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as long as you'll have me

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Avery throws their backpack on the back of their rented car, readying themselves to start their drive out of Key West.

They don't really know where to go yet, but they have to go anyways. Regardless of their lack of direction, they have to keep on the move— always on the move, always looking over their shoulder.

They briefly consider turning themselves in and as quickly as the thought occurs to them they quiet it down and do their best to forget about it.

What, then? They could maybe call Russo, go back into the private sector and maybe die in a warzone. Might as well. Out of all the ways to go and considering the alternatives looming over their head, that one seems like an alright one.

They sigh, exhausted. What a mess.

Sure, they'd helped some folks and that was nice, but a kid saw them kill the man and that was a time bomb ready to blow up on their face. Even if the kid didn't say anything, the murder was meant to be notorious — it was already on the paper—  and sooner or later either María or Agent Canmore would trace it back to them.

They think they prefer Canmore. At least she'd kill them quick, if push came to shove.

They hold the guitar case, taking a second and considering its weight. Thinking.

Whatever. It doesn't matter where they go, they'll figure it out. They move to put the case inside the trunk of their car.

"Avery? Is that you?" A voice stops them, freezing them on the spot. They keep holding the beat up guitar case, hovering halfway inside the trunk of the car.

It can't be. That voice belongs to Val. Valentine Ewing. Shit. Shit, fuck. Son of a bitch, fuck their luck.

They'd never thought they'd hear that voice again and it makes them want to scream a little bit, to crumble right where they stand and maybe disappear. God. It had taken them years to get them out of their mind and just like that, just with their voice, they're back at square one, desperately, hopelessly in love.

Their heart hammers wildly in their chest.

"Val." They do their best to compose themselves before turning to look at them. Their voice comes off too cold and they wince a bit. "Hey," they correct, a bit softer now. "Fancy, uh, fancy meeting you here."

There they stand, every bit as beautiful as the day they last saw each other. Maybe more, with their hair longer and their smile a wild, free thing. It's painfully radiant and it light up their eyes, crinkles the skin around them a bit.

"Avery! Oh, love." Val moves to hug them, reaching forward so they can loop their arms around Avery's neck. Their affection is warm, warmer than ever, softer and sweeter than before. They squeeze Avery tight and they can't help themselves, can't control their own arms that carelessly drop the case so they can hold them too, wrapping themselves around their middle and squeezing back, desperately trying to put their emotions in their hug before they threaten to choke them. They hide their face in the crook of their shoulder and breathe them in, their heart clenching.

Val squeezes tighter for a second before pulling back to hold their cheeks, familiar and close as they always were. "Look at you."

Avery's heart clenches again, more, and they can't help but to smile back at them, hands resting on Val's waist. (— where they belong, their mind unhelpfully supplies.)

“Look at you,” Avery dumbly replies, but they have a point. “You living here? It’s done you well.” They do a shameless once over, just like they used to do all those years ago, trying to fit into that old glove that their hand wants so much.

“Psshht,” Val laughs, moving to punch them a bit in the shoulder, friendly and close. “Flatterer.”

“Always,” they reply with a grin, letting themselves be swung by the motion, pretending to be affected by the hit when that swat wouldn’t hurt a fly.

“And you,” Val continues, “you’ve filled out. Damn.” They move their hands from their cheeks to their shoulders and from there to their arms, which they squeeze appreciatively and whistle when they find there’s very little give to them—  Avery’s built very strong, now. Stronger than ever.

Val’s whole thing is definitely shamelessly appreciative and Avery’s heart jumps at that, doing all sorts of pirouettes at Val’s praise, a bit desperate for more—  more of them looking at their body, at their face, at their everything and wanting them like they once did. (Please let Val want them like they once did.)

And they do. They look at them all over, focusing on their face at last, and that’s when they notice— “And oh, but love, look at you.” They grab their cheeks again, closer now than before. Avery could lean in and—  “You look exhausted.” Shit. “When was the last time that you rested properly? And don’t give me crap—  you look like you’ve been running yourself ragged.”

“Ah, eh-” Enough, Avery. Snap out of it.

“Ah. Yeah. No, no no—  I don’t want to hear it right now. You’ll come with me and rest, like you should. Do you have a job lined up? Something waiting for you?... Someone?”

Avery flushes and moves their head no. To both those things. “I’m not… I’m not really working anymore.”

“Oh!” Val’s face lights up again. Fuck, fuck, fucking shit. Shit, they’re beautiful. “Oh, that’s wonderful. Then you can stay. You will, right?”

They shouldn't. They really shouldn't. But for Valentine? For Valentine Ewing, there of all places, warm between their arms?

For them they can stay.

"Sure- sure, yeah. I can stay, Val. As long as you'll have me."