Title: Living is Easy
Author: alyse
Fandom: Blade: Trinity
Pairing: Abigail Whistler/Hannibal King
Word Count: 50,000
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: none
Beta: Aithine
Challenges: Written for the 2013 het_bigbang challenge.
Author's notes: Many thanks to: my tireless cheerleader, [livejournal.com profile] hiddencait, and to my beta, [personal profile] aithine. Also, all the thanks to my artist, [personal profile] leyna, who made me some completely gorgeous artwork that can be found here.

Also, thanks to [livejournal.com profile] irony_rocks and [livejournal.com profile] peanutbutterer, who worked so hard on making sure that this whole Big Bang went smoothly and was immense amounts of fun.

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.

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Summer has arrived and it's brought a blanket of heat with it. It settles over the city, thick and oppressive, smothering everything underneath it until Abby is worn thin, exhausted simply by living. Even the fall of night brings no relief - the air still has a weight to it, pressing down on Abby until every step, every breath she takes requires effort. It's only sheer stubbornness that's keeping her upright this evening, and sheer force of will that's keeping her moving step after step, breath after breath.

The air is so humid that it's like running underwater, and she focuses, driving herself on, counting the beats in her head as the music pounds in her ears and the sweat slides down her spine. It drips down her forehead, too, sliding into her eyes, stinging and blurring her vision. She reaches up to wipe it away, not even sparing the breath to curse as she puts one foot in front of the other.

Cursing won't help; it's just a waste of energy and she doesn't have the energy to spare. Sweating doesn't help either, but she's got no choice in the matter. It's too hot, too close, too soul-suckingly miserable for even sweat to cool her down, not when it can't evaporate in the high humidity. All she can do is grit her teeth and concentrate on the steady rhythm of her feet on the asphalt - one- two, one-two - using it to keep her going.

She's hit asphalt now and the road surface is soft beneath her feet, heat-stressed like the rest of the city. It sucks at her shoes, just another thing to slow her down, dragging at her like the heat, and the humidity, and the slow-burning anger smouldering inside her. She bites back another curse as she stumbles and heaves in a harsh breath through a dry mouth and down a parched throat before she finally gives into temptation and takes a swig from her rapidly emptying water bottle.

The water's tepid, but it soothes the burning in her throat even if it does nothing for the burning in her lungs, the aching in her legs, the anger still growing inside. Each step is harder now; her legs are shaking and her heart is pounding, the litany in her head the only thing she can cling to, not even her music helping, not now. She's done this run a hundred times, maybe more, and she normally lopes through it with ease, but not tonight. Tonight she's running through water, not air, and there are weeds tangling around her legs, slowing her down.

She takes another mouthful of water and spits it out like that will rid her of the bitter taste that lingers on her tongue. She is still slowly boiling in her own juices, exhausted beyond measure, but she finally sees the rusting hull of the Honeycomb Hideout in the distance, wavering in the early evening light.


Not far to go now, and she tries to hold tight onto that thought like it's a lifeline. It doesn't bring much relief, not when her hair is plastered to her neck with sweat and tendrils are escaping from her hair-tie to stick, spider web-like, to her cheeks. The sweat drips into her eyes again and again she swipes it away with an impatient arm, setting her mouth stubbornly as she keeps on going and going and going, because stopping is just not fucking acceptable. She's Abigail fucking Whistler and she does not - does not ever - quit.

If she really was a dog, she thinks bitterly, at least she'd be able to fucking pant, and just like that, the anger flares again, something bright and furious that eats up the last of her oxygen.

She swallows it down, using it to power her last few steps as she sucks in another heavy, unsteady breath. The litany in her head is no longer one-two one-two, but bitch, bitch and she bites back on a snarl, dampening it, using it.

She's usually better at this, at using the anger and the frustration to drive her on, not hold her back. And it's not the first time that that insult has been thrown at her. Au contraire, as King would say. She's heard it her whole fucking life, from stuck up bitch in high school to fucking bitch from the vamps she's taken down.

She thought it had lost its power to wound, but then she's never heard it from Hedges before.

She can still picture his face as he'd screamed it, brick red and shining, his hair spiky with sweat and his shirt sticking to his stomach. She pictures it again now, but thinks of her fist sinking into the soft, doughy curve of his belly, of her elbow smacking into his jaw, her knee into his groin.

See how you like that, you fucking asshole.

It helps; she flies up the gangplank separating the Honeycomb Hideout from the docks like the hounds of hell are on her heels, the metal rattling beneath her feet until she finally skids to an exhausted, sweaty stop at the top.

She collapses against the cabin wall, sucking in one shaky breath after another until her lungs are at least half-way towards forgiving her. There's no sign of Hedges, which is probably for the best. Okay, she knows that he isn't built for this kind of heat, but then none of them are. Logic might tell her that tempers are fraying and Hedges is brittle at the best of times, but that doesn't mean she still doesn't want to smack the stupid look off his face.

