King was whistling in the shower when Abby finally sat down on the edge of the bed, reaching down to undo her laces with fingers that were thick and clumsy with tiredness. She thought about calling to him, letting him know she was there - maybe even joining him - but both of those things seemed to require more energy than she had at the moment.
So instead she kicked her shoes off, letting them lie where they fell with a dull thump, and then let gravity do the rest, easing herself down onto the bed.
The first thing she noticed when she was flat on her back was that King still hadn't got around to painting the ceiling, even though she'd been subtly - or not so subtly - mentioning it for weeks. There was still that yellow patch in the corner that was shaped vaguely like Oregon from where the roof had leaked last winter. Abby frowned at it for a moment, as though staring at it would magically make it blend into the off-white that the rest was still painted. It didn't work, and she sighed, moving it closer to the top of the list of things they still had to fix before autumn rolled around again.
It was a long list.
The patter of the shower died down in the background, although King's whistling continued, slightly out of tune. She turned her head in that general direction, feeling the pull in her neck that would turn into pain if she didn't work the kinks out before she fell asleep tonight. Maybe even if she did - her muscles weren't being co-operative at the moment, seeming like they were lining up with a new and exciting twinge every day.
King liked to tease her that she was getting old, almost respectable. He liked to tease her about a lot of things these days. She liked to kick him behind the knees as he walked past just to see the way his long, lean frame folded up before he managed to catch hold of something and steady himself. It was a small, petty pleasure, but she'd take what she could get.
She went back to staring at the ceiling while King took his time, listening to the sound of water hitting the sink and the slow whir of his electric toothbrush - they needed batteries, and she added that to another of her mental lists - before she finally heard the door to their small en suite open, catching on the thick pile of the carpet.
She'd asked him to sand that down, too, but he'd had other things on his mind. They both had.
"Hey." He sounded pleased to see her, but she didn't turn to look at him, not at first. Not when the crick in her neck still needed to be worked out. "You're back."
Yes. Yes, she was, and it took everything she had not to point that out to him. He was the facetious one. She was the small, grumpy one, or so King had told her on multiple occasions. She grunted instead, knowing that King wouldn't take offence.
Okay, not offence, but that didn't mean he wouldn't be concerned. "Just tired," she said, knowing it wasn't a lie but hating to have to admit to it anyway.
"Yeah, I know." Like he could. "It won't last forever." Even better. Something to look forward to.
When she wasn't freaking the hell out.
She felt the bed bounce slightly, like King had sat down on the edge of it - to pull his socks on, or maybe just look at his watch - but when it shifted again she finally turned her head, knowing she didn't need to turn it far.
He'd shifted to sit right next to her, the look in his eyes momentarily serious. "You okay?" he asked again, more softly this time, and she pulled a face.
"My neck's killing me. And so are my feet."
It came out a little whiny but fuck it. He could deal with a little whine from her. It wasn't like she hadn't had to put up with his complaining more than once, and frankly he deserved it.
Most of this was his fault anyway.
The thought might have been uncharitable, but she figured she was due a little leeway on that.
King, of course, didn't agree. He pulled a face right back at her, all fake sympathy even as his treacherous mouth turned up in a small smile, the kind she'd have slapped the back of his head for a couple of months ago, back when she was faster and he was slower.
"Poor baby," he said, and there was some genuine sympathy lurking behind the mocking. "Which part do you want me to rub first?"
The idea of just flipping him off flitted through her mind but even that seemed to require more energy than she had at the moment. Besides, his offer was genuine, no artifice in it, and she'd be an idiot if she didn't take him up on it.
"Feet," she said, because that was the part of her that required her to move the least. She rounded it off by giving him her best pleading look.
It paled when she compared it to the expressions he could pull, but he snorted genially anyway, indulging her as he pushed himself off the bed and walked around it to where her feet were still hanging off the edge.
He'd taken the time to pull boxers on instead of wandering around naked like he usually did. It must be later than she thought if Zoë was due home from school. He still looked good, and she indulged herself for a moment, more memory than anything else.
"Up," he said, tapping her on the knees and waiting patiently until she wriggled her way up the bed, moving with her ass and her elbows.
