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Can We Kiss Forever?

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“This is a terrible idea.”

 

“Come on, Peez. You can do this! Besides, it’s my birthday so you really don’t have a choice.”

 

If you asked anyone, they would tell you Penelope Park was one of the strongest, most cunning, most intelligent witches they’d ever met. She was never one to back down or throw in the towel, but for some reason, the thought of having to get through tonight made her uncharacteristically hesitant.

 

Milton Greasley had officially turned seventeen today. And he’d decided, in typical teenage fashion, that the only appropriate way to celebrate his birthday was with a party. He’d invited a few people he knew he wanted to be there, but word quickly got around that a party was happening outside of school grounds, and Salvatore kids were never ones to miss a party. If you managed to slip away without the headmaster noticing, without stirring up any trouble or drawing unwanted attention, you were more than welcome to crash.

 

The two were standing just outside of the spot MG had chosen in the woods, secluded enough from both the school and the town, and protected with a concealment charm that the witches cooked up just in case.

 

“You know she might not even be here yet.”

 

Penelope felt her stomach flip.

 

This was ridiculous.

 

“It doesn’t matter. Let’s just get this over with.”

 

The pair stepped beyond the threshold of the charm and studied their surroundings. They saw familiar faces spread all over the place. The werewolves were the easiest to make out because it only took finding one to spot the pack and as a general rule, wherever the alpha went, the pack followed.

 

Rafael was standing with his back against a tree, beer in hand, absentmindedly staring into the distance as if waiting for something, while the rest chatted excitedly around him.
At the far right, a few vamps had gathered and were already doing shots. MG quickly spotted Kaleb and turned to Penelope.

 

“I’m going to go make my rounds. Are you good?”

 

“I’m fine, MG. Just go, have fun.”

 

He observed her hesitantly, opened his mouth as if to say something, then turned around and headed to meet up with his friends.

 

She felt bad. Parties used to be her thing. Everyone knew a party without the resident head witch in charge was no party at all. She would drink, flirt, dance, and then, as if on cue, disappear when the party started showing signs of dying down.

 

It’s just that lately, things couldn’t have been more different.

 

The brunette scanned the area. She found the witches gathered around a bonfire to the back; an empty spot at the head of the circle. They knew she was coming, and their eyes quickly lit up when they saw her. She did her best to avoid eye contact, not wanting to get sucked into the gossip and drama just yet. She decided she needed a drink.

 

Penelope had only taken a couple of steps forward when she heard it.

 

That laugh, she could recognize it anywhere.

 

Josie Saltzman was standing near the drinks table, her back to the brunette. She was with her twin, and Rafael had apparently just joined them. Penelope could only assume the wolf had been behind that laugh, although she really couldn’t understand how.

 

She allowed herself the freedom to stare for a second. Josie always looked beautiful, only an idiot could say otherwise. But something about the way she looked tonight made Penelope’s breath hitch in her throat.

 

Salvatore had loose rules when it came to the dress code, and students were often encouraged to make the school uniform their own as a form of self-expression.
Josie dressed like the perfect student, the perfect daughter, the perfect sister. She worked hard to build this image in people’s minds, almost as if she couldn’t bear for anyone to think differently of her. To her credit, nobody ever did. She needed people to overlook her, to think she was happy being in Lizzie’s shadow. She didn’t know how to be perfect in the spotlight.

 

Penelope had long since understood why.

 

Lizzie Saltzman took up too much space for Josie to be anything other than an afterthought.

 

Penelope first found it strange how nobody ever noticed that underneath all of that perfection, Josie was constantly on edge, waiting for something to go wrong – almost expecting it to. And the more time Penelope spent watching Josie pretend she was fine, the more Penelope’s heart ached.

 

She could tell something was different about the girl tonight though. She wore a black sweater, jean jacket, and dark jeans. Her hair was down. Her smile was soft. She looked happy.

 

Penelope thought she never looked more beautiful. And she couldn’t take it.

 

She was about to step back and leave when a voice snapped her out of her daze.

 

“You are still so whipped, it’s adorable.”

 

“Shut up, Mikaelson. This isn’t funny.”

 

“You know everything would be much simpler if you just told her the truth, right? Instead of pining over her like a sad puppy like you’ve been doing for months.”

 

Penelope had given up feigning indifference around Hope. She knew she was too intuitive to buy into the act.

 

“You know I can’t do that, Hope.”

 

Hope Mikaelson was her best friend at Salvatore. As much as Penelope adored MG, nobody really knew her as well as Hope did. Her and the tribrid had hit it off pretty quickly when she transferred schools. Something about their family history, the way they just never seemed to fit in completely, their constant need to keep everyone at bay; the two just had too much in common to pretend otherwise.

 

Hope reached out a hand, touching Penelope’s forearm in a small attempt to comfort her.

 

“I know. I’m just saying, sooner or later you’re going to have to say something. You can’t keep doing this to yourself.”

 

“What am I supposed to do, huh? We’ve been going in circles for weeks. And I’m not an idiot you know – I’ve seen the way she looks at him.”

 

She turned her attention away from Hope, as if on instinct, and found warm brown eyes staring back into her own.

 

“I see it because that’s how I look at her.”

 

 

____________________________

 

 

 

Josie had been running around trying to help her twin get ready for tonight.

 

MG was throwing a party for his birthday and had invited the twins the second his mind was made up on the location. The blonde had immediately asked who else would be going, and MG proceeded to give her the names of the people he’d invited.

 

“Landon, Hope, Kaleb and a few vampires, Penelope, Rafael…”

 

Josie didn’t have time to react before Lizzie was dragging her away from MG.

 

They spent all afternoon trying to find the perfect outfit for her to wear. She’d been trying to impress Rafael ever since he showed up to the school.

 

The twins had both been in a great mood. They spent the morning with their dad, and he told them that their mom was finally coming back to town after being abroad for almost six months.

 

Lizzie being happy automatically made Josie feel better about tonight, and when they were done getting Lizzie ready, Josie began planning out her own outfit. She was starting to get excited about tonight. Her twin would be too distracted by Rafael to need her, so Josie would be able to drink and let go for a while.

 

She put together a nice enough outfit, careful not to overdo it, put on some light makeup, and tried her best not to think of who else MG invited.

 

An hour later, the twins were walking into the woods.

 

They decided to head for the drinks table near the edge of the area first.

 

Looking around, they recognized a few people from school, and while Josie was still searching for the person she secretly hoped to see tonight, Lizzie quickly spotted Rafael and called him over.

 

He turned his head in their direction when he heard his name being called, looked at Lizzie and hesitated, then saw Josie and made his way towards them.

 

“Um, hey.”

 

“Hi Raf!”

 

“So… what are you girls drinking?”

 

Josie was careful not to engage too much. She knew her sister wanted to make a good impression after the way she acted when Rafael first came to Salvatore. She also knew Rafael sort of, maybe, had a thing for her. And at one point, she might have actually felt the same. But she never had the heart to tell Lizzie, and she thought she was making it clear enough to Rafael that he needed to back off. If only boys caught up on signals faster.

 

If only people caught up on signals faster.

 

Josie was lost in thought when she realized Rafael had said something to her. He was smiling.

 

“I- I’m sorry, what?”

 

“I said you seem distracted. Are you okay?”

 

Josie could feel her sister’s eyes on her, and she couldn’t find a better way to deflect all of the attention off of her than to laugh it off.

 

“Oh! Yeah, totally fine. Bit buzzed is all. I’m going to try to find MG.”

 

Lizzie grinned at her sister and turned her attention back to Rafael.

 

“So, what’s it like to be the new alpha? I’m sure it must be pretty neat!”

 

Josie smiled to herself as she walked away from the pair. Her sister may be popular and confident, but she really does turn into a mess around a person if she likes them enough. Her eyes scanned the area one more time for MG until they landed at the exact spot her and Lizzie had entered through.

 

Josie was suddenly frozen in place, her stomach sinking as she watched Hope Mikaelson reach out her hand to touch Penelope’s arm.

 

She felt like she was intruding, but she just couldn’t seem to look away.

 

She wondered why Penelope looked so sad. She was reminded of the last time she’d seen her this sad, and she hated herself for not being able to do anything about it. She hated that it wasn’t her place anymore.

 

Hope is strong. Hope is special. Hope is good.

 

Hope was all of the things Josie couldn’t be.

 

Her eyes were starting to sting.

 

No, this is good. She deserves the best. I’m happy for her.

 

It wasn’t until Penelope turned and looked her directly in the eyes that Josie lost all sense of rational thought.

 

And suddenly all she wanted to do was tell Penelope Park that she’s been in love with her since the first time she laid eyes on her.

Chapter Text

When Penelope first moved to The Salvatore Boarding School for the Young & Gifted, she wasn’t sure what to expect.

 

She moved around so much growing up she lost track of all the places she’d been, the people she’d met, the friends she’d lost… She wasn’t always the mysterious, cunning, devious witch everybody was quick to label her as.

 

Believe it or not, Penelope Park used to be a giant dork.

 

She played video games. She listened to bad rock music. She loved to read. She spent most of her time playing with her little brother. And she was kind of a loner.

 

She learned pretty early on that her parents could never manage to settle down in one place for too long. She couldn’t understand why they were so against the idea of staying in the same town – the same country sometimes – for more than 8 months at a time. But she learned to adapt; she had to.

 

With time, Penelope decided friendships were a lost cause. Nobody wanted to be friends with a girl who couldn’t promise them she’d still be around for their birthdays; a girl who could just up and leave overnight without a proper goodbye. She could never blame them for it.

 

Penelope was 17 when her parents decided she was responsible enough to be left on her own. They decided she would be attending Salvatore for her remaining school years, and she would’ve been over the moon with the freedom that allowed her, had it not meant she wouldn’t be able to see her little brother anymore.

 

“We’re moving to Belgium.”

“They say it’s beautiful in the fall.”

“We found this great school for Benjamin. He’ll fit right in.”

“You’ll be able to call and write all you want! It’ll be like you two aren’t even apart.”

 

Her parents never really gave her a genuine answer as to why they moved around so much, why they all had to leave for Belgium once the summer was over but were fine with leaving her behind. 

 

Penelope tried to fight them on it, tried to get them to take her with them, at least that way, she’d still be with Benji. They apologized and for a second Penelope thought they might have actually meant it.

 

“This is the way it has to be.”

 

She spent that night in her little brother’s room. He was crying and wouldn’t let her get near him unless she promised she’d come with them.

 

“It’s going to be okay, Benji. I’ll call you every day, and I’ll write, and I’ll come visit as soon as I can.”

 

She hated what this would do to him. Their parents were always around, but Penelope was all Benji really had, and he was still much too young to understand why any of this was happening. She barely understood herself.

 

A few weeks later, a month before they had to say goodbye, she got the call. She was in her room reading when the town’s sheriff told her about the accident.

 

Her parents and brother had been driving home when the truck came out of nowhere.

 

They were declared dead on the spot.

 

It was in that moment that Penelope Park decided she wouldn’t let anyone in ever again.

 

 


 

 

Josie was on her way to her dad’s office when she heard the news: a new student was joining them this year.

 

He had called her and her twin in to ask them to give the new girl a tour of the school in his stead.

 

“I’m fine, Jo. Just go without me. Tell dad I had a girl emergency. He won’t get it, but he won’t ask questions either.”

 

Josie could see how hard Lizzie was struggling. Having an absentee mother and an overworked father who paid more attention to his school than to his own two daughters was enough to take a toll on any teenager – and the Saltzman twins weren’t ordinary teenagers. Josie hated what it was all doing to their family, but she knew they needed her to be strong now more than ever.

 

She headed to her dad’s office a little while later, once she was sure Lizzie had recovered from her episode and was calm enough to be left on her own. 

 

“Hey dad, you wanted to see me?”

 

“Josie, yes. I need your help with something.”

 

Josie didn’t fail to notice how he overlooked the fact that her sister wasn’t with her. She also couldn’t help but notice how exhausted he looked. She couldn’t hold it against him.

 

“Is this about the new girl? I overheard the younger kids talking on my way over. Do you need me to show her around?”


“Yes, her name’s Penelope Park. She should be getting in in a few minutes. Just try to make her feel as welcome as possible. She’s… had a rough summer.”

 

She wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by that, or why he looked so uncomfortable saying it, but she decided she’ll find out for herself eventually. She made her way to the school’s entrance and waited as the car pulled up the driveway.

 

Josie wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but she knew she wasn’t expecting this.

 

Penelope Park was, without a doubt, the most beautiful girl Josie had ever seen in her life.

 

At first glance, here’s everything Josie noticed: Penelope had short hair, green eyes, soft lips, and was dressed in all black except for a red bracelet she wore on her right wrist. But what struck Josie most about the girl wasn’t any of that. What she couldn’t help but notice was the tattoo peeking out of the top of her shirt, covering the side of her neck.

 

Josie recognized it immediately from her “Intro to Magical History” class. It was the Wiccan symbol for a raven, commonly associated with those who can travel between the world of the living and the dead.

 

Josie thought she understood then. Penelope Park had known loss.

 

And it was in that moment that Josie Saltzman decided she would do everything in her power to make Penelope happy, even if she didn’t fully understand why yet.

Chapter Text

“Hey Josie, I got you another drink.”

 

 

Hearing Rafael’s voice felt like a jolt back to reality. She teared her eyes away from Penelope’s and accepted the drink. She thought she might need it for what she was planning to do tonight.

 

 

“Oh, thanks! Where’s Lizzie?”

 

 

He stammered uncomfortably, “She went to get some air. She’ll be back soon.”

 

 

“You do realize we’re outside, right?”

 

 

Josie was worried. If he ghosted Lizzie again, it was only a matter of time before she had another breakdown.

 

 

“It’s just that, your sister’s nice and all, but she’s not exactly the easiest person to talk to. I was actually kind of hoping you and I could step away for a second. There’s something I really wanted to talk to you about.”

 

 

“Look, I know Lizzie can be a little intense, but she’s the best person I know. I should go find her.”

 

 

Rafael moved to stop her, clearly trying to salvage whatever he could from the situation.

 

 

“I get it, I’m sorry. I’ll take you to her, okay? It’s dark, you shouldn’t be out looking alone.”

 

 

Josie felt herself instantly seek out Penelope’s stare again, wanting to apologize for not being able to stay and talk, only to find that both the girl and Hope were gone.

 

 

She could safely say she never disliked Rafael as much as she did in this moment, but he was the last person Lizzie was with before she stormed off, so she reluctantly agreed.

 

 

They had gotten well past the enchanted barrier with no sign of Lizzie when Josie’s anxiety started to peek. Alarms were going off in her head. Something was wrong.

 

 

“Are you sure you saw her head this way? There’s nothing out here for miles.”

 

 

Rafael stopped and turned to face her. “I guess it’s confession time. Lizzie’s not here, Josie. I lied so you’d agree to come… so I could do this.”

 

 

Josie didn’t have time to react before Rafael’s lips were on her own. He tasted like beer and sweat, and her first instinct was to push him away. He stumbled back but caught himself in time.

 

 

“What are you doing?! What do you mean Lizzie’s not here?!”

 

 

“Alright, just calm down, let me explain. Lizzie was upset so MG came to the rescue. I saw him take her back to the school before I came over to talk to you.”

 

 

“So what? You thought lying and luring me away to make your move would work? In what world does that sound like a good idea? I don’t know how many times I have to say this before it sinks into your brain. I’m not interested in you!”

 

 

Josie turned to leave when she felt rough fingers wrap themselves around her wrist.

 

 

“Josie, wait. I’m sorry, okay? But if you just gave me a chance from the beginning, I wouldn’t have had to do any of this.”

 

 

She managed to break free of his hold, but her anger was quickly being replaced with dread. They were alone in the woods, she didn’t have anything to siphon from other than him, and it was becoming more and more apparent how drunk he actually was.

 

 

“You and I both know that kiss meant something. I know the circumstances weren’t exactly ideal, but you can’t tell me you didn’t feel something.”

 

 

Her mind was spinning, and she was beginning to feel a bit dizzy.

 

 

“I can’t do this with you right now. I’m going back to the school. Maybe it’s best if you stayed here and cleared your head a bit before heading back.”

 

 

She had taken a few steps forward when his voice rang a little too loud in her head.

