Chapter 1: Cold Blood
The loud bass blared above the moving bodies in the dark warehouse. All around, there was nothing but the smell of sweat and booze, though that took a seat behind the absolute pulsating of everything. The bodies, the music, the very walls themselves, everything pulsed in a rhythm, as if at any moment the roof would fall down and the walls would give out from the sheer volume of it all.
The body wiggled through the crowd, careful to not be noticed as they tugged a small baggy out of a pocket, careful to not stop moving. No one noticed anything, no one could hear anything, no one could feel anything. It was all so primal and done with reckless abandon.
The crowd was too hot, too many bodies, not enough air, but still, Nico wove through the crowd, eager to escape after she checked her watch and realized it was almost time to meet. Over the course of twenty-four hours she’d become a runaway, a drug dealer, and a pickpocket. All in all, it’d been a productive day for her, and the magnitude of it all was setting in despite the energy of the rave.
When the group split up to avoid suspicion with a rendezvous four days away, Nico knew that money was going to be the key, and being as entrepreneurial as she was, she knew how to get it, or at least, she thought so. And stealing from rich, dumb college kids felt better than going about it any other way.
Their entire plan was based off of bad 90s sitcoms and dramas, but for the most part, it was effective. Who would have guessed that wasting away with hours of television, mindless and numb after Amy, that Nico would have remember random things to help them survive.
The air outside had a chill to it as Nico stepped out into the air and reality once again. She wiped a bit of sweat from her forehead and shoved her hands in her pockets, fiercely protective of everything she owned and earned, all of it amounting to the contents of her pockets.
Quickly, she moved down toward the sidewalk and back to the designated meeting spot. Already nearly four in the morning, and still with no signs of slowing down, she gave up, recognizing that she was barely able to think.
With so much in her life to occupy her mind, Nico found it almost comical, in the grandest, most ironic way, that what seemed to take up the most effort was the leggy blonde currently leaning against a railing and chatting with a fraternity brother who looked like he’d be named Thad. Nico felt as her hands clenched into fists in her pockets before she relaxed them, usure of why she was feeling that kind of way.
“I’m actually not too hungry, thanks,” Karolina smiled politely as the guy grinned at her. “I’m just waiting on my friend.”
“The night is young. Do you want to get back in there and dance?”
“I wish I could, but I am exhausted.”
Sweet and kind, Karolina could get anyone to fall in love with her in a second. When Nico catches her eye, her face changes though, and to anyone else, they might not have seen the relief.
“I don’t want to be that guy that pesters, but I just think you’re beautiful, and I’d love to--”
“She’s too polite to tell you to scram, so I’ll do it for her,” Nico interrupted whatever was about to come out of his mouth.
All parties involved were over six feet tall, save for Nico, but that didn’t stop her. She cocked her head and stared at the chiseled Greek god of a boy pretending to be a man, waiting for him to add something. All Thad did was look back at Karolina for assurances, though he was only met with her nervous glance away from him in general.
None of it helped his ego.
“I’m sorry, was that not clear enough?” Nico asked after too long of a pause. The friends that were lingering around felt the shift in the air. “Scram, Leg Day.”
There was some mumbling, but wounded and annoyed, he nudged his friends and moved back toward the party, shooting a last look at Karolina as Nico stood between them, scowling as she was known to do despite herself.
“I ran out of stuff,” Karolina sighed, crossing her arms as Nico leaned beside her finally. “I could have made a lot on that idiot.”
“I leave you alone for an hour and you’re breaking bad.”
“We need money.”
“How’d you do?” Nico ventured, digging in her own pocket.
For a moment they counted their collective fortunes, disheartened by the fact that crime certainly didn’t pay, though in comparison to their parents, perhaps earning peanuts was enough to keep them on the straight and narrow, or at least as close to it as they could.
“Almost seven hundred dollars isn’t anything to sneeze at,” Karolina offered as they pocketed the remaining bills and baggies of white powder. “It was a really good plan, Nico.”
“That guy was really flirting with you.”
“Him? Nah,” she shrugged and cleared her throat, quickly shoving off of the railing and falling Nico. “No more than the rest.”
“We should find a place for the night.”
“Were you jealous?”
All that Karolina earned was a glare, and that confirmed a few things, namely, that Nico was very tired and cranky, and thus not to be teased, but also, just as importantly, that she was, in fact, a little jealous of the guy at the party. The news was enough to make the tired feeling of her body worth it.
But Karolina kept quiet, and for that, Nico was grateful. They day had been too much to think about, and she certainly wasn’t ready to add anything else to it. Instead, she had the capacity to focus on one singular task, and that was finding a place to stay.
For a few blocks, they walked away from the warehouses, finding a main road and following it toward something, they hoped. Nico added buying a car, quickly, to their list, because she was sick of physically walking away from her parents. Running away wasn’t supposed to be as literal, she thought.
“You haven’t said much about what happened today,” Karolina ventured as she shoved her hands in her pockets and hunched her shoulders against the cold, the thin fabric of her old flannel not really doing enough against the late hour.
Blank and disinterested as always, Nico simply stared forward, waiting for the light to change. They didn’t have any clothes to change into. That went on her mental list. Like a chant, she repeated it until it was memorized. Bed. Clothes. Food. Car.
“Nothing to say.”
“Nothing to say about any of it?”
“Nothing to say about our parents attacking us? About the police chasing us for a crime we didn’t commit? About your father’s affair? About Amy--”
“Don’t,” Nico interrupted, clenching her jaw. “Please.”
The addition of the please was new, and Karolina knew it. She could also see the exhaustion in Nico’s face as she fought off all of those thoughts in her head constantly, no doubt.
Without another word, as they crossed the street, Karolina slipped her hand into Nico’s pocket, winding her fingers between the tightly clenched fist until it relaxed. It took another block for that to happen, but she didn’t mind waiting.
They actively didn’t talk about anything. Dog tired and practically dead on their feet, the pair found a seedy motel for thirty dollars, and trudged toward it. There was the sound of a television from the room next door, and the parking lot was full of junky cars and actual, serious drug deals going down, but still they locked the door, drew the curtains, and found themselves a home.
The carpet was matted, the bed was lumpy and the comforter was about twenty years old, the walls were musty, and the dresser was missing two drawers, but for thirty dollars, it seemed like a steal, and for five in the morning, it couldn’t have looked better.
“I wonder how the others are doing,” Karolina ventured as she surveyed and frowned.
Without a noise, Nico plopped down on a corner of the bed and began tugging off her boots. She reached over and turned on the television, flipping a knob of the relic and hoping at least some channel came through okay. If anyone had been caught, they’d be on the news. Their parents offered large enough rewards for everyone’s ears to perk.
“If Alex and Chase haven’t killed each other yet, I’d say they have a good shot,” Nico grunted, as the other boot joined the pile on the floor. “Molly and Gert just have to get there and keep a low profile.”
“With a dinosaur in tow.”
Karolina sighed and started to run the water, letting the sediments drain out of the old pipes that creaked with every second they ran. It ran brown then tan, then clear, finally. She washed her face and stared at herself in the mirror for the first time in a long time, or so it felt. For some reason, it felt as if she’d aged ten years in a day. Deep bags sat under her eyes, heavy and hollow, so deep, in fact, that she had to run her fingertips over them to assure herself that it was real and not make up. With another splash of water, she watched Nico rub her neck, rolling her head to the side to work out some soreness.
Twelve hours ago, that girl kissed her. Twelve hours ago felt like the difference between eras.
Karolina ignored that fact and swished some toothpaste in her mouth, doing the best she could without a toothbrush. She missed Nico sneaking a glance at her, and she might have missed the staring, had she not attempted one more look herself.
The news prattled on about the missing kids, but neither cared that much anymore. They were seventeen years old and outrunning the cops. They were seventeen years old and already had simultaneously too much experience, and a complete lack of understanding as to how the world actually worked. They were seventeen and just plain exhausted.
“Tomorrow we work on blending in,” Nico sighed and pushed herself up from the bed as Karolina toweled and broke the glance. “And getting more money.”
“I’m blending. You’re the one in all black.”
“Give me a few hours sleep and I’ll have comebacks for you.”
With a grunt, Nico went about washing her face as they swapped positions, orbiting around each other. Karolina shut off the television, afraid to hear anything at all. She kicked off her shoes and tugged at her shirt, hanging it on the chair beside the bed. Her pants came next, joining the pile as she then sat on one side and took off her watch. She set an alarm for a few hours away.
By the time Nico turned around, Karolina was crawling into bed in just underwear and an undershirt, and the image made her sleepy head blush, though do nothing else. It, like every other thing that happened to her in the past few weeks, was added to a long list that would need to be addressed at some point.
In a weird way, Nico almost considered the inevitable demise of their group as a rescuing point in which she wouldn’t have to deal with anything. Repression could work if they weren’t going to last the week.
The bathroom light went off with a snap, and the buzzing from the old light stopped, which left the room oddly quiet despite the normal noises of the city outside. Nico tugged off what she could and slid into bed as she turned off the light.
All was quiet and all was still. A streak of light ran across the ceiling as a car drove past outside. The television next door mumbled unintelligently while someone grabbed ice from a rickety machine at the end of the second floor. And all the while, the only thing Karolina heard was Nico’s breathing as she remained very still on her side of the bed.
“Karolina Dean, infamous church-girl and model daughter, spent the night selling powdered milk in tiny baggies to college kids at an illegal rave,” Nico whispered, turning over and staring at the outline of the girl in her bed. “A sentence I never thought to think of, ever in my life.”
“Pretty well, too,” she smiled and turned over to face the middle.
“This is our life now, huh?”
“I haven’t felt this good in…” Nico thought about it for a moment before confessing. “Since before Amy.”
“It’s worth it then,” Karolina decided.
In the small, double bed, they were close but not touching. Both inched forward though, until their heads and knees were brushing.
“If you tell me it’ll be okay, I’ll believe you,” Nico murmured.
“It’s going to be okay.”
Nico nodded before shifting closer, just enough. She placed her hand on Karolina’s neck, running her thumb against her jaw. She didn’t have a plan for this, and she certainly didn’t want to think about it. She just needed comfort. She just needed to exist as someone.
Before Karolina could offer anything else, she felt the hand on her neck grow heavier as the girl in her bed fell asleep, diving headfirst into exhaustion as a welcome reprieve. She didn’t mind the weight though, as it kept her from flying. Instead, she closed her eyes and put her hand on Nico’s hip, falling asleep to the steady breathing beside her and the warmth of a palm on her neck.
The beeping of the alarm went well with the honking of a horn outside. And all at once, every noise existed. Flung into consciousness, Nico groaned against the morning and dug her face into her pillow, hoping to escape it for a few minutes. The sheets smelled like stale bleach, which was probably better than any alternative. It just meant that she had to come up for air sooner than expected.
“Hey, I grabbed some coffee from the front desk,” a sugary sweet and all too awake voice interrupted the attempt at going back to sleep.
Nico growled again and tossed the blankets over her head.
If she opened her eyes, and if she woke up, then she would be forced to remember everything. For just a little while, she could keep her eyes shut and she could pretend everything was different. But the noises of the street and the odd smell of possibly burnt coffee reminded Nico that she was not home in Brentwood, and she was a wanted criminal who pickpocketed strangers just hours before.
“I came up with a plan,” Karolina ignored the complaints from the body in the bed as she moved around the small hotel room, preparing for the day as best she could. “There’s a little bit of a risk though.”
“How are you awake?” Nico huffed, emerging into the air finally. She dug her palms into her eyes furiously and frowned as she tried to wake up. “You’re a sick, demented morning person, aren’t you?”
“I’ve already done my meditation, read the paper, and had breakfast.”
“You’re a monster.”
“A monster who snagged you a banana and some cereal,” she grinned, tossing them on the bed. “Are you awake yet?”
“No,” Nico growled, still not interested in opening her eyes. “How are you up?”
“I slept really well.”
The statement was the verbal form of a shrug, but it made Nico open her eyes finally and give her friend a quizzical look. Karolina Dean was not one to be flustered, nor was she one to not know exactly what to do, and yet she seemed a little disinterested in acknowledging how well she’d slept. In bed. With Nico.
Nervously she paced a bit before Nico grinned to herself and started to peel her banana, simultaneously starving and not at all eager to sit up or get out of bed.
“Did you eat something?”
“Kind of thought I’d wake up beside you,” Nico muttered, looking at Karolina and watching her pause and stare, her body a statue beside the bed.
“You were out, but you did drool on my shoulder, if that helps paint the picture,” she grinned and watched Nico groan at the observation. “Also, you are a fierce big spoon.”
