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Beneath the Boots and Leather

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The slam of the front door was the only warning Laura got that Carmilla was home. Laura jumped at the noise, her fingers squeezing the computer mouse just a tad too tight and cracking it into pieces. With a squeak, Laura grabbed the mouse and tossed it in one of her desk drawers before grabbing one of the three waiting fresh mice.

She had to stop doing that.

“You’re back early,” Laura said, spinning around in her chair to face her roommate.

Carmilla plopped onto the couch and Laura tried not to think about what kind of bodily fluids might be transferring from Carmilla’s paramedic uniform and onto the couch.

Carmilla stretched and raised an eyebrow, “Actually I’m late, cupcake.”

Laura winced as she looked out the window and saw the stars, “Whoops. Alright, why are you so late then?”

“Pile up on the highway,” Carmilla said simply, “all units were called in.”

Laura knew better than to ask about the crash itself, “And so,” she said instead, “they naturally had to call in the best and most heroic of the bunch.”

Rolling her eyes, Carmilla waved her off, “I wouldn’t say heroic, cupcake.”

“Please,” Laura said, “you literally save lives, Carm. That’s as heroic as the come.”

“Mmhmmm,” Carmilla replied. Her roommate’s head popped over the top of the couch and Laura took a moment to admire Carmilla’s sleepy eyes. The one time she could really see the softer side to the girl. “So, cupcake,” Carmilla rested her chin on the couch, “what’s got you so distracted that you failed to notice the late hour? Another article busting some masochists balls?”

Laura hesitated, her hand hovering in mid-air. She knew how Carmilla would react, “Not exactly.”

Carmilla waited, arching an eyebrow as the silence grew. It lingered in the air, two people who were comfortable with each other.

Finally Carmilla broke it, dragging herself to her feet, “Well now cupcake. I just have to see what has you speechless. Last time that happened, you’d walked in on my gorgeous body in the shower. I thought my tattoo was going to make you pass out.”

“Who doesn’t close the door?” Laura snapped, hating her blush, “or use the shower curtain? Or cover themselves with a towel when someone walks in one them?”

Leaning forward, Carmilla draped herself over the back of Laura’s desk chair. The heat of her body lightly touching Laura’s back, “You’re the only person in the world who would be more upset because they walked in on someone naked than the person who was actually being naked.”

“Yes, well. We all know from the Christmas party of ‘13 that you’re a bit of an exhibitionist,” Laura said.

Carmilla scowled slightly, “You were supposed to keep me away from the hard liquor.”

“You literally locked me in a closet,” Laura reminded her, “because I was trying to keep you away from the hard liquor.” She’d nearly broke the closet door straight off its hinges.

Carmilla’s voice was almost breathy in her ear as her hand danced lightly across Laura’s shoulder, “And yet you still bailed me out of jail for public indecency. What does that say about you cupcake?”

They’d played this game before. Laura controlled the hitch in her breathing and gave Carmilla her sunniest smile, “That I’m the best roommate ever and you would be lost if I ever decided to get my own place.”

Carmilla looked down at her as Laura stared up. Their eyes held. Since the day she’d met Carmilla, Laura had always found her eyes so familiar. As though she’d known them for years before she’d ever been introduced to the snarky roommate Laf dropped on her doorstep.

“You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” Carmilla said. The words should have come out sarcastic but they were soft. Big and sleepy like the post-14 hour shift paramedic’s eyes. Laura’s hand twitched slightly, looking to reach up and grab Carmilla. She didn’t let it, thoughts of a broken computer mouse and bruised skin running through her head.

Instead, Laura gestured to her computer, “I guess you were going to find out eventually.”

Carmilla slowly looked up, her brow furrowing as she took in the screen. Laura bounced slightly in her chair, impatient as Carmilla read the news headlines.

“What the frilly hell?” the words burst from Carmilla, “They cannot be serious!”

Laura glanced back over at the headline ‘After 10 Years, the Supers are Back!”

“They’ve revoked the anti-superpower laws,” Laura said, “it’s no longer illegal for someone to simply use their powers on the street.”

As Laura watched, Carmilla’s eyes turned frosty and her knuckles tightened on the back of the chair. If Laura had put that much anger into her grip, she would have broken the chair in half.

“Carm.” she said softly.

“Don’t call me that,” Carmilla snapped.

“Carmilla,” Laura ammended, “the superheroes did a lot of good. They saved a lot of people. Maybe it won’t be so bad?”

