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It’s warm, she’s fiddled with the thermostat by the door, turning it up so she can lay sprawled out on top of the comforter despite the fact it’s still midwinter in the Pacific Northwest. She’s working through a bag of Cheetos and the latest issue of Rolling Stones. There’s nothing in the magazine she’s particularly interested in, but Will was always saying she needed to keep up with what was going on in the world. She knew he meant she should be watching the news, looking for possible abnormal sightings, media spin, but that’s always been more of his thing. She hadn’t taken this job to die of boredom.

She’s flipping through the last of the articles, looking for something, anything that looks like it might hold her interest when she realizes Magnus is standing beside the bed.

“Sorry I didn’t hear you come in.” Kate shakes her head, slipping off her headphones.

“I neglected knocking.” Magnus confesses. “I didn’t want to disturb you.”

“If Hank’s running behind I can cover for him if you’re worried he’ll be up all night again.” The offer rolls off her tongue without a second thought. She was more of a night person than he was and he needed a night off. He was beginning to cut into her Redbull stash.

Magnus’ smile sits awkwardly on her face for the moment it lasts. “I thought it best we talk here instead of my office.”

“Yeah sure, just give me a sec.” Kate shoves the magazine and snack food aside, moving past Magnus to throw both onto her desk. Late night chats weren’t exactly Magnus’ thing. She preferred calling people down to her office. She always knocked, regardless of the hour or the circumstance. Although she was a bit lenient in Will’s case, she always knocked. Kate fusses a moment with the pile of clothing still on her desk from the day before and moves to kick her shoes back in line against the wall.

Magnus watches quietly, seemingly patient as she waits. Something isn’t right though, something’s off Kate knows. There’s something wrong. It was late, really late. Magnus made a point not to stop by this late unless it was an emergency. The life they lived was far from normal, far from routine, but one of the things they could always count on was being left alone on their nights off.

“If this is about-“ Kate stops; she’s placed the look that seems to shimmer over Magnus’ face. It’s the look; the one Kate had seen levied at Henry and Will, at Biggie. She had seen it flit across Magnus's face when Nikola turned his back and when Magnus spoke of her father. Turned toward her, Kate finds the look makes her blood run cold. It's one part calm reassurance, pity, and understanding and one part steely comfort and determination. Kate backs up until her knees hit the bed and in what is the biggest cliché ever, all she can do is moan. "No."

Magnus gives her a moment, standing in the middle of the rug, one foot edged out in front of the other. She waits until Kate pulls her knees up, tight, against her chest and drops her head to her bent knees before moving to take a step forward. She's crouched at the end of the bed, one hand on the afghan there, the other resting gently on Kate's shin.

"There was an accident," she whispers as if that alone could take away the pain the blow delivers.

She knows Magnus is expecting tears. That was the normal reaction wasn’t it? Tears and screaming, general distraught behavior. Kate blinks.

“Thad?” His name washes over her icy hot and then cold, numb.

There’s something itchy now under her skin, something prickly. That’s going numb now too, disappearing. “Is he ok?”

She doesn’t need to ask, not really, not when the answer’s been written on Magnus’ face since she had walked in. “I’m sorry Kate.”

She wasn’t sorry. Magnus didn’t do sorry. Sorry was Will’s thing, it was the curse of his empathy. This wasn’t about empathy, this was about letting her down easy. There was grace in that, poise. Kate didn’t need empathy. It was discretion that she needed. Discression was something that Magnus understood.

There are slivers of pain, bright hot against her skin. Her fingers are tacky, sticky red like ruminants of sickly sweet strawberries dried around her puckered mouth. Magnus’ palms slide over Kate’s forearms. Her fingers wrap around Kate’s, pulling them free to rest against her own skin. Kate’s nails dig deeper. It hurts more this way, somehow. The way the bones in her hands ache, conscious of the pain she’s now inflicting. It aches, but it’s better than watching her hands tremble.

"What happened?" Her voice is even, calm.

"Drive by shooting, darling."

How? When? Where? Why? "No." It all tumbles out before she can take another breath.

"About an hour ago."

"No." Kate shakes her head this time and Magnus stops to shush her. The room is silent, deafeningly so. "He wouldn't. He can't."

"It appears to be an accident, bad neighborhood, wrong house."

"Bullshit." Kate snaps, raising her head to glare at the woman before her. "I told you-"

"Thad's dead, Kate." Magnus’ voice is gentle, but the words sting.

There are so many things she wants to say: he swore, he promised, he can’t be.

"I know." Magnus's hand is on her face, soothing as she stands to take a seat on the bed. "I know."

"I want to see him. Here. I want-" It’s all fading away. She wants to close her eyes and fall into whatever this is, the black. It’s dark and damp and empty, like lying in a warm bath listening to the breeze rustle the curtains. It feels safe, sheltered from the world.

"You're not his next of kin. Unfortunately there's nothing I can do about that. If there are other arrangements I could make, I’ll see to them right away."

It had been her idea, her dumb idea, to leave their mother as their next of kin. She hadn’t wanted to deal with the paperwork, hadn’t wanted the responsibility. She hadn’t wanted Thad to be the one left picking up her mess when her luck finally ran out. She was the ticking time bomb.

Magnus wraps an arm around her, pulling her close, tugging all the pieces back into place. There’s no room for argument here.

"I'll discuss it with your mother if you would like." Magnus breathes into her hair, slow, deep, and calm. How could she? How could she be so calm? It’s making Kate feel a bit manic, crazy. She’s pushing it all away but it just keeps coming, all these feelings. It’s numb and then it hurts. She can’t breathe. She can’t stop swallowing down air. Her teeth grind against her bottom lip until it aches.

"No. No, I should. Does she-?" Kate swallows. She didn't think much of her family but she loved them fiercely. She loved her mom fiercely. She didn't want her to find out from someone else, even if it was Magnus. "Phone?" Kate coughs a couple of times before she manages to get the word out. Her cell is on her bedside table but she's unwilling to extricate herself from Magnus' hold. She’s still waiting to fall apart. That’s what happened. That’s what was supposed to happen. You weren’t supposed to be able to hold it together, but she could.

Magnus pulls her phone free from her pocket without loosening her grip and Kate shifts, resting the side of her face against Magnus's shoulder as she dials from memory. She’s not deluded, she know this is going to be the worst phone call of her life, but there’s relief in hearing the phone on the other end of the line begin to ring.

 

Magnus had sat with her during the call, through the cursing and the yelling, Hindi mixed with English and the inevitable hang up. There had been tears, choked and stilted on her part. Tears that had burned like acid in her throat, but the words thrown in anger through the phone had felt good, real, tangible, a series of perfectly executed jabs that left the speedball quivering.

Kate sat with the phone pressed against her ear, waiting for more, for words, for tears, something more than the silence. Magnus moves through the space surrounding her, carefully prying the phone from her grasp, and soothing away her protest.

 

The night passes mainly in silence, quiet and eerie. Magnus's whisperings are the only thing that keeps her from feeling like she was drowning. There’s too much noise in her head and not enough at the same time.

She keeps waiting, but the world hasn’t stopped, hasn’t changed. She would wake up in the morning and do her job. She would call her mom back and apologize for all the shit she had said. Thad was a much her family as he was Kate's. She would promise to fix this. She didn’t know how, but she had to fix it. Her whole life she had always cleaned up other people’s messes, she had made a career out of taking advantage of their slip ups. She could negotiate her way into almost any deal, but she didn’t know what to do now.

She had never been good at this, crying over the sink, swallowing toothpaste to stop it from choking her. She would be a bit distracted for a day or two, worried she would be the next one that got jammed up and shanked, or beat down in an ally, be the one who was fucked when the bullet missed her leg or her shoulder and hit her heart instead. These were the dreams she had, the reality she avoided.

The next few nights would be long, lonely. She would fill them the best way she knew how, with booze and unfamiliar faces. She would keep herself safe, unattached. She didn’t want anyone missing her when the time came. She didn’t want to miss them.

It’s a long night that first night, shushed by Magnus, held close, as they breathe together, floral tickling her nose. There are times she wants to run. She’s being stifled and she wants to hit something, make something hurt, someone, make herself hurt.

The sun’s peaking around the curtains now, muted golden rays tickling the floor as Magnus tucks her into bed and pulls over a chair. Kate’s reluctant to allow herself to sleep. There’s nothing good there lurking behind her closed eyes; it’s dark and black and unpredictable. She feels small, curled under the covers, eyes pressed tightly shut, praying she won’t wake screaming. She’s a child waiting for a nightmare and there’s no one who can stop it.

 

Magnus looks tired when he finds her early the next morning on the couch in her office, a blanket still draped across one of her shoulders.

“Crisis in Lagos again? Are people hallucinating exploding stars this time?” He asks hoping for a smile.

Magnus sighs, tipping her head to the side, a tired confirmation of the fact their work in Nigeria is far from done, and draws her feet from the cushion so that he can sit turned toward her.

“SDPD called last night. Kate’s brother,”

“Thad,” Will supplies with a nod, his frown matching hers now.

“He died last night.”

He’s quiet for a moment, waiting to see if the worry creasing the corners of her eyes will find its way into words. “Odion called a moment ago.” She says finally. “They’re having more trouble than we expected eradicating the virus. They’ll be sending more of their quarantined guests to us.”

“Did you want me to go and see what I can do to help out?”

“Your skills will be of better use here.”

It’s a cop out if he’s ever seen one, but he knows this can’t be easy for her, another major crisis so close on the heels of the Cabal, another death so close to Ashley’s. “How is she holding up?”

“As well as can be expected. I shut off her alarm before I left; she’ll be up late. If you could find a moment to talk with her before the staff meeting…”

“Late? Could you be a bit more specific?” Will suppresses a smile. "I know my hand to hand needs some work, but I try not to kick my own ass before noon. I prefer to walk into staff meetings, crawling into the room doesn't have quite the same effect."

 

It’s late by the time she gets up. Magnus' chair is cold to the touch, empty except for a neatly scripted note. They aren’t words of apology or sympathy, they’re seven words of quiet, unobtrusive invitation I'll be in my office all day. -HM Kate breaths a sigh of relief. Nothing had changed.

There’s an afternoon briefing at quarter to one. She has time. It’s not enough time for the shower she’ll need but there’s enough time for a quick tour around the gym. She needs to work the stiffness out of her limbs, clear her mind.

