Actions

Work Header

Vindicated

Chapter Text

Sometimes I give myself the creeps, sometimes my mind plays tricks on me, it all keeps adding up, I think I'm cracking up…

--

Laura snapped her (extremely "antiquated", as she was often reminded) flip phone shut after humming out a cheerful goodbye to her father. Yes, dad, totally doing great. Totally not stressing. College is fine. Totally not procrastinating. Yes, definitely went to class today. The list of awful, gut-gnawing feelings went on every time she talked to her father. There was a new version of guilt that came with the freedom of college. Her father would never have to know how many classes she skipped or assignments she fluffed the night before. And every morning that she wanted to ignore her alarm, the words "$300 a credit" rang in her head.

"You barely skip class, it's happened like, three times," Betty would say.

It felt like way more, especially when she spent the time she was actually in class completely checked out and more often than not scrolling down Twitter, or tumblr, or Facebook or looking up weird Wikipedia articles (she learned a lot about cephalopods and the history of ping pong).

And it especially felt like it when her Intro to Journalism midterm was due in exactly 8 days and she hadn't even started it.

Interview transcript.

3 page, minimum, article based on interview.

2 paragraph reflection on what was learned from the assignment.

It was a monster of a midterm. And the interview transcript was due 8 days from the moment Laura thought she was going to have a panic attack and practically broke down the door to her Floor Don's room.

"Laura!" Perry said, jumping out the way as Laura rushed in. "Is everything all right?"

"No, I'm going to flunk out of college!"

"Well, it's barely October, I highly doubt that's at all possible at this point."

Laura dropped onto the floor. She wasn't sure why she'd gone here. It should probably be the professor, or the tutoring center she should be seeing. But the last thing she needed was the professor knowing just how completely half-assed her project was going to be and the tutoring center would just give her a blank look and ask if she needed math help.

LaFontaine, Perry's roommate, looked up from their heavy-duty graphing calculator and notebook. They wheeled the chair around and looked, at least Laura hoped, sympathetic. But that also might have been amusement. Laura was pretty sure they weren't mutually exclusive in LaFontaine's case.

"Which GenEd is eating your soul, frosh?" LaFontaine said.

"It's the only class for my major I'm taking this semester. Which is probably some cosmic sign I should give up on that now," Laura said.

Perry bustled over and sat on her bed. She had in her hand a notebook, colorfully, hand-labeled "Floor Don Help Guide." She had one of those pens with a fuzzy bushel of feathers at the top. She seemed to be skimming down a list as she mumbled to herself.

"So Laura," Perry said. "It's common for first year students to experience these sorts of academic crises. The important thing to remember is more often than not, you overblow the situation in your mind—"

"Yes, you'd be surprised how easy it is to bullshit even the most ridiculous papers."

"Susan!"

Perry shot LaFontaine a look and they returned it in the form of a thinly veiled glare. Laura busied her eyes with the carpet and didn't bother to delve into any implications of Perry using LaFontaine's first name. It was a deal, Laura knew that much. But one crisis at a time and she only barely knew either of them outside of a professional, dormitory relationship. And the dynamics, or, really even the very existence of nonbinary pronouns was not something Laura was overly familiar with until she met them.

"It's not even midterms yet, and even if you do poorly on them, most professors weight classes to ensure you have a chance to raise your grade with finals," Perry said, jotting a note down in her book. "Your emotions are real and so is the situation, but it may not be as dire as you think."

"What's the major malfunction solider?" LaFontaine said.

"I've got a huge part of my midterm due in like a week and I haven't even started. We have to do an interview and transcribe it."

"Okay, totally doable, what are the requirements?"

"Someone in a professional field, outside the university, and the interview length has to fit to at least 5 pages."

LaFontaine was nodding, looking at nothing in the air as they thought. Perry was scribbling something down so more.

"Well, you've got plenty of options. There's a ton of businesses just off campus. It's short notice but, totally doable," LaFontaine said.

"Yes, make a few calls or emails, tonight, right now even, and set something up," Perry added. "You've got plenty of time, especially with the weekend coming up."

It was calming to hear it splayed out and timed. These two were third years, if they told her she wasn't going to die some painful academic probation death, then she believed them. At least for the next hour until she freaked out again. She wondered if this was going to be her life as a journalist, constant stress and deadlines. Then again, in the world of a journalist, 8 days might as well have been a month. If she couldn't even handle…

No. Stop it. This is a blip. She was a perfectionist, she knew. And she wasn't about to let that aspect of herself destroy the most important one. She dreamed of journalism since her mother bought her a journal when she was 5. Her first written words were in the form of some sort of weird, poorly written report on what they had for dinner one night. Her mother had it framed and everything. One school assignment wasn't going to ruin her life.

Mom knew I could do it…

"Okay," she said.

"Okay?" LaFontaine said.

"Yes. Definitely probably. For now," Laura said.

LaFontaine smiled and offered two thumbs up.

"Awesome, go tag-team," they said, turning to Perry for a high five.

She gave a weak slap to LaFontaine's hand and smiled thinly. She shuffled to her desk and replaced her notebook to its place of honor on the corner of her desk.

"Now, onto more important matters," LaFontaine said. "I am sick of coding DNA sequences and starving. Anyone up for a trip to the caf?"

Laura smiled and hopped up instantly. With obligations stowed for now, it made plenty of room for hunger and she was more than willing to let herself stress her way through the ice cream bar for an hour. Perry nodded and got up as well.

Laura H (5:34PM): Getting food, you want in?

Betty S (5:38PM): hell yes, i just marathoned jane eyre for my test tomorrow like it was my job

Laura rolled her eyes.

Laura H (5:39PM): Meet us at the caf in 10.

It felt something like a sigh of relief. For like, maybe two more hours.

----

Carmilla was hiding in the tour bus. She was certain at this point a riot may have ensued in the hotel. She'd tossed her phone when she entered the bus and didn't bother to even think about it from her perch in the extra twin bed tucked above the driver's cabin. She'd pulled the curtain closed on the small bunk for good measure and flipped on her string of fairy lights and opened her very worn copy of Wuthering Heights.

She'd gotten through four chapters, it had to have been an hour and half at least. She wondered who would give her a tongue lashing first, Scott, Rick, or her brother (whom had no doubt been called at this point). She'd have to remind Scott that making good on your threat to "hang you from the banister by your own skinny jeans" was probably not A+ conduct in the rule book of bodyguards. And Rick got paid way too much to care about yelling at her.

She'd apologize to Will later for interrupting what was, without a doubt, a completely fantastic rager at the zoo he called a house on campus. Though she was fairly certain that he only got nervous if she was missing for at least 48 hours, at this point.

She ignored it for now like she was in some kind of Cold War bunker and everyone else had to deal with that whole nuclear fallout thing. And so she read. This was her third go at the novel since she digested yet another awful adaptation of it (this one in the form of some sort of high school, modern day thing on Lifetime and she did her best to not actually throw up). People were gimmicky and it felt like a toothache. Maybe she could write a song on Heathcliff and Cathy, but that was probably gimmicky too.

Heathcliff managed to affirm himself as the world's biggest douche, at an early age, in the Earnshaw stables when the bus door finally opened with a crack of fiberglass on fiberglass.

"Carmilla if you are in here, I swear to god I'm quitting."

It was Scott. Better than Rick, at least. And she was starting to get hungry.

"It's my bus," Carmilla said, flipping back the curtain and setting the open book down on her chest.

"It's actually the record company's bus, you know that," Scott said.

"You've been spending too much time with Rick."

She pulled the plug of the lights and shoved an old Subway receipt into the page before closing the book. She hated pausing mid-chapter. But she was hungry, that Subway receipt wasn't helping and she figured refusing to get down would hurt her chances of Scott taking her to a Chinese buffet. And besides, last time she did that he threatened to call the fire department and tell them a cat was stuck up a tree.

"You're going to give me a stroke one of these days," he said, stepping over to help her down the last few rungs of the fold down ladder.

Carmilla was fairly certain Scott's contract specifically highlighted that, under no circumstances, was he supposed to form any sort of relationship with Carmilla or her team. It was supposed to be all "yes ma'am/no ma'am."

"I'm always in one of three places, it's not my fault you guess wrong every time," she said.

She stepped out of the bus into twilight air outside. There were residual tints of orange on the horizon that wasn't obstructed by the obnoxious resort, but it was darkening fast. The air was cooler, summer was over. The breeze made it worse and she thought about getting a jacket but she didn't want to delay her imminent meeting with wonton soup by 5 hours with a lecture from, what she imagined was, a very angry manager waiting in the hotel room.

Kitty(6:02PM): Asshole, you want a free meal?

"You hungry, Scott?" Carmilla said, sliding her phone back in her pocket.

"No, ma'am."

The phone buzzed.

Willy Boy(6:03PM): Depends.

Kitty(6:03PM): For fucks sake. Just be outside your dilapidated asbestos shack in 20 minutes.

She returned the phone to her pocket and replaced the space in her palm with a set of plain car keys. She walked without warning and she heard the sound of dress shoes on asphalt as Scott followed her dutifully. The streetlights of the hotel parking lot began to flicker on in a buzz of florescent pools and the last of the bugs for the season became visible, doing figure eights around the source.

Carmilla's was, currently, the only car in the VIP lot. Though she ignored the shiver at the thought of one other car occupying a spot come tomorrow at precisely 9:30AM.

All the more reason to gorge herself on Chinese and maybe even drink a little.

She plopped onto the leather of the driver's seat and pulled out her phone on last time as Scott, wordlessly, got in on the passenger side.

Carmilla (6:10PM): Call off your search party and try not to have an aneurysm. Getting Chinese, get your order in now if you want anything.

Then she tossed the phone onto the center console as she started the car and pulled out.

----

Perry all but forced Laura to at least eat a plate of fries before immediately diving into the piles of cookies in the desert corner. Not that Laura complained at a dinner of fries but the Eiffel Tower of chocolate chip cookies in front of her was the best temporary heaven she could imagine to distract from the journalism project that shall not be named.

"Just like, go to one of the tattoo shops or something," Betty suggested, picking through her plate of spaghetti. "Hell, maybe they'll give you a free tattoo."

"No thanks," Laura shuddered at the thought of a buzzing needle pumping ink into her skin.

"Or that bookstore, Callivan's," LaFontaine said. "It's got some crazy cool stuff in there. I found a really old copy of Grey's Anatomy for super cheap."

Laura devoured a cookie and resolved not to think about it until she got back to her room that night. The cafeteria was relax time, her desk was cry and pull an all-nighter time.

Of course that whole relax thing went out the window when a very familiar tall red-head caught her eye and immediately headed over. She felt Betty practically burst with excitement next to her, and could feel her face going red with her roommate's eyes glued to her and giggling and elbowing her. LaFontiane seemed to catch on quickly and their face lit up.

"Please, be cool," Laura practically begged Betty just before Danny was in earhot.

"Hey, Hollis," Danny said with a smile.

Should she be offended by the last name thing? Laura was pretty sure it was, like, a term of endearment for the Summer Society girls. It meant you were in the club or something. She told herself this anyway.

"Hey," she said. Was that too enthusiastic? Was it not enthusiastic enough?

Danny stood there for a moment, clearly waiting for something and Laura's brain did that lovely thing where it froze and gave a big giant middle finger to doing anything remotely normal. Oh, you want to do more than just stare at her like a weirdo? Ha ha, that's cute.

"Do you want to join us?" LaFontaine said, when it was clear Laura's jaw was in emergency lock mode.

"Yeah, if you guys don't mind," Danny said, evidently ready to overlook the awkward gaze of destiny Laura decided they were going to share.

"This is Danny by the way," Laura said, doing her best to save face. "She's my lit TA."

"Oh, I know," Betty said with perfect timing.

It was 50 Shades of Laura's Tomato Face.

Danny smiled though, directly at Laura. It was a thank you, Laura guessed. But it was enough to send flutters in her stomach. She'd thank Betty one day for her aggressive wingman tactics. But in the moment it was giving her heart palpitations. Crushes sucked.

"Betty, my roommate. And Perry and LaFontaine," Laura introduced quickly and Danny smiled at each of them in turn.

Perry began a conversation with Danny about the Summer Society and everything began to flow smoothly after that. LaFontaine expertly switched the topic to English lit to drag Laura into the conversation and she and Danny went at it over their lecture that day on Beowulf.

"It's a super important piece for the transitional period for paganism in a rapidly growing Christian society," Laura said and Danny shook her head and paused to swallow.

"The only reason anyone is talking about it is because of Tolkien's analysis on it. Essentially we're all just reading his reading of the piece. Without his interpretations, it doesn't stand on its own," Danny said.

"I mean, if she's the TA then I'm inclined to agree with her," LaFontaine teased.

Laura found Danny's knowledge, and more so, her opinions on literature entrancing. She was sporty and athletic and did tons of rec things and that alone was crush worthy because man was she in shape. But she treated literature like a hidden secret from her sisters and talked often about stowing copies of Les Mis in her duffel bag when they'd go out on camping trips.

It was cute.

And if nothing else, Laura responded very well to cute.

"Alright Hollis, would you like to make it interesting?" Danny said, leaning forward across the table.

"Interesting how?" Laura said, trying to fit the initial urge to lean back in panic at the proximity.

"If you can convince me in your paper that Beowulf is the majesty piece of historical literature you say it is I'll buy you Pad Thai from Spice Island," Danny said. "If you don't, you buy me the biggest burger from Burg Joint."

"Oh she accepts," Betty said immediately and Laura wanted to strangle her but couldn't seem to find a way to do that delicately with an entire table of witnesses. "By which I mean, Laura is not one to back down from a challenge."

The recovery was only 50% convincing but Laura decided to let it go because she did have a point, either way she was getting a date of this bet. Was it date? It could be, she could totally make sure it was.

"Deal."

The conversation moved on again to LaFontaine's work on DNA coding in her bio classes. The only person who found this interesting was Perry and Laura suspected that was simply for sympathy's sake since no one had any clue what base pairs or transcription factors were. Laura occasionally caught Danny's glance and they shared an eye roll at all the science talk.

That's when Laura heard a very masculine voice call her name and she turned.

A very tall, broad-shouldered boy in a button-up shirt complete with popped collar made his way directly toward her with a mountain of food and a smile that reminded Laura of a Labrador.

"Hey, Laura," he said once he was standing in front of her. He turned to the rest of the table. "Laura's friends."

Laura only barely registered that he was the lit class with her before he confirmed it with a double take and edgy hello to Danny who gave a mock salute of a wave and didn't look up.

"Any room for one more?" he asked Laura directly.

"Definitely," Betty said, eyes locked on his exposed arms and Laura resisted the urge to shake her head.

Betty moved over one seat and he took a seat between the two of them.

"This is Kirsch," Laura said. "He's in our lit class."

There was another round of waves before Kirsch dug into the first of two cheeseburgers and two plates of fries. Betty busied herself with fluffing her hair discretely while he was focused on his food and Danny did nothing but glare at him from across the table while jabbing her food with her fork.

"Any particular reason you're gracing us with your presence?" Laura asked, trying to sound as nice as possible. "I mean, don't Zetas, like, go all Manifest Destiny on the long tables by the pizza?"

"It's Big-Little Dinner night," Kirsch said, mouth half-full. "And my bro Will totally bailed on me. I mean I guess real siblings come first or whatever but, bonding nights like this are sacred you know? Plus I was really looking forward to demolishing the wings at Peter's."

"A thrilling tale," Danny said, dipping a crouton into a small pile of dressing she'd amassed. Kirsch either had a ridiculous amount of tact compared to what his appearance gave off or he simply didn't hear her.

"His sister's in town and she offered to pay, so I can't really blame him since she's crazy rich," he said, wiping his mouth for the first time.

"Wait, is your Little Will Eisen?" LaFontaine said, leaning forward. Kirsch nodded through his first bite into his second burger. "That would make his sister…"

"I heard she had shows in Vienna this week," Danny said.

"I was thinking about making a floor program out of going to the concert if it didn't sell out in exactly 14 minutes and 28 seconds," Perry said.

"Her concerts are like a cesspool of drugs and bar fights though," LaFontaine said.

"Why do those two have different last names though?" Betty said. "Like, I guess hers is a stage name?"

"Who are we talking about?" Laura finally said after recovering from the whiplash of bouncing between people who seemed to all be very knowledgeable suddenly at Kirsch's dinner problems.

"Will Eisen," Betty said. "His sister is Carmilla Karnstein."

The first name meant nothing, but Laura knew the second one very well. She'd be lying if she said she didn't have one or two of her songs on her iPod as they spoke. Though Laura wasn't overly attached to the idea of her or particularly excited at her six degrees of separation from her specifically, she did find the rush of being associated with any celebrity kind of cool.

"Whoa, have you ever met her?" Laura asked Kirsch.

"For like a hot second," he said. "She came in the house once. She always rolls up in this super shiny, all black 1967 Pontiac GTO."

"Is that a nice car?" Laura asked.

"Super nice, super expensive," Danny said.

"Sorry you got ditched for the millionaire older sister," LaFontaine said. Kirsch shrugged.

"He said he'd bring me an eggroll."

The conversation turned back towards Danny and Laura's bet when LaFontaine asked Kirsch's opinion on the book in question. When Kirsch, vaguely, and probably a little ignorantly considering his level of intelligence when it came to the topic, sided with Laura, Danny claimed bias since it was Laura in the first place who tutored him on the book for their first exam. They were all laughing though.

"Oh check this out," Kirsch said holding out his phone to the whole table. Snapchat was open with a Snap from "Will" waiting to be opened.

Kirsch clicked it and up popped a ten second selfie of a dark-haired boy Laura assumed was Will with an equally dark haired girl giving the finger to the camera with the caption "I told her to say hi" underneath them.

"Damn, that's really her," LaFontaine said. "It's kind cool almost knowing a celebrity."

"She's unfairly pretty," Betty said. "And if that's her Chinese buffet and Snapchat look I don't even want to see her done up for concerts."

Laura had to agree. It was cursory glance but the girl was extremely good looking. She vaguely recognized her from Yahoo! News articles or random posts on Facebook. She was pretty, she was young, she was insanely rich, and, apparently, drove a really nice car. Lucky her.

Kirsch took a picture of his demolished food plate, typed in a caption, and sent a reply. He left his phone out to share if any other pictures of her came their way.

"You know Laura," LaFontaine said. "If you wanted to be a real journalist—"

"Don't even start."

The thought went through Laura's mind for like .04 milliseconds before she banished it. No way was she doing that, no way. It was ridiculous. She said as much and then LaFontaine and her engaged in a battle of rolling eyes, glares, and glances as they fought over the topic silently.

"Care to farm out your debate?" Danny said, watching them exchange glances like a game of tennis.

"Laura's got a massive midterm for her journalism class and I thought…maybe…I don't know, aren't journalists all about using connections and hunting down leads?" LaFontaine said.

"She wants me to try and interview Carmilla," Laura clarified. "But there's no way in hell because I have 8 days to do this and she's like an actual human celebrity and I'm not doing that, not that it would ever happen anyway so drop it."

She'd have better luck with one of the store owners in town. Well, no, she'd have luck period, because in what universe would she agree to an interview with college student for a class project. It was embarrassing to even think about asking.

"You've got a connection though," LaFontaine said, nodding to Kirsch.

"LaFontaine," Perry said. "There's no need for undue stress. Laura's already got a plan for working out her project."

"No reason not to try and go above and beyond," Betty offered.

"Not helping," Laura said.

"Not to mention," Danny said. "She's, like, famous for giving a big 'fuck you' to reporters. She totally shit kicked one in L.A. last year."

"Wait, are you serious?" LaFontaine said.

"Yeah, some paparazzi dude I guess was trying to get a quote and whatever he said or did totally set her off. The only reason she wasn't arrested was they paid the dude not to press charges," Danny said.

"Holy shit you have to interview her," LaFontaine said.

"So she can stab me with my own pen?" Laura said.

The bickering across the table continued as everyone chimed in with pros and cons. And Laura grew more and more annoyed that everyone seemed to be considering this be a thing that was actually happening. Because it wasn't happening. And it was not a thing. She'd finally forgotten about her academic irresponsibility and now it was flinging across the table like pinball and she was getting more and more stressed the longer it went on.

"I could just ask him," Kirsch finally said. "Worst thing she says no."

"Kirsch you really don't—"

"I owe you for your help with the test, I totally got you on this, if you want it," he said.

Laura groaned. Her excuses were all but out now beyond Carmilla saying no and laughing into the sunset. A huge part of this was also her total nervousness at being in a room with someone with over 20 million Twitter followers and forced to be a human person and not a babbling mess. Kirsch was waiting for some sort of go ahead from Laura and she finally closed her eyes and nodded.

Worst thing that could happen is she says no.

Actually the worst thing that could happen is she'd say yes.

But that won't happen.

"Okay sent," Kirsch said after typing out a text.

"I'm still emailing that tattoo place tonight," Laura said.

"It's good to have backups," Perry said. "Either way, you're much closer to finishing the project."

Laura smiled and nodded.

----

LaFontaine put in their headphones almost immediately after dropping into their desk chair after dinner. Something random came on, they really didn't care what, as long as there was noise. Perry was probably shuffling somewhere behind them, cleaning something, labeling something, making her bed. Making their bed.

In their head LaFontaine kept a tally of how many times a week the name Susan came out of Perry's mouth. One was too many, but in this particular week it was three. The week before it was twice, the week before that it was a solid zero. It always came out in anger which LaFontaine preferred to think was out of habit instead of some subconscious attempt to strike a very low blow against them. Perry wasn't that cruel.

On the computer there was various base pairs typed out from their homework on the DNA coding of the Slow Loris which they may or may not have spent an extra 10 minutes staring at because it was adorable. DNA coding was easy, base pairs were easy, anatomy and body functions and the chemistry of the cells was all easy. LaFontaine knew what the human body was made up of, what they were made up of, and so they had a handle on their own destiny more than others. And decoding their inside was scary and new but it was freeing.

And at least once a week it got torn down from the most unlikely place.

"Did you do laundry yet?" came Perry's voice, miraculously over the sound of "Blank Space".

LaFontaine popped out one ear bud and turned.

"I was going to do it tonight and hope the left washer got fixed," they say. "Did the maintenance guy come by?"

"I was in class during the window, I hope he did. That's the second time in two months," she said.

This was easy, to ignore the topic, for Perry to talk about day-to-day activities, to avoiding calling them by name to their face, to not talk about it more.

I don't understand.

I just—I don't know, I don't feel like a Susan. Have you ever not felt like a Lola?

It's my name.

Well I don't want to be Susan. I didn't get to pick my name so...

So what do I call you?

I don't know, I feel more like LaFontaine than Susan.

Maybe Perry was just pretending to understand or even humor them. Their parents were surprisingly okay with it, didn't understand but stuck to it. They saw the notes they left themselves in random places around the house with their pronouns after the first week or si which quickly turned into little encouraging notes once they realized that LaFontaine was finding them.

Their parents got it. Even Laura, whom they'd known for all of two months, got it. It would just take some time. That's what they told themselves once a week.

----

"You're an idiot," Carmilla said. "It's like only 10% complicated."

Carmilla was demonstrating chopsticks for probably the fifth time that night. Every time they got Chinese she taught him how to use them to the point where he could basically make it through dinner with them. He'd forget by the time they'd go out again.

"I can just use a fork," he said.

"That's no fun."

They were tucked into the corner of, a very empty, Taiwan Café. With only one other group, a very awkward looking first date between two local high school kids, they had free reign over the two counter buffet. Carmilla loaded up on sweet and sour soup, deciding the wonton looked a little sad, and a mountain of eggrolls. Will felt the need to recreate a takeout meal with perfect spacing between dishes. Scott sat quietly, scrolling through his phone, with a glass of water.

Carmilla expertly picked up an eggroll with her chopsticks, dipped it in the broth, and took a smug bite.

"Yes, we're all very impressed, Kitty," Will said.

She kept her smile and held out the remaining section of the eggroll. Will plucked it from the chopsticks and popped it in his mouth.

"Remind me to get an eggroll to go for Kirsch," he said, impaling a piece of chicken with his fork.

Carmilla tilted the cup of soup to drink the last of it without struggling with the spoon. The then made quick work of demolishing the last of her eggrolls and wiping her mouth and passing Scott on her way back to the counter. He took a long sip of water before continuing to tap away on his Blackberry.

Carmilla wanted to just tell him to get something from the buffet and be done with it. But he was strict to follow his "absolutely no forms of bribery or secondary payment" in his contract. He never accepted any food Carmila bought him, even a cake on his birthday two years ago. It took a specific type of person to be able to resist the allure of the smell of Chinese food though. She'd give him points for self-control while she ignored any on her part if the pile of cookies on her plate were an indication.

The couple in the opposite corner were whispering to each other and Carmilla's periphery caught them once or twice glancing in her direction. It's totally her. No it's not. Carmilla was used to that game people played. She felt marginally bad for taking the spotlight in their date. Maybe in a year or so she'd get her 7,000th Twitter wedding invitation from them. She might even be willing to write a speech for that one.

Dear randos in the corner, why are you not serving Chinese food at the reception? I thought we had something special

When she got back to the table Will was scrolling through his phone and Scott had downed his water.

"Try not to break out in hives from accepting it," Carmilla said when she handed Scott a refilled glass.

"It's 90% ice," Scott said.

"No one likes room temperature water."

She let the plate hang in the middle of the table for Will to pick from but he was pursing his lips at his phone and thinking entirely too hard.

"Please don't tell me a one night stand told you it's yours," Carmilla said.

"No," he said. "It's from Kirsch."

"Did you get him pregnant?"

"Seriously?"

He tossed a crumpled straw wrapper at her and set his phone down.

"He was just asking about a friend. Well like, this chick I guess is in a journalism class and has to do an interview project and wants to know if you'd oblige," he said only 10% awkwardly.

Carmilla snorted and then let out a laugh. She picked up a cookie and took a poignant bite out of it before offering the other half to Will.

"That's adorable," she said.

"I had to at least ask you, he's my friend," Will said, putting the phone back down.

"I hope she has a plan B or else she's failing her assignment," Carmilla said.

After the pyramid of cookies was reduced to crumbs and residual pieces of chocolate chips, they paid their tab. Carmilla worked through the math quickly as she wrote $27.00 on the tip line beneath the total. As a rule she never tipped below 70%, unless of course they were total assholes or she suspected someone spit in her food. Her brother said she was being a show off.

That wasn't why she did it.

They exited the buffet with a bag of eggrolls in hand for Kirsch. Rick hadn't placed an order for Carmilla and instead sent a curt message of I will be here when you get back. It would room service pizza for him. His loss.

Carmilla whizzed around the college town and, as per usual, got an earful from Will after she anticipated a green light at their first intersection and barely stopped.

"If you die then you won't have to pay tuition," Carmilla said. "And you can stop bitching about that stat midterm."

He glared at her. From the back Scott was silent but Carmilla was certain he was white knuckling his seatbelt. Once or twice he'd make a comment about his job description didn't necessarily entail vehicular safety but he was certain nothing specifically told him not to make sure she didn't kill herself by popping a curb. Night driving was Carmilla's favorite though. It turned her black car into a chameleon on the streets.

"Last chance," Carmilla said, turning onto the campus. "You can stay in a five star hotel or spend another anxious night hoping your roof doesn't cave in."

"Honestly, the house is fine compared to some others."

"Yeah, tell that to the inspector I'm sending to condemn it."

They pulled up to the frat house in rev of the engine and a screech of tires as she slammed to a halt. Will stepped out and Scott took his place in the front seat.

"Tell your big bro I'll think about his girlfriend's dilemma," Carmilla said.

Will rolled his eyes and gave a wave.

"Ha ha. I'll see you tomorrow, Kitty," he said and shut the door.

Carmilla snorted. Ha ha indeed.

----

Danny slowed to a stop on the bounce of the track.

"You can do faster than that, Lawrence," said one of her sisters.

"I clocked a 10 second sprint," she said back in between huffs as she struggled to catch her breath.

"You clocked 8.2 seconds last week."

"Whatever, I just ate dinner."

She walked off the track to allow the next girl up. She sat on the cold metal of the bleachers as she pulled out her phone followed by a notebook. On the first page was handwritten schedule which, at this point, had been scribbled out and rewritten over enough times that there was three different colors of ink making up her week. She pursed her lips as she stared at a particularly offensive small block of time allotted for her lunch break tomorrow. Whatever, she could just eat a Power Bar (since someone who will not be named--Jessie--broke the house blender).

"Is this really the time to do the whole professor thing, Lawrence?"

"I've got a bet with someone about their paper."

"That's unethical."

She smiled and rolled her eyes and pulled out the paper labeled Laura Hollis in the top right hand corner. Beowulf and the Birth of the Western World. Well that was lofty and definitely pushing it. Then again her page count was one of the longest in the class, maybe she did have something worth saying.

Danny started reading with claps in the background as someone finished the spring particularly fast. She'd gladly relinquish her title as fastest in the dash for a week or so if it meant she got to spend more time with Laura. Not that she was about to let Laura win. She still required some convincing, but she was excited to be convinced.

Beowful was almost lost from history if not for them--

Her phone went off with a familiar ringtone and she groaned.

It was the colonel.

"Hey dad."

"How was your day?"

"Pretty good. I'm out at track practice. We've got an intramural meet this weekend."

"Atta girl"

Conversations with the colonel were better than conversations with her mother. Still, it was all business and professional and once or twice they both slipped in a "So when are you transferring to the Naval academy? Are you considering enlisting after graduation? What are you doing with an English degree?" and other such variations. She wanted to nip this one fast. She'd been having a good day. She'd keep having a good day.

"List dad, I'll talk to you tomorrow okay? I'm up for the sprint."

"Take 'em out kiddo.

She hung up and popped up, shoving Laura's paper back into her bag with as much grace as she could muster and putting her phone on silent for the rest of the practice.

"You're not up again, Lawrence."

She didn't say anything as she jogged back down tot he starting blocks and the sister keeping time just shrugged and reset her stopwatch. Danny wished it was a cross country training. She needed to run and just keep running. The kind of running where her feet were trying to crack the dirt underneath as she stomped and pushed. It wasn't about speed but it would be about force. It was about sweating out her frustration and breathing in some calm afterwards. It was about being a force of nature and maybe even punching something later.

For now she'd have to bottle all that up and let it explode as the whistle blew and she took off.

----

Will didn't go inside immediately. He waited until the car was gone along with rev of the engine and the screech of the tires before he pulled his phone out. He scrolled through his missed messages and saw nothing new since Kirsch's text. He felt a little bad for the girl, mostly because he didn't know how serious she was about the whole thing, but maybe it was for the best. She could be a stalker, or Carmilla might hit her, or worst of all she might sleep with her.

He scrolled into his contacts and left his thumb hover the call button on the page marked "Mom". It was still afternoon where she was, he wouldn't be waking her. That of course didn't mean he wasn't bothering her. He weighed the consequences of calling her, considering he'd see her tomorrow and knew what the first thing out of her mouth would be when she picked up the phone.

Have you talked to your sister?

As annoying as that whole debacle was by itself, now even Kirsch was getting in on the Carmilla train. And those were two worlds he really didn't want to have colliding.

He sighed and walked up to the porch of the house, taking a seat on the broken couch with the dip in the left cushion. One of the senior brothers claimed the couch had been used for smuggling hoards of cocaine in from Mexico or Guatemala or somewhere down in South America (the story changed every time). Some of the pledges got their heads shoved into it every once in a while and forced to pretend they got some kind of contact high.

Maybe Carmilla did have a tiny point about this place.

Still they were his friends.

That he paid to have.

That would do anything for him.

Because he rushed

Because he paid--

No. He'd go inside, he'd throw Kirsch his eggrolls, they'd play Grand Theft Auto for two hours and listen to loud music and laugh and hope he didn't get a phone call of disaster from his sister's manager. Again.

Chapter Text

And I will work this body, I will burn this flame, in the dead of night and in the pouring rain, I'm a workaholic and I swear I swear: one day I will beat you fair and square…

--

Will let himself sink into the misshapen couch. The patch that covered the portion of fabric that had been thrown up on was peeling and stuffing was coming out of opposite arm. Kirsch was in the loveseat, shoving the eggroll into his mouth. A few brothers were in the kitchen yelling loudly about the implications of reheating a corndog from the Fall Fest last week.

"Sorry for bailing," Will said, opening a Snap from Carmilla. It was a video of a PDA couple on the sidewalk with the caption "which one do you think is giving the other mono?"

"It's cool bro."

Will considered inviting him for a minute but Kirsch's lack of sense of humor when it came to making fun of fraternity life would clash horribly with Carmilla's affinity for it. Besides, she rarely associated with anyone outside a standard deviation below average IQ without multiple comments.

"Who's this journalism chick?" Will asked as Kirsch held up a finger, chewing the last of his eggroll.

"She's in my lit class," he said through a half full mouth. "She's like the only reason I passed my Beowulf exam. Had to try to help her out."

"Well I hope she's got other options 'cuz Carmilla pretty much laughed in my face."

"Pretty sure she does," Kirsch shrugged.

Will popped open his laptop and logged into Facebook. He ignored the five new friend requests of the day from random fans. A second tab opened his email and he immediately recognized his mother's address in bold letters at the top of his inbox. He sighed and clicked.

Will,

My flight's on time for tomorrow and getting in at 10am. I hope we can get lunch in between your classes. I will be back on a plane by 4pm. Not to repeat myself (again), but please talk to your sister. See you tomorrow.

Sent from iPhone

Will frowned without meaning to. He picked up his phone and scrolled to his text conversation with Carmilla. He hovered over the keyboard. What was left to say? He'd exhausted the long winded pleas of mom just wants to talk and I don't want to keep playing messenger, can you at least try for me? There was no way some small comment of mom, once again, asked me to talk to you was going to change anything. She was determined in her anger.

Not that Will blamed her. But that didn't mean he didn't hate the whole thing. And he, more than anything, hated being fought over. Holidays and birthdays had been a day of Will running between houses and passing messages for a year now. Having to find things to do with mom's gifts to Carmilla was always full of anxiety because either way they ended up in the garbage, it was just a matter of whose disappointment and tears landed it there.

Instead he locked the phone again and slid it back into his pocket. Carmilla was an adult, his mother was adult. They could do what they wanted or not at all. For now at least.

"I had to deal with a Pyscho Society today at dinner," Kirsch said and Will's face immediately cringed.

"Ouch, which one?"

"The tall redhead."

"Oh, shit. What's her name? Lawstein? Lancaster? Something like that."

"Lawrence."

Will raised an eyebrow but Kirsch was looking at his phone.

----

Laura wasn't entertaining the idea of interviewing Carmilla, not really. She already had an appointment set up with the owner of a tattoo place just off campus. She'd been in the middle of figuring out interview question number three when she finally decided to breakdown and Google her.

Born Mircalla in Graz, Styria in 1993, Karnstein was adopted by…

So she was adopted. Laura felt a pang of sympathy and thought of her mother. Her Wikipedia page said she was raised predominantly in the United States, adopted by a wealthy family, and enjoyed life as musical prodigy from a young age. She began performing professionally at age 14 when she, according to Wikipedia, snuck out to local open mic nights and lied about her age or simply went on until someone yanked her and kicked her out.

The record deal came at age 16 after some manager was drinking off the most recent CD flop from one of his clients when he heard her singing at a dive club she snuck into. Richard Rosen was his name and Carmilla was his first major hit, a gamble apparently. And it paid off big time courtesy of her first single.

Laura scrolled down the damning section labeled "Controversy."

On August 7th 2013, Karnstein was involved in an altercation between herself and a TMZ reporter Todd Klein. According to witnesses, Karnstein instigated the fight which resulted in a broken nose and two broken fingers for Klein and minimal injuries for Karnstein. The cause of the altercation was officially recorded in the police report as "assault." Klein did not press charges…

Laura sat back in her chair with a squeak and laced her fingers across her stomach. Things she knew about Carmilla Karnstein: she was adopted, she legally had a different last name than her mother and brother (also adopted according to Wikipedia), she punched out a reporter for unknown reasons. She thought about these things as she listened to the two songs on her iPod.

The first song was her first hit, from what Laura could remember and what Wikpedia told her. Laura had the distinct memory of dancing to it at prom trying to ignore how the lines about wanting to kiss someone made her cheeks flare up. It had been the first time she ever danced with a girl, even. She smiled at the memory and smiled at the song, it was upbeat and total top 40 pop punk. The second song was much more melancholy and just kept repeating the line "I miss you" in the chorus.

A few clicks later and Laura learned this song was the first single released after the reporter incident.

Laura felt like that was important but she got caught up in just how sad and alone that phrase sounded in her voice, repeated and repeated. I miss you. It was good. Really good.

Laura clicked to a Spotify playlist of Karnstein's songs.

"So has Danny texted you yet?" Betty asked, looking up from her notebook on her own bed.

"She doesn't have my number," Laura said.

"Oh my god, Laura, get on that," Betty said. "She basically asked you out on a date in that weird English major way you guys do things."

Laura couldn't help but giggle. She clicked on that upbeat love song again and Betty smirked.

"Speaking of dates," Laura said, swiveling her chair over to Betty's bed. "I saw the way you glued your eyes to Kirsch. Well, his arms anyway."

"What can I say? I have an eye for art."

Laura rolled her eyes and scooted back towards the desk as the song came to an end. A new song came on, one Laura hadn't heard before. It was a lot of guitar and drums. It was very angry and she was on the verge of clicking skip before the verses stared.

It was poetic. All about candles and stars. The chorus was sing-songy and it stuck in her head immediately.

Laura pulled out a notebook and scribbled the song names down. She wasn't really making interview notes. But, just in case. And besides, it was interesting and the topic alone was worth at least some extracurricular investigation, tracing an artist's transition in the context of life events. Investigative journalism called to Laura but this type storytelling was…fascinating.

But, reserved, probably, for sometime later in Laura's life when she had the credentials to ask a celebrity for their time. Still, the music was good, she decided to listen through the playlist while she worked on her literature homework.

"What are you so smiley for?" Betty asked.

Laura felt her face go read as she looked up and saw Betty, as usual, smirking at her.

"Just something in my reading," Laura says. It's not a lie.

"And it has nothing to do with the TA whom you'll be discussing the reading with tomorrow?"

"Not everything in my lit class is about Danny. I was an English major all on my own before I met her."

Betty snorted.

"But…I may or may not be picturing in my head exactly how I'm going to debate Things Fall Apart I totally know she's going to ignore the Heart of Darkness reading and I'm going to—what?"

"I'm sorry but you are a dork and she's a dork and you're basically in dork love so please get her number tomorrow," Betty said.

Laura rolled her eyes but followed that with a thoughtful sigh. She did like Danny. And she was very interested to see where it would go (if it would go anywhere). But Laura only ever had one girlfriend in high school and it lasted all of three months before they graduated and separated with little despair. And Danny was athletic, and pretty, and popular, and smart, and all sorts of things that put her farther and farther out of freshman tiers in the dating pool.

Still, maybe it couldn't hurt to let herself believe her friends in how much they all seemed to claim Danny liked her back.

"You get her number tomorrow and I'll buy you dinner," Betty offered.

"Deal."

----

Carmilla stayed out of the hotel as long as possible. At first she just drove around with Scott in the passenger seat, mostly silent, but occasionally making comments about texts he was getting from her manager and how late it was getting.

"We should be getting back. We should, actually, already be back," he said.

"I wanted to go for a drive."

"We've passed the Silas campus 4 times now."

It was getting late. Late enough that much fewer cars were on the road and Carmilla opened up her own to the loud sounds of an engine rev and Scott gripping his seat just a little tighter. Streetlights were on and few pedestrians were out and Carmilla was running out of reasons to stay out.

"That hotel room is stuffy," Carmilla said.

"Then open a window but can we please get back?" Scott said.

Carmilla knew he knew. Maybe he wanted to help, or maybe he just didn't want to lose a paycheck. She wanted to think in some secret, mental way Scott was her friend. He was there when it all happened. He pulled her off the reporter and even gave the man a shove himself. He personally cleaned up her bleeding knuckles after the whole thing.

And he knew. His opinion on the situation was where the secret lay.

She made a hard turn and speed down the road.

"I'll take you back but I'm going out for a while. I don't need you to follow me," she said.

"If you're out, I'm out."

"Yeah, well, unlike Rick and, apparently, my tour bus, you don't work for the record company. Which means you must work for me, so chill. Take the night. Eat pizza with Rick."

Scott said nothing and she continued her route back to the hotel, zipping in and barely coming to a stop at the gate. He handed her the room key from his inner jacket pocket and she slide it in and out fast, watching the light go from red to green and the red and white arm in front of her lifted for the car to pass through.

As soon as she was through, she took to speeding around again, weaving between spots until she got to the entry way double doors that lead to the front desk.

"I would really prefer if you parked it for the night. You've got an early day tomorrow," he said.

There was hope in his voice. Hope that tomorrow could just be treated as any other busy day, even with him omitting the phrase "your mother's coming tomorrow." And hope, perhaps, that she'd decide to exchange a word with her. How long had it been now? Carmilla didn't care.

"And I'd prefer not to have to gouge my eyes out, so I'm going to play hide and seek for a while," she said.

"Do you have a room key?"

"Yes."

"Is your phone charged?"

"Yes."

"You send me a text every hour."

"Yes, dad."

Carmilla rolled her eyes and Scott backed away, dialing his phone, no doubt to inform the fuming manager several floors above that his client would not be joining him and he was in for a night of disappointment.

As she rolled the window up, she wondered if she really had heard the mumbled "be careful" or if she just hoped Scott cared that much.

She ended up at a bar. Not surprising. But the clubs weren't open until the following night because apparently Wednesday nights were actually work nights for people not buzzing around town in a GTO jonzing for a ticket. It was, at the very least, a gay bar.

Not, of course, that Carmilla was looking to hook up with anyone. But she didn't feel like seeing a group of dudebros screaming over tequila shots while they one by one attempted to hit on her. And besides, on the off chance some girl not only caught her eye but had her attention, a walk of shame would certainly give her excuses to avoid the hotel tomorrow. And she'd get laid. Everybody wins.

The bar was practically empty though. The only other person there was some sorority girl who, according to her loud phone conversation, was under the impression she was meeting her friends here before she learned that they had in fact started a pregrame without her at someone's apartment. She promptly left, leaving Carmilla alone at the bar.

"I swear to god, if one more Lady Gaga song plays I'll be paying to fix your jukebox," Carmilla said to the bartender as the familiar beat of "Poker Face" started.

He dug under the bar and pulled out a pair of keys, tossing them to Carmilla.

"All yours."

Carmilla thanked him and headed to the jukebox, one turn of the key and the money requirement was unlocked and she began shuffling through various artists. Would it be too self-serving to put her own music on?

The bartender was nice. His name was Kurt and he was a native in a college town of internationals. On both arms he was covered in two full sleeve tattoos that had everything from magic creatures to beautiful landscapes to what looked like a pet housecat. They bonded when Carmilla began speaking to him in German, telling him she was born here to some pair of unknown parents but her adoptive mother made sure she was speaking her native tongue by age 8.

Kurt ended up giving her the first round for free.

She flipped on Artic Monkeys on a whim and returned to her seat.

By the time the album played through, Carmilla was three shots, and two beers deep. The buzz was certainly evident enough that she was going to be walking it off for at least an hour before she got back to her car.

"You got a ride?" he asked in heavily accented English.

"Yeah. My brother's on his way."

It wasn't lie, but Carmilla didn't feel like dealing with him giving worried looks over the idea of her walking the street for who knows how long until she sobered up and dragged her ass back to her penthouse hotel room to face the wrath of her manager, who, no doubt, was waiting up for her.

Carmilla ordered a bottle of wine to go, slapped down a 60 euro tip and sped out just before last call but not before her one-time friend was calling after her, pleading that she accept change from her ridiculous gratuity.

But then Carmilla was on the street, bottle of wine tucked away in a brown bag in the crook of her elbow. It was 2am, the only thing open was a McDonald's and some all-night convenience store that swore in big, bold Sharpie letters that the colorful glass pipes in the front window were for "TOBACCO USE ONLY."

Carmilla (2:02AM): Still alive, don't worry.

Even inebriated, Carmilla made sure her sentences were as fluid and grammatically correct as she could get them. She also had a record streak for not tripping. She was an elegant drunk, as far as she was concerned.

The walking lasted until around 3:30am when she finally was clear headed enough to be cold in the night air and annoyed at how far away her car was.

----

Laura liked to sit up front in classes that she liked. She was tucked neatly in the back of her stat class and her Russian history class. But she was upfront in Intro to Journalism and as well as her European Lit class. And, of course, the recitation that went with it. It was a smaller section, too early of a time for anyone to really sign up for it.

"So, I've got some passages here from Heart of Darkness I asked you guys to look at," Danny said, pulling out the papers and sitting on the front desk. "What we're looking at is direct response that Achebe is giving to Conrad."

A few hands went up but Laura's was not one of them. She had a plan. Step 1 was getting Danny out to lunch with her today, step 2 was wooing her with all sorts of awesome things she wrote in her notes but was keeping quiet about in recitation, and step 3 was getting her phone number. Additional step 4 was, of course, dinner courtesy of her roommate but that was beside the point.

Danny did look over at Laura consistently throughout the lecture though, as if waiting for her hand to go up. On the third time they made eye contact, Laura decided to give her the closest thing her own face could muster to a smirk and Danny seemed to catch on because she furrowed her brow and held back a smile and called on the boy next to her.

When the 50 minutes were up, Laura waited until the last of the students who stayed after to ask questions were gone.

"Care to share?" Danny said, when Laura approached her. "I've never seen you so quiet in all the recitations so far."

"Well," Laura said. "I actually have a lot of thoughts on it, but knowing that you were, as I predicted, going to disagree, I decided the best way to get at this was debating them with you directly…over lunch?"

She must have looked a lot more calm and cool than her pounding heart and sweat palms felt. Danny was smiling though, and while it definitely relieved Laura, her heart only quickened at it. Then she gave a nod.

"Alright, Hollis, you're on. And you're buying," Danny said.

Laura laughed and they walked out of the room together. She had to prevent herself from doing any sort of happy dance.

----

Will tapped his foot at the corner of the quad. He walked an extra half mile to avoid letting her see the house. He'd told it was some kind of university maintained complex for Greek life. Which, it half was. Carmilla wasn't wrong about the roof caving in thing though.

He hadn't worn these khaki pants and blue sports coat since pledge week and last night was spent ironing them twice and hanging them precariously on the door. Not that his mother had a dress code, but dressing to impress never hurt. Even if two brothers did their best to get syrup all over the suit at breakfast. But what are friends for?

A black Jaguar pulled into the parking lot wedged between the four buildings pushed together. A few other drop offs and pick-ups were happening and the lot tended to get clogged on weekends. It wasn't like anyone was going anywhere near a sleek black car with a Jaguar hood ornament. The passenger door opened.

Out came mother.

Her hair was in its typical tighter-than-iron bun, her skirt and suit were dark blue. In her hand was glued an iPhone and on the bend of her arm was a black purse.

"Will," she said with a smile. She looked up from the phone but it stayed in her hand.

"Hey," he said and stepped forward and into a hug.

"Just you then?"

She didn't mean it that way. But his lip still twitched in and out of his smile, just so slightly. Inside his head he saw the scroll after scroll of drunk messages she'd sent him last night. Mom's a bitch, Why do you keep defending her, She took her from me.

He nodded and she sighed and motioned for him to step into the car. He slid easily across the leather seats and waited for his mother to join before he spoke.

"I had this kind of cool reading for my Philosophy of Religion class," he said.

He wasn't lying. It had been cool. It'd been hard to understand but the internet's abridged version told him all about this guy named Kant who proposed that language was the barrier between humanity and actually understanding something of substance about the universe. It was the kind of thing Carmilla liked to read, she probably had read it actually.

Not that their mother particularly enjoyed hearing things like that but if he could talk about classes the whole time maybe this wouldn't be as painfully awkward as it always was.

---

LaFontaine wrote quickly with their right hand while the left turned the dial on the microscope. The hair sample was from human, female, age 25. The follicles were damaged as LaFontaine zoomed in slightly and scribbled without the pen ever leaving the page. They turned away to examine their notes. Yep. One big squiggly line. Right on track.

They sighed and pulled back from the microscope, blinking rapidly and stretching out from the squinting.

The only other person in the lab was some guy across the room, far more into whatever samples he was examining than they were. He'd been there when they'd walked in and hadn't so much as moved an inch. They tried not to be too loud when pushing the stool out to stand because they were half convinced he still didn't know they were there.

LaFontaine walked to the window and stared out at the groups of people taking advantage of the last few days of residual summer. It was already cold enough to wear a jacket this morning. That wasn't stopping the Frisbee players though, tossing the disk and launching themselves over people lounged out on the grass reading or talking.

They tapped their fingers on the windowsill and debated opening the window. They needed to get out, or get air. To not be extracting DNA strands from strawberries or identifying mammalian hair samples all morning. Not that they were about to go out and put together some kind of bio engineered breed of cat (how cool would that be though?) but anything would be more interesting than doing grunt work for the sake of being able to put "research assistant" on a resume.

"You interested in pizza?"

LaFontaine jumped. The workaholic in the corner was still eyeball deep into whatever sample he was examining but he had definitely been him.

"Huh?"

"Pizza," he repeated, still looking into the microscope. "I'm ordering, you want in?"

LaFontaine frowned.

"We can't have food in the lab."

"That's why they call it a break."

He finally pulled away from his microscope and turned. He performed a similar stretch ritual around his eyes before they focused in on them. He smiled then and stepped out from behind his lab desk, setting down his pencil. He was average height, dark hair, and young face.

"I'm J.P. by the way. We're on the same research project," he said.

"Yeah us and about 50 other undergrads."

Surprisingly his smile got even bigger and he laughed. When he was close enough he held out a hand and LaFontaine took it, remembeingr what their dad said about firm handshakes.

"LaFontaine," they said.

He nodded. No questions, no raised eyebrow, no snort. He took it and memorized it fast and pulled away with a continual cheery face. There was a burst of guilt as LaFontaine thought of Perry before they could stop themselves. They pushed it away. They had 10 seconds of conversation with him, there was no basis to compare. Even if in 10 seconds he was far more understanding than Perry had been in an entire year—

No.

"So, pizza?" they said fast.

"Yeah, technically we're only supposed to take a half hour break but I for one don't think the time waiting for delivery should count," he said. "So I'm willing to make a pact with you that I won't tell if you won't."

"You definitely have a deal," they said.

The pizza ended up taking almost an hour to get to campus after the delivery girl got lost twice and apparently approached by some Zetas who tried to bribe her into letting them take the pizza off her. But the two of them sat in the hallway outside the lab and ate directly from the box.

It was nice not smelling nothing but sterile floors and latex gloves for the first time all day.

"I read Dr. Moreau when I was like 12," LaFontaine said. "Dead set on bio after that."

His eyes went wide as he swallowed.

"No way, same. Except it was Frankenstein and I was 14."

"Hardcore."

LaFontaine held up a hand and J.P. quickly met it with a slap and a nod.

They are pizza in more silence after that because LaFontaine was crazy hungry and something about pizza was super addictive. He let them have the last slice which they protested mainly because he bought it and refused to let them at least tip the delivery person but after about four tries to do the right thing LaFontaine gave in and scarfed down the pizza happily.

"I've never seen you in one of Dr. Fleming's lectures," LaFontaine said.

"I'm technically a grad student, I know I don't look it," he said. "This was the only post graduation job I could get. Doesn't even pay but Dr. Fleming is a pretty well-known biologist and promised me a recommendation when I applied after school."

"Where are you looking?"

"Not sure yet. I've been doing research on genetics labs though."

"Don't tell me you're actually going to try and make some freaky Frankenstein's Monster?"

"Too far?"

"Hell no, I just want in on it."

They laughed for another five minutes before they decided they both absolutely had to get back into the lab. They talked more though throughout the afternoon. And suddenly the room didn't feel so stuffy.

----

Despite the fact that Laura was paying, Danny couldn't stomach another grilled cheese from the caf and convinced her to take a chance on some take out to eat on the lawn. The air battling between chilly and warm gave them the reward of beautiful sun but also gave Danny the opportunity to offer up her jacket to a goosebump covered Laura. The universe could be such a wingman sometimes.

"So talk to me, Hollis," Danny said. "Anything profound about Heart of Darkness?"

"Not profound but I certainly give it more credit than you do," she said.

"Credit for what? Being a derivative, racist novella that doesn't even have good enough prose to back up its existence?"

Points: Danny 1, Laura 0.

But then Laura was smirking as she chewed and worked to swallow her large bite of burger.

"Actually, I find the discussions surrounding the piece to be of a lot more value than you'd think," she said. "Sure as a standalone work it's less than spectacular but not only has it generated years of debate but also influenced other works. Just look at Achebe's Things fall Apart."

Oh now it was on.

"See Hollis this is why I'm the TA and you're the freshman. You focus too much on secondary sources when looking at works. If the book sucks on it's own then it should be judged accordingly."

"And yet we still today read plenty of old novels with awful prose and questionable themes and call it classic because of all it did for literature."

"Name one."

"Dracula. Widely regarded as poor writing and questionable form but considered the ultimate vampire novel, even if it borrowed super heavily from previous, less well-known, novels in the genre."

Danny rolled her eyes and stole a fry from the communal pile between the two of them. Laura was all sorts of persistent, Danny gave her that much. And as much as Danny would never agree to Laura's group effort theory of literature, she did love hearing her talk.

"Any luck on the interview front?" Danny said.

"I've got a meeting on Sunday with the owner of a tattoo place just off campus." Laura said.

"Which one?"

"The one that doesn't look like some demonic sex dungeon."

Danny smiled and took a sip of soda and thought about all the ways this wouldn't be possible to have fun like this at the Naval academy and all the ways she wouldn't be a TA and wouldn't have time to read and wouldn't have gotten to meet Laura.

----

Rick found Carmilla at 3pm that day. In the hotel hot tub. Fully clothed. With an empty bottle of wine.

"Are you drunk?" he asked.

"No, this is the picture of prohibition," Carmilla answered, giving the water a kick with her sock covered foot.

"Are you kidding me?"

"Not at all, Dick."

He shook his head with pursed lips and Carmilla hoped that vein in his neck was practically ready to burst out of his skin. She briefly wondered if she should have the audacity to take a swig of the bottle right in front of him but has enough presence of mind to hold back. She doesn't want him to have an aneurysm.

"Please tell me you didn't drive," he said. His concern is only 30% for you and others, 70% for bad press, the record company, and your car insurance.

"I'm not an asshole, this happened after," she said.

"When?"

"The pool opens up at 6am, so…"

He pinches his nose bridge and begins pacing, rapidly and violently. His $500 shoes click loudly against the tile and it gets the attention of the lifeguard and one of the kids playing with pool noodles in the main pool. In his ear she could see the blue light of his Bluetooth.

"Your mother was worried—"

"Oh please."

"Your brother was worried."

"Look, there's only like a 20% chance I'm actually dead if you can't find me."

"I'm not surprised, but I am angry."

"Is she gone?"

He sighed and nodded.

"She left for a meeting at a law firm in Graz, she's flying to London tonight. Back in the US in a few days," he said. It was supposed to be a consolation perhaps, listing all the ways her mother would be miles and miles away from her. But it wasn't worth much right now.

Then, after a moment of what looked like painful contemplation, he pulled up a plastic chair right to the edge of the Jacuzzi and sat down, phone shoved into his pocket and his ear piece even pulled out. It was the equivalent of being called by her full name, and even tipsy, Carmilla turned to give him her attention for a scolding.

"Your mother was worried," he said. And Carmilla immediately withdrew her attention. "I'm not trying to tell you how to live your life, but I am telling you that you need to be more careful and your brother is not happy—"

"Look I get it," Carmilla said. "But for the record I texted Scott every hour, you knew I wasn't dead."

"That's not the point," he said.

"Your job ends at my professional life, Ricky," Carmilla said, swatting the water. She liked the way it sounded. She began running her hands over the water's surface, listening intently.

"My job is to keep you busy, seen, rich, and healthy. I'm pretty sure somewhere between all of that is this business of you running off every time she shows up," he said.

"You know why. Drop it."

"I'll only drop it if you do something for me first."

She began experimenting with patterns as she let her fingers manipulate the surface. It was almost like music notes, very small music notes. She began trying to change them, make rhythms. Rick must have taken her silence for invitation to speak.

"I need something from you, just something. A commercial spot, a cameo in a movie, a damn interview, something," he said. "The record company is breathing down my neck. They want PR. They want people to know you're not disturbed or—"

"Did you know water is polarizing? It sticks to itself, that's why droplets form little puddles."

"For Christ's sake Carmilla—"

"Calm down, I heard you."

She played a few more fake notes in the water and then ran her hands down it like the keys of a piano. She sat back to the tiled edge of the hot tub and sighed, taking in the sterile scent of chlorine. There was a specific emotion here. She wasn't sure what it was. She needed the piano. But it was something.

"Do you have a pen?"

He huffed and rolled his eyes but obliged and Carmilla held out her other hand expectantly until he shoved a napkin in her hand as well and she quickly began scribbling quick lyrics and wrote random chords. She'd organize them later. It was a mess of awkward letters and ink, smudged further by water and the heel of Carmilla's own left hand but it was definitely something.

She began taping her fingers on the edge of the hot tub, imagining the keys of the piano in front of her and in her head you heard the chords strike and melt together and blend and it would all sound better on the piano but she's got a song here.

Something about water being music, perhaps rain is the comfort after all, depending on how you look at it, and struggling for the umbrella is just making you feel worse…

"Are you done?" Rick finally asked.

"You were practically jumping for a new song last week, you'll have it by tomorrow," Carmilla said, unceremoniously rising out of the steaming water.

"I'd prefer an album," he said.

"Lead single."

"We'll see."

Her loose phases of the moon shirt clung to her skin at all possible points and she was already dreading peeling off her skinny jeans later. Rick threw a towel at her and she handed up the napkin in return. He held it at arm's length while she squeezed out what loose parts of fabric remained and wrapped the towel over her shoulders. Rick tossed the wine bottle in the trash without warning and handed her back her notes.

"Song isn't going to cut it for the record company, they want publicity," he said as they entered the lobby which was a lot colder than Carmilla anticipated as the AC hit her wet body like the entire month of January.

"Fine, but I'm not doing a goddamn commercial," Carmilla said.

"Interview then."

"Preapproved."

"Of course."

"I choose the venue."

"Fine, but I approve it."

"Fine."

Who said they didn't get along?

----

Will didn't know which emotion to feel more: disappointment, anger, or confusion. His sister who, surprise surprise, went AWOL just in time for their mother to come to town, looked like a complete train wreck. Apart from the obvious bags under her bloodshot eyes and matted hair, she was soaking wet, wrapped in a towel, and full clothed.

"If only EW could see you now," he said, crossing his arms across his chest.

"Oh please this is hardly the worst thing you've seen me do," Carmilla said, walking across the living room towards the master bedroom.

"You're right and that doesn't make it better," he said. He followed slightly to keep her in earshot as she closed the door to a sliver of an opening while she changed. "You could have called."

"What part of, 'I texted every hour' are you people not getting?" Carmilla said.

"Oh yeah, hearing 'I'm alive' every hour was really comforting to mother," Will said.

She was quiet and there was a thud. She threw her clothes down, probably. Will sighed and dropped his forehead against the wall hard and poignantly. He didn't know what to do. It felt like the issues between the two of them were pulling him in twenty directions at once. Trying to appease one meant silently betraying the other. Will didn't know how to feel about their mother's constant repetitions of "I was looking out for my daughter" and Carmilla's rants of "She's an evil bitch". Mother didn't tell him, and Carmilla refused to talk about it.

He knew it had something to do with that girl though. The Californian.

Will didn't know if their mother's role in that tragedy was as accurate as Carmilla accused on nights when she drunk texted him. Nor did he truly know enough about what happened to even make an objective judgment on either of them.

Either way the girl was gone, mother was distant, and Carmilla was broken somewhere Will couldn't see. She made a ton of money of that song though.

And then donated all of it.

The papers called it an altruistic act to divert attention away from her assault incident. Will knew she wanted nothing to do with money made this way and it was the first time he thought she might give up guitar and singing and shows and just retire.

She was a fighter though. And he remembered that when she emerged wearing an old pair of his track sweatpants and a Ramones tee shirt, a copy of The Stranger tucked into her elbow.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"It's whatever."

It wasn't whatever but in an hour or so she'd pretend to forget the conversation and pick on him about something. She shuffled past up and into the opposite couch, peeling open her book.

"Does your cult brother's girlfriend still need to sell her Girl Scout cookies or whatever?" Carmilla asked, looking up.

"Huh?"

"The interview girl."

This was a surprise. And she looked serious too. Even more unexpected. Will instinctively went to his phone and quickly repeated Carmilla's question to Kirsch, hoping he put his phone on vibrate in his Shakespeare on Film class. Or at least stayed awake.

"Did you say interview?" Rick got up quickly and walked over. "We had a deal."

"Yeah, yeah. You can approve this girl it's fine. She's some local, she can sell the interview to whoever she wants," Carmilla said.

"Wait, who is this?" Rick said.

"Don't worry about it. You can background check her later. I'll do the interview, you can send it wherever you want. We all go home happy," Carmilla said.

"Carmilla…"

"It's fine."

Will would ask later. For now, he just smiled. This had to be a good. Maybe.

----

Laura was in the middle of unlocking room 307 when she dropped the key in mid-motion.

Kirsch (4:05PM): Carmilla agreed! :D

Chapter Text

Ain't it funny rumors fly? And I know you heard about me, so hey, let's be friends, I'm dying to see how this one ends...

--

"Wait, wait, wait, are you kidding me? I swear to god Laura Hollis if you are lying to me I am moving out," Betty said.

Laura greeted Betty's "Those are some awfully red cheeks" with repeating Kirsch's text back to her. She dropped her copy of Jane Eyre and gawked open mouthed at Laura for a solid ten seconds before she started all sorts of (loud) questions.

"Assuming Kirsch isn't then I'm not either," Laura said.

As she said it her phone dinged and a new text from Kirsch appeared asking for available times and contact information for Carmilla's brother who was apparently going to act as the middleman in all of this.

"Holy crapballs this is real," Laura said.

Betty launched off her bed and grabbed the phone, reading over the texts as well.

"Holy shit, Laura," Betty said. "You're going to meet a real, A-list, millionaire celebrity. Maybe she'll follow you on Twitter."

But Laura was more concerned with the fact that this just became a real interview. She got her first real interview at age 19 and still in college. She was going to buy LaFontaine dinner for the next year and absolutely anything they wanted from any store anywhere.

And then Laura smiled. She had to text her dad. And then he'd probably tell their entire family in less than ten minutes and she'd get twenty calls.

"I'm going to interview Carmilla Karnstein," Laura said.

"Hell yeah you are."

"A real, professional interview. I can put that on my resume. I have to make a resume."

Laura paced the room, dropping down her backpack finally and still holding the phone in her hand as a new text came in from a number she didn't recognize but the texter quickly identified himself as Carmilla's brother. She had to get back to them. Like now.

"And, by the way, if you felt like sharing Kirsch's number I wouldn't object," Betty said.

"He's got a girlfriend, Betty. That bio major. Sarah something," Laura said.

"I'm just saying…"

Laura rolled her eyes but smiled down at the phone as she began saving the brother's number her into her phone. In the process her thumb hovered over the number labeled "Mom" in the contacts list. She'd call it tonight, after Betty fell asleep and leave the longest message she could and hope that maybe some part of her heard it all. She wanted to do it now because acting like it was immediate, pretending it couldn't wait made it feel like she was still there somehow, a bit closer than a 10 year old voice mail message.

She clicked away and back to the text.

Her thumbs worked fast, offering up Friday night as a possible meet time. She wondered if she should ask what to wear, what she was allowed to bring, if her questions were being screened. She needed to make a list, of actual questions.

She dove onto her desk and pulled out the random notebook paper with her notes from the night before.

"I need questions," Laura said. "Help me think of questions."

"We should crowd source this a little," Betty said. "Besides LaFontaine should probably know they did you the biggest solid anyone has ever done."

They quickly located their Floor Don and roommate and the four of them spent the next two hours Googling her, looking up old interview videos and generating lists. LaFontaine was ecstatic, Perry was just happy to see Laura not stressing for the first time in a few days.

Will eventually got back to her with a time on Friday and where to be to get picked up on campus, the type of car they'd be driving, what she needed to bring and Laura took a screenshot of the text just in case her phone deleted it in some awful cosmic accident.

Laura was so wrapped up in making questions, picking out an outfit, and (occasionally) staring at a picture of Karnstein that they all forgot to eat dinner.

And Laura forgot to return Danny's text.

----

LaFontaine tried not to laugh as Perry sat delicately perched over the game board, looking intently at the various red and black pieces across the checkered expanse, plotting her next move. They wanted to tell her it was just checkers and the level of strategy didn't go far behind be faster than your opponent at nabbing tiles. But still, she tried.

"Do you remember when I tried to teach you chess?" LaFontaine said.

"I refuse to apologize a 15th time for throwing my rook at you," Perry said.

"Actually it was a knight," LaFontaine laughed.

Eventually Perry chose a move, forfeiting her chance to jump one of LaFontaine's tiles.

"Perr, you do know this isn't chess right?"

"Contrary to popular belief I think there is a fair bit of strategy that can be employed here."

LaFontaine rolled their eyes and made their move, taking another red tile from Perry. While she once again went back to analyzing the board, LaFontaine's phone buzzed for the third time. They pulled it out and flipped to the messages.

J.P.(12:02AM): Yo.

J.P.(12:02AM) So, do you have plans tomorrow night? There's an alchemy club party.

J.P.(12:03AM): Short notice I suppose but let me know.

LaFontaine smiled without meaning to as Perry finally moved another piece, once again ignoring an open opportunity to take LaFontaine's. They wondered if this was her way of being done with the game, getting herself out as fast as possible so she could shuffle off to bed for the night. Then again, the game had been her idea.

LaFontaine made no comment about the missed opportunity and instead moved a piece to once again, take a tile from Perry. They returned back to their phone and considered J.P.'s message. Alchemy parties had a reputation for getting freaky and not in a "I just threw up in a stranger's bathroom" kind of freaky. And if they were being honest, they really wanted to try one for a few semesters. Perry never went for it though, not that she went for any partying really, but LaFontaine refused to even suggest something as uncontrollable and highly volatile as a party at the Alchemy house.

"Hey Perr, what's your plans tomorrow night?"

"I'm on duty."

Well then, they were off the hook for entertainment. Mostly. Sometimes Perry asked them to come along, or hang out in the common room waiting for the duty phone to ring and some underage kid to bust or public sex to awkwardly stop. But when Perry's answer did not immediately follow with "do you want to watch a movie?" they decided.

LaFontaine(12:11AM): I'm down :) what time?

LaFontaine returned to the board for their move and quickly realized that Perry had, in fact, managed to maneuver them into a corner of sorts because now there was a haphazard army of red crowding almost every black tile on the board and they frowned.

"What the hell?"

"I told you there was a certain level of strategy to be involved."

LaFontaine quickly surveyed the risk of each piece and decided on the least cataclysmic one of the bunch. They watched as Perry triumphantly swiped the black piece of the board.

"I can still beat you in chess," they said cheekily and Perry stuck her tongue out.

The phone buzzed again.

J.P.(12:15): Awesome! We can meet outside the house at like 10ish. I'll see you then.

LaFontaine shot back a sunglasses emoji and pocketed the phone for the night. They returned their attention to the board, once again finding themselves boxed in, even worse in fact.

"Who was that?" Perry asked casually, nodding to their phone.

"One of the people working on the research project."

Perry nodded and forgot the question completely as she once again managed to secure another black tile. And it went on that way for the next fifteen minutes as Perry slowly obliterated all remaining black on the board and denied LaFontaine's request to withdraw rather than be defeated when there was only one tile left.

It was moments like these when LaFontaine forgot why they ever doubted Perry.

----

Carmilla woke up at precisely 3:43pm on Friday. Specifically, she woke to the sound of her phone vibrating itself right off her bedside table.

