A pair of frozen hands to hold
Oh, she's so Southern so she feels the cold
(Girls - The 1975)
Serena enters the cafeteria to see an unfamiliar girl sitting at her table.
Firstly, this is a very uncommon occurrence. Everyone on campus knows about Mabel's eating habits, so people typically avoid their table and all surrounding ones to avoid being sprayed with bread crumbs and so on. And secondly, Serena has never seen the girl before, and Serena knows everyone who is anyone. It either means this girl is a new student, which Serena would have heard about, or this girl is a total nobody.
Thirdly, she is sitting at their table, right at the very edge, looking curious about everything. Serena gives herself a moment to look around, but no one else seems to notice, even Schlomo's table, and Goody is always noticing something. She turns to Mabel, who had just come in. "Did I miss anything?" she asks, already chomping down on a sandwich.
Serena numbly points at the girl. Mabel dutifully looks over at her direction, but her blank expression remains on her face. Then she looks quizzically at Serena, as if asking what was wrong, before she takes her usual seat at the middle of the table, bringing out her lunch and nonchalantly checking her phone. When Serena doesn't move, Mabel gives her a strange look. "Are you going to eat your lunch or will I have to eat it for you?"
So Serena sits down, across from Mabel, even if a million voices in her head are insisting it's a terrible idea. The new girl doesn't seem to notice them at all—she's staring out the cafeteria windows, like something might burst out of them at any second. Serena carefully mumbles, just loud enough for only Mabel to hear, "Have you seen her before?"
Mabel raises an eyebrow. "Seen who?"
That was the first clue that something was about to go horribly wrong in Serena's already stressful life.
Serena sees her again in the middle of rehearsal.
"My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand," Serena recites, "to smooth that rough touch with a tender—oh my God."
"What?" Nick asks, not even looking up from his own script. But Serena can't be bothered to respond, because if her eyes aren't lying to her, she had just seen the same girl from her lunch table climb right in the window and land with a barely audible thump on the floor. "What?" Nick asks again, turning around in confusion.
Serena swears he sees the girl. She swears it on her pet dog's grave. But Nick looks away, face the exact same—utter confusion and slight exasperation, like he can't believe how much time Serena is wasting by getting surprised at thin air and an open window. "There's nothing there, 'Reena," he says slowly, as if talking to a child. "Unless you got recently diagnosed with a mental illness and you decided not to tell me—"
"That's—That's not it! Don't you see her!?"
"See who?" Nick sighs. "Okay, uh, you know what, I'll leave you alone with your hallucinations for a bit. I need to ask Mr. Myers about this line anyway, it's pretty awkward." He heads out the room after glancing behind him in evident confusion.
Serena allows a moment of silence to pass before returning her attention to the girl. She's closed the window and is leaning against the wall, sighing in seeming relief. "Alright," Serena says, "you over there—I know you're not a hallucination. I can see you, whatever you are."
The girl doesn't even look surprised—or maybe she's too tired to bother as she looks over at Serena's general direction. "So you can see me," she remarks blandly, sweeping her long hair over one shoulder. "Well, my glamour's as good as it gets for vampires. Either you specialize in it yourself or you're one of those annoying humans who see through everything for no good reason."
There were so many things wrong with those few sentences that Serena could feel her head spin. "G... Glamour? Wait, vampires? Could you, I don't know, talk a little more understandably?"
The girl just shrugs. "Well, for one, I'm a vampire."
Serena stares at her for a good few seconds before deciding she really must be going crazy. She sets her script down on a nearby table and holds her head in her hands with the air of someone who no longer has it in herself to deal with the world.
"It's better if you don't believe me, to be honest," the girl continues unhelpfully. "Mostly humans just think they see something, but when they're presented with an idea that sounds utterly ridiculous, they explain it away as hallucinations, lack of sleep, and finals. I'm thinking you can pin my existence on... say, acting stress?" She gestures at the piles of scrapped scripts and ideas for new scenes scattered all around the room.
Serena gives her a sharp look. "I'll ask you again, because I know I'm not imagining you. Explain yourself before I report you for—" She wracks her head for a believable lie. "Breaking and entering. Now!"
The girl rolls her eyes. "Oh, human laws, so frightening, so scary. So limiting on a vampire like me." She picks at her almost unnaturally long nails for a moment before saying, "I'll tell you something else, then, if you can't believe something as simple as my species. My name's Carmen—at least, it's what I started calling myself after I turned." The girl—Carmen—looks up to stare straight at Serena, the first time she's made real eye contact with her. It's unnerving, to say the least; at first glance, her eyes resemble rippling pools of black ink.
"Alright, um, great. I'm Serena," Serena says, resisting the urge to avert her gaze. It wouldn't do to show weakness in front of someone who can climb up three or so floors and swing in through the window like it's nothing. Worst case scenario, she could break Serena's neck and leave her body on the front gate. "So, uh, Carmen, vampire, whatever you are. Why are you here? In our school?"
"Why, is it bad? Have I done anything so far?" Carmen shoots back. "Endangered your life or anyone else's, set something on fire, turned anyone?" At the last part, she rolls her eyes again. "Of course, you wouldn't know a thing, but have you seen the paper lately? Everyone's going around thinking that 'local vampires have unearthed the bloodthirsty urge within them to turn every human they see', do you know exactly how sick I am of reading the same shit over and over again? Ugh! It gets old, let me tell you—"
The door opens. "Serena?" Nick says, mostly focused on the script in his hand. "You done playing the patient? We need to work on the—Serena?"
