"And so we found this magical spell to stop her, but we're missing a...key ingredient," Laura said, wrapping up her explanation. Carmilla-the shell of her that existed in this universe, anyway-clutched Laura's arm like a child desperate to keep a flying kite from blowing away in a tornado.
Mattie paced in a small circle as she determined what exactly she could get out of this plan. "And if you can get your hands on it, not only would Maman be unable to unleash her Hell on Earth, but you could stay here with Carm and keep her all sane and happy? Which would mean I could be back in Rabat before tomorrow's dinner service at Dar Naji..."
Mattie flashed a bright smile. "Well then! Let's rustle you up that ingredient."
Laura froze. "That's the thing. The ingredient is sorta-kinda-Baron Vordenberg's heart." She felt Carmilla stiffen beside her.
Mattie was, of course, unfazed by the prospect of violence. "So what you're saying is: in order to save the world, you'd have to rip an organ out of a doddering, harmless old man?"
"Seems so," Laura admitted.
Mattie growled low in her throat like a lion approaching a kill. "This is gonna be so much more fun than I thought. Can I do it?"
"Would you?!" Laura whirled around in her chair, shocked by Mattie's offer until she remembered that Carmilla's sister and killing were joined at the hip.
Carmilla's hand found its way to Laura's hair and combed a stray lock back reverently.
Mattie simply grinned. "Darling. You don't need to ask me twice." She sashayed to the door.
"I didn't even ask you once..." Laura mumbled.
If Mattie had heard the comment, she elected to ignore it. "See you in about twenty minutes." How could With a royal little wave, she was gone.
The unadulterated excitement in Mattie's voice made Laura's stomach flip.
"How can she be so cavalier about murder?" Laura said to herself, shaking her head. She turned to Carmilla. "I mean, I know she's been at it for a long time, but-"
Laura cut herself off. Carmilla's eyes were glazey, unfocused, although they were looking at Laura. The alternate universe vampire was preoccupied with taking in Laura's general presence, not listening to a single word.
"Uh, hey," Laura said, cringing. That was her and Carmilla's thing. The real Carmilla, not this hollowed out creature that wore her face.
Carmilla seemed to wake up suddenly and pulled her hand back from Laura's hair. "There was a cobweb," she explained. There was something in this Carmilla's eyes that Laura had never seen before. Laura had seen the real Carmilla afraid before, certainly. Every time Laura had insisted on doing something dangerous, concern appeared in the firm little crease between Carmilla's eyebrows, but her resting expression was typically somewhere between stoicism and boredom.
An unhinged, rabid fear had filled the girl that sat next to Laura in the dilapidated, neglected library. This wide-eyed stare was supposed to be affectionate, Laura knew, but she couldn't help but squirm under the equal parts fearful and adoring gaze. This Carmilla was terrified to lose her again-or was she scared of Laura herself, the dimension-jumping, potential hallucination?
"I'm not a ghost, you know," Laura said, aiming for playful but barely reaching upbeat. It was hard to make jokes around someone whose sense of humor had apparently died in the previous century.
Carmilla flinched almost imperceptibly. Laura only took note of the twitch in her brow because she recognized it as a crack in Carmilla's reflex to mask pain with silence and blankness. She'd seen the same microexpression on her own girlfriend (ex?)'s face after Laura had refused to run away with her. Laura's chest clenched at the memory. This universe was what would have been if they'd given up.
"Do you really forgive me?" Carmilla said quietly, speaking the words as if they might shatter before escaping.
"You saved me," Laura insisted, taking Carmilla's pale hand in her own.
Carmilla's eyes locked onto their hands, her eyes watery.
"You know," Laura started, trying again for levity, "vampires don't cry."
It was evidently the wrong thing to say, because Carmilla wailed and burst into tears. Her hands landed in her lap helplessly.
Laura's eyes went wide. She'd dealt with Carmilla crying before, but never like this. In that moment, Laura thanked whatever gods apparently existed for letting her live in her own universe where she and Carmilla were both alive and Carmilla was still Carmilla. As Laura had learned in her short time in this pocket universe, people were dying either way. At least in her own universe, they were still fighting back.
"Carmilla," she said carefully, reaching out again. She wanted to tell Carmilla that she would make this all go away, that Carmilla really had saved her, that Carmilla would always be her hero even if she was as far from the prototypical knight in shining armor as could be. Whatever inspirational speech she had hoped to give died in her throat.
This girl looked like Carmilla, sounded like her, even smelled like her, but she was like a sphere that had been packed into itself and printed on paper. Every bit of depth and substance had been forced out of her. It would have broken Laura's heart if she weren't clinging to the desperate truth that this universe wasn't real. But it could have been, Laura thought to herself. If I hadn't been strong enough. If she hadn't been strong enough. If we'd all just...left.
Laura couldn't bring herself to say any of it. As much as she wanted to, she couldn't fix this girl. All she could do was hope, hope that she would get the heart, hope that she could get back home, hope that she could stop the Dean.
"Carmilla?" Laura repeated. The girl finally looked up from her lap. Laura forced a smile. "Universe jumping really works up an appetite. Got any food?"