It took her a lot longer to do that than it used to, and when she finally reached the top she let her head fall back onto the pillows with a soft huff.
"It's too damned hot," she said to the ceiling as King's thumbs settled against her instep. "God, I wish this weather would just break already."
He hummed softly in agreement, his thumbs already pushing against her skin, a steady pressure that seemed to roll the pain out, like it was a splinter buried into her skin instead of just the side effect of being on her feet too damned long today.
"It won't be long," he said soothingly, still focusing on her feet and on easing her aches and pains. She just wasn't sure that it was the summer heat he was talking about.
She settled her hand against the curve of her belly, feeling the tautness of the skin under her fingertips as she stroked, a soft, mindless movement that was becoming a habit.
"He moving again?"
"No." She blinked up at the ceiling, feeling the tension starting to flow out of her, guided by King's steady hands. "And I told you, it's just as likely to be a girl."
"Yeah, but then I'd be seriously, seriously outnumbered instead of just outnumbered and outgunned." He paused long enough in his foot rub to give her a grin; she didn't have to strain her neck to look at him to know it was there. "You've got to leave me with some hope, sweetheart."
She hummed her response rather than spoke it, feeling it reverberate against her fingertips, wondering if the baby could feel it, too.
"I painted the small room today," King said, his attention apparently back on her aching feet. "Got the ceiling done, too. Might need another coat, though. I'll do that tomorrow."
"The ceiling in here needs doing, too," she said dreamily, staring again at the small, yellow patch in the corner. It looked less like Oregon now, maybe more like a small rabbit sitting on a box, ears flat against its back.
King chuckled, the sound low and sweet. "I know," he said. "You might have mentioned it once or twice or twenty times." There was no irritation in his tone, just a kind of fondness as he finally let go of her feet and stretched his long length along the bed, propping himself up on his arms so that he could look down at her. "And the kitchen, and the family room, and I think you said something about reorganising the garage as well. But I might have misheard that."
He was probably expecting her to swat his head; his grin seemed to suggest that, but she was too damned tired to play along to that extent.
"I just want things to be ready," she said, at a loss to explain it, not to King who'd always understood her without her having to.
His smile faded, his look turning both affectionate and a little concerned. "I know," he said, examining her face for a moment, a steady kind of warmth in his eyes. "It will be. I promise, okay."
"I know." She did. She should; she'd trusted him with more important things than this. Like watching her back for all of those years that they'd hunted.
"Want me to rub your neck as well?"
"Yeah." It meant sitting up again, but King didn't comment or kvetch when she took her sweet time doing just that. He didn't offer to help her either, aside from making sure he was in reach in case she needed something to grab onto. He'd learned his lesson well, even if she couldn't do much more than glare at him these days.
She waited until he'd shifted around the bed so that he was sitting behind her, and then she leaned back, just a little bit, until she was resting against his legs.
His thumbs settled against her skin again, this time in the hollows where her shoulders met her neck. He was careful, so much more careful than he used to be with her. There was a time when he'd have been ruthless, as ruthless with her as she was with him, pounding at sore muscles until they responded, until the knots finally eased leaving that kind of tenderness behind that not even the hottest of showers would wash away entirely. But since that little plus sign had appeared on the stick she'd had to pee on, he'd been reading the kind of books that were short on plot and sex and long on physiology and emotional wellbeing. They might have had some useful advice - she'd given up on most of them after the first read through, trusting instinct and King to get her through this - but they were also full of do nots as well as dos. And King taken some of those warnings - the ones about how her ligaments were looser now than they used to be, all of those hormones readying her body for what was coming - a little too much to heart.
It was sweet, in a weird, worrying kind of way. But if he tried to mop her brow through the actual delivery part of this whole event, she was going to punch him.
King's fingers found a particularly stubborn knot, digging in hard enough to make her groan. He immediately eased up and she scowled, half wishing that she still had the kind of mobility that would let her turn around and hit him until he stopped treating her like spun glass.
"King," she said instead, lengthening his name into a growl, the kind of warning that even he couldn't ignore.
He laughed, the ass, his thumbs coming back a little harder, making her toes curl again. It still wasn't as hard as she needed but, hell. The years with him had taught her a little about the art of compromising, which meant he got his way at least ten percent of the time.
