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We Should Get Married

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“We should get married,” he says, blood on his lips from where she punched him, and Veronica’s heart stops.

He doesn’t see that. She makes sure of that. But his offer makes her think for a second. She doesn’t need more than that; William taught her to think quickly. And she decides - quickly - that the offer isn’t one she’s ready to turn down, because he means it. He’s seen her, knows her, and been interested since the beginning.

Marriage. She muses on it while tying the noose around his neck. Rather abrupt, but then she supposes a psychopath has no use for romance.

Town to town, killing together. She could teach him to be smart, though never smarter than her. She could train him to pick worthy targets, killers only. And there’s not one thing William could do about that. Wouldn’t that be just the thing he’d hate most; her disobeying him and keeping alive the one he wanted dead most. And marrying him. Maybe she’d even love him.

Funny thing is, William taught her how to tie a noose and how to survive one. Odd that he didn’t catch that the knot around Jameson’s neck was wrong.

At the diner, she feels out the situation. “So what’s the plan now?”

“No plan,” William shrugs. He seems very content with himself. He doesn’t know that there’s a boy hanging from a rope with a pulse. And right there, Veronica discovers it’s even more delicious to keep a secret from a man who thinks she would never, even could never.

“Well, as long as we’re not doing anything,” she says, and stands up. Then she dangles the keys she slipped from his pocket when they came in, and she lets herself smile. “My turn. Home is eight miles away. See you there.” And she walks out.

She can feel his eyes on her through the window, so she makes sure to turn the right way, to drive until she knows the headlights aren’t visible anymore. And then she doubles back to the woods.

Jameson’s still where she left him. She cuts him down with help from the headlights of William’s car, but she keeps his hands tied behind his back. Then she waits, listening to the radio while lying on the hood of the car.

He wakes with a desperate gasp, and after a few breaths, he starts laughing. “Holy shit,” he says. “What is this?”

Veronica sits up and shows him the gun - his gun. “You know this is loaded,” she says. “And this is your second chance.”

“At what?”

She shrugs. “You’d have to do whatever I say. For the rest of your life. We’ll kill, but only targets that I choose. And if you ever have a problem with that, I will kill you.”

“Absolutely.” He seems delighted, somehow. Maybe he’s just crazy, not sociopathic. That would certainly throw a wrench in her plans. Oh well. She’ll dispose of him if she must. He sits up then, breathing deeply. He’ll have a bruise around his neck for weeks.

“We’ll need to lay low at first,” she says. “My mentor will be looking for us, and your family. We’re going to get far away, change how we look, and marry once we’re over state lines.” She hops down off the car then, and walks toward him. He watches her approach with anticipation, seems almost disappointed that all she does is help him stand.

“Is that the only gun we got?”

“No,” she says. “But you don’t get one.”

He grins. “Fair enough. Where are we going?”

Veronica takes a moment to think. In the trunk is William’s kit, so she has a good amount of supplies. He won’t be looking for this car for at least six hours. In that time, they can cross state lines. Nothing wrong with Missouri. No need for new plates; William won’t report it stolen. He can’t get involved with the cops.

“West,” she says. “You need to get out of that suit. Your house nearby?”

“On the way,” he says. “Ten minutes from here. You want me to get clothes?”

“I’ll get them,” she says. “Will anyone be home?”

“Yeah, my parents. It’d be easier for me to go in,” he says after a second. The cadence is familiar, it’s him telling her to pick a truth or dare. A challenge. “What if you get caught?” he adds.

“I won’t,” she says grimly.

Curiously, it seems he doesn’t want her to kill his parents. “Look. I won’t tell them shit,” he says. “You think I want to stay in this piece of shit town? When we could be out on the road? I’ll let you tie me back up, even.”

“I’ll shoot you if you don’t,” she says.

That makes him smile again. “Right. God. Well, I will. I swear.”

She’ll have to trust him, if they’re going to get married. Better to figure it out now while she can cover her tracks easy. “Fine. Get in.” She has to open and close the car door for him, which he watches. His expression is hard to quantify. Fascination, maybe.

“We need money,” she says when they’re driving.

“I’ve got money.”

“Cash only.”

“Yes ma’am.” He looks over at her; she can feel it. “So you’re smart.”

She reacts with a combination of nerves and pride, chest warming and constricting at once. “You could say that. I’ve been trained for this.”

“For this?” he snorts.

“For killing you and going on the run as long as necessary. So yes, for this.” Veronica glances over at him for a reaction; none. Cold as ever.

“Who the fuck trained you to kill me?” he says after a second.

“My mentor trained me to take out all four of you,” she says stiffly, unsure of how much to tell him.

“Uh huh. Did you kill him?”

She clenches her jaw and doesn’t answer. “Which way do I turn?”

“Right, and it’ll be up on the left. Big house, brick front.”

“If you aren’t out in ten minutes, I’m coming in and shooting everyone,” she says. It might be a bluff, but he won’t be able to tell.

“You got it, baby.”

She cuts the rope in his driveway. His hands are almost purple; she should’ve considered that. “Can you feel them?” she asks.

“Not really. But it’ll come back. Ten minutes.” He raises his eyebrows and steps out, straightening his suit jacket instinctively. Looks weird with his numb, swollen fingers.

Veronica looks at the clock; 3:11. She darts out to get handcuffs from the trunk, then spends every minute checking the windows, that the lights aren’t going on or off, that there’s no abnormal activity behind the curtains. His father’s a hunter; he owns guns. If Jameson tells his parents, this is over.

He’s out at 3:20, in jeans and a plain sweatshirt, carrying a duffle that he tosses in the backseat. “Got clothes, cash, and guns in there,” he says, and lifts his sweatshirt to show her there’s no gun in his waistband.

“Ankles,” she says even though she’s pretty sure she doesn’t need to.

He shows her anyways and gets in the car. She clips the handcuffs around his wrists, and he watches with more than a little surprise. “Where’d you get those from?” he says.

“How much money?”

“Dunno. Grabbed everything I could.” He adjusts his hands in the cuffs while she backs out of the driveway, and she glances over to see that his hands are slightly less frightening; he’s getting his circulation back. “Couple boxes of ammo for each gun.”

“Handguns?”

“Four. And a rifle.”

“We won’t use them often,” she says. “Bullets are too traceable, and too much work to dig out and take with us. Knives are better.”

“You got some?”

“Yep.” She turns onto the highway, accelerates hard.

Jameson’s quiet for all of ten seconds. “What about clothes for you? Won’t that cocktail dress stick out like a sore thumb?”

“We’ll buy some.”

“What, you don’t have any?”

She didn’t anticipate their journey to start with so much conversation. “No,” she says shortly. “You should sleep.”

He laughs again at that, and she’s going to end up saying something to him about his laugh because it’s a dead giveaway that something’s odd in his head. She can’t tolerate a tell like that. “Sleep? When I’m about to start the rest of my life with you? No way. I want to hear more about this mentor guy.”

“Well you’ll have to excuse me not being in a conversational mood just yet, since you just tried to rape and kill me. I’m going to need some time.”

“What, you’re still mad about that?”

“Yes, I’m still mad. I tend to take that personally.”

Jameson looks out his window. “Never said anything about rape,” he mumbles. “I said we wouldn’t do anything like that.”

“Don’t lie to me. You said it because you knew it’d scare me. Or it should’ve, if I was who you thought. And murder’s one thing, but.” The gun under her leg itches, like it wants to shoot him. She wants to shoot him when she thinks about that. The only moment she was worried, just for a second.

“Yeah, and talk is just talk. I didn’t do anything. I always told the guys, that’s not what we do.”

“You’re a regular Good Samaritan.”

That earns his silence. Jameson awkwardly reaches up to itch his forehead, and then he settles down. In the silence, she plans.

She needs new clothes desperately. He probably needs to eat. Once they get into unfamiliar territory, she’ll be able to trust him more. Really, though, she should trust him in the present. He’s the one who proposed in the first place, and she saw enough in his face to know he meant it.

“You any good at acting?” she says.

“Decent,” he shrugs. “Sure. Why?”

“We’re stopping at a market later. You need to act normal. For supplies, food, I’m getting clothes. In a few hours, when your hands look better.”

“So you’re talking to me again.”

“Y’know, it’s tiresome that you get so petty when things don’t go exactly your way,” she says with more attitude than she intended.

“Is it really still the rape thing? Because I’m not going to hurt you,” Jameson says in exasperation. “I mean, come on. You’re basically my dream girl. And I know, this is how it’s gotta be with the handcuffs and everything, until you trust me. I’m fine with that.”

“Okay.” She repeats the list of warning signs to herself anyways. The sociopath red flags. Violent outbursts of tempter, controlling behavior, lack of empathy, dishonesty. She fits those pretty well; she wonders what William would say had she brought that up. But more pressing is that Jameson has displayed only the third since the woods. And she wonders again what William would have to say about that.

“You should at least turn the radio on or something, though,” he says.

“I need the silence to think,” she says.

“God. Think out loud, at least. I’m gonna go crazy with this much quiet.” He shifts in his seat and leans back. “What are you thinking about?”

“Planning. We’ll need to lay low for a while to make sure my mentor doesn’t catch our trail. Nowhere either of us are familiar with. Somewhere by a forest so we can stay practiced.”

“Practice what?”

“Tracking, marksmanship, endurance. We should practice cleanup, too. And we need to practice working as a team.” Not that much, though. It was hard to fight him, they were too synched already.

Jameson snorts. “I’ll do whatever you say.”

“But you need to know what I’m going to say before I say it if we’re going to look like a team. And I don’t know you. We need to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.” And by that she means she needs to know his so she can compensate for them.

“Alright. Where we heading, then?”

“Y’know anything about Missouri?”

“No.”

“Me neither. So that’s where we’re going. As far as I’m aware, William doesn’t know anything about it either. He was local.”

“William, who’s that? Your mentor guy?”

She didn’t mean to say his name. “Yes,” she says, because she shouldn’t start their relationship by lying.

“Was he your dad?”

She shakes her head once. “No family.”

“He was just some guy that taught you to kill us?”

“Yep.”

“Huh. How’d he know what we were doing?”

“You killed his wife and daughter.”

Jameson shakes his hand immediately. “I didn’t, wasn’t me. That was Daniel. I don’t do kids.”

“You just do teenagers.”

“So do you.”

“Just killers.”

He snorts. “Not anymore. Whoever you want now.”

“Just killers,” she repeats. But her voice probably sounds uncertain even to his ears. She could kill whoever she wanted. She could kill him and be accountable to no one. But that scares her at the moment, so she doesn’t.

Another silence passes between them, this one easier than the last. For more than half an hour, she drives and he breathes. She didn’t realize he was breathing hard until he stops breathing hard. The adrenaline’s leaving her too, and she realizes how uncomfortable she is. This dress sucks.

She stops off in a small town with a Walmart. Not so small that they’ll be noticed, not big enough for much security. There are a couple dozen cars in the parking lot, no cop cars. So she parks, and then she takes off his handcuffs. It’s the closest she’s been to him since hanging him, and her heart beats stronger in her throat. Nothing changes in his rhythms, though. He’s calm as he rubs his freed hands together and flexes his fingers. They’re still deep pink.

“Can you feel them?” she says.