"Sorry, what?" Serena mumbles, lifting her head slightly to face him. Carmen doesn't stop; she keeps going on about vampire politics, something about ghouls and demons, and Lord, Serena cannot hear a thing. It's almost like Carmen had amplified her voice to overpower everything else.
Nick says something, but when Serena gives him a helpless and, at the same time, a "please leave while I wallow in my desperation, I promise I'll be fine after three hours, give or take" look, he just nods, shoots her a very disturbed glance, and backs out of the room. He makes sure the door is locked before closing it.
"Oh, what was that? Did I interrupt your lovely reading session with your boyfriend?" Carmen quips, breaking off from her tirade for one merciful moment. Serena sighs in relief, much to Carmen's evident amusement. "Did you like that little trick? It's fairly simple to block sound and manipulate it, but I've just mastered it a week or two ago. For good reason," she mutters, her expression darkening, "you have no idea how much energy it takes to clear everything up after one little curse escapes my mouth in a convenience store."
"That's great," Serena says weakly, ears still ringing slightly. The "trick" or whatever Carmen called it had left her terribly dizzy and nauseous, like she had just dropped herself in a blender on maximum speed. "But... no, Nick's not my boyfriend," she suddenly says, turning to glare at the girl, or self-proclaimed vampire, whatever she is. Either way, she's still an annoying little weirdo who apparently has supernatural agility to climb up a flat wall.
"Yet," Carmen says, smirking.
"Get out," Serena snaps, forcing the headache and the blush down. "If you don't have business in our school, then just leave."
Carmen shrugs. "Well, I'd love to, especially after we've had this lovely talk. But I'm afraid I don't get to decide where I go. Just do me a favor..." she lowers her voice in a conspiratorial whisper. "If you happen to see a goblin or two sulking around, just say vocare, and leave right away, got it? It doesn't take you more than a couple seconds to say one word, does it?"
"A goblin," Serena says. "First vampires and now a gobl—"
"Just say it, alright?" Carmen interrupts irritably, relaxed demeanor now gone. "I mean, it's not hard. They'll probably be glaring out at every human who passes by and spits at the teachers or whatever."
"I must know a goblin, then," Serena says thoughtfully. "His name is Goody."
Carmen shakes her head and slides the window open, letting a cool breeze sweep through the heated room for a moment, ruffling papers and the vampire's (when had Serena honestly started to think of her as a vampire?) long, perfectly styled hair. Serena hadn't even noticed that the temperature in the room had gone up—probably another annoying trick of the other girl's. "Don't forget," she reminds. "And if you happen to see me running around screaming obscenities with a knife in one hand and a door in the other, just make sure you don't get in my way."
She swings her legs out the window and drops out of sight before Serena can even react. "Good Lord," she says, stumbling out of her seat to peer out the window. Carmen's already vanished.
Serena stares dumbfoundedly as Carmen, once again, opens the window to a classroom four floors above the ground and drops in without blinking an eye. Thankfully enough, the new chemistry teacher is blind to all but the blackboard and the textbook, and goes on droning about something-or-other that Serena can't quite focus on at the moment.
Carmen looks at the open windows for a second, as if considering whether or not to close them, before shrugging and leaving them as is. "Hey, human," Carmen greets cordially enough, taking a seat on the edge of the teacher's table, "seen a goblin yet?"
Serena pointedly looks away from her and tries reading her notes to make sure she's gotten everything correct so far, but the words are all mixing together that it's getting hard to focus. Finally, she lifts her head again, inconspicuously mouthing "go away" to the smirking vampire. (If she hadn't been convinced about her species then, she is now—there's no way someone can climb in through the window and sit on the teacher's table without anyone noticing.)
"Ugh, but I'm dead tired and I want some rest," Carmen whines, flipping through the pages to one of the textbooks left on the table boredly. Serena glowers at her for a little while more, until she realizes that the vampire really does look beat up—her hair is a mess, strands sticking out here and there, and her clothes, the school blazer (probably stolen or something) over a slightly frilly white dress, are ripped, torn, and if Serena isn't imagining this, burned in several places. Carmen raises an eyebrow. "See? Don't I just look the epitome of exhausted? Let me catch a breath, I just had to outrun a half-demon bounty hunter who specializes in—get this—fire. Fire!"
That explains the burns, Serena thinks to herself, fixing her gaze back on the teacher when Mabel shoots her a strange look, as if wondering why her friend is staring at the table like the answers to the universe were there. But a half-demon... bounty hunter...? What, is she a delusional criminal or something? And how can one be "half-demon"—?
"Oh, here he is again," Carmen spits, jumping to her feet to stand on the table. The textbook she had been looking through falls off the desk, and Serena panics for a moment, but Carmen waves carelessly at it and something seems to almost—sparkle, for a minute, and the book is back on the table. When Serena looks at it closer, though, something flickers and she can see the book still on the floor. Carmen looks over at Serena, who immediately moves her gaze on the teacher while trying to watch the vampire from her peripheral vision. "Excuse me for a moment. Hopefully my glamour will keep the place intact."
