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got a nighttime shudder and a lion within

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They’ve been together five months, wound together like two snakes, and Kate slips into the role of planner too easily.

 

She’s not sure if it’s the drugs he’s still got clouding his mind or if he’s just off his game, (or maybe it was never his job to begin with), but Seth can’t spot a good score to save their lives. It’s Kate who sees the holes they can slide through, the mistakes and the things people overlook.

 

Their jobs are less show and tell these days. Not like the Geckos, grinning bare faced in the security cameras with rehearsed monologues on their lips. Seth and Kate are more quick and dirty, sneaking in and out before they can ever be noticed.

 

Seth doesn’t protest. It’s like they just fall into their roles like it’s natural. Every now and then he’ll shake his head, make a fuss about one of her plans, but it always comes through in the end so he can’t say much.

 

Kate figures he likes it. 

 

Especially when she dumps the money on the bed and grins at him. “We won.” He just smiles back at her, pouring himself some cheap whiskey and chuckling a little.

 

They drive out to the desert on one of Seth’s better days and he shows her how to shoot properly. Kate catches on almost too quick, the bolt of the bullet through the soda can a shock and a dangerous rush through her body. Seth smirks at her and nods. “I know.”

 

He teaches her about lock picking and safe breaking. She knows through his drunken rambling that this is more of Richie’s expertise, so she tends not to ask too many questions or push him if he’s not sure about something. It’s better she know enough, she doesn’t have to master it.

 

Seth’s a true bullshit artist, though. Even though Kate can see through him easily, she has to admit with most people he has a gift. They stay up late watching black and white crime movies on crappy analog television and Seth tells her about acting.

 

“You gotta erase yourself. Call it method bullshit or whatever you want to, but you have to forget who you are. You’re not Kate Fuller when you’re playing a job. That’s all it is, right? Just another job. If it goes right, no one gets hurt, no need to feel guilty when someone loses a little bit of money. You gotta survive, gotta do what you gotta and so forth. So you walk through those doors and let your insides strip away. Gotta empty yourself out and pour that role in, or wear it like a second skin. When you leave with what’s rightfully yours, and it’s over, and you can think back on how you said your lines fucking perfect - like, shit. Sometimes I expected goddamn applause, Kate. It feels so fucking good. Feels like, I don’t know. Like art.”

 

When he’s done talking he’s breathless and his eyes are shining. He just looks away and takes a drink of his cheap bear from the sweating bottle in his hand. Kate thinks about licking the water from his fingers, feels hot just from watching him talk.

 

“Think I’m good enough to -“

 

He just nods tightly, cutting her off as he swallows. “Yeah.” 

 

The next time they’re working, holding up a panaderia that’s a front for something darker, it’s Kate who holds the gun. Kate who steps into a role and acts like the professional criminal. Seth backs her up, clicking his tongue at anyone who goes for their gun while Kate plays her part as the star.

 

It’s almost easy. She waves the gun around enough she doesn’t have to point it directly at anyone.

 

That night Seth pours her a shot of tequila and slams it on the table in front of her, the smell of it already stinging her nostrils. “Celebrate.” 

 

She asks that night after a few too many shots if it’s really about surviving. “I mean. Part of me, I don’t know. I like claiming something for myself. Even if it’s not really mine.”

 

Seth just looks at her through lidded eyes with one side of his mouth quirked up. “If you do it right, it is yours, sis.”

 

-

 

Whatever is between them is something Kate can’t define or begin to understand. They come closer together in some ways and further apart in others. Sometimes Seth looks at her in that way she notices, like he needs something, but he never opens his mouth.

 

If she’s being honest Kate can barely begin to understand herself these days.

 

Kate woke up the morning after that first night with the sun beaming through the window on her face and her panties stuck to her in a way that made her feel unclean. She made sure Seth was okay, still passed out next to her, before she stripped her clothes off and showered. 

 

It was only seven hours after the fact, after Seth’s hands were on her breasts through her bra and she felt him hard between her legs that Kate panicked. Running her own palms down her chest in the shower, looking down at her breasts like they weren’t a part of her body anymore. Kate felt herself breathing faster, the humid air in the hot shower not helping as she gasped for breath. 

