you hurt her. And if you do, I will hack into your laptop and ruin your life. Or maybe set my mother loose on you, to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if she was secretly a murderer.” Amy drunkenly continues.

Karolina nods along, knowing that the only person she is hurting is herself by hiding away all these feelings for her best friend. “I promise I won’t hurt her.”

“How can you be sure?” Amy asks, “I won’t be able to deal with mopey Nico if this doesn’t work between you two.”

“Because I think I l- “the blonde cuts herself off when a certain set of words threaten to fall off her tongue. She meets Amy with a weak smile, “I care about her too much to hurt her.”

The older Minoru’s stare softens and she gives the taller girl a smile, “Alright, that was my tidbit. I know you’ll never hurt her, but I do it to everyone Nico dates.” She jumps off the edge of the counter, “See ya later, future sis!”

The blonde lets out an exhale and rolls her eyes when the girl leaves the room. She decides to pour herself another glass of wine, she is going to need it if she’ll make it through the night.


 

They manage to kick everyone out of their apartment at a decent hour. Gert is the designated driver and promises to get everyone back home safely. Amy is the only guest who decides to stay overnight, as she had promised she would earlier in the evening. When Amy yells goodnight and closes herself in Nico’s room, Karolina is hit with the reality that she has to share a bed with Nico again.

Karolina gives her best friend an uneasy smile when she closes her bedroom door behind them. She remains quiet as she escapes to her closet to change into a pair of pajamas. She exits the closet with a set of clothes in hand for Nico. The girl is in the middle of wiping her makeup off her face and she stops to give the blonde a wide smile that causes her to have drunk eyes. The blonde escapes into her bed when Nico begins stripping right there.

She stares up at the ceiling until the lights are flipped off and she feels a slight dip in the mattress next to her.

“That was fun tonight,” Nico states, turning on her right side to face the blonde.

“Yeah, it was nice getting to see all the Pride kids again,” Karolina states.

“What were you and Amy talking about in the kitchen?”

The blonde feels Nico’s eyes trained on her and she turns onto her left side, facing Nico. “You,” she states. “She was giving me the shovel talk. How’d you even notice? You were playing that game.”

Nico shrugs, “I stopped playing and started looking for you then saw you two were in the kitchen.”

Karolina fights the urge to ask if Nico had heard anything. She tries to sift through the conversation in her head to figure if she said anything that would give her feelings away. She breaks eye contact and looks down at her golden sheets. Her stare stays focused on a spot until she feels a finger under her chin, lifting her head until their eyes meet.

“What’s wrong?” Nico asks.

I think I’m in love with you and it’s killing me, she thinks. Karolina stops her drunk self from letting the words slip out and she attempts to smile at the other girl, “Nothing.”

“Karolina, I know you,” Nico states softly. “I know something’s wrong. Are you still upset from our fight or about your mom?”

“No, it’s nothing,” she lies.

“Okay,” Nico smiles and scoots forward. Karolina’s eyes widen as Nico’s body becomes closer until the shorter girl wraps herself tightly around the blonde’s body. The blonde reciprocates the hug, and her sluggish mind can’t push away how her nerve endings are going haywire as Nico runs a hand up and down her spine. “This would be so much better if you let me jetpack you.”

Karolina blushes and chuckles, pulling herself away from the girl, “What is that?”

“When a short person is the big spoon, duh,” Nico states as if it should be an obvious fact.

A giggle erupts from her lips at Nico’s tone, the other girl then joins in on the drunken laughter. She feels warm and content being so close to the girl. And Nico looks so happy, and she is staring at Karolina with a wide smile on her mouth. When she’s here with Nico, everything else in the world seems to disappear. Her burning feelings for the girl, grow and expand, and the future collateral damage doesn’t even matter. Not right now.

When their laughter subsides, Nico stares at Karolina with focused eyes that makes Karolina’s stomach drop. She quickly turns onto her other side to stop herself from either kissing Nico or from letting all her emotions pour out. Karolina reaches back to grab Nico’s hand and wrap it around her own waist. Nico scoots in closer, the whole front of her body pressed against Karolina’s back. She feels warm and safe. The girl behind her squeezes her waist and rests a burning hand on her hipbone.

“Mm, goodnight,” Nico mutters, half-asleep into Karolina’s ear. The blonde then feels the breath on her ear come closer as Nico delivers a soft kiss right below her ear. Her eyes widen, and a shaky exhale comes out of her nose at the contact.

And all Karolina can think is that she is absolutely fucked.

Chapter Text

The weeks come and go, and they don’t talk about anything. Luckily with their social media presence’s fifteen minutes of fame being up, the pair don’t have to make anymore appearances. That means the fake dating is essentially put on pause except for the sporadic Pride kids’ hangout or when Molly or Amy show up at their apartment.

For Karolina, this means she avoids Nico as much as physically possible. Well as much as one can avoid someone they live with. She convinces herself that if she has less exposure to the girl her feelings will fade out.

Everyday for two weeks straight, Karolina goes to the beach. Don’t get her wrong, she loves everything about the beach – the sun, the sand, swimming in the waves – but she primarily only goes because Nico hates the beach, so she always declines her courtesy invite to tag along. Much to Karolina’s chagrin her feelings don’t fade, instead she is filled to the brim with a longing for Nico. She misses the girl immensely even though they sleep with a shared wall between them. The blonde is at least getting a hell of a tan.

Karolina sits on the wooden floor of her bedroom, surrounded by piles of folded clothes sorted by category. Her suitcase lies open in front of her and she begrudgingly begins placing everything in the empty suitcase. She zips up the suitcase and sits it up with sigh. They leave for the Pride month long vacation in Aruba tomorrow. Typically, Karolina would be ecstatic about a sunny vacation, but she feels overwhelmed at the prospect of having to hold up the farce for a full month. She barely lasted their two weeks in the media’s spotlight, she doesn’t know if she can survive the parents’ careful glares and the constant teasing by her friends.

She rolls her suitcase out to the foyer and props it up against the wall adjacent to the door. Karolina spins on her heel and eyes Nico who, despite her short stature, is sprawling across the entirety of their couch. The other girl barely glances away from the TV screen to look at Karolina.

“Have you finished packing?” Karolina asks and sits against the arm of the couch.

“No, but I’m almost done,” Nico shrugs.

“We leave for the airport in like nine hours,” the blonde chuckles.

Nico pauses the TV and looks to her friend with a frown on her face, “Why do we have to go on this stupid trip anyways? We’re going almost to the equator in the summertime! It’s going to be awful.”

“Last I checked, there’s air conditioning in Aruba too,” she chuckles. “But I understand, I’m not very excited for this trip either.”

The other girl raises an eyebrow, “Really? You love the sun and the beach; you’ve practically lived at a beach all summer.”

Karolina looks down at her palms, trying to formulate a lie that would sound better than saying having to pretend to date Nico is the reason she is dreading the trip, “All the parents are just a bit much, especially my mom.”

Nico gives her a sympathetic frown, “I’m sorry, hopefully it will be better since she believes that this fake relationship is real.”

She shrugs, “I’m hoping the parents all just do their own thing so I don’t have to deal with her as much.”

“It’s going to be so weird with my parents since they’re both going to be there. And so is Janet,” Nico shudders with a frown. “God, I can’t believe Chase is going to be my stepbrother in a year.”

Karolina assesses Nico with thoughtful eyes. The tiny goth girl is still sprawled across the couch but manages to look so small and shrunken in on herself. Her beautiful brown eyes stare blankly at the paused TV screen with a tiny frown on her mouth. The blonde sighs sympathetically and slouches down from the arm of the couch into a seat, grabbing ahold of Nico’s socked feet and resting them on her lap. The other girl barely looks at her when she gives a reassuring squeeze to her ankle.

She knows Nico puts on a tough façade, a façade she can usually see through, but even the blonde is surprised by how vulnerable and hurt Nico is by her parent’s divorce and her father’s infidelity. Until the divorce, Nico adored her dad and they were very close. She can’t even understand what’s been going through her head at the prospect of being around both of her parents at the same time for the first time since the divorce.

“What he did was so shitty,” Nico huffs. The blonde watches the other girl, patiently, as Nico sorts through her thoughts. “I get that my mom was a raging bitch, but my dad was always so kind. How could he be capable of something so awful? It’s proof that love just inevitably causes pain.” She chuckles to herself cynically, “Thanks mom and dad for the nice life lesson.”

Karolina is thankful that Nico isn’t looking at her, because if the girl was looking at her, she would see the hurt flash across her face. The blonde always knew her feelings for Nico wouldn’t be returned but knowing that any shred of possibility has been destroyed hurts. Nico swearing off love means she stands no chance at all, and that tiny bit of hope is obliterated.

“Nico,” she starts.

“Don’t try to put a positive spin on it, Karolina,” Nico interrupts. “I appreciate it usually, but just let me be negative about this.”

“I won’t,” she says. “It’s shitty. I’ll be there the whole time to bail you out when stuff gets bad.”

Nico smiles at her, “So you’ll bail me out the whole month-long trip then?”

The blonde returns the smile, “Of course.”

The other girl toes at Karolina’s knee, “Thanks.”

“Anything for you, Nico,” Karolina states sincerely.


 

The pair slouch out of their Lyft at the crack of dawn. Nico yanks her black suitcase onto the sidewalk with a bit too much force. She groans and Karolina chuckles at the girl. Karolina wouldn’t classify herself as a morning person, but she is much more of a morning person than Nico. It’s ironic that Nico hates mornings so much considering that she always wakes up incredibly early, earlier than Karolina, to do her hair and makeup.

They make their way through the airport, and Nico only speaks when she grumbles about the overly chipper tourists behind them in the security line. Their gate is right by the security line, which ended up moving much quicker than Karolina anticipated, so the pair are seated in the empty area with two hours before boarding. She leaves Nico to guard their seats by the outlet in favor of finding a coffee shop, which the caffeine will hopefully make Nico coherent.

The line to the coffee shop is longer than she would anticipate at such a dull time in the airport. By the time she makes it to the front, she can see from afar that Nico is falling asleep in her seat. She is greeted at the cash register by a brunette with a wide smile on her face.

“Hi! I’ll have a small iced coffee,” she glances over her shoulder at Nico who is slouched in the seat blinking with heavy eyes, “and like six shots of espresso in a cup.”

“Of course! Anything else?” The other girl chippers, “Okay that will be $16.72.”

She hands the girl a twenty, “You’re all set.”

The other girl nods quickly at her and moves around to make the drinks. Karolina hovers, glancing at her phone reading the incoming texts in the Pride kids group chat. Luckily all seven of the kids and Gert’s dog are all on the same flight. This has caused everyone to blow up the group chat as everyone heads to the airport. Karolina chuckles as Gert sends the sixth text in a row and she knows that Nico is probably fuming at the influx of notifications.

“Here you are!” The barista chippers as she slides the two drinks across the counter. Karolina grabs ahold of both, noticing marker on the side of each cup. On her iced coffee it says her name and on Nico’s cup it says her name. The blonde looks at the barista whom she never told the names and tips her head to the side. The girl awkwardly chuckles, “Sorry, I just recognized you and I just assumed you were with your girlfriend. I follow you both on Instagram, that’s how I guessed you’d be drinking the iced coffee.”

“Oh, uh, thanks,” Karolina chuckles.

“Sorry, I don’t want it to seem weird. You guys have just been very,” the girl pauses to search for a word, “inspirational for me. Seeing that Leslie Dean was able to openly accept you guys after what she’s said in the media in the past, helped me get the courage to come out to my parents.”

“Oh, wow,” the blonde blushes. She never even fathomed that their fake relationship would impact people she didn’t know. “How did that go?”

“Really well!” The girl smiles broadly. Another person comes up in line, “Oh, more customers! Um, thank you for everything. It was so nice getting to meet you!”

“It was nice meeting you too!” Karolina smiles in goodbye.

She strolls back to their gate and nudges Nico awake from her short nap. She passes the cup over to Nico who gives her a weak smile. “Thanks,” she rasps before taking a large sip of the scalding drink.

“The barista was a fan of ours,” Karolina says as she sips on her drink. She gives a summary of the interaction she just had while ordering their coffees.

“Aw, that’s nice,” Nico says. “I didn’t realize people cared that much about us.”

“Me neither.” The blonde smiles widely and sits down in her designated seat. “It’s cool that this thing is benefitting other people than us.”

Nico nods and takes a giant gulp from her cup. Her brown eyes stare into the distance then turn to focus on the blonde, “Put on your couple faces, the charade begins.”

Karolina follows where Nico’s eyeline was to see Gert, Chase, and Molly all walking up to them. Chase carries his and Gert’s bag as the purple-haired girl walks Old Lace across the airport. The group gives muttered greetings, except for Molly who gives a large yawn and slumps into her seat with her eyes closed. Chase heads over to the café to get drinks for him and Gert.

“Are you excited for vacation, Gert?” Karolina asks the girl who is seated across from them.

“Yeah, I’m not excited that we had to get up at the asscrack of dawn to fly there,” Gert mumbles then eyes her sister. “I’m fairing better than Molly though.”

“Girl loves her sleep, gotta respect that,” Nico mutters.

“You should nap too since you’re so tired,” Karolina turns to the girl next to her and sifts through her carryon, “I brought you a neck pillow since I knew you’d forget to pack one.”

“Aw, such a thoughtful girlfriend,” Gert mocks jokingly.

“I appreciate it, but I don’t want to look like a typical tourist,” Nico waves a hand at the black neck pillow the blonde offers.

