They had been driving for four days straight. North, and west. The car was stolen, if that word still meant anything in a world fallen to looting and anarchy. You’d have thought Canadians would be too polite, Kenzi had said. It’s always the quiet ones. Ha ha.
Dyson said nothing.
Kenzi did the driving. Dyson slumped beside her, towels wadded against him as makeshift dressing, every skirmish at every stop tearing up wounds too deep to heal. The last time, Kenzi had loaded the car up with as much food and fuel as she could find and bundled him back into the passenger side, never even looking at the trail of bodies left cooling in his wake. Then she drove the night through.
It had been hours since they’d seen another person or car and the sun was beginning to climb the sky again. Her window had been open for hours; she stuck her head out, trying to get the bite of the wind to wake her up, hands squeezing on the wheel. I’m tired, I’m so tired, I have to stop, I have to stop. She didn’t know if she was saying it out loud or just in her head. Dyson, Dyson, please help me. I need to get us someplace safe. Dyson, wake up. Dyson, please. Dyson, I need you.
He stirred next to her, eyes squinting open. Groggily, he sniffed the air swirling through the car, then with great effort wound down his own window, turned his face out, concentrating. After a while, he cocked his head to the side, eyes closed. Then he pointed.
It was a small, private road, disappearing into trees up the hill. Kenzi took the turn. When they came to a big gate – PrivatePropertyKeepOut – she checked the handgun she’d taken from the body of one of their previous attackers, stuck it in her waistband, then got out and wrestled the gate open. Got back into the car, where Dyson had already sunk back into unconsciousness, drove through. Get out, close gate.
Lean on it, until dizziness passes and legs work again.
The drive went on and on, seeming endless. Dyson was Mr Super-Wolf-Man senses and all, but what could he possibly smell all the way back up here?
They came around the last corner, and that answered that question. Two bloody bodies tossed out in front of a smallish cottage. Four men, one or two already wounded, coming out the front door, guns and knives drawn. Dyson, snarling, launching himself from the car before she’d even fully stopped it, the falter in his step only visible to someone who knew it absolutely should not be there.
A deafening peal of gunshots and Kenzi’s hands were ringing on the grip from the recoil. She stayed where she was, braced behind the open driver’s door, eyes darting over the four bodies on the ground, ready to pull again at any sign of movement.
Dyson turned slowly, the tiny tremble through his core confirming to her that he was that far off from collapse. She met his stare unrepentantly, but if there was any expression in his eyes, it wasn’t condemnation.
Kenzi’s legs wobbled again; she needed a minute. Switched off the car, made sure it was in park, tried to make her hands stop shaking, tried to think straight. Except about what she’d just done. Gun will be hot, don’t put back in pants. Safety on. Let Dyson check the bodies, he’d know better how to be sure they were dead anyway.
By the time she came around to join him, Dyson had collected the weapons and was straightening up from the last of the men, mouth and fingers dripping fresh blood, black and gold eyes watching the man gurgle out a final breath through a ripped throat.
Kenzi surveyed the carnage for a minute. Then she tucked herself into Dyson’s less wounded side, taking some of his weight, making sure the guns they each held were free to fire in case there were any more surprises.
C’mon, D-Man. Let’s get you inside.
Dyson let her lead him, and said nothing.
It had started in spring. Flowers bloomed. Then plague, malignant and unnatural. It only took a few weeks from there.
Trade broke down and armed hostilities rushed into the vacuum. When the barrage of nukes were accidentally launched, scorching cities and skies, there was no longer any doubt that some ravenous Fae or Ancient had got serious and got smart. Only then did it occur to the high officials of Dark and Light that such a creature might bypass them completely, finding the human talent for destruction more enticing and more efficient than a direct attack had ever been. But it was far too late.
Nuclear powers around the world managed to lock down most of the remaining missiles, but it was the last gasp of law and order. Chaos swept the globe in days, spilling Fae into the public eye, and the public rage. The world fractured, and then went right on fracturing. And Fae strongholds, it turned out, were not always strong enough.
It happened the third and last time The Dál was attacked. The blast killed Bo instantly. Trick, a day later, slipping away without ever regaining consciousness.
They laid them out side by side in the underchambers, and burned everything down to rubble and ash.
