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

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Previous Part: dreamwidth :: livejournal :: insanejournal

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When she wakes, the bed is empty and King's already in the bathroom, whistling to himself as he neatens up his beard. Before this summer, she had no idea that he did that - that he still shaved and that he whistled while he did it - and it hurts, it really fucking hurts that this is all she gets, all these little pieces of a life she's never going to be a full part of. The pain clenches in her chest, a tense, tight feeling that takes her breath away for a moment.

But she's always been the kind of person who keeps going through the pain; she takes a deep breath and then another, slow and sure until that tightness recedes, leaving a weird kind of emptiness behind.

It's early - she doesn't need the 6:37 blinking on the clock beside her to tell her that. Checkout time is eleven, and she's tempted to see if she can drag King back to bed until then just so that she can have those few more hours of him, or maybe even longer just so that they don't have to leave today, so she's got more time to get used to the idea that this is all she gets.

But when King finally emerges from the bathroom he's fully dressed, and his wash-bag is already packed and in his hand.

"Oh hey, you're awake," he says, his smile too bright and beaming for this early, for their last day together like this. "I was beginning to think I'd have to resort to throwing you into a cold shower to get any signs of life."

She drags a smile onto her face, keeping it there through sheer willpower.

"You're up early."

"Yeah." He shrugs like it's no big deal, like he doesn't know he's ripping her heart out. He probably doesn't - she's been careful enough to hide it from him, after all. "It's a long drive back to the city. I wanted to get on the road asap. Do you mind if we grab something to eat on the way instead of before we set off?"

"No." Her smile feels frozen again, splintered and fractured around the edges. "That's fine."

At least he makes her a cup of coffee while she showers, and she gulps it down when she emerges, hoping that the bitter taste will be more palatable than the taste of mingled grief and regret that's already on her tongue. He ruffles her hair as she drinks it, but it's distracted like he's too busy thinking about what they've packed and what they haven't as his eyes dart around the room, cataloguing and crossing things off a mental list. Maybe she's projecting, putting the best spin on things. Maybe he's finding this as awkward as she is, although King usually signposts 'awkward' from a great distance with flashing, neon signs.

It's not until they're standing at the checkout desk, dealing with a clerk who's almost as sleepy, as grumpy as Abby is, that she realises that King hasn't kissed her this morning. And that, she thinks bleakly, is that.

She retreats into silence once they get into the SUV, because silence is safe and she can lock down everything tight. The numbness helps, like packing the wound with ice, and that's how she thinks of it; a temporary stop gap until she can retreat somewhere private to fall apart and then put herself back together.

King doesn't seem in the mood to talk either as the miles roll by and she's grateful for that, for the silence. She stares out of the window at the never-ending stream of trees until she's sunk into a fugue state, until the never-ending why why why in her brain dies down to something empty and bearable.

"You okay?"

It takes her a second to realise that King's talking to her and a second more to find the words to answer him, staring blankly at him the whole time. Even she wouldn't be convinced by the 'Fine' that finally falls from her lips, and she's not surprised when King's face creases in concern.

"You sure?"

No no no no.

"Yes."

"Okay. You're... you're just being quiet, even for you."

His brow is still furrowed as he switches his attention from her to the road and then back again, and she hates him a little for this, for caring even if it's not the way she wants. The way she didn't know she wanted until it was too late.

"I'm fine," she repeats, and King's frown deepens.

"Okay..." he says, drawing the word out sceptically, and she really doesn't need this. Why the hell can't he drop it?

Because if he dropped it, he wouldn't be him.

"You looking forward to getting home?"

"Sure." That word's flat because that's how she feels: flat and flattened and crushed. The a/c's not on but even so she's cold and she pulls her jacket more firmly shut like that's going to help.

"Jesus, Whistler, it's like drawing goddamned teeth." He flashes her an irritated look, exasperated like she's not playing ball when she's not even sure what game they're playing now or what the rules are any longer. "Are you still pissed at Hedges? Even now?"

It takes her a second to figure out what the hell he's talking about, to remember what even started all of this. "No. I'm not still pissed at Hedges."

"Oh. Are you pissed at me, then?" He shoots her another look, something that's not so much irritated as edging towards an anger all of his own. "What did I do?"

"You didn't do anything."

"Okay, what didn't I do that I was supposed to?"