“Fine, get a sore neck from looking cool,” Karolina shrugs and reaches over to hand the pillow to a sleepy Molly who quickly grabs it and places it on her neck.

“I’m just going to chug this coffee and try to stay awake until we board the plane. Then I’m going to slam a bunch of shots on there,” Nico shrugs.

“Still afraid of flying?” Gert questions.

“I’m not afraid of flying,” Nico defends. And Gert responds with a laugh at her expense. Nico turns her head to Karolina and gives her a pleading look. “Tell her I’m not afraid of flying.”

The blonde reaches over to give her fake girlfriend a reassuring squeeze of the hand for show, “Sure, babe.”

Gert continues to laugh, “It’s okay, Nico. I’m not fond of flying either. I already took a pill that’s going to make me pass out on the plane.”

Nico rolls her eyes incredibly hard, “I’m afraid of nothing.”

“She’s tough as nails,” Gert sarcastically jokes.

“My little hardass,” Karolina teases.

“You’re both assholes,” the raven-haired girl flips the chuckling pair off. “You’re buying my drinks on the plane for being a dick,” she points at the blonde who shrugs in response.

“Worth it,” Karolina smirks at Nico who frowns at her in response. She finds herself staring at the specks in Nico’s soft brown eyes until she hears Gert clear her throat at the pair.

“You two are gross,” Gert rolls her eyes.

“You have no room to talk, Gert,” Molly mutters, half asleep.

“Thanks, Molly,” Nico and Karolina say at the same time. The blonde smiles at the shorter girl who returns it with a soft smile. The blonde eventually looks away, shyly when she hears Chase sit down in one of the seats next to Gert. She gives Chase an awkward smile as he stares at the fake couple with an eyebrow raised.

“What’re we talking about?” Chase asks, sipping on his coffee.

“How gross you couples are; when are Amy and Alex going to get here so I can stop being the ultimate fifth wheel?” Molly answers with her eyes still closed.

“Hopefully soon so Amy can stop blowing up this stupid group chat,” Nico grumbles.

Karolina chuckles when the girl groans when her phone vibrates. The blonde looks at her own phone to see that Amy is informing the group that both her and Alex are nearing the front of the security line and will join the group at the gate soon.

Nico throws her phone in her carryon with a huff. She outstretches her short legs and rests her head against Karolina’s shoulder. Blue eyes widen in shock and Karolina tries not to stiffen. The contact causes her heart rate to pick up and her stomach feels like she just dropped down a hill on a rollercoaster. She lets out a shaky exhale, expelling all the nerves. A smile breaks across her mouth and gives a soft look to the girl resting on her shoulder who is already drifting off. A large part of her is incredibly thankful that Nico turned down the neck pillow and is instead using the blonde’s shoulder as a pillow.

“I see her coffee didn’t work,” Amy states as she walks up the group, leaning down to grab the coffee sitting next to Nico’s feet. She raises it in the air near her sister, “Don’t fear, I’ll drink it for ya, sis.”

“I can’t believe you both have the same coffee order,” Chase chuckles.

“It’s a sister thing,” Amy shrugs and sits down next to Chase as she takes a hearty sip.

“No, Molly and I don’t drink the same coffee. And that’s a very gross, weird coffee order,” Gert counters.

Amy shrugs and takes another sip of the expensive coffee. Karolina chuckles and takes a sip of her own coffee. She moves slowly and carefully to not wake Nico who has is breathing heavily on her shoulder. From moving slowly, it takes the blonde about two minutes to reach into her bag and pull out her book that she wishes to read.

While they wait for their flight for the next two hours, Karolina is able to read a few chapters. She would’ve read even more, but the constant chatter between her friends and Nico snuggling her face into her shoulder serves to be quite distracting. She nudges the girl awake when the intercom states that first class can board the plane.

The group of Pride kids board the plane and make up a large portion of first class. Karolina obviously sits next to Nico, Gert next to Chase, Amy by Alex, and Molly sits next to Old Lace, who has a seat of her own. The blonde takes the window seat without having to ask Nico. Karolina’s favorite way to pass time on planes is to look out the window and glance at all the clouds and scenery passing by. Nico on the other hand, tends to pass time on the plane by anxiously pounding shots to alleviate her fear.

Karolina watches Nico who grips onto the arm rests with white knuckles. She glances at the other girl whose face is pale and her eyes are wide. The blonde rests her right hand on top of Nico’s and runs a thumb along her knuckles softly. The other girl gives her a quick side glance before looking forward at the back of the seat in front her.

“It’s okay,” Karolina murmurs.

“I’m a grown adult, I shouldn’t be afraid of this,” Nico huffs and rolls her eyes.

“It’s normal to have fears. Don’t write it off,” she responds softly.

“I’ll be fine once we take off. The flight attendants will come by and I can get drinks,” she says stiffly.

“Want me to drink with you?”

“Of course, you’re buying,” Nico smiles weakly.

Karolina continues to run her thumb along the back of Nico’s hand as people board the plane. When the plane begins to move slowly, Nico’s posture straightens, and she grimaces. The blonde moves her hand slowly to intertwine her fingers with Nico’s. She gives her hand a reassuring squeeze as the plane lifts off.

Once the flight attendants make their way down the aisle, Karolina buys the pair a continuous flow of drinks. She orders a strong whiskey for Nico and a Bloody Mary for herself. The blonde decides to match pace with Nico, which she realizes is a mistake for the eleven-hour flight they have in store.

They’re barely even an hour into the flight and the pair are falling over onto each other in laughter. The flight attendant gives them another round of drinks with a smile. Nico knocks their glasses together and takes a hearty sip.

“See flying isn’t so bad anymore,” Karolina cheers.

“Everything is better when you’re drunk,” Nico smiles lazily.

“True,” she nods.

“Even being around you,” Nico slurs. The blonde raises her eyebrows, offended. Nico rushes to correct herself, “No, no, no. I didn’t mean it in a bad way, that like being around you sober is bad. It’s just being around you is so nice, and when we are drunk, it makes my heart happy.”

Karolina chuckles awkwardly. She feels her cheeks heat up at Nico’s words. Over the loud engines of the plane, she can hear her heartbeat fluttering in her ears. She tries to remind herself that Nico doesn’t mean it that way, but the words are stumbling off her tongue before she can even filter it. “You make my heart happy all the time.” Karolina squeaks at the words slipping past her lips and she takes a large sip of her drink to stop herself from saying anything else.

Nico giggles and moves to lift the armrest that is separating the pair. Once it is up, Nico grips onto the blonde’s wrist and lifts her arm. Karolina complies and stares at the other girl dumbly. The raven-haired girl scoots over and presses her side into Karolina, dropping the blonde’s arm around her shoulders. Nico hums and rests her cheek against Karolina’s shoulder, and the blonde smiles at the shorter girl.

It doesn’t take long after that for the shorter girl to fall asleep on the blonde’s shoulder. The alcohol flowing through Karolina’s veins suppresses the thoughts in her brain screaming for her to stop. Instead, she embraces the warmth radiating off the girl and appreciates every millimeter that she is in contact with Nico. The calmness that overcomes her from Nico’s presence lulls her to sleep.


 

Karolina awakens from her nap when the flight only has a few hours left. She smiles at Nico who is still passed out, snuggling into her side with her head on her shoulder. The blonde passes time by continuing to read her book. She nearly finishes her book when the plane begins its descent and Nico rouses from her sleep. The other girl yawns and quickly rips herself away from Karolina’s side, which the taller girl tries not to let affect her too much.

It takes under an hour for their plane to land and for them to get all their luggage. The group manages to all cram into a large taxi. It leaves Karolina having Nico pinned against her side and a door handle digging into her other side for the duration of the ride.

The group spills out of the overflowing taxi onto the sidewalk of the ridiculous mansion that they will be spending the next month in. Large white pillars and balconies adorn the exterior of the beige colored mansion that is owned by the Wilders’ as a vacation home. It’s the first time all of Pride is able to use it.

Karolina pulls her suitcase behind her dragging feet. The entire group is jetlagged and exhausted. The blonde doesn’t know why she’s so exhausted after having slept most of the plane ride. She’s so tired, she barely even takes in the gorgeous interior design of the mansion. The Wilders greet them, and tell them that between the seven kids, there are five rooms designated for them to take.

Nico leads Karolina up to their room on the second floor. By the time Karolina shuts the door behind her, Nico is face down on the white sheets. The blonde chuckles and begrudgingly unpacks her bags before climbing into bed next to her sleeping friend.


 

Over the course of the next few days, they all settle into a relaxed schedule. The parents all come in on different days over the course of a week. Karolina spends most of her day sunbathing by the pool or ocean and swimming. On some days, her and Chase decide to go surfing. It all serves to be a nice distraction for Karolina, she doesn’t know why she was dreading the trip so much. She barely sees Nico during the day, the other girl tends to sit under an umbrella by the pool with Gert. The blonde has barely had to do any fake girlfriend duties that make her heartbeat pick up and her stomach feel all giddy.

Karolina was loving the vacation life. That is until today.

She is innocently lounging by the pool when Nico comes out of the sliding glass door. The blonde doesn’t think anything of it, she gives the girl a small wave. The shorter girl smiles at her from behind her sunglasses and approaches the sunbathing blonde.

“Are you coming out from the shadows?” Karolina teases.

Nico perches at the foot of the chair and pulls her sunglasses off, revealing gorgeous brown eyes being hit by sunlight. “I saw Gert was even in the pool, so I might as well pretend to enjoy this weather.”

Karolina looks over at her shoulder at Chase and Gert who are being disgustingly cute in the pool together. She turns back to Nico who is pulling her black shirt off. Her eyes blink wildly as Karolina takes in all of Nico’s skin on display. She’s in a black bikini, and Karolina hasn’t seen so much of Nico’s smooth skin since that night. Her eyeline moves inappropriately as Nico reaches up to pull her hair into a bun.

She forces her mouth shut and looks away quickly when Nico catches her eye for a millisecond. Karolina stares up at the impossibly bright sky with a dry mouth to try and avoid any more gawking. She feels a soft touch on her inside of her knee; she quickly looks down to see Nico is casually resting her hand there as she scrolls through her phone. And if it’s somehow possible, her mouth become drier and she has to force her eyes away again before they start wandering.

When Nico offhandedly starts stroking her thumb along the blonde’s skin, Karolina’s nerves jolt and the next thing she knows, she is standing up abruptly. Nico looks up from her phone with a surprised expression, like she didn’t even know what she was doing to Karolina.

“Uh, p-pool. I’m going to go in the pool,” she stutters as an excuse. Nico looks at her amusedly and she feels her crumbling in on herself in embarrassment. She side steps until she’s at the edge of the water, turning her body to dive head first under the water.

She resurfaces and runs her hands through her hair. Karolina wades in the deep end, and her eyeline falls on Gert and Chase who are in the shallower end. The pair are smiling at each other with dopey grins. Gert’s arms are wrapped around Chase’s neck and they both look at each other with so much love in their eyes. It makes the blonde’s heart ache, wishing she could have something like that with the girl overrunning her mind.

Karolina sighs and dunks herself back under water. She swims to the edge of the pool and reemerges from the water. Her eyes follow Nico as the girl walks over and sits at the edge of the pool. She sticks her legs in the water right next to the swimming girl.

“Is Nico Minoru going to swim?” the blonde asks incredulously.

The shorter girl smirks, “No, never, it would destroy my cool reputation.” The blonde chuckles at the statement. Nico leans down close to Karolina’s face and her blue eyes widen. “Our moms were watching us from under their table over there,” Nico whispers and nods slightly at their parents watching them closely from the other side of the pool. “Besides, we haven’t spent a lot of time together so far, it’d be nice to hang out with you.”

Despite the cold water encasing her, she feels a wave of warmth cover her at Nico’s statement. A large toothy grin covers her face, “You’re right, it would be nice to spend some time together.” Karolina reaches over to grab Nico’s hand and the shorter girl gives her a closed-mouth smile in return. The blonde then realizes that she’s holding the girl’s hand that she’s been trying to distance herself from, and in her state of gay panic, she finds herself yanking Nico’s hand and pulling the shorter girl into the pool with her.

Nico splashes into the pool and resurfaces with an evil frown on her face. She shoves at the blonde’s shoulder and Karolina chuckles at the angry girl. “You asshole, stop laughing,” the shorter girl splashes a giant stream of water at Karolina’s face.

The blonde splashes the girl back in retaliation. “What? You said you wanted to spend time together. We can swim.”

“When, ever in my life, have I went swimming for fun?” Nico rolls her eyes.

“Look who is in the water!” Chase exclaims to the pair.

Karolina, tired of treading water, swims over to the couple in the shallow end that are no longer displaying too much affection. “I pulled her in.”

“Still pissed,” Nico groans as she swims slowly behind the blonde.

The blonde leans against the side of the pool resting her elbows against the cement with a chuckle. She tips her chin up, taking in the rays of sunlight. The warmth engulfing her makes a smile cross her mouth.

“Nico stop undressing your girl with your eyes,” Gert chuckles.

Karolina’s eyelids snap open and she catches Nico’s brown eyes that look panicked before the other girl looks down at the water. Was Nico just staring at her? The blonde shakes her head at herself, suppressing any hope that ignites in her gut.

“You know what we should do since Nico is finally in the pool?” Chase states.

“Play Chicken!” Gert and Chase exclaim in unison.

“It’s creepy that you guys are in sync like that,” Nico grumbles. “And pass, that game is stupid.”

“You’re not even going to let Karolina have a say?” Gert counters.

The blonde shrugs, “I’m indifferent, whatever Nico wants.”

Chase makes a whipping motion, “Whipped.”

