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Vindicated

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And I am done with my graceless heart, so tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart, 'cuz I like to keep my issues drawn, it's always darkest before the dawn...

--

Laura's hesitation in calling Carmilla or messaging resulted from a kind of paralysis. She didn't know what to say. So she spent months sifting through pain, and guilt, and embarrassment and yes, as much as she hated to admit it, she even did go out on a date with some girl from her journalism class which made for an awkward rest of the semester when Laura unceremoniously dogded a kiss during the night and then didn't call her after.

All it did was prove to Laura what she was afraid was true, Carmilla was soldered to her in vital places. And it didn't help that her name was all over tumblr and Buzzfeed. Laura, she would never admit it out loud of course, had been among the anons who trashed tumblr famous blogs for bashing her and the song and calling it a publicity stunt.

When Laura was at her drunkest (which was only twice) she very nearly came out to the internet as the girl the song was for. But LaFontaine was usually there to stop her (whether they stopped her for her sake or Carmilla's was still a question however).

And so she was silent, to the world, to Carmilla, but inside her head she was screaming and begging to be near her.

And so LaFontaine told her that they invited Carmilla into town at the beginning of summer break and Laura jumped on it. The speech was practiced in front of a mirror because the only person Laura trusted to hear her deepest thoughts about Carmilla was herself. The sign was made out of 99cent posterboard and a packet of smell markers. Black licorice seemed to be the one to go with for Carmilla's name.

Being in the airport made her jittery. Watching the arriving flights board and seeing "landed" next to Carmilla's flight from Tel Aviv sent her pulse into panic mode. She considered the possibility of running off and just letting it all be and eventually getting over it all for real this time.

But then she saw her on the escalator.

Carmilla, ever pale, was more colorful than Laura had ever seen her. There were pink tints at the peak of her cheeks that had never been there before. Her shoulders were calmer, it looked even from afar like her jaw was looser and like she'd perhaps gained a bit of weight in the places where she was all angles.

She was healthy. She was even a little bit happy.

The painkillers, she realized. They were gone. She knew it now without asking.

And when Carmilla looked up lazily, in a yawn, and spotted Laura, a bomb seemed to go off inside her that sucked all the color from her cheeks. Laura tried not to panic or look too eager or not eager enough. She just kept eye contact with whatever smile she could manage.

Carmilla's attention was pulled back to the gaggle of fans waiting for her behind some airport security officers who looked like they hated their life. Carmilla looked like she was on autopilot as she went over and began feverishly scribbling her signature onto whatever was thrust her way and posed for a few pictures with a forced smile.

It felt like it took 10 years or like Carmilla was trying to make it take 10 years. Not once did her eyes skate in Laura's direction and she wondered if she should just slink away in defeat. But no. Carmilla got up in front of 40,000 people and the entire internet, she could swallow her pride for her. And for herself. As selfish as it was, she hoped Carmilla was as miserable as she was.

Eventually, Carmilla detangled herself and raised nervous eyes to Laura's, walking over shoulders first and gripping her bag like a brace for impact.

"Hey."

"Hey."

Wow, was this airport hot to anyone else? Were those walls always this close? And yet she looked even more beautiful up close. Her eyes were clear, instead of smoke and coal they were the granite now and Laura wondered why she had never noticed the shades like crystal hiding there.

What to say?

You look good?

You doing okay?

The speech Laura prepared for an hour in front of her mirror was gone in an instant and all that remained was Carmilla's eyes, unreadable, and looking back at her. She was locked in place and it was clear that this staring contest would only end if Laura moved first. So she replaced questions with feelings.

I might love you.

I missed you like one of my lungs.

I'm sorry. I forgive you.

Please, please say you love me too.

Feelings were always better felt, of course, and Laura didn't trust her voice. So Laura did the only thing she could to convey them.

Lips on lips was an ancient tradition, believed to have signified the exchange of souls between two people. That wasn't what Laura felt when her mouth met Carmilla's, finally. All she felt was…Carmilla. Real, warm, breathing right against her. Not pulling away, not stiffening, responding, and helping her as their lips moved lazily together.