“Okay, nevermind. We don’t have to talk about any of this.”
Satisfied that she won the round of teasing, Karolina sat on the bed, watching as Nico opened the little box of cereal and began to eat, careful to avoid most forms of eye contact save for the occasional glance.
They were just going to be stuck in this weird place forever, Nico decided as she crunched at the bunches and let herself look for less than a second at Karolina. Forever, they would just circle around each other and not talk about anything, because who could think about how pretty the blonde goddess of a perfect person, or how that made them feel, when everything was on fire? Nico couldn’t, or at least she shouldn’t, she told herself.
“So what are we doing today?” Nico asked as Karolina sipped the terrible coffee and made a face.
“Going to the bank.”
All that Nico could do was cock her head to the side and wait for more of an explanation, though none seemed to be coming.
With a grin, Karolina pushed herself out of bed and kissed her, tasting of coffee and bananas and everything that morning should. She smiled against Nico’s lips and pulled away. It was quick and quiet and altogether perfect, and more perfect than normally allowed.
“I don’t care how much you kiss me, I’m not robbing a bank,” Nico retorted.
Her words were stern, but the blush that crawled up her neck and ears made them a little less forceful. Instead, she just took a little more cereal in her hand and refused to look anywhere else.
“This is dumb. This is dumb. This is so dumb. This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever thought to do in your entire life,” Nico whispered as they stood in line at the bank.
“I dunno,” Karolina shrugged. “I kissed you, didn’t I?”
With a glare, Nico crossed her arms and grumbled to herself, though it was nothing of substance or to fix her wounded pride.
She was now someone who followed cute girls into stupid plans. She was that idiot that she often mocked. She was Alex. She was stupid Alex following herself around. She was the complete and total idiot who gave into batting eyelashes and stupid smiles.
“That at least did something productive. This is just dumb.”
When the group split, they all had their roles, and they all had a set time to reach the designated point at which time they would decide what to do moving forward. There were really only two options, one being to stay and fight, the other being to run away. Neither were sure which camp they belonged in, but it was always in the back of their head.
Gert and Molly were responsible for getting to the meeting point first and making sure it was secure. Chase and Alex were tasked with papers and tech. That left Karolina and Nico to secure as much money as possible for their group.
It meant risks.
“Hey, don’t worry,” Karolina tried to soothe, nudging Nico’s shoulder gently. “Everything’s going to be fine.”
“You look like Karolina Dean, and everyone knows you’re missing or a runaway. We’re fucked.”
“For one day that’s been out. I told you it was a risk, but we need this.”
“You can wait outside, just in case--”
“No,” Nico interrupted, looking around and then meeting Karolina’s eyes for a moment. “Where you go, I go. I’m not letting them…” she lowered her voice nervously. “They took you once. I’m not doing that again.”
No one would have ever considered calling Nico overly empathetic or even caring. She was cold and callus and that was because everyone wanted to believe in her tough exterior. To Karolina she was much more interesting, much richer, much more vibrant and layered and she was so warm and full of hope, it physically hurt her to express. It was physically difficult for Nico to be as protective and caring, and she just couldn’t bear the pain of it. So she hid it away.
“You kissed me,” Karolina offered.
The bank was quiet, and neither moved much save for the shuffling of feet and the shifting of weight from leg to leg as they waited and moved forward every so often.
“Are we really discussing this here? And now?” Nico sighed and shook her head.
“We’ve got nothing else to do.”
“We’re not talking about this.”
“Let’s talk about your mother then.”
“Let’s talk about yours,” she retorted, her jaw set and not excited for the sour mood she felt coming in her bones.
“I’d love to. I’d love to take the time to do that.” It was genuine and for a second, Nico could see the anger and fear and worry that was hidden behind Karolina’s can-do attitude. “But you’re kind of a handful, and I have bigger things to take care of.”
It wasn’t a complete lie, and the longer they stood there in silence, Nico recognized that Karolina really was taking care of her in many ways, putting her needs ahead of her own. After they shuffled forward another step, Nico relaxed and leaned to her side to kiss Karolina’s cheek. She didn’t hold her hand because she didn’t know how, but she did play with the fabric of her shirt between her fingers. She stared at her hands as she watched them toy with a button of another girl’s shirt, before looking back up and ignoring the stare that came from the surprised girl in line beside her.
“We’re going to be okay,” Nico decided for them. If she said it, it’d be true. Karolina said it, and it was true.
They waited in line to unlock the safety deposit box, well aware of the risk and unable to think of any other plan that would work. Small change at local parties wasn’t going to feed six people and a dinosaur.
“Do you really believe that?” Karolina ventured, almost afraid of the answer.
It was meant to be honest, but it made Karolina laugh, and so Nico was okay with it being lost completely.
The next seedy hotel at least had thicker walls and a new carpet. Other than those real selling points, nothing was much different. The decor was about twenty years too late and maybe ten years too early to be cool again. All pastel and not matching at all, it was slightly nicer in that there weren’t stains on the walls that were readily seen, but instead had to be squinted at to find.
The safety deposit box was a goldmine, or at least it felt like one to them. They pocketed the money and items inside with reckless abandon before turning over the key and thanking the manager. As soon as they left, they found a junk dealer and bought the world’s most dented van and set off to put more miles between themselves and their families.
There was a truce for them, somehow, as long as they had something to do, to distract them from their lives, they could pretend that the kissing and touching and avoiding and running, that it was all normal, and that it was something they could survive. It was when they stopped moving or thinking that things got violently real for them.
But Nico was the one that was ready to distract Karolina, making her splurge on a pizza order that was too big for two people. She was the one that let her vent and be upset while they watched terrible cable movies and finally filled their stomachs. It wasn’t even something she had to think about, to be someone that Karolina would need or want. Instead, she just did it, and only caught herself afterwards wondering how.
When it got to be too late, when they ate too much and yawned too much, Nico was the first to stand from the nest on the bed that they made. It wasn’t until they were under the blankets and facing each other again, that she realized she was suddenly wide awake.
There was a gentle whirring noise from what she thought would be the ice machine outside. If she really held her breath and listened, she could hear the noise of the cars passing on the street outside. If she closed her eyes and held her breath, Karolina could hear Nico breathing, and that helped some of the anxiety that seemed to attack her in the dark.
“Have you thought about what you want to do,” Karolina whispered. “When we meet up with the group?”
Nico shifted closer, slowly, slightly, until their knees were touching, and event hen, she straightened out her legs and got as close as possible. There really wasn’t anything she wanted to think about, and the easiest way to not think was to be close to the girl sharing her bed. That definitely wiped all of her thoughts away.
“He murdered Amy,” Nico muttered.
The words came with a hand running through hair and Nico swallowed and relaxed into the touch. She wasn’t good at intimate touches. She wasn’t familiar with wanting to touch someone, though she desperately needed everything Karolina offered.
“Have you decided?”
“Wherever you go, I go.”
“I won’t ask you to vote just because--”
“They lied to us, to me, about what I am. I don’t know what exists anymore. But I do know that wherever you go, I’m going. This I know.”
There was a fierceness there that Nico enjoyed. That was the thing that most people didn’t recognize about Karolina, that she was always fierce and angry and ready to fight. Nico loved it more than anything.
With a tentative move, she placed her hand on Karolina’s hip.
“Whatever the group decides,” Nico sighed.
All that existed was touching. All that there was, just Karolina’s hand running through Nico’s hair, and the unsure and unsteady gliding of fingertips along her ribs in response. Nico was surprised by the shifting of legs closer to her own when her hands moved lower before retreating to the safety of lower back.
But Karolina relaxed, shifting closer, and her hand slid lower, to neck and jaw and chin and lips until it stalled and stilled and Nico was certain she’d put her to sleep with her soft caresses.
“I really want to kiss you,” Karolina whispered. “I really want to kiss you pretty much all of the time.”
“Why don’t you?”
She wasn’t sure where her voice came from, that it was so low and husky and oddly inviting. She’d never sounded like that, and Nico was almost embarrassed by how much she wanted that. Karolina’s fingertips scaled along her cheeks, and down her jaw, enjoying the movement.
“I’m afraid I won’t stop.”
Karolina felt Nico’s cheek flash in a smile for a second before they regained the composure she was always fighting to maintain.
“We’ve almost died at least four times since Saturday,” Nico scoffed. “Please don’t ever miss a chance to kiss me. I’m sure not going to--”
It was gentle, and she felt her approaching, but Nico couldn’t help but try to form words. The first time Karolina kissed her, Nico hadn’t been ready, but she’d chased the feeling that came that instant their lips touched, and it was over too soon. When she kissed her back just forty-eight hours ago, she did it because she was so damn afraid of losing her, and she needed her to know. But now, this was different. It wasn’t for a particular reason, other than needing nothing other than to taste her lips.
Karolina leaned forward more and cupped Nico’s neck. She wanted to be rougher, but she didn’t have it in her. She was gentle, she was adoring, she coaxed her forward.
Of course, Nico, didn’t shy away. She was brave, even when she was falling and not sure how she was going to land. She fell violently, she did everything with vigor. But she would never admit that it was her who made the breathy little moan. She didn’t make little noises like that.
Except she did, and when Karolina heard it, she pushed forward even further until she was on top of Nico, hovering, kissing her as if her life depended on it. And then she felt tongue skate her lip, and she was too overwhelmed to think.
There were lips on her neck, and Nico was dizzy despite laying down. Her hand was grasping at Karolina’s naked back, beneath her shirt until it slid around toward her ribs where she felt muscles clench under her fingertips.
It probably wasn’t fair that she was such a good kisser. Nico wanted to be upset, but someone was sucking at her neck and it felt so good, her hips moved against the thigh that settled between her own.
“We can stop,” Karolina offered, coming up for air.
“That feels good.”
It might have been that moment when Nico fell in love. She wouldn’t know it or couldn’t recognize it or even put words to such a feeling, but she was insanely full of probably feeling something, which was, so very very very much the opposite of how hollow she’d felt for years, from even before this thing with their parents.
The weight of the body above her settled a little more atop her and she ran her hands up Karolina’s clavicle and neck and over her cheeks.
“Did you mean what you said?” Karolina whispered. “That where I went, you went?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t mean it to sound creepy.”
“It didn’t,” she promised and smiled softly, pushing hair from Nico’s face, allowing her hand to linger on its trip.
With a final kiss, she agonizingly tugged herself off of the girl beneath her. Karolina setted beside Nico in the small, still lumpy bed of their hotel. Outside, there was still the noises of the city and the world itself. Neither moved to do anything.
“Everything’s different now, isn’t it?” Karolina asked. It was dark, and that was the time that someone asked those things-- the things that were too scary to be answered in the sunlight of the morning.
“We don’t have families.”
“We kiss now.”
“I think I’m an alien.”
“Forgot about that one,” Nico nodded, turning to her side.
She wasn’t sure how, but Karolina rolled over with her, bringing and arm and draping Nico around her, which was not altogether unwelcomed, though she was certain she’d rather go back to the heavy petting that wa happening. That was what kept her mind clear.
“Tell me it’ll be okay and I’ll believe you.”
Despite herself, Nico smiled at hearing her own words said with an equal amount of need and earnestness.
“We’re going to be okay.”
In her honest fashion, it really was all she needed, and Karolina felt herself relax into the arms of the weird, goth girl who was nowhere close to what she expected, and never had been, and probably never would be.
Nico closed her eyes and shifted closer before relaxing as well.
Chapter 2: Don't Run
The hotel room on the second floor that faced the airport was almost quiet. The neighbors were asleep or at least keeping their existence down to a dull hum, while the traffic was intermittent at best and not really a concern save for the streak of slow moving light across the ceiling. On each side of the bed rested two piles of discarded clothes. On the desk sat take out boxes and everything they really owned, now. In the bed slept two figures, touching only with an arm draped over the other. Afraid, even in sleep, to be too close for too long. All was quiet and not altogether terrible, for a cheap, dingy hotel, but that didn’t stop one of the bodies in the bed to wake.
It wasn’t that she didn’t want to sleep. She very much did. Her body ached for it with reckless abandon, rebelling against being awake at all times. But Karolina couldn’t stay asleep, not to save her life, not to make anything any easier. Instead, she woke with a jolt and tried to swallow though her mouth was dry, and she tugged at Nico reflexively.
The red display of the clock by the nightstand said it was almost seven in the morning. Karolina rubbed her eyes and blinked at the dark, almost dawn. Some orange light and grey dawn tried to seep below the curtains but that was all she could see. Beside her, Nico snored softly, not waking at any movements, and perhaps the hardest sleeper imaginable.