"Wha—?" slips out before Serena can stop herself, but her voice is drowned out by the sudden crash as a black blur speeds into the classroom from the window, slamming into the wall as Carmen steps back slightly, still on the table. Serena bites down on her tongue to stop a very alarmed scream, but she can't stop her eyes from widening to the size of dinner plates as the newcomer reveals itself. Its body looks like it's made out of muscles, with giant, slightly curled ram's horns sprouting from the sides of his head, and what look like black flames are flickering around its whole body.
The demon snarls and leaps forward, extending its arms and showing off vicious-looking claws where hands and fingers should normally be. Carmen jumps into the air, nearly hitting her head against the ceiling if she hadn't curled her body into a ball and, if Serena isn't slowly going crazy, dive bombs the demon as soon as it slams against the teacher's table. Wood splinters, books fall, the laptop snaps into half, and a huge dust cloud engulfs the room. But Serena blinks once, twice, and the sparkle returns, and with it, everything is simply... back to normal.
And the whole class is looking at her.
"Ms Katz," the teacher slowly asks, "do you have a problem with the lesson?"
"W-What? No, I, no, it's fine," Serena stammers, still staring at the table Carmen and the demon had just utterly destroyed. Yet not a single thing is out of place, except for the open textbook that anyone can blame on the breeze coming through the windows. "Nothing's wrong," Serena sighs.
A few minutes later, Carmen reappears from below the teacher's table, looking like she had just thrown herself into a fireplace. "I just love almost getting burned to death," she grumbles, taking her seat on the edge of the desk once more before she brings out a comb from her pocket and starts tending to her hair. Serena mouths "we are talking later" and ignores her for the remainder of the lecture.
"What was that!?" Serena demands, locking the restroom door as soon as Carmen trots inside. "Did you really have to—to blow up the classroom or something? Couldn't you have led the... whatever that was away or outside?"
Carmen scoffs, but it's clear she's still winded from the scuffle—she leans on her right side, hip jutting out in a cocky posture, but Serena had clearly seen how she had been dragging her left leg the whole way here. "Lead him outside, and let him fight me in his natural element, sun shining and all? Better we're in the shade, where he can't draw solar flares and use them to set me on fire and burn me to a crisp. Why do you think I chose an air-conditioned classroom, genius? The colder, the better, I say."
Serena makes a tired sound that can either be classified as a sigh or a groan. Or both. "Then... when you just restored everything to normal... what was that? Your glamour?"
"Obviously," Carmen preens. "Like the window opening. With a bit of glamour, I can make everyone think the teacher wanted to demonstrate something and had to open the window for it. Or the book falling off—it can just have never happened at all. Of course, the more serious the damage I have to cover up, the more glamour I have to use, and the more energy I expend, but destroyed classrooms are just little things when you're essentially messing with minds and how humans perceive things." After a moment, she scowls. "But humans like you, where glamour and all the other means we use to make ourselves invisible to you—it doesn't matter. You see right through it all. But others, the ones who aren't immune to glamour, don't. A while ago, you probably looked like you were falling in love with the teacher with how long you were staring at him."
"Gross," Serena says. Then she actually catches on to the explanation, and hurries to continue. "So, what, I'm special or something? I can see through illusions and lies like they're nothing?"
"You can put it that way," Carmen says, shrugging as she hops on the edge of the sinks for a seat, her leg clearly ailing her as she winces every time it moves. "Now, are you quite done? I need to head to my hideout for the time being, get my hair back to normal so I don't look like I tried committing suicide via incinerator."
"Wait, one more question," Serena says, the gears in her mind turning with incredible speed. Something hadn't sounded right. Deciding to ignore the "hideout" part, she asks, "You mentioned that guy was a bounty hunter. Now why would a bounty hunter be after you? Are you a criminal, or... is this related to the reason you're trying to lie low in our school or something?"
Carmen stares at her, and Serena finds that her midnight black eyes aren't as disturbing as seeing a demon run around in her classroom. She matches the vampire's gaze, and finally, Carmen looks away. For the first time, Serena realizes that the other girl's reflection doesn't show up in the mirror—only a vague ripple, like parts of an outline. "You know vampires," she says, after a long pause. "We're a lot of things to the supernatural world. Expensive meat delicacies for the rich folks... our fangs make special trinkets... we're also pets, we're servants, what else? Oh," and here, she bares her teeth like a dangerous predator, the bright light sparkling off razor-sharp fangs, "sex slaves, I almost forgot. Yes, we're just simply in demand these days. Do forgive me for trying to keep myself alive and less violated than I already am."
"See you," the vampire snaps, hopping off her seat and exiting the restroom, putting a ridiculous amount of weight on her left leg, like she can't bear to show weakness in front of anyone. Serena stands there stupidly for another few seconds, then sighs, rubs her forehead, and leaves as well, not bothering to look for blood to clean.
Unexpectedly enough, Serena does find a goblin. She knows it's one because firstly, it's got to be the shortest, ugliest thing she's ever seen, and secondly, it gives her a glare so venomous she takes a step back.
Mabel looks at her curiously. Lunchtime has just begun, and Serena had been making her way to their usual table when she had spotted the goblin glowering at Schlomo's table, crouching and barely hidden in the shadows of the trash bins. "'Reena?" Mabel asks as soon as she swallows her french fry. "You see Nick or what?"
"What? No, sorry," Serena mumbles, tearing her gaze away from the goblin and quickening her pace by the tiniest bit. Conveniently enough, her positioning in her seat allows her to look over at the goblin's general direction without looking too suspicious—it's still staring at Schlomo's table, grimy yellow teeth chattering loudly as it starts tugging at its large, floppy bat-like ears. Serena treats it like a cockroach—feeling slightly disgusted, but not brave enough to kill it and settling for hoping that it doesn't fly.
