Actions

Work Header

sonnet seventeen

Chapter Text

It’s not love at first sight.

When Karolina Dean first lays eyes on Nico Minoru, they’re six, and Karolina is too busy fighting with Gert over who gets to be Princess Peach in Mario Kart to even really notice Nico being ushered into the Wilder’s recreation room by her parents. Nico is shy, and closed off, and her older sister seems to run the show most of the time. So no, Karolina doesn’t look at Nico and fall head over heels the moment their eyes meet.

Actually, if she recalls correctly, Nico kind of hates her at first, and it’s that fact that gets Karolina’s attention. Because Karolina is not used to not being liked. So, at six years old she decides to change Nico’s mind. She learns Nico likes magic, demands her dad buy her a magician’s kit, and masters how to make a coin disappear all in order to get Nico to talk to her. And while her trick fails, and Nico ends up having to teach Karolina what to do, her mission succeeds; and they’re inseparable from that day forward.

But anyway, falling in love with Nico Minoru isn’t something that just ‘happens’ to Karolina. Actually, it’s kind of forced into existence all because of Alex Wilder.


“I need you to be my girlfriend.” Nico is red-faced and out of breath as she stands at the door to Karolina’s dorm room, and it takes a moment for Karolina to realize she hasn’t misheard her best friend.

She doesn’t say anything at first. Can’t really say anything, because she’s promptly choking on the vegan pizza she’d been shoving down her throat seconds before Nico decided to turn their friendship upside down. And like, really? Nico knows how much of a struggle Karolina has finding good vegan anything on this campus. She could at least let her enjoy it.

Karolina splutters over her mouthful, reaching for her water bottle to wash it down her throat, and she hears Nico let out a sigh before shutting the door behind her and approaching.

“Come again?” Karolina manages out, eyes watering as she looks up at Nico while her friend pats her back gently.

“I need you to be my girlfriend.” Nico repeats, more sure of herself this time round.

“Right. Are you feeling okay?”

The thing is, Karolina’s gay. Like, so fucking gay that she wouldn’t be surprised if she started glowing the fucking colors of the rainbow any day now.

But Nico isn’t. So having her here, apparently asking her out, is kind out of the realm of things that should realistically be happening in Karolina’s dorm room.

“Nico… I don’t really know what-”

“Oh. Sorry. Fake girlfriend. Probably should’ve started with that.” Nico mumbles, apparently too caught up in whatever has her so stressed to consider that Karolina can’t read her mind and get answers herself.

That, at least, takes the crushing weight off Karolina’s chest. But it still doesn’t explain much.

“What are you going on about? Did you get high without me? I told you I’d try it with you next time!”

“I’m not high.” Nico rolls her eyes, falling down next to Karolina on the bed, “I just… we have Pride vacation coming up.”

Ah. Vacation. In the midst of finals, Karolina had almost forgotten about the annual Pride family trip. It had begun after the kids (all but Molly) had left for college, scattered across the country and separated for the better part of the year. The Pride’s great solution to the splitting of the almost obsessive bond between their families had been a compulsory vacation every summer. This year, it’s Hawaii.

Although, still, Nico’s explanation doesn’t do much to actually make Karolina understand anything.

“Right. Kauai. And?”

And Alex and Amy will be there. Together. Running around like they’re on their fucking honeymoon.” Nico spits, “They started dating a month after Alex broke up with me. It’s like he was just dating me because he couldn’t have Amy.”

“So your solution is to date me?” Karolina brings a hand to her heart, feigning hurt, “I feel so used.”

Nico’s clearly not in the mood for humor, and just looks back at Karolina pleadingly, “I can’t let him win, Karolina.” She says, her usually cool tone replaced with one of complete dejection, “He doesn’t get to show up happy with her and look at me like I’m some sad loner who can’t move on.”

And well, fuck. Karolina’s never been able to say no to Nico on a normal day. So having her best friend looking at her like this, like she’s so broken and Karolina’s the only one she trusts to help her, really dooms her from the get go.

Because it’s Nico. And she’s Karolina.

So she’s agreeing to the whole façade before she considers how utterly horrible an idea it is.


“So we should probably decide on a backstory.”

It’s one week before they go on summer break, and Nico hasn’t mentioned her plot for their fake relationship since she first conceived it. To be fair, they’ve both been caught up in their studies, wearing matching bags under their eyes courtesy of living off of bare minimum amount of sleep. While Karolina and Nico are different in more ways than they are alike, one similarity that bonds them is their tendency to ignore their schoolwork until the last minute.

Honestly, Karolina is probably going to spend most of her vacation sleeping.

“You’re talking about Kauai?” Karolina guesses, happy to have an excuse to shut her laptop and ignore the essay that sits with only 100 words written on the screen (it’s been in that state for the better part of two hours now). She spins around in her chair to face Nico, giving her all her attention.

Really, she should know better than to study with Nico by now, but they’ve never been good at staying away from each other. Going to the same college without the rest of their friends only seemed to make their co-dependency more severe.

“Yeah. You know; how we realized we liked each other, what we did on our first date… all that bull. No one will believe us if our stories are different.” Nico is sat on the floor of Karolina’s dorm room, resting back against her roommate’s bed and spinning a pen between her fingers absentmindedly, “It’s already going to be weird that no one knew about it before now.”

“Right. Sure.” Karolina nods, “Well… we could just say we wanted to take it slow? Make sure it was working before we got everyone involved.”

“If it was true, I’d probably do that anyway, with how insane my mom is.”

“Exactly.” Karolina smiles, happy with the excuse, “And our first date?”

Nico laughs, “Well, who asked who out?”

“It’d have to be you.”

“Why?”

“You’re straight. No lesbian is going to ask their straight best friend out on a whim.”

“I’ve never said I’m straight.”

That makes Karolina pause, brow furrowing, “But, you are.”

“Bisexuality is a thing, Karolina.” Nico says it with that irritated tone she uses whenever Karolina accidentally says something offensive. A lot less aggressive than the one Gert uses on such occasions, and cushioned with her affection for Karolina, but still. The irony of having Nico quietly reprimand her on this particular topic almost garners an amused smile from Karolina.

“Are you bisexual?”

“I don’t know.” Nico shrugs, cheeks reddening, “I mean, I’m just saying, sexuality is fluid. I’ve only ever been with Alex. I have no idea what I like yet. I don’t find women… unattractive.”

Karolina’s not sure how she’s been best friends with Nico for so long without ever having had this conversation with her, and she’s kind of disappointed in herself for assuming Nico was straight at all.

“Oh. Well. That changes things.”

“Does it?” Nico’s watching Karolina curiously, head tilted.

“I just mean… well- I mean, you’ll kind of be ‘coming out’ by dating me. We should probably think about that.” Karolina says, deflecting, “Are you sure you want to do that?”

Nico laughs, “I could do a lot worse than Karolina Dean as my first girlfriend.”

Karolina has to turn her attention to her hands in her lap, cheeks heating up at the compliment.

“Besides, it gets it out of the way for if I ever do end up with a girl.” Nico says, and Karolina has to ignore the tiny spark of jealousy that bubbles within her at the idea. She’s never been good at sharing Nico. “My parents will just be happy I’m dating another Pride kid.”

“Okay.” Karolina murmurs, “So… how long have we been dating? I broke up with Julie before Christmas, so it can’t be before that.”

“Yeah, it can’t be during times we were actually home either, so that works. So I guess, since January? Almost five months?”

“We can say we got together on New Years Eve!” Karolina grins, “I’ve always wanted a cute High School Musical moment. We kissed at midnight and everything fell together from there.”

Nico rolls her eyes like she usually does when Karolina reminds her just how different they are, a fond smile tugging at her lips despite herself, “Sounds like something you’d do.”

“And you’d do it to, because you love me.”

Karolina has too much evidence of Nico abandoning her general placidness in favor of entertaining Karolina for her to say otherwise, so Nico doesn’t argue.

Her smile fades, Nico swallowing hard and pulling her phone out of her pocket then, “So… what about boundaries?” her cool tone higher than normal.

“What do you mean?”

“I just don’t wanna make you feel uncomfortable. I mean, we’re gonna have to act like a couple to make it believable.” Nico isn’t meeting Karolina’s eyes, staring down at her phone and attempting to appear her usual nonchalant. Although she’s scrolling through her twitter feed fast enough that it’s obvious she isn’t actually reading anything.

“You weren’t very into PDA with Alex.”

“Yeah, but you and Julie were.” Nico says, “We need to find a middle ground.”

“Right. Well… I’m fine with whatever feels okay for you. Usually I hold hands a lot, but we do that anyway. I guess cuddling is one big thing. Are you okay with that?”

“Sure.” Nico licks her lips, still not looking at Karolina, and even from where she’s sitting Karolina can see how red her cheeks are, “What about-” she cuts herself off, cringing.

“Kissing?” Karolina guesses, and then Nico’s eyes dart up to hers and Karolina’s stomach does a little somersault that she absolutely does not condone.

“Yeah.”

“I mean… if it feels right, then sure.” Karolina pauses, the nerves on Nico instilling some in herself, too, and she’s overwhelmed with the need to press on, to make sure that they’re not about to throw away the relationship that means the most to Karolina all for Alex Wilder. “I don’t want to make things awkward, though. If you think it might hurt our friendship, I don’t want to do it. That has to come first, Nico. I’m only doing this if you can promise me that at the end of it we’ll still be okay.”

“Well what about you? Are you sure you’re okay with it?”

“I love you, Nico. You’re my best friend.” Karolina says sincerely, “It’d take a lot more than some dumb fake relationship to change that.”

Nico looks less apprehensive now, her expression softening, and she nods, “Yeah. Same for me.” She sighs, “So you’re in?”

Karolina grins, “I was in the moment I imagined Alex’s face when he finds out.”


They tell their parents before they arrive in St. Barts, Karolina gushing to hers over Facetime and Nico sending her own a cold text ‘informing’ them of their relationship.

Karolina’s react as she expects. They’re happy for her, but they still deliver their usual lecture on watching what she posts on social media and how she behaves in public. When she turned eighteen, the media’s interest in Karolina seemed to start growing. It didn’t help that her parents’ acting careers had been revived thanks to being cast in a new show together, either. The lesbian daughter of one of Hollywood’s ‘It’ couples was always going to be a tabloid journalist’s dream.

It goes fine for Nico, too, who at first receives skepticism, before her parents decide that it was a natural progression for her and Karolina. Her dad does liken it to Amy’s relationship with Alex, however, which rubs Nico the wrong way, and Karolina has to stop her from sending a passive aggressive message back.

The news of their relationship spreads across the rest of Pride fast, and it’s only a couple of hours before Karolina receives a text from Gert saying she ‘knew it all along’. Karolina doesn’t understand why this is all so easily believed by everyone, but Nico points out that they should probably just run with their luck and not question it.

Kauai arrives in no time. Gert and Chase, having stayed at colleges close to home, arrive with Molly and the parents, while Karolina and Nico travel together, Alex and Amy doing the same.

Karolina shouldn’t really be surprised by the extravagance of the homes the parents pick out every summer. It’s what happens when five of the richest (and most over the top) couples in California decide to embark on a holiday together. But it still takes her breath away when entrance gates open to give way to the sight of the place and their car takes them up the driveway.

It’s right on the beach, which is all Karolina really cares about, intending to spend the majority of her time here napping on the sand and swimming. There are two large houses on the ground, the parents no doubt having already dedicated one to them and the other to the kids (which none of them will be complaining about, to be honest). They pass by an infinity pool and what Karolina assumes is a recreation cottage, and really, Karolina’s never been ridiculously materialistic, but after spending most of her year shoved in a dorm room? Yeah, she’s definitely not mad about her parents’ love for the finer things in life.

“I don’t even want to know how much money went into this one.” Nico drawls when they climb out of the car.

Karolina laughs, helping Nico retrieve their luggage from the car before tipping their driver and making their way towards the main house. They come to a hesitant pause at the front door before making their way inside, both of them clearly having the same thought.

“You still want to do this?” Karolina asks, “Three months is a long time to pretend to be dating.”

“I’m sure.” Nico lets out a nervous breath, “It can’t be hard, right? We spend all our time together, anyway.”

She sounds unsure, but Karolina nods, smiling at Nico and reaching to open the door, “Alright then, girlfriend. Let’s say hi to the family.”


They’re the last to arrive other than Alex and Amy, and Karolina’s kind of relieved to at least be able to have their ‘debut’ as a couple occur without them there.

A good hour passes before Karolina and Nico even end up back at each other’s side, both stuck catching up with their families and the rest of the Pride group. Knowing Karolina all too well, Chase at least makes sure to shove a flute of champagne in her hand before she embarks on the repeated questions about college life and what she’s been doing since she last saw each of the parents at Christmas. Gert watches on with a look of pure amusement, no doubt having already had to deal with the compulsory catch-up conversations. Molly just looks happy to see everyone back together, and Old Lace seems to share her sentiments too, the German Shepherd running between everyone’s legs excitedly and taking whatever attention she can.

Gert’s parents are the only ones to actually outright bring up Karolina and Nico’s new status as a couple, gushing to her so excitedly that Karolina’s almost sad it isn’t actually real.

“I’ve said it a million times; friendship is the best foundation for romance.” Dale declares, already clearly a few drinks in and arm wrapped around his wife’s middle.

“He does say that.” Stacey nods, “You know, we didn’t even date until we’d known each other for years! Oh, I’m so glad you kids found each other. I will say you always did have that little something between you two.”

There it is again.

Really. Why does everyone think Karolina’s secretly wanted to bang her best friend for years?

Karolina forces her smile to remain on her face, grip tightening on her champagne flute and thanking the Yorkes as politely as she can.

“Well, we should probably go and unpack.” Karolina announces once she’s been talked-out, “Get into some fresh clothes.”

She doesn’t have to look for Nico, her best friend immediately appearing at her side, no doubt having been desperately waiting for an escape route while she spoke to the Wilders.

“Of course. You kids are in the other house.” Karolina’s mom smiles, “Don’t take too long, though. We’ll be sitting down for dinner when Amy and Alex get here.”

“Great.”

“We’ve put your bags in one of the second floor rooms. The one at the end of the corridor.” Tina is looking at Nico with an arched brow, almost like she’s challenging her, “I assumed you two would be sharing a room?”

Usually, Karolina would bristle at how Tina speaks to Nico. But it’s kind of a relief to see that someone isn’t so completely ready to believe their sudden relationship.

Nico seems to shut down, staring at her mother wide-eyed, “I- uh-”

“That’s perfect.” Karolina cuts in, sending Tina her sweetest smile, “Thank you.”

She places her hand on the small of Nico’s back, and Nico almost jumps out of her skin at the contact. Now even Karolina’s mom is looking at them with a confused frown.

Nico realizes she’s fucked up, looks to Karolina in alarm.

Karolina lets out a soft laugh, hoping it doesn’t sound as forced as she thinks, “Nico’s running on like three hours sleep and way too much coffee.” She offers lamely.

The Yorkes let out a joint ‘Ah’ as though they completely buy the excuse for Nico’s reaction. Which, they probably do, bless them. But Nico and Karolina’s moms don’t look completely convinced.

(Alex and Chase’s parents couldn’t really give a damn either way)

Karolina decides not to give Nico an opportunity to dig their grave deeper, and grabs Nico’s hand before tugging her out of the house.


“That was…”

“Fucking horrible.” Nico finishes for Karolina, throwing her arms up in the air as she walks into their bedroom and proceeds to collapse back onto the bed, “That’s it; we’re fucked. I just made a complete idiot of myself and now they all totally know.”

“Okay, yes it was awkward but it wasn’t that bad.” Karolina says, lips tugging up into an amused smile at Nico’s dramatics, “We should probably work on your reactions, though. No one will believe we’re dating if you freak out every time I show you to slightest bit of affection.”

Nico huffs, “Definitely not after they’ve seen how all over each other you and Julie fucking Power were.”

There it is; Nico’s absolute disdain for Karolina’s ex. It’s been a few weeks now since she’s made a subtly disapproving comment about Julie, though. Karolina thinks it might be a new record.

“You make it sound like we had sex in front of the whole of Pride.”

“Might as well have.” Nico grumbles.

“You’re in a mood, so I’ll let that one go.” Karolina sighs, “But you’re right. I’m affectionate; everyone knows that. Being my ‘girlfriend’, you should probably look like you’re used to it.”

Nico grunts what must be an agreement, sitting up to rest against the headboard of the bed and looking to Karolina, “So what do we do?”

Karolina takes her bottom lip between her teeth, pondering for a moment while she looks at Nico. She has an idea. Although, said idea could just make Nico even more skittish. But then again, it’s better Nico get that out of the way now rather than have her slap Karolina for just trying to hold her hand in front of their families later. So, Karolina gathers what courage she can muster and walks over to the bed.

She edges over on the mattress towards Nico, her hands resting on her best friend’s shoulders as she climbs into her lap, legs bracketing Nico’s thighs.

“What are you doing?” Nico blurts immediately, hands hovering at her sides and staring down at where Karolina’s straddling her.

She doesn’t run away or shove Karolina off, so Karolina takes that as a good sign.

“You need to get used to this. To me.” Karolina says, “You’ve never been with a girl, Nico. And it shows.”

“Excuse me?” Nico looks so offended that Karolina laughs.

“It’s not an insult. I’m just saying. You need to look like the female body isn’t some alien territory for you.” She reaches for Nico’s hands, placing them on her thighs, “When you were with Alex, he wasn’t afraid to touch you, was he?”

Karolina has no idea where she’s getting this confidence. But it’s always been kind of an instinct for them, to make up for whatever the other seems to be lacking at any given time. Nico’s the calm when Karolina’s a storm, Karolina’s light when Nico’s losing herself to the dark. And Nico’s crashing and burning right now, so Karolina needs to be the one to keep them on course. If that means taking the lead in this whole fake relationship, she’ll just have to swallow her own apprehensions and make it work.

“I mean… no. He just did it. It was normal.”

“Exactly. That’s what this needs to be.” Karolina leaves Nico’s hands on her thighs, giving her the freedom to do what she wishes with them, “You shouldn’t be freezing up every time I so much as rest a hand on your thigh or hold you.”

She reaches up, tracing her fingers up Nico’s neck to her chin, coaxing her to drag her eyes up from Karolina’s legs and meet her gaze. Karolina swallows hard, feeling her own nerves now sneaking up on her, glancing down to Nico’s lips. This shouldn’t feel so loaded. They’ve been this close before; they’ve shared the same bed on sleepovers since they were kids. Sure, Nico’s never been one for affection, but she’s always allowed a measure of it from Karolina. So being this close now shouldn’t be strange for either of them.

“If we kiss, it should look natural.” Karolina leans in, presses a soft kiss to Nico’s jaw. She hears Nico’s sharp intake of breath in response, and lets her lips ghost her skin a second longer before pulling away, “Like we’re doing it without even thinking about it.”

Nico is completely red-faced, breaths heavy, and Karolina can’t deny that she kind of likes the idea that she’s causing this reaction right now.

“You think you can do that?” Karolina’s hands rest back at Nico’s shoulders, “Or should we go back and tell everyone this was all some stupid joke?”

Nico takes a moment, looking wide-eyed up at Karolina, “No…” she swallows the lump in her throat, “No, I can do it. I can do it.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Nico has that determined spark in her eyes now that Karolina loves, and Karolina grins down at her.

“Okay, then.” She glances down to Nico’s lips for a moment, but doesn’t dare let her mind linger on them, feeling her cheeks heat up. Karolina clears her throat, climbing off of Nico’s lap, “I’m gonna have a shower.”

She doesn’t look back at Nico as she escapes to their en suite, but she hears her collapse back down on the bed a moment later.


Once they’re both showered and dressed again, Karolina and Nico trade questions back and forth about their fabricated relationship while they unpack their things, Nico determined to make up for whatever doubt she planted in anyone’s minds earlier.

When they’re ready to head back to the main house, Karolina laces their fingers together and leads Nico out of their room. She reaches the top of the large staircase when she comes to an abrupt stop, feeling Nico collide softly with her back.

Alex and Amy are paused halfway up the stairs, bags in tow and staring at Nico and Karolina like deer caught in headlights. Karolina catches how Alex’s eyes look them both up and down, taking in their connected hands, and she feels Nico’s grip tighten.

Amy just looks guilty, only having eyes for her sister.

There’s almost a solid minute before any of them move, Nico being the one to muster the balls to break the ice and dropping Karolina’s hand to walk down the steps and embrace her sister.

“Hey, sis.” She greets, and Karolina can see how false the smile she wears is; purely there just to make her sister feel comfortable.

Nico has never spoken much about the Amy part of this whole situation. It’s always been ‘Alex’ this and ‘Alex’ that – she’s never mentioned how much her own sister’s betrayal hurt her. She hasn’t had to, of course. Karolina can read it in her bright as day. What used to be Nico’s closest bond next to her friendship with Karolina, now barely exists between her and Amy.

Her sister looks relieved at the welcome, no matter how stiff and transparent it is, and she grips onto Nico so tight that Karolina almost wants to pull Nico away in fear of bruising.

“I missed you.” She hears Amy murmur into Nico’s ear.

Alex hovers next to them looking uncomfortable as ever, and Karolina doesn’t bother hiding her disdain for him when he attempts to quell his uneasiness by going to greet her. He goes in for a hug, but it turns into an awkward pat on the shoulder when he gets halfway there and realizes Karolina has no intention of reciprocating.

When Nico separates from Amy, she turns back to Karolina, offering her hand out to her without so much as an acknowledgment of Alex.

“Hey, Karolina.” Amy smiles warmly at her as Karolina walks down the steps to accept Nico’s hand. She glances down to their hands, and her smile widens, “I’m so happy for you guys.”

It sounds sincere. Karolina’s sure it is.

But she can immediately feel Nico stiffen next to her.

“Thanks.” Karolina says when it’s clear Nico’s not going to, “We’ll- uh, we’ll see you at dinner?”

Amy nods, “Definitely.”

Nico doesn’t waste any time in yanking Karolina away after that.


As Karolina had expected, seeing Alex and Amy together for the first time takes a toll on Nico. She’s withdrawn for most of the night, and Karolina makes sure not to leave her side for a minute of it. To their credit, Amy and Alex do their best to make it as easy as possible. They don’t even sit together at dinner, instead choosing to separate amongst their friends and family.

Karolina’s not sure if it’s just Nico committing to their agreement to be more affectionate, or if it’s because she’s looking for comfort, but Nico is always touching her in some way. Whether she’s resting her hand on her thigh or leaning completely into her, Nico refuses to give up contact at all. At one point Karolina presses a kiss to the top of Nico’s head, and it’s not really even for their whole act, just an attempt at an assurance to her best friend that she’s there.

Later in the night, when Nico’s starting to doze off on Karolina’s shoulder, Karolina decides to call it a night on her behalf and they retire back to their room (but not before Chase makes her promise to meet him on the beach later).

Nico practically collapses onto the bed when they get inside, their day of travel no doubt starting to take her as its victim. She watches quietly as Karolina wanders about the room, smiling tiredly at her when she notices.

“I’m sorry if I was dead weight tonight.” Nico mumbles, “I didn’t think it’d be that hard seeing them.”

“It’s your first time seeing either of them since you found out.” Karolina shakes her head, “You’re allowed to be upset.”

Nico sighs, “It’s not even about him. He could fall off the face of the earth, for all I care. It’s just seeing Amy with him.” She frowns, “I know I told her I was okay with her dating him but I don’t know… it still sucks. I guess I just wanted her to choose me.”

Karolina approaches the bed, sitting on the edge of it and reaching to brush her fingers through Nico’s hair, “Well, if it makes you feel better, I choose you. Always.”

“That’s cheesy.” Nico mumbles against the mattress, cheeks reddening despite herself, “Are you coming to bed?”

“I think I’m gonna stay up a bit longer. Chase wants to meet at the beach.”

Nico chuckles, smirking up at Karolina, “Cheating on me already?”

Karolina grins, leans in to peck Nico’s cheek, “Never.”


Karolina’s only waiting down on the beach for a few minutes before she hears Chase’s footsteps approaching, the boy falling down heavily at her side and wearing a cheeky smile, “Look what I got.” He waves a bottle of champagne in front of him, wasting no time in popping it open and allowing Karolina the first sip.

“God, I missed you.” Karolina sighs, leaning back on her elbows as she hands the bottle back over, “Why can’t you and Gert just live in New York?”

“Hey, don’t put that shit on me. You and Nico are the ones that fled Cali. Gert and I stayed right where we’ve always been.”

“You’ve never considered getting out of there?”

“Not really. I mean, when we first graduated Mom was going through the divorce, so I couldn’t leave her. I guess now she’s in a good place, it’d be fine. Her company has completely dominated the science world, man.” Chase grins, looking proud as ever, “But yeah, I don’t know. I’m happy where I am. I want to work with her, too. So I have a future there. And Gert has her family… Cali’s just home, you know? Nowhere else makes sense for me.”

Chase lets out a sigh, content as he watches the waves crash to the shore, “So you and Nico, huh?”

Karolina grins, as one should when being questioned about their girlfriend, and honestly it’s not too hard to hold it, when she’s just generally happy to be reunited with her friend, “What about us?”

Of all the people they’ll be lying to this summer, Chase is the one who Karolina has been dreading. He’s the first person she came out to, back in their sophomore year when Karolina had been crushing terribly on their shared Spanish tutor. She’s never hidden anything from him; never had anything that she couldn’t trust him completely with.

She had asked Nico if she could just tell him, at first, but Nico had pointed out that Chase’s inability to hide anything from Gert would lead to Gert knowing… and Gert’s tendency to have a strong opinion on nearly everything would probably lead to chaos in what they need to be a controlled secret. So, Karolina had relented, and agreed to keep Chase oblivious. She had been hoping that in some plot twist, Chase would just leave it alone. But of course, it’s Chase. Karolina arriving in Hawaii with Nico attached to her side was always going to be something he’d grill her about.

“I mean, I can’t say I didn’t see it coming.” Chase says, grinning down at Karolina, “You did have a mad crush on her in high school.”

“Oh, bullshit. No I didn’t.” Karolina has to refrain from objecting too aggressively, because being offended by the idea of having a crush on Nico probably isn’t how Nico’s girlfriend should act. But she files it away so she can argue with Chase further on it once this whole show is over.

Because she definitely did not have a crush on Nico in high school. And she doesn’t have one now. And she doesn’t get why everything thinks this is a thing.

God, she hopes Nico never had similar suspicions.

“Uh, yes, you did.” Chase grins and squeezes her shoulder, “Don’t worry, Dean. Apparently she liked you this whole time, too.”

“Whatever. What about you and Gert?” Karolina says, nudging her shoulder against Chase’s playfully, “You guys eloped yet?”

Chase lets out a bark of laughter, “I mean, hey, I’d marry her tomorrow if she’d let me. But it’s Gert. She’s got the whole world to conquer first.”

“One day.” Karolina says, and honestly? She believes it. She doesn’t think a universe exists where Gert and Chase don’t end up together.

The smile that traces Chase’s lips at that is so pure, so happy, so in love that even Karolina feels butterflies witnessing it, and he nods.

“Yeah.” He says, certain of himself, “One day.” His playfulness is back then, “We’ll have Old Lace as the ring bearer.”

“Your kids will be interesting. Purple-haired lacrosse players with a passion for protests?” Karolina grins, “Amazing.”

“Hey, they can be whatever the hell they like. I just wanna be a better parent than my dad was.” That sadness that’s never seemed to leave him when it comes to his dad lingers in his eyes, but it’s gone a moment later, Chase smiling at Karolina, “I’d personally love to see you trying to relate to Nico’s goth babies.”

“Okay, woah, too soon there. We’ve barely been together a minute.”

Chase only smiles wider, “I don’t know,” he teases, “I could see it.”

Karolina ignores the way her heart seems to skip a beat at the thought of that.

It’s probably just the alcohol, anyway.

Chapter Text

It’s kind of nice, actually. Being Nico’s girlfriend. Everyone pairing them off, having questions for Nico directed to her, and vice versa, because they’re now a package deal. Even just the way their names sound together.

‘Nico and Karolina’

‘Karolina and Nico’

Nico’s always been Karolina’s other half, but this is different. Now they’re Karolina and Nico: girlfriends. For some reason, that simple title changes everything. Karolina figures she’s just missed this feeling. She’s hasn’t dated anyone since Julie, so even if it’s a lie in this case, it’s kind of nice to belong to someone again.

It’s been two weeks since they arrived in Hawaii, and most of Karolina’s time has been spent just lounging around with Nico never too far from her. She’s in the pool right now, listening to Molly talk about her dating troubles at school, and Nico lies on one of the pool chairs, headphones in and the giant umbrella attached pulled out to shade her pale skin from the sun.

While Nico’s love for gothic fashion did get less intense as they grew older, her flare for statement clothing never fully went away. Even her outfit now, sitting by a pool in Hawaii, looks like it could be something found on a catwalk. Karolina can’t help but admire that level of commitment.

“I don’t know. I just wish I could have something like Gert and Chase have. Or you and Nico.”

At the mention of Nico, Karolina tunes back in, forcing herself to move from where she’d been resting up on the edge watching her fake girlfriend and drifting back over to Molly.

“You guys are so lucky.” Molly sighs wistfully, “I wanna have that.”

Molly’s right: it is nice. Even if it’s all just a lie, in Karolina’s case, it’s nice having someone that is hers.

“Well Gert and Chase are kinda the exception. Most people don’t fall in love in high school and stay in love.”

“Yeah, but you and Nico got together, and you guys have known each other forever.”

“So you never know; maybe your person is already around and you just haven’t figured it out yet.”

Molly’s nose crinkles in disgust, “Ugh, I hope not. All the boys I know are either weird or giant jockstraps.”

Karolina laughs, “I’m pretty sure Gert talked about Chase in a similar way once upon a time.”

“That’s just because she couldn’t admit she wanted to bone a stereotype.”

“Hey! I heard that!” Gert yells from where she sits on the grass by the pool, Chase tossing a ball for Old Lace next to her, “That’s not what happened.”

“And I’m not a stereotype!”

Gert looks to Chase, “Well, you kind of were.”

Chase gapes, “I guess someone doesn’t wanna get lucky tonight.”

“Please shut up now!” Molly yells back, looking horrified as she dunks herself underwater.

Karolina notices Nico rising from her chair then, watching as she approaches the pool, “Decided to be social?” she asks when Nico gets closer.

Nico sticks her tongue out at her playfully, dropping down to sit on the ledge and letting her legs hang in the water, “I just heard you giving Molly shit advice and figured I should save her.”

Karolina laughs, wading over to Nico, “I’d like to think I give great advice.” She reaches out for Nico’s legs, hands catching them beneath the water and tickling her fingers up the soft skin of her calves.

“Please. You wouldn’t know the first thing about trying to get someone’s attention.” Nico drawls, “People have always flocked to you.”

“Are you saying I’m hot?”

Nico’s eyes narrow, her legs kicking out at Karolina, “I never said that.”

“It’s okay, Nico. I get it; you’re attracted to me.”

Karolina receives a splash of water to the face at that, Nico laughing as she jerks away from her.

“That was mean.” Karolina points to Nico playfully, “I won’t forget that.”

“Oh boy,” Gert interrupts, looking between them with a disgusted expression, “I forgot how nauseating it is to be around you two.”

“Leave them alone, Gert. They’re practically newlyweds now.” Chase coos, proceeding to jump into the pool and send a giant wave splashing over his girlfriend and Old Lace.

“They’ve been flirting like this since they hit puberty.” Gert scoffs, Old Lace falling into her lap and stroking the dog’s neck fondly, “I thought it might at least have toned down now that they’re actually together.”

“We don’t- we didn’t flirt in high school.” Nico sputters, “What’re you talking about?”

“There’s a reason Alex always felt like a third-wheel with you two.” Gert says, oblivious to why either of them would take issue with her teasing and not noticing the stiff tone to Nico’s voice.

“We weren’t any closer to each other than anyone else in our group.”

Karolina is silent, wading in the pool and watching the conversation, unsure how she feels about it. She eventually decides she doesn’t like it, and swims back over to Nico, who’s too busy bickering with Gert to acknowledge her. She doesn’t get many more words out, though, as Karolina reaches out, wraps her arms around her waist, and yanks her best friend into the pool with her.

Karolina!” Nico whines, shoving her away from her with a pout, “Seriously?”

Karolina just laughs, shrugging, “You looked hot.”

Nico huffs and puffs as she takes off the now-soaked beach shirt she’d been wearing over her bikini, throwing the item off to the side of the pool, “I hate you.”

“No you don’t.”

“Mmhmm. No,” Nico turns back to her approaching with a predatory look, “I do.”

Her hands are on Karolina’s shoulders and dunking her under water moments later, Karolina struggling to resurface as Nico keeps up her assault.

“Molly!” Karolina laughs when she gets some air, attempting to keep Nico at a distance while she climbs all over her, “Help!”

“No way.” Molly calls back, leaving the pair to their underwater wrestling and deciding to turn her attention to Gert instead, “You’re right; they’re gross.”

“Told you.”

They’re a frantic scene of splashing water and giggles for who knows how long before Karolina gets the upper hand, trapping Nico up against the wall of the pool and managing to grasp her wrists, holding them up between them.

“Truce?” she breathes out, Nico grinning up at her.

“Why? I was kicking your ass.”

“Well, I was letting you.” Karolina retorts.

“Bullshit.”

Karolina laughs as Nico fights against her hold and presses her front against Nico’s, keeping her up against the wall, “You sure about that?”

“You’re tall; it’s not a fair fight.” Nico squirms against her, and Karolina’s immediately hit with a wave of regret over her choice of position, feeling every inch of Nico’s bare skin pressing against her own.

Nico also takes pause, freezing against her. Big brown eyes glance up at Karolina, and then away, and back again in alarm when she realizes her alternative view is her best friend’s chest.

Karolina does her best to save the awkwardness arising between them, clearing her throat, “Um- so- truce?”

She doesn’t pull back from Nico, because surely that would just make this even more of a deal than it has to be. And also, their friends would probably question Karolina jolting away from an embrace with her ‘girlfriend’.

Nico must have the same idea, because she doesn’t push Karolina back, nodding, “Yeah.” Her tongue darts out to lick her lips, and Karolina’s eyes immediately follow the action, “Truce.”

It’d probably make sense for them to kiss here. Being girlfriends, and all. It’s been a while since Karolina kissed anyone; maybe that’s why it seems so damn tempting right now.

“Get a room!” Chase hollers over to them, and Karolina lets out a breath of relief for a reason to separate from Nico, releasing her friend’s hands and moving back. Not very far, Karolina can’t really manage that much movement right now, but just enough so they’re not touching.

Nico looks up at her with a half-smile, chuckling.

Karolina doesn’t expect Nico to move forward, leaning up and pressing a kiss to the corner of Karolina’s mouth, so soft and barely there that she almost feels cheated. It’s over in seconds, Nico’s lips already gone when Karolina leans into the contact. And then Nico’s turning around and climbing out of the pool, Karolina watching dumbly as her best friend retrieves her towel and heads back to the house.

When Karolina comes to, she finds Chase watching her with an expectant expression.

“Well?” he gestures to Nico’s retreating form dramatically, “You gonna go get laid, or what?”

Old Lace’s tennis ball flies over to hit Chase in the chest, courtesy of Gert, “Do you have to make me question dating you every day?”


 

Nico’s never liked the beach much; she burns easily and the salty air and sand makes her hair a nightmare to manage and in general it just does not align with her style of clothing. Add that to the fact that she’s also spending this trip in the company of her ex-boyfriend who is now dating her sister, and you can understand why Nico was expecting to have drowned herself by the end of summer.

So it’s a complete surprise to Nico that she’s actually enjoying her time here.

She’s not sure if they’re doing it because of her, or they’re simply just too caught up in each other to want to hang out with the rest of the kids, but Amy and Alex have kept their distance for the most part. They’re around during family meals and appear at the odd group activities, but other than that, Nico isn’t submitted to their relationship too much. Which makes it easier to enjoy this vacation.

Karolina loves it here, as Nico expected. She’s been so stressed out with college this past month that her usual carefree attitude has been absent, and Nico didn’t realize how much she missed that part of her best friend until they got here and she witnessed Karolina’s smiles become more frequent and easy with every second that passed. And really, that’s all Nico needed to decide she loves this place after all, despite the whole anti-Nico agenda beaches seem to have.

Tonight, they’re all at a restaurant right on the beach. Everyone’s eaten more than their weight in food, and drank about double that in wine, and Nico’s actually really enjoying herself. Her parents are out on the dance floor with Gert’s, making fools of themselves, and Nico wonders if her mom is possessed or something – her usually stiff, serious composure replaced with broad smiles and actual, genuine giggles as Dale spins her into his arms.

Karolina sits next to her, their hands linked on the tabletop, and it’s just… nice. Easy. Natural, in a way.

Maybe everyone should just date their best friend.

“I think I’m in love with your mom.” Karolina whispers to her over her glass of wine, grinning as she watches Tina demand a song from the band.