Carmilla spun on her heel, heading for her bedroom, “Powers get people killed.”

Scampering from her chair, Laura rushed after her and blocked the doorway to her roommate’s bedroom. Carmilla slammed into her, trying to muscle her way past. In a match of strength, she didn’t stand a chance. Laura didn’t even move when Carmilla rammed into her.

“Look,” Laura said, bracing her hands against the doorframe, “I know that a lot of people had really mixed feelings about superheroes and that a lot of people were so pleased when we couldn’t use our powers anymore. But that hasn’t solved anything, Carmilla. People are still dying on the streets and in natural disasters and supervillains are still running around. I mean, it’s not like a law was ever going to stop them. Heroes can minimze that pain. This could be good.”

“A bunch of unpoliced super-beings running around the streets will never be a good idea,” Carmilla snapped, slipping lightly to the side. Laura blinked when suddenly Carmilla was past her and in the room. “Who knows what they’re actual motivations are?”

Laura spun around to face Carmilla, hands on her hips, “Well, why can’t you just believe that their intentions might be good?”

Carmilla threw her hands in the air, “Why do you even care what I believe?” The wind from her hands blew her bangs slightly, drawing Laura’s attention from the fight and back to Carmilla’s face.

What she saw there hit her like an anvil in the gut. And Laura had been hit with an anvil in the gut before. She knew the feeling. Carmilla’s face was too calm as to be neutral. Her features were almost twisted, striving to cover one emotion with nothingness. A small furrow in the brow, teeth grinding her lip, and something small dancing behind her eyes.

“You’re afraid,” the words tumbled from Laura’s mouth on a breath.

Carmilla froze. Perched lightly on her toes. Unswaying.

Laura took a step into the room, slowly reaching out her hand in a controlled motion, “What’s really wrong?”

“I’m not afraid,” the intensity of the words didn’t match the stiffness of Carmilla’s body.

Carefully controlling her grip, Laura lightly ran her fingers down Carmilla’s arm. She let her fingers graze over the bright blue fabric of Carmilla’s uniform with just the barest hint of pressure. Her roommate was still perched on her toes, staring at Laura as if she could make her believe in her lack of fear. All Laura saw was sleepy eyes.

“Alright,” Laura said at last, her hand still lingering on Carmilla’s arm. Enjoying even the briefest contact and worrying that otherwise Carmilla would run like a startled animal, “you’re just tired. It’s been a long shift. You’re certainly allowed to not like the revoking of the law but there’s not much you or I can do about it except raise a whole lot of fuss which would probably just get us arrested. Again. As sick as I am of bailing you out, the paper is sick of bailing me out.” Laura gave her a small smile and the corner of Carmilla’s mouth twitched. “So,” Laura continued, “how about we call a Roomie Night.”

Carmilla just had to roll her eyes but Laura knew better.

“Disney movies and hot chocolate!” Laura sang the words.

Carmilla sighed, coming down from her toes, “Will there be marshmallows?”

#

Two weeks since the law was revoked and Carmilla had barely slept a wink. All she did was toss and turn the night away, rolling across the pile of clothes littering her bed. Finally she caved.

Clambering out of her window and onto the fire escape, Carmilla hit one of the presets on her phone.

Laf picked upon the first ring, “Karnstein! I was wondering when I’d be hearing from you! You ready for a new suit? I’m thinking something a little more flashy this time, maybe add some colour instead of that whole basic black routine. Which I mean, you rocked, but come on girl, time to liven it up.”

“I’m not looking for new gear,” Carmilla said.

“You cannot go back out in those old rags,” Laf almost sounded offended at the thought, “Sure, they were great 12 years ago but they’re so outdated. You should see some of the new gadget’s I’ve cooked up. They’re amazing. I’ve totally got this new material that I’m pretty sure means that you won’t have to walk around naked every time you turn back from cat form.”

Carmilla stashed that tidbit of useful information away for later consideration, “Laf, I’m not suiting up again in the old gear, I’m done.” Looking around, she hopped up onto the railing of the fire-escape. It was maybe half an inch wide. Six stories up. No problem. She jumped up and started pacing across it.

Lafontaine was still ignoring her, caught up in that singson voice they always got when talking about new gadgets, “So you’re going hero this time? Good for you. I mean, you always did have that perfect sultry thief vibe going on but I can totally see on the side of peace and justice too. Like that vigilante that no-one quite knows what they’re up to but always triumphs for good at the end.” Carmilla ground her teeth, sometimes she wondered how she was still friends with the mad scientist, “Still, it’ll be nice not to worry about seeing your sorry mug in prison clothes. Why the switch? Hollis, wearing off on you? Cause she’s as good as they come.”