"You've been reeeeal weird lately, y'know," Mabel says, squinting at Serena in clear suspicion. "What've you been thinking of all the time? Nick says you've been having hallucinations lately, too. Sure you're getting enough sleep?"
"Hey, Mayb," Serena says, "you took Latin before, right? You ever heard of the word vocare?"
Mabel thinks about it for a second, munching on a chip, before replying. "I think it means... to call? Or signal? You know, something like that. Why?"
"No reason," Serena responds, at the same time the goblin leaps. She almost screams—it'd been eyeing the food on the table, it looks, and it almost reaches Goody's lunch when something punts it to the other side of the cafeteria with a flying kick.
Oddly enough, Serena's first thought is that she's vaguely glad no one else seems to be immune to glamour. It would have been fairly embarrassing for Carmen to flash the entire school—she should really wear something longer and more practical than a dress that looks like something a rich, fashionable, and dead person would wear. (Technically, vampires are dead, aren't they? They have no blood...)
"Holy shit, was that a bat?" someone yells. The side of the room erupts into panicked exclamations, until someone else declares it a dead rat.
Carmen turns to look at Serena at the same time Serena turns to look at Carmen, which makes for the most awkward moment of eye contact Serena's ever made. It's a small fortune that they're quite a distance from one another, so Serena can barely see her dead black eyes, until the vampire starts strutting her way over to them, the limp in her leg apparently healed. "Good you actually listened to the important part of what I said that time," Carmen says, sliding into the seat next to Mabel, just across Serena. Mabel doesn't notice a thing, still stuffing her face with chips and apparently disregarding the vampire right next to her. "Maybe next time you'll react a bit better when I blow up your classroom."
"Okay, Mabel," Serena starts, "I need to tell you something really important, and you'll probably freak out, but—"
"Oh, don't bother," Carmen says, tone ice cold, "you do remember how I can block sound, right?"
Serena gawks at her. It's true—Mabel doesn't look like she's heard a thing. Carmen smirks. "Some people don't even classify that as glamour, which shows how I can beat you in a field I'm not even all good in. In any case, the less humans knows about me, the better. I don't need someone ratting me out to more bounty hunters, even if I'm fairly sure this one is as mundane as they go. Can't take chances."
Serena sighs. "If you plan on talking to me, then can you glamour our conversation right now, then? I feel pretty bad keeping secrets from my best friend."
"Don't think so highly of yourself," Carmen scoffs, standing up from the table and stepping away with a flourish. "I'm not planning on talking to a human, especially one who seems to think so little of me that she believes she can order me around. Good day, and remember—vocare."
"Don't be a bitch," Serena spits, temper flaring, but the vampire had simply disappeared into thin air in the half-second her eyes closed when she blinked.
Mabel gives her a very confused and slightly hurt look as Serena slumps in her seat, picking at her food without much enthusiasm. "You sure you're feeling alright?" she asks gently. "Seriously, you can tell me. I mean, hallucinations and all."
"Nah, it's fine," Serena mumbles, waving a hand in the air as dismissively as she can manage. "It's... a really long story. And I don't think you'd hear a word."
You kiss by the—shit, what was it again? Serena sighs and glances at her script, numbly reading the numerous lines. She opens the door to the rehearsal room, absently looking up to check if Nick's already there.
A pillar of water rises from the floor to drench her completely.
Coughing and hacking, Serena immediately tries to shut the door, but a tendril of water swoops over her to push her in the room and locks the door, barring her from escape and possibly sentencing her to death. With speed she hadn't known she'd had, Serena ducks underneath one of the somehow still-upright tables in the room and blinks back the water in her eyes, scouring the area quickly.
She sees Carmen first, of course. The vampire is, for some reason, holding a screwdriver in her right hand, a mop in her left, and she's biting down on a butcher's knife, fangs clearly seen in the light. Serena has absolutely no idea what she plans to do with all three things, nor does she know exactly how far vampiric strength can go with how she's holding a knife with her teeth, but then the thing that had presumably produced the water shoots up from an innocuous-looking puddle.
"Oh my fucking shit, please just die, you siren bitch," Carmen curses, leaping out of the way as the vaguely humanoid monster pounces at her, giant claws reaching out to slash the vampire to bits. Serena curls into a ball as discreetly as she can, watching the fight with wide eyes. When Carmen had said how she was constantly being targeted, Serena hadn't thought it was serious enough to flood the rehearsal room.
"Not 'til you're on a plate on our dining table, vampire filth," the siren growls back, stepping forward to make some sort of waving motion with its arm. The various puddles on the floor combine to form a giant wave of water—Carmen yells something incoherent as she scrambles to get out of the way, the siren cackling as the surf continues to grow in size...
It's then that Serena realizes the siren's back is turned to her.
Although the table is fairly small and lightweight, it's probably still enough to catch anyone off-guard. Serena hurls the table she's under straight towards the back of the siren's head, thinking about how she could start carrying tables to build muscles, and the siren doesn't notice the giant projectile until it hits it—quite literally. The surf wavers, globs of water dripping from it as the siren momentarily loses focus, and Serena is starting to really regret throwing the damn table when the siren turns to look at her, some sort of purplish substance that could be poison dripping from the watery orbs that make up its eyes—
Carmen rushes forward and drives the screwdriver right in between the siren's eyes. It shrieks, the surf collapsing entirely with a heavy splash, showering all three people with harmless saltwater. The siren hisses in pain, its body beginning to liquefy more and more as Carmen calmly lets go of the mop, transfers the knife into her left hand, and begins stabbing at the water spirit with both weapons until it gives one last, desperate scream and drops into another tiny puddle.