Their vigil over the multi-hued blaze was silent. Kenzi didn’t know the right words for Fae, though she mouthed a few Russian ones, dry eyes burning in the heat of fire and discharge of magic. She waited for Dyson to send up the howl, but it didn’t come. He’d barely made a sound at all since the moment he unwrapped his body from around Kenzi and dragged himself up to find Bo’s glassy eyes, the faint smile turned to them despite the gouges shrapnel had taken from her face.
He didn’t let Kenzi near the gashes down his own body, either, a single look enough to make her back down. She didn’t push it.
There was nothing left to stay for and even if there had been, neither of them cared. So they started driving.
Kenzi woke with a panicked gasp, hand groping for the gun. It was still there, on the floor beside the couch, just as she’d left it. So was everything else in the room, other than the near-total darkness that had fallen. She hoped she’d only slept through the one day.
She found her way to the door, stubbing her foot in the process on the chair she’d dragged in front of it. It wouldn’t stop anyone getting in, if they busted past the lock, but the hindrance and sound of it falling might have given her enough time to shoot something, maybe. There was a light switch next to the door, and she didn’t expect it to work. It didn’t.
Shit, shit, shit. She should have found a flashlight before passing out. She should have done a lot of things, really, but once she got Dyson flopped across the one and only bed and lugged the duffel that held all her remaining worldly possessions inside, her body had flatly stopped cooperating.
Five minutes later, car headlamps were shining on the front of the cottage, and then Dyson as he staggered out against the support of the door frame, an arm flung up to shade his eyes. When he spotted Kenzi coming from the car, dodging corpses with her arms full of supplies, his hackles sagged back down, along with the rest of his body.
She reached him, flicked the flashlight on and off up in his face. Look what I found, she sing-songed.
Dyson didn’t say anything, but the flash had got a grunt out of him, which was something. At this rate, in a few months she’d get whole monosyllables.
I got food. She jiggled the packages at him. You need food?
His eyes cut to the bodies behind her, the dried blood that still streaked his beard serving as much as a No as the tiny motion of his head.
Kenzi’s stomach growled. And that, she thought, pretty much said it all.
It wasn’t until they woke up the next morning that she’d recovered enough to bully Dyson into letting her check his wounds over. If he was going to be doing his jack-in-the-box impression every time he thought they were threatened, she needed to make sure it wouldn’t rip him up by aggregate.
He made a face, but didn’t argue. Well, sure. That would have meant talking, which he still wasn’t. She didn’t know what Fae or wolf thing this was, but it was getting old fast. But he did help her peel the ragged, bloodstained layers of vest and shirts off him, a glint of amusement at her exclamation at the faded scartissue. Then a wince at the press of her fingers against the tender new flesh.
Then a long, steady look while she added a few things together in her head, waiting for what she came up with. Which was: You need a shower.
The plumbing worked, but the hot water didn’t. For a kid of the streets from the age of 10 and a man-wolf who’d grown up during the Dark Ages, this presented only a minor problem.
Bit by bit, they started moving things in and fixing things up around the cottage. They didn’t discuss it, quelle fucking surprise, but before the week was out, it became clear that they’d drifted to a stop here. With no desire to get back out on the road and nowhere to be, they stopped squatting and started settling.
The bodies of the old couple were buried lower on the property with little ceremony but some respect.
The raiders Kenzi’d shot were plundered of anything useful, then dumped outside the gate, and burned. In case anyone who came that far wasn’t inclined to take the Keep Out sign seriously.
That evening was hot and heavy, like the smell of charred meat in the nostrils. Kenzi took one of the last remaining bottles of The Dál’s top shelf vodka in existence to the little spring-fed rock pool further up behind the cottage, stripped to skin, and floated in clear cool water until the stars above took fire. When Dyson came to check on her, she screamed at him to take his fugly boondock-plaid-grandpa-shirted non-verbal ass and leave her the fuck alone.
He took the half-empty bottle with him.
She refused to come in out of spite, but even spite and a warm breeze weren’t up to the job like vodka, and before another hour went by she couldn’t stop shivering. Which didn’t mean she didn’t fight like a wet cat when Dyson returned and hauled her cold and naked inside, wordlessly dropping her on the bed and throwing towels at her face before slamming the bedroom door and, from the sounds of it, taking her place on the couch. Joke’s on you, asshole, she yelled gratefully, burrowing under the covers. The couch is too small for you.
The bed was warm and smelled like Dyson. For the first morning since leaving the city, Kenzi didn’t wake up like she was drowning.