She throws on a pair of sweats and hangs a sharp right outside her door, ignoring the breakfast tray Biggie had left there. Breakfast wasn't really her thing, even after coming to the Sanctuary. She never ate before a workout. Breakfast was for people with too much time on their hands, she had better things to do than lament over a bowl of soggy cereal. Cold pizza at 3am had always suited her better, a quick snack before bed.

There's someone in the gym, she can hear them as she rounds the final corner and for a second she reconsiders. She needs be alone, to forget what it felt like to be held, to hold someone. She needed to forget gummy smiles and badly drawn birthday cards. She needs to forget the joy that had come with surprise phone calls, good news, in the middle of the night the San Diego area code lit blue against the black screen.

She wants to forget, wants to leave. She stands for a moment and then steps forward. It’s habit that finally pushes her forward through the door. It’s her morning routine, the slow warm ups and the stretches. The feel of the room as it pulses with the music she pumps through the stereo. She had been left to herself most mornings for the better part of a year; things around here hadn’t changed since she had joined the team. It’s late today, however, she’s intruding.

It's Will, motions slow in careful practice as he blocks and jabs in the pattern she had been teaching him. There's a bit of flare in one of the uppercuts and Kate can't help but smile. He had asked Magnus for help again. He must be sick of getting his butt kicked during their practice sessions.

"How's it going?" she asks dropping a water bottle into the corner when he stops.

He shrugs and wipes a hand against his forehead. "How are you holding up?"

She raises an eyebrow at him and returns his shrug. "Fine."

He nods and backs away a bit. "You want the bags?"

She smirks and in response sends one swinging in a perfect arc.

 

They work in compatible silence for a while. Will's more labored breathing is faintly audible over the creak of the bags and her light step. She moves through the motions on autopilot until her step falters and the heavy bag grazes her shoulder sending her reeling back.

"Whoa," Will's arm wraps around her shoulder, stopping her. "Careful."

She spins to level him with a glare, always so careful he was, and instead finds herself giving him a watery smile. "Sorry."

His eyebrows lift in concert. "You ok?"

She hates the way this feels. He’s always been able to open her up, pull her apart at the seams.

She glances down at her feet with a sigh before shaking her head. "I-" She swallows and sighs again, allowing herself to lean into his impromptu embrace.

“Kate. Kate, Kate.” It’s her name against her ear, soft and persistent, gently prying as she tries to ignore him.

It takes her a moment to realize that she's clinging to him, fists wound in the faded grey fabric of his t-shirt. "Will?"

“Shhh.” He hushes as she pauses to slide her face against the collar of his shirt leaving it damp. She brushes her lips against his neck. His skin is slightly salty, damp from the workout she had interrupted with her stumble.

“Kate.”

She pauses then, to draw in a breath and press her forehead to his shoulder.

“Talk to me,” he whispers and she shudders.

“Can’t.” Her lips form the words but there’s no sound as she exhales. It’s suddenly too much. It’s all too much. He’s not supposed to care, not when she doesn’t. She wants him to stop. She wants it to stop. He can make it stop.

Her fingers slip down the zipper of his sweatshirt until he presses her to his chest. Her fingers curl into his stomach as he holds her there.

“Hey, hey slow down a minute.”

“Please?”

"Sorry." There's so much regret there that for a moment it feels like she can't breathe. Will, she wants to say, Will please, but instead she sucks in another breathe and pushes away from him, palms flat on his chest.

"I'll see you at staff." There's scorn and venom there; it stings her as much as it hurts him but she doesn't allow herself to think about that as she moves across the room toward the cardio equipment. She should leave she knows, but she can't, not yet.

He stays, seemingly as unwilling as she is to move from the space they’re occupying. He goes back to his workout as she pushes away any thought that he might be staying for her sake. He was a glutton for punishment. She would never admit it but there was a part of her that admired him for it. It took a lot to be that selfless, to put up with everyone's bs bullshit crap and then stand there asking for more.

"Don't you have work to do?" She snaps when he hasn't left and she's halfway through her usual circuit on the treadmill.

“Kate.” He sighs and drops the free weight he had been working with.

She frowns at him, increasing the speed on the treadmill, drowning his words in the hum of the machine.

“I’m not asking you to talk to me.” He says in fits in starts around the sound of her footsteps. “I don’t expect you to talk to me, but I’m here if you want to.”

“Yeah ok,” she says. She’s not listening. There’s too much there that she doesn’t want to hear and he knows it. He shuts up and gathers his stuff from where it had scattered across the floor, over the bench, during the course of his workout. He pauses at the door and then turns away.

He had said something that she hadn’t heard. She had missed what he had said but she gasps through the sudden tightness in her chest all the same. I’m sorry Kate. I’m here. She didn’t need to hear him. She slams the emergency stop button on the treadmill with the heel of her hand. The belt has slowed, but hasn’t stopped completely as she falls to her knees. It burns, the friction, but she won’t notice the snags and scuff marks until later.

 

She walks into the staff meeting late, her hair a half-dry frizzy halo, a scowl fixed to her face like a mask. Magnus looks mildly surprised as she strolls in through the open door without pause. Will raises a hand in greeting, and Hank looks scared, worried she’ll turn and deck him for sticking his foot in his mouth. She narrows her eyes at him, there’s no reason to let him off the hook, and flings herself into an armchair. She pokes at the armrest for a moment, settling in when no one asks her to leave.

Will has a couple of points of concern regarding their new intakes. It’s nothing that interests her. There are potential issues with providing the appropriate habitat. There seems to be some as of yet undiscovered dietary restrictions. The list goes on. Magnus and Will keep exchanging looks as he talks. It’s one of those looks, pointed, filled with silent acknowledgement. Kate’s not seeing the point today as she stifles a yawn and slips her feet up over the arm of the large leather chair.

The back and forth continues. This was the sort of stuff she would catch them discussing if she showed up to a briefing early. This was the litany the pair argued about after she and Hank had left to do actual work. Whatever they had been doing this morning, whatever they had planned for later was messing with their usual routine.

Will finishes with some pointed remark as Kate’s head begins to ache dully. Magnus raises another point of interest, something to do with Hank and Magnus turns to hand out assignments. It's the usual fare: cleaning, cooking, feedings, inventory. Kate's pleased to find her usual tasks haven't been reassigned. It's the day to day monotony, nothing special, not the mission she had been hoping for, but it would be enough to keep her busy.

"Kate." Magnus murmurs as Will and Hank get up to leave. Kate hadn't been planning on moving, but she shifts in her seat, suddenly feeling as if perhaps she should have. "If you need time-"

Kate cuts her off, rolling her eyes as her feet hit the floor. "I know you said you wanted me to cover part of the afternoon feeding but I'm supposed to be meeting Remmy at three."

"Send Will to the meet." Magnus’ suggestion comes off as conversational, but Kate knows a copout when she sees one. Magnus hadn’t spent the morning on a conference call or dealt with some crisis halfway around the world. Will had gone straight to Magnus when he had left the gym. They hadn’t discussed the new residents because they had been discussing her.

Will was always overly cautious. She was practical, but it wasn’t like Magnus to play to his overzealous care. With Magnus, it was all about assessing risk. She saw Kate as a liability; it was the only explanation. Life had never been fair, but this was downright unreasonable and she knew Magnus knew that. Whatever bull Will had been feeding her, Kate needed to set the record straight. "I've been working on him for weeks."

"The information's not going anywhere."

"I don't give a crap. You had Mcrae send someone to Morocco so that I would be here in case Remmy decided to give it up. He’s my contact. I’m the one that had to suffer through his delusional ramblings. I’m the one that makes the deal.”

"I understand your frustration, but I want you to take it easy for a couple of days.”

Kate’s mouth goes sour as her stomach twists. “You can’t be serious. We talked about this yesterday. We have everything set up; you signed off on it. You can’t ruin this just because Will’s being an idiot.”

Yesterday that was it, wasn’t it? There was suddenly an invisible line through her life. There would always be yesterday, that day, and today. It was one more day in a line of many where her brother had managed to mess with her life.

”You have your answer." Magnus drops the gentle note her voice had possessed and sets her mouth in a firm line. "You're welcome to continue arguing but I'm not changing my mind."

And there it was, Magnus perfectly composed acting as though they were discussing normal real world affairs, paint chips and wood stains, while Kate’s fury slowly unwound itself, curling her fingers and stiffening her back.

"Last time I checked I'm perfectly capable of doing my job."

"I would never imply otherwise."

"I think you just did." It’s sharp and biting, hysteria masked in fury. She needs to get out of there. She sees it more on Magnus' face than feels it, the magnitude of her mistake. She had passed a line, jumped over it with ignorant glee and there was no going back, no fixing it, not now, possibly not ever.

She slams the door to her room, the sharp crack hardly registering as she crumples onto the bed. She's shaking and nauseated and all she wants to do is puke but she can't bring herself to move. Her hand is tangled in her hair and it won't free itself from its gentle tugging to allow her to push herself up from the mass of pillows. She feels like she had the first time she had pointed a gun at someone and pulled the trigger. She'd been sixteen and jaded, not much had changed since then. She still can’t find enough air to fill her lungs.

Biggie had left breakfast earlier, something that smelled like bacon and eggs, greasy, extra slabs of butter on the toast if his constant presence was any indication. She hadn't bothered to look though. She wasn't hungry and she wasn't interested in moving. All she wanted to do was go back to sleep.

He's back again so she knows it must be nearing noon. He was predictable like that. It was maddening.

She can hear him opening the curtains, the too loud scrap of the metal rings against the curtain rod. She can't see the sun, if there was any, the blankets tucked firmly over her head shielded her from the unpleasant recognition that yet another day had passed without her presence.

"You're getting up." There's no please, no question, or offer. It’s a simple statement of a fact. She takes it as a challenge. She knew he expected her to and she wouldn't want to deprive him of yet another way to needle her.

"Go away." She kicks irritably at the ghost of his presence at the end of her bed. It’s too late for that, however, he's already prying blankets and sheets out from under her head careful not to tangle his long nails in her hair or snag them in her t-shirt. She tucks the blankets back into place with an almost frantic energy, but his careful work is twice as fast as hers is and all too soon she's blinking in the light.

"Up," he grunts, hand under her elbows and then around her arms as he pulls her into a seated position and then to her feet.

She's aware now of the faint lingering smell of cinnamon and basil. She had heard the bath running earlier and had thought nothing of it. The sound had been soothing, a gentle cascade weaving in and out of her waking dreams.