Karolina rolls her eyes.

“Not wanting to play, because they’re scared of losing, you know what they’re acting like?” Chase states.

“Like a little bitch!” Gert exclaims.

Chase looks at his girlfriend incredulously, “No, they were acting like a chicken. I was trying to make a pun.”

The blonde chuckles at the couple’s interaction. She doesn’t even have to look at Nico to know that the other girl is rolling her eyes. The raven-haired girl huffs, “Fine, we’ll play.”

“We will?” Karolina questions.

“Yeah, they claimed we are scared of losing,” she states obviously. Nico wades over to Karolina and places a hand on her shoulder, “Get underwater, I’ll be on top.”

“Ha, we learned something new about their relationship,” Chase chuckles immaturely.

“We been knew, Chase,” Gert states obviously.

Karolina manages to roll her eyes behind her raging blush. She can’t bring herself to look at Nico from the implications her friends are making. She gestures to her shoulders and dunks herself underwater to escape the situation. She feels Nico climb onto her shoulders and she emerges from the water. She blinks the water out of her eyes and makes a point to ignore the feeling of Nico’s legs wrapped around her neck.

She watches as Gert climbs onto Chase’s shoulders and the official game of Chicken begins. Gert and Nico push at each other trying to knock each other down. Chase nudges at the blonde’s shoulders where Nico’s legs are resting. Karolina tries to counter his moves, but quickly realizes she doesn’t have the upper body strength to hold Nico up on her shoulders without two arms securing her legs.

“Come on, Karolina, shove back,” Chase goads. “We know neither of them have any arm strength this will take forever.”

She knows that he is trash talking to try and get her to fight back and ultimately drop Nico. He’s too smart for his own good and observed that she is at a disadvantage.

“Nico, he called you weak. Finish them!” Karolina eggs on the girl on her shoulders.

Tuning into Nico’s competitive nature seems to work, because in the next thirty seconds Nico manages to shove Gert off Chase’s shoulders. Karolina looks up and sees Nico throwing her arms up in the air in victory, “Yes, we win everything!” she exclaims.

Karolina chuckles and leans down to drop the shorter girl off her shoulders into the water. Nico bounces up and down on her feet and wraps her arms around Karolina. The blonde widens her eyes at the full contact of Nico’s skin against hers. She chuckles in earnest as she hugs the girl back. Her skin is burning as Nico pulls away to flip Gert and Chase off, ever the sore winner.

She watches as Nico chuckles to herself and climbs out of the pool. The shorter girl is giddy and smiling, and it makes a wave of content rush over her at seeing Nico so happy. Her skin is still tingling from the contact of Nico’s skin on hers. She watches as the girl climbs into a chair beside their moms, she catches the goth girl’s eye as she sits. The other girl smiles sweetly at her, and Karolina’s heard pounds against her ribs, and she realizes this vacation is going to be much harder than she anticipated.


 

The next day all of the Pride families venture out to sea on the Wilders’ yacht. Karolina makes a point to head straight for the bar before they even set off from the dock. Being in proximity with Nico after the time at the pool yesterday has made the blonde hyperaware of the girl. It’s getting to a point of being painful suppressing her feelings around the girl. She even slept on the couch last night to avoid sharing a bed with Nico.

Chase acts as a makeshift bartender and is able to make a fruity drink for Karolina. She is in the middle of her second drink, when Nico and Amy slide into the seats at the bar next to her.

“How many drinks has she had? We need to catch up,” Amy says.

“She speaks the truth,” Nico nods.

“I agree, we are here to get drunk on a boat with our parents,” Gert states as she climbs into the seat next to Amy.

Nico reaches and grabs Karolina’s hand on top of the bar. She knows that the other girl is just doing it to sell the point in front of their friends, but it causes Karolina to take her drink and slam the rest of it down. Drink the pain away, that always worked for her.

She spins her finger in the air, “Shots all around.”


 

A drunk Karolina Dean sprawls across her towel on the deck. Her round Ray Ban sunglasses are crookedly skewed across her eyebrows and her body is splayed like an X. She feels nice and warm from the sun shining on her skin and the alcohol coursing through her veins.

“Are all the kids drunk?” she hears her mother’s voice ring out.

She lazily rolls her head to the side to look at her mom who is exiting onto the deck with Tina Minoru, who has practically been glued to Leslie’s side the whole trip to avoid her ex-husband. She sits up quickly, causing her sunglasses to fall off her face. Her arm flops in the air, “Hey, mom and future mom-in-law.”

“Oh, honey,” her mom shakes her head. “Where are all the kids?”

Karolina rubs her chin in thought, “Gert and Chase went into one of the rooms. Wink,” she makes an effort to wink but ends up blinking wildly. “Alex is with his parents, maybe. Molly and Amy are sober and monitoring. They’re going to come hang out with me soon. And Nico,” she looks around, “I don’t know where she is, but she’s cute.”

Both moms sit in lounge chairs by Karolina. She sees out of her peripheral that Tina is chuckling at her statement and her eyes widen and her cheeks blush, “I didn’t mean to say that last part.”

“Karolina, you know that none of you are of legal drinking age except for Amy,” her mom lectures.

She holds up a finger, “False, there’s no drinking age in this country.”

Her mom rolls her eyes in response.

The blonde rests her head back on the wooden deck and enjoys the rays of sunlight. She’s not sure if she dozes off, but the next time she opens her eyes, Amy and Molly are laying on the deck next to her.

“Amy, where is your sister?” Tina questions.

“Yeah, where is my lady?” Karolina echoes.

“She’s following us. We found her still pounding drinks at the bar,” Amy states then her eyes fall on Karolina, “She’s clearly trying to keep up with her girlfriend.”

“Thank you,” the blonde nods.

“That wasn’t a compliment, but okay,” Amy chuckles.

The blonde tries to relax, but she is too excited to see Nico. It’s like the alcohol she consumes makes all her anxiety from being around the girl disappear. She’s filled with a giddiness that makes her check for Nico every couple seconds.

Eventually, the goth girl struts out in her black two-piece with a sheer coverup on that looks like some sort of cape. The girl looks like a badass and is really gorgeous. The blonde’s eyes are slow, and she can’t force herself to look away. Instead her eyes follow Nico as she makes her way over and sits down on the deck next to Karolina.

“Hey,” Nico smiles at the blonde.

“Hey,” she parrots.

Nico shrugs off her coverup and lays down, incredibly close to Karolina. The blonde smiles against her will, the proximity of the other girl causing her state of elation to increase. “Ugh, this deck is not comfy,” Nico grumbles and scoots her body. She ends up resting her head on Karolina’s bare stomach, using her as a pillow. “That’s better.”

“You’re messing up my tan,” Karolina halfheartedly argues.

“You don’t care,” the girl laying on her counters.

Karolina’s hands unconsciously travel to Nico’s hair. She ends up tangling her hands in the black locks, occasionally making sloppy, loose braids, then using her fingers to untangle the braids. Nico hums, almost sounding like a cat purring, when her nails scrape against her scalp.

“Are you wearing sunblock?” Karolina asks offhandedly.

“I don’t know,” Nico shrugs. Then in a tone that could only be described as suggestive: “You could put some on me.”

She hers shuffling behind her and looks over to see Amy standing up quickly, “Okay, ew that’s too much. I wish I never heard that.”

“Yeah, Nico even too much for me,” Molly chips in.

Nico chuckles, “Fine, I’ll just get sunburnt.”

“Nico Minoru, you put sunblock on right this instant,” Tina states sternly from her seat.

The girl laying on Karolina sits up with a groan and eye roll, “Fine, I’ll go put some on.”

She watches the girl scramble to her feet and stumble off the deck in search of sunblock. The blonde closes her eyes once the other girl is out of her eyeline. She ignores the chatter of Amy, Molly, and both the moms. Instead she focuses on her surprise at herself for not downward spiraling from Nico’s touchiness. Turns out being drunk can really solve most of her problems.

Nico emerges back on the deck about five minutes later. Karolina watches as the girl goes to the railing, staring out at the water.

“Nico, please don’t fall overboard,” Tina chastises her daughter.

“I’m not,” she states then waves her hand wildly in the air. “It’s another boats with cameras looking at us. They’re those, ah damn, what are those people called? They get paid to stalk famous people?”

“Paparazzi,” Leslie groans in answer, “I can’t believe they got word of this vacation.”

Karolina jumps to her feet at a speed that leaves her head reeling. She makes her way over to Nico, grabbing a hold of the hand that is still waving at the people taking pictures of them on the water.

“Let’s stop waving,” the blonde chuckles.

“Nico must be really plastered. Friendly Nico emerges when she has drank at least eight drinks,” Amy pipes in.

“Jesus,” Tina groans and presumably rolls her eyes.

Karolina squeezes the hand that she’s holding, “Let’s sit down, yeah?”

Brown eyes survey her up and down, before Nico drops her hand in favor of wrapping an arm around Karolina’s waist. “Fine, but you have to come sit with me on a chair. Not on the ground, like you were before.”

The blonde nods dumbly, following Nico who leads her to a lounge chair not far from where they’re standing. They’re able to comfortably fit in one lounge chair together, but in order for them to fit, it entails Nico pressing her whole side against Karolina. The blonde wraps an arm around Nico, strictly for their comfort of sharing a chair. The shorter girl rests her head on her shoulder after stealing Karolina’s sunglasses off her head to put on her own face. Every nerve in her skin ignites where her skin touches Nico, which happens to be the whole right side of her body.

Karolina spends an unknown amount of time soaking in every second of this with Nico. She absentmindedly traces her fingers up and down Nico’s bare bicep, while the shorter girl distractedly plays with the loose hairs falling from Karolina’s braid.

“This is nice,” Nico mutters, her voice losing volume underneath the crashing waves.

“Yeah,” the blonde smiles.

“I could do without our moms staring at us,” the other girl attempts to frown.

The blonde squints over at the pair of mothers sitting, both occasionally looking at the couple, then saying comments to one another. Karolina shrugs slightly, being careful not to knock Nico’s head off her shoulder. “If you want to be bothered with staring, think about the paparazzi probably taking lots of pictures of us. We are directly in their eyeline.”

“We’ve given them such good material. They should be thanking us,” Nico states as she stares off to sea. She mockingly salutes out to the boat far off containing paparazzi, “You’re welcome, friends.”

Karolina grabs Nico’s hand with her own free hand, “Let’s stop interacting with them.”

The raven-haired girl shrugs her shoulders then snuggles her head further into Karolina’s shoulder, “Whatever you say.”

She allows herself to soak in this perfect moment with Nico as long as physically possible. It’s her bladder that eventually forces her to get up. When Karolina unwraps her arm from Nico announcing that she’s about to get up, and the shorter girl pouts and makes almost a whining noise from her mouth. The blonde stares at the other girl’s lips, which for once aren’t covered in lipstick, which are pursed in an adorable pout. And it’s the damn alcohol in her system that makes her act on her thoughts with zero restraint.

Karolina leans forward and presses her lips against Nico’s, who reciprocates immediately. It’s only a peck, a mere second, but in that second her whole world ignites. It feels like she’s an addict finally getting her fix. She hasn’t kissed Nico in almost a month, since the other girl swore off of it, and she respects that wish, and she’s immediately washed over with guilt for disregarding Nico’s wishes.

When she pulls away and stands quickly, overcome by guilt, “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I did that.” She whispers so their moms don’t hear.

Nico gives her a smile, it’s hard to read her expression with the sunglasses covering her eyes. Tiny hands grip onto her forearm and squeeze, “Hey, don’t be.” The other girl’s voice drops, “You can kiss me whenever you want.”

Taken aback, the blonde stutters a response and stumbles away to use the bathroom. Her ribs ache and her mouth is suddenly dry because of Nico’s statement. For the first time since this whole thing started, she has a sense of hope that her feelings aren’t as one-sided as she had earlier believed.


 

The pair don’t stop their drinking for the duration of their day out at sea. Actually, all the kids and parents are generous with their drinking. The sun has long set by the time everyone stumbles back to the mansion. The Yorkes’ try to convince everyone that they should all watch a movie before bed, but Karolina, and most others, deny the offer.

The blonde leads Nico upstairs and into their spacious room. She makes a beeline for their connected bathroom to change out of her swimsuit. She winces when pulling away the straps, much more sunburnt than she anticipated. After applying a ton of aloe, Karolina slips into an oversized shirt and loose running shorts.

She reemerges from the restroom to find Nico on their shared bed, in nothing but a t-shirt that is likely Chase’s due to the ridiculously large size on her tiny frame. Her mind would be whirring with all the leg Nico has on display, but her eyes instead focus on the large box of pizza laying in front of the shorter girl.

Nico looks up with half a piece hanging out of her mouth, face bare of makeup. “Pizza?” She questions with a mouth full, holding the box out.

“Duh,” she snatches a slice and lies down parallel to the other girl. “When and where did you get this?”

“I ordered one right when we made it on land, they just delivered it while you were camping out in the bathroom,” Nico explains.

“I’m sunburnt, that’s why I was in the bathroom for a while,” she supplies.

“Aw, so you’re not so red because you’re blushing?” Nico teases.

And Karolina knows that Nico has been flirty with her all day, and a dark part of her brain tells her it’s because of the influx of alcohol she’s consumed. But looking at the short girl, swimming in fabric, with a bare face, and pizza hanging out of her mouth it makes her wish with all her heart that Nico felt the same. And in her true hopeful nature, a large part of her is starting to believe Nico does actually feel the same. The blonde takes a hefty bite and reminds herself of that hope, and that tiny shred of hope is keeping her from completely combusting.

