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Under Cover of Darkness

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UNDER COVER OF DARKNESS:

It was the bent screw that gave her away, not that she heard it herself.

It was just past one am when Laura pushed the door to their room open, keeping her right hand as steady as she could on the wood to keep that godawful creak it usually made from erupting. She’d always thought of it as sounding a bit like a mouth yawning in displeasure.

And that idea wasn’t helping any with her mission right now.
Hearing nothing but the scuff of carpet, the blonde ducked her head down as she slipped into the gap, pushing the door back into place with a scraping relief.

It was only then that she snuck a quick glance at the far side of the room and saw the misshapen form of Carmilla buried under a thick winter duvet. Curled up in a mass of fabric and mushy limbs.
For someone with seventeenth century manners she sure shook them off when it came to sleeping positions

The notion made her want to smile.
She didn’t though.
Between the deep cut on her bottom lip that had almost stopped bleeding and the throbbing bruise flaring against her left cheek she knew better than to move her face any more than she had to. And with the accompanying tiredness tunnelling through her bones, she just wanted to go to bed and sleep off the nightmare of tonight without any more drama.

That wasn’t too much to ask was it?
She hoped not.

Placing her satchel down gingerly on the end of her bed Laura debated whether she should just get in and sort herself out in the morning but she could feel the hard congealed blood still sticking to her face, the matted hair clinging to her temple and she knew sleep wouldn’t be coming any time soon... at least not until she’d sorted all that out.

Besides, Carmilla couldn’t see the state of her. Not looking like this.

That would just about put the icing on the cake- another raised eyebrow complete with a lecture on her complete inability to stay safe on campus.

And it wasn’t even my fault this time, she thought wryly.
Dramatic irony; table for one please.

Stealing another look across the dim room Laura sucked in a hard painful breath which stung the fingermarks around her throat and grabbed the nearest towel from the heater.

A five minute shower then sleep. That was the plan.
No harm, no foul.
Rolling out her shoulders with a grimace she started to make her way to the bathroom. But just before she could get there, the spongy sound of movement hit her ears.

“Hot late night date with a weighty tome was it cupcake?”

Laura froze at the mumble that seemed to have emerged from the pit Carmilla called a bed.
Unsure how to answer, she simply swallowed dryly and tried to force a smile.

“I...uh...What can I say? I like my men like I like my books...uh, old and leathery....”

She’d meant to sound airy. Playful. But even she couldn’t fail to notice the tremulous tone in her own voice and cringed inwardly at the obviousness of the sound.
Christ, she should never play poker.
Without turning, she still heard the distinct rustle of cotton behind her and knew then that her roommate was stirring properly this time.

And Laura panicked; blinking hard as she tried to work out what to do.
Abort. Abort.
Her mind though felt like a mass of teeming worms, all curling inwards on each other in their vain attempts to flee any attempts at clear thinking.

“I...I...I’m sorry I woke you,” she offered lamely. “...Thing is... I’m pretty beat so I’ll just grab a quick shower and then I’ll be out of your...”

“Wait!”

She’d only just started to move again but her feet skidded to a halt as an unusually serious voice hit the air.

“Cupcake- is there something you want to tell me?”

The room fell into silence for a moment and a hundred lies swam through the blonde girl’s brain but somehow her jaw wouldn’t work when she told it to.
And the truth was- she didn’t want to lie to Carmilla. Not really. Hide things sure, but not lie to her face; they were... friends after all.

On instinct Laura bit her lip and whimpered at the hot-wet pain the action caused but she still managed to hold her muscles rigid willing herself not to be such a wuss and give herself away.
She was a Hollis for crying out loud!

“No..I...nope, everything’s peachy. I guess I’m just a little tired from....”

“I can smell blood on you.”

“Oh.”

“Oxygenated blood- the kind that’s supposed to be inside...” Carmilla paused, her voice grave. “Spilled blood.”

“Oh well, I..”

“ Plus you seem to have developed a lisp, as if your lip’s twice as big as it should be...”

In the dark room, Laura’s head drooped as she realised she’d been well and truly busted. She should have known better than to try and play a creature of the night; that much was obvious. But she still refused to turn around and face the other girl. To look at those dark, critical eyes she knew waited for her.

So, fighting back the tears building behind her own, she stared miserably down at the floor. At the worn carpeting and the stains she could see even in the dim glow from the street.

“It’s nothing.”
...

“Nothing doesn’t tend to make you bleed.” Said Carmilla quietly. Almost tenderly. “That’s generally the hallmark of Something.”

As if she knew what she was talking about. As if she was...even a little worried?

Or that could be the potential concussion talking.

“Ok not nothing then but...it’s stupid and certainly not something we really need to talk about,” threw back the shorter girl weakly.

Laura hugged her towel closer to her chest as she prepared herself for the onslaught when her roommate ignored her completely and launched into her usual tirade of ‘told you so’s’ and those accompanying theatrical sighs she knew so well.