There's silence for a few minutes, until Carmen finally sighs and drops the screwdriver and the knife on the floor carelessly, picking up the mop and flicking her wrist—all the windows in the room slide open. "I'd rather not waste any more of my glamour than I already have," the vampire grumbles. "Wanna help clean up?"
So Serena does, mainly because she doesn't want to tell Nick the room had been coincidentally flooded as soon as she had opened the door. He'd call for the nearest mental hospital, and it was always hard to stop Nick from doing something once he'd started. It's not the easiest clean-up Serena's ever been in, because there is water in every nook and cranny, and it's incredibly hard for her to keep herself from crying when she sees all the calculatingly neat, alphabetically-arranged notes she had worked so hard on soggy and ink-splotched. She tucks them away in a folder in her bag anyway, just in case.
In the middle of it, while Serena's trying to see if she can still salvage her last paperback edition of Les Miserables, Carmen speaks up. "Why did you do it?"
"Sorry?" Serena mumbles numbly, checking each page thoroughly.
Carmen stomps over and snatches the book right out of her hands. "I said, why did you do it?" she asks, holding the drenched book between her thumb and pointer finger, like it's some disgusting specimen she'd really rather drop right now.
Serena wonders if she has enough energy to tackle the vampire to the floor and wrestle for the book, but decides she'll just buy another one, even if they're always overpriced in the local bookstore. "Do what? Help you?" she huffs and sets a fallen chair upright, giving Carmen a half-hearted glare. "I don't know. Maybe because it was the right thing to do at that time? Though I'm starting to doubt being with you is right at all."
"But it was... You didn't have to do it," Carmen whispers, setting the book on the table and staring at it blankly. "You could have just left me to die. I mean, I treated you like you were a lower animal, which, if you think about it, you kind of are."
"But you still did it," Carmen repeats. After a pause, she places her hand a few inches above the book and mutters something under her breath—much to Serena's amazement, the book starts drying, and not just the kind of drying that leaves pages all crinkled, but almost like it's going back in time to before it had been soaked until it looks as new as when Serena had bought it. Carmen withdraws her hand, stuffing it in her blazer pocket. "Haven't used that one in some time," she mumbles. "Should probably start practicing again."
"You think you can do that to my notes?" Serena blurts out before she can stop herself.
Carmen gives her a look, and Serena immediately wishes she has more self-control, but the vampire just rolls her eyes good-naturedly. "Sure, table-thrower."
Among Serena's fifty-seven pages of back-to-back notes, Carmen sets three on fire and one simply disappears into thin air, but other than that, the rest look like Serena had just finished writing them. She files them accordingly in the shelves again, making sure to label each one and keep them out of sight, but when Serena turns around to thank the vampire, Carmen's already gone. After a moment, Serena sighs and brings out her miraculously dry script. Maybe she isn't so bad, she thinks. Even if she does almost kill people without them knowing everyday.
"... man! Human! For fuck's sake—Serena!"
"Oh, my God! What?" Serena yells, sitting up in her bed and hoping her hair isn't a complete mess this time. Someone is banging on her window furiously, but to be honest, the only people who know where she lives are Mabel and Nick, so—
"Open the fucking window before this shit-ass golem throws me off a cliff! And welcome me while you're at it!" Carmen screeches, loud enough to wake the dead.
Serena opens the window with a "welcome!?" Carmen tumbles inside, flopping on her bed and crushing Serena's legs, since her window is right above her bed. The vampire growls and waves a careless hand at the window, sliding it shut—an audible click sound signifies it locks as well. "If you could have just done that, why not do it? And how did you find my house?" Serena asks mildly, fumbling for her contacts on her dresser. She only finds her glasses, and figures Carmen won't see a thing anyway as she shoves them on, looking out the window. It's plain darkness outside.
"Vampires need to be welcomed in houses, genius. And I just followed your scent," Carmen answers, groaning as she moves into a more comfortable position, cradling her right arm and favoring her left leg. "Though your school doesn't count, it's just some building. Ugh, fucking thing got me good..." she bites her lip and looks around Serena's room, as if wondering what she can use as a weapon. Serena remembers that vampires probably have night vision at the same time, and contemplates removing her glasses just to avoid humiliation, but decides being able to see is better than a couple of teases.
"You can, I don't know, stay here a bit, if you want," Serena offers, pulling her blankets up to her chest as best as she can. Her legs are starting to go numb under Carmen's weight, but she doesn't have the heart to tell the vampire to get up when she sees the pained expression on her face. "I mean, until whatever is attacking you goes away..."
Carmen snorts, tossing her hair to the side. For just one second, Serena thinks she's actually kind of pretty, disregarding her pale complexion, dead black eyes, and dangerous fangs—but she disregards the thought, because for one, crushing on a vampire will lead to more pain and death than happiness, most probably. "That golem had a surprisingly strong sense of smell. I'm thinking it can track me down if I stay here too long. You got something I can make fire with, human?"