 

 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I put a small sedative in the drink I gave you. I thought it might help you relax a little, and it looks like it’s starting to kick in. You should sit down.”

 

 

Maybe it was the drugs, or maybe it was her imagination, but the way he said it made it sound less like a question and more like an order.

 

 

She could feel her body start to shut down.

 

 

Rafael was at her side in no time, backing her up towards a nearby tree. “I’m not going to hurt you, Josie! I just need you to list-“

 

 

He had her cornered when she heard the voice in the distance. She felt a sudden surge of energy sweep past her and suddenly his hold on her broke. It took her a second to realize what had happened.

 

 

Josie felt familiar arms wrap around her, holding her up. Her eyelids were heavy, and her knees were giving out. She was about to drift off when she heard the voice again.

 

 

“You’re okay, Jojo. I’ve got you. Everything’s going to be okay…”

 

 

Penelope.

 

 

That was the last thing Josie heard before everything went dark.

 

 


 

 

In the few seconds their eyes were locked, Penelope held her breath. If she moved, if she breathed, if she even blinked, the moment would be over. Less than a minute later, it would be like it never even happened.

 

 

She’s spent far too much time hoping Josie would do something other than leave. She knows it’s selfish. She’s very aware of the fact that she’s the one who ended things. She remembers why. But every time this happens between them, every time one of them spots the other in a crowd, it feels like time slows down just enough to break their hearts all over again. One of them always looks away.

 

 

This time, that reality check comes in the form of an annoying werewolf.

 

 

Penelope watches as Rafael hands Josie a drink; stares as he places his hand on her lower back.

 

 

“It’s only going to get harder for you. You need to be stronger if she’s going to survive this.”

 

 

“I don’t need to hear this from you right now.”

 

 

Irritated, she grabs the drink out of Hope’s hand, downs the liquid inside, and heads back out of the barrier.

 

 

“What? Penelope, wait!” Hope follows after her. “Where are you going?”

 

 

Penelope replies without turning back. “I need to clear my head. I’ll be fine. You should go back. Find Landon. No reason why we should both have a shitty night.”

 

 

She keeps moving forward, hoping her steps take her as far away from civilization as possible. Eventually, she drops down to the ground and leans her back against a tree.

 

 

Willing her mind to slow down, she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.

 

 

Two.

 

 

Three.

 

 

“Penelope.”

 

 

No, this isn’t the time. She just needs a second. She’s earned a second.

 

 

“Penelope… you need to find Josie.”

 

 

Her eyes snap open. That’s enough to get her attention. She gets up so fast her head spins. “What do you mean? Where is she?”

 

 

Silence.

 

 

“Tell me where she is!”

 

 

The sound of footsteps in the distance draws her attention away.

 

 

She strains to hear better. Voices. Two. A boy and…

 

 

Josie.

 

 

She’s running before she even realizes it. When she’s close enough to make out what’s happening before her, her instincts kick in. She raises her hand.

 

 

“Icaeus!”

 

 

Her voice rings through the woods. The energy flows through her like air. The next sound she hears is Rafael’s body hitting the ground, the force of her incantation throwing him a good 50 feet away.

 

 

It takes Penelope less than 5 seconds to get to Josie, reaching her just in time as she collapses in Penelope’s arms.

 

 

“… Everything’s going to be okay. Josie?”

 

 

The taller girl’s unconscious before she could even respond, and Penelope’s anxiety skyrockets. She places Josie down gently against the tree and heads towards the wolf.

 

 

“What did you give her?” She screams it out, a hint of desperation in her voice.

 

 

Penelope gets to him just as he’s struggling to get up. She grabs him by the collar and tries again. This time her voice drops to a whisper, she brings their faces close together. “I said… what did you put in her drink?”

 

 

Rafael regains consciousness slowly and hesitates, groaning.

 

 

“Tell me!”

 

 

“Relax! It’s just a sedative. Landon takes them to take the edge off sometimes, I took one from his drawer. She would’ve been fine if she hadn’t freaked out on me.”

 

 

Something in Penelope snaps. She backs away and loosens her hold on him just enough. She’s sure her punch hits him harder than the spell did.

 

 

Her hand starts throbbing almost immediately after his face hit the ground.

 

 

Worth it.

 

 

Mildly satisfied yet still incredibly worried, Penelope turns back and kneels next to Josie, taking the girl’s arm and wrapping it around her neck. She places her left hand under Josie’s knees, and her right behind Josie’s back, ignoring the pain that shoots up her arm with the effort.

 

 

Satisfied with Josie’s breathing pattern and steady hold on her, Penelope carries the girl all the way back to Salvatore. She considers taking Josie back to her and Lizzie’s dorm but quickly decides against it. She’d let Josie decide how she wants to break the news to Lizzie.

 

 

After everything they’ve been through, Penelope thinks she owes her at least that much.

Chapter Text

Josie reached out her hand to formally introduce herself. “Hi… I’m Josie… Saltzman. Josie Saltzman.”

 

 

The brunette hesitated for a moment, looking her up and down before stretching out a hand in response. “Penelope… Park. Penelope Park.”

 

 

An amused smirk made its way onto the girl’s face, her gaze falling to the ground. Josie would’ve been flustered had she not been completely enamored by the sight.

 

 

“Penelope.”

 

 

She didn’t quite know why she felt the need to repeat the girl’s name at her, but something about the way it rolled off her tongue made her hope she’d get the chance to say it often.

 

 

Penelope’s eyes snapped back up to meet her own at the sound of her name. A few seconds passed between them before Josie started to feel self-conscious under the brunette’s gaze and let go of her hand, smiling nervously and stuttering out her next words. “Come on. Classes don’t start for a few hours. I’ll show you around.”

 

 

Josie led her across the school, showing her the different areas and explaining a little about the school’s history and its former inhabitants. Penelope was quiet for the most part. It looked like she was genuinely interested in what Josie had to say.

 

 

“The school has a pretty fascinating history actually. Long story short, the Salvatore Brothers used to live here, once upon a time. Stefan died the day he married my mom… His brother, Damon, donated their house to her in his memory. And then her and my dad decided to open it up as a school for untrained witches, werewolves, vampires… We all get along for the most part, but each faction tends to keep to its own. You can probably imagine why…”

 

 

Josie knew she was rambling. It was just one of her many nervous habits. Another was her inability to make eye contact. And Penelope seemed to be bringing them all out of her.

 

 

The brunette appeared to catch on pretty quickly, unable to mask her amusement at how flustered Josie looked. Her smirk made a reappearance and there was a glint in her eyes. She looked like she was enjoying herself way too much.

 

 

“Sounds pretty complicated. Maybe you can tell me more about it sometime.”

 

 

They rounded the corner before Josie could think of a response.

 

 

“Sure! Whenever you want.”

 

 

For the record, Josie knew that sounded desperate as hell. She also knew she regretted it immediately, but the cringe on her face only made Penelope smile wider.

 

 

Anyway, these are the dorms. Your room is right over here. You’re pretty lucky actually. The last person who bunked here graduated last year, so you have the room all to yourself.”

 

 

“Well, I can think of a few perks for that…”

 

 

There’s that smirk again.

 

 

“Where’s your room?”

 

 

“Oh! It’s right around the corner at the end there. All of the witches bunk on this side of the school. The dorms are arranged in a way to divide students by supernatural ability. Too many things could go wrong if you have young vampires bunking with witches, or werewolves with vampires. This way just avoids any accidental biting.”

 

 

“Speaking from experience?”

 

 

Josie didn’t really understand what was happening at this point, or why Penelope was looking at her the way she was looking at her, but she knew this conversation was only making her cheeks turn a brighter shade of red.

 

 

As Penelope bent down to drop her bags next to the door of her room, her shirt lifted off of her skin just enough to give Josie a better look at her tattoo. It was a lot more intricate and detailed than she first made out, dragging down the side of neck.

 

 

The brunette caught her staring and covered it up quickly after.

 

 

Saved by the bell.

 

 

“Um… classes are starting. Why don’t you leave your things inside? I checked your schedule; we have first period together so I can walk you.”

 

 

Penelope’s mood seemed to shift, darkening a little. “That’s alright, I’ll catch up. I just need to freshen up a bit first.”

 

 

Josie felt bad. She knew it was rude of her to stare like that, conscious that she was treading into dangerously personal territory a little too soon.

 

 

“Oh, um... Well, if you get lost, just text me. Here’s my number.”

 

 

She wasn’t expecting the reaction this would cause but she felt herself let out the breath she was holding when Penelope smiled up at her.

 

 

“Thanks, Jojo. I’ll catch up in a bit.”

 

 

She watched as Penelope retreated into her room and shut the door behind her.

 

 

Jojo.

 

 

Josie thought she could get used to that.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Ten minutes had passed by the time Josie realized Penelope wasn’t going to show up to first period.

 

 

To say this unsettled her would be an understatement. She replayed their last encounter in her head a few times, unable to pay attention as their professor went over the semester’s syllabus.

 

 

It took quite a few restless glances at the classroom door and plenty of nervous leg-bouncing for Josie to decide she’d had enough. Pulling out her notebook, she started taking notes she probably won’t even read, anything to take her mind off a certain brunette. Twenty minutes into the class, she felt her phone buzz in her pocket.

 

 

“Sorry for bailing. Had to take care of something. Do we have any other classes together today?”

 

 

Josie’s heart picked up when she realized whose number that must be.

 

 

“It’s Penelope, by the way.”

 

 

“Park.”

 

 

“Penelope Park.”

 

 

This. Dork.

 

 

She couldn’t help the smile that formed itself on her face. She quickly typed out her response. “Intro to Mythology right before lunch. Should we be expecting you, miss Park?”

 

 

A few seconds passed before Josie’s screen lit up again.

 

 

“Hmm, maybe… If a pretty girl saves me a seat.”

 

 

She was full-on grinning at this point.

 

 

“Who are you texting?”

 

 

Josie was startled by the intrusion, her twin’s voice snapping her out of her little dream bubble.

 

 

“Just this girl dad wanted us to show around school this morning. I gave her my number in case she needed anything.”

 

 

Downplaying the situation wasn’t exactly Josie’s plan, but she didn’t feel like getting grilled on her relationship with Penelope when it’s barely even begun. Could she even call it a relationship? Technically, they just became acquaintances. She knew she was getting way too ahead of herself about the whole thing. Penelope might not have even been flirting with her. Or she could just be the flirty type. Then again, she couldn’t imagine Penelope looking at someone else the way she had looked at her this morning, or maybe she just didn’t want to.

 

 

“Earth to Josette.”

 

 

“Hm- what?”

 

 

“You spaced out for like a full thirty seconds. I said, what’s the verdict on the new girl? Is she going to be trouble?

 

 

“Oh um, too early to tell.”

 

 

That was a lie.

 

 

Josie knew Lizzie was most likely going to hate Penelope. It was part of the reason she decided to omit as much information as possible. From what little she’d seen; Josie knew there was no way Penelope’s presence at Salvatore wouldn’t challenge Lizzie’s head-witch-in-charge position.

 

 

It bothered her more than she cared to admit. Lizzie was without a doubt the most important person in her life. But there was just something about Penelope; something about the way she could have Josie smiling like an idiot with just a few texts, and the way one small compliment from the brunette could have her blushing in no time.

 

 

Josie had had crushes before, she was a teenager after all; but she’d never really dated anyone to have some clue as to how her twin would react.

 

 

Growing up, Lizzie was always the one going on dates, getting in and out of relationships. And if people couldn’t be with her, they wanted to be around her.

 

 

The twins were different in that way. Where Lizzie was confident and outgoing, Josie was introverted and shy. Where Lizzie was blunt and sometimes even mean, Josie was quiet and kind.

 

 

It had been that way ever since they were little. Josie would give, Lizzie would take. And it was never really a problem for Josie. She loved her sister more than anything. She’d put Lizzie’s needs before her own countless times in the past, never expecting the blonde to thank or even acknowledge her for it. And she was more than happy to exist in the shadows if it meant her sister could thrive in the light.

 

 

Josie thought she must’ve drifted off again because suddenly the bell was ringing, and everyone was getting out of their seats.

 

 

She quickly gathered her things and fell in step with Lizzie as they headed to their next class. Josie thought, with the way her day was going, it wasn’t looking like she’d be able to retain any actual information from her lessons.

 

 

Actually, if she was being honest with herself, Josie had a sudden, inexplicable urge to learn all about Greek Mythology.

Chapter Text

It was well past midnight by the time the two girls reached Penelope’s dorm room. Thankfully, the brunette had managed to get through the entirety of her stay at Salvatore without having to worry about roommates. So throughout hers and Josie’s relationship, the room had become a sort of haven for them.

 

 

Left to her own devices, Penelope would have kept it relatively empty; leaving most of her personal belongings in her suitcase as a remnant of her upbringing. She was aware there was no real need for this anymore. Her parents were gone, she had no other place to go. Salvatore was all she really had left.

 

 

Her plan was simple enough: get through the school year in peace, become the strongest witch she could be, have a little fun, and move on. She wasn’t looking for friends, she wasn’t looking for a family, and she certainly wasn’t looking for a relationship that went beyond a meaningless hook-up.

 

 

And yet somehow, everything changed because of one girl.

 

 


 

 

When Josie first decided that she was ready to tell Penelope how she felt about her, she had an entire plan mapped out as to how she would do it. She compiled a list of all the things she knew Penelope loved: plants, books, art, music… and dragged MG to town with her to try to find as many of them as she could.

 

 

Josie had also assigned Hope the task of keeping Penelope distracted all day so she wouldn’t end up back in her room, giving Josie just enough time to get everything ready and organized before they were supposed to meet that night.

 

 

At around 8pm, Josie texted Penelope to meet her in the dorm, and when Penelope got there, she was surprised to find the light switch wasn’t working.

 

 

“Josie? What is this?”

 

 

“Just… give it a second… Ignalusa.”

 

 

The room lit up at once, and Penelope’s eyes immediately found Josie’s.

 

 

She was standing with her back to Penelope’s nightstand, face glowing in the warm light of the candles spread across the floor, on the nightstands, on the shelves…

 

 

“I know you have a hard time settling in. I know a big part of you feels guilty that you can still have a home, when your brother can’t…”

 

 

Something about the way Josie sounded, the vulnerability in her voice, the way she was moving towards Penelope – almost as if she was worried she might run away – made the brunette’s breath catch in her throat.

 

 

“… But you deserve to have that – I want you to have that, a place that feels like home…” She remembers thinking Josie had never looked so beautiful. “… So welcome home, Penelope Park.”

 

 

Penelope didn’t think it was possible to love anyone as much as she loved Josie Saltzman.

 

 

Not only because she’d turned Penelope’s mostly empty room into one that looked inhabited. Not only because she filled it with so many things Penelope had mentioned she liked, both when she thought the other girl wasn’t paying attention, and when she knew she was. But because she’d also deliberately left plenty of space for the things Penelope kept hidden away in her suitcase; the things Josie never once pressured her into displaying.

 

 

She was slowly taking in everything Josie had done for her, beginning with the rows of books she had lined up on the shelves, plants she had spread all over the room, little tokens she’d gathered on their dates, movie stubs, letters, pictures… their entire story unfolding before her eyes, and ending with pictures of them together, pictures of Penelope with their friends, framed and arranged around the room… an old picture of Benjamin.

 

 

She’d given it to Josie when they first started dating, to try and show her just how serious she was about them.

 

 

Penelope was at a loss for words when she felt Josie’s arms wrap around her waist; felt her rest her head on Penelope’s shoulder.

 

 

“I wanted you to know, you have family here now, and you always will… whenever you’re ready for it.”

 

 

She placed the photo back in its place and turned in Josie’s arms.

 

 

“I love you, Penelope Park.”

 

 

This room was now Penelope’s constant reminder of why she was doing this to the both of them, why she had to be the selfless one this time, even if it killed her.

 

 


 

 

Penelope gently laid the girl down onto her bed. She considered leaving Josie to rest in private and spending the night on Hope’s couch, but quickly dismissed the idea in favor of a blanket on the floor near the bed. She would be here in case Josie needed her.

 

 

She began to move away from the sleeping girl when she felt a hand reach for her own; wincing at the contact, constantly forgetting her own hand was well-past bruised at this point.