Dex looks up from the bank of monitors that serves as their too grandly named 'Security Centre' and raises an eyebrow at her, his expression wary. He should be wary. He'd said nothing while Hedges had tried to rip her a new one - 'tried' because Hedges might be a whizz with tech, but other than a few choice insults he stands no chance going head to head with her. That doesn't mean she's any closer to forgiving Dex for being a silent observer instead of an active participant.

She gathers her dignity and stalks past him towards the showers, flipping a wave in his direction and fighting back the urge to flip him off instead.

On the plus side, she thinks, at least King hadn't been there. He has an uncanny knack of escalating situations like that instead of diffusing them, and then maybe she really would've ended up killing Hedges. Or King.

Sometimes it can go either way.

She hits the showers and turns the temperature down as far as it will go. A cold shower after a long run is normally a stupid ass thing to do, but even at the lowest setting the water is still tepid - Hedges' rainwater tanks catch the sunlight, which is great in winter, but not quite so great in the summer. And she needs to cool down - body and temper alike.

She stays there until the pounding of her heart, the pounding in her head, have died down to something more bearable, and until the bitch, bitch echoing in her ears has been drowned out by the sound of the spray. It's the heat, she tells herself. The heat and the humidity affecting everyone's mood, including hers. She doesn't really want to kill Hedges, especially not in this weather when he'd be stinking up the place in no time.

Sometimes the voice in her head sounds suspiciously like King, and she's not sure that's a good thing.

She takes her time but still finishes before she wants to, the small and annoying goody two-shoes voice in her head telling her to be sensible, not use up too much of their rainwater reserve. It's been weeks since their last rainy day, and it didn't do much to ease the humidity. Now it just threatens to thunder for days at a time, always lurking on the horizon, never coming close enough to bring any relief.

Pretty much like the rest of her fucking life at the moment.

She doesn't bother with a hairdryer even though the humidity will leave her hair damp for hours and frizzy as hell. The idea of more heat on top of the day is just unbearable. She wants to be up on deck, where there's at least the chance of catching a stray breeze, even if it brings with it the stench of the river. It's better than the alternative of hiding in the bowels of the ship with the others, especially when she isn't the only one teetering on the knife's edge between aggression and sarcasm. Sometimes she thinks that the only reason her crew haven't killed each other yet is because it would be too much fucking effort.

She passes Zoë on her way up towards the top deck, slowing her steps to watch the girl as she lies like a melted little puddle in the shade of the cabin. Zoë's hair forms damp tendrils around her wan face, but she's got a bottle of juice close by and she's been slathered with sunscreen - King, Abby thinks, because it would never have occurred to Hedges and Dex would have rubbed it in a lot more carefully instead of leaving white streaks on her arms. Zoë waves at her listlessly and then goes back to talking to her dolls as Abby passes.

"...prepare to die, vampire..."

Sometimes Abby wonders what the fuck they're doing to the kid, how the hell this can be healthy, but she knows better than to say anything to Sommerfield about it. Besides, no matter how she looks at it, it's a fucked up world out there. Maybe it's better that Zoë knows that the monsters under the bed are real, and - more importantly - how to make sure it's their day that ends worse, not yours.

There's got to be some value in that, right?

She's paused for a moment too long, too caught up in her thoughts - Zoë stops playing and blinks up at her, her small face screwed up in confusion. "Don't stay out too long, Zo," Abby says, her throat tight with everything she can't say, and Zoë nods seriously, as trusting of her - as compliant - as always before going back to playing 'hunting' with her toys.

And that only makes Abby's legs feel even more leaden as she walks away.

King is exactly where she would have expected him to be if she'd stopped long enough to think about it - leaning against the railing at the back of the ungainly barge they call home and staring down at the dark water moving sluggishly below, his expression lost in thought. He's no fonder of being cooped up than she is - less, maybe - so of course he wouldn't have been below deck with the others.

But she didn't think and now he's here, in front of her, larger than life. She's not sure if that's a good thing or a bad one, if she can bear company in her current 'bear with a sore head' mood or not. But it's too late to retreat now - he turns towards her, alerted by the sound of her footsteps ringing on the steel decking, and tilts his head quizzically.

She stares back for a moment, trying to decide whether or not she's up to dealing with him. Some of that must show because his mouth quirks at the corner in quiet amusement and he goes back to staring out over the horizon.

She hesitates, tempted to linger silently for longer than seemly, as her mother used to say, but pride drives her on.

"Hey," she says as she takes those final few steps to come to a stop beside him, folding her arms on the rail and mirroring his position. The corner of his mouth quirks upwards in a smile, but he doesn't drag his eyes away from the far bank. Not yet.

