Laura leaned over her desk, all the papers swept to the side as she tried to ignore her audience. Laf peered over her left shoulder while Perry hovered somewhere behind her right. Carmilla may have been lounging in her bed, but the sarcastic comments were not helping. Then, of course, there was the cat-sized golden mechanical dragon perched on her own head, the bronze geared monkey clinging to Perry’s shoulder, and the dirty silver cat curled up on the end of Carmilla’s bed.
So rather than focus on the number of eyes watching her work, Laura focused on her patient. Slipping on her magnification glasses, she peered down into the ferret shaped mechanism of gears and cogs before her and got out her tweezers.
She wiggled the tweezers under a red gear, wincing as she grazed a golden piston.
The ferret squealed while Laf hissed, “Ow, crap. Careful Hollis. We felt that. Pyro’s scraped up enough as is.”
“Sorry, but you know I’m not exactly formally trained at this.” Laura said, letting her tongue poke out as she gently guided the tweezers further into the mechanism. “Laf,” she said, “how in the world did you manage to get slime this deep into their mechanism?”
The redhead blushed, “Science?” They offered.
“Lafontaine thought it would be funny to set off a slime bomb in the alchemy department,” Perry said, “which it is not. Someone is going to have to clean up a very big mess.”
Laura smiled and turned her attention back to her patient. Pyro was wriggling impatiently, “hey now, none of that,” she said, tapping the ferret lightly with her finger on their nose, “Do you want solidified slime in your mechanism forever?” Pyro chittered up at her but stilled.
“I don’t know,” Laura winced as Carmilla’s drawl came from the other side of the room, “science ginger’s already got science in their blood, only makes sense that their clockwork would match.”
Laura shook her head, ignoring Carmilla and navigating past the sparker into the heart of the mechanism of the clockwork creature. Every person had one, they appeared at birth from who knows where and bound themselves to each child. Each was made of gears and cogs and gleaming metal and typically took the shape of animal. Fixing them, healing them was something of a hobby of Laura’s.
Her current patient was Pryo, Laf’s clockwork ferret. Between Pyro’s curiosity and Laf’s experiments, it was only just over a month into school and Laura was already extremely familiar with the ferret’s anatomy. She didn’t mind, the ferret was fascinating. Pyro was something of a rarity, a mix of gleaming red and gold gears rather than a solid colour.
A small claw lightly scratched her scalp and Laura smiled even as she chased after the slime with her tweezers. Not that there was anything wrong with having a solid coloured clockwork.
Finally she pulled the slime free. Laf let out a sharp exhale of relief as Pyro bounded up, covering Laura’s face in tiny kisses. Laura giggled, swatting at the overenthusiastic ferret before it scampered off to climb up Laf’s arm and coil around their neck. Perry’s monkey swung off her neck, latching onto Laf and examining the tiny ferret closely.
Laf ran a hand over Pyro’s head, “You are the best, Laura!” They said, “Good as new.”
“Excellent,” Carmilla drawled, “job done. You can leave now.”
Laura rolled her eyes, “Ignore her, stay as long as you like.”
Laf grinned and made to sit down on the bed. Before they could make it, Perry grabbed their arm, “Actually Laura, someone really needs to clean up the alchemy department. And I think that the person who made the mess, should be responsible for it.” They dragged Laf out of the room, Laf’s complaints drifted out the door after them.
Dropping the tweezers back in her toolbox, Laura stretched and spun in her desk chair. She eyed her roommate and the silver cat curled up beside her.
“You know,” she said, “I’ve got all my stuff out now. I could always take a look at Bagheera for you.”
Carmilla looked up and met her gaze. The girl’s eyes were dark, “I meant what I said the first time, cupcake. Leave us alone.”
This was not how Laura had expected to spend her third week of university. On the phone. “No, no, no,” she shouted at the man on the other end, “What do you mean you’re sending over a new roommate? I don’t need a new one, I have one. She’s just missing and what I need is for someone to find her!” Laura gestured wildly with her hands, the golden dragon on her shoulder taking flight to avoid her gestures. “Listen. Girls can’t just disappear and no-one… No hey! Don’t hang up on me! you can’t just-”
She stared down at the phone and then looked at her dragon, “Cook, he hung up on me!”
The dragon let out a roar as Laura’s head plunked forward, dropping on to the desk.
“Well, not the welcome I was expecting, but I’ll take it.” a new voice entered the room.
Laura whipped around and as her eyes took in the girl in the doorway, she fought to keep her jaw up. The new girl was beautiful, the back of Laura’s brain noted the long dark hair, pale skin, and chiseled jawline, but Laura’s gaze landed on the other creature in the doorway.
“She’s gorgeous,” Laura gasped, rising to her feet, eyes locked on the clockwork creature.
A moment of shock crossed over the girl’s face.
Laura stepped forward, eyes scanning the clockwork. It was unlike anything she’d ever seen. The clockwork was a cat, a little larger than the average housecat. It was extremely lean and Laura’s fingers itched to touch as she took in the gearwork. It looked incredibly tiny. There must have been three gears in this creature for every one in the clockwork she usually worked on. The intricacy of the design was incredible.
She slowly took a few steps towards the pair in the doorway, her eyes narrowing as she took in the cat. It had clearly once been silver, here and there she could see the gleam of the parts as the movement of the gears kept some of the clean. However, the majority of the cat was coated in a thick layer of black, dulling the metal and giving the cat a matte appearance.
“Well,” the girl’s drawl cut into Laura’s examination, “this has to be the first time a pretty girl has ignored me for Bagheera, cutie.”
Laura blushed and looked up, “Sorry. It’s just,” her eyes drifted back down to Bagheera, “I’ve never seen clockwork like that before.”
“See, a lot of clockwork do you?” the girl said with a tone Laura didn’t particularly like.
“I do,” Laura matched the girl’s tone, “Fixing clockwork is a hobby of mine.”
“Mmhmmm, sure cutie,” the girl muscled past Laura and into the room, “I’m sure.”
“Hey!” Laura said, “You can’t just do that. Who the heck do you think you are?”
The girl threw her a wink and plopped down on Betty’s bed, “I’m Carmilla, sweetheart.”
“Fine, Carmilla,” Laura said, “This is my room. I don’t know who you think you are but you can’t just barge-” Laura’s eyes went wide when Bagheera slunk past her to follow the girl, “She’s hurt.” Laura gasped.