 

 

“Stay.”

 

 

Penelope was still rooted in place, turning her head slightly to look at the girl.

 

 

Josie was looking up at Penelope through heavy eyelids, an expression of despair on her face.

 

 

If Penelope were to describe the scene, she’d say Josie looked like she’d just woken up from a nightmare. It reminded her of the nights they’d spent together in this room, in this very bed. Josie would fall asleep in Penelope’s arms and wake up in the middle of the night scared, terrified the girl wouldn’t be there anymore, desperate to make sure she wouldn’t leave again.

 

 

Josie knew Penelope moved around a lot growing up. Penelope knew Josie had abandonment issues. It pained her more than she ever let Josie see. No matter how many times Penelope assured Josie she’d never leave, no matter how many times Josie said she believed her, they’d somehow always find themselves here again, wrapped in each other’s arms, scared to let go.

 

 

“Josie… you should get some rest. I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”

 

 

Penelope felt a gentle tug on her hand when she tried to move away again.

 

 

“Stay with me? Please?”

 

 

Every bone in Penelope’s body was telling her this was a bad idea, that they were falling back into old patterns. She knew she should leave, yet she just couldn’t bring herself to.

 

 

“She’ll be the end of you.”

 

 

Penelope crossed the room and lowered herself carefully onto the other side of the bed, almost afraid Josie would change her mind and tell her to leave. She placed her head on the pillow and turned to face Josie, hands in between her and the girl. Josie mimicked her actions, so they were face-to-face, staring into each other’s eyes.

 

 

They stayed like that for a while until Josie’s eyes drifted down towards Penelope’s bruised hand.

 

 

A slight frown formed on her face, and before Penelope could think to question it, Josie had gently taken ahold of her hand again.

 

 

Lifting it to her lips, she placed her other hand to Penelope’s chest, right above her heart. Josie closed her eyes and pressed a soft kiss to Penelope’s knuckles, her hands glowing a bright red like they’d done a thousand times before.

 

 

It was almost too much for Penelope to bear. She wasn’t sure if it was the pull of the magic being siphoned from and back into her body or the way that Josie was holding onto her that left her lightheaded, but the entire thing made her want to cry.

 

 

She closed her eyes in an attempt to keep the tears at bay, not wanting to give Josie any more reason to feel like she needed to be the one to take care of Penelope, instead of the other way around.

 

 

When she opened her eyes again, it was over. Her hand was healed, the magic was gone, and Josie was still holding onto her. It became clear to her that the girl had fallen asleep again, probably due to the force of the magic draining her even more.

 

 

Penelope briefly wondered what would happen to them the next morning. After all, nothing had changed. They were broken up. They had to be. But on nights like tonight, in moments like these when Josie would look at Penelope the way she used to, Penelope would remind herself of the promise she made, that she would do anything and everything in her power to save Josie Saltzman's life.

 

 

“I love you, Jojo.”

Chapter Text

After a few more classes filled with meaningless introductions and syllabus distributions, Josie finally made it to her Intro to Mythology class. She had managed to get there earlier than everyone else, although rushing did earn her a few irritated glares when she almost ran into a group of vampires in the hallway.

 

 

She decided she would sit at the very back of the class this time. She was so used to sitting up front that she thought this would make for a nice change. The classroom was unlike the rest of the ones she’d had classes in before – smaller with only six desks fit for two students each – probably because not many students wanted to take a mythology course for an elective, opting for something a bit more dangerous and a little less “boring”, as her sister coined it.

 

 

Josie, for one, was fascinated with mythology. Admittedly, she never really had time to get into it as much as she would have liked because of the chaos of her daily life, so she was thankful for the opportunity to take it as a course.

 

 

This wasn’t the only reason Josie was so excited though, or why she wanted to be the first one to get to class. A certain brunette may have had something to do with it as well.

 

 

Josie hadn’t texted Penelope back after the last text the girl had sent her.

 

 

“Hmm, maybe… If a pretty girl saves me a seat.”

 

 

She couldn’t understand why those words had affected her as much as they had, or why she couldn't think of anything else since this morning. All she knew was, she didn’t want to risk the chance of saving Penelope that seat.

 

 

She was lost in thought when a voice brought her back to reality.

 

 

“That seat for me?”

 

 

A little startled, Josie looked up to find Penelope leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed, an amused smile painted on her face.

 

 

“I- uh… well, yeah. If you want it.”

 

 

That was apparently all Penelope needed to hear because soon after she was heading towards the back of the classroom and dropping her notebook onto Josie’s desk.

 

 

She had changed out of the clothes Josie had seen her in this morning and into the school’s uniform, only it looked nothing like the school’s uniform. Penelope clearly knew what she was doing because she’d somehow managed to go from insanely attractive to drop-dead gorgeous in just under a few hours. And something told Josie the brunette didn’t even have to put in that much effort to look this good.

 

 

She sank down to the seat Josie had saved for her, resting her elbow on the desk, placing her head in the palm of her hand, and turning to look at Josie, “Wouldn’t have pegged you as a back-of-the-class type of girl.”

 

 

“Maybe I made an exception.”

 

 

Penelope raised her eyebrow, studying Josie’s face more carefully, smile widening and then fading slightly, “I didn’t get the chance to properly thank you for showing me around this morning. You’re a pretty good tour guide.”

 

 

Josie was slightly taken aback by how quickly Penelope’s tone shifted from flirty to serious but recovered quickly enough to reply. “Oh, that’s alright. Guess I have my many years of experience to thank for that.”

 

 

“Right, you mentioned your parents opened the school… I’m guessing that means your father’s the Headmaster?”

 

 

“Yup, that’s my dad. He’s supposed to be the one to give new students the official tour, but he’s been so busy lately that I’ve just been helping out where I can.”

 

 

“So, you’re a good daughter.”

 

 

Josie thought that was a strange comment to make but kept her observation to herself.

 

 

“I… guess.”

 

 

Penelope didn’t have a witty response. In fact, judging by the way she was looking at Josie – almost waiting for her to elaborate – she didn’t have a response at all, so Josie kept going.

 

 

“It’s just… if I’m being honest, my family’s going through kind of a rough patch right now…”

 

 

She paused for a moment, looking down at her hands and debating whether or not she should keep going or end the conversation at that. Tentatively, she looked back at Penelope to try and catch a glimpse into what she was thinking, and was met with what looked like genuine intrigue, and a hint of concern.

 

 

Josie didn’t know what it was about Penelope that made her so easy to open up to, but she decided she would give it a try. Looking back down to her fidgeting hands, she continued on.

 

 

“The thing is, I have great parents; I really do. But sometimes it just feels like… like they don’t see me, like they have more important things to worry about. My mom’s always travelling – going on recruitment missions for the school – which sucks considering we barely ever get any new students around here. My dad’s too busy trying to maintain the school’s safety to make an appearance at his own daughters’ birthday parties, or their school dances. And Lizzie… Lizzie’s my twin sister. I love her more than anyone in the world, but she takes all of this much harder than I do, which makes it my job to make sure she doesn’t slip and lose control. And It’s just all… a lot, sometimes, you know?”

 

 

When she was finished, she felt warm fingers cover her intertwined hands, and lifted her head slightly to look at the girl sitting next to her.

 

 

Penelope’s eyes had softened an unbearable amount, and her signature smirk was replaced with a sad smile. “I’m really sorry you’re going through all of that, Jojo. Thank you for telling me about it.”

 

 

Josie released the breath she didn’t know she was holding. She finally told someone the truth, and they didn’t judge her for it. She opened up to Penelope and was met with nothing but kindness and consideration.

 

 

“Thanks for listening to me rant about my stupid family drama.”

 

 

“It’s far from stupid, but you’re welcome. If you ever want to talk about it some more, well, I guess you already have my number…”

 

 

Josie was smiling now.

 

 

“… And I do technically live right down the hall so there’s really no excuse for you not to come visit.”

 

 

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

 

 

A comfortable silence fell between them as they stared into each other’s eyes. It was Josie who looked away this time, removing her hands from under Penelope’s, suddenly overcome with the urge to fill the silence.

 

 

“So, um, what about you? What’s your family like?

 

 

Penelope’s demeanor shifted, eyes drifting back to the front of the class, smile gone. She looked like someone had just thrown a bucket of ice-cold water down her spine.

 

 

Before Josie could ask what happened, students started filing into class and taking their seats, followed closely by their professor, Emma Tig.

 

 

“Welcome everyone. This is Intro to Mythology. If you’re here because you were told this class was an easy A, please reconsider. If you’re here because you’re genuinely interested in the topic and would like to learn more about it, we’re going to get along just fine.”

 

 

Josie turned her attention to Emma when she realized Penelope wasn’t planning on looking at her, let alone answering her question.

 

 

“Before we get started, I’d like to learn more about you all; more particularly why you chose to take this class. I know it’s only our first one together but if you’re up for it, please raise your hand and share with us something you know about Mythology. It can be anything, but if there’s a have a myth in particular that resonates with you, I’m sure we’d all like to hear about it.”

 

 

The class was silent for a few seconds. Josie was replaying her conversation with Penelope in her head when she heard Emma’s voice again.

 

 

“Yes, in the back. Please tell us your name and the myth you’ve chosen.”

 

 

“Penelope Park.”

 

 

Josie’s eyes instantly lifted forward, briefly looking at Emma before turning her attention to the brunette sitting next to her. Penelope’s hand was raised, and she was staring straight ahead, a perfect air of cool confidence enveloping her.

 

 

“The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.”

 

 

A knowing smile made its way onto Emma’s face.

 

 

“Would you like to tell us what the myth is about, Penelope?”

 

 

Penelope looked like she was debating something internally before she finally turned to look at Josie.

 

 

“Love… loss… weakness…”

 

 

Josie was drowning under Penelope’s gaze, trying to read the expression on the brunette’s face.

 

 

After what felt like hours but must’ve been seconds, Penelope turned back to face the front of the class and began the tale.

 

 

“Orpheus was the son of Apollo, the Greek god of the sun and the light, and Calliope, the eldest of the muses and goddess of music. 

 

 

Apollo gifted his son a Lyre, a musical instrument that Orpheus learned to play so well that even the trees and rocks were moved.

 

 

He fell in love and married a beautiful woman named Eurydice. They lived happily for a while, until she was bitten by a snake and died. Orpheus was so grief-stricken by the loss that whenever he played his lyre, his grief would touch everything living and dead; both human and God. This drew the attention of his father, who advised him to descend to hell and speak to the God of the Underworld himself, and Orpheus did just that.

 

 

He made it past many obstacles before he was finally in the presence of Hades and his wife Persephone, and Orpheus’s melodies made both of their hearts melt. So, Hades agreed to let Eurydice leave with him, on one condition: she would follow him out towards the light from the caves of the Underworld, but he couldn’t turn to look at her before completely stepping into the light or he would lose her forever. He just had to be patient.

 

 

They were only a few feet away from the light when Orpheus lost his faith and turned to see if Eurydice was really behind him; and she was… but he looked, so her shadow was pulled back among the dead.

 

 

She was lost forever…”

 

 

Josie was hanging on to Penelope’s every word, mesmerized both by the story and the girl telling it.

 

 

“… Orpheus tried to go back after that, but the Gods wouldn’t have it. He was in so much pain, he started playing a mourning song with his lyre, calling for death so that he can be united with his love forever… He died shortly after that; the beasts found him in the forest and tore his body up.”

 

 

The class remained silent even after Penelope was done recounting the story. It was Emma’s voice that broke them all out of their haze.

 

 

“Very good, Penelope. Thank you for sharing with the class. Who’s going to follow miss Park’s lead?”

 

 

When the class finally recovered and moved on, Penelope opened her notebook and started writing – or doodling – Josie couldn’t really tell which, but the way she was acting now was a cold contrast to the way she was looking at and speaking to Josie before class started; before Josie asked about Penelope’s family.

 

 

I’m such an idiot… the tattoo.

 

 

Josie finally put two and two together and decided she would avoid asking questions about Penelope’s family for the time being, at least until the brunette brought up the topic herself.

 

 

When the bell rang, Penelope was the first to get out of her seat and head for the door.

 

 

“Penelope, wait!”

 

 

The brunette slowed her pace down enough to let Josie catch up with her. They were walking down the hallway towards the cafeteria when Josie decided she couldn’t take the silence any longer and turned to face the brunette.

 

 

“I’m sorry if I stepped out of line before. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.”

 

 

“It’s okay, Josie. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just not something I like to talk about.”

 

 

She hated herself for missing the nickname the brunette had given her. “I understand.”

 

 

Penelope smiled, “So... are having lunch together?”

 

 

Josie felt a strange weight lift off her shoulders, “As long as you don’t mind hanging out with a bunch of nerdy weirdos.”

 

 

“I’m hanging with you, aren’t I?”

 

 

She playfully nudged Penelope as they made their way into the cafeteria and headed for Josie’s usual table.

 

 

“Hey guys, there’s someone I want you to meet. This is Penelope Park. Penelope, this is-”

 

 

“So, this is the girl dad wanted us to show around this morning…” Lizzie looked to be sizing Penelope up almost as soon as she entered her line of sight. She was the first to speak, cutting off Josie and extending an arm out to shake Penelope’s hand, “Nice to officially meet you, fresh meat. I’m Lizzie, captain of the school’s Wickery team, resident head-witch-in-char-”

 

 

“Oh, so you’re Josie’s twin… Yeah, I can totally see it now.”

 

 

Based on the fact that Josie and Lizzie looked nothing alike, and the way Penelope completely ignored Lizzie’s outstretched hand, Josie gathered that Penelope had already formed an opinion on Lizzie.

 

 

This can’t be good.

 

 

Sensing the tension building, MG rose to his feet to introduce himself, smiling nervously. “Um hi, I’m Milton Greasley, but everybody calls me MG. Comic book enthusiast, best dancer you’ll ever meet, trivia game master and... vampire; in that order. It’s great to meet you.”

 

 

God bless your soul, MG.

 

 

Penelope smiled and shook his hand, a warm expression gracing her face.

 

 

“Nice to meet you, Milton.”

 

 

Finally, she turned her attention to the last person sitting at their table.

 

 

“You’re Hope Mikaelson, right?”

 

 

Josie was taken aback. How did Penelope know Hope?

 

 

The tribrid tilted her head slightly, looking up at Penelope from her seat. “I am… have we met?”

                                                                  

 

“No, but I’ve heard about you. I typically like to learn as much as I can about the students when I move to a new school. I have to say you’re not exactly what I was expecting for a tribrid.”

 

 

“Well, I’m not sure what you had in mind, but if you were expecting Kate Beckinsale in a school uniform, sorry to disappoint.”

 

 

“I was actually going to say I’m impressed…”

 

 

Josie, Lizzie and MG were all rooted in place, watching the exchange between the two girls. Hope wasn’t typically the talking type, rarely showing enough interest beyond a polite nod or a few words. It had taken her a long time to get used to the three of them and their constant desire to make conversation.

 

 

“… I was actually expecting something more along the lines of the female version of that sparkly dude from Twilight. But then again, anything is a step-up from that so I wouldn’t let the compliment get to your head.”

 

 

They were actually smiling at each other at this point, and not in the passive aggressive way Lizzie and Penelope had regarded each other, but in an actual genuinely amused way.

 

 

Josie knew she should have been relieved Penelope was getting along with her friends, but watching Hope and Penelope’s back-and-forth, she couldn’t help the sudden rush of emotions she felt, like a small pang in her chest telling her not to be surprised. She knew Hope too well to expect any less; she was one of the best people Josie had ever met. She was strong. She was special. She was good.

 

 

And Josie might not have known Penelope long, but she could already tell the brunette was all of those things too. She had a feeling there was a lot more to Penelope than she was letting on.

 

 

She might’ve been getting ahead of herself, but despite how much it would hurt, she couldn’t blame either of them if they ended up becoming more than friends.

 

 

Although, that didn’t stop her from praying they wouldn’t.

Chapter Text

When Penelope woke up the next morning, her first thought was Josie.

 

 

Her mind seemed to work faster than her body because it wasn’t until she moved her head to the side to make sure the girl was still there that she felt the weight on her. Looking down, she realized she should’ve seen it coming.