"You know, I have a name," Serena says, sliding her legs out with difficulty and heading towards one of the drawers under her study desk. Though she can remember having a matchbox in one of them, she has no idea why, considering she doesn't even have spare candles in her room. "You did just use it earlier. Much nicer to hear than 'human'."
"Are you suggesting we're on a level of intimacy where I can start using your given name?" Serena doesn't see it, but she's absolutely sure the vampire had rolled her eyes. "You're funny. I'll keep my distance, thanks."
"What? You going to say you're like one of those jaded heroes in the action-romance novels and tell me how getting closer to the girl you love just makes it easier to be hurt?" Serena asks drily, withdrawing the matchbox from her drawer, turning a lamp on and peering inside—a little over half of the small matches are left. She hands them over to Carmen, who takes them with surprising calmness. Serena had kind of thought she would snatch it away. "Well, anyway, what do you need those for?"
Carmen hesitates for a moment, like she hadn't been entirely focused on the conversation, before shrugging and looking down. "Golems are made out of dry wood. Easy to light up."
It takes Serena a few seconds, but she realizes what's changed; the vampire's tone had gone curt, like she had wanted the exchange to end quickly for whatever reason. It's certainly not because of lack of time, she thinks, looking over at Carmen—the faint light from the desk lamp casts an eerie glow on one side of her face, making her look almost solemn as she stares out the window, eyes fixated on the barely-visible moon outside. Her fingers are curled tightly around the matchbox. "So it's a crescent moon," she says, after a long while. "I haven't been paying attention lately."
Some sort of otherworldly roar shakes the house, and Serena almost jumps a foot in the air. Carmen winces in pain, but manages to stand on both legs, though she's clearly relying on her left one still. She lights a match without even looking at it, mumbling something about needing to practice more on her fire skills, when another roar comes, this one sounding much nearer. "Right, then," she says. "Golems go after humans sometimes, but unless you've got a damn strong scent, they'll usually ignore you, especially since I'm right here. Don't try to help, alright?" With that, Carmen opens the window and bounds out, the flame on the match growing to at least the size of Serena's head.
Against her better judgement, Serena looks out the window. The golem, or what she supposes is the golem, is a hulking behemoth, making Serena's house look like a frail little blade of grass waving weakly in the wind. When it steps in front of her, blocking most of her field of vision, it roars and swings a mighty arm in the air. Only then does Serena actually realize that it had aimed at Carmen—and it had hit.
Something hits the ground, though its impact is mostly covered by the little tremors the golem makes as it takes steady steps towards the crumpled form of Carmen breathing heavily on the pavement. The vampire cringes as the golem approaches, but she fumbles for something in her hands, and she throws two lit matches straight at the golem's face. It catches fire immediately—the golem yelps and stumbles backwards as the flames spread like wildfire in the grasslands, until its whole body is engulfed in the flames. Carmen watches mercilessly as it collapses on the ground, writhing in pain, until it finally stills and the flames die, revealing a pile of ashes.
Carmen takes her sweet time laying glamours all over the place, covering up the cracks in the concrete to the giant crater the golem had made when it had fallen. She waves her hand, and a sudden rush of cold wind blows in from nowhere, scattering the ashes into the breeze. Then she hobbles back to Serena, crawling in her window and sighing in contentment as she curls up on the other girl's bed. "I wish I had a bed in my hideout," she mumbles. "Or at least some pillows and cushions. Would probably make going home a whole lot better."
"You mentioned a hideout before," Serena says gently, sitting next to the vampire and taking the matchbox away from her, looking inside—several of the matches had fallen out, leaving less than half, but Serena can hardly care as she places it on her dresser. "Um... what's it like?"
"Oh, this one's under the lake near your school," Carmen says dismissively. "There's an entrance on land if you don't want to get wet, but it takes a lot less time to just swim in it and dry off inside. Keeps a lot of the demons and golems at bay, and imps, and, well, anything that specializes in fire. Which is good, because vampires burn easy, and if I'm going to die, I much prefer doing it dramatically and less painfully than suffocating on the smoke and burning to ashes."
"That's... great, I guess."
Carmen sighs and sits up, moving to the side as if to lean on Serena's shoulder, before she seems to catch herself and redirects her body to rest against the wall. Serena almost smiles—the lamp light is enough to see the vampire's embarrassed expression. "An... Anyway, that had been the last of that golem herd," she grumbles, expression now turning sour. "But I've heard rumors that the Lakefren sirens have joined forces with the Wine family to get me again..."
"'Again'?" Serena prompts.
The vampire scowls, and Serena almost regrets asking, but Carmen sighs and shakes her head. "Okay, fine, I guess you deserve to know now. I mean, you've helped me out twice, it's probably fair. So, you remember what I said about us vampires being in demand?" When Serena nods, Carmen continues, voice growing more and more hateful. "Well, I used to be one of... you know. Those... Those kinds of people." She makes a vague gesture with her uninjured hand, pointedly avoiding eye contact with Serena. "One of them."
... what else? Oh, sex slaves, I almost forgot...
"Oh," Serena breathes, a hand rising to cover her mouth, "oh."
