Title: Living is Easy
Author: alyse
Fandom: Blade: Trinity
Pairing: Abigail Whistler/Hannibal King
Word Count: 50,000
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: none

Summary: Summer rolls in, hot and humid, and the trail of the vampires they hunt turns cold. When King suggests that they follow the rich to their playgrounds, where vampires like to play at being rich, Abby realises that a summer on the road doesn't just bring sunny days; it brings a stripped down King and nothing to distract her. One way or another, she's going to get burned.

Masterlist: AO3 :: dreamwidth :: livejournal :: insanejournal

-o-

Previous Part: dreamwidth :: livejournal :: insanejournal

-o-

If things are different between her and King now, there's one thing that hasn't changed. The vamps are still the same arrogant assholes they've always been, vicious and vindictive, like the years they've lived have burned away the last remnants of their humanity, leaving nothing but cruelty behind.

That doesn't explain the young ones though, the ones who haven't had time to harden into something irredeemable, and sometimes they're the most vicious - the most animalistic - ones of all.

Tonight two of them follow a young woman out of the open ticket midsummer dance at an upscale country club as she stumbles into the trees, because fuckers like these always hunt in packs, too newly fledged, too scared to hunt on their own. The forest is thinned out around the club's perimeter, stripped down to its essence, tamed the way that the rest of the mountainside hasn't been yet. It means that the vamps can keep her in sight as she takes a shortcut to the gate where a cab must be waiting, ready to take her back to town.

If anyone finds her body, the cops will think it's her boyfriend after that hissed argument on the terrace, the one the vamps had been watching, especially after she'd turned her face away, scrubbing at her cheeks with the back of her hand. At some point, when it seems like his temper's cooled, her boyfriend will follow her out into the trees, because what kind of asshole lets his girlfriend walk home alone in the dark?

But he's not the first one to track her, to note where she's heading, and he's not the first one on her trail.

The vamps treat it like a game, taunting her as they stalk her through the trees. They catch glimpses of her white skirt, her pale legs, the gleam of her eyes, wide and wary in the moonlight, and that only spurs them on, harassing her as she leads them deeper into the darkness, cutting her off when it looks like she might try to head back to the safety of the club.

This far out no one will hear her scream, especially over the sound of the music still blaring out of the club's open doors.

They think it will be easy.

It will be the last thing the stupid fuckers ever think.

They corner her in a grove of ash trees, moving to flank her and ready to stop her when she tries to run, ready to end this and feed. But she doesn't run; instead she smiles, something small and knife-sharp that slices through their confidence.

The first one doesn't even see the blade coming.

She lunges towards him, spinning under his arm when he raises it in a vain attempt to block her, and then she's behind him, sweeping his legs out from underneath him so that he stumbles, falling forward onto his face. He doesn't make it; as he goes down, she slams the blade into the back of his neck, sliding it neatly between the C3 and C4 vertebrae, and he dissolves into a fiery cloud of ash.

Sometimes, Sommerfield's rough and ready on-the-fly anatomy lessons really do pay off.

The second vamp is more cautious, and for a second Abby thinks that she's going to have to chase him through the trees, hunt him down the way he was trying to hunt her, maybe even drive him into King's arms the way he'd been trying to corral her with his sire-mate. But in the end, his hubris pushes him forwards, unwilling to back down because he can't imagine losing. He screams obscenities at her, calling her a 'fucking bitch' and a 'cunt' as he rushes her, all fangs and flailing limbs.

She hits him in the stomach with a roundhouse kick but he's so caught up in his fury that it barely winds him. He grabs at her, his mouth still working, and as she ducks underneath his clutching hands, his fingers snag briefly in her hair.

It hurts as he yanks it, trying to drag her back towards him. She stumbles and twists around in his grip, catching sight of the triumphant smile that flares across his face as he slams her into the tree trunk, winding her for a moment and leaving bruises that King will trace tomorrow.

But he's miscalculated. He leans in too close, gloating even now, and she slams her blade into his chest, under his ribs, sinking it in to the hilt.

The silver works its magic and he's gone in an instant, ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

The tree bark is rough against her shoulders blades, scratching against her skin as she straightens up, leaning back against it while her chest heaves with a mixture of exertion and adrenaline. She was never in any real danger, not when King is right there, only a matter of feet away, watching the fight go down but respecting her enough not to step in unless she needed the help. But even knowing that doesn't stop the shivers running through her, every part of her body sensitised, alive the way she usually only feels after a fight.

Flight, fight, fuck. She's run, she's fought and now that only leaves the third one. She's already wet and willing, and she thinks that maybe King can tell, even from all the way over there.

King stalks towards her, his eyes dark and heavy-lidded. There's something predatory in the way he's moving, something that ratchets up the tension coursing through Abby already, leaving her shivering now in anticipation rather than the adrenaline comedown.