“Kinda.”

“Keep your hands in your pockets,” she says, because she thinks he’s lying. “Pretend to be normal. Don’t volunteer any information, let me talk.”

“Sure.”

She has to leave her gun in the car, so she puts it under her seat with his handcuffs. “Where’s your money?” she says.

He reaches back and fishes it out of the duffle bag, tosses her the stack of twenties held together with a rubberband. She pulls out five and tucks the rest in one of William’s secret compartments. “Okay, c’mon.”

The moment she gets out of the car, she has a thought and she freezes. “You didn’t bring a phone,” she says.

“Nope. Left it at home.” He puts his hands in his hoodie pocket immediately. She almost wants to praise him, but instead she walks closer to him, within arm’s reach. She realizes as they’re walking through the doors that he had the chance to shoot her when he reached back for the money.

He shadows her through the store to the clothes section, watches silently as she pulls a couple of plain T-shirts and pairs of jeans off shelves. Then socks too, and underwear. Then toiletries, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant. Jameson brought his own. She grabs a couple bottles of hair dye too.

“We’re gonna grab some food for the rest of the drive,” she says then, turning to face him in an aisle. "No cooking, easy to eat. Kay?”

“Yep. Y’coming?”

“Yeah. I’m telling you the plan.”

He smiles then, and not in the crazy way she knows. A smaller version. Feels like she’s in on the joke. “Okay. What do you like?”

“Anything.”

“You gotta keep being like that?”

“I’m serious,” she says. “I ate nothing but what I could find in the woods for a week. I fasted for five days.”

“Damn. Alright.”

She turns to walk, and he comes with her, walks with her, behind her a little. His hands are still in his pockets; he’s obeying her. She should trust him more.

The brands and options are kind of overwhelming, so she lets him pick the granola bars and whatnot. They get a case of water too, and he carries it. Teamwork. It’s already going well.

She changes in the parking lot, pulling the pants on under her dress and then shedding the dress for a shirt. Jameson’s watching. “Comfortable?” he says

“Get in,” she says, pulling the boots back on. “We really need to hurry.”

“Yes ma’am.” He’s teasing her, but she doesn’t mind. He gets in the car as she does, and he holds his hands out to her.

“No,” she says flatly after just a second. “I still have a gun, though.”

He hesitates, a grin spreading over his face. “Yeah?”

“Yes. First day of the rest of our lives, right? Maybe we should start acting like it.”

“There she is,” he says in delight. “Fuck.” And that makes her feel brand new, some kind of way full of warmth. He likes her. They’re going on the run together, and it’s starting now.

She ate at the diner, so she makes sure he eats too while she gets them closer to the state border. The sky is getting lighter around them, and she finally feels tired. She hasn’t slept for almost a full day, and in those twenty-odd hours, everything’s changed. And she thinks about William, who will be looking for her in a few hours. She doesn’t know if he’ll be mad or proud. Mad, probably. Because he never liked the decisions she made for herself. And he really wanted Jameson dead.

“How’s your hands?” she asks after a bit.

“Fine.” He stretches them out for her to see; they’re almost normal-colored again besides the bruises around his wrists. “Should I be worried?” he adds.

“Probably not. It was only a couple hours.” She glances at his neck too, because that bruise will be harder to hide. “That bruise on your neck is obvious, though,” she says. “We should stay at a motel until that fades. To lay low.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s all anyone will see. And it’s what William will be looking for.”

“Should we be scared of him?” he asks after a second. “Would he kill us?”

“Not me,” she says. “But he’ll kill you. Slowly. Or he might have me do it to prove I’m loyal to him again.”

“Oh.”

“So we aren’t going to be found.”

“Okay. Do we need fake IDs?”

She shakes her head. “Equipment in the back to make them. Takes a few days. We’ll do it once your neck is better.”

“Goddamn. He really wanted us dead.”

“Well, you guys murdered his family. His daughter wasn’t even six yet.”

“I told you I didn’t do it,” he begins.

She has anger flaring in her gut faster than she ever expected. “I’d be very careful about getting superior about which felonies you have or haven’t committed,” she cuts him off.

“Fine,” he says. “You’ve made your point. But I didn’t do it.”

“Fine. You’ve made yours.”

It feels like they’re going to have another awkward silence, but just a few moments later he says, “Why is that such a big deal, though?”

“I know what you are,” she says flatly. “I’ve known since before we ever spoke. So I don’t need you pretending to be principled or moral now that we’re…” She shrugs. “I’ll kill you if you try anything. But that doesn’t mean you have to pretend you’ll never try anything.”

He clenches his jaw for a second, looks away from her so she can’t see his face at all. She thinks he’s going to say something, but he stops himself and it’s silent for a while. She takes a hand off the wheel to dig her knuckles in her eyes. They should’ve gotten some coffee. Not that she needs it, but it’d help.

“We can’t lie to each other,” she says when he doesn’t speak. “We can’t, not if we’re going to survive.”

“I haven’t lied to you since I knew who you were,” he says shortly. “I’m not lying, I wouldn’t kill kids and I wouldn’t try and rape you. Even though I said it to scare you before. Which, sorry. It was unsportsmanlike.”

Far from a traditional apology, but an apology at any rate. And a sincere one, even. And she doesn’t know why, but she’d even say she believes him. “Okay,” she says. “Good. Because I wouldn’t either.”

“Then we’re on the same page,” he says after a second.

“Yep. And yes, William really wanted to kill you.”

Jameson nods, and he leans back in his seat. He heaves a deep sigh. “Why’d you decide not to, then?”

She doesn’t even know the answer herself. “Because I don’t do whatever he says,” she answers. “And you were right, the offer was tempting.”

“Didn’t like your life with Willie?”

As if he’d ever let anyone call him that. She snorts. “Well, now that the mission was about to be over, I wasn’t sure what would happen. And I’d rather choose than just let it happen.”

“Y’think he’d kill you?”

“Not sure,” she says shortly. “But he was finished with me, my purpose was over. So either way.”

He nods. “Crazy,” he says. “You gotta tell me more about this training shit sometime, sounds intense as shit.”

“Sometime,” she says. “You should sleep.”

“Okay. Y’sure you’re good?”

“Yep. I can wake you up if anything happens.”

“Alright, baby, sounds good.” He leans back further and wedges his legs against the dashboard. In a matter of minutes he’s asleep next to her, which feels a lot like she’d imagine it’d feel to having a tiger dozing in his seat. Thrilling and satisfying.

 

 

When they stop for gas, she grabs a map of the state as well. Jameson wakes up when she’s looking it over. “Hey,” he says. “What’s up.”

“What do you think about Poplar Bluffs,” she says.

“What is it?”

“Our destination.” She picked up a marker in the gas station and uses it now to highlight their route. It’s finally bright outside, the sky delicate and pastel. A good start to their first day.

“Okay. How far away?”

“Three hours or so.”

“Y’good to drive?”

“Yeah. I ate while you were sleeping.”

“Okay.” He yawns, stretches out. “You should sleep sometime, though. Even the terminator stops once in a while.”

She’s not sure what that means. “Okay.”

“Do you not know who the terminator is?” he asks.

“Never heard of it.” She folds the map back up, with the highlighted route on top. She starts the car, too, and pulls out onto the road, all while he’s gaping at her.

“Did you not watch fucking movies?” he demands.

“No, I didn’t.”

“Fuck, really? We gotta get you caught up. What, were you too busy training your entire life or something?”

“Yes.” He looks over at her in surprise, and she frowns at him. “That’s the truth.”

“Never said it wasn’t, but that’s some intense shit. All you did was train and shoot? Or what.”

“No, I read. And learned math, grammar, spelling, typical school subjects. He wanted me to train my brain as well as my body. So I could outsmart you even if I couldn’t outrun you.” If she had to hear William say that thing about willpower one more time, she would just about lose her mind. It worked, though. She beat both of them.

“No offense, babe, but that sounds stupid. And kinda sad.”

“Offense taken,” she says quietly. But he’s not wrong. She needs to train too, on how to carry on normal conversation.

Jameson takes it upon himself to count their cash left, which she doesn’t suppose she should mind since it is all his. But she isn’t sure she should think of it that way. It’s probably bad for their team unity.

“Eight-hundred and twenty-three,” he says.

Not as much as she hoped. “There might be some in the kit in the back,” she says. “I’m not sure.”

“Okay.”

His voice is rough from the noose. She didn’t consider how hard it’d be to hide the damage she did to him. People will overlook a black eye or something, but not a noose mark and still slightly abnormally-colored hands. Plus his left temple is a pretty big mass of bruise. She wasn’t planning on keeping him alive.

“Did I give you a concussion?” she asks.

“Probably.”

“You dizzy and tired?”

“Yeah. Don’t feel right in the head either.”

“Not yourself?” She can’t help but snort when she says it; she wouldn’t know.

“Not quite.” He shifts in his seat, hands on his knees. “Y’know what to do with that too? Concussions.”

“Nothing to do,” she says. “Survive. How good are you at shoplifting?”

“What?”

“Ever done it?”

“No.”

She frowns at him. “What kind of sociopath are you?”

“A rich one,” he says defensively. “I set my dad’s boathouse on fire.”

“Let me guess - you have anger issues.”

“Nah,” he shrugs. “Just wanted to piss my dad off.”

Veronica considers telling him that’s her own reasoning, but not yet. After more than a day. “Okay,” she says. “I’ll add that to the list.”

“Shoplifting,” he repeats. “Why?”

“For when we run out of money some day, and we need something. Once you’re healed, we’ll get jobs too. We just have to lay low for a while.”

Jameson wrinkles his nose. “Boring.”

“Would jail be more interesting?"

“You’re a bit of a know-it-all,” he says.

“You’re a bit stupid.”

“Fuck you,” he says, calm as ever. And she wonders if that’s something else she could be concerned about, that his emotions have no peaks other than mania and no valleys whatsoever.

They’re silent for a while as they head south. She feels very young suddenly, in this car with this boy she doesn’t know. She feels naive. For several miles, she seriously considers disposing of him and heading home, or heading out on her own. But she doesn’t want to go back to William, and she doesn’t want to be alone yet. So she doesn’t do anything just yet.

Confide or kill. She’ll be debating that for a while.

 

 

They finally arrive around noon. She finds a motel on the edge of the town that’s cheap for them to stay at. They even manage to get the room on the end of the row, so they can hopefully avoid too many odd looks.

He carries his own bag, not because she wants him to but because she has to carry the kit from the back of the car. And she ends up needing his help for that too, because it’s heavy. She shuts the door behind them, and waits a beat just to make sure he won’t shoot her. And he doesn’t, so she crosses the room to the bed, where he set down all the equipment.

“If you touch anything, I’ll cut a finger off,” she says before she undoes the plastic clasps of the kit.

“With what knife?” he mumbles, but he doesn’t argue so she opens it and takes stock of what she has.

William was very prepared. He has a compact machine to make IDs, five thousand dollars in cash, two handguns and ammo, five hunting knives, and another set of handcuffs. The bare necessities. She needs a lot more, but this helps.

“Shit,” Jameson says. “Why was this in the trunk?”

“William’s emergency kit. In case of emergencies.” She pulls his bag over too and goes through it. He wasn’t lying; there are four guns in there with ammo. She puts them into the kit box with the rest and then shakes out every article of clothing in there.