Love me she thinks and the pain flares again, icy cold shards stabbing into her heart, ripping out her lungs.

"I'm not pissed at you." She can't be. He's done nothing wrong, made no promises he hasn't kept, lied to her, loved her.

"Hey, you know what would be awesome? If we didn't do the 'I'm not going to tell you what you did wrong but I'll punish you for it anyway' dance. That would just be..." His mouth twists into something tight and bitter for a moment and his fingers clench on the wheel. "Absolutely fucking fabulous. Been there, done that, would have the scars to prove it except for that whole heal-like-a-motherfucking-vampire gig."

This time it's anger that flares through her and she welcomes it, welcomes the heat that it brings because at least it's some fucking warmth. "I'm not punishing you for anything," she snaps, the words and tone sharp, hard-edged. "Don't be so melodramatic."

"Right." His tone is just as hard as hers, just as sharp. "I'm being melodramatic."

Her anger ebbs away as rapidly as it arrived, leaving her tired, and heartsick, and grieving. She hates this, she fucking hates this. "I'm just... I hate long car journeys and I just want to get home. So can we please not make a big deal out of this?"

There's a beat and then two before King finally sighs. "Okay." Then there's another beat before he adds, "Sorry."

"Me, too," she gets out, and the words are truer than he'll ever know.

"I might occasionally... be slightly melodramatic."

A soft huff of laughter escapes her, catching her by surprise before she can shut it down again. But King relaxes when he hears it, his grip on the steering wheel loosening and a small smile appearing on his face.

It suits him much more than the tight, stressed look she'd caused.

"Is this our first fight?" he asks, relaxing further.

"I punched you in the face the very first time I met you," she says, aiming for casual and probably missing it.

"Yeah, but I was a vamp then. It doesn't count."

She summons up a smile from somewhere, a twitchy little thing that seems to satisfy him anyway. His fingers start to drum on the steering wheel, a little tic of his that he only does when he's relaxed. She envies him that, the ability to deal with shit and just move on. He's stronger than she is in a lot of ways, and she envies him that, too.

"It was good, this summer," he says suddenly, glancing at her and meeting her eyes for a moment before his are drawn back to the road. "Maybe we should do something like this next year, you know, assuming we haven't wiped the fuckers out by then."

She can't summon up a smile for him this time, not when she can see the future stretching out in front of her, tempting and terrifying in equal measure. If they'll do this again next year he'll break her heart all over again, without even realising, and she'll have to pick up the fractured pieces all over again, over and over again until that's all she is, all she has left - pieces, broken pieces of something that's forgotten how to be whole.

And it is just so fucking tempting, because two months with King out of a year is better than twelve months without.

And maybe that thought - that realisation - is what gives her the strength, the desperation, to finally put an end to this, kill that stupid hope stone-cold dead and put it out of its misery. "I don't think a summer fling is supposed to last more than one summer, King."

The car jolts forward so suddenly that her arm automatically flies up, bracing for an impact that never comes. The car fishtails for a moment before King manages to regain control of it again, and she's left staring at him open-mouthed as shock stutters through her, her heart racing with adrenaline.

King's hands are gripping the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles are white and he's just staring out through the windscreen, his expression blank, not the frantic, what-the-fuck expression she expected if he'd almost hit something. She glances back down the road behind them, but she can't see anything: nothing hit and nothing that's now bounding away, alive only thanks to King's quick reflexes.

She has no idea what the hell just happened.

"What did you say?" King's voice is quiet, toneless but she's still skittish, too half-scared out of her wits to be able to take his question in.

"What?" She tries to get her pulse under control again, deep, even breaths as she slowly uncurls her fingers from the defensive fists they'd automatically formed at the first sign of danger.

"What did you just say, Whistler? I mean, tell me I misheard you."

She blinks at him, unable to unscramble her brains long enough to answer him.

"A summer fling?" There's a note of disbelief in his voice, and something else, something harder underneath it, more bitter than simple sarcasm. "That's how you're categorising this?"

She finally finds her voice, but it's too small and quiet for this. "That's what it was, wasn't it?"

King doesn't miss the past tense, and the corner of his mouth tightens, nothing like the easy smiles and smirks he usually gives her. All of his moves now are deliberate, so in control of himself that it's like klaxons blaring, because King is all loud noises and jerky movements when he's pissed, not silent and shut down. His expression smooths out to that blank mask again and it unsettles her, setting her pulse to racing again, fight or flight or...