3 missed calls from Will. And double the texts.

Willy Boy(1:04PM): Remember you need to be ready by 4.

Willy Boy(2:10PM): You got that right?

Willy Boy(2:32PM): Carmilla just respond with anything so I know you got these.

Willy Boy(3:01PM): Carmilla seriously, pick up your phone.

Willy Boy(3:08PM): I've called you twice now.

Willy Boy(3:28PM): We just picked up Laura, if you're not ready when we get there, I stg.

Carmilla sighed and sent back a quick Try not to stress-pop a boner, I'm good to go which was a bit of stretch considering she wasn't even dressed. Or out of bed. But she wasn't exactly itching to get all dressed up for some school newspaper nerd.

She hoisted her legs over the side of the bed and sat up, unplugging her phone from where it charged on the nightstand the night before. There was also one or two missed calls from an unknown number that Carmilla imagined was her mother using someone else's phone to avoid the block Carmilla put on hers. Sometimes she even got sneaky and used Will's phone. Carmilla tended not to recover from those well.

"If you don't tell me what's wrong, I don't know how I can fix it."

"If you honestly don't know, I don't want you to fix anything."

There would be no repeat incidents. Carmilla broke her knuckles on a paparazzo's camera and then flew to England to get them set just to avoid her. If that didn't speak at enough volume for her mother, nothing ever would. And it didn't help that her mother imagined herself the victim in all of it. I am losing my daughter, Carmilla, You don't know how you're making me feel, You're making me feel guilty.

Carmilla tossed the phone on the bed and eyed a plastic green pill tube sitting next to the cup of water on the nightstand. Her fingertips itched. She suddenly felt anxious. She swallowed. She needed to get ready before Will blew a fuse. Not make herself angry enough to get high just in time for an interview.

Well, it was like half an interview, anyway.

She threw on a pair of black skinny jeans, ripped open at the knees. For the top it was some loose fitting, lace tee shirt. As she slipped on combat boots while running fingers through her curly hair, she heard a knock at the door of the hotel room. She quickly slipped into the bathroom and slid on eyeliner as fast as she could without impaling her eye. She heard voices in the living room just in time for knuckles to rap against the wooden frame of her room and for her to do one last swoop of mascara.

"I'm ready William," she said, turning around.

He narrowed his eyes, she imagined mentally taking bets on exactly how late she woke up. But he rolled his eyes and opened the door wider for her to walk into the hall.

"Her name is Laura," Will said in her ear as they walked. "Please try to use it."

"Already forgot."

They entered the living room and Carmilla saw something small, dirty blonde, and brightly colored sitting on the loveseat. Its leg was bouncing excitedly and it was reading through a notebook with pen between teeth.

It was most certainly a human kitten, not a budding reporter.

Will cleared his throat and the girl bounced up with a momentary flash of panic before it was replaced with a nervous smile. Her eyes flashed to Carmilla once and back to Will. However, Carmilla caught the double take and tried not to smirk.

"Laura, this is my sister, Carmilla," he said. "Have fun. I've got a mixer to go get ready for."

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Carmilla said.

"Good. That's a small list."

He slid his jacket onto his shoulders and leaned into Carmilla's ear on his way past her.

"Play nice, please."

Then he was out the door and Laura's nervous smile dropped now that her buffer was gone. Carmilla let them stand there in a staring contest for fifteen seconds before she decided to take a seat on the couch across the loveseat. Laura took it as a cue to lower herself back down to her own seat but she still had a look of steady panic on her face and her knuckles were white from the grip on her pen.

"You want something to drink or eat?" Carmilla asked.

"No."

"Good, we don't have anything. It sounded polite though."

She didn't laugh. In fact, Carmilla wasn't entirely sure the girl wasn't having a stroke. Some journalist-to-be, indeed. Carmilla was about to suggest she maybe pop a question before she popped a blood vessel instead but then the girl blurted out:

"Why'd you hit that reporter?"

----

Laura spent two hours with Betty picking through both their clothes to find something to wear. When Laura finally remembered to text Danny back and dropped the news, she insisted on being sent a slew of possible outfit choices to contribute. Ultimately they came to a consensus on a light sundress with dots across it. Danny insisted on a cardigan to go over it, Betty absolutely vetoed the cardigan and the two went at it with Laura typing as the middleman before Betty eventually took the phone and continued the debate herself. Laura took that time to pick out a pair of sunflower yellow flats.

She'd been relieved to see Will meeting her at the limo when it pulled up. He offered a hand and opened the door for her and spent the ride making jokes about Carmilla and warning her of all the girl's tendencies.

"Sarcasm is like her control group, so don't let it get to you," he said. "She also might be, like, super blunt with you. So try not to be too surprised."

Laura nodded and felt her stomach releasing more and more butterflies as the car drove on and on. A man sat across from them in a black suit and said nothing. Based on his obnoxious build and inability to smile she guessed he was some type of security. He mumbled his name to her when she'd first got into the car. It rhymed with pot or knot. This was already going poorly.

Danny L(3:33PM): Knock 'em dead Hollis!

Laura H(3:34PM): I'll do my best D:

Danny L(3:35PM) : Nah, you'll do awesome! We still on for celebratory dinner tonight?

Laura H(3:36PM) : Definitely :)

Texting Danny had a calming effect on her. It reminded her there was a world outside this limo and there was an "after" when it came to this interview so she probably wouldn't die. And besides, she could focus on being nervous for dinner with Danny rather than trying to remember how to breathe in front of a celebrity.

"Also try not to give her, like, fuel or anything," Will said. "She's totally latch onto to like, random phobias, or like a pet peeve. Just—don't give her the opportunity."

"Are we describing and person a 12 year old?" Laura laughed but Will gave her a pointed look and Laura giggled a little more.

"Maybe it's just me she picks on. We'll find out I guess," he said.

That was the first clue Laura got that this girl was not a social person.

The second indication was when she didn't greet them at the door.

The third was when she didn't acknowledge Laura's presence beyond looking her over.

If Laura wasn't so completely nervous, she'd turn red under her gaze. She was, in fact, just as beautiful as she was in random candids and photoshoots on Google and her Wikipedia page. Her cheekbones and jaw were so perfect Laura was convinced they were sculpted. Her hair was messy but this girl managed to totally pull it off. And her eyes were dark.

Laura quickly had to remind herself that not only was she here to be professional, she definitely shouldn't objectify any woman. So she catalogued the degree of beauty that was Carmilla Karnstein's physical appearance and quickly moved it aside.

But when Will left them alone all Laura could hear in her head was 5th most followed person on Twitter, net worth: $25 million, 3 Grammy Awards and on and on. This exactly what she wanted to avoid the entire ride over. Clamming up, going pale, looking like an idiot. Yep, Laura was doing all these things at once and Carmilla was raising an elegant eyebrow before plopping down onto the couch. Cue another few seconds and she's opening her mouth.

But for some god-awful, stupid reason, Laura decided she needed to open her mouth first.

"Why'd you hit that reporter?"

Why? Why? Why?!

Laura could have said literally anything. She could of told Carmilla everything she ate for lunch this past week, she could have recited the entire synopsis of Titanic, she could have broken out into song, hell she could of even just screamed in her face for 10 solid seconds.

"Wow, you go right for the artery don't you?" Carmilla said over the sounds of Laura's world imploding inside her brain. "But it takes more than that to shock me, cutie."

Carmilla is smiling—well, smiling in the way a cat or a coyote might smile—and it calmed Laura down.

"I totally didn't mean to say that," Laura said.

"Freudian slip."

Laura took ten seconds to breathe and banish all the panic. She pushed all thoughts of the research she did on her computer, of her date with Danny, of her assignment out of her head entirely until her list of questions was the only thing. When ten seconds was up, she raised her head put on a professional smile, uncapping her pen with a pop.

"So, Miss Karnstein—"

"Oh no, no, no, none of that crap," Carmilla said, sitting up.

"Carmilla," Laura corrected. "What first got you interested in music?"

Carmilla's brows furrowed from across the coffee table before she rolled her eyes and blew out a breath.

"You're going to make it one of those interviews, fine," Carmilla said. "I started playing piano when I was four."

It was Laura's turn to knit her eyebrows

"What do you mean 'those' interviews?" Laura said. Crap, she thought as she realized she cut off the story. Honestly, Laura was looking like the hottest of messes currently.

"School magazine 101, sweetheart," Carmilla said. "Though I don't know much about journalism or reporting, I know how these things usually go."

"Which is?"

"Usually I get followed around by a geek from Rolling Stone and we pretend to have a conversation while he fishes for questions. It's that or sitting on the set of 60 Minutes getting grilled about some tabloid photo. This is very vanilla," Carmilla said with a shrug.

Laura gave a pout before she could stop it and Carmilla laughed. This girl was the queen of snark, and not in an endearing way. And seemed to get a rise out of poking Laura as much as possible. She thought back to what Will said in the car and she tried to blow past it.

"Your instincts are there though," she continued. "You shot right from the hip on that first question."

"Look, can you just tell me where you got your interest in music?" Laura groaned. She was done with it already, and wanted to avoid further embarrassment or torture for the sake of this girl's humor.

"My mother forced my ass onto a piano bench when I was 4. Apparently I was rambunctious and the pediatrician or whatever said that getting me to play and instrument or do sports or something would, like, help me focus and chill out," Carmilla said. She was staring off at the ceiling and waving her hand absently as she told the story and Laura scribbled furiously. "Anyway when I hit 8, I decided if I was going to be forced to play, I was going to do it my way. So, I picked up a guitar in the school music room. Eventually my mother gave in."

Laura scribbled so fast and hard that her notes were practically just straight lines with bumps and she hoped that she'd be able to decipher her own handwriting later. When she finished and looked up, Carmilla was looking at her with an eyebrow raised again.

"You need another minute there?" Carmilla asked.

If Laura knew her better she'd glare.

"No, I'm good," she said with as little bite as possible. Carmilla must have sensed her annoyance though because she looked extremely pleased with herself and that just made it harder for Laura to keep her face straight.

"Next question then."

"Who was your favorite music artist growing up?"

"Oh my god."

Carmilla sunk into the couch and groaned, putting a hand over her face. She mumbled something to herself and Laura pretended to not hear the words "Lois Lane Junior".

"I don't know, I didn't listen to anything really. I still don't," Carmilla said.

"Wait, do you even like music?" Laura said, thinking, apparently, out loud.

Carmilla removed her hand from her face and looked at the ceiling. She didn't sit up but she turned and looked at Laura, really looked at her. Laura didn't shrink under her gaze because she knew that she wasn't really looking at any parts of Laura. But the gears in her head could practically be heard moving as she thought.

"No one's ever asked me that," Carmilla finally said, very seriously.

"Is that it then?"

Carmilla sat up and the thoughtfulness and concentration was gone. The arrogance was back as her legs went up onto the coffee table and she threw an arm across the back of the couch.

"You know, you'd do better if you recorded this. You can't possible write down every single thing I say and no way I'm repeating myself," Carmilla said.

Laura blanched. She'd meant to record it on her iPhone. She was beyond being embarrassed at her own lack of professionalism and moved on to just being embarrassed period because how the hell was she supposed to become some great, groundbreaking journalism if she couldn't even keep it together two questions in on her first big interview. And keeping her cool while getting heckled was less and less easy.

"You want to take a water break, champ?" Carmilla snorted and Laura finally, finally just gave up the self-control and glared at her. "There she is."

Laura wondered if the articles got it wrong, if the reporter wasn't actually the one who hit her first because Laura was getting close to it. And she never condoned violence, like not even in dodgeball. But she was stressed and anxious and this girl was a complete ass. Then again she shouldn't be surprised, she was a millionaire, she was very obviously aware of her own beauty, she clearly heard compliment after compliment since she was 15.

And she was enjoying every second Laura sat there flustered and frustrated. And Laura wondered if she was being played for her afternoon entertainment.

"Look, if you don't want to do this then you can just tell me to go instead of messing with me," Laura said in small voice. Carmilla tilted her head.

"I'm having a conversation with you, cupcake," she said. "It's not my fault if you can't keep up."

Laura closed her eyes and huffed out her nose so hard she was sure her nostrils did that thing where they flared. She opened her eyes, put on a thin, tight smile, and began packing up her things. Carmilla was famous, and talented, but no grade was worth this. Besides, she still had the tattoo shop where she'd still have dignity.

And oh boy was she blogging about this later, no matter how many of her fangirls bumrushed her ask box on tumblr.

"Thank you for your time Miss Karnstein," Laura said.

And Laura walked out. As soon as she was in the hallway she nearly collapsed against the hall.

Holy crap I just did that.

Danny would be proud.

----

The girl was too easy to push. She had buttons everywhere and Carmilla couldn't control herself. Will had learned her tactics, it was too tempting to ignore the possibility of bugging someone new. But as soon as she was out the door Carmilla thought, perhaps, it wasn't as fun a game for her. And for the first thirty seconds after the padawan journalist's departure, Carmilla was going to let it be.

Oh well.

Her loss.

But then Rick was glaring in her head and spotting some statistic and honestly, she hated him but she also didn't play well with new friends and she was certain he was seconds away from quitting. And there was, of course, the guilt that maybe she went a little too far when it came to picking on the girl.

Maybe she should…

Oh for fuck's sake.

Carmilla was up and out the door, slamming her hand on an elevator button. She told herself if one didn't show up in the first half minute then she was giving up and let the girl go back to her dorm room or journalist anonymous meeting or what have you.

Of course the stupid elevator shows up at exactly 26 seconds according to her phone.

"Jesus fucking Christ," she mumbled, stepping onto the red carpeted floor and hitting the lobby button. If the girl was out the door when she got there, then she wasn't chasing her.

The door opened with a ding and her boots clicked with presence across the alabaster floor. The girl hadn't gotten far at all, she looked like she stopped to text, maybe for a ride, just before the doors into the atrium. She looked as flustered as Carmilla knew she was beneath all that shaking and tight fistedness.

Carmilla walked up to her quietly and waited until she put the phone away.

"Hey."

The girl jumped and nearly dropped her phone. She looked wide eyed at Carmilla for two seconds before giving her a quick glare and looking out the window.

"Look, we can start this whole thing over again, if you want," Carmilla offered.

"I don't want."

Carmilla counted to 10.

"Look, I'm not gonna extert energy convincing you," she said.

"Yeah well, I already have a back-up, so thanks for the effort but I'm set," the girl said.

"Look, I kind of need this and—"

"You know, the word 'I' has come out of your mouth like 8 times in a minute and none of them were followed with 'am sorry'," she shot back.

Oh she was brutal and tiny and Carmilla wanted to just strangle and shake her tiny little neck because she was infuriating and screamed only child syndrome and was on the verge of being completely whiney.

"Okay, you want an apology?"

"Yes!"

"Give me one more shot at this and I'll give it to you, alright?"

Carmilla really had very little intention of making it sincere or anything because that fleeting wave of guilt was gone and she just wanted to get this done with. The girl was chewing her lip and trying to look determined and like this was a choice she was making and Carmilla hated giving this complete stranger this power but eating humble pie had to happen occasionally. Besides, after another two hours she'd never see this girl again and everyone could move on with their lives.

"A half hour," she finally said, turning.

"Good, fine, great. Call off your war dogs," Carmilla said, nodding to the phone. The girl rolled her eyes but did go back to her phone to recall her request for a ride.

When she was done Carmilla pulled out her car keys and began walking through the front door, nodding for the girl to follow.

"Where are we going?"

"Somewhere where I neither of us will punch a wall over this. Keep up, cupcake," Carmilla said.

"You know I have a name too Carmilla," she said.

"Yeah, let's see if you can convince me to use it."

----

Danny was sitting in her room, near the open window, powering through a stack of quizzes with a red pen. It was one of the last days she'd be able to keep the window open with a slightly chilly breeze preluding winter. As fascinating as marking red checks on dozens of papers was she was really itching to head outside for a run.

She looked at her watch.

Laura's interview just started. They worked out six as the earliest time they'd get dinner depending on how long the interview went. She had time for a mile or two around the track if she took an econimcal shower right after and maybe just put her hair up for the date. Well it wasn't a date. But it might be? She kind of wanted it to be. Well more than kind of. But she didn't know where Laura stood on that front.

The flirting definitely went both ways but that didn't automatically mean interest. Well like, the level of interest Danny had anyway. Laura was a smiley, adorable ray of sunshine who was incredibly intelligent and actually surprisingly hot when she wanted to be. If nothing else, Danny wanted to know her better.

She sat up from her perch by the window and walked across the hardwood of her room. The top bunk of their room was vacant for now and Danny briefly wondered if she was going to find herself sexiled (again) for the night. It actually might work in her favor if it meant Laura offered to entertain her for a few extra hours.

Her phone buzzed and she saw a text from her mother. Something about the graduation ceremony for her dad's first class of recruits at the academy back in the States. She tossed it back on her bed promising herself to get to it later and trying not to think too hard about the implications of her mother only contacting her for official family functions. The good morning texts and the daily check in calls ran out fast after the first week.

So much for follow your dreams and follow your heart.

She began changing into track pants and a tank. She'd be a little cold for the first few minutes but it'd be better than sweltering in a hoodie for the remaining half hour of the run. The tying of the second shoe was interrupted by another text ding. She turned her head to try and catch sight of the name in her periphery before giving up and reaching out for it.

Laura Hollis(4:22PM): Any chance you wanted to go out earlier than 6? :(

Danny frowned.

Danny(4:23PM): What happened?

Laura Hollis(4:25PM): Didn't totally work out the way I hoped. It's okay, I'll explain over dinner. I'm gonna catch a bus back to campus.

Danny knit her eyebrows together and looked at the time in the upper corner of her phone. Assuming she got there on time she'd been at the hotel for maybe 20 minutes tops. Laura didn't seem distressed or in danger so Danny decided to let it go until dinner. But they would be talking. And if she had to slander Carmilla to TMZ or egg her expensive car she'd do it.

Danny(4:27PM): Okay, just let me know where to meet you.

Danny returned to her closet and began disrobing while one hand pushed through the hangers of clothes, one at a time, to begin the arduous process of dressing for the hopefully-will-turn-out-to-be-a-date date. Red was certainly a power color but not on her, at least not on a first date. She pushed it aside and considered the green pants right next to them. She began pulling out tops, favoring the black three quarters sleeve with the deep v neckline.

The phone dinged again.

She walked out and tossed the clothes onto the bed.

Laura Hollis(4:38PM): Never mind. Long story but I'll meet you back on campus at six. Sorry for the confusion and stuff but I'll explain tonight. It's a story -_-

Danny sighed loudly to no one in the room. Hollis was like a pinball but, honestly, she wouldn't have it any other way.

Chapter Text

I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell, I know right now you can't tell but just stay awhile and baby then you'll see a different side of me…

--

Carmilla drove like a maniac. Laura was sure her face was white to match her knuckles as one hand gripped her notebook and the other gripped the center console. Carmilla didn't seem to notice, or if she did, didn't care. Either one was equally likely in her case. There was also the bonus third option that Carmilla was actually just trying to kill her or scare her off. She was only, like, 30% inclined towards that but it was still totally possible.

One sharp turn around a corner however and Laura felt a heavy settling in her stomach as she suddenly could smell her mother's perfume, and caught sight of her mother's eyes in the rearview mirror. She tried to swallow the sense of dread. It wasn't Carmilla's fault. She didn't know. She should natural want to drive like a normal human being, but at the very least this wasn't her fault.

She hoped her mother didn't feel like this before it happened.

She shook her head and focused on the radio blaring some One Direction top 40 song.

There was also the bit where she had no idea where this stranger was driving her to. This could very quickly turn into the strangest, most high profile kidnapping ever. She'd probably get an extension on her assignment though. Maybe even a tuition discount.

But when they slammed to a stop in front of a red light Laura wondered if dying was really worth the ease it would bring to her college workload.

"You see a ghost?" Carmilla said.

"I'm afraid I'm going to become one," Laura said, swallowing and ignoring the image of her smiling mother in her head.

"None of you like my driving."

"You're a little lead-footed."

Carmilla snorted but when the light turned green she didn't immediately start peeling off like Laura came to expect. Instead she began driving at a reasonable speed, slow even. And the breeze coming through Laura's open window was more of a tickle and less of a brutal gale force.

"There's also a small voice in my head that isn't sure you're not kidnapping me," Laura said, relaxing into her leather seat.

"What a story that'd make. My record company would really get their publicity then," she said.

Carmilla made one last turn and pulled into an open spot on the side of the street right next to the electronic meter.

The front lights on the awnings of various businesses on the strip of road were beginning to turn on and a few people were starting their weekend early. One or too exceptionally early as they staggered down the sidewalk with the help of friends. Carmilla got out of the car without a word and shut the door, Laura followed after a minute of struggling with the red button of the seat belt.

"Well try not to develop Stockholm Syndrome," Carmilla said, one hand in her pocket while the other was punching her license plate number into the meter.

"Trust me, it won't be a struggle."

She gives a tiny laugh.

In less than an hour Laura was amazed at how fast she's gone from nervous politeness to completely not caring if she were rude to her not. Carmilla wasn't threatening the way celebrities are in movies, claiming they could ruin your career or life for accidentally giving them green M&M's. She was a jerk alright and incredibly inconsiderate, but she seemed to need this interview (for whatever reason she would need some kind of school journalism project level of an interview). Or, at the very least, she cared enough about getting it done that she chased Laura down to the lobby.

So Laura was perfectly happy to see just how far she could push the boundaries of mutual indignation until Carmilla eventually left her on the sidewalk or actually walked out on her. Because she was, if nothing else, a young woman close to Laura's own age. And therefore, not overly frightening.

But being dragged into a gay bar was a surprise.

It was dimly lit with music videos playing on various large flat screens across the wall and above drink rack. The bar was slowly filling and three bartenders stood behind, overstaffed for now clearly, but waiting for the rush that was coming with sundown on Friday.

Laura hadn't been here before, though she'd heard it mentioned a few times on campus. LaFontaine had mentioned even going once or twice but honestly, the idea intimidated Laura bit. She wasn't a partyer, and she'd certainly never been out to a bar before, at least not with those intentions.

Carmilla lead them over to a booth in the corner.

"Hope you don't mind the change of scenery," she said. "Though girls like you love places like this I hear."

"Girls like me?"

Carmilla didn't immediately respond back, she snorted and looked at Laura expectantly. When no response came she instead frowned in confusion. Laura felt a little rage bubble begin to boil in her stomach again at Carmilla's blatant assumption.

"I'm gay," Laura said flat out and with finality she hoped meant this conversation wouldn't continue, as much as she would love to give Carmilla tongue-lashing, she was still nervous to go too far.

"Oh."

At the very least she had the decency to look embarrassed as she played with the salt shaker next to her.

"Me too," she mumbled.

"Good for us," Laura said, throwing open her notebook but when she looked up Carmilla was already halfway out of the booth.

Laura groaned and watched her walk up to the bar. Evidently she knew the one bartender because he smiled when he saw her and they immediately began talking. This was painful and a lot more trouble than an A- was worth.

Carmilla returned with a single drink. Clear, fizzing, with a small lime wedge on the rim.

"Recorder on this time, creampuff," she said, taking a slow sip. "And let's try again."

----

Carmilla sipped the bitter taste of gin and tonic as Laura rattled off her third question.

"What sort of themes do you find yourself writing about? Have you evolved at all?"

"I don't write 'themes'," she said. "I just write stuff."

"Stuff?"

"Yes. I don't have aims or agendas. I play around on the piano and suddenly I'm getting handed a check," she said.

"That cannot be true."

Carmilla smirked and wiggled her eyebrows as she took one last sip from the glass and set it down with a light clink of glass on wood and ice against the side. She looked up to find Laura staring at the lipstick stain on the rim.

"You want anything? I'll buy," Carmilla said, getting up.

"No, I'm actually almost done so…"

She trailed off as Carmilla walked away, uninterested. The bar was getting fuller now, the casual happy hour drinkers were filing in and the music had been turned up a noticeably amount.

Carmilla wiggled her way into a narrow opening at the corner of the bar by the cash register and waited as the three bartenders walked tracks between various points behind the bar, never once knocking into each other, as they poured and garnished and collected tips. Eventually one spotted her and within another minute or so a second gin and tonic was in her hand along with a double shot of Jack Daniels.

She walked back to the table where Laura was glaring into space. She jumped when she heard the sound of glass in front of her and her mouth fell open at the sight of the drink in front of her.

"I said I didn't want anything," Laura said.

"Just in case you want to loosen that tightly wound mind of yours," Carmilla said.

"I won't."

"Have a little fun, sundance."

"I've got a—I'm meeting a friend after this."

"If it's a date this'll certainly do the trick."

Carmilla brought the cool glass to her mouth and swallowed to fight off a smile. She seemed to get particularly perturbed when Carmilla smiled. Laura slid the pen down her page over a scribbled, half crossed out list that looked more like inky stains than notes. She paused a few from the end and looked up.

"You never answered my question, do you even like playing music?" Laura asked.

Carmilla felt her brow grow heavy as she stared back, never breaking eye contact as she took a generous gulp from her glass. There was a low buzz beginning at the base of her neck that would only grow and she tried to relax into it. But all she could think about was the want for more. To make this part go faster and bring on that numbness in her face that would make her lips hard to navigate and her headache go away.

"I probably don't," she said and decided to reward herself with Laura's unattended double shot of whiskey. And down it went, half sweet, half burn. That should expedite this process.

"You've got 5 Grammy's," she said. She looked incredulous and only slightly judging.

"I'm good at it, doesn't mean I have to like it," Carmilla said.

"How do you justify pouring your life since you were—what—thirteen into this?"

"I am an exceptional liar, cupcake."

That buzz was growing now. The feelers were spreading across her head and even down into her arms and legs. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Like a giant bumblebee. Flowers probably tasted better than alcohol though and probably hurt a lot less. And flying was probably fun and dizzying more than this.

Carmilla thought again of the small tube next to her bed, perched between lamp and bottle of water. Her fingertips itched and were suddenly restless to be tapping on the wood of the table while Laura was rolling her eyes across her page and scribbling. Carmilla wondered how much more of this she'd have to put up with. The pen scratching on the paper was incredibly loud. Extremely loud. How did everyone in the bar not hear it? How did they not demand her be thrown out?

Carmilla reached the peak of ballpoint pen on paper, practically ready to plug her ears when it abruptly stopped and Laura looked up.

"So, why do you do it if you're just lying to your fans?"

"Because my mother is a vicious evil cu—"

"I'm going to stop you right there before you say something incredibly sexist."

Carmilla scowled.

"She ruined my life. And now I have to sing about it."

Laura looked hesitant and glanced over at the recorder on the table. The little red light indicated it was still eavesdropping. Laura had the look on her face of someone who themselves might be eavesdropping.

"Um, so I guess that means you do have a theme."

She was trying to make a joke, Carmilla was pretty sure.

"Yes, the theme is my life has sucked since I was sixteen years old," she said. "And you reporters can be assholes."

At that Laura's head shot up. Carmilla was lowering hers though. She looked at the chipping wood on the edge of the table and for a moment the anxiety in her fingers was replaced with the dull ache of her knuckles, still not quite healed right. She could see the broken camera and the black and blue and the blood and could feel someone's hands on her shoulders.

If she didn't stop now she'd see red like she did then.

She might even make more broken glass.

"I'm sorry the reporter pried," said Laura. Her voice was about as small as she was and her head was down.

"He asked about her, he's not allowed to talk about her."

She was gone now. She could probably get knocked in the face or get a tattoo or into a knife fight and not feel most of it. The room was loud, the lights were low, her eyes were heavy. And everything that came out of her mouth sounded like a good idea right now. Which is why she should definitely get back to that hot tub at the hotel, soak it up in there until Rick found her pruney and hungover in about 6 hours.

"Her?"

But Carmilla was imagining herself back by herself surrounded by chlorine and tile and the sound of water dripping. The hot tub was warm and she was alone with her thoughts, or maybe Ell was there, she wasn't sure. She wanted to say sorry, she was saying sorry. Was she saying it out loud? She might be. How else would Ell hear it of course?

I wasn't trying to hide you

I was not ashamed of you

I miss you, so much

Just like always, Ell was saying nothing in her mind. She was just looking at her blank and with vacant grey eyes. It reminded her of the sky.

Some of that (all of it?) had been out loud, it must have been because the budding little journalist with the sunshine face and musical smile was scared and wide eyed and looked ready to run far away. Her eyes darted to the red dot on the recorder, the offensive listener. The same color that Carmilla always saw in her dreams.

This one had asked about her too. Why do they always ask about her? She wasn't theirs to ask about? She wasn't Carmilla's anymore either.

"We're done here."

Carmilla was up. Out of her pocket came a folded wad of who knows how much money. It all hit the table and she was free to walk away. Free to let the buzz under her skin tell her that this was normal human behavior, that she wasn't really that drunk, that she should maybe get drunker, that should stop talking but that she also should talk more because yelling about it felt good.

When had she gotten outside?

It was dark out now.

And there was someone behind her.

"Hey," was that teeny tiny voice again.

"Sorry I can't give you a ride." She wasn't.

"I um—It's okay. Campus is just three blocks that way."

Carmilla didn't look at where she was pointing.

"Good," she said. "Have fun on your date."

"Are you—are you going to be—"

"Goodbye, cupcake."

Carmilla was walking, hoping it was the opposite direction of wherever Laura pointed. She heard her boots on the cement and they weren't echoed by smaller, faster, flats. She didn't turn around though she was very sure Laura was staring, but if she looked back they might make eye contact and then the tiny busybody might not leave. It was embarrassing enough.

Some sort of part knew that.

----

Will was in the process of taking the checkered tie off for the second time. He couldn't decide, it matched sure but one of the brothers made a comment about it being "too 90s bro". Maybe it was too much neon. It was an Alchemy club party though, for all they knew it was a rave. But a rave with like...the elixir of life in the form of crazy engineered weed.

"Dude, tie or no tie?" Will said as Kirsch walked into their bedroom.

"Tie bro. You look like a Backstreet Boy," Kirsch said.

Will raised an eyebrow.

"In a good way bro."

Kirsch smiled and nodded, throwing back a red solo cup.

Will rolled his eyes and decided on the tie. He'd just have to make sure no photos found their way on Facebook, Carmilla would not shut up about it for days. He pulled the tie to loosen it and let it rest against his popped collar.

"How'd breakfast with your mom go the other day?" Kirsch said, taking another sip.

"It got me out of astronomy 101," he said.

There was a groan on the bed and Will turned around to see Kirsch leaning for a second cup. He offered it to Will. He peered inside to see clear liquid, ice, and a lime.

"What is it?"

"Gin and tonic."

It was a completely lie because Will threw back a large sip of straight gin. Cheap straight gin. And Kirsch let out a honking laugh as Will almost spit it back out and got used to the torturous taste of gin in his mouth. It was like cough syrup and hand sanitizer.

"I thought we were over the hazing bit," Will said, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth to try and banish the residual aura of ugh from his mouth.

"Sorry dude, wasn't a total lie though."

Kirsh was a good friend. A friend period. Not a bought one, not a brother for four years. He was Will's friend, and it was laughing times like this, and coughing up alcohol, and pranks that made Will want to leave the whole party hopping and mixer part. He wanted this, he wanted laughter and jokes. And Kirsch was the only person in the house who seemed to want the same thing.

The house walked out in a pack after a loud yell of their cheer followed by several wordless yells and chants of "Zetas!" Will and Kirsch hung back fighting about the prospects for the soccer season coming in February. Kirsch tried at least, to know something about soccer. It was enough though, as they made their way to the Alchemy club house.

----

Danny was sitting on a bench just outside the Summer Society house. She had gone with the green pants after all. Though instead of the black top she opted for a grey one. Laura was all sorts of light colors and pastels and they'd just look better together. Not that she was thinking that far ahead or that she was assuming anything about tonight. But dress for success couldn't hurt. They already looked like Bilbo and Gandalf, she might as well try to make them a little less awkward looking.

There were far less bugs hovering around the street light above her now that they were closer to Halloween than to August. The sun was setting sooner and with that came earlier than normal bursts of loud partiers as the Friday night officially began and they could all feel less guilt about getting drunk at 7pm with the sun down.

She occupied her time by hovering over the call button on her phone. She wanted to call her mom, she wanted to say something or, better yet, have something said to her. But she had nothing to say, nothing that would interested her mother. And her father almost never answered his phone as if he was back on base again or deployed.

Her parents had no interest in hearing about her English readings or grading as a TA, even though an undergrad TA was a prestigious position and an amazing transcript booster.

But it wasn't the Navy, so.

"Evening, Summer Psycho."

She knew that voice and could smell his Axe from twenty feet away. She made a silent bet to herself that his collar was popped, the first two buttons were undone, and he probably had sunglasses resting on the top of his head. She turned.

And she definitely owed herself desert tonight because, surprise surprise, she was right.

"Can I help you tall, pale, and stupid?" she said.

"I'm just passing through but thanks for being rude."

"Because 'Summer Psycho' is a term of endearment."

At least he was alone, she'd dealt with packs of them before. They seemed to get stupider the more of them there were. That didn't mean Kirsch wasn't a total idiot on his own though. She graded his papers, she knew he had a 10th grade level vocabulary. At best.

"You going out tonight, Lawrence?" he said.

"Not anywhere near you."

"Well I wasn't asking so."

"Good."

Luckily the devolution of this conversation was halted by a small body popping out from behind Kirsch and walking over to Danny. She looked confused and a tiny bit frazzled but she was smiling, or trying to. She gave a small wave to Kirsch who brightened up at the sight and waved animatedly back.

"And with that I will see you later brosef," Danny said, standing quickly and pulling Laura before he could say anything else to Laura the IQ of the entire quad.

"What was that about?" Laura asked pulling her elbow out from Danny's grip.

"Nothing, he's annoying," she said. "I'm interested in this saga of the Karnstein interview. What the heck happened, Hollis?"

She blew out an exasperated sigh and tossed her arms. So it went well then.

"It was half a nightmare, half the strangest thing I've ever done," Laura said. "For one thing, she's super rude. Which I guess shouldn't be a surprise when you're 21 and spent the majority of your life being told yes by everyone and getting adored by millions of Twitter followers. But she's also just, I don't know. Sad, or something. She's like some Kurt Cobain—"

Laura cut herself off with a tuck of her lips into each other and a hand over her mouth. She was a deer in headlights for about 5 seconds before she half recovered. Danny frowned. Laura's rambles didn't always make sense, in fact they were usually a lot of words united by a common theme. The theme here was definitely that she didn't like Carmilla.

"Okay well, I bet myself earlier that Kirsch would look as positively fratish as possible so now I owe myself extra desert tonight, shall we?"

Laura relaxed quickly and Danny felt a small summersault in her gut. Then Laura laughed at something Danny said and it was all smiles.

----

Carmilla stopped walking around midnight. Her head was cleared, even if it hurt. Her throat was sore and it was cold. She had to be in Vienna tomorrow afternoon. Sold out crowd. In her native Austria. When was 10 she dreamed of something like this but now it felt like a nuisance, it was getting in the way of her just sitting around and playing with the piano keys until she liked the sound or dodging a snapping string as she tuned her guitar.

She wanted sunny days on the porch again without getting her knuckles smacked for missing notes.

She wanted no images of flying books and a yelling mother.

She wanted to see nothing of a young girl with sun kissed skin looking at her like she was a stranger.

And somehow, all three of these trails of thought lead Carmilla back to the persistent little journalist. She felt bad. She actually felt bad. The girl needed help on a school project and she was using her to play a joke on her manager. Why did she feel bad? Probably had something to do with the kitten-like first impression Carmilla got from her and her bubbly smile, even if it went away almost instantly never to return for the night.

She shouldn't punish her. That was something her mother did to people.

The stars were spotted between clouds and Carmilla did her best to locate as many constellations as possible in the wind and chill and the moonlight. Half of Ursa Minor was sticking out from behind a cloud. The Little Dipper was in plain sight.

You know what too much about the stars, Carmilla.

It's so I can impress you, sweetheart.

Carmilla pulled out her phone to distract herself, scrolling past texts asking for updates on the interview and reminders of her tight schedule tomorrow. She clicked to Will because that's where she always went. Maybe she was using him. Was taking comfort really just taking advantage? Was giving comfort really just giving something away for free?

She did feel really bad about ruining Laura's project. She'd feel worse about the embarrassment tomorrow. But for now she was just a dick.

There was also the issue of Carmilla spilling god knows how much to this girl. She should have slipped her 20. This girl could take that recording to anywhere, show it to anyone.

Shit.

Kitty (12:03AM): Can I have the reporter girl's number?

She waited.

Willy Boy (12:05AM): Why didn't you get it yourself?

Kitty (12:06AM): Long story.

Willy Boy (12:10AM): Are you just going to hit on her?

Kitty (12:11AM): No. Please and thank you.

Carmilla waited another six minutes before Will finally sent it to her. Her kneejerk reaction was to save it in her contact before she thought better of it and copied into the contact line of a new text.

How to word this? What did she even want to say? Sorry I'm a dick but at least I didn't punch you right? Besides, all she was likely to get was a curt okay or even less. She didn't need to feel absolved, she just wanted this girl to know she wasn't awful on purpose. She needed the goodwill to convince this girl not to spout the interview all over the internet.

She also realized now she never apologized for what happened at the hotel.

Well shit now she was a huge toolbag.

Maybe she could send her a card or flowers or something. It seemed a lot less nerve wracking than writing out an apology over text or, god-forbid, in person.

She should probably apologize to Will too.

And her manager. And Scott.

She hated alcohol and she hated her mother and she had exactly 8 hours to find a way to clear her conscience of the tightly-wound, eager-to-please freshman.

It was another 20 minutes of pacing around when finally Carmilla literally felt the lightbulb ding above her head (the sound effect could very well have been imagined). She unlocked her phone and typed.

----

Laura opened the door to 307 and found it, surprisingly, occupied. And not the tumbling around to try and cover embarrassed naked bodies occupied, but the lights on, music playing, books everywhere and notes opened kind of occupied.

Betty was on her bed, nose shoved into an unabridged copy of Jane Eyre and a pen shoved up behind one of her ears.

"Hey."

She didn't look up from the book and Laura gave a wave in response, dropping onto her bed and emptying her bag of the offending interview notebook.

She didn't tell Danny. Well, she wasn't really planning on telling anyone because a lot of information completely dumped on her in the span of an hour or so and none of it was the kind of information that would come out without coaxing from alcohol. Laura tried to pretend to forget it but the recorder got it all and for that, Laura blamed herself.

She actually felt a little bit bad for Carmilla for that one. But only so far as to frown when she thought about it. The rest of her emotions towards her will still white hot irritation.

"How'd your interview go?" Betty said, folding the corner of a page and sitting up. She yawned and blinked a few times.

"We can talk about it tomorrow, it's kind of a long story."

"Oh, hell no. Spill."

Betty shifted her legs to sit off the edge of the bed and onto the floor, bouncing slightly with a bit more energy as she focused in.

Laura bit her lip. There was some sort of universal agreement that while you keep things a secret, it's not really telling if it's your roommate. But still, some of the things Carmilla said were…But then again Betty didn't know her personally. And she wasn't the type of person to go off and flood internet message boards or call Star or something. Probably.

"Well she's extremely rude for one."

Betty snorted.

"Not surprising. She didn't beat you up or anything it looks like though."

"Yeah so, it's entirely possible her rudeness was a little bit my fault," Laura said, dropping her eyes. "I may have jumped the gun and blurted that at her."

"Guerrilla journalism."

"I didn't mean to. I was just super nervous. She basically picked on me the rest of the time and I stormed out—"

"Whoa."

Betty sat forward with suddenly very wakeful eyes and a mouth in the gentle shape of an o.

"Yeah but she ran after me and half-apologized and convinced me to try again and we ended up at a bar and she got super drunk and basically rattled off some…not great stuff."

"Anything good?"

"Nothing she wants anyone to know, probably."

Laura sighed and flipped through the pages of notes aimlessly. Now came the part when she realized there was no way in hell she could turn this in. Or if she did, there was no way to remove Carmilla's…stuff. Because there was a ton of it and basically made up the entire project and there's no way that Laura could sell five pages of "Eh, playing music is okay."

This sucked. And she mostly blamed Carmilla.

"On a happier note, I went out to dinner with Danny," Laura smiled.

"I hope you kept your dignity on the first date."

"That's an extremely damaging view of—"

"Oh my god, Laura."

They burst into a fit of laughter together. Laura rolled back onto the mattress and stared at the ceiling through a sore stomach as she regained her breath. Creaks in the floor preluded an outstretched arm with a grape soda and Laura took it gratefully, snapping it open.

"Well, my life has been boring all night," Betty said. "All sorts of literature and no sorts of fun."

"Well there's always Netflix marathons and hordes of junkfood. Maybe not the most typical fun night in college but…"

"As long as you don't narrate every single episode of Veronica Mars."

"I will keep it to a minimum."

They were about 2 episodes in when Laura felt her phone buzz from its position still in her pocket. She wriggled and dug for it trying to avoid flipping the laptop off her legs and opened the phone.

"Please get a new phone," Betty mumbled.

"Are you buying?"

Laura clicked open the message tab and saw a string of numbers she didn't recognize. The message was long and Laura brought it close to her face.

Unknown number (12:56AM): Hey. It's Carmilla. Will gave me your number. I majorly screwed up back there. I know that. Since I couldn't think of a better way to make it a little less embarrassing for me or less annoying for you I thought I'd just bribe you. It's late notice but I've got a show tomorrow night and this is me offering you free tickets to it. A ride and stuff. I'd feed you too. I'd have you back for classes Monday. Let me know. Thought I'd give it a shot. I might be still drunk. Who knows?

Laura gaped at it and hoped Betty was engrossed enough to not ask because it was the most ridiculous thing Laura ever read. Her first reaction was to not respond at all. Let it go because the sincerity seemed only half there if it existed at all and she was partial to Carmilla's theory that she was simply still drunk.

But then Laura felt nothing but annoyance. Because of course this girl's way of trying to "apologize" still had everything to do with her. Oh, I figured you'd enjoy tickets to my concert, doesn't that sound swell? More of me, my music, my presence. She certainly wasn't full of herself in the traditional way but she definitely had a screwy way of socializing with others.

Unknown number (1:08AM): Why am I not surprised you think more of you is going to make me feel better about my project being completely ruined.

Laura hoped she winced when she read it as much as Laura cringed when she typed it. But she wasn't wrong. And after a minute or two it actually felt good.

Unknown number (1:10AM): Is that a no?

----

"But what's in it, exactly?"

"That's why we call it Jungle Juice. No one really wants to know."

"How exciting."

JP looked a bit green but shook his shoulders and steeled himself and LaFontaine laughed a little bit.

"Not big on parties?"

"Never really been," he said.

"Well I don't really go out either. Perry always has some kind of knitting or scrapbooking floor program to curb that," they said.

He smiled and took the next sip with a bit more grace as they both watched some strange, dry ice version of beer pong mixed with musical chairs. After a few seconds there was a crash as one knocked over the CD tree in the corner much to the horror of the club member who was apparently the owner of collection.

Once or twice they asked if LaFontaine or JP wanted to tag in but little nods and pale faced looks of horror warded off too many more requests.

That's when there was a chorus of male voices coming from the foyer and pounding into the living room.

"So this is what your creepy scientist parties look like," said a boy in a pastel collared shirt, sunglasses, and boat shoes.

Zetas.

Lots of them.

Kirsch was with them and gave LaFontaine a sincere nod and wave. His free arm was leaning on a shorter man with black hair that they recognized as Carmilla's brother from the Snapchat. They were about the only pair that didn't seem overtly threatening or wrecked drunk at the moment.

"This is a private party," said one of the club members.

"That's why it's called crashing," said a Zeta.

"Wait, I thought you said you knew the president or whatever," Kirsch said to the first brother.

"He tutored me in stat class."

"That doesn't mean you're invited."

Kirsch had the decency to look a little scandalized and a little worried. LaFontaine had a theory that Kirsch wasn't actually sure what a fraternity was when he'd joined freshman year, or at the very least had zero exposure to enough pop culture to know that culture that went along with it.

Conversely Will just looked bored.

"Look, we don't want to get the cops called on us or anything and you're kind of breaking in so if you could please just…"

It was a losing battle as soon as the Zetas spotted the beer pong table and rushed it in a chorus of yells. Kirsch stayed behind with a slight frown and instead came over to LaFontaine and JP's side of the room, dropping onto the couch.

"Hey-uh…Laura's friend," he said.

"LaFontaine."

"Right."

He smiled a big open mouth smile and held out a hand to JP who took it with a smile of his own.

"What's the J stand for?" Kirsch asked. LaFontaine also had this question.

"Oh, um. It's uh—it's actually—"

LaFontaine's Jurassic Park ringtone went off loud, even in the rising din of the reinvigorated party.

"Susan!"

LaFontaine hated that they responded so easily to that name still. Hated hearing it and hated knowing it was directed at them. And they didn't even need to know it was Perry as the phone screen grew out against their face.

"Hey Perr. What's up?" LaFontaine said, getting up and moving quickly to the less populated kitchen, ignoring the looks from Kirsch and JP.

"Where are you?"

"Just hanging out with some guy from the research project," LaFontaine said. "Why?"

"Because you promised to help me with the pumpkin carving program tonight. Because you disappeared after dinner and I didn't hear a thing from you."

LaFontaine's stomach did a little drop to the sound of low pitched cheering as a brother landed a pong ball in a cup no doubt.

"Oh crap. Perr, I'm sorry," they said. "Seriously, I total forgot."

"I noticed."

There was about ten seconds of silence.

"Do you…Do you still need help?"

"The program is over."

Yikes.

"I'm really sorry, Perr."

"It's fine. Just call me next time please. I thought you got kidnapped or something."

"Yeah, you got it. No problem."

There was still something sitting heavy in LaFontaine's stomach as they didn't immediately hang up and rejoin the party. They chewed the inside of their cheek weighing the possible outcomes to forcing this conversation now but their good mood was soured with the mention of their given name.

"Hey, Perr. Can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"How come you keep calling me Susan?"

There was a sigh on the other end of the phone and another few seconds of silence.

"I don't know, I guess I'm just confused.

LaFontaine debated internally if that was a reasonable answer.

"Well, I mean, it's not that complicated."

There was another pause.

"Look, we'll talk about it later, okay?"

It wasn't okay. They couldn't put it off. They shouldn't keep playing this game. Perry should have been first in line to support them, the first one to learn memorize their preferred name, the first one to defend them when someone did exactly what Perry was doing now. It was not okay. But instead of saying all that instead they simply said:

"Yeah. Sure. See you later tonight."

And the call ended.

LaFontaine frowned. They leaned back against the counter and stared at the half full bottle of tequila staring back. Returning to the room drunk probably wasn't going to come close to fixing anything. And staying out all night was an even worse idea.

The universe made the decision for them when Kirsch and JP walked into the kitchen.

"You okay dude?" Kirsch asked.

It was so earnest that LaFontaine had to smile.

"Yeah, it was just a friend. I think I'm gonna head back actually," they said.

"I'll head out with you. I'm definitely not interested in cleaning up after a bunch of Zetas," JP said.

"I'm sorry about that, by the way," Kirsch said. "I thought Troy knew someone here. He said we were invited but…"

"It's cool," LaFontaine said. "I mean, it's not my party but. You're fine Kirsch."

He did that smile again and followed them outside, waving goodbye as they headed down the lawn. LaFontaine decided they liked him. Less than intelligent as he was, he was kind and honest. Not that they would go seeking out the company of a Zeta brother any time soon but they wouldn't deny him an open seat at dinner.

"You sure you're okay?" JP asked as they neared LaFontaine's dorm.

"Yeah, just stupid floor drama."

He didn't look convinced but he nodded. They bumped their fists in a farewell and LaFontaine headed inside.

The first person they came in contact with was, surprisingly, Laura, sitting in the common room. She was curled up on the couch, the screen of her laptop lighting up her face in the dark room. She didn't notice LaFontaine at first and after briefly considering slipping by, they decided hearing about someone else's day might be a fantastic distraction.

"Hey frosh."

She, jumped and hit the space bar on her keyboard and looked up. Her face relaxed again upon realizing she wasn't about to be attacked.

"Hey, LaFontaine," Laura said. "You're getting in super late."

"Yeah, there was a geeky science party, I'm sure I'm about to get an earful from Perry," they said, sitting down.

Laura seemed to sense the tension and sat up. But the angel that she was, did not ask. Instead just flipped on a light and sat back, waiting for LaFontaine to speak.

"How did interviewing Janis Joplin go?" LaFontaine said.

"Yeah…about that…"

"Not great?"

"It was an…experience," Laura said. "After being the rudest person on the planet she got a little drunk and told me way more than she meant to."

LaFontaine's lips pouted in thought.

"Whoa, heavy."

"Yeah, it's a thing. She texted me all apologetic and stuff."

"She texted you?"

"Yeah, it's not like a thing we do or anything. But she was bugging me to go to her concert this weekend because she feels guilty or whatever."

Well that was a rollercoaster of events that occurred in the last 8 hours. And naturally Laura took to binge watching shows. She was something of a small woodland animal that they desperately hoped college didn't destroy.

"So are you doing it?" LaFontained asked.

They watched her sit up, frazzled. She turned a sort of blotchy red as she shook her head.

"No way," Laura said. "I've got a ton of work to do already without now having to completely redo my assignment and who knows what awful crap she'll spew."

"Hmm."

They were trying not to smile. Laura was pretending to brush dust or fingerprints off her laptop screen. But before LaFontaine could make some joke about Laura's teeny tiny secret desire to say yes to the offer, she spoke first.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

No. My best friend would rather act how it's convenient for her instead of trying to make me feel comfortable. But then I also feel guilt like I'm asking too much of her. But I shouldn't feel like that all. LaFontaine go up and yawned to hide a sigh and a frown.

"Yeah, I think I'm gonna go to bed though," they said, turning to leave.

Precisely 5 seconds later Laura grabbed their arm.

"Do you-? Maybe, I don't know. This project is stupid and taking up so much more time than I thought," she said. She bit her lip and darted her eyes around. "But maybe getting out this weekend would be good to just forget stress for a while?" Laura said. "And maybe it'd be good for you too, if you wanted to go?"

LaFontaine felt their brow furrow. And then suddenly felt more grateful to Laura than they'd ever felt to anyone. Because they looked up and saw that she meant it. It wasn't some joke, some hey what if we got drunk and just said fuck it? Laura's big brown eyes were full of concern and LaFontaine had an urge to steal Carmilla's number and give her a text scolding (and maybe a phone virus) for possibly being mean to those earnest eyes and the incredibly loyal person behind them.

"You serious?"

"Yeah. I mean...I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been thinking about it," Laura said sheepishly. "I mean, come on free concert, free hotel. And if I do this incredibly impulsive thing, I need a buffer between her and me anyway so…You want to go? Free concert, free food…?"

LaFontaine smiled and nodded. They felt themselves get lighter as Laura's face turned brighter than they'd seen all week.

----

The last thing Carmilla saw before falling asleep was her phone lighting up.

Unknown number (2:10AM): I'm in

Chapter Text

When you got this open road and the sun is shining, how could anyone be living in a bad dream…

--

Being up at 7am wasn't exactly something Laura wanted and the second her alarm went off she regretted every life decision she ever made that lead to this point. And after the first few minutes of trying to cry over being awake. She sat up.

She and LaFontaine had decided to park it in the lounge on a series of comforters and pillows from their respective rooms considering their early start time. It was Carmilla's fault of course. Well not really, but it was. And the lounge was dim in the new morning light. Laura looked enviously at the slew of closed doors down the hallways where people were gloriously asleep and would remain that way for many hours.

"Why God, why?" LaFontaine groaned, face down, from the other couch.

"Come on," Laura said. "We can sleep on the plane."

"No, the couch is warm," they mumbled.

"Up."

Laura tossed a pillow at LaFontaine who groaned even louder before dragging themselves up, sporting a very gravity-defying version of bedhead. They separated into their rooms and Laura creeped across the floor and hit every creaky board on the way to the bathroom. Betty didn't stir as she shut the door behind her.

Up went her hair into a loose ponytail, high on her head, strands of hair already wasping loose to rest against her neck. She forewent a makeup ritual after a moment of thought. The ponytail, yoga pants, and tee shirt look wasn't exactly a ladykiller but then again who was she trying to impress.

On the mirror she swept a lipstick across in the form of a message to Betty.

Heading with LaFontaine for the weekend. Text me when you get up. I didn't die – L

As quietly as possible she shoved clothes in a bag, not bothering to think too hard about what to wear for the concert. A few books and notebooks when into the duffel bag as well along with shoes and her yellow pillow.

A few minutes later it was ten to seven and LaFontaine joined Laura in the hallway with their own backpack and looking slightly more put together than Laura.

"Did you tell Perry?" Laura asked as they walked down the hall.

"Left her a note."

Laura really wanted to ask. She wasn't sure and it was wrong to press it but she was sure LaFontaine's sudden sour mood in the past 24 hours was the result of Perry. Not Perry's fault per say, but there was a certain correlation to LaFontaine's smile and Perry forgetting their name.

Laura said nothing, instead she took a bag and headed for the stairwell.

Outside the sun was only just risen and the air was just barely cold enough to create a light frost at Laura's lips when she took a breath. She thought she might have even spotted frost in the sunlight on the grass. There were a few walks of shame in progress, at least Laura assumed no one would be that well dressed at sunrise and walking a little crooked.

"Hey," came a voice.

Laura looked up to see a black muscle car parked in the middle of road through campus, blocking any traffic that might come by. Laura sighed and refused to comment on that. Carmilla didn't look worse for wear or like someone who spent the night hammered or up to 2am. At least outwardly. Today's outfit was Bad Religion tee shirt and more ripped skinny jeans. A beanie sat on her hair, her curly hair spilling out on all sides.

They walked over and Laura found herself trapped in staring at her own tiny reflection in Carmilla's Raybans. What was she supposed to say? They weren't even confined into a the tiny cabin of the car and there was already a massive elephant they were going to have to shove in the trunk.

Carmilla looked over at LaFontaine with a tilted head.

"LaFontaine," Laura said. "They're my stipulation for coming."

"The more the merrier."

Carmilla pushed herself off the side of the car with a shove of her bent knee and moved to the back of the car to hoist the trunk up. LaFontaine and Laura followed at a hobble with bags. Their reflections in the black paint was pristine and flawlessly clean.

"Nice car," LaFontaine said.

"First thing I bought off of a music paycheck was Bagheera," Carmilla said, moving some cardboard box in the trunk over to make room.

"Bagheera?"

"'Black as the Pit and terrible as a demon was Bagheera.'"

"I thought it was 'terrible as the night'."

"It's not."

It wasn't a mean correction. But there was a small smile at the corner of Carmilla's lips that was very clearly borne out pride. And Laura felt herself begin to frown. 30 seconds, already rude. What a fun weekend this was going to be.

"That bunched up little face you make when you're angry is hilarious, buttercup," Carmilla said.

Laura opened her mouth ready to release a barrage of ranting that she would definitely regret when LaFontaine swooped in quickly between them to shake Carmilla's hand

She accepted LaFontaine's hand and Laura suddenly realized she'd have to brief Carmilla on their pronouns. Fast. Who knew what horror she could reap in the next 48 hours. And if they were running, at least in part, to escape a weekend of possible trauma at misgendering then Laura wasn't about to let Carmilla inadvertently ruin that. Or maybe purposely ruin that. She had know doubt she'd be delivering the most satisfying snake strike anyone had ever seen. Krav Maga could probably be used for putting spoiled, bratty, insensitive celebrities in their place right?

Quickly Laura took out her phone and fumbled through a text.

Unknown number (7:03am): LaFontaine prefers they/them btw. Nongendered pronouns.

"We going to get going or are you done with your diary entry?" Carmilla said as Laura shoved her phone into her pocket.

"You're still charming," Laura said, going to lift a bag.

Carmilla held up a hand to stop her and took it herself without a word, lugging it onto her back and towards the trunk. Laura looked at LaFontaine, who shrugged.

"Thanks," Laura mumbled on her way into the car.

Carmilla didn't say anything. And when she checked her one new text message on her phone, she briefly made eye contact with Laura, nodded, and set it down.

There was a piece of decency then. Kind of.

"Front or back, L?" LaFontaine said.

Laura had no interest in repeating the flood of emotions that an up-close seat of Carmilla's driving brought. In fact sitting in the car at all was sounding less and less appealing. She hadn't been a car since her father dropped her off a few months ago.

Maybe she wasn't over it after all.

"Back."

Carmilla had the tact not to make a comment about how offended she was pretending to be.

----

Carmilla turned the key and listened to the engine roar into life. She liked showing it off, even if the journalist was not impressed. She'd taken the back seat and Carmilla tried not to take it personally. Well, her friend was hopefully not the kind to change radio dials or play music ADD the whole way.

"Any music requests? And no, I will not listen to any form of Taylor Swift for the next 5 hours," Carmilla said.

"Wait, we're not flying to Vienna?" Laura sat up from her position in the back.

"I didn't ship my car to Europe to take a jet, besides driving's half the fun."

"How does the record company allow that? Isn't flying on a jet like part of an ad campaign or something?"

"Do I seem like the kind of person who plays by the rules?"

She sat back without a word and Carmilla considered turning around because the sudden silence seemed wrong for some reason, like the air changed. The friend seemed to feel it too because they turned around to look at Laura quickly and found themselves satisfied with whatever they found because they turned back around with a thumbs up.

Carmilla put the car in gear and pulled out.

"So, music," the friend said. LaFontaine. Probably not their given name. Whatever.

"Music indeed," Carmilla said, lowering her window with the switch on the door.

"You're good at it," they said.

Wow. So glad they decided to take the front seat.

"Thanks."

There was 15 minutes then of mostly silence. Occasional one or two word comments about local restaurants or shops. But once they hit the autobahn there was no more circumstantial stimuli to catalyze half-assed conversation and it was quiet. It wasn't awkward. Not really. Okay it was. Laura was quiet and LaFontaine was tapping their fingers on the wood paneling to the beat of the Green Day song.

"So, we covered I do music," Carmilla said. "What do you do?"

"Bio, third year," they said.

Great, a field Carmilla had absolutely no clue how to talk about. How's your…microscope?

"Cool."

This was such an enriching conversation for everyone. Really just grand. Carmilla busied herself with switching the CD changer to something a little more modern. In the back Laura was quiet, a glance in the mirror told Carmilla she was zoned out.

"You okay back there, cutie?"

She didn't look up but she nodded.

"Yeah, just tired."

"Right, long night with your hot date."

She did finally look up for that one. Another quick glance in the rearview and Carmilla saw that she was blushing. I'll take that as a yes, then. She smirked. The mood in the back seemed a little lighter though, and she got to embarrass Laura. Two birds with one stone and it had only been a half hour.

"Wait you went on a date with Danny?" LaFontaine turned around in their seat.

"It wasn't a date-date," Laura said. "We just got dinner."

"Just the two of you?"

"Neither of us said it was a date so…"

LaFontaine laughed and Laura mumbled something close to "shut up" underneath her breath and through a smile. Carmilla relaxed. It was working then, at least a little bit. The apology was in motion and as was the 10 point please-don't-sell-my-drunken-confessions-to-the-media plan.

----

Will woke up fair earlier than he meant to. Way earlier. His head was throbbing to the rhythm of the pulse in his temples which felt like they were ready to burst open right in his head. The curtain of his window somehow found its way pulled open to a substantial crack and hit him perfectly in the face at the exact angle where his head rested on his pillow.

He moved his eyes up to the clock. That hurt. 8:03 AM. So he only got about 3 hours of sleep. Three hours of sleep and three cups of Jungle Juice and who knew how many shots.

He moved his eyes again. That also hurt. He saw a glass of water next to his bed with a small sticky note on it reading "Drink me." Blessing drunk Will for his foresight, he leaned forward and took a sip. And then spit it right back out. It was tequila. Never mind, fuck drunk Will.

He knew he needed to get up because the only thing that was going to make this better was water and a massive breakfast from McDonald's. But he was afraid of unsettling the contents of his stomach not to mention the current equilibrium of his brain that just might start bursting out of his ears if he sat up too fast. Across the room Kirsch was snoring loudly, chest down, on his bed. He'd be out for another 5 hours at least.

In one motion Will took a breath and sat up.

It was a mistake.

His head pounded and it hurt to keep his eyes open for more than a few seconds. His stomach joined in with a tumble but nothing felt like vomit yet. He moved legs off the edge of the bed and repeated the motion, this time to stand. It didn't cause too much more pain but the sheer uncomfortableness of being awake, of standing, of getting nails gunned into his head and his stomach churning was enough to make him never want to look at alcohol again.

He took a step. And then another and then another. Suddenly he was in the bathroom.

He threw as much cold water in his face as he possibly could and brushed his teeth, gagging at the taste of mint. He peed, he showered and had at least two close calls where he nearly dove out of the shower to the toilet but managed to keep it down.

He padded across the hall in a towel and stumbled into boxers and sweatpants and a t-shirt in his room. He only knocked over the lamp once and Kirsch was so deep in his pillow and puddle of drool that he probably wouldn't have woken for a freight train busting through the Lustig Building right now.

Outside was a lot better. Outside was colder and the air was sharper and waking him up, even if the sun was Satan spawn at the moment. He checked his phone.

3 messages from his mother.

Mother (7:01AM): Are you going to your sister's show in Vienna?

Mother (7:02AM): If so please do your best to speak with her.

Mother (7:04AM): Let me know.

No mom, my day's fine, how's yours? Yeah my astronomy test went fine.

It was easier to blame Carmilla for this. She was the obstinate one. She was the one who was stubborn and hiding. She was the one who could never talk and demanded to go to five different restaurants to make sure they didn't run into their mother when they were home.

But she was also the one who seemed to be hurting. He'd give her that. With their mother it felt more like wounded pride. With Carmilla it felt like something broke. He tried to recall the girl who invited him to rummage through her toy bin when he found out he was finally being adopted, four foster families in. Or the girl who threatened to beat up the 8th grader who was picking on him.

Now she was a prickly, sarcastic, existentialist who confided more in guitars than she did with him. Granted she'd always been the prickly, sarcastic one but he missed talking to her and he missed when she could laugh at something that wasn't at someone else's expense.

He didn't answer his mother and instead focused on how amazing McDonald's was going to be as he neared another trashcan and briefly wondered if he should just empty his stomach and get it over with. It might be marginally more classy than doing it in the basement bathroom of the McDonald's that generally had one clogged toilet already on any given day.

The McDonald's smelled like what the Promised Land must have smelled like to the Hebrews, he decided. Grease, syrup, soda spills, McFlurry.

And the breakfast platter tasted like what all that milk and honey must have tasted like to the Hebrews because even though his head was pounding and his stomach was churning, he was willing to eat McDonald's every day for the rest of his life in gratitude for the things it was doing to his stomach.

It was on pancake number two when his phone rang and he saw a picture of Carmilla, in shade,s and giving the finger to the camera on the screen.

"Wow you actually picked up," Carmilla's voice said.

"Yeah, I don't want to talk about it."

There was some muffled talking on the other end from a second voice.

"LaFontaine says hi."

"Huh?"

"They said they saw you at an Alchemy club party last night—side note: what the fuck is an Alchemy club?"

Oh right. The red head sitting on the couch. Kirsch said she was Laura's friend.

"Tell her I said hi," he said. There was another muffle of voices.

"They, say hi back."

She'd emphasized the word "they" in the same tone she used when he almost told their mother that she'd snuck out to go to a concert. Well alright then. They it was. Not like he'd talk to them again, probably. Except that it was weird they were in the car with Carmilla. What a minute…

"Wait, what's going on? I thought you were going to Vienna?"

"I am, I brought friends."

He vaguely recalled a text conversation with her last night. She'd asked for Laura's number. Was she with her? What the hell? This was too much for a hangover before 9 AM.

"Can I call you back a little later?"

"Sure, sure. Enjoy what I can only imagine is a lovely hangover."

In the two seconds before she hung up Will considered saying something, saying anything about mother. But like all those internal debates went, what was left to say? So he heard the click and it was decided for him.

He really needed to stop pretending he'd ever have a normal family. Individually he loved them and would do anything for them. Together they were an unstable chemical reaction waiting to blow.

----

Danny finished third on the morning run. It was her best finish this month and she took a seat on the grass next to two other sisters, inhaling water and waiting for the others to clock their finish. She was not looking forward to the Saturday morning cross country runs when it started to snow.

"You got up late this morning Lawrence," one of the sisters said.

"Barely," Danny said back, throwing back the rest of her water in Gatorade bottle.

Across the field she saw a boy she recognized as Carmilla Karnstein's brother walking with a bag of McDonald's. She heard something about the Zetas going around party crashing last night and was thankful she managed to avoid it, though she wondered if the Summer Society shouldn't set up some sort of counter-patrol when it came to possibly predatory situations.

Another sister crossed the finish line and fell onto the grass. Danny tossed her a water bottle.

"How'd your date go last night Lawrence?" said the sister who came in first. Of course Cameron would bring it up.

"I don't know considering I didn't have a date last night," Danny said.

"Oh please," Cameron said.

"Is this the pint sized freshman?" said someone else, Alex.

"Laura Hollis yes, and it wasn't a date okay? We split the check and no one kissed anyone."

"I bet you wanted to though."

That Danny could not argue with. She had been hoping for a chance to tell the waitress to slip her the check but Laura told her to split it before she got the chance. She tried not to read into that, Laura was a bundle of nerves last night and apparently reeling still from her unfortunate meeting with Karnstein.

As far as a kiss went…well Laura left little opportunity for that too. But there was always class and Laura nervously mumbling something about going out again next week. It was going a snail's pace but that was okay with Danny. Laura was shy and younger and new to college. And besides the more time she spent with Laura the more she wanted to somehow make it special for her, to be special for her. Not that she romanticized sex or anything like that.

But for Laura? She just might start.

"What time is it?" Danny asked.

"8:32."

She was supposed to call the colonel at exactly 9 AM Styria time. That'd be a lovely conversation. Especially with Laura on the brain. She'd been lucky with her last girlfriend had the gender neutral name of Taylor. This time she would not get by so easy. And nor did she want to, she thought. Well maybe. Laura was out, even to her dad according to all her stories of home.

But her dad wasn't a scary U.S. Navy colonel. And her mom wasn't, well, Danny's mom. Then again there was very little talk of her mom. Another thing Danny didn't want to read into.

Danny stood as another two sisters crossed the finish line. She said she had to go call the parentals and walked off towards a patch of trees across the way.

And there she stood, hovering over the call button for a solid 10 minutes. She pressed call.

"Hello?"

Oh crap.

"Hi mom."

"Danny." A pause. "How are you?"

"Fine, dad wanted me to call."

"He's on the other line with the Academy."

"Oh, I can just call back later."

There was another long pause filled with just her mother's breathing.

"We could talk. We haven't talked in a while. How are things?"

"Uh, great. I'm a UTA so that's exciting."

"A what?"

"No, it's an undergraduate TA. Teacher's assistant. It's pretty cool."

"What class?"

"19th Century Literature."

"Oh."

There it was. She knew her mother was repressing all sorts of responses. Perhaps she was thinking about how they meant to have a Daniel Lawrence IV and instead got a Danielle the First. How they meant to have another Navy officer for the 3rd generation in a row and instead got a bookworm who ran off to Europe. How much worse could she sink in their eyes if they knew the real truth?

Perhaps she could pull it off a few more years and then she'd marry a man. Her scales tipped in both directions, after all. But so far it'd been girls, girls, girls. And Laura felt like the type of girl you bring to your family, you don't hide. And she felt like the type of girl who would want to be introduced to your family, who would encourage you to say "fuck it" to whatever awful opinions they had.

Thankful her father was talking in the background and the phone went to him quickly. Also not a perfect conversation, but better than nothing at all.

She should call Laura later. Maybe her voice would alleviate the massive weight that sat on her chest now.

