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Nico regains her awareness in waves.

She’s in bed. That much is clear even without summoning the impossibly large burst of energy needed to pry open her eyes.

She does it anyway.

Principle of the matter and all that.

It’s the morning, or the afternoon, or maybe an oddly bright evening where the light still shines in whites and blues. Cerulean, and teal, and the pale nothing of the sun. Something unnamable; something ethereal still standing guard against the inevitable painted yellows and the reds and purples of the twilight and beyond; shining through the windows and not-quite-windows of the hostel walls. Faint strands of intangible somethings that whisper stories of birds singing, of the breeze blowing, and maybe, maybe, if she wasn’t moments out from waking up, that list might include the sounds of Old Lace hunting. Of that familiar parade of stomping, and snorting, and distant victorious roars.

As it stands, only the faint, tinny beat of some pop song she’s never heard before reaches her ears to join the sounds of nature. Someone must be listening to music down in the foyer. Chase must’ve finally fixed that old antenna radio that Molly dug up the other week, begging for his help like genuinely believed it might be more valuable than buried treasure.

Good for Molly. She needed a win.

Nico curls up into herself. She shuts her eyes and tugs the blanket slowly over her head.

And then it hits her – Karolina is gone.

“Shit,” she grumbles – more to herself than anything – eyes stubbornly trying to keep themselves closed as she throws the entire blanket off with a groan and crawls her way into a position that at least feels like sitting. If Karolina is awake, that rules out the morning and the afternoon. It’s already late.

A flash of pink light that shines even through the backs of her eyelids shocks her fully awake in almost the same moment as that realization.

Or, maybe it was green.

Yellow?

She opens her eyes.

Pouring out of the doorway is a rainbow of too many colors to name, and trailing right behind is a peal of bright, bright, bright laughter that pierces Nico straight through to the depths of her heart.

“Nico!” The voice behind the laughter shouts. Nico can’t quite help the smile that spreads across her face when she places it as Karolina’s. Not gone after all, then. “Nico! Dance with me!”

She chuckles quietly.

And in the time it takes Nico to decide against makeup and get herself dressed in something at least part of the way to muted and toned down – a black tank top with too many too-long necklaces and bracelets and rings, and a pair of equally black jeans and equally black boots – the song on the radio changes once, twice, and again. She steps out and drapes herself over the foyer railing when she finishes, watching as Karolina goes on glowing and dancing in the spotlight of the blown out ceiling; spinning and rocking her hips from side to side, bright yellow sundress trailing like liquid and wind and so many things behind her as she holds her arms high over her head, completely and totally unfazed by the newfound attention.

She’s shimmery with sweat even past the lights and her hair is sticking to her forehead, slowly fraying itself out of today’s braid like it doesn’t want to sit still in the moment any more than Karolina herself. Every now and again, every few seconds and sometimes more often, she turns to hit Nico with a coy little stare out of the corner of her eyes, half-lidded and smug like she knows exactly what she’s doing, and all Nico can think is that she is stunning. Some otherworldly thing in the shape of a woman that radiates love like she radiates light: simple and easy and matter of fact.

Nico’s lips quirk into a small, lopsided smirk the next time their gazes meet. “I could’ve been asleep, you know.”

“You weren’t! I heard you grumping!” Karolina half shouts, half smiles. “Now come join me before I drag you down here myself!”

The smirk on Nico’s face twitches just a bit wider. She steps lazily toward the stairs at the head of the room. “Where’s Chase?”

“Out!”

“And Gert? Molly?”

Out!” Karolina repeats – firmly this time – but she’s still so full of energy and joy that she sounds miles closer to a laugh than she does to anything that might resemble irritation.

“And… Alex?”

“Who cares?” She blurts, rolling her eyes and trailing off into giggles. Clearing the distance still left between them two steps at a time. “Nico, dance with me!

Nico resists. At first.

But then Karolina’s grip goes slack and she flings herself forward and flings them both back and they’re hovering through the air as Karolina tugs her into a small, gentle kiss that lights Nico up from the inside out, and suddenly she isn’t sure she remembers how to fight back. She lets herself be dragged away. Lets herself relish in the warmth of Karolina’s everything , eyes and smile and hands, and –

“Try and keep up, Little Miss No Rhythm,” Karolina teases, poking Nico once on the nose before they reach the floor and she melts effortlessly back into her routine of laughing and shimmying and filling up every one of Nico’s senses with her.