"Yes, oh," Carmen sneers, though not to Serena—it almost looks like it's aimed at herself. "When I was much younger and still quite human, I wanted to be this great, shining actress, you see, known across the whole world, yes, her, who can act, sing, dance, everything. So, I get an offer from an agent, I leave school to follow my dreams, and guess what? I'm thrown in the back of a van, whisked away to a vampire family's manor, and tossed into a basement with nothing but the clothes on my back... and even those were torn off soon," she snarls, hands—no, claws gripping Serena's blankets and threatening to tear them to shreds. "I was seventeen. I had my whole future ahead of me. Instead, I get turned into a vampire and I was violated each and every day until I learned the wonders of glamour and escaped from that terrible place and into the cruel world of humans and supernaturals." She releases a sigh, one of exhaustion and remorse. "Why do you think I specialize in trickery and illusions with no real strength of my own? It was deceit that got me out of there, not my fists.
"... Well, there you have it," Carmen mutters, still stubbornly looking away. "My very own sob story. And now I'm hungry."
"Hungry?" Serena repeats, standing up. "I can heat some pizza for you. I mean, you don't mean the blood kind of hungry, right?"
"Wait, that's it?" Carmen gapes. "Don't you have any reaction at all? I just told you my whole life! Without all the really specific details!"
"And what do you want me to do with it?" Serena says, voice softening slightly as she sits back down, wondering if she still has cheese pizza left, because Carmen doesn't look like a pepperoni person. "I mean, it's terrible. It really is. But I can't do anything to change that, and neither can you, unless time-traveling is a thing vampires can learn—"
"Thankfully, no," Carmen says. "That'd make catching me a whole lot easier for other vampires."
"Uh, right. Anyway, the point is, I can't do anything to change that. But here, you give me a problem you have right now, and I can do something to change that." Serena stands back up, now a little dazed from all the sitting and standing. "You're hungry. I have food. It's four in the morning. Why not?"
Carmen stares at her, her mouth open and fangs visible, like she's trying to make an argument against the ridiculously simple explanation. Eventually, she gives up and follows Serena to the kitchen. "Just saying, but I've never liked pepperoni," Carmen says. Serena smiles to herself.
"... I thought she killed you," Serena says dumbly, staring at the siren in front of her. She tries the doorknob immediately, but of course, it's locked. She's more resigned than surprised.
The siren croaks out a laugh. When Serena looks at it closer, she can see scars littered all over its face and a few on its neck. Its body is still solid—Serena reckons she can try liquefying it over a toilet and press down on the flush as fast as she can if she gets the chance. "We sirens don't die so easily. It'd take much more than a vampire slut to dispose of me for good."
"So, uh, what's your business here?" Serena asks, trying the doorknob again. And again. And again. It doesn't budge an inch. She wonders if the gods above, if there are any, are laughing at her inevitable demise right now. Honestly, she would too. "I mean, in the restroom..."
"Nothing much," the siren says, "just, you know, to kill you."
Water—toilet water at that—bursts from inside the stalls and converges to form a mighty orb of dripping water the size of Serena. Serena herself can't even back away because she's already pressed up against the door that she might as well become one with it. When the siren sinks its claws in the giant glob, turning the clear (if slightly yellowish) water a toxic purple, Serena decides she'd really much prefer being a door right now. "Vocare," she mutters furiously, "vocare, damn it!"
"Calling for your little vampire friend?" the siren hisses. "I'll tell you one thing—my father was not amused when I told him I was defeated by the vampire because of a puny, glamour-seeing human, which is why I'm taking you out of the picture so I can take care of the whore. That reminds me," it sneers, "haven't her instincts gone on yet? Flashed her trash on you recently? After all, it's the only way she knows how to survi—"
Serena dives out of the poisoned toilet water's way and tackles the siren to the floor. It's perhaps one of the worst mistakes she's ever done, including the time she left her play script on the table while Mabel was still eating, because the siren doesn't even struggle when it picks her up by the hair and tosses her to the other side of the restroom. She lands on her back, and while her head doesn't hit the wall, it doesn't diminish the aching pain all over her body. "You, some weak mortal, think you can take on a siren? This is an insult," the siren snarls, waving its arm—the orb of water swoops down towards her, and she closes her eyes, hoping Nick and Mr. Myers can find a new Juliet without too much difficulty—
There's a loud splash sound as the orb is flung into one of the stalls and presumably down the toilet from where it had come from, because the poison water doesn't go all over the place. Carmen, still putting more weight on her left leg, is holding an empty vitamins bottle in one hand and what looks like Iris' hairdryer in the other. "You didn't tell me I'd be going against a siren," the vampire complains, looking down at Serena. "Wait—shit, are you alright? Human? Huma—"
"I suggest you pay more attention to me, right now," the siren growls, right before a volley of the poisoned water balls come flying out of nowhere. Most of them hit the wall and drip down harmlessly, as Carmen instinctively zips to the left, but Serena doesn't get out of the way quickly enough—one hits her right ankle, and pain explodes all over the area—searing, burning pain that feels like her very flesh and bones are being eaten by the poison—
"Bitch!" Carmen screams, diving straight for the siren. It turns into a physical fight fairly quickly, but Serena can barely pay attention. She drags herself to a corner of the restroom, breathing heavily, eyes shut tight—the pain is still there, flowing through her whole leg now. She's too scared to see what had happened to it—from the intense pain, the only result she can think of is her skin having melted away completely...
She doesn't even notice when the noises stop abruptly, or when Carmen rushes to her side so fast it's almost like she teleported. "S... Serena," Carmen breathes, voice sounding like the end of the world is upon them, "Serena, oh, God, no, it hit you, siren poison hit a mortal—"
"Tell... Tell Nick," Serena forces out, "that Mabel makes... a good Juliet..."
