She was sliding in between her own wrinkled covers before her brain could talk her out of it, allowing her right arm to drape across Laura’s hipbone as she burrowed in next to her, her nose filling up with the familiar scent that felt so much like home.
Tomorrow she’d be selfless.
At least that’s what she told herself.
Tomorrow she’d be a lot of things.
A low hum pricked at Carmilla’s consciousness for a moment and she groaned an obscenity under her breath at the unwelcome intrusion. Surely they’d only been sleeping for an hour or two at the most? It couldn’t have been longer-the dull ache in her legs and the clamminess of her skin was evidence enough of that.
God, it seemed like forever since she’d slept properly.
Sucking in a warm breath the brunette slumped sideways, dragging her spine towards the sound, an ungainly movement that brought her face to face with a comatose Laura whose hair was thrown out every which way around her head.
“Mmm nope nope nope...”
A hint of a smile worked its way onto the vampire’s lips at the soft scrunch of that freckled nose an inch away as the unintelligible burble fell from Laura’s lips and before she was even conscious of what she was doing her fingers were suddenly hovering with intention over the smaller girl’s jaw line. So close to touching it that she could feel Laura’s warmth in the whorls on her fingertips; her knuckles griping at their frozen position as she held them there.
“No potatoes today thank you... fruit salad’s off...”
A small laugh actually broke from Carmilla’s chest at that; a muted frown crossing Laura’s still sleeping face as if somehow she realised she was being made fun of even in the depths of unconsciousness.
The brunette’s smile dropped then and her fingers quickly did the same.
It was probably nothing, though. Just a stray emotion chasing across the other girl’s face.
It didn’t mean that Laura had heard her or that there was any kind of reason for her to feel uncomfortable. The blonde was a series of tenuously-linked thoughts and deeds at the best of times and when she got lost inside her own head, even more so.
It was nothing.
Everything was fine.
And yet... feeling the heat of a sleeping body next to her, something inside Carmilla’s exhausted brain couldn’t help wondering if perhaps there hadn’t been other occasions when a younger version of the girl in front of her had fallen asleep to the sounds of something other than the usual nursery rhymes or lullabies. Something with a different kind of intention behind; soft whispers made up of well-meaning recriminations.
She was jumping to conclusions. Laura had only told her the barest of details when it came to her home life before Silas, never stating outright that anything had been wrong but she’d spent enough time with her own Mother to connect the unspoken dots.
Burn marks and scars masquerading as freckles.
Her eyes flicked down to unmoving eyelids and soft lips.
Jesus, she was being presumptuous and invasive. Carmilla looked away guiltily almost immediately. But even knowing that, knowing she was drawing inferences from absolutely nothing an unfurling anger had begun coiling up inside her chest. At the thought that Laura might not have been offered the love she was so obviously deserving of. At the thought that she might have laid there in her bed at night wondering what she’d done wrong.
Before she could do something stupid Carmilla drew herself away from the supine body an inch away and forced herself onto her back so that she could distract herself with the whitewash ceiling above.
Swirls and strokes of paint that echoed in every room in the hallway. Every floor in the block, completely without design. Nameless and indiscriminatory.
You’re being ridiculous, Karnstein. Reading way too much into nothing at all.
Her own body was reacting without permission though and that was what frightened her most of all. That familiar hiss of acid that shot through her veins at the thought of something hurting Laura, even if it was something in the past was a compulsion with a mind of its own. It wasn’t healthy. She knew that. The twitch in her muscles told her that.
Anybody can become angry.
It was as she stared at cream coloured paint metres above that the dark hum of ink from a page in Aristotle leapt into her mind distracting her from the body below that was caught up in its own attempts to tamp down the circling wrath inside.
Screwing up her eyes, Carmilla remembered the words as if she’d written them herself.
Anybody can become angry. That’s easy. But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, in the right way- that is not within everyone’s power and is not easy.
She had read that sentence at a time when words had lost all their meaning- well, besides some pathetic human plea stuttered out at the end of the chase. A vicious blood soaked time when she had allowed herself to be a predator and very little else.
Language had been for the living. A useless arrogant tool in an unwinnable war. What importance could soap-box speeches have had when shadows on the street waited for nothing but a chance to feed? When you caught your own reflection in a dirty half broken wine bottle and saw nothing but a monster with a face? All teeth and tongue; no larynx required.
