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After the Storm

Chapter Text

“Laura, little hottie, glad you could make it!” Kirsch said loudly over a thumping bass beat, gesturing for Laura to come in. Laura rolled her eyes as she stepped into his apartment, which already reeked of alcohol, but her expression quickly changed from annoyed to optimistic as through the liquor came a scent of…

“Kirsch, are you baking cookies?” Laura asked excitedly, not even waiting for his reply as she marched off in pursuit of the smell. She opened a door, hoping to find the kitchen, but instead was greeted with the sight of Kirsch’s messy bedroom with a picture of a very scantily clad woman on a motorcycle featured above the bed. Ew, okay, I did not need to see that, Laura thought darkly, and she pivoted and started walking toward the other end of the apartment when she bumped into LaFontaine.

“LaF, hey, glad you’re here! I was worried it was just going to be Zeta bros.”

“Nah, we’re all here, pretty much,” LaF replied. “Perry’s in the kitchen making cookies.”

“It’s Perry’s cookies?!” Laura asked, eyes wide, nearly yelling, and LaF smirked as they shushed her.

“Yeah, yeah, chocolate chip, your favorite. Go on, she’ll be happy to see you,” LaF said, gently pushing her toward the kitchen. The door was slightly ajar, and Laura could hear Perry’s distracted, disjointed humming over the music still blaring out of speakers in the entry room. Laura pushed the door open and found Perry fussing around with what looked like an entire cooking catalogue’s worth of bowls and cookie sheets in a floral-print apron that was absolutely covered in flour.

“Laura, good to see you! You’ve been so busy lately, we’ve all been worried. I’m glad you’re here,” Perry exclaimed, brushing her hands off on her apron before pulling Laura in for a tight, but brief, hug.

“Good to see you too, Perry,” Laura said warmly. “Sorry I’ve kind of been off the radar, I got handed a story that’s sort of been sucking up all of my time. But I hear you’re making…”

“Laura, no sneaking!” Perry said, slapping Laura’s hand, which was wandering oh-so-subtly toward the dough. “I swear, you’re even worse than LaFontaine.”

Laura huffed indignantly. “I would never,” she replied, sticking her chin up into the air. “I was just, ah, testing it. Making sure it was the right, uhm… consistency. Yeah,” she nodded, pleased with her recovery.

There was a chuckle from behind her and she turned to see LaF leaning up against the doorframe, clearly amused. “What?” Laura snapped. Trying to put one over Perry was hard enough, but when the two of them were together, nothing got past them.

“Oh, nothing,” LaF said, barely hiding a laugh. “Just thought you might want to know that Ms. Lawrence has arrived.”

“Danny’s here?!” Laura asked in disbelief. “Oh no, this is not good, I didn’t even put on a nice dress since I came here straight from work…”

“Laura, dear, you look fine,” Perry said, patting Laura’s cheek absentmindedly as she added the chocolate chips to the dough with her other hand.

“Yeah, you still look hot,” LaF said encouragingly, and grabbed Laura’s arm, pulling her toward the front of the apartment. “I think it was kind of a last-minute thing, you know how things have been between her and Kirsch after he wouldn’t stop hitting on her during her senior year. But I think he told her you would be here, so…”

“So, what?!” Laura asked frantically. “What are you trying to say?”

LaFontaine laughed. “Go get her, tiger!” they said, gesturing toward the tall redhead currently engaged in what looked to be an intense debate with a slightly shorter woman. Laura nodded and strode purposefully toward her, before her progress was swiftly and inelegantly interrupted by a hand yanking her back. “What now?” Laura hissed at LaF, who had the grace to look apologetic. “It’s just… you have… hang on,” LaF muttered, before using the corner of their sleeve to wipe flour off of Laura’s face.

“… Thanks, LaF,” Laura said sheepishly. “But your shirt!”

“Eh, don’t worry about it,” LaF said with a smile. “I already have a hot date tonight. Now. Go get her. You’ve had a crush on her for years, it’s time to make your move.”

Laura nodded resolutely and turned, making her way through a crowd of Zeta bros and Summer Society sisters gathered around a keg. Jeez, you’d think we were still in school, Laura thought, before remembering that Kirsch was, in fact, still in school. Laura always forgot that he had been a year behind her, LaF and Perry, and two years behind Danny, though it explained the maturity gap. Well, part of the maturity gap, anyway. And Kirsch was determined to make his senior year count, even if it meant dragging his old friends out of their “boring, adult lives” back into the chaos of college keg parties.

Shaking her head at the chanting that had taken up around the keg, Laura finally arrived at Danny’s side. “Hey, Danny,” she said shyly, glancing up at her briefly. She was greeted with a warm smile and an exclamation of “Laura!” before she was swept up in a hug.

“We’re not done here, Mel,” Danny warned over Laura’s head to the woman she had been talking to earlier. “Ethics exist, even if it’s just for alumnae fundraising.”

“Whatever,” the other woman – Mel – said dismissively. “Just don’t call me crying when you get passed over for Treasurer because your ideas lack… glamour.” She waved and disappeared into the crowd.

“What was that about?” Laura asked, and Danny chuckled. “What?” Laura asked, confused.

“Nothing, it’s just…” Danny paused at the look on Laura’s face. “No, seriously, it’s nothing. You’re just always so inquisitive. It’s kind of adorable.”

“Oh,” Laura said, considering, before a grin spread over her face. “Adorable, huh?”

Danny cleared her throat. “Well,” she started to say, but she was interrupted by a chaos at the door.

“What in the name of Skrillex is that?” Laura asked, craning her neck to try to see over the crowd still gathered at the keg.

Danny frowned. “It looks like the alchemy club is crashing,” she said distastefully. “Ugh. I should probably go, I think their president is still pissed at me after I shot an arrow through his beer can two years ago.”

“No, Danny, come on, hasn’t he graduated by now?” Laura asked, somewhat desperately. Danny snorted. “I wish,” she replied. “He was only a sophomore at the time, that’s part of the reason he was so annoying. He was making fun of Kirsch, remember? I think they had a class together or something.”

“Oh, right,” Laura said, the memory dawning on her. “Oh no, Kirsch is going to be so pissed they’re crashing. He hates that kid.”

Danny nodded. “Look, I’ll go warn Kirsch and then I’ll slip out the back. I don’t trust those kids, not even with LaF here on our side. Can you go tell LaF and Perry? She’ll flip if she brings out cookies and they start putting weird chemicals in them or something.”

“Yeah, of course,” Laura nodded, and Danny flashed her a thankful smile. “Wait, Danny,” she said, grabbing the redhead’s arm as she started to turn. Danny turned back toward her, head tilted to the side, questioning.

“I just,” Laura started meekly. “I feel like we didn’t really get a chance to catch up. You haven’t told me anything about your new job.”

“It’s just teaching English,” Danny said with a smile. “Aside from the rotten high schoolers, there’s not much to tell. But…” she paused, suddenly seeming nervous.

“Yeah?” Laura asked, holding her breath slightly.

“I guess I do have some good stories about them. Maybe we could get coffee and I could tell you some of them?” Danny asked hopefully, and Laura smiled. “That would be great,” she replied sincerely, and Danny grinned back at her.

“Okay, I really should run before that scrawny little kid sees me and tries to pick a fight,” Danny muttered, and Laura laughed and shooed her on her way before making her own way back toward the kitchen.

“Hey, LaF, Perry, uh… Some of the alchemy kids are crashing. Just thought you should know,” she announced, walking in to the room.

What?” LaF exclaimed, and Perry looked unsettled – well, more unsettled than usual. “Last time they were here they turned the cookies green, Laura. And it wasn’t food coloring. I checked,” LaF said, eyebrows knit together in concern. “Look, Perr,” they said, turning toward her. “There’s just one more batch in the oven, right? Let’s just take the ones you’ve already made and we can leave that batch for Kirsch.”

Perry muttered something about being a bad hostess and LaF sighed deeply. “You’re not being a bad hostess, Perr, it’s literally not your house or your party. Come on. Please?” they said. “Those kids give me bad vibes, you know that,” and Perry sighed but agreed. LaF looked at Laura. “You coming with?” they asked.

“No, I’m parked outside,” Laura replied, and then nearly jumped out of her skin as a clap of thunder echoed above them, even louder than whatever music was playing in the next room. “Oh no,” she groaned, and LaF looked at her, questioning.

“What’s up?” they asked. “You’re not scared of storms, are you?”

“No,” Laura replied, “but I totally left my sunroof open on my car. It was a gorgeous day, what was I supposed to do?” she added defensively, as LaF raised an eyebrow at her judgment. LaF rolled their eyes.

“You never fail to astonish me, Hollis,” they drawled, and Laura flushed. “Shut up,” she muttered.

“Well, we’ll still walk you out. Let’s go out the back way; I don’t want to run into those freaks,” LaF said, casting a dark look over their shoulder toward the room that was now starting to… glow? LaF’s eyes widened and they shoved Laura in front of them toward the door that led to the fire escape. “Perr, come on,” they said, glancing back at her, and Perry nodded, only stopping twice to gather more Tupperware full of cookies. The three of them quietly made their way to the fire escape and onto the sidewalk; it only took two trips to get all of the cookies out of the building safely, except the sacrificial batch stuck in the oven upstairs, with warning notes posted all around the kitchen reminding Kirsch that turning off the oven would probably be in his best interest.

“Okay, we good?” LaF asked, studying Perr and Laura, who both nodded. “Okay, cool,” they sighed. “I know they freak me out more than they should, it’s just…"

“It’s weird when other people do science you don’t understand,” Laura supplied helpfully, and LaF nodded. “Not to be an egotist, but yeah,” they agreed. “It just feels wrong. Now let’s get these cookies back to our place.”

Laura waved goodbye at the couple before turning and heading down the street, glancing up at the clouds quickly gathering above her. She quickened her step and was glad to see her car only a block later where she had left it, under a gorgeous oak, sunroof indeed left open. “Ugh,” Laura groaned quietly, and quickly closed it as she slid into the driver’s seat. She turned the key in the ignition and glanced at the clock. “Holy Hufflepuff,” she muttered. How did it get to be 2am? She must have been talking to Danny for longer than she realized. At the thought, a smile slid on to her face. Danny suggested a coffee date. Well, maybe not a date, but a coffee get-together. A coffee meeting. A coffee… thing. Yeah. A coffee thing.

Smile still on her face, Laura eased her way out of the spot – she held an eternal grudge against parallel parking – and started driving the several miles between Kirsch’s apartment next to their old university and her apartment, close to the headquarters for the Graz paper where she worked as an up-and-coming journalist. Well, she hoped she was up-and-coming. There was certainly a long way up left to go.

Laura hummed to herself as she drove, drumming her fingers against the steering wheel, thankful that the rain had held off until she was on her way home. She was almost to her apartment when a flash of movement caught her eye, and she glanced over before shrieking and jerking the wheel, and the car jerked in response straight into a stop sign. “OH MY GOD!” she yelled, slamming on the brakes, though not in time to prevent the crash. She glared at the bent sign in front of her balefully, and then groaned loudly when she heard a siren behind her. “Just my luck,” she muttered, and rolled down the window, turning off the engine and placing her hands on the steering wheel while nervously keeping an eye on the cause of the movement. She had never been pulled over before, but her over-protective father made sure she knew exactly what to do in all situations. She held her breath as she heard the officer approach.

“Ma’am, may I ask why you ran over a stop sign?” a low, husky voice asked, clearly amused. Laura’s eyes widened. Just her luck, to do something idiotic and have a cop show up with a voice like… well, a very attractive voice, anyway.

“I was behind you for three blocks,” the woman continued. “You didn’t seem to be drunk, though I’ll still have to test you,” she added hastily. Laura snuck a look at her, which did absolutely nothing for her. The rain had darkened her uniform, pressing the shirt to her skin and highlighting her curves. Laura swallowed hard. “Um…” she said, distracted.

“ ‘Um’ isn’t a great reason why I shouldn’t arrest you for hitting a stop sign, ma’am,” the woman said, lifting an eyebrow at her, and Laura glared. No one should have eyebrows that good.

“There was a squirrel in my car and it scared me,” Laura snapped, and turned her glare out the windshield again, chin raised defiantly. There was silence from the other woman, and Laura risked another glance. The officer’s lips had parted slightly, and now both eyebrows were raised. At Laura’s furtive glance, her mouth snapped shut and she readjusted her facial expression. “Well, that’s a new one,” the officer said with a smirk. “And why exactly am I supposed to believe…”

“OH MY GOD!” Laura screamed, cutting the officer off abruptly as she flailed. The stupid animal had jumped on her shoulder from the backseat and was now caught in her hair. Rules of traffic stops be damned; Laura shoved her door open and stumbled out of the car, still flailing and repeating “Oh my god” over and over at varying volumes. Finally, the squirrel’s claws lifted from her hair and she turned, breathless, to see it scampering down the sidewalk and up into a tree. Laura glared at it, muttering under her breath and swatting at the rain that was slowly but steadily pelting her. She startled sharply when she heard a sound behind her, and turned to see the officer doubled over in laughter, shoulders shaking. Laura’s breath caught for a second at the way the officer’s long, dark hair was framing her face before her indignation got the better of her.

“Hey!” Laura said sharply, and the officer straightened up immediately, though the amusement was still clearly etched onto her face. “Look, Officer, um…” Laura squinted through the rain at the badge on her chest. “Look, Officer Karnstein, it is not that funny. I could have died,” Laura said, allowing herself a slight exaggeration.

The cop laughed again. “It’s pretty funny, actually, cupcake,” the officer replied, a smirk apparently fixed on her mouth. Laura glared again. “It is not. You’re supposed to help people, not laugh at them,” she said, peeved, and immediately thought oh, that’s not fair! as the woman bit her lower lip to keep from laughing. Laura’s stomach was doing flip-flops. This woman was insanely beautiful and it was not helpful.

“Officer Karnstein, am I in trouble or not? Am I free to go?” Laura asked, looking toward her car and glaring again as she saw the rain was soaking her seat, the door still wide open from her frantic exit from the car. There was another chuckle, and Laura looked behind her at the cop, who was still clearly amused. “Do you ever stop glaring?” the officer chuckled, which only caused Laura to glare harder. “Am I free to go, Officer?” she demanded again, and to her annoyance the officer’s amusement only grew. “What?” she snapped, harshly.

“That bunched up face you make when you’re angry is hilarious, buttercup,” the officer smirked. Laura thought she might explode. “Look, Officer,” Laura spat. “I’m a journalist for the Graz Daily. Give me a reason to hold me here, or let me go now.”

The officer raised her eyebrows again (damn her, Laura thought). “Is that a threat?” she asked, and quickly cut off Laura’s reply. “Look, you ran over a stop sign. Squirrel or no squirrel,” she said with another smirk, “you caused damage to government property. We can’t just let that go. Unless…”

“Unless?” Laura asked, hoping against her better judgment.

“Unless you get coffee with me tomorrow,” the officer replied. Laura gaped.

“Isn’t that, like, extremely unethical?”

“Ethics are a ridiculous game played by children who think they can impose order on an arbitrary universe,” Officer Karnstein replied calmly. Laura gaped again. “… It’s slightly unethical, yes,” the officer sighed. “But seriously, I’m not asking you for sex.” Laura’s eyes widened and she blushed a deep, dark red. The officer rolled her eyes. “It’s just a coffee date. No harm, no foul. Yeah?”

Laura pursed her lips and considered. A coffee date with a gorgeous, though slightly morally questionable, woman, or a ticket for damaging government property. Well, the choice seemed obvious, but she had one question.

“Why do you want to go for coffee with me?” she asked, curiously, and the officer raised her eyebrows (seriously, she has got to stop doing that, Laura thought). “Because you’re cute. Any other stupid questions?” she said, the corner of her lips curling up. “Was that a yes?”

“… Yes,” Laura muttered. “Gee, cutie, try not to sound so happy about it,” the officer chuckled. “Give me your phone.”

What?” Laura stared.

“Give me your phone,” the officer repeated calmly, and Laura slowly handed over her phone. The officer quickly typed and returned it, and Laura glanced at the screen to see she had input her contact information. Carmilla Karnstein. 873-48912. “Tomorrow, 11am. It’s a Sunday, so you won’t have work, right?” the officer – Carmilla – asked.

“Right,” Laura answered. “No post on Sundays.” She smiled to herself, and the woman – Carmilla – smiled in some confusion back at her.

“Okay. Tomorrow, 11am. Meet me at that café by the school – The Anglerfish. You know where it is?” Laura nodded in reply. “Great. Don’t forget. I still have your license plate written down,” Carmilla said, looking much too amused by the situation for Laura’s comfort. “Goodnight, Laura. Don’t let any squirrels in tonight.” She was gone, walking back to her patrol car before Laura could protest.

Laura drove the rest of the way home in silence, too caught up in what had just transpired to hum as she normally did. She finally parked and headed up to her apartment, kicking off her shoes and shrugging off her jacket on her way toward her room. She checked her phone, meaning to send a text to LaF and Perry asking if they had gotten home okay, when she saw the message on the screen.

Danny: Hey, coffee tomorrow? The Anglerfish, 11am? My treat.

She groaned. What had she gotten herself into?

Chapter Text

Danny shoved her hands into the pockets of her letterman jacket as she left the party and walked toward her truck, parked a block away from Kirsch’s apartment. Her long legs made quick work of the walk, quicker still because she was riding on a high from asking Laura Hollis out on a date, and Laura saying yes.

Danny paused as she started to climb into the cab of the truck. She had asked Laura out on a date, right? Laura had looked almost as nervous as Danny had felt, so she had probably thought Danny was asking her out. Right?

Danny turned the key in the ignition and backed out of her parking spot, replaying the events of the night over and over in her head as she drove back to her apartment. Laura had come to find her at the party. Laura had been curious about her conversation with Mel. Laura seemed disappointed the alchemy club was crashing, and it had seemed like she was disappointed because she wanted Danny to stay at the party. Laura had held her back from leaving to ask about the most ubiquitous job in the world - high school English teacher. Laura had seemed eager to say yes to getting coffee to hear Danny’s stories. Laura had said yes to a date, right? … Right?

Sighing as she pulled into the garage under her building, Danny shook her head to clear her thoughts of the girl. Danny had been carrying a torch for her since she TA’d her class back in college, but she had never asked her out, out of respect for the ethical boundaries of the position she was in. And then she had graduated, and Laura was in her senior year, and Danny didn’t want to add any more stress. Laura had enough on her plate back then, and the two had been drifting a bit over the past year and a half as Laura graduated and they both settled into their jobs. Really, the only reason Danny had even gone to the party was because LaFontaine called her and said Laura would be there. Their voice had sounded teasing, and Danny wondered what LaF knew that she didn’t…

Danny gave an exasperated sigh and shoved the door to her apartment open, dropping her keys onto the table by the door. She took off her jacket and hung it on the row of hooks. Glancing up at the clock, she saw it was only just past 1am, so she wandered into the kitchen to make herself some hot chocolate. As she poured it into a mug, it struck her that hot chocolate was Laura’s favorite drink. Danny frowned. This girl had to get out of her head. She stared at the mug, considering, before reaching under the counter and pulling out a bottle of peppermint schnapps, adding a healthy dose to the mug. She grinned. Much better.

She took the mug and curled up in an armchair in her living room, pulling a stack of papers off the table and onto her lap. She absentmindedly reached for a red pen and tucked it behind her ear, and squinted down at the first essay. Voldemort was Working for the Greater Good, it was titled. Danny groaned. It was going to be a very long night.

Two more shots of the peppermint schnapps, fifteen papers and approximately a quart of red ink later, Danny gave up on her students and crawled into bed, plugging her phone into the wall. Unsettled, she tossed about for half an hour before she gave up and texted Laura, suggesting coffee in the morning at the Anglerfish. She smiled to herself. Even if Laura didn’t get the text until the morning, she was almost always at the Anglerfish Sunday mornings for pancakes - or so Perry reported back to her. She’d see Laura tomorrow, and figure out if it was a date or not, and they would have a good time. If nothing else, Laura would get a kick out of the fact that one of her seniors had tried to justify Voldemort’s actions in an essay. If there was anything Laura was passionate about, it was Harry Potter.

Finally content, Danny drifted off to sleep.


Danny stretched in the booth, rotating her shoulders and rubbing her hand. I’ll be thirty with arthritis because of these damn papers, she thought to herself, annoyed. She had already graded an additional three papers since she arrived at the Anglerfish at 10:30 - hey, she had been up already, she figured she might as well get a hot drink. It was definitely not because she was overeager to see Laura. That was definitely not it.

Danny glanced up at the sound of the bells above the door tinkling, and shot up quickly when she saw a familiar head. “Laura!!” she exclaimed, smiling at her until…

“Laura,” a low voice said calmly, and Danny’s head whipped around in surprise toward this… holy shit, Danny thought. Who the fuck wears leather pants to a cafe at 11 o’clock in the morning? She glared furiously, even more upset that this absolutely unfairly attractive stranger was apparently not bothered by Danny at all. Danny looked back at Laura, a questioning look on her face that fell swiftly as she saw how guilty Laura looked.

“Laura…” Danny said slowly, and Laura’s face, if possible, looked even guiltier. Now the stranger was paying attention, and was glancing between Laura and Danny, eyes narrowed, trying to discern the connection between them.

“Um, hey,” Laura said, looking very much like she wished she hadn’t woken up that morning. “I, um, forgot that you had texted me. I mean, I thought I had texted you back.”

“... And said what?” Danny asked, trying to gauge from Laura’s facial expression what on earth was going on. The stranger snorted slightly and Danny stiffened before straightening up, flaunting the many inches she had on the girl. Danny smirked inwardly as the girl shifted with some annoyance.

“I, um. Well. No. Okay,” Laura babbled, and both Danny and the stranger stared at her, completely bemused. Laura groaned and rubbed her forehead.

“Look, cupcake, if you had plans with someone else it’s fine,” the stranger said, and Danny was immediately offended by the drawling way the words fell off her lips. “I still have your license plate written down. We can pretend this never happened.”

She strode purposefully toward the door, not making eye contact with Laura as she passed her. Laura looked at Danny, an apology in her eyes, before she turned and grabbed the stranger’s arm.

“No, Carmilla, stop,” Laura said pleadingly, but the stranger - Carmilla - yanked her arm out of Laura’s grip and stepped through the door. With another guilty look at Danny, Laura followed her.

Danny shook her head. What the hell is happening? she thought to herself. She had been getting bad vibes from that girl since she stood up, and whatever she was getting on about regarding Laura’s license plate sure sounded like a threat, which was not redeeming her in Danny’s books. Danny made up her mind quickly and followed the two, hanging back in the doorway of the cafe when she heard the two arguing around the corner.

“... didn’t remember she had texted me, they weren’t firm plans,” she heard Laura say, and frowned. Carmilla was apparently equally unimpressed, and replied something harshly that Danny couldn’t quite make out. She strained, listening harder.

“Stop it, Carmilla. I came here because I wanted to go on a date with you, okay? You can leave now if you’ve changed your mind, but it will have been your choice this date didn’t happen. Not mine,” Laura said, and Danny could hear the familiar footfalls of Laura’s angry walk coming toward her.

Danny smirked to herself, celebrating a small victory, before her face fell. Laura’s walk had stopped, and she could hear a low murmuring. She frowned and took a step out of the door, trying to make out what was being said.

“... lunch instead,” she heard Carmilla say. “You can have some time with Xena over there -” she kept talking over Laura’s wordless protest “- and then I’ll pick you up here at 12:30 for lunch. Just you,” she added meaningfully, and Danny didn’t have to see the pair to know that Laura was glaring.

“Fine,” she heard Laura snap, and the other girl laughed. “Gee, cupcake, you sound so excited,” she drawled. “If I didn’t know better, I would think you were just trying to get out of that ticket.”

Danny frowned. Seriously, this does not sound ethical, she thought to herself, and then frowned harder as Laura mumbled something that Carmilla apparently couldn’t make out either.

“What was that, creampuff?” the girl asked, and Danny cast an angry look toward the sound. She knew those stupid food nicknames must be driving Laura nuts.

“I said, I want to go on a date with you because you’re gorgeous. Happy?” Laura snapped, and Danny’s heart froze in her chest.

“... Yeah, I guess I can live with that,” the other girl said, in a low and husky voice that even Danny could appreciate. Well, could have appreciated if it hadn’t been directed at the love of Danny’s damn life. “See you later, cutie,” the girl said, and Danny could hear her combat boots hitting the pavement as she walked down the street.

Laura reappeared around the corner, blushing a bit, and didn’t seem surprised to see Danny standing outside the cafe. “Hey,” she said, sounding equal parts happy and guilty. Danny frowned.

“What was that about?” she asked, studying Laura’s face. Laura shrugged apologetically.

“She asked me out and I said yes, but I forgot to text you back last night and tell you I was already busy. I got back pretty late last night and I must have fallen asleep before I texted you back...”

Danny looked hurt, she knew, and Laura rushed forward at the look on her face. “Danny, seriously, I’m really happy to be spending time with you. I really wanted to go on this…”

Danny felt her heart stop.

“... I really wanted to see you,” Laura corrected, and Danny felt her heart break a little more, but she put on a smile for Laura’s benefit.

“I wanted to see you too,” she said, with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Laura still looked guilty, so she added, “One of my seniors tried to write an essay arguing that Voldemort was actually just trying to keep the wizarding world safe.”

Laura’s jaw dropped. “He was committing genocide,” she said, absolutely offended, and Danny gave a genuine laugh at her horrified expression. “I know, I know,” Danny said, agreeing. “It was pretty hilarious. I wrote down sentences I thought would make you laugh.”

“You’re the best,” Laura said sincerely, and Danny’s stomach twisted. “Hey, Laura?” she asked, and Laura looked at her. “Why did that girl keep talking about a ticket?”

Laura looked down and scuffed the floor with her shoe. “Um… I may have crashed into a stop sign last night.”

“Oh my god. Are you okay?!” Danny asked frantically, checking Laura for bruises. Laura shrugged herself out of Danny’s grasp and nodded, waving her hand dismissively. “I’m totally fine, it wasn’t a big deal. Just a stupid squirrel.” Danny gaped, and Laura looked a bit embarrassed.

“... Anyway,” she said, “Carmilla saw it happen and was going to give me a ticket, but she knew it wasn’t really my fault so she said if I got coffee with her she’d let it go. And I said yes.”

Danny stared, jaw hanging open. “She’s a cop, and she offered to let you out of a ticket if you went on a date with her?!” Danny asked incredulously. Laura nodded. “Laura!” Danny exclaimed. “That’s incredibly unethical! She’s almost as bad as Mel!”

Laura raised her eyebrows at that, but shrugged. “That’s what I said, but it’s just coffee. It’s not like there needs to be a second date. Seriously, Danny, my dad would kill me if he saw this on my record. Carm’s doing me a favor.”

“Carm?” Danny asked, raising her eyebrows at the nickname, and Laura flushed slightly. “Danny, whatever, it’s fine. I’m fine. I promise,” she said, and Danny sighed. She closed her eyes for a second and decided to let it go. With Laura, it was always best to just let it go.

“Okay, fine. Well, we still have almost an hour and a half. Do you want to see those sentences?” Danny asked, and Laura lit up, relieved their argument was over. Danny held the door open for her, and she glanced at her shyly, thanking her. Danny started to regale her with stories of her more idiotic seniors this year, and tried not to flinch at how gorgeous Laura was when she laughed, or how genuinely concerned she seemed when Danny complained about how flaky her assistant coach for her softball team was.

“I forgot you were coaching the team,” Laura said, frowning. “Can you get another assistant coach? It’s not fair for you to be put in this position.”

Danny shrugged. “It would be too much of a hassle, and the assistant coach is a math teacher at the high school. We already have enough interdepartmental problems as it is. No need to add this.” Laura still looked unconvinced, so Danny added, “We’re still doing really well. We’re ranked second in the league. I’m fine, I have it covered.”

Laura tilted her head, studying Danny. “Fine,” she said, and then added warmly, “Congratulations on the team, then. You must be a great coach.”

Danny blushed, and swiftly changed the subject. “So, LaF told me you got handed a cool story?” she asked, and Laura beamed proudly.

“Yeah!” she said. “I’m kind of worried, because it’s really big, but I think I can handle it.”

“I’m sure you can,” Danny said confidently. “What’s it on?”

Laura fidgeted, before leaning in and gesturing for Danny to do the same. She mumbled something and Danny shot back in her chair. “WHAT?” she nearly yelled, and Laura gestured frantically for her to shut up. Danny took a deep breath and leaned back in.

“You’re investigating a drug ring?” she whispered harshly, incredulous. “You’re not even six months on the job, how the hell could they give you something so dangerous?”

“Actually,” Laura said, frowning, “I think they’re just trying to keep me busy. I’ve heard from other writers that all the new journalists get this story and nobody can ever crack it.” She saw Danny’s relieved expression and hastily added, “But I’m going to. I’ll just have to girl the hell up. Or something.”

Danny groaned. “Laura. Drug rings are dangerous. Please don’t go looking for trouble?”

“I don't go looking for trouble. Trouble usually finds me,” Laura said haughtily, and Danny gave her a look. “Is this really a time to be quoting Harry Potter?”

Laura beamed. “EVERY time is a time to be quoting Harry Potter,” she replied, and the two launched into a conversation about the series, supplemented by Danny’s spot-on impressions of her seniors’ poor analysis. The hour passed quickly, and Danny made to leave around 12:15, getting up and giving Laura a hug.

“Thanks for sticking around,” Laura said into the hug. “I’m really sorry about the miscommunication.”

Danny gave her a small smile. “It’s okay, Laura. You didn’t mean anything by it. I’ll see you around, yeah?”

Laura nodded sincerely. “And hey, let me know when your games are, okay? I want to come support you.”

Danny nodded and promised, knowing that she would never tell Laura. Where before seeing Laura at one of the games would have pumped Danny up, now it would only psych her out. She walked down the street back toward her apartment, lost in her thoughts, and almost bumped into… Carmilla.

“Hey, Big Red,” the girl smirked, and Danny fought her instinct to punch her. “Carmilla,” she said curtly, and made to walk past her.

“... Look, Xena,” the girl said, grabbing her arm, which Danny quickly yanked back. Carmilla rolled her eyes. “Obviously you and Laura are close, so I’m just telling you, I’m not, like, trying to hurt her or anything. I’m a police officer, okay? And I don’t abuse my authority,” she added darkly. Danny studied her face, gauging the sincerity.

“... Whatever,” she said, finally, not wanting to cause a scene where Laura could overhear. “But if you hurt her, I swear to god, I will find you,” she added, and Carmilla flinched, not doubting for an instant the truth behind Danny’s words. “Deal,” the girl said, and turned on her heel, doubling her pace toward the cafe. Danny watched her go, then turned and slowly finished the walk to her apartment.

When she arrived, she sank down into a chair at her kitchen table and groaned. This was not how she hoped this morning would go. Her gaze drifted toward the bottle of schnapps still on the counter, and she glanced up at the clock. 12:45pm. With a shrug, she grabbed the bottle and uncapped it. There wasn’t enough left to get her drunk, but it would at least take off the bitter edge in Danny’s heart. And maybe dull the pain of the twenty or so papers left to grade.

Danny gave herself fifteen minutes to wallow in self-pity, grimacing at the taste of the alcohol as every sip burned her throat, before she shook her head. “Pull yourself together, Lawrence,” she muttered, and dragged the closest paper toward her. She ran a hand through her hair and sighed before grabbing a pen and starting to read.

Chapter Text

Carmilla took several deep, steadying breaths as she slowed her pace to the cafe once she heard the tall redhead start walking away. She fidgeted with the necklace hanging around her neck as she approached the cafe, feeling the familiar points of the anchor, but dropped her hand quickly as she saw Laura standing in the entryway to the cafe.

“Hey,” Carmilla greeted her, somewhat nervously. They had not gotten off to the best start this morning, but Laura seemed relieved and happy to see her.

“Hey,” she responded quickly, and leaned in to give Carmilla a hug. Carmilla stiffened slightly at the contact, though Laura seemed not to have noticed her hesitation as she gave her a big smile. “So, the Anglerfish has great pancakes…” she said, and Carmilla blinked.

“Cupcake, it’s past noon,” she said bemusedly, and Laura blushed. “Um… brunch?” she said, with an embarrassed smile. Carmilla fought to keep a smile off her face and simply raised an eyebrow. “Brunch it is, then,” she said, and walked past Laura to hold the door open.

Laura smiled, and touched her shoulder gently in thanks as she walked past Carmilla through the door. Carmilla’s skin tingled where Laura had touched her, and she grimaced to herself. Pull yourself together, Karnstein, she thought to herself firmly. It’s just a girl. You’ve seduced plenty of those before. She tried her best to believe her own encouragement and steeled herself as she followed Laura to a booth.

Laura handed her a menu, which she scanned briefly. “Hmm, croissants sound good,” she remarked absentmindedly.

“NO!” Laura said, half-yelling, and Carmilla looked up at her, alarmed. Laura flushed again, but lowered her voice with a glance toward the counter, where a curly redhead was working. “Perry’s been trying to perfect a croissant recipe for almost a year,” Laura said, gesturing toward the girl with a jerk of her head. “It hasn’t worked. At all,” she stressed, and Carmilla fought back a laugh. “You a regular here?” she asked, and chuckled as Laura tossed her hair indignantly. “Perry’s one of my friends from college,” she said. “She and one of my other best friends, LaFontaine, are dating. They’re like, practically engaged. So I’m just supporting her. In her endeavors. Like a friend does. You know. Emotional support. And all that.”

Carmilla smirked. “Sure you are, cupcake. And it has nothing to do with the thirty cookies you have in that Tupperware?”

Laura blushed again, and Carmilla grinned. It is way too easy to make this girl blush, she thought to herself.

“They’re having a special,” Laura said. “And it’s only twenty six.”

Carmilla just raised an eyebrow, and Laura rolled her eyes. “Anyway,” she said, “What are you thinking of getting? Besides the croissant. Which you shouldn’t get. Because they suck.”

Carmilla felt the corner of her mouth turning up. “What do you suggest?” she asked flirtatiously, and immediately regretted it as Laura launched into a list, explaining in excruciating but loving detail every sweet thing on the menu.

“You know what, I think I’ll just have a salad niçoise,” Carmilla interrupted, and Laura stared at her like she had grown another head. “A salad?” she repeated, as if Carmilla had just suggested she kick a puppy. Carmilla laughed. “Yeah, a salad,” she said with an amused smile. “And maybe a health smoothie while I’m at it. You know, keep my vitals in check.” She stifled another laugh at Laura’s expression and got up, heading toward the counter to order their food. “Pancakes, yeah?” she called over her shoulder, and Laura nodded. “Perry knows how I like them,” she replied.

Carmilla approached the counter and gave the woman behind it a brief smile. “Hey, uh, can I get a salad niçoise?” she asked. “And a, um… a pomegranate smoothie. And Laura said she wants pancakes. She said you would know how she likes them?”

The woman gave a laugh. “Do I ever. Chocolate chips and banana, smothered in syrup, and topped with whipped cream. It’s a miracle that girl is still alive.”

Carmilla smiled at the woman’s obvious affection for Laura, but stiffened as the affection changed to scrutiny, now directed toward Carmilla. The redhead - Perry - tilted her head. “Are you with Laura?” she asked politely, but the friendly and open warmth to her tone was gone. Carmilla swallowed nervously. What is it with all of these people trying to protect this girl? Carmilla thought. She’s not made of glass.

“Yeah, sort of. First date. Thing. Ish. We just met. She -” Carmilla said, nervous, and shut herself up. Why are you telling her this? Come on, Karnstein. No, really, babble some more, see where it takes us.

“... Anyway, I should get back. Thanks,” she added briefly, and turned and quickly walked back to the booth, where Laura was busy playing with a straw wrapper. Carmilla raised her eyebrows to Laura as she slid back into the booth, and Laura blushed. Again. Carmilla smirked.

“Having fun there, cutie?” she asked, and Laura gave an embarrassed laugh. “Sorry,” she said, shaking her head at herself. “Habit.”

Carmilla smiled. “No need to change because of me, cupcake,” she said, and there was a slightly awkward silence, which Carmilla broke, clearing her throat.

“So, you know what I do,” she drawled, and was relieved to see Laura laugh. “You said you’re a… reporter, right?”

“Journalist, yeah,” Laura said. “I work for the Graz Daily. I just graduated school in the spring, so I’m still sort of learning the ropes of the paper. I just got handed a big story, though,” she said proudly, and Carmilla smiled at her.

“Oh, yeah? What’s it on?” she asked, and Laura froze briefly before clearing her throat and rubbing her nose. “Oh, it’s on, uh, it’s on the, um, the ethics of a certain, er, corporation,” she said, rubbing her nose again. Carmilla’s eyes narrowed. She had been on the force for almost six years now. She knew when people were lying - and this girl was one of the worst liars she had ever seen - but she decided not to push her on it.

“Oh, that sounds cool,” she replied, and tried to deflect the discomfort. “The most interesting thing I’ve done in the last week was break up this crazy party last night after I met you.”

Laura’s head snapped up. “What? Where?!” she asked, urgently, and Carmilla raised an eyebrow at her sudden curiosity.

“Down by the university. Pretty close to here, actually,” she replied.

“Fifth floor of a brick building? Near the Zeta Omega Mu frat house?” Laura asked, and Carmilla frowned at her. “Yes, actually. How…?”

Laura shook her head. “That’s what I was driving home from last night,” she said. “The alchemy club crashed it, so we left. What happened?”

Carmilla shook her head. “I’m actually not totally sure,” she admitted, but was interrupted by Perry, bearing plates of food. As she set them down, Carmilla thought back to the previous night. She had been patrolling, still amused by her interaction with Laura, when bright purple flames started shooting out of the windows of an apartment several stories high. She had slammed on the brakes, grabbed her gun and started sprinting toward the building. She was staring up at it, considering the best way to get inside, when the doors burst open and hordes of what looked to be students came streaming out. This had not made Carmilla feel any better about the situation, so she pushed her way against the crowd and starting heading up the stairs, passing undergrads the whole time.

Something caught her eye, and she noticed that all of the kids had… What the fuck? Carmilla thought. Dicks? On their foreheads? How did all of these kids end up so drunk they didn’t notice? She frowned and redoubled her pace up the stairs, reaching the apartment that was still glowing purple. She coughed as the smell of sulfur hit her in the face, and she shoved her shoulder against the closed door of the apartment, yelling into it. “POLICE!” she yelled. “OPEN UP!”

“YOU DON’T WANT THAT!” a frantic male voice answered, and Carmilla frowned, taking a breath to respond when she felt her forehead start to tingle. Her eyes widened. Absolutely the fuck not, she thought, and turned and started running down the stairs. I am not showing up to a date tomorrow morning with a dick on my face. She burst out of the building and slowed to a halt, hands on her knees, catching her breath. I fucking hate this place. I never know what the hell is going on, she thought darkly. She considered calling for backup, but a quick glance back up at the building told her the flames were gone and the apartment was no longer glowing. She checked her watch. 3am. She shook her head. Not worth it, she thought, and drove back to the station, clocking out for the night.

Laura cleared her throat, and Carmilla jumped, suddenly transported back to the present. Laura was staring at her, already halfway into her pancakes, waiting for an explanation.

“Um…” Carmilla said, taking a hasty bite of her salad as she tried to figure out a way to phrase what had happened. “I guess if the alchemy club was there, it explains a lot, actually. There was just this weird purple fire and a bunch of kids had…” She paused, trying to figure out a way to phrase it before sighing and giving up. “Well, anyway, it looked odd. But everyone had cleared out by the time I got there, so there wasn’t really much for me to do,” Carmilla finished, shrugging, and took a sip of her smoothie. Fuck, that’s a lot of pomegranate.

Laura nodded. “Those alchemy kids… They were bad when I was there, but I swear they’ve gotten worse,” Laura said. Carmilla laughed. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” she said. “They were pretty bad when I was at Silas.”

“You went to Silas?” Laura asked, and Carmilla nodded. “Graduated six years ago,” she replied. She laughed at Laura’s impatient go on gesture, and added, “Philosophy major. But I went into the police academy straight out of graduation.” She took another sip of her smoothie, and raised her eyebrows when Laura stifled a laugh.

“Yes?” she asked, and Laura gestured vaguely toward her mouth. “You have, um…” and Carmilla started to blush, realizing what she meant. Come on Karnstein, you can twist this, she thought to herself, and ran her tongue suggestively over her lip, getting the blood red smoothie off. She smirked when Laura blushed a red just as dark as the drink. Squirming in her seat, Laura redirected the conversation swiftly as Carmilla’s smugness only increased. “So this is the only job you’ve had?” Laura asked.

Carmilla shook her head with a rueful smile. “I worked through the later parts of high school and all of college, too. Nothing as exciting as this, though.”

“Yeah, I can’t imagine how stressful it must be trying to break up college parties all the time,” Laura replied, and Carmilla’s eyes narrowed at Laura’s much too innocent expression as she bit back a laugh. Maybe not as innocent as I thought, Carmilla considered, noting the way the corners of Laura’s mouth were curving upward. She shook her head. “Your sarcasm is not appreciated, ma’am,” Carmilla said, teasing Laura back. “I’ll have you know you’re talking to an officer of the law,” she said, in the most pompous, affected voice she could manage.

Laura threw her head back as she laughed, and Carmilla’s breath caught at the way Laura’s hair was catching the light. She shook her head quickly, clearing her mind. “I actually have to run. We don’t get Sundays off,” she said, teasing Laura again, who smiled in response. “But… Will I see you again sometime this week?” she asked, suddenly nervous.

Laura smiled. “I don’t know, will you?” she asked, and laughed at the somewhat panicked expression that crossed Carmilla’s face. Get it together, Karnstein, Carmilla thought to herself. Don’t fuck this up now.

“I guess you’ll have to find out,” she said, affecting the husky tones she knew women went crazy for, and was rewarded with a light flush creeping up Laura’s cheeks. “Later, cupcake,” she said, and winked, turning and walking out of the cafe. She didn’t need to look behind her to know Laura was bright red and absolutely flustered.

Carmilla walked to her car and drove to the station, drumming her fingers against the wheel, a smile fixed to her mouth. She clocked in, and walked to her desk, whistling. “What’s with you, Karnstein?” another officer asked with a smirk. “You almost seem happy.”

Carmilla tossed him a contemptuous glare. “Fuck off, Luce,” she said, and her eyes widened as the Captain came around the corner. Thankfully - thought to Will’s disappointment - he hadn’t heard her swear, and just dropped a few files off on her desk, telling her he expected them sorted by Tuesday. She replied, “Yes, sir,” very respectfully, waited until he had retreated back into his office, and then groaned loudly. Paperwork was by far her least favorite part of her job. She sat down and got to it, trying to get it out of the way as fast as possible.

She finished up by eight. All of the other officers except Mattie, the Lieutenant, had cleared out already. She snuck a look at Mattie’s door, which was firmly shut, and quickly picked up her phone and dialed as she logged into the database, entering Laura’s license plate number.

“Um, yeah, hi,” she said into the phone. “Can I get a box of your best chocolate chip cookies delivered to, ah…” she squinted at the screen, reading Laura’s address. “517 Der Fuchsbau, please? Apartment 3. Yeah, that’s in Graz. And can you add a note that they’re from Carmilla Karnstein? No, two L’s. Yeah. Thanks.” She hung up, pleased with herself, only to have a minor heart attack when she glanced up and saw the Lieutenant standing in front of her desk, smirking.

“Got a girl, Karnstein?” she asked, and Carmilla flushed. “No,” she answered irritably. “And it wouldn’t be any of your business if I did, anyway.”

“Why, Millie, is that any way to talk to your sister?” Mattie asked, a hand flying to her chest in feigned offense.

“You’re not my sister,” Carmilla growled, “and you know I hate it when you call me that.”

Mattie laughed. “I’m as good as your sister,” she said, and Carmilla smiled despite her annoyance, knowing how true the statement was. “Now,” Mattie demanded. “Tell me about the girl. That was quite the sappy, chivalrous stunt you just pulled.”

Carmilla groaned and stalked out of the office, clocking out violently. Mattie followed her leisurely, locking up the door to the station behind her, and sauntered behind Carmilla all the way to Carmilla’s car. Carmilla leaned against the door and glared at her, and Mattie smiled back innocently. Carmilla sighed. “Well, if you must know,” she began, and a true smile crept over Mattie’s face as she watched Carmilla begin to talk, growing more and more animated with each sentence.

 


 

Carmilla took several deep breaths before she knocked impetuously on the door in front of her. “POLICE!” she barked in a low, commanding voice. “OPEN UP!”

She hid a grin at the scuffle she heard behind the door, and rearranged her face into a neutral expression as it flew open. “WHAT on EARTH -” Laura exclaimed, and stopped when she saw who was at the door. “... Carmilla?”

Carmilla smiled innocently and brought out the flowers she had been hiding behind her back. “I was hearing reports of a dangerous beauty in this area, so I thought I had to check it out,” she said, and Laura laughed and threw her arms around Carmilla’s neck, who shyly but firmly returned the hug. She had been on two dates with Laura since the cafe, and was getting used to the way Laura used hugs as a greeting. Laura removed herself all too quickly for Carmilla’s taste, but immediately grabbed her hand to pull her into the apartment. Carmilla’s breath caught at the contact, and when Laura didn’t drop her hand but instead threaded their fingers together, she could feel heat rise up the back of her neck. She forced herself to breathe out slowly as Laura led her into the kitchen, and was almost grateful when Laura dropped her hand to take the flowers from her.

Carmilla looked around the room. “I like it,” she said softly, and Laura turned to smile at her, just realizing Carmilla had never seen her apartment. She balanced precariously on one foot as she reached for a vase. “Me too,” she replied, letting the faucet pour water into the vase and putting the flowers in, setting it on the kitchen table. “It took a couple months, but it finally feels like home.” Laura looked around the room and grimaced. “Maybe a bit too much like home,” she added, and moved past Carmilla to clean up some piles of clothes and cookie boxes that had amassed in the room. Carmilla chuckled. “How are those cookies?” she asked innocently, and Laura gave her a quick grin. “You have got to stop sending me those,” Laura complained with a smile. “It’s doing terrible things to my waistline.”

Carmilla caught Laura’s arm as she moved to pick up more clothes, spinning her back until they were face to face. She slid a hand onto Laura’s waistline and pulled her closer. “You’re gorgeous,” she said. She had intended it to be confident and playful, but as she met Laura’s eyes it became quieter and more sincere, and she swallowed hard at the look in Laura’s eyes. Laura tilted her head to the side and was staring at Carmilla with a smile playing on her mouth.

Carmilla blushed and moved to break the contact, but Laura reached out and pulled her back. “Carm?” she asked, and Carmilla reluctantly met her eyes, trying very hard to control her heartbeat. “I really like you,” Laura breathed, and slowly, hesitantly, tilted her head up. Carmilla held her breath, not daring to move, and with a final glance up at her, Laura’s eyes slid closed and her lips met Carmilla’s. “I like you too,” Carmilla whispered against her lips, and she could feel Laura smile against her mouth.

Carmilla’s hand quickly found the small of Laura’s back as her other hand moved to cup her neck, and as Laura wrapped her arms around Carmilla’s neck, the kiss deepened. Carmilla was relatively sure that Laura could feel her heart pounding out of her chest. Come ON, Karnstein, she scolded herself. What are you doing, letting a girl affect you like this? To regain some control, she gently bit down on Laura’s lower lip, smiling to herself as she felt Laura shiver. Her tongue gently pressed against Laura’s lips, and she increased the pressure on Laura’s neck as she…

“HOLY HUFFLEPUFF!” Laura yelped as a loud knock sounded at the door, and Carmilla stumbled away, nearly shaking from a combination of arousal and surprise. She slid her leather jacket off to try and bring her temperature down a few degrees, and hung it on the back of a chair that she leaned against as she watched Laura nearly yank the door off the hinges. She allowed herself a small grin, shaking her head to clear her thoughts.

“Um, you ordered pizza?” the delivery guy said, taking in Laura’s disheveled look and Carmilla, practically panting, leaning with a hand on the chair. She shot him a dirty look as Laura groaned. “Yeah, sorry,” she said, and turned into the apartment, headed toward what Carmilla assumed was her bedroom. “Give me a sec while I find the money,” she called over her shoulder.

As she disappeared, Carmilla stepped forward. “How much was it?” she asked quickly, and when he answered, reached into her back pocket for her wallet and slid more than double the amount into his hand. He looked at her. “Do you want change…?” he asked slowly, and she nearly groaned out loud, grabbing the box from his hand. “No,” she replied tightly. “Just leave. Now.” The boy still looked confused, so she raised her voice. “NOW,” she snapped, and he nodded quickly, turning and fleeing down the hall. Carmilla shut the door and leaned against it, closing her eyes. Heartrate. Down. Now, she told herself firmly, and pushed back off the door when she heard Laura’s footsteps returning.

Laura came back into the room, digging through her purse. “Where…?” she asked, confused, looking for the delivery boy. “What?” Carmilla asked innocently, and Laura narrowed her eyes at her, a small smile on her lips. “Carm, did you…?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Carmilla said in a sing-songy voice, sliding the pizza box onto the table and opening it before she grimaced. “Hawaiian? Seriously?” she said, casting a dark look at the girl behind her.

“Hey,” Laura protested. “I didn’t know I had company!”

Carmilla was struck by sudden nervousness that she had been too forward. She had just intended to give Laura the flowers, not stay and intrude on her time. “Right, sorry. I should go and leave you to your dinner,” she said quickly, moving to grab her jacket, but Laura’s hand on hers stopped her from picking it up. “Carm, that’s not what I meant,” Laura said, looking at her hesitantly, and Carmilla could only meet her eyes for a second before she shook her head.

“It’s fine,” she said, “I have some stuff I could finish up at the station.” She power-walked to the door and was halfway out, jacket in hand, when she heard Laura’s voice behind her. “Carmilla…”

Carmilla closed her eyes and willed herself to turn around, where she met Laura’s now sad gaze, and felt a pang of guilt in her stomach.

“Stay? Please?” Laura asked softly, and Carmilla exhaled slowly, not saying anything. Laura approached her slowly, sliding her hand into Carmilla’s. “What’s wrong?” she asked, searching Carmilla’s eyes for a reason the mood had changed so suddenly. She was getting nothing from the brunette, and Laura bit her lip, studying the girl in front of her. Carmilla held her breath, willing Laura to fix what she could not.

Laura released her hand stepped back, and Carmilla’s heart fell, but Laura smiled at her. “If you leave,” she said playfully, “who will make snarky comments about my taste in pizza?”

The smile Carmilla gave her was only halfhearted, but she didn’t move any further out of the doorway, which Laura took as encouragement.

“... And TV shows?” she added, and was relieved when Carmilla laughed.

“Let me guess. Doctor Who?” she asked, and Laura beamed. “Come on,” she said, leaning forward and offering her hand to Carmilla, who took it, a smile returning slowly to her face. “You’ll love it,” Laura said enthusiastically, and Carmilla just shook her head as she let herself be dragged to the couch in front of the TV.

She sat down gingerly on the corner as Laura trotted back toward the kitchen area to fetch the pizza and paper plates. She laid it down on the small table in front of the couch, and grabbed the remote, aiming it haphazardly at the TV. She took a slice and handed it to Carmilla, who smiled and set it down on the table. Laura watched her, rolled her eyes, and got up. “What…?” Carmilla started to ask, but she was silenced when Laura sat down close enough to be practically in her lap. Her eyes widened. “What…?” she started again.

Laura nodded towards Carmilla’s pizza sitting on the table. “Your hands aren’t busy,” she said with a shrug, and with her free hand wrapped Carmilla’s arm around her, lacing their fingers together over her stomach. Carmilla was almost speechless, and Laura gave her what Carmilla swore was a smirk before leaning over and placed a kiss on Carmilla’s cheek. “Now shush,” she said. “It’s starting.” Carmilla could only nod and swallow hard.

They watched four episodes that night before Carmilla begged off, citing an early day the next morning. She had hesitantly kissed Laura goodnight, and had actually hummed while she drove home, shaking her head at herself. Get a grip, Karnstein, she thought to herself. It was one kiss. “Well, two kisses, actually,” she said to herself smugly, and then groaned. Dammit! You’re acting like a lovestruck fool. Knock it off.

Resolute, she pressed the button to the elevator when she got into her building and bit her lip to keep from humming as she rode it up to her apartment. It wasn’t until she finally dropped into her bed, exhausted, that she checked her texts.

Laura: So? Did you like it?! :D

Carmilla swore under her breath. Shit, she thought. I was watching her the whole time. Shit. She stared at her phone for a minute.

Carmilla: It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Nice one, Karnstein, she thought to herself approvingly. Noncommittal. Vague. Well done.

Two minutes later, her phone buzzed again.

Laura: Great!! We can watch more tomorrow night.

Carmilla stared at her phone. Fuck. She rolled over, putting her phone on the nightstand. I’ll deal with that tomorrow, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.

She had better dreams that night than she had in weeks, filled with thoughts of the way Laura laughed, the way she smiled, and the way she kissed.

Chapter Text

“Thanks for meeting me, Danny,” Laura said anxiously, and Danny gave her a concerned smile. “Of course,” she replied, and slid into the booth.

Laura smiled tightly. “I ordered for you, I hope you don’t mind,” she said, and Danny shook her head. “No, that’s fine,” she replied. “What am I getting?”