It didn’t take more than another week before there was really nothing left to do. Backwoods hick hunting cottages in the land cottage country forgot weren’t, on the whole, complicated. Sturdy and well stocked and not too unbearably primitive for being repurposed as a crash pad in the apocalypse, yes. Too quiet by half, and then plus another couple halves, YES. Time-consuming to organize, no. Even for a dedicated city girl like her. Dyson had started lone-wolfing off who-knew-where most of the time, and she still couldn’t stretch the tasks of rearranging the supplies and weapons out any longer. She’d even done laundry. By hand.
The night was a bad one, and Kenzi spent it tossing and turning on the couch (it was too small for him), unable to doze more than an hour at a time, fleeing dreams before they resolved into horror. Only to awaken to the vast vindictive silence, until she pulled the blanket over her head in the hope of hearing her own heartbeat in the suffocating cocoon. Around dawn, Dyson padded past, shutting the front door quietly behind him. She groaned, smooshed her face into the back cushion, and tried against all wisdom to sleep in.
Four hours later, staring at the ceiling, she gave up.
Nail polish! Her nails were a wreck, and she hadn’t even noticed. There was a bottle somewhere in the duffel bag, propped in the corner, the one thing she’d barely touched in all her Suzy Homemakering.
It took her forever to fish the polish out, but no matter how frustrating, she was not about to just, just, unpack and have to touch and see and spread out all the stuff she’d frantically grabbed and shoved in there. And searching by feel, fixing her mind on recognizing just that one small hard shape, and nothing else, well, that took up time.
Then she had to wait until her hands stopped shaking to apply it. But it didn’t help. She was willing to bet there had never been a shittier nail job ever done in the history of man or Fae.
Kenzi threw the bottle at the wall and was relieved and angry when it didn’t smash.
It wasn’t even afternoon yet and she had to talk herself down from trying to shave her legs with a really sharpened knife. Actually talked out loud; she’d been doing that a lot. Someone had to. I mean, sure, potentially doable, right? Woman vs Wild, Bear Grylls was a sissy, drop him downtown after dark and then if he’d gets out alive we’ll talk survival, bitch. But you just jacked up nail polish, you spaz, so executive decision, no razor-substitutes near skin for just now. Because if Dyson –
The thought was almost enough to make her try it. It would serve him right. Whatever it would be.
But noooo. Because stupid Dyson was out there, somewhere. Not talking, with his stupid brooding stupid face. Not talking her out of trying to achieve silky smooth with a bowie knife. Not here with his stupid calm here-ness that kept the silence out of her head even when he wasn’t making a sound. Not stupid here to stop her from bleeding out right on the stupid floor. Not here.
That was when silence crashed in, unstoppable, like a force of nature, like the end of the world.
When Dyson came home that night, she turned her face to her old friend the back of the couch, and ignored him standing there for as long as it took for him to go away.
Dyson went away. Of course he did. Just left, walked away from her, never turning around, while the sky burned and she screamed and screamed and screamed after him and nothing came out –
Arms closed around her and she jerked awake, shuddering, screaming, hitting and hitting and hitting in the dark until Dyson’s grip on her clamped tighter, he’d parked himself down on the floor next to the couch, arms over her like a straitjacket, no leverage anywhere and she had no hope of toppling him off, even if he hadn’t been wolfenty-times stronger than her.
NO! She twisted, kicked at air, tried to claw his face, nearly level next to hers, shouting right into it as loud as she could, hoping it shattered him. NO! You jerk, you – Speak! What is wrong with you? Speak to me! Why won’t you talk to me, what did I do? I can’t, I can’t, Ican’tIcan’t, I can’t take it, I – Bo is dead, she’s dead, Dyson, she’s gone, Bo’s gone, and –
Kenzi was crying, really crying and she didn’t know how that happened, she hadn’t cried in years, she hadn’t cried in ever, crying too hard to get any more words out so she dug her crappily painted nails into the bare skin of his chest and tore as deep as she could.
He hissed, then crushed her to him, and she was crying too much at first to hear.
I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so sorry Kenzi, I’m so so sorry, Kenzi, please, Kenzi
Why? She pulled back a little, gasped out the question, unable to catch her breath properly through the tears. Why?
His head bowed down, shoulders hunched over her, and she clung to them, needing the heaviness of his big stupid forehead against hers, to be here and real.