For a moment, as she tried to calm down and sleep again, Karolina ran her fingertips over her own lips and smiled. They moved to her neck where a little sore spot made itself known when pushed and she remembered Nico’s mouth there and her heart fluttered and her stomach tightened.
Nico was the reason she couldn’t sleep. Every noise, every second of being on the run convinced her that they were going to get caught. If they got caught, everything would fall apart. It was actually life or death.
A nose dug into her shoulder as Nico burrowed closer, hiding between the bed and Karolina’s back, uninterested in being awake or thinking. For a second, the one that was awake was very jealous of her ability to escape. And as taken with the feeling of being the little spoon to the tiniest member of their group, as much as she tried to sleep and give herself a few more hours, images of the battle, of their parents, of Destiny, of all of it, it was too much, and Karolina finally pulled herself out of bed.
Quietly, ever so gently, Karolina escaped to the tiny bathroom and started a shower, though she sat on the edge of the tub and rubbed her hands over her face first. When they were farther away, she’d feel better. At least she hoped.
The room filled with steam and the heavy, wet feeling that took over any worry. For the first time since they left, since she faced Jonah, Karolina took off her bracelet and tested her powers, finding a kind of calm in the colors. This is who she was, she just wanted sure what it meant. The fact that she was anything like that asshole and monster, made her slightly sick.
It was too much to consider, so she gave up. It was early in the morning, and she had a girl who liked to kiss her in the bed. She shouldn’t be as bothered as she found herself. So Karolina gave up to the warm spray of the leaky shower head and let herself relax.
She toweled off and tossed on some old thrift store clothes they bought the day before, still amazed at Nico’s ability to enjoy the sweet escape of sleep.
Still damp from the shower, Karolina stared at herself in the mirror as she brushed her teeth, prepared to go scope out whatever food she could grab from the breakfast, hoping that paying fifty dollars for a room meant that it’d have better coffee. Her face was familiar, but she just wasn’t sure what that meant anymore. Despite it all, she knew what she was going to do, and she was ready to be different.
The blaring of the alarm was met with a stern growl of complaint. One day, she was going to sleep for fifteen hours straight, Karolina and her morning-loving-ness be damned, Nico thought to herself first thing as she slapped at the alarm. Nothing was going to get her out of bed though. She allowed herself to dream that she was quick enough, and Karolina hadn’t heard the offending blaring noise.
It was offensive how just the smell of Karolina’s side of the bed helped her relax. Nico wasn’t sure how that could be, but she didn’t question it. She couldn’t, because she was already half asleep.
Once again, the bed was empty. Once again, she’d migrated somehow to the opposite side of where she’d started. Once again, she heard the chipperness of her runaway teammate before she even opened her mouth.
“I’m not getting up,” Nico muttered to whoever could hear her.
“I got you breakfast though. And the coffee isn’t bad.”
“Six more hours, please,” she whined, hiding beneath a pillow.
“We’re driving today. I want to get there before dark. We have to scout and then see if everything is ready for the meet.”
“Reuniting with the other disenfranchised youth,” Nico snarked. “Wouldn’t want to be late for that or anything.”
She didn’t lift her head or open her eyes or acknowledge that she was speaking. Instead, Nico tried to remain as still as possible so she was as close to sleep as anyone could be. She wanted to not feel like her brain was shrinking and she wanted to feel rested.
“If we get there early, we can sleep in tomorrow,” Karolina bargained.
“Maybe. If you can actually sleep.”
“I slept great.”
“Are you worried about me?” she teased, making Nico smile and shake her head as she hid in a new pillow, covering her face up from exposing that she was actually concerned.
A weight shifted the corner of the bed, and it crawled along the length of it until it hovered atop Nico, earning another growl against waking. The weight slithered along her body and finally stalled. Simultaneously, she felt fizzy, like a shaken up bottle of soda, and as if she was mellow and warm and ready to nap forever. It was not altogether unpleasant.
“One day, I’ll wake up and you’ll still be asleep,” Nico managed, tilting her air and finding fresh air after the pillow was tugged from hiding her. “And I’m going to tease you and wake you up.”
“Wow. That’s a little forward of you.”
“Not like-- I didn’t-- I mean-- shut up.”
The body atop her own chuckled and kissed her shoulder through the shirt she slept in and desperately wished to remove or have removed. She’d never really been kissed like that, and for a moment, Nico considered the fear Karolina had about never stopping. She understood the fear, because now she wasn’t sure she ever wanted her to stop.
“Eat and shower. I’ll try to call and check in with the others,” Karolina murmured, her lips moving against neck.
Nico was shorter than Karolina by not an insignificant amount. In comparison, quite a few inches separated them. She’d been underestimated her entire life because of her size and it sure as hell never stopped her. It certainly wasn’t going to stop her now in her new mission of keeping Karolina close.
With a final kiss on her shoulder, Karolina moved to go about her day, not particularly good at just staying in bed for too long, idling around. There’d never been time for that growing up. She was always busy doing something for the church.
As soon as the wayward thought of the past entered though, it was forgotten as a mighty force tugged her back into bed, laughing victoriously at the new position and the yelp that came with it.
For the first time of the morning, Nico opened her eyes and found Karolina. It was certainly not the worst sight to encounter. And she was smiling and laughing as she settled in the bed once again, despite herself and her damn schedule. Almost immediately, Nico’s smile faltered as she cocked her head and toyed with the blonde. She blinked a few times and let herself smile wider as Karolina shifted self-consciously, though not out of her grasp.
“Hey, what… you cut your hair?”
“We have to blend in, or at least look different. I thought it might help,” she shrugged, a slight nerve to her voice. “Do you like it?”
Twice in the past eight hours, Nico had a beautiful blonde on top of her. Twice, she was still surprised by where her life was going. But it was sunshine and the room was bright, and this was real. She smiled and traced a hand down the sun-bleached wave that now fell just above the shoulder. To her credit, she really thought about it despite already knowing the answer that she really couldn’t articulate.
“I do,” Nico finally managed, her voice soft and thoughtful. “You look… you always look… Yes. I like it.”
“Good,” Karolina grinned, pushing herself up so she was hovering over the sleepy girl. There was a purple bruise forming on her perfect neck, and Nico stared at it before running her hand along it, unable to resist the feeling of doing that.
In the same instant, she recognized the feeling of soreness on her own neck, though she was afraid to touch there. Instead, she played with the almost perfect ends of newly cut hair. If she didn’t think about the things they did at night, she wouldn’t think of what it meant. If she pretended, she didn’t have to think.
But that wasn’t Karolina’s plan, and Nico knew it.
“You’re quite sweet.”
“Don’t tell,” Nico swallowed, lips hovering near her own.
Karolina finally kissed her. It was quick and it was warm and it was good. It wasn’t pushing them toward anything at the moment, but it was definitely something that was homey and normal and could be something that pushed them to something eventually.
“Shower and eat.”
“You’re perfect, except for this morning person routine,” Nico groaned, flopping back down onto the pillows after following lips to keep kissing them.
“You think I’m perfect anyway,” she shrugged, smiling to herself.
“That’s an expression. You annoy me often.”
“And yet, you still want to kiss me,” Karlina decided, clearly having the upperhand in the argument.
“Yeah, annoy me,” Nico decided, covering her face with her hands as she huffed.
If she could ever figure out how someone could be so… so… so absolutely confounding, then manye she wouldn’t have to feel this burning in her very center. Not her heart, not her stomach, but the geographical center of her body felt as if there was a little coal inside of it. If she could figure out how someone like Karolina was someone that someone like herself would find completely mesmerizing, then that was the day she could leave.
Of course, she wasn’t sure if anyone could ever figure something like that out.
With no GPS, the van was crawling toward its destination as best it could. Every mile that was in the opposite direction of Brentwood was welcomed though, despite not knowing where they were heading. The thing about it, the thing about all of it, was Nico couldn’t stop thinking. She couldn’t stop thinking about what they were running from and toward. More importantly though, she couldn’t stop herself from smiling.
The highway was desolate and empty, with desert and scrub brush in all directions. The sun was violent and angry at everything, and despite her insistence on all black, Nico appreciated the kind of bitterness that a sun could muster. But while she moped and thought and pondered and kept herself distracted with the bland scenery that slipped past, the literal personification of sunshine sat beside her, humming along to the staticky radio.
Short hair now bouncing around as she danced a bit, terrible dollar sunglasses covering her face so that she looked like an old movie star, Karolina was very alive and very happy.
Nico reached down to their giant bag of snacks and opened a bottle of water. She took a sip and handed it over to the driver.
“I don’t think my mom knew about Amy,” Nico finally voiced her thoughts, unable to keep them in any longer. “She wouldn’t…. There’s no way to she would have let Jonah do that.”
“Is this what you’ve been brooding about?”
“I can see your head working. I thought it was to avoid thinking about everything,” Karolina tried, tilting up her sunglasses.
In their glove compartment was just shy of eight thousand dollars. In the trunk was some thrift store clothes that they got for everyone with some food and extra stuff they stole from the past two hotels. In the passenger seat was a much understated little goth girl who did this thing where she burrowed into and under things when she slept.
“I can’t stop thinking. You’re the one that seems to be avoiding everything the best.”
“I’m trying to keep your mood up.”
“Don’t do that,” Nico bit. “Don’t coddle me.”
The radio was a dull hum beneath them. The windows were caked in a thin film of dust and dirt from driving for six hours, but for the first time since they started running away from the bus stop a few days ago, they felt far enough to actually say their fears.
“I’m not coddling you. I just can’t worry about all of them, and think about surviving. Our parents are monsters. My parents are… Jonah is… he’s my father. And do you know how much that weighs on me?”
“Don’t-- don’t dance around the issues.”
“I can choose to think about them, or I can choose to think about us.”
“Your alien dad murdered my sister.”
“I know,” Karolina nodded. “But he’s not my dad.”
Karolina chanced a look over at the girl in the passenger seat. Legs up on the dash, knees close to her chest, Nico looked tiny, as if she was wrapping herself up as much as possible, to protect herself from her own thoughts. Her sunglasses were darker, keeping her eyes hidden while her mouth was stuck in a worried frown, but she didn’t look over. She couldn’t look back.
“I don’t think my mom knew about Amy,” Nico tried again, as a form of peace. She heard Karolina sigh. “Just… can you try to work it out with me? I’ve been going over it and over it.”
A semi approached and barrelled past, heading to wherever they were coming from. There were mountains in the distance and they felt inviting.
“I’ve tried thinking it over, and every time, I find myself thinking that there’s no way they would do something, and then I have to realize that they very well probably did. I don’t know where the line is for them.”
“But do you think my mother knew about Amy?” Nico sniffled slightly, though it was nothing. She wasn’t crying. She couldn’t cry. She wouldn’t.
“No,” Karolina decided. “I really hope not.”
There was this unspoken trust that Nico believed everything Karolina said. She wasn’t sure why or how or when it happened, but it did, and she accepted the wish as close enough.
“He’s not your fault. Jonah,” she finally offered. “You didn’t know. You’re not him.”
“Our parents are bad people. It’s that simple.”
“But not us,” Nico decided, finally turning to look at the driver. She watched her words change the stoney disposition, slightly thaw it toward her normal kind of happiness.
“Not us,” Karolina agreed, grinning as she put her sunglasses back. “Can we just, for now, focus on surviving?”
“Where you go, I go.”
Nico didn’t miss the different kind of smile she got with those words, nor did she miss the blush that snuck up a neck with a purple bruise on it. She was lying, of course, about not thinking about the problem of her parents and Pride. She couldn’t stop, even if she really wanted to, but despite herself and the wallowing, she couldn’t help but think about something else-- the us.
“Are you trying to coddle me now?” Karolina teased.
She wasn’t sure where the honesty came from, but it really was the truth. She earned a laugh and shook her head against being someone that said things like that. But after her parents, after the lying and sneaking, Nico wanted nothing more than to be an honest person, even if it felt foreign.
“Quite a pair we are.”
“I’m sure Alex and Chase are having similar talks,” Nico chuckled to herself.
“Do you think they’re making out, too?”
Both laughed at the idea of it and grossed themselves out. The hate that existed between the two was enough to power a city for a year if it could have been harnessed for energy.
“I sincerely hope we’re the only ones making out.”
“Chase and Gert reuniting should be intense,” Karolina wagered.
It went unstated that there was an If. A big If. If they all made it to the rendezvous. If everything went according to play. If they all survived.
