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It wasn't as if he'd never made an attempt at normalcy.

There'd been Rachel Kirscher, who he'd desperately wanted to take to the prom. Allie Robins in math club. Noelle whose original last name he couldn't remember because she'd gotten married when they were twenty-two and he was busy getting two simultaneous masters degrees, and subsequently his mother got a Christmas card every year from "The Rogers's." The inappropriate apostrophe made him a little glad, in retrospect, that Noelle had never given him the time of day.

Which, neither had Rachel or Allie. Well, he assumed Rachel would never go to the prom with him. He hadn't technically asked. He'd almost asked Allie out, once. Definitely would have, if he hadn't panicked and gone running from the room instead.

So he hadn't made so much of an actual attempt, as had some thoughts about normalcy.

College was better, in that he'd gotten drunk at a few parties and made out with a few equally drunk girls, so that seemed like progress even if he didn't necessarily know their names. His rotations at various grad schools around the city were even better, because by then he'd figured out what made him comfortable. Unfortunately for his mother's hopes, what made him comfortable was basically ignoring the other students, including the girls - however cute they might be. If he didn't try to fit in, he couldn't fail, and he definitely wouldn't have to worry about being rejected.

He never actually told his mother about the one exception. Jordan had been in his first archaeology program; they'd been the only ones in the class who already knew enough hieroglyphics to start their midterm translation project on the first day of the semester, so they'd worked together. She wasn't like him, but she'd been an avid amateur Egyptologist since childhood and in that area, she was almost as good. They'd studied together almost daily, eaten together, occasionally collapsed together and done something as normal as watch a movie.

On the last day of the year, while he was rattling on excitedly about his summer internship at the Met, she'd shaken her head a bit sadly and then suddenly kissed him. When he frowned at her in confusion, she'd said, "Flynn, you really do need to be hit by a two-by-four, don't you?"

He would have disagreed, except he'd just realized they'd been dating for a year (other than the lack, till then, of kissing. or sex.).

Jordan wasn't infinitely patient. The sad smile definitely indicated that she'd given up on him and was moving on. Still, he had to count it as his longest relationship - only, technically, relationship - with a woman to that point.

(Many years later he'd complain to Judson that since coming to the Library he hadn't had a relationship that had lasted more than six months. He neglected to mention that other than Jordan, he'd never had a relationship of more than six months before the Library, either.)

It probably shouldn't have surprised him that most of his subsequent relationships began with a woman just grabbing him.

 

(One day, very shortly after the Library was found again and safely anchored to the Annex in Portland, he took Eve into Large Collections and happened along the way to mention the unicorn he'd met in his early days at the Library.

"The unicorn licked you?" Eve echoed, expression dubious.

"Yep." He was blissfully ignorant, for the moment, of the reason for her shock; after all, everything in the Library was pretty strange.

"So . . ." They were walking side by side, not touching - they hadn't quite gotten there yet - but close, and he looked at her and saw her wince awkwardly. "I'm trying so hard not to ask . . . so are the stories wrong?"

He just looked at her, not following.

"About unicorns?"

Oh. Oh. Right. He could feel his face flushing. "Well . . .")

 

Of course he'd paid attention to her in Berlin. He hadn't expected to run into Americans, after all, let alone American soldiers. Let alone American soldiers raiding the place. Let alone pretty ones who barely blinked when he started talking about demonologists.

Still, he'd assumed he'd never see her again. And when she appeared in the Library - well, it felt like a cruel joke. After years of hard-won independence, to have this fly-by-night soldier dropped in and bossing him around, as if she were -

Well. As if she belonged there. As if she were Nicole, or something. Nicole had clearly been able to adapt to the chaos of the Library, and even she couldn't stick it out. This by-the-book colonel - she didn't have a prayer, and that meant getting attached to her was an absolute no-go.

Even if she made him want to laugh all the time (not actually laugh; he had more self-control than that. but it was a near thing). Even if she was even prettier when she started to get a bit disheveled. Even if he was touched by her honest concern when he was injured and hopeless. Even if he stared so hard at her in that dress that she would have been justified in closing his mouth for him . . .

Yeah.

He would have realized how completely screwed he was during their dance, if he hadn't been busy dying at the time. Instead, he realized it about three seconds after they shook the security detail (apparently thanks to one of her friends), when he saw her tentatively patting Cassandra's arm before she turned to face him, biting her lip. Her blonde hair was catching the light, and her eyes were still a little red - because of him - and he knew he was royally screwed.

Which was sort of appropriate, given their present location.

It was her idea to find some hotel rooms before one or all of them collapsed. He ended up with his own room, and . . . well. There'd been an adventure, a thrilling fight, a close call - he'd almost died - he'd seen this movie before, and he knew how it ended. Knew what those experiences did to people when they were thrown together like this.

It wasn't that he was arrogant enough to believe every woman he came across wanted to sleep with him (he'd slept with four women in his entire life; the evidence spoke for itself). But mid-adventure, in the rush of adrenaline and the thrill of survival, well, things happened - that evidence spoke for itself, too.

Even as he showered (Cal healed him; he didn't clean away a day's worth of slow bleeding or the clammy sweat of plummeting blood pressure), he felt a little . . . sorry, in advance. It had been nice, having someone to turn his head and talk to when he had a thought. Having a partner, something he hadn't felt since Simone. She was pretty, she was . . . yeah, but the connection he'd felt was more than just physical attraction, more than the kind of thing that would happen in the heat of the moment but not, in the end, mean anything.

He felt a little sorry, because he knew he wouldn't say no to her, but he wasn't thirty anymore and he kind of wished for the chance for something different.

The soft knock at his door, just as he was drying off, came as no surprise whatsoever. He took a couple of deep breaths before opening it, wearing only the thick white hotel bathrobe and somehow feeling young and terrified again.

Eve gave him a hesitant smile. She had pulled her hair back again, although not as severely, and she was fully dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. For a moment he forgot he was about to be used for his body, and asked, "Where did you get jeans?"

"Where did you think I got the dress?" She shrugged. "We can go out tomorrow if you need something, you know, not bloody, to fly back in."

"Wouldn't be the worst idea." He stepped back to let her in.

"I, um . . ." She waited until he'd closed the door before turning back to face him. "I wanted to make sure you were still really okay, I've . . . never seen someone at death's door be instantly cured by magic."

"You kind of get used to it." He was standing awkwardly, arms loosely held at his sides, not sure what to do.

She laughed a little, but her tone was sincere when she said, "I hope I don't have to get used to you almost dying."

His mouth was dry. He wanted to say something but didn't know what, so he just continued to stand there looking at her. Waiting.

"Can I . . ." Wincing a bit, she reached out with a tentative hand. "Sorry - can I - look at . . ."

"Oh." It was suddenly a little bit hard to breathe. "Sure." He had two options, that he could see, for exposing his lower side to her. There was no way he was forward enough to just open the robe completely. That left sliding it off his shoulders, leaving him bare from the waist up with the rest of the robe held up by the belt. He did it, slowly, feeling extremely naked.

She took a step closer, looking at his abdomen, not his eyes. "Is - was it there, or . . . lower?"

"I don't -" Oh God. He swallowed. "Maybe?"

Her left hand reached for the knot of the robe's belt, while her right tugged gently to expose him down to his hip. The backs of her fingers brushed his skin. Her concerned scrutiny felt completely unforced, unpracticed, as if she really did only intend to check for signs of a wound.

Oh - oh. He was suddenly very grateful that he hadn't opened the robe - or, God forbid, actually taken it off - because he realized she wasn't reaching for his belt to undo it and launch them into a night of debauchery. She was holding it in place, to make sure it didn't come untied. Preserving his modesty. And as soon as she was satisfied that there wasn't a mark on him, she took her hands away and stepped back.

Hoping he wasn't blushing as much as he thought he was, he pulled the sleeves of the robe back on and closed it over his chest. "Cured," he said, with an attempt at sounding casual.

She nodded, and he felt really kind of terrible about suspecting her motives, because now he noticed that her eyes were still red-rimmed. He tried to picture how he'd be feeling if it had been her - or any of them, really - and felt even worse.

"You okay?" he asked softly.

"Yup," she said too quickly. She inclined her head at him. "I'll let you rest - I don't want to leave Cassandra for too long."

"How's she doing?"

"Not that well." She sighed. "She told me a little bit about what happened while the Serpent Brotherhood had her -"

His horror must have showed in his face.

She quickly corrected his assumption. "No one touched her, really. But she saw people die. And she feels like hell about what she did, you getting hurt, the Library; and on top of that she really thought she was going to be saved, and . . ."

"Not so much."

"Not so much. So." She took a few steps backward toward the door. "Anyway. Goodnight."

"Eve."

She stopped when he called her.

"Thank you - for . . ." There were too many possible endings to that sentence, some of which were very dangerous, so instead of trying he held out his arm. It would have been kind of humiliating if she'd rejected the gesture, but she came close and wrapped her arms around him in a loose embrace.

"Thank you for not dying," she replied quietly.

He turned his face as close to the crook of her neck as he dared, breathing in the smell of her hair. Part of him was definitely a little let down that this was all that was going to happen (okay, a readily identifiable part), but the part of him that had felt a little sorry before was now feeling quite relieved. Relieved, and warm and fuzzy, and content and hopeful.

Yeah. He was screwed.

After she left, he stayed awake staring at the ceiling for a long time.

 

Nicole kind of gave him a complex, and the worst of it was she probably meant to.

Not when she was alternately prodding and insulting him across half the Amazon; that was honest frustration. She was a professional, and he was an idiot. Worse, an idiot who was supposed to be living up to the shadow cast by her dead lover, dashing, charming, quite possibly swashbuckling Edward. Even worse, one who seemed to think flirting with her was a good idea.

He couldn't help himself. When he was nervous he babbled and made bad jokes, and since even though she was really (really) scary she was also so beautiful that she took up all the space in his thoughts not occupied by the mission . . . well, everything that came out was nervous, bad flirting.

He still wasn't completely sure when she'd decided he was worth filling Edward's (now apparently rather unworthy, in hindsight) shoes in every possible way. Was it just because they'd won and she was high on the rush? Because he'd risked his life (and the Spear) to save her? Because they were at high elevation and she was delirious?

(Later, much later, after she'd left for good, a dark voice in the back of his mind began to suggest an alternative theory of what had really happened. That she'd decided he was good enough to be the Librarian after all, and then her own baggage made her think that she needed to sleep with him. She'd messed up, failed as a Guardian - believed she'd lost the Librarian because of her personal weakness, then learned she'd actually been blinded to his corruption. Now that there was a real, in her words, Librarian, she felt as though she was making things right by being in his bed. Her do-over.)

It was little wonder he'd expected Eve Baird to spontaneously drop her general air of bemused frustration and seduce him. It would hardly have been any stranger than Nicole, after days of rolling her eyes at him, suddenly deciding it was time to make him a man.

 

(Damn unicorn.

"I'm sorry!" Eve said quickly, her voice surprised. "I didn't mean to . . . I mean, okay, it's - it's not a big deal, so you didn't . . ."

"I was - I was very busy," he said. "With, ah. With school, and everything."

"Right. Of course." She paused. "And when you came to the Library you were . . ."

"Thirty," he admitted.

"Great!"

Her chipper lack of concern felt forced. He felt oddly as if he should reassure her that everything, in fact, worked the way it was supposed to.

"I," she said slowly, before second-guessing herself. "Is this too much information? I feel like it is, but well, now I know yours, and . . ."

"Is what too much information?"

"Twenty-three," she blurted out. And God he hoped that was an age and not a tally. Not that he was sexist; he was just a little intimidated at the idea of being that thoroughly outgunned. But her face was as red as his felt - redder, maybe; she was a lot paler in general - and he couldn't help smiling, because at least this horribly awkward conversation was clear evidence that they were going where he thought they were going. Otherwise there wasn't usually a good reason to discuss sexual history with coworkers. "So," she added, "not that different. Really."

"No," he said, although it kind of was. But then again, it could have been seventeen and prom night like everybody else. Come to think of it, he did feel a little better.)

 

What he meant about giving him a complex was - well, Nicole didn't really seem to be kidding when she'd asked if he'd read books on the subject. When she'd approached him, in that tiny robe with that predatory smile, the terror mixed in with his anticipation was mostly because he was thinking of praying mantises. Black Widows. Vampires. It hadn't occurred to him yet that you could do it wrong. That he should actually be afraid of not measuring up. Not literally, but - well, yeah, literally too.

In retrospect this innocence was inexplicable. It wasn't as if he had any basis for being confident about his prowess (innocence being the operative word).

In a way - if he hadn't thought it was true love, been so infatuated with her beauty and her bravery and the way the hard line of her mouth actually did waver when she was afraid - if he'd treated the relationship as the coming-of-age fling that it was, it would have been quite helpful to be schooled a bit. Most thirty-year-olds were further along, after all. Unfortunately, though, he did think it was the real thing at the time, and that made her critiquing kind of stressful.

Not that he minded much that first time. By the time they'd fallen onto the bed after seconds/minutes/hours of fevered kissing, and her hands were everywhere at once and her robe had come undone and he'd taken in that she was wearing absolutely nothing under it - eventually excitement drowned out his nerves and he approached the business with what she later called "admirable enthusiasm". In the midst of sensory overload he was happy to be guided by her hands, told what she liked, when in exchange there was her hands and her mouth and the incomprehensible fact of being allowed to be inside her. In the moment, he absolutely took words like more and faster to be compliments.

She wasn't much of a cuddler, but he was so overwhelmed afterward that a single touch might have made him jump out of his skin anyway. About half of his shock was due to having actually had sex finally, because he was definitely not expecting this when he got on a plane for the first time in his life to go on an apparent suicide mission against the Serpent Brotherhood. The other half was that it was Nicole, universes-out-of-his-league Nicole, who was now coolly sleeping next to him as if nothing had happened.

 

(He remembered this suddenly, ten years later, lying tangled with Eve after their first time together. Her hand resting over his heart made it flutter dangerously but he felt utterly safe, as if, with her warmth against his side, it was okay this time to be overwhelmed.)

 

Nicole did care for him in her way. There was an indulgent, sometimes rueful affection that wasn't feigned, wasn't about the Library or ghosts or the weight of her past. He did feel sometimes like a petted, overgrown puppy, with the way she would call him "handsome" and kiss him purposefully in public; her calm murmurs in bed of not quite like that, darling and there, like this until at last he got to see her lose some of her control. But she was sweet with him in those times, mostly sincere despite the glint of the maneater in her smile. Which was why it hurt so much when - fighting through rare tears - she told him everything wasn't okay, that she needed to put the Library behind her. Completely. For good.

After she was gone, he thought maybe the entire idea of a Guardian was more of a transitional stage than anything else. That maybe even the Library had chosen Nicole, with her well-hidden sentimental streak and her propensity to fall unwillingly in love, not just to make him into the Librarian but to make him grow up.

So the idea of another Guardian, after ten years, was baffling. It took Germany and Oregon and London and hours of watching her worried face grow more worried for him to figure out that Eve wasn't trying to manipulate her way into his life or his affections or anything else, but just doing the job that had been dropped in her lap. She was as bewildered and amazed as he'd been once, only without someone to guide her - because it was her job not only to keep up but to put herself between him and the dangers he now embraced without even thinking. And not only him, but the innocents they'd dragged into this mess.

(Well. Innocents and Ezekiel.)

She was also, he decided - right around the time he was staring at the ceiling of his hotel room in London, realizing he was completely screwed - probably not attracted to him at all. She'd shown no actual signs of it; it had been all him assuming that there was only one narrative involving men and women and the Library and bonding over danger.

Platonic partners was great, though. Especially if they had to split up, which he was pretty sure they did. Less complicated. Still less lonely than being completely alone. He'd eventually be able to forget how pretty she was. How her face softened when he confessed that he really would, actually, like to be taking her with him. How, even though his mind and heart had been somewhat against the idea of jumping straight into sex that might have been meaningless, his body had been all for it. Yup. Platonic partners was a much better idea.

He thought that right up until she kissed him. It wasn't a seduction, nor was it quite a goodbye; it was . . . an answer to a question he hadn't asked. He barely had time to respond, other than to relax into her a little and think oh, okay. good.

And it was. He looked at her face when they broke apart, and she looked a little pleased with herself but that was okay - it was probably because she'd managed to catch him so off guard. But it was a friendly expression. Friendly with kissing was something he could definitely adapt to.

Especially since that plummeting feeling in his stomach was probably not platonic.

Chapter Text

Somewhere in the back of Eve's mind was a mostly-subconscious list, of the reasons she was feeling sure about something for maybe the first time in her life. Before this - before Flynn - well, the reasons she'd pretty much given up on relationships were well settled. There were specifics, important ones, but mostly it amounted to: it was never right. She was never sure. When relationships ended, she sometimes missed the fact of being in a relationship but rarely missed the actual person. And sometimes - to the extent being in a relationship seemed to mean available companionship in return for constantly having her buttons pushed - being out of it was just a relief.

She'd been single for longer than Flynn had, though at one point she'd thought it was going to take phone records and maybe some charts and visual aids to convince him of that fact.

That list, though. That he still held her hand. That he never cared (or at least never let on, never guilted her) when she had to drop everything to go drag one of her librarians out of a mess.

The time Jones had texted while they were - well, it wasn't during, but it was while they were still catching their breath afterward. The text said just think I need some help. She'd passed her phone to Flynn, already leaping from the bed herself, and said, "When was the last time he just straight up asked for help?"

"Never," Flynn replied, and he was already following her to the shower. "We'd better share."

The reason this made it onto her list was that he actually meant sharing the shower would get them to Jones's aid faster.

 

Kissing him that first time was stupid. Colossally stupid. For one thing, if she'd been at her normal job and he'd been her colleague or her CO or an asset she was supposed to be protecting, there was no way on God's green earth she would have kissed him. Ever. Not to mention that, several years though it had been, she still remembered the last time she'd gone out on a limb and hoped maybe this is the time it'll be different. It hadn't ended well.

Hadn't even really started that well. Actually, her most recent relationship had been by far her shortest; the only time she'd walked away herself rather than letting it draw out.

So. Letting herself forget why she'd chosen to be single? Hanging her hopes on yet another man she barely knew? Stupid.

But she'd liked what she'd seen so far, once he stopped protesting quite so much. The way he relied completely on her competence from the first moment, even while trying to get rid of her. The way he shepherded and protected the others, even though he hadn't wanted them around, either. His growing and contagious excitement that he just naturally shared with all of them. His immediate forgiveness of Cassandra, even to the point of sacrificing himself for a chance to cure her.

She'd been looking forward to getting to know him better, helping him in his mission, and the realization that he was planning on leaving her behind was a kick to the gut. And he was so sincere. Despite his protests, he was lonely, she could see that so clearly. And maybe that wasn't really a logical reason for her to have been staring at his mouth, but it was the one she was going with.

Maybe that little corner of the back of her mind sensed that he needed a friend as much as, if not more than, a lover. That maybe that was what would make it different.

Kissing him was still stupid. But she'd never made anyone stammer like that before.

On the other hand - not that she should be blaming anybody for whatever they'd done under the influence of that infernal Apple, since Flynn claimed she'd punched and had nearly shot him (she didn't quite believe the second thing; on the other hand, the swelling on his face spoke for itself) - on that occasion he'd pretty much lived up to all her worst expectations. Virtually ignoring her and completely ignoring whatever authority she'd managed to build? Check. Barging in like he was the only one who knew how to handle anything? Check.

Show some skin? Seriously?

 

(For just a moment she was in Michael's apartment in DC, him leering dramatically as she stood at the bathroom mirror in her skirt and bra, trying to get her hair pinned tightly enough. Giving her a satisfied grin and calling "hey there, sexy," while she pulled her armor into place for a day of meetings, in which she'd need to feel (if not, ideally, actually be) competent and professional and stony calm.

Her struggling even to put her finger on why she felt uncomfortable, let alone to articulate it. Other than to ask him, more harshly than she would have liked, to stop that, please, to just please stop it and leave me alone? She had no regrets about sleeping with him; that wasn't the issue (they'd been seeing each other for months already, a lot of nights in each other's apartments and a lot of mornings that went something like this). But now, now she needed to be Major Baird and to try to sound a little bit like someone who actually deserved and had earned that rank.

That they had a fight about it was not surprising, nor was the fact that she left for her meetings feeling slightly ill and nervous, and not just because of the relatively new insignia on her dress uniform. They had a lot more mornings like that, until he finally decided he was tired of being hurt by her anger (her feelings on the matter being "irrational" and therefore irrelevant).

It was probably not an enormous surprise that under the influence of a magical object that brought out her worst inclinations, she'd gone straight for punching.)

 

She tried to keep reminding herself, in terms of whether people's actions with the Apple represented their true nature, that Cassandra had nearly blown up Italy. It kind of helped.

(On the other hand how well did they really know Cassandra? Maybe she actually was an evil psychopathic genius just biding her time until she could destroy the world.)

(Probably not. But still.)

She was barely, barely willing to be charmed by Flynn's apology afterward. He seemed sincere, but lots of people had seemed sincere to her before. But that he was willing to give up searching for the Library - if she wanted him to - to keep her around . . .

Well. That was different. For someone to be willing to give up anything at all for her was pretty different (not that she'd ever been willing to give up much, either, certainly not anything relating to her career, and so, being fair-minded, she didn't expect much - but it was still startling, and disarming).

And then his face. Good lord, his face, in that split second before she'd realized he was going to kiss her. No one had ever looked at her like that, like . . .

Time slowed so that even though she was surprised, she still had time to close her eyes and was already parting her lips for him when he made contact. It was a fairly incredible kiss. Incredible enough to maybe count it as their first, the memory of the previous one fading as her stomach dropped and she forgot to breathe. It was still stupid, completely stupid, to be this flustered by a kiss, to be using what was left of her brain to memorize the delicate touch of his hand on the back of her neck, to think this meant he really would come back and this time it really would be different and everything would work out the way she wanted it to . . .

Stupid. But if she was going to take a chance on anyone, it had probably better be someone who looked at her as if she might be his entire universe.

 

***

Even without stellar people-reading skills, he'd eventually worked out that she was kind of peeved at him. He even (probably) worked out (guessed) why. He had promised - sort of - to the extent he'd said anything coherent at the time at all - to stay in contact, which he definitely hadn't done. And then there was the barging in and taking over thing (which just came naturally when he wasn't even used to having anyone to barge in on), and the fact that he probably could have saved them all some trouble with the conclave if he'd taken an extra second to explain to her what was going on and why he was in such a rush.

Or told any of the others not to answer the door. Or told them anything at all.

He'd work on that.

He was pretty sure she wasn't peeved anymore by the time he left. Or at least, she didn't seem to be before he kissed her. It wasn't entirely accidental that he'd left before he could find out if the kiss peeved her.

Probably not? She'd seemed . . . fairly soft toward him. Tender, even. But also committed and professional. And telling him to leave, even though she didn't want him to -

Except, she'd never actually said she didn't want him to leave, had she? Maybe, maybe there'd been some regret in her voice, but . . . yeah. She hadn't said anything of the kind.

Anyway. He'd resolved to try harder to keep his promises, avoid pissing her off, and act a little bit more like a partner. Of course seeing as he was still roaming the globe following obscure magical clues that might help him get the Library back, he really didn't know how to do this other than texting her after all.

Other than urgent questions (Judson), pictures of his receipts (Charlene), and, before his mother's death, the occasional I'll be home on Sunday no please don't invite your bridge partner's daughter's hairdresser for dinner, he hadn't really done a lot of texting. The last time he'd had an actual kind of partner, they'd barely even had texting. You had to hit every button three or four times to get the right letter, it took ages and even then he usually sent complete nonsense whenever he tried.

What did normal people even text about? Well, he'd try his best.

I'm in Romania

That was good. He was sharing about his status, his daily activities, what he was doing. That was what people did.

are you okay? do you need help?

Okay, so if one were going to get technical about it, he had not actually shared his status, his daily activities, or what he was doing. Just his location.

no, fine. just
sharing

oh
okay

This was going really well.

After a moment she added:
thanks?
we're in Indiana

He managed, just barely, not to send something back about cars or the Gipper or anything else stupid.

It wasn't a bad mantra, though. Status. Daily activities. What am I doing right now. He could get better at this.

Latvia today
talking to priests
I do not speak Latvian
Est. chance of finding Library today one in sixty billion

spent most of my day as a ghost

What?

what???
you're okay though right?

pretty sure I couldn't be texting otherwise
may have been some kind of phase dimension thing
Cassandra keeps trying to explain
did not see Library there, fwiw

The first time she texted him unprompted, it was to say everything w Library maybe getting more complicated
or just weirder
Morgan Le Fay involved?

That was news.

He texted back involved w Serpent Brotherhood?

don't know - don't think so
we need to talk to Jenkins
he knows her somehow and I don't know what their story is
the history I mean
either way

Indeed.

He kind of forgot what she'd said about Jenkins though, because there was a trip to Istanbul and a brainstorm and a rush to Egypt and mummies and curses and then the portal and Dulaque and Lamia, and confusion and then suddenly the Loom of Fate helping him reweave itself and Eve bleeding on the ground, and Jenkins fighting with a British guy in Crusader armor but he wasn't really paying attention. And anyway, Judson could use a sword, too. So could Charlene. So that didn't necessarily mean anything was funny about Jenkins. Of course Judson wasn't exactly a normal human being, but he'd always been pretty sure Charlene was.

Charlene - a regular, not-indestructible, not-magical, human being - was his first real thought in the moments after Eve was saved. His brain was awash in adrenaline, the Library spread out before him like an extremely realistic mirage. He hadn't paid it any attention on his frantic run through the shelves, hadn't had time to let it sink in, not while he was rushing to save Eve's life. But now there it was, and he was overpowered by it. But it seemed empty, and Judson had said Charlene . . .

"Charlene," he said out loud.

Eve's hand tightened on his. He turned to look - she was white, and still leaning a bit on Stone, but her eyes were alert. "Did you see her?"

He shook his head. "She - Judson said she was tough, but . . ."

"You should look for her." At his hesitation, Eve pressed his hand again. "Go ahead, we'll go back and brief Jenkins."

"You're -"

Stone interrupted. "We got her, man, it's okay. Go."

Eve shot Stone a look which, more than anything, told Flynn she was going to be fine.

"I'll -" he stammered, "I'm just going to check the office . . ."

Flynn started down the center aisle at a calm pace, although his pulse was racing. As soon as he had turned the corner out of sight he began to run. Not that it would help anything - it had been months, and if Charlene had been hurt or weakened all this time, another minute wouldn't . . .

"Flynn!"

Barely a step into the office, he skidded to a stop at the sight of her beaming face. She looked thinner, and older; there was a brace on one arm and a strip of tape around the nosepiece of her glasses that made her look like an elderly Harry Potter. But she was alive, and in the flesh.

She spread her hands, her smile proud. "We knew you'd do it."

"I -" There were twenty things he needed to say at once and he couldn't find any of them. He leaned heavily against a shelf. "We?"

"Oh." Her slow wince wrinkled her eyes. "No. He's - he finally . . ."

Flynn had known, but it still stung. "He left you alone this whole time?"

"Time doesn't really work the same when the Library is unanchored," Charlene said. "How long has it been?"

"Months," Flynn replied faintly. His chest was beginning to feel the way it did after a long and arduous swim. "It's been - it - it took - I was -"

"You're a good boy, Flynn," she said, from a great distance. His ears were ringing.

"I didn't . . ." It was an accident. I thought I figured it out but I didn't. It was all Dulaque and he nearly destroyed everything. I nearly let him. "He was leading us, I thought we were going to find the Library but it was the River of Time, and everything came unraveled and Eve - Colonel Baird - she was stabbed, she was dying . . ." His hand pressed to his heart as if to demonstrate, but really it was to hold his breath in his body, because he couldn't get any air. His chest was tight and the back of his throat screamed for breath, but even though he was breathing in and out as hard as he could, nothing was happening . . . Charlene's startled face faded; this was what it was like to die of a heart attack, he was sure. He dropped onto the bench at the end of the shelf, vision going blurry.

"Colonel Baird!"

He barely registered Charlene's exclamation, or the tone of relief. He did register the shift of weight on the bench, Eve's knees in his field of vision as she sat down next to him.

"I think he's having a panic attack," Charlene said from miles away.

Eve's hand was warm on his back. "Can't breathe," he gasped.

"Yes, you can," Eve said calmly. "You are breathing. You couldn't talk if you weren't."

"You look remarkably uninjured for someone who was dying," Charlene said.