“Waffles with a side of bacon and sausage,” Laura said, and Danny nodded. “Just what I like,” she said with a soft smile, and Laura smiled back, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“Laura…” Danny started softly. “What’s going on? You seemed really tense when you called.”

Laura paused. “Remember that story I was talking about?” she said, and Danny gave her a confused look. “The stor- oh no, Laura.

“No, it’s fine, I’m not like, in danger or anything,” Laura reassured her quickly, and then paused, brows furrowed. “Well, at least I don’t think so.”

“Somehow that’s not very reassuring,” Danny remarked dryly. “Tell me what’s happening.”

Laura took a deep breath. “Okay. So. I’ve been doing some digging, and I think that maybe there’s an, um, that there’s someone in the police department that’s in the ring.”

Danny’s eyebrows shot up. “Wow, that’s serious. What’s making you think that?”

Laura shrugged. “It’s just a feeling, I guess. Things aren’t adding up. The arrests records for drugs in general have stayed pretty steady over the last several years, but the rates of arrests for meth dropped off a cliff about nine months ago. Which doesn’t make any sense. But that’s also the time the paper started getting increased reports of activity from the ring, which from what we can tell is primarily centered around meth production and distribution.”

Danny nodded, taking the words in as Laura continued. “And it wouldn’t be stressing me out so much if it weren’t for Carmilla. I keep having to lie to her and it’s making me really uncomfortable and I think she can tell, and…”

“Hold up,” Danny interrupted, sounding incredulous for the second time that morning. “You’re still seeing that girl?”

Laura flushed. “Yeah,” she answered. “I think we’re kind of… dating?”

“Laura, what if she’s in the ring?!” Danny asked, looking increasingly panicked. Laura shook her head in exasperation at Danny’s constant protectiveness. “It’s not her, Danny.”

Danny glared. “How would you know?” she fired back, and Laura met her gaze hotly. “Because she’s good at breaking up domestic disputes, so that’s what they have her do.”

Danny gave her an are you kidding me look. “She could be lying to you, Laura,” and added, “No, listen to me,” quickly talking over Laura’s protest. “Cops don’t, like, specialize in one area, Laura. They’re there to respond to all calls. And besides, she looked like trouble.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “Why, because she wears leather?” she snapped, but sighed at the hurt look in Danny’s eyes. “Look, Danny,” she said, quietly. “I trust her. That has to be good enough for you.”

Danny sighed, and Laura watched her face go through various emotions until it settled on resignation. “Fine,” she replied. “I don’t like her. Or trust her. But I’ll respect that you do.”

Laura nodded. “That’s good enough for me,” she said, and the two sat in a companionable, though tense, silence for a few minutes.

“Wait, hang on,” Danny said slowly. “How long ago were you getting reports of increased activity in the ring?”

Laura looked at her sharply. “About nine months. Why?” she asked, leaning forward, searching Danny’s face.

Danny muttered to herself, avoiding Laura’s eyes. “Danny… ” Laura said, and Danny looked at her. “Nine months ago is when Mel started donating a ton to the Society,” she mumbled, and Laura raised her eyebrows. She knew Danny hated Mel - they were both in the running for the Summer Alumnae Society treasurer position next year and frankly had always had a bit of a rivalry - but the Summer bond went deep, and Laura knew it would take a lot for Danny to suggest something like this of any Society sister.

Danny fidgeted nervously. “I don’t know if that’s what’s going on,” she said quickly. “But… She’s never really said where she’s getting the money. She says they’re just donations, but the names on the checks are always, like, foreign corporations.”

Laura rummaged quickly in her bag, pulling out a pad and pencil. “Do you remember any of the names?” she asked, ready to write, but Danny shook her head. “I’d have to look… Listen, Laura, I hate her, god knows I do, but I don’t want her to go to jail… The Society would kind of fall apart without her. And, um… I don’t really want to be responsible for that.”

Laura gave her a sympathetic look. “I know, Danny. I’ll do my best, okay?” she answered, and Danny nodded.

Both of them jumped when Perry appeared next to the table, arms laden with food. “Perry!” Laura said brightly, covering up their panic.

“Come join us!”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Perry said, glancing around the cafe, wringing her hands in worry. “It’s kind of busy in here.”

“... It’s practically empty,” Danny replied, scanning the open booths. “Seriously, just ten minutes? We’d both love to catch up with you.” Perry pursed her lips, but sank into the booth next to Laura, who beamed. “So!” she said excitedly. “How are you?”

“Good,” Perry said, absentmindedly straightening out the menus on the table. “... Perr, seriously,” Danny said, as she and Laura stared at Perry’s fussing. “You seem pretty stressed.”

Perry fidgeted. “There has been a lot going on,” she said primly, and both Laura and Danny eyed her. She sighed. “LaFontaine has been very busy lately and they haven’t been helping out in the cafe at all. And we were supposed to get new curtains last week and they haven’t come yet. And business has been slow. And the man who lives across the street from us keeps setting off fireworks in the middle of the night,” she said in a rush, ending with a highly distasteful look on her face. Laura gave her a sympathetic look, but Danny laughed. “You sure that’s not LaF?” she said with a grin, and Laura glared at her, silently chastising her for the poorly timed joke.

“Perry, it sounds like you’re under a lot of pressure,” she said, redirecting the conversation back to its purpose. Danny nodded. “Do you need to talk about anything?” she asked.

“No, I’m perfectly fine,” Perry said, shaking her head with a tight-lipped smile, but both Laura and Danny raise their eyebrows and wait for her to continue. “Perr, what’s really going on?” Danny asked gently. “I know you, you’ve handled way more than this before.”

Maybe I am just having trouble this time!” Perry snapped harshly, and Danny quickly held up her hands in a surrender. “Okay,” she said. “If that’s it, it’s okay, and you can complain to us about it. I was just checking because I feel like you’re not telling us everything, but if I’m wrong, I apologize,” she said, and waited for a response.

Perry bit her lip and then exhaled slowly. “LaF has been spending a lot of time with the other lab assistant,” she said quickly. “J.P. Something-or-Other. They always have, and I was fine with it because it’s important for them to have friends at school, but lately it’s been more than that. They spend all of their time with him and almost no time with me, and when I ask what they’re doing together, they’ve been really vague about it. And I’m worried that…”

“Oh my god,” Danny said quietly. “Do you think LaF is cheating on you?”

“No!” Perry said, quickly. “No. I don’t. Not at all.” She looked at Danny and Laura’s faces and added, emphatically, “At all. But I am…”

“Jealous,” Danny supplied, and Perry nodded. “I feel like a bad partner because I don’t want to monopolize all of their time. But… at the same time, I feel like we’re drifting. And it’s scaring me.”

Laura, who had been sitting speechless upon hearing Perry actually open up for once, spoke for the first time in several minutes. “Perr, LaF is in med school. They’re super busy. Is it near midterms or something?” she suggested.

Perry tilted her head, running through dates in her mind. “I think they do have a biology midterm coming up soon,” she said slowly. Danny smiled at her. “I’m sure that’s it,” she said. “I wouldn’t worry too much. You’re the strongest couple I know.”

Perry gave a genuine smile at that. “You’re right,” she said, more confident than she had felt in weeks. “Thank you, both of you,” she announced, and Laura and Danny exchanged amused looks at the ever-present formality in Perry’s tone whenever she thanked someone. “Of course, Perr,” Danny said, and Laura beamed at her. “Any time, Perry,” she said warmly, and as Perry walked away she checked her watch.

“Oh no, I need to run,” Laura said, frowning. “I have to go interview this guy for a story.” Danny gave her a pointed look and Laura shook her head, silently communicating. “It’s just a thing on the local T-ball league. It’s literally nothing important,” she said quickly, and Danny nodded after a minute, satisfied. “Good luck, then,” she said, and Laura smiled. “Thanks, Danny. And thanks for meeting me here. I really appreciate it,” she said sincerely, and leaned down to give her a brief hug. She threw money on the table to pay for her food and dashed off to make the interview.


Laura sat at her kitchen table a few days later, absentmindedly eating the Chinese food she had ordered for dinner. She played with her phone, considering whether or not to text Carmilla. They had both been quite busy over the previous week and a half, but they had barely spent any time together since the weekend Carmilla showed up at her apartment and they had kissed for the first time. She had managed to wrangle Carmilla into watching Doctor Who the next night, too, but since then… Laura frowned. Carmilla had texted her several times, and called once, but with Laura’s discomfort over lying to her she had been nervous about spending more time with her and hadn’t returned any of the communications. Laura sighed and typed out several possible texts, deleting them all before she threw her phone onto the table, groaning.

The phone rang. Laura nearly jumped out of her chair and grabbed it, glancing at the screen. The number had a Graz area code, but she didn’t recognize it. She stared for another minute before she shrugged and answered the call.

“Hi, this is Laura Hollis speaking. May I ask who’s calling?” she said, taking a bite of her chow mein.

“You’re working on the drug ring story, right?” a low female voice said aggressively, and Laura choked on the noodles, completely taken aback.

“Um. Yes. That’s right. Can I ask how you got my number…?” she asked, instinctively reaching for a pen and paper to take notes on the call.

“I got it off Danny’s phone,” the voice replied, and Laura frowned, putting two and two together.

“... Mel?” she asked.

“I can offer you a deal,” the voice said. “Information for protection.”

Laura tilted her head, considering. “Why would you do that?”

There was an annoyed huff on the other end of the phone. “Because Danny already distrusts me, and I heard her talking to one of the other Society girls about a story you’re doing that’s dangerous and involves the police. She kept looking over at me. I’m not stupid, I knew what she was talking about. And from what she’s said of you I don’t really like the chances of the ring surviving much longer. I want some immunity in the courts for helping take it down.”

“Why don’t you go to the police?” Laura asked, trying to cover up her smugness about Danny - and therefore Mel’s - high opinions of her journalistic skill.

“You know why,” the voice hissed. “They would kill me if they found out I ratted them out, and they would find out. They’re ruthless.”

Laura leaned forward in her chair, focusing urgently on the phone. “Are you telling me that there is an informant in the police department?” she asked quickly, and the voice on the other end replied, “Are you telling me you’ll testify for me?”

Laura took a deep breath. “Yes, she said. "I’ll testify if it comes to that. Now tell me everything you can.”

“Okay. Well, it is Mel,” the voice - Mel - said (rather unnecessarily, Laura thought). “Okay…” she said, waiting for her to continue, and Mel sighed. “Look, I can’t give you any names. I value my life too much for that. I told you there was someone in the police department; isn’t that good enough?”

“Not really,” Laura replied. “It’s gonna take a bit more than that for me to risk my life on you. Or worse, my career.”

She heard Mel sigh into the phone, and then quickly say, “Shit, someone’s coming. I’ll call you later.” There was a click on the other end of the line, and Laura brought the phone down slowly from her ear, staring at it. She was hit by a flash of inspiration and she quickly typed the phone number into her computer, scrolling through the pages.

Shit, she thought, her head thumping onto the table. It was a payphone. Laura stayed in that position for several minutes before she made up her mind and grabbed the phone again. She dialed a number and listened to it ring twice before a voice answered it.

“Hello?”

“Hey, LaF. I need to talk to you. Can you come over?”

“Laura, it’s, like, 10pm,” LaF replied. “Can’t it wait?”

“No, it can’t,” Laura said tensely, and she heard LaF pause at the nervousness in her voice. “... Okay,” they replied slowly. “I’ll be there in fifteen.”

“Thanks, LaF,” Laura breathed. “I’ll see you soon.” She hung up the phone and glanced around her apartment, considering whether or not she should straighten it up. Eh, she thought, nothing LaF hasn’t seen before. It may be a somewhat new apartment, but Laura, LaF, and Perry had all been in the same dorm during school and had gotten more than used to each other’s various habits. She picked at the now-cold Chinese food fitfully before she gave up and tossed it into her trash can, pacing as she waited for LaF and jumping when she heard her doorbell.

She opened the door half an inch, glancing through the crack at LaF’s rather confused face. “Thank god,” she muttered, and opened it the rest of the way, letting her friend in.

“... You want to tell me what has you so worked up?” LaF asked her, looking her up and down suspiciously and studying her face. Laura sighed. How the hell am I supposed to explain this? she thought, and took a deep breath. “Um. So. That story for the paper?” she said, and LaF nodded, waiting for her to continue. “Well. Um. I’m kind of investigating a drug ring and one of the members just called me and offered to be an informant if I’ll testify for her immunity in court later but that means she knows my number and probably where I live and I’m kind of scared she’s going to kill me. Plus I haven’t texted Carmilla back in, like, over a week and she’s probably moved on and I’m going to be dead and single,” Laura said in a rush, and LaF stared, eyes wide, eyebrows threatening to disappear into their hairline. Laura shifted uncomfortably under the stare.

“Um,” LaF said, opening and closing their mouth several times. They reached up and scratched the top of their head, biting their lip, concern flooding their face. Laura gave an embarrassed smile. “... Surprise?” she said, and was relieved when they laughed.

“Okay. Let’s take this slower. One more time from the top?” they asked, sliding onto Laura’s couch. Laura took a deep breath and recounted the entire story from the top, including her investigations into the drug arrest discrepancies, and her conversations with Danny and later with Mel, finishing with why she wasn’t replying to Carmilla. When she finished, LaF let out a low whistle. “Sounds like you’re in deep, Hollis,” they said, and Laura groaned in agreement.

“Hey,” LaF said, placing a hand on Laura’s arm and staring at her sincerely. “It’s gonna be okay. You’re going to get through this. And I’m proud of you for taking this on. You and Carmilla will figure it out.” Laura gave them a relieved smile, but LaF paused. “Laura… Have you told your dad?” they asked, and sighed when Laura glanced down at the floor, not meeting their eyes.

“Laura…” LaF said, but Laura cut them off. “I can’t,” she said. “He would freak out. There’s no use worrying him until something’s actually happened.”

LaF looked at Laura. “I don’t really think that’s how he would see it,” they said gently, but Laura shook her head violently. “Ever since Mom… um,” Laura said, clearing her throat, and LaF gave her a sympathetic look. “Yeah,” LaF said, letting her know they knew what she was getting at, and Laura threw her a thankful look. “Well, I was practically being tracked,” Laura said, and LaF nodded. Laura knew they were remembering how stifled she had been at a time she had really needed freedom; LaF had been subject to many venting sessions. “I can’t let that happen again. I would go mad.”

LaF pursed their lips, eyes narrowed, taking in Laura’s resolute, almost defiant posture, eyes set and arms crossed. They sighed. “Fine,” LaF said, “but please try not to die. That’s not a conversation I want to have with your father.”

Laura gave a shaky laugh. “That’s the plan,” she said weakly, and LaF gave her a small smile. They sat in silence for a few minutes before LaF cleared their throat. “So… Have I told you that I’m gonna propose to Perry?”

“WHAT?!” Laura shrieked, her own problems immediately forgotten. “WHEN?! HOW?! YOU DIDN’T TELL DANNY BEFORE ME, DID YOU?!”

LaF laughed at Laura’s indignance until tears ran down their face and they calmed down enough to answer Laura’s ceaseless and frantic questioning. “No,” they said, still chuckling. “You’re the first person I’m telling.”

“Well, thank god,” Laura said, still offended by the very thought LaF could have told Danny first, and LaF rolled their eyes.

“But how are you going to do it? And when?!” Laura asked excitedly, and LaF smiled. “I was thinking of doing it on our anniversary,” they said, and Laura beamed.

“That’s in a few weeks, right?” Laura said. “How long has it been?”

“It’ll be three years,” LaF replied with a contented smile. “Well, how are you going to do it?” Laura asked urgently, and LaF grinned at her relentless enthusiasm.

“I actually have this super long thing planned out,” they said shyly. “The other lab assistant for that Chem class I TA for - J.P., I’ve told you about him - is helping me set it up. We’ve been spending hours on it. We’re going back to all the places we’ve gone on dates - at least the really memorable ones - and setting up stuff at each one. Like a scavenger hunt,” they finished, and Laura looked like she might explode with happiness.

“That is so cute,” Laura squealed, practically vibrating on the couch. LaF laughed, glad Laura approved. “Yeah, I’m excited,” LaF agreed. “I think it’ll be good, too, since we’ve been kind of distant recently. Partly because I’m planning this,” they said with a grimace. “But also because of school, you know, I’ve been so busy…”

“Med school is hard,” Laura said, thinking back to her previous conversation with Perry and Danny. “Perry knows that. And this is, like, the ultimate romantic gesture. It’s going to be perfect.”

LaF smiled at Laura’s boundless optimism. “God, I hope so,” they said. “I have no idea what I’d do if I lost her.”

Laura shook her head violently. “Don’t think about it,” she said. “It’s not gonna happen.” LaF smiled, and shook off the worry.

“So,” they said. “Doctor Who?” Laura grinned. “Read my mind,” she said, and reached for the remote, settling in for a night of marathoning the Tenth Doctor.

Chapter Text

Carmilla groaned, letting her head fall and hit the desk in front of her. She had been doing paperwork all morning, and she was strongly considering become a hitman. They have to have less paperwork, right? she thought to herself. And I could definitely kill someone right now.

She got up, stretching, glancing over at Will’s empty desk. Fucker, she thought. He’s been out on patrol for three hours past his shift. The department had limited resources, so they didn’t have enough cruisers for every officer to be on patrol during their shifts. Instead, they were supposed to switch off so nobody was stuck doing paperwork for too long. Unfortunately for Carmilla, she was supposed to switch off with Will, who had little interest in doing so. At this rate she wasn’t going to get on patrol at all today.

She swore under her breath and stalked to the break room, yanking open the fridge. Frowning, she perused its contents before slamming it closed again. He fucking took my lunch, she thought angrily. What is this, middle school? She turned on her heel, leaving the room and heading toward the Lieutenant’s office.

“Mattie?” she said, and Mattie held up a finger, gesturing to the phone in her hand and continuing her conversation into it.

“Mmhmm. Yes. Of course, sir. Yes. We like to think of it more as a chance to reflect on one’s life, sir,” she said, rolling her eyes at Carmilla, who grimaced back. “Yes, sir. And sir? We recommend you call your provider next time with complaints. There is really nothing we can do.”

Carmilla raised her eyebrows as Mattie hung up. “Another person calling about the wifi being down?” she asked, and Mattie nodded her head in exasperation. “I swear to god,” she said irritably. “We have literally nothing to do with it. Why do they keep calling us?”

Carmilla shrugged. “Hey, I was just going to tell you I’m stepping out for a couple minutes to get lunch,” she said, and Mattie looked at her.

“Been distracted?” she asked. “You rarely forget food, of all things.” Carmilla glared. “I did not forget,” she said, avoiding the question. “Will took mine.”

“How do you know it was Will?” Mattie asked, and Carmilla gave her a look. “... Okay, just try to keep it to under half an hour, yeah?” she said. “We have a lot of paperwork right now.”

“Trust me, I’ve noticed,” Carmilla said dryly. “But thanks. I’ll be back soon. If the Captain ever shows up today you can tell him where I went.” She walked out of the Lieutenant’s office and grabbed her jacket from her locker, pulling it on as she opened the door to the street. She stood outside the office for a minute, considering what she was in the mood for, before turning and heading down the street toward the pizza place on the corner. What a brilliant move, she thought to herself, putting pizza half a block down from a police department. Brilliant. She stepped in the door, breathing in the smell, but ordered quickly, hoping to have time to eat in the park across the street. When she finally got her slice, she crossed the street and headed for her favorite bench, but she paused when she heard a familiar voice.

“... already promised that,” Laura was saying. “I’ll testify for you. You have to give me more information.”

Carmilla’s eyebrows shot up and she inched closer to the sound, looking through the trees. Laura was sitting on her bench, talking into a phone.

“That is not enough to go on!” she snapped. “No, don’t you dare hang up again. Don’t you even…” Carmilla watched Laura’s shoulders tense and then sag as she lowered the phone from her ear. What the fuck was that? Carmilla thought to herself, studying Laura’s posture, the nervous way she was glancing down at her phone and the shakiness of her hand as she ran it through her hair.

Laura got up and started walking toward Carmilla, who quickly ducked behind a large oak and waited for her to pass, watching as she walked toward the street and turned left, away from the station. Carmilla looked at her appreciatively - damn, she looks hot today - before considering following her, half because she was suspicious and half because she really wanted to tell Laura how good she looked. She was leaning heavily in favor of following her when she gave a start, checking her watch. “Fuck,” she groaned. “Fuck.” She half-jogged back to the station as she scarfed her now-cold pizza down, giving a guilty look to Mattie’s office as she slowly slid behind her desk.

“Took you long enough, Karnstein,” Will said, and Carmilla nearly jumped out of her skin. “I could say the same to you, Luce,” she snapped, glaring at him. He laughed. “Sorry, you still can’t go out,” he said, grinning. “There’s a coolant leak in the cruiser.”

Carmilla glared at him. If looks could kill, she thought wistfully, before violently sliding back from her desk and standing up. “Don’t get too ahead of yourself,” she said, walking toward the door and heading over to the cruiser. She circled it, frowning, and then popped open the hood, studying the engine. “Ugh,” she groaned, spotting the problem. Still. Fixable, she thought, nodding to herself. She walked toward where her car was parked and opened up the trunk, rifling through the contents before she found the sealer. She smirked as she grabbed it and walked back to the cruiser and bent down, reaching out and lightly touching the radiator, which was still hot. Perfect, she thought, and spread the sealer on, which quickly dried as it came into contact with the hot metal. She grinned to herself and walked back inside the station.

“Tough luck, Karnstein,” Will called, still smirking, but she flashed him a wide grin. “Tough luck indeed,” she said, reaching over to grab her duty belt. “It was just a hole in the radiator. Fixed now,” she said, holding up the sealer. Will stared. “How the hell did you know how to fix that?” he spluttered indignantly, and Carmilla rolled her eyes as she walked back out of the station. “I drive a 1967 Pontiac GTO, Luce,” she called over her shoulder. “If I couldn’t fix a coolant leak I’d be fucked. Like you.”

She walked back over to her car and tossed the sealer back into the trunk, locking it before she headed back to the cruiser and slid into the front seat with a smile on her face. This will never stop feeling good, she thought to herself, and revved the engine once or twice for Will’s benefit before she pulled out of the parking lot.

She patrolled for hours, though nothing eventful happened. She was on her way back to the station when a grey Honda caught her eye. She narrowed her eyes at the license plate before grinning and sped up, flicking on her lights and siren. The car in front of her pulled over and Carmilla followed, hopping out of the cruiser and walking up to the window.

“Hey, cutie,” she said, grinning at the woman inside. Laura’s head shot up. “Carmilla?” she asked, glancing up at the officer.

“The one and only,” Carmilla replied with a smile. “I wanted to tell you that you looked gorgeous today. I saw you earlier and didn’t get a chance.”

Laura gave her a tired smile. “Thanks,” she said briefly, and Carmilla noticed her hands were still tightly gripping the steering wheel. “Something wrong…?” she asked, studying Laura’s tense face. Laura shook her head tightly. “Nope, I’m fine,” she said in a voice that sounded a bit higher than usual. Carmilla frowned. “Okay,” she replied slowly. “Can I come over tonight? I haven’t seen you in almost two weeks.”

Laura looked up at her with a flash of guilt in her eyes. “I know, I’ve been really busy…” she replied, trailing off and biting her lip. “But tonight would be great.” She looked up at Carmilla, who was relieved to see a real smile on her face for the first time in the interaction.

“Great,” she replied. “I’ll see you at seven?”

Laura nodded, and Carmilla saw the tension returning to her shoulders. She sighed. “Okay, cupcake. I’ll see you in a few hours.” Laura nodded again, and Carmilla frowned. “Take care of yourself,” she added, and Laura glanced up at her again. “... I will,” she said, and ran a hand through her hair. “I’ll see you later.”

Carmilla nodded and stepped back, watching Laura pull back onto the road and make a right at the corner. She walked back to her cruiser, frowning. What did you do, Karnstein? she asked herself. First girl you’ve really liked in years and now she’s avoiding you. She tried to push the thoughts out of her mind, but nerves settled in her stomach. She groaned and rested her head against the steering wheel. I knew I was letting her in too quickly, she thought. I knew it.

She let her head rest for another few minutes before she shook off the tension and drove back to the station. She pulled into the parking lot and walked inside to clock out.

The light in the Captain’s office was on for once, so she knocked on the door. “Come in,” he answered gruffly, and she stuck her head in. “Captain,” she greeted him, and he nodded. “I just wanted to tell you Cruiser 6 has a coolant leak. Hole in the radiator,” she said. “I fixed it with a sealer but that’s not going to hold forever.” He frowned and made a note on the pad sitting next to his phone. “Thanks for telling me, Officer,” he said, and Carmilla nodded as she closed the door and walked back toward her desk. I am 99% sure he doesn’t know my name, she thought to herself darkly. Probably because he’s never fucking here.

Will had already clocked out - typical - so Carmilla took her time packing up and reorganizing her desk. She was about to walk out when she heard a door close and glanced up to see Mattie locking her door. She threw the rest of her things in her bag and walked up to her.

“Hey, Mattie,” she greeted her, but Mattie frowned. “Wow, I don’t think you have ever been less excited to see me,” she remarked dryly. “What’s going on?”

Carmilla was taken aback, as usual, by Mattie’s perception. “Nothing,” she said dismissively. “Just some… nothing.”

Mattie raised her eyebrows and Carmilla was reminded of where she had gotten that particular trait. “Just some nothing, huh?” she asked. “Sounds fascinating.”

Carmilla glared at her. “Shut it,” she said, and started to walk out the door past her, but Mattie grabbed her arm. “Millie,” she said, and Carmilla threw her a highly irritated look for the use of her nickname. Mattie rolled her eyes.

“Don’t act like I haven’t known you for years. Including when you were a teenager,” she said meaningfully, and Carmilla grimaced. “It’s really nothing,” she said. “I screwed things up with a girl. Nothing new.”

Mattie looked at her. “It’s new that you’re broken up about it,” she said. “And you know it’s never really been your fault, right?”

Carmilla shrugged. “This one’s different,” she said. “I thought things were going really well. I was really… I really liked her. And then we both got a little busy but we’ve barely even spoken. I don’t even know what I did.”

“Have you considered that maybe you didn’t do anything?” Mattie asked, and rolled her eyes at Carmilla’s confused expression. “Oh my god, you martyred little shit,” she said. “You just said you were both busy. So you two haven’t really been talking. You’ve been dating, what, three weeks? A month? It’s not like you’re betrothed.”

Carmilla glared at her. “I am not martyred,” she said with a huff. “And it has been five weeks. Well, technically,” she added, considering they had barely spoken for the latter part of that time.

Mattie looked less than impressed. “Seriously, Millie. Just call the girl. You’re making up an issue where it doesn’t exist. This is all in your head. Not that it doesn’t still suck,” she added hastily as Carmilla’s expression soured. “But please at least try to fix this. Don’t just give up. Not if she’s someone you actually like.”

Carmilla sighed. “No, I know,” she said. “And we’re getting together tonight. I just… Something feels really wrong. She was so into me before. She even initiated our first kiss because I was too scared to. And now she hasn’t texted me in over a week. Almost two.”

“Well, you’re getting together tonight,” Mattie said. “That’s a start. Just go charm her.”

Carmilla nodded. “Yeah, okay,” she said, and was thankful when Mattie decided not to press the issue, instead switching to a discussion about the department as they walked out of the station and locked up.

Carmilla drove to her apartment and took a quick shower, putting on a dress. She looked at her reflection and grimaced. Trying too hard, Karnstein, she thought, and pulled the dress back over her head as she stepped back in her closet. She frowned as she rifled through her clothes and groaned, giving up and pulling out a simple shirt that she paired with dark jeans. She considered doing something with her hair but gave up as she looked at the time and realized she would be late if she didn’t leave soon, so she left it loose and pulled on black boots as she ran out the door.

She rang Laura’s doorbell and stepped back nervously, but it opened almost immediately. Laura was pulling her hair out of a bun, and Carmilla tried not to stare at the way it fell onto her shoulders. “Sorry,” Laura said breathily. “I changed when I got home and then I got caught up in work. I meant to change back,” she said, gesturing to her white t-shirt and sweatpants. Carmilla smiled at her. “You still look gorgeous,” she said, stepping into the apartment, and Laura gave a small smile in return. “Thanks,” she said shyly, and Carmilla wondered when they had gone back to this.

She started walking toward the kitchen when Laura’s hand pulled her back. “Carm?” she said, and Carmilla’s heart twisted a bit at the nickname. “Yeah, cupcake?” she asked, and Laura smiled briefly.

“I missed you,” she said, and Carmilla gave her a sad smile. “I missed you too,” she said. “I called, I asked if you wanted to get together, but…”

Laura shook her head. “I know, I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’ve been really stressed.”

Carmilla nodded, willing herself to believe the girl in front of her. Laura squeezed her hand and Carmilla looked up, meeting her eyes.

“I really did miss you,” Laura said softly, and leaned in, pausing centimeters before her lips met Carmilla’s. Carmilla closed her eyes, took a breath, and tilted her head down, brushing Laura’s lips with hers. She sighed at the contact, the goosebumps on her arms telling her how much she had missed this. Laura clearly felt the same way, and Carmilla felt her stomach flip as Laura deepened the kiss, a hand snaking around her waist and pulling her closer. Carmilla’s hand reached up to cup Laura’s face as she kissed her, trying to pour her insecurity and fears from the last two weeks into the kiss, and Laura kissed her back gently. When they broke apart some of the nerves in Carmilla’s stomach had lessened, but only some.

“What did you want to do?” Carmilla asked, tucking Laura’s hair back and then blushing at the intimacy of the gesture, but Laura smiled at it. “Honestly?” she said. “I just want to snuggle. Is that okay?”

Carmilla smiled. “More than okay,” she replied, and followed Laura to the couch, sitting down and pulling Laura on top of her. Laura gave her a smile over her shoulder and leaned back, resting her head against Carmilla’s chest. Carmilla attempted to ignore her pounding heart and reached up, gently starting to massage Laura’s shoulders.

“Shit, cupcake,” she murmured quietly. “You weren’t lying about being stressed.”

Laura groaned appreciatively and arched into the massage. “No, I wasn’t,” she replied, tilting her head so Carmilla could rub her neck. The two sat in silence for a while as Carmilla tried to work the knots out of Laura’s shoulders and neck, before Laura gave a little shake that said she was done. Carmilla pulled her hands back as Laura tilted her head back. “Thanks,” she said quietly, and Carmilla smiled as she kissed her. “Anytime, cutie,” she said, and the two fell silent again. Carmilla readjusted and Laura sat up to give her room to move.

“... Cupcake?” Carmilla asked, already dreading the conversation but not willing to put it off any further. Laura must have sensed the impending discomfort as her shoulders started to tense again. “Yeah?” she replied.

“Do you want to tell me what has you so stressed?” Carmilla asked gently, and Laura moved a bit further down the couch.

“Oh, it’s nothing. Just some, uh, work stuff,” she said vaguely, rubbing her nose. Carmilla was exasperated.

“Laura,” she said firmly, and Laura glanced up quickly at the use of her name. “You rub your nose when you lie.”

Laura gaped. “I do not,” she said, and reached up to rub her nose again before she caught herself. “Dammit,” she muttered.

Carmilla tried her best not to find that endearing. “Laura, please,” she said softly. “You won’t tell me what this big story is for work. I heard you on the phone today in the park across from the station and it sounded a bit sketchy. I thought we had a great time the last time I was here but then you didn’t text me or call me back or anything for two weeks. Do you understand why I might be a bit nervous about what’s going on?”

Laura looked progressively guilty with each sentence that came out of Carmilla’s mouth, but she still shook her head resolutely. “I can’t,” she said quietly. “I can’t tell you.”

Carmilla looked down at her feet. “I understand,” she replied, and got up. “But I can’t do this.” She gestured to the two of them. “Whatever this is.”

She started walking toward the door, regretting every step, but the sound of Laura’s voice behind her stopped her progress and made her turn around.

“What?” Carmilla asked, unable to hear Laura’s whispered speech. Laura looked up at her and Carmilla’s eyes widened, seeing tears in Laura’s eyes. “I’m scared,” she repeated, and Carmilla felt her heart break a bit.

She quickly made her way back to the couch and sat down next to Laura, taking her hand but sitting far enough to give her space.

“Can you tell me why you’re scared?” she asked, searching Laura’s face. Laura swallowed and blinked back the tears threatening to spill over.

“Every year they give the new journalist this story,” Laura said finally. “About a drug ring. In the area. They manufacture -”

“Meth, I know,” Carmilla interrupted. “We get reports at the station but they’re too inconsistent for us to track it. Are you…?” she trailed off, and Laura nodded.

“My turn for the hazing,” she said with a sad grin, but Carmilla looked less than impressed by her half-hearted joking. “And?” she prompted.

“And,” Laura sighed, “I got a lead. An informant, supposedly. Friend of a friend. Well, acquaintance of a friend,” she amended. “But it’s just freaking me out, because now it’s real, you know? It’s not just the hazing newbie story any more. I’m actually getting leads, which is great for my career, but, you know…”

“Possibly not great for your life,” Carmilla supplied, and Laura nodded.

“I don’t want to drag you into this,” Laura said softly, a traitorous tear slipping down her cheek. “But I really, really like you. And I don’t know if it’s worse to put you in danger or not.”

Carmilla reached up and gently wiped away the tear with her thumb. “Laura,” she said gently, “I’m a cop. I have a dangerous profession. Dating you is not really going to increase my chances of injury. I really don’t think that’s even possible." Laura looked unconvinced, so she added, "And I'd gladly take a bullet for you. Better than for my idiot coworkers."

Laura gave her a look that clearly indicated Carmilla’s reassurances and attempt at humor had not made her feel any better, and Carmilla sighed. “Look, Laura,” she said. “If you can’t deal with the thought that you put me in danger, then that’s it. I can’t argue with that. But… Now I know what the danger is. So shouldn’t I be able to make my own decisions about whether or not this is worth it?”

Laura frowned but nodded slowly. “I guess,” she said reluctantly, and looked up at Carmilla. “Is it?”

Carmilla gave her a smile, squeezing both her hands. “It is to me,” she said simply.

Laura shook her head. “I don’t know why,” she said ruefully. “I haven’t exactly been a good date recently.”

Carmilla sighed and sat fully on the couch, pulling Laura into her and wrapping her arms around her waist. “We all have our moments,” she said, thinking back to Mattie’s lecture that afternoon. “I was scared to keep calling you because I thought you weren’t as into me as I was into you.”

Laura pulled away and quickly turned to face Carmilla. “That is not true,” she said intently, and Carmilla almost laughed at how earnest she looked. Laura continued. “I thought you weren’t into me,” she said, and now it was Carmilla’s turn to look surprised. “I mean, we went on three dates and you were always smooth and charming and you never kissed me. What was I supposed to think?”

Carmilla did laugh at that. “I thought I was being respectful!” she said, defending herself, and Laura gave her a playful pout. “Screw respectful,” she said.

Carmilla raised an eyebrow. “Oh?” she said flirtatiously, and Laura smirked. “Oh,” she replied, and readjusted her position on the couch so she was straddling Carmilla. “Oh,” Carmilla breathed, eyes widening at this new intimacy, and Laura smiled victoriously. “Gotcha,” she said with a grin, and leaned down for a kiss that was much too chaste for the fact that her hips were grinding into Carmilla’s. Carmilla groaned in frustration and tried to deepen the kiss, but Laura leaned back onto her knees and reached toward the table. Carmilla frowned and pushed herself up onto her elbows, watching Laura as she grabbed the remote.

“Cupcake… No,” she said, dreading the inevitable, and Laura beamed at her as the Doctor Who theme song came on.

“You know you love it,” Laura said in a sing-songy voice, and Carmilla glared. “Right, that’s how I feel right now,” she said sarcastically, trying her hardest not to the grab the remote and chuck it through the TV. Laura smiled at her. “I missed this,” she said quietly, and Carmilla looked at her affectionately. “I did too,” she replied. “Well, not this,” she said, glaring at the TV as Laura laughed, “but this,” she finished as Laura snuggled up into her. She almost didn’t mind the irritating man on the screen for far too long as Laura relaxed into her and she felt at peace for the first time in almost half a month. She did her best not to move for the next hour, letting Laura snuggle in, until she looked down and realized Laura was asleep. She readjusted awkwardly.

“Cupcake,” she murmured, stroking Laura’s hair. “Time for bed.”

Laura groaned. “Nooo,” she said into Carmilla’s chest. “No bed. Just… sleep.”

Carmilla bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Come on, cutie,” she said, pushing gently on Laura’s shoulders. Laura gave her a half-lidded glare as she dramatically pushed herself up, and Carmilla snuck out, standing and holding out her hand. Laura looked at it resentfully and started leaning back down on the couch.

“Oh, my god,” Carmilla muttered, and bent down and scooped Laura up. “Heyyy,” she protested weakly. “No fair.”

“Tough luck, cutie,” Carmilla replied, heart fluttering as Laura tucked her head into her shoulder. “Bedtime for you.”

She shoved Laura’s bedroom door open with her hip, eternally grateful it hadn’t been closed the whole way. She lowered Laura onto it and watched as Laura adjusted, pulling a vibrantly yellow pillow under her head. She burrowed into it and smiled up at Carmilla. “Goodnight, Carm,” she said sleepily, and Carmilla couldn’t stop her smile. “Goodnight, Laura,” she replied softly, bending down to kiss Laura on the forehead. “Call me tomorrow.”

Laura nodded as her eyes drifted shut, and Carmilla smiled to herself as she let herself out of Laura’s apartment and drove back home. We’re good, she thought to herself. We’re good.

Chapter Text

Laura sighed as she rummaged through her notes, picking up stacks of paper haphazardly and rifling through them before unceremoniously dumping them in favor of new ones. She knew she had her notes on the new football field at the high school, but they had somehow disappeared. The thought crept into her mind that maybe, maybe she had taken on too many projects, but she firmly pushed it out of her mind. No such thing as too much hard work, she thought to herself resolutely, picking up yet another stack of papers and looking under it. My organization, however, leaves something to be desired.

There was a knock on the wall of her cubicle, and Laura glanced up. “Hey, Elsie,” she greeted her coworker absentmindedly as she grabbed a different stack of notes, ruffled through it, and dumped it with a groan into the trash. “What’s up?” It was rare they spoke, though they were friendly and did, occasionally, go out for drinks together. When Elsie did stop by Laura’s tucked-away cubicle in the corner, it was usually to inform Laura of the gossip that she was, as usual, oblivious to.

“New girl today,” Elsie said with a grin, leaning over the top of the cubicle wall with her arms crossed. “That story will be off your hands soon.”

Laura looked up, alarmed, papers flying off the stack she was holding. “They wouldn’t do that, would they?” she asked frantically. “I have leads! I’m farther than anyone else has ever gotten!”

Elsie laughed. “I’m just giving you a hard time, Hollis,” she said. “There’s no way they’ll take away the story now that we finally have a lead.” Laura took in Elsie’s easy grin and relaxed.

“You think?” she asked, and Elsie nodded eagerly. “I know!” she said. “They keep talking about it in the break room. Everyone’s really impressed. Keep doing well and you might even get a raise out of it.”

Laura beamed and let the information settle in before she remembered why Elsie had come over in the first place. “So, new girl, huh?” she asked, and Elsie nodded. “Her name is Betty Smith, can you believe it? That’s like naming your kid John Doe. Anyway, she seems alright. Tall blonde thing. Bit uptight but she’s a newbie journalist, what do you expect,” she finished, winking at Laura (who frowned, but pushed the implication out of her mind).

“Is she from here?” Laura asked. “I thought I knew all the journalism majors at Silas.”

Elsie shook her head. “She’s from here, I think, but you wouldn’t have known her. She’s older, has kids. I guess they’re old enough now she wants to get out of the house, have a career, avoid her husband. You know, all the typical midlife crisis things.”

Laura chuckled despite herself. “That’s so cool, though!” she exclaimed. “She’ll bring such an interesting perspective to all the stories.”

There was a sound of a throat clearing and both girls looked up hastily to see their boss standing there, tall blonde at his side. “Ladies,” he greeted them. “Elsie, I know you two have already been introduced, but Laura, I’d like you to meet your newest coworker. This is Betty Smith,” he said, and stepped back as Betty leaned forward to shake Laura’s hand.

“Nice to meet you,” she said with a friendly smile, and Laura smiled back. “Always good to have another woman in the office,” she said, and the girls looked at their boss and laughed as he rolled his eyes. “I may be a boss,” he said good naturedly, “but you ladies still outnumber us three to one.”

Laura grinned. “Not our fault all the best graduates have been women, Mr. Haverford,” she said, and he waved his hand. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever, Hollis,” he said, trying not to smile. “Get back to work.”

He left, walking down the hallway back toward his office. Elsie leaned back against Laura’s cubicle and looked appraisingly at Betty. “So,” she said. “Tell me about your kids. I can’t ever figure out if I want to have them.”

Betty looked surprised, but she recovered smoothly. “Well,” she said, “there’s not much to say. The boy is fourteen and the girl is eleven, which probably tells you all you need to know,” and Laura and Elsie both laughed. “Ah yes, the tween years,” Elsie said. “How many boy band posters does she have on her wall right now? My record was twelve.”

Laura laughed. “You would have had boy band posters,” she teased, and Elsie flashed her a quick grin. “Oh, and you didn’t?” she asked. “No, let me guess. Harry Potter posters instead?”

Laura stuck out her tongue at her coworker, and they both laughed. Betty smiled before she cleared her throat. “I should probably get to work,” she said, and the two girls nodded. “Don’t want to be fired on the first day.”

Elsie nodded. “Don’t worry about it too much,” she said. “As long as you get in the stories on time, Haverford doesn’t really care if you hang out with the rest of the office. You’ll get plenty of downtime. Unless, of course, you’re Ms. Hollis here,” she added, with a nod to the papers covering every inch of Laura’s workspace.

“Yes,” Betty said dryly. “Remind me never to do whatever it is she did.”

The three laughed and Laura and Elsie watched Betty walk around the corner before turning to each other and leaning in. “So,” Elsie said. “What do you think?”

Laura shrugged. “She seems cool,” she said, and Elsie nodded. “Yeah, she seems alright,” she agreed. “I can’t pin it down, though, but something seems a little… closed off, I guess.”

Laura nodded. “I know what you mean,” she said, “but she’s probably just nervous. I mean, I was terrified on my first day, and I did the straight college-to-career track. It has to be way harder to start after being out of the workforce for so long.”

Elsie pursed her lips. “I guess,” she said, sounding unconvinced, and Laura shoved her shoulder. “Come on, be nice,” she said, and Elsie rolled her eyes as she smiled. “You’re such a Gryffindor,” she said, walking away. “I’m a Hufflepuff!” Laura shouted after her indignantly, and gave the other coworker who walked by an embarrassed smile when he shot her a strange look.

Laura ducked back into her cubicle, grinning and shaking her head to herself. I should hang out with her more, she thought to herself, and started picking up stacks of papers again.

Eventually she gave up and walked to the break room, figuring if she couldn’t work at least she could eat. She opened it up and stared dumbfounded at the second shelf, which contained not only her lunch but also a stack of papers. Are you kidding me, she thought to herself, reaching for the stack and glancing at the top. “Notes on football field story” was scribbled across the page in messy handwriting. Laura groaned, thudding her head into the fridge door.

“Oh, are those yours?” a coworker asked, grinning. “We were taking bets.” Laura grimaced in reply, and he pumped his arm in the air. “Twenty bucks, here I come!” he said, and flashed her a quick smile as he walked out of the room. Laura tried to be annoyed, but even she could admit it was amusing. She was quickly gaining a reputation around the paper as not only a good reporter but a rather absentminded one.

Laura grabbed her lunch and walked back to her office, intent on making up the time she had lost looking for her notes, and glanced at her phone when it buzzed on the way back.

LaF: Hey. Glad we could all hang out last Sunday. Kept forgetting to text you, but… I approve. And so does Perry. Mostly.

Laura grinned. She had dragged a very reluctant and possibly nervous Carmilla to a dinner at LaF and Perry’s, but Carmilla had been surprisingly charming. And by charming, Laura meant that she had ganged up with LaF against Laura to tease her, and even Perry had trouble keeping a straight face and chiding them. And Perry always held reservations against anyone Laura dated, so for her to approve, even “mostly”…

Laura: I’m glad you both approve :D :D :D I really like her

LaF: I can tell. She likes you too

Laura: :D oh can Perry send me the recipe for that chocolate cake

LaF: she knew you would ask and said “absolutely not I am not indulging that sweet tooth any more than I already do”

Laura: :(

Laura smiled as she sat down at her desk and put her phone away, knowing that within half an hour the recipe would appear in her inbox. She took a deep breath and began sorting through her stack of notes on the field construction, and began to write steadily. She was nearly done when her phone rang.

“Hello?” she answered, tucking her phone under her ear so she could keep typing.

“Laura,” an amused voice said. “Are you actually physically incapable of not working?”

“Oh, hey Carm,” Laura answered, leaning back in her chair. Carmilla’s was a voice she definitely had to pay full attention to. “How did you know I was still working?”

“You type like you want to murder the computer,” Carmilla replied. Laura’s jaw dropped indignantly and she snapped it shut. “I do not,” she protested, and she could practically hear Carmilla rolling her eyes. “Okay, cupcake, you don’t,” she replied. “Is this a good time or should I call back?”

“This is fine,” Laura said. “I lost my notes earlier but I found them again so I’m almost done with the story now.”

“Oh, great,” Carmilla said. “Where were they?”

“Where were what?”

“The notes. Where were they?”

Laura paused and bit her lip. “Laura…?” Carmilla said slowly.

Laura closed her eyes and braced herself for the laughter she knew was coming. “… In the fridge,” she muttered into the phone, and there was a brief pause before loud laughter spilled over the line. Laura held the phone away from her head, making an unamused face. When it died down, she put it back to her ear. “Are you quite finished?” she asked irritably, and Carmilla chuckled.

“Only you, Hollis,” she said, and Laura made another face before remembering Carmilla couldn’t see her.

“Whatever,” she replied. “Why did you call?”

“Does there have to be a reason?” Carmilla asked flirtatiously, and Laura stumbled over her response. “I – that’s not – I mean it’s the middle of the work day – shut up and tell me, Carmilla,” she snapped, and glared at the phone as laughter echoed over it again.

“I was wondering if you wanted to go on a date with me on Saturday,” Carmilla said, still chuckling, and Laura smiled hugely, suddenly glad Carmilla couldn’t see her face.

“That sounds great,” Laura said. “Great,” Carmilla replied. “I’ll pick you up at eleven. Eat something light for lunch so you have room for dinner. I’d say eat light at breakfast but there’s no way you’d be awake for it.”

Laura huffed into the phone. “Says the girl who texted me back at 1pm yesterday saying she was sorry she missed my text but she had ‘just woken up,’” Laura replied, the air quotes evident in her voice. Carmilla laughed. “I work nights sometimes, cutie,” she said. “A day in the life.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “Saturday, eleven,” she said. “Light lunch. Got it. What should I wear?”

“Actually, you might want to bring a change of clothes,” Carmilla said, and Laura’s eyes narrowed. “Carmilla Karnstein, if you try to make me play any other sport besides Quidditch for a date I swear it will be the last one we ever have.”

Carmilla laughed again. “It’s not a sport, cupcake, I promise. Wear something comfortable but bring a nice dress and shoes, okay? And plan to be out all day.”

Laura glanced suspiciously at the phone but replied in the affirmative, and exchanged goodbyes before hanging up.

What the heck requires comfortable clothing and takes all day that isn’t a sport? Laura asked herself, perturbed. I am not liking the sound of this at all.

 


 

Laura groaned at her reflection. She had woken up early purely to have time to add this volumizing product to her hair, but it had not turned out well. She made a face in the mirror and tried to pat it down, even combing water through it, but to no avail. She glanced at the clock. Thirty minutes. Shit, she thought. Shit shit shit. Her gaze fell to her phone on the side of the sink and she grabbed it, inspired. LaF picked up after two rings.

“Laura, it is before noon on a Saturday. I hope this is important,” LaF answered gruffly. “It is!” Laura said defensively. “I used this thing on my hair and it’s super poofy and Carmilla comes in thirty minutes and I don’t know what to do!”

LaF groaned into the phone. “Laura. Rule number one. Don’t use new hair products right before a date. You know that.”

“I know,” Laura whined. “I made a mistake! Help me fix it! Please!”

LaF muttered some unintelligible things that Laura thought sounded suspiciously like swear words before sighing. “Okay,” they said. “Easy fix. Wash your hair.”

Laura gaped. “LaF,” she said. “Thirty. Minutes.”

LaF huffed into the phone. “You don’t have to shower again,” they said. “Just dunk your head under water and blow dry it.”

LaF,” Laura said. “Thirty minutes.”

“Goodbye, Laura,” LaF said, and Laura heard a click as they hung up. She groaned. “Jerk,” she muttered to herself, and stared balefully at the sink. Here goes my makeup, she thought to herself, and turned the faucet on. She stared at the running water for a second before she sighed and dunked her head under, wincing at the cold water.

After several seconds of vigorous washing she pulled her head back, shivering, and turned off the faucet. She let her head drip over the sink as she groped blindly for a towel, rubbing her head somewhat dry. She grabbed the blow dryer from the sink and turned it on to the highest setting, muttering hopeful pleas under her breath as she fluffed her hair, trying to get it to dry as quickly as possible. She glanced at the clock and swore under her breath. Ten minutes.

She slipped into a blue sundress and pulled on matching flats – the most comfortable pair she owned. She had done a very long pub crawl in them during her last year at Silas with LaFontaine, so she was convinced they could hold up through whatever Carmilla was going to put her through. She hastily reapplied her makeup, skipping the eyeshadow and eyeliner because it usually took her three or four times to get them right on a good day. Foundation, powder, blush, mascara, lipstick, and… Done, she thought victoriously. A minute to spare. And my hair is dry. Mostly.

She grabbed her bag, checking to make sure her change of clothes was in it, and walked out of her bathroom, sitting on her couch, waiting for Carmilla. She only had to wait a few moments before a knock sounded, and she sprang up, opening the door.

Carmilla looked happier than Laura had ever seen her as she greeted and kissed her. When they pulled apart, Laura smiled at her, somewhat confused. “Cat swallowed the canary?” she asked, and Carmilla laughed. “I planned a good date,” she said with a happy smile. “I hope.”

Laura slid her hand into Carmilla’s and gave her a smile. “I’m sure,” she said. “As long as it’s not a sport. Which I’m still scared of.”

Carmilla shook her head with a grin and pulled Laura down the hall after her and down to her car, which Laura made several snarky comments about (really, Carmilla. Red? That is not surprising at all). While Carmilla drove, Laura alternated between sneaking looks at the happy girl sitting next to her and gazing at the scenery, which was turning steadily more rural as the drive went on… and on… and on? “Carm, where are we going?” Laura asked, and Carmilla just smiled. “You’ll see, cupcake,” she replied, smile permanently fixed to her face. Laura just shook her head bemusedly. She was confused, but she wasn’t going to argue with this. She struck up a conversation about work and Carmilla regaled her with tales of her constant rivalry with Will that kept Laura laughing almost the whole drive.

After almost an hour, Carmilla signaled and turned onto a long, wide dirt road. Laura sat up in her seat and looked around curiously, trying to find a sign of where they were. As they came around a corner, huge fields opened up in front of them, and Laura narrowed her eyes. “Are those… grapevines?” she asked, and Carmilla only smiled. As they drove, a long, beautiful, Mediterranean-style building came into view. “Oh my god, Carmilla,” Laura breathed, realization dawning on her. “Is this Le Vin En Rose? Like, the most famous rosé winery in Austria?!” she asked Carmilla, slapping her arm in her excitement. Carmilla chuckled and nodded and Laura gaped at her. “Oh my god. I wrote a story on this two months ago! How did you even get reservations? Carmilla!

Carmilla glanced over at her and grinned. “Happy, cupcake?” she asked, obviously pleased with herself, and Laura could only stare at her dumbfounded. “Happy? Happy? Carmilla Karnstein, if we were not in a car right now…” she trailed off, and Carmilla looked over at her with a burning expression. “Road, Carmilla, look at it,” Laura said, and Carmilla shook her head hastily. “Right, that,” she said sheepishly, and Laura slipped her hand into the one Carmilla was resting on the seat.

“I am very happy,” Laura said, quietly. “Mostly because I’m with you. Partly because we’re here. But mostly because of you.”

Laura could see the corners of Carmilla’s mouth dip down as she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her smile, and Laura’s heart swelled. I am so lucky, she thought, as she stared at the woman driving next to her.

They pulled into a sandy lot outside of the main building, and Carmilla left Laura with a kiss on the cheek as she went to check in. Laura sat in the car and stared around her at the gorgeous vineyards that sloped away from the buildings in all directions. She wracked her brain for information about the winery from when she had written the article, but all that she was remembering was how incredibly pricy it was and how difficult it was to get tour reservations – even as a journalist, she had never been able to book one. She shook her head. That girl has so many secrets, she thought to herself with a smile. And she’s sharing some with me.

Laura jumped slightly when Carmilla tapped on her window, gesturing for her to get out of the car. “This way, my lady,” she said with an exaggerated proffering of her hand, and Laura laughed as she took it and shut the car door behind her. “Carmilla,” she said, “You are incredible.”