 

 

Their bodies were intertwined. Josie was resting her head under Penelope’s chin, right above her heart, and her arm was sprawled across Penelope’s waist, meaning she must have clung to the brunette during the night to make sure she wouldn’t leave.

 

 

Her breathing was normal. Her heart rate was stable. She was safe.

 

 

Penelope allowed herself the time to take it all in; the smell of Josie’s perfume, the familiar weight of her body on Penelope’s, the way Josie was hanging on to her. She must’ve gone too deep because suddenly the memories were crashing down on her like boulders. She couldn’t breathe.

 

 

Unable to take it any longer, she disentangled herself from Josie’s arms, careful not to wake her up. Getting out of bed, she bent down to look at the sleeping girl.

 

 

She missed this; how simple everything used to be. When waking up in each other’s arms wasn’t something to run away from, but something to hold on to.

 

 

Penelope wasn’t sure how much more of this she could take. Reaching down, she pulled the sheets up to cover Josie all the way to her shoulders and moved the loose hair that had fallen onto the side of the girl’s face back behind her ear.

 

 

“Pen… can we talk?”

 

 

Penelope could recognize that voice anywhere. Smiling, she turned just in time as the shadow came into focus.

 

 

“I’ll meet you in our usual spot in 5 minutes, okay?”

 

 

Turning her head to the side for one last look at Josie, Penelope left the room, moving to close the door behind her quietly.

 

 

“Penelope!”

 

 

The brunette's head snapped to the left at the sudden noise, watching her best friend stomp in her direction; clearly mad. Penelope was half-expecting a lecture right there in the middle of the hallway.

 

 

“You completely disappeared on me last night! Did something happen?”

 

 

Hope didn’t seem to miss the way Penelope was being uncharacteristically gentle with the door, or the gesture she made to try to get the tribrid to lower her voice.

 

 

“Is someone in there? Did you seriously bail on your best friend in the world for a random hookup?”

 

 

Apparently, the look on Penelope’s face was all Hope needed to understand. She was too clever for her own good sometimes.

 

 

“Penelope… is Josie in there?”

 

 

“It’s kind of a long story, Hope. Can we do this later?” She started moving away from Hope when she felt her place her hand on Penelope’s forearm.

 

 

“Hey, just… wait a second. I don’t know what’s been going on with you, but I’m worried, and so are Landon and MG by the way. Ever since you found out about the mer-”

 

 

Penelope’s hand was covering the tribrid’s mouth before the word even made its way out of her mouth.

 

 

“I told you not to say that word out loud, or in public, or ever… especially not when Josie’s right in there.”

 

 

Hope shifted Penelope’s hand from her face. “I’m sorry, but you refuse to talk to anyone. I just want to help. You know I care about her too, about both of them…”

 

 

Fuck.

 

 

Penelope had been so set on doing what she needed to do to save Josie that she hadn’t stopped to consider how all of this was affecting Hope, especially after the tribrid had told her about her feelings for Lizzie.

 

 

“I know… You’re right, I’m so sorry. Look, I’ll find you later and I’ll tell you everything I’ve learned so far. We’ll save them together, okay?”

 

 

Hope nodded silently, clearly still recovering from having to say those words out loud for a second time.

 

 

Penelope spread her arms out to give her best friend a brief hug, before turning to head for the woods. Checking the time on her phone, she still had two minutes to get there.

 

 

Sprinting through the same path she’d taken countless times before; she reached the clearing just in time. She looked around for a few seconds. It had been a while since she’d been here and yet nothing had changed.

 

 

“Hi Pen.”

 

 

The voice was coming from behind her. She closed her eyes, giving herself enough time to regain her composure, and turned around with the brightest smile she could muster.

 

 

“Hey, kiddo. I haven’t seen you in a while.”

 

 

Benjamin was standing a few feet away from her; in the way she had gotten used to seeing him. He was wearing the same outfit he’d chosen the day of the accident: his favorite worn-out Spider-Man t-shirt that their mom had been trying to get him to stop wearing, and the new pair of shorts and sneakers that their dad had gotten him the last time they’d moved. Nothing had changed since the last time she’d seen him.

 

 

“Mom and dad have been trying to get me to stop seeing you so much. They said I’m distracting you.”

 

 

Penelope couldn’t help the sudden burst of anger she felt, although she did her best to mask it for her little brother’s sake. She moved closer and crouched in front of him. “Hey, look at me… don’t listen to them. You can never distract me. It’s just you and me, remember? Penny and Benji versus the world, right?”

 

 

She held out a closed fist, expecting him to high-five it like when they were kids. Her eyes started to sting when he tried but couldn’t touch her. The sadness on his face broke her. She wished she could just reach out and hug him like she used to.

 

 

“How’s Josie?”

 

 

Hearing those words, Penelope couldn’t help the tears any longer, but she was still smiling, the memory of when Josie first met her little brother still fresh in her mind.

 

 

When Josie and Penelope had reached a very serious part in their relationship, after Penelope had finally let Josie in and told her everything there was to tell about her past, Josie had asked her if she could meet Benji. She was aware she couldn’t see him, but she wanted to talk to him anyway. Penelope didn’t really understand why at first, so she was hesitant, but the next time Benji showed up, Penelope found herself asking him if he wanted to meet someone very special to her, someone she loved very much.

 

 

“More than me?” He’d asked.

 

 

“No, kiddo. Never more than you.”

 

 

He smiled and nodded. Penelope texted Josie to meet her in her dorm room, and it took the girl less than a minute to show up.

 

 

She looked uncertain at first, unsure of where to look or how to act around Penelope with her little brother around.

 

 

“She’s pretty.”

 

 

Penelope smiled. “Yes, she is.”

 


She motioned for Josie to join her on the bed, facing the door, and the girl was at her side in no time.

 

 

“He’s here; Just aim for the door. He’s pretty short-”

 

 

“Am not!”

 

 

Penelope smiled teasingly at him and continued her sentence. “So, imagine his eyes are on the door handle’s level. I already told him about you, so you can say whatever you want.”

 

 

Josie nodded, still visibly nervous, but turned to face the door like Penelope instructed her to, with a soft smile on her face.

 

 

“Hi Benji, I’m Josie. Penelope’s told me a lot about you. From what I heard, you’re a pretty big Marvel fan, huh?”

 

 

“He’s nodding, guess he’s pretty shy around you. You should know, Benji has been telling us he’s actually Spider-Man ever since he was little. He used to get pretty annoyed at me when I teased him and asked him to prove it.”

 

 

Josie turned to look at Benji again, excitement visible in her tone. “Oh my god, is that true, Benji? Are you really Spider-Man?”

 

 

“I am! Look!”

 

 

“He says he is. Oh, looks like he’s doing the pose now.”

 

 

“I don’t know why you think this is funny, Penelope. Your brother is very clearly a superhero and he’s trying to tell you, but you won’t believe him…”

 

 

Benji’s eyes lit up immediately, he looked both shocked and over the moon.

 

 

“… I mean, think about it, have you ever seen Benji and Spider-Man in the same room before?”

 

 

Penelope couldn’t help but smile at her girlfriend. “Hmm… guess not.”

 

 

“See… Benji’s totally Spider-Man!”

 

 

The excitement on her little brother’s face at Josie’s words was enough to warm her entire body. She couldn’t understand how it was physically possible to love someone as much as she loved Josie Saltzman.

 

 

Penelope smiled softly at her, hoping Josie could tell how much she loved her just from the way she was looking at her, “Well, I can’t argue with that logic… I guess he is!”

 

 

They all laughed for a while after that. Ever since that day, every time Benji would visit her, he’d ask to see Josie too.

 

 

She’d forgotten she hadn’t had the chance to tell him they’d broken up yet. She couldn’t bring herself to tell him the truth.

 

 

“She’s good! She misses you.”

 

 


 

 

 

When Josie woke up that morning, every bone in her body felt heavier than it ever had. Her head hurt and her memories were fuzzy.

 

 

Looking down, the first thing she noticed was that this wasn’t her bed. Looking up, the second thing she realized was that this wasn’t her room.

 

 

When her eyes moved to scan the room, they immediately fell to the picture on the night stand, the memories of the previous night beginning to resurface.

 

 

She knew where she was.

 

 

“Penelope?”

 

 

When she wasn’t met with an answer, she sat up straight and reached for the frame. It was a photo they’d taken on Penelope’s eighteenth birthday. The brunette was wearing a party hat, looking grumpy as ever; and Josie was kissing her cheek.

 

 

A rush of longing filled her heart as she put the picture back in its place.

 

 

Josie rubbed her temple with her fingertips and closed her eyes. The previous night was coming back to her in flashes. She remembered Penelope carrying her back from the woods, she remembered spending the night wrapped around Penelope’s body. She remembered getting to MG’s party, she remembered seeing Penelope with Hope.

 

 

It took her a few more minutes but eventually she remembered the rest.

 

 

Rafael.

 

 

Her stomach flipped. If Penelope hadn’t been there, she wasn’t sure what would have happened. She didn’t know how she would face the wolf after that, but what worried her more was how she would face her sister.

 

 

Reluctantly, she got out of bed and studied herself in the mirror. She looked like a mess. She was still wearing the shirt from last night, but her pants were folded neatly on the desk and her shoes were peeking out from under the bed. She realized Penelope must’ve taken them off her to help her sleep better.

 

 

Reaching for the desk, she dressed herself and paused for a moment. Josie didn’t want Penelope to come back and think she left without thanking her, so she wrote her a small note and placed it in the corner of the frame on the night stand.

 

 

Looking at herself one last time in the mirror, satisfied with her efforts to hide any remnants of the events of the previous night, she headed out to hers and Lizzie’s room.

 

 

“Josie, thank God! Where were you? I’ve been texting you non-stop. I need to talk to you about Raf.”

 

 

Josie’s stomach dropped.

 

 

Does the entire school already know?

 

 

“Um, my phone died. I crashed at a friend’s last night. Listen, Lizzie, there’s something I need to tell y-”

 

 

“I’m done with him, for real this time. He humiliated me last night. I would have lost it had MG not been there to bring me back. Anyway, it made me realize I deserve better… even if he is hot and broody and popul-”

 

 

“He tried to hurt me last night.”

 

 

Lizzie looked confused for a moment.

 

 

“What do you mean he tried to hurt you? What did he do?”

 

 

“He told me he’d upset you and that you ran away. We were looking for you in the woods when he told me the truth, he lied to get me alone. He… kissed me. I pushed him right away, but I started feeling weird… lightheaded… weak. He told me he slipped one of Landon’s sedatives in my drink to try to get me to relax.”

 

 

Josie couldn’t quite read the expression on Lizzie’s face. The closest she could come to describing it would be to call it a mixture of worry and rage.

 

 

“Did he…?”

 

 

“No, no he didn’t. And I don’t know if he would have, Penelope showed up before anything else happened.”

 

 

“Penelope? Satan brought you back?”

 

 

Don’t call her that…” Josie didn’t miss the slight look of shock on Lizzie’s face at how defensive she sounded, “Yes, she did. I couldn’t remember everything when I woke up, but the memories are coming back bit by bit. She used magic to throw him off me and caught me in time before I passed out. I think she punched him too.”

 

 

A look of pride flashed across Lizzie’s face before she had time to mask it.

 

 

“You think?”

 

 

“She brought me back to her room, probably because she didn’t want you to find out what happened from her. Her hand was swollen, I remember healing it before I fell back asleep.”

 

 

“Wow.”

 

 

“Yeah.”

 

 

“I’m going to kill him.”

 

 

Lizzie was already moving towards the door when Josie caught her hand to hold her back.

 

 

“What? No, wait. Look, I’m really happy you’re over him, I always thought you deserved better anyway, but if we’re going to do this, we have to do it right. He can’t do this to anyone else. We have to tell dad.”

 

 

Lizzie hesitated for a second. Josie could see the gears turning in her head. “Fine. But if dad doesn’t expel his ass, I’m dealing with it myself.”

 

 

“Deal.”

 

 

Lizzie looked satisfied enough with their arrangement.

 

 

“So… MG, huh?”

 

 

“What? No, it’s not like that.”

 

 

Josie gave her a skeptical look. “Are you sure? Because he’s been in love with you since we were kids.”

 

 

“Has not!”

 

 

“Come on, Liz. You can’t tell me you haven’t noticed.”

 

 

“Alright, fine. Maybe. A little.”

 

 

“And? Do you feel the same?”

 

 

“I don’t know, Jo. I guess I haven’t really thought of him as anything beyond a little brother.”

 

 

“That’s fair, you did grow up together. But I don’t know, maybe you should keep an open mind. You could be missing out on something special if you don’t open your eyes to see it.”

 

 

“Yeah… what about you? What are you going to do about She Who Must Not Be Named?”

 

 

“I need you to stop doing that.”

 

 

“Doing what?”

 

 

“Hating on Penelope when all she’s ever done is look out for me.”

 

 

“That might just be the overstatement of the century. Why are you defending her all of a sudden? And besides, it’s not like she doesn’t deserve it. She broke your heart, didn’t she?”

 

 

Josie didn’t know how to answer that. On one hand, Lizzie was right, Penelope broke her heart when she ended them. But on the other hand, she couldn’t just sit there and pretend like her feelings were just gone.

 

 

“I still love her, Liz.”

 

 

“Look, sis, I can’t pretend to understand what you see in Lord V-” Josie’s glare cut her off. “What I mean is, as much as I hate to say it, she’s the one who broke up with you. What makes you think she still loves you back?”

 

 

“I don’t know. I guess I can just... feel it. She’s always saving me.”

 

 

“Okay, let’s say that’s true for a second. What does it change? When she broke up with you, didn’t you say it was because you weren’t giving her enough attention or something? That sounds like a pretty selfish thing to say if you ask me.”

 

 

Josie hadn’t told Lizzie the real reason behind their breakup; she didn’t know how.

 

 

She didn’t know how to tell her that all Penelope wanted was for Josie to grow out from under her twin’s shadow, to become her own person, to stop dropping everything important in her life just to make sure Lizzie was happy.

 

 

She wasn’t sure how she could explain to her twin sister that the love of her life left her because she couldn’t bear to watch her bend and break, never making one selfish decision, never putting herself first.

 

 

So, Josie didn’t say anything at all.

 

 

Even though she knew Lizzie couldn’t have been more wrong about Penelope. She wasn’t selfish.

 

 

Penelope Park was the most selfless person Josie had ever met in her entire life.

 

 

“I have to go.”

 

 

“What? Where are you going?”

 

 

As much as Josie hated to admit it, Lizzie was right. The fact that she still loved Penelope and wanted her back didn’t change anything.

 

 

If Josie wanted Penelope back, she had to earn it.

 

 

“To fix it.”

Chapter Text

“Alright, class. Next, we’ll be exploring a concept that has been a somewhat controversial branch of magic in that some people believe in it, while others don’t: the question of whether the source of all magic comes from the four elements we all know to be earth, air, fire, and water. One thing is undeniable, every witch has at least some small affiliation to a specific elemental branch of magic. This typically manifests itself in the form of a pull to one of the four elements. For example, some witches may be drawn to the sea, or find an apparent increase in strength during the winter season, making them more attuned to the water element; whereas other witches might feel a connection to different light sources and more specifically, open flames, making them more attuned to fire…”

 

 

If you were to tell Josie she would find Magical Theory to be the most fascinating class she’d take throughout her school years, let’s face it, she probably would have believed you. The same couldn’t be said for her twin sister though, because Josie could tell Lizzie was about thirty seconds away from passing out from boredom.

 

 

They were sitting together at the front of the class, where they would usually sit whenever they had class together; this was the case for about seven out of eight of Josie’s classes.

 

 

Turning whenever the opportunity presented itself, Josie would allow herself a few moments to look towards the back of the classroom, over Lizzie’s shoulder.

 

 

She had come to the conclusion a while ago that the witches at their school weren’t any different than the werewolves or the vampires; they stuck to their own and followed an elected leader. And for what had to be the eighth time this period, Josie’s eyes fell on the leader sitting in the very middle of the classroom, surrounded by doting witches.