"Yeah - um. Magic," Eve replied. Her hand rubbed gentle circles on Flynn's back. "Charlene's right," she said. "You are having a panic attack. I promise you're not dying."

"He was fine," Charlene said, "and then . . ."

"He was really worried about you," Eve told her.

He didn't think that was it somehow, it was . . . it was everything.

"You really are a good boy," Charlene said.

Eve leaned in close. "Don't think about breathing," she said softly.

"I'll stop if I don't think about it," he worried irrationally, but it seemed like a real concern.

"You won't," Eve promised. "Even if I knocked you unconscious, you'd keep breathing."

That sounded just a little bit like a threat. He tried to stop thinking about breathing and took a deep breath, which immediately defeated the purpose.

"Recite the Hebrew alphabet," Eve suggested.

Obediently he gasped, "Aleph, bet, gimmel -"

"Silently."

Right. Talking was air. Dalet, hey, vav, zayin . . .

"Backwards, if you're finished."

He was, nearly, but he started back in from the end. He could feel the weight of her head touching, but not quite resting against, his shoulder. By the time he got to aleph again, he realized that the iron bands across his chest had disappeared without him noticing.

Eve still had one hand on his back, and the other was resting on his leg. He covered it with both of his own hands. "Sorry," he said.

"You're okay," she said. She slid her hand up so that her arm was around his shoulders, and briefly pressed her cheek into the shoulder nearest her.

"You two seem to have resolved your differences," Charlene said.

They both looked up at her. Her worried face belied her dry tone.

"We're in Portland," Flynn said, apropos of nothing.

Charlene brightened. "Jenkins?"

"We're anchored to his Annex," Eve said. "He's out there with the others."

"The others? You kept them?" Charlene asked, as if the LITs were stray kittens. Her nose wrinkled. "Even Ezekiel Jones?"

"He hasn't stolen anything," Eve said. ". . . that we've noticed."

Charlene was now vibrating with excitement, clearly torn between keeping an eye on Flynn and rushing off to see Jenkins. Or to make sure the others hadn't destroyed anything. "I'm just - if you're all right, I'm going to -"

"Go ahead," Flynn said, his voice hoarse. "We'll meet you out in the Annex."

She went.

Flynn turned to Eve, still taking deep chest breaths as if surprised he could. "This day," he said.

"Yeah," she replied emphatically.

Immediately he felt terrible. She was the one who'd actually been dying not that long ago; he should have been comforting and reassuring her, not the other way around. "You know - I don't really even know what happened. We were by the River, and Dulaque cut the Loom - and then I was at the Loom all of a sudden, weaving it, and who was -"

"It was him," she said. "Dulaque - Lancelot du Lac. As he was, I guess, when Camelot was . . . you know."

"But something happened in between? Didn't it?"

She nodded, breathing out slowly. "When he cut the thread - we were in a forest, all of a sudden, but you weren't . . . you. You didn't know who I was, and you weren't the Librarian. Stone was - he saved us from these - I don't know, some kind of Russian militants. It was a different timeline, like a different possibility - and then we jumped again, there was a timeline where Jones was the Librarian, and one where Cassandra was." Tiredly she rubbed his thigh. "Can I tell you the rest later?"

If she could pay attention, so could he. And right now he was seeing that she was still pale, that her voice wasn't strong. "Of course," he said automatically. While he was studying her face, their eyes locked and he felt a tension in the air that hadn't been there before. He reached out and gently brushed her cheek with the back of his hand, making her smile, before taking the plunge and pulling her into a hug.

It was a bit awkward with them sitting side by side, but she wrapped her arms around him in return and her chin rested naturally on his shoulder. "I had died in all of them," she said very quietly.

He lifted his hand to the back of her neck, slipping under her ponytail to rest against her skin. "What?"

"In the other timelines. Where the others were the Librarian - they all said I had died." She shifted a bit against him, readjusting her head on his shoulder. "I had been their Guardian - for years - and I had been killed."

"That's why you said that, about dying in every timeline. I thought you were delirious."

"That too, probably."

She'd had an unbelievable day, and she sounded exhausted (not to mention the way she was leaning against him). He tried to think what he would want if it were him - probably not to be ignored while his partner (partner. he had a partner.) ran off celebrating the return of the Library and then had a panic attack and needed to be coddled out of it.

He thought he could probably, if he tried very hard, suck less at this. In a corner of his mind he noticed her fingers twisting a little in the hem of his shirt, which had come untucked in all the commotion - she was rubbing the fabric between her fingers in a way that seemed unconscious. He read it as need; comfort-seeking.

"Hey," he said, sitting back from her a little so that he could look at her, but with his hand still on the back of her neck. "We should get out of here, get everybody home to rest. It's late."

Her eyebrows lifted. "You just found the Library, and you want to leave?"

Not really. "It'll be here tomorrow." He screwed up his courage and added, "Would you like company tonight? I mean - if you don't want to be alone . . ."

There was something in her face - a tiny microexpression change. It didn't look positive.

"Just - just company," he added hastily. "Not . . ." He studied her, watching the lines around her eyes slowly relax.

"Okay," she said softly.

"Okay?" he checked.

She nodded. "Yeah. Okay. Thanks."

He let his hand drop from her neck, gently grasped her upper arms for a moment. "Okay. Let's go?"

He really hadn't intended anything other than to offer his presence, so she wouldn't have to be alone at her place after her harrowing day. But the ball was in her court now. Things had changed since London - he no longer felt he'd be powerless to say no. He was more used to her now. He did think, though, that if she wanted more comfort than just his presence tonight, turning her down might break something irreparable between them.

He lagged behind her, watching her get up and walk out of the office unselfconsciously. She was taking him home with her, but she seemed completely unaware that she might have any effect . . . Something important slotted into place in his mind, as she turned back to make sure he was coming. She'd had no intention of seducing him in London, and she had no intention of seducing him now or, probably, ever. Wasn't her style. She'd sleep with him maybe - he caught up with her and cautiously took her hand, and her fingers entwined with his and he amended, she'd probably sleep with him sooner or later - but it wouldn't be a seduction on her part.

He could live with that.

 

***

They stabbed her, but they stabbed him, too. Them. Him - Stone first. They stabbed her and she felt the pain of it but she didn't die; she couldn't move, but she didn't die. She had to watch, sobbing in the desperate way that people only cry when what is happening is the worst they can imagine and completely irreparable. Even though crying made the pain worse and strained her breathing. She watched while all of them died, felt herself stabbed more than once, each time, but never dying, never losing consciousness, always watching and crying harder and harder.

It was the kind of dream where she woke so hard that she was sitting bolt upright by the time her eyes opened. Her eyes were dry in the real world but her throat ached and her stomach still felt contracted by phantom, uncontrolled sobs.

She'd woken Flynn with her abrupt movement - by the time her eyes started to focus in the dark his hand was on her back, warm and reassuring. She leaned into his touch and breathed carefully.

He was struggling to sit up without moving his hand from her. "Eve," he mumbled, still half asleep. "Are you - what -"

"Dream," she said shortly, her tongue thick. "Sorry."

"Oh." He still sounded sleep-confused. As he made it into a sitting position he put his arm around her shoulders. She wanted to lean into him, but the aftershocks of her dream had her curled over on herself, staring into her lap. "You want to tell me about it?" he murmured.

She gritted her teeth. Definitely not. "No."

"Okay." He was flailing for what to do, his hand moving to her shoulder, her hair, back to her upper arm, pulling himself against her side. He was trying so hard. "Do you - need to -" He coughed, and it seemed to finish waking him up. "Do you want to get up for a while, or watch some bad TV, or . . ." His hand was rubbing the back of her neck now, the way he had when they'd been wrapped around each other in the office.

"No," she said. "No, it's - it's okay."

He was shifting around, sliding back down in the bed; she didn't quite understand until he tugged her down with him and settled her against his side. "Sorry," she said again, as she let him arrange her.

"S'what I'm here for." He stilled, apparently satisfied with their position.

She was, too.

 

(They'd had dinner first, casual, in an atmosphere of forced normalcy. The only allusion to the events of the day had been Flynn asking her what she "usually" did.

"I mean," he'd said, "it can't be the first time you . . ."

"No," she'd said. Turkey. Spain. Croatia. "It's not. Though, you know, usually what happens is I narrowly escape fatal injury. Not that I get fatally injured and then saved by magic."

"So normally . . ."

She'd shrugged. "Normally, nothing. I'd usually be alone, and - except for one time when I was in the hospital, then I had a roommate but it wasn't exactly for company."

"You ended up in the hospital?"

He looked stricken, too sweetly so, at this thing that had happened almost six years ago. Almost as stricken as the young soldiers on her team had been - after they found the bomb, not in time to prevent it going off, but just in time to be in the blast zone when it did - when they'd turned and seen the shard of shrapnel protruding from her abdomen.

"It wasn't a big deal," she'd told Flynn.

She'd kept telling them it didn't really hurt, all the way to the hospital. They'd thought she was in shock. No way to know how deep the wound went; too risky to try to remove the shrapnel before they got to the hospital. At some point someone had put a waiver in front of her and she'd signed a paper that said she understood they might have to remove an ovary or a kidney or something. When the doctor finally started prodding around and the piece of metal proved to be embedded exactly one inch into her abdomen, she'd laughed so hard that the sluggish bleeding had started up again. They'd only kept her overnight so they could load her up with IV antibiotics.

It didn't really compare to being run through the chest.

But she and Flynn had avoided that topic, even once they got back to her apartment and things got a little . . . not weird. Not confusing, exactly. Tense? A little too real?

The awkward issue had been dealt with by his hesitant question, "Do you want . . . me . . . to . . ." with a gesture of his hand toward the bedroom. She'd remembered his fingers sliding between hers in the Library, and shivered as she nodded. A second later she'd snapped out of it and realized she'd let her hormones answer for her, when in fact he was just asking if she wanted his company close by rather than out in the living room. Because she'd almost died and might have been traumatized. Not because they were mature, consenting adults and this was their first real opportunity to spend the night in the same place.

She'd tried to remind herself that she had, in fact, almost died, and that although Flynn's presence and his closeness earlier were clouding the issue, it was probably going to come back to bite her later. That she really, really shouldn't let sex get mixed up in this right now. That whatever her racing pulse thought it wanted, her head did not want to screw up something potentially good by getting carried away too fast.

It got a lot tougher, though, as they got ready for bed, and . . . she'd spent nearly twenty years in the military, more if you counted ROTC; she was used to muscles and bare chests and impressively developed physiques, and it never had much of an impact on her. She'd never have predicted that seeing Flynn out of his usual the-senior-senator-from-Kentucky getup for the first time since London would hit her the way it did.

(And oh, that bathrobe and his shy, blushing face; so shy she'd wondered if touching him might kill him)

He looked kind of surprisingly incredible in a thin t-shirt. Of course he did, she'd seen him fence with a crowbar and spar with Excalibur. She'd obviously known he must be strong; she'd just somehow been fooled by the camouflage of his suits. And in London she'd been too shy herself, too conscious that she might be doing something inappropriate, so she'd kept her eyes firmly fixed on where his wound should be and ignored everything else.

If he'd noticed her spending about a full minute staring now, he hadn't let on.

(It's because it's him, she'd decided. She was drawn to him - very, unbelievably so on such a short acquaintance - and his body affected her so much because it was his. That's all.)

After another slightly awkward interlude, they'd finally settled side-by-side, arms touching and not much else. As she'd adjusted the covers over her shoulders, she'd felt his little finger lightly, deliberately brush her hand.)

 

The fear and desperate grief of her dream were fading slowly as she let him wrap himself around her, but she was still so keyed up that the softness of his shirt against her cheek almost made her cry. A very small, low noise from his throat called her attention to the fact that she was absently rubbing her hand over his chest to comfort herself. She bit her lip against apologizing again, figuring it would embarrass them both, and instead just stopped her movement and pretended she hadn't noticed anything.

Luckily, he seemed too sleepy to really care what was going on. He mumbled something into her hair that was basically unintelligible but sounded an awful lot like something something "honey" and then was apparently asleep.

The next thing she knew, she was jolting awake again, this time at the feeling of being held much, much too tightly. His arm around her was a vise; the other hand had come up to take a painful grip on her arm, keeping it immobile across his body.

She had gone immediately stiff and alert, the adrenaline rushing through her body sending danger alarms ringing in her ears. She held her breath, waiting for him to do whatever he was going to do.

Which was nothing, unless she counted the sudden shallowness of his breathing. Two choices, always - to push the panic back down under the surface, or to give in to it and defend herself. He wasn't doing this on purpose, she realized as she tried to breathe away the adrenaline. He was asleep - dreaming. His turn for nightmares, apparently.

She tried to relax in his grip, and went back to rubbing her hand over his chest, as well as she could with his hand clamped on her arm. It seemed as if maybe his hold had loosened a bit. "Flynn," she said softly, not really trying to wake him up. She pushed herself up to look at him - fighting the urge to lash out when she found her movement restricted - and continued the gentle motion of her fingers. "It's okay, everyone's safe . . ." Let go, her brain chanted, panic edging back in. "I'm not going anywhere, can you - let go a little, it's okay."

His arms relaxed as his breathing started to slow and even out. Her relief that this was working was about ninety percent because she knew how close she'd been to flinging him off her (and quite possibly off the bed). Instead she laid her head against his shoulder and tried to match her breathing to his. It's Flynn, she told herself sternly. Not dangerous, and not trying to do anything to you. Just Flynn. She pictured him holding her back in the Library office, how his arms had been comforting then and his smell familiar and relaxing. Having soothed him she finally managed to do the same for herself, and to fall asleep again.

Chapter Text

When Flynn decided, on the second full day after getting the Library back, to ask Eve on a real date, it wasn't (as she probably believed) because they were finally alone, having lovingly tossed the little birds out of the nest. It was because he'd woken up alone that morning, and he didn't like it.

It was possible, after seven years of singleness, that she'd broken him in one night. Or rather, one morning. One morning of waking up warm all over, with his hand accidentally rucking her shirt up a few inches and her fingers wrapped around his wrist and a faint, vaguely floral scent in his nose. He found himself missing that - missing her, the physical presence of her - so hard that his throat ached.

So - much as he had almost literally never asked a woman on a date before - he was really willing to take any measures necessary to ensure that he ended up back in her bed, soon.

Which sounded wrong. He didn't even want to put it that way in his head. Not that sex with her would be a bad thing or anything, but he really wasn't focused on that at the moment.

He was extremely grateful that she accepted (not to mention that she'd accepted while forestalling the rest of his undoubtedly painful and humiliating invitation). There had been something vulnerable about her when they'd woken up together, something unhidden and real and a little wary, and he honestly hadn't been sure whether that meant she was more or less likely to want to pursue something with him.

Of course, since it was them and he was him and the Library was the Library, what they actually ended up pursuing was a megalomaniacal revival tent preacher with a Native American artifact that let him control lightning.

(Eve maintained this qualified as an evil cult. Flynn disagreed.)

"He cured me!" the first witness insisted, trembling beneath her enormous church hat. "I had sin and he cured me!"

Flynn and Eve barely managed to refrain from exchanging looks, and Eve repeated, "You . . . had . . . sin? And he cured you?"

"Well I've always had Jesus but you know I had the devil in me?" The woman mimed raising a bottle to her mouth and throwing a few back. "And he healed me with the lightning!"

"I see," Eve said slowly.

Flynn bent his head to whisper urgently. "If she really means - electroshock therapy has been used for years to treat addiction and other - what does she mean, exactly, by lightning?"

"What do -" Eve started to ask the woman; then she broke off and smacked Flynn's arm. "What am I, your interpreter?"

"When you say lightning," he began.

"I mean, lightning! He's got the Spirit in that stick of his, and he called down the lightning and now I'm sober as a judge!"

Eve's hand was on his wrist as the woman gleefully recounted the moment of her healing. "I don't want to be offensive," Eve muttered under the effusions of joy, "but if she talks about the magic stick one more time I'm not going to make it."

They finally left the woman happily telling a passer-by about Ephesians 5, and wandered toward the site where only trampled-down grass and holes from the tent poles marked the previous night's meeting. That, and a spot of singed-black ground six feet in circumference.

Eve bent and gingerly brushed her hand over the burnt grass. "So you think he accidentally healed her, just because she happened to have a problem that can sometimes be helped by electric shock?"

He shrugged. "There's no known artifact that heals that way. Most healing magic doesn't really go the 'shock and awe' route."

"So what does it do." It wasn't a question. Still squatting, she turned her hand over and studied the smudges of ash on it.

"For what it's worth, I'm ninety-nine percent sure that Jesus did not heal people by shocking them with lightning."

"Yeah, they wouldn't have left that out. It really would have jazzed up the Gospels." She stood up, came closer and held out her hand, in which he could now see a small oddly shaped object.

Completely out of professional curiosity, he cupped his hand under hers in order to lift hers closer to his face. "Is that -"

"I think it's melted safety pins." She jiggled her hand a little, tendons rippling against his palm, and made the object dance. "Looks like our sinner had a few of these in her pocket when she got zapped."

"So something happened."

"Something about this is bothering me." She slipped the small lump of twisted metal into a pocket. "It's - familiar."

"Familiar how?"

She shook her head, frowning off into the distance. "I don't know."

"Well, that's okay." He raised a hand, almost touched her back, didn't. "Is that kid waving at us?"

The kid was waving at them. He was about thirteen or fourteen, skinny, with dark hair worn long and swamped by a huge football jersey so faded that it could have been his grandfather's. The hem bounced as he jogged across the open field toward them. "Are you guys from the FBI?" he asked breathlessly.

Flynn shot a glance at Eve, who had instantly gone Federal - face purposefully blank, stance commanding. "Sort of," she said. "You know anything you should be telling the FBI?"

"You mean like about the lightning guy?"

Eve only raised a stern eyebrow.

"I know where he got the stick the lightning comes out of."

Eve actually almost had a facial expression. "Show us," she said after blinking for a second.

"How do you know where he got it?" Flynn asked as the two of them followed the kid across the field toward the tree line.

"There's this place. Everybody knows about it. You find, like, arrowheads and stuff. Everybody goes there on a class trip in third grade when you're doing Indians before the Pilgrims came, but lots of people go just to look for stuff." As if by reflex, the kid paused to pick up a large stick off the ground and used it as a careless walking stick. "It's not owned by anybody. It's just, like, a spot. Anyway my friend was there a couple days ago and he said this strange guy was digging around, like looking for arrowheads and whatever, but then he found this thing and he started digging real deep and he pulled this whole big stick out. And it made noise when he shook it and it glowed."

"Then what?" Eve prompted.

The kid shrugged. "Then he took off. The guy. Not my friend."

"So why didn't your friend tell anybody about this but you?" she asked.

The kid's eyes slid sideways. "He might have had some pot. Or something. You know, out there."

"Ah."

"I don't mean it was really me," the kid added, throwing her a surprisingly intelligent look. "It was seriously my friend. I can tell you who if you want. Pot smell makes me throw up."

Eve looked as though she wanted to laugh. "So why haven't you told anyone before us?"

They were into the trees now, on a cool path bending downhill. The kid waved a hand at them. "You're, like, Mulder and Scully. I figured someone like you guys would come. The regular cops wouldn't believe me."

Eve leaned close to Flynn as they walked, their stumbling downhill gait making their shoulders brush. "You know, during finals week in college we all used to stay up watching X-Files instead of finishing our papers," she murmured. "Am I being punished for that now?"

"Probably."

The kid seemed to be telling the truth, although in the end they didn't get much out of the deep, narrow hole in the ground that he showed them. Other than the fact that, yes, it did look as if it had contained a long stick, and it was surrounded, if you looked hard enough, by very small bits of Native American artifacts. Skimming his fingers over the ground and eventually digging them into the softened earth from which the stick had been pulled, Flynn assembled a small collection of objects - a tiny bead, a piece of a flat stone with a faded symbol carved into it, and something that looked like unrefined gold. "C'mere," he said. "What's your name?"

"Jackson." The kid stepped moderately closer.

Flynn held out his hand and pointed to the gold object. "Know what that is?"

"No."

"It's called fulgurite." He rolled the objects in his hand to show a different angle on the gold piece. "It's what sometimes happens when lightning strikes sediment. And this -" he pointed with his thumb to the carved rock "- some of it is worn off or broken, but these carvings refer to weather - rituals to manipulate the weather."

"Like a rain dance?" The kid - Jackson - gave him a skeptical look. "That's a stereotype."

Flynn almost snorted. "Yes, it is. And that's not exactly what I mean."

"So does that mean you know what the stick is?"

"Yeah. I think so." Still squatting on the ground, he looked up at Eve.

She nodded. "You know where the lightning guy is now by any chance?"

"I think he's staying at the motel on 327," the kid replied. "Are you going to stop him?"

Flynn slipped the little collection of objects into a pocket and rose, with effort, to his feet, trying to brush most of the dirt off his hands. "If I'm right about what that stick is," he said, "it was meant for use by a skilled member of the tribe, who knew how to control the elements for the common good. It was never supposed to be used on people."

"So definitely not for zapping them." The kid was leading them back out to the field, walking stick still plunking the ground ahead of him.

"Definitely not. And not for getting paid."

"This is still really bugging me," Eve said from behind Flynn. "Why it's familiar - but also, how did he figure out what the stick did?"

Flynn shrugged. "Jackson's friend said it glowed when the guy picked it up. I assume he wasn't just really high at the time?"

The kid shook his head. "No. He doesn't do that much at once."

"So maybe he just got lucky," Flynn finished. "And something activated when he touched it. Maybe anyone could use it, and the other members of the tribe knew not to, unless they knew how to control it properly." They'd reached the field again. He turned to the kid. "Thanks for your help."

"Do you need to write anything down, or anything?" the kid asked. "Like, evidence?"

"We don't really work that way," Eve said, which apparently was just the right amount of creepy-unmarked-helicopters atmosphere, because the kid grinned like it was Christmas.

As they were going their separate ways, Eve turned around and called, "Oh. And don't take strange adults into the woods by yourself."

The kid's eyes rolled upward as if he were considering the point. "Oh. Yeah."

She turned away, but then stopped and said, "And definitely ask to see a badge."

"Can I see yours?"

After a moment's hesitation she pulled it out of her pocket and opened it for him.

"What's NATO?" He pronounced it "natto".

Eve smiled and put her credentials away. "Google it."

"What are they teaching kids in schools these days?" Flynn muttered.

The lightning guy folded almost the second he saw them. Well. The second he saw Eve, who had pulled sunglasses from somewhere and was standing with her hand clearly resting on her gun when he opened his motel room door. It turned out to be the perfect play, especially when she elbowed her way into his room. The guy looked like he was going to pass out.

"I'm helping people!" he protested without them saying a word. "Everybody wants a chance to ride the lightning. It's not my -"

Flynn frowned. "Doesn't that usually refer to dying in the electric chair?"

"No."

"Yes, it does." Eve pulled off her sunglasses and stared at the guy. "I'm pretty sure I read it in a Stephen King. I'm guessing you did, too."

"Did not." Shoulders bent over in a defensive posture, the guy picked up the stick that had been lying on a table wrapped in the motel bedspread. Immediately, carved symbols along its sides began to give off a faint bluish glow.

Eve snapped her fingers. "That's it! That's what was bothering me." She turned to Flynn, apparently ignoring the lightning guy completely. "This whole thing is from a Stephen King book. The crazy lightning healing, everything." She turned back to the huddled suspect, her movement so big that he didn't notice how it carried her closer to him, sideways, and a little bit behind. Flynn only noticed because he was watching her very carefully. "So what," she asked, "you found this thing, realized it could make lightning, and you thought, 'hey, it worked out pretty good in that book I just read?'"

"No," the guy said in a sullen tone that clearly meant "yes".

"Um, did you read the whole thing though?" Eve was nearly behind the guy now, her tone dripping with concern. "Because, the guy that was electrocuting people and doing the tent revivals and everything, uh." She directed the next remark to Flynn in a stage whisper from over the guy's left shoulder. "Did not end well."

"You don't know -" the guy started, twisting to look over his left shoulder, but as soon as he moved Eve was off his right side, smacking upward hard on the stick, which flipped loose from his slack grip. Flynn darted forward before the guy could react and pulled it from his other hand.

"Give that -" But the guy didn't finish this sentence, either. Eve had both of his elbows firmly in her grip, pulling his arms behind him.

"How did you know to look for that stick?" she asked.

"I didn't. I just found it!"

"You dug a six-foot hole just cause?"

"I found the top and it was cool, so I dug it out." He was whining now. "I found it, you're allowed to take stuff from there."

"But you're not from here, you're staying at a motel."

Flynn sat down calmly in a chair near the door, stick across his knees. Eve seemed to have this under control.

"I was supposed to be going to a job interview!"

Eve looked to Flynn. "Anything else you want to know?"

"Not really," he said cheerfully.

"I'd look for a job in another town," Eve advised as she released the guy and let him sink onto the bed.

Once they were outside, hiking to the back door with the stick in Flynn's hands, safely wrapped (at least where he was holding it) in his jacket, Eve said, "So that was kind of anticlimactic."

It was one of those times when his mouth worked faster than his brain. "Okay, I'm making a mental note to make sure our next date does not end with you saying that."

Fortunately, Eve laughed. "You think I'm a second-date girl, Flynn Carsen?" When he said nothing - because his brain had shorted out - she grinned at him and said, "Sure of yourself, aren't you."

Well. In for a penny. He tossed her a smile that he hoped was endearing and said, "If I were that sure of myself, I wouldn't need the mental note."

She laughed again.

"Out of curiosity," he said, "what were you expecting?"

"Well, a little lightning anyway. And maybe an adversary who actually - tried."

"He was a bit of a let-down."

"I thought you were going to have to use the lightning stick as a defibrillator by the end." She shrugged. "Oh, well. Always next time."

 

"Next time" was after they had a terribly awkward conversation about unicorns, but luckily the case was absorbing enough that Eve didn't seem to be thinking about his former status as the thirty-year-old virgin. It ended with a pursuit through an overgrown forest (this one, thankfully, sans magical Native artifacts) in the dimming light of a warm evening, a vanishing magician, and the spectacular sight of hundreds of some type of animal spirit that he'd been keeping captive returning to the ether.

"What just happened?" Eve asked quietly when the last swirling light had faded and the two of them were left alone on a hilltop overlook, somewhat the worse for wear from their dash through the underbrush.

"I have no idea," Flynn replied. "But whatever spell he was maintaining here is broken, at least. I'm sure he'll turn up again."

He made the mistake of looking at her, and his mouth went a little dry. She was wearing a shirt that sort of crossed in the front, and it had fallen a bit loose while they were running, and he was looking into the shadowed valley between her breasts. And he was pretty sure she'd caught him looking. Before he could apologize awkwardly, however, he saw a long, thin line disappearing into that shadow and reached to touch without thinking. "You got scratched."

She followed his gaze down. "Yeah. It's amazing we're not both covered in them, all those . . . branches." The distracted pause was small, but he heard it. He braved a quick, darted look at her face and saw that her expression was fond. When she put her hand over his wrist, it was to hold his hand in place with the barest pressure, not to move it away.

He stroked his fingertips innocently up and down a few times - after all, he was touching between her breasts, it was perfectly fine - and then his knuckles bumped into the line of her bra and one or two fingertips had definitely slid inside it and were accidentally caressing the underside of her left breast, and it was a little bit less innocent. He drew his fingers back up, pausing for a moment at the hollow of her throat, before pulling his hand away.

He cleared his throat, then looked up and noticed the full moon rising behind her. He nodded his chin at it, and gave her a gentle prod on the hip. "Look."

She turned and stepped back so that she was at his side. "Wow."

"It's close."

"It's not lightning, but - pretty good." She looked sideways at him, smiling, then slowly sank down and settled herself on the grass. She didn't so much look back up at him as tilt her head and wait.

He settled next to her so that their shoulders were touching, and gave it another moment before he reached for her hand.

"Just so you know," she said, smiling down at their intertwined fingers in his lap, "I'm not giving you credit for the moonrise on the scenic overlook. There's no way you could have known we'd end up here."

"Definitely not. But," he added, transferring her hand to his far one, and shifting to wrap the nearer arm around her shoulders instead, "fate obviously planned it this way, and I'm taking credit for fate liking me."

"Thought you didn't believe in fate."

"Oh, I only believe in it when it's good."

He really liked her laugh.

"What if it's me fate likes?" she asked, leaning against him.

"Eve," he said seriously, "if you see - this - as fate being good to you, then it's obviously being pretty good to me, too."