He leans in, his arms bracketing her body, crowding her back into the trunk. "Jesus," he breathes into her ear. "I love to watch you work. So fucking hot, Whistler." His palm slides up her thigh, fingers flexing into her muscles as he hesitates at the edge of her skirt. His eyes glitter in the moonlight as he stares down at her, the hunger clear in the shadows the moon leaves on his face. "And I fucking love that you're wearing skirts now."

That's the only warning she has - the only warning she needs - before his hand is under her skirt, fingers dragging her panties down impatiently as she squirms against him, trying desperately to unfasten his belt and pants even as he's trying to get her panties off, eager for the feel of him in her.

They compromise - she pushes him far enough away from her so that she can drag her underwear down her legs and kick them off and he wrestles with his belt and pants, producing a condom from his pocket and rolling it down his already erect length while she waits impatiently. And then his hands settle around her thighs, lifting her clean off the ground and bracing her body against the tree trunk as his dick slams home.

She keens, a high-pitched sound that would embarrass her to make at any other time, but not now, not when King is fucking her like this, hard and deep and fucking perfect. She wraps her legs around his waist, her fingernails scrabbling desperately for a grip on the tree behind her, the bark rough underneath her palms and her fingertips.

He slams home hard again and the world narrows to nothing but the feel of his dick in her, the pleasure rapidly spiralling out of control. It builds and builds with each erratic thrust, each brutal snap of King's hips forcing another sharp cry out of her mouth. His hands are gripping her thighs, her ass, hard enough to bruise, but even that doesn't slow the sharp shards of pleasure surging through her, forming a direct line from her cunt to her breasts, her parched throat, her fevered brain.

She's going to come - that was never in any doubt.

When she does, King doesn't try and muffle her the way he would back at the hotel, laughing into her mouth as he kisses her and she moans. He lets her scream out her pleasure, the muscles in her throat tight enough as she arches her neck to leave it strangled, hoarse and broken. He doesn't slow his pace, either, not while she's coming, convulsing around him, or afterwards, when she's easing down from that high and her clit is sensitive, too sensitive for his urgency. She bites at her lip, bearing it for his sake, and it doesn't take him long to let out a groan of his own, spilling into her with each hard buck of his hips.

Her legs are unsteady when he finally puts her down, letting her slide from his grip like he can't hold onto her anymore. She stumbles, but he catches her, pulling her into his arms until both of them are breathing a little more steadily.

She can't find her underwear, despite searching for it in vain while King deals with the condom, tying it off and wadding it up in a tissue until they can deal with it properly. In the end, she has to walk back to their car bare-assed, with the night air cool on her overheated skin, cooler still where she's still damp between her legs. It makes her feel wanton, wicked and embarrassed both at once, praying that there won't be an errant breeze and not sure what King will do if there is. He's right behind her, his hand coming to rest on her hip when she hesitates in the parking lot, trying to make out which dark coloured SUV is theirs. He presses closer and he's half-hard again, his breath stirring her hair as he nuzzles at her temple, and just like that she wants him again, already.

He spends the drive back with one hand on the wheel and the other heavy on her thigh. She spends the drive back waiting for him to slide that hand up higher, slip it underneath the hem of her skirt, for his fingers to slide between her legs where she's still wet.

He doesn't, although he does rub his thumb lightly across her skin each time he has to stop at a crossing. By the time they get back to the hotel, she's about ready to scream again, but in frustration this time.

He follows her up the stairs, so close behind her that if she stopped, if she leaned back an inch, just one, his body would be pressed up against hers. His hands settle on her hips again, broad and steady, as she fumbles the key card into the lock, waiting for the light to turn green. And then they're in.

They don't make it to the bed. He's on her as soon as the door shuts behind them, his hands sliding up her skirt as her fingers slide into his hair, as desperate for him as he is for her. He fucks her up against the wall, her legs wrapped around his waist again, but this time he kisses her while she comes, muffling her cries with his mouth.

When it's his turn, he comes with her name on his lips, breathless and broken. She presses her forehead to his, holding on to him tightly, breathing the air that he breathes and not letting him go until he can't take her weight any longer. Only then does she slide free, and her hands still linger on him, touching him because she can't bear to have him move too far away.

They shower together before falling into bed, and when he pulls her closer he doesn't seem to care that her hair is still wet, leaving damp patches on his chest. The water darkens the hair there until it forms whorls she can slide her fingers through, petting him absently while her body aches pleasantly, languid with satisfaction. He traces the bruises on her hips with his fingertips and there's something possessive in his touch, something that finds an answering echo in her as she maps the scratches her fingernails have left on his shoulders and his neck, burying her face there to breathe in the scent of him, salt and sex and shower gel.

He slides his fingers up her spine and murmurs her name again, the sound sleepy and muted as he presses his mouth against her hair. Something finally eases in her chest, the last of her tension evaporating as she follows him down into sleep, still wrapped in his embrace.