Nico just looks on horrified, “I’m not entirely certain that is my mom.”

“Aw, come on. It’s nice.” Karolina’s leaning into her a little too close, the wine likely making her perception of space less than perfect, and Nico shivers as her breath hits her neck, “She’s having fun.”

“She’s wild.” Molly grins, taking a large swig of her glass of ‘coke’, and the disgusted expression that follows completely gives away the generous amount of vodka that she convinced Chase to pour for her behind the parents’ backs.

“I always thought your mom and my dad lowkey hated each other.” Gert remarks, watching their parents with the same perplexity.

“Me too.” Nico’s eyes leave them in favor of Karolina. Her long blonde hair sits lightly curled over her shoulders, some of it pulled into a braid to crown her head, and she’s wearing a casual white dress that she still manages to look like some kind of Greek goddess in. And Nico never liked Julie, but she almost feels bad for the girl; how the hell does she get by knowing she let this go?

Karolina must sense her staring, and blue eyes find Nico’s, looking to her pleadingly.

“You want to dance.” Nico assumes.

Karolina grins back at her, nodding, “Please?”

“I’ll dance with you!” Molly offers excitedly, and Nico knows she’s been beaten out immediately, Karolina’s eyes shining with a fondness for the youngest of their group before looking back to Nico.

“I guess you’re off the hook for now.” She teases, knowing Nico’s usual reluctance for such things.

What she doesn’t know is that Nico was very much prepared to say yes.

Nico rolls her eyes, nodding her permission and watching as Molly tugs Karolina off to the dance floor, Gert and Chase following them. She ignores the part of her that wants to be the one out there with Karolina.

She wants that even more when Alex ends up planting himself down in Karolina’s chair, “So you guys are legit, huh.” He says, wearing that annoyingly perceptive expression, like he knows so much better than her.

Nico finds Amy also out on the dance floor, and it annoys her that her sister doesn’t even seem worried about Alex talking to her. It must be nice, knowing you can trust your sister.

“It’s not really any of your business.” Nico sighs.

She can smell the alcohol on Alex, which explains why he suddenly has the balls to speak to her.

“I’m happy for you, really.” Alex takes a swig of his beer, picking at the label, “She’s pretty different from me.”

“And?”

“I don’t know.” Alex shrugs, “It’s just, surprising. I know you guys were always close and all but, I never imagined you with someone that… peppy.”

Nico wants to hit him. Has to stop herself from tossing the rest of her wine right in his face. Because after all these years of knowing Karolina, how the hell could he still see her through such a one-dimensional gaze? She’s always been more than the ‘pretty blonde girl’. Always been more than Alex.

“Well,” Nico starts stiffly, downing the rest of her wine and standing up from the table, “Sorry to surprise you. You didn’t have a spare sibling for me to date instead.”

“Come on, Nico. Don’t be mad-”

Nico allows Alex’s voice to drift away behind her, making a beeline for Karolina and her friends.

Karolina’s clearly surprised by Nico appearing on the dance floor without having been dragged there, but she reaches out for her as she nears, grabbing Nico’s hand and pulling her closer.

“Changed your mind, huh?”

Nico rests her arms around Karolina’s neck, leaning further into her, “Alex was being a pain.”

“Forget about him.” Karolina smiles, hands resting at Nico’s waist, “Have fun.”

Nico looks up at Karolina, and she wants to kiss her. She wanted to kiss her in the pool, too. Nico isn’t ready to think about why she wants to kiss her best friend so badly, and thankfully, the wine makes it easy to ignore that question. So she rises up on her toes, and presses her lips to Karolina’s.

She feels Karolina freeze and is ready to pull back in horror at the idea that she’s just completely overstepped, but then Karolina’s grip on her waist tightens and she kisses her back. Softly. God, she’s so soft that Nico thinks she might melt on the spot.

Kissing Karolina reminds Nico of being six years old and having no idea why the sweet blonde girl thinks they’d make good friends, but knowing at the back of her mind that for some reason, it’s the most natural thing in the world. Kissing Karolina feels like all too little and all too much.

And Nico’s really, really not prepared for that.

When she pulls away, Karolina’s still coming out of it, eyes glazed over and looking to Nico with a confused expression, but then she catches something over Nico’s shoulder, and understanding washes over her.

“Oh. Nice one.” Karolina smiles at her, though it looks all too empty, and Nico peers behind them to find Alex and Amy dancing nearby.

She lets Karolina believe that’s why she kissed her.


Nico kissed Karolina.

Nico kissed Karolina.

Sure, it was just to make Alex jealous, but still.

Nico kissed Karolina and now Karolina’s all kinds of fucked up.

Which, she shouldn’t be. Karolina knew this was a possibility; they literally discussed that kissing would be okay in their arrangement. But she didn’t know kissing Nico would feel like… that. She figured it’d just be a thing that happens that is funny to talk about in the future. Not something that buries itself in her brain so that all she’s thought about all day now is how Nico’s lips felt on her own and how much she’d totally be okay if they kept doing it from here on out.

She wasn’t supposed to be feeling… feelings over her best friend kissing her.

Maybe it’s just the timing.

It’s been months since Karolina so much as kissed anyone. Clearly her body’s feeling touch-starved and has decided to latch onto the first bit of affection she’s received since she and Julie broke up.

Yeah. That’s exactly what’s happening.

Karolina’s just horny and confused and Nico looks like Nico so of course, being the useless lesbian she is, she’s attracted to her. It’d be impossible not to be. It’s just basic human nature, and she just needs to get a grasp on that and everything will be fine.

Although, doing that is kind of hard when she’s literally stuck in paradise hugging and kissing Nico and pretending they’re hopelessly in love the whole time.

Karolina’s in the kitchen, and it’s early. Way too early for her usual sleep schedule, which has her rising almost at noon. But she’s barely slept a wink because someone decided to kiss her, so she’s now two cups of coffee into her day and wondering how many red bulls she can drink throughout the day before it becomes a health hazard.

Nico’s shuffling footsteps give her away the moment the sound meets Karolina’s ears, and she has to force herself not to run in the other direction when her best friend appears at the entrance to the kitchen, chest growing tighter with every step closer she gets. It’s not Nico’s fault that Karolina’s so fucking weak that she’s crashing and burning over a simple kiss; she can’t punish her best friend just because she doesn’t have her shit together. But still, Karolina can’t help the way she’s already closing in on herself, terrified of everything Nico currently stands for. God, she needs to get a grip.

“Morning." Nico greets sleepily, heading straight for coffee machine and completely oblivious to Karolina’s icy disposition, “I didn’t hear you get up.”

“Didn’t want to wake you.” Karolina mumbles out weakly.

The truth is, she didn’t even end up sleeping in their bed last night. The moment Nico’s breaths evened out, Karolina had practically bolted out of the room, desperate to put some space between them in hopes that it might help her get a better idea of what the fuck is going on with her right now.

(She didn’t have much luck, and just ended up with a sore back courtesy of the couch)

“Well, thanks.” Nico chuckles, “This hangover is killer.”

“Hmm.”

Nico turns to face Karolina, coffee mug in hand as she approaches, coming to a stop barely an inch away from her.

Karolina’s grip on the counter behind her tightens, and she fights the urge to shrink away from her best friend, hating that this is apparently something she has to deal with now. Of everyone in her life, Nico is the one person Karolina never thought she’d have to feel anything but completely comfortable around.

Nico eyes her for a moment, and then she’s melting into Karolina, arms wrapping around her middle in a tired hug and resting her forehead against Karolina’s shoulder, “I think I might be dying.”

This isn’t abnormal activity for them. But right now it’s the last thing Karolina can deal with, and she’s leaning back into the counter as much as possible at the embrace. Nico notices her resistance, pulling back with a confused expression.

“Uh… everything okay?”

“Hm? Yeah. Fine.” Karolina offers her a half-hearted smile, “Just. Well, no one’s here right now. We don’t need to act like… this.” She nods to down to Nico’s arms.

Nico frowns, clearly considering the fact that they’ve been this affectionate with one another since long before this whole fake relationship deal, but apparently deciding not to argue.

She withdraws from Karolina completely, the hurt written on her face making guilt hit Karolina’s gut like a brick, “Right… yeah. Sorry.” Nico mumbles, “Just… habit, I guess.”

Nico leaves Karolina in the kitchen, moving to the seats out on the patio with her coffee, and Karolina swears she actually feels her heart tear in two at quiet confusion on her best friend’s face.


As much as Karolina hates being the one to leave Nico looking so dejected, she doesn’t manage to make the situation any better throughout the day.

She just… needs a moment to herself. Away from Nico. So that maybe she can get a grasp on this… thing that’s been sitting heavy on her chest since Nico kissed her last night. Because it’s completely unacceptable and so not on the cards and just- Karolina can’t be the one to fuck up their friendship all because she’s lonely and confused. They had an agreement; hell, Karolina was the one to press the importance of not blurring lines and ruining things. And now she’s here doing just that.

She’s out by the pool with Old Lace by her side, legs dangling in the water and watching the effects of the lights above her hitting the ripples at her feet. Everyone else is inside, somehow having been sucked into watching Stacy and Dale present a PowerPoint on their latest research trip, so it’s no real surprise when Gert is the person to make an escape soon after Karolina.

She sits down on the other side of Old Lace, letting out a heavy sigh, “I’ll give credit where it’s due, that might be my parents’ best slideshow yet.”

Karolina laughs, although even she can hear how distant it sounds, “Have they figured out how to bring dinosaurs back yet?”

“They swear they’re close to the answer.” Gert says, “I’d say I have about three years to convince them it’s a bad idea before we’re living in a Jurassic Park movie.”

“Don’t they love those movies?”

“Uh huh. You’d think they might have learnt something from them.”

The pair’s laughs carry across the pool area, and when they sober Gert is looking at Karolina curiously.

“Are you alright?” she asks eventually, “You’ve been acting weird all day.”

“Have I?” Karolina feigns obliviousness, but Gert looks at her pointedly and she lets out a heavy breath, “I don’t know. It’s nothing.”

“Did you and Nico have a fight?”

“No.”

“Could’ve fooled me. You guys have been all over each other up until today; now it’s like someone died.”

Karolina shrugs, staring at her feet in the pool, “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“When you all found out about Nico and me.” Karolina says, “Why was everyone so… I don’t know- unsurprised?”

Gert is looking at her like she’s a complete idiot. And hey, maybe she is.

“Seriously?” Gert laughs, “That’s your question?”

“… yeah.” Karolina looks to her, and Gert must catch onto the turmoil that’s beating at her, giving pause.

“Well… I don’t know. I mean… you guys have always been a package deal. Even when Nico started dating Alex, her first choice was always you.” Gert shrugs, “Hell, you guys literally ran off to New York together.”

“We were best friends.”

“Sure. But Nico didn’t ask her boyfriend of two years to go with her. She didn’t even ask him to choose somewhere close. She was happy to let him go but she refused to even consider being separated from you.” Gert’s eyes narrow, “Why are you even asking? You guys ended up together, after all. Clearly there was something going on all those years, even if your heads were too far up your asses to notice it. You don’t need me to tell you this.”

Karolina knows she’s already said too much; Gert’s curiosity catching onto this is the last thing she needs, so she drops it.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Karolina smiles at Gert, “Sorry. It’s just all… new, still.”

“I get it. When I realized I liked Chase, I must have spent months trying to figure out if I’d always felt that way or if it was a new thing. It drove the feminist side of me crazy to think I had a crush on him even when he was dating half the dance squad.”

“Did you ever figure it out?”

“Kind of. I think I always knew he was gonna be my person.” Gert adjusts her glasses, shrugging, “It just took us some time to grow into the right people for each other.”

Karolina’s thinking about how she’s always considered Nico her person when the topic of conversation joins them at the pool.

Nico’s arms wrap around Karolina from behind, her chin resting on Karolina’s shoulder, “What’re you guys talking about?”

Karolina feels the hairs on her neck stand up at Nico’s touch, and her whole body stiffens involuntarily. And she hates this. Because never in her life has she been in Nico’s arms and felt anything but at home.

“Just young love.” Gert sighs wistfully, and Karolina feels Nico smile against her neck.

“Still passing the Bechdel Test, I hope?” she teases.

“Partially. Karolina’s sexuality makes that an easier feat.”

“Well, if you don’t mind, I was planning on stealing her away.” Nico squeezes Karolina, making her turn in her arms to face her, “I downloaded that movie you were talking about. The one with the ice skater.” She says, “I thought we could have a movie night?”

The idea of being alone with Nico makes a lump form in Karolina’s throat.

“Actually, I was going to stay out here for a bit.” Half of Karolina is fighting her as she says it, the other half pushing forward, “It’s such a nice night.”

(You’d think Karolina might have inherited her parents’ acting abilities, but alas; every word of that sounded like complete and utter bullshit)

Nico stares at Karolina, a mixture of disbelief and utter annoyance in her gaze, and she lets out a defeated sigh, “Right. Whatever.” She mumbles, letting go of Karolina and standing up, “I guess I’ll watch it alone, then.”

Karolina can sense Gert staring at her as Nico trudges back to the house, and really she’s had enough of today to have to deal with Gert prying, “What, Gert?” she huffs, turning to Gert, who’s eyes widen comically at Karolina’s uncharacteristic frustration. Old Lace actually lets out an unhappy bark at her tone, Gert’s hand darting out to the dog out of instinct to settle her.

“Um, nothing.” Gert pauses, “I just… didn’t know Nico was even capable of getting mad at you.”

Karolina’s scowl falters, that familiar guilt making itself known again, “You think she’s mad?”

Gert laughs, “Well, she’s definitely not happy.” She reaches out, squeezing Karolina’s arm reassuringly, “Go be a good girlfriend. Old Lace and I will be fine without you.”


The walk to her and Nico’s bedroom feels like it both lasts forever and not long enough, and when Karolina knocks hesitantly on the door, Nico answering and immediately rolling her eyes when she sees her, she feels like a kid who’s been summoned to the principal’s office.

“You’re upset.” Karolina mumbles.

Nico scoffs, “Nice observation there, Sherlock.” She walks back into the room, Karolina closing the door and following behind her.

“I’m sorry.”

Nico turns around, arms crossed in front of her chest, “And? Are you gonna tell me why you’ve been acting like you want nothing to do with me?.”

Karolina is silent, and Nico sighs.

“Is it because of last night?” she guesses, and she sounds so worried that Karolina’s heart aches, “Because if the kiss weirded you out we don’t have to do anything like that again. Like- I get it-”

“No- it’s fine. It’s not the kiss.” Karolina rushes out, and she doesn’t know why she lies. She just wants Nico to not look so upset.

And well, maybe it isn’t about the kiss, anyway.

It’s okay that Nico kissed her. They agreed that they were okay with kissing. The kiss can’t be a problem.

“Well, it kind of seems like it’s about the kiss.” Nico says.

And Karolina makes a decision there that the kiss won’t be a problem. Because she can’t afford it. They can’t afford it. And clearly her affection-deprived body just needs to catch up and realize that Nico is her best friend and that is where it ends.

“It’s not.” Karolina shakes her head firmly, “I don’t… it’s fine, I swear.”

Nico still looks unsure, looking for any sign that says otherwise on Karolina’s face, “Karolina, you need to be honest with me. I know we said kissing was okay but if you’ve changed your mind and feel weird about it, we can just keep it to what we were doing before.”

“No, it’s okay.” Karolina persists, stepping forward to grab Nico’s hands, “I promise. I just… I wasn’t expecting it and I guess I just… needed a moment. Obviously, it was weird.”

(Weird is the last word Karolina use to describe it, honestly)

“You’re my best friend. It was always going to be…”

“Weird.” Nico nods, pauses, looks to their hands thoughtfully, “So- you’re saying you’re still okay with kissing?”

“Yes. It’s just like how you had to get used to us being touchier with each other. I needed to get my head around it.”

“And… you’ve done that? Your head’s around it?”

Karolina shrugs, letting out a soft laugh, “Almost.”

“Hm.” Nico’s staring at their hands again, “So should we-” she stops, and Karolina catches the redness rising in her cheeks, “So it’s not awkward in front of everyone.” She huffs, “I mean- do you think we should… practice?”

And, well… oh.

That is absolutely not what Karolina was expecting.

Chapter Text

“So… how do you want to do this?”

They’re sat on the bed in their room, an awkward space between them on the mattress, and Karolina’s not sure the last time she even looked at Nico, too afraid that if she does Nico will catch the inner meltdown she’s currently having over the prospect of ending this night making out with her best friend.

Her best friend who she definitely should not care to kiss at all.

“The kissing?”

Karolina can hear Nico’s amused smile, and her grip tightens on the sheets at her side.

“Yes.”

“How do I want to do the kissing?”

“Nico.” Karolina looks to her, glares, and immediately regrets it as her brain betrays her and starts zoning in on how completely kissable Nico looks right now.

Nico must sense Karolina’s nerves, softening, “Well, I mean. I guess we just go for it.” She says.

“We should probably stand.” Karolina mumbles, “You know… no bed.”

“Right. Yeah, good idea. That’d be…”

“Unnecessary.” Karolina finishes for her, and Nico nods.

Karolina moves to stand, turning to face Nico as she does the same.

Her hands are actually shaking, and Karolina has to hold them together tight in front of her to stop them.

Nico’s close now, “So… should I start-”

“Yeah. That works.”

Nico’s eyes fall to Karolina’s lips, and she steps further into her space. Her hands reach up to cup Karolina’s neck, and Karolina’s leaning down towards her out of instinct, resting her forehead against Nico’s.

Their lips ghost one another’s for a moment, breaths mingling and Karolina’s not sure if she’d happily stay here forever or if it’s driving her insane to be this close and yet still not close enough.

She thinks Nico’s going to bridge the space between them, licking her lips and grip tightening at Karolina’s neck, and she’s so close when, “Are you sure-”

“Oh my god, Nico.” Karolina’s loses her patience, surges forward, and then she’s kissing Nico, swallowing the sharp gasp her best friend lets out in response.

It’s soft and hesitant at first, almost stiff. Karolina holds back, not wanting to seem like she wants this too much. Because it’s just practice, purely to serve their best interests, which is to keep up this whole dating façade. Nothing more. Karolina just needs to get this out of her system so she can get the hell over it already and they can get back to normal.

But then Nico lets out a little whimper and something in Karolina just breaks and she’s committing to Nico’s lips completely, hands reaching out for Nico’s hips and pulling her into her, their fronts pressed together in a way that is entirely unnecessary but too good for Karolina to let go. Nico doesn’t seem bothered by it, though, in fact Karolina swears she’s trying to further eliminate any and all space between them.

Nico tilts her head slightly, opens her mouth more and deepens the kiss, and Karolina’s legs almost give out beneath her when she feels her tongue enter her mouth.

Karolina desperately doesn’t want it to end. Could easily spend the rest of the night kissing Nico and ignoring how completely reckless all of this is. But that grip she’s felt on her heart this past month tightens with every passing brush of Nico’s lips. A tightness that never used to be there with Nico; that isn’t supposed to be there. And Karolina’s sheer fear of it crushing her is what makes her pull away from Nico, telling herself it’s just wishful thinking when she sees something akin to loss on Nico’s face over their separation.

They don’t share too many words after that.

Karolina mostly avoids Nico’s gaze as she hastily tries to stifle the raw desire that’s burning over her body.

They turn on a Netflix show and fall into bed together, Nico sprawled out over Karolina like she’s scared if she puts any space between them Karolina will go running.

And this isn’t anything particularly new for them. But what is new is how Karolina has to focus on keeping her breaths steady. The days of cool, close proximity with Nico are long gone, and their ‘practice’ has only made Karolina’s tunnel vision with her best friend even worse. Nico’s head rests on Karolina’s chest, and her hand is wrapped loosely around one of her wrists, fingers tracing absentminded patterns on Karolina’s skin, and Karolina just prays she can’t feel her heart hammering inside her chest.


 

The whole idea that practicing kissing Nico would make Karolina less effected by her best friend completely backfires, of course. Instead of getting bored of it, like she’d hoped would happen, Karolina’s need to have Nico in her space as much as possible at all times has only seemed to worsen.

And now, the whole public act has starting carrying over into their behavior behind closed doors, impossibly blurring whatever lines still remain between them.

Karolina should have expected it, honestly. After all, it’s been over a month now that she and Nico have been faking affection for one another.

Well, Nico’s faking it. Karolina’s not sure what the hell she’s doing anymore.

But she really, really had been hoping that she’d just get over it soon enough. That kissing Nico and being close to Nico was just a novelty for her lonely heart to latch onto for a moment, and it’d get tired in no time.

But no, that hasn’t happened. And now, she’s not sure where reality and pretend end and begin.

It starts small enough.

Nico’s fondness for physical affection when they’re alone increases. She reaches for Karolina’s hand absentmindedly… brushes the hair out of Karolina’s face… pecks Karolina on the lips when she says something she finds particularly pleasing. Karolina freezes the first time it happens, expects Nico to quickly correct herself and mutter an excuse.

'Just habit.' She expects her to say.

But no excuse leaves her lips. And Nico goes about the afternoon like it’s completely normal. Like kissing Karolina in private isn’t anything to be stunned about. As though she’s forgotten that, away from their friends and family, the act doesn’t need to be kept up.

Karolina watches Nico with confused eyes for a second before she recovers from the kiss. She lets out a breath, wills her heart to slow once more, and she follows Nico’s lead and acts like everything’s normal.

Because it was just habit, right? This is all just an act.

But then Nico reaches for Karolina in the middle of the night, and Karolina wonders if maybe she’s not the only one that’s feeling a lot more than they planned.


 

Chase gets them an invite to a beach party one afternoon, and Karolina barely takes a second before she eagerly agrees to the outing, happy to just get out of the Pride bubble that they’ve been living in lately.

Don’t get her wrong, Karolina has loved their vacation. But she’s certain being stuck on their little estate has only worsened her situation with Nico. Maybe getting out and spending time with different people will help her get a better grasp on her situation.

Maybe she’ll see a pretty girl and confirm that yes, it is just that she’s lonely that Nico is suddenly invading her thoughts every other minute.

Karolina really, really needs that to be the case.

Predictably, Alex and Amy pass on the invitation and instead decide to do their own thing.

It almost annoys Karolina, how the pair actively separate themselves from their usual group. Really, it should be that they’re being pushed out, not that they’re voluntarily leaving. Karolina doesn’t know when she got so petty, but a part of her wishes they’d show even a hint of discomfort over having hurt Nico so much.

Alex walks around like he’s the one who’s been treated poorly. And sure, Chase gives him a hard time, but the rest of them make more effort than he’s owed. It’s only now that he’s no longer with Nico that Karolina realizes how little their group’s friendships rely on him at all.

Alex had always been a makeshift leader, but upon hurting Nico, it’s been obvious where everyone’s favor lies. Karolina feels slightly guilty for it, but it’s not like Alex ever made much of an effort to know any of them past the surface.

Molly was too young for him to relate, Chase too reminiscent of the jock character he hated in high school, Gert too overpowering in her opinions for him to lead conversation as he prefers, and Karolina… well Karolina’s not sure Alex has ever thought much of her at all. She’s always felt tolerated with Alex. Like his acknowledgment of her has only ever been an obligation to his affections for Nico.

So no, in the case of Alex, Karolina doesn’t have much pity to give.

Amy looks guilty, at least. It’s obvious she misses Nico, and her apparent way of making up for her betrayal is to just keep her relationship away from her. But Karolina’s sure Nico would pick her sister making an effort to fix their bond over this awkward avoidance any day. Karolina’s never been the best at seeing Nico upset, and watching Nico miss her sister makes it torture not to interfere, knowing it’s not her problem to fix (or even one she could, if she tried).

Anyway, Karolina has to convince Nico that the beach party is a good idea, but she’s adamant about it and Nico eventually caves. She’s not the only one who could do with getting out of the Pride bubble, and Karolina’s witnessed Nico’s patience with Amy and Alex chipping away with every awkward encounter in recent days.

When they get to the party Karolina heads straight towards to alcohol, retrieving a beer for her and Nico and surveying their surroundings as they find their grounding.

“How’d you get this invite, again?” Gert asks Chase.

Chase shrugs, hands his girlfriend a cup of beer and kisses her cheek, “Some girls at the store.”

Gert rolls her eyes, no doubt having spotted the number of girls ogling Chase like he’s a piece of meat already, “Of course.”

“They were being nice.” Chase really believes what he says, completely oblivious to the fact that other women might be interested in him.

He’s been like this since they first started dating; completely and utterly blind to any affections that aren’t delivered to him by Gert.

(Karolina’s not happy with how she’s starting to feel like she can relate)  

“I’m sure they were, babe.” Gert laughs, grabbing Chase’s hand and leading him towards where Molly and Old Lace have sat with their things,

Nico’s nursing her cup, looking over the rim at Karolina as she takes a sip; and Karolina doesn’t understand why just making eye contact with Nico has her lips immediately tugging up into a smile.

Like, really.

This is completely ridiculous.

“You drinking much tonight?” Nico asks when she lowers her drink.

“We’ll see.” Karolina shrugs, “I think it’d be good to let loose.”

“Because a month in paradise has been so stressful.”

Karolina makes a face at Nico in response, the other girl laughing, “Why’d you ask? Planning on taking advantage of me?”

Nico shrugs, so coolly that Karolina envies how nonchalant she is about all this new flirtation between them, “Maybe.” She says, “I mean, you know how couples get when they’re drunk.”

Blue eyes widen, and Karolina almost chokes on her sip of her beer, Nico looking amused as ever.

She’s not forced to fight to come up with a response that doesn’t make her look like a complete awkward fool, thankfully. Instead, Molly is running over to them, and pulls Karolina off towards the volleyball net, leaving Nico to join Gert and Old Lace while Chase also decides to play.

Karolina’s still thinking about it when they start playing, the three of them versing a group of other partygoers. They introduce themselves but Karolina is too busy with Nico running through her mind to really pay attention.

Surely Nico must be aware that it’s not normal, what they’re doing. That acting so flirty and affectionate in private totally shits on all the boundaries they put in place when they started this whole fake relationship.

Karolina knows that it’s not all on Nico, though. She should have the willpower to suggest they cool off and draw a firmer line between their friendship and the façade.

She should. But she doesn’t.

Her eyes drift away from the net and over to where Nico has Old Lace stretched half over her lap and half over Gert’s, ecstatic to have all the attention on her for the moment. Nico only takes a moment to sense Karolina staring, her gaze meeting Karolina’s and sticking her tongue out playfully at her.

Karolina’s laugh is cut short when the volleyball rebounds off the back of her head.

“Um, ow.” she turns to glare at Chase, who doesn’t look sorry at all.

“Quit ogling your girlfriend and help us win this thing.”

“That hurt, asshole.”

“Please, it was barely a tap.”

Karolina sweeps the ball up, “I’ll show you a tap.” She grumbles, throwing it hard back at him, Chase letting out a muffled yelp as it collides with his stomach.

“Nico!” Chase yells, “Karolina’s bullying me.”

Nico looks over to them, eyes lingering on Karolina with a fond smile, and then she’s turning back to her conversation with Gert.

“Like she’d pick you over me anyway.” Karolina scoffs, facing the net, “Serve the ball, idiot.”

She hears Chase muttering some no-doubt sarcastic remark behind her, but he still serves.


 

They play for a while and Chase, having a talent for both sports and drinking, finds a way to combine both and devises a drinking game for volleyball. So by the end of their final game, Karolina is definitely feeling a lot tipsier than when she started. And said state has made her come to the totally reasonable conclusion that it’s only fair that she take part in Nico’s flirtations and play back. This doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that she wants to flirt with Nico, no. It’s just what a good fake girlfriend should do, really.

Karolina falls down on the sand next to Nico, lying on her side to face her, “Miss me?”

“Always.” Nico says, “Did you win?”

“Mmhmm.” Karolina grins over at Nico.

“Congratulations.”

“Thanks. Do I get a prize?” Karolina tells herself the flirtatiousness is due to the alcohol and also that it’s totally acceptable, in the presence of people who expect such a thing from a couple.

Nico doesn’t seem to have a problem with it, anyway, her smile only widening, “I don’t know. Gert, what do you think?”

Gert’s having none of their banter, rolling her eyes and tossing the ball for Old Lace, “Just kiss her and get over yourselves.”

Karolina makes a mental note to give Gert an extra great Christmas present this year, as Nico concedes to her order and shifts over to give Karolina a kiss. It’s a quick kiss, but a kiss nonetheless. And Karolina’s beer-addled brain is satisfied.

“So what, fighting’s foreplay for you guys?” Gert drawls.

Karolina’s busy tracing her fingers up Nico’s bare arm, considering what she has to do to reason another kiss, so Nico is the one to acknowledge their friend, “Excuse me?”

“You’ve gotten significantly more obsessed with each other since your fight.” Gert nods to Karolina’s current obsession with Nico’s bare skin as though it’s evidence. Which, it probably is.

“We weren’t fighting.” Nico says, and nudges her arm against Karolina’s touch to grab her attention, “We weren’t fighting, right?”

She’s more worried than she should be, and Karolina manages to pull herself out of her Nico-filled daze to notice it, “Well, you weren’t too thrilled with me.” She shrugs.

“But we weren’t fighting.” Nico frowns, voice softening, “We don’t fight.”

And she’s right. They don’t.

The easiest thing in Karolina’s life has always been Nico’s steady presence at her side. They’ve never so much as argued over a TV remote. But still, she’s not sure why Nico’s quite so focused on this, and she lets out an easy laugh.

“Relax, babe.” She leans over to kiss Nico’s cheek, squeezing her side reassuringly, “It was just a bump.”

It’s the slip of the pet name that makes Nico forget about her obsession with whether they had a fight or not, and Karolina’s stomach dips with nerves as she literally sees the pin drop in Nico’s brain.

Karolina forces herself not to back down at the use of it, though, looking back at Nico and daring her to question it. Because this is completely acceptable for two people who are supposed to be dating.

Gert misinterprets their stares, groaning, “I’m pretty sure the way you two look at each other could qualify as public indecency.”

“Don’t take her seriously.” Chase cuts in, looking to Gert with a grin, “She thinks it’s cute.”

“You’re supposed to keep those comments between us.”


 

Everyone decides a late night swim is a great idea at some point in the night, and Karolina has no intention of joining the group of people running out towards the water until Nico is stripping off and following them. And well, like Karolina would ever just watch Nico run off into the distance and not follow her.

“We really shouldn’t be out here.” Karolina huffs unhappily when she reaches Nico in the water, way too deep for her liking.

“Why not?”

“Because we’re drunk. And it’s nighttime. And this is the ocean.” Karolina says, “This is literally how Jaws started.”

“There she is.”

“Excuse me?”

Nico grins, “The Good Girl I grew up with.” She teases, “She’s been missing since we started college. I was beginning to think you’d completely turned to the dark side.”

“Not wanting to get eaten by sharks or drown doesn’t make me a good girl.”

“It’s not a bad thing. I always found it kind of endearing.” Nico swims closer to Karolina, reaching out to brush her damp hair out of her face and leaving her hand at Karolina’s neck, “Besides, if you’re suddenly the rebel how am I supposed to impress you?”

“Why would you want to impress me?”

It’s a loaded question, and Nico pauses, lips parted slightly.

Karolina wants to hear the answer Nico has. Call it curiosity or just a pathetic glimmer of hope that maybe Nico’s also been feeling neck deep in a lot of unexpected emotions lately. Karolina wants to know why the hell Nico Minoru would ever think she needs to impress her, let alone want to.

“Because you’re Karolina Dean.”

That doesn’t really help Karolina at all, and she struggles not to let her frustration show.

“You say that like it means anything.” She laughs softly, “You’ve known me since we were six.”

“Well maybe I wanted to impress you back then, too.”

Karolina waits for Nico to follow the statement with something that’ll make a measure of sense out of it for her, but instead Nico just looks back at her, so self-assured that Karolina almost envies her.

Karolina wants to push, wants to ask why. But instead she’s zoning in only on Nico’s lips, so close now as they drift closer in the water. And they’re drunk, and this is how couples should be acting when drunk, anyway, so it doesn’t take much for Karolina to lean in and kiss her.

The moment Nico’s lips brush her own Karolina feels like she’s sinking, and she’s so ready for the part that follows; when Nico pushes back into the kiss and Karolina feels chills over her whole body. That part doesn’t arrive, though, instead replaced by Karolina’s stomach dropping as she’s promptly yanked from Nico and pulled under water.

She prepares for certain death by shark, and her final thought is that it’s honestly so not fair that the stupid thing couldn’t just wait for her to finish kissing Nico first.

But then teeth don’t chomp down into her flesh, and Karolina’s resurfacing like a flailing fish to the sound of Chase’s loud laughter next to her.

“I’m going to kill you.” Karolina is about to drown Chase when Nico instead does the honors, pushing down on his shoulders and forcing him under water.

He comes up spluttering, but still laughing, “Oh, man. So worth it.” He hums the Jaws theme at Karolina, receiving a splash in the face.

“Leave them alone, Chase.” Gert hisses at her boyfriend, “You’re like a child.”

“That says some questionable things about you, then.”

Chase is getting shoved under water by Gert and Molly after that.


 

When they get back to the house, the group ends up congregating in the kitchen for a late night feast. Alex and Amy return from wherever they’ve been around the same time as them, but they don’t join them for the mini feast they’ve concocted for one another.

Leaving the kitchen in favor of a bathroom break later, Karolina is too busy sulking over her missed kiss with Nico to notice Amy sitting on the couch as she passes by, and for the second time tonight Karolina’s heart is jumping out of her chest in surprise when Amy says a quiet ‘hi’ to her.

Amy wears an amused smile at Karolina’s reaction, so at least she provides some entertainment from it.

Taking a moment to collect herself, Karolina turns to Amy, “What’re you doing down here?”

“Reading.” Amy lifts a book in her lap to show Karolina briefly, “Alex can’t sleep without it being ridiculously dark.”

Karolina nods, and awkwardly hovers in the room, desperately wanting to just return to Nico in the kitchen, but knowing that the look on Amy’s face is a silent request for her to join her on the couch instead.

And apparently Karolina’s inability to deny Minoru’s doesn’t end at Nico, because she’s reluctantly planting herself down on the couch a moment later.

“How’s Nico?” Amy’s sincere in the question, but something about talking to Amy about Nico unsettles Karolina, so she doesn’t offer much in an answer.

“She’s fine.”

“I miss her.” Amy admits quietly.

Karolina doesn’t know what Amy wants her to say. She knows she’s looking for comfort, and Karolina would usually be the first person to offer it. But unfortunately for Amy, she hurt Nico. And for Karolina, that’s where her kindness ends.

“Just… with you two together.” Amy continues when Karolina stays silent, “Nico’s happier, now. Happier than she ever was when she was with Alex.”

“So that makes it okay?” Karolina’s not sure she cares for where the conversation is going, and Amy visibly recoils at the rare show of anger on Karolina’s face.

“I don’t know.” She stutters out, “I just thought… that maybe now that she’s with you, she might see that everything worked out the way it was supposed to.”

“It doesn’t matter if she’s moved on, Amy. You still betrayed her.” Karolina doesn’t try to soften the blow, doesn’t think Amy deserves comforting words, for how she disregarded her own sister’s feelings,

“I never wanted to hurt her.”

“What did you expect to happen when you started dating her first love? She wasn’t going to throw a parade.”

“We both know Alex wasn’t Nico’s first love, Karolina.” She says it so firmly, so confident in what she’s implying that Karolina’s heart clenches in her chest. But Amy believes she and Nico are in a relationship. Of course she would make an assumption like that. So Karolina stifles the part of her that wants to take that little glimmer of hope and run with it.

“They dated for three years.”

“I know.” Amy pauses, letting out a sigh, “But you saw how they treated each other. It was never that crazy romance with them.”

Karolina’s honestly too drunk to have this conversation, and she closes her eyes, frustration showing when she opens them to look back at Amy, “So… what? You want me to talk to Nico?”

“No.” Amy looks defeated, glancing down to the book in her hands, “I don’t know. I just want my sister back. I know I messed up; I love Alex but if I’d known it’d be like this with Nico…”

Karolina doesn’t have the heart to push for Amy to continue her statement. And maybe it’s the alcohol, but she finds a small part of her softening at the sincerity in Amy’s guilt.

“Maybe-”

“Karolina?”

It’s Nico calling her, standing at the entrance to the kitchen and looking between Amy and Karolina with an unhappy expression. She meets Amy’s eyes for only a moment, clears her throat, and looks back to Karolina, “I think I’m gonna go to bed.”

Karolina’s already rising from the couch, “I’ll come with you-”

“No. It’s fine.” Nico says, “I won’t interrupt.”

Nico’s irritation over the scene she’s walked in on is barely hidden as she turns and leaves for the stairs to their room, and Karolina just murmurs a goodnight to Amy before scrambling after her best friend.

When she reaches their room, Nico’s in the bathroom, working on unravelling her hair from its braid and not bothering to look at Karolina when she appears behind her in the mirror.