Carmilla ducked her head as she smiled. “Don’t thank me yet, cupcake,” she said. “For all you know this could be the most boring thing we’ve ever done.” Laura rolled her eyes at her and they walked around the building toward a man dressed in a linen suit, who greeted them professionally and began walking them around the property.

Laura was ecstatic as he explained the process behind rosé wines, graciously answered Laura’s plentiful and eager questioning, and offered them tastes of each type. He took them through the underground vaults where barrels of the wine fermented, as well as through the vineyards, turning over leaves and plucking grapes to illustrate the differences in varieties (differences that went well over Laura’s head, though she could certainly appreciate each drink). Finally, he led them to what was by far the largest vineyard.

“These,” he said proudly, “are our Blauer Wildbacher grapes.” He beamed at the expanse before him as Laura turned a confused expression toward Carmilla, who quickly whispered in her ear. “Blauer Wildbacher grapes are only grown in western Styria,” she said softly. “It’s what this vineyard is most famous for. The grape behind any truly Styrian rosé.” Laura shot her a grateful look.

“Schilcher, the rosé made from these grapes, is known for its fruity tones,” their tour guide said. “You may have heard it called Rabiatperle?”

“Oh, right,” Laura said, with a flash of recognition. “I didn’t know it had another name.”

The tour guide nodded. “Surprisingly,” he said, “it tends to be Styrians who don’t know its true name. Rabiatperle is a colloquialism. Schilcher is the official name but it never took hold in Weststeiermark.”

He turned and began talking again as Carmilla tugged on Laura’s arm. “Actually,” she said with a shy grin, “Rabiatperle translates to rabid pearl, right? That’s why we know it with that name, because it’s such a light wine but used to have an insane alcohol content – although that quality has mostly been bred out. Partly because high-quality wineries disliked the implication that their wine would be used to get drunk. But anyway, we call it Rabiatperle because the name stuck through the generations even as the grape evolved. Schilcher, the proper term, is from schillern – iridescence. Bit of a nobler etymology.”

Laura turned to face Carmilla fully, staring. “How on earth do you know that?” she asked, incredulously, and Carmilla blushed. “I like languages?” she said, embarrassed, and Laura shook her head as she thought to herself, what a nerd. What an adorable, lovable nerd. She leaned forward to whisper in Carmilla’s ear. “I like you,” she said, and Carmilla went even redder as Laura leaned against her, turning back toward the tour guide to catch the last of what he was saying.

When they had gotten back to the main building and Carmilla had tipped the guide – Laura had, with relatively little shame and even littler success, craned her neck in an attempt to see how much money changed hands – the two walked back toward the car, and Laura gave Carmilla a warm hug. “This was amazing,” she said into Carmilla’s neck. “You’re amazing. Best eighth date ever.”

Laura could feel Carmilla laughing into the hug. “High standard,” she drawled. “But it’s not over yet. We have dinner reservations here, if you want them. That’s what the change of clothes is for.”

Laura pulled away from Carmilla slowly, almost speechless. “Carmilla,” she whispered fiercely, and Carmilla’s eyebrows shot up at her tone. “Who did you murder to get reservations here? They’re impossible!”

Laura stared as Carmilla started laughing. “No murder, cupcake, I swear,” she said, crossing her heart. “Well, unless you believe Robert Lindsay.”

Laura narrowed her eyes and Carmilla shrugged. “English actor? Leftist? Said capitalism is murder? No?” Laura just gave her a look, and Carmilla sighed. “No murder. I promise. But we don’t have to take the reservations if you’re tired. We did a lot of walking.”

No,” Laura said emphatically. “Definitely do not cancel the reservations. Definitely do not do that. Don’t even think about doing that.”

Carmilla laughed again. “Is that a yes?” she said, smiling, and Laura shook her head at her. “Of course it’s a yes,” she replied, and pulled Carmilla into another hug. “When are the reservations?”

Carmilla checked her watch. “Um,” she said. “Twenty minutes?” Laura stared at her. Thirty minutes. Twenty minutes. Next thing you know I’ll have ten minutes to disassemble a bomb and it’ll still be easier than putting on makeup.

Laura breathed out deeply. “Okay. Twenty minutes. Where can I change?” she asked, and Carmilla ushered her inside the main building into a beautiful, arching lobby. She gestured toward a row of doors toward the back of the foyer. “Changing rooms,” she said simply. Laura sighed – of course this place had freaking changing rooms – but grabbed her bag and walked toward the first of the doors, leaning her head out toward Carmilla as she walked in. “Race you,” she said with a grin, and shut it. She pulled her sundress over her head and slipped on a tighter black one, struggling a bit with the zipper, and pulled on her heels. She glanced in the mirror and grimaced, reapplying her blush and lipstick. Content, she stepped out of the room to see…

Holy shit, Laura thought, gaping at the girl in front of her. Carmilla had traded her trademark white shirt and dark jeans for an open black vest over a white button-up with sleeves rolled up to her elbows, dressy black pants and shiny black shoes, with a black and gold watch on her wrist. “You look…” Laura said, still staring. Carmilla gave a shaky laugh. “You too,” she said, stepping back and looking Laura up and down with a smile on her face. She offered Laura her hand, and Laura accepted it with a happy and shy smile. Carmilla led her around a corner and up a flight of stairs before they arrived at a spacious room furnished only with a table set for two with a simple white tablecloth trimmed with gold. Laura almost didn’t notice the elegance of the place settings because she was so distracted by the view. The far wall was entirely glass, creating a window that showed the entire expanse of the Wildbacher vineyard.

Laura stared at the view, and felt Carmilla’s hand slip into hers. “Gorgeous, isn’t it?” she said softly. “And look,” she nudged Laura’s arm, “we’ll be able to see the sun set.”

Laura turned to Carmilla, shaking her head softly. “This is too much,” she said, gesturing toward the room and the view. “I don’t deserve this.”

Carmilla reached out and gently cupped Laura’s face, staring into her eyes. “If I’m going to commit to you,” she started, and Laura noticed her voice was shaking slightly. “If I’m going to give this a shot,” she continued after a deep breath, “I’m going to do it all the way. I don’t want to run away from this just because I’m scared of getting hurt.”

Laura felt like her emotions were going to burst out of her skin, so she settled for pulling Carmilla into a deep, sweet kiss. “Okay,” she said, smiling as Carmilla rested her forehead against hers. “Okay.”

Carmilla smiled at her and they sat down, a waiter immediately appearing from what Laura swore had to be a hole in the wall to ask them for their choice of wine. Laura paused and looked at Carmilla, who gave her a slightly guilty look as she leaned out of her chair to whisper into the waiter’s ears. Suspicious, Laura tried her best to listen, but could only catch a few words – “reservation” and “on hold.” She raised her eyebrows at the blush on Carmilla’s cheeks. “Want to tell me what that was about?” she asked as the waiter disappeared, and Carmilla’s blush deepened slightly. “Um,” she said, avoiding Laura’s eyes, “I may have put a specific bottle on hold. Maybe.”

Laura laughed, and Carmilla looked up at her in confusion. Laura shook her head. “Honestly, Carmilla,” she said with a chuckle, “after this date, you could have told me you bought the whole vineyard and I wouldn’t have been surprised.”

To her relief, Carmilla laughed at that. “Maybe not the whole vineyard,” she said with a smile, “but at least a good bottle of wine.”

The waiter reappeared, placing a beautiful bottle, full of a deep pink wine, on the table. The label was black, with a rearing white horse featured prominently in the middle.

“The horse is a Lipizzan,” Carmilla explained. “They’re on every authentic Schilcher. This winery labels each of their vintages with a different century, but this past year they made a mistake and somehow a bit of one of their 1600 vintage splashed into a barrel of the 1700. So they called this barrel their 1698 vintage,” she said with a laugh. “They’re quite rare, and while somewhat taboo because of the accident, they’ve been in fairly high demand because of how limited the supply is.”

Laura smiled at Carmilla’s explanations. “I didn’t peg you as a wine snob,” she said teasingly, and Carmilla blushed. “I am not a snob!” she said, defensively. “I just drank one too many wine coolers in college and decided that could never, ever happen again.”

Laura laughed. “Okay, sure,” she said, grinning, and the two animatedly swapped college drinking stories throughout the meal. When the waiter finally brought the check, Laura was clutching her sides as tears leaked from her eyes. “I cannot believe you did that,” she said, gasping for air, and Carmilla grinned. “What happens in Silas, stays in Silas,” she quipped. “Unless I’m trying to make a cute girl laugh, in which case…”

Laura held her head in her hands, trying to steady her breathing as Carmilla took care of the check, standing up and offering Laura her arm. Laura took it, and continued to chuckle as they made their way down the stairs, through the lobby and back to the car. Carmilla shook her head. “It wasn’t even that bad,” she said, trying to hide her own amusement, but Laura was having none of it. “It was terrible,” she said with absolute delight in her voice, and Carmilla rolled her eyes. “I have no idea why you’re so pleased about this,” she said, though Laura could see the corners of her mouth twitching as she tried to maintain a straight face, and Laura just laughed.

They continued to chat animatedly about their times at Silas as Carmilla drove Laura home. In one of the lulls in their conversation, Laura remarked to herself that it was certainly lucky the school was so strange, if for no other reason because it guaranteed she and the girl driving next to her would never run out of stories to tell each other.

Carmilla walked Laura to her door, smiling as Laura regaled her with a story about one of LaFontaine’s infamous experiments. “Wait here,” she said quickly, and Laura cut her story short to watch, bemused, as Carmilla disappeared around the corner of her hallway. She leaned her head against her door, smiling to herself. That date was… perfect, she thought. I can’t wait to tell LaF. They’re going to freak.

She straightened up as Carmilla came back around the corner, and her jaw dropped. Carmilla was carrying a single long-stemmed rose, smiling at her. “Laura,” she said softly as she approached her. “Will you be my girlfriend?”

Laura shook her head, smiling, and pulled her into a hug. “Of course,” she murmured into Carmilla’s neck. “I have been for weeks.” She could feel Carmilla smile into her forehead before she pulled her in for a chaste kiss and ducked her head. “I should head home,” she said, and Laura immediately pouted. “I know, I know,” Carmilla said with a laugh, “but I work tomorrow morning and it’s already late.”

Laura nodded. Carmilla’s schedule was not her favorite thing about the woman, but she put up with it. Chivalrously. Carmilla had almost disappeared down the hallway when a brilliant idea occurred to Laura.

“Carm, wait! Come back,” she called, beseechingly, and Carmilla turned back toward her, shaking her head. “Cupcake, bedtime,” she said, chuckling, and Laura nodded eagerly. “Exactly,” she said, and Carmilla just stared at her. “What?”

“Stay with me,” Laura said, and Carmilla continued to look confused. “What?” she repeated. Laura rolled her eyes. “Spend the night with me,” she clarified. “Please?”

If she hadn’t been so desperately hoping for a positive answer, Laura might have laughed at the absolutely dumbstruck expression on Carmilla’s face, but instead she searched her expression for a hint at her answer. Carmilla opened and closed her mouth several times before she shook her head gently. “I cannot believe I’m saying yes to this,” she said in resignation, and Laura squealed and hugged her, tugging her into her apartment.

They had barely closed the door when Laura pulled Carmilla into a very deep, very passionate kiss. Laura smiled into the kiss at the surprised whimper that had escaped Carmilla’s mouth, and threaded her hand into Carmilla’s hair, tugging gently. As Carmilla’s mouth opened into a moan, Laura gently traced her lips with her tongue. Carmilla pulled away, gasping. “Laura,” she said, shaking her head. “You are being awfully forward.”

Laura smiled. “You like it when I’m forward,” she countered, and Carmilla chuckled. “You’re right about that,” she said. “But, I have work in… five hours, and I have to go on a sketchy patrol route. I don’t want to be tired.”

Laura nodded. She knew how seriously Carmilla took her job. “Okay,” she said. “But you have no excuse not to cuddle me.”

Carmilla laughed. “Damn straight,” she replied, and followed Laura into her room. “Do you have pajamas I can borrow?” Laura nodded toward her chest. “Bottom drawer,” she said, and went into the bathroom. When Laura returned, changed, Carmilla was already in her bed. I could really get used to that, Laura thought to herself, and climbed into the bed and nestled against her girlfriend. Carmilla pulled Laura into her chest, and placed a kiss on her shoulder. “Goodnight, Laura,” she said, softly.

“Goodnight, Carm,” she replied, and snuggled in tighter, feeling Carmilla’s arm thread around her waist. Her sleep that night was blissfully serene.

Chapter Text

Carmilla was arms deep in paperwork, again. She was strongly considering buying a paper shredder. Really, who would even notice? she thought to herself. I swear nobody even looks over this stuff.

She sighed and picked up her pen, starting on the newest pile. She was only eight forms in when Mattie walked over.

“Carmilla?” she said, and Carmilla looked up, pen hanging from her mouth as she typed data into her computer. “Hang on,” she said around the pen, and Mattie shook her head. “Domestic violence report,” she said, and Carmilla quickly removed the pen from her mouth. “Neighbors saw a man and woman get into a screaming match outside their house and now they’re hearing yelling from inside. South Graz. Can you take it?”

Carmilla capped the pen and stood up. “What’s the address?” she asked, then jogged to her cruiser and slid inside, punching the address into the navigation system.

She turned on her sirens to clear traffic as she sped toward the address, but turned them off as she turned into the neighborhood and pulled up in front of the house. She patted herself, ensuring all of her equipment was in place, and stepped out of the car. There was a group of people gathered across the street, so Carmilla headed toward them. “Did you call in the domestic violence report?” she asked, and they nodded. “It’s not the first time this has happened,” one said. “But it seemed more violent than usual.” Another person piped up, quickly adding, “And we haven’t heard anything from inside in almost five minutes.”

Carmilla swore and sprinted toward the house. “POLICE!” she yelled, pounding on the door. “OPEN UP!”

A woman answered the door, and Carmilla quickly scanned her for any signs of violence. She didn’t see anything, although the woman was holding her right hand in a slightly unnatural position. Carmilla’s eyes narrowed at the redness of the knuckles. “Ma’am,” she said, “we received a domestic violence report from this household. Do you know anything about that?”

The woman looked away before her eyes snapped back to Carmilla’s, and she shook her head. “No,” she said with a bemused smile. “I have no idea what that’s about.” Carmilla nodded slowly. “Great,” she said. “So you won’t mind if I take a look inside?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary, do you, Officer?” the woman said with a smile, and Carmilla returned her smile coldly. “Oh, I do, and the calls we got warrant a probable cause search, so...” she said, making to enter the doorway. The woman’s smile dropped, and she resentfully stepped aside and let Carmilla into the house, muttering something about an invasion of privacy. Carmilla ignored her and walked in, scanning for anything unusual. Not seeing anything in the entry or the living room to the left, she walked toward the right and into a kitchen. Here, too, nothing seemed out of place. Carmilla pursed her lips, and the woman, who had been following her around, crossed her arms. “Satisfied?” she asked, and Carmilla tilted her head to the side. “Not quite,” she said. “But I suspect I haven’t seen everything. Or everyone,” she added, and noted the way the woman’s eyes flicked up toward the ceiling. Carmilla grinned. “Great, I’ll just go check upstairs,” she said, and jogged up the stairs, taking them two at a time. She entered what she assumed was their bedroom. The bed was made and pristine, but something felt off. Carmilla’s eyes narrowed and she walked around it, running her fingers over the sheets. Something on the floor caught her eye and she bent down, studying it closely. Blood, she thought to herself. Fuck.

She looked at it carefully and scanned the rest of the floor. There were several more drops she could see, and she stood up, trying to figure out what had happened, when she heard a noise to her left and turned. There was a door, which Carmilla approached slowly and opened. Her heart jumped into her throat as she saw a man propped against the sink in the bathroom, eyes fluttering as he moaned. There was blood dripping from the side of his head, his left eye was swollen shut and he had the beginnings of a nasty bruise blooming on his left cheek. Carmilla approached him quickly and knelt, taking his pulse and scanning him for any more damage. It seemed to be located exclusively to his face, and he didn’t seem in any immediate danger, so Carmilla walked down the stairs, feeling anger course through her veins. The woman was waiting in the kitchen, and turned with a polite smile on her face that quickly dropped at Carmilla’s murderous expression. “He was cheating,” the woman spat, and Carmilla gave her a look of utter contempt. “I don’t give a fuck,” she snapped back, and pulled her handcuffs off her belt. “You are under arrest for domestic violence and providing false information to a police officer. Hands behind your back.” The woman sneered at her. “Fuck you,” she said, and reached behind her and threw something toward Carmilla, who felt everything slow down as adrenaline coursed through her body. She ducked the knife that came spinning toward her and dove forward, tackling the woman to the ground. “And now you have counts of resisting arrest and assaulting an officer,” she said grimly, sitting on the woman’s back as she handcuffed her wrists together. “You idiot.”

She remained sitting on the woman’s back as she called 911 for an ambulance for the husband and radioed back to the station for backup. Mattie arrived within minutes and took the woman off Carmilla’s hands. Once the paramedic team arrived, Carmilla walked back into her cruiser and slipped into the seat. You’re good, she thought to herself. You’re good. She’s in custody. He’s going to be okay. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. She rested her head on the wheel as she tried to pace her breathing, feeling her heartbeat slowly return to a normal pace before Mattie radioed her. “He’s okay,” she said. “He’s at the hospital but he’s going to be completely fine. He’s okayed talking to you.” Carmilla let Mattie know she had heard her and headed toward the hospital, continuing her breathing exercises as she drove. She arrived at the ER and the receptionist glanced at her uniform and waved her toward the back. “The man who came in with bruises and a head wound is in 12,” she said, and Carmilla nodded in thanks as she headed toward the room. She knocked softly before she entered.

“Hey, Officer,” the man said weakly as he raised a hand. Carmilla gave him a soft smile. “How are you feeling?” she asked, and he shrugged. “Oh, you know. I think the left side of my face might fall off, but the rest of me is fine,” he quipped, and Carmilla chuckled as she sat on the side of the bed. “Seriously, though,” she said quietly. “I need you to tell me exactly what happened and if anything like this has happened before.”

The easy smile slid off the man’s face as he stared down at his hands. “I,” he started and then shook his head, setting his jaw. Discomfort and pain wrote themselves in lines on his face as he closed his eyes, grimacing. Carmilla gave him a few minutes to continue before she cleared her throat quietly and began to talk.

“I would go to school with bruises,” she said softly, staring at the wall in front of her. “I just wore long sleeves or stole my mother’s coverup. I never told anyone about it because she always said it was my fault, that I deserved it. I was too ashamed of it and myself to ever say anything, and I would make up excuses if anyone ever saw them… And it happened so rarely I never wanted to tell anyone, because they were just punishments. And I deserved them, at least I thought I did. I only got out of it because an officer saw what was happening and the kinds of things she was saying to me and she stepped in.” Carmilla chanced a look at the man, who shook his head slightly.

“Yeah, but you were just a kid,” he said gruffly. “Boys don’t cry, and men certainly don’t.”

“And women are sugar and spice and everything nice,” Carmilla replied, and was relieved when the corners of his mouth turned up slightly. “Fair enough,” he allowed, and Carmilla nodded. She slid off his bed and into a chair, grabbing a pen and spinning it through her fingers as she waited for him to speak, sensing he was ready. He took several deep breaths before he began.

“It’s been years. I don’t know what happened. She was so sweet, so charming, while we were dating and engaged, and even when we were just married. But over the years she lost her temper more and more frequently, and she started hitting me, and I could never hit her back because they would only have arrested me, you know?” he said, and Carmilla nodded her understanding. He gingerly leaned his head back as he continued, staring up at the ceiling. “So it kept happening. But it was never as bad as this. She saw me talking to another woman and she must have thought I was flirting but she was so angry, and she…” he trailed off. Carmilla looked at him and said softly, “You don’t have to tell me now. We can do this whenever you’re ready.” He shook his head and swallowed twice before he continued.

“She started yelling at me while we drove back home, and it turned into a screaming match when we were outside the house. I think she saw the neighbors watching because she shoved me inside. I went upstairs and she followed me, screaming, and I told her I didn’t want to talk and I started to get into bed. But she pulled me toward her and punched me in the face,” he said, gesturing toward the bruise on his lower cheek. “And then she shoved me into the bathroom and punched me again and then I think she took something, like a glass or something, and slammed it into the side of my head and that’s really all I remember.” Carmilla nodded. “Thank you,” she said softly, and he nodded, swallowing hard.

She stood up and walked toward the bed, taking his hand. “You are so much stronger than you think you are right now,” she said. “You’ll forgive yourself eventually. I know it doesn’t seem like it but one day I promise you will understand that it was not your fault. We’ll get you in touch with a psychologist to talk about how to get through the trial if you plan to press charges, and an attorney if you decide to file for divorce. And you don’t have to decide now,” she added quickly, seeing his concerned look. “It is easier the sooner you do it, but the statute of limitations doesn’t expire for several years.” He nodded and looked down.

“Hey,” she said, nudging him. “You can always join the force.” She gestured toward her badge, and smiled when he laughed. “And give up my cushy job as an investment banker? No thanks,” he joked back, and they grinned at each other for a minute. Carmilla reached into her back pocket and pulled out her business card, scrawling her cell phone number on the back with the pen she had been playing with. She handed it to him. “Call me any time,” she said. “You can talk to me or I can put you in touch with some other people who have been in this position. Sometimes it can be good to talk to someone who’s come out the other side.” He nodded, and carefully placed the card on his bedside table. She smiled at him.

“You’re going to be okay,” she said. “And it’s okay to not be okay for a while. Quite a while,” she added. “I still have nightmares and it’s been over a decade. It doesn’t make me any less strong of a person, it just makes me human. Yeah?” He nodded. “Thank you,” he said quietly, and she shook her head. “Don’t mention it,” she said. “I’ll be seeing you again if you decide to press charges. Take a while and think about it.” He nodded again and she smiled at him as she closed the door and stepped into the hallway.

She called the station as she walked toward a bathroom, swallowing back tears that were threatening to spill. “Are there people there doing forensics?” she asked tightly when Mattie answered the phone, and when she replied yes, Carmilla continued. “Can you tell them to search for a glass or something with blood on it? Maybe pieces in the trash? He said she used something in the bathroom and it cut him a bit, that’s why he was bleeding.” Mattie promised to radio the team and Carmilla hung up as she entered a stall and sat on the seat, burying her head in her hands. She closed her eyes as sobs started to wrack her body. She let them wash over her for almost ten minutes before they subsided and she took several deep breaths. You’re good now, she repeated to herself. You’re good. She sat in the stall, collecting herself, for several more minutes before she exited and splashed her face with cold water. She stared at her reflection and traced a faded scar at her hairline before she walked out of the bathroom and through the hospital to the parking lot, heading back to the station. Mattie wasn’t in, so she sat at her desk and tried to lose her head in paperwork.

Mattie walked back into the station several minutes later and headed directly toward Carmilla’s desk. “Come on,” she said gently. “You know the drill.”

Carmilla shot her a thankful smile. After she had responded to her first domestic violence call, she had been so shaken up she couldn’t force herself to go into work the next day. Mattie had come looking for her and found her sitting in a completely dark apartment, unmoving, staring at the wall in front of her and almost unresponsive. After that, Mattie had firmly instated what she referred to as a “policy of therapeutic frivolity,” for which Carmilla has been incredibly grateful. She started packing her stuff up, but tensed as she heard Will’s voice.

“You know it’s not fair she just gets to leave early sometimes,” he said. “It’s not even 2.” Carmilla grit her teeth and ignored him, zipping her bag up and throwing it over her shoulder. Mattie took a deep breath and faced him. “Officer Luce,” she said tensely, “It is absolutely none of your business. And if you continue to make it your business, I shall make it my business what you do when you take the cruiser out for hours and only pull over two people.” Will shifted under her glare. “Understood, Lieutenant,” he muttered resentfully, and Mattie nodded.

Carmilla walked out of the station, avoiding looking at Will, and waited for Mattie to catch up. “Your car or my car?” she asked, and Mattie shook her head. “I’ll get snacks and meet you at your apartment. You go pick out a movie. Remember the rules,” she said, and Carmilla nodded. “Any movie provided it is both terrible and funny,” she replied, and Mattie nodded.

Carmilla threw her bag into the trunk of her car and drove to a videogame and movie rental store, scanning the aisles before her eyes alit on what she was sure was the jackpot. Titanic II, she read. Oh, that cannot be good. She grinned to herself and walked up to the front to pay, then drove to her apartment. Mattie had beaten her there and was leaning against the door, waiting. She held up two shopping bags as Carmilla walked toward her. “Four kinds of chips, two pints of ice cream and popcorn,” she said, and Carmilla smiled. “Barbeque chips?” she asked hopefully, and Mattie rolled her eyes. “Please, I’ve known you for practically a decade,” she said. “Two bags of barbeque, two bags of salt & vinegar.” Carmilla beamed as she unlocked her apartment and threw on some lights, and Mattie walked over to the couch and reclined on it elegantly. “I will never know how you manage to look classy while carrying chips, ice cream, and popcorn,” Carmilla said dryly as she put in the DVD and turned on the TV. She threw herself onto the couch next to Mattie, sprawling. “Effort helps,” Mattie replied, and laughed as Carmilla stuck her tongue out at her and pressed play on the remote.

Halfway through the movie and nearly all of the way through the chips and the popcorn, Mattie started shaking her head. “This is the worst CGI I have ever seen,” she said. “I can’t do this.” Carmilla laughed. “Funny and terrible,” she reminded her, and Mattie shot her a glare. “That doesn’t mean funny because it’s terrible,” she said, and Carmilla smirked. “That’s exactly what it means.”

Mattie shook her head again. “No way,” she said, and Carmilla pouted. “Mattie,” she said, whining a bit. “You’re the one who started this!”

Mattie glared at her. “That doesn’t mean you can torture me,” she said, and Carmilla gave Mattie her best puppy-dog eyes. Mattie groaned, but settled in to watch the rest of the movie. It was probably the worst she had ever seen, Carmilla acknowledged to herself. It was truly awful. Honestly, Carmilla was also pretty done – but it was totally worth pretending to love it to force Mattie to sit through it. As it wrapped up, Carmilla checked the text that had come in halfway through the movie.

Laura: Hey, want to come over tonight?

She grinned to herself as she quickly responded.

Carmilla: Sure thing, cupcake. What time?

Mattie cleared her throat and Carmilla looked up guiltily to see her staring. “Same girl?” Mattie asked, and Carmilla nodded. “You know,” Mattie said conversationally, “when someone gives you advice and it works, it’s generally considered polite to tell them.”

Carmilla rolled her eyes. “Fine, you were right, it was all in my head,” she said sarcastically, and Mattie whooped, ignoring Carmilla’s tone. “I told you so,” she said, and Carmilla sighed. “You know, this is exactly why I didn’t tell you,” she remarked, and Mattie just grinned. Carmilla groaned and checked her phone again.

Laura: Whenever. I got two stories in today so I’m home free!

Carmilla: I’ll be over soon.

“Not that I don’t love you teasing me,” she said to Mattie, “but I have a date with my girlfriend.” Mattie’s eyebrows shot up. Oh, fuck me, Carmilla thought, grimacing as a delighted smile spread over Mattie’s face. “Girlfriend?” she asked. “Millie, when are you going to introduce me?”

Carmilla groaned, thudding her head into the back of the couch. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she muttered, and Mattie laughed. “It’s been years, darling,” she said. “Forgive me for being excited.”

“No,” Carmilla replied sulkily, and Mattie laughed again. “Go on your date, Millie,” she said. “I’ll get more information out of you soon.” She stood up gracefully and walked out of Carmilla’s apartment, calling over her shoulder, “I expect an introduction in the next few weeks!”

Carmilla’s answering groan grew into an exasperated swear as she looked around and saw the mess that covered the couch. Cussing continuously under her breath, she threw everything into the bags and brushed the crumbs off the couch. She chucked the bags into the trash on her way out of the apartment, checking her reflection in the mirror to make sure she looked good.

She arrived at Laura’s apartment in twenty minutes, and knocked on the door. “Come in,” Laura called, and Carmilla let herself in. She went to hug Laura but Laura held up a warning finger, and Carmilla saw she was on the phone. Carmilla nodded and sat down on the couch.

“That’s awful,” Laura was saying. “They must really love you.” She smiled at Carmilla and sat next to her, threading their fingers together. “Look, Danny, Carmilla’s over. We’ll talk soon, okay? Yeah. Bye.”

She hung up the phone and leaned in and kissed Carmilla. “Hey,” she said, smiling at her. “How are you?”

Carmilla smiled back at her. “I’m okay,” she said, and Laura tilted her head. “Only okay?”

Carmilla shrugged. “Rough day at work,” she said, and Laura nodded sympathetically.

“What was that about?” Carmilla asked, changing the topic as she nodded toward the phone, and it was Laura’s turn to shrug. “Danny babysits these kids and she said they seem to like her more than they do her own parents. Which isn't really surprising, because Danny's great, but..."

Carmilla frowned. “Did she say why?” she asked, and Laura shook her head. “No, why?” she asked, and Carmilla paused. “Nothing, just wondering,” she said, and Laura looked at her curiously but dropped it.

“I think I have a lead on the drug ring case,” she offered, and Carmilla seized on the new topic eagerly. “Oh, really?” she asked. “What is it?”

“Well,” Laura said conspiratorially, “I’ve been thinking for a while there’s someone in the police department and my informant all but confirmed that, but she wouldn’t give me a name. But I think I know who it is.”

Carmilla’s eyebrows shot up. “Laura, honey, you know I work in the police department, right?” she said, and Laura shrugged. “Yeah, well, it’s not you,” she said, and Carmilla laughed. “Well, I’m glad to hear that, at least,” she said dryly, and Laura rolled her eyes at her before she continued. “Well, I think it has to be someone higher up, and I’ve been told it’s not the Captain.” Carmilla’s heart dropped as she realized where this was going. “Laura, who do you think it is?” she asked slowly, and Laura grinned at her. “The Lieutenant. Matska Belmonde or something like that.”

Carmilla swallowed hard. “Why do you think it’s her?” she asked carefully, and Laura looked at her somewhat quizzically before she started explaining. “Well, like I said, it’s probably someone high up because there’s obviously very little supervision. And it’s not the Captain, and he’s hardly ever there from what I hear so she doesn’t have a lot of supervision… It just makes sense, I guess.”

“What are you doing about it?” Carmilla asked, dreading the answer, and Laura shrugged. “We’ll keep tailing her, but I think we have enough evidence that something’s going on that we can get her in jail until we prove it.”

Carmilla inhaled sharply and Laura gave her a strange look. She forced herself to breathe out and speak calmly.

“I don’t think it’s her,” she said, measuring her syllables, and Laura frowned at her.

“Well… I do,” she responded, tilting her head to stare at her girlfriend.

“Laura. It’s not her,” Carmilla said harshly, and Laura looked at her warily. “Carmilla, it makes sense…” she said, and Carmilla shook her head roughly. “Laura. Listen to me. It is not Mattie. She would never.”

Laura stared at her. “What’s going on?” she asked. “She’s just a coworker. Why is this such a big deal? You’re acting really weird.”

Carmilla bit her lip, hard, looking anywhere but at her girlfriend. She shoved herself off the couch and started pacing, well aware of the careful and concerned way Laura was watching her. Fuck, fuck, fuck, she thought frantically. It’s too early for sob stories. What the fuck do I say?

“Carmilla,” she heard Laura say behind her. “We have evidence. She takes time off sometimes. Like today, we tailed her a bit. She left the station at, like, 1:30. We followed her to a sketchy store, but we lost her inside.”

Carmilla wheeled around. “Laura, listen to me,” she said urgently. “I have known Mattie for almost ten years. She saved my life, Laura. I would be dead if it weren’t for her. She is not part of this.”

Laura stared at her. “What?”

Carmilla sighed and ran a hand through her hair, starting her pacing again. She took a deep breath. “My mom abused me,” she said, and paused, waiting for Laura’s reaction. She didn’t have to wait long, as it took only half a second for Laura to exclaim, “What?

Carmilla shrugged. “I’m good now,” she said, and winced slightly at her own flippance. “Well, mostly good. But Mattie was the officer who saw something happen. She arrested my mom and took me in, pretty much. Helped me get emancipated, apply for college, all of that. I would be dead or homeless if it weren’t for her. She left early today because I had to deal with a domestic violence case and we have a thing where we watch shitty movies after so I’m okay.”

There was silence behind her, and Carmilla turned to see Laura staring at her. “It’s not her,” Carmilla repeated. Laura bit her lip. “That’s not what I’m worried about right now,” she said, and Carmilla’s shoulders tightened. “I’m fine,” she said, and Laura looked at her. “Carmilla…” she said, and Carmilla snapped.

Stop looking at me like that,” she said harshly, and Laura’s mouth dropped open. Carmilla swallowed angrily past the lump rising in her throat as she continued. “I’m fine. Just because I have to take some time off work sometimes doesn’t mean I’m a fucking invalid. I’m not weak.

Laura stood up and walked toward her tensely, and Carmilla startled, backing up as Laura approached. “I didn’t say you were weak,” Laura snapped. “You’re putting words into my mouth. I would never fucking say that.”

Carmilla startled at the swear word coming out of Laura’s mouth, and stared at her face, which was drawn and tense. “You as good as said it,” she snapped back, and Laura’s eyes flared.

“Because I said I was worried about you? You just told me you were abused as a kid! I’d be a shitty fucking person if I weren’t worried about you!”

Carmilla shook her head, spluttering. “That’s not… It’s not… I don’t need someone to worry about me!”

“Carmilla, we’re dating!” Laura said, almost yelling. “I never said you needed it! But you can’t expect me to care about you one minute and turn around and not care the next!”

“You don’t need to take care of me!” Carmilla answered, running a hand angrily through her hair. “I’m not a child!”

“You’re acting like one!” Laura snapped, and Carmilla stepped back, stunned. “What?

They stared at each other, both fuming, before Laura dropped onto the couch and buried her face in her hands. Carmilla remained standing, twisting the bracelet she was wearing over and over while she bit her lip hard enough that she tasted blood. She was about to leave when she realized Laura was crying, and the weight of their fight hit Carmilla suddenly.

“Fuck,” Carmilla said quietly, and sat next to her. She gingerly placed her hand on Laura’s back. “Laura,” she said softly. “Laura. I’m sorry.”

Laura’s back tensed under her hand, and Carmilla froze. They remained tense and still for almost half a minute while Carmilla held her breath, before she hesitantly starting rubbing Laura’s back again.

“I don’t want you to think I’m not capable,” Carmilla said quietly. “Mattie, she… She loves me but it’s kind of an all-or-nothing thing with her, you know? Either I’m strong or I’m weak, and I can’t be both to her at the same time. And I was scared that was happening with you. And I don’t want pity. I hate pity.”

“I don’t pity you,” Laura said tensely, head still in her hands, but her crying was slowing down. “I know,” Carmilla said. “I know. I’m sorry. It just… It struck a nerve. But…” Carmilla swallowed, hating the words about to come out of her mouth but knowing they needed to. “You were right. I was being immature. I’m sorry.” She kept rubbing circles into Laura’s back, waiting on tenterhooks for a response.

After several minutes, Laura’s crying had slowed to a stop and she sat up slowly. Carmilla shifted nervously away, but Laura put a hand on her knee to stop the movement. “I shouldn’t have yelled,” she said softly, and Carmilla shrugged. “I kind of deserved it,” she said, and Laura shook her head. “You didn’t,” she answered. “And I shouldn’t have told you that you were acting like a child. I was defensive when I should have been empathetic.”

Carmilla put her hand over Laura’s. “I was twisting your words,” she replied, and Laura gave her a small smile. “Yeah, you were,” she said, and Carmilla winced.

“I’m sorry…” she continued lamely, but Laura shook her head. “Already forgiven,” she said, and leaned forward slowly, hesitating with her lips an inch above Carmilla’s. Carmilla closed the gap and pulled Laura onto her lap as they kissed, wrapping her arms around the girl on top of her. Laura ended the kiss after a few seconds to lean forward, resting her head on Carmilla’s shoulder. They stayed like that for a while, letting their residual anger wash past them, but Carmilla shifted eventually. Laura sat up, and Carmilla tilted her head at her. “We good?” she asked, and Laura nodded. “We’re good,” she said softly, and Carmilla smiled at her.

“And… Mattie?” she asked hesitantly, and Laura shook her head. “Don’t worry about it,” she replied. “I trust you.” Carmilla felt the last of the tension leave her body as she smiled at her girlfriend thankfully.

“As far as first fights go, that ended fairly well,” she joked, and Laura laughed, sliding off her. “Yeah, well, let’s not make a habit of it,” she said, standing up, and Carmilla nodded. “I think I’d be fine with that,” she said, and Laura took her hand, pulling her up and toward the bedroom. “Stay with me?” she asked as she opened the door, and Carmilla smiled. “I was hoping you’d ask,” she said, and Laura smiled at her as she slid under her covers, patting the space next to her. Carmilla raised her eyebrows.

“No pajamas?” she said, and Laura groaned. “Screw pajamas,” she said, and Carmilla shrugged. “Fair enough,” she replied, and slid in next to her.

“Turn around,” Laura said, and Carmilla frowned at her. “What?”

“Turn around,” Laura repeated, and Carmilla looked at her slowly before she did as she was told. She sucked her breath in as she felt Laura snuggle up to her, an arm pulling her closer.

“Since when are you the big spoon, cupcake?” she asked, smiling to herself as she tucked her head into Laura’s yellow pillow.

“Since I decided to be,” Laura replied sleepily, and Carmilla bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Besides, you like it,” Laura added, and Carmilla smiled to herself. “Is that so?” she asked, and Laura snuggled in closer. “Yeah,” she replied, and Carmilla shook her head gently. “Well then, if you’re so sure,” she said, and pulled Laura’s arm tighter around her body.

Carmilla felt Laura fall asleep within minutes, but she was up much later, playing their argument over and over in her head. She was thankful Laura was wrapped around her, snoring gently into her shoulder, because it kept Carmilla’s thoughts from spinning out into paranoia. She still likes you, Carmilla thought to herself. You’re good. Don’t worry.

Even with her reassurances and Laura’s breath falling evenly on her neck, it took Carmilla almost an hour to fall asleep… But when she did, it was deep and even, and she woke up the next morning with a smile on her face.

Chapter Text

“McIntyre, put that down now!” LaFontaine barked, and the sophomore jumped guiltily and returned the vial to its shelf. LaF swapped exasperated looks with their co-TA.

“Why do they think it’s a good idea to touch unmarked test tubes?” J.P. muttered out of the corner of his mouth. “We should start drugging them.”

LaF fought to keep a straight face as they surveyed the lab, scanning each group to make sure they were following procedures. “We should absolutely not do that,” they replied, grinning at the thought. “… But if we do, we should make it oxytocin. They would love us.”

J.P. laughed. “Yes, perfect,” he agreed. “And we could paint dye onto the tubes so if they pick them up without gloves, we know.”

“Catch them redhanded?” LaF deadpanned, and J.P. smirked before he yelled, “Group Five, if I see you toss that sample one more time I will fail you on the spot!”

The group in question put their heads together and muttered, casting dark looks toward the TAs. LaF rolled their eyes. “They act like we’re trying to cramp their style, but I swear to god they’re going to blow up the lab one day.”

J.P. nodded. “Is this how my parents felt?” he joked. “If so, I need to write them, like, fifteen apology letters.”

LaF chuckled. “Only fifteen?” they asked, and J.P. made a face at them.

“Watch it, Mad Scientist,” he said. “You might wake up to find I’ve turned you into a newt.”

“Yeah, you call me the next time you hack the genetic code,” LaF replied sarcastically, and they grinned at each other before they split up, patrolling the groups to make sure the fourth stage of the experiment went properly.

LaF was halfway down their side of the room when they paused. Something was… off. LaF looked around suspiciously, trying to pinpoint the cause of their discomfort. By now, they had learned to trust their gut when it came to situations like this in the lab.

LaF bit their lip, still trying to spot whatever it was that made them freeze up, but coming up empty. They took a deep breath and their eyes went wide when a smell hit their nostrils. Rubber and…

They glanced at the group to their left and their heart almost stopped. The unwatched flame of a Bunsen burner was slowly burning through the rubber tube connecting the gas supply to the burner. Holy shit, they thought. If that burns through…

“FUCK!” LaF yelled. “EVERYONE OUT!” They pulled the fire alarm and the undergrads streamed out of the room frantically. J.P. sprinted across the room to LaF’s side.

“What is it?” he asked, eyes wide, and LaF pointed to the setup. “Fuck,” he swore, and leapt toward the counter. LaF switched off the gas as he grabbed tongs and moved the burner away from the tube, and they flipped on the few vents that hadn’t already been opened. They stood looking at the near-crisis, panting.

“Fuck,” J.P. stated, and LaF nodded.

“Fuck,” they agreed.

They went outside to where the crowd of students had gathered. LaF climbed up onto a table and J.P. followed.

“LaF? J.P.?” one of the students asked, timidly. “What happened?”

“I’m glad you asked, Ms. Wright,” LaF said, smile not quite reaching their eyes. “You’re all in a Chemistry class. Time for a little pop quiz. Now, can anyone tell me what the primary property of fire is?”

There were blank stares from the class, before one of the boys shrugged. “It’s hot?” he said, and his friends laughed, but J.P. nodded, sensing where LaF was going.

“That’s exactly right, Mr. Broaddus,” J.P. responded. “And what does heat do when it comes into contact with various substances?”

The class shifted uncomfortably before one of the best students in the class raised her hand. “It depends on the substance,” she answered, glancing around for backup, “but it causes changes in state. Right?” she added, looking a bit worried it was a trick question.

LaF nodded at her answer. “Can anyone tell me what would happen if, say, a flame came into contact with a solid rubber object?”

There was mumbling among the undergrads before someone in the back spoke up. “It would melt,” he said, and LaF beamed.

“Now,” they announced. “If, hypothetically, an idiotic sophomore left a flame burning, failed to watch it, and it came into contact with a rubber tube, what would happen to said rubber tube?”

There was sustained silence from the class, and J.P. raised his hand. “Yes, Mr. Armitage, enlighten the class,” LaF said with a pointed glare toward the undergrads, giving a sarcastic bow to let the other TA take over.

“It would melt,” J.P. said, facing the class with his arms crossed. “Can anyone tell me what is in the rubber tubes we used today in the lab?”

Another student raised her hand. “Gas,” she answered, and J.P. nodded. “Now,” he said, “what is, you expect, the relevant property of a gas in this scenario?”

The student paused, but her hand shot up again. J.P. nodded toward her. “It expands to fill the entire container that it’s in?” she asked uncertainly, and the two TAs beamed at her.

“For those of you who haven’t understood what we’re getting at,” LaF said, mirroring J.P.’s stance with their arms crossed over their chest, “some of you idiots left a Bunsen burner unattended and it nearly melted a hole in one of the rubber tubes. We got you out just in time. The gas would have expanded through the room, come into contact with the flames and exploded. You idiots nearly got all of us killed.”

The students all shifted uncomfortably. “Do you know who it was?” one of the students asked, and J.P. and LaF exchanged looks.

“We’re not entirely sure yet,” J.P. allowed. “There will be an investigation. This is not a mistake we can take lightly. Until we know for sure who it was, you will all be assumed to be responsible.”

There was a collective groan from the assembled students, and the TAs both shrugged. “Tough luck,” LaF said. “At least you’re not dead.”

J.P. leaned toward them and whispered in their ear. “Should we dismiss them until tomorrow?” he asked quietly. “Dr. Levy won’t be back for two hours and we can hardly hold them until then.” LaF nodded and raised their voice.

“Class is dismissed for today,” they said. “We will discuss this incident with Dr. Levy. Expect pop quizzes about lab safety, so brush up on the handbooks. And get in contact with someone in one of the other labs so you can get the information for this lab – don’t expect Dr. Levy to reschedule the lectures just because we all nearly died.”

There was a nervous collective chuckle among the students – Dr. Levy was pretty much the definition of a hardass, and it would take a lot more than a near explosion to get her to change her lecture schedule. They milled about amongst themselves before departing in groups of two or three.

LaF and J.P. headed back inside the lab and started cleaning up the experiments. “Can’t believe we wasted all of these samples,” J.P. muttered angrily, and LaF nodded.

“That was really bad,” they said, and J.P. sighed in agreement. LaF looked up at him, and panic started catching up to both of them. They stared at each other, the implications of what could have happened finally sinking in, before something snapped and they both started laughing hysterically, pulling each other into a hug. When they parted, J.P. held his hand up.

“Nice job not dying, partner,” he said, and LaF grinned, slapping it hard.

They grabbed his hand roughly as he put it down, frowning. “Dude,” they said. “Your fingernails look rusted again. What the fuck keeps happening to you, Tin Man?”

J.P. jerked his hand away. “Hey, ow!” he protested. “I told you, it’s that stupid dye they’re using in the Biochem III lab.” LaF frowned but shrugged, and they moved away from each other and kept cleaning up the set-ups.

“Hey, what’s the status on the proposal plans?” J.P. asked, and LaF grinned.

“I think we’re pretty much set,” they answered. “The only one we haven’t set up yet is the aquarium, right? You did the movies?”

“Movie theater manager is totally on board and he has the tickets,” J.P. confirmed. “Do you want me to do the aquarium? I might be headed that way on Thursday anyway.”

“No, it’s fine,” LaF replied. “It’s the last stop so I want to do it myself. Not that I don’t trust you,” they added hastily, and J.P. shrugged.

“It is your proposal,” he said with a smile.

LaF shot him a thankful look and kept thinking out loud. “I did the amusement park, you did the beach, we both did that shitty coffee shop on 14th… You did the bowling alley… I did my apartment… That’s it, right?”

J.P. laughed. “It’s your girl, dude,” he said. “But I think so?” He counted on his fingers. “Movies, amusement park, coffee shop, beach, apartment, bowling alley… Aquarium… That’s seven. There were seven?”

“There were seven,” LaF confirmed. “Good.”

“You’ve already called the aquarium, right?” J.P. asked. “They know what’s happening?”

LaF nodded. “They’re closing the jellyfish exhibit from 6pm to 8pm, and they’re gonna set up a table after I propose so we can have dinner there. I just need to drop off the tablecloth I want and a CD of all the music and go over the plan with the PR guy who’s helping me.”

J.P. nodded. “Sounds like it’s all planned out,” he said with a smile. “She’s going to love it.”

LaF smiled softly. “I hope so,” they said fervently. “And thank you so, so much for helping me. It’s taken so much time out of your schedule…”

J.P. shrugged. “Better than studying and everything else I have going on,” he said. “Besides, you two make a great couple. I’m really glad I get to be a part of you two moving to the next stage of your relationship. And maybe it’ll make Perry like me more.”

LaF winced. “She does like you,” they said lamely. “She just…”

“No, it’s fine,” J.P. smiled. “You and I do spend a lot of time together. She just doesn’t realize how much of it is literally trying to make sure undergrads don’t die.”

LaF gave him a thankful look. “She’ll come around.”

“I’m sure,” J.P. agreed. “Look, I don’t want to sit around here for another hour waiting for Dr. Levy. Want to check if she’s in her office?”

LaF nodded. “Good idea. Let’s go.”

They walked toward the Chemistry offices, chatting amicably about their courses. J.P. was a year above LaF in med school, but they were both taking an optional extra course on the ethical implications of current and possible medical technology. They had known each other before the course, but it had definitely brought them closer together – they were the only two who had disagreed, at least vocally, with the professor’s use of Frankenstein’s monster as an example of what not to do.

“Sure, the follow-up could have been better,” J.P. had said. “But the act of creating life itself isn’t immoral. Or we’d all be illegal.”

There had been chuckling in the class, and LaF had raised their hand to add to his point. “Besides, Frankenstein specifically says the materials came from the ‘dissecting room and slaughterhouse.’ It’s not like he just reanimated a corpse. They were like… spare parts. And stuff already designated for science.”

J.P. had nodded. “Which would still be super cool and, like, ethically fine,” he had agreed, and LaF had vigorously voiced their assent before the professor had firmly redirected the conversation, after disagreeing vehemently with their final point.

LaF grinned, remembering the encounter. They had gone out for coffee after that class had ended, and talked about medical ethics for almost an hour before LaF had to get back home. LaF had been thrilled to find someone else who was willing to push the boundaries of acceptable science in the same way.

They arrived at Dr. Levy’s office and knocked, and were relieved when she answered. They briefly explained what had happened in the lab that afternoon, and laughed when Dr. Levy had ranted, swearing, about “idiotic undergrads” for almost a minute. “This is exactly why I prefer grad students,” she said, and LaF and J.P. grinned.

“We are pretty great,” J.P. said, and she laughed.

“I’ll leave it up to you both to write quizzes if you want me to administer them,” she said. “You two did exactly the right thing. I’ll make a point to mention it to the Dean.”

J.P. and LaF high fived, and she rolled her eyes. “Alright, you two,” she said amicably. “Out of my hair.”

They trotted out of the office and down the steps of the building. “Need to get home?” J.P. asked, and LaF nodded.

“Perry’s expecting me for dinner, but she’ll be glad if I get home early. Doesn’t happen very often,” they said with a grimace, and J.P. nodded sympathetically.

“That med school schedule,” he said with a disgruntled expression, and they hugged briefly before LaF headed toward the parking garage.

They whistled as they drove toward their house. I should stop and get her flowers, they thought. Actually, no. Better to turn up over an hour early, even if it’s flowerless.

They pulled into the driveway, jogged up to the door and unlocked it. “Perr?” they called, walking in toward the kitchen. Perry was at the counter, surrounded by bowls, flour coating almost every surface.

“LaF?” she answered, confused. “You’re not due home for another… 72 minutes.”

LaF shrugged, taking a seat at the table. “One of the undergrads almost blew up the lab, so we ended class early.”

Perry looked up, stirring a bowl vigorously. “Everyone okay?”

“Yeah, me and J.P. got everyone out in time. It was all good. Kinda funny in retrospect.”

“Good, good,” Perry said absentmindedly, tucking a curl behind her ear and stirring with renewed vigor. LaF watched her for a minute.

“You okay, Perr?” they asked. “You seem a bit… tense.”

“No, no, I’m fine,” Perry said, voice unnaturally high. LaF frowned.

“Perry… I’ve known you since we were kids. I know when you’re not telling me everything. Is this about the curtains? They told us we they were sending a replacement shipment, remember? They’re supposed to get here tomorrow.”

“It’s not about the curtains, LaFontaine!” Perry said, slamming down the spatula she was using and glaring at LaF, who jumped. “… Perr?”

Perry pressed her lips into a thin line, staring down at the bowl in her hands. She started stirring again.

“Perry… Are you planning on using that dough? Because I think it might be getting kind of tough,” LaF said, eyeing her violent stirs. Perry stopped, tension written all over her body. She looked up and met her partner’s eyes.

“I think we should take a break.”

LaF felt like the floor had dropped out from under them. “What?” they asked, slowly, praying they had misunderstood.

“I think we should take a break,” Perry repeated, staring down at the countertop. “Or redefine this. Or see other people. Or something.”

“… No!” LaF answered, dumbfounded. I’m proposing in four days! What the fuck is going on? they thought frantically, scrambling for a way to convince Perry not to do this. “No, we shouldn’t! Perry, look at me! What is going on?”

“You’re never around!” Perry said, finally meeting LaF’s eyes, gesturing erratically. “You’re never around. I barely see you anymore. You spend more time with J.P. than you do with me.”

“That’s not true!” LaF protested. “We hang out a lot, but I’m here way more often!”

Perry shook her head. “It’s not about where you are,” she said. “I don’t even see you when you’re at home. You’re always locked in your office studying or blowing things up. We’ve barely had a full conversation this month that’s not about your school or the café.”

LaF stared, open-mouthed. The few feet between them felt like it was widening into a canyon. “That’s – we – those are our big things!” they spluttered. “Of course our conversations revolve around them! They’re our whole lives!”

“No, they’re not!” Perry said. “LaF, what do I do on Tuesday evenings?”

LaF shook their head. “What?”

“What do I do on Tuesday evenings?” Perry repeated, and LaF stared.

“I don’t know! Bake?” they said desperately, and Perry looked at them sadly.

“I started a book club, LaFontaine, I’ve told you about it so many times but you never hear me. You’re never listening. It’s not your fault, you’re just so busy with school and your friends…”

“They’re your friends too!” LaF said desperately. “Perry, please don’t do this, please, I am literally begging you. Just give me four days.”

Perry looked at them and shook her head. “What will change in four days, LaF?”

“Everything!” LaF said, shaking their head vehemently. “Everything will change in four days! We have a date night on Friday, you promised.

“LaF… It’s better to just end it now. Before we get hurt more.”

“We can’t end it!” LaF said, starting to cry. “I was going to propose!”

Perry looked at them sadly. “LaFontaine… We never spend time together. Why would that be any different if we were engaged? You still have school, I still have the café… Planning a wedding would just add more stress, which is the last thing we need.”

LaF shook their head violently. “What the fuck is happening?” they choked out through their tears, and stood up roughly. “LaF…” Perry said softly, and LaF glared at her.