It was obvious when she saw the cat walk. The clockwork was favouring her left back leg, keeping it off the ground as much as possible. To Laura, it almost looked like the leg was too small for the rest of her. The leg of a kitten on a cat.
“What happened?” Laura rushed forward, dropping to her knees in front of Bagheera but not touching. The cat froze, staring at her, “I can totally look at her if you want. No problem. I brought all my tools from home, they’re right here in the room and I think I once saw something similar with-”
“Not a chance,” Carmilla snapped, cutting her off, “You touch her and I’ll take your hand off. Look, I’m sure you figure yourself some kind of clockwork expert and you’re at least good enough to recognize quality when you see. But Bagheera is something else entirely.” Carmilla practically growled the words,” I’m sure you’re just fine with the standard fare of dogs and bunny rabbits but there’s no way you’ve ever seen anything as unique as my girl.”
Laura stood, trying to keep her anger in check.
Apparently it wasn’t working because Carmilla took one look at her and snickered, “That bunched up face you make when you’re angry is hilarious, buttercup.”
“You think I haven’t seen anything unique?” Laura said, “Really? You’ve got yourself a cat. I’ve seen hundreds of cats. Yours just has some fancy gears. Tell me, cutie.” Laura threw the word back, “You’ve got a cat, what’s my clockwork?”
She didn’t usually like to draw attention to Cook but something about this girl just boiled her blood.
Cook leapt to the air, clearing the end of Laura’s bed and swooping upwards to spin corkscrews through the top of the room. The small dragon’s golden skin glowed in the soft light of the bedroom. Laura let a small smile creep across her face. Perfect timing.
If Laura was hoping for an extreme reaction, then she would have been disappointed. Most people openly gawked when they first saw her with Cook on her shoulder and realized that the dragon wasn’t just another bird. Carmilla’s reaction was more subtle. Laura almost missed it.
The brunette’s eyes tracked the room, catching the dragon as she soared up. Carmilla’s eyebrows popped up and then narrowed, tracking the beast as she twirled through the air. Then, Carmilla’s gaze softened momentarily into something that seemed centuries away, as though the girl had been transported to another time and place.
Cook soared back down and Laura could feel that she was unimpressed with the reaction she was getting. Then, Laura felt the burning in the center of her chest and knew exactly what Cook was going to do. She winced but said nothing.
The dragon’s mouth opened as she passed the girls and with a deep exhale, shards of glass shot from the dragon’s mouth. Perfectly clear, they embedded themselves into the wall of the room.
Carmilla’s breath hitched.
Cook preened and twirled once more before she settled onto Laura’s shoulder. The dragon leaned in, rubbing her head affectionately against Laura’s head and wrapping a claw lightly in her hair.
Reaching up, Laura scratched the dragon’s belly, giggling softly as Cook rumbled affectionately, “We talked about inappropriate use of fire.”
Carmilla got to her feet as Cook headbutted Laura affectionately. The new girl examined the glass shards in the wall, pulling them out with ease.
“Sorry,” Laura said quickly, “please don’t mention that to anyone. She wasn’t going to hurt you. I promise. She’s really a sweetheart. Wouldn’t hurt a fly.” Carmilla said nothing, simply turning the glass shards over in her hand. Laura’s nervousness turned to rambles, “Usually they’re coloured but she hasn’t eaten in a while. Different kinds of dust, colour the fire differently. She doesn’t need it to survive. It’s like a treat I guess? Gold dust is her favourite but I can’t get it here so I’m trying to track down some silver because she likes that too.”
Carmilla turned back around, the look on her face stopping Laura’s sentence, “Well, now cutie.” Carmilla said, her face was fighting for calm but something in her eyes spoke of wonder, “It’s not every girl who has herself a genuine dragon. In fact, I’d heard that there hasn’t been mythological creatures afoot since the 17th century.”
“I knew someone with a griffin once,” Laura blurted.
Carmilla ignored that, “Your fearsome beast have a name?”
Laura drew herself up to her full height, feeling Cook straighten on her shoulder, “This is Cookie. Cook for short.”
“Cookie?” Carmilla repeated, “Cookie? You named… Cookie?” Then a smile broke across the girl’s face and Laura tried to ignore the quick patter of her heart, “You get possibly the only mythological clockwork in existence. A fearsome, glass fire-shooting beast, and you name her Cookie?”
“It’s a perfectly good name,” Laura snapped.
“Cookie,” Carmilla said again, “that’s somehow perfect,” something glinted in her eyes, “considering you’re such a cupcake.”
“What does that mean?” Laura asked.
With a single stride, Carmilla was right in Laura’s personal space, nose to nose, “It means you make no sense, cupcake. How did a girl like you end up with a clockwork straight out of a storybook?” Carmilla’s eyes seemed to search hers, Laura didn’t know for what. She felt, rather than saw, Bagheera twining around their feet.
“Doesn’t matter,” Laura said, more bravely than she felt with Carmilla’s breath wafting over her face, “clearly, I’m used to the weird. Cook’s got two sparkers for Pete’s sake. You going to let me look at your cat now or not?”
Carmilla took a step back, “Not a chance. Tell you what, cupcake. Just leave us alone and keep your dragon to yourself.” Bagheera hopped up on to Betty’s bed and Carmilla dropped down after her.
“You can’t just leave Bagheera like that,” Laura snapped, “I mean look at her. Her leg is busted and she’d covered in whatever that black stuff is. What did you do? Leave her out in the rain for decades? Doesn’t that hurt or make you itch? It cannot be good for either of you. Cook gets even a scuff mark and I feel it. I can’t imagine what that much black must be doing to you. Never mind the busted leg.”
Carmilla’s glare was so intense that Laura found herself taking a step back, Cook’s wings unfolding in alarm where the dragon still perched on her shoulder. “Stay the hell out of our business, cupcake”
“Well then get out of my room,” Laura said, “you’re the one who just barged in.”
Carmilla eye roll was enough to dislodge most eyes from their sockets, “You haven’t figured it out yet cupcake? I’m your new roommate.”
The wall was impaled with a new set of clear flames.
She had endured three weeks of Carmilla’s presence. Three incredibly long weeks of mind-killing aggravation. Carmilla was literally the world's worst roommate and her cat wasn’t much better. Carmilla ate all of her food and Bagheera ate the head off her favourite screwdriver. Carmilla left her own clothes all over the room and Bagheera stole Laura’s clothes to make cat beds for napping. Carmilla left hair in the shower drain and Bagheera clawed Laura’s bedsheets.