"Hey. Hot enough for ya?"

She snorts inelegantly and that small smile of his deepens. Ass. He knows exactly how to get a rise out of her and it seems that the heat hasn't checked those tendencies, even though it's plastered the hair to his head, sweat-darkened and curling at the ends. He's finally acknowledged that it's summer and removed his shirt; his shoulders are freckled and golden in the early evening light and his skin is dewed with the same sweat that's dampened his hair.

The Honeycomb Hideout isn't pretty, but the same can't be said about King. And at least he must have showered semi-recently - he doesn't stink, which is always a plus these days.

"You'll burn," she warns him.

"What's summer without a little sunburn?" he asks lightly, only then turning his head to look at her, his eyes sweeping over her body and taking her in in all of her sweaty, uncomfortable glory.

Even this late into the day, the sun still has some heat behind it, although maybe it's the look in King's eyes that's leaving her dizzy and a little lightheaded. It's tempting to take off her own shirt, just to capture what little breeze there is, but she can just imagine King's reaction if she did that. Dizzy doesn't begin to cover it.

"How was your run?" he asks when she stays silent.

She shrugs, too hot and tired to answer when a shrug sums things up as neatly as any words could.

"Does Hedges still have his balls?"

Of course King would have heard about that - he seldom misses a trick - and she wrinkles her nose, fighting the urge to sigh, to rub at her eyes like that would help the incipient headache looming behind her right eyeball.

The heat, the humidity - perhaps if she repeats that often enough to herself, it will help her to deal with the complete cluster fuck that the last few weeks have been.

"I'm going to take that as a 'yes'. As always, Whistler, it's been a pleasure talking to you."

Punching him is too much effort, but the glare she sends him works just as well. His face cracks into the same sort of grin she'd get if she really had mock-punched him, just as delighted at getting a reaction.

In spite of her poor mood, she has to bite back a smile of her own.

"You're such a dick," she says, and his grin turns into a laugh as he shrugs, accepting the criticism with equanimity, if it can even be called criticism.

She's not sure that it can, not when it comes to King. It's just part and parcel of who he is, and she's never really minded it much when it comes from him.

He sinks back into silence, his expression pensive as he goes back to staring out over the river. She goes back to staring at him, trying not to be too obvious about it. She probably is, in spite of her efforts - it's too hot to be subtle and too much effort to come up with an excuse if she's called on it. But King - for once - misses a trick.

Or perhaps he just sees straight through it, misdirection wasted on him.

"Are we hunting tonight?" he asks instead, and this time her nose crinkles up in frustration.

"Is there much point?"

If he hears the disgust in her voice, he doesn't comment on it. Instead he taps his finger against the railing thoughtfully, the look in his eyes distant as he watches the water flow past.

"I've been thinking..."

Dangerous, she thinks but doesn't say. It's too hot to get into it, and she's not sure that any teasing surface would hide the bite beneath. He pauses for a second, like he's waiting for her to fill in the gap he's left, but her brain is fried and, after a moment, he sighs and continues.

"About, you know, hunting."

Her shirt is sticking to her back where the sweat is already gathering, and she tugs it free impatiently, letting the air circulate.

"Deep," she says, and maybe it's a little more sarcastic than King merits.

He lets out an exasperated little huff, shooting her a sharp look that's a little frayed around the edges as he turns to face her, cocking his hip and leaning against the rail.

"About why we've had so little luck in the hunting department recently."

That catches her attention.


"I might have a theory."

'Might'. That sounds really fucking hopeful. The scepticism must show on her face, too - not that she's ever been great at hiding things like that from him - because his face creases for a moment in frustration.

"We hunt them, they hunt humans, right?" She returns his sudden sharp look with added interest. The phrase 'grandmothers' and 'suck eggs' springs to mind. "So, what happens to the humans in summer?"

"They stay inside where there's air conditioning," she grumbles. "If they're smart."

"Yep." He treats her to another grin, like she's just shot up to the top of the class and she blinks at him for a moment, nonplussed. "Or they go to the mall, where it's bright and has a/c, or the grocery store, where it's bright and has a/c... You see where I'm going with this, right?"

She doesn't. The heat really has fried her brain. She is normally much better at keeping up with King than this.

"Explain this to me like I'm stupid," she suggests. "Or like you're about to get my foot up your ass for being a dick."

He shoots her another look, this one more amused than it has any right to be. He's damned lucky that it really is too hot for her to beat the smugness out of him.

"I'll explain it to you like you're someone who went for a run when the thermometer hit a hundred, if you like? Did you manage to scramble your brains, sweetheart?"

This time she does take a swing at him, something half-hearted and playful. He catches her hand, grinning down at her, but not before her palm has connected with his chest.