“Guess I should wait more than a day for you to trust me,” he says.

“I think you should wait for more than a day to have passed since you tried to kill me, yes.” She sounds too upset. The murder wasn't personal. He didn’t know who she was then.

“Okay. You gonna sleep tonight, at least?”

She hadn’t thought about that. “Eventually,” she says. “We need to eat.”

“Let’s get pizza,” he says. “Or go out somewhere that isn’t a shitty diner. Y’know, like a date.” And he smiles at her again, and she doesn’t let herself feel safe.

“Fine,” she says after a second. “Let’s go. You can drive.”

“Alright,” he says with half a smile.

“Help me put all of this back in the car, would you? Trunk.”

“Yep.” He lifts the kit box once she shuts it back up, and she sees him wince at that a little.

“Y’alright?” she asks, trying not to sound too concerned.

“Yeah, I’m alright,” he says patiently. “Why wouldn’t I be alright?”

“Because I kicked your ass, and now you’re in pain.”

“Believe me, sweetheart, it takes more than a few punches to get me down. I’m fine.” He leads her out to the car, and she shuts the hotel door behind them, putting the key in her pocket. She’s got the duffle bag, which he takes from her to put in the trunk too. But he unzips it first, and she tenses. He just pulls out a sweatshirt and tosses it to her. “This is small on me,” he says, and shuts the trunk.

She puts it on because she’s cold, and it does fit pretty well. Smells pretty good too. It’s a little uncomfortable, though, to think that he thought of her while he packed, and brought stuff for her.

They end up at an Applebee’s out of convenience more than anything else. Plus she’s never eaten at one, which Jameson says is unbelievable.

“Take my hand,” she says as they walk towards the door.

“Taking the date seriously, I see.”

“It’ll be less suspicious for us to walk in looking like this if we’re holding hands,” she says flatly. “You need to smile at me too.”

“I think I can manage that,” he says, already smiling. “I mean, we are engaged.”

“Haven’t seen a ring yet,” she says, only to find that she’s teasing.

He squeezes her hand, and she squeezes his.

Somehow, they act normal enough to get a table for two without too much fuss. She makes sure he keeps his hood up enough to hide most of his neck, and the rest is okay. He acts pretty damn normal, even if she does feel like he’s sizing her up as a challenge when he looks at her too long.

“Try to look less like you want to eat me, maybe,” she says, looking down at her menu when it gets too intense.

“But I do,” he says under his breath, so she kicks him under the table.

“Stop it,” she says, and he lets that be the end of it. Probably because she has a knife. Or because he was just kinda joking. She needs to give him the benefit of the doubt for this to work. “Tell me what to get,” she says.

He raises his eyebrows at her. “What do you like, though?”

She sighs at him because he knows the answer already, and he smiles back because he’s definitely teasing. “Anything you hate?” he asks instead.

“Not really,” she says. “Raw meat.”

“Jesus,” he rolls his eyes. “They won’t serve you raw meat.”

“I know. But you asked.”

“How about you chill out and have a normal conversation with me for a second. Where you aren’t trying to kick my ass verbally? How about that,” he says, leaning onto the table. “We could get to know each other.”

“Okay.”

He snorts. “Don’t sound too excited.”

“How should I sound?”

The waitress comes over to take their order then. Veronica gets a burger, and Jameson gets some kind of pasta dish. He gets them shakes, too, with a wicked smile at her. And she smiles back.

After the waitress leaves, he takes her hand on the table. She doesn’t think she minds it. “Look,” she says. “I’ll sound more excited when we have rules.”

“Huh,” he says. “That’s what gets you going?”

She ignores him and continues. “Don’t touch me without my consent. Don’t give your name to anyone. Don’t get into any trouble with the law, especially nothing serious. And don’t contact anyone or anything from your previous life.”

“I’m confused about the order of those rules, but okay. Do I get to make some?” he inquires.

She’s hesitant, but she nods. “Fine. What?”

“When we finally get back to what we do, you let me scare them. You teach me all the shit you know. And I want to buy you a ring for when we get married.”

Those are dumb as shit. “Okay,” she says.

“You think those are stupid,” he says with certainty and a smile.

“You think you know how to read me?” she bluffs.

Jameson just looks at her. “C’mon,” he says.

Veronica bites her lip, looks down and away. “You shouldn’t,” she says. “I’m not supposed to…” The second part is fainter, and she trails off instead because she doesn’t know what to say.

“Hey,” he says. “Doesn’t matter anymore. I’m on your side, princess.”

She smiles on accident, and he grins bigger. “Okay,” she says. “But those are stupid rules.”

“Fuck you.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hey, kiss me,” he suggests, looking at her intently.

As she leans in, she wonders for a second if she’s the one being seduced or he is. If she asked, he probably wouldn’t be able to say either. At any rate, this is the first kiss she’s wanted to have, so it’s better than the others.

“C’mon. Did that hurt?” he murmurs.

“Smugness isn’t helping,” she informs him. He smiles and scratches the back of his head. “Well,” she says. She takes a sip of her ice water. “My family died when I was six.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Was that personal information? Shit. What happened to them? Did you kill them?”

“No!” She frowns. “No, the house caught fire. Which I didn’t set, before you can ask. It was a terrible accident.”

“Then what?” he asks.

“Then William adopted me, and I joined the program.”

Jameson narrows his eyes slightly. “Huh. Weird. He was just looking for some random orphan kid?”

“Your turn.” She feels odd talking about William, so she changes the subject. “What’s your family like, siblings?”

“None,” he says with a decisive head shake. “Just me and my parents.”

“So what did they do?”

“Huh?”

Veronica shrugs. “Traditional psychology says parents are a major part of their children’s development. So yours have something to do with why you ended up in the woods killing girls.”

That makes him wildly uncomfortable, it’s clear. “Nothing,” he shrugs after a second. “Guess I was just born this way.”

And that’s the first lie he’s told her since he learned who she was. He’s actually reassuringly awful at lying. It’s good, and it gives her something to save for later to make him uncomfortable. “Huh,” is all she says now. “Ever torture animals?”

“No.” He reacts with instant disgust. “Did you not hear the whole point of that rabbit story? Why would you ask that?”

She shrugs. “So you want me to believe that you’re a-“ She lowers her voice. “A serial killer, who just so happens to not have any of the warning signs? I’m not buying it.”

“You don’t have to buy it,” he snaps.

“No, I don’t,” she says. “I can read you too, y’know.”

Jameson gives her a solid five seconds of a nervous look before he manages to hide it. “Then why’d you run away with me?” he finally says.

“Because. I knew we’d be so happy together,” she says with a dangerous smile of her own. “And because fuck doing what William wanted me to do. If he wants you dead so bad, he can do it himself.”

“Y’think he’ll find us?”

“No,” she decides after a second. “And if he does, he won’t kill you. I won’t let him. Unless you really fuck up.”

That coaxes another smile out of him. “Okay.”

“Not as confident by day,” she observes.

He pulls his hand out of hers and crosses his arms. “Not quite,” he mutters.

“Is it because you know I can kill you now?” she asks curiously. “Really.”

He looks around before answering; no one’s anywhere near, she doesn’t know why he’s checking. She wouldn’t have said anything if there was a chance they’d be overheard. “Maybe,” he says.

“Is it because I almost hung you?” she guesses again.

“No.” He swallows hard, though.

“Is-“

“You need to stop guessing.”

“Then tell me.”

He leans in, and she does too, holding his gaze and matching his pose by folding her hands on the table. “Haven’t done this before,” he says evenly. “Really like you. And also because you almost hung me.”

“Really like me?” she repeats.

He doesn’t move, doesn’t blink. “Isn’t it obvious?” he says. “Come on.”

Maybe it should’ve been in retrospect. Maybe she’s overly suspicious from her training. She isn’t sure. “So you’re a hunter? How good are you at tracking?”

“Great. Found you last night, didn’t I? And you weren’t leaving much of a trail after you took off the heels. Taking Danny-Boy’s boots, that was great. Drugging everybody.”

“It’s because I showed you your worst fear,” she realizes. “That’s why you aren’t confident anymore. What was it?”

“What’s yours?”

“Not being good enough. William killed me when I took it. But I didn’t tell him that.” She narrows her eyes. “What was yours?”

Their food comes before he answers. It smells delicious, and she can’t help herself from taking a bite before getting back on him to answer. But before she can prompt him, he snaps, “Them, I saw all of them. The girls.”

“Guilt,” she says speculatively.

“Maybe.” He’s grumpy.

He felt guilt. His worst fear was his own regret. He can’t be a sociopath; this only confirms it. She feels safer and less sure, both at once. “We can make up for it,” she says. “Kill men like your friends and worse.” She tells herself it won’t work; don’t get any hopes up. But it works.

“We’ll make ‘em fucking sorry,” he nods.

Interesting. She just nods back. “You bet we will.”

She pays with cash. “Leave a good tip,” Jameson says.

“Okay. Why?” She does; twenty-five percent, and she takes his hand before they walk out together. Appearances, she tells herself. But it’s nicer than that. He lets go to guide her between tables, and then he takes her hand again, tighter.

“Dad never tipped,” he says flatly. “So even if the waitress is a bitch, I do.”

“Really hung up on your dad,” she says under her breath.

He gives his head a frustrated kind of shake. “Really hung up on psychoanalyzing me,” he grumbles back, and she squeezes his hand.

“Well we’ve got nothing but time, baby. Gotta fill it somehow,” she says with a bit of a thrill. And when he turns towards her to kiss her, she’s ready and waiting. She kisses him back, lets him lift her off the ground in a hug after. “Careful,” she frowns when she sees him wince again.

“Shut up about careful, I don’t say it to you. Keys?”

She hands them over. For three seconds, she’s scared he’ll get in and drive away without her. But in the fourth second, when he’s still staring at her in something close to adoration, she tells herself to trust him. She’s never once backed down from something that frightened her. Now shouldn’t be the time to change that.

Back at the motel, she makes him sit on the bed. “Down there, stay.”

“Woof,” he answers sarcastically but he stays while she fishes the first-aid kit out of the kit. She should’ve thought of this sooner.

“Pull your sleeves up.”

He obeys her, holds his arms out to her when she motions for them and she cakes the raw skin with hydrocortisone cream before wrapping it in gauze. She does that for the other wrist too, and then tells him, “Move your hood.”

“Where?"

“Just.” She watches him pull it away from his neck and nods. “Yeah, there.” And she scoots closer, kneels up to examine that too. “Does it still burn?”

“Yeah.”

Under his chin it’s the worst, scabbed and deep purple. She gives him the cream to apply on his own, even though she’d like to make him more uncomfortable. He’s already plenty unnerved. “How’s your ribs?” she asks then. “I kicked them pretty hard.”

“Yeah,” he shrugs. “They’re fine. How ‘bout you, though.”

“I’m alright. William patched me up before I left.” She stands up to get the hair dye from one of the Walmart bags, and takes it to the bathroom. The directions are simple enough; she mixes up the brown and is in the process of putting it in the tube when Jameson shows up in the doorway.

“I liked the blonde,” he says.