Carmilla put blood in the soy milk container as a joke.
“Could you really not?” Laura shouted. She’d barely walked in the room to find Carmilla making out with some girl in her half of the room while Bagheera sprawled across Laura’s bed, curled up on her pillow, “What is your problem?”
Carmilla looked up and rolled her eyes, as the girl she was with scrambled to find clothes “A little busy here, cutie. Shut the door on your way out,”
Laura scowled back, crossing her arms and staying put. Cookie jumped off her shoulder, gliding over to land on Bagheera’s head. The cat hissed but didn’t shake the dragon off.
“Well, if you’re going to stay,” Carmilla raked her eyes down Laura, “you may as well join in.”
“Put on some clothes,” Laura snapped, trying not to look at Carmilla’s open shirt, the lacy black bra clearly on display, or the white silky skin beneath it. Her fingers twitched.
“Um, I should go.” the girl muttered.
She slipped past Laura and slunk out of the room. Laura held her position, chin up and arms crossed. She stared Carmilla down until the girl closed the door behind her and the roommates were left alone.
“You’re unbelievable,” Laura said, moving at last to plop down in front of her computer.
“Says the girl who just barged in on my date,” Carmilla said.
“Please,” Laura said, “that was not a date. That was a booty call. You ever take a girl on a real date, the kind that involves dinner and dancing or something, I’ll back right off. Probably because I’ll be dead from shock.”
“Interesting,” Carmilla leaned back against her bed, leaving her shirt undone. Laura couldn’t decide if that was a good or bad thing, “wouldn’t have figured you for the dancing type.”
“It’s your date,” Laura said, “dancing seems like something your broody soul might secretly like.”
The room was silent. Laura fidgeted in her seat, before finally caving and turning to look at her roommate. Carmilla shot her a smirk, eyes dancing, “So, you’ve been thinking about what I’d like to do on a date?”
Laura nearly swallowed her tongue for a moment, caught. She spun around to face the computer again, cheeks hot.
“Well now, cupcake,” Laura swallowed hard as Carmilla’s voice seemed to drop an octave, “I don’t suppose you kicked that poor girl out of our room out of jealousy now did you?”
“Really?” Laura said, gritting her teeth, “You really think it’s all about you? Maybe I just didn’t want to have to try and track down a kidnapper in the hallway while you sit here and try to fill the empty hole that is your miserable lonely life with some meaningless sex.You do what you got to do but don’t do it somewhere that I’m trying to do a little good in the world. Girls go missing and no-one seems to care but me so I’m not letting you stomp all over that.”
Now Carmilla sat up, back ramrod straight, “Really?” she snarled, “You really think that what you’re doing is going to make a lick of a difference? you can’t possibly be that naive. Girls go missing every day, every year somewhere out in the world and no-one cares.” Her eyes were glowing with something that Laura couldn’t quite name. “People die and no-one cares. Terrible things happen every second and if you really think that just because you try hard and believe with all your heart, that you're going to change anything then you’re insane. This is just the way the world works, cupcake. Learn to live with it.”
Both girls were frozen, seemingly lost in time as Carmilla’s words hung in the air around them. Laura blinked, turning them over in her mind and examining them. The passion with which Carmilla spoke was convincing and there was something to them but still. Laura couldn’t quite find it in herself to know what she thought.
Then Carmilla leaned back, a small smug look on her face.
“No,” the word jumped from Laura.
“Excuse me?” Carmilla said.
“No.” Laura repeated, more confidently as the word settled into her bones, “Just no. Maybe you’re right and I am naive and maybe the world is terrible but no. No.” she said it again, liking the way it rolled off her tongue, “I refuse to believe that what I’m doing doesn’t do a lick of good. Maybe you’re right and I won’t save anyone but those girls deserve better than to have no-one even bother trying. Sure I can’t fix everything, but maybe I can fix something. They deserve better than they got and maybe I can give it to them. They deserve better. Betty deserves better. Hell,” Laura turned to look at Carmilla, the girl sat on her bed caught between lying down and sitting up, “even you deserve better.”
She turned back before she could see Carmilla’s reaction.
“Now get your cat off my bed,” Laura finished.
There was a pause, leaving something unspoken hanging in the air, before Carmilla said, “Get your dragon off my cat,”
“Only if you let me look at Bagheera’s leg,” Laura said.
“No.” Carmilla said.
All things considered, the cat and dragon didn’t look too uncomfortable curled up on the yellow pillow together. Laura tried not to think about what that meant.
A few days later, Laura was cleaning Cookie when Carmilla burst through the door, Bagheera at her heels. Carmilla flopped onto her bed, grunting out a hello.
Surprised, Laura stuttered out a greeting before turning back to her dragon. Rummaging in her toolbox, she pulled out a soft cloth and began rubbing a small squirt of oil over the clockwork. Cookie preened under the touch, spreading her wings to allow Laura further access. Laura smiled, enjoying the sensation herself. A light tickling over her skin that always left her feeling refreshed.
She was scrubbing at a particularly tough scuff when she noticed she had an audience. Bagheera was perched on the end of Carmilla’s bed and the cat’s front paws were leaning against Laura’s desk.
She smiled but said nothing, continuing to gently scrub down Cookie and taking extra care with a few of the cracked gears that she couldn’t quite figure out how to fix. They still worked after all, they just, rattled a little.
Finally she felt the light tap of Bagheera’s paw on her arm. Laura looked down. Bagheera was staring at Cookie, the cat’s eyes fixed on the section of gears that Laura was working on even as the light weight of a single paw rested on her wrist. She almost spoke, about to offer to clean the cat up a little when Cookie whacked her hand with a sharp thwack of her tail.
Laura’s eyes watered at the pain even as the dragon winced.
So she said nothing as the Bagheera stared at Cookie’s broken gears.
Finally, Cookie lowered her wing, covering the cracks. Bagheera slowly turned away, dragging the bum leg behind her. Laura’s eyes followed the cat, tracking it until her eyes met Carmilla’s even as Cookie jumped back on her shoulder. Bagheera curled up on Carmilla’s lap and Carmilla reached out to absently stroke over the delicate gears.
Laura swallowed the offer to fix everything and just turned back to her desk, pulling up the file on the missing girls.