“Amy’s gotten bored of Alex, has she?” she comments bitterly, “Figured she’d move onto taking away my new relationship now.”

Karolina pauses at how Nico speaks of their situation as though it’s real, but she doesn’t try to correct her.

“She loves you, Nico. Maybe you should talk to her. Work through things.”

Nico meets Karolina’s gaze in the mirror, eyes narrowing, “Huh. That didn’t take long.”

“What?”

“You choosing to back Amy over me.” Nico lets out a laugh of disbelief, “Figures, actually. Everyone I care about always seems to like Amy so much more.”

Nico’s drunk, and so is Karolina. And this is very clearly the driving factor behind Nico’s behavior right now, as well as the reason Karolina lets herself take Nico’s words to heart. But knowing that fact doesn't help much.

“You can’t be serious.” she’s offended by the accusation, because in what world has Karolina ever been anything but completely at Nico’s side?

“I mean- she’s smarter, prettier, funnier. Why wouldn’t you prefer her?”

“Because I don’t.” Karolina rolls her eyes, “You’re being ridiculous.”

“Am I? You seemed pretty cozy downstairs.”

The laugh Karolina let’s out is one of utter exasperation, “We were talking about you!”

Nico frees her hair from the braid, going to work on the other one, staring firmly at her reflection, “What about me?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, actually. It does.”

Karolina sighs, leaning her side against the doorway, “Just the Alex situation. She said she didn’t want to hurt you.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

“She said she didn’t think it would hurt you.” Karolina elaborates, “Not as much as it has.”

“Why the hell would she think that?”

“I don’t know. I mean- she said something else.” Karolina’s stomach lurches at even the thought of continuing, but the liquid courage of cheap party beer is what coaxes her forward.

Nico’s hands fall from her hair, her full attention turning to Karolina’s reflection at the nerves she’s showing, “Yes?”

“She said he wasn’t your first love.”

There’s a beat between them that Karolina swears lasts an eternity.

Nico’s brow furrows, “Oh.”

And that’s all there is. She looks away from Karolina, picking up her various pins and ties from the counter and focusing needlessly on putting them away in the drawers.

“So…” Karolina watches Nico’s actions closely, trying to find anything in them that might give Nico’s thoughts away.

Although, she has no idea at all what she wants to see in them.

“So what?” Nico mumbles, “That doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not she hurt me.”

“Well if she thought you weren’t that into Alex… maybe she didn’t think you’d take it so hard when she started dating him?”

“She still chose to be with him whether I cared or not.” Nico says, “She didn’t even know if I was over him. They got together, and then she told me.”

“Well are you over him?”

Something switches in Nico then, staring at Karolina with something lying in her expression that Karolina can’t read for the life of her. She has to fight the urge to flee when Nico’s turning and stepping over to her.

“Why do you care?”

Nico’s too close to her for Karolina’s intoxicated state, Karolina staring down at Nico and refusing to budge under her glare.

She’s about to provide an answer for Nico.

Something along the lines of ‘I’m your best friend’.

Or maybe even ‘I literally don’t know how not to care.’

Or, in a world where Karolina isn’t terrified of the response, ‘Because I think I might have accidentally fallen for you at some point and you still loving Alex might ruin me.”

But Karolina doesn’t have to choose. Because instead Nico is surging forward, and Karolina’s too damn weak to not kiss her back the moment their lips meet.

Nico’s forceful in how she kisses her tonight, as though there’s a point she’s determined to prove, and Karolina’s angry with Nico for making them fight for the second time in their lives, so she kisses her back with an equal fierceness. She presses Nico up against the doorway, tongue sliding over her bottom lip and reveling in how quickly Nico opens her mouth in response.

Karolina can hear how shaky her breaths are every time she separates from Nico for a brief second of air, and every inch of her wants to be pressed up against Nico, rejoicing when the other girl’s hands grip at Karolina’s waist and ensure just that with an eager tug.

Everything about it is so hard and eager. Not the slightest bit sweet; so different to anything that Karolina’s ever experienced before. But to be fair, every kiss with Nico has felt different.

With Julie, with every one else, Karolina’s never felt so out of control of her own actions. This need with Nico she feels is something completely foreign.

She pushes and bites and pulls and kisses Nico back with everything she has.

Her jacket is tugged off of her shoulders and Karolina’s yanking at the collar of Nico’s shirt to suck at the crook of her neck, almost passing out right there when Nico moans quietly under the contact.

And Karolina is doing this to Nico.

How long has she wanted to do this Nico? She has no clue. But now she’s definite she’s stuck wanting to do it forever.

Then Nico hips roll against Karolina’s and her own moan is leaving her lips. The rush that spikes through her body is enough to have Karolina jolting back into reality.

The reality where this is Nico. Nico, who is supposed to be her best friend. Not… whatever this is.

Karolina stops. Freezes.

Her whole body, and maybe her heart, protests at the action, and Nico’s eyes eventually flutter open when she realizes she’s no longer being kissed; and God if those blown brown eyes don’t make it a million times more difficult for Karolina not to lean right back in again.

“We’re drunk.” She mumbles out between labored breaths.

Nico looks like she’s ready to argue her, but she takes a moment before nodding weakly, “Right.” She murmurs, voice hoarse.

Karolina doesn’t move, still caging in Nico against the doorframe, and her eyes close with tested restraint as Nico leans up to brush a kiss against her jaw. She almost refuses when Nico’s hands press at her hips to move her away from her, but she reminds herself that this is her decision, and steps back.

She locks herself away in the bathroom while Nico climbs into their bed, hoping a shower might wash away the dreaded feeling that they’ve just thrown their friendship out a window for drunken hormones. When she eventually makes it to bed, Nico’s clearly pretending to be asleep. Usually, Karolina would tease her for her poor acting.

But tonight she just lies down at the farthest end of the mattress, and accepts the loud silence.

Chapter Text

Karolina’s out on the porch that connects the two main houses, curled up on one of the big couches with a coffee in hand.

She never would have guessed sleep deprivation would be something she’d have to deal with on this vacation, but yet again she’s been up since sunrise plagued with worried thoughts of Nico and just how much irreparable damage they’ve managed to do to their friendship.

Last night might have been the nail in the coffin, she fears.

Every time she closes her eyes she sees Nico pressed up against the doorframe, lips bruised from Karolina’s kisses and flushed face looking at her like she’s hung the stars, and Karolina’s starting to think she might have accidentally broken her own heart.

She’s never even thought about Nico as anything but her best friend before this whole ordeal. At least, Karolina doesn’t think she has. Yet these feelings that sit heavy in her heart don’t feel new at all. The familiarity she has with them is terrifying, actually. Because surely she’d have caught onto them before now. Karolina can’t have spent most of her life loving a girl without knowing it.

Nico’s a light sleeper, so it’s no surprise when she’s walking out onto the porch soon after Karolina’s taken up residence there. She looks relieved when she finds Karolina, passing by the other seats and falling down right next to her on the couch instead, tucking her legs beneath her.

Nico is barely awake, hair hanging messy on her shoulders and eyes glazed over with remnants of sleep.

Karolina adores her.

“Never let me drink again.” she mumbles, gaze finding Karolina’s coffee mug hungrily and smiling quietly when Karolina hands it over to her, “I love you.”

The words leave Nico’s lips naturally, well practiced after years of them trading it back and forth. But now Karolina immediately feels like someone’s punched her in the gut.

She can’t ignore it anymore. Not after last night. And now she’s stuck feeling like a ticking time bomb, just waiting for the moment she’ll have to call it quits on Nico all together just to salvage herself.

Of course, Karolina already knows she’ll never be able to do that. So what? She’ll be stuck pining for her best friend for the rest of her life? God, maybe she’s as much of a stereotype as everyone assumes her to be after all.

Nico edges closer to Karolina on the couch, curling into her side as she sips from her coffee mug eagerly, looking out at the beach in the distance.

Karolina allows herself to settle into Nico’s touch as Nico rests her head on her shoulder, and it’s all too easy between them. Karolina reaches for Nico’s hand that isn’t holding the coffee, fingers tracing over the small tattoo that sits on her wrist, and she swears Nico’s almost purring under the ministrations.

Neither of them mentions what happened last night. Karolina’s not sure how she feels about that, but she most certainly isn’t going to be the one to bring it up. For now, she’s just happy to keep on pretending that none of this has any deeper meaning than simple hormones getting carried away with their façade.

Maybe if she tries hard enough, that’ll become the reality.

“Can we have a day together?” Nico asks, “Just us.”

And Karolina knows it’s the last thing she needs. But she says yes anyway.


They get ready and leave before anyone else can wake up and attempt to join them, and Karolina lets Nico determine their activities for the day, content to just be in Nico’s presence. At least when she’s with Nico, she can allow herself to get caught up in her best friend. It’s when she’s left to her own devices that she’s forced to face just how problematic this situation really is.

The day is really just spent exploring the island. They hike to see some waterfalls and Karolina holds Nico’s hand as they walk across mossy rocks, and when they’re back on path she doesn’t fail to notice how Nico refuses to break the contact again.

And it’d be so easy to get carried away with what all this could possibly mean. But the fact that Nico has always been like this with her grounds her in the reality that for Nico, none of this is anything to think of. Nico’s always been touchier with Karolina than others, always checked for her and held her wellbeing above anyone else. None of this is actually new. The only new thing is that Karolina’s now stuck with feelings that grip to Nico’s habitual behavior in hopes that they might actually mean something more.

They pass one of the many hibiscus trees that litter the island and Karolina’s surprised when Nico takes the time to pick one of the colorful flowers.

“I’m not sure that fits with the goth aesthetic.” she teases as Nico returns to the walkway with her new prize in hand.

Nico rolls her eyes, tugging Karolina closer to her, “It’s for you, loser.” She reaches up to brush Karolina’s hair out of her face and tucks the flower behind her ear, hand hovering there for a moment before she pulls away with a soft smile.

Karolina thinks she’s about to kiss her, and then curses herself for even allowing such a thought to begin with. Because, of course, Nico doesn’t kiss her. Something falters in her expression, and she pulls away from Karolina, eyes cast to the ground.

“About last night…”

And oh, man. Karolina is so not ready to hear whatever crushing thing Nico is about to say. So she beats her to the punch.

“We were drunk.” Karolina blurts out, happy to offer an out for Nico that might allow them some chance of moving forward like normal. She just hopes Nico doesn’t ask for an explanation as to why Karolina’s drunken self is so into kissing her.

Nico pauses, something akin to confusion on her face, “… right. I guess.”

Karolina almost questions how Nico withdraws from her now. She only puts a few inches between them, but it might as well be a mile considering their usual proximity. And she wonders if she might have just sabotaged herself, because Nico doesn’t look pleased at all with Karolina’s dismissal of last night.

“I’d understand if you want to call it quits.” Nico murmurs, “If this is all too weird for you, tell me. We promised we’d put our friendship first.”

(Karolina hates that she’s the one who made them promise that, and now she’s the one to have broken it)

“I’m not going anywhere.” Karolina assures her.

And it’s not a lie. Not at all.

Karolina knows full well she’ll follow Nico to the ends of the earth.


“And where have you been all day?”

It’s late in the afternoon, and Karolina and Nico have only just returned to the estate after spending the rest of their day together at the small shopping village nearby. From the tone of her mother’s voice, Karolina can already tell there’s some form of a lecture incoming, and she shrugs, “Just exploring the island with Nico.”

Leslie watches Karolina fuss over the coffee machine, and Karolina purposefully remains focused on her mission for caffeine, “I’ve been wanting to talk to you about this Nico situation, actually.”

She kind of knew this was coming; but Karolina still stiffens at Nico’s name, “What situation?”

“Don’t get upset with me now. I’m just trying to understand as a mother.” Leslie warns, “But… are you sure it’s really over for you and Julie? You two seemed so suited to each other.”

In light of recent events, Karolina takes her mother’s words more to heart than she probably should. She shouldn’t care at all, really, about what her mother thinks of what is a completely fictional relationship. But of course Karolina’s feelings for Nico are less fabricated than they’re supposed to be.

She scoffs, turning to face her mom, “Since when do you have a problem with Nico? I thought you’d be happy for me to date a Pride kid; Tina’s your best friend.”

“I don’t have a problem with Nico, honey. You know that.” Leslie scolds her calmly, like Karolina’s a petulant child, “I just don’t want to see you get hurt. Are you sure Nico shares the same feelings as you?”

Karolina’s never had a bad relationship with her parents; hell, they’ve barely ever had her raise her voice to them. So the anger she feels towards her mom right now is completely foreign to her.

“She’s my girlfriend, so yeah, I’m pretty sure.” She says dryly.

Honestly, she’s just tired of hearing everyone’s opinions on her and Nico. Sure, their fabricated relationship invites said opinions, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t driving Karolina crazy to hear how everyone else thinks they feel about each other and still not really know what the reality is.

“It’s just this whole situation with Amy and Alex… I’d hate to think Nico was taking advantage of you.”

“She’s not.”

And she isn’t, is she?

Nico’s not using her.

Well, she kind of is. But Karolina agreed to it. Not all of the extra things that have been happening between them. But that stuff is just between them, isn’t it? It has nothing to do with Alex.

It can’t have anything to do with him.

If it does, Karolina might not cope.


Everyone is down by the pool later in the night, having had a barbeque in the pool hut and, this time courtesy of concoctions crafted by Dale and Stacey, drunk on heavily alcoholic cocktails.

Some of them are in the water messing about while the others occupy the dining table. Chase is currently losing a fight he picked with Geoffrey Wilder, and has spent the majority of his time being held underwater while Molly gleefully climbs all over Geoffrey to help her inevitable future brother-in-law.

Usually, Karolina would be right at Geoffrey’s side participating in the torture, but tonight she’s situated herself away from the action, resting back against the wall of the pool and watching her loved ones, her conversation with her mother still sitting on her mind. Really, it shouldn’t bother Karolina what she thinks about her and Nico. They’re not even a real couple; she shouldn’t be offended by the suggestion that they’re not well matched. She just has no idea where her mom got it from – throughout her life, Nico’s been the only real constant for Karolina. The only actual person who’s always had time for her, always stood at her side no matter what. They balance each other out; it’s what makes them work so well. Realistically, they’d be the perfect match. No one knows Karolina like Nico, and vice versa.

Like right now, Nico’s approaching Karolina with an easy smile and watching her with curious eyes that tell Karolina that she’s already caught onto her mood. Karolina’s hands reach out for Nico’s waist instinctively when she gets closer, pulling her into a tight hug and immediately feeling the calmness only Nico’s ever been able to offer her.

Karolina can stand at this level, but Nico struggles, finding her own solution in wrapping her legs around Karolina like she’s a life raft. She leans back from Karolina’s embrace after a moment so their eyes can meet, looking over Karolina’s face with a frown, “Are you okay?”

“Just tired.” Karolina hates how common lying to Nico is becoming, especially seeing as her best friend can catch Karolina’s lies from a mile away. Nico doesn’t question them, though, but Karolina can see how it’s hurting her to think Karolina’s holding things back. If only she could just get over these feelings already so she can go back to telling her everything.

Nico sighs, reaching to tuck Karolina’s hair behind her ear, “Have you heard about the Saturday, yet?”

“No?”

“Apparently Pride’s having withdrawals. They’ve found a charity gala for us all to go to and get their egos stroked.” Nico chuckles, “Formal wear required. So you’ll love it.”

Karolina’s eyes widen, “I don’t have a dress.”

“We’ll go shopping. I have a feeling I’m gonna struggle to find anything black on this island.” Nico is smiling at her fondly, head tilted, “Although I suppose I should probably try to match you if we’re going to be each other’s dates.”

“We’re going together?”

“Of course.” Nico says it like the implication of anything else is absurd, and Karolina lets herself get a little lost in how nice that is. Having Nico assume they’ll be each other’s dates. Having that just be normal. She ignores her mother’s voice in the back of her mind forcing the reminder on her that for Nico, this isn’t real at all.

“I had a good time today.” Nico says, her hand squeezing the back of Karolina’s neck as though to coax her back to Earth with her, “We should do it more often.”

Karolina frowns, nose scrunching up in confusion, “Spend time together? Nico, we barely leave each other’s sides.”

Nico looks flustered, although Karolina has no idea why, “I mean, spend time together like that.”

And really, Karolina’s never going to say no to more Nico; but how much more of herself can she really give to Nico before there’s nothing left.

Karolina’s eyes glance to her mom, who she finds watching her and Nico from where she sits with Tina at the dinner table, and her heart aches. And Karolina knows she’s driving herself towards a tragic end.

She’s so fixated on the feeling of impending doom that she doesn’t even catch what is so blatantly written on Nico’s face. Perhaps if she had, she could have been saved a whole lot of trouble.


Nico Minoru is in love with Karolina Dean.

That much, she is sure of.

For how long has she been in love with Karolina Dean? Not long.

Or perhaps forever.

Nico’s not sure she’s ever known anything other than loving Karolina.

She hates so much that it’s Amy’s wisdom that guided her to this conclusion. Because how is it fair that even in this, something that should have been all Nico’s is shared with her sister?

But despite her annoyance over the origin of the development, Nico can’t ignore its truth.

Somehow, without knowing the when’s or the how’s, she’s fallen recklessly in love with her best friend. And now she’s stuck with the horrifying realization that in some sick twist of fate, all of this is completely one-sided.

At least, she thinks, she has this one final month together. One final month to make the most of Karolina feigning an interest in her, and then back to reality and the mission of forgetting such a love for Karolina even exists.

Nico’s considered just telling Karolina upfront, but betraying the promise she made to Karolina is one thing Nico can’t do. Because her friend has already done so much for her, Nico surely can’t now go and ruin the one failsafe Karolina had pressed for in this whole ordeal?

And Nico’s tried. God, Nico’s tried to get the point through to Karolina without just shattering the glass ceiling and ruining their friendship. She’s kissed Karolina in private, without a need or a reason to. Simply because she wanted to. And when she tried to talk about it, Karolina was the first to rush to an excuse and brush it under the rug. Hell, Karolina’s been pretty damn forward with her feelings, if Nico’s being honest. She wants their friendship, and nothing else, and Nico’s not about to deny her that simply because she’s the idiot who set herself up for such an epic fall.

So Nico will just make the most of what she’s lucky enough to have right now. For now, Karolina will let her hold her and kiss her and play pretend at a love they don’t have, and that will just have to be enough for Nico. And well, she can do it, can’t she? Since meeting Karolina, Nico’s life has been loving her. Living with the knowledge of that love might be different now, but it can’t be that hard to return to their previous confines? She’ll just forget about it eventually. There will be someone else for her, and it might not be Karolina but it can still be good. It can still be enough. That burning need inside of her that demands it only be Karolina can’t be permanent; life can’t be that cruel.

Tonight, they have the gala, and the moment Karolina walks out in her dress Nico physically struggles not to let ‘I love you’ come tumbling out of her mouth.

She settles on, “You look pretty.”

Simple. Not too detached, but not so loud that it gives away her current state as a character straight out of a rom-com.

You know the one.

The one who doesn’t get the girl. The one there for comedic relief, to remind the audience that everyone around the lead female is hopelessly in love with her. The character who loves the lead but will never be taken seriously as a candidate for their affections. That’s Nico.

Karolina seems satisfied with the compliment, and Nico’s allows the delusion that the blush on her cheeks is Karolina’s reaction to Nico, and not to general attention. Despite spending her life being showered with them, Karolina’s always struggled with compliments. Like she feels as though she doesn’t deserve them. For the life of her, Nico has never understood why. If anyone has a right to an ego, it’s Karolina Dean. Although perhaps her complete lack of one is what adds to the charm.

“You know you didn’t have to wear this for me.” Karolina reaches out for Nico, fingers pushing past her blazer and tugging at the soft cream dress-shirt beneath.

Nico’s in a black skirt, the shirt tucked into it, and Nico’s stitched cream lace along the lapels of her jacket to better match Karolina’s dress. It’s a fairly admirable balance between Nico’s style and Karolina’s color scheme for the night, if she says so herself. But really, the thought of looking like a matched pair with Karolina trumped Nico’s usual desire to remain in the confines of her usual dark colored and grungy wardrobe anyway.

“It was no problem.” She says, cheeks burning under Karolina’s curious gaze, hoping she doesn’t see right through her, “Kinda fun, actually.”

“Well… you look amazing.” Karolina says sweetly, “I mean- you always do but-”

She trails off, flushed, and Nico wishes Karolina would make it a little bit easier to not be so damn infatuated with her.

When they arrive at the gala, Nico’s forced apart from Karolina by her parents, demanding she play a part in their networking and meet whatever tech giants are in attendance at the event.

Nico smiles her way through it all, and tries not to look too desperate to get back to Karolina. But she’d planned to spend the night attached to Karolina’s side, so the moment she gets the opportunity, she’s escaping her parents’ clutches and seeking her fake-girlfriend out amongst the crowd.

Nico’s not too happy with what she finds.

Champagne flute in hand, Karolina stands close to a woman that Nico does not recognize, laughing loudly at what she says and looking thrilled to be in the company of her new acquaintance. Said acquaintance is gorgeous and leaning into Karolina as she murmurs out something that looks all too flirty; and Nico does not like this one bit at all.

She practically bolts across the room towards Karolina, coming up behind her and wrapping her arms around Karolina’s middle when she reaches her, “Hey, you.” She murmurs next to Karolina’s ear, hoping the pair don’t catch the edge to her tone.

Karolina’s hands find Nico’s at her front, linking their fingers together and leaning back into her instinctively, “Nico, this is America Chavez.” She says, innocent as ever, as though she hasn’t noticed how the woman opposite her is looking at her, “She goes to Columbia U.”

“Oh?” Nico feigns interest, reluctantly pulling away from Karolina’s embrace to accept America’s outstretched hand, shaking it politely, “What do you study?”

“Poli Sci.”

Nico finds Karolina’s hand again, feeling the need to make her presence as connected to Karolina’s as possible. It’s would be amusing if she weren’t too busy irrationally hating this stranger. Nico’s never really dealt with jealousy; hell, she was so detached from Alex that she didn’t even take the time to realize his affections for her own sister. But with Karolina, she can’t help the primal urge to make some kind of claim on her, to ward off anyone who might even consider Karolina a desirable companion.

(Nico’s dislike of Julie throughout her relationship with Karolina is starting to make a lot more sense now)

Karolina grins at America like she’s been gifted a brand new toy, “We were actually just talking about the work America’s doing for her college’s Pride group. She has some amazing ideas. ”

Nico frowns, “Like… our parents’ Pride or gay Pride?”

She hates the laugh Karolina and America share at her question.

“The gay one.” America smirks.

“I’m really just picking her brain to steal some of her ideas for our own events.”

Karolina’s tone is teasing, and Nico’s irritation only grows at how comfortable the pair appears to be with each other, like they’ve already formed a million inside jokes purely due to their shared interest. Nico’s a part of their Pride alliance, too. Sure, she’s been attending all these years more so to support Karolina’s part in it, but still. If Karolina wanted to talk about it, Nico’s always been right there. She doesn’t get why this America girl’s presence is something to fawn over.

Nico knows she’s being petty, but she can’t help what follows, desperate to get Karolina as far away from the intimidatingly gorgeous woman as possible. “Well, sorry to interrupt you guys but I was coming over here to see if Karolina would like to dance.”

Karolina looks at her like she’s grown two heads, letting out a disbelieving laugh, “Really? You want to dance?”

“Yeah. I mean, I thought you would want to.”

Karolina’s expression softens, “I do.”

(Nico fights the urge to actually fist pump in victory)

“Sorry, this is kind of a rare occasion.” Karolina says to America, “I usually have to drag her out there.”

“It’s fine. Have fun.” America smiles, “We’ll talk later.”

Nico struggles to suppress the scowl at America’s promise of a ‘later’, and manages not to drag Karolina off rudely to the dance floor, waiting for Karolina’s reply of ‘definitely’ before she pulls her away.

The dance floor is fairly populated, and when Karolina rests her hands at Nico’s waist and coaxes her closer to her, Nico considers that she might actually be warming up to dancing. That is, so long as it continues to require being wrapped up in the girl she loves.

“She’s nice.” Karolina says as they settle into the soft music the band plays, “We should all hang out when we get back to New York.”

Nico snorts, “Yeah, leave me out of that one, please.”

“What? Why?”

“She’s clearly into you.” Nico rolls her eyes, “I’d prefer not to be a third wheel.”

“She’s not into me. We just met.”

“Look at you, Kar. She’d be an idiot not to be interested.”

Nico’s too caught up in the green that’s blinding her to notice what that statement implies about her own feelings.

“Well… it’d be okay, though, right?” Karolina prods, eyeing Nico with a curious expression, “If she is into me?”

Nico’s never taken a punch, but it can’t feel much worse than this. She’s immediately getting defensive, scoffing at Karolina and feeling the need to ram down any show of her affections for the girl in her arms.

“Of course. Whatever.” Nico says, “Are you into her?”

“I don’t know her.” Karolina shrugs, looks over to where America is chatting with some important looking people, “She’s cute, I guess.”

“Right. I just mean- for obvious reasons, maybe wait until we get home. Once we’re back in New York, this will be over and you can date whoever you want.”

Nico hates every word of what just left her mouth.

Karolina doesn’t look too happy with it, either, frowning, “We both can.” She adds.

And she’s wrong.

Because Nico can’t date who she wants; and she can already feeling it tearing her apart.


Much to her dismay, Karolina ends up back at America’s side to pursue that promise of ‘later’, and Nico ends up stationing herself near the kitchen doors of the venue to catch waiters as they pass, determined to drink and eat her feelings away.

Of course, nothing is ever just easy anymore, and Nico already knows Alex is approaching her before she even spots him. It’s like her version of spidey-senses. Any time she feels inherently annoyed with no explanation, Alex is probably only a few yards away.

“They look cozy.” Alex says when he sidles up next to her, hands in his pockets and following Nico’s gaze to Karolina and America.

“Go away, Alex.”

“I’m sorry.” Alex looks anything but, wearing a smug smile, “It’s just kinda funny, don’t you think?”

Nico doesn’t respond, so he continues.

“You’re currently in the exact same position that you put me in our whole relationship.” Alex chuckles, shaking his head, “I guess what goes around comes around.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t I?” Alex says, “Let me guess. You’re looking at her right now and you’re thinking about how unfair it is that you’re not enough for her. That you’re ready to give her everything and yet she’s off paying attention to someone else.”

Nico’s hands ball into fists at her sides, furious at not just the gall of Alex to speak to her like this when he ended their relationship, but also how easily he’s hit the nail on the head with how she’s feeling.

“At least for you this is just tonight.” He says, “I had it for two years.”

“You’re dating my sister, Alex.” Nico seethes, “You don’t get to be all high and mighty about hidden feelings.”

“No. I loved you, Nico.” Alex says, “You can’t say honestly that you ever felt the same for me.”

He says it so firmly, and Nico doesn’t want to believe it, but a part of her knows he’s telling the truth. Maybe that’s what really ruined their relationship. Not Amy, but Nico and the fact that Alex was never really going to be ‘it’ for her. He was never going to be Karolina. Even when she didn’t know it, Nico had always picked Karolina first.

“It wasn’t like that.” Nico evades the challenge, not wanting to confirm Alex’s belief, “Karolina and I-” she swallows the lump in her throat, “I didn’t know how I felt about her. I wouldn’t have done that to you.”

It’s the first time she’s actually spoken about her feelings for Karolina out loud, and Nico’s stomach twists at how much more real it already feels now that it’s out there.

“It’s still how it was, though.” Alex sounds less angry, more just defeated. “I loved you and you loved Karolina. And I was okay with that; I just figured that was something I had to accept if I wanted to be with you. But you can’t have expected me to put up with that forever?”

Alex sighs, looks to Nico with that urgency he has on his face when he needs to press a point, “I didn’t plan to fall for Amy, Nico. I’m sorry if that hurt you, but it isn’t what broke us up. You decided on us the moment you chased Karolina to New York.”

Nico doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t know what to say, now that she’s battling with the guilt of Alex’s words on top of the crushing weight of how deeply she’s buried in her feelings for Karolina.

“We both hurt each other. I know we might not be able to be friends but- can’t you just find it in yourself to try with Amy?” Alex begs, “Can’t we just be happy that we’re finally with the right people?”

Nico wants to agree with him. Does agree with him, somewhat. It’s just that her ‘right’ person doesn’t want her.


“That your girlfriend?”

“Hm?” Karolina follows America’s gaze to where Nico is speaking with Alex, and she frowns at how heated it seems to be getting between them.

She wants to go over and put an end to it, but stifles the urge, reminding herself that she’s not, in fact, Nico’s girlfriend, and Nico has every right to talk to her ex-boyfriend who she might still have feelings for. And Karolina just has to be fine with it.

“No.” she answers America distractedly, tearing her eyes away from Nico in more of an attempt to save herself the pain and looking back to her new friend, “I mean… kind of. She’s my best friend. But we’re…” Karolina huffs, waving her hand dismissively, “It’s a long story.”

America looks amused, “Sounds like an interesting one.”

“More like tragically predictable for a lesbian, but call it what you want.”

“Ah, so it’s one of those.” America nods in understanding, “In love with the best friend.”

That word makes Karolina completely freeze up.

Love.

“I wouldn’t say it’s that deep.” She blurts, desperate to will away the idea from her mind, “Just…”

“A crush?” America arches a brow, and Karolina’s less enthusiastic about how easily they’ve hit it off now, “Keep telling yourself that, blondie. So have you made a move yet? Or is she straight?”

“No. I mean- well... no to both. It’s complicated.” Karolina says, “That’s her ex she’s talking to right now.”

America looks to them again and chuckles, “Well if it makes you feel better, it doesn’t look like she likes him too much.”

“Guess again. She likes him enough to dedicate this vacation to making him jealous.” Karolina hates how bitter she sounds, but she still can’t shake her mother’s words. The idea that she’s simply been a tool for Nico to use in garnering Alex’s attention hasn’t stopped haunting her all week.

Sure, she knows they were doing all this to help Nico with the Alex situation. But there’s a difference between helping her protect her pride and helping her win Alex back or make him jealous. And Karolina had let herself hope that a little bit of what had been happening between them was real. That it had happened because it was between them, and had nothing to do with anyone else. The idea that it’s all just been to get a reaction from Alex makes Karolina feel sick to her stomach.

“Weird. I thought she was into you.” America says, swiping a new glass of champagne for the both of them as a waiter passes by, “You can’t tell me she wasn’t getting possessive when she interrupted us before.”

“That’s just Nico.” Karolina happily accepts the drink, taking a generous sip, “Our friendship’s important to her.”

“Sure thing, babe.”

Karolina’s not a fan of how unconvinced America sounds; she’s really had enough of people’s opinions about her situation. Her eyes find their way back to Nico just in time to spot her walking away from Alex, headed for the exit.

“I suppose that’s your cue, then.” America drawls as she follows Karolina’s eyes.

Karolina’s not sure she even makes the decision to follow Nico. She’s said a rushed goodbye to America and is trailing her best friend’s exit before she’s really even thought about it.

When she gets outside, Karolina just manages to catch up to Nico as she’s climbing into the backseat of a car, catching the door before she can close it. Karolina’s almost bowled over by the look of complete distress on Nico’s face, and she swears it even deepens when she sees it’s Karolina who’s stopped her escape.

“You’re leaving?” Karolina stammers out, breaths heavy from the rush over.

“I’m tired.” Nico barely even attempts to sound believable, “Go back inside, have fun.”

She reaches for the handle of the door, but Karolina’s hold remains firm and her attempt to close it is futile, “What? No. I’ll come with you.”

“Really, Kar. I don’t need this right now.” Nico refuses to meet her eyes, jaw tightening, “Go back to the party.”

Karolina hears the driver let out a grumbled complaint, so she makes her decision and forces Nico over in the backseat, sliding in next to her and closing the door, the car pulling out a moment later.

Nico’s pissed, and Karolina has no idea how to react to this anger being directed at her. Usually an angry Nico is easily curable with a few smiles and prodding from Karolina. She’s not so sure that will work right now.

“Are you going to tell me what happened?” she asks eventually.

Nico’s arms are crossed tight in front of her chest, and she’s pressed up against the door of the car as far away from Karolina as possible, “You should have stayed behind.”

“You know me better than that.” Karolina hopes to get a smile out of her with that, but Nico just looks at her with this penetrating expression that makes her breath catch in her throat.

The rest of the ride home is spent in cold silence, Nico staring out the window the whole time and Karolina silently attempting to figure out just how she’s going to bring her friend out of whatever the hell this is. Clearly whatever conversation Nico shared with Alex is the cause; and Karolina scolds herself for feeling jealous that Alex can get such a reaction from Nico.

When they get back, Karolina follows Nico into the house, Nico heading straight for their room. Karolina swears she can hear Nico’s thoughts causing havoc in her brain. If only she could make out what the hell they are.

“He’s not worth it, you know.” Karolina says, sat on the edge of the bed and watching as Nico pulls her jewelry off at the dresser.

Silence.

Karolina sighs, “I don’t get why you let him effect you like this.”

Nico at least looks at her then, turning around and brown eyes quietly training on Karolina.

Please, Nico.” Karolina’s frustration is growing now, “Talk to me.”

“Maybe I don’t want to talk.” Nico says it so simply, but the way she’s watching Karolina has her shifting uncomfortably.


Nico can’t take her eyes off of Karolina, fiddling with her hands in her lap and looking at Nico so desperately- with so much concern that her heart feels like it’s caving in on itself.

She hates herself for torturing Karolina like this yet she can’t stop, wanting to see just how much she can get Karolina to care. Wanting to feed off of the love emanating off of her best friend, even if it’s not the kind of love she desires. Wanting to just take as much as she’s willing to offer, consequences be damned.

And can’t she just pretend, for now? That the Karolina here right now is one who loves Nico in the same way she loves Karolina?

Karolina is getting up from the bed, approaching her, and that is probably the worst thing she could do, considering the urges Nico’s currently battling just being in the same room as her.

Nico doesn’t move away as Karolina comes to stand in front of her. Doesn’t fight it when Karolina hand reaches out for her own.

“But it’s me.” Karolina tries weakly.

She almost laughs. Because yeah, that’s the entire problem. This is Karolina.

Nico makes a decision.

Glances to their entwined fingers, then to Karolina’s agonizingly blue eyes. Hopes that this time, Karolina won’t stop what happens next.

“Are you drunk?”

Karolina’s clearly startled by the question, but she answers a confused ‘no’.

Nico nods, “Me either.”

She takes a deep breath, stepping closer as her heart hammers in her chest.

“Nico…”

“Tell me to stop, and I will.”

Nico knows how dangerous what she’s asking is. Not even asking – begging.

But she doesn’t know how to do anything other than love Karolina and she so desperately just needs something to be enough, something that might make it easier for this to all go away.

Her lips ghost Karolina’s, but she doesn’t allow herself to bridge the distance between them, “Please, Kar.”


Karolina’s not sure she’s ever experienced anything this cruel before.

Having everything she so desperately wants offered up to her, but with the tragic catch that it’s not offered for the reason’s she’s yearned for. It’s not because Nico loves her, or even wants her. And on a better day, Karolina might be able to choose the smart response.

But Nico’s hurting, and Karolina loves her, and how is she supposed to say no to her again? Who cares if it completely crushes Karolina tomorrow, when reality sets in and Nico doesn’t want her anymore.

She wants her right now, and Karolina can’t be so selfish as to expect anything more.

So she closes the distance, and kisses Nico, and Nico’s immediately pressing up against her and Karolina has no hope of stopping anything now. Nico’s touch completely consumes her, and it shouldn’t be something that she craves from a girl that is only pretending to be hers, but Karolina’s lost to it.

The kiss isn’t what Karolina expects.

It’s deep, and passionate, and it makes it all too easy for Karolina to pretend that this is more to Nico than just an outlet. It’s so, so cruel.

She pulls at Karolina’s dress like it’s Karolina’s skin she wants to touch, sucks at her neck like it’s Karolina she wants to brand, and leads her back and presses her into the mattress of the bed like she chose Karolina because it’s her. Not in spite of the fact.

Karolina pulls Nico back to her lips more in a desperate act to ensure that an accidental confession doesn’t come falling from her, instead transferring those treacherous words from the tip of her tongue into Nico’s mouth, never to be spoken.

She helps Nico shrug off her jacket, and her fingers immediately move to blindly work at the buttons of Nico’s shirt.

Nico pulls back then, looking down at Karolina, and the cold, angry stare from before is completely absent, finally replaced with the soft brown eyes Karolina’s so much more familiar with.

“Are you sure?” Nico breathes out.

Is she sure that she wants this? Yes. God, yes. Karolina might go insane if she doesn’t get it.

But is she sure she can handle what’s going to happen tomorrow? Absolutely fucking not.

Karolina’s never been good at looking to the future, though. So she gives Nico her answer with another kiss, and makes the most of the fact that for now, she can love Nico in the open. And tomorrow, she’ll be ready to put her love right back where it belongs.

Between the shadow and the soul.