-o-

In Ashbury, King drags her to the movies with some bullshit story along the lines of 'Well, you never know what could be lurking in the dark, Whistler', and 'So, what? You have something else you could be doing this fine evening?'

She could be doing King.

She's smart enough not to come right out and say that but it doesn't matter how much self-control she has - King sees it written on her face anyway and laughs himself stupid, the ass. He's still grinning as he slings one arm around her shoulders, tucking her into his side as though it's the most natural thing in the world.

It feels natural, and it takes her a second to get her head around the fact that it should feel weird, or at least it would have felt weird once, back when King was still touch shy and she...

She's not sure what she was but touching him now is easy, so easy, and she slips her arm around his waist, leaning into him for a moment before she pulls away.

The movie theatre is a multiplex, ten screens or more, and she stands in the lobby staring at the scrolling boards above the desks, for once frozen by indecision. She has absolutely no fucking idea what any of these movies are about, which ones are horror or thriller or comedy. Or even, God forbid, romance.

"What do you want to see?" King asks.

Damn.

"I don't mind," she says. "You choose."

He studies her for a moment, but she ignores his look of surprise - it's not like she always calls the shots, no matter how much he teases her about her need to be in control.

"Just not romance," she adds when his attention turns to the list of shows and times. He shoots her a sidelong look. "Or horror." She gets enough of that shit in real life. She doesn't need to add any fictional trauma to it.

The corner of King's mouth turns up in a small smile. "Any other requirements?" he asks gravely.

"Not 3D," she decides, not wanting her periphery vision compromised by dark glasses just in case King has a point about things that go bump in the night.

His mouth twitches again. "Anything else?"

"You could try not to show how much of an ass you are."

She gives him a dry look and he ducks his head, grinning back at her in a way that tells her that he's not at all offended.

"No nudity," he says. "At least not in public. Gotcha."

She rolls her eyes just to make him grin again.

"Okay." King stares at the board, biting at his lip thoughtfully as he scans through the names. "Do you want to watch superheroes saving the world, giant robots kicking giant alien ass or buddy cop comedy?"

"Any," she says. "Seriously. I can't even remember the last time I went out to the movies and the last movie I actually saw was some god-awful shark flick Hedges was watching on cable."

King nods seriously, his eyes still fixed on the board. "I think I remember that one. It had two heads or something, didn't it?"

"You were paying that much attention?"

He shrugs. "Babes in bikinis." And then he shoots her another look. "None of whom could hold a candle to you, sweetheart, obviously."

"Nice save," she says dryly and he grins, his attention already diverted back to the apparently difficult choice of how they should waste the next couple of hours.

"Okay." He sounds decisive so she's not at all surprised when he starts to make a beeline for the teller, but he pauses when she doesn't follow immediately, holding out his hand for her, and that does catch her a little off-guard.

He keeps hold of her hand while they stand in the queue waiting to be served, his thumb stroking meaningless patterns over the backs of her knuckles, and he doesn't let go until he has to pull his wallet out to pay. She's too busy people watching to even register which movie he's chosen, but when he's paid for the tickets and reaches for her hand again, hers is already halfway there.

Okay, so back row of the movies might be a cliché, but she's not going to object, not when he pushes the arm between the seats up so that she can settle next to him, with his arm around her shoulders and a packet of Milk Duds in his lap for them to share. She doesn't even like Milk Duds - she'd have preferred popcorn if he'd asked - but she finds herself eating half of them anyway, feeling his body shake next to her every time he laughs and laughing along with him as much as at the movie. It's not a bad movie as these things go - not a shark in sight and the leads are women - and it's a nice feeling, warm, comfortable, just sitting in the dark with him like a normal person, doing normal things that everyone else takes for granted.

For a moment, the rest of the world can go hang.

After the movie's over he actually takes her out for ice cream, finding some artisan ice cream parlour where the variety of flavours are nothing like the ones she's seen in in the window of Baskin Robbins. She picks strawberry and balsamic vinegar while he picks maple and pecan and the pair of them sit in window seats, watching humanity pass by. He makes her laugh and that makes him smile and for a split second she can pretend that they're not keeping an eye out for vamps, that they're just two people, spending some time together on a normal summer's night.

It's only then that it finally dawns on her.

This must be what a date feels like. Except that this isn't one, not for real. This is just a summer fling.

Maybe it's the balsamic vinegar, but suddenly there's a sour taste in her mouth.

-o-

She's antsy for the next couple of days, not quite sure why her nerves are sizzling and she can't settle. Ashbury is one of the biggest places they've been for a while, even if it can't hold a candle to the city they live in, so there should be vamps, and she and King spend their days familiarising themselves with the locale, figuring out the most likely hunting grounds. It gives her something to do, something to distract herself with, and maybe it's the anticipation of a successful hunt that's getting to her, the need to move, to take down something inhuman. If she can get back to something familiar then maybe the world will start making sense again.