"Better?" he asked her, the laughter gone from his voice. She rolled her shoulders experimentally, feeling the stretch, the lingering tension in her muscles. It was better - not great, and probably wouldn't be this side of what King had taken to calling 'The Event', the capital letters obvious from his tone - but she'd take what she could get.
He was waiting for her answer, his fingers still warm against her skin. Where she'd learned to compromise, he'd learned patience, at least to the same degree. She hummed a little, letting him know she was there with him, that she hadn't fallen asleep on him the way she had more than once. "'t's nice," she said eventually, letting the words slide sleepily past her lips. "Thanks."
"Any time." He let his fingers linger on the nape of her neck for a moment longer, pressing the whorls of his fingertips against her skin, before he finally slid them down over the curve of her shoulders. "I mean that, you know? The offer's open, honey. You should probably take me up on it every now and then."
"I do," she insisted, struggling to turn around to look at him. She ended up having to settle for a glimpse of his ear, the position of her head leaving her a little dizzy. "I just have, in case you've already forgotten."
King shifted position behind her just enough that his full face came into view. He was smiling slightly, behind his beard, the kind of smile that still did things to her insides, even after all of these years. "Yeah, but I'm not going to object to any opportunity to get my hands on you."
Abby resisted the urge to snort, knowing that it would only encourage him. "I guessed," she said dryly. "In fact, I'm pretty sure that's how I got into this situation."
He considered this for a moment, screwing his face up in concentration even as his eyes continued to focus on her, sparkling with amusement. "Really? Because I seem to remember you wearing fewer clothes."
This time she did swat at him, her hand barely grazing his arm as he ducked away from her. He was laughing again and she couldn't resent that. Resent or resist him.
"You know we can remedy that," he said, leaning back in again and wrapping his arms around her, settling his chin on her shoulder. He had much further to reach these days but he managed it somehow - but then, he'd always been long-limbed.
It should have been tempting, but it was still too damned hot and the heat had washed her out, leaving her exhausted and ill tempered, neither of which King deserved. "Rain check?"
"Sure." There was no resentment in his tone either, simply an easy acceptance, the kind of patience she fought for and often failed to find. "Zoë will be home from school soon anyway. We probably shouldn't traumatise her again."
She leaned back into him, letting him take her weight for a moment. He was solid enough to take it, and steady enough to slide into silence, one of his hands stroking slowly over her arm, up and down, up and down, over and over again.
It was the kind of comfort that was easy to sink into, and she closed her eyes, listening to the sound of his breathing for a moment, letting that soft, easy sound sink into her too.
That made it the perfect time for the baby to wake up and turn over. The sensation was as weird as ever, a combination of a cramp and a weird indigestion, and she looked down in time to catch the ripple passing through the muscles of her abdomen.
"I hate to say it, but that doesn't get any less freaky." King rubbed his chin against her shoulder, and when she turned her head again and looked at him out of the corner of her eye, his gaze was fixed on her belly. "Are we absolutely sure it's not an alien?"
"Well," she said slowly, relishing the chance to mock him for a change. "With you as the father, who knows?"
"True," he said, and she could hear the smile in his voice. "Although I think the word you're looking for is 'Canadian'."
She smirked, even knowing he couldn't see it. "If this thing comes out wearing skates and carrying a hockey stick, I'm sending it back."
"This thing?" He slid his hand down over her bump, resting his fingers against the place the baby's elbow - or foot - had raised the skin. "That's our baby you're talking about, honey. We don't call it a thing until it's out and misbehaving. Right, kiddo?"
The baby shifted again, a slow movement across the surface of her belly, almost as if in agreement.
"See?" King's voice turned soft, and again she didn't have to see his face to know the expression that would be on there, the soft, awed smile or the look in his eyes. He'd been wearing that expression for months, like the world had shifted slightly, become less dark, less grim than he was used to.
She supposed that it had, for them at least.
"He's going to be a fighter," King said as the baby kicked again against his palm.
She could still hear the smile in his voice, but it didn't stop the automatic correction that leapt to her lips. "She."