“Have you been sleeping at all cupcake?” Carmilla’s voice jogged Laura out of her frantic concentration on the information in front of her.
Laura grabbed a cookie from her pack, “Can’t sleep,” she mumbled, “might be onto something.” She continued to click through the pages of information on the missing girls, trying to spot a pattern.
“I see,” Carmilla voice drifted over from the kitchen, doing who knows what. Laura would have bet it was something to do with stealing her food. “And you think,” Carmilla continued, “that a 14 hour work day after a sleepless night is going to put you on your best?”
Laura frowned, knowing Carmilla was right but continued clicking anyway.
Suddenly Carmilla was right behind her, “You need to take a break, cupcake.”
Something grabbed the chair and spun her around, dragging her hands away from the keys. Carmilla loomed over her. Laura stared up at her through bleary eyes, blinking slowly and trying decide if she should mad about being manhandled or not.
“Where’s your monster of a clockwork?” Carmilla asked.
Laura frowned, “She is not a monster.”
Carmilla rubbed the bridge of her nose, “Where’s the dragon, Hollis? Usually you two are joined shoulder to foot.”
“Why?” Laura asked.
“Just tell me,” Carmilla snapped even as she fidgeted.
Laura narrowed her eyes but ultimately rolled back, reaching into the closet to her laundry hamper. She shoved aside the top layer of clothes to reveal the dragon dozing in the pile. With a soft coo, Laura picked Cookie up and settled her into her lap. The dragon snuffled into the fabric of her shirt, before stretching her wings slightly and lifting her head.
“Ta da,” Laura said.
Carmilla stared at the pair for moment, her hand rising to ruffle the hair at the back of her head. Bagheera gave a small yowl from the kitchen and Carmilla’s hand dropped to her back pocket, pulling out a small folded package.
Cookie’s head lifted immediately.
“I was out and I saw this,” Carmilla said flippantly, as she tossed the package to Laura, “Figured you could probably use it.”
Cookie was already trying to stuff her head into the package as Laura opened it. She held the dragon back as she peered inside. She let out a small gasp as Cookie whined, the dragon’s tail pumping happily.
The package was full of golden dust.
“Where did you find this?” Laura looked up, eyes wide, “Carmilla, this is amazing. Thank you. She already loves it. How much do I owe you?”
Carmilla waved her off, her eyes looking anywhere but Laura, “Don’t worry about it, cupcake. Just trying to get on the dragon’s good side so she doesn’t spear me with glass shards in my sleep.”
Laura smiled, watching as Carmilla turned and scurried off to the kitchen, “well at least if she does, they’ll be stylish gold flames instead of boring clear glass.”
“Small comforts,” Carmilla said, returning with a mug in her hands. laura’s TARDIS mug.”Here,” she shoved it at Laura. Only reflex had Laura grabbed for it as her brain was trying to catch up.
“I made too much,” Carmilla said before grabbing her bag and racing out of the room, Bagheera on her heels.
She didn’t come back until late that night. Laura was sitting in bed, her blanket wrapped around her as she forced her eyes to stay open. Cookie dozed on the mattress beside, fully exhausted from a fun day of shooting golden fire at things. Laura smiled at the memory and clench her fist a little tighter, holding onto the valuable contents.
Carmilla did a double take when she saw that Laura was still awake, “I thought I told you to go to bed cupcake.”
“S’for you,” Laura slurred her words and forced her eyes open. She slid her hand from the blanket and extended her palm to Carmilla. Five tiny golden flames of glass gleamed in the faint light of the room.
Carmilla looked down, hesitating.
“Go ahead,” Laura urged.
Slowly, Carmilla reached out, picking up the smallest piece of golden glass and rolling it slowly in her palm. Then she gave Laura a small smile.
Laura grinned back, finally falling back to land on the pillow. She was asleep in moments.
Laura continued her research, squinting at the screen as something nibbled at the back of her mind. She went through picture after picture of the party. Finally it clicked.
Carmilla. Carmilla was at every single one of the parties.
Laura rounded up the troops, engaging Danny, Perry and Laf to act as her eyes and ears. After a week of surveillance, she had her answer. Blood in the milk container. Freaky strong strength. Pyrokinesis. Welcome to Silas, where your roommate is a bloodthirsty vampire who kidnaps girls.
Clearly Laura was far better at being bait than she’d expected. Carmilla had agreed to her party invitation with barely a flinch. Bagheera had even gone so far as to wind around her ankles, the cool of her metal ghosting against Laura’s leg. Now all that was left to do was wait.
Cookie was roosting up on the highest shelving in the room. Her dragon was ignoring her, snubbing Laura’s calls. Laura was still trying to figure out exactly why.
Then Carmilla entered and she had bigger worries.
Day 1 of ‘Starve the Vampire Until She Talks’ plan was easy enough. Laura largely ignored her captives. She figured that Carmilla, tied to a chair, certainly wasn’t going to break after only one day and didn’t even bother questioning the vampire. She was vaguely uncomfortable about leaving Bagheera tied up on the bed but she’s wasn’t sure what else she could do.
Cookie was still ignoring her, putting up a silent protest.
Day 3 involved spending the entire day trying to convince Carmilla that she really should just say something. Anything. Words. Carmilla ignored her.
Every occupant of the room was ignoring her.
Day 5 was when she obtained blood. Laf brought it over as leverage. Laura poured it in a mug and left it on her desk with the hope that the wafting smell would convince her roommate to give in. No such luck.
Day 7 she noticed something that she hadn’t before. Tied around Bagheera’s neck was a thin black ribbon and hanging off the center was a small, golden flame.
Laura fought off the impulse to hide in the corner with Cookie.
Day 9 Carmilla burst into convulsions and Laura couldn’t do it anymore. Letting the vampire drink her fill. Ignoring the relaxed sigh of heart when the vampire finally gained back a little of her pallor.
Finally Carmilla was speaking, telling her tale. Bagheera was still tied up on the bed but Cookie flew down from her high perch to cling to the edge of the chair onto which they’d tied Carmilla. Laura hung onto Carmilla’s every word, absorbing them into her skin. Internalizing them.
But it wasn’t about the words, as interesting as they were.
It was about the way Carmilla said them. The emotion with which she spoke.
At first she made everything sound like a dream. THe thoughts every child has wehn they think about eternity. The ability to take on the world, moving beyond the things that entrapped you to search out endless possibilities. Tracking the history of humanity as it bounded forward. Granted the privilege of seeing something that no-one else could. A perspective that was young and long and full of weight.
