War has fallen upon their doorstep, inevitably so.
It’s dusk and a thin, blazing, orange band stretches along the horizon as far as the eye can see. It is the only indication left of the day’s light, the last sliver of hope amongst the advancing darkness. The trees of the adjacent forest stand like skeletal silhouettes against the sky, a cocoon of wooden bones flanking the campus at all sides. Every now and then they sway in the direction of the wind as it whistles through their bare branches, rickety and ancient in a haunting dance.
It would be a beautiful site, peaceful even, if the earth below wasn’t pocked with raging fires and stained with the blood of humans and vampires alike. It would be, but the chaos of combat is too loud, terrifying enough to make even the stars hide behind the plumes of smoke that rise like towers from the torched rubble.
Laura misses those stars as she stands at the edge of the makeshift battlefield, temporarily shielded behind the large trunk of an old Pine as she tends to the fresh gash that bleeds freely from just above her left elbow. They remind her of easier times, of secret moments shared in the early hours of morning, of whispers spoken into warm skin. They remind her of promises passed between lips and the safety of pressed hands and tangled limbs. They act as a guide now, a symbol that keeps her set on her mission, and as a strong gust of wind slices temporarily through the dark clouds, her eyes catch site of a single orb, glowing bright and strong. She drinks in the image, her sign from the universe, and resets her nerves to steel.
Once the wound is tied off with the fabric she hastily cut from the hem of her tank top, Laura pulls the knot tighter for good measure and flexes the fingers of her hand. Head resting back against the tree, she draws a deep, greedy breath of the crisp air into her lungs before turning on her heel and mingling into the unhinged violence before her.
The frantic hum of warfare fills her head once more the deeper she sinks, sounds of clashing metal, fighting, and hollow death circling and dizzying.
She doesn’t let it get to her. Not now, not when so much is at risk.
A year a go it would have. She knows she would have run. She would have hid behind someone much stronger, behind morals and what is right and just. Because in the end she is just a girl, a silly human who wanted to make a difference, who wanted to change things for the better, who wanted to save.
Laura is not that girl anymore. She still wants to change things and she still wants to save, but she’s done running. The world has shown its true face to her, has pulled away the blindfold of naivety from her innocent eyes. The fairytale is gone, stripped to shreds like a fleeting dream and everything is smattered in various shades of ashen grey. What she knows no longer exists, there is no going back, and she has learned to live with that.
Time, she has learned, changes everything.
It has been kind and it has been cruel. It is unforgiving and temporary and as much as she wishes she could turn back its hands before everything broke apart in the most uneven of ways, she can’t. Magic doesn’t exist here and she understands that no one is coming to save her. Not this time.
With that knowledge in the forefront of her mind, Laura does what she never thought she was strong enough to do.
She becomes her own hero.
Every muscle in her small body is screaming in protest, her blood thrumming with adrenaline as she extracts a crimson-stained sword from an unrecognizable pile of flesh that used to be a vampire. It would have bothered her, the gore, but there are so many identical heaps littering the entire campus that she’s grown numb to it.
Adjusting her hand around the handle grip, Laura lets the tip of the blade drag along the earth, eyes glued to her final destination: the mansion. It stands ahead of her, eerily so as the flames of the fires cast the brick in a morbid light. Carmilla waits for her there. She can feel it. A shiver trickles down the length of her spine and she’s just about to take off running, the invisible tether between them yanking her closer, when she sees something in her periphery advancing on her with inhuman speed.
Panic washes over her as the blur charges, kicking up dust as it moves and she can just about make out a razor-toothed grin seconds before she’s grabbing the sword tighter with both hands and yielding it into the rapidly decreasing space between them.
Laura and her friends have been fighting for hours and she’s gotten used to handling weapons. She’s had no choice. She knows where to stick, where to injure and where to kill.
She misses the first time, slicing the vampire’s collarbone instead, flaying skin away from muscle. On her second try she is more successful, as the creature is momentarily stunned by the fact that something so small had any concept of aim, and she cleanly severs its head from the rest of its body. The being crumbles in front of her, a lifeless mess of borrowed blood and necrotic organs.
She encounters a handful more as she weaves her way through the throng of bodies and by the time she reaches the steps of the mansion she is covered in dirt and blood. Baby hairs are falling from her loosened ponytail and her arm is screaming in pain. Another cut has been carved on the outside of her thigh and the toes of her boots (borrowed from what Carmilla left behind) are soaked red. She can already feel bruises blossoming to life under her shirt and she’s pretty sure if Kirsch and Laf hadn’t shown up to cover her as she’d made a dash for the front door, she would have already been dead.