"I'm not-" she starts, stopping when she realizes she has little say in the matter, her feet barely touching the ground as she's half carried, half dragged into the bathroom.

She stands staring at him, mirroring his posture, arms crossed. "Five minutes." He says with none of the sympathy she had expected and closes the door.

He warns her again at two minutes, but it's not until his count reaches sixty... fifty nine, that she stares down at her bare feet and swears. She's naked and staring at the tub with a pissed off frown by the time he reaches thirty but she waits until he reaches five to stick her toe in past the sheen of bubbles and swear at the overheated water.

He gives her a moment to get settled and then comes in, bustling around, laying out her clothes and a pair of towels. On his way out, he bends to scoop her hair from the water. She yanks the sodden mess from his grasp and tips her head back covering it entirely in a film of white suds.

She sits and stares at the wall. It’s the same wall that had been there for the last year now, but it feels different now. It’s pissing her off.

"Would you like more hot water?" His question breaks off the glare she had leveled at the faucet.

"No," she turns to frown at him.

He nods, picking up a towel and holds it out toward her. She rolls her eyes and ducks back under the water, surprised to find it a murky grey, the sheen of bubbles gone. She surfaces a moment later and frowns at him again. "I can get out of the tub myself."

He waits a moment longer and then pads out leaving the towel draped over the back of a chair.

She considers standing wrapped in the towel until he comes by again. He has infinite patience. She, however, does not and this little game of theirs is beginning to bore her. She dresses slowly, underwear, sweats, t-shirt, all faded and well worn, all lacking the usual hint of Sanctuary laundry detergent. There's something comforting in this, in the fact that her laundry smells faintly of something from her childhood, that he had known to skip the bra and pick out a comfortable pair underwear, a pair so practical she wondered what she'd been on when she'd bought them.

Dressed, she stands watching her hair drip onto the floor. She's not playing anymore, she's tired, really tired, down to the bone tired. She would curl up on the floor if she could, or sink into the overstuffed chair Magnus had decorated the corner with before she had moved in, but she doesn't have the energy, and so she stands.

Large hands on both her shoulders guide her to the sink and rinse the last of the soapy film from her hair with warm water. The same hands dry her hair and wrap it in a towel before leading her back to bed. The sheets have been changed, flannel with stripes faded into muted hues of grey. They smell like the outdoors, warmth and rain. She sinks into the middle of the bed and draws thick blankets up under her chin. There's a tray nearby with her lunch: curried chicken, a slice of pizza, mini burgers, and a bowl of tomato soup. She'll pick at it when he leaves but she won't eat much. She'll drift back to sleep until he returns to rouse her again.

She'll snark and bicker and he'll wrap her in an oversized robe or shove a sweatshirt over her head, cocoon her in a blanket. She'll fuss and whine but allow herself to be shepherded down the hall to the media room, or the library, the living room or the kitchen. He would hand her a book, stick in a movie, or hand her a basket of knick knacks to sort. He would keep an eye on her, bring her dinner, cajole her into eating something before carrying her tenderly back to bed as she fussed half asleep. He would sit with her until she woke in the middle of the night, crying, screaming, or simply hungry and he would comfort her or the two of them would trek down to the kitchen where she would eat until she feel asleep, forehead resting on deep mahogany.

She would wake the next morning to a cold breakfast and the sound of her curtains being drawn open.

 

She dreams that she runs away, runs away from the need to care and the constant hovering she can’t bring herself to stop no matter how much it hurts. She dreams she packs a bag and catches the first flight out of here.

Thad’s there, not the Thad she remembers but there’s a part of him that hovers in the dry heat, shimmering over the desperately parched grass scattered through the sandy soil. She would get there as the sun was setting, red arms lashed out to paint the sky golden.

She knows there would be people there behind the boarded up walls and windows, living people, but in her dreams they’re all ghosts too. The house is empty, darker than it had been outside, a prelude to the falling night.

She would flick the porch light on first and then pull a chair out from under the kitchen table, plywood on wobbly legs and sit. It’s quiet despite the cars driving by and the kids playing across the street. The refrigerator hums with the occasional squeak; she can smell him through the lingering scent of coffee. It’s odd longing for someone this way, hoping to catch a glimpse of them out of the corner of her eye. It’s something better suited for a romantic comedy than her life. Thad would be disappointed, creeped out. He had been young, so young. He never had the chance to understand, missing someone made every inch of you ache.

It’s dark outside now. The kitchen a black veil, the dry sink blinking light reflected from the bare light bulb on the other side of the window.

It’s late, she’s yawning. She shuffles down the hall toward the bedrooms. She hasn’t been here, the layout’s foreign, her movement is hindered by fits and starts as she moves around the couch, a coffee table, discarded sneakers. The faucet in the bathroom drips a sharp tap tap as she passes by.

She knows it’s his room before she reaches the hall. It's the only room with the door shut. He had always been like that, a sullen teenager with a need for uninterrupted privacy. She twists the handle and kicks the bottom to push it open, a memory of another long forgotten place.

There's no blub in the overhead light fixture when she flips the switch. There's a lamp on the desk and one by the bed. She had given him that desk. She had found it by a dumpster and brought it home one afternoon. The varnish was worn and bubbling. It had been old and tattered when she'd found it. She's surprised he had bothered with moving it all the way down here. It would've cost him less to pick up something newer at the goodwill.

His bed is made. It's the one thing their mother had always insisted on. The blanket at the end of the bed is crooked and the sheet's not quite pulled up to the wall, but the bed was made, his sneakers aligned near the head of the bed.

She takes a seat on the blanket and falls back. She had left her bag in the kitchen. She's suddenly exhausted, worn thin. She turns and slides up the bed, boots still on. There's a t-shirt under the pillow. She sheds her leather jacket, t-shirt, tank top, bra. She throws her saint bracelets and gloves on top of the mess of clothes and slips his shirt on. It smells warm, masculine. There's a hint of Chicago summer in the smell.

She curls into the bed and exhales lost to sleep.

 

Magnus has him running interference on a couple of local ops while she deals with the crisis in Africa. The virus was spreading and they had yet to find a way to stop it. He had asked her a couple of times to let him go and check it out, but she seems content to run the whole thing from behind her desk in Old City.

It’s not exactly standard procedure, but he’s not surprised. He’s needed here to pull Magnus from her work, to stop Kate from blowing up Henry’s lab when she starts fiddling with his equipment. Magnus could go to Africa herself, but she won’t, not when she has a house to run, with Kate to watch over.

Magnus hasn’t asked much about Kate, but he knows she’s wondering, watching him for signs that things aren’t going well. He’s careful not to let his worry and frustration show but he’s exhausted, they all are.

 

He finds her in her room. She’s curled up in the middle of her bed with his t-shirt on. He steps closer and realizes that what he had first assumed was a shirt he’d tossed in the laundry that morning was in fact not the shirt she was wearing. She was wearing a shirt he’d folded and stuck in his drawer the prior afternoon.

Will takes a moment to seal away his annoyance at the invasion to his privacy and takes a seat cautiously on the side of her bed. “How are you doing?”

She stares at him darkly and pulls her knees into her chest. “You said I could have his stuff.” She sounds raw and exhausted. He hadn't seen her in days. No one had. The Big Guy had kept them well away. "Needs her rest." He had grunted as if that were enough to explain the sudden wall in which he had enclosed her. Will knew that that was true, he also knew it had more to do with the screaming match Kate had had with Magnus late into the night after the staff meeting the prior week.

Kate had gone out. Not to meet Remy, she wasn't an idiot, but she had gone out, blowing off most of her responsibilities for the day. He had been up when she'd returned but he'd held back, unseen, knowing it wouldn't do any good to get involved. Magnus's disapproval, her concern, was more than enough to prove the point. He hadn’t counted on Kate’s raw temper flaring, Magnus’ stoic calm only inflaming the situation, building on Kate’s previous frustration.

Kate was still furious. It's not readily apparent but it's there in the ache in her eyes, the way she leans forward, almost hopeful that his being here meant something had changed.

“Magnus made arrangements to have his stuff shipped. It’s going to take a while.” He reminds her as gently as he dares.

She draws her knees further into her chest and continues to frown at him.

She’s a contradiction. Watching her was enough to make him bite back his own frustration. He wanted so desperately to hold her, to comfort her in the way that she asked. Her voice rasped slightly, her throat raw from the tears still pooling in her eyes. She hadn’t cried, not enough to leave her eyes puffy anyway. He shifts his weight, moving imperceptibly in her direction, slow and cautious. She won’t let him near her, won’t let him help. She’s rough and abrasive, tough. She was used to doing this on her own. She wants to be left alone and yet she can’t bring herself to ask. He moves forward and she pushes back instead.

“Do you want to fly down and-“

“-See the shithole he lived in. Yeah, that’s exactly how I want to spend the rest of my week.”

"I could go."

"And hang out with all your cop friends while they dick around. That's brilliant Will."

“You want me to go.” He says calmly, says it for her, not waiting for her to respond to continue. She’s disappointed. “Leave my shirt in the wash when you’re done with it. All I ask is that it’s in one piece.”

“I’ve got a better idea,” she purrs, uncurling to kneel on the bed. “Why don’t you come over here and take it off me. You know you want too. All righteous and pissed because I broke into your room and went through your stuff when I could’ve asked. Come on Z-man, come show me how the game is played.”

“Kate,” He’s still standing beside the bed despite his better judgment. Taking a step back would only further the distance she insisted on keeping between them. “I know you’re upset.”

The frown in back, overlaid by a predatory glimmer. “Don’t be a baby William. We all know how we feel about those. All teary eyed and want want want. The only thing you want is me.” She grins. “I can see it in your eyes. There’s no hiding it.”

“It doesn’t matter what I want.” He breathes out evenly, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Because I refuse to believe this is what you want. I’m sorry if that pisses you off, but right now whether you know it or not you’re going through a lot and I won’t help you make decisions you might regret.”

“Bullshit,’ her arm aligns with his as her palm presses into his shoulder. “Get out of here.”

He waits outside the door for a moment listening. There's not a single sound from inside. He waits to hear the bed rustle, or to hear her feet on the floor but the sound never comes and he leaves.