But it was never that easy.
Laura’s heart twitched when Carmilla’s fairytale started to twist into the original version of the term. Speaking of jumping from girl to girl. Making friends only to lure them to their deaths. Laura wondered how anyone could do that. Not only for the principle of the matter but how anyone could possibly watch all of their friends be betrayed.
What that would do to someone. Even someone who claimed to hardly care, to only be pretending. Laura couldn’t believe it possible.
It was only confirmed when Carmilla spoke of Elle. Bagheera twitched at the mere mention of her name. Laura’s hand twitched, her first impulse to reach out. She restrained. Unsure if the gesture would be appreciated.
Instead, Cookie glided softly off the chair. Landing on the bed and curling up beside Bagheera. The cat stilled, twitches calming. The ghost of touch on Laura’s skin.
Carmilla’s tone softened even as her words began to race, looking to get through the painful memories as quickly as possible. And despite her her dislike of the vampire, Laura’s heart tore a little. There was nothing insider her telling her to doubt the truth of Carmilla’s words. carmilla had loved this girl. Loved this girl and been betrayed. Terribly. Horribly. In every way.
By the girl she loved.
By the mother who stood by her side.
The coffin was the worst. Laura’s head swam with images of darkness and hopelessness and just nothing. An eternity of nothing. knowing that was your fate, Seeing no chance of escape. She picture Bagheera, lying on the ground. Six feet separating her from Carmilla. Close but never close enough. Chained to a tombstone that represented a death eternal. Slowly turning black as she sat outside, alone, in the rain and storms and blood.
Finally Laura reached out, her hand briefly connecting with Carmilla’s knee. Trying to take that small moment to push something into Carmilla. She didn’t know what but there was something. It buzzed under her skin, sparking with emotions that she wasn’t near ready to consider. It felt like grief but not sadness. Empathy but not sympathy. Joy but not happiness. Everything and nothing.
She let it go.
And Carmilla finished her story. Words growing quieter and softer and a little more vulnerable as she spoke. And then there was silence.
Carmilla sitting in her chair, chin to chest. Laura sitting on the floor, head resting on her knees. Bagheera and Cookie in a pile of gold and black and silver on the bed.
There were questions. So many questions. A part of her brain was buzzing with ideas. How to use this information. Begging her to jump up and make a plan. To leave the vampire to her own devices.
But she didn’t.
Laura sat. Lingering in the silence, turning slightly to stare up at Carmilla’s face.
“When did Bagheera hurt her leg,” Laura said softly.
Carmilla still hadn’t looked up, “She tried to stop them.” Carmilla’s words were soft, bubbling with tears, “when they tried to take Elle away. Even as I was being forced…” Carmilla looked up, eyes locking with Laura’s, empty, “she tried to stop them.”
Laura nodded, never taking her eyes off Carmilla’s. Her breaths were slow and long and she noticed the vampire emulating the movement, chest rising and falling with someone she didn’t need.
But it was comforting. So ridiculously human.
“Go ahead, cupcake,” Carmilla said at last.
Laura quirked her head to the side. A silent question. An acknowledgement of the return to the nicknames.
“Bagheera, you can, “Carmilla stumbled over the words, “you can take a look.”
Laura’s gasp escaped before she could stop it.
Carmilla closed her eyes, something in her face hinting at a smile, “Quick, before I change my mind.”
Laura rose, rubbing her sweaty hands on her pants and sat down on the bed next to Bagheera. She hesitated, before placing a hand on the cat’s head, slowly rubbing small circles between her ears. From the corner of her eye she saw Carmilla tense, shoulder coming up as much as the ropes would allow.
She’d touched clockwork before, it was the only way to fix them. It was always an intense experience. She was never just touching clockwork, she was touching someone’s soul. Looking inside their inner workings. They gave her access to something few even got to touch, never mind poke around in. If she did it right, they went away feeling better.
She got smiles on campus wherever she went. Instant friends.
Bagheera was different. She rubbed her hand down the cat’s back to calm her and it felt almost intimate. The delicacy of her gears finally making sense with centuries to build themselves up. Fragile to the touch but with so many of them it hardly mattered if one broke.
But hardly mattered didn’t mean it didn’t matter.
She ran her hand up and down Bagheera’s back, eyeing the layer of black that covered the silver metal. It was slowly eating away at the clockwork and while the thought of what it could do with time made her gut flip. She was relatively confident that an extremely good couple of scrubbings could start the healing process.
It would be slow but possible. Not even that uncomfortable. She just had to find the right solvent to get the black off.
Laura dragged her hand downward to Bagheera’s leg, slipping on her magnifying glasses as she leaned closer, a small pick in her hand to get a closer look. The finest one she had, thin and hardly used. She rarely went this deep.
The first thing she saw was what she had suspected, a multitude of tiny cracks in the gears, only holding together because there were so many of them to balance the next one out. She gave a small smile as she looked at them, they were also fixable. It would be uncomfortable and a lot of hard work but all of these gears and pistons could be replaced.
The Laura frowned, rubbing small circles with her thumb against the cat. Cookie’s head popped up, scrambling back up Laura’s arm to rest on her head. The dragon’s favourite place when she was working on tough problem. It was easier to think somehow.
Not to mention the days they’d once spent in that position, focused on nothing but their work.
This wasn’t then. Laura pushed her thoughts onward. The cracked gears weren’t enough to cause the limb in Bagheera’s leg. She looked over at Carmilla, the vampire was still tense, tucked in on herself, in a tight a ball as she could get.But she was staring at Laura.
“May I?” Laura asked, gesturing to the cat.
Carmilla nod was sharp. Her head whipping back around to face the wall.
So Laura went deeper, squirming and shifting gears. For a moment she thought she’d found the problem when she came across a severely rusted piston but that wasn’t it either. Finally she found it.
Laura’s chest tightened as she stilled, hands shaking slightly as she looked down at what she was seeing.
The sparker. The tiny metal part that sent waves of power flooding through the clockwork, running everything besides the basic life functions, was sputtering at half health. Every clockwork had a gift. Perry’s monkey could climb seemingly impossible walls. Laf’s ferret was fire resistant. Danny’s hawk could fly. Kirsch’s puppy had a bite that didn’t let go unless the dog wanted to.