Chapter Text

Nico wakes in the morning still wrapped up in Karolina, an arm slung over her waist and head resting on Karolina’s chest, listening her heart beating softly against her ear. Karolina’s awake, fingers brushing up and down Nico’s bare arm and sending goose bumps littering her skin.

It’s funny, how even after what’s occurred between them, Nico’s body continues to react to the softest of touches. She’s had Karolina’s naked body pressed up against her own, no space left between them, and yet still this tiny gesture has her heart leaping in her chest.

She looks up at Karolina, stares for a while, wondering just where her mind is as her gaze remains fixed ahead.

“Kar?”

Karolina looks to her, and something in her gaze seems so lost that any bliss Nico had been feeling quickly dims, replaced with dread.

“You’re upset.”

It’s a statement; Nico doesn’t need Karolina’s response. She knows that look on her best friend’s face – a quiet storm brewing behind bright blue eyes. Being the cause of such a look, though, is a first for Nico.

“No. It’s not that.” Karolina murmurs.

Suddenly Nico feels a whole lot less comfortable in her undressed state, and she pulls away from Karolina, moving to sit up against the headboard of the bed and pulling the sheet with her to cover herself. Karolina doesn’t complain at the distance between them. She almost looks relieved, and Nico’s heart sinks with disappointment.

She’s an idiot for even being all over Karolina like this to begin with. Taking liberties that Karolina is too kind to deny her.

“I’m sorry.” She blurts, burying her face in her hands, “God, Kar, I’m so sorry. I was so selfish- I completely forced you into it-”

“What- no.” Karolina’s brow furrows, and she at least looks horrified at the insinuation, “You didn’t force me into anything.”

“I pushed. I shouldn’t have pushed.”

A heavy sigh falls from Karolina, “You didn’t push me into anything, Nico. Don’t turn last night into… that.”

Nico can’t look at Karolina, too scared of what she might find. She’s not sure she could take seeing the regret in her eyes. Not sure she’s ready to face being unwanted by the one person who actually matters.

“It shouldn’t have happened.” She says, although she can hear the lack of conviction in her voice. Nico just figures saying it herself will be easier than hearing it from Karolina.

“Is that how you feel?”

“You regret it.” Nico evades the question.

“No. No, I don’t.” Karolina still sounds so distant that Nico can barely even read her best friend, “It’s just… I don’t know what happens now.”

“What do you mean?”

“Our friendship.” Karolina looks over at Nico, “I can’t… this can’t ruin it, Nico. But how can it not?”

The words terrify Nico, and she realizes that she was sorely mistaken when she thought not having Karolina return her feelings was the worst it would get. Losing Karolina all together beats that heartbreak in spades.

“We don’t need to talk about it.” Nico says, “Last night can just be… last night.”

Karolina’s lips purse, and she takes a moment before nodding weakly, “If that’s what you want.”

It’s not what Nico wants at all.

Nico does want to talk about it.

She wants to gush to someone about how everything had felt so right with Karolina. How up until now, she had no idea she could even feel so much with one person, so perfectly matched that every new touch somehow feels like coming home.

And she wants even more to do it all over again; she wants to be Karolina’s in every way she’ll allow. She wants to wake up next to her and not have to doubt her place at her side.

But if silence is what Karolina needs for them to be okay, she’ll do it.


After Nico makes it obvious that their night together was a mistake, Karolina tries her best to put some distance between them. Tries to keep herself in check and give Nico some space.

She really, truly does.

The thing is, that’s kind of hard when, despite Nico’s declaration that sleeping together shouldn’t have happened, the girl continues to act overwhelmingly affectionate with her.

It’s not all on Nico, though, if Karolina is being fair. The problem Karolina has been trying to overcome is that now that she’s had Nico in such an intimate capacity, the magnetic pull that exists with Nico seems to have tripled in strength.

For all of her efforts to be on her best behavior, Karolina still finds herself drifting over to Nico’s side and initiating contact whenever an occasion allows her. At least so far, she has managed to restrict such affections to times when they have company and Karolina can pass it off as part of their act. When they’re left alone, Karolina just attempts to flee the situation all together, fearing that if she doesn’t she might end up pressing Nico up against a wall and kissing the life out of her.

She’s not sure how she feels about what happened yet.

On one hand, it’s what she’s wanted with all her heart, so she figures she should be happy.

On the other hand, it happened because of Nico’s feelings for Alex. And it’s that part that has her completely tied up. She got everything she wanted attached to a big fucking exception that taints everything and now, she’s not really sure how she’s supposed to move forward.

Because how can she now go on pretending she doesn’t want Nico? Now that she’s been given an insight into what having Nico want her back is like. It was so much easier to play pretend when she didn’t have Nico gasping her name burnt into her brain. When she didn’t know what it felt like to have Nico’s nails digging into her shoulders and her bare skin pressed desperately against her own.

And now night is nearing, and Karolina will have no excuse to give to avoid sleeping in the same room as Nico, and she most definitely will not survive falling into bed together, on the same mattress where only 24 hours earlier she had a naked Nico beneath her.

She’s in the pool house, perched at the bar while Chase plays around with the liquor available to them. Alex is the last person she expects to plant himself on the seat next to her, and when he does, Karolina can’t help but frown at him. Out of their friendship group, Alex’s relationship with her and Chase has never exactly been one of the stronger ones.

“Hey.” Alex greets casually, receiving a nod from Chase and an awkward attempt at a smile from Karolina.

For the most part, she’s managed to avoid Alex all together this vacation. She’d honestly been happy to keep it that way.

Chase slides a beer over to Alex, and Karolina eyes him suspiciously as she takes a sip from her own drink.

“You trying out bartending now?” Alex jokes, nodding to the mess of bottles and ingredients about the bar that Chase has been experimenting with.

It’s been a pretty successful afternoon for Karolina, actually, what with her current mission of getting blind drunk and passing out before she can cave to her very unacceptable desire for her best friend.

“Always gotta keep my options open.” Chase says, looking to Karolina and nodding to her almost empty cocktail, “You want another one?”

“Keep them coming.”

“Is Nico gonna tell me off for getting you wasted?”

“Possibly.”

Chase shrugs, starting to make a drink for her anyway.

“So what happened to you and Nico last night?” Alex asks, “I saw you guys leaving.”

Karolina’s stomach turns at just the sound of Nico’s name on Alex’s tongue, and she resists the urge to bite back a nasty order for him to mind his own business.

“Nico was tired.” She says instead, knowing how flimsy of an excuse it is. But Alex knows full well why Nico left, so she doesn’t feel much of a need for flair. Hell, he knows more than Karolina does about Nico’s mood last night. Nico’s yet to actually tell Karolina what the hell she and Alex had spoken about to upset her so much.

Alex chuckles, “You’re not in the dog house, are you?”

“For what?”

“You were talking to that girl for a while.”

It’s Chase that snorts out loud as though Karolina flirting with someone else is the most ridiculous thing he’s heard, and Karolina glares at him.

“Come on, Wilder. When has Nico ever been upset with Karolina?” Chase says, “They probably went home to tear each other’s clothes off.”

For once, Chase is actually spot-on in his assumption, and Karolina feels her face heat up in response.

“See?” Chase nods to her reaction, proud of himself, and Karolina tosses a napkin his way in admonishment.

“I wasn’t flirting with that girl, either.” Karolina adds, feeling the need to drive the point home, “Why do you care, anyway?”

“Well I care about Nico.”

Karolina actually scowls at that, and Alex falters.

“We might have broken up but I still don’t wanna see her get messed around.” He continues, “Amy doesn’t either.”

“Alex, dude.” Chase laughs mirthlessly, looking like he almost pities the boy, “So not your place.”

“I’m just saying-”

“No one asked you.” Karolina bites out, “You and Amy aren’t really in a position to talk about saving Nico from being hurt, are you?”

“I’m not trying to start something, Karolina. Really.” Alex holds his arms up in surrender, “I’m sorry.”

Karolina’s debating whether tossing her drink in Alex’s face is too dramatic, hand gripping her glass tight as she stares at him with a narrowed gaze.

Unfortunately, she’s not given much time to carry out any sort of punishment, as Nico’s then approaching and the anger burning in her is immediately tapering off in favor of that familiar fondness.

Nico comes to stand behind Karolina’s stool, wrapping her arms around Karolina and resting her chin on her shoulder, planting a soft kiss to her cheek in greeting.

Karolina pretends it’s for her and not simply because Alex is here.

“What’re we drinking?” Nico asks, and Karolina’s already passing the cocktail back to her, allowing Nico a taste. She cringes, looking to Chase, “You made this?”

“Cocktails à la Chase.” He grins.

“Well it gets the job done, at least.” She mutters under her breath, “I’ll have one too, please.”

Karolina looks back at Nico, noting how she keeps glancing over to Alex and now recognizing the anxiousness behind her gaze.

“I’m gonna find Amy.” Alex declares only a moment later, and Nico doesn’t even acknowledge him as he leaves them alone, but she still watches him go.

“What were you guys talking about?” Nico asks once Alex is far enough away to not hear them.

“Nothing, really.”

“Hm.” Nico’s frowning, pondering something. And then, “Chase? Can you pass the tequila?”

Apparently Karolina’s not the only one determined to get drunk tonight.


Both Karolina and Nico manage to achieve their goals for the night, the pair well and truly drunk by the end of dinner.

Although no matter how much Karolina drinks, there are a few things that refuse to leave her mind. One being her stubborn obsession with Nico, and two being her complete and utter frustration over Alex’s influence on everything that might happen between them.

She and Nico are the last awake, everyone eventually retiring to bed and leaving them to sit on the lawn and share a final bottle of wine. Karolina’s so drunk that she’s kind of forgotten about her decision to avoid alone time with Nico. Of course, she hasn’t really forgotten. She just doesn’t really care now that she’s way too many drinks past sober.

“So, are you ever going to tell me what made you so upset the other night?” Karolina asks, unsure she even wants or can cope with the answer. She just can’t shake the need to destroy that uneasiness within her over a secret shared between Nico and Alex.

Nico’s watching where her legs are pressed up beside Karolina’s, and she shifts her bare foot to rest it over Karolina’s ankle; a small show of affection, but one that has Karolina’s skin tingling nonetheless.

“With Alex?”

“Yeah.”

Nico sighs, shrugs and takes a swig from the wine bottle, “Can we just not talk about it?”

Karolina tries to hide how much it hurts that Nico won’t share her conversation with her. The fact that whatever they spoke about had such an affect on Nico, that Alex had such an affect on her, has Karolina going insane. What could they have spoken about that is so sacred to Nico that she refuses to tell Karolina?

“If that’s what you want.” Karolina’s mumbles, unable to keep the bitterness from her tone.

The silence between them is awkward now, and Karolina decides she wants nothing to do with it, so she rises from the grass and heads for the pool.

“Kar?” Nico calls after her.

Karolina flashes a smile back to Nico but doesn’t stop her approach, stripping her dress from her body as she walks and diving into the water once she reaches the edge of the pool. The coolness of the water is what she needs to ground herself at least a little bit, keeping her from spilling out thoughts that she knows are reckless to share with her best friend.

When she surfaces, Nico is already standing near the edge, wine bottle hanging at her side and watching Karolina with an unreadable expression. Karolina rests her arms up on the edge of the pool, looking up at Nico, “Coming in?”

She doesn’t fail to notice Nico’s eyes fall to her breasts for a moment, and Karolina’s glad she decided to wear one of her nicer bras today, even if she’s now risking it’s life span with the pool.

“Well you’ll probably pull me in with you if I say no anyway.” Nico says.

Karolina reaches out for the wine bottle, swiping it from Nico’s hand and drifting back into the pool so she can’t steal it back, “I’d never.”

She takes a generous few gulps of the wine, eyes widening when Nico starts pulling off her own clothes. Karolina doesn’t even try to act like she’s not staring, too drunk to really care when Nico catches her.

“And I’m sure you’ll just give me back that bottle if I ask for it.” Nico is grinning, kicking off her shorts so she’s left in only her lingerie and stepping closer to the edge.

“If you come and get it.” Karolina attempts a teasing tone, but her voice wavers as her eyes rake over Nico’s bare skin, remembering just how it felt against her the night before.

Nico cuts her ogling short by jumping into the pool, surfacing near Karolina and immediately reaching for the bottle. Feeling childish, Karolina pulls the bottle out of Nico’s reach, giggling as Nico swims closer to her, practically on top of Karolina as she attempts to get to the bottle.

Kar,” Nico laughs, “Come on.”

“What’s the password?”

“Fuck you.”

“Not quite.”

Nico glares playfully at her, and is then completely throwing herself on top of Karolina, forcing her spluttering under water as she wrestles the bottle out of Karolina’s hands. Karolina gasps when she’s let up for air and finds Nico resting back against the wall of the pool, victoriously drinking from the bottle.

“That was rude.”

Nico shrugs, “You gave me no choice.”

Karolina got drunk because she thought it’d make being around Nico easier somehow. Boy, was she wrong. Because all she wants to do right now consists of one short list of things she really shouldn’t want to do with her best friend.

She swims over to Nico, coming to a stop and leaving an unnecessarily small amount of space between them. Her eyes watch Nico’s lips against the bottle as she drinks, continuing down to her throat as she swallows the wine down. There’s a light purple bruise to the skin where her neck meets her shoulder, left by Karolina’s own lips last night, and Karolina visibly shivers at the memory of the whimpers Nico let out when she put it there.

She doesn’t remember approving her hand of the movement when it reaches out, fingers tracing softly over the bruise, rational thoughts eclipsed by the desire to refresh her memory of what Nico’s skin feels like on her lips.

Her fingers find their way up to Nico’s jaw, “You’re really beautiful.” She admits quietly, smiling when Nico leans into her touch.

Nico blushes at the compliment, “Look who’s talking.” She laughs, and her eyes drift to Karolina’s lips for a moment. Clearing her throat, Nico lifts the bottle up between them, “Peace offering?”

Karolina accepts the bottle, finishing off the last few mouthfuls and unable to tear her eyes away from Nico watching her as she does so. When she’s done, she reaches over Nico to place the bottle on the edge of the pool. She doesn’t want to give up the new closeness, though, and instead of drifting back again, Karolina moves her hands to grip at the edge of the pool on either side of Nico, caging her in between her and the wall.

They’re only an inch away from each other, and Karolina rests her forehead against Nico’s. They stay like that for a moment, Karolina toying with the idea of kissing her, lips ghosting Nico’s with barely contained desire. She feels Nico’s hands rest at her waist, and the touch doesn’t do anything to discourage Karolina’s longing.

“Kar…”

“Hm?”

“We shouldn’t.” Nico warns. It sounds barely convincing, but it still stings to hear.

“I know.” Karolina murmurs.

Nico lets out a heavy breath that hits Karolina’s lips, “Last night was already…”

“Irresponsible?” Karolina offers.

“Yeah. That.” Nico reaches up to where Karolina’s arms cage her in against the wall of the pool, but she doesn’t try to remove them. Instead her hands wrap around Karolina’s wrists lightly, almost as though the touch itself is what’s keeping her anchored.

“So we shouldn’t, then.”

Nico shakes her head, “Not if it’ll change things tomorrow.”

And Karolina should take that as the out that Nico means it to be for her. She’s doing this for Karolina. She’s doing this because she saw how Karolina struggled with their actions this morning and they were supposed to choose their friendship over everything. But for all the warning it’s supposed to be, Karolina can’t help but take it instead as a way to get what she wants right now.

And right now, she wants Nico. So much that it pains her. And she hates that she wants her so much because she knows what comes next. She knows the moment she wakes up tomorrow, her brain no longer riddled with the effects of the alcohol, she’ll be hit with the reminder that this is all about Nico’s feelings for Alex and everything about this will just hurt all over again. And she hates herself for being so weak that she’ll happily keep hurting herself if it means that even for a short time she can pretend that this is Nico choosing her.

Karolina’s skin prickles where Nico’s thumbs brush at her skin delicately, “But what if it doesn’t?”

Nico’s ministrations pause, and big brown eyes meet her own, and she doesn’t get a word out as Karolina then closes what small distance remains between them, lips descending onto Nico’s desperately.

Nico’s fingers bury in damp blonde hair and she kisses Karolina back with fervor, gasping into her mouth as Karolina’s body presses her back against the wall of the pool, Nico’s legs wrapping around her waist moments later.

And oh boy, Karolina is a complete idiot for thinking she even stood a chance at resisting seeking this out again.


It just kind of keeps happening, after that.

They’ll get drunk or at least tipsy enough to use it as an excuse, and they’ll fall into bed together like it’s not a completely unacceptable habit for two girls who are supposed to be just best friends. For the most part, Karolina keeps her word. She doesn’t let it change things between them, or at least, she doesn’t let it show.

She tells herself that this is all completely fine and that she can make the most of what this is for now and then when it comes to an end, she’ll put in the work to make sure her heartbreak doesn’t ruin their friendship. It’s a disaster of her own making, and it’s Karolina’s duty to make sure that Nico doesn’t suffer simply because Karolina’s been too damn greedy to make the wise decision of protecting her heart.

Nico checks in on things, every now and then. A calculated question here and there, just ‘wanting to make sure’ that Karolina is still completely okay with what is happening between them. And her care for Karolina would warm Karolina’s heart, if it weren’t busy aching over the thought that this is just Nico reminding her that nothing happening between them is more than physical.

Having so much of Nico and yet not having her at all proves taxing in a way Karolina hadn’t anticipated, and sometimes she finds herself needing an escape route simply to put herself back together for a moment. Last night, said escape route was passing out on the couch.

She wakes to a wet nose sniffing at her face, eyes fluttering open and finding Old Lace looking back at her with big black eyes. Karolina lets out a groan, fighting off the remnants of sleep and reaching out to pat Old Lace, craning her neck to find Gert sitting on one of the armchairs and nursing a coffee in her hands.

“Hey Sleeping Beauty.” Gert greets, an amused smile tracing her lips, “Nico kick you out of bed?”

Karolina’s head throbs with her hangover, and she groans again, reluctantly sitting up from the couch stretching out the stiffness in her back from the night’s less-than comfortable sleep, “I was drunk.” She mumbles.

“I know. You kinda gave that part away after you tried to hit on Tina.” Gert laughs as Karolina immediately cringes at the memory, “So what? Did you guys have a lovers spat because you want to bang her mom?”

“I don’t want to-” Karolina huffs, training a glare on Gert, “You’re sounding like Chase.”

“That tends to happen when you spend five years together. He actually quoted Frida Kahlo to me the other day.”

Karolina rolls her eyes, getting up from the couch, “Is there coffee left?”

She doesn’t wait for an answer, finding it in the half-filled pot that sits in the kitchen. It’s only a minute before Gert is walking in and joining her, perching at the island. Karolina’s distracted by the memories of the previous night that are slowly breaking through the haze of her hangover. Nico pressed up against her, chest rising and falling heavily as she gasps under Karolina’s touch. Nico kissing her with a desperation that Karolina could easily trick herself into thinking is more than simple lust. Making Nico say her name over, and over again, just needing to hear it breathed out between them as many times as she can before the inevitable last time arrives.

Was last night the last time? Karolina hopes not.

A part of her, though, would also be okay if it were. At least then, she might be able to get started on mending the mess of a heart that Nico is going to leave behind when she’s done with Karolina.

“You’ve been acting weird.”

Karolina startles at Gert’s voice, flushing, “Not now, Gert.”

“Both of you have.” Gert continues anyway, watching Karolina with an uncomfortable amount of attention, “It’s like…”

Her tone gets to her, and Karolina glances to Gert hesitantly, “What?”

“Nothing. I don’t know.” Gert frowns, “I mean- I don’t wanna intrude-”

“But that’s what you’re best at.” Karolina can’t help a small smile, and Gert laughs softly.

“Okay, fair.” She says, “I’m just saying, you guys seem so happy together one second and then the next it’s like you’ve broken up or something.”

Karolina’s never been fond of Gert’s knack for reading people. As a teenager struggling with her sexuality, it had been her worst nightmare. Now it’s like she’s right back there all over again.

“We’re fine.” She says, preoccupying herself with looking through the fridge in an attempt to avoid Gert’s probing stare.

“You know, it’s okay if you’re not always happy, Karolina.”

Karolina’s grip on the fridge door tightens, and she considers for a moment telling Gert everything. But she’s not sure she could handle the brutal opinions her friend would no doubt deliver to her if she does. Gert’s never been one to simply sit and listen.

“I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not.” Gert’s voice is filled with something akin to pity, and it makes Karolina feel so utterly pathetic that her skin crawls.

“Gert, please.” Karolina murmurs, “Drop it.”

She hears Gert let out a soft sigh, and the stool she’d been sitting on squeaks against the tiles of the kitchen floor.

Karolina thinks she’s leaving, but then two arms are wrapping around her middle and Gert’s chin is resting on her shoulder. She doesn’t say anything, just holds Karolina tight as Karolina leans back into her, accepting the silent comfort.

It’s in Gert’s arms that morning that Karolina finally allows herself to cry.


Karolina doesn’t tell Gert, and Gert doesn’t ask again, allowing Karolina to take what comfort she needs before moving on like nothing ever happened.

The day moves slowly.

Karolina’s miserable, her body hates her for the alcohol consumed last night, and Nico keeps checking for her like she knows Karolina spent this morning crying over her.

Karolina manages to kill an hour at least with a nap at lunch, and she’s lying in bed willing the day away when Nico decides to come looking for her. She doesn’t look up when the door to their room opens, and can tell that it’s Nico from the scent of her perfume as the bed sinks under the new weight.

She buries her head in her pillow, lying on her stomach, and groans when she feels Nico’s hand rest on her back.

“Kar?”

Karolina grunts in response, Nico chuckling.

“You’ve been up here a while.”

She grunts again.

“Okay, then.” She hears Nico huff, and then she feels her weight settling over her, Nico’s legs bracketing Karolina’s waist on the bed, “Come on, Dean. It’s time to wake up.”

Nico’s hands massage at Karolina’s shoulders, and she can’t help the whimper that falls from her at the pleasurable sensation.

“Yeah, that’s not going to make me want to get up.”

“Ah, she speaks.” Nico’s clearly grinning, and Karolina buries her own smile in her pillow, “There’s food downstairs. Sure you don’t want to get up?”

“No. Too comfy.” Karolina mumbles, and she squeaks when Nico pinches at her side, “Nico,” she whines, “Don’t.”

“Don’t what?” she pinches her again.

“You’re being annoying.”

Karolina’s stiff, knowing another assault is coming, and when Nico pinches her again she rolls over beneath her in frustration, almost throwing Nico off her.

“Stop.” She orders, catching Nico’s wrists when she goes to pinch her again.

Nico’s laughing, and Karolina’s breath is completely wiped from her at how beautiful she is right now. Always.

How in the world has she spent so much of her life not knowing she loves this girl?

“Come downstairs, then.” Nico coaxes her, “Be with me.”

Be with me.

Karolina almost laughs. If only Nico knew just how much she wants that.

She almost tells her.

“I’m in love with you, Nico.”

It’d be so easy to say it. To just let Nico find out and allow the rejection to roll on out so Karolina can embrace her suffering and move on.

Nico must see the storm brewing within Karolina, reaching out to cup Karolina’s face softly, thumb brushing over her cheek.

“Are you okay?”

Karolina forces herself not to tear her gaze from Nico, knowing it’d only give her away, “Yeah, I’m fine.” She tries a confused tone, frowning, “Why?”

“You just seem off.”

Karolina grabs the hand caressing her face, linking their fingers together, “I’m just tired.” She presses a lingering kiss to Nico’s palm.

“Liar.” Nico murmurs, Karolina smiling against her skin.

It’s odd how Nico can read her so easily yet still be so oblivious.

“I love you, Kar.”

She says it so softly, filled with such a fondness that Karolina could almost pretend Nico means it in the way she wishes she did. Almost.

“I love you too.” Karolina says, and she means every word. She wants to continue, wants to add that she’s in love with Nico.

But losing Nico would be worse than any kind of heartbreak she’s experiencing right now, so she doesn’t. Instead she pulls Nico down into a kiss, and prays that this one won’t be the last.


They’re laying in bed later, Karolina still not having made a reappearance downstairs and Nico instead having joined her isolation.

The heaviness that’s been weighing on her chest all day is still there, and Karolina’s not sure it makes sense but Nico’s presence somehow manages to alleviate it and make it worse at the same time. If she weren’t already struggling with the day, Nico manages to bring it to a homerun with what comes next.

“He said we were never meant for each other.” Nico’s lying on her side, Karolina on her stomach, and her fingers trace up Karolina’s bare spine.

The touch is so casual and affectionate that Karolina’s almost too caught up in a daze over the feel to even hear Nico the first time around, “What? Who?”

“Alex.”

The name is enough to get rid of what little of a good mood was rising in Karolina.

She hears Nico sigh, “That night at the gala, that’s what we were talking about. He was going on about how we were never really good together. That I shouldn’t care that he’s with Amy now, because I never cared before.”

Jealousy stirs in Karolina’s stomach at the bitterness to Nico’s tone. And just, God, she had been so content to pretend for a moment here that Nico was in bed with her for her. For them.

But it’s for Alex.

Of course it’s for fucking Alex.

“Why are you bringing this up?” she mumbles out stiffly.

Nico’s fingers pause against Karolina’s back, “You wanted to know.”

“And that’s it?”

“No. I mean… he said some other things.” Nico sounds hesitant, “He doesn’t think I ever really loved him. ”

“So that’s what upset you.”

“It just made me… think about things. Reconsider what was happening back then. I don’t think I treated him well.”

Karolina feels nauseous just talking about this, in the same bed where only an hour ago she was sighing out Nico’s name like some lovesick puppy. All while Nico’s spent her time thinking about Alex.

“So kiss and make up then.” It’s a childish remark, but Karolina can’t bite it back, getting up from the bed and locating her clothes from the floor.

“Excuse me?” Nico’s offended, watching Karolina with wide eyes, “No- I didn’t mean it like that. I don’t want-” her face scrunches up in disbelief, “Can you just listen to what I’m saying?”

Karolina pulls her shirt over her head, “I am.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Well maybe I’m just not in the mood right now, okay?” Karolina huffs, finding her shorts and working them up her legs, “I thought you didn’t want to talk about the Alex thing.”

“I didn’t.”

“Exactly. Let’s keep it that way.”

“Are you seriously leaving right now?”

Karolina pauses, looking to Nico, who might look the most annoyed she’s ever been with Karolina, “Well, we’re done here, aren’t we?”

Nico is staring at her like she’s completely alien to her, and it almost has Karolina desperately rushing over with apologies. But she remains firm, waiting for Nico to challenge her.

“You’re not listening to me, Karolina.”

“Yes I am. Alex loved you and now he’s moved on and you’re regretting how you treated him.” Karolina barely even recognizes her own voice, it sounds so cold, “Am I missing something?”

If Karolina is startled by her nasty tone, Nico is clearly more shaken by it.

She looks like she wants to fight with her more, caught between what to say next and looking at Karolina like she’s so damn hurt by how she’s acting. And Karolina hates herself so much for being this immature, because really she put herself in this position. It’s not Nico’s fault that Karolina’s gotten too close.

If Nico had been considering calling Karolina out on her bullshit, she must think better of it, looking as broken as Karolina feels.

When Nico doesn’t say anything, Karolina sighs, shaking her head, not sure what she even expected, “Yeah,” she mutters, “I thought not.”

Karolina leaves before she can think better of it.

If she stayed, Nico might have told her that yes, she did miss something.

Chapter Text

Nico shows up at dinner soon after Karolina, and Karolina’s sure everyone catches onto the tension between them immediately, if only for the rare distance they place between them.

Karolina purposefully sat herself between Chase and Molly to avoid Nico, but it still stings a little when Nico doesn’t even attempt to thwart the effort of evasion and instead places herself as far away from Karolina as possible, never sparing her so much as a glance.

When Karolina does sneak the odd stare Nico’s way, she can read the irritation written all over her best friend’s face. And sure, Karolina knows she overstepped with how heavily she went at Nico earlier, but she’s allowed to be upset too, isn’t she? Even if Nico doesn’t know how Karolina feels, she can’t possibly think Karolina would want to hear about Alex while they were literally still in bed together. Surely Karolina is entitled to her own anger right now.

After dinner, Karolina makes a break for the beach before anyone can pull her into some painful activity that might force her to stick to Nico’s side. She’s there for a while before Chase is the one to eventually seek her out, settling down next to her on the sand.

Karolina can feel Chase’s eyes on her, waiting for his eventual soft sigh as he pushes them into a conversation that she’s still in the process of preparing herself to have. It figures, really, that she tells Chase. It’s become a regularity at this point in their friendship that Chase just happens to be there whenever she’s about to launch herself into a meltdown.

“Everyone’s pretty worried about you.” He says, “And Nico.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Not really. They’re not used to seeing you guys anything but happy together.”

Karolina lets out a bitter laugh, “Yeah, well… things can’t stay the same forever.”

(Especially not when you take your perfectly fine friendship and flip it on its head with a fake romance and unrequited feelings)

“You guys will figure it out, though.” Chase is optimistic, still wearing that oblivious, easy smile, “You’re Karolina and Nico. You have to be okay or what hope is there for the rest of us?”

“I think I’m in love with her.”

Chase laughs, “See? You’ll be fine.”

Karolina sighs, wearing a deep frown, “No, I mean… Chase, I’m in love with Nico.”

Chase pauses, and his laugh this time is awkward, “Okay?” he looks at Karolina like she’s declared she’s from another planet, “Why’re you saying it like it’s a bad thing?”

“Because it is.”

“I’m pretty sure being in love with your girlfriend isn’t a bad thing.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Uh, yes she is. Are you feeling okay?” Chase reaches out to check her temperature and Karolina swats his hand away.

“No, Chase, she’s not. We’ve been faking.”

Chase snorts, “Yeah, alright.”

Karolina stares blankly back at Chase, not offering up the ‘just kidding’ he’s clearly waiting for, and understanding slowly dawns on his face.

“You’re serious.” He pauses, gapes, “So you’re not-” Chase looks almost constipated trying to work his mind around the news, “… oh. That’s fucked up.”

“Yeah.” Karolina huffs, falling back onto the sand and frowning up at the night sky.

There’s a good few beats of silence before Chase speaks again.

“But… why?”

“It was Nico’s idea. She didn’t want to show up on vacation solo while Alex and Amy threw their relationship in her face. She figured if everyone thought we were dating, it’d take some of the attention off of what happened.”

“And you agreed to that? Kar…”

“I know, I know.” Karolina groans, pressing the heels of her hands onto her eyelids, “I just can’t say no to her, okay? I mean- I guess now I know it’s because I’ve been in love with her since the beginning of time.”

“So you agreed to pretend to date the girl you’re in love with.”

“I didn’t know I was in love with her when I agreed to it. I’m not an idiot.”

“Well, that’s kinda up for debate. You’re only just realizing you love her, after all.”

“Shut up.”

Chase laughs, “I’m sorry, it’s just you really never thought about it before now? I mean, come on, Kar, you two have been obsessed with each other since we were kids. You must have thought about it at least once.”

“No, I hadn’t! Nico’s my best friend. It’s always worked just fine that way, why would I question it?”

“Because maybe it would work even better if you were more than friends?” Chase offers, making it sound like the simplest concept in the world.

“She doesn’t feel the same.” Karolina glances up at Chase, finding a deep frown on his face, “She still likes Alex.”

“Oh.” Chase pauses, clearly attempting to gauge Karolina’s mood, “So… do you want to talk about it?”

Karolina thinks, “No.” she decides, content for now just to finally have someone else know, “I think I’m okay.”

She’s not sure she’d survive speaking about it any more than she has. Karolina’s certain some things are better left buried, expelling them into the atmosphere would only make it more real than it needs to be.

Thankfully, Chase has always been good with letting Karolina have her silence, and he lies down next to her on the sand. She feels his hand fall over hers, squeezing it lightly.

“You can’t tell Gert.” She murmurs, only now realizing how much of a burden this might have been to place on her friend, but terrified at the thought of Gert meddling with her and Nico’s situation.

“I know.”

“I’m serious, Chase.”

“I know.” Chase repeats, turning his head to look at Karolina with a soft smile, “It’s okay, Karolina. I got you.”

And Karolina finds comfort in that at least, when she lets Nico chip away at whatever’s left of her heart to break, she has someone like Chase to fall into.


She sits with Chase for a long time, the pair sharing silence, and with telling Chase of her feelings for Nico, Karolina feels like some of the weight on her chest has been lifted, allowing her at least a little bit of air to make it more bearable. It’s only when the night chill gets the better of them that they retire back to the house, and Karolina bids Chase goodnight before she sneaks into her and Nico’s room.

Nico’s pretending to be asleep, and Karolina hates that, like an absolute creep, she’s watched Nico sleep enough to actually know by now when she’s faking it. Karolina doesn't have it in her to climb into bed with Nico, sure she'd just lay there awake too, dwelling on the mountains that they seem to have put between one another later. So instead, Karolina chooses the couch. 

She hears Nico’s sigh of relief as she closes the door behind her.


Karolina wakes the next morning once again to Old Lace’s breath on her face, big black eyes looking at her while Gert sits curled up on the armchair opposite, looking like she’s torn between amusement and pity over her friend’s sleeping arrangement.

“Is this a regular thing?” she asks, head tilted curiously, “Do you usually get kicked out of bed?”

“Shut it, Gert.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“No.”

After her conversation with Chase last night, Karolina’s thinks she’s talked about it enough for a lifetime. Nico comes down the stairs, pausing for only a moment when she sees Karolina on the couch before she continues her way into the kitchen, not a word spoken between them.

Gert gapes, “Yikes. That was cold. What did you do?”

“Why do you assume it was me?”

“Usually the one sleeping on the couch wears the blame.”

And Gert’s kind of right, Karolina knows this. In light of a night’s sleep, the guilt has had enough time to settle in and let her know that yeah, she did kind of fuck up yesterday, That while Nico mentioning Alex after they’d slept together might have been slightly insensitive, it didn’t make it okay for Karolina to react so aggressively. Not when Nico has no idea why Karolina would be upset about it.

(Although, seriously, how has Nico not caught onto Karolina’s feelings by now?)

So yeah, she knows she messed up. But knowing that and being ready to put her hurt feelings aside are two different things, and Karolina’s not quite ready to stop clinging to the anger she’s managed to find in the situation. Because it’s damn sweeter than the alternative. At least this frustration and anger she feels with Nico right now does a little bit to stifle the yearning she has for her.

It’s apparent Nico has no intention of making the first move at making up, either, as she commits to completely ignoring Karolina all over again. Poor Gert spends a good hour attempting to bridge the cold silence between the pair before anyone else finally wakes and joins them.

In an act of spontaneity, Dale and Stacey decide to renew their vows, and Karolina isn’t really surprised by the cheesy idea, but she is mildly annoyed by their timing. Because where she’d usually be all over such a romantic event, it instead leaves a bitter taste in her mouth the moment it’s uttered into existence.

Dale and Stacey come parading out onto the patio to declare their news, demanding their friends help them in making an event of it and preparing the ceremony for tomorrow. Karolina does get a mild amusement out of watching Tina, Catherine and her mom immediately start bickering over their own visions for the ceremony, and it might be the first time this summer that she shares a genuine smile with Alex.

Unaware of the current argument between them, Tina assigns Karolina and Nico the task of buying decorations for the renewal, having already decided to hold it on the beach. She hands them a long list of apparent ‘necessities’ and shoves the pair on their way before either girl can come up with an excuse to get out of it.

The ride into town is torturously quiet, and Karolina practically throws herself out of the car when they arrive. Nico is stubborn as ever, so it’s no surprise when Karolina is the first to break the silence, more out of requirement than a desire to do so.

“There’s a florist somewhere around here; I saw it last time we visited.” She says, attempting a casual tone. Maybe if she just pushes through the awkwardness they can pretend the fight never happened and get back to normal.

Nico doesn’t answer.

“They might have a wedding arch we could rent.”

Nico sighs, nods, “Worth a shot.” She mutters non-committedly.

Karolina rolls her eyes, hating that she has to be the one to cave and attempt to bridge the space between them. But Nico’s ability to hold a grudge is almost superhuman, so she’s not sure what she expected otherwise.

“So you’re still mad, then.” She says.

“Well I haven’t heard you apologize.”

Karolina pauses, chewing on just how much she even wants to apologize for, “I’m sorry I stormed off.” She settles on.

It’s not enough for Nico, obviously.

“That’s it?”

“Yeah.”

“What about the rest of it?”

“What do you mean?”

Nico scoffs, “Oh, I don’t know. You only completely bulldozed me in an argument, accused me of being hung up on my ex-boyfriend, and then stormed off like a teenager before I could get a word in.”

The bitter response leaves her mouth before Karolina can catch herself, “So you’re upset that I told the truth.”

“Excuse me?”

“You are still hung up on Alex.” She says, barely able to locate herself in the antagonistic voice that escapes her, “Aren’t you?”

She sees Nico’s jaw clench, face red with what must be anger, “Why should it matter to you?”

Because I’m in love with you, the little voice in Karolina’s head chimes.