“Didn’t ask for your opinion,” she says, then adds, “It has to go. Brown hair attracts less attention. And I’m cutting it shorter.” She bought scissors, too.

He nods. “Need help?” he suggests after a second.

“No.”

So he leaves her alone. She could actually use another set of hands. But she doesn’t want him that close, so she manages alone. She dies her hair and rinses it out, cuts it shoulder-length and then examines herself in the mirror. She didn’t do too bad. It looks good, actually. Natural.

When she comes back out of the bathroom, he looks at her for several long moments. “What,” she says after a second.

“Nothing.”

“You want to kill me less now?” she says, sarcastically serious.

“Come on,” he sighs, leaning over and picking up the TV remote. “Never.”

She isn’t sure if she’s convinced, but she sits next to him on the bed and watches him flip through the channels. “You gonna settle on something?” she asks after a bit.

“Sure. I don’t want to hear any shit about it, though.”

“You don’t get to tell me what to do.”

“No, but.” He falls silent as he keeps flipping, finally settles on something.

“What is this?”

“Harry Potter. It’s literally like, always playing on some channel.”

“They made movies of the books?” she says, and immediately regrets it. Too much information, and she doesn’t like how he looks at her when she talks about her training.

“Yeah,” he says after a second.

She’s curious about a lot, wonders if they made movies of other books she knows and wonders how to ask without being vulnerable.

Magic would make her life a lot easier. There is a kind of magic in what she knows, though, a grounded one. She can teach it, and learn more. She knows what a man’s thinking before the he does, and how to kill him no matter what the scenario. A spell could do no better.

After a bit, Jameson scoots down to slump against the headboard so he’s closer to her height and leans towards her. “Veronica,” he says. “Last name?”

“I don’t know. What about you?”

“Jameson Everett Gilford. Junior.”

She snorts. “So there’s two of you?”

“Yep.” He tips his head against her for a second, as if to make sure she’s alright with it. When she doesn’t move, he doesn’t either. So now he’s leaning on her.

“Tell me,” she says during a commercial break. “Did you really sleep with Jenny, or were you lying.”

“I don’t lie.” He adjusts his head on her shoulder. “Why?” When she doesn’t speak, he adds, “You aren’t a virgin, are you?”

Something about that question rubs her the wrong way, but she doesn’t say anything about that. “No,” she says. “Why’d you do it, though?”

“I don’t understand the question,” he says after a second.

“Why her? Wasn’t Shane your friend?”

“Nah, he was just someone who was into the same stuff. And I liked Jenny.”

“Me too,” she says thoughtfully. Maybe there’s something about an innocent that attracts people like them, and Shane.

“Jealous?” Jameson asks.

“Not quite.” More interested than anything else. And just a bit jealous.

“Wait,” he says after a pause. “Who have you been with?”

“I’m not sure that’s any of your business,” she says, knowing she sounds stiff.

“C’mon, I told you mine.” He slips his arm inside hers and takes her hand when she doesn’t struggle. “Was it that William?”

“No,” she shakes her head. “He had me seduce a man at a bar.”

Jameson sits up then, and looks at her in genuine surprise. She might even detect concern. “What? When? How old was he?”

“Um, it was a few months ago, and the guy was in his thirties, maybe? Why.”

“You were seventeen?”

“Eighteen.”

“Right, but a kid.”

“It was just experience,” she frowns. “Not serious.”

The way he looks at her changes a bit, a shift behind his eyes and he leans back against her then and tightens his grip on her hand. “That’s kinda sick,” he says softer. “What, did he think you’d have to fuck us to kill us?”

“He was just preparing me,” she tells him, but she isn’t totally sure that he doesn’t have a point. And she thinks he softened himself before he said it on purpose, which is very odd.

“Right. Okay. So do you want to fuck me?”

“No,” she says flatly.

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t. And I don’t need to get anything from you. And if you try anything, I’ll-“

He cuts her off. “I won’t touch you. Well, not like that.”

“Is that so?” she says. “So what, you enjoy scaring people but not this time?”

“No,” he says. “But not like that. I’ve never…”

“Okay.” She adjusts her hand around his. His bandages press against her wrist. It’s nicer to believe him than to doubt, so she pretends to. She almost fools herself, for the moment.

“You don’t want to get anything from me?” he says quite a while later.

“No,” she says quietly.

He lets go of her hand after the movie’s done, when it’s late and she’s been on the verge of nodding off for twenty minutes. And he gets up, too, and pulls off his jeans before flopping into the other bed. “Wake me up whenever,” he says into his pillow.

She should stay awake, hide the valuables after she’s sure he’s asleep and make sure he can’t run away from her. He hunts girls, after all. There’s no guarantee she’ll never be the next one, nothing besides his words. But she falls asleep instead, William be damned. And if she doesn’t wake up, then she wouldn’t want to anyways.

 

 

 

While his neck’s healing, she takes him into the woods and trains.

“Alright,” she says when they find a relatively flat grassy clearing. “Don’t pull anything, and don’t actually try to hurt me yet.”

“Okay.” He cracks his neck and stands, arms loose at his sides.

“Give me your hand,” she says, and when he does she starts to flip him. She stops just in time so he doesn’t fly over her shoulder, and then straightens them both back up. “What could you’ve done to stop me?” she asks, holding his hand on her shoulder.

“No idea,” he admits.

“Counter with your weight when you feel me straightening. Ready?”

“Yep.” He’s concentrating. He counters too late, and only kind of stops her. She still could’ve gotten him up if she wanted.

“Earlier,” she says.

“How much?”

“Just feel it.” She pulls again, and he pulls back instead of countering. She moves with him and then flips him once his footing is unsure. He actually goes over this time, landing as soft as she can make it when she realizes it’s happening. And he pulls her down too, then, wraps her in his arms so tight she’s worried until she feels the gentleness in his arms.

“Fuck,” he says, kisses her cheek and then lets go.

“Alright,” she glares at him. “Pay attention.”

“I am,” he protests, and proves it by stopping her next time. He counters with solid weight, and she couldn’t move him if she wanted to.

“Good,” she says. “Now climb a tree.”

He gives her quite the bemused look. “This is weird,” he says firmly.

“Weird almost killed you,” she reminds him.

Jameson scratches the back of his head, then climbs the closest tree. He’s slow, but he does it. He throws a knife and sprints, climbs, cuts, covers his tracks all as she asks. He’s passable. They’ll make it.

They spar next, stopping just before landing any blows that would really hurt. He smiles when he’s close to her, and she takes advantage of that to win a few extra rounds. Fighting anyone but her, she’d even call him good. But the way he touches her makes it clear he’d never hurt her now.

“What changed?" she asks him when they’re walking back. It's an hour back, and he holds her hand the whole way. “You didn’t have any issue hitting me before.”

“You were trying to kill me before. Now you picked me.” He swings their hands between them. “I don't hurt people on my side. Didn’t kill the guys even though they were going to get us caught.”

“They did,” she points out.

“Yeah. Well. You asked.” She feels him look over at her. “You don't believe me,” he says.

“Sure I do.”

“Really? Because you sound weird.”

Since when does he tell her how she sounds? And since when does it give her any moment of pause? “I sound normal,” she says. “It’s just strange to discover these morals after the fact.”

“I’m not lying.”

“I didn’t say you were. But you killed twenty girls.”

“They had a chance!” he defends himself. “If they’d just-“

“I don’t want to hear it.” She drops his hand and keeps walking. He lengthens his stride to keep up. “And I can’t forget it. They were innocent, they did nothing. And don’t try to tell me they were whores or that they did something to justify it because none of them were killers.”

“You’ve got some weird morals too, y’know. It's okay that your fake dad did all that weird stuff to you, and it's okay to kill people who’ve killed, but it’s just so wrong to hunt?”

“It is, and you know it,” she says, stopping to look at him. “Your worst fear is feeling guilty for it because you know you should. And if you’re putting it off, then that’s your call. But I won’t tell you what you want to hear just because you want to hear it. And I don't think you’d love me half as much if I did.”

“Never said I loved you,” he says. Doesn't argue with anything else, so she knows she’s won.

 

 

 

The days are hers, but the nights are his. She puts both of them through their paces, and then he orders in some form of greasy food and makes her watch movies and shows. Not like she really needs to be forced, but whatever. She sits shoulder-to-shoulder with him and learns pop culture.

Tonight, it’s Chinese and Star Wars. He doesn’t seem to enjoy it more than just average, but she’s fascinated. Further fascinated by how he lounges against her, slipping further and further down until his head is near her waist. His feet hang nearly off the bed. She's familiar with his body now, from almost a week of sparring and spending all their time together. She knows she can take him in any way she likes, whenever she likes. So she pulls him over towards her, moves her legs so they're framing him, his head against her chest.

“Don’t get rice in my hair,” he says, digging through his container of orange chicken. And that's all he has to say.

She can trust him. She must. The only way forward is to keep going. And there’s  a killer in bed with her, but one who’s changing.

“Tell me,” she says. “What do you want to be? Your dream job.”

He shrugs. “Probably a lawyer like Dad, I figured. Never thought about it besides that.”

“That doesn't answer the question.”

“Well, give me a goddamn second,” he says crossly, taking another bite. “You ask all these super fucking deep questions and expect me to have the answer just whenever.” He huffs, and he finishes another bite before continuing. “I don’t know. Maybe I’d end up in the army or something. You?”

“Never thought about it,” she says. “Never thought past the mission.” And she knows he pities her for that, but she doesn’t mind that much. “We need covers," she adds. “That's why I ask.”

“Ah.” Back into the chicken with his fork.

There's a knock on their door. It’s been days since she thought about where the guns are, she realizes when she thinks about it now. Everything's out of sight. They won’t be caught.

She thinks all that in a second, before the knocking's finished, and before Jameson starts to get up. “Stay here," she says, standing and pulling off her pants. “Take off your shirt and get under the blankets.” He obeys without question. She gets the door open then, only enough so they’ll see her legs and his chest, and forces her breathing to stay steady.

It’s just the maid with new towels and mini soaps, which they asked for yesterday and she forgot about. It still takes her heart a while to calm down.

“Did you have that plan prepared or something?” he says as she’s walking back to the bed.

“Not until just now.” She puts the towels in the bathroom and then comes back. And after a second, she sits down in bed without putting her pants back on, because he has yet to put on his shirt. “Thank you,” she adds. “For listening.”

“Don’t thank me, it’s common sense. Shit. I’m glad you’re on my side.” He leans back and picks up his food again. “What if it was a cop?” he asks.

“Then I’d ask him for a second to get dressed and we’d go out the back window,” she answers automatically.

He raises his eyebrows and settles back in, his arm touching hers. “And what if it was William?”

She pulls the gun out of the back of her underwear and sets it on the nightstand. “I would’ve taken care of him.”

“When did you get that?”

“On the way to the door.”

He huffs in something like disbelief, she thinks. “Shit.”

“We won’t get caught,” she says.

“Yeah, I’m starting to understand how much you mean that.” He sounds blasé in the moment, but after a minute or so he adds, “How smart are you?”

“I don’t know how to answer that.”

“Okay, well can I tell you you’re amazing instead?”

She kinda frowns at him and he smiles at her, and then he kisses her shoulder. Possibly out of laziness more than anything, but she isn’t sure. It might be sweet. She’s unnerved.