Karolina finishes a slice, in record time, before coming up for air to speak to the other girl. “Today was fun; did you enjoy the day out in the sun on the water? I know that’s not your forte.”

Nico shrugs, “The heat was gross, because I will fight this til my dying breath, I don’t know why the fuck we came near the equator during the summer.” The drunken girl giggles at her own rambling before continuing, “But I loved today, it was fun. Mainly because of the good company I was in,” she pauses, “also alcohol.”

“Who is this good company?” Karolina asks knowingly and teasingly.

“You, obviously,” Nico smiles genuinely as she stares down at the pizza crust in her hand, ripping it into tiny pieces.

“My company was just alright,” the blonde jokes with a smirk.

Nico’s face drops, offended. The next thing the blonde knows, Nico is whipping a piece of pizza crust at her. It bounces off her forehead and lands on the comforter with a small plop. “Hey, I work hard on making this bed every morning. Don’t dirty it with your greasy pizza crust,” she giggles and snatches up the piece off the duvet and chucks it at Nico.

Somehow the other girl manages to catch the piece of bread between her teeth. The raven-haired girl gives her a smug grin, “Nice try.” The shorter girl reaches between them to snatch the large pizza box and pull it into her lap. “And if you’re going to call this pizza, that I so thoughtfully bought for us, greasy, I will revoke your pizza rights.”

She knows the other girl is teasing, but a pout covers her mouth, “Hey, not fair! She leans forward to try and snatch the box. What can she say – a drunk girl loves her pizza. She manages to get herself on all fours and try and reach for the box that Nico holds over her head, “I’m taller than you, that won’t do you any good.”

Nico flips her off with her free hand, “I beg to differ. I’m a witch and capable of everything,” she slurs.

When her hands graze the box, she is fully leaning over Nico with a smirk at her success. The other girl, whose master plan was to hold a box over her head, decides it’s a good idea to throw the pizza box like a frisbee off the bed to keep it out of Karolina’s reach. The blonde hears the box hit the wall and fall to the floor with a thump. Her jaw drops in disgust for the total disregard of the pizza’s wellbeing. She levels Nico with a dirty look, which is when she notices with the absence of the pizza box, she is pretty much almost straddling the other girl and their faces are incredibly close. For her lack of self-control when drunk, she is surprised she manages to pull back, even after Nico’s eyes fall to Karolina’s lips with a charged glare.

She stumbles off the bed towards the box on the ground, “I swear if you ruined our pizza, you’re sleeping outside tonight.”

“The lid was on it’s fine,” Nico rolls her eyes. “Besides, you called it greasy it is all mine now.”

Karolina snatches the box, opening it with relief to see it was unaffected in the battle. “All pizza is greasy, it wasn’t an insult.”

She grabs her last piece and nibbles on it while handing the box over to Nico. The other girl grabs the box, brushing their fingers against one another, sending a spark to Karolina’s gut. “I told you it would survive the fall.”

The blonde rolls her eyes, “It must be hard being right all the time.”

“Exhausting,” Nico adds.

They both look at one another then burst into a fit of giggles. She smiles at the girl sitting on the bed with an oversized box in her lap, grabbing at her sides in laughter. Nico looks so happy and so, so beautiful. Her heart skips a beat and a warmth accumulates in her chest. She knows what this feeling is, and Karolina takes a bite of her pizza to stop herself from saying anything out loud.

Nico finally stops laughing, she’s always been a surprisingly giggly drunk (only after eight drinks though), “Nobody makes me happier than you, Karo.”

“And nobody makes me laugh harder than you, Nico,” Karolina parrots with a wide smile.

Losing her appetite over her gut being filled with a flowery, fluttery feeling, she tosses the remainder of her pizza slice back into the box on Nico’s lap. “I’m going to go wash my face, since you threw pizza on it.”

“It was just the crust!” Nico exclaims to her back as she enters the bathroom.

Karolina closes the door after her, which she hopes isn’t too obvious. She cranks the water in the sink as cold as possible. She splashes her face and scrubs face wash on her skin with way too much vigor. When she dries her face off with her towel, she glares at her reflection. Her eyes are out of focus and bloodshot, a pertinent reminder of her drunken status. She has rosy cheeks that could easily be from the cold water or she could very much still be blushing from Nico.

“You’re both drunk, don’t overthink it,” she whispers to her reflection before exiting the bathroom.

When she enters the bedroom, she smiles at the sight on Nico curled up under the covers. The pizza box is abandoned on the floor, and Karolina takes her designated spot under the covers after flipping the light switch off.

She turns on her left side, facing Nico who is on her right side. The other girl looks so beautiful as the tiny shreds of moonlight shine in through the cracks in the curtains. It extenuates her bone structure and beautiful shades of her eyes. The shorter girl offhandedly sets a hand on Karolina’s hipbone, leaving a constant burning sensation on her skin. The contact makes her smile deepen and her stare at Nico to soften.

 “What are you looking at? Is something on my face?” Nico quizzes, breaking Karolina’s train of thought as she appreciates Nico’s features.

It’s the alcohol making her lose her filter that makes her blurt out, “No, I’m just looking at how beautiful you are.” She squeaks and covers her mouth with her free hand when she realizes that she just said those words out loud.

“Hey,” Nico grabs the hand covering her mouth and laces their fingers together. “Don’t be embarrassed. I know you’ve been distancing yourself from me when you get embarrassed about this stuff. And I can’t have that, you’re the best thing in my life, Karolina. I can’t have you distancing yourself from me.”

Karolina nods and inches away from Nico’s form, “I’m sorry, you’re right I shouldn’t be saying stuff like that, it’s overstepping.”

Hands encase her face, and she was not expecting Nico to follow her retreating form. “That’s not what I’m saying, Karolina. You’re not overstepping, just stop being embarrassed for saying what you think. I’m saying, I know you’ve been keeping your distance ever since we almost,” the girl trails off, making the obvious implication of their angry makeout session last month, “and it’s been killing me. You’re the light to my darkness. I don’t think I would ever get off the ground if it weren’t for you. You are the best thing in my life, and what I’m saying is I need you. And I need you to be honest with me.”

The smile that breaks out on her face is almost lip splitting. She’s overcome with an overwhelming sense of giddiness. Her eyes flutter closed, and she leans her cheek into one of Nico’s hands holding her face like she’s her hold world.

She doesn’t know how much time passes, as she soaks in Nico’s touch, before the other girl speaks again. “You,” Nico stops to inhale deeply, “are so beautiful.”

And Nico’s words are so genuine and for the first time, Karolina isn’t terrified of her own feelings. Instead she completely succumbs to them. And in this moment, there is no doubt that she is completely and totally in love with Nico Minoru.  

Her eyes crack open, because she must look at the girl that she loves. Nico’s face is visibly closer and slightly blurred from their proximity. The girl smiles widely at her, she smiles at Karolina like she hung the stars in the sky. And the blonde can’t stop herself anymore, she’s had such strong restraint in the past and it all dissipates in this moment. She takes the ultimate leap of faith.

She leans forward and presses her lips against Nico’s. Her arms wrap around Nico’s waist, holding her like she may slip away at any moment. Nico kisses her desperately, but at the same time so, so sweetly. In only a matter of seconds, they are no longer properly kissing, Nico’s giant smile is pressed against Karolina’s mouth, causing the blonde to smile back widely. The raven-haired girl pulls away, eyes lidded, and that giant smile still plastered on her face.

And in that moment, Karolina thinks Nico might just love her too.

Chapter Text

Nico awakens with a dry mouth, a pounding headache, and an overwhelming sense of nausea. The hangover that has ripped her out of her deep rest is one for the books. It takes minutes of her pinching the bridge of her nose with eyes squeezed shut to even remember she is in a different country in a bed with her best friend. When she snaps open an eyelid and notices that Karolina’s sharp cheekbone is digging into her sternum, she is hit with memories of the night before.

She remembers Karolina kissing her on the boat and telling the girl that she was okay with her always kissing her. And then she remembers their intimate kiss in this very bed. It makes her cheeks redden. Her heart flutters when she remembers that she allowed herself to absolutely succumb to her feelings for Karolina and come to terms that she is madly in love with the girl. She knew she loved her the moment that the blonde told her she was beautiful while staring at her like she hung the stars in the sky.

Her eyes linger on the sleepy girl resting on her chest, and she thinks that maybe she’s loved Karolina her whole life, but its just taken her over a decade to catch up.

The cheesy smile plastered on her face is disrupted when a wave of nausea has Nico lurching out of the bed to sprint to the bathroom. The freezing tiled floor stings the balls of her feet as she sprints across the ridiculously large restroom. Nico collapses to her knees and forcefully throws her head in the opening of the toilet bowl. Luckily, nothing comes up; Nico just ends up spending the better part of the next five minutes dry heaving her life away. When the excessive nausea fades, she straightens up and moves to scrub furiously at her teeth with her electric toothbrush.

She exits the bathroom after brushing her teeth and splashing herself with cold water. To her surprise, Karolina is still in a deep sleep, her body barely having moved since Nico sprinted out of the bed. As Nico moves closer to the bed, to grab her charging phone, she gets a better look at the blonde. She looks so peaceful and happy, snoozing with a tiny smile on her face. Nico wonders what the girl is dreaming of and how someone can look so gorgeous while sleeping. A stray piece of blonde hair lays diagonally across her forehead and against Nico’s self-control, she reaches forward and brushes the hair behind her ear with a feather light touch. The raven-haired girl chuckles to herself when Karolina scrunches her nose adorably in her sleep due to the contact.

Nico steps back when she realizes she is gazing at the girl for far too long. Once she tears her eyes away, she is reminded of her extreme nausea. She makes a point to scurry downstairs towards the kitchen where she knows the Wilders’ have Tylenol and an endless supply of coffee and food.

Her bare feet move gracefully down the marbled stairs. The only thing keeping her from collapsing on the ground in a mess of pain is the end goal of getting a greasy breakfast with coffee. She is about to round the corner to enter the kitchen when she hears her mother’s sharp voice in the midst of a heated conversation, stopping the girl in her tracks.

“You have no right to act this way, Robert,” her mother hisses.

Nico instantly goes cold and her stomach drops when she realizes its her parents fighting in the kitchen.

“I’m allowed to be angered for you being so cruel to Janet. And you haven’t been letting my daughters see me, this trip is the first time I’ve seen Amy and Nico in months,” her fathers voice is even and calm, as it usually is.

“You ruined all of this when you cheated. You decided this family isn’t enough for you – that I wasn’t enough for you. So you took our world and ruined it and,” her mother’s voice cracks, “you ruined me. You decided to leave me and hurt me, god forbid I react.”

“Stop playing the victim!” Her dad’s voice echoes off the high ceilings, she’s never heard his voice raise so high. “You were an awful wife and a cold mother. I cheated, I was wrong for that, but stop acting so innocent like you weren’t incredibly cruel. And now you’re determined to act like the good mom that you’ve been depriving our daughters of for over twenty-two years, but I see right through you, you’re going to stop caring soon enough.”

Her parents’ cruel words resonate deep in her core. It makes tears sting at the corners of her eyes; the pain of her parents’ disdain for one another overpowers her hangover. Unable to hear both Robert and Tina tear each other to shreds verbally, Nico calmly walks into the kitchen. She puts on her typical deadpan expression, she needs to put on her uncaring façade. She can’t let them know how much they’ve hurt her and destroyed her view of relationships.

“Nico, sweetie,” her dad’s voice turns to its usual calm tone. “Good morning.”

“Save it,” she hisses as she reaches into the cabinet beside her mom to grab coffee beans. She silently starts the coffee maker, the stream of the scalding beverage hits the glass container, echoing in the silent, tense room.

Her mom finally breaks the silence, “How much did you hear?”

“Enough,” she shrugs. Nico reaches over her mom into the cabinet that contains Tylenol, which she dry swallows.

“Nico,” her dad starts.

“I don’t want to hear any of it,” she shakes her head and crosses to the other side of the kitchen in search of mugs. She pinches harshly at the handle of a dark black mug. She pinches so hard she is almost surprised the ceramic doesn’t shatter under her touch. In the uncomfortable silence, she pours a heaping cup of coffee. She spins on a heel and glares at both of her parents, “I’m leaving, please continue tearing each other down. Don’t follow me and don’t talk to me about this.”

She feels both of her parents’ eyes following her as she exits the kitchen. Nico attempts to slam the sliding glass door shut behind her when she exits to the back patio, but sadly it doesn’t have the effect she wishes for. The beaming sunlight reminds her head that there is a sharp stabbing pain in her frontal lobe. She squints, the pain almost causing her to vomit. Nico holds a hand up in front of her face in attempt to block the sunrays.

“Are they still arguing?” Amy’s voice appears from Nico’s left side.

She looks over at her sister who is staring out at the sunrise on the water. The older Minoru has a visible look of concern and hurt painted across her features. Nico huffs and sits in a chair next to her sister, “Yes. She’s talking about how he’s a cheater and he’s talking about how she’s a cold, awful person. Neither are wrong.”

Amy chuckles in disdain, “No, they’re not. Don’t get me wrong, if there was a competition between you and me about who disliked mom more, it would be a tight race, but I do feel bad for her.”

“Me too,” Nico shrugs, “I feel bad only so much, it made her start to become a better person, but it seems like she’s turning back into the cold woman we all know and hate.”

“Yeah, I heard them twenty minutes ago. She’s apparently being awful to Janet and she’s keeping dad out of business affairs,” Amy huffs. “She’s a piece of work.”