She sends a grateful nod of thanks to both of them as they’re tackling a vampire and driving a stake deeper into their enemy, and then she’s opening the door to duck inside, knowing all too well that her true battle is only just about to begin.
The apartment is dark, seemingly deserted, and cold when she enters. Everything is hanging in eerie silence, stunned and waiting in the balance for something to shift. The feeling of death lies suspended in the heavy, dank air like a guillotine waiting to be cut free. The façade of emptiness is prominent, but Laura knows better. She knows who waits in the shadows. She knows she is there.
The moon is full tonight, its silver glow flooding in through the opened doorway, through the sheer fabric that flimsily hangs before the windows, fluttering like translucent ghosts. It takes Laura a moment to allow her eyes to adjust to the shift in light, or rather, the lack there of. She blinks a few times and then wide-eyed, she observes her untouched surroundings, scanning everything for some sign of disturbance, any clue that will lead her closer. Closer to salvation or closer to her demise, she’s really not sure, but she doesn’t care. Her life has been spared on many accounts and now it’s her time to be the savior, to put her self on the line for the person she loves, even if it kills her in the end.
That’s when she sees it: the uneven trail of deep red blood smeared along the right side of the hallway, dragged across the patterned wallpaper by unhurried fingertips. Laura zeros in on it and she’s sure that somewhere in the sticky blackness, her name is written like a dare. It beckons her, enticing like a trail of cookie crumbs.
Come find me, it says, I’m waiting.
Her gaze follows along the path until she can no longer see past the darkness at the end of the hall that swallows it whole, hiding its destination from Laura’s curiosity. Despite every fiber of her being sparking like a live wire in alarm, she takes a careful, steady step forward. It’s clear this was meant for her, and only her. Another step follows the first and her hand comes up to trace the lines on the wall, mirroring the same action as their creator. The blood is still fresh, wet, and it collects on her fingertips as she pushes forward. Her bated breaths materialize in front of her as white puffs of frozen air and her skin rises with goose bumps of anticipation and dread the more she advances. That is when she realizes there is no going back; the screams of the dying are far behind her, faint in the confines of her mind. This is her yellow brick road that will lead her straight to hell.
All she can hope is that her plan works.
All she can hope is that this time, love is enough.
Laura follows the trail until it ends abruptly at a doorway. The door itself is slightly ajar and her throat cinches, trapping her nervous breaths when she realizes exactly where she’s been lead.
Of course it had to be the solarium, one of the few places at this godforsaken university that had yet to be touched, tainted by all of this. The only place she kept close to her heart, the last that was filled with light and goodness.
She allows herself the briefest moment to swallow thickly and collect herself before she gently pushes the door open the rest of the way to cross the threshold.
Carmilla is standing at the far end of the room, back turned as she surveys the scene unfolding down below and Laura’s fingers twitch of their own accord, straining to reach out and touch her.
Come back to me, she wants to scream, I can’t do this without you.
But no sound leaves her lips.
Instead, Carmilla is the first to break the deafening silence.
“Took you long enough.” She sounds the same as she always does, voice as smooth as silk calling out to her, but there’s a hollowness that clings to it, void of emotion.
Laura doesn’t know what to make of it, but the fear that she’s already too late settles heavy in the center of her chest. After all, this is the first time she’s seen her since she stormed out after what happened to Mattie. Her stomach twists sickly even thinking about it and tears immediately well in her eyes despite any effort to stop them.
“Carm, I-“ She starts, but is quickly cut off. She’s not entirely sure what she was going to say anyways.
“There will be nothing left but ashes…” Carmilla recites as if it is a philosophical line from one of those old books she’s always reading, airy and nostalgic.
Laura watches as the vampire traces bloody finger tips along the windowpane, paints lines of red against the glass, seemingly lost in thought somewhere far away.
“Ashes to ashes...dust to dust…nothing will be left.”
“Just like Mattie wanted.”
Carmilla’s voice is so detached, so far away and broken that it startles Laura enough that her legs start carrying her across the room before her brain can catch up with the rest of her.
She’s close enough to touch her when she finds her own voice again.
“Carm…” It’s a whisper, but the girl knows she’s been heard from the way she watches the shoulders in front of her tense and go rigid. A deep rumble begins to simmer in Carmilla’s chest, bubbling up the column of her throat. Her fingertips press harder into the glass and Laura gasps out a breath when it splinters out like a spider web under the pressure.
“Don’t.” It’s a warning, but Laura needs to fix this. One way or another, she has to try.