----

They pulled over on a rest stop on the E59. LaFontaine claimed they were still dealing with "breaking the seal" last night at the party though Laura wasn't sure it worked that way. Either way she stood in line at the Starbucks with Carmilla translating the German menu to her.

"I thought these menus were pretty universal everywhere," Carmilla said.

"I'm more of a Tim Horton's kind of gal."

"Oh my god you're Canadian."

Carmilla dramatically put her face in her hands and groaned and Laura held back a laugh as she puffed out her chest proudly.

"Yep, and you're from Canada's panties," Laura said.

"Actually you're from America's hat."

Laura laughed at that and rolled her eyes. Carmilla was tense and quiet except for the occasional remark, but talking like this felt a little bit easier than before and the initial rudeness of the morning seemed to subside. And it helped that Laura was fairly certain Carmilla was embarrassed about it all, not that she was getting some kind of schadenfreude out of it, but seeing her with a conscience for the first time since she met her was pretty nice.

"Wilkomen, was darf es sein?" said the barista.

Carmilla rattled their order back to her in flawless German and pulled out her card before Laura could even protest. The barista, who'd been watching them off and on while they were in line, seemed to put two and two together now when she saw the name. Her face lit up. She said something quite enthusiastically in German and Carmilla gave a half smile and response.

After that the tone of the barista changed. What was once a painted-on customer service smile, became something closer to the specific brand of smirk Carmilla seemed to have patented.

Oh right. Flirting. She was flirting. Was Carmilla flirting back?

Laura moved away quickly with her gaze at the ground and hoping LaFontaine was getting out of the bathroom any second now because this was awkward. She listened to the sound of coffee grounds instead of the flowing German and wrote a mental note to herself to send a copy of the Shiny Toy Guns album to her friend back home. She couldn't tell if Carmilla was flirting back or what flirting sounded like in German.

Carmilla reappeared at her side a few seconds later.

"Thanks," Laura said quietly. "For the coffee."

"Step 1 in my reparations plan," Carmilla said.

"While we're on the topic of thanks though, thank you for not making a huge deal out of LaFontaine's pronouns."

"Stop thanking me for no big deal stuff."

"It's not no big deal."

"It is if you're not an asshole."

Laura was going to chalk up all this polarization to only knowing this girl for 36 hours. She was fine with making her look like an idiot and ruining her project, but sure she gets all serious about representation and visibility. Or perhaps it was Laura's first clue that she should start paying closer attention...?

When is an asshole not an asshole? Oh, when you give it the chance to explain itself.

Well Laura was all ears, for now. Maybe Carmilla was just putting on a show for LaFontaine or playing the biggest prank ever, but somehow it didn't feel like that.

"I brought them along with us because of that, by the way," Laura said instead of saying thanks for letting them come along.

"Because the pronoun action is so much hotter in Vienna?"

Okay, maybe she could be funny sometimes. Not enough to laugh, but enough to notice.

"No," Laura said, taking her coffee from Carmilla's hand. She noticed a number written on the side of Carmilla's cup. "They've been dealing with some stuff with their roommate. Their best friend actually. And I just wanted to get them out for a while."

"Sorry it had to be with me," Carmilla winked without smiling and walked away.

Laura frowned. But she spotted LaFontaine coming out of the family bathroom across the food court and went to meet them while Carmilla perused the bags of chips in the convenience store.

"How was alone time with Steven Tyler?" LaFontaine said.

"We stood in line for Starbucks. Hardly alone time."

LaFontaine shrugged and they walked together to meet Carmilla in line to pay for the chips, some teenagers off to the side by the beef jerky were staring at her and whispering to each other. Carmilla didn't even seem to notice at all as she passed euros to the clerk and took her plastic bag.

She nodded to the two of them and they headed for the door.

"Hey I got a question," LaFontaine said.

"Shoot," Carmilla said.

"Aren't you supposed to have some sort of security made up of former Navy Seals?"

"Of course."

Carmilla stopped and turned, pointing. At first Laura only saw a pile of charter bus passnegers and international families trying to use their translation books. Eventually she weeded out a man in a sports coat standing alone, tapping away on a phone. After a minute more of typing he looked up and scowled at Carmilla pointing.

"He's been tailing us since the campus," she said. "Saw hi to Scott."

Laura and LaFontaine gaze awkward waves and he returned with a quick two finger salute from his forehead which lacked all convictions. He returned to his phone.

They were back out in the car in a few minutes. And as Carmilla got into an argument with LaFontaine about the discourse of science in Mary Shelley's novel.

"Oh come on, one person's arrogance does not mean the entire field was meant to be under scrutiny," LaFontaine.

"Uh that's exactly what it meant. Frankenstein wasn't a developed enough character for it to be the result of anything other than the arrogance of science," Carmilla said back, craning her head to look to the left and right at the stop.

"As a scientist I reject this assertion."

They went on like that for 20 minutes and Laura just sat back impressed at how much Carmilla seemed to know about literature. She threw in a Paradise Lost reference and cited a translation of the myth of Prometheus and something called the Book of Enoch. Suddenly Laura felt like an inadequate English major.

But the laughing and smiling told Laura at least one thing: Carmilla was certainly forgivable, if nothing else.

"Can I ask you something?" Laura said when the cut throat debate fell down to a simmer.

"No I don't use this car for smuggling cocaine."

"How is Carmilla a nickname for Mircalla? It's just the same name in a different order? Funny story behind that?'

Carmilla snorted.

"Hardly. My mother always called me it, not sure why. She probably wanted a name for me that was her own. Mircalla was the name my birth parents gave me," she said.

"Why is Karnstein your last name then?"

Goddammit who the hell just blurts out questions like that? Hey Carmilla, can I have your kidney while you tell me about how you lost your virginity?

"Instincts as usual, creampuff," she said. "But I have to keep some of my secrets, otherwise I'll lose my air of mystery, won't I?"

----

LaFontaine was itching to get out of the car by the time they hit Vienna in the afternoon. They'd grown a little bit jealous of Laura who passed out asleep in the back seat an hour ago. Since then they and Carmilla had kept their off and on argument to a minimum level and the music even lower. It still felt a little awkward in the gaps in conversation or song.

"Thanks for letting me come," LaFontaine said after 10 minutes of prolonged silence.

"Everyone is thanking me today," she said back.

It was silent again and LaFontaine took to their phone. Perry had sent a message when she got up about calling when they got there that had only one or two thinly veiled comments about accepting vacations from strangers. JP had texted them as well, something about getting new samples in and getting a headstart.

They felt slightly bad for abandoning him with the microscopes and abstracts all weekend, well, more than slightly. But he sent plenty of smiley face emojis insisting that he could handle it and encouraged them to have fun.

LaFontaine decided to do as they were told and pocketed the phone. The universe would survive for the next few hours.

"I meant what I said about your music by the way," they said, trying to find common ground again because talking to Carmilla was easy and had the potential to actually be fun.

"Thanks, I'm sure your work with beakers is unparalleled," she said.

LaFontaine laughed. There was nothing mean it. Snark and sass aside, there was no obvious malice in her words or the way she said them. So why had Laura raved about how awful she'd been? Especially since Laura seemed perfectly content talking to her alone earlier in the rest stop. It was an odd mystery. Maybe she had a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on and the second they got to the hotel she'd start threatening to decapitate bellhops for breathing her air.

Carmilla was okay.

"Did um…" Carmilla said. "Did she mention anything about last night?"

A new turn of events. To pry or not to pry? Well their current hypothesis was that Carmilla went a little overboard with being, well, herself, and Laura went a little overboard with being, again well, herself. As a scientist LaFontaine was honor bound to test it.

"Not really, just said she was interviewing you. It was my idea, for the record," they said.

"Oh."

LaFontaine decided that while they still had a half hour to go and Laura was asleep and not in a state to get irritated over it, they'd play a sort of game. How aware Carmilla was of her own dickishness might be the deciding factor in how much credit they were willing to give her.

"Why?" they said.

"Uh," Carmilla let out, blinking fast to form words. "Just because it wasn't totally stellar. For her."

"I figured that from the showering of gifts, is there a giant teddy bear that says 'I'm sorry' waiting at the hotel?"

"No."

Carmilla's lightness was gone and she was staring down the road, tapping the steering wheel to an aggressive beat inside her own head it seemed. Nerve struck, perhaps?

They pulled up to the entrance of a (very expensive looking) resort twenty minutes later. It was huge, and white, and the roof was shining a golden bronze in the sunlight. While Carmilla waited for her security team to banish the throng of paparazzi that was waiting for her at the entrance, they called Perry.

They were ashamed to be thankful that it went to voicemail.

"Hey Perr. We're in Vienna, call me later or just text me. Otherwise I'll see you tomorrow night."

When they hung up they turned to see Carmilla eyeing them from across the roof of the car, flashes from cameras were pinging off her sunglasses and she seemed unfazed.

"Girlfriend?" she said.

"Nope."

A shrug and it was left at that. LaFontaine opened the door and crawled into the backseat and shook Laura awake. She burst up in a flurry, quoting some reading before she registered her surroundings and probably remembered she wasn't being kidnapped.

"We're here sleeping beauty," Carmilla said, throwing a bag over her shoulder and pulling another on wheels. "Beware the cameras, they may look like reporters but trust me, sundance, they're not your type."

Carmilla's free hand went out to offer Laura a helpful pull from her comfortable nest in the back. Laura looked at it with raised eyebrow and for the longest time LaFotaine was sure she wasn't going to take it and just slide out on her own. But after exactly seven seconds their hands touched and Carmilla pulled her to her feet.

LaFontaine wasn't sure if it was significant or not.

Chapter Text

The sun goes down, the stars come out, and all that counts is here and now, my universe will never be the same, I'm glad you came...

--

Danny got back to her room at noon. One of the sisters apparently slipped on a patch of trail that was still loose from a rainstorm earlier in the week and sprained her ankle fairly seriously. Two more had helped her through the rest of the course before carrying her to student health and the promise of victory shots later in the day.

She ignored the pile of homework sheets to grade in favor of a shower to clean of the caked on mud at the bottom of her legs. It was one glorious shower and Danny may or may have no even indulged in a singing session while she knew she had the room to herself with her roommate aiding the injured sister to the doctor. And One Direction was kind of her guilty pleasure. That was a secret well protected.

In sweatpants, tee shirt, and messy bun Danny felt at home, perched on her bed, sitting over a bunch of busywork. The first worksheet was clearly done two seconds before class because the answers were haphazardly circled and the short answer section was scribbled beyond recognition. The second one was the over-eager freshman girl who always sat in front and made obnoxious amounts of useless small talk with everyone. The third belonged to a Zeta and Danny rolled her eyes.

And the fourth was Laura's.

The penmanship was flawless. The letter's just looked happy and as Danny read she heard that small voice in her head reciting the words. There was even a smiley face at the bottom of the short answer question.

The next date Danny was going to kiss her. For sure. In fact, she should probably do it right now.

She pulled out her phone and began texting.

Danny L (12:52PM): Hey, you doing anything later tonight? We should do dinner. I'll pay ;)

Not the most obvious attempt at asking out but she'd save that for when she saw Laura in person later. For now she went back to looking over Laura's homework.

The lack of mental capacity it took to do busywork was usually rewarded with equally lacking mental input from Danny when it came to grading. What's your answer? Okay close enough, here's an A-. But with Laura she read over each response. She was still pulling at the Conrad strings. Danny would give her points for effort and if it wasn't for the professor going over these before she handed them back she totally would have written a note.

There was no concrete rule, per say, that said TA's couldn't be involved with students. Just like there was no rule forbidding professors and students (but that was way to gross to think about). Danny pretended, in the first couple weeks, to have dignity about it and be the professional and mentor-y TA. But then Laura Hollis asked 50 questions a recitation and bounced in and out of class.

Besides, wasn't hooking up with a TA like a college bucket list thing? Not that Danny was only interested in the physical aspects of course. She was certainly interested in seeing how a relationship with Laura went because, in all honesty, a relationship with her sounded like it would be the most fun Danny ever had.

Her phone buzzed.

Laura Hollis (1:06PM): Soooo, I totally forgot to tell you that LaFontaine and I are out of town this weekend. It's like another super long story but Carmilla Karnstein decided to try and make up for that whole fiasco and offered us a free concert. It happened in like the middle of the night and LaFontaine was really upset. I'll explain everything when I get back tomorrow. We can totally do dinner then if you're free?

Well that was probably the last thing Danny expected to get in response. Laura jetted off with LaFontaine in the early morning to go to Vienna? With Carmilla Karnstein? Danny went from confused to worried.

This was a woman who hit a reporter and apparently made Laura's night a living hell not 12 hours ago. And Laura decided to go on a weekend trip with her?

Danny called her.

"Hey, what's up?"

"Hey," Danny said. What to say after that? Are you being held hostage? Are you insane? "What's going on, exactly?"

Laura sighed.

"Carmilla offered us free concert tickets and LaFontaine kind of had a rough night."

Danny frowned.

"That's kind of…odd."

"It's fine, honestly. She's totally trying to make up for that crap the other night so she's on her best behavior. I mean it's best behavior by her standards, but…"

Laura sounded like she was smiling. Well, as long a she was safe. Danny heard LaFontaine yell something through the phone and she relaxed a bit more.

"Okay, well…just call me I guess, let me know what's going on."

Laura took a pause.

"Yeah sure. I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Yeah, definitely."

They said their goodbyes and Danny hung up, a little more confused than before calling but only slightly less worried. Note to self: Laura is impulsive and apparently a flight risk, should probably be monitored.

With dinner out of the question, Danny decided to indulge in some of Silas caf's own brand of greasy, gooey grilled cheese.

She ate at a single booth off to the side by the fry counter. It was that time of the day when students in the caf were either downing massive amounts of breakfast food, dressed in clothes from last night or still in pajamas, or accepting their fate that it was in fact the afternoon and going for burgers and pasta, still dressed the same. Danny wanted to feel a little bad for the groups of students and parents touring the campus who were treated to that sight.

She Snapped Laura a picture of the grilled cheese with some dorky caption about how she was missing out and then she promptly downed it. Five miles this morning had to be worth one grilled cheese a week because she was getting so sick of kale and blueberry smoothies no matter how much Jamie insisted the Pinterest recipe was amazing.

Yep it was worth it.

What wasn't worth it was Kirsch crossing her path on the way to return her plate.

"Hey," he grunted at her. Hungover Kirsch was slightly rude Kirsch, apparently.

"Nursing off that party crash you guys pulled last night?" Danny said, shoving her plate on the dishwasher belt.

Kirsch rubbed his eyes and blinked, then frowned and put his plate next to hers.

"For the record, I thought we were invited," Kirsch said. "Will and I helped them clean up."

Danny rolled her eyes.

"Whatever, enjoy your hangover," she said and walked away.

Kirsch might have given a wave or something based on the view from her periphery but she kept walking, back to her room, back to more papers and reading, and hopefully back to a text from Laura.

----

Carmilla struggled with the room key. It was the third try and the light was still red.

"This doesn't usually happen," she snorted. Laura apparently didn't really appreciate the joke because she looked away and shook her head.

On try number four it finally worked and Carmilla opened the door with buzz from the knob and a click from the door. The penthouse inside was nice, nicer than the one she was in back by the Silas campus. A small foyer opened into a wide living room with pristine windows looking out over the Vienna skyline. It was bright and white in the afternoon sun. The flatscreen on the wall was the biggest TV Carmilla had seen yet.

Oh good there was a wet bar.

"Damn Karnstein," LaFontaine said, setting down their backpack.

"Whoa," Laura echoed.

Perhaps it was real for them now, that they were here. The flashing camera lights and drive hadn't done that but the super expensive looking hotel room sure as hell seemed to do it.

"Bedroom looks like it's down there," Carmilla said, walking into the living room and pointing to the left.

While they shuffled their bags in that directions, Carmilla placed her own next to the couch. Unfortunately the second bedroom in the suite had water damage or smoke damage or whatever and they closed it off until it was fixed or painted over or what have you. The second bathroom at least worked.

Penthouse pull-outs had to be, like, marginally close to normal beds right? Did anyone even ever use them? Probably in Vegas.

"Aren't you going to drop your stuff?" Laura said, coming out of the room with LaFontaine to explore the obnoxious window. That thing was going to a bitch come morning.

"I am, we're down a room, cutie," she said. "No big deal."

Laura didn't say anything and Carmilla looked up to see her frown. It was, at least for once, not the condescending, self-righteous frown she'd come to know well over the course of the past two days. More than anything else it was confused. Maybe Carmilla had accidently slipped into German or something. Whatever, the freshman was standing right where she wanted to put her bag. So she unceremoniously dropped it practically on top of her to send the hint.

And the frown was gone and back to pissy little pout.

"Who uses left handed guitars?" LaFontaine said. They'd missed the exchange in favor of eying the display of three guitars off to the side.

"People who are left-handed," Carmilla said, raising her left hand and giving a wave.

"Oh. Right. Or…Left."

LaFontaine grinned huge at Carmilla until she was forced to acknowledge the pun which just sent them into a bigger grin. Carmilla liked this one, she decided.

Laura, however, was quiet. She picked at a loose string on the couch. She looked like maybe she wanted to say something and was reciting it to herself before she heard it out loud. Once or twice her eyes got close to falling on Carmilla herself and after a moment she got bored of watching and tossed her bag onto the couch. But it caught the edge and tumbled loose.

And so did the small pill bottle.

Shit.

"Oh, crap, bad shot," LaFontaine said, rushing forward to help.

Carmilla practically dove on the tube and tucked it up her sleeve. If LaFontaine or Laura noticed, neither said anything as both descended to the floor to help shove thing back into the bag.

"Think you have enough books?" LaFontaine said as they collected The Stranger and The Metamorphosis into a pile with Faust and Wuthering Heights.

"Oh course not," Carmilla said, careful not to overuse the arm that hid the container of pills.

She could just tell them the pills were for pain in her hand. That's why she got them in the first place, to deal with the broken knuckles that came with the crack of camera plastic and broken glass. Sometimes she still felt pain. It was real, the pain was real. The more she thought about it now the more she could feel it. The painkillers were a necessity. She needed her hands for her craft. She could just tell them.

So why did she hide them?

"Metaphysics of Morals? Seriously?"

"I never finished high school," Carmilla said plainly because it was true. "Doesn't mean I can't do it the old fashioned way."

"Old fashioned way?"

"Reading things and saying 'this is what I learned'."

Carmilla slid back slickly with the offending sleeve tucked over her entire hand, pinned by her fingers. She quickly opened her hand and let the tube drop into her palm before sliding it into the closest cabinet just in time for Rick to walk in.

"So happy you could join us an hour later Carmilla, we need to—who the hell-?"

Rick nearly dropped his Blackberry on his way in, eyes falling on Laura and LaFontaine.

"Friends. You people are always so surprised when I have them," Carmilla said, sitting up, pretending to come up from tying a shoelace. "They'll need passes."

"Would it kill you to send a two word text?" he said, typing. "'Bringing friends' that's all I need."

Carmilla decided it was best not to remind Rick one of the two friends in question was the girl from the interview. He probably forgot her face and name already, no need to remind him and open those can of worms. Besides she was handling it, at least she hoped she was. At some point she'd bring up the interview. She wouldn't beg, she wouldn't even ask. She'd hope all this effort counted towards something.

"You're lucky that I don't really care if they're hired assassins at this point," Rick said.

"Gee, thanks."

He walked off to make a call on the balcony and Carmilla returned to the now reassembled backpack. She mumbled a thanks to them and noticed little Lauronica Mars was still quiet and frowning.

"You okay there, poptart?" Carmilla said.

Laura looked up like she'd been snapped from a daze.

"Yeah, sorry, I'm good. Just kind of half asleep still."

Carmilla didn't believe it for one minute.

----

"Any threes?"

"Go fish."

"Are you bullshitting me?"

"No dude."

They were in the living room of the house. A thumping base rhythm was coming from whatever electronic music was blaring through the speakers. Two of the brothers shouted at the TV, sitting inches away from it, as they ran from three stars in Grand Theft Auto.

"You've said go fish to like everything," Kirsch said.

"You're asking me for the wrong stuff," Will said.

"Threes are the bumpy ones Eisen, in case you forgot," said one of the brothers over his shoulder, eyes on the firefight with the police.

Kirsch pouted at his hand of cards and took a long sip of water, finishing the plastic bottle, and crushing it up. He tossed it with care towards the box in the corner already filled with empty beer bottles and soda cans. He made the shot but it bounced against the contents and hit the floor.

"You suck," Will said.

"Yeah, yeah."

Kirsch set his cards face down on the coffee table and pushed himself up to replace it, more carefully, back into the recycling. Will decided he'd had enough mindlessness from the world's most simple card game and assimilated Kirsch's flat cards with his own. He shuffled the deck into a net stack and wrapped a nearby rubber band around it.

Kirsch returned and dropped down onto the floor.

"Whoa, where's our game?"

"I'm getting bored of saying 'go fish'."

Kirsch shrugged and turned his attention to the game on the TV just in time to see the screen flash white and black with giant block letters that said "WASTED". Apparently the shoot out with the cops didn't go super well. There was a lot of yelling about how got to play next after that.

"Yo Eisen, you up for another round tonight?"

It was Troy.

"Oh what? Breaking into parties?" Kirsch said.

"This one we're actually invited to," he said. "Even though that is less fun. But whatever."

Will got up and headed into the kitchen. In the pantry was a buffet of half eaten potato chips. His choices were barbecue, sour cream and onion, plain, and some sort of weird Austrian brand. He wondered if maybe he should just throw them all in a bowl like chips Chex Mix. would it go good with mac and cheese? Maybe he should throw some ketchup in there. He could practically hear Carmilla gagging at him.

"I'm serious, we got invited to a party," Troy said. Apparently he'd followed him in. "It's a mixer with like that lawn party and yacht sorority."

Okay, that was interesting.

"DTA?" Will said, turning away from his plethora of chip choices.

"Yeah bro. You in or what?"

Will tended to not like drinking himself into a hangover two nights in a row, despite being in a fraternity. He actually did like his liver and like his head in one piece. But it was the kind of pass times all his friends got up to. But a mixer with DTA...if he had clothes nice enough for it, it would be insane. And fun. And he'd be out with friends and force Kirsch to come.

"Yeah, totally."

"Good."

Will abandoned his search for chip combinations to head upstairs and get ready. What he missed was Troy going to his brothers in the living room and whispering something.

----

Laura was not good.

This was a lot of loops in a short amount of time. It's not like this was a completely different human being than the one she'd interviewed last night. Because Carmilla was still fairly rude, and blunt, and sarcastic, and still hadn't used her name. And she should really chill on it because she'd only known the woman for two days but Carmilla was easily the most fascinating person she'd met so far as school.

And not really in a good way.

She wasn't an idiot. Carmilla was bribing her. Carrying her bags, helping her up, showering her with free things left and right. But the problem was that Carmilla was exceptionally good at being sincere about it. It felt very close to her meaning it. And it bothered Laura.

It was hard to stay mad to sincere. And Carmilla taking the pull out couch to give them the only real bed in the entire room was finally the snapping point.

"You got steam coming out your ears, L," LaFontaine said, dropping down onto the couch beside her.

Carmilla had been practically dragged by the ear to the venue for mic check by her manager an hour ago. And Laura had been glaring at the door ever since.

"I'm fine. Just super tired."

"You sure?"

Laura sighed. The security guard who'd been following them, Scott, was sitting at the dining room table reading. He'd be driving with them to the stadium later on. Laura was afraid he might turn into some kind of mole though.

Laura nodded to the balcony and got up. LaFontaine followed and the two stepped outside to the sounds of city below. It was a chilly day just like the morning and Laura was squinting in the sun.

"It's all just a lot. I'm not even sure we should have done this," Laura said.

"Why?" LaFontaine said, joining her in leaning on the railing.

"I don't know," Laura said. "Carmilla's kind of like a really fast bug or a mouse or a spider—"

"Wow, comparing her to vermin, tell us how you really feel."

"My point is, she's all over the place. I can't pin her down long enough to get a read on her."

"I think your problem is stemming from needing to understand everything. I know that's the journalist in you, L, but people are a lot more complicated than the stories surrounding them."

Laura was grateful she brought LaFontaine as she dropped her head to hide her reddening face. Okay, so maybe she should lay off picking apart Carmilla's straws. She'd put down the chisel, just for the night at least and let herself just sort of go with it.

Carmilla was a person, not a diagram, she should start treating her like one.

----

LaFontaine stood on the scaffolding that made up a portion of the backstage area and leaned their elbows on the rail. Below was a mess of lights and instruments and the noise was insane. It was one thing to see concerts on TV, it was another to see all 5'3'' of Carmilla commanding 15,000 people with just a guitar and her voice.

And her voice was good.

The crowd was deafening when it wanted to be and there were cameras flashing and phone lights going off everywhere Carmilla tended to stay behind the microphone, anchored by her guitar. Not one for showmanship it seemed, but she occasionally took a song or two to swing the guitar back so it rested and she headed to the edge of the stage with just the microphone. And once or twice she even pulled out a piano.

"She's insanely good at this," LaFontained said when Laura returned from getting them bottles of water. Laura had missed a lot of the show, busy interviewing some roadie or something for her project. LaFontaine wasn't sure if it was truly messed up that bad to warrant a complete redo but a roadie to Carmilla Karnstein was still an impressive topic.

Laura didn't say anything as she cracked the water bottle open and took a sip, eyes on the stage the entire time. She didn't clap along with them when the song finished, instead she lowered her head onto folded arms on the railing.

"Penny for your thoughts, L?" LaFontaine said as Carmila returned to the piano for another rest.

"I don't think they're even worth a penny," she said. "It's just been a weird weekend."

"A pretty cool one though."

She smiled at that.

"Yeah, I'll give her that for sure."

LaFontaine focused on the song to ignore knowing there were three missed calls from Perry sitting in their pocket. It was a slow song preluding some big finish before an encore and Carmilla looked a little bit exhausted. They'd caught her a few times between sets running backstage for thirty seconds of water or to get her make up retouched but even dripping in sweat and taking massive breaths to calm her lungs, she still managed to look insanely good out there.

"She's one of those people could like look good shoveling dirt," they said.

"I did think I came to terms with her being insanely gorgeous but apparently she can still surprise," Laura said, throwing back more water and then tucking the bottle into her bag at her feet. "How are you doing though?"

Laura's attention at the stage diverted to them, turning around completely to put her back to Carmilla. LaFontaine sighed and kept their eyes trained on Carmilla and the end of her song.

"I'm good, we just got a bunch of new samples in the lab," they said.

Laura bunched up her face and looked down. She shuffled her feet a bit.

"Well, I meant…"

For someone who was capable of ranting for 10 minutes straight about the history of females in the coal mining industry, seeing her unwilling to say what was on her mind now was like watching a puppy get denied dinner.

"I know you gave Carmilla warning," they said finally. "There was no way she'd just know to start using them and they and that's cool. Thank you in fact."

"But?"

"But…I mean it's something I'm going to have to do myself a lot of the times, most of the time," they said. "It's okay if it happens. And you can't exactly protect me from everything."

They tried to smile so it didn't come off as telling her off and she turned red and pouted a bit.

"You're my friend," she said, looking up. "For only, like, two months but if something upsets you, I might get a little impulsive. But say the word and I'll back off."

LaFontaine had to smile because Laura was some next level kind of naïve, innocent, insanely pure human being. Helping for the sake of helping was rare and maybe not something LaFontaine was used to and maybe they should make a little more room for Laura.

A particularly full roar from the audience brought both their attentions back to the stage where Carmilla picked up the guitar again and played the first three chords. Recognizing it immediately, the crowed went even louder and the lights from phones were doubled almost immediately.

It was an upbeat song and the girl had some pipes on her. She took a guitar solo during the bridge for a solid minute and a half the crowd went nuts as her drummer followed her rhythm and the base player bobbed along.

And when it was over both Laura and LaFontaine cheered loudly from their position behind. Carmilla gave three bows as teddy bears and notes and tee shirts flew on stage at her. She blew a kiss to the crowd and walked back inside.

The pair headed down the stairs to where she was getting her make up retouched again, while a mic pack was being replaced. All the while someone held up a container of coconut water and a straw to her mouth and she sucked on it greedily and her nostrils flared with air flow. Some intern was taking pictures and her manager was nearby monitoring the entire crazy exchange of moving parts.

"Not bad, huh?" she said when she flicked the straw out of her mouth and took a breath.

"Insanely awesome," LaFontaine said. "And all those quick changes and covering when your guitar string broke. Hardcore."

Carmilla laughed tugged on the hem of her shirt until it was rolling up and over her head. Left in nothing but a black bra and mic pack she held out her hand for a new one. LaFontaine dropped their gaze to their shoes and Laura started fidgeting beside them. A cursory glance didn't tell them if her face was red because the light was low in the tight quarters backstage but they'd be willing to bet money it. Objectively, it was hard for anyone to look away when Carmilla stripped down.

Once her new shirt was in place and her make up approved by her artist she dropped quickly into a fold up chair behind her and sighed.

"Two more songs and then we're out of here," she said to the pair of them. "Anyone hungry? Because I'm ready for three course Bigmac at this point."

"Food does sound pretty awesome right now," Laura said and they nodded.

Carmilla closed her eyes and nodded, head back against the hall as the rhythm of the clapping from the audience grew louder and louder and more pronounced. They had some sort of chant going to but LaFontaine couldn't make out the German.

"See you in a few."

And Carmilla was up again and back out on stage, greeting the crowd in German as she'd done the entire night to a booming roar.

----

Dinner was, as predicted, a round of Bigmacs. Carmilla apologized once or twice for not taking them out to a much fancier place for real food but Laura and LaFontaine insisted multiple times they were fine. But laying in bed, at (Laura looked at the clock) 3AM was not so fine. She couldn't sleep, and when she did fall asleep it was not well. She kept half dreaming she was playing drums in Carmilla show in between being woken violently by scenes of car crashes. Sometimes she was a part of them, sometimes just watching.

LaFontaine was beyond passed out next to her and even snoring a little bit.

She made the mistake of noticing the creak the fan made at every full pass and that was it. She sat up and slid out of bed in her flannel bottoms and tank top. Maybe there'd be some weird late night documentary on cults. It'd be in German, but maybe there were subtitles. She padded out of the room and into the living room, trying to remember where they'd thrown the remotes to after accidentally coming across Slovakian porn while waiting to head to the show.

Unfortunately she remembered that Carmilla was bunked out in the living room just in time to hear piano music when she opened the door. It was light and quiet but purposeful. It took random little breaths and pauses and Laura realized it wasn't coming from a TV. She squinted in the dark and saw a small light over the baby grand that was sitting in the corner by the entrance to the balcony. A dark haired, dark clothed figure was sitting at it, muscle flexing as her hands moved across the keys, normally cascading hair tied back and contained in a bun.

Laura let her play and debated going back inside to listen to the sounds of the squeaky fan. This music was far more interesting though. So Laura slid out the door and closed to, even though she was fairly sure that LaFontaine wouldn't wake for a train right now. Laura stood by the door and waited for the song to end but it went on and on and on.

She took steps forward.

"You play really well."

The music didn't stop but Carmilla chuckled and turned her head.

"I also was better at piano than guitar," she said. "But guitar sells."

Laura hummed in response, now watching her fingers dance across the white and black keys, lightly, never hitting to hard. Occasionally she noticed a shift in weight as Carmilla pushed down in the peddle hidden in the dark beneath the piano.

"I couldn't sleep," Laura offered.

"I assumed."

Finally she ended her song and turned. She lowered the cover over the keys and stood up. She jerked her head and grabbed a jacket, tossing it to Laura. She opened the door to the balcony and slipped outside, standing and waiting for Laura to follow. She quickly slipped her arms into the jacket and followed her out. Her bare feet met cold cement on the ground and she tried not to make dodging small rocks and bumps not too obvious.

"I'm a night owl," Carmilla said. "Sleeping at night has always been a challenge."

"What are you, a vampire?" Laura laughed.

"I think I'd make a pretty good one."

They exchanged smiles and small laughs and got quiet again, looking out over whatever was still awake in Vienna. Occasional car horns and shouts were heard but the majority of the city had gone to sleep.

"I always hated being in cities," Carmilla said. "You can never see the stars. Good thing I only ever play in cities, huh?"

"I grew up in Toronto, every time we went out to visit my grandparents at their cabin I'd star outside for hours at how many stars you could see," Laura said.

"I taught myself as many constellations I could learn," she said. "My brother got me this star chart book when I was like 14. The stars are kind of different all over the world. In slightly different places and they have different names."

Carmilla ran her fingers across the railing, tracing a random pattern. Her mouth was pursed and her eyes were focused. Laura tried to look back out at the spattering of lights below but Carmilla was someone hard to look away from. Not in a objective way, well like, not in that kind of objective way. Come on, her face was like sculpted by angels or something, at least it seemed that way sometimes. She's probably the kind of person who art students offer up a kidney to use as a model.

The worst part was that she was aware of it. And sometimes that made her a huge ass.

But sometimes she looked like this and Laura was pretty sure she had no idea.

"I know you're not big on cars," she said suddenly and Laura was so shocked she couldn't even register enough to turn pale. "I won't ask why or anything like that, don't worry. But I got you guys a flight back to Styria. I'll PayPal you money for the Uber."

Laura's mouth was just sitting open, so much so that her teeth started getting cold. What in the--what? Carmilla was still concentrating on her patterns and Laura felt like the 8th rug this weekend got yanked out from under her. This girl was weird and had too much in common with a ping pong ball. Back and forth and fast and a little bit dangerous.

For a second, Laura considered telling her about her mother. It was that odd time of night when things that were stupid in the day time seemed feasible. But Carmilla spoke before she could make that mistake.

"I have to be in Berlin by 5pm tomorrow night so I we probably won't cross paths in the morning," she said. "I wanted to say thanks and I'm..."

She took and breath and sighed and laughed.

"You know."

Laura rolled her eyes and shook her head. She wasn't sure if she did know. Carmilla was a stranger, a stranger with a lot of mysteries. And Laura was still trying to figure out whether she was more interested in the mysteries or hearing their solutions out of Carmilla's mouth. It was a story she was fascinated with, someone she was desperately trying to see as a person. A person who, like other ones, maybe makes a mistake here and there. And went to crazy lengths to fix it.

And that car thing had nothing to do with bribery or kissing and making up. She was just being kind.

So maybe Laura did know after all. At least a little. Carmilla was sorry and not so awful.

"Thank you," Laura said.

They parted ways back inside as Carmilla insisted Laura go back to sleep because planes were very uncomfortable and "you won't get even a little sleep I promise you, cupcake." Laura agreed, mainly because an uncontrollable yawn escaped her mouth.

"About the interview, by the way," Laura said, already halfway to her own door. She cringed a little bit at Carmilla's sudden stiffness. "I'm not going to--I mean I won't--I interviewed one of your crew people so..."

Carmilla made eye contact with her and Laura softened any thing that was still tense. Carmilla was wide-eyed, probably without knowing it, and looked like she was waiting to be told to go to her room or sit in time out. But she recovered and nodded and looked down. Laura wasn't going to force any more out of her. So she turned but was stopped in her own doorway by Carmilla's sudden presence.

"One more thing," she whispered, looking at LaFontaine. She held her hand to shake Laura's and Laura about burst into laughter but held her composure, taking the hand with as much mocking grace as she could imagine.

There was something in her hand.

"Keep in touch, it might be--I don't know--it might be nice..." Carmilla clenched her jaw. "It might be nice to, have a...to have someone to talk to."

"A friend?" Laura teased.

"Don't get excited."

Laura looked down and saw an email address written on it along with Carmilla's number repeated. Apparently Carmilla thought so little of Laura she assumed she deleted it (not that Laura hadn't almost deleted it like 5 times). Carmilla nodded and backed up so Laura could shut the door.

"Goodnight, Laura."

It was the first time Laura heard her name in Carmilla's voice.

Chapter Text

Sometimes I call just to see how you are but I don't really care either way, it's just a feeling I'm grabbing, just another bad habit, one more thing that you'd like to erase...

--

Will was going in and out of it. It must be close to sunrise. He'd never watched the sunrise before, maybe it was cool. Had he thrown up tonight? Probably not, he might have felt better if he did. How much had he drank? He wasn't sure. They just kept handing him drinks. He was the most popular thing at that party.

Why was he alone now? He'd been with Troy, Kirsch had been…where had Kirsch been? He had been there but he wasn't here now either. Why was he walking back alone? Something felt solid and heavy in Will's stomach. What was that about?

It was like guilt or like he left on the oven or forgot to lock a door.

Why? Why? Why?

What was that?

It wasn't super cold out. But maybe that was the beer sweater. It was still early though. Only barely October. Pumpkins weren't even out yet. Or maybe they were. He saw a few orange blobs on porches that definitely, probably weren't people.

He tripped on something. Who put that bush there? Maybe it was an Alchemy club prank. They were weird shit that did weird shit. Probably some science-y plant thing.

More walking. God how far away was the Zeta house?

And where was everybody? It was only…wait what time was it? He looked at his watch, blinked, pulled it closer and then back out again. 4:20am. Oh come on people, sunrise was at least 3 hours away. Plenty of time. But no one was out, no one to shout at or say hi to or hi-five.

He pulled out his phone and early lost it in the process.

He knew who was still awake.

"First things first: are you dying or in a situation where death is a likely outcome?"

"No, no one's around, it's boring."

"So you're just smashed then. Good."

Carmilla sounded wide awake. She was in Vienna right? Oh fuck, maybe it was Paris or something. Was it a different time where she was? It might be?

"Where are you?" he asked.

"Paradise," she said.

No, but seriously," he said.

"Vienna you lush," she said.

Right Vienna and then she was going to Germany. He remembered that much. Germany, the other place. Not the one she was from because she was from Austria. Well she was from America but she was born in Austria. He always remembered because until the age of 12 he was convinced she was from Australia. Not the same thing apparently.

He was from shack apartment in Detroit where there are been more drugs than food. He had a vague outline of his parents' faces. Every year it got harder and harder to remember what they looked like and more often than not, Carmilla and mother's faces replaced them. As it should be of course.

Because mother was his mother.

And Carmilla was his sister.

"Carmeela."

"No, Car-mil-uh."

"It's hard."

"Then call me whatever you want."

Kitty.

For whatever reason she reminded him of a cat. Maybe it was how quiet she was or how many memories he had of her curled up in odd places with a book. And five letters were much easier than eight and he couldn't even fathom her real name until he was 10. She hated being called Mircalla anyway.

"Listen, mouth breather, is everything okay? You at home yet?" said Carmilla's voice, older now than the one in his memory, rougher, edgier.

"I'm almost there, just wanted to talk to someone."

He could see the house now. There were a few lights on and the closer he got the more he remembered he'd have to do battle with his pocket to get his key out. That'd be an adventure.

"Tell me about this stat class you had the test in," she said.

"It's cool. It's like, most of the word can be broken into statistics and like stuff like shoe size or height and stuff like that follows this normal curve shit and there's all sorts of formulas you can use to predict because of it—"

"Take a breath, kiddo."

"Right," he said and did so. "And like, it's cool to see the ways that like natural stuff obeys different laws and shit."

She hummed in response over the phone and he carefully walked up the steps and onto the porch of the house.

"How was the concert with whatsherface?" he said, now digging in his pocket for his key.

"It was a concert. Dear whatsherface is heading back your way tomorrow morning while I'm gunning the Autobahn for Berlin."

"Cool."

The key was located and slipped into the lock. He shoved it hard on the turn and shouldered the door open to a quiet house.

"I'm back, like inside and everything," he said.

"Good, now go sleep that off and call me tomorrow," she said.

He smiled. They didn't say bye because saying bye was way too loving and Carmilla wasn't one to do that in that way. But she was his sister.

And he dropped onto his bed, still in his clothes, sans, at least, shoes. And just as he passed between wakefulness and sleep he remembered, just briefly, what exactly the gnawing feeling of guilt was in his stomach.

And then will woke up late.

It was whatever, it's not like he cared about Soviet Russia anyway or his scheduled time to study it that morning. The Cold War was stupid. Not as stupid as his second obnoxious hangover in two days, but still pretty stupid.

Kirsch was already gone when he woke up and there was some rummaging downstairs in the kitchen. He probably couldn't pull off the sweatpants walk to McDonald's on a Monday morning. Well he could, but he'd feel a lot more like a toolbag if he did. And look like one too.

Maybe he should try for that chip concoction he was looking at yesterday before being dragged to the party.

The party.

The party and the guilt.

The party and the alcohol.

The party and the loose tongues.

Oh shit. Oh no.

He smashed Kirsch's name into a text message and quickly banged out:

iWhat time did you leave the party last night?/i

He paced the room, hangover all but ignored as he waited for Kirsch to confirm or deny the horrible scene that was playing out in front of his face.

Kirsch (12:04PM): Basically when you went to do body shots with those DTA girls.

Oh fuck. Oh shit.

It happened then. It was real.

"You're Carmilla Karnstein's brother right?"

"Yep that's me, second fiddle Will."

"I heard she beat up a like a photographer or something."

"It was nothing."

"Oh come on, tell us. There has to be a story there, right?"

"He was asking stuff he shouldn't have been. She broke up with her girlfriend—"

"Whoa, Carmilla Karnstein is gay?"

Oh fuck.

----

Laura did not tell LaFontaine about the slip of contact info. She didn't know why, she had absolutely no reason not to tell them except for the fact that every time she opened her mouth to consider it, it felt like she was intruding on herself. It had been her and Carmilla in the early morning hours, talking about nothing. Including anyone else felt like something of an incursion on what she gained with Carmilla.

Not that she was looking to gain anything. Not that there was anything even to gain. They had passed the realm of unhappy strangers to tentative and tolerating acquaintances.

Carmilla called her a friend.

Did Laura consider Carmilla her friend? Not really. To Laura Hollis, friend was an exceptionally heavy word. One that carried connotations of protection and laughter and bond. And Carmilla wasn't there yet. But she certainly was heading there.

The possessiveness that Laura seemed to want to hold over this information was the part that she puzzled herself with. She didn't want it a secret because she was ashamed, it felt more like a courtesy to Carmilla and a courtesy to herself and the quiet moment they shared.

So she didn't say a word to LaFontaine on the flight home or in the car.

And when she got back to her dorm she didn't tell Betty.

"What the fuck, Laura?" was the exact words that greeted her when she opened the door.

"Hi to you too," she said back.

Betty was putting back dishes on the shelf by the window and turned to look at her.

"Carmilla Karnstein kidnaps and you actually agree to it?"

"I feel like the 'agreeing' to it part, negates the whole kidnapping thing."

Betty puts back the last dish and comes around the corner of the bed to drop down onto it.

"Only you would find a way to interview an actual celebrity for a school project, almost get tossed out by said celebrity, and then invited on a mini vacation," she said.

"I'm lucky," Laura said, dumping her clothes from last night into the hamper.

"More like a trouble magnet."

It was in the pause of laughter that followed that Laura had her first opening to mention Carmilla asking her to keep in touch. And just as on the plane with LaFontaine, Laura found herself preferring the idea of the secret.

It was obviously more economical this way. Betty was a talker, as much as Laura loved her. Yeah, economy. That was it.

"Now that Laura Hollis's whirlwind weekend is over, care to help a sister out with some Jane Eyre?"

"You still haven't finished it?"

"That thing is a brick."

Laura sighed and Betty laughed as she pulled it out, the bookmark making only mediocre movement forward since last Laura saw it. She took it from Betty and flipped through to see a spattering of notes and underlined sections that got thinner and thinner the deeper into the abysmal chunk of reading she'd done.

"The thing about Jane Eyre," Laura said. "Is that it's kind of considered like a literary version of Beauty and the Beast."

"Can I watch the movie and be done with it then?" Betty asked, leaning over Laura's shoulder to look at the pages.

"No. It's not literally that, it's more like similar themes and stuff and symbolism," Laura said. "Jane meets Mr. Rochester and is super scared of him and doesn't really like him but eventually gets through all that gruff and abrasiveness and falls in love with him. So it's kind of like Beauty seeing the Prince within the Beast."

"Why does she fall in love with him?" Betty asked, taking a paper out and writing it down quickly.

"Because she understands that he's in pain and lonely," Laura said. "Byronic heroes are always moody, brooding people like secret hearts of gold."

There was a pause as Betty scribbled fast and hard and Laura felt something prick at the back of her mind like déjà vu or as if there was something she meant to do and forgot.

"If this is the point then why is half the damn book about her at school and crap?" Betty said.

"Because it's still a story about Jane, and super feminist."

Betty mumbled something under her breath that sounded like "of course" and wrote it down. After that Laura told her to use Spark Notes while she threw the rest of her clothes in her hamper and got ready for bed.

As Betty copied quotations from her computer on her own bed, Laura pulled her laptop onto hers. Out of the pocket of the coat hanging at the end of her bed she pulled out the small slip of paper and logged into Gmail. She felt she should at least tell Carmilla she got back safe, you know if Carmilla hadn't already forgotten her name or something (somehow Laura knew Carmilla had not forgotten her name).

Was "Dear Carmilla" too formal? Just typing her name alone seemed way to casual and also stupidly awkward and even Laura had her limits on that,

Hey.

She paused. That worked just fine.

I wanted to say thanks, a lot. This weekend was pretty fun. Also we got back okay, but you probably got that, duh.

Laura considered backspacing all of that to something a little less ramble-y but friends didn't do that right? She never deleted stuff from her texts to Betty or LaFontaine. If Carmilla was serious (and Laura was still like 50% sure she wasn't) then she'd have to get used to it quickly.

Anyway, thanks, again. You were a lot nicer than-

Than what? Than she expected her to be? Than she seemed like she would be? She retried it.

Anyway, thanks again. You're a very kind person, Carmilla.

That was definitely better.

Hope Berlin is fun.

In the end she signed it with her name and a smiley face and sent it before her brain could do anything stupid like overthink any of the word choices or, especially, that smiley face.

By the time she was done Betty had passed out with the book and laptop still sitting on top of her. Laura snorted and replaced her own computer on the desk. She walked over to Betty and closed the lid, moving the laptop to the floor and out of danger of being stepped on in the morning. She closed the notebook and placed it on top, taking the book last and marking the page before putting it on the headboard behind her.

Laura must have stared too long at the book cover because she dreamed she was Jane, wandering around Thronfield Hall while someone played piano in the background.

----

LaFontaine was less than two feet into the door before they were wrapped up in tight arms and recognized the smell of Perry.

"Good to see you too, Perr," LaFontaine said, patting her back.

"How was it?" she said. "Since I 'k' and 'ttyl' weren't exactly descriptive texts."

LaFontaine cringed. That was fair.

"Yeah sorry about that. It was kind of one of those hectic, get pushed around everywhere things. Lots of moving parts behind the scenes at those concerts," they said.

"It was fun though?"

Perry went over to a cast iron tea kettle on the counter. LaFontaine rolled their eyes and stifled a laugh. Even though they had helped smuggle numerous microwaves in, Laura's included, and Perry was highly aware, she still refused to put one in her own room. LaFontaine had to admire her commitment because no one wanted to trek to the common room for coffee when it was time to get up for 8ams.

Then again, Perry had never been like anyone else LaFontaine ever knew.

So they smiled watching her busy herself over tea, pouring two cups without even having to ask.

"We had to write up a couple," Perry said.

"Oh it was one of those write ups," LaFontaine said with a wiggle of eyebrows.

"It was in the guest bathroom on the fourth floor," Perry said. "The worst part was it was one of their birthdays."

LaFontaine burst out into laughter as Perry carefully walked over with the teacups, LaFontaine's was covered in small graphics of DNA helixes in various (and completely unrealistic) bright colors. It even glowed in the dark on occasions when LaFontaine remembered to leave it out in the light long enough.

"I made them clean the bathroom," Perry said.

"Of course you did."

She shrugged and sipped the tea overly innocently.

"You can be Satan, when you want to be."

Perry huffed good naturedly as she sipped her tea and sat on her own bed opposite LaFontaine's. It was getting late in the night. Usually Perry was asleep by now, peacefully so with her eye mask covered in butterflies and her humidifier. But here she was, still awake, making tea and still dressed.

She waited up for me.

And it wasn't even to reprimand them for running off with a stranger for the weekend (though she did do plenty of that over the phone yesterday). Perry just wanted talk and tea, that's what they called it when they were teenagers.

"Do you remember when I snuck over to your house that one night when it snowed?" LaFontaine asked, sipping the tea. She'd put in the two spoons of sugar without even having to be asked.

"You mean when that blizzard happened? Yes," Perry said. "It ruined your plans to sneak back into your house when you got stuck in mine."\

"Yeah, but that's when we established talk and tea, remember? We put on your dad's tweed sweaters."

"The ones with the swede patches on the elbow and pretended we were professors."

"Yeah, you stole my glasses and pretended to give me a lecture on the history of the dinosaurs."

"Only because you wouldn't shut up about the anatomy of the heart."

They laughed into their tea together while taking sips and trying not to burn themselves. It wasn't snowing now, it was barely even cold out and the tea was in bags instead of strained loose leaf and they couldn't throw on the records they picked through in her dad's collection. It was a newer version of this maybe.

Cheaper tea, novelty mugs, clothes that actually fit, Spotify jazz playlists, and generic brand cookies instead of kosher crackers. A few other things had changed too perhaps, things Perry wasn't about to bring up on her own, and LaFontaine was equally hesitant to break the happy mood. But they needed to, they deserved that much, and they meant what they said to Laura about not letting others fight their battles for them.

It wasn't a battle though. It was Perry.

Just Perry.

Perry with her obnoxiously curly hair that they could never get control of even with barrettes, headbands, pins, and ties in the 8th grade. Perry who always took the bribe to clean LaFontaine's room when their mother asked. Perry who always brought them an extra pack of Scooby Snack gummies to lunch because she knew their mom always refused to buy them.

LaFontained missed just Perry. And having her now was nice and perfect and they didn't want to go to sleep ever again if they were allowed to keep doing this.

But, LaFontaine wondered if Perry convinced herself that they were still just Susan.

----

Carmilla was one fast responder. Laura woke up at 8am the next morning for her psychology class. And while sitting, bored, in the back of the lecture hall, haphazardly following along on the PowerPoint in between tumblr checks and Tweets, she checked her email.

At 4:32am, Carmilla had sent her a response.

Hey,

If you say thank you one more time I'm going to throw my computer. So please don't make me have to go to the Apple Store unnecessarily, that place is a fucking zoo.

Laura rolled her eyes and felt a small tug at the corner of her mouth.

But it's good you had fun. I wasn't a total ass after all, I guess. And, also happy you're not emailing from beyond the grave. Duh.

Okay, now she was being made fun, she was sure. It didn't feel vicious like before. She might even be close to smiling, she wasn't sure, but she certainly was far from frowning.

Laura cringed. That still felt like something of an elephant in the room, even over the computer.

But hey, something good came out of it I hope. Keep me posted, cupcake.

-Carmilla

Laura chimed back into the lecture just in time to hear something about amygdala's and reaction times to stimuli. There was some example about hands on hot stoves or jump scares in horror movies or haunted houses. She tried looking at the notes, blinked many times, long and hard, to keep her eyes open looking at a colorful diagram of the brain.

A response to Carmilla could wait (at least until she found something witty to say back).

They got let out early and Laura all but ran out of the room because she was starving and so done with seeing pictures of lobotomies and brain tissue and could use a good nap too.

But standing outside the lecture hall was Danny Lawrence.

"Hey," she greeted with a bright smile. Today her hair was pulled back into a bun and she was getting the last use she could out of her tank tops it seemed. "Want to grab lunch?"

Oh. That's right. Laura had promised her dinner Sunday. Oops. In her defense stuff got like crazy weird though. She flirted with the idea of spewing it all out right now at Danny as an apology. Sorry I forget to call you, but I was too busy crafting an email to another girl, that's cool right? Yep that would go over well.

"I'm really sorry I didn't call," Laura said fast before the alternative could come out. "I was just super tired, our flight was delayed." That was a flat out lie but Danny didn't need to know that.

"It's cool," she said. "Just let me know next time so I know you got in safe."

Laura couldn't help the minor twitch that elicited in her right jaw. It was innocent and any friend might say that to another. But it felt like hands wrapping around her and not in a comforting way. It was more like a leash and she couldn't help but think Carmilla didn't say that, in fact Carmilla hadn't even emailed to ask. Laura liked that, liked being allotted time to volunteer info.

But she must be overreacting because Danny clearly meant nothing by it and Laura smiled and nodded in the direction of the door.

"Do you have time to seat down to eat anywhere?" Danny asked.

"Yeah I suppose, my next class isn't until 3," Laura said.

"Cool, because—well I wanted to—I want to take you out," Danny said.

It took a solid 14 seconds for Laura to register what Danny was actually saying.

Oh.

Danny was actually asking her out. Holy crapsticks, Danny Lawrence was legitimately, right now, asking her out on a date. She should open her mouth. Yes good, mouth opened. No bad, mouth opened but nothing coming out. Say something, anything. Literally just say anything, she's starting to frown. Oh crap.

"Hey guys!"

It was LaFontaine and Perry and some boy Laura had never met before walking next to them.

"Hey," Laura said.

Goddammit why was it so much easier to get words out now?

"You just get out of class? We're headed to the Taco Bell if you want to join," LaFontaine said.

"Oh awesome, we were going to get lunch too," Laura said.

Oh my God, why do I suck at this?

She immediately regretted agreeing because Danny's face plummeted as much as Laura's stomach felt like it did. She had been daydreaming about Danny asking her out for months and now she had completely blown it. She could try again though. She could totally ask Danny out herself (yeah right as if her brain and mouth would cooperate long enough for that to happen).

To try and alleviate the situation she made sure to walk next to Danny and talk up a storm with her the entire time.

----

bTo Laura2theLetter 10-10-14:/b

iYou see, this right here is the problem with pop culture. Like a movie about dinosaurs running around with people? Does no one pay attention to science or history? The dinosaurs were the dominant species on the planet, we can't have two dominant species running around, it wouldn't work. Watch whatever movies you want sweetheart but I'm staying away from that one

-C/i

To HeyCarmilla 10-10-14:

OMG just because it's not some Albert Camus Fight Club Green Day thing does not mean it isn't worth watching. Jurassic Park was a classic and that guy from Guardians of the Galaxy is in it. At least it's better than another Star Wars.

-Laura

To Laura2theLetter 10-10-14:

I have no idea what Guardians of the Galaxy is by why does it sound like exactly the type of thing you'd watch? Whatever cupcake, I will not be attending the dinosaur capitalist assault this summer. Sorry (but am I?). As far as actual important matters go, how'd that exam on Thing Fall Apart go?

-C

To HeyCarmilla 10-11-14:

Not so awesome :( I mean I passed, but my essay portion got trashed. I really wish there was more room to debate this stuff. I mean Danny was willing and stuff but like even she refused to look at the book in any other way you know? We're moving on to bff actually, The Stranger. I may or may not need some guidance on that one.

-Laura

To Laura2theLetter 10-11-14:

Wait, isn't this the class with the TA you're practically dating? And she couldn't just give you some kind of pass on it? (PS don't you dare butcher Camus)

-C

To HeyCarmilla 10-11-14:

I wasn't about to ask Danny to change my grade or something. That'd be cheating. And Camus will be butchering me, more like.

-Laura.

To Laura2theLetter 10-11-14:

Whatever cutie. If I was your TA you wouldn't even have to ask ;)

-C

To HeyCarmilla 10-12-14:

That's unethical.

-Laura

----

Danny and Pat eyed the Zeta's from afar as they began tacking up posters. Two of them. Kirsch and Karnstein's brother. Their posters were tacky and not colorful and one or two had scratched out parts because Zeta's were stupid, clearly.

"They took all the good flyer spots," Pat said.

"We could just rip them down and put up ours," Danny said.

"They'd know it was us, no way."

"Who cares if they know?"

"You will when they go to the rec committee and you get called before standards."

Danny sighed. They'd have to come up with something way more creative to put them at this. Frat parties were always more popular than Summer Society parties to begin with but this was about more than just pride. It was proving to the Zeta's that a charity geared towards working for women's health in underdeveloped areas of the world was a little more important than a "we'll clean your houses for a week if you come to our Halloween party."

Once Kirsch and Will disappeared Danny popped out with posters and Pat towed after her. She shamelessly began stapling theirs right overtop the Zeta's.

"I think this is the same thing as tearing theirs down, to be honest," she said.

"The cover for our Halloween party actually helps people. They just want money for a light up beer pong table," Danny said.

"You seem a little…"

"What?"

"Peeved?"

Danny aggressively launched one or two more staples in and tried to ignore her. She wasn't wrong, even Danny could tell that with the way she was practically stapling all the way through the board. Calls from home interspersed with missed chances with Laura were starting to take their toll on her. And Kirsch's stupid face, promoting his stupid "fundraiser" for his stupid party, was giving her an excellent mental punching bag.

"Yo, not cool Lawrence."

Speak of the devil.

Kirsch was coming back for, what looked like, a forgotten staple gun and he looked at her posters covering his own like a puppy who'd just had a toy stolen from him.

"Kirsch, our Halloween party helps actual people," Danny said.

"So does ours," he said.

"Yeah, offering to clean girls' houses so they show up trashed and in half-dressed Halloween costumes helps so many people," Danny said, grunting into a particular difficult staple.

"What are you talking about? We're donating the money to kids in Africa," he said.

"Read your own poster genius," Pat said.

He frowned and looked down, turning the flyer over a bit in his hand before his brows knit together and he looked now like a puppy who had been kicked.

"Troy said they were gonna go with my charity, it was this whole thing about building houses for families in Africa," he said.

"Well Troy played you," Danny said.

He hung around for a minute, still looking sullen but Danny ignored as she put up more and more posters and he didn't even bother to protest at all. After a few more minutes and a few shouts from Will, he left. Danny didn't miss watching him slip the posters in the trash.

"Someone really needs to get that boy out of that frat house," Pat said.

"He just needs to learn to not give into peer pressure so easy."

The board was covered in the Summer Society posters and Danny sighed, satisfied.

They moved onto the next one and Danny ignored the lack of vibration in her pocket. She asked Laura to text her when she got back to her dorm, it had been the first below freezing night and rain made the cement slick. She just wanted to be safe. Laura was the biggest trouble magnet Danny knew when it came to things like that.

But there was nothing. No call, no text. Even after two more poster stops she got nothing. Danny told herself everyone forgets, and it's fine.

It was fine. It would be fine.

And they would beat the Zeta's at this stupid Halloween party game.

----

"Did you know about the Halloween party stuff?" Kirsch said when he came back from talking to the Summer Society girls.

"What about it?" Will said.

"That the charity part was bs. The Psycho Society is donating to a real charity," Kirsch said.

"So are we."

"No we're not. Troy axed the houses in Africa thing for some weird house cleaning thing."

Will frowned and looked down at his own pile of posters. They hadn't bothered to read the on their way out and now Will was regretting it because, just as Kirsch said, there was nothing about their charity in Nigeria. In fact it was some photoshopped pictures of a few of them in bathing suits with cleaning supplies. Well that was fucking great.

"What an asshole," Will said.

"We should help them put their posters up," Kirsch said. "I mean there are doing, like, actual good with their party and isn't that the point for fundraiser week?"

"Maybe but I'm not about to get yelled at by a bunch of cross country runners."

Kirsch frowned but shrugged and followed after Will. How convenient that Troy lured him to a party just because DTA wanted Carmilla Karnstein's brother there, and how convenient that he changed their fundraiser plans under everyone's noses, and the most convenient of all was that Troy took a trip home just in time for Will to want to punch his head in.

Because he tricked Will into betraying Carmilla and he didn't even know where to find those girls to keep what they heard (and whatever else he said that night) quiet. He had to protect Carmilla. He had to.

----

To HeyCarmilla 10-15-14:

I don't care what you say, blood sausage is gross. Tell England I apologize.

-Laura

To Laura2theLetter 10-15-14:

You're gross.

-C

To HeyCarmilla 10-16-14:

Charming.

You know, this whole emailing one word responses is starting to feel a little excessive

-Laura

To Laura2theLetter 10-16-14:

You do have my phone number, kiddo.

-C

To HeyCarmilla 10-16-14:

I am not texting across country lines. It's super expensive. Not even for you, sorry :p

-Laura

To Laura2theLetter 10-16-14:

I'm going to ignore that. Well in order to save your phone bill and your Jurassic era phone from exploding in the attempt. I have a better idea. Add HeyCarmilla on Skype.

-C

----

Laura found a very great not-pay-attention-in-class pastime in messaging Carmilla on Skype. The girl was like, always awake, not matter what county she was in. Laura only felt bad for the first week and then she was grateful that no matter where or when she sent Carmilla a PM, she got a response within minutes.

HeyCarmilla: Like, who gives a fuck about the brain stem?

Laura2theLetter: I mean, like I do, just like not right now. Or ever when I'm in this class.

HeyCarmilla: My point exactly. Why are you even taking this class?

Laura2theLetter: It's a gened requirement.

HeyCarmilla: Drop out of school and become a rockstar. My advice.

Laura2theLetter: Meh. I know this one girl who did that. She only tuned out, like, okay at best.

HeyCarmilla: Rude.

Laura controlled her giggles. It was fairly obvious that the kids who sat in the back on laptops weren't taking notes and the professor didn't seem to really care. And no one was around to give her dirty looks for interrupting their deep and important learning.

HeyCarmilla: I have to head off cutie. Mic checks are a pain in my ass.

Laura2theLetter: Have fun. Look out for wayward guitar strings.

HeyCarmilla: It happened once, let it go.

Laura2theLetter: :p

Laura logged off Skype and glanced at the PowerPoint to at least make sure she was on the right slide. She really did get nothing out of this class.

----

It was getting close to 2am and Laura was only slightly in danger of entering panic mode. The Stranger was short and pretty bluntly written, but she had trouble keeping her mind on it because it was so boring. And Laura like, never said that about books. But Camus was basically just listing off all the food this guy ate and about how apathetic he was to all of it. And then he like killed a man for no reason and Spark Notes told her that he got executed and was, surprise, apathetic about that too.

So how the heck was she supposed to turn in a thesis statement tomorrow on it?

She texted Danny about it first around midnight and all she got was: "You really just need to understand the ideas that Camus was putting forth. He was super existential so look at it that way. This guy is a metaphor for the idea of existentialism."

And that's all Laura got since follow up questions weren't clarified at all and Laura lied saying she got it and texting a thanks and goodnight though she was pretty sure Danny sent her a text asking to get lunch after class tomorrow. She wasn't sure why she was stalling on that but she'd look at it later.

At exactly 2:01am, Laura got on Skype.

Carmilla was logged on.

At exactly 2:02am she received a message.

HeyCarmilla: Guitar string secure. Though someone did bumrush the stage. That was fun. How's your frontal lobe?

Laura snorted and then quickly covered her mouth because Betty was out cold on her own bed behind her.

Laura2theLetter: If I paid attention in the class I might be better qualified to answer, but I had a question.

HeyCarmilla: Shoot.

Laura2theLetter: Can you help me with The Stranger? It's eating me alive.

HeyCarmilla: Typical. Well, first thing to know about it is that it's a work of absurdism.

Laura2theLetter: Danny said it was existential.

HeyCarmilla: Danny's an idiot. Two seconds of research on even Wikipedia will tell you Camus considered himself an absurdist, despite being constantly labeled as existentialist.

Laura quickly scribbled that down.

Laura2theLetter: What's the difference?

HeyCarmilla: Existentialism focuses on human exist as a focal point for the apathy of existing at all. It looks at the human experience and kind of says it's pointless. Absurdists look at the struggle humans face trying to find value in things. Can I call you? My fingers are super sore from the show and this will take a bit.

Laura felt her stomach do some kind of flop but she wasn't sure the connotation. She hadn't been face-to-face with Carmilla in weeks since the concert. She quickly pulled back her unbrushed hair and threw a hoodie over her tank top. She grabbed her computer and notebook and shuffled out and into the common room before she took a breath and hit the green call button.

"Or you could just call me," Carmilla said.

Hearing her voice again was strange. Laura could hear it whenever she wanted on YouTube or iTunes but hearing it here and now, in the middle of the night and in the dark and just for her felt different. And she paid more attention to the tone and the edges and rasp.

"Okay explain this to me," Laura said.

Carmilla was also in a dark room, a hotel room most likely, her show was in Madrid this week. Her dark hair curtained her face and blended in with the dark and made her eyes and cheeks that much brighter. Her eyebrows were still perfectly crafted and lips still smirking.

"The narrator is apathetic right? To almost everything, to that domestic abuse scene, to his girlfriend asking if he wanted to marry her, and, most importantly, to his mom dying at the beginning," she said. "Everyone around him is, we'll call them, 'normal'. Just everyday people. And they can't deal with him not giving a shit about anything. It freaks them out. So don't look at it for content or plot, look at what he's doing and how everyone feels about it."

Laura scribbled it all down and this felt rather familiar. Except this time there were no nerves and Laura was in pajamas and Carmilla…well Carmilla was more than a stranger at the very least.

"So what do you think I could do for a thesis statement?" Laura said.

"Well you've got it right there," Carmilla said. "The novel is all about the tension between objective actions and a search for meaning. Camus once said since nothing mattered, human actions were actually the most important part of life. I'm paraphrasing but..."

"'If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do,'" Laura said with a huge smile.

"Huh?"

"It's from Angel. The Point though, is that I get it."

"Well, there ya go creampuff."

Laura wrote down some bullet points and decided not to feel bad about basically taking Carmilla's words and regurgitating them onto the paper. No one would know, anyway. And Carmilla did say she'd be willing to help if she was the TA.

"So, no broken guitar strings?" Laura asked, sighing in relief, leaning back.

"Nope, I'm spotless as ever—don't roll your eyes at me."

Laura giggled, still trying to stay quiet in the lounge, but allowed herself a little impulsive response. Carmilla had a small smile, not the smirk from when she first picked up the phone. There was something genuine pulling the corners of her lips up and Laura was proud to think it was her.

"I'm so sick of this touring thing though," Carmilla said. "They say it's like the only way to make money which, fine, whatever, but running around Europe is not as fun as all those hipster novels make it out to be."

"How many more cities do you have?" Laura said.

"After this I have a break for a while."

"What are you going to do on break?"

"Sleep, and go anywhere but back home."

Laura thought of that night, drunk in the bar, when Carmilla had called her mother—well when she hadn't been exactly super happy to talk about her mother. Laura frowned at that but did her best to hide it in the dark so Carmilla didn't think she was pitying her. Because it wasn't that. She felt bad because Carmilla was her friend (maybe her friend?) and she was hurting, a least a little bit, for a reason Laura still wasn't privy to.

She wondered if that nagging feeling in her stomach meant she wanted to be told though. Carmilla had no confidants, it seemed, and Laura wanted to help. It was natural. She'd do the same for anyone else.

"Well, if you're not doing anything, you could always swing by here."

Wow. What was it with Laura and impulsively inviting people who seemed sad to do things?

But Carmilla's face lit up a little bit, even in the dark and Laura felt something inside her chest squeal a little bit because the cheer Carmilla up immediately plan was working. Hopefully.

"You serious?" she said.

"Yeah, there's this big Halloween party competition thing or whatever so there's plenty to do and LaFontaine would probably want to say hi again and you're brother's here too so you could visit him and—"

"Cupcake, remember we talked about the taking a breath between sentences thing?" Carmilla said.

"Anyway," she sighed and glared. "It'd be nice to have you around and I'll do my best to make it as not lame as possible."

"You drive a hard bargain Miss Hollis, how could I refuse?"

Laura smiled and tried to hide a yawn. Carmilla caught it though and made up some excuse about needing to go find a missing pick and Laura knew it was her way of getting Laura to go to bed without having to say the words "go to bed" and she couldn't appreciate it more.

"We'll talk logistics tomorrow. Goodnight, Laura."

She gave a wave and the call disconnected. And Laura pattered back into her room, quiet as possible on the creaky floor, and went to bed with a smile. At least that's how she remembered it.

Chapter Text

Cause all I know is we said hello and your eyes looking like coming home, all I know is a simple name and everything has changed...

--

"I'm sorry, you did what now?"