They both lull into silence, staring out at the crashing waves past the gates of the property. Nico sips on her coffee in thought, almost talking herself out of saying what she’s about to say. She ends up whispering the words in confidence to her sister, “I know I have issues about talking about my feelings or having them in general, but I think their divorce has fucked me up more than I thought it did.”

“Nico, I’m your sister, you can talk to me about any of your emotions or lack thereof. They had a nasty divorce and they’ve both been awful to each other and to us. It makes sense for this all to fuck you up. I understand, it’s been really hard on me too,” Amy says.

“I’m scared,” she whispers. “I’m scared to love anyone because of them. I don’t think I’ve ever admitted that to myself.”

“Is this about Karolina? Have you guys not dropped the L bomb yet?”

“No, my feelings for her have been really overwhelming. But I love her and I’m terrified,” Nico breathes out.

“I didn’t know mom and dad had affected you so much. But you guys aren’t them. I know Karolina would never hurt you, and you’re so whipped you’ll never hurt her,” her older sister nudges her jokingly.

“I’m scared of messing this all up and losing her. She’s my best friend, I can’t lose her,” she shakes her head.

A comforting hand is laid on her bicep, she turns to look at Amy who has a serious expression painted on her face. “You will not mess this up, I’ve never been more sure of two people in my life. The way you two look at each other and treat each other, I’m sure that you two are meant for one another. And if it ends up being that you aren’t meant to be together as a couple, you guys will be able to bounce back as friends.”

Nico nods to herself, sipping on the coffee in her grip.

“Don’t let the fear of becoming our parents control you,” Amy smiles at her.

She returns the smile, “That’s easier said than done, Amy.”

“I know.”

A comfortable silence washes over them. Nico watches the waves crashing on the shore with less anxiety pressing her. Amy eventually speaks again with a teasing tone in her voice, “You know, since you’re so worried about all of this, I’m surprised you were ever brave enough to even pursue Karolina.”

Nico feels like a deer caught in the headlights at her sister’s statement and she lets out an uncomfortable laugh. The awkward laughter probably drags on too long, but she can’t think of a proper response to give her sister. Luckily, she is saved by the door sliding open to interrupt their conversation.

She turns around to see the subject of the conversation sticking her head out the door. Karolina is squinting comically with barely a side braid in anymore, but mainly a pile of frizz on her head. She looks adorable when she smiles upon making eye contact with Nico.

“There you are, I was looking for you,” she smiles.

“What’s up?” Nico eagerly responds.

“Can I talk to you for a second?”

Nico nods eagerly, looking back at her sister to give her a small nod goodbye. She follows Karolina back into the house, sliding the door shut behind her. Karolina sits gingerly on the arm of the couch and Nico slumps into the comfortable love seat that almost lulls her back to sleep.

“I was thinking we could do something today,” Karolina voices.

“What do you have in mind? Anything to get away from my parents,” Nico wryly chuckles.

The blonde pauses, eyebrows raised and taking in the smaller girl’s form on the couch. Nico doesn’t entertain her with an answer, her best friend has always been able to read her like a book. And she is always willing to knock down her high walls to let Karolina in.

“That’s what you and Amy were just talking about,” Karolina deduces and Nico nods in affirmation. “Well I figured you were pretty bored here since you’ve just been sitting in the shade since we have gotten here.”

“The sun is hot,” Nico states obviously, “Why get super sweaty for no reason?”

“Well in favor of a tan,” the blonde chuckles. She shakes her head to get back on topic, “But anyways, I’ve been looking up things to do here that might be fun for you. Sadly, most stuff is touristy and involves beaches, but I got deep into the internet and found a private beach you might like. We could go together.”

“I mean private sounds nice, but how’s that any different than what we have here?”

“It’s in a heavily wooded area, so it’s shaded and not too hot. We could also go snorkeling, I know you’re parents have you scuba certified so snorkeling is much easier and we could find some cool stuff. You may be a badass, but we both can admit the ocean is cool,” Karolina shrugs with a wide smile.

Nico’s heart flutters at the girl’s thoughtfulness, trying desperately for Nico to enjoy her vacation as well. She is also enticed to get away from everyone, especially her arguing parents, and get to spend a day alone with Karolina. A part of her is excited at the prospect of what could happen when alone with the girl.

“The ocean is terrifying and that’s why it’s interesting,” Nico shrugs. “You also excluded that my parents put Amy and me in swimming lessons, so I can basically swim like a shark out there and hold my breath underwater for over a minute.”

“You can tell me about the lessons your parents put you in on the way there,” Karolina teases. “Want to leave in like an hour?”

Nico nods, “I just need to choke some food down to fix my hangover. I’ll go tell Amy where we are going.”

Karolina chuckles and smiles brightly at her. It causes Nico’s heart to nearly explode against her ribs and the piercing pain in her skull dissipates. She is filled with a state of content and love at seeing this beautiful girl in front of her. If asked yesterday, she would’ve been terrified at the prospect of being alone with Karolina while all these feelings rage on. But now she’s throwing all of her caution to the wind. She just wants to be with Karolina, even if she ends up fucking this all up, right now all that matters is the girl she loves.


 

The Wilders let the girls borrow one of their cars. Nico cozies into the passenger seat and watches as Karolina loads the backseat full of several bags. The shorter girl can feel herself becoming sleepy once the blonde begins their drive. She yawns wildly and notices that Karolina shoots her a kind smile.

“How long of a ride is this?” She questions, fiddling with the radio dial to find a station that both girls can agree on.

“The GPS says about forty-five minutes, I’d guess closer to a half hour,” Karolina shrugs.

“Ah yes, because of your reckless driving,” Nico muses with a small smile. “Let’s just not get pulled over in a foreign country, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, just take a nap, Minoru. I can see you falling asleep,” the blonde waves a hand at her.

Nico can’t find it in herself to argue with the other girl, still exhausted from the workout she gave her liver last night from all her alcohol consumption. She manages to fall asleep relatively fast and sleeps lightly, constantly being awoken by Karolina hitting bumps too hard and whispering explicatives to herself. She finally cracks an eye open when she notices the car is in park.

“We’re here,” Karolina gestures.

Nico’s eyes take in the tiny alcove of a white sandy beach. Blue waves that almost challenge Karolina’s ocean eyes in color and beauty crash peacefully against the shore. The beautiful white shore only expands about fifty feet before reaching into a wooded area. Lush green leaves and palm trees shoot sky high creating a shadowy ambiance on the shore. Closer to the water shreds of sunlight break through the tree branches, which is where Nico bets Karolina will spend most of her time.

“It’s gorgeous,” she breathes out.

“Yeah, gorgeous,” Karolina’s voice is breathless, and she turns to look at the blonde who staring at Nico with an unreadable expression. The blonde looks away shyly, nearly giving herself whiplash.

Nico climbs out of the passenger seat and reaches into the backseat to grab a few bags. She leads the way and settles the bags down next to a dead, gray tree trunk laid diagonally across the backend of the white sand. She sits down on the edge of the thick trunk, pushing at loose bark with her pointer finger, “I like this dead tree. It captures my personality,” she muses sarcastically.

“I saw the picture of it and figured it would appeal to your favor of Wiccan décor,” Karolina shrugs sheepishly and settles down in the soft sand next to Nico’s feet.

“Seriously, how much research did you do to find this?”

The blonde shrugs, “Not that much, I just had to avoid the touristy websites.”

Karolina is suddenly shy, and Nico can only guess how much thought the blonde has put into this gesture. The blonde shrugs off her white sundress, leaving her in her swimsuit. The tall girl starts coating her skin in sunblock and Nico can feel her mouth becoming dry. She forces her brown eyes away and instead reaches into one of their bags and pulls out sunblock with a high SPF. Even though she plans on spending most of her time in this shade, she knows Karolina will lecture her about wearing it if she doesn’t put any on.

“Can you get my back?” Karolina’s raspy voice interrupts the sounds of waves crashing onto the shore.

Not trusting her dry mouth, Nico nods and holds a hand out. Karolina places the sunblock bottle in her hand and fingertips brush her inner wrist sending shocks all the way up to her elbow. The blonde turns around, and Nico forces herself to focus on the task at hand, to not get Karolina sunburnt. Even though every part of her is screaming to let her hands linger and her eyes to wander, she forces herself to focus and put a thick coat of sunblock on Karolina’s back in record time.

Karolina shoots her a smile that nearly makes her heart burst out of her chest. Nico knows that this is love, the most powerful love she’s ever felt, but she can’t bring herself to say it. She can’t bring herself to be fully honest and open with Karolina about her feelings. After her talk with Amy this morning, she knows a big reason she is holding back is because of her fear of messing this up and residual emotional trauma of her parents’ divorce.

She has no problem waiting. Waiting until there is 100% proof of her feelings being reciprocated. Nico decides to enjoy her time with Karolina and fully submit to her feelings, but she’ll be damned if she vocalizes her emotions before Karolina does.

They spend the first few hours doing their own thing in comfortable silence. Nico, still recovering from her hangover, takes intermittent naps in the shade. Whenever she wakes up, she finds Karolina sunbathing close to the water or splashing around in the waves. She looks ethereal and absolutely stunning as the sunlight glints off her.

Nico runs her fingers through her hair that has contracted a fair amount of sand due to her slumber. She watches Karolina wade out of the water, she meets the other girl’s eyes from afar and the simple eye contact and smile she receives nearly makes her world fall off its axis. Nico stands and begrudgingly strolls out closer to the water in the sunlight. She pulls her sunglasses down and shoves her toes into the ocean water that is lukewarm due to the raging heat.

Karolina plops down onto the sand next to her, stray pieces of hair falling out and framing her gorgeous face. White teeth glint in the sunlight as Karolina smiles at Nico like she’s the only other person in the world, and on this beach, it feels like it.

“You look like you’re having fun,” Nico comments.

The blonde shrugs, “I am. I’ll be having even more fun when my best friend starts to hang out with me instead of sleeping.” Karolina teases.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t blessed with your genetics that prevent you from hangovers,” Nico jokes. She rubs at her head where more sand has gathered near her roots. “Fucking sand, fucking nature,” she groans. “This is why I’ll never understand why people voluntarily sleep outdoors.”

“Do you want me to braid it?” Karolina quizzes. “It will help stop tangling and the intrusion of sand.”

Nico nods. She watches out of the corner of her eye as Karolina brings herself up onto her knees at the girl’s side to gather a chunk of hair. Her eyes flutter close at the soft contact of the blonde’s fingers tangling in her hair. The presence of Karolina’s body being so close in proximity to hers is both intoxicating and calming. Her eyes flutter shut. The sounds of crashing waves fill her ears and feathery light touches on her scalp nearly lull her back to sleep.

The blonde ties a hair tie around a second French braid. Nico’s eyes snap open when she notices Karolina out of her personal space. The taller girl is on her feet, heading into the shade. Nico mutters a ‘thanks’ and looks down at the two pristine braids in her hair. Karolina straightens up and holds up a set of goggles in victory, she looks over at Nico with a pleading expression. “Can we please snorkel now?”

Nico playfully rolls her eyes, “Fine.”

Karolina does a tiny fist pump in victory, which is absolutely adorable. The blonde walks up to her, dropping all the equipment at her feet and sitting next to Nico. They both pull flippers onto their feet, Karolina takes a moment to pause and poke fun at Nico for having to wear a children’s pair. After flipping the other girl off, she pulls the goggles over her eyes and wades off into the water.

She doesn’t know how long they swim around aimlessly with snorkels sticking out of the surface of the water. The underwater scenery is gorgeous, it’s filled with colorful fish, coral, and she even spots a stingray. Her eyes keep falling on Karolina who, from what Nico can tell behind the bulky goggles and snorkel in her mouth, looks ecstatic.

Nearing the end of their adventure, Nico tries to sign to Karolina that she is going to dive down to the bottom, which is probably only ten feet. She only receives a series of confused shrugs in response. She tries not to smile so she won’t ingest a ton of salt water. Karolina’s hand traces her ankle when she nose dives for the ocean floor, the blonde is probably trying to keep her from doing something reckless.

The short girl barely has to hold her breath. She reaches the ocean floor quickly and grasps at the sand dollar that she noticed earlier in their swim. Nico pushes off the ground and resurfaces from the water. Karolina’s head splashes above the water seconds later.

She pulls the goggles to rest on the top of her head and a giant splash of water is sent in her direction. Nico blinks and wipes furiously at her eyes. She opens them to see Karolina giving her a dirty look, “You can’t just dive down like that.”

“I signed to you that I was diving down for a second. I can hold my breath for a while, I was fine,” she rolls her eyes.

Karolina lets out an annoyed huff, clearly concerned. Nico swims back to shore and Karolina follows her. She sits down at the edge of the water and reaches over to the blonde to hand her the sand dollar she grabbed. “I was diving for this. I saw it and knew you’d like it.”

The taller girl delicately traces the sand dollar that rests in Nico’s open palm. She has a soft look on her face and gives Nico a beaming smile. “I do love it, thanks, Nico.”

Nico immediately returns the smile. Her chest flutters when she realizes Karolina’s hand is still in hers, even if there’s a sand dollar separating true contact. Their fingertips graze one another, and the tiny touch almost makes Nico’s brain short circuit.

The way Karolina is looking at her, she thinks that the blonde is going to kiss her. Nico’s entire body is ignited in the anticipation of a kiss.

But the blonde doesn’t, instead she shyly tucks one of many loose strands of hair behind her ear. She looks sheepish and smiles shyly down at the sand dollar that is still in Nico’s hand. Karolina’s fingers visibly shake when she grasps it and takes it out of Nico’s grip. That’s when Nico realizes that Karolina is just as terrified as her. And maybe the reason that the blonde has seemed indifferent or distant at times is maybe because she’s scared of her feelings as well.

