The Gecko brothers walk away, and she watches them go, smiling a little because she actually missed them — both of them, which surprises her a little. Then she watches with a sort of distant bemusement as Seth comes running right back.
“Hey,” he says. “You’re coming with us, right?”
She hadn’t actually thought about it. Scott left, and so did Kisa, and even though they’d both asked her to come along, she said no. She’s not really sure why, exactly.
Of course she can’t stay here in this ghost town, and of course turning down two offers of rides in a row isn’t going to help with that, but at the moment she’s not really planning anything.
It feels kind of inevitable, though, going with the Geckos.
More specifically, with one particular Gecko. A Gecko currently studying her with a familiar little crease between his eyebrows. But she supposes Richie can come, too.
She blinks, realizes she hasn’t answered Seth’s question. She’s so tired. So scooped-out inside, scraped raw and empty.
She didn’t think she’d feel this empty.
There’s a gaping hole where Amaru used to be, and it’s not that she wants to be possessed again, but it feels so strange. Like something is missing. It feels like there’s a great, sucking void inside her, and the only thing that can fill it is her soul. Too bad she’s not sure she still has one of those.
“Are you coming with us?”
She glances up at the sound of Seth’s voice, so much less certain than it was a moment ago, and he looks so earnest and worried. She manages to nod, and he puts his arm out, his hand hovering behind her to guide her along. Except he’s careful to do it without touching her, careful to leave her personal space uninvaded. Which is weird.
Some of the only memories she has from months of being trapped in her own damn body that she can think about without flinching are the moments she was able to wrest control away from her — and Seth was always there, and he was always touching her. His hands on her face, or running through her hair. He had a gun to her face and she begged him to use it and all he did was reach for her hand. And maybe she’s still a little mad about that, except Amaru is gone and Kate’s not dead and she thinks she might even be glad to be alive. Or, she will be. Soon.
But, yeah, she thinks she can find it a little weird that he’s being so careful not to touch her now.
Thank fuck they have a car stashed down the main road a ways. If she had to walk all the way to the next town in head to toe leather, her wrist wounds burning and itching underneath her bandages, she’d probably lay down right here and just let the desert have her. If the car is too much further, she might still pick that option. Laying down sounds so good right now.
Seth hasn’t spoken, and that’s weird, too, since he usually never shuts up. She can’t think of anything to fill the silence, and it’s all she can do to put one foot in front of the other, so she leaves it alone.
Then she stumbles a little on the uneven ground — her shoes are not practical, fucking hell-goddess fashion choices — and Seth’s arm goes around her waist instantly, pulling her firmly against his side with a muttered, “Easy there, Princess.”
And, okay, why is that the thing that suddenly has her near tears?
She leans her head against his shoulder. Blinks rapidly, trying to keep the tears at bay. It doesn’t work, the moisture seeping out anyway, and she tries to breathe but it catches in her chest.
“Hey,” he says, reaching up to cup her face with his free hand. His thumb swipes across her cheek, and she closes her eyes and leans into him a little harder. She focuses on breathing, and Seth still smells so familiar: dust, and gunmetal, and cheap motel soap. And under all that, just him, the scent familiar even after months of separation.
She’d missed him, the big jerk. Missed his incessant talking, and his sneaky overprotectiveness that he thought he hid from her, and his fierce need to win at everything. He’s the fucking worst, and she’s so damn glad he’s here.
She actually laughs, just a little huff of disbelief, but a laugh all the same. Opens her eyes to look at him like he’s an idiot, and finds him smiling right back.
“Yeah, stupid question.”
“Hey!” Richie yells from where he’s waiting by the car. “Are you two coming or what?”
Seth sighs. “Fucking Christ,” he mutters, before raising his voice. “Why don’t you make yourself useful and bring the damn car over here?”
“You have the keys, jackass!”
“Goddamnit.” He lets go of her face to dig around in his pocket. Then he chucks the key ring at Richie as hard as he can.
They land in the middle of the road with a clatter and a puff of kicked-up dust, at least ten feet short of their target, and Richie looks so affronted that Kate laughs again, for real this time. Seth looks down at her, something soft and unguarded in his face, and then he joins in, both of them ignoring Richie when he throws his hands in the air with a curse.
And that’s how they leave Matanzas. Sore and exhausted, but laughing.
They pull into a motel parking lot a couple hours later. Night has fallen and Kate spent the drive drifting in and out of sleep, curled into a ball in the backseat, listening to the brothers bicker in front of her about the quickest route back to Jacknife Jed’s. She’s not really sure why they’re going back to the truck stop Scott took her to, and she’s too tired to bother asking. Seth must have a crick in his back from sitting half-turned in his seat like that the entire time, face pointed toward Richie so he can pretend like he hasn’t spent the entire ride looking at her out of the corner of his eye.
She doesn’t mind. There’s something natural about Seth worrying about her, something old and familiar and almost homey. It’s just what he does, even as far back as the first day they met, when he didn’t know it was going to be Richie bursting through that door and he shoved her behind him instead of in front of him, the idiot.
“I’ll see about rooms,” he says now, reaching for his door handle, but Richie stops him before he can get out of the car.
“You look like you just survived the Alamo. I’ll go.” Richie does look considerably less like he’s been through a battle than she or Seth. He doesn’t have any bloody cuts on his face, and his clothes are considerably less dusty. The perks of being a culebra, she supposes.
Seth opens his mouth, presumably to argue because he’s a control freak, but Kate wants a shower more than she’s ever wanted anything in her entire life and she’s not about to let these two ridiculous men delay that with their antics.
He turns to her so fast his neck pops.
“Let him go.”
He blinks at her and she realizes she’s hardly said anything since she walked out of hell and now here she is, bossing him around. Not that he seems to be putting up much of a fight. Richie uses the moment to get out of the car and Seth makes a disgruntled face as he watches his brother stride off in the direction of reception.
“I’m pretty sure he can manage to get us a room,” she says, using her Reasonable Pastor’s Daughter voice.
“I wouldn’t be so certain,” he mutters darkly.
Richie is back ten minutes later holding two keys. “Good news is, we got the last two rooms,” he says, tossing a key through the open window to Seth, who catches it easily. “Bad news is, they only had two singles left. And I’m not sharing.”
She watches a blush work its way up the back of Seth’s neck, his shoulders tensing in irritation. “Richard—“
“It’s fine,” she cuts him off, so fucking relieved that she won’t have to be alone that night that she barely spares a thought for what Seth might want and doesn’t even care if that makes her selfish. If she doesn’t get out of this ridiculous leather getup in the next ten minutes she’s going to scream, and that is a promise. She doesn’t have time for them to argue about it, especially since there’s nothing they can do to change the situation. They have two rooms, and that’s that.
Seth glances back at her, concern and guilt and something that looks like longing warring for dominance on his face, but she’s already climbing out of the car. Richie smiles at her like he knows exactly what he’s doing and is fucking proud of it, thank you very much. That makes precisely one of them, but she can’t help but smile back.
“This way,” he says cheerily, and she follows him to the sound of Seth muttering grumpily as he scrambles out of the car and grabs their bags out of the trunk.
She’s a little steadier on her feet now that she’s had some rest, but she takes it slow anyway. She did lose almost all of her blood only a few hours ago. She feels a little weird, thinking of Seth’s blood running through her veins, but maybe the weird feeling is just what blood loss feels like.
She follows Richie slowly, trying not to overexert herself. The parking lot’s asphalt is old and littered with potholes, and she doesn’t know if Seth is close enough to catch her again if she stumbles. The night air is warm, but there’s a breeze blowing that feels fresh in her lungs. Richie leads them to a couple of rooms on the ground floor near the end of the building.
Seth catches up to them just outside the door to their room, and Richie follows them in, ignoring Seth’s griping. It’s just an average crappy motel room, with a bed and a small table and a TV on top of the dresser. It’s dark, so Kate turns on the lamp on the bedside table, flooding the room with warm golden light. Seth dumps his duffle on the bed and shoves Richie’s into his chest a touch more aggressively than strictly necessary. Richie just smirks and takes it.
“I’m going to the store,” he says, looking between her and Seth and back again. “Either of you need anything?”
“First aid kit,” Seth says, at the same time as Kate says, “Hair dye and gloves.”
Both brothers look at her, like those are weird things to be asking for when she’s still bleeding, but she wants to look like herself again and she wants to stop worrying about her hands. She keeps catching glimpses of red in her peripheral vision, and the unnaturally vibrant color makes her flinch every time. And even though she can’t feel Amaru inside her anymore, she’s still afraid to touch anyone, even by accident. She feels so empty inside that she doesn’t trust her bare hands not to drain the life out of anything they grab onto. She shrugs, trying to think more practically.
“Uh, I guess some shoes and clothes, too? I don’t have anything.” She has literally nothing but the clothes on her back. Amaru traveled light. One of the benefits of being a goddess, Kate supposes, was that she didn’t need to shower or change her clothes every day or do any of the things normal humans do to take care of themselves. She shudders, suddenly unable to remain in these clothes a second longer.
“I’m going to shower,” she says abruptly, disappearing into the bathroom while the brothers stare after her.
She flips the light on and almost slams the door, but at the last moment she catches it, pulling it just closed enough so there’s no opening but it’s not latched either. She feels like she’s too small for her body but also like everything is too tight and she doesn’t want anyone to look at her ever again but she still doesn’t want to be alone. She catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and flinches at the way she still looks like her. She can’t get out of her clothes fast enough. The cut on her arm opens up again in her haste to be rid of the jacket, and she’s never been squeamish before but the sight of her own blood is enough to have her retching helplessly into the toilet. Everything that comes up is red, too, and she retches harder, her eyes watering from pain and disgust.
Seth barges in and stares for half a second, but then he’s crouching down behind her, one arm going strong around her waist to support her weight. He holds her hair back and he’s talking but she doesn’t know what he’s saying. It feels like hours later that she finally regains control of her stomach, and they collapse in a pile against the wall.
“You’re okay,” Seth says, pressing his cheek to the top of her head. She can feel his heart pounding against her back, but his voice is soft and even. “You’re gonna be okay.” She has her eyes closed, afraid to see anything else that might set her off again, and she tries to breathe through her mouth and calm down. She wants to wrap her hands around his wrists and make sure he doesn’t let go of her, but she doesn’t. She clenches them into fists instead, lets them rest in her lap where they can’t hurt anyone.
“What happened?” Seth finally asks when her chest isn’t heaving anymore.
“Forgot about my arm,” she mumbles, eyes still shut tight. “Saw the— the blood, and I just—“
“Shit. Okay, hang on.” He extricates himself carefully from the tangle they’re in. She hears the toilet lid close and then flush, then a rustle of fabric and the tap turns on. Then he’s crouching over her again, a cool washcloth swiping carefully over the skin of her arm. She opens her eyes slowly, careful not to look anywhere except directly at Seth. He’s filthy and the cuts on his face have scabbed over but he still looks better than he did all those months ago when he ditched her on the side of the road in Mexico.
“You really do look like you survived the Alamo,” she says, trying to ignore how exhausted she feels. “We should get you a cowboy hat.”
He scoffs, tossing the cloth over his shoulder into the sink. “Cowboy hats are pretentious,” he says, reaching for her and pulling her up off the floor like she weighs nothing, even without her really helping him at all.
“Exactly,” she says, looking him dead in the eye, unable to keep the little smirk off her face.
His eyebrows shoot up. “Oh, you got something to say, Princess?”
She snorts, leaning back against the counter for balance while she tugs off one extremely-uncomfortable shoe and drops it on the floor. “Already said it.” She yanks off the other shoe and dumps it with the first, and then she stands up and risks using a single finger in the middle of Seth’s chest to push him out of the bathroom. “Now, out.” She closes the door in his face, though she still doesn’t latch it.
The rest of her clothes, thank god, come off without further incident, and she doesn’t even wait for the water to warm up fully before she’s in the shower, a little whimper escaping her when the water hits her. She’s never felt so filthy in her entire life, although looking at herself, she doesn’t seem that dirty. Her skin isn’t particularly grimy, her hair isn’t oily. She rinses her mouth out first, gargling a little to get the taste of blood and bile off her tongue, and washes her hair three times, perturbed when the water doesn’t run red from the color washing out. She’s been hoping it was dye, even though she doesn’t actually remember Amaru ever dying it. She tells herself it’s fine, because Richie is bringing her hair dye and she can still get back to normal.
She can feel how much of a tangled mess her hair is and dumps an entire mini bottle of cheap motel conditioner on it, working it in and leaving it to sit while she scrubs her body. Except for the cut on her arm, which she is carefully avoiding looking at, and the two at her wrists, which she hasn’t uncovered, her skin is completely unblemished under the blood and dust of the battle. No bullet wounds, no scars, not even the one on her abdomen from when she had her appendix taken out as a kid. She doesn’t know how to feel about that. She scrubs at her face, the soap coming away grey from all the makeup around her eyes.
She rinses off and soaps up again, scrubbing and scrubbing until her skin is pink and clean, at least on the surface. Not much she can do about the inside.
It’s only when she’s dry and wrapped in a towel and running her fingers through her hair to try and tame the worst of the tangles that she remembers that she has nothing clean to put on. “Way to think that through, Fuller,” she mutters to herself. Then she sighs, and cracks the door open.
He comes into view almost immediately, his eyes wide and worried. They drop from her face to the top of her towel where it’s wrapped around her chest and start to drift lower. He looks a little panicked and jerks them back up to her face, and then he looks up and away like he can’t trust himself to look at her at all right now. The back of his neck is turning red again and it would be kind of adorable if she wasn’t so fucking tired.
“Is Richie back?”
“Not yet.” He shakes his head, irritation at his brother’s dawdling clear on his face.
They stand there awkwardly for a moment and she slowly realizes that she’s going to have to actually ask because Seth is not putting two and two together here. “Do you have something I can wear?”
His gaze jerks back to hers. “What?”
“Clothes, Seth. I need clothes.”
He blinks and nods a couple times, like he’s trying to reset his brain. “Right,” he says, and disappears. She can hear him rummaging around in his bag and then he’s back. “Here,” he says, handing her a handful of fabric. In his other hand is another towel, which he thrusts at her with a muttered, “For your hair,” before disappearing again. She stares at it bemusedly for a moment before shutting the door again.
She gets dressed in the clothes he gave her: a henley that’s too big but also the softest thing she’s ever worn, and a pair of gym shorts that thankfully have a drawstring she can tie to keep them from falling down. Who knew Seth Gecko even owned gym shorts. When she comes out of the bathroom a minute later, still toweling her hair dry, Seth is pacing in front of the window. He stops in his tracks when he sees her, scrutinizing her carefully.
“Yeah. Your turn.” She jerks her head in the direction of the bathroom. His jacket and vest are draped over the back of one of the chairs, his sleeves shoved up to his elbows. It almost feels like old times, except she’s the one who’s a mess this time. He hesitates only a moment, his mouth opening like he’s about to say something, but then he shakes his head and grabs his bag. The bathroom door clicks shut a moment later, and she tries not to flinch at the sharp sound.
It’s the first time she’s been truly alone in months. No one else in the room, no one else in her head. The silence is deafening. After a moment she hears the shower turn on, and that’s better. She sits on the edge of the bed and finishes drying her hair. Maybe it’s just the contrast of the white towel, but if anything it seems even more red than before, and she shudders.
Seth comes out a few minutes later wearing sweatpants and a white undershirt, his feet bare and his hair sticking up all over from where he toweled it dry. It’s probably the most casual she’s ever seen him. Even in Mexico, when he’d been such a mess of drugs and denial, he’d never worn anything as normal as sweatpants.
“Still no Richie?”
“The fuck is taking him so long?”
She pulls her feet up onto the bed and lies back against the pillows. “I assume he’s hunting for some horchata,” she says around a yawn. “Or, you know. Something else to drink.” Seth grimaces but doesn’t otherwise complain, which is new. Maybe he finally got over his aversion to Richie’s new dietary habits. Not that she really blames him for the hang up. She’s not exactly thrilled about Scott’s need for blood, either. But it is what it is, and the alternative is for her to have no family left in the world. She thinks having a culebra for a brother is better than the alternative. Seth must think so, too.
“What do you want to do with her clothes?”
“Well,” she says slowly. “I thought it might be fun to burn them.”
“Fuckin’ A.” He grins at her. “I think we could make that happen.”
They both jump when Richie bangs on the door with his foot. Kate sits up while Seth opens the door. Richie comes in carrying a ridiculous number of bags. He must not have wanted to make more than one trip from the car, because he has half a dozen plastic bags clutched in one hand, while the other is balancing a paper drinks tray and paper bag full of food. Kate spies a cup of horchata and trades a look with Seth.
“What took you so long?” Seth demands, and Richie glares daggers at him.
“I had a lot of stuff to get, Seth,” he gripes. “Mostly so Katie-Cakes here will have something to wear.” By the looks of things, he got her an entire wardrobe and not the single change of clothes she expected, but who’s complaining. “Plus, I figured you might be hungry, but don’t bother to thank me.” He shakes the paper bag and drinks under Seth’s nose so the ice rattles and the paper crinkles obnoxiously.