She misses her bow with an ache that surprises her. She's just as handy with a gun or a blade and they're easier to hide in the city proper, but she still finds her palm resting on the carpet in the trunk of their SUV, longing for the feel of her bow, which is tucked safely out of sight in the spare tyre well. Maybe if she found a range, hit some targets, she'd feel a little less unsettled, a little more like herself.

But there's no call for it at the moment, not when they're trying to be blend in and, as much as she loves her bow, it's not a subtle weapon, not like her knife. So she buries the need down deep, but it's easy to blame that for her twitchiness, the fact that she's on edge.

Today she wakes before King, as she has for the last couple of mornings, staring at the ceiling while he breathes heavily next to her - it's not quite a snore, for all that she teases him about it, but it's enough to tell her he's still sleeping and probably will for a while yet.

Normally she'd enjoy the silence, the way that the early morning light streams through the window with that golden hue to it that only comes when the sun first rises, but today she's too restless, her mind darting here, there and everywhere, never still.

The ceiling has a hairline crack in the plaster and she stares at it for a while before rolling over onto her side, facing King.

He doesn't even twitch, in spite of her shuffling, and she's left watching him while he sleeps, taking in the way that the sunlight highlights his hair, the way that his face has smoothed out, the subtle stress lines that are always there, even when he's joking, easing.

For someone who's never still when he's awake, he's oddly peaceful when he sleeps. She knows that he dreams of the past sometimes and the dreams are never pleasant - he never talks about them, but the mornings after one of his nightmares he's snappish, wound up as tight as a spring and just as likely to unwind messily if you touched him the wrong way. But now, when she thinks about it, she can't remember a single bad dream since they've been sharing a bed. Maybe he's one of those people who stays still while he dreams, frozen in place and managing to hide everything underneath that, but somehow she doesn't think so. Not King.

He's not still now. He finally stirs in his sleep, flinging one arm across her waist before settling down again.

It would be easy to close her eyes again, slip closer to him and bask in his warmth. It's bearable with the air conditioning working, and she's tempted, so tempted, especially if there's any chance that she could sleep for a couple more hours.

But in her heart she knows that there's no chance of that, and so instead she takes a deep breath and eases away from his side.

He wakes at that - of course he does. He blinks up at her and she can't resist temptation this time, stroking her fingers over his hair, a gentle ruffling motion that has his eyes drifting half-shut again.

"Go back to sleep," she whispers. "I'm just going for a paper. Want anything?"

He blinks at her again, making her regret the question if thinking about an answer is going to bring him all the way awake. But then he sighs, his eyes closing completely as he murmurs something that she reads as a negative.

She lingers until she's sure he's fully asleep again, his breathing evening out and becoming that deep not-quite-a-snore, before she moves away. This time, he doesn't wake, and she swallows down the momentary disappointment at that. It's easier if he sleeps - there's no need for both of them to suffer because of her insomnia.

The streets of Ashbury are almost empty at this time in the morning, and the kerbs are still damp with the morning dew. She's the only tourist around as far as she can tell, and she draws the odd glance or two, leaving her feeling both too obvious and invisible at the same time.

There are a couple of shops up the road, overpriced and cheery convenience stores selling beer and spirits, chips and fruit to keep a busy tourist going, but she ignores them, not wanting to deal with bright chrome and plastic smiles, even at this time of the morning. She wants something simpler, or more complicated in a way that suits her, not these whitewashed temples of homogeneity.

She's not sure where she's headed - she has no particular destination in mind - and so she keeps on walking, making her way through the hotel district and then out into the city proper, trusting on her sense of direction and her spatial memory to guide her back.

The streets get a little grimier, a little more careworn, and she starts to breathe more easily, sloughing off the persona she'd hardly been aware she'd adopted - the cute little skirts, the preppy little smiles are just a memory now. The only thing that's missing is King, but she's not ready to turn back, not yet.

She finally finds a little hole in the wall corner store that's as close as she's going to get to the bodegas of her home city, somewhere that stocks newspapers in both Esperanto and English and where she can pick up some beef jerky that tastes like home. She glances at the headlines of the Ashbury Times while she waits to pay, looking for the kind of patterns that King picks out so easily, the ones that might indicate vamp activity, and picks up some candy at the counter - the kind that King likes - while the vendor serves the customer before her, his tanned and weathered face pulling on a practiced smile when it's her turn.

"Bonan matenon. And how are you this fine day?"

"Tre bone, dankon," she returns. "Kaj vi?"

His smile widens, becomes a little more genuine even though her accent could be better. For a second she feels close to real again before his gaze slides away from her and he nods a brief acknowledgement to someone who's just walked into the store. A regular, Abby would guess from his expression, unable to turn off the part of her brain that analyses these things. Someone familiar in a way that she isn't.

She smiles politely, takes her change and leaves.