"I heard me, it'll be fun."

Betty was sitting on her bed, the unfortunate copy of Jane Eyre was finally replaced with Wuthering Heights (apparently the teacher was on a Bronte kick) but this decidedly shorter novel was currently being neglected in favor of the shock on Betty's face.

"When did this happen exactly?"

"Carmilla said she wanted to keep in touch, she seemed lonely."

"Oh I'm sure she did."

"Knock it off, it's not like that."

Betty didn't say more but she was grinning a little too smugly and Laura busied herself with folding her jeans and piling them on her bed.

"Anyway, I told her to stay here, if that's okay? I just didn't think she should have to get a hotel," Laura said.

"Having a multiplatinum recording artist staying in my room? I have zero issues with that," Betty said.

"Cool."

So Betty was fairly easy to tell. LaFontaine should be even easier since they knew Carmilla, at least a little bit. And Perry had probably forgotten all about the whole thing by now. So it was simple, preparing her Halloween party group for the addition of one new member.

Later that night Laura sat with LaFontaine and Perry in the lounge over a game of Monopoly. It hadn't started getting tense yet as they all eyed on purchasing the Boardwalk greedily, though so far no one had claimed it.

"So, I'm going to bring a friend with us for the Halloween party this weekend," Laura said.

"Sounds good, I was going to bring J.P. along too if everyone's cool with that," LaFontaine said.

"Oh cool."

Perry didn't say anything about that and Laura was sure she maybe even saw her stiffen at the mention of LaFontaine's bio friend. Laura was doing her best to keep her promise to LaFontaine not to interfere or ask too much or fight her battles but she felt a small knot form in her stomach at seeing that.

But she ignored it. She had her own problems to deal with.

"It's Carmilla."

"Huh?—Yes! Boardwalk is mine."

"Carmilla. She's going to come with us for Halloween."

"Okay cool—wait what?"

LaFontaine stopped, mid-placement on the coveted Boardwalk square to raise an eyebrow at Laura. Perry furrowed her brow. Her pursed lips relaxed though as she seemed to place the name and her eyes widened a bit.

"You're still talking to her?" Perry asked.

"Yeah," Laura looked down, pretending to straighten her perfectly categorized money. "She wanted me to let her know when we got back to campus and conversation just sort of spiraled from there."

"I'm certain that's not how it happened at all," LaFontaine said and winked.

Laura huffed. She didn't have the energy to convince LaFontaine too. Then again this whole convincing thing would probably be easier if she hadn't decided to keep it a secret for weeks and weeks. Why had that been a good idea again? Or right, it hadn't been. But suddenly when it'd been a week of talking it seemed like the window of hey, I'm still talking to Carmilla if you want to say hi had passed.

And there was that usual tug of feeling like letting others in was some sort of violation of a bubble she and Carmilla shared (a bubble they only shared because Laura was being weird).

"Wasn't she a little bit rude to you?" Perry asked.

Well "little bit" was an understatement.

"We resolved that. She can actually be super nice," Laura said.

"I'll give her that one, she was like the picture of good hostess while we were in Vienna," LaFontaine said, rolling the dice. "Sarcastic and blunt. But overall she definitely wins the not as big of an asshole as you could have been award."

"What about…" Perry lowered her voice. "Riff raff?"

"Riff raff?" LaFontaine echoed.

"Yes, I mean, she did assault someone."

Laura couldn't argue that it wasn't hard to imagine Carmilla snapping and beating down on someone, awful as the mental image was. She was calm, controlled, but definitely looked like she could kick some ass. Maybe it was all that leather, because at the same time Laura was fairly certain Carmilla was mostly harmless. It was a strange paradox.

"Just don't harass her," Laura said. "And don't mention the whole butt kicking incident."

Laura rolled her dice and groaned as she was landed right into jail.

"Well, I, for one, kind of like her so I'm down for having her around more," LaFontaine said.

"I'll make her some welcome brownies. Do you know if she has any allergies?"

Laura smiled and shook her head and the conversation turned to LaFontaine swearing up and down that Perry owed them for landing on one of their railroads. They eventually resolved for Perry to pay half but both parties looked entirely peeved at the arrangement. The game was forgotten soon after in favor of old I Love Lucy reruns on the common room TV.

----

"You know it's getting really hard for me to walk with you riding my dick like this."

"Ever the charmer."

Carmilla was loading the last of her bags into the trunk of her car while Rick supervised because apparently moving goddamn rolling bags was a dangerous activity. That or he thought she'd leave without her daily ration of lecturing. The airport traffic in Graz was moderate for the late afternoon but Carmilla was keeping tabs on the security guard eyeing them, no doubt waiting to tell them to haul ass out of the pickup lane. Scott was off to the side, not helping anyone. What a guy.

"Ass off Bagheera," Carmilla said when Rick went to sit on the hood.

"Don't ever let the world change you, Carmilla."

She resisted the urge to flip him off and she shut the hood and moved around to the front.

"Goodbye Richard, call sparingly."

He rolled his eyes and walked away to his own car waiting and gave a small wave before getting in. Scott lingered for a moment or two to give a curt nod and mumbled something about "call if you need me" before he walked away and Carmilla tightened her mouth to keep from smiling. He didn't get in his own car until she was in hers.

She sent a text to Laura indicating her imminent arrival and slid her phone into the cup holder as she started the engine and ignored the angry yelling from the security guard who said something along the lines of "haul your tourist ass." But she was no expert when it came to translating perfectly.

She peeled off in a flourish of engine revs and smoke. She turned and did her best to hit every green. She hated driving surface roads, especially after a month of opening up the tires on autobahns and highways. This was like a hamster on a wheel.

But, for once, the coral reef themed gates of the Silas campus were a welcome sight. That whole "devour everything" school motto always left Carmilla with more questions but she truly felt like she was on vacation as she passed onto campus and followed the same path she'd taken to get there weeks ago to pick up Laura. Heads turned at her car and she was certain that she saw phones come out for pictures. At this point she had to be the only one zipping through campus in a black muscle car that was more well cared for than a human child.

It did take a once around before Carmilla remembered exactly where the building was but she came to a solid stop outside and sent Laura another text, announcing her arrival.

Was she allowed to park here? Who cares?

She was out of the car and popping the trunk. She heard a group a boys walking by mumble something about her car and a few took pictures. Though those might also have been pictures of her. And not because they recognized her. Gentlemen were pigs.

Next was a group of girls that certainly recognized her and looked to be in the middle of debating coming over and asking for pictures and autographs when Laura ruined their opportunity.

"Hey," she said, trotting up to Carmilla.

"Hey."

Without a word Laura pulled out a bag and threw it over her shoulder. Carmilla followed suit and shut the trunk, hitting the fob and letting the double beep that followed be a warning to the group of boys possibly plotting to steal her car.

"How was Spain?" Laura asked.

"Stupid."

"I feel like the Spanish would disagree."

Carmilla shrugged and Laura giggled as she unlocked the front entrance to the building. They walked inside and it smelled musty, old, and certainly like dorm building if the lingering smell of weed (it was 10am for fucks sake) clung to the walls closer than the papers tacked on them.

"We're on 3. Sorry, there's no elevator," Laura said, opening the door to the stairwell.

"Not a problem, trust me."

They didn't need to have a heart to heart about Carmilla's hatred of elevators. Not right now.

Up three flights and Laura pushed open a door that opened into a common area. There were two couches flanking a coffee table in the middle. An average sized TV sate on a stand and in the back was a kitchenette currently in use by someone making popcorn in the microwave and another washing dishes.

The common room was a lot cleaner than Carmilla imagined it but Will's nest of a house might have set the bar extremely low.

"This is the lounge," Laura said. "Pretty typical I guess."

Carmilla hummed and followed her down the hall. 305…306…307. Stop.

"This is me," Laura said. "I told Betty you were coming obviously—"

"I can still grab a room at a hotel, I don't want to put anyone out or—"

"No, she's totally cool with it," Laura said quickly. "It's just, she's like, not the most filtered talker?"

"And like you are."

"Okay but less Doctor Who and more selfies."

Carmilla snorted and gestured for Laura to open the door. She sighed and did so, walking in first, perhaps to make sure the said roommate was awake or dressed or not swapping bodily fluids with anyone. She was not, evidently, because Laura beckoned Carmilla in shortly after.

The room was rather nice for a freshman dorm. The floors, which okay creaky extremely creaky, were all wood and there was like baseboards and window frame. Their beds sat on either side of the room nicely with space in between and wardrobe at the head. And there was even a bathroom at the far end of the room.

Not bad for a freshman dorm. That hardwood floor was going to be a bummer though. Oh well.

"Welcome," Laura said in a huff as she quickly grabbed what looked like wayward underwear and shoved it into a hamper.

Across the room Carmilla spotted the roommate. Tall, skinny, blonde, and staring. Not an awkward first impression. Good thing Carmilla wasn't about to share a room with the unabashed gawker. Not at all.

"This is Betty," Laura said, noticing the pair holding prolonged eye contact.

Carmilla gave her a quick nod and held out her hand.

"Carmilla."

"Holy shit you are."

Oh good one of those. To her credit, Laura looked mortified.

"No need for the steam blowing out of your ears, cupcake," Carmilla said without looking at her. "You're the Jane Eyre hater."

"Oh my god, Laura I didn't hate it, stop telling people that."

"You planned to set it on fire when you were done to make s'mores."

They got into some sort of rapid fire battle of wits after that and Carmilla took it upon herself to drop her bag on the floor and relieve an engaged Laura of the one she was carrying and let it join the other. She then sat down on the bed she assumed was Laura's (leopard print somehow didn't feel like Laura's style) and waited patiently.

"It goes on forever."

"That's why it's called Jane Eyre, An Autobiography."

"Don't you have some rockstar to entertain?"

Laura squeaked at the reminder of Carmilla in the room and she waved with a smirk from her perch on the bed next to the red and black quilt at the foot of it.

"Right. Sorry Carmilla," Laura said.

"No, by all means, I enjoy debates. Maybe not ones that use the word 'frick frack' but we can't ask you exceed your bad word quota," she said. Betty laughed, Laura pouted just slightly.

"Well I have class and so does Betty. I hate to drop you here alone but—"

"It's fine, go educate yourself, cupcake. I can entertain myself for an hour," Carmilla said.

"Okay, awesome. Betty you're okay with her in here by herself?"

"Yeah, she's probably too rich to need to steal any of our crap anyway."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Carmilla said. "Do you care if I do a little raiding in your closet though? I don't exactly have a Halloween costume."

"Uh, yeah sure. I don't know what exactly you'll find in there for tonight but go for it."

"I'll think of something."

In the end they waved goodbye, Laura promising to get back as soon as possible while Carmilla assured her she was well versed and certainly capable of being on her own for the duration of a 50 minute class without accidentally lighting herself on fire or robbing a bank.

In the room alone now, Carmilla unrolled the sleeping bag she bought at some local camping store in Spain before heading over. She pulled out a few books and set them in a stack neatly against the bottom corner of Laura's bed. Her clothes could stay in the bag, half crumpled and half folded as they were.

She located the pill bottle. It took a major hit in Spain and would require a refill soon. One of the venue managers wore the same heels as her mother though, and she couldn't get her face out of her head, what else was she supposed to do? She had a show to get through. And it could be way worse. It's Vicodin, not a needle.

Just some help.

And help needed a refill.

But for now she snickered, opening the door to Laura's half of the wardrobe. Oh this was going to be fun.

----

"You down for this party tonight?" LaFontaine said.

"Casual small talk is not the way to get me to reveal my costume," J.P. said.

"Oh come on, I'm going to find out soon anyway" they said.

"Yeah, so wait."

For once they weren't shackled to counters and paperwork in the lab and lunch consisted of caf stir fry instead of delivery pizza or Chinese food. It was nice to be out of lab coats and sans goggles. It would be even nicer tonight with alcohol in their system and loud music.

J.P. seemed lighter too.

"They want me to TA a class next semester," he said, cleverly getting the subject off his mysterious Halloween costume.

"Sweet! What class?" they asked.

"Some dinky Bio 101 class, I don't really know how to feel about it," he said.

"Why's that?"

"It's senseless work. They're just trying to keep me busy and it sucks."

LaFontaine had noticed he'd been working on pale face and dark eyes the past few days. That and like 85 cups of coffee which, more than once, they had to restrain themselves from rattling off all the most awful parts of the chemical composition of caffeine (which he already knew of course). It was a little bit like watching Laura down a pack of cookies except a lot less cute and lot more pity inducing.

But that's what Halloween was for on college campuses. Partying, drinking, and getting out of your skin.

"Laura's bringing Carmilla Karnstein," LaFontaine said, stealing a fry off his plate.

"Bringing or bringing?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Jury's still out there. I think just bringing but who knows," they said.

"Drunk celebrity hookups are a bucket list thing right?"

"Something tells me Laura's not the hook up or drunk type, especially not at the same time."

"Karnstein might be, probably should watch out for that."

He had a point. Carmilla was two years older than Laura, not that it mattered really in the grand scheme of it all, but when that extra 2 years was paired with words like "celebrity", "musician", and "one time beat up a guy" it because a bit more of a factor. And there was also Laura's aggressive virginity but somehow LaFontaine felt like Carmilla didn't have her head anywhere close to that at all.

Then again, which way (or ways) was Carmilla even swinging? She'd never been linked to anyone romantically in tabloids or red carpets. But she wrote all those damn love songs, they had to be about someone.

"What's your costume then?" J.P. asked, sliding the fries to the center of the table to share. "And please don't say 'mad scientist'."

"While that is my go to, I've actually got a plan this year," LaFontaine said, indulging generously in the offer of more fries.

"And that plan is…?"

"A secret."

"Jerk."

They demolished the fries a few minutes later and dropped the empty plates off at the washing rack and headed outside into a cloudy day. It was even a little bit gusty. It definitely felt like Halloween now with pumpkins in windows and sitting outside, a dangerous gamble once the sun went down and there was a 97% chance they'd end up in a pulp on the pavement. Rest in peace soon to be no more pumpkins.

It couldn't really beat down the feeling of being done early for the day though. Even if their matching pasty skin was getting no help from the lack of sun above.

"Hey, LaFontaine," said a voice they quickly recognized as Danny's and they turned.

She was studious looking as ever with a pile of graded quizzes in one arm and a saddle bag over the other.

"Hey Danny," they said. "This is J.P."

He offered out his hand with a smile and Danny took it in kind.

"He's coming with us to the Summer Society party tonight," they said.

"Awesome, the more the better," she said.

"Laura's actually bringing someone to, kind of DL though so—"

"Laura's bringing someone?"

Oops.

Well that could have been worded differently. A lot differently based on the look Danny's recently smiling face melted into. She looked ready to be devastated any minute and LaFontaine was at one of those buffering moments in the brain, moving far too slow to help calm the imminent rush of panic.

"Not like a date," J.P. said fast.

LaFontaine could kiss him for his tact.

"Yeah no, not like that," they agreed. Apparently whatever needed to be uploaded in their cerebral cortex figured itself out. "Just a friend who needed somewhere to go for Halloween."

"Oh. Who is it?"

"Yeah so, you can't say anything because it'd cause like a mosh pit at your house or something but it's Karnstein."

"Are you serious?"

She didn't look happy about it as LaFontaine was hoping she would be. Maybe she knew about the lowkey texting or emailing or, god forbid, Skyping that went. Then again maybe not since apparently no one did and she looked a little too frazzled.

"Yeah, we're all coming over as a group anyway. So it's nothing big."

Danny did not look appeased, in fact it looked like they had just ruined her entire day.

"Where's she staying?"

Okay now Danny was just setting them up for failure.

"At…Laura's."

Danny looked down and nodded. She let out a sharp sigh and readjusted the stack of quizzes in her hand. J.P. pretended to be toeing a pebble on the ground and LaFontaine wanted to be anywhere but here.

"So, we'll see you tonight?"

Well that all could have been way smoother but Danny nodded and pulled her face into a thin smile and mumbled something about having to get to office hours. She headed off and they waited a good 30 seconds before J.P. broke the silence.

"You know, if I didn't know any better I'd say she has a thing for Laura," he said and LaFontaine allowed themselves to laugh a bit at that. "She was basically all over her when we went to lunch the other day."

"Yeah, Laura likes her too. Or did? Still does, as far as I know."

"Ah, the emotionally taxing feelings and dramatic trauma of young love."

LaFontaine laughed for real that time as they waved him goodbye to go put the finishing touches on their costume.

----

Will counted two more reps before he tagged off of the leg press in a grunt. Kirsch swiveled in to take his place in the chair while Will leaned against the weight stack.

"What exactly happens if we don't go to this party tonight?" Will said, counting in his head along with Kirsch who counted out loud.

"We'll probably get called before standards or something, why?"

"Because I'm seriously thinking of ditching it."

Kirsch let out a fast, sharp breath from between gritted teeth as he finally hit 25 and then dropped down, his legs coming to rest on the floor.

"For real?" he asked.

"Yeah. Changing the fundraiser under everyone's nose is bullshit," Will said. "And besides he fucked me over at that DTA party. He dragged us all over there because the sisters were apparently huge fans of my sister."

And there was the whole I may have outed my sister because of it, I'm currently waiting to see if the internet is blowing up over that leaked information bit that had him on a constant state of edge since that night. And having Carmilla stay for a few days on campus was going to make that guilt just sky rocket.

Not to mention he panicked every time his phone buzzed with a text from her; he waited for someone on campus to spot her, shout something about her being gay or god knows what else he blathered. It was a specific type of prolonged anxiety and he wasn't sure he could deal with it much longer.

The only good news was that mother, so far, seemed unaware Carmilla was back at Silas and Will hoped it stayed that way.

"What's with Laura?" Will asked.

"What about her?" Kirsch grunted.

"She interviews my sister, they take off on some weird girls' weekend and now she's inviting her to parties and to stay in her room?" Will said. He wasn't about to flat out ask for Laura's orientation and list of former partners, but also didn't want to see his sister get her heart broken over a misplaced crush.

"She's just super nice like that bro, I told you she practically saved my lit grade. She's awesome," he said.

That didn't really answer Will's question but at the very least Laura wasn't a dick. He got that sense anyway from the few moments they spent together in the car driving over to the hotel. He just desperately hoped Carmilla could tell the difference between nice and nice.

They switched out again as Will returned to the press.

1…

2…

3…

"What do you think about going to the Psycho Society party?" Kirsch asked.

4…

5…

"For real?"

6…

7…

8…

"Yeah, you already said you wanted to ditch and their charity is pretty legit."

"We could get in huge trouble for ditching our party for theirs."

"Who cares bro? Besides Laura and your sister will probably be at that one, it'll be way more fun."

He paused in the middle of his set. Kirsch had about 3 solid points. And Will was getting to where he didn't care if he pissed off the chapter president. He certainly didn't want to get thrown out, but it's not like they were going to commit arson or a kill a man.

"Yeah we might as well," Will finally said.

"Awesome, I'll tell Laura."

Kirsch took out his phone to, Will assumed, text Laura while he finished up his set. He always liked the talks they had on leg day.

----

Laura was leaving her last class as fast as possible. When she'd returned to the room earlier in the day she'd found Carmilla napping soundly in her sleeping bag on the floor. She'd shoved herself so far to the side to be out of the way that Laura had almost not seen her at all.

But now she hoped Carmilla awoke from her slumber, bad as she felt about that because the girl was probably exhausted from weeks of racing across Europe, so they could at least get some food before the party tonight and find time to run out if she couldn't get the finishing touches on her Buffy costume done with just the materials in her dorm room.

So she fast walked across the campus, getting across grass areas and bobbing and weaving as politely as possible. She was so determined she almost miss the clear vibrate of her phone.

Danny L (3:43PM): Hey, I hear you're bringing Carmilla Kanrstein to the party tonight.

Oh right. She knew there was someone she still needed to prep for this whole surprise guest thing. Dang it. Well someone beat her to the punch at least.

Laura Hollis (3:44PM): Yeah, I hope that's okay. But it's for charity right? The more the merrier?

She opened the front door to her building and stepped inside. The first floor was already buzzing with girls, half in costume, running between rooms to find hair pins or borrow glitter body spray. Laura was happy the most effort her costume took was ordering a Sunnydale High shirt off of Amazon and carving up a stake.

Danny L (3:50PM): Yeah. Sure. It's just…does she have to stay in your room? I mean, she did beat up a guy once. And you said she was a massive ass to you when you first met. Seems a little bit like bad news but that's just me.

Laura stopped walking at that and frowned. A weird heavy feeling settled in her stomach, not unlike when Danny decided it pertinent to call her while she was in Vienna instead of taking her word for it. Danny was just being chivalrous. And sometimes chivalry went along with protection. Maybe this was a little overprotection though because it felt a little bit like intervention or being told what to do.

But Danny probably didn't mean it that way (yes she did).

Laura Hollis (3:55PM): Honestly, it's fine. She's fine.

In all seriousness Laura thought Carmilla was all bark and no bite. Obviously she was a little bite because there was very real evidence of that in any Google search, but she seemed, for the most part, harmless. Whatever that reporter did, it wasn't something small to set her off. She took far too much in stride and with a general air of apathy that Laura was secretly burning to know just what it was that did it.

But she would never ask.

When she got back she found an off sight. Carmilla was awake and sitting comfortably on Laura's bed, across the room Betty was scribbling down notes.

"Heathcliff and Cathy are the flip side of the same coin," Carmilla aimlessly, looking at the ceiling. "Under the surface they're pretty much the same person, it's all about the choices they make that separates them."

"Like what?"

"Well, Heathcliff's response to losing Cathy was plotting a lifetime of revenge against her husband and brother and daughter. Her response to losing Heathcliff was to kill herself out of spite. The point is the feel the same things though," she said.

Laura tried to tactfully clear her throat and both girls looked up. Betty looked a little bit guilty for, once again, pumping someone for information about a book she hadn't read while Carmilla just looked bored and turned to Laura.

"Hey."

"Hey."

Laura dropped down her bag of stuff and sat on the bed next to Carmilla. An agreeable distance apart, of course.

"I hate to break up this give-Betty-all-the-answers study session but is anyone hungry? I'd rather get some real food than rely on chips and salsa at a party," Laura said.

"Starving," Betty said.

"Sounds divine, cupcake."

Carmilla lead them to an off campus Chinese buffet she said she took Will to last time she was in town. It was nice, and cheap, not that price mattered since Carmilla paid for everything before either Betty or Laura could even think to grab the check. She sent them outside while she scribbled on the receipt and Betty practically yanked Laura's arm out of socket, pulling her aside.

"What's with the pet names?" she said.

"Pet names?"

"'Cutie', 'cupcake' you know there's a word for what she's doing."

A skateboarder whizzed around them in a burst of wind.

"She's not doing that, honestly. I think it's a weird dominance thing."

"Kinky."

"By which I mean," Laura glared. "She's a little bit arrogant—"

"'A little bit.'"

"And I think it's just her weird way of showing authority, or something like that."

Betty was eyeing her and Laura pretended not to notice as the door behind them opened and Carmilla rejoined. They walked back to campus, mainly in silence in between moments of Carmilla asking Betty about her major and her classes and giving her more minor education on Wuthering Heights, promising to dictate it all to her later to be written down. At one point Betty asked Carmilla to follow her on Twitter and Laura snorted as Carmilla shrugged and pulled out her phone to do so.

Once back in the dorm room it turned into party prep central. Laura and Betty took turns in and out of the bathroom and trading random bits of clothing that got tossed between their piles. Carmilla sat (on Laura's bed) the entire time, book to her nose.

"I have to hand it to you Hollis, I was afraid you'd be covered head to toe in some Doctor Space Power Ranger outfit," Betty said.

"I am not even going to begin to respond to the levels of offensive in that," Laura said, adjusting her Sunnydale High shirt and picking up fake wooden stake she ordered from Amazon.

Betty had opted for the (lazy) zombie approach. Earlier in the week she bought an unfortunately coded "female prisoner" costume from the store and managed to pull of some weird, sexy zombie with winged eyeliner.

"I'll have you know," Laura said, putting the last of her lipstick on. "Buffy has been the model for nearly every female driven television show and even some film since 1996. Everything from Kim Possible to Black Widow's representation in the Marvel Cinematic Uni—"

"And now it's time for shots," Betty said, winking and walking out and Laura sighed.

When Laura finally finished and walked out she found that Carmilla had in fact been getting ready while they were in the bathroom. And by "getting ready" Laura meant that her closet threw up all over the girl. Her head was capped with her Avengers snapback, a blue shirt with a TARDIS graphic peered out from underneath a Hufflepuff hoodie. High waisted jeans replaced her typical skinny ones and a pair of Converse covered her feet where Laura was fairly certain her cookie socks adorned her feet.

Betty looked like she was holding in a noxious laugh while Carmila smirked with thumbs hooked into pockets.

"What the hell are you supposed to be?" Laura asked.

"Laura Hollis."

Carmilla winked and pulled her hands from behind her back to reveal a red notebook in one and a pen in the other.

"I'm even ready to catch the next big story," she said, waving the props.

It felt like someone greased the hinge of Laura's jaw as it dropped and Betty finally burst into laughter, trying hard not to tear up and ruin the half hour of work she put into getting the smokey eye look just right. All the while Carmilla just stood there, smiling. The smile was cocky and condescending but there was no malice there, no danger, or dislike. Quite the opposite, in fact, Carmilla looked happy. She looked happy at Laura.

And she couldn't help but smile back, after shaking her head and blinking a few times. And after she let go of the shock the actual sight of Carmilla in her clothes hit her. She looked good, and it was kind of hot in a way Laura couldn't really place. So she decided that Carmilla wore nerd culture well and left it at that.

"You're unbelievable," Laura finally said, grabbing her phone and a few dollars of cash for the cover.

"This is going to be the best week of my life," Betty said. "Please stay forever."

They left the room to meet the others in a flurry of smiles and laughter and snorts.

----

"Oh fuck, someone beat us to the punch," Will said, walking up to the designated meeting spot.

He and Kirsch decided to go as zombie football players. They put together a wild backstory too. They were on rival football teams and in the middle of their biggest game when the jealous coach started infecting players with a deadly virus like the Deflate Gate shit gone wrong. And now the world would never know because who honestly gave a fuck about a couple of zombie football players when there was a sexy zombie prisoner.

"I'm pretty sure half the campus beat you to the punch," said a familiar voice and spotted his sister decked out in every imaginable piece of Comic Con merch imaginable.

"What the hell are you?" he said.

"Hi to you too."

"Please don't make her repeat—"

"She's Laura."

Kirsch started laughing behind him and Will looked between Carmilla and Laura. The former's Cheshire grin grew wider and wider while the latter got redder and redder and dropped her face into her hands. Will's eyes latched onto Carmilla though, when she turned, for a brief minute, to look at the girl next to her. He caught a glimpse of something strange.

Lightness.

Carmilla wasn't happy or ecstatic or giggly.

She was just light. Her face was looser, her shoulders straighter, her mouth much more flexible and willing to curl upwards into that rare sight.

"Anyway," Carmilla said, breaking Will's trance and stepping forward to him. "Good to see your creativity hasn't changed a bit."

He thought she was going into hug him and he was ready to be worried someone took his sister and replaced her with a doped up clone on happy pills. But he sighed as she pulled him into a headlock and held him there, turning back to the group.

"Who else are we waiting for?" she asked casually, still keeping his head pinned to her side.

"Kitty this doesn't work now that I'm twice your size," he mumbled.

"Shush."

"Perry and LaFontaine and their bio friend," Laura said. "Is SJ coming?"

"No, she had some mixer tonight. She might stop by later though."

Eventually Will got tired and his neck started to cramp so he quickly dislodged himself from Carmilla's grip with little resistance from her and she gave him a small side smile as he light knocked her shoulder with his. He got sight of Laura's gaze, lingering on Carmilla, maybe he just imagined it but it looked like she was contemplating Carmilla's smile.

A few shots in and this should all get very, very fun.

About 10 minutes later and the rest of the party arrived. One seemed to take major advantage of her naturally curly hair and went as whatever that Scottish Disney Princess chick was. The boy with them looked completely normal, though he pointed to his eyes where apparently he had a colored contact in one eye and proclaimed himself to be a genetic mutation, citing his shirt that had some crazy combination of letters to be genetic code. Whatever. The third one was in an orange shirt with the symbol for pi on the front.

"I'm pumpkin pi," she said with a wide grin to a series of groans.

No wait. Was this the "they" one? He should probably figure that out before Carmilla dunked him in the punch bowl.

"Okay, everyone's accounted for?" said the curly haired one.

"Looks like," said Laura.

"Awesome, party time," Kirsch said.

He and Will high fived, Carmilla rolled her eyes, Laura laughed while introducing the three additions to their group and they walked across the campus under the setting sun.

----

"I have to say Lawrence, this costume was pretty genius," said Elliot.

"It was technically Cameron's idea," she said. "But I'll definitely take the credit if anyone asks."

They laughed, sharing the mirror to adjust their costumes. Maybe it wasn't the most original idea, but how could Danny pass up the perfect chance to go as Xena? And Laura was going to die over it. They agreed to keep their costumes a secret. Well, maybe not agreed so much as Laura's text response had dropped a few percentiles and it never came up.

Whatever though. It was a party. Even if Carmilla was coming (whatever the hell that was about) it would go well, Danny was sure.

"I still think it should have been a themed party," Jamie said, showing up in the mirror between the two of them.

"Themed parties limit everything though," Danny said.

"That's the point."

"But that's like zero fun, and super stressful."

There were sounds downstairs as Taylor and Alex struggled (again) with the pumpkin fairy lights in the living room.

"If you would just hold the chair still.

"Maybe if you held your jump ass still for two seconds-"

"I will string you up with these lights."

"Yeah tell that to the girl response for you not falling."

"Sounds like it's going well," Danny said.

Satisfied with the costume, Danny moved away from the mirror while Jamie generously took her place, working on a braid in her hair.

Downstairs it was very nearly all put together. Multiple chip bowls were side by side on the coffee table, the entertainment center had been pushed all the way into the corner and some sort of weird houseplant that Danny hoped didn't come from the Alchemy club stood in front of it as a barrier. Casey was huddled against the wall behind the plant trying to work the Halloween playlist she'd been working on for two weeks. Paper ghosts were tacked to the walls and fake spider webs stuck to the corners of the room.

"I really need you to be a better you," Taylor said, hands perched on the chair.

"I need you to shut the hell up and let me do my job," Alex said.

"Do you guys need help?" Danny asked.

"Oh Lawrence, thank god," Taylor said, releasing the chair.

"No, I have an aesthetic in mind, I've got this—"

"Move."

Danny took the lights while Alex huffed. The lights went up within minutes while Taylor directed some of the movement to make sure it wasn't crooked while Alex mumbled something about the design being "unoriginal".

"Your girlfriend coming?" Jamie asked, rejoining them in the living room.

"She's not my girlfriend," Danny said. It was obligatory, but her heart did a bit of a summersault every time one of them said it and she couldn't wait for the day when she could stop having to correct them. Maybe tonight would be a step forwards that. It had to be.

"Yeah, we'll be taking care of that tonight," Jamie said with a wink. "Just put a sock on your door, we don't need a repeat of the Christmas party"

"Excuse you, holiday party," Ariel called from across the room.

"Fuck off, you put a menorah in literally all our rooms, we get it," Jamie shot back.

"I'd just like to point out," Danny said. "That the holiday party incident was one time and everyone was dressed, mostly."

"Yeah, believe me I remember way too vividly," Jamie said.

A few more opened bags of chips and removal of the Jell-O shots from the fridge and the house was ready for guests.

It was another half hour before Laura showed up and Danny didn't realize she was holding her breath every time the door opened until Laura finally entered. And she entered with a full entourage in tow and Danny gave up her immediate crosshair search for Carmilla when she spotted the two boys with them. Kirsch and Will.

Zeta's.

She watched with apprehensive eyes as Cameron took their cover money with equal apprehension.

"What's up?" Danny said, stepping up to the group.

"Danny! Hi!" Laura said brightly and the confusion of her absence this week was forgotten in a second when lit up under Danny's gaze.

"Not to be inhospitable," Danny said. "But what's with the Zeta's?"

"Oh, they said they wanted to come to your party so I figured they could tag along with us, that's cool right? They brought the donation money and everything," Laura said.

Danny wanted to say something about them potentially being there to vandalize the house or steal their money or invite more bros to party crash but Laura looked so happy about it all that Danny wasn't about to be the one to ruin it.

"Yeah, no it's totally cool," Danny said, finally turning to the rest of the group.

Carmilla was spotted easily. What the hell was she supposed to be? She was covered in some crazy mishmash of every fandom Danny could think of. While under Danny's gaze she met her eyes and recognized her as the host and stepped forward with an outstretched hand.

"Hi," she said. "I'm Carmilla."

"I heard," Danny said, taking her hand.

Some people feel sparks when their hands touch. Danny felt nothing but pressure and sweat. Whether Carmilla shared her apathy bordering closer toward the annoyance end of the spectrum, she didn't say or wear it in her appearance.

"What are you dressed as?" she asked.

"A future star journalist," Carmilla said, pulling out a notebook and pen.

Danny was even more confused but it cleared up fast when Laura squirmed next to them. Oh. She was wearing Laura's clothes. She was going as Laura. That was a slick move, she'd give her that. And Laura totally fell for it. Well the night was young.

"There's a cover for this, yeah?" Carmilla said. "Laura said it was a donation thing."

"We're helping impoverished women's health," Danny said proudly, eyeing the way Laura beamed.

Point for the home team.

"Well," Carmilla said, digging out a ratty old wallet. Danny gaped as she pulled out a pair of hundred dollar bills. "I don't have any Euros but, here you go."

She dropped the money into the bucket and Cameron shared in her shock. Laura was beaming at Carmilla now who (totally pretended she) didn't notice. Okay it was on with this girl.

"Thanks," Danny obliged. "Come on in guys."

"After you, Xena."

The next two hours passed very calculated for Danny. She knew she was meant to be having fun, she'd shut off her phone to ignore slash completely forget about any calls from back home for the night and instead she transferred that calculation and anxiety to keeping tabs on Laura the entire night.

Carmilla seemed to be playing hard to get because, more often than not, she was nowhere near Laura. In fact, her time seemed to be almost entirely occupied by some blonde that Danny vaguely recognized as a girl from Laura's anthropology class (not that she knew Laura's classes or anything). Disaffected as Carmilla looked, the girl was all over her and it looked like Carmilla upped her life achievement arrogance points.

"How was your week?" Danny asked, sitting down next to Laura on the couch.

"Pretty, pretty great," Laura said.

At the table were two empty red solo cups. Another reason to monitor Laura, she looked a little boneless on the couch and the vowels in her words became one. Danny sipped her beer.

"Didn't hear from you too much, I just wanted to make sure," Danny said.

"Make sure what?" Laura asked, lolling her head towards Danny.

"Everything was cool, you know, check in and stuff."

"Check-in?"

Laura's brows knit together and she blinked a few times, trying to focus on Danny's face.

"Yeah like—never mind."

Okay not a great topic. Get back to that later. This was a fun time. They could talk about The Stranger. No, way too depressing right now and Laura was pouting a little bit.

"What did you mean by 'check-in'?" she repeated.

"Nothing, honestly. It was just a busy week and we didn't talk all that much."

She hummed in response and stared into the contents of her drink. Well this was heading south. What was Karnstein doing? Still with the blonde. She couldn't lie, Karnstein looked cool leaning against the wall with the snapback now turned around and a drink in her hand. Laura was still pouting though and she wasn't sure which would be worse, her spotting Karnstein looking good in the corner or continuing to look like that.

"So, how'd this deal with Carmilla happen?" Danny asked.

"We've been talking since the concert," Laura said, lightening up again. "She had nowhere to go so, I figured why not."

"Do people generally need somewhere to go for Halloween? It's not like Christmas or something," Danny said.

"It's complicated."

Laura was cooling off again and Danny's stomach twitched painfully at the possibility of Laura knowing things about Carmilla she couldn't share. Was she holding Carmilla's secrets? Was Carmilla holding any of hers? She felt her chest tighten in only one emotion that she didn't want to name as she pushed the image of Carmilla and Laura on the phone together or texting. She was overreacting, she had to be. Chill Lawrence.

"She's staying in your room?"

Holy shit, stop prying!

"Yeah, Betty's cool with it, if that's your next question," Laura said quickly. Quick. Not snap. She didn't snap at her. Right?

"No it's just…she's kind of stranger you know?"

Laura didn't pout this time. She darkened. But Danny felt justified here, Carmilla hit someone and almost got arrested for it. And Laura was eager to please and impulsive. Couldn't she see that Karnstein was playing some long con? And one that probably had the only end goal of getting in her pants. She wasn't going to rattle that off right now but she was sure of it.

"You want me to text you daily check-ins?" Laura said. Sarcasm was not Laura and it didn't suit her. That was Carmilla too, Danny was certain.

"Well, I mean, it couldn't hurt could it? Just in case?"

"I'm going to get some more punch."

Laura was up, wobbly, but up. And Danny was on the couch alone.

This was all Karnstein's fault.

----

"So like, what about X-Men?" Kirsch asked.

"Well, that's an extreme and scientifically loose example but the basic concept is there," J.P. aid. "Everything's a mutation and if it aids in the survival of the species then it sticks. If not then the mutation dies with the members of the group that contain it."

That was definitely too many words for the Zeta's because they were just staring blankly. The two jaeger shots they did the second after walking in probably didn't help either. J.P. was taking it in stride though, laughing and then pulling out a pen to draw on a napkin.

Next to J.P. Perry looked a lot less amused. In fact, occasionally she almost looked like she was glaring. LaFontaine would have to figure that out. But step one was getting the smile back on Perry's face because without it just didn't look like Perry.

"Hey Perr, want to get a refill?" LaFontaine asked, shaking their empty cup.

Perry said nothing but got up and followed. On their way to the kitchen they passed Danny and, a very pouty, Laura on the couch. That was weird. On the other end of the room, Carmilla was leaning against the wall with a, probably quite drunk, blonde girl practically undressing her with her eyes.

"Get it C," LaFontaine whispered into her ear as they passed.

"Fuck off LaF," she said back and LaFontaine winked.

It was quieter in the kitchen though the sounds of the dubstep remix of "Toccata and Fugue" could still be heard as LaFontaine opened the cooler next to the kitchen table and fished out two pumpkin beers. It was a welcome rest from Jungle Juice at least.

"How you doing Perr?" LaFontaine asked, holding her arm to stop her midstride.

"Fine," she said, quickly.

"Really?"

She frowned and all too fast dropped into a kitchen chair. LaFontaine followed suit, a bit more gingerly.

"You can talk to me, you know that right?" LaFontaine said.

"Can I?" Perry said back and LaFontaine was too shocked to answer. "You spend all day with that J.P. guy from your science classes and that's good, I like him, he's nice but…I don't know. It's all a lot."

LaFontaine felt their stomach drop just a little bit and suddenly was put off by the idea of any more alcohol or food going in the black pit forming there.

"What's a lot?"

"You know exactly what Sus—LaFontaine," she said. "I feel, I don't know, it's like I'm losing my best friend."

"To what, exactly?"

"To someone I don't know!"

It had been blurted and Perry looked like the human version of a popped soda can. She didn't back down and didn't look regretful. Not that that would have truly helped LaFontaine in the long run but it might have cooled the uncomfortable heat simmering beneath every inch of their skin as they felt themselves turning red all over.

"Wow Perr," they swallowed. "Tell me how you really feel."

"I'm trying LaFontaine, I really, really am," Perry said. "But pretending that I didn't spend a lifetime knowing you as Susan is--"

"It's just a name."

"It's not and you know it."

"So what? What does it matter if I think I'm male or female or neither or even both? How does it affect you?"

That black pit was taking shape now. Solid, heavy, lead shape. And it was burning. LaFontaine wanted to throw it up just to get the uncomfortable feeling out. But maybe that was the alcohol.

Perry was up and out of the kitchen too fast for any of that to happen though.

----

This girl was pretty, Carmilla would give her that. But for some reason all her thought could do was list all the reasons she shouldn't hook up with her. Which was weird. She slept with girls like this all the time, she sought out girls like this, in fact she really enjoyed hooking up with girls like this. Sure, she shouldn't be using them like this and she should acknowledge that each one of these girls was their own individual person and should not be categorized into a group.

Elsie, then. Individual Elsie was certainly quite similar to a slew of Carmilla's previous sexual partners.

All except for one.

God she hated drinking alcohol. She saw her face everywhere. What was this girl talking about? Snowboarding? What the fuck did snowboarding have to do with anything?

"We only go every other summer though, my dad rents the cabin out the rest of the time," she said.

Right. Summer homes in Sweden.

Why the fuck did Carmilla give a shit about summer homes in Sweden?

A buzzing in her head replaced this girl's voice and soon Ell's voice was replacing that. God fucking dammit why did she drink? Why did she ever drink? Why did it always end up like this?

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

She needed out of this room or to fuck this Elsie girl. Preferably both since she wasn't about to put on a show for the whole party. A solid hook up would definitely cure this bullshit storm in her head right now. Those precious, perfect little pills in her bag would do even better but she was a lot closer to prospects than she was to those. And Elsie all but flat out asked her to leave with her.

It would be so easy, so why was she glued to the ground?

She felt someone come up behind her. She was standing right in front of the punch bowl, kind of a party foul. She turned.

Oh. Laura.

What was that about being glued to the ground?

"Hey," she said, quietly.

Well that wouldn't do.

"Everything good cupcake?" Carmilla asked as Laura shuffled between her and Elsie and to the punch bowl.

"Yep."

There was a loud pop on the end of the word and Laura ladled three full scoops of Jungle Juice into her cup and Carmilla raised a brow. Laura looked like she might actually weight less than that entire cup of alcohol.

Step 1: get rid of Elsie.

"Hey," Carmilla said, stepping closer to her. No not like that Elsie. "She's my ride and I need to make sure she's cool. So, I'll talk to you in a bit yeah?"

"Yeah, totally. No problem."

Elsie fluttered her eyes and took a sip of her drink, sliding past Carmilla and she felt her pocket catch on something. Reaching down she pulled out a small corner of a napkin, inked with a name and number. When had she even written that? Whatever, step 1 was accomplished.

Step 2: Determine the cause of Laura's frown.

"What's going on?" Carmilla said, leaning back against the table and crossing her arms.

"Nothing, just kind of annoyed," she said.

"Well then it's not nothing, is it?"

Laura stopped and turned to look at Carmilla. They held eye contact for what was probably only ten seconds but it felt like the entire night could have gone by in their shared gaze. It was weird, but those caramel brown eyes felt like the safest thing in the room right now so Carmilla indulged and indulged until Laura dropped her gaze to the floor and her face flushed.

"Sorry," Carmilla said. "I won't push it. But, you should smile."

"Why is everyone always telling me I should do this and that?" Laura said, grabbing her drink and walking off.

"Whoa," Carmilla said, and quickly following after. "Not what I meant, cupcake."

She kept walking though, growling under her breath and drinking from her cup. She'd probably get pissed if Carmilla tried to get the drink out of her hand or tell her to slow down. Change tactic for Step 2.

"Hey, hey," Carmilla was still chasing after her out the back door and into the yard. "Laura, hey."

She stopped and turned, leaning on the porch railing. She looked at Carmilla who realized she quickly needed to come up with something to follow that with.

"I didn't mean it like that, you want to frown then go for it. It's just that it's a party, we're all supposed to be having fun and you're, clearly, not," she said.

She seemed placated as she didn't turn any angrier or storm off again.

"I know, I'm sorry," she said.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really."

"Okay then. So…that's Danny then."

"That's not helping."

"Right."

Okay, well step 2 would just have to take what it could get.

Step 3: find a way to make Laura smile again.

"How about this," Carmilla said. "We go for a walk? You can show me the campus and stuff and you definitely don't have to smile."

She closed her eyes in a long blink and opened them to a bud stretch across her lips. Score for Karnstein, step 3 accomplished. Laura turned to her and nodded and started to walk. Carmilla carefully grabbed the cup out of her hand and mumbled something about open containers of alcohol and Laura agreed.

Bonus round of get the drink out of Laura's hand also accomplished. God she was crushing it right now.

And so they walked, without telling anyone where they were going, without saying goodbye, they just vanished into the night to blend in with the crowds of other drunken, costumed people. It felt a little bit like running away. On a small scale. But that made it kind of fun.

"You and your brother get along," Laura said.

"Always have."

"I figured siblings always hated each other."

"We needed each other too much to hate each other."

Shit. Slightly too far because now Laura was looking with all sorts of concern and sympathy and all that sad kitten shit that had Carmilla less and less annoyed every day. It was public knowledge that she was adopted and Laura knew Will was adopted as well. Simple addition and Laura was probably seeing Carmilla's life as a Lifetime movie in her head.

"But yeah," Carmilla said, avoiding walking into a group of girls dressed as cats in varying degrees. "We get along. Not always, but he's my little brother. So, that's that."

"Cool," Laura said. "That over there is the caf building, by the way."

Carmilla followed the gesture of her pointed finger and eyed a completely normal and boring looking building but okay right she asked for a campus tour. The walked some more and one or two more buildings earned a mention from Laura until there were less and less people around them and they found themselves on the fringes of the campus.

"What's that?" Carmilla asked eyeing a very old, very worn, and very vandalized building.

"That's the Lustig. It was a theatre building but we've got like zero theatre department now and people keep trashing it for some reason," Laura said.

Fascinating. Carmilla checked her watch. It was still October 31st for another half hour. Might as well indulge in a few more cheap thrills until every department store converted to Christmas at dawn tomorrow.

"Let's check it out," Carmilla said.

"Wait what? Carmilla we can't, it's condemned," Laura said.

"Come on, it's Halloween, cupcake," Carmilla said.

"Yes and on Halloween I prefer to avoid doing the things I yell at dumb horror movie characters for like walk into the creep abandoned building on Halloween night."

"I got your back, cutie."

She continued walking toward the building and heard the footsteps following behind her the entire time. At the very least the anxiety of this might sober her up a little bit and she didn't intend for this to end in injuries at all, but worried, apprehensive, and a little bit excited Laura was way better than mopey Laura.

The door they used had a lopsided sign above it reading "artist entrance" and a broken lock. The door creaked loud and long and Laura whined while Carmilla laughed. Without thinking she grabbed Laura's hand in her own and squeezed. Laura didn't let go though so Carmilla held tight. It was a new feeling but certainly not an uncomfortable one.

It was pitch black inside and Carmilla used her free hand to pull out her phone and flipped on the flashlight. There was dirt and dust and turned over furniture everywhere. The wall was covered in graffiti and the paint was peeling. There was broken glass everywhere and Carmilla focused on leading them down the safest path.

"Carmilla…" Laura groaned.

"Right here, cupcake," she said and squeezed the hand in hers.

As they walked on she spotted a door hanging on its hinges. Carmilla light touched it and when it didn't immediately fall to the ground she pushed it back a bit. Another long and awful creak. This one, unlike the last, echoed and she was sure she felt Laura shudder.

The flashlight peered down into what could only be described as a black abyss. The stairs vanished into the dark and it was a little too much, even for Carmilla.

"What kind of Lovecraft monster do you think is hiding down there?" Carmilla asked.

"I'd prefer not to."

"Fair enough."

The chasm down there was starting to get to Carmilla too. She closed her eyes and backed up and away, trying not to think of the last time she felt dark like that.

After that she headed straight for the roof, up the staircases and out into the cool night air below the stars. The sky was cloudless and peppered with pinpoints of light in all directions. It was less light pollution than the city, not ideal, but enough that all the important stars and constellations shined through the competition down on Earth.

"Now we're talking," Carmilla said, letting go off Laura's hand and feeling a rush of cool air in its place.

"What is it with you and stars?" Laura smiled.

"It's comforting," Carmilla said, sitting down on the edge of the building, legs dangling. "To think how small we are in comparison. All the lives we've lead, people we've been. Nothing to that light."

A pause.

"Are you high?"

"Oh my fucking god."

Laura burst out into laughter as she dropped down to join Carmilla who shook her head with an overdramatic huff. Carmilla bit her bottom lip to keep from smiling but was failing fast and it only served as fodder for Laura's giggles.

"Poetic," Laura said.

"You're making fun of me," Carmilla said, rolling her eyes.

"No, I'd be way too afraid to make fun of an A-list celebrity with a reputation as a badass," Laura said with a grin and Carmilla groaned. "I do get it though, honestly. All our issues don't seem like much of anything under the stars."

"Something like that, yeah."

They sat there quiet for a while. They could both hear Laura's phone buzzing in her pocket but it was far too perfect under the canopy to do anything about it. The could fix the panic they probably set off when the clock struck midnight, they still had time to stay there, palms splayed behind them, fingers nearly touching, eyes to the sky.

She wanted to say something to Laura here because it felt a lot like safety. She wasn't going to pour her guts out or anything, but letting out something, anything, because this felt like a time for honesty. With the stars watching she couldn't lie and it felt a lot like she couldn't be hurt.

"I like the wide openness too, to be honest," Carmilla said. "It's a long and complicated story but I got locked in a tiny, cramped tool shed when I was a kid. I kind of still get freaked out by that stuff."

Complicated and long. She'd leave the rest of it at that because it felt like one of the many stones tied to her legs dragging her down had been loosened and when Laura turned to look at her with starlight in her eyes, she felt like it had been released completely and she was closer to the surface.

"I'm sorry about that," she said.

"It's fine now." It wasn't but Laura didn't need to know that. "Speaking of…stuff like that. I'm sorry too. I'm kind of a crazy driver and I know it made you uncomfortable."

"No, no that's not you," Laura said quickly, turning her body to face Carmilla completely. "My um—my mom, she died when I was young, in a car accident. And it's dumb I know, I wasn't even in the car or anything but it's like I have little random bouts of PTSD over it and—"

"Don't apologize for that," Carmilla said. "It was traumatic and hurt you a lot. Real feelings, real responses."

Laura smiled with nothing but warm and soft gratitude.

"Where was this person when I walked into that hotel room for that interview?"

"Hiding."

Laura's smile vanished into seriousness. She was looking over Carmilla was the upmost attention and it was more intense than even being gazed at by 20,000 eyes. It didn't feel like an intrusion or like pain or vulnerability. It felt like being present.

"Yeah, I think she was," Laura agree quietly.

Well this mushy crap was fucking awkward. Carmilla looked at the clock on her phone just in time to watch 11:59 become 12:00 and their time was up. Time to return to back to panicked friends, loud music, and the smell of spilled tequila.

Carmilla stood and offered a hand to Laura. She took it and let go once on her feet. And without a word they walked back down, ready to make the trek all the way back to the Summer Society house.

"Hey," Laura said once they were back on their trek across the grass. "I'm not one of those people who like announces it to everyone they meet or plans their own party but…my birthday is at the end of next week and—I mean I know you're busy and have a ton of stuff to do but, if you wanted to hang out until then…?"

Carmilla smiled to the ground.

"I think I might like that very much."

"Cool," Laura breathed. "Awesome."

"And for the record, Laura," she said. "I think you can overcome it. The car thing. You can't get over it, but you can try to be stronger than it. Just, something to think about."

Laura looked at her again but Carmilla did not meet her eyes. The intensity of the prickle on the bottom of her neck told her Laura was looking at her with the same heaviness as on the roof. She couldn't handle looking her in the eye again though. This was all too heavy and Carmilla didn't feel like dissecting anything right now.

By the time they got back to the party, Carmilla almost forgot to notice that, for a brief flicker that night, she forgot about Ell.

Chapter Text

I'm quiet you know, you make a first impression, I've found I'm scared to know I'm always on your mind...

--

Carmilla woke up in a bed. At first she panicked because this has happened before. But she definitely stopped drinking last night well before midnight. By the time they got back to the party everyone seemed ready to leave, LaFontaine to their dorm room, the Floor Don was already gone, and Betty, her brother, Kirsch, and the bio kid decided to go party hoping.

Wait, right. She was in Betty's bed. Betty had texted around 2am (halfway into Laura's forced viewing of Jurassic Park) to tell them Carmilla could have her bed because Betty and the gentlemen were going to Denny's and then playing Monopoly in the lounge.

Okay, next question: why the hell was she awake at 9am on a Saturday?

She was thankful to be hangover free but it meant nothing now that she was wide awake hours before she meant to be. She couldn't even remember the last time she woke up before noon without being dragged out of bed.

Well this is stupid.

She sat up in bed and looked around. Laura was out cold across the room in her own bed, back to Carmilla and breathing slow. Lucky. Carmilla groaned and threw back the leopard print covers into the chill of the room. Over the edge of the mattress her legs swung and touched down on the cold hardwood. That was going to be a bitch come winter.

Oh good, she remembered to wear pants to bed at least. She, silently as possible, grabbed clothes blindly from her bag and slipped into the bathroom to shower off the residual sticky spots and grease from her hair.

Laura's body wash smelled like she did. That woke Carmilla right up. Cherry blossoms and oranges.

Her hair was still wet when she stepped out lightly and barefoot back into the room. Laura had shifted but was still very much asleep, mouth hanging open, silky hair fanned out in all directions, and grey tank top slipping off her one shoulder. Carmilla rolled her eyes and walked past her into the hallway with a spare mug to make tea.

The lounge looked like an animal house. Her brother and Kirsch were sprawled out spread eagle on the floor, half still in costume. Betty was curled up into the loveseat while LaFontaine was stretched out comfortably on the sofa. J.P. was wedged between the couch and the coffee table in the single most uncomfortable position imaginable.

For shits and giggles Carmilla took a picture and then another, Snapping it to her brother with a snarky caption.

Carmilla didn't have time to contemplate the annoyance at having to still be silent in her tea ventures before a groan from the couch stopped her.

"Morning," Carmilla said, walking past the couch where LaFontaine stirred.

"No."

"Well, yes. But believe me I understand your pain."

Carmilla filled the cup with lukewarm water from the tap while LaFontaine slowly came to terms with being awake. Everyone else in the room was dead to the world, however, so Carmilla had no qualms about flipping on the microwave for exactly one minute and forty-five seconds to heat her water.

"Where'd you end up last night?" Carmilla asked, leaning against the counter with crossed arms.

"Who knows," LaFontaine grumbled. "I think just here but then they showed up with a bunch of wine they stole from the Glee club party."

"That was at like 3am, weren't you going to bed at like 1?" Carmilla asked.

"Yeah."

Oh. LaF slept in the lounge? What was that about? They looked way too miserable right now to answer or do much of anything. Carmilla moved over to the window and used two fingers to push open a crack in the blinds. Overcast. Perfect hangover weather.

"You want IHOP or something? I never wake up early enough for breakfast and I bet you could use the greasiest meat lover's special they have," Carmilla said, leaving her finished tea in the appliance.

"Not sure I feel like moving anywhere right now," they said.

"Yeah but outside is going to be way better than stuffy recirculated air," she said.

LaFontaine sighed and placed their hands on their knees. After what looked like a mental countdown they pushed themselves up and wobbled for a second on two legs before groaning and taking a careful step over J.P.

"You're paying," LaF grumbled.

"Roger, captain."

Carmilla returned to the room to pluck a pair of shoes from her bag and quickly scribbled a note, placing it on Betty's pillow.

LaFontaine did seem to relax once they got into the open air, Carmilla offered up her sunglasses to aid in their headache as they walked to her car. LaF kept the windows down during the entire ride, head practically hanging out and begging for hair like a Labrador.

As suspected, they ordered the meat lover's special. What did surprise Carmilla was their mastery of solid German.

"Kannst du auch Deutsch?" Carmilla said.

"Ja," LaFontaine replied. "You're Austrian right? I mean by birth. Not that I pried on your Wikipedia page but…"

"Yeah, my mother made sure I was speaking German as well, for whatever reason. I'd like to think it was sentimentality but I think it was just her wanting to put on airs or something," Carmilla said.

LaF nodded and played with their silverware as their iced teas arrived at the table. Carmilla wondered how best to approach this. Really she had just been really fucking hungry and needed an excuse to haul her ass out here. Having heart to hearts with Laura's friends wasn't really in her plan but this awkward, pouty silence was starting to depress her.

Not to mention there was something tugging in her mind about Laura frowning if her friend was sad. Carmilla had enough of her frowning after last night.

Being a good friend was exhausting.

"You okay House?" Carmilla asked.

"Yeah, it's nothing," they said.

"If you say so."

That seemed to irritate them because they snapped their head back up fast.

"Yeah, while we're on the topic, where were you and Laura last night?" they shot back. It felt like an attack. Or more like a deflection.

"She seemed pissed, we took a walk," Carmilla said, calmly.

"That's all?"

"What else would there be?"

The venom of the original question was fading fast as LaFontaine melted their glare and refashioned it into some kind of know-it-all grin. They folded their arms across their chest and sat back. It was the picture of smugness.

"Whatever you say C," they said. "But, for the record, don't…don't lead her on, or something."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Nothing. Nevermind."

Was LaFontaine suggesting she and Laura…? Why would they even…? Sure Laura was pretty, very pretty, but they weren't…Well this was all an odd string of thoughts and questions that Carmilla didn't need right now so instead she focused on her drink and refused to initiate any more talks with LaFontaine either in the direction of them insinuating she and Laura vanished to hook up or in the direction of trying to soothe whatever patch of awful they were clearly dealing with.

She did her minimum duty as friend of a friend and she was buying them breakfast. But LaF did look pretty down. She should probably text Laura about it since she, you know, actually knew this person and Carmilla really just wanted her short stack.

Once the food did arrive they spent the remainder of their time in silence, except for the sounds of clinking silverware, chewing, and drinks moving. It could be way worse.

It could be worse. It got worse.

That song came on.

"Hey, that's you right?" LaFontaine asked.

"Yeah."

The melody was so familiar and so was every bruise against Carmilla's chest at the beat of her heart. I miss you, I miss you, I miss you. Over and over and over again because Carmilla needed to be sure Ell heard it, wherever she was she had to understand. It was a call. But Ell wasn't here and her hand was throbbing like the bones were rebreaking.

Need to move, need to get up, need to do something with that shaking hand.

Up.

"I'm going to the bathroom."

Moving, moving was good. Goddammit she hated this song. I miss you, I miss you, I miss you.

Fuck!

The pills were in her pocket, heavy, dragging. She needed them inside her.

The bathroom was occupied.

Goddammit.

Too much, lots of noise. She should just take the pills because she couldn't hear of the sounds of her hand pounding, pounding, pounding. She could see the reporter, see his grin, thinking he knew something about her no one else did. He did, though. She could feel is face on her hand, could feel the glass of his camera lens in her own skin.

Should take the pills. Nothing for it.

So she did, dry swallowing them. They stuck a little bit in her throat, she swallowed some more. Get down and do work. She should guzzle her iced tea at the table. That would be good.

She turned.

There was LaFontaine.

She could feel her heartbeat in her hand now too. Needed to get rid of that. Should get rid of that. She was pacing now. Back and forth back and forth. The song might have ended by now, but not in her head. The chorus was going over and over again.

"Hey," LaFontaine said. "You okay?"

Their eyes were bouncing between Carmilla's clenched hand and equally stiff face. God could these pills work any slower?

"Fine."

For about thirty seconds of silence, Carmilla thought they were both going to sit there pretending they didn't both know exactly what was going on. They were all just going to let it the story be that Carmilla just really, really had to pee.

"Cool."

LaFontaine walked away. And, in silence, Carmilla paid the bill fast and messily, dropping another obnoxious tip on the table in cash and ignoring LaFontaine's shocked face. They walked out in silence and got in the car in silence. Even the car ride was silent, except for the radio because Carmilla couldn't stand the buzz of white noise that might have been real, might have been in her head. They were back in front of the building and LaFontaine spoke before the key even left the ignition.

"Pain killers?" they said.

Carmilla considered ignoring them. Just getting out and not saying a word. But a flash of panic at the possibility of them telling Laura kept her grounded. Would they tell Laura? They were her friend, they were more keen on Carmilla than the others but that didn't mean she and LaF were suddenly best friends and sharing secrets. Or like anyone trusted anyone.

"Yeah, my hand still hurts sometimes," she said.

"Wasn't that a year ago—"

"It still hurts."

"Look," LaFontaine said. "I'm not about to tell you to live your life or anything or like you and I know anything about each other or like we'd be having this conversation if both didn't have a stake in a mutual friend's happiness, but I know the signs of addiction."

Carmilla closed her eyes and clenched her jaw. You like this one, Laura likes this one, punching them would be a bad idea. But it seemed like all Carmilla was made of was bad ideas. She hated that word, it felt aggressive to say and felt like barbs to hear. It felt a lot like an accusation as well, and Carmilla hated those.

She didn't hit anyone. Not this time.

"Thanks for your input," Carmilla said, pulling the key out and silencing the radio and the engine in one.

"You're a good person Carmilla, I think. Or, maybe you could be, but you don't need that to ruin that for you," they said.

"Gee, thanks. We're not having some heart to heart intervention."

Carmilla opened her door and shut it with as much finality as she could get into it. LaFontaine waited a few more seconds, perhaps to mull over their options, and then got out the car. Carmilla was praying to every single deity or spirit or animal guide that LaFontaine kept their mouth shut.

This is what happens when I try to help people.

----

So that's a hangover.

It sucked.

Laura managed to get herself vertical with a lot of mental cheerleading and many tries. But she was on her feet and the cold floor was serving to spark at least a little activity in her brain. Slow, but it was there. Speaking of her brain it hurt, like the throbbing you-can-feel-your-pulse kind of hurt. There was also the bit about the ache-y limbs and stuff.

She spotted an empty bed across the way and initially thought of Betty until she eyed a note on the pillow and remembered Carmilla had served as her roommate for the night. She managed to get one foot in front of the other far enough to bump knees against the opposite mattress and pluck the note.

If Laura: Went out for breakfast with LaF. We're bonding or something. If Betty: Relay above message to Laura, also please enclose the name of your fabric softener.

Laura rolled her eyes which turned out to be a mistake because the strain on the muscles in her forehead took the smile right off her face and she groaned.

"Morning, sundance," came Carmilla's voice in tandem with the creaking of the door (she really needed to look up YouTube tutorials on greasing hinges).

"Hey, how was breakfast?" she asked, waving the note. LaFontaine walked in after her.

"Good, uneventful, completely unrevelatory," they said, quickly.

Laura raised an eyebrow and caught Carmilla's pale face. She was going to ask but then LaFontaine said they were going to wake up the group sleeping in the lounge before Perry found them and left the room Carmilla stepped in farther and lowered herself onto Betty's bed.

"You've looked better, cupcake, not going to lie," Carmilla said, frowning at her.

"Welcome to Laura Hollis's very first hangover," she groaned, fighting the urge to drop back down onto the bed because she'd never get up. "Also, rude."

"Listen, my first bad drinking experience ended with me in the corner with a fan pointed at me and a trashcan while a group of people were watching Breaking Bad," Carmilla said. "Imagine how that looked."

"Oh please, you probably still looked good," Laura said.

"Still?"

Carmilla was smirking and Laura felt her cheeks flush and flush and had the urge to find the closest freezer and stick her head in it. Whatever, it's not a lie and Carmilla knows it. She's hot. No need to say it out loud though, to her face.

"What made you want to take LaFontaine out?" Laura asked, changing the subject.

"I was hungry and they were awake," Carmilla said flippantly.

Laura sighed, gathering up clothes to take with her into the shower.

"Do you think something weird happened with them last night?" Laura asked. "When we got back they wanted to leave, like immediately."

Carmilla looked down, pretending to be interested on a loose floorboard on the floor.

"Don't know, they're your friend, not mine," Carmilla said. "But, maybe you should ask."

Okay, Carmilla was a terrible bullshit-er and Laura wanted to ask more but Carmilla's headphones were already in her ears and her nose was shoved into a book that she swiped from the pile on the floor. Okay, whatever, Carmilla could get quiet sometimes.

Laura did heed Carmilla's advice though, after her shower she found them stationed in the lounge, surrounding by others, groaning from the light in the windows or the sound of Laura's footsteps, still very much in costume and beginning to smell quite ripe.

They were glued to their laptop, headphones over their ears and notebooks opened on the desk. Laura considered letting it be and not bothering them until it occurred to her that LaFontaine was choosing an occupied lounge to do work instead of her own room. Odd. And they looked a little…intense? Laura was all for science and all but this was a bit much, even for them.

"Hey," Laura said, sitting down in front of LaFontaine. They looked up and groaned, headphones sliding to rest on their shoulders.

"What did Carmilla say?"

"She didn't. Not really anyway. It was all me. Are you…okay?"

"Just dandy."

This particular brand of malice was more at home in Carmilla, not LaFontaine. As was the jaw clench and the flaring nostrils.

"Perry and I just sort of…we don't agree on things," they said, eyes to the computer, fingers doing a mile a minute on the keyboard.

Ah. That. Well that sucked. Probably more than Laura's throbbing head. And LaFontaine was pale and their mouth was a thin, stern line. And her first urge was to offer to do something with them, anything, movies, more food but she recalled the conversation they had in Vienna and she wondered where the line was drawn between fighting their battles for them and being a friend.

It was that line of thinking that brought Laura back to Danny. Right. That had gone awful last night too. Maybe Danny was struggling with the same dilemma Laura was now, maybe she should give her the benefit that she was still learning how to be a friend, amongst other things, without feeling like she had to constantly shield Laura from things that went bump in the night (or in the day, or in the afternoon...). It felt a lot like being put on a leash.

But, whatever all that was LaFontaine had a bad night and, shockingly out of character, Carmilla tried to make it a better, maybe. Laura was almost going to have a bad night and, once again, Carmilla arrived.

Who would have thought the bright spot in all this would be Carm?

Carm? She probably wouldn't appreciate the name, but it had been sticking in Laura's head for over a week now. Might as well workshop it.

But no, LaFontaine was sad, they had real, actual, hurtful problems and Laura was daydreaming. Right.

"Hey, I was going to make Carmilla marathon the Marvel movies with me," Laura said. "She doesn't know it yet, but it's definitely happening, so do you want to join?"

"I don't want to intrude on your…" they trailed off and the hint of a smirk on their face. "Thing."

"Listen, I'm super hungover and it's stupid and you…are fighting with your best friend," Laura said softly. "And there is no thing to intrude on, this is Carmilla we're talking about."

"Exactly."

Laura felt herself frown, confused, while LaFontaine's grin just got wider, not confused at all.

----

"Will you just get over it? This is happening," Carmilla said.

"Yes, I'm just trying to figure out why it's happening," Will said.

"Because we're bonding baby brother."

Will rolled his eyes and banged his head against the shelf, rattling the shelf of snow globes. He panicked, momentarily, lifting his head and letting his hands hover over the shelf, ready to catch any wayward ones. None were jumpers though and he sighed, returning his head.

"Does Laura even know you're getting her a birthday gift?"

"No, that's why it's called a surprise party dumbass."

This was probably the only time in Will's academic career thus far that he regretted having a free day on Tuesdays, because his sister practically bound and gagged him into the passenger seat of her car and insisted he go shopping with her for Laura. His worry that Carmilla was getting too attached to this girl was currently only outshined by his sheer irritation.

"Do I have to get her a gift? She's your friend," he said.

"No you asshole."

"Good."

They'd been to about three stores now, mainly random novelty stores. Will didn't understand why she couldn't just buy Laura a book or a movie or a gift card and be done with it. In fact, she was neurotic over it. He assumed she was getting a little stir crazy, now going on day 4 on a college campus with little to do between everyone's class schedules.

"What does she like?" Will asked, deciding to try and speed this process along as much as possible.

"Nerd shit, but everyone is going to get her nerd shit," Carmilla said.

"Oh, you want to be special."

That got him a dead arm.

She perused a new aisle and Will contemplated at what point he was going to try and bring up his minor transgression from a few weeks ago. As far as he could tell no one on the internet or even on campus flipped any desks over his accidental revelation but it still felt like it was nibbling away at his rib cage in tiny little bouts.

He had two options: be honest and warn her, for when it came up or be honest and warn her for a situation that may never happen. And the possibility of it never becoming relevant again kept him from wanting to make his sister hate him. He was the first person she told when she was thirteen and kissed a girl for the first time. He didn't want her to think he'd been careless with that trust, he couldn't be.