His skin is warm underneath her fingers. She pulls back like it's scalding hot.

"Dick," she says again, breathlessly, hoping it covers the rush of blood to her face.

"Whatever you say, sweetheart. But there's a point to this."

"Then get to it."

He takes his time in spite of her impatience, sucking in a breath as he goes back to contemplating the skyline. She tries not to take it personally - that's how King thinks, and it gives her time for the redness in her cheeks to fade.

"Vamps have a hierarchy, right?" His fingers begin to move restlessly, another sign of him thinking, or pulling things from his ass. With King there's just a hairsbreadth between the two. "And at the top, the elite, there's the natural-borns, not that Deacon Frost left many of them standing."

She nods, hoping that he gets to the point soon, or that the sun finally sets and takes some of this heat with it.

"And let's face it, those guys, they're like old money. Danica and her ilk? Well, they're like the nouveau riche."

"Where are you going with this?"

In spite of the heat, her irritation and her exhaustion, it's weirdly fascinating watching his brain work. Almost as fascinating as watching the flurry of expressions that cross his face as he wrangles his thoughts into something someone else can follow.

He doesn't usually have to do this much wrangling with her.

"Danica wants that," he says, and something bleak flits across his face before it evaporates in the sunlight. "That status, I guess. She wants it all - the adoration, the possessions, the class..."

"Okay." She's less dismissive now, dragged in by the pictures he's painting. "And how does this explain why we haven't managed to kill any vamps recently?"

"Predators follow the herd." He shrugs again, and the sunlight catches his hair. "In Danica's case, she follows the money, and the rest of her little coterie follows her."

"You think that the vamps we hunt have gone on vacation?"

Maybe she's been a little too forceful, because for a second he looks almost wounded by the disbelief in her voice.

"I think -" he scowls at her for a moment "- that you were right about the fact that in this kind of weather, people congregate together where it's cool and well lit. If you're rich, it's easy - you get the fuck out of the city, go somewhere a hell of a lot more pleasant.

"If you're poor, it's not. You got no choice but to stay put. So you stay out of the subways if you can help it - because it's too damned hot down there. You stay off the streets, or you spend the evenings in the parks where there are so many people around that the undead can't even get a decent meal in the dark." She wonders if he's speaking from personal experience. "That's like a vamp's worst nightmare, right there. Days are longer, nights are shorter..."

It makes a weird kind of sense when he spells it out like that. She twists and turns it in her head until she can see where it fits together. "Less hunting time," she says thoughtfully.

"And hunting's not as easy, even during the night. But vacation spots... well, they're the perfect hunting grounds. A lot of people out of their comfort zone, in areas that they're unfamiliar with. A lot of people moving through who might not be missed, not for weeks..." He shrugs again, his ill humour evaporating the way that she wishes hers would.

She hums thoughtfully, still considering it.

"So think about it, Whistler." His tone turns wheedling and, when she turns to look at him, his eyes widen appealingly. "This town's dead. We haven't had a vamp sighting in, what? A couple of weeks? And even then it was some pathetic little no-life wannabe who looked like he lived mostly off cats. I think Danica's swanned off to wherever the rich go to play, just so she can keep on killing the high life. And I think that anyone who aspires to being more than a street rat is following right behind her, hanging off her coat tails like good little evil minions. You know it makes sense."

He's too damned tempting, that's the problem. Too tempting and knows her too well. Yeah, their last hunts have been a bust and she's not the only one getting frustrated with that. And she's got to admit that there's a certain logic to what he's laying out. "So it's not just that they've gone on vacation," she says slowly. "You think they've headed to the vampire equivalent of the Hamptons?"

King does that thing where he half grins and shrugs at the same time. There's something both rueful and gleeful in his expression and in spite of herself she's more than half convinced by the story he's spinning.

"They follow the herd, we follow... them?"

He hums in agreement, his dark eyes watching her closely. "You got a better suggestion?"

She doesn't, not really, and it helps that he's not being a dick about it, not challenging her the way that Hedges has been getting in everyone's face recently. He sounds genuinely curious, like if she wants to suggest an alternative, he'll listen.

For someone who is all frenetic energy and attitude, King can be remarkably peaceful and easy to deal with at times.

His words - his opinions - hold weight with her, whether he realises it or not, and she catches herself already trying to figure out the logistics in her head. Sommerfield and Zoë are out - no way in hell is she dragging them across the countryside on what could be a wild goose chase, and - however harsh it seems - they're both a liability in the field. In the same vein, she doesn't want to be in close quarters with Hedges at the moment. Wouldn't want to be even if he wasn't busy being a pissy little asshole.

Even the thought of Dex, as laid-back as he usually is...

"Okay," she says slowly, drawing the word out as the gears whirr in her head. "It's got to be worth a shot. Anything's got to be better than our current strike rate."