Her hand tightened on his, and then she was twisting sideways, one of her bent knees resting over his thigh and her free hand reaching for the side of his face. The movement made his hand slide down her back, but he lifted it quickly to support the back of her head as he leaned forward to kiss her before she could kiss him. Or change her mind.

He'd mostly intended for it to be a gentle, fairly chaste kiss and, well, the first one sort of was. And the second, really. And almost the third, until the part where her lower lip ended up between his teeth and her quick inhalation seemed to take the air from his lungs, and the hand he was holding pressed down so hard that he felt the scratch of her fingernails even through his pant leg. Then he was suddenly performing feats of flexibility of which he wouldn't have believed himself capable, parting from her long enough to swing his bent knee around her and put his foot flat on the ground, pulling her back in so that her side was against the inside of his knee and she was kneeling between his thighs. After that it was their own personal lightning storm - hard and fast kisses eventually giving way to slower, deeper ones; his hands reaching up to tangle in her hair, her nails scratching at the nape of his neck. At some point he stretched his leg out and kind of pulled at her hips a little, and then her knees were straddling his lap and he could finally pull her chest flush against his and they both gasped.

After that - some time after that - they broke apart and leaned their foreheads together, both breathing heavily. He pulled her down, positioned her where he wanted her so that she was sitting back onto his legs, and said raggedly, "Just so you know . . ."

"Yeah?" she whispered back. Her chest was rising and falling quickly with her breath.

His hands slid up and down her upper arms, her sides, daringly along the sides of her thighs which were parted around his waist. He knew what he needed to say, or at any rate he knew it in abstract images, memories of sharing urgent, passionate kisses with women he liked but hardly knew, the mental picture of the absolute blackout that was him kissing Eve, with only her name echoing in his mind. He swallowed a few times, trying to find words for that. "That was," he started slowly, hands stilling on her upper arms, "Us. About us. Specifically, I mean, for me, not just about being . . ." He waved one hand instead of finishing, because the only word he could think of was horny and it didn't seem to belong to this moment. Not that he wasn't. He gripped her arms and tried again. "I mean the reason it was so - for me, that was about you. Being with you."

He must have somehow miraculously gotten his point across, because she leaned in to kiss him again - softly this time, both hands framing his face - and then said quietly, "Yeah. Me too."

"Okay." He took one of her hands and kissed it, letting his eyes drift closed as he pressed her hand against his cheek. "Good."

 

That particular point didn't come up again for a while, not explicitly. Not until time had passed and inevitability had taken its course and they'd slept together in a way that had nothing to do with nightmares, and he'd fallen asleep happily wrapped up in her. And he woke in the morning with Eve on her side facing away from him, and he smiled and reached out to touch the long, exposed line of her back. And her spine went rigid, muscles flexing and alert.

He didn't know what he'd done other than, maybe, startle her, so he apologized softly as he slid closer, pressing himself to her back and draping an arm over her. She didn't say anything, but she didn't relax.

Starting to panic a little - maybe she was regretting it? though she'd seemed happy afterward - he rested his hand on her forearm and rubbed gently, pressing his lips against her hair. "I'm sorry," he whispered again. "It's okay, go back to sleep. It's fine."

It took what seemed like forever, while his brain raced through possibilities for what could have spooked her, but she did eventually relax against him. His body's instincts might have had it right, because he was extremely conscious of being naked and, without really thinking about it, was being as careful as possible to hold his hips a distance away from her. The embrace was not about satisfying his (undoubtedly present) arousal; something else was clearly going on.

It happened again later in the Library, when he went to put a hand on her back - something he had done a hundred times, and which she seemed to welcome - and for a second her shoulders went up like an angry cat's. His reflex was to apologize, and since he still didn't know what he'd done, he pretended to think he'd startled her again, and they went about their business.

Eve actually seemed to be afraid of something, so he tried to follow that thought to some kind of conclusion. What could she possibly be afraid of after they'd had sex - good sex, mutually good from all appearances and free of any apparent bad feelings at the time - that she wasn't afraid of before? That things would change between them? Definitely not that he hadn't liked it or wouldn't want to do it again; there was no way she could be unclear on how much he wanted to do it again.

Oh. Hmm.

That was something maybe. All those thoughts in combination, and that her specific reaction had begun when he'd touched her in bed the morning after, and he was kind of putting together a picture now which made him both relieved and, in one particular, a bit angry.

He didn't touch her again that day, but he asked her back to his place at the end of it and she did come with him. When they were leaving the Library he took her hand, careful not to imply anything by it but affection and connection, and he thought he saw something loosen in her posture.

In his living room he gave her a gentle kiss, and when he felt her tense instead of responding, he took her hands and said the thing he'd been mentally rehearsing for hours to make sure it would be coherent. "Eve," he said, his nose almost brushing hers. "I don't know if this is what's bothering you, but - just because we slept together once doesn't mean I'm going to insist on it, on demand, from now on. I wouldn't -" There were too many things after all. He broke off to gather his thoughts and raised one hand to her hair. "For one thing I wouldn't treat you that way, and -" there was that little bite of anger "- I'm getting the feeling someone did? But that's not me, that's not -" He swallowed, running his fingers through her hair. This part he'd rehearsed, but it was still hard to get out. "And also, I still - I still want to be close to you in other ways, that's not the only . . ."

She nodded, staring down somewhere around his navel, and it seemed like he wouldn't have to stammer his way to the end after all. "Okay," she said after a moment, then paused to lick her lips. "I - this is kind of mortifying. But I appreciate it. I didn't really realize - I don't think -"

"It's not - there's nothing to be -"

She nodded again, lips pressed into a tight, wry smile. He thought she might be deliberately steadying her breathing. Another few moments went by, and then she looked up at him through her lashes in a way she rarely did and said quietly, "Everyone."

He'd dropped a hand to rest on her thigh, and he rubbed gently with his thumb. "What?"

Looking down again, she nodded to herself and he had the impression she was managing her composure. "You said - you thought someone had -"

"Yeah." He didn't want her to say it.

She was still nodding very slowly, and she repeated, meaningfully, eyebrows lifted, "Everyone."

All he could say was, "Oh."

"I don't think you know -" She placed a hand on his chest, smiling almost for real now. There was still a wry twist to it. "Which says something about you. A lot about you. But anyone I've . . ."

He covered her hand with his and said, "I promise. I said - it's about us. Everything that happens between us is about - us. Not just getting . . . getting . . . my . . ." Idioms both awkward and awful drove all normal words from his mind.

"However you were going to finish that, please don't." Her laugh brightened her face and cleared her eyes. She leaned in to kiss him - slowly, enthusiastically - then pulled away and stood up, inclining her head toward his bedroom.

He stood as well, but his hands grasped her arms and didn't wander. "We don't have to - I mean, it's not like 'this is sorted out now, so let's do it -'"

"That's not what this is about." She kissed him again, her palms flat against his chest, then caressing lower to pull his shirt out of his pants. And now that he was less worried, he was having very vivid memories of the night before, and as long as she was all right - maybe it was even helping her, for her to be in control like this - then he was definitely on board with making that all happen again.

He was careful not to lead her, conscious of not giving the impression of demanding anything of her. Of course she wasn't unobservant, and she surely hadn't forgotten the conversation they'd just had, so eventually her raised eyebrow let him know that she'd caught on. She went with it, though, deliberately closing his fingers over the hem of her shirt when she wanted him to take it off, taking his wrists to bring his hands to her breasts and pressing her own hands over his. She checked in as she was touching him, peeling his clothes off and finding each bit of revealed skin with her hands and mouth, asking over and over, "Yes?" He answered mostly with nods and quiet murmurs, until she reached down into his undone and loosened pants and wrapped her hand around him, to which he responded with a heartfelt, "Yes. Definitely yes."

She smiled, and although they both relaxed the rules a bit after that point, it was still different. Different and interesting. They had gone just as slowly the previous night, so the careful pace and the long whiles of drawn out, savored touching were the same. What was different was - the way he touched her literally everywhere, spending long minutes learning that she liked the light brush of his fingers across her palms and the insides of her wrists and elbows; taking a while just to knead his thumbs into the tight muscles of her calves before he parted her legs. The way she held his gaze as he pushed into her and started to move. The way he was careful to remember to say her name, often, when otherwise he might have just fallen apart in unintelligible moaning.

It couldn't have been more different from times he'd known before, from the quick and frenzied release of first spur-of-the-moment encounters; from women trying their hardest to wreck him; from him and Emily straining against each other in the anonymous blackness of a train at night. It was . . . them.

He was strung out and too close, so he withdrew - ignoring her very small noise of protest - and pressed his fingers into her instead, stroking until her legs started to tremble around him and her breath came in gasps. Then, hoping he'd managed to time it right, he raised himself on his elbows and slid back in - the look on her face melting him as she reached up and stroked her fingers through his hair - and heard the catch in her breath, felt the sudden arch of her hips as she fell over the edge. He was right with her, losing control of his rhythm as she throbbed around him and he released with a mixture of both intense pleasure and relief.

When he was aware of his surroundings again - the ones that existed outside of her body - she was holding his face between her hands, pressing her lips to the corner of his mouth, murmuring, "So sweet."

In certain circumstances that could have felt like condescension, or like a backhanded critique, but from her, tonight, in this particular moment, he understood.

Chapter Text

Eve left their first "date" feeling as though she'd just drunk an entire pot of coffee (she wasn't really committed to calling anything a date that involved her having to manhandle someone. Well. Someone other than Flynn.).

Jenkins was waiting for them when they got back to the Library with what she continued to refer to as the lightning stick - Flynn was pretty sure he'd traced it and come up with a name, but she didn't think she could pronounce it no matter how hard she tried - and so they were immediately swept into a flurry of tests and examinations and research. None of which specifically involved her, but she stationed herself outside Jenkins's workroom prepared to call 911 if he electrocuted himself. The hyperactive, restless feeling lasted all through a round of Skype negotiations with the tribal leader to whom Flynn and Jenkins wanted to return the - stick; through a thorough attempt by Charlene to "debrief" them on why Flynn thought he needed a Guardian along for a trip to the suburbs (which finally ended when they pointed out that travel now cost them basically nothing, and they could just as easily have brought the entire team without putting a dent in the budget); and through the threat of a lengthy meeting at some point to discuss the actual state of the budget (including whether it existed at all) and a number of other tricky issues like Eve's actual current duty status in what Charlene insisted on calling the "post-New York world," as if New York itself had actually disappeared.

However a first "date" was supposed to end, that probably wasn't it.

Her energy lasted exactly until the moment she entered her apartment, at which point she crashed hard with a gut full of doubt. Sure, they were both people who were consumed by their work - even more so now that their work just got weirder by the moment. Sure, most of her previous relationships had been adversely affected by this tendency of hers to prioritize and focus all her time and energy on work; and yes, she had been thinking things would be better now that it was possible (by which she really meant, legal) to have a relationship with a coworker rather than a civilian (loosely defined).

She knew, from something he'd said, that Flynn had rarely tried to sustain relationships with women who didn't know about the Library - had tried it only once - and had failed. She could sympathize. And at least her job itself hadn't been a secret, even if most of the details of her missions had been. How far could Flynn possibly get with the "library emergency" excuse, when her boyfriends couldn't even manage to work out that "I have to go away for work right now" should probably be assumed to mean "someone is about to blow up Spain and I just really can't tell you that"?

On the one hand, she could see where constantly leaving town at a moment's notice regardless of any plans they had made would be frustrating. On the other hand - she should just let someone blow up Spain?

So sure, it was great that she and Flynn could know everything about each other's missions, do some of them together, keep in touch without having to pretend either of them was at a meeting in Brussels when they were actually in Libya or the Crimea. Great that he would probably (she hoped) understand if they ever went on a normal date and she had to leave to bail Jones out of a county lockup somewhere. Or, well, bad example, as Jones should probably be allowed to wait for a while. Still.

But that was the thing. She'd never been that into conventional romance, a lot of it made her frankly uncomfortable, and she never would have expected to be upset about spending a date chasing down some kind of threat rather than having dinner at a place with candles on the tables. And she wasn't. Not exactly.

It was just that - she knew Flynn liked her, a lot, that he enjoyed having her around and wanted her company. That he felt affectionate toward her, certainly. But was that necessarily enough? Did he actually feel anything romantic toward her, or was he forcing his feelings into that mold for lack of a better one? Was it a red flag that their "date" had been so completely platonic?

She would not have felt positively about it - at all - if he'd stayed over at her place to offer company and comfort after she'd almost died, and then made a move on her in her bedroom. And yet she was starting to worry about why he hadn't. It was not lost on her that her life was messed up.

 

The LITs (could she still call them that? junior Librarians? deputy Librarians?) returned from Peru, though, and didn't give her much opportunity to think about her personal life. Stone's book was already going berserk when they returned - he'd been ignoring it while they finished up with Cassandra's case - and he took off immediately for New Zealand, returning two hours later with a sheepish confession that he might be in over his head. When he explained why he thought so, Eve grabbed her jacket to follow him without any further discussion.

It was just after five a.m. in New Zealand, and still mostly dark, but there was enough light to make out the smallish, nondescript building and the men armed with automatic weapons standing in front of the door.

"You're right," Eve whispered from their hiding place deep in a stand of trees. "Those are big."

"Yeah."

She squinted through the dimness. "I think they're Russian."

Stone wobbled in his awkward squat next to her, catching himself with a hand on her bent knee. "Wait. Are we talking about the guys or the guns?"

She nodded to acknowledge the clarification. "Both are big. The guns are Russian."

"It definitely gets weirder." He casually used the hand on her knee to leverage himself to standing, then tugged at her elbow until she followed him. "I actually went this way first, when I arrived."

She followed him along a vaguely outlined path through the trees, consciously trying to ignore the messages from the back of her mind that something about this - being alone with him, in the dark, being carelessly physical with each other - was wrong. That she needed to be careful, or that she had something to feel either guilty or ashamed about - she couldn't pinpoint it precisely, but the feeling hovered and nagged like something she'd forgotten to do. She reminded herself that she was the only one feeling awkward - she hadn't told Stone about being passionately kissed by his alt-universe self, or about the two of them having been involved, and he had no idea there was any kind of issue there. He was acting as if nothing about their easy and relatively new friendship had changed, because it hadn't.

"Look," he whispered, stopping her with a gesture and motioning with his head. There were two more men, both also armed, sitting with their backs against a boulder. They appeared to be guarding - nothing.

"What are they -" she started to ask.

"Well, nothing, right?" Careful to stay in the shadow of the trees even though the two men were positioned facing the other way, he held out a hand and gestured along the line of the ground. "I think - it didn't make sense when I saw these guys first, but I'm thinking maybe that first building we saw was just an entrance?"

Eve just turned to him in silent inquiry. It was close to sunrise now, and he could probably make out her expression. She could see his face clearly enough.

"It was kind of too small to be anything important," he said. "I thought. So maybe the real business is underground - I mean actually underground, like, under the building -"

Now his gesture made sense. "And it extends this far, and this is the other entrance?" They'd walked for about twenty minutes. She nodded. "Could be. It'd be big."

"There's more." He gave her a gentle push. "Um. I went over that way, and I'm pretty sure once we're past those rocks they can't see us."

"Unless there's more of them somewhere," Eve murmured. "Okay. I'm following you."

He slipped along behind trees as far as could, and then dashed relatively quietly for the cover of some more boulders to wait for her. She watched until she was sure the armed guards hadn't heard anything before following him.

Once they were out of range and walking along an empty road, the sound of birds waking up an odd juxtaposition to underground bunkers guarded by automatic weaponry, she said quietly, "How has no one noticed this? Guns are not common here, let alone ones that size. And how long would it have taken to build an underground structure like that, if that's what it is?"

"I was wondering about that," Stone replied. "You don't think - it's maybe something only we can see?"

She felt her forehead wrinkling. "They looked pretty real."

"No, I mean - like, what if they've got magic hiding them from people? The whole thing, the bunker or whatever, and the guards. But maybe we can see through the magic because of the Library, or because my book told me it was here -"

It wasn't completely illogical. "But then why have guards?"

"For us," Stone replied, sounding as though he wished he hadn't thought of it.

She kind of wished that, too. She sighed. "Right."

"I think this whole area might have some kind of magic - something going on. And I think it's been here for a while. I only got a little farther than this, and off in the distance there's this whole - I don't even know how to describe it. I mean it was still pitch dark when I got here, but there was this, like -" His eyes searched her face as if afraid of her reaction. "Fairy village?"

She stopped walking. "Fairy village?"

"Over that way." He had the air of someone plunging forward even though he expected to be mercilessly mocked. "These little doors everywhere - not little like people think of fairies, but funny shapes -"

Wait.

Eve held up a hand to stop him, simultaneously rummaging for her phone and hoping she had coverage in the middle of New Zealand. She had to type exactly one word into the browser before it came up with a website and several images.

She held the screen so that Stone could see it. "Like this?"

He frowned at it. "Isn't that a hobbit house from Lord of the Rings?"

She waited.

"We're in New Zealand." His head tipped back in self-exasperation. "I'm an idiot."

"I think they left it there as a tourist attraction." She switched to the map function and waited while their dot appeared on a map of Waikato. "Yup. 'Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tours.'"

"In my defense, I probably would have recognized it in the daylight."

She patted his arm. "We can't all be nerds twenty-four hours a day."

"Okay. So it's just the underground bunker."

"They may not be completely unrelated," Eve realized, still looking at the map. "It must have taken a long time to build all those sets - digging out under the hills, or whatever; trucking a lot of materials in. Different crews that might not have known what the others were doing."

"A long time and a lot of equipment," Stone said, clearly catching her drift. "So if you wanted to turn a little house into the secret entrance to an underground bunker without anyone noticing . . ."

"You'd do it while a movie crew had the whole area ripped up." She was frowning again, and Stone noticed.

"What?" he asked.

"They made those movies a while ago - fifteen years or something, right? So if the bunker's been here since then, what happened to make your book suddenly go crazy today?"

"Yeah." They'd come full circle to his original explanation on returning to the Annex. "I was afraid we were going to have to try to get inside."

He was almost certainly right, and it was nearly full daylight. Eve fingered the NATO credentials in her pocket and indulged in several impractical fantasies about requesting help from the New Zealand army.

 

They came through the back door running at full tilt, both yelling for Jenkins who, fortunately, was reasonably close at hand and got the door sealed off and its location reset before anyone could follow them. It was nearly six p.m. in Portland; they'd been gone the whole middle of the day.

Once the door was closed, the caretaker looked them both over and sighed. "There used to be so much less blood in here."

Stone was bleeding pretty freely from a gash on his upper arm, but at least his nose had stopped bleeding. "Hey," he said, clamping his other hand over the wound, "we stopped the Serpent Brotherhood Junior League from opening a portal to hell or something. All things considered we could look a lot worse."

Jenkins's face changed. "Serpent Brotherhood?"

Eve started to furrow her eyebrows and regretted it - she was relatively unscathed compared to Stone, but she'd been hit hard just above the right temple and she could feel a probably large bruise forming. "They were Serpent Brotherhood, but they seemed like - like Stone said, the B team. Or C or D."

"I don't even know if the big guys knew what they were doing out there," Stone chimed in.

"I don't think these guys knew what they were doing," Eve said. "Fortunately."

"Well, you both look like you had quite enough fun regardless," Jenkins said. "You didn't blow up New Zealand, did you?"

Neither Eve nor Stone could resist darting a guilty look at the other.

"Is subtlety completely lost on you people?" Jenkins exclaimed.

"We blew up a very small bit of New Zealand," Eve began.

"We didn't even really," Stone said.

"That's true." She jumped on his point. "They were the ones with the portal to - we're going with hell?"

Stone shrugged. "It looked like hell. Not that I've seen it personally before."

"Okay, hell or - somewhere equally really bad. And it was clearly unstable."

"The portal," Stone said, "not hell or wherever."

"Right. Unstable portal -"

"Pretty unstable guy with some kind of crystal thing -"

"We had no idea knocking the crystal thing into the portal would cause an explosion."

"But at least the bunker blew up -"

"After we got out -"

"So they can't just try again. Especially since we don't even know why they had to be in New Zealand in particular in the first place."

Jenkins just blinked at them. "Finished?"

They exchanged looks again, and Stone replied, "Yeah."

Focusing on Eve, Jenkins said, "Aren't you supposed to be keeping them out of danger, Colonel? Not - enjoying it?"

She gestured to Stone as if he were the board on Wheel of Fortune. "He's alive. And I don't enjoy getting punched in the head that much."

Jenkins gave another sigh. "Does anyone require medical attention? And did we bring home any dangerous souvenirs this time?"

"You love the dangerous souvenirs," Eve pointed out. "Which reminds me. Did Mr. Parker take the lightning stick?"

"Mr. Carsen was going to take it to him once everyone here was accounted for and the door was no longer in use."

Eve nodded. "And where is -"

"In the Librarian's office."

She paused. "That's Flynn, not the stick, right?"

"Both."

She turned to Stone. "You're -"

"I'm fine." He took his hand away from the wound on his arm and watched it barely seep. "It's done. I'll just clean it out."

She'd still only been in the office twice since the Library had returned, including the time that was less than ten minutes after her miraculous revival. That was the only time she'd gotten there without following Flynn, and she'd been operating more on instinct than specific memory of the path he'd taken through the stacks and dim corridors. She made one wrong turn this time, ending up in a strange little tiled grotto that seemed out of place in the Library, before she found a corner she recognized and was able to follow the wall sconces toward Flynn's office.

Flynn was sitting on the couch with an array of papers on both the low table in front of him and on his lap, and two books on the cushion beside him - one very old; one larger and a shiny new-looking paperback. She paused at the edge of a shelf and watched him underline and circle something in the paperback book before hunting through the papers on his lap, dropping a few onto the table, and making some notes in the margin of one page. He looked up then, and his entire face lit up when he saw her. Counter-intuitively, his joy sent the doubtful feeling in her stomach flaring back to life. He was happy to see her, but - happy how?

Giving him a smile that didn't reach her eyes, she edged into the room.

"Ouch," he said, his smile dropping as soon as he could see her fully. "What happened?"

She collapsed onto the couch next to his pile of books and leaned her head against the back, turning it to face him with her good side resting against the leather. "We blew up a very small part of New Zealand."

"Interesting."

"There was a portal to hell, or - something. And way more guns than you expect to see in the Shire."

He didn't really react to the second part of her statement, still focused on the first part. "A portal to - was anything coming out of it?"

"No - not when we saw it. You could see what was on the other side - kind of, it was just stuff swirling around and a lot of fire, but nothing was passing back and forth. I guess that was probably the idea though, if we hadn't stopped it."

"Was there a book?"

She shook her head, or more rolled it along the back of the couch. "Not that I saw." His face was very still. "Sound familiar?" she asked.

"Yes." He didn't volunteer any further information. "The portal is closed now?"

She told him about the bunker and the crystal, and the portal closing in on itself and exploding, her knee bouncing slowly and tiredly against the books between them. "We didn't spend a lot of time looking back, but most of the bunker went, too. I saw some of the ground collapse."

He reached out and brushed just a fingertip against her wrist. "Stone okay?"

"Bleeding a little, but yeah, he's fine."

His fingertip continued its tiny movements, not quite tickling. "And you're okay? What hit you?"

"Somebody's fist." Their hands were side by side on top of his book such that she could just hook her smallest finger over the end of one of his. She did so, hesitantly. "It's fine, just a bruise."

"You should get some rest."

She was completely exhausted, and sore - she didn't remember being hit hard anywhere else, but that didn't mean she hadn't strained in the course of fighting and then escaping the exploding bunker. But there was also a tension building from her stomach to her chest and throat and radiating out to the minuscule touch of their hands. The combination kept her frozen. "I'd go home," she said, "but I think I'm too tired to leave."

He gave her a gentle smile. Then, after a moment of silence had passed, he said, "Well, you can rest here."

She returned the smile, patting the couch with her free hand. "It's a comfortable couch."

"I'm just -" He picked up her hand from the book and set it on her own leg, then slid both books off the couch and onto a free spot on the table. "All I'm doing is working on this translation; I can do that with you here."

Curiously she looked at the loose pages still on his lap as he shuffled them into an order that apparently made sense to him. They were covered with photocopied hieroglyphics. "What is it?"

"It's a copy of the Book of the Dead. Which of course has already been translated, but this copy's been sitting in the back of Egyptology for who knows how long and it seems to be different." He was shifting around, putting his back against a throw pillow propped at the high arm of the couch. "Hang on -" for what, she wondered "- anyway there was a note from Judson on this one saying the spells had some different steps but he hadn't gotten around to translating it yet. Okay." Expectantly he held out the arm closest to the back of the couch.

She raised an eyebrow.

Arm still extended, he raised his chin in an inviting gesture. "Come on. Stretch out for a while, you'll be more comfortable."

"While you -" There were about twelve reasons why he wouldn't be serious about this; she could barely pick one. "Won't someone -"

"No one comes in here but you. And Charlene."

She gave him another look.

He grinned. "She's gone for the day. And I can -" He paused as if rethinking whatever words he'd been about to use. "I can sit with you like this and still work. Come here."

She was biting her lip, which she was aware was a giant cliche. She made herself stop. "Okay," she said slowly.

His smile grew, and there was something a bit tremulous about it. She busied herself for a steadying moment with slipping off her shoes and removing her jacket, draping it over the opposite arm of the couch. Then she carefully slid closer to him, leaning in and putting a hand on his shoulder and then letting him situate her how he wanted her, guiding her until she was stretched out mostly on her side with her head propped on his chest. "Okay?" he asked.

Except for the fact that she couldn't entirely relax out of nerves, "okay" was a pretty serious understatement. She held herself stiffly while he organized his papers in his lap and tugged the table closer so he could reach the books on it more easily, then finally started to ease into him as if testing whether he could bear her weight. "How are you going to write?" she asked, suddenly aware that her voice sounded sleepy.

He demonstrated by bringing his right hand with the pen in it down to her side, pushing at her elbow until she moved her arm and let his hand slip under it. "Like that. Now rest."

Unsure of what to do with her right arm, she tentatively rested her hand on his chest where she thought her elbow would be out of the way of his papers. He seemed to express his approval by bending his head down and pressing a kiss at her hairline, which had her biting her lip again. Then he dragged the paperback into his lap and seemed entirely focused on it, and after a few moments of watching him read she let her eyes close.

He was almost entirely focused on the book. There was a little tap as he set the pen down on one of the loose pages, then - apparently he didn't need to take notes for a while - she felt his right hand curl back up and over her head. There was no way someone so restless most of the time should be so good at this, she thought as he ran his fingers through her hair just right, avoiding the sore spot on her forehead. So still and solid and comfortable. Some of her doubts were definitely draining away as she listened to the occasional faint rustle of a page turning and let his touch soothe away the long day.

She was next aware of being very warm, very comfortable, very secure. Her eyes were closed and she was pleasantly foggy and relaxed. Her thumb was moving of its own accord - she noticed the movement rather than choosing it - stroking back and forth against a soft surface, something that felt . . . beloved. Which was how she felt, too; warm and sheltered and loved.

Awareness settled first in that hand; she recognized eventually that it was Flynn's shirt she was gently rubbing, his chest that she was leaning on. Memory seeped in without inducing her to open her eyes. She'd fallen asleep - for how long she didn't know. Although she wasn't entirely sure that "loved" was something she could quite lay claim to, she was at least very warm and comfortable and he was still holding her, his arm a weight over her side and his hand on her hip.

It was quiet. She opened one eye cautiously (it was the one on the bruised side, and she could tell that swelling and tenderness had set in. probably should have gotten some ice.) and saw that the papers had been piled on the table and his hands were empty. His chest rose and fell with a slow, even rhythm under her cheek. From this angle she couldn't see his face, but he'd apparently fallen asleep with her. She could just barely see his watch - almost seven.

She was hungry, and he would be too if he slept much longer. Eventually she should wake him. For the time being, though, she closed her eyes again.

Chapter Text

Vienna would be, in general, a great place for a date (well, if you had access to a magical door that could transport you there instantly. which they did). A great place for a normal date, and Flynn was pretty sure they were due for one of those. They understood each other, he thought - hoped - but still, a relationship couldn't be all threatening people and chasing ghosts.

They were hovering at the edge of the next level (he felt alarmingly warm when he thought about kissing her, being kissed by her, on that hill in the moonlight), but something would have to change if they were going to get there. And he wanted - just, wanted.

 

(Even waking up with her on the couch in his office, groggy and starving with one numb hand over his head, was wonderful. She was awake and softly rubbing her thumb back and forth on the center of his chest, and there were pinpoints and ripples of lightning there and along his side where she was lying and on the arm draped over her, and they were just quiet together for a while.