“I – I have rhythm.”

“Mhm, mhm!” Karolina agrees along with the beat of the newest song, twirling around to Nico’s back and pulsing her lights all the way to max and back down again once she catches onto the beat. “Show me, then!”

And, well, Nico’s never been one to turn down a challenge. Especially not one from someone as beautiful as Karolina.

So she shows her.

She tries, anyway. Not having any rhythm gets in the way of it all. But Karolina doesn’t let it become a problem, at least. She inches closer and closer to Nico with every passing second, whispering things like “it’s in the hips, Nico! The hips!” as she swallows up Nico’s attempt at rhythm into her own, and suddenly Nico’s rhythm is Karolina’s, and they’re moving together like they do in every other part of their lives, lately. Effortless.

It’s maybe, maybe, why Nico doesn’t realize how quickly the last fading remnants of the day disappear until the music has slowed and softened and Karolina’s lights have long since dimmed back to nothing. Until Karolina’s arms are thrown lazily over Nico’s shoulders, hands reaching up with every few steps to pet and to scratch at the space behind her ears whenever Nico’s focus starts to drift. And her smile. Her lips and her breath and her words are all close enough to taste. Close enough that Nico can imagine inching just slightly forward until there’s nothing left but slow, and warm, and soft, soft, soft

“So, the sun’s almost down.”

Nico blinks.

She looks around.

The sun is almost down.

“…Yeah, it – ” Her answer, or maybe her understanding of the fact that time has turned forward, turns out not to matter one way or another, because what traces of space are left between them vanish in the next breath, and they’re kissing, slow and lazy and without a single care in the world. Karolina’s hands card into Nico’s hair, nails scraping dull paths over her scalp as she guides them both confidently back toward the old not-so-dusty-these-days couch that Nico isn’t sure she could find a path to even if her eyes were wide open.

They tumble down together, laughing and smiling and conjuring up countless excuses to continue touching each other when they land until Karolina is on top of her, their hips pressed together and her eyes roaming every inch Nico’s body, and her hands everywhere, everywhere, everywhere all at once and all too fast and all too slow.

“Hi,” Karolina whispers. She leans in, leans forward, kisses the tip of Nico’s nose, foreheads pressed together like one final anchor for the moment.

It takes every shred of strength left in Nico’s body to choke out the single word, “…Hi.”

And then Karolina angles herself closer, relaxes more of her weight into Nico’s body, and they’re both the smallest fraction of a second away from another kiss when someone else stomps proudly up to the couch.

“Hi!” They exclaim, joy evident on their voice.

Molly.

…Molly.

To their credit, neither pulls away particularly quickly when her voice shatters the moment to pieces. But Karolina laughs.

And laughs, and laughs, and laughs.

And they fall somehow closer together, Nico groaning out a wave of played up frustration that she knows won’t do anything but encourage the brightly dressed gremlin at their side. Not when Karolina is giving such a monumental effort to stifling her giggles somewhere in the shadow of Nico’s collarbones.

Not when Nico keeps holding her close. Holding her tight.

“Sorry to interrupt!” Molly smiles then, impish and self-satisfied like she’s not actually sorry at all. Nico thinks she’s probably not sorry at all. “We’re back! And we got so much food.”

Molly gestures behind her as Alex, Chase, and Gert stumble in toward the kitchen, boxes and bags of their spoils providing an effective backdrop for Molly’s triumph. A moment passes as Nico considers their options.

She throws a sly glance back at Karolina.

“I could eat,” Nico shrugs, as nonchalant as she can manage.

She only barely holds back a smile at the feeling of Karolina sinking forward and burying her face back into the crook of her neck, groaning and moaning and patting at Nico’s chest like that comment was the death knell for every last one of her plans.

She only barely holds back a smile at the sound of Molly skipping away, singsonging a faint, “I bet you cooould!” as she disappears around the corner.

It isn’t until they’re back on their feet and pulling themselves into a mostly presentable state that Nico tugs Karolina close, ghosts her lips gently along the shell of her ear, and whispers, voice low and raspy and barely more than a faint puff of air, “Giving up already?”

Karolina sputters.

Nico leaves.

Nico smiles.

And she doesn’t look back.