 

 

Penelope was wearing one of her many adaptations of the uniform, adding a cape to it this time; making it look less like a school uniform and more like a cross between a runway outfit and a superhero costume. Her hair was side-swept, and her green eyes were glinting the way they did when Penelope was excited about something. She seemed to be enjoying herself, and Josie could only assume that was a direct effect of the girl sitting next to her.

 

 

“… Just like every element lends itself to a witch, as do the characteristics that element symbolizes. To use the example I’ve previously given, fire-attuned witches are typically passionate, creative, and courageous; whereas water-attuned witches are more likely to be intuitive, mysterious, and intelligent…”

 

 

Josie realized she must have been lost in thought because suddenly Penelope was looking back at her, a mischievous smile on her face and a gleam in her eyes. She couldn’t make sense of it until she realized everyone else was staring at her too, including their professor who was apparently expecting some sort of answer from her.

 

 

“Miss Saltzman doesn’t seem to be with us today.”

 

 

“Oh no, I am! I totally am.”

 

 

“Is that so? Well if that’s true, maybe you can tell us which of the four elements you believe you are attuned to?”

 

 

Josie’s eyes drifted from her professor’s down to her hands, finally settling on the brunette staring back at her a few tables back. Something in Penelope's eyes felt like a challenge, like she wanted Josie to make a move.

 

 

Josie didn’t break eye contact as she whispered her next word.

 

 

“Incendio.”

 

 

Before she had time to comprehend what had happened, laughter erupted; both muffled and deliberate.

 

 

Reluctantly, she tore her eyes away from Penelope’s, spun around to find her sister was now wide awake and contributing to the laughter, then finally turned back to the front of the class where a stack of papers had apparently caught on fire. Josie didn’t register what she’d done until she heard Penelope’s voice cut through the laughter.

 

 

Next thing she knew, both their teacher and the stack of papers were soaking wet.

 

 

And her and Penelope had just earned themselves detention.

 

 


 

  

“You know, if you wanted to get me alone, all you had to do was ask.”

 

 

Josie and Penelope had just made their way into the empty classroom their professor had assigned them to. They were meant to write an essay on Elemental Attunement and why they believed they were attuned to the element they had chosen. Josie would’ve been thrilled by this assignment had it not meant she would be sitting dangerously close to a certain brunette, who, as Josie couldn’t help but notice, also smelled amazing.

 

 

“Contrary to what you may think, Penny, not every witch at this school has a thing for you.”

 

 

She won’t buy that.

 

 

“I don’t know about every witch, but I’d say a solid 95% of them do.”

 

 

Nice work, Josette.

 

 

Josie rolled her eyes, unable to hide her amusement but trying to play it off as annoyance. Penelope Park was by far the most frustratingly arrogant person in the entire school. She should’ve found it irritating had she not thought it was insanely attractive.

 

 

“Whatever. Let’s just write these papers and get out of here.”

 

 

Tearing out two pieces of paper from her notebook, Penelope handed one to Josie. “So, after that show back there, I think it’s safe to say your element is fire. Which is very hot by the way; pun intended.”

 

 

A deep blush spread from Josie’s head to her neck. “And judging by your stellar performance of trying to put out said fire and ending up getting most of the water on our dear professor, I’d say your element is water.”

 

 

“What makes you think I didn’t do that on purpose?”

 

 

“I don’t know… why would anyone get themselves purposely thrown in detention?”

 

 

Penelope paused for a moment, studying her facial expressions for something Josie couldn’t quite figure out, and looking slightly disappointed when she couldn’t seem to find it.

 

 

“Maybe, I just didn’t want you to be stuck in here on your own…”

 

 

Every time Josie began to think she had this girl figured out; she went and said things like that.

 

 

“… Especially since it’s partly my fault you’re stuck in here in the first place.”

 

 

Josie moved to take a sip of water. Eyebrows knitted; she brought the bottle to her lips. “How do you figure that?”

 

 

“If you hadn’t been so distracted staring at me and Hope all period, you might have had better aim.”

 

 

Josie wasn’t ashamed of that spit-take.

 

 

“I was not staring!”

 

 

“Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

 

 

“You’re infuriating.”

 

 

“You love it.”

 

 

Josie tried to resist the smile that was fighting its way onto her face, but one look at the girl grinning back at her was enough to make her give up the struggle.

 

 

They both went back to writing their papers after that, spending a good thirty minutes before they were satisfied with the end result. They were gathering their things to leave when Penelope suddenly broke the silence.

 

 

“So… I wanted to ask; the witches are organizing a party in the woods tonight…”

 

 

Was Josie imagining things or did the one and only Penelope Park sound nervous?

 

 

She decided she wasn’t going to make it easy on her. “I heard.”

 

 

“I was thinking… would you maybe want to go with me?”

 

 

Of all the words Josie expected to come out of Penelope’s mouth, those might have been the last. Her heart jumped.

 

 

“Penelope Park… are you asking me out on a date?”

 

 

The teasing was reaching new heights, but Penelope seemed to be recovering, “Maybe…”

 

 

Josie bit her lip to stop from beaming.

 

 

“... Or maybe I just want to make sure you don’t set the entire school on fire while I’m away at some party.”

 

 

And there it is.

 

 

With an eyeroll and a nudge with the empty water bottle, Josie conceded. “Fine. But since you think I’m a walking fire hazard, it’s on you to make sure I don’t accidentally set anybody on fire.”

 

 

“Right…” Penelope brought her hands to her head, forming air quotes, “Accidentally…”

 

 

The brunette was holding the door open for her when Josie paused and turned to face her, “I hate you.”

 

 

Penelope smiled to herself when Josie stepped out before giving her the chance to respond, “I know.”

 

 


  

 

The Saltzman twins made it the party relatively late.

 

 

As usual, Josie had spent most of her time helping Lizzie get ready and was only left with about 10 minutes before they would’ve been officially late.

 

 

Nonetheless, Josie wasn’t about to let that ruin her night. She had bigger things to worry about; like the fact that she hadn’t told Lizzie that Penelope invited her to the party as her date, and the fact that the idea of having to juggle being there for her sister and spending the night with Penelope was making her incredibly nauseous, and the fact that she’d been waiting for this night, for Penelope to ask her out on an actual date, ever since they first met.

 

 

She was processing a lot.

 

 

When the twins reached the designated area in the woods, Josie immediately spotted Penelope. The brunette was standing near the bonfire, surrounded by the witches in their class. They looked like they were hanging onto her every word, and Josie couldn’t blame them. Penelope was the most beautiful girl she’d ever seen. Adding to that the fact that she was also super intelligent and incredibly kind (when she wanted to be) only made life harder for Josie.

 

 

This was becoming quite a pattern for them. They were constantly looking for one another in any crowd.

 

 

When Penelope felt Josie’s eyes on her, she turned and smiled, but when the girl’s eyes moved from Josie to her sister, it felt like the illusion had shattered; and the look on Penelope’s face made her stomach drop.

 

 

The next thing Josie knew, she was being dragged towards the witches by her twin.

 

 

Lizzie interrupted the conversation they seemed to be having as soon as she and Josie were within speaking distance. “Penelope.”

 

 

Penelope turned her entire body to face them, addressing Lizzie but looking at Josie, almost hoping she would say something; anything. “Lizzie.”

 

 

“What are we talking about?”

 

 

“We were just debating whether or not all great love stories end in tragedy.” The hurt in Penelope’s eyes when she said those words was a sight Josie was sure she would never forget.

 

 

Nobody said anything after that, sensing the tension in the air as the two girls stared at each other.

 

 

It wasn’t until Lizzie intervened that their eye contact was broken.

 

 

“I’m bored already… Truth or Dare, anyone?”

 

 

Judging by the immediate rejection on both sides, Josie and Penelope seemed to think it was a terrible idea.

 

 

“Come on! It’ll be fun. We’ll get everyone to play…”

 

 

Josie couldn’t quite tell what Penelope was thinking, but she, for one, didn’t think the situation could get any worse.

 

 

 “… Hey losers! Truth or Dare next the bonfire! Now!”

 

 

She was wrong.

 

 

Lizzie’s announcement seemed to get everyone’s attention rather quickly, but then again it didn’t look like they needed much convincing in the first place. The vampires jumped at the opportunity of being dared to feed, and the werewolves followed the alpha, who was nowhere to be found appar-

 

 

“The wolves are in.”

 

 

Perfect timing, Jed.

 

 

Of all her sister’s bad ideas, Josie thought this might’ve been the worst.

 

 


 

  

“Dare.”

 

 

“Keep picking dare and some of us might think you have something to hide, Penelope.”

 

 

Twelve of them were sitting in a circle near the bonfire, an empty beer bottle between them. A few rounds of both typical and not-so-typical high school dares had kicked things off as they each took a turn spinning the bottle, asking the person it landed on to choose between Truth or Dare.

 

 

By the time things started heating up, the number of active players had dropped down to six. Josie, Lizzie, Hope, MG, Kaleb, Jed, and Penelope were the only ones left. The Saltzman twins were sitting next to one another, Hope next to Lizzie, MG next to Hope, followed by Penelope who sat facing the girls, with Jed and Kaleb to her left.

 

 

Josie didn’t know how, but she thought her sister might have had something to do with the decrease in numbers, just like she suspected Lizzie had enchanted the bottle to land on Penelope when it became her turn to spin.

 

 

“I’m actually an open book, Lizzie. But you might have to buy me dinner first if you want to hear all about my dirty secrets.”

 

 

Lizzie rolled her eyes, a mischievous smile on her face. Josie had a very bad feeling about this.

 

 

“Let’s make it interesting, shall we? I happen to know for a fact that you have feelings for someone in this circle…”

 

 

Josie’s heart went from beating at a semi-normal pace to jumping out of her chest. Penelope’s eyes betrayed her almost as soon as those words left Lizzie’s mouth, her gaze falling on Josie before Lizzie had even finished her sentence.

 

 

“… I dare you to kiss them.”

 

 

Josie was holding her breath, eyes wide, suddenly very aware of every muscle in her body, yet unable to move any of them. Her eyes were fixed on Penelope, waiting for her to make a move.

 

 

Every single sound, both within and outside of the circle, had died down. Everyone seemed to be watching Penelope, shocked that the infamous Penelope Park had feelings for anyone, and curious to find out who could have possibly managed to make the most elusive girl in school catch feelings.

 

 

Penelope was a known flirt, some have even gone as far as to call her an equal opportunity evil temptress, but that was about as much as anybody knew, or at the very least, talked about. It was strange really, but nobody ever questioned her about it; probably because they were too terrified of the reaction they would receive.

 

 

Right now, though, Josie knew Penelope had no choice but to fess up. On a regular day, she would never refuse a dare from anyone, add to that the fact that the dare was coming from none other than Lizzie Saltzman, there was no way in hell Penelope would refuse.

 

 

The girl was rooted in place for a few moments, (although to Josie it felt more like a few hours) looking like she was weighing her options, until suddenly she stood up and started heading in their direction.

 

 

The emptiness Josie felt in her chest when Penelope stopped in front of Hope was the worst thing she had ever felt in her entire life.

 

 

Correction.

 

 

The pain she felt watching Penelope bend down to kiss Hope was the worst thing Josie had ever felt in her entire life.

 

 

And she couldn’t take it. She had to get out of there.

 

 

Josie stood up and moved out of the circle, her back to the commotion as the crowd erupted in cheers.

 

 

She kept walking and walking until the noise finally died down, not once looking back.

 

 

She hadn’t noticed how far she’d gotten until she finally stopped in an area of the woods she’d never been in before. She dropped down to the ground with her back to a tree, and before she knew it, tears were falling freely down her face, clouding her vision.

 

 

How could she have possibly thought Penelope Park, of all people, liked her, when she could have anyone she wanted from the entire school?

 

 

A bitter laugh escaping her lips, she pulled her legs to her chest and lowered her forehead to rest on her knees.

 

 

I guess she finally made her choice.

 

 

That didn’t mean it hurt any less.

 

 

“Josie…”

 

 

She was brought out of her daze by the sound of a familiar voice. Lifting her head, Josie could see how carefully Penelope was approaching her, a guilty look on her face, hands hidden behind the edges of the sleeves she was clutching.

 

 

“What are you doing here, Penelope? Shouldn’t you be with Hope?”

 

 

Penelope flinched, almost as if Josie had just slapped her across the face. She was still standing a short distance away from Josie, clearly aware of how badly she’d ruined things.

 

 

“It’s not what you think.”

 

 

Josie was angry now. Her reflexes kicking in, she leapt to her feet and shortened the distance between them.

 

 

“Then what is it, Penelope? Enlighten me!”

 

 

The brunette stood her ground but did her best to sound calm and collected. “Well, for one, you came here with Lizzie.”

 

 

She wasn’t expecting those words to come out of Penelope’s mouth right now.

 

 

“What does that have to do with anything?”

 

 

“This was technically supposed to our first date. Or at least it was supposed to be the start of our first date... and you showed up with your sister. I’m not stupid, you know. I could tell you didn’t tell her about us. I just assumed you had a good reason. And as much as I dislike your sister, I didn’t want her to find out about us from anyone other than you.”

 

 

Josie was taken aback. She should’ve realized Penelope had read right through the look on her face when the twins had arrived.

 

 

She opened her mouth to respond but was cut off before the words made it out.

 

 

“Wait, just- please let me finish, and then you can do whatever you want. You decide what happens next.”

 

 

Josie nodded quietly. Penelope slowly approached her, closing the distance Josie had left between them.

 

 

“For two, getting to know you these past few months, I gathered that you don’t have much experience when it comes to these things. I wasn’t sure if you’d kissed anyone before, but I didn’t want your first kiss to be in front of a bunch of horny teenagers. You deserve better than that.”

 

 

Penelope’s face was now mere inches away from hers, close enough for her scent to invade Josie’s senses.

 

 

“And for three, when we finally kiss, I don’t want you to think it’s because of some stupid dare, and I don’t want you to think I did it to get back at your sister. The first time I kiss you, I don’t want there to be any doubt in your mind that I’m doing it because I want to; because I’ve wanted to for a while now. And I want it to mean something…”

 

 

The weight of Penelope’s words, what little space there was left between them, the way Penelope was looking at her, it was all Josie could do not to pass out under the intensity of it all.

 

 

“... So, I couldn’t kiss you, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to.”

 

 

It took her some time to recover, but the question had been gnawing on her brain enough for the words to finally leave her lips. “You didn’t have to kiss Hope.”

 

 

Josie knew it was a very vulnerable and selfish thing to say. Technically, Penelope didn’t owe her anything; they weren’t together. But she still found herself hurt beyond belief by what had just happened.

 

 

“I know. That’s on me. I fucked up…”

 

 

Penelope looked like she was pleading with Josie to forgive her at this point.

 

 

“… But I didn’t kiss her because I have feelings for her – I don’t. She’s my best friend… I never had one growing up. It’s never gone past that between us, and it never will. Besides, she likes someone else. I thought if anything, I could maybe help her make them jealous, even if the kiss technically only lasted less than two seconds. It didn’t work out that way though, since she’s mad at me now too…”

 

 

It was a lot to process, but the more Josie listened to the girl standing in front of her, the more everything began to make sense; why Penelope did what she did, even if it still hurt.

 

 

“But I’m not going to lie to you, Josie. The thought of running away from a dare, from your sister of all people… it was killing me. She got under my skin, but the last thing I wanted was to hurt you.”

 

 

Josie’s expression softened. She wasn’t expecting Penelope to follow her out to the middle of the woods to apologize right after it all happened. And she certainly wasn’t expecting her to apologize and own up to everything. Part of her even thought, if she had just been honest with her sister from the beginning, none of this would have even happened.

 

 

“Listen, I know I don’t deserve it. But if I haven’t ruined everything already, I would really like a second chance.”

 

 

A hint of a smile was pulling at the left side of Josie’s face. “Penelope Park… are you asking me out on a date, again?”

 

 

“I am, but a real one this time; just the two of us. I want to do this right.”

 

 

“… Okay. But if you try to kiss anyone else, just know I’m completely within my rights to set someone on fire.”

 

 

Penelope grinned. “Noted.” 

Chapter Text

“Josie, hey!”

 

 

“Um, hey Landon. How are you?”

 

 

Josie had just left hers and Lizzie’s room, planning to head straight for Penelope’s, hoping to find the girl there but also willing to wait however long it would take for her to come back. They needed to talk, and Josie hoped against hope that it wasn’t too late.