Not fuck. Not anymore.

"King?"

He still doesn't answer her, locked down tight in that silence, but he hits the turn signal and the brakes, taking a turning that she hadn't even seen was there. They crunch to a halt in a gravel parking lot, right in front of a convenience store-cum-café-cum-gas station. Last fill-up for fifty miles the sign says cheerfully, and Try our homemade pound cake.

King's hands are still white-knuckled on the steering wheel, and all Abby can hear is the steady clicking of the engine cooling.

"You're going to have to explain this to me like I'm stupid, Whistler." His words are clipped, tight and tense, but she can sense the anger that's bubbling just below the surface, and it's throwing her off her game. "Which obviously I am, because the idea that this is... was -" Hard lines form around his mouth as he corrects himself. "- a holiday romance never fucking occurred to me."

She doesn't understand what he's saying, why he's so angry, not at first. Maybe she won't let herself understand, because it sounds like...

It sounds like she should hope, even after she's tried to kill it, and she should know better than that. Plan and contingency plan and make damned sure you have escape routes mapped out, yes, but don't hope. Hope is for people who haven't got a fucking clue how fucked up the world really is, who think life isn't short and that things can last.

"And you didn't think to bring this up at any time over the last, oh, six weeks or so? You wait until the drive home before you casually mention that you're dumping my ass? Jesus, Whistler." He finally releases his grip on the steering wheel, and his hand is shaking as he wipes it over his face. "Sometimes you can be a cold-hearted bitch."

"Don't call me a bitch," she protests automatically, her mind still spinning, still trying to catch up, but it's slipping, the gears not catching like they should.

"Then don't fucking act like one!"

He's yelled at her before, when he's been scared out of his wits or an op has gone pear-shaped but not like this, not with such venom. Not in a way that leaves him panting and out of breath afterwards, as though the words have been ripped out of him, torn from his lungs and forced through his throat.

And then he lowers his voice to something hot and hard, and that's even worse, because there's not just anger in there, there's grief, too, and a pain that tempers it like steel.

"And for the record, Whistler, if you're just looking for someone to fuck on vacation and then leave behind, it's generally not a good idea to fuck the guy you have to go home with after. Makes for some really awkward fucking conversations."

He stares at her for just long enough for the words to sink in, sear themselves into her brain along with the fury on his face, the pain in his eyes. And, yes, there's still anger in his gaze, but that's not what numbs her, what tears all of her words away and leaves her mute and shaking.

For one brief moment, she can see how much he fucking hates her for doing this to him.

And then it's gone, fading into something bitter and bleak, something she'd seen all too often in King's expression in those dark days after she'd dragged him out of Danica's clutches, after Sommerfield had given him the cure. Something she'd hoped she'd never see again.

"I need to piss," he says, tearing his gaze away and stepping out of the car before she can even think to stop him. It's an excuse, she knows it's an excuse to get the hell away from her while he pulls himself back together, and maybe that's why she lets him go. That or the fact that she's still fractured and splintered herself, in too many pieces to stop him as he slams the door behind him, too hard for it to be accidental, and stalks towards the café. His spine stiffens further with every step he takes away from her as he pulls on his anger, uses it like a shield.

She freezes for a moment too long. By the time she gets hold of herself, flails for the door handle - her sweaty fingers slipping painfully off the plastic the first time she tries - his long legs have already carried him into the building.

She hesitates, torn between racing after him and waiting for him to cool down enough for them to actually have a conversation. King doesn't let things fester, not like Sommerfield, who can hold a silent, seething grudge for days at a time. He forgives a lot, more than she thinks he should sometimes.

She'll just have to hope that he forgives this particular cluster fuck, and in the meantime at least it gives her some breathing space to figure out what the hell just happened.

Twenty minutes later, she's still sitting there, staring blankly through the windshield, and King still hasn't reappeared. She runs his words through her mind over and over again, looking for the catch, for the thing that will kill her hope stone-cold dead again, this time beyond resurrection, but it just refuses to die.

Fuck it. Even her patience has its limits. Either King will have calmed down or he won't, and either way, she needs to know. Anything would be better than sitting in this limbo, letting her brain imagine the worst.