“Don’t talk to me,” they said, and ran into their room. They grabbed a backpack and started haphazardly shoving clothes and textbooks into it. They heard Perry walk up to the doorway, pausing.

“LaF, I’m not kicking you out…” she started, and LaF whirled around.

“Maybe I don’t want to live with you anymore,” they said harshly, and swallowed past the bile that rose in their throat at Perry’s stricken look.

They turned back around and zipped up the backpack, striding past Perry and out the door. They shoved the backpack into the passenger seat of their car and yanked it into gear, peeling away from the house. Driving somewhat aimlessly, they were almost surprised to find themselves outside Laura’s apartment. They took a deep breath and got out, hoisting the backpack onto their shoulder, and walked up, pausing at Laura’s door. This makes it real, LaF thought. This makes it real.

They took a deep breath and knocked, waiting for an answer. When one didn’t come, they knocked again. The door opened several moments later, Laura looking very distracted, and LaF absentmindedly noticed how little clothing she was wearing. “I, uh…” they started, and bit their lip to keep from crying as they noticed Carmilla appear over Laura’s shoulder in a similar state of undress. The two made eye contact and Carmilla’s eyes widened slightly.

“I’ll just… be going, then,” she said, and turned around quickly. LaF swallowed and looked back toward Laura, who looked horrified.

“LaF, what happened?” she said, and the tears welled over in LaF’s eyes.

“Perry broke up with me,” they managed to choke out. “Can I crash here? Just for a few nights?”

“You can crash for as long as you need,” Laura answered firmly, and LaF nodded, becoming more aware of how desperate they looked. Laura looked at them sympathetically. “Come here,” she said, pulling LaF into a hug. They stepped away from each other, and LaF reached up to wipe at their eyes as Carmilla walked back into the room, now fully dressed.

“I’m going to head out,” she said, and LaF fidgeted.

“You don’t have to…” they started, and Carmilla shook her head.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. She leaned in and gave Laura a quick kiss and murmured something to her before she started walking out the door.

To LaF’s surprise, she turned around halfway through and grabbed LaF’s hand. “You’ll get through this,” she said, maintaining eye contact with LaF as she squeezed their hand. Relatively dumbstruck, LaF could only nod, and Carmilla gave their hand another squeeze before she disappeared down the hall.

“Can I get you anything to drink?” Laura asked somewhat desperately. “Tea? Hot chocolate?”

“You sound like Perry,” LaF said with a weak chuckle, before they realized what they had said and tears started spilling over again. Laura rushed forward and pulled them into another hug.

“Tell me everything that happened,” she said, pulling LaF over to the couch, and LaF took a steadying breath.

“Well,” they began, and Laura listened to them for the next four hours as LaF cried and overanalyzed their entire relationship. When they were done, LaF was surprised to realize they were feeling marginally better – like, “took a dip in an acid bath” as opposed to “jumped into a pool of molten lava” kind of emotional pain.

“Thanks, Laura,” LaF said weakly as Laura stood up, clearing their mugs of cocoa, and LaF realized with a start that Laura was only wearing pajama shorts and a bra. “Shit, Laura,” LaF breathed. “Were you two going to… Did I…?”

Laura flushed scarlet. “It’s fine,” she said, busying herself with the dishes and LaF groaned inwardly. I need to apologize to Karnstein. Thank god it wasn’t their… “Wait, Laura,” LaF said, eyes widening. “Was that going to be your first…?”

LaFontaine that is none of your business,” Laura snapped, and LaF’s mouth dropped open. “Oh my god!” they exclaimed. “I’m the worst best friend ever! Oh my god!”

Laura groaned as she dried the mugs and put them away. She walked back toward the couch and sat next to LaF, looking at them intently. “LaF. You are a perfect best friend. And you can come to me with any problem at any time. What I am or am not doing with my girlfriend,” she said, only flushing slightly, “does not matter. Not if you’re in a bad spot.”

LaF sighed. “Fine,” they said, “but I still feel bad.” Laura smiled and shook her head.

“It’s fine, LaF,” she said, getting up again. “You know where the extra toothbrushes and stuff are, right? Just make yourself at home.”

They both winced at the phrase, but LaF nodded, and busied themselves for the next half hour with getting ready and somewhat settled into their friend’s apartment. Laura checked on them at midnight, and LaF reassured her that they would be fine. Laura looked unconvinced, but exhausted, and nodded with some relief when LaF shooed her to bed.

LaF lay on their back for hours, staring up at an unfamiliar ceiling, thoughts and ruminations spinning unbidden through their head – memories of their relationship, mental notes to cancel all of the proposal plans and call the coffee shop, the aquarium, the bowling alley…

One thought in particular returned to the forefront of their mind, again and again: When did it go wrong? And how did I not know?

Chapter Text

“Great work, Elsie,” Chris Haverford said. “I think that might make a headline.”

“Thanks, Mr. Haverford,” Elsie said, grinning as the editor looked toward Laura.

“Hollis,” he said, spreading his hands. “What do you have for me on our big story?”

Laura shuffled through the notes in her hands. “Well,” she started. “We’ve narrowed down their possible headquarters to eighteen buildings in the area, including three empty buildings and two pubs. The rest belong to people who may have connections to the group, like Theo Straka and Natalie Sheffield.”

“That’s great, Laura,” Chris said. “Any news from the informant?”

Laura shook her head. “Nothing concrete,” she said. “She’s not… she’s not the most cooperative. But she did help us narrow down the buildings. We still have no idea what her level of involvement is, so we don’t know how much she just isn’t telling us.”

“Any luck tailing her, Betty?” Chris asked, and Betty started and looked up. “Um, no sir,” she said. “She hasn’t gone anywhere suspicious, at least not during the hours I’m able to follow her.”

“Oh, wait!” Laura exclaimed, pulling a photo out of her folder. “I took a turn tailing her the other day. She met a guy outside one of the bars on our list and it looked a little sketchy, so I snapped a picture. The quality sucks but I could probably recognize him if I saw him again.”

She pushed the picture over to Chris, who studied before passing it to Elsie, who whistled. “Nice one, Hollis,” she said appreciatively, and passed it to Betty, whose eyebrows shot up.

“The quality’s not bad,” Betty said. “Can I, uh, can I hold on to it for a day? Photocopy it so I can refer to it when I tail her?”

Chris shook his head, taking it from her and passing it back to Laura. ‘That’s a good idea, but we should send it around to everyone working on the case. Laura’s the point person, so she’ll scan it and email it out to everyone. That okay, Hollis?”

Laura nodded. “Sure, Mr. Haverford,” she said, tucking it back into her folder. “I’ll do that when I get home tonight.”

Betty cleared her throat. “It’s not likely the informant will go back to see him in the next week, right? She’s being careful. There’s no rush, you can just send it out with the general recap on Friday.”

Laura looked to Chris, who shrugged. “She’s probably right,” he said. “No rush.”

Laura nodded, and stood up. “We’re done here, yeah?” she asked, and Chris nodded. “And remember to put in the money for the collection! Alec’s birthday is Thursday and I still need time to actually get the gift.”

“More like your wife needs time to get the gift,” Elsie said with a grin, and Chris rolled his eyes.

“She has better taste than I do, anyway,” he said defensively, and all three women laughed.

“I certainly hope that’s true,” Elsie said, and Chris pointed a finger at her.

“Watch yourself,” he said goodnaturedly. “You’re under review soon.”

“And under a headline sooner!” she returned, and he laughed. “Okay, you three. Out. Send in the next writers, I think they’re waiting outside.”

After they sent in the four writers waiting outside Chris’ office, the three women split up to return to their respective cubicles. Laura bumped into two different corners on the way back, completely lost in thought about her case. She ran through the list of possible headquarters in her head, frowning to herself. There are so many, she thought despondently. How the hell am I supposed to figure out which one is the right one?

She made a face and decided to switch her line of attack. She pulled out the picture of the man, studying it closely. She hesitated for a second and pulled out her phone, snapping a picture and typing out a text to Carmilla.

Laura: (1 attachment)

Laura: Do you recognize this guy? We think he might be involved in the case. Let me know but remember not to tell anyone at the station

She doodled on a pad of paper as she sat down at her desk, thinking hard and groaning in frustration when she failed to have any strokes of genius.

“Problem?” Betty asked, leaning against the door to her cubicle. Laura smiled at her tiredly. “Just thinking,” she said, and Betty smiled back.

“Always a dangerous hobby. Hey, I was wondering if I could take home your notes for the night. I think I could tail the informant more effectively if I had a better idea of what was going on.”

Laura’s eyebrows shot up. Stop being so protective and proud, she thought to herself harshly. She’s new. Be nice. She cleared her throat. “Sure, Betty,” she said agreeably, and handed over the folder. She watched in some discomfort as Betty tucked them into her bag, but gave her a smile when Betty looked up. “Just… Take care of them,” she said, unable to stop herself, and Betty gave her a reassuring smile.

“I know, Laura,” she said gently. “I’ll be careful.”

Laura frowned after her, but packed up her things and took the elevator down to the parking garage, sliding into her front seat. She went to turn on the car when she paused thoughtfully, then grabbed her phone.

“Hello?”

“Carm, hey. It’s Laura.”

“I know your voice, cupcake,” Carmilla said with a laugh. “What’s up?”

“Are you at work?” Laura asked.

“No, just finished. Early shift today. And by the way, I looked at the picture you sent me. I don’t recognize him but I’ll keep thinking.”

“Thanks,” Laura said gratefully. “Hey, can I come over?”

“My apartment’s kind of a mess,” Carmilla answered. “Your place?”

“Your apartment’s always a mess, Carm,” Laura whined. “When can I see it?”

“Soon, cutie,” Carmilla laughed. “Patience is a virtue.”

“Not one I have!” Laura said, and could have sworn she heard Carmilla mutter something about that being true under her breath.

Excuse you?” Laura snapped, and Carmilla cleared her throat. “Nothing, sweetheart,” she said sheepishly. “I’ll be over around seven? I can pick up food.”

“… You’re forgiven if you bring pizza,” Laura said, and Carmilla chuckled. “Yes ma’am,” she said. “See you at seven.”

“Remember to order enough for LaF!” Laura said into the phone, and Carmilla hummed in acknowledgment as she hung up. Laura smiled and sang along to the radio as she drove home, opening the door to her apartment and…

“Ugh,” she groaned loudly. LaF and I are not a good team, she thought to herself as she put away her work bag and started cleaning up her apartment. Her clothes were everywhere, and LaF’s notes were piled up on almost every surface. Laura gathered up her clothes, dumping them into her hamper, and started collecting LaF’s notes on one specific counter, taking care to keep each stack separate. She turned when her door opened.

“Hey, LaF,” she greeted her friend, and LaF gave her a tired smile.

“Hey, Laura,” they said. “How are you?”

“Good,” Laura said. “How are you?”

LaF shrugged. “Oh, you know,” they said, and Laura winced. “Still that bad, huh?”

LaF avoided Laura’s eyes as they walked into the room, picking up papers and helping Laura stack them. “I miss her.”

Laura reached out and dropped a hand onto LaF’s shoulders. “I know,” she said softly, and LaF glanced up at her.

“Anyway,” they said. “Any plans for dinner? I can cook.”

“Seriously, LaF, you don’t have to make up for staying here or anything. I’m happy to have you.”

LaF shifted a bit. “I know, I just feel bad…” they said, trailing off, and Laura looked at them sympathetically.

“I know. But you don’t have to. And to answer your question, Carm’s picking up pizza.”

“Oh, okay,” LaF said. “What kind?”

Laura shrugged. “No idea,” she said. “She likes this Meat Lover’s pizza or something like that, so we’ll see. Hey, want to watch an episode of Doctor Who? We have a while before she comes over.”

LaF nodded. “Sure, sounds good,” they said. “I’ll clear out of here after dinner. I have a lot of studying to do anyway.”

“You know, you don’t have to leave the room when she’s over…” Laura said awkwardly. “She likes you, you two get along…”

LaF looked up at her with a smile. “I know,” they said gently. “I also know that you two are a couple and want some privacy. And…” they shifted a bit, turning away from Laura to shuffle through some of the notes. “I kind of don’t want to be around that lovey-dovey stuff. Right now. It’s kind of… It hurts.”

Laura’s mouth dropped. Oh my god, how did I not think about that? Laura thought to herself. Stupid stupid stupid!

“Right, of course,” she said hastily. “I didn’t… I’m sorry.”

LaF looked back at Laura over their shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Laur,” they said. “You two are happy, which is good. It’s just still a little raw.”

Laura nodded. “So… Doctor Who?” she said, desperately trying to avoid continuing that conversation, and LaF seemed to have the same goal in mind as they practically dove for the remote, turning on the TV.

They both sprawled onto the couch and sang along, poorly, to the theme song. Laura spent the whole episode laughing, remembering why she watched this show with LaF, who always made snarky comments and complained about the poor science. They were debating whether or not to put on another episode when there was a knock at the door.

Laura answered it. “PIZZA!” she yelled happily, and LaF came bounding out from the couch.

Carmilla raised an eyebrow. “Hello, dear, lovely to see you too,” she said sarcastically, and Laura gave her an embarrassed smile.

“You look hot?” she said, and Carmilla grinned.

“Okay, you’re forgiven,” she said, and Laura beamed, giving her a kiss on the cheek as she grabbed the pizza from her and put it on the table.

Oh my god, Carm,” she exclaimed. “You got Hawaiian?!”

“I mean, it’s half and half,” Carmilla said with a laugh. “But yes, I indulged your incredibly poor taste.”

Laura grinned at her and kissed her full on the mouth, pulling away as LaF faked retching.

“Oh, no, don’t mind me,” LaF said. “Just gagging on how gross you two are.”

Laura shot her a glare, but Carmilla laughed. “Fair enough, Frankenstein,” she said, and LaF grinned at her.

“Frankenstein? I love it!” they exclaimed.

Carmilla looked at them with some alarm. “You like it?” she asked, and LaF nodded enthusiastically. “… Shit,” Carmilla said. “That’s not supposed to happen.”

The three continued to tease each other and laugh throughout dinner, and after helping with the dishes, LaF excused themselves from the room with excuses of studying and grading lab papers. “Don’t blow anything up,” Carmilla called after them, and laughed when LaF flashed them their middle finger as they disappeared into their room.

“I’m glad you two get along,” Laura said sincerely when the door shut, and Carmilla smiled at her.

“They’re great,” she answered. “Not that I ever said that.”

“Right, of course, you’re a total hardass,” Laura said with an eyeroll, and Carmilla kissed her on the nose.

“Absolutely,” she agreed. “Couch?”

“Are you propositioning me, Carmilla Karnstein?” Laura replied, and laughed when Carmilla blushed and stuttered.

“Yes. Couch,” Laura said, rolling her eyes and taking pity on her girlfriend, dragging her over to the couch. She stood and waited for Carmilla to sit before she straddled her and kissed her deeply, smiling at the way Carmilla’s entire body reacted to the contact before Carmilla came to her senses and slid her hands down Laura’s side, coming to rest at her hips. Laura ground her hips into her girlfriend’s lap, and Carmilla quickly responded, nipping gently at Laura’s bottom lip. Laura started and pulled away, staring at her girlfriend, who looked at her guiltily.

“Too much?” Carmilla asked, and Laura shook her head quickly.

“No, that was just… That was super hot,” she replied, and a look of surprise crossed Carmilla’s face before her trademark smirk slid into place.

“Oh, really?” she asked, and Laura’s stomach flipped at her expression.

“Really,” she breathed, and Carmilla’s eyes darkened as her hands returned to Laura’s hips and she pulled her roughly back into place, pressing Laura’s body into her own. Laura panted as Carmilla started kissing down her neck, hands exploring down toward her ass. Laura moaned and arched her back, grinding down on Carmilla, desperate for friction. She gasped as Carmilla’s teeth scraped lightly against her collarbone, and she focused long enough to pant into Carmilla’s ear. “Bedroom. Now.”

Carmilla stood up smoothly, hands sliding under Laura’s thighs and around her back to keep her in place as she started walking toward Laura’s bedroom. Laura gasped and wrapped her arms around Carmilla’s neck, completely turned on as Carmilla continued kissing and gently biting her neck as she pushed the door open. She stopped and Laura felt herself being gently lowered onto her bed. She looked up at Carmilla standing over her, a hungry expression in her eyes, and Laura reached up toward Carmilla and grabbed her shirt roughly, pulling her down to meet her lips in a burning kiss. Laura wrapped her legs around her girlfriend as Carmilla leaned over her, and Laura felt Carmilla’s hand, almost icy against Laura’s burning skin, slip under her shirt and start inching up before…

“Are you KIDDING ME?” Laura yelled murderously as two different phones started ringing. “WHY NOW?!”

Carmilla’s pupils were completely blown wide, but she shook her head and started grappling for her phone. Laura stayed on her bed for a half a minute, contemplating homicide before she yelled “COMING, SHUT UP!” as she got up and reached for her phone.

“Phones are inanimate objects, they can’t hear you, Laura,” Carmilla said, smirking and winking at her as she answered her phone.

Laura glared at her as she flipped her own phone open. “Hello?” she said, trying not to sound as murderous as she felt.

“Laura,” her boss said firmly. “Where are you?”

“Um?” Laura said, confused. “In my apartment? Where I live?”

“You need to leave now,” he said, and Laura shook her head. What is going on?

“Why?” she asked, and her boss paused. “There’s been an… incident.”

Laura’s heart dropped. “What does that mean?” she snapped, and Chris cleared his throat.

“Apparently, Betty has been… Well, it looks like she’s been kidnapped. Her apartment is a mess but there’s almost nothing left in it. There are signs of a struggle. The ring must have found out she was tailing Mel and went after her. Your apartment isn’t safe if she knows where you live.”

“Oh my god,” Laura breathed. “Where am I supposed to go?”

Her boss sighed into the phone. “I don’t know, Laura. A hotel? Just be safe. We’ll talk more later about your work situation.”

Laura nodded and then remembered he couldn’t see her. “Okay, Mr. Haverford,” she said resolutely, and hung up, watching as Carmilla threw her stuff into her backpack. Carmilla looked at her as she hung up.

“Laura, I’m so sorry, there’s been…” Carmilla started, and Laura shook her head.

“I know. It was Betty. My coworker,” she said, and Carmilla’s entire body tensed. She stopped packing up her things and turned to face Laura.

“What?”

Laura blinked. “The kidnapping? It was my coworker. I’m supposed to leave my apartment, my boss said they might try to kidnap me next.”

Carmilla stared at her, then ran a shaking hand through her hair. “Fuck,” she said. “Fuck. Look. Stay here. Don’t move. I will be back in, like, thirty minutes tops.”

Laura shook her head. “I can’t stay, Carm.”

“Where are you going to go?” Carmilla asked, frantically, and Laura shrugged. Carmilla looked at her and grabbed her phone again.

“What are you doing?” Laura asked, and Carmilla shook her head, holding up her finger. The person on the other end must have picked up, because she started speaking rapidly.

“Captain. It’s Carmilla. Change of plans. I’m going to take care of the other journalist – yes, sir, that one – no, absolutely not, sir – Captain, please. I am going to get her somewhere safe and then I will be right over. Sir… Thank you, sir.”

Carmilla hung up, and Laura stared. “What are you doing?”

“Getting you safe,” Carmilla answered grimly. “Pack a bag. You’re going to my place.”

“I get to see your apartment?!” Laura said eagerly, and Carmilla shot her a disturbed look.

“Seriously, that’s what you’re thinking about right now?”

Laura shrugged sheepishly. “It’s exciting?” she said, and Carmilla rolled her eyes.

“Alright, cupcake. Pack up.”

Laura nodded and started throwing clothes in a bag. Shirts, underwear, pants, bras, sweatshirts, sweatpants, shorts, oooooh Carmilla would really like this dress… socks, shoes, DONE. “Carm, do you have a spare toothbrush?” she asked quickly, and Carmilla responded something she couldn’t quite make out. She shrugged. Probably, she thought to herself. I’ll just deal with toiletries later. She ran out toward the hall to grab her work bag before a sick realization dawned on her. “SHIT!” she yelled. “CARMILLA!”

Carmilla came running from her room. “What?!” she asked frantically, and Laura gestured toward her bag. “I don’t have my notes!”

Carmilla stared. “Are. You. Serious.”

Laura shook her head violently. “No, you don’t understand! My notes on the ring. Betty had them.”

Carmilla’s eyes widened. “Fuck,” she groaned, and pulled out her phone, swiftly typing out a text.

“At least I texted you that picture of the guy… Wait, who are you texting?” Laura asked, and Carmilla answered her absentmindedly.

“Mattie. I’m telling her to look for your notes in case they were left behind in the apartment.”

“Oh,” Laura said, uncomfortable, and Carmilla looked up.

“What?”

“Nothing, I just…” Laura trailed off, and Carmilla’s eyes narrowed.

“You still don’t trust her, do you,” she said, and Laura shifted uncomfortably.

“It’s not – I don’t – can we not do this right now?”

Carmilla gave her a look that sent guilt shooting down to her core, but she nodded. “Do you have everything you need?”

Laura nodded. “I just need to… Holy shit, LaF. Carmilla, we have to wake up LaF! They have to come with us!”

Carmilla stared at her. “Cupcake…” she said hesitantly, and Laura glared at her.

“Not up for debate, Carmilla! They are my best friend! I am not leaving them here to die!”

Carmilla groaned. “Fine,” she snapped, and walked over to the room LaF was sleeping in, pounding on the door. “GET UP!” she yelled, and Laura could hear swearing coming from inside the room.

“What the fuck, Karnstein?!” LaF said, rubbing their eyes and glaring at the girl in front of them. Carmilla raised a cool eyebrow.

“You are in danger of kidnapping and possible death. I suggest you pack a bag because my girlfriend insists you’re coming with us.”

“… Right,” LaF said, eyeing Carmilla while starting to head back inside their room. Carmilla grabbed their arm.

“I’m not joking,” she said. “And it’s not up for debate. You’re coming. The last thing I want is to deal with another fucking kidnapping.”

LaF stared at her. “You’re not joking?” they repeated, and stared past Carmilla toward Laura, who had a backpack on and was holding two bags. “Fuck…” they said. “Two seconds.”

They disappeared inside their room and reappeared half a minute later, suitcase packed. Laura stared. “How on earth did you pack so quickly?” she asked, and LaF looked uncomfortable. “I kind of maybe haven’t unpacked yet?” they responded. “I was sort of…”

“Hoping Perry would call,” Laura finished for them. God, I’m an idiot. “LaF, I’m so sorry…”

“Ginger nerd. I’m sorry about your girl. It sucks. But can we please talk about it sometime when my girlfriend might not die?” Carmilla snapped, and Laura sent her a harsh look. LaF cleared their throat.

“It’s fine, she’s right,” LaF said, and hurried past them to shove notes and textbooks haphazardly into their backpack. Once the backpack was bulging far past what looked like maximum capacity, they zipped it up – with a struggle – and turned to face Carmilla and Laura. “Ready,” they said.

Carmilla raised an eyebrow. “Even I’m impressed,” she said, and Laura shoved her. “That wasn’t even rude!” Carmilla said defensively, and Laura rolled her eyes.

“Not the time, Carm,” she said. “Your apartment? Me not dying? Can we do that?”

Carmilla nodded, blushing. “Right. Yes. Let’s go.”

She opened the door slowly, and Laura followed right behind. “Do you have your gun?” she asked, and Carmilla shook her head.

"I wish,” she answered. “Left it at work.”

Laura tried her best to match Carmilla’s stealth, but she shouldn’t have worried. LaF was making enough noise for all of them.

“Seriously, what the fuck is in those bags?” Carmilla snapped over her shoulder, and LaF shrugged.

“I have a lot of equipment?” they answered, and Laura slapped Carmilla on the arm to prevent another argument.

Focus,” she whispered angrily, and Carmilla nodded. When they got down to the parking garage, Carmilla threw open her trunk and Laura and LaF shoved their things inside. Laura made to slide into the passenger seat, but Carmilla shook her head. “Backseat,” she said. “Both of you. It’s safer.”

Laura nodded and she and LaF crawled into the backseat. Laura was glad she had buckled her seatbelt because Carmilla peeled out of the garage like a bat out of hell. She sped all the way toward downtown, where she parked – rather violently, Laura thought – in front of a highrise. “Out,” she said simply, and Laura and LaF scrambled out and grabbed their bags, looking around themselves suspiciously.

Carmilla shook her head at them. “We weren’t being tailed,” she said. “We should be fine.” She grabbed one of Laura’s bags and slung it over her shoulder, and Laura gave her a quick kiss on her cheek, grabbing her other bags. LaF picked up their backpack and struggled to get it on, and Carmilla groaned. “Give it to me,” she said, and LaF looked at her.

“I can’t ask you to…”

“I offered,” Carmilla snapped, and grabbed the bag, slinging it over her shoulder easily. “Let’s go.”

She walked ahead of them quickly, punching in a code to get into the building and jamming the button for the elevator repeatedly, muttering under her breath as it failed to appear instantaneously. LaF leaned over to Laura as they watched. “Is it just me,” LaF said, “or does she seem a bit stressed?”

Laura met LaF’s eyes and the two doubled over in laughter from the absurdity of the understatement. Carmilla shot them a glare and they straightened up, attempting to wipe the smiles off their faces.

“Sorry she’s being so harsh,” Laura whispered to LaF, who shook their head.

“She’s actually being kind of sweet,” they answered. “Like, rude and abrupt, but… She did take my bag. And she obviously cares about your safety. I can deal with her being curt if she’s making sure we don’t die.”

Laura considered their points. “… Fair,” she said, and LaF grinned at her as the elevator arrived – “Fucking finally,” Carmilla snapped – and they walked inside.

Carmilla pressed a button and both Laura and LaF clutched the side of the elevator as it shot upwards. Carmilla gave them both amused looks, the corner of her lips turning up.

“Stop smirking,” LaF snapped, and Laura nodded weakly.

“I’m with LaF,” she agreed, and Carmilla’s smirk only grew.

They slowed to a stop and the doors opened to reveal a hallway with a door immediately facing the elevator. Carmilla strode forward and unlocked the door, pushing it open and flicking on the lights.

“Shit,” LaF said appreciatively, whistling under their breath. “This is fancy as hell. Is this a fucking penthouse?”

Carmilla shrugged. “I got a lot of settlement money,” she said, and quickly moved on. “LaFontaine, you can take the couch. Laura, you can share with me. If, um, if that’s okay.”

Laura looked at her quizzically. “Carm, you’ve spent the night with me how many times?” she asked, and Carmilla flushed.

“I just… Didn’t want to assume…” she said, stammering slightly, and Laura looked at her affectionately. Cutie, she thought, and leaned in to kiss Carmilla softly.

“I would love to sleep with you,” she whispered into Carmilla’s ear suggestively, and Carmilla jerked backward, staring at Laura, who smiled back at her sweetly. This is going to be so much fun.

“Um,” Carmilla said, clearing her throat. “I’m just going to… Um. I need to go to the apartment. I mean Betty’s apartment. Not your apartment. Or mine. Obviously. But Betty’s. So I’m just going to…”

“Cat got your tongue?” LaF asked, grinning, and Carmilla gave them a dirty look.

“I’ll be back soon,” she said, and with a smile to Laura and another glare toward LaF, she disappeared out the door.

It swung closed and LaF and Laura looked at each other. “Well,” LaF said. “Your girlfriend’s fucking loaded.”

Laura gave them a look. “LaF,” she said, and her best friend shrugged.

“It’s true,” they said. “I wonder if she has anything in the fridge?”

LaF!” Laura repeated, but to no avail. LaF disappeared into the kitchen and Laura groaned. She looked around her at the apartment. It was very modern and a bit austere. There was a lot of granite, and one of the sides of the room they were in was just floor-to-ceiling panels of glass, offering an incredibly view of the Graz skyline. Laura grimaced. LaF’s right, she is loaded. Her thoughts were interrupted by a victorious shout from the kitchen.

“SHE HAS ICE CREAM!” LaF yelled, and all thoughts of the apartment were pushed out of Laura’s mind.

“Where?!” she exclaimed, and hurried toward the kitchen, where LaF was pulling a carton out of the freezer.

“See if you can find spoons,” LaF said, grinning, and Laura paused.

“This doesn’t seem wholly ethical,” she said, and LaF shrugged.

“More for me,” they said, and Laura glared at her.

“That’s not what I meant!” she said defensively, and LaF shrugged again.

“Then find some spoons, Hollis.”

Laura groaned and started pulling open drawers before she held two spoons up, victorious.

Carmilla returned ten minutes later to find Laura and LaF on her kitchen floor, eating ice cream straight out of the carton. “What the fuck?” she asked, and Laura looked up guiltily.

“Um…” she said, and Carmilla shook her head.

“Heathens,” she said dismissively, and stepped over them, pulling open the fridge. “I can’t believe you wouldn’t use the chocolate sauce.”

LaF grinned at Laura. “I knew I liked her for a reason,” they said smugly as Carmilla tossed Laura the bottle.

Laura looked at LaF. “You know I’m dating her, right? I like her too,” she said, and Carmilla and LaFontaine both laughed.

“And so lucky you are,” Carmilla said haughtily, and LaFontaine almost rolled over laughing at the expression on Laura’s face.

This was the worst idea ever, Laura thought to herself, scowling as Carmilla and LaFontaine took turns teasing her, high-fiving every time Laura’s face went even darker red, but she couldn’t hide a smile when she realized it was the first time since LaFontaine showed up at her door that she had seen her best friend happy.

“What’s that sappy look for?” LaF teased, and Laura smiled.

“Just glad I’m here,” she said, and Carmilla gave her a smile, reaching for her and pulling her into her side.

“Me too,” she said softly, and kissed Laura on her temple. Laura smiled and leaned into Carmilla as she watched her girlfriend and her best friend banter goodnaturedly, fighting and laughing over the ice cream. We’ll deal with the kidnapping and everything tomorrow, she thought to herself sleepily. Tonight I just want to be happy we’re all here.

Chapter Text

“… And that, kids, is why Mary Shelley is the queen of science fiction and dystopia,” Danny finished, looking around at her seniors. Half looked bored out of their minds, but half looked impressed, so Danny counted the lecture as a success. The bell rang, and she called out reminders after them. “Essays due on Wednesday! The influence of female authors in stereotypically male genres! I want to see research!

She sighed as the stream of teens ended and the door swung closed behind them. Last class, done, she thought to herself thankfully. Weekend, here I come. Her eyes fell on the stack of papers her sophomores had handed in that day, and she winced. Grading, here I come, she corrected herself.

She packed up her bags, taking care to place all the essays in a folder. She had never lost a student’s paper, and she was damn sure not about to start. She slung a bag over her shoulder and grabbed the other, walking out to her car, echoes of the boisterous conversation in the department office following her.

She pulled out of her parking spot and headed to her Summer Society Alumnae Cabinet meeting. She was a bit early but she headed inside anyway. When she walked into the room she was surprised to find she wasn’t alone.

“Mel,” Danny greeted her stiffly, and Mel nodded back at her. “Lawrence.”

The two sat in an uncomfortable silence before Danny couldn’t take it any more. “I know about the drug ring,” she blurted, and Mel’s eyebrows shot up.

“What?”

Danny groaned inwardly. “I know. About you. And the ring,” she said lamely, and Mel leveled a glare at her.

“I know you know, Lawrence,” she snapped. “That’s why I called Laura.”

“You did what?” Danny asked, puzzled, and Mel gave her a look.

“She didn’t tell you?” Mel asked, lips curving upward. “Not as close as you used to be, huh?”

“Shut up,” Danny said. “And what the hell are you talking about?”

Mel sighed dramatically. “I offered myself to Laura as an informant,” she said, and Danny stared at her.

“… Why the fuck would you do that?”

That, my dear Danny, is absolutely none of your concern,” Mel said in a sing-songy voice, and Danny’s eyes narrowed at her.

“It’s definitely my concern,” she said, glaring, and Mel gave her a sweet smile.

“Would Laura think so?” she asked, and Danny shoved herself out of her chair, looming over Mel.

“I will fucking kill – ”

“Ms. Lawrence?” a voice said, and Danny turned around slowly to see Karen Drew, the Alumnae President. Shit.

“Um…” Danny stalled, and Karen just rolled her eyes.

“Sit down, Lawrence,” she said. “I’m going to ignore that even happened. I have zero desire to deal with this today.”

“Right,” Danny said sheepishly, sitting down. Mel gave her a grin, and Danny scowled. The other Alumnae Cabinet members drifted in slowly and Karen rapped a gavel on the table, calling the meeting to order. Danny pushed out all distracting thoughts and focused on the meeting, taking diligent notes. She redeemed herself halfway through, when Karen asked for fundraiser ideas and Danny suggested an archery competition.

“Getting back to our roots! Nice idea, Lawrence,” Karen said, and Danny smirked at Mel, who frowned.

“Won’t that bring up a lot of liability issues?” she said, and winked at Danny when Karen frowned.

“It might,” she acknowledged, and Danny shook her head.

“Just have them sign a waiver,” she said. “Problem solved.”

“Perfect. I’ll leave you in charge of drawing one up,” Karen said, and it was Danny’s turn to grin at Mel.

“I’d be happy to, Mrs. Drew,” she said.

When the meeting ended, Danny was out the door in seconds. Mel caught up to her as she approached her car, grabbing her arm. “Hey, Lawrence,” she said, and Danny frowned at her.

What, Mel?” she asked, annoyed. Mel smirked at her.

“Hollis isn’t as on top of this as she thinks she is,” Mel said. “She’s in deep and she has no idea. Just keep that in mind before you get too attached.”

She walked away, leaving Danny standing by the side of her car. She was about to follow her when her phone rang. She swore, but picked it up, glancing at the caller ID and taking a deep breath.

“Mrs. Spielsdorf,” she said, politely. “What can I do for you?”

“Danny. How are you?” Mrs. Spielsdorf asked, and they exchanged pleasantries for several minutes before she cut to the point.

“Listen, Danny. We can’t have you babysit tomorrow,” she said, and Danny frowned.

“Oh, did you two decide not to go out? It’s really not a bother. Kyle and Kirstie are great.”

“That’s not quite the issue,” her boss said, and Danny felt discomfort crawl up her spine.

“Is there something wrong? You seemed happy after I left last time,” she said uncertainly, and Mrs. Spielsdorf cleared her throat.

“It’s just… My husband and I have decided that Kyle needs a different kind of role model. We found him reading an inappropriate book the other day that he said you had recommended to him.”

Danny paused. “Do you mean Fun Home? It’s a bit dark, sure, but Kyle is fourteen and he’s been reading Game of Thrones with your husband so I felt like he could handle it.”

Her boss remained silent on the other end, and Danny felt her heart drop into her stomach. “Mrs. Spielsdorf,” she said. “Are you firing me?”

“We liked your babysitting, and the kids love you,” she replied. “But we can’t allow Kyle to be around that kind of an influence.”

“Do you think the book is inappropriate because two of the characters are gay?” Danny asked, a horrifying realization dawning on her, and her boss cleared her throat.

“It’s just not a lifestyle we support,” she said. “We are willing to take recommendations from you as to other potential babysitters, though. We know how much you like the kids. We’re hoping to find Kyle a good male role model?”

Danny felt anger bubbling up inside. The fucking nerve, she thought to herself furiously. First they fire me and now they’re asking me to find my own replacement?

“I know just the person for you,” she said darkly. “I’ll send you an email with his contact information.” Danny hung up, too far gone to care about manners, and scrolled angrily through her contacts until she found Kirsch. She forwarded his information to her old boss before throwing her phone onto the passenger seat, hitting her head lightly against the steering wheel. She felt like she was going to cry, or like she wanted to punch someone – maybe both. She reached for her phone hesitantly, but dialed, figuring if Laura was busy her day couldn’t exactly get worse.

“Hey, Laur,” she said into the phone when Laura answered. “Could I, um, could I come over for a bit? I’m feeling kind of… I just lost my babysitting job because my boss is scared her son is gay and she also has some insane amounts of internalized misogyny going on and I’m so angry and I just need to rant to someone,” she finished, taking a deep breath.

“Um,” Laura said uncomfortably. “That really really sucks and I want to say yes but… I’m kind of not living in my apartment right now?”

Danny paused. “What?” she asked, and she could hear Laura sigh into the phone.

“Um, I don’t know how to tell you this without you freaking out…” she said, and Danny’s eyes narrowed at the phone in her hand.

“Laura, what the hell is going on?”

“Well… You remember that story I’m working on? The drug one?”

“… Yes,” Danny said slowly. “What happened…?”

“Um. Well. One of my coworkers was kidnapped? So I’m sort of living with Carmilla right now. Because my apartment isn’t really safe. Or something.”

Danny gaped at the phone, completely at a loss for words. Is this what Mel was talking about? Should I tell her? She heard Laura’s voice echo over the line. “Danny?” Laura said. “I’m fine. I’ve been working from here so they can’t tail me but I’m good.”

Danny just shook her head, glad Laura couldn’t see her expression. “Okay,” she said, deciding against telling Laura what Mel said. It would just freak her out, and besides, Mel was probably just bluffing. “I’m worried, but it’s fine.”

Laura sighed in relief. “Thanks for not freaking out,” she said thankfully, and Danny grimaced before Laura piped up again. “But you could still come over! Just not to my apartment. But to Carm’s! Hang on, I’ll send you the address.”

Danny heard a click as Laura hung up and she blinked. That ended quickly, she thought to herself, before her eyes widened. She wants me to come over to Carmilla’s?! she thought to herself indignantly. Is she nuts?!

Danny’s phone buzzed, and she picked it up with a frown.

Laura: (1 contact)

Laura: She said it was okay for you to come over! The door code is 1680. See you soon! :)

Danny shook her head. There was no arguing with Laura Hollis once she had her mind set on something, so she sighed and put her car into gear. She pulled out of her parking space and followed her phone’s instructions to Carmilla’s apartment.

The door swung open and Danny took a step back, surprised to see that Carmilla had answered it.

“Xena,” Carmilla greeted her, and moved back to let Danny in. Danny glared at her.

“Not the time, Karnstein,” she snapped, and felt a flash of vindication as Carmilla’s eyebrows shot up. Danny made to stride past her when she felt a hand on her arm, pulling her back.

Carmilla cleared her throat uncomfortably before she spoke. “Look, I didn’t mean anything by it,” she said softly. “Laura told me what happened today, with your babysitting job? I’m sorry. Nobody deserves that. And from everything Laura’s told me, you were probably great for those kids.”

Danny stared at her in shock, and Carmilla just gave her a tight smile before she closed the door behind them and walked into the apartment, pointing out the living room and bathroom to Danny before she led her into the kitchen. Danny followed, still confused.

“Danny!” Laura exclaimed, and pulled her into a hug. “I’m so sorry. Your boss is a real jerk.”

Danny laughed. “Understatement of the year, apparently,” she said. “Whatever, I never really liked her anyway.”

Laura looked at her quizzically. “I thought you said she was nice?” she asked, and Danny shrugged.

“She was. But she was never, you know… Warm. Genuine. And there was that whole thing where her kids didn’t seem to like her, so…” she trailed off, and Laura nodded in understanding.

“Hey, Danny,” LaF greeted her, wandering into the kitchen from their room. They were flipping through flashcards quickly, frowning. Danny said hey and looked at Laura, wondering if they would get a chance to talk. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Carmilla frown at her before she grabbed LaF.

“Let me quiz you,” Carmilla said, and LaF looked up in surprise.

“I don’t think you could pronounce any of these words,” they joked, and Carmilla raised a challenging eyebrow.

“Try me,” she responded, grabbing the cards out of LaF’s hands and walking over to the couch, where she sprawled. “Come on.”

LaF shrugged and followed her, and Carmilla started reading off medical terms. She looked up at Danny and jerked her head toward Laura, giving Danny an obvious look. Danny stared at her, confused for the second time since she had walked in the door. She mouthed “thank you,” and Carmilla gave her a smile and a shrug before she turned her attention back to LaF’s extensive explanation of the vocab word.

“So,” Laura said, looking at Danny sadly. “Tell me what happened.” Danny groaned and started to talk, telling Laura all about the phone call. When she got to the part where Mrs. Spielsdorf had asked her for a recommendation, Laura gasped. “How horrible!” she exclaimed.

“She sounds like a right bitch,” LaF added helpfully from the couch, where they and Carmilla had been obviously listening throughout the entire conversation, and Danny laughed despite herself.

“She’s not my favorite,” she said with a grimace, and Carmilla spoke up.

“You said her kids don’t really like her?” she asked, and Danny nodded. “What makes you think that?”

Danny tilted her head, considering. “Well… The younger one would cry when I left. Which wouldn’t really be surprising if she were five, but she’s eleven, so it felt weird. And the older one, Kyle, is really sweet and outgoing and friendly, but when his mom comes home he would just shut down. Monosyllabic, lock himself in his room, that whole deal. Maybe it’s just because he’s a teenager, but there was just such a disconnect. I don’t know, I’m probably reading too much into it. He has a real smart mouth, he loves to tease, but his mom doesn’t seem like the type to allow that, so I think it’s just that she’s a lot stricter than I am.”

LaF nodded. “I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” they said. “Besides, nothing you can really do now.”

Danny hummed in agreement, watching as Laura and Carmilla seemed to have a wordless conversation. Danny cleared her throat. “I should probably head out…” she said, and Laura snapped her eyes away from her girlfriend back toward Danny.

“No, Danny!” she protested. “It’s a Friday night, what on earth can you possibly have to do? Stick around, we can have a girls’ night! Well, a girls’ and awesome nonbinary people’s night,” she amended quickly, and LaFontaine chuckled.

“Nice save, Hollis,” they said dryly.

Danny shook her head. “No, I should get home. I have a lot of grading to do and I wouldn’t want to impose any longer.” She started to get up, and saw Laura shoot Carmilla a pointed glare. Carmilla rolled her eyes, but got up and approached Danny.

“Look, Xena,” she said softly. “Laura’s really missed you, and you’re not having a good day. Don’t push yourself to keep things bottled up or to keep working all the time when you’re having a shitty time of it. If you don’t give yourself some time to relax you’re just going to burn out.”

Danny was unconvinced, and Carmilla could obviously see it in her eyes, because she added hastily, “And you’re not an imposition. Besides, it’s not even really my apartment any more. It’s Laura’s and LaFontaine’s too, so even if I didn’t want you to stay it would still be two against one.”

Danny fought to keep a smile off her face as she nodded. “Okay,” she agreed, speaking up so Laura and LaF could hear her. “But I get to pick the movie.”

LaF groaned. “Ugh, no,” they said. “The last time you got to pick, you picked Pride & Prejudice. Who watches that for fun?

“English teacher!” Danny said defensively, and Carmilla smirked.

“You can pick the movie,” she said, “but I get veto power.”

Danny pursed her lips, considering. “Fine,” she agreed. “Shawshank Redemption?”

“Do you seriously only watch overrated movies?” Carmilla drawled, and Danny glared at her.

“Gonna veto it?” she challenged, and Carmilla rolled her eyes dramatically.

“Shawshank it is.”

LaF flipped on the TV and started browsing through Netflix. “I don’t think they have it,” they said, scrolling through titles, and Laura frowned, grabbing the remote from them and doing a search for the name.

“They don’t have it,” she confirmed.

“Give me a sec,” Carmilla said, and disappeared through a door. She came back holding a DVD and slid it in, and the four waited before the title blossomed on the screen. Danny looked at Carmilla, smirking.

“Overrated, huh?” she said, and the shorter girl ignored her pointedly. Danny grinned and sprawled out on the couch.

“Oh, that is not fair,” Carmilla complained. “Your legs take up, like, the entire couch. No way.”

Danny laughed but swung her legs off the couch, resting her feet on the table between the couch and the TV. Carmilla glared at her but didn’t say anything, and Danny flashed her a victorious smile. Laura shook her head. “Children,” she said, and LaF chuckled, sitting next to Danny and putting their feet up on Danny’s lap. Danny rolled her eyes but didn’t push them off.

“Knew I liked you for a reason,” LaF said, and Danny gave them a look.

“Don’t test it too much,” she warned, and LaF grinned.

Carmilla took the opposite corner, and Laura curled up into her. LaF made a retching noise and Carmilla laughed, flipping them off. “Fuck you,” she said, and LaF beamed at her.

“Fuck me?” they said, mockingly flattered. “Not Laura? Why, Miss Karnstein, I’m honored.”

“Don’t make me come over there and kill you,” Carmilla warned, and Laura groaned, face flushed a deep red.

“Can you two please shut up?”

Chuckling, LaF and Carmilla both settled in to watch the movie. Danny could only half focus on it, even though it was one of her favorites. Her thoughts were spinning through her head, driven by concern for Kirstie and Kyle – but mostly Kyle. He’s only just figuring himself out. This could set him back years. She bit her lip as she watched Andy ask Red to find him a rock hammer before she remembered she still had Kyle’s number from the time she let him go to a party that his mom banned him from – she had made him text her every thirty minutes, but he hadn’t put up too much of a fuss about it. She scrolled through her contacts and tapped on Kyle’s name.

Danny: So your mom fired me today

She kept one eye on her phone as she watched the movie, distracted, and glanced down once the screen lit up.

Kyle: wat? y?

Danny: Stop using textspeak, you dweeb. She’s mad I gave you Fun Home

Kyle: But it annoys you so much. :D why would she be mad about that? It’s not even racy.

Danny: Kyle, why do you think she’s mad about it?

Her screen didn’t light up for several minutes, and Danny frowned down at it. She didn’t think she had crossed any lines; she and Kyle had conversations about being gay more than once, but he was still coming to terms with the label for himself. She sighed in relief when her screen lit up again.

Kyle: But she doesn’t even know you’re gay!

Danny: She said you needed a good male role model. Asked me for recommendations

Kyle: Can you recommend hot ones?

Danny: KYLE JAMES SPIELSDORF

Kyle: Sorry, sorry, keep your hair on. Kirstie says she’ll hate all of them and she wants you to come back

Danny: I wish. I gave your mom the name of a guy I know from college

Kyle: Is he cool?

Danny: He’s a bit of an idiot. So he’ll fit right in with you

Kyle: Wow it’s like you don’t even like us

Danny: Ha ha. I’m going to miss you two.

Kyle: What do you mean you’re going to miss us?

Danny: Kyle, I can’t exactly see you two any more.

Kyle: Wait, what? You can’t just leave us!

Danny: It’s not my choice, bud. We can still text but there’s no way we can hang out. You know how strict your mom is

Danny put her phone down, dreading the reply. LaF was asleep against her shoulder, so she adjusted a bit to make herself more comfortable. She glanced over at Carmilla and Laura. Laura was playing with one of Carmilla’s hands, while the other was stroking Laura’s hair. Danny made a face and checked her phone.

Kyle: Kirstie says she hates you.

Danny closed her eyes and sighed. She should have expected that reaction, but she hoped Kyle would have realized on his own that she wasn’t going to be able to see them anymore. She bit her lip and put her phone away, leaning back against the couch to watch the rest of the movie.

When it ended, Danny stood up as Laura and LaF both stirred sleepily. She made eye contact with Carmilla over their heads, who stood up to walk Danny out.

“Thank you,” Danny said softly, and Carmilla shrugged. “Don’t get used to it,” she said. “Just because I felt bad for you doesn’t mean I like you.”

Danny gave her an amused look. “Right, when you started quizzing LaF to give me privacy, that was totally just pity.”

“Exactly,” Carmilla said with a nod. “I care about no one. Totally emotionless.”

“Mmhmm,” Danny said. “Laura told me about that date you took her on. Seemed real emotionless.”

“Can you leave, please?” Carmilla said, rolling her eyes.

Danny smirked. “You know, if you can’t come up with a good counterargument, it means I’m right.”

“You know nobody likes English teachers, right?” Carmilla snapped, and Danny laughed.

“Weren’t you a philosophy major? You guys are way worse.”

“Out of my house, Lawrence,” Carmilla said, and Danny chuckled as she took her leave. They definitely weren’t friends yet – they might never be – but they were getting there. Not friends, but… Friendly. And that was good enough for Danny.

Chapter Text

Carmilla groaned in frustration. She had been watching the Spielsdorf house for days, and the only people who ever came out were two kids and some guy with fraternity symbols all over his clothes. Carmilla had carefully observed his interactions with the kids, but they seemed to love him, so she watched and waited for another person to appear. She thought she had gotten a glimpse of blonde hair in the window at one point, but it had disappeared before she could be sure and hadn’t appeared again.

She kept watching, knowing at some point they would slip up. They always did. She was lost in thought, staring at the door, when her radio crackled to life and Mattie’s voice issued from it.

“Millie, do you have any idea what time it is?” she asked, and Carmilla frowned down at her watch.

“Yeah, it’s… shit,” she replied, realizing with a start that her shift had ended almost half an hour ago. “Mattie, Laura was supposed to meet me at the station, can you go find her and tell her I’m heading back?”

“Oh, she knows,” Mattie said, and Carmilla narrowed her eyes at Mattie’s smug tone.

“Why would that be?” she asked carefully, and she could practically hear Mattie beam through the phone.

“Why, because she’s been talking to Will and I for fifteen minutes now,” Mattie replied, and Carmilla swore and threw her radio onto the seat next to her, yanking her car into gear. She made it back to the station in record time to see Laura sitting on her desk, engaged in a conversation with Will and Mattie. Laura looked up at her and smiled, and Mattie and Will both turned around to see Carmilla.

“Look who the cat dragged in,” Will drawled.

“Guess who finally decided to join us,” Mattie smirked toward Laura, who chuckled, sliding off the desk toward her girlfriend and pulling her into a hug.

“Hey,” she said softly, looking up at Carmilla, whose heart beat slightly erratically. She swallowed.

“Hey, cupcake,” she said, gently extricating herself from the hug. “I’m sorry I’m late. I lost track of time.”

“It’s okay,” Laura answered. “I got to know your coworkers. Will says he can beat you in arm wrestling?”

“That was one time,” Carmilla said, glaring at Will. “Out of, like, fifty.”

“Still happened, Karnstein,” Will grinned, flexing his biceps, and Carmilla groaned.

“It was so nice to meet your girlfriend, Millie,” Mattie interjected, and Carmilla grimaced.

“Yes, excellent,” she huffed, and Mattie chuckled.

“I’ll leave you two kids alone now,” she said, sauntering back toward her office and flashing Carmilla a wicked grin as she closed the door.

Carmilla shook her head and quickly dumped all of her stuff out onto the desk, hastily putting her belt and gun into her bag. “Ready to go, cupcake?” she asked, and Laura nodded. Carmilla headed out of the station, calling “I’ll see you tomorrow, William,” over her shoulder as she held the door open for her girlfriend.

Laura slipped a hand into hers as they walked toward the car, and they drove in a pleasant silence for several minutes before Laura spoke.

“So…” she started. “Millie?”

Carmilla groaned. “Please, do not start calling me that,” she said, and Laura laughed.

“She seemed nice,” Laura said casually, and Carmilla glanced over at her all-too-neutral expression.

“It’s okay, cupcake,” she said. “I know Mattie can be a bit… overbearing. It takes some getting used to.”

Laura nodded, and Carmilla chanced another glance at her.

“Laura…” she said. “You’re not still tailing her, are you?”

“What? No!”

“Because you look guilty.”

“I’m not tailing her!” Laura repeated.

Carmilla sighed as they pulled into a parking space. “Please tell me you don’t consider her a suspect,” she said, exasperated, as she slipped out of the car.

Laura fidgeted. “Do you need that to be true?” she asked, avoiding Carmilla’s eyes, and Carmilla glared at her as they walked into the building.

“Laura!”

“I’m sorry!” Laura said defensively, jabbing the elevator button. “She’s still a suspect, okay? I can’t just take her off the list because you said so. That’s terrible journalistic integrity. Besides, I have a boss, you know. It’s not just my decision.”

“Laura, please,” Carmilla said. “I opened up to you. I thought you knew how much that meant to me.”

Laura’s eyes softened as the elevator arrived, and pulled Carmilla inside and close to her. “I did,” she said. “I do. Which is why we stopped tailing her, and keeping tabs on her, and monitoring her at all, really. But I can’t just take her off the list altogether. The ring is dangerous, there have been two disappearances in the last few weeks and one of them was my coworker. If something comes up that links Mattie to this… I can’t promise I’m not going to pursue that lead.”

Carmilla made a face, but shrugged as the elevator doors slid open and she fumbled around for her key. “I guess that’s as much as I can ask,” she said, and Laura gave her a grateful smile, tugging her in for a kiss before Carmilla pulled away and unlocked the door.

She put her bag down and walked into the kitchen, opening up cupboards. “Cupcake, what do you want for dinner?” she called, and Laura laughed.

“I’m right here, you dork,” she said. “No need to yell.”

Carmilla turned around and stuck her tongue out. “Forgive me for not keeping track of your every move, princess,” she said, and Laura smirked at her.

“Maybe I will, maybe I won’t,” she replied, leaning up to kiss Carmilla’s nose. “Guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”

Carmilla tried to glare at her but couldn’t mask her smile. “Spaz,” she said affectionately, and Laura beamed at her. “But seriously,” Carmilla continued. “What do you want for dinner?”

Laura looked at her mischievously. “Actually,” she replied. “I have plans. And so do you.”

Carmilla looked at her, confused, and Laura grinned as she clarified. “I made us dinner reservations,” she said, and Carmilla’s confusion deepened. What is she up to?