“Ew, don’t remind me.”
“Is it weird that I miss everyone?”
“Kind of,” Nico shrugged.
“And you don’t?”
“You’re lying,” Karolina accused.
“The only one I’d miss is you.”
The blush moved again, this time up to her ears. If she hadn’t been wearing her bracelet, she’d be glowing, and Nico knew it. But still, she was grateful her sunglasses were dark and she could watch Karolina’s lips flutter up at the corners with the words.
“The fact that you can pick a fight and then say things like that is so frustrating, just so you know.”
“Oh, I know. But that’s just what you have to deal with.”
“So long as you know,” Karolina sighed and relaxed into her seat as they continued to follow the map.
Thirty miles from the little X on the map that Alex gave them when they left, they stopped at a campsite and decided to enjoy themselves. It was nearing the season, but when the looked at a calendar they realized it was a Thursday. The ranger smiled at their story of taking a semester off and road tripping before college. She told the story of how she’d done the same thing and never went back. Karolina and Nico shared a look and smiled awkwardly.
Back at school they would be preparing for finals. Now, they were camping in a van, as far away as possible. But Karolina asked really nicely, and Nico was powerless against it. She was powerless against a lot of things.
There’d been a truce that they’d found after squabbling about their parents and the baggage that they couldn’t really outrun. Karolina kissed Nico against the wall of a bathroom at a gas station. That was about all the convincing she really needed for anything. It was about all she needed to remember that it was stupid to fight, and this was more fun.
For a few hours, they were teenagers. They swam in the too cold water. They ate roasted food. They laughed and talked and forgot. They escaped.
“I like it,” Nico finally decided again as they sat beside the fire on the blanket they’d stolen from the first motel.
Wrapped in an old sweater, oversized sweater, Karolina turned her head and smiled, lit by only the campfire flashing against her features. Her smile was soft and natural. Nico couldn’t figure out how someone was just naturally smiling often.
“It’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be,” she nodded. “But I meant your hair. I miss it, but this suites you too.”
“Thanks. Not bad for making it up as I go.”
Tossing her hand through it, Karolina pushed it around, still slightly damp from their dip in the lake that now stretched out before them.
They were at the base of the mountains, in the hills, but the chill was still in the air. Nico shivered and leaned her chin on Karolina’s shoulder. She wrapped her arm around a bicep and chased the warmth that always seemed to be radiating off of the blonde.
“Did you ever believe in the stuff at your church?” Nico asked as they surveyed the flames and embers becoming stars.
“And the queen of asking weird questions out of nowhere is…” Karolina chuckled. “It’s like you have an entire conversation in your head and only say it when it’s halfway over.”
“No, no,” she absently kissed her temple. “I kind of like it. You’re never boring, that’s for sure.”
“And you are, glowy alien girl?” Nico teased back.
“You wouldn’t like me if I was normal.”
Wrapped up there on the blanket, allowing the fire to warm their feet and faces, they two sat there and let their hair dry in the evening. All was quiet and it was very different than the past few nights of sleeping they’d encountered. As it got darker and the day moved into the next, they both recognized that things were going to change again when they were back with the group, a thought that they’d pushed aside for as long as possible.
“I believed in it. I think I still do,” Karolina finally answered. “I don’t think I could stop. I’m just not sure about it. It feels like a lie, but… have you ever believed in something so entirely that it comes easy like breathing? It just exists.”
“I wanted to have that,” Nico nodded, kissing shoulder and hiding in the sweater to keep her nose warm. Her words vibrated there.
“Now it seems like a bit of a hassle.”
“I admire it.”
“You mock me all the time.”
“I mock everyone,” she shrugged. “Do you want to go to bed? I was promised sleeping in.”
“Did I promise that? I don’t recall,” Karolina teased, earning another groan. “Up around six for a hike?”
“That’s not a funny joke.”
“It’s pretty funny,” she disagreed.
The warmth from her shoulder disappeared as Nico sat up and detached herself. More and more, she was getting used to this person who asked random questions and decided it was enough. Nico wasn’t easy to pin down, but Karolina was exceptionally enamored with how her mind worked. Strong and quick and smart and thoughtful, she was just different.
“You can sleep out here then,” Nico retorted as she jerked open the stuck door to the trunk.
She knew it was an empty threat, but still, Karolina smiled and gave the stars one more look before closing her eyes and making a wish that they’d be safe.
The trunk of the old van was spacious and had the added luxury of coming with a lot of junk that the previous owner refused to empty. But perhaps the only thing they kept that was of any real use was the cushions that they covered in a few blankets and made into a bed.
Nico sat on the edge of the bumper and took off her shoes before sliding back into their makeshift room. She was exhausted, but her entire day was one that she didn’t want to end. If she slept, it’d be over.
Outside, Karolina threw water on the fire and trudged toward the van.
There was just the tiny light in the van chasing away the dark. That and the stars. That and the lake, glowing in the spring evening.
Without a word, Karolina crawled into their space. Nico smelled like shampoo and the lake and the woods and spring. Gone was her normal perfume, though Karolina wasn’t necessarily upset that this new smell greeted her. She just recognized it now. Three months ago she had a crush on a pretty girl who didn’t care to acknowledge she existed. Now she was in bed with her.
Both settled on their individual sides as Karolina reached up and turned off the small light. It was a weird balance they’d found for themselves, that they were close and both unsure of how to initiate being close except in big moves and brave moments of effort. They checked themselves too much in small times, thinking it over too much and talking themselves over something as simple as holding a hand.
In the distance, a lone owl hooted, long and doleful in the night. The lake lapped at the shore and hushed the rest of the world.
“We don’t have to go to the meeting point,” Karolina whispered in the dark.
The words were finally a thought both allowed themselves to harbor, but were afraid to say in the sunlight. Now, though, they were just part of the night.
“I’d give anything for that to be true,” Nico sighed.
“We should. Just keep going and start over.”
“Like they’d make it without us,” she scoffed.
“Where you go, I go.”
Karolina shifted, rolling over so that she could place her hand on Nico’s hip. She was rewarded with a similar move, though hands now touched her clavicle and neck, hitting the sore spot, as if it was almost on purpose.
“Is it weird that I’m going to miss this? Just you and me, being alone?” Karolina ventured.
Of its own accord, her hand moved to the top of Nico’s hip. It skated along skin beneath her shirt and she swallowed at touching her. Inexperienced and unsure, Karolina moved only knowing what she wanted to do, hoping that it was alright.
“It has been a nice three days, considering.”
Nico shifted closer, until her knee was touching, until her hands were toying with the hair at the base of Karolina’s neck.
“It’s felt like we’ve been living on borrowed time.”
“It’s made me a little more brave, lately. Everything has changed, and I think I have, too,” Karolina confessed.
“I’d say kissing me at the dance was the real start of this whole thing,” Nico smiled, always amused at such things.
“That was the moment I decided to be brave. The world was falling apart, so why not take a shot, right?”
The words stuck in Nico’s head as she considered them. Their days were numbered, and she knew it, though she definitely wasn’t going to tell the pretty, happy blonde girl next to her that. If anything, she was going to do her best to save her as long as possible.
But the words made her brave, because she understood that they didn’t have time. She was brave because she had lost so much and suddenly was confronted with something else that she didn’t want to lose.
With a slight, slow shift, Nico shifted her nose closer. As if talking herself out of it one last time, she ignored it and took a page from Karolina’s playbook.
It wasn’t a crash. It was far from that, actually. It was slow. It was very very slow and soft, but Nico kissed Karolina once again. She pushed forward a second later, spurred on by this need to feel, to be felt, to contain anything at all, because she was suddenly confronted with the fact that she was like a paper cup with a hole in it, and everything good drailed out.
Karolina melted into the kiss, the quiet, the gentle, the soft kiss that turned to something different almost instantly. She knew that Nico was never one to say what she meant. You had to read her, you had to know her tells.
Her tongue made Karolina dizzy and clutch harder, her hand shifting higher up naked back until she felt shoulder blade and no bra and almost had a seizure. But she couldn’t have a seizure if she was having a heart attack, which she was certain she was having as Nico leaned back and Karolina somehow found herself on top of her.
Muscles clenched under her hand as she skated a rib. She found herself kissing jaw and neck as her thigh settled between Nico’s. A body pushed against her as her thumb brazed breast and Karolina came up for air, afraid to move her hand though a spine arched into her palm.
Even in the dark, she could make out Nico’s lips and how puffy they’d become with how harsh the kisses had grown. Hands cupped her cheeks and pushed aside her hair. She was new under hands like those. She was composed.
“I want… you. I want you,” Nico decided, much fiercer the second time. “Please.”
There wasn’t a second though. There didn’t have to be. Karolina leaned forward and kissed her again. It was that moment though that she realized she’d give Nico anything she wanted.
Clumsily, Karolina lifted Nico’s shirt, helping her out of it.
“Wow,” she swallowed. It was dark and it was not a clear view, but she didn’t care. Karolina finally understood what everyone was talking about when it came to boobs. She had an idea, but this was very different, and unexpectedly great. “I can die tomorrow and not care.”
“Shut up,” Nico rolled her eyes and shifted her hips, drawing everyone’s attention back to the problem at hand.
Brave. Karolina was brave.
She kissed Nico’s chest. She listened to her heartbeat. She kissed everywhere she could and had hands gripping her hair.
This ache grew, between them. Nico clung to every feeling that she could get, giving what she could, taking what she must. She tugged Karolina’s sweater and shirt off before kissing her again, their naked chests touching and making them push closer.
“I don’t care,” Nico moaned as a hand trailed between her legs. “Please.”
There was a naive belief that Karolina believed that she understood most of the world, especially after the past few months. She understood too much and she wasn’t in the market for learning anything else.
And then she tasted Nico, and felt thigh on her ears and hands tugging her hair, and she was absolutely certain that it was the most important life lesson of all time. Unsure and tentative, she did her best, enjoying eager instructions and taking cues from jolting hips. It felt like forever and no time at all, and she was ready to never move again. But like a wind up toy that’d been wound too tight, Nico went slack finally with a gargled moan between gritted teeth.
“Okay, okay, okay,” Nico chanted to herself as her thighs loosened.
“That was okay?”
“You can’t keep tell me--”
A hand covered her mouth as she climbed back toward the top of their makeshift bed.
“Let me catch my breath and then you can be all eager and type-A, okay?”
The only thing she could do was nod until the hand dropped. Karolina grinned and kissed Nico’s neck and then cheek. She kissed her shoulder and she ran her hand over her boobs again, just for good measure, because she could and they were there and she liked them a lot.
“Fuck, I like you.”
“I’d hope so,” Karolina grinned, unsure of what else to say. She felt Nico turn her head slightly. “We can do it again. I’m sure I can do better this--”
“Stop talking,” Nico ordered, sitting up slightly.
“You’re going to give me a complex if you keep bossing me around.”
“Just… stop for one second. I’m not sure how to do this and unlike you I don’t glow and I’m not good at everything I do the first time I try them.”
“Shh!” Nico ordered again before pushing forward and kissing her quiet.
Karolina was never going to stop talking if it meant kisses like that. Kisses so good, she wasn’t quite sure how she got on her own back. Kisses so good, she didn’t realize her hands were on Nico’s hips, the same hips which were now straddling her.
Inexperienced or not, Nico was determined, and Karolina was never going to survive this dynamo in such a small package. Hips held down, she wasn’t sure how Nico hadn’t done it before. She held Karolina’s hand the entire time.
But unlike Karolina, Nico didn’t have to ask how it was. She just grinned as Karolina laid there, completely zen and relaxed beyond all comparison. She kissed her hip bone because she could, and she wasn’t ready to die without doing that at least once.
Unfortunately, the entire thing did the opposite of what Nico had expected-- to just be one more thing she checked off her list as her life fell apart. Instead, it just made her want to be alive more than ever, which was absolutely exhausting.
“Dammit,” Karolina sighed as Nico straddled her once again, oddly enjoying the position.
“I really like you, too.”
“Are you… are you mocking me?”
“I’m rubbing off on you,” Nico sighed with faux concern.
Karolina tugged her into a kiss, eager to try more things to stretch out this perfection.
Chapter 3: Friends
The thing about sleeping in a van was the distinct lack of curtains. Nico made a note of that as she yawned and dug deeper into the pillow and body that her arm was currently holding tightly. Outside, birds were chirping and the sun was shining. An entire day was well into its normal routine, and still the bodies in the van decided that sleeping was a much better way to spend the morning.