He wasn't used to this. At all. He was used to the flash of ignition, to relationships that started by falling into bed and then maybe, when there was time, settled into a steadier burn. This, feeling that this was enough for now and knowing there were other ways to convey how he felt . . .

Contrary to his previous belief, it was possible that he had, actually, never been in love before.)

 

The problem with Vienna was that all he had to do was attend an auction, and that really did not seem like a two-person job. Especially when Charlene was particularly on his case because of what happened the last time he went to an auction (he preferred to focus on recovering the artifact; she remembered the dent he'd put in the budget), and would be scrutinizing every aspect of this mission.

And also, Eve was absorbed in some kind of research with Cassandra in the Annex card catalogue. They were working well together, and he knew she wanted to make sure that, as the need arose, she spent roughly the same amount of time one-on-one with each of them. That was hardest with Cassandra, whose skills were pretty far outside Eve's wheelhouse. This was a good project for Cassandra to have brought to Eve - there was enough math and statistics analysis for Cassandra to be challenged and happy, but it also required a practicality that was not among the younger woman's strengths.

So, Eve would stay and he would go, though he almost reconsidered based on her expression when she saw him in his formal suit for the auction. It was hard not to feel a little bit smug about that.

Still, he pulled her aside in the relative privacy of the corridor to tell her where he was going in the morning and that he hoped to be back by the next afternoon - which should have him leaving Vienna the same day he arrived.

"It's just an art auction," he said, and hoped she understood that he meant "I'd rather have a reason to bring you along".

"Be safe anyway," she said, and in her raised eyebrow he saw that she was saying something else, too. Come back alive.

He grinned and reached out to touch her hip. "I'll try to send Stone next time one of these comes up. He'd enjoy it."

He watched that thought pass across her face. "Better take him next time. He's never been to something like that, he's not - he knows so much about it all that we forget he's only traveled in his head, till now."

This, this was what she did, as much as beating people up and strategizing. While he'd been away she'd learned them, their little team, and she knew when to back off Cassandra and when to give Ezekiel that extra push. He loved that.

He kissed her cheek, lingering an extra moment to breathe her in before leaving.

The next problem was that he and Charlene had failed to notice the auction was a two-day affair - items presented the first evening; bidding the next day. And when he called Jenkins the first night to check on the back door, he was informed that Ezekiel was going in and out on a frequent and irregular basis on a slightly dangerous mission that Jenkins thought he was handling very well (what Jenkins actually said was "and he hasn't completely bungled it yet," but Flynn could read between the lines), and also that Stone was in an empty desert someplace and really needed to be retrieved the moment he asked to be, and basically the gist was that Flynn had better find himself a hotel room in Vienna for the night because his priority level for transport was zero.

"It is, you know, my Library," he pointed out in token protest.

"My Annex," Jenkins corrected. "My door."

And yes, he did have another way to travel, but he hadn't come prepared to use that and this was probably a great lesson on not relying on the back door as a crutch.

Of course he made Jenkins find him a room, which guaranteed it would be (a) high-class and luxurious, within the constraints of the budget, and (b) a long and incredibly inconvenient walk from the location of the auction.

He settled for texting Eve about the change in plans, and resigning himself to a somewhat sulky evening in his very nice hotel room with his . . . partner, for lack of a better word, on the other side of the globe.

His phone dinged with a message from her before he could think too hard about the minibar.

everything's okay, though, right?

Just try to tell a Guardian not to worry.

fine, he typed.

After a second, he added, unless boredom is something really dangerous you need to come and save me from immediately
in which case, help I'm in danger

sorry, no luck :)

Picturing her laugh did make it slightly better.

in that case, he typed, any recommendations re. minibar wine? Feeling kind of obligated to go with the local Gewurtztraminer. It took three tries to prevent his phone from autocorrecting that to "gewgaws".

yes
just order a real bottle from room service, probably cheaper

Not for the first time, he found himself debating the tackiness of declaring his love via text.

The auction itself the next morning was almost disappointingly easy - if he hadn't been doing whatever in the desert, it would have been a good teaching opportunity for Stone. No competition; no one else even seemed to know what the funny little turquoise box was. No Serpent Brotherhood or anyone else ambushing him after he collected it. No impromptu sword fights. It was kind of sad.

This time when he called Jenkins, it was early enough in Portland's morning that no one else had arrived at the Annex yet and he had no competition for the door. He took the opportunity to cross into the Library proper to put away the Atlantean artifact and do some more digging into its origins. This turned into a new translation project, as two panels of the box were inscribed in Greek and Latin, respectively, thus making the little box a tiny Rosetta stone of the language of Atlantis. There was also a fourth language he had never seen before, and he spent half the day comparing it with other ancient alphabets before deciding it might be entirely new to the Library. The day got away from him that way, and it was evening by the time he checked in with Jenkins to see whether it would be safe to come back through in about half an hour.

"Everyone is accounted for -" There was a flurry of noise on Jenkins's end - Cassandra's voice was easy to pick out, although he couldn't actually tell what she was saying as two or three people were talking over each other - and Jenkins added drily, "I am directed to inform you that we are all adjourning to the bar up the street to celebrate our many victorious missions."

Flynn couldn't help snickering. "Sounds like your dream evening."

"We will be bonding as a team," Jenkins said, sounding as though the words sealed his death sentence. "You can reprogram the door after you come through?"

"I will leave it safely sealed," Flynn promised.

"Very well" - with a heavy sigh.

Flynn hadn't thought to ask which was "the bar up the street," and he was pretty sure there was more than one, but the information soon arrived in a text from Eve.

many victorious missions, huh? he texted back.

please meet us and give me a reason to leave so I can go to sleep
it's been a long day with a lot of math

It wasn't the first time he'd been the last to leave the Library - through the Annex - but it still felt strange to be there in the complete quiet, the lights dimmed and no footsteps but his own. He hustled out into the spring night as quickly as possible and followed Eve's directions.

There was little question that he had the right place - as soon as he walked in he spotted Cassandra and Ezekiel flanking Jenkins at the bar. Ezekiel was in the middle of excitedly saying, "No, gotta be this one, they - hey!" He grinned and waved when he spotted Flynn. "Team Dad!"

"I am not -" Flynn started to say, then gave up, because he kind of was.

"We're convincing Jenkins to try an infused bourbon," Cassandra said cheerfully.

Ezekiel was waving at a large chalkboard over the bar. "I still vote for the one that has jalapeño . . ."

"Kill me now," Jenkins said.

Flynn glanced at the list of bourbons - the one to which Ezekiel was presumably referring was listed as "Fire on the Mountain" - and grimaced. "That one might."

"You all lack the spirit of exploration," Ezekiel sighed.

"Stone and Eve around?" Flynn asked.

Cassandra nodded her head backward. "Holding a table back there."

He handed her a twenty. "When you're done torturing Jenkins, will you order me a regular, boring bourbon? Without jalapeño?"

He wove his way around and through the three-deep crowd at the bar, scanning the tables and booths around the dim edges of the room until he spotted Eve and Stone. Their table had a horseshoe-shaped booth wrapping around three sides of it with chairs on the fourth side; plenty of room for the team. The two of them were sitting at the center of the horseshoe, shoulders touching, drinks on the table in front of them. Whatever they were talking about, it looked like a serious conversation. Stone was doing most of the talking but was staring down at the table, or his lap, while Eve was giving every appearance of listening intently. She had her hair only partially pulled back, and loose strands were falling in front of her face as she turned toward him.

He didn't really mean to hesitate, but he did, watching them. Stone was fiddling with his phone, but he transferred it to his left hand in order to lift his right arm and wrap it around Eve's shoulders, pulling her tight to him for a moment in a sort of sideways half-hug. Stone's gaze lifted then and, afraid he'd be spotted acting weird, Flynn headed toward them.

Stone saw him first, and called out with a wave of the hand that was holding his phone. "Hey, you made it."

Eve looked up then - her smile was small, but her eyes gave away that she was glad to see him.

Flynn slid into the booth on Eve's other side, not so close that he was touching her. As he did so, Stone got to his feet and edged out of the booth. "I'm just going to -"

Eve nodded as if she knew what he meant, and Stone vanished off into the crowd.

"Something up?" Flynn asked.

"He got a message from one of his brothers that - bothered him." She gave a little shrug. "He didn't really tell me exactly what it was about. I guess he doesn't call them that often, but he felt like he should . . ." She turned on the bench to face him, her knee brushing his leg. "Hey."

"Hey," he said back automatically, looking her full in the eye and getting a little bit lost. Stone who?

"How was the auction?"

"Honestly kind of boring. The box is interesting, though."

She gave him a frown of mock concern. "So sad when no one tries to kill you, isn't it?"

"Kind of, yeah."

Her eyes flickered toward the bar as if to search out the others, and her hand hovered between them. Oh. He checked himself - Stone nowhere in sight and the other three still bent over the bar - and then leaned in to kiss her. Her hand found his face and drew him a bit closer.

The coast was still clear when they separated, smiling at each other as if the rest of the bar had disappeared. He risked another few seconds to brush her hair back from her face and tuck it behind her ear - by then, he spotted Cassandra turning around. He dropped his hand as she, Ezekiel, and Jenkins made their way over and settled into seats, Cassandra sliding a glass across the table to Flynn.

Jenkins was eyeing his drink as though he suspected it of being poisoned.

"You didn't go for the Fire on the Mountain, did you?" Flynn asked.

"No," Jenkins said, still looking dubiously into his glass. "This one has fig."

"Oh, that's probably actually good." Eve settled herself as she spoke so that her shoulder was touching Flynn's. "Mine's the blackberry."

Flynn smiled as Eve took his hand under the table, and stroked the back of her hand with his thumb. "So," he directed at Ezekiel, "have you ever tried calling Eve your Team -"

"You mean," Eve interrupted, "has he ever said something, once, that he spent the entire next week regretting? Yes."

Ezekiel nodded in solemn agreement.

"What did you get in Vienna?" Cassandra asked as the laughter died down.

He had gotten through telling them about the possible key to translating some Atlantean words, and was trying to draw the characters of the strange fourth language on a cocktail napkin, when Stone returned and slid his way back into the booth on Eve's other side. He glanced at Flynn's napkin as he was sitting down and said, "That looks familiar."

Flynn frowned over at him. "It does?"

"I mean, not . . ." Stone reached for the napkin and slid it toward himself. "I don't know what it is or anything. But I've seen - there's this painter, he's from Malta, I think? His paintings all have these markings worked into the backgrounds and the brush strokes. People think it's just random designs, but - I swear it looks like this."

"Can you show me?" Flynn asked, feeling the revival of his earlier enthusiasm about the research. He wasn't so distracted, though, that he failed to notice he had both hands free now. He let his left one fall back under the table and took hold of Eve's hand again.

Stone shook his head, still staring at the napkin. "I could pull up pictures on my phone, but it wouldn't be big enough for you to see the markings. We'll have to look on a big monitor later."

They were interrupted by a small, stifled shriek from Ezekiel, who was now fanning his mouth.

Cassandra had a water as well as whatever she was drinking, and she passed it to him with a sympathetic look. "Fire on the Mountain?"

"Oh my God," Ezekiel replied through a mouthful of crushed ice.

"Deserve what you get," Stone said. "Bourbon was not meant to be adulterated."

In response, Eve picked up her own glass with her free hand and tipped it toward him. Stone rolled his eyes but obediently sipped from it, steadying it with his own hand.

"Okay, fine," he said after tasting it. "But it's still not necessary."

Eve, apparently content with her victory, casually shifted her upper arm behind Flynn's so that her arm could entwine with his above their joined hands. Across the table, Cassandra was tentatively trying Ezekiel's jalapeño bourbon, and Jenkins looked as if he were pretending to be somewhere else. Flynn just leaned his head back and relaxed, letting the late hour (especially considering that his jetlagged - or . . . doorlagged - body thought it was somewhere around four in the morning) and the alcohol and Eve's presence lull him into a comfortable haze. It was broken only when his peripheral vision caught Eve's head suddenly bowing.

His eyes slid toward her. Her face seemed a bit pink in the dim light, and she was looking fixedly down at their intertwined hands. When a little jolt suggested that her shoulder had been bumped from the other side, Flynn finally noticed that Stone was looking at them, too. He was grinning at Eve, and she was grinning too and trying to hide it. When Flynn caught Stone's eye, though, the other man immediately schooled his face into a narrow-eyed threatening glare so theatrical that it made Eve throw her head back and laugh.

Flynn hadn't quite acknowledged to himself that he'd been harboring some unworthy feelings toward Stone, but he felt them start to fade away now and couldn't help joining in the laughter.

The collective merriment drew the attention of the others, who had been absorbed in a passionate three-sided argument about which was the best Lord of the Rings movie. Ezekiel paused in his defense of The Two Towers to ask, "Exactly how drunk are the three of you?"

Later they all walked back to the Library together, pleasantly tipsy and cheerful (even Jenkins, almost), and, in Cassandra's case, still trying to explain an elaborate theory of how The Fellowship of the Ring actually encapsulated all the themes of the trilogy in its first twenty minutes. Stone threw one arm each around Cassandra and Ezekiel and hustled them along behind Jenkins, while Flynn and Eve lagged behind, cautiously holding hands again.

"So," Flynn asked quietly, leaning close to Eve's ear, "is he my wingman or yours?"

She threw him a look. "Obviously mine."

"Right."

"It's not . . ." He felt her fingers shift position, sliding between his as she spoke. "It's not a secret, though."

It sounded as if it were sort of a question. He shook his head. "No, of course not." That would feel tawdry and anyway, the kind of relationship he hoped eventually to have with her would not be easy to hide from their colleagues. "Still though. Privacy is -"

"Right."

"- nice."

"Yes." She pulled him to a stop long enough to press her forehead to his shoulder for just a moment. "I missed you," she said, softly enough that it felt like a confession.

"I missed you too." He kissed her and then started them walking again before the others could look back and wonder where they were. Despite the quiet, the obvious options for the rest of the night were buzzing through his head. It didn't, somehow, feel like the right time yet for . . . that, and also his body had no idea what time it was and it was possibly a miracle that he was still standing. Then again, that didn't necessarily mean they couldn't spend the night together.

The Annex was up ahead, glowing under the lights of the bridge and the park. If he didn't say something soon, they'd be having this conversation with an audience. "I could drive you home," he said casually. "I mean - and bring you back in the morning." He watched her face carefully, wondering if he should have specified his intentions (or lack thereof).

She hesitated only a second. "Okay."

 

***

 

They'd slept together - well, numerous times, but in the non-platonic sense exactly twice, when she turned up at his door fresh from a mission with Stone and looking so stricken that he immediately thought something must have happened to the other man. It took him a shocked, frightened moment to come up with a way of asking that didn't sound as if he were accusing her of failure to protect her charge. "Is everyone all right?"

She nodded wordlessly, but her response didn't comfort him much given that her next action was to bury her face in his shoulder.

He felt the press of her arms around his lower back and hugged her automatically, asking, "What happened?"

She took several steadying breaths before replying. "We don't - there was some kind of, I don't know if it was a spell or a curse, or - maybe even some kind of chemical that wasn't magic at all, but - we couldn't even manage to investigate what we went there for, neither of us had any . . . control . . ."

Flynn, who was well acquainted with pretty much all the tropes (the ones that turned out to be real as well as the ones that actually were pure science fiction or fantasy) thought at once, ridiculously, sex pollen. Not for the first time he became aware that Eve was giving him his first real, solid experience with jealousy - before, before there were all these other people around, he'd never had to share with anyone. Of course he hadn't usually had anyone to share, either.

But she was clearly upset, and he held her close even as he was conscious of looking her over for signs of what had happened. No obvious marks on her. Her clothes were unrumpled, as was her hair.

He felt her lips pressing against his neck and thought oh God, whatever it is hasn't worn off. "Eve," he said gently. "Whatever happened - it's okay, it's going to be okay." All the time thinking not really, but if something had happened under the influence of magic or chemicals or whatever else, it wouldn't have been her fault. Or Stone's.

She pressed closer until he could feel her muscles tensing to hold him as tightly as possible. "It was like . . ." she said, struggling to find the words, "something like - like the dementors, you know - from Harry Potter? - only without the soul-sucking part."

That wasn't what he'd expected. Still operating mostly on auto-pilot, he raised one hand to the back of her head. 'What do you mean?"

She shook her head against him. "It was just - thank God there were two of us, or - you know, either of us alone might have just suddenly gone hopeless, and not have figured out that something was making it happen. But when it was both of us - we knew, and we still, we could barely get out of there. You just wanted to sit down and give up, like - nothing was good and you were completely alone and there was no point to anything. We managed to drag each other out, I don't even know how . . . but . . ." Against his shirt front, one of her hands squeezed into a fist. "It's not really gone, you know? Better, like I can't feel it all around me anymore, but there's still. . ."

Well, this was awful. He cradled her close and asked, "Where's Stone?"

"The other two took him out for drinks."

"Is that the best -"

He felt her shrug. "I trust him to know what he needs in this kind of . . ."

Of course. Jacob Stone had spent his entire life isolated amongst his own people, never able to share the most important part of himself. Of course he'd had - dementors, before, and of course Eve would know that.

"What do you need?" Flynn asked softly.

Her lips were on his neck again, then the underside of his jaw. "Just you," she said.

He melted, but still held her back from him to study her face. Her eyes weren't alert - she seemed almost groggy - but they did look normal. He asked, "Are you sure you're not . . . affected by something, or -"

She lifted her hands to the back of his neck, her brow furrowing. "Flynn, you know I don't have to be on something to want to -"

"I know, but it still wouldn't feel right if you were."

"I just feel . . . really, really tired. But I'm okay." She kissed him, very slowly and without much pressure, but it was enough to make him tingle with promise. Twice wasn't that many times. This was definitely still new and thrilling, and different every time.

But. As she went back to kissing his neck, she was leaning her head heavily against his shoulder, letting him hold her up. He twisted to kiss her forehead, hands rubbing soothingly up and down her arms, and said, "We can just do this, you know. I could come lie down with you for a while . . ."

He could feel her shaking her head again. "I need - I - it was bad. I don't know how to -"

Okay. He could understand an experience so dispiriting, so joyless, that just company wouldn't be enough this time - that she needed to overcome it with something powerfully good instead. A part of his mind was working overtime to justify why this was okay (endorphins? right?). "Are you -"

While she was leaning on him she'd been quietly unbuttoning his shirt, and sliding one hand under the hem of the t-shirt he wore underneath to splay across his stomach. Her hand was a bit cold. "Please," she said, against his collarbone. He didn't think it was easy for her to ask.

He smoothed her hair back from her face and started to help her out of her jacket. "Okay," he said as he slipped it off her shoulders. "Then just come on and relax, and let me do the work."

It was a common expression but it had maybe been the wrong one to choose in this case, because when he'd set her jacket aside over a chair and looked back at her, there was concern on her face. "Flynn," she said, "I'm sorry - if you don't want -"

"Hey." He pulled her in close again and kissed her, then started walking them toward his bedroom with his arm around her shoulders. "I want to make sure you're really all right, but otherwise - that is not an issue."

She was still frowning a little even as she kicked off her shoes. "Promise?"

"Promise. Come here and lie back."

She settled in the middle of his bed on her back, and he carefully unbuttoned her pants and worked them off. When he touched the outside of her left thigh, she automatically bent her knee up, foot flat on the bed. He paused for a moment with his arm wrapped around her leg, cheek resting against the soft skin at the inside of her knee. Her eyes were closed. He placed his free hand high on her other thigh, thumb digging in a little to get her attention. "Still with me?"

She nodded and reached down to take his hand.

"Okay." He gently disengaged their hands so he could use his. "But if you fall asleep on me, I'm out."

She opened her eyes briefly, and he caught a flash of normal Eve. "One would hope."

He thought at first he might have a clearer conscience if he could make it good enough for her like this, with his hands and his mouth, and then maybe she could fall asleep and he would have only given, and not taken. But when she was getting close (he was starting to recognize the changes in her breathing, the arch of her back), she reached her hand out for him again and pulled him up. He didn't make her ask again.

The fact that he was still completely dressed was a bit of an obstacle, but he took care of that quickly and then helped her with the rest of her clothes. She was slow and languid but not unresponsive (which would have been, obviously, serious cause for concern and a definite reason to stop immediately); the clearest sign of her difficult day was how tightly she held onto him as they moved together.

At first he still wasn't entirely committed to getting anything (much) out of this himself, but something finally clued him in to what was happening here. Her eyes had closed again, her face going distant; and he'd started stroking her hair back and murmuring to her, saying anything, whatever his instinct suggested, until he heard himself promising "whatever it made you think, whatever you saw, it's not true." And she gasped in a deep breath as if holding back a sob, and he suddenly got it. She didn't need a joyful or pleasurable experience to erase the bad one, and she wasn't looking for the high or the physical distraction.

Like - nothing was good and you were completely alone.

What she needed was the connection, the two of them being this close, and the knowledge that he wanted her. In which case, seeming to be uninterested in the proceedings would be more hurtful than selfless. She needed for him to give her everything.

Meanwhile of course his mouth never had any trouble operating while his brain was elsewhere - he'd kept whispering to her, mostly just her name and little endearments and reassurances, over and over until "I love you so much, honey," just sort of accidentally slipped out. And then he had two simultaneous thoughts: well that's awkward timing, and guess that cat's out of the bag.

He froze a little, but she hadn't reacted - maybe too far gone, or maybe she hadn't heard and they could do that again at a less completely wrong time?

She was so quiet when they'd finished that if it weren't for her harsh breathing he'd have thought she'd already fallen asleep. He wanted to give her space to process if she needed it but didn't want to imply rejection, so he lay a small distance from her, just holding her hand.

After a while she took a long, very slow, and very deep breath and then rolled to face him, her forehead touching his shoulder and her free hand on his stomach. "I love you," she said softly.

In response he had possibly the least romantic thought possible: well, that's good. His brain and his body were now mostly connected again, though, and he managed to say instead "I love you, too," while reaching to pull the sheet and blanket over them.

 

 

(It got easier. Everything, eventually, got easier. One of the things he liked the most was coming back late from somewhere he'd been without her, when she was already in bed -

- he had a key now, although he was smart enough to warn her by call or text when he was coming over, because never surprise someone who's armed -

- and he could just slip in, undress and fall into bed and curl himself around her like a comma, and whisper "love you" as a kiss against the back of her neck. And sometimes she'd go back to sleep, and sometimes she'd turn over and reach for him and they'd stay awake awhile together. Either way it was the best.)

Chapter Text

Eve definitely did not have an important life revelation because of Ezekiel Jones.

Technically, maybe, he sort of started a chain reaction of events. Very technically. He was kind of a catalyst. Or, maybe, an anonymous thug was the catalyst.

Actually, she preferred to think Jones was. Whatever.

The point was, she had no idea what would happen, eventually, kind of because he called her at ten p.m. one night. Though she immediately had her senses on full alert, because (a) he never called, preferring like most of them to text her when he had a question or needed help or wanted to share a selfie from someplace he shouldn't have been, and (b) okay so she was already feeling a bit guilty for leaving the Annex and going home when he hadn't returned from his "exploratory mission" yet.

He sounded a little funny, but offered no immediate details other than to request, "Sorry, but - do you think you could come and get me? They say I can't leave unless someone picks me up."

He never apologized. And he never called. Oh God, he's in jail. "Did you get arrested?" she asked, already putting her shoes back on.

"No . . ."

He really sounded funny. The word was drawn out almost drunkenly. If he got arrested for being drunk she was really going to kill him.

"No," he repeated. "I have concussion."

Eve swore creatively, in her head. Out loud she asked, "Where are you?"

"Milwaukee?"

One sneaker tied. "Are you sure or are you confused?"

"Definitely Milwaukee." He paused. "In emergency."

"I guessed that part." She counted to ten; he sounded fuzzy and yelling at him would not help. "What hospital?"

There was a pause, then he said rather triumphantly, "There's a sign on the wall! I don't know how to say it -"

"You can't read it?" she asked, alarmed.

"No, it's a weird name. It says F - R - O - E - D - T - E - R - T? Fro-ed-tert?"

At least he wasn't that confused; the name actually did show up on a Google search. "Okay. I have to get back over to the Annex and find Jenkins -"

"The door's already set for me."

"Do you know how far from the hospital the door is?"

Silence. Then, "Better move the door."

"I'll be there as soon as I can." She was proud of herself for remembering to pause before hanging up. "How do you feel? Are you okay?"

"My head hurts."

Well, ask a stupid question. "Okay. I'm on my way."

Even Jenkins looked mildly alarmed when he met her to reset the door. By contrast, the desk clerk at the Froedtert Hospital emergency room looked about as calm as a person can when surrounded by shouting kids, a guy in a very bloody shirt, and someone who was vomiting into a bin. His eyes drifted over Eve professionally, looking for blood.

"I'm here to pick up my - a - Ezekiel Jones?" They really did need to work on some cover stories.

The guy picked up a phone and gave her name to whoever answered before pointing her down a hall. Even the nurse who directed her to Jones's room was unflustered - Jones must have been behaving himself better than she would have expected.

He greeted her from his propped-up bed with a smile, looking apparently unmaimed. Most of the stress in her stomach slowly uncoiled. "You don't look too bad," she said.

"They gave me some stuff when I came in, but I think it's worn off," he replied. "I was kind of groggy before."

"Yeah." She sat down in the chair beside the bed. "I was kind of surprised they let me back."

"Well, you're my next-of-kin."

"I'm your what?"

"Yeah, I even have this card." He dragged out his wallet and showed her a little laminated card with In case of emergency contact . . . Her name was written in with what looked like a thin permanent marker.

Confronted with the sight of her own name on a card in Jones's wallet, she could only repeat, "Wh- what?"

"It's for if I'm unconscious."

"Why -" She couldn't even decide what was throwing her the most, but it might have been Ezekiel Jones, her least responsible and most devil-may-care charge, bothering to acquire an emergency contact card. "Why would you have that?"

He shrugged. "I travel without ID a lot. You know what happens to you if they find you unconscious and you don't have ID?"

"They steal your kidneys?"

"I don't plan to be somebody's John Doe." He grinned at her as he put his wallet away. "I also have a living will."

"You -" She swallowed. "With my name on it?"

"Well, yeah. You're the one I trust not to pull the plug."

She just stared back at him, unexpectedly stricken and thinking, bizarrely, that at least he didn't have any dog tags for someone to hand her. He probably didn't have anyone for her to deliver them to, either. "Let's," she said, "let's never need any of those things, okay?"

"Fine by me."

A nurse came in balancing two clipboards and smiled. "Oh, good. Your aunt is here."

Aunt? she mouthed at him when the nurse couldn't see, although she had to admit it was a better story than her total lack of one.

The nurse was doing a hasty check of Jones's vitals. "Now, Mrs. Baird -"

Eve tried not to sigh.

"- it's all right for our young man here to go to sleep when he gets home, but he'll need to be woken every two hours to check that his condition hasn't changed."

"I've dealt with a lot of . . . sports injuries," Eve said. "I know the drill."

"Great." The nurse hadn't seen, or was ignoring, Jones's pleading looks. Tough luck for him - he should know she wasn't going to skimp on the safety precautions when one of them was hurt. "Tylenol is okay if he has a headache, but nothing else. Do you still feel nauseated?"

That last part was actually directed at Jones. "I don't think so," he replied. Looking at Eve, he added, "I threw up. Earlier."

She patted his hand and asked the nurse, "So he's discharged?"

"Yup, we're all set here. Come back if you notice any confusion or dizziness, or if he starts vomiting again."

Considering he'd be sleeping about five states away, returning to this particular ER was probably unlikely. Eve put on a bright smile and tried not to think about the effects of traveling via magical door with a concussion.

"Any chance I'm getting out of you waking me up every two hours all night?" Jones asked quietly as they made their way back to the waiting room.

"Not a chance. Hope your couch is comfortable, 'cause you've got a roommate for the night."

"Ah." They passed through the ER entrance and out into the night. "I don't actually have a couch."

"How can you not have a couch?"

So she was a hypocrite. But she expected other people to be normal. Even she had a couch, now.

"It's a small apartment!" he protested. "And I'm not putting resources into furnishing it when I spend half my time moving around the world anyway."

Yeah, she was definitely a hypocrite. Luckily, he'd never seen her place in DC, so he didn't know that. "Well," she said, "then I guess I've got a roommate for the night."

"Oh, man."

"Lucky for you, my couch is quite comfortable." And brand new. Thank you, Portland IKEA.

She was so focused on watching Jones as they came through the back door, waiting to see if he'd throw up or his head would explode, that she didn't see Flynn until they actually bumped into him.