“You too,” she says after a moment, and he doesn’t react.

“We should get you shorts so you don’t have to sleep in jeans,” he says. And that’s all he’s got to offer.

She decides to sleep in bed with him tonight, because they need to be comfortable around each other in a few days when they’ll be in public together. And she doesn’t tell him, either, until they’re both sleepy and he’s thinking about leaving, she can read it in his body language.

“Don’t go anywhere,” she says, and gets up to brush her teeth.

He comes too, after a second, and brushes his teeth behind her. He’s more than a foot taller than her, so he can see himself in the mirror just fine. “I’m assuming this is okay,” he says after they've both rinsed out their mouths.

“It sounds to me like you want to get punched,” she says, and heads back to bed. He follows her, and he comes to her bed because he knows what she meant in the end.

He flops down on his stomach, scooting under the blankets and then going still. She doesn't even pretend to think he’s asleep. “Hey,” she says. “We need new names."

“Okay.”

“Can you remember a new name, or should I keep them similar.”

“I’ll remember whatever you need me to, Vee.”

She raises her eyebrows then, and nudges his shoulder until he turns to look at her. “Vee,” she says.

“Oh, should I start now?” he says, sleepily sarcastic. “You didn’t tell me the new name yet.”

“No,” she says after a second. “No, never mind. I could be Eve, though. But you can’t be Adam. William’s looking for cliches.”

He nods, shuts his eyes. “John,” he suggests after a bit.

“Last name… Roberts.”

“Sure.”

“I’ll make the IDs as soon as your neck is healed.”

“Should only be a few more days, I think.”

“Okay. I can teach you a few more tricks, too.”

He nods again. Still sleepy. “Are you just talking because you’re nervous or should I be paying attention?”

“Nervous?”

“Yeah, cuz I’m here.”

She leans over to flip off the lights, and then she gets under the blankets too. The first thing she thinks about is how much longer he is than her; she can feel where he is from the blankets over them, and he’s more than a foot taller.

“Hey,” he says.

“I just want to sleep," she says.

“Okay.”

He won’t touch her until she’s ready, she reminds herself. She falls asleep before she decides if she's ready or not.

 

 

 

She picks him up from his job after she's finished her shift, like every other day. He hops in the passenger side of the car and glances at her for a second. “Hey,” he says.

“Hi.” She waits until they’re out of sight of his coworkers to say what she wants. “You got paid today?”

“Yep.”

“Let’s go. We’ve got a grand saved, it’s been more than two months.”

Jameson stares at her. “Yeah?”

“Yep. If you want.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Let’s get out of here, where to?”

“Florida,” she says. “Tons of killers there.”

“Fuck yeah, babe, let’s go.”

He’s tan now, and stronger. Next to him, she feels small. Not bad, though. Small and smart, and powerful. Ultimately herself, in a way that William never even attempted to make her feel. And it’s just happened here, between them. Like it’s normal.

“We’re packed,” she says. “I’ll take the first shift driving.”

“We’ll need different names, right? New IDs.”

“Yep. When we stop for the night.”

“Okay.” He looks over at her then. “We’re really gonna kill ‘em, right?”

“Why? You think I’d lie about that?”

He shrugs. “Just want to double check.”

“You like killing so much you need to check?”

“Maybe.” Definitely. And she wants to know why.

Jameson’s been at her side for more than two months solid, every moment of the day that wasn’t spent in the bathroom or at work. She knows a lot about him, except what she really wants to know. Who he was.

They’re good at being alone together now. The first six hours are easy, one stop for food and a bathroom break. She lets him take the wheel then, so she can get rest. But first she has questions to ask. When the sky is dark, the streetlamp lights yellowed and dim. Resembles when they met, she thinks, and wonders if it’ll make him be honest.

“Jay,” she says, almost hoping he won’t hear.

“Yeah, princess.”

Her least favorite nickname from him, but she doesn’t protest it anymore; he just uses it more when she does. “Why’d you kill those girls?”

She sees a muscle in his jaw clench. “I don’t know why that’s relevant,” he says. His hand tightens on the steering wheel.

“It’s relevant because I’m a girl,” she says. “And I don’t know why I’m different. Just because I killed first? That doesn’t seem good enough. And you aren’t crazy. So there should be an answer that’s good enough.”

“You overthink things,” he says, which isn’t an answer.

“Just tell me,” she says. “I can’t go anywhere.”

He gives her a bit of a look, annoyed and tired, maybe more. She doesn’t know if it’s projecting to say he looks scared. “Dunno if it’s easy to explain,” he says finally, stalling.

“Didn’t say it had to be easy.” She decides to guess, because that’s an easy way to piss him off into answering. “What, is it your mom like I guessed? Is that why you didn’t want me to kill her? You just want to kill everyone that might look like her?”

Jameson’s pissed, his face twitches and she recognizes the expression as contempt, but not for her. “Maybe,” he says shortly. “Maybe I was trying to kill people that look like her.”

“Maybe?” she says, adapting a tone of voice she knows will annoy him.

“It’d be nice to have her fucking attention for a second,” he snaps.

“Her attention?” Veronica frowns. “What, you didn’t get enough attention from your rich parents so you murder girls?”

She expects an explosion. She doesn’t expect him to go cold. He shuts down and then smiles after a second. “You don’t even know.”

“So tell me.”

“No.”

She sighs, looks out the window and considers her next move. Jameson shifts, and after a second he takes her hand over the center console. “You’re different,” he says. “It’s different. Just us. I mean, fuck, I’m different too. Out here, learning everything, and.”

“Okay,” she says after a second. “But if I find out you’ve been lying-“

“You’ll kill me, I know.”

Maybe she overuses that threat. She’s considering taking it back, but he adds after a second, “I’m not lying.”

“Okay.”

“Why do you kill people?” he says after a moment, like he thinks he’s turning the tables. “Because your parents died?”

“No,” she says. “Because William raised me to.”

That stumps him a bit. “So you wouldn’t have otherwise?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugs. “Maybe not.”

“Must be nice to have that chance,” he says under his breath.

It is. Now that she thinks about it, it’s a good chance to have. To tell herself she’s a killer by make and not by nature. But it might not be true. And he has to live with that knowledge that he made his own choices and he’s turned into who he is.

They stop after breakfast out, on her command. He’s been driving all night, and if she asked he’d claim not to be tired but she can see how his eyes are glazed over, his movements heavy. She catches his hand right before he knocks over a full cup of coffee, and his shoulders soften a little.

“We can rest,” she says. “No hurry.”

“I’m fine,” he shakes his head, but his fingers tighten around hers. Sometimes she feels like he thinks he has to steal real affection from her, and that makes her uncertain. “Just need a little more coffee.”

“We’ll drive at night, that’s easier.” She sets their hands down on the table. “Always been more nocturnal anyways.”

Jameson looks at her with softness in his eyes, and she knows what it looks like when he’s about to lean in and kiss her so she sees it coming. He kisses her, and she likes him enough to like it now. “Hey,” she says after. “You’re right. I don’t know about you. Your parents.”

“Nah,” he shrugs it off. “Better not to. How many days? Until we’re there.”

“Three if we take our time.”

“What about finding someone, how-“

She shushes him with a look, and he nods. “William taught me,” she says. “How do you think he found you? Patterns. All people follow patterns.”

Their pattern is a subtle one. Push and pull. One pushes away and the other pulls them back. So when they sleep, curtains pulled tight to block the sun, he pulls her closer with an arm around her and tells her, “You know a lot.”

“You do too,” she agrees. “About me.”

“Doesn’t count. I’m the second person you ever talked to.”

She knees him in the thigh and he presses down on her throat a little, a faint threat that doesn’t even register. But then, that’s the point, she thinks. That she isn’t scared.

And he kisses her shoulder before going to sleep.

 

 

 

Their first kill is made sixteen days later, in the syrupy humid heat that coats Florida. She lures the psychopath into the open with a contrived flat tire, and when he stops to help, she lets him. Then she knocks him unconscious with a hidden tire iron and lets Jay out of the trunk.

“Fuck,” he says. He’s fucking excited, like the night they met, manic in a way he hasn’t been for months. And she hates it. “You’re gonna let me, right?”

“Yes,” she says. “C’mon, get the cuffs.”

He cuffs the guy, arms behind his back, ankles together, and puts him in the backseat. She watches at a bit of a distance because she’s scared like this, that he’ll get confused and she’ll have to kill two men herself and dispose of their bodies and then she’ll be lost, she’ll just be adrift.

Jameson looks at her. “Hey,” he says. “You not into this?” His face is frightening in the darkness, lit vaguely by the headlights.

“I am,” she says because she always rises to a challenge. “But,” she adds, because she’s weak and trusting.

“Listen, princess, if you’re getting cold feet just think about all the girls this guy killed. Way more than me or the guys. It’s totally moral to kill this guy, and it’s probably not wrong to scare the shit out of him first either.”

She needs time to think about the incredibility of him starting with a morality argument before anything else, but she has no time. “I know,” she says. “It’s not that.”

“Vee,” he sighs. “No time for this shit, c’mon. Say it.”

“Who are you?” she blurts. “If you can do this, can you even love anything?”

“Can you?” She falls back a step, because that’s not fucking fair. “I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t know. But I don’t think that’s the question you really want to ask me.” He steps closer. “Right? You want to ask me again. About the girls.”

“I don’t,” she lies.

“You’re different,” he says, conviction clear in his tone. “You’re my other half, you’re just… it’s magnetic. It’s…”

She shouldn’t need this reassurance now, here. It’s weak. “I feel it too,” she says. “But I’m not different. I just have different skills. He’ll only be out for a few more minutes, we need to get going.”

Jameson stops her with a hand on her arm before she gets in the car. “It’s the control,” he says. “Just… knowing. Because.”

“You don’t feel in control. Or you didn’t.”

He nods once, jerkily. He’s so much more open with blood soon-to-be on his hands. “Can we go? Are you.”

“Yes.”

She drives. They picked a place beforehand, where she takes them now. Remote, secluded. She doesn’t take part in any of the torture, besides backing Jameson up. But she helps with the disposal, cutting up body parts and stoking a fire to destroy them in. They bury the bones next, and she’s both dusty and bloody but at least she feels like she’s doing something right.

They sit facing the fire together, her inside his arm leaning on his shoulder. He’s settled again, himself again, she dares to hope.  He doesn’t move for so long that she has to, just to stay awake. She feels lulled into something, but she isn’t sure quite what.

“Good?” he says.

“Yes. Very.”

“Was this good, though, like. Doing good?”

She’s confused by the question, but she nods. “Sure. Yeah. Good.”

He kisses her hair after a bit. “I can love,” he says. “And I can do this.”

“Me too,” she says. “Did you get his credit cards?”

“Yep, and cash.”

She pats his hand. “Now you’re thinking.”

 

 

They hit Maryland next, a man who’s been using his repairman status to attack women. Not all of the victims are dead. So they talk to them.

Jameson’s not sure about that. “I’m not comforting,” he says gruffly over fries. “Dunno how to do that. So.”

“Okay. But I know how to.”

“Really know how to, or William taught you?”

She frowns. “I dunno. Jenny was easy enough to connect with.”

“You spoke to Jenny?”

“I’m sure I mentioned that before.”