 

Kate felt like she had lost something, like she had given a part of herself away and so easily. It had been on impulse, letting him touch her. Almost like she wasn’t even thinking about herself. 

 

Kate rested her hand on the tile, palm slipping over the soapy build-up as she tried to calm herself.

 

She sat on the closed toilet after, thin towel wrapped around herself with her head swimming. It was like she couldn’t hold onto one thought at once and was grabbing at them all, dropping every one.

 

In the bedroom she heard Seth cough, and held her breath until she heard him swear out loud.

 

Before she could panic again she dressed quickly and opened the door.

 

When she walked into the bedroom, Seth looked over at her from where he was sitting on the bed with his back to her. He turned his head and rubbed his hand over his face, sighing. “Hope you didn’t use all the hot water.”

 

Just got up and walked past her without catching her eye.

 

Kate was preparing herself to talk about the night before, preparing herself for a fight or something. She should have known Seth would pretend, like he always does.

 

Kate finds herself feeling thankful. She’s not sure where she wants to go from here, but he doesn’t seem to expect more out of her than she’s willing to give first.

 

So it takes a while, but somehow, they do each fall into some sort of strangely shaped slots.

 

They run out of money, so Kate plans a job. It goes well, so after that Kate just plans them all.

 

Seth still uses, but it’s an unspoken thing that Kate shoots him up. The first night after they were together Kate saw Seth start to squirm, and she thought she would have to try and calm him in the same way. She was surprised when he just got up and handed her his kit, looking at her with his mouth parted and his eyes painted with red veins. 

 

She varies the amount, trying to keep him steady without taking him over the brink how he used to.

 

Kate still pushes the plunger with her jaw clenched. She’s not a professional, they don’t have access to methadone and Kate just knows about tapering from research she’s managed to do online. 

 

“You know we might be doing this all wrong.”

 

Seth just nods. “Don’t have much of a choice.”

 

He looks at her like he knows he’s a fuck up, like they wouldn’t have to deal with this if he hadn’t of decided to medicate himself after the Twister. 

 

But there’s something almost sweet about the way he hands her his weakness, and lets her take control of how it’s administered. Kate isn’t sure if he’s trying to quit for the right reasons. She knows from the way her daddy used to work addicts that they have to change for themselves. When she looks at Seth, his eyes cast down as she shoots him up, she isn’t sure who he’s trying to change for.

 

Kate tries not to think too hard about it. She distracts herself with her reading, her Bible filled with culebra information she still hasn’t told him about. Kate still thinks about finding Scott sometimes, trying to find a way to change him back. Most days she tells herself she’s stupid. Doesn’t bring it up to Seth because she doesn’t have the energy to deal with his tantrum. 

 

She figures they both still have their secrets.

 

Everything is the same but different. They’re still at odds some days, with Kate sometimes still feeling frustrated and slamming the door as she leaves Seth to his high, propped up with pillows. Some nights she screams at him to stop driving and let her out. He throws open her door, leaning over her with a closed off expression until she sighs. 

 

He always waits for her to shut the car door and guns it back down the road.

 

They’re still weaved of so many different threads but now Kate knows what Seth looks like when he comes. How it feels to basically control someone else’s body and the way it reacts. 

 

She waits for him to ask her, but he never does.

 

 

“- all that filling.”

 

Rough rope clutches at her wrists, her body bonded down on hard stone. Kate feels her heart  fighting inside her chest, wrestling against the fear sitting on top of her like a demon in a nightmare. 

 

Hot tears slip from her eyes and down her temples. Kate screams, her throat aching and her limbs shaking from the way she struggles against her bonds and her nerves jumping in her muscles.

 

“Wish I could steal a taste for myself, first. But the Gods wouldn’t be happy. They want you unlicked, sweetums.” 

 

Kate cries, thick sobs threatening to choke her to death before Tanner can cut into her. “Go - to - hell -“

 

He looks like a wolf, his toothy grin flashing white above her in the dark. “You have to forgive me, Kate. It’s part of your faith.”