It takes her another five minutes to figure out where the hell King's hidden the spare set of keys to the SUV - because no way is she going to leave it unlocked with the amount of weaponry they have secreted in the trunk - and that gives her enough time to second guess herself more than once. Maybe it's that that finally drives her out of the vehicle - the fact that she can't make up her goddamned mind, twisting and turning in the lightest of breezes - but she takes a deep breath and sets off in the direction that King had headed.

There's no sign of King in the café, just a bleached blonde behind the counter whose roots are showing and a brunette by the till who looks up from her magazine sullenly when she hears the bell over the door ring. The blonde is a little more curious, looking Abby up and down, head to toe, but given that there's no one else in the café maybe this is the most excitement the waitress has seen all day.

"He's out back," she drawls, and Abby blinks at her, silent for long enough for the blonde to exchange a smirking look with her friend. "The guy you came with." She touches the tip of her tongue to her top lip, like she's enjoying this a little too much. "Your boyfriend."

There's a slight lift to the last word, not quite enough to make it a question but enough to convey the waitress's thoughts anyway, but if she actually believed it was going to be enough to discomfort Abby - Abby, who has faced down fucking vampires, for Christ's sake - she's a little disappointed. Abby simply nods at her, keeping it just the polite side of unfriendly, and then glances around the small café, trying to figure out what the hell the blonde means by 'out back'.

"We got some tables out there." It's the brunette's turn to speak this time, and she doesn't bother with the 'polite' side of unfriendly as she points towards some glass patio doors. She doesn't even look up from her magazine, where her attention is now firmly fixed. "For paying customers."

There's no missing the meaning behind her words and the blonde smirks. Abby has a choice - ignore, tell them to go fuck themselves, or buy something, even if it's just to keep the peace. And given that she has no fucking idea what mood King's in or how long this is going to take, she goes for option number three. She knows enough to pick her fights with care, and she's not planning on picking any more today, not if she can help it.

"Two black coffees, please. To go." And then, because there's picking your fights with care and then there's being a pushover, she adds, "Don't bother with any sweeteners."

The sarcasm doesn't escape either of the two servers, who exchange a look she pretends not to see, but given that they're right in front of her and there are limited opportunities for them to spit in anything, she thinks maybe she's won that one. She can only hope that her luck holds out as she takes the coffees that are handed to her with fake smiles and heads towards the glass doors.

There are picnic tables out there, sitting at the top of a bluff the graduates down to the wood below. The wooden kind with benches and King is sitting on top of one, his feet on the seat like he couldn't give a fuck as he stares out across the vista stretching in front of them. Admittedly, it's an attractive view but she's doubtful that's why he doesn't look up as she heads towards him even though he knows she's there. She can tell he's aware of her, and it's comforting that there are some things about him she can still read.

She's not sure what the hell to say, where the hell to start, and so she ends up putting his cup down beside him before clambering up onto the bench herself to sit next to him. His eyes are red, the look in them lost now, not angry, and something twists painfully inside her.

She did that.

If he notices her hesitation, the shy looks she's sending him while she searches for the right thing to say, he doesn't give any indication of it. Instead he just clears his throat, still not looking at her, before saying, "I'm sorry I called you a bitch."

"That's all right. You were angry."

"No." He clears his throat again. "I was... upset. And, yeah okay, angry. But I'm sorry anyway."

She nods, twisting her cup round and round in her hands, still searching for just the right words. "King..."

He cuts her off. "I, um... I knew I was going to fuck it up eventually, you know?" He steals a quick look at her before his eyes dart away again. "I guess I just didn't think that even I'd fuck it up quite that quickly."

"You didn't fuck it up," she says quietly. "I did."

She doesn't think he's heard her, or he isn't listening to her, not at first, because the look in his eyes stays distant, a little lost.

"I keep asking myself what the hell did I miss, what cues didn't I see, and, you know, I haven't got a fucking clue, even now."

"King..."

"Because you? You're straight as a fucking arrow, Whistler. No bullshit, no beating around the bush. You've never been less than honest with me, and God knows I fucking appreciate it."

She's feeling like complete shit now, but he still hasn't finished.

"So why weren't you honest with me about this?" He looks straight at her, his expression tired and his eyes still wet. "You touched me like it wasn't temporary and you kissed me like it wasn't temporary, and... For fuck's sake, Abby, you even held my goddamned hand walking down the street."

Her lips part, but she can't find anything to say, and after a moment, he starts talking again, which means he just keeps on twisting that knife.