She was so adamant about that. For years.
Could have been a preacher on the subject if she’d cared enough and it wouldn’t have undermined her own point.
But then.... one night, after holing up in a small out of the way bookseller’s below street level she had come across a copy of Nicomachean Ethics wrapped in supple leather underneath the counter where she’d flopped down to rest. A beautifully bound tome with knotted leather ties that called to her with its skin. At least at first. Until she had flicked through gilt-edged pages and begun to read a little. Just to calm the adrenaline. That’s what she’d told herself. Before discovering for the first time in a decade it wasn’t gore, it wasn’t screams or blood that mesmerised... but words that somehow sung to her. A few characters lined up on a page that threw up a kind of gloomy mirror. And showed her exactly what she had become. How far she had fallen.
That sensation of horror...of realisation squatting there in that dusty backstreet store had been more cutting than any knife wound she’d received. Because unlike during the fight and the chase there had been no-one else to blame; no-one else’s dead eyes to look into for explanation. Just the words and her as dawn approached.
Tangled together and crusted up.
Her body stiffened at the memory.
She had thrown up not long after finishing the chapter and the congealed mass of blood and iron that spewed onto the floor had smelled worse than anything she’d ever known. And it wouldn’t stop coming out either. It was like her body forcibly trying to expel something intrinsic from inside of her; something deep in her muscles that was never going to come out though it was willing to try nonetheless.
Carmilla felt Laura smiling lazily as she said it but kept facing overhead as the memories and sensations continued to play behind her eyes on an unstoppable reel. All sturm und drang.
Laura fidgeted drowsily as she rolled towards the brunette, stopping when there was no movement to match her own and looked over at her bedmate with self-conscious eyes.
“Um, are you ok?”
“I’m fine, cupcake.”
The dark blonde pursed her lips in an attempt to disguise a mischievous grin that threatened to break out. “Is that so... You’re fine? All good? Tip top?”
Carmilla didn’t say anything so the other girl waited for a second before slyly wiggling her way further down the bed underneath the covers without giving herself away then tapped against the vampire’s ankle with her big toe before drawing it back and peering it at her. No response.
Undeterred Laura rolled over onto her right hip snaking her calf across Carmilla’s wrapping it around her flesh like a viper. Heat on heat. Which by a stroke of luck left her hand free to rest on a buried hipbone, still at first then hesitantly tiptoeing across taut skin.
“Mmhmm?” said the smaller girl innocently.
Silence reigned as the brunette’s jaw seemed to clench against words she was trying not to say.
Laura Hollis however was too busy directing her creeping fingers across tight stomach muscles to notice; lost in the pliant skin trembling beneath them.
Laura whispered though her focus was entirely fixed on the duvet covering their two bodies and the slight motion underneath.
Each ballerina step of her fingertips sent butterflies swarming through her own abdomen in chaotic motion.
At least until finally something moved beside her. Something she might have rejoiced in except that that moving something was suddenly shoving her hand away as dark turbulent eyes bore down into her.
She jerked backwards at the seriousness contained in Carmilla’s eyes.
“Carm, I...I thought you were just...you know,...playing the broody vampire....”
“Nothing about this or me is a performance. I thought you knew that by now.”
Laura blinked, head spinning from the turn of events. Or maybe from the sedation. Or lack of sleep. All of a sudden it was hard to tell.
“Of course I know that,” she mumbled. “What happened to you?”
A brief sigh. “You did.”
Recoiling a little, the dark blonde’s eyebrows drew together as she inched backwards extending the space between them and ignoring the other student’s brittle gaze.
“And that’s a bad thing.”
It wasn’t a question it was a statement.
And Carmilla’s refusal to deny that turned every single butterfly in her gut into a stinging wasp.
“Laura, you don’t understand.”
“What could possibly have changed since we went to bed? What? Did I bite you in my sleep?! Did I tell you my dark and terrible secret? Because ...if I did then...I probably didn’t say that I only stole that My Little Pony the one time and I felt so bad about taking Princess Sparkle away from her friends that I took her back and handed myself in to security...”
“Cupcake, stop. It’s not that.”
Carmilla turned on her side and pinned Laura with a hard gaze which softened a little as she caught a flash of hurt in brown eyes.
