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         So.  You’re not 100% sure what the protocol is when your 334 year old roommate/useless asshole vampire crush gives you a priceless necklace from her own human life, but you’re working on it.  You tried google, and yahoo, and even askjeeves, but so far no solid results.  Most searches for gifts for vampire so they know i like them just end with “did you mean Edward Cullen and Bella Swan wedding?” which is so not.  No, like, what do you do?  It’s so pretty, and old, and you know it means the whole world to her because you see her unconsciously touch her sternum where the pendant should hang every single day and she looks sad and confused for a minute before she looks at the chain around your neck, and then she looks very soft.

            So what the heck do you get her in return??  Your dad, for all his safety and survival wilderness training, did not prepare you for the art of gifting.  Yeah, okay, you can incapacitate an attacker armed with a long staff, but where does that get you in this situation?  You can’t get her a long staff, especially not a stolen one.   

            “Stop thinking so hard, I can smell your hair from here, cutie,” Carmilla drawls from the bed, her worn copy of Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone open on her chest. 

         You had teased her mercilessly when you first saw she had every book from the series—one even signed—but you grew quiet when she just shrugged, gave you a small, crooked grin, said, “I don’t know, it’s just—I mean, we all have our cupboards, right?”  And your chest got very tight and you nodded because—this is a very old creature and this is a serial murderer and this is a monster, by every definition of the word, but she is afraid of the dark, and she hates thunder storms, and sometimes she can’t get her hair out of the drain because the shower is too small, and when is a monster not a monster?  Carmilla throws your yellow pillow at you.

         “Cupcake.  Pay attention to me.  What are you noodling about over there?” She’s put the book away, now leaning over the side of the bed with a valiant attempt at indifference twisting her brow.

         “Nothing,” and you twist the pendant between your fingers before saying, “hey, what was that song you liked a lot?  The one by that guy with that name…?”

         A very loud snort follows this, and you look over to see Carmilla shaking.  “Lois, what even?”

         “You know what I mean!” you spin in your chair and your hands flutter, trying to grab the name.  “That—that guy!  With the name!  About—about Elvis?”

         A look of understanding raises her eyebrows and she nods with a smile.  “elvis depressedly, cutie.  Why?”  But you don’t answer, instead spinning back around to your computer.

         Yeah, so she’s 334, but she’s also 18, and, like—you’ve been 18.  You can handle 18.  And so she gave you a beautiful necklace from the 17th Century, what of it?  You can do the gift thing, and it will be very 21st Century, and your stupid asshole vampire crush thing will like it a lot, and it won’t involve bear spray probably. 

         Carmilla’s given up on getting an answer, instead standing to grab the pillow back.  She kisses your hair and you feel your heart skip and then you’re blushing because you know she heard it too, and—yep.  Carmilla’s breathy laugh is against your ear and you want to slither away without any teasing but it’s way too late.

        “Well, isn’t this a beautiful cliché?” she’s running her fingers across your shoulders and you’re embarrassed and trying not to blush too hard, but she’s having fun.  You can feel her smirk.  It’s exhausting. “Remember to breathe, sweetheart,” she laughs, and it’s so annoying because that sound makes your breath get caught in your throat.

         She’s still behind you, her fingers still tracing your throat, and you try, you really do, to stay cool and calm and totally collected but like—this is so not fair; she doesn’t even have a heartbeat so how are you supposed to know if this happens to her, too, and she doesn’t even have to breathe so there are like, no physical tells for you this is such garbage.  And she’s still touching you.

         “HEY," you slap your desk with a little hand, rallying yourself out of this situation. "So I have some things to…to do…around—yeah.  I have things.  To do.  So—Carm that is really distracting,” because she’s still touching you and her fingers are cool and lazy across your skin and—goddamnit.  She’s chuckling again.

         “Again?  Cupcake, I think you may have a heart condition.  That can’t be healthy.” 

         You spin very fast in your desk chair and she jumps back before raising an eyebrow at you.  “No.  You have a heart condit—you know what, no.  I have to do things, and you—you have to just—just don’t touch me, ever, and I can carry on with my regular heartbeat and my even breaths and I can finish this stupid lit paper without dying from embarrassment.”

         She’s very amused.  You huff but she invades your space anyway, and she’s standing over you with a smirk and you want to look disapproving but really all you can do is try not to stare too hard.  “Hey,” and it’s quiet and lovely, only a small lilt of laughter, so you roll your eyes and look at her.

         “Hey.”

         Carmilla starts braiding a small chunk of your hair.  “Are you embarrassed?” Her nails scratch at the shell of your ear as she gathers more hair and a shiver snakes down your spine.

         “No,” but you totally are, and she knows it, too.  You can practically hear her roll her eyes, and then she’s tugging on the braid she’s made.

         “Laura,” she says, her hand going under your chin, “will you look at me?”

         So you do, and you think your cheeks are still red, and you don’t know what to say.  Her eyes crinkle and she lets go of your chin, trailing down the chain to the pendant.  “Just so you know,” she starts, nonchalance forced into every word, “if I had a heartbeat still, it would have skipped every time you look at me, so.”  A shrug, and then, “I’m a sappy vampire cliché, aren’t I.  God, I have so much to answer for,” and she steps away and flops dramatically onto her bed, her arm thrown over her eyes.