Men are so dumb. Kate drags herself off the bed and grabs the food and drinks out of Richie’s hand before the two can really get going. The sudden movement makes both of them shut up, thank god, and she puts the food on the table. “Thank you, Richard,” she says, trying (and failing) not to be too sarcastic because she really is grateful to not have to make any decisions about food. She’s not actually hungry, and honestly the thought of eating anything kind of makes her want to throw up again, but she should definitely ignore her body’s screwy signals and try to eat something. She lost a lot of blood, and she needs food to help her body replenish it.
She sets everything down on the table with enough force that the ice rattles again and she rips open the bag, ignoring the way they’re staring at her. The bag is full of tacos from one of those trendy chains that color codes their wrappers: yellow for chicken, red for beef, green for veggies. Richie got way more than she thinks the three of them can reasonably expect to eat, even if her appetite was normal, and she digs around, hoping for one that doesn’t have any meat in it. She feels a little ridiculous even worrying about it, but after throwing up at the sight of her own blood, she isn’t quite ready to eat anything that once had a heartbeat.
Seth leans over her shoulder. “Jesus, did you buy out an entire fucking taco stand?” His chest brushes her back and she can feel his voice vibrating through her. It takes a lot of effort not to lean into him.
“I didn’t know what Kate would like,” Richie snaps defensively. He reaches past Seth and snags his cup of horchata, sighing happily as he takes a sip.
“Al pastor,” Seth says, just as Kate pulls a taco in a green wrapper out of the bag.
“Well, I guess you don’t know everything, brother.” Richie grins triumphantly, but Kate can feel Seth looking at her. She carefully avoids his gaze as she sits down to eat.
Her first bite tastes like sawdust.
“Oh, I got you an horchata, too, Katie-Cakes,” Richie adds.
“Thanks. Is there any hot sauce in that bag?”
Now Seth is really staring at her. She can’t believe he remembered her favorite tacos, let alone that she almost never uses hot sauce on anything. She didn’t think he was paying that much attention to her in Mexico. He doesn’t say anything, though, instead digging into the bottom of the bag to find a couple packets of hot sauce. He slides them across the table to her and picks his own tacos out of the bag. Richie grabs a handful for himself and heads for his own room.
She dumps a packet of sauce on her food and takes another bite. Now it tastes like spicy sawdust. She manages to choke down the whole thing, because she has to eat something. The horchata helps. It’s smooth and cool, and even if she can’t really taste it, she can understand why Richie is so obsessed with it. Seth nudges the bag of tacos in her direction, but she shakes her head. It was hard enough to eat one.
“I’m going to sleep.” She gets up only to be confronted with all the bags Richie dumped on the bed. She’s tempted to dig through and find the hair dye she asked for, but a wave of exhaustion rolls through her and she decides her hair is Tomorrow Kate’s problem. The bags are unceremoniously dropped on the floor at the foot of the bed, and she’s pulling back the covers when Seth catches her by the shoulder.
“Let me take a look at your wrists first.”
She groans in frustration. She’d actually kind of forgotten her wrists.
“Kate,” he says sternly. “I don’t want you to get an infection. Come on, it’ll only take a few minutes.”
“Fine,” she concedes with ill grace. He finds the first aid kit and follows her into the bathroom, boosting her up to sit on the counter next to the sink. He washes his hands and pops open the first aid kit, leaving it open on the other side of the sink so he can easily grab whatever he needs. His hands are gentle as he unwraps the bandages around her wrists. She has her hands clenched into fists again to make sure her fingers don’t accidentally brush his skin, and her eyes closed tight against the sight of blood.
“Let me know if it hurts,” Seth says. She nods and tries to hold still. The cuts sting a little when exposed to the air, but it’s honestly not too bad. No worse than the constant dull pain she’s been dealing with since she woke up in that church. “They don’t look too bad. I’m going to clean them out with some peroxide.”
It’s quiet for a long moment. She waits, and nothing happens. When she finally opens her eyes, Seth is looking at her like he’s waiting for something, reluctance etched in every line of his body.
“It’s going to hurt like a bitch.”
“It’s fine, just do it.”
Still he hesitates. “You sure?”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Seth, we could be done by now.”
He gapes at her, but his open mouth curls a little in delight. “Kate Fuller. Did you just take the Lord’s name in vain and drop an f-bomb?”
“You better hurry up and clean these cuts out so I can go to sleep, or I’m gonna say worse.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Seth mutters, but he puts her arm over the sink and dumps some peroxide on it.
And, okay, maybe he was right. She says a soft but very heartfelt “fuck,” and shoves her other wrist over the sink, too. He doesn’t drag his feet this time, and she can’t quite keep herself from whimpering as he pours peroxide over the cut. She squeezes her eyes shut so she won’t be tempted to look at her wrists and leans forward until her forehead is pressing into Seth’s shoulder. Breathing. She should be breathing. She gulps in some air and lets Seth hold her up. He puts his hand on the back of her neck under her hair and rubs circles into her skin with his thumb, and she focuses on that instead of the pain.
“Sorry, Katie,” he mumbles into her hair. She nods against his shoulder, and after a minute the pain has dulled to a manageable level and she can sit up again. She braces herself for whatever step comes next.
The worst of it is over, though. He dries her skin gently and puts some antibiotic ointment on the cuts and covers them with small strips of bandage that he tapes down, his fingers smoothing carefully over the edges to get a good seal. His hands are warm.
“Done.” He lets go, and when she opens her eyes he taps her right arm, just above the elbow, careful to avoid the cut a few inches higher. “Let me look at that one.”
“Have you always been this bossy?” She asks, but she still pulls the neck of her shirt to the side, exposing the cut on her shoulder. She cleaned it in the shower and it’s already scabbed over, and it wasn’t as deep as the ones on her wrists, so he just smears some more ointment on it and covers it with another bandage.
“Richie would say yes.”
“I’m not sure I can take Richie’s word for it.” She lets him help her down because she doesn’t really want him to stop touching her. “He’s kind of biased, don’t you think?”
He grins in agreement. “I’ll be sure to tell him that next time he shares his opinion.”
She smiles back, swaying a little with exhaustion, and he grabs her by the elbows to steady her.
“Okay, let’s get you to bed, Princess.”
She wakes sometime around dawn. She can’t see any daylight yet, but the light has that blue-grey quality that always happens just before the sun comes up.
She’s curled on her side, the sleeves of Seth’s henley pulled down over her hands. Seth has one hand wrapped loosely around her forearm between them, like he needed the reassurance that she wasn’t going to disappear in the middle of the night. His face is soft in sleep, and it takes all her self control not to reach out and run her fingers over the stubble on his jaw.
She pulls her arm free, careful not to wake him. He grumbles a bit and rolls onto his stomach, mashing his face into the pillow, and she has to stifle a giggle. She slides out of bed as quietly as she can, tip toeing to the door. She slips outside into the early morning light and sits on the curb, hugging her knees. The air is still cool, fresh against her face, and she watches the sunrise, just because she can. The light feels nice on her skin. Amaru could go out in sunlight, but she rarely did, so it feels like Kate hasn’t seen the sun in months.
The door opens behind her after a while. She hears a soft huff of relief, and then Seth is sitting next to her, so close that his shoulder is pressing into hers. It makes her smile — he never did like personal space, although before Amaru, he never used to actually close those last few inches between them. She likes when he touches her, though. It makes her feel real. She leans into him until he puts his arm around her. They sit like that, not speaking, until the sun is all the way up.
“Come back to bed,” he murmurs, soft so as not to disturb the early morning quiet. She nods and lets him pull her up and when they’re both in bed again, he wraps one hand around her forearm, squeezing slightly in reassurance. She falls asleep listening to the even sound of his breathing.
When she wakes up for good, she digs into all the stuff Richie got her.
She slept like the dead, much to her shock, and feels about a million times more human. The extra two hours of sleep really helped. She still feels like a stranger in her own body, and the emptiness hasn’t budged, but she guesses that’s just the way things are going to be for a while. No matter how much she’d like to just be normal again.
Richie bought a lot of stuff. Three different boxes of hair dye in varying shades of brown, pajamas and jeans and shorts and tshirts and underwear and socks, an entire bag just of toiletries, a backpack, and a pair of blush pink cowboy boots.
“Wow,” she says. “Did y’all become professional thieves because you couldn’t keep up with Richie’s shopping habit?”
Seth snorts a laugh. “No, but that’s what I’m gonna tell everyone from now on.”
Kate grabs the bag of toiletries and a box of hair dye at random and heads for the bathroom, Seth trailing along after her like she tied a string to him. He props himself in the doorway and just. Looks at her. She puts the bag on the counter and rips into the dye box, dumping the contents into the sink. He doesn’t move while she messes around with the gloves and bottles, and his quiet regard is a little unnerving.
“Well, if you’re just going to stand there,” she says, nodding at the bag on the counter, “dig through there and see if Richie had the sense to buy me a toothbrush.”
He snorts, but he does ease past her to do what she asked. His shoulder brushes against her back and she has to stop herself from leaning back into him. She focuses on the dye, trying not to make too big a mess as she works it into her hair. She can feel herself relaxing as the red disappears.
“What is all this shit?”
She glances over. Richie’s thoroughness was not limited to clothing. He also got pretty much everything she could possibly need from the personal care aisle: face wash and moisturizer and deodorant and a razor and yes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a hairbrush. There are a few things that even she wouldn’t have thought to pick up, like nail polish remover and cotton balls.
“Girl stuff,” she says.
“Yeah, but how did Richie know to get all this?” He turns to lean back against the counter, folding his arms across his chest so his muscles flex. Not that she notices.
“Didn’t he live with Kisa for months? Must’ve picked it up there.” That earns another snort from Seth. She knows he’s never liked Kisa.
“Wouldn’t surprise me.”
She strips off the gloves and tosses them in the trash, along with the now-empty bottle. She brushes her teeth and eyes Seth out of the corner of her eye, suppressing a smile when she catches him doing the same thing to her.
She thinks about that while she rinses her mouth out. Straightens up with a shrug. “No, but I should probably eat something.”
He nods, turning away so she won’t see the way his face creases into a worried frown. She notices anyway, but she doesn’t say anything. Maybe she should have lied, but she kind of thinks that the only thing worse than not having any appetite would be having to lie about it. Besides, she’s pretty sure Seth would see right through her.
He turns back to her when he thinks he has his expression under control. “Will you be okay if I go out for food?” He still looks so obviously worried sick that her heart clenches a little in her chest. She’s not sure when she learned to read him so clearly.
“Yeah, Seth,” she murmurs around the ache in her throat, even though she’s not sure she’s ready to be alone yet. She’s not sure she’ll ever be ready for that, so it isn’t something she wants to wait for. “I’ll be okay.”
“You sure?” He searches her face. “I can wake Richie up.”
She grimaces at that. “He’s practically nocturnal, Seth. I’m not going to wake him up unless I have to, it’s not worth it to have to listen to him complain.”
He grins at her, and it’s only when he’s straightened up that she realizes they’d been leaning right up in each other’s faces. “Okay, well, don’t be shy about knocking on his door if you need to,” he says. She leans in the bathroom door while he gets ready, shoving his feet into some shoes and tucking his gun into the back of his pants before shrugging his jacket on over his undershirt. It’s still a little dusty, and with his tattoo peeking out from under his lapel and the cuts on his face, he looks more than a little dangerous.
“You want anything particular?”
She shakes her head. “As long as you bring coffee with it, anything is fine.” Based on her lack of appetite, she’s not going to enjoy anything anyway.
“Alright,” he says, holding her gaze for a moment. “Back soon.”
She turns the TV on low after the door clicks shut, unable to stand the complete silence. She flips through channels until she finds a cooking show, turns the volume just loud enough to hear in the bathroom, and goes to finish up her hair.
She showers and replaces her bandages and dries her hair, brushing it out so it falls in dark waves over her shoulders. The color came out a lot darker than her normal color, almost black, but she doesn’t mind. Anything is better than red. She takes off the black nail polish Amaru favored, and when she looks in the mirror, she’s Kate Fuller again. It’s a relief, but it also feels weird, like trying on old favorite clothes that don’t quite fit anymore. She gets dressed in a pair of jean shorts and a tshirt chosen at random from her new stuff. The shirt is a little big, but the only thing she actually dislikes about it is that it has short sleeves. They leave her bandages exposed and her hands bare. It’s white, though, and she likes that. She thinks it will be a while before she wants to wear black again.
When Seth gets back, she’s digging frantically through all the stuff Richie bought, looking for gloves. She knows she asked for gloves. She needs them. She already caught herself reaching for Seth like three times that morning. If she’s not careful, he’s going to notice that she yanks her hands back every time she gets close to touching him, and she doesn’t want that. She doesn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t want to have to explain that Amaru is gone but instead of being herself again, she’s just empty. Easier to just wear gloves and move on.
Except there are no gloves in any of these bags.
“Uh...” Seth says when he walks in to find her sitting on the bed, surrounded by piles of clothing. “You lose something?”
“Didn’t I ask for gloves?” She is positive she did. She distinctly remembers them both giving her weird looks when she did.
Seth frowns, glancing at all the stuff she’s half-buried herself in. “You did. Didn’t he get you any?”
She huffs, feeling like a brat. “No.”
He looks at her hands, balled into fists on her thighs, and then at her face, and he doesn’t ask why she’s so desperate for gloves. He sets their breakfast on the table and goes to his bag and pulls out a pair of black leather driving gloves.
“They’ll be way too big, but here,” he says, handing them to her. “You can wear these for now. We can stop somewhere today and find you some in your size.”
They are way too big — but they’re also better than nothing. She slips them on gratefully, not quite able to look Seth in the eye as she thanks him. He just nods and hooks a strand of her hair over his finger, studying the color.
“Cute,” he says. “You look like Snow White. Maybe stay away from apples, yeah?”
It cuts the tension, and she rolls her eyes at him, jerking her chin at the bag on the table. “What’ve you got there?”
She gives him a flat stare. “You’re hilarious.”
“I’m kidding. It’s donuts.”
She actually feels a spark of interest at that. “Did you remember the coffee?”
He gives her a look and moves over to the table. He pushes the bag aside to reveal another paper drinks tray with two cups of coffee and another horchata for Richie. She scrambles out of the mess she’s made and snatches up the cup he holds out to her, taking a big sip and not even caring when she scalds her tongue. She hasn’t had coffee since before Amaru.
“Oh my god,” she moans. “That is so good.”
She eats a donut, and it doesn’t exactly taste good but it doesn’t taste like sawdust either. It goes down considerably easier than the tacos had. She still only eats one, but between it and the coffee, she almost feels sort of normal. When she’s finished, she starts packing, and Seth goes over to bang on Richie’s door.
“Richard!” he hollers, and she listens to them bickering while she stuffs her feet into her boots.
“The fuck, Seth? It’s the middle of the night!” Richie complains. It is nine a.m.
“You can sleep in the car,” Seth says. “Get a move on already, we’re burning daylight.”
“No, daylight is burning me.”
“Shut up, we’ll put a blanket over your head or something and you can nap in the backseat. Here, I got you one of your stupid drinks.”
There’s some indistinct grumbling underlaid by the rattling of ice and Richie’s door slams. Seth comes back in and she can’t resist giving him a smug look.
“I told you he’d complain.”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t gloat, it’s not cute.”
She sticks her tongue out at him and he turns away, but not fast enough to hide his grin.
While they wait for Richie to get his shit together, she and Seth take Amaru’s clothes across the parking lot. There’s a fire pit at the edge of the lot, with a picnic table nearby, and they dump everything in the middle of the leftover ashes. Seth has a little bottle of lighter fluid that he empties on the pile of leather, and then he hands her a matchbook. She has to take off one glove to be able to hold the match, but then it’s lit and she drops it on the pile and the whole thing whooshes into a column of flame. They both jump back at the rush of heat. They bump into each other and Seth puts his hand under her elbow to steady her and she doesn’t pull away while they wait for the flames to calm down.
They watch for a few minutes, and she’s not sure what she expected to feel but mostly she just feels grossed out by the way it smells.
They’re on the road half an hour later, Richie hiding under a blanket in the backseat as promised. He’s already asleep — Kate can tell because she can hear him snoring. Seth is driving, one hand on the steering wheel and dark sunglasses hiding his eyes. His other arm is draped across the back of the bench seat, his fingertips brushing her shoulder every time they hit a pothole. She tunes the radio to the pop station that she used to listen to when her parents weren’t around and sings along whenever she knows the words. Seth makes a face at her choice in music and she sings louder. She puts her booted feet up on the dash and laughs at how affronted he looks.