But he was, wasn't he? A least for a little while, because freedom felt so good. Until it was a lie and just another web tangling him to Carmilla. He loved her, but he didn't love her in every facet of his life.

"Are you looking for anything specific or are you just throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks?" he asked.

"I don't know," she sighed and the walked out of the shop to the jingle of a bell. "But I need to figure this shit out soon because she's got me booked with the continuation of some nerdy movie marathon all week."

"Is it imperative that your gift stand out from everyone else's?"

"When did you learn the word 'imperative'?"

"You know, I really don't know why the tabloids hate you, Kitty."

She winked and they went into another store. They paced it for about ten minutes until Carmilla jumped so quick that Will almost knocked over a standee of Captain Kirk in surprise. He looked where she was looking.

"Where exactly are we focusing here Kitty?" he asked.

"Doesn't matter, I got it."

"Care to share with the rest of the class?"

"Nope."

"Why the hell am I here again?"

"Because I didn't want to look like a loser and you love free food."

She certainly had him there because they found themselves in a diner twenty minutes later, a small brown bag was tucked safely to Carmilla's side. Will didn't understand why, out of three stores, she finally settled on that but maybe it was an inside joke or something. Whatever, he'd be getting her a gift card. The waitress was in her mid-forties and barely paying attention but the college age hostess had definitely recognized Carmilla and was snapping pictures left and right.

"She's going to sell those pictures to TMZ or some shit," he said.

"Who cares?"

"You will when Mom sees them and finds out you're back at Silas."

She didn't say anything to that, sitting there playing with the ice in her cup, using the straw to create a small whirlpool. She took a deep breath and let it out, her hand going out to brush the bag at her side as if unsure if it had somehow become unanchored from her hip.

"You're the one she'll be bugging, not me," she said.

"Bugging me, about you. It stopped being fun even before it happened, Carmilla."

She raised her eyes to his. Sometimes he could imagine they really were related, that they truly did share genetic material because her eyes were just as dark as his. It was like looking in a mirror sometimes, looking at her. Dark hair, dark eyes, serious brow, they were often told how much they looked alike and giggled, knowing it really wasn't possible.

"You know, when we were younger, I used to wish we were related," he said. "Like that we really could have the same nose like people said."

"My nose is way prettier than yours," she said and he smiled.

"I'm glad we don't though, share a nose or chin or something," he said.

"And why's that Willy Boy?"

"If I said it, you'd make fun of me."

She snorted but didn't respond as their food arrived.

He didn't mind not sharing things like that with her, not anymore. They didn't share hair or skin or eyes or ears or dimples. And it was because they shared none of it that they learned to share other things. They shared secrets and smiles and pain and jokes and tears and laughter to make up for what they lacked in the physical.

Their genetic relation lay where others couldn't see, and Will wasn't about to trade that in exchange for her cheekbones.

----

Danny's phone rang. It was her mother.

"Hey."

"Hello, dear. How was your weekend?"

It was Wednesday, thanks for the urgency.

"Fine, hung out with some friends." Maybe totally messed up my shot with an amazing girl, you know, the usual.

"Good, good…"

This was why Danny rarely called her mother. She hated that stupid little trail off she did after they got through pleasantries and her mother had nothing more to say. Because apparently her mother was incapable of interacting with her beyond purely professional standards.

"Was there something you wanted to…or…?"

"Oh yes, I just-um…Listen, your father and I were thinking of coming up for a visit. Later in the month."

"Oh."

That was unexpected. Unexpected to the point that Danny wasn't sure she even processed it completely by the time her mother started talking again.

"You said you weren't going to come home for Thanksgiving so I figured why not come visit? It'd be nice, don't you think? Your father got off the whole week."

"Yeah, no. That's great. Totally."

"Good. We'll work out details later, but my fifteen is up. I'll call you later?"

"Yeah, sure. Bye."

Well that was the strangest phone call Danny ever particiated in, and she wasn't forgetting that time a man claiming to be the Second Coming and part llama called her asking about health insurance. It wasn't necessarily strange content wise, it was, but the strangest part was how it made her feel. She was…happy?

She never thought she'd use that word when it came to her mother but offering to come visit was like her version of christening a ship. And that ship was Danny's choice to attend Silas.

And the first person she wanted to tell hadn't talked to her since Friday night.

She thought about texting Laura but she had no idea what to say. Laura might be expecting an apology but what was there to apologize for? Sorry I care about you and don't want you to get hurt? She knew Laura was capable, but not nearly as capable as she thought.

She took a walk because she wasn't in the mood for a run but the outside felt like it made a lot more sense than the stuffy bedroom, chilly and grey as it was outside. She walked to the quad and passed longboarders and bikers and those rushing between classes. She thought about what she'd show her parents, the buildings, the town, the people…

If she could just find a way to make it right with Laura, it would be the perfect way to finally be honest about all this with her parents.

Silas wasn't the wrong choice, because how could anything that led me to Laura be wrong?

Speak of the sun, she heard her laugh.

Across the quad, sitting on a curb, was Laura. With Carmilla. They were eating take out from the caf and Laura was laughing at something while Carmilla frowned at the ground. She watched Laura nudge her shoulder and eventually Carmilla cracked a smile but one pointed at the ground that she thought Laura couldn't see, or perhaps hoped she didn't.

Laura's attention on her was rapt as Carmilla's mouth started moving, telling a story, or a joke, or something. Danny tried to forget that Laura apparently ditched the party for a while with Carmilla after huffing off the couch.

Maybe now things would be different without alcohol.

"Hey Hollis," Danny said, taking steps to stand in front of them.

Carmilla was glaring at her, Laura looked like she was trying to pick an emotion.

"Hey Danny," Laura said, politely. Carmilla gave a twitch of a nod. "What's up?"

"Nothing, I just saw you and thought I'd come over and say hi," Danny said. She considered leaving it at that and just texting her or calling her later because it was easy not to look at her, but she wasn't not leaving her in Carmilla's waiting arms, not again. "Well, actually I was wondering if we could talk."

"Um," Laura looked ready to burst some sort cog in her head, jockeying her head between Danny and Carmilla.

"Gotta head back to the room cupcake," Carmilla said, standing up. "Need to clean my hair from the drain or some other thing you keep complaining about."

"Okay but seriously, it's like a whole new head of hair in the drain," Laura said.

"Yeah, yeah. Next you're going to make me use the chore wheel."

Carmilla gave a curt nod to Danny as she passed. How is it this girl always won by doing absolutely nothing at all? Danny needed to learn this trick. In the meantime, she lowered herself to take Carmilla's spot and ignored the way Laura stiffened and kept her attention on the parkour club practicing on a railing across the quad.

"I haven't talked to you since Halloween," Danny said.

"We had class yesterday," she said.

"You know what I mean, Laura."

And Laura sighed, her tight shoulders loosened and she began fiddling her hands together, fingers lacing together and unlacing.

"Well," Laura said. "Did you want to 'check-in'?"

It was sarcasm, and not the fun kind. And it didn't suit Laura now just like it didn't suit her the night of the party. She was clearly pissed though and Danny needed it rectified as soon as possible because she was sure they could be great together if Laura would just give her the chance.

"I mean, Laura my fear was justified. I don't even know this girl," Danny said.

"You. You don't know her? That's what you're going with?" Laura said. "Danny, why does it matter if you know her or not? I know her. And secondary and unimportant: LaFontaine knows her. It was my dorm she was staying in, and she's my friend."

"I just—I care about you Laura, I really do. And you're impulsive, which isn't good or bad, I suppose, but dealing with it can be hard sometimes," Danny said.

"'Dealing with it?' Why are you dealing with it?" she said.

Okay there wasn't even any Jungle Juice this time, how was this still heading so south? Laura was taking this every wrong way.

"I mean—Laura we're—"

"We're what?"

She had a valid point. They weren't, but Danny wanted so bad to be sometimes she forgot. It wasn't a delusion or anything, but everyone got possessive over crushes, right?

"Nothing, well not nothing, but we might be more? You know it too Laura," Danny said.

Laura paused and Danny allowed herself the mental victory at having at least made one irrefutable point.

"Yeah, we could, but Danny I'm—I really like you, I do," she said and Danny's heart leapt. "But I don't need someone hovering over me. I can handle myself. I don't need another dad here, I've already got one calling me nightly from Toronto."

Her heart wasn't leaping anymore. It might not be sinking, but it wasn't soaring. And if something's not going up it might as well be falling.

"Right," Danny said.

"Listen, I have to get back to the room before Carmilla sets something on fire or agrees to write Betty's midterm," Laura said. "But, we can talk more, yeah?"

That was hope. Hope was good. Hope could get resolved in time for her parents' visit.

"Yeah, sure, no problem."

If it was hope then why did it feel like Laura was walking back to where Carmilla waited with a lot more lightness than she did sitting and talking to Danny?

----

Laura was trying to be as not confused as possible. But she was super confused. And for completely weird reasons. What Danny said was fairly straight forward and not anything she didn't already know. The confusion came from how she felt about it.

On the one hand she felt the same irritation a dog might while out on a walk, pulling at their owner. On the other hand, she was very much afraid of whatever shifted between her and Danny because it felt like something was certainly lost. Or at least going to be soon if she kept this up. The third variable in all this was Carmilla. And nothing in particular about her, just Carmilla popping up in places she shouldn't be.

What would Carmilla say?

Maybe Carmilla knows how to deal with this?

If I talk to Carmilla about it…?

And when she stepped back into her room and found Carmill sitting on the windowsill, her first instinct was to ask her about it.

"How was the mini-date with the giantess?" Carmilla asked before she could open her mouth.

"It wasn't a date, we're—I don't know, it's weird," she said.

"Sorry to hear that, cutie."

"Somehow that doesn't sound super convincing."

"Well she is a crap TA…"

Carmilla was smiling and Laura knew she should reprimand her for her meanness but all she could do was smile because Carmilla was being Carmilla and Laura didn't want that to stop any time soon. She liked it.

"Whatever, we have a date withThe Avengers," Laura said and Carmilla groaned.

"I was hoping you forgot."

"Yeah, because we're all going to pretend that there isn't a giant pillow fort in the middle of the room."

It had been their project Sunday morning. Carmilla returned to her place on the floor Saturday night when Betty returned and swore she slept perfectly fine. Laura was less convinced and spent the next few hours of the morning commandeering all extra pillows and blankets she could find to make a suitable hovel for Carmilla to curl up in. They threw some fairy lights into the fort and suddenly everyone benefitted because what college student didn't love a pillow fort?

"Don't you have class?"

"Nope, you're stuck with me for the rest of the day."

"Damn."

She was faking a pout as she got down off the window sill and kicked off her boots. She lowered herself to the ground and crawled under the canopy, fluffing up pillows to lay against. Laura removed her own shoes and jacket and got rid of her backpack in favor of her laptop, sliding into the fort next to Carmilla.

"This one's great," Laura said.

"Yeah, yeah Earth's mightiest heroes, I saw the Superbowl commercials," Carmilla said.

"Who doesn't love heroes?"

Carmilla didn't say anything, she just waved her hand, encouraging Laura to press play.

It was nice to go mindless for a while. She'd seen this movie who knew how many times, and as much fun as it was watching Carmilla go from scowl to glare to frown and back again while watching these movies, sleep sounded lovely right then.

She paused the movie.

"Oh no, make it come back," Carmilla droned boredly.

"Shush."

Carmilla smirked as Laura pulled over an extra chair and perched the laptop on it, pressing play and leaning back into the pillows.

"I wanted my legs back," she said and Carmilla shrugged.

Now that her thighs were laptop free, Laura curled up and into herself. Her blinks became longer and longer as Captain America and Loki fought in Stuttgart. She became coherent again to see the attack on the helicarrier but was out completely before Coulson was stabbed.

When she came back to the movie had clearly been long over because the sounds from her laptop were Iron Man 3; Carmilla must have somehow located it on her digital library. The sky was also much darker than before, if the low light outside her eyelids was any indication.

Laura was so comfortable she considered allowing herself to drift off back asleep as if she never woke until she realized exactly what it was she was using as a pillow. It was breathing and warm and smelled like her own body wash. Carmilla's stomach was under her cheek and her legs were beneath her hand.

Well, this is a thing.

She didn't move. Carmilla seemed to think she was still asleep because she was mumbling commentary under her breath as the movie played. She should just go back to sleep and leave it but how did she end up here? There had been at least a foot between her and Carmilla when she fell asleep. Carmilla was still in her same spot, Laura realized, and she had been the one to move. And all the while Carmilla was pretending she didn't have Laura essentially draped over her abdomen, napping away.

It was very nice and very warm and honestly one of the best cuddles she ever had, even though she was really the only active participant. She ignored thinking about how Danny would flip if she knew, Laura what if she uses a chainsaw to murder you in your sleep? Okay, maybe that was mean and an exaggeration but it wasn't far from the truth.

That's when the door opened.

"Shhh."

Carmilla quickly shushed the intruder and Laura felt a breeze by her head that might be Carmilla pointing to her.

"Oh this is too good," said Betty.

"Don't you fucking dare," Carmilla hissed.

Laura heard the sound of an iPhone camera and felt more than heard, Carmilla groan. That's when she became aware of her heartbeat. It shouldn't amaze her, everyone had heartbeats, but for whatever reason hearing Carmilla's felt like a gift or a reward. It sounded like something not many people got to hear.

But someone else did, didn't they? The mysterious girl who was apparently worth broken knuckles, a broken camera, and an almost arrest...

"What exactly is happening here?" Betty asked, trying to keep quiet.

"She fell asleep in the middle of The Revengers," Carmilla said.

It's Avengers! Laura almost didn't keep it inside.

"I was going to ask if anyone wanted dinner but I don't want to interrupt cuddle time over here," Betty said.

"This is not cuddling, this is me being shamelessly used as a human pillow."

"Yeah, pretty willingly it looks like."

Carmilla let out some sort of weird growl and Laura could hear her heartbeat pick up for a brief second, like a spike and then a drop. She had to keep from smiling into the fabric of Carmilla's stomach.

----

It was exactly two days before the surprise party. And Carmilla refused to tell LaFontaine what she got Laura as a gift so now they were left to gamble on a plethora of Doctor Who and Harry Potter merchandise.

"I highly doubt that Carmilla would put forth the effort to get her something HP or Doctor Who," J.P. said.

Maybe the lab wasn't the most ethical place to be having this conversation or for LaFontaine to be checking the delivery time on their gift, but it certainly felt a lot less heavy than a dorm room full of silence and passive aggressive sighs.

"It's more the knowledge she lacks than the effort and knowledge is easily obtainable."

"Somehow I doubt Carmilla bought her The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook."

He was right of course. It wasn't up Carmilla's alley at all. Well, cooking wasn't really Laura's thing either, but it had Harry Potter written on the front and that's probably all that matter to Laura. J.P. had gone a similar root but instead it was some Doctor Who comic with the Tenth Doctor because apparently there was a difference and apparently Laura obsessed over number 10.

It could be worse, at least they didn't all have to speak Klingon or something.

"Maybe the party is her gift, it was her idea after all," he said.

LaFontaine considered that while carefully dipping the tweezers into the coagulated solution and pulled out a very small, beaded strand resembling a very thin, clear strand of hair.

"Never ceases to amaze me," he added. "Everything that that strawberry ever was or ever could be is contained in that thing sitting in your tweezers."

"I'd like to hope it's a little more complicated," LaFontaine said.

"Why's that?"

LaFontaine carefully laid the strand down onto the tray where J.P. carefully prepped it for examination under the nearby microscope.

"Because we have DNA too and we're definitely more complicated," they said.

They stepped back from the sample and sat on a stool with a notebook, ready to write down whatever J.P. said as he examined the DNA.

"You want to be complicated?" he asked, eyes in the viewer.

"Ironically, I think I kind of like it," they said. "I didn't, for a long time. And maybe I still don't but, I don't know. Pulling out DNA out of things is easy. And I don't think I'm meant to be easy."

J.P. snorted and LaFontaine smiled, shrugging at the unfortunate use of words. He looked up from the microscope though and turned to face them.

"And why's that?"

"Because if I was meant to do the easy thing, my name would still be Susan."

He smiled. Nodded, and went back to the samples.

J.P. was a very good listener. He listened to a lot in fact, and LaFontaine was waiting for the opportunity to return the favor but for all is listening her barely opened his mouth unprompted. And they still had no idea what the J or P stood for. They wanted to ask, of course they did, but they knew better than most about prying and the pain that came with it. Not that J.P.'s past had to be painful or that his life was a secret for negative reasons, but then again people with nothing to hide were much more open books.

"Thanks, by the way," LaFontaine said.

"For what?" he asked.

"You're a cool dude."

"Well, thank you."

He even thanked them for thanking him. They really needed to put in work into figuring him out. It would be a good project to keep their mind off of Perry since nights spent in the lounge were getting more and more uncomfortable.

----

C Karnstein (2:01PM): We're on our way back. Don't suck at this.

LaF (2:03PM): What the heck does that even mean? We're ready btw.

Carmilla locked her phone and looked at Laura who was still on the phone with her dad. In all honesty the plan to get her out of the room probably didn't need to be so complicated considering Mr. Hollis called her like 8 times today, it was plenty distraction. But who didn't love an excuse to read Taco Bell menus in German?

"Yes dad, yeah," she said. She pouted at Carmilla. "Yeah, no my friend Carm took me out to lunch."

Carm? Had she called her that before? Carmilla let it roll around in her head for a minute while Laura talked to her dad about what sounded like bear spray. There were worse things she could be called, she supposed.

"Yes dad, I will. Okay? I'll talk to you tomorrow. Bye."

Laura hung up and came trotting back to where Carmilla stood with an apologetic look.

"Sorry," she said.

"No problem, cutie. Shall we?"

Laura nodded and followed Carmilla was they walked back towards campus. It began to rain and Carmilla really wished she had a roof over her head but she wasn't about to ask Laura into a car after giving her an uplifting speech about it a week prior. So rain and unwanted exercise it was as they walked. The things I do to be a good person, gosh.

"Thanks for lunch," Laura said.

"Thank me when we're dry."

Carmilla felt her phone vibrate and checked it for possible signs of catastrophe from LaFontaine and instead found a message from Rick reminding her for the nth time to be in Budapest by blah blah time on blah blah day next week. It sucked really, being dragged back into the real and stupid world after a week of pillow forts and dorm rooms and parties.

And Laura.

That was a new development though. It started somewhere around the time she decided to use Carmilla as a human pillow. The initial physical contact was a shock but the worst part was how content it all felt. And how fucking domestic. And how it made Carmilla uncomfortable for reasons that definitely weren't bad. She kind of liked the way her heart did a bit of a jump. The excitement of it wasn't something she felt in a long time.

Laura was all sorts of safety and nice and Carmilla was loathe to leave that.

Especially since she'd avoided that bottle of pills nearly all week. Laura's voice kept her focused and Laura's smile kept her happy. She really needed to make friends more often because she was, in all honesty, terrified to go back to being alone and on the road.

"Isn't it luck or something to have rain on your birthday?" Laura asked.

"No, that's your wedding."

"Well, I'm making it a rule today. Lucky 19."

"Whatever you say, cupcake."

The entered the door to the building in discomfort. Their clothes were stuck to them like cement and wherever it could get free, water was dripping on the floor. It was gross and annoying and Carmilla desired nothing more than to put sweatpants on and lay in bed.

C Karnstein (2:23PM): We're in the building.

She hoped that was enough warning as they opened the stairwell door into floor three and Carmilla followed lazily as Laura walked down the hall and removed her key. A twist of the lock and push on the wood.

"Surprise!"

Laura jumped back and right into Carmilla who stepped forward at an unfortunate time.

Carmilla ignored whatever that twitch was in her lungs at Laura's body, for a brief moment, full length against her own.

"Happy birthday, Laura," Carmilla whispered in her ear, chin brushing her shoulder, while their bodies were still flush and then quickly pulled back and stepped around her.

"Are you guys serious?" Laura said.

"No, you're being Punk'd, we're actually going to beat you up for your birthday instead," LaFontaine said.

Will and Kirsch were already digging into the makeshift refreshment table, shocker. Perry was doing her best to ward them off of her brownies but gave up in favor of greeting Laura. J.P. had a party blower still in his mouth and making an obnoxious honking sound while Betty did her best to reangled her party hat.

"Happy birthday, Laura," Danny said with a smile.

Oh right, she was here.

Laura gained her bearings and smiled wide. It was crazy pretty and basically blocked out the sound of rain pattering on the window. The others must have felt it too because they were smiling and laughing and jumping right into conversation with her but Carmilla crawled up on Laura's bed and crossed her legs in the corner. From here it was like Laura's smile was quiet and just for her, even though she wasn't looking at her at all.

Will dropped down next to her and offered a brownie.

"Am I finally going to find out your exciting mystery gift?" he asked, mouth full of brownie.

"Only if you learn to close your mouth when you chew."

Her eyes were still on the center of the party and Carmilla felt Will bump her shoulder with his own.

"Careful Kitty, I think you just might have heart eyes," he said.

"Doubtful."

That wasn't it. He'd just never seen her around an actual friend. She'd actually never seen herself around an actual friend. The fluttering in her stomach was for that. That's all it was.

Throughout the party Carmilla remained on the bed, making dear friends with Laura's yellow pillow while she filtered through talking to people. Will eventually got up to get more food and he and Kirsch had a competition to see who could fit the most cookies in their mouth. Carmilla really didn't even care that she'd gone unnoticed and forgotten in the corner, she didn't mind being a fly on the wall.

She noticed a lot that way. Like Danny doing everything possible to stay within a foot of Laura, Betty doing her best to hit on Kirsch and maybe even her brother, LaFontaine and Perry existing on completely other sides of the room and not once making eye contact.

"It was Carmilla's idea actually," LaFontaine said and cocktail party phenomenon worked like a charm because Carmilla's hear was now trained on that conversation. She didn't look up until the room quieted down and she felt multiple eyes on her.

"Happy birthday," she said with a shrug and did not miss Danny's absolute glare.

Gee, sorry I did something nice. Won't steal your thunder next time, Giving Tree.

"Carm…"

Okay, apparently that was sticking. She shot her brother a look before he could even comment and the grin on his face told her he was about to.

"I think it's time for presents," Carmilla said, desperate to divert attention.

Everyone began shuffling but Carmilla felt a pair of eyes stay on her and she was afraid to look up and confirm her suspicions of who the gaze belonged to. She busied herself with getting up and retrieving her own gift. The eyes were following her.

"From moi," said LaFontaine and Carmilla finally looked up to find Laura was now looking at her gift.

Some Harry Potter or something book. Cool. The Floor Don had gotten her some super fancy pen with her initials in it. Close to Carmilla's gift, but not the same, good. Danny got her a copy of Paradise Lost and rambled something about marking her favorite passages and stuff throughout. Carmilla tried not to gag (or focus on how wrong the analysis in there probably was). J.P. had gotten her a Doctor Who. Kirsch's gift was a copy of Beowulf that apparently bore some sort of inside joke level of significance and Will got her an Amazon gift card.

"One more I think," LaFontaine said, turning to Carmilla.

The eyes again were on her and Carmilla kept her head down as she got up and walked over to Laura, replacing LaF's vacant spot next to her on Betty's bed. She quietly handed her the bag and kept her eyes trained on her hands.

Okay but who the hell was she right now? Too many nerves for a damn birthday gift.

Laura gasped when she pulled out the blue notebook.

"It's that Doctor Who thing the police box thing," Carmilla said quickly. Are you fucking twelve, Karnstein? "You said it was like 'bigger on the inside' or something so I figured you could fill up the inside of that. Make it as big as you want."

Wooooow, you are the corniest. Time to just bury yourself in a hole right now. Sorry, Rick, have to cancel the tour because I turned into a sap and I need to die of embarrassment.

Laura was looking at her again and this time she forced herself to make eye contact because it was just going to be awkward at this proximity if she didn't.

Laura had gold flecks in her eyes. That was nice. Wait, no. Gifts, birthday party, a room full of people. Cool and disaffected, be cool and disaffected. But that went out the window when Laura, quite without warning, closed the miniscule space between them with a light kiss to her cheek.

The room might have done a collective gasp or maybe Carmilla imagined it, but there was enough tension that it could very well have happened. She was aware of her own slightly ajar mouth and big round eyes. Somehow she didn't think Will was laughing at her now.

"Thanks," Laura mumbled.

Carmilla imagined there must be a burn in the shape of Laura's lips on her cheek. And it lingered there the rest of the party, while Carmilla returned to perching in the quiet, avoiding Laura's eyes which she knew were searching for her from time to time. There was cake and more food and even a bottle of champaign that got everywhere. Carmilla stayed away from it while Laura and her friend drank, pretending to take part in the toast. Laura smiled at her then and Carmilla winked, taking a sip of the soda in her cup.

People began to slowly shuffle out, citing homework or discussion board posts or reading. Perry hung back to help clean while LaFontaine all but vanished, J.P. in tow. Danny offered to hang around to help with some sort of reading thing from their class but Laura insisted she wasn't doing any homework the rest of her birthday night. Will and Kirsch escaped with hoards of leftover food and alcohol. And when it was just Laura, and Betty, and her, the roommate made some sort of excuse to go do something that Carmilla didn't buy for a second.

It wouldn't be weird if everyone stopped making it weird.

Laura looked up a few times to Carmilla, like she was going to say thank you again but couldn't get it out. Carmilla was happy about that. Another thank you would replace the memory of the first and she never wanted to forget that.

"For someone who's super messy and has awful sleeping habits," Laura said. "Having you around for a week was, pretty awesome."

"Yeah, yeah I know. I'll clean the shower drain before I leave tomorrow and do my best not to steal that pillow, no need to bribe," Carmilla said, tossing an excess of wrapping paper.

"I mean it, I'm going to miss you."

"Well I am worth missing."

"You know, you can let nice moments be nice instead of hiding underneath all that sarcasm."

Carmilla smiled to herself and lifted her eyes to see Laura's face matching her own. She eyed the smile and imagined the shape forever branded on her right cheek.

"Noted."

Laura eventually dropped her smile (and red face) to organize her gifts in a pile. Carmilla pretended to be busy shoving down the contents of the trashcan (which, honestly, didn't require all that much pretending because damn could Laura's friends make a mess). Why was she helping clean up again? Is this what the hotel staff felt like after she left rooms?

"Hey Carm?"

Yep, that was definitely hanging around now.

"Yeah?"

"My phone is closer to fossil than technology, do you think we could use yours to take a picture?"

"Sure."

Carmilla dislodged her foot from stamping down on the trash and walked over, phone sliding out of her back pocket. She held it out to Laura who took it gingerly and unlocked it, tapping until she got to the camera. She sat down on the bed and patted for Carmilla to follow suit. Oh, it was a selfie. Okay, cool. Carmilla continued pretending her cheek wasn't burning again with the indent of Laura's lips.

"Smile," Laura commanded, hoping the camera out, their images on the screen.

"I'm not a smiler."

Laura sighed and turned to face her.

"One last birthday gift," Laura said and Carmilla made a big show of sighing and groaning as she formed her mouth into a smile, the echo of her on the phone screen copied her movements out of the corner of her eye. After it was done, Laura told her to text it to her.

Later that night, Carmilla went through the photos and saw that Laura had taken quite a few before they finally posed for the last one which was all smiles. The ones before that were a capture of Laura and her simply looking at each other, mid conversation about Carmilla smiling. Laura's eyes didn't leave her through all the pictures and had the same intensity she saw when Laura reread her favorite Harry Potter book earlier in the week. Intensity and light, like a mirror sat behind her irises and reflected everything back.

Carmilla chose to only send Laura the posing selfie, both sets of eyes on the camera. The one with Carmilla fighting a smile and looking at the ground while Laura looked at her became her own wallpaper.

Chapter Text

And I don't want the world to see me, because I don't think that they'd understand, when everything's meant to be broken I just want you to know how I am...

--

"You're full of crap but that's okay," Laura said. Her focus was on the notebook and on the fast scribbles across the ledgers as she read the red ink notes on her midterm draft.

Excellent subject matter.

Elaborate this section.

Consider cutting this sentence.

And on it went. Prof. Conchrane had been impressed with her "moxy" to go out and find something beyond a drive thru employee. If only she knew the half of it. Hidden beneath the pages was the original interview, the sound file still on her computer. She should delete those soon, but she wanted to comb the normal parts for anything useful.

"Which one of us actually read Farewell to Arms?" Carmilla said on the computer screen. Her focus was likewise averted to the secondary laptop, just off screen, where Laura knew a ridiculous array of soundbites and producing software spoke to Carmilla in a language she could only hope to maybe one day understand.

Carmilla warned her the first time they did this that she could totally get black bagged by people from the record company for listening to her mixing demos. Laura rolled her eyes and responded that Carmilla's music just wasn't her type to sell on the black market.

"Just because you read it does not mean you can make completely unfounded assertions about the author," Laura said.

"It's not unfounded, no one acts like that big of a frat boy macho man without feeling insecure about something, cutie.

"It's conspiracy theory then."

"Oh keep your buzzwords out of this debate, dirty tactic Hollis."

Laura snorted a little bit, looking up from her paper for a moment to wink at Carmilla who also happened to look up at the monitor just in time to catch it. Laura dropped back down fast as she felt something swell underneath her ribs and her face heat up.

"As fun as you weirdos are," came a voice from across the room. "Can date night vacate to the lounge so I can sleep now."

"It's not a date," Laura said, turning around fast, putting her back to Carmilla and hoping she didn't catch it.

"Oh my god, not the point, just let a girl sleep," Betty groaned, flopping over on her bed.

"I need to actually work on this anyway, cupcake," Carmilla said. "Rick wants this demo tomorrow before my mic check."

Laura swiveled back to face the computer.

"Right, well, yeah go work on that."

"Yes ma'am."

"We're still on for Thanksgiving right? You know the fake American one?"

"Keep talking like that and we won't be."

"Goodnight, Carm.

Carmilla gave a mock salute and mumbled something as she ended the call that sounded suspiciously like goodnight Laura but she wasn't about to get her stomach excited for no reason. Wait, excited?

"You two are gross," Betty said into her pillow. "Can you date already?"

"Oh my gosh, not every girl I meet is a potential relationship," Laura said. "That's a super damaging—"

"Yeah, yeah. Just maybe get that Taylor Swift song out of your head every time you look at her."

Betty was dropping off into sleep as Laura put in her headphones and clicked on music. Not Taylor Swift. Because there was no song, and there was no longing looks. In fact there was barely any looks. Because, you know, virtual communication and countries separating them.

Separating them…

Why had she put it like that?

Separate suggests a default togetherness. Which there was not. Carmilla was an excellent friend, a very, very good one in fact. She missed her and talked to her as often as possible. But beyond that there was nothing. Nope. Nada.

Was that because Carmilla was hooking up with roadies and hotel staff? Laura would assume at first glance she was very much that type but not once while she was visiting a few weeks ago did she pursue anything. And Laura had seen she had Tinder on her phone.

But she needed to get off this topic because the idea of Carmilla getting whispered to and slipped numbers made something growl inside Laura's stomach, and not the I pulled an all-nighter and have eaten nothing for 12 hours kind of growl. She wasn't possessive, her friends could have any number of significant others or sexual partners (well preferably not all at the same time). And Carmilla probably had before.

Why did that hurt? Why did admitting that in her head suddenly depress her?

"Betty?" Laura asked.

Betty was a rock on her bed. No help then. Laura sighed and tried focusing on the interview transcript and all the red edit marks. But Carmilla's name popped off the page like the letters had been doused in glow sticks.

She slammed the notebook shut and sat back, cringing at the massive squeak of the chair. Betty was snoring though. She got up and decided to reheat her cocoa out in the lounge to avoid making any more noise in the room and maybe throwing on some ridiculous late night Austrian infomercial.

As usual, the lounge was occupied by LaFontaine. This time they were on their computer quite casually, music lightly playing, and some online game on the screen. Okay maybe no so casual because they looked ready to kill a man, or a pixel in-game goblin.

"Hey LaF," Laura said, walking behind them to the counter.

"Hey, L, how's the article?" they grunted, slamming down on the spacebar like their life depended on it.

"Hopefully good enough that I don't need to look at it again for at least 36 hours," Laura said, hitting buttons on the microwave. "So everyone's having a raging Saturday night then."

Laura nodded to the computer and LaFontaine shrugged.

"J.P. said if I get him in best 2 out of 3 he'd take the Bolivian fungus samples on Monday," they said.

"My mistake, your night is wild."

"Laugh it up, no one wants to go near those samples."

Laura did laugh as the microwave dinged and she opened it to a newly steaming cup of cocoa. She settled into the loveseat across the coffee table and watched LaFontaine's furrowed brows and sudden bursts of aggression as they did their best to completely destroy their keyboard.

"Hey, LaF?" Laura said, looking at her nails.

"Yeah?"

"Can I ask you something?"

"Shoot."

Some sort of explosion came from the monitor and they whistled in victory.

"I'm kind of confused about something."

LaFontaine looked up from the monitor, playing some victorious sounding music. They leaned forward, placing the computer on the table and sitting back up to scoot towards Laura. Nope, the attention was less fun, Laura hoped they would go back to the game.

"I'm not hearing the question," they said, concern replaced bloodlust.

"I'm not even sure I have one," Laura said. "I guess sometimes Betty just gets in my head or something."

"About?"

"Stuff."

"What kind of stuff are we talking?"

"Just…do you think Carmilla hooks up with a bunch of people when she's on tour?"

The first look they gave her was confusion, because that was a super unrelated topic. At least it seemed that way until Laura watched in horror as they put it together and the confusion built itself into a smirk block by block until their face was the picture of shit-eating grin.

"Are you…do you-?"

"No, Betty is just in my head," Laura said.

"Would you care if she was hooking up?" LaFontaine asked.

She opened her mouth to immediately say "no" but absolutely nothing came out of her mouth. Oh, you wanted to flat out lie? You're no good at that. Because it would be a lie, at least a little bit.

"I just worry about her."

"That is complete bullshit but okay."

They leaned back and crossed their arms. The condescending smile was gone but they still sat there acting like they knew something she didn't and it was starting to irritate her.

"I'm serious," Laura said. "She's…she can be sensitive and can easily say way too much, which is usually my department, and she doesn't need someone pulling at the wrong threads. And she needs—"

"You to be the only one who gets to be close enough to hurt her?"

The air wasn't dead between them, it was lit up because Laura was suddenly slammed with a wave of fear like a freight train. Alarm bells were going off in her head because this wasn't coming out correctly and LaFontaine was taking it wrong but their sentence played over and over in her head. And this is so not what any of this was.

"I don't want to hurt her," was all Laura could mumble back, trying to rearrange the Jenga tumble of her thoughts enough to deny the second half of that accusation.

"No, I think you don't at all."

They were looking serious now, looking at Laura and making calculations in their head, putting together the anatomy of a crush. No. Not crush. She was tired and it was late and she knew for a fact serotonin levels or dopamine or something was equal late at night to when you've had one too many drunks so it was probably just that.

She was just drunk on exhaustion and just got done talking to Carmilla. It was basically the same as accidentally having a kissing dream about your best friend after getting off the phone with them at 4am.

"You have a point though," they said. "She definitely doesn't need people prying."

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing, I just kind of noticed she's guarded."

They looked down and fidgeted. Weird. But whatever, they agreed at least. Kind of? This conversation was kind of going in circles in Laura's head. And she was desperate to get out of those loops and sorry she even asked in the first place.

"How many times have you spent the night out here?" Laura asked.

"A few."

"LaFontaine."

The fidgeting broke and they sighed. They leaned forward to shut the lid to their laptop and pulled it onto their lap.

"I just get uncomfortable in the room is all, unless she's asleep," they said.

"LaF…"

"Yeah I know, she's my best friend and believe me I've done all the inner monologues," they said. "I'll figure something out."

They shouldn't have to be the one to figure it out. That was Laura's first thought anyway. LaFontaine had done enough thinking for twenty people. But she couldn't bring herself to interject, again. LaFontaine's warning in Vienna still buzzed in her head and Carmilla more than once agreed that she shouldn't go and do something stupid but seeing this was painful.

"Well, you're welcome over in 307," Laura said. "Whenever. Betty gets it."

"Thanks."

LaFontaine's smile was tight and thin but they nodded and stood up and Laura followed suit with her cocoa.

"I'll see you in the morning, crushes-on-rockstars."

"I do not—"

"Goodnight Laura."

----

The world was positively spinning. He wasn't poetic and he'd never been one to accidently prove freshman clichés, but damn was he feeling every shift of the Earth through fucking space as it spiraled around the sun. Was everyone else feeling this? Had he discovered something about the world no one else knew? Was he the next Newton?

No. He was really, super, smashed.

But three straight cups of vodka would do that to you. Theo had warned him ("I mean it bro, as your future chapter president you have to listen to me…") the taste would be only slightly better than drinking gasoline, but after the first cup it hit his numb tongue tastelessly.

"Throw some OJ in there dude," Theo said on the second cup.

"Mixers are for the weak."

Kirsch hi-fived him for that one and so the night went. Music was thudding and rattling every part of the house. If anything could have been knocked over it already was or hidden away behind the caution tape on the stairs and the giant handwritten sign saying "IF YOU DON'T LIVE HERE, NO UPSTAIRS".

They usually didn't go to house parties. It was generally against standards to go as an official group to "civilian" parties or uncharted social groups. But it was just Will and Kirsch and a sprinkling of other guys from the house who ducked out of the mixer with the American sorority.

"Dude, we should play some 90s shit," one of the brothers yelled and he and Theo ran off to find the source of the Spotify playlist yelling some N'Sync song.

"Bro, did your mom get off your ass?" Kirsch asked, throwing back the remainder of his Molson's bottle.

"Well she's not on it now, at least my phone is on silent," Will laughed.

His mother called earlier in the day and asked if he planned to come home for Thanksgiving and didn't take kindly at all to being told Silas didn't observe American national holidays and he wouldn't have off for it.

"So all of my children are abandoning me then."

He didn't have the energy to try and convince her otherwise especially when he knew all she wanted was to then be showered with compliments and apologies and promises that he'd be coming home. He wasn't going to lie to his mother though.

So they ended up here, with a desire to be as drunk as possible and hidden from the world.

"We should play flip cup," Kirsch said.

"Dude, my sister plays flip cup."

"So?"

"So it's a girls game."

"Bro, that's like, sexist or something."

"You really need to stop hanging out with Laura."

"You just suck at it."

So they played. And Will did suck at it (Carmilla was the reigning champion of every game they played). They moved onto beer pong and danced and Will got the number of the girl who had practically grinded on top of him on the dancefloor. And everything was going awesome.

Then 3am hit.

Nothing good ever happened to anyone at 3am.

A very familiar voice flooded the room and Will knew this melody in his sleep and backwards. The guitar riffs never changed and her voice still sounded like black silk and the grungiest machine in existence.

I miss you…

That was a downer. What the hell Theo? This wasn't N'Sync. This was torture.

Everything about the song was heightened in his head. Every breath she took. Every time she ghosted the edge of tears but turned it into a soaring note. Every crack of the voice and every time her fingers lifted off the strings to work out a turn in the song, a deepening of the story Will knew too much of.

That fucking bitch Ell.

That was probably sexist or some shit too, or maybe he'd been hanging out with Laura too much as well, but it was true. At least that's how he pictured it in his head, even if he knew it hadn't been her fault and it hadn't been Carmilla's. But the alternative was his mother…

No, she broke his sister's heart, he wouldn't let a ghost tear apart his family in his head. The alcohol was getting less fun.

"Yo, your sister is awesome bro," Kirsch said. "A downer, but like, really good."

"Yeah," Will said.

"Tell her sorry, for like, whatever hurt her or anything, bad break up or some shit," Kirsch said, cracking off the cap to another beer.

Tell her sorry. Kirsch was probably onto something there. He should call her, just say hi or something, just a few words. She got lonely on the road sometimes and it was Saturday night. No one should be alone. Our maybe that was Christmas? Whatever, she was his sister and he should say hi.

"You sound fucking lit."

"Normal people say hi, Kitty."

"How many drinks have you had?"

"Oh my god, I called to say hi."

"Hi. Now go eat a pizza and guzzle some water."

He rolled his eyes but she did kind of have a point, his stomach was starting to catch up with that spinning world he noticed earlier. His options were only chips though. Better than nothing. He shoved they in his mouth in two quick handfuls, crunching down on them hard.

"Can you please start drunk dialing a significant other like a normal person? My minutes aren't unlimited."

"I wanted to say something to you."

"Then let's haul ass, I actually want to go to bed early tonight"

"It's 3am."

"And?"

He walked outside onto the front porch and then out into the lawn when he walked into a couple going hard against one of the patio chairs. The beginning of winter was in full force now, there was a dusting of snow on the grass and his breath was pooling out of his mouth in tufts of frost like a dragon might breathe fire. The beer sweater was keeping out most of the cold, at least until his fingers started going numb.

"You still there?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

"Okay well, this is important and like, you should know and it's been kind of bugging me for a while and your song came on the stereo at the party and it all just kind of hit me, you know?"

"What is it William?"

He wasn't sure at what point she hung up on him. It was definitely after she heard him say the words "drunk", "told someone", and "Ell".

----

Her heartbeat was drumming the rhythm of a panic switch but no emergency relief ever came even though the sirens kept going on and on and on. Where was she? A hotel room. Okay good. What was the date? Sometime in November, specifics unimportant. Good enough. What happened?

Her brother betrayed her.

It was an accident, it was an accident, it was an accident. He was drunk and these things happened. Fuck, look how her first meeting with Laura went because she had one (or 3) too many. But, like then, she usually did them to herself. He was her brother, her only friend. She was his shield and sometimes he was her security blanket.

Her mother did this. Their mother turned him against her.

That didn't even make sense. She had nothing to do with it. But she had everything to do with it. This was her fault. Ell was gone because of her. And if she found out about Laura and Silas, she'd make that go away too. And Will was spilling her guts at college parties.

She should call Laura.

When had she swallowed three pills?

It was late though.

The tequila did a magic trick where it disappeared right before her eyes.

She wanted to text but her fingers were fumbling too much.

Was this a panic attack? It might be. Oh shit. Oh shit. Wait admitting it was a panic attack was like the worst thing you could do right? It might be because her chest only wound up tighter and tighter and no amount of breathing or—there went another pill—drinks made it loosen up.

Laura couldn't see her like this or hear her. She had an image of her, she wouldn't shatter it, she couldn't lose it. She needed Laura.

But she wanted to hear her voice so badly. She wanted to hug that fucking yellow pillow and be in that dorm room and pretend there was a world where she'd been there the whole time, Laura's roommate, Laura's friend, Laura's…

Oh god, that was something she'd deal with in the morning.

But for right now, she settled for the first L that popped up in her contacts.

"Do you have any idea what time it is?"

"I have to talk to someone."

There was a shuffle on the other end as they sat up or stood up or something.

"What's wrong?"

"The world is kind of numb or something and, shit my heart is going faster than my drummer. I should fire him."

"Carmilla, listen to me carefully, okay? Do you need to go to the hospital?"

"Probably not, it's in my head. I mean it's in my stomach too obviously, but I just needed to talk to a person and I wanted it to be Laura but…"

"Just breath okay? Are you alone?"

"Yes, that's why I said I needed to talk to someone, asshole."

Her fuse was short, she knew that. But she kind of liked it, liked seeing red and having something to yell at, she could almost full her fists hit the punching bag.

Like her fists hit the cameraman.

Fuck.

She saw it, she saw it over and over. Her hand ached, her knuckles must have rebroken at the memory.

"Carmilla, tell me about how much you hate Doctor Who."

"What?"

Now who was high?

"Just do it."

"It's dumb and sentimental and unrealistic. And not because of that alien crap because, whatever, suspension of disbelief. But who the fuck can run around the universe without a gun and refuse to hurt anyone and come out of it all alive?"

Laura probably could. Why wasn't she talking to her?

"Good. Now tell me about a book or something."

"Laura's reading The Metamorphosis and completely misunderstand the point but I think that's because she doesn't understand what it feels like to be alone. She has so many friends…"

They went on like that for hours. LaFontaine kept asking questions and Carmilla kept rambling. The sun was up and Carmilla fell asleep with a "thank you" whisping across her lips.

----

They only slept for an hour or two at best, collapsing back into their room just after sunrise when they were sure Carmilla was safe and calmed down. Confusion didn't even begin to cover the emotions they felt in regards to whatever the hell happened last night. Fear was in their somewhere, and sympathy and pity.

But now it was exhaustion at waking up only a few hours later to bright sunlight and the clanking of Perry on her keyboard as she worked. Their first thought was to pretend to be asleep for as long as it took to actually be asleep again.

Five minutes of that told them it wasn't happening though, so they checked their phone and sent Carmilla a text, asking for an update and trying to remind themselves she'd probably be asleep until 3pm. Lucky jerk. She needed it more than them so, there ya go universe.

They got up. Perry stopped typing for two seconds, then resumed, back still to them.

They walked into the bathroom, ignoring the view of her curly hair in the periphery.

They brushed their teeth and ran fingers through their hair and did as much as possible to stall the inevitable journey back out into the room. But there was a grace period before Perry assumed they died or passed out in the bathroom and the threshold was approaching fast.

"Are you going to be crashing in the lounge forever now?" Perry asked from the desk, not turning around, as LaFontaine emerged.

"You realize I just woke up from my own bed right?" they said.

"You barely do that anymore."

"Well, maybe I feel uncomfortable in here."

That got Perry right away. If nothing else, she wanted to cultivate an idea of floor openness and acceptance. So it was a shame that her own self image as a Floor Don got more a reaction than LaFontaine's absences.

"LaFontaine," she said. So the preferred name was back then? "I'm sorry, okay? I shouldn't have yelled at you."

"And?"

She looked confused and her lip pouted ever so slightly.

"And what?"

"How about the part where you basically refused to see any of this from my point of view?" they said. "Laura understands it, J.P. understands, hell even Carmilla gets it."

"Well they didn't know you for so long as I did, try to understand," Perry said, standing up. "It's an adjustment period for me. Did I think it was a phase when it started? Honestly, yes. I understand now that it's not going away though and I'm doing my best to cope—"

"'Cope' is not the word you should be using Perr," they said.

She closed her eyes and sighed, moving over to sit on her bed. She rubbed her a face a good bit, maybe trying to knock out sleep or stress, because she looked up a bit more relaxed but still without a smile.

"I know, believe me I do know," Perry said. "I'm sorry I haven't been taking this well, and I am trying. It probably doesn't look like it but I actually label made 'LaFontaine' onto all your stuff in the fridge."

Perry had a habit of serving as the communal fridge sentry. Since they were kids she'd rave about how her father would eat her leftovers or yogurt flavors or milk. The label maker she got that Hanukkah had been a gift for everyone really.

And Perry was marking their food for them to make sure it didn't get eaten? That was pretty sweet. They didn't forgive her, but something inside their stomach softened.

"Thank you," they mumbled, moving to sit on their own bed, across from Perry's.

"I'm working through it, okay? I just need a little bit more time."

LaFontaine nodded. It didn't solve anything, really. All it did was defuse the silence which they suspected had been Perry's goal all along and now that she got what she wanted, they were anxious to see what she actually made of these promises. She was up and back to her computer again, typing much less furiously.

Their phone buzzed with a text from Carmilla that was only mostly coherent thanking them. A few minutes later another one came in reminding them their assurance that Laura would not be told.

"Hey Perr?"

Oh this was going to be a bad idea.

"Yeah?"

"What do you think about Carmilla?"

Once again, the chair swiveled back around.

"I think she's fairly rough and blunt but she's never seemed purposely malicious."

"What do you think about her…in relation to Laura?"

Perry's eyebrows went straight up towards the barely contained curls of her hairline. She used her feet to pull the chair forward.

"Are they…?" she asked.

"I don't think so. But there is a giant flashing 'yet' on that statement," they said. "I just, I don't want to use the word 'dangerous' or anything, but she seems kind of shifty right?"

Perry pursed her lips thinking about it for a seconds. LaFontaine wasn't looking for reasons to tell Carmilla to stay away, that wasn't their goal. But Laura would be heartbroken if she knew and heard what happened to Carmilla last night.

"I think she is incapable of hurting Laura," Perry said. "If that's what you mean. Well, at the very least she seems unlikely to do it on purpose."

"You think she likes Laura?"

Another moment of ponder on Perry's part.

"I think, if nothing else, she feels a strong attachment to her and I don't think she has many of those so she'd be adamant about preserving it."

Perry's two years of psych classes were seriously doing a number on her but she had a point. Still, the idea that Carmilla would avoid Laura pain just to keep her in her life left a bad taste in their mouth. But they reminded themselves of all the times they caught Carmilla smiling at Laura when the latter was turned away or the completely heartfelt and disgustingly sappy gift she gave her for her birthday.

No, Carmilla would not hurt Laura.

Not on purpose anyway.

----

The weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving might have flown by better if Danny had heard at all from Laura. They saw each other in class and recitation, she called on her by name when her hand was up and still left smiley faces on her papers as she graded them. Laura would wave when she saw her on campus but their time of dinner or lunch dates was over.

Now it was November 25th and she was pacing the lobby of the LeFanu Building trying to kill whatever time was left to drag before her parents arrived on campus tomorrow.

The professors had been kind about her taking off the next couple of days, many of them were used to foreign kids claiming some kind of national holiday back home and taking a day or two. So her natural disasters lecture was the last thing she had to get through before three days of stress in a very different form.

The class before began to file out of the lecture hall slowly and the hall quickly became crowded between the students waiting to get in and the ones sadly forcing themselves to go in.

"Hey Lawrence," said a male voice.

Danny turned and saw Kirsch. Oh right, he was in the class too. That is, when he bothered to show up for it.

"Hello Kirsch," she said, not looking at him.

"What's up?" he asked, stepping beside her to watch the stream of students.

"Class," she said.

She was really not up for fourth grade reading level sentences and "bro" punctuating every sentence. She took a step forward as soon as a gap appeared and moved away from Kirsch. She slipped between bodies, which was hard to do when she was a foot taller than many of them, and found an opening into the room and took the first seat she could find.

She wasn't normally one for sitting in the back and doing nothing, but today this class was an obligation and nothing more. Not that learning about volcanos in New Zealand wasn't cool or anything, but ice cream and wine back at the SummerSoc house sounded a lot more appealing right now.

"Didn't take you for a sit in the back person," Kirsch said when he rejoined her, unfortunately taking the seat next to her.

"There are over 85 seats in this lecture hall and you have to sit right next to me?" she said.

He paused, bag hanging in midair as she caught him trying to put it down. He looked confused, then he frowned, then he stood up.

"Right, sorry."

She immediately regretted it as he moved five seats away and dropped into his chair. Out of all the boys she put up with at school, Kirsch was certainly the kindest. He was a frat boy hailing from a house of sexist thoughts and ridiculous, drunken chants and even Laura of all people considered him a friend.

She should be nicer to him. After all, she had little going for her in the department of friends outside of SummerSoc. She knew it was the same for him with the Zeta's, then again he probably didn't crave more than that.

She got up and shifted down four seats until she was sitting next to him again.

"Sorry," she said. "I'm just kind of having a bad day."

"It's cool," he said, his face brightening up again. "I mean, bad days aren't cool, but it's okay, is all."

"Yeah."

They were quiet, Danny watching others enter the room, Kirsch playing Fruit Ninja on his phone, occasionally grunting or apologizing when he bumped her with his elbow, going for an apple.

"Any plans this weekend?" he asked, eyes bugged out of his head on the screen.

"My parents are coming tomorrow, it's Thanksgiving back in the states so," she said.

"Oh cool," he said. "Any brothers or sisters?"

"Nope, just the colonel and my mom."

"Huh?"

"My parents were both in the Navy and he still likes going by his old title, we're one of those families."

He clearly didn't understand the joke but laughed anyway when she smiled about it. How did this kid end up in a frat house?

"What about you?" she asked.

"I think we have some kind of social or something, but Laura mentioned something about 'Friendsgiving' tomorrow or something," he said. "Will's sister is coming back for it."

Right. She ducked out of that invitation fast, not wanting to deal with a room full of awkward and a glaring contest with Karnstein. Besides, family stuff made a good escape though not a month ago she was hoping to have Laura as an escape from them. How the world turns.

"Apparently Will and her had a big fight though," he said.

"Really?" she asked. The two practically seemed attached at the hip like twins.

"Yeah, he really didn't talk about it too much and Laura doesn't know anything, so I guess we'll see how that goes," he said.

Maybe a room full of awkward might be a little bit worth it if Jerry Spring sibling drama was involved, especially on Thanksgiving.

"You should stop by, after your done with family stuff," he said. "It'd be cool to have everyone together for it you know?"

"We'll see, I could use it as my 'look parents I totally have friends' routine as well," she said.

"You do have friends."

It wasn't sarcastic and when she turned to look at him he looked every inch the puppy that Carmilla always made fun of him for being. That was actual, true, genuine concern on his face.

"Yeah well, it's a long story but I was hoping to introduce them to Laura and that's not happening so," she said.

At some point the lecture had started, though their notebooks weren't out. Something about Pompeii in the reading about types of volcanoes. What requirement did this class fill again?

"And you can't do that because...oh. Right."

He turned red and she tried not to laugh.

"Yeah so, 3 years at Silas with nothing to show for it," she said, drumming her fingers on her desk.

"You got plenty to show for it," he said. "You're a TA, that's super awesome. And you do all sorts of Psycho--Summer Society stuff."

"Smooth."

"No seriously, why do you need like a significant other?"

Well for starters it would have been the perfect way to come out to them and not get disregarded in some way. But that ship sailed. It also would have been a nice way to show she had a stable and well fortified life here that didn't need uprooting by more talk of transferring back home to the Naval Academy. But nice as Kirsch was, she wasn't about to trust his intelligence (or his silence) that much.

"It just would have gotten them off my back a little," she said. A condensed, spoiler free version of events.

"Well, that sucks," he said.

They were quiet for the majority of the lecture after that, he'd occasionally take out his phone, she'd pretend she was listening, but mostly doodling on the desk. Eventually the professor let them go after the last slide about Mt. St. Helen's and the clogged drain of students in the lobby began again between the filers out and the ones coming in.

Danny decided to wait it out and apparently, Kirsch did too.

"You know," he said. "You want, I could...well I could go with you to your parents' thing."

Was he serious right now?

"Wait, what?" she said.

"I mean, you could just say I'm your...whatever you want and that'll help, right?"

He actually goddamn meant every word he was saying.

"Kirsch, don't you have a girlfriend?" she said.

"Well yeah but SJ won't care, it'll be cool," he said.

Nothing about it felt cool, or casual, or normal. But it was better than nothing and he looked like a rescue dog desperate to help any way he could. So, what the hell?

----

Carmilla got to campus earlier than expected. A whole day earlier. It was meant to be a bit of a surprise for Laura and a saving grace for herself to get as far away from loneliness as possible. She tore her way into campus late the night night before she told Laura she'd be arriving. Her Thanksgiving party wasn't until tomorrow and she'd probably get roped into helping set it up or something now but, whatever, it was worth it.

She hadn't really thought it through too much though, because now it was midnight and she was parked outside Laura's building, sitting in the car like a total creep. Laura was probably still awake, but this surprise would feel a lot cooler if she had brought some kind of housewarming gift like champagne or a teddy bear.

Getting out of the car was step one of not being a weirdo, so she did that and pulled out her phone in one sweep.

"Carm, you know my dad is going to kill me for a cross country phone bill."

Her voice was a relief.

"Good thing I'm outside your building then."

There was a long pause on the other end and some shuffling before Laura spoke again and the only word that came out was some sort of gasp that sounded like it was supposed to be "what?" The front door of her building opened and out she walked, still in pajamas, phone glued to her face. Carmilla hung up her own and slid it back into her pocket.

"Hey," Laura said, when she got close enough.

"You can detach the phone, cutie, I'm standing right here," Carmilla said. Laura quickly did so.

"You are. And it's awesome."

"Really? Because I feel like a dick showing up kind of unexpected and without a sandwich tray or anything—"

"You can make it up to me by getting inside as fast as possible because I am freezing my butt off."

Carmilla laughed as she watched shivers slowly take Laura over, shock no longer protecting her from the cold and she was bare foot after all. Carmilla quickly pulled out her bags from the trunk and huffed them over her shoulder, following behind Laura who all but ran back towards the building.

When they got to the room Laura rushed in and right to the quilt that sat on the foot of her bed.

"Betty's having some kind of study party with people in her chem class so, you can have her bed again if you want," Laura said.

"Don't mind if I do."

She dropped her things back in their usual spot on the floor but gladly bounced up and onto Betty's bed, the sheets still as soft as she remembered.

Her body must have registered it was relax time because it turned to leaden goo almost immediately and she wanted nothing more than to close her eyes, though she had a feeling sleep wouldn't come.

"Why are you here early?" Laura asked. "By which I mean…do you want anything? Food? Cocoa? I'm a better host than this I swear."

"You're fine cupcake, I was a surprise I know," she said. "I just had kind of a rough two weeks so I figured I'd come back here."

"What happened?" Laura asked. "By which I mean…you don't have to tell me at all, sorry that was rude—oh my god stop talking."

Carmilla was sure Laura thought the last part was in her head. Frazzled, caught of guard Laura might be her favorite Laura.

"Lots of stupid stuff," Carmilla said. "And all I could think of when I pictured getting away from it was…this room."

"Why?"

Why indeed? This place was soft and warm and smelled like sweets and smelled like Laura. There was a lot of laughter caught up in here and a lot of kindness. Perhaps many bedrooms were like this and Carmilla had just never been given the chance in life. Even if that was the case, Laura still stood out like a gold star in a sea of green ink A's.

"Because I think you might be my best friend."

The air in the room got all sorts of thick after that. Carmilla looked up to see Laura looking down and she was certain she said the wrong thing because Laura was frowning and biting her lip and, duh, she probably already had a best friend or something at home and Carmilla was being presumptuous but it was also true.

Besides, it's not like she called her girlfriend or anything. Because they weren't. Still, maybe she'd gone too far.

"Did you…is there something you wanted to talk about?" Laura asked, finally looking up. She still wore that awkward frown but her eyes were attentive.

"Maybe tomorrow," she said.

And then tomorrow she would probably say "maybe tomorrow" and then again and again because how to begin to talk about this? Spilling secrets was a nasty business, Carmilla knew that firsthand. How did one peel away skin and muscle to reveal veins and bone and still look attractive?

It was borrowed time with Laura, it really was. Because she would find out, one way or another. And then Laura would start looking at her different and it would get weird. Her brother had blabbed a great deal and it was a matter of when not if. She would be losing Laura and losing safety and losing the yellow pillow and the smell of cupcakes.

"I'm going to hit the bed, if that's okay? I kind of booked it from Budapest," she said.

"Yeah, no problem. Goodnight."

The lights were out and it was only twenty minutes before Carmilla knew Laura had fallen asleep and she was still wide awake. She was tired, so this was super fucking annoying. Every time she turned to get a better angle to lay, Betty's stupid fucking box spring groaned and then she got too hot under the duvet and then there was the matter of the light snowfall smacking into the windowpane.

This place was currently less than home and more like torture because now an hour had easily passed and she was still wired and had gone from being too hot to being cold again.

She got up and used her phone as a flashlight to dig through the wardrobe as carefully as possible for a sweater or hoodie. Her eyes found the same one she wore at Halloween and remembered how soft the inside had been, lined with cotton. It smelled like Laura but her own perfume was still clinging to it in places.

Something that smelled like both of them.

She bit her lip to keep from smiling in the dark.

She closed the door and slipped the hoodie on, zipping it up, cringing at the sound and looking back to see Laura rustling a bit but still very much asleep. She shoved her hands in the pockets and stepped lightly back to the bed.

Something was in the pocket. She pulled out a piece of paper and turned on the screen of her phone to shine on it, doing her best to keep it the wall and away from waking Laura.

"Call me ;) 1 416 886 9999"

Oh right, the blonde from the Halloween party. According to the paper her name was Elsie and who was Carmilla to disagree? She crumbled it up and went to toss in the trashcan by the dishes.

But she didn't let go of the paper.

She wasn't sure why at the time, maybe because it was late and her mind was all over the place and she couldn't stop thinking about how much she was going to miss this when she inevitably lost Laura to the truth or her own fuckups.

Apparently her sleep deprived brain thought it was best to start those fuckups early because not only did she not throw out the paper, she texted the girl. And then an hour later she was sneaking out of the room. She didn't come back until just before sunrise and pretended she didn't just booty call some girl on Laura's campus.

----

Laura had done a lot of research on the American Thanksgiving. Apparently, it was pretty much exactly the same as the Canadian one, just a month later in the year. And that made it easy enough to send Carmilla and LaFontaine out to gathering "I don't know, Thanksgiving stuff, Perry made a list." They'd been gone an hour though and occasionally Laura would get Snaps or texts with questions.

Carm (2:02PM): Okay but is there really a difference between canned cranberry sauce and the kind in a bag?

Laura (2:03PM): YES!

Carm (2:13PM): Yams and sweet potatoes are apparently different things??

Laura (2:15PM): I swear Carm...

She was laughing the whole way through it though, even Perry was smiling at the Snaps she sent of her and LaF captions "we need an adult". J.P. was fighting with the oven, trying to get it hot enough to cook a turkey and Betty was making paper snowflakes and hand turkeys and sticking them haphazardly on the wall. Kirsch promised to stop by later and even Danny changed whatever plans she had to come over later that night as well.

The only person not heard from was Carmilla's brother.

And when Laura mentioned it to her, she came to the conclusion that Will must somehow be involved in Carmilla's sour mood and sudden appearance on campus. She didn't say anything though and Laura didn't pry, even if she had been affixed with the title "best friend" now.

And that was something else entirely. Because it actually hit her like a gut punch and she had no idea why. Well that was crap because she did have an idea why but admitting was super stupid and she really needed to tell her brain that if what she thought was going on was actually going on...well it better not be. Because worst crush ever didn't even begin to cover how bad this would be.

"Should we get more napkins?" Laura asked. She didn't even know if they had napkins in the first place, but she needed to get off this train of thought.

"We can just use the extra rolls of paper towels under the counter," Perry said.

Right. Okay. And more Snaps from Carmilla. Why was every face she made look like it was sculpted by angels?

But still, getting to have the title of Carmilla's best friend wasn't bad either. In fact, after Laura considered it her heart did soar a little. She was closer to Carmilla than anyone else, at least for right now, and that was definitely something. No, it was more than something. It was exciting and the best news Laura heard in a while and she thought how strange it must have seemed to the girl walking into that interview two months ago that she'd be here now, having these feelings. But that was it right, life and stuff? It was supposed to be some crazy blind rollercoaster.

Of course, Laura certainly wasn't prepared for the bottle of Vicodin to fall out of Carmilla's jacket when she moved it to locate the remote.

Chapter Text

They say everything it happens for a reason, you can be flawed enough but perfect for a person, someone who will be there for you when you fall apart, guiding your direction when you're riding through the dark...

--

"If the yams suck it's Carmilla's fault," LaFotnaine said.

"Actually they're quite good," Perry said.

"Then that is also Carmilla's fault," Carmilla said.

They were all gathered around the coffee table in the lounge at various points on the couch. Laura was positioned in the loveseat, shoved right up again Carmilla because she insisted they both could fit. And they did for the most part, between a few elbow bumps.

What wasn't fitting in the seat was Laura's giant ball of anxiety.

When shock at seeing the pill bottle subsided, she quickly launched herself on it, suddenly very, very aware that there were other people in the room. J.P. gave her a weird look as she shoved it back into the pocket and mumbled something about forgetting to put on her Thanksgiving socks (which was actually true, no matter how much Carmilla made fun of her for donning turkey socks).

Back in the room she threw the jacket onto Carmilla's pile like it would burn her a second longer in her hand. The pills fell out again and Laura gasped, once again diving forward with shaky hands, to shove them away and out of sight and pretend this wasn't happening.

She had a suspicion, but to be sure she pulled out her computer and slammed the keys.

Hydrocodone/paracetamol , hydrocodone/acetaminophen, or hydrocodone/APAP is a combination opioid narcotic analgesic drug consisting of hydrocodone and paracetamol used to relieve severe pain.

So it was a painkiller. Okay, well plenty of people used them. And plenty of people abused them-no! She had no idea what she found. Well she did. But she had no idea why and assuming was only going to make things worse. But…Carmilla did seem so hurt often. But then again she rarely showed signs of it in between when she thought Laura couldn't see her. And besides, that was pain on the inside, these couldn't help that. That probably wasn't the point though. Laura had never caught sight of anything remotely suggesting this was hiding under the surface.

Well duh that's because she probably never used them around you.

Carmilla was a drug addict.

That sounded so harsh to say but she had to say it because if she didn't then she'd make up 50 more excuses and convince herself this was all a dream, that everything was normal, that Carmilla wasn't doing…this.

"Why a turkey?" J.P. asked.

She was back in the room and resurfacing into the conversation hoping no one had noticed her zoning out in the chair.

"Google it," Carmilla said, taking a bite.

"Where do you think Danny is?" Perry asked.

"Didn't she say she had some family thing?" LaFontaine said.

"So that explains the infestation of giants today," Carmilla smirked.

Perry elbowed Carmilla's leg pointedly and she smiled even bigger.

How could she be hiding bottles of pills? She was so happy. Even her normally paper white face was flushing (though that might be the wine), and she was laughing and occasionally making eye contact with Laura and her charcoal eyes got so warm then and it felt kind of like high school all over again.

Laura thought of the story of the reporter, the one she'd hit. The one whose nose she broke and camera she shattered. She had a streak of violence, though Laura never saw it, but pretending it didn't exist didn't make it go away. But now it was practically screaming in her face.

"L I don't think I've ever heard you this quiet," LaFontaine said.

"Uh, just thinking about a paper I have to do," she said, hiding her gaze in her plate, stabbing at food with a fork.

There was another pair of eyes on her, and a casual glance to her periphery told her the watcher was far too close to be pacified with that weak excuse.

"What's with you?" Carmilla asked with enough tact to be quiet, though J.P. and LaFontaine began a mini food war while Perry bristled.

You're hiding things from me, I think you might need help, I also think I might have a crush on you, but how was your day?

"Just school stuff, finals coming up soon," she said.

If Carmilla didn't buy it, she didn't say anything.

----

"So Kirsch, what do you study?" her mother said.

"I'm still undeclared," he said, sheepishly. "I'll figure it out by the end of the semester though."

Danny tried not to show just how jittery this whole thing had her. She was white knuckling her napkin on her lap every time someone opened their mouth. So far there had been no catastrophes though. Kirsch must have juiced up something because he was using the biggest words she ever heard come out of his mouth. In fact, if anything he was making her look good. Mainly because she barely mumbled anything and they were halfway through the entrees.

"Kirsch is in my lit class, the one I TA," Danny said.

"Is that how you met then?" her father asked.

Sure

"Actually, we met at a rec event, last semester," Kirsch said, wiping his mouth. "We had this competition to see who could get more donation pledges and ZOM beat SummerSoc by like 2 euros."

Her parents smiled but Danny was staring at Kirsch because, he was right, now that she thought about it, that is exactly where they met. She hit him with a water balloon and ignited an all-out brawl in the quad. And when campus security asked who started it, he kept his mouth completely shut.

"Danny said you guys were in the navy right?" he asked.

Dangerous territory. Abort mission, abort mission. Her soft eyes on Kirsch turned into a glare because this was not part of their approved dinner conversations starters.

"Yes, going on 20 years now," her father said. "I'm mainly beached with recruits, we were hoping Dan would take of the mantle but she has her head in books."

"She does," he said fast. "But, like, she's really good at it. I'm actually interested in books in class with her. Which never happens."

He was smiling enough that his parents smiled back, though her mother's was a tight line and nowhere close to reaching her eyes. Appearances would be enough for now though.

"I think English is definitely the way to go," he said. "For Danny. I mean, assuming that's what you want to do. No pushing or anything, but you're good at it."