He grins at her again, sudden and fierce, and it hits her hard. His words have a weight with her, but so does his smile and thankfully he doesn't seem to have figured that one out yet.

This time it seems that he's too distracted by his enthusiasm to notice.

"I don't know about the Hamptons," he says, and she's content, now, to let him follow his train of thought to the end. "But I'm sure we can figure out the popular, exclusive spots -" He makes little quote marks with his fingers around the word 'exclusive. "- and if nothing else, we can follow the trail of the missing and the recently dead."

She grunts, hoping that will be enough, but he's still watching her expectantly, obviously hoping for more. "Would any of these spots be in Alaska?" she grouches.

His expression morphs into mock sympathy. "A little overheated are we, Whistler?"

She flips him off, the move lacking any of her normal energy to it, and some of the sympathy on his face becomes real.

"I've got a fan," he offers out of the blue.

She turns her head to squint at him instead of down at the water. "Hedges confiscated all of the fans for his server room. And then he banned the rest of us from using too much power so it didn't short anything out," she says pointedly.

Her words simply slide off King, who shrugs, unconcerned. He's still watching her, all traces of sympathy - real or false - now gone. The something else there in his face instead, something she doesn't want to examine too closely.

She's not sure if that's because she's afraid that she's reading him wrong, projecting what she wants to see instead of what is actually there, or because she's afraid that she's reading him exactly right.

"What Hedges doesn't know won't kill him. And even if he finally figures it out, what's he going to do?"

"That's not the point."

"That's exactly the point."

It's too hot to be this argumentative, especially about something as stupid as this. She sighs, letting it go.

"Besides," King continues blithely, "I was planning on leaving Hedges behind, where he can't annoy you to the point where you shoot him." She gives him a look. "Hey, in this heat he'd be stinking the place up in no time."

Sometimes it's scary how closely his thoughts echo hers, even the ones she hasn't voiced out loud.

"You can tell him that," she says and then catches sight of the mischievous expression that flits across his face. "On second thought, I'll break the news," she adds dryly, ignoring his put-on pout. "Let's make sure we still have a team to come back to."

He seems to accept that argument with good grace, or maybe it's because now that he knows that he's won he's willing to be magnanimous about it. Even King knows enough to quit when he's ahead. Sometimes. Whatever the reason, he simply pushes himself away from the railing and heads back into the barge, slowing down to pull on his shirt, meaning that she first gets to catch up with and then overtake him.

The others are exactly where she expected to find them - clustered around the battered table that serves as their galley. Hedges, Abby is pleased to note, swallows visibly when he catches sight of her, his face paling beneath his sunburn. He opens his mouth - and he better be about to goddamn apologise - as King saunters past her and pulls open the fridge.

Cool air swirls around her and she closes her eyes for a second, drinking it in. Man, she would stand here all day if she could. It feels so good that she's almost - almost - ready to forgive Hedges.

"So, Whistler and I are going on a field trip and none of you are invited."

King takes a swig from his cold beer, meeting her gaze over the top of it, his eyes dancing merrily.

After that, her evening goes rapidly downhill.


She's still tired and grumpy when she gets back to her quarters in the early hours. It might have been petty but she'd dragged King out on a useless hunt just so she could pointedly ignore his bitching. They found nothing, of course, but even more frustratingly, King hadn't bitched once.

Just occasionally he shows some signs of self-preservation, especially after he's pulled one of his stupid stunts and she's gunning for his balls.

She finally manages to get her door open, the metal sticking in the heat, and steps inside. It's a little cooler than it was earlier, but not by much, and she's thinking so hard about how much trying to get some sleep is going to suck that it takes a second to spot the fan sitting in neatly in the middle of her bed.

King's stuck a post-it note onto it, and she pulls it off to read.

Sorry, it says. Friends?

It helps, a little, but when it comes to King a little has always been enough.


She leaves the details of their road trip to King. It's the kind of shit he enjoys and he certainly seems engrossed in whatever research he's doing. She sees newspaper print-outs and maps whenever she ventures into the part of their communal work area that King's long since marked out as his own, but she doesn't linger for long enough to figure out what he's doing or where they're going, not with Hedges' computers blowing out heat the way that they do. Whatever King's up to, it's keeping him happy and as long as they end up somewhere other than the city - somewhere where there are vamps to hunt - she'll be happy, too.

That doesn't mean she doesn't still try dragging him out at night, once darkness has fallen and the temperature drops a couple of degrees. Maybe he's right and the vamps have all fled the city for not- so-sunny climes, but maybe he's wrong, and by the time evening rolls around she's usually climbing the walls, ready to do something, anything that's not a whole lot of nothing. King isn't the only one who can be a stubborn bastard about things like that - she's been known to attract that description a time or two, herself, although in her case it's usually stubborn bitch.