They stop a few times: for gas, mostly, and snacks that she doesn’t eat, and once to get her some gloves that actually fit her. He finds some pretentious little boutique and blows in like a hurricane (or a conman). He charms the saleswoman so thoroughly that she’d probably believe him if he said he was the King of Texas, and he lets her talk him into buying a pair of gloves in the same shade of pink as Kate’s boots. Then while he’s paying for the pink gloves (the saleswoman gives him her employee discount, of course), Kate manages to lift two more pairs, one black and one white, and slip them into the fancy shopping bag without getting caught. Seth notices, though, and grins proudly.
Yeah, she’s still got it.
They get to Jacknife Jed’s late that afternoon. The huge truck stop and bar hasn’t changed much since the last time she was here, with Scott. It looks a bit different in the daytime, though. She can see the surrounding outbuildings more clearly and the neon sign isn’t quite so garish. Richie comes tearing out of his blanket fort the moment they’re on the property.
“Fucking finally,” he grumbles, adjusting his glasses. Seth glances at her and rolls his eyes when she looks up. She bites her lips so Richie won’t see her grinning.
Seth pulls the car around back of the main building and Kate gets out and stretches, looking around curiously. There are people bustling around, a few of them sizzling in the afternoon sun as they hurry between shadows. Her eyebrows go up a bit at that, surprised that they’re being so brazen. Seth grabs her hand to pull her along after him, and she lets him now that her hands are safely encased in soft pink leather.
The Geckos walk in like they own the place, and it takes her a couple minutes to realize it’s not just their usual swaggering confidence — they actually do own the place. Richie strides off and Seth follows at a slower pace with Kate. They get stopped a few times by staff asking for his input and every time Kate notices them noticing her hand in Seth’s. He’s completely unselfconscious about it, though. He introduces her to everyone they talk to and she doesn’t retain a single name.
Eventually they make it to an office with two desks facing each other across the room. There’s bad art on the walls and a big safe in one corner and a squashy leather couch next to the door. It reeks of testosterone. Richie is already there, his feet kicked up on his desk while he reads through a pile of mail.
Another pile of mail is stacked neatly on the other desk, and Kate stops in the middle of the room to take it all in while Seth drops into his desk chair. This is all a far cry from the revolving door of crappy motel rooms and small-time jobs she and Seth couldn’t seem to break free from in Mexico.
A well-dressed woman comes in without knocking. “Took you two long enough,” she says, ignoring the outraged looks the Geckos throw her as she turns to Kate. “I’m Ximena, and you must be Kate,” she says warmly, reaching out to shake her hand. She thinks she sees Ximena notice the white bandages just barely visible at the edge of her gloves, but there’s no indication of it on her face when their eyes meet, and she doesn’t say anything about them. “I’ve heard a lot about you, welcome to Jed’s. I run the public side of the operation here.”
There’s something vaguely familiar about her, but Kate can’t quite place her. Before she gets the chance to ask, though, Ximena has gathered up Richie to go talk about some business problem or other, leaving Kate alone with Seth. She puts her hands on her hips and turns to look at him, head cocked to one side and eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“Seth Gecko,” she drawls. “Did you get respectable while I was gone?”
He splutters, reeling back in his chair like she just accused him of something despicable. “I am not respectable, Kate.”
“Are you sure?” She grins at him. “Because this looks an awful lot like a legitimate business.”
He leans his elbow on his desk and points at her. “Looks can be deceiving, Princess. It is a front. It’s barely legitimate.”
She hums speculatively, running a finger over the edge of his desk. “What if I like it?”
His mouth falls open, and she can’t help but giggle at him. His mouth snaps shut and he tries his best to put on a disapproving face but it doesn’t really work. She can see the spark of something warm and relieved lighting him up from the inside and she has to turn away to keep from letting it burn her. She flops onto the couch and he doesn’t even tell her get to get her shoes off the leather and by the time she looks up again he’s turned to his stack of mail, a tiny secret smile still touching the corner of his mouth. She settles into the cushions and listens to the soft sounds of his work: rustling papers, a pen scratching, the hum of a computer booting up.
Seth tries to focus on all the work that’s piled up over the last few weeks, but it’s really hard with Kate sprawled out on his couch, looking like a fucking dream in her little shorts and pink boots. It doesn’t take her long to fall asleep, her hair a dark halo around her face. She really does look like the Texas version of Snow White, though there’s a reddish tinge to her hair now that he doesn’t remember being there earlier. Must be the light.
Fuck, he missed her. She told him the old Kate was dead, outside the gate to hell, and she’s right, she is different now — but she’s still Kate. The Queen of Hell couldn’t hold her down and hell itself couldn’t keep her and he’d know her anywhere, no matter how much time passed or how much she changed.
Richie comes in to argue about some bullshit to do with marketing, of all things, like Seth gives a shit about that. He wants to rob a bank so badly he can’t see straight. Respectable. He shudders. No fucking way.
Although he did like the way she teased him about it.
“Brother, stop staring at Kate and pay attention,” Richie snaps, and Seth remembers that he’s supposed to be a business owner. Fuck.
He drags his attention back to his brother and suffers through Richie’s latest grand idea to bring even more drunk truckers into the bar every night. This one involves billboards on all the surrounding highways with scantily clad women draped in snakes (subtle) spouting just-this-side-of-tasteless slogans. It’s ridiculous and tacky but so is the bar, so Seth figures, what the hell.
“Tell you what, buddy,” he says, cutting him off in the middle of a sentence (he knows Richie hates that which is probably why he can’t seem to stop doing it). “You find me a monumental fucking score, and I’ll sign off on your little pornographic marketing strategy, deal?”
“It’s not pornography, Seth, have you been listening at all?”
“Unfortunately, I have heard every goddamn word.” He smiles sarcastically at Richie. “Now go away, I’ve got shit to do.”
Richie throws up his hands and starts to stalk over to his desk.
“Hey,” Seth says, and Richie stops halfway across the room to glare over his shoulder. “I mean it about the score.”
The glare softens slightly and Richie nods before going to sit at his desk. Seth ignores him and turns back to his work. It’s a struggle to concentrate on anything other than Kate, but he manages a couple hours of effort towards getting caught up. Ximena will have his ass if he slacks off too much. The thought makes him groan in disgust, because fuck it, Kate was right.
Thinking about it, though... he still shudders at the label Kate used, but isn’t this what he’s wanted all along? A safe place to land, his brother by his side. Jed’s isn’t El Rey, but it’s a good home base, they have allies and steady income and four walls to call home, and they can still work jobs to keep themselves entertained. And it’s worlds better than the string of motels he dragged Kate through. She can take all the time she needs to recover from Amaru, and then she can do whatever she wants: get a job, go to college, hell, she can lay by the pool for eight hours every day for the rest of her life if she feels like it, he’s not going to stop her. At least he’s able to keep a roof over her head now, give her the space to figure it all out.
Assuming she wants to stay. He lets his gaze stray over to her for the first time in a while. She’s rolled onto her side, one pink-gloved hand curled over the edge of the cushions. He’s not sure what the glove thing is about, but wearing them clearly makes her more comfortable, so he’s rolling with it. She quit jerking her hands away from touching him after she put them on, so as far as he’s concerned, she can wear them forever if that’s what she wants.
He is painfully aware of how pathetically clingy that makes him.
He works until Kate tries to roll over in her sleep and almost falls off the couch. It’s as good an excuse as any to call it a night, so he turns off his laptop and puts all his papers in his desk and locks it. Richie has long since gone off to wander the bar, presumably flirting with patrons and keeping an eye out for assholes who will make a good meal, so the office has been quiet for a while.
He goes to stand over Kate and looks down at her. He considers waking her up so she can walk to his apartment, but decides against it. She needs the sleep. So he lifts her up in his arms and carries her instead.
Yeah, he really just wanted to hold her. He is so pathetic.
She grumbles a little and hooks her hand around his neck without really waking up. It takes some maneuvering to lock up the office without disturbing her, but he manages. Luckily his apartment isn’t far. It’s nothing special, just a two bedroom place, the main selling points of which were that he already owned it since it’s part of the Jed’s property, it came furnished so he didn’t have to worry about filling it up, and it’s a two minute walk from the bar. He’s been meaning to get something better, a bigger apartment or even a house, but it didn’t really seem that important.
He gets Kate inside and has a moment of paralyzing indecision in the hall which he’s glad no one (Richie) is around to witness. His first instinct is to put her in his room, but then he realizes how creepy that could be. It’s one thing to share a motel bed when there aren’t other options, but it’s another thing to put an unconscious girl in your bed when you have a perfectly good guest room going unused across the hall.
He sighs and puts her in the guest room, because unlike his brother, he’s not a creep. No matter how hard it feels to let her out of his sight right now. He takes off her boots and tucks her in and smoothes her hair out of her face. She smiles a little and flops onto her stomach. Fuck, she’s cute.
He leaves before anyone could accuse him of watching her sleep like a fucking weirdo. All their shit is still in the car, so he drags himself out there to gather it all up. Not that there’s really that much to gather, even after Richie’s little shopping spree. It’s not like they packed for a week-long vacation before heading to Matanzas. The whole thing was such a shot in the dark, a Hail Mary pass right before the clock runs out. He’s still a little blown away that they made it out, that all the people he cares about are still alive. All two of them.
It feels weird to be back in his apartment after everything that’s happened. Six months in one spot should be enough to make it feel like home, but it’s just a place, only slightly more permanent than all the motels he’s passed through over the years. He still thinks he could leave it at a moment’s notice and never look back as long as Kate and Richie leave with him.
It takes him a while to wind down for the night. He puts Kate’s bag just inside her door and unpacks his overnight bag. Takes a quick shower and throws on some sweats and a clean undershirt. He pours a glass of whiskey and sips on it while he cleans his guns. He’d actually skipped doing it the night before because he was too busy worrying about Kate. His old man would kick his ass for that if he were still alive. The familiar movements are meditative, though, and by the time he’s done and his glass is empty, he’s ready to try and sleep. He leaves the light on in the bathroom in case Kate wakes up, and leaves his bedroom door open.
His bed feels strangely empty, though, and it still takes him a while to fall asleep.
She wakes up in total darkness, breathing hard. She dreamed she was in hell again, running and running as Amaru chased her, and no matter how fast she ran Amaru seemed to gain until her grasping hand was close enough that Kate could feel her claws scraping along her shoulder blade before she woke up. It felt so real.
She’s tangled up in bedsheets, her skin clammy with sweat, and when she reaches out, searching, her hands come up empty. Her eyes adjust to the darkness and she can make out the vague shapes of furniture — she’s in a bedroom, with no memory of how she got there, and she’s alone. The last thing she remembers is Richie coming back to the office and holding a murmured discussion with Seth while she hovered just on the edge of consciousness.
She sits up, fumbling to turn on the bedside lamp. It takes a few tries, but eventually light floods the room. It’s plain and impersonal, and she feels kind of lost. There’s no sign of Seth, or Richie for that matter. Her backpack is propped against the wall just inside the door, and when she gets up she finds her boots at the foot of the bed. She’s still wearing the same clothes she put on that morning.
Her breathing slows as she calms down, helped by the realization that either Seth or Richie must have brought her here. Wherever she is, she must be safe, or there’s no way she’d have been left alone. The thought makes her feel a little better, and much less panicked.
She grabs her bag and digs out some pajamas. She changes quickly and grabs her toothbrush and toothpaste and goes in search of the bathroom. The hall is dark but there’s a light on in the bathroom, the door open so she can find it easily. She uses the toilet and brushes her teeth and it’s only when she bends over to rinse her mouth out that some of her hair falls over her shoulder, the deep red of it catching her eye and making her heart pound. She spits and straightens up, and when she looks in the mirror, Amaru is staring back.
She screams and touches her hair and Amaru does the same and she can’t stop screaming.
Someone bangs on the door and then it splinters and slams open and Seth is there. He has his gun out and his eyes frantically scan the small space around her, looking for threats but it’s her, she’s the threat, can’t he tell?
He finally looks at her and his eyes widen but instead of shooting her he drops his gun on the counter so he can wrap both arms around her. She struggles at first, because she’s Amaru and it’s not safe, but he puts his hands on her face and looks into her eyes.
“Kate, you’re okay,” he says, and he looks scared but not of her. “You’re safe, you’re not her.” She sobs and he keeps talking, holding on tight like he’s afraid she’ll disappear if he lets go. “She’s gone, Kate, it’s just you and me, and I’m never gonna let her get you again.” His eyes are steady on hers as he talks, and there’s so much certainty in his gaze that she starts to believe him. He keeps talking, telling her over and over that she’s safe, that he’s there, that Amaru is gone and never coming back.
It feels like it takes hours, but eventually she’s able to take a full breath. She lets Seth pull her fully into his arms. She closes her eyes and presses her forehead to his collarbone and after a moment she puts her arms around his waist.
“Do you want to dye it again?”
She thinks about that for a moment and shakes her head no. If she goes to the trouble of dying it tonight and she wakes up with red hair again she will totally lose her shit.
“In the morning,” she mumbles.
“Okay. What can I do?”
“Anything, Kate. Just name it.”
“Can I stay with you tonight?”
“Yeah, sweetheart,” he sighs into her hair.
He lets her go after a moment and she washes her face and braids her hair back so she won’t wake up with a cloud of red in her face. Seth leans in the doorway and waits. He yawns so big his jaw audibly cracks and she winces.
“Sorry I woke you,” she says.
“Nah, don’t be.” He rubs his eyes and when he looks at her again he smirks. “Its good practice for when the cops finally track me down.”
She snorts. “You would get dragged away to jail in some midnight raid.”
He winks at her. “I’m wanted in six states.”
“That’s not something to brag about, Seth.”
“Sure, it is. Shows how good I am at avoiding arrest.” He raises his eyebrows, basically daring her to argue with him about it, and it’s not like she’s going to deny him the pleasure of bickering with her.
“What it shows is how bad you are at not getting the cops’ attention in the first place,” she says. “So you’d have to be good at avoiding arrest.”
“See? Definitely a good skill to have.”
“If I recall correctly, it’s a skill you’re not perfect at.”
“Wow, holding a man’s one prison stint against him. That’s cold, Princess.”
“Well, someone’s got to keep you humble. Might as well be me.”
“Pretty sure that’s a losing battle, but you’re welcome to keep trying.” He smiles down at her and then he picks up his gun and gestures over his shoulder. “Come on, let’s go to bed. I need my beauty sleep.”
She follows him to a room across the hall. It’s a little bigger than the one she woke up in, but there’s still something weirdly impersonal about it. Nothing about it feels like Seth to her. She wouldn’t believe he lives here at all except for the ease with which he moves around the space. He makes sure she gets into bed on the side farthest from the door, checks his gun and sets it carefully on his bedside table and climbs in next to her.
After a moment, he reaches out and wraps his hand around her arm. “Night, Kate,” he mumbles. He already sounds half asleep.
“Night,” she whispers back.
Kate dyes her hair again in the morning, and he doesn’t know how to tell her he thinks it’s a losing battle.
He wakes up before her to find that he’s wrapped himself around her in his sleep. Which isn’t exactly surprising, considering all the things he’s been thinking and feeling about her basically since they met, but he still feels like a creep. She feels so fucking right, though, there in his arms. He’s torn between trying to hold her at arms length so it won’t hurt so much when she leaves, and holding on as tight as he can while she’s here, since it’s going to hurt anyway.
Because she will leave. Seth is under no illusions about that. Everyone leaves him eventually, even his own damn brother. It doesn’t matter how hard he tries to hold on, and Kate’s already left him once. It might take a while longer, this time, but sooner or later she’s going to realize she doesn’t need him or Richie fucking up her life any further. She’s brilliant, and strong, and she doesn’t need to put up with the Gecko brothers and their particular brand of bullshit if she doesn’t want to.
He’s just steeling himself to pull away from her when she speaks.
“I can hear you thinking,” she mumbles. She rolls over and slings an arm around his waist, shoving her cold little nose into the crook of his neck.
She wiggles a little, getting comfortable, and it presses her curves much more firmly against him, and he blacks out for a hot second. That is just— wow, that is so much more of Kate Fuller than he ever expected to touch in a bed. He has to mentally take apart his gun and put it back together to keep from getting a boner.
“It’s way too early to be thinking so hard,” she mumbles, a little more clearly this time. Her lips brush his skin and he is going to hell for this, because the tiniest brush of Kate’s lips is better than any paradise he’s ever imagined and he’s shocked Xibalba isn’t opening up to swallow him whole right now for even thinking it.
He turns to look over his shoulder at the clock, as much to distract himself from all of Kate pressed up against him as to give himself fuel for arguing with her. “It’s almost noon,” he says triumphantly. “I’ll think as hard as I want to when it’s the middle of the day.”
Kate sighs and pulls back a little, her eyes opening to fix him with an annoyed stare. “I can’t believe you let me sleep so late.”
“What?” He blinks at her. “How is that my fault? And what does it matter how late you sleep, do you have plans or something?”
“No, I’d just like to see the sun during my waking hours, that’s all.”