It was needed, in a way. The first time, Nico wanted to see if she could. The second, she wanted to see what else she was capable. The third and fourth were accidents. It was a new addiction she had, to see Karolina moan and beg. That was going to be something that crept into her perfectly normal thoughts throughout the day, and completely hijacked her into a daydream of a pretty girl and how she tasted. It probably wasn’t going to help that she couldn’t stop thinking about what Karolina was capable of, either. Just like that, her time was now going to be divided between two thoughts.
But as the birds chirped, and as the lake rolled against the shore, as the creatures of the forest began throwing their parties and waking up the neighborhood, the realization that she wasn’t alone in bed hit Nico almost suddenly. Within her arms was a girl who was quickly becoming the closest thing to home that she might have ever known.
Nico tightened her grasp and earned a small adjustment of a naked body arching back into her and she smiled against the skin of her shoulder and continued to try to hide from the real world. For a few more promised hours, she was safe from thinking of anything else.
With a small, small, almost not even there smile, Nico fell back to sleep quickly, never loosening her grip on Karolina.
Warm. Karolina was warm and she was happy. If she didn’t have her bracelet on, she’d have been glowing so bright people would have seen from space. Instead, she just glowed to herself and smiled as she woke to lips on her naked shoulder.
There was still an ache in her bones and thighs and neck from the night before that lasted well into the early morning.There was a lot of learning to be had, and Karolina found herself to be an eager student. If needing sleep hadn’t existed, she probably wouldn’t have stopped.
“I was up before you,” Nico mumbled, kissing neck and burrowing under messy hair. “Did you finally sleep?”
“I’ve been sleeping.”
“For a few hours. I didn’t even feel you move.”
“You tired me out,” Karolina purred and smiled as she kept her eyes closed and rolled over.
All at once, she remembered that she was naked. She was naked in bed with Nico. They both were naked, which was not unwelcomed and altogether perfection. But it wasn’t a dream. It’d been real. There were even little scratches that she felt as cold air finally hit her back. There was physical proof that it’d been real, and lately, that was necessary. She ran away from home because her parents were criminals, and she had sex in the back of a van. It was quite a ride.
“We don’t have to meet up with them,” Nico whispered again.
When Karolina opened her eyes, she realized that Nico was watching her, her face impassive and earnest. She was just waiting to hear the words that they didn’t have to go, almost hoping for it, at least, for someone to tell her that it was okay to think and say such a thing.
Softly, Karolina smiled and pushed away some messy black hair from Nico’s face. She was beautiful. She was absolutely mesmerizing when she woke up. Gone was the makeup, gone was the wall that kept out the world.
She didn’t answer, just kissed Nico to assure her of something good.
“What do you really want to do?” Karolina sighed, kissing her softly again, letting her lips linger there.
Nico shifted forward and tucked herself under a chin. With a deep breath she smelled the warmth, the impossible to miss smell that was Karolina’s skin. She was learning that smell and she was craving it more and more.
“You’re right. We don’t know what they’re capable of, and I don’t know how to stop them.”
“So do we try or do we leave?”
“Do you think anyone would ever believe us?”
“I could take my bracelet off,” Karolina offered.
“No!” Nico jumped quickly. “No. You can never show anyone that.”
“I was kidding.”
“I’m not. We go to the cops and say that aliens exist and they’re burrowing into the earth and will knock LA off the map, with the evidence being a dinosaur and you… they’ll do to you what they’d do to Old Lace, and it’s lock you up and study you.”
“Karolina, I’m serious,” she pulled away and shook her head. “That’s never going to be an option.”
She expected a fight. She expected to get scolded or to be laughed at for worrying, but Nico never anticipated the smile that spread across Karolina’s face.
“We talk to the others and see how they feel.”
“You’re kind of hot when you’re bossy and worried about me,” she chuckled.
“Yeah?” Nico furrowed and cleared her throat, not sure what to do with that information.
Arms slid around her neck and pulled her into a kiss, and Nico wondered why she hadn’t felt this with anyone else, or if it was just Karolina. Her pragmatic brain told her it was just teenage hormones. In a few weeks it would wear off.
But Karolina slid atop her and Nico melted anyway, despite the reassurance of her brain.
The road that led to the X on the map was winding and led up through the forests. There definitely wasn’t a lot of neighbors. Nico sat with her feet on the dash and listened to the low static of the radio as she stared at the map. She honestly had a chance to miss her phone until GPS was out the window. She’d kill for Google Maps.
But Karolina drove along, slipping along curves and toward their destination. As much as they’d talked about leaving, about not showing up, both grew a little anxious to see if everyone else made it. It was never an option to not show up, no matter what they actually would have wanted. They were all in it together. No one else would understand.
“I think it’s a right up here,” Nico finally mentioned, squinting up ahead and following a route on the map with her hands.
The road turned to gravel and skated through trees that came too close to their van. They inched along for another mile, waiting to see something. It wasn’t until Nico looked back down at the map that Karolina stopped and leaned forward after a final left turn around a thicket of trees and brush.
“Wow,” she whispered, sizing up the small cabin.
Nico followed her glance and let her feet drop. It wasn’t anything other than a small place that had seen better days. Trash littered the front in the forms of old cars and other pieces of junk. The roof over the porch sagged and a drain spout hung off of one side. Dead vines tried to cover a window. It was modest, but had two floors, which was promising. The paint chipped off everywhere so that they weren’t sure what it once was colored. Instead, the dead brown or grey of the wood occupied most of it.
“Looks like we found something,” Nico sighed. “Do you think we’re the fir--”
A loud bang on the side of their van made them jump before the head of a dinosaur peered in the window, ready to attack.
“Down! You know them!” Gert stomped down the stairs, yelling at her dinosaur.
“Thank God,” Karolina smiled, already unbuckling and preparing to jump out of the van.
All at once, Nico felt the shift that they weren’t just a team of two. She wanted desperately to pause time and keep everything how it had been, but didn’t know how. Instead, she just swallowed and looked helplessly at Karolina.
Pure sunshine. Pure warmth. Pure energy. All of it look back at her as if she was being silly, as if soothing her.
“You and me, right?” Karolina grinned.
“And a dinosaur.”
With a wink and a smile that said a lot of things, Karolina disappeared, hopping out of the van and hugging Gert so tightly, and receiving a tighter hug in return. From her seat, Nico wasn’t sure they’d survive the reuniting. She never once believed Karolina would run away with her and forget the meeting. She believed in family, despite everything else.
Slowly, Nico slid out of the van and avoided the dinosaur that just cocked its head and looked at her expectantly. She never turned her back to it, but soon found herself hugged tightly as well while a carnivorous beast that should have been extinct watched.
“Thank goodness you made it,” Molly hugged her with a good portion of her strength. “It’s been torture just waiting here. And you got a van!”
“Easy there, Hulk Junior,” Nico grunted before allowing herself to be hugged.
Nothing could deter Molly though, and for a moment, Nico enjoyed seeing her. It meant that they were safe for the moment, and that was enough of a victory.
“I guess dark lipstick and eyeshadow were not deemed necessary,” Gert teased as they changed partners.
“Maybe your rants about the misogyny of the beauty industry finally took root,” Nico teased back, enjoying the warmth.
“You look good,” she smiled, sizing up her friend. Nico watched Gert tilt her head and stare at her quizzically before a smile slithered through her lips. “Did you get into a fight with a vacuum cleaner?”
“Damn, Karolina, that’s just impressive.”
The blush was fiercer than a blush had any right to be. It physically burned up her neck and cheeks, though Nico would doubt it. Upon hearing her name, Karolina looked over at the pair, Molly still clinging to her. She observed Nico awkwardly looking away and Gert smiling smugly.
“Don’t,” Nico growled, nudging Gert’s ribs quickly. She put a hand on her neck and tried to look casual. There really was no hope for her.
“Why don’t we show you inside?” Gert quickly recovered. “And you cut your hair. I love it.”
Karolina gave Nico a weird look as she let herself be dragged ahead. Only when she earned a small smile and nod did she go willingly.
“Was Gert asking about the hickeys?” Molly interrupted Nico’s thoughts, making her jump at how quietly she approached.
“I missed you,” she sighed, hugging her once again.
The difference was, Nico recognized the relief and the genuine emotion behind it, and with no one else watching other than a stupid dinosaur, she relaxed and hugged the youngest member of the team back.
The inside of the cabin was about expected. Light poured in from the windows with no blinds, though curtains hung to the sides, swept open in a fit of making it feel less dingy. It helped enough to make it seem less bleak, but there wasn’t much else. It was spartan, at best. All appliances and furniture was well over a few decades old and looked as if they’d seen some use. Karolina surveyed the living room as Molly flopped down on the old couch.
A television played some VHS tapes, though even those were a little gnarled with age and static. The rug was worn a few lighter shades from foot traffic, and the coffee table was well worn past its varnish, but it wasn’t altogether dismal. The walls were half wooden and painted a light green, which was almost soothing.
“We got here two mornings ago,” Gert explained as she moved toward the kitchen. Karolina followed with Nico a few steps behind her, taking it in just as eagerly. “It looked abandoned. Please tell me you brought some supplies, because we’ve been eating ancient pasta.”
“We have food in the van,” Karolina offered, surveying the cabinets and window that looked onto a backyard of more junk and then forest. “What is this place?”
“I don’t know. It has pretty much everything. There’s a few bedrooms upstairs, too. A bathroom down here and up there. We’ve been camped out in the living room, afraid to leave lights on. It’s been terrifying.”
“Any word from Chase and Alex?” Nico asked, meandering down a hall a few feet and then back. “We didn’t hear anything on the radio or on the news.”
“Nothing yet,” she pursed her lips and leaned against a counter and crossed her arms. “I’m sure they’re okay. They have to be.”
“How are you doing?” Karolina softened, rubbing Gert’s elbow soothingly.
“I’m fine. I’m great. I’m the best. Everything is just peachy here,” she scoffed and clenched her jaw. “We’re on the run and our parents murdered over a dozen teenagers. My meds are back home and probably not going to help against the constant panic attack that my life has become. And I’m pretty sure I never turned in my library book, so my fine is going to be outrageous.”
“So long as everything’s fine,” Nico mumbled, earning a look from Karolina.
“Please tell me you two have some good news and you didn’t spend the past three days fucking across the state.”
“Oh, well, um,” Nico swallowed and furrowed at the honesty.
“We have almost eight thousand dollars,” Karolina offered. “We picked up some basic supplies. Not much, but enough. And the van could probably go for a ways.”
“Okay, thank you,” Gert took a deep breath. “That helps.”
“Why don’t we grab some food and relax,” Karolina tried, pulling out a chair for her friend. She nudged her head toward Nico, pleading with her for help.
“Yeah. I’ll go grab some stuff. Come on, Molly.”
“I hope you have actual food. I’d kill for some tacos or something.”
With a look over her shoulder, Nico watched Karolina sit with Gert. It wasn’t a secret that her anxiety was epic. It wasn’t something she could completely control, and in all honestly, it was simply amazing that she wasn’t having a panic attack every two seconds with everything happening. But Karolina smiled and told Gert that everything was fine. They were together again, and stronger because of it. They’d survived the hardest part.
She watched the scene before making her way outside behind the eager kid in the cartoon beanie.
“Is Gert going to be okay?” Nico asked as they slid open the door.
“She’s worried about Chase. And all of us,” Molly shrugged, surveying some of the bags of food as she grabbed them. “But you guys made it, so they should, too.”
Looking for some assurances, Nico just nodded and smiled at Molly as they heaved shut the door and made their way back inside. All she could do was feel grateful that they made their way back to the group.
As the day wore on, Karolina really began to understand how exhausting it must have been to do nothing but sit there and wait. Old Lace sat on the porch, listening to every single noise, head curled up on her arms like a puppy, though her eyes never closed. She just waited.
It was very different to be near other people. Just three days, and Karolina had gotten very used to being near Nico, alone. But there was a safety in numbers for some reason. It took all of an hour to recall the past few days, but they cooked and went over everything, and when that got to be too much, they let Molly pick a movie that no one paid attention to as they waited some more.
On the couch, Nico leaned against Karolina’s shoulder and yawned, oddly tired despite being allowed to sleep as much as she’d wanted. Karolina felt her play with the edge of her sweater and smiled to herself to be someone’s worrying toy.
But as the hours droned forward, the movie lost its hold, and Gert began to pace and look through the windows, hoping to find some glimpse of anyone. She busied herself cleaning and making the cabin feel more homey, though there really wasn’t much else to do with it.
“We should dibb a bedroom,” Nico mumbled as her eyes grew heavy.
“You think we’re staying long enough to need to pick one?” Karolina tried.