She spends her days with Zoë, and it's not just guilt at leaving the girl behind that drives her to it. There's a simple kind of pleasure to be found in spending time with someone who's as uncomplicated as it gets. It's easier than dealing with King's on the edge sarcasm, or Hedges' shifty guilt - he still hasn't apologised for calling her bitch, but she knows it's only a matter of time. Dex isn't saying much of anything, but that's just Dex and at the moment even his easy, laid back persona is like sandpaper against bare skin. But Zoë... Zoë's easy and quiet, calm and amazingly self-contained for someone who's six.

Abby's going to miss her. Maybe more than anyone else.

Sommerfield is taking Zoë west to meet up with some of the other Nightstalkers where she thinks it's safe to do so, looking forward to comparing notes and biological inventions in a way that makes Sommer ten times the geek that Hedges is, at least in this. Whatever makes her happy, Abby supposes, and it does do a little to ease the guilt at leaving the two of them behind.

It takes a few days, days of burning sun and too little air conditioning, of empty hunts and short tempers, but finally King comes up with a route and Dex finds them a car. It's big but not too flashy, something that won't draw too much attention wherever the hell they're going but that also won't look too out of place among the Mercedes-Benz and the BMWs of the 'nouveau-riche'. She'd roll her eyes at that description if she had the energy, more at King who comes up with it than at the concept itself, but his reasoning is usually sound, no matter how ridiculously he dresses it up.

Sometimes she thinks that that the ridiculousness is the point.

They're heading into the mountains, he tells her, reeling off place names in a way that says she should know where the hell they are. But these days she's a city girl through and through, and not a nouveau-riche one. She knows the boulevards and the avenues like the back of her hand, can recite the names of them in Esperanto and English both, but beyond the city limits there's just miles of country and Abby left that at eighteen, several states away.

She wonders if she'll recognise it now as she packs, whether there will be something familiar about the mountains that reminds her of the plains in terms of the people and the places that now seem half a lifetime away. Mom and pop stores and ice cream parlours, dusty streets that pass from one end of the town to the other and that you can drive through in five minutes or less. Those she remembers, although they're only vaguely familiar, like something half-remembered from a dream.

When she dreams these days it's of slick city streets, of neon and darkness, the flash of a blade and the after image of burning long-dead flesh.

Maybe that's what happens when you take the girl out of the country and the country out of the girl, she thinks. You're left with someone like her, someone distilled down to something fierce and focused, unrecognisable. She shops in bodegas these days, not mom and pop stores. She travels the subway and walks streets that stretch for miles, seldom recognising the faces that pass by, and she can't remember the last fucking time she went to an ice cream parlour, let alone with a boy and without a care.

But King thinks that the mountains will be cooler, and she's willing to risk a lot for that.


They hit the road in the early morning, when the day is at its coolest, and Abby watches the Honeycomb Hideout grow smaller in the side mirror until it finally disappears from view. It's already too bright outside, the light hazy the way it only is in the early morning, when the dust hasn't settled and the earth isn't steaming, too hot to walk on, and she squints through the windshield at the road ahead, sinking down into her seat and pulling on her shades.

King's eyes haven't left the road - he's not one for looking back, which is just as well given his history. He's all about the next place they'll be, the next hunt they'll have, so she leaves the driving to him. He takes a weird kind of pleasure in it, his hands wrapped loosely around the wheel at ten and two, the same kind of pleasure that Abby takes in her bike. She's not sure she understands it - she's more at home, more at ease when she can watch the asphalt roll by under her feet and feel the miles being eaten up by her wheels. Sitting up here in the SUV's cab, it feels too distant, too remote, and she's more than happy to hand the task to somebody else as she stares out of the window and lets everything else fade away.

King is humming to himself, sometimes even in time to the radio. He sounds perfectly content, the kind of low-grade contentment that's almost contagious, and she finds her eyelids drooping, the sound of the car's wheels on the road and the soft noises that King is making conspiring to make her drowsy.

The car's a/c works, too, and she's pleasantly cool for the first time in days, not subject to the burning heat of the day or the harshly chilled air of department stores or mega-marts, the only places she's been able to escape it.

She finally gives into the inevitable, closing her eyes and letting the road lull her into sleep.

When she finally wakes the sun is higher in the sky, but on the wrong side, disorientating her for a moment, wondering if they'd managed to get turned around without her feeling it, if they were heading back the way they'd come.

"Evening," King says cheerfully, taking his eyes off the road to look at her for a moment, his expression amused.

She blinks blearily at him, parsing what he's said and letting it sink into her brain where it might start to make sense. Her neck aches and one of her legs has fallen asleep. Her mouth is gummy and when she finally speaks, her voice is rough, edging into hoarse.

"Have I been asleep all day?"