 

She goes out that night wearing his shirt. It's stupid she knows but she does it anyway. She can't sleep, she won't. Sleeping meant dreaming and she couldn't deal with that right now, not with the way her heart stings with the ache on Will's face. When she dreams she dreams of him, not Will, but Thad. Things were like they had been before. He was there alive and real. She was working freelance. There wasn't anyone to put the guilt and the shame in her head. There wasn't anyone to disappoint and no one else to call the shots. It was just the two of them and right now, now he couldn't be what she needed.

She needed this, hot, dirty, and anonymous. Magnus would have a conniption if she knew. It's a thought that makes her laugh when she lets herself think about it. Most of the time she spends her night trying not to think of Magnus, but in those rare moments wiping lipstick from around her mouth or sweat from her forehead, she laughs. It's a simple joy, the high that comes from living on the edge, from living by her own rules. There wasn't anything else like it.

She's pretty sure the first guy she had blown had sent all his buddies back to see her before sending word around the bar. She didn't care if they thought she was easy. She's a hundred and twenty three miles away and no one knows her here. She wouldn't be coming back. This was a one time stop, just the way she liked it.

"You're lucky Andy thinks you're hot." There's a girl in the doorway now watching Kate as she leans against the side of a row of stalls.

"He can kick me out if he wants. There's plenty of other places in this town."

"You say that like you would know." The girl smiles softly, wistfully. It's almost sweet, almost.

"Small towns have to be good for something don't they?"

The girl laughs, shrugging one shoulder. "I can tell them to all go home if you want."

"Now why would I want that?" Kate says it softly but the girl seems taken aback, suddenly flushed and embarrassed. "Relax." Kate holds up a hand. "I wasn't telling you off."

"Oh." The girl twirls a loose strand of chestnut colored hair around her finger. "So it'd be ok if we uh-" she licks her lips as Kate watches her with darkening eyes. "We could get out of here. I've got a place at the end of the block."

This obviously isn't the girl's apartment. The decor screams bachelor and the mess is all the secondary confirmation she needs but she doesn't press. There's no need. It makes no difference to her and the girl's obviously comfortable here so there's no chance someone unexpected is going to walk in on them. Kate wouldn't normally mind if someone did, but she's not looking for trouble, she's looking to forget and getting hauled off and picked up by Magnus wouldn't do any good in that department.

"Got a name?" Kate asks because the girl is starting to fidget and she needs to relax. Kate doesn't want to work for it she just wants. The back of her throat is raw and her scalp aches. Her knees probably look like she skid a hundred feet across pavement and she's pretty sure there are bruises on her arms from one particularly overzealous guy.

"You're into girls too?" The girl asks and Kate has to fight the urge to sigh. Instead, she nods and flicks on the radio, spinning the dial until she finds something she figures won't offend either of their sensibilities too much.

"April." The girl finally whispers, seemingly emboldened by Kate's turned back, her fingers ghosting over the back of Kate's neck. "You're too pretty for them." She whispers.

"I used to think that." Kate laughs. "Still do sometimes. Most of the time I really don't care."

"You really aren't from around here, are you?"

"Maybe,” Kate can't help but smirk. "Or maybe I'm really bitter and not half as good at hiding it as you are."

April looks surprised for a moment and then grins at her. "I don't break." Her eyes crinkle and then she's reaching over, crushing her mouth to Kate's. It's rough. Their teeth clink together and Kate swears she can feel the vibrations in her toes.

"For the record." Kate says when April's mouth drops open and wet to her neck. "When you're this good, I don't care if you have a cock or not."

"I haven't even started yet." April smirks and all Kate can do is groan.

Kate's hands are everywhere. It's almost embarrassing how pathetic she is. She's not thinking straight. She would feel bad for April but the girl seemed to be enjoying herself immensely trying to find ways to remove Kate's clothing without having to remove her mouth or hands from Kate's skin. April for her part in all this has all of her clothes on. Well almost all of her clothes, Kate notes, spying April's plain cotton print underwear flung on the floor by the door.

"You always fuck with your boots on?"

"Only when I have to spend an eternity thinking about all the guys you were blowing."

Kate's chuckle is breathless not low and hot like she had hoped. "If I had known you were hanging out nursing the same warm beer for three hours I wouldn't have bothered."

Kate's t-shirt gets caught on her bracelet and April rips it free, the stray threads left behind tickle Kate's damp skin.

Kate fumbles for the buttons on April's dress shirt and they're crashing back into furniture.

"Leave it." April bats her hand away to press her wrist into the back of the couch. "You're done tormenting me."

"Right." Kate says as if that makes some sort of sense to her and lets her head fall back. She's slumped low, almost sitting on the floor with her head pressed into a cushion.

It's not about comfort. She's laying herself bare, opening herself up to the assault. She had been craving this for days, this feeling, high and numb, no room for anything but breathing. She exhales in what sounds like a plea for more. It's not about invitation anymore, it's all about now, oh god now.

April has backed off and is squatting in front of her, both her hands on Kate's face, watching. "You're going to kill someone some day looking like this."

Kate's lips work to form another please.

"I'd make you go down on me like the dirty skank you think you are, but I think you'd get off on that."

Kate nods distracted reaching to try and claw through fabric, desperate for the feel of skin.

Judgment passed, April slips forward, pushing Kate up onto the couch. She's not gentle, they'll be bruises in the morning, but there's an almost tenderness there now. I'm going to break you and it's going to be beautiful it seems to say. Kate's bare thigh is damp where April straddles it, grinding down as she leans in for a kiss.

She pinches Kate's nipple, tugging hard as she bites down on Kate's lip. Kate's hips buck and she forces herself to breathe, to stay conscious. She's not coming, but this feels fucking amazing. The world's a bit black around the edges and all too slow and yet it’s all passing by, grains of sand through her fingers, fast forward and half speed at the same time.

April's hand slips between her legs and Kate swears at the suddenness of it all. The words are hoarse and rasping as she crumples back into the couch. "Shit." She groans, tossing her head across her shoulders. "Sorry."

"S'ok." April mumbles, lip drawn between her teeth as she rocks against Kate's thigh. There's a moment of silence, hot breathing and then April whimpers, tenses and crumples.

"Amazing." April mutters, her lips against Kate's neck, body flush with Kate's. The room's growing cold now that the sudden high is wearing off. It never lasted long; it's the curse of being an adrenaline junky. One fix was never enough.

"Can't move." Kate moans happily, throwing an arm over April's lower back.

"Good." April laughs suddenly. "Where the hell were you last week?"

"I was about to ask you that."

And with that they're moving, shifting, wincing. April retrieves most of Kate's clothes from the floor as Kate fumbles to put them back on.

"Do you need a ride somewhere?"

Kate scrubs a hand over her eyes to focus them and squints at the clock across the room. "My car's parked down the block. I should get going."

"I wish you'd give me your number if I asked."

"Not going to happen. I can't say I'm not tempted though."

"You know where to find me."

"You better not still be here if I come back looking. This place doesn't deserve you."

April shakes her head and sweeps her hair up into a knot at the back of her head. "You'd think so wouldn't you. It's not that simple though."

"Never is." Kate grimaces. She would know, it never is.

 

She's missed the staff meeting by the time she manages to make it back to the Sanctuary. She had stopped in a parking lot of an all night convenience store to take a nap and ended up getting a full night's sleep. She wouldn’t be back on the roster, not exactly. Magnus would still be pissed. Kate isn't surprised, someone like Magnus was bound to hold a grudge over stupid shit like this. Holding a grudge over anything reasonable would be far too improper and out of character. Don't hold a grudge against Jack the Ripper, hold one against the girl whose life blows chunks.

She doesn't bother with a repeat of the last meeting she had attended. She’s tired still and wholly uninterested. She would be showing up for the small talk and the usual round of niceties. She's late enough that whatever they have to say has already been said, most of which probably wasn't for her ears anyway.

Her neck feels dislocated from the angle she had forced it into sleeping in the car and she reeks of the bar and other things she doesn't want to think about. Will's t-shirt smells equally as gross. It's covered in stains and dried bits of slurpee and other things on the 'we're not thinking about that' list. It's not as if she would've done anything about it, but she's pissed she hadn't noticed before she'd stood in the light streaming through the foyer.

She's going to have to do something about the shirt. It's screwed. Kate figures Will can't wear it anymore. She could cover it in goop from the house laundry and pretend it was as good as new, or she could have a little fun. Fun was always good.

The shirt looks like she had sent it through the industrial paper shredder Magnus keeps in the basement. She hadn't, although that would've been fun, she had a bit of fun with on of Hank's box cutter though and a pair of his wire cutters.

The shirt's a total piece of shit now. She folds it anyway. It doesn't make it look less like it's been trashed but she's making the effort to return it. She figures that's better than letting him think she had thrown it into the furnace or fed it to the nubbins, furry rodent garbage disposals that they were.

She leaves the shirt on top of the laundry Biggie had pressed earlier that morning and stalks up stairs. She had eaten when she had left the convenience store but that had been two hours ago, a slurpee and a bag of Doritos weren't going to cut it.

There aren't any leftovers with her name on them in the fridge. It's out of the ordinary but not a surprise. Her absence couldn't have been missed that day, not when it's pushing eleven, but she has no reason to assume they would bother leaving her food she likely wouldn’t eat.

She grabs a box of Lucky Charms and a half empty gallon of milk, leaving the jug lid and the bag clip from the cereal on the counter. She's not in the mood for unexpected visitors, or rather she assumes, they're not in the mood for her.

It's a long walk down to the bowels of the catacomb, dank and dark, but it gives her a chance to stretch her cramped legs and drop a sufficient trail of bread crumbs along the way. She's not hoping anyone would come find her, they could do that well enough without the hint, she's just looking to piss them off; another of her fuck ups for them to deal with.

She spends her day working her way around the catacombs. She straightens some of the inventory she knows Magnus has been meaning to get to and files the stacks of paperwork that have been strewn about, left by Will and his disdain for the walls of black cabinets.

It's quarter to seven when her stomach growls again, persistent in her hunger. She could stop by the kitchen and pick something up or she could hope that Magnus was in the mood to share. Her evening out and the monotony of the filing had left her lulled. She could make the effort, make the offer Magnus wasn’t willing the extend. They were going to have to make nice eventually.

 

"I fucked up." She says before Magnus has had a chance to raise her gaze from the table before her.

"You were out late." The observation comes with an out held salad plate. Magnus toes at the chair across from herself and continues. "I don't expect you'll be making a habit of it."