“I can’t think that far ahead. But for the night, we need somewhere.”
There were fingertips on the hem of her jeans and Karolina swallowed that the feeling of it. High on her thigh, they played with her pants and made her legs tingle the entire way up to her hips and eventually further on to her lungs.
Nico didn’t change her face at all, but remained composed, as if she wasn’t playing with Karolina’s thigh and effectively turning her into mush. When she finally lifted her head at the way Karolina hitched her breath, she realized what she’d been doing and stilled her hand.
“I don’t think they’re coming. What do we do if they don’t come?” Gert worried, interrupting the two from gazing at each other for another full minute. “What could have happened? What if they need us?”
“They’re fine,” Molly tried.
“Alex is a genius and case is strong,” Nico agreed. “They had the best shot.”
“You made it here with a dinosaur,” Karolina gave it her best attempt. “They’ll be here.”
“I’m not saying these things because I’m afraid,” Gert lied. “I just… we have to be prepared for if they don’t get here. What is our next move?”
Nico looked at Karolina and waited for something, though she just got pleading eyes. In a small move, Karolina adjusted, holding Nico’s hand and rubbing her palm against her forearm, soothing away any worry.
“Seriously, this is a thing now?” Gert grinned, amused at the two of them, distracting herself from her own worry. “You two being all lovey and gross?”
“We’re not,” Nico straightened slightly, though didn't’t remove her hand. She never could have done something like that.
“This goes back to the night of the dance, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s not important,” Karolina shook her head, growing a little nervous. “We should--”
“You have to tell us everything. It’s a good distraction,” Molly informed them, smiling at their complete discomfort.
“There’s nothing to tell,” Nico groaned, tilting her head back and closing her eyes, already annoyed by it all.
“Those bruises say otherwise.”
“Shh,” Gert shot up, staring toward the window.
The others grew quiet and waited, instantly tense. Nico stood only when Karolina did, her hands still holding toward her forearm. Without any hesitation, and not really sure what it was that she could fully do, Karolina kept her hand on her bracelet, ready to take it off at a moment’s notice, ready to do whatever she could to get them out. She stood between Nico and the door as Gert moved toward it.
A loud thump echoed, and Old Lace let out a growl before the door shook with the force of something against it.
“Call off the dinosaur, Gert!” Chase yelled as he pounded against the door.
With renewed speed, Gert tossed open the door, instantly followed by three bodies falling forward into a mess of limbs and groaning.
“Easy, tiger,” Nico chuckled to herself to get rid of the uneasy feeling in her gut. “No need to blast anyone.”
Karolina looked down at her wrist and how she was ready to take off her bracelet. She watched Nico rub right beneath it soothingly, and she relaxed, unsure of where the absolute dread manifested. They’d been on the run for a few days, and not once had she felt so threatened than by something that went bump in the night.
Gone was the carefree feeling of the morning, gone was the notion that she’d ever find any sleep again. Gone was all sense of security again, and in its place was this innate need to protect them from any harshness.
“This place is impossible to find in the dark,” Chase explained as Gert helped him up, only to hug him so he couldn’t move. “Wilder is about as useless as a phonebook.”
“I’ve only driven by this place once before,” Alex defended himself. “Four years ago.”
“I’m so glad to see you,” Gert smiled, shaking her head as she clasped Chase’s cheeks. Before he could say anything, she kissed him.
“Alright, you guys do that,” Alex winced as he tugged himself up and shook off the dust. Old Lace did the same and watched curiously, waiting for something to happen.
“You had us scared to death,” Nico complained, finally taking the time to hug Alex quicklly before moving on to a freshly flushed and kissed Chase.
Everyone exchanged their welcomes and worries, grateful to have made it.
“Looks like we’re officially runaways,” Alex nodded as the group settled.
“Now what?” Molly asked.
No one said anything at all for a moment as they surveyed each other and shifted in the little living room, now full with all of their bodies and a dinosaur.
"We'll figure something out," Gert decided.
For a second, everyone agreed.
Chapter 4: Both
hey im on tumblr (coeurdastronaute) and twitter (@coeurastronaute). come prompt me for these idiots.
The cabin was quiet, the woods were full of life in the darkness, but the six settled in for the night, finally together again, and exhausted from merely existing. On the front porch, tucked in a corner with an old afghan, Old Lace sat, still like a statue and constantly vigilant. The kitchen had the remains of the quick dinner and snacks they’d pulled together, with dishes stacked and promised to be washed eventually.
Almost restless on the lumpy couch, Chase shoved his fist into a pillow and pressed himself more into the cushions as he slept, both relieved and worried at the same time. Alex finally fell into a better sleep than he can recall once he heard everyone else grow quiet. His thoughts swirled too much, constantly, as he tried to keep track of everything. Sick of each other and almost coming to some kind of understanding, the two boys knew not to push their luck in the friend department. There were too many strong egos present and in need of repair.
Molly and Gert settled in the room at the top of the stairs and next to the bathroom. Even with the door just cracked, Molly’s soft snores were enough for everyone to feel better. It took her no time at all to fall asleep, what Gert fondly thought of as her real super power as she laid in her own bed and stared at the rafters of the room before drifting off to a relieved sleep.
The house made noises as it settled, finally having occupants again for the first time in what must have been a decade at least. The old bones of the wooden walls creak with their breathing, while the floors and roof still pop with the movements.
In the quiet, in the familiar noises of the new home, the six runaways slept, actually truly slept, for the first time in a week. They stayed up too late putting together everything they knew, showing off everything they got during their separation, but ultimately, it was simply being together that made them feel something that they didn’t realize they needed. Well into the late part of the night or the earliest part of the morning, they allowed themselves some rest with the lingering question of what to do now following them to bed.
But at the top of the stairs, in the tiny bedroom at the very end of the hall, not one question remained anymore. No one said anything when Nico yawned and asked Karolina if she was ready to go to bed. The rest just nodded a goodnight and continued their discussions. All Karolina could do was follow and tuck hair behind her ear shyly as she caught Gert’s eye when they left. She knew she’d follow Nico anywhere. Everyone knew it.
Without a word, they crawled into bed and fell asleep before anyone else. And for the start of it, Karolina thought she would make it through another night, she thought that Nico was her good luck charm, that she was a kind of mind eraser, capable of taking away all of the bad.
But she had the Dream. The one of Jonah coming, with the snarl and the glowering face. She felt herself unable to move under his power, just frozen and unable to anything as he picked off her friends one by one. She felt herself within him so that she was the one attacking her friends and torturing them despite not being able to move.
The window was almost grey and light when she shot up despite the warmth on her chest of Nico’s arm as she slept. Sweat chilled on her neck and chest, but Karolina didn’t notice much of it. Instead, she just breathed and willfully made her muscles release from the contracting they’d been doing.
“Mmm, Kar,” Nico groaned and hugged her tighter, cutting through how startled she made herself. Karolina nodded to herself and swallowed, finding an anchor in the form of a sleepy protest.
Nico was fine. Nico was alive. Nico was burrowing into her shoulder. Those were the facts that kept Karolina from imploding from the dream.
Shoved close together in the twin bed in the tiny room, there wasn’t much room for anyone to move without notice.
“Sorry,” Karolina whispered, pressing her hand into her chest to calm her beating heart.
Despite herself, despite the words and the feeling of being safe, or as safe as they could be, despite being clung to by a beautiful girl who was alarmingly protective, despite it all, Karolina couldn’t stop the tears that were silently running down her cheeks. She wasn’t sure when they started, just that they were needed.
It was a request and an order all at once, one that Karolina allowed herself to obey.
“Do you have enough room?” she mumbled as she let herself settle again.
“Shh, come here.”
“Sleep. It was just a dream.”
“You keep having dreams. Come here.”
Stern as she could be, Nico let Karolina slip back into bed. She pulled her closer and wiped at the tears on her cheeks before kissing where the tracks were still warm. Wrapped up in the tiny girl, Karolina felt infinitely warmer, infinitely safer, infinitely more silly for having nightmares like a child.
The old shirt hung from Nico’s shoulders, and Karolina slid her hands under it. There was something about the movement that just felt good, felt natural. Not once did Karolina think about it, at least not until she realized she was hugging at Nico and running her fingers along her shoulder blades and spine.
“No more of these dreams,” Nico whispered, kissing her jaw. “You are safe and everyone made it.”
“But what am I?”
“You’re Karolina Dean. You’re the best person I know.”
Lips moved to her neck, lips moved to her shoulder, burrowing deeper, pressing her more into the bed. Pressed as close as could be, Karolina tugged Nico even more, knitting her hands into her hair as she slid atop her.
“How can I make you less sad?”
“I’m not sad.” A thigh slid between her legs and crying was forgotten, the dream was pushed aside and Karolina felt her breathing catch only because of the things Nico could do.
“Will you tell me what you need?”
“Just you,” Karolina breathed.
“Is that all?” Nico smirked. Karolina could hear it in her words, and all she needed was to feel something. The breath was hot against her ear as a hand slid under her shirt and palmed her breast.
“Yes,” she breathed.
It was slow. Nico was tired and sleepy and couldn’t lift herself off of Karolina, but that didn’t stop her from grinding her thigh into her or building her up, lazy and slowly. She kissed her neck, she kissed her cheeks, she stared at her in the dawn as the light made more and more details visible.
They weren’t in a rush, and as tired as Nico was, she felt herself wake up for the feeling of Karolina arching and begging beneath her.
Right there, on the twin sized bed and amidst their first night back with the group, Karolina clung at Nico’s shoulder blades and let herself be comforted. It didn’t hurt that Nico was taking her time and enjoying it.
“You’re so beautiful,” Nico shook her head and whispered as Karolina tossed her head back, jaw stretching upwards, putting all manner of long neck on display for playing with.
“Please,” she swallowed and pushed her hips harder into the palm that now worked and teased and swirled and dipped and tortured.
That was all she really needed though. Nico let her come finally. She sweetly kissed at her neck and let her ride it out on her fingers. She kissed and hugged and clung as Karolina came down from the high, her body now complete jelly and very relaxed. As she caught her breath, nico slid beside her in bed, though much of her body weight remained atop her.
“Your dreams aren’t coming true,” Nico whispered. “We’re going to figure it out.”
“What can I do to make you less sad?”
“Just,” Karolina breathed and closed her eyes. “Don’t go anywhere.”
“For the orgasm… or?”
“That mostly” she smiled and let herself be hugged tighter. As much as she needed it, sometimes, she knew that Nico needed to hold her just as much.
“You can talk to me about anything, just so you know.”
“I don’t like you crying. That might be the worst thing in the world,” Nico decided, her hand finding Karolina’s hip and slipping there where she rubbed her thumb in a circle slowly.
“Sleep,” Karolina ordered this time as she rolled and faced the wall, bringing her blanket in the form of Nico with her slightly.
With a much larger sigh, Karolina shifted her hips and felt infinitely lighter. After just a moment, Nico was asleep and she was left with her thoughts. But Karolina didn’t really have anymore worries. She just had this burning urge to know more. To know where she came from, and also, to repay the favor to Nico in the morning.
As much as she shouldn’t have been, Nico was confused that she managed to wake up in bed alone. She rolled onto her back and dug the heels of her palms into her eyes and scowled, amazed that Karolina was able to sneak out considering she was sandwiched between her own body and the wall, and also that she was able to sleep through it, again.
Slowly, as she laid there and willed herself to get up, Nico listened to the sounds of the house come into focus. The sun was up, streaming through the old, dusty curtains, while the world outside was vibrant with animals and a quiet that existed only in the middle of absolute nowhere. If she really strained her ears, she could hear the television and a faucet with running water. There were voices somewhere, though not enough to make them out.
After debating it-- really, truly debating it-- Nico pushed herself out of bed and tugged on one of Karolina’s big flannels and a pair of leggings. In the bathroom, she washed her face and tried to wake up. She took just a minute between stealing Karolina’s toothbrush and brushing her hair to stare at herself in the mirror.
In a week, she’d become unrecognizable. The stress made her face look older, her eyes suddenly deeper and darker. Gone was all of the make up, and in its place was an almost fresh face, though she did manage to steal a dark lipstick from a gas station.
There was a worry, too, that seemed impossible to avoid. Nico braced herself on the sink and took in a deep breath. She could feel herself failing at Karolina; failing for her. She only wanted to help and she didn’t know how, which was terrifying, to say the least. But she wasn’t going to stop trying. Of that, she was certain.
“Hey, you’re up,” Karolina smiled and relaxed noticeably as Nico made her way down the stairs and toward the kitchen.