"More or less," he says, shooting her another look. "I guess you needed it. How are you feeling?"

Embarrassed, she thinks, twisting her neck to stretch it and work out the kinks, and wincing slightly when it cracks. "Okay. Hungry."

"Yeah, well, we'll be there soon."

She blinks at him, slowly getting her brain into gear. It takes her longer than it should do, which is another sign of how exhausted she's been recently. It's not just the lack of sleep; the heat itself is draining. But she's not hot now. In fact, her fingers are cold, the car's a/c a little too good. She rubs them together, bringing him - and what he'd just said - back into focus.

"Where exactly is there?" she asks, and he turns his head to look at her again, his expression faintly surprised.

"Ah," he says, a flurry of expressions crossing his face, not all of them good. The one he ends up with is slightly sheepish around the edges and she suppresses a sigh. "Well, we're heading into the mountains..."

"No shit, Sherlock."

"Rude." He flashes a grin at her, unoffended in spite of his objection. "What gave it away?"

"The trees? The fact that we're still driving up hill? The fact that that's where you said we were headed? Take your pick."

He laughs, his eyes crinkling in a way that makes her want to smile back. "Smart girl. At least now that you're finally conscious. It's a good thing I don't need your sparkling conversation to keep me entertained on long journeys, Whistler."

No. King's perfectly able to entertain himself for hours, and she'd lay dollars to donuts that at least some of that had involved him singing along to whatever had been playing on the radio instead of just humming along under his breath.

"So, where are we headed?" she asks again, trying to get him back on track and ignoring the still amused look he sends her. "Other than up a mountain?"

"Resort by the name of Twin Pines," he says. "And it's on the other side of the mountains, not up them." He catches her look and shrugs. "It's still cooler than the city."

"And what's in Twin Pines?"

"A whole lot of rich people and all of their associated accoutrements." He lets the last word linger on this tongue, grinning at her when she rolls her eyes. "Quaint little antique shops and upmarket boutiques, amusing little coffee shops and the odd five star restaurant. That sort of thing, I'd imagine."

She waits him out.

"What isn't there is the family of three who went missing."

And there it is, the reason for Twin Pines in particular. King might mock Hedges for his computer modelling, but he sees his own patterns in things.

"You're thinking vamps?" On the surface it's a stupid question - of course he is, or they wouldn't be heading to this place - but really, she just wants him to keep on talking. Watching King's brain work is fascinating and, okay, maybe she's feeling a little bit guilty about bailing on him in the 'keeping him entertained on long car journeys' thing.

He shrugs, his eyes back on the road. "I think it's worth a shot. I mean, all I've got at the moment are a couple of newspaper articles, but... It feels like vamps, you know?"

She does. There's always a certain undercurrent to that kind of report, something that King would say got their Spidey-senses tingling. And he calls Hedges a geek. There's a reason that the Honeycomb Hideout has an impressive comic book collection, and it's not just for research, no matter what King claims.

"So we head to Twin Pines, do some digging, kill some vamps?"

"That's about the size of it, yes." He shoots her another quick glance. "So, this is really news to you, huh?"

"Why wouldn't it be?"

"Oh, I don't know. All the notes I left lying around so you'd know what I was thinking?" His look this time is faintly quizzical. "I'm kind of surprised you didn't go over them with a fine tooth comb. I mean, that's what you usually do, right?"

That's what she does with Hedges' plans, yeah, but that's because Hedges gets a little distracted by the shiny. And Sommerfield's plans tend to be heavy on the outcome (I need this, get it now) and short on the 'don't die' details, so, sure, she triple checks them just so she knows that Sommerfield has actually considered the fact that none of them are immortal. But King's plans...?

He's still waiting for an answer, and she's a little embarrassed at having to voice it, but she finally admits, "I don't need to check them. I trust you not to fuck it up."

"Oh." He looks absurdly pleased for a moment, and that makes him look weirdly young, like a kid who's been complimented unexpectedly. And then his expression settles back into that vaguely sheepish one.

She raises an eyebrow at him, waiting for the inevitable.

"So Twin Pines turns out to be quite the popular vacation spot among the glittering lawyer and entrepreneur set..."


"Very popular at this time of year."

"Get to the point, King."

He pulls another face. "Rooms are at a premium, so, you know, I kind of had to take what I could get..."

Abby stifles a sigh. "Please tell me our rooms have air conditioning at least."

She should have known better. Yes, King's plans tend to be okay in the 'killing vamps without necessarily dying' sense, but the man does like to cut corners and skip some of the less important - to him - details.

Not only is there no a/c, but it turns out that it's 'room'.