“It doesn’t.” Karolina shrugs, “I just don’t get why you’d be upset with me for thinking that when clearly we’re only here on this island pretending to date because of Alex.”

Shut up shut up shut up.

Karolina could just say sorry and be done with it, yet here she is still biting for an argument with Nico. She has no idea where it’s come from within her; she and Nico aren’t supposed to fight. This isn’t something they do. So why the hell can’t Karolina stop herself from coaxing the fire?

Nico wears her anger plain on her face, even with her eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, and she turns her gaze ahead with an exasperated huff, “Well, I guess it’s my fault for thinking you knew me better.”

It hits hard, like Karolina is sure Nico intended it to, and Karolina doesn’t say another word as they walk through town.

Karolina’s so caught up in feeling put-out by Nico’s jab that when they’re in one of the stores, she doesn’t even recognize the familiar face amongst the stacks of Hawaiian decor until a hand is resting on the small of her back and making her jump out of her skin.

“Woah there, blondie.” America Chavez laughs, holding her hands up in mock-surrender as Karolina looks back at her wide-eyed, “I mean no harm.”

“America,” Karolina lets out a heavy breath, an embarrassed smile tracing her lips, “Sorry, hey. It’s good to see you.”

“Pleasure’s all mine.” America grins, charming as all hell, “I saw you outside and figured I’d say hi.” She looks around at the furniture store they’re in, quirking a confused eyebrow, “Are you planning on investing in the Hawaiian housing market or something?”

Karolina laughs, “Not right now, no. My friend’s parents are renewing their vows tomorrow. We’ve been given the job of finding decorations.”

“Right. I saw Nico with you.”

Karolina’s arms cross in front of her chest, and she must be completely transparent as America immediately reads her discomfort.

“How’s that situation going?” she asks.

Karolina shrugs, “It’s… going.” She winces, laughing awkwardly and checking for Nico, who is preoccupied filing through a pile of fabrics on the opposite side of the store, “It’s been a bit of a rough 24 hours, actually.”

“She still chasing her ex?”

“In a sense.”

America looks at her with a sympathetic smile, “Well, let me know if you ever wanna take a breather from it all. This island might seem small but I know a few places to run away to.”

Karolina pauses, unsure if this is America just being friendly, or if it’s something more. Thankfully, America Chavez is anything but scared of laying her cards on the table, and elaborates with an amused chuckle.

“I meant that as a friend, by the way.” She shrugs, “But I also wouldn’t exactly complain if you wanted it to be something else.”

Karolina’s blushing, mouth hanging open slightly in surprise and really, you’d think she’d have gotten better as this whole thing by now.

She doesn’t even get a chance to stammer out a response before America’s eyes are moving to somewhere behind Karolina, and Nico is then at her side.

“Hey, Nico.” America greets easily, barely batting an eye at Nico’s poorly disguised irritation.

“Hi.” Nico says stiffly, “It’s America, right?”

America’s smile widens as though she’s very much aware that Nico would not have forgotten her name, “That’s the one.” She looks back to Karolina, “Anyway, I should be getting back to my friends.” Her hand reaches out to squeeze Karolina’s upper arm affectionately, “Call me if you decide to take me up on that offer, yeah?”

Karolina’s face is burning, and her eyes glance to where America’s touch lingers on her arm for a moment. If she weren’t too busy focusing on it herself, Karolina would have noticed Nico’s own eyes staring daggers at the unnecessary contact.

“Um… yeah.” She mumbles out shyly, America pulling her hand back and allowing Karolina to breathe again, “Yeah, I will.”

America’s smile widens, “Great.”

She leaves Karolina and Nico frozen side by side in the store, one watching her go with a look of awe while the other looks like she’s contemplating murder.

“When did you exchange numbers?”

Karolina’s startled by Nico’s voice, and takes a moment before annoyance settles on her over that being what gets Nico talking to her, “At the ball.” She says, noting how Nico’s frown deepens, “Is that a problem?”

Nico’s cold again, “No.” she mutters, shoving one of the large bags she carries into Karolina’s arms, “Come on, stores will be closing soon.”

Karolina didn’t think it was possible, but she swears Nico’s mood worsens after that.


When Karolina and Nico make it back to the house, piles of decorations in tow, they both immediately go their separate ways. Nico situates herself out on the patio with her headphones in and a book in her lap, while Karolina takes up residence down by the pool with Molly and commits to taking her mind off of the last 24 hours.

Dinner arrives eventually, and apart from her and Nico, everyone is in ridiculously high spirits in anticipation of Dale and Stacy’s renewal ceremony the next day. After dinner they spread across the yard, the kids congregated on the patio couches while their parents are in the pool house, the sounds of drunken laughter carrying into the night air. Dale and Stacey are currently dancing out on the grass together, completely caught up in one another, and even in her poor mood, Karolina can’t deny that it’s adorable. It’d really be a perfect night if it weren’t for the tension between her and Nico.

Everyone’s noticed it. Hell, their lack of attention to each other sticks out like a sore thumb when every other couple in their group is acting like they’ve been hit with a newfound love for their partner. Gert, at least, maintains her usual reservations to clichés.

“God, they’re gross.” she remarks, watching her parents fawn over each other, “I can’t believe I share their DNA.”

Chase is next to Gert on the couch they share, wearing a similar lovesick smile to Dale as he watches his girlfriend, and Gert’s probably ignoring it in favor of clinging to the idea that she’s not just as hopelessly smitten as her parents.

“They’re in love,” Molly grins, tossing a piece of candy at her sister, “It’s cute. Right, Karolina?”

Karolina would usually back Molly up, but she’s sharing Gert’s nausea right now, arms crossed in front of her chest and looking to Molly at the sound of her name, “Hm? Yeah. It’s romantic, I guess.” She mumbles unconvincingly, and her eyes glance to Nico, who is sat in a lawn chair instead of curled up with Karolina on the couch like she usually would be. She meets Karolina’s gaze with an eye-roll, and Karolina’s heart sinks.

“Ugh, can you guys stop fighting already?” Molly whines, “You’re no fun when you’re pouting.”

Molly,” Gert hisses, eyeing her sister in warning.

“What? I’m just saying.” Molly grumbles, “We have a wedding tomorrow. Well, kind of. Can’t you kiss and make up?”

Nico scoffs at the choice of words, Karolina wincing at Molly’s oblivious reference to words she’d bit out at Nico only yesterday.

“Molly, please.” Karolina says, voice low, but the damage has already been done and Nico is excusing herself under her breath, walking down the lawn towards the pool house instead.

Karolina sets her sights on a bottle of wine soon after, and she’s on the way to numbing all Nico-related feelings when her mom decides to spoil her plans, settling down next to her on the couch with that knowing motherly look she wears whenever Karolina can expect a ‘conservation’. The rest of her friends have long since made their way down to the pool house to join their parents too, and Karolina can’t help but wonder if one of them sent Leslie here to check in on her. It was probably Chase, seeing as he’s never quite figured out that not everyone has as great a bond with their mother as he does.

“You and Nico are awfully distant with each other today.” Her mom starts probingly.

“Are we?” Karolina tries obliviousness, taking a generous swig from her glass of wine, knowing the action will irritate the woman next to her.

“Karolina.”

Karolina rolls her eyes at her mother’s tone, “Okay, we might have had a fight.” She relents. She’d never win a standoff with her anyway.

“Oh? About what?”

“Alex.” Karolina mumbles, glaring ahead of her, “That shouldn’t surprise you, though, of course. You did predict it.”

“Honey… I hope our conversation didn’t have anything to do with it.” Leslie says, and Karolina will give her credit for how sincere she sounds, “I really did just have your best interests at heart.”

“It’s not about that, Mom.” Karolina mutters out, unable to keep the irritation from her voice, “We just want different things.”

Like I want to be with her, and she wants to chase around her ex-boyfriend.

Perhaps if Karolina had actually listened to her mother back then, she’d have been spared considerable heartache. But no, she just had to go and make everything worse for herself.

“Well, whatever it is, you two should talk. Work things out.”

“I thought you didn’t approve of us.” Karolina bites back.

“I approve of anyone you want to be with, Karolina. Don’t put words in my mouth.” Leslie reprimands, “Yes, I had my reservations about Nico but I can admit when I’m wrong. It’s obvious the girl cares for you.”

She’s right; maybe not in the romantic way that her mom means it, but Nico does care for her. Karolina knows that. She’s never once had to doubt that in the years they’ve been tied to one another’s sides. Nico’s presence in her life has always been the one sure thing.

That’s what makes all of this so terrifying now. Because Karolina no longer has the privilege of that simple love between them being a steady reality. Now she’s stuck with that little preview of what it could be like if it were more, and she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to shake it.

“Nico’s always been important to you, honey. Whatever this nonsense is with Alex, surely it’s not worth letting it hurt what you two have built together.” Her mom reaches over, brushing her fingers through Karolina’s hair fondly, “Talk it through with her, okay? Sometimes love needs compromise.”


By the time Karolina gets around to deciding to listen to her mother’s advice and push her stubbornness aside in favor of apologizing to Nico, she’s already reached the bottom of her wine bottle. She’s in the middle of drunkenly planning her apology when she spots Nico leaving the pool house, and Karolina watches with a soft frown as she nears, waiting for Nico to inevitably ignore her and walk right inside the house.

Which, she’s sure Nico was about to do, before she noticed the empty wine bottle at Karolina’s side.

She comes to a hesitant stop, eyeing Karolina critically, “You’re drunk.”

Karolina’s not in the habit of lying to Nico (well, outside of the giant fucking lie that she’s not madly in love with her, but whatever), so she nods, “A little bit.”

Nico rolls her eyes, letting out a sigh of defeat, “Alright, let’s get you inside.”

She steps over to Karolina and holds out her hands for her to take, and Karolina’s heart aches at how soft Nico always is with her. A part of her wants to refuse the help, if only because she really doesn’t deserve it after yesterday, but her selfish desire for Nico’s attention wins out and she takes the offered hands, allowing Nico to tug her up off the couch.

“You don’t need to help me.” She mumbles out as Nico pulls her through the doors of the house.

“I know.”

She’s led through the house and towards the staircase in the living room, and Karolina’s eyes widen in fear at the thought of falling into bed next to Nico tonight.

Because she can’t do that. Not now. Not when she’s already drunk and feeling deprived enough of Nico. The last thing she needs is to make a move or declare her undying love in a wine-fueled confession.

“Quit being difficult, Kar.” Nico hisses at Karolina’s sudden resistance.

“Nope. I’m fine…” Karolina looks around, hiccups, “Here.”

She collapses onto the nearby couch, in turn yanking Nico with her, who promptly falls right on top of Karolina, knocking their heads together painfully.

Karolina,” Nico groans.

Karolina’s own pain is eclipsed by the memory of another time Nico was groaning her name out on top of her. She freezes, dizzy from the impact and the alcohol and hoping Nico doesn’t feel how much her body has already heated up.

“Sorry.” She mumbles out distractedly.

“It’s okay.” Nico huffs, pulls back but doesn’t climb off of Karolina, instead bracing her hands on the back of the couch, caging Karolina in as she stares down at her inquisitively.

The hair hanging in Nico’s face grips Karolina’s attention and she reaches to tuck it behind her ears, fingers lingering to trace along Nico’s jaw absently afterwards.

“I’m still mad at you.”

Nico says it as though it’s a warning, against whatever is running through Karolina’s brain right now. Which, admittedly, is kissing Nico. Something she probably shouldn’t do when she’s in the doghouse. Or ever, really.

“I don’t like you being mad at me.” She mumbles out, lips forming a pout.

Nico chuckles, “I don’t like it either, but you kinda insisted on being a brat.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Let’s revisit that when you’re sober. I’m gonna need a bit more than a drunken apology.”

“Will you forgive me?” Karolina’s fingers find purchase at the back of Nico’s neck, brushing against her skin softly.

“We’ll see how good your apology is.”

Karolina frowns, “That’s not fair.”

“Isn’t it?”

“You’re supposed to forgive me.”

“Am I?”

Karolina glares playfully at Nico, smiling at the chuckle she receives, “I’m not going upstairs unless you promise you’ll forgive me.”

“Karolina, when have I ever held something against you for long?” Nico drawls, arching a brow.

She ponders it for a moment, and Karolina eventually decides she’s content with the answer, “Okay. I’ll come upstairs.”

“Finally.” Nico huffs dramatically, helping Karolina up from the couch.

Once they make it up to their room and eventually fall into bed together, Karolina lasts only a few minutes before she’s seeking Nico out beneath the covers, wrapping herself around Nico and burying her face in her neck.

She feels Nico shift in her arms slightly, pulling back only enough to look at Karolina, “I told you I’m still mad at you.” She reminds her.

“You can cuddle and be mad at the same time. S’okay.” Karolina mumbles out, feeling Nico laugh against her and shifting further into her warmth.

Nico’s arms are soon folding around Karolina too, and she feels soft lips press a kiss to the corner of her jaw, and Karolina falls asleep with a smile.

Chapter Text

When Karolina wakes, and the previous night dawns on her, she immediately freezes in bed, embarrassment washing over her. She can feel Nico next to her on the bed, but Karolina remains with her back facing her, wondering how long she has to pretend to be asleep before Nico leaves. Seriously, she needs to stop drinking and losing her shit the moment she’s uncomfortable, because these shameful morning after’s are getting a bit too common an occurrence.

Of course, Nico knows Karolina too well for her to get away with the act, and it’s only about a minute before Nico is calling her out.

“Morning, Sleeping Beauty.” She drawls, her own voice still thick from sleep.

Karolina sighs in defeat, taking note to ask her parents for acting classes in the near future, and rolls over to face her fate, already feeling her cheeks heat up.

“I am so sorry.” She blurts out immediately.

“Ah, so you remember.” Nico seems amused, at least, “How’s the hangover?”

“I think I’m still a little drunk, so I’ll let you know later.” They share small smiles, awkwardness echoing between them as both remember their rift, “So how bad is it?”

“What?”

“How much do I have to grovel to make things right between us?”

“Oh.” Nico laughs weakly, eyes turning to where she wrings her hands in her lap, “I don’t know. I mean it’s not just you. We’ve both been pretty…”

“Yeah.” Karolina doesn’t force an end to Nico’s statement, knowing where it’s going.

Before this summer, it was hard to get either of them to so much as raise their voices at each other. It seems like past weeks are making up for all the fights they didn’t have back then. There’s no denying the angry tension between them of late has left Nico feeling as unsettled as Karolina.

“I need to say sorry, though.” Karolina says, “I shouldn’t have spoken to you like I did.”

“Why did you?”

Karolina pauses. She’d really hoped not to be asked that, seeing as there’s very little she can say that strays far enough away from the truth.

“I don’t know. I was having a bad day and I guess you were the easiest target.”

She thinks that’s acceptable enough. At least she just sounds like a jackass with this explanation, as opposed to the pathetic girl who fell in love with her best friend and couldn’t handle ‘no strings attached’.

Nico nods, eyes falling to the bed sheets and pulling at a stray thread, “I’m scared we’ve ruined things. Us.” she says it so quietly that it’s like she’s afraid if she says it any louder it’ll curse it into existence, “Or we will, if we keep going the way we are.”

Karolina’s heart aches at the idea that it’s already too late and that the damage has been done. And it has, she supposes. There’s no erasing Nico’s name from where it’s been etched into her heart. There’s only pretending that she doesn’t know it’s there in the first place. And how long can she really last keeping that secret?

“I don’t want to lose you.” Karolina murmurs.

“Maybe we should take a step back.” Nico says, “No more walking the line between faking being together and…” she glances to Karolina, cheeks reddening, “We can’t keep doing all that and then expect things to be normal between us.”

Karolina knew this moment was coming, but it doesn’t hit her any less hard hearing it from Nico. No matter how inevitable, you can never truly prepare yourself for heartbreak. She should count her blessings, really. At least she got to play pretend for a while. Having Nico in the capacity she has, even if she was just a crutch for Nico’s own heartbreak, has got to be better than never having experienced it at all.

Although maybe knowing what she’s lost will make moving forward all the more difficult.

“Kar?” Nico prompts, as though Karolina has some option other than agreeing with her.

She doesn’t, obviously. There’s not a universe out there where Karolina let’s Nico go. She’s just stuck gripping on for dear life while Nico steers them whichever way she wants.

So she nods, smiling halfheartedly at Nico, and she agrees.


Nico Minoru has never liked change.

Frankly, she doesn’t understand why everyone else around her is such a proponent for the damn concept. She’s always found comfort in the constant. If things don’t stay the same, how the hell are you supposed to know how to conduct yourself?

Which is why this new ground discovered between her and Karolina is so ridiculously terrifying. Karolina’s always been the most sure thing in Nico’s life. Nico has always been able to lean on the firm fact that when everything else might be caving in around her, Karolina will remain the same. But now, everything is different.

They fight and make up and hide things from each other and everything is so complicated in a way that it’s not supposed to be with Karolina. And Nico knows it’s her own fault. It was honestly naïve of her to think their bond was strong enough to survive this whole act she forced upon them. Nico might not have been completely aware of the depth of her feelings for Karolina before this summer, but she always knew there was something else there. Something different with Karolina that couldn’t really be explained within the confines of a platonic friendship.

The first time Nico felt it was when Karolina started dating Julie, and suddenly had to deal with sharing Karolina with someone else. Her reaction to Julie had been one of complete and utter disdain, and Nico had known it wasn’t normal. But she was in no way prepared to probe further into her reaction; knowing whatever lay waiting for her was something she couldn’t come back from. And losing Karolina has never been an option. Perhaps that’s why she came up with this ridiculous idea in the first place; to test the waters without that risk.

Although, as it turns out her grand idea has singlehandedly destroyed any semblance of normalcy that they had between them anyway. Nico’s always had a self-destructive nature, so she can’t really be surprised that she’s allowed it to go and ruin the one relationship that means the most to her. She knows she’s kidding herself by trying to stop things now, when she’s already went and jumped into bed with Karolina. But Nico’s gripping to what little hope she has that if they stop now, before it’s completely blown up in their faces, some level of their friendship might be able to survive.

Today has challenged that theory at every turn, however, as Nico spends most of it struggling not to touch Karolina at every opportunity that arises. They’re stuck helping prepare for Dale and Stacey’s vow renewal again, and Karolina is practically buzzing with excitement for the couple, her sour attitude of the day before a thing of the past. And when Karolina’s in such high spirits, it’s even harder for Nico to neglect that part of her that just wants to shower her with all the affection she’ll accept.

Granted, Karolina’s not making much of an effort with their agreement either. She might be keeping the less-friendly affections strictly to times where they’re around others, but she’s still doing more than necessary when no one is really doubting their relationship status anymore.

The renewal finally happens late in the afternoon, and they all gather down by the beach for the ceremony. Alex’s dad officiates the ceremony, Dale having demanded it under the claim that his voice was ‘too powerful’ to not have him officiate.

It’s terribly romantic, and Nico’s stuck wondering when she stopped being grossed out by these kinds of things and started pining for it instead. She struggles not to stare at Karolina the whole time. Tries not to see Karolina in every clichéd romanticism that leaves Dale and Stacey’s lips. Of course, it’s completely useless, and at one point she actually envisions Karolina in a wedding dress and Nico almost makes a desperate sprint for the ocean to end it all right there. Karolina’s going to be the death of her either way.

After the ceremony, they leave for dinner at some extravagant restaurant Nico’s mom managed to find. There’s a band, and dancing, and it’s almost like everyone in the place is there for Dale and Stacey, too. At least, Nico’s sure that’s what Dale and Stacey are pretending is the case, anyway, if the amount of times they’ve interrupted the band to thank everyone is anything to go by.

Nico’s sat next to Karolina at a table later in the night, most of their crowd scattered between the bar, the dance floor and their tables. Karolina’s on her third piece of cake, and it should be horrifying to watch as she devours it but instead all Nico can focus on is how pretty she looks. And really, she’s so fucked.

Karolina must sense Nico’s stare, blue eyes darting up to catch Nico in the act, “What?” she manages out over a mouthful of cake.

Nico grins, rolling her eyes, “Nothing. Just wondering if you plan on breathing any time soon?”

It takes Karolina a moment, and then she laughs, “One: I’m hung-over. I need to make up for all the food I missed today. Two: it’s vegan, Nico. Good vegan cake.” She says, as though that’s a valid excuse for inhaling three giant slices of it, “I can’t waste this, I don’t know the next time I’ll get one like it.”

“I make you a vegan cake for your birthday every year.” Nico says dryly, “Are you saying you don’t like my baking?”

Karolina pauses mid-chew, eyes narrowing at Nico slightly as she clearly thinks hard through her response, “I’m saying you should make it more often.” She settles on, and Nico laughs.

“Yeah, sure.” She drawls, “Nice save.”

The bright smile Karolina sends back at her is all Nico needs to forgive her.

“So,” Karolina starts, “Are you going to dance with me tonight?”

Nico’s fingers pause from where they were tapping against the tabletop, eyes looking to Karolina and attempting to read her, “You want to dance?”

“It’s a wedding.” Karolina rolls her eyes, “I have to dance with a pretty girl, or I haven’t done it right.”

Nico hates how her cheeks immediately heat up at the compliment, “Makes sense.”

“So that’s a yes, right?” Karolina points her fork at Nico teasingly, “Don’t make me force Chase to dance with me.”

“Well, Chase is very pretty.”

“He’s also very in love with Gert.” They both look over to where the pair are currently huddled close at the bar, completely oblivious to the world around them, “I don’t think anyone is getting between them tonight.”

Nico smiles, watching their friends fawn over one another and trying to fight off the little bit of jealousy that sparks within her at the sight, “Well, in that case, who am I to stop Karolina Dean from dancing?”

Karolina looks back at her, grinning, “Really? I was expecting more of a fight.”

“I’m feeling generous tonight. Don’t make me regret it.”

Karolina straightens, salutes Nico playfully, “Yes ma’am.”

(Nico doesn’t tell her that she’d dance with Karolina every night for the rest of their lives, if she asked her to.)


When Karolina comes to collect on Nico’s promise, they’ve been separated for some time, Karolina off with Molly up to God knows what kind of mischief while Nico mingled among the parents.

She’s at the bar with her mother and Catherine Wilder when Karolina finally appears again, and Nico’s hand instinctively reaches out for her, like it’s been missing Karolina in the short time they’ve been separated. She rests it at the small of Karolina’s back, leaning into Karolina’s side like a magnet, and it takes a few moments to catch herself and pull back. Karolina just sends her a soft smile, as though to reassure her that the touch is okay, and reaches down to link their fingers together instead as she completely charms Tina and Catherine. At least Nico’s not the only one so susceptible to Karolina’s general allure.

They’re stuck talking for a while before Karolina manages to drag Nico away to the dance floor, and Nico’s heart aches at how easily their bodies fall in sync.

“You sure you don’t want to dance with my mom instead?” she grins, arms looped around Karolina’s neck and feeling the hands at her waist tighten lightly.

Karolina scoffs at the teasing, cheeks reddening immediately, and Nico laughs at her reaction, “Are you ever going to let that go?”

“You flirted with my mom, Kar.” Nico drawls, “No, I will never let that go.”

“It was one time.” Karolina whines, “I was drunk.”

“Mmhmm. I’m just saying, all those times you insisted we have sleepovers at mine instead of at your place… intentions are starting to come to light.”

“I should have danced with Chase.” Karolina wears an adorable pout, and Nico stifles the urge to kiss it. She lets the teasing go, in favor of making the most of just being with Karolina this way, knowing there’s an expiration date approaching dauntingly fast. It was never like this with Alex. They’d always just seemed to be going through the motions of what was expected in a relationship. There was none of the longing that seems to drive every single moment between Nico and Karolina.

“Nico?” Karolina’s voice is soft next to Nico’s ear.

“Hmm?”

She feels Karolina’s sigh brush against her skin, and knows to dread what’s coming next, “What happens after this?”

Nico frowns, pulling back a little to look up at Karolina, “What do you mean?”

“You know, our… ‘relationship’.” She rolls her eyes at the term, letting out a soft laugh, and Nico knows she means nothing cruel by it, but it still stings, having Karolina laugh at the idea of them being together when Nico’s dreams are filled with exactly that. “We can’t keep lying to everyone.”

Nico pauses, swallowing the lump in her throat, “Right.”

She knew it was coming. Of course the act has to come to an end. Karolina did Nico a favor and when they get home Nico has to let her get back to her life of dating perfect girls like Julie Power and restricting Nico to the role of the very platonic best friend.

(Nico would be lying if she said she hadn’t considered creating an elaborate reason for them to continue the act back at college, though)

She pushes thoughts of showing up in New York with Karolina’s hand in her own out of her mind, and wills a nonchalant expression onto her features, “I guess… we just tell everyone we broke up. That we decided we’re better as friends.”

Karolina nods, “God, I’m not looking forward to that.”

Nico’s heart jumps with hope, has to bite back the “then let’s keep this going” that threatens to leave her lips.

“I can already hear my mom’s lecture.” Karolina says, Nico attempting to hide the complete disappointment no doubt written all over her face, “Molly will probably cry.”

“She does have a weird attachment to us being together.” Nico offers halfheartedly.

“I guess we’re pretty believable, huh?”

The humor in Karolina’s voice has dropped off a little, and she’s peering down at Nico with this look like she knows every thing that has been running through her mind. And if Nico were the kind of girl people write love stories about, this would be where she would admit to Karolina that none of this has been an act for her. That the only time she’s been acting has been when she’s acted like she’s not head over heels for her best friend.

Instead, she just laughs, empty, “Maybe you should go into the family business after all.”

Karolina smiles at her, and Nico tells herself she’s just imagining the sadness that seems to linger in her eyes. Karolina pulls Nico closer before she can double check, forcing Nico’s eyes from her face.

Nico knows it’s ridiculous, but being here, in Karolina’s arms, it’s easy for her mind to get carried away with the idea that they could really do this. That it wouldn’t be the end of the world if she were to tell Karolina how she feels. She can’t be imagining how perfect it is with them, how right it feels. Karolina has to feel it, too.

“America called me this afternoon.”

Nico’s never been fond of jealousy. Always seen it as wholly unattractive in someone. But despite that, her blood runs cold at just the sound of America’s name rolling off of Karolina’s tongue. Which is ridiculous. America hasn’t done anything to Nico and she has every right to be interested in Karolina. Hell, Nico would think her crazy if she weren’t interested.

(She still wouldn’t be mad if she just ceased to exist, though)

“Oh?” Nico feigns interest.

“She- um…” Karolina adjusts her hands on Nico’s waist nervously, and Nico hears her let out a heavy breath, “She asked me if I would like to go for dinner with her.”

“Oh.”

“Would that be…” Karolina looks down at Nico, “That wouldn’t be a problem, would it?”

Nico doesn’t answer the question, “Do you want to go out with her?” she asks quietly.

“She’s nice. I think it could be good, you know. It might… help with our situation.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just that- it’d be back to normal, you know.”

Normal. As in, Karolina not dating Nico. Normal.

“Right.”

“I won’t go if you don’t want me to.” Karolina adds, and God Nico wants to take that and run with it, “I can wait until we’re back in New York, if you think it’s too risky.”

Right. New York. Where America also happens to live. So Karolina offering to not go is only putting off the inevitable.

“No. It’s okay.” Nico’s voice is unsteady, weak as she struggles through the giant lump in her throat, “You’re right, it would be good for us. Help draw the line in the sand.”

Karolina’s watching her closely, but Nico can’t manage a believable expression, so she avoids meeting her eyes.

“Are you sure?”

Yes, Kar. Why wouldn’t I be?” Nico says, a bite to her tone now, “We’re not actually together.”

Irritation flickers across Karolina’s face, “I know that.”

“Good. Then go out with America. Have fun.” Nico says, “Just, obviously don’t bring her to family dinner and start making out with her. That would kind of ruin our story.”

Or just don’t kiss her at all.

Karolina stares at her, and Nico’s preparing herself for another fight, but Karolina just sighs, and it’s almost worse. At least if they’re fighting, Nico knows Karolina cares.

“Yeah. Sure.” Karolina mutters, “Of course.”


The night is pretty much over for Nico from there on out. Karolina’s presence is almost suffocating now, Nico struggling to bite back pleas for Karolina to forget about America every moment she spends with her.

When Karolina’s dad asks for a dance with his daughter, Nico takes the opportunity to make a break for it, finding herself out on the balcony of the venue attempting to find her bearings so she can face Karolina again without giving away how much her heart is actively crumbling inside of her chest.

She expects Karolina to come looking for her, and when she hears heels approaching, she’s surprised when she turns and finds Amy looking back at her instead.

The silence between them is awkward, like it has been all summer, and Nico feels that familiar sense of unease settle in her over how foreign being in the presence of her sister feels now.

Amy pauses on her entrance onto the balcony, looking at Nico for a moment with a hesitant expression, as though waiting for Nico to tell her to get lost. Nico’s too tired of all of this to care anymore, so she smiles half-heartedly, and Amy takes that as permission to join her.

“All the PDA in there get the better of you?” Amy asks, tone teasing as she comes to stand next to Nico.

Nico laughs softly, hates how awkward it sounds leaving her, and shrugs, “Just needed some fresh air.” She says, “It’s nice, actually. Seeing everyone so happy.”

“It is.” Amy agrees quietly, “I guess the wedding experience really changes once you’re in love.”

She means well, but Nico feels her stomach turn at the mention of love, unable to stop the way her expression immediately falters at it. Amy catches the behavior; she always does.

“Is everything okay with Karolina?” she asks, “You guys have seemed kind of off lately.”

It doesn’t surprise Nico that her sister knows they’ve been fighting. It doesn’t take a genius to catch on when one minute she and Karolina are all over each other and the next they refuse to be in the same room. Despite that, it annoys her having Amy bring it up, like it’s information Nico willingly provided her. Once upon a time, that would have been the case.

“We’re fine.” Nico answers stiffly.

If Amy catches onto Nico’s disinterest in such a conversation – and let’s be real, she knows Nico well enough that she definitely does – she chooses to ignore it.

“Look, Nico. I know it might not be my place to say anything,” she starts, every word cautious, “But whatever it is that has been getting between you and Karolina… you guys will get through it. Don’t push her away.”

The fact that even now, with so much space between them, Amy is still able to know Nico like this is infuriating.

“You’re right.” She mutters out coldly, “It’s not your place.”

Amy flinches at Nico’s response, but true to form of the eldest Minoru, she continues anyway, “I’m just saying… you’ve been in love with that girl since day one, Nico. That’s not something you just throw away without a fight.”

She’s not wrong. Nico is in love with Karolina. She’s no longer surprised by the idea that Amy’s been aware of this a lot longer than even Nico has. The important part she’s missing from the story though is the one where Karolina doesn’t feel the same.

Nico lets out a bitter laugh, “What, are you worried if I don’t I’ll end up chasing after Alex instead?”

She knows it’s petty, even with their history. Nico had been trying to build some sort of bridge with Amy lately. But having Amy lecture her about Karolina as though she has any idea of their situation has Nico immediately blinded with anger.

Amy takes it without delivering a nasty response, though, letting out a defeated sigh, “I’ll leave you alone.”

She’s almost back inside when Nico breaks, calling Amy back with a strained tone.

“I’m sorry.” She says, “I didn’t mean that.”

Amy shrugs, returning back to Nico’s side hesitantly,“I guess I deserve it.”

“No, you don’t.” Nico huffs, grip tightening on the railing and meeting her sister’s gaze, “I’m over Alex. I mean- hell, our relationship was over long before we finally ended it. It’s just… it wasn’t about him, Amy. You’re my sister. I might have been done with Alex but the fact that you didn’t even think of me before getting together… I felt betrayed.”

“And I’m sorry for that. But I promise Nico, I never did anything to intentionally hurt you. Alex and I were friends; that’s all it was for so long. And then, I don’t know… something changed and I tried to ignore it but after a while I just… I wanted to see if it was something worth fighting for. So we tried it out and didn’t tell anyone and… well, it stuck. I guess I figured you would understand.”

Why?”

“Because of Karolina.” She says it like it’s so obvious, and Nico almost screams in frustration. If Amy had just mentioned Nico’s apparently blatant love for her best friend earlier, she might have been spared a whole lot of confusion. “You guys didn’t tell anyone you were dating at first.”

“That’s different.” Nico argues, because it is. She and Karolina never actually started dating. Amy takes it to mean something else, though.

“I know. I guess in my head, I knew you didn’t want to be with Alex, and you had Karolina… I just didn’t think it would upset you that much if we got together. But I didn’t think about how keeping it from you would hurt you instead.” Amy reaches out, her hand resting over Nico’s on the railing, “I miss you. And I’m sorry. Really.”

“I miss you, too.” It feels like a release saying the words, after so many months of holding so much anger towards her sister. Now, with everything that’s been happening with Karolina, all of it seems so far away that she can barely feel anything but exhaustion from it all.

“Do you think we could ever be the same as before?”

“I hope so.” Nico says, honest, and lets out an empty laugh, “I don’t think I could handle losing Karolina and you.”

“You’ll never lose Karolina.” Amy says, like the very idea is absolutely ludicrous, “Even if you guys do break up, you’ll always be Nico and Karolina.”

“I don’t know.” Nico murmurs, “It’s complicated.”

“She loves you.”

And she does. Nico’s never doubted that. It’s just the way in which Karolina loves her that’s the issue.

“I should get back to her.” She says, knowing the more she talks about this with Amy, the closer she gets to breaking in front of her over it. And Nico’s not quite at the point where she’s ready for that yet.

Amy smiles, nodding and releasing Nico’s hand. Nico hesitates when she goes to leave, pausing for a moment, before she decides to swallow her pride and turns back to her sister, wrapping her arms around her in a hug that she’s spent too long missing. Amy’s frozen at first, clearly surprised, and then she’s holding her tighter.

When they separate, Nico heads back inside, locating Karolina over at their table. She takes a moment to watch her, heartbeat skipping like she’s grown used to at the pretty smile on Karolina’s lips as her blue eyes follow her parents out on the dance floor. It scares her, how natural it feels to be in love with Karolina. It doesn’t even feel like something new. Nico’s pretty sure she’s been in love with Karolina for a long time, she just never knew what to call it. It’s honestly astonishing it took her this long to figure it out.

When Karolina’s gaze finds Nico’s, her smile just widens, tilting her head cutely in confusion at Nico’s stare. And that’s the thing about Karolina, she has no idea the effect she has on people. The girl could stand in the damn MET and people would probably think she was a piece of art. It’s infuriating. And so unfair to people like Nico, who are supposed to somehow pretend they’re not completely captivated by her.

When Nico makes her way over, Karolina reaches out a hand for her to take, and Nico accepts it almost out of reflex, allowing Karolina to pull her over and falling into her lap. Her body practically hums with delight when Karolina’s arms wrap tight around her middle and it feels like home. Nico’s exhausted, and too tired to overthink how this casual affection only makes the whole situation harder in the long run, so she allows herself to melt into it instead. Just for now.

“Where’ve you been?”

Nico sighs, hands finding Karolina’s at her front and linking their fingers together, leaning back into her, “With Amy, actually.”

“Oh?” Karolina straightens up slightly, “Was that… are you okay?”

“Yeah. It was good.” Nico shrugs, choosing not to divulge the exact topic of conversation, “I don’t know, we just talked.”

Karolina rests her head against Nico’s shoulder, and Nico feels lips press lightly to her skin, “She loves you.”

Nico chuckles at the repeated phrase, “I know.” She lets out a heavy breath, “God, I’m tired.”

“Want to get out of here?”

“Would it be bad if we did?”

Karolina shrugs, looks at Nico like she’s the only thing that matters. And really, it’s just cruel when only two hours ago she was telling Nico she plans to go off chasing after another girl.

Karolina coaxes Nico up, and leads her through the room to bid everyone goodbye before they leave. They walk home, along the beach hand in hand. Karolina gushes about the night and Nico’s heart melts at how unapologetically romantic Karolina is, sprouting ideas of her own future wedding. It’s easy, for a moment, to imagine that when she talks about the future and love, Karolina is talking about sharing it with Nico. It’s all just so easy to see them together; Nico’s not sure how she’s supposed to want anything else.

They get back to their room, and the tension that immediately fills the space with as little a thing as the door closing behind them just reminds Nico all over again that they’re too far-gone to save what they had before this summer. She stands there, frozen, and staring at the bed with a fear that is ridiculous seeing as they’ve been sharing it all summer so far, excluding the nights Karolina exiled herself to the couch.

“Nico?

Nico pauses her contemplation of the bed, eyes moving to where Karolina is looking over her shoulder back at Nico, attempting to undo the clasp at the back of her dress.

“Can you…?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Nico nods, sends her a half-hearted smile and walks over to help her.

Her hands shake where they free the clasp, then moving to pull the zip of the dress down for Karolina. She lingers when she’s done, fingers itching to reach out for the skin now bared to her. Her traitorous brain is already listing off excuses as to why she should throw their agreement to cool off out of the window. Like she should make the most of it while she can, before Karolina gets bored and finds the perfect girl to walk off into the sunset together.