“How did you sneak out?” Nico asked, wrapping her arms around Karolina’s waist as she finished putting some dishes away on a high shelf.
Without thinking about it, Nico kissed between her shoulder blades and closed her eyes, digging her forehead into back a second later. As soon as it happened, she caught herself and peeled away, aware that other people might exist in the room.
“Great, now we can actually discuss things,” Chase decided, leaning back in his chair at the table and tucking a pencil behind his ear.
“Let her eat,” Karolina scolded, blush still on her cheeks as she revealed a plate of breakfast she’d been hiding.
“Seriously though, how’d you sneak out?” Nico furrowed and accepted the plate as she was directed to the table.
“I can fly, remember?”
“Hey you’re up,” Molly smiled as she loped into the room with Gert following, arm full of books and an annoyed look on her face. “We’re training outside. You should see what I can lift now.”
Just like that, she was stuck in it all. Nico nibbled on some toast and drank some bad coffee, but mostly she just watched everyone argue and talk about everything. Karolina finished cleaning and took a seat on the opposite side of the table, sipping her own mug of goopy coffee.
“Are you going to eat that? Or that? Or that?” Molly asked, licking her lips before Nico gave up and slid the plate towards her, earning a disapproving glance from the blonde across the table.
They had a way of talking somehow. Nico wasn’t sure how it developed, that they didn’t even need words, but she enjoyed it more than anything. There were fading bruises on Karolina’s neck, and she made a note to herself to rectify it as soon as possible.
“Where’s Alex?” Gert decided, standing with her hand on her hip.
“I think he--”
“Are we ready now?” Alex asked as he entered, as if on cue. He looked at the table, annoyed at the noise and the inconvenience. “Since everyone finally decided to make an appearance.”
“I was tired,” Nico retorted. “Late night.”
“You were the first to bed,” Molly reminded her between crunches on her toast.
“Something kept me up.”
The blush crept higher, up to Karolina’s ears, but Nico just looked about the table disinterested and drank her coffee. She felt Alex tense as he took a seat at the head of one side of the table, opposite Chase.
“Can we focus?”
“We only need to figure out one thing,” Gert shook her head and leaned forward in her chair, her hands doing the talking. “Are we safe here?”
“We’re safe for now,” Alex nodded.
“Yeah, well how long can we hope that your dad doesn’t come checking all of his property holdings?” Chase argued.
“This land is for drilling. It’s not even on his radar. He owns about a hundred square miles.”
“Still,” Karolina spoke up. “We can’t trust it for too long.”
“We just need to get our heads on straight. We have to decide.”
“It’s too early for this,” Nico sighed and shook her head. “Whatever you want to do, I’ll do, but we go back and we fight, or we move and forget this. Each sounds perfect for me.”
“We have to discuss this,” Alex disagreed. “You can’t just go along with whatever we choose. You have to be part of the decision.”
“I don’t care anymore.”
“Nico,” Karolina whispered, giving her a look.
“We run. We get as far from them as we can,” Chase decided. “We don’t look back. That’s how we survive this.”
“And go where?” Gert scoffed. “Where can we run to that no one will know us?”
“We got the papers. We all can have new identities and survive.”
“What about our parents,” Karolina clenched her jaw and toyed with her mug, not looking up at the group. “Do we just let them go? What if they keep killing? What if that hole they’re digging is for something worse?”
“And we can stop them?” Chase shook his head and leaned back, shoulders slumping.
“We have to,” Karolina decided.
Without a word, Nico stood and walked away from the table, ignoring the words of people asking where she was going.
“I just wanted to drink my coffee!” Nico yelled as she walked down the hall toward the front porch.
It was a gradual thing, that everyone separated to their corners for a few hours. It was needed, as much as they wanted to be close, each had so much baggage to try to comprehend, that they couldn’t figure out where to start.
But Karolina didn’t care. She knew that she wanted to keep Nico safe. That meant going with whatever she wanted so that she kept her close. It was simple and efficient and didn’t take into account this growing hatred and resentment in her chest that bubbled up like lava through her bones, burning her alive, whenever she thought about her parents or what they did or that face that now haunted her every night.
By the time the sun was higher in the sky, by the time the shadows grew short and the hum of the spring day made it almost not chilly, she meandered out to the old body of a car that Nico occupied as she thought. Head tilted back against the seat, she looked up at the clouds as they marched across the sky, fluffy and huge and ambivalent about anyone else.
“I didn’t mean to walk away,” Nico sighed, without looking at who joined her. She already knew. “I just couldn’t think.”
“It’s okay,” Karolina smiled and took the apology as she crawled around and joined her in the backseat of an old convertible that was missing an engine. And a front.
“I can’t stop wondering about Amy. This all went on for so long, and we didn’t know. What if she knew?”
“We might never know.”
“Think about it. Our families really got powerful just before we were all born. All at the same time. It doesn’t make sense.”
“I would give anything to go back to being normal,” Karolina mumbled, shielding her eyes as she sought shapes. “Two months ago, I didn’t glow. My mom wasn’t a murderer.”
“We weren’t normal, we were just dumb.”
“Will it ever be something that doesn’t consume us?” she asked, turning back to Nico and earning a bit of a furrow.
“Are you just saying that because you know I’ll believe you?”
“No. I really mean it,” Nico decided, for the first time in a long time.
A week ago, they’d been in school. Now, they were nothing.
“Good, because I’ll believe you no matter what,” Karolina grinned and held Nico’s hand as they looked at the sky.
For an hour they tried to think about anything else. It wasn’t hard. They were specifically ready to focus on what could be normal now. It was Chase that approached first, sick of being ignored by Gert in favor of her avoiding feelings. With a flop, he joined the two in the backseat. They debated some clouds and talked about Karolina cutting her hair and his trip with Alex.
Molly followed quickly, sick of lifting old farm equipment in the back to test her strength. Her eyes closed almost instantly as she curled up on the trunk.
“I cooked breakfast, but I’m not cleaning up those dishes,” Gert muttered as she approached. “What are you guys doing?”
“Looking at clouds,” Chase smiled softly and didn’t move. “Care to join us?”
No one really noticed that Karolina held Nico’s hand. No one really said anything when Nico kissed her cheek and smiled as the sun began to set and the chill came back to visit them. There was nothing to say that would make anything better.
“Team meeting without me?”
“Like we could do anything without the great Wilder here to guide us,” Chase grunted, shifting as Gert adjusted on his leg.
“We should finish what we started earlier,” Alex muttered, ignoring his words.
“We don’t,” Karolina sighed and shook her head.
By the evening, Nico’s legs draped over hers, keeping her warm. She played with the hole near her knee.
“We can’t just sit out here all day looking at clouds and pretending it’s okay.”
“Gert can’t sit still. She’s an anxious wreck. Chase is angry and snapping at everyone,” Nico observed, shaking her head. “Karolina, you can’t sleep at night without nightmares. Molly, you’re fourteen years old. I’m barely keeping it all together, and I don’t have my staff. And Alex… I don’t know what your thing is, but we’re all fucked up and just need a bit to feel safe. Are we safe here?”
“We’re safe,” Alex nodded. “This is so remote, and the lands are blocked off. We’re as safe as we can be. Plus we’re two states away.”
“Nico’s right,” Karolina offered. “I can’t sleep. I’m exhausted, and we really don’t know what we’d even do.”
“It’s not like we can gather intel here,” Chase interjected, rubbing faint scruff on his cheeks. It would be days before it was anything at all, but still, he liked feeling it there, making decisions like an adult might, playing the part of alpha male as best he could. “We can’t just wait for them to come to us.”
“I can so some computer stuff,” Alex tried. “And you guys can work on figuring out your powers or gifts or whatevers.”
“Or we could run away to the other side of the world and never look back,” Molly finally offered. “I get a vote, same as you all.”
“You do,” Nico nodded quickly. “But I’m suggesting we just hold off on the vote. For a few days. We haven’t stopped. We need to be smarter than them because they’ve been ahead of us every single step of the way.”
“I agree,” Karolina nodded.
“Shocker,” Alex pursed his lips and looked away.
“Say it. Say what you want to say,” Nico jumped up, scrambling to stand tall despite the significant difference.
“It’s just not a surprise that you two are voting together. It’s what you do. You pick someone until they disappoint you--”
“Okay that’s enough,” Gert interrupted, standing herself, everyone pushing and adjusting and puffing their chests in the odd shape of the hollowed car body.
It took a little convincing, but Karolina managed to make Nico sit, standing between the two of them before joining her once more.
“Can you stop trying to get into physical altercations? You’re tiny,” Karolina implored, desperate to make her own life easier by keeping Nico out of fights.
“I’m ready to fight from here on out. No more running,” Nico said as she clenched her jaw and sulked.
“I think it’s decided,” Gert continued. “We wait.”
“That literally means nothing has been decided,” Alex shook his head and waited for more.
“I feel good about it,” Molly ignored him.
“Me too,” Chase nodded. “So are you making dinner, too?” he looked at Gert.
They filed out and back toward the house, though Karolina didn’t move as Nico remained still, stewing in herself.
“For what it's worth, I’m trying not to care about this,” Alex mumbled, nudging his head at the couple. “I just want to keep us all safe, and I don’t know how.”
There was never going to be a response, which he knew. Still, he had to say those words before he followed the others toward the house. For a few moments after his departure, Nico tensed before finally relaxing.
“I really did not anticipate having to keep you out of trouble to be such a full time job,” Karolina sighed.
“Says the one ready to rip off her bracelet and blast the boys when they came in last night,” Nico snorted.
“Let’s both stop looking for fights. How’s that sound?”
“Fine. I guess.”
It wasn’t much, but it made Karolina smile, and at that point, it was all she could ask for.
Chapter 5: Crystalized
The truce that existed in the house was tentative, but it held for the most part. Minus a few foreseeable squabbles, the runaways settled into almost a routine, or at least as close to a routine as anyone in their situation could hope to get.
It also led to a lot of boredom and therefore shenanigans as they tested themselves and prepared for whatever was supposed to happen. No one spoke about a new vote, no one really wanted to break the somewhat calm that settled on the old cabin.
Storm clouds brewed out past the hills, back the way the came, though they didn’t disrupt the morning and the sunshine that illuminated the clearing and th cabin. Windows open and everyone enjoying their own space, the thunder was almost ignored, or at least almost glanced toward and estimated to be farther away than worth worrying.
Day three at the cabin left everyone almost hopeful or at least comfortable, more comfortable than they’d been in a long time. They’d lasted over a week on the run and after extensive checks through the woods, felt oddly safe in their little haven.
From her spot near the trees, Nico turns the page in one of the books she found in the cabin. It wasn’t a novel that would ever be on any reading list, but it was something to keep her busy. Unlike most of the others, she didn’t have any powers to develop or any skills to hone. She wasn’t like Chase, tinkering away and adapting the fistigons. She wasn’t like Gert and Old Lace, Molly and her strength, Karolina and her lights, or even Alex and his brain. Without the staff she was just… Nico.
And so she lounged on a discarded back seat from an old Cadillac in the shade of the trees and pretended to read from time to time. In reality, she went over two things simultaneously. While she sat there, legs crossed and almost meditating, she alternated between reading a page, letting her mind wander off to the problem of Pride and their new lives, and watching a certain glowing alien train.
The real problem was Karolina. Even from a distance, Nico could see her sweating and lifting her shirt up to wipe her face from time to time as her and Molly lifted heavy things, rearranging the yard filled with old cars and junk. It was the perfect place to use her powers. From time to time, she would will herself to control the glowing and lights, appearing like herself again before doing something like pushing a tractor across the yard that Molly then lifted and threw back.
How was Nico supposed to not watch that from behind her sunglasses? Never in her life would she have considered how the jock-ness of someone would make them somehow more attractive, but there she was. Her life was upside down and she was just going with it.
“Good book?” Chase interrupted her thoughts as he plopped down beside her.
Nico hadn’t noticed his approach, and for that she could only blame Karolina grunting and laughing after catching a barell with her energy beams.
“Where are the fists?”
“Gert made me take a break,” he sighed, stretching his arms before lounging. “I think she’s sick of hearing me gripe about one of the sensors.”
With a smile and nod he crossed his head behind his head and gazed up at the sky as Nico went back to her book, not able to really read or keep up.
“So you and Karolina, huh?”
With an annoyed snort, she closed the book on her hand and gave him a look. She didn’t say anything, but the cock of her head let him know.
“I’m just asking,” he shrugged. “I like it. I didn’t really get it at first, but it makes sense.”