Even so, her steps are a little lighter as she heads back to the hotel, taking in the signs of life as Ashbury wakes up. She passes a gaggle of girls, long-legged and in their late teens, giggling on a corner as they wait for a bus, and some kids clutching skateboards even though she's seen nowhere to skate. They're a little more real than the rarefied world she's been living in and she pauses for a moment to watch them, squinting into the sunlight as they jostle each other, ride up and down the street but keeping an eye out for any adults who might spoil their fun.

When they catch Abby watching, they stop, elbowing each other, and she takes the hint and moves on.

She's been longer than she planned and the early morning light has become brilliant sunshine by the time she finally jogs up the steps to the hotel's entrance, looser and more relaxed than she was when she left. She nods at the concierge, ignoring his plastic smile in return - she didn't bother with makeup and her hair is gathered in an untidy ponytail at the back of her neck, but if she doesn't give a shit, she's not sure why he should.

She takes the stairs, not the elevator, needing that run up a couple of flights to loosen the last of her muscles, get her ready for the day ahead. Maybe they'll have more luck hunting tonight, and she suits that better than she does movie theatres and ice cream parlours, which seem even less real in retrospect. She could do with something nice and uncomplicated like a staking to take the edge off.

She half expects King to still be dozing when she opens the door. She's even toying with the idea of stripping off again and joining him in bed for a couple of hours, just to see if she can get some more sleep before the night ahead. But he's wide awake, stretched out on the floor by the window in his undershorts, doing a series of ab crunches.

He doesn't see her at first, not when he's so focused and she's so light-footed, not least because she hadn't wanted to disturb him if he was still asleep. It's not until she closes the door behind her, barely aware that she's doing it, that he looks up and catches sight of her.

He slumps back on his elbows, chest heaving with effort, and gives her a bright smile.

"Hey."

She'd answer but her mouth has gone dry at the sight of him, stretched out in the sunlight. His shorts are riding low on his hips, exposing his treasure trail, and his bare chest is gleaming. Her eyes follow the line of hair from one to the other and then back again.

"I thought maybe we could hit Lakeland Springs this afternoon. It's the next town over, and according to popular opinion, it has some five star restaurants and a slight problem with missing tourists. What do you think?"

She doesn't want to think. Thinking is seriously overrated in her opinion, at least when it comes to King. She starts stalking towards him, full of predatory intent and stripping her top off over her head as she goes.

"Or, we could do that," he says. "That totally works for me."

It works for Abby, too, because sex is about as uncomplicated as it gets.

Right?

-o-

At some point, Abby thinks idly, she's going to need to get up again, get some food if nothing else. Her stomach is rumbling but King is surprisingly comfortable for a guy who's so muscular. She lets her fingers drift over his skin, absently stroking a path across his abs.

"That was fun," he says, still breathless. "We should do it again sometime."

She huffs in amusement, rubbing her face against his chest as his hand comes up and settles over hers, flattening it against his stomach.

"We should get up," she murmurs. "If we want to get to..."

"Lakeland Springs," he prompts helpfully, stretching his neck to peer down at her. "A place of a myriad of possibilities, many of which involve staking assholes. So, in short, my kind of town."

She snorts, letting her short fingernails scratch lightly at the hairs growing just below his belly button. "And you figured this out while I was getting a paper?"

"The internet isn't just for downloading the latest tunes, Whistler. It also has news sites. And porn. But you're right - we should probably get up, if only so the maid can clean the room without the risk of walking in on something a little more live action."

She shifts reluctantly, peeling herself away from his side and rolling over onto her back, rubbing at her face tiredly. "The 'do not disturb' sign's on the door."

"Sure, but that's kind of my point. It's pretty much a permanent fixture. Only yesterday the concierge asked me if we were on our honeymoon."

She blinks up at him as he rises to his feet, dragging his fingers through his hair. The words take a moment to sink in and, when they do, there's a funny little skipping sensation in her chest. She keeps her expression neutral, though, long practice making it a little easier than it might have been, even around King.

"What did you tell him?" she asks evenly, and King shrugs, looking around for his underwear.

"Told him it was something like that. I figured that if I said yes outright, he might notice the lack of wedding rings."

Oh. She chews this over for a moment, trying to ignore the squirrelly little feeling that's still making itself known in her chest.

"Relax, Whistler." King rolls his eyes. "I told him you were my secretary and this was an illicit escape from it all, hence all of the hot sex."

She gives him a look.

"Okay, fine." He waits for a beat, just long enough to make it funny in his mind if no one else's, and then adds, "Actually I told him that I was your secretary and this was the only way I could guarantee getting a raise in this economy."

"Funny," she says dryly.

"I thought so. Mind if I hit the shower first? Or do you want to conserve water and share?"

"If I shower with you," she points out, "we'll probably be there the rest of the day."

He flashes her a quick grin. "I do so love your optimism, honey, even if it's misplaced."

She gives him another look, one that doesn't quell him at all. "You can have the shower first," she says. "You need it more."

"I feel out ought to point out that that's because you've spent the last thirty minutes or so riding me like a goddamned pony."