She was kissing Carmilla. And Carmilla was kissing her back. Flowers exploded behind Laura's naval and even for the chaste brush of lips, she swore she saw stars, the kind that belonged to Carmilla, in the sky.. She wondered if Carmilla saw them too when she let out the smallest sigh.

She was too lost in the joining of their lips to do anything with her hands. Carmilla, for her part, seemed scared to move, perhaps afraid this was a dream and touching meant the end of Laura. She let herself be kissed and kissed. It felt like it lasted for hours, though only seconds went by.

Laura pulled back only enough to detach herself, but she kept her nose lightly against Carmilla's as their breath mixed together, like before. Her open eyes met Carmilla's still closed ones and she felt the brush of her eyelashes as they opened and found Laura's just below her. Laura backed up, just a bit, to give Carmilla a better look at her as she inhaled sharply through a shutter into her nose.

She held it, watching Laura and she was desperate to know what was going on in her head. Her eyes were scanning Laura's face, recommitting it to memory perhaps (Laura hadn't forgotten one inch of Carmilla's face).

Then suddenly a warm hand was in hers and Carmilla was beside her, pulling. Laura obeyed, dragging behind Carmilla as her Doc Martens carried them across the carpeted floor of the baggage claim, under the eyes of everyone there. How many pictures of them were going up online right now? Oh god, why had she done that? Why had she done that there in the middle of an airport? Carmilla was pulling her away to yell at her.

Carmilla psuhed them into the women's room and then in two fast steps, dropped her bags outside a stall and tugged Laura in. Then as Laura opened her mouth to actually apologize, strong hips pushed against hers and suddenly she was flush to the wall and Carmilla was kissing her again and thank god.

This one was more feverish than the last, and far less innocent. Once or twice their tongues brushed but they stayed put for the most part. Which was good but Laura was squeaking enough as is, she didn't need to be straight up moaning in a public restroom. Carmilla's hands, this time, were unrestrained, coming to cup at her jaw lightly, though her fingers buried in Laura's hairline and lightly scratched and Laura tried not to shudder. Her hands came to Carmilla's hips and squeezed, pulling her forward.

They kept this up for a few moments before it was Carmilla who pulled back and rested her forehead against Laura's and breathed deeply.

"Change of locale?" Laura shuddered.

"Maybe I don't feel like sharing you right now."

Another shudder.

"I'm sorry," Laura whispered.

"Why are you sorry?" Carmilla whispered back.

"For not forgiving you sooner."

Carmilla pulled back to meet her eyes, her hands relaxed and the pad of a thumb brushed over Laura's cheek and she pushed into Carmilla's hand, turning slightly to kiss the palm.

"And if it wasn't clear," she said. "I like you."

Carmilla chuckled.

"I like you too."

Laura wanted to kiss her again because she was allowed to now and it was like years of tension just snapped and broke and now she could finally rest, against Carmilla lips, held in her arms, sharing a sigh. But kissing wasn't going to solve everything floating between them.

"Was I jealous of Elsie? Was I hurt that you lied to me about so many things? Yes," Laura said. "Was I also scared that everything you said to me was a lie? Yes."

Carmilla watched her through guilty eyes and thinly pressed lips.

"Did it feel like someone ripped my heart out just a little bit? Yeah. But I've also never been more miserable in my entire life when you were gone," she said.

Carmilla nodded, emotionless and watching, thumbs still brushing soothing circles across Laura's face like smoothing whatever scars from tear tracks might linger there.

"I am sorry," Carmilla whispered, just slightly below desperately.

"I know, I heard," Laura smirked and Carmilla relaxed. "And I'm sorry for breaking your heart too."

"Too much sorry," Carmilla mumbled against her. "Not enough kissing."

Carmilla leaned forward to kiss her again but Laura giggled and pressed a finger to Carmilla's lips and her eyes opened in confusion and then a pout when she saw Laura's face.

"Go on a date with me," Laura whispered, leaning forward to rest her lips right against Carmilla's ear. "I want to make the part where we pretend to get to know each other go faster."