"I fell asleep in the car." It's the best excuse she has and she figures it's passable. She bets there isn't a single person in this place that hadn't noticed the odd shift in her usual nocturnal habits.

Magnus heaps Kate's bowl full of mixed greens and passes her the salad dressing. "I expect you're here to put yourself in my good graces."

"I filed a bunch of Will's stuff." Kate adds hopefully as Magus smiles.

"I want you back here by eleven."

"Every night. Promise."

Magnus passes her the bowl and begins filling a large dinner plate. Kate lets the cold bean salad go without note despite her general dislike of the dish and grins when Magnus reconsiders and adds another portion of the barbequed pork to the plate. "You should take it easy on Henry."

"He's the passive aggressive freak." Kate blurts out before she can stop herself and Magnus frowns, serving spoon of coleslaw hovering precariously above the linen tablecloth.

"Perhaps it would help if you'd stop throwing his electronic equipment down the stairs."

"It's not his- he does have to fix it though." Kate sighs miserably, stuffing her mouth with a piece of bread she had broken off the loaf. Magnus hands her a knife.

It's raining again. It hasn't stopped raining for weeks as far as she's concerned. Even so she can't be bothered to find any sort of clothing suitable for the real world. She's freezing but the tank top and short she's wearing are all she's interested in tonight. She's not looking to be warm, she's looking for someone to warm her up.

She's still looking to get back in Magnus' good graces. It appeared that her past transgressions were taken in good humor but she would be a fool to think that Magnus could be swayed by an evening full of shoptalk. Magnus was babying her, plying her with good humor. That wouldn’t last forever.

It would have been so easy then, that night at dinner, to do what she wanted to do now: slide a hand up a stocking clad leg, sneak a glance down the front of a low cut blouse. She's pretty sure Magnus would be game. Magnus did understand the need for work, the routine and the distraction. It's not a risk Kate's willing to take, not now, not with the outcome so wildly unpredictable. Calculated risks were more her thing, she wasn't a self destructive tramp after all.

Will was the choice pray of the night, polite, sympathetic, overly cerebral, and easy to wear down. He wouldn't want to hurt her feelings, ruin their friendship, and she would be able to trip him up when he started thinking too much. They had played this game and she had gotten close before. He was the perfect mark, except she couldn't find him. It was maddening how long it was taking her to track him down. She was beginning to consider breaking something so she could watch him come running. She was all for the thrill of the hunt, but this was downright infuriating.

"William." She sing songs over the radio and waits for the telltale hiss that lets her know he had toyed with his radio. "William."

There's a faint crackle and she knows he's considering responding. He hasn't turned the volume off; that was a good sign. "I know you're there."

"I know you know." He sounds bored but not impatient. He hadn't been sitting in with Magnus and she knows now he's not lost somewhere in the catacombs filing or working on the never ending artifact inventory. "How long have you been looking for me?"

"How-?" She stops herself with a smirk. William she had said, sweet and proper, like she wanted something. "I'm looking for a bit of entertainment." She takes a seat on the table at the end of the hall and swings her legs out in front of her. She had been wandering through the upper floors of some of the lesser used buildings. They're deserted this time of night. She won't be distracted, neither would he if he'd come out of hiding.

"Bored." He says in a way that she's not sure if he's referring to himself or her previously un-agitated state.

"I've been staring at this wall. It's pretty sweet. I bet this is still the original stone work too. It hasn't been plastered over anyway. It looks like it would give you some nasty rock rash. You should come check it out."

"You're not planning on trying to punch out the wall are you?"

"I'm not insane, William."

"I had to check." He's sounding weary now, tired like they had had this conversation a million times before. They hadn't, she knows they hadn't. This wasn't going how she had planned; this wasn't fun.

"Please." She grinds out, annoyed because it's a horribly petty word, because saying it like she meant it, like she wanted to, would only derail the conversation into lame shrink land.

"Where?"

She rattles off a couple of landmarks and waits. It takes him four minutes and forty two seconds to find her. She never gives him a chance to ask her what she really wants. She has them both backed up against the wall before he can get the words out.

"Kate," he says and, "we shouldn't," and "Kate, Kate." She's not listening. She's not listening to the words falling out of his mouth between her insistent kisses. She's not listening to the way his hands push against her shoulders and grapple for her wrists as she tugs at his shirt. She's not listening.

These aren't things she understands anymore. She understands the way her head rushes, and the need she feels to feel bare skin and rough stone, to see the rash of red from where his back scraps against the wall.

“There.” Her teeth graze his neck as her hands slide up his chest sandwiched between cotton and his warm flushed skin.

He leans his lips against the shell of her ear and whispers. “We have to stop.”

She freezes. She can’t move; he’s holding her too tight. She’s shaking. She really hates him. She’s horribly tired of this. He comes around and swallows her whole, blowing through her defenses, a breeze knocking over a house of cards. She’s made of steal and then he shows up with the sad eyes she can’t chase out of the mirror and she trembles.

“We’ve talked about this.”

She wants to pretend she can’t hear him, but it’s pointless. There’s no way to argue with the tears she can’t seem to swallow. They had talked, she had cried then too and he had sat with his hand running up and down her arm.

“I care.” He had whispered. “You know I do, but I can’t Kate. Not now.”

He had leaned forward to slip his arm around her shoulder and she had pulled away. It hurt, the pain, the new constant in her life.

He had promised to give her what she needed, then, the two of them held apart. He had conditions then, like now, she couldn’t live with.

She wanted him close, under her skin; she wanted to breathe through him. She didn’t want him to wipe her tears and hold her while she shook, her heart frozen to the core. She didn’t want tears, or his feelings. She didn’t want to listen. She didn’t want to think. He had promised to make it stop, but she wasn’t sure he could.

He was soft, all round edges and quiet words. She wanted it to hurt, needed it to hurt more than she did. He couldn’t give her that, not with the pain she saw in his eyes. She needed to make him forget first.

She kisses the sliver of skin she can reach above the neckline of his t-shirt and squirms to shift her arm enough to be able to flex her fingers, slow circles drawn against his skin over and over again. The friction against her fingertips quiets the screaming in her head.

“If you want to talk.” He moves an arm away from her back, his hand resting against the side of her face. “I’m here whenever, whatever you need, but I’m not going to help you hurt yourself. If you want to tear things apart you’re going to have to do that by yourself.”

“Please, please.” She hates it when he makes her beg. She needs him, why can’t he understand that?

“I know.” He whispers and it aches in her chest too. She hates him for that, but she can’t stop, not now, not now. “Why don’t we go see if we can find those cds you were looking for at that new place downtown?”

She doesn’t want the cds, not now, but he looks so hopeful, so open that she nods and rubs a hand against her cheek with a sigh. “OK.”

 

Everything is back to normal. Whatever crisis Magnus had been dealing with seems to have resolved itself. At least her office lights weren’t on all night as she worked steadily through the twilight into the morning. Kate’s not entirely sure what it was but she’s glad to see the older woman’s good cheer returning. It boded better on her behalf and seemed to ease the irritation and exhaustion Will couldn’t shake entirely.

They’re all back in the swing of things. At least that's what they all think. Will had asked her a couple of times after their excursion through the city if she wanted to talk and she had played the part. Everything was fine; she had kept her greedy hands to herself. She threw around smiles like Hank tossed out technobabble.

Everything was fine. She almost believed it. She wasn't sleeping. Sure she slept, but it went in spurts. Waking up again and again was too painful; there was a part of her that was afraid to fall asleep, afraid to dream. When she slept everything was perfect. There had never been a Sanctuary, Thad had never taken the job down south and she was the one that was the fuck up, taking every job she could get her hands on to feed them both, feed his gambling addiction and her need to put her life on the line.

He smiled at her over bowls of spagetti-o's and woke her up in the morning with blue raspberry icees left melting beside her bed, his singing in the shower better than any static filled radio snippet. He made them both peanut butter and jelly while she fought with the toaster their breakfast, poptarts from the back of the pantry, stuck inside.

He left the light on for her, always, when she was out a stakeout or working a job, in town or not. Every night she wasn't lying awake listening to him snore from the next room over that light had been on. The light itself had changed from apartment to apartment but there hadn't been a night when she had come home when it hadn't been on. Every night for ten years.

She dreams she talks him into kicking his habit. Seventeen is too young. Gambling wasn’t bad, but the debt, it's too risky. He hasn't dropped out of school because she won't let him. She won't let him make the same mistakes she did. He's constantly griping but she knows he doesn't really mind, the same way she doesn't mind it when he stacks his dishes, dirty and clean alike, in the dish drainer.

He'll finish school and then maybe, just maybe, he'll do the one thing their dad always wanted for them, he'll get a college education. It's a big if; they need the cash, they need to stay in one place long enough, Thad needs some motivation. She's not always around to bug him until he does his homework and he needs to bring his grades up. C's are respectable but they won't get him into any college that she knows of, not one their dad would be proud of anyway.

He brings home a B paper in history and she buys him the sneakers from the corner he's been stealing glances at when he thinks she's not looking. A month later when he brings home an A she takes him out to dinner. She can't stop grinning and he can't stop laughing at how stupid she looks, rough and tough Kate Freelander looks like a school girl with a crush. She punches him in the arm for saying that and he shuts up. He doesn't stop grinning though; he's proud too she knows.

 

It's like this every night, over and over again. It's the prefect fairytale, one the world can't touch. She craves this quiet respite, this world. It's a balancing act she know. There's what she wants and what she has. They've never been the same and they never will be. She had been stupid to think otherwise. She had been stupid to think that Magnus would care enough about her to help her take care of the only real family she had.

It's the same every morning. Her alarm goes off like some distant foghorn and she feels the waves of grief crushing her, crashing over her until she can't breathe. She wakes sobbing and swears she'll never sleep again. Lately she's been amping herself up on redbull. It's hard to function on that much adrenaline, even for her, but it's passable. It's one foot in front of the other, day in and day out, but Magnus smiles at her and Hank's back to joking, even Will has backed off with the worried glances and has cracked a joke or two.

 

She dreams she runs away. She passes through the stone walls of the Sanctuary and never looks back. That girl, Kate Freelander, doesn’t exist anymore.

She's not sure why she does it. Why she takes the plunge and steps into a situation she knows is dangerous. It's reckless and she had known it at the time, but she hadn't cared. She hardly cared now, even if it was harder to breathe than she thought it should be, she doesn’t care.