He shakes his head intently. “Nope. When’d you talk to her?”

“Before I met you. Very early on. William didn’t want me to, but I thought it’d be helpful to learn about you from someone who thought she knew you.” She didn’t mean that to sound so pointed. “But my point is, I can do it. And I bet you can too.”

“Would you describe anything I’ve ever done as sensitive?” he says flatly. “There’s no point to it. But they’ve been through enough.”

“Would you describe yourself as sympathetic to them?” she says curiously.

He knows that tone by now; she watches him look up and sharpen. “Why?”

Empathy’s impossible for psychopaths. And she thinks he’s known he isn’t one for a while. “Just a question. We’re going to talk to them, so you need to do your best. Be quiet if you can’t be nice.”

“Fine.”

He stays quiet when they talk to the first victim, a solid presence next to her in the booth. She buys them each a milkshake, and she tells the girl the truth. Because she never told the first girl, Jenny. “We’ll kill him,” she tells the girl. “Just tell us who he is.”

“Why?” the girl asks.

“Because we want to help,” Veronica says. But that’s not quite true, and the girl knows it. “We want to help,” she repeats. “Because we know - I know. What it feels like.”

There’s the way in. The girl’s eyes widen, and fill with tears. And she tells them his name, and that she hasn’t dared to speak it since the assault because he’s a church elder. That doesn’t make it any harder to kill him. She slits the palms of his hands, the arteries on the top of his feet, and he bleeds to death slowly. She almost wishes she had more than a functional taste for violence, just to make his end worse. And she has an idea.

“Rapists,” she says after.

It’s all she needs to say. Jameson nods. “Me too.”

So they have a new mission. And about fifty thousand dollars from the disgusting pig to keep them going.

 

 

 

Small towns and suburbs alike are home for a few weeks at a time. Their stash of IDs grows, a few different names, variations on a theme with slightly different heights and weights to be safe. It gets easier, and they start to have fun doing other things.

They add to the kit in the trunk. A rainbow of hair dye, a few more weapons and a suitcase each, with clothes. But she still wears his sweatshirt sometimes, to sleep in. Even though she sleeps next to him too.

They’ve been married nearly a year, and she still feels shy when she thinks about how much she likes him. It feels almost foolish, to feel warm when he smiles and safe when he’s beside her. Not that she thought marriage to be any kind of magic, but she expected less novelty. Naively, she didn’t think she’d fall in love like this, pink-cheeked and fresh and new. But she tamps all that down, pretty successfully, to stay who she should be. The brains, reason and order, a girl who’s more than herself.

Jay gets dinner today, his turn, while she puts together new IDs before they head out. They have it down to almost an art. New town, new people in two days flat. She’s been so many places recently, the only thing that feels real is him.

She tenses at the door opening, hand on the gun on the bed near her, but it’s him so she goes back to the laptop. “Hey.”

“Hey.” He sits down next to her and hands her a brown paper bag. “Veggie wraps.”

Her favorite, one of his least favorites. She’s surprised. “Yeah?”

“Anniversary.”

She doesn’t show how her heart jumps, but it does. “Oh, right.” She feels stiff with how nervous she is, for some reason. “Um. Yeah.”

That’s apparently all the fuss that will be made of this. He starts eating. “Where we going now?”

“I’m looking,” she says. “Mississippi, maybe. Haven’t been there.” Nowhere within a day of where they are now, of course. Harder to track.

He hums, then says, “I’ve been thinking.”

“Yeah?”

“Home base. We could use one.”

“That’d mean a pattern.”

“No, not a house or something,” he shakes his head. “A van, though. Big enough to spend a night in if we have to. Maybe.”

It’s actually not a bad plan. “We buy it and get new plates,” she nods. “Locked chests in the back for the kit.” But no, she shakes her head after a second. “So much more visible.”

“Yeah,” he nods. “Thought so too. But there’s gotta be something better than keeping the motel industry afloat.”

She smiles a little. “We’ll think,” she agrees. “But we can be uncomfortable or get caught. Not a whole lot of in between.”

“I’m comfortable,” he says. “Just a thought.”

A good one. A nice one. As long as she keeps not talking about what he doesn’t want to talk about. His past, for one. Or anything about him before. “We’ll think about it,” she says.

“Okay.”

It’s an odd thing now that she thinks about it. She doesn’t think much about her childhood, but she knows it didn’t leave her inclined to think about the past much. So she doesn’t think much about their past, but when she does she realizes how much is off-limits with him.

“Hey,” she says after dinner. “What were your parents like?”

Should be an innocent enough question, she thinks. But he shuts down so fast she can practically hear cartoon sound effects - and how strange, to know he taught her what those were. “Doesn’t matter,” he says. “Told you before.”

“Yeah, and I’m asking again because that’s not good enough.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he repeats.

“It does to me.”

“I don’t want to talk about it and I’m not changing my mind,” he says flatly.

But this time, she’s not going to let that be the end of it. “Me neither. Tell me. I need to trust you.”

“You do trust me,” he says without any trace of doubt. “Leave it.”

“No. I mean c’mon. Couldn’t really be that terrible.”

“Leave it,” he snaps, louder to her than if he’d yelled, and he gets up.

She does too. “I won’t this time. Talk to me.”

Jay actually walks towards the door, like he's going to leave, and she follows him. He’s never reacted with violence towards her, even when frustrated, but he does try to leave more than he should. And she reacts with more violence than she should. “If you won’t tell me, I’ll make you,” she says.

They know she can. “Do it,” he says.

“I don’t want to,” she admits, only discovering it when she strongly considers it.

“I know,” he says. “But no.” And when he tries to leave again, she slams him into the wall with her hip and holds him there with her knife.

“Tell me.”

“No,” he says. And he breathes heavier, pupils wider, but he doesn’t push her away. “Do what you have to.”

She thinks about it for half a second, and she pins one arm up against the wall to cut the underside. Not deep into the muscle, but enough that he’ll feel it every day for a week. “First chance,” she says. “You only get a second. Then I will make you.”

“Okay.”

He holds no grudge once she lets him go. He lets her bandage his arm, and then he stretches out in bed next to her while she plans their next attack. With the prying over, he’s as warm and relaxed as ever, if a little wary.

“Anniversary,” she says after a bit. “You keep track of that?”

“Sure.”

She wants to ask him if he loves her, if he even likes her more than a pet or interesting diversion, but that’s weak, to want to know. It won’t change anything. So she doesn't ask. She tells him, “I think I’m going to kill you one day.”

“Wouldn’t let anyone else,” he says. Which she thinks is him agreeing. She doesn’t know how she feels about that. But it’s the truth.

“I love you,” she says, to balance it out.

“Yeah. Me too, love you too.” His eyes are closed, but he’s not asleep. He loves her too, he says, and she believes him.

 

 

There’s something to the way he treats their targets, she thinks. Whatever he was projecting on those girls in the woods, he’s projecting something like it on the men too. And she’s fascinated.

They learn how to work with the victims better, too. He gets less awkward as well. Starts holding her hand when he discovers that makes the girls more relaxed, tries talking and not talking trying to find out what works better. They comfort, and then they kill, and it’s thrilling enough but she’s getting tired of it. She wants more. Or less. She isn’t sure. So she says nothing and keeps going. They’re making the world better, they’re doing good. Her skills are useless otherwise. This makes sense.

She trains less, though. Everything’s easy, almost second nature. She worries less about covering their tracks. They set themselves challenges, like killing within an hour, destroying the bodies faster, doing something new - which, after fifty-something kills, is quite the challenge.

They’re sneaking into a house to abduct number 58 when Jay gets brained with an ashtray. The guy’s a cop, they knew that going in, and Jay must’ve given away his position somehow, woken the guy up.

When he cries out, she discovers she remembers how it sounds, from the fight. It fills her with fucking rage, too, because no one is allowed to hurt him but her. No one.

She has a gun, of course, for emergencies, and she uses it without thinking. The man falls with a hole through his chest. “Fuck,” she says immediately, and picks the bloody bullet out of the wall. “We need to go, someone will have heard that.”

“What, leave the body?” Jay says with difficulty. There’s blood dripping off his chin already, the cut in his head is deep. He's held up by the wall more than his legs, and his speech is slurred. Bad, bad, bad. She grabs a dishtowel and presses it against his head. His hand comes up to keep it there.

“Yes, no time. Come on.” She ducks under his arm to hold him up and help him walk out. “Faster if you can,” she says shortly.

“Yeah.”

He makes it to the car, but she has a feeling in her gut that they’ve been seen, so she doesn’t take them back to the motel. This town is blown for them. She doesn't even dare take a second to get the first aid kit. “How do you feel?" she asks shortly. “Concussed?”

“Yeah.” No shit, yeah, he’s barely intelligible.

“Lean back, keep the pressure on your head.”

“Where're we going?”

She doesn’t know until she answers. “A couple towns over.” Except then she definitely hears sirens in the distance, and she changes plans. “Or maybe not.”

“‘M fine,” he lies. “Don’t change plans for me.”

Nice as the thought is, she actually has to change plans. A couple of drifters with a head wound is enough of probable cause to search their car; their whole plan is based on no police attention at all. So she parks the car in a supermarket parking lot and has him lie down in the back seat. She sits on his chest with the first aid kit and looks in his eyes.

"You can't make any sound,” she says grimly.

“Okay.”

He doesn’t. She stitches his head wound closed, smears it with antibiotic cream and tapes a large patch of gauze over it, thick so it'll be a while before he bleeds through. “Good,” she says after, and pets his cheek with the back of her fingers. Her love, her heart.

“What now?” he says.

“We’re going shopping. You're putting on a sweatshirt with a hood and keeping it up. As long as you’re sure you can walk."

“Yes.”

She helps him change, put his hood up, and she gives him some painkillers, strong as she can risk without knocking him out. “You sure you're good?"

“I'm fine,” he says. “Don’t worry. Let’s go.”

He shakes off her help and just holds her hand to walk. He can manage it well enough to avoid suspicion, somehow, and she says, “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“This is nothing, sweetheart,” he says, and she leans up to kiss his cheek. He means those things, she knows now.

They make it inside quick, and she takes them to the back, to the books and movies and DVDs, where hardly anyone is. She checks on him then, makes him open his eyes and shut them, follow her finger, checks his mental state with the basic line of questions. He’s not great, but okay.

She hugs him next, and tries to breathe. “That was close," she says.

“You sure they won’t look in here?” he says under his breath.

“No, they won’t be looking in the parking lot here, and the car’s the only connection they could possibly have. We’re waiting an hour, and then we’re going to start to leave.”

He nods. “Will William find us?” he asks, softer.

“Might. We’ll figure it out. The guy came out of nowhere.”

“If it was you, he wouldn’t have landed the hit.”

Jay’s right, and that’s frightening. She doesn’t want to think about what happens if they get caught, if she’ll ditch him or kill him to get away. Would she? She might have to.

He sways a bit and leans on her heavily. She won’t kill him now. For the moment, she just rubs his back and holds him up. “Stay up,” she says quietly. “C’mon, we’ve prepared for this. Think clearly.”

“Yeah, yeah. You should leave.”

“What? No.”

“We should split up for a bit,” he says stubbornly. “Too visible together. If they saw you and me together, we need to split and meet somewhere. And we should just in case.”