Kate pulls out of his arms and gets up, and he regrets pointing out the time. He’s going to have to get rid of his alarm clock. He considers throwing it out right then and there, but Kate would ask questions that he definitely doesn’t want to answer, so he resolves to do it sometime when she’s not looking. She stretches and he does not watch, and then she walks out. He waits a minute until he has his raging libido under control — it didn’t use to be this hard to be around Kate without thinking about her like that — and then he follows after her.
She’s already in the bathroom, ripping open another box of hair dye, and he pauses awkwardly in the doorway for a moment. He admires her resolve but he really doesn’t think this attempt to change her hair back will last any longer than the first had. He thinks about saying so, tries to make his mouth form the words, and he just can’t do it. Some things you just have to come to terms with on your own, and he can’t make Kate accept that’s she’s a redhead now. Even if he thinks it’s kind of hot, now that she’s not possessed by an evil demon that’s trying to kill him whenever she gets the chance.
“Sorry about your door,” Kate says, knocking him out of his thoughts, and he looks at the bathroom door for the first time since he kicked it in last night. The door frame is splintered around the latch, and the door itself is listing drunkenly on its hinges. He shrugs carelessly.
“It’s fine, someone’ll fix it.”
She looks at him strangely.
“Nothing, it’s just weird that you have people now.”
“Yeah, you know,” she gestures vaguely with her bottle of horrible-smelling chemicals. “I mean, last time I saw you, you know, before, you were a mess.”
He flinches at how closely her words mirror his hallucination. Look at you, you’re a mess. She doesn’t notice.
“And now, you have an entire business and an apartment and, like, staff who see to your every need.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, they do not see to my every need, okay? I’m self-sufficient, Princess, I buy my own groceries and everything.”
Now she’s smirking at him. “Good for you.”
Shit, how is a nineteen year old girl making him feel this defensive? “Hang on, that’s not the point,” he says, trying to get back to what she was trying to say and away from his weird need for her to not think he’s a pampered asshole. Well, he is an asshole, but he’s not fucking pampered. Fuck, Seth, focus. “The point is, you’re right. I got my shit together. It took me a while and I had a lot of help.” She’s holding very still, staring at nothing while he talks. “But I’m clean and I’m sorry I made you deal with my shit. It’s not going to happen again.”
She finally looks at him, and fuck, he has so much other shit to apologize for but at least he’s making a start.
“Okay,” she says. “Thanks.”
He rocks on his heels and clears his throat awkwardly. “I’m gonna go make coffee,” he mutters. “What do you want for breakfast?” He immediately regrets the question when Kate’s mouth presses into a thin line. Her appetite is clearly not back and he shouldn’t be making her make decisions about food. “Hey,” he says, trying to distract her before she really starts to worry about it. She looks up again, and he raises his eyebrows at her. “How about I surprise you?” The tense line of her shoulders eases and she actually smiles a little.
“Sure,” she says, and he pretends not to notice the relief in her voice even though it fucking kills him.
“Yell if you need anything,” he says, and heads out to the kitchen. He starts the coffee and digs around in the refrigerator, looking for ingredients. He grabs a bunch of stuff, puts the strawberry jam back when he realizes it’s red and pulls out the grape jelly instead. He makes scrambled eggs with onions and green peppers and cheese and a side of toast and he feels weirdly fucking domestic. But... not in a bad way, which is even weirder.
By the time Kate comes out, dressed in another pair of tiny jean shorts and a light blue tshirt, her bare feet slapping quietly on the hardwood floors, he’s just putting the plates on the table. Her hair is brown again, lighter than yesterday but still dark, closer to the color it was when they first met. He finds himself hoping, for her sake, that the color holds, even though he thinks it’s the longest of long shots.
“Coffee’s in the pot, mugs are in the cabinet above it.” He follows her back into the kitchen, moving the sugar next to the coffee pot for her and grabbing the milk out of the fridge. She pours him a mug, too — black — and fixes hers the way she likes it, and at the last moment he remembers to grab the hot sauce in case she wants some on her eggs.
She does, but only a little. Not nearly as much as she put on her taco the other day. And she eats more — all of her eggs and a whole piece of toast. Still less than he’s used to seeing her eat, but better than one damn taco.
“I have to go to the office and get some shit done today,” he says while she sips her coffee. “You can stay here if you want, or you can come with me, but I can’t promise it won’t be boring as fuck.”
She snorts. “I’ll come with you. Better than lying around here like some kind of invalid.”
“You’re not an invalid, Kate, but it would probably help to take it easy for a while.”
“That’s what your office couch is for.”
And that’s that. He gets dressed and they walk over to the bar together, her pink-gloved hand clasped snugly in his. He really should ask her about the gloves, but anytime she catches him looking at them she hides her hands behind her back and says something to distract him. He’s resolved to wait her out in the hope she’ll tell him about it when she’s ready.
Her hair is red again before she even goes to sleep that night. She doesn’t have a meltdown this time, though it takes a lot of willpower. She braids her hair back and takes deep breaths and doesn’t look Seth in the eye when she asks if she can stay with him again.
In the morning, she dyes it brown. It turns red again within six hours.
Seth finds her in the bathroom, crying in front of the mirror as she frantically googles stronger hair dyes on the phone he got her.
“Kate,” he says, gently taking the phone out of her hand and turning her to face him. “Maybe it’s okay if you just leave it.”
“What? No! I want to look like me.”
“Maybe—“ He breaks off, like he’s afraid of her reaction to whatever he has to say, and he isn’t looking at her even though the light pressure of his hands on her shoulders is keeping her from turning away.
He blows out a sigh and holds her gaze. “Maybe you do look like you.”
“I look like her.”
“You don’t, though.” She gives him a flat stare, but he doesn’t back down. “You don’t. You’re nothing like Amaru, okay? You’ve got a soul, and people who care about you, and she never had any of that. Red hair doesn’t change who you are. It doesn’t make you the same as her.”
She doesn’t say anything, trying to think it over objectively. She’s not sure she can.
“But doesn’t it bother you?” she finally asks, not caring that she sounds a little desperate. She watches as Seth looks at her hair, his eyes tracing the length of it before meeting hers again.
“I actually kind of like it,” Seth admits. She glares at him, betrayed. “Hey, don’t look at me like that. I’m just saying, it suits you. You were never the meek little preacher’s daughter, no matter how much you looked like it. You’ve always been strong, and devious, and a little ruthless, and I like all that about you. The red just... matches, I guess.”
She stares at him. “I think you just gave me a compliment,” she finally says, and he laughs.
“Yeah, well, I meant it.”
She smiles reluctantly and Seth takes her to the bar for dinner and doesn’t try to stop her when she drinks too much. He takes her home and she doesn’t even have to ask this time, he just puts her to bed in his room.
She doesn’t dye her hair again.
It takes about two weeks for her to get really fucking bored.
She’s been sleeping a lot and spending most of her waking hours in the bar. She spends a lot of time wandering around learning the layout of the place, which is weirdly labyrinthine. Anytime she gets lost, she just picks a spot and sits down to wait, and someone, usually Seth, comes to find her eventually. She’s not entirely sure how he always finds her so quickly, but her money is on the discreet network of security cameras, which she is slowly getting better at spotting.
Sometimes Richie comes to find her, and a few times even Ximena has stepped in. She finally placed where she knows her from, but she hasn’t brought it up. The acquaintance, if she can even call it that, is through a double layer of supernatural bullshit — Richie knew Ximena, and Amaru knew her through the psychic control she had over him. And then Richie almost got Ximena killed. It makes Kate feel awkward, even though Ximena is never anything but warm and kind toward her.
The bar staff are getting used to seeing her around. It only takes a few days for people to stop blatantly staring when they see her with Seth. It probably helps that he acts like it’s perfectly natural for her to be wherever he is. He’s always careful to introduce her to people and include her in conversations, whether they’re talking about the next produce shipment for the kitchens or how to dispose of the culebras’ latest meals’ cars.
When she’s not wandering the halls, she’s hanging out in Seth and Richie’s office, pestering them with questions about the business or napping on the couch. She figures out pretty quickly that running a business isn’t actually interesting, at least not to her. At first, she tries to show an interest, because she has to do something, but it’s so fucking boring and she can’t sustain enough interest to actually make herself useful. She actually falls asleep a few times while Richie or Seth is trying to teach her something. Then she starts deliberately asking questions about the business whenever she wants a nap. She’ll ask how to do the booze order or something and then get comfortable on the couch and let the sound of a Gecko in lecture mode lull her right to sleep. It takes them ages to catch on, and she gets a lot of really good naps in before they start calling her on it. But even knowing what she’s up to doesn’t always stop them. They really do both love the sound of their own voices.
Seth, unsurprisingly, is actually great at managing the place and keeping Richie’s crazy ideas from getting too out of hand. He’d never admit it out loud, but she thinks he even likes it. He’s clearly respected by the staff, even if most of them don’t like him. Richie, on the other hand, is very caught up in the role of Big Boss. He likes to wander around the bar at night, striking up conversations with random patrons and giving out the occasional free dessert. The first time she watched him at it she laughed so hard she couldn’t stand up straight and Seth had to carry her back to the office to protect Richie’s fragile ego. He laughed almost as hard as she did, though, both of them collapsed in a pile on the couch.
Her appetite slowly comes back, helped along by Seth’s determination to get her to eat something, anything, even if it’s mostly sugar. He figures out her favorite ice cream flavors and keeps them in his freezer for her, and it feels like every time she turns around he’s putting a cookie in her hand. His philosophy seems to be that it’s better for her to eat junk food than no food. And it works — she can taste sugar, which makes it easier to eat, and then she gets used to eating again, which makes it easier to eat other things. Her sense of taste slowly comes back, and that helps, too.
She doesn’t have nightmares every night, but it’s pretty close. She dreams she’s stuck in hell, or worse, she’s not in hell at all but still possessed by Amaru. She dreams about the people Amaru killed using her hands, and she wakes up gasping and immediately checks her gloves. Amaru drained a lot of souls in the months she was using Kate’s body, and Kate remembers every single one.
Sometimes she thinks that’s the cruelest part of what happened to her: that she didn’t just lose control of herself, she had to watch it all. Had to watch her own hands hurting Scott, and Richie. She had to feel herself nearly kill Seth.
He would’ve let her do it, too. He hadn’t tried to fight at all, the moment he realized Kate was still there. She still can’t decide if she’s mad about that.
So she has a lot she’s trying to deal with, and she should be taking it easy, but after two weeks of kicking around the Jed’s compound (Seth hates when she calls it that — “It makes us sound like some kind of freaky cult, Kate!” “Yeah. A blood cult.”), she’s just really, monumentally bored. She needs something else to think about, to help her get out of her own head sometimes. She needs a project.
“I’m bored,” she announces to Seth one evening. She’s sprawled upside down on the couch in his office, her feet kicked up against the wall and her hair hanging over the edge of the cushions. If she pushes her head back just a little, she can see Seth sitting at his desk. She can’t look too long though, because watching him move around upside down is disorienting.
He looks over at her, frowning in amusement. “That why you’re pretending to be Spider-Man?”
“Maybe. Does that make you MJ?”
He scoffs. “You’re the redhead. And you better not get scuff marks on my walls.”
“You’re such a grouch.” She kicks her boots against the wall a little, just to be a brat. He glares at her, but he doesn’t tell her to stop it. “I’m bored, Seth. I need something to do. I can’t just follow you around like a lost puppy for the rest of my life.”
“I mean, you can if you want,” he says, and she glares at him.
He sighs and rolls his chair over to her so he can look down at her. It doesn’t really help with the disorientation, but at least she doesn’t have to crane her neck anymore.
“Okay, so what do you want to do?”
And isn’t that just. The big fucking question. One she doesn’t really know the answer to.
“I don’t know,” she says, frustrated. “Just... something.”
Now he looks amused. “Okay, let’s think about it. Options. You just need to know your options.”
“Okay,” she says slowly.
“You want a job? We can find you something to do around here.” He gets up and sits next to her on the couch, and that’s better, looking at him right side up. He seems to be brainstorming, without really needing her to give an answer just yet. “We literally never have enough servers, or bartenders for that matter.”
She’s definitely heard him complain about staffing issues enough to know that’s the truth. Something about high turnover... she must have fallen asleep in the middle of that lecture.
“You could get your GED and go to college,” he continues. He drapes his tattooed arm over her waist, his hand curling around her ribcage in a gesture that’s as natural as it is unconscious.
She wishes she could touch him the way he touches her: freely, unselfconsciously, easy as breathing. She desperately wants to wrap her bare hands around his, dig her fingers into his hair, touch his face with awe and tenderness etched into her very palms. She wishes she could trust her own skin not to betray her. She still feels like there’s an emptiness inside her just waiting to be filled, and she doesn’t want Seth’s soul to be what fills it.
If she’s honest with herself, it’s not just boredom driving her to find something to do. The void inside her hasn’t changed in the two weeks since she came to Jed’s. She’s never experienced anything like this before, so she doesn’t know how long it will take her to heal from Amaru, but she’d hoped for some progress by now. Even just a tiny amount. But as far as she can tell, the emptiness is here to stay.
Which is why she wants something to do. She wants to try to fill the void with activity. Maybe an occupation will make it feel less empty, or at least distract her from the gaping hole Amaru left. She starts tracing the flame patterns of Seth’s tattoo with her leather-clad fingertip while he keeps talking, oblivious to how dark her thoughts are.
“Actually, you should get your GED, even if you don’t want to go to college. But there’re some good schools in driving distance, and there’s always online options if you don’t want to go the traditional route.”
He glances down at her, as if to gauge her interest level, and settles a little more deeply into the cushions. It occurs to her that they’re pressed together, hip to hip, the warm length of his thigh tight against her side. She doesn’t remember ever feeling this comfortable with another person, and she wonders if it’s weird that the person she feels most at-home with is someone who once kidnapped her entire family.
Yeah, probably super weird. But still true. She stays right where she is.
“You want to run away?” he says, his voice light, and her heart jolts in her chest. “We could do that, too. Head for the ocean, or the mountains, or wherever. See how long it’d take to run out of road.”
She stares up at him, almost holding her breath, and when he looks down at her again there’s a little smile playing around the corner of his mouth and his eyes are warm.
“And if none of that sounds fun, there’s really only one other option.”
“What’s that?” Her voice comes out more breathless than she wants, and he leans into her a little more, like he’s about to tell her a secret.
She rolls her eyes, but she can’t quite suppress her smile. He grins down at her, way too proud of himself.
“Hmm,” she says, only slightly sarcastically. “How will I ever choose?”
He grows instantly serious. “You don’t have to choose tonight. Hell, you don’t have to choose at all. Just think about it. And you’re not stuck with any of them, okay? If you try something and you fucking hate it you can always change your mind. You can do all of them, or none, or something else entirely. Anything you want, Kate.”
She stares at him, speechless. “Wow,” she finally says, still a little breathless. “I kind of feel like you just offered me the moon.”
“Is that what you want? Because I can steal you the moon, Princess.” He sounds utterly confident, and there’s not an ounce of playfulness to the claim. He’d find a way to do it, if she asks.
She has to put her hands over her face to hide her blush. “I’ll let you know,” she mumbles, her voice muffled by her palms. He squeezes her side gently and then Richie walks in.
“Seth, I need you to—“ He cuts off when he sees them on the couch. Kate takes her hands off her face in time to see Richie give them a knowing look, except Kate doesn’t know. She has no fucking idea.
“You two look cozy,” Richie says, and he sounds kind of smug except what does he have to be smug about?
Seth makes no move to let go of her. He just scowls at his brother and then shares a long-suffering glance with her that has her biting her lip to keep from grinning. “The fuck do you want, Richie?”
“One of the bartenders just went home sick and we are slammed out there,” Richie says. “I need you to come cover for a while.”
Ximena walks in on the heels of that statement and her eyebrows go up a little at the sight of Kate and Seth on the couch and oh my god, they’re not even doing anything. They’re both fully clothed and their faces are three feet apart. Why is everyone looking at them like that? Ximena keeps her comments to herself, though.
“Who went home?” Seth asks.
“Maria has a fever,” Ximena says. “And she was coughing all over the place. I don’t know why she even came in today. We could really use you out there.”
Seth groans but he doesn’t really sound all that annoyed. She’s pretty sure it’s just for show. He pushes to his feet and she struggles to sit upright but it’s hard because her legs have gone to sleep. She manages though, and Seth holds his hand out to help her up, but she just looks at it and then up at him.
“I can’t feel my feet.”
He fucking laughs and she glares at him. Richie and Ximena have already started to leave, trading identical looks that Kate can’t quite decipher, but Richie sticks his head back through the door.
“Seth, are you coming?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming, just give me a minute.”
Richie rolls his eyes but doesn’t stick around. She sits there, rolling her ankles until feeling starts to come back, and then she lets Seth pull her to her feet.
“What are you going to do?” he asks. “You want me to walk you home?”
She shakes her head. “I figured I’d help.”
“Oh, yeah? Decided to get in on the job option early?”
“Well,” she shrugs, “how else am I going to be able to pay my way?”
