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are we out of the woods? (no, never)

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The siren goes off just as you’re turning the page of your dog-eared hardback.

(It’s the collection of Shakespeare sonnets that your mom had given to you when you first left for Silas. You used to read it over and over again, until you had countless sonnets memorised.

This is the first time you’ve been able to pull it off your shelf since Laura told you she didn’t need a dad.)

You sigh, setting the book aside and pulling yourself up from where you had been sprawled across your bed. You’re about to go down the hall to see if one of the girls knew what was going on, when you’re knocked off your feet by a great shudder. You steady yourself by grabbing onto your desk, watching as a bunch of your books fall off your shelf, and you quickly dart forward to grab an old athletics trophy before it can do the same.

‘What the-,’ but you’re interrupted from what was sure to be a colourful series of curses by Elsie throwing your door open, bracing herself against the doorframe.

‘Uh, Danny? It seems we have a bit of a situation going on.’

‘I swear to god, if it’s that damn Alchemy Club again-.’

‘No, it’s not them. We, uh-, well we’re pretty sure it’s the pit.’

You feel yourself tense at this. Your back straightens and your shoulders square.

‘The tremors seem to be coming from the actual pit,’ Elsie continues. ‘And Emma’s, like, ninety percent sure she saw a couple of the girls and some of the Zetas decapitating a walking corpse.’

‘Oh, you have gotta be kidding me. The Zeta’s are getting involved?’

‘Not sure that’s the priority right now, Cap,’ Elsie says with a raised eyebrow, as you both attempt to stay upright as you ride out another quake.

‘Right, yeah, the zombies. We should probably deal with that. And I’ve told you not to call me that,’ you shoot Elsie a half-hearted glare, who in return just grins.

‘Whatever you say, Sergeant. Come on, let’s go send ourselves some gross undead back to the depths of Hell.’

‘You are way too excited about this,’ you groan as Elsie all but skips out of your room.

You drop to the floor and reach under your bed, pulling out the wooden box full of weapons for when this kind of a situation might arise. You’re stuck between grabbing your favourite sword or a heavier, yet more effective axe, when you hear a scream from somewhere outside.

Rushing to the window, you see one of the corpses attempting to pull an arm off one of the Zetas before Sarah manages to fire a crossbow bolt into its back. You see several other struggles going on in the distance much like this one, and you realise that this is more serious than Elsie made it out to be.

You’re pulling your boots on as quickly as possible, trying to work out where Kirsch is most likely to be, when you’re interrupted by an all too familiar voice from the doorway.

‘Danny!’

Laura’s standing, out of breath, at the entrance to your room, panic evident in her expression. You notice after a second that Carmilla is behind her, leaning against the doorway looking not the least bit phased by the whole scenario that’s currently playing out in the courtyard.

‘Danny, thank god you’re here,’ Laura says, stepping further into your room and closer to where you’re perched on the bed, tying your laces.

(She hasn’t been here in weeks, but you remember with infinite fondness when she would come and spend time with you here several times a week.

You’ve spent too much time in the last few weeks thinking about the times she would lie on your bed, flicking through one of your many paperbacks as you graded papers, or when you would talk for hours and hours until you realised it was the early hours of the morning, and you would say she might as well stay the rest of the night, lending her shorts and a shirt to wear, and every time without fail you would tease her about the fact your shirts were more like dresses on her.

You thought perhaps those memories might have stopped hurting by now, but seeing her, here and now, you know that it’s going to take a lot more time for that to happen.)

‘Laura, what are you doing here?’ You’re sure you don’t imagine the mixture of surprise and confusion that flashes across her face.

‘Haven’t you seen what’s going on? The campus is under attack from those…those things! We have to go, and now!’

‘Go?’

‘Laura and the Ginger Twins are all set to flee campus,’ Carmilla finally speaks up, addressing you from over Laura’s shoulder. ‘And for once, I don’t totally disagree with them.’

Laura, clearly becoming distressed by the time they’re wasting discussing this, comes forward and wraps her hand around you wrist, tugging you towards the door. ‘Danny, come on.’

For a split second you’re distracted by Laura’s touch on your bare skin, the way you used to be when she would tuck a stray hair behind your ear or when she would try and wrestle the fork from you for the last bite of the pie you’d been sharing.

(You’d put up a fight, but you would always let her win.)

‘Laura, stop,’ you say, coming to a halt, and it’s almost comical how Laura nearly falls backwards at the abruptness. Almost.

She looks down at where her fingers are still around your wrist, and she quickly lets go, presumably thinking you were uncomfortable with the contact.

‘Sorry, it’s just that we have to hurry.’

‘No, that’s not-,’ you rub your face in frustration. ‘I’m not going with you.’

Laura genuinely looks surprised at this, and you wonder if she even knows you at all.

‘What do you mean? Danny, it’s not safe here.’

‘Exactly. It’s not safe and someone has to make it safe. I can’t just run away, I have to make sure people are okay.’

‘Those things are vicious. I’m not gonna leave you here to get eaten.’

‘But we should leave everyone else? Laura, you’ve spent all semester dedicated to protecting the student body from the Dean in the best way you can. Now let me do my part.’

Laura doesn’t look like she has an argument for this, but she reaches out for your hand again and speaks your name softly.

‘Cupcake, she’s not coming.’ Carmilla places a hand on Laura’s shoulder. ‘You know she’s not gonna change her mind.’

‘I’m standing right here, you know,’ you grunt.

‘Right, I didn’t notice. My bad, jolly giant,’ she snaps snarkily in response.

‘Stop it, both of you,’ Laura shouts, eyes watery. She turns back to you. ‘You’re really not coming with us.’

‘Laura,’ you take the hand gripping yours into a more gentle hold. ‘You know, I can’t. You know.’

She stares at you for a moment, and you worry she’s going to try and come up with another alternative, when she quickly reaches up on her toes and presses a soft kiss to your cheek.

‘Stay safe for me, Danny Lawrence,’ she whispers in your ear, and you allow yourself a second to breathe in the safe, familiar smell of her lavender shampoo, before she’s giving your hand a final squeeze and heading out the door; out of sight.

Carmilla heads to follow her, before rethinking it and turning to face you.

‘I’ll make sure she’s okay, don’t worry.’

‘But that’s what I do, isn’t it? Worry?’

Carmilla sighs. ‘Look, tell anyone this and I’ll probably have to kill you, but I always thought she was a little hard on you. She’s so determined to take advantage of a freedom that she’s never had, that sometimes she’s oblivious to people actually looking out for her.’

You’re so surprised by Carmilla’s moment of empathy that you don’t know what to say, so you just nod, before grabbing your sword from where you’d left it on your desk.

Carmilla takes this as her cue to leave, and throws a final, ‘try not to get eaten’ over her shoulder, before she’s gone.

You take one last glance around your room, and then you’re racing down the stairs two at a time, crossbow hanging from your back, and blade tightly in your grip.

You’re still not crazy about Carmilla, and she’s undoubtedly the most insufferable creature you’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting. But still, you think, as you bring your sword swiftly through the neck of a nearby corpse, you suppose there’s something about carrying a vampire’s body out of the pits of Hell that brings you together just that little bit.

You pull your sword from the body, and look around to see if anyone needs help. In the distance you catch sight of Laura and the others heading for the trees. You find yourself noticing that Laura’s wearing the jacket she wore the first day you met, during her first Lit class.

You hear Elsie yell your name from the other side of the courtyard and you motion that you’re on your way over. You glance back just as Laura disappears into the forest.

‘See you later, Hollis.’