 

He grips her thigh and drags the blade down her stomach, like a tease, and Kate screams again, struggling, willing her body to be strong enough to break the knots that keep her down. 

 

She can feel what he wants, what they want, what everyone wants. The pure light inside her. They want to take it and fill it with something dark, want to steal what isn’t theirs. Kate can feel the Gods licking at her skin, smirking against her flesh. 

 

Kate can feel their teeth.

 

“Oh, Katie, sweet, sweet Kate -“

 

“Kate, Kate, Kate!”

 

Her entire body jumps out of the nightmare, eyes opening wide and breath snatched from her lungs. She swings out an arm and hits Seth in the neck. “Don’t touch me!”

 

He steps back, hands up in front of him. “I’m not, I won’t.” He looks like he knows where she’s been, even if he’s not sure of the exact nightmare.

 

Kate clutches at her chest, bunching her t-shirt in her fist and trying to catch her breath. She swears she can still smell the iron and waste stink of the temple.

 

“Fuck. Kate, it’s o- You’re here. You’re with me.”

 

She nods, gripping the blanket at her waist. Manages to raise her eyes to his and he just looks scared and worried. He reaches out for her and she shakes her head. 

 

He nods. Sits on the edge of her bed, bare broad shoulder so close to hers. Kate feels her skin crawl at the idea of him touching her right now but she doesn’t mind him being in her space. He sits in silence until she calms her breathing.

 

“Want to talk about it?”

 

Kate runs a hand through her hair, sticking to her forehead with sweat. All she can see are white teeth behind her eyelids when she blinks.

 

“No.” 

 

Seth nods again, hand on the blanket beside hers. Kate looks at his arm, and focuses on the track marks on his skin, like an old and worn road map she knows so well.

 

It’s strangely comforting.

 

She swipes her tongue over her dry lips and moves her hand over an inch, letting her little finger touch his. 

 

He doesn’t move, just lets it happen.

 

Kate watches him blink, his lashes long and feminine the way they almost touch his cheeks. “Richie. I - I see him every night. If I don’t - “

 

He turns his head and his gaze is soft. “Feels so fucking real, doesn’t it?”

 

Kate suddenly understands why Seth chooses to numb himself. If Kate dreamt like this every night, if Tanner haunted her during the day -

 

He does, sometimes. Always in the back of her mind. Not even just him but what he represents, the evil in the world and what it wants to take from her.

 

Kate doesn’t reply, just runs her hand down her throat and brushes her fingertips over her mother’s cross. Thinks about how she used to crawl into bed with her Mama after a bad day. The way they just watched soap operas and ate cookies, ruining their dinner and laughing about nothing. She wants that more than anything else right now.

 

But Seth’s pinkie is still touching hers, and he doesn’t move to leave her. Kate lets herself give in and slip her hand over his, silently telling him with her eyes -

 

He turns his hand like it’s nothing and grips hers, palm to palm.

 

They sit there like that for a while in silence, Kate gripping his hand and her cross. 

 

After that, it’s almost easy.

 

 

It’s a spur of the moment thing, holding up the businessman from across the border that they see lurking outside their motel. They’re about to leave, packing up for the next town, and Seth eyes him from across the parking lot. He nudges Kate and she keeps her eyes on him while she stuffs her bag in the trunk. 

 

She nods at Seth before crossing to speak to the man.

 

“Drugs or girls?”

 

The man looks at her, movements jumpy and eyes wild. “What?” His glasses are smeared and his suit is worth at least a thousand dollars.

 

Kate shrugs. “Doesn’t matter. I know you’re waiting for something. Either way, I’ll be taking whatever you have in your wallet.” Kate figures he must be paying in cash for whatever dark thing he’s searching for.

 

The man laughs, stepping into her space and trying to intimidate her even though he’s only a few inches taller. “Maybe I’ll just pull you into my room instead.”

 

She nods her head, clicking her tongue right as Seth clicks his gun behind the man’s head. “Right. So you’re that type of demon.” 