I can’t be her, Kenzi. I can’t give you her. If I could have – my life for hers, I would have –
I know. – Of course she knew, how was that even a question he thought he needed to answer? When had he ever hesitated to sacrifice himself for Bo? She curled further into his hold, solid like sun-warm steel, and she couldn’t stop crying, quaking with it or with her efforts to stop or both, she couldn’t tell anymore.
He was speaking again, haltingly, little more than a low rumble against her. Please, Kenzi, please, I failed her, I failed you, I know, I can’t fix it, I know I can’t but I’ll do anything you want, just tell me what to do. What can I do?
Do?! Stop abandoning me! Talk to me! I can’t lose you too!
Lose me? Dyson sounded honestly surprised. Kenzi, you won’t lose me –
I need you to be here! She almost tried to hit him again, was on the verge of biting him like a wild thing at how excruciatingly dense he was. Bo’s gone, I don’t need you to be Bo, I need you, I need you to be here. With me. But you’re not, you’re – I don’t even know – off somewhere up in your head or your wolf or your own ass and you won’t talk to me, Dyson, and if you keep – if you keep leaving me like this....
It’s gonna kill me. She didn’t say it aloud, she didn’t think she did, but it was in the air anyway, serious as a heart attack.
Dyson made a gutteral sound, sweeping her off the couch, folding her against him where she’d always fit. And it wasn’t until then, pressed to the blood she’d drawn over his heart, tight as a vice, that she could finally, finally breathe.
I’m here. I’m here. I didn’t know, Kenzi, I’m so sorry. I’m here. I won’t leave you. I won’t ever leave you.
It had been a long time since Kenzi learned there was no guarantee of such promises, no way to be sure even the best and sweetest of intentions could keep them. She knew better. Anything could happen. Anything already had. Everything had. But somehow, this time, none of that mattered. Dyson said it and she believed it. Suddenly she felt for herself how Bo had instinctively trusted him without even knowing him, even when it made no sense at all.
It ripped apart the last few pitiful bits of willpower keeping her from just bawling like a dumb kid in his lap. And Dyson did nothing but settle her more comfortably, one big hand coming up to cradle her head to him.
Kenzi didn’t know how long they sat that way. Only that Dyson didn’t budge until the flood had passed, slick salt tracks of tears through sweat and blood. It must’ve stung; he obviously didn’t care, the mess of ick on him, on them both, comforting her more than she would ever admit. Maybe that’s just something the apocalypse did to you. Made you freaky about bodily fluids. Or maybe tears and blood and comfort and him had just always belonged together.
She drew back from him when she was ready, bit her lip, the scraps of moonlight from the window just enough to make out her handiwork on his skin. She touched it gingerly, setting off a small shudder through him. His hand came up, a familiar gesture, flattening hers where it rested; telling her it was okay. Then he looked closer at the mixture of tears, mascara, and anything else that had ended up on her face. He urged Kenzi back up onto the couch, getting up to fetch a wet cloth and a glass of water, returning to his spot on the floor beside her.
She just lay there, too worn out to be embarrassed, watching Dyson while he carefully cleaned her face for her. This must be what it’s like when cats wash each other’s faces, she thought with a tired giggle, except for how the wet rough cloth was cold, and felt amazing against her flushed face.
Dyson smiled at her giggle, dabbed her nose, then handed her the glass of water. She drank greedily, feeling the tension and beginnings of a headache subside, drowsiness rising in their place. She lay back down, coiled on her side, felt her eyelids gladly closing.
I was scouting, he explained quietly, had to, before they could be done with this. I need to know the area. Make sure it’s safe. I didn’t think.... I should have –
Needing the space, Kenzi thought muzzily. Not afraid of it, the way it made things too real. She wished she could be that brave. She reached down, took his hand, squeezed. Rather you than me, she said; telling him it was okay.
Dyson squeezed back, and there was a half-serious concern under his teasing offer. Want me to stay while you sleep?
She pushed him away happily. Ew, no, creepy, dude.
He laughed then, rich and real, and got to his feet. Oh, Kenzi, I need you.
She nodded in complete agreement. Yeah you do.
I’ll be here in the morning, was the last thing she heard as she sank into blissful slumber.
Dyson was there in the morning.
In fact, he was there all day. Kenzi told him it was okay, she was fine, a big girl, and he could go do his Boy-Wolf Scout thing. He just crinkled his eyes at her and said maybe later. She threatened to scratch him up again. He just smirked and said he’d had worse from a bad-tempered kitten.
