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The One Who Loves Her Next

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Carmilla fixated on the small clean bandage taped neatly across Laura’s neck. Her fingers itched to touch but she forced her hand to stay still, grasping the arm of her chair tight enough to nearly break it. She had just enough respect for the hospital to restrain.

Carmilla had never imagined that there was a curse worse than being turned into a vampire.

But here it was.

The doctors had been so focused on the obvious, getting Laura’s heart breathing and her lungs filling with air, that they’d barely noticed the blood on her neck. It had only been later, when the shocks had done their job, that a nurse had noticed the two puncture wounds and gently bandaged Laura’s neck. It was the right set of priorities, obviously getting Laura breathing was more important than a little blood.

But Laura shouldn’t have needed to breath. That had been their plan.

Carmilla could still feel the taste of Laura’s blood on her tongue, a vibrant swirl of exploding stars and shrinking black holes. Her veins were still singing with the thrum of Laura’s blood as it rushed through her veins, making her feel more alive than ever before.

It was terrible.

She dropped her head in her hands, staring down at the floor tiles like they could fix everything. She’d taken too much. She hadn’t noticed soon enough that it wasn’t working. She should have noticed.

Instead, she’d let herself get caught up in the moment. The last time Laura would truly smell like herself. The last time she’d get to taste Laura’s blood. Her last dance in the starlight. Carmilla had wanted to breath it all in, to store up every smell and taste and scent until it could last an eternity. Burying herself in the scent of Laura until it was something that even her bones could never forget.

Instead Carmilla had literally killed her. And not in the way they’d intended. The ancient vampire kills her. Modern science brings her back. A strange sort of irony.

It wasn’t supposed to go like this. Laura had begged her to do it. To give them an eternity together. And slowly, Carmilla had let herself become convinced. Truthfully, they’d both known that she would always cave. An eternity with Laura was a fruit too tempting to ever truly resist.

And they had eternity. It just wasn’t the eternity she’d been imagining.

She should have remembered. She should have realized. And when she did it was too late. Carmilla had scooped Laura’s lifeless body up in her arms and dashed across town, faster than any ambulance. Begging the universe, fear raw across her face. You don’t get to kill an anglerfish god without payment. You don’t get to wield the Blade of Hastur and come off with only a brush with death as payment. That’s just not the way the world works.

She’d taken up the sword to save Laura and when the Blade couldn’t find a soul to take, it improvised. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

Forever together. Yet forever alone.

“Well, that was a trip,” the noise from the bed had Carmilla on her feet instantly, “I’ve been waiting to say that back to you years,” Laura said.

“Laura,” she spun towards the bed, leaning forward. Her hands hovered over her girlfriend, not daring to touch.

The small smile Laura gave her shattered her heart, “Wow. Using my name and everything. You must have really been worried. I told you, it would be fine. I came right back.”

“Yeah,” the words stumbled off Carmilla’s tongue, “you came back.”

“You know,” Laura said, shifting slightly in the bed, “That didn’t feel anything like you’d described it would. And you made me think that I’d be way hungrier when I woke up. I mean, I could totally go for a box of cookies but there’s no bloodlust or anything. We’re definitely going to have to work on your descriptive skills. Now I’ve got an eternity to whip you into shape. Don’t have to worry about squeezing it into one lifetime.”

Carmilla said nothing, her tongue suddenly seeming too big for her mouth.

Laura looked around and her brow furrowed, “What? Wait? Why are we in the hospital?”

Carmilla shook her head, drawing back from the bed. Laura reached out and grabbed her arm. Carmilla flinched at the contact, yanking her wrist from Laura’s touch. Her heart breaking a little further at the little gasp of concern that escaped from Laura.

“Carm,” the smallness of Laura’s voice froze her beside the bed, keeping her from moving back to the safety of the hospital chair. “Carm,” Laura said again, “Did something go wrong?”

The world seemed to tilt as Carmilla stared down at her shoes.

Laura paused for a moment then her hand snuck up, first pulling Carmilla closer and then sneaking up to rest against Carmilla’s cheek.