It lacked any heat, like many of their arguments these days. Maybe it was because they'd known each other, loved each other for so long now, familiarity rubbing off all of the rough edges. They'd hashed so many things out over the years that the words had long since lost the power to wound, although she could just imagine the look on King's face if she was to suggest they were mellowing in their old age.
It was almost worth it.
The baby was finally settling again, going back to sleep now that it was comfortable, and she leaned back against King's bare chest, finding that strange state of calm she'd spent the last couple of weeks existing in, the one that felt like she was drifting in the middle of a deep, calm ocean, just waiting for the wind or the waves.
She closed her eyes and listened to the silence, enjoying the moment more because she knew it couldn't last.
"Caulder called while you were out," King said, and the words jerked her back into wakefulness, throwing her for a moment. Puzzling it out put her off balance just long enough that by the time she twisted around again to look at him, King's expression had already settled into apologetic.
She took a deep breath, holding it for a moment. "Let me guess. He was after samples again."
King's nose wrinkled up, an expression that hadn't looked cute on him for years. "From me, yeah. From you and the spawn..." He hesitated, not missing the look in her eye. "I told him no again."
She let the silence stretch out for a moment, until the pause became as pregnant as she was and King was shifting slightly, his brow furrowing and his lips parting, already on the defensive.
"Good," she said, cutting him off before he started and making her tone as uncompromising as possible.
He pulled a face, one fleeting enough that she let it slide. She got it, she did. She couldn't not get it - they'd spent months arguing about whether or not the genetic markers left in his DNA by the vampirism virus could be inherited before they'd agreed on trying for a kid, and while Caulder had been firmly on her side in that argument - at least as far as declaring any risk as 'negligible' - that didn't mean she'd agreed to be his little science experiment.
"You know," King started slowly, picking his words with the kind of care he didn't usually bother with. "It probably wouldn't hurt to let him take a blood sample after the baby is born. After." That word came out much more quickly, falling over itself to head off her anger.
But she wasn't angry, just like she wasn't stupid or unnecessarily stubborn. Just necessarily stubborn. There was no way in hell Caulder was messing around with needles in her belly, even at this stage in her pregnancy, when the risk of harm to her baby was, he'd assured her, infinitesimally low.
It was still too big a risk for Abby. She'd risked everything she'd had before now, up to and including her life and King's, but she wouldn't risk this. She wouldn't ever risk this, and her hand curled protectively around her belly, barely aware that she'd done it until King's expression twisted with remorse.
"After," she agreed, mainly to stop him from looking like that. Stricken didn't suit him, and it was a small price to pay to put his mind at ease.
He visibly relaxed, his expression smoothing out and that small pinch of tension between his eyebrows easing. "Just so we know he's okay."
King's mouth curled up again. "Okay, she."
"And for the record, we're not calling her Erica. Or Eric, if you get your boy."
"Really? But just think about how much it would piss Blade off."
"It would seriously piss Blade off, which is why we're not doing it." She sighed, putting everything into it just to make him grin, lightening his mood with the ease of long practice. "Sometimes I think you've got a death wish."
"Well..." he said slowly, "I spent several years hunting down bloodsucking leeches who would rip my throat out as soon as look at me, for kicks, I might add, and then, after we'd lowered their population to the point where they were more difficult to find than a virgin at a born again Christian shindig, the only way I could satisfy my need for that death defying adrenaline rush was by marrying you. So... that would be a yes."
"Funny," she said dryly, and he grinned again, leaning in to kiss the side of her head.
"I'm going to get dressed, get started on dinner. Any requests?"
"No, I'm good." She didn't have cravings, not really, and sometimes she thought he was a bit disappointed by that, the fact that she didn't send him out at three a.m. for pickles and ice cream. Sometimes she thought she should do it anyway just to make him feel useful.
He was a ridiculous man in some ways, but, God, she loved him.
"Okay." He smiled at her, soft and sweet, as he levered himself up from the bed and grabbed his jeans from the chair by the dresser, starting to pull them on. She settled back down and watched him, part of her still marvelling at how domestic they'd become, how familiar the shape of his body was to her. He'd kept in shape - they both had, just in case - and he'd never been hard to look at, but there were pale yellow flecks of paint in his hair today from painting the baby's room, ones that he must have missed when he'd showered, and somehow that just made him more attractive. There were flecks of grey in there now too, catching the light in his hair and in his beard as he lowered his head, focusing on doing up the fastening in his jeans.