He’s right. She should’ve thought of it. “Not until you can stand straight,” she says. “Let’s take a walk.”

She leads him around, a slow lap of the store’s least-inhabited rows, her arm around him and hand on his stomach. It’s one of the most intimate things she’s done, and he’s so quiet she’s worried. “The car’s probably blown,” she says eventually. “We need a new one. They won’t be looking for a car sale.”

“Okay.”

“Can you handle clearing the car and wiping it down? No mistakes.”

“Yes.”

“Now? Or you need more time.”

“I’m fine, let’s do it. Can’t wait.” They really can’t, he’s right. But she can’t picture leaving him like this, even for necessity.

She leaves him in the parking lot and walks to a used car lot. Every second she’s away from him, she’s terrified that he’s gotten caught or worse. She’s so scared she’ll have to kill him. But he’s there, he loads up the back of the new car with her and then meets her eyes when she takes both of his hands. His eyes are glazed over.

“Rest,” she says.

“Yes ma’am.” Very slurred. Head trauma. He’s curled up in the passenger seat while she checks on the car. It’s done well, no mistakes.

She drives, so he can sleep in the passenger seat. She checks every ten minutes that he’s still breathing, where he’s curled up facing her. He’s breathing, she reminds herself. He’s breathing and she is too.

They make it through two states before nightfall. He’s not eating, so she doesn’t either. Cuts down on bathroom breaks. Finally, she pulls over at a rest stop for some snacks and gas. He’s still asleep, and she takes a second to watch his chest rising and falling. Then she wakes him, petting his hair gently. “Hey, babe,” she says.

He stirs a little. “Hurts,” he mumbles.

“Yeah. You want anything to eat?”

“No.”

“Wasn’t really asking. C’mon.” She nudges him upright and hands him applesauce and a spoon. “Got water too. You need it.”

He nods, eyes still mostly shut. He’s dead weight, he can barely eat, but she doesn’t even think of leaving him behind. Not for more than a moment, at least. She can’t do it.

Once he’s done, he shuts his eyes completely again. No questions, no planning. She watches him for a second, begging him to change, and then she keeps driving. Distance is key. Get them away, and then rest.

She finds a cabin rental place and rents one even though it’s expensive. They park outside. He needs her help to get up, and her heart is sinking because he should recover quicker, he should be alright. She might’ve put him under too much stress too early and damaged him. Or he’s just hurt badly. A hospital’s out of the question. And she’ll kill him before she watches him die.

She sits him on the bed, and he stops her from leaving with his arms around her. “Wait,” he says and pulls her down. She kneels over his lap to hug him, and he strokes her hair with probably as much gentleness as he can manage. “I love you so much,” he says near her ear. “Love you.”

“I know.” She’s suspicious, not pleased. “Don’t tell me that, you’re okay. You don’t have to say that now.”

“I love you,” he repeats. “And you should fucking leave me.”

“What?” she says faintly.

“Leave me, you’re gonna get caught, we’re gonna get found. Everybody makes mistakes except you, and I did, and we’ll get caught because of it. And you shouldn’t. So leave me here.”

He’s more coherent than she thought. “No,” she says. “No, I’m not leaving you. You’re gonna be just fine, give it time. You need rest.” She pets his hair and holds him close. “Time. Come on, lie down.”

“You aren’t getting caught because of me,” he says. “You’re the best thing that happened, just, a good thing. Person. I love you, I want.” She holds him close, and he holds her and repeats, “I want,” but doesn’t seem to know just what it is that he wants.

“I’m not a good person,” she says. “You know that, you’ve killed with me.”

He’s unresponsive for a bit. And he’s absolutely right about her going - she should, and she shouldn’t be hesitating to leave him and make her escape. No matter what he says about her or how clear it is that his feelings are as real as hers. So she holds him closer, kisses the side of his head where there’s no bandage and tells him, “I love you too, Jay. Get some rest.”

“I’m a danger,” he says.

She pushes him down gently, gets off him to pull him up onto the bed fully. “I can handle more than a little danger,” she says. “Lie down.”

“My wife,” she thinks she hears him mumble. So she lies with him, tucking him under her chin and combing through his hair while he sleeps restlessly. She won’t be leaving him. It’s not just a partnership anymore. It’s love, and it’s partnership and connection. And that might be better than being free.

He wakes up after midnight sometime, when she’s half asleep. She feels him shift, and then hug her tight. “Hey,” she murmurs.

“Food?”

“In the bag by the door.”

He gets up, and she stays in bed, on her side with her eyes mostly shut. “Vee,” he says after a second. “Check the stitches?”

“Yeah.” She sits up when he sits back down on the bed, and he gives her a look she’d describe as stiff, somehow. He won’t look at her as she peels the bandages off carefully. “Stitches are good,” she says. “All scabbed up.” And she puts the gauze back. “Why the weirdness?”

“No weirdness.”

She slaps him, barely a tap. “Don’t fucking lie.”

He clenches his jaw. “You didn’t leave.”

“Yeah.”

“You should’ve.”

She frowns. “Yes. That’d be the logical thing to do. But.”

“But you were stupid instead.”

“No, I weighed all the costs and I made my decision based on that.”

“On what?”

“On what I needed. And what I can do. I can keep us from getting caught.”

“And you can’t leave me?”

She doesn’t answer right away because she can tell from his tone that yes is the wrong answer, somehow. “I don’t understand the question.”

“Sure you do.”

“Have I done something wrong?” she says sharply.

“No,” he says after a second. “No, just.” He scratches the back of his head and looks away from her, touches the gauze on his forehead. “I just. I’m not… worth. This. From you.”

“I decide that. Not you. Understood?”

After a second, he nods. “Yeah. But.”

“Shut up. I need sleep, and you need time to recover. No one knows where we are, or who we are here. We’re fine. It was one mistake.”

“But if the guy survived, or someone catches the car sale and follows us here, or our description-“

“Stop,” she says. “I do the plans. You do as I say. That hasn’t changed just because I saved your life again.”

He smiles for half a second. “Again,” he agrees.

“Lie down with me,” she says. And he does. He lets her hold him against her chest, her arm around his chest, and he covers her hand with his. “Good?” she asks.

“Yes.”

She kisses his shoulder, her turn, and wills him to be okay with this. It shouldn’t change things, for him to know for a fact how she’s felt all along. He feels it too, even. It shouldn’t change things, how much she loves him. “We can still do this,” she says. “Right?”

“I can if you can.”

“No, I mean, we can still do this and be…” She sits up after a second, and he rolls over to look at her. And she’s never been much for hesitation, just action, so she tells him. “I need you. And I love you. I’ll keep you with me until that isn’t true. Can you work with that?”

Jay looks in her eyes. “Yes,” he says after a second. “But can I ask.”

“Go on,” she prompts.

He opens his mouth, pauses. “I’m sorry,” he says instead. “I put you in danger, I’m sorry.”

She leans down again to hug him, and she thinks she might feel tears soaking warm into her shirt. Which is actually his shirt. “When I need you to be sorry, I’ll tell you,” she says. “Until then, I don’t want to hear it.”

“Okay.” He clears his throat.

“It’s fine,” she murmurs, and lies back down with him pressed against her chest. He links his hand with hers tightly, and she thinks about him telling her how much he loves her. Apologizing for what might be the first time she can remember. Love is supposed to feel like this, maybe.

 

 

 

She gets dinner for them the next evening, drives forty minutes to get him Back Yard Burgers, his favorite. She loves him, she can love and she loves him. She needs to clear that from her head to handle this properly. Responsibly. They can’t get caught just because they’re in love.

But when she gets back, burgers in hand, she sees a car parked next to hers and she knows it’s William. It must be. So she gets the stashed gun from their car, and puts it in one of the paper bags, under everything, and she heads inside.

Jay’s tied to a chair in the middle of the room, and her heart stops beating in her chest but she doesn’t show it. She remembers her training, even when she sees him see the bags and know what she did for him. And he’s sorry, he feels guilty, and if killing makes him feel in control than this must be very close to his nightmare. But none of that matters. Her face must remain blank.

William’s in the bathroom, and he doesn’t come out so he knows she’s here. “So you found us,” she says loudly, stepping forward. She drops the bags of food and wraps her arm around Jay’s head for a second, leans down and kisses his hair. He turns toward her, begging for her touch, so she rubs his arm a few times. It will be alright. She won’t let it not be.

“Only because your toy here fucked up.” William’s washing something. Probably a torture implement. She keeps her hand on Jay’s shoulder.

“Cut the shit,” she says. “Jealousy isn’t a good look for you.”

“Jealousy?” He comes out, like she intended, to gawp at her melodramatically. “Of who? Or should I say what.” His eyes go to her touching Jay, and she doesn’t let go.

“He didn’t kill your family,” she says flatly. “Leave us alone.”

“What, did he tell you that? And you believed him?” When she doesn’t answer, he snorts and rolls his eyes. “You’ve slipped.”

He argues against himself more than anyone else, especially if she just stays quiet. So she just gets him going. “I’m stronger than ever,” she says. “Pretty good training, thinking for yourself. Making my own decisions. Didn’t slip too far. Hid from you for more than a year.”

“Well. Now you’re found. And you’ll need to finish what you started.”

She takes a brief account of what she’s capable of, and she decides a few things. She can torture the man she loves to save his life if she has to, and she will play William best by infuriating him.

“I’ll finish whatever I want, whenever I goddamn please,” she says. “Be real, William. The thing that bothers you is how well I’m doing without you.”

While he’s scoffing, she leans down and kisses Jay. She knows him so well, just the press of his mouth tells her what he feels. He loves her, he’s sorry, he knows. So she’s ready to continue with no guilt. They’ll get out one way or another.

“Hey,” William snaps. “I’m talking to you.”

“You’re irrelevant to me,” she says, with scorn and disdain he taught her. “Give that to me.” She takes the knife from him, not showing him that she’s gotten what she wanted, and she presses it to Jay's throat.

“Finish your mission,” William orders.

She doesn’t take orders anymore. “Hey my love,” she says. “What’s our mission now?”

“Killing rapists.”

“And y’know, William,” she says. “You raised me. But you also watched, the first time I had sex. You didn’t do it. But you assaulted me just the same. By proxy. So I’d say you’re one too.”

Jay’s eyes fly to her face as William’s avoid it. “Don’t be ridiculous,” William snorts, shifty already. “You seduced him. You made your decisions.”

“I was eighteen,” she says. “And you never respected my decisions.” She keeps the knife to Jay’s throat, the other hand holding his head perfectly still so she doesn’t fuck up. “You want me to kill him?”

“You must.” He’s relaxed, even now.

“That’s where you’re wrong,” she says, and she throws the knife at William, who has always underestimated her. It hits him in the chest, just under his collarbone, and while he’s reeling, she reaches down into the bag of burgers and pulls out the gun. She holds it on him while she tells Jay, “Get yourself out.”

It’s just a moment before he has his hands free, and he puts one hand on her back to make sure she’s steady. William pulls the knife out of his chest with a sense of bewilderment. “You won’t shoot me,” he says.

“I tried to once before. And now that you’ve threatened me, I’ll probably enjoy it. Go outside,” she tells Jay. “Quickly.”