“It didn’t work did it?” Laura said.

Carmilla shook her head, slowly rubbing her cheek against Laura’s palm

“Well,” Laura said, “We’ll figure this out and then try again.”

Carmilla closed her eyes to keep the tears in, “It won’t work. Your soul’s already been assigned a fate.”

“Carm, look at me. Explain,” Laura said.

Carmilla kept her eyes locked tight and whispered, “I killed you.”

“I came back,” Laura’s thumb ghosted over her face

Now Carmilla couldn’t stop them, the tears poked out and drifted gently down her cheeks to soak Laura’s palm, “And now you’re never going to stop coming back,” Carmilla finally let herself reach out, grasping Laura’s free hand, “And next time you won’t remember.”

#

Carmilla was hunched over her computer when a small warm body leaned against her back. Letting out an involuntary purr, Carmilla stretched and tangled her fingers in Laura’s hair.

“So I’ve been thinking about the whole reincarnation thing?” Laura said, wrapping an arm around Carmilla’s chest.

Carmilla sighed, “Of course you have, cupcake.”

“And I want you to give all the future me’s this when you fall in love with them,” Something white dangled in Carmilla’s face. She grabbed it slowly, not wanting to think about the day when Laura wasn’t with her. It was a simple envelope, unsealed, and written in Laura’s tight script were the words ‘to the one who loves her next’.

Carmilla went to open the envelope and Laura jumped to stop her.

“You can’t look at,” Laura huffed, her hand closing over Carmilla’s, “it’s not for you.” Laura swung around, sitting herself in Carmilla’s lap, “Promise me you won’t?”

Carmilla stared at Laura, trying to imprint her wife on her memory. Laura was older now, the cute wrinkle between her eyes from frowning turned into a permanent cavern.Her skin was fading, sunspots on the surface. Her hair was graying slightly at the temples. But her eyes still shone the same as they always had, bright and loving.

Leaning her head against Laura’s forehead, Carmilla reached out to pull Laura closer, “I promise, cupcake.”

“Thank you,” Laura leaned in and kissed her deeply, the enveloped still held between them.

They had another 30 years before Carmilla found herself talking only to a headstone.

#

She first found the new Laura on a subway in Brooklyn. She’d frozen on the train at the familiar face and had only started moving when the subway doors started opening. Carmilla had barged through the crowd and burst out the doors, leaving her bags behind. She’d run up the stairs to the street, trying to track Laura down. In her haste, she missed the last step and went tumbling head over heels. Her heart had burst to life when the familiar giggle reached her ears.

Her name was Natasha.

A year later and Carmilla gave Natasha Laura’s envelope. The girl had burst from the bedroom and hugged her tight. Carmilla’s promise the only thing stilling the question on her lips.

It was almost 20 years to the day when Natasha had looked at her oddly, furrowed brow and hesitantly asked her about an anglerfish god and had Carmilla really stabbed it with a sword?

Carmilla’s heart leapt. She remembered. She gathered Natasha in her arms and spoke the night away with stories and explanations.

Two weeks later Natasha was dead, surprise aneurysm.

#

She met Jane in the park. She’d gotten Laura’s letter after a year and half and those brown eyes shone just like Carmilla remembered when Jane read it and immediately gave her a kiss. They were married in a grove of maple trees and Carmilla got to watch her hair turn grey in the same snowy pattern that Laura’s hair had taken.

When Jane asked her about someone called Lafontaine, Carmilla had tried not to worry.

Less than a month later, she had 3 graves to lay flowers on.

#

Stacy had found her next. Diving into the back of her car and screaming at her to drive before the cops caught up. She’d gotten Laura’s letter in three months. A ring in 6.

But she never made it to the wedding.

When Carmilla packed up her stuff, she found scrawlings in a diary about ‘Silas’ and ‘the Light’.

#

Darcy went three years before she got the letter as Carmilla tried to fight her off. The firewoman had persisted, clawing her way into Carmilla’s life as more than the friend Carmilla was determined to keep her as. She died in a blaze on their tenth anniversary.