When Karolina turns Nico doesn’t have it in her to step back, and it feels like they spend eternity standing there, breaths away from one another. Nico doesn’t fail to notice Karolina’s sharp intake of breath, and the way blue eyes linger on her lips.

“I can sleep on the couch.” Karolina says quietly, as though she’s read Nico’s mind.

“No.” Nico says, probably too fast, and then lets out a breathy laugh, “I mean, we’ve been sharing a bed this whole time.”

“I just don’t want to make this weird.”

“Kar, it’d be weird if you couldn’t sleep in the same bed as me. We’ve been doing it since we were kids.”

“Yeah, but…” Karolina doesn’t need to finish the thought, Nico knowing exactly what she means.

Nico sighs, “Look, if you want to sleep on the couch, fine. It’s okay; I won’t be offended.”

“I don’t want to.” Karolina frowns, cheeks flushed.

“Well what do you want, then?” Nico says it with frustration, but only realizes how loaded the question is when Karolina’s eyes snap to her own in alarm.

“I want this to not be an issue.” Karolina says eventually.

Nico nods, “Okay. Then it’s not.”

Karolina laughs, “You can’t just decide that.”

“Well, I can keep my hands to myself if you can. I mean, if we managed to not make out for the most of our friendship, surely we can manage that again.” Nico jokes lightly, then pauses, curiosity peaking at the turmoil on Karolina’s face, “Unless there’s a reason that would be difficult, for you.”

“What? No. It’s fine.” Karolina steps out of Nico’s space suddenly, “You’re right. It’s not a big deal unless we make it one.”

“Exactly.” Nico agrees diplomatically, “So let’s not make it one.”

They pause, Karolina still holding her dress up in place and watching Nico like she’s about to say something. She must think better of it, because with a heavy breath, Karolina mumbles something about getting changed, and heads for the bathroom.

When Karolina reappears, Nico’s already changed and climbed under the covers. She pretends to be asleep, despite knowing the act won’t work on Karolina, just hoping Karolina will take it as the out it’s supposed to be and let their night end without any further bickering or overly-emotional exchanges that Nico’s heart can’t really handle. She does exactly that, turning off the light and joining Nico on the bed.

Unlike the night before, Karolina lies right at the edge of the bed, as far away from Nico as possible. There’s no reaching out for Nico’s touch, no murmured affections through a goodnight. It’s just two friends, sharing a bed.

Nico’s heart breaks a little.

Chapter Text

The days that follow are like walking on eggshells. Now that everything is so much more twisted between them, Nico doesn’t know how to act around Karolina. At least when they were fooling around, Nico could allow herself to get lost in a different reality. Now, she spends her time just trying not to give herself away, trying not to gaze too long or smile too much or act in any way that might give away just how hopelessly she’s fallen for her best friend. Well, she’s pretty certain Karolina has caught on anyway – Nico has put out enough signs for her to catch her drift – Karolina’s just clearly not interested in acknowledging it.

Actually, Karolina seems set on maintaining as much distance between them as humanly possible. When they’re around their loved ones, she keeps the façade of a relationship up, but the moment eyes are off of them, she’s shrinking away from Nico’s touch like it repulses her. She barely even looks at Nico lately, which helps when Nico struggles to ever look away. But it hurts all the same. Karolina used to have a certain smile reserved for Nico, a certain look in her eyes that reassured Nico whenever she needed that her place in Karolina’s heart was just as permanent as Karolina’s is in her own. Now Nico’s starting to forget what that expression even looks like.

They bicker a lot. Nico’s usually the one to start it, out of a need to grip to some emotion other than the one that is tearing her apart. Karolina is quick to snap back at her, and they will go back and forth until they reach this familiar moment. Almost like hitting a wall. Where breaths are short and words are harsh and Nico swears Karolina might kiss her. Almost asks her to do so. And then those blue eyes go cold again and Karolina puts space between them once more; and they go on acting like they aren’t setting fire to every remaining piece of their friendship.

One morning Nico wakes to Karolina’s arms wrapped tight around her. She pretends to still be sleeping when Karolina wakes, and pretends to be unaware when she feels Karolina snap away from her and climb out of bed. It’s that morning that Karolina mumbles out her plans for a date with America the following night. Nico bites her tongue, tells her she’s excited for her, and they barely speak for the rest of the day.

Foolish thoughts start to trickle into Nico’s mind when the day of the date arrives, and she almost feels like she’s suffocating in her efforts to keep her mouth shut. To not start pleading with Karolina like a lovesick puppy and trample on whatever little remains of their friendship. She thinks Karolina must sense Nico’s rapid approach to chaotic decision making, because Karolina practically drags the rest of their friends with them down to the beach, as though she’s scared to leave Nico to her own devices. Which is a good move. At least one of them is thinking with her head these days.

Karolina has told everyone she’s meeting a friend from school later, and Nico barely held back the eye-roll at how easily everyone accepted it, just another reminder of how infuriatingly real their ‘relationship’ has appeared to the others – that they don’t even question the nature of Karolina’s activities.

Gert, it seems, is a bit more perceptive than the others, and she catches on to Nico’s mood within the first hour of their time together.

“Who’s this friend Kar’s meeting up with anyway?” she asks from where they sit on the beach, watching as Chase, Karolina and Molly run up and down the beach with a soccer ball, Old Lace herding them excitedly. Alex and Amy are swimming, looking every bit the perfect couple. Nico manages to find a glimmer of happiness for her sister, beneath her longing for the same thing.

“A girl from the Pride group back at school.” Nico lies easily.

“You know her?”

“Kind of. She’s Kar’s friend.” It sounds convincing enough, fueled by Nico’s desperation for it to be the truth. She wonders if they’ll kiss tonight, and immediately scowls at the thought.

Gert catches the expression, chuckling, “Calm down, girl, it’s only one night without her.”

“I’m fine.”

“Uh huh. Sure. So why don’t you like this girl?”

Nico frowns, “What makes you think I don’t like her?”

Gert just laughs.

“I don’t… not like her.” Nico mutters out, “She’s just Karolina’s friend. We’re different people; we don’t always have the same friends.”

Gert ignores the excuse, persisting, “Is she into Kar or something?”

Nico can feel her frustration rising, and tries not to overreact to Gert’s nosiness, “I don’t know.” She says, but even Nico can hear how angry it sounds, and Gert’s smile widens.

“So she is.” Gert says, “And you’re… what? Threatened?”

Nico huffs, “Maybe I have a reason to be.” she says, exasperated. She manages to hold back anything that might give away their situation, allowing Gert to believe she’s just a jealous girlfriend. Honestly if she prods more, Nico might just break and tell her, too tired to keep up the act.

“Nico, it’s Karolina – she’d never cheat.”

“I know.” Nico resists the urge to roll her eyes.

“Well you’re not acting like you do. I mean I know you guys have been going through some things lately, but you’re an idiot if you can’t see how in love with you Karolina is.”

Nico almost laughs. And really, this must all be some giant cosmic joke; she feels like Gert’s just teasing her at this point.

“Yeah.” She says weakly, “I guess. I’m just being… I don’t know. It’s fine.”

Gert can’t possibly believe Nico’s attempt at brushing it under the rug, so she must feel sorry for her and decide to drop it out of sympathy instead. “You know, if you want to talk real problems,” she hums, grinning as she watches Chase pick up Molly so she can’t get to the ball, Old Lace immediately tripping him in punishment, “let’s talk about the fact that I’m going on two months now dealing with beard burn. At least Karolina’s never going to make you deal with that.”

Nico laughs, which she’s sure was Gert’s goal. Her smile only slightly fades when her eyes find a grinning Karolina, that painful longing tying knots in her stomach.

“I can barely recognize my boyfriend under all that hair.” Gert adds.

She has a point. In being a face for his mother’s company, Chase has always kept a clean-cut appearance. It seems he’s taken the vacation as an opportunity to throw his grooming habits away, hair growing longer than ever and a shaggy beard accompanying it.

Chase approaches them, and Nico’s heart aches at the fond smile Gert wears as she watches him, and the wide grin Chase returns when he drops a kiss to his girlfriend’s lips before falling down next to her. She was never jealous of Gert and Chase’s relationship before this summer. Never had any yearning for the thing that they share. She’s realizing now that it’s because she’s always had it with Karolina. Always had her own secret smiles and quiet understanding that only comes with someone knowing every inch of you. She’s never wanted it from someone else. Nico can’t believe how naïve she was to assume that it was the same for Karolina. Now, instead of finding her usual place next to Nico, Karolina just offers her a stiff smile and returns to playing with Molly.

“Did Molly tire you out?” Gert teases Chase, receiving an easy laugh from him.

“Maybe I just saw my beautiful girlfriend and wanted to spend time with her.” Is his response, cooed in a sugary sweet way that Nico knows is just to emit a scoff of disgust from Gert. He’s successful, and even gets a playful shove as a bonus, his laugh carrying across the beach.

“You’re ridiculous.” Gert admonishes, but the shade to her cheeks gives her away.

“So what’re we talking about?” Chase says when he’s done flirting with Gert.

“Just Karolina’s night away. Nico’s dependency issues are coming to light.”

Chase’s eyes fall on Nico, narrowing slightly with heavy curiosity that makes Nico feel insanely uncomfortable. There’s a beat that feels like eternity before he responds, and then his expression is replaced with his usually lazy smile, and Nico wonders if she just imagined the scrutiny aimed at her.

“Gonna miss her, are you? Should I queue the Taylor Swift in preparation?”

Nico rolls her eyes, “I’ll be fine.”

“You keep saying that.” Gert says.

“You know if you asked her, she’d probably stay behind.” Chase says, “If you gave her enough reason.”

Nico’s not sure if it’s just her current state of mind, but she swears the way Chase says it is layered with ulterior meaning. She wonders if Chase knows more than he lets on, but tells herself she’s just being paranoid. If he did he would have spilled everything to Gert immediately, and Gert wouldn’t be able to resist inserting herself in their business.

Gert gives Chase a perplexed look, “What are you on about?” she laughs, “Nico, don’t listen to him. Space is healthy. You guys are obsessed with each other enough already. Let Kar have her friends.”

Chase isn’t phased by the admonishment, just looks at Nico pointedly again, before taking the conversation elsewhere.

And Nico is sure he must know something.


Later in the day, the group is sat on the porch. Nico is sharing a seat with Karolina, practically on her lap as they pick at the same plate of fries. Nico’s learning to make the most of these moments, knowing they’ll be gone as soon as Karolina’s no longer forced to keep up appearances. It’s not completely abnormal for them to share space like this, even before they started this act, these kinds of things seemed to have a natural presence in their friendship. But after this summer, Nico knows such small affections will be off limits.

Nico’s growing increasingly less settled as the night nears, images of Karolina and America constantly running through her mind and driving her insane. She’s desperately trying to grip to logic right now, pushing away ideas of grandiose acts that will no doubt end in Karolina hating her.

Despite how she might feel, Nico is still Karolina’s best friend. If Karolina wants to go on a date, it is Nico’s job to be supportive, even if all she wants to do is run off and hide out on the beach. She did this to them, after all. She brought Karolina into this fake relationship, she kissed Karolina without any valid excuse for the first time. She can’t now punish Karolina for wanting to get on with her life away from this façade. It’s not her fault Nico lost herself in their little world somewhere along the way.

Nico keeps telling herself all of this, but then thinks of Karolina leaving for the date and the only thing on her mind is finding a way to stop it.

Chase has continued sending Nico odd looks all day, convincing Nico further that he knows a bit, if not the entire lie they’ve been spinning. She can’t shake the slight feeling of betrayal, that Karolina might of told him, but Nico supposes it’s fitting. Now that she’s apparently lost the position of primary confidante for Karolina, of course she’d find comfort in Chase instead. The pair have always been close. Still, Nico wonders just how it came to be that Karolina told Chase.

After Chase makes a point of demanding they all give Nico and Karolina ‘quality time’ together, convincing the rest of their friends to leave them for the pool, a calculating look sent over his shoulder as he leaves, Nico decides to just bite the bullet and bring it up.

She sighs, watching as Chase walks away, clearly happy with himself, “You told Chase.”

Karolina stiffens behind her immediately, “What?”

“He knows about us.” She doesn’t say it in an accusatory way. Nico’s more just curious as to the reason behind Chase’s behavior.

“Why do you think that?” Karolina says, voice a higher pitch than usual.

A fond smile tugs at Nico’s lips at Karolina’s poor act of innocence. God, she even finds her lying charming these days.

“Kar.”

“Okay, fine. He knows.” Karolina relents, “He promised he wouldn’t tell Gert, though.”

“How long do you think that will last?”

Karolina’s silent for a moment, “I trust him.” She says quietly.

“Okay.”

“Wait, really? You’re not annoyed?”

Nico shrugs, turns to peer at Karolina behind her, “I trust you.”

Something crosses Karolina’s face at her words, blue eyes shimmering as she looks up at Nico, but then it’s gone, and she’s stealing cold fries off of Nico’s plate again.

Nico turns back around, resting into Karolina once more, “So why’s he acting like… that, though?”

She doesn’t need to elaborate, Karolina clearly catching on, “I don’t know. He kind of had trouble accepting the situation. He’s still convinced we’re perfect for each other.” She snorts, as though it’s completely ridiculous, and Nico almost physically flinches at it.

She thinks: Maybe we are.

She says, “He’s ridiculous.”

“Yeah.” Karolina’s chin rests on Nico’s shoulder, “I guess.”

They’re silent, Nico taking the time to soak up the feeling of Karolina so close, just waiting for the moment she goes back to keeping Nico at an arm’s length.

“I’m seeing America tonight.” When she says it, her breath brushes against Nico’s bare shoulder, and her body betrays her with a shiver down her spine.

“I know.” Nico murmurs.

Nico knows what Karolina is thinking – Nico hasn’t acknowledged the America situation at all since she broke the news about the date. She’s honestly been purposefully avoiding it. If Karolina had a cruel bone in her body, Nico is sure she’d think her pathetic for it.

Karolina sighs behind her, probably wishing for ‘Best Friend Nico’ to make a return and spare her the pain of ignoring Nico’s feelings, “Okay.”

And then Karolina’s shifting out from beneath Nico, and they’re back to pretending they haven’t already taken themselves past the point of return.


Karolina spends the afternoon in their bedroom fussing over outfits for the date with America and fighting off the urge to cancel it altogether.

She’s not nervous. No.

Dread, would be more of an accurate descriptor for how Karolina is feeling as she struggles to choose between clothes. She’s not sure when it happened, but her brain seems to struggle with the idea of going on a date with someone who isn’t Nico. Which is ridiculous, because Karolina has never even been on a real date with Nico. None of this was real, and honestly she’d like it if she could get her shit together already. America is gorgeous, and nice, and – most importantly – actually into Karolina. So it’s about time her head and her heart quit being stubborn over a fictional relationship with Nico and allow someone else a shot. Surely self-preservation needs to kick in at some point.

Karolina is standing in front of her mirror, scrutinizing her reflection when the door to the room opens. Of course, it’s Nico. Because getting ready for this date wasn’t hard enough already. As she has no idea how to deny her, Karolina nods when Nico asks if she can enter, and forces her eyes back to her reflection, willing her heart to steady in her chest.

Nico is holding two glasses of wine, one stained with her lipstick, and she approaches with an uneasy smile, “Mom made me come up here. Said you couldn’t possibly miss out on this wine.” She says as she approaches, and Karolina can’t stand how Nico apparently needs a reason now to be in her presence.

“That good, huh?” Karolina humors her, trying not to flinch when Nico hands her the glass and her fingers brush Karolina’s.

“I’ll admit she does have good taste.” Nico says, moving to perch on the bed behind Karolina. Their eyes catch in the reflection as Karolina takes a sip, “So when is the date?”

Karolina looks down at her glass, watching the wine skim the sides as she rolls it in her hand, “I’m meeting her at six.”

“Are you nervous?”

Karolina lets out a breathy laugh, tries to normalize this conversation in her head. She can’t even remember what it was like to talk to Nico and not have these feelings for her hanging over her head. “It’s been a while since I’ve been on a first date.”

She thinks of how many times she’s dreamt of a first date with Nico, and hates how she knows what’s waiting for her tonight won’t match any of them.

“Have you been speaking much?”

“Just texts. Here and there.” Karolina shrugs, “She’s nice.”

She knows Nico is attempting to read her – can feel her eyes staring at her in the reflection – and she hopes she fails.

“Nice?”

“Yeah. Nice. Is there something wrong with that?” Karolina struggles to hide the irritation in her voice. She knows it’s not Nico’s fault; that she’s probably just trying to be a friend and make conversation. But having the woman she’s in love with ask her about her attempt move on feels like the universe is mocking her.

“No. No problem.” Nico shrugs, “Just… well you keep describing her as just ‘nice’. Shouldn’t there be a bit more?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Nothing. Sorry.” Nico waves a hand in dismissal, “Forget it.”

“Nico.”

Nico stares at her for a moment, and then gives in, “I just think if you’re not that into her… maybe you shouldn’t be going out with her.” Her voice is tense, like she’s already regretting saying anything, “I mean, isn’t this how it started with Julie?”

Something about Julie’s name falling off of Nico’s tongue has always sounded false. It probably isn’t helped by Nico’s blatant dislike of her. Their friendship has never been as strained as it was when Karolina was dating Julie. Well, until now, that is.

“Why did you hate Julie so much?” the question surprises Karolina, but she doesn’t take it back, watching as Nico lifts her wine glass to dark red-stained lips, eyes never leaving Karolina’s.

She takes a sip, lowers the glass, and shrugs, “I didn’t hate her.” She says, “You just weren’t right for each other.”

“According to you.”

Nico scoffs, “According to you too, apparently. You did break up with her.”

Karolina realizes now that Nico is drunk, eyes swimming with that unpredictability that always seems to arise when she’s had a few drinks. If she were smart, she’d end the conversation there, knowing Nico’s only going to drive them down a dead-end road until something breaks. But her frustration gets the better of her.

She just wishes Nico would be honest with her for once. She always finds a way to divert conversation without a modicum of effort, to get Karolina angry at the wrong things so they avoid the actual point of conversation. Karolina’s only realized recently how often Nico does it, in the simple existence of all the unanswered questions she’s sent her best friend’s way.

“Don’t settle, Kar. Maybe America’s just not the right person for you.” Nico says when Karolina doesn’t respond.

Blue eyes dart up to Nico’s, narrowing. Nico just looks nonchalant as ever, as though the suggestion means nothing at all. Karolina feels like someone’s spilt a bucket of ice water.

Nico must know. She can’t possibly not. This is the woman who can tell Karolina’s mood purely on what kind of snack she picks out for lunch. For Nico to not know how Karolina feels, their whole friendship would have to be fallacy.

The anger comes then. The feeling like she’s being played. Maybe it’s what Nico has always done. Tugged Karolina along with a string just enough to keep her close, to make sure she remains her first priority at all times, with no intention of ever claiming Karolina completely. Nico was allowed Alex, but Karolina wasn’t allowed Julie. Hell, Nico has never liked anyone Karolina showed an interest in, anyone who could threaten her place in Karolina’s life. It’s right now, with Nico’s lips loose from wine and carelessly attempting to lead Karolina down a path that will keep her all to herself, that it becomes oh so obvious how Nico has played the puppeteer.

“You’d love that, wouldn’t you?” Karolina says, voice colder than she’s ever heard it.

Nico visibly recoils at her tone, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’ve never liked anyone I’ve dated. Hell, you barely even know America and you act like you hate her.”

“I’m not obligated to like someone just because you do.”

“But if you were my friend, you’d at least give them a chance.”

“So we’re not friends now?” Nico says dryly.

Karolina pauses, almost screams in frustration. Does she have to be so infuriatingly persistent in her mission to avoid the actual topic of conversation?

“Don’t do that.” She mutters out, placing her wine glass down on the chest of drawers near her in fear she might toss it at the wall in a moment of frustration. Karolina doesn’t know when she stopped understanding Nico. Maybe she never understood her at all. She can’t fathom the Nico she understands playing with her like this.

“Do what?”

“Don’t try to derail this.”

“And what is ‘this’? What do you want from me, Kar? Do you want me to throw a parade because you're going on a date?"

“I want you to let me be happy.” Karolina snaps.

Nico stares at her in disbelief, “I didn’t know I was stopping you.”

Karolina almost takes it back, skin crawling with the discomfort that comes with fighting with Nico. But she’s angry. And humiliated. And Nico is here acting like she has no idea what she’s doing to her.

“It’s like no matter who I date, you won’t be happy.” She bites out, “Like unless you have me all to yourself, it won’t be okay with you. I have to sit by while you date guys like Alex, but the moment I dare to find someone for myself, you criticize it. Can’t you see how unfair that is?”

Nico seems to soften at the anguish that must be written all over Karolina’s face, “It’s unfair.” She agrees, “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Karolina doesn’t really know what to do with that. She’d been expecting another snarky response. Nico looks like there’s more she has to say, but nothing comes, and they just exist in that space, Nico on the bed and Karolina a few feet away. She can’t look at Nico. She’s tired of her heart aching every time she does.

Karolina only lasts a minute of torturous silence before she starts moving again, distracting herself with picking out jewelry for her outfit. She can feel Nico’s eyes following her about the room but pretends not to notice. Her hands shake as she fastens a bracelet to her wrist, and she prays that tonight goes well.

She needs it to go well. Needs something to get her through the rest of this summer without imploding and ruining everything. Every second with Nico she gets closer to cracking and telling Nico everything, and the moment she does, everything will change. There’s no going back from it, once Nico knows. Karolina suspects she already does, in some measure, but Nico suspecting Karolina and Karolina actually confirming it are completely different things. If she tells Nico, she becomes a liability. She’s no longer someone Nico can trust with anything, and is instead someone Nico has to tiptoe around to save them both face.

The idea of it kills Karolina, but the thought of pretending she’s not in love with Nico is no better. Karolina’s not sure she could survive watching Nico love someone else while she plays the role of the best friend. Not now.

So really, it doesn’t matter how it all happens. Either Karolina tells Nico and allows that wall to form between them, or she stays silent and pushes Nico away out of sheer need for survival. Whatever way it goes, the friendship they had before this summer is long gone.

Unless tonight goes well. Unless Karolina can just get some sign to grip to that this thing with Nico will pass.

“What if I asked you to stay?”

And now there’s that.

Karolina freezes at Nico’s voice, questioning for a second if she even heard her right, the words so small and softly spoken that she needs to glance over at Nico to find confirmation in the expectant expression on her face. “Sorry?” she says.

“Would you?” Nico asks, “If I… if I asked you to stay here. With me. Forget the date.”

Karolina doesn’t know what to say, standing there stunned for a moment. She doesn’t let her heart get carried away with the question, knowing this is just Nico being insecure – trying to keep Karolina from being the one to walk away. Karolina had just thought Nico’s pride was large enough to stop her from actually outright asking Karolina to stay.

Nico looks at her, those big brown eyes pleading, “Don’t go, Kar.”

Karolina expels a tired breath, “I asked you if you were okay with this, Nico. You said yes.”

“I know.” Nico nods, takes a deep breath, “I know what I said but… maybe I was lying.”

“Don’t you think it’s a little late to change your mind?”

“I don’t know.”

Karolina stares at Nico, whose own eyes are now trained on the floor, “It’s not fair.”

“I know.” Nico places her glass on the floor, rising from the bed, hesitant as she approaches Karolina, “I know it’s not fair and I’m sorry but… I just need to know I at least tried.”

Karolina frowns, watching Nico as she finally stops in front of her, “You’ve been drinking, Nico.” She murmurs.

“So?”

“So, don’t do this now. We can talk tomorrow.” Karolina begs, desperate for an out, “Let me go.”

Nico steps closer again, meeting her eyes, “What if I can’t do that?”

They’re too close, but Karolina has nowhere to go, the dresser behind her pressing into her back. She doesn’t know what to say to Nico – sure her heart can be heard thudding hard in her chest. Nico’s eyes flicker to Karolina’s lips, and then she’s reaching for her, hand resting at Karolina’s neck cautiously, and Karolina’s stomach dips on instinct at Nico’s touch.

Her breath hitches when Nico leans up, and her lips find Karolina’s in a kiss, light as a feather, but enough to have Karolina’s heart shattering, reminding her of how hopeless she is under Nico’s influence.

It’s soft, Nico leading the way almost fearfully, and Karolina kisses her back for a moment, so easily lost to this woman. So cruelly, completely at her mercy.

Nico presses closer to her, body flush against Karolina’s and Karolina almost gives in to it. Almost throws away everything in favor of whatever little time Nico is willing to give her right now. She’s not sure how she manages it, but it’s when Nico goes to deepen the kiss that Karolina finds herself again, hands pushing at Nico’s waist so she pulls away from her.

Jesus, Nico.” She hisses out, Nico stepping back from her in surprise at the outburst.

Nico looks at her with a questioning gaze, face flushed from the kiss, “Karolina, I-”

“You can’t just do that!” Karolina cuts her off, letting out a heavy breath. The anger returns now, “What’s wrong with you?”

Nico stills looks dazed, frowning at Karolina, “What do you mean?”

“I mean this isn’t some game. I’m not supposed to be-” Karolina steels herself, frustrated tears stinging her eyes, “You kiss people and you never think about the consequences or what you’re doing to them. You can’t just use me to make yourself feel less alone, Nico. It’s not fair.”

“It’s not like that-”

“Isn’t it? Our friendship is supposed to matter, Nico. You said so, didn’t you?”

“It does matter.”

Karolina lets out a bitter laugh, “Right. It matters so much that you went and ruined it just to make Alex jealous.” She says, “And yeah, I said yes to it. Of course I said yes because that’s just how things go with us. Alex hurt you and you needed me and I agreed to all of this. But you didn’t need to kiss me, you didn’t need to turn this into whatever the hell it’s turned into.”

“You think I planned all of that?” Nico sounds insulted.

“I think you like having someone around who you know won’t say no to you.” Karolina knows it’s harsh, but she’s too deep in her anger to stop the words from spilling from her mouth, “I think… we both know I’ve always cared for you – for our friendship – more than you have. And this summer you’ve used that.”

“That’s really what you think of me?” Nico crosses her arms in front of her chest, looking more hurt than anything, “You seriously believe all that?”

Karolina doesn’t answer, holding her ground and staring back at Nico with what she hopes resembles some form of composure.

Nico looks at Karolina like she’s a stranger, whatever she was planning on saying before now completely lost to her. “Well.” She sighs, pursing her lips, “I guess we don’t know each other as well as I thought, then.”

She doesn’t go to leave, and Karolina forces herself to push forward, “Look, I’ll play the girlfriend for the rest of the vacation.” She says, “But when we get home… I think… this needs to be done.”

Nico’s gaze darkens, “The act, or you and me?”

“Maybe space would be good for us. Clearly something needs to change, Nico. We’re not okay right now.” Karolina hates every word of it already, everything in her protesting at the idea, “What do you think?”

“I think it doesn’t matter what I say. Clearly you’ve made your mind up.” Nico says, bitter, “If you’re done with us, then that’s that.”

“Don’t put that on me. We haven’t been ‘us’ for a while.”

“And you don’t think it’s worth it to try to fix things?”

“I’ve been trying to fix things, Nico.” Karolina snaps, “But then you go and kiss me again and it’s obvious you don’t care much about doing the same.”

Nico’s laugh is hollow, defeated, “Well maybe I thought I was starting something new.”

If Karolina weren’t so tired of false hope, of kidding herself that she might have a chance with Nico, she might have listened to her words and heard them for what they were. Instead, she feels humiliated. She feels angry. At Nico, for bringing her here and sending Karolina stumbling into feelings she was never supposed to have. At herself, for not being smart enough to stop it before they reached this point. Nico is so intimately woven into Karolina’s very being that she’s not sure how she’s supposed to move forward without her. And yet here she is, forced to figure that out because of their own recklessness.

Nico doesn’t attempt to argue any further, or offer anything that might get them somewhere, and Karolina only has to take one look at her to know that this fight isn’t like their others. This is their final undoing. This is the fight that they don't come back from.

Nico steps away from her completely, Karolina feeling the distance in her very bones.

“Have fun on your date.” She says. Not spiteful or angry, just… empty.

She leaves and for the first time in their lives, Nico doesn’t come back – and Karolina doesn’t chase her. For the first time, losing Nico feels real.

Chapter Text

When Karolina has dressed for her date and makes her way downstairs, Nico is nowhere to be seen. She considers seeking her out. Telling her that she’s sorry, and that she didn’t mean anything she said. Telling her that if Nico is happy to go back to normal and pretend none of this ever happened then so is she.

But for every part of Karolina that wants so desperately for things to go back to the way they used to be, she can’t shake what this summer has done. There’s no forgetting the way she’s come to know Nico, and there’s no going back. Prolonging the inevitable with yet another attempt to brush over it will only make things worse. They were heading towards this end the moment they first kissed behind closed doors. The least Karolina can do now is stick to what she’s said and give Nico the space they both need.

So she doesn’t look for Nico, instead purposefully avoiding lingering around the house and even heading to the beach early. When America meets her she has managed to compose herself to a moderately collected image, makeup reapplied and eyes hopefully less red. Karolina puts on a smile and pushes herself into the date as much as she can.

And it’s nice. America is funny and kind and Karolina’s pretty certain she’d be swooning over her if it weren’t for the tight grip Nico has on her heart. She wonders if it just needs time. Maybe if she gives America a proper chance, she’ll fall for her and these feelings for Nico will suddenly seem like some momentary lapse in sanity.

Unfortunately, despite how much Karolina tries, her mind can’t stop wandering to Nico. She’s so angry with her. Feels so used. Even if she were to forgive Nico’s toying with her feelings, Karolina knows the things she herself said won’t be easily forgotten either. Her heart won’t stop aching, and she feels panicked – anxious to fix things. To not let Nico go, no matter how painful things have gotten between them. The only thing that stops her is knowing that they’ll only keep on going in circles until they break again.

“… and I actually think Trump’s just misunderstood-”

Karolina looks up from her dinner in alarm, blue eyes settling on America, “Excuse me?”

A smile spreads across America’s lips, “Kidding. Obviously.” She chuckles, “But good to know you’re not completely ignoring me.”

Karolina’s cheeks burn and guilt trips in her stomach, “God, I’m so sorry.” She says, “Have I really been that bad?”

“Just… distracted.” America reasons good-naturedly, “It’s okay, though. I’ve been told I could carry conversation with a brick wall.”

“Am I at least better company than a brick wall?”

“You’re definitely prettier.”

Karolina’s not sure how she’s earned America’s kindness, but she counts her blessings for it, “Really, I don’t mean to be so out of it.”

“Do I even need to ask why?” America says, wearing a knowing expression.

Karolina considers lying; that would probably be more tactful in this situation. But America doesn’t strike her as the type to care for bullshit.

“I had a fight with Nico.” She admits.

“Ah. The best friend who isn’t your girlfriend but kind of is.”

“Yeah.” Karolina rolls her eyes, a small smile toying at her lips, “That one.”

“Was it about your not-girlfriend status?”

“It was about tonight, actually.”

“Oh?” America looks genuinely amused by the whole thing, so Karolina continues, if not just because she feels guilty for being a horrible date. The least she can do is allow America some kind of entertainment for the night.

“Nico didn’t want me to go.”

“Because she’s in love with you.”

Karolina’s stomach dips, “No. She just gets… possessive, I guess. She’s never really liked me dating.”

America hums, “Sounds a bit suspect, if you ask me.”

“It’s not like that.” Karolina insists, “I mean, she cares about me, but not in that way.”

“Because you think she likes her ex.”

Karolina attempts a playful glare, but the rawness of the subject leaves it only a beat from a genuine look of disdain, “So why’d you ask me on a date if you’re so convinced I have something going on with Nico?”

“Color me curious.” America shrugs, “I’m a sucker for an unattainable girl.”

Karolina laughs dryly, “You and me both.”

She drops her fork with a sigh, giving up on her barely touched meal, “I’m sorry. You deserve better than this. I just thought… I don’t know. Nico and I have been in this bubble all summer. I thought maybe if I got out of it and into reality all these things I’ve been feeling would just…”

“Go away?”

“Yeah.”

“Let me guess: that hasn’t happened.”

“Not quite.”

America watches her for a moment, a thoughtful expression on her face, “So you love this girl, right?”

“… I mean I don’t know about lo-”

“Yeah, right. Sure.” America waves her off, “So you love her. Have you told her?”

“She’s my best friend. I can’t do that to her.”

“Because people hate being told someone loves them.” Sarcasm drips from America’s tone, and Karolina sends her a glare, “Look I just don’t get what the point is to all this angst if you haven’t even tried telling her.”

“Because it would change things.”

America scoffs, “Because things are going so perfectly between you right now, huh?”

“That’s…” Karolina isn’t able to argue that point, deflating, “Okay. Point taken.”

“I’m just saying.” America shrugs, taking a sip of her wine, “If you’re gonna insist on me being the secondary character in your rom-com, you could at least try to get the girl. Unhappy endings are the worst.”

“And what do I say when she rejects me?”

“Well then you call me up and we do what every well-adjusted adult does when their heart is broken.”

“We get drunk?” Karolina guesses.

“Of course.”

Karolina smiles, and it feels odd, doing so when everything seems so broken around her, “Why are you being so nice to me?”

America just shrugs, a sad smile on her lips, “Maybe I have a Nico of my own.”


At the end of the night Karolina is feeling slightly better, despite the complete failure of an attempt to forget about Nico. When America takes her home Karolina doesn’t walk up to the house immediately, instead looking up at the lights in the distance, the sounds of her loved ones carrying down to the beach. She can’t manage the courage to walk up and risk facing Nico. Even with America’s pep-talk, the idea of actually seeing Nico and finally facing everything is terrifying. So instead, she situates herself on the sand, watching the waves as she plays every potential scenario through her head. None of them end well for her, which isn’t comforting.

She’s not sure how long she stays down there, but quiet tears have wet her cheeks when Chase finds her. A heavy arm falls over her shoulders and she sinks into her friend’s side and exhausted tears find her once more.

And that’s what it is. She’s tired. Of pretending everything is fine, of kidding herself that this is all going to go back to normal. Of dealing with the fact that she’s spent most her life loving a girl without ever really knowing it. Maybe America is right. Maybe the only thing left to do is just to tell Nico and let the cards fall where they may.

“I brought you something.” Chase says, when her eyes have run out of tears and all that’s left is silence.

Karolina pulls back only enough to look at him, arm hooked through his and hands connected between them. She winces at the black stains her mascara has left behind on Chase’s sweater, “I’m sorry.” She mumbles, free hand touching the marks as though it will magic them away.

“Please.” Chase scoffs, “My girlfriend dyes her hair purple. I can handle make-up stains.” He grins then, like a mischievous child, raising a bottle of champagne, “Can’t ignore tradition, can we? Even if this is a pity party.”

Karolina chokes out a laugh, “It’s a tradition now?”

“Sure.” Chase shrugs, twisting the metal binding free from the bottle, “It makes me feel better about the amount of times we end up drunk at the beach together.”

“Fair enough.” Karolina smiles, taking some comfort in the playfulness of her friend. He pops the cork, letting it fly away from them, and Karolina laughs, reading the very purposeful decision on Chase’s part clearly. She shoves at Chase, getting up dutifully to retrieve the cork before it can be left for the ocean.

“Even in heartbreak, she’ll save the planet.” Chase coos when she returns.

Karolina rolls her eyes, swiping the bottle from Chase with a glare and falling back down next to him, “I doubt Gert finds your littering charming.”

“Every healthy relationship needs some conflict.” Chase says, watching as Karolina takes the first, generous gulp from the bottle, “So… wanna tell me what was so bad about the date that left you down here crying?”

Karolina pauses from handing Chase the bottle, pulling it back to her for a greedy second swig, “It’s not her.” She declares when she’s done, finally allowing Chase the bottle, “I mean she’s practically perfect. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Probably has something to do with the fun-sized Goth that you’re in love with.”

Karolina huffs, head falling to Chase’s shoulder in defeat, “We had a fight. A big one.” She says, “I think it’s over between us, Chase.”

“The whole fake relationship thing?”

“The whole any relationship thing.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Chase says, “You guys have been attached at the hip since the beginning of time.”

“Yeah, and now we don’t know how to even be around each other without fighting.” Karolina says, “Even if I tell her how I feel… it won’t change some of the things I’ve said to her.”

“Or maybe it will. Maybe you just need to be honest with her, Kar. Tell her everything.”

Karolina doesn’t have as much faith as Chase. But like America, he’s right. At this point telling Nico is really the last thing to do. Just put the final nail in the coffin and be done with it all. The sooner Karolina gets it out, the sooner she can start healing.

“What are you so afraid of?”

Chase’s hand finds her own once more, and Karolina swallows the lump in her throat, anchoring herself in her friend’s touch, “She’s the most important person in my life, Chase. She always has been. I don’t know how to be okay with the idea of losing her.”