“I’m not going back at all,” Carmilla hissed, “No heroes. No villains. My powers are staying locked away. I like my life and my apartment and my job. I’m done being the bad guy and I’m certainly not cut out for heroics.”

“Oh,” Laf sounded oddly disappointed, “so why the call?”

“I want to know if you’ve heard anything about Mother,” Carmilla said.

There was a pause on the other end of the line.

“You know I can’t tell you that,” Laf said slowly.

Carmilla closed her eyes, “I know. I’m not looking for any details. I just want to know if you’ve heard anything. If she’s surfaced. How much I have to watch my back.”

There was silence through the line. Carmilla understood Laf’s difficulty. They were one of the few people who worked with both the heroes and villains without repercussions from either side. Everyone needed gear and Laf’s was the best. In exchange for their gear, the heroes didn’t explicitly ask Laf for information on the villains. The villains never set traps for the heroes that had anything to do with Laf.

Once, one of the heroes had tried to shake Laf down for details on his arch-rival. It had taken 20 hours before he turned up bloody in a ditch, every villain having taken a shot. Then, rather than bring him to a hospital, the heroes had thrown his butt in jail.

No-one touched Laf because Laf didn’t talk.

“No,” Laf said at last, “and I’m only telling you this as a friend. I haven’t heard anything about your Mother yet.”

Carmilla let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. She gazed up at the stars, wondering how long exactly her luck could hold out. How long until her Mother resurfaced. How long until her Mother tracked her down.

“You know,” Laf’s voice was tinny through the phone, “I think that might deserve a thank you.”

“Actually, I’ve got another request,” Carmilla crouched low on the railing, balancing on the balls of her feet.

“I think you’ve filled your quota,” Laf said.

Carmilla ignored them, “If my mother comes and if she asks about me. I want you to tell her where I am.”

“What?!?” Laf’s voice burst through the phone, “You know I would never.”

“Which is why I’m telling you that I want you to,” Carmilla said, “If she wants me, she’ll do anything to find me. She will kill you if you don’t tell her. I will not have that. So this is my permission.”

“Nope,” Laf said, “I won’t do it.”

Carmilla stared down at the alleywall 6 floors below, thinking of the days when it would have been easy to jump to the next building and dash across tiny ledges. Now, she was out of practice. “You will,” Carmilla said, “and that’ okay.”

She hung up even as Laf was jabbering in her ear.

#

Laura slowly unlocked the door of her apartment, bracing herself for the paramedic she knew would be inside. It had been almost a month since Carmilla had freaked out about the revoked superhero laws and since then, both girls had been quiet on the subject.

But her article had come out today.

And Carmilla always made a point of reading her articles.

So Laura crept into the apartment, quietly taking off her coat and peering into the living room. Empty. She moved on, the bedroom lights were out. No Carmilla. She even checked the bathroom in case Carmilla was hiding in the shower again, waiting to pounce. Nothing.

That just left. Laura took a deep breath and entered the kitcehn.

“Creampuff!” Carmilla’s yell rebounded through the kitchen and Laura dropped her keys on the floor with a sharp rattle. She looked up, eyes wide, as her roommate bore down on her. Newspaper in hand. Carmilla’s grin was wicked without being malicious, “Creampuff, you should have told me all about your charming ex-girlfriend.”

Laura felt the colour rush to her cheeks even as her shoulders sagged in relief. This was what Carmilla was going to focus on. This she could handle. Anything but Carmilla’s apparent hate of the superpowered. Her gut was twisted enough.

Carmilla’s eyes were literally gleaming as she slammed the paper on the table. The headlined screamed at them “Chief Lawrence Resigns to Retake Role as CrimsonBolt”. The byline said Laura Hollis.

“Well now, Creampuff,” Carmilla said, “I knew your hero worship ran deep but this takes the cake. An ex-girlfriend who is literally a superhero? And then she just lets you bleed her life story all over page 1?”

“Danny wanted to come out publically,” Laura said, “it’s not a requirement of the law.”

Carmilla gave her a slow wink, “But I bet it’s a requirement to get back in your pants?”

“Carm!” Laura said, slightly offended, “I am a professional.”

“Regular Lois Lane,” Carmilla offered.