Cookie could fly. Cookie could breath fire.
All courtesy of a sparker. Or two.
But Bagheera’s wasn’t working properly. Without a functioning sparker clockwork would just lie there, alive but barely moving. Laura had seen it once. Just once. She’d seen the sparker go out while the animal was forced to live on.
Half a sparker would keep Bagheera going and moving. But no special gifts. And apparently not enough power to keep all the legs going.
A roar rose in her ears and she could vaguely hear Cookie hissing beside her as she realized what had really happened. The vampires hadn’t hurt Bagheera’s leg as punishment. They’d attacked the sparker.
You couldn’t buy a new sparker. Laura couldn’t fix this.
She had to keep Carmilla tied up until they could figure out what to do with her. That didn’t mean Laura had to like it. She taped a mug of blood to Carmilla’s chest giving the girl all the blood she needed. Chatting away at her roommate to keep her from being lonely. Playing movies while she slept to keep the vampire from getting bored.
One night she woke to a particularly ferocious crack of lightning. Carmilla was cowering in her chair, Bagheera shivering on the bed. Silently, Laura got up and crawled behind the cat in Carmilla’s bed, wrapping herself around the cat. Cookie slunk into Carmilla’s lap and fell asleep again. Laura stayed awake just long enough to see Carmilla slowly begin to relax, shoulders evening out.
Two nights later she woke to one of Kirsch’s friends setting Carmilla free. Another vampire. He’d advanced on her, a bronze hyena at his side. Carmilla had only watched as Cookie nailed him in the chest with some glass while Laura bolted to the bathroom. But when the other vampire finally got his hands on Laura, Carmilla had decked him. It had only seemed natural to hide behind carmilla rather than running for the door.
Somehow they’d become friends. Carmilla actively helping her track down the missing girls. Laura had only noticed when Carmilla had made a sarcastic comment and Laura found herself chuckling. Bagheera curled up on her pillow.
They’d waltzed. Or something similar to waltzing. Laura was a little hazy on the details. What she did remember was the sparks in her soul when Carmilla held her close and smiled. The fizzled and popped for days, only fueled by every conversation, pointed look, and stolen kiss.
Until Carmilla betrayed her. Sacrificing Kirsch’s life for Laura’s in a way that was probably supposed to come off as heroic. Laura hadn’t screamed. She had simply spoken, a heavy and deep anger that felt so much worse than the white hot ease of hate.
She’d sent Carmilla away. Breaking apart from someone she’d never even had.
Sending Carmilla back out into the night.
And Cookie had gone with her. Ripping away a piece of Laura’s soul and forcing her to drop to the floor as a deep sense of loss poured through her. So all consuming that she felt numb. Until she’d felt the cool touch of metal on the skin of her neck, a comfortable weight settling on her lap.
Bagheera had settled herself into Laura’s lap, sniffling at her chin with her nose and rumbling slightly as she made herself comfortable.
And Laura cried.
Laura couldn’t remember much of anything. She remembered her moment of epiphany, racing out of the dorm room to go after the girls. Bagheera trotting behind her. Realizing where they were being held. She remembered entering the Lustig. She’d crept down the stairs, a bright light shining under a door. She’d flung back the door and then nothing.
She remembered nothing.
As much as she tried to think up anything from those moments, Laura came up blank, just a piercing bright light that seemed permanently seared across her retinas.
The only thing she could remember was a pulling her leg, a deep scratching and clawing up her body. Small moments of pain ringing out against the light. A light weight settling on her shoulders. A yowling her ears.
She heard it but couldn’t listen.
Then the weight grew, suddenly getting so heavy in size that Laura tumbled backwards, pulled down by the mass on her shoulders. She thumped to the ground and something, something huge and strong grasped her shirt and pulled her backwards.
And the images began again. A cat standing over her. But not a cat, bigger than a cat. A panther. It’s head nearly the size of her own. eyes like saucers as it covered her body with the clockwork metal. The back leg still hanging limp, so much smaller than all the others.
Laura reached up to touch her face and the big cat jolted, leaving Laura only with the golden fire collar in her hands. Bagheera fled, a hobbling tripod run over the field. Laura pushed herself up and ran after her. Terrified for the cat. Bagheera’s gift of the sparker was to increase in size, that much was clear, but with only half a sparker still flickering. Laura didn’t know how long the cat could hold out.
Then she saw her. Carmilla, sword in hand. Their eyes met and Laura only got a crooked smile before she was gone, diving into the pit.
Cat chasing after her. Laura chasing after them both.
A small blur of golden metal hit her halfway, knocking her off her feet.
Carmilla was dead. Laura still couldn’t believe it. The idea refused to process in her mind, spinning round and round and never finding a resting place. She just sat in bed and stared at the empty side of the room. Cookie lay draped across her shoulders, the dragon’s head hanging low, her tail coiled around Laura’s neck.
The black ribbon with a small golden flame tied in a bow around Cook’s torso.
They both barely moved.
Sure, Laura went to class. Ate food. Made the motions. But motions aren’t movement. They were a holding pattern. A single way that she could cling to the past. Every time she went to class she could imagine that Carmilla would be there when she got back, slinging clothes around the room and quipping sarcastically.
She never was.
But it was nice to imagine.
Laura even went out of her way to refill the milk container. Sneaking into the health center and stealing all the blood she could get her hands on. Just in case. Her friends hardly commented. Perry checked in on her without even commenting on all the blood sitting in the fridge. Laf walked her through her homework, sitting with her until Laura finally forced herself to finish it. Even Danny and Kirsch stopped by, bearing news of the outside world.
That was it. That was all that cared. And they didn’t even really care about Carilla, they only cared because Laura did.
The other knocks at the door were people with injured clockwork, begging for her help. She always did, taking each creature and fixing it as best she could. But it was never enough. It didn’t feel the way it used it. An obligation rather than a pleasure.
Still going through the motions.
Laura didn’t look up when the door swung open. She’d craned her neck too many times to only see the wrong person. “Put them on the table,” she said stiffly, hoping this would be a quick fix.
The only sound was a heavy thump, metal crashing into the floor.
Laura’s looked over, vaguely concerned. Then her eyes widened and she jumped to her feet, throwing the blanket and Cookie wildly off her shoulders. She dropped to her knees, hand running frantically over the giant clockwork creature. Bagheera’s head slowly turned to look at her, the panther’s long tail wrapping around Laura’s waist.