Feeling the exact same way, Nico lets the blonde have the moment to herself. She gets up onto her feet and strides to their pile of stuff. She wraps a towel around her shoulders and pulls her phone deep out of the bag. She rejoins Karolina at the mouth of the water. The taller girl stares out at the serene water with a thoughtful expression on her face. She would give anything to be able to know what Karolina is thinking about in this moment.

“What time is it?” The blonde breaks the silence.

“A little after three, we should probably leave soon,” Nico voices.

“Yeah, let’s just wait a little bit longer though,” Karolina whispers sweetly. Nico looks over at her and sees how softly the blonde is looking at her, and she knows Karolina feels as happy and comfortable as she does in this moment.

It’s the first time in a long time that they’ve had a day alone to themselves where they aren’t both fighting, or Nico isn’t pushing Karolina away. It’s probably the first time since all of this started with that kiss at the Lakers game that feels like it was eons ago.

But it’s different this time. It isn’t like their comfortable best friend days they used to have, but it feels like a comfortable day with someone she loves deeply. She loved Karolina before this whole ordeal, but in a platonic way, not like how she does now. Like how she feels like she can’t breathe without her or that her whole world revolves on its axis because of this beautiful, wonderful girl in front of her.

And yeah, Nico sucks at expressing her feelings and having them, but with Karolina she’s willing to make an exception and try. She is terrified and feels like a coward that she can’t be honest about her feelings, but she figures she can take baby steps and at least try to show it.

She reaches out and grabs Karolina’s hand. She intertwines their fingers, and it’s an action she’s done hundreds of times, but it still sends her heart racing, because this time it is intimate and different. And she is desperately trying to portray to Karolina that this is real, and it has been for a long time.

Karolina smiles at her, nearly radiating and shining with happiness. And she thinks that the other girl gets the message.


 

No you’re not the light of the world but you shine on me.

Karolina rereads Nico’s Instagram caption for the hundredth time in the last twenty-four hours. It’s a picture of her sitting on that gorgeous beach, smiling softly with her eyes looking serenely out at the ocean. One of her knees is tucked in near her body with an arm wrapped around it and the other is extended out in contact with the clear water. The sand dollar that Nico dove to get her is gripped loosely in the hand that is hugging her knee to her body. It’s a nice picture, she didn’t even notice Nico take it at the time.

Nico posted the picture yesterday evening after they had gotten back from their beach excursion. And Karolina was just as shocked when she saw the notification on her phone the first time as she is now. Everything about the caption and picture is so soft and so not Nico.

The post had exploded in popularity. She even got an alert on her phone about a TMZ article about the couple’s romantic getaway with the Instagram picture featured and a blurry photo of the pair kissing on the yacht from a few days ago.

“Karolina? What are you doing?” Nico’s voice suddenly appears in the doorway to their bedroom.

The suddenness causes the blonde to jump and unintentionally throw her phone across the bed that she’s seated on. The screen is face up, the image of Karolina brightly shining upwards for anyone to see. She dives to grab the phone when Nico gives her a wicked smirk and stalks towards the phone.

“Why are you so jumpy?” Nico chuckles. “Were you watching porn or something?”

“No,” Karolina scowls. “You just scared me is all.”

Nico shrugs and sits down on the bed, stretching her legs out that fall onto Karolina’s lap, “Then what were you looking at?”

“Just social media,” she tries to casually state.

The shorter girl gives her a knowing look with an eyebrow raised. Thankfully, Nico avoids any teasing. Instead she toes at Karolina’s calf and gives her a kind smile. “I came up here to see why you weren’t downstairs with everyone.”

She shrugs, “Just needed some time away from everyone.”

Nico nods, pulling her legs off of the blonde and scrambling to climb off the bed. “Sorry, I didn’t know. I’ll give you some time.”

The blonde chuckles, “No, Nico,” the other girl’s name rolls off her lips fondly, “that obviously doesn’t apply to you.”

“Oh,” Nico giggles and seats herself gingerly back at the foot of the bed. Her posture is ramrod straight and she keeps fiddling with her hands. And it doesn’t take a genius to tell that the other girl is nervous.

And now that Karolina is pretty confident that her feelings aren’t as one-sided as she earlier believed, she realizes that she’s causing Nico to be like this. Maybe it’s because of the Instagram post, or about their day at the beach yesterday, or about their kiss they shared after the boat trip. Regardless of the cause, the notorious hardass Nico Minoru is reduced to a nervous mess and Karolina is the cause; it causes a tiny flare of smugness to arise which pushes her to have an extra amount of confidence with the other girl.

It’s like she becomes another person, somebody who is confident about flirting when she speaks. “So, about the charity gala our parents are hosting next week,” she begins.

Nico relaxes back into her seat, “What about it?”

“Do you want to be my date for it?” Karolina rasps and smiles softly at the shorter girl.

Nico scrunches her eyebrows, tilting her head slightly, “I mean that was already implied like a month ago when we started this thing.”

“I meant do you want to be my date date,” the blonde smiles when the other girl lets out an awkward bark of laughter. And it seems cheesy and she shouldn’t sound so confident because she sounds like a sixth grader saying she like likes someone, but it just feels right.

“Yeah,” Nico nods sweetly, sounding a little breathless.

“Cool, we should go dress shopping tomorrow!” She climbs off the bed with an extra light skip in her step. She’s absolutely giddy and she feels like she needs to do an excited dance or something. “I’m going to go ask Gert and Molly if they want to join for the shopping trip,” she leans down next to Nico leaving a chaste kiss on her cheek. “Who knows maybe I’ll even ask our moms to join,” Karolina raises her eyebrows excitedly as she backs away towards the door shooting playful finger guns at the girl.

“You dork, please don’t invite our moms!” Nico groans to her.

Karolina leans on the door frame, staring at Nico with love in her eyes. Everything feels so right and like it’s finally snapping into place. She loves Nico and she’s confident Nico has the same feelings too. The blonde feels like she’s soaring on a high, everything with Nico is falling into place. Maybe she’ll make her move soon, maybe on the night of the gala. And she’s confident that when she opens up to Nico about her emotions it will all work out. Nothing could go wrong.

Chapter Text

For the next several days, their dynamic shifts. The girls don’t necessarily talk about their feelings, but things escalate ever so slightly since their day at the beach. There’s a lot more kissing, but never in private. Nico is too scared to close the distance between Karolina and her when they lay in bed at night facing each other and talking until the sun rises. And Karolina is being patient it seems, waiting and in no rush to make a move either.

They only kiss in front of their friends and family, and it can be short and chaste, but it is so much different than before. It’s deeper, more meaningful and completely unnecessary in regards to selling their fake dating status. They’re kissing because they want to, but Nico finds herself too scared to bring that topic up.

When the day of the gala arrives all of the parents in Pride are sprinting around to get everything in order. Nico completes the finishing touches on her makeup while all of the other girls get ready around her. She looks at her face in the lit mirror to ensure everything is even and blended before spraying her setting spray.

She spins around in her seat looking at all the girls around her. For some odd reason of good charity, she offered to do everyone’s makeup. Except for Gert who said she doesn’t need to be improved upon. Molly is dancing around on the bed to the soft music in the background. Amy seems to be playing some game on her phone. Gert is off doing god knows what with Chase, promising to get ready with the girls closer to the time of the gala. And Karolina sits next to her putting the finishing touches on curling her golden hair. Her eyes linger on Karolina. The blonde looks gorgeous and she doesn’t quite know how much longer she can survive without being honest about her feelings.

“Okay, I’m done with my hair,” Karolina states as she finishes spraying hair spray onto her blonde curls. “Want to start my makeup?”

Nico nods and gets to work. Doing Karolina Dean’s makeup isn’t a hard task, after all she is dealing with an extraordinary canvas. Her hands are steady as she does the blonde’s eyeliner, and she only loses her focus after finishing both wings. Her eyes linger on Karolina’s soft features and it makes her breathless.

“Can I open my eyes?” the blonde interrupts her thoughts. Nico clears her throat awkwardly and says that she can. She manages to finish Karolina’s makeup without getting distracted again. Nico mentally pats herself on the back for being in such proximity to the girl without losing her focus. Her hands shake slightly when applying a light shade of lipstick to Karolina’s lips because it makes her nervous to fixate so much on the lips that she has kissed countless times.

“All done,” she voices. She starts to lean back from her slouched position that placed her face to face with the blonde. A soft hand on her tricep stops her, and Karolina has a devilish glint in her eye and a sweet smirk on her face as she puckers her lips slightly and points her index finger at her bottom lip. A gesture asking Nico to kiss her, and it feels like there are sirens screaming in her head because her whole body is about to set on fire. This boldness from the blonde is new and has developed ever since their day on the beach. It has made Nico nearly have a stroke several times. But ever the makeup artist, she rolls her eyes and shakes her head, “No, I just put your lipstick on.”

“That’s lame, is this the drama that entails dating another girl?” Amy jokes, watching their interaction. “Or is this just what it’s like dating my sister?”

“I don’t want it to smear,” Nico rolls her eyes.

“Makeup always comes first with this one,” Karolina states.

Nico lightly elbows the seated girl, “Fuck off.”

Molly lets out a fake, dramatic gasp, “Nico, do you kiss your girlfriend with that mouth?”

The short goth girl points a brush at both Molly and Amy threateningly, “Keep it up and I won’t do your makeup.”

“Ugh, such a mom,” Molly groans.

The group of four girls all chuckle at that. Molly’s not necessarily wrong, Nico has always been the mom friend. Karolina gets up from her seat, placing a soft touch on Nico’s shoulder while pressing the world’s lightest kiss on her cheek. So light that it couldn’t possibly smear her makeup, but it still makes Nico’s heart flutter, nonetheless.

Amy climbs into the seat after the blonde, and Nico and Karolina settle into a nice routine. Nico works on her makeup and Karolina curls her hair. They both flawlessly move around one another without having to use any words.

Gert joins the group when Nico is doing the finishing touches on her sister’s eye makeup. The group of girls chat idly and crack jokes as soft music echoes throughout the room. It’s nice to have all of them together like this again.

After they finish Amy’s hair and makeup, her sister escapes downstairs to go get some drinks so they can “pregame for the gala,” Amy’s words not hers. Molly climbs into the designated seat and the fake couple gets to work on her hair and makeup. It takes Nico and Karolina a good twenty minutes to finish getting the younger girl ready, and it isn’t until she’s climbing out of the chair that Nico notices her sister still hasn’t returned. She excuses herself to go look for Amy while the other girls start putting on their dresses.

Nico makes her way downstairs and heads right for the kitchen. She figures that is the place the other girl would be searching for drinks. Given the layout of the mansion, she hears the screaming from the kitchen before she can even see anything. She rushes to the doorway and finds the source of screaming to be her mother.

The sight before her makes her freeze. Amy is backed into a corner, wedged between the trashcan and the end of the countertop. Her face is scrunched up in anger, and when Amy meets her eyes, she sees a look of fear glinting off her irises. Their mother, despite being shorter than Amy, is nearly looming over the girl. Tina is screaming, she’s agitated, and their parents have never hit them, but from her mom’s tone she isn’t sure if that track record is about to stay intact.

Amy and Tina Minoru have never gotten along. They’ve had their fair share of arguments, but nothing like this. Nothing where Amy looks terrified of the unpredictability of their mother and where Tina’s tone can only be described as malicious.

Nico rushes across the kitchen, “Mom,” she exclaims. The youngest Minoru is about to grab her mother’s shoulder to tear her away from being in Amy’s face, but she notices her sister give her a slight shake of the head. Tina’s unhinged and unpredictable right now, she doesn’t know what she’ll do if she grabs her.

“Nico, this doesn’t involve you,” her mother barely glances over her shoulder at her. Her tone is sharp and cold, but after hearing such a tone for twenty years, Nico is able to detect the slight difference in her voice. Her words aren’t as annunciated as they normally are and syllables are slurred, and everything adds up to Nico in that moment. Tina is drunk, it’s probably the second time in Nico’s life she’s ever seen her mom like this. It was only a matter of time before her mother snapped, she is on vacation with her ex-husband and his fiancée after all.

“You guys are my family, and you’re screaming at my sister. It definitely involves me,” she snips. She lets out a sigh of relief when her mom takes a step back from Amy.

Tina spins on her heel, irises in her eyes slightly clicking due to her intoxicated status. Despite being drunk, her threatening glare to Nico still makes her shrink and feel like she’s a tiny eight-year-old all over again. “This does not concern you.”

“Get away from Amy,” she seethes. Her teeth clench together sending sparks of pain up her jaw. Tina steps further into Nico’s space, the daughter lifts her chin up defiantly. “She doesn’t deserve to be yelled at like this.”

“Really? She was talking to your father,” Tina snaps.

“And?” Nico shakes her head with a sardonic chuckle. “He’s still our dad. And I get he cheated and that’s a whole ordeal, but frankly you’re being childish right now. You’re drunk and you’re lashing out at Amy for doing nothing wrong.”

“Don’t you dare speak to me this way. I am your mother.”

“You only decided to be my mother after nineteen years. You didn’t care about Amy or me until dad left. Your marriage was over and our family was ruined long before he cheated on you,” Nico shouts. She knows she’s being cruel, but she’s only saying what both her and Amy have always thought. And Nico is pissed and being protective of her sister, she’ll be damned if she lets her mom hurt the person in this family that matters most to her.