"I just couldn't figure it out, how I could mess this up so fucking badly when I thought I knew you so well."

She finally finds her voice again, but all that comes out is a soft and wavering, "King..."

He nods, his eyes never leaving her face. "And the only thing I could think was that maybe I hadn't. Maybe you were being honest with me, like you always are. But that didn't make sense either, because why the fuck wouldn't you just come out and say the shit you needed to say? Why would you think this was just, what? A casual series of one night stands? I just didn't get it. And you know the answer I came up with? The only thing that makes any fucking sense, and even then it doesn't make a lot?"

He pauses just long enough to give her the space to answer, but nothing comes out of her mouth, all of her words held back by the heart in her throat.

"That you're scared," he says. "But I know that can't be the right answer either, can it? Not you, not scared. Because you, Whistler? You are fucking fearless."

She still can't say anything, but King studies her face for a moment and then nods, as though there's something in her expression that he expected to see.

"And then I thought about what I am. Or what I'm not, I guess. I'm not a fucking quitter." He shrugs as though it's no big deal, something looser in the set of his shoulders now even if the set of his mouth is still bitter, five or more years of regret behind it. "If I was the kind of person who quit when things got tough, I'd have bled out on the fucking floor that night Danica bit me instead of making it to the undead section of the populace. If I was a quitter, I'd never have survived five years of that psychotic horse-humping whore. I'd never even have made it to the cure let alone made it through it.

"And I'll be fucked if I'm about to quit now."

Abby lets out a sound, something half-way between a laugh and a sob. Even she's not clear which it is, but it has King looking back at her again anyway, really looking at her.

"Unless that would be creepy and stalkerish, of course," he adds. "Because God forbid I end up like my demonic ex. So if you decide to tell me to fuck off, give this up because there's no fucking hope, I'll listen."

She doesn't say anything, doesn't even open her mouth because she's too goddamned scared that what's going to come out isn't clear enough and just fucks this up even more. Instead she just stares at him, her heart still choking her and her eyes burning, tears prickling in spite of her efforts to keep calm.

King nods again, any animation disappearing from his face, leaving something beaten down and a little broken behind.

"Well, now that I've had my little breakdown, I guess we'd better get back on the road again. Long way to go. Thanks for the coffee, by the way," he adds, finally picking up his cup and waving it at her. "The caffeine will come in useful, although this might be the last bathroom break for a while, so if you want to go, go now."

He stands up, brushing the dirt off the back of his jeans with his free hand.

"King?"

He turns to look at her again, but there's something exhausted in his expression, something that's just begging her to stop, and his next words confirm it. "I'm not sure I'm up for another heart-to-heart right now," he says quietly. "Can we put off this emotional roller-coaster ride until I don't have an eight hour drive ahead of me?"

"King," she says again, more forcefully this time, but when he stops and looks back at her, the rational words, the ones she'd spent twenty minutes in the car trying to find, disappear, evaporating unsaid from her tongue again. "You asked me why I was quiet," she says instead.

King nods, but there's no real understanding in it, just a rote acknowledgement that she's spoken. He looks wiped out, drained, and something in her heart twists again, but she manages to get the words out anyway. Just.

"I didn't want to go home."

He looks at her blankly as if, now when she needs him to understand her - to rely on that unspoken connection that they share - he hasn't got a fucking clue what she's talking about.

"I knew... I knew that when we got home that this would be over. And... I didn't want to go home."

It seems to take forever, the moment stretching out until Abby doesn't think she can bear it anymore, but then he finally gets it, the confusion in his eyes disappearing, replaced by something brighter, something not as shredded as it has been. And that gives her the strength - the impetus - to keep talking, dragging the words up from somewhere, as confused and fragmented as they are.

"I thought this was what you wanted, because if you wanted me for longer than that, then why wouldn't you want me back at base?"

King shakes his head at that, but not as though he's disagreeing with her, more like he can't quite believe the words that are coming out of her mouth.

"Jesus, Whistler. Of course I wanted you back at base. Why the hell do you think I organised this little road trip?"

"You... organised this because wanted to get into my pants?"

"I wanted to make you happy." The words are exasperated, but that's better than the blankness or the grief he's been exhibiting so far, so much better that it renders her silent again, relief shaking her frame. "You were bored and you were grumpy and you were pretty much melting into the street every time you stepped outside. I just... I wanted to make it better for you."