There was no rule that said she had to go back to the Sanctuary or a rule that said she had to follow their rules, Magnus's rules. They were better off without her anyway. She was dangerous now, like this, alone.

Magnus would have said no work; she would have said be careful, have patience. Kate wasn't good with any of those things. She needed work, she was reckless and impatient. That was her life, would always be her life. It would be her life until it killed her and she was ok with that, even if her ribs ached as she staggered up the block.

She had gotten the job done, delivered the goods, gotten paid. She would hole up somewhere real nice, someplace out of the way. Somewhere Magnus and her rules couldn't find her.

Kate was sick of rules. The only thing rules had ever gotten her was a pair of bruised ribs and a broken finger.

She had stopped by a convenience store and picked up a first aid kit. It was missing half the stuff she would need but that's what hotel sheets and the mini-bar were for.

She ordered room service, one of the perks of such a swanky place, and started a bath. She would eat her burgers in the tub with the radio up. The neighbors could complain all they wanted; she was only planning on staying the one night anyway.

Her ribs hurt like a bitch by the time she makes it to bed, but they feel better wrapped and the alcohol she had downed should put her to sleep soon enough.

She would get up in the morning and move out. She had heard there was someone in Miami looking for a person with her skill set. After that she'd spend a couple of days on the beach, let her ribs heal enough she could get back to the good stuff. It would take a while but her name would make it back through the network. She would have work lined up for years if she wanted it. All hers for the taking. She liked the sound of that.

She flicks off the lamp and stares out the open window. She's staying halfway up the building, the street below her glowing with a conglomerate of lights. It's kind of peaceful, not worth the money she was shelling out for this place but it was nice. Nice enough.

 

She doesn't like to think about it anymore, the day she left. She used to think about it a lot, curled up watching Cosby Show reruns at 3am with a pint of whatever the local convenience store had in stock. It's a lot like the first time she left home. She misses it, that feeling of security, knowing someone had her back. It had all been a lie the first time. It had always been a lie and always would be. Nothing would change that. Sometimes though, she liked to pretend that it wasn't. Sometimes she let herself believe. This time had been a doozy.

The memory, it makes her throat ache, the uncomfortable inability to swallow without choking. The reruns haven't actually been funny for years but she watches them anyway. It's tradition. It has nothing to do with the fact it's the only thing on in the handful of channels this shitty motel tv gets. She had thought about moving the antenna but she's not planning on staying put. Staying put wasn't something that she did. Not now, not ever. It was dangerous. Stay in one place too long and you were asking to get burned.

The show's not funny and she shouldn't be up, not really. She needs to get out on the street early. She needs to get her face out there, her name. She needs some work, needs it bad. She's run through what little cash she had brought with her and she's not the kind of person who does well on the street. She has too much of an attitude. An attitude that only gets worse the longer she has to put up with people trying to steel her stuff and sleeping on concrete. Even so it's not just the work she's looking forward to. She hadn't gotten into freelance for the money. She needed the rush, craved it. It was the closest thing to oblivion she knew how to find and she wasn't about to let it slip by her.

She shouldn't be up but she is and she's trying not to think about why she’s not sleeping, why she can’t. She's not broken hearted, not any more than any other day of her miserable life. It's not that, the usual cliché, it's the force of habit: late night missions, stakeouts, burger runs, feedings. She's not thinking about any of that.

 

It's been two more weeks, she’s back in Old City. She's left the freezer burnt ice cream behind and traded the reruns for pay per view movies at a slightly less dumpy pay by the week joint. It's easier this way, less questions, less hassle trying to scrape together cash every other day. Her life had always been so glamorous.

She'd managed to find a couple of odd jobs, transport and the like. Nothing in the abnormal side of the business. It's all drugs and stolen cars for her these days. Small time stuff kids from the local high school could do but she's glad for the distraction. Glad at least they're not turning her away, not completely. She's laying low, real low and they know it. You don't leave Helen Magnus and expect to find work, not in her city and not any place close.

There were hundreds of other cities, other places to look for work but Kate couldn't leave for good, not yet. She had unfinished business, although most of the time she wasn't sure what that meant.

 

She’s restless now when she wakes in the morning. Things are changing, she’s off balance. It's all ups and downs, a real vanishing act of emotions, but she imagines it hasn't been long since- since-

Her mom had called from Mumbai all red eyed and crying. Kate had picked a fight and hung up before she could admit to the tears prickling behind her own eyes. She refuses to think about the fact that the last thing her mother had said was that she was sending Kate her long distance bill. I'm not wasting my money on an ungrateful child like you, she had said. She had said it and, Kate thought, maybe she had meant it this time. This whole mess was her fault somehow

She’s cruising through the halls later that day. She’s restless and needs to be up and moving despite the fact she has nowhere to go. Will’s hanging around outside Magnus’ office the second and third time she passes by. He’s still there when she makes another loop. This time, apparently he’s waiting for her. She hadn’t meant to, not exactly. Her elbow in his eye socket wasn’t the most effective way to get him to leave her alone, but it did the job well enough. It’s not the most advisable course of action but she’s not dwelling on that. She’s not annoyed. It’s not about that it’s less annoyance and more out of annoyance as it is out of habit. He should've known better, he does know better. He should've known, should have seen, that suddenly everyone was walking on thin ice.

He makes an awful twisted face that says "Ow" and "I can't believe you..." and "I'm here if you need me." He's not doubled over or swearing. He hardly looks surprised despite his initial shock. His hand hovers in the space between them, stuck where it had been wrapped around her arm, reaching out toward her.

She's not looking back when she turns to leave, but she is because she had heard him even though she knows he doesn't think so. She had heard him and she hadn't wanted to. It's all too much and it aches and it bleeds. “Kate,” he had said. “Are you alright?”

The rest of the day passes without event and she gets the call, suit up. It’s exhale after exhale, all the breathes she’s been holding onto, all the air she had pulled from Will’s lungs. It’s her lucky day. She’s getting out for once, this isn’t inventory or a curbside pick up. This is the bust she’s been waiting for. Remmy’s information had panned out and they’re finally cashing in. It’s time to go raise a little hell.

 

 

Kate's not impressed by the state of the warehouse. It's old and rusted, the doors don't close properly and there's no sign of an alarm system. As far as she's concerned they had another round of bad intel. Another round of bad intel she had gotten from a source.

Kate checked the safety on her gun and wondered if the universe was out to piss her off, because if it was, it was doing a darn good job.

"I'm taking point." She frowns at the other two, part of her hoping Will would argue, give her an excuse to blacken his other eye. He had been insufferable on the way up, laughing obnoxiously at Hank's jokes, egging the geek on.

Will nods, falling back as she starts off across the gravel toward the door held shut by a dented trash can and a pile of cinder blocks.

Ducking inside a moment later, she grins at the rows of creates forming the aisles that covered the entire area. The spacing was narrow, some of the containers stacked precariously on top of others but they were small details, the unimportant bits, she wasn’t interested in any of this. She was looking for the larger create she knew was supposed to be located at the center of the building.

The aisles seem to run parallel to the outer walls of the building, organized and predictable. There’s nothing surprising about that. Remmy had said the guy was a bit OCD about running his operations, facilities well out of anyone’s way, low security, organized cargo. The guy was an idiot as far as Kate was concerned. She didn’t care if it had taken her six months to track him down. It wasn’t the info that had been hard to find, it had been finding someone stupid enough to rat the guy out that had been the problem. Loser guy with the warehouse didn’t take kindly to people messing with his goods. He had a wall of explosives to prove it.

She slips along the shorter side of the building and then returns to the door, waving the other two in from the dock.

"Over here," she calls and Will appears gun in hand at her side.

"You and Hank take the create that’s up that way; I'll cover you." The last part comes out lazy, unconcerned. This had to be the easiest heist she had ever pulled. She had known the vests were overkill but she knew Magnus would insist.

The boys are halfway back up an aisle, moving painfully slow, trying to avoid bumping into something and toppling it down on their heads. Kate moves parallel to them, watching them, eyeing the door. She takes another step and hears a familiar metallic click from underfoot. Metal plating.

It's not apparent at first what she had stepped on. She knew it was bad, 'holy shit we're all going to die' bad potentially but she wasn't sure until she spotted the wiring running up the side of a row of metal boxes.

The boys had chosen a narrower corridor, one with the majority of properly stacked inventory. Kate, however, had stuck with the wider passageway. It made it easier for her to keep her eye on the door and Will and Hank as they progressed through the warehouse. She had also, as it appeared, chosen the aisle with built in security.

She fixes her gun on the door and waits. The minutes tick by. Will calls back to her and she responds with more snark than was necessary, telling them that they needed to move it, that she was right behind them. Lucky for her, Hank, the only one out of the pair who could see her, kept his mouth shut as he backed out the door and turned toward the narrow steps on the loading dock.

Kate takes another look around and swears. Without the case the boys were loading into the van, she could move a whole lot faster, but there was no way of knowing if the timer on what she assumed was a massive amount of explosives was rigged on a delay or not. She also couldn’t tell if the mass of wiring was connected to anything at all, let along if it was connected to any sort of force field aimed at keeping her or the others within the blast radius. Remmy had warned her this guy was good, tricky. There was a reason this guy’s body count made Magnus twitchy.

There’s nothing she can do about that now. She could call Hank back inside, have him poke around, but if what she’s heard is true and not some amped up myth, he would only end up making things worse. She could warn them but she knows they’ll only run back in, run towards her and the exploding building. She counts backwards from thirty, enough time for the others to make it onto the gravel away from the building and exhales.

She almost makes it to the door before she's thrown, skidding across the loading dock onto the gravel.

Hank drops his end of their cargo onto his foot with a yelp and she curses as her body aches from the impact, her ears ringing.

The explosion hadn't been as large as she had expected. The building was ablaze but the damage was contained to the structure. She was lucky Will had been taking his sweet time backing down the aisle. She would never admit it but he had probably saved her life. Had they been moving along she would’ve unknowingly set them and their cargo, a rare abnormal, on fire.

She’s still on the ground, lying there, watching the fire blaze through the structure. A couple of the windows by the door had blown out but other than that it looked more like an arson fire than an explosion. It would still garner attention, attention they couldn't afford, but it was a whole lot better than it could have been.

"Move it." Will yanks her to her feet, dragging her back toward the van as Henry slammed the back door shut.