The Pleasant Inn lives up to its name, Abby supposes. The lack of air conditioning aside, it's clean if a little shabby around the edges, and it's got a Olde Worlde country style kitsch feel to it that's definitely not her thing. She suspects that some of the décor might be the real thing, like the pitcher and basin set that sits on the white-painted dresser, but it has modern plumbing, at least, and the shower has decent water pressure. And like King says, beggars can't be choosers and this is what they get for not booking well in advance.

At least, that's what he tells the inn's proprietor, turning on the charm in a way that actually manages to make it sound non-insulting. When he's not being a deliberate ass, King's got a way with people, an ease that Abby can only envy. Of course, that innate understanding of people is probably why he's so goddamned effective at getting under their skin when he wants to.

He gets under Abby's skin, which would be easier to deal with if that was only about him being a pain in the ass instead of about him knowing her so well and being able to slip into her sub-conscious like he's supposed to be there.

She stays silent while she listens to King spin his special brand of bullshit, managing to wrangle a freestanding fan out the guy to add to the ceiling fan that creaks and stutters but doesn't seem to be doing much to actually cool the room. She stays silent as King establishes non-threatening identities for them, as he gets recommendations for somewhere to eat, places to shop, things to do...

Places to maybe avoid like, oh, say where people might get hurt.

He has the guy eating out of the palm of his hand in no time, getting all of the gossip under the guise of being a semi-interested tourist, and Abby just watches him work, throwing in the odd smile of agreement when it seems called for, because not only is King a joy to watch work - so slick and smooth and genuinely charming when called for - but watching King means she doesn't end up staring at the only bed.

It doesn't matter that it's a king, not just a double - and King would smirk at that if she was ever stupid enough to point it out - meaning that there's extra room. King's a big guy who takes up a lot of space, and she's going to be sharing a bed with him.

With King.

Jesus. She'd suspect King of having ulterior motives if it wasn't for the fact that he's not exactly shy about coming forward and he's had plenty of opportunities to hit on her in the past. Unless Danica killed his interest in women stone cold dead, which is always possible, she's always figured that he's just not really interested in her as anything other than a partner, his constant low-grade flirting aside. She can't take that seriously, not when King flirts with everyone.

"Hey, sweetie?"

King's voice drags her back to the present and, damn it, she's been staring at the bed again. He hasn't missed it either, at least judging by the smirk that's playing around the corners of his mouth.

"Sorry," she apologises, giving the proprietor her sweetest smile and cursing the fact that King's too far away to kick. "Long journey."

The proprietor smiles back a little uncertainly. She's not sure whether he's always this nervous or if there's something about her, or about King, that's pinging his 'not quite right' radar.

She turns the smile up a notch, just in case, and he blinks at her.

"George here was just telling me about this 1950s retro diner he thinks we might like. Actual people sized portions, none of that nouveau cuisine crap." 'George' winces a little at the descriptor. "Should we check it out?"

Christ, yes. She could murder a burger right about now, one that's just the right side of rare with fries the size of her fingers. Some of that must have shown because King's face cracks into a wide grin.

"The little woman does like her vittels," he says, slapping George on the shoulder and giving her a look that just dares her to say something.

For a second she's tempted - she even has a vague idea what to say, something along the lines of needing something to keep her satisfied - and she knows that King doesn't miss the undercurrent because his grin turns delighted and his eyes light up with barely banked mirth. It's almost impossible to stay mad at him when he's like this - assuming she was even close to mad in the first place - and so she just rolls her eyes good-naturedly.

"Burger, yes," she says dryly. "The floor show I could live without."

King grins back at her before turning his attention to George. "So, do we have a curfew?" George simply blinks at him again, and she has some sympathy with that. King does tend to be a little overwhelming. "What time do you lock the doors, George? I thought we might have a look around town once we've eaten."

It could have been worse. King could have worked the word 'cravings' in there or referred to her as 'the little woman' again, and she is so going to kick his ass about that. Once she's eaten.

"Oh. We're open all night during the high season," George says, a little flustered as he pushes his glasses up his nose. "There's a night porter on, so you will be able to get back in, that's not a problem. Just..." He hesitates, and Abby can tell he's veering between honesty and being smoothly political. "Just keep an eye out for local wildlife. We are in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes city folk tend to forget that. Especially at night." He gives them both a tight, contained smile, one that doesn't even come close to reaching his eyes. There's something a little haunted in his expression, something that he's not hiding very well, and Abby wonders just how many animal attacks there have been this year.

"No wandering off the beaten track in the dark," King says solemnly. "Got it. Thanks for the tip." He reaches for his wallet, a clear sign to George that the conversation is over, and tips the man heartily. It's not until George has shuffled out, seeming a little happier now that his palm has been generously crossed with silver, that King finally meets Abby's eyes.

"Think we've got a bear problem?" he asks, his expression leaving her in no doubt as to his opinion of the answer.

"Let's find out."


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October 2017



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