“God, you’re so much like me,” Her mom spits it out in disgust and Nico recoils at the words. They’re the worst words Nico could ever hear. It makes her blood run cold. Tina takes a step closer, making Nico falter and stumble backwards. “You’re more like me than you’d like to admit, Nico. You’re dark and selfish and cruel. You’re cold to everyone.”

“No,” she interrupts her mom’s tangent. “Not to Amy,” she pauses, “not to Karolina.”

“That will fade. I used to adore your father when I was young too, just like you adore Karolina now. It will go away, your selfishness and darkness that you got from me will take over. You’ll tear it all apart just like I did with him, and you’ll push her away until she’s gone. You’re going to stop caring and hurt her just like I did with your father.”

The words crash down on her like a tsunami. Her mother’s vile tone stings, because deep down she knows her mom is right. Her voice cracks when she speaks, and that’s when she realizes she’s crying at her mother’s cruel words. “Don’t you dare- “

“What speak the truth?” Tina interrupts. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, you’re destined to ruin everything you touch.”

Her finger shakes as she raises it to point at her mom, “I can’t believe I was ever empathetic for you over dad. You bitc-“

“Nico,” she hears her father’s soft tone coming from the doorway. She whips her head over her shoulder and sees Amy standing with their dad. Nico didn’t even notice her sister leave to get help.

“Get out of here, Robert,” Tina roars.

When Nico looks back at her mom, she feels like she’s on fire. And the only way to extinguish the engulfing flames is to submit to her blind rage. And maybe Tina is right, maybe she’s a monster just like her mom, because she honestly would’ve started swinging if her dad’s arms didn’t wrap around her to physically remove her from the kitchen.

“This is why we aren’t a family,” she’s screaming, suspended in the air in her dad’s arms. Tears, that are ruining her makeup, run all the way down to her chin. “Because of everything you’ve done, mom.”

Her dad doesn’t set her down until the kitchen walls blur away and she’s being set down on the couch. He crouches in front of her and Amy sits closely at her side, wiping her tears away every so often.

“She said I- “Nico’s voice cracks and she doesn’t trust herself to keep speaking.

Amy rubs a comforting hand on her shoulder, “I heard her. Don’t listen to a word she says.”

“Nico!” Her name is exclaimed, and she looks over to the staircase where Karolina stands along with Gert and Molly. The blonde rushes over to them, “We heard yelling, what happened?”

“Tina happened,” Robert shakes his head. “I’m going to go make sure that she doesn’t start hurting anyone else, okay?”

She nods with teary eyes. Robert retreats out of the room and Karolina soon takes his spot. She looks at her with fire in her eyes, “She hurt you?”

She shakes her head, “Not physically.”

“Could you guys give Nico and me a moment alone?” Amy voices. Her sister is staring directly at Karolina, giving her a pleading glare, “We will meet you guys back upstairs.”

“I’m not leaving her like this,” Karolina’s voice cracks as she wipes at one of the tears on Nico’s cheek.

“I’m fine, Karolina,” Nico says. “We’ll be upstairs in a second.”

The blonde gives her several inquisitive looks, hesitating to leave. Nico nods at her and gives her a look conveying that she needs to be alone with Amy. Her eyes watch as Karolina, Gert, and Molly make their way back up the stairs. She hears the bedroom door shut and looks over, Amy is staring at her with tears in her eyes.

“Thank you for defending me,” Amy says and Nico nods. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been, like, scared of her.” Her sister pauses to grab her hand and she notices Amy blink a few tears out of her eyes, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t defend you too.”

“You did, you went and got dad,” Nico reassures. “I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done if you didn’t.”

The sisters both stare at the white wall for several moments. Amy sniffles a few times and Nico wipes a few stray tears from her own eyes. “She was drunk,” her older sister state, “people say and do dumb shit they don’t mean when they’re drunk. She didn’t mean any of that stuff she said about you.”

“But what if she did?” Nico’s voice cracks. “And even if she didn’t mean it, I meant every single hurtful word I said about her. Doesn’t that make me every awful thing she described?”

“That’s not true. You are strong and willing to protect the people you love. You lashed out at her to help me, it makes you the opposite of all those awful things she said,” Amy states. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

Nico sighs feeling broken. She doesn’t have the energy to talk about this with Amy. Her sister is trying to help her, but she can’t help but feel like her mom’s words ring true. No matter how much Amy tells her its not true, she can’t convince herself. She’s scared of herself, scared of becoming the cold woman that is Tina Minoru who has ended up alone because she’s hurt everyone around her.

“I need to fix my makeup,” Nico awkwardly stands.

Her sister gives her a kind smile and follows her upstairs. When they make it to the bedroom door, she sees that Molly and Gert have abandoned ship likely to let the couple have a moment alone together. It’s only Karolina waiting in the room, she’s leaning against the door.

“I’m going to leave you two alone,” Amy smiles kindly at her sister before making her way down the hall.

Nico follows the blonde into their room and closes the door behind her. She sits down in front of the mirror, staring at her reflection. Her makeup is smeared immensely. Dark eyeliner and mascara stain below her bloodshot eyes. She scoffs and brings a makeup wipe to her face, wiping everything off. Her hands shake when she notices Karolina watching her through the mirror.

“Do you want to talk about it?” the blonde asks, concerned.

“No,” she states shortly.

She isn’t sure how much of the argument the other girl heard, but she can’t talk to Karolina right now. Not when she is terrified of herself and what harm she can do to this person she loves. What if she ends up just like her mother and ends up being as awful to the blonde as her mom was to her dad?

Her eyes squeeze shut when a tear threatens to roll down her cheek. With shaky hands, she grabs an eyeshadow brush. Nico is frozen, her mother’s words repeating through her mind debilitate her movements.

“Here, let me,” Karolina’s voice breaks her out of her thoughts. She looks over at the girl who is slowly nearing her and sits down next to her. The blonde’s hand covers hers, taking the eyeshadow brush out her hands. “I can’t promise it will be as beautiful as your makeup usually is, but I’ll try,” and the blonde smiles at her so kindly she could cry. Nico cracks a watery smile at her and nods.

Karolina lightly holds Nico’s chin between her thumb and index finger. Her eyes flutter shut, and the other girl works on fixing her makeup. It’s intimate and quiet, and for a few moments it allows her to forget about her altercation in the kitchen that has her questioning everything.

“You know, we don’t have to go to the gala if you don’t want,” Karolina breaks the silence after finishing Nico’s eye makeup. “We can just stay here and barricade ourselves in this room.”

Normally Nico would take her up on this offer, but she doesn’t know if she can be alone with Karolina right now. After her mom’s hurtful words about how she was destined to ruin everything with Karolina, she needs time to think. She needs to think about Karolina’s wellbeing; she’s not willing to hurt her. Nico will do anything to prevent Karolina’s heart from being broken. And right now, that means she has to tough it out and go to this damn gala after having her mom verbally attack her.

Karolina finishes her makeup and Nico finally cracks an eye open. The blonde is staring at her sweetly and moves her hand that is cupping her chin to hold Nico’s cheek. Her thumb strokes Nico’s cheekbone and it makes a wave of warmth and light fill the dark hole in Nico’s chest. She allows herself to smile softly, but for only a moment, because in a matter of seconds her thoughts are being invaded by the words her mom used to describe her. Could Tina have been right, is she really destined to be cruel and awful to this girl she loves sitting in front of her?


 

Nico doesn’t talk much, and Karolina is desperately trying to respect that. The blonde has no idea what went down during the altercation between Nico and Tina. She had heard screaming and went downstairs, and by the time she made it there Amy and Robert were comforting a crying Nico on the couch.

The pair sit next to each other in the limo that contains all the kids. She spends more time staring at Nico than looking anywhere else. The shorter girl is just staring blankly at her lap and she can’t even begin to fathom what Tina said to break her.

Karolina looks over at Amy who is also sporting a despaired expression. The older Minoru sister is at least talking to people here and there, and Karolina wrestles with urge to talk to Amy about what happened earlier. She shakes her head at herself, angered for wanting to disrespect Nico’s privacy like that. Nico will tell her what happened when she’s ready and the blonde knows even if she did try to talk to Amy, the older sister wouldn’t break Nico’s trust like that.

The limo comes to a stop and the kids are exposed to a flurry of flashing lights. As everyone climbs out before them, Karolina looks to Nico with a soft expression, “Are you sure you want to go to this? We can still head back.”

“I’m fine,” Nico states.

Karolina nods, her chest hurts like she’s trying to inhale through a straw. She just wants Nico to let her in, but she can feel the shorter girl pushing her away more and more by the second. They climb out of the limo, and they make their short walk down the red carpet. Karolina’s smiles are forced at the cameras and Nico is turned into her side with an arm around her waist. She spares glances at the other girl who is slouched and only gives the cameras closed mouth grimaces that are attempts at smiles.

They make their way inside the ballroom and Nico makes her way right for her designated seat. Her shoulders slouch in hurt when the shorter girl doesn’t even look to see if she is following. She begins to stride after Nico, but a hand lightly grips at her wrist, stopping her. She turns her head in question of who is gripping her.

It’s Amy who has a hold on her wrist. The older Minoru smiles at her sadly, “Come get drinks with me.”

She nods dumbly and follows the girl to the bar. Amy orders a round of champagne for all the kids and levels Karolina with an inquisitive look while waiting on their order, “A word of advice, stop looking at Nico like she kicked your puppy.”

“I’m just concerned,” the blonde shrugs.

“I’m not going to tell you what my mom said because that’s Nico’s business to tell you, not mine. But I’ll let you know she was cruel, and Nico just needs you to be there, even if she’s acting like she doesn’t want you around,” Amy advises. A tray of champagne flutes is set in front of them, “She will tell you when she’s ready, just be there for her right now.”

“Thanks, Amy,” she smiles weakly at the other girl and they make their way back to the table where all the pride kids are seated.

Karolina grabs two of the champagne flutes as Amy sets down the tray. She sits down next to Nico and hands her one. The shorter girl just sets it down on the table with a frown. The blonde tries not to let the action sting.

“What were you and Amy talking about?” Nico grumbles. The blonde looks over at Nico who has an angry twisted expression on her face. “Did you seriously go ask her about what happened with my mom?”

“No,” Karolina denies. “Don’t jump to that conclusion, we just went and got drinks. I wouldn’t invade your privacy like that.”

The other girl’s shoulders slump in relief. Nico grabs at her drink and takes a sip, “If you say so.”

The blonde knows Nico is angered right now because of her familial drama, so she tries not to get angered by the girl’s disbelief. “I don’t want to fight about this, Nico.”

“I’m not fighting,” she doesn’t even have to look at Nico to know she is rolling her eyes.

“Can we just enjoy tonight?” Karolina questions. “I can try to help you forget about her.”

“They have a banner of our parents’ faces hanging up, I don’t think I’m going to be able to forget about it right now,” she grumbles, and Karolina tries not to visibly shrink.

Her eyes shoot over to Amy who gives her a sympathetic look. The blonde takes the hint and stops trying to talk to Nico. Dinner plates are handed out by servers, and Karolina shoves at the food absentmindedly with her fork. She feels sick to her stomach. When their plates are cleared, Karolina braces herself to try and talk to Nico again, but her mom interrupts.

“Karolina,” Leslie’s voice appears from nowhere, “can you come with me?”

She looks to Nico who is staring at her empty glass, “I’m kinda busy, mom.”

Her mom’s eyes shoot between the pair in question, “It will just be a minute, just some minor networking thing.”

“Go, don’t let me interfere,” Nico says blankly.

The blonde lets out a shaky sigh and gets up to follow her mom. She stays silent, feeling her mom’s eyes staring at the side of her head. She hopes her mom doesn’t try to bring up the tense interaction between Karolina and Nico. The mother and daughter’s relationship has pretty much been nonexistent and neutral ever since Leslie decided to believe that Karolina and Nico were dating. The younger Dean has come to terms that she will probably never be close with her mother again; neither of them have made the effort to mend fences.

“What was that about?” Leslie’s voice breaks the silence and Karolina sighs, irritated.

“Do you even care?” Karolina snaps surprised by her own attitude.

“I do care, Karolina. I’ve done a bad job of showing it. I’m really sorry I didn’t accept it or believe you at first, but I’ve been working on myself and it,” Leslie states genuinely. “All that matters is if you’re happy, and if Nico makes you happy then I support it.”

A smile cracks on Karolina’s mouth. And her chest feels warm at her mom’s acceptance, and just a few hours ago she would’ve been over the moon. A few hours ago, she loved Nico and Nico was warm and probably loved her too. But now the other girl is being distant, and she knows something went down with her mom, but it still stings.

“Not that it’s either of our business,” Karolina begins, “but Nico’s upset because of something that happened with her mom.”

“What happened?” Leslie questions.

She shrugs, “I have no idea, whatever it was it was bad.” Her eyes dart around the ballroom, “Bad enough that Tina skipped the gala.”

Her mom hums, “Maybe I can talk to Tina about it.”

“No, let’s not insert ourselves,” she corrects her mom. “Anyways, what did you need me for?”

“There are just a couple of people that I needed to talk with, and I figured you could join me,” her mom says.

“Why would I want to do that? Aren’t these just other charities?” She quizzes and then her shoulders sag in defeat, “Wait, are you just exploiting me again because I’m your gay daughter?”

“No, no,” Leslie interrupts with a nervous tone. “Like I said, I’m trying to be better and I want to work on this with you, and it took some time, but I’m okay with who you are. And I’m not trying to exploit you for it, but I’m trying to better myself. There are a couple of charities here for the LGBT community, and,” her mom stops her ramble looking anxiously at Karolina, “I wanted to make a donation to one and I wanted your input on which one I should pick. So, I figured we could talk to a couple of them together and you’d help me decide.”