She'd never thought they'd get the chance to grow old together when they'd started this thing between them, and yet here they were, almost eight years later with a house, and a mortgage, and one point nine kids. Another six weeks or so and it would be two.
Sometimes she thought that was more terrifying than vampires.
King reached for his shirt, but paused when he caught her watching him, raising one eyebrow at her quizzically. "You know, if you're planning to cash in that rain check you might want to do it now before I've got the rest of my clothes on."
She laughed, letting it bubble up out of her joyously, a little regretful that she felt too awkward and ungainly these days to take him up on the offer. "I'm good," she repeated and he shrugged, smiling at her in that way of his that could still make her heart skip a beat.
"You know, you're going to hit that horny, hormonal stage soon and not be able to keep your hands off me." He nodded at her, just smugly enough to make her laugh.
"I think that was my twenties," she said, and his grin widened.
"You're not quite out of them yet, sweetheart." No, not quite, even if she felt ancient some days.
"It's not the years, honey," she said seriously. "It's the mileage."
She loved making him laugh, and this time was no exception. His face lit up. "All this and Indiana Jones quotes, too? Oh man, I definitely married up."
"Yeah," she agreed, smirking up at him, knowing that he couldn't resist her when she did that.
Bang on cue he leaned in to kiss her again, taking his time and making it so sweet that she melted into it, letting it ease away every ache and pain, every twinge of worry.
"Mom? Dad? I'm hooooome." Zoë's voice echoed up from downstairs, and Abby broke off the kiss, tilting her head as she listened for any other sound that might tell her what she needed to know about Zoë's state of wellbeing, any hint that something was amiss. Old habits died hard, but better old habits than any of her family. "My friend Chloe from school's with me!"
Well, that little warning explained the 'Mom and Dad'; new school and new friends had meant that Zoë got to pick the cover story. It hadn't been a surprise when she'd plumped for this one, the one that meant she had parents for real.
Abby relaxed, the tension easing out of her as King pulled away, just far enough so she could see his raised eyebrow.
"Zoë and Chloe? Are they planning to start a girl band?"
She swatted at him, amused in spite of herself, and he grinned at her again, finally straightening up and reaching for his shirt. "Okay, I'm going to go down and check this girl out. Better safe than sorry, I always say," he said, pulling his shirt over his head so that the last few words were slightly muffled.
"You never say that," she corrected gently. "I say that, and then you roll your eyes at me and mutter under your breath."
He rolled his eyes but kept the muttering under his breath to a minimum, dancing away out of her reach before she could swat him again.
He didn't have to move very far, not when he could be out of the room and halfway down the stairs before she'd be able to get up off the bed.
"You going to have a nap while I start dinner?"
She shook her head; she was tired, not sleepy, and there were still things to do. So many, many things. "Give me a hand up?"
He didn't mock her this time - but then King had always been smarter than he looked. Instead he simply stepped closer to the bed, holding out both hands so that she could use them to lever herself back to her feet.
When she was upright, he wrapped his arms back around her for a moment, leaning in to kiss her again. When he pulled away, one of his large hands settled over her belly.
"Sam," he said. "Nice and gender neutral. Works for a girl, or a boy, or anything in between."
Sam. She turned the name over in her mind, seeing how it fit. It wasn't terrible, which, given most of King's only semi-serious suggestions up to now, was a blessing.
"I'll add it to the list," she said.
King grinned again, leaning in to press his forehead against hers. "What is it with you and lists these days?"
"My brain is mush," she pointed out, resisting the urge to scowl.
"Your brain is not mush, you've just got a lot on your mind. You still drop the ball a hell of a lot less than I do, honey. Now, I'm going to make sure that this Chloe character isn't currently in the process of butchering our soon to be eldest child. You -" He poked her gently in the middle of her chest, his expression mock serious. "Seriously think about that nap, okay. And if not, I'll see you downstairs in...what? Ten? Twenty minutes?"
She folded her arms over her chest, which wasn't as easy these days as it had been, much to King's delight, and glared at him over the top of them. "I'm not that slow."