 

He goes to turn his head and Seth pushes the barrel against it. “Don’t. Either she knees you in the nuts or I blow your head off. Just give her the wallet and you’ll walk away with your ugly mug  and your tiny pebbles intact.”

 

The man pulls his wallet out and gives it to her with shaking hands. Kate opens it and smiles sweetly up at him. “Thanks, sir. We’ll make good use of this.” She catches Seth’s eye and he’s grinning at her.

 

He knocks the gun across the back of the pervert’s head and they make for their car.

 

“Should we take his?” Kate asks breathlessly.

 

Seth shakes his head. “Naw. We’ll ditch this one just in case though. If he comes to and manages to remember what it looked like.”

 

Later that night Seth is counting the money out on his bed in their new room, swearing under his breath. “Three grand in cash, Jesus. Think he had a couple nights planned. What a piece of shit.”

 

Kate agrees with a nod, pulling off her flannel in the hot room and tugging at her tank. She looks over at Seth and he’s smiling at her.

 

“What?”

 

He shrugs, binding the money back into a folded bundle and snapping the rubber band. “You were good. We didn’t even have a plan.”

 

“Wasn’t too hard. Just thinking on my feet, like you taught me.”

 

“Naw, didn’t teach you that. You… That’s something you’re good at without even trying.”

 

He hands her the money and she takes it from him, fingers brushing his before she goes to put it in her bag. Kate can feel his eyes on her back until she turns around and looks at him. He’s in his white wifebeater as usual, torso so broad it’s like he’s almost takes up all the space in their tiny room.

 

Kate crosses the floor and stands in front of him, watches the way his knees spread a little bit more to accommodate her in his space. “You’re good too.”

 

Seth sucks in a breath, pupils darkening as he looks up at her. Kate reaches out, not knowing what she’s going to do until she does it, just runs the pad of her thumb down the bridge of his nose.

 

Her face heats up with embarrassment, and she thinks he’s going to laugh at her. But his eyelids softly close and she can see his whole body visibly relax. It makes her head swim.

 

“Couldn’t do it without you.” Kate whispers, letting her thumb drag down over his cupid’s bow. His mouth parts and his jaw goes slack.

 

There’s that rush again she remembers from the last time. Only now she’s almost nervous. Seth isn’t thinking about his stash, isn’t caught off guard. 

 

Kate thinks about him touching her and her mind flashes with images from her nightmares. Dirty, taloned fingers grabbing for her from the ground. Images she didn’t have before her dream, before that night underground came bursting out to haunt her. She pushes them away and focuses on his mouth. Brushes his pouting lower lip, his warm breath heating her skin.

 

“I don’t want -“ Kate starts, and he looks up at her as if on alert. “I’m not ready for you to touch me, again. Not yet.”

 

His eyes don’t really understand her, because how could he, but he still nods. “That’s okay.”

 

It’s almost better than him running his hands over her.

 

Kate bites her lip. “Do you still - Want me to -“

 

He nods again, but he smiles a little. “Whatever you want.”

 

Kate studies him, thinks about what she wants to try. Wonders what they can still do, what he’d like.

 

She slips her hand down his neck and over his shoulder to tug at the strap of his shirt. “Take this off.” Her voice just above a whisper.

 

Seth reaches behind him and grabs at the fabric, pulling it over his head and letting it fall to the floor. He looks up at her, hair messed, waiting.

 

Kate sits on the bed next to him, pulls her feet under her. Seth turns and Kate touches his chin, gently pushes his face forward. “Close your eyes.”

 

Those lush lashes sweep down, Seth pointing his chin to the floor and Kate takes a second to study him. 

 

It occurs to her that her entire world is tilted now, and her perception has shifted. Kate remembers the time Kyle asked her if she wanted to get promise rings together. Kate had just smiled and said maybe, but really thought what would they be promising each other? Their virginity? Their purity? 

 

Kate felt like their promises wouldn’t have been an even exchange.

 

She watches Seth breathing deep in front of her and isn’t sure where her mind is going. But she knows this isn’t what she pictured when she thought about being with a boy. 

 

Kate brushes her lips over his shoulder, grinning when he shudders, and thinks that whatever this is, she’s still enjoying it.