“What?” He frowns at her. “What are you talking about?”
“You know,” she says, and shrugs again, hoping he’ll fill in the blanks.
“No, I don’t fucking know, Kate. What exactly do you think you need to pay for?”
“Seth!” Richie shouts from down the hall. “Get your ass out here before we have a fucking riot on our hands!”
She snorts. “Come on, let’s go before he has an aneurysm.” She practically has to drag Seth down the hall, ignoring the way he’s frowning down at her the whole time.
He’s still thinking about what Kate said the next day. He doesn’t want her to think she owes them anything, because if anyone owes anything, it’s him and Richie owing her. Hell, the entire fucking world owes her, even if almost none of them know it. The only reason they aren’t all living in literal Hell on Earth right now is because of one stubborn preacher’s daughter.
He wakes up early, which is to say, around eleven. Despite Kate’s annoyance that he didn’t wake her that first day back, they’re both half-nocturnal at this point. It’s hard to be otherwise when they’re working late hours at the bar and everyone around them is a culebra and can’t go out in the sun. Kate is draped half on top of him, and he reminds himself that he shouldn’t like that so fucking much. He probably shouldn’t keep letting her sleep with him but the idea of making her wake up from a nightmare alone is more than he’s been able to face so far. He can’t quite stop himself from running his fingers through her hair where it drapes over his shoulder. The color is still a little startling, but he stands by what he said. It suits her.
He wants to let her sleep, though, so after a moment he carefully slides out from under her. She mumbles something unintelligible and curls into a ball, mushing her face into his pillow. It takes way too much willpower not to climb right back in bed and wrap himself around her like an octopus, but he drags himself away.
He gets dressed and leaves a note for Kate to let her know where he’s gone and then he heads over to the office. He expects it to be empty at this time of day but Richie is actually sitting behind his desk. Seth can’t quite tell if his brother woke up early or never went to bed. There’s really no telling with Richard.
“You’re up early,” Richie says without looking up from whatever he’s doing. Placing the next booze order with their distributor, by the looks of things.
“Yeah,” Seth says, and leaves it at that. Richie shrugs and keeps working, and Seth sits at his own desk and flips through a few reports for a while. He’s not really focusing on anything in front of him, though, too busy thinking about the absurdity of a world in which Kate Fuller feels like she owes the Gecko brothers anything.
“Hey, I’ve been thinking,” he says abruptly. Richie looks up, and whatever he sees in Seth’s face is enough to keep him from making some wisecrack response. “Kate said something last night, about paying her way.”
Richie blinks behind his glasses, and then his face twists into a what the actual fuck expression. “She doesn’t owe us anything,” he says. “The least we can do is keep a roof over her head.”
“Yeah, you’re preaching to the choir, brother. I’ve been thinking about it, and I wanted to give her some money, and a house, maybe a car,” he says. “But I want to do it in a way that if she ever decides to leave, or we have a fight or something stupid like that, we can’t take it back. She deserves to have that level of security to fall back on, without worrying about us being assholes, or whatever.” He’d told her last night that she had options, and he wants it to be one hundred percent true. Anything she wants should be within her reach. Even if what she wants is to leave and never look back. It will kill him, but he can’t let that matter. He’s done being selfish where Kate is concerned.
Richie gives him the same knowing look he did last night when he found them on the couch, but he just nods. “I don’t think she’s going to leave, but I see what you mean. Let me talk to Ximena, we’ll work something out. We should get Kate a new ID while we’re at it.”
Seth nods, and goes back to his reports, and does marginally better at focusing on them this time.
It takes a couple days for them to get everything sorted. They have about a dozen properties scattered around the area (they came with the bar back when he and Richie took over after they killed Malvado and Carlos) and he picks one that’s about twenty minutes from the bar — far enough that he figures she would never have to see them if she didn’t want to, but not so far that she couldn’t live there and drive over to Jed’s every day if she wanted to. It’s one of the least McMansion-y options they own, but it’s still a two million dollar house with a pool in the backyard and a good security system already in place. He’s hoping the pool will soften her up to a house he doesn’t really think she’d ever actually choose for herself.
For the car, he picks a nice boring sedan with a high safety rating, brand new off the lot, in a nice shade of blue that he thinks she’ll like. It’s far less flashy than the house is. The money is the easiest part, because Richie handles it. He transfers a lump sum into her account and sets up a recurring transfer to automatically add more every month. The only way that will stop is if they somehow lose the bar and all their steady income. Richie does some financial wizardry that means the money’s source can’t easily be traced, so she’ll never have to worry about the law coming after her for her questionable income sources.
Kate doesn’t say anything else about being bored. He assumes she’s still thinking it over. She works behind the bar with him while Maria is out, and she picks it up quickly, pouring beers and slinging shots like a pro by the end of her second shift. He keeps an eye on her but manages to tamp down his wildly overactive protective instincts while they’re working. At least, he thinks he’s managing okay. He’s not exactly reasonable where Kate’s concerned. Never has been.
He sits her down in his office the day after all the paperwork is done and hands her a portfolio.
“What’s this?” She opens it up, frowning as she scans the first page.
“You don’t have to pay your way around here,” Seth says, watching her face carefully. “But I also don’t want you to think you’re running up a tab. So that’s all yours.” He waves vaguely at the folder in her hands. She flips through a few pages, frowning.
“Seth, what the hell is all this?”
He shrugs. “A house, some money. Your own car. No strings attached.”
“But... why?” She looks at him and her big green eyes are filled with confusion.
“Kate, you lost everything because of me and Richie,” he says. It hurts to think about, but it’s true. The Gecko brothers quite literally ruined her life. He is painfully aware of that fact every single day. He really doesn’t know how she can stand to be in the same room as him. “The very least we could do was give you a safety net. I said you had options, and this is one of them, and it doesn’t matter if you decide you hate me and Richie and want to leave tomorrow and never look back, this is yours no matter what.”
She stares at him, frowning, for a long moment. Then she gets up and walks out without a word.
He sits there in stunned silence for several seconds. He’d imagined a lot of possible reactions Kate might have to this, but this wasn’t one of them. It takes him probably way too long, but he scrambles to his feet and chases after her.
“Kate!” She’s not in the hall. He looks for her, even falling back on the security cameras, but he can’t find her anywhere. He runs into Richie after about twenty minutes of running around like an idiot.
“Have you seen Kate?” He is ridiculously out of breath. Richie looks at him like he’s acting like a crazy person, which is rich, all things considered.
“No. You finally scare her off?”
Seth glares. “Fuck you, Richard. I gave her the portfolio and she just—“ he waves his arms in helpless confusion “—walked away.”
“Huh,” Richie finally says.
“Yeah, thanks pal, that’s very helpful.”
“Look, just— give her time,” Richie says. “She’s probably never been handed five million dollars before.”
He glares at his brother some more, mainly because he’s probably right. “Well, she’s going to have to get used to it,” he grumbles, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Cause I’m not taking it back.”
Richie claps him on the shoulder and wanders off to do whatever the hell he gets up to all day long.
He doesn’t see Kate the rest of the afternoon. He spends the time working, and gets absolutely nothing done. After three hours, he’s got himself half-convinced that she’s left for good and he’ll never see her again. So when she shows up in the office about fifteen minutes before their shift is supposed to start at the bar, he’s so pathetically relieved that he’s all the way around his desk and pulling her into his arms before he can stop himself. Clingy, his brain accuses, but he doesn’t give a shit. She wraps her arms around his waist, though, and he can feel her smiling against his chest.
“Jesus Christ,” he mutters. “You freaked me the fuck out, disappearing like that.”
She sighs a little. “Sorry,” she mumbles. “You just... you really overwhelm me sometimes.”
He manages to pry himself off her enough to look her in the face. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I don’t mean to.”
“I can’t promise it won’t happen again.”
She smiles, wide and genuine. “I know,” she says again. It’s really goddamn good to see her smile like that. He should really let go of her, though. He manages, with an effort, and cleans up his desk, and then they head down the hall to the bar. Kate slips her hand into his and he is so fucking pathetic for how relieved he feels by the simple gesture.
She works at the bar with Seth until Maria comes back, and then she asks Richie to leave her on the roster part-time. It’s nice to interact with other people, even if most of them are rowdy drunk people, and she figures bar tending is a useful skill to practice. Richie offers to put her in the server rotation, too, but she likes the security provided by a wide expanse of oak separating her from the masses.
Seth takes her to see her new house a few days after they quit working every night, and she yells at him for giving her such a nice place. Floor-to-ceiling windows line most of the exterior walls, letting tons of light in, and there’s a pool in the backyard that she instantly falls in love with. Which she suspects Seth did on purpose.
The interior is all creams and browns and golds, with a huge kitchen and a living room with a long panel of folding glass doors that can be pushed completely aside to expand the living space onto the patio. There are four bedrooms and a fucking wine cellar. It’s gorgeous and ostentatious and she’d never in a million years have bought it for herself but that doesn’t stop her from loving it on sight.
Unfortunately, it’s not furnished, so they can’t move in immediately. They wander the empty rooms, footsteps echoing against the hardwood floors as they brainstorm furnishing options.
“I can’t wait to move in,” she says, grinning at Seth. He freezes for half a second, something painful flitting across his face, but then he’s smiling back and she wonders if she imagined it.
A few days after that, she corners Richie and tells him she wants to plan a job.
She goes to Richie first because she’s worried Seth will think it’s too soon. She’s still having nightmares almost every night and she still flinches at her own reflection sometimes, though she is slowly getting used to the red hair, but she doesn’t want to let those things rule her life. He might be right, maybe it is too soon, but she’s been giving some serious thought to the options he gave her, and she’s come to several conclusions:
1. While having a job at the bar is helping, it’s not enough to occupy her completely, even if she works there full time. Which she doesn’t want to do. She likes having lots of free time to pester the Geckos in their office and now that she has access to a pool she intends to spend way too much time swimming in it. Also, she doesn’t have any expenses. So she doesn’t really see the point in working more than a few shifts a week.
2. She agrees with Seth about getting her GED, because that’s just good sense. But the idea of going to college is something she can’t quite wrap her head around right now. It just sounds so... normal. She can’t imagine going to class and doing homework after everything she’s been through over the last year. She might try it eventually, but right now, it’s not on the table.
3. If she thinks about running away with Seth for more than five seconds in a row, she is going to burn up into a pile of ashes faster than a culebra with a stake to the heart. So that’s out, for the moment. If he was even serious about it. (She really, really hopes he was serious about it, because one of these days, she’s going to muster up the courage to take him up on it.)
So, with all of her options either partially-committed-to or completely back-burnered for the foreseeable future, there really is only one option left.
She’d made a good start in her apprenticeship back in Mexico. It hadn’t been easy, learning from Seth during such a dark time of their lives, but they’re both so different now. And she was good at it. She doesn’t think she’s being conceited by thinking so. She was inexperienced, sure, but she asked the right questions and proved she could think on her feet under duress. And she put up with Seth’s drill instructor-like training style without murdering him, so extra points to her.
It takes some doing to get Richie alone without Seth around, but a couple days’ concerted effort yields results. She sends Seth out to her house to oversee the delivery of some furniture, claiming she promised to help Ximena with inventory and can’t go herself. He makes a lot of noise about not being her errand boy and then heads over early to make sure the delivery guys don’t get there before him. After he leaves, she closes the office door and drops into one of the chairs in front of Richie’s desk. He looks up at her, glances at the closed door with raised eyebrows, and folds his hands on top of his desk.
“Katie-Cakes,” he says gravely. “I’m guessing this isn’t a social call?”
“I want to rob a bank,” she says. No point in being coy, after all.
Richie blinks and glances over her shoulder at Seth’s desk. It looks reflexive, like he expects his brother to materialize out of nowhere and put an end to this conversation before it’s even really started. Seth, though, for all his many talents, is not a wizard, so he doesn’t poof out of thin air to yell at them.
“I’m serious,” she says. “And I’m talking to you because I want an honest answer not clouded by Seth’s overzealous protective instincts.”
Richie stares at her for a moment and then laughs. Just fucking howls. Which is more than a little insulting, and she’s just working herself up to be really miffed when he wipes his eyes and sobers up a little. “You really have him figured out,” he says, still chuckling, and she wishes that were true. She’s still completely confused by Seth about seventy five percent of the time, but that’s not the point of this conversation.
“Well?” she prompts, only slightly less annoyed now that she knows he wasn’t laughing at her, and Richie leans back in his chair and considers her.
“Seth asked me to find him a score a while back,” he says. “So I’ve had my ear to the ground, and I’ve found something really good. But I haven’t taken it to him yet because it’s going to take three people to pull it off, and...” he shrugs, and she nods. Aforementioned overzealous protective instincts.
“Well, consider me in,” she says. “Give me the details. I’ll handle Seth.” She says that last bit with way more confidence than she really feels.
Richie grins slowly. “Yes, Katie-Cakes, I do believe you will.”
He gives her a sheaf of papers — blueprints and staff schedules and his own notes on the place — and she takes them back to the apartment and devours the information in them. She hides them under the mattress in the guest room because Seth literally hasn’t been in there since he put her to bed that first night and she doesn’t bring up the job when he gets home for dinner. She intends to have a solid plan in place before she breathes a hint of it to him.
Kate is hiding something.
It takes him a few days to notice. Normally he prides himself on being suspicious as fuck of everyone and everything, but Kate generally gets a pass on that because for one thing, he’s always been stupid about women, and for another, she’s Kate, and that just makes him even stupider. Besides, she’s way fucking sneakier than her father ever gave her credit for, and he’s a bit distracted by running the bar and helping her furnish her house, and he’s ninety eight percent certain waking up next to her every morning is impacting his brain function. So he figures he can cut himself a break for not noticing immediately that she’s up to something.
But she definitely is up to something. He can tell because she and Richie abruptly cut off their conversations every time he walks into the office. Plus she keeps clearing off his dining room table for no apparent reason, which he’s only actually noticed because he usually leaves his gun cleaning stuff out on one end and she’s moved it all to the kitchen counter three times. Counting their time in Mexico, he’s lived with her for four months now, and he can safely say that she is not a neat freak. Which means she’s using the table for something.
He can’t figure out what, though. The problem is, the number of things he can imagine Kate doing that she wouldn’t feel comfortable telling him about is already really small. It’s mostly sex stuff, which he shies away from thinking about for the sake of his sanity, and Amaru stuff, which she basically refuses to talk about no matter how many times he asks when she wakes screaming from another nightmare. The thing is, he’s done way worse shit than she probably ever will (all the shit Amaru did using Kate’s body notwithstanding, but he doesn’t think those things count, because she didn’t choose to do any of them), so he seriously doubts she’s all that worried about him judging her. When he factors in the apparent fact that she has told Richie about whatever it is, there’s literally nothing he can think of that she’d keep from him.
Not that she has to tell him everything, as he keeps reminding himself. She doesn’t owe him anything she doesn’t want to share, no matter how badly he wants to know every tiny fucking detail of her entire life. He’s in so fucking deep and he doesn’t even know how he got here, embarrassingly clingy and completely whipped by a nineteen year old girl whose life he definitely completely ruined. She’d made that crack about following him around like a lost puppy, but it is one hundred fucking percent the other way around. Which is why, even though he’s literally dying of curiosity, not to mention jealousy that Richie knows something about Kate that Seth doesn’t, he doesn’t try very hard to figure it out.
He does give in and ask Richie about it after a week has gone by with no indication of her wanting to share anytime soon.
“What the hell is Kate up to?” he asks bluntly one afternoon. He and Richie have been going over the new marketing plan (he hates himself a little sometimes — how has his life come to this? He thinks the word respectable and shudders) and Kate’s working an early shift at the bar. It’s probably the only chance he’ll get to ask.
Richie, who had been literally in the middle of a sentence, groans and gives Seth a look. “Have you asked her?”
“No,” he admits. “She doesn’t seem to want to share.” It’s a weak excuse, and he knows it. Fuck, is he pathetic.
A thought which Richie apparently seconds, judging by the pitying look he gives Seth.
“Well, if you want to know, you’re going to have to talk to her,” Richie says, using his older brother voice. It makes Seth clench his jaw but he supposes he can’t blame Richie for using it, since he so rarely gets to actually act like the older brother.
“Fine,” Seth growls out, grinding his teeth in frustration.
“Speaking of talking to Kate,” Richie adds, and Seth thinks even being stuck in Hell on Earth might be preferable to whatever the fuck his brother is about to say. “Are you ever going to man up and tell her how you feel about her?”
Yep, Xibalba would definitely be a step up from this conversation. “So this marketing plan,” Seth says, because he’s not even man enough to admit to himself how he feels about Kate, and Richie rolls his eyes.
“Thought so,” he mutters, but then he continues outlining his ridiculous marketing strategy before Seth has a chance to strangle him.
It’s another week after that before Kate finally puts him out of his misery and tells him what the fuck is going on. She sits him down at his dining room table and walks him through her plan to rob a bank.