She raises an eyebrow at him. "Are you objecting?"

"Hell, no. Feel free to ride me hard and put me away wet anytime, sweetheart."

She tries to keep a straight face, she really does, but the corner of her mouth twitches anyway. He doesn't miss it and gives her another one of those brilliant smiles of his, one of the ones that are a little less cocky, a little softer around the edges.

Which doesn't do anything to ease that weird feeling in her chest.

"Okay," he says, heading into the bathroom. "Let me know if you change your mind."

She waits until she hears the shower turn on before she slumps back onto the bed again, staring at that now familiar crack in the ceiling. Odd that a place that can spring for a concierge and where the restaurant charges a small fortune for an entrée has missed it, but then perhaps the hotel's normal clientele hasn't spent as much time on her back as she has over the last few days.

The thought makes her oddly self-conscious, even more so when she thinks about King's crack about the concierge and his stupid assumptions. Maybe King was simply trying to wind her up or - more likely - crack a stupid joke without meaning to wind her up, but it bothers her more than it should.

Jesus. Like she actually gives a shit what people think about her. Why would people noticing that she and King are pretty much spending all day together in bed be so different?

It shouldn't, but the way it niggles at her is what finally drives her from the bed. If in doubt, move your ass and do something. It's a motto to live by.

The something involves brushing her teeth, leaning over the sink while King's still in the shower and it's not until she's rinsing that it strikes her how comfortable she is doing this, how fucking domestic they are together. She stares at her reflection in the mirror for a long moment, searching her expression for some sign that she's lost her fucking mind, and then she sighs.

She's screwed one way or the other, she thinks as she pulls back the curtain, planning to join King in the tub. She might as well make the most of it while she can.

-o-

It turns out that Lakeside Springs is a couple of hours down the road, although it's not that far as the crow flies. But since neither she nor King are birds of any description - and, as King has pointed out more than once, cool as it might sound, the vamps of his acquaintance have never possessed any shape shifting abilities that might have made the whole thing at least semi-fucking-bearable - they're stuck with driving.

She lets King do it - he loves driving and the roads are different enough from those in the city to make it a nice change for him. She stares out of the window for most of the way, the trees towering up on either side closing them in until she's feeling almost claustrophobic.

"You okay?"

She starts a little at the question, not realising that she'd fallen so silent that King had noticed. Normally he's perfectly happy to leave her to her thoughts when he's behind the wheel, keeping up a stream of chatter if he feels like it to which she doesn't have to listen or respond if she doesn't feel like it, or even falling into companionable silence far more often than most people would believe given the normal persona he projects.

She must have been really withdrawn if he's concerned enough about it to ask.

"I miss my bow," she says quietly, because it's easier to explain that, the nagging feeling of something being out of place, than it is to admit that trees are giving her the heebie-jeebies. "I was thinking that this morning while I went for the paper."

He nods thoughtfully, thankfully not mocking her for it. He gets it, she supposes, the idea that a weapon can be an extension of you, so much so that it feels off, as though you're missing a limb, when you don't have it. He should understand - he's a little too attached to his Bone Jack rifle even if it draws too much attention for most of their missions. He's left it behind on this trip, and she wonders if that's because of practicalities or because Hedges was being a dick and not letting him take it out of the armoury. Either way, she thinks that King might be one of the few people that gets it.

He clears his throat, his eyes still on the road. "You know, I'm pretty sure we can find a range if you want. One of these places must have something like that. They have pretty much everything else."

She appreciates the sentiment, she really does. But: "It would draw too much attention."

"Probably less than you think," he argues. "And face it, it's not like we're sticking around. No one's going to join the dots, sweetheart. Think about it at least, okay, and I'll see what I can do."

Sometimes she could just kiss him and not just because he looks good naked.

"So, tell me about Lakeside Springs," she says, changing the subject to something safer. "What's so special about it?"

"Apparently it has miraculous springs," he says. "It's a real pity that their powers don't seem to be able to do anything about the sudden spike in muggings, especially the ones that end up as corpses with throat wounds."

"We should probably do something about that."

"And there you go again, just reading my mind. It's scary how in sync we are." He shoots her another smile, one that tells her he doesn't mean it, before his attention is drawn back to the road.

She watches him this time instead of the trees, and not just because he's the more attractive scenery as far as she's concerned.

"You sure you're okay?"

Maybe she's been a bit more obvious about it than she thought. "Yeah," she says before admitting, "A little claustrophobic, maybe."

He steals another look at her, this one a shade more concerned. "Yeah, the trees are freaking me out a little bit, too. They just don't end, do they? I keep thinking about Lord of the Rings." He catches sight of her confused look. "Ents?"

She remains none-the-wiser.

"Man, Abby, did those movies completely pass you by? I'm surprised Hedges hasn't pinned you to a chair and made you watch them."

"I'd like to see Hedges try," she says, and King smirks.

"Me, too."

She studies him for a moment longer before asking, "Did he make you watch them?"