Her first reaction, which she fortunately managed to suppress, was to swear. Flynn had been away at some kind of Biblical archaeology conference, and Charlene had registered him for the hotel package. She hadn't expected to see him until tomorrow night.

He was dressed, unusually for him, in his shirtsleeves and no jacket. One of the sleeves was smudged with red going brown. "Are you bleeding?" she asked.

"Not anymore." He grinned at them. "Where have you two been?"

"Not any- you were supposed to be at an academic conference!" She had one eye on him and one on Jones, who was clearly thinking about slipping away while she was distracted. "Why were you bleeding? Jones, sit down."

"I'm-" he started to protest.

"Down."

He sat.

She turned her attention back to Flynn, who was giving her a soft smile that made her head swimmy. It wasn't that she didn't want to see him, obviously. But there were - factors.

They'd been dating, or at any rate doing something he clearly thought of as dating, for a while. There had been a few occasions . . . well, he'd just about convinced her that his interest was not purely friendly. And he'd stayed over at her apartment multiple times, though nothing had happened. Yet. She'd gotten the idea that he was waiting for the right time, or waiting until it felt like it had been long enough, or something - but she'd kind of thought, maybe when he got back from this conference, maybe it might be time - maybe he would think it was time -

He'd sent her a text, the first night. Tone was, of course, nearly impossible to tell from a text. But it had said REALLY wish you were here.

And tonight she was going to have a concussed Australian kid camping out on her couch. That was going to put a damper on the mood.

Hoping to head Flynn off before he got his hopes up, she said quickly, "Jones has a concussion."

Flynn turned to Jones with a look of concern. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," Jones said with a hand wave. "Tell Colonel Baird she doesn't need to wake me up every two hours."

"He is not going to tell you that," Eve said, with a warning look at Flynn. "You're stuck with me."

"Better be a really comfortable couch," Jones muttered darkly.

"Uh," said Flynn. Eve glanced quickly at him, hoping he'd gotten the message. "I could - help? With that? I mean, we could take turns keeping an eye on him?"

She really wasn't sure what to say to that.

Unfortunately, Jones noticed her pause, and had no qualms about what to say. "I don't need one babysitter, let alone two, but don't throw him out on my account." He paused and held up a hand. "Although I am easily shocked, so maybe, you know. Keep it down."

Eve stared at him, conscious of how close to Flynn she was standing and praying her face wasn't getting as red as she felt like it was. "What - does everyone - what?"

"I'm very observant." Jones pushed himself to his feet. "Can - whoever's coming, can we go? I did get hit really hard in the head."

As Jones turned away, Eve looked helplessly back at Flynn. He just gave her a little smile and took her hand. "Come on, I'll tell you all about the guy who attacked me with a bottle because I corrected his translation."

"Wait, seriously?" she asked. If he was trying to distract her from being embarrassed, it was absolutely working.

"At a reception." Jones held the hallway door open for them and Flynn somehow rather smoothly escorted her through it by moving behind her, his free hand briefly pressing on her lower back. "Of course he'd emptied it first - I'm guessing into himself. And then broke it on the table like he was in a movie. Well, kind of. He had to try twice."

Even Jones was smiling by the time they made it outside. "So a bunch of other nerds - ow, injured -"

"Not in your arm," said Eve, who had smacked him.

"Other - conference goers, pull him off you?"

"Nope," Flynn said brightly. "I don't think they were quite ready to react to violence at cocktail hour. I disarmed him with a kebab."

"Seriously?" Eve said again. Part of her was wondering whether Charlene might now believe Flynn needed a bodyguard even at seemingly innocuous events.

"I assume you mean the kind on a stick," Jones said.

Flynn nodded. "Still had shrimp on it."

Eve narrowed her eyes at him, almost sure he was making some of this up just to entertain them. But then, as he insisted on opening her car door for her, his sleeve did smell a little bit like garlic butter.

While they gave Jones the run of her bathroom to clean up from his adventures, Flynn let Eve examine his arm over the kitchen sink. He had one smaller cut near the outside of his wrist, and a longer slice of two or three inches further up. "Did you check these for glass before they closed up?" she asked while prodding.

"I irrigated them." When she looked up in skepticism, he added, "seltzer dispenser at the bar."

"Inventive."

His free hand settled on her hip. "It's okay, Eve. It's fine."

She reached for the bottle of hydrogen peroxide anyway, squirting it liberally over his arm and watching more intently than necessary as it foamed along the cuts. "You know," she said, "I used to think you got attacked all the time because people wanted the magical artifacts, or the Library's power . . . but I'm starting to wonder if you just have a way about you."

He laughed. "That's why I need you." His fingers were tracing distracting patterns against her skin.

With a quick glance toward the closed bathroom door, she said, "Sorry about -" She nodded in the direction of the bathroom.

"Hey, it's okay - paper towel?" She handed him one, and he released her to start soaking up the extra peroxide on his arm. "I'm pretty new to having a team, but I get that letting one of them slip into a coma in the middle of the night would be bad."

"I think he's fine," she said. "He seems more like himself than when he called me. But -"

He kissed her, stroking her jaw with cool fingers that smelled just a bit of peroxide.

Jones seemed tired and subdued as they settled him with blankets and pillow on her couch, but he was coherent and he said the Tylenol was easing his headache. After they'd each taken their turns in the bathroom, Eve followed Flynn into her bedroom with the minimum of self-consciousness, although she left the door open an inch or two. Somehow she thought this would make Jones feel less weird about what they might be doing, or about waking them up if he needed to.

Tucked into a spot that was shielded from the sightline of the cracked door (which, from the couch, was fairly nonexistent anyway), Flynn pulled her into his arms and just stood still, his chin resting on her shoulder. She glanced at the bed, which was not at all some kind of Freudian trigger, and had a bittersweet feeling that there was something so nice about this, something so tender about this phase of a relationship that would disappear once they'd taken things further. How often would he be content to stand here like this once the possibility of going further had been opened up? She liked it, liked how it gave her the impression of being wanted for herself and not for her body, but it hurt a little, mixed up with the knowledge/fear that it was temporary and the unrealistic hope of maybe this time.

"Thanks for letting me stay," he said quietly.

"I missed you." She felt almost shy, still, every time she had to say it.

"Me too." Echoing her own earlier thought, he added, "I'm definitely telling Charlene that I wouldn't have been attacked by a Harvard professor if you'd been there."

"Harvard? Really?"

"Yeah, I'm a little proud of that."

"You should be." She was smiling, but she was also very aware of the warm weight of his hands on her lower back. She'd changed into a sleeveless shirt for bed, and now, while he held her still against him, his lips ghosted light kisses from her neck to her shoulder, each slow brush making her shiver. He couldn't have any real intentions, not with Jones sleeping twenty feet away, but it was still something more, something different from anything before. It mystified her, how she could be excited and conflicted at the same time.

She wasn't sure whether she should try to ignore what he was doing, or react like a normal person would, whatever that was . . . Without really deciding, because she was trying to let herself respond naturally and not think about it so much, she bent and pressed a kiss to the hollow of his throat. He lifted his chin to let her, which forced him to stop his slow progress over her shoulder, but neither of them seemed to mind. She was focused on his warm skin against her mouth and nose, the smell of her soap on him (he'd thankfully shed the button-down that smelled like shrimp kebab), his chest against her spread palms. He whispered her name so softly that she was almost unsure whether she'd really heard it.

He kissed her with fingers tangled in her hair, breaking it off just a moment before she would have thought it was getting too heated for a night when they had company. Their foreheads rested together in the quiet for a while; then he pulled her toward the bed and settled them down with no further words. She did, in a tiny corner of her mind that the rest of her tried hard to silence, start to believe that maybe he was telling her something with the press of his face against her hair, the slow stroking of his fingers on her shoulder, his hand cupped over her hip. But even if she was right - in that little corner of her mind - it wasn't something either of them was ready to talk about.

 

(It did, when it happened, happen after he'd been away on a case without her. Only this time he'd unawares ended up someplace so remote that he lost cell phone and wireless contact, got away from civilization and got himself so stuck in a complicated mess of a situation that he was gone, and gone silent, for several days. Gone for so long that Eve went from worried to terrified to stoic, face blank and jaw clenched as she tried to concentrate on what the others needed, while they tried as much as possible to leave her alone. Gone for so long that when he finally showed up she practically launched herself at him. She hadn't been able to decide whether to be angry or not, but he started apologizing immediately even while he kissed her. It was, right away, a no more waiting kind of kiss, and she couldn't be mad when he kept murmuring "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," over and over again until they hit her bedroom and clothes started coming off and she finally told him to stop being sorry.)

 

Eve thought she knew what to expect the first time he went away without her after they'd started having sex. Or rather, the first time he came back from being away without her. It was late enough that she was in bed when he texted, but she did want to see him, so she scanned only the first few words of I know it's late but do you mind if I before replying come over.

It was all still so new. They'd been together twice now; once after a case like this, only she'd been so scared and relieved and it had been a deep and intense first time, and the second time shortly thereafter and just as intense as he struggled to prove to her . . . that he was different from her previous boyfriends? Which he certainly was, so far. But still a guy, so. Yeah. She knew what to expect.

She had time to take inventory and make some quick choices - she hadn't gone to bed in anything particularly alluring, though it wasn't bad either, just . . . normal. She decided not to change, but did straighten out her hair a little and splash some water on her face.

Flynn arrived for once unharmed, just looking a bit tired and rumpled. She shut the door behind him and he sagged against her, wrapping her in a tight embrace, and said, "Stop looking for blood."

"You can't blame me," she muttered, but obeyed and just hugged him back.

"Did I wake you?" he asked, one hand stroking her hair back from her face.

She brushed her lips lightly against his, trying to assess his mood. His other hand was low on her back, dipping just barely beneath the waist of her pajama pants. His eyes were heavy, and he responded to her kiss with one of his own that had just a touch more heat behind it.

"No, I was in bed but I hadn't fallen asleep." She ran both her hands over his shoulder blades and down his back, pulling his hips closer to hers. His touch was a good thing, and his embrace and his smell and his tired smile, and she could be in the mood for this. In the mood to welcome this.

"Good," he said against her lips, but then he lowered his forehead to her shoulder and seemed happy just to stand there with his fingertips tracing the place where her neck met the back of her shirt.

"What do you need?" she asked, lightly kneading his lower back with her hands. Already he had far surpassed her expectations by letting her invite, rather than demanding.

His arms pressed briefly tighter. "Just bed, I think."

Well, that she knew. She led him to the bedroom and came around behind him to pull off his jacket, draping it neatly over the back of a chair. He was already unbuttoning his shirt when she came back, so she started on the button and zip of his pants and stepped back a little when he took over. He didn't reach for her until after he had nearly fallen into bed.

She turned off the lights and slid in beside him, draped her leg over his thighs, and stretched to press her mouth to his. With a little sigh and a hand cupping the back of her head he returned the kiss, but then settled back onto the pillow with his lips brushing against her temple. His hand covered hers on his chest and he murmured indistinctly, "Love you."

By the time she'd started breathing again she realized he was asleep. And - she reminded herself sternly - probably had no idea what he'd said.

Still. She was kept up a while, not by his sleep-drunk confession itself, but by the weird pangs of hope that maybe he meant it. Really meant it, meant that, and not I love the access to easily obtained sex that our relationship offers. That would be . . . she didn't really have words for what that would be.

 

(Meanwhile, Jones did wake her up that night of his concussion, startling her with a whisper and a hand on her shoulder. It was her reaction that woke Flynn, but she stilled him with a hand on his chest. Jones explained quietly, "I just woke up and you would have gotten up and woken me in ten minutes, so I thought I'd save you the trouble."

Half sitting up, she tried to focus in the darkness and said, "Okay. Do you feel all right?"

"Fine."

"What year is it?"

"2015."

She held up two fingers. "How many?"

"Thirteen," he quipped. "I'm fine, go back to sleep."

"Okay," she conceded, reaching for the alarm to change its time to two hours hence. "See you at four."

And he went back out to the living room, and she settled back down, feeling less embarrassed than she would have expected at him seeing her asleep with Flynn's arms around her.)

Chapter Text

Flynn waited a long time to call.

Well, definitely until the gunfire stopped, because that was only smart. Talking would give away his location and texting would require that he hold his phone where he could see it, which would probably mean sticking his hands out from underneath the tiny overhang that sheltered him. Since Eve had been just a little bit cranky about receiving a text that asked if she knew anything about syphilis.

(He still wasn't sure how he'd managed to mistype "simulations" so badly, even while not looking.)

Plus he didn't actually want Eve walking into a shootout to save him.

He also waited until he heard the correct number of footsteps receding, and the correct number of truck door slams, and two engines disappearing into the distance. He didn't think they were smart enough to put up that good of an appearance of leaving, and anyway, they had to think he was dead by now.

His ledge was big enough to sit down while he called, which made him feel a bit less vertiginous.

"Hey," he said casually when Eve picked up.

It might not really have been that casual.

"Did something happen?" she asked immediately.

"Kind of?"

"What's -"

"Well," he interrupted. "I waited till I was pretty sure I can't get myself out of here. There were some people shooting at me, and I was running away -"

"Wait, what? Are you -"

"No new holes," he promised. "I'm completely - well, okay, a little scratched and bruised, but basically fine. But I, uh, I - I ran off a cliff?"

Dead silence.

"I mean, there was sort of a - a ledge I landed on, so everything's fine, I'm fine, except there's no way off the ledge." The silence was starting to worry him, and he rushed to fill it. "Down is, uh, it's far. It's - that's not going to work out. And there isn't really anything above me to grab onto, so climbing isn't . . . Eve?"

After another moment of silence, she said, "I'm putting you on speaker."

He could hear her murmuring indistinctly in the background, but the next voice he heard was Stone's. "Did you, uh, did you notice what was around you before you went over? What's around, is it trees, rocks, anything?"

Having already thought about this question, Flynn knew why Stone was asking. "It's pretty flat. Basically nothing for . . . I don't know, I ran about a quarter mile?"

"When you say 'nothing' -" the other man started.

"Grass?" Flynn said. "Dust?"

"Okay. Okay."

"How far down are you?" Eve asked, sounding strained.

He scooted cautiously away from the cliff wall to look up, gauging with his hand. "It's hard to tell from this angle. Twenty feet? Could be more."

"Twenty - Flynn." If he'd thought she sounded strained before, now she sounded close to panic. "If you'd fallen more than twenty feet you'd have serious internal injuries." She paused. "You might. Sometimes people don't know - Flynn -"

"I slowed my fall," he said before she could have a heart attack. "I kind of - slid down the cliff wall. It wasn't fun, but I swear I'm fine, I'm breathing and nothing really hurts -" Except his forearms, which had been scraped raw by the dusty cliff face, and the knee that had hit rock when his landing stance collapsed. "I'm just stuck."

"How big is the ledge you're standing on?" Stone asked.

"Two feet out by . . . five long?" He'd been through this already in his head. Even if by some miracle there was a twenty-foot ladder in Jenkins's storage closets, there wouldn't be enough room to prop it safely.

"Okay," Stone said again. There was more quiet murmuring. "All right," he said. "Baird's got your location on GPS, and we're gonna be on our way. Hang tight."

"Flynn?" Eve said.

"I'm okay," he replied. "See you when you get here."

He hung tight. Tried not to think about why there were so few ledges in the cliff wall, even below him. Or about erosion. Or the fact that he was seeing more dusty, dry soil than solid rock on his little perch.

"Flynn?"

He didn't know how long it had been before he heard Eve calling his name from above - he'd been consciously not checking his watch, knowing that kind of thing could lead to panic. "Down here!" he called back.

"Flynn?" That was Stone, now. "One more time, buddy." He didn't sound that far off.

"Here," Flynn replied obediently.

He could hear them conferring now, close by. "I got him - no, to the right," Stone said.

There was a rustling noise, and Flynn turned very tentatively to put his back to the drop and look up. "Hey," he said as Eve's worried face came into view. She must have been lying on her stomach.

"You okay?" she asked.

He gave her the most confident smile he could muster. "Fine. Glad to see you."

He saw flashes of Stone above the cliff line, then the man's entire face as he came down beside Eve. "You were right," Stone said. "There is pretty much nothing around up here. We got a plan, but - it's going to be a little sketchy."

"I love sketchy," Flynn replied, aware that his smile had gotten weaker.

Stone patted Eve on the shoulder and climbed to his feet, disappearing. Eve's knuckles were white on the edge of the cliff as she spoke. "We're going to lower a rope, but don't put your weight on it till we say. And you have to - don't try to just climb the rope; put your feet against the wall and use them to take as much weight as you can. Update us as you're going up, how far you've gotten. And you have to listen, if we tell you to stop moving or drop back down or -"

"I've got it." She was clearly very frightened, and given his track record he thought the promise was worth repeating. "I'll listen."

A bit of rope appeared over the side next to her, and he could just about see Stone's hands - he was now wearing work gloves - playing it out. "Don't pull on it," Eve reiterated. "Just grab it."

"Got it."

She gave him one last, long look, then pushed herself back and was gone. The rope continued its descent; Stone occasionally calling, "Wait - wait -" Finally he yelled, "Can you reach it?"

The rope was just within grasp, but he wasn't going to be able to do much climbing from this height. "Three more feet?" he asked, praying it was a long rope.

The rope slowly extended lower, until its end hit him at waist-height. "Okay," he called up. "I can do it now."

"Okay, wait," Stone yelled back.

"Waiting!" Rope loosely clasped in one hand, he leaned his back against the cliff wall. It was a little bit nice that Eve was so afraid - well, no, it wasn't, it was terrifying, because she didn't get scared for no reason. And not that he wanted to scare her. But there had been a lot of emotion in her face, and that was . . . nice.

He had no idea what they were doing up there, but he knew what the problem was - had known since the beginning. Nothing to tie a rope to. And two people might seem capable of pulling one up on a rope - especially if the two people were strong and the one was relatively thin, as was the case - but with nothing to brace themselves against but dust and grass . . .

"Okay," Eve called a bit shakily. "We need to test it. Don't start climbing, but on three, hang your weight on the rope and lift your feet up a little. Okay?"

"Okay," Flynn confirmed.

"One - two - three -"

He leaned heavily on the rope, drawing his knees up so that his feet only skimmed the ground. There was a bit of give, but the rope held.

"That's all right," he heard Stone say above.

"Okay," Eve called down. "Stand down again and give us a minute . . ."

He obeyed, listening to the rustling noises above, and then Stone saying, with a note of either fear or warning, "Eve." Flynn couldn't remember ever hearing him call Eve by her first name before. He wondered, idly - or rather, to distract himself from nerves - how much Stone knew about their relationship. He'd seen them holding hands and certainly assumed something was up, but - were he and Eve close enough to talk about it? Or for him to just notice things? Would he know that they rarely slept apart anymore, unless one of them was away. Did he know how very terrified Eve was right now. Flynn suspected that he did.

"We're ready," Stone called. "Feet on the cliff face - climb slow."

Flynn had to will his hands not to shake and his scraped arms not to protest as he gripped the rope, planted one foot about three feet off the ground, and pulled himself up. "Okay?" he called as the other foot left the ground and found leverage against the wall, concentrating on pushing his weight up rather than out. It wasn't easy with the rope anchored only at the top.

"Okay," Stone replied, strain evident in his voice. "Slow as you can without getting tired."

"Gone about a foot," Flynn said, more to keep his mind off the strain on his arms.

"So seven feet up?" Eve asked. Flynn could hear exertion in her voice as well and wondered just how they were managing this.

"Eight," he said as he managed to pull himself up another foot or so. He waited until he got to ten before updating them again, but refused to look up and see how much further he still had to go.

The rope suddenly slackened in his hand for a second, and caught again after about a half-foot drop. "Flynn?" Stone asked, the edge of panic in his voice.

"I'm fine," Flynn called back.

"Okay - we're having - there might be some little drops like that, we're trying not to, but there's - just be ready for it, okay?" Stone shouted.

The growing fear in his gut made it hard to reply but he did anyway, continuing to pull himself upward. There were more tiny slips and drops, and times when he could feel the rope trembling no matter how still he tried to hold it. But he got higher and higher, until he finally dared to look up and called, with great relief, "Two feet from the top."

Stone grunted a reply. The fact that he evidently could barely speak anymore spurred Flynn onward despite his arms vibrating with strain and the pain in his cramped, blistering hands. He had a hand almost at the top of the cliff when the rope slipped again, and he fell almost an entire foot this time. He ended up with his torso only about a foot higher than his feet, his heart pounding. "Fine!' he shouted automatically, straining his way back up the rope until he could wave one hand over the edge.

"We see you," Eve said, still more fear than relief in her voice. "But we're - hang on -"

"You're gonna have to . . ." Stone said quietly.

"I know," Eve responded, just as low, her voice tight. "Flynn?" she called more loudly. "Listen - don't move, don't move at all, but can you put as much weight as possible against your feet and your hand on the edge? Does it feel solid?"

He wouldn't trust it enough to let go of the rope, but he felt rock and not crumbling earth. "I think so."

"Okay - take as much weight off the rope as you can, and hold tight."

Flynn obeyed - he couldn't entirely take his weight from the rope, but he tried to pull upward with his one shaky hand on the rock.

"Slowly - slowly," he could hear Stone saying, but he wasn't talking to Flynn. "Okay - okay - let go - now go, fast."

Flynn heard footsteps in grass and a thump, and then Eve was above him, her hand over his. "You're going to have to let go of the cliff for a second and take my hand," she said. Her face was flushed, but she still looked strained and worried. "Don't think about it, just do it."

"I'll pull you over," he protested.

"You won't."

He thought through the physics quickly - if she was lying down completely, there was a chance it was safe. He swallowed, focusing on her extended hand and braced his burning legs hard against the wall. In one quick move he released his grip on the rock, giving himself an upward boost with his legs, and tightly grabbed onto her hand.

"Good," she said, exhaling with a rush. She adjusted her position until she could also extend the other hand. "Now you're going to let go of the rope and take both my hands."

"Are you sure?"

"It's only for a second." Some of her normal air of reassurance was back. "Stone -"

"Ready," Stone replied.

Eve gave Flynn a tiny nod. "Go on, now."

It was done in an instant - she made a small noise as he gripped and pulled harder against the hand he was already holding, but he didn't slip and soon he was gripping her other hand at the wrist. There was stickiness between them, but he couldn't tell which one of them was bleeding or blistering.

"Got him," she said, and in another second Stone was there too, kneeling at the edge, grabbing one of Flynn's arms and hauling him upward. Flynn didn't even mind the burning of his abused skin as together the two of them hauled him over the edge, pulling back until he flopped on his stomach. Stone kept pulling as Eve got off her stomach and sat back, all of them scrambling away from the edge and finally all sitting on the ground with a safe distance between them and the cliff.

Eve made a tiny noise that sounded like a cry as she leaned against Flynn, her hand still in his, shaking badly. He could see now that more of the blood was hers than his - she'd clearly done exactly what everyone knew not to do, wrapped the rope around her wrists. If his feet had slipped he could have broken one of her arms; as it was, the rope had burned badly.

Now he could see, too, what had happened up here, what they must have done. There was a long, occasionally interrupted furrow in the grass where they must have tried to brace themselves and been dragged forward by the lack of purchase. It stopped maybe five feet from the edge. Flynn carefully picked up one of Eve's hands and kissed the palm, avoiding the abraded skin on her wrist. They'd had nothing to anchor the rope to but themselves, each other, and they were as spent and exhausted as he was.

Stone's hand landed heavily on Flynn's knee and Flynn gave it a grateful clasp. None of them had said anything yet. Stone wrapped his other arm around Eve's neck and pulled her against him in a rough half-hug.

"Good plan," Flynn forced out between gasped breaths.

With a gasp of her own Eve pressed her forehead to Flynn's, lifting her arm to wrap around his neck. Stone had ditched the work gloves and he rubbed one hand over Eve's back. "What the hell happened?" he asked. Eve gave a shaky laugh that said she was in full agreement with the question.

Her lips were so close to Flynn's, and he figured this wasn't really the time for discretion so he gave her a quick kiss before replying. "It had nothing to do with why I was here," he admitted. "I think I just stumbled into somebody's . . ." His hand on Eve's upper arm, he rubbed instead of flailing as he searched for the word. ". . . criminal lair. I was just somewhere I wasn't supposed to be, they thought I'd seen things - which I did, by the way."

"Should we be calling the police?" Eve asked.

Flynn shrugged, which pulled at his aching shoulders. "Anonymous tip?"

"Was it drugs?" Stone asked.

"Probably, but, and guns," Flynn replied. "I mean, they had more guns than they were shooting at me. A lot more." He slid his hand gently down to Eve's elbow. "I'm going to be making this up to you for a while, huh."

"Years," she said, the dry tone making him smile at the same time that the word sent a jolt through his chest. It was a promise.

Though. "Both of you," he added, looking at Stone. Who had dropped everything to come help Eve pull him up a cliff, and who was looking at them both like they were his favorite sight in the world at the moment.

Stone cracked a smile and patted Flynn's shoulder. "Not in the same way, though, please."

"Right," Flynn stammered as Eve laughed.

Stone got a bit ahead of them - probably on purpose, again - as they staggered toward the back door, long enough for Flynn to murmur in some privacy, "I'm sorry for scaring you."

They were leaning on each other, his arm around her shoulders. She patted his hand and replied, "We're adding 'jumping off a cliff' to the list of things you're never doing again. Right after 'getting shot at.'"

"Yes," he agreed.

She stopped him for a moment and grabbed his jaw, forcing him to look her in the eye. "Never, ever," she said. "I can't - I couldn't -"

He knew. He couldn't picture being without her anymore, either.

 

It had taken him a long time to realize - maybe longer to believe - that they were really going to be all right. That she wasn't going to wake up one morning having had enough of magic and monsters and him. That she wasn't going to leave because he sometimes forgot to call, or because he sometimes talked for half an hour without realizing she'd stopped understanding after the first five words, or because he had a complete and total mental block on the subject of how she liked her coffee (in his defense, she'd drink it pretty much any way and didn't usually bother reminding him). It took him weeks to really believe that every and any argument wasn't going to drive her away - weeks in which he was stuck in a constant cycle of forgetting himself, getting caught up and passionate and then later realizing with horror that he'd yelled at her, and cringing in fear that this would be the time she'd get mad enough to walk out.

And their arguments weren't even that bad really; with what he assumed was an incredible exercise of control on both their parts, they both managed to pull their punches and keep things above the belt -

- not literally; Stone was crazy enough to let her lure him into practice fights occasionally, but Flynn had no desire to get his ass kicked that badly -

- but even so, they'd once sent Cassandra fleeing from the room. He was actually pretty sure that they'd both felt worse about that than about each other.

Still. She had a way of looking at him, where annoyance would be gone in less than an instant and she'd be smiling with her eyes. Some of it was just her, he realized - her temper ran hot, but it was also over fast. But some of it was clearly him. Even better was the touchingly sweet expression she got when he was better - nicer, or more thoughtful - than she expected. Tender and surprised at the same time. He figured as long as he could still make her look like that sometimes, they were probably okay.

He did have to admit something to himself though, on one of those nights that he spent curled around her, alternating between pure comfort and nervousness because they still hadn't taken things any further. When he'd hold her and try not to notice the perfect line of her shoulder as she slept, or try not to imagine his mouth on her skin, or try to at least hide his response when the loose neckline of her shirt shifted in her sleep and revealed most of her breast. He wanted her and he was confident that she wanted him, and he had to admit that they hadn't gone there yet because he was afraid.

Afraid because it had been years and really, most of the women he'd been with had basically just thrown him down and gone after what they wanted. Afraid that if he disappointed her, that would be the thing that would make her leave. Afraid because she felt like his chance for something real and honest and lasting and the stakes were really high.

 

In the actual event, though, it ended up that he was more worried about the fact that he'd been incommunicado for days and she was either going to be frantic or incredibly pissed off. Probably both. He called the second he arrived in the Annex - she picked up on the first ring, and her voice as she said his name was strained and raspy and hopeful all at once.

"I'm so sorry," he said immediately.

"Where are you?"

"I just got home. I mean I'm in the Annex. I'm so sorry, Eve, I was stuck and nothing worked and I couldn't transport out any way, and there was no phone signal -"

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, I -" He surveyed his current state, post-days-in-the-wilderness. "I could use a shower, but I'm fine, it was really just there was no way to call and -"

"Can - can you . . ." She trailed off, apparently unable to voice what she wanted to say.

"I'll -" He hoped this was the right guess. "I'll come over? After I clean up?"