She has blueprints and maps spread over the table, and a notebook full of notes and diagrams. She has the whole damn heist planned out down to the second. She has an answer ready for every question he can think to ask, a solution for every hiccup he can imagine. They have two weeks to memorize the plan and polish the timetable and then the Gecko brothers are going to rob a bank with Kate fucking Fuller. He hasn’t seen her this alive since... maybe ever, color high in her cheeks and her eyes sparking with pride. She did a good job planning this, and she knows it, and it’s the most beautiful goddamn thing he’s ever seen.
He is so completely fucked. He’s in love with Kate Fuller and he can’t deny it anymore, at least not to himself.
If Richie brings it up again, though, his brother is definitely getting strangled.
He goes to the bar that night and gets completely hammered. Alcohol is pretty much his only vice these days, but he doesn’t even indulge in that very often. He hasn’t been drunk since before the world almost ended, so he figures he’s earned it.
It’s one of the few nights a week that the bar isn’t completely overrun by truckers and bikers, just the usual local crowd filling about half the tables. He picks a stool at the end of the bar and gets the new bartender, Rodrigo, to give him a bottle of tequila and a shot glass. Then he begins the very serious business of drinking away his problems.
Richie finds him there three hours later, slumped over the bar and still working on the last third of the bottle.
“Brother, I say this with love,” Richie says. “But you are one pathetic son of a bitch.”
“Yu-up,” Seth slurs, saluting Richie with his currently-full shot glass. Richie steals it out of his hand and drinks it before Seth can get it back and flags down Rodrigo with the empty glass. Rodrigo comes over and takes the glass and Richie hands him the bottle, too.
“Hey,” Seth says loudly, but Richie drags him off his barstool by the scruff of his neck and then he’s too busy trying not to puke or fall over or both to reclaim his tequila. Fuck, he hates tequila. Richie somehow manages to get him all the way home and into his bathroom before he loses control of his stomach. His brother stares down at him for a moment, radiating disapproval, and then he disappears and Seth loses track of time.
He finishes emptying his stomach and slowly lowers himself until he’s sitting propped up against the bathtub. Richie reappears and hands him a bottle of water and he chugs half of it while Richie rattles around in the medicine cabinet.
“Where the fuck is your ibuprofen?”
“Why is it out there?” His voice is way too loud but he doesn’t wait around for an answer.
Seth sits there feeling miserable and then Richie comes back just in time to witness a very adorably sleep-disheveled Kate coming out of Seth’s bedroom. She’s wearing one of Seth’s shirts and it is extremely obvious that she’s been sleeping. In Seth’s bed. Where Seth also sleeps.
“What’s going on?” she says around a yawn, and Richie stops in his tracks right outside the bathroom door and Seth thinks, oh, FUCK. Richie looks at Kate, and then at the room she just came out of, and then he turns slowly to stare at Seth with a mixture of approval and annoyance and Seth does not want any part of this.
“I’m going to drown myself in the bathtub now,” he announces, somehow hardly slurring at all, and kicks the door shut with his foot.
Unfortunately Richie’s reflexes are good and he catches the door before it can close and now he and Kate are both framed in the doorway, looking at Seth sitting on the floor and he really wants hell to open up and swallow him now, please. Kate is frowning in worried confusion and Richie looks unbearably smug and the worst part is, the conclusion his brother has drawn isn’t even accurate. Which they’re going to have to talk about now.
So, drowning in the tub it is, since hell doesn’t seem to be feeling accommodating at the moment. He actually throws one arm over the edge of the tub at his back, reaching blindly for the handle to turn on the water, but it’s out of reach and then Kate is there. She puts her hands on his face and gently turns him to look at her, her gloved fingers gently smoothing over his skin, and it feels so familiar and new, all at once, that he forgets what he was doing.
“You’re a mess,” she says, fondly exasperated, and he closes his eyes because if he’s hallucinating again he only wants to see the good part. “Seth. Seth!” She lightly smacks his cheek a few times until he opens his eyes again. “Let’s go to bed, okay? Richie, help me get him up.”
Richie comes in and drags Seth to his feet, and Kate slides her shoulder under his and he tries really hard not to cling to her like she’s a fucking life raft but he doesn’t think he’s very successful. Kate steers him into their room and over to his side of the bed and sits him down and Richie shakes a few pills into his hand and hands him the rest of his water. He’s chugging the rest of it down with the pills and almost chokes on it when Kate starts unbuttoning his shirt for him, her fingers quick and steady like she does this all the time. He reaches up with his free hand to stop her and she smacks his hand away.
“Don’t make it weird,” she snaps. He throws a panicked glance at Richie, whose smug expression has morphed into narrow-eyed suspicion.
This is the worst night of his entire fucking life.
She finishes with the buttons and he shrugs out of his shirt quickly before she has a chance to do something insane, like help him out of it. Except then she reaches for his belt buckle. He successfully grabs both of her wrists this time and uses them to hold her hands a safe distance away from his dick.
“Whoa, Princess, if you want to get me naked I am not opposed, but I didn’t think my brother would be around when it happens,” he says, his normally semi-decent brain-to-mouth filter completely failing him.
Kate pulls her hands free and plants them on her hips. She stares him down, but she’s also fighting a smile and blushing a pretty shade of pink and maybe this isn’t the worst night of his life, after all.
“I’m just going to go... look for something in the kitchen,” Richie says, and flees. Seth barely hears him over the sound of his heart thundering in his chest.
“Seth Gecko,” Kate says when they’re alone. “Behave yourself.”
Seth has never willingly taken an order from anyone in his life but there’s a note of command in her voice and he shudders helplessly because apparently that works for him now. She licks her lips and he starts to lean forward, a moth drawn inexorably to her flame, and fuck is he dying to get burned—
Wait. Wait. Some latent good sense miraculously reasserts itself before he does anything stupid, like kiss Kate for the first time when he is still completely shitfaced. He squeezes his eyes shut and drops his forehead onto her shoulder because he cannot kiss Kate right now. He can’t kiss Kate ever, because he doesn’t deserve to, but if he ever does, he doesn’t want it to be when he’s still too drunk to remember every tiny detail of the experience.
“I’m gonna go to sleep now,” he mumbles to her collarbone.
“Good plan.” He can hear the laughter in her voice and he’s going to feel like an idiot in the morning, but she puts her hand on the back of his neck and he thinks maybe the only thing that matters right now is that he can make Kate laugh. Even if she’s laughing at him.
Kate closes the bedroom door, still smiling. Seth Gecko is an idiot, but he’s her idiot. Her smile fades as she heads down the hall. Richie is obviously going to be nosy and while she can’t really blame him, she can still be annoyed about it.
She finds him seated at the head of the dining room table, casually leafing through the papers still scattered over it from when she walked Seth through her plan that afternoon. She couldn’t be bothered to hide everything again now that Seth is in on the secret. She slides onto the chair at the opposite end, and folds her hands in front of her, and waits.
“This is really good work, Katie-Cakes.”
She smiles. “Thanks, Richie. That means a lot, coming from you.” All she’s ever heard about Richie — from Seth, from other criminals (not that she knows many of those), even from the culebras — is that he’s the genius of the Gecko family, the prodigy, the thief who can steal anything. She won’t pretend his approval means nothing to her.
He’s quiet, and she waits some more. She’s going to make him ask. Maybe it’s petty, but it’s her personal life. She’s not going to just tell him all the details, no matter that his interest is based in concern for his brother.
Thankfully, he doesn’t make her wait too long. “So,” he says, carefully not looking at her. “You’re sleeping with my brother.”
That makes him look at her, eyebrows climbing into his hairline. “Come again?”
“Not that it’s any of your business,” she says, pausing until he acknowledges the truth of that with the barest of nods. “But we’re not fucking.”
He blinks and makes a face like he’s just now realizing he didn’t actually want to know the details of his brother’s relationship. Then what she said actually seems to penetrate his brain and he purses his lips and tries not to look completely confused.
His eyes snap to hers, wide and startled, and then he grins. “Fair enough. Just don’t break his heart, okay?”
She doesn’t smile back. “I don’t break things that are important to me,” she says, and maybe she’s being too serious, but this is serious. She’s still dealing with a lot of shit, and Seth has been nothing but patient with her while she works it all out. But just because she’s taking her time doesn’t mean she’s playing games with his heart.
Richie nods, and holds his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “I’ll mind my own business now.”
She snorts. “We’ll see how long that lasts.” She points her finger at him and fixes him with a stern look. “And don’t give him shit about this in the morning.”
“I’m serious, Richie. Just leave him alone. If I have to sleep alone tomorrow night because you’ve embarrassed him I will personally shoot you thirty seven times with your own gun.”
Richie glares sullenly at her. “Didn’t you use to be nicer?”
“Not particularly, no.”
He grumbles, but he doesn’t argue with her.
She’s not sure why, but in the weeks leading up to the job, her nightmares get progressively worse. They’re darker than ever, more violent, and much more frequent. She tries to put it down to pre-job jitters, and that might be part of it, but if she’s honest with herself, she thinks it’s probably mostly because she won’t talk to anyone about them.
She just can’t do it though. They’re terrifying and horrific and she doesn’t want to put them into words and let them out into the world. She doesn’t want Seth to look at her with pity in his eyes. Richie has his own demons, and she barely knows Ximena and the other culebras she knows from the bar — they’re friendly, but not anyone she feels comfortable enough with to confide in. And her phone calls with Scott are infrequent enough that she doesn’t want to darken them with talk of Amaru. Besides, he keeps asking her to come on tour with him, telling her over and over that she doesn’t have to stay with the Geckos, and it’s hard enough to explain to him that she’s exactly where she wants to be without bringing her nightmares into the mix.
Seth braces himself for merciless ribbing now that Richie has found out about his sleeping situation, but his brother shockingly doesn’t give him any shit about it. He spends about three days tensing up every time he sees or hears Richie coming, but Richie never brings it up and Seth sure as shit isn’t going to open that can of worms.
He and Richie spend their evenings working at the bar, either in the office or helping out in the restaurant. Sometimes Kate works, and sometimes she hangs around the office, and sometimes she wanders off to do whatever the hell she feels like. She drags him over to her house to use the pool at least once a day, and even though he never swims, he goes with her without complaint because her nightmares are getting worse and she still won’t tell him about them. He figures relaxing by the pool isn’t sleep, but it is restful, and that’s good for both of them. She spends a lot of time just floating in the water, eyes closed against the bright Texas sun, and he keeps an eye on her and tries not to check her out too obviously. Which is hard, because none of her growing collection of white bikinis seem to cover nearly enough of her.
All that time spent hanging around while Kate swims lets him do a lot of thinking, though, and he figures a few things out that probably shouldn’t have taken him this long.
The first is about Scott. It occurs to him way too long after they gave Kate her money and house and car that they should probably do something similar for Scott. They ruined his life, too, and just because he’s easy to forget about while he wanders the state, bringing his terrible music to his weirdly obsessed fans, that doesn’t mean they don’t owe him just as much as they do his sister. So he brings it up to Richie one night. Richie looks just as chagrined as Seth is that they didn’t think about it sooner.
After some discussion, they decide to just send Scott money instead of a house and car, too, because they don’t want him to feel tied down by their decision. They set it up so he gets more money, enough to make up the difference, and they send it off with absolutely no explanation. Hey, just because they’re trying to do better doesn’t mean they’re not still assholes.
“Scott’s pissed at you,” Kate announces a couple days later. She’s just walked into the office and is standing in the middle of the room, still texting on her phone, presumably with Scott. Seth and Richie look up at her and then at each other. They both shrug.
“He doesn’t have to use it,” Seth points out. He doesn’t bother to pretend like he doesn’t know what Kate’s talking about.
“He says,” she frowns at her phone screen, “and I quote, ‘tell them I don’t want their dirty hush money.’”
Seth bursts out laughing.
Richie rolls his eyes. “Tell him we’re not taking it back. We don’t care what he does with it. It was his cut of the Matanzas job.”
“Y’all didn’t actually make any money off of that,” Kate points out.
“So?” Richie says.
Kate thinks about it for a moment and shrugs. “Whatever,” she says. She texts Scott something else and then just stands there, chewing on her lip. “Thanks,” she finally says, her voice quiet.
Seth doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t really think she should be thanking them, especially not when it took them so long to even think of doing it.
“Didn’t do it for you,” Richie tells her. She looks at him askance, but then she smiles.
“Good,” she says, and disappears out the door.
The second thing is that he needs to apologize to Kate.
This isn’t exactly something he needed to figure out. He has a lot of regrets about— fuck, basically everything he’s done to Kate since she almost ran him over with her RV over a year ago. He’s been trying to be better, but it’s not enough to just have regrets and do better. Sometimes you have to actually say the words.
It’s harder than he thought it would be. It’s not like he’s never apologized to anyone before. He’s even apologized to Kate a couple times. But maybe it’s a magnitude thing. How is he supposed to tell the woman he’s in love with that he genuinely thinks her life would be better if they’d never met, without her realizing he’s got a point and running the fuck away from him? “I’m sorry I ruined your entire life, please don’t leave”? Jesus fuck.
The selfish part of him wants to just never have the conversation. The selfish part of him thinks if he never brings it up, she’ll never realize he’s totally and completely right. And if she doesn’t realize that, then she won’t leave. The selfish part of him is very loud, but he’s trying to ignore it. He agonizes about it for a few days and eventually decides to just rip it off like a bandaid.
They’re in the office. He’s been looking up billboard companies for Richie, and Kate is sitting on the couch with one of those horrible test-prep books in her lap, studying for her GED. She has a little crease between her eyebrows and is chewing on her lips. She’s been staring at the same page for half an hour and he thinks maybe it’s time for her to take a little break.
Richie’s not in the office, and Kate closed the door earlier when the noise from the kitchen got too distracting. This is probably as good a time as any.
“Hey,” he says, rolling his desk chair over to sit facing her. “Can we talk about something?”
She looks up and studies him for a moment before closing her book and setting it aside. “What’s up?”
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” he says. He takes a deep breath. “I want to apologize to you.”
She frowns. “What for?”
“Jesus, Kate. Everything.”
“Just let me say this, okay? Please.” He can’t quite decipher the look she gives him, but she nods.
“You’re really important to me,” he says after another deep breath. “But I’ve put you through a lot of shit. And I need you to know that I know it, and I’m not just going to pretend I never did any of it and hope you forget. So. I’m sorry for leaving you in Mexico, and I’m sorry I didn’t help you find Scott, and I’m sorry I wasn’t there to protect you from Carlos. I’m sorry for kidnapping your family and getting your brother turned into a snake and your father killed and if I could take it all back, I would, but I can’t and I’m sorry for that, too.”
She looks at him, and there’s something so gentle in her eyes that he feels like he might cry.
“I forgive you,” she says, and it fucking hurts to hear her say that. He makes an involuntary sound, like she just stabbed him in the heart.
“Kate.” His voice breaks a little. She puts her fingers against his lips to silence him, and holds his gaze.
“I forgave you a long time ago, Seth,” she says, and he shakes his head.
“You don’t have to,” he says. “I don’t deserve it.”
“Seth.” His name is a gentle admonishment. “I won’t pretend you never did me wrong. But I’m tired of keeping score. We’re different people now.”
“You don’t owe me anything,” he insists. “I just wanted you to know I’m sorry and I’m trying to do better.”
“I know,” she murmurs. “Because you already are.”
She hooks her hand around the back of his neck and pulls him into her arms, and if his breathing is a little ragged, neither of them says anything about it.
She wakes up late, golden afternoon light streaming in through the blinds. Seth is asleep beside her, curled on his side with his hand on her waist. His face is soft in sleep, sunlight gilding his cheekbones and playing across his lips. It catches in the stubble on his jaw, and she aches to stroke her fingers over it.
She feels different. The strange emptiness she’s felt since she dragged Amaru back to hell is gone. She feels like she did before she died, like hers is the only soul that’s ever been in her body. She feels light and free and she looks at Seth again and smiles. His hand tightens on her waist in his sleep and his mouth curves into a smile, like he can feel the change in her even in his sleep, and she can’t stop herself anymore, she has to touch his face.
She reaches out and cups his cheek, her fingertips caressing the soft skin beneath his ear. He smiles wider, eyes still closed, and the movement drags his stubble across her bare palm and something is deeply, deeply wrong because she’s not wearing her gloves. She’s touching him, skin to skin like she’s been yearning for.
Her heart pounds in her ears, but for a long moment, nothing happens, and she thinks— maybe it’s okay. Maybe all her fears the past couple months were unfounded and she can stop wearing her gloves and just live her life. Maybe she can finally have everything she wants.
Then Seth frowns and the illusion is shattered because she’s draining him. He grimaces in pain and his skin ripples and twists under her fingers and she can’t pull away. The warm gold light falling across him turns red as blood and she’s stealing Seth’s soul and it’s her, Amaru is gone and Kate is the only one left and she’s the monster, she’s killing him and she can’t stop and she screams and screams and screams—
“Kate! Katie, wake up, baby, you gotta wake up.”