 

She drags her mouth over his skin, tracing the direction of his dark flames. Runs on impulse and lets the tip of her tongue follow the path backwards. Seth clenches his jaw and breathes out hard through his nose.

 

Kate watches his face and raises her hand behind his back, fingertips bumping each ridge of his spine until she strokes her nails up the back of his neck. Pushes her fingers into his thick hair and she can feel him waiting for her to tug but she doesn’t.

 

It’s like she’s making it up as she goes along. Kate has no experience with this sort of thing, but she knows she likes touching Seth.

 

A man who’s Godless, who’s been to prison and killed people, is letting himself be putty in her hands. Kate isn’t sure who that makes her - his savior?

 

She scratches at his scalp softly and runs her free hand over his stomach. It’s only then he lets out a groan like he’s been holding it back for months.

 

“Kate…”

 

The muscles beneath her palm jump and twitch and Kate can’t help but smile, pressing the grin against his shoulder. “Hm?”

 

“Kate, -“

 

“Undo your belt.”

 

His breath sounds harsh in his lungs as he moves his hands to his buckle. She watches his fingers work like he’s picking a lock. Kate thinks about his fingers stroking her skin, slipping between her legs and inside her. 

 

It makes her flush and cold at the same time.

 

“And your fly.”

 

“God, your voice is so sweet.” Seth says in a hush as his fingers work the button of his pants. 

 

Kate does tug at his hair, pulling his head back enough for him to look at her. His throat muscles stretch beneath his skin and his Adam’s apple bobs.

 

“Didn’t say you could talk.” But her voice catches in her throat when she sees his eyes, dilated and dark, darker than their most twisted nights. 

 

He nods. “I’m sorry, Katie.” The sound of her nickname thick and husky coming from his mouth.

 

Kate feels that heated thrill between her legs, filling her up all the way to her belly. “Keep going.”

 

Seth pulls down his zipper, and Kate tells him to take off his pants. He shifts, pulling them down his thighs and kicking them off his legs, leaving him in his boxers.

 

“I want to see how you touch yourself.”

 

It looks like Seth wants to say something but stops himself, licks his lips instead as he slips his hand inside his shorts and pulls himself out. 

 

Kate holds her breath a little, watching Seth bring his hand to his mouth and lick at his palm, reaching back down to grip his cock and give it a few slow strokes. It’s not like she’s never seen one before. Kate was at a party once, sitting with Ethan from her eighth grade science class. Everyone had been drinking and Kate was holding a beer and pretending to sip at it. She remembers looking at Ethan and him asking her if she wanted to see something. Next thing she knew she looked down and there it was. Kate had just called him a pervert and tipped her beer onto his lap.

 

She’d touched Kyle, once. In the back of his truck, through his shorts. He’d pushed her hand away and told her he liked her because she was a good girl. He’d still been hard, though.

 

This was different. This was Seth, Seth who seemed to want her, good girl or not. He was flesh and blood, hard and heavy in front of her naked eyes. It’s even more overwhelming because he seems so vulnerable, eyes closed and head bowed, touching himself because she told him to in a soft tone.

 

She watches in silence, running her hand up and down his back in lazy lines. Watches the way squeezes himself as he strokes upwards, breath getting shaky and harsh every time he does. Her own breath comes faster as he works himself harder, bigger. There’s a part of her that wants to look away, like she feels like she’s not ready for this. It seems like intruding, like crossing a line she was never meant to cross with him.

 

But Kate can’t and doesn’t want to look away.

 

“Fuck,” Seth grips the blanket with his free hand and works himself a little faster with the other. 

 

Kate grips at his hair without thinking. “Slow down.”

 

“Jesus Christ.” But he does, and Kate leans over and presses a kiss to his clenched jawbone. 

 

She shifts her legs, sitting behind him and resting her chin on his shoulder. “Do you always do it so fast?”

 

Seth chuckles, swiping his tongue over his lower lip and quirking his head. “Usually, yeah.”