“It’s crazy. We were just talking about how much we wanted your support,” Nico rolled her eyes and looked back at her book.
For a long while they were quiet. They heard the vague voices of the people across the yard. Old Lace ran around, worried about it as Gert made her way outside, already fretting over it all, reminding them to be safe and not work too hard.
“Alex said he found some stuff that we should go over,” Gert offered as she leaned against an old trunk that was half buried in vines. “So you and Karolina, huh?”
Nico closed her eyes and breathed through her nose. She felt Chase stifle a laugh.
“Do you remember the last time we talked about boys and girls and kissing and junk?” Nico asked, her voice all girly and mocking.
“No,” she shook her head and waited.
“Right. It’s going to stay that way.”
“Come on. You two are cute. I didn’t get it at first, but I like it.”
“See?” Chase grinned wider.
“I’m glad you both are happy.”
“I’m just saying. Karolina is different. You’re both very different. But it works.”
“Okay, I’m not doing this,” Nico closed her book and stood.
“We’re just saying that you’re allowed to be happy,” Gert offered. “It’s a good thing.”
“We are not ever talking about this again.”
“Oh, we’re definitely going to talk about how you become a mess around the tall, pretty blonde. There’s no way we avoid that.”
“It’s like a balance. You make her kind of badass, and she makes you more colorful,” Chase tried.
“Hey!” Karolina smiled as she wiped away sweat from her forehead and approached the little group.
“Hey,” Nico returned the smile, forgetting any other train of thought. “You looked good out there. I mean. With the… the powers… and you also looked good. Out there. Doing things. Because you have lights. And the. Yeah. Hey.”
“Thanks,” she breathed, slightly sore and tired, but infinitely amused by the welcome. “How’s your book?”
“Great. Best book,” she swallowed, looking at an even more amused Gert and Chase on each side of her. “Alex found something I think.”
“Cool. I’m going to go shower. Did you guys see Molly?”
“Super strong,” Gert nodded.
“Really impressive,” Chase agreed. Both giggled as Nico burned to the tips of her ears.
Karolina furrowed, lost in it all, but she looked to Nico for some kind of measurement on the situation. It clicked when she saw the blush and the antsy way her hands toyed with the pages of her book.
“Alright, want to walk me in?”
“Yeah,” Nico breathed, finally relaxing at the invitation.
Gert took her seat, sitting beside Chase as he put his arm over her shoulder. Nico wondered why she couldn’t do those things so easily very often. It came when she didn’t think about it, but she never didn’t think about it.
Karolina did though. She knit their fingers together as they walked back toward the cabin.
“They were teasing you, huh?”
“I think they were being supportive,” Nico shook her head and furrowed. “It was the worst.”
“Sounds like it,” Karolina chuckled. “You okay with it?”
“Them? I’m not worried. Just annoyed.”
“I’ll take that.”
“I really want to know how you’re doing after that bit of training,” Nico safely switched topics, hoping that would make her less anxious.
“Exhausted. But I have to get my stamina up.”
“I don’t think that’s a problem for you,” she mumbled.
Karolina heard it though, and put her arm around Nico’s shoulder and kissed her temple.
Dark as it was, there was no falling asleep. For the past few days, almost all day, Karolina worked her powers, and she felt herself get stronger by constantly pushing, by mastering what she never knew she was. It wore her out so that at night, Nico often came into their bedroom to find her already passed out, face down and too tired to change.
But not tonight.
“Do you think it’s true?” Nico asked as Karolina covered her like a blanket. She played with the short ends of her blonde hair, rubbing them softly against her cheek.
“Yeah,” Karolina whispered as she swallowed and closed her eyes, hugging Nico’s chest tighter as she clung there.
“It’s a trap.”
“I know,” she mumbled. “But he’s my father.”
“If you go, I go.”
“No. It’s not safe.”
“We agreed,” Nico reminded her sternly.
“That was before.”
Instead of arguing, Karolina shifted her hips and earned a low, quick moan. It’d been almost two full weeks since they left their homes, and suddenly they were just close. They spent so much time together that things just came naturally for them. But this… this revelation about Karolina’s father’s illness was too perfectly timed, and too difficult to really gauge each other’s reaction.
So they slid into bed and tried to stop thinking about it. Karolina kissed Nico’s stomach and chest as she pressed herself there. It was something to be so relaxed on someone else. She couldn’t shake the ache of her bones though with the news that her father, her real father, Frank Dean, was suffering from a very aggressive form of cancer. Of course the news would have it. Of course, Karolina would have to go back. Both of them knew it.
“When they were teasing me earlier, Chase said we balanced each other. He thought I made you badass, and you made me colorful.”
Karolina smiled and shifted so that she could kiss Nico’s chest before digging her nose into it, before she felt arms cling at her, keeping her still and safe and there. All she could do was inhale, and so she gripped at Nico’s shirt and she inhaled that smell of sun-dried clothes and Nico. Her other hand slide along thigh until it wrapped around her waist. If she could be anything for the rest of her life, perhaps being a blanket was already very high on her list.
“But you’re already badass,” Nico promised. “And I thought about it, and realized that if a person like you, who was full of every color imaginable before she took off her bracelet, liked a person like me, then I must be badass too, and I must be made of something good, too.”
“You are,” Karolina promised.
“Then I don’t see how you’re going to make me stay away if you decide to go back.”
With a sigh, Karolina thought about the words before pushing herself up and gazing at the girl who was her favorite pillow. Hands pushed around her messy hair, keeping it from her face. Legs wrapped around her own, keeping her in place.
“He’s my dad,” she stated simply. “He wasn’t in Pride, and he’s… he’s…”
“Jonah wants me. I can’t let anyone get hurt. He’s making my dad sick.”
“It’s too late. We’ve lost that life. But we could have something else. And you did that to me. You made me think that,” Nico whispered. “A girl like you likes a girl like me, and suddenly things just change.”
“Is that your vote then?”
“Where you go, I go.”
“This is serious. We’re split. Alex and Gert want to go back. Chase and Molly want to run.”
“You want to go back.”
“I don’t know what I want,” Karolina disagreed. She closed her eyes and listened to the heart thumping below her ear.
“We can’t go back.”
“I think I have to.”
“I don’t like fighting,” Nico decided, despite the fact that no voice was raised. “And it’s not fair that I have to lose you after just getting you.”
“Is that because you like me?”
“Of course not.”
Karolina grinned at that answer. Two weeks ago she would have been self-conscious about it, probably stayed up for days fretting over what it could mean. But she knew the truth.
“I like you,” Karolina whispered.
The hands that were playing with her hair finally stilled, and she felt Nico tense as the news was delivered to her brain and then again to the rest of her body. It was in that moment that Karolina realized she’d never actually said those words out loud before. It was just in everything she did, but hearing it was different.
“Good. I’m glad that’s settled.”
“Is it now?”
“I’m naked underneath you,” Nico reminded her with a shift of her hips.
“Oh right. I like that part.”
Nico took a deep breath and let it out as she resumed playing with Karolina’s hair. Both felt themselves drifting toward a sleep and an escape, but neither wanted to move.
“My dad’s sick,” Karolina whispered. “And I don’t think I am going to be able to save him.”
The words were honest and quiet, but Nico heard them. She shifted herself and hugged Karolina closer before lifting her head and kissing the hair there.
“I’m going to vote that we leave and never go back,” she mumbled, the emotion thick in her voice. “I hate it.”
Nico knew she was crying. She didn’t know how to change it or fix it, just that she had to fix it somehow. That was her job now. That was who she was, and she didn’t care. She’d sit through the torture of listening to Gert and Chase and anyone else, because she got to be this person.
“I miss the staff,” Nico confessed. “I miss the feeling I had with it. That I could contribute something.”
“I’ll give it up for a chance at being somewhat normal though. I thought I could go back and get it and then help, but I think the cost might be too high.”
In her arms, Karolina moved, finally propping herself up to look at her pillow. She ran her hand along Nico’s chest and toward her neck and cheek. She kissed the corner of her mouth and smiled.
“Tomorrow we break the tie.”
“Fine. But tonight,” Nico decided with a smile. “Tonight we sleep.”
“I will, if you will.”
“I’m going to try.”
“Good thing you have me to protect you,” Nico grinned, proud of herself.
The breakfast table was only big enough for four people. It had four seats and wa a perfect square, but still, it was supposed to be enough room for all of them. The cabin itself was barely big enough.
But everyone woke eventually.
First to the table, Alex put on the coffee and waited in the almost daylight of dawn. He couldn’t stop thinking. Not one second could he escape his thoughts and attacking the day from every angle. Their lives were messed up long before they realized it, and that was unacceptable to him.
Just after eight, Gert and Molly trudged down, hair still messy and mouths wide with yawns. Outside, the rain started to fall, signaling that it wasn’t going to get any brighter for the day, but that the thick, grey clouds they were feeling were mutual with the weather.
Karolina came next. Whily Molly chomped away at some cereal, and Gert stared out the window toward the backyard, she took a seat and missed the taste of real, good, expensive coffee.
But it was Gert that brought it up first, knowing full well what was coming. She asked Karolina how she felt about her father becoming ill, so severely, so suddenly. She promised it’d be okay, because everyone knew it was a lie, but someone still had to say things like that. It was a gentle conversation, as steadier heads prevailed and Alex kept quiet.
Chase took the final chair and poured himself a bowl of cereal as he sat across from Molly and joined the conversation easily. Perhaps the only parent that wasn’t involved in some sort of heinous crime, everyone felt the double sting for Karolina. She was the one who found out that the man she loved and idolized, who raised her, who they found out was not a murderer, he was ill and a terminal case. It was torture, plain and simple.
By the time Nico appeared, grunting a hello as she poured herself a mug of coffee, everyone was more or less awake and talking. For a moment they were like a normal family. Nico thought about that as she took a seat on Karolina’s leg, hunching into herself as she sipped the coffee.
“How are you this morning?” Nico muttered, leaning forward to kiss a messy blonde mop of hair.
“If I could figure out a way to keep you in bed, I’d be great.”
“I’m a morning person.”
“Disgusting,” Nico grimaced, making a face and shaking her head.
“Me or the coffee?” Karolina smiled against her arm.
They relaxed into each other while everyone else talked amongst themselves. It was quiet and it was easy. It was a morning that anyone would be okay to have, considering. Two states away, their parents were waking up to empty houses and deep feelings of regret and remorse and revenge.
“You’re being remarkably quiet, Widler,” Chase muttered between crunches on his spoon.
“A dangerous thing,” he snorted into his milk. “You know what I can’t figure out, is how you found out about Karolina’s dad. We’ve all been instructed, by you, to stay off the internet.”
“I’ve been moving through the dark web. Things pop up.”
Chase shared a look with Gert but closed his mouth when she gave him another one, this time different than the first. He swallowed another bite and set his jaw.
“I think we go--” Nico started.
“Away,” Karolina finished, interrupting smoothly. “I know you want to go back for me. I know all of you are worried, but, I can’t put us all at risk.”
“If we go back, we can stop this,” Alex spoke up, getting forceful for the first time. “Karolina, this is your dad. We don’t expect you to sit back--”
“You have to go back, Kar,” Nico shook her head, furrowing at this news. “You can’t let him die.”
“I’m not, but I can’t save him, not without losing all of you,” she took a deep breath.
“We are ready to go,” Gert shook her head. “This is important--”
“This is everything. We can’t let Pride win!” Alex yelped.
The general hubbub of the party grew louder and louder, until it was really too much to handle. But none of it really mattered.
“Call a vote,” Karolina stopped them all, sick of hearing it.
For a moment they were quiet as they all shared looks and held their breaths.
“I say we run,” Chase nodded, steeling himself. “If you’re sure.” He waited for Karolina to smile at him before affirming it again.
“I vote we go back,” Alex stated firmly, knotting his hands together and supporting himself with them.
“No one else’s parents should die,” Molly decided, softening only when Karolina smiled at her and reached out to hold her arm. “We go back.”
“You’re right,” Gert sighed. “We can’t beat them. I say we run.”
When it got to her, Nico clung to her coffee and shifted to look at the girl she was currently using as a chair. She earned that soft smile and she honestly didn’t know what to feel with it all.
“Are you sure?” she whispered, earning the smallest smile and a kiss on her shoulder.
Blue eyes were close and she was taken by the color on the dreary morning. The cabin was all brown and wooden, every surface a different shade, but there were those eyes and she needed nothing else in the world.
“We forget it all then,” Nico nodded. “We run and never look back.”
“It’s settled then,” Karolina took a shaky breath.