"I'm fine thanks for asking." She grumbles as his grip tightens before releasing to shove her toward the open passenger door.

"I don't even want to know what the hell you were thinking."

It's the only thing anyone says on the ride back to the Sanctuary.

 

She had skipped the infirmary and headed straight for the shower. She’s not aching yet and she really wants to get the grit out of her hair, the smell of smoke out of her nose. Magnus’ text My office. Now. had come while Kate had been drying her hair with an oversized towel.

She knows better than to waste Magnus’ time. Magnus was patient, even when mad, but Kate knew even a hint of a defiant attitude wouldn’t do her any good.

Will and Magnus are chatting, low and hushed when she knocks on the half-closed door. There’s a lull in the conversation and then Will stands to leave.

She should be more surprised or at least more upset by the stern look that had come over Magnus' face when she had walked in. Even Will looked uncomfortable as he smiled at her helplessly and made his retreat, narrowly missing the side of the sofa in his hurried exit. The door banging hollowly in its frame as it closes behind him.

Kate falls onto the couch a pile of battered limbs, bones and muscles beginning to ache, and cocks her head to the side, waiting with a half suppressed grin.

Magnus regards her for a moment from behind her desk, eyes narrowing almost imperceptibly as Kate causally picks at the corner of a chipped nail.

"You've had quite a night."

Kate shrugs and drops her hands to her lap. "All in a night's work."

"Is that so?" Magnus's voice holds a note of 'we've discussed this young lady'. Against her better judgment, Kate's grin grows as Magnus rounds her desk.

"I got the job done."

"You almost blew yourself up." The statement of fact holds an edge Kate does her best to ignore.

"It's nothing you haven't done."

"That's quite beside the point." Magnus smoothes her skirt over her lap as she takes a seat across from Kate.

Kate regards Magnus's black heels for a moment before meeting the other woman's eye. "I don't think it is."

The look on Magnus's face changes, you're playing with fire, it clearly says as Kate opens her mouth to plow ahead. Before she can say anything, however, Magnus cuts her off. "You're off the mission list."

"That's not fair." She's on her feet, fists balled before Magnus can finish.

"You've been through a lot recently; a break will do you some good."

"Says who? Says you or Will? Huh?" She's not sure why it matters but it does. She’s so sick of the both of them,Will hovering, constantly poking at her Magnus in the wings waiting to scold her if she even thinks of toeing the line. They’re back to this again and she’s sick of it. She’s so sick of it. Will was always prying, Magnus was always seething, and Hank was always running scared. Things were fucked up, she had to blame someone, had to blame Will. She’s getting the urge to beat the shit out of him, again.

"Kate, please sit down."

Kate shifts her weight but stays standing.

"I know you like to keep busy. There's plenty of work to do around-"

Kate huffs out a disgusted sound and shakes her head. It's more kindness than she deserves, she's fucked up more in recent weeks, months than anyone had, but she's not thinking about that. "Why don't you just ask me to leave?"

There. It's there in the open the one thing she's been waiting all this time to hear. She's not going anywhere. She can't go anywhere; she has no place to go, but she's waiting anyway. She won't fight to stay, but she's not ready to go yet either. She needs another argument, needs another fix. The anticipation that had built throughout the day is an unrelenting poison waiting for a victim.

There's not a word of response, not a single sign of though or emotion skittering across Magnus' features. There’s no sign that Magnus had even heard her, despite the increasing volume of her remarks.

Kate forces air from her aching chest and finally Magnus blinks. "Sit." It's soft, not unkind, but it's everything Kate doesn't want.

She doesn't want to sit; she's not some yuppie dog. She’s not someone’s pet to be ordered around. She doesn’t want to play by the rules. She wants to slam her fist into the nearest wall, but if she leaves, it's over. It's over and she doesn't want that either. She sits. She sits on the edge of the chair across from Magnus, letting her still trembling legs take most of her weight. The pain makes her skin crawl.

She waits.

"What is it that you would like from this arrangement?"

Arrangement? Business, just another job, she could deal with that. Calm, collected, she could play this game. She takes a couple of deep breathes and a moment to draw her thoughts together. "Stop telling me what to do." She growls and then relents a bit, anger sated momentarily. "I'd like to go out for once in my life."

Magnus waits a breath and then two for more demands, but Kate's not putting into words what she really wants. There's no use wishing for the impossible.

"Alright. Are you offering anything in return?"

Kate makes a face that says she doesn't think so and waits. Magnus nods. She doesn't ask Kate to stop throwing things down stairs or to stop putting holes in the walls. She doesn't ask about the missing keepsakes, the quilts and the Indian trinkets Kate had stockpiled in her room. She didn't ask about the booze, or the bruises. She didn't ask about the tears or the yelling. She didn't ask her not to take advantage of Will's masochistic tendencies or Hank's self-deprecating attitude. She didn't ask and Kate didn't offer.

"Can I go now?"

"The terms of our agreement come into play tomorrow after you check in with me. I want to take a look at your arm. You're staying in tonight."

And that was it, no yelling, no infuriating calm. Kate can’t help thinking something’s wrong.

 

 

It’s the same thing again, the dream, only this time it’s different.

It’s a stupid exit strategy, a really stupid one, but she stops by a local bar on her way out of town anyway. It’s late and she’s still not sleeping. She had downed an energy drink, something offbrand and sickeningly sweet as she had thrown her bags together. She would be up for a while, counting away the hours left in this city. She might as well say goodbye to anyone pathetic enough to be up, crammed in the corner of an underground bar.

"Another round, another round."

Kate eyes her companion wearily and then nods. "Last round Billy, then I'm hitting the road."

"Too drunk for that." He tries and she forces a laugh.

"That's the best time Billy boy. It's either that or face the long hours stuck on a bus sober."

"Buses." Billy scoffs, shoving a shot glass across the space between them.

Kate downs the shot and slams the glass back onto the table. "I'll have a sweet ride soon enough. Send my regards to the others. I'm out of here."

He’s protesting as she goes. He can’t make her stay, not forever. She’s leaving before she can do something stupid like let him take her home for a goodbye romp. She was going to miss him as odd and misguided as he was. He'd always been good to her. She owed him more than a couple rounds of shots, but even that was more than she could afford.

The sky is clear for the first night in weeks as she rounds the corner into an ally. She pauses for a moment, then kneels and with a grimace shoves a sticky finger down her throat. Foam and stale peanuts, not the fitting ending she was hoping for. She needs a clear head in the morning though. This will have to do.

 

She's up at five, sunglasses on, hobbling into the bus station. She feels like shit. The fake hangover and half drunk antics aren’t a real stretch. She’s cranky and irritable, her hands shake slightly as she poles through brochures while waiting in line. The guy at the ticket booth doesn't seem amused by her caviler attitude or constant giggling but he takes her crumbled wad of bills and hands her a ticket anyway. She waits for an hour and then slips into line. She hands off her ticket and her bags and fights the urge to slip away, back onto the street. It's not as easy to watch her bags, tiny remnants of the things she wants to forget, slip away.

Her bags will be there in Saint Louis, waiting in a city where no one will be the wiser. They’ll be there but it’s not the same. She feels lost without them, the few mementos she had always had, the bracelets she had been wearing for years, the leather gloves she had had in one incarnation or another since high school. She wasn't that Kate Freelander anymore. That life was gone forever. It would all stay tucked away in her bags, toted around like the photographs and the old baseball mitt. She was leaving, running from that pathetic weeping part of herself, leaving it behind where it belonged, buried deep under Old City.

 

She makes it into St. Louis two days later. Everything’s exactly where it’s supposed to be. There’s nothing, no one here. She can be whoever she wants to be. Kate Freelander’s back.

It’s one job after another after that. There aren’t any deal breakers now, all bets are off, dangerous, illegal, morally, questionably, it’s all fair game. There’s nothing, no one stopping her anymore.

She’s working out of Richmond this week. It’s mostly surveillance but she’s been put up in a nice place, it’s enough to compensate for her eternal boredom. There’s free pay-per-view and she’s been informed she’s allowed to use the pool after it closes at nine. It’s nice, the extra exercise after being cooped up all day. She’s just gotten back from a long swim when there’s a knock on the door, room service. She hadn't ordered anything since the night before, but she knows Vance knows that she was staying here. She knew he liked to spoil his favorite freelancers, it’s his own way of ensuring they weren't snatched away by someone else.

She answers the door in her robe and instantly regrets not having grabbed the gun from where it was stowed under her pillow. The room service guy was there with a cart of food but so was Will.

"What do you want?"

"I though you might be hungry." He pushes his way past the cart, past her and takes a seat at the table.

"I didn't tell you that you could come in."

"Go grab the gun from under your pillow then." He replies without blinking. "Kate Freelander's now for hire and she doesn't mess around. Vance sold you out you know, and Eddie, and Joe whatever his name is and I'm pretty sure there's half a dozen more but I got sick of taking phone calls and sent them all to Henry."

She's furious. She really is. Magnus had no right- and yet she hasn't moved, hasn't made a single gesture to suggest as much. She's standing there staring at him, arms wrapped around her midsection, fingers lost in the texture of the terrycloth passing below them.

She tries to draw in a breath to clear her head enough to do something and she finds it hurts. It really fucking hurts and she's sick of it and all she wants to do is scream but she can't because she's Kate and he's Will and she doesn't know who he is anymore and she doesn't know why she's standing here half naked in some ritzy hotel room because she can't bear to say the one name everyone's waiting for her to say.

"Get out." She whispers, seething and before she can call him back, he's gone.

 

 

She's played this game before, the predatory back and forth, the smell of stale beer and body odor, the feeling of music overwhelming, moving through her in a foreign pulse. She drops her beer to the counter and draws a swirl in the condensation leaking down onto the wood. She can feel eyes on her searing, needy, watching the rise and fall of her chest, drinking in every detail soon to be forgotten.

Kate plays the part, rustling her hair, leaning sideways across the bar for a bowl of party mix. The band of the holster around her ankle digs as she presses her leg into her stool as she straightens. She won't be needing it tonight but the thrill of knowing is enough to make her grin carelessly.

She lets the time tick by, watches the clock, and nurses her beer. It's almost empty. It's early yet. The eyes are still watching. There are whispers there now, some immature college kid out with his friends. She's more interested in the silent one in the corner. It's always the silent ones.

"Can I buy you another drink?"