God, it was like she was working at a rescue shelter or something. She wondered if she should push for desert just because that was the face of a man who deserved some sort of reward. He turned back to shovel more food onto his fork and her parents were quiet and nodding and had small smiles.

Too bad he wasn't her real boyfriend.

Well, not too bad because she really didn't care. But for their sake she felt a little bit bad that he was actually dating someone else and simply posing as the supportive, eager to meet the parents college boyfriend.

Really good at posing at it.

"So, what do you say kids? Coffee and dessert?" her father said.

"We actually promised some friends we'd meet them for a dinner thing tonight," Danny said. "Our friend's friend is in town so it's like a whole thing."

Kirsch nodded, thankfully not too eager to please that he said something stupid like let's order the biggest cake and talk more about how you should get off Danny's back. Well he wasn't saying that to begin with, at least he didn't know he was saying it.

"No problem," her father said. "This European time zone stuff is certainly messing with us anyway."

He yawned for affect and her mother took a few last sips of her wine, smiling the entire time.

Her father insisted on paying, though Kirsch pulled out bills for tip and they pretended to have that weird boyfriend/father gentlemanly argument over the bill with chuckles and back pats. God, Kirsch was good at this.

"You kids should come visit us back in the States sometime, over Christmas maybe," he said.

"Yeah, that'd be awesome."

Kirsch! She wanted to smack her forehead because, okay you can dress him up and he can use big words but he was still fairly brainless sometimes. Whatever, she'd deal with reminding him later that he was not her boyfriend and would not be coming home with her over Christmas break. She'd invent some sort of study program that he couldn't miss. In, like, New Zealand.

They walked out as a group and Kirsch apparently decided to forego their plan for her to hold his arm and went right for her hand. She tried not to flinch too much.

"Call us tomorrow, yeah?" her mother said.

"Yeah, sounds good."

"Have a goodnight Danny."

And then they were off to their rental car and as soon as the taillights of the car disappeared at a turn down the road heading back to their hotel, she sighed. She let go of Kirsch's hand and blew out some more breaths. He relaxed a bit too.

"That was good right?" he asked.

"Yeah, perfect, basically," she said.

"Cool. Cool."

He nodded, hands in the pockets of his sports jacket.

They walked back to campus. She wasn't sure about him, but it felt like about twenty pounds got lifted off her shoulders every step they took back because holy shit that worked. And it worked well. Her mother was impossible to please most of the time but her dad was all over Kirsch. And now it was another month of freedom before she had to worry about dealing with them again.

Christmas decorations were starting early on the streets of the college town. Fairy lights were draped in almost every store window and the occasional window posters reading "Chag Urim Sameach!" next to Menorahs. The lampposts were crowned with wreaths and bows.

They didn't talk much as they made their way though Danny was working up a way to say thank you to him. She didn't manage to get it formulated by the time they were opening the door into the lounge of floor 3 in Laura's building.

"Jeez, did you guys go to a PTA awards ceremony?" LaFontaine asked.

Oh, right, dress clothes. And showing up at the same time. Awkward.

"I had a Zeta thing tonight," Kirsch said.

"And I went to go see my parents."

Why were they hiding it? When did they decide this needed to be a secret? Keeping a secret felt like that was making it a thing. And it really didn't need to be one. But she pushed that aside, taking a seat on the couch, and certainly not missing Carmilla and Laura crowded together on the loveseat, though the latter looked a little distracted.

"Can't promise we saved you wine, but there's plenty of turkey left," J.P. said and Danny dug popped a few pieces in her mouth.

"Where's Will?" LaFontaine asked, turning to Kirsch.

Kirsch shrugged.

"He said he had some paper to finish tonight," he said. His face was down but his eyes creeped in the direction of Carmilla who was now joining Laura in the look of discomfort.

Trouble in sibling paradise?

Good, they got along way too well.

"Hi, by the way, Carmilla," Danny said. She looked up, caught off guard, but recovered her scowl fast and nodded.

"Have you…talked to him…recently?" Kirsch asked, putting food on a plate and looking up to glance at Carmilla only for a second.

"Not really no."

"Oh. I thought maybe, you would have talked or something."

"Sorry beefcake."

"You know…he's probably taking a break from the paper right now if you wanted to—"

"I'm sorry, I just remembered I have to be anywhere other than here."

And Carmilla was up, two long strides, and she was out the door. Kirsch turned red and kept his eyes on his plate.

"What was that?" Danny asked, staring at him.

"Nothing."

"Excuse me for a minute," LaFontaine said and was out the door then too, right behind Carmilla.

Laura, for her part, looked completely white. Her bottom seemed glued to the seat and her knuckles betrayed just how hard she was gripping the armrests of the chair. It looked like her legs wanted to get up and follow but the rest of her was locked down.

Perry seemed to catch this too and even Betty decided to pretend to get an email on her phone to try and break the tension.

"What the hell just happened?" Danny asked.

It seemed like whatever awkwardness she avoided at dinner got loaded into a dump truck and plopped right in this room.

----

LaFontaine wanted to be subtle about following Carmilla outside. But there was really no way to casually combat crawl out of a room full of people shocked into silence. And it's not like disappearing in a puff of black smoke was an option for anyone. So up and one their feet was the best way to go about this as they quickly trotted down the stairwells and followed out the door fast because Carmilla was small and maybe super speedy if she got into a run.

She hadn't gone far, though. Maybe it was because she suddenly remembered she was wearing a sheer black top and it was supposed to snow tonight.

"I left my drug mule jacket inside, no need to be alarmed," she said like she expected to be followed.

"Yeah, you're just going to get frostbite," they said, tucking their arms in because, oh right, they forgot a jacket too.

"I'm sure you'd rather that than getting dizzy on painkillers," she said.

"I don't want either of those."

Carmilla kicked at a loose tuft of grass and tried to hide her shivering by squeezing her arms. She was just a girl. Well, woman was a better term, they supposed but she was no more than that. Tough and rude and sarcastic and just a person at the end of the night and it showed right now.

"I didn't come out here to…do that," she said.

"So what then? Popped out for a smoke?"

"I don't smoke."

"Right because that might kill you."

Carmilla rolled her eyes and dropped her arms, walking back towards the door, roughly brushing past them, and into the building atrium, LaFontaine followed. The door closed behind them and they remained in the chilly in-between chamber from front door to hallway. It smelled like stale alcohol and cigarettes and there was gum stuck to multiple surfaces and pen drawn penises in various locations.

So yeah, seemed like a perfect place for Carmilla to decide to sit down.

"Why isn't Will here?" they asked.

"How should I know?"

Apparently their late night drug induced conversations didn't exactly make them friends in the daylight. Not that LaFontaine was itching to become her bestie but cracking through all that armor was their best chance at solidifying the spec of trust between them.

And gaining her trust just might save Carmilla's life. Because they had a dark feeling that something terrible was going to happen. And apart from crushing Laura, they had to admit they were starting to grow attached to her particular brand of snark. Not to mention preserving life felt like a built in obligation of someone who planned on devoting their career to studying just how life worked.

So plenty of reasons to sit there and have a staring contest with Carmilla until she womaned up.

"I get it, okay? We're not friends and you don't trust anyone except maybe Laura," they said. "But I'm the one here right now, not her."

"Will knows more about me than anyone else," she corrected in a mumble. "And he told someone."

"Told them what?"

"What part of this conversation makes you think I want to share that?"

Right. Secrets. That was a roadblock, time to take a detour. Perhaps there was therapy in emotions.

"You're anxious," they said. "And I think you're scared."

She didn't say anything, but the reflex of her knees pulling in tighter wasn't missed by LaFontaine. Emotions were masks for secrets, not secrets themselves. They could get through to Carmilla this way.

"And, being scared is okay," they said. "I spent a lot of time scared as Susan and I came through the other side brave as LaFontaine."

"I'm not big on pep talks, Ginger Spice," she said.

"Stop doing that," they said.

"I'm not having this conversation with you."

Evasion, tactic found in organisms attempting to flee from perceived danger. Another few chisel hits and they might actually have something on her. But beating into Carmilla until she broke sounded wrong and unfair. Bur right now she was on the verge of vulnerable and the safest place for her was upstairs, in room 307.

"Would you have it with Laura?" they said.

She pretended to be interested in a crack in the wall.

"She's the most understanding person I know," they said. "She'll listen to you."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

Ah, there it was. Fear of rejection. So Carmilla did feel something there. For Laura. After this emotional crises was solved they were going to be teasing the shit out of her. But first they needed Carmilla to get the fuck over herself and actually take a stand on something for once instead of hiding in passive, sarcastic corner. And brute force wouldn't do it. She, like everyone else, was scared to be exposed. Maybe more than everyone else. But Laura wasn't going to do her harm. They had to make her see that.

"We like people for their qualities, you know?" they said, hoping this got through without overstepping any bounds. "But…we love them for their flaws."

And in the infinite pause their eyes met and they knew she understood, at least something about that. For a second there was a gravitational collapse and LaFontaine saw only the neutron star that remained behind Carmilla's eyes, naked and alone and scared and so in need of Laura.

Together, they walked back. And together they braced for the heaviness that sat in the silence of the room and every eye was on them and LaFontaine wanted to throw something at them all because they just got Carmilla back inside and no one needed a repeat incident.

But, it was with a great deal of pride that LaFontaine watched Carmilla take a breath and step forward until she was directly in front of Laura. After her bottom lip was licked and chewed enough to prove the stress wouldn't go away, she took a breath.

"Can we talk?"

Laura had spoken first. That was not expected.

Carmilla recovered her shock and nodded, silently. And followed equally as quiet as Laura lead her out of the lounge and down the hall.

"I swear to god, if I find a sock on that door," Betty said.

"Somehow I don't think they're in the mood," LaFontaine said.

"So who here knows what the hell just happened?" Danny said.

LaFontaine dropped into the vacated place on the loveseat in a sigh. Somehow, Perry's sweet potato pie sounded less appealing than it had an hour ago. And that was the best pie they ever had in their life.

"It's just some personal stuff with her," LaFontaine said.

"And how do you know this?" Perry asked.

"It's, it's not anything I really want to talk about," they said. "It's Carmilla's stuff and hopefully she's talking it out with Laura."

"Why are Will and Carmilla fighting?' Danny snapped at Kirsch whose mouth hung open, mid bite of mashed potatoes.

"Danny if it's none of our business then—"

"She has a criminal record," Danny cut Perry off. "She lost her tempter and beat up a guy."

"She won't hurt Laura," they said. "She might kick your ass though if you barge in there."

Danny looked agitated and somewhere between getting up and breaking down the door and walking out completely. Did LaFontaine think this was residual jealousy? Absolutely. Did they also think she did truly just want to protect Laura? Yes. Did they think Laura would be more a danger to Danny if she barged in than Carmilla? Probably. Girl had hardcore krav maga skills.

"I'm probably no help," J.P. said. "But I'd like to point out that Carmilla made the choice to go outside, perhaps as the alternative to getting violent. Something like a fight or flight and she—"

"Can you leave the bio talk out of it?"

"Danny he was just trying to help."

"Everyone just get away from each other's throats for 2 seconds."

Perry was on her feet and raising her voice to higher decibels than she'd allow for quiet hours, but it got the job done fast because Danny's mouth shut fast, Kirsch dropped his fork, Betty dropped her phone, and LaFontaine backed down into the couch.

"This is Carmilla's business and whoever else she chooses to include," Perry said. "LaFontaine, you know something. Okay. Kirsch has another piece information, that's fine. But keep it that way, separate. There's no need to dissect her."

LaFontaine could kiss her, just then.

But they didn't. Because, best friends and still murky post-fight waters, but damn were they grateful sometimes that she decided to become a Floor Don this year.

"Since dessert seems to be off the table and 1/4 of this party has gone to have a heart-to-heart," J.P. said getting up. "I should probably head back to mentally prepare for dealing with those fungus samples tomorrow."

LaFontaine smiled when he winked and every seemed to relax a bit. Danny and Kirsch made no show of leaving and Perry had begun the cleaning up process mumbling something about everyone not getting to the "what are you thankful for" game. LaFontaine nodded to J.P. and walked out behind him, jacket present this time as Perry practically threw it on them.

It was snowing now outside and they were immediately regretting being a nice host because it took two steps out the door for their sneakers to get soaked.

"Sorry that kind of got weird at the end," LaFontaine said, hands burrowing into their pockets.

"Eh, par for the course at family functions," he said.

Family functions? Maybe he had a point there.

"I just hope Carmilla's okay," he said.

"She will be, most likely," they said. "And thank you by the way, for taking those samples off my hands, literally."

"We had a bet," he shrugged.

Constantly being reminded how nice of a person J.P. was made LaFontaine feel guilty for every second they spent not being as nice or doing as many favors as him. Well, he did have a grumpy side, but even that was usually ready to jump in with aid at any moment. And they thought of all the ways he was privy to their dilemmas and fights with Perry but knew nothing about him in return.

"Hey, for the record," they said. "If you ever need anything, I owe you back for a lot so. Let me know."

"Will do."

He waved goodbye and was out onto the path heading back to his dorm. It's not that they wanted to go digging, because one tragic backstory in the group (thanks Carmilla) was enough. But they found it odd that they didn't even know his real first name.

----

Carmilla's heart was pounding. This was a new face for Laura, a new mood, a new demeanor. And it echoed like disappointment and she wasn't sure why. And she didn't want to know why. Because knowing why meant her time was up. And if Laura got her alone, she'd tell her everything. As much as she absolutely loathed admitting it, even to herself, LaFontaine was right. Her brother failed her and she needed someone because if she decided not to trust anyone at all then she'd lose the people she did have, Laura chief among them.

The door closed behind them and Laura walked past Carmilla to sit on her bed. She looked at Carmilla but made no gesture for her seating arrangement so Carmilla chose the neutral path of Betty's bed, lowering herself to link eyes with Laura again. This was torture.

"I don't even know how to start this," Laura says with a weak smile that rang of the word guilty.

"Start what?"

Dangerous question. But this was like watching the most suspenseful horror movie she could imagine. Laura's squirming a bit now too, looking down, biting her lip, shifting her feet, the picture of the discomfort Carmilla was feeling inside.

"Look, I'm sorry I was rude," she says, hoping to nip this. "Will and I just got in this stupid fight, by which I mean he was stupid and—"

"Did he find out about the pills?"

Oh.

This was no good. This was screaming run run run over and over in her head, between the general numb buzzing that took over any open space inside her head. When? How? Why? Questions that didn't matter now but Carmilla though if she could answer them she could go back in time and make it stop, buy a few extra days of grace inside this room. Why had she come back here again? Why had LaFontaine convinced her this was a good idea?

"I'm not mad," she said fast. "I just…I want to help you."

Oh no, not pity, anything but pity. Pity was the death of connection. It was not empathy, it was not sympathy. It was looking down upon, far away, and unfeeling behind the most shallow parts of the emotional spectrum.

"It's not that either," Laura says fast, getting up and suddenly she's a lot closer than Carmilla imagined she would be, kneeling before her with hands on her legs. "You're my friend and I—I don't want you to be in pain."

Is she going to cry?

Carmilla doesn't want that, never that. She slides off the bed and joins Laura on the floor, holding tight to Laura's wrists.

"I'm okay," she says. "Honestly. When I'm here I don't ever feel like I have to…the bottle stays fairly full."

"Why?"

"Because…maybe…you're a better pain reliever."

Carmilla wants to throw herself off a cliff for that one but Laura is smiling again, small and trying to hide, but smiling and her face is trying to outdo a lobster right now. It was true though, she hadn't missed the way she rarely ever felt the itch or pain to go digging in that black hole of a bottle. Maybe she stupidly decided to go sleep with a random girl on campus to relieve some anxiety but Laura didn't need to know about that and hopefully, never would.

"LaFontaine knows, don't they?"

She sounded hurt and Carmilla knew it came from a place that thought she had chosen to confide in anyone other than her.

"They just found out, is all," she said. "And that's all they know."

"There's more to know?"

"Of course there is, you decided to open your interview with questions about it, remember?"

Carmilla was smiling and nudging Laura to try and tease her own smile back out but the frown was back and she looked down to the floor, sheepishly.

"I'm sorry I did that," she mumbled.

Now or never, now or never. She wanted it to be never, but it had to be now.

"I could…tell you about it…now."

This was going to take the highest and most dangerous leap of faith ever. Carmilla was about to throw herself off a cliff and pray that Laura caught her, and then held on, and didn't let go. Because this would feel like being dragged naked through the street and trying to keep your pride. And the caveat to letting anyone in close was giving them access to your soft underbelly and hoping they never took the chance.

"You don't have to," she said.

And Carmilla wanted to take that and run because it was a beautiful opening. But something about Laura made her not want to hide anymore. The light could hurt, at first, after so long in the dark but it just might end up being worth the warmth that came after.

"I…want to."

Carmilla stood before Laura could protest and offered her hand. She took it and Laura joined her at eye level. Carmilla pulled her by the hand over to Laura's bed and sat down, tugging Laura next to her.

"Carm you really don't-"

"Shush. It's not like you're tying me to a chair and forcing it out of me," she said. "I trust you."

Laura nodded and joined her hands on her lap, dutifully.

"I fell in love when I was 16," she said. It seemed like a solid place to start, Laura already knew she was adopted and her brother too and all the stories of being shoved at a piano for 3 hours a day. "It was a few months before I got snagged by Rick."

Laura nodded, eyes still to her own lap, bottom lip tightly under her own teeth.

"She worked at a surf shop in California, I hung out there a few times while my mother had business meetings or something at the pier," she said. "She was the first person who didn't laugh it me when it came to talking about how I'd be selling out Madison Square Garden one day."

Laura smiled a bit.

"She used to tell me 'one day I won't be able to go anywhere without hearing your name' and I believed her," she said.

Carmilla shifted back to lean against the wall and sit with her legs crossed. This positions seemed to make Laura more comfortable, now that their gazes could not cross with her back to Carmilla. It was probably easier for them both.

"We started dating but it was a secret. My mom didn't know I was gay but Ell was out so it was kind of…tense, sometimes. But she understood. I got signed by my record company and she was ecstatic and took me out on some surprise celebration date and that was the first time we—I…you know."

Even if Laura's face was hidden, a patch of skin on her neck, just beneath her hair, betrayed a blush.

"And it was great for a while," she continued. "Until my mother found out."

That was what got Laura to turn around. Her face was still flushed but her eyes were focused, not intense, not searching, just attentive and it made Carmilla feel like she could tell anything. So she was going to, because she made it this far.

"If she was mad about it she never told me so, but she didn't like it. She quickly arranged for some PR relationship with some up and coming DJ out of L.A. and Rick agreed because of course magazines want to be completely shoved up in the face of any female celebrity and they were all super asking why I wasn't dating anyone.

"But before I could say no or talk about it with Ell, my mother got to her first. I don't know what she told her but, she was so hurt."

Ah, there was the hard part. How to get through this without breaking down and snatching that bottle of pills? Her hands were already tingling and soon her knuckles would start to hurt. Focus on Laura. Laura's face, Laura's soft eyes, Laura's worried lower lip. All there is was Laura. It's just us, just her and me. Only Laura.

"She thought I was trying to hide her and I guess I was but not like that. She called me a coward and she was crying and I was crying and then I never saw her again," she said. "Since then I've been writting songs until I can't feel my fingers hoping that she's somehow hear them, wherever she is."

Now it was Carmilla's turn to drop her head down and stare at her lap. But into view came a small hand and a sudden warmth when it covered her own and she looked up to see Laura giving her a look of utter sympathy and nodding.

"That guy, the photographer, I don't know if my mom tipped him or if he was some super stalker but he came up to me and said 'where's your gold digging girlfriend?' And I just lost it," she said. Don't close your eyes, he's not here.

It was just Laura, it was just Laura's room. The pain wasn't real, the red in front of her eyes wasn't real, the sounds of cars on the street and his voice weren't real. None of it was here. All that was here was Laura.

"They gave me painkillers for my hand and…it never stopped hurting."

So that was that. Entrails of her past were spilled out to every corner of Laura's room and all she could do was sit there and wait to see if it was too much of a mess for Laura to wade through any longer. It was a long period of silence as Laura seemed to digest it all in her head and she went again at worrying that lip and she should really stop because it was weirdly attractive and Carmilla only needed one problem at a time, honestly.

"I'm sorry," was what Laura eventually said. Eyes shining. "Do you still--are you still--"

In love with her? Carmilla didn't know. And if she didn't know, then she probably wasn't but it also was not so easy to fall out of love. Not that any of this was easy of course. She wasn't certainly hung up on her, in whatever way one wanted to take that phrase.

"I miss her," she said. "And I want to talk to her."

Laura nodded and moved away at that, across the room and into her desk chair and Carmilla tried not to make too much that. She sat there calmly.

"So, being here you don't...you don't..."

"I feel safe."

She nodded.

"Well, you could...call me, next time it happens when you're not here and you're alone. And we could talk about whatever you want and maybe you won't have to..."

Was Laura offering to be her--her what, her sponsor? Her lifeline? Her anti-drug? A shield? She'd never had one of those before.

"How would your dad feel about those phone calls?"

"If it keeps you safe then..."

She smiled, small and trying to be as comforting as possible and it was working. Laura didn't pity her, Laura didn't judge her, Laura didn't hate her. Laura just cared. And to say she was a saint in the world was not doing justice to all she meant to Carmilla in that moment so instead she deemed her a star. Her star.

Her star?

That was another line of thought that needed addressing soon because butterflies in the stomach could be poisonous.

"I know they're probably waiting for us out there or something but, how do you feel about remaking that pillow fort and just mindlessly absorbing some really B movie sci-fi?" Laura asked and it all felt back to normal again.

"I would love nothing more, Laura."

Saying her name always seemed to get a reaction out of her. Two months ago she hated Carmilla for the nicknames and now her face adored her for the use of her real name. Perhaps she liked the way it sounded in Carmilla's mouth or maybe it felt as safe there as her own name did in Laura's. The moment was broken as Laura bounced up and out of the chair.

"Okay, grab my sheet and blanket and I'll try and dig out the fairy lights that you tangled last time," Laura said.

"Oh, I have to help this time," Carmilla groaned.

"Yes, you're earning your keep."

Carmilla snorted and hopped off the bed and resisted the urge to turn that into a very different kind of joke. Where was all this coming from? Too many thoughts about Laura in a less than platonic light in too short of time. Maybe it was just residual feelings from hooking up with Eliza or Ellen or whatever her name was. That couldn't be it though, since there were zero feelings involved there to begin with. The best course of action would be to shove away and deny. So down the feelings went.

"You really suck at this," Laura said, supervising the construction of the canopy.

"Sorry cutie, I have people who do this for me," she winked.

"Oh ha ha," Laura said, joining in to help and their fingers brushed for a second and what the fuck is going on?

There hands touched before, in fact they were holding hands not 20 minutes ago so what the hell was that because it sure wasn't static. Carmilla was not going to play this game again, not when she had Laura so perfect and close and too beautiful to ruin with some dysfunctional--no she was not even going to use the r word. They had a friendship and that was perfectly good for Carmilla.

"You don't get squeamish?" Carmilla asked as she settled down into the tent, claiming the yellow pillow with a smirk.

"No, all the blood is super fake looking and--sure go ahead and use my pillow," Laura said, laying down next to her with the laptop positioned on a chair in front of them.

"It likes me better," Carmilla said.

"Clearly because it's starting to smell like you."

"Well that won't do, it's better when it smells like you."

What the actual hell?

Whatever tension waxing in Carmilla's stomach, it definitely wasn't going to go away with Laura brushed up against her side and so close she could smell her fruity shampoo. So she tried to focus on the ridiculous alien costumes and awful dialogue as she felt herself drifting off to sleep. She prayed her head stayed in place and didn't find its way to Laura's shoulder but then again, what could feel better?

They were dented for a bit there and now they were fixed.

What could go wrong?

Chapter Text

I never imagined you dead, but tell me are you even aware that all that we did you undo, Iscariot you fool…

--

It was the longest Will had gone without talking to Carmilla since he'd been adopted. When he was young and so happy to have an older sister and a family and it felt like he'd waited all of his short life to meet her and talk with her. Back when he'd been so angry they had different last names because his birth parents demanded it. It felt a little bit like being back to then, alone and not belonging to anyone but himself. And half of it felt wrong, the other half felt not nearly as wrong as he thought it would. And that scared him as much as it made him angry.

Was he allowed to be angry?

She'd been on campus for days at the end of November and hadn't said a word to him, nestled so tightly in the hovel she carved out in Laura Hollis' room. Hiding from the world because it was what she was best at, using human shields. She was going to make Laura one too and the girl was probably all dopey eyed and smitten and an idiot.

It was the one true flaw of his sister that she was selfish. An all-consuming form of selfish that tore through everything. Maybe that's why everything fell apart with that girl, maybe Carmilla should have seen that as a wakeup call.

He took his anger out on the unsuspecting citizens of San Andreas as he opened fire from a rooftop with a sniper and watched his star count jump up. After a while he jumped off the roof and started punching citizens wildly until the cops finally shot him enough times that a giant red "WASTED" appeared on the screen.

"You suck bro," said Theo, half paying attention on the other couch.

"Anyone else want to take over?" Will asked, looking between Theo and Kirsch.

Kirsch shook his head and buried his eyes back in his lit reading but Theo got up and gladly took the controller as the avatar on screen walked out of the hospital $50 poorer.

"It's like the 8th time you've read that book," Will said.

"No, it's just taking me a long time to get through it."

His eyes didn't leave the paperback and he frowned deeper and deeper and groaned and huffed his way through a few more pages before there was a ring at the front door and he hopped up fast.

"I got it."

He hurried through the hall, book still in hand and Will heard him greet someone at the door that sounded female. Will craned his neck to try and get a look but Kirsch's large form blocked the visitor until he stepped aside to let them in and small, mousy blonde Laura Hollis walked into the house.

"Thanks so, so, so much Laura," Kirsch said, following her in closely. "I thought my head was going to explode."

"It's nothing, I needed a break from my psych reading anyway," Laura said.

She looked she was doing her best to be polite as she entered into the living room which, in her defense, was pretty disgusting. The busted up couch hadn't really been properly cleaned in a while, there were empty cans from who knows how many weekends ago, and there was crap strewn everywhere across the floor. The Fabreeze was also doing a very poor job of fulfilling its "fresh linen" promise on the can.

She pulled over a fold up chair from a pile against the wall and opened it next to Kirsch, taking off her coat and pulling out a notebook labeled "19th Century Lit." Her and Kirsch immediately began a rapid fire conversation about whatever book was giving him an aneurysm seconds ago.

"Are you sure?" Kirsch said, when Laura told him to write down a particular passage.

"Yeah, Carm said it was important, not sure why but—"

"You talked to my sister?"

Laura had clearly not even noticed Will was among the other people in the room because she looked up surprised and when she gained her bearings, her brow furrowed at the sight of him.

"Hi Will," she said, carefully. "I didn't even see you."

He nodded and pretended to be interested again in the game as Kirsch immediately cut off her stare with another question which she quickly answered and they took to scribbling some more. Will tapped his foot against the coffee table, watching Theo crash his stolen Porshe and then immediately scream at the pedestrians on the TV.

He occasionally shot glances over in Laura direction where she was absorbed in explaining something called a "pathetic fallacy" as rain began to hit the windows in light tinks on the pane. Umbrella-less as Laura was she seemed to pay it no mind. If she was annoying or rude he could be more justified in his annoyance at her but she sure did make it damn hard.

Carmilla's name came up again in their conversation as she reiterated some point his sister made about whatever book they were reading.

Will was up and out of the room without a word though he felt a pair of eyes on him as he walked into the kitchen and pretended to be looking for something actually edible in the pantry or fridge. It was the first time in a long time he considered actually calling his mother. He didn't know exactly what he would tell her, if he'd even tell her anything and he wasn't sure it was exactly wise to commiserate with her about Carmilla now shoving him into a cold, dark corner as well.

But it was better than hiding in the kitchen for no reason with no one else to talk to.

"William I'm going to be optimistic and assume this is not a call for bail money," she said.

Adopted or not, Carmilla's snark certainly came from somewhere.

"No, I just hadn't called in a while," he said.

"You rarely ever call me."

"Well I mean we haven't talked in a while."

He hoisted himself up on the counter and played with the loose knob on one of the cupboards. He heard her shuffle on her end and possibly put him on speaker.

"Well what can I do for you dear?"she said. "I can move up your flight at Christmas if you'd like."

He began weighing the options in his head of exactly how bad it could be if he told her he got into a fight with Carmilla. There were few good things that could really come from it, in fact it would induce bigger headaches than it would soothe anything. But he needed to rant to someone who wouldn't take her side, who would agree that spending a year being torn in two and longer than that riding her coattails was enough to get to even him.

And mother would agree with him, if only to help her case that Carmilla had treated her unfairly too. And maybe she had, maybe he was just never looking at it the right way.

----

In all honesty, Laura had completely forgotten about Will until he spoke from an angry corner of the room. She made a mental note to make sure study sessions with Kirsch happened at her dorm or some neutral territory on campus until this stuff between Carmilla and her brother blew over.

Carmilla had explained that too, what he said and what happened. Like Carmilla, she was just a bit furious that someone she trusted turned on her so easy out of boredom and drunkenness, but unlike Carmilla she also understood that Will's stress over the entire situation (which he had also rattled off in a flurry over the phone to her that night) was something likely to hit a breaking point.

"Do you think that Beowulf stuff is going to be on the final?" Kirsch asked.

"She didn't say if it was cumulative or not but we can go over it next week if you want," Laura said, flipping through her binder.

"Okay, cool, cool," he said. "Thanks again, Laura. Seriously."

"No problem. Message me tonight if you have any questions," Laura said, shoving the binder into her backpack and pulling the tie-string on it.

She felt a small fraction of bad for leaving Kirsch to deal with The Metamorphosis on his own because there was no way he was going to understand an ounce of that but she also had a Skype date with Carmilla.

Not date. A meeting between two friends, a planned and decided on time for two friends to talk.

When had it gotten this bad? Carmilla was pretty and how she didn't have a girlfriend already was a huge mystery to Laura before the Ell business came out. And a whole new slew of thoughts came tumbling after she digested it likeis she still hung up on her? She certainly seemed it.

Laura went back to listen to a lot of Carmilla's music after she left and picked out just how many songs were clearly about the girl, or a message to her. Carmilla spent years letting feelings for Ell whirlpool inside her and spill out onto single after single. It seemed Carmilla never ran out of things to say about her, never ran out of new ways to say I'm sorry.

And she would certainly never have room in the middle of all that for little Laura.

she walked towards the door, mentally preparing to compete with a ghost for Carmilla's affection over Skype when she saw Will moping some more in the kitchen over a bag of Doritos.

"See you around Will," Laura said cordially.

He raised a pair of lazy eyes up to her and he and Carmilla must share at least a smidgen of genetic material because he looked so much like her sometimes (when he was unhappy). He brushed his fingers off, leaving a trail of chip dust on his black shirt and Laura thought Carmilla might compare it to stars (seriously can we get her off the mind for two seconds?).

He waved.

"Sure," he muttered.

And, in true says-way-too-much Laura Hollis fashion, instead of leaving she opened her mouth.

"She'd probably take your call," Laura said. "I know she misses you."

"No, she's got you now," he said, looking at the bag. "Her quota of one friend has been thoroughly refilled."

"I know you don't believe that," Laura said.

"I've known her almost my entire life. And now she'll use you like she used me," he said, shrugging. He was trying to wound her in someway but she wasn't taking it.

Laura wanted to protest that but she gained enough control in between the boiling rage to remind herself Will was not her brother, or even truly her friend, and her place was not telling him what to do about Carmilla.

So Laura kept walking, out the door and into the cold rain, heading back to the dorm building.

And after fifteen minutes drenched in ice water from the sky, baggy flannels and a Doctor Who t-shirt never felt so good. She curled herself up and under the blanket, back resting against her yellow pillow (the one that still clung to a piece of Carmilla), and set the cup of cocoa above her on the headboard shelf.

Betty stopped making fun of her for the Skype liaisons a week or so ago. Well, out loud at least anyway, there were still side glances and smirks from the bed and when she started pounding away on her phone screen she had the feeling Betty was informing on her to LaFontaine or Perry or whoever else.

Incoming call from HeyCarmilla

Laura broke into a smile but caught it fast and forced it to settle into a calmer version, less bright, no dazzle, just hey I'm excited to talk to my best friend kind of look.

"You know what's dumb? Amsterdam."

"Hello to you too."

Carmilla was in another hotel room, dark and large, and just like the others. The girl at the center of the screen was fairly par for the course, tired perhaps, and Laura tried not to read too much into the possibility that Carmilla was choosing her over her coveted sleep.

"How did Amsterdam offend you?" Laura asked, pulling her cocoa down, letting the steam billow in front of her before blowing lightly on the surface and taking a sip of the cooled ripples.

"The airport is stupid," Carmilla said.

"Didn't you drive?"

"Yes but I had to pick up goddamn Richard and he owes me three free dinners after that."

"Yeah, because making you millions of dollars just won't cut it."

Carmilla rolled her eyes and reached for her own cup of tea off to the side. Laura wanted to ask about…the ithing/i. but she could never bring herself to bring it up to her. She waited. Occasionally she'd get very late texts or calls from Carmilla and she knew. Carmilla didn't say anything, didn't confirm she was in a bad place, she just talked Laura's ear off for hours about nothing at all until the danger had passed.

Hearing her voice, hearing her rattle off childhood stories about herself, about Will, about the few times she was almost arrested and the one time she was suspended from school. She learned a lot about Carmilla through that too. She finally learned the mystery of the three last names in one family, that Carmilla's name had been Morgan for sometime before she used Karnstein as a stage name and changed it legally after things blew up with her mother, that Will's birth family demanded he keep Eisen. Carmilla talked about how her birth family was possibly descended from some Austrian noble house but the roadblock of not knowing her parents stopped any confirmation.

And she told things to Carmilla too, about her dad, about the only time she ever own a pet (a fish she killed in a week), stories about her mother, or stupid holiday traditions. In a lot of ways, Carmilla's troubles pulled them into each other, Laura wondered if she thought the same.

And it was all something thing Laura had on Ell, at least. But she wasn't comparing, she wasn't playing that game. And she wasn't jealous.

"I actually need to ask you something cupcake," she said, returning her attention to the webcam, setting down the tea.

"I'm all ears," Laura said.

"I know you're going back to Toronto for a few weeks over break and I'll be trapped doing the Asian half of this tour," Carmilla said. "So…I was wondering if you wouldn't mind taking another trip. This time a little bit father than Vienna."

"You want me to come visit?" Laura said and cursed herself immediately because Betty was suddenly very interested in the conversation, up on her elbows and grinning.

"Yeah," Carmilla said, dropping her eyes. "And, not that your friends aren't great, but I was hoping it'd…just be you."

Laura was going to have to shove her heart back into her chest because it certainly broke through her breast plate and was bouncing around the room. Her breath was following it fast and her cheeks might be on fire for all she knew.

Don't jump the gun.

"Not into another group bonding session?" Laura asked casually.

"Well, maybe I just don't feel like sharing you right now."

Carmilla winked. She freaking winked.

Was that…was she…? Laura had to stop that before it got too far because Carmilla was flirty by nature, with a lot of people. It was just her being hyper aware of her physical appearance. Arrogance and pride was all. She'd used it once or twice on Laura before. No big deal.

"Where exactly would I find myself on this mini vacation?" Laura asked.

"That," Carmilla said, sitting up. "Is a secret. You'll find out when you land."

"This sounds like a kidnapping."

"Or you could trust me."

Seriousness flashed across Carmilla's face before the self-satisfied smile reappeared and the joking returned to the air. Laura was getting whiplash from these (probably intentionally) mixed signals but nothing about it felt bad. It was the rush kind that came with getting a flower at Valentine's Day or meeting your favorite celebrity.

"How will I be getting there?" Laura asked cautiously.

"Plane."

Another flash across her face and this one was of understanding. It passed between them. Though Laura might be subjected to Carmilla's driving again whenever her feet touched the ground, it would feel safer her then though, with Carmilla next to her.

"You can take a leap of faith, cupcake," Carmilla said. "I promise to make it worth your while."

Oh my god, stop!

She looked sincere though, less flirty, less batting eyelashes, more brown meeting brown trying to get some point across.

"Okay."

And that was that.

----

LaFontaine was not someone who went rooting through someone's private life. They let things sit at face value if that's all someone wanted to give. But J.P. was a specific case. He was nice and funny and had too many correct things to say at all the right times. Nobody just is that way.

"I don't have access to grad student files," Perry said when they sat down at a table in the caf.

"He went here for undergrad, said he lived in Sheridan Hall," LaFontaine said. "There's got to be an archive of those."

"And what exactly are you hoping to achieve with this?" Perry asked, taking a bite of salad. "The only thing I'll be able to give you—if I was even agree to this—would be his original home address and housing violations, maybe some academic information."

"Well it's a start."

"A start for what exactly?"

Good question. They had a hard time defining it which was probably a sign that they should back off and let it be. But they remembered the Alchemy club party at the beginning of the year when he almost told them his real first name. It was enough evidence to show that there was something to hide. Especially considering they didn't even know his real first name. Even on Twitter is was under J.P. and he had no Facebook. Maybe if they got a look at one of his credit cards.

They were looking at this empirically of course. The hypothesis was that J.P. had a past…well half complete hypothesis since they had no idea if it was a good or bad past and no real empirical evidence to warrant tests.

"Even you had to notice he's like this super nice dude and always helpful," LaFontaine said.

"I wasn't aware we preformed investigations on those types of people," Perry said.

Okay, ten points to the Floor Don.

"I just feel like he gives a lot, and—"

"And you want to know if he's got some painful, dark secret that you can play the confidant to."

Perry's eyebrow was raised into scolding mode. And in the motherly "I know what you're trying to do, so stop now" mode that was somehow so specific to Perry they couldn't help but smile a little bit because it hadn't changed since they were kids.

"There are other ways to help people," she continued. "That don't involve opening old wounds."

Why not? It seemed to work perfectly well for Laura and Carmilla who were no more inseparable across continents than they were inches from each other now that Laura had become privy to whatever story hid behind the bottom of Carmilla's pill bottle.

Not that they could explain that to Perry.

"Sometimes people aren't best left to themselves though," they said. "I mean I know sometimes I was better for people asking me questions, even if it hurt. It got me thinking things I needed to think without even realizing it. Sometimes you're just not brave enough to ask for help."

"That's a dangerous line to toe LaFontaine," Perry said.

They picked up a few ketchup-drenched fries and popped them in their mouth and took a sip of flat soda.

"Look, I will look at his record," she said. "If there is something I think you, as his friend, should know then I will let you know. But otherwise you need to drop this."

It was a fair compromise. The whole being told what to do thing by Perry was a little irritating but they weren't about to further an argument after she just offered to help.

----

Danny spotted Kirsch and Sarah Jane across the quad in the middle of a heated…exchange. And by exchange she meant argument. Because there was a lot of gesturing and popping blood vessels on SJ's part. So maybe not an argument, more like a screaming at with little opportunity for the opposite party to get a word in.

And Kirsch appeared to be taking it like a scolded house pet and for some reason it looked like that only made SJ angrier and angrier. Danny tried to make it obvious that she was watching but half the pedestrians in the quad also took interest.

Danny did have enough decency to through in her headphones to avoid catching words or topics she was sure she was not meant to hear, despite how loud SJ was talking.

But then a Carmilla Karnstein song came on the Pandora station. Technology was a traitor, showing of her ridiculously good pipes and guitar riffs and super poet lyric skills and screw this. She hit skip and some old Avril Lavigne song came on instead and all that Canadian pop-punk was the perfect score to the conversation across the quad.

And also to her philosophy homework. Because she was certainly focusing on that right now. Socrates and Plato and all sorts of other dead Greek guys talking about things with way more words than they needed and lots of super intricate metaphors.

She got somewhere interesting where Plato was talking about Atlantis and all the reasons it failed when she registered a weight drop next to her and her first response was too ignore the way-to-close stranger but she felt the body next to her looking at her so she stole a quick flick of the eyes to the left and recognized it as Kirsch.

Oh.

Well this was awkward.

"Uh, hey?" Danny said, pulling out an earbud slowly. Then another.

He was pouting at the ground now, arms crossed in front of him.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Danny offered.

His lips pursed and that was the only indication that he was thinking at all. Danny sat there, trying not to make eye contact with anyone else in the courtyard.

"Can we like, not do it here?" he asked.

"Uh sure, want to grab food?" Danny said, packing away her philosophy reading and notebook.

"I was thinking more beer but sure, that too."

Okay then. She was up and following him as he quickly moved to the edge of campus, hands shoved in his pockets and shoulders scrunched up almost to his ears, hidden beneath a dark blue beanie. It was an odd look for him, frowning and hunched and quiet. And alone. Normally he was surrounded by brothers, or even just Will Eisen.

A few times Danny tried to start the conversation early but he kept a fast pace, keeping her just a few steps behind him.

"I think it's going to snow later," was all Danny got out and received a grunt in response as he crossed the street and she trailed after, following him through the door Peter's where they were greeted with instant warmth and two seats at the bar.

Kirsch's beanie was pulled off and he set it down on the bar as Danny dropped her bag and unwrapped her scarf to let it hang loose over her shoulders. Kirsch ordered two of something before Danny even knew the bartender had been over to them and it wasn't until two glasses of dark amber sat in front of them that he finally talked.

"Sarah Jane broke up with me," he said, taking a sip.

So it was as bad as Danny thought.

"That sucks," she said taking a sip of beer as well. "I'm sorry. I tried not to catch too much of the…show."

He nodded and took another sip. Well this one wasn't a sip, it was more like a hulking gulp because half the contents were gone when the glass rejoined the bar surface. Danny wondered if she should try to keep up or try to be the clear headed one who kept him from drunk texting. Why was she doing this and not Will?

"Where's Will?" she echoed herself aloud.

"He's been pissy lately," Kirsch said. "Ever since that crap with his sister."

"Still fighting?"

Odd.

"Yep. He's been talking to his mom a bunch though lately so I guess some good came out of it."

Yay? She guessed? She took another drink of beer to keep from having to comment and Kirsch followed suit with another huge intake and the glass came down empty.

"Jeez," Danny said. "You sure you wouldn't rather talk about it?"

"She got mad about the dinner thing, with your parents."

Oh fuck.

Danny finished her beer.

"Kirsch you said she'd be cool," she said, slamming the glass, empty, back down onto the counter.

"I thought she would be," he said.

The bartender was over and wordlessly refilled their glasses and returned them to eager hands and even more eager throats.

"Kirsch, no one wants to think their significant as with someone else, even if it's just for show. Haven't you seen any rom com?" Danny said.

"I tried to tell her and then she got pissed when she saw you in the quad," he said. "It's not your fault though."

"I didn't think it was."

They were quiet for a while after that, drinking and glaring and occasionally pretending to pay attention to the rerun of some Arsenal game from last season.

Why was Danny a magnet for stupid relationship drama with people she wasn't even dating? Laura was off being smitten with Carmilla and still apprehensive of any text Danny sent her that even suggested she worried for her well-being and now Kirsch was dumped by his girlfriend because she played at being his girlfriend too.

She was swearing off relationships after this next beer.

----

Carmilla was standing at the bottom of the escalator in the arrivals terminal surrounded by fifty other locals and chauffeurs. She had called twice before the plane took off from Graz to remind Scott the destination was a secret, no matter how much Laura batted her eyelashes. She had considered telling him to blindfold her but she trusted that Laura would follow the instructions she sent her when the plan was a half hour from landing

Close your eyes…

And so Laura had when Carmilla saw her familiar, small silhouette on the escalator, eyes squeezed tight and halfway down and hand went over them. Scott was behind her, arms hovering close to catch her if she fell and help guide her off the escalator.

Carmilla stepped forward when she saw Laura stumbled so slightly off and forward, Scott guiding her just a bit until Carmilla was a foot from her and watched a smile pull the corners of Laura's mouth up and she knew she could smell her perfume. She leaned in and took Laura's hand from her face and placed her lips next to her ear.

"Keep them closed," she whispered.

The smile vanished into a gulp and Carmilla smirked. Laura's hand in hers, she pulled her along the lobby carefully dodging strangers and hoping Laura didn't overhear any accents on the way outside. At some point in the walk, one of them laced their fingers together but it wasn't clear who.

On the busy street Carmilla pulled her just a little bit longer to try and get the best view before a shouting stander-by ultimately gave away their location. She stopped Laura at the corner of the street and stepped behind her, their hands still joined as she leaned on her shoulder and placed herself against her ear again.

"Open."

A Carmilla heard a gasp as Laura opened her eyes and was met with the site of the London skyline. She fell back ever so slightly into Carmilla and bounced forward against instantly, her neck doing that thing were it turned red.

"Carm…"

Laura turned around and was apparently a lot closer than she thought she would be because her head swayed backwards slightly and the red on her neck stretched up and up until it touched her hairline. She took a step back and her throat muscles bounced in another thick swallow.

"This is…"

"I figured you'd appreciate the BBC-ness of it all," Carmilla said, hands going in pockets.

"Carm I've wanted to see London since I was twelve and I know you knew that," Laura said through her own version of a smirk.

"Well, maybe someone tipped me off," Carmilla shrugged.

Laura squeaked and she launched into Carmilla's arms which had to quickly be prepared to catch her. And catch her they did as every part of them was flush their cheeks were flushing. Chaste as it was, skin on skin sent a tidal wave of a shiver all the way down to Carmilla's toes and she hoped Laura couldn't feel the goosebumps.

She was going to have to admit this to herself before she went crazy. Yes, she had experimented with flirting with Laura to see how it would go. And yes it turned out to be far more addicting than she anticipated and yes it made her anxious to know what it would feel like if all that teasing and attention was reciprocated.

And yes, she very much knew this got way too deep because who the hell just takes cross continent trips to spend the weekend alone with someone? Well, maybe best friends, as Carmilla knew they both identified. It felt different to Carmilla than it probably felt to Laura though.

She wasn't going to focus on that now though because Laura was real and warm and right here and it was so much better than a computer screen.

"As much as I know you want to shove your face into every store window in a ten mile radius," Carmilla said. "I am starving."

"Good, because plane food is disgusting."

Carmilla nodded to Scott who grabbed Laura's singular bag and moved it to a car. Laura made a motion to follow but Carmilla grabbed her arm and pulled her down the opposite direction.

"We'll walk, it's not far."

She hoped Laura didn't know what she was doing. But Laura was quiet at her side and bumping her shoulder just enough to be intentional. They walked mostly quietly because Laura was yawning and Carmilla wasn't sure how two hours doing nothing but sitting and listening to an iPod on a plane could possibly take anything out of her, but she was small and could probably only feel one emotion at a time and the vibrating with excitement on the plane was just enough to tucker her out. Good thing she got a room with two working beds this time.

"A London tradition, disgusting as it is," Carmilla said, walking up to a pub advertising fish and chips on the front window.

She pulled the door open for Laura who hopped in happily, waking up a bit at the smell of fried dough, vinegar, and beer. It was gag inducing to Carmilla but Laura seemed ready to boil right over.

"Carm, this is seriously amazing," Laura said as they sat down in a booth.

"Consider it a Christmas gift," Carmilla said ignoring the fact that she had also bought Laura a real Christmas gift she was giving to her before she left. Whatever.

"My dad is going to freak."

"Or order a PI on me."

"Oh please, he's going to love you."

Why did that sound like meet-the-parents talk? And why did that excite Carmilla? That fluttering in her chest was obnoxious. She should drown it in London gin since stout was disgusting.

"I'm going to let you share my chicken when you realize fish and chips is disgusting," Carmilla said, staring at Laura over the rim of her glass of gin and tonic. Laura was probably the only person who could be whisked to London and then order a goddamn margarita of all things.

"Doubtful," Laura said, pulling her straw into her lips with her tongue.

Was that flirting? Was that Laura's dork version of it? Don't get excited Karnstein.

They did end up picking at each other's dinner's but not out of disgust, it was fun to watch Laura pout as Carmilla stole fries from her. At first it was discrete but as soon as Laura noticed it turned into a battle as Laura fended off Carmilla's fork with her own and occasionally stole bits from Carmilla's. They traded drinks occasionally and Laura pursed her lips and scrunched her cheeks at the taste of gin after the tangy sweet of her margarita and Carmilla made a show up sucking up half of Laura's drink, earning a swat. Carmilla ordered her another and ignored how not innocent it was to see Laura giddily lick the sugar off the rim.

"This is insane," Laura said, looking up at the sky once they were outside after Carmilla paid with a massive tip.

"Careful with the spinning around bit, you had two margaritas," Carmilla warned through a smile, slowing her swiveling to get in everything at once.

"You'll catch me," Laura shrugged.

"Always."

She didn't think Laura heard it because her eyes were latched onto Big Ben across the way and she was babbling something about it being used in an episode of Doctor Who and Carmilla smiled and nodded but mostly smiled and Laura had no idea. The city lights twinkled off her eyes and Carmilla caught them all as they walked.

"Too bad there aren't many stars here for you," Laura slurred just a bit.

Carmilla weighed in her head how corny it would be to say she did have at least one star right next to her and decided to bite her tongue. And she had to bite it hard to keep that in. Laura threw an arm around her waste and hugged tightly and Carmilla let her arm go over Laura's shoulders as they sauntered together back to the hotel dreaming of cotton sheets and fluffy pillows and super expensive smelling hotel soup.

And just maybe with her here she could actually put down the pill bottle like Laura so beautifully thought she had.

----

"Dude, what the hell happened?" Will said.

It was never good when someone called you from a friend's phone asking to come get them, especially from a bar. This was the fifth night in the past two weeks that Kirsch had been missing from the house only to return by early morning.

The week long, obvious, binge shouldn't have made this a surprise but he didn't expect Kirsch to be this far gone. He was slumped over and huffing and looked like he was trying to decide whether the alcohol was going to induce his anger or his tears. The tall Summer Society sister was next to him, handing the phone over to Will.

"His girlfriend broke up with him," she said. She seemed a little bit tipsy herself.

"Oh shit are you serious?" he looked at Kirsch. "When?"

"Like a week ago," Danny said. "He kind of took it hard."

"Jesus Christ."

Well now he felt like an ass. Why hadn't Kirsch told him? Even worse, why hadn't he thought to ask after the third time he went to bed at past midnight and Kirsch was nowhere to be found? Well he was a fucking lousy friend.

"I'll get him home," he said.

"I'll help," Danny said.

It occurred to Will that he should ask why Danny seemed so privy to Kirsch's issues and served as the commiserating party at the bar and not him. It was bro 101, drink together to get over break ups and trash talk on exes.

Together they walked out with Kirsch. He wasn't bad enough to stumble but he was certainly in a mood that didn't look well on him. Will kept the phone locked away in his pocket, no matter how many times Kirsch demanded to see it to try and send SJ a text.

"What happened?" Will asked quietly over Kirsch to Danny.

"Uh, complicated," she said, looking down.

"Can't be that complicated," he said.

"Ask Kirsch about it tomorrow," she mumbled.

Okay whatever. He could wait.

"Dude why didn't you say anything to me?" Will asked as they played it as cool as possible, passing campus security.

"You were having crap with your sister and stuff, I didn't want to bug you."

Oh course Carmilla ruined this too. Of course she weaseled her way into this as well and Kirsch had to suffer alone and with some Psycho Society chick and Will was one rung lower and finding out secondhand that his friend needed help.

"I think I failed my lit test," he groaned, dropping to his knees in overdramatic anguish.

"Oh get up," Danny shoved him up and to his feet as they cut across the grass of a courtyard toward the Zeta house.

"I thought you were studying with Laura," Will said, pulling him along.

"She left to go visit your sister."

What?

Danny seemed caught off guard by that one too but a lot less enraged than Will felt. So his sister pulled in the moth again and she was preparing to zap her dry because that's how everything went with her. He told as much that night and still she lead Laura on and on.

Maybe that's how it started with the girl from California, fucking precious Ell. Carmilla was like one of those poisonous plants in the Amazon, pretty to look at, drawing things in before using up their attention and moving onto the next unsuspecting organism that was stupid enough to fall for the sheep's clothing and missing the wolf.

"Fan-fucking-tastic," Will muttered and they kept going on.

They reached the house and got Kirsch inside without disturbing the loud game of Monopoly in the living room. Danny refused to take more than three steps inside before she took off for the night and told Will to tell Kirsch to text her in the morning.

Yeah, like that was going to happen.

Kirsch got up the stairs with minimal stumbling before he landed on his bed, chest first and Will dropped onto his, Kirsch's phone still in his hand until he was sure he was actually asleep and not going to make a dive for it. Maybe he should delete SJ's number as an extra precaution.

He unlocked the phone and saw a Snap notification waiting on the homescreen from Laura Hollis. Before he could tell himself no and that it was a stupid idea, he swiped it open and was met with the sight of Laura, arm wrapped around Carmilla, clearly forcing her into the picture. Carmilla's hand was precariously placed at Laura's waist, probably thinking it was hidden from the picture. Laura was looking at the camera, but Carmilla's eyes were glued on her.

Will quickly took a screenshot and then texted it to himself. He threw the phone on Kirsch's nightstand and walked over to his desk, flipping open his laptop, emailing the picture to himself.

He spent an hour there, drumming his fingers on the desk and listening to music and pacing in his mind as he weighed the pros and cons of what he was thinking. It would cause trouble but possibly save Laura more, and it just might force Carmilla into talking to their mother again. It would cause some pain but it would end in more good than anything else. At least that's what Will believed.

So he typed in his mother's email, attached the photo and typed quite simply:

They're in London.

Chapter Text

My hopes are so high that your kiss might kill me, so won't you kill me so I die happy, my heart is yours to fill or burst to break or bury or wear as jewelry, whichever you prefer…

--

Laura's head was spinning and it had absolutely nothing to do with alcohol. She was in the wings of the stage, watching electricity out on the floor, not in the crowd but with the girl on stage with guitar who had them so enraptured too. Carmilla was a different person on stage.

Or maybe, she was just a bigger version of herself. Charisma shot out to every corner of the venue on the music notes and she had to same sarcasm when she made comments between sets but it was bigger, it was everyone in the room. And while Laura could see the appeal 20,000 British kids responded to as she did this neat trick where she swung the guitar around her shoulders and caught it again, she preferred the micro version that always seemed so honed in on her.

"Sorry for showing off," she said into the mic. "Trying to impress a friend."

Carmilla didn't turn towards her or acknowledge that she felt Laura's magnetic eyes or feel the heat radiating from flushed cheeks from where she stood but the smirk on her face told Laura she knew all those things already.

She went into the next song and Laura decided to step back for a bit and raid the craft services table by one of the dressing rooms for all the M&M's out of the Chex Mix. She checked her phone for messages but all she had were snarky texts form Betty telling her to "use protection" and "don't put out unless she pays for dinner." LaFontaine's own comments, similarly themed, were less blunt but plenty of winky faces followed seemingly innocent comments.

Sometimes, Laura wondered if maybe this all went a little too far. Two months ago they sat in a bar trying to power through a miserable project for her journalism class (a project she really should delete off her computer soon, she needed to remember to do that) and now she was dopey eyed for that same arrogant asshole who, while still arrogant and mostly an asshole, turned out to be a little more than first glance would suggest.

And it didn't help that she know knew exactly how to make Laura laugh or get her red faced and bunched up over a TV show.

Laura had some things on her too though, she thought. Minus the gut-wrenching tragic backstory of her wayward teenage love, Laura knew that Carmilla was secretly a sap when it came to movies she watched and that she had a weird thing for vampire pop culture that she was absolutely not allowed to tell anyone about. She knew that Carmilla would pout and glare at her for eating all the M&M's and she knew she'd smile and mumble an embarrassed thank you when Laura inevitably bought her more on the way home.

And Laura, more than anything, at least knew now that she wasn't okay with someone else knowing exactly what she knew about Carmilla. She wasn't possessive, she knew how incredibly damaging possessiveness could be and it's something that certainly hurt what could have been between her and Danny. But she couldn't help it, and maybe for the first time she was forgiving Danny for all the phone calling and territorialism.

No one else was allowed to have Carmilla because everyone else would do it wrong.

She plucked out three M&M's and popped them in her mouth before grabbing a bottle of water from the strange pyramid sculpture of them erected in the corner of the table just as a thunderous roar drowned out the hurried chatter of backstage and Carmilla, sweaty and in a hurry, rushed backstage with three stagehands immediately putting their hands on her to adjust mic tap or clothes or makeup.

"You catch the set cutie?" Carmilla asked breathlessly. Laura knew that she was really asking did you see my awesome guitar trick?

"No sorry, M&M's were calling my name," Laura teased and Carmilla immediately pouted.

Laura smiled and walked up to her, offering her one, and Carmilla gingerly took it from her palm and popped it in her mouth. She winked at Laura as she chewed and Laura tried to pretend this moment wasn't being shared with three strangers touching Carmilla all over and ripping off pieces of her clothes.

"I bring you all the way out here and you can't even appreciate the fine art," Carmilla said, pulling out her earbud to exchange it for a new one.

"I thought you brought me out here to see me before winter break," Laura said.

"I don't like you that much."

Laura slapped her arm and Carmilla was laughing, accepting a new earbud and straightening her shirt.

"A few more cupcake and then I'm all yours," she said, turning to head back out.

Hey how do you feel about making that all yours thing like a permanent arrangement? Just curious to see if this whole misplaced crush thing is destroying your stomach and ruining your sleep too?

In a good way of course. Her stomach felt like it was floating on air 90% of the time and her dreams were of music and dark hair and Carmilla's perfume.

L Hollis (11:05pm): Laf, I am so screwed.

LaFontaine (11:07pm): Are we talking screwed as in you got D or screwed as in…;)

L Hollis (11:08pm): Screwed as in you were right and I have a massive crush on Carmilla and I'm literally jealous of every other person in the room but she called me her best friend so I doubt it's going to end well at all.

LaFontaine (11:10pm): Only you could master the art of rambling in text. That being said, L you have to be blind to not see that she's totally into you too. Talk about it, or get a couple drinks and then talk about it, but seriously I don't think you have anything to worry about there. She likes you.

But this was a celebrity they were talking about. A celebrity with fans and Twitter posts that mattered and how the hell did one even begin to navigate something like that? How do you do a long distance relationship with someone who belongs to half the world? All those followers and fanclub people who know her name and make theories about her and probably send her a fair bit of hate mail as well. She'd become part of Carmilla and everything in front of a camera lens, instead of Carmilla becoming hers in the quiet corner of her dorm room.

This love affair might be over even before it started because Laura was not cut out for spot light and scrutiny and Carmilla was supposed to be hers.

Well that was a sentence that would sound awful if she said it outside her head.

Out on the stage Laura could hear Carmilla take to the piano again and her jazz room voice filling a momentarily quiet venue at rapt attention as the keys started.

Laura could put the mental Olympics of dealing with crushes aside for now and appreciate that Carmilla sang with a happier tone. That might just have been her imagination though.

----

"Why the hell would you want a four legged, furry child running around your house?" Carmilla said, taking a sip of her soda.

"Because dogs are awesome," Laura countered. "Besides, cats are boring and would be more likely to push you down the well instead of running for help."

"And there's another point, you don't see cats constantly having to get put down for rabies in movies, because they're smart enough to stay away," she said.

"I should expect this from someone who named their car 'Bagheera'," Laura said.

"Yeah, it's a badass name."

"And Bagheera, I will remind you, is a villain."

"Which is badass."

Laura rolled her eyes across the table and sipped up what was left of her fountain drink with a gurgle and a shake of the ice before she set it down in defeat.

"You sounded good tonight," Laura said.

"As oppose to?"

"Oh my god."

Carmilla felt her mouth pull and couldn't fight the urge to smile in Laura's direction (and at her expense) when her face bunched in frustration before melting into a smile one might give an adorable pet that knocked over the vase for the 4th time.

Not that she was Laura's pet.

Not that Laura had her on a lease.

Not that she willingly crawled in a cage for her.

Not that she totally gave up the last of her fries at one glance at Laura's pouting face when she ran out herself.

Scott was in a booth by himself behind them and Carmilla had occasionally passed him a chicken nugget while he typed on a Blackberry and reminded her every five minutes that it was late and it was rude to close down an entire McDonald's. It all ended in a shrug and another nugget from her 20 piece box and he reset his worry clock by another few minutes.

But without Laura's drink to pace her, she devoured the rest of the fries and then slowly forced themselves up to head back, encouraged by Laura's yawn. And true to Scott's warnings, a throng of people waited outside to get into the McDonald's to feed their drunk munchies, a few even looked like they were stragglers from the concert and up went Carmilla's hood quickly.

Laura took her arm and pulled her tightly into her and she did her best not to melt into a puddle of pure heart attack.

"Helping your cover," Laura said, a tad bit shakey at the edges.

She just nodded and took comfort in knowing no way was anyone going to recognize a shaking, nervous wreck as Carmilla Karnstein.

Because who the hell was she right now? Really? She'd been attracted to girls, she'd, unfortunately, slept with them. But no one inspired trembling, teenage Carmilla who hadn't reacted this way to a girl since…

Oh fucking hell.

Laura released her grip just then and put a trench of distance between them and Carmilla couldn't be happier to have the apparent 5 ft radius she needed to breath all the sudden. Fuck this emotions crap, it was scary as fuck and it felt like a dump truck just ran her down.

And yet she wasn't hurt at all. In fact she might be floating. It was driving her crazy and she wanted to pace every street and run up every wall. She wanted to drink everything in sight and write and also wanted to punch herself in the face and lay on the ground for hours groaning.

But worst, all of that excited her. Every time her heart picked up it felt like sugar in her blood jet.

"I like having you around cupcake," she said before she knew it.

"Well I am good crazy fan bait, for sure," she said back smugly and Carmilla was both relieved and disappointed at Laura's misunderstanding.

But Carmilla got her all night, for as long as their eyes stayed open she was going to absorb every part of Laura because holy hell was it addicting. This feeling was addicting, this particular brand of putting acupuncture into the nerves inside that no one could see but she felt like a million little pulses. She was bruising herself thinking of Laura and that smile wiped all the black and blue clean. That masochistic cycle felt good.

Were all crushes this intense? She'd only had one before and she refused to believe this could be something far more dangerous than that.

"You stay in," Scott said when they reached their floor.

"It was one time," Carmilla said, pulling out her room key.

"It was five times but that's fine," he said. "I'm not interested in getting another call from Dunkin Donuts."

"What the heck happened at Dunkin Donuts?" Laura giggled.

"Nothing, he's exaggerating," Carmilla said, pushing the door open.

The smell of the hotel room was a welcome sight after a night of sweat, fog machine, and grease smell. And it looked like it'd been cleaned. Fresh sheets and fluffed pillows and hours of awesome sleep were going to greet Carmilla has soon as she learned how to fall asleep before 3am.

Laura wasting little time. She was already in her room, changing into pajamas mostly likely behind that closed door and Carmilla immediatel banished any and all mental images that threatened to follow that realization. Developing hardcore feelings for someone who was your best and only friend was one thing but…fantasizing about them was ten more levels of awful and Carmilla wasn't about to even let it start.

Laura emerged, in the familiar flannel bottoms and grey tank as Carmilla lounged out on the couch and put her still boot covered feet on the coffee table. Laura came over and sat down next to her, close enough that their legs were touching.

"You know, I am capable of taking car rides," Laura said.

"Huh?"

"We don't have to walk everywhere, I can handle it most of the time."

"London is just a great place to walk around in."

Laura hummed a response behind a smile but Carmilla didn't give an inch at being caught and nodded seriously which only made Laura break out into a wide grin and a laugh.

"I will say, I do like the idea of you walking instead of driving," Laura said.

"My driving that terrible cupcake?" Carmilla said.

"I just get nervous for you," Laura said, a little smaller.

Carmilla didn't want to focus on the connection Laura was making in her head between Carmilla and her mother because that would mean high levels of attachment and affection and feelings that Carmilla was terrified to chase down the rabbit hole inside her own chest.

"Just please don't'…"

Please don't get hurt, please don't die…

"It's not my intention."

"It never is."

Carmilla decided to hazard an arm around Laura's shoulders and the latter all but melted into Laura's body. An arm came across Carmilla's stomach and hooked on tight to the opposite side, holding her. She hoped that Laura couldn't feel how her muscles coiled and coiled every time she felt the expansion of a stomach at her side and a heavy, fast thudding that had to be Laura's own heart racing her own.

"Sorry, I went from 0 to downer," Laura said. Her voice was vibrating her chest plate.

"Nothing wrong with getting worried, losing people you love does that to you," Carmilla said thinking about those nights on the beach surrounded by Ell.

"Just be careful," Laura said.

"Yes ma'am."

The proximity of their body parts and the obvious and apparent cuddling only became truly alarming for Carmilla when they stopped talking and were literally sitting in the living room of the hotel room doing nothing but holding each other. That definitely wasn't some platonic shit. And she panicked at the idea of Laura realizing this and running to bed with a good goodnight my platonic and super stellar best friend of no underlining tension, thanks pal.

But Carmilla was slowly falling in love with being terrified.

"I got you a Christmas gift," Laura yawned. "Or Hanukkah gift. Or a whatever gift—did we even discuss that?"

"Hey it could be a Memorial Day gift and I'd take it poptart," Carmilla said.

Laura didn't say anything after, smiling back down into Carmilla's torso.

"So was there no continuation of that?" Carmilla said.

"Nope, I'm going to let you think about it for the next few days and ask all sorts of questions I'll refuse to answer," Laura said, a smile against Carmilla's ribs.

"You know, I don't respond well to torture," Carmilla said into Laura's hair, trying to get danger across in her whisper without breaking into a smile.

"Oh?"

"Mhmm, I might have to return to the favor."

"By teasing me with my own gift?"

"Not quite what I had in mind."

Laura didn't have time to answer before Carmilla's fingers attacked the meat at her hips and high on her arms and Laura's giggles came out unrestrained and without consent.

Reiterating: who the hell are you Karnstein?

Tickle fights. Cuddling. Flirting that had nothing to do with the possibility of sex. It was loops she rode out and ended disoriented in a new place. But it was intoxicating because it was Laura so she kept doing it because she couldn't make it stop.

Eventually Laura fought back and Carmilla, too disgusted with the fact that she had actually instigated a fucking tickle war like some goddamn 15 year old, gave up quickly, allowing herself to be pushed back into the couch, the feeling of Laura's fingers so hot on her that she swore she could feel her fingerprints through her shirt.

And that's how Laura Hollis ended up straddling her hips in a dark hotel room at 2:30 in the morning.

Well this was a new experience.

Laura seemed to think so too because her eyes went wide in the dark before she shuffled back, slowly, perhaps to avoid revealing that she was reading this exactly as Carmilla's was. But Carmilla followed her up on a hinge and pulled her legs out from underneath Laura's weight and began talking about the things they were supposed to do tomorrow on Carmilla's day off and they settled back into talking and sitting for a while, cuddling was off the docket for now and Carmilla's a tad grateful.

Eventually, Laura's words became quick hums and general phonetic sounds of agreement before it all went quiet in the ebb of her snores, her head had fallen back onto Carmilla's shoulder and she was loath to move but she also knew the neck pain would be a bitch in the morning if Laura didn't get herself to a normal sleeping position.

She gave her a nudge as she removed her shoulder from beneath the gentle curve of her cheekbone and Laura stirred.

"Time for bed buttercup," Carmilla said.

"No," she slurred. "I don't want to leave you up alone."

"I'm not stranger to it, I'll be fine," Carmilla assured, pulling her up and walking with her to the room.

"I can just—"

"I'm fine, I'm going to bed too."

She knew Laura was too far gone to not believe her lie.

Carmilla hovered in the doorway, refusing to enter further. The shape in the dark that was Laura crawled into the bed and under the covers and sighed.

"Goodnight Laura," Carmilla said.

"How come," a yawn interrupted her. "You always call me by name when you tell me goodnight."

"Because I want it to be the last thing you hear before you fall asleep," Carmilla teased and stepped outside.

She hadn't been teasing.