"Yes ma'am," she breathed back.

"Pick me up at 7."

"Where are we going?"

"Surprised me."

Carmilla smiled and shook her head, pulling Laura's head back to hers and touching their foreheads like a prayer, thumbs ever working on her rosy cheeks and her own hands massaged the muscle at Carmilla's hip.

Holding meant realness. It meant they were together again, exactly where they should be. A shadow found its owner again, the rain found flowers and was forgiven for the pain it sometimes caused.

----

"What the fuck am I supposed to wear?"

"If you went naked I doubt Laura would object."

"One step at a time Dr. Frankenstein."

Carmilla was raiding her suitcase on the guest bed in LaFontaine's house. Laura insisted if Carmilla stayed at her house it would break her plans to have at least one real date with her. Not to mention it would be torture with her bear spray happy father lurking around corners every time she tried to know what Laura's mouth felt like against her tongue.

"I didn't bring date clothes," Carmilla huffed. "Why didn't you tell me to bring date clothes?"

LaFontaine rolled their eyes as Carmilla dug out the leather pants and paired them with the nicest shirt she could find in her pile. It was still only weekend casual at best. LaFontaine pulled out a pair of black and yellow tie-dye pants and snickered.

"These are loud," they said.

"Thanks."

Carmilla spent a half hour in the bathroom staring at her reflection, tossing her hair, straightening out her shirt, deciding on belt or no belt. LaFontaine leaned on the frame of the door, crossing their arms and watching, occasionally offering commentary.

"She already likes you, you're good," they said.

"I just want to, ya know…" Carmilla trailed off, pushing hair behind her ear.

"Does Laura know that you're actually the self-conscious one?" they asked.

"Probably," she groaned.

Bagheera was parked in the garage in her Manhattan apartment, so LaFontaine was driving her over and way too smug about it. The entire ride they rattled off a barrage of "be in by midnight young lady" and "be a gentlewoman and pay the bill" before Carmilla threatened to tuck and roll out of the car and walk the rest of the way.

"The first date you go on with Ginger 2, you're getting the motherlode," she said and shut the door before LaFontaine's red face could respond.

Well, now she might be walking home. Whatever.

Laura's house was the picture of domestic suburban and, sadly, looked far too big for just the two people Carmilla knew inhabited it. On her way to the door she caught sight of what she quickly realized was Laura's room. The blinds were tilted just enough that she saw a figure walking around and at just the right angle she caught sight of Laura's honey hair, moving like the tide as fingers brushed through it.

She heard a song in head. Let's make this night last forever…. It had potential. Another song about Laura.

Carmilla stood there and smiled for a few moments and pretended they were high school seniors, on the eve of graduation, trying to bring closure to four years of romantic tension. But no, the reality was better. They were two kids playing tag across country lines, through Skype calls, and guitar strings. And the game was over.

The real fun was on the other side of Laura's front door.

So she knocked.

And after the lecture from Laura's father, peppered with groans and scolds from Laura, they were off, walking down the street in the spring night air. Laura gave it five minutes before she took Carmilla's hand in her own but it was Carmilla who laced their fingers.

"How long were you writing that song for?" Laura asked, they turned a corner and Laura found herself confused as they headed toward a park.

"Since you walked into my hotel room I think," Carmilla said.

They stepped across the threshold of the park and into the grass, damp from a rain storm earlier in the week. The park was technically closed after sundown but Laura didn't seem like she was about to object. Carmilla was vaguely reminded of midnight walks through public property with Ell before was out of her mind forever because that time was over.

She pulled Laura to the playground castle, climbing up the rope ladder and offering a hand to Laura who climbed up after, straightening her sundress when she reached the top. Carmilla kicked off her boots and Laura removed her wedges, following Carmilla to sit on the floor of the landing.

"Welcome to Castle Karnstein," Carmilla chuckled, taking Laura's hands and letting them sit in her crossed legs, thumb running patterns over the back of her hand.

"Sounds like a place for a vampire."

"Maybe it was once."