King shakes his head. "I read Tolkien when I was younger." And then he smiles, something nostalgic in it. "Every summer between the ages of twelve and seventeen in fact."

"What happened when you were seventeen?"

"I discovered girls."

"I thought you were sixteen when that happened." The comment takes him by surprise. "That first night, at the diner. You said something about your last milkshake and getting into Sherri something's pants when you were sixteen."

"Sherry McEwan. You remember that?"

She shrugs, not wanting to admit that she remembers most of the things he says, even the things that are obviously crap. She doesn't tune him out anywhere near as often as he probably believes, largely because he's funnier than she's willing to let on.

"Man." He laughs softly, lost in memory for a moment. "I think I was closer to seventeen, and she went to camp that summer. So I re-read Lord of the Rings again." He glances over at her, his expression self-deprecating. "No one around to impress."

"So, you were a bit of a geek when you were a kid?"

"I was... awkward, let's leave it at that." He steals another look. "I might have been the class clown."

That she can believe. It's weird, though, that she knows him so well and yet his life before Danica Talos got her fangs into him is a complete mystery. He was in Chicago when he had the misfortune to run into Danica, Abby knows that much. Post-grad, although he's never said exactly what in, and he's Canadian.

And that's pretty much all she knows. It's depressing how little it is now that she lays it out in her mind like that.

"What?"

She's never been good at lying at King - never seen the need to before now - and the words are out of her mouth before she can stop them, not that she'd pull them back in again even if she could. "I just realised how little I know about your life before Danica."

He considers this for a moment, his brow furrowed as he works his way through it. And then he shrugs, as though it's not important.

"I don't really think about it, I guess. So I don't really talk about it. Why? What do you want to know?"

Everything, she thinks. "What do you want to tell me?"

"There's nothing to tell, really. I grew up in Vancouver, youngest of three kids, all boys. Normal kind of a childhood, I guess. Read a lot, played hockey and lacrosse, which I guess is a Canadian thing. School, college, got good enough grades to want to do a post-grad. Moved to Chicago to do it, since their programme was good. Met Danica, and my life got flipped, turned upside down." He gives her a small smile, his fingers tapping a little beat on the steering wheel. "What about you?"

"Me? I'm just a small town girl, living in a lonely world."

He gets the reference straight away and grins at her, and if she had to guess why, it's because he's pleased that she's playing along.

"Seriously, though? That's it?"

She shrugs, uncomfortable now that it's getting personal about her, and tries to get her thoughts in order. "Mom was a waitress. That's how she met my dad. She was attacked one night on her way home and he was there to save the day. She said she thought he was lonely." And that, right there, sums up her father, she thinks a little bitterly.

"So... she made him a little less lonely?"

There's no condemnation in King's voice - just a kind of mild curiosity - but she bristles anyway, too used to the comments, the stereotypes. "Something like that," she says brusquely.

She doesn't miss the sidelong look he gives her or the way he chooses his next words with care, or as close as King ever cares enough to come to it.

"And it was just the two of you, growing up?"

"For a while. Mom married when I was eight so I had a step-dad after that. He was a decent enough guy. I had an okay childhood. No great trauma, really."

"But you still chose this life." He's still being careful about the way he's wording things, and that's weird enough that it has the opposite effect than the one he probably intended, drawing her attention instead of diffusing it.

"I always knew vampires were real," she said flatly. "What was I supposed to do? Ignore it?"

"Hey." King looks genuinely distressed for a moment. "That wasn't a criticism, sweetheart. Really. I mean, where the fuck would I be if you hadn't made that call?"

She takes a deep breath, knowing that she's being unreasonable, knowing she has to let it go. God only knows what's wrong with her.

"I'm sorry," she says stiffly. "I guess I'm a little more on edge than I thought."

King accepts the apology, such as it is, with good grace, taking one hand off the wheel to reach for her hand, squeezing her fingers gently. His thumb strokes lightly over her knuckles for a moment before he lets go.

"That's okay. It was a stupid fucking question."

It wasn't, not really, but she appreciates the attempt.

"Do you ever..." King pauses, his eyes fixed on the road in a way that tells her that maybe he's not done asking questions he thinks are stupid. But then knowing that a course of action is potentially reckless has never really stopped him from taking it. "Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you'd never known of their existence? If they had never existed, just stuck to being fucking myth and legend like everything else?"

"Well, I wouldn't be here for a start," she says dryly, and he pulls a face, something half-sheepish in his expression.

"So that would be the silver lining to their existence, then," he says.

Abby's not sure that her father would agree with that sentiment. She's under no illusions of what he lost when his wife and daughters were murdered, even if the act was what set Abraham Whistler on his path to fighting vamps and training Blade. Looked at in that light, Abby's a piss poor consolation prize.

That's a familiar pang, and one she doesn't waste much time on, not anymore. Since she can't change the past, there's no point in worrying about it. What's concerning her now is the reason behind King's question.