"Fuck that, you tell him yourself," Carmen snaps, standing up and rushing towards one of the mirrors, smashing it with her fist and grabbing one of the shards of glass. She crawls over to Serena's leg, prying the other girl's hands off of it, and wincing as she sees the damage. "Serena—"
"It hurts," she cries, her eyes hurting from how hard she's squeezing them shut, "don't tell me—I don't want to see—"
"Just hold still," Carmen says, fumbling with the glass before she finally slashes it against her upper arm. A light gash opens up, blood beading from it, and she wastes no time in positioning the wound right over the affected area. A drop of blood falls onto her ankle.
There is a sizzling sound. Serena bites down on her tongue, hard, and buries her face in her hands. The pain comes, this time so strong Serena almost doesn't feel it from how numb she's gone, until quite suddenly, it stops. The abrupt absence of the pain she had almost become used to makes her ease her eyes open, blinking back the tears that had gathered.
There is a large black mark covering most of her leg, almost like a burn mark, but it's rapidly fading, leaving only the faintest gray spots around her leg until even those eventually disappear. The slightest twitch sends nothing but an uncomfortable feeling—when Serena moves it to the right, it's almost like she had tripped and fell rather than have a supernatural poison splashed all over her leg.
"How...?" she whispers.
"Another reason the black market loves us," Carmen says, moving over to sit next to Serena, sighing tiredly as she presses the hem of her dress against the cut on her arm, "vampire blood is an all-poison antidote. Siren poison, though... you're lucky that fight ended quickly, or there's no way you wouldn't have died. That black stuff would have just kept spreading 'til it covered your whole body, and boom, goodbye human."
Serena just nods weakly. The thought that she had been so close to death because of one trip to the restroom... "Wait." She looks up at Carmen, who blinks back at her in confusion. "Did you say... vampire blood?"
"Uh, yeah?" Then she seems to catch on, and groans. "Don't tell me you think vampires don't have blood. Please! My heart's certainly beating. I happen to be alive, thank you." As if on reflex, she takes Serena's hand and presses it against her chest, as if to prove that yes, she does have a functioning circulatory system. Mostly, Serena finds that Carmen's hand is surprisingly warm—and quite soft, too. "Vampires drain their victims of blood completely, but if they want to turn someone, they just inject a special toxin in their fangs. See? Heart's beating alright."
"Yeah, I see," Serena says, smiling a little.
Carmen flushes—so she really does have blood...—and immediately lets go, dropping Serena's hand and crossing her arms over her chest. "You're alright now, yeah? I'll be going, then," she declares in a rush, standing up a bit too fast and almost falling down, thanks to her still-unsteady right leg.
"Oh." Serena blinks. "Where are you going?"
The vampire sighs and looks away, expression almost regretful. "I'm going to leave," she murmurs. "By that, I mean... leave your school, leave New York, leave, y'know, you, in general."
"What?" Serena yelps. "But—well, I mean, why? Is this because—"
"No," she scoffs. "I don't care if the shitty vampire who turned me into what I am now is going to march right up to me with an army and tell me that either I go back to him or I die. I can take him on and whoever else he's enslaved. Nor do I care about the sirens who'll have my head on a dinner plate if I lose my focus for a nanosecond. I'm leaving because..." she glances down at Serena, and for the first time, Serena sees that Carmen's eyes aren't pure black—there's the tiniest glimmer of white around the edges. For a moment, she thinks it's some kind of beautiful. "I'm leaving because of you," Carmen finishes, looking away again.
"Me?" Serena repeats weakly. "W-What did I...?"
"Not because of you," Carmen says. Normally she'd sound defensive, but now she just sounds... resigned. Defeated, like she can't hope to stay any longer even if she does want to. "Didn't I tell you? I'm a magnet for bounty hunters. I stay here too long, people start realizing I practically live here and more and more supernaturals will start targeting this place. Mundanes, humans who can't see supernaturals, are rarely ever targeted—but then there's you." She sighs and fiddles with her hair, tugging at the edges in a nervous habit of some sort. "They're going to go for you to try and get me. I mean... like, I can't do that to you just because I want to stay here. That's just being selfish. I can't endanger you because you happen to be nice to me." Her voice cracks, but she shakes her head, her arms falling to her sides. "So I have to go. I mean... I hear LA is pretty nice this time of the year."
Serena stands up, something that comes as a bit of a surprise to both of them, but she barely registers the twinge of pain that shoots through her leg. "Being selfish, huh?" she says, absently reaching out to take the other girl's hand. Carmen stiffens, almost like she's preparing for an attack, but Serena just holds onto it lightly, ready to let go at any moment. "Does it count as being selfish if I want you to be here too?"
"You what?" Carmen squeaks, eyes wide.
"Yeah, you know, we happen to have a relationship people usually call friendship," Serena says. And—she can't help it—she rolls her eyes. "And I think I know what I was getting into when I gave you food that night, you know? Just try and leave—I won't let you."
"Even if an army of vampires come knocking on your door," Carmen says.
"Even if." She thinks about it for a moment. "Alright. Maybe I'll say vocare first. But still, even if."
Carmen smiles, and for a terrifying moment, Serena wonders if she'll start crying. But the vampire just laughs, rubs her eyes for a moment, and grips the other girl's hand tighter. "I think," she whispers, "this is the first time in a long while someone has called me their friend."