Laura rolled her eyes and shook her head and Carmilla could not stop watching her, smiling on reflex. Laura shyly licked her lips and bit the bottom one and Carmilla hazard leaning forward, Laura met slowly half way, lingering just out of reach. Carmilla shoved down the inexplicable nerves and tilted forward to close the gap and they kissed softly.

As nice a surprise as the airport had been, this one felt like the first one. Soft and timid and a light hand linger over the skin of her neck with just enough pressure to know it was there. Carmilla mirrored her with her own hand on Laura neck and turned her head to chance deepening the kiss. Laura responded in kind and rose to her knees, scooting forward for better access.

They broke apart for car headlights in the parking lot and Carmilla checked her phone with a smirk.

"Food's here," she said, sitting up and pulling out her wallet.

"Wait, did you GrubHub food to the park?" Laura asked through still flushed skin.

"Don't act like Chinese doesn't sound like the best first date food ever," Carmilla said. She leaned in to peck Laura's lips. "Wait here."

Down she hopped and tipped the very confused driver $50 cash and walked off quickly before he protested, climbing back up and into their safe haven with two bags steaming out the smell of fried rice and egg rolls.

"You are something Carm," Laura said, opening a box.

"What? It's not like I know anything about Toronto."

They ate through random conversation and giggles and stolen food. Carmilla asked about school and Laura asked about her tour, Carmilal volunteered the information she knew Laura really wanted to know about getting dropped from the label and the utter decimation she got from trolls on the internet.

"You know the kissing and the dating doesn't change that you're still my best friend, right?" Carmilla asked, setting down her fork and container. Laura looked up and mirrored the action, regarding her.

"I think that's exactly how it's supposed to be," Laura said.

Carmilla smiled tot he ground and Laura crawled across the fiberglass to nuzzle into Carmilla's side as she leaned back and rested against the wall of the toy castle, arm going over Laura's shoulder. Laura's hands played with the loose strings of Carmilla's shirt and she found too much fun in occasionally hitting a ticklish spot. They were back to kissing shortly after, it was lazy and soft.

"You're my best friend too," Laura breathed against her lips and Carmilla thought for a moment it was an angel. "And there's some other things I want to tell you but I think they should wait because--well...you know."

"I do," Carmilla prayed out and took Laura's face into her hands and kissed her with more passion and heat that was quickly returned.

It had turned into full blown making out before another pair of headlights showed and Carmilla all but yanked Laura's arm out of socket as she pulled her to run from a familiar siren and shouts from the cops. They made it to a tree at the edge of the park and Carmilla pressed Laura against it, covering her body with her own in the shadow on the far side of the tree.

"Don't let them hear us cupcake," Carmilla said.

"I might need your help keeping quiet then."

Well played, Hollis.

Carmilla obliged with her lips on Laura's whose hands snaked between them to hold onto Carmilla. They spent a few minutes ruining the sanctity of the tree with tongues and lips and some escaped moans before it was safe to return to their spot on the playground to collect the trash.

They held hands again on the walk home, pausing every so often to kiss because the more they did it the more they wanted it. This honeymoon phase was explosive. And the front door of Laura's house and the promise that her father was most certainly inside waiting, helped keep it in check as the approached the porch with one last kiss and parted ways for the night.

Carmilla was floored by how right it all felt. She'd forgotten there was a time when they didn't do that, kiss and hold and go on dates. There was no weirdness, there was no transition. There was only her and Laura and the degrees to which they were together. No borders, no limits, just moving forward.

And one week later, she sighed against Laura's lips, begging her to be her girlfriend, and pushed her tongue into her mouth when she said yes.

--

"I thought you were supposed to be good at pyro mechanics," Carmilla said.

"And I thought I told you to shut the hell up."

Carmilla laughed as LaFontaine groaned over the pile of wood that had yet to become a fire as the sun lingered half above the horizon over the water. Laura swatted Carmilla's arm from her position on her lap and Carmilla tugged her closer and placed a kiss on her cheek. Carmilla didn't like anniversaries that weren't exactly one year but she gave in for three months when Laura assured her it was just a hang out of friends that happened to fall on an important date.