 

Kate thinks about when she’s touched herself in the past, how she tried not to for the longest time because everyone told her it was a sin but stopped caring about that after a while. Just wanted one thing for herself. Sometimes she did it fast if she had to rush, but most of the time she went slow. It made it so much better, pulling herself back from the edge until she finally let herself fall.

 

She smiles against his neck, nipping at his earlobe and watching his throat work as he swallows. “Feels better when I go slow.”

 

Seth moans, rubs his thumb up the length of himself and shivers. 

 

Kate hums. “Like that, baby.”

 

“God.” He lets his head fall back, almost like he’s just taken a hit, and rests it on her chest. Kate takes on his weight as best she can, sitting cross legged behind him.

 

His breathing’s gone shallow, pecs rising and falling with the effort. Kate watches in fascination as his stomach muscles jump. Half her face is buried in his hair, she just breathes him in and sighs. Kate feels that dizzy spin again. Like when she was a kid and used to throw her arms out and twirl in circles. Only deeper, heavier in her gut. 

 

It feels sweet and maddening.

 

“This - is it -“ Seth can barely speak, just moans and Kate stares in awe at the way he drips a little, makes his palm wet.

 

She nods, nose bumping his temple. “It’s good, Seth. You’re doing so good. Keep going, just like that.”

 

Kate runs her palm down his arm, over his forearm, and Seth freezes. She thinks about it, thinks about moving his hand away and gripping him herself. Wonders what he’d feel like in her hand. If he’d react the same way or better. But she slips her hand under his arm, splaying it over his stomach.

 

Seth still groans like someone punched him, and his thigh muscles tense and shake. 

 

“Are you close?” Kate whispers, brushing the hair from his forehead, matted a little with sweat. 

 

He nods tightly, lip caught between his teeth before he frees it to gasp her name. “Katie, please.”

 

She lets her free hand roam up to his mouth, her thumb pull gently down on his plush bottom lip. His tongue sweeps over her skin and they both sigh. Kate bites lightly at the shell of his ear and tastes the salt and sweat of him. 

 

“Mm. Okay.”

 

Seth just huffs out a thankful breath, moving his hand a little faster but mostly jerking his hips upwards. Kate clenches at his stomach without thinking, nails digging into his skin slightly, and he moans. 

 

She watches him come, watches it drip over his clenched fist as she feels it hot on the back of her hand.

 

Kate lets herself breathe, only just now realizes she was holding it in. Seth feels limp and lax against her chest, Kate taking on the heavy press of him. 

 

“Um.”

 

“Shit, sorry.” He sits up, turning to look at her. His face his red and his lip is plump, teeth marks still evident. He tucks himself back in his shorts and runs a hand through his hair. 

 

Kate feels stuck to where she sits by his eyes. She can’t figure out what he’s thinking, and she’s usually really good at it.

 

She can’t really tell what she’s thinking right now, either. 

 

Seth reaches up slowly, touches her cheek soft with his fingertips. “Hey. Katie?” The touch starts to slip down, slow across her jaw to her chin. Kate almost closes her eyes, lets him keep going. Pictures him kissing her, sliding his tongue into her mouth.

 

Tasting her.

 

Sweet, sweet, Katie Cakes.

 

Kate just nods, getting up from the bed. “I’m okay. Just gonna - wash up.”

 

She doesn’t look back at him, just shuts the bathroom door behind her and rests her forehead against it. Kate shuts her eyes and feels like crying. 

 

There’s an emptiness inside her that wants for Seth, for his kiss and his touch, for more. But too much is holding her back, with claws that grip at her arms and legs and jerk her backwards into a darkness she doesn’t understand. All Kate knows is they have to be doomed no matter what, so it’s pointless to worry about what she wants.

 

Kate looks down, touches the drying liquid on the back of her hand, licking her lips at the ache between her legs. Her front is warm with the sweat from his back. Kate isn’t sure what it means, to have real sex, but she feels more pulled apart and pieced together than she did when she straddled his lap without more than a second thought. She catches her eye in the warped and clouded mirror. Kate washes her hands and scrubs them clean twice.

 

Only God knows how this will all turn out.

 

Kate tries not to think about what that means for them.