“What about LaF?” she asked, and Laura shrugged.

“They’re having dinner with Danny tonight. And staying over. As a favor to me.”

“Why?” Carmilla asked, and Laura looked up at her with hooded eyes, sending arousal shooting down to Carmilla’s core. Whoa. Laura walked toward Carmilla, who backed up, completely mesmerized, into the counter. Laura leaned in to whisper in Carmilla’s ear, pressing their bodies together.

“Because tonight,” she murmured, “you are going to fuck me. Finally.

Carmilla’s mouth dropped open and Laura pulled away with a smirk, walking toward their room. “Reservations are in thirty minutes!” she called back lightly to Carmilla, who managed a weak nod in return.

Carmilla became dimly aware that she was gripping the edges of the countertops so hard her knuckles were turning white. She let go, shaking her hands out as she tried to slow her breathing down, ignoring the distinct ache beginning between her legs. In a flash of genius she moved to the sink and splashed her face with cold water. Laura reappeared from their room in a pretty blue dress and turned around.

“Zip me up?” she asked innocently, and Carmilla swallowed hard at the sight of Laura’s dress gaping open, showing off all of her back. She approached her girlfriend slowly and pulled up the zipper, giving it a brief tug at the top to make sure it was secure.

“There,” she whispered, and Laura turned around, slipping her arms around Carmilla’s neck.

“Thanks, babe,” she breathed against Carmilla’s mouth before she kissed her firmly, and Carmilla eagerly responded, her arousal resurfacing rapidly. Dimly, she registered the nickname Laura had used, and was considering whether or not she minded when Laura’s tongue swiped firmly across her top lip.

Carmilla’s mouth parted in surprise and she panted briefly, trying to get air back into her burning lungs. Laura took advantage of the situation to slip her tongue into Carmilla’s mouth, spiking Carmilla’s arousal. She heard a moan and a flush crept up her cheeks as she realized the moan was coming from herself. If that’s how she wants to play it, she thought to herself, and kissed Laura back harder, dragging her teeth on Laura’s bottom lip. Carmilla felt Laura’s knees weaken and she smirked, flipping them around and lifting Laura up onto the counter, only breaking the kiss for half a second. Laura’s hands tangled into dark hair and Carmilla pulled away to start trailing kisses down Laura’s neck.

“Carm,” Laura panted. “No hickeys, we have dinner… Carm, dinner!” Laura jumped down from the counter and pushed Carmilla toward their room. “Go get changed!”

Carmilla groaned in frustration, and heard Laura laugh behind her.

“I know, I know, I feel the same way,” Laura said. “But we need dinner.”

Carmilla glared at her as she pulled her top over her head, and smirked to herself as she saw Laura’s composure drop for a second. “See something you like, cupcake?” she asked flirtatiously, and Laura gave her a look.

“Just get changed, Karnstein,” she said, turning and heading back toward the kitchen. Carmilla laughed to herself as she kicked off her pants and looked into her closet.

“Cupcake?” she called, studying her options. “How fancy is this?”

“Not very,” Laura responded from the kitchen. “Try to avoid jeans and t-shirts, but other than that you’re probably good.”

Carmilla nodded to herself, scanning her clothes. She took out her leather pants and two shirts, holding each up to herself, narrowing her eyes at her reflection. She shrugged and pulled on the pants, grabbing the shirts and walking into the kitchen.

“You ready?” Laura asked, absentmindedly, typing into her phone. She slid it into her pocket and looked up. “Holy shit.”

Carmilla smirked. Leather pants and a bra was a look she could always pull off. “I couldn’t decide which top I liked more,” she said innocently, and Laura gaped at her.

“Carm…” she said, staring blatantly. “You look hot.”

“I’m offended you’re surprised,” Carmilla replied, amused, but her mirth changed to arousal in half a second as Laura stepped into her space, taking the shirts out of her hand and placing them on the table. She ran a hand down Carmilla’s side and onto her ass, and Carmilla’s stomach flipped. She swallowed thickly. “You sure we have to go to dinner?” she asked, only half joking, and Laura shook her head with a slight smile. She kissed Carmilla’s neck as she groped her shamelessly, whispering in her ear.

Trust me,” Laura said huskily. “I will make it worth your while.”

Carmilla actually shivered at that, and Laura smiled at her with roguish glint in her eyes before she turned back toward the table. “I like the gray top,” she said, and Carmilla nodded, still somewhat speechless. Laura smirked. “Come on, babe, we don’t have all day.”

“Since when do you call me that?” Carmilla asked, pulling the top over her head. Laura gave her a look.

“You call me cupcake, creampuff, sweetheart, and approximately five hundred other food-related nicknames, and I can’t call you babe?

Carmilla grinned at her. “I didn’t say you couldn’t call me that, cutie,” she said pointedly. “Just wondering what prompted it.”

Laura shrugged and held the door open for Carmilla and followed her out of the apartment. “Maybe I’m just feeling a bit more...”

“More…?”

“I don’t know, possessive?” Laura said as they rode the elevator downstairs. Carmilla smirked at her. “Why, Miss Hollis,” she said with a lecherous smile. “Are you feeling proprietary?”

Laura shoved her, amused. “Shut it, Karnstein,” she said with a smile. “Don’t make me regret taking you out of the house.”

Carmilla laughed. “Oh, god forbid I leave my apartment,” she said, tugging Laura out of the elevator and onto the street and letting Laura steer them toward their reservation. “And by the way… I kind of like it when you call me that.”

“Call you what?” Laura asked, frowning at the map, before realization crossed her face. “Oh. Babe. Okay, yeah, I can keep doing that. Um… We go right here. Or… Left. Yeah. Left.”

Carmilla raised an eyebrow. “Feeling sure of ourselves, are we?” she asked, and Laura stuck out her tongue at her as they walked, threading their fingers together.

“Hey, sweetheart?” Carmilla asked, and Laura tore her eyes away from the map to glance over at her.

“What’s up?”

“Um… Mattie said they couldn’t find any notes in the apartment. I forgot to tell you until now, but it looks like they’re gone.”

Laura sighed. “Yeah, I figured,” she said. “I’ll sort of have to start over but it could be worse, at least I remember most of it. I think.”

“Okay,” Carmilla answered. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“I think I’ll be fine, but thank you,” Laura said, leaning over to give Carmilla a quick peck on the cheek. “And I’m now putting all of my notes on the computer. In a password protected folder. Come at me now, criminals!”

Carmilla laughed and rolled her eyes as they kept walking. She frowned to herself as she started recognizing where they were as they neared the university and entered the campus. Finally, Laura slowed to a stop outside the astronomy building. Carmilla looked at her suspiciously. “Cupcake…?” she asked, and Laura kissed her briefly on the lips.

“Stay here!” she said eagerly. “I’ll be right back.” She disappeared around the corner, reappearing moments later with an enormous picnic basket. Carmilla’s eyebrows shot up. “Cupcake, what on earth…?”

“So,” Laura said, shifting the basket with some discomfort. “Reservations may have been a bit of a stretch. But I needed you out of the house. Perry dropped off food and we timed it so it should still be warm.”

“... Okay,” Carmilla answered. “That’s both odd and kind of adorable. But why are we here?”

Laura grinned at her, pulling her inside the building and up what Carmilla thought were far too many flights of stairs before they spilled out onto the roof.

“Look,” Laura gestured upward, and Carmilla gave her a confused look before she tilted her face upward.

Oh,” she said, blinking. The astronomy building was located in an odd corner of campus, far from most of the other buildings, which meant there was little distracting light near by. This building gave, by far, the best views of the night sky.

Laura bent down, fussing with the picnic basket before she pulled out a blanket and spread it out. She stood up and put her hands awkwardly in her pockets, looking at Carmilla. “You’re always talking about how much you love the stars,” she said, trailing off slightly. “So I thought…”

Carmilla turned to her, eyes shining. She tugged Laura’s hands out of her pockets and threaded their fingers together. “Cupcake,” she breathed, “this is perfect.” Laura’s face broke into a relieved smile as she relaxed, leaning in to kiss Carmilla. It was sweet and chaste and Carmilla tried to pour into the kiss how much Laura’s thoughtfulness meant to her. When they pulled apart, Laura had a shy smile on her face, and Carmilla thought maybe it had worked.

“So,” Laura said, sitting down and patting the blanket next to her. “Perry packed us enough food for a zombie apocalypse.” She started pulling out container after container of food as Carmilla settled next to her, reaching for another blanket and spreading it over them. She pulled Laura into her, and they sat, snacking on Perry’s food and staring up at the stars, Carmilla pointing out all of her favorite constellations and spinning the tales of their histories for Laura’s eager ears.

When all the food was gone and Carmilla had run out of constellations she could name - and Laura had run out of questions she could answer - they lay on their backs, Laura’s head on Carmilla’s stomach, quietly looking at the expanse above them. Carmilla played with Laura’s hair absentmindedly, her other hand holding Laura's. The silence between them was comfortable, quiet; the infinity above them seemed kind. Carmilla felt a deep contentment settle into her bones, and she closed her eyes, trying to commit the moment to memory.

 


 

Beep. BEEP. BEEP.

Carmilla groaned into the blanket and let out a protesting whine as warmth disappeared suddenly from her stomach as Laura sat up and fumbled for the alarm. She turned it off and ran a hand through her hair, turning toward Carmilla, her outline illuminated by the moonlight.

“Come on, sleepyhead,” she said affectionately. “Building closes in ten minutes. Let’s go.”

Carmilla sat up, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and stretching out. “It’s an astronomy building,” she said, annoyed. “Closing an astronomy building at night is idiotic.”

“I don’t make the rules, babe,” Laura said, giving her a quick peck on the lips as she folded up the blankets. “And neither of us go here any more, so we really can’t complain.”

“We just have a lot of feelings,” Carmilla muttered, and Laura looked up at her, a delighted grin spreading across her face.

“Did you just -”

Anyway,” Carmilla interrupted. “What time is it?”

“It’s only eleven. We were out here for a couple of hours. We’re going to take a longer route home so I can return all of this to Perry,” Laura answered, and Carmilla nodded, reaching out to help Laura pack up all of the containers. Once they finished, Laura started to pick up up the basket, but Carmilla’s hand on her wrist stopped her. Carmilla leaned forward and pressed her lips to Laura’s, who gave a start of surprise before she smiled into the kiss, bringing her hand up to cup Carmilla’s face.

The kiss was turning heated when Carmilla pulled away. Laura made a noise of protest and Carmilla smirked at her. “So, about what you said earlier today…” she said, and Laura blinked at her.

“What did I say earlier today?”

“Oh, you know,” Carmilla answered casually, but her body language was at odds with her tone as she leaned over Laura predatorily, dipping her head down to kiss Laura’s neck. “About me… fucking you.”

Laura shivered, but whether it was from the words or the contact, Carmilla couldn’t tell. She suspected it was both when Laura whimpered, arching her neck to give Carmilla better access. Laura looked up with a slightly glassy look in her eyes when Carmilla pulled away. “Why…?”

“Building’s closing, remember?” Carmilla said. “Let’s go.”

Laura shook her head and gave her a withering look and Carmilla bit her lip, hiding a smug smile. Laura didn’t say a word until they reached the cafe and turned into the alley, and Laura carefully placed the basket against the side door. When she stood up, Carmilla reached for her hand and pulled her in, pressing a kiss to her lips. “You going to stay mad at me all night, buttercup?” she said, and Laura rolled her eyes, fighting back a smile.

“You are such a tease,” Laura complained, and Carmilla smirked.

“You haven’t seen anything yet, cutie,” she said, and Laura tilted her head at her, a smile playing on her lips.

“You know, you’re not the only one who can play that game, babe,” Laura said, a hint of a challenge beneath her tone. Carmilla raised an eyebrow in response.

“Oh, really? And what exactly do you think you’re going to do?”

Laura gave her a slightly predatory grin and Carmilla became faintly aware that perhaps challenging Laura like that may have not been the best idea. Laura reached for Carmilla, pulling her in close by her belt loops, but her thumb dipped down beneath the leather and brushed against the top of Carmilla’s underwear. Carmilla’s eyes widened and Laura removed her hand, giving her a chaste peck on the lip and pulling away with a very pleased smile. “Guess you’ll find out,” she said, and Carmilla could only stare as she started walking back onto the main street, turning toward Carmilla’s apartment. “You going to stay there all day or are you going to come back home with me?”

Carmilla swallowed and jogged to catch up to Laura. Ugh, she groaned to herself. No fair that she’s in a dress. She slipped her hand around Laura’s waist and pulled her in close as they walked, kissing the side of her head. Laura laughed at her as they stumbled, tripping over each other. “We look drunk,” Laura giggled, and Carmilla grinned at her.

“Drunk in love,” she sang under her breath, and Laura’s eyes widened. Carmilla’s heart dropped as she realized what the lyrics said, and she and Laura stared at each other for half a minute before Carmilla cleared her throat. “I love Beyoncé,” she said lamely, and Laura nodded enthusiastically.

“Me too! She’s amazing.”

“Flawless, one could say.”

“Runs the world.”

They looked at each other and started laughing hysterically, continuing their walk down the street. Their hands found each other and they wandered toward downtown quietly. Carmilla was lost in thought, tracing back over their conversation. I don’t love her yet, do I? That would be ridiculous. I just… She looked over at the girl next to her as Laura tugged on her hand, gesturing excitedly toward a dog that was playing in a broken fire hydrant. She gave Carmilla a giddy grin and Carmilla squeezed her hand with a smile. Fuck.

They got to Carmilla’s building and walked in. As they waited for the elevator, Carmilla’s hand wandered casually downward from Laura’s side toward her ass, and Laura gave her a knowing and amused look. The elevator dinged and Carmilla tugged Laura inside, pulling her in for a kiss as the doors slid closed. Carmilla could feel Laura smirking into the kiss and was determined to wipe it off her face, so she gave a quick nip to Laura’s bottom lip. She chuckled throatily as Laura gasped. “You doing okay, cupcake?” she asked, and Laura pulled away to glare at her.

“Watch yourself, Karnstein,” she said as the elevator slowed to a stop. She tugged Carmilla through the doors and toward the apartment, and as Carmilla bent to unlock the door, Laura pressed herself against Carmilla’s back, pulling their bodies together. “I really like these pants,” she said, running her hands down Carmilla’s legs and then forward and up her thighs. “But I think I’d like them better on the floor.”

Carmilla chuckled as she pushed the door open. “Are you hitting on me, Miss Hollis?” she said, walking in and turning to study her girlfriend innocently. Laura grinned at Carmilla, closing the door behind herself.

“No, Miss Karnstein,” she replied. “I’m seducing you.”

Carmilla outright laughed, and Laura rolled her eyes at her. “Sheesh,” she said goodnaturedly. “I get no appreciation around here.”

Carmilla stepped forward, placing a hand on Laura’s stomach and gently pushing her backward. Laura’s back hit the door and she looked up at Carmilla, eyebrows raised. Carmilla leaned in and kissed her languidly, teeth lightly scraping Laura’s lip as she pulled away. “And that’s where you’re wrong, cupcake,” she said huskily. “You are very much appreciated.”

She slid her hands behind Laura as she leaned in for another bruising kiss, pushing Laura’s dress up above her hips. She tightened her grip on Laura’s ass and lifted her, using her hips to press her against the door. Laura groaned into the kiss and wrapped her legs around Carmilla’s waist, threading a hand into Carmilla’s hair as she wrapped her other hand around Carmilla’s shoulders for support. She gasped as Carmilla ground her hips up, and Carmilla slipped one of her hands out from behind Laura, sliding it instead under Laura’s hiked-up dress and onto her stomach. Laura made a frustrated noise as Carmilla’s hand inched up slowly, tantalizingly. “Carm,” she whined needily. “Take it off.”

Carmilla laughed. “Kind of hard with you trapped there,” she said teasingly, and Laura huffed.

“You’re a smart girl, you can figure it out,” she snapped, and Carmilla laughed again. She removed her hand, ignoring Laura’s protest, and wrapped it back around her girlfriend’s waist. She pulled Laura away from the wall and started walking back toward the bedroom.

“What are you doing?” Laura gasped, nails digging into Carmilla’s back as she held on. Carmilla smirked.

“I’m taking you to bed, cupcake,” she said, readjusting her grip on Laura to bite down harshly on her collarbone. Laura groaned, and Carmilla’s head was swimming when they reached the door to the bedroom. She nudged the door open with her foot and tried to walk in, but she caught Laura’s hip on the doorframe.

“Fuck!” Laura exclaimed, and Carmilla immediately set her down, panicking.

“Laura, are you okay?!”

Laura held a hand to her hip, wincing slightly, but she straightened up at Carmilla’s expression. “No, no, no,” she said, shaking her head for emphasis. “No apologizing! No panicking! Don’t ruin the moment! We were having a moment!”

“You’re hurt!” Carmilla replied indignantly. “Do you need ice? I think you need ice.”

“No ice. I am fine. Please do not ruin the moment,” Laura repeated firmly, pulling Carmilla back toward her. Carmilla rolled her eyes.

“You are so stubborn,” she muttered, and Laura groaned.

“Ugh!” she said, throwing her hands up. “The moment’s gone!”

Carmilla laughed and grabbed Laura’s hand, tugging her into a quick kiss. “Please, cupcake,” she said teasingly. “I can get that moment back in a second.”

“Oh, really?” Laura asked, wrapping Carmilla’s arm around herself. “And how exactly do you plan to do that?”

“Like this,” Carmilla replied, turning Laura around. Laura started to ask what she was doing but her half-spoken question was answered as Carmilla tugged the zipper of her dress down. Carmilla spun her back around and kissed her, slipping her hands under Laura’s dress and pushing the fabric upward. She pulled away from the kiss and tilted her head at her girlfriend, silently asking permission, and Laura smiled at her and pulled the dress over her head.

“Well, now we’re just uneven,” Laura said, gesturing toward Carmilla’s clothes. Carmilla grinned at her.

“Is that right, cupcake? Wanna undress me?”

Laura grinned back at her. “Don’t have to ask me twice,” she said, and firmly tugged Carmilla’s shirt up over her head. She stepped back to admire the view. “I have half a mind to just keep you like that,” she said appreciatively, and Carmilla laughed.

“Why don’t you?” she asked, and Laura smirked at her, leaning in for a kiss as her hands snuck down and undid the button and zipper.

“Because that would prevent certain… activities,” Laura said when they pulled apart.

“Oh?” Carmilla said innocently. “And what activities might those be?”

Laura just looked at her as she sank to her knees, and Carmilla’s heart jumped into her throat at the sight. Laura tugged her pants down and Carmilla stepped out of them, her heart thudding traitorously, coherent thoughts fleeing from her brain. Laura gave her a look and nodded toward the bed, and Carmilla got the hint, backing up until her knees hit the bed and she sat down on it. Laura raised herself up from the floor, leaning over Carmilla, and pushed her so she was fully on the bed. Laura straddled her and leaned down for a quick kiss.

“Hey,” she said, and Carmilla blinked up at her.

“Hey,” she answered throatily, eyes burning. Laura grinned.

“Need something?” she asked innocently, and Carmilla glared at her.

“Shut up and kiss me, Hollis,” she said, and Laura smiled as she bent down and pressed their lips together. The kiss was heated as soon as it started, and Carmilla’s lips parted almost immediately to let Laura’s tongue in. Laura slipped her hand under Carmilla’s body and Carmilla arched her back to give her better access, panting into the kiss, desperate for more contact. Laura successfully undid Carmilla’s bra and tossed it off the bed, her hand returning quickly to Carmilla’s body, hand gliding up toward her now bare chest. A hard breath escaped Carmilla’s lips as Laura slid her palm firmly across her breast, dragging on her nipple. When she repeated the action, she slid her tongue further into Carmilla’s mouth. She smiled into the kiss as Carmilla whined desperately. Please please please…

Carmilla reached her hands up, fumbling for the clasp of Laura’s bra, but Laura pushed her hand away and sat up, hands reaching behind her back, undoing the clasp herself. She slid the bra off her shoulders and flicked it off the bed, leaning back in to kiss Carmilla when Carmilla gently stopped her.

“Hold on,” she said breathily. “Just need a second. Appreciate the view.”

Laura laughed and sat back up, posing as she ground shamelessly into Carmilla’s hips. Carmilla gasped and she reached up, tugging Laura back down into a hard and bruising kiss, all thoughts of the view forgotten as her body screamed for more contact. She ran her hands down Laura’s back and beneath her underwear, nails raking on Laura’s ass. Laura groaned, arching into the touch, and she slid her hand down, fingers coming to rest just under the top of Carmilla’s underwear. “Can I?” she asked softly, and Carmilla nodded desperately, tilting her head up to recapture Laura’s lips as she rolled her hips, trying to get Laura’s fingers where she wanted them.

Laura slipped her hand lower and Carmilla shuddered as fingers ghosted over her clit. Laura’s hand inched down before it drew back up, rubbing slow and gentle circles. “What do you want?” Laura asked, and Carmilla looked at her, eyes struggling to stay focused.

“You know what I want,” Carmilla growled, and Laura smirked, continuing the teasing circles.

“Not good enough,” she said, and Carmilla frowned at her, struggling to buck her hips up and force Laura’s hand down.

“What do you mean, not good enough?” Carmilla said, frustrated, and Laura laughed, kissing Carmilla and lightly nipping her bottom lip.

“I want you to beg for it.”

Carmilla’s head jerked upward. “What?” she asked, and Laura’s eyes widened instantly.

“I mean,” she fumbled, hand sliding up out of Carmilla’s underwear as she tried to backpedal, glancing nervously at Carmilla’s dumbstruck expression. “If you’re into that? If you’re not obviously you don’t have to, just tell me, I just think it’s hot - crap, I’m so sorry - I shouldn’t have sprung that on you oh my god what is wrong with -”

Carmilla’s lips cut off her desperate monologue, and when they pulled apart, Laura was gasping for air. Carmilla smiled up at her. “Please?” she whispered, and Laura’s eyes darkened instantly. She slipped her hand back under Carmilla’s underwear, returning to circles on her clit. She raised an eyebrow at Carmilla, issuing a clear challenge, and Carmilla groaned. “Please, Laura,” she panted, and Laura grinned. Carmilla’s eyes slid shut with a moan as Laura slipped two fingers inside her, drawing them back out tantalizingly slowly. Carmilla’s hands gripped the sheets tightly as Laura pushed back inside and bent down to kiss her. Laura started a steady, slow rhythm, nudging Carmilla’s head to the side as she sucked a hickey on her neck. Carmilla released one vice grip on the sheets to tangle into Laura’s hair, tugging firmly as Laura increased the tempo, and she managed a smirk through her hazy arousal as Laura whimpered. Laura continued kissing her neck, maintaining a steady rhythm that had Carmilla feeling desperate.

“Laura,” she whined. “Faster.”

“Faster?” Laura asked, maintaining the same steady speed, biting her bottom lip as she looked down at her. Carmilla groaned.

“Please, Laura,” she gasped. “Faster. Please.

Laura readjusted slightly to give herself a better angle and she started a punishing pace. Carmilla threw a hand across her face and bit down on it, trying not to be too loud. It was a penthouse, but people did live on the next floor down. She couldn’t stop a loud moan, however, as Laura hit a particularly sensitive spot, and she opened her eyes in time to see Laura smirking down at her as she adjusted her hand, hitting the spot again. Carmilla groaned and arched into it, eyes sliding closed again, both hands grasping for sheets. Swear words fell from her mouth as her body thrummed. When she felt Laura’s mouth close around her nipple, she came undone, panting and swearing and gasping for breath, biting down hard on Laura’s shoulder.

She lay on the bed for a minute, catching her breath, before she pushed herself up onto her elbows and looked up. Laura grinned at her. “How you doing?” she asked, clearly proud, and Carmilla shook her head. She was about to respond when Laura brought her hand up to her mouth and licked her fingers, eyes sliding closed, moaning a bit as she sucked them clean. Holy shit. Carmilla’s arousal resurfaced with a vengeance and she sat up, sliding her arm around Laura’s waist as she flipped them over so she was on top. Laura smiled up at her cockily. “Something caught your eye?” she asked innocently, and Carmilla shook her head, narrowing her eyes at her girlfriend.

“You’re a fucking vixen,” she said, and Laura grinned up at her.

“I know.”

Carmilla rolled her eyes and bent down to kiss Laura, groaning as she tasted herself on Laura’s lips. She slipped her tongue into her mouth and Laura sucked on it, a surprised moan escaping Carmilla’s lips. She could feel Laura smirking. Oh no she doesn’t, Carmilla thought to herself darkly. Not again. No way.

She reached up and rubbed her thumb firmly over Laura’s nipple, and Laura’s smirk disappeared in an instant as she gasped and arched her back up. Carmilla grinned to herself and bent down. She kissed down Laura’s neck as she continued playing with her nipple, leaving a trail of light hickeys down Laura’s neck and collarbone. Her kisses grew softer and messier as she continued down Laura’s chest. She could feel Laura struggling to sit up beneath her, and she smiled to herself, planting kisses over Laura’s breast. She glanced up briefly to make sure Laura’s eyes were open before she dragged her tongue slowly across Laura’s nipple, maintaining eye contact the entire time. Laura’s eyes widened and glazed over and she threw her head back, pushing up into the contact. Carmilla smirked but dutifully took Laura’s nipple into her mouth, tracing circles over it with her tongue. Her hand moved down from Laura’s other breast toward her stomach and she inched down slowly, waiting for a cue from Laura to make sure the advance was okay. Laura groaned and grabbed her arm, pushing her down toward her legs. Carmilla tried not to laugh at her impatience, but she slipped her hand under the waistband of Laura’s underwear and pushed a finger into her in one smooth motion. Laura moaned, rolling her hips up to meet the thrust. Carmilla pulled her hand out and added a finger as she pushed back in. She judged that was a good move from Laura’s whimpers and started thrusting gently in and out, moving her tongue to Laura’s other nipple.

She kept up that slow pace for a while before Laura’s hand slid into her hair and tugged her upward. Carmilla released Laura’s nipple and brought her head up, a question in her eyes. Laura put gentle pressure on her head. “Can you…” she said, trailing off, and Carmilla tilted her head at her.

“Can I what?”

Laura groaned and pushed Carmilla’s head down, and Carmilla’s eyes widened as she realized what her girlfriend was asking. Oh.

She pulled her fingers out of Laura and readjusted so she was in between her legs, pulling her underwear off, and she leaned up over Laura and kissed her. Laura kissed her back slowly before she whimpered needily, and Carmilla started a slow descent down Laura’s body with her mouth. She kissed down her stomach, stopping frequently to scrape her teeth against Laura’s ribs or suck a hickey into the curve of her side. Laura was moaning quietly and her hand was wrapped in Carmilla’s hair, tugging her downwards. Carmilla kissed the inside of Laura’s thighs before she pressed a kiss to her clit. Laura’s hips jerked at the contact. Carmilla chuckled to herself and wrapped her arms around Laura’s thighs to hold her in place. She rested her chin on top of Laura as she looked up at her, and Laura groaned, upset with the lack of contact. Carmilla smirked.

“Is there something you wanted?” she asked innocently, and Laura huffed.

Carm,” she said warningly, and Carmilla shook her head.

“Sorry, cupcake, you’ll have to spell it out for me.”

“Carmilla, please,” Laura said, tugging at Carmilla’s hair, but Carmilla resisted the pull.

“I want you to tell me what you want. Tell me exactly what you want,” Carmilla said, and Laura glared at her through half-lidded eyes before she gave up.

“I want you to…” and she trailed off and muttered something Carmilla couldn’t hear.

“Sorry, didn’t quite catch that, cutie,” she said, and Laura gave an exasperated sigh.

“I said, I want you to fuck me while you suck on my clit,” she said, and Carmilla blinked at her.

“Oh.”

Laura glared at her, and Carmilla gave her a quick grin. She kept looking at Laura as she lowered her head and gave a firm swipe of her tongue, and took no small pride in the way Laura’s head rolled back, glare wiped cleanly off her face. She pulled Laura closer and slid her tongue inside her, and she grinned to herself as Laura’s hand tightened in her hair and held her in place. She thrust her tongue in and out, nudging at her clit with her nose, and Laura moaned above her. Jaw aching, Carmilla moved up slightly and sucked Laura’s clit into her mouth, shifting her weight to one arm as she slid two fingers inside Laura. She started a bruising pace as she focused most of her attention on Laura’s clit, and it seemed to be successful as Laura’s hand slid out from her hair and Carmilla glanced up to see Laura clutching the backboard of the bed, knuckles white. Carmilla continued the pace until she judged from the trembling in Laura’s thighs and stomach that she was close, and she very gently scraped her teeth along Laura’s clit. Laura came with a scream, hands flying down to grab onto Carmilla’s hair and hold her in place. Carmilla released her clit but continued to thrust gently until a tug in her hair told her to stop.

Carmilla sat up, forearm burning. Laura reached up toward her and Carmilla bent down, meeting her in a gentle kiss. Laura murmured sleepily against her lips. “You’re amazing,” she said, and Carmilla looked down Laura’s body spread languidly across the bed, just-fucked hair fanned out across the pillows, and she shook her head.

“That would be you, cupcake,” she whispered, and kissed Laura again, who returned the kiss tiredly. Carmilla noted her exhaustion and slid out of bed quickly. Laura reached out a hand to her.

“Where are you -” she started to ask, but Carmilla flipped the lights off and quickly returned to the bed, settling onto her side and pulling Laura into her.

“Thought it might be easier to sleep with the lights off,” she said with a soft smile, and Laura nodded sleepily.

“Probably a good idea,” she responded, and Carmilla smiled to herself. She pressed a kiss to Laura’s shoulder.

“Goodnight, cutie,” she said, and Laura settled back into her.

“Night, Carm,” she answered, and she was asleep within seconds. Carmilla took a bit longer, but only a bit; she was too exhausted to think, and she fell asleep quickly with a tired smile on her face.

Chapter Text

“Cookies, Laura, think of the cookies,” Laura muttered to herself as she walked toward Perry’s house. But I have so much work. “No, Laura, friends are important.” But work. “LAURA, FRIENDS.”

“... Little hottie?”

Laura was jolted out of her thoughts, stumbling slightly as she looked up. “... Kirsch?”

“You okay there? Because you were talking to yourself. I think.”

“... Um, yeah,” Laura said, averting her eyes, blushing. “It’s… Yeah. I’m good. How are you?”

Kirsch gave her a big grin. “I’m great,” he said happily. “I’m doing okay in all of my classes, and we had really chill pledges this year, and I got this sick babysitting job with some really cool kids.”

Laura shifted uncomfortably. “Oh, Kirsch, that’s great,” she said, trying to sound sincere, but Kirsch waved her off.

“No worries, L. Danny told me I only got it because my boss sucks and fired her. But we’ve been meeting for coffee so I can give her the stuff the girl draws her and give the boy the books Danny recommends for him, so we’re good.”

Laura’s shoulders slumped in relief. “Kirsch, that’s so good to hear,” she said. “How did you manage that?”

Kirsch shrugged. “I think Kyle might have threatened to never speak to her again if she didn’t give him some book… I can’t remember the title, it was just some dude’s name twice.”

Laura blinked at him. “Will Grayson, Will Grayson?”

“Yeah, that one! You know it?” Kirsch asked. Laura nodded, and Kirsch grinned. "Cool! So where are you off to?”

“I’m actually going to Perry’s,” Laura said. “I figured I should check up on her. After the… You know.”

“... After the what?”

Laura gaped. “Kirsch… They broke up.”

Kirsch’s face looked like someone had kicked a puppy. “What? But… They were such bros. I thought LaF was proposing. What happened?”

“They were having problems and they didn’t talk about it and it blew up in their faces, basically,” Laura said, and Kirsch winced.

“Bro, no,” he said. “Communication!”

Laura tried to mask her surprise as she nodded along, and Kirsch’s face perked up as he looked at her.

“Wait, L! Could I come with you? I haven’t seen Perry since the party, and bros have to be there for other bros during stuff like this.”

Laura gave up on trying to hide her surprise. “Sure, Kirsch,” she said. “I’m sure Perry will love that.” Perry will not love this, Laura, what are you doing? she thought to herself desperately. “Let me just let her know you’re coming too.”

She whipped out her phone and sent a hasty and apologetic text to Perry before she put her phone back in her pocket and started walking with Kirsch.

“So,” she said. “You’ve been getting coffee with Danny?”

“Yeah!” Kirsch said enthusiastically. “She’s so cool! The kids love her so much, they’re always talking about how much they miss her. I think they like her way more than they like me,” he added, his face falling a bit. Laura cast about desperately for something to say but Kirsch’s face brightened as he started talking again. “But I’ve been teaching Kyle guitar! Kind of. And Danny said her assistant coach for her softball team sucks so I offered to help her out but she said no, but it’s chill because I have to do a ton of stuff for Zetas anyway. I was thinking about maybe organizing some sort of service thing? A lot of the other fraternities do it and I was thinking, why not us? The Zetas are cool, we should do cool stuff like that! But I suck at organizing things so I don’t know what to do.”

Laura shook her head slightly to clear it. She’d forgotten how much Kirsch could ramble.

“I think you can do it,” she said with a smile, and Kirsch beamed at her. Laura felt her phone buzz in her pocket and she pulled it out.

“... Hey Kirsch, what’s your favorite kind of cookie?” she asked, and Kirsch tilted his head to the side.

“Oh man, my favorite? Probably chocolate chip. No, snickerdoodle. No, ginger. No. Not ginger. Molasses. No, chocolate chip.”

Laura stared at him. “Kirsch…”

“... Snickerdoodle.”

“Final answer?”

“... Yes,” he said begrudgingly. “Why?”

Laura answered him absentmindedly as she texted Perry back. “Perry wanted to know. She’s probably baking a lot.”

“Oh, right,” Kirsch said. “But I could have just told her myself.”

“... What?”

Kirsch stopped walking and gestured toward their right. “I could have just told her myself?” he repeated, and Laura gave him a confused look before she turned and realized they were outside Perry’s house.

“Oh, right,” she said sheepishly, and Kirsch gave her a grin and a shrug before he went bounding toward the door, knocking loudly and bouncing on his heels as he waited for Perry to answer the door. Laura shook her head in amusement as she walked up to stand next to him.

“Hello,” Perry said, and gasped slightly as she was immediately wrapped up into one of Kirsch’s bear hugs. He released her and she looked highly flustered, but turned to Laura for a second hug. Laura gave her a much gentler one than Kirsch’s, and pulled away quickly, studying her.

“How are you?”

“As well as can be expected,” Perry replied, the tightness of her voice matching the tightness of her smile. Her expression softened slightly at Laura’s expression. “I made you your favorite cookies.”

Laura smiled at her. “Thanks, Perr,” she said softly, and followed Perry into the house. Her eyes widened as they got into the kitchen and she saw trays of cookies covering almost every surface. “... Perr?”

Perry looked around the kitchen and gave a tight shrug. Kirsch wandered in and his eyes lit up. “Sick!” he said enthusiastically. “There are so many cookies in here!”

Laura shot him a glare but Perry gave him a warm smile. “I tried different recipes,” she said, and started leading him on a tour through the cookies. “Those have baking soda, and those have baking powder, but the rest have half and half. Those have melted butter. Those have brown sugar. And those chilled for two hours in the refrigerator.” She looked around the kitchen, smiling sadly as Kirsch walked around and inspected the different batches. Laura’s heart ached as she realized how much LaF had left their mark on Perry, and saw in the sadness swimming in Perry’s eyes that she recognized it too.

All three people gave a sudden start as a loud knock sounded at the door. Perry flusteredly patted down her dress and went to answer it, and Kirsch and Laura exchanged confused looks before they came to a mutual understanding and both crept silently to the door to the kitchen, peering out slightly in a hope to catch whatever conversation was going to happen. They heard the door open and held their breaths.

“... Hello?”

“Miss Perry?”

There was a beat of silence and Laura’s eyes widened. She mouthed Is that J.P.?! at Kirsch, and he only shook his head violently, indicating his shared confusion. Laura returned to her eager listening as Perry cleared her throat.

“Mr. Armitage. To what do I owe the… pleasure?”

“Please, call me J.P.,” he answered, and Laura and Kirsch exchanged a look. “I heard you were on the hunt for a good croissant recipe? My family has one dating back… Centuries, probably. I thought you might want it.”

Perry sniffed. “I… May be in the market for a new recipe, yes,” she agreed reservedly.

“Please, take this one,” J.P. said sincerely. “I can even help you make it, since so much of the recipe is in how you knead the dough. My grandmother taught me when I was a little boy.”

Laura and Kirsch both gave nods of approval. If there was anything Perry was a sucker for, it was grandmothers teaching their grandchildren how to cook.

“... I suppose that would be alright,” Perry allowed, and they heard J.P. exhale softly.

“May I come in?”

Perry must have nodded, because they heard footsteps walking back toward the kitchen. Kirsch and Laura both leapt away from the door and stood by the kitchen table, attempting to look casual. Judging from the look Perry gave them when she walked in, they didn’t succeed.

“Oh,” J.P. said, surprised to see other people in the house. “Hello. It’s been a while,” he said politely, stepping forward to shake Laura’s hand. She returned the handshake firmly and with a smile, which he returned warmly before turning to Kirsch and repeating the procedure. The two started chatting, and Laura took the opportunity to lean over to Perry.

“I’m surprised you let him in,” she said softly, and Perry sniffed haughtily.

“I decided if his recipe was going to fail, it might as well happen in person,” she said, and Laura balked.

“Perry, did you let him in just to watch him fail?” she asked, appalled, barely remembering to keep her voice down, and Perry gave a shrug.

“There is technically a possibility it will work,” she said, and Laura stared at her. I don’t know if I should be horrified or proud right now.

“So, Miss Perry,” J.P. said. “Shall I teach you?”

Due to Laura’s insistence, the lesson ended up being for three as even Kirsch attempted to bake. Several sweaty hours later, and several batches of cookies sacrificed to Laura and Kirsch’s boundless appetites, they each had a batch of croissants chilling in the fridge. J.P. and Perry even seemed to be getting along, for the most part. Laura was thrilled. Making J.P. and Perry get along was the first step in her plan to get Perry and LaF back together. Or it would be, if she had a plan. Well, now it was a plan. With one step. Laura groaned to herself. She was a journalist, not a therapist, dammit.

“And now,” J.P. announced, “we wait. Anyone have a movie we could watch? They need to chill for a while and it never hurts to chill them longer.”

“Can we watch The Breakfast Club?” Kirsch asked, and Perry, J.P., and Laura all turned to stare at him. He shifted, slightly uncomfortable. “It’s just… Danny said it’s her favorite movie, and I’ve never seen it, so I thought…”

Perry and Laura exchanged a look, but Perry nodded. “I own it. I’ll just go fetch it,” she said, and stepped out of the room. J.P. looked at Kirsch.

“I can’t believe you haven’t seen The Breakfast Club!” he exclaimed. “It’s a classic!”

Kirsch shrugged. “Danny likes a lot of movies I haven’t seen,” he responded. “But it means now I get to watch a bunch of new movies, so it’s cool. I watched Mean Girls the other day.”

Laura stared at him, completely dumbfounded. “You. You watched Mean Girls?”

Kirsch looked back at her in some confusion. “Yeah?” he answered, and Laura just gaped. “You. And Danny. Watched Mean Girls. Together.”

“No,” Kirsch said, chuckling. “Danny just mentioned it. I watched it with some Zeta bros.”

Laura’s head was swimming. She was struggling for a response when J.P. stepped in.

“The first time I watched that movie I was with my Science Olympiad team,” he said with a fond smile. “My coach said Cady did Mathletes, not SciOly, but that it was close enough.”

Kirsch grinned at him. “It’s such a good movie! I can’t believe I’d never seen it before!”

J.P. nodded, laughing. “It is pretty great,” he said, and that was it, Laura was convinced she was dreaming.

The door clicked and Perry walked back into the room, carrying a DVD. “The TV is this way,” she said, and led them all toward the entertainment room that still had signs of LaFontaine in every corner. Perry pointedly ignored the surroundings and slid the DVD in, stepping back and using a sleek and thin remote to turn all of the required devices on with one push. Kirsch’s jaw dropped and he stepped forward, obviously going to ask her about the tech, before Laura grabbed his arm and pulled him back. LaF, she mouthed at him, and his eyes widened before he nodded vigorously, crossing and uncrossing his arms with nerves, and Laura rolled her eyes with a smile.

They all settled onto the giant couch to watch the movie, and Laura grinned to herself as the familiar strains of Simple Minds came through the speakers. This was one of her favorite movies; she was always a sucker for the classics. And Molly Ringwald. She was sucker for Molly Ringwald too. She made a mental note to force Carmilla to watch Sixteen Candles with her later.

Halfway through, J.P. and Laura were both sniffling, but it was Kirsch who cried at the end, splashing tears that stained his shirt. Perry, whose eyes had remained dry (though Laura had noticed her retreating into herself as the movie progressed), got up silently and came back with a box of tissues that Kirsch received gratefully.

“Classic,” J.P. said, and Laura nodded, rubbing her eyes.

“God, I love that movie.”

“Why is it so good?” Kirsch asked despairingly as a fresh wave of tears broke out, and J.P. and Laura exchanged amused looks over his head.

“Sorry, Kirsch,” J.P. said. “Always hurts worst the first time.”

Kirsch nodded miserably, grabbing more tissues and drying his eyes, and J.P. nudged him.

“Hey, let’s get you home,” he said, grabbing Kirsch’s arm and pulling him up. He pushed him toward the door, but paused to talk to Perry.

“They are still and always will be in love with you,” he said softly, but firmly, and Perry looked at him, startled. “I just thought you needed to hear it.”

He gave her a small smile and followed Kirsch out the door, pulling it closed behind him. Laura looked at Perry. “Perr, are you…?”

Laura rushed forward as the tears started falling. “I miss them,” Perry choked out, and Laura swallowed thickly.

“I know you do,” she said. “I know.”

She held Perry for several minutes before Perry pulled away, looking somewhat embarrassed. She excused herself to the bathroom and Laura took the time to text Carmilla.

Laura: Hey, babe. I’m going to stay with Perry tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow when you get home from work. Be safe

She played with her phone for a minute, waiting for Carmilla to reply, and glanced down immediately when she felt that familiar buzz.

Carmilla: Okay, thanks for telling me, cupcake. I’ll keep myself amused by trying to stop LaFontaine from blowing up my apartment.

Laura chuckled to herself but looked up hastily as Perry walked back in, tears washed from her cheeks and her hair somewhat calmed. “I’m not sure what came over me,” she said, and Laura looked at her sympathetically.

“I’m staying the night,” she said, and talked over Perry’s protest. “Nope, no complaining. I’ll help you set up the cafe tomorrow, okay? Aren’t you always telling me I need to practice organizing?”

“Not on my pastries,” Perry replied, but she gave Laura a smile. Laura beamed at her and pulled her down on the couch.

“So,” she said, as enthusiastically as she could manage. “Tell me about everything.”

Perry laughed, looking down at her hands. “Well, the cafe is good. We finally got the curtains…” she started, but Laura interrupted her.

“No, tell me about you,” she said. “Are you okay? How have you been?”

Perry shrugged. “I’m fine,” she said. “... I started a book club. There are already ten people in it.”

Laura beamed at her and at the pride that had crept into her voice. “Perry, that’s awesome,” she said, and Perry nodded, a smile on her face for the first time that night.

“They’re great people,” she said. “And they’ve been really supportive with, um… With this.”

Laura nodded her understanding, pulling her back in for another brief hug. When they separated, Laura settled into the couch and asked questions until she and Perry fell asleep on the couch, pillows tucked haphazardly under their heads.

Laura’s heart only broke a little bit when she woke up under a blanket that hadn’t been there when she fell asleep and to a note on the table that just said thank you.

Chapter Text

“No, no, no. Add the spices first, then the water. They have fat-soluble flavor compounds. You won’t get that if you drown them first,” LaF admonished, bumping Laura out of the way with their hip and grabbing the cumin out of her hands.

Laura groaned, throwing her hands up. “I don’t know why I even bother trying,” she said sulkily, and crossed her arms, leaning against the counter to watch LaF.

LaF muttered under their breath. “Oregano… salt… okay, the onions look tender. Laura, look, do you see how they’re getting translucent? That means they’re ready. So now we add the celery… and the peppers… and the garlic… and these peppers… Hey Laura, how are you with heat?”

“You mean spiciness? I’m… decent.”

LaF looked down at the generous amount of jalapenos they had just added to the pot. Shit. “Um… Okay. I’ll put sour cream on the table.”

“LaF!”

“Sorry! Jeez. Look, we can just add more beans and tomatoes, it’s gonna be fine. Go chop up some more.”

Laura shoved herself off the counter, muttering something that LaF ignored pointedly.

“Okay, chop up an extra, um, two tomatoes.” They looked back down at the pot. “Maybe three tomatoes.”

“How many peppers did you add?!” Laura said irritably, slamming down a cutting board onto the counter, and LaF jumped, accidentally adding way more chili powder than they had intended.

“... Make that four. Jesus, Laur, wanna maybe not ruin your girlfriend’s counters?” they said, and Laura sighed.

“Sorry,” she said. “You know I get antsy when I’m all cooped up.”

LaF sent her a sympathetic glance. “I know, Laur,” they said. “But you know your boss has good reason to ban you from leaving the apartment right now. Those notes…”

“I know,” Laura snapped. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. And I’m stuck here just waiting around while my girlfriend is out there risking her life every day…”

“Okay, Laur, please. First of all, Carmilla has safety gear and she sees, like, no action anyway, so don’t exaggerate just to freak yourself out more. And second of all, you’ve been doing research from your computer. You’re not completely cut off,” they reasoned.

“Easy for you to say,” Laura said grumpily, and LaF rolled their eyes, choosing to ignore Laura’s comment, but she continued. “You can go wherever you want.”

“No, Laura, I can’t,” LaF snapped. “The one place that I actually want to be right now is the one place I can’t be, because it’s not mine to be at anymore. You’re not the only one who’s unhappy to be here.”

Laura made a face and kept cutting up the tomatoes with a bit more force than before. LaF bit back another comment and turned back toward the stove, reaching for the next ingredients, violently twisting the can opener to the beans. Dimly, they registered that the sounds of Laura cutting the tomatoes were gone, but they ignored it and poured the contents of the can into the pot before grabbing the next can and starting to open that one. They stopped as they felt a hand on theirs, and Laura took the can and can opener out of their hand and started doing it herself.

“I’m sorry,” Laura said, eyes avoiding LaF’s. “I’ve been really focused on me and even though you have it way worse than I do, I was making it all about me. And I’m really sorry.”

LaF bit their lip and stared at Laura, whose eyes were resolutely fixed on the can she was struggling to open. They sighed and opened their arms, nudging Laura, who walked into the hug gratefully. “I’m sorry,” she said again, the sounds muffled against LaF’s sweater.

“It’s fine, Laur,” LaF said. “Your work is really important to you and I know you hate feeling useless and cooped up. Trust me, we’ve been friends for years. I know.”

Laura chuckled softly as they pulled apart. “Yeah, sorry about that…” she said, and LaF shoved her shoulder playfully.

“Yeah, you should be,” they said, and Laura stuck her tongue out at them.

“Oh, I finished cutting up the tomatoes,” she said proudly, and LaF resisted the urge to roll their eyes.

“Great, add them to the pot,” they said, watching over Laura’s shoulder as she did so. “This is gonna be really good chili.”

“Yeah, I hope Carm likes it…” Laura said anxiously, and LaF gave her an amused look.

“The girl is whipped as hell, Laur. Even if she hated it she’d still choke it down and tell you it was amazing.”

“Oh my god, what if it’s awful and she feels like she has to eat it?!” Laura asked frantically, and LaF groaned.

“No, Laura, stop it! I was kidding, for the love of all that is good and holy…”

“You think she’ll like it?”

“I made it, she better like it,” LaF said grimly, as they heard a click and the door opened.

“Who had better like what?” Carmilla asked, stepping over the threshold and into the kitchen, pulling Laura toward her to place a chaste kiss on her lips. LaF made a violent gagging sound and gestured toward her with the wooden spoon in their hand.

“The chili,” they clarified. “You’d better like it. Laura and I have been wasting away in this kitchen all day for you.”

Carmilla held up her hands in a surrender. “Shit, okay,” she said. “But isn’t it a Thursday? Did you not have class?”

LaF waved the spoon around aimlessly. “That’s irrelevant.”

“Mmhmm, completely irrelevant,” Carmilla said, the corner of her mouth twitching up in amusement. Laura tugged on her sleeve.

“You like chili, right?” she asked anxiously, and LaF rolled their eyes and turned back to the stove. Idiots. Obnoxiously in love idiots.

LaF studiously ignored their lovey-dovey banter as they finished the chili. They were so happy for Laura - she was their best friend - but having to live with a couple that was still heads-over-heels for each other was not helping them readjust to life without Perry. They missed her like they would miss air - painful breaths drawn in the middle of the night and the constricting tightness in their chest and a cloudy dizziness that followed them through the day.

They shook their head to clear their thoughts. Their better half might be gone, but they would just have to pick up the leftover pieces and put them back into something resembling a whole. They gave the chili a final vigorous stir and lifted the pot, putting it on the table.

“Dinner’s ready as soon as you grab the toppings,” they called, and Laura and Carmilla got up from where they had settled on the couch - Laura with an eager bounce in her step and Carmilla with a graceful slouch - to help LaF finish setting up. Laura dug around in the fridge for the necessary toppings while LaF sliced up a few limes, and Carmilla set out the bowls and spoons.

“LaF, are you okay?” Laura asked. LaF looked up quickly and shifted under Laura’s concern.

“I’m fine,” they said, and Laura narrowed her eyes at them.

“Are you sure? Because you don’t look fine.”

“I’m sure,” LaF said, hating the way the lie tasted coming out of their mouth (and hating even more the helpless and worried look Laura was giving them). Laura opened her mouth to argue further, but Carmilla interrupted her.

“So LaF, are you feeling prepared for that exam you have coming up?”

LaF shot Carmilla a grateful look. “Yeah, pretty much,” they said. “I’m still a little shaky on tissue triaging but I think I have everything else down. I’ve had, uh… I’ve had some extra time to study lately.”

Carmilla nodded as they all sat down to eat. “Well, let me know if I can do anything,” she said. “Or Laura.”

“Hey,” Laura protested. “No volunteering me!”

“Jeez, Laur, you wouldn’t help your best friend?” LaF said, feigning offense, and Laura spluttered.

“That’s not what I said!”

LaF and Carmilla shared an amused look.

“That’s pretty much what you said, cupcake,” Carmilla said. “Can you pass the sour cream? This is super spicy.”

Laura frowned as she handed over the container. “It is not,” she said grumpily, and LaF chuckled.

“It’s not what you said or it’s not spicy?” they asked, and bit back a laugh as they saw Carmilla stifle hers.

“I hate you both,” Laura said, glaring between her girlfriend and her best friend, who exchanged victorious smiles over the table.

In the adjoining room, Carmilla’s radio crackled to life. All three looked over at it, startled, and Carmilla pushed herself away from table.

“Excuse me,” she said, and crossed into the room quickly, speaking into it in low tones. Laura looked at LaF, who shrugged.

“Cop stuff,” they said by way of an explanation, and Laura rolled her eyes in exasperation.

“Thank you so much, I never would have guessed,” she said sarcastically, and LaF beamed at her.

“Any time,” they said. Laura glared and LaF flashed her a cheesy grin.

“Oh, I think I narrowed down some of the places the ring might be,” Laura said. “I don’t think it’s any of the empty buildings since they’re all registered with the city and seem fine, so I’m going to try to go by some of the other places tomorrow and just check them out.”

“You can’t,” Carmilla said, reappearing in the kitchen as swiftly as she had left. LaF’s eyebrows shot up at the look in her eyes - panic covered with a burning intensity.

“What do you mean, I can’t?” Laura said, eyes narrowing. LaF winced, hoping Carmilla would note the dangerous undertone, and tried to communicate their concern with their eyes.

“I mean you can’t,” Carmilla said shortly. LaF slunk down in their chair. The lovey-dovey stuff was gross, but this? This was plain uncomfortable.

“I don’t think you have a right to -” Laura started, but Carmilla cut her off.

“One of the other cops went missing. SJ. She got put on this case too and they must have found out because she hasn’t come back from her shift last night. Will went looking for her and all he found was her radio and badge, and she would have never left those lying around.”

LaF felt their blood run cold. They looked up at Laura, who still looked furious, and their blood ran even colder than before. No, Laura, don’t…

“And why exactly does that mean I can’t pursue the story that’s going to expose and stop all of this?” Laura snapped, and LaF groaned inwardly.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Carmilla said. “Did you not hear anything I just said? Someone went missing, Laura, not just someone but another officer. It is not safe and it is my responsibility to protect you and make sure you don’t -”

“Your responsibility? I’m sorry, since when did I become a responsibility?”

“Laura…” LaF interjected, but both Laura and Carmilla shushed them viciously before they turned back toward each other.

“You are my responsibility,” Carmilla said roughly. “First of all as an officer it is my responsibility to protect you. That’s why you’re staying here, for god’s sake. And second of all -”

“Oh, is that why? I thought I was staying here because I’m your girlfriend.”

“Will you let me finish? Second of all, as your girlfriend it’s my responsibility to protect you! That’s my job!”