She bared her teeth. He hugged her, laughing.
It was a good day. But she meant it; even with Dyson here, his casual touches making no secret of his reassurance, she wasn’t scared of the silence anymore. No, maybe she was. But she had to face it, now. She’d be no good at his side if she had to hide at his back. They were all they had left, and she was not going to let him down.
But she let him give her the day. And it was a good one. They sat on the porch, talking, or not. Stories of their far pasts, insulated from anything sharp with recent loss. Planning some practical stuff, a supply run, where and when and what. Dyson cooked, Kenzi offered brilliant and witty commentary, and then mad props around a full mouth. As the sun set they passed a bottle back and forth slowly – whisky, tonight – companionship filling them up more than than the liquor, plenty enough left when the cap went back on.
It was a good day, and that night Kenzi lay down on her couch full and content and burst into tears.
She stuffed her fist against her mouth, pushing down the wet wheezing burn of her lungs as much as she could. But in less than a minute, Dyson was out of his room, there on the floor by the couch, one arm laid beside her. A touch, a brush of fingers, telling her he was there. Just there.
Kenzi choked against her own hand, but broke open and spilled out anyway, all over again. She didn’t know how long it was before she reached for his hand, and he laced their fingers together. His hand dwarfed hers, like he always did, big unmoving rock-strength she clutched to herself, or clutched herself to, a limpet. A pathetic, blubbering limpet.
Once again, Dyson waited her out, patient and still in the stuffy room. He didn’t move until she collected herself enough disentangle herself, turn and huddle away from him. That’s when he stopped her, of course he did, anchoring her where she was. Facing him.
She squeezed desperately back in on herself.
Kenzi. His voice was quiet, but it pulled on her, his presence and his promise calling her back to him. Slowly, he balled a fist, laid it on her breastbone. I’ve been here, he reminded her softly. Please. Don’t hide from me. You don’t need to hide from me.
She stared at him. I’m stronger than this, I am, she whispered, and he’d believed it once and maybe if she could fool him even now that he’d seen her like this, she could believe it too.
Kenzi. Dyson made her name a deep fierce thing in his breath, the weight of his fist on her heart like conviction. Kenzi. This is not weakness.
The next day, at Kenzi’s insistence, Dyson went back to exploring the area. She took the time while he was gone to unpack the duffel, going over every last haphazard remnant of Bo and home one by one. That night, wearing a tank top of Bo’s, Kenzi didn’t even make it to the couch before breaking down.
Dyson took one sniff of the situation, scooped her up and plunked them both down on the bed, tugged the blanket up, draped a loose arm over her, and let her cry herself out. Then he fell asleep.
Kenzi snuffled and turned her face to the pillow, letting it absorb the last of the tears, putting off the uneasy decision whether to go. She didn’t want to, and Dyson didn’t seem to have any problem with her staying. But it was ... weird. It was weird. Wasn’t it?
Then the unconscious twitch and shift of him brought his nose pressing against the fabric at her shoulder. It sent a wave of sympathy and gratitude washing through her, snuggling her back until she fit into the curve of him. She let her limbs find whatever tangle with his was comfortable, and dropped off easily to sleep.
Kenzi cried her guts out every night without fail.
She tried to fail. She tried getting angry, and getting drunk, and it only made everything worse. She tried exhausting herself for a whole day, and that was the only time she ended up back in Dyson’s lap, balled up, wretched and near-hysteric.
Dyson watched it all go down without teasing her once. The rest of the time, he hugged her more often, and called her Kitten to annoy her so that she could smack him for it. She kept telling him he’s not helping but he is, he is, somehow he made it just about bearable and he’d look at her and smile and he totally knew it.
She spent those nights curled up next to him. After that first night, Dyson had just stood at the bedroom doorway and tilted his head, until she scurried past him too quickly, pointing out how lumpy and scratchy and narrow the couch was anyhow, since he hadn’t asked, thankyouverymuch. She has discovered that Dyson sleeps way too easily, and she would have liked to hate him for that, if he didn’t keep her so safe and warm with his big sprawling body and his barely-there snoring and occasional not-quite growls that sounded suspiciously goofy, like he was chasing rabbits or something. She’ll listen in the dark with the whole world gone and smile and go back to sleep.
After a while, Kenzi began to just accept it about herself. The way Dyson did. It was the end of the world, and so she cries. It somehow made her cry even harder, old, old and messy and deep, and the stone heaviness in her chest told her Dyson had known this long before she did.