"Yeah," she said after a slight pause.

"I really am -"

"Just," she said. "Just come. Please?"

He hurried to shower and put on clean clothes and get to her place, completely unsure whether he was facing an epic rage - he had a very strong feeling that she was capable of it - or tears, or something else. Barely seconds passed between the time he knocked and the door opening, and she pulled him inside and slammed it and was on him so fast that for a second he still wasn't sure whether she was hugging him or about to hit or strangle him.

"I'm sorry," he said as a preemptive measure. Her hand was on the back of his neck, so - hugging, not strangling. Still. "I know - if there was any way I could have called I would have, I really -" I really do know that you worry. I do pay attention. I did think about you -

It actually took him a moment to notice that he'd said most of that in his head rather than out loud, because she was kissing him.

"I'm sorry," he said again when they parted briefly. "We'll - we'll figure out a way for that not to happen -" She cut him off with another kiss, which was good because he wasn't actually sure how they would do what he was promising. No doubt Jenkins would have to be involved.

"You're really all right?" she asked, her lips drifting over his jaw, down his throat. He tilted his head to let her reach.

"I'm really all right," he said.

Her mouth found his again, and while he was kind of drowning in that sensation he noticed that she was pushing his jacket off his shoulders and he thought, Oh. Oh, now. Right. The thought brought with it equal parts arousal and anxiety. Still, he had absolutely no intention of putting her off, so he let her guide him to her bedroom and pull his sweater off, continuing to apologize a bit brokenly until she put both hands on the sides of his face and said, "It's okay. Stop."

For all that expressing it didn't come naturally to her, she definitely had better instincts for emotion than he did, and there was one moment, one thing she did that let him know it was going to be all right.

His anxiety had built steadily as he gently pulled her shirt over her head, pushed her bra straps down her shoulders and followed one of them with his lips, and let her help him get her bra all the way off. His brain was going a mile a minute, trying to remember everything he'd ever been told and everything he'd ever done and to figure out what she might like, as his hands bracketed her rib cage and his thumbs rubbed under her breasts. He lowered his head and felt her hands automatically raise to his hair, but he was focused on what he was doing, trying to listen for her reaction rather than getting caught up in the unbelievable softness of her skin against his mouth or the perfect weight of her other breast in his hand.

Her breath was growing ragged - he could actually feel her racing heartbeat with his mouth at her nipple - and she gave one sharp gasp that seemed positive, so he repeated what he'd been doing, holding her still with his other hand on her lower back, listening and assessing . . . Dimly he became aware of her arms wrapping around his neck, a gentle weight on the top of his bent head, and out of his peripheral vision he saw the bent line of her neck and realized that she'd rested her cheek against his hair. Her fingertips rubbed lightly through the hair at the nape of his neck.

Okay. So he was worried about his technique and she was cuddling him. Just maybe a slight shift in priorities would be appropriate.

He moved to press a kiss between her breasts and felt the way she moved with him, hands running through his hair, remaining curled over him. It was - warmth and softness and the smell of her skin against his nose, and -

His hand replaced his mouth on her breast and he started to ask, "Would it be better if -" but she pulled his face up to hers and kissed him, then reached for the hem of his shirt and said softly, "Don't think so much."

It was going to be all right.

Anything involving the Library was likely to include a certain amount of blood, sweat, and tears, and their first time together had a bit of all three as well. The sweat was sort of inevitable, but it was hard to say which of them was more mortified about the blood and tears. At least they were unrelated to each other.

It was after he had finally let go, burying his shout against her mouth as he pressed hard within her, and he collapsed onto her and eventually started to breathe again, that he lifted his head and saw her eyes wet in the dim light. Oh God, he thought, his hands framing her face and his thumbs brushing at the corners of her eyes. "I hurt you."

She shook her head. "No - wow, this is embarrassing." She took a deep, shaky breath, her hands rubbing up and down his back. "It's good."

"You're sure?"

Nodding, she brought one hand up to rub a knuckle under both eyes. "Sorry."

"Don't be." He lowered his head to kiss her, and about that time realized it might be kind of weird to talk about her feelings without pulling out first. Or something. He did so gently, catching the tiny wince that she'd also let slip as he was first pressing into her. It wasn't that he'd ever thought she was lying, exactly, about how long it had been for her, but it was another thing to see it. They'd had to work together a bit to make her comfortable at first, and when she fetched a damp towel to clean them up, a faint but definite amount of pink came off them both that made her blush and him bite his lip.

Still, it was all right. They curled up together, just the same as usual except that they were naked, and he fell asleep with her hand over his heart; and the next day she freaked out a little bit, but it was still all right.

 

He could say, though, the exact moment that he really, really knew, and it was later, on an uneventful night when they'd had dinner together, and they came back to her place laughing and teasing a bit and just enjoying each other's company. No danger, no fights, no worry. She kissed him, smiling, as soon as they got inside and one thing led to another quickly, his jacket hitting the floor and her shoes kicked off while he was already fumbling with the button of her jeans. He unbuttoned her shirt but never actually got it off - which was really sort of fine, because he'd never seen her in a nearly-transparent bra before and it was . . . good, as was the fact that she'd probably worn it for him - and she just pushed him down onto the couch once his clothes were off.

They'd never not made it to the bedroom before, and it was also the first time they'd - well, they'd had great sex, loving and very satisfying albeit a little angsty sometimes great sex, but they hadn't had this. This was just joyful. Both of them still laughing a little, no serious issues at the forefront, just them completely enjoying each other. All the emotional stuff was still there underneath - in particular, he liked the way this position, with her sort of kneeling over his lap, made her tall enough to wrap her arms around him and curl over him the way he liked, her embrace surrounding him with his head against her breast. And he'd gotten used to her quietness - used to watching her face and paying attention to her breathing and her muscles - but this time, for the first time, she let go enough to cry his name and to murmur encouragement instead of only expressing it with her hands.

(Eve generally seemed to approach sex as sort of a joint mission which they could complete by working together as a team. Which in some odd way really worked for him.)

Their hard pace had him close behind her, and he came with a deep shudder to the sound of her whispering her love in his ear. When he could speak again, his hands cradling her hips, he said the first thing that came to mind. "I'm proud of us."

She threw her head back and laughed, and he really knew they were going to be all right.

Chapter Text

Eve's wrists were pretty well flayed from the rope she'd wrapped around them - which of course she knew was stupid, but she also knew there'd be no way she could hold onto a rope anchored to nothing with a human adult hanging on the end of it, and given the choice between scraping herself up a little and dropping Flynn over a cliff . . .

Yes, a lot worse could have happened than some abrasion, but the same was definitely true on Flynn's end.

He'd gripped her wrists tightly as they pulled him up, and it had burned like hell - but what struck her, once Flynn was safely on solid ground, was his blistered and bloody hands and the fact that she had no idea whose blood it was.

 

He was the one who'd first called that carelessness to her attention months earlier, albeit not on purpose. They'd both accompanied Cassandra on a trek into a thick and untouched part of the Alaskan forest and Eve had come back bleeding - from nothing more magical than a wobbled ankle and a slip off a rock. The side of her calf was gashed, shallowly but wide, by a pointy bit of the big rock that had raised her jeans cuff and cut into her skin as she fell.

On their return to the Annex she twisted her leg awkwardly to lay the inside of her knee on a table with the lower half of her leg splayed sideways, the first aid kit primed in front of her, but Flynn interrupted.

"You're always patching everybody else up," he said, taking the bottle of hydrogen peroxide from her hands. "Let me."

She shrugged but was secretly pleased. This early in their relationship -

 

- a couple of weeks only; he'd slept over a couple times when they were both exhausted, but nothing else had happened -

 

- it was still a novelty to have his steadying hand on her knee while he worked, to look at his furrowed brow as he examined her wound. "Do you think this should be stitched?" he asked, interrupting her reverie. "I'm not sure it's going to close up."

It was a pretty wide cut, but she wrinkled her nose at it and said, "It'll be fine."

He'd been pinching the wound together at one end while dabbing a peroxide-soaked cotton ball along the rest, and when he let go he turned his hand over and examined the red streaks on it. "We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time wearing each other's blood," he said.

"That's true," she said. "We should work on that."

"Yeah."

"Yeah," she repeated, frowning. "Come to think of it we have been careless. I should have made you wear gloves."

"It was a little late for that about two days after we met," he said, carefully lining up butterfly closures along her wound. "Between - Cal, and Dulaque, we've both been about wrist-deep by now. If we were worried about . . ." He trailed off and coughed. "Uh. While we're at it."

He was being extremely precise about smoothing the butterflies flat along her skin. "Yes?" she asked.

"Well. Should we . . ." He snuck a look at her and coughed a few times while continuing to open bandages. "You know."

She didn't. "Institute better hazmat procedures?"

"No - well, okay. But. Talk." He coughed again. "You know, we might - well, not might, probably - not that I want to presume -"

"Flynn." She touched his wrist. "How about if I give you amnesty in advance and you just spit it out?"

He nodded. "I - well. I mentioned, that one time, about - the vampire I knew?"

He put a funny emphasis on that last word; she was pretty sure she knew in what sense he knew the vampire. "Okay? Wait - did she bite you?" Suddenly she could think of several reasons to be alarmed by Flynn talking about contact with vampires in the context of touching her blood. She almost had to remind herself that she'd seen him in daylight.

"No," he said firmly. "But - we, uh . . ."

"Yeah. I figured that." She waited for a second while he smoothed on the last butterfly. "So?"

He soaked a fresh cotton ball with peroxide and started using it to scrub the blood off his hand. "Well, in the middle of things I was kind of caught up - there was this chalice that made a vampire army -"

"Um . . ."

He waved away her questions. "It's safe now. Anyway it didn't occur to me to worry until after she was gone."

As much as she wanted to know why they were talking about this, she was also curious about his history. "What happened to her?"

"We killed Dracula, and - he was the one that made her, you know, bit her when she was young and made her a vampire and destroyed her life . . ." He added his cotton ball to the small pile of detritus on the table. "Once he was gone, she decided she could . . . rest."

"Rest, like . . . nap in a coffin for a few years?"

"Rest, like, the permanent rest."

It slowly sank in that he was done and she didn't need to hold her leg at this awkward angle anymore. She carefully rolled the leg of her jeans back down as she asked, "How could she -"

He met her eyes, looking older than he usually did. "She wanted to watch the sunrise."

Oh God. She shifted to sit on the table, her hand over his. "Was - I don't know how to - was it -" There was really no good way to ask if the death of a former lover had been gross, but it was all she could think of.

Fortunately, he seemed to know what she was asking, and not to mind. "It wasn't - I was afraid it was going to be like -"

Wincing, she filled in, "Like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark?"

"Right," he added, matching her expression. "But it wasn't - she just . . . wasn't there anymore. That was all."

"Well. That's good." Dear lord why were they having this conversation. She thought about suggesting a bottle of scotch or something - each - but instead said, "So you were telling me about this because . . ."

"Oh. Yeah." There was that nervous cough again. "So after it was all over and I got home and everything, I kind of freaked out. I mean - she had a fridge with these bags of blood -"

Eve was not a squeamish person at all, but she nearly gagged. "Please don't say 'bags of blood' ever again," she begged.

"Fair enough. But I had no way of knowing where the . . . blood came from, and you have to remember this was me seven years ago - I mean, I used to Lysol the poles on the subway."

"Well, those are gross," she said.

He gave her a small smile as he leaned against the table beside her. "So. I freaked out about having -" He turned a little pink, and his gaze slid toward the opposite wall "- slept with someone who drank all this -"

She held up a hand. "Got it."

"So, I went straight to my doctor and got tested for everything there is, pretty much. I even tried to get them to test for bubonic plague - she lived through the plague years in Europe, you know -"

Somehow it hadn't occurred to her that this woman might be centuries old. That was - weird. "Really?"

"They wouldn't do it, though. Judson had to send some of my blood off to an old friend of his in an infectious disease lab."

Her hand was still resting on his, and she gently stroked over his knuckles. "Did Judson tell you the results, too?"

"Yeah. Negative, so," he grinned. "Phew."

Fighting a smile, she asked gently, "Do you think it's possible that Judson just said he'd sent your blood off to an 'old friend in a lab' to make you feel better?"

He gave her an indignant look, mouth open, for just a moment before saying, "Dammit. Okay, so I can't absolutely promise I'm not carrying bubonic plague. But everything else was clean. And I haven't - you know there hasn't been anyone else, since then."

Oh. Well, she was slow, but she'd finally figured out why they were having this conversation.

"Oh," she said out loud. "Well. I also can't make any promises about the bubonic plague, but otherwise - yeah, same. Except for the part about the vampire." Her face was starting to burn a little, but she kept hearing the voice of her high school health teacher in her head, intoning If you're not mature enough to talk about it, you're not mature enough to do it. That would be a sad standard to fail at forty. "I, uh," she continued, "when I broke up with my last boyfriend I guess I thought it would be good to - just get a clean slate, I guess. Which it was. Clean."

"Okay," he said, nodding. "So. Good."

It took her a second to remember that there was another important piece of information here. "Oh. And I've been on the pill for years, 'cause you can't really have cramps at boot camp, so." She was planning on sleeping with this man for godsake, she was not going to blush about this. Except how did a person get this out of practice at having an adult conversation about adult biology?

Right, eight years of hunting down nukes instead of going on match.com, that was how.

"Okay." He turned to look at her, and he looked exactly as awkward as she felt. It was sort of reassuring. "So you're, uh - how do you feel, about that?"

She was pretty sure he wasn't asking how she'd felt about not having cramps at boot camp (the answer, by the way, was spectacular, but again, probably not relevant). "I feel - good. Fine."

"Okay." His nervous shifting brought their shoulders into contact; she wondered whether he'd done it on purpose. "So - so we don't need. . ."

"I mean - if you're good with -"

"I'm good, if you're -"

It was amazing how much of this conversation they could have without nouns.

After a few moments of awkward silence he asked, "Leg feel okay?"

"Yeah," she said, patting his hand. "Thanks."

"I should - help Cassandra put the -"

"Yeah."

He hesitated in front of her for a moment before reaching out and sliding his arm around her waist. She felt herself smiling as he kissed her - he was a nerd, but she couldn't lay claim to being much better in this case. At least he'd broached the subject, however obliquely.

 

There were few things she wouldn't tell him - few things she didn't tell him, if it was important or it was about the two of them or if he asked. One of those things, though, was - well. She felt like blushing just admitting it to herself, but she really, really liked that they'd had that talk. Not the talk itself; that was somewhat charming but mostly awkward and terrible. But the particular outcome was good.

 

It took her a while to let herself admit it - maybe even to let herself feel it at all. But Flynn was extremely persuasive when he didn't know he was trying to be.

She came back one afternoon from another trek with Stone - he hadn't even really needed her, but Flynn was busy and she was bored, and her punishment for that boredom turned out to be the longest walk of her life. Including boot camp, and that time in northern Afghanistan. It was only three in the afternoon Portland time when she got home, but they'd left at six in the morning in order to catch a good amount of daylight in France, and that was by the way about the only thing they'd done right. She'd spent a lot of time in France. There should have been an easier way to get to a castle ruins than a round-trip near-thirty-mile hike.

She was usually in favor of efficiency on missions, but when Stone found the cursed sword in under twenty minutes she'd almost cried at the realization it was now time to start walking back already.

She was torn, on their return to Portland, between wanting to see Flynn and wanting to collapse in a pile and pray for death, so she split the difference and went directly to his place even though she was grimy and dusty and had a vicious blister on one heel. Her gym bag had emergency clean clothes in it, and he had a shower just as good as hers.

When she let herself into his apartment he called out to her from the bedroom, and she found him perched on one side of his (unusually, mostly made) bed surrounded by piles of paper. "Hey," he started to say, before getting a good look at her. "You look - long day?"

"I think we circumnavigated France," she said. "On foot."

His mouth quirked. "Technically you can only circumnavigate things that are -" Clearly catching sight of her glare, he changed direction midstream. "Want the shower?"

"Please." She turned toward the bathroom, then turned back. "If at any point you hear a loud, crashing thump -"

"I will come and revive you."

"Thank you."

She limped into the bathroom, kicked off her shoes, and cautiously peeled her sock away from the fresh blister, which burned but at least had already opened on its own. The rest of her would hurt like the devil later - kind of already did - but at least she was unscathed on the surface.

The shower didn't do much for her aches and pains (and the water hitting her open blister felt like salt in a stab wound), but being clean at least did wonders for her mood. She pulled on the leggings and loose, casual button-down from her bag, not bothering with a bra or shoes, and dragged herself back out to the bedroom with her damp hair wetting her shoulders.

Flynn grinned when he saw her, and patted the bed next to him.

"My hair's wet," she mumbled tiredly, already crawling into place.

"Doesn't matter."

She sat up against the pile of stacked pillows and settled close enough that they were touching. The papers caught her attention for the first time - they were mostly hieroglyphs. "Is this that same Book of the Dead?" she asked.

"No, this is some stuff we had in the Amarna collection - I got a tipoff that there's a group that thinks they're going to find Nefertiti in Tut's tomb."

Eve waited, but he seemed to be finished. "Are they?" she prodded.

"No idea. They'd probably have to reapply for a new permit to actually attempt to penetrate the sealed chambers, and even then it could take years to be ready - for something as delicate as an unopened room, with everything inside perfectly preserved and unexposed to light or air or - they'll spend years just investigating, trying to get a look inside without taking the risk of . . ." He patted her leg as he trailed off. "But you meant 'is she in there,' didn't you."

She smiled. "Basically."

"Well." He gestured at the piles of photocopied scrolls. "I'm hoping to know when I get finished translating this."

"All of it?" It seemed like a daunting task, although possibly not for Flynn.

"No - I'm sorting - see that part?"

"With the little cow?"

"It's a bull, but - right, that's one of the names of Amenhotep IV -"

"Who's -"

"That was the original name of Akhenaten, the pharaoh who was Tutankhamen's father -"

This she actually knew. "The sun-worship one. Monotheism."

"Right. If this scroll is still calling him Amenhotep - or, rather it's calling him something like 'double-plumed bull,' but - anyway, that means it's too early to tell us anything about Nefertiti's burial site. So I can ignore it for now."

"Okay." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "You really want to get back to work."

In response he turned his head and pressed his nose and lips into the crook of her neck. "Yes, but you smell good."

"I smell like your soap."

"Like my soap on you." With one last kiss to her neck, he straightened up and handed her a page that had notes scrawled along the left margin in his handwriting. "Look at this one."

It looked mostly like drawings - actual regular drawings. "Are these hieroglyphs?"

"Not those ones, it's illuminated. Those are illustrations."

"Lady of Grace," she murmured, reading aloud his first scrawl. Beside her, he settled down onto one elbow so that his face was about level with her waist. "Mistress of joy - great of favor -"

"Who does that sound like, huh?" Flynn asked.

"It sounds like the writer of the gospel of Luke knew his Egyptian history," she said. "Though I guess that's probably impossible."

"Most of this would have been lost in his time," Flynn said, reaching out to rest a hand on her thigh. "So probably impossible, yes."

"It's Nefertiti?"

"Mmm-hmm." His hand on her leg rubbed gently, which felt incredible given her day. Or maybe would have anyway. "That's her name, the one with the -" He said something that sounded like "nefer".

"The one with the what now?"

"The things with the cross on top? All in a row?"

"Ah." It did look like a morbid little graveyard. Or a series of canoes seen front-on with a cross on top of each. "I thought it'd be prettier."

He laughed. She wasn't sure if the hand sliding to the inside of her thigh was deliberate or not. "I'm sure it sounded pretty. To an Egyptian."

"Seems like there should be birds or something."

"The cross-things mean 'beautiful.' Nefer. Hence the name . . ."

"That's nice." She looked down with the hint of a raised eyebrow. His hand was now undoing the bottom button of her shirt, and that was definitely deliberate.

"It's a poem."

It took her a second to respond; she was watching him work his way to the next button. "What?"

Intent on his work, he nodded toward the paper in her hand.

She frowned at it as he slipped the third button through its hole. "Really?"

He laughed again, low and quiet, as he rested his palm against her bare stomach. "My translation might not be very poetic."

"Lucky you have a pretty good day job." She looked over and down to meet his eyes. He was smiling, and the tip of one finger stroked delicately against her skin. Bless him - he was asking, gently enough that she could put him off if she wanted to.

Her thighs felt like dead noodles and everything hurt, and on the other hand the slow stroke of his finger was creating an ache that had absolutely nothing to do with walking all over France. She sighed a little on the inside but ran her fingers through his hair in a clear okay.

Beaming, he moved up to the next button.

"So," she said, because he was unbuttoning very slowly and she needed to say something, "what happens if you do figure it out?"

"Hmm?"

"Well, I assume these are scrolls that only the Library has."

"Most likely."

"So if one of them does say 'hey, we buried Nefertiti in Tut's tomb . . .'"

He only had two buttons to go, though you wouldn't have known it from his lazy tone. "She predeceased him actually, so it would have been the other way around. Everyone has always thought that Tutankhamen's tomb seemed rushed - smaller than you'd expect, and fewer funerary objects - as if he died so unexpectedly that there wasn't time to build the normal type of pharaonic tomb. And he did only reign for about nine years. He was young."

She watched him undo the last button and nudge the sides of her shirt open. Leaving off the bra had turned out to be quite efficient. "Okay, so you find a scroll that says, 'we didn't have time to build him his own tomb so we threw him in with Nefertiti' . . . you can't tell the archaeologists, can you?"

"Nope." He pulled aside the open half of her shirt nearest him and shifted himself closer, the top of his head brushing the side of her breast. She closed her eyes as he continued, tilting his head back, gripping onto her hips for leverage, his mouth nuzzling at the underside of her breast as he spoke, "It's really just for my own satisfaction, unless I can find a way to tip them off anonymously."

"What -" She broke off and sighed for real as he stretched higher, his lips finding her nipple. Her voice was high when she managed to finish the question. "What would that look like?" While he was thinking about it she pulled him up and over her, getting his knees settled on either side of her thighs.

Obviously pleased with the position, he slid both hands around her waist and leaned in to kiss her lightly. "I'm leaning toward 'scroll planted in a buried jug,'" he said against her mouth.

She wrapped her arms around him, laying the page on the bed beside her, and pulled him in for a firmer kiss that made her sigh yet again. The hieroglyphs completely forgotten, he kissed her back with complete focus. Both of his hands palmed her breasts, but after a moment one hand drifted upward and brushed her damp hair back from her face. He broke the kiss, then, his lips following his hand, and whispered, "Eve, love," into her hairline in a tone that made her shiver.

She nodded, though she wasn't entirely sure what question she thought she was answering. With her eyes closed she felt for his waist, untucked his shirt and unfastened the button and zipper of his pants. He was ready enough already that she had to be careful about not catching him, and he gasped when she slipped her hand down into his fly to guard him from the zipper. That danger past, she was about to reach into the opening in the front of his boxers when something pinged in her brain.

"Wait," she said.

He froze on top of her. One thumb froze precisely on her right nipple, which was maddeningly distracting. She motioned toward the array of probably meticulously sorted scroll copies and mumbled, "Are we moving us or are we moving the piles?"

That thumb resumed stroking as he looked back and forth between her and the piles of paper. It would have been comical if she hadn't been ready to explode. "Good point," he said. "Um. Papers on the floor. Bed - for us."

"Okay."

He crawled off her and collected a pile in each hand, bending nearly off the bed to set them on the floor. She stretched over - a bit painfully - and collected two of her own, despite the fact that she felt a bit weird tidying with her breasts swinging loose.

"No, that one first, then this one, then the one your right hand is on."

She followed instructions, handing him the ones he asked for. He was entirely focused on this now and ignoring her partial nudity, which made her smile. Once all the papers were on the floor, though, he turned back to her and pulled her against him with a force that would have broken both their noses if his aim had been off. The feeling of his shirt against her breasts pulled a moan from her throat and she kissed him almost desperately. Sweet Flynn, who somehow managed to show her that he loved her even when incredibly distracted by his pet projects. Who could manage to seduce her while giving an Egyptology lesson and have each thing feel utterly complete on its own.

He let her get his shirt off, but when she reached down into his pants again he took gentle hold of her wrists and said, "No."

"No?"

With his mouth on hers he suggested her back onto the pillows and lifted her wrists to either side of her head. "No," he repeated against her mouth.

There was a slyness in his voice. She opened her eyes and said, eyebrows lifted, "Really?"

He returned the look but said nothing, instead starting to pull down her leggings and underwear together. Still conscious of an amused expression on her face, she lifted her hips to help him get them off but otherwise stayed unmoving and silent.

Are there rules? she almost asked, but instead she kept quiet as he ran his hands up the sides of her legs, over her hips, up into her open shirt. His mouth was on her neck as he pushed the shirt off her shoulders, and apparently she was allowed to help with that too because he didn't protest when she sat up a little and took it off. When she reached for his shoulders, though, he gently removed her hands and put them back down on the bed.

"No?" she asked, smiling.

He shook his head and then bent down, one hand supporting himself on the bed as he kneeled over her, his lips at her collarbone, the top of her chest, between her breasts, as his other hand smoothed over her stomach and hips before finally slipping between her legs. He was taking his time, tracing his fingers all around and everywhere, not really teasing so much as . . . honoring. It seemed like ages before he focused in deliberately on the places that would give her the most pleasure - hours more, possibly, before he pressed his fingers inside her - and by the time he finally did she was vibrating with tension. He matched his stroking inside her with his mouth on her breast, and she almost reached for him but managed not to, gripping the sheet instead. Her breath was coming fast and hard and her heart was fluttering, her hips rocking into his hand, and then he slowed his movements and eventually stopped.

He liked it this way, she'd learned, with her starting so close to the edge, and she expected him to finish undressing and crawl over top of her so they could finish together. But instead he held his fingers still inside her and just shifted his mouth to her other breast. Which felt good enough that she moaned quietly and almost forgot about his fingers until he slowly, slowly started to move them again.

The second time he stopped after bringing her almost over the top, she looked down at him through half-closed eyes and said, "You're doing this on purpose."

"Obviously," he replied, pressing a kiss to her shoulder. "So."

"So?"

He was doing something with his thumb that produced such an impossible feeling in her that she wondered if he'd been researching on the Internet. She gasped shakily and he kept doing it, but slower. "Talk to me," he said.

"Talk -" She swallowed. "Talk to you about what?" For all she knew he wanted her to read to him from his notes about Nefertiti. The man was obviously some kind of heretofore-concealed insane sex genius. They were probably unpredictable.

"Tell me," he corrected himself, with a slow stroke of his fingers, and she understood.

She nodded, biting her lip, and said, "Not yet."

"Okay. How about -" With one last kiss to her shoulder he shifted down the bed, nudging her legs further apart, and settled between them with clear intent. "Too much?"

He was acting so normal and the whole thing was just so weird and great and overwhelming. "I don't know?" she said.

"Tell me -"

"Yeah," she said, and then his mouth was on her and it was almost too much but not quite, so she didn't say anything. Until she felt the first deeper, warning throbs and then she said obediently, "Too close . . ."

He backed off and she was gritting her teeth against the feeling of unfulfilled tension. Then after a while he started again, and she stopped keeping track of how long or how many times. She had the vague thought that he looked maybe a bit too proud of himself, but then again he always seemed so anxious about pleasing her. As if he couldn't quite just enjoy it. So it was nice to see him confident and having fun, really.

Finally she was so close to the brink that even when he stopped moving she stayed right on that knife's edge. She reached down, almost flailing, found his hand and wove their fingers together tightly.

"Stop," she said. "No more - now. Now."

Now he did shed the rest of his clothes, quickly, and when he finally - God, it might have been days - slid himself into her, she made a noise that she honestly didn't recognize. She was gripping his shoulders so hard that she had to be leaving bruises, and then that wasn't enough and she put her arms around him and he didn't complain when she dug her nails into his back so she didn't even try not to. Her entire body was tensed and waiting and when the release hit it was so big that she was perfectly, terrifyingly aware of completely losing control. She cried out wordlessly against the wave of sensation, pulling him closer to her so that she could bury her face in his shoulder. He didn't stop moving, and neither did the pulsing of her body, until long moments had gone by. Until he cried out as well, a desperate sound with her name somewhere in the middle of it, and held his hips hard against hers, and there were those tiny movements that echoed her own pulsing before he spilled into her.

 

That.

It was - well, it was just the kind of thing a person could never say (if the person was her, anyway); it was embarrassing and great and oddly emotional, feeling him - feeling everything, with nothing in the way. She supposed it was probably hormones, something primal, that made her feel so simultaneously tender and possessive about him at the moment when she felt his release. Still. Chemical or not, it was - something important.