LaF dimly registered the taste of copper before they realized they were biting their lip so hard it was bleeding. They wanted to leave but the fight was anchoring them to their chair.

“Oh, is it?” Laura snapped. “I thought your job was to support me. Not keep me cooped up here like an immature animal.”

“I’m trying to protect you!” Carmilla yelled, and Laura threw her hands up.

“If I wanted protection I would have dated Danny!”

If LaF could have dematerialized, they would have. Laura and Carmilla were both frozen, shock written over both their faces. LaF knew Laura long enough to know she was surprised at what she had just said, and they were praying Carmilla knew her well enough to know that too, but their hopes were dashed when Carmilla laughed hollowly.

“Comparing me to an ex, Hollis, that’s real mature of you,” she said. LaF squeezed their eyes shut and willed Laura to shut up, to pause, to apologize

“She’s not an ex,” Laura snapped. LaF gritted their teeth together. Fucking idiots.

“She’s as good as,” Carmilla returned, and spun on her heel.

“Don’t walk away from me, Carmilla Karnstein,” Laura yelled at Carmilla’s retreating figure, but Carmilla disappeared into their room, door slamming behind her. The sound shocked LaF out of their paralysis.

“Laura…” LaF said, and Laura turned toward them, anger giving way to misery as tears leaked out of her eyes. LaF bit their lip again and stood up, pulling Laura into a hug.

“You need to have some space, both of you,” they said. Laura laughed slightly, a bitter edge to it grating on LaF’s conscience.

“Kind of hard to do that when I can’t leave,” she said, and LaF winced.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Carmilla said, reappearing in the hallway with a leather jacket on. “I can do that for you.”

She stalked across the kitchen and slammed the door behind her. LaF froze, eyes flicking back and forth between the door and Laura, who was crumpling behind them.

“Laura…” they said urgently, but Laura shook her head.

“Go after her,” Laura whispered.

“Laur…”

Go.”

With a last look at their best friend, who suddenly looked years older than she had minutes before, LaF ran out the door and down the stairs.

Chapter Text

LaF burst out of the doors to the apartment building and stood there panting, glancing up and down the sidewalk for a sign of Carmilla. They saw the light of a lamppost a few blocks down the street reflecting dully off a leather jacket and glinting softly against dark hair, and they took off running again, yelling for Carmilla to wait.

Jesus, Karnstein,” LaF panted when they caught up and fell in line, trying to match Carmilla’s purposeful strides. “Not making it easy on me here.”

There was no response, so LaF chanced a glance over at her face. A muscle in her set jaw was twitching and her eyebrows were knit stormily, but there was moisture on her cheek…

“Shit, are you crying?” LaF asked, horrified. Laura crying? That was typical. Carmilla crying? That wasn’t something LaF knew they could handle.

No,” Carmilla snapped, wiping angrily at her cheek. “I don’t cry.”

“... Right,” LaF said. “Do you want to maybe talk about it?”

Carmilla shot them a withering glare and started walking even faster. “Could’ve just said no,” LaF muttered, and picked up the pace to keep up with her, trying to ignore the split in their side. They walked in silence for almost ten minutes. LaF assumed Carmilla knew where she was going because she was occasionally making turns, but they were headed into the more run-down part of downtown and LaF would be lying if they didn’t say they were a bit nervous. Finally, Carmilla turned into a doorway and pulled it open, gesturing for LaF to go in first before she followed.

LaF glanced up at the sign above the door, which read “The Lustig” in faded red lettering, and hesitantly stepped into the building. They started coughing almost immediately, eyes watering, as the stale smell of cigarette smoke hit them in the face like a wall. As their eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, they realized they were in a bar - a sleazy bar, but a bar nonetheless. It was divided into two rooms, the back holding several pool tables while the front held the actual bar, which was made of chipped wood that had been polished at one point with cracked leather stools lined in front of it. Carmilla slid onto one of the stools and, after eyeing a dubious stain on the seat of the closest one, LaF sat down as well.

The bartender appeared silently and Carmilla ordered a whiskey. The bartender looked over at LaF, who stuttered. “Um, just water, thanks,” LaF said, and Carmilla raised her eyebrows but didn’t say anything. While they waited for their drinks, LaF looked around the bar. The walls were covered in flyers - mostly questionable personal ads, a few posters advertising some zombie musical production of Antigone, and a sign looking for a missing cat. There was a slightly rusted jukebox in a corner and sports memorabilia on the walls, mostly framed pictures of Graz’s ice hockey team.

The drinks arrived and Carmilla continued studiously ignoring LaF, sipping on her whiskey and fixing her eyes on the back of the bar with a thousand-yard stare. LaF rolled their eyes and pulled out their pen from their back pocket - who knew when you would need to write down a chemical formula? - and grabbed a napkin. They quickly drew a three-word game of hangman (three letters, five letters, three letters) and pushed the napkin over toward Carmilla.

Carmilla stared at it and raised an eyebrow. “Hangman, really,” she said coolly. “How old are you again?”

“Shut it, Karnstein. Just guess a letter.”

Carmilla rolled her eyes but apparently decided to play along because she guessed “A” before taking another sip of her whiskey.

“Nope,” Laf said, and scribbled an A on the top of the napkin before drawing the head. “Guess again.”

Carmilla frowned down at the paper. “E?”

“Mmhmm,” Laf said, and put down two E’s - one at the end of the first word and one as the penultimate letter of the second word. They pushed the napkin back over toward Carmilla.

“I,” she said, and swallowed the last of her whiskey. LaF grinned to themselves. They wrote an I at the top before adding the next line to the drawing. Carmilla bit her bottom lip, staring at the napkin, and LaF tried to hide their amusement at how quickly Carmilla had been sucked in by the challenge.

“O?” she asked, and LaF nodded. They added an O as the second letter of both the second word and the third word.

“U.”

LaF added a U to the end of the third word. Carmilla pushed her glass to the side so she could pull the napkin closer.

“... Y?”

LaF grinned and nodded, adding the letter to the last word, which now read “YOU.” Carmilla frowned.

“R,” she guessed with some confidence, and looked offended when LaF added it to the top of the napkin and drew a leg onto the stick figure. She glared at LaF, who looked innocent.

“S?” LaF nodded and added it to beginning of the first word and end of the second word, and Carmilla started to look suspicious.

“H,” she said, but it sounded more like a warning than a guess. LaF nodded and completed the first word, and Carmilla stared down at the napkin and started to speak. “LaF, you can’t -”

“Just guess the next letter, Carmilla,” LaF said, holding the pen ready to write. Carmilla glared at her.

“L.”

LaF nodded and added it to the beginning of the second word. “One left,” they said, and Carmilla pursed her lips.

“V,” she said quietly, because she and LaF both knew she wasn’t guessing anymore.

LaF nodded and completed the phrase, pushing the napkin over to Carmilla. Carmilla stared down at it, the words “she loves you” scrawled in LaF’s messy handwriting under half of a hanging stick figure.

“LaF -”

“She does,” LaF said, cutting her off. “She does love you. She’s idealistic and she can be immature and petty and say things she doesn’t mean but I have known Laura Hollis for years, she is my best friend, and she is in love with you.”

“She’s in love with the idea of me,” Carmilla answered. LaF studied her set jaw and shook their head.

“I don’t think that’s true. No offense, but you’re not really the idea that Laura would fall in love with. Honestly, we were all just waiting for her to start dating Danny - she’s idealistic and naive and self-sacrificing in all the same ways Laura is. That’s the idea she would fall in love with. But she chose you.”

“Maybe she shouldn’t have,” Carmilla said, so quietly that LaF could barely hear her. She was staring down into the bottom of her glass where the ice was melting, rising up to drown itself. LaF reached out and put a gentle hand on her arm.

“I don’t think that’s your call to make,” they said quietly, and Carmilla glanced up at them and then back down into her glass, half nodding and half shrugging. They sat in quiet for a few minutes before Carmilla spoke suddenly.

“She is, too,” she said, and LaF jumped slightly.

“What?”

“Perry,” Carmilla clarified. “She’s in love with you.”

LaF felt like they’d been punched in the gut.

“If she loved me, she wouldn’t have kicked me out,” they said, glaring down at their drink. Suddenly, water didn’t seem like it was going to cut it, and they looked up, searching to catch the bartender’s eye.

Carmilla shrugged, running a finger around the top of her glass. “From what I remember, you’re the one who left,” she said. “Laura told me she said you could stay, and you just packed a bag and drove to Laura’s. From where I stand, sounds more like you walked out on her, not the other way around.”

LaF tried to push down the rising panic. “I was going to propose,” they croaked out. “And she wanted a break. What was I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know, talk about it?” Carmilla said sarcastically, but she softened at the tension emanating from LaF’s body. “Look… She was right. You proposing was only going to make things worse.”

“That’s… That’s not how it works,” LaF said. “You commit to each other and then you can work out the issues!”

“You think she wasn’t committed to you?” Carmilla said, glaring at them. “You had been together for years - hell, you were living together. What do you think commitment looks like?”

“She - she wanted to take a break -”

“Oh, for the love of god, grow up,” Carmilla snapped. “She wanted to take a break because you were not being a good partner. No, listen to me. You were not giving her the support she needed and yes, she could have brought it up in a gentler way than suggesting you two take a break but from everything I’ve heard you were making it impossible to have that conversation. You needed to spend more time together and -”

“You know what would help us spend more time together?” LaF said accusingly. “A honeymoon.”

“Yeah, and then what?” Carmilla fired back. “All your problems would be magically fixed because you’re married and you love each other? God, sometimes you’re as bad as Laura. Marriage isn’t a band-aid you can slap on a broken relationship and pretend it’ll make things better. And, frankly, if you loved her, you wouldn’t put conditions like that on your relationship. You’ll only love her if what? If she marries you even when she thinks that’ll make things worse? If she never points out you’re not being a good partner? How many sacrifices do you need before you’ll love her in return?”

LaF stared at Carmilla. “Fuck you,” they spat. “I do love her.”

Carmilla shrugged. “I’m not the one you have to tell.”

LaF jumped of the stool and shoved the door open, stepping out into the night air. They took off down the street, the anger pounding through their veins like war drums. The fucking nerve, they thought angrily. I do love Perry. I’d do anything for her. I even left for her, because she didn’t want me anymore. What do I have to do to show that -

LaF came to a sudden halt in the middle of the sidewalk, causing someone walking behind them to smack into them. They barely even registered the contact before they wheeled around and headed back to the bar, praying that Carmilla was still there. They flung the door open and came to a stop next to Carmilla, who was ordering a shot. “How do I do it?” they asked, and Carmilla looked at them, panting and out of breath, before turning back to the bartender.

“Make that two,” she said, and the bartender nodded. She turned back toward LaF and frowned. “How do you do what?”

“How do I tell Perry that I love her? And have her believe me?”

Carmilla turned all the way around so she was fully facing LaF. “She might not,” she said softly. “You did walk out on her. But… You should tell her that you love her. And admit that you fucked up and that you reacted poorly when she said you weren’t being a good partner. And give her concrete ways that you’re going to try to fix it because empty apologies are never enough.”

LaF slid onto the stool next to Carmilla as the bartender set the shot glasses down on the counter. “What are concrete ways I can fix it?” they asked, and Carmilla passed them a shot.

“Well…”

 


 

LaF took a deep breath, trying to steady their nerves. They had walked back to Carmilla’s apartment and stayed long enough to make sure Laura was going to accept Carmilla’s apology before they headed out. They had grabbed their car from the garage and now they were sitting in it across the street from the house. Our house? … Perry’s house.

The windows were glowing with warm light, and LaF stiffened as they saw a silhouette move across the kitchen. She’s stress-baking again. LaF bit their lip, scared to open their car door, and jumped, startled, when their phone buzzed in their lap and the screen lit up.

Carmilla: remember what we talked about. she’s worth more than your fear.

LaF screwed their eyes shut and silently counted to ten. When they finished, they took a deep breath and stepped out of the car. They crossed the street and knocked before they could chicken out, and stepped back, shifting uncomfortably as they waited.

The door swung open and Perry started speaking. “Hi, how can I -” Perry stopped abruptly as she realized who had knocked, and LaF froze because she was there - right there - so close LaF could see the scar on her collarbone from where a dog bit her when she was ten and the circles under her eyes and the lines on her forehead that were deepening in confusion. They stood and stared at each other before LaF remembered what they needed to do, and dropped to one knee.

LaFontaine!” Perry gasped, stepping back into the house. “What are you -”

“Perry, please, just hear me out,” LaF said, talking quickly. “I have been in love with you since I was seven years old. I grew up with you. I got half of my scars with you and I got my driver’s license with you and I graduated from high school and college with you and I buried Laura’s mom with you. I realized I’m nonbinary with you. I figured out that I’m ace with you. I have done everything important in my life with you and I don’t want that to stop now.”

There were tears forming in Perry’s eyes, but she was shaking her head. “LaF, I don’t want to marry -”

“Perr, please. Two more minutes,” LaF pleaded, and after a silence in which LaF thought they aged an entire lifetime, she nodded, and LaF continued.

“I thought I wanted to marry you, and I still do, but really I just want to be with you for the rest of my life. And I don’t need an engagement ring or a marriage certificate or vows to do that and I don’t need to hear you say ‘I do’ to know that you love me back. And I will do whatever it takes to earn my right to be in your life again because I know I threw that away when I left. I wasn’t being a good partner and I proved that when I wouldn’t listen to you saying so, but I swear to god I will try so much harder. I’ll move my labs around so I can come to your book club on Tuesdays if you want me to. I can schedule every Friday or Saturday out so we can go out on dates or just hang out at home and be with each other because I miss you more than I thought was possible. I miss you like breathing. And we don’t have to get married, ever, because I trust you and I love you and that will always be enough for me. If you’ll have me. Because we’ve never really been conventional.”

Perry managed a laugh through the tears that were streaming down her face, and LaF gave her a weak smile.

“Perr…” they said quietly, taking a deep breath. “Can I come home?”

A sob broke through Perry’s lips as she nodded and LaF stood up, dizzy with relief. They embraced in the doorway, Perry’s sobs shaking LaF’s body. LaF just bit their lip and clutched her tighter. They stood there for what felt like hours, and LaF didn’t give a damn who saw them - they were home, and that’s all that would ever matter.

Chapter Text

Danny: Kirsch, please just tell me why I have to meet you here… And where the hell are you?

Danny stared at the screen for a minute, waiting for him to respond. When he didn’t, she shoved her hands into her pockets and glared around the park she was standing in. It was annoying enough that she had to keep meeting Kirsch for coffee just to get updates about Kyle and Kirstie, but this? This had gotten out of hand. Kirsch had refused to give her any updates for a week, and when he had finally reached out again all he had said was some stupid cryptic thing about meeting in this god-forsaken park.

Danny pulled her phone out again, checking the screen for messages. Kirsch still hadn’t texted her back, so she gave up and sat down on the ground, swinging her backpack off her shoulders and pulling out an essay to mark.

She was halfway through the essay when a shout interrupted her.

“HEY D-BEAR! CATCH!”

Danny’s head whipped up just in time to see something flying toward her. She instinctively grabbed it out of the air before it could hit her and looked down at it. A catcher’s mitt? What…

Kirsch gestured toward it as he jogged over, pounding his fist into his own mitt. “It’s my cousin’s,” he said with a grin. “Figured it’d fit you better than one of mine. I thought it might come in handy.”

“Come in handy for what, Kirsch?” Danny asked, exasperated. “I still don’t know why I’m here! Or why I was supposed to block out the entire night.”

“You’ll see!” Kirsch responded, bouncing on his heels. “Come on, let’s go.”

Danny gave a highly exasperated sigh, but followed him down the trail, which they followed for several minutes. Kirsch was consistently yards ahead of Danny, turning around frequently to check she was still behind him before bounding ahead. Danny rolled her eyes to herself. I swear, it’s like having an overexcited puppy.

Eventually the trail opened up into a clearing where two figures were sprawled in the middle. Two heads popped up at the sounds of Danny and Kirsch approaching.

“DANNY!” they yelled in tandem, throwing their arms around the redhead so enthusiastically she dropped the mitt. She steadied herself and hugged them tightly.

“Kyle! Kirstie! I’ve missed you two. What are you doing here?!” she said, laughing. “Kyle, you’re already taller! You’re practically up to my shoulder!”

“Kirsch brought us!” Kyle responded as he and his sister finally released Danny. “He said you’re going to joint babysit us tonight! And I will be taller than you, just watch. I’m only fourteen, I have a few years.”

“Oh?” Danny said, looking over at Kirsch, who shrugged, a light blush creeping up his neck. Danny tilted her head, considering, and turned back to Kyle. “And good luck being taller than me. Your mom is nowhere near as tall as I am.”

“Well, here’s the thing about adoption, Danny,” Kyle said, rolling his eyes. “You kind of need to be related to share genetics.”

“Hey, watch the sass,” Danny said, trying to hide a smile. “Go talk to your sister for a second. I need to talk to Kirsch.”

Kyle shrugged and turned toward Kirstie, saying something that made her smack him. Danny chuckled at the ten-year-old’s spunk and leaned toward Kirsch, speaking quietly.

“They’re going to get in so much trouble if their mom finds out,” she said. Kirsch nodded.

“I know,” he said. “She’s like, solidly out of town, though. Some business thing. She won’t know, I promise.”

Danny studied his face and sighed. “Okay,” she said. “I’m gonna hold you to that.”

He nodded. “Zeta’s honor.”

Danny rolled her eyes but dropped it. “So why did I need a mitt?”

“Kyle, did you bring your bat?” Kirsch said, raising his voice so he could hear, and Kyle nodded eagerly, grabbing it off the ground. Kirsch looked over at Danny, who still looked confused, so he elaborated. “He said you’re better at pitching than I am,” he said with a shrug. “And the little bro said he needed the practice.”

“I want to try out for the high school team next year!” Kyle said enthusiastically. “I think I can make it, I’m doing really well in Little League.”

“And he maxes out of Little League next year and he’s been crying about it,” his sister added. Kyle shoved her.

“Shut up, Kirstie,” he said. “I have not.”

“Woah, okay,” Danny said, separating them. “So you want to work on batting? Why not just use one of the batting cages at school?”

Kyle shrugged. “It’s different when it’s an actual pitcher,” he said. “And you throw good curveballs and I’ve missed every curveball this year.”

“How many curveballs have been pitched to you?” Danny asked, frowning. Kyle looked slightly guilty.

“Well… Only three. But still!” he said defensively, and Danny laughed.

“Okay, okay. I’m not gonna be the one to tell you not to practice,” she said. “Did you bring any balls?”

Kyle nodded and kicked a bag over to Danny. She unzipped it as Kyle jogged backwards.

“Tell me when to stop!” he said, stumbling slightly before he caught himself. Danny hid a laugh (though his sister didn’t, and Kyle stuck out his tongue at her) but narrowed her eyes, trying to estimate sixty feet.

“... Okay, good,” she called. “Kirstie, do you have homework you can do while we practice?”

Kirstie nodded, picking up a book. “We have to read two chapters of this,” she said. Danny nodded and gave a pointed look toward Kirsch, who picked Kirstie up and moved her out of the danger zone along the third baseline.

He grabbed a catcher’s mask and chest protector and slipped them over his head, jogging into position behind Kyle. Danny grabbed a ball out of the bag and rubbed her thumb against it, reveling in the familiar feeling of leather and cotton thread. She gave it a few experimental tosses, trying to adjust to the smaller size, before she nodded at Kyle. “You ready?”

He flashed her a wide grin and nodded back. She shrugged. “Here we go, then,” she said, and rotated the ball in her hand so her fingers were aligned on the proper seams. She wound up, took a deep breath, and threw.

The ball smacked solidly into Kirsch’s glove, who threw it back to Danny. She frowned at Kyle, who already looked frustrated. “Relax, we’re doing this so you learn,” she said. “I’m not sure what you’re doing wrong, but I’ll watch more closely this time.”

She threw another curveball and squinted against the sun, watching Kyle’s form. He swung but missed again and threw his head back, bat thudding into the ground as he let his arm fall.

“You’re swinging too early,” Danny called. “You’re not waiting for the pitch to level out over the plate, you’re just trying to hit up at it. Try stepping back a bit - it might force you to swing later. Just wait for it to be in the right place.”

Kyle adjusted his stance, bringing his bat back up over his shoulder. He nodded his readiness at Danny, and she threw again.

He managed to connect with the ball this time, but only weakly, and it would have been a foul ball. Kirstie got up and picked it up as it rolled toward her and trotted it over to Danny, who gave her a smile before she turned back toward Kyle.

“That was better,” she said. “You still swung too early, though. You’re trying to use your bat to put the ball where you want it but it’s not going to work.”

“I know,” he snapped. “I got the best grade in the class on our physics test last week. Science is my best subject.”

Danny raised her eyebrows at him. “Just trying to help, bro,” she said, and he looked down, scuffing at the dirt and grass with his toe.

“I know,” he said. “Sorry. Can we try again?”

“Sure,” Danny replied. “Just remember to let it come to you. Try to wait to swing until after you first want to because your instinct is going to be wrong.”

Kyle nodded and got back into his batting stance, and Danny threw another pitch. She saw Kyle move to swing but he hesitated for half a second before he actually swung, and there was a loud crack as the bat connected with the ball and it went soaring over Danny’s head.

“Yeah! Nice!” she yelled enthusiastically, and Kyle beamed at her. “Let’s do another one.”

They kept practicing until Kyle was consistently hitting solidly, and then they switched it up so Danny threw curveballs and fastballs and Kyle had to figure out which type of pitch was coming at him and swing accordingly. They only stopped when the sun started to dip in the sky, casting long shadows on the ground.

“Okay, let’s get you home and in the shower,” Danny said, ruffling Kyle’s springy curls. He ducked his head out from under her hand and stuck his tongue out at her.

“You smell gross too,” he said, and Kirsch spit out the water he had been sipping, laughing hysterically. Danny glared at them both.

“Watch yourself, children,” she said. “I was going to make my famous chocolate-chip cookies for you, but I guess now I’ll just have to go home and make them for myself…”

“No! Danny!” Kirstie jumped up from where she had been curled up with her book. “I want chocolate chip cookies! It’s not fair, Kyle ruins everything!”

“Well, I guess I can’t let him ruin this too,” Danny said with a wink towards Kyle. He rolled his eyes and Danny laughed.

“Seriously though, we both need showers,” she said. “How did you all get here?”

“I drove them,” Kirsch said. “I can take them back to their house and you can meet us there after you’ve showered?”

“Sure, sounds good,” Danny said. “I’ll see you all soon.”

She turned to leave but a tight grip around her waist prevented her from moving. She looked down into Kirstie’s pleading brown eyes, only a few shades lighter than her skin, and Danny felt a tug at her heart.

“You’re going to come back, right?” Kirstie begged, and Danny bent down so they were face to face.

“Yeah, I’m coming back,” she said. “I’ll be gone for thirty minutes, max. Just long enough so your brother doesn’t tease me about smelling gross anymore.”

Kirstie made a face but nodded. “Okay…” she said, looking somewhat unconvinced, so Danny pulled her into a hug.

“You’ve got me for all of tonight, kiddo,” she said. “No worries.”

Kirstie nodded and stepped back, grabbing onto Kirsch’s hand. Danny smiled at her and turned, walking toward the trail back to her car.

 


 

Danny toweled her hair dry quickly, grabbed her keys and ran out the door. She had gotten distracted in the shower by how good the warm water felt, and she knew by the time she pulled up outside their house she would be pushing the thirty-minute mark she promised Kirstie she’d stay within.

She jumped up into the cab of the truck and turned the key quickly, pausing briefly to revel in the way the engine roared to life underneath her. Buying this truck had been one of the best decisions of Danny’s life, even if sometimes, like when she was running late, the fact that it was a stickshift wasn’t necessarily to her advantage. Still, she loved it. It got decent mileage - well, decent for a truck - and the bed was big enough to fit pretty much all sports equipment. She couldn’t count the number of times ski and snowboard gear had filled it when she, Laura, Kirsch, LaF, and occasionally Perry would take snow trips during the winters in school. They hadn’t in a while, and Danny reminisced absentmindedly as she drove toward the Spielsdorfs’.

Danny was chuckling by the time she pulled into their driveway, remembering the time that LaF had tried to engineer “a better sled” which had ended up launching them and Laura halfway down a hill. Laura had collided with a cute girl, gone bright red, and refused to speak to LaF for the rest of the day - even now, if you brought up “sled girl,” Laura would blush and get annoyed.

Still chuckling to herself, Danny walked into the house - hell no, she hadn’t returned her key - and headed toward the sound of voices. It led her into their family room, where Kyle, Kirstie and Kirsch were all seated on the floor, intently playing Mario Kart. Kyle was intently focused on the screen and appeared to be easily winning. Kirstie’s tongue was sticking out as she stared ahead, eyebrows furrowing in concentration. Kirsch was a mess of limbs, sprawled in a position that could not be comfortable, muttering a running commentary under his breath as he struggled.

Danny leaned against the doorframe and watched the competition. Kyle was much more skillful than the other two, and as they started the final lap he was far ahead. Kirsch was gaining slowly, but Kyle dropped a banana peel that sent him spinning back, and Kirstie cheered as she passed him.

“Don’t get too happy,” Kyle said gleefully. “I’m still gonna win.”

“Whatever, Kyle,” Kirstie said. “I still have time.”

“Yeah, like, half a lap,” he gloated. “Just admit it, I already won.”

Kirstie narrowed her eyes and ignored him, and Danny hid a smile when she saw what she was going to do. She was very slowly gaining on her brother, and as they neared the finish line, she fired a shell.

Kyle was already gloating and wasn’t paying any attention at all to his sibling, so he didn’t realize it had been fired. Just before he was going to cross the finish line, it slammed into him, throwing him up into the air. He stared flabbergasted at the screen as his sister crossed the finish line first.

“Guess I won after all,” Kirstie said innocently, and Danny couldn’t help but laugh. All three players turned around, realizing she was there.

“Danny!” Kirstie said, and jumped up, running over to give Danny a hug. Danny picked her up and swung her around easily.

“Hey, kiddo,” she said affectionately. “Way to crush your brother there.”

“Yeah, he totally sucked!” she said, flashing her brother a gloating smile.

“Hey there,” Kirsch said, lumbering to his feet. “Let’s not be sore winners.”

“Yeah, Kirstie,” Kyle said, sticking his tongue out at her. “Let’s not be sore winners.”

Kirsch and Danny both raised their eyebrows at him, and he ducked his head. “... Sorry,” he said, and they both laughed.

“So,” Danny said, adjusting Kirstie so she was sitting on her hip. “What’s the plan for dinner?”

Kirsch fumbled a bit when both kids’ expectant gazes turned to him.

“Um…” he said, giving Danny a pleading look. “Pizza?”

She looked at him unsympathetically, trying to keep a straight face. “Are we making pizza or ordering pizza?”

Kirsch looked increasingly panicked. “Um…” he stalled, and Kyle spoke up.

“Let’s make pizza!” he said, and Kirsch looked at Danny, mouthing “help!”

Danny finally cracked and laughed. “Okay, let’s make pizza,” she said. “Kirstie, can you go find the binder with the recipe? And Kyle, start cleaning the kitchen so we have space.”

The two kids ran off and Danny looked at Kirsch, who already looked exhausted. “You doing good?” she asked, smirking, and he glared at her.

“Who the hell makes pizza, Lawrence?”

“Everyone makes pizza, Wilson,” she replied. “What did you think? It grows on trees?”

Kirsch threw his head back, groaning. “You’re the worst.”

“Deal with it,” Danny said smugly. “Come on. I’m gonna teach you how to make pizza.”

Kirsch followed her into the kitchen, complaining. “Why are you going to teach me to make pizza? Teach the kids, they’re the young ones.”

“Because the kids already know, Kirsch,” Danny replied, amused. “I’ve made pizza with them before. You’re going to be the newbie.”

Kirsch looked momentarily stricken before he recovered. “Wait, does that mean you’re gonna teach me how to toss pizza like they do in commercials?”

Danny rolled her eyes while Kyle laughed, still wiping down the counters. “First let’s focus on you not chopping your finger off,” Danny said. “Then we’ll move toward tossing dough.”

“Hey,” Kirsch protested. “I can cook! I’ve cooked before!”

“Yeah? Anything other than pasta?”

“Salad!”

“Salad isn’t cooking, Kirsch. You can’t screw up salad.”

“Well, one time…”

“Ew, no,” Danny interrupted. “Whatever you did, I don’t want to know.”

Kirsch opened his mouth to protest but Kirstie ran back into the room, carrying a binder that was full of papers flying everywhere. “I got the recipe!” she announced proudly.

“Okay, cool,” Danny said, taking it from her. “Kyle, what’s the status on the kitchen?”

“It’s good,” he replied. “Look at this rag! It’s gross!”

Danny made a face. “Kyle, that’s disgusting. Go put that in the laundry room.”

Kyle shrugged and jogged out of the kitchen, reappearing moments later. Kirsch bent down to whisper to him.

“How’d you get it that dirty?”

“I stuck it down the sink,” Kyle replied proudly, and Kirsch laughed.

“Nice,” he said appreciatively, giving Kyle a high-five. Danny turned around and glared at them.

“I heard all of that,” she said, and they both shrugged unapologetically.

Danny rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the recipe, directing the kids (Kirsch included) to gathering the various ingredients on the counter for ease of access. She put the kids in charge of the sauce while she tried to teach Kirsch how to make pizza dough.

“No, no, no,” she said, pushing him out of the way and replacing his hands on the dough. “You knead like this. You want to be gentle with it or you’ll overwork the flour.”

“What does that even mean?” Kirsch said, exasperated, and Kyle piped up from where he and Kirstie were working at the other counter.

“When you add water to flour gluten forms and that’s what makes the dough chewy. So if you play with it too much after you’ve added the water it’ll get tough because there’s so much gluten forming.”

Danny and Kirsch both raised their eyebrows at him, and he beamed at them. Danny shrugged and turned back to Kirsch.

“Sure, what he said,” Danny said. “I was an English major, don’t ask me.”

“Fair enough,” Kirsch allowed. “So how do I do it?”

“Put your hands like this,” Danny said, placing his hands on the dough. “And now push out with your palms, but be gentle.”

She watched as he gingerly pushed at the dough. “You can be a little less gentle,” she said, trying not to laugh, and he looked up, defensive.

“You told me not to overwork it!”

“Yeah, but you still need to touch it! It’s not going to bite you!”

“Awhhh, is Kirsch scared of dough?” Kirstie mocked from the other counter, and Kirsch shook a finger at her.

“Watch yourself,” he warned. “I know where you’re ticklish.”

“Kirsch!” Danny scolded, trying not to laugh. “Come on, knead the dough.”

“Yeah, Kirsch, you need to knead the dough,” Kyle said, grinning when the other three groaned collectively.

Danny watched Kirsch’s progress for another couple minutes before she nodded. “It’s good,” she said. “Now it needs to go into the fridge.”

Kirsch’s brow furrowed. “What about the tossing?”

“That comes later, don’t worry,” Danny said. “But the dough has to rise first. Hey kids, how are you two doing on the sauce front?”

“It’s almost ready,” Kyle said. “Just need to add the anchovy paste and the basil.”

“Anchovy paste?” Kirsch repeated, making a face. Danny gave him an exasperated look.

“Honestly, Kirsch, even the actual children are fine with it. It just adds a depth of flavor to the sauce.”

“Yeah,” Kyle added. “It’s umami, the fifth taste. Like sweet and sour and salty and bitter.”

“Shut up, Kyle,” Kirstie said. “Nobody cares about your stupid science stuff.”

“Hey!” Danny and Kirsch said in tandem. Danny started to continue but Kirsch beat her to it.

“I think your science stuff is cool, bro,” Kirsch said. “You should do what you’re good at and you like, and I think it’s super rad.”

“Really?” Kyle said, not meeting Kirsch’s eyes.

“Yeah,” Kirsch said, bending down so Kyle had to look at him. “I do.”

Kyle fidgeted but nodded, and Kirsch straightened up before looking at Kirstie.

“Apologize to your bro, kiddo,” he said. “It’s not cool to make fun of what other people like.”

Kirstie made a face and stubbornly shook her head.

Kirsch shrugged. “I mean, if you’re gonna make fun of him, make fun of the fact that he has tomato sauce on his forehead.”

Kirstie laughed. “Saucehead,” she said, sticking out her tongue at Kyle, who flicked sauce at her. She yelped and Danny jumped in, eager to prevent a food fight.

“Okay, okay, that’s enough,” she said. “Kirstie, you still need to apologize.”

Kirstie sighed dramatically. “I’m sorry, I guess,” she said, and her brother shrugged.

“Whatever,” he said. There was still tension, so he grabbed the flour and patted some onto his face.

“Hey look, Kirstie, I’m almost as white as Danny!” he said, and Kirstie rolled her eyes.

“You did that last time too,” she complained. “And it wasn’t even funny then.”

Danny had to bite her lip to keep a laugh from escaping at Kyle’s offended expression. “Okay,” she said quickly, looking around at the counters. “Let’s get the sauce finished and the dough in the fridge, clean this up a bit, and then we can play Mario Kart until the dough is done rising.”

With the promise of videogames, the kitchen was sparkling in no time. They all trooped back into the living room and draped themselves over various pieces of furniture, settling in for a good session. They talked while they played, Kirstie talking eagerly about her math class, Kyle shyly sharing his idea for a project for the school’s science fair, Kirsch bragging about the Zetas and Danny complaining about her flaky assistant coach for her softball team.

Eventually the kids forced Kirsch and Danny into a race, which Danny won handily (and gloated about just a little bit). She was still gloating when the timer went off on the dough.

“Okay, here’s the fun part,” Danny said, getting up from where she had been hanging upside-down off the couch. “Now we get to roll out the dough and toss it.”

Kirsch jumped up eagerly. “Let’s do it!” he said, and Danny had to fight a laugh.

Kirsch did eventually get somewhat competent at tossing the dough, but Kyle or Danny had to finish it for him every time. Danny was still counting it as a success, though, mostly because no dough had ended up on the walls or on the ceiling like it had the first time she had tried to teach the kids.

They played another few rounds of Mario Kart while they waited for the pizzas to cook and then ate in the family room, watching the second Harry Potter movie. Danny tried not to laugh at the way Kirsch was covering his eyes during the spider scenes, but she freaked out a bit at the Basilisk so she figured she didn’t have room to judge. Kyle and Kirstie both cheered as Dobby pulled out the sock and Kirsch slunk down in his seat a bit. Danny looked over at him, concerned, and swiftly redirected her attention toward the screen when she realized he was tearing up. She bit back a smile and watched Harry sass Lucius.

By the time the movie ended, they were all pretty tired. Danny stood up and stretched, checking her watch. “Okay, kids. Bedtime for you guys,” she said, and ignored the inevitable whining. “Sorry, no extensions. Let’s go.”

“Can Kirsch put us to bed?” Kirstie begged eagerly, and Danny was taken aback. Kirsch? But I haven’t gotten to do that in months…

“Um, sure,” Danny said, and Kirstie cheered, running toward the stairs. Kyle stretched and followed her languidly.

Kirsch gave Danny an apologetic smile but followed them up the stairs. Danny stood around for half a minute before her curiosity got the better of her and she crept up the stairs quietly, pausing at the top so she could hear what made Kirsch the prime choice for bedtime.

“Kirsch, you promised you would learn another one!” Kirstie whined, and Danny cocked her head to the side, confused. Learn another what?

She heard Kirsch clear his throat a bit. “I might forget some of the words…” he trailed off, but Kirstie was apparently having none of it.

“Kyle even tuned his guitar!” she said, and she heard Kirsch laugh.

“Okay, okay. Where’s the guitar?” he said, and she heard the creaks as Kyle got out of bed and walked around his room before walking out toward the hallway. Danny shook her head, still confused. Kirsch plays guitar?

Danny leaned around the top of the stairs and saw Kirsch sitting cross-legged with his back to Danny on the carpet between the kids’ rooms. He took the guitar from Kyle and strummed a few chords before he started singing a lullaby.

Goodnight, my angel
Time to close your eyes
And save these questions for another day
I think I know what you've been asking me
I think you know what I've been trying to say
I promised I would never leave you
And you should always know
Wherever you may go
No matter where you are
I never will be far away

Goodnight, my angel
Now it's time to sleep
And still so many things I want to say
Remember all the songs you sang for me
When we went sailing on an emerald bay
And like a boat out on the ocean 
I'm rocking you to sleep
The water's dark and deep,
Inside this ancient heart
You'll always be a part of me

Goodnight, my angel
Now it's time to dream
And dream how wonderful your life will be
Someday your child may cry
And if you sing this lullaby
Then in your heart
There will always be a part of me

Someday we'll all be gone
But lullabies go on and on...
They never die
That's how you
And I
Will be

Kirsch kept playing chords, head bent toward the guitar. The entire scene was achingly sweet and Danny felt her heart breaking slightly, but she was rooted to the spot, watching Kirsch play.

He finished and sat for a minute quietly before he started to get up, and Danny panicked. She crept as quickly and quietly as she could down the stairs and was sitting at the kitchen table when he came back down.

“Hey, sorry,” Kirsch said awkwardly. “Sometimes I sing to them and I guess they wanted a song tonight? But they do really miss you, they talk about you all the time…”

“No, Kirsch, it’s fine,” Danny interrupted. Why do I have a lump in my throat? Am I going to cry?

Kirsch was looking at her, concerned. “Are you sure?” he said. “Because you sound a little… Off.”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Danny said. She got up from the table quickly and grabbed her coat. “I’m, uh… I’m just gonna head home. Papers to grade, you know.”

“... Right,” Kirsch said, still giving her a concerned look. Danny nodded at him and turned to go. She was halfway out the door when Kirsch’s voice floated after her.

“Danny, did I do something wrong?”

Danny paused in the doorframe, refusing to turn around. “No, Kirsch. You’re good,” she said with as much conviction as she could manage. She could hear him starting to respond and she quickly started walking again, calling “Goodnight!” over her shoulder. She ducked her head down against the wind and walked to her truck. As she drove home she felt tears she didn’t recognize burning against her eyes, but she blinked them back resolutely. She started rehearsing next week’s lectures in her head, and when she got home she made herself hot chocolate and curled up in an armchair for an hour, staring straight ahead and seeing nothing. When she finally went to bed, her dreams were full of laughing kids and warm houses brimming with music and a girl that had never been Danny’s in the first place, but had never been so concretely not Danny’s before, either.

Chapter Text

Carmilla wandered into the station, running a hand lazily through her hair. She ducked her head into Mattie’s office, but Mattie wasn’t been there. Carmilla frowned, somewhat concerned. She had gotten an odd text from Mattie earlier that morning. Sorry, Millie. Tell your girlfriend I tried. She had no idea what the text was about, and Mattie hadn’t responded to her queries. Carmilla shrugged to herself before she sat down at her desk. She was the only officer there, so she assumed they had gotten some kind of big call while she was still off shift.

She had worked the night shift last night, and when she came back home she had found Laura sprawled across both sides the bed, face buried in Carmilla’s pillow. Carmilla hadn’t wanted to move her, since Laura would be up in a few hours anyway, so she had slept on the couch. After their fight, Laura had gone back to working at the paper, though Carmilla insisted her hours be limited, sporadic, and random, so anyone tailing her would get confused. It wasn’t a compromise either one was particularly happy with, but it was a compromise, so they were dealing with it.

Carmilla stretched in her chair, trying to get out the knots in her neck, before pulling her paperwork toward her with a sigh. Within half an hour, she had gotten into a groove. With the station weirdly empty, she had been able to focus well.

“Karnstein.”

“Sir?” Carmilla answered, surprised. Of all the people she expected to see around the station, the Captain was not one of them.

He shifted in front of her, eventually falling into a parade rest. “You’re being reassigned,” he said brusquely.

Carmilla’s head shot up. “Sir…?” she asked, studying her boss’s face. He looked more tired than she had ever seen him; there were bags under his eyes and the lines on his forehead were deep enough they looked like scars.

“There’s been…” he paused, clearing his throat. Carmilla felt like she was on ice. The Captain never showed up on a Tuesday. What the hell is going on?

The Captain took a deep breath and continued. “There’s been another murder in the drug ring case,” he said. Carmilla stared at him, tension vibrating through her body. Not Laura, not Laura, not Laura…

“Who…” Carmilla took a deep breath and swallowed, pushing her panic down. “Who was it?”

“SJ,” the Captain said, and Carmilla stared blankly before it clicked.

“SJ? The one who went missing?”

“Yes,” the Captain replied. “We got a lead this morning about her, sent most of the station out on a manhunt.”

“And…?” Carmilla asked, dreading the answer.

“Luce found her. Floating in the river in that park with all those arrests. We think it’s a warning.”

Carmilla felt bile rising in her throat. “Is Will…” she trailed off, not knowing what she was asking, but her boss seemed to understand.

“He’s taking the day off,” he answered. “Maybe a few days. He looked… He looked out of sorts. I told him to go home and get some rest.”

Carmilla nodded blankly. “That makes sense,” she said robotically. She felt off, like something wasn’t right, something wasn’t adding up, but after a few seconds she shook off the thoughts resolutely. Of course something wasn’t right - a cop had just been murdered, probably because of her job. Carmilla looked back up at the Captain. “Wait, so… I’m being reassigned?”

“Yes,” the Captain answered. “We need… We need more people on the case. You’re one of our most trusted officers. Belmonde and I spoke about who we would assign… She believed the risk was too high to put one of our best officers in this kind of dangerous position, but I overruled her. I think it’s much more dangerous to put a less competent officer on this case.”

Carmilla nodded. Mattie’s text made much more sense now. “Yes, sir, I agree with you. I am honored you would trust me with a case like this.”

Her Captain nodded. “Make us proud, Karnstein. And… Be safe.”

Carmilla nodded. Her Captain shifted uncomfortably before he nodded and pivoted, striding out of the office. Carmilla waited until the door closed behind him before she groaned, thudding her head against the desk. What the FUCK am I going to tell Laura?


Carmilla walked into the newspaper headquarters, looking around curiously. Interns were sprinting by endlessly, carrying huge stacks of papers and little cardboard trays of coffee. Huge television screens were set up all over the rooms, tuned to local and national news channels, and on every wall there was some fancy list of journalistic norms. Everywhere, groups of professionally dressed people were gathered, heads bent down over some piece of paper or a phone, talking furiously over the hum of printers in the background. Carmilla shook her head, slightly overwhelmed by the constant stream of activity around her. Laura must love it here.

She glanced around and walked toward what looked like a map of the building. She squinted at it, frowning, realizing she had no idea which department Laura was in. She was wracking her brains for anything Laura would have said about it when someone said her name and she jumped, startled.

Carmilla?” an excited voice said behind her. Carmilla felt dread pooling in her stomach as she turned around and was immediately pulled into a tight hug.

“Carmilla! I thought I knew that hair!” the girl said, laughing. Carmilla winced slightly and removed herself from the embrace.

“Elsie…” she replied with a tight smile. “I, uh… Long time.” she said, inwardly grimacing at her own awkwardness. Elsie just laughed.

“Yeah, it’s been ages!” she said with a grin. “Wow, this is making my day better. Not every day you run into that hot girl you used to fu-”

Elsie,” Carmilla interrupted, nearly scarlet. She grabbed Elsie’s arm and led her into an empty conference room, glancing around to make sure Laura wasn’t around. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Um, I work here?” Elsie said, laughing. “I guess you wouldn’t know, you’d already graduated by the time I declared my major, and I never did get your number… But we could change that, couldn’t we?” she said, her voice dropping slightly as she moved closer to Carmilla, a hand sneaking onto her hip.

Carmilla’s eyebrows shot up. “Um, Elsie, I really don’t think…” she started, backing up and out of the room. In her haste to get away, she bumped into someone who was walking by with a bunch of papers in hand, which went flying everywhere.

“For Helga’s sake, watch where you’re going,” the girl snapped, annoyed, and Carmilla whirled around.

Laura?

Laura’s head whipped up from where she was bent, gathering the papers. “Carmilla?” She straightened up, starting to laugh. “No wonder you bumped into me. First rule of the office: never get in the way of someone carrying more than three inches of papers.”

Carmilla flushed slightly. “Sorry about that,” she muttered, bending down to continue collecting the papers. Laura chuckled and leaned down next to her, adding to the pile.

“No hard feelings,” she said with a smile. “Especially since I woke up in an empty bed this morning…”

There was a gagged sound behind her, and Laura and Carmilla looked around to see Elsie staring at them.

“Hollis? This is your girlfriend?”

Laura looked immediately apologetic. “Oh my god, Elsie, I haven’t even introduced you! This is Carmilla. Carmilla, Elsie.”

Carmilla and Elsie looked at each other uncomfortably. “Um, yeah. We knew each other in school,” Carmilla said, and Laura grinned.

“Oh, that’s great! You two should catch up.”

No,” Carmilla said hastily. “I think we’re, uh, I think we’re probably good. I had something I wanted to talk to you about.”

Laura gave her a curious look. “Okay,” she said with a shrug, picking up the final piece of paper and readjusting the stack in her arms. “We can go to my cubicle.”

She started walking down the hallway and Carmilla made to follow her, but a hand snaked around her arm pulled her back.

“In case that doesn’t work out,” Elsie whispered in her ear, sliding a hand into Carmilla’s back pocket. “You did always say you liked the way I taste…”

Carmilla nearly choked, and she grabbed Elsie’s arm and shoved her against the wall. “Have some fucking respect,” she whispered back harshly. “I don’t fucking cheat.” She glared at Elsie, who had the grace to look slightly sheepish.

“I did say if it didn’t work out…” she started, but Carmilla cut her off.

“Save it,” she snapped. “And you can keep this,” she added, fishing out Elsie’s number from where it had been slipped into her pocket. She glared at Elsie one last time before stalking off to find Laura’s cubicle.

“Hey, where’d you go?” Laura said with a smile, and Carmilla shrugged. “Elsie just wanted to give me her contact information so we could stay in touch.”

“That’s great!” Laura said, but Carmilla made a face. “What…?” Laura asked, amused. Carmilla shrugged again. “We, uh… We slept together in college. A couple times. So I, um, I didn’t think that was a good idea.”

Laura’s face went from amused to horrified to amused again in the span of only a few seconds, and Carmilla felt slightly seasick watching them play out across her face.

“Um, Laur…”

Laura started laughing. “I was wondering why she was so taken aback that we were dating!” she said with a chuckle. “But you didn’t have to refuse her number. I trust you.”

Carmilla shrugged. “I didn’t really want it,” she said. “Besides, it’s not like I have time to spend with her. Not with your damn ginger twins sucking up my every waking hour.”

Laura smiled at her. “You know you appreciate Perr’s cooking,” she said. Carmilla sniffed haughtily.

“It’s impolite to refuse a second helping.”

“And a third?”

“I have excellent manners.”

Laura laughed. “Alright, fine,” she said good-naturedly. “What did you want to talk about?”

Carmilla’s smile slipped off her face, and she sat down on Laura’s desk.

“Do you remember SJ?”

Laura looked confused. “The cop that went missing?”

Carmilla nodded, fidgeting, avoiding Laura’s eyes as she tried to think of how to tell her, but Laura beat her to it.

“She’s dead, isn’t she.”

Carmilla’s head shot up. “How the fuck do you know that?”

“I’m a journalist,” Laura shrugged. “It’s my job to have decent intuition. And it had to be bad, because you didn’t want to tell me. Look, Carm, that’s really scary, but you don’t need to worry about me. I’m still working random hours.”

Carmilla shifted uncomfortably. “It’s, uh…” she trailed off before finishing her sentence in one breath. “It’sactuallynotyouthistime.”

Laura stared at her. “What?”

“It’s. Um. I’m actually not worried about you this time?” Carmilla met Laura’s wide eyes and hastily continued. “I mean, I’m always worried about you. Like… Always. But. Um. I didn’t come here because I was worried about you.”

“Who were you worried about…?”

“Well, I guess sort of you. Because I was worried about your reaction. I think.”

“Carmilla. Why were you worried?”

“But it’s really not a huge deal. I mean, I can handle it. That’s why they gave it to me.”

Carmilla.

Carmilla grimaced, taking Laura’s hand and threading their fingers together. “I’m being put on the case?”

“What?” Laura asked breathlessly, and Carmilla felt Laura’s fingers tighten instantly around hers. “They can’t do that! It’s too dangerous! You told me you were too good, you would never be put on it!”

“I thought that was true, cupcake! But the Captain decided it was more of a risk to put someone less skilled and with less experience on it, and since we can’t exactly put Mattie on it without having the damn newspaper jump down our necks, it has to be me.”

Laura shot up out of her chair. “Don’t you dare act like this is my fault -”

“Cupcake,” Carmilla said, placing her hands on Laura’s shoulders. “I’m not. It’s not your fault. None of this is your fault. I’m just trying to tell you why it changed. When I told you I would never be put on the case… It was true.”

Laura stood stock still. There were hundreds of emotions running across her face, and Carmilla had no idea how to deal with any of them, so she just pulled Laura close and wrapped her arms around her. After several seconds, she felt moisture on her neck and realized Laura was crying.

“Cutie, I’m gonna be okay…” Carmilla said, trying to sound as convincing as possible, but Laura shook her head emphatically, pushing herself out of Carmilla’s embrace to make her point.

“Carm, you’re going to die, and it’s going to be all my fault!”

“Laura. Listen to me. I am going to be very, very careful. We are always going out on patrol in pairs. I’ll tell you before I have to do anything particularly dangerous. But there are multiple cops on the case. The odds of any of us getting hurt are low!”

A cop just died, Carmilla!” Laura hissed through the tears burning their way down her face, and Carmilla swallowed back an angry retort, forcing herself to breathe and prioritize Laura’s anger over hers.

“I know, cupcake,” she said, trying to keep her voice low and soothing. “I know. But SJ wasn’t me. She had been on the case from the beginning, so she hadn’t needed to be subtle or super on her game because we didn’t realize how dangerous they were. But now we do. I won’t make the same mistakes that SJ did, okay? I’m gonna be okay.”

Laura bit her lip, staring at her, trying to stop the flood of tears, but Carmilla shook her head.

“It’s okay to cry, sweetheart. I just don’t want you to worry too much.”

“I don’t think there’s a ‘too much’ when it comes to you,” Laura said, the corner of her mouth quirking up in a half smile, and Carmilla laughed as she drew Laura back into a hug.

“Okay, that’s fair. But it goes for you too.”

Carmilla felt Laura shrugging as she replied. “Point taken.”

They stayed in the embrace for several minutes before they drew apart. Carmilla gestured to the piles of work on Laura’s desk. “How much more do you have to do before you can go home?”

Laura pursed her lips as she looked around. “Actually,” she said, “let’s go home now. Are you off shift? When do you have to go back?”

“Not until the morning. But are you sure? There’s nothing else you need to do?”

“What I need to do right now is spend time with my girlfriend,” Laura answered. Carmilla nodded. She felt the same way, but she hadn’t been about to ask for a night in together, not wanting to worry Laura any further.

“Let’s go home, then,” she said, slipping a hand around Laura’s waist, and they talked about anything, everything, unrelated to the case as they made their way to the car and then home. Carmilla sent Laura to their room to take a nap before she started making dinner.

She stared around at her kitchen, trying to figure out what Laura’s comfort food would be. She was trying to figure out if she had the ingredients for mac & cheese when she was struck by a flash of brilliance and grabbed flour off the shelf, digging around in the fridge for eggs and milk. Twenty minutes later, she snuck into their room and gently shook Laura awake, leading her into the kitchen. Laura rubbed her eyes blearily as they walked back in, but her eyes lit up and her step quickened as she smelled…

“Bacon?” Laura asked excitedly, and Carmilla laughed and nodded.

“Breakfast for dinner. Pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, orange juice.”

“Oh my god,” Laura breathed. “Best. Girlfriend. Ever.

“I try,” Carmilla said, laughing. “Only got burned by the bacon once.”

Laura rolled her eyes at her. “You act like that’s impressive.”

Carmilla feigned horror as she stared at Laura. “Excuse you,” she said in mock offense. “I distinctly recall waking up a few weeks ago and coming into the kitchen to see you icing your arm because the bacon burned you so badly.”

“I have no idea to what you are referring,” Laura said airily, trying to hide her smile. “Do you have maple syrup?”

Carmilla rolled her eyes as she grabbed the syrup and put it in front of her girlfriend. They ate in comfortable silence for a few moments before Laura cleared her throat.

“Um… Could we maybe…?”

Carmilla raised her eyes, gesturing for her to go on.

“Could we, um… Watch a movie? On the couch? While we eat?”

Carmilla laughed. “Cupcake, it’s not like you’re asking to put graffiti on my walls. Sure, of course we can.” She got up and started walking toward the shelves of DVDs. “Which one do you want to watch?”

“... Harry Potter? The first one?”

Carmilla grabbed it off the shelf and started setting up the TV. “Okay, cutie. Get in here.”

Laura grabbed both of their plates and the syrup and set themselves up in front of the TV, scooting forward in her seat so Carmilla could slide in behind her and cuddle. Carmilla tried not to laugh at the childish excitement in Laura’s eyes as the theme played and the movie began, but she realized the look of wonder in Laura’s eyes at the screen was the same look Carmilla gave to Laura when she wasn’t looking. A smile played across Carmilla’s face as she pulled her plate on her lap and settled in next to her girlfriend.