Laura sucked in a breath waiting for the end of the sentence though she was clearly fighting against herself to stay quiet.
“You...this thing we have...it bring things out of me that are better kept buried.”
The smaller girl bit her lip. “I don’t know what you want me to...”
“This isn’t a fairytale cupcake. No matter how much you want it to be.”
The blonde wrinkled up her forehead as she scooted an inch back and laid back down on the pillow still holding Carmilla’s gaze as she struggled to focus.
“I know that.”
The brunette cocked an eyebrow.
“I do. I swear. But Silas craziness aside, this is real life.”
Carmilla shook her head with muted enthusiasm, her eyes sliding across their bedroom walls. Looking everywhere but at Laura.
“This... is a badly written novel thought up by a lovesick idiot with barely any talent and even less experience.”
Laura sniffed as her tired brain attempted to burrow through Carmilla’s words to find where this was coming from.
“And what does that make us...?”
A pinched half smile emerged for a moment.
“...A fable Victorian mothers would read to their children on how not to behave.”
Ram rod straight, her posture screamed at Laura to stay away but she found that she couldn’t.
Reaching out gingerly, Carmilla flinched as warm fingers skated across her wrist and slid between her own.
“What’s so wrong with us?”
There was a hint of a quaver in the smaller girl’s voice as she asked the question and the injury behind it scored at the skin on Carmilla’s throat but willing all her muscles to hold, she kept her eyes pinned to the far wall as she tried to untangle the knot of words and weeds in her throat.
“ Nothing individually I suppose.”
The sentence hung between them and the brunette, though she had been the one to say it almost found herself hoping that her bedmate would laugh that off. Yell at her. Hit her even; do something to show she was being ridiculous. But the small blonde froze though she didn’t pull her fingers back.
Carmilla sighed, “Don’t you see? On their own metal and wood pose no threat. But put them together and you have arrows and spears. Pistols. Things designed with the sole purpose of inflicting pain.”
“That’s a little dramatic, wouldn’t you say?”
“Doesn’t make it any less true.”
The smaller student began to pout.
“Do you think...could we maybe skip the metaphors and you just tell me what you’re so scared of?”
She didn’t know if it was the accusation or the slightly prickly tone in the way it was said but something ignited in the vampire’s chest at that and she sat bolt upright, turning her head.
“You want honesty?! Well here it is cutie. You’re human. With all the weaknesses and vulnerabilities that comes with that. And that’s not your fault but watching you run headlong into danger, spending nights wondering if you’re hurt, if you’ve been hurt before or...or worse, it’s a subtle form of torture. One that I’ve purposely kept my distance from because I’m not....”
“I never asked you to be my protector Carm,” stuttered Laura.
“No! And that’s the worst part! I know you don’t, it’s a self appointed role so this is all on me.” Her fingers curled up into her palms. “But when I think about all the things people might have said to you, might have done to you because they’re selfish and stupid and they don’t think before they act, all the instincts of the monster that you try so hard to convince yourself isn’t here anymore, of the monster I tried so hard to bury come racing to the surface. And I want to rip them apart, limb from limb for their idiocy. No metaphors. Just carnage. Blood and bowel.” Breathing hard, lips clamped together Carmilla tried to settle her breathing for a moment. “Do you see? All the time you’re whispering sweet words in my ear, convincing me that I’m no different from you, the more you reignite the demon inside.”
Her head dropped.
“It’s you. You turn me back into the creature you deny is even there.”
Laura’s horrified stare was impossible to ignore even though Carmilla’s eyes remained on the duvet below. She could feel the trembling of her skin rustling against cotton and she ached to wrap the smaller girl up in her arms and tell her that she was wrong. That she hadn’t meant any of that and it was nothing more than fear poisoning her words. But that wasn’t true.
Laura deserved the truth even if it tore them apart.
And there was a selfish reasoning in that, that wasn’t lost on her. In wanting the younger girl to feel some small part of what she was feeling- so conflicted that she couldn’t tell which way was up anymore. More than that though, Carmilla needed her to know that her arms were not the safe place that Laura thought them to be. That they came with claws and sinew.
Sneaking a glance to her left the brunette took in the devastated confusion on her bedmate’s face and felt her chest constrict in pain.
But she didn’t move this time.