She jolts awake still screaming, her face is wet and she can’t move her arms. Seth is kneeling over her, dim early morning sunlight painting his face in pale gold and deep blue shadow, and he’s pinned her wrists to the bed to keep her from thrashing around. He looks terrified but he’s alive and her screams turn to sobs that make her chest heave and her lungs burn.
“Don’t let me touch you,” she says, but she’s sobbing so hard even she can’t understand what she’s saying. She doesn’t know if she’s wearing her gloves and he shouldn’t be touching her, it’s not safe.
“You have to breathe, Kate, everything is okay, it was just a nightmare.” He lets go of her wrists to push her hair off her face and she sobs with relief when she looks at her hands and sees she’s still wearing her gloves. He pulls her up until she’s sitting in his lap and he presses his forehead to hers. “Breathe,” he says. “Come on, baby, breathe with me.” He pulls back to make eye contact and drags in a slow, steady breathe. He holds it until she copies him and then he slowly lets it out, nodding encouragingly when she follows suit. Her breaths are shaky and thin compared to his but they slowly even out.
“Better?” he finally asks when she can breathe on her own. She nods slowly.
“Fuck.” She puts her head on his shoulder and he wraps his arms more tightly around her.
“That one was bad,” he says, and she nods agreement. She almost wants to laugh at the understatement, but she’s too exhausted.
“What did you dream?”
He asks the same question every night, and every night she shakes her head and refuses to tell him. She just can’t bring herself to talk about them — any of them, even the ones that are more surreal. And none of them have ever been as bad as this one.
“It felt so real,” she mumbles.
She shakes her head again, squeezing her eyes shut and wrapping her arms a little more tightly around Seth’s shoulders.
“Kate, come on, please. Talk to me. I can’t keep watching you hold it all in like this, it’s killing you. Please, just tell me.”
She leans back to look at him and she never wanted him to look at her like this again, so worried and scared and devastated.
“I promise I can take it,” he says, his gaze dark and steady on hers. “I promise I’m not going anywhere. Just tell me, please, you don’t have to try and protect me.”
She starts crying again, silent tears that stream down her face and soak into her shirt. Fuck, she doesn’t even know how to begin. “I was touching you,” she finally says, her voice barely above a whisper. “I put my hand on your face, but I wasn’t wearing my gloves.” He frowns but he stays quiet, eyes intent on hers. “And I started t-taking your soul, but Amaru wasn’t doing it, it was me, I was killing you and I couldn’t stop.” Another sob claws its way up her throat.
“Jesus Christ,” Seth breathes. “Is that why you won’t take your gloves off?” She nods helplessly. “Fuck, Kate.” He kisses her forehead and holds her tight for a moment and then he lets go of her. She sways but then he’s grabbing her hands, too fast for her to stop him.
“No! What are you doing, it’s not safe.” She tries to pull free but he doesn’t let go.
“Kate,” he says, his voice firm, taking that note of command that he’s perfected from months of bullying culebras into doing what he wants and using it on her for the first time. “Baby, look at me.”
She focuses on him with an effort.
“It’s just you and me, Kate. It’s just you and me.” He slowly undoes the snap on one of her gloves and she whimpers at the sharp sound. “Amaru is gone, Kate, and I’m not afraid of you.” He pulls the glove off and tosses it on the floor and she whimpers again. “Hey, focus on me. Yeah, that’s it,” he nods when she looks at him again.
He unbuckles the other glove and she tries to protest.
“You’re not going to hurt me,” he insists, tugging the leather from her fingers. The glove joins its sister on the floor and she fights a sob. “It’s just us, okay? It’s just us.” His eyes are wide and dark and they never leave hers. He pulls her bare hands up to hover just shy of his face.
“Please,” she begs, her fingers shaking uncontrollably, but she’s not sure what she’s asking him to do. He nods, holding her gaze.
“It’s okay, Kate. You’re not going to hurt me.” He presses her palm to his cheek and it’s just like in her dream. His skin is soft under her fingertips. His stubble scraping against her palm sends shivers all the way through her. “See?” he asks over her sob. “You’re all I feel, Kate.”
He puts her other hand on the side of his neck and pulls her closer and— nothing happens. He doesn’t die and she doesn’t feel that horrible pull she used to feel when Amaru drained someone, all she feels is how warm his skin is against hers. She sobs in relief and then she’s clutching at him, digging her fingers into his hair and holding him as close as she can get. She wraps herself around him and presses her face into his neck and cries and he holds her back so tight it’s hard to breathe but she doesn’t care. She hopes he never lets go.
It takes her a long time to calm down enough to loosen her grip on Seth. When she finally stops crying and her breathing evens out again, he makes her get up and wash her face and drink some water. He hands her some ibuprofen and she takes the pills without argument because she already has a headache from crying so much. The tshirt she was sleeping in is damp with sweat and tears and he gives her one of his henley’s to change into and she takes it gratefully. It smells like him and she doesn’t know why all his shirts are the softest things she’s ever touched but she’s not going to question it.
Back in bed, he pulls her into his arms and just holds her, gently stroking her hair. They lay there quietly for a while, but even though she’s exhausted, she can’t seem to fall asleep.
“I’m sorry I woke you,” she whispers.
“Jesus, Kate, no,” he says, pulling away just far enough to look at her. “You do not have to apologize for anything. I’m sorry I let you deal with this alone for so long. I should’ve made you talk to me sooner.”
She shakes her head. “It wouldn’t have worked. I’m pretty stubborn when I want to be.”
He snorts, but his smile is warm. “I had noticed that about you.”
“Then you know there was nothing you could do. Don’t try to take responsibility.” She knows he’ll try to anyway. He’s just as stubborn as she is. He grumbles inarticulately and she laughs because they both know she’s right.
“Just promise me you won’t do that anymore,” he says. “You don’t have to tell me everything if you don’t want to. But, please, you have to talk to someone. Me, or Scott, or a doctor. Fuck, even Richie. Just don’t keep it all bottled up anymore.”
“Where would I even find a doctor that wouldn’t immediately lock me up in a mental institution?”
“First of all, I would never let them lock you up.” The look he gives her is so determined that she can’t help but believe him. “Second of all, I actually know one.”
Kate blinks at him. “What.”
“Well, she hates me and Richie’s guts since Richie killed her dad,” he says with a grimace. “And it didn’t help that I tried to eat her. But she knows about culebras, and Amaru. She won’t think you’re crazy.”
She stares at him. “There’s a lot to unpack there.”
He snorts. “Yeah, but not tonight.”
“It’s morning, Seth.”
“You know what I meant.”
“Fine. Not tonight, then.”
“I can get the doctor’s contact info any time you want it, okay?”
She puts her hand on the side of his face, just because she can. It still gives her a little pang of anxiety, but he puts his hand over hers to press it more firmly against his skin and the anxiety eases. “Okay,” she says. “I’ll think about it.”
She wakes up hours later, late afternoon sunlight painting the room in bands of gold and shadow. Seth is asleep half on top of her, his face buried in her neck as he practically pins her down, but his weight against her feels more like an anchor than a cage. Her hands are bare, and it feels strange and a little alarming, but also freeing. She has one hand on the back of Seth’s neck and the other wrapped around his tattooed bicep, like she couldn’t let go of him even in her sleep, and the longer she lies there touching him with nothing bad happening, the more she trusts that she really won’t hurt him.
She feels different. Not whole and unscathed like in her dream last night — she doesn’t know if she’ll ever feel like that again. But she doesn’t feel quite so empty, either. It’s like the void inside her was a balloon and talking to Seth poked a hole in it. Now all the air is slowly leaking out and the void is getting smaller. She thought it needed to be filled up but it was just taking up space, pushing everything else down.
They’d talked for a long time that morning before falling asleep again, and she knows she needs to think about talking to that doctor. And she will think about it, but not right now.
No, right now she’s too busy digging her fingers into Seth’s hair like she’s been dying to do for, god— way too fucking long now. It’s soft and thick and dark and she’s always been a little obsessed with it. She knows the moment he wakes up because his arm tightens around her waist and he hums happily into her neck. She presses a kiss to his temple and tugs lightly on his hair and his breath hitches in her ear, which is extremely interesting.
“You better knock that off or I’m gonna get the wrong idea,” he mumbles. He still sounds half asleep and her heart trips a little in her chest because the wrong idea sounds pretty fucking right just now.
Then Richie bangs the door open and Kate shrieks because she’s so startled and Seth is sitting up with a gun trained on his brother before she can so much as breathe a sigh of relief that it’s just Richie walking in uninvited and not, say, the cops or some rival culebra gang or another demon from hell.
“Oh, gross, what the fuck, Seth?” Richie gets one look at them and makes a face like he just caught his parents having sex. He turns to face the wall and Kate feels her face heating up but it’s not like they’re naked or anything. Seth is wearing an undershirt and shorts and she’s in one of his henley’s and they’re both still under the covers from the waist down, and this is their bedroom Richie just barged into, what did he expect?
“Fuck, asshole, I almost shot you,” Seth snaps, uncocking his gun. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with me?” Richie demands. Apparently his annoyance is enough to override his delicate sensibilities because he spins around to wave his arms at Seth. “I’m not the one who’s an hour late for our planning meeting!”
Kate follows Seth’s glance at the bedside table and notices for the first time that the alarm clock is gone. He reaches over and trades his gun for his watch and makes a face when he looks at the time. She doesn’t have a chance to wonder where the clock went, though, because Richie is still bitching at them.
“You’re the one who was so hot for a score, Seth, and now you can’t even be bothered to show up for the groundwork phase.”
“Richie, calm down, the meeting today was just a formality, anyway,” Kate says, sitting up and trying to diffuse the situation before she has a full blown Gecko argument on her hands. “We all know what we’re doing, the whole thing could practically run itself by now.”
“That’s how it starts, Katie-Cakes,” Richie says, turning his ire on her now. “First you get complacent about the little things, and then next thing you know, you’re doing a dime in the state pen. And I don’t think you want that, because I doubt they’d let you two have conjugal visits.”
“Yeah, I’m out,” Kate says, looking at Seth. “I tried.”
He sighs and pats her knee and then leaves his hand there. “It was a good effort, babe,” he says, scrubbing a hand over his face. “But I don’t think there was anything you could’ve done.” She puts her hand over his, because she can, and he smiles at her.
“Are you two coming?” Richie snaps.
“Jesus, Richard, yes, okay?” Seth glares at his brother. ”Just give us a minute, we had a rough night.”
Richie puts his hands on his hips and frowns at them. He opens his mouth to say something else and Seth points at the door.
“Out!” he barks. “Go make some coffee, we’ll be there in a minute.”
Richie throws his hands in the air in disgust, but he does turn to leave. He stops in the doorway to point at them. “Five minutes, or so help me—“ he yanks the door closed and the pillow Seth just threw smacks into it.
She giggles and his scowl softens a bit and then they just look at each other for a long moment.
“He’ll totally come back in here, won’t he,” she asks.
“Yeah,” Seth groans. “Come on.”
It takes them a little longer than five minutes, but they take turns in the bathroom and Seth puts on a pair of sweatpants and Kate pulls a hoodie over her head and they trudge out to the dining room. They sit at the table and Richie gives them both coffee and they have their meeting. It really is a formality at this point, though. They’ve done the work, Seth has drilled them all on the timetable, Kate has walked them through the blueprints a million times, Richie has all the info and tools he needs to crack the vault. They’re ready.
“I think it’s time to move into my house,” Kate says the next day, and Seth feels like he’s been punched in the gut. It’s not like it’s really a surprise. He’s known this was coming. He’s been helping her pick furniture for weeks (not that he’s much help — he knows fuck-all about home goods. Mostly he just looks at whatever pictures she shows him and says “nice” if he likes it and “eh” if he doesn’t) and micromanaging the delivery men whenever they bring the latest shipment (they hate him, so he must be doing a good job) and he and Richie obviously gave Kate the house so she could live in it so he shouldn’t be surprised that she actually wants to do that.
But he just— really doesn’t want her to move out of his apartment. He’s been dreading it ever since he and Richie gave her the house and all that money. It was the right thing to do, but deep down, he’s always been afraid it was just one less reason for her to stay. And he really wants her to stay. He wants to sleep next to her every night for the rest of his life and wake up next to her every morning and one of these days he’d really like to finally kiss her.
He is a hot goddamn mess.
He reminds himself it could be worse. She could be washing her hands of him and Richie entirely. She could be liquidating all her assets and packing her bags in the dead of night and disappearing to another state. Moving across town is preferable to that.
They’re in the office, Kate lying on the couch while he tries to focus on a report Richie gave him. He’s not getting very far, though, because Kate is very distracting.
“I didn’t think it was done yet,” he says, trying to sound casual and not like he’s dying inside. What the fuck is wrong with him, anyway? He’s never been this fucked up over a woman before. He was married and he never felt like this, happy and miserable and desperate and content, all at once. It’s driving him slowly insane. He knows he should probably just talk to her, but wherever their relationship goes from here, he wants it to come from Kate without any pressure from him. He already stole her once. He thinks if he wants to keep her, it has to be on her terms this time.
“The important parts are done.” She swings her legs over the edge of the couch and sits up, bouncing a little with excitement. Her hair ripples with the movement, the glossy, deep red of it contrasting nicely with her white blouse, which is open just enough that when she leans forward, he can see a hint of lace underneath it. It’s a pale soft pink, and he swallows hard and squeezes his eyes shut and desperately focuses on the sound of her voice.
“All the main living spaces are done,” she’s saying, “and the kitchen is ready, and so is the master suite. The heist room isn’t done, and neither are the guest bedrooms, but the house is totally livable right now.”
“The heist room?” He raises his eyebrows at her, but he’s already starting to grin. Sometimes, in his more hopeful moments, he thinks maybe it was fate that he and Kate met. Their lives couldn’t have been more different growing up, they should have nothing in common, but they fit together so well it could only have been by design.
“Home office, whatever.” She rolls her eyes. “We’ll be planning jobs in there. Might as well call it what it is.”
She said we and he tries not to let that mean anything.
“‘Heist room’ works for me.”
She grins at him. “Anyway, I was thinking, we’re doing the job tomorrow, so then this weekend would be a good time to move? I mean, not that there’s that much to move, but it’ll take some time to get settled in and we should lay low for a bit after the job anyway.”
He frowns down at the paper in his hand, none of which he’s actually managed to read. It takes him a second, but he’s able to force himself to nod. “Whatever you want, Princess.”
“It’s probably the only way to get some privacy,” she says, stretching back out on the couch. His eyes definitely do not stray to her legs. She’s wearing her usual jean shorts and a new pair of cowboy boots, dark brown with white stitching. She scoots down so her ankles are propped on the arm of the couch, probably because she knows he was two seconds away from telling her to get her shoes off the leather. “Richie isn’t going to stop now that he thinks he can walk in whenever he wants, and as amusing as this morning was,” her voice is as dry as the desert wind, “I don’t really want a repeat performance.”
Seth hums in agreement and moves killing his brother to the top of his mental to-do list.
“I’ve been thinking about our next job,” Kate says a few minutes later. “I know you and Richie like robbing banks because it’s flashy, and don’t get me wrong, I like making a splash as much as the next professional thief, but I think we should branch out a bit.”
“We should be focusing on this job,” Seth says. “One job at a time, babe.” He freezes because now that he’s started calling her babe and baby he hasn’t been able to stop, but Kate doesn’t seem to notice.
She rolls her eyes. “I’m just brainstorming, sheesh.” She sits up again. “We could make a killing as burglars, and we’d get shot at a lot less.”
“Maybe I like getting shot at.” He does not like getting shot at. “And where’s the fun in burglary? It sounds small time. It sounds too easy.”
“It’s not easy, we have to get into places without anyone knowing we’re there and then we have to get back out without leaving a massive trail for the cops to follow. That takes creativity and planning, same as with a bank job.” She gets up and starts pacing. “And it’s not small time, either. There are tons of neighborhoods around here with stupidly rich people we could steal from. Not to mention all the oil companies with vaults in their corporate offices, and that’s all just here in Houston. Of course, you two wouldn’t be able to wear your signature suits, but since the whole point is for no one to see us, I don’t think that’s a problem.”
“Wait, why can’t I wear a suit?” He’s not even pretending to work anymore, just watching Kate as she puts that criminal mastermind of hers to work. Who would’ve ever thought the preacher’s daughter would be so good at breaking the eighth commandment?
“Because it’s not very practical for crawling through ventilation shafts.” She glares over her shoulder at him like he’s being dense on purpose.
“Hang on, since when am I the one crawling through the ductwork?”
She pointedly trails her eyes over his shoulders and down his arms. “You’re telling me you wouldn’t be good at that?”
The back of his neck gets hot because that was probably the most blatantly Kate’s ever checked him out. Then he remembers climbing around the air shafts in that asylum, and okay, maybe she has a point. “I’m not saying I couldn’t do it, Princess. Just that I’m not sure I want to.”