 

This time though, that feeling was almost overshadowed by the fact that getting her breath back was taking a long time - that she was still having little aftershocks - that she was so sensitive that she almost couldn't stand the feeling of him withdrawing. She didn't even notice that her eyes were closed until he rolled to her side and she realized that she couldn't feel him or see him.

He was grinning at her when she opened her eyes. She batted a hand at him and said, "Don't be smug."

"I'm not smug, I'm happy." He captured her hand with his and held it. "And trying to memorize what I just did."

"I think you'd kill me if it was like that all the time," she said, and meant it.

He slid his other palm over her belly. "You're okay, though?"

"I'm okay." Although now that the hormonal rush was fading, everything else came back and she was sore from head to toe, as predicted. Rolling onto her side to face him was kind of excruciating, but she did it anyway. "Come here."

He maneuvered closer and wrapped his arms around her for a kiss. "It was good?" he asked softly.

She was - unbelievably - blushing, but with her face buried in his neck she could answer, "It was incredibly good."

"Good."

God, but she was tired. She hugged him closer, rubbing a hand up and down his back and murmured, "Flynn Carsen . . ."

"Yeah?"

"You're just . . . beautiful."

He shook with laughter against her.

"I mean it." She pressed a kiss into his shoulder. "And I feel like I need to shower again."

"Yeah . . ."

They were halfway to the bathroom when he really noticed her limping, dragging steps. "How far did you walk today?"

"About twenty-eight and three quarter miles," she said, putting rather a lot of her weight into her hand on his shoulder.

"Twenty-" He stopped in the bathroom doorway and put an arm around her waist. "You should have said, I wouldn't have . . ."

"I wanted to," she reassured him.

"Still."

"It was fine. Better than fine." Damn that blush again. It shouldn't be possible when they were both standing here naked after sex. Not to mention the four or five times they'd had sex before this. "Shower," she reminded him, reaching to twist her somewhat-dried hair into a knot.

They crowded in together and carefully washed bits of themselves and each other, Eve sometimes leaning rather heavily on Flynn. Afterward he wrapped a towel around her with a slow embrace and rubbed her back through it for a while, and then eventually they both wandered back to the bedroom and got dressed again. He'd rescued the first few piles of paper from the floor by the time she'd finished dragging her aching legs into her leggings, but he patted the bed next to him. Deja vu.

"Get back to work," she said.

"I will, but stay."

"I am." The exhaustion and the hormones and whatever else had left her feeling clingy and needy. She propped a couple of pillows mostly behind him and lay down with her body curled toward and around him. He seemed to understand how she was feeling, because his hand settled on her shoulder and he took a few moments to bend over her, kissing her temple and the side of her face, other hand stroking her hair. She worked a hand over his leg and pressed an inch closer as she started to drift off, though her eyes were still mostly open.

He'd arranged his papers the way he wanted them and was referring to at least three at once. She watched sleepily as he set a pen in a very deliberate spot on one pile, then worked his left hand into the middle of another.

His right hand rubbed her hip and he said softly, "Honey, could you fall asleep with your hand right there?"

She lifted her head a little to look where he was pointing. "On the snail?"

"Horned adder."

"Snail would be cuter." The little squiggly hieroglyph with the two horns had always looked sort of friendly to her, but apparently not. She positioned the tip of her longest finger where he was pointing and let her hand relax against the page.

"And a lot less effective for suicides." He moved her hand the tiniest fraction and then set another sheet of paper on top of it. "Thanks."

"Use me as a bookmark anytime you want."

"I'll wake you up in a while to have some dinner," he said, and that was the last thing her conscious mind heard before she fell asleep to the sound of rustling pages.

Chapter Text

They’d been walking for a while, but probably hadn’t actually gotten that far from the back door. There had been a lot of doubling back, angling sideways, twists and turns. This time the unknown person using possibly-fatal magic had had the good grace to do so in a state park, so they were actually on marked trails most of the time – of course, like most state parks, this one had an underfunding problem and not many trail maintenance volunteers, and so the paint blazes were often faded and hard to find or to tell apart.

Eve had pulled out her phone after the tenth or eleventh attempt to distinguish a white blaze from dried moss –

(“But at least we know we’re going north,” Flynn’d pointed out.

“I think they’ve been lying about that,” she replied. “The moss is on every side of the tree.”

There was more moss on one particular side, but she was kind of right.)

- but of course GPS didn’t really work out here where there was no signal. They were left standing at what was either a convergence of two (or three) separate trails, or a dry streambed crossing the trail, or . . . really almost anything. He followed the narrowest trail down with his eyes, trying to tell if it had been made by water or purposefully by the rangers, while Eve turned in place and wrinkled her nose at something uphill.

It was cute, but now probably wasn’t the time.

“There,” she said finally.

“Hmm?”

She pointed. “That log’s been cut in half.”

So that path was definitely a trail. “Is it the same trail?”

“I don’t think we should have crossed the blue trail for another half mile or so,” she said, sounding not entirely certain. “We haven’t been moving that fast.”

So all the other things that looked like trails probably were old streams, or new marks made by rain runoff, or even just tracks made by other hikers who got confused or decided to blaze a shortcut. “It would be the one that goes straight up.”

She gave him a smile and started heading up toward the cut log. “At least the higher we go, the better chance of getting a phone signal. We need to check in with Jenkins.”

He wanted to walk beside her, but the trail was narrow and steep and getting a bit rocky. He settled for brushing a hand across her lower back at a moment when they both happened to be standing on the same wide, level rock.

Jenkins would be able to tell them whether and when they should table this for the night - it wasn’t very late yet, but the light was slanting brightly through the trees and that meant sunset within a couple hours. If they needed to walk back to the door it shouldn’t take that long – although they’d covered a lot of distance, he really didn’t think it was much as the crow flew – but they wouldn’t want to be coming down the trail in the dark.

Eve’s phone dinged suddenly, and she stopped on an awkward slant, putting her hand on Flynn’s arm to stop him as he joined her. “Cassandra’s almost done in Iceland,” she said, thumbing her phone awake. “And – that must have been a little blip, signal’s gone again.”

She was rubbing his forearm a little; one of those things that she did now seemingly without thinking about it. He didn’t always even notice, but it made him smile when he did. In return he laid a hand on her back and said, “Onwards and upwards?”

“Especially upwards,” she agreed.

By the time she had a signal again, the ground was clearly leveling off – they must have been at the top of the rise, or close to it – and they also got their first clear view of the sky and the valley below. There was pink on the horizon.

“It’s later than I thought,” Eve said, voicing his own thoughts. Flynn nodded and wandered off as she dialed Jenkins. This was a good stopping place, which meant it might have been a logical place for their quarry to stop as well. He’d been checking clearings and flat places, trail intersections, and around and underneath the trail markers for any sign of an uncontrolled magic incident. So far there had been nothing – no burns, no strange disturbances, no marks that wouldn’t be completely natural to find alongside a well-traveled hiking trail.

“Anything?” Eve asked, coming up behind him.

He pointed down into the brush. “Little toad.”

“Aw.” One of her hands clasped his elbow; the other settled on his waist. “It didn’t used to be a person, right?”

He laughed. “No reason to think so. Jenkins?”

“Probably was a person at some point, yes,” she said. “He also says Cassandra’s coming back at some point and Stone is who-knows-where and something about him not actually being our doorman . . .”

“He would like to not move the door three times,” Flynn guessed.

“We are encouraged to find accommodations.”

He’d definitely had to stay the night in worse places. Underfunded or not, state parks were fairly accommodating and this one had much more than the usual barebones camping facilities. A friendly ranger had tried to set them up when they first arrived. “Good thing there are cabins free, I guess.”

“I’d better call and line one up before we start hiking down,” Eve said. “Also I’m kind of starving.”

He nodded in agreement and said, although she had already dialed and was waiting for the ranger station to pick up, “I don’t think town was that far away, we could probably walk out.”

“This way at least we can get an early start on the rest of the trail tom- hello?”

He left her negotiating with the office and explaining that yes, they were currently in the park already and just needed a cabin for the night. There was just time and light enough for one last sweep – a few feet further up the trail, where there was a nice rock convenient for sitting and resting – off to the right side, where he found a lot of moss and a nervous chipmunk but nothing suspicious – back down to where Eve was standing apparently getting directions out of the park to somewhere they could eat.

“Truck stop?” he asked after she’d hung up.

“Diner.”

“Ooh, best case scenario.”

“Also the cabin has a fridge and a microwave –“

Seriously?

She nodded. “So if we want a really early start tomorrow, we could just bring breakfast back with us tonight.”

“You think of all the most important things,” he said fondly.

“Well, that’s what you have me for. To guard you from the devastating lack of pancakes you would otherwise experience.” She gave her small pack a little jog upwards on her back. “He said we should find the cabins and stake our claim before we hike out to eat. They’re first-come, first-served and apparently some are more desirable than others.”

“They all have beds though, right?”

“So I’ve been promised.”

She paused suddenly to look around before heading down, and although at first he thought she’d spotted something of their target, after a moment he understood. They were in the middle of one of those moments where you could almost hear the sunset, and the fading light seemed to hang in the air. They’d been in the woods like this together once before, early, early in both their collaboration and their relationship, and he couldn’t resist the urge to do now what he had really wanted to do then. He covered the distance between them quickly – careful, though, not to knock her off balance; she was standing on a slant – and slipped one hand under her loose ponytail to the back of her neck, using the other hand to take her by the waist and pull her a half step closer. She didn’t have time to react before he kissed her, but after a second he felt her relax and return his kiss.

He broke the kiss when he felt her stumble a step down the sloping trail and had to bend over to follow her. His thumb was stroking her cheek, and when she opened her eyes she smiled at him.

“Have I mentioned,” he said, “that being stuck somewhere with you is way better than on my own?”

She briefly covered the hand on her face with her own before taking a step away, further down the trail. “Not specifically, but I’m glad to hear it.”

He followed her back down the trail, watching her jump down from a large rocky outcropping equally in appreciation and to see how she landed so he could step in the same safe place. Her right foot landed on a rock that turned out to be unsteady and she wobbled a little. He noted the stable ground beside her foot and made a mental note to try to land there, but before he could make the jump she turned on the spot and came back up toward him.

“Did you see somethi- “ he started to ask, but she stepped back up onto the rock ledge (with obvious effort; it was a high step), threw her arms around his waist and shoulders, and kissed him. A little surprised noise escaped him, but he held onto her tight and kissed her back.

“Okay,” she said when they parted. “Now we can go.”

On the way down they passed a small group of hikers coming up, who waved and greeted them with tired grunts of hello. Flynn was aware that he was giving them probably the stupidest grin possible, but it was hard to control.

The cabins were, fortunately, located on a loop not far from the base of the white trail. Eve had a somewhat-helpful map from the ranger station – it wasn’t great at showing landmarks along the trails, but there was a hand-drawn diagram of the major campsites and trailheads – and the cabins were drawn as Monopoly houses labelled with the letters of the alphabet around a paved drive. “The ranger said we should try for G, if it’s not already claimed,” she said, showing him the diagram.

“How do you know –“

“Oh, there’s a thing inside you’re supposed to hang on the door.”

He grinned. “What, like a tie on the doorknob?”

“You never hung a tie on your doorknob,” she said, grinning back. The teasing was gentle enough, but it also helped that he knew she hadn’t needed anything of the kind in college, either.

Well. Actually what he knew was that she hadn’t had sex in college, not the kind that teenaged virgins tend to define as “sex” anyway. He had really no idea what she had done short of that. The thought actually made him frown for a moment, before he tried to remember that whatever she had done twenty years ago was probably really irrelevant now.

Especially when she was aiming for one of the cabins and was about to notice that he wasn’t following her.

“F has a thingy,” she called, pointing. And indeed the cabin next to the one she was heading for had a bright orange door tag hanging from the knob.

“Why did he recommend G?” Flynn asked, catching up as she climbed the three rickety wooden steps to the door of the empty cabin.

Ahead of him, she opened the door and said, “Um. Flynn.”

He pushed the door further open and stepped in beside her, immediately taking in the reason she had stopped. “Wow.” The cabin was only one room, with a sort of kitchen area along the far wall and an open door revealing what looked like a simple but completely functional and modern bathroom. But despite the simplicity, and the “rustic” front stairs, the inside looked like a bed and breakfast. Like a ski resort cabin on a completely unrealistic TV show. The bed was a king-size, and it was positioned directly across the room from an equally king-sized fireplace. There was also a sofa and two armchairs, and a table and chairs closer to the kitchenette. Although the blankets and furnishings were state-park simple, everything looked clean and comfortable.

“He said it had the nicest fireplace,” Eve said faintly.

“Do places like this exist in real life?” Flynn stepped further into the room and pivoted, taking in the generous woodpile beside the fireplace. The door banged shut behind him. “For thirty bucks a night on government property?”

“You know, when I say this it’s not usually positive,” Eve said. “But, these kinds of things did not happen at my old job.”

 

The other time he was thinking of, the woods had been in Sweden and there was no “official” trail, no blazes, just a sort-of beaten path and some occasional runestones and him trying to use his phone as a compass. Eve had actually seemed sort of impressed by his ability to navigate.

In Sweden, moss mostly grew on the proper side of the tree. That helped.

The light had been the same, though, filtering through the spruce and lighting Eve’s hair up like stained glass. He’d been in a sort of mesmerized, paralyzed state then – he’d known her for a few months, been reunited with her for a couple weeks, and she should have been less of a surprise after several missions together. But also their “dates” had started to feel a lot more like dates, and there was sometimes kissing and occasional nights sleeping next to her, but not enough of either because (especially in combination) those things led somewhere he didn’t think they should go yet. Because he was trying to do this so right. And so even though he’d known her for a while, the constant tension made everything new and he could never stop staring.

Her hair was coming loose and falling a bit in her face. Her plaid button-down shirt was perfectly fitted around her waist and her slim arms, and its blue was the exact color of her eyes. She was pale in this crisp evening light. There was a scar on the back of her hand which was prominent as she rested her hand on his arm to pull his phone into her sightline. And now he was close enough to see the freckles on her chest, the touch of sunburn. The shadow that drew his eyes into the open neck of her shirt no matter how hard he tried to look elsewhere.

He wanted to kiss her – a lot – both wanted it a lot, and wanted to kiss her quantitatively many, many times – but their kisses were getting more heated lately and they were alone (so completely alone) in this woods, and it just wasn’t safe, not with how vividly he kept imagining himself undoing her top button – the top one she had buttoned, anyway. And then the next one, and the next, and they weren’t ready for that. And also they were supposed to be tracking down a troll (really), and kissing after a job was done was one thing, but he actually thought she might be a little bit annoyed by his making a move during the job.

Well, and. They seemed to be completely alone in this woods, but that was leaving out the troll.

So he just watched, and longed. And even though it wouldn’t be safe, really kind of wished that she would kiss him and put him out of his misery.

 

Later, once the troll was (rather sloppily, they would both have admitted) dealt with, and Jenkins had rolled his eyes a lot and finally gone home and they had the Annex to themselves, she had kissed him. And he had, with one hand safely anchored on her hip and the other hand going rogue between them, undone her top button. And then, fumbling, buttoned it again while they were still kissing.

If she noticed what he’d been doing, she never let on. He went home alone shortly thereafter, aching but determined to keep waiting for the right time.

 

This time, though, there was a cabin and an enormous bed and his first opportunity to find out what Eve’s skin looked like in firelight. They started out holding hands on the couch, both staring into the fire – though he looked over occasionally to see the flames reflected in her eyes, and the light flush of heat on her face and neck, and thought she was doing the same – talking about the mission and their strategy for the next day, about Cassandra’s success in Iceland and Ezekiel’s new hobby (he was teaching himself ancient Greek), and about the tiny town outside the park and the little crowd of rangers and state troopers they’d seen having dinner together in the diner, about the trail and the (small) mountain and the red maples they’d passed, for a long time, until Eve got up to add another log to the fire and when she came back there was no reason not to brush her hair off her face and kiss her, so he did.

There was also no reason – other than their neighbors in cabin F and the open curtains on the window, which he quickly got up and pulled shut – for him not to undo her buttons one at a time right there on the couch, and press her back onto the cushions, and keep kissing her in between finding out how firelight looked on more and more of her body. He’d seen her mostly either in full daylight or near-complete dark, but the fire made shadows under her ribs and the ripples of muscle on her stomach, and threw her scars into relief. The most noticeable, the one just below her right hip, he knew was from the minor shrapnel wound she’d told him about on the night she almost died. He thumbed over it as he found her mouth again, as if to rub away the marks that looked exactly like big, irregular stitches.

He tried – hard – not to compare women’s bodies, but she did remind him so much of Nicole sometimes. They were both strong, hard, but underneath a bit of soft curve; not sharp and honed to an edge like Emily had been. Despite her exploits on behalf of the Library Nicole had been slightly less scarred, but then of course that had been ten years ago, she and Eve were about the same age, and Eve had probably been less scarred ten years ago, too. She’d been accumulating those marks, most of them tiny but a few more obvious and painful-looking, over years of guns and bombs and hostile terrain, hard training and also small accidents from normal things like changing a tire (right hand, lug wrench slipped) and, well, falling off a rock in Alaska with him and Cassandra. He’d catalogued them, the smaller ones on her hands and arms usually during dinner, during a movie on his couch, during a long drive; the larger ones mostly by feel in the dark. Presumably – assuming Nicole was still alive – she had more scars now, too, whether she had become someone else’s mercenary or done whatever her version of settling down might be.

Nicole, though, for all her fondness, had never looked at him the way Eve was now. Her face was alight – from within, not from the fire – and her gaze active as she pushed his unbuttoned shirt off his shoulders, taking him in. It wasn’t worshipful, not like someone playing the devoted wife on a cheesy soap opera, but it was intent and loving and very, very interested. She ran her fingertips over his shoulders, across his collarbone, before pulling up on his undershirt until he helped her get it off – and then she continued the paths of her fingers over his chest. Her stomach contracted under his own stroking hand and he saw the hint of a frustrated frown on her face. Smiling, he sat back and let her up so that she was sitting again and could reach his chest with her lips. She always liked this, to kiss his chest and his shoulders, to outline his marks and contours with her lips and her tongue, while he held her close. And he loved the way it felt – not just physically, although that was very good, but to look down and watch her loving him.

He pushed her shirt the rest of the way off while she explored him, and got her bra off as well with minimal cooperation from her, and sat rubbing her back and letting her hear his ragged breathing as a sign that he enjoyed what she was doing. Until she knelt up over his lap to press herself against him, her lips returning to his, and then he simultaneously unbuttoned her jeans and broke the kiss to ask, “Giant bed?”

“Giant bed,” she agreed with a laugh. It wasn’t far, and they managed to get there without losing contact, their hands clasped together at his lower back, her arms wrapped around his waist. The bed was high even for the two of them, and after disengaging one hand to pull down the covers he looked from the bed, to her, to the bed again, and then wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her onto it. She was reaching for him as he crawled up over her, and soon enough he got to find out how firelight reflected on her strong thighs, on the glistening dark blonde of her body hair, on their bodies together.

He had two fingers in her but was still mostly teasing, moving slowly, so she could still speak normally despite her evident enjoyment, and she lifted her head and said, “By the way – this is great, but it still doesn’t count.”

He laughed and agreed. “No beach.”

“And unplanned.”

“Granted.” He lowered his head and pressed a kiss to the top of her breast. “Still on the agenda.”

 

The stories had started to come out while they were in exactly the right place to get caught up – there was research to be done, so much that even Flynn had to take breaks occasionally, and there was also a lot of waiting because a situation was slowly developing in Eastern Europe but until it developed a little further even the most thorough research wouldn’t make things clear. The first story wasn’t very interesting – more identity theft, it was becoming commonplace – and even the second didn’t really capture anyone’s attention. It seemed clear that no magic was involved, and the hacking felt like a low-level sort of thing that even Jones would think was beneath him.

They’d gotten bizarrely invested, though, when the stories about minor celebrities started to come out. Mostly, as Eve had put it, because “it’s like a really sad human interest story”. Other than the actual fact of the affairs, the presence of supposed paragons of virtue on a website intended to match up married people for the purpose of cheating, there was a sad sort of lack of scandal. Many men with unanswered postings and ignored profiles. Profiles that expressed an interest in conversation, in romance. While feeling a bit bad about the vicarious nature of their interest, and about the violation of privacy –

(which did always kind of come back to, “but they were cheating, which is bad even if we feel a little sorry for them”)

- they got caught up in the very human stories of unfulfilled need, in between waiting for news of whether a werewolf or something else had been spotted outside Prague. “It’s sad,” they both said again and again. “They’re all basically describing – marriage. Normal stuff. And they are married. Isn’t it sad that they can’t just try with the person they’re already. . . or be honest and leave if they have to . . .”

Flynn began to wonder, by the by, whether this marriage issue was maybe something they should discuss at some point. Not for right now, not even for soon, but – it would be good to know how she felt about the idea. In general.

Meanwhile, Eve frowned deeply over one of the most explicit (though still fairly innocuous) revelations, another fairly middle-of-the-road profile that nevertheless had commentators speculating on whether “religious” (broadly generalized) men stray because they think some things – some specific acts – are “sinful” and wouldn’t expect their wives to do them.

“America is still fairly puritanical,” Flynn commented, reading over her shoulder. “But are there really people who think – I mean, not everyone is into oral sex, but it’s not exactly out of the ordinary.”

“You can’t conceive from it, though,” said Eve, who was more in tune with religious culture on a practical level than he was. “And I think it was still technically illegal in several states until recently.”

“Surely that’s because no one bothered to repeal those laws.”

She shrugged. “Apparently some people find a reason to sneak around getting it outside their marriages.”

She was still frowning, and he didn’t like it. After a while he took a guess, his hand cupping her elbow, and said, “Eve. Just so you – I’ve never cheated on anyone in my life. And I don’t want anyone but you.”

She managed to smile without the frown totally disappearing, and said, “I wasn’t worried about you cheating on me. But thank you.”

Well, good, he supposed. “Then what’s up?”

The lines in her forehead deepened as she considered. “It’s just – these people, the things they wanted, whether it’s completely vanilla or actually kind of weird – I know we don’t know anything about someone else’s relationship, but that all these people have spouses and still felt like . . .” She paused, looking off into space instead of at him, and then said, very slowly and deliberately, “I wouldn’t want you to feel like you can’t – not that I’d necessarily, you know, I mean there are things that are off the table, but – that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it. If there’s anything, you know. That you want.”

It took him a second to catch on that she was really asking him if he had any kinks that he hadn’t mentioned. “Oh,” he said. “Okay.”

She looked at him then, her nose scrunched up in embarrassment but apparently determined to press on. “I want you to feel like you can ask,” she said.

“Okay,” he repeated. “Um. I’m thinking.” Or trying to anyway, but all he was really managing to do was picture having sex with her – nothing they hadn’t already done, which was all pretty great and did he really want anything different from that? A little occasional variety, obviously, but they had that. What else did people want? He was pretty sure he didn’t want a threesome or anything like that – no, the more he thought about it, definitely no. He wasn’t really into sharing. Their lives were weird enough already that any kind of role-playing seemed unnecessary. . . He also had experience being tied up, and although he assumed it would be much different with Eve than with the Serpent Brotherhood, he still hadn’t thought it was that much fun. And he really strongly suspected it wouldn’t be her thing at all.

“I’m . . . basically listing porn tropes in my head,” he said finally. “And I’ve got nothing. The regular stuff might just be kinky enough for me.”

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be kinky,” she said. “Though – thank you for not wanting to recreate a porn movie, I guess.”

Oh, that was another one. Sex tapes. Definitely no. Eve seemed happy enough with his body, but he didn’t need to see it. Or ever take the risk that anyone else would. Anyway what they shared was private, and the risk of something like that being found would be much worse for her than for him.

“What about you?” he asked.

Eve went completely blank, as if the thought that she might have a specific kink had never occurred to her. “Huh,” she said. “I – well. No, I don’t think I feel strongly about anything we haven’t done.”

Oh, wait. “Wait,” he said. “There is something.”

“Oh?”

“I don’t think you’d mind. I’ve seen you – anyway. M-maybe you could, every now and then . . . wear a skirt? Not when it’s impractical, just if we’re having a date night.” Her frown seemed thoughtful rather than upset, but he added quickly, “It’s not about some kind of – femininity thing. Or because I don’t love how you look all the time. It just might be – fun – I mean, to be able to . . .” His fingers were flexing involuntarily, and as soon as she glanced down at them he knew that she knew exactly what he was picturing. Sliding his hands up her legs with nothing in the way – not to mention being able to look at her bare legs in public, which hadn’t happened since Buckingham Palace.

She suddenly grinned. “I can do that,” she said.

“You wouldn’t hate it?”

“No, I’m . . . pretty sure I get the appeal.” She reached over and grabbed his wrist. “Oh. I have one too. Kind of.”

He was blushing a little and happy to have the conversation turn away from his skirt fantasies. “Okay?”

“Not as a regular thing – I mean, well, obviously – but – sometime when we’re really between jobs and everyone is okay without us for a while . . . could we go somewhere? I mean not for magic or evil monsters, just, on vacation?”

Flynn was taken aback. “Kinky vacation?” he asked, without really knowing what that might be.

She laughed. “No - well, I assume there’d be a good amount of . . . the regular stuff. But – just us. Alone. ‘Away from it all.’”

“Oh.” That sounded really good. “That sounds good.”

“With a beach.” She wrinkled her nose. “Maybe not necessarily a beach. But near water.”

“Because . . .”

“I like looking at it?”

Fair enough. “Good reason.” He took her hand. “Yes. Let’s definitely – we will plan a vacation. Just us, alone, somewhere nice with water to look at. Possibly even swim in.”

“With no tentacle monsters.”

“We will fully vet the body of water for absence of tentacle monsters.”

She tightened her grip on his hand. “Deal.”

 

Flynn awoke in the middle of the night to the sight of light from the dying fire playing over the bed. Eve was on her back, the sheet and blankets pulled high against the slight draft from the window over their heads, flickering light shining on her hair, her shoulder, her one exposed hand. The air smelled like fall – crisp, with the tiniest promise of the future bite of snow, fireplace smoke overlying everything else. And there was Eve’s smell, her skin and hair, clean and familiar. He lay looking at the curve of her cheek, the line of her nose, her long fingers resting on the blanket, and everything was so perfect that he was suddenly terrified. Of what, he couldn’t have said precisely, but it was something about this perfect moment, Eve next to him, the years he’d spent fearing and finally expecting that he would never have anything like this. He’d usually be worried about waking her up, but in a near panic he shifted closer and draped his arm over her, pulling himself against her.

Predictably, she stirred, her hand finding his arm and patting it, sleepily murmuring, “Hey.” Maybe she wouldn’t really wake, maybe she’d just go back to sleep – but he must have been holding her too tightly, or else she could feel his fast breathing or the trembling in his hand. She drew in a hard breath as if to clear her brain from sleep and rolled to face him. “You okay?”

“I –“ He was blank, wordless. Another moment and Eve moved, pushing herself higher on the pillows, wrapping her arms around him and pulling his head to her breast. She curled protectively over him, one leg draped over his.

“Nightmare?” she asked.

“No.” He shook his head, with the general effect of burrowing against her. “Just being irrational.”

She brushed his hair back and kissed the top of his head, seemingly content to wait for – or to be without – further explanation.

“It’s too good,” he finally said. One hand navigated its way between them, under the sheet, around her, to find the bare skin of her back. “Everything is too good, it’s hard to – really –“

He felt her nodding as her fingers ran through his hair. “I know,” she said softly.

He suddenly remembered her embarrassed, surprised tears their first time and knew that she did understand. Pressing even closer, he whispered against her throat, “You always know what I need,” and almost teared up himself.

“Remember that the next time I get something completely wrong,” she said, and he laughed. She hesitated, then added, “Do you need . . . anything else?”

It could be read as completely innocent, but her fingertips were trailing up and down his back and there was a heat that lit up in their path. Perfect as it was to be that much closer, though, to be inside her, it wasn’t what he needed at the moment. “No, I’m good,” he said.

He tightened his arm around her, though. The fact that she could offer – that wasn’t nothing, for her, and he knew it. He tried always to remain aware that her deepest trigger was to have something demanded that she wasn’t offering – to be expected to provide what someone else wanted whether she was in the mood or not. There was a lot she didn’t say about her previous relationships - and when she did find it important to share something, there were certain words that hovered silently in the air but that she never actually used – and he respected that and didn’t pry or push her. But he knew it was an important thing, and that for her to be able to offer this up, now, when he’d just startled her awake and she couldn’t possibly be in the mood, came from a place of deep trust. The same place, he supposed, that had let her invite his kink requests (such as they were) without knowing what he might say.