"You... "

"Not that I made a particularly good job of it, obviously." King sighs, scrubbing his hand tiredly over his face and then back, ruffling his hair. "Jesus, Abby. I love you but sometimes you drive me fucking crazy."

What he said doesn't register at first, not on top of everything else, and she stumbles on, the words tumbling over each other as she tries to get them out, as her eyes prickle with unshed tears, the relief bubbling up in her and feeling oddly like grief. "I thought... You didn't even kiss me this morning."

King stares at her for a second, his expression edging back towards pissed or frustrated, she can't tell which and it doesn't matter anyway because he's already moving towards her, placing his cup on the table and then pointedly removing hers from her hand and placing it next to his.

And then he leans in, both hands cupping her face and holding her still while he kisses her.

It starts off hard, his exasperation clear, but when she relaxes into him, her fingers reaching up to catch hold of his t-shirt, it softens and one of King's hands slides to her shoulder and then around her back, holding her in place while he explores her mouth.

She's practically melted into him by the time he pulls back and peers down at her, taking in her red eyes, the wetness on her cheek that he reaches up to wipe away with his thumb, his fingers still gently cradling her face.

"Fucking crazy," he says, shaking his head. "I swear."

Her fingers are still twisted in his shirt and she can't let go, doesn't want to let go even if she could. Instead she leans back into him, burying her face in the crook of his neck. The first silent sob that shakes her body comes as a surprise, and she bites back on it hard, not wanting to do this, not now.

"Sorry," she manages to get out, cracked and broken, as the second one hits, and then the third, humiliating her.

King's arms wrap more tightly around her. "Oh, sweetheart," he says. "Baby, don't."

"Sorry, sorry..."

He shushes her, his hand rubbing up and down her back and his body warm and solid against hers, anchoring her, helping her regain control of herself, although less quickly than she would have liked.

The embarrassment hits just as quickly, just as hard, but when she tries to pull away from him, her face burning with it, his arms tighten around her like he can't let her go. She gives in for a moment, just another concession to weakness, and presses her hot face into his shoulder, her fingers finally uncurling from the fabric of his t-shirt.

His hand settles in her hair, fingers tangling in it as he presses a kiss against her head. "You okay now?" he whispers against her forehead and she nods, finally finding the strength to step away.

This time he lets her go, but not far, his fingers busying themselves with brushing her hair out of her face. She can't meet his eyes, not even when those same fingers wipe the tears from her cheeks again. She's so fucking humiliated, losing control like that, kicking herself for being so fucking weak. Christ, what must he think of her? Probably the same thing she is.

It's only after he's caught hold of her chin and lifted her face up to meet his, kissed her softly and pulled back again, that she can finally look at him.

His own eyes are a little watery and he gives her a wavering smile. "Christ," he says. "What a fucking pair."

She laughs. She can't help it, and it makes it easier, it really does, especially when he pulls her towards him again. This time the kiss he presses against her skin is shaped like a smile.

"We do... um. We do seem to be fucking this up," she admits.

"Well, it doesn't involve shooting people. Be a hell of a lot easier if it did. We're both good at that. Not so much with the talking, it seems."

"I don't know," she teases, sliding her arms back around his waist until she's pressed against him as close as she can. "You've been known to miss."

"Ha fucking ha, Whistler. Such a comedian. You should probably leave the jokes to me from now on."

She doesn't want to bicker right now, not the way that they're usually so good at, and so she limits herself to a soft sound of agreement, tucked comfortably in his arms. It would be easy to stay there, forever if she could - and how fucked up is that? - but in the end practicality rears its ugly head.

Like the fact that the tear trails on her face are starting to itch and her nose is running.

She lets go of him reluctantly, scrubbing the backs of her hands over her cheeks. "You got a tissue?" King pats his pockets and finally produces one, balled up but she guesses that it's clean enough for what she needs.

"God, I'm a mess."

"Well, I'd agree that you're a hot mess, yes."

She gives him a look, and it's odd how easily they slip back into it, the same teasing banter they've always shared, the kind of back and forth she's never been comfortable doing with anyone else. Only now there's a twist to it, a deeper meaning behind every word.

"Do..." She hesitates, trying to sort through and pick the right words. "Do we need to talk about this some more?"