#

Christine never got to see the letter until it was too late. Carmilla had sought to keep it from her, hoping to avoid triggering any memories. But when Christine had woken, screaming in the night about ‘the Dean’ and ‘William’, Carmilla had held her tight and passed it over.

She was dead before sunrise.

#

Olivia died in Carmilla’s arms after a fatal shooting on assignment in the Amazon. Laura’s letter was still in her pocket and the edges of the now hundreds of years old contents took on a red hue. Her second last gasping breath was ‘Silas’’. The final was ‘I love you too.’

#

She never even got an I love you from Claire. After a year together, Claire had seen the fangs and run, leaving Carmilla to track her all over.

She found her in an asylum, raging about vampires and werewolves and anglerfish. Carmilla took a job at the facility and Claire had lasted months there, the longest of anyone. When she’d finally passed, Carmilla had taken Laura’s letter and left. Never looking back.

#

She walked away when she saw the next Laura on the street. Turning her back and running as far as her legs could take. Moving across the country.

Seven years later, she was walking down the street and watched someone get hit by a car. She ran over. The girl had Laura’s face.

She never learned her name but still Carmilla found she loved her.

#

Emma blew into her life like a hurricane. Stomping on her angst and throwing her back into the world. She’d gotten her letter after 3 years. They had 60 years together before Emma started slowly fading away.

She smiled, patted Carmilla’s hand, and said, ‘She’s coming back.’

And then she was gone.

#

Carmilla ran into the next girl on a University campus, literally bowling the tiny girl over as she rushed to her Masters class. It still hit her in the chest every time she saw Laura’s face again.

“Hey cupcake,” she mumbled softly, counting on the girl not hearing her. Carmilla reached out a hand to help haul her to her feet. The girl didn’t take it.

Instead, she just stared up.

Carmilla quirked an eyebrow, at least this was new. The girls usually talked her ear off in the first meeting. “You got a name, cutie?” she said.

The girl blinked, “Carmilla?” Then her hands went to her mouth, “I finally found you.”

Carmilla froze.

“I mean,” the girl scrambled to her feet, “I’m not Carmilla, you’re Carmilla. Obviously. I’m Laura. I’ve been looking for you for so long and I can’t believe I found you and you look so thin! What you been eating? Seriously, you need way more cookies because I”m a little concerned.”

“You, remember?” Carmilla forced the words out.

Laura’s eyes were shining with something more than simple memories as a small smile cut across her face, “I remember? You mean Silas and the anglerfish god and Laf and Perry and Danny and Kirsch and you hating heroic vampire crap but using the blade of hastur anyway? And then us dating and living together and the blade cursing us to be together but separate for eternity because it could take your soul?” Laura took a step forward, slowly taking her hand and giving Carmilla ample time to back away.

She didn’t. She couldn’t.

“Do I remember that you’re Carmlila Karnstein? A crazy badass vampire and Countess and love of my life? Who buys me cookies and never cleans her hair out of the drain.”

“That’s not possible,” Carmilla stuttered, “you remember. That means you’re going to die. They all do. They all die. Every time.”

Laura’s smile was broken, present but sad, “Not me, Carm. I’m your Laura. The original Laura. Laura Hollis.” Carmilla stared at her, only grounded by the soft movement of Laura’s thumb on her hand. There was a soft shitcking noise and Carmilla’s head jerked up. That sound was familiar. If she’d had to breathe, the breath would have been gone. Poking out of Laura’s mouth, were two small, white fangs.

That was impossible. The curse forbade it.

“How?” Carmilla breathed.

“I cut a deal with the devil himself,” Laura continued, “or someone just like him. I’m still not clear on that. But, I promised” Laura said, leaning closer, “I promised that I’d come back.”

Carmilla racked her brain, taking a step back when she came up empty, “No. You didn’t.”

“Read the letter, Carm.” Laura said softly, “just read it.”