"Do you?" she asks. "Wonder what life would be like?"

King shrugs, still paying more attention to the road than Abby, at least on the surface. "I killed a lot of people," he says eventually, his voice low, quiet. "If I could change that... God, I'd want to be able to change that."

Abby stays silent, and not just because she's giving King the space to talk if he wants to. He never talks about this kind of stuff, not out loud although she's not so stupid that she's missed it going on beneath the surface. But for him to come out and just say it...

That's a hell of a lot of trust to place in her, so much so that it's rendered her mute.

"But if it wasn't for that..." He steals another look at her, this one quick and furtive, like it's something he's ashamed to admit. "Sometimes I think it was almost worth it."

That silences her for a moment, too. She's never thought of it like that, what vampirism would be like without the vampirism part. Unlimited lifespan without having to take it from others. No need for blood, but you'd be stronger, faster, heal almost instantaneously. It would be tempting, she supposes, except...

"I'm not sure I'd want to live forever, even without the need to feed," she admits quietly, feeling the subtle criticism in each word despite her attempts to keep it as neutral as possible. "I think... I don't think people were made to cope with that."

"No, that's not what I-" King huffs out a laugh, but there's no amusement in it as he scrubs his hand across his face. "I'd still have Danica to deal with and believe me, five years of that bitch was more than enough. The idea of spending eternity with her..." He shudders, and she gets the impression that only half of that is put on for dramatic effect.

When vampires get hurt they don't scar, but even without any permanent markers carved into his skin, King has dropped enough cryptic references over the time she's known him for her to build up a partial picture of his life with Danica Talos and it's not a pretty one. Bitch doesn't even begin to cover it.

"That's not what I meant," he continues quietly, his gaze flitting to her and then back to the road again. "I just... Forget it. We're here, anyway. That must be Lakeland Springs up ahead."

The trees are starting to thin as they head down into a valley, but she pays no attention to the signs of habitation, too busy watching King instead. He ignores her, although he's subtle about it, just a slight tension in his jaw that gets more pronounced the longer that she looks.

It's not until he's found a parking space, has fed the meter and is waiting for her to join him on the sidewalk, his fingers tapping a little staccato beat on the roof of the SUV, that he answers the question she's been careful not to ask.

"If it hadn't been for Danica picking me up in that bar," he says quietly, avoiding her gaze, "you and I would never have met. And, well, I... I don't think I've ever had anyone in my life I trust as much as you."

He's rendered her mute again, and part of him must get that because he drops the subject, ignoring the bombshell he's just dropped, and gives her a crooked, shamefaced little smile instead.

"So on that awkward note, let's just go kill us some vamps."

-o-

It's late, or early, when they finally ride back to Ashbury, vamps staked and lives saved. Abby is silent most of the way back, lost in thought as she stares out of the window into the darkness.

She should be touched. She is on some level, it's just that every other level is freaked the fuck out. She can't stop playing his words over and over again in her mind, until they start to lose all meaning and she's not even sure that what she remembers is what he actually said.

She remembers the other things he's said, though, when he's been drunk or hurt or just in the mood for teasing and hyperbole.

Hey, how's my best girl?

She should remember. She's kicked his ass for it more than once, rolling her eyes as he's laughed himself stupid, the kind of drunk that she prefers - tipsy and cheerful, not falling into that dark place he does sometimes when he hits the bottle, when the memory of Danica drags him down and drowns him.

How's my best girl?

She should have known. God knows she knows King better than she knows herself sometimes. She should have known.

She thinks maybe she did, maybe that's the reason for the subtle undercurrent of unhappiness that's been running through her days.

My best girl.

My best -

Friend.

The word settles in her mind, heavy and certain. It fits perfectly in spite of his smiles, the warmth of his touch, and it hurts even though it shouldn't. She's always known that this couldn't last, that it was the heat of the summer and would cool as soon as autumn arrived. She thought she was resigned to it, to having King and then not having him again once they got home, getting as much of him out of - and into - her system as humanly possible.

But...

The weight of it, knowing that he sees her as his best girl, his best friend with added benefits, at least for this summer, settles somewhere in her chest, tight and uncomfortable until she can't breathe.

But she's always been a pragmatist, and she pulls on that now, uses it to keep her face expressionless, her breathing even, despite the tightness of her throat, the prickling in her eyes. This thing between her and King will burn out fast, she's certain of that now, but it burns hot and it burns bright and she'll have the memory of it to keep her warm through winter.

And they'll still be friends after it's over. She'll still have that.

She slides her hand across to King's seat and feels his fingers close around hers again, squeezing gently. This time she's the one who strokes her thumb over his skin, memorising the feel of it, the warmth of it, the calluses his guns have left on his fingers. She holds on until King has to pull away, his attention back on the road.

The darkness rushes past outside, so pitch black that Abby can't even make out individual trees in the gloom.

All she can see is the wood.

-o-

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