It wasn’t exactly a happy thought, pondering the kinds of things that upset her, but she wasn’t upset now, and the ache of fear in his chest was starting to fade – even though it really did hurt, how good they were, and he kind of hoped it always would.

For now – neither of them was a stranger to nightmares or occasional insomnia, and they had been negotiating these things between them for as long as they’d been sharing a bed. He pressed closer and she held him tighter against her; he said, “I love you,” and she said, “I love you too, try to go back to sleep,” and he took a deep breath full of cold fall air and fireplace and her smell, and tried to obey.

Chapter Text

There was something he really didn't want to tell her.

Flynn was bustling around the Annex like a kindergarten teacher with a classroom of unruly charges all trying to work on their own projects, except that his charges weren't that unruly, and there were only two of them (Stone being out on an "exploratory mission" that Eve suspected was really just an excuse to visit the Prado).

Ezekiel and Jenkins were in and out of the lab, working oddly well together except for the occasional muttered swear word (Ezekiel) or shouted exclamation that sounded like an elaborate and creative way to avoid actual swear words (Jenkins). And the occasional minor explosion. Cassandra on the other hand was sitting quietly at the center table with her nose buried in about five different books. She looked like Flynn, actually, except for the part where she seemed to be writing her notes invisibly in the air rather than on paper.

And Eve was working at the table across from her, though she was not counting herself as one of Flynn's charges.

The thing was, if he had really wanted to avoid Eve entirely, Flynn could have easily found a nook in the Library where she'd have no hope of coming across him. His nervous fluttering in her vicinity meant he really did need to tell her about whatever it was (or thought he did), but didn't want to.

Finally Cassandra got up to fetch yet another book (or three), and Flynn settled next to Eve's chair like a perching butterfly. "You're quiet," he said, as if the whole place weren't pretty quiet other than the sounds of industry coming every now and then from the lab.

Eve jabbed a pencil at the page of notes in front of her. "Taking advantage of some downtime to work through this list of potential magical threats Jenkins gave us. He said some of them were supposed to be accounted for, but - he also said we definitely weren't going to be dealing with the Libris Fabula."

Flynn brushed against her as he peered over her shoulder. "It's never the genie's lamp."

"I know. Like lupus."

"What?"

She forgot sometimes that he rarely watched normal TV, though he loved the weirder, more outlandish stuff on the History Channel. She supposed her estimation of the historical accuracy of some of those programs (aliens? Vikings stashing the Holy Grail in Ohio?) maybe did need to be reevaluated in light of magic being real.

She shook her head. "Never mind. Is whatever this is in the Library?" One of the items on Jenkins's list had been written in Greek, and she hadn't had the chance to ask for a translation. Or at least a transliteration.

Flynn said something that was presumably the correct pronunciation of the cluster of Greek letters, and added, "I hope not. It explodes periodically."

"At regular intervals, or -"

"At random. Big, big explosions."

"So we'd probably know if it was here."

"Unless it's been shielded or insulated in some way. Which it might have been, if a previous Librarian brought it in." Flynn tapped his fingertips on her list, looking thoughtful. "I could look into it."

"Thanks." She leaned forward to make a note that Flynn was looking into the - whatever - and huffed as a few strands of hair fell into her face at the action.

Flynn almost immediately caught her hair in one hand and tucked it back behind her shoulder, rubbing his hand down her back as he did so. "You're letting your hair get long," he commented neutrally.

"Kind of by accident," she replied, wrinkling her nose a little.

"I like it long, though." He paused in the act of running his fingers through the ends of her hair. "Is that bad?"

"Why would it be bad?"

"To say, I mean." He glanced up, dropping his hand, as Cassandra rejoined them at the table. "I thought it might be - I don't know, chauvinistic."

"Um - Flynn?" Ezekiel's voice called from back in the lab. "Could you maybe - uh -"

"Chauvinistic?" Eve repeated, ignoring Ezekiel.

"You know," Flynn said, "like I think I can tell you how I want . . ."

"Seriously, Flynn?" Ezekiel sounded slightly more urgent this time. Flynn got hastily to his feet and headed for the lab.

"What's the matter with Flynn?" Cassandra stage-whispered once he was gone.

"He thinks he's oppressing me," Eve replied, her attention already back on her list. "He'll be fine."

"He thinks he's oppressing you because . . ."

"He said he liked my hair long."

Cassandra considered. "Would this make sense if I'd lived through the seventies? And read a lot of issues of Ms.?"

"Possibly. Or maybe only if you were in Flynn's head."

"Mine is complicated enough, thanks." Cassandra picked up the corner of a page of one of her books as if intending to turn it, but stopped. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Okay." Apparently Eve wasn't going to be crossing a lot of threats off the list today.

Cassandra frowned at her for a while, then her gaze slid off to the side and went a bit unfocused. Eve waited it out, at first assuming the other woman was having an episode, but there was a distinct lack of the usual muttering and swatting at invisible numbers.

"Cassandra?" Eve finally prompted.

Cassandra's gaze focused on her again, slowly. "Yeah," she said.

"You had a question?"

"Yeah." Cassandra shook herself a little and turned her page with a definitive flair. "Never mind."

"You sure?"

In answering, Cassandra seemed to be contemplating Eve rather deeply. Eventually, though, she said, "Yeah. Maybe - maybe later."

Eve shrugged and went back to Googling Athena's Helmet on her phone.

When Flynn returned from the lab (smelling faintly of sulphur; the first thing he said was "don't ask"), he made purposeful eye contact with Eve and tilted his head toward the hall. "Could we . . ."

She answered only with a raised eyebrow, but followed him out. He was almost dancing back and forth by this point. "What?" she asked.

His brow furrowed, he looked at her feet as he tried to answer. "When I was - there was a - they found - I had -" He shook his head and started again. "A while back I went to check out a report of some unusual finds at an archaeological dig. There was nothing specifically magical at the site, but the things they did find suggested there might have been a lost site in the vicinity - a place that might have been used for magical rituals in the distant past. Dangerous magical rituals."

"So, real magic," Eve said. "Not, like, teenagers drawing pentagrams."

"Right. And - much longer ago than that." He exhaled heavily. "I didn't find anything. But there's another story - another . . . weird find, this time on the complete other side of the area I explored the last time. And this one's - it's still not anything that can do any harm, at least not in the hands of someone who doesn't know what it is. But it's another sign that I'm missing something - there's something in that area, and if we don't find it . . ." His hands waved. "Bad."

"Okay," she said, still not sure why he was so keyed up.

"So I have to go back. I hope - not for long at first, I just need to establish some kind of strategy for mapping the area and I need to get there to do that. I'm going to go this afternoon."

"Okay," she said again, slowly.

"It's, um." His frown telegraphed that this was the part he was nervous about. "It's up in northern Canada, where I was . . . before . . ."

Oh. Yes. Where he was before. Where he'd been and gotten lost for days in an area with no phone signal, terrifying her and, inadvertently, moving their relationship forward several steps. "Oh," she said.

"Yeah."

"So I'll come with you."

He was already shaking his head. "No, I need - I know, but I worked it out with Jenkins and I think it's foolproof, but I need you to stay here so you can hang onto - this." He put a little bronze disc in her hand.

"What's -"

He pointed at it, fingernail brushing lines of fine etching. "It'll pinpoint my location as soon as I leave."

"He said he was never trying that again," Eve said, remembering the Labyrinth.

"Not with the globe, no, but he's been working on some refinements." Flynn stepped closer into her space and cupped his hand under hers, holding it so they were both looking down at the little disc. "You stay here, and hold onto this, and then at a certain time you just have Jenkins put the door wherever I am."

There was an immediately obvious hole in that plan, at least in the part that required her to stay behind. "Why can't Jenkins just hang onto this thing himself so I can come with you?"

"Well," Flynn said, drawing the word out and sliding upward in tone in a way that meant something awkward was coming. "It won't work for Jenkins."

"Jenkins made it."

"Yes. But it works on - well. You and I are connected. The magic works on that."

She considered the little disc. "And we're not connected to Jenkins? Through the Library? Jenkins likes us. Kind of."

His voice was getting even higher. "We're not connected to Jenkins . . . like that."

Eve rubbed the back of her neck absently with her free hand, still thinking. So the magic of the little location disc was based on - what, on their feelings for each other? That seemed sort of wishy-washy (although right out of a fairy tale), and how could you be sure what feeling was strong enough - or how could you -

"Ah," she said, as something far more practical and much more mortifying occurred to her. "You're saying it works for me because we've had sex."

"Yeah, that's - that's about it, yes."

"Great. So, you and Jenkins . . ."

"Have definitely not had sex."

She rolled her eyes. "I was kind of counting on that. I mean, you and Jenkins discussed . . ."

"Oh. Well, it - it did come up, in a sort of - there was a lot of very polite euphemism."

Awesome.

She squeezed her eyes shut tightly for a moment, then opened them and focused on Flynn. "Okay. So you go off and look for magic, and I'll be busy not looking Jenkins in the eye ever again."

"And I won't get lost for days," Flynn pointed out.

There had to have been another way to manage that. But she supposed quibbling about it would be sort of pointless at this stage. "You're going now?"

"Yes." He put a hand on her back to guide her back toward the Annex and the magical door. "And in six hours, you'll send the door to pick me up and I'll be home for dinner. No muss, no fuss."

"Wait." She had identified another missing link in the plan that had thankfully nothing to do with their sex life and who knew about it. She hoped. "How will you know where the door is?"

"Oh. Right." He reached for her hand, which was still holding the little disc, and turned the disc over to show her the other side. A tiny, perfect circle had been etched in the center of an otherwise smooth surface. "Touch this, and a path will light up from my feet to the door that only I can see."

"Neat." They were back in the now-empty card catalogue; Cassandra having gone off somewhere. Eve slipped the little disc into a pocket of her jacket that had a zipper, so she could be sure of keeping it safe. "So . . ." Flynn was already gathering his satchel from the table. "You're off now and I'll see you in six hours."

He picked up her hand and smiled at the watch on her wrist. "Exactly six hours from right now, yes."

She took note of the time as well, then, with a hasty look around the empty room, slid her arm around his waist. "Be careful."

"I'm always -" He closed his mouth on the automatic lie and smiled. "I will."

"Is there any way I can know if you're in trouble?" she asked, as his arms looped under hers, his hands sliding up her back to her shoulder blades.

"Probably not," he admitted. "I do actually think Jenkins might be modifying some kind of magical communicator, but he's a while off. If he manages it at all, it's - the reasons are complicated, but it's actually not easy."

She nodded. Her impulse was to say "be careful" again, but they'd covered that, so instead she gave him a rueful smile and said, "Come back alive. Today."

"Promise."

They leaned in for a kiss simultaneously, but when Flynn made to pull away after a few moments Eve found herself placing a hand on the back of his head, holding him in place and deepening the kiss. She hadn't thought she was that nervous about him going off (after all, there was nothing especially dangerous about the place, just a lack of wifi and cell coverage), but apparently her body had other ideas.

Her fingertips were stroking the side of his jaw (where he hadn't taken the time to shave that morning and was just a bit scratchy) by the time she let him disengage. He mirrored her with one hand at the side of her face, fingers threaded up into her hair, and gave her another small, quick kiss before saying softly, "See you later."

"I'm holding you to that," she replied, equally softly, pressing her forehead against his for a moment before letting him go. He turned and went immediately through the back door without further hesitation.

A tiny, high-pitched and rather smothered-sounding squeal from behind her drew Eve's focus and made her turn around. Cassandra was standing in the doorway across the room, her eyes wide and both hands clasped over her mouth. When she saw that she had Eve's attention, she moved her hands out of the way and said, "Really?"

It was a hard and quick transition from her sentimental goodbye to Flynn, but Eve managed it with a little sigh. "Yes."

"I - I mean I thought -" Cassandra successfully modulated her hand-flapping excitement after a moment. "I won't tell the others."

Eve winced. "I think you're the last, actually."

Cassandra's expression shifted to outrage with a quick blink. "And they didn't tell me?"

"You were just promising not to tell them," Eve pointed out.

"That's girl code!" Cassandra sat down heavily at the table. "That's completely different."

"I see," was really all Eve could manage in response.

"So - how is it?"

Eve stared back at her for the approximately three seconds it took for red to start flooding Cassandra's neck and face.

"Oh my God no," Cassandra said, looking horrified. "No. I mean - how is - everything . . . going? You know what I mean. Not . . . I wasn't asking about . . ."

"Yeah," Eve said, relenting with a smile. "It's . . ." He's a lunatic, but in the fun way (usually)? It's not as aggravating as I was kind of afraid it would be? Actually surprisingly okay? In fact really good sex even though that's not the most important . . . Yeah, she was not saying any of that. ". . . good. It's good." What would a concerned friend - which was, she assumed, Cassandra's motivation in asking - care about? "I think we've . . . figured it out. Mostly."

"You've figured Flynn out?"

Eve had to laugh at Cassandra's dubious tone. "No. But we've . . . finally stopped trying to guess what each other is thinking. I think that's the important part."

Cassandra looked thoughtful.

 

When Flynn had stepped in her door after that disastrous earlier excursion, so fresh from the shower that his hair was damp around his face and he smelled strongly of soap, there hadn't been anything in her mind but relief. When she threw her arms around him the second the door was closed, even when she kissed him - nothing but a wordless, formless gratitude that he was standing there in her apartment and not lost or injured or dead. The fact that he was trying to apologize filtered in slowly, through and in between kisses she was initiating without even really meaning to, and that coupled with the relief erased any anger she might have otherwise felt. She had room for nothing but his solidness in her arms and against her mouth, and she had his jacket off and his shirt untucked and her hands up underneath his sweater and shirt before she really realized what she was doing.

She hadn't been thinking at all, only giving in to some odd impulse that there was too much, too much air and space and stuff between them and that she needed to be closer to him - but his eyes were wide and dark when she looked at him and oh. So yes, yes she was undressing him in her living room. And neither of them said anything but there didn't seem to be any real reason to stop, so oh, okay, and she led him by the hand as if he hadn't been in her bedroom before.

His hands stayed with a sort of insistent politeness on her hips or the sides of her face, and he was kissing her forehead, murmuring against her skin, moving his hands and his mouth only in obedience to her efforts to get his sweater over his head and off. Halfway through unbuttoning his shirt the words sank in and she realized he was still apologizing.

She stopped and framed his face with her hands, fingertips in his damp hair, and said, "It's okay. Stop."

His expression was stricken. "I really would have -"

"I know." She kissed his mouth and then his neck while returning to the buttons of his shirt. "Just - you're here now."

He might have said something in response, but she didn't quite hear it. He was lifting the hem of her shirt slowly, carefully, and she finally left him with two buttons still buttoned so that she could raise her arms to help him get her shirt off. His lips were at her throat now, and one hand at the back of her neck, fingers rubbing up into her hair, and Flynn had taken her breath away a few times before but they were nothing compared to this. She didn't notice that his other hand on her shoulder had been pushing her bra strap down until he switched to the other one, kissing down over her shoulder as he removed it and simultaneously pulling at the clasp in the back. She almost helped - it would have given her something to do, rather than just standing there hyperventilating with her hands on his shoulders - but he managed it, and all there was left for her to do was to help him slide the straps all the way off her arms.

His hands on her breasts were slow and tentative, which was really okay. Much better than starting with too much roughness and forcing her to stop him. Instead he seemed to be trying to figure out what she liked, his eyes constantly glancing up at her face as he varied his touch, as he bent his head down to use his mouth on her. It was sweet, but he was - there was something -

Oh.

He did something especially good - and what's more, seemed to notice and did it again - and for a few seconds conscious thought was gone. She curled over him, as much to support herself as out of tenderness, and bit her lip against the gasps that wanted to escape.

She remembered, though, when he lifted his head - his fingers stroking almost soothingly where his mouth had been - and asked softly, "Would it be better if -"

Right. She returned her hands to his face and kissed away the rest of the question. Previously she wouldn't have thought "trying too hard" had a downside when it came to sex, but - he had never relaxed. He'd gone from anxious to apologize, to anxious to please, and she didn't actually want him anxious. They'd waited too long for this.

"Don't think so much," she said, looking him firmly in the eye and taking the opportunity to finish getting rid of his shirt and undershirt.

He nodded - after she'd pulled his shirt over his head - but she wasn't a hundred percent sure he'd gotten the message. Fortunately, showing him what she meant would not at all interfere with her mission to be closer, to feel him as much as she could. With a tiny exhale of a laugh she bent and kissed his bared shoulder, flattening her palms against his chest. He was solid and warm and every bit as good out of his shirt as she sort of remembered from that London hotel room so many months ago. She did intend a message - something about enjoying each other, enjoying the moment without worrying so much about it - but that went mostly out of her mind at the smell of his skin up close, the feeling of his chest against her exploring lips, his taste, the curve of his lower back as she slid her hands around him . . . which, of course, was kind of the point. If he couldn't -

Well, actually, if he couldn't eventually enjoy her body, she was going to start to worry, and not just about his emotional state.

Fortunately, though, he seemed to respond to her touch and to let his hands move over her a bit more as he pleased (also their hips were pressed together now and - she thought, with a wince for the cliche - part of him was definitely responding and fully on board). And she found, it seemed, either a particularly sensitive spot or a preference for just the gentlest use of teeth, because he gasped suddenly and wrapped his arms around her with almost crushing force and brought his mouth to her neck in such a fervent kiss that there was a good chance she was going to need a scarf the next day. That seemed to break the spell a bit and his hands went to the button of her jeans, his kisses grew more demanding, and it wasn't all her doing that got them finally to the bed with the rest of their clothes off.

It was good just to feel him against her, from shin to shoulder, warm and with nothing between them. He seemed to think so too, because things had slowed down to more kissing, just entwining their legs and almost shyly brushing fingers over hips and backs, his collarbone, her breast. She was smiling at him and rubbing gently at his temple where he had the smallest touch of sunburn, and it took her a while to notice that his hand sliding up her inner thigh was trying to get her to part her legs.

She bit her lip again as she did so. She'd had so many first times -

- well, no, she hadn't, not so many -

- but the ones she had had, she was used to a certain amount of uncomfortable fumbling in that area that bordered on actually painful, as someone tried to check off all the boxes - as quickly as possible - before moving on. She was ready for that - but not for the feather touch of Flynn's fingertips, as soft and hesitant as he'd been earlier, just tracing and stroking. Her mind was completely focused on his touch, but then his other hand brushed over her mouth and he said quietly, "Don't do that, you'll make it bleed."

She obediently released her lower lip from her teeth and he kissed her in acknowledgement as his fingers started to search more purposefully - he obviously knew what he was doing, he'd probably memorized the entirety of human anatomy - but more importantly, when he touched in a way that was too much and she reflexively pressed her hips into the bed to get away from it, he was paying attention. "Not right there?" he asked, lips brushing against her cheek.

"No, it's - sort of uncomfortable." She hesitated for a second, then took hold of his wrist and gently moved his hand upward, until she could feel the tip of his index finger was where she wanted it.

He nodded, brushing his nose deliberately against her face, and started stroking her with increased pressure. "Better?"

"Yes," she managed to say, though it was more of a breath than a vocalization because yes, it was better. Good, even. But when he slid a finger into her she was suddenly hit with a wave of impatience - that this was good enough, it was enough; she had wanted to be as close as they could possibly be and that wasn't happening quickly enough. "Flynn," she said, running a hand down over his hip.

"Not okay?"

"Not necessary." She felt she'd been neglecting him but it hadn't affected his readiness - she wrapped her hand around him and felt his gasp through both their bodies as she stroked.

He hissed a little through his teeth and said, "You might not want to -"

She was careful to ease her touch off slowly rather than abruptly releasing him. "Okay," she said, "but - come here."

"Sure?"

"Yeah." She leaned back against her pillows and tugged insistently, until he was leaning over her, kneeling between her legs.

"And you're still okay with . . ." He somehow managed to convey "lack of protection" with a gesture that probably should have been funny.

"Unless there's anything you need to tell me?"

"No." He looked down with a concentrated frown that was funny, but she was also swept with tenderness for him - he was usually so abrupt, as likely as not to elbow an artifact off its perch while reaching for another one. But he was being so careful with her, especially now, looking and using his fingers to position them both.

It wasn't quite enough - there was an unexpected burn when he pressed into her, and she winced, a tightening around her eyes, before she could stop herself. Of course he saw it. "Stop?" he asked, already doing just that.

"No, don't - it's fine." She rubbed his shoulder reassuringly, but he wasn't buying it.

"It's not fine." He moved a little, watching her face closely. "Eve -"

She could feel her face heating up. "Seriously," she said, "it'll be okay after a minute."

"I don't want to hurt you. We can wait -"

"It won't be any different next time. It's just -" She sighed, hoping that acting as if this were a casual thing and not at all mortifying would convince him. "When you don't use muscles, they tend to get a little . . . less flexible. It's really fine." And really, thank God that they'd already covered how long it had been since she'd used those particular muscles, so she had no face left to save there.

"Okay," he said somewhat dubiously, but he was moving again, very slowly, still studying her expression. After a moment he slipped his arm under her hips and lifted them a little, changing the angle. "Better or worse?" he asked.

"Better," she said, and it actually was.

He must have seen something in her face that she wasn't aware of consciously displaying. "Hey," he said, giving her lower back a little stroke with his thumb, "partners, right?"

She smiled at him, feeling the muscles around her eyes soften and relax. She also realized that he was now completely inside her, still moving slowly, and that it didn't feel like so much of a stretch anymore. She reached out for his shoulders and said, "It's okay now, come here."

"You're sure?" he said automatically, releasing her hips and letting himself lean over on top of her, supporting his weight with his forearms on the pillows framing her head. His pace was still slow, but from this angle it was more of a leisurely rocking of his hips into hers, rather than feeling quite so . . . clinical. She let her hands roam over his shoulders and back, all the while watching the way he watched her. He wasn't lost in his own sensation, but staying completely connected to her, occasionally brushing a kiss against her lips, her forehead, the bridge of her nose.

It was fine and pleasant, the way they fit together now that the initial discomfort had passed - and then he moved in a slightly different way and it was so much better than pleasant that she gasped, fingers digging into his shoulders.

Of course, since things had started the way they did, he immediately froze and asked, "Good or bad?"

"Good," she forced out, then swallowed and, with less of a dry throat, managed to add, "Do that again."

Gradually he managed to stop thinking he might break her, and gradually she allowed herself to feel what was happening rather than think about it (the irony of their role reversal in that respect was not lost on her). The buildup was slow but not subtle once it happened, and her release came in waves that made her back arch and her legs lift almost of their own accord to wrap around him. He kept moving slowly through it, and after, though his hips were starting to stutter a little, and finally she ran her fingers through his hair and said softly, "Let go."

He looked as if he wanted to say something and couldn't quite. God, she suddenly thought, irrationally, he really likes me. She squeezed his shoulders, rubbed his back, and added, "Whatever you need is okay," pulling him down for a kiss after she'd gotten the words out.

He nodded haltingly, and although it took another few moments, he did begin to speed up, to let his need drive his movements. His hands were on the sides of her face the whole time, thumbs stroking her jawline, fingers brushing back her hair. He held that connection between them all the way through, as he started to gasp and to move more erratically, as she grasped his hips and kissed his shoulder and murmured, "Go ahead," as he held himself still against her, kissing her and groaning a wordless noise into it, and she felt the rush of warmth as he did finally let go. And he was still kissing her, gasping her name against her mouth as his whole body trembled.

She'd never been with anyone who felt so present the entire time - who kept her feeling that present, rather than each of them taking what they needed (and usually a certain amount of staring at the ceiling or the wall, on her part, toward the end). There was nothing magic about it -

- she hoped -

- just a way Flynn had of focusing in on her and keeping her focused on him. It was -

Oh God, was she crying? Not really, not a lot, but her eyes were definitely watering in a very suspicious way, and she didn't have time to give herself a firm talking-to before he was looking at her, and oh hell, he was going to think -

"I hurt you," he said, looking horrified.

Yeah, that.

"No," she said quickly. ". . . wow, this is embarrassing." Which was putting it lightly. She took a second to make sure she wasn't really, actually crying, that it wouldn't come out in her voice, before adding, "It's good."

"You're sure?"

Her new goal in life was for him not to have to ask her that every five minutes. She nodded and rubbed at her tearing eyes with one knuckle. "Sorry."

"Don't be." He kissed her as he slid out of her - which did, again, burn a little now that the flood of hormones had abated, but it was all right. He rolled to his side and she pressed close, both of them reaching up for each other's faces at the same time. Instead he grabbed her hand and tucked both their hands under his chin.

She realized that she was waiting for him to say something that would break the spell - something tactless or crude or just thoughtless to counter the emotional connection she'd felt during. But he didn't say anything - just held her hand like that for a while, then rolled to his back and tugged her closer, his other arm extended.

"Hold on," she said, because the sooner the less pleasant things were dealt with, the sooner she could lie next to him without having to get back up.

If she'd known she was actually bleeding the tiniest, least little bit - it couldn't be anything more than the smallest irritation - she definitely would not have grabbed white towels. Flynn of course was the most observant person she'd ever met, and he was horrified all over again, and she had to try to explain that it was just a thing that happens and that he really hadn't done anything horrible to her. "Nothing hurts," she swore about three times, and that was a lie, she was already a little bit sore, but there was no reason he should feel bad about it.

"Eve?" he said, once she'd gotten him to stop biting his lip and apologizing (which was turning out to be the theme of the evening) and they were settled in each other's arms under the covers; and she thought, oh God, here it comes. At least it couldn't be much worse than what her last boyfriend had come up with the first time ("that was fun" - which made her feel like, at best, a momentary diversion).

"Hmm?"

There was a slight pause as if he were still thinking, and then he said quietly, "I think we make good partners."

Well. Or he'd say exactly the perfect thing and she'd almost cry (again) (not that she was entirely admitting to the first time).

 

It was a long six hours of studiously not checking her phone, then checking it while reminding herself that she didn't actually expect any messages, then trying not to check it . . . Eve finally held the little disc in her hand - Jenkins having set the back door's position and then made himself discreetly scarce, which she was trying hard not to think about - and touched the tiny circle on the reverse side. Another long, tense several seconds went by before the door flashed and Flynn was stepping through it.

She smiled, but she must have looked more tense than she thought, because he sized her up with one glance and immediately wrapped his arms around her. "See?" he said into her shoulder. "No problems."

"Did you find anything?"

He pulled back, keeping his hands on her hips. "No. I didn't really expect to, but now I have a pretty good idea of where to look and I might take Stone along next time."

She raised an eyebrow. "As long as the two of you stick together, because I am not doing what it would take to be able to locate him."

"You certainly aren't," Flynn said, with a proprietary air that wasn't entirely a joke.

"Although hey, would it work if you -"

"Let's have dinner," Flynn said loudly, with a look that made her laugh.

The mood during dinner was light enough, but afterward they ended up on her couch, reclining and still with arms wrapped tightly around each other and Eve's head resting on Flynn's chest, in a mutual quiet that felt a bit like frightened relief. She was feeling that she needed to be close to him, and his fingers stroking her hair still suggested a perceived need for comfort. Neither of them seemed to feel that talking was necessary.

She must have fallen asleep - and she didn't know what thoughts had been occupying Flynn during that time - but some time seemed to have passed and then he was rubbing her shoulder with gentle pressure to wake her. "Come to bed," he said softly.

She nodded sleepily and tightened her arms around him before separating, as if she weren't going to be wrapped up in him again shortly. They both wandered toward her bedroom and bathroom, maneuvering around each other as they prepared for bed. For one spontaneous moment while he stood over the sink splashing water on his face, she pressed her forehead into his shoulder with her arm squeezed tight around his waist. He had to dry his face off first, but then he kissed the top of her head to show he understood.

"You're okay?" he asked once they were settled in bed, his head resting on the pillow between her shoulder and her head.

"Fine." She gave a little pat to the arm he'd draped over her body. "I wasn't that worried about your ability to survive Canada."

"Mmm-hmm," he said somewhat doubtfully. "You know I always want you with me. Right?"

"Yeah," she said softly. "I know."

"Good," he said, but then his arm over her tightened and he lifted his head off the pillow to add, "Like - always."

She held her breath long enough for that to sink in, long enough for her to have the thought Yes. I can do that. Yes. Then, although she opened her mouth, it took another second to find the words. "I want that too," she said finally. And was sure that she meant it.