Chapter Text

“Shhhh! Shh!” LaF whispered violently, flapping their hand to quiet JP and pressing their cellphone closer to their ear. “You bastard…” they started, but trailed off as Perry picked up.

“LaFontaine?” Perry said, her voice sounding somewhat tinny over the poor connection. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” LaF said reassuringly. “I was just calling because… Well, I was kind of wondering if JP could come over for dinner? He’s just… I know you two didn’t get off to a great start, but he said that you baked croissants together once? And you two are both really important with me and I just want you to get along with my friends… I know it’s a lot to ask but I was just wondering. Maybe.”

There was only crackling static on the other end of the line as LaF waited on tenterhooks before Perry spoke. “He’s standing next to you right now, isn’t he.”

“Um,” LaF said, glancing to their right, where JP was fidgeting as he eyed them and tried to gauge how the conversation was going. The hesitation was apparently all the answer Perry needed, because she sighed down the line.

“Tell him he can come over,” she said, her tone colored by exasperation and (LaF hoped) a hint of amusement. “Does he like lasagna? That’s what we were going to have.”

“Yes!” LaF practically shouted. “I mean, of course he likes lasagna. Who doesn’t like lasagna? Not JP!”

“… Mmmm,” Perry said. “Well, I can have it ready in as little as 45 minutes. Will you two be home by then?”

“Yes! Absolutely. Do you need me to pick anything up on our way home?” LaF said, doing a little jig as they beamed at JP.

“… Did you just offer to pick something up?”

“Um. Yes? Why?”

Perry gave a surprised chuckle. “LaF, you haven’t asked me that since the first year we lived together.”

“What?” LaF said, bewildered. “That can’t be true.”

“LaF…” Perry replied, still chuckling, but LaF interrupted her.

“Well, either way, I’m asking now. Do you need anything?”

There was a pause before Perry answered. “Well, actually, if you could pick up a bag of lettuce that would be great, we could have a salad. Maybe romaine? Oh, and pick up some tomatoes while you’re at it. And cucumbers. Make sure the lettuce isn’t limp or turning brown at the edges – turn it over and check the underside of the bag, maybe shake it a little. If you want fruit on the table you should pick that up too – maybe some pears? Or oranges, the oranges should be great this time of year. Oh, and if you want anything for dessert you’re going to need to pick that up.”

LaF raised their eyebrows. “Geez, Perr, do you ever breathe?” There was a huff at the other end of the line that LaF chose to ignore. “Okay, I’ll pick all of that up. Anything else?”

There was a pause before Perry said no, and she and LaF exchanged goodbyes before LaF hung up and turned toward JP.

He gave her an amused look. “We’re taking a trip to the store, huh?” he said, and LaF groaned in response. They started walking to their car and JP fell in line next to them. “What did she even want? She was talking forever.”

LaF rolled their eyes. “She literally just wanted salad, fruit and dessert if we want it.”

“Why’d it take so long to say, then?”

“It’s Perry.”

JP nodded, considering, before LaF nudged him sharply in the ribs.

“So what’s new in your love life?”

JP wrinkled his nose. “Please,” he said distastefully. “As if.”

LaF chuckled and nodded. “Figured I’d check,” they said, and JP shrugged.

“You can check, but it’s never going to change,” he said. “You know me – I’m as ace as they come, and aro to boot.”

“That you are,” LaF agreed as they climbed into the front seat of the car and turned the key in the ignition, revving the engine a bit for the benefit of the undergrads milling about in the parking structure before they pulled out and started toward the grocery store before LaF remembered something with a start. They glanced over at JP. "You do like lasagna... Right?"

 


 

“We’re home!” LaF yelled as they and JP burst through the front door, both laden with grocery bags. Perry looked up and raised her eyebrows as they entered the kitchen.

“Looks like you bought enough salad to feed an army,” she said, and LaF shook their head enthusiastically.

“Not salad, dessert!” they said, holding up one of the bags. “They were having some super special on ice cream. Do you know how many flavors they have? I don’t even know what half of these are!”

Perry looked past LaF at JP. “You let this happen?”

JP raised his arms in a surrender. “I tried to stop them, I swear,” he said defensively.

“It’s true, he did,” LaF acknowledged. “But he had no choice. The poor kid was just an unwilling pack mule.”

“Gee, LaF, way to make a person feel appreciated,” JP said, sticking his tongue out at them, and LaF shrugged.

“It’s true.”

“Is not.”

“Is too.”

“Is not.”

“Is too –”

Children.” Perry interrupted, trying to fight the smile on her face. “For the love of all that is good and holy. Shush.”

The two had the grace to look somewhat sheepish. LaF scuffed their shoe against the floor and hung their head, but when Perry turned around they quickly made a face at JP behind her back.

I saw that, LaFontaine.”

LaF straightened up immediately and stared straight ahead. They could see JP laughing from the corner of their eye and willed their eyesight to avoid him. Don’t look, you’ll start laughing… Don’t look… Don’t – dammit, they thought, a chuckle spilling out of their lips. Perry just rolled her eyes and turned toward a sink.

If you two are quite finished, you could start chopping up some of these for the salad,” she said, running some of the vegetables under water. “I just need to slide the lasagna into the oven.”

“I’d be happy to do that for you, Miss Perry,” JP offered, and LaF rolled their eyes at him. Suck up, they mouthed, and he just rolled his eyes back at them and waited for Perry’s answer.

“That would be lovely, thank you, JP,” Perry said politely, and LaF groaned inwardly. Get the stick out your asses, both of you, I swear…

When they eventually sat down at the table, JP looked at Perry and smiled. “So, I hear from LaF that you have a book club going?”

Perry gave a surprised but pleased look at LaF before answering. “That’s right,” she said. “We meet once a week. It’s a great group of people.”

“What kind of books do you –” JP cut off and he and Perry looked quizzically at LaF, who had emitted a startled yelp. LaF shrunk down in their seat.

“Burned my mouth on the lasagna,” they muttered, and Perry bit her lip trying not to laugh while JP rolled his eyes.

“Miracle they let that one into the lab, honestly,” he said, and Perry did laugh at that one. “Anyway, what kind of books do you read? Any specific genre?”

“No, not really,” Perry answered. “We’ve read scifi, travel novels, memoirs… Anything, really.”

“How do you pick which books to read, then?” JP asked curiously.

Perry shrugged. “People bring in suggestions and then we vote,” she said. “We’ve been trying to read literature by female authors when possible, just because, you know, historically…”

“Right,” JP said, understanding. “Any Octavia Butler? I hear she’s big in the science fiction world.”

Perry lit up. “We just read a novel by her, actually!” she said excitedly. “That one about the aliens, LaF, remember? I told you about it.”

LaF nodded, blowing forcefully on their lasagna to cool it down.

JP grinned. “I loved that one,” he said sincerely. “If you’re looking for similar literature by other authors, there’s a great collection online…”

LaF focused on their meal, not wanting to interrupt. Getting Perry and JP to even tolerate each other had been an upward battle. They readjusted in their chair, took a bite of lasagna, and smiled, letting the conversation wash over them. Finally.

Chapter Text

Laura tossed and turned, keenly feeling Carmilla’s absence even in her sleep. She was working a night shift again, and Carmilla’s bed felt much too large without her sharing it. Laura had just drifted off into sleep when her phone rang, and she scrambled awake, clutching her covers around her as she answered it.

“Hello?” she said, sleepy and annoyed, but the voice on the other side was having none of it.

“Tomorrow night. The Lustig. Go undercover.”

“Mel?” Laura said sharply, adrenaline forcing her brain awake. “What’s going on?”

“If you want to get past this dead end, you’ll be undercover at the Lustig tomorrow night,” Mel repeated. “And don’t bring anyone else, especially not another reporter. They’ll just take over.”

“Excuse you,” Laura interrupted, affronted, but Mel cut her off.

“Save it, kid,” she said dismissively. “One nosy reporter hanging around a sleazy bar at night looks fishy. More than one looks like an ambush. If you want anything to report on, you’ll go alone.”

Laura hesitated, but Mel caught her hesitation and started speaking again.

“What’s the matter? Lois Lane too scared to do some investigative reporting? They should’ve kept you covering the schools. At least you would’ve been able to show up.”

“Fuck you, Mel,” Laura said, anger and lack of sleep destroying her filter. “I’ll be there.”

“Good,” Mel said. “I want out of this as soon as possible.”

“Good.”

“Good.”

Laura scowled at the phone. “Good.”

Mel just laughed on the other end. “Oh, and remember, Hollis,” she said. “Drug rings can smell cops a mile away. You tell your girlfriend about this, you’re only putting her in danger.”

Speechless, Laura could only grip the phone tighter as she heard the click on the other end signaling the end of the conversation. She hung up and threw her phone into the pile of laundry at the other end of the room. “Fucking Mel,” she muttered. “Threatening my girlfriend. Like that’s enough to scare me.”

Laura paused for a moment. She was bluffing, right? How the hell would they know Carm knows? Laura nodded, convinced with her own logic, before a wave of fresh panic washed over her. But we still don’t know who the informant is at the station… So they could find out, if Carm said something. But she wouldn’t say something.

Do you really believe she wouldn’t? a snide voice in her head challenged. She would do anything to keep you safe. But no, really, go ahead and tell her. You’ll get put on house arrest again and probably kill her all at the same time.

Laura winced. The snide voice had a point. Though after their fight Carmilla had been much more willing to let Laura do her job and move around town relatively freely, Laura knew she was still worried sick. She was always checking in with Laura when she knew Laura would be out of the apartment, which Laura found sweet but slightly suffocating. If she knew Laura was going to be inhabiting the same space as the criminals – which Laura assumed would happen once she got to the Lustig – there is no way Laura would get out of her sight for the next month. God, I hate having an overprotective girlfriend, Laura thought to herself, annoyed, before a small smile turned up the corners of her mouth, remembering the concern in Carmilla’s eyes that was reserved only for her. Well… No, I don’t. But a white lie, tomorrow, just this once, won’t hurt anyone.

Laura paced around her apartment, trying to breathe deeply and steady her thoughts. As exhaustion seeped into her bones, she slid under the covers, drifting off into an uneasy and restless sleep.

As early morning light started to filter through the window, Laura was jolted awake by a weight settling at the foot of the bed. She sat up in a panic before making out the silhouette of her girlfriend.

“Sorry, cupcake,” Carmilla said softly. “I was trying not to wake you.”

Laura shook her head and moved, pressing her back to the wall to make plenty of room for Carmilla to lie down. Carmilla obliged, stretching like a cat as she pulled the covers up to her chin. Laura reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear, memorizing the way the dim light rested softly on her features, and Carmilla gave her a puzzled, sleepy smile.

“What’s up, buttercup?” she asked gently, settling her face on the pillow and threading her fingers through Laura’s. Laura just shook her head.

“Nightmares,” she said simply, and Carmilla’s eyes flashed with sympathy. “It’s Sunday,” she said. “You can sleep in. Go back to bed.” She pushed gently on Laura’s hip, encouraging her to roll over onto her other side, then pulled Laura to her firmly, putting a protective arm around her waist and pressing kisses to Laura’s neck. Laura smiled and settled into her girlfriend’s embrace as she fell into a peaceful and deep sleep.

She woke up hours later, her stomach grumbling. She reached out sleepily towards Carmilla and frowned when she found only empty bed. “Carm…?”

Laura caught a whiff of a pleasant smell and crawled out of bed, padding towards the kitchen where she could hear sounds of life. She saw Carmilla standing by the stove, absentmindedly flipping pancakes with one hand while she read the paperback she was holding in the other. Laura peered over her shoulder as she wrapped her arms around her girlfriend.

“Hey,” she said, pressing a kiss to Carmilla’s exposed shoulder. “Isn’t Dostoevsky a bit heavy for the morning?”

“Hey!” Carmilla responded eagerly, putting her book down and turning to hug Laura tightly, lifting her up and spinning her around. Laura looked at Carmilla with a bewildered but infectiously happy grin on her face once Carmilla set her back down on the ground.

“What was that about?” she said with a laugh, and Carmilla just shrugged, smiling.

“Is it a crime to be happy to see your girlfriend?”

Laura shot her a quizzical look, an insistent smile tugging up at the corners of her lips. “No,” she said, leaning up to press a kiss against Carmilla’s lips. “Just curious about what has you in such a good mood.”

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Carmilla answered with another shrug. “But I’m not going to fight it. It’s a gorgeous day, I have a gorgeous girlfriend, and these,” she said, gesturing behind her, “are some gorgeous pancakes.”

Laura laughed. “Alright, alright,” she said affectionately. “Carry on.” She planted another kiss on Carmilla’s shoulder before she wandered toward the kitchen table. She was about to sit when Carmilla’s voice arrested her in her place.

Jesus, Laur,” Carmilla said, fixing Laura in place with an unreadable expression on her face. Laura felt a wave of confusion wash over her.

“… What?” she said uncertainly, and Carmilla shook her head.

“Is that what you wore to bed last night?”

Laura looked down at her clothes. She was wearing lacy underwear - she’d run out of everything else - and one of Carmilla’s unbuttoned flannels as a pseudo-shirt. She looked back at Carmilla and shrugged. “Yeah?”

Carmilla groaned and rested her elbows on the counter, holding her face in her hands. Laura watched her, torn between concern and amusement. “Carm?”

Carmilla looked up at her, a desperate look in her eyes offset only by the smile she was fighting to keep off her face. “Food or sex?”

“… What?” Laura asked, trying not to laugh.

“Food or sex?” Carmilla repeated. “What’s my priority right now? I mean, sweetheart, look at you. I’m voting sex.”

Laura did laugh at that. “Food, then sex?” she suggested, but Carmilla shook her head.

“Sex, then food,” she countered.

Laura frowned. “Warm pancakes.”

Carmilla threw her arms out, splattering the cupboard with pancake batter from the spatula she held in her hand. “Horny girlfriend,” she replied, gesturing down at herself.

Laura laughed again, but shook her head. “Warm pancakes,” she repeated firmly, and Carmilla groaned.

“Fine,” she said, pretending to sulk. She looked down at the pan and frowned, prodding a pancake with the spatula. “Cook faster, you bastard.”

Laura chuckled, rolling her eyes. She saw the corners of Carmilla’s mouth turn up as she tried to fight a smile, but when Carmilla glanced toward her, the smile danced unbridled across her face and in her eyes. I want this, Laura thought to herself, a smile that mirrored Carmilla’s playing across her face as she watched Carmilla turn back toward the pancakes, humming under her breath as she flipped them. I want this forever.

 


 

Laura leaned her head back against Carmilla’s arm. “Shit,” she gasped, and Carmilla nodded, faintly breathless.

“Shit,” she agreed.

Laura buried her head in the crook of Carmilla’s neck and groaned. “Ugh, now I’m hungry again,” she complained. “Next time we do this first.”

Carmilla chuckled, and Laura could feel the vibrations against her temple. “I told you,” she said, and Laura gently shoved her.

“Don’t be cocky,” she said with a smile, and Carmilla’s smirk only grew.

“I think I have plenty of right to be cocky after that,” she said smugly. “I gave you, like, three orgasms.”

Laura shook her head. “Two orgasms.”

Carmilla frowned, pushing herself up onto one elbow. “Three.”

Laura rolled over so they were facing each other. “Two. One with your mouth and one with your fingers.”

Carmilla looked offended. “You definitely came twice with my mouth, cupcake,” she said, glaring at Laura, who shrugged.

“Like that counts,” she said dismissively. “You can’t count orgasms that blur together. They have to be distinct.”

Carmilla was fully sitting up now. “What kind of bullshit rule is that?” she said indignantly. “My tongue was about to fucking fall off and now you’re all ‘oh no, it doesn’t even count, should’ve stopped in the middle.’ Well, I wish I had stopped! Maybe then my jaw wouldn’t be threatening to secede from my face!”

Laura laughed. “What, do you want a kiss to make it better?” she teased, and Carmilla pretended to pout.

“Maybe…” she said, and Laura rolled her eyes before straddling her girlfriend and pressing a gentle kiss to her lips. Her heart fluttered as she felt Carmilla smile into the kiss before she reached up and pulled Laura deeper in, a hand moving firmly down to her ass.

“You really up for another round?” Laura murmured against her mouth, and Carmilla hummed in response, flipping them over so Laura landed on the bed.

“I was born ready, sweetheart,” she said, leaning over Laura with a lecherous smile. “The real question is if you can handle it.”

Laura scoffed. “Don’t flatter yourself, Karnstein,” she said. “We both know I have just as much stamina as you do… If not more.”

Carmilla reached up and grabbed Laura’s wandering hand, pinning it with her other above her head. “Is that so?” she asked, and Laura just looked up at her, a challenge in her eyes. “Well then, Hollis,” she said, leaning down, whispering the words against Laura’s lips. “Prove it.”

Laura grinned and stretched upward until her lips connected with Carmilla’s. The kiss was slow and languid, but quickly grew in intensity. They broke apart hastily when the doorbell sounded.

“What the fuck,” Carmilla muttered angrily. “If we ignore it, they’ll go away, right?”

Laura looked panicked. “Um,” she said guiltily. “Did I forget to mention LaF was going to swing by?”

Carmilla stared at her. “When was that supposed to happen?”

“Um,” Laura said. “Around 2?”

Carmilla grabbed the clock by the bed and turned until she saw the time. She groaned and slid off the bed, hastily pulling shorts and a top on.

“… After 2?” Laura asked, and Carmilla silently nodded her confirmation. She closed the bedroom door behind her, and Laura heard her crossing the living room. She heard the front door open and threw on sweatpants and a T-shirt, following Carmilla’s path until she saw her and LaF engaged in small talk, a faint blush appearing on Carmilla’s neck and a smirk firmly fixed on LaF’s mouth.

“Oh, Laur,” LaF said, their smirk growing as they caught sight of their best friend. “Had a nice morning?”

“Shut it, LaF,” Laura responded with an eyeroll, ignoring the blush creeping up her neck to mirror her girlfriend’s.

LaF put a hand to their chest in mock horror. “Gee, is that any way to treat a friend?” they said. “Here I am, just trying to ask about your day, only to be met with such rudeness!”

Carmilla cleared her throat, trying not to laugh. “What can we do for you, LaF?” she said politely. LaF shrugged.

“I was going to see if you guys wanted to grab lunch, but it seems you’ve, ah, already eaten out,” they said, and Laura flushed scarlet.

LaF!” she gasped, but Carmilla laughed.

“Very clever,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Did you actually have something to say, or are you just going to keep standing there making sex jokes?”

LaF shrugged. “I was actually going to ask about lunch,” they said, “but it’s fine. Just wanted to check in, see how you guys are doing. I’ll clear out now. Won’t want to be around for another few hours, probably,” they finished with a smirk, and Laura smacked their arm. “Alright, alright, I’m going,” they said good-naturedly, rubbing their arm. “Jeez.”

Carmilla shook her head and started heading back to the bedroom, but LaF grabbed Laura’s arm before she could follow. “Hey,” LaF said quietly, and waited until Laura made eye contact. “You seem really happy. I’m glad you’re happy.”

Laura couldn’t doubt the sincerity in their eyes and blushed for what felt like the tenth time that afternoon. “Thanks, LaF,” she said. “She’s… She’s kind of amazing.”

“Good,” LaF replied. “You deserve that.”

Laura bit her lip. “God, I hope so,” she said, and LaF nudged her.

“I’ve known you for years, Hollis,” they said. “You do. Now go have some more fun.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “Get out,” she said affectionately, and LaF gave a mock bow as they obliged.

They hesitated before the door closed all the way, and when Laura gave them a quizzical stare, they glanced toward Carmilla’s bedroom. “Be safe!” they screamed suddenly, and slammed the door shut. Laura couldn’t fight a laugh as she heard them running at a full sprint down the stairs.

Carmilla poked her head out from the bedroom. “Why do you insist on being friends with such odd creatures?” she asked. Laura grinned.

“Because it’s so fun,” she replied, and Carmilla groaned, retreating back into the room. Laura followed, sitting down on the bed, watching Carmilla strip for a shower.

“Want to join me?” Carmilla said, glancing at her with a grin, but Laura shook her head.

“As tempting as that is,” she said with a smile, “we never seem to actually get clean when we shower together, and we’re kind of disgusting right now.”

Carmilla shrugged. “That’s fair,” she allowed, and slipped into the bathroom. Laura flopped onto the bed and picked up the Dostoevsky Carmilla had been reading.

When Carmilla came out of the shower, Laura was frowning down at the pages. “Honestly, Carm,” she said. “This is hard enough in the afternoon.”

Carmilla laughed and took the book from Laura, glancing down at it affectionately. “I’ve read it before,” she said. “It’s brilliant. Easier the second time.”

“I should hope so,” Laura said distrustfully, and Carmilla laughed again.

“So, cutie,” she said. “What’s your plan for the rest of the day?”

Laura shrugged. “I should probably shower,” she started. “And get dinner at some point. And then I’m, ah, I’m going over to Danny’s. Movie night.”

“Oh,” Carmilla said, looking faintly surprised, but she shrugged. “That’ll be good for you.”

“Yeah,” Laura said, grateful both that Carmilla had bought the lie and that she was growing increasingly trustful of Danny and her intentions with Laura. “What about you?”

“I have to go back to the station pretty soon,” she said, and Laura frowned.

“Why?”

“We have some big drug bust tonight,” she said, making a face as she pulled on a pair of pants. “I guess Mattie or someone got a lead? I don’t know. I’m not really that hopeful about it. The last couple leads we had were all duds.”

Laura tried to quell her mounting panic. “I thought you had tonight off,” she said, and Carmilla looked at her.

“I usually do,” she said, studying Laura’s face. “But I got reassigned to the drug case, remember? So I’m going to put in some extra hours tonight and hopefully have some time off next week. It’s fine, it happens.”

“Carmilla,” Laura said firmly, and Carmilla’s head snapped up from glaring at the uncooperative buttons on her shirt to look at Laura, recognizing the implications of Laura’s use of her full name. “I would really prefer it if you didn’t take that case tonight.”

Carmilla gave her a studied look before she looked down and finished buttoning her shirt. “I don’t make that call,” she finally said, but she ran her eyes over Laura’s face, trying to tease out what Laura wasn’t telling her.

Laura readjusted on the bed. “Carm,” she said, trying a different approach. “Carm, you could get hurt. This isn’t like all of the other times you’ve gotten leads. They’ve killed people. Officers.”

Carmilla’s face softened and she sat down next to Laura on the bed, taking her hand. “I know, Laur,” she said gently. “But I knew the risks when I took the job. And you knew the risks when we started dating. I’ve made a commitment to protect the public.”

“You’ve made a commitment to me,” Laura said, jerking her hand away from Carmilla’s and starting to pace around the room before she slowed to a halt. “You’ve made a commitment to me,” she repeated, softer, looking at her girlfriend. “Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“Laura,” Carmilla said, hurt. “Of course it does. But my job doesn’t just go away when it’s inconvenient.”

“Am I inconvenient?”

“Laura, no,” Carmilla said, frustration starting to break through her composure. “You know that’s not what I was trying to say. Laur, please.”

“Don’t ‘Laura, please’ me right now, Carmilla, seriously,” Laura said, fighting back desperate tears. “Come on. Don’t go out tonight.”

Carmilla stood up, shrugging on her jacket and strapping her gun to her thigh. “I can’t do that.”

“Carmilla,” Laura said, her voice breaking. “Please. Please tell me you care about me more than this drug bust.”

Carmilla turned around from the doorway. “I thought you understood,” she said quietly, pain written across her face. “My job doesn’t evaporate just because I want to be safe, whether it’s for me or for someone else, just like I can’t use my concern for you to stop you from doing your job – which, by the way, is just as dangerous right now. But don’t try to guilt trip me by implying I care about my job more than I do about you. Jesus, Laura, that’s not even a question. I -” Carmilla hesitated, but pressed on. “Laura, I love you.”

Laura stared at Carmilla and it was like time stopped. There was a beautiful, caring, noble girl who was telling her she loved her standing in front of her, waiting for her response, but Laura was frozen in place. Say it back. Say it back. Say it back, a voice chanted in her brain, but it was drowned out by frantic, desperate logic. If you say it back it’ll hurt her more if you get hurt tonight. There’s no way to say it back and keep her from leaving. You can’t say it on the night you’re lying to her and risking your fucking life, Laura, what kind of person are you?

Hurt danced its way through Carmilla’s eyes as the seconds ticked by and Laura didn’t respond. Carmilla bit her lip and nodded, acknowledging Laura’s lack of a response, studying the floor beneath her feet. They stood there mute for several minutes, locked in a silence neither wanted to break.

Eventually, Carmilla looked up and met Laura’s eyes. “I love you,” she repeated quietly. “I promise I will come back tonight. I’ll wear my vest, I’ll radio back to the station every half hour, I’ll text you updates if you want. But I promise I will come back. I’ll earn my right to hear you say it back.”

Laura could only stare at her as Carmilla quickly crossed the space between them and pressed a kiss to Laura’s forehead. She pulled back and met Laura’s eyes, studied the millions of emotions flitting across them. “I love you,” she breathed, so softly Laura almost didn’t hear her. She looked like she was going to say something else, but she stopped herself, glancing away from Laura’s face. She bit her lip again and gave Laura’s hand a tight squeeze. “I’ll come back,” she repeated gently. “I promise.”

She turned and left the apartment without another look behind her, and at the sound of the door clicking into place, Laura crumpled, curling onto the floor and choking out I love you’s toward the shut door until her throat caught and tears rushed past her eyelids to streak down her cheeks. She cried until her vision swam in her eyes and a headache felt like it was going to split her mind open, and then she crawled into the shower and thought about the look on Carmilla’s face when she didn’t say I love you back and cried until it felt like her absolution had started. She turned the temperature up until it scalded her skin and let the pain serve as her penitence, burning away the hurt on Carmilla’s face and the way she seemed to fold in on herself more and more each time she said the words and Laura stood there in silence. Laura stood in the shower for what felt like hours, but when she finally moved, there was clarity in her mind and some peace in her heart. She wrapped herself in a towel that smelled like Carmilla, pulled a sheet of paper toward her, and began to write.

Chapter Text

Carmilla tried to breathe deeply, to steady the hands that were shaking as they clutched the steering wheel. She dragged a trembling hand across her eyes, refusing to allow the moisture to drip down her cheek, and tried to fix her eyes on the road in front of her as thoughts ran unbidden through her mind. She just wasn’t ready to say it back. She will when she’s ready. You can’t push her. Carmilla bit down on her lip hard enough to draw blood. She couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something that had preventing Laura from saying it back, something beyond the surprise. You did say it during a fight. That’s an awful time to hear those words for the first time. Just don’t push her. It’ll sort itself out.

“Snap out of it, Karnstein,” she muttered to herself. “This isn’t the time to be caught up in girlfriend drama.” She threw the car into park as she arrived at the station and clocked in, composing herself as she walked to where Mattie and Will were already waiting.

“Mattie,” she said, nodding at her. “Luce.”

Mattie nodded back, but Will grinned at her. “Ready to catch some drug-smuggling ass?”

Carmilla made a face at him. “Don’t be crass, Luce,” she said. “Just get your shit and let’s go.”

They both double- and triple-checked their gear as Mattie went over the logistics of the bust with them. “Just hide out across the street from the hotel, okay?” she said, slightly anxious as she watched Carmilla check the gun strapped to her leg. “Don’t get involved unless you absolutely have to. I don’t want any engagement until you make sure you have the upper hand. Watch out for the people they’ll have posted out trying to watch for you. Sit outside so your coat can cover the bulkiness of your gear. Aim –”

“Aim to injure unless they shoot back, then aim to kill,” Carmilla interrupted. “Don’t let the darkness go to your head. Switch off one person keeping guard and one person meditating to try to keep yourselves calm. If they see you, pretend you’re a couple and walk away until you can radio for backup. Make sure your radios and phones are on silent. Come on, Mattie, we know. We’ve done this a hundred times.”

“Okay, okay,” Mattie said, throwing her hands up. “Grab the cruiser and go. Ungrateful idiots.”

“Love you too,” Carmilla called over her shoulder as she shoved open the door to the station with her shoulder. Will just nodded at her.

“Later, Lieutenant.”

“And don’t do anything stupid!” Mattie yelled after them.

“We’ve never done anything stupid in our lives!” Carmilla yelled back, and slid into the driver’s seat of the cruiser. Will frowned down at her.

“No way. I drive.”

“Don’t be a misogynistic idiot, Luce. If you wanted to drive, you should’ve called dibs or moved your ass so you got here first. Get in the damn car.”

“Jesus, what has your panties in a twist?” Will muttered as he slipped into the passenger’s seat, but Carmilla pretended she couldn’t hear him as she peeled out of the station and headed up the road.

After several minutes of driving in a tense silence, Will reached up and fiddled with some of the dials on the dashboard. After several seconds, heavy metal blared through the speakers.

“Jesus,” Carmilla swore, nearly slamming on the brakes in her surprise. “Fuck, turn it down.”

Will shrugged and turned the dial a centimeter or two. Carmilla glared at him, swatting his hand away from the dash.

“Your music choices are fucking terrible,” she said, fiddling with the dial until it turned to classic rock. “Learn some taste.”

“Ew,” Will said, grimacing at the music. “Queen. Jesus. How fucking overrated.”

“It’s Freddie fucking Mercury!” Carmilla said, glaring at him hotly. “Learn some damn respect!”

“No,” Will said, apparently determined to act like an asshole. He flicked the dial until it turned back to metal. “Go fuck yourself.”

“I will literally shove your ass out of this goddamn car, Luce,” Carmilla threatened, jabbing at the dashboard until it fell silent. “Shut the fuck up.”

“Fuck you.”

“Original.”

They continued on, stubbornly ignoring each other, driving through the gathering darkness until Will’s snide voice interrupted the silence.

“You’re gonna miss the damn turn.”

“Fuck you,” Carmilla said, swerving down the unmarked road.

“Original,” he said, parroting her with an unnaturally high voice.

“Oh, Jesus, Luce, really? Take your misogyny and shove it.”

“Yeah? Shove it where? Wanna show me?”

“I fucking swear to god, William, I will have you written up for sexual harassment.”

“Jesus, learn how to take a fucking joke,” Will said defensively, but he backed off and remained sullenly silent until they arrived at the restaurant across the street from the nondescript hotel.

“Okay, grab your gear, let’s go,” Carmilla said, trying not to let the tension get to her. They grabbed their stuff and headed into the restaurant.

“Thought the Lieutenant said to sit outside.”

“Neither of us are bulky even with gear, Luce. But if you want to sit outside in the freezing fucking cold for the next two hours while we wait for them to show up, be my guest.”

Luce scowled, but shoved his stuff into a booth and sat down. Carmilla sat down across from him and looked up with the friendliest smile she could manage at the waitress who came to take their order.

“What do you want, Will?” she asked, and Will shrugged.

“Could I get, uh, a beer and a plate of nachos?”

“Seriously?” Carmilla asked incredulously. “A beer? While we’re –” she glanced at the waitress and made up a story on the spot, lowering her voice just enough for the waitress to be able to hear her as she leaned across the table. “… While we’re waiting to hold an intervention for a friend? Do you have no tact?”

“Hey, he’s gotta learn to deal with it sooner or later,” Will said with a smirk, and Carmilla let out a frustrated sigh.

“Sorry about that,” she said, turning toward the waitress. “I’ll just take ice water, please, and a BLT. Toasted, if you can. Thanks.” She waited until the waitress was out of hearing distance before she turned back to Will. “What the fuck, Luce?”

“Jesus, lighten up, Karnstein,” he replied with annoyance. “It’s one fucking beer. Not even enough to get a kid drunk.”

“I cannot believe you,” Carmilla said. “We’re on…” she lowered her voice, glancing around before continuing. “We’re on a bust and you’re drinking? What about your reflexes?”

“My reflexes are better than yours on a bad day,” he snapped, and Carmilla bit back a response, choosing to drop it. If she kept pressing the issue, she was going to be the one who ended up needing a drink.

She thanked the waitress when she returned with their drinks and food and chewed on the straw nervously, checking her watch repeatedly.

“It’s 2100 hours,” she said as the second hand ticked past 12. “One hour left.”

Will nodded, shuffling a deck of cards he’d pulled out of a pocket. “It doesn’t seem like they’ve sent anyone ahead yet.”

“Yeah,” Carmilla agreed, glancing around nervously. “It’s kind of unnerving.”

Will shrugged. “Probably just a bust like the last one.”

Carmilla bit her lip. “Maybe. I don’t know. Something feels off.”

Will looked up, studying her. “Tension’s probably just getting to you,” he said.

Carmilla nodded, looking down at the table. She only lasted a few minutes before she sprang up. “I’m just going to take a lap around the building,” she said. “If I’m not back in two minutes call for backup.”

Will nodded, not looking up from the cards in his hands. Carmilla rolled her eyes and stalked out the door.

The night air was bitingly cold, and Carmilla wrapped her coat around herself thicker as she walked around the restaurant. There was absolutely nothing going on. It was almost unsettlingly quiet.

Carmilla was halfway into the restaurant when she heard a familiar sound, and she turned to see the cruiser pulling away from the parking spot and heading down the road. “What the fuck,” she swore loudly, bursting inside and breathing a sigh of relief when she saw that the rest of her gear was still there.

There was a note on the table in Will's handwriting that Carmilla picked up with a frown. Mattie radioed with another tip. Went down to check it out. Should be back in 20.

Carmilla nodded, uneasy but trying to fight the nerves from being overwhelming. She grabbed her phone and turned it over in her hand, considering, before she decided and dialed, pressing it to her ear. It rang for a minute or two until Carmilla heard the sound of Laura’s voicemail message and she hung up with a sigh. She drummed her fingers on the table, glancing around, and her eyes fell on her radio. After a pause, she picked it up and radioed Mattie on their private channel.

“What the fuck, Mattie?” she said as soon as Mattie answered. “What if they’d shown up while Will was off on this fucking Easter egg hunt? I wouldn’t have a partner or a way to get out because he took the damn cruiser.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Mattie’s voice said sharply through the static. Carmilla paused and felt the terror she’d been fighting rise up in her throat.

“Did you… Did you not tell Will to go check out another tip?”

“What the fuck? No! He left? Jesus Christ, I don’t like this. Get out of there right now. That’s an order.”

“I don’t have a car, Mattie!” Carmilla said in as harsh a whisper as she could manage, shooting suspicious looks at the fellow patrons in the restaurant.

There was silence on the other end of the line before Mattie answered. “Here’s what we’re gonna do,” she said decisively. “I’m going to try to track the cruiser. Which one did you take? 8?” She waited for Carmilla’s affirmation before she continued. “You’re going to call someone, anyone, who can pick you up and get you out of there. Radio me back in 30 minutes.” There was a crackle and silence on the other end and Carmilla bit her lip, dimly registering the taste of blood. She called Laura, trying to fight the panic she felt when her girlfriend again failed to answer. She stared at the phone before making up her mind. She scrolled down in her recent calls until she got to an unfamiliar number and dialed.

“… Hello?” the voice said, and Carmilla breathed a sigh of relief as she recognized it.

“Danny, hi, it’s Carmilla. Can you tell Laura I need her to come get me? It’s urgent.”

There was a pause on the other end. “Carmilla,” Danny said slowly. “Laura isn’t with me.”

Carmilla’s heart froze in her chest. “She – she told me that…”

Danny interrupted her. “Look, Carmilla, tell me where you are. We need to talk. Right now. I’ll come get you.”

Dumbly, Carmilla gave Danny the restaurant’s address and waited. Soon enough, a pickup truck rumbled into the parking lot and Carmilla grabbed her gear and bolted inside, trembling with relief when the door slammed shut without any trouble.

“What the fuck is going on?” the two of them asked at the same time. They stared at each other. In any other circumstance, it would be funny, but like this? It felt like there was a giant trick being played on both of them.

“Look, Carmilla,” Danny said, pulling an envelope out of her jacket pocket. “Laura told me to give this to you. I’m, uh, I’m not supposed to give it to you yet. But I feel like it’s probably the time.”

“What the fuck?” Carmilla said, taking the envelope from Danny and turning it over in her hands. “What is this?”

“It’s a letter. For if she didn’t come back tonight.”

Carmilla stared at Danny. “What do you mean, ‘if she doesn’t come back tonight’?” Carmilla repeated slowly, and Danny winced as she looked at her.

“Those were her words…” she said, trailing off. She nodded toward the letter. “Maybe just read it.”

Carmilla ripped open the envelope and started scanning its contents. She was only a few sentences in when she tossed it to the side and glared up at Danny.

“What the FUCK? She went undercover?”

She saw the panic she felt momentarily reflected in Danny’s eyes. “I guess so? She said the odds are low she won’t come back, but, uh… Yeah. I guess. If that’s what she said. She didn’t tell me specifics, just that it was something about the ring…”

Carmilla took a deep breath but it didn’t help. The panic was thrumming through her brain and body. She looked at Danny and issued an order.

“Take me back to my apartment. Now.”

Danny said nothing, just threw the car into reverse and backed out of the parking spot before speeding down the road toward downtown. When they finally got to the building, Carmilla leapt out of the cab of the truck and sprinted toward the doors. She jammed the button on the elevator as Danny caught up, panting.

They rode the elevator together in grim silence before they arrived at Carmilla’s floor and she unlocked her apartment. She went straight into their bedroom and dug around.

“What are you –” Danny started to say, but stopped when Carmilla pulled out Laura’s computer from under a pile of clothes. Carmilla flipped it open and started guessing passwords.

After a minute, she was ready to scream with frustration. She was quickly running out of ideas. Danny sat next to her and frowned at the screen. “What have you tried?”

“Everything,” Carmilla said. “Hometown, the name of her first pet, her dad’s name, ‘password,’ her mom’s name…”

Danny bit her lip, staring at the computer. “Have you tried your names for her?”

Carmilla stared at her and started entering words. “Jesus Christ,” she muttered when the computer unlocked to cupcake. “That’s a shitty password.”

She searched in Laura’s files for her notes on the ring and groaned when she realized they were password protected as well. Danny squinted at the screen. “Try cupcake again.”

Carmilla gave her a look but tried it. She stared in disbelief when the files unlocked but quickly went to work, scanning through the notes for something, anything, on where Laura was.

“They’re chronological,” Danny said, staring over her shoulder. “Scroll to the bottom.”

Carmilla scrolled until she saw notes titled from that day that ended with: The Lustig. 10pm.

She swore under her breath and sprinted downstairs, Danny following at her heels. She didn’t protest as Carmilla jumped into the driver’s seat and started speeding down the streets, driving recklessly.

“You’re going to get pulled over,” Danny said breathlessly, but Carmilla laughed hollowly.

“I’m a cop,” she said. “I’ll get us out of it.”

They drove on in a tense, mutually uneasy silence until the unlit neon sign of the Lustig greeted them. Carmilla’s breath caught in her throat as she saw her cruiser parked outside.

“Wait in here,” Carmilla said, and talked over Danny’s protest. “I’m serious, Lawrence, fucking wait in here. At least one of them is armed.”

She jumped out of the car and sprinted toward the door. She paused only long enough to take a breath before she opened it, sliding inside and quickly studying the scene. Her eyes widened when she saw Will prowling around the bar, looking around as if studying prey, and she watched him carefully and her breath stopped as he straightened his back, satisfied, and pulled out his gun. With dread in her heart Carmilla’s eyes followed the barrel of the gun to its target and when she saw a familiar head of hair obscured by the gun that was now pointed at it everything slowed down as Carmilla sprinted toward them, operating on pure instinct, thoughts a luxury for time she might never have again.

A final burst of speed miraculously ripped itself from her legs as she saw Will start to cock the gun at the woman she loved and Carmilla could hear everything, the blood pounding in her ears and the sound as the gun cocked and then the gunshot and Laura’s scream as she turned and saw Carmilla in between herself and a smoking gun but then there was only

pain

and rushing nausea

and bright lights dancing above her

and chaos

chaos everywhere and

chairs clattering to the floor near her face and

people shouting and

tendrils of searing pain spreading from her gut through her body and

screams ripping themselves from her throat that she couldn’t hear and

the room started spinning above her and everything rose in pitch and volume and brightness until

everything faded to

black and

there

was

nothing

Chapter Text

 

Laura felt someone shove her down to the floor but she was almost unaware of the chaos around her because Carmilla’s hair was splayed out on the floor and there was a pool of dark blood spreading through her shirt and her hand was twisted at an odd angle and if she was breathing it was faint because Laura couldn’t see it. She looked pale, so pale she was almost translucent. Laura dimly registered the sound of screaming and it was only when strong arms attached to red hair grabbed her and started pulling her away from Carmilla’s body that she realized the screaming was coming from herself, and then she couldn’t stop. She screamed for Carmilla and fought the arms holding her back from trying to get to Carmilla’s body as someone else bent over it but she felt herself picked up and carried out of the bar and thrown into a car. It started moving so she curled herself up in the backseat (and didn’t buckle her seatbelt because wouldn’t that make it better anyway?)

 


 

“So I talked to the surgeon,” LaF said anxiously, talking a mile a minute, as they sat down next to Laura and handed her water. “He said that the surgery is going to be a bit complicated just because of where the bullet entered her body because it might have damaged an organ or two? Maybe? They’re not really sure yet but he thinks that she’s going to get through it okay because I guess it hit at the end of her vest so that like slowed it down or something and he said that he’ll keep us updated and –”

“LaF,” Laura interrupted, staring down at the offensively sterile and placid linoleum that lined all the floors of the hospital. “Please. Stop talking.”

“… Right,” LaF said. “Right. Sorry.”

They both sat there in a tense silence for a moment before Laura leaned her head against LaF’s shoulder, who put an arm around her and rubbed soothing circles into her back and all Laura could think about was how she fit so much better under Carmilla's arm

 


 

“Hey Laura, something went wrong with the surgery but they think they can fix it, okay? So it’s going to take longer than they thought but she’s going to be okay.”

Laura nodded, accepting a cup of coffee from Danny and keeping her eyes fixed on the floor. Danny stood there awkwardly for another minute before she fidgeted and made an excuse about finding a nurse to get an update and Laura dimly thought she should probably feel bad before she realized she didn’t much care.

 


 

Perry finally arrived at the hospital, laden with chocolate chip cookies still warm from the oven, several jars of soup and about twelve sandwiches in plastic wrap. She set up shop in the seat next to Laura and offered her a cookie, which Laura accepted with grateful silence.

 


 

“Laur,” LaF said breathlessly, “there’s another problem but it’ll be okay. Just hang in there, alright? We’re almost out of this mess. I’m going to grab another nurse and see if I can get anything else out of her.” They sprinted away and Laura sank even further into her seat. Perry looked at her and offered her another cookie.

 


 

“Laura,” Danny said, face white as a sheet. “They said… well, something… I don’t… LaF knows more than I do but something went wrong with one of her organs and she’s in a coma but they’ve stabilized her as much as they can. They said they’re optimistic she’ll be out of it before long but they said you could be in her room if you wanted to?”

Laura was standing before Danny even finished her sentence and started walking down the hallway. Danny quickly caught up and pointed her in the right direction and Laura silently changed course and kept walking, not waiting for Perry to finish packing up all the food or for Danny to try to say anything else.

 


 

“Where’s my sister?!” Laura heard someone yell outside in the hall. “I have a right to fucking see her!”

“Ma’am,” an orderly said calmly, “we can’t let just anyone in there. She’s still in an unstable condition.”

“I’m her fucking legal guardian!” the person swore, and Laura faintly recognized the voice. “Let me in!”

“Ma’am, we’ll have to double-check…”

Laura got up and opened the door to Carmilla’s room. Both heads turned toward her and Mattie’s eyes flashed in recognition. Laura backed up and held the door open for her, and Mattie managed to look grateful to Laura even as she flipped the orderly off as she walked into the room.

 


 

“We arrested Natalie,” Mattie said, and Laura was so surprised the silence had broken she nearly dropped her cookie. She recovered it just in time and gave Mattie a confused look, and Mattie elaborated. “She was the bartender? I guess she was in on it. They used that as a meeting place.”

Laura nodded dumbly. Mattie looked at her.

“How are you doing?”

Laura’s mouth twisted as she choked back a laugh.

“That bad?” Mattie asked, and Laura answered without knowing why, whether she was seeking absolution or hatred or pity or maybe just anything that would tell her how to feel.

“The last words she said to me were I love you,” Laura said. “I didn’t say them back.”

Mattie raised her eyebrows. “Shit,” she said, and Laura shrugged. It was the first time she’d spoken since they arrived at the hospital, so she was accustomed to the silence that settled in the room. It no longer felt awkward, just flat, like everything else. They sat quietly until it was dark outside and Mattie got up. “I have to go back to the station,” she said, scrawling something on a napkin before pushing it over to Laura. “That’s my cell phone number. Keep me updated.”

She turned and started walking away before she hesitated and turned back. “Laura,” she said. “Don’t feel too bad about not saying it back.” Laura stared at her, and Mattie shrugged. “At least Millie has something to wake up for.”

She turned and walked away, shutting the door behind her without another word. Laura stared at her girlfriend’s body and the tears she’d been suppressing since she saw Carmilla lying prostrate on the floor of the Lustig washed over her.

 


 

Laura’s cell phone rang and she answered it unthinkingly. “Perr, I really don’t want any more soup –” she started, but a different voice interrupted her.

“You need to help me,” the voice said desperately. “I think they know I tipped you off. They’re sending me death threats, I’m hiding in hotels, you need to help me, I’ll tell you anything you want to know…”

“Fuck you, Mel,” Laura said tiredly, and hung up over Mel’s protests. She stared at Carmilla and willed her to blink, move a finger, anything, and wilted again when nothing happened.

 


 

LaF and Perry came by every day, bringing food and staying for an hour or two. LaF spent a lot of time talking to the doctors and translating what they said for Laura, and Perry started teaching Laura how to knit and tried to make her eat real food at least once every few days. They never said anything, but the worry was clear in both of their eyes when they walked in each time and always clearer when they left.

 


 

Mattie returned several days later with news for the first time since Natalie. “Three people turned themselves in today,” she said without preamble. “Mel Callis, Theo Straka, and a John Paul Armitage.”

Laura’s head shot up at the last name. “J.P. Armitage? Are you sure?” she said, and Mattie was so surprised to hear Laura speak for the first time in days she did a double-take.

“Yes, I’m sure,” she said uncomfortably. “You knew him?”

Laura shrugged. “Best friend’s best friend,” she said, and Mattie let out a low whistle.

“Well, that’s definitely his name,” Mattie said. “Medium build, medium height? Hasn’t shaved in a little while?”

“Sounds like him,” Laura said, and Mattie nodded, her eyebrows raised. She settled into a chair and matched Laura’s stare at Carmilla, seemingly lost in thought. Laura felt a question bubble up and she turned to Mattie suddenly.

“He’s not, you know… He wasn’t… He didn’t…” Laura trailed off and gave a quick, frustrated sigh. Mattie looked at her and answered.

“He didn’t do any of the dirty work, if that’s what you’re asking,” she said, and Laura slumped back in her seat, relieved. Mattie kept talking. “He was only a supplier. Cooked meth in his basement. Apparently his parents owed the Vordenbergs – that’s the last name of the leader of the ring, I guess it’s a bit of a family business – anyway, his parents owed the Baron Vordenberg a lot of money for something sketchy and when they died in a car crash some years ago, Armitage was told he could either cook meth for the business or drop out of school and get a job to start repaying the debts. I guess he assumed the first route would give him more of a future.”

“That sucks,” Laura said, and Mattie looked at her and then back at Carmilla.

“We have bigger fish to fry right now,” she said. “He’s not going to get in too much trouble. He ‘fessed up and it does seem like he was at least a bit coerced into the business. We’re a lot more worried about the people who did the dirty work.”

Laura snuck a glance over at her and quickly fixed her gaze back on Carmilla as she tentatively broached a related subject. “Will…” she started, and there was silence before Mattie finally answered.

“We knew there was something going on with him,” Mattie said, “but I was really hoping he was just selling weed to high schoolers or something. This is… I did not expect this. And I’m sorry, Laura, that I didn’t do a better job protecting Carmilla.”

Laura was dumbstruck into silence by the apology, so she simply nodded, and they sat in some silence before Laura asked another question.

“He got away?”

Mattie let out a breath that hissed through her teeth and nodded. “Yeah, he got away,” she said bitterly. “I tracked his cruiser to the bar but I made it through the door right when… Well, right when it happened. He was really surprised, I think, to see Carmilla there and he panicked and ran and I’ll admit I was too worried about Carmilla to do anything but shoot once. I think I got him through the wrist, though; he dropped his gun and it was a bit bloody, so I’m hoping it really fucking hurts.”

Laura nodded. “And Danny?”

Mattie paused. “Tall redhead?” she asked, and when Laura nodded, Mattie shrugged. “I guess she was somewhere nearby because she was running through the door only seconds after the gun went off. Ran right past Will, actually, nearly shot her myself on accident. Now that I think about it, Millie must have gotten there in her car… There wasn’t another one there except yours, and Will had taken the cruiser. I told her to call a friend to pick her up. If I’d known she was going to call a friend to take her on a suicide mission, well, I might have said something else.”

Laura felt shame rise in her. “It’s my fault,” she said quietly, staring down at her hands. “Carm found out where I was on my computer, I saw my notes open when I went back to get clean clothes… She must have realized I’d lied about where I was when she called Danny and figured it out somehow. I’m… I’m fucking sorry, Mattie, I’m so fucking sorry I almost killed your sister. I mean I might have actually killed her we don’t even know but I’m so sorry, I’m so so so sorry,” and Laura hadn’t even realized she was crying until Mattie’s arms had slipped around her and she noticed the tears pouring thick and fast down her face and Laura relaxed into the contact before she saw Carmilla’s face again and shoved herself out of the hug.

“I can’t, you shouldn’t be comforting me, you’re not the one who almost killed her,” she said desperately, the room suddenly much too small to hold all three of them and she bolted towards the door before Mattie’s hand caught her wrist and pulled her back inside.

“Look, Laura,” Mattie said firmly. “It is not your fault that kid has always had a martyr streak a mile long. If she dies – and that is a big if right now, Laura, so don’t start mourning your bets for a horse that hasn’t run – she died protecting the woman she loved, and who could ask for more than that?”

Laura gave a stiff shrug and violently jerked her arm out of Mattie’s grip, but she didn’t try to run out of the room again, so Mattie seemed to give her a pass. She pushed herself up and perched on the edge of the bed, staring at her girlfriend. A moment passed and Mattie quietly slipped out of the room, leaving the two of them alone. Laura played with Carmilla’s hand for a second before she brought it up to her face and pressed it against her lips, choking out “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” until the tears were too much for her to speak through and she cried until one of Carmilla’s kinder nurses found her and insisted on bringing her down to the hospital cafeteria and buying her tea.

 


 

“So,” Danny said, sitting next to her. “My team won their championship.”

Laura looked at her and tried to force a smile. “That’s great, Danny,” she said, and Danny smiled and blushed faintly.

“Yeah, it was pretty great,” she said. “And we really should’ve lost, too, you know that flaky assistant coach I kept telling you about? Didn’t even show up. No idea where he was. And we were ten minutes to game time and I had no idea what to do and then Kirsch jogged up – Laura, I didn’t even know he was planning to come to the game – and he offered to help and he was the best assistant coach I’ve ever had.”

Laura gave a real smile for what felt like the first time in months. “Danny, that is really great,” she said sincerely.

Danny laughed. “Yeah, and the best part? We were getting pizza with the team to celebrate and he asked me about ed school. Ed school. I guess he said he’s really liked babysitting the kids and he’s been tutoring Kyle in computer science – did you know Kirsch is some kind of a wizard with comp sci? I had no idea, I honestly thought he was a total idiot – and he said he realized he really likes it and that might be what he wants to do with his life.”

“Wow,” Laura said. “I actually had no idea. Kirsch as a teacher?”

“Yeah,” Danny said, chuckling. “He seems really passionate about it, though. I don’t know. I think he’d be really good at it.”

“You two have become really close, huh?”

Danny nodded, smiling. “I never thought… Wilson Kirsch was the last person I expected to walk into my life and stay for any kind of long period of time, but here he is.”

“You’re not…” Laura trailed off. “You’re not dating, are you?”

Danny gave a surprised laugh and shook her head. “God, no,” she said with a shudder. “I mean, no offense to Kirsch, but I’m still very gay. And he knows that. It’s just…” she trailed off and looked at Laura, a fond smile on her face. “I needed a best friend, you know? And I needed a best friend I wasn’t still a little bit in love with. And Kirsch… Well, he ended up being exactly that.”

Laura smiled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes, which were still etched with sadness. “I’m glad you’re happy, Danny.”

“Yeah, I’m glad too,” Danny said quietly. They both looked at Carmilla for a moment before Danny gently shoved Laura’s shoulder. “You’ll get there too,” she said, and Laura shrugged.

“Not really something I can control right now,” she said. Danny hesitated, but she responded tentatively.

“Laura, there’s… There’s a lot of life happening outside this room. I think it might help if you, I don’t know, if you lived a little. You don’t have to sentence yourself to a coma, too. It’s not going to help Carmilla,” Danny said gently. Laura’s eyes flashed with anger and she bit her lip before she answered.

“Frankly, Danny, there’s not a life for me happening outside. The biggest thing I want out of life is wasting away on a hospital bed. So no offense, but I don’t really think a softball game would help.”