Then it got lighter, slowly cried away. She cried less, and less, and then she forgot to notice and then she didn’t cry much at all.
Dyson still sometimes called her Kitten, though. Still grinned when she hit him. Still tucked an arm around her at night, just possessive enough to keep the nightmares at bay.
When Dyson saw the blankets on the couch, he stopped. He looked confused.
I can’t keep hiding behind you, Kenzi explained, hoping he got it. He seemed to, but he still looked confused.
You don’t take up that much room, he joked, or didn’t, it was hard to tell.
She went around to him, rose on tiptoe and he still had to lean down to let her kiss his scruffy cheek. She patted his shoulder and smiled her thanks up at him. ’Night, D-Man.
He watched as she wriggled into the groove in the couch, standing there awkwardly like he was caught between one thought and another and he couldn’t remember what the arms hanging at his sides were for. Then he shook himself out of it, and headed for the bedroom. Goodnight, Kenzi.
Kenzi waved a hand at him sleepily. Tomorrow, we’re grooming. The apocalypse is no time for letting personal standards slip. You need a trim.
The days got longer and hotter, and there were things to do. Dyson scouted, and when he came back with a bloody carcase slung over his shoulders, he taught her how to butcher and cure. For two seconds, Kenzi thought about pretending to be grossed out, but it seemed stupid after everything, and then it was way too much fun to care. When she picked up one of the cottage’s rifles and asked to learn to hunt too, they got into their one real screaming row of the summer – about appropriate footwear – and didn’t talk for three days.
By then, the cottage was as sullen and seething as a thundercloud, and Kenzi ended that by throwing a tin cup at Dyson’s head when he wasn’t looking. He turned, faster than thought, batted it out of the air and leapt at her, snarling, bowling them back onto the couch and it was terrifying being the bullseye of his aggression. Except not, because she was safe with him, even deeper than the animal bodily fright of the moment.
Pinned, heart hammering, she inched her head up, closing the gap as much as she could to glare squarely back at him. I’ll cry, she threatened, and totally meant it.
Dyson blinked. And then he was laughing, toppling off of her to the floor, and when he stretched out an arm Kenzi willingly followed, letting him grab her to him in a jumble of giggling and elbows.
Brat, he said when they subsided. Kenzi tried to knee him, but his arm stayed tight, keeping her where she was flopped across him, and she only succeeded in amusing him. We need to train you to fight better, he taunted.
And hunt, she said pointedly.
Proper shoes, and it’s a deal, he agreed immediately.
Dyson wasn’t letting go – of the shoes or of her – and so she settled herself in, rising and falling with his long even breaths, the still-quick erratic heartbeat, the deep echo of his voice. It had been too long since she’d been here, the last place left in the world where it made any sense.
Kenzi sighed, not unhappily. And if I refuse, and you don’t train me? she asked dramatically, propping her chin on his chest so she could pout at him. And if we’re attacked and I run out of bullets, and get overrun, and can’t fight back as well as I could have if you’d taught me? Huh? Then what?
He pulled his head up where it was resting on his other arm, so he could look squarely back at her. Then I’ll die defending you, he threatened, and totally meant it.
The next supply run took longer, but they did find sturdy boots for hunting in that fit and weren’t totally lacking in style. And once they did, accessorizing was obviously a must. Eventually, Kenzi managed to create a look that didn’t make either of them roll their eyes for completely different reasons.
When Dyson finally, finally decided they’d warmed down enough, Kenzi headed straight for the rock pool, and, hearing Dyson following her, exaggerated her exhausted flump into the water for his benefit. Then it was so deliciously cool that she forgot about him altogether, kicking up to float against the weight of her workout clothes.
You’re coming along well, commented Dyson, as he shucked his shirt and joined her.
Hgnngngnnngh, she replied.
He sent the inner tube drifting over to her, and Kenzi heaved herself into it, relaxing. She had found it two supply runs ago, best swag ever, and when they fought over it, Dyson let her win more often than he didn’t.
Unlike their sparring. Which often consisted of them just figuring out the hard way how to adapt centuries of wolf-shifter experience to human, throw in the trail mix of fighting tricks Kenzi had picked up throughout her life, and teach her muscles to do what the magic had when she was glued to the Stick Thingy. They even constructed a practice dummy out of odds and ends; she named him Oliver. Because he looked like an Oliver. It was honestly kind of weird that she’d had to explain that to Dyson when he asked.