“Yep.” He picks up their bags on the way, and she’s going to tell him how well he’s doing, as soon as she’s sure the moment will be just theirs.

“Listen to me,” she says in a low voice. “You will not follow us again. I’m not your daughter, or your protege or anything. Leave me alone or next time I will kill you.”

“You can’t be serious,” William says.

“That’s none of your fucking business, actually. What I am, is gone.” She comes towards him, kicks the blade away from them and then uses the rope to tie his hands around the bed. “You probably won’t bleed out,” she says as she finishes the knot. She picks his pocket for good measure. Then she picks up the bags of burgers and locks the door behind her.

Jay’s pulling on a shirt from the car when she gets out there. She tosses him his food and William’s set of keys. “We’ll meet back up for milkshakes,” she says. “Same place. There’s a used car lot a few doors down, we can drop off his car. New plates on this one will be enough.”

“Okay.” She looks at him for a few beats longer than she should, and he catches that. “Did he really do that?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

His face twists a bit, and she fears he’ll say something sympathetic or pitying. But he doesn’t. He nods, and he says, “I’ll see you in a bit.”

“Okay. But.” She crosses the distance between them and hugs him, getting up on tiptoes to put her arms around his neck. His arms come up after a second, and he hugs her back. She doesn’t know what it means to him, if it means what it does to her. And she doesn’t even know what it means to her, besides that it’s good. He’s good. She kisses him before she lets go of him, and says, “Your neck?”

“It’ll be fine, don’t worry.” She nods, and watches him smile at her, the softest one she’s seen yet. “See you in a bit,” he says. “Be safe.”

“Yep. Bye.”

“Bye.”

He’s there when she’s there, and they do get milkshakes. She sits next to him in the booth, and he keeps his arm around her shoulders tightly. They don’t talk about it, but she knows he’s telling her that he’s here. They’re together, and here. He’s kept to his word, he’s never touched her when she didn’t want it.

“Let’s lay low for a while,” she says. “Somewhere on the coast. I need a break. I need…”

“A break,” he agrees. “A beach.”

“Yeah. You drive.”

He nods. “Sounds good.” And he kisses her, tender and loving, absolutely loving. He runs his fingers through her hair a little bit, and she leans closer. “Hard to do?” he asks. “William.”

“Harder than I wanted it to be,” she says. “Not as hard as you’d think. I know what he’d do to you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yep. His torture tastes are more medieval. And I… you…”

He kisses her again, a couple times on her cheek and forehead, and she turns to kiss him back. “A break,” he says. “Just us. Swimming and shit.”

“I’ve never built a sandcastle,” she says softly.

She knows how he’ll react, with surprised that seems annoyed. “Really? Shit, then we’ll do that,” he says. But for the moment, he just holds her.

 

 

 

 

Three months in South Carolina are exactly what she wanted. Her hair is blonde again, she’s tan and freckled from the sun and every day, she naps on the beach next to her husband. Warm evenings, sleeping and relaxing, mornings with a chill that let her ask him for a hug more often. He doesn’t ask when they’ll kill again. She doesn’t think she needs to. This could be enough.

They’re lying in bed together one morning, tangled in the sheets. It’s warm under there with him. She's pressed against him, legs tangled with hers. Her head’s on his chest, and he’s running his fingertips up and down her back.

“Hey,” she murmurs.

“Hey.” His voice resonates in his chest under her ear.

“You don’t want it either. To fuck.”

“Right…” He doesn’t follow.

“Just. Right? You don’t. Haven’t seemed super interested.”

“No,” he agrees. Emotional iron doors are shutting, she can feel it.

“Why’s that? I mean you said you fucked Jenny. Which I understand. She was pretty gorgeous.”

Jay snorts, more out of expectations than real humor she thinks. “Yeah. I did, but that was different,” he says.

“Anything to do with how you were raised?”

His words catch in his throat audibly. “Dunno,” he finally says.

“Bullshit.” She knows what this is. It sticks in her throat too. His second chance is just about over.

“Vee,” he says quietly. “I can’t.”

She hesitates. But no, she can’t excuse this. She gave him two chances, and she told him what would happen. “Then I can’t either,” she says, and gets up.

He’s not expecting her to follow through. He doesn’t move, even when she handcuffs him to the metal bed frame. Then he starts to look alarmed. “Vee,” he says. “Come on.”

“I warned you.” She gets dressed. His shirt, her jeans. His sweatshirt, because she’s a little weak still. She leaves him the guns, and takes two knives. Takes half the cash and all her IDs. And she packs her clothes too, because shopping is terrible. “Keep the car,” she says.

“I thought you said you were going to kill me.”

So maybe she’s a lot weak. “You don’t deserve that,” she says, instead of telling him she couldn’t stomach it. “You don’t deserve me. If you manage to find me, then maybe. You might.”

“Seriously?” he says.

“I’ve told you everything,” she says. “You’ve told me shit. And I gave you a second chance.” She gave him several. “Goodbye,” she adds.

“No,” he says as she opens the door, with a hint of worry.

She’s not too weak to shut the door behind her. So she does that. She walks away and leaves him there.

 

 

 

Thursday nights are for dinner out with friends. Sometimes they ask why she wears a wedding ring, and her explanation is good enough for most. Married young, he died early. And it’s so close to the truth that she feels a pang every time she says it.

They call her Cassie here, a name she always liked, and she wears sundresses and pretty shoes when she isn’t barefoot. She doesn’t kill anyone, mostly. Except when she’s really low on cash, and the guy really deserves it. But she has a job and makes friends and she’s happy. Quietly, but still happy. It’s enough. Her small apartment, and food. So much food that’s odd and strange and delicious and odd. Basil cupcakes are her favorite new one. Doesn’t eat many burgers these days. And on Thursday nights, they eat at an Italian bistro on a patio, and she tries a different thing every time.

“Hi!” Diane smiles when she sees her. “What’s on the menu for tonight?”

“I’m into the pasta entrees, I believe.” She opens the menu and looks down at it. “Yeah, shrimp carbonara.”

“Ugh.” Diane wrinkles her nose. “Enjoy.” She doesn’t like shrimp. She has preferences for food, which, Cassie reminds herself, isn’t odd.

“So my mom called,” Diane says, leaning over and looking in her eyes. Hers are twinkling green in the evening sunlight. “Planning a trip back home. She wants to meet you. What do you think?”

“Uh. When?”

“Couple weeks. I’ve told her so much about you.”

“Good things, I hope.”

Diane nods, smiles. “Only good things.”

She smiles, and it’s real, it’s warm and pure. She’s going to meet her friend’s mom. She can’t tell if they’ll be closer than friends one day, but judging from the way Diane looks at her she thinks they might. And she likes that. It’d be good. “I’ll have to pack,” she says.

“Of course. We aren’t leaving today.”

She could be ready to leave today. She could be ready to leave in thirty minutes, max, leaving no trace behind. Old habits. But she might let that go. Doesn’t seem like she needs to know that anymore.

Then Diane looks at something over her shoulder, and her senses kick into high alert. It’s the waiter, but it could be William or the cops. She needs to be careful. No room to relax. Cover is just cover. So she checks the next couple passing cars and flags the worrisome ones to keep an eye out for.

“Hey,” Diane says. “Where’d you go?”

“Nowhere. I’m here.” A lie. They’re built on lies, though. Another won’t ruin the balance.

They order, and talk about small things. Work, and movies they watch and none of it matters particularly much. She wouldn’t say she enjoys it, but she doesn’t hate it. It’s just what you do. And Diane makes all of that interesting anyways, so dinner is always nice.

“So I was thinking,” Diane begins, her eyes looking up over Cassie’s shoulder again, which shouldn’t be anything except she’s looking higher than she does at their short waitress and her eyes widen.

Cassie turns to look without panicking, and she registers who it is immediately before she really sees him. And then she sees him, and she can’t breathe. She never thought she’d see him again, but she always knew she would.

Five years have changed him. He’s broader, more solid but he’d blend into a crowd better. He’s learned. In a T-shirt and jeans, no weapon on him, he’s come for her. And he still needs to atone, but that can wait until she’s seen him for more than five seconds.

She’s standing before he’s taken another step, and she tells Diane, “I have to go, I’ll call you.”

“What?”

Jay stops next to her chair, and he’s looking at her with something in his eyes she can’t remember seeing before.

“I have to go. I’ll call you,” she repeats, and she picks up her purse and goes, Jay following like the shadow she’s missed for so long. She stops just outside the bistro door on the sidewalk and hugs him. He knows she will before she does, and he hugs back, lifting her off the ground and actually spinning a little, like some kinda bullshit movie. Except this is real. The only real thing is him and them and he’s trembling.

"I never should’ve made you leave,” he says.

She doesn’t answer, doesn’t let go. Someone she knows will probably see, and she doesn’t care for even a second. She forgot how intoxicating this was, with only one person to worry about, to know she was alright.

Finally, she gets her feet on the ground again. He won’t take his eyes off her. “I have an apartment,” she says. “We can talk there.”

“Talk?” he tips his head.

She’s changed; he has stayed quiet. “Yeah,” she says. “Talk. You owe me.”

He nods, and he gets in the car with her. And every second he’s by her side is a second making up for the ones she didn’t know she was wasting without him. She loves him with her whole body, every single piece, and she wants him to tell her everything, and then she wants to ask him if they’re still what they were.

In her apartment, he looks at everything just in passing. The flowers and decorations and color, all of it pales to her under his gaze, and she reminds herself that this is the life she had to build without him, this is who she is and she even enjoyed it. “So,” she says.

“You been here all along?”

“Yeah, minus a couple months.”

Jay nods. “Missed you.”

“Then get me back,” she says flatly.

He looks at her then, in the middle of her sunny kitchen. Looks straight in her eyes - and she didn’t know how much she missed his until she’s looked in them just now - and he tells her everything. And then he hugs her again, in the middle of the kitchen, for so long her arm falls asleep a little, but she wouldn’t cut it any shorter.

“We staying here?” he asks after, when he’s eating takeout at her kitchen table. “Seems like you put down roots.”

“Yeah. I did. Dunno how I’d explain you, though.” She sits on the table, as close to him as she can. “Or us.” She puts her foot on his leg, and he immediately puts his hand on her knee, to keep her there.

“You want to figure it out?”

She still has the reigns. She gets to make the decisions. “I don’t know,” she says after a second. “What do you want?”

“I never want to be without you,” he says. “The rest is irrelevant. And you’ve got friends here, yeah? Don’t want to leave ‘em.”

“No,” she discovers, “I don’t. But they’re second. You’re first.”

That gets a smile from him, and he asks “You still wanna kiss me?” She does, so she does. And he smiles into it, and she does too. “I love you still,” he says. “More than ever.”

“Me too.” She steals a piece of broccoli from his box, and watches him smile at that too. He’s mellowed. “Killed a lot? In the past couple years.”

“No,” he shakes his head. “Was looking for you. No time. And I wasn’t gonna get caught before I found you.”

She respects that. “Can’t do a lot around here,” she says. “This is my place. I keep them safe from that part of me. And the world.”

“Okay. Don’t need that.”

“Y’don’t?”

He shakes his head again. “Just you.”

“Yeah,” she nods. “Just you too.”