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in the darkness (I found myself)

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“Now,” Cruella says, red-painted mouth wrapping deliciously around the one word, “put your hand over mine, darling.”

Ursula glances at her, breath coming in harsh pants in the cold night air. “You want me to do it?” The gun looks natural in Cruella’s hand, it looks right. She can’t imagine taking over. That’s not how they are, anyways—Cruella likes the dirty work.

“Look, ladies,” the man on the ground croaks out in his desperation. He’s older than them both, pierced and tattooed, the name Blackbeard stitched onto his grubby work shirt. “It doesn’t have to end like this.” He already has a split lip and a black eye, courtesy of the diamond-studded brass knuckles Cruella keeps in her purse.

“Enough from you,” Cruella spits, giving the man a hard kick with the toe of her patent-leather boot. She turns back to Ursula, face twisted into a saccharine-sweet smile. “It’s easy. Put your hand over mine and I’ll show you.”

If Ursula had been alone, she would’ve just brushed the old guy off. After all, it was her job as a woman to decide a man’s lust—you’re asking for it, you need to use what you were born with, her father’s voice rings through her head. She would’ve just told him to take a hike. But Cruella didn’t stand for that stuff. Ever. Especially when they dared put a hand on Ursula’s green leather jacket, the jacket she stole just for her.

“Men,” Cruella scoffs, lips curling into a grimace. “The world would be better off without the lot of them.”

Ursula swallows hard and closes her eyes, just for a moment. My wife made men fall for her, her daddy always used to say, deep in the bottle and showing off for any lackey who was nearby to listen. She got men in, got them to think this was a good place. Then he’d crush a beer can with his bare fist, eyes gleaming at Ursula. And now my daughter will do the same.

She puts her hand over Cruella’s. Cruella’s fingers are bare, chilly from the wind, and Ursula hopes the leather from her own gloves will warm her. “Tell me how,” she whispers, tucking herself tight to Cruella’s side.

Cruella’s heartbeat quickens, her pulse jumping in her wrist. “Put your finger over mine,” she says, voice gone low and husky. “I already cocked it.” Ursula obeys, fingers shaking. “And now,” Cruella says, lips grazing the shell of Ursula’s ear, “squeeze.”

The shot is fast and sonic-boom loud in the dark alleyway. The stars practically rattle in the sky. Growing up in crime royalty, Ursula is no stranger to gunshots, but she’s never caused one herself. Her face feels wet and sticky.

“Darling,” Cruella coos, turning to face Ursula. Her own milk-white skin is splattered with blood, eyes gleaming like ice beneath the red mist. “You should see yourself.”

“I’m a mess,” Ursula whispers. She still hasn’t looked down. She’s seen dead men, mangled men. Seen one, seen ‘em all.

“You’re beautiful,” Cruella says, and smiles, nodding slowly in approval.

*

Ursula sings on the road. Her old junker of a car (the one she had before Cruella showed up in her gorgeous stolen ride) had a broken radio, but she still got the oldies station, and she’d sing along to the classics her mother loved so much—Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, The Carpenters. Mama loved strong women with strong voices.

Cruella didn’t really like the singing at first. “You’re good, I suppose,” she’d say, face pinched, “but what’s the use when no one’s around to hear it?”

You can hear it,” Ursula would say.

Then Cruella would soften, eyes darting over to Ursula in the passenger seat. “So sing me something good,” she’d say, hand on Ursula’s leg. “Something sexy.”

It always made Ursula blush, but nothing made her feel closer to Cruella than singing a little bit of soul.

*

Their motel room is on the third floor with a balcony overlooking the parking lot. As far as rooms go, it’s nicer than some they’ve had—the sheets are clean, and this one has HBO. While Ursula collapses onto the bed, Cruella makes a beeline to the bathroom.

“You should call Mal,” Cruella says over her shoulder, stripping off her bloody clothes and tossing them carelessly onto the carpet. Ursula cringes, knowing how easy it would be to get caught, but Cruella wouldn’t understand. She lives her life by the hour. Ursula is already stripped down to her jacket and panties. Everything else went out Cruella’s car window into the ocean, the only place Ursula feels certain things could disappear in.

“Mal doesn’t want to hear from us,” Ursula says, flicking on the TV. After Mal had her kid, she’d gotten pretty boring, and Regina was shacking up across the country with some blonde girl with mommy issues. It was just them left. Ursula gets up, her head pounding, and strips off the last of her clothes before standing in the bathroom doorway.

“Hm, that’s what I like to see,” Cruella purrs, already neck-deep in bubbles in the bathtub. “Aren’t going to come in and splash around a bit? There’s enough room for the two of us.” She crooks a finger at Ursula.

She’s right—the tub is plenty big, and the water is like a warm blanket pulled over Ursula’s sore muscles. They’d walked most of the day, up and down the boardwalk, asking for cash and flirting with the cute girls who passed by. They had to make a run for it when that damn do-gooder Sheriff Nolan go on their asses. Ursula sighs, her back resting against Cruella’s chest. “Do you ever regret any of it?”

“Any of what?” Cruella strokes Ursula’s hair behind her ear. The motion reminds Ursula of her mother. Cruella then traces the intricate lines of Ursula’s winding, curling octopus tattoo, her nail scratching gentle along the purple and black art sloping over her shoulders and neck. It was the first ink she’d gotten since she’d escaped her father and met Cruella.

“The running,” Ursula answers. Her breath hitches as Cruella’s hand wanders between her legs, fingers just grazing the dark hair hidden beneath the suds. “The…the bad stuff.”

“Regret is useless,” Ursula says, tone even, almost warm. It’s a voice she reserves only for Ursula, only for her Squid. “What’s there to regret with my wicked girl by my side?”

Ursula opens her mouth to speak, to finally ask the questions she’s kept bottled up—why are you like this? What happened to you?—but before she can collect her thoughts, Cruella’s fingers find the folds of her cunt, gentle prodding her open so she can press against her clit.

“There she is,” Cruella says, breath hot against Ursula’s neck as she squirms into her touch. “There’s my wicked lovely.”

“You do this to me,” Ursula says lamely, body shivering in the warm tub at Cruella’s persistent touches. “You’re the only one.”

One of Cruella’s hands wanders up to Ursula’s breast, squeezing it, thumb grazing the nipple until Ursula cries out for something, anything to relieve the ache between her legs. “I know,” she says, and slips two fingers into Ursula’s cunt.

As Ursula arches into Cruella’s touch, the water splashes out of the tub and onto the bathroom floor, soaking Cruella’s clothes. It will wash away some of the blood, but there will always be a stain on the tile.