Karolina stops in her tracks, looking at her mom with a questioning expression. Her eyes take in her mom’s form, she’s standing with her usual confident posture, but her face is twisted in a worrying expression as she looks at Karolina for approval. And the younger blonde could cry, because her mom is being genuine. A month ago, she thought her relationship with her mother was over, and it was so painful to go through, but Leslie is trying. She’s actively trying to better herself and accept her daughter.

“I’d really like that, mom,” she smiles.  


 

“It looks like order is restored, huh?” Nico cynically muses when Karolina sits back next to her with a beaming smile. “You and your mom are buddy-buddy again and my mom is back to being a cold, shitty mother.”

She lays a comforting hand on the girl’s arm, “I don’t know what happened with your mom, but I’m really sorry.”

“What did your mom want anyways?” Nico questions.

And Karolina’s smile that she already had from the nice moment she had with her mom widens, because Nico is at least talking to her now. “We were talking to some LGBT charities that she wants to donate to. And I know it seems she’s waving money around to apologize or exploit me, but we talked, and she apologized and she’s trying.”

Nico smiles for the first time that evening, “Hey, you don’t have to explain yourself to me. If you weren’t so open and accepting by seeing the best in people you wouldn’t be you.”

Karolina smiles down at her lap, a blush taking over her cheeks. She chances a glance back at Nico who is still staring at her with a soft expression. The blonde decides to take the other girl’s lightened mood as a sign to try and talk to her, “So, now that the dinner and most of the speeches are done, we don’t have much else to do here. Maybe we could do something to help distract you from all the stuff today.”

“And how would you be of distraction?” Nico asks with an eyebrow raised.

Karolina’s eyes dart around the ballroom, searching for something for them to do. She didn’t think Nico would take the bait. Her eyes glance out to the corner of the ballroom where a large set of doors lead to a balcony. “I have an idea,” she beams and grabs at Nico’s hand.

She pulls the shorter girl behind her with a smile on her face. Karolina makes two pit stops on the way to the balcony doors. First, she stops at the bar to grab a bottle of champagne, and then she stops by a caterer to grab a tray of hors d’oeuvres. She glances over her shoulder one more time to make sure nobody is watching or following them before leading Nico out the door onto the balcony.

Karolina heaves a sigh of relief when the cool night air hits them and there is nobody present on the balcony. She leads Nico to a set of expensive patio furniture closer to the railing. The blonde plops down into the love seat and Nico follows. Nico kicks her legs onto the blonde’s lap while balancing the tray of food on her thighs. Karolina pops the cork off the champagne and hands the bottle to Nico, she takes a swig before handing it back to Karolina.

“Good idea on coming out here,” Nico smiles while staring out at the gorgeous view and stars sprinkled in the sky. For Karolina her gorgeous view is the awed girl sitting beside her. The blonde doesn’t bother to hide her staring when Nico catches her eye. The shorter girl smiles shyly and steals the bottle back from Karolina.

For the next few hours, Karolina feels like she is in a bubble with Nico. They spend their time giggling and chatting like a couple in love. They pass around the bottle and tray until all the food and champagne have disappeared. It’s the best moment of this vacation, being like this with Nico, possibly one of her best moments ever.

It’s almost surprising how Nico’s mood flips like a switch. She no longer seems upset or angered by today’s earlier events. The shorter girl is smiling and glowing in a way Karolina has never seen before.

Off in the distance, Karolina can hear plates clattering inside and checking the time, she knows the gala is almost over. Everything in this moment feels so perfect and she doesn’t want it to end. The blonde decides on doing one more thing before her and Nico ultimately have to leave this tiny paradise they resided in for hours. She opens her Spotify app and scrolls through a playlist of hers until she lands on a slow song that she knows they both love. She sets her phone down and rises to her feet, holding out a hand to the seated girl. “Want to dance?”

Nico stands and takes the offered hand, “I don’t dance, you know that.”

Karolina chuckles, pulling their tangled hands causing Nico to stumble closer to her. “She says as she accepts the request,” she teases.

Feeling confident and overwhelmingly giddy, she wraps her arms around Nico’s waist. The shorter girl, less short than usual since Nico opted for heels and Karolina went with flats, wraps her arms around Karolina’s neck. Gorgeous brown eyes sparkling under the stars meet hers and Karolina could melt. They sway to the music and Karolina feels like the love she has for the girl is about to make her burst at the seams.  

She breaks the eye contact with Nico to take her all in. The black-haired girl has on a floor length black gown with lace sleeves. Along the ribcage there is sheer fabric exposing smooth skin. Her eyes fall back to Nico’s face and all the oxygen is nearly sucked out of her lungs from looking at the girl. She’s so beautiful.

“I didn’t get to tell you earlier, but you look beautiful, Nico,” she smiles.

She doesn’t miss how Nico’s cheeks redden before glancing at Karolina’s form, “You do too, Karolina. You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

And now it’s the blonde’s turn to blush. She looks down at their feet, moving in tandem, with a sheepish smile. One of Nico’s hands moves from its position at the back of her neck and moves to Karolina’s chin. Tilting her head up to look into her eyes with a soft smile that’s reserved for Karolina only. Karolina feels like she is about to melt all over again, especially when Nico leans forward to press a soft kiss to her lips. And the blonde feels like the whole world is spinning when the shorter girl pulls away after a few seconds. Her eyes flutter open and fall onto Nico who has a tiny smirk on her mouth showing off the dimples in her cheeks. She nearly tells her she loves her there.

“Thank you, Karolina,” Nico hums, leaning forward and resting her head against Karolina’s shoulder as they sway. “Thank you for tonight, you help me forget the shitty stuff and just make me happy.”

Her arms automatically pull the shorter girl closer, “I would do anything for you, Nico.”

“Anything? Like even something legally questionable? Because Tina is high on my shit list right now,” the shorter girl jokes sarcastically.

Karolina’s hand that is resting comfortably on the other girl’s waist jokingly pinches her, “Oh shut up, don’t ruin the moment.”

Nico angles her head so she’s looking into the blonde’s eyes while keeping her head on the taller girl’s shoulder. Karolina’s heart is bounding, and she feels like she’s being flooded with light, if she it was physically possible to glow all colors of the rainbow, Karolina would be shining brightly for the whole city to see. Nico’s hand leaves from its grip behind Karolina’s neck to stroke soft fingertips along Karolina’s cheekbone as eyes implore hers, questioning and unreadable.

Nico’s tone changes, the octave of her voice dropping as she asks the loaded question: “Do you want to get out of here?”


 

By the time they make it back to the mansion, Karolina feels like she is about to burst with anticipation. The cab ride back entailed shy looks and Nico resting a palm high on Karolina’s thigh. She feels like she’s burning from her head to her toes as Nico grips her hand tightly and leads them up to their bedroom.

The door barely slams shut behind them before her back is being pressed against it. The doorknob digs into her right kidney and it should hurt, but she’s too focused on Nico at the moment. The shorter girl is standing close, close enough that they’re sharing breaths, but not close enough to touch. Brown eyes glare into hers, almost asking if this is okay. Karolina is able to nod slightly before leaning forward to crash their lips in a kiss.

There’s no guise of being drunk or angry to chalk up the kissing to, unlike all of their other private encounters. It is just Karolina and Nico. The love bubbling up in her chest makes her kiss the other girl sweetly. She wants to be desperate, to steal all of the oxygen out of Nico’s lungs, but this is about to be their first time together, she needs it to be full of all the love she has for the other girl.

Nico doesn’t quite get that memo. Her lips are scorching, moving to the column of Karolina’s neck as her hands claw at the zipper on the blonde’s dress. Below the sounds of her own labored breathing she hears the metallic sound of the zipper being dragged down the length of her back.

“Nico,” she whispers the girl’s name like a prayer. Her hands lace themselves through curled black locks of hair when teeth graze her pulse point. And her knees feel weak like they are about to give out, and she’s about to just give in to this. An embarrassingly loud moan rips through her throat when Nico’s hands on her ribcage begin to slide up higher. Karolina steadies herself, pushing lightly on the shorter girl’s shoulders, “Slow down.”

The shorter girl pulls back with her bottom lip snared between her teeth. Her eyes look Karolina up and down, they look black in the dark room, but she can see all the emotion behind them. She nods, “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” a goofy smile covers her mouth. Karolina leans forward, pressing her lips against Nico’s. It starts slow, but Karolina feels like all of her nerve endings are ignited and about to burst if she doesn’t speed this up. She sucks on Nico’s bottom lip as her hands find the clasp on Nico’s dress and then she drags the zipper down. Maybe she doesn’t have as much self-control for taking this slow as she thought.

Nico steps back, maintaining eye contact with a hungry glare as she pulls her arms out of her sleeves and lets her dress pool at her ankles and kicks her heels off. Chucking her shoes off her feet, Karolina follows her step pressing the length of her body against Nico’s as she presses a desperate, open mouthed kiss to Nico’s lips. They both blindly stumble as Karolina leads them back towards the bed.

The backs of Nico’s knees hit the bed, and Karolina pulls back to watch as the girl slowly scoots back and rests her head on the mountain of pillows. And Karolina has never seen anything so beautiful.

Karolina wants to let her dress pool to the ground, so she can feel as much of Nico’s skin as possible when she climbs on top of her. But like an anxious yet excited teenager, she lets the open dress hang on her body as she eagerly joins the girl on the bed.

She follows her, crawling up the length of them bed, the fabric of her dress tangling as she does so. It makes her stumble and nearly headbutt Nico’s hipbone, but she manages to catch herself with open palms on the mattress. Karolina awkwardly giggles at herself and Nico joins in, and it makes a lot of the anxiety of what’s about to happen fall off the blonde’s shoulders.

Both of her knees bracket the shorter girl’s hips. She rests there for a moment, looking at Nico who is laying half naked on their bed with hair pooled around her head like a halo. Her chest heaves and Karolina feels smug for a moment. God, she loves her, and her love is deepening by the second.

She holds both of Nico’s cheeks in her hands, smiling when the other girl meets her eye. And after holding it all in for so long, Karolina can no longer not say it. She can’t go another moment without letting Nico know how she feels. The charged tension in the room dissipates when Karolina leans forward to press a sweet, loving kiss to Nico’s lips. She pulls back enough to look clearly into the other girl’s eyes, and she utters those three words that she’s been dying to say.


 

I love you,” the words ring in her ears. Silence encompasses them as blue eyes implore hers, questioning and waiting for her response. But she’s frozen, laying on her back and staring into blue eyes that are so desperate for validation of her feelings. And Nico should feel giddy, the girl she loves loves her too, but all she feels is terrified. Terrified to jump in for real this time and to risk getting hurt, or even worse, hurt Karolina. “I’m in love with you,” the blonde clarifies with a soft voice that’s getting sadder by the syllable. “Nico?”

She just blinks, and she hates herself because she can’t form the words, she just needs to say three words back. She means them, and she needs this, but nothing forms as her mouth opens and closes like a fish.

“Please say something,” Karolina says quickly and desperately.

And she wants to say something, but her fear has her frozen, and the shock cold fear is illuminated by echoing words of her mother from earlier this morning, you’re going to stop caring and hurt her just like I did with your father. Nico knows that she can have two responses to Karolina, one, the one she so desperately wants is to say she loves her too, and two, reject her.

“I- “her voice cracks and she looks away from Karolina with a pained frown. And maybe her silence and fear is telling enough, because Karolina climbs off of her like she burned her. A disgusted terror resonating in her blue irises, and Nico could sob.

Karolina beats her to the sobbing part. A cry rips through Karolina’s throat sending chills down Nico’s spine. A tear rolls down her own cheek, she did this, she just hurt her. “I’m sorry, Karolina.” For some reason, she is finally able to speak and hates that those are the three words she was able to utter, not the three words she truly desires to say.

“Did-did this all mean nothing to you?” Karolina stutters out in pain. “Was I just available or something?” Her voice is unstable and cracking as she continues, “You were about to have,” the blonde inhales shakily looking at Nico like she’s unrecognizable, “sex with me like it meant nothing.”

And Karolina is jumping to all the wrong conclusions. This means everything to her, but she’s still silent and absolutely terrified. She wants to tell Karolina she is completely in love with her, but her silence and fear overpower her. She can’t return the sentiment, not anymore. Not as Karolina is rushing off the bed, desperately clawing at the zipper on her back that Nico had desperately unzipped earlier. She scoots to the edge of the bed, finally able to move because the blonde isn’t on top of her making her feel like she’s suffocated in her emotions. Her legs swing off the bed to follow the blonde who is freely crying with hands desperately reaching for the zipper.

 “Let me help you,” her voice rasps, tears pricking at the corner of her eyes. Her small hands reach for Karolina as she climbs to her feet.

Blue eyes widen in horror and she jumps back with palms out at Nico. “Don’t,” she hisses. And her tone would sound much more volatile if she wasn’t sobbing. “Don’t touch me. Don’t come near me.”

Karolina’s eyes linger on hers for a moment longer. Emanating with inquisition, heartbreak, and disgust. Her eyes glance Nico up and down once more, making the shorter girl feel bare and naked, granted she almost is. Karolina tears her eyes away with another sob before rushing out of their bedroom, slamming the door shut behind her.

Nico collapses back onto the bed with fingers clasped over her eyes, she’s and idiot and a coward. She let her fear of hurting Karolina and herself win out and all she ended up doing was hurt them both. Her sobs echo in the silent room, cracks of darkness shoot across her chest and she can’t breathe. Nico has ruined everything.