"So we couldn't decide on marshmallows," Kirsch said, walking back with 5 bags, Danny behind him carrying sticks.

"Is what he says. What he means is, he couldn't decide. I was fine with plain, white, and fluffy," Danny said.

"Live a little Xena."

A bag was stolen from Kirsch's arms and flung at Carmilla. Laura took the bullet for her, laughing as she opened the bag of colorful marshmallows and shoved one in Carmilla's mouth who laughed as Laura chased it with a kiss.

"Don't you have an album to be working on?" Danny asked mocking, but sans malice.

"Don't you have a galaxy to guard?"

"Hush."

Laura kissed her again and Danny made some groaning compliment about Carmilla getting rewarded for being an ass with Laura's tongue. Carmilla laughed while Laura went red.

"This isn't exactly sanitary," Perry said.

"Well the table broke so everyone is going to just do their best not to dunk the goods in the sand," LaFontaine said. J.P. had taken to aiding in the fire making.

"Aren't you two supposed to be scientists?" Will said.

"Biology, not chemistry," J.P. said, concentrating hard on the pile of kindling.

"If someone could develop pyrokinesis, that'd be great," LaFontaine said.

"I'll work on it," Carmilla said.

Ultimately, they did get the flames going and marshmallows we're quickly sacrificed to the flames and then mashed between graham crackers and chocolate. The stars dotted the sky and all of Carmilla's attention was drawn up there and Laura followed suit as she leaned back. Carmilla whispered the names of stars into her ear.

"Yo babe, do you dare me to eat this whole thing?" Kirsch asked Danny, holding a mound of three marshmallows between just as much chocolate.

"I'm just impressed you managed to make that stay," Danny said, rolling her eyes.

"Does anyone dare me?" he asked the group.

"No one dares you, dude," Will said, passing a soda from the cooler to Betty.

"I do know first aid though, when you inevitably choke to death," Betty offered, taking a sip of Dr. Pepper.

LaFontaine laughed and felt just how close they were positioned to Perry as their front hit her back as they laughed and tried not to notice. In the dark their flushed face was hidden, even of Carmilla was smirking dangerously from across the way. Laura recaptured her attention with a whisper in her ear.

On the portable docking station, a familiar song came on and Carmilla groaned.

"Turn it off," she yelled. "How did you even get the audio of this?"

"It's called YouTube ripper," Danny said, smirking.

"Can we not listen to this again?" Carmilla said.

"It's nice," Laura whispered. "To remember."

"To remember that I martyred myself?"

"Yep."

Laura kissed her lips lightly.

And so the night continued until it was nearly dawn and they were considering passing out on the sand. Back at Perry's house LaFontaine let her rest her arm across their hip as they fell asleep as one. Danny and Kirsch played a round of Madden 2015 on the Xbox in the basement before they fell asleep trash talking each other. Laura and Carmilla did fair less innocent things before they went to bed, curled under her childhood ceiling.

Life had repaid her for all she lost. And Laura had been rewarded for all that she was.

"You're not allowed to make any new friends when you go back to school," Carmilla whispered as the grey light of morning slowly began to kill the dark in Laura's room.

"I think that's going a little far," Laura whispered back, shuffling closer to Carmilla's chest.

"No one would do it right if they tried," Carmilla said into her hair. "They wouldn't tease you enough about Doctor Who, they wouldn't embarrass you at your dad's Canada Day barbecue, or sneak onto your tumblr and reblog weird furry shit."

Laura sighed through a smile into Carmilla's chest.

"I thought the same thing, you know," Laura said. "Back when I was having some sort of existential crisis over whether or not I had a crush on you. I didn't think anyone else would do it right."

Carmilla kissed her hair and pulled her in close and listened as she fell back asleep. She pretended the bags piled up in the corner weren't there, it was still just a summer night and they were snuggled together, not waking until 2pm, the world wasn't outside waiting for them both.

"So you really like me, huh?" Laura smiled, still awake, against her chest.

And Carmilla could only stifle a laugh.