“Please, talk to me…please you have to know how sorry I am. How I-“
Laura’s desperate words die on the tip of her tongue the instant Carmilla whirls around and glares down at her, fangs bared from behind red lips.
But it’s not the fangs that have Laura’s heart sinking faster than a lead weight in the middle of the vast ocean. It’s her eyes. So dark they’re almost black, they stare into Laura’s lifeless. They are vacant, void of anything and everything that she knows to be Carmilla.
It frightens her more than anything, that nothingness. It means that she’s too late. That the one thing Carmilla clung to so tightly in all her 300 years is gone, and it is all Laura’s fault.
“Oh Carm, what did you do?” Laura breathes unevenly, searching those dead eyes for any sign of her vampire.
Her search is futile.
“What should have been done a long time ago, Creampuff.” She snarls, like the nickname leaves a bad taste in her mouth.
Then her head tilts sardonically as she brings her hand up and brushes a few stray pieces of hair away from Laura’s cheek. “Humanity really is quite bothersome, you know.”
“That’s not true, this isn’t you!” Laura tries, gently grabbing a hold of Carmilla’s wrist and placing the flat of her palm against her own warm cheek.
“Oh, but it is…” The vampire drawls, almost bored while she slides her hand down along Laura’s supple cheek, to the side of her neck where she traces the wild hammering of her pulse with the pad of her thumb.
“So delicate. You should have listened. Why don’t you ever listen?” And then her hand is curling around the base of Laura’s throat and squeezing as she spins them and traps the girl against the wall next to the window she’d been standing at.
“I told you…I warned you.”
“Wait, Carm please don’t. I’m sorry, I’m so so-“
The vampire only grips tighter, effectively blocking off more of Laura’s airway, causing her to choke and gasp for much needed air.
Carmilla’s bottom lip is quivering, her eyes narrowing to slits and she’s just about to press harder when she feels something sharp catch just above her left breast. She glances down to find a stake aimed right for her heart. The brunette smirks at it, twisted and malicious. With a raise of her eyebrow, she finds Laura’s horror-filled eyes with her own and pushes herself harder against it so their noses are almost touching.
“You think I’m afraid to die? You think I care?” She asks, nails scraping against the nape of Laura’s neck. “There is nothing left for me here. I have nothing.”
With one hand gripped around Carmilla’s wrist, the other around the stake that she never wanted to use, Laura struggles to breathe as she speaks.
“You have me.”
“But that’s not enough, is it?” Carmilla challenges with hollow laughter.
Again, she presses her porcelain flesh against the stake, willing it deeper and stutters out a breath when it cuts through the barrier of skin.
“You’ll have to kill me first.”
“I- I can’t. It doesn’t have to be like this, let me fix it. Let me help.”
Laura pleads with her, knuckles white and hand shaking.
“Do it, Laura.”
“No.” She cries.
Her large eyes fix on the wound she’s causing, watches as fresh blood trickles and pools into the material of their shirts.
It’s all the warning she gets before she feels two sharp fangs puncture her neck, lacerating her flesh in a brutal bite. A scream rips from her throat and pain sears from its origin, flares to every point in her body. It’s white-hot fire, it burns and it’s not long before she can feel the pull of her life source leaving her body with each greedy drink Carmilla takes.
Laura’s grip has already gone slack on the stake, so much so that the defensive weapon tumbles to the ground with a soft ‘clink’ when Carmilla moves her arm to tangle in Laura’s hair and wrench her head to the side to provide better access.
It’s when she feels the lethargy and lightheadedness begin to seep in that she starts talking.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, please forgive me. I didn’t mean for this, for any of it…”
She sighs and her head lulls back against the wall, eyes closing momentarily.
When did she get so tired?
“I- I wish I could take it all back…Mattie….betraying you….never telling you that I-“
A whimper escapes her lips during a harsher thrash to her neck, and she squeezes her eyes tight before wrapping both of her arms around Carmilla’s neck, holding her as close as possible. She can feel her own heartbeat struggle between the two of them.
“Stop.” Carmilla commands around a mouthful of blood, but Laura doesn’t listen.
“That I love you. I should’ve told you sooner, when you told me. But I was scared.”
“Stop.” It still doesn’t work. Laura can’t even hear her now.
“I love you.”
Carmilla’s vision blurs as the admission of love reaches her conscience. It swirls like a gentle light in the desolate caverns of her mind. She swallows hard, mouth still clamped over the gaping wound she’s bitten in to Laura’s neck, and it confuses her as to why she’s slowing down, as if she’s moving through molasses.
“I love you.”
It hits her again, that feeling, warming her cold insides to the point where she actually feels like she’s alive again.
And then it happens.