Karolina and Chase don’t make it back to the house, falling asleep on the beach at one another’s side. When Karolina wakes, it’s with no surprise that it’s to Old Lace’s wet nose prodding at her face. She groans as Old Lace moves to harass a grumbling Chase next to her, and wills her eyes open to find Gert standing over them with an amused expression.

“Morning, kids.” She greets, “Congrats on not drowning overnight.”

Karolina offers Gert a sheepish smile, sitting up and stretching out what she’s sure will be a sore back by the end of the day.

“I know you guys are all for spontaneity,” Gert says, “But a text would be great next time.”

Chase is finally wrestling away from Old Lace, sitting up with a guilty expression, “Sorry, babe.”

“I’m not mad.” Gert shrugs, “I actually slept great without you trying to shove me off the bed all night.”

“I love you, too.”

“I am worried about the fact that you felt sleeping out here was a good idea.”

“It got late and it was comfy.” Chase looks to Karolina, as though attempting to gauge her mood, and like that Karolina is reminded of just why she ended up drinking her sorrows on the beach.

“Right.” Gert looks to Karolina, frowning, “Well, your girlfriend looks just as bad as you today, minus the homeless aesthetic.”

Karolina actually winces at the familiar skip of her heart and accompanying punch to the gut that the title of ‘girlfriend’ brings her.

“She’s packing, by the way.”

Karolina’s eyes snap to Gert, “She’s what?”

“Packing. She’s going home. Said she has to go back for school.” Gert eyes Karolina, “But judging by the look of both of you I’m gonna guess that’s a lie.”

Chase looks to Karolina, eyes wide, but he doesn’t get a word out before Karolina is muttering out a goodbye to him and Gert, heading straight for the house.


When Nico woke up this morning, the first thing she did was start packing. Call it impulsive or reckless – after her fight with Karolina, Nico doesn’t have the energy to stay on this island playing pretend any longer. It’s not even about Karolina needing ‘space’. Hell, after this summer, they both need a breather. What it is about is the fact that Karolina thinks their friendship doesn’t matter to Nico. That Nico has just used Karolina all these years as some kind of sidekick.

That is what hurts. That is what absolutely fucking destroys her. Finding out the person she thinks the world of thinks so little of her. Barely knows her at all. Nico thought heartbreak would be finding out Karolina doesn’t have feelings for her, which is almost laughable now. No, heartbreak is the girl you’re in love with thinking you’re too selfish to love her.

So maybe it’s the fight-or-flight instinct. She tried to fight for Karolina yesterday, and now she’s fleeing. No one can say she didn’t give it a fair shot, at least. The fact that Karolina never returned from her date with America only spurs her on, knowing if she stays in this house with Karolina any longer she might just suffocate.

“What are you doing?”

Nico freezes at Karolina’s voice, refuses to turn around in fear that she might break the moment she meets blue eyes, and continues packing “I’m going home.”

“You’re…” Karolina lets out an exasperated laugh, “Why?”

Nico turns, and she swears her heart breaks all over again at the sight of Karolina in the same clothes she was wearing last night, hair tousled and looking like she’s barely slept. Nico’s sure she looks similar, although for quite a different reason than Karolina. She can’t help the judgmental trace of Karolina that her eyes carry out.

“I guess you had a good date, then.”

Karolina frowns, seeming to take a second to follow Nico’s implication, “I was with Chase.”

“Right.” Nico wants to believe her, “It’s none of my business, anyway.” She turns back to her bag, feeling Karolina’s eyes burning her back.

“You can’t leave.” Karolina says eventually.

“You said you needed space, Kar. I’m giving you it.”

“Don’t you think you’re being a little dramatic?”

“The vacation’s nearly over, anyway. I’m just going to tell everyone I have to get back for school and it’ll be fine.”

“I came up here to say sorry.”

Nico ignores her, “I told my parents I have to go back for school. If you want, we can just save telling everyone we’ve broken up until everyone is back home. You don’t have to deal with it. Or I can tell everyone, if you want. Whatever you want, Kar.”

“I want you to not leave.”

“No. You want space.” Nico bites out, failing to mask her frustration.

There’s silence, and Nico hopes all too soon it means Karolina is letting her go. That’s not who Karolina is.

“So instead of fixing things you’re going to just run away?”

Nico sighs, “I’m not running away, I’m just going home.” She says, “Clearly this summer has done something to us and nothing is going to change if we keep being so in each other’s faces all the time.”

“And you just woke up and decided to pack your bags and leave before even talking to me about it?”

“I was going to tell you-”

“No you weren’t. You’re already half packed, Nico.” Karolina’s voice is filled with so much anger Nico wasn’t even aware she was capable of, and then she’s at Nico’s side, forcing Nico to look at her, betrayal written over her face, “If it hadn’t been for Gert telling me, you’d have left without even saying goodbye.”

Nico’s voice is cold, “I know you think I like doing this, but I’m not trying to hurt you, Kar.” At Karolina’s confusion, she continues, “I manipulate you, right? Wasn’t that what you were saying yesterday?”

“Nico, I didn’t mean that.”

“I don’t believe you.” And she doesn’t. Nico knows Karolina, and she knows what happened yesterday was Karolina letting out everything she’d been holding back.

Karolina’s jaw tightens, but she doesn’t argue her on it, “You’re being childish.”

“Actually I think this is the first adult decision I’ve made this summer.” Nico’s eyes refuse to stray from Karolina’s, locked on to crystal blue.

“You’re running away to New York because we had a fight.” Karolina says, “That’s not being mature, that’s just doing what you always do.”

“Excuse me?”

“Come on, Nico. Running away is practically your default. You get scared the moment things get hard and instead of dealing with it you just leave it behind.”

“So what? Am I supposed to stay here and fight with you every day?” Nico laughs, so bitter she barely recognizes her own voice, “You know- you’re so full of shit, Karolina. You want to blame me for all of this but you played just as much a part as me.” She seethes, “You kissed me too. You insisted everything was okay when clearly it wasn’t. I didn’t create this mess alone. Quit acting like I’m the only one who made mistakes here.”

“You’re right. I was stupid.” Karolina says, although it feels anything but surrender, “That’s who I am when it comes to you, Nico. I say yes to things I shouldn’t because I want to make you happy. I don’t know how to say no to you.”

“And that’s my fault?”

Karolina doesn’t answer.

“You think it is, don’t you? Because I don’t care about you, do I? Because I ‘use’ you?” Karolina actually takes a step back at Nico’s anger, “I mean, sure, let’s forget every time I’ve put you first. Let’s forget that I chased you to New York after school. That I didn’t even think twice about leaving Alex so I could be where you were. Because I couldn’t imagine not have you with me.” Nico says, “I mean, what do I need to do to make you think I care, Kar?” she takes a step forward, “Do you need me to say I love you? Because I do.”

Karolina looks vulnerable suddenly, “That’s not fair.” her voice is barely existent.

“Why? It’s the truth.”

“Not like...”

“I’m in love with you.” Nico pushes, and Karolina’s eyes widen, “I wasn’t using you to get over Alex, Karolina. I was falling for you.”

Getting the words out to Karolina feels like the ultimate weight off of Nico’s shoulders. But in the small moment she feels she can breathe again, Karolina’s complete silence takes the air out of her all over.

Tears prickle at Nico’s eyes as Karolina refuses to even look at her, and she feels empty, “But you don’t believe me.”

Silence hangs between them, and Nico knows she isn’t getting anything from Karolina, who looks nearly as lost as Nico feels. She attempts to collect herself, too tired to fight anymore.

“You wanted space.” Nico says, taking a measured breath, lips trembling, “So I’m going to give you that.”

“Nico…” Karolina looks completely misplaced, eyes searching Nico as though she has the ability to undo whatever spell she’s under. Maybe she just wants Nico to take it back. “I… I mean- I…”

She doesn’t finish. And the feeling of coming so close to hearing exactly what she wants just crushes what little is left of Nico to give.

“It’s okay.” Nico manages a hollow smile, leans up and presses a soft kiss to Karolina’s cheek, lips lingering against her skin for a beat too long, “Now I’m going to leave, and you’re going to let me.” She says, stepping away from Karolina, “Because I think you love me too, Kar.”

Karolina’s breath hitches, but she says nothing.

“You’re just too afraid to believe it could work.”


Karolina stays with Nico while she packs, but neither of them says a word.

Nico loves her.

Nico’s in love with her.

It should be easy, shouldn’t it? Just three little words and Karolina could have the one thing she wants with her entire being. She could walk off into the sunset with Nico and have her happy ending.

Hell, Karolina had been ready to tell Nico how she feels. She’d walked up to their room with the intention of doing so. But hearing Nico say she’s in love with her was not something Karolina was expecting. And somehow, it changed everything.

So now, she sits on the bed while Nico closes her suitcase, and she says nothing. Three words on the tip of her tongue, but nothing comes out.

Nico in reaching distance, willing to give her what she wants, and Karolina just… does nothing.

She just watches as the girl she loves leaves her, and she breaks both of their hearts.

Chapter Text

It’s been three days since Nico left for New York. In those three days, Karolina has barely left her room. She knows doing so doesn’t really help the excuse given that Nico only left due to school, but at this point Karolina doesn’t really care what anyone thinks.

She’s an idiot and Nico is gone and Karolina is going to spend the rest of this summer dealing with the fact that she single-handedly broke her own heart. Karolina’s not about to add to it with attempting to keep up the exhausting façade that everything is just fine. The narrative for their little fake relationship can frankly get fucked.

Since Nico walked out, all Karolina has done is relive the moment over and over again. Sometimes, it’s different. Sometimes she isn’t a complete coward and she tells Nico exactly how she feels and everything works out.

She’s wearing a hoodie Nico left behind, which is more like a crop top on Karolina, but it smells like Nico and if Karolina closes her eyes for a moment she can picture the girl lying in bed next to her, and pretend just for a moment that she did do everything right, and Nico never left.

At one point, she reaches for her phone, fueled by the aching in her heart to just hear Nico’s voice. She’s calling Nico before she’s even thought about it, raising the phone to her ear and telling herself that if she just speaks to Nico, everything will be fine.

It rings for a torturous amount of time, and Karolina should know better than to hope for an answer. But when it rings out, it hurts all the same.


Karolina knows there’s a time limit to how long she can hideout before her friends come breaking down her door to host an intervention. Honestly, she’s surprised they haven’t done so already. Karolina is sure her only saving grace from such an occurrence is Chase’s efforts to guard her secret, despite how many times he has complained of having to do so.

Karolina has been expecting her friends. She’s prepared for her friends. So she’s surprised when the first person to appear demanding answers from her, isn’t one of them.

It’s mid-afternoon and Karolina is making a rare dash for the kitchen while everyone is at the beach, junk food and a bottle of wine on mind. When she reaches the bottom of the stairs, however, she catches a glimpse of Tina sitting at the kitchen island.

Karolina immediately turns, intending to barricade herself back into her room and wait Tina out.

Of course, Tina sees her. That woman sees everything. When she was younger, Karolina had convinced herself Nico’s mom was a witch.

(She’s still not entirely definite she isn’t)

“Karolina.” Tina calls, voice barely raised yet still so commanding that Karolina freezes in her place.

For a moment, she genuinely considers running. Which she would do, if she weren’t terrified that Tina would find a way to curse her for eternity. So she turns, finding Tina’s eyes on her, an unreadable expression on her face as she regards Karolina over her coffee mug.

“Hi, Tina.” Karolina attempts a carefree smile, but she knows she fails.

A small smile toys at Tina’s lips, but it does nothing to quell the intimidating presence of the woman, “Join me.”

Karolina knows this isn’t the kind of invitation that allows for a denial, and she hangs her head in defeat and makes her way over to Tina. She sits at the island on the stool opposite Tina, and a solid minute of excruciating silence hangs between them before Tina finally speaks.

“My daughter said she had to go home for school.”

It’s then that Karolina comes to terms with the fact that she might be dying today.

“Uh… yeah.” Karolina nods, stomach churning with discomfort, “It sucks but, you know Nico…”

Tina’s smile is disingenuous, “Yes, I do.” She says, “That’s why I know she would never leave you and her friends behind for school.”

Karolina swears the clown from ‘It’ would be less frightening than an unimpressed Tina, “Well… I guess she had to prioritize.”

“Hm.” Tina takes her sweet time watching Karolina, no doubt aware of how much every second of drawn out silence intimidates the girl, “Tell me what’s going on with my daughter, Karolina.”

Karolina sighs, and she’s honestly surprised she manages the courage to do so, but she lies straight to Tina Minoru’s face, “We broke up.” Tina arches a brow at the admission, “We- uh… it wasn’t working. So Nico decided to go home so we could have a break before we’re both back at school together.”

“You broke up.” Tina’s infuriatingly impossible to read, and Karolina’s skin crawls under the hard stare that hasn’t left her since she walked into the room.

“We didn’t want to tell anyone until we had time to process it.” She lies again.

“Well, that’s understandable.” Tina smiles warmly then, and relief washes over Karolina, thinking she’s off the hook. “Although, I do wonder why you two would need time to process the ending of a relationship that didn’t exist.”

If Karolina weren’t too busy being mortified, she’d be impressed by Tina’s unforgiving commitment to the ‘dramatic reveal’.

Karolina stares at Tina, ears burning and mouth opening and closing dumbly as she stumbles over what to say next, “You… I’m sorry? You mean-” she pauses, swallowing hard, and accepts defeat, “… how did you find out?”

Tina looks satisfied with Karolina’s confounded response, “I had suspicions. You just confirmed them.” She says, a trace of smugness to her tone, “As much as my daughter likes to believe she takes after her father, she gets a lot of her character from myself. It didn’t take much to read past the act.”

“Right.” Karolina nods. She can’t deny, it hurts a little. Having had everyone else so readily accept that her and Nico were in love, hearing Tina saw right through it stings a little bit. Confirms to Karolina that she’s been living in some fantasy world.

“I’m assuming all of this had everything to do with her sister and Alex?”

Karolina doesn’t event bother lying, deflating, “She didn’t want to come here alone while they were together.”

Tina takes a long sip of her coffee, tilting her head as she regards Karolina, “And you never considered how poor an idea that would be?”

Karolina scoffs, “No, I did. Trust me. But it was what Nico wanted.”

It’s almost laughable, how predictable all of this was. If Karolina had just stuck her ground at the beginning she’d probably be hanging out on the beach with Nico right now without a care in the world.

“So pray tell, why has my youngest child fled to New York for the second time in her life?”

Karolina has to stop herself from outwardly groaning at the continued interrogation. Having her teeth pulled would be more preferable. While she’s known the woman her whole life, Tina’s never been the warmest figure to Karolina. For some reason, Tina being her mother’s best friend never translated into a bond with Karolina herself. While Karolina has always identified well with Robert, Tina has always just been Nico’s perpetually serious mom, whom Karolina has often suspected disapproves of their friendship.

“Well, we did have a fight.” Karolina says stiffly, “This whole thing has been… complicated. It’s changed things. I didn’t want her to leave.”

“Did you ask her to stay?”

“I tried.”

“Apparently not very hard.”

Karolina stares at Tina, astonished, and for a moment what fear she has of the woman is gone, “Like you said, she’s your daughter. There’s no way of getting Nico to do something she doesn’t want to do.”

“Well if memory serves me right, you’re usually the first person to get through to Nico when she’s being stubborn.” Tina arches a brow, “So why are you still here?”

“Maybe I figured this time I’ll leave her alone.”

Tina isn’t fazed by the aggression in Karolina’s tone; she even looks amused, “It surprises me that you agreed to go along with this whole act. Nico, well she’s always tended towards recklessness when it comes to the heart. But you, Karolina; I would have expected you to have been more cautious.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’ve watched you with my daughter for sixteen years; I know how much she means to you.” Tina actually rolls her eyes, and Karolina might just bury herself down on the beach tonight. “Of course, all of you kids treat one another like members of a pack.” she says, “But you two in particular… well. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you.”

There’s a lump in Karolina’s throat, and she barely manages to look at Tina, “Tell me what?”

She hears Tina’s soft laugh, “Like I said, Nico is more like me than she would have anyone believe. She’s more… rash than her sister.” Tina smiles, “Sometimes that trait can turn into selfishness. There’s a reason she’s always gravitated towards you. We choose people who are softer than us, who force us to be more selfless. To love completely.”

Karolina almost falls off of her stool when Tina’s hand falls over her own, stunned by what she thinks might actually be the first time she’s had contact with Nico’s mother.

“I know you and I have never been close. I just never wanted that relationship for Nico while she was still so young.” She says, “You sacrifice things when you love someone, and seeing how Nico was with you… it worried me. When she chose to follow you to New York, we argued for months.” Tina sighs, “My daughter has never protected anything as fiercely as she has your presence in her life. I’ve come to accept that like I chose Robert, she chose you. And she’s better when she’s with you. She’s happy.”

Karolina’s brow is furrowed, confusion riddling her over Tina’s words, “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying whatever you two are to each other right now, whatever has happened between you to get here… don’t forget those sixteen years you’ve spent at each other’s sides.” Tina says, “I’m saying that you owe it to the both of you to fight for that. To not give up on each other until you’re sure that there’s nothing left.”

Of all the scenarios Karolina imagined of the fallout of this, a heartfelt conversation with Tina Minoru where she almost admits to being fond of Karolina? Not one of them. Actually, Karolina had imagined a conversation with Alex before this.

But she’s right. Karolina’s heart hurts and she feels Nico’s absence in her bones, and so long as that still exists to her, she can’t just sit by and let the world move on.

“I love her.” She admits quietly.

Tina squeezes her hand, “Then why are you still here?”


When Karolina returns to her room and finds a packed bag sitting on her bed, she swears Tina has finally succeeded in cursing her, and Karolina is now doomed to live the single most painful encounter in adult life on repeat for the rest of time.

She freezes in the doorway, eyes narrowing at the bag as though if she stares at it hard enough, it might just disappear.

Then Gert comes walking out of the bathroom.

Karolina steps inside cautiously, “Gert?”

Gert turns to Karolina and when she smiles at her, Karolina immediately recognizes the look on her face. She’s wearing that knowing expression she always gets when she’s meddling.

“Oh. That went faster than I thought.” Gert says, “Have a nice chat with Momma Minoru?”

“Fast?” Karolina balks, “I think that’s the longest she’s ever spoken to me.”

“True.” Gert turns back to the suitcase, tossing what Karolina notices as her own rainbow makeup bag on top of the clothing packed.

“What are you doing?”

“Packing, obviously.”

“Obviously.” Karolina rolls her eyes, “Care to elaborate on that?”

Gert looks over at her, completely unimpressed, and Karolina forgot how annoying a meddling Gertrude Yorkes can be, “Did you really think we were just going to let you ruin everything with Nico? The next flight to New York is in three hours. You’re getting on it and you’re going to fix things.”

Karolina almost argues with her purely out of habit, but she manages to stop herself before dissent can roll off her tongue. Because it’s not really the worst idea Gert has had.

“… Okay.”

Gert doesn’t hear her, too caught up in her own dramatics, “Don’t even argue me on this Karolina, you need to get your ass together. I can’t believe Chase left me out of this for so long, I mean- really, Karolina? You guys really thought fake dating would be a good idea? You really didn’t think that might stir up anything like – oh, I don’t know – the fact that you idiots have been in love since the dawn of time?”

“Chase told you?”                           

“Of course he did. And you should have told me earlier. If you had, I can guarantee Nico never would have been taken to the lengths of literally fleeing to New York.”

“Well I’m sorry if I didn’t consider you when navigating my relationship with Nico.” Karolina bites back at her friend.

Gert ignores Karolina’s attitude, “Yeah well I’ll forgive you if you get on that plane.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll get Chase to carry you onto it, if I have to-”

Gert.” Karolina snaps, “I said okay. I want to go.”

“Oh.” Gert pauses, looking lost for words, “I… thought I’d have to convince you. I even had Molly prepared for backup. ”

A laugh escapes Karolina, “Maybe use that energy on figuring out how to get Nico to even agree to see me.”

There’s a knock at the door before Gert can start offering suggestions, and Chase and Molly’s heads appear around the doorway, both looking at Karolina expectantly.

“Ready to go?” Chase asks.

“Actually, yeah. She didn’t even fight me.” Gert says.

“I mean, duh.” Molly rolls her eyes, bouncing into the room with Old Lace following her, “Don’t worry, Karolina. I never doubted you.”

Karolina sends the youngest of their friends a thankful smile, which then turns to a narrowed gaze directed at Chase, “Thanks for not telling anyone about Nico and me, by the way. Really appreciate it.”

Chase smiles back at her sheepishly, shrugging, “I’m sorry, okay? I couldn’t just keep quiet while everything went to crap.” He says, “You know Gert’s better at meddling than me.”

“Which is exactly why I didn’t want her to know.” Karolina responds dryly.

Gert lets out an indignant sound, “Oh yeah. Because god forbid I find out and make sure you get everything you want.” She says, “Can’t let you and Nico actually enjoy being in love, can we?”

Karolina almost gasps in offence, arms crossing in front of her chest dejectedly, “That’s… you don’t get it.”

“Alright, enough talking.” Chase says, “We got an hour to finish packing and say goodbye to the parents and then we’re going to the airport.”

Karolina frowns, “Wait… ‘we’?”

“We’re coming with you, obviously.” Molly snorts, “You can’t run away and leave us behind.”

“Also, who else is going to make sure you don’t panic and bail?” Gert says.

Karolina can’t deny, having her friends with her does sound like a needed comfort should she crash and burn when she sees Nico.

Chase grabs her attention with a hand on her shoulder and a warm smile, and Karolina’s heart hurts a little less, “Now let’s go get you the girl, huh?”


“So tell me again how our parents are okay with all of us just leaving for New York?”

They’re between flights, sitting in one of the restaurants of LAX while they wait for their next boarding call, and Karolina is growing anxious by the second. Molly, Chase and Gert seem to be having a great time, at least. Molly is in the middle of pitching ideas of what to do once they get to the city, while Gert attempts to find them an Airbnb for however long they’re planning to stay. From the sounds of Molly’s plans, it won’t be a short trip. Which is comforting, seeing as if all goes to hell, Karolina is going to need a few shoulders to cry on.

“It actually didn’t take much asking.” Gert says, shrugging, “I think they’re kinda happy to have the last couple of weeks to themselves. Let loose without having us judging them.”

Chase laughs, “Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”

“Have you met our parents?” Molly says, “We all practically parented ourselves.”

Karolina smiles, thankful to have her friends along for the ride. Gert was right; she’s not sure she would have made it to New York in sound mind alone.

So,” Molly’s grinning at Karolina excitedly over her soda, “What are you going to say to Nico when you see her?”

Panic runs through Karolina immediately, because what the fuck is she going to say to Nico? She literally told Karolina she loves her and Karolina just let her run away to New York. There’s no way this is going to be an easy conversation.

“Good job, Molly. You broke her.” Gert drawls, leaning over and snapping her fingers in front of Karolina’s face, “Hey- Barbie. Snap out of it.”

Karolina waves Gert off in annoyance, turning to Molly, “I… haven’t really thought that far ahead.”

“Of course you haven’t.” Karolina manages to refrain from throttling Gert.

“Alright,” Chase sighs, “How about we practice?”

“What?”

“Pretend I’m Nico.”

Karolina stares at Chase, waiting for a smile, but he only remains serious, “I’m not doing that.”

“Fine. Pretend Gert is Nico.”

“Chase.”

“Just do it.” Chase pushes, “You froze up last time. The least you could do is practice so you don’t mess it up again.”

Karolina looks to Gert for back up, but she’s apparently completely on-board with the idea, looking back at her expectantly.

“Come on, Karolina.” Molly whines, “Don’t you want to get it right?”

Karolina rolls her eyes, turning around in her seat so she can face Gert properly, feeling Chase and Molly watching from the other side of the table, “This is stupid.”

None of her friends respond, happily waiting out Karolina’s complaints until she finally relents to the ridiculous idea.

“… Hi?”

Gert’s face transforms into a glower not far from Nico’s trademark one, “Hi? You rip my heart out and all I get is a ‘hi’?”

Karolina’s face is bright red, “What am I supposed to say?!”

“Say you love her!” Molly offers.

Karolina huffs, steeling herself and meeting Gert’s eyes again, “I love you.”

Gert’s eyes narrow, arms crossing in front of her with a disinterested attitude, “And?”

“Um… well… I love you?”

“Wow, you really are useless.”

“Gee, thanks.” Karolina snaps at Chase, “What would you say?”

“The girl flew to a fled the state to get away from you, Karolina.” Gert says, “You’re going to need to say something more than that.”

“This is stupid.” Karolina decides, “I’m not rehearsing for this. I’ll know what to say when I see her.”

“Okay, fine.” Gert sighs, “But you need to think about it. I know Nico’s all soft when it comes to you but she’s not going to just forgive you the moment you smile at her this time.”

“You can sleep on it, anyway.” Chase says, “We’ll give you a pep talk in the morning.”

Karolina frowns, “No, I’m seeing her tonight.”

“You sure that’s a good idea?” Gert sounds doubtful.

“I can’t show up and not go and see her.” Karolina says, “We get in at eight. Back in the city by nine… Nico will be awake.”

Chase scoffs, “Yeah but will you be?”

“It will be two in the morning to you, Kar.” Gert says, “You really want to try to explain yourself to Nico after a fourteen hour flight with a six hour time difference dragging you down?”

She has a point. Karolina’s already struggling enough to formulate a plan of approach with Nico. Exhaustion probably won’t help that too much. But the idea of getting to New York and not making her way straight to Nico unsettles her.

“I’ll sleep on the plane. It’ll be fine.”

“Karolina-”

“I’m seeing her tonight, Gert.” Karolina presses, no invitation for further argument in her tone. Thankfully, Gert drops it, and Molly launches them into a debate over what shows to see during their stay.

After that, Karolina doesn’t speak too much. Most of the rest of the trip is spent worrying over what to say once she sees Nico. When they land in JFK, sheer fear almost has her jumping on a flight back to Kauai.

“Do you even know where Nico is?” Molly asks while they wait for their Uber, “Don’t you move out of your dorms over summer?”

“We’re not dorming next year.” A fresh wave of pain flows through Karolina, “We’d arranged to move into an apartment off-campus together.”

“Oh.” Molly’s smile falters, an awkward silence hangs between them, “Do you think she’ll be there?”

“There wouldn’t be anything in there, so I doubt it.” Karolina sighs, “We were going to furnish it once we got back from vacation.”

Karolina has spent most of the past year with Nico making plans for their apartment. So much of her plans seem to evolve around Nico, Karolina’s not sure how her life would even look without her.

“I could call her and ask?” Gert says.

No, it has to be a surprise.” Molly whines, “You can’t just take all the romance out of it like that.”

Karolina bites back stating the more valid reason for not doing so: that Nico probably wouldn’t even give them the address if she knew Karolina was seeking her out.


Karolina calls Victor Mancha, a friend of Nico’s who tends to be the one she runs to when Karolina isn’t readily available for Best Friend Duty. He’d briefly dated Nico after she and Alex broke up, but it had ended when both quickly realized their relationship translated better into a friendship. Go figure, despite Victor being both gorgeous and a nice guy – Karolina had hated him for the first six months of his presence in their lives.

(Seriously – she’s not sure how it took her this long to figure out her feelings for Nico)

Eventually, she’d inevitably warmed up to Victor.

Although when he picks up the phone now, his tone is the last thing from friendly.

“Well if it isn’t the reason I’ve been sleeping on the couch.”

Despite his icy tone, relief washes over Karolina.

“Nico’s with you.”

“That she is.” Victor pauses, “You back in the city to grovel?”

“Something like that.” Karolina sighs, “How is she?”

“Heartbroken. But you know that already.”

“Victor…”

“She’s at my apartment now. She’s barely left other than for food. I’ll text you the code for the building.”

Karolina’s surprised it was that easy, having expected to do more begging to get such permission, “Thank you, Vic.”

“It’s in my best interest, really. The sooner she’s happy the sooner I can stop spending my money on food for her to eat her feelings with.” Victor says, “Which, I hope you know I expect you to reimburse me for. She’s gone through four tubs of ice cream. And you Brentwood kids don’t eat the cheap stuff.”

Karolina laughs, “Send the receipts my way.”

“Text me how it goes, I’ll keep away until the warzone is clear.”

Karolina rushes out another thank you before she hangs up, and Gert is ordering an Uber the moment she lists off Victor’s address. The ride from the airport is torturously long, and when they get to Victor’s apartment Chase practically throws Karolina out onto the curb.

Each of her friends make sure they throw in their final words of wisdom, although Karolina barely hears anything but the sound of her heart thumping in her chest, and she bids them all goodbye before making her way up to Victor’s apartment.

She takes the stairs, too anxious to stand waiting for the elevator, and when she reaches Victor’s floor she walks down the hallway and attempts to gather herself. She’s stands at the door for a while, staring at it in frozen fear. She can hear the TV playing inside, and eventually she manages to knock.

There’s no answer.

She waits a minute before knocking again, this time louder.

Still, no answer.

Victor must have told Nico she was coming. Karolina pictures Nico inside, curled up on the couch and ignoring Karolina, hoping she leaves her alone.

“Nico?” she attempts to call through the door, “Please let me in.”

She hears no extra movement inside, and she sighs, head resting against the wood of the door, “Don’t make me do this through a door. Just hear me out and I promise I’ll leave if you ask me to.”

When no answer comes, Karolina considers leaving for a moment. Considers just giving Nico what she clearly wants and leaving her alone.

But Tina’s voice rings through her mind. Because she’s right. Karolina owes it to Nico to fight now, where she’d failed to do so before. Nico did her part and now it’s Karolina’s turn to follow-through. If they’re going to risk their presence in one another’s lives, Karolina damn well needs to make sure that she’s done everything she can to make it work. To love Nico and let the consequences for that fall wherever they may. To run away now would only discredit everything that has held them together for so long.

So she stays.

She sits down on the floor of the hallway, resting back against the door to Victor’s apartment, and she refuses to leave.

“I’ll wait, if that’s what you need.” She says, “But I’m not leaving, Nico.”

Even now, she hopes the door is going to open and Nico is going to just give her a chance. But more time passes and when she’s sure that’s not going to happen, she decides to throw caution to the wind.

“Well I might as well make the most of having a trapped audience.” She says under her breath.

Karolina closes her eyes, swallowing down the lump in her throat, and she begins, “I’m so sorry, Nico.” She says, and a bitter laugh escapes her, “God, I feel like I’ve said that to you more this summer than I’ve had to our whole lives. I guess I’m sorry for that, too. I’m sorry for letting everything get as messy as it did. I’m sorry for only seeing what I wanted to see. For… completely forgetting who we are. Who you are.”

Karolina sighs, “I know you’d never use me. I know that I just- I fell for you, Nico. And it scared the shit out of me and I took every chance I could to tell myself that none of it was real. That we were both just acting out.” She says, “You’re the most important person in my life. And when you said you felt the same it… that changes things. And if things change between us, we risk ruining all of it and honestly? I wasn’t sure I had it in me to take that risk. Because if everything does fall to pieces, the one person I’ll want to run to is you, but I won’t be able to that.”

Her lips tremble and Karolina wills away the tears that threaten to fall, every second without Nico acknowledging her just twisting her heart in knots.

“But none of that changes that fact that I love you, Nico.” Even without being able to see Nico, it feels like a relief saying it, “I think I always have.” She wipes at her eyes in frustration, “I guess the difference now is that I can’t run from it. I can’t pretend to not know about it because all I have to do is look at you and God, Nico. You’re my heart. Please, just… give me a chance.”

Karolina’s head falls to where she’s brought her knees tucked up to her chest, gripping to them for dear life as reality begins to set in that that door might not open at all. That she’s too late and Nico has no interest in forgiving her. But then…

“Hi.”

Karolina’s heart stills in her chest at Nico’s voice, and her head snaps up to seek out the source.

Nico is standing down the hallway, a bag of takeout in her hands and staring at Karolina with wide eyes. It takes a moment for Karolina to gather herself, climbing up from the floor in stunned silence.

Nico looks like a shell of herself, shadows beneath her eyes and shoulders hanging like she’s carrying the world on them.

“Any chance you’ve been standing there long?” Karolina asks weakly.

“For a bit.” Nico’s eyes are glassy as she looks at Karolina, gaze filled with distrust, “Look, Kar-”

“I love you.” Karolina blurts.

Nico pauses, mouth hanging open, “Um-”

“I love you, Nico.” Karolina says again, stepping forward, desperate to stop whatever rejection was about to come falling from Nico’s lips, “I never should have let you leave.”

The smile that plays on Nico’s lips is a conflicted one, her eyes filled with the heartbreak Karolina put there, “Kar… I left for a reason. You didn’t want this. That doesn’t just change over a few days.”

“I was scared.” Karolina says, “And am I still scared? Of course. Nothing’s perfect. I know that. What happens after this… I wasn’t sure if I could take that step.” She moves close, coming to a stop in front of Nico, but she refrains from reaching out for her, ignoring how her hands itch to do so. “But if I don’t, I think I might regret it my whole life.”

Nico looks ready to flee from their closeness, “This isn’t something you can take back, Karolina.”

“I know.” Karolina nods, “But I don’t want space. I just want you.”

Nico’s eyes meet Karolina’s, and she looks at her like she holds her heart in her hands. Karolina wonders how long she’s completely missed this look, how long she’s had Nico standing in front of her willing to give her everything, and just let it pass her by. She’s spent all this time mourning the loss of her own heart to Nico, not once did she consider that she’d received Nico’s in return.

She lifts her hand, fingers sweeping over Nico’s jaw, just the feel of Nico reverberating through her body, “I’m in love with you.” She repeats, unwavering, and then she lets out a weak laugh, “Those words are starting to lose their meaning, huh?”

Nico grins, “No.” her hand reaches up for Karolina’s resting over it for a moment before linking their fingers together, “I mean, you can say them again, if you want.”

Karolina’s smile breaks into her own grin, “I love you.” She can’t bring her eyes to leave Nico’s, and her breath catches in her throat at the tender looking being sent right back at her. She pulls Nico closer, leaning down so their noses brush, “I love you.” When she says it this time, it’s quiet. Unsteady with the nerves of being on the precipice of something that is either going to make or break her.

Nico leans up, lips brushing Karolina’s lightly, “Guess what?”

“What?”

“I kinda love you, too.”

Nico kisses Karolina, and consequences be damned, Karolina lets herself fall.


It’s been two weeks since she showed up in New York and declared her love to Nico. In that time, Karolina has barely spent a second without her.

That night they left Victor’s apartment together and took residence in one of the bedrooms of the Airbnb Gert had booked. Since then, their friends have seen very little of the both of them.

Which, Karolina knows, is poor friend performance. But every time she considers playing the good host, she looks at Nico and they end up back behind closed doors all over again. Thankfully, their friends seem to be doing just fine exploring the city without them.

She keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop. For something horrible to happen that will come between her and Nico once again, but nothing ever arrives, and these two weeks have quickly become some of the greatest days of her life.

It’s not even that they’re doing anything particularly special. Mostly it’s just being with Nico. Whether it’s waking up with her or lying in bed talking, or tangled up in one another, Karolina swears she falls in love with Nico again multiple times a day.

Everything is different yet still so familiar.

They’re still the same Nico and Karolina. Only now, all of it means so much more.

Neither girl has mentioned the topic of their waiting apartment yet. Karolina has almost brought it up a couple of times, but has refrained in fear of it inviting too many realities into the perfect little bubble they’ve been living in. However with their friends leaving soon, it begs to be discussed, no matter how much Karolina might want to avoid it.

Is it still acceptable for them to live together? It had made sense before, when they were just two inseparable best friends. Things change now that they’re dating, don’t they? You don’t just move in together within the first few weeks of your relationship.

“What are you thinking about?”

Karolina returns to reality to find Nico standing in the doorway of their room, a towel wrapped around her from her shower and immediately putting a pause on Karolina’s ability to think about anything at all.

She’s wearing a fond smile as she looks at Karolina, who’s sat back against the headboard of the bed ignoring the show playing on her laptop. She looks so at peace there, with Karolina. These two weeks have been beyond anything Karolina could have expected. Just being with Nico completely, without having to hold back anything, it’s a kind of freedom Karolina’s never felt before. It’s like she’s spent most of her life stuck in place without ever really knowing it, and now she’s finally moving somewhere.

“The apartment.” Karolina says, closing her laptop and placing it to the side to give Nico her full attention.

Nico’s brows rise in surprise, “Our apartment?”

Our apartment.

Just that phrase has Karolina’s heart skipping a beat.

“That’s the thing.” Karolina says, hesitant to approach the subject, “Do you still think it’s a good idea?”

Nico pushes off the doorframe, moving towards where her suitcase sits against one of the walls, clothes messily strewn across the floor surrounding it, “You don’t?” she guesses.

Karolina laughs, “Having you all to myself is just about my ideal situation.” She says, “But I feel like we should talk about it. When we decided to move in together it was as best friends. Now we’re…” she pauses, unsure how to finish that sentence. Because somehow in these two weeks of rolling around between the sheets and endless murmured declarations of love, they’ve managed to skip over the confirmation of exactly what they are now.