 

 

She ran into Landon just as she was leaving her room. Josie noticed right away he looked a little disheveled, more than usual. She wondered how he’d been doing. After her and Penelope’s breakup, it seemed like their group had divided; Penelope got Landon and Hope, and Josie got Lizzie and Rafael. MG was caught in the middle of it all, unwilling to choose sides, wanting them all to be friends. Josie had always thought he was too pure for this world.

 

 

“I’m fine… listen, Raf told me what happened last night.”

 

 

Her heartbeat picked up. Did he tell you the truth?

 

 

“I just wanted you to know I had no idea what he was planning. I didn’t notice one of my pills was missing until this morning; I brought it up at breakfast and he looked so guilty, so I got it out of him. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. Are you feeling okay?”

 

 

Josie would have been lying if she said she wasn’t surprised. Landon had never been anything but kind to her, but after everything that had happened, she wasn’t expecting him to still care enough to check up on her.

 

 

“I- I’m fine, thank you for asking. It’s not your fault by the way. I remember how you used to blame yourself for things outside of your control. I just want you to know that… it’s not your fault.”

 

 

“Isn’t it? He’s my best friend and I have no idea what’s going on with him anymore. It’s like he’s a completely different person to me. He’s constantly drinking, partying… He barely shows up to class. He won’t talk to me or let me in; I don’t know how much more of it I can take. And what he did to you? There’s no excuse for that. I’m not sure what to do anymore.”

 

 

“You’re a good friend, Landon. Don’t give up on him. I don’t know what he’s dealing with, and there’s no excuse for the way he’s acting, but he didn’t do anything he can’t still come back from. You should help him.”

 

 

“Thanks, Josie. Everything was just so much simpler before. When we got here it was all new and exciting. Now-”

 

 

“You just wish things could go back to the way they were.”

 

 

Josie’s thoughts had drifted, staring ahead at Landon’s shirt, not looking anywhere in particular. He was quiet for a beat, studying her expression. Judging by the silence, she assumed he didn’t know how to respond. She wasn’t expecting the next words that came out of his mouth.

 

 

“She still loves you; you know.”

 

 

“What?”

 

 

Her eyes focused in on him again. Eyebrows knitted, she looked up at him.

 

 

“… How do you know?”

 

 

“I can still see it… the way you two look at each other. When I first got here, you were still very much together. I don’t think I’d ever seen two people make each other as happy as you two did. Love like that doesn’t just go away.”

 

 

Josie was suddenly very much aware of how terrifying this was going to be. Having to confess her feelings for Penelope all over again, facing the possibility that the other girl won’t feel the same way, or that she’d already moved on… “I’m scared.”

 

 

“It’s going to be okay, Josie. Just talk to her. I know I’m still relatively new around here compared to everyone else, but Penelope’s my friend, and I can see past her tough-girl act. She’s scared too. You two just need to be honest with each other.”

 

 

Josie had forgotten how much she’d missed him. Not sure how to convey her emotions in the moment, she pushed forward to give him a tight hug, whispering over his shoulder, “Thank you.”

 

 

“Anytime... You’re my friend too. Now, go get your girl.”

 

 


 

 

 

Penelope had just left the woods. Seeing her brother again was more than she thought she could handle. She felt like she needed to talk about it.

 

 

A while ago, before they ended things, Josie had been that person for her. Whenever Benji would show up after a long absence, Penelope would take it really hard. She would put on a brave face for him, but once he was gone again, it was Josie that Penelope would turn to; Josie who would make her feel better, Josie who taught her that it was okay to feel the way she did, to miss him so much it hurt.

 

 

She would hold her and let her cry through the night. Penelope never felt as safe as she did when she was in Josie’s arms.

 

 

When they broke up, they lost each other completely.

 

 

Penelope had never told anyone else about her ability to see beyond the veil. She had never fully trusted anybody enough to share that part of herself with until Josie came into her life.

 

 

Thinking back on the people still left in her life, she thought somebody else deserved to know, even if telling the truth might change things forever.

 

 

Penelope pulled out her phone and typed out a text to her best friend, asking her to meet in the Stefan Salvatore memorial library. Once sent, she headed straight there and settled down at a table in the back. Around ten minutes later, Hope joined her, looking as worried as ever.

 

 

“Hey.”

 

 

“Hey, Pen. Everything okay?”

 

 

Penelope smiled to herself. She hadn’t realized how easy it would have been to tell Hope the truth from the beginning. She knew Hope’s family background. She knew how much the girl had lost. They were sisters in more ways than one.

 

 

“My brother used to call me that.”

 

 

“I didn’t know… I can stop if you want.”

 

 

She shook her head. That was the last thing she wanted. “I need to tell you something.”

 

 

The concern on Hope’s face was only heightening. “What is it?”

 

 

Penelope pulled down her shirt, giving Hope a better look at her neck. “Do you know what this is?”

 

 

Concern was quickly replaced with confusion. “I thought it looked familiar, like I’d seen it somewhere before. I could never place it though, and I didn’t want to overstep and ask… why?”

 

 

Penelope let go of her collar and placed one of her hands on top of Hope’s.

 

 

“The reason that you’ve seen this mark before, is because you’ve researched the very thing I did. You loved, you lost; more than you deserve. And you hated the world for taking everything you loved away from you. So, you decided to balance it out. If nature wouldn’t find the loophole, you would. You must have stopped yourself at some point, before you learned the secret behind it; communicating with those who’ve passed, those beyond the veil.”

 

 

“That mark… you can talk to people who’ve passed away?”

 

 

Penelope nodded, searching her best friend’s eyes for signs of anger or disappointment. All she found was hurt.

 

 

“Can you… can you see my parents?”

 

 

She braced herself. What she was about to say next could very well make her lose her best friend in the whole world. It would hurt her more than Penelope could bear, but not nearly as much as it would hurt Hope.

 

 

“Your mom found me once. I didn’t know who she was at first, since I’d never seen her before. But she showed me her birthmark. You have the same one…”

 

 

Her eyes searched Hope’s for signs of anger, expecting her to storm off any second. But she never did, so Penelope continued.

 

 

“… She asked me about you. Watching over you from the outside isn’t the same as talking to you and asking you how you feel on the inside. She wanted me to look after you.”

 

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

 

“She asked me not to. She said it would be too hard for you. But I think it’s been harder; not knowing is always harder.”

 

 

Hope was clearly hurt, shocked even. Still not fully recovered from learning about her mom, she pushed forward. “… And my dad?”

 

 

Penelope shook her head. “It doesn’t really work like that. I don’t control it; they just find me sometimes. I’ve only ever spoken to four people across the veil: your mom, my little brother, my mom, and… Jo, Josie’s mom.”

 

 

“Wait- Josie’s mom?”

 

 

Penelope nodded. “That’s how I found out about the merge. She came to warn me. Apparently, Josie’s parents have known since the beginning. Caroline’s out looking for a way to stop the merge in time before the twins turn 22, and Alaric's busy keeping them and the school safe. They all thought they shouldn’t tell Josie and Lizzie about the merge until they’d exhausted every option. But… when Jo saw what was happening to Josie… it broke her. They’re both her daughters, but if Josie were to have a chance, even a small fighting chance of survival, she would have to be stronger. And I had to be stronger for her. Jo was there last night… at the party. She was telling me to be stronger, reminding me why I had to let Josie go in the first place. It was all so she could become her own person, stop dividing herself between her devotion to Lizzie and her love for me. It wasn’t fair of me to keep taking from her when I knew she barely had anything left to give herself.”

 

 

“Wow.”

 

 

“I know it’s a lot. I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”

 

 

Hope paused for a moment, clearly trying to decide how to respond.

 

 

“I do wish you’d told me sooner, about all of it… But you just were trying to protect the girl you love; you still are. Who am I to fault you for that?”

 

 

Penelope let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. She would forget sometimes, how kind Hope actually was. She had one of the biggest hearts Penelope had ever seen.

 

 

“Hope… are you really never going to tell Lizzie the truth about the way you feel about her? Even after what you know now?”

 

 

“Lizzie and I aren’t like you and Josie, Pen. She’s never seen me as anything other than a friend. Up until just before you showed up at the school, we were barely even that.”

 

 

“But you mentioned something almost happened between you two when you were younger. There’s history there. What’s stopping you? You said it yourself, Hope. Lizzie’s not Josie. Your reasons are very different from mine.”

 

 

“But I have reasons, Pen... like the fact that she likes someone else, and the fact that MG has been in love with her since they were kids. And I just… I don’t want to tell her how I feel and risk losing her.”

 

 

“You’re not going to lose her, Hope. And if we can’t find a way to stop the merge… wouldn’t you want to tell her the truth when it still might make a difference?”

 

 

Hope looked down, trying to take in Penelope's words. “What about you? What are you going to do about Josie?”

 

 

“I don’t know… I just want to keep her safe. I won’t survive losing her again; it almost killed me the first time.”

 

 

“Why don’t you take your own advice then? Tell her the truth while it still might make a difference. You’re stronger together.”

 

 


 

  

As Penelope made her way back to her dorm, Hope’s words were still weighing heavy on her mind. She didn’t know what to do, and she wasn’t sure if Josie would still be in her room. She knew they needed to talk, but she had no idea what to say.

 

 

On one hand, it wasn’t her place to blow up Josie’s world like that, but on another, watching her continue to put herself second even after they broke up… it was too much. It made her feel like there might have been some truth to what Hope said. At the very least, if Penelope was still in Josie’s life, she could still push her to fight for herself. She could still show Josie that somebody was there for her; that no matter what, somebody was on her side. And maybe… maybe they were stronger together.

 

 

When Penelope stepped into her room, she was surprised to find an empty bed. It was unlike Josie to leave without leaving some trace of her behind, so Penelope moved closer to check the nightstand. There was a note there. She recognized the handwriting immediately.

 

 

“Hi Penny,

 

 

I don’t really know what to say. I’m still not a hundred percent sure what happened last night, but I remember you came for me. You brought me back here, you made sure I was okay. After everything, you’re still saving me.

 

 

You weren’t there when I woke up, and it didn’t feel right to stay without you, but I didn’t want to leave without saying thank you.

 

 

I want you to know that, when I saw you at the party, something changed. There are so many things I need to tell you, things I should have said a long time ago.

 

 

So, if I still mean something to you, please just give me the chance to explain.

 

 

Love,

 

 

Josie.”

 

 

Penelope’s head was swimming. She barely had time to process everything she’d just read before she heard a knock on the door she forgot to close.

 

 

“Penelope?”

 

 

Penelope turned her head to look at Josie. She looked tired, like something had been weighing her down for a while now.

 

 

“I see you read my letter.”

 

 

“Yeah, I- I did.”

 

 

“Can I come in?”

 

 

Penelope gestured for her to step forward. Closing the door behind her, Josie turned back to Penelope, hesitantly making her way to join the girl on the edge of the bed.

 

 

It felt strange in the daylight. They had technically spent the night in each other’s arms, like they’d done hundreds of times before, but they hadn’t really talked in a while, and there was something almost intrusive about the daylight.

 

 

They had nowhere to hide from each other.

 

 

Josie was hesitant, staring down at the letter in Penelope’s hands, probably trying to decide where to begin. Penelope couldn’t take the silence anymore.

 

 

“How are you feeling?”

 

 

“I- I’m fine. I remember everything now. I don’t know how to thank you.”

 

 

“You have nothing to thank me for, Jojo. I still care about you, no matter what’s happening between us. I always will. I’m always going to be there for you if you need me to be.”

 

 

Penelope could tell her words had taken a toll on the girl sitting next to her. The fact that she averted her eyes and lowered her head didn’t fool Penelope.

 

 

“Look, Josie… there’s something I need to tell y-”

 

 

“No, wait… please. Can I go first?”

 

 

The pleading in her eyes was all Penelope needed to see to let her go first. She nodded for Josie to go ahead, turning her body completely to face her. They sat like that for a few more moments, Penelope patiently waiting for Josie to start speaking.

 

 

“I had this entire speech planned out. There are so many things I want to say to you. When I saw you show up at the party yesterday… with Hope… a lot of things went through my mind. I was jealous, I didn’t know if you two were together.”

 

 

Penelope was surprised. She knew Josie was jealous of Hope when Penelope had first shown up to the school. That subsided considerably when they started dating, but Penelope always suspected a part of Josie was worried; like she thought Penelope would wake up one day and decide Josie wasn’t good enough for her or start to see Hope in a different light as more than a friend. Penelope was always patient with her, constantly reassuring her that she had nothing to worry about, from Hope or from anyone else.

 

 

Josie was all Penelope ever wanted. Hearing her say she wondered if Penelope had moved on with Hope made her heart break.

 

 

“We’re not, Jo. It’s never been anything like that.”

 

 

“It’s okay, just… let me finish.”

 

 

Penelope nodded, not quite sure where the conversation was heading.

 

 

“I was also incredibly sad. I felt hollow. Like you were this huge part of me, and when you left, it was like that part of me went with you. But I never really felt it until last night, how meaningless everything was without you. I tried to move on, I did my best but… nothing I ever felt came close to the way I felt when I was with you. You made me the happiest I’d ever been. You tried to show me that it was okay to want things, to put myself first, to be selfish. I could never hear it though, and I didn’t see it then – you were just looking after me. It was never about you hating Lizzie or you trying to be selfish with me. It was about me. I never fought for us, I never fought for you, and I never fought for myself.”

 

 

At some point during Josie’s speech, Penelope had stopped breathing. Her eyes were glued to Josie’s, hands trembling. She realized they were both crying. She wanted more than anything to reach out and wipe the tears from Josie’s face – to take her pain away. She wished it were that simple.

 

 

“But I’m done now. I’m tired of always being the selfless one, I’m tired of putting everybody else’s feelings before my own. For once, I’m finally going after what I want.”

 

 

The bed shifted suddenly. Josie’s body turned to face hers, taking Penelope’s hands in her own.

 

 

“And I want you… I’m still in love with you, Penelope. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. A lot has changed since we broke up, but not that…”

 

 

Josie paused after that, lifting one of her hands to wipe the tears from Penelope’s eyes.

 

 

“… Never that.”

 

 

The love of Penelope Park’s life was in her room, on her bed, looking at her like nobody else had ever looked at her – the way Josie had always looked at her – saying everything Penelope had wanted her to say from the beginning.

 

 

But now that the moment she’d been hoping for was finally here, she wasn’t sure what to do with it. Her mind was racing. She knew she needed to tell Josie about the merge, about her mom, about everything. But sitting there, watching as Josie stroked her cheek and wiped her tears away, none of it came out. She had tried so hard to be strong for Josie, but it had never been as hard as it was now.

 

 

“Penny… say something, please?”

 

 

Still fighting the constant stream of tears coming out of her eyes, her next words came out as a whisper, but they were the only words Penelope could think to say.

 

 

“I love you too.”

 

 

Before she even had time to react, Josie was kissing her.

 

 

The moment the girl’s lips touched her own, a low moan escaped Penelope’s lips, and all sense of rational thought left her brain. All she could do now was kiss Josie back with everything in her, trying to show her how much she still cared about her, how much she still loved her.

 

 

Putting her hand to the back of Josie’s neck, she pulled her closer – impossibly closer. Their bodies left no space between them as they collapsed down onto the bed, Josie on top of Penelope.

 

 

Their kisses grew more and more intense until Penelope had to pull away for air. Josie quickly recovered, leaving a trail of kisses down Penelope’s neck and settling on her collarbone. They were both breathing heavily, but to Penelope’s surprise, it seemed like Josie was more in control of herself. Like she was so sure of what they were doing that not a shred of doubt was clouding her judgment.

 

 

Penelope’s hands were hanging onto the bed sheets, trying to regain some composure so as not to lose herself completely in what was happening. But when Josie undid the top two buttons of her shirt and lowered herself to Penelope’s pulse point, sucking hard on the skin, clearly intending to leave a mark, Penelope lost whatever control she thought she had left.

 

 

She couldn’t take it any longer. Her hands reached for Josie’s face, pulling the girl back up to meet her lips as she rolled them over. Straddling Josie, she sat back to take in the girl laying beneath her.    