Laura nodded sharply.

“Except wasn’t Lois totally banging Superman?” Carmilla said.

Laura knew she shouldn’t do it but she swept up the paper and bolted around the kitchen table at Carmilla. Swatting her once with the paper before Carmilla took off towards the counter. “I am not getting back together with Danny.” Laura said, giggling as she overshot her corner on slid into the wall.

Carmilla grinned at her and Laura’s heart jumped a little, “Of course you’re not cupcake.”

Laura advanced around the table, “Oh, I’m not, am I?”

Carmilla shook her head, backing away from the small girl with the newspaper, “The CrimsonBolt,” Carmilla said. Laura could see something working in the back of Carmilla’s mind even as her roommate put a finger to her chin in a fake-thoughtful expression, “wasn’t she the one with the superspeed?”

“Did you even read my article?” Laura chastised even as the smile cracked across her face, “yes. Danny has superspeed. What in the world does that have to do with me not getting back together with Danny? You just said I had a hero complex, which,” Laura added, “I do not.”

“Well now cupcake,” Carmilla’s grin could have seduced Aphrodite herself, “there are some things that just aren’t better, faster.”

Laura stopped, staring at Carmilla and trying to connect the words with the grin.

If anything Carmilla’s grin only grew. “Naive, provincial girl.” she mumbled. Then Carmilla thrust her hips forward twice and let out a moan that shot straight through Laura to coil below her gut.

Carmilla’s quick wink made her brain connect. Fighting through the fuzz of that moan to the meaning behind the girl’s actions. Laura’s eyes widened, “Carmilla Karnstein!” She shrieked, “that is totally inappropriate,” and leapt forward to tackle Carmilla in the gut.

The pair went down, Carmilla laughing hysterically as Laura hit her with the newspaper. Laura sat up to straddle Carmilla, giggling as she swatted her roommate in the head. She hit her again, not focusing on her actions, and froze. Terrified that the blows had been too hard.

But Carmilla was still laughing.

The moment of panic slowly receded as Laura took in the girl below her. All flushed cheeks and smiles. She was fine. It must not have been as hard as she’d thought.

“I’m glad you’re not mad,” Laura blurted and then mentally slapped herself.

Carmilla looked up, still trapped beneath Laura’s legs. Unaware that Laura literally had the power to keep her there as long as she wanted.

“Mad?” Carmilla said, “cupcake, I’m flattered. But we’re not exactly in a relationship here. Your ex-girlfriend’s lack of sexual prowess or superhero abilities is hardly something I’m getting jealous over.”

“I meant about superheroes being back,” Laura said.

Carmilla sighed and Laura could feel Carmilla’s belly move, pressing against her upper thighs on the inhale, “I’m not. I think it’s a terrible idea,” Carmilla said and Laura’s stomach twisted a little, “but as someone pointed out, not a lot I can do about it.”

“See,” Laura forced a grin, “this is why you’re still my favourite hero. All apathetic and everything. Superpowers or no. Broody Paramdic takes the cake.”

“Poor choice of a favourite. I’m not a hero.” Carmilla repeated, wiggling slightly against the floor. Her actions shooting straight ino Laura’s libdio.

She jumped to her feet, “Like you’ve got someone better.” Laura said.

Carmilla looked up at her, apparently preferring to stay on the cold floor, “Well, if forced to choose,” Carmilla said slowly, “I was always partial to The Captain myself.” Laura almost bit her tongue in shock. Carmilla continued, oblivious, “She didn’t seem like quite as much of a lackwhit as the rest. Tiny body. Super strength. An interesting dicotomy. Plus,” Carmilla’s eyes darkened and the heat in Laura’s stomach blasted into an inferno, “those boots.”

The boots. The thigh high boots that were tucked away in the fingerprint only, metal chest, under the floorboards under a wooden box, under a pile of clothes, in her closet. Those boots.

“Still,” Carmilla finished, “she’s a power just like the others. A naive tool of the government meant to smile and placate the masses while others move her around like a chess piece.”

It was like a fist was grabbing at her heart and squeezing.

“How would you know?” Laura said quietly, determined not to start another fight, “You don’t really know, you’re just assuming.”

Carmilla sat up, “Well, cupcake. She’s not around to prove me wrong, now is she?”

Laura watched Carmilla climb to her feet, resisting the urge to reach out and help her up. She’d shattered a hand, once, that way.

“Well, you never know,” Laura said, a resolution growing, “she just might show up.”