But just as she was tensing her muscles to deal with the imminent assault, a hand seemed to appear out of nowhere resting gently on the small of her back.
She almost squeaked in surprise, sending a wave of pain through her jaw but a second hand appeared a moment later and wrapped itself around her wrist, steadying her with five warm fingertips before she could jerk away. And then she was being twirled around, unable to stop herself from turning until there was nothing but darkness in front of her.

Deep brown waves of mussed up hair. Charcoal eyes that seemed to burn with some intangible emotion Laura couldn’t quite decipher when she was this close to her.

And a black long sleeved tee shirt that seemed to fall endlessly to the floor.

Strangely the only light she could see came from those small patches of pale skin on display; a wrist here, the long sweep of Carmilla’s neck. The white’s of her eyes. Brief glimpses of her human face...the one Laura had so desperately wanted to hide from a few minutes ago.
The thought made the younger girl feel a little ashamed of herself.

The monochrome scene in front of her wasn’t helping either.
Her head was pounding.
And she screwed her eyes closed for a moment.

“Are you hurt?”

The blonde began to shake her head from side to side but as soon as she reopened her eyes and locked gazes with the other girl her neck muscles seemed to stop responding to her. Refusing the lie she wanted to tell just to save face.

Sniffing a little, she finally gave a half nod instead.

Even that was enough to throw her equilibrium off though. Everything about the entire situation was weird and unsettling and the change of motion caused her to stumble a half step to her right, her left leg turning in on itself. Strong arms caught her in an instant however; at the elbows and waist, then guided her trembling limbs towards her bed.

Almost like they were her arms to begin with.
Matching perfectly.
The fingers on her wrist eased up a little.

“Let’s just sit down for a minute ok?” offered Carmilla helping her onto the bed.

So they did. Wordlessly, barely an inch between them- so close that they could feel each other’s breath in the frigid night air.
A slight hitch in rhythm although neither seemed to be aware of it.
A hush finally fell upon the pair then.
...

...
Neither one willing to break the silence until...

“...Laura?”

A small broken laugh flew from the blonde’s mouth and Carmilla looked at her quizzically.

“...You used my actual name.”

The brunette half-smiled in response, reaching a tentative hand out to brush a stray hair from Laura’s forehead.

“Seemed like the appropriate time. No witnesses around and all that.”

Unfortunately though it was just then that she brushed against the small gash over the shaking girl’s eyebrow and Laura flinched at the shards of pain it sent tumbling through her spine. Almost immediately her roommate’s demeanour changed into a concerned frown and she leant backwards behind them for the pullstring on the lamp to get a better look at the blonde’s condition.

At least that was her intention until she felt a warm palm clutch at her wrist. Pleading and earnest.

“Carmilla?” Laura asked in a whisper.

“Hmm?”

“Could we leave the lights off? Just for a bit?”

Laura waited with held breath for the answer but then Carmilla was back next to her, her body strong and implacable allowing Laura to relax a tiny bit again.

“Do I get to ask why?” said the brunette.

“I don’t want you to see me like this.”

Carmilla froze unsure what to do with the statement and Laura recoiled at how that might have sounded.

“I didn’t...that’s not what I...”

“...I’ve seen a lot worse over the years, let me tell you.”

“What I mean is...I don’t want you to think this is my fault. I don’t want you to be angry with me.”

“Angry with you? For what?” said her roommate with a tinge of perplexity turning her head.

Laura tilted her own down. “For being what you always think I am. Idiotic. And weak. And...and just...pathetically mortal I guess.”

Carmilla didn’t say anything at first and then as the silence stretched out between them, and Laura felt her eyes start to moisten for the second time at how stupid she must have sounded and how she probably just proved her own point she felt movement next to her. Subtle, fluid movement so different to the clumsy haphazard ways she’d always gotten by with.

The next thing she knew there were fingertips gripping her chin with a delicacy she’d never experienced and her face was being guided upwards; those warm points somehow avoiding the cuts Carmilla couldn’t even have known were there.

“Laura. You need to listen to me now.”

“You said my name again,” mumbled the blonde but the sombre expression that greeted her told her not to say any more.

Dark eyes pinned her down. “I have never...will never...think of you as any of those things. Curiosity doesn’t equate to idiocy; I know that better than most. And it’s your passion that makes you who you are in this life.” She blinked a little as Laura stared openly at her. “This age likes to tell us that if we become prey to something else, something bigger than ourselves then it’s our fault. We were wearing the wrong clothes. Walking along the wrong street. That we deserved what we got. Well it’s all bullshit. And if you say this isn’t your fault then I believe you. Ok?”

Laura nodded again, this time without the accompanying dizziness and running on pure instinct brought her hand up to cover the one still holding her chin.

“Ok.”

“And just for the record... I could never be angry with you. It’s like a law of the universe or something. You’re just too damn cute- my brain would probably implode the moment it happened.”

Laura laughed at that, ignoring the spiny twinge that shot through her cheek and finally allowed herself to lean into the other girl, letting the other side of her injured forehead come to rest against Carmilla’s.

“Thanks Carm,” she murmured.
The older girl smirked at the slight blush she could see on Laura’s cheek. “You’re welcome muffin... So are you going to tell me what happened?”

Laura sighed then and took a deep cleansing breath in. “Well, it all started in the library...”

TBC?...