And in the living room, awake, she was alone. And alone was dangerous. And when she popped the pills in her mouth it wasn't about blocking out memories or the ghosts of pain in her hand. It was just about sleeping, just like Laura wanted.

No harm in that.

----

Laura's stomach managed to contain itself by morning and avoid jumping back up in her throat again. It just took many long tries of absolutely not thinking about how well she knew the contours of Carmilla's body after one brief chat on the couch and a middle school bout at tickling.

She wasn't a super sexual person. Well, virginity aside, she had never really thought about people in that way. She knew attraction to someone was the surface level response to things going on deeper but it never occurred to her until last night the crazy potency those urges had when combined with feelings. The butterflies Carmilla's smile brought mixed with the heat at the base of her spine. The rapid heart rate at hearing Carmilla's laugh played tag-team to shallow breaths at brushing just a little too high on Carmilla's stomach.

This was getting a little bit out of control and she needed someone to talk to about it but all LaFontaine seemed to have to say was go for it. Perry's response would likely be something about being safe and cleaning up. Kirsch had no idea how to deal with women and she wouldn't torture Danny with this conversation.

There was always the possibility of asking Carmilla in the most deep-cover hypothetical she could cook up. But Carmilla was also one of those tightly stitched "love is weakness" wannabes and would probably tell her to ignore it all.

She hoped, if there was even a glimmer of shared feeling inside Carmilla, she didn't push it away.

"Going to a prison on my one day of freedom," Carmilla said. "Yay."

Laura absently nudged her with an elbow as she read the pamphlet on the Tower of London.

"Actually, according to this the Tower was an armory, a records office, a residency, and a bunch of other stuff. It only got a reputation as a prison during Elizabeth I," Laura said, paraphrasing. "It was, however, seen as a symbol of oppression to the peasant class so I suppose you could work with that."

"Gee thanks."

Laura stuck a tongue out at Carmilla as they kept walking through the stone walls, following the tour guide, lagging in the back.

"Hey, you know what would make this really fun?" Carmilla said, craning her head to look at something behind Laura.

"What?"

"If we made this a little more self-guided," she said.

There was a warm hand circling Laura's wrist and pulling and suddenly the din of tourists was gone as she found herself pressed close to Carmilla in a small niche. Before Laura could protest, Carmilla was pulling her again as the crowd got farther from them and suddenly they were alone in a probably very off-limits hallway.

"Carm," Laura hissed. "This isn't an abandoned school building in the middle of the night."

"Chill, there's plaques on this stuff, that means tours come through here," she said.

"Yeah, guided ones," Laura said.

"And where is the star journalist's sense of adventure?"

Carmilla cocked her head and pulled on Laura's wrists again, walking backwards and Laura needed to work on the communication between brain and limbs because she really shouldn't be following her. They managed not to get kicked out of the Tower of London, but only because when they were finally caught, the part time teenager cleaning off a stairwell railing was a huge fan and Carmilla agreed to give him a picture if he let them go.

They got lunch at some café with a view of the river and Laura took about eight Snaps with Carmilla's phone, getting Carmilla in about seven of them. She ignored many of LaFontaine's responses with heart eye emojis and stopped Snapping altogether when Betty joined in.

It was only when they took an after lunch walk around town and Carmilla bought Laura some Uni Jack teddy bear when she wasn't looking that it occurred to her this might be what having Carmilla as a girlfriend felt like. Carmilla seemed to be her girlfriend very much in practice at least. There was no physical aspects and no talk of feelings beyond, but buying things, picture taking, getting dragged around (often by the hand), nightly Skype calls and messages of goodnight Laura.

If Laura could get brave enough to just take one little step over that blatant line, it could be the most amazing thing she'd ever experienced.

Problem was, this would take a very different type of courage.

But Carmilla was not brave enough or not willing to do it herself. And if Carmilla felt a fraction of what Laura did, then it would be amazing for her too. And Carmilla deserved amazing and Laura was sure Carm's best shot at it was with her.

How did people go about this in movies? Somehow the whole just grabbing her face and kissing her thing seemed like a party foul in real life. And the whole candlelight dinner thing wasn't going to happen while on vacation in London. That didn't mean she couldn't ask her out though. She could totally ask her out, she could totally take Carmilla to dinner tonight.

But what if this was all in her head? What if she really was the only one feeling this and she ruined everything she had with Carmilla? How was Carmilla going to bear losing Laura because she got selfish and impulsive. She should think this through more, go over pros and cons, painstakingly review their interactions for social cues.

"The steam is coming out of your ears sundance," Carmilla said in her ear and bumping her shoulder.

"Oh sorry," Laura said, jumping slightly.

"Apologize to those fried neurons," she said. "What possibly had you grinding so many gears in there?"

"Just um…how about I let you know when I figure it out?"

It wasn't smooth and Carmilla's brow furrowed but she didn't push it, shrugging and walking along.

The next few hours Laura made mental pacts with herself to ask Carmilla out "Hey do you want to go to dinner tonight? Like together, alone, where I pay and maybe someone kisses someone at the end of the night?" way too wordy. But "go on a date with me" felt far too unimportant for all the things Laura was feeling and all the ways she wanted to make Carmilla smile.

She would tell herself by the time they crossed the next street she would ask, and then the next street and on it went for blocks as they window shopped and took pictures and talked and Laura pretended to not be fighting down a thunderstorm inside her chest.

"So, cupcake, got any plans tonight?"

The playing field tilted so hard that Laura almost walked into a pole and Carmilla laughed, pulling her to safety.

"What?"

"We're going to a party tonight cutie."

Oh, of course. It had been a joke. One of those flirty jokes Carmilla liked to toss out like candy wrappers and every time Laura fell for it. She was sure her stomach was a pile of ropes as she nodded and Carmilla rolled her eyes and snickered, tugging her along.

All this adrenaline and false hope did hurt in the best way though.

----

Okay so maybe Carmilla played it a little fast and loose with the term "party", not that Laura would probably really understand the difference between party and rave at first glance. But it was London and what kind of trip would it be to London for a college student if they didn't partake in a famous London rave? As long as they stuck to alcohol and dancing it really wouldn't be much different than what Laura probably got up to at school.

"Is this acceptable?" Laura said, emerging from her bedroom for a second time after Carmilla sent her back, throwing a bunch of her own clothes to try on.

"Perfect," Carmilla said, fighting off a dry throat at the sight of Laura in her clothes. She'd gone for the most colorful ones she could find but Carmilla knew they'd smell like Laura when they returned to her.

Laura was using this time to scan Carmilla's clothes as well, if she liked what she saw, she shoved it under reddening cheeks and a sharp inhale through the nose. Scott was gone for the night, Rick was gone, she had no shows or obligations. Her and Laura and dancing and drinking and fun. Perhaps her dreams would come true, perhaps they wouldn't even come close. Both possibilities petrified her.

"You stick close to me, yeah?" Carmilla said, stepping up to Laura who didn't flinch.

"Taking me to a seedy spot Miss Karnstein?" Laura said.

"No," she said. "But don't want anyone getting any ideas. This is kind of a big party."

"Ideas?"

Ideas that you're single, ideas that you're looking to hook up, ideas that you're anything other than mine…

She couldn't say any of those things of course.

"You're my date tonight," Carmilla winked.

Dropping ambiguous lines like that was too easy for Carmilla at this point she felt little reaction from it and couldn't discern if Laura was squirming or not (she liked to imagine she was).

They were out on the street because Carmilla wasn't about to shove Laura into an Uber car, besides the venue wasn't far according the flyer and the chilly air invited the possibility of all sorts of chivalrous jacket offering and shoulder hugging. Not that she was trying to orchestrate some sort of seduction. Because sucking Laura into the vortex of pain Carmilla sat at the center of was not in her plans but who didn't love to live out a movie every now and again?

Carmilla liked to pretend normal things were made for her too. She could belong to the world of college romance for just one night.

So they walked, bumping into each other and laughing, Laura occasionally grabbing Carmilla's arm and then pulling away like she'd been burned. Could be both good and bad. Jury would be out on that for a while probably.

"You promise to Skype me over break?" Laura asked as they crossed a street.

"Duh," Carmilla said. "However, I'm not the one going a break, so I feel like that question makes more sense in reverse."

"You're the busy one though," Laura said.

"Always time for you babe."

Fuck. Babe? Babe?! God fucking Christ dammit. Why? Why?! She could have said anything, any number of edible things and it would have been fine, but no she has to go for the one very less ambiguous, very girlfriend-y pet name.

She played the game of Schrodinger's cat for a few seconds before finally looking over to gauge Laura's reaction to find she had in fact, not heard it all, staring at some restaurant across the street. Thank Christ.

They approached a block of warehouse apartments and Carmilla shoved the giddy school girl antics aside and pulled Laura in close.

"I meant what I said, stick with me okay?" Carmilla said.

"Yes ma'am," Laura gave a mock salute but seemed to take the grip at her hip seriously enough because she didn't tease further or pull away.

Inside it was both incredibly dark and vibrantly bright. Electric blue and green lasers were dancing patterns over the crowd, bright clothes glowed under hidden black lights accented by neon shines. The splashes of color cut a dizzying silhouette that bounced and pulsed with the music. Laura, thankfully, seemed hypnotized rather than terrified at the sight. But she caught on fast.

Carmilla pulled her over to the refreshment stand, pulling out two cans of cheap piss water beer and offered one to Laura.

"Could be worse," Carmilla laughed when Laura almost spit the drink right back out. "Could be rubbing alcohol."

It would take at least 3 of those cans to get her even remotely buzzed, Laura on the other hand might have some ridiculously low alcohol tolerance (she did lose it after 2 margaritas). And all that sugar swimming in her system would probably hasten the process. If it even worked that way. Either way she should keep an eye on her.

Laura grimaced before throwing back more, keeping it down this time through a look of misery and Carmilla laughed, taking another sip.

"These places are generally BYOB if you don't want to drink watered down larger all night," Carmilla said. "Let's see if we can't procure some?"

Carmilla bounced her eyebrows and finished her beer, setting down the empty who knows where and nodding along. Laura followed apprehensively through the rhythmic air, vibrating around them. She took nursing sips from the can as Carmilla immediately began scanning for wayward containers of alcohol. There were plenty of shady options in the form of flasks, half-finished wine bottles, and other possibly drugged choices. Eventually her eyes settled on a cooler, laying open, three cans decorated in infamous colorful camo.

Oh the night was just beginning now.

She palmed the Four Loko's and got one in the crook of her elbow before throwing an arm over Laura's shoulder and tugging alone as she opened her mouth to protest through Carmilla's shushing.

"This trip has been 2 parts vandalism," Laura groaned as they found a safe distance from the victim cooler.

"Which leaves room for 1 part fun," Carmilla said, opening a can.

She decided they were sharing it because a full one would floor Laura and might even put her in the hospital. Carmilla passed the can to her and watched her take a careful sip, smacking her lips a bit at the mix of tart and bitter as the concentrate flavoring and pools of alcohol combined.

"See? Things work out."

They passed the can back and forth for a half hour, Carmilla carefully monitoring Laura's intake. Not that she was in the business to police anyone's party time or thought Laura needed to be doing this kiddy table style but this could be too much of a good thing could be dangerous, even if she started shining a little brighter in the dark as her muscles loosened from rigid joints and blood beneath the skin became a river.

The can was done and Carmilla was leaned against the wall with Laura, giggling her way through a story about the first time she accidently got drunk at her high school graduation party.

"You know this is a dance party," Carmilla said. "We should use it for its intended purpose."

Laura smiled and took Carmilla's hand, pushing off the wall and towards the giant throng in the middle of the room. They carved out a spot for themselves on the edge, away from the sweaty jumping of Ecstasy induced flailing that passed for dancing in a drug induced mind.

Dancing with Laura. Oh dear lord.

It started out tame, a respectable distance between them as they moved. Laura had a natural sense of rhythm for sure that probably was not present without liquid courage but Carmilla wasn't complaining. Laura was red cheeked and laughing and once or twice grabbed Carmilla's hands to pull her in closer for some sort of dorky move. It changed however when some bass dirty remix of "In My Head" came on and all Carmilla could hear was I see you all over me… over and over.

The energy under Laura's skin ripped differently as well and everything just got so dark in a way that reminded Carmilla of the color red and the core of a volcano. Not that she'd ever been in one, but being raked over by Laura must come close.

They met in the middle and suddenly they were moving together, brushing together. Carmilla's hands found Laura's hips as her hands took purchase around Carmilla's neck. There was no talking because talking would break the spell and Carmilla wanted to follow this poison as far as it would take her.

Their hips met over and over.

Their breath mingled until it was impossible to tell which one was breathing.

There was fucking nails digging into the base of Carmilla's neck. Laura probably had no idea her grip was so taut and Carmilla's only regret was that she wouldn't be able to see the marks left there by Laura's holy hands.

"You doing okay?" Carmila finally asked and talking in Laura's ear brought them even closer.

"I think I could use some air," she whispered back, her chin resting lightly on Carmilla's shoulder.

"As you wish."

They broke away, but only by inches, still held together tightly as they pulled out of the crowd and towards the door in the corner, hands laced together, arms never too far separated that the light hair on Laura's didn't tickle Carmilla's.

The winter air outside was a welcomed rush as the sounds of music muffled behind the clang of the metal door. A few other groups had shared their sentiment and taken refuge outside to smoke or work off some bad trip.

Rather than break away, Laura kept her hand on Carmilla's as she pulled in front of her and stood there laughing, grabbing Carmilla's free hand as well.

"Karnstein has some moves," Laura said casually, clearly avoiding mentioning that they were essentially grinding on each other 30 seconds ago.

"Unfortunately I've had to pick some things up for music videos," Carmilla said.

"Unfortunate for who exactly?" Laura teased.

"You like my dancing?" Carmilla smirked right back.

Laura's eyes popped out of her head for a half second before she bit her lip and dropped her smile to the ground, face going molten.

"I know all types of dancing," Carmilla continued, lifting one of their joint hands to push Laura's chin up, eyes greeting each other again.

"Oh?" Laura swallowed.

"Mhmm."

She released her left hand and let it fall to Laura's hip, the still joined hands raised up and shifted until Laura seemed to be getting the hint and placed her free hand on Carmilla's shoulder.

"You find out all kinds of things you didn't know," Carmilla said. "Like just how scandalous waltzing can in certain lights."

"Waltzing? Scandalous?" Laura scoffed.

Carmilla tilted her head, accepting the challenge and readjusted her hands on Laura.

"Well, partners are face to face," she tugged on Laura's hip until it was one with hers. "Chest to chest."

Laura was losing the teasing scoff fast as Carmilla stepped to the side once and she followed, doing her best to keep her eyes on Carmilla and not on her feet.

"All that…"

Her hand gave a gentle push on Laura's hip, encouraging her to spin and their hands stayed joined above Laura's head.

"Whirling."

She pulled Laura back into her gravity with that pair of hands, still glued together and now hovering in the air beside them. Carmilla chanced rubbing her thumb over the soft skin on the back of Laura's hand. A tongue came out of the lips from across Carmilla and pulled in that bottom lip again.

"The right music, the right people…it might as well be sex."

In retrospect that was going to be a cringe worthy, blatant statement that was going to make Laura giggle for years to come much to Carmilla's expense. But at the moment, in the back alley of a party, hyped up on some alcohol concoction, hormones, and the rush of a young crush, it felt like the slickest thing she ever said to a girl.

"We should probably head back," Laura sighed, gently and slowing detangling their fingers.

"Sounds good to me."

They bumped hands on the way home 4 times and Carmilla snickered at each instance while Laura jumped out of her skin and shyly tucked a tuft of hair behind her ear.

----

They didn't immediately go to bed when they got back. Laura tripped her way into pajamas and got most of the makeup off her face and Carmilla had taken off her shoes, which in Carmilla land meant she was practically ready for bed.

"Don't want to go to bed too early after parties," Carmilla said when Laura reentered the room in a yawn. "The spins are the worst."

"And that probably takes all the sexiness right out of being drunk," Laura said, sitting down on the couch next to her.

"I think come morning you'll realize how unsexy drunk is," Carmilla laughed.

Laura shrugged and was happy to find her head was still buzzing enough to cuddle into Carmilla again as they had the other night. Carmilla, for her part, welcomed the contact with an arm over Laura's shoulders once again, this time sans stiffened muscles and tightly controlled breathing. In fact, finger pads lightly brushed aimless patterns over Laura's exposed bicep.

Before long the aimlessly stroking turned into tapping, rhythmic, over the skin and Laura looked up to see Carmilla's eyes were closed and her lips twitching slightly like she was talking to herself. Laura watched closely until Carmilla's eyes opened and the hand on her shoulder pulled away to continue tapping out on her own fingertips against her thumb.

She was writing a song and Laura though she must have swallowed a helium balloon that popped open summer air because she was seeing something she thought few people must have witnessed.

Watching the concentration as Carmilla, forgetting it seemed that Laura was there, continued tapping as she quickly began scribbling random letters that much be chords onto a napkin the table with her left hand. She continued this way for a few moments before sitting back and looking at the napkin, already rubbing pensively at her chin.

She tucked the napkin into her pocket and as if nothing had transpired at all, turned back to Laura and winking. And Laura had to try hard to push the question out of her mind writing about me?

"I think I owe you a gift," Carmilla said standing.

Laura tried not to smile as she disappeared and reappeared with a small, thin box wrapped in some generic wrapping paper with a message in Sharpie reading "imagine it's Harry Potter paper" and Laura snorted.

In her hands it felt like a book, a fairly light one, thin, maybe 100 pages at best. She dug her nails into the paper and pulled revealing, piece by piece, a book indeed. It was powder blue except where it was black on the spine. The front was imprinted in gold and black minimalistic designs in it read Letters to a Young Poet and farther down, the name Rainer Maria Rilke.

"I picked out the translation myself," Carmilla said. "It's a good book to read. Not just for writing but, life in general and stuff like that. 'Try to be near to things, they will not abandon you.'"

Laura opened to the first page, on it Carmilla's wavy handwriting:

"Laura, difficult things were what we were set to do".

A moment later and the book was clapping Carmila in the back as Laura's arms went around her in a hug, their cheeks touching and Carmilla's breathing hitting her ear. Carmilla was stiff until she wasn't and Laura was pulled tighter into her, chests touching, and their hearts seemed to meet in the beat.

"Thank you, Carm," Laura said as seriously as she could muster.

"No problem," she mumbled into a cascade of Laura's hair and pulled back.

"I have something for you too," Laura smiled.

She got up to her room, pulling the book into herself and smiling all the way in. She carefully parted with it on her bedside table and pulled out her own bag, stuffed with tissue paper, and walked back out where Carmilla had not moved an inch in from where she was seated on the couch.

Laura plopped down next to her and placed the bag in her lap. Carmilla carefully began picking through the bag's contents and Laura tried to curb her bouncing at the excitement of watching gift opening.

And out Carmilla pulled a small bag of glow-in-the-dark, plastic tack-on stars. Sure it felt a little 1996 but the look on Carmilla's face when she realized what she was holding made the hairs on Laura's neck stand up at the same time as her heart sprouted a pair of wings. Her mouth was open slightly, and her eyes blinking as her fingers cradled the gift.

"They come with reusable stickies so you can take them with you," Laura explained, scouting closer until her knees were against Carmilla's thigh. "You can make your constellations and stuff even in big cities."

When Carmilla turned she looked at her like Laura had never seen her look before. It was more serious than she'd ever seen and the intensity might have frightened here if her lips weren't fighting to twitch into a smile. Her eyes might have been glassy as well.

"Thank you," she breathed out, placing the stars in her lap.

Her eyes were all over Laura's. But then they weren't. They drifted down and settled there before pulling back up and Laura mimicked the gaze without meaning to, meeting her back up at eye level after glancing at her lips and the hint of a smile was gone. There was an earthquake inside Laura as she realized what was about to happen. Whether she was more excited or scared, she couldn't say, but she'd let Carmilla figure that out for her, she supposed.

Carmilla inched closer, eyes darting between lips and Laura's own. Laura stayed still as Carmilla moved in another few inches. The heat from her skin could be felt at this proximity and Laura's eyes fluttered closed. Insane as it seemed days ago, it now felt like they were exactly where they should be.

Laura knew that kiss etiquette said she should probably close the gap since Carmilla was doing all the work, but she was frozen in place, even with the most open invitation of the century. The urge to kiss a girl had never felt quite like this before and started rambling in her head should I go for her top lip or bottom? Is biting on the first kiss not cool? Am I reading too much into this still?

Shut up!

Way to make it completely not romantic by having an internal debate about the mechanics of kissing.

Carmilla was a saint of patience though, perfectly content it seemed to breath in Laura while she figured out how to prepare for what might be the most earth-shattering moment of her life. She had a finite number of seconds though before this window closed and Carmilla took this prolonged pause the wrong way.

She leaned in. Their noses were touching, their foreheads flush, all the remained was—

A blaring phone apparently.

Carmilla jumped away fast at the interruption and Laura took a breath for the first time in what felt like years.

"Fuck," Carmilla hissed through gritted teeth and Laura giggled a little bit and tried to slowdown her heartrate.

They'd almost—they were going to—she and Carmilla—she tried not to squeak in excitement because it felt like a weight had been lifted and like she wanted to listen to absolutely every love song she could get her hands on. Carmilla liked her back. That much was definitely clear. The moment might be ruined but they could have more moments, plenty of moments, they could—

Carmilla got off the phone looking like she might give a sheet of snow a run for its money. She was swallowing every two seconds and blinking rapidly into space. No, that was not part of fairy tale rom com kiss 101.

"Carm, are you okay?" Laura said quickly, getting up to place a hand on her shoulder.

"Fine," she said.

"Who was on the phone?"

"Just my manager. Knows up late so sometimes he forces conversation on me."

It felt like a lie. Well, no, it was an obvious lie.

"Carm what did—"

"Nothing, honestly. I'm just tired and you have an early flight so," Carmilla said, shuffling her foot. "Time for bed I think."

The paleness remained by the small, shy smile came back and Laura, loath to leave a vacation like that without something to show for it, walked and placed a poignant kiss on Carmilla's cheek, lingering her brush on the corner of her lips. She hoped that somewhere in that kiss there was also the assurance that Carmilla could in fact talk to her, that the urge to put her tongue in her mouth was not even close to her urge to make sure Carmilla was as happy as she possibly could be.

When she pulled away she forced herself to look at Carmilla who seemed to be slowly coming back to life as her cheeks lit up. It was a start.

"Goodnight Laura," she whispered and her stomach did a flip.

And so they parted for the night, lips untouched, but that could be rectified soon, would be rectified soon. So Laura fell asleep dreaming of all the different shades of warm Carmilla's lips would feel like and every breed of butterfly that would inhabit her stomach, not realizing that some types of butterflies were poisonous.

Chapter Text

I am contagious I am breaking down, I am nothing, I am no one's fault, I am contagious I am plagued with lies...

--

The airport was crowed because of course everyone needed to travel on a random Sunday in the beginning of December. Sure. Oh yeah, just get in the way with your giant luggage, bonus points to the screaming child running around your legs.

This is exactly why Carmilla drove whenever possible.

She might be on edge about the fact that her mother could be prowling literally anywhere around them. She could be following them, waiting to block their exit, back in the hotel room ready to pull a Rains of Castamere on Carmilla when she got back.

"Stop it," she hissed to herself while Laura got her boarding pass at the front desk.

Paranoia lead to overreaction, over reaction lead to bad choices, bad choices lead to her whipping out that little jingling bottle in her pocket…Well she was planning on doing that anyway but waiting until Laura got through security didn't seem like an option right now because she might actually punch a sign and that was a surefire way to get tackled and integrated about possible ISIS affiliations. Bad impression to leave Laura with for winter break.

She popped two pills into her mouth, heaving a dry swallow, feeling them stick on the way down, and praying she mellowed out fast enough to say goodbye to Laura properly.

"Ready?" Laura chirped from behind her, bag in hand and paper ticket in the other.

Carmilla swallowed until her throat hurt, nodding and placing a hand on the small of Laura's back, urging her along.

They probably should talk about what happened at the wee hours of the slightly buzzed morning but Carmilla wasn't sure what to say. The intentions were obvious, and, evidently, mutual, which would be a lot more mind blowing and world brightening if her manager hadn't called to tell her that her fucking mother was in London and gunning for her. And now she was too ready to jump out of her skin to possibly orchestrate some goodbye kiss at the airport. Not to mention it would just leave a gaping hole in her chest at not being able to see Laura for weeks immediately after.

Probably best to hold off, for now.

She hoped self-control was Laura's forte because it certainly wasn't hers.

"This is as far as I go I think," she said when the security check point came into view.

Carmilla shoved her hands in her pockets to keep them from grabbing Laura's face and pulling it in. Her eyes drifting to the south of her face was harder to reign in however.

"I had a lot of fun Carm," Laura said, adjusting the bag on her shoulder. "And thanks so much for the gift. I'll be talking your ear off about it the second I get back to my room tonight."

"I would hope for nothing less," Carmilla smiled.

Laura went in for the hug without warning and Carmilla barely got her caged hands free in time to wrap tightly around a smaller body and pull it tight to her.

"While I'm away," Carmilla whispered. "Try not to make any new friends."

She pulled back and winked.

"If you know what I mean," she added.

Laura's face danced confusion for a few seconds before going red as her lips pulled up at the corners. Good, that should reset the mental clock long enough for Carmilla to figure this out before they saw each other again, at which point she was going to kiss her regardless.

For now it was a kiss to the cheek from Laura, precariously placed to straddle the border between cheek and lips, and Carmilla relished the heat that lingered in the spot as Laura trotted up to the security belts, waving happily and looking like she was trying to keep in some kind of happy dance. It was infectious enough to get to Carmilla, returning the wave, and, especially, the smile.

But when Laura finally passed out of view, her stomach dropped.

The sun went down for now, and no good things happened at night. Well, no smart things anyway.

She turned and made her way out of the airport, immediately cursing herself for leaving her phone to charge in the hotel room because it would be Spotify-less walk back to the hotel.

She pulled up her hood and zipped the jacket as high as it would go, a pair of sunglasses went on as well and she wondered exactly how far was it the attempt at inconspicuous making her look painfully obvious? Whatever.

There were Christmas decorations all over the city as she marched down blocks to the beat of car horns and cockney yells. It was already too cold and she watched planes above, wondering if she managed to catch Laura's at all, imagining she was only a few hundred feet away for the few seconds they were above and then she's be hundreds of miles gone where she couldn't protect Carmilla.

Or maybe that was the pills talking. Laura wasn't a human shield. She wasn't a stress ball. But she was a security blanket and now it was gone for quite some time and Carmilla would walk back into a lonely hotel room that might let her scent linger for a while before it was foreign all over again and she'd be trapped awake in the dark without the stars to outshine cold city lights.

She had Laura's stars though. Maybe she'd make her own constellation out of it, call it Laura and let it guard the ceiling.

The hotel lobby was bustling but the elevator was empty and the hall of her floor was quiet. A nice change from the fluid veins of the city outside, as she slipped in the key and pushed the door open, coming face-to-face with a small Uni Jack teddy bear sitting on the table in the foyer of the suite.

"Thought you might need him more, but you're only borrowing him ;) – L"

Perhaps she was never really gone, perhaps the rest of Carmilla's life would be spent finding the odd corners of the world Laura managed to hide herself in for her to find.

The bear smelled like her.

"Hello Mircalla."

Oh fucking shit.

She couldn't feel how soft the bear was, her hands might be shaking but that might just be her world shattering. The air in the room turned into a vacuum and didn't have the courtesy to suck her clean and flat and dead along with it. The devil was standing in front of her.

"It's been quite some time," she said. "Thought we'd have a little chat."

Her mother took a graceful seat on the couch, the couch that she and Laura inhabited hours early, perhaps it still held the air they passed between them as they nearly kissed. Perhaps it was poisoned now.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Carmilla managed to get out. She took a step into the room, clinging to the bear because it still smelled like Laura and it might be the only thing holding her upright.

"To see you, to talk, it's been over a year sweetheart," she said. "Unfortunate that I missed your friend."

If she wanted a reaction to gauge out of Carmilla, she wasn't getting one.

"William told me you two met for some school project?" she said.

"Of course he did."

"Evidently you spilled too many unfortunate beans? At least you had the sense to clean up your mess, I'll say this much for you Carmilla, you're growing up. Though I'd personally draw the bribery line at weekend getaways to London," she said.

"That's not what this is about," Carmilla said, teeth setting together hard.

"Hmm, does she know that?"

"Yes."

Carmilla was not interested in mind games. And she still had awareness enough to void them here.

"We've got a lot of ground to cover dear," she said. "We might start with that rattling pill bottle in your pocket. Or, if you want to turn heel right out the door, TMZ would love a good story out this darling picture of you and your friend I managed to intercept."

Oh yay, pretending to give Carmilla a choice, her mother's most impressive tactic.

"Please don't do that," Carmilla said quietly.

So it was with a gun to her head that Carmilla sat down on the couch that might as well have been an electric chair and desperately held to the smell of Laura as the interrogation began.

----

LaFontaine and J.P. made a ritual out of ordering pizza to the lab. Especially if they somehow got roped into working a weekend afternoon. It opened up an opportunity of prime J.P. researching though. Finding ways to organically get the conversation on the topic of his home and family was a lot harder than it seemed however.

"Favorite Christmas gift?" they said, using a pipette to drop a sample on a glass tab.

"I got a foosball table one year," he said, eyes in the microscope.

Okay, more to work with would be appreciated. Somehow itell me the sordid details of your past please/i just didn't sound super kosher.

"So you do celebrate Christmas," they said. "I had like a mini bet with myself."

"Yep," he said. "I always have to get the lights off the roof of my mom's house every year. So if you don't hear from me, this is the year I finally fell."

Mom's house. Okay so separated parents, possible divorce. Perry's research had turned up that his mother had a different last name than him. The revealed initials hadn't opened any new door however, no crazy name like Jemmicus Pterodactyl or anything like that.

So, his parents were divorced, then. Or maybe his father died and his mother remarried. But then again "mom's house" implies he lived somewhere else. Well, he was a grad student, he may very well live on his own. Or if—this endless cycle of questions was going to drive them insane and they had samples to sort in order to earn that pizza currently on its way.

They opted for better luck over pizza as they got through three more samples prepared and shifted under the scope as he dictated out notes to a recorder.

When the pizza finally came (an hour later, they could see why they got rid of the 30 minutes or it's free deal), they staked their usual claim in the hallways outside the lab and demolished half within seconds. They'd been experimenting with toppings since the online ordering widget let you play around with virtually any combination. They found a winner in bacon and pepperoni toppings and cheesy-stuffed crust.

Perry mentioned something about getting fat from eating too much pizza, which they kindly reminded her would just be extra insulation for the harsh Austrian winter.

"I think those ZOM brothers might have something on that whole 'pizza or death' thing," J.P. said taking a generous bite out of his slice.

"Considering a world without pizza is a world I don't want to live in, I see the appeal," they say.

They carry on mindless conversation like this for an hour until there is only one slice left and they're playing the passive aggressive "no you take it" game.

"Any fun plans for break?" they ask.

"My mom's headed to Vale or something in the States so I might just hang around here," he said. "You?"

Okay so clearly dad wasn't an option, they were going with the dead theory right now.

"Headed home probably, the Perry's and my family do like a joint holiday thing," they said.

Thankfully the blow up at Halloween hadn't manage to create the first Christmas in history when the LaFontaine's and the Perry's spend it separately.

"I think Kirsch or Danny might be staying on campus," they said. "Laura's headed back to Toronto if Carmilla doesn't kidnap her again. No one's really heard from Will in weeks so I wonder how that family dinner's going to go."

"It sucks that those two are still fighting," J.P. said. "Especially in a situation like theirs."

"Like theirs?"

"Well, it's not secret Carmilla hates her mom right? Her brother was probably the only person she really had. Sometimes siblings are the only thing that keeps you grounded," he said.

"Do you have any siblings?"

They knew they must be getting somewhere because he got quiet. He looked at the one pizza in the box with intense concentration and chewed the inside of his cheek.

"Are you gonna eat that?" he asked.

They shook their head. He took the piece and shoved it in his mouth, chewing purposefully. He repeated the action about 4 more times until there was only crust left. Then he took 3 more bites to finish off the crust and began to wipe the dough dust onto his pants, leaving behind a small galaxy of crumbs.

Then he stood.

"I think we've done enough sampling for the day," he said.

He stood and took the pizza box to the trashcan in the closet across the hall. Okay so maybe the plan had backfired. But they weren't even digging all that deep though. Perry was still going to get mad. They wondered if her Floor Don senses were tingling even now that someone was in emotional distress.

"Hey, you okay?" they ask, following him to the trashcan.

"Yeah, just tired and done with lab work for today," he said, brushing past them and back into the lab to get his jacket. They followed.

"You know we can talk about it right? Like if something's bugging you?" they said.

"Nothing really to talk about, don't worry," he said with a horribly faked nonchalance.

They were faced with two options. The first was pushing the issue until he cracked, got mad, or ran out of the building completely and didn't talk to them for days. The possible pros to this were some sort of catharsis for him and possibly the gaining of new information on their friends. Cons were how badly it could rip a hole in their friendship and how uncomfortable it could make him to be backed into a corner.

The other option was letting go, letting him walk out the door with whatever baggage was weighing him down and calling it a day. The pros to this were getting to keep a status quo and the cons were never knowing what bothered him. And that sounded an awful lot like Perry.

"J.P. come on, just talk to me," they said.

"Look, it's just family stuff, nothing to—"

It was a loud text tone from LaFontaine's pocket that cut him off and they wanted to throw it out the window because this conversation was totally going somewhere.

C Karnstein (3:05PM): I fucked up.

"Oh shit."

"What's wrong?"

LaF (3:06PM): Carmilla, do you need to call me?

J.P. accepted the silence as they both waited for Carmilla's response. The small bubble that indicated typing was bouncing on the screen for 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds, and they were sure they were going to break the phone from holding it too hard.

C Karnstein (3:08PM) I don't know.

"Fuck."

J.P. looked alarmed now.

"What's going on?" he asked carefully.

"Can you head over to my dorm? I need you and Perry to keep Laura busy, don't let her call or text Carmilla," they said.

They rushed to their pile and threw the jacket on over their lab coat, not bothering with how ridiculous it looked. Their bag was tossed over their shoulder and they busted out the door, J.P. followed closely behind.

"Is everyone okay?" he asked.

"Look, you can't tell anyone else if I tell you alright?" He nodded. "Carmilla's got this PTSD thing from that incident with the reporter and uses painkillers to try and shove it away and that's what the drama at Thanksgiving was about and Laura knows but she also thinks Carmilla quit weeks ago and clearly that isn't the case."

He was pale but he nodded.

"I'll go intercept any calls," he said.

He was seriously dude of the year. LaFontaine squeezed his shoulder, said a thank you, and rushed off to a private corner of the campus to call Carmilla.

----

"Yeah, because you breaking up with your girlfriend has suddenly given you some amazing scope on life."

"I don't think past relationships have anything to do with it."

Danny and Kirsch were in the caf. It was a dangerous place to be caught by their warring tribes but it was also quesadilla day and besides, it was Sunday. Everyone could chill.

"Then where is your expertise coming from? I know Theo Straka isn't teaching you guys PR issues over there," she said.

"It just seems like people should be allowed to be themselves, you know?" he said, taking a messy bite of his quesadilla.

"I am myself, just not to my parents," she said.

She cringed inside because, yes okay that didn't sound great.

"By which I mean, I'm myself with my friends, with my SummerSoc sisters, even you, it's enough for me."

He tilted his head and raised an eyebrow to her and she refused to look because she was not getting condescended by a frat bro. And especially not Kirsch of all people. Whatever points he had, she'd already gone over in her head and she was not about to ruin winter break and Christmas gatherings by dropping that bomb on her parents.

"What are your break plans?" she asked, changing the subject.

"I think my parents are doing some vacation in Hawaii so, I might be parked here," he said.

"Oh. Sorry about that."

"It's cool."

The opportunity was open and Kirsch wasn't even hinting it. He was shoveling quesadilla into his mouth with fervor. She should do it and she should not do it at all. However, inviting him back with her would certainly put a huge dent in her ability to come out to her parents so that could be a huge plus. But how did one justify taking the fake dating thing so far as inviting your fake boyfriend to cross an ocean to a new continent with you for the holidays?

"Yo D Bear, you gonna finish that?" he said, eyeing the two triangles of quesadilla left.

"Some of us like to avoid heart attacks and pace ourselves," she said, picking up one of the slices and taking a bite. "Besides I put jalapenos on mine and you hate those."

He cringed to prove her point and backed up and she was struck with a wave of self-loathing at well she knew him at this point. Also, when the hell had "D Bear" become a thing? Because it needed to stop immediately.

Whatever. At least he wasn't binging himself into a stupor anymore and SJ wasn't triggering a burst of tears from him by leaving random boxes of his stuff on the front door of the Zeta house. Who knew a frat brother could take a break up so emotionally?

"Okay I'm only going to say this once and I'm going to do it now before I decide not to," she said, putting down the quesadilla. "Do you want to come back to the States with me for Christmas or whatever you celebrate?"

His face lit up like a tree.

"Seriously? I wouldn't be like, imposing would I?" he asked.

"No, in fact I think my mother is expecting you and while I totally had a plan to tell them you went to New Zealand for a study abroad trip, it does make logical sense for you to come back with me," she said.

God that was like pulling out her own teeth getting that out. But his smile was ridiculous and the irritation seeped away. She picked up the quesadilla to prevent herself from thinking something she'd regret.

"I'd be so down to go back home with you," he said.

He excited reached across the table and picked up a piece of pepper from Danny's plate who opened her mouth to warn him but it was too late as the jalapeno went into his mouth and he immediately regretted the decision. She tried not to laugh as he spit it back out and chugged a soda.

"Dumbass," she said, shaking her head.

They headed out of the caf together, stopping at the water fountain in the hall when Kirsch accidently touched his eye with the jalapeno hand. When they got outside and into the snow, he took a handful and pressed it to his wounded eye, looking like a massive moron on the walk back.

Danny avoiding thinking the phrase "he's my moron" because he was not and she was going to run far away from those types of thought processes. Having him back home with her and playing house in front of her parents wasn't going to help that either.

It was around the time Danny pulled him out of the way of a pole that she spotted J.P. booking it to Crowley hall, his jacket barely on and his lab coat flapping in the wind. Odd. LaFontaine was nowhere to be seen around him and it might have been the first time she'd ever seen him frowning.

And he was really frowning.

"What do you think's going on there?" Danny asked and Kirsch's one good eye followed J.P. in the snow.

"Science stuff probably, right?" he said.

"Oh my god I'm not going to be able to put up with 4 weeks of you," she said, walking past him.

He trotted after her listing off all the things he was going to bring and something about a really good cookie recipe he knew and a movie coming out on Christmas Day they should see and Danny fought down a smile because things could be way worse.

They could be dealing with whatever J.P. was dealing with right now.

----

It's not that Laura didn't enjoy listening to J.P. talk about cell meiosis, it's just that she was about to fall asleep.

"Personally," Betty said. "I want to hear all about the whirlwind weekend Miss Hollis over here had in London with her own personal rockstar."

"Can we not phrase it like that?"

Despite the fact that she and Carmilla had 100% almost kissed in the hotel room and Carmilla essentially told her not go on any dates while on break, she didn't want to give Betty (or any of them) the benefit of knowing they'd been right the entire time.

A girl could still hold onto her pride.

"You know, cell growth is actually quite interesting," J.P. said and Betty groaned.

"Aren't you a grad student?" she said. "I'm pretty sure you don't need us quizzing you on anything, do you guys even have tests?"

"Yes, super hard ones," he said fast. "Which is why I need all the help I can get, let me tell you about mitochondria."

"This is like 9th grade biology," Betty said.

J.P. was acting a little weird, Laura had to admit, but being around friends (even if they were spewing useless anatomy notes) was better than forcing herself to finish her lit midterm. Perhaps it was actually best that she and Carmilla didn't actually complete their intended thoughts this weekend, depending on Danny's mood she might actually set Laura's essay on fire and pretend she never handed it in.

She should really call Danny and square their awkwardness away because she did miss her a ton.

"I'm just saying," Betty said. "Normal, platonic friends do not take each other on vacations-for-two and pay for the whole thing."

Was it even worth it to fight on it at this point?

"Look," Laura said. "All I'm going to say is…no…platonic friends probably…don't do that."

Betty just about launched herself off her bed and J.P. and Perry both jumped in surprise as she held in a screech.

"Are you telling me what I think you're telling me?" Betty said quickly.

"I'm saying that we kind of…"

"Kissed?!"

"Well, no. The phone rang and kind of ruined the moment."

"But you definitely, mutually, almost kissed?"

"Yes. And then she told me to 'not make any new friends' while she was away."

Betty looked ready to just about burst out of her skin. Perry too seemed a fair more calm version of happy. J.P. looked extremely uncomfortable suddenly and Laura just chalked it up to a weird guy "girl talk" and him hanging out in her room for the first time without LaFontaine.

"You're going to be dating a celebrity," Betty said. "I mean, yay you two found happiness and you love each other blah blah blah, but your girlfriend is on the cover of Rollingstone next month."

"Yeah," Laura frowned. "One downside."

"Oh honey, I'm sure it'll be fine," Perry said. "There's plenty of people in the spotlight with quiet significant others. Don't those British boys from One Direction have girlfriends that are just regular people."

"Yeah and look how their fans treated them," Laura said.

"If any crazed Little Vampires or whatever the hell her fans are called send you hate mail I'll happily use them for dart target practice," Betty said.

"You could always keep it a secret," Perry said. "Carmilla's fairly good at avoiding paparazzi—"

"When she's not hitting them."

"Thank you Betty," Laura said sharply. "I don't want to have to hide it away though. I don't want the whole world knowing either but I'd like it if she wasn't getting hit on every two seconds by groupies and would-be hook ups."

"Laura she probably hasn't hooked up with anyone in months," Betty said. "She fended off that blonde girl from the Halloween party, Elsie or whatever. I think you're in the clear."

They were her friends and they had to say that but the giddiness of realizing this was actually happening, that soon these were decisions she was going to have to make and she'd be allowed to be publically pissed at someone for hitting on Carmilla or allowed to leave hickies on her neck like people do in movies to tell others to back off. Was she even good at leaving hickies?

She blushed and fully intended to ask J.P. more about his exam when her phone went off.

"No Laura wait—"

J.P. looked ready to practically dive on her (he must really be stressed about that test), when she picked up the phone from some California number she did not recognize.

"Hello?" she said.

"Miss Hollis?"

"Uh, yeah, who's calling?"

"My name is Lilita Morgan. I'm Carmilla's mother, I was wondering if we could talk."

The blood in her veins turned to ice.

----

LaF just had a very good way of talking her down. After the disaster of today was solved Carmilla was going to offer any recommendation letter they needed for grad school and suggest they take some courses in therapy because they were a fucking life saver.

After a day of her mother's own brand of waterboarding information out of her she wanted nothing more than to call Laura and hopefully explain before it go too out of control. And hope that this wasn't the start of the rest of her life.

Laura was one step ahead of her, however, because suddenly her Skype was beeping an incoming call from Laura2theLetter and Carmilla took a breath, hoping she wasn't about to destroy whatever good mood she'd left Laura in at the airport.

"Hey creampuff," she said, answering.

Apparently she'd been wrong about that good mood thing because instead Laura was frowning and not really looking at the camera.

"Hey, what's up?" Carmilla asked, instinctively leaning forward as if Laura was anywhere less than 500 miles away.

"You slept with Elsie?"

Wow this day really just did end up getting better and better didn't it? Hopefully it was just a dream or maybe a flying freight train was about to bust through her hotel window and blow her to pieces and that would be the end of Carmilla Karnstein.

"What?" was all Carmilla could say.

"Your mom called me."

"What?"

Okay this time it was angry because Carmilla practically stood up and knocked her chair back, but managed to keep herself grounded by gripping the chair arms so tight they just might splinter. This was not happening, this was not happening again. This was not some fucked up timeloop and she was not reliving the worst moment of her life all over again with a new face and fresher pain and a different name.

"How'd she get your number?" Carmilla demanded as if Laura knew.

Oh, right. She'd been stupid enough to leave it unattended in her room to charge while her mother was prowling around London. Fuck.

"Can you just--can you just answer the question?" Laura said, looking down at what must be her keyboard and playing neurotically with a clicking pen at her desk.

Carmilla eyed the gaggle behind her. The roommate, the Floor Don, and one of the science twins are all doing an awful job at pretending they weren't completely listening in.

"Get rid of the peanut gallery please," Carmilla said and Laura did not immediately react, turning around slowly, perhaps remembering they were there, and turning back to face the screen. They got up and shuffled out though, probably not far.

When it was just the two of them Carmilla felt the miles separating them disappear in an instant and not in a good way. She could smell Laura's room where she sat now and felt the stuffiness of the heater in there and thought she might choke on her own weight as parts of her body turn to lead with ever pass of Laura's betrayed eyes over her own.

"Laura look," Carmilla said evenly. God she hoped she'd worked those pills from this morning out of her system. "I didn't--Well I did, but it wasn't like--it was months ago--"

"While you were on campus, sleeping in my room?" Laura asked.

There was no way of answering this question without giving Laura a mental image. Good to know there was torture to be found in all places today.

"We didn't...I went to her room."

"Oh good, thanks for not hooking up with anyone on my bed or anything," Laura said. "Glad we can cross that off the list at least."

"Laura," Carmilla said evenly. "I have fucked up coping mechanisms, we all know this. Okay? But I was as respectful about it as possible."

"You left her a Dave and Buster's gift card."

Was there anything her mother did not know? Jesus, she was the fucking Master of Whispers for Carmilla's own fucked up Westeros.

"I was respectful for you," Carmilla corrected.

"Except the part where you lied to me about it."

"It's not lying if you never asked."

Wrong thing to say. Very, very wrong thing to say because now Laura looked ready to choke her or explode if she wasn't able to get her hands through the computer screen and around her neck. It wasn't a cute bunched up face of irritation, it was devastated twist of betrayal that was looking for anything to hurt. Carmilla wished she could be in that room now, give Laura the benefit of punching her black and blue, if she truly had it in her.

"Alright, so I'll ask this," Laura said. "How's the bottle of painkillers?"

Okay she walked into that.

"Laura, I'm working on it."

"By working on it, you mean blatantly telling me you haven't touched them in weeks?"

How did her world always managed to explode to bits? It never crumbled or slowly decayed. It stood at its tallest, shined its brightest and then caught on fire in an instant and bled to death right in front of her. She supposed that's the way with empires though, one day Carmilla ruled the world and then one day she did not, in a violently and spectacular death.

"Is there anything else you want to grill me for? I'm in a sharing mood between you and my mother--"

"Don't."

Her voice was shaking and Carmilla looked down and pretended to miss the glassy eyes.

"You left Elsie a Dave and Buster's gift card to keep her from telling anyone, as ridiculous and awful as that was," Laura said slowly. "So how do I know all of this hasn't been some elaborate version of the same thing to keep me quiet?"

Oh no. No, no, no. Not this. Her vision was catching fire and the walls were squeezing in tight and water might be flooding at all sides as she gazed herself in the chair out of body and watched as tears slipped past Laura's barriers and burned a path down her soft, pink cheeks. They might have hit the wood of her desk like a bomb or had a silent death. Either option was a tragedy.

She couldn't stop her own eyes from pooling, matching Laura, a desperate attempt to cling to Laura, here at the end.

"It was never that," she whispered though she knew nothing would ever convince her.

Because it had been. At the beginning, that night, drunk and walking around the college town she called her brother for the tiny journalist's number to make sure she didn't sell her soul out for the world to see. Her intention had been good graces and it worked just long enough to accidentally fall in love. How could she explain that? How would Laura ever believe her?

She thought of the song she tapped out on the skin of Laura's arm that night, alone in the hotel room, the one last time they'd been perfect and safe.

If Laura could hold on just long enough, she'd make her see. Chords and words and melodies could save them, she could fix this, she would fix this.

"I have a test in the morning," Laura said.

No, no, please don't leave me here alone.

"Goodbye, Carmilla."

The call hung up and Carmilla threw the desk lamp across the room, ripping it from the wall as Laura's screenname immediately signed off.

A blunt knife carved something vital from her chest and left the rust to takeover. From this she would never recover, losing Laura would salt any garden she managed to try and grow in the past few months.

She downed the bottle. Because why the fuck not? When it's the apocalypse, who cares? Meteors would be falling from the sky at any moment, because even the stars betrayed her, they'd fall on her and swallow her up and set her on fire--and this was high talk but that didn't mean it wasn't true. Her mother was a poison and she was a poison and Will was a poison and Laura got away. Good for her. But also fuck her.

Could she hate her?

No.

Playing pretend wouldn't last long.

LaFontaine was calling, the phone was blaring and she threw it across the room and it might have shattered against the wall or gone out the window or hit a pocket of antimatter and escaped into an alternate dimension, either way the crazy calling was over and she could spiral in a puddle of herself.

Maybe she'd drown.

----

"Laura, what the hell happened?" LaFontaine demanded, busting into the room.

They finally caught sight of her tear tracks and softened slightly. Still, their knuckles were white as they gripped their own phone tightly, on the screen Laura could see the call history of 6 attempts to call Carmilla in the past 10 minutes.

"Don't worry about it," Laura mumbled, turning back to her midterm.

"I'm not asking for your sake."

Laura turned around and for the first time since she'd met them, she was actually angry at LaFontaine. Learning your entire friendship with someone was built on selfishness and lies was one thing, finding out someone you thought definitely liked you back had used you the entire time was going to leave permanent cracks in her heart. Getting yelled at by noisy friends was going to make her head explode.

"Laura," they said. "Carmilla's not picking up her phone. And now it's going straight to voicemail."

"Well we had a massive fight to put it in the best case scenario," Laura said. "She's probably in the process of deleting all our numbers so--"

"Laura," they closed their eyes and their jaw tightened. "I don't care what you think is going on or even what Carmilla thinks is going on or the screwed up way you two play cat and mouse instead of womaning up. What I do care about is that Carmilla is addicted to painkillers, suffers from PTSD, and shut off her phone."

Oh.

Oh no.

Nononononononono.

"Yeah do that for another 20 minutes and you'll be where I am right now," LaFontaine said, seeing the panic flooding Laura's face.

Laura practically slammed her keyboard as she logged back into Skype. LaFontaine took their mutual panic as invitation to step closer and from the doorway, Laura had more footsteps. If Carmilla wasn't there, if she didn't pick up. Tears were starting again and she violently shoved them away as she clicked HeyCarmilla on the screen a dozen times, each time the app told her the user was not online.

Her breathing was becoming erratic as she pawed for her phone or her desk and tried Carmilla's number. Straight to voicemail. Three more times she got the same result. She sent a text and it refused to deliver.

"Fuck," LaFontaine said, throwing themselves back and dropping onto Laura's bed.

"Can't we call her manager or security people or something?" Perry asked, hands fidgeting and pacing the floor.

This could not be happening. This couldn't be the way this story went. She'd forgive her, Carmilla could sleep with whoever she wanted, she could run off and never talk to Laura again as long as she was alive. She had to be alive, she had to be.

She ripped Gmail open on her tab and pounded in the message.

"Please call me, please email me, please do anything so I know you're alright. I'm sorry and I don't care if you hate me or I hate you after all of this as long as you're okay because..."

She wasn't ever good at telling Carmilla exactly what was on her mind. Perhaps that part of the reason they ended up here now. She prayed she'd get the chance to get better at it.

"You know."

She wasn't going to be able to sleep the rest of the night.

----

Carmilla wasn't sure how she ended up on the hospital bed. She thought many parts of her must be broken right now because the people in scrubs were doing a lot of yelling and there was a lot of beeping and something was sitting over her mouth, pumping air to her. She might have an IV in, she might already be dead.

She didn't remember going outside but she must have because how else had she gotten in that cab? She clearly didn't make it to the bar because crunching metal was a sound you don't forget and it's all she could hear over the din of the Grey's Anatomy assholes above her who would literally not shut the fuck up. At least the car accident wasn't her fault. Laura could rest easy with that.

Laura. Right. She'd saw some email on the driver's iPad she was borrowing. Too bad the iPad probably got totally fucked. She hoped the Uni Jack bear made it. He was an innocent victim in Carmilla's black hole.

Carmilla meant to tell Laura before she passed out again, before the garish hospital lights above her went dark and the beeping left her ears...

I know.

Chapter Text

These broken days won't last forever, you know I'll put us back together, I owe you a love song, so much I could say…

--

Will got the call at 6:30am. He'd forgotten to put his phone on silent that night. At first, he dropped the phone reaching to shut it off and he considered leaving it there to ring itself into exhaustion on the floor. But 2 seconds in he already couldn't take it and reached wildly for it, hoping he didn't knock it under his bed. Kirsch was groaning across the room, shoving a pillow over his ears.

"Hello?" Will slurred into the speaker.

"Is this Mr. Eisen?"

"Yeah," he yawned.

"Mr. Eisen I'm Nurse Maguire at the Royal London Hospital, I'm calling about your sister Mircalla Karnstein."

What in the hell?

Will sat up a bit and shook his head, trying to focus his drooping eyes and saggy head.

"My sister?" he said.

"Yes, Ms. Karnstein was involved in a car accident late last night and we've attempting calling you and your mother Ms. Morgan but you were the first to pick up."

"Stop trying to call my mother," he said on instinct.

"Bro, what the hell?" Kirsch mumbled into the pillow from across the room and Will shushed him.

"Mr. Eisen, we think it's imperative that a parent—"

"What happened?" he said, throwing his blankets back and getting out of bed. He slipped into the hallway.

"A drunk driver swerved in the road causing the cab she was in to hit head on with a street lamp, witness accounts also said the car was t-boned after it came to a stop as well."

What the fuck? What the fuck happened? How had the world tilted on its axis so violently in the past 24 hours? Had Laura been with her? No she was back at school, he saw her in the caf. What the fuck?

"Is she okay?" he asked evenly.

"Yes, she's not in critical condition but she suffered multiple lacerations, contusions, and has a broken leg. There are also burns from the airbag."

Shit, shit, shit.

"Okay, I'll talk to my mother. She's got a local number you can call, Richard Rosen, he's her manager. I'll be out at the hospital as soon as I can," Will said.

In his head he immediately started going over a list: get dressed, get plane tickets, find out her room number, tell someone what's going on before his head exploded. Perhaps that person should be Laura. He'd have to see if he still had her number. Kirsch did, yes, okay, plan was in motion now.

"Very well Mr. Eisen, we can forward you her rooming details."

Will finished squaring away logistics with the nurse before he hung up. And then he was a bat out of hell.

He busted back into the room and threw open his drawers violently, grabbing at the first jeans he found crumpled up and a shirt to match. Next to crack open was the closet where he pulled a duffel bag down, emptied it of paintball guns with an unceremonious shake onto the floor, and began filling it instead with spare clothes.

"Bro, what the hell?" Kirsch groaned again, this time eyes open and sitting up.

"My sister got in a car accident," he said.

"Oh crap."

Kirsch was up in much the same way Will was not 10 minutes ago. He looked between Will and the pile of clothes, perhaps debating whether or not to start helping him toss t-shirts in the bag.

"Is she okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, but she's beat up. I need to race my mother there."

Somehow in the time between he'd been told his sister was in peril and the moment he decided to go to her, his mother had become the enemy again. Maybe she'd been the enemy in the first place. Maybe that's what this was about, she was a tool to cause Carmilla pain, unbearable pain. And congrats fucker you succeeded.

He had to get there before their mother did.

Kirsch did end up helping him book a flight, Paypaling him money to cover the extra charge of booking a seat 2 hours before takeoff and covering the Uber it was going to take to get him to the Graz airport. Will had rushed out of the house so fast he forgot his jacket; Kirsch tossed it to him, still in his boxers, from the porch and yelled something about letting Laura know.

The flight was long and his leg wouldn't stop jumping. Someone might think he was a fucking terrorist for all his jittering, that or he was on cocaine. He brushed off the stewardess multiple times and ignored the woman next to him trying to make airplane small talk. He didn't have the energy to pull out his iPod and he feared some sort of mental breakdown if came across any song that reminded him of her.

How had this gotten so fucked up?

Why had he gotten this so fucked up?

Why was this flight taking a million years, fuck dinosaurs walked the Earth last week in comparison to this two hour flight. Infinity was flying high in a plane, never close enough to his sister. It's something Carmilla would say in a song.

He didn't have the stomach for airline peanuts and tossed them to the woman next to him without warning or a look, something she pretended to take offense to for a whole two minutes of scoffing before she opened the bag and picked at the contents.

When they finally, finally landed he had two missed calls from Rick and a text message saying he was at the hospital, something about a toxicology report, and that Carmilla was awake. Will immediately begged for a car and Scott appeared in a black one 15 minutes later. He looked tired and pale.

"She's okay? How is she?" Will asked, jumping into the front seat beside him.

"She's talking, she's mostly coherent. They have her on pain meds but that's a point of contention right now," he said, peeling the car out of the no stopping zone to the sounds of angry yells behind them.

"Why?"

"Her toxicology report came back with evidence of Vicodin abuse," he said.

Oh fucking shit Carmilla, really? That explained quite a bit. How had he missed that part too? How long had it gone on for? Why was there an anvil dropped in a gap between them? She was alone and she was vulnerable and she was hurting and he kicked her while she was on the ground. He felt like he might throw up in the expensive Jaguar.

They drove in silence, except for the curses from Scott and those from outside at their liberal use of no passing zones and turns on red.

"I got your stuff, go," Scott said as he halted under the main entrance of the hospital.

Will was out of the car before it even truly stopped, and sprinting inside. He hit the hardwood desk of the information booth with a slap as his hands came out to catch himself. The secretary jumped and looked ready to yell at him.

"Carmilla Karnstein or Mircalla or whatever name you have her under," Will huffed out. "I'm her brother Will."

"Oh right," the receptionist said with a glare. He clicked on his computer. "This whole three last names thing gave us quite the headache."

"Look I'll fucking change my name tonight, just give me her room number," Will said, earning another glare.

"307."

Why did that number sound familiar? Whatever. He was off.

The third floor arrived with a ding and Will wiped sweat from his forehead as he continued 301, 302, 303…and on and on for another little forever until he hit 307.

He knocked.

"As if you're not just going to come in anyway," said a familiar voice on the other side.

Will pushed open the door and steeled himself into the room.

----

Laura, true to her word, hadn't slept the entire night. LaFontaine stayed up with her, equally in a fit of worry which only made Laura feel worse because they were being a much better friend to Carmilla than she had been in the past 12 hours. Betty kept awake for as long as she could before she fell asleep against her will, Perry outlasted her only by a little bit thanks to a late night decision to bake some brownies.

But now the sun had come up and Carmilla remained a ghost in her contacts.

"I got nothing," LaFontaine said. They'd taken to looking up tabloid reports and refreshing the Google news section to see if any dreaded headlines popped up.

But that was good, nothing was good. It meant that so far Carmilla was okay. Unless they were hiding it from them. Maybe she'd been declared dead hours ago and they were just doing a press release. Maybe no one found her yet and she needed help. Maybe Laura was going to go insane if she didn't do something soon. Sitting still that night was the most torturous thing she'd ever done.

"We should get food," LaFontaine said, closing the computer lid.

"I'm not hungry," Laura said.

"I'm a bio major and I say you need food, you're already running on empty and believe it or not, stress can exhaust your muscles," they said. "We're going."

Laura did not get up on her own, instead allowing LaFontaine to yank her up and shove a jacket in her chest. Betty was still asleep across the room and LaFontaine scribbled out a note and stuck it to her forehead in a snicker.

"Carmilla's rubbing off on you," Laura muttered darkly.

They frowned, perhaps hoping for a bit of humor to break the tension—

No, this wasn't tension. This was heavy, suffocating air of tragedy. This was Laura chained up to weights and dropped into the ocean, the light above was getting mistier and mistier each moment Carmilla did not call. It was like having Thor's hammer on her chest. She wasn't worthy to lift it.

She bumped into something fairly solid on the way out of the front door. It was Kirsch, wired and half dressed.

"Laura," he blurted out and swallowed. "I was looking for you."

"Kind of a bad time Kirsch," Laura frowned.

"No, it's not about lit stuff," he said and rubbed his tired looking eyes. "Will got a phone call this morning."

Oh no. Oh god.

"Carmilla's okay," he said fast, hands going up.

"Maybe lead with that next time yeah?" LaFontaine said, equally as frazzled.

Kirsch turned red and nodded, lowering his hands and taking a breath.

"She got in a car accident."

Oh I am fortune's fool. William Shakespeare said it perfectly. Flashes of her mother, flashes of the hospital, flashes of a grave, flashes of Carmilla. It meshed together in her head and she couldn't stop it, the evil side of the symmetry of life. It was rushing through her mind's eye and there was no blinking it away, as much as she focused on Kirsch in front of her all she saw twisting metal and all she could feel was the cold air where her mother used to be. But this time she hadn't lost anything, Carmilla was alive. She was okay. But oh god was she hurt?

"I guess the hospital told Will that she's pretty banged up but okay," he said. "He said he'd call later with details and stuff."

Banged up. Car accident. Someone she cared about. Three things repeating themselves over and over and over and the only person she could talk to about it was miles away and bleeding.

"L? You okay?" LaFontaine's voice called through the fog of white noise.

"Fine," she squeaked out.

Shake it off! She refused to cry here.

"We were going to breakfast," LaFontaine said, still watching Laura. "You want to come with us?"

"Yeah that sounds great."

Laura did feel bad for Kirsch. He sounded exhausted and earnest and even a little bit worried for Carmilla. Perhaps she had more friends than she realized (or wanted). He walked behind them a few steps with his hands shoved into his pockets and Laura knew he was checking his phone every five minutes, waiting for an update.

The caf was mostly empty so early on a weekend morning and as they entered, Laura excused herself to the bathroom quickly where she burst into tears the second the door opened and locked behind her. She dropped to the ground in a sob and tried to control her breath, shoving her head between her knees. She was exhausted and over emotional and but god did it hurt.

Daytime nightmares about losing Carmilla were real. And echoed darkly of Laura's own past.

Eventually she steadied herself and stood up, she splashed water in her face until the red was gone and her eyes reduced in swelling. Her eyelashes were stuck together but nothing to do about that. She took breaths. Many breaths, she breathed a hurricane before she stepped back outside that door and hunted for her friends across the tables.

She sat down in their booth against the wall and found it hard to force herself back up to get food. So much for you have to eat Laura. Instead, Laura drummed her fingers on the table, counting off each tap like a tally on a prison wall. 50 taps since her incarceration inside her own head. Who knows how many more until freedom came?

Eventually Kirsch brought them over a plate of cookies and Laura smiled gratefully, taking one and playing with it more than eating it, picking at the chocolate chips and breaking it into smaller pieces.

"Hey guys," said a voice a not far away and there was Danny, glistening with sweat inside a winter track suit.

"Hey D-be—Hey Danny," Kirsch said, clearing his throat and Laura didn't have the energy to raise an eyebrow. LaFontaine did though.

"You guys okay?" Danny asked, post-run high turning to a frown when she surveyed the faces at the table.

"Kind of had a rough night…and morning," LaFontaine said, scooting in and offering Danny a seat.

It was the first time since they ended their—whatever and Laura didn't even have the awareness to feel awkward about it. The irony that yet another girl who was not quite her girlfriend was on the brink of being another Danny was not lost on her. And it sucked. She really needed to get better at the relationship thing. Or maybe just things in general because she hadn't even been in any relationships before she was breaking up with these people.

"What happened? If you don't mind me asking, which you probably don't since you invited me to sit down," Danny said, putting her plate of pancakes down and following it with herself.

"Will's sister kind of got in a car accident," Kirsch said and then eyeing his phone again for any new texts.

"What?" Danny said, eyes going wide. "Are you serious? Is she okay?"

"Will said she was banged up but not in any danger," LaFontaine said. "But we hadn't heard from her all night after…it was a super anxious time."

Danny was frowning into her pancakes. Great, now everyone was losing their appetites. This day had only just begun and already Laura needed it to end. She needed it to be nighttime so she could pretend to go to sleep and pray she didn't dream of car accidents.

She quite possibly was never getting in a car again.

Danny picked at her pancakes with the fork, offering it up to the table but the only one to accept was Kirsch. Laura's stomach didn't even growl. It had gotten too used to Carmilla's butterflies to be happy with anything else. Perhaps they were missing her too, knew she'd almost been taking from the world, or at the very least been taken from her world because she wasn't sure she could ever repair what happened between them.

----

Will was met with the sight of his sister sitting still in a hospital bed, glaring at the TV station. Her lip was sporting a scab, there was a bruise and remnants of a cut around her right eye, a bandage on her left cheek hiding something not yet healing. Her leg was in a temporary cast, awaiting a real one perhaps, Will didn't know when they put those on. Her right wrist was also in a splint.

All in all it looked like she'd used her right side to shield the left. How typical of her to try and save her good side.

"Hey Kitty," he said and she turned to look at him.

Over her face passed confusion, anger, sadness, and a whole lot of glaring as she turned back to the TV and settled down lower into her bed.

"Here to sell my hospital selfie to Star magazine?" she said.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Like I got in a fucking car accident."

"I'm sorry Carmilla," he said, taking a seat at the foot of the bed, not bothering to give her the chance to say no.

"Why, were you driving the other car?"

He sighed and looked down at his lap. Perhaps he might as well have been. But she'd been driving a car too then and they were both on some sort of collision course of doom in the twisted mind games Lilita Morgan's children were forced to play.

"I was so very sick of being your shield," he said. "And it felt like I was getting nothing in return."

"Oh I'm sorry, did you need some twisted, painful secret for me to keep?" she snapped.

"I know I threw you under the bus," he said.

"You threw Laura too."

He sat up straighter and looked at her. And now came the hard part. He'd been working over how best to phrase it on the walk up and the best course of action he felt was ripping of the Band-Aid and letting the elephant in the room run wild.

"As fucked up as it all was, mom only told Laura things you should have told her in the first place."

Dangerous, very dangerous. Perhaps too far. Back up a little? No. He was sick of being scared of her temper. She, whether she liked it or not, could be adept at playing mind games too. Like mother like daughter. Hopefully with a little less sociopathy.

She was staring hard at a spot on the wall with pursed lips and flaring nostrils but she wasn't yelling at him or finding some sarcastic way to tell him to get out. The gears in her head, made as they were to be forced into moving in such a way, were turning and turning.

"Look," she said sharply. "I get it, okay? I'm a little bit abusive and ungrateful of all the things you did for me. And maybe even to Laura too. And…I'm sorry."

Wow. So all it took was a head on car crash and some broken parts to get her admitting she was wrong? He felt sorry the second after he thought that but it wasn't not true. Carmilla was a statue, the only thing that changed her was a chisel and hammer or freaks of nature beating against the stone. No change for her would come without terrible pain.

"Laura knows," he said. "Kirsch went to go tell her when I was leaving. So you should probably expect a call."

"She's furious at me—no, I think it's worse," she sighed into a hand that rubbed at her eyes and nose bridge in the places that weren't bruised. "I think she might of actually really liked me and I think I broke her heart."

He nodded and wondered if he should hazard a hand to grab her own. Were they there yet? Was this back to the new normal?

"I think you can only really have your heart broken by people that live there, you know?"

"So?"

"So, she's got a place carved out in there for you, probably filled with punk rock and Chuck Palahniuk manifestos. So it's a place only you can fill, which means it's waiting for you to come—"

"Okay I'm over the extended metaphor."

"She still cares about you. And no one wants to be mad at the people they love—"

"No one said anything about love."

"I swear to god Kitty if you don't let me finish I putting on Maury and hiding the remote."

She gave a small smile and might have even chuckled a little bit, under her breath. He decided to just go for it and take her good hand. She didn't jerk away or frown at him. Instead she met his eyes.