"God, I hope not." King's nose wrinkles. "Are you seriously asking me if I want to talk about my feelings?"

She gives him another look and he grins, although it's a little less bright than normal, a little raw around the edges. "Okay, fine," he says, adopting a put upon look that she can spot is fake from a mile away. "I admit that feelings might be involved in among all the amazingly hot sex, which I think meets the technical definition of dating. The feelings, not the hot sex, although I suppose the sex counts."

"Does it now?"

"It does." He grins at her again, a little more real this time, and reaches out to snag hold of one of the belt loops on her jeans, tugging her closer. "In fact, I think it might actually meet the technical definition of 'going steady'."

"Only if you have a class ring to give me," she says, dredging her memory for the kind of high school terminology she'd never paid any attention to while she was actually in high school. "Or we could go straight for the adult term, which I believe is 'being in a relationship'."

"That right?" His smile is doing things to her, like it's always done things to her, giddy little butterflies in her stomach that eases the last, lingering ache in her heart. "What does that require me to give you?" He widens his eyes at her, his smile turning filthy in a way that makes his meaning clear. "Because I wasn't joking about the 'hot' in 'hot mess'."

"Shameless," she murmurs against his mouth, her lips brushing his as she shapes the word.

"Absolutely." He kisses the corner of her mouth, far too briefly, and pulls back when she tries to deepen it. "But I figure I'm good for it since I know damned well that you heard me say I love you, and I'm pretty sure now that you love me, too."

"I did." He kisses her again and she sinks into it, the way his mouth moves slowly over hers sending shivers through her. "I do."

He smiles again and there's something sweet it in, something that lights up in his eyes and makes him look ridiculously young, ridiculously happy, something that chases the last of the clouds in his eyes away. "So, should we head back to the car or find a hotel and spend the rest of the day in bed?"

Right then, she doesn't care which option they choose - she just wants him to kiss her again and again, and he does, leaning in, warm and solid in a way that makes her feel safe and, yes, loved, both things she'd never known she needed, never thought she would.

"God, you are just..." he says as he finally breaks for breath, his hair tousled and his eyes dark and warm. "You are just fucking perfect."

"I'm not perfect."

"You are for me." His smile cracks, all broken edges for a moment, the kind of vulnerability he never lets anyone else see. "And I warn you now, I'm probably going to fuck this up."

"No." She pulls his face back down to meet hers, pressing her forehead against his and resting her palm on the nape of his neck, calm and steady. "When have I ever let you fuck anything up? It's not going to happen, King, okay?"

"Okay." The word comes out of him a little breathlessly, a little unsteady, and she shakes him gently, her hand still cupping the nape of his neck, until the tension leaves him in a sigh. "Okay," he says again. "Sorry."

"I still have that tissue if you need it," she says. He laughs, and even if that's a little unsteady around the edges as well, it's solid in the middle and that's what counts.

"I love you."

"I know." She gives his neck a last, comforting squeeze and then lets go. "I love you, too, and you're perfect for me, okay?"

"Okay." He takes a deep breath and gives her a nod, more in control of himself now. "I guess we should get back on the road."

"We've still got time." And they do, the realisation leaving her a little giddy again for a moment, long enough so that he's looking at her quizzically by the time she comes back to herself and adds, "We can drink our coffee, take in the view. There's no rush."

There isn't, not any more, no cramming everything in because she's so conscious of time slipping through her fingers. She smiles at him again, her fingers still pressed against his shirt, feeling his heart beat steadily underneath it, warm and sure, before she lets go of him and steps away.

She sits down on the bench and pats the seat beside her, waiting until King settles down next to her before she leans into him again, relaxing against his body as he puts his arm around her shoulder.

"It's a hell of a view," he says, and she knows, just knows without even looking, that he doesn't mean the woodlands stretching out below them.

She smiles, reaching out to take hold of his hand and feeling his fingers slide through hers, warm and solid, real. It doesn't really matter if they head back today or find a hotel, like King only semi-seriously suggested. They'll make it back to the Honeycomb Hideout eventually, catch up with the others, head out to kill some vamps. Get back to the day to day business of living, do all the things that they are seriously fucking good at and even better at together. And they will be together, in the field and out of it.

That's real enough for Abby.

King was asking the wrong question when he asked if she wanted to head home today.

If home is where the heart is, then she's already there, with King.

The End
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