 

 

Josie’s hair was a mess. Lips swollen and eyes dark, her chest was heaving, and her heartbeat was dangerously fast. Penelope tried her best to take it all in, seeing Josie like this again. She wanted to remember it.

 

 

Josie sat up to meet her, quickly wrapping her arms around Penelope and running her fingers down her back, under her shirt, as she kissed her again. Pulling back, hands gripping the bottom of Penelope’s shirt, Josie looked up at her. “Is this okay?”

 

 

Penelope’s head was spinning. She nodded breathlessly, letting go of her hold on Josie to give her enough space to get the shirt off of her. Josie’s hands were shaking when they landed at her sides, burning her skin. When her lips met Penelope’s chest, burying her hands in Josie’s hair and leaning her head back to give Josie more room was all she could to keep from passing out.

 

 

Josie snaked her arms back around Penelope and undid the clasp of her bra. Shifting them so she could lay Penelope down on her back again, Josie kissed her harder this time, almost as if she was making up for lost time, trying to make Penelope remember what it felt like when they were together; the way Josie had felt their first time.

 

 

She lowered herself down to kiss Penelope all the way down from her neck to her stomach. Penelope noticed Josie was painfully slow about it, almost as if she was unsure when the next time they would be able to do this again would be.

 

 

When Josie reached Penelope’s waist, she looked up at her, pupils dilated and breathing heavy. “Do you want me to stop?”

 

 

Penelope lost herself in Josie’s eyes, the weight of them on her own making her feel lightheaded. She shook her head almost immediately after the question had left Josie’s lips, breathing out a faint “no” in response just before Josie moved to unbutton her pants, never once breaking eye contact.

 

 

The spent the entire afternoon like that, lost in each other’s arms. It was almost like nothing had ever changed except in a way, everything had.

 

 

It was like they were choosing each other all over again.

Chapter Text

Penelope was standing in front of Josie’s dorm room. She’d been exhibiting unusual behavior ever since she woke up the morning after the party.

 

 

She was still very aware of how badly she’d screwed things up with Josie the night before. But for some reason, against all odds, the girl had somehow agreed to give her a second chance.

 

 

Penelope had walked Josie back to her room after their talk, kissing her on the cheek before saying goodnight and heading back to her own room. She spent the rest of her night trying to think of what she could possibly do to make it up to Josie – to give her the perfect first date.

 

 

If she was being completely honest with herself, she was a mess.

 

 

Ever since Penelope arrived at Salvatore, she found herself stuck in a loop.

 

 

Falling for anyone was never part of any of Penelope’s plans; It just wasn’t something she was interested in or thought she could handle.

 

 

She tried her best to keep things casual with Josie. Knowing full well she couldn’t shake the effect the girl had on her but still wanting to be around her, Penelope had tried her best to keep things light and fun between them. And she had made a promise to herself early on that she would try to make Josie smile as much as she possibly could.

 

 

Of course, that didn’t change the fact that Penelope was always there for Josie, even when there was nothing to smile about. She always listened to her whenever she needed someone to talk to, and she was the first person Josie would go to when Lizzie’s episodes would get too much for her to handle on her own.

 

 

She did everything a person would do if they cared about someone as much as she cared about Josie.

 

 

Penelope also knew that every time she flirted with the girl, or paid her a genuine compliment, or directed her entire attention to her when they were in a room full of people, Josie would get flustered and try to play it off as Penelope being friendly.

 

 

She acted this way around Josie for many reasons, one of them being the fact that she loved the effect her words and actions had on the girl.

 

 

She was very aware of her effect on most people; growing up with no real friends had made her used to being a mystery everybody was drawn to. Most of their school was fascinated by her, and she couldn’t care less. The only person she loved having that effect on was Josie. Knowing that she had the ability to make the girl blush and stutter just from a small compliment made her happy, but it also scared her sometimes. Because as strong as Penelope’s effect on Josie was, she knew Josie’s effect on her was even stronger.

 

 

At first, the reason Penelope was constantly checking up on Josie or choosing to hang out with her instead of anyone else at the school was that nobody else ever did. Josie had friends, but Penelope had noticed pretty early on that none of them ever put her needs before their own, even though she had done it and would do it for them countless times. It made Penelope angry, but it also made her incredibly sad. To her, someone as kind as Josie deserved to be treated with as much, if not more, kindness in return.

 

 

So, Penelope had made it her mission to give Josie as much attention as Josie would allow her to, considering the girl always had other people she needed to take care of first.

 

 

Over time, she realized what she felt for Josie was more than just a crush. But she never once tried to take things further for many reasons. One of them was the fact that she didn’t want to burden Josie with her own problems. The last thing she wanted was for Josie to think she had to take care of her too. The second reason beat out the first. She kept reminding herself of her own restrictions; of the promise she made to herself to never give anyone the power to hurt her ever again.

 

 

After she lost her family, nothing scared her as much as Josie Saltzman did.

 

 

And right now, standing in front of Josie’s door, about to go on their first official date, Penelope was fighting every instinct in her body telling her to turn around and run.

 

 

“Hey, Penny.”

 

 

All of those thoughts were pushed out of her mind when Josie opened the door and stood in front of her. She looked different than she usually did. Her hair was straight so Penelope could tell how long it actually was. She was wearing very light makeup, a blue sweater, and a jean jacket.

 

 

She looked calm, and it instantly made Penelope feel better.

 

 

“Hi, Jojo. You look beautiful.”

 

 

That earned her a blush and a smile. “So do you.”

 

 

“Josie have you seen my favorite sw-”

 

 

Penelope felt her entire body tense up. She thought for sure that when they’d agreed to meet up at Josie’s room, the girl would make sure Lizzie wouldn’t be there. Looking from one twin to the other, she waited for Josie to say something; to try and find some excuse to downplay the truth.

 

 

Josie turned to Lizzie. “I think it’s in the wash, Liz. Listen, um, Penelope and I are probably going to be out late tonight. Text if there’s an emergency, okay?”

 

 

Lizzie shifted her attention from her sister to Penelope.

 

 

“You look nice, I guess.”

 

 

She had never been so confused in her entire life.

 

 

Beaming to herself, Josie stepped out and moved to close the door behind her. “Bye, Liz.”

 

 

“Enjoy your dat-!”

 

 

Josie must have read right through the look on Penelope’s face because she started explaining right after she closed the door and took Penelope’s hand to usher her forward. “I told her… about us… about the date. She knows now.”

 

 

“Wow… okay. I wasn’t expecting that.”

 

 

Looking between them, the shock of what she had just witnessed waning, Penelope noticed Josie was still holding onto her hand. Josie must’ve realized it too because suddenly they weren’t holding hands anymore.

 

 

Penelope lifted her head to look at Josie.

 

 

“So, what’s the plan? Where are we headed?”

 

 

“It’s a surprise.” Penelope moved to take Josie’s hand in hers again, intertwining their fingers. “Do you trust me?”

 

 

Josie smiled, nodding.

  

 


 

 

 

“How did you find this place?”

 

 

Penelope had led Josie past school grounds. It didn’t take them long to get to the spot, but when they reached the clearing in the woods, Josie wondered how she’d never stumbled across it before, especially having grown up in Mystic Falls.

 

 

“I snuck out quite a bit when I first got here; guess I just wanted to see what the town was like. I found this place by accident on my way out the first week, and I’ve been coming here to escape ever since.”

 

 

The scene was slowly becoming clearer to Josie. Stepping past the protection barrier, she could see why Penelope spent a lot of her time here. It wasn’t just the clearing. It was the river, and the low-hanging trees, and the quiet.

 

 

“It’s hidden pretty well. You have to know where to look. I was just walking around when I felt this strange urge to turn around and head in the other direction. It wasn’t hostile energy or anything like that, but it felt like something was put here to keep people away. I did a revealing spell and I found it.”

 

 

“It’s beautiful.”

 

 

She was quiet for a few moments, taking it all in. The sun was starting to come down. The colors of the sky would change soon. A short distance to their right, she spotted a blanket and a wicker basket laid across the ground.

 

 

“I had a feeling you’d like it.”

 

 

“Penelope…”

 

 

“Come on. It gets better.”

 

 

Still holding hands, it was Penelope who gently pulled her forward this time.

 

 

“I found out pretty early on that there’s not much to do around here, other than crash the town’s school dances and go to parties. I thought it might be nice to just get away from it all for a bit. So, we’re having a picnic.”

 

 

“How did you known to do the spell, though? It has to be really strong magic to conceal all of this, and I’m pretty sure nobody’s ever been here before.”

 

 

Penelope didn’t answer right away, looking strangely hesitant before recovering in her usual teasing tone. “I’ve been trying to tell you from the beginning, Jojo. I’m a badass; I have my ways.”

 

 

Josie smiled as they sat down across from each other on the blanket Penelope had laid out. She was taking out the supplies she must have taken from the school’s kitchen and Josie was staring down at the blanket, unaware of how much her hands were fidgeting.

 

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

 

Josie looked up to find concerned eyes looking back at her own. “What do you mean?”

 

 

“Come on, Josie; I know you better than that. You have that look in your eyes, the one you get when you feel guilty for feeling something.”

 

 

It never failed to surprise Josie every time Penelope picked up on her subtle mood changes. She never had anyone pay as close attention to her as Penelope always did.

 

 

“It’s nothing. I don’t want to ruin this.”

 

 

Penelope moved closer to her, close enough their knees were touching. She reached out her hand to place on top of Josie’s.

 

 

“You’re not going to ruin anything, okay?”

 

 

Penelope’s other hand lifted her chin up slowly, so they were looking at each other again.

 

 

“Hey… it’s me. You can tell me anything.”

 

 

It was barely a whisper, but Josie heard it loud and clear.

 

 

“My mom’s not coming home next week. She told my dad this morning. He wants me to keep it from Lizzie for now; he’s worried she might take it harder than usual this time.”

 

 

The way Penelope was looking at her, the softness in her eyes gave Josie the courage to keep going, voice cracking.

 

 

“We haven’t seen her in months. Our birthday’s coming up and she’s not going to be here for it. I’m just so… sad for my dad, and worried about Lizzie…”

 

 

“Josie… how do you feel about it?”

 

 

She shook her head, unsure of what to say other than the honest truth, and completely unprepared for the way her eyes were starting to sting just thinking about it. “I just miss her so much.”

 

 

She felt Penelope’s body shift, heard her stand up and grab something out of the basket. The next thing she felt as Penelope sat back down next to her was a blanket being draped across her shoulders, and a gentle pull to the side so her head was now resting against the girl’s shoulder.

 

 

“It’s okay. I’ve got you.”

 

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

 

“You have nothing to be sorry for, Jo. You miss your mom, it’s completely normal. You have every right to be upset.”

 

 

Josie lifted her head a short distance away from Penelope’s shoulder, opening her eyes only to be faced with the tattoo on the girl’s neck.

 

 

She felt guilty talking about her family problems with Penelope, knowing what she knew. She had tried her best to respect the girl’s privacy in the past, never bringing up the elephant-sized trauma in the room. Penelope lost her parents and Josie was being comforted by her just because her mom was going to miss a birthday. She felt sick.

 

 

Penelope must have caught her staring at the tattoo because her next words made Josie swallow the lump that was stuck in her throat.

 

 

“You… know… don’t you?”

 

 

Josie moved her gaze to look into Penelope’s eyes. They were the saddest she’d ever seen them. She felt like she’d betrayed her.

 

 

“I-” Josie didn’t trust her words at the moment, so she nodded, praying this wouldn’t change everything.

 

 

“Have you always known?”

 

 

“When I first saw you – when I first saw your tattoo – I realized I’d seen it before. I took Intro to Magical History as an elective last year. There were like four other students in the class because it was really hard to pass, and nobody cared enough to learn about it. This is the Wiccan symbol for a raven. I know what you can do, and I guessed why you would want to do it. Then I asked you about your parents once, and your reaction just kind of put the pieces together.”

 

 

“So... you’ve known from the beginning.”

 

 

Josie nodded, suddenly ashamed it took her so long to tell the girl the truth.

 

 

Penelope nodded slowly, then stood up abruptly. She moved towards the river and Josie didn’t know what to do other than follow.

 

 

“Penelope, wait! I’m so sorry. I know I should have said something sooner, but I didn’t want it to be like this. I wanted you to tell me when you were ready; I never meant to take that away from you.”

 

 

Penelope stopped with her back to Josie. She was quiet for the longest time, so Josie waited.

 

 

“They told me it was a car accident…”

 

 

Her voice was low and Josie had to strain to hear it, but she didn’t move; afraid that if she did, Penelope would shut her out completely.

 

 

“They said the car came out of nowhere… My mom and dad were driving my little brother home. We had a month left before we were supposed to say goodbye; they planned for me to come here, and they were taking Benji to Belgium. And a month before any of it could happen… the car came out of nowhere…”

 

 

Josie couldn’t take it anymore. She moved to stand in front of Penelope.

 

 

The girl’s eyes were glued to the ground, seemingly unaware that she was crying, and her hands were balled up into fists, shaking.

 

 

“He was just a kid.”

 

 

Josie moved closer carefully. Reaching forward, she lifted one of Penelope’s fists and tried to release the pressure from the nails digging into her palm.

 

 

Following the movement, Penelope lifted her eyes and her gaze fell on the red bracelet she wore on her right wrist.

 

 

“He made me that bracelet, you know. Came back from school one day looking so proud of himself, saying he made me the coolest bracelet ever. I haven’t taken it off since.”

 

 

“Penelope… I'm so sorry.”

 

 

“I can’t control it, but he comes to me sometimes, so does my mom. Benji does it when he misses me, but I know my mom does it when she’s worried about me. I try to ask them what’s it like on the other side, but they never answer. I went against nature when I did this to myself. I think they’re just sticking around to protect me.”

 

 

Josie’s heart broke knowing she couldn’t do anything to take Penelope’s pain away; no words she could say to fix it, nothing she could do to make it hurt any less.

 

 

“When they died, I promised myself I wouldn’t let anyone in ever again. They were all I had.”

 

 

“You have me now.”

 

 

Josie stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Penelope carefully. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

 

She felt Penelope slowly hug her back, burying her face in the crook of Josie’s neck and tightening her hold on her.

 

 

They stayed like that for a long time, long enough for the sun to set and Penelope to stop crying.

 

 

Josie waited for her to let go first, wanting to make sure she was ready.

 

 

“Some second first date, huh?” Penelope’s eyes were red, but she was smiling.

 

 

Josie moved her hands up to wipe the stray tears left on the girl’s face. She returned the smile sadly. “You’re my favorite person in the whole world to be around; that’s never going to change.”

 

 

Penelope lifted her hand and placed it on Josie’s, still on her face. “Thanks, Jojo.”

 

 

Josie was aware of how close they were, barely a few inches separating them. “You’re always there for me… It was about time I was there for you.”

 

 

Josie saw Penelope’s eyes fall down to her lips, felt her moving closer still. Heart beating out of her chest, she stepped forward to meet her halfway.

 

 

They only stopped when yellow lights started flickering around them.

 

 

Josie turned her head to the side to look.

 

 

“Fireflies…”

 

 

The clearing was bright again. She hadn’t noticed how dark it had gotten until they came out from the trees surrounding them.

 

 

“I told you it would get better.”

 

 

When Josie turned back to find Penelope still looking at her, she was the one who closed the distance between them. She had always been embarrassed to admit that she’d never kissed anyone before, but feeling the way she did in this moment, she understood what Penelope had meant the night of the party.

 

 

This meant everything.

Chapter Text

7:03PM

 

 

“What are you thinking about?”

 

 

They were lying in bed together. Josie’s head was tucked under Penelope’s chin, resting on her chest, and Penelope’s fingertips were running sluggishly up and down Josie’s back.

 

 

A million thoughts were running through Penelope’s mind. Her emotions were all over the place, but she couldn’t get her mind to slow down long enough for her heart to catch up.

 

 

Whenever she managed to let herself go for more than a minute at a time and take in the fact that Josie was safe in her arms again, she’d get this gnawing feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach. Whenever she thought about their situation and what they’d just done, what she allowed herself to do, a flood of guilt would rush through her.

 

 

“You.”

 

 

“Do you regret it?”