"Only the people we love can really hurt us, that's why they do hurt us in the first place. She cared enough about you to feel betrayed. Which means Laura is probably scared for you and disappointed in you, but I don't think she hates you."

Carmilla was looking at their joined hands and he squeezed hers for affect and she looked back up at him with worn out eyes. Life had been unfair to Carmilla. She'd been tossed around and nothing had been handed to her, she'd pried it from the hands of fate and ran off with it like Prometheus and the flame. She had coping mechanism he wasn't proud of and did things he hated. But she was trying her best to stay whole, and Laura was perhaps the best thing to ever happen to her. And she'd never be whole again if that girl wasn't somehow connected to her hip, whether it be with kisses or just hugs. Lover of friend.

Carmilla needed Laura.

The only thing left was to hope that Laura needed Carmilla just as much.

"You are going to spend the rest of your life miserable if you don't try and fix this thing with her," he said.

"That's my secret Cap, I'm always miserable."

"Huh?"

"It was some movie she made me watch."

He got up from his seat and placed himself on the edge of the bed, she scooted gingerly to make room for him and he looked at her injured hand.

"Your guitar hand wasn't hurt," he said. "Maybe that was for a reason?"

She followed his gaze between her two hands and smiled as she began to tap something out on her hand still holding her left side one. It was some rhythm or melody in her head but to him it just felt like chaotic banging on his skin.

"I've had something in mind for a while," she said.

"A while?"

"Since—since, uh…since Laura came to visit."

She was turning red and playing with her leg cast.

"Wow you are such a fucking cheeseball," he said.

"Shut the fuck up or I won't buy you that apartment in Brooklyn for graduation."

They laughed (carefully on Carmilla's part since apparently her ribs were all sorts of bruised too) and ordered in disgusting hospital food and watched bad talk shows for hours until Rick was forced to come get Will and take him back to the hotel as visiting hours ended.

Brother and sister FaceTimed that night and he promised to bring her a change of clothes and real food the following morning.

----

It had been a few days and despite hearing from Will and getting confirmation that everything was okay, Laura still looked on edge in LaFontaine's mind. Perhaps it was because she hadn't actually talked to Carmilla herself and her last words to her and been something along the lines of a break up speech. The situation was certainly messy and she did calm down once it was confirmed that Carmilla was her normal, sarcastic, asshole self.

"You'll feel better when you're home," Perry said as she plated the cookies she was making in the lounge oven. "It'll take your mind of things for a while. You said you and your dad have some crazy holiday tradition schedule or something?"

"Yeah," she said, offering no more as she flipped through channels on the TV.

LaFontaine looked up from their DNA coding sheet and looked at Laura, dead behind the eyes and apparently running on autopilot. Everyone had noticed it. Danny texted the other day asking if she was alright when she didn't say a word in recitation and Kirsch came by regularly with different boxes of cookies and candy to show her A's he'd gotten on lit work thanks to her help.

Eventually she mumbled something about needing to finish a psychology paper and headed back into her room, leaving a full plate of baked goods behind.

"She's gonna be okay right?" LaFontaine asked.

"Well I think the guilt is gone and all the worry," Perry said. "Now I think it's just post breakup depression. She's in the eat-ice-cream-out-of-the-carton phase."

"They weren't even together though," they said, taking a cooled cookie.

"Well we can all keep telling ourselves that."

LaFontaine laughed a little and Perry smiled, settling into the seat next to them and pulling out something from behind her back and handing it to them without ceremony or words. They furrowed their brow at the red envelope hovering over their homework.

"It's an early Christmas gift," she said.

"Oh, I didn't get you—"

"It's okay."

They nodded and put down their pencil, taking the envelope in their hands and carefully pulling open the seam (Perry liked to save envelopes and reuse them, if well intact). Out came a Christmas card, the words on the front reading:

To the best person I know...

They opened it to a sea of red and green and golden Christmas stars.

You're a swell pal and my best friend, no matter who you choose to be in the end! Happy Holidays!

Their mouth dropped open before they could stop it.

"The drug stores have a surprisingly lack of non-gendered Christmas cards and none of them seemed good enough," Perry said quickly, straightening out some wrinkles on her pants. "I found this website that specializes in holiday and birthday cards for people who want to just be people and not boys or girls so I thought—"

Whatever she thought never saw the light of day because they were hugging her tightly and fast. She squeaked in surprise but hugged right back, nuzzling her nose into the small nook of their shoulder and neck. And they stayed that way for a long time.

In the tightness of the hug, they told themselves they wouldn't cry because that would only work up Perry and this was supposed to be happy and not flustered but goddammit did it feel like some giant rock that had been pressing on their chest had been lifted and tossed far, far away.

Laura and her fucked up relationship with Carmilla was in the distance, classes were gone, J.P. even was nowhere in sight nor was the mystery of his name or life, and the snow outside was calmly falling over a bright and quiet campus. It was one of those things you think lasts forever in your head even though it'd been only seconds out of the lifespan of the Earth. But in their memory it would feel as though it was 21 years worth of hugging in one act.

When they pulled back a bit, deciding they'd hugged enough, they were a little taken back at how close their faces.

That was new.

Perry blinked rapidly a few times and red spread up her cheeks as she cleared her throat and sat back.

"You're very welcome LaFontaine," she said.

They nodded and carefully placed the card back in its envelope, backing away a bit for room to breathe. These were all very new feelings and not ones LaFontaine was overly unfamiliar with but certainly never attached to Perry.

Best to change the subject before some crab decided to start serenading them with some reggae romantic song.

"We should do something for Laura," they said. "She's super out of it and I kind of feel bad about sending her home to stew in her own emotions for a few weeks."

"I agree," Perry sighed. "Evidently it's going to take more than baked goods, however."

"Well her and Carmilla are at a weird stalemate, I'm not sure if it's out of pride or embarrassment but I think she just needs to talk to her to feel a little bit better," they said.

"Or worse," Perry countered.

"That too."

It was the matter of distance again, Carmilla was hundreds of miles away and neither her nor Laura was brave enough to close it. Not on their own anyway. Will was relaying some information to Kirsch and it was clear they just needed to pull the old shove-them-both-in-a-room-and-lock-the-door-until-they-made-up trick.

But again: 500 hundred miles apart.

They needed to farm this out, so they opened iMessage and began typing.

----

Danny wasn't sure why she agreed. Okay yes she was, because it was actually Kirsch's idea and having a third party would make all this seem like less of a couple situation. Something she needed to seriously beat down before she gave herself a headache.

"Hey Hollis," Danny said, walking up to Laura at her table on the ground floor of the library.

Laura looked up, a little surprised, but replaced it quickly with a cordial smile and nodded.

"Hi Danny."

Great, already a stall in conversation. She turned back towards her Kirsch a distance behind her who motioned aggressively for her to keep going. And she turned back to Laura, confused looking again, with a deep breath.

"Did you book your ticket home yet?"

Laura raised an eyebrow at the question and put down her pencil.

"Uh, no, I was going to do it tonight with some coupon my dad—"

"Good, don't."

Laura's eyes narrowed in confusion as her mouth opened to say huh? without having to vocalize it. Danny took another deep breath, thought about all the things Carmilla was going to have to do to make it up to her, and sat down in the open seat at the table.

"Look, this crap with Carmilla has got you all sorts of not you," Danny said. "Kirsch and I are leaving tomorrow and we've got a 3 hour layover in London before hitting the States. You can find a connecting flight to Toronto but I was thinking you could put those 3 hours in London to use."

Laura's head swayed back in shock. She shook her head and refocused her eyes.

"Wait, you're going home with Kirsch?"

"Don't change the subject Laura."

Laura obeyed and bit her lip, tapping the pencil, now back in her hand, against the table. She really needed Laura to say yes because they all already pulled their money and got the ticket and she'd be damned if someone wasn't going with her on this flight.

"You're…okay…with this?" Laura asked carefully.

"Look, I'm over it alright?" Danny said. "And you aren't yourself and probably on a sugar withdraw and I know there's only one person at this point who can fix it, so…"

Laura caught quiet again and Danny turned back to Kirsch with a pleading look that he registered quickly and sent a series of hand signals to her. What the fuck? She motioned him over violently and he nodded, trotting over quickly.

"This isn't Mission Impossible," Danny said to him when he reached the table.

"I thought we were being sneaky."

"We're not kidnapping her dumbass."

Kirsch took a seat next to Laura with a toothy smile and Laura calmed in his presence, stopping her tapping with a sigh.

"It was actually Kirsch's idea," Danny said, nodding to him.

"Babes shouldn't fight," he said resolutely and Danny groaned into her hands and Laura laughed a bit. "I mean like, you two are...you know. And it probably feels really crappy to not be talking, so, what are friends for?"

"He's got a point," Danny said. "If we're not supposed to be hating her and agreeing with all your complaints about what a bitch she was, then we're supposed to be getting you two back together. Rom com rules."

Laura laughed in earnest this time and some color bloomed back into her cheeks as she thought a little bit more and with a less pained expression. She looked up, took a breath, and nodded to Danny and then to Kirsch. His face blew up like a firework, smiling at Danny with a thumbs up and Danny smiled too.

"Pack your stuff then Hollis."

They spent the night in the common room of Laura's floor, the flight was obnoxiously early and Laura didn't want to wake Betty with an inevitable stumble in the morning. Kirsch had passed out fast, snoring loudly from the spot on the floor he'd claimed fast to give them the couches despite their protests that they could rock, paper, scissor for it.

"I see you've gotten over your Lannister-Stark level rivalry with the Zeta's," Laura said quietly.

"The Zeta's are still the enemy," Danny corrected. "But Kirsch isn't too bad. He's kind of like a Labrador."

"Is that all?" Laura smiled mischievously.

"Oh no, do not even go there."

Laura giggled and nudged at Danny's leg with her heel. Danny crossed her arms and shoved them tightly against her. They weren't playing this game out loud when she'd been playing it in her own head for days and days. Laura was here to be a buffer against these thoughts, not encourage them.

Still, she couldn't deny she actually did like Kirsch's company now. Bro to bro or something, right?

"Unlike how you all treated me and Carm," Laura said. "I won't tease you for it. I do like him a lot though. And I think you do too and it's okay to admit it."

Danny nodded and sighed. There was something inevitable about the course she was on with Kirsch that she'd have to deal with soon. It didn't scare her though. Maybe made her a little bit annoyed that she ended up here and with him, but whatever, life was weird and had a stupid sense of humor.

"Speaking of all that…look I don't know what disaster befell the two of you but Carmilla is head over heels with you," Danny said, happy that it didn't cause her pain to say it out loud. "Maybe she screwed up a little, but I don't think she's capable of hurting you on purpose."

"Apparently I'm capable of hurting her on purpose though," Laura mumbled.

Danny shrugged.

"That's life I guess, dumb and stupid but, hey, it's giving you a chance to fix it right?"

Laura nodded and then they turned their conversation to the lit final and everything that was wrong with Game of Thrones as an adaptation and eventually drifted off to sleep until a blaring alarm woke them in the morning to catch their flight.

----

Carmilla was hobbling around on crutches and she honestly thought it might be a huge conspiracy for her to actually break more bones and end up back in the hospital so they got even more of her money.

"You don't even pay for hospital visits, that's your insurance," Scott said, shooting down her theory.

"I don't see why I couldn't have a wheelchair," she said.

"No one trusts you with a wheelchair."

They were packing up the suit to head over for her (god-awfully long) tour in Asia. And by "they" she meant Scott, because the crutches did have their uses in preventing her from being of any real assistance when it came to packing. Oh no, what a shame.

Will had gone out to get lunch for them so they could have one last heartfelt meal together before she ran off to Tokyo and he went home to deal with the mess their mother made. She invited him to go with her and just avoid it all, but he looked guilty and dutifully said no like some martyr preparing to right his wrongs. Whatever, she'd get him that green tea flavored tooth paste he liked from Hong Kong.

The only thing Carmilla had packed herself was her guitar and the small bag of stars Laura had gifted her. It caused a clog in her throat to do it and almost threw them out, afraid to look up at night and see a painting of her spattered above her in a makeshift constellation to remind her of everything she never had and lost anyway…a memoir by Carmilla Karnstein.

"Do you even know what a trashcan is?" Scott asked, pulling out a bag of old soda bottles and candy wrappers.

"Yeah, it's right over there, you should use it, that pile is gross," she said and earned a glare from him.

He'd been the first one to sign her cast. But she didn't tell anyone that.

The door to the hotel room opened and Carmilla was fully prepared to smell Indian food when she heard something else instead.

"A black cast is very you," Laura said.

Carmilla might have had a heart attack. Not the kind where one of your aortic valves fails to function properly. The kind where her chest kicked her from the inside and then dropped into her stomach and she had to swallow panic in her throat. That kind.

She turned (clumsily because fuck these crutches) to see Laura standing in the doorway with a bag over her shoulder. Will was behind her with a small smile. The jerk actually did have food, which he silently set on the counter and then shuffled out of the room quietly. Scott had somehow vanished too. Speaking of conspiracies…

"Hey," Laura said.

"Hey."

Tension filled the room from the floor up like they were on a sinking ship, deeper and deeper the vessel dropped beneath the sea. But the difference now, it seemed, was that they were sinking together.

"Your phone got shut off and I got worried," Laura said, toeing the tile to distract herself from the air vacuuming out of the room. "I guess I know why, now."

"It didn't break in the car accident," Carmilla said. "I threw it against the wall and the screen broke."

She nodded to the scuff mark on the wall across the way with a laugh but Laura wasn't laughing. She was frowning and she shouldn't be doing that because it looked like it suited her too much, like she'd grown accustomed to the feel of her muscles giving up and her head shutting off, trying to repair the damage down to something far more vital below her chest plate.

"I am sorry."

Laura looked back at Carmilla who dropped her head at her confession, unworthy to look at the sun she'd very nearly doused out. Too many lies and not enough honesty. Perhaps Carmilla wasn't meant to exist as two people at once, no matter how much of her Laura held. She'd be giving it back now and Carmilla would be one again.

But never whole.

"I know you are," Laura said. "And I am too."

Carmilla nodded, a sad smile greeted Laura's continued frown.

"How'd you get here?" Carmilla asked, swinging herself over to a chair and sitting down. Small talk seemed like a good Segway into goodbye forever.

"I'm just here on a layover on my way home."

Ah. So the escape route was already planned. As it should be. Carmilla looked but to selfishly stare at Laura, memorizing the contours of her face and the way her honey hair lit up in the sunlight from the window. She would memorize this face so that maybe she'd see it when she slept and they could live together forever in a dream.

"They have me in pain med limbo," Carmilla said. "They did a toxicology report and I got a bit busted."

Laura blinked and nodded.

"So, we're working on that. The hospital psychiatrist talked to me and it was a whole thing, but I've got a plan."

Carmilla tried to look as proud as it made her feel. She'd gone almost a week now with no painkillers in her system. It wasn't pretty, there was vomiting and shaking and sweats but Laura didn't need to know about that. And Carmilla didn't need to focus on them because there was a pinprick of light at the end of the dark. It was the first star rising, she thought, Polaris greeting the night as it always did and sticking steadfast to the north.

She'd chase it for the rest of her life, even if it was a lonely road to walk.

"I'm happy for you," Laura said and a flash across her face told Carmilla she meant it before it was replaced with the uncomfortable mask again.

"Me too," Carmilla winked and Laura dropped her eyes to keep from smiling, just a little. "I hope you have a good break Laura. You deserve it."

Laura looked back up at her again.

"And I'm sorry for scaring you," she continued. "I know hearing about car accidents is the last thing you wanted, but hey, I wasn't the one driving."

Maybe the joke was in bad taste but what parts of Carmilla weren't in bad taste? She was made of crude materials and sharp things and Laura was silk and sunlight. Drawn as they might be, touching would mean Laura would bleed. And they couldn't have that.

"My layover isn't that long so," Laura said. "I should let you and your brother get back to your lunch."

Carmilla nodded, using all her energy to fight the urge to beg her not to go, because she knew it would be the last time she'd watch Laura walk out of a door. She had to make this last forever.

I have a song for you she thought. Just keep me in your memory long enough to hear it.

"I just...I wanted you to know that I know you're in pain," Laura said shakily. "And I don't want you to ever feel alone because you've got plenty of friends."

"I think perhaps they'll be going with you," Carmilla said, smiling sadly.

"You'd be surprised how many people care about you."

"I think I would too."

She hobbled to the door with Laura who watched her cast and Carmilla didn't have the nerve to ask her to sign it and Laura looked too afraid to offer. It was for the best. She didn't need to see Laura's name like a tease and torture at what she was about to be denied. Laura was leaving, resolutely and real. She wouldn't be coming back. That's what this visit was about.

They stood still at the door because it was gateway into the wrong side of forever. The time they stole in all those late nights and Skype calls was being returned now. The world of Laura and Carmilla was over. And what a world it had been while it had lived.

"Goodbye Laura," Carmilla said with finality.

"Goodbye Carmilla."

And then she was gone, the last time Carmilla would ever see her as her steps faded into the distance and her smell lingered in a pocket of air she dared not go near because it would only bring tears and tears were poisonous to a resolute mind and the walls around her heart.

Will was in the room with a sad smile and a sympathetic hug.

Don't fucking cry.

"Come on Kitty, chicken tikka masala heals all wounds."

Well only time did that, or so she'd been told. But somehow she thought time might make this rot, not exactly a desired healing process. But time could also teach her to hide it away, even from herself. Laura was everywhere around her but nowhere to be found, whispering in her ear but never touching her. Looking in her eyes but never in front of her.

That too would pass. One day.

For now, she hummed a melody in her head as she thought of that song she'd woven together in her head, made of the pieces of Laura's hair that tickled her face, the freckles on her skin that formed constellations across her body, the fragments of Laura's breath that was shared with Carmilla when they'd nearly kissed. It was everything good inside herself that Laura had grown. The song was almost done but no one was listen now.

Perhaps…

She'd never see Laura again, but maybe that didn't mean Laura couldn't hear her.

Stick with me just a little bit longer cupcake…

And then she picked up her guitar.

Chapter Text

I am vindicated, I am selfish, I am wrong, I am right I swear I'm right swear I knew it all along, and I am flawed but I am cleaning up so well, I am seeing in me now the things you swore you saw yourself…

--

Christmas had not gone awful. And Danny hated to admit that Kirsch might be the reason why. Laura caught flight to Toronto at the D.C. airport and suddenly the weight of what she actually did, invited Kirsch to spend Christmas with her, hit full force. And saying it was for the con was turning into a cop out. But he'd been the perfect prom king, future president boyfriend the second he got in the door and she couldn't help but think how incredibly devastated her parents were going to be when she "broke up" with him at the beginning of the new semester.

"That is not packing," Danny said, looking at the crumbled balls of clothing in Kirsch's bag.

They were in the guest room, her parents made several jokes about them sleeping separately, practically encouraging Kirsch to sneak into her room. Obviously that did not happen once. He did, however, make his bed every day and keep the room clutter free of random boxers and socks. How did this guy ever end up in a frat house?

"Don't be mad that I'm done before you D-Bear," he said.

She gave up on trying to squish the nickname. Though calling him Wilson certainly hit nerves with him, she learned.

"Can you please at least pretend to fold them, it's going to give me hives if I think about it for our 12 hour flight," she said.

It was the last day back. Well technically, their god-awful flight was scheduled for late that night to get them in Graz at a normal time the following day just in time for some welcome back floor program Perry was running. She wondered how unethical it was to crush up sleeping pills into his food to keep him from talking the entire time.

Then again, him talking…wasn't the worst thing in the world.

Fucking Laura putting this in her head. She smirked at them the entire ride from London (after she got the frown off her face and thought she hid the remnants of tears).

"Shouldn't we be spending the last few hours of break like doing nothing at all?" he said.

"It's not like I'm asking you to write a paper on thermonuclear dynamics," she said.

He stared blankly and she rolled her eyes as he sat up and rested his elbows on his knees.

"Actually, I'll make a deal with you," he said carefully.

"I don't really care that much about it," Danny said, throwing a few books in her bag.

"Well you might, just hear me out Danny," he said.

Oh, we're back to serious talk apparently.

"I'll pack those back up like to perfect perfection—"

"No wonder you got a D in lit class—"

"If," he said, glaring. "You talk to your parents about the thing."

"Which thing is that?"

"The one you're keeping a secret from them."

Oh, that thing. Somewhere she thought she could hear Laura yelling about the damage he was doing to progression by calling her bisexuality "the thing" and nice of a distraction as that was to focus on, she sighed herself back into the real world instead. She dropped onto the chair in the corner of the guest room.

"Kirsch, I really don't need to," she said.

"Your parents seem like total bros—"

"Yeah, because my pristine heterosexual 'boyfriend' is here."

He frowned and worked his hands together.

"I'll go with you, maybe it'll help them see how normal it is, you know? If your boyfriend knows and doesn't care," he said.

He does remember he's not actually her boyfriend right? There were some weird lines blurring and Mel and Taylor and Jamie and every single other person in that SummerSoc house was never going to let her forget it if they kept up the charade until it wasn't a charade anymore.

"I know it's super scary dude," he said. "I def don't know what it feels like, but I'll go with you if you want. Bros stick together, for everything."

His face must have been photoshopped at birth because it was just too genuine to be human, let alone a frat boy frequenting keg parties and ragers. Bro, boyfriend she didn't care at this point what she called him as long as she got to keep him around. And she would never ever say that out loud. Ever.

"Besides," he said. "Gay marriage is almost legal in America right? When that happens you'll want to be ready to be you."

"I doubt that's happening anytime soon," she said.

"Who knows, could happen by like, June."

Whatever. That was a null argument anyway. And she knew she'd already decided he was right. It was just that game of saying no enough times until you felt prepared to say yes.

"Okay but we need to plan an escape route in case this goes as awful as I think it will," she said.

He took out his phone, typing feverishly until he clicked on something with his thumb and held it up to see. He'd located 3 of the nearest ice cream stores.

Goddammit.

They walked downstairs and she was tempted to grab his hand but never did. They sat down at the table where her parents were finishing dinner.

In the end they didn't need the ice cream stores, they didn't even need to run. Her parents were smiling and hugging her and when she got back upstairs with Kirsch she kissed him before she could stop herself. And hated every second he absolutely kissed her back. Ugh.

She was never going to hear the end of this.

But she couldn't feel lighter about it.

----

"Do we really need a welcome back party Perr? You saw yourself that there's no new floormates," LaFontaine said, pinning up a blue streamer.

"It's always good to have a morale booster at the end of a break," Perry said. "Besides Spring semester is always worse than Fall and we might as well get a head start on their mental health."

Fair logic, straight out of a Chicken Soup for the Soul column. They shrugged and pinned up more streamers and wrapped some around the tower lamp in the corner while Christmas music played in the background. They told Perry listening to Christmas music in January was depressing but she insisted it would somehow make it fun.

The door to the floor opened and J.P. walked in with two grocery bags on either arm.

"Okay so they only had generic brand, hopefully Laura can't taste the difference between Chips Ahoy and Fredrich's brand," he said, setting down the bags and deciphering the German on the packaging.

"Just don't talk about it in front of her and I think we'll be fine," they said.

"How'd her stuff in London go, by the way? Did anyone hear?" he said.

He quickly ripped the cookies out of the offending package and dumped them into a bowl. A few more items came out, soda, candy, cheese curls. Thank god for American sections in foreign grocery stores. They'd have to plate up some before Laura's snack food sense went off and demolished the table.

"No idea," they said. "Somehow I think no news is bad news in this case."

"Danny said she looked down after she went to see Carmilla so I wouldn't bring it up," she said.

"Well all that remains I suppose is to bad talk Carmilla as much as possible right? We hate her now?" J.P. asked.

They knew he was mostly kidding but it was still a hostile enough environment that they decided mentioning they'd been talking to Carmilla since before Christmas was a bad idea. But someone had to help her through the cold sweats and vomiting and hours of shaking as she flushed her system of need and pain and so many other things. No one needed to know about that. Laura most of all. They knew exactly how that meeting went in London, uneventful and exceeding painful, as was reported to them. Carmilla told them it would have been easier to walk away yelled at than walk away whispered a goodbye to. They agreed.

"With any luck, she won't come up at all," Perry said.

J.P. nodded and worked on organizing the snack table like it some sort of Top Chef competition. Once or twice they even shouted to him "this isn't Instagram" but left to his own devices for a few weeks probably had him wired, something to do for others was probably more welcome than a beer right now.

And on that front, LaFontaine had given up trying to pick apart the history hiding behind J.P.'s initials and his life away from campus. It wasn't a pleasant family life, clearly, and if he needed them to know then he would tell them. Perry had been so proud when they came to that conclusion over break that she'd kissed them poignantly on the cheek.

It was only much later that they realized she may have alternative reasons to be happy LaFontaine was no longer so invested in J.P.

"Hey Perr, you want to help me wake up Laura? She's a dangerous sleeper as is, and jet lag has probably leveled up her thrashing tendencies," they said.

Perry carefully stepped down from the chair they were using to hang a "It's a Boy" banner that had been crossed out and replaced with "Welcome Back" over top. Whoever the chair of the board was she was kind of an ass about budgets.

They made sure to walk slow before there would be no peace once Laura was up on a sugar rush and they needed to say something now. Preferably before others showed up and before they went ballistic in their head hoping that the pong game of what the heck is going on? inside their brain was shared.

Because they weren't supposed to feel this way about their best friend. That was a classic, giant no.

"Hey Perr," they said, hands in pockets to dig for courage. "You know Jeep's just my friend right? Like nothing is ever happening there so…"

She looked up for a split second in terror before turning to Laura's door and knocking through a blush on her cheeks. They shouldn't smirk. You do not smirk at best friend crushes. You crush them. That's why they're called crushes. You step on them and run far away. Basic logic.

And yet.

Perry quickly launched to the side and planted a kiss hard but so not painful on LaFontaine's cheek and the door opened to a groggy and disheveled Laura just in time for LaFontaine's eyes to bug out of their head, chased by reddening cheeks.

"Please tell me if you're waking me up you have caffeine?" Laura yawned.

"I think she's exaggerating," Betty called from inside the room.

"No but we have the next best thing and there's an entire table of it waiting for you," they said.

Laura finger combed her hair on the walk out and looked like she'd seen the Promised Land when she spotted J.P.'s immaculate snack table on the far side of the room and dove right in. The look of despair on J.P.'s face as his pyramid of goods was demolished in a second was well worth every single thing that'd happened that semester and the room burst into laughter.

Laura gave him an apologetic smile and offered him a cookie and thank god she couldn't taste the brand difference.

"Danny and Kirsch are on their way from the airport now," Perry said, looking at her phone.

"Yeah are we gonna talk about what's going on there?" they asked, taking a seat on the couch.

"Can we also talk about why there are literally no other residents on this floor?" J.P. said looking around. "Honestly, were are the other 16 girls that supposedly live here?"

More laughter and the weight of everything bad that had happened lifted away as Betty insisted they change the station to real music and Laura shouted that some channel was playing a Jurassic Park marathon and they should "at least have it on in the background, come on guys it was groundbreaking when it was released."

When Danny eventually showed up with Kirsch it was like a bomb went off in the room. A very quiet bomb that made everyone sit extremely still as they stared at their joined hands. Two more seconds and then Danny couldn't take it anymore.

"Whatever you have to say, keep it to yourself," Danny said and Laura burst out laughing.

"Have fun telling your sorority sisters," LaFontaine said and Perry swatted their shoulder.

"Clearly I should have taken the 0-0 odds that you two were going to get together before—"

She cut herself off fast with a panicked glance to Laura and Perry didn't miss a beat with offering everyone (portioned) cups of grape soda and talking animatedly about clubs meeting in the first week. It was almost a perfect save until William Eisen walked in.

"Hey," he said quietly. His face lowered and he raised up a tin tray of miniature muffins. "I know I'm probably not invited at all. But…"

He offered the muffins higher and Kirsch scrambled to his feet to take them and perhaps provide defense for an impending shit storm. LaFontaine glanced at Perry who wore a thin smile and shot warning glances to them. Danny was the one on Laura, catching LaFontaine's eye and nodding to her by the TV suddenly a fair bit paler than seconds ago.

They immediately ran through scenarios where they threw him out (kept the muffins though) or just made sure he and Laura didn't come within 10 feet of each other. Which was dumb because she didn't break up with him and she didn't even break up with Carmilla. And adopted or not, he positively reeked of his sister. Nurture certainly wanted those two to be siblings.

"I can go if you—"

"No."

It was Laura who said it.

"Stay Will. The Lost World is starting and I know Perry wants another body to keep me from eating all the cookies," she said.

The room took a collective breath as he stepped in, Kirsch followed behind with the muffins, dropping them on the coffee table and stealing 3, earning a scolding from Danny when she only got 1. Will sat rigid on the couch, wiping the palms of his hands on his pants.

"Look, I'm just going to ask this now and put us all out of our elephant in the room misery," Betty said. "She okay?"

The room now took a collective gulp.

"Besides bitching daily about the boot they have her in? Yeah, she's good," he said. "Not gonna lie, when I first saw her at the hospital she looked like an extra from a disaster movie but…she's okay now."

They all nodded and took sips and nibbled on whatever was in their hands to distract them as some little girl was guzzled by baby raptors on the TV.

"So I told my parents I'm bi," Danny said.

A round of congratulations went out and everything slipped back to normal as they watched the movie and took "shots" of cookies every time someone got demolished by a raptor.

Their phone buzzed during a commercial break.

C Karnstein (7:05PM): In an about an hour, search my name on YouTube.

What the hell?

----

Sending the text to LaFontaine was sealing the deal. It meant that this was happening. Some makeup artist was wiping sweat off her face as she readjusted her earpiece and some stagehands helped her change into leather pants (god help her the rest of the show, these things were a nightmare).

This wasn't as big of a deal as she was making it out to be. Those 40,000 screaming kids in the stadium weren't really here. There are plenty of worse things she could be doing.

Like diving to the depths of a body of water to retrieve a mythical sword that made her worthy to be a champion or some shit. No wait, that was King Arthur…or was it someone else…?

Whatever.

She ignored LaFontaine's text asking for more information and (gently) tossed her new phone onto the makeup counter and fluffed her damp curls. Is this how one prepares for execution? She thought of the man in The Stranger breaking at the end and screaming, admitting he was afraid to die as she was now.

I die to live again. That romanticized it just enough to lower her BPM to maybe 300. It was also dorky. Good thing she didn't write a super sappy song she was about to blow up the internet with. Yeah, that'd be dumb.

"You're on in 30 second."

Oh fucking Christ in heaven, what the hell?

Breath, breath, breath.

She'd given a list of chords to the band, mumbling an apology and hoping they'd be able to keep up with her. She was definitely facing a fine from the record company for changing the set last minute. Whatever, this was about to be the biggest publicity field day since she punched the reporter a year ago so it wasn't like her sacrifice wasn't going to get them business.

But this felt so much different from then. And maybe that was the point. Catepillars crawling into those cocoons couldn't be pleasant but this was the part where she got free, it was a butterfly with torn wings and bruised parts she'd become, but a better to be something bruised out of beauty and perfect in its ugliness.

"15 seconds."

"Fuck off, I'm getting there."

She was terrified of being terrified. Her sutures were coming undone across her heart and she'd bleed out in front of 40,000 eyes. Even more than that before the night was over. She thought she might actually be able to feel her soul sitting like a heavy, lead knot in her chest. Maybe that meant it was really there after all.

But only one pair of eyes mattered. Golden brown and keeping watch over her from the constellations they made together on the ceiling of every room she slept in. Laura was at her side, even now, though she didn't condone it or know it.

She was about to find out.

"Carmilla it's—"

"I swear to god I will throw my Vitamin Water at you."

She slammed it down for good measure and turned out of the dressing room and back into the sea more alive than the real ever could be. Flashing lights and screaming from all directions. A steady pulse as they bounced as one to the vamp of her own music they played between sets. This must be her heartbeat.

"Hey guys," she said into the microphone, swinging her guitar to her front and pulling a pick from the leather pockets.

They screamed in response. But she needed them quiet. For just one night, she needed the world to bend for her.

"I need your help," she said. "This is a little…surprise."

More screams. It's not for you.

"Apologies to everyone about to get pissed at me for this, but not really," she said. "I need every single one of you to get out your phones and GoPros and hell use those fucking selfie sticks but nobody get in sword fights with them. Again."

Less screams now. General concert sounds, but she watched as far as she could into the abyss below her, picking out one or two faces and watching cameras and phones come out after a few seconds of waiting and realizing she was serious.

"Turn them on and start recording, bill me for the battery later," she said.

She gave them a few more moments to obey.

This was it. Before bombs dropped, before thunder cracked, between two beats of in her veins, this is exactly what it felt like. The tension between who she was, and who she was about to become. The cocoon was shedding, it was on the floor now, each breath blew it away. Panic set it in but it never felt like this, she saw no color red, no camera, felt no breaking glass. She saw her brother smiling, saw the kids at Silas laughing, she heard Laura a breath in her ear telling her to let go.

Pride was left in the cocoon and so was its twin shame. Remnants of Mircalla that poisoned the woman who became Carmilla were gone. And all that matter was what she was about to do.

Love me for it, or forgive me. But please, just listen.

----

Will thought he was going to swallow his own trachea on the walk over to Crowley Hall, so being allowed to stay was a welcomed surprise. It was probably the muffins, but he didn't care, he was in and allowed to have friends again.

"That's not realistic," Danny said as a T. Rex ran into frame.

"Well duh," Will said. "It's dinosaurs."

"Dinosaurs were real douche canoe."

"Not like this."

"Be quiet both of you, I'm trying to watch Jeff Goldblum save humanity."

They'd ended up being more invested in the movie marathon than intended but that's what happens when everyone's least favorite person walked in toting an apology. No one really wanted to broaching talking about the wrong thing, he supposed, so they invested in the movie like a group on a poorly fairing first date, oh yeah the salad is lovely.

It felt a little bit like betrayal, he was allowed to sit in a room with Laura and her friends and Carmilla would forever be denied this. Maybe he could do some good from the inside? Fat chance. It did feel like something was missing though, without her here quipping every 10 seconds and watching Laura whenever her head was turned away. Somewhere in the world, perhaps, she was watching Laura still. She'd get over it eventually.

Maybe in like 5 years. But hey, maybe now she'd get through it without punching anyone. So far so good. A month in.

"You mean this isn't over with yet?" Danny groaned from her position next to Kirsch. Will was going to wait until he was firmly back in everyone's good graces before he started making fun of that. Because it was happening.

"It is basic human knowledge that there are 3 Jurassic Parks," Laura said, mocking offense.

"Going to be 4 soon."

"Jeff Goldblum isn't in them though, so what is the point?"

Several groans went out and it was a bathroom and snack break as the credits rolled and banner at the bottom of the screen advertised the next movie.

With everyone in a scatter, Will saw his opportunity when Laura sifted through the bowl of Chex Mix, picking out the M&M's and nibbling quietly in her spot.

"I think that's a party foul," Will said, scooting closer and she shrugged, focusing intently on the bowl in her lap.

"We were all thinking it," she said.

He nodded and suddenly the conversation was dead and the tension everyone was fighting since he walked in was hovering between them and at this point Will would prefer some sort of noxious gas outbreak over this, it might choke him less. And her discomfort was mixed with ragging bags under her eyes and he wonders in guilt how much sleep she lost thanks to him and thanks to Carmilla.

It was hard to tell who was completely to blame for that. Will for selling Carmilla to the Pharisees, Carmilla for committing the crime in the first place, their mother for the crucifixion? Perhaps it was a combination, a good old Eisen-Karnstein-Morgan disaster complete with total meltdowns and alcohol.

Sounds like Christmas 2011.

"Laura, you know I'm very sorry, right?" he said.

She looked up surprised.

"It's not your fault," she said.

"My sister is a unique person," he sighed. "And that's not her fault, well some of it is, but the parts that my mother kind of flung in your face, that one was my bad."

"Look," Laura said, putting down the bowl and sitting up to her knees. "No one forced her to do what she did. Did you force it out of her? Well yeah, kind of. But it would have hurt no matter what, you were just hastening the process."

It didn't sound like an acceptance of that fact, however, it sounded like Laura was bitter. Not sounded, she was. It was all over her face. Bitter that her world of make believe came to end too fast? Bitter that the fairy tale was a lie after all?

"Why do you like my sister, Laura?" he said.

"What?" she looked panicked.

"I just," he sighed. "She's a pain in the ass. Like a super pain in the ass."

Laura actually smiled, dropping it to the ground and biting her lip to control it.

"She's a huge pain in the ass and has a past with a capital p and you…"

He didn't know how to finish the sentence. He wasn't going to accuse her of being in love with his sister, but it was bigger than a school dance crush. Laura was invested in who Carmilla was and had a hand in sculpting the person Carmilla was about to become on the other side of everything. Didn't she know that?

"I miss her," Laura finished for him, quietly.

"You know, there's this saying," he said, pushing his bounds as far as they would go before she called for help or slapped him. "That when you…love, someone…it's not necessarily that you crave being around them, it's that you notice when they're not here."

And Kirsch, with precision timing, dove into the scene with a flop onto the love seat before Laura could turn that burning fire behind her cheeks into word.

"Dinosaur bros, let's go, turn it up."

And so it went for a few minutes into the movie, punctuated by crunches as they finished off the snacks. At one point, the bio major went off into a corner to make a call or something, because they were glued to their phone screen.

"Does Grub Hub know it's technically still the school holiday or do you think I can order a pizza?" the other bio major said, yawning through a scene.

"What you mean Cheeze-Its and Chips Ahoy weren't enough dinner for you?" Danny asks.

"No, we need to round out this feast of drunk food with the king of college meals," he said.

"Agreed," Will said, thanking the gods of scheduling that he didn't have class until 2pm tomorrow.

They went on in silence again for a few more minutes before another interruption clocked in.

"Holy shit."

It came from the back of the room where the bio major had been glued to their phone. They came tumbling back into the room proper, grabbing for the laptop on the coffee table.

"Christ LaF," Danny said, jumping up. "Where's the fire?"

"On YouTube," they blurted. "Laura you have to see this. J.P. get the HDMI."

He obeyed and pulled a black chord out of the cabinet in the entertainment center, hooking one end into the TV and letting the bio major take the other.

"Oh no, bye bad dinosaur movie," he said sarcastically.

And what replaced the screen was a view of a YouTube video titled "Laura's Song."

----

Laura hadn't exactly been on top of it all night. She blamed it on the jet lag and sugar withdrawal on the airplane. So when LaFontaine came barreling into the room, tripping over their computer chord it jarred her.

Laura you have to see this.

Whatever that meant. Not that she was mourning missing the weakest of the Jurassic Park movies, and some excitement was nice since she spent the majority of break hold up in her room with her blog, deleting the remnants of Carmilla's disastrous first interview with her. Even with the Hollis-day traditions going strong between her dad and aunts, it was probably one of her lesser Christmases, especially when she found Carmilla's gift to her, tattooed forever with her handwriting and dosed in her smell.

Laura put down her soda and watched the screen click to life with a YouTube page and her eyes instantly caught on to her name in big bold letters at the top of the video.

Laura's Song.

Oh.

Oh no…

The pieces fit together in her head before she even dipped down into the summery beneath the video screen.

"'From tonight (1-19) in Hong Kong, Carmilla asked us to turn our cameras on for a new song,'" LaFontaine read the description from someone who clearly spoke English as a second language.

"Holy crap," Betty said, looking at Laura.

One by one, pairs of eyes found their way to her and she felt herself turning red and hot all over. She essentially was in some awful dream where she was in her underwear at the front of the class. Except the class was now going to be the entire population of the internet as the video hit counter was stuck at 301+ denoting a viral hit count.

Oh crap.

Her dad was going to have things to say.

"I'll turn it off whenever you tell me to," LaFontaine said. "But you need to see this Laura."

"She told you to do this, didn't she?" Danny said with narrow eyes.

"Who cares?"

Laura took a deep breath and closed her eyes. It's not like she was losing anything by watching this, her trajectory of getting over Carmilla was at a snail's pace so what did it matter if she got sucked back those measly two inches she managed to distance herself from missing her?

"Okay," Laura nodded and LaFontaine pressed play.

A form on a colorfully lit stage came to life as crowd noises filled the room. The person was clad in black (and whoa leather pants), one leg shoved into a thick black boot and a deep purple left-handed guitar hung around her shoulders and Laura watched a gesture she knew so well as Carmilla brushed a waterfall of black curls from her face and it was like she was right next to her.

Carmilla was breathing heavily and to herself, like a baseball player on deck at the bottom of the 9th.

"Now that I've effectively gotten myself dropped from my record label," she said, wiping sweat from her forehead. "This is a new song, you guys."

Wild cheers blew out the speakers for a few seconds before they died down and Carmilla looked so small up on the stage, half slumped and tired. The camera turned to film the version of her on the large screen and Laura caught her biting her lip.

"Alright fuck it," Carmilla said and took hold of the microphone stand with force. "You guys probably know at this point I'm a little bit of a mess yeah? I don't ever talk about it, but I'm not proud of punching that guy. But it didn't start out that way. I learned not to be proud of it, because of this one person. I learned how not to be a lot of things."

Laura felt her eyes bug and a breath was vacuumed right up and into her lungs before she knew it was happening. Pins could have dropped in that stadium within the video, almost as if they knew they were tools and Laura was the true audience. Perhaps the entire Earth still for a few minutes so Carmilla could listen for her breathing.

"I messed that up though," she continued. "And I don't know how else to reach her or even if I should. So I guess this song is an apology for everyone. But I wrote it listening to her breathe so…Hope you're listening cupcake."

She paused.

"Laura," she corrected.

Carmilla stepped back from the microphone and even on the grainy image her throat bounced with a gulp and she was taking sharp breaths through her nostrils. Don't cut yourself trying to breath me in, Laura thought.

She was scooting closer to the TV as Carmilla began picking at her guitar slowly until she worked up to a full on strum. She was alone in that for a few moments before the drums, catching the rhythm, joined in followed slowly by the base guitar and others until they had a full sound. Carmilla seemed to relax a bit as Laura heard the song loop back one last time and then she stepped up to the microphone.

The words began like a conversation with the microphone, like Carmilla was bargaining with her own song. But the conversation turned into a prayer as Carmilla reached the chorus and for the first time, Laura let the lyrics hit her.

I am vindicated…

I am selfish, I am wrong…

Laura's jaw unhinged on its own and dropped as she watched Carmilla belt out the rest like trying to move a wall or knock it down. She calmed down and again move back into the steady rhythm of the verse lyrics.

The song continued but Laura was in some other realm watching. Carmilla was sweating and breathing heavily and singing between a belt and a scream into the mic as she powered through the song and Laura briefly wondered about withdrawal symptoms but pushed it away as the chorus came up again and Carmilla's eyes closed this round to sing.

The bridge came up and Carmilla abandoned her guitar, sliding to rest against her back as she took hold of the mic stand with both hands. She was staring into the ground, afraid to look up or maybe talking to herself.

Just one touch and I'd be in too deep to ever swim against the current…

And suddenly Laura understood. The words might have been stolen right from her own head, they weren't escaping. Anger, embarrassment, hurt, it was all mixed up in the blood jet gunning right for their chests. In too deep…but not being alone could make it easier to swim.

I am selfish, I am wrong…

Arguments in that hotel room over Laura's recorder, snide comments in the bar.

I am right, I swear I'm right, swear I knew it all along…

The first time Laura let her guard down that night on the balcony

And I am flawed…

Bottles of pills, all the pain Carmilla squeezed in her clenched fists, images of Elsie, images Carmilla confused and alone.

But I am cleaning up so well…

Carmilla was smiling over her Christmas gift, she was shooting spitballs at Laura in a McDonald's, letting Laura fall asleep across her stomach as she powered through movie marathons.

I am seeing in me now, the things you swore you saw yourself…

Laura saw that night on the Lustig as they talked and watched the stars and she realized Carmilla was a burning universe under layers of cold. And how she'd got it to come free as they'd almost kissed, sheltered in the dark.

Carmilla ended the song the way she started it, slow and quiet until the music yielded to screams and cheers from the thousands of people Laura forgot were sharing this with her. Carmilla wasn't smiling though, her chest was rapid and deep in its dips as the breathed and she clung to the mic for dear life.

And then the video ended.

LaFontaine got to the computer before the autoplay started up some weird recommendation about a Canadian webseries and unplugged the chord.

No one said anything even though Laura knew they were bursting to ask her questions she didn't know the answer to. A phone beeped.

"Pizza's here," J.P. said monotone and staring into space.

"I will help you get that," LaFontaine said, quickly getting up.

"Yeah no, this is a multiperson job," Betty said, hopping up to follow and Perry mumbled something about supervising.

Kirsch and Will retreated fast to what was left of the food table, leaving only Danny to stare at Laura. And it was a poignant look and Laura pretended to be adjusting her sock and then the other and when that was done, Danny was still watching her.

"What?" she snapped, meaner than she meant to. "See something interesting?"

It was a Carmilla kind of response. Maybe she was here after all. Maybe she never left.

"I see you."

Laura swallowed and dropped her gaze again, Danny was still watching. Not prying, not picking, just watching. Which was, ironically, not like Danny at all. Maybe Carmilla wasn't the only one "vindicated" at the end of all this.

"I'm not telling you what to do," she said. "But I am telling you not to pretend that didn't just happen."

The rest of the night was somber and quiet, a few laughs as they put on B sci-fi and grumbled about classes the next day. Laura's heart was breaking, reassembling, and breaking again. But somehow her TARDIS mug seemed to never empty of hot cocoa, the cookies were almost always positioned within arm's reach, her own Spotify playlist came on the docking station.

Not being alone was a gift. One that Carmilla didn't have and she was probably feeling more than Laura ever would. Perhaps LaFontaine was texting her because they were feverish on their phone, despite their denial that Carmilla was the other end of their intense texting.

"Perhaps all the dragons in our lives who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in our deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love."

Goddamn Carmilla and her perfectly crafted gifts. Especially goddamn her since she recited that quote in her head in that sultry, vocal fry voice that may as well have ended the Rilke passage with "cupcake."

Laura's only regret is that it would take three months for her to decide exactly how to respond what Carmilla did for her that night.

----

It had taken a month for Carmilla to finally admit to herself that the song hadn't worked. It had taken less time than that for her to, as predicted, get dropped from her label and fined for releasing a song without permission. She'd been picked up again almost immediately but the song stayed her own, despite several begging incidents from Rick and other men in black ties.

The nameless song would be played once and never again.

She'd gotten confirmation from LaFontaine that Laura had seen it but that was all. And months passed with no word from her. Occasionally Carmilla lurked on her Twitter page and saw her posting pictures and having fun so clearly, the lid had been shut and it was up to Carmilla to lay the contents to rest.

She was happy for Laura, at least a bit, to see here happy and smiling and out with friends (friends who had once, maybe, been her friends too). There was thankfully no talk of dates or girlfriends. Carmilla might retire to some remote part of Fiji and never come back if that happened. Well, when it happened. She should hit up apartments.com for condos.

She'd been destroyed in the tabloids over the "stunt" in Hong Kong and the butt of who knew how many interview jokes. Her loyal internet fans rallied to her defense but she couldn't help feeling like some high school girl stood up at prom in front of the entire class and left to be laughed at for hours and hours. She didn't blame Laura though, it was a long shot anyway.

For now, she was getting off a plane, only recognized twice on the flight but she was certain a few others noticed and just lacked the ovaries to actually come up and ask her for an autograph. As she unbuckled her seatbelt she mentally prepared for the rush of fans she was going to get in the baggage claim and how much she wasn't looking forward to taking pictures after spending 9 hours on a plane but every picture she took with some screaming teenager helped to clear her guilt of punching out a camera so long ago.

She walked through the airport with headphones in, blaring Green Day through the speakers and hoping the Metallica shirt and murder eyes kept everyone back from coming up to her as she finished off the melted ice of her Subway drink and dumped into the trashcan.

She was in Toronto. LaFontaine was visiting family for summer break and practically strangled her through the phone asking her to visit. Why it absolutely had to be in Toronto, Carmilla never learned and tried to pretend she wasn't listening for Laura's voice somewhere in the millions of sounds the city cooked up.

Getting to keep LaF in the "divorce" wasn't the worst thing in the world. In fact, if they were her only friend for the rest of her life she didn't think she would complain. Besides, making fun of them about Ginger 2 was too much fun.

As she stepped onto the escalator she saw the familiar sight of fans waiting for her and she painted on a thin smile towards them and several people on the escalator in front of her turned to look at her in confusion, perhaps trying to place her. Oh right, you're the one who punched that guy and then read your diary all over YouTube. How you doing?

But there was something out past the throng of fans.

Something with honey brown hair and a nervous smile.

Something holding up a sign that said "Carm."

Chapter Text

And I am done with my graceless heart, so tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart, 'cuz I like to keep my issues drawn, it's always darkest before the dawn...

--

Laura's hesitation in calling Carmilla or messaging resulted from a kind of paralysis. She didn't know what to say. So she spent months sifting through pain, and guilt, and embarrassment and yes, as much as she hated to admit it, she even did go out on a date with some girl from her journalism class which made for an awkward rest of the semester when Laura unceremoniously dogded a kiss during the night and then didn't call her after.

All it did was prove to Laura what she was afraid was true, Carmilla was soldered to her in vital places. And it didn't help that her name was all over tumblr and Buzzfeed. Laura, she would never admit it out loud of course, had been among the anons who trashed tumblr famous blogs for bashing her and the song and calling it a publicity stunt.

When Laura was at her drunkest (which was only twice) she very nearly came out to the internet as the girl the song was for. But LaFontaine was usually there to stop her (whether they stopped her for her sake or Carmilla's was still a question however).

And so she was silent, to the world, to Carmilla, but inside her head she was screaming and begging to be near her.

And so LaFontaine told her that they invited Carmilla into town at the beginning of summer break and Laura jumped on it. The speech was practiced in front of a mirror because the only person Laura trusted to hear her deepest thoughts about Carmilla was herself. The sign was made out of 99cent posterboard and a packet of smell markers. Black licorice seemed to be the one to go with for Carmilla's name.

Being in the airport made her jittery. Watching the arriving flights board and seeing "landed" next to Carmilla's flight from Tel Aviv sent her pulse into panic mode. She considered the possibility of running off and just letting it all be and eventually getting over it all for real this time.

But then she saw her on the escalator.

Carmilla, ever pale, was more colorful than Laura had ever seen her. There were pink tints at the peak of her cheeks that had never been there before. Her shoulders were calmer, it looked even from afar like her jaw was looser and like she'd perhaps gained a bit of weight in the places where she was all angles.

She was healthy. She was even a little bit happy.

The painkillers, she realized. They were gone. She knew it now without asking.

And when Carmilla looked up lazily, in a yawn, and spotted Laura, a bomb seemed to go off inside her that sucked all the color from her cheeks. Laura tried not to panic or look too eager or not eager enough. She just kept eye contact with whatever smile she could manage.

Carmilla's attention was pulled back to the gaggle of fans waiting for her behind some airport security officers who looked like they hated their life. Carmilla looked like she was on autopilot as she went over and began feverishly scribbling her signature onto whatever was thrust her way and posed for a few pictures with a forced smile.

It felt like it took 10 years or like Carmilla was trying to make it take 10 years. Not once did her eyes skate in Laura's direction and she wondered if she should just slink away in defeat. But no. Carmilla got up in front of 40,000 people and the entire internet, she could swallow her pride for her. And for herself. As selfish as it was, she hoped Carmilla was as miserable as she was.

Eventually, Carmilla detangled herself and raised nervous eyes to Laura's, walking over shoulders first and gripping her bag like a brace for impact.

"Hey."

"Hey."

Wow, was this airport hot to anyone else? Were those walls always this close? And yet she looked even more beautiful up close. Her eyes were clear, instead of smoke and coal they were the granite now and Laura wondered why she had never noticed the shades like crystal hiding there.

What to say?

You look good?

You doing okay?

The speech Laura prepared for an hour in front of her mirror was gone in an instant and all that remained was Carmilla's eyes, unreadable, and looking back at her. She was locked in place and it was clear that this staring contest would only end if Laura moved first. So she replaced questions with feelings.

I might love you.

I missed you like one of my lungs.

I'm sorry. I forgive you.

Please, please say you love me too.

Feelings were always better felt, of course, and Laura didn't trust her voice. So Laura did the only thing she could to convey them.

Lips on lips was an ancient tradition, believed to have signified the exchange of souls between two people. That wasn't what Laura felt when her mouth met Carmilla's, finally. All she felt was…Carmilla. Real, warm, breathing right against her. Not pulling away, not stiffening, responding, and helping her as their lips moved lazily together.

She was kissing Carmilla. And Carmilla was kissing her back. Flowers exploded behind Laura's naval and even for the chaste brush of lips, she swore she saw stars, the kind that belonged to Carmilla, in the sky.. She wondered if Carmilla saw them too when she let out the smallest sigh.

She was too lost in the joining of their lips to do anything with her hands. Carmilla, for her part, seemed scared to move, perhaps afraid this was a dream and touching meant the end of Laura. She let herself be kissed and kissed. It felt like it lasted for hours, though only seconds went by.

Laura pulled back only enough to detach herself, but she kept her nose lightly against Carmilla's as their breath mixed together, like before. Her open eyes met Carmilla's still closed ones and she felt the brush of her eyelashes as they opened and found Laura's just below her. Laura backed up, just a bit, to give Carmilla a better look at her as she inhaled sharply through a shutter into her nose.

She held it, watching Laura and she was desperate to know what was going on in her head. Her eyes were scanning Laura's face, recommitting it to memory perhaps (Laura hadn't forgotten one inch of Carmilla's face).

Then suddenly a warm hand was in hers and Carmilla was beside her, pulling. Laura obeyed, dragging behind Carmilla as her Doc Martens carried them across the carpeted floor of the baggage claim, under the eyes of everyone there. How many pictures of them were going up online right now? Oh god, why had she done that? Why had she done that there in the middle of an airport? Carmilla was pulling her away to yell at her.

Carmilla psuhed them into the women's room and then in two fast steps, dropped her bags outside a stall and tugged Laura in. Then as Laura opened her mouth to actually apologize, strong hips pushed against hers and suddenly she was flush to the wall and Carmilla was kissing her again and thank god.

This one was more feverish than the last, and far less innocent. Once or twice their tongues brushed but they stayed put for the most part. Which was good but Laura was squeaking enough as is, she didn't need to be straight up moaning in a public restroom. Carmilla's hands, this time, were unrestrained, coming to cup at her jaw lightly, though her fingers buried in Laura's hairline and lightly scratched and Laura tried not to shudder. Her hands came to Carmilla's hips and squeezed, pulling her forward.

They kept this up for a few moments before it was Carmilla who pulled back and rested her forehead against Laura's and breathed deeply.

"Change of locale?" Laura shuddered.

"Maybe I don't feel like sharing you right now."

Another shudder.

"I'm sorry," Laura whispered.

"Why are you sorry?" Carmilla whispered back.

"For not forgiving you sooner."

Carmilla pulled back to meet her eyes, her hands relaxed and the pad of a thumb brushed over Laura's cheek and she pushed into Carmilla's hand, turning slightly to kiss the palm.

"And if it wasn't clear," she said. "I like you."

Carmilla chuckled.

"I like you too."

Laura wanted to kiss her again because she was allowed to now and it was like years of tension just snapped and broke and now she could finally rest, against Carmilla lips, held in her arms, sharing a sigh. But kissing wasn't going to solve everything floating between them.

"Was I jealous of Elsie? Was I hurt that you lied to me about so many things? Yes," Laura said. "Was I also scared that everything you said to me was a lie? Yes."

Carmilla watched her through guilty eyes and thinly pressed lips.

"Did it feel like someone ripped my heart out just a little bit? Yeah. But I've also never been more miserable in my entire life when you were gone," she said.

Carmilla nodded, emotionless and watching, thumbs still brushing soothing circles across Laura's face like smoothing whatever scars from tear tracks might linger there.

"I am sorry," Carmilla whispered, just slightly below desperately.

"I know, I heard," Laura smirked and Carmilla relaxed. "And I'm sorry for breaking your heart too."

"Too much sorry," Carmilla mumbled against her. "Not enough kissing."

Carmilla leaned forward to kiss her again but Laura giggled and pressed a finger to Carmilla's lips and her eyes opened in confusion and then a pout when she saw Laura's face.

"Go on a date with me," Laura whispered, leaning forward to rest her lips right against Carmilla's ear. "I want to make the part where we pretend to get to know each other go faster."

"Yes ma'am," she breathed back.

"Pick me up at 7."

"Where are we going?"

"Surprised me."

Carmilla smiled and shook her head, pulling Laura's head back to hers and touching their foreheads like a prayer, thumbs ever working on her rosy cheeks and her own hands massaged the muscle at Carmilla's hip.

Holding meant realness. It meant they were together again, exactly where they should be. A shadow found its owner again, the rain found flowers and was forgiven for the pain it sometimes caused.

----

"What the fuck am I supposed to wear?"

"If you went naked I doubt Laura would object."

"One step at a time Dr. Frankenstein."

Carmilla was raiding her suitcase on the guest bed in LaFontaine's house. Laura insisted if Carmilla stayed at her house it would break her plans to have at least one real date with her. Not to mention it would be torture with her bear spray happy father lurking around corners every time she tried to know what Laura's mouth felt like against her tongue.

"I didn't bring date clothes," Carmilla huffed. "Why didn't you tell me to bring date clothes?"

LaFontaine rolled their eyes as Carmilla dug out the leather pants and paired them with the nicest shirt she could find in her pile. It was still only weekend casual at best. LaFontaine pulled out a pair of black and yellow tie-dye pants and snickered.

"These are loud," they said.

"Thanks."

Carmilla spent a half hour in the bathroom staring at her reflection, tossing her hair, straightening out her shirt, deciding on belt or no belt. LaFontaine leaned on the frame of the door, crossing their arms and watching, occasionally offering commentary.

"She already likes you, you're good," they said.

"I just want to, ya know…" Carmilla trailed off, pushing hair behind her ear.

"Does Laura know that you're actually the self-conscious one?" they asked.

"Probably," she groaned.

Bagheera was parked in the garage in her Manhattan apartment, so LaFontaine was driving her over and way too smug about it. The entire ride they rattled off a barrage of "be in by midnight young lady" and "be a gentlewoman and pay the bill" before Carmilla threatened to tuck and roll out of the car and walk the rest of the way.

"The first date you go on with Ginger 2, you're getting the motherlode," she said and shut the door before LaFontaine's red face could respond.

Well, now she might be walking home. Whatever.

Laura's house was the picture of domestic suburban and, sadly, looked far too big for just the two people Carmilla knew inhabited it. On her way to the door she caught sight of what she quickly realized was Laura's room. The blinds were tilted just enough that she saw a figure walking around and at just the right angle she caught sight of Laura's honey hair, moving like the tide as fingers brushed through it.

She heard a song in head. Let's make this night last forever…. It had potential. Another song about Laura.

Carmilla stood there and smiled for a few moments and pretended they were high school seniors, on the eve of graduation, trying to bring closure to four years of romantic tension. But no, the reality was better. They were two kids playing tag across country lines, through Skype calls, and guitar strings. And the game was over.

The real fun was on the other side of Laura's front door.

So she knocked.

And after the lecture from Laura's father, peppered with groans and scolds from Laura, they were off, walking down the street in the spring night air. Laura gave it five minutes before she took Carmilla's hand in her own but it was Carmilla who laced their fingers.

"How long were you writing that song for?" Laura asked, they turned a corner and Laura found herself confused as they headed toward a park.

"Since you walked into my hotel room I think," Carmilla said.

They stepped across the threshold of the park and into the grass, damp from a rain storm earlier in the week. The park was technically closed after sundown but Laura didn't seem like she was about to object. Carmilla was vaguely reminded of midnight walks through public property with Ell before was out of her mind forever because that time was over.

She pulled Laura to the playground castle, climbing up the rope ladder and offering a hand to Laura who climbed up after, straightening her sundress when she reached the top. Carmilla kicked off her boots and Laura removed her wedges, following Carmilla to sit on the floor of the landing.

"Welcome to Castle Karnstein," Carmilla chuckled, taking Laura's hands and letting them sit in her crossed legs, thumb running patterns over the back of her hand.

"Sounds like a place for a vampire."

"Maybe it was once."

Laura rolled her eyes and shook her head and Carmilla could not stop watching her, smiling on reflex. Laura shyly licked her lips and bit the bottom one and Carmilla hazard leaning forward, Laura met slowly half way, lingering just out of reach. Carmilla shoved down the inexplicable nerves and tilted forward to close the gap and they kissed softly.

As nice a surprise as the airport had been, this one felt like the first one. Soft and timid and a light hand linger over the skin of her neck with just enough pressure to know it was there. Carmilla mirrored her with her own hand on Laura neck and turned her head to chance deepening the kiss. Laura responded in kind and rose to her knees, scooting forward for better access.

They broke apart for car headlights in the parking lot and Carmilla checked her phone with a smirk.

"Food's here," she said, sitting up and pulling out her wallet.

"Wait, did you GrubHub food to the park?" Laura asked through still flushed skin.

"Don't act like Chinese doesn't sound like the best first date food ever," Carmilla said. She leaned in to peck Laura's lips. "Wait here."

Down she hopped and tipped the very confused driver $50 cash and walked off quickly before he protested, climbing back up and into their safe haven with two bags steaming out the smell of fried rice and egg rolls.

"You are something Carm," Laura said, opening a box.

"What? It's not like I know anything about Toronto."

They ate through random conversation and giggles and stolen food. Carmilla asked about school and Laura asked about her tour, Carmilal volunteered the information she knew Laura really wanted to know about getting dropped from the label and the utter decimation she got from trolls on the internet.

"You know the kissing and the dating doesn't change that you're still my best friend, right?" Carmilla asked, setting down her fork and container. Laura looked up and mirrored the action, regarding her.

"I think that's exactly how it's supposed to be," Laura said.

Carmilla smiled tot he ground and Laura crawled across the fiberglass to nuzzle into Carmilla's side as she leaned back and rested against the wall of the toy castle, arm going over Laura's shoulder. Laura's hands played with the loose strings of Carmilla's shirt and she found too much fun in occasionally hitting a ticklish spot. They were back to kissing shortly after, it was lazy and soft.

"You're my best friend too," Laura breathed against her lips and Carmilla thought for a moment it was an angel. "And there's some other things I want to tell you but I think they should wait because--well...you know."

"I do," Carmilla prayed out and took Laura's face into her hands and kissed her with more passion and heat that was quickly returned.

It had turned into full blown making out before another pair of headlights showed and Carmilla all but yanked Laura's arm out of socket as she pulled her to run from a familiar siren and shouts from the cops. They made it to a tree at the edge of the park and Carmilla pressed Laura against it, covering her body with her own in the shadow on the far side of the tree.

"Don't let them hear us cupcake," Carmilla said.

"I might need your help keeping quiet then."

Well played, Hollis.

Carmilla obliged with her lips on Laura's whose hands snaked between them to hold onto Carmilla. They spent a few minutes ruining the sanctity of the tree with tongues and lips and some escaped moans before it was safe to return to their spot on the playground to collect the trash.

They held hands again on the walk home, pausing every so often to kiss because the more they did it the more they wanted it. This honeymoon phase was explosive. And the front door of Laura's house and the promise that her father was most certainly inside waiting, helped keep it in check as the approached the porch with one last kiss and parted ways for the night.

Carmilla was floored by how right it all felt. She'd forgotten there was a time when they didn't do that, kiss and hold and go on dates. There was no weirdness, there was no transition. There was only her and Laura and the degrees to which they were together. No borders, no limits, just moving forward.

And one week later, she sighed against Laura's lips, begging her to be her girlfriend, and pushed her tongue into her mouth when she said yes.

--

"I thought you were supposed to be good at pyro mechanics," Carmilla said.

"And I thought I told you to shut the hell up."

Carmilla laughed as LaFontaine groaned over the pile of wood that had yet to become a fire as the sun lingered half above the horizon over the water. Laura swatted Carmilla's arm from her position on her lap and Carmilla tugged her closer and placed a kiss on her cheek. Carmilla didn't like anniversaries that weren't exactly one year but she gave in for three months when Laura assured her it was just a hang out of friends that happened to fall on an important date.

"So we couldn't decide on marshmallows," Kirsch said, walking back with 5 bags, Danny behind him carrying sticks.

"Is what he says. What he means is, he couldn't decide. I was fine with plain, white, and fluffy," Danny said.

"Live a little Xena."

A bag was stolen from Kirsch's arms and flung at Carmilla. Laura took the bullet for her, laughing as she opened the bag of colorful marshmallows and shoved one in Carmilla's mouth who laughed as Laura chased it with a kiss.

"Don't you have an album to be working on?" Danny asked mocking, but sans malice.

"Don't you have a galaxy to guard?"

"Hush."

Laura kissed her again and Danny made some groaning compliment about Carmilla getting rewarded for being an ass with Laura's tongue. Carmilla laughed while Laura went red.

"This isn't exactly sanitary," Perry said.

"Well the table broke so everyone is going to just do their best not to dunk the goods in the sand," LaFontaine said. J.P. had taken to aiding in the fire making.

"Aren't you two supposed to be scientists?" Will said.

"Biology, not chemistry," J.P. said, concentrating hard on the pile of kindling.

"If someone could develop pyrokinesis, that'd be great," LaFontaine said.

"I'll work on it," Carmilla said.

Ultimately, they did get the flames going and marshmallows we're quickly sacrificed to the flames and then mashed between graham crackers and chocolate. The stars dotted the sky and all of Carmilla's attention was drawn up there and Laura followed suit as she leaned back. Carmilla whispered the names of stars into her ear.

"Yo babe, do you dare me to eat this whole thing?" Kirsch asked Danny, holding a mound of three marshmallows between just as much chocolate.

"I'm just impressed you managed to make that stay," Danny said, rolling her eyes.

"Does anyone dare me?" he asked the group.

"No one dares you, dude," Will said, passing a soda from the cooler to Betty.

"I do know first aid though, when you inevitably choke to death," Betty offered, taking a sip of Dr. Pepper.

LaFontaine laughed and felt just how close they were positioned to Perry as their front hit her back as they laughed and tried not to notice. In the dark their flushed face was hidden, even of Carmilla was smirking dangerously from across the way. Laura recaptured her attention with a whisper in her ear.

On the portable docking station, a familiar song came on and Carmilla groaned.

"Turn it off," she yelled. "How did you even get the audio of this?"

"It's called YouTube ripper," Danny said, smirking.

"Can we not listen to this again?" Carmilla said.

"It's nice," Laura whispered. "To remember."

"To remember that I martyred myself?"

"Yep."

Laura kissed her lips lightly.

And so the night continued until it was nearly dawn and they were considering passing out on the sand. Back at Perry's house LaFontaine let her rest her arm across their hip as they fell asleep as one. Danny and Kirsch played a round of Madden 2015 on the Xbox in the basement before they fell asleep trash talking each other. Laura and Carmilla did fair less innocent things before they went to bed, curled under her childhood ceiling.

Life had repaid her for all she lost. And Laura had been rewarded for all that she was.

"You're not allowed to make any new friends when you go back to school," Carmilla whispered as the grey light of morning slowly began to kill the dark in Laura's room.

"I think that's going a little far," Laura whispered back, shuffling closer to Carmilla's chest.

"No one would do it right if they tried," Carmilla said into her hair. "They wouldn't tease you enough about Doctor Who, they wouldn't embarrass you at your dad's Canada Day barbecue, or sneak onto your tumblr and reblog weird furry shit."

Laura sighed through a smile into Carmilla's chest.

"I thought the same thing, you know," Laura said. "Back when I was having some sort of existential crisis over whether or not I had a crush on you. I didn't think anyone else would do it right."

Carmilla kissed her hair and pulled her in close and listened as she fell back asleep. She pretended the bags piled up in the corner weren't there, it was still just a summer night and they were snuggled together, not waking until 2pm, the world wasn't outside waiting for them both.

"So you really like me, huh?" Laura smiled, still awake, against her chest.

And Carmilla could only stifle a laugh.