         So—yes.  Carmilla will appreciate this foray into 21st Century gift-giving featuring attempted teenage romance, if that dramatic display is anything to go by.  You squeal a little tiny squeal and she kicks out and nudges your knee, grumbling a “shut up, creampuff” and pulling her book back onto her chest.

 

So.  You finished Carmilla’s gift. 

         It took you a while, because you were searching through soundcloud and songza trying to find the right fits while simultaneously hiding your foray into lo-fi indie and dreampop electronica from your useless asshole vampire, but you think you got it right.  She’s at a seminar on Richard Dawkins; she said she was going because it’s “funny to watch those sycophants scramble over themselves” and “because the neckbeards are outrageous, cupcake.”  So. 

         You don’t really know what to do with yourself while you wait for her.  Like, do you sit on your bed?  Do you sit on her bed?  Do you sit down at all, or should you be standing?  Wait, standing where?  In the middle of the room is kind of foreboding and like—no.  But in the kitchen would mean you’d have to do the dishes or something so you wouldn’t look aimless.  And the bathroom is out of the question.  Should you, like, lie on the floor?  Is that a thing?  Should you—

         “So the literal best thing happened at this godforsaken seminar, Lois.  So—”

         No.  No.  You’re not ready you’re not even standing in the right place and oh god you didn’t put on your lucky sock and like what do you do with your hands right now??

         “—okay so I’m talking about a phenomenal smackdown between a legit brony and an angry fedora’d atheist and you are ignoring me.”  She actually looks kind of offended at this, so you try to stop your face from doing the thing and try to keep your hands still but it’s too late.  “What’s wrong?” and she’s suddenly holding your hand and her forehead is all crumply and there is a little line in between her eyebrows that you want to kiss so you pull her to your bed and make her sit down.

         “Just—sit here.  Stay…um.  Stay there.  I have a thing.  So…yeah.”  Vowing to pinch yourself for that display later, you reach behind Carmilla to the shelves at the head of your bed.  She’s still looking at you with worry, her fingers tangled in the hem of your t-shirt, so you tuck a lock of hair behind her ear and try to say something eloquent.

         “I, um,” nailed it.  A frown pulls at her mouth so you try again, remember that her cupboards are dark and suffocating and full of blood, silent.  “I made you a thing,” and she looks so surprised it hurts your chest.

         “You…you made me something?”  And she says it with such astonishment that you wonder if anyone has ever given Carmilla anything aside from shadows. 

         “Yes.  I—the necklace is so beautiful, and so are you, and, like, I know you’re super old and everything and probably have no need for stupid material things but I really wanted to make you something so you could know how much you mean to me and so I just—I tried to—here,” and you shove a cd case into her hand.

         It had taken you a really long time, but you had drawn an anatomically correct heart with roots that hung over thick black letters spelling out “escape the cupboard! volume I.”  Carmilla smiles this small, sad little smile at that, turns the case over in her hands.  On the back you had written a track list in your loopy chicken scratch, and Carmilla stares at it for so long, head bowed and covered by a curtain of hair, you’re worried maybe she fell asleep, or she hates it so much she’s trying to work her face into anything other than a grimace.  You’re about to ask, taking a breath deep enough to supply your rambling, when you feel her fingers tighten in the hem of your t-shirt.

         “Carm?” but she doesn’t answer, instead untangling her fingers from your shirt before lightly grabbing your wrist, her thumb on the pulse point.  “If…if you don’t like it, you don’t have to—”

         “Don’t be stupid,” and it sounds weird, like there’s something in her throat, but before you can ask, she lets out this watery chuckle and—oh.  Carmilla pulls on your wrist again, and you let her, and then you’re standing with her between your legs and she’s looping her arms around your waist and pressing her nose into your tummy and—this is a good thing, you think.  You’re pretty sure she likes the gift.  You wrap your arms around her shoulders and you hug her very tightly and you listen as she breathes slowly, little puffs against your tummy.  Your t-shirt is damp but you don’t say anything because sometimes there aren’t enough words and she’s very very old but she’s also stunningly, achingly young and you want to wrap that up in a thick blanket and drink hot cocoa and make sure there is always light spilling through.

         “I love it.  Thank you, Laura,” she mumbles into your shirt.  You can feel her voice against your skin, the crinkle of her brow and her clenching jaw, and then she blows a raspberry on your tummy and you squeal.  “Also, rude, Hollis.”

         “What? What are you talking about?” She isn’t letting go of you so you twist her hair around your fingers slowly, watching her almost purr at the sensation.

         Crinkling her nose, she pouts and headbutts you gently.  “I’m not old,” she mumbles and you know that, yeah, she is, but right now—right now she is so present, and bright, and young, and it makes something in your chest snap and reset so you weave your fingers tighter through her messy hair and scratch her nape and mutter “whatever, grandma” before you kiss her.