 

 

Penelope paused. She didn’t know how to answer. She wanted to say that of course she didn’t regret it. She wanted to say that being with Josie again felt like finally coming home. She wanted, more than anything, for them to never have to leave this room; to stay together where nothing and no one could hurt or come between them ever again.

 

 

“It’s… it’s complicated.”

 

 

A silence followed. Penelope could see the wheels turning inside Josie’s head. She couldn’t escape the feeling in her gut telling her that she had to be careful. Josie had just told her everything she wanted to hear, and Penelope could tell the girl meant it. But it still didn’t change anything; it couldn’t. They couldn’t just go back to the way things were, not when being in Josie’s life meant she would once again be splitting herself between Lizzie and Penelope.

 

 

The last thing she wanted to do was to hurt Josie’s feelings more than she already had. And the truth was, all Penelope had ever done since finding out about the merge, despite wanting to do the exact opposite, was hurt Josie.

 

 

She expected the girl to pull away then; she had every right to. But to both Penelope’s surprise and relief, she didn’t.

 

 

Instead, she pulled Penelope closer and asked another question.

 

 

“Do you remember the first time I told you I loved you?”

 

 

Penelope wasn’t expecting the sudden drift in conversation, but she recovered quickly, nonetheless.

 

 

“Of course I do.”

 

 

“I never told you how hard that was for me. I’d been psyching myself out for weeks leading up to that day. I wanted you to know how I felt, but it terrified me to have to say it out loud. So many things could have gone wrong. The timing could’ve been off, you might not have been ready to hear me say it yet… I could have ruined us. At that point I knew how hard it was for you to let people in, to accept affection and see yourself as worthy of it. But the thought of having to go one more day without telling you the truth was killing me. It was like I built it up so much in my head, made it seem so complicated and scary, that I expected you to react badly as soon as I said it.”

 

 

Penelope shut her eyes. She felt Josie shift slightly, sensed the girl’s eyes on her face. And she froze.

 

 

“That was our first night together.”

 

 

She felt Josie lightly lift herself off of her body, using one hand to steady herself while the other ran up and down Penelope’s side slowly.

 

 

“It was my first time, and I was so scared I would mess it up… I wanted it to be perfect.”

 

 

Josie lowered herself down to Penelope’s pulse point and buried her face there, leaving open-mouthed kisses across her neck and moving all the way up to her ear.

 

 

“But you made me feel safe. You made me feel so loved that I barely even realized you hadn’t said the words back to me.”

 

 

Penelope felt Josie's fingers running down her arm until they reached her hand. She felt the girl lift it up and lay it on the pillow next to her head.

 

 

“I remember you took my hand and traced the words into my palm.”

 

 

Josie’s fingers moved over Penelope’s palm, slowly outlining the letters one after the other.

 

 

“I love you.”

 

 

A sudden wave of emptiness hit Penelope when Josie moved away again.

 

 

“Penny… please tell me you’re awake and I didn’t just take advantage of you.”

 

 

She couldn’t help but smile. “You didn’t just take advantage of me.”

 

 

“But you’re asleep?”

 

 

Penelope still didn’t open her eyes, wanting to protect the moment any way she could; afraid that if she opened her eyes, the guilt would come rushing back and she wouldn’t be able to handle it this time.

 

 

“If I’m asleep then I’m not sure I want to wake up.”

 

 

10:44PM

 

 

“You know, after we broke up, I tried so hard to stay away from you. And yet somehow everywhere I turned, you were there. It was so much harder than I thought it was going to be.”

 

 

They were facing each other now, hands intertwined in between them.

 

 

Josie felt a lot more comfortable at this point. Hours had passed since she had entered this room, and no one had come to look for or ask about either of them. It felt like they had all the time in the world, and the more time passed, the less worried Josie became that Penelope would decide they should spend the rest of the night apart.

 

 

“Why didn’t you ever come talk to me?”

 

 

“It wasn’t my place anymore. For the longest time, it looked like you moved on. I thought you liked Raf. I saw the way he looked at you and I just… I wanted you to be happy.”

 

 

Josie shook her head. She hated herself for ever giving Penelope that impression.

 

 

“I never looked at him the way I look at you. I still don’t think you understand, Penelope. I don’t want anyone else. I thought I could… I tried with him… but I was wrong. Everything is fleeting, but not the way I feel about you…”

 

 

Josie wanted Penelope to look her in the eyes when she said those words, but the girl seemed to be getting more and more distant as the conversation went on. Josie didn’t know what to do. She let go of Penelope’s hand and reached forward to tuck a few strands of loose hair behind the girl’s ear.

 

 

“… Never the way I feel about you.”

 

 

Penelope finally looked up at her, but she looked hesitant; almost like she wanted so badly to say something but couldn’t find the words to.

 

 

“I do know that… that’s not the problem.”

 

 

“Then what is it?”

 

 

She didn’t get a response for a while after that. It had gotten dark, and the only light in the room was coming from the windows above the bed and Penelope’s dim night stand lamp. Even so, whatever light there was left in the room, it seemed like all of it was enveloping Penelope. Her green eyes were glistening, and her skin looked unbearably soft. Josie was afraid she was losing herself again, until the girl finally gave in and answered her question.

 

 

“If Lizzie called you right now and told you that she had an emergency… that she needed you to drop everything and go to her, what would you do?”

 

 

Josie could tell there was no negative connotation behind the question. Penelope wasn’t trying to pick a fight; she wasn’t even trying to make her feel bad. It sounded like she was just looking for an honest answer.

 

 

“I- I don’t know... It’s not that simple. She’s my twin sister, I’m always going to be there for her. It’s always been the two of us against the world-”

 

 

“But has it, Jo?”

 

 

She didn’t know what to say. On one hand, Lizzie had been her priority ever since they were little kids. Trying to go against that impulse would be like trying to go against her every instinct. But on the other, Penelope was the love of her life, and the last thing she wanted to do was lose her again.

 

 

“You can’t ask me to choose between the two of you.”

 

 

She turns her back to Josie, outwardly defeated. “That’s not what I’m asking.”

 

 

“Then… I don’t know what to say.”

 

 

“All I want, all I’ve ever wanted, was for you to put yourself first. I never wanted you to worry about me because you choosing Lizzie over me was never the problem, Jo. The problem was that you never stopped to consider that maybe you should have been choosing yourself.

 

 

It came out choked and distorted, but at least Josie was able to form a sentence in response. “I’m sorry… I’m trying.”

 

 

Penelope didn’t react for a while after that. Josie thought there might not have been anything left to say.

 

 

Maybe this was where they were always destined to end up, no matter how many times they tried. The selfish and the selfless was a pretty good analogy until Josie realized the roles were actually reversed.

 

 

Josie was selfish when it came to her own motives. She was constantly trying to look after Lizzie, putting her needs above everybody else’s, including her own, because she knew deep down Lizzie needed it more.

 

 

People liked to call Penelope selfish because Penelope herself wanted them to think she was. She was manipulative and devious, and obnoxious; except she wasn’t. Everything Penelope did, everything Penelope had ever done, she did on purpose. But it wasn’t until recently that Josie realized her motives had actually been selfless to a fault.

 

 

Enough time had passed that she thought Penelope might’ve fallen asleep.

 

 

There was nothing Josie could do to change what had just happened. She knew what she wanted; she knew how to get it, but the thought of actually going through with it terrified her. Penelope was asking her to put herself first, and Josie didn’t have the guts to tell her the truth. She didn’t know how.

 

 

“I know, Jojo.”

 

 

3:21AM

 

 

Penelope was still facing away from Josie. She couldn’t sleep, but she also couldn’t keep talking.

 

 

She thought of everything she and Josie had been through, of the mess they’d gotten themselves into. A small part of her wished she never found out about the merge. If she hadn’t, she and Josie would still be together. They would still be happy.

 

 

Penelope felt the onslaught of tears rushing in. She must have tried too hard to mask it. Her breathing must have betrayed her.

 

 

“Penny… are you crying?”

 

 

She made the mistake of thinking Josie would have gone to sleep by now; she should’ve known better. Josie had never been able to fall asleep before making sure Penelope had fallen asleep first.

 

 

“Please talk to me…”

 

 

A warm hand pressed itself against her shoulder lightly. She knew what Josie was thinking; she was afraid Penelope would run away. Throughout their relationship, Josie never once pushed her to talk about her feelings, but she tried her best to be there for her in case she needed to.

 

 

Penelope knew that if there ever was a right moment to tell Josie the truth, this was it. Except when she opened her mouth to speak, no words would come out. She finally turned back to face Josie, hoping that would somehow give her the strength to speak, but the worry in the girl’s eyes only made it harder.

 

 

“You forget I know you better than anyone, Penelope. I know you haven’t been okay for a while… Is it Benji?”

 

 

Penelope closed her eyes.

 

 

Benji’s part of it. But he’s not the problem, Jo. The problem is, you might not make it past your twenty-second birthday. It’s a long story, and it was your birth mom who told it to me. She came to me a week before we broke up. She wasn’t sure what she was doing, but she knew she needed to give you a chance to survive. She loves you both, but she couldn’t keep watching you put Lizzie’s happiness before your own over and over again.

 

 

It’s called the curse of the Gemini twins. Nobody knows where it came from, but it’s been there for generations. You and Lizzie are the last of the Gemini Coven. Eventually, you’ll have to merge; one of you will have to die so that the other can become stronger. The strong one lives while the weak one dies.

 

 

Everything I’ve done, everything your mom has asked me to do, has been to try and make you stronger. To get you to a point where you might stand a chance when the time came. But how could that happen? If all you do is constantly put yourself second? And how could I just sit by and watch the love of my life wither away when I thought there might be a small chance I could do something about it?

 

 

Penelope wanted to say all of that, but she couldn’t. She was weak, and she didn’t need Jo’s voice in her head telling her she failed, because hers was more than enough. So, she nodded.

 

 

“He showed up this morning. That’s why I left.”

 

 

“Is he okay?”

 

 

“Yeah… he misses you.”

 

 

“I miss him too.”

 

 

Every time Penelope closed her eyes, she would see flashes of her relationship with Josie. The ups and the downs, the hurt and the happiness. She would remember her mom’s words “She’ll be the end of you” and she would relive the day Josie met Benji. She would think of all of the times Josie left her for Lizzie, and then she’d remember all of the times that she didn’t.

 

 

Every reason they shouldn’t be together was laid out in front of her, like a flesh wound that wouldn’t heal. Every time it showed signs of getting better, she picked at it relentlessly until it got even worse. They deserved to be together, but nothing was that simple.

 

 

She felt like she was dying.

 

 

“Hey… come here.”

 

 

The sun would be up soon, and they would be back to square one because she wasn’t strong enough to just open her mouth and tell the truth.

 

 

So, she gave in. If the world was going to end tomorrow, the only way she would want to spend her last hours, would be in the arms of the girl she loved.

 

 

5:10AM

 

 

Josie couldn’t sleep. In theory, she should’ve been able to. Penelope had calmed down; her breathing was regular, and her heartbeat was steady. She was curled into Josie’s side, arm sprawled across her waist, hair sprawled across the pillows.

 

 

She thought the last time she saw Penelope look so peaceful was during the days leading to their breakup. That week felt off to Josie every time she tried to play it over in her head. Penelope was distant and detached, and it was unlike anything they’d been through the whole year they’d been together. She had never seen Penelope act so cold. And after it was over, she hated herself for not seeing it coming, for not doing anything to stop it, for not trying to fix it.

 

 

And if the past few hours were any indication, it seemed like she was losing Penelope all over again.

 

 

Tearing her eyes away from Penelope’s sleeping form, she looked around the room.

 

 

If a place could hold as much love as a person, this room would be Josie’s love letter to Penelope. This was where almost every major step in their relationship happened. This was where Josie first told Penelope she loved her. This was where Penelope introduced her to Benji. This was where they slept most nights, curled up in each other’s arms. This was home.

 

 

Her gaze finally landed on the desk near the bottom edge of the bed. She thought she spotted what looked like half of the sticker she had made Penelope as a reminder of the day they got themselves thrown in detention, and how it ended in Penelope finally asking her out.

 

 

She shifted as smoothly as she could from underneath Penelope’s arm, careful not to wake her up, and stood up, heading for the desk.

 

 

She was right. It was the standard-issue notebook the school distributed at the beginning of every school year, except it was completely and unmistakably Penelope’s. Her name was scribbled across it in cursive, and right under it was half of the word “Incendio”.

 

 

She kept it.

 

 

Lifting the notebook to examine it closer, her eyes fell on a different book buried underneath stacks of paper. It had no significant qualities that made it stand out, but for some reason, Josie felt herself putting down Penelope’s notebook and picking it up instead.

 

 

Flipping through the pages, it seemed like any of the other advanced reading books Penelope used to check out of the library. She kept flipping through it until she found a page that was dogeared.

 

 

It was the only chapter that had notes in the margins, sentences highlighted, words scratched out and filled back in. It almost seemed like Penelope had gotten this book just for that one chapter. And Josie couldn’t understand why she would clearly invest so much of her time on one chapter, or why that chapter was titled “The Merge.”

 

 

5:49AM

 

 

When Penelope woke up, she knew something was wrong; she felt Josie wasn’t there anymore. Moving her hand across the surface of the bed, she was met with nothing but cold sheets. She opened her eyes and the room was lighter than it had been before she’d fallen asleep. The sun was coming up and their time had run out.

 

 

She looked around the room and found Josie sitting at the bottom edge of the bed, fully dressed and staring straight ahead at the door.

 

 

Pushing her body into a seated position, Penelope crawled closer to her, afraid something might have happened to her during the night.

 

 

“Josie?”

 

 

When she reached the girl’s side, the look on her face sent shivers down Penelope’s spine. Josie was as pale as she’d ever seen her, and she wasn’t moving. She looked like she wasn’t even breathing, like all of the air was sucked out from her lungs and all she could do was sit there, motionless.

 

 

Penelope moved closer still. Putting her hand on Josie’s shoulder, she shook her gently to make sure she was conscious. It wasn’t until she looked down that she realized Josie was holding something in her hands.

 

 

When Penelope’s eyes came into focus and she made out what it was, her heart stopped.

 

 

“How long have you known?”

 

 

Please… not like this.

 

 

“I can explain.”

 

 

Josie turned to look at her then, and what Penelope saw in her eyes wasn’t love. It wasn’t hurt. It was pain. It was anger.

 

 

“How long have you known, Penelope?”

 

 

“… A week before our break-up.”

 

 

 “How did you find out?”

 

 

“Your mom, Jo… she came to me. She explained everything. She told me about the merge, told me what I needed to do, to give you a fighting chance. I had to leave you to learn how to fight for yourself, to give you a chance to fight at all. I couldn’t watch you put me and Lizzie first when I knew the thing you needed most was to put yourself first. You needed to learn how to be selfish, and I needed you to let me go to do it.”

 

 

Every part of Penelope was screaming at her that this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Josie was never meant to find out like this.

 

 

Suddenly, there were a million things Penelope wanted to say; like having the truth out there liberated her somehow. There was nothing she could do or say to hurt Josie more than she already had. She wanted to tell her how hard it was for Penelope to let go, how hard it was watching Josie continue down her selfless path, digging her own grave in the process. She wanted her to understand that everything Penelope had done, she did because she loved her.

 

 

Except before she could get any of it out, Josie was already heading for the door.

 

 

“Josie, wait!”

 

 

Penelope quickly pulled a stray shirt over her head and rushed out the door.

 

 

She stepped out to find Josie still in the hallway, standing in front of a blond woman that looked vaguely familiar to Penelope.

 

 

“Hi sweetheart, I’m back!”

 

 

Penelope sensed a sudden wave of cold rushing through her, felt an icy grip on her arm, and the color drain from her face. Looking down, she made out a hand coming in and out of focus.

 

 

“Penelope…”

 

 

Her eyes snapped up at how familiar the voice was.

 

 

“Dad?”

 

 

It was him; her dad who had never visited her, her dad who couldn’t stand the sight of her, her dad who had abandoned her and never once thought to look back. He was standing beside her, somehow able to touch her, looking exactly like he had the day she last saw him. Except this time, he looked more scared than she’d ever seen him.

 

 

And when he opened his mouth to speak again, she heard all of their voices in his.

 

 

“Run.”