She’d been expecting Dyson to go full drill sergeant with this, but although he did push her, he was unexpectedly creative, finding what worked for her, dropping what didn’t. She guessed that living for centuries was kind of like living homeless: either it taught you how to go with the flow or it fucked you up completely. Except Fae didn’t get weeded out by natural selection, they just hung around trying to make everything stay just as fucked up as they were. Which would explain a lot.
Huh, she said thoughtfully.
What’s that? Dyson asked.
Kenzi started to explain, only to be interrupted. No, Kenzi, what is that?
She cracked an eye to see what Dyson was talking about, why the tension in his voice. He was staring at her body, and she flushed, confused and awkward, until she worked out that her wet tank top had hitched high at her right side. She followed his look to the long jaggy mark there, barely visible except when picked out in sparkling sunlight, like now. She frowned, surprised.
You never saw this before? But ... I mean, you’ve seen – Kenzi stopped. Had he, though? There had been a lot going on back at the time, and Hale’s work had healed nicely. And it wasn’t like she exactly put her midriff out on display, with the exception of that night here in the water, and that had been, well, night.
She didn’t have to wonder long. Dyson was already spluttering an answer, the strain in him growing sharply. I don’t – I haven’t – I don’t check you out, Kenzi! What is that, what happened to you?
If he’d surprised her before, he was beginning to worry her now, clearly in need of a bit of a reality-check-chill-pill. She bracketed her fingers around it, the finger-width silvery tissue wrinkling finely where it stretched. Don’t freak, big guy. Look. I’m fine.
Dyson had come closer, standing up in the waist-deep water, and it didn’t help calm things down at all when he placed his large lean beautiful hand along the length of the scar, shockingly hot. Kenzi managed to squash the sound in her throat, but couldn’t stop her muscles flickering tight at the contact, the blush of heat rising in the water-cooled skin under his palm.
The Garuda! she explained quickly, eyes wide, too breathless. Going by the ferocity of Dyson’s expression, he didn’t seem to have noticed the effect he’d had on her body. She hurried on, to keep it that way. When we went against the Garuda. I got stabbed. It was stupid, I didn’t –
This is a mortal wound, he said, low, urgent; almost desperate, if she didn’t know any better.
Yeah. I guess. I mean, I was pretty out of it, but Lauren had Hale do this sonic-y siren thing on it –
Kenzi waved her hand like that would help illustrate what had happened, like she could even remember or explain it herself either. She faltered when Dyson met her eyes, believing her – understanding probably more than she did – and stunned.
Fuck. Kenzi ... fuck. He shook his head, grappling with it, but neither his eyes nor his hand left her. When she realized her own hand had come down and settled over his, she panicked for a second, that her noticing it would break the spell and Dyson would notice too, that he’d pull away. Then she felt his fingertips weaving with hers, biting into her hip just a bit. He couldn’t possibly miss her sharp breath, but he didn’t so much as blink, eyes the colour of storm clouds burning into her.
But I didn’t know, he said after a minute, as if he’d failed her somehow. You were there. When the Garuda died, you were standing right there with us, you were fine....
Kenzi aimed for a nonchalant shrug. Yeah. Like I said, Hale, he patched me up. NBD....
She trailed off there, because Dyson had slowly sunk down and put his face to the back of their hands clasped over her own certain death, and for a couple seconds there she couldn’t breathe or think at all.
Shit. She just knew he’d been taking Bo and Trick’s deaths too well, even with all his lone-wolf me-time; it figured it would be something random that would make him snap. No matter how good anyone got at going with the flow, there would always be something that could break them beyond repair.
Kenzi stared at the top of Dyson’s head, acutely conscious of the ridges of his brows and nose on the back of her hand. And how much she was a horrible person to like feeling them there in spite of whatever pain he was in right now. Tentatively, she brought her other hand over, combed into his hair, hoping it comforted him as much as it had when he’d done it for her.
She felt the tremor in him under her touch, the way his hand flexed against her, and tried to ignore the purely physical and inappropriate sensations that, oh, yep, he was totally doing to her body, because what with one thing and another it had been way, waaaay too long. But anyway this was Dyson, and now was the worst possible time to think horny thoughts. Her friend needed her, which meant everything else got shut right down right there.