Cookie recovered from her spill, claws skittering as she raced across the floor to perch on Bagheera’s haunch. The dragon carefully avoided the broken gears, flapping her wings in aggravation.
There were so many broken. Laura’s eyes scanned the damage, many cracks, some falling out. She jumped back up, moving quickly for the first time in a week and grabbed her toolbox. She threw on her glasses and grabbed the finest tool. Cookie had shimmied up to curl beneath Bagheera’s chin, letting the panther rest her head on the dragon’s body.
Laura moved carefully but it was impossible to find what she needed without breaking a few gears. She apologized with her other hand, constantly running up and down the cat’s flank. When she finally saw the sparker, she nearly cried. It was small, too small.
She’d only seem something that small once before and it hadn’t ended well.
Carmilla was gone.
Bagheera was all that was left of her and she too would start to fade until one day, she simply no longer existed. She’d seen it. It cracked her wings the first time. Laura didn’t know if she could handle a second. Laura stared down at the cat, her hands still caressing the clockwork.
The cat didn’t have the sparks left to get smaller but the big cat was draining what little life she had left.
Laura locked eyes with Cookie.
Then Bagheera moved slightly, rubbing against Cookie with her nose. Laura’s skin prickled and her heart fluttered, like it suddenly had blanket wrapped around it.
She grabbed her cell phone and called Laf. her words quick and brief, “I’m making a list of parts. I need you to pick them up. All of them. Even if that idiot at the store tell you they don’t have them. I know they do. Bring Perry. She’ll scare them into handing them over.” then she hung up.
The next call was to Danny and Kirsch. They literally ran over, stopping in the doorway to stare at Laura and the big cat. Cookie hissed at them when they tried to enter the room.
“Put her on Carmilla’s bed,” Laura said. They did and Laura tried not to see the sympathy in their eyes. She ignored their words telling her to just let Bagheera go.
She’d heard it all before.
Perry delivered. The two gingers were laden with bags filled with tiny silver clinking parts.
Laura thanked them, ushered them out, and locked the door.
She got to work. She went to her shelf and pulled down her favourite solvent, the one she only used on Cookie. She drenched the cat in it, offering small caresses and mindless comforting words as she poured the liquid into every crevice of the clockwork, filling Bagheera. Then she took our her cloth and began the slow process of rubbing every tiny delicate gear clean.
She got it everywhere. The black covered her hands and smudged her face. She let it stay, not bothering to waste time showering. It covered Cookie, rubbing off Bagheera’s chin to stick to the dragon. Cookie just snuggled closer.
It took a solid 47 hours but when she through the cloth down for the last time Bagheera shone like Laura had never seen. Every click of her clockwork catching the light and glinting like a precious gem. Laura’s breath caught. now it was so easy to see the delicacy of the cogs. The details in the design, how every piece fit together so beautifully to create the likes of which Laura had never seen. The gears weren’t plain either. They were all etched, small symbols and designs dancing across the metal with every spin of the gears. It was broken but still beautiful.
Laura gave herself a few hours of sleep, choosing to stay on Carmilla’s bed and wrap herself around Bagheera as she slept, Cookie curled between them.
When she woke she tackled the gears. This time Cookie returned to, perching on her head as Laura worked, her tongue sticking out as she carefully removed and replaced the broken gears. Each removal made Bagheera tense up, a small shock of pain crawling through her system.
Laura’s hands were busy so she sang. Low and soft and anything that came to her mind.
She couldn’t fix them all, that would have been impossible. So she focused on the worst of it. Replacing the broken gears but leaving the cracked. Digging deep into the mechanism to replace the rusted piston. She didn’t eat anything but a pack of cookies, giving Cookie the last of Carmilla’s gold dust. The door stayed locked even when her friends pounded on it.
She focused. Nothing existed but the next gear and the claws scratching at her head and the great beast under her fingers. Every twitch of the cat’s tail a reminder that she was still alive, still holding on.
Laura knew better than to hope.
But she could do this. This one last thing.
It took three days but finally there was a pile of broken parts scattered on the floor and a shiny cat in front of her. Bagheera hardly moved once they reached day three, growing more and more lethargic as she slowly ran out of sparks without Carmilla to keep them coming.
So Laura, black still smudged across her face, curled up beside the cat and just sat, stroking the cat. It took a few hours but eventually she was rewarded with a heavy rumbling purr.
And Laura finally let herself cry, taking Bagheera’s collar from Cookie and wrapping it back around the panther’s neck. The golden flame glinted beautifully alongside the silver.
It took two days before Bagheera couldn’t even manage a purr, the slow, slow tick of her gears the only indication that she was still alive at all. The spark nearly gone. Laura had hardly moved, still on the bed beside her, petting and singing softly.
Then Cookie raised her head, suddenly alert. She paused and then bounded up, shooting across the room.
Someone rammed into the door.
“Laura!” Danny’s voice,”Laura!.”
Laura ignored her, stroking faster.
“Laura we found her!” Perry’s voice now, “We found Carmilla in the pit.”
Cookie threw herself against the door as Laura carefully stepped over Bagheera and then scrambled to the door. She threw it open. Frozen momentarily at the sight of a lifeless Carmilla draped in Danny’s arms.
The redhead rushed past her, “So she seems dead, but she’s a vampire right?”
Danny carefully lowered her to Laura’s bed.
“Blood, she needs blood!” Laura bolted to the fridge, grabbing the milk carton and rushing back to shove it in Carmilla’s mouth. She poured until the blood filled Carmilla’s mouth, pouring out the sides of her mouth.
But Carmilla didn’t move. No spark of life left.
Laura’s heart, temporarily revived, felt like it broke all over again. Cookie landed on her shoulder. The girl and the dragon with nearly empty shells on either side.
“Laura, I’m so sorry,” Perry said.
Laura ignored her, feeling a familiar burning in her chest. She held up her hands just in time to catch Cookie’s flames. The glass in her hand was a mixture of gold and black.
Cookie headbutted her in the side of the face.
Laura’s eyes narrowed, “Out,” she said, grabbing her friend and propelling them to the door.The dragon hissing on her shoulder kept them from putting up too much of a fight.
With the door locked again, Laura held out her arm and Cookie hopped down to it.
“You’re sure?” Laura asked, “This probably won’t even work.”
Cookie flapped her wings, head bobbing.