“Seth, you’re not listening to me.” She plants her hands on the desk and leans over it, getting right up in his face. “I’m telling you there’s more to being a thief than just wearing a suit and waving a gun around while you make grandiose speeches in banks.”
“I like the suits,” Seth says, making a valiant effort not to look down Kate’s shirt and mostly failing. She looks glorious right now, her hair tumbling over her shoulders and her green eyes sparking with criminal fervor and her lacy pink bra torturing him.
“Forget the suits, Gecko. The suits are just part of the gentleman thief façade, and while it’s very sexy, it’s still just a façade, right? Which means you can drop it whenever you feel like it and put it back on later.”
His brain short circuits. Kate Fuller just called him sexy. He loses track of the conversation entirely because Kate thinks he’s sexy and he’s never going to be able to concentrate on anything else ever again.
“I mean, you’re a lot of things, Seth Gecko, but a gentleman isn’t one of them.”
She’s still talking, her perfect little rosebud lips forming sounds that absolutely refuse to penetrate his brain with any sort of meaning attached. He’s too busy wondering if she’s ever thought about them. Has she imagined kissing him? Has she imagined more? Has she been lying awake half the night wanting just as often as he has?
“Which is fine, I mean, I obviously don’t mind, I just think it’s funny that you’re so hung up on the suits when we could be wearing head to toe black spandex and rappelling down walls, is all.”
She straightens up and flips her hair over her shoulder and he watches, hypnotized, before returning to staring at her mouth. It takes him a few moments to realize her lips aren’t moving, and a few more to realize that means she’s not talking, and he finally looks up to find her staring at him expectantly.
She looks at him disapprovingly for a moment. “Oh my god, you didn’t hear a word after sexy, did you?”
He tries not to look like a deer in headlights and desperately wracks his brain for something else she said. “Uh, something about spandex?”
She huffs at him. “You’re hopeless. I’m going to go talk to Richie, maybe he’ll be reasonable about this.” She stomps out of the office.
“Kate!” He waits a beat but she doesn’t come back, so for the second time in a month, Seth finds himself chasing after her through the back halls of Jacknife Jed’s. He is so fucking whipped, it’s pathetic. He catches up to her just outside the door to the bar. “Kate, wait.” He hooks his arm around her waist and pulls her away from the door. “Baby, if you want to burgle rich people’s houses, you know that’s what we’re going to do.”
She frowns up at him suspiciously.
“I draw the line at wearing spandex, though.”
Her eyes crinkle and he can see her biting the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.
“We’ll see,” she says. She deftly slips out of his arms and disappears into the bar.
Fuck, they’re really all going to end up in spandex for their next job. He grimaces, but then he thinks how annoyed Richie will be about it and grins. There’s absolutely no doubt in his mind that Kate will bully them both into doing exactly what she wants. Not that it’s going to take much bullying on his part. He stands there for a moment, trying to wipe the adoring smile off his face before someone sees him, and then he follows Kate into the bar so he can make sure no creeps hit on her.
The job goes perfectly. Not that Seth really thought it would go any other way. Between his and Richie’s experience and Kate’s knack for crime and general enthusiasm, their plan was one of the best the Gecko brothers had ever had a hand in.
None of which stopped him from being nervous as hell beforehand. He’s pretty sure he was even more nervous than Kate was, though for entirely different reasons. Her nerves were from never having done a job this big before — his were from being an overprotective asshole. Because even if they thought of everything that could go wrong, even if they execute every step perfectly, things could still go tits up at basically any moment. It’s the nature of the beast. Any thief will tell you it’s better to be lucky than good, and Seth doesn’t exactly have a good track record as far as luck is concerned.
So yeah, he was nervous. He has something to lose now, something more important than money or his freedom.
He manages to keep his fears to himself though. It’s not Kate’s fault he’s a mess, and Richie will kick his ass if Seth makes Kate doubt herself. Seth would even let him.
In the end, though, his nerves are unfounded. They walk in like they own the place, and he and Kate handle the hostages while Richie cracks the vault. He makes a speech and they fill their bags and twenty minutes later they’re driving away and the cops haven’t even arrived yet. Kate’s practically giddy with success in the back seat and he grins at her in the rear view mirror and almost crashes the car when she leans forward and plants a kiss on his cheek.
Richie rolls his eyes in the front passenger seat and grumbles that next time, he’s driving the getaway car if they’re going to be gross. Kate just sits back and laughs, lighthearted and free, and it’s the most beautiful sound he’s ever heard.
They make it back to the bar without any trouble. They switch cars twice, just in case, and at the second rendezvous they all change into different clothes and Kate tucks her hair up into a hat. She drives this time, and Richie tries to ride shotgun again but Seth shoves him into the backseat instead. When they get to Jed’s, Kate pulls around back and parks outside their apartment. Seth gets all the guns and the bag with their clothes and Kate and Richie bring the score and they sit around his dining room table, counting and sorting for the rest of the afternoon.
She wakes up earlier than usual the next day, even though the three of them stayed up pretty late divvying up their takes. She comes awake with a gasp, the remnants of a nightmare leaving her a little shaky. It wasn’t a very bad one, and it fades before she can really recall the details. Seth is still dead asleep, curled up on his side with her wrapped around him from behind. She has her hand pressed to his chest over his heart, and the slow steady beating of it under her palm helps settle her.
She should probably stop thinking of him as the one that hates personal space, because obviously she’s just as bad. She can’t help it though. She likes touching him. She likes how warm he always is and how still he holds when she traces the lines of his tattoo with her fingertips. She likes how natural it feels to lace her fingers with his and how all she has to do is lean into him very slightly to get him to put his arm around her.
She presses her forehead to the back of his neck and tries to go back to sleep, but after a few minutes she realizes that it’s a lost cause. She gets up, careful not to wake Seth, and goes out to the kitchen to start the coffee brewing. Richie is asleep on the living room couch for some reason, so she tries not to bang the cabinet doors or crinkle the bag of coffee too loudly. She showers, and gets dressed, and when she comes back out to the kitchen, Richie is leaning against the counter, drinking a cup of coffee. He pours her a cup, too, and then they stand there, sipping coffee in companionable silence.
“We’re moving today,” she offers after a while.
“I figured you had to be getting close.”
She hums in agreement. “Well, there are a few rooms that aren’t done, but I don’t see any reason to keep waiting just because the guest rooms don’t have beds in them.”
“You two need any help?”
“Not really, we don’t actually have much since we aren’t moving any furniture. Besides, I don’t want to move in the dark.”
He snorts. “Fair enough.”
“Oh, I did want to ask your advice on a safe, though. I want a good sized one that’s tough to crack.”
Richie nods slowly. “I’ll get you a safe.”
“You don’t have to get it for me, I just need to know what’s worth the money and what isn’t.”
“Nope. I’m going to get it for you. Just think of it as a housewarming gift, Katie-Cakes.”
She thinks about that for a moment and nods. “Okay. Thanks.” She pours herself some more coffee and tops up Richie’s cup, too.
“You know,” Richie says after a moment. “I’ve never seen Seth this happy before. I’m not sure I can ever thank you enough for that.”
She blushes. “You don’t have to thank me. He makes me happy, too.”
He smiles and finishes his coffee and squeezes her shoulder lightly. She walks him out and then goes to wake Seth up so they can pack.
He is a pain in the ass about it. He drags his feet getting out of bed and then he spends forever in the shower. He insists on making breakfast and he makes her sit down to eat it. He’s being super weird about the whole thing and she’s really confused about why.
She packs up all her clothes and since he’s still dragging his feet she packs up everything from the bathroom without worrying about what’s hers and what’s his. It’s all going to the same place anyway. She gets all of that into the trunk of her car and then she realizes she left the house keys in the office.
“I’m going to run over to the office, will you finish loading up and then meet me over there?”
He scowls and kicks at her tire. “Yeah.”
She hesitates. “Is everything okay?”
He blows out a sigh and then straightens his shoulders. “Yeah, Princess. Everything is fine. I’ll pick you up in a few minutes.” She hesitates a moment longer, but he goes back into the apartment so she heads over to Jed’s.
The office is empty when she gets there, and she finds the keys right where she left them in the top drawer of Seth’s desk. He picks her up outside the staff entrance a few minutes later. He has the radio tuned to the oldies station, and he sings along quietly for a few songs. Halfway there, he reaches over and takes her hand in his, and she squeezes back. He seems to have gotten over his weird mood from before. Now he’s just quiet.
“You’re staring.” He glances at her out of the corner of his eye.
“I’m just amazed,” she says. “I think this is the longest you’ve ever gone without talking. Except when you’re like, actively asleep.”
“What? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a totally quiet, thoughtful guy, Kate.”
She bites her lip to keep from laughing.
“You can ask anyone, they’ll say, ‘Seth Gecko is the strong, silent type. He never talks unless it’s super important. Sometimes he’s so quiet you forget he’s even there.’”
She can’t contain her laughter anymore, but Seth still doesn’t crack.
“It’s not funny, Kate! My own brother barely recognizes the sound of my voice, that’s how quiet I am.” That last lie is too much for him, though, and his face splits into a grin.
They back into the driveway a few minutes later and Kate hands the house keys to Seth.
“Go open the front door,” she says. She leans over the console and into his space and she doesn’t miss his quick intake of breath at her nearness but all she does is hit the button to pop the trunk. She grabs the keys out of the ignition and gets out of the car quickly to hide her smirk. She stands next to the car for a minute and surveys the house with a grin. She loves this house. It’s so far removed from the lifestyle she imagined she’d be living, but everything about her life since her mother died fits that description. That doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy what her life has become. Sure, she still has nightmares, and she needs to ask Seth for that doctor’s contact info so she can work on that, but there’s good, too.
There’s Scott, calling her more often even though his new band is doing really well and he’s busier than ever. There’s Kisa, sending postcards from her tour of Texas and the surrounding states while she works on unifying the scattered culebras. There’s Richie, being quietly supportive of her and Seth and steadily feeding her more intel on possible marks for their next job.
There’s Seth, circling the front of the car to squeeze her elbow on his way past her to the door, and maybe she’s a sap but that simple gesture makes her feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.
Then she opens the trunk and the warm fuzzies turn to a ball of lead in her stomach because the trunk is half empty. The only stuff in it is what she’d put in there herself: her two boxes that contain all her clothes and shoes and the box with all the stuff out of the bathroom. Which means Seth didn’t pack anything. She tries to think back, because surely she would’ve noticed him not packing, but he was being such a pain that morning that it distracted her from what he wasn’t doing.
He doesn’t want to live with her. Fuck. She feels really stupid. He’s been so supportive and she thought— but obviously she was wrong.
She’s still standing there staring into the trunk when Seth comes back with the keys.
“Kate? What’s wrong?”
“You know, if you didn’t want to live together anymore, you could have just said so,” she snaps, folding her arms and turning to glare up at him. “I would’ve moved out ages ago.”
He looks like she just hit him over the head with a ton of bricks. “What?” his voice comes out a little strangled and she can’t quite tell what his face is doing right now but she doesn’t really care because she’s so pissed.
“I don’t need your pity, Seth! You don’t have to put up with my nightmares or my clinginess, okay, you could have just said you needed space instead of passive-aggressively refusing to pack your shit.”
“Kate—“ he fucking smiles and that is it.
“Well, guess what, Gecko? Problem solved! You can stay in your crappy apartment by yourself and I will live out here in this fucking paradise of a house and I will be just fine, thank you.” She slams the trunk shut and snatches the house keys out of his hand and tries to storm past him but he grabs her around the waist and sits her on the trunk of her car, caging her in with his arms so she can’t get away. He’s standing between her knees and his face is inches from hers and he has to look up at her because she’s a little taller than him from her perch.
It would be super hot if she wasn’t so mad.
“Let me down, Seth,” she orders, and he shivers a little but he doesn’t let her go.
“Will you just calm down for a second? We’ve had a bit of a misunderstanding.”
“Yeah, thanks for pointing that out, I’m not embarrassed at all.”
“Will you just listen to me for a second?” he snaps, and she subsides into indignant silence. He takes a deep breath and when he looks at her again there’s something vulnerable in his eyes that she’s never seen before. “You’re not the one who misunderstood,” he says. “I am.”
“I’ve been dying inside for weeks because I thought you wanted to move out. By yourself.”
She blinks. “But why would you think that?”
“You said you wanted privacy!”
“Yeah, from Richie!”
“Well how was I supposed to know that? You never actually asked me to come with you.”
She blinks some more. Thinks back, because surely he’s wrong. But she can’t actually remember asking him. “Oh.” Now she feels like a brat. She huffs a little and reaches out to smooth his jacket lapel so she won’t have to look at him just yet. “Hey, Seth?”
“Yeah, Kate?” His voice is soft and she somehow finds the strength to look him in the eye when she asks her next question. He’s fighting a smile but his eyes are warm.
“Do you want to move in with me?”
He looks away but the smile wins and the back of his neck is turning pink. He looks back at her and nods. “Yeah.”
They smile at each other like idiots for a few seconds.
“You know, if you wanted to live with me that badly, you could’ve just said something,” she says, moving her hands from his lapel to his shoulders. “You didn’t have to be miserable about it for so long.”
He’s already shaking his head. “No. It had to come from you.”
“Because I’ve already stolen way too much from you. I’m not going to steal anything else, not even by accident.” He looks up at her and god, he needs to stop looking at her like that or she’s going to get the wrong idea. “You’re in charge here, Princess. You can have anything you want, but I don’t want you to ask for something just because you think it’s what I want.”
She huffs again. “Seth, that’s stupid.”
“What? No it’s not. I’m trying to be considerate and supportive here, Kate.”
“You are considerate and supportive.” At his look, she rolls her eyes. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone else. Your bad boy reputation is safe. But it’s true. You’ve been really patient with me and I’m grateful—“
“Please, do not thank me for that.”
“I’m grateful,” she insists. “But relationships are give and take and you’re allowed to want things, too.”
He looks up at her and oh, he definitely wants, she can see it all over his face and it makes her heart beat a little faster.
She refuses to back down. “Relationship,” she repeats, enunciating every syllable. “Why, what would you call it?”
He shakes his head. “Baby, I wasn’t arguing. Relationship works for me.” She shivers when he puts a hand on her knee and steps even closer. “And I want an awful lot.”
“Yeah.” He nods and his eyes are dark with wanting her.
“Tell me what you want, Seth,” she orders, her voice a little husky because she wants, too. He shivers under her touch and looks at her helplessly.
“Just you, Kate. I only want you.”
“Good,” she breathes. She leans down and presses her lips to his and, oh, that’s what she’s been missing. He makes a ragged little noise and steps into her, his hands going first to her waist and then up into her hair. He tugs lightly to get a better angle and she moans a little and opens her mouth to him. He licks into her mouth and the feeling of his tongue sliding against hers is better than any paradise she’s ever imagined. Seth’s lips are both soft and demanding and she tugs lightly on his hair just to hear the way his breath hitches. Fuck, she loves that sound. She tugs again and he jerks against her, hips rocking into hers and it feels so good, the sound she makes is a little obscene. He growls in approval and kisses down her throat and she frantically starts unbuttoning his vest and tugging his henley out of his pants.
“Fuck,” he mutters against her throat.
“House. Now,” she orders, and he shudders against her. Oh, she is going to use that power for so much evil. He moves his hands to her waist and pulls her against him and she wraps her legs around his waist. She kisses him again and she’s not really sure how they make it to their bedroom but the next thing she knows, they’re tumbling onto the bed. She shoves his jacket and vest off all in one go and tugs at his shirt.
“Hang on, hang on,” he mutters, grabbing her wrists. He presses his forehead to hers and his breathing is ragged and she thinks, I did that.
“There’s no rush, Kate,” he says, the words a little harsh like he has to force them out. “We don’t have to—“
He opens his eyes and his pupils are blown wide and she feels so good, she doesn’t want to stop.
“I want this,” she says. “I want you.” He swallows and looks at her with so much desperation and longing. “Are you going to give me what I want, Seth?”
“Fuckin’ A,” he mutters. She laughs and tugs his shirt the rest of the way off.
“Wait a minute,” he says a while later.
“Seth, I’m starting to think you’re not attracted to me.” They’re both down to their underwear at this point and the evidence of Seth’s attraction to her is unmistakable through his boxers. He gives her a look.
“Well, why do you keep stopping?”
“Because,” he says, “I need you to know I’m not just trying to get into your pants.” He brushes her hair over her shoulder and cups her jaw in his palm. “You’re it for me,” he says, looking straight into her eyes. “I love you so fucking much, Kate.”
“Oh,” she breathes. “That’s good, because I love you, too.”
He doesn’t stop again after that.
When they go back to Jed’s so Seth can actually pack, Richie takes one look at them and rolls his eyes.
“Fucking finally,” he says. “I was starting to think you were never going to figure it out. I was about to resort to locking you both in closets together until you had a fucking conversation.”
“Shut the fuck up, Richard,” Seth says, but he can barely keep the grin off his face.