 

#

To The One Who Loves Her Next:

She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m coming back. I just need to figure out how. But I’ll find a way. Until then, please, take care of her for me.

Here’s what you need to know. Here’s all that you need to know. She loves you. She loves you so much that she would tear her soul open to keep you safe, pouring out the galaxies that burn within her just to keep you warm. She’ll let herself go cold and dark and empty so long as you stay bright and hot.

Don’t let her.

Oh, let her love you. Enjoy every moment of her love, every moment that you get to see her face. Because it will be over far too soon. And she will be left alone again with nothing but your memory to preserve her until the next girl comes along. The girl who will have to learn to love her all over again.

Even though she already loves them.

So let her love you but don’t let her burn herself up in the process. Because she will. She is good and caring and everything that you could imagine. She is a rainbow on a cloudy day and the marshmallow on top of hot chocolate. She is the warm voice that lulls you to sleep and the cool breath of a kiss on your brow. And she will give up herself until there’s nothing left because she can’t see her goodness.

She sees only a monster. Don’t ever let her forget that she isn’t. Not really. Not where it counts.

But don’t fall into a trap of calling her a hero either.

She is too old and has done too much to be reduced to such labels.

You’ll need to remind her that you love her. The world has not been kind to her and she will doubt you. Take her hand and draw letters on her skin until they’re written on her veins. Hold her close and kiss the tip of her nose. Card your fingers through her hair and gently scratch her scalp. Don’t just tell her you love her and call it a day. Make her feel it. Words will make her run. They’re uncomfortable. They require answers. Let your actions speak for you.

Let her rub her cheek on yours. Nothing will make her happier. Let yourself be hers. It’s scary but she can take it. She won’t smother you. She’ll set you free because she loves you and then cry where she thinks you can’t see her when you come back.

Always come back.

She’s scared of thunder and small spaces. Don’t press her for why. She’ll tell you if she needs to. Just take her hand and walk to the bathroom and sit in the bathtub and let her curl up against your chest. Avoid submarines.

She says she takes her coffee black but secretly likes it when you add a pack of sugar.

There will be weeks when she just disappears. Accept this now. She is old and there are pieces that would take an eternity to understand. And as much as you may want it, there’s no eternity for you. Don’t take this personally. It’s not about you. It’s about the hundred voices in her head clawing for attention and trying to sort through them. Keep living your life but be there when she comes back.

Don’t remind her of the past. Help her embrace the future.

Never say anything bad about cats. Just don’t.

She’s really a terrible roommate. She’s messy and kind of obnoxious and rarely does her share of the chores. But then she’ll go all in and you’ll come home and the place will be spotless. I’m not saying it makes up everything and all the hair in the drain. But rather than yell at her for not cleaning, remember that she does care.

Mention what you want casually and she’ll never forget. That thing you said 6 months ago? She’ll remember. She’s always paying attention to you, even when her nose is in a book and it looks like you’re merely an insignificant dot on her radar. You’re not.

Treat her like she’s the strongest thing you’ve ever encountered and let her catch you when you fall. Treat her like she’s fragile and don’t push too hard and break her. She is precious and she will have to live with the consequences of your actions far longer than you will.

Don’t let her spoil you too much. I mean, enjoy it. But moderation.

But mostly, love her with everything you have. Please. I beg you. Love her. Do not hurt her. She is time and the galaxies and a hundred million stars that can see everything but they’re own light. Love her fiercely and truly for every moment that you exist. Love her when you’re old and love her when you’re young. Love her when you argue and love her when you love. Love her when she’s snarky and love her when she’s sweet. Please. Please. Don’t shatter her heart.

Because I can’t imagine a world without her in it and if you shatter her and she’s gone then you’ll be alone. I’ll be alone. We’ll be alone. And the next girl will wander the world alone. Confused. Scared. Empty.

And she won’t be there anymore. And the world will be robbed.

The stars will shine but will not twinkle.

She is worth loving. Always and eternally. Even if you can’t remember. Love her for me.

The One Who Loved Her First