Flashes of color and sunlight begin to spot behind her eyes, filling every broken piece of her and she cries out as something begins to repair, to reattach and lay claim to its rightful home in her body.
Her teeth strain against the comfort of Laura’s flesh and as she tastes the girl’s blood on her tongue, the images start.
At first, they are fragments of memory: a smile, fingers stroking an arm, kisses pressed to a blushing neck. Her senses become filled with the sound of laughter, of catching breaths, of secrets shared in the dark.
They reel over and over again like a broken record until they all unfold at once and the only thing she can see is Laura.
Laura, Laura, Laura
“I love you.”
“I’ve always loved you.”
That voice is nothing more than a whisper now and as the final piece to her humanity stitches back in to place, she pulls away from Laura with a strangled cry. Tears are streaming down her face, her eyes wild as she struggles to breathe air she doesn’t need. Only it feels like she does; she can feel the familiar strain, the ache of neglected lungs.
“Laura, Laura, hey…stay with me please.”
Carmilla doesn’t even recognize the sound of her panicked voice as she catches the girl instantly, bringing her to the floor and cradling her in her arms as gently as she can manage.
She can’t help but remember holding Mattie this same way and it burns in the very apex of her undead heart, but she refuses to let it end with the same fate. Carmilla ignores the fact that she can no longer hear Laura’s pulse, once so strong and sure. Instead, she carefully smoothes the back of her hand down the side of the girl’s face before gingerly tipping her head back slightly.
“I’ve got you, it’s okay…you’re going to be just fine.”
She’s not sure if she’s talking more to herself or to Laura as she bites into her wrist quickly and holds it over Laura’s open mouth. Carmilla squeezes her palm, watching as the crimson liquid pours out of her.
And then she waits.
She holds her lifeless love close, her eyes unseeing as she stares up into the clear night sky and prays to every deity she’s ever heard of, searches for any answer within the constellations that have brought her so much security, anything that will bring Laura back to her.
“What have I done?”
Time ticks by slowly, the silence she used to welcome so readily provides no sanctuary, only stretches on and on. She can’t even bring herself to let go of the girl long enough to wipe the blood from her mouth, despite the fact that the sweetness of it makes her sick to her stomach.
If she lets go, she will surely lose herself for good this time.
The crippling fear that it didn’t work begins to twine around her bones, dragging her into a panic along with the notion of facing eternity without ever hearing Laura’s voice again. She notices then that her hands are shaking and she’s holding on so tight, silently willing someone to answer her.
The phantom panging of her heart holds nothing over the way hearing Laura makes her feel like her life has just been given back by some miracle. She’s almost afraid to look down, afraid that she’s fallen into such hysteria that her mind is playing tricks on her. The melody of Laura’s heartbeat no longer reaches her ears, the lack of it so poignant; the memory of it taunts her. But when she does finally look, she’s met with tired, yet familiar, honey-brown eyes that belong to the girl that has bewitched her, heart and soul.
“Yeah, cutie, I’m right here.” Her attempt to sound strong completely crumbles and her voice catches almost instantly as her right hand rubs up and down Laura’s arm soothingly.
“I knew I could do it.” Laura says, voice gravely with exhaustion as she searches Carmilla’s eyes and her features soften when she finds what she’s looking for.
Sensing Carmilla’s confusion, she elaborates, barely above a whisper.
“I knew I could save you, that I could bring it back.”
It takes another moment until it dawns on Carmilla.
“You…you planned this?”
Laura bites her bottom lip, and then uses her hand against Carmilla’s thigh to carefully push herself up, with help of course, into a seated position.
“Not entirely, but I trusted that you could bring me back too.”
So many things hang in the air.
What if it had been too late.
What if I wasn’t able to bring you back.
Shaking her head, Laura places her fingertips to the hinge of Carmilla’s jaw affectionately.
Neither of them misses the way the warmth of mortality already begins to recede from her touch.
They share a look before Laura speaks again.
“It’s okay, it worked. That’s all that matters. I’m here, you’re here, and I’m so sorry for everything, but I just…”
Her eyes are beginning to flood with emotion when Carmilla leans in and captures her lips in an ardent kiss. Laura is still weak, but with the strength she can harbor, she kisses her back with equal passion, threading her fingers through dark locks like she always does and it feels like she can breathe again.
When they part, it’s only far enough so that their foreheads still rest easily against one another. With eyes still closed, she smiles softly.
She can feel Carmilla return the smile against her as she gives in and answers knowingly.
Laura licks her lips and looks down at Carmilla’s before lifting her gaze to meet the dark, but intensely warm eyes of her love.
And she knows. She just knows.