It’s okay, she ventured, and petted his hair some more.
After a minute he lifted his head just enough to press a kiss to her hand, and Kenzi lost her breath all over again. When he drew back there was a tiny crooked smile on his lips and an echo of anguish in his eyes, and she didn’t have the first clue what to do with either of them.
She tried general reassurance. Reassurance was good, right? She patted that big hand that was still so very hot and, no, not delicious, not at all, on her skin. Hey man, I’ve cried like a baby for a month, no one’s judging here.
Dyson snorted at that, hard and affectionate like she’d missed the point, and she could testify that he was 100% correct on that.
Or not, she retorted, nearly sticking her tongue out at him. I can judge. This is me judging. Judge judge judge judge.
He grinned, but only looked down to where her fingers had coiled back around his, because if she was going to be honest with herself she wasn’t ready for him to take it away just yet, regardless of complications.
I’m really glad you’re not dead, Kenzi, he said quietly.
She couldn’t imagine what she was supposed to do with that, either, but she’d at least worked out that whatever it was going on with him, he was dealing and he was still Dyson. And Dyson being weird, as opposed to Dyson having some kind of complete meltdown, she could handle. She rolled her eyes at him. Dude. You are such a drama queen.
His head snapped up, along with his eyebrow, a smirking challenge on his face that she got straight off to mean: I’m a drama queen?
And then there was movement and Dyson flipped the tube, and then squealing and splashing and laughing and scuffling that didn’t set her body off in unwanted ways, and everything was normal again.
Except that later, eating and discussing the brilliant flow-fuckedup continuum she’d devised, it was different. Somehow everything was only almost normal. Something in the way Dyson looked at her, a haunting of awareness, making her aware of it too. A prickle at the back of her neck. She was alive. And, that time around, she really shouldn’t have been.
Both of them put back an unusually large amount of alcohol that evening. So when Dyson paused in the doorway to the bedroom, stormcloud eyes turning her way with a look Kenzi could picture even in the darkness, she practically leapt to her place on the couch. Impaired judgement was no excuse for impaired judgement, and she was not going to risk embarrassing herself just because she was overbuzzed and wound a bit too up.
Night! she chirped, pulling the blanket firmly over her head until she heard the bedroom door close.
Several hours later, she could still hear him; the only sound in the silence, turning and turning and turning restlessly in the bed, and, fuck. She cried, and he’d held her, she slept and he’d kept her dreams safe, she couldn’t live without him and he’d promised to never leave.
Kenzi got up blearily, twitched the blanket around herself, and opened the door. His bare back was towards her but his head craned up straight away, all twisting spine and tattoo as he looked at her over his shoulder, until he realized she was waiting. He rolled all the way over and made space, automatically opening his arms for her. The instant she joined him, Dyson wrapped around her, blanket and all, and pulled her into him.
And, okay, she couldn’t deny that the soothed exhale he gave once they found their familiar fit did something in her heart that had little to do with her other parts. She cuddled a little deeper, felt Dyson’s arms tighten to match, and was too tired to guard against the wild flutter of elation. The best she could manage was a chuckle. You must be reeeally glad I’m not dead.
Then she gave up completely at his happy, drowsy nuzzle. Go to sleep, Kenzi.
After that, she was more careful. No more codependent sleepdates, go easier on the booze, focus on the training and hunting, less horsing around. And set aside regular time in the shower, where she really hoped Dyson’s wolf nose couldn’t follow, thinking firmly about Nathan, Nathan’s hands, on his guitar, on her. Nathan. Nathan. Nathan.
It didn’t really take long before the new way Dyson looked at her walking around alive and whole sank in and stopped being like fingers tickling over her skin; compared to everything else they’d gone through, it really wasn’t that much of a deal. It was amazing what people could get used to.
The summer drifted past. The hottest days were spent mostly in the water or in hammocks they’d rigged up in the shade. The longest evenings were spent reading until it got too dark or having movie nights, which meant reenacting as much as they could remember and making up the rest. So far, unanimous agreement had Pulp Fiction ranked as their biggest hit, with Kenzi’s Mia Wallace as Oscar-worthy, and special mention going to Oliver’s Marvin. Star Wars got the most play, though, because for one, lightsabre battles, and for two, they both wanted their turn at nearly all of the roles. And while Dyson’s Chewbacca was predictably legendary, Kenzi was of the opinion that his Princess Leia was the surprise breakout performance of the season.