Laura looked over at Carmilla, blood still pooling in her mouth, and then at Bagheera, her gears still slowly clicking.
It was that easy for Laura to jump into action. She grabbed her toolbox, maneuvering a variety of clamps deep into Bagheera’s mechanism. Exposing the broken, fading sparker.
Then she turned to Cookie, pliers in hand.
Laura’s world burned. Like a thousand stars were exploding in her head and consuming her soul. Descending into the chaos of a black star and sucking everything she was into it. Her breaths grew fast as her head screamed and her heart followed suit. Each with a different message. Everything burning like she’d been drenched in fire and ice at the same time.
Laura yanked back, stumbling as a roar filled her brain and exploded across her eyes. Cookie was screaming, she could hear the screaming. But there was nothing she could do. Her limbs felt heavy and she fought with everything she had to stay standing. Moving quickly. Her arms were consumed with the jab of a thousand needles, rendering everything into nothing more than the sheer whiteness of pain. She fell forward, forcing her eyes open and stilling trembling hand just long enough for the crucial juncture.
As she withdrew the pain only increased. Like she was draining away and her strength was being consumed. She fought for the last step. Groping blinding for Cookie and tightly clasping at the contents of her fist, terrified that her shaking hands would drop it. Earthquakes shook and mountains collapsed in her head, drowning her in a cascade of rock.
But she made it. She made it. Her fingers knowing what to do, so familiar with the depths of this particular soul. Everything clicked into place.
The white faded to black and Laura nosedived into the floor.
She was vaguely aware of being lifted, gently, oh so, gently, and placed on something soft. Someone was calling her name, like a beacon in the dark.
“Laura, Laura, Laura,” the voice was worried, “Laura. Please. Please be okay. What did you do? I don’t know how to fix it. Laura please.”
Carmilla. The voice sounded like Carmilla. Impossible. More false hopes.
Still she dragged her eyes open. Blinking the haze away. trying to catch her breath. Her whole body ached, every muscle burning with a lingering fire as though she’d been dragged across hot coals.
But she did it, she opened them.
And she lost her breath all over again. Carmilla leaned down over her. That same pale skin and dark hair and beautiful big eyes. Blood stains still on her mouth. Carmilla seemed to freeze as Laura looked at her.
Laura’s hand drifted up, uncertain. Carmilla didn’t pull away. Laura’s hand hit her cheek. Solid and soft and alive.
“Hey,” Laura croaked, throat raw, fingers still on Carmilla’s cheek.
Carmilla’s face softened, all of the worry drifting away, “Hey.” Her hand drifted up, covering Laura’s and keeping it locked against her face.
Laura lunged forward, the pain in her limbs nothing compared to the fireworks in her heart. She grabbed Carmilla and hugged her tight. Standing to pull every bit of the vampire against her. something fluttered near her ear as Cookie landed on her shoulder.
Something large and heavy rubbed against her leg.
Laura looked down, catching sight of the panther-sized Bagheera rubbing close, silver skin still shining.
Carmilla followed her gaze, “Yeah,” she drily, “waking up was a bit of a shock. You on the floor. Cookie slumped on my bed and my incredibly shiny cat trying to help both of you at once.”
Laura took a step back, breaking the embrace, as a thought struck her, “I’m so sorry,” Laura rushed out the words, “You told me so many times not to touch her or fix her and I totally did. I thought you were dead and she was dying and i thought that maybe I could help make her feel better before she went. And maybe you’re mad and I’m so sorry that I did what you told me not to but just after last, I had to try and..”
Carmilla took a step closer, getting right in Laura’s space and wiping a smudge of black from her cheek. Laura didn’t move.
“Because last time” Laura continued, “I didn’t really know what I was doing and my mom died but her griffen was still around and I wanted so bad to save her but I didn’t know how and I spent hours trying to fix her up so that she could be okay in the last moments and I didn’t make it in time because I didn’t know anything about clockwork and I figured that now I do know and I thought it might help.”
Carmilla stopped her words by placing a single finger on Laura’s lips. She pointed down. Laura looked down in time to catch Bagheera shrinking down to kitten size. The cat gave her a tiny mew and Laura’s heart melted.
“It worked!” she squealed.
“How?” Carmilla’s face was serious. Inches from Laura’s. “In not mad,” Carmilla said, “How could I be mad. I was trapped in that pit, fading away, trapped in my own head as the blade pulled me down and all I could feel was your hand on my back.Your voice in my head.” Laura blushed and Carmilla continued, “but I need to know what you did, cupcake. I was dead, even vampires don’t come back from that. I knew the spark was gone. I couldn’t have swallowed the blood no matter how much I wanted to. And then suddenly, I was full again, like I was only running at half capacity and then opened up to full.”
Carmilla watched Laura closely and said, “Everyone knows you can’t fix a sparker cupcake.”
“I didn’t fix it exactly,” Laura said, her face still so close to Carmilla’s, noses nearly touching, “I just replaced it.”
“They don’t make spare sparkers,” Carmilla said, frowning, “they can’t.”
Laura looked up at Carmilla, reached up one of her hands to stroke Cookie, and took a deep breath, “I swapped them.” Laura stared at Carmilla’s chin rather than her eyes, unsure of how she would react, “You’re right. You can’t buy more but I saw you lying there and you weren’t moving and Bagheera had barely any spark left because she couldn’t generate anything big enough to change back to small cat size because the busted sparker wasn’t letting her work properly.”
“So,” Laura said, “Cookie has two. One for her wings and one for her fire so I took out the one for her fire and put it into Bagheera and then put Bagheera’s broken one back in Cookie.” Carmilla inhaled sharply, her hands coming up to grip Laura’s arms, “because that was the only thing I could think of. So Cookie might be able to do fire anymore and yeah it hurt a lot and i kind of though I was going to die but you actually died and I realized that I’d always regret it if I didn’t even try because I just wanted you to be alive again because. well. you know.”
Laura risked looking up. It was worth it. Carmilla's face was stoic for moment, processing. Then it slowly melted. The vampire’s eyes filling with a hundred tiny sparks bouncing off the inside of her. A smile filling her face.
And she leaned in, kissing Laura with the softest lips and deepest touch. When carmilla pulled away, Laura jumped after her. Returning the favour.
Cookie fluttered off Laura’s shoulder to land on beside Bagheera. A dragon with a body of gold and a flash of silver. A kitten of silver with a golden core.