Nico catches the bemusement on Karolina’s face, pausing in her rummaging through her clothes to fix Karolina with a teasing smile, “Now we’re…”

Karolina stares back at her, eyes moving from Nico’s face to where her towel is clutched to her chest, and her mind is already drifting towards less than appropriate things for the conversation she’s supposed to be wrapping her head around. “Okay, can you please put some clothes on?” the request comes out in a strained whine, and really. Karolina would have thought after the amount she’s seen a naked Nico in the past two weeks, she’d start to develop some kind of impulse control. But maybe this is just how her life is going to be from now on: a constant struggle to not simply drag Nico to bed and ignore the rest of the world.

“What?” Nico feigns ignorance, looking down at her towel, “Is it distracting you?”

Karolina glares playfully back at Nico, who just approaches Karolina with a smile toying at her lips, “You know it is.”

“Hm.” Nico grins, and she climbs onto the bed, moving slowly as she swings a leg over Karolina’s hips, straddling her. She gazes down at Karolina with those brown eyes filled with so much mischief that Karolina is sure she’ll be the death of her someday soon.

Karolina just stares up at her in awe, unable to find any words as Nico situates herself in her lap, head dipping to place a barely-there kiss to her neck and send a shiver down Karolina’s spine.

“What were you saying?” Nico says, voice low, “Now we’re…”

“We- uh… well we haven’t talked about that, either.” Karolina responds breathily, eyes fluttering closed as Nico’s lips find her pulse.

“Well,” Nico hums, “What do you want?”

“Do you seriously need me to answer that?”

Nico doesn’t respond, only biting at Karolina’s skin lightly in silent reprimand.

Karolina groans, “I love you.”

“You also love your parents. And Chase, and Gert, and Molly.” Nico’s soft laugh tickles Karolina’s skin, “Tell me what you want, Kar.”

Honestly, calling Nico her ‘girlfriend’ doesn’t even feel like it does justice to what she is to Karolina. It seems too simple a title for someone who holds so much of Karolina’s love. But she supposes ‘soul mate’ is a bit too cheesy for Nico.

Karolina gains some time in threading her fingers through Nico’s hair and pulling her down to capture her lips in a kiss. Her body practically sings as Nico kisses her back, shifting closer in her lap, body pressing against Karolina’s like she’s desperate to eliminate any possible space between them. Karolina almost forgets what they’re even talking about, lost to Nico’s lips. However Nico isn’t going to let her get away with it that easy, and she forces them to separate, Karolina’s forehead falling to Nico’s shoulder as she attempts to calm the fire that is burning across her skin.

“I want you.” She manages out, kissing Nico’s bare shoulder, “Girlfriends, I guess.” It’s mumbled out, her already red cheeks growing a darker shade.

Nico coaxes her to pull back so she can meet Karolina’s eyes, the simple connection sending Karolina’s heart soaring, “I think I can manage that.”

Karolina grins, “Oh you think you can, huh?”

“It’s not a deal breaker.” Nico jokes.

“Thank God.” Karolina’s hands find Nico’s waist and with a sudden movement she’s rolling them over, Nico letting out a yelp as she finds herself beneath Karolina, looking up at her in surprise. She leans in to kiss her again, this time softer.

When she pulls away, her eyes trace over Nico’s towel once more, and it takes most of her willpower to resist just forgetting this very important conversation in favor of something much less serious.

“And the apartment?” she asks.

Nico sighs, fingers brushing over Karolina’s lips and eyes crinkling with a smile when Karolina presses a kiss to them, “I think if we were likely to get tired of each other, we wouldn’t have spent sixteen years together.”

“It’s a bit different now, though.”

“I know.” Nico says, “It might not be the most… normal thing to do so early. But then again we’re not exactly normal. Most relationships don’t start after a lifetime of knowing each other.”

“So you want to.” Karolina assumes.

“I do.” Nico looks nervous then, eyes searching Karolina’s, “I mean, I want to if you want to.”  

“Honestly?” Karolina smiles, “I can’t think of anything I’d like more than to wake up to you every day. ”

Nico lets out a heavy breath, “I’m pretty ridiculously in love with you.”

“Good.” Karolina’s lips hover over Nico’s, “Because as your girlfriend, I plan on loving you for a very, very long time, Nico Minoru. Think you can deal with that?”

Nico laughs, “I think I can deal.”

They kiss and Karolina falls all over again.

And from where Karolina’s love once lived hidden between the shadow and the soul, it now sits on her sleeve for the world to see. As certain as anything she’s ever known. Impossible to ignore and etched into every part of her being.

So real that Nico’s heart is her heart.

And loving her is the grandest risk Karolina Dean has ever taken.

Chapter Text

Three years on, and Kauai looks the same as when Karolina left it to chase Nico back to New York. But while the picturesque landscapes and the gorgeous estate occupied by their families are unchanged, arriving on the island this time feels worlds away from that first summer.

This time, when Karolina Dean climbs out of the cab, it’s with Nico’s hand in her own and only the worry that their wedding attire survived the flight from New York. This time, everything is real.

Karolina had been unsure of what it would be like, returning to the place that, while brought the beginning of the romance of her life, also delivered so much pain to her and Nico. But here she feels almost triumphant. Three years with Nico, of which have been the greatest years of her life. If she had to, she’d relive all the chaos all over again just to get here. Perhaps with a smarter choices, however.

They’re the first to arrive at the estate this time. Having spent the past month buried beneath work, the idea of getting some solitude with Nico before the chaos of the wedding ensues was too good of an opportunity to pass up, and it barely took any convincing to get Nico to agree to arriving a day earlier than everyone else.

They pick out the same room that they stayed in last time, and Karolina wastes no time in changing into her bikini and dragging Nico down to the pool. While Nico settles on one of the recliners and reads, Karolina jumps right into the water. It only takes an hour for work to feel like a distant memory and vacation mode to settle in.

“How are you feeling?” Nico asks, peering over her book at Karolina, who wades in the pool absentmindedly.

Karolina groans, floating onto her back and squinting up at the sky, “Like we should quit our jobs and shack up here for the next decade.”

Nico laughs, “Not a bad idea.” She says, “I meant about being back here, though. Does it feel weird to you?”

“A little.” Karolina ponders, “It feels good, though. Feeling how different things are for us now. Everything was so hard back then. Even afterwards…”

Karolina doesn’t need to look to Nico to know she understands.

Things had been far from easy after they’d reconciled in New York. No matter how grand confessions of love could be, they couldn’t erase the insecurities both girls had felt between one another. And they had been girls, then. Young and scared of what feeling so much for someone else could do to them. The only solution had been time, and work to keep senseless worries from taking control. Karolina doesn’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the line she stopped being scared. She woke up and looked at Nico and felt at peace, knowing with unyielding certainty that every risk in loving her was worth it.

“I remember every second of that summer.” She says, “Well – except for a few nights where I definitely drank too much.”

“I couldn’t wipe the drunken nights from my mind even if I wanted to.”

Karolina grins, moving upright in the water to look at Nico, “Oh, I remember those nights. Don’t you worry.”

Nico eyes her, smiling softly.

“We’ve had some fun times in this pool.” Karolina says, tone flirty as she watches her.

Nico laughs, “That we have.” She doesn’t move from her seat, though, and Karolina pouts at the lack of a reaction.

Her phone rings out a notification of a text, and Nico reaches over to where Karolina left it on the pool chair next to her. She immediately scowls at whatever she sees on the screen.

“Who is it?” Karolina asks, wading over to rest her arms up on the ledge of the pool.

“America. She’s already drinking our wine.” Nico rolls her eyes, “Remind me why we chose her to look after the apartment while we’re gone?”

“Because Victor would have killed all our plants.”

“Even then, there are like, fifty other options I would have chosen before America. I’m sure the homeless guy down the street would have loved a chance.” Nico says, “America’s probably having sex with Kate on every surface right now just to piss me off.”

Karolina grins, “Maybe we should follow their example.”

Nico lifts her sunglasses off her eyes to level a narrowed gaze on Karolina, “Someone’s impatient today.”

“Someone is madly in love and can’t help it.” Karolina says, “So are you going to join me in here?”

“Maybe you should come to me.”

Karolina laughs, “Maybe I should.” Nico is clearly surprised at the easy win, and Karolina lifts herself out of the pool, not failing to notice how Nico ogles her as she walks over, “Like what you see?”

“I put a ring on it, didn’t I?”

“Actually I put a ring on it. You just said yes.”

“You beat me to it.” Nico rolls her eyes, grinning as Karolina stops in front of her.

“What can I say?” Karolina leans down, hand resting at the back of Nico’s pool chair and pressing a soft kiss her lips, “I got impatient.”

Nico chases her lips for another kiss, and that’s all the encouragement Karolina needs to climb on top of her.

“Kar, you’re wet.” Nico complains, grinning into the kiss anyway as Karolina straddles her.

Karolina just pulls back with laughter, “Oh I am, am I?” her hand captures Nico’s as it goes to push her off the chair, and Karolina threads their fingers together, smiling down at the engagement ring which shines prettily up at her, a perfect fit around Nico’s finger, “Do you think if we asked nicely, Gert and Chase would let us get married this weekend instead of them?”

“I think if you even joke about that, Chase will demote you from Best Woman and kick your ass all the way back to New York.” Nico laughs, “He’s been waiting to marry Gert since the beginning of time.”

“Fair call.” Karolina sighs, “I guess I’ll wait, then.”

“Personally, I think we have a lot of engagement sex to get through before we even consider walking up the aisle.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Definitely.”

Karolina grins, “Well,” she says, leaning in and brushing her lips against Nico’s, “I guess I can’t say no to that, can I?”


The rest of Pride arrives throughout the next day and Nico and Karolina’s brief peace is immediately replaced with the excited buzz of five families reuniting for the first wedding amongst their offspring. Well, reuniting is a loose term, as Pride has remained close as ever over the years. But for the children of the leading families, it’s been a longer time since seeing one another. Karolina and Nico have remained in New York since graduating while Gert and Chase stayed near Brentwood. Meanwhile Molly has been overseas for college and Alex and Amy settled in Boston together.

The night is spent jumping between everyone attempting to fit in almost a year’s worth of catching up for some, and while Karolina is happier than ever to see the people she loves, to this day there’s still a part of her yearns to pull Nico away and keep her all to herself.

Molly, who has taken her duties as Maid of Honor particularly seriously, spends most of the night drilling Karolina on her own role as Chase’s ‘Best Woman’. Karolina tells a few tiny white lies about her side of the planning – honestly scared for both her and Chase’s lives if Molly finds out Chase only got around to even getting a tux two days ago. From the look of Gert, she’s close to throttling her own sister over her unexpected commitment to ensuring they have the perfect wedding.

While Karolina struggles through pretending she knows anything about the schedule for Saturday, Nico spends the majority of the night fawning over her niece. She’s barely a year old, a happy accident on Alex and Amy’s part, and the sight of Nico with her proves insanely distracting for Karolina, whose heart just about explodes every time she looks over at them. She doesn’t even get a moment with Nico until much later into the night, when Karolina’s found herself cornered by a very drunk Dale who might be close to tears as he rambles about Gert marrying her ‘soulmate’.

Nico appears at Karolina’s side, lacing their fingers together and allowing Dale a few extra minutes of conversation before she asks to steal Karolina, promptly pulling her away from where everyone has congregated on the patio.

“What are we doing?” Karolina asks when Nico pulls her down towards the backyard instead of inside.

“Running away.”

Karolina laughs, allowing Nico to lead her past the pool and towards the beach, “We can’t just leave everyone.”

“Say it with feeling next time.” Nico grins back at her, and when they reach the sand she stops to slip her shoes off, waiting for Karolina to do the same, “Besides, who knows what would happen if I let you stay there any longer?”

Karolina’s eyes narrow, knowing Nico well enough to expect a punch line, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Mischief shines in Nico’s eyes as she walks backwards to the beach, winking at Karolina, “One more drink and you’d start flirting with my mom.”

Karolina gapes, watching as Nico turns and bounces off ahead, “One time!” she exclaims, following her fiancé, “That was one time.”

Nico’s laughter rings down the beach, “One time too many.”

“To be fair, I was heartbroken, and the mother of the girl I love was kind of a babe.”

Nico comes to a stop, turning to look at Karolina, “Want to say that again?”

Karolina grins at the threatening tone, walking over to Nico, “Are you jealous?”

“She’s my mom.”

“What can I say?” Karolina comes to a stop right in front of Nico, leaning down and lips ghosting hers, “The Minoru women are my weakness.”

Nico shoves Karolina away from her before she can kiss her, “Gross. You’re gross.” She starts to walk down the beach again, Karolina laughing and following right at her heels.

“You know I’m kidding, Babe.” She calls after her, “You and Gert tease me about that night constantly. Can’t I joke about it, too?”

“No, because being into your fiancé’s mom is creepy, you jerk.”

“Well you weren’t my fiancé back then.”

“If you keep talking you’re not getting laid at all this vacation.”

Karolina laughs, leaping ahead to catch up to Nico. When she reaches her, she wraps her arms around Nico’s waist, pulling her into her so her back is flush with Karolina’s front, “Now let’s not get too dramatic.” She teases, lips pressing a kiss to the side of Nico’s jaw, “I promise the only Minoru I’m into is you.”

“Hm.” Nico turns to face Karolina, linking her hands behind Karolina’s neck and eyeing her playfully, “I guess the choice is easy when my mom’s already taken, huh?”

“I feel like I could win her over.” Karolina reasons.

“That’s awfully confident considering it took you sixteen years to get me.”

Karolina groans, head lolling back, “Wow. Harsh.”

“Did I hurt your feelings?”

“A little.”

“Forgive me?”

“No.” Karolina sighs, “You’ll have to work for it.”

Nico’s laugh rings through the chambers of Karolina’s heart, “I think I can do that.” She pulls Karolina down, bringing their lips together in a soft, teasing kiss.

Karolina’s still waiting for the day she can kiss Nico without the world standing still. She’s not sure that day will ever come; she hopes it doesn’t. When Nico goes to pull away, she chases her lips immediately, in a harder kiss this time, gripping tight at Nico’s hips in an effort to refrain from broaching less-than acceptable territory for a beach not far from view of their loved ones. When Nico’s tongue coaxes its way into her mouth, Karolina’s body practically hums.

She’s about to suggest going back to their room when a soft vibration between their bodies interrupts them. Nico is the one to realize it’s Karolina’s phone, breaking the kiss and reaching to pull the device out of Karolina’s pocket. She rolls her eyes when she sees the caller ID, eyes meeting Karolina’s and offering her the phone, “Chase.”

Karolina considers tossing the infuriating tiny machine out into the ocean for a moment, “He’s lucky it’s his wedding.” She grumbles, accepting the phone and answering it, “Yes?”

“Well that’s a rude way to answer the phone.”

Karolina’s eyes flutter closed as Nico entertains herself by brushing her lips over Karolina’s neck, “Not ruder than me hanging up.” She warns Chase.

He laughs, “It’s tradition time.” He says, “Meet me at the beach in ten minutes?”

Karolina grins, seeking out Nico’s lips for a quick kiss, “I’m already here.”

“Oh. You got champagne?”

“No. Just a small Goth.” Karolina winces as Nico pinches her hard in response, Chase laughing on the other end.

“Alright see you soon.”

Karolina hangs up just in time to avoid submitting Chase to hearing the groan she lets out as Nico nibbles at her pulse.

“He’s coming here?” Nico guesses, kissing the reddening skin before looking up at Karolina.

“It’s tradition.” Karolina says, feeling like a child having to part with her favorite toy, “Want to keep me company while I wait?”

Nico grins, pulling Karolina closer, “I’m sure I can keep you busy.”


Chase takes considerably longer than ten minutes to show up, the reason for his tardiness clear as day when he approaches Nico and Karolina with messy hair and a shit-eating grin on his face, bottle of champagne in hand.

Nico doesn’t stick around, leaving Karolina with a promising kiss and heading back to the house. Chase watches her go before turning to Karolina, waggling his eyebrows at her suggestively.

“Guess I don’t have to say sorry for being late.”

Karolina reaches forward, swiping the bottle out of his hands and sitting back down on the sand, “I don’t have to ask why you’re late.”

“The Mrs. required my attention.”

“She’s not your Mrs. yet.”

Chase laughs, falling down next to Karolina, “She’s been my Mrs. since the day I met her.”

Karolina pops the cork, offering Chase the first sip, “Then the honor’s yours, Mr. Yorkes.”

“Has a nice ring to it, huh?” Chase grins, accepting the bottle and swigging it back, “Speaking of future wives. You know, the last time we were here together, you were still pining for that woman back there.” He says, nodding to where Nico has long since disappeared up to the house.

“And you were still attempting to get Gert to agree to marry you.”

“True.” Chase’s arm falls around Karolina’s shoulder, pulling her into him, “We did alright, Dean.”


When Karolina gets back to the house with Chase, both unsteady on their feet and grinning in one another’s arms, they head straight for the kitchen for a late-night snack. Their plans are immediately foiled when they find a flustered Nico looking completely trapped as a drunken version of Karolina’s mother interrogates her.

“Tina said you want to keep the Minoru name? Now I know your family is big amongst the tech crowd but ‘Dean’ is a household name. You should really consider taking it.”

Karolina freezes in the doorway, and she goes to reach for Chase only to turn and find him already sprinting up the stairs to the safety of his and Gert’s room.

“Bastard.” Karolina grumbles under her breath.

At her voice, Nico’s terrified gaze snaps to Karolina, relief washing over her features. Karolina figures, as her fiancé, saving Nico from such torture probably falls under her duties, so she admits defeat and walks into the kitchen.

“Uh… hi, Mom?” She wonders if Tina was the one to tell her mother of this whole, trapping the future daughter-in-law in the kitchen method.

While the woman is an award-winning actress, Karolina can read the surprise on her mother’s face, knowing she’s been caught red-handed, “Honey, where have you been?”

“Just with Chase. What- uh… what’re you doing here?”

Leslie smiles innocently, “Oh, we’re just discussing your future. I haven’t even seen you two since the proposal; a mother has questions.” She looks to Nico, “What about children? You’ve talked about that, yes?”

“Oh my god, Mom.” Karolina’s buzz is sprinting off into the distance now, and she considers just grabbing Nico and running – maybe her mom is drunk enough that she’ll even forget it ever happening.

“I’m assuming you do want them?” Leslie says, ignoring Karolina.

Nico’s face is beet red, “Uh… I mean- we’ve talked about it a little bit.”

“Only a little bit?” Leslie looks unimpressed, “These things take a lot of time and planning, girls. If you want to have kids you need to start making moves now while you’re young.”

“Well we have the wedding to plan first, and our jobs…” Nico’s eyes keep darting to the exit of the kitchen desperately, “The city isn’t really great for raising kids."

“Karolina would be an excellent mother.”

“I know. And she’ll be one.” Nico says certainly, and Karolina’s mortification ebbs for a moment in favor of being completely smitten with her.

“Well, you two don’t have the best track record for planning. It took you long enough to start dating, if you continue to take your time like that the opportunity will pass you by.”

Karolina bites back a laugh at her mother’s repeating of Nico’s own comments earlier, “Mom, I don’t think now is the time to talk about this.”

“When else will we? With the wedding I’ll barely see either of you and then you’ll be hiding out in New York for another six months.” Leslie looks disapproving now, “Really, Karolina, don’t you think it’s time you two come home to Brentwood?”

“It’s midnight and you’re drunk.” Karolina rolls her eyes, “I promise we can talk about this another time.”

Leslie clearly considers fighting her on it, but decides against it, getting up from the island, “I’ll hold you to that.” She says, walking over to Karolina and resting her hands on Karolina’s shoulders, “You’re my only child, Karolina. You can’t fault me for caring.”  

“Tomorrow. I promise.” Karolina says, and the answer must satisfy Leslie, as she presses a kiss to her daughter’s cheek and moves back to Nico to do the same before leaving them in the kitchen. Moments later Karolina hears her voice out on the patio as she joins back in on the celebrations with the rest of the parents.

Karolina meets Nico’s embarrassed gaze, laughing, “I’m never leaving you alone again.” She says, walking over to where her fiancé sits at the island, “How long have you been stuck here being tortured by her?”

Nico smiles, reaching for Karolina and wrapping her arms around her waist, “You caught us at the beginning, don’t worry.”

“I am so sorry.”

“It’s okay, I’m sure my mom will trap you into something similar any day now.”

Karolina sighs, knowing well enough to just accept her fate when it comes to Tina Minoru, “I’ll start preparing.”

“I think I’m done with socializing for the night.”

“Bed?”

Nico nods eagerly, rising from her seat and accepting Karolina’s outstretched hand, “Are you tired?”

“Nope.”

“Me either.”

Karolina winks at her, pulling Nico towards the stairs, “We I guess we can get started on those kids, then.”

Nico’s laugh rings out behind her, “Not sure that’s how it works but I’m definitely willing to try.”

“You never know, Babe. Enthusiasm can get you anywhere.”


The next night has Karolina and Nico split between Chase and Gert’s bachelor and bachelorette parties.

For Karolina it means getting Chase as drunk as possible and dragging him on a tour of every bar on the island. By now most of the guests have arrived for the wedding, so they’re accompanied with a near army of Chase’s friends, and Karolina spends the majority of her night apologizing to each bar manager that was not expecting to have their liquor near cleared out on a Thursday night.

Meanwhile, Molly kept Gert’s party to the safety of the vacation home, banishing everyone not on her list of invitees and completely flooding the place with bachelorette-themed decor. At one point Karolina receives a picture from Nico, displaying her grinning at the camera while a mortified Gert gets a lap dance from a stripper in the background, and she doesn’t hear from Nico again until an hour later when her texts are filled with typos and overdramatic declarations of love.  

It’s unsurprising when later in the night, Chase and Gert completely disappear without a word from both of their parties. When she sees Chase the next day, Karolina makes a show of teasing him for ditching his friends for a girl; she doesn’t tell him that she fled within minutes of his departure to do the same.


The day of the wedding arrives on Saturday. Nico’s alarm barely gets out its first ring before Nico has promptly shut it up and tossed her phone away in answer, ever the terrible morning person. She grunts, tosses over in the bed as though she might actually get up, and then just grips the comforter tighter and goes back to sleep.

Karolina allows her a few more minutes before she decides to wake her, figuring it better she wakes Nico rather than a furious Molly when Nico misses her call time for the bridal party’s make-up.

She edges closer to Nico, whose back is facing her, “Babe.” She murmurs delicately, arm snaking around her middle and pulling her into her.

Nico doesn’t answer, just shifts into Karolina on instinct.

“Baby, you have to get up.” Karolina says, pressing a kiss to Nico’s bare shoulder, “Molly will kill you if you’re late.”

“Let her.” Nico grumbles back.

Karolina laughs softly, coaxing Nico to move onto her back so she can see her, “Just one more day of wedding duties and then we have three days of as much sleep and lazing around as you want.”

Nico pouts up at her like a petulant child, “Can’t I just be Chase’s ‘Best Woman’ and you be a bridesmaid for Gert? You’re better at all this than me.”

“All you have to do is get in a dress and walk down the aisle. It’s easy.”

Nico scoffs, “Says the woman who gets to sleep two hours more than me.”

“Do you want me to make you breakfast?”

Nico pauses, clearly considering it, and then she sighs, “No, you sleep.” She reluctantly pulls away from Karolina, dragging herself up and sitting on the edge of the bed, “Better I die at the hands of the Maid of Honor than you.”

“You’ll survive her.” Karolina’s eyes trace over a small tattoo that sits on Nico’s shoulder, her hand reaching out to brush over the ink absentmindedly. Like an addict, she ends up pulling Nico back into bed with her, which results in too much time spent trading lazy kisses.

“Okay, you need to go.” Karolina mumbles against her lips when she catches a glimpse of the time.

“You sure?”

“No.” Karolina sighs dramatically, pushing Nico away lightly, “Just run. Quick. I’ll close my eyes so I can’t follow.”

Nico laughs, climbing off of Karolina and heading for the bathroom, “You’re an idiot.”

“Maybe.” Karolina burrows herself back into her pillow, quietly happy Nico said no to the breakfast and already feeling sleep creeping on her once more.

“Hey.”

Karolina pulls her head up, looking to Nico and arching a brow in question.

Nico grins, “I love you.”

And really, their wedding day can’t come soon enough.


“Can you give this to Gert for me?”

It’s only two hours until Gert is due to walk down the aisle, and Chase is the image of nerves as he stands in front of Karolina, wearing a band tee over his slacks to prevent sweating through his tux before the ceremony has even begun. In his hand, he holds out a small blue token.

Karolina frowns down at the old piece of plastic, “You want me to give Gert… that?”

“We went to an arcade on our first date, this is from there. I figured it could be her ‘something blue’?” Chase’s cheeks redden as he speaks and Karolina’s heart warms in her chest, “Or do you think that’s too corny? You’re right- it’s shit. Don’t worry-”

“Chase, calm down.” Karolina laughs, “She’ll love it.”

“You think?

“Definitely. Although I don’t know if this kind of breaks the whole ‘zero contact before the wedding’ rule.”

“Come on, like you haven’t just been waiting for a chance to see Nico all day.” Chase says, and Karolina can’t deny the fact, “Spy on my girl for me, yeah?” Chase winks at Karolina, and with an eye-roll she leaves for where Gert and her bridal party are secluded to the other house.

When she knocks on the door to the room where the bridal party is getting ready, she only receives a scream from Molly telling her to go away, but when she persists Gert eventually appears out of the door, not allowing Karolina inside.

Gert’s hair is her natural brown these days, curled and gorgeous sitting on her shoulders. She’s already in her wedding dress, and the sight of her takes even Karolina’s breath away, which makes her genuinely worried for how Chase will do when he sees her.

(It also makes her wonder how the hell she’ll survive the day she sees Nico like this)

“Sorry, Molly says you can’t see Nico or you’ll distract her.” Gert says.

Karolina laughs, shrugging, “Probably a smart move, I guess.”

“I created a monster when I asked her to be Maid of Honor.” She sighs, and Karolina notices how riddled with nerves Gert is, hands fiddling in front of her, “So… how do I look?”

“Chase is doomed.”

“A good doomed?”

Karolina smiles, “Very good.” she says, “He wanted me to deliver your ‘something blue.”

Gert rolls her eyes, a broad smile on her lips despite herself, “The fact that he knows what that is really shouldn’t surprise me.”

“It really shouldn’t. You know he had a wedding scrapbook, right? He made one with me when we were kids.”

“He might have admitted that drunk one night.” Gert laughs, “At least one of us planned for this.”  

“Well, here.” Karolina reaches into her pocket, retrieving the token and holding it out for Gert. She swears she witnesses Gert outwardly swoon for the first time in her life, “I’m guessing he did good?”

Gert smiles, accepting the token, “He always does.” She toys with the blue piece for a moment, eyes flickering to Karolina eventually, “You want to see Nico?”

“Do I ever not want to see her?”

Gert rolls her eyes, turning to open the door, “Molly, if you don’t let Nico come outside for five minutes I’m going to make us all late for the aisle.”

Karolina hears Molly cursing out Gert under her breath, of which Gert pretends not to hear.

Fine!” Molly huffs, “Five minutes!”

Nico walks through the door soon after, and her whole demeanor changes when her eyes find Karolina. Karolina doesn’t think that reaction is something she’ll ever grow tired of.

“I’ll see you at the other end of the aisle.” Gert nudges Karolina, who isn’t able to look anywhere but at her fiancé, mumbling a ‘bye’ as Gert moves back inside.

Nico’s already in her bridesmaid dress – a soft lilac number that flows to the floor delicately. Her makeup is minimal and her hair is braided up into a bun, and she looks stunning; because she’s Nico and really, Karolina would still fall over herself if the woman wore a damn plastic bag.

“I’m sorry, have you seen my fiancé?”

Nico frowns, and then rolls her eyes, “Shut up.”

“She’s about five-foot nothing, wears a lot of black, loves eye shadow… sexy as hell, obviously.”

“Obviously.” Nico glares at her.

Karolina drops the act in favor of reaching for Nico, pulling her into her, “You look beautiful.” She says sincerely, “If it makes you feel better, when it’s our turn, you can wear a black dress.”

“Your mom would murder me.”

“Potentially.”

“At least Gert chose nice dresses for us.” Nico reasons, and then she pulls back from Karolina, eyes dragging over her from head to toe.

Like Nico’s been stuck in something outside her usual wardrobe preferences, Karolina’s placed herself in a similar scenario. Chase had said she could wear a dress, but she’d decided to opt for a suit. She’d been happy with the look when she’d been standing in front of the mirror, but being in front of Nico always brings another kind of nerves to her.

Nico reaches out, fingers toying with the lapels of her jacket, and just when Karolina is getting worried, her hand is grabbing Karolina’s tie and yanking her forward. Nico’s lips capture Karolina’s in a hungry kiss and Karolina stumbles into it, only taking a moment to get her bearings and press Nico up against the door. She feels Nico sigh into her mouth and it takes everything in her not let her hands roam free and completely ruin Nico’s dress. The only thing that really stops her is the fear of Molly’s wrath if she does so.

“I should wear a suit more often.” She remarks, when she pulls away from the kiss, breaths heavy and genuinely considering ditching this wedding all together now.

Nico grins, shrugging, “I wouldn’t complain.”

There’s a banging against the door that breaks them out of their respective dazes, Molly’s voice yelling a warning on their time limit on the other side.

“I think the power’s gone to Molly’s head.” Karolina laughs.

“Definitely. I think she’s forgotten this is Gert, not Bridezilla.”

“Speaking of the lady of the hour, she’s a lot more nervous than I expected.”

Nico shrugs, “I think the idea of professing her love in front of a crowd terrifies her; she’s only doing the big ceremony for her parents.”

“What about you?”

“I’d marry you tomorrow if you would let me.” Nico says, “But I know you’ve had your wedding planned since we were kids.”

Our wedding.”

Nico grins, “Our wedding.”


The ceremony is beautiful, to say the least. It takes place overlooking the beach, and is a simple layout, just like Karolina imagines Gert wanted. Nothing too excessive or dramatic, just her loved ones gathered to watch her marry her soulmate.

Karolina walks Molly down the aisle and gets a glimpse of her future as she looks to the altar where Nico is gathered with the other bridesmaids. She decides then to set a date with Nico by the end of this trip, because she can’t stand the idea of waiting any longer to marry her.

When Gert walks down the aisle with Dale on one arm and Stacy on the other, both of her parents’ cheeks are already wet with tears, and Karolina hears Chase sniffle beside her. She glances to him, reaching to squeeze his hand encouragingly, but Chase only has eyes for Gert.

When the ceremony begins Karolina can’t help how her eyes stray to Nico every other second, heart feeling as full as the night she found Nico in New York. When she catches Nico’s gaze she swears she could fuel a whole universe with the love she has for the woman.

Old Lace retrieves the rings and receives almost more attention than the actual couple. Chase chokes his way through his vows and Gert doesn’t do much better, and by the time the ceremony is over Karolina’s submitted to her own tears, finding comfort in the fact that Molly’s in even worse a state.

The reception is all unadulterated celebration, Dale and Stacy found crying periodically through the night while Gert and Chase generally ignore everyone but one another. Molly indulges in copious amounts of champagne, finally letting herself relax now that she’s pulled off her duties successfully, while Alex and Amy dance with their daughter between them and make an escape early into the night. As for Karolina, she spends the night like she spends most days: completely wrapped up in Nico.

She doesn’t have to ask Nico to dance; Nico simply sees the look on Karolina’s face and takes her hand to lead her to the dance floor. It’s less dancing and more embracing one another with a barely-there sway to the music, both of them preoccupied with teasing conversation and traded kisses.

“Do you want a wedding like this?”

Karolina’s heart skips at the question. While the whole ‘getting married’ thing is implied in them being engaged, they haven’t spoken much about their ideas for the actual wedding. Taking their time is a nasty habit shared between them, of which Karolina finds infuriating in circumstances like this, where she’s wishing she and Nico already had a wedding prepared, preferably for the next week or so.

“I always liked the idea of a vineyard wedding.”

“Lots of wine. I like it.”

“I figured you would.”

“How big do you want it to be?”

Karolina sighs, pressing a kiss to Nico’s head, “I don’t know. It’s going to be a ‘thing’ no matter what. The moment the tabloids hear about Leslie and Frank Dean’s daughter’s ‘gay wedding’, we’ll be getting chased non-stop. I want the big wedding with all our loved ones but… I don’t know. When I marry you I want it to be for us, not for everyone else.”

“I get that.”

“I guess that’s just the trade-off for being the daughter of actors, huh?” Karolina smiles halfheartedly, “At least we’ll get some amazing designers asking to dress us.”

“I do like the sound of that, if I’m being honest.” Nico smiles up at Karolina, fingers stroking over the back of her neck lightly. A thought crosses her mind, and Nico goes to voice it only to stop herself, Karolina frowning at the expression on Nico’s face.

“What?”

Nico purses her lips, “Just an idea.”

“Yeah?”

“No. It’s stupid.”

“Nico.”

She meets Karolina’s gaze, searching her face for something, “Well… we could… do both.”

Karolina frowns, letting out an unsure laugh, “What do you mean?”

“Marry me.”

“I already plan on doing that.”

“No- I mean,” Nico shakes her head, a unsteady breath falling from her lips, “Marry me here. Tomorrow.” Nico says it so simply, like she isn’t asking that they change their lives in the next 24 hours, “Just us: our secret. And then when we get home we can plan the big wedding for everyone else knowing that if it turns into something insane, we already got the moment we deserved.”

“And what? Just be secretly married for the next year?” Karolina laughs, “Because faking the status of our relationship worked so well the first time.”

Nico shrugs, “I’d say it worked out pretty well. We’re here right now, aren’t we?” her hands move to cup Karolina’s cheeks, and the sincerity in those brown eyes tells Karolina that she really isn’t kidding about this. She leans up, kissing her softly and when they part, she rests her forehead against Karolina’s, “Marry me, Karolina Dean.”

It’s a ridiculous idea, Karolina knows this.

Or is it?

She wants to be married to Nico. She doesn’t want to wait a year for that to happen. Hell, they’ve done enough waiting when it comes to one another. Maybe for once they should just act.

“Okay.” Karolina’s eyes widen when the word leaves her mouth, and then her heart practically attempts to break out of her chest, and she knows it’s the right answer.


Karolina and Nico fall asleep that night amidst hushed plans for the day waiting for them. They wake long before everyone else, who are all no doubt hung-over and not due to rise until midday.

They don’t speak much as they get ready, and Karolina feels like a schoolgirl trading shy glances over at Nico as she attempts to pick out the dress she’ll wear when she marries the love of her life. The final verdict is a simple blue dress and a cardigan of Nico’s, while Nico adopts Karolina’s white dress shirt and throws it over a black tank top and jeans. It’s not designer dresses and perfect hair and makeup; it’s just Nico and Karolina, and Karolina wouldn’t have it any other way.

They leave the house quietly and walk hand-in-hand along the beach to the small church near town. Karolina only considers when they arrive that they might be turned away.

“You still sure about this?” Nico asks when they approach.

“I asked you to marry me first, remember.” Karolina grins, “I’ve never been more sure of anything.”

Nico is absolutely glowing as she stares at Karolina, and Karolina knows she must look similar.

“If he refuses to do it, we can always ask Alex’s dad.” Nico says, “He got ordained after he did Dale and Stacy’s vow renewal, you know.”

Thankfully, they’re not forced to take such measures, as when they sit down with the pastor inside and present their case to the man, he practically jumps at the chance to help.

(Karolina’s sure it’s more out of intense boredom, considering the lack of people in town outside of vacation time, but she’ll take what she can get)

After the recruitment of a couple of witnesses from the café across the street, Karolina and Nico are back out on the beach. Other than their small wedding party, there’s no one on the beach so early, and they stand hand-in-hand grinning at one another as the pastor starts the ceremony.

Karolina barely hears the words spoken by the pastor, too lost to the woman who has held her heart since the day she met her, and who she gets to love for as long as she’ll have her. They use their engagement rings for the ceremony, and Karolina’s hands shake as she slips the ring over Nico’s finger, like they did the night she proposed.

Nico cries before Karolina, but it only takes seeing shining brown eyes for her own to start tearing up, and their vows end up a rambling mess of giggled stories and choked out affections. It’s completely disorganized – nothing like the intricately planned wedding Karolina had imagined. But so, so much better; because to marry Nico any other way would be too ordinary.

They’ll have the grand wedding, and Karolina’s sure she’ll cry all over again and her heart will beat out of her chest watching Nico walk down the aisle.

But this is for them; their own day. And really, when has Karolina ever wanted to share Nico?

Signing the papers is the easiest thing Karolina has ever done, and when she looks at her and Nico’s signatures next to one another, it feels like watching the final piece come together.

Afterwards, when the pastor and their impromptu guests have left them, Karolina kisses Nico on the beach, and in the same place that changed their lives forever, a new chapter begins.