"You're slow, sweetheart. Just embrace your inner sloth and accept it."
It was mildly funny the way that most things King said were mildly funny, but he'd be disappointed if she didn't play along. And so she scowled at him, tapping her fingers impatiently against her arm, waiting until he grinned at her again before letting that look slide from her face.
King's expression sobered slowly, and something like tenderness crept in at the edges, soft and certain. "Seriously honey, take your time. It's not like we're not going anywhere, and in six, seven weeks you'll be wishing you'd taken it easy when you had the chance."
Much as she hated to admit it, he had a point. Not that she'd ever actually admit it, or anything like it, out loud or to him.
"Go," she said, jerking her head towards the door. "Go save Zoë from the potential familiar. Or the genuine thirteen-year-old girl."
He pulled a face. "Not entirely sure which one of those two things is the scariest."
"The thirteen-year-old," he said at the same time, the pair of them as perfectly in sync as they'd ever been. "Okay, if you hear screaming, it's probably me. So save yourself."
"Oh hell, who am I fooling? Save me."
"Won't be the first time," she pointed out, smirking at him again. For once, King was smart enough to let that lie. He simply rolled his eyes and then leaned in to kiss her on the forehead one last time before he strode out of the room and down the stairs, a man on a mission.
The door swung shut behind him, leaving her alone in their bedroom.
She paused for a moment, studying herself in the full length mirror that hung on the back of the door, half-obscured by King's jacket, which he'd hooked over the corner of it. It still surprised her sometimes, the heavily pregnant woman she saw in the reflection, so out of alignment with the mental image she had of herself. The picture of herself she had in her head still wore leather pants because they were easier to clean the blood from, not maternity ones; more than once she'd caught a glimpse of herself in shop windows, in gleaming steel panels, and the sight had stopped her in her tracks.
"Won't be long now," she murmured, curving her hand over her belly again, her restless fingers smoothing down her top as she watched her reflection do the same.
The woman in the flowered top who stared back at her, her long hair falling freely around her face, looked tired, with old, serious eyes in a young face. Too serious. Abby tried out a smile; it looked fake but it felt real.
She let it fade away, the seriousness returning, a thoughtfulness in the face that stared back at her while she considered the approach to take with Zoë's new friend, the way she considered every action: pros, cons, and likely body count.
She was who she was; she couldn't be anyone else. Abigail Whistler, Nightstalker, all around badass and professional vampire slayer.
And now who was also Abigail King, mom.
Also. Not instead of.
The baby shifted again, picking up on her momentary melancholy maybe, or maybe it just had the hiccups again. It wouldn't be the first time.
She smoothed her hand over her bump again, crooning softly under her breath until her child settled again, and then moved her hand to the small of her back, checking the ever present knife sheath hidden under her shirt, and the sharp silver blade tucked away within it.
"Maybe your father's right," she admitted now that King wasn't around to hear it. "Maybe we should have a nap. But only if you promise not to spend most of it kicking me in the ribs. Is that a deal?" She paused for a moment, but the baby was, for once, quiet and still. "Let me tell you," she continued softly, her voice taking on the low sing-song quality that seemed to come naturally these days as she continued to rub at her belly, the move soothing for her and, hopefully, for the Spawn, too. "That whole rib-kicking thing? It never becomes fun, and I speak as someone who's been kicked in the ribs more than once. Although not as often as your father has been, which probably means I should be the one to teach you self-defence."
This time the smile in the mirror looked real as well as felt it.
She could do this. Sommerfield had managed it, raising Zoë while still fighting the good fight, at least for a little while. With vampires thinner on the ground and DayStar already in production, it should be a hell of a lot easier for Abby than it had ever been for Sommerfield.
For a start, she didn't have to do it on her own.
Abigail Whistler. Abigail King, when she felt like using it. Nightstalker, wife and mother-to-be.
"Come on," she said, her voice soft and full of the kind of quiet contentment, quiet wonder, that had once been a mystery to her and that she'd thought always would be. "Let's go help Dad with dinner first, or God knows what we'll end up eating. And then I'll make sure he hasn't decorated your room with a bat motif while I wasn't looking."
She eased her way through the doorway, taking it slowly, taking her time, and headed downstairs to join her family.