“I wasn’t –” Danny interrupted, but Laura shook her head.

“Save it, Danny,” she said. “I know you didn’t mean it like that. But now isn’t really the time to expect me to be anything but depressed and lonely and angry and bitter and sad.”

Danny swallowed and nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I just… It scares me to see you like this.”

Laura laughed hollowly. “Imagine how it feels to see her like this,” she said, jerking her head toward Carmilla’s bed. Danny bit her lip and nodded.

“That’s fair,” she said quietly. “If you need… If you need anything, L, please just ask. Takeout, a shitty movie, blankets, whatever. I want to be there for you. I’m just not really sure how.”

“Thanks, Danny,” Laura said. “I’m not really sure either. But if I think of something, I’ll let you know.”

Danny nodded and stood up, walking towards the door. She paused halfway through and started talking. “Laur,” she said, still facing out, not looking at Laura. “I know you’re really freaked out. And you have a right to be. But don’t… Don’t let this eat you alive. Make sure Carmilla has a person to come back to, not just an empty shell.” She left quickly, before Laura could respond. Laura swallowed hard and stared at the bed, where her girlfriend’s chest was rising and falling gently as if nothing was wrong.

Chapter Text

The first time Carmilla woke up, Laura was in their apartment, taking one of her twice-weekly-maybe showers. She stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around her waist before grabbing her phone, which had been ringing for several minutes straight.

What?” she asked, annoyed, but LaF talked right over her annoyance.

“She woke up,” LaF said breathlessly, and Laura’s heart stopped.

What?

LaF gave a giddy laugh. “I know, right? It wasn’t much, she just sort of flopped her hand around a bit, but it’s a start!”

“Oh my god,” Laura said, perching on the edge of the bathtub. “Did she say anything?”

“No, it was just the hand. But the doctors said it’s a really good sign. All of the damage to her liver should have healed by now so she’s right on target to wake up and get at it.”

Laura just shook her head, speechless. “I’ll be there in ten.”

“Don’t rush,” LaF said quickly. “The odds that she wakes up again today are pretty low.”

Laura shrugged as she trapped her phone between her ear and her shoulder, tugging on sweatpants and a shirt, before realizing LaF couldn’t hear a shrug. “I know,” she said quietly. “But I have a lot I can’t forgive myself for right now. I’m not letting ‘not being there when my girlfriend wakes up from a coma’ be another one.”

“Okay,” LaF said. “Just… She wouldn’t mind, she wouldn’t care. She’d want to see you but she wouldn’t be mad at you if you were taking a shower for the first time in way too long.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Laura said absentmindedly, grabbing some of Carmilla’s favorite books off the shelf and throwing them in a bag. “See you soon.”

She hung up and took a deep breath. She woke up.

 


 

Jesus,” a voice swore, and Laura’s head snapped up so quickly she gave herself whiplash. “Are the lights in here always this fucking bright?”

Carmilla,” Laura gasped, crossing the room in two quick strides and slamming the nurse’s call button. Carmilla turned her head to the side and squinted at her.

“Jesus, cupcake, you look like hell,” she remarked, her words slurring together. Laura snorted a laugh.

“You should see yourself,” she said, taking Carmilla’s hand, and Carmilla slowly looked down at the tubes flowing into her body and around at all the hospital equipment surrounding her bed.

“That’s fair,” she allowed, slowly, and Laura looked at her, a giddy smile lighting up her face.

“Are you… What do you need?”

Carmilla stared at her for a moment while the words processed. “Oh, um,” she trailed off, her eyelids already sliding shut. “Just sleep…”

She was out before her eyes were all the way closed and Laura could only stare, pinching herself repeatedly to make sure it wasn’t a dream. Half a minute later, a nurse came walking into the room.

“Can I help you?” she said, and Laura gestured toward Carmilla, a brilliant smile on her face.

“She woke up again,” Laura said, and the nurse gasped before returning Laura’s smile. She brought out her clipboard and started scrawling notes.

“Did she say anything?”

Laura nodded eagerly. “Yeah, she was talking. Really slowly, and it sounded like she was drunk, but she said things. She even strung together sentences.”

“That’s fantastic,” the nurse said. “I’ll let the doctor know. Did she say anything we should know about?”

Laura shook her head. “I don’t think so. She just said the lights were really bright.”

The nurse nodded. “We can see about dimming those. Congratulations, Laura. This is a big step.”

Laura beamed at her as she walked out of the room, and Laura sank onto the bed next to Carmilla, staring at her with the first truly happy smile she’d worn in weeks.

 


 

Carmilla started waking up more and more frequently. Laura was almost always there, and other friends cycled through. Laura was relieved one day when she walked into the room after a trip to their cafeteria for some (incredibly shitty) coffee and saw Carmilla sitting up, joking and laughing and goofing off with LaF. Laura smiled. They both needed it. LaF took the mickey out of Carmilla constantly and, with everyone else coddling and spoiling her endlessly, Laura knew Carmilla was almost grateful to have someone who wouldn’t put up with her shit. Though Laura hadn’t heard Carmilla complain on any of the occasions when Perry sneaked her food to supplement the hospital's.

She was improving rapidly. The doctors said she had spent quite a lot time in the coma coping with what shouldn’t have been such a major setback, so she basically got a head start on her recovery. They expected she could be out of the hospital within a week, walking around in maybe three. Laura was thrilled and the nurses and doctors found her enthusiasm infectious, and every time there was a major development they would all stand around, giddy as schoolchildren. Laura was grateful they still liked her; the nurses had been getting frustrated because when Carmilla was awake the nurses would often be alerted to abnormal activity on the heart monitor and rush in, only to find Laura and Carmilla hastily pulling apart, flushed and avoiding eye contact.

 


 

A week after Carmilla moved back into the apartment, Laura received a call from her boss. “Laura,” Mr. Haverford said. “I know you’re not expected back at work for another month, and Elsie is covering all of your stories for you – she said she would like to know how you do it, she’s having a bit of a time juggling everything – but we were wondering if you would be interested in writing a story while you’re gone. About this. Part research on long-term healthcare, part personal essay. Are you interested?”

“Wow, I… To be honest, I haven’t thought about anything past getting Carmilla walking again,” Laura said, and her boss hastily agreed.

“There’s no rush at all on this. And I mean that, Hollis. But if you’re interested, start thinking about it.”

“Right, of course,” Laura said. “And thank you. For giving me so much time off.”

“It’s the least we could do, Laura,” her boss said gently. “No need to thank me.”

Laura nodded and said her goodbyes, hanging up and glancing at where Carmilla was sleeping, heavily passed out but now in her comfortable bed at home. With a slight smile on her face, Laura pulled a notebook toward her and started to write.

 


 

“You are letting me go with you!” Carmilla yelled, chucking an empty plastic cup at her sister. “I did not take a fucking bullet just to be kicked off the case!”

Mattie ducked the cup and glared at her. “You are recovering from major surgery and a coma. I’ll be damned if you stick your foot in anything like this again.”

“What,” Carmilla scoffed, “you kicking me off the force?”

Her face blanched at Mattie’s silence, and she reached for her pleadingly, eyes searching Mattie’s face as her voice dropped from a yell to a broken whisper.

“Mattie… Mattie, no, you can’t, this is my entire life…”

Mattie bit her lip, avoiding Carmilla’s desperate eyes. “Millie, it’s best for you,” she said, looking at Laura standing in the corner for help or backup. “You will never be the same, not after what’s happened. Your reflexes will be worse, you won’t be able to exercise as strenuously, not to mention all the stress… Policing is not good for you anymore.”

Carmilla looked beseechingly at Laura. “Laur, please,” she said. “Fix it.”

“Babe, I think that it might be best,” Laura said slowly, and Carmilla looked like a puppy that had just been kicked. Laura winced and kept going. “Mattie’s right, you won’t be able to work like you used to, and it’s –”

Carmilla held up her hand. “Stop,” she said, and Laura fell silent. “Stop talking. I just…”

“Carm, please…”

“No,” Carmilla said harshly. “Fuck off. You got me into this mess and you won’t even get me out of it.”

Tears flooded Laura’s eyes and regret instantly filled Carmilla’s. “Fuck,” Carmilla said softly. “I didn’t mean that.”

“Yeah, you did,” Laura said, choking out a laugh. “Don’t you think I know? Don’t you realize I have to live every day of my life looking at you and realizing I was the one who broke you?”

“I’m not broken,” Carmilla protested, but Laura gestured at her wildly.

“Carmilla, you have scars all across your lower stomach. You can barely walk. I know, I’m the one who fetches you things.”

“Jesus, sorry I’m fucking weak,” Carmilla snapped. “I didn’t realize it was so much of an inconvenience.”

“That’s not what I said –”

“Well that’s what you meant –”

“CHILDREN,” Mattie yelled, effectively silencing both of them. “You two have spent too much time in the same room without a break. You are driving each other mad and it is neither of your faults. Now, Carmilla, you are going to apologize to Laura, and Laura, you are going to apologize to Carmilla, and then I am going to take Laura, drop her off at LaF and Perry’s, and I will take care of you tonight. No arguments.”

Laura and Carmilla both nodded mutely. Carmilla coughed and shifted in her blankets. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I shouldn’t have… It’s not your fault, and I know that. I’m just tired, and stressed, and completely frustrated to be so fucking helpless.”

“You’re not helpless,” Laura said. “You’re doing so much fucking better. You can walk, Carm, and it hasn’t even been that long. Even the doctors are shocked by how well you’re doing. And… And I’m sorry that I called you broken. You’re not. I’m just, just worried and guilty.”

Carmilla reached out, taking Laura’s hand and pulling her towards her. “You’re not guilty of anything,” she murmured, placing a soft kiss on Laura’s cheek. Laura smiled and wondered how it was that after everything they had been through, a gesture like that was still enough to make her blush. Mattie hustled them apart and dropped Laura off at LaF and Perry’s with firm instructions to force her to relax and have fun for the evening and not to show back up at the apartment until at least 11am. She talked over Laura’s protests and interrupted her monologue about how to take care of Carmilla with an irritated “I know” and then a quick reassurance that everything would be fine, she would call Laura if it wasn’t, and yes fine she would text Laura updates but only every three hours and if Laura texted her unbidden she wouldn’t let her back into the apartment for another day. Laura watched her car pull away from the curb and tried not to feel guilty about the profound relief that washed over her to have the responsibility of Carmilla lifted for a day.

 


 

“What’re you reading?” Laura asked, reaching up to see what Carmilla was looking at. Carmilla shrugged, one of her stiff shrugs that meant whatever it was, it meant more than she was letting on.

“Just some literature,” she said evasively, and Laura frowned, scooting over in the bed so she could see it more clearly. She tugged down the brochure and frowned at it before looking up at Carmilla, a puzzled but hopeful smile on her face.

“A social work program?”

Carmilla shrugged. “Mattie suggested it,” she said. “If she won’t let me back on the force, it’s a good second option, I guess. She said you could specialize in working with kids, like abused kids stuck in the foster system. I think I could be good at that.”

“I think you could be great at that,” Laura said sincerely. She placed the brochure back on Carmilla’s lap and reached up, tugging her into a kiss that Carmilla returned softly. Laura smiled and kept talking. “How’s your physical therapy going?”

Carmilla groaned. “I’m so bored,” she said, annoyed. “They won’t even let me run for more than, like, five minutes at a time, and that’s not enough for me to even run a mile.”

“Jesus, Carm,” Laura said, trying not to laugh. “You were in the hospital not too long ago, and now you’re upset they won’t let you run a mile?”

Carmilla frowned petulantly. “I’m doing really well,” she protested, “and I got out ages ago.”

Laura shook her head. “Alright, alright,” she said, too sleepy to argue further. She tucked her head into Carmilla’s stomach. “Goodnight,” she said, yawning. “Love you.”

“… What?” Carmilla said, and Laura looked at her, trying to blink away the impending sleep.

“What?”

“Did you… Did you just say ‘love you’?”

Laura pushed herself up onto an arm and frowned at her girlfriend. “Well… Yes?”

“Did you… Did you mean it?”

Laura tried not to groan as she sat up all the way – sleep had been so close – but she sat up and fixed her girlfriend with an earnest look. “Carmilla Karnstein,” she said seriously, “I was falling for you ever since I was driving home from that stupid Zeta party. I love you. Until the end of forever.”

Carmilla was beaming, trying and failing miserably to hide her giddy smile. “Oh,” she said, clearly trying not to sound as happy as she was. “Okay.”

Oh, okay, she says,” Laura said, groaning. “I finally confess my love and that’s all I get? Really?”

Carmilla reached out and messed up her hair. “I love you. You idiot.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “That’s the girl I know and love. Can I go to bed yet?”

Carmilla snorted back a laugh but rolled over obligingly, pulling Laura close to her and tucking an arm around her waist. “Goodnight,” she said, placing kisses along Laura’s shoulder and neck. “I love you.”

“Goodnight,” Laura said, smiling into the arm that was wrapped around her. “I love you too.”

 


 

Laura had never been more grateful for her friends than she was while Carmilla was recovering. Perry came by nearly every day with food, so Carmilla’s fridge was always bursting with Tupperwares. LaF tried to swing by at least a few times a week to do the things Laura was too tired to do – the dishes piled up in the sink, cleaning the apartment, paying bills, letting Laura focus just on getting Carmilla better. Danny and Kirsch were constantly showing up with pizza and jokes and it wasn’t unusual for Laura to come home to the three of them playing video games together, having moved Carmilla in front of the TV. Laura would just roll her eyes, grab a slice of pizza and take a seat to watch Kirsch get creamed.

She came home one afternoon to find Danny and Carmilla discussing the kids Danny babysat. Laura grabbed some food, noting with some surprise it was Chinese takeout instead of their normal pizza order, and sat down with them, patting Kirsch on the back as he bent over a GRE textbook. Danny was complaining about how much time they had been spending babysitting.

“I thought you liked them?” Carmilla asked with a laugh, and Kirsch and Danny exchanged a look.

“It’s not that,” Danny said slowly. “It's that... Well, I don't even know if Betty is even... She's been gone for so long I sometimes don't even think she's coming back.”

Laura frowned, talking past the chow mein in her mouth. “What does that mean? She's just on a business trip, right?”

Danny shrugged. “She said something about that, yeah, but a business trip that's been going on for over a month? That seems weird.”

Carmilla sat up, only wincing slightly at the pain in her gut. "It's been over a month?" she asked, and Danny nodded.

"Almost a month and a half, now," she said. "Pretty much as long as you've been hurt, actually. I mean, it's fine. We just spend the afternoon and evening with them, they get themselves breakfast and to school, and frankly sometimes we don't even do that. They're pretty self-sufficient. But they're worried, so I'm worried."

Laura shook her head. "God, that's so hard," she said. "A single working mother. Jesus. Do you think they need anything? School supplies or something?"

Kirsch shook his head. "They don't. They have, like, filthy amounts of money."

Danny nodded her agreement. "He's right," she said. "The Vordenbergs are fucking loaded."

Carmilla and Laura stared at each other, and Laura slowly lowered the plate of food, staring at Danny. “Did you say the Vordenbergs?”

Chapter Text

Danny frowned at Laura and set down her pizza. “Yeah, the Vordenbergs,” she said, shifting her gaze between Laura and Carmilla. “Why…?”

Laura bit her lip, and Carmilla glanced at her before she spoke for both of them. “The Vordenbergs are the family behind the drug ring,” she said brusquely, and Danny’s mouth fell open.

“What?”

“No way, dude,” Kirsch said through a mouthful of food, shaking his head. He swallowed and continued speaking. “That’s just not… There’s no way it’s the same family, right? Like… The kids…”

“I’m sure the kids have nothing to do with it,” Carmilla said quickly. “From what Danny’s said, it’s probably more likely they didn’t know at all. But… another family with the last name Vordenberg? Who are incredibly rich? There can’t be another in Austria, much less in Graz.”

“It explains why Betty’s been gone so long, though!” Laura exclaimed, jumping up and pacing as she started putting pieces together. “She must be implicated, she’s trying to hide so we can’t find her. Danny, do you have any idea where she is? … Danny?”

Danny had her head in her hands, white as a sheet. Carmilla shot Laura a concerned look before she pushed herself up off the couch, wincing only slightly, and knelt by Danny’s chair. She hesitated, unsure how to proceed, but put a hand on her chair and spoke quietly. “What’s going on?”

Danny took a deep, shuddering breath and exhaled slowly before she spoke, her voice flat. “The kids.”

“What… What about the kids?” Carmilla asked gently. “They’re not involved -”

“They could be in danger!” Danny snapped, then bit her lip and stared hotly at the floor. “They could be in danger and I had no fucking idea.”

“Danny, bro, that’s not your fault,” Kirsch said, looking at Danny with concern. “How were you supposed to know?”

“How didn’t I know?” Danny answered, hands gesturing toward Carmilla and Laura. “They’ve been working on this case for months. How is it only now that we figured this out?”

“It just never came up,” Laura said. “The name, I mean. But that doesn’t even matter right now - you think they’re in danger?”

“Yeah,” Danny said. “I mean, their two family members are criminals who are on the run. That seems like a recipe for disaster.”

“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” Carmilla said. “Laura and I can spend nights with the kids if you and Kirsch can take care of them after school. And Danny, we’ll talk about what you know about Betty’s location and figure out if there’s anything we can do. Okay?” She looked around at her friends’ pale but resolute faces and nodded.

“Okay, team,” Laura said, a resigned smile dancing around her lips. “Break.”

 


 

“Pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up…” Carmilla muttered, putting her phone down on the table and hitting speaker so she could pace around while she waited for her call to be answered.

“Hey, Millie,” Mattie said easily. “How’s the stomach?”

“I’m fine,” Carmilla snapped. “I’ve been fine for ages.”

“I think we might have different definitions of the word ‘fine,’ then.”

“If you would just let me come in and do fitness testing -”

“There is no way on God’s green earth that that is going to happen, love,” Mattie said, cutting her off. “I’m not going to be responsible for you dying, again.”

“Okay, but I didn’t die.”

“Well, you could have, and forgive me if that’s not a risk I’m willing to take right now. Now, I have some work I should be doing, so if this is the only reason you chose to bother me right now -”

“No, wait,” Carmilla interrupted. “We know where Betty is. Well, roughly. She called Danny the other night while we were all having dinner and I traced the number and it’s some pay phone in Bratislava.”

“Slovakia,” Mattie muttered. “Well, at least it’s an E.U. country. I’ll try to get in contact with their police department and let them know she’s wanted. Do you have any other information?”

Carmilla shook her head before remembering that this was a phone conversation. “No,” she said quickly. “Just that. But if I hear anything else, I’ll let you know.”

“Okay,” Mattie said. “I’ll give them a call first thing tomorrow morning, alright? Now go get some rest.”

“I’m literally fine,” Carmilla said, but she was answered with only a small click as Mattie hung up on the other end of the line. She rolled her eyes and put her phone in her pocket, grabbing her keys and a jacket and the cake sitting on the table before heading out the door.

She arrived at the Vordenbergs’ at exactly 6:30 and hurried inside, letting herself in with Danny’s spare key. She made her way into the kitchen and set the cake down on the kitchen counter, breathing in appreciatively. “Mac and cheese?” she asked, and Danny nodded.

“It’s been one of those days,” she said by way of explanation.

Carmilla shrugged. “I’m not one to ever complain about mac and cheese,” she said, and then saw Laura walk into the room and leaned in for a quick kiss. “Hey,” she said, smiling at Laura, and Laura returned her smile easily.

“Hey yourself,” she said playfully. “Did you bring that magnificent creation?”

“What… Oh, the cake?” Carmilla asked, following Laura’s line of sight. “Yeah, I brought it. In retrospect I probably should have brought a salad and set a better example for the kids, but here we are. It’s chocolate, though!”

“What’s chocolate?” Kyle asked, then spotted the cake. “Oh, shit.”

“Kyle!” Danny exclaimed, turning away from the stove and gesturing toward him with the cheesy spoon. “Mind your language.”

“They swear all the time,” Kyle muttered, and Carmilla laughed.

“Yeah, but I earned it, kiddo,” she said, playfully bumping his shoulder. Kyle stepped out of her reach and made a face at her.

“Earned it with what?”

“Puberty,” Carmilla said with a quick grin, and Kyle glared at her for a few seconds before his composure cracked and he laughed along with the rest of them.

“Incoming!” they heard from the entryway, and turned to see Kirsch navigating toward the kitchen, a huge bag of lettuce in his hand and Kirstie on his back. He crouched down to let Kirstie off and then straightened up, holding the lettuce up like a trophy. “Look! Salad!”

Danny bit her lip to keep from smiling as she corrected him. “That’s lettuce, Kirsch. Not a salad.”

“Well, it’s going to be a salad,” he said, puffing out his chest. “Because I’m an adult. And responsible and shit.”

“See, he says it,” Kyle piped up, and Danny shot him a look before she fixed her eyes on Kirsch.

“What have we said about swearing in front of the children?”

“Whoops, yeah,” Kirsch said bashfully. “Sorry. But salad!”

“Yes, Kirsch, very good,” Danny said. “There are tomatoes on the counter and cucumbers and peppers in the fridge. You and the kids can chop them up and figure out the dressing.”

“Ranch!” Kirstie yelled, ducking towards the fridge, and Kyle frowned and followed.

“Caesar.”

“Ranch!”

“Caesar!”

“Blue cheese!” Danny said cheerfully, and both kids looked up at her in horror. She shrugged. “That’s what it’s going to be if you can’t stop arguing.”

The kids glared at her and held a whispered conference. After a furious round of rock-paper-scissors, Kyle reached into the fridge and pulled out the caesar dressing with a grin directed at his pouting sister.

Carmilla looked at Laura and smiled. “Ah, children,” she said, and Laura rolled her eyes and playfully shoved her shoulder.

“Come on,” she teased. “I know you were just as bad once.”

Carmilla put a hand on her chest, mock affronted. “I can’t believe you would ever say such a thing,” she said dramatically. “And to think I trusted you.”

“Oh, speaking of trust, I ate the last of the peppermint ice cream,” Laura said, walking over to the table to help Kirstie cut the cucumbers without cutting her finger and throwing a wink over her shoulder at her girlfriend.

Carmilla’s mouth dropped open as she stared at her girlfriend. “You did what? Laura!”

 


 

“Judge Bauer, please,” Carmilla said. “They’re just kids, they shouldn’t be split up.”

“I know, Ms. Karnstein,” the judge said, frowning down at her, “but if they need to be placed in the foster system, we can only be so picky.”

“And there’s no way we can avoid the foster system?”

“Not unless you can find a family in Austria willing to adopt two children, Ms. Karnstein,” the judge said. “And black children still have some of the lowest adoption rates in this country.”

Carmilla sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “I’ll keep looking.”

 


 

“We got her!” Mattie said excitedly, and Carmilla frowned and sat up bleary-eyed, staring at her phone bemusedly before putting it back up to her ear.

“Mattie, it’s 3am,” she whispered hoarsely, with a quick glance at the sleeping form next to her. “Go to bed.”

“Millie,” Mattie said. “Betty. Vordenberg. She’s been arrested.”

“Holy shit,” Carmilla said, suddenly wide awake. She reached out and gently shook Laura’s shoulder, trying to nudge her awake. “Where? How?”

“In Bratislava, where you’d traced her call. She got pulled over for speeding and the officer recognized her description. They’re holding her until someone from Graz can escort her back here for a trial.”

Laura finally opened her eyes and glared at Carmilla, who rolled her eyes. She switched on the lights as she covered the phone and whispered, “Betty’s been arrested.”

Laura did a double-take and mouthed “What?!,” and Carmilla nodded and put her finger to her lips before turning her attention back to Mattie’s call.

“That’s amazing, Mattie. Can they try to get any information about where the Baron is? Or Will?”

“That’s actually the other reason I called. They went through Betty’s texts and they think that the Baron is going to try to get the kids some time in the next couple of days, so you guys need to be on red alert, okay? How much do the kids know?”

Carmilla bit her lip and put Mattie on speakerphone. “They know that their mom was involved in a drug ring, but that’s about it. We didn’t tell them anything about the murders or anything like that. And they know I got hurt on the job, but they don’t know it’s connected to their mom at all. You’re on speakerphone now, by the way.”

“Hi Laura,” Mattie said wryly, and Laura chuckled and returned the greeting. “That’s probably for the best, though. How well do they know their grandfather? If he came to fetch them would they go with him?”

Carmilla paused and looked at Laura, who picked up the conversation. “From what I’ve heard from Danny, they really only see their extended family for holidays. And that’s pretty much just the Baron, since his wife passed away. Betty was their only child and never married. And they don’t have any contact with their biological parents.”

Mattie sighed into the line. “Okay. Well, you should probably brace them for possibly seeing their grandfather soon and let them know that they need to contact you as soon as possible if that happens. I think that’s all the information I needed to give you, and my shift ended an hour ago, so I’m going the fuck to bed now. ‘Night, you two.”

Laura and Carmilla said goodnight and turned toward each other. “What do we do?” Laura asked quietly, studying her girlfriend’s face. Carmilla looked more tired than the early hour warranted.

“I think we should both try to go back to bed and deal with this in the morning,” she said. “The Baron isn’t going to find them in the next six hours.”

Laura pursed her lips but nodded. “Fair enough,” she said. “Can we have pancakes?”

“What?”

“Can we have pancakes for breakfast?”

“Oh, my god,” Carmilla said, rolling her eyes. “Yes. Actually, why don’t you text Danny and see if she and Kirsch want to bring the kids to the Anglerfish for brunch tomorrow? We can all go to the park after and talk to Danny and Kirsch about the situation with the Baron then.”

“Sounds good,” Laura said, nodding sleepily. “I’ll text Danny and ask now.” She grabbed her phone off the bedside table and typed out a message, squinting blearily at the bright screen. She pressed send and blindly put her phone back on the table and flinched at the noise it made when it hit the floor.

Carmilla bit back a laugh and nodded towards it. “Want to pick that up?”

“It is 3 o’clock in the morning and I truly do not care,” Laura said, as haughtily as she could with her face buried in a pillow. Carmilla just shook her head and turned off the lights, burrowing under the covers next to her girlfriend.

 


 

“MILLIE!”

Carmilla held out her arms and caught Kirstie as she ran towards her, swinging her up in the air before setting her back down. “Millie, huh? Where’d you get that nickname?” she asked. She shot a suspicious glare at her girlfriend, but Laura just shook her head.

“It just makes sense,” Kirstie said with a shrug. “Do you hate it?”

“I don’t hate it,” Carmilla allowed. “But it’s not my favorite.”

“Well, what is your favorite?”

“Uh… Most people just call me Carmilla. But Laura calls me Carm.”

“Can I call you Carm?” Kirstie asked, but Kyle pushed her gently on the shoulder.

“Stop bothering Carmilla,” he said, rolling his eyes at his little sister. Kirstie looked up to defend herself, but Carmilla beat her to it.

“It’s fine, Kyle,” she said with a smile. “She can call me Carm. And so can you,” she added hastily. Kyle smiled back and nudged his sister again.

“Want me to teach you how to throw a baseball?” At her eager nod, he bent down so she could jump on his back and started carrying her on a piggy-back ride toward the field. “Shit, you’re getting heavy,” he panted, and rolled his eyes when Kirsch and Danny chorused “Language, Kyle!” in unison.

Carmilla heard Laura chuckle behind her and slowed down, waiting for Laura to catch up so they could hold hands as they walked through the park. “I think that went pretty well, don’t you?”

Laura nodded her assent. They had hesitatingly broached the topic of the Baron over breakfast, after talking strategy with Danny and Kirsch, and the kids had taken the news that he might be looking for them and that they should call the police if he did fairly well. “Neither of them seem to particularly care for him, so I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. But, Carm…” she said, and Carmilla stopped walking so she could face her directly.

“What’s up?” she asked, studying Laura’s face, and Laura fidgeted before she responded.

“I think you should tell Kyle they’re not going to get fostered together.”

Carmilla was shaking her head before Laura even stopped speaking. “We don’t know that yet,” she protested, but Laura held her ground.

“It’s been weeks and there’s nothing yet. The odds of finding someone to foster two kids at the same time, especially when one’s a fourteen-year-old boy, are really low. And Kyle’s old enough that I think he deserves to know.”

Carmilla glanced at the rest of the group, who had reached the meadowed part of the park and were setting up some sort of baseball drill. “Just give me two more weeks, Laura,” she said, willing her girlfriend to agree with her. “Two weeks, and then I’ll talk to him.”

Laura just looked at her before she sighed and started walking again. “Fine,” she said. “But in two weeks, you tell him.”

Carmilla sighed and leaned against a tree at the edge of the meadow as Danny, Kirsch and Laura sat down in the grass to talk as Kyle crouched down next to his sister and showed her how to hold a baseball. She’d had a brief encounter with the foster system before Mattie adopted her, and it wasn’t an experience she would wish on anyone. She rested her head against the trunk of the tree and listened to the murmured sounds of her friends’ conversation and the Kyle whooping at his sister’s throws, and tried to will decent foster parents into existence.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Danny?”

Danny startled and lowered the paper she’d been grading. “What’s up, Kyle?” she asked, glancing at the clock in the kitchen. “What are you still doing up?”

He hesitated, then pulled out a chair to sit down next to her. “Are Kirstie and I gonna get separated?”

Danny startled and studied his face. He looked tired and resigned, his face drawn and jaw set. Danny noted with a pang that he looked less like fourteen and more like twenty. She slowly set down the paper and shifted in her chair so she could face him directly. “I’m not sure,” she said. “We’re trying to avoid that.”

Kyle nodded, looking down at the floor and speaking in a low voice.

“Bud, I couldn’t quite catch that. What did you say?” Danny asked. Kyle swallowed and repeated himself.

“It’s okay if we are,” he said. “Split up, I mean. I don’t want… If there’s a great family for Kirstie, I don’t want to be the reason she doesn’t get that. She’s still young enough that it matters.” 

“You matter, too,” Danny said gently. “And I know that Kirstie would be happier if she had her big brother around.”

“But that’s probably not going to happen.”

Danny bit her lip as she looked at him. “It might not,” she said. “But we’re gonna do everything we can to make sure it does.”

“Yeah, okay,” Kyle said quietly. He stood up to go, but Danny caught his hand. 

“Is there anything we can be doing to make this easier for you?”

Kyle shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I think it’s just kind of shitty all around.” He paused briefly, then glanced up at Danny. “Sorry for swearing.”

“Honestly, I think it was warranted in that case,” Danny said with a sigh. “You sure there’s nothing? Because Kirsch and I just want you guys to be as okay as possible.”

Kyle nodded, staring at the floor. “It’s just… kind of pointless.”

“Okay,” Danny said. “And there’s nothing you need or want to talk about?”

“I just… No.”

“You just what, Kyle?”

Kyle hesitated, then sat back down in the chair. He fidgeted for a second before speaking. “I just want to have parents who actually give a shit about me.”

“Yeah,” Danny said, drawing a shuddery breath. “I want that for you too.”

“I think it’s hitting Kirstie more, though. She doesn’t even remember our parents, so it’s… she’s not having a good time.”

“I can only imagine,” Danny said. “What about you, though?”

Kyle shrugged. “It’s not like it’s that different from before,” he said. “Mom was never around anyway. At least now we have you guys, and you make dinner and make sure we do our homework and stuff. I’m just worried our next parents - well, at least Kirstie’s next parents - are gonna be more like Mom and less like you." 

“I will do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Danny promised, hating how empty the words felt when she and Kyle both knew that it was entirely out of their control.

“... Yeah, I know,” Kyle said quietly, standing up. “Thanks for the talk.”

“Sure, bud,” Danny said, and watched him walk towards the stairs. “Kyle?”

“Yeah?” Kyle said, turning around with his hand on the banister. Danny looked at him for a second, her heart heavy.

“Sleep tight, okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll try. You too,” Kyle said, and headed up the stairs. Danny watched him go and stared at the staircase for a few minutes before turning back to the paper.

She read the same paragraph four times before she gave up, put her head down in her arms, and cried.

 


 

“Mrs. Bennett, I understand that your son is generally an excellent student, but he has not been meeting the standards for this course,” Danny said tiredly. The woman across from her huffed and crossed her arms across her chest. Danny did her best not to roll her eyes and pushed a paper over toward her. “Now, as I’ve been saying, if he just completes this extra credit…”

“My son is doing everything he needs to be doing,” Mrs. Bennett interrupted. “If he isn’t passing your course, it’s because you’re grading him poorly. You just don’t like him because of that paper you assigned on female authors.”

“Jack failed to complete that assignment, and when he did turn in work, it was an essay on how female authors and political correctness are ruining literature, which was not the assignment that was given.”

“You don’t like him because he stood up for his opinions!” Mrs. Bennett accused, and Danny was reminded yet again of why she should never have become a teacher.

“I assure you, Mrs. Bennett, Jack’s opinions made no influence on my grading.” Though they certainly didn’t endear him to me, she added to herself. “The assignment was simply to highlight a female author who has impacted a genre typically dominated by men, and describe her influence. If Jack had picked an author and criticized her influence, he still would have earned a passing grade independent of the viewpoint expressed. However, he chose to ignore the requirements and turn in an unrelated assignment, which is why he received a failing grade on the paper.”

Mrs. Bennett snatched up the papers Danny had given her and stood up. “I will be speaking to the principal about this!” she said haughtily, and Danny just sighed as she stood up to open the door for her.

“You are welcome to do so, Mrs. Bennett, but Jack has been in to see him before and he has not had particular success. In either case, please give him the extra credit assignment and remind him he has until the last day of the term to turn it in.”

Mrs. Bennett just sniffed and strode past her, slamming the door on her way out. Danny stood staring at it for a minute, contemplating her life choices. “I fucking hate this job,” she muttered. She started gathering her things, hitting a number on speed dial and putting it on speakerphone as she packed up.

“Yo.”

“Kirsch, never become a teacher, this job is the worst,” Danny said, zipping up her bag with more force than was strictly necessary. “The parents are awful .”

“Conference didn’t go well?” Kirsch asked sympathetically, and Danny shook her head as she locked up the classroom.

“That mom is a nightmare ,” she said, taking Kirsch off speaker and putting the phone up to her ear. “She was actually defending his paper.”

“Isn’t he the one who wrote about how girls are, like, ruining books or something?”

“Yes,” Danny said. “It was appalling. At least now I know where he gets it from.”

“Yikes. Is she going to the principal about it?”

Danny snorted, throwing her bag into the passenger seat of her car and putting Kirsch back on speaker as she started the car. “Yeah. You owe me ten bucks.”

“Dammit,” Kirsch muttered. “Can I just pay for the pizza tonight?”

“I thought we were getting Chinese? Kyle’s been itching for it since we introduced him to chow mein a few weeks ago.”

“Shit, yeah, you’re right. It’s the Zetas who are getting pizza tonight.”

“Kirsch, do you want to hang out with them? I can cover it tonight, I know you haven’t been spending a lot of time at the frat house,” Danny offered.

“Yeah, but I’ve been with the kids,” Kirsch pointed out. “And… I don’t know. They’re sort of not being the best bros right now.”

“What’s going on?” Danny asked, pulling up next to the Vordenberg’s house. She unbuckled her seatbelt and stretched out in the seat, knowing the kids wouldn’t get home from school for another fifteen minutes.

“It’s not their fault,” Kirsch said, slightly defensively. “They’ve been great with the grad school stuff. Blake quizzed me on GRE words the other day. But they just…” Kirsch sighed, clearly frustrated. “The biggest thing any of them have to deal with is getting a job after graduation, which is like a big thing, but… I don’t know. They’re still in party mode, and I’m trying to handle school and the GRE and, well, parenting.”

Danny felt a twinge of guilt. “I’m sorry, Kirsch,” she said. “It’s my fault you got sucked into this.”

“Nah, it’s okay,” Kirsch said. “You’re more stressed out than I am. And I’m happy, they just don’t always get why I don’t go out that late or get super wasted anymore.”

“You can still party!” Danny protested. “I can cover things here.”

“Thanks, D-bear,” Kirsch said, and Danny rolled her eyes at the nickname. “But it’s more that I don’t want to, you know? Like, I could blow a bunch of money on shots, or I could save up for that new game station Kyle really wants and won’t tell me about. I had to find out from Kirstie,” he added, sounding slightly affronted.

“You know Carmilla would 100% pay for anything they want, right?” Danny asked drily.

“I know,” Kirsch said with a chuckle. “But I want it to really be from me. I do feel kinda weird that I’m basically buying it with stolen drug money, though.”

“Yeah,” Danny agreed, making a face. “It’s pretty weird knowing you got paid for babysitting through drugs and extortion. Look, I gotta go, I can see Kyle and Kirstie coming home, but I’ll see you later? But if you want to hang out with the Zetas, don’t worry about it. I might hate them, but they’re still your brothers. Even if they’re gross.”

“Nah, I’ll be there,” Kirsch said. “I won’t tell them you said that. I’ll pick up the Chinese food on my way, okay? Later.”

“Later,” Danny responded, and grabbed her bag from the passenger seat as she hung up and got out of the car. She waited for Kyle and Kirstie to reach her before reaching out and ruffling Kyle’s hair. “How was school?” she asked, and Kyle eagerly launched into a story about his physics class. She smiled to herself as she unlocked the door and followed the kids inside.

 


 

“That can’t be right,” Danny snapped. “There has to be a family within twenty miles that will take in two smart, sweet, well-behaved kids.”

“It’s not that I don’t agree with you, but no one has contacted the judge,” Carmilla said, rubbing her eyes with exhaustion. “And we have, like, a week to find a name or the judge is going to turn them over to the state.”

“Fuck,” Danny groaned, thudding her head into Carmilla’s table, which was covered in papers. “What are we gonna do?”

Carmilla shrugged. “Fuck if I know,” she said, but Danny knew her dismissive tone was masking intense worry.

Danny sighed and changed the subject. “How’s Laura doing? I haven’t seen her in almost a week.”

“She’s pretty good, I think,” Carmilla said. “She’s back at the paper, which I think is good for her. I think she feels guilty that she’s not here with me, but I can walk now and stuff, I’m just a little stiff.”

“Yeah, you look like you’re doing a lot better,” Danny said, looking over Carmilla with an appraising eye. “And thank god,” she added. “You’re a real asshole when you’re bored.”

“Thanks, Lawrence,” Carmilla said drily. “Could’ve died taking a bullet for one of your best friends, but that’s whatever, doesn’t matter.”

Danny rolled her eyes. “I don’t think there’s a person in this group who wouldn’t take a bullet for her. Except maybe Perry, who’d try to hit it out of the air with a cast iron pan or something.”

“LaF might try to shoot it down with a laser,” Carmilla suggested. “But in any case, I’m the one who got shot, and I have complaining rights for the next century.”

“Whatever, Karnstein.”

“Lawrence.”

“Millie.”

“Too far, kid,” Carmilla warned, pointing her pen at Danny. “I still have my gun.”

“You just said you get to complain for a century because you got shot and now you’re threatening to shoot me? Do you hear yourself speak, or does it just fall out of your mouth?”

“Jesus, you sound like Laura,” Carmilla muttered. “But fine, I won’t shoot you. Probably.”

“Reassuring, thank you,” Danny said sarcastically. She started gathering up the papers that were sprawled across the table. “I need to get home, I have an early start tomorrow, but I can come over later this week if you get any more families contacting you?”

“Sure, but I don’t think that’s likely,” Carmilla said. Danny nodded and zipped up her bag.

“Well, if it happens, let me know.”

“Yeah,” Carmilla said dimly, spinning a pen between her fingers. “I just wish there were something we could do.”

“Me too,” Danny said. “Give Laura my best, okay?”

“Sure,” Carmilla said. “Drive safe.” She got up and walked Danny to the door. She had just closed it when Danny stopped stock still in the hallway and wheeled around, rapping on the door loudly.

“Carmilla, open the door,” she said loudly, and the door swung open a moment later, Carmilla glaring at her from inside.

“What did you forget?" 

“Nothing,” Danny said, pushing her way inside. “But I think I know how we can help.”

Chapter Text

“... LaF?” the barista called, and LaF jerked out of their reverie and back into reality.

“Yeah, thanks,” they said, grabbing the two coffees and heading back to their table. They set one down in front of J.P. and slid into the booth across from him.

“So you only have to do community service?” they asked, picking up their earlier conversation, and J.P. shrugged.

“Kind of,” he said. “I don’t have to serve any jail time, but I’m on probation for like a year, and I have appointments every week with my parole officer.”

“That’s really good, though,” LaF said encouragingly. “Is it going on your permanent record?”

“I think the judge said she’d take it off if I pass probation and ‘show I’m an asset to the community’ or some shit like that,” he said. “But I don’t know if it really matters, given that I got expelled from a PhD program and I think any future employer will assume I did something to warrant that.”

“... Yeah, that’s fair,” LaF said quietly. “I’m really sorry.”

J.P. shook his head. “It’s my fault,” he said. “I should have just started working. Especially since I’m not ending up with a degree anyway.”

“Your parents had just died and you were only part-way through university,” LaF said. “You made what you thought was the best choice for your future.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t the best choice,” J.P. pointed out. He shook his head and took a sip of his coffee. “It doesn’t matter, anyway,” he said. “Not like I can go back in time.”

LaF grimaced. “Yeah, true,” they allowed. “... Though it would be sick if you could.”

“No way,” J.P. said, leveling them with a warning look over his coffee. “I’m on board for most of your wild ideas, but I am not messing with the space-time continuum.”

“Oh, come on,” LaF complained. “It’s not like going back three weeks in time would rip a hole in the universe or something.”

“You don’t know that!” J.P. said, gesturing so wildly with his coffee some slipped out and splashed onto his shirt. He made a face and patted at it with a napkin as he continue. “If anyone could rip a hole in the very fabric of existence, it would be you.”

“I am oddly flattered by that.”

“Yeah, I knew you would be,” J.P. muttered. “Anyway, you wanted to see me for something. What is it?”

“Right,” LaF said with a grin. They reached into their pocket and pulled out a small box, handing it to J.P., who took it with a frown.

“What…?” he asked, mostly to himself, and popped the box open. “... Holy shit, LaF.”

“I know,” LaF said, eyes shining. “I’m really excited.”

J.P. closed the box slowly and looked at his best friend. “I want to be excited for you, dude, but are you sure this is a good idea?”

“I’m not proposing,” LaF said, and J.P. gave them a confused look.

“Then why do you have a ring?”

“Well, we decided we’re not gonna get married,” LaF explained. “But whatever we are, we’ve been it for a while, so we thought it was time to be able to really symbolize that.”

“That’s valid,” J.P. said. “But a ring? People will assume you’re married, even if you’re not.”

“I know,” LaF said with a grin. “That’s why we’re going to wear them on necklaces instead of as rings.”

“... Okay,” J.P. said, sliding the box back to LaF. “You’ve clearly thought this through. I’m really happy for you, bro.”

“I’m happy too,” LaF said, opening the box to look at the ring again. “And I think Perry’s gonna love it.”

“Is she buying one for you?” J.P. inquired, and LaF nodded.

“We decided to buy them for each other. It’s more fun that way,” they explained. “Though of course Perry gave me about fifty specifications her ring had to meet.”

“Well, of course,” J.P. said, biting back a laugh. “Did you have any requirements for yours?”

“Not really,” LaF said with a shrug. “Just want it to be cool.”

“Bet Perry’s having a hell of a time with that,” J.P. said, trying to imagine Perry picking up rings and ranking them on a “cool” scale, but LaF made a face.

“I think she’s doing really well, actually,” they said. “I mean, I don’t know, I haven’t seen it yet. But she doesn’t seem stressed about it at all. Which is… weird, knowing Perry.”

“Huh,” J.P. said. “I guess she knows you.”

LaF snorted. “Well, we have been living together for about four years now,” they said. “She’d better know me.”

J.P. rolled his eyes. “Whatever, asshole,” he said. “I need to go soon, I have some of my community service coming up, but we should do this again soon? It’s weird not seeing you every day.”

“Yeah, it is,” LaF agreed. “I’ll see you later.”

“Sure thing.”

LaF waited for him to make it to his car before they took the pen out of their pocket and unfolded their napkin on the table. They took a couple of sips of their coffee before they bit their tongue in concentration and started sketching out how to engineer a TARDIS.

 


 

“Hey, sorry I’m late,” LaF apologized. “I was at the lab and the freaking molecules wouldn’t synthesize.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Danny said, glancing up at them from her seat at the table. “Nobody else is here to cook, and the others aren’t even planning to arrive for another hour or so.”

“Oh, really?” LaF said, surprised. “Well, that’s good news for me.” They shrugged off their jacket and threw it on the back of their chair as they sat down with Danny. “I didn’t want to miss it. Laura said it was stir fry night!”

“You know you could make stir fry by yourself, right?” Danny asked dryly. “It’s like… Cutting up vegetables and some meat and putting them in a hot pan with some liquids you’ve stirred together. It’s got to be at least 500 times easier than whatever synthesis thing you were doing earlier.”

“Yeah, but it’s still effort,” LaF said. “And excuse me if I don’t want to hold a knife for two hours cutting up carrots and bok choy when I was just holding a pipette for, like, six hours.”

“What were you doing for six hours?” Laura asked. Neither Danny nor LaF responded as they watched Laura wrestle a grocery bag almost as big as she was onto the counter and start taking things out. Noticing the nonresponse, she turned around with hands full of tomatoes and onions and sent them a quizzical look. “What?”

“Dude, what the hell did you buy?” LaF said. “And where’s Carmilla? I thought she was coming with you.”

“Nah, she said she had to run an errand on the way. No idea what, actually, she was being really secretive about it. To be honest, I’m kind of assuming she just wanted to get out of cooking duty. You know how Carm is.”

“That we do,” Danny said, rolling her eyes a bit as she stood up to help Laura sort out the groceries. “Seriously, though, how much did you buy? We’re just feeding the kids and ourselves.”

“Count how many people are going to be here,” Laura said, giving Danny a look. Danny returned it and counted out loud.

“The kids, that’s two. The three of us, so that’s five. Carmilla makes six, Kirsch makes seven… Okay, I get your point.”

“It should really be nine, given how much you and Kirsch eat,” LaF piped up helpfully, and Danny turned around and tossed a bunch of green onions at their head.

“Are you gonna sit there and smirk or are you gonna come help?”

“I think I’m good here, thanks,” LaF said with a quick grin, and Danny opened her mouth to make some retort when the door opened.

Home! We’re home!” Kirsch panted, shepherding the kids in through the door. “Sorry sorry sorry, got caught in traffic, and also the kids were being terrible and I had to pull over and give them a lecture halfway home.”

“We weren’t being terrible,” Kyle protested, but he ducked his head at the look Kirsch gave him. “Okay, maybe a little terrible,” he muttered.

“What did they do?” Danny asked, and Kirsch just shook his head.

“Not even worth explaining,” he said. “Just being super unnecessarily mean to each other.”

Danny looked at the kids, but they were both studiously avoiding her gaze. “Well,” she said, “I hope it’s not going to affect dinner, because I for one am really excited about this dinner. Kyle, why don’t you help me wash the vegetables, and Kirstie, Kirsch can help you cut them. Laura, LaF, can you take care of the chicken?”

“You got it,” LaF said. “Is the kitchen going to fit all of us, though?”

“Kirstie and Kirsch can take the table, Kyle and I will be at the sink, and you and Laura can take the counter?”

“Sounds good to me,” LaF said. “Go team.”

The kitchen filled with busy talking as the pairs figured out how they would approach their tasks, and settled down to a quieter murmur as everyone actually got to work. Eventually, though, Kirsch got his hands on the sound system in the house and started blasting 80s music and dancing around to it. (He quickly stopped dancing when Danny threatened to take him off of knife duty, but he was still clearly lip-syncing as he chopped vegetables and kept an eye on Kirstie’s cutting skills.)

“Let me guess, Kirsch’s music?” said a dry voice, and everyone looked up.

“Carm!” Kirstie exclaimed, hastily putting down her knife and running over to give her a hug. Carmilla laughed as she picked Kirstie up and looked teasingly at Laura.

“See, she’s excited to see me.”

“She’s young and doesn’t know any better,” Laura retorted, but washed her hands and walked over to give Carm a kiss. “Want to help out now that you’re here?”

“Sure,” Carmilla said. “What needs doing?”

“If you could get the sauce together, that would be great,” Danny said, studying the recipe. “I think we have everything else covered. The recipe is right here and all of the ingredients should be in the fridge or that cabinet.”

“On it,” Carmilla said, and Danny smiled her appreciation at her.

“On that note, how’s everything else coming along?” she asked to the rest of the group.

“I think we’re almost ready,” Laura said. “LaF and I just finished cutting the chicken, and now we just have to do the initial cooking of it and we’ll be ready for the sauce and veggies.”

“And the vegetables?” Danny prompted, and Kirstie pointed proudly to the mound of chopped vegetables on the table. “Okay, well, looks like we’re about ready. Everyone out of the kitchen except me and Kirsch.”

Everyone except Danny and Kirsch headed for the family room, staking out spaces that were comfortable enough to eat dinner on but still had a decent view of the TV, since they were halfway through their Harry Potter marathon.

“I don’t really like this one,” Kirstie said from her perch on a big armchair. “He’s always so angry.”

“He’s dealing with a lot of stuff,” Carmilla said gently. “But it’s hard to watch, I know.”

Kirstie just made a face and curled up in her chair. Carmilla and Laura exchanged looks and a whispered conversation before Laura got up and left for the kitchen. LaF followed her movements with a puzzled look, but was drawn back into the conversation as Carmilla turned back to Kirstie.

“Do you want to watch a different movie?” Carmilla asked, and Kirstie paused before she shook her head.

“No,” she said. “I don’t want to skip one or go out of order. It just makes me feel weird.”

“That’s fair,” Carmilla said. She looked up at Laura as she returned from the kitchen and mouthed something to her that was returned with a nod.

“Hey, Kirstie,” Laura said, walking over to Kirstie and kneeling by her chair with an encouraging smile. “How about this: we watch the movie, but we also get ice cream afterward and come back and do a puzzle or something?”

“Yes, ice cream!” Kyle cheered, but he quieted down when LaF nudged him. He couldn’t resist another small crow of victory when Kirstie agreed, though. Laura gave Kirstie a brief hug and settled back down on the nest of blankets and pillows Carmilla had made on the floor.

“Remind me again why the kids get the chairs and the adults get the floor?” LaF asked, trying not to laugh at the sight of the two of them sprawled out while Kirstie sat in a chair that dwarfed her body.

“Stop gloating,” Laura said with an eyeroll. “You’re lucky Kyle likes you enough to share the couch with you.”

“I love LaF!” Kyle said. “They’re so good at science!” He turned to LaF and continued excitedly. “I asked my teacher to try that thing you told me about and she did and the explosion was so blue and it was so cool!

“I’m sorry, you told him to make something explode?” Carmilla said, shooting LaF a concerned look, but LaF just chuckled and explained.

“It’s not a big deal, don’t worry about it,” they said. “It’s just a reaction between nitrous oxide and carbon disulfide.”

Carmilla still looked concerned, so LaF sighed and elaborated a little more. “It makes a weird barking sound and a bright blue flash. It’s super safe, I promise, they used to use it for photography.”

“How do you use an explosion in photography?” Kirstie asked, peering over the top of her chair to curiously stare at LaF.

“Well, they used it to provide light for the photograph when they took it at night,” LaF clarified. “So not really in the photograph or anything, but it did help.”

“Wait, I’m still confused,” Laura interrupted. “How exactly does this help?”

“The light of the explosion illuminates the subjects of the photo, which means that, before we had flash, this is how you took a picture at night.”

“That is so cool,” Kyle said, staring up at LaF in awe.

“Thanks, bud,” LaF said, ruffling his hair. “I think so too.”

“Okay, dinner’s ready,” Danny yelled from the kitchen. “Come get food, this is gonna be a fill-your-own-plate kind of dinner.”

Kyle scrambled off the couch and, from the din in the kitchen, had already grabbed a plate and silverware by the time everyone else had made it halfway there at all. LaF watched them go with a smile on their face, and looked back down to text Perry back before they joined them in line.

LaF: You sure you don’t want to come over? Everyone would love to see you.

Perry: I’m sure :) but thank you.

LaF: Okay. Good luck finishing that book for your club meeting tomorrow, I know it’s been stressing you out.

Perry: I think I’ll get it done!

LaF slid their phone in their pocket and stood up, walking to the kitchen to grab some food, passing Kyle and his exceedingly full plate as he was headed back toward the sofa. He made a slightly strangled noise and LaF looked up at him in alarm.

Kyle set his plate and glass down and removed his silverware from his mouth. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “I was trying to carry everything at once… Can you get me a napkin while you’re in there?”

“Sure can, kid, but next time maybe think before you grab? And don’t try to carry a knife and fork in your mouth.”

“Yeah…” Kyle said, giving them an embarrassed smile. LaF shook their head and made sure to grab extra napkins after they piled stir fry up on their plate. They tossed a few napkins at Kyle and laughed as he batted them away.

Their phone buzzed and they glanced down at it.

Perry: And thank you for remembering.

LaF smiled down at their phone and tucked it away. They leaned back on the couch and wrapped an arm around Kyle as they took a bite of their stir fry - Jesus, that’s a lot of ginger - and settled in to the familiar strains of John Williams.