"You may." She's careful to keep the smile from her eyes, careful not to lean too closely when he takes the seat next to her and hands her another bottle.

"You've been here a while."

"So have you." She had seen him come in, had been waiting for him, but she's not letting on to that. Not yet.

They chat for a while, stupid stuff, the weather, his job, her usual string of lies. She tells him her name is Kat, she's from out of town, one big city or another, she travels for a living. She's not looking to settle down. She scrapes a nail down the side of his arm. He's not backing down. Neither is she.

She swallows down a couple of swigs and then leaves her drink where it sits. She wants to enjoy this, dirty, gritty, thrilling.

He finishes his drink, she crooks a finger and bites her lip. She's standing, hips swaying to the music as she beckons him to follow. She had him hook line and sinker a long time ago, but she likes to pretend she's still playing the game, that she hasn't already won once tonight, the night before.

They're out the back door and into the alley before she realizes it's raining, misty fine and altogether annoying as it clings to her skin and her hair but she's not losing this one. Not after she's been watching him for days.

She shoves him against the crumbling brick wall, beside the dumpster before dropping to her knees alongside a mud puddle.

It's degrading if she stops to think about it; stalking her pray only to end up being the disadvantaged party, but it's too cold to get decently naked and she's sick of fumbling around layers of clothing.

Dan, she knows his name is Dan despite the fact he tried to tell her otherwise, isn't complaining as she unzips his pants or as she takes him, swallowing as he grunts, hips thrusting into her mouth. He kisses her as she straightens, a nice change from the rest, almost courteous.

The kiss deepens and she allows herself to lean into it, holding fast as he tries to flip them. The kiss ends, another starts, he bites her bottom lip hard enough to leave the metallic tinge of blood in her mouth. She hums in appreciation allowing herself to be pressed up against the rough brick.

His fingers dig into her hips, into the flesh above her waistband. This isn't going anywhere, not here, not anywhere close enough. He invites her back to his place with a rough whisper in her ear, something predatory and demanding. It sets her spine tingling.

 

come here. Come here. COME HERE. His greedy hands say but she's not getting any closer. She's one step in front of him, just like she always is, just the way she likes.

He's all mashed teeth, short dirty nails, and more half choked swear words worth less than the air it takes to breathe them. It's perfect. It's just the way she likes it. She's a junky on her way to a new high.

"Ropes?"

She groans.

"You said whips. Blood?"

He reaches for her again and she skirts away, their mouths never quite disconnecting.

"Blood?"

"Fuck yes."

He reaches again and manages to grab a fistful of the fabric pulled taunt over her shoulder. He crushes them together front to front and they stop to breathe. "Have any no's?"

"No permanent damage, no choking, no bodily fluids we haven't already mentioned, no tattoos and," she leans up to tease him with a kiss. "No means yes."

"Playing with fire." There's less of a grin there than before but his eyes are still blown black.

"Fire? Yes." She smirks, ticking the item off on her finger before pulling back again.

 

She's naked long before he is but she's ok with that. It’s all about her. He's all about her. Everything’s about her now. She's beaten, battered, and bruised but she won't be broken. She refuses to cry when it feels like he's pulling the skin off her back in sheets. White snapping pain and the satisfying sound of her repenting skin.

Oh god yes, is all she says although there's a part of her that wonders what would happen if she said no. She could screw them both, but it might be worth it, knowing. Sometimes it’s worth it to know, but not now. Now’s not about that. Right now is about feeling, feeling things she’s not supposed to feel and living through it

She returns to the Sanctuary early the next morning. She had lost her t-shirt somewhere along the way. It was probably torn or tied in a knot, not that she minded much. The sweatshirt she had been wearing did a good enough job of covering the men's dress shirt she had borrowed in the t-shirt's stead.

There were lights on at the back of the house. For her she presumed, although they had been absent the previous nights. Perhaps someone had finally noticed she hadn't been around. Perhaps she was getting in earlier than she had been. It was still dark, the sun far from tingeing the horizon with assorted shades in daily thanks giving. Perhaps she didn't care.

There were bruises on her wrists, running up the inside her thighs, some were new, some were faded. The teeth marks along her shoulder blades were from tonight. They stung deliciously as she pressed against the heavy wooden door to push it open silently.

There's a plate of cold food in the fridge with her name on it. She bypasses it for a round container labeled carefully with Will's name. It's filled with assorted desserts, tiny cream puffs and cheesecake bars. She hadn’t seen him around before she had left for the night. She assumes from the pastries, expensive, that he had been out to some dinner with Magnus. The dessert is good, but the sight of the empty container is even better. Even after the night she had had she can't help but relish in the small act of rebellion. Again and again, the urge was only getting stronger.

She leaves the container, crumbs and all on the counter with a now empty milk jug. There's a circle of dry footprints across the floor where she had wandered. There's a line of them up the hall. They end at the stairs where the scattered clumps of mud begin. She wanders by Hank's room, bumping roughly into the closed door before falling on to her bed, swearing as the damp seeped through her clothes until it reached her skin.

 

She's up late; it's past noon by the time she makes her way blurry eyed into the kitchen. The floor had been cleaned. The plate of food is still there along with a new jug of milk.

Hank is at the table in the corner. She’s been ignoring him since she walked in. He looked pissed, though mostly he looked tired. She didn't remember those dark circles from the last time she had seen him.

"You missed the 2am feedings again." He says as she turns empty handed from the fridge.

She shrugs and turns again to pull a bowl from the cupboard by the sink. She grabs a spoon from the drawer and takes a seat across from him.

He reaches for the box of cereal, something off brand overly sugary and brightly colored. It was his one indulgence. She didn't give a crap if she had her own box in the pantry, placed neatly next to an assortment of equally teeth rotting cereal. She couldn't be bothered to go get it, not when this one was right here.

She grabs the box before he can wrap his fingers around it and he glares as she pours herself a heaping bowl before leaning across the table to pull the jug of milk over.

"You look tired." She says as she munches on her first spoonful, ignoring the pout that was spreading over his face.

"You missed the 2am feedings again." He says more slowly this time, a little louder as if either of those things would help her hear what he really wanted to say. Stop being a whiny bitch and do your job Freelander.

"I was a bit tied up." She flashes him a bruised wrist, a mix of purple and green, and watches him frown as his stomach churns.

"You came home late again."

She shovels another spoonful of cereal into her mouth as he swirls his spoon around his bowl. "Thanks for noticing."

"Kind of hard not to," there's real anger now. "You're the only one I know inconsiderate enough to wake me up banging on my door after I went through the trouble of leaving the light on for you."

He leaves his half-empty bowl on the table as he goes, the door slamming shut behind him.

The alcohol is bitter tonight but she's ok with that. She's hitting the hard stuff. She's not entirely sure what it is, an old bottle she had found buried in the catacombs, but she figured if it was good enough for Helen Magnus is was more than good enough for her. Tonight it's all about bitter, bitterness, bitter irony. The difference is lost on her.

She would've gone out. She wanted more than anything to go out, but Hank was playing games. Seriously fucked up games if anyone bothered to ask her. He wasn't letting her leave until she told him who had hurt her.

They're a bunch of bruises. They're not something Kate thinks a lot about. They're not something she spends a lot of time feeling. She knows they ache, and the hidden cuts bleed, but as far as she's concerned it's none of his business.

She had considered sneaking out. She had planned her escape and re-planned it. She would never make it ten feet down the hall much less make it out the front door unless Druitt teleported in and liberated her. There were three of them and more tech than she could mess with. Especially as buzzed as she was. Getting drunk was a liability in situations like this, but she already was a liability as far as they were concerned. She didn't see much harm in confirming it for them.

The bottle in her hand is sweating from the warmth of her skin and the alcohol leaves burning trails that seem to move from her throat through her entire body. Her eyes ache, her legs feel bruised and limp, the effort it takes to pull the bottle to her lips leaves her arms protesting.

She's drunk, so drunk, but she would've done this sober if he wasn't so pissy about her barging in on him. Will wouldn't mind. Will would probably thank her until he figured out what she was up to. Hank, though, Hank she thought might be game. It's an unlikely theory but she's drunk and she's been thinking about his mouth all day. Mostly she wants to slap it for all the shit it spews, those stupid pouty lines, the annoyed frown that looks so much like Mangus'. There's a part of her though, that wants to kiss it, kiss those lips swollen: red, raw, and bleeding. She wants to bruise them, bite them, make them moan deep and hard.

Right now she mostly wants to kiss them.

"Hank?" She's nowhere near his room but she doesn't care. She's drunk; she has an excuse. That's the important thing, plausible deniability. She's not sure how plausible it is being premeditated and all but she's drunk and that has to count for something. She never gets drunk. Things are always more fun when they think she's drunker than she is.

"Come on Hank." She knocks on his door like she's angry and then giggles. "Hank." She lets the vowels hang out that time, long and sweet like his lips.

He's not opening the door and she's not waiting for him to. It's just taking her longer than normal to get the door open. He hadn't changed the locks, at least she didn't think so. Picking a lock while trying to remember the words to a hip hop song was harder than she thought.

"Hi." She says as he blinks at her in the light he'd turned on as the tumblers had clicked into place.

"What the hell Kate?"

"I keep thinking about your mouth. It does that pouty thing. It's so annoying. See!" She points. "It's doing it now. It says you're pissed but you're not man enough to say so. That's what it says doesn't it? It says you think I'm a pitiful freak and guess what I don't care. I just want to kiss you Hank. Let me. Let me."

She shoves his arm out of the way and pushes forward, crawling over the bed to kneel in his lap. She manages to crush her lips to his without cracking her forehead into his nose but he's not kissing her back. This wasn't part of the plan. He's not even surprised this time.

"Kiss me, kiss me." She chants against his still pouting mouth as she fights him for control of her wrists. He has the one, but she won't give him the other one, not until she wins something in return.

"Please, please?" She protests as he hauls her arms over her head and pulls her from the bed.

"Whatever you're doing Freelander this isn't funny."

He had never called her Freelander, not like that. Not all impatient and annoyed, not with genuine disgust. She gives another tug on her arms and slumps against his unrelenting hold. "Please," she whispers, but she knows Biggie's already on his way. There's no use in asking now.

"I'm not getting you water and I'm not tucking you in. I'm not locking you in your room either. It won't do any good. You'd probably try and climb out your window and break your neck. The Big Guy's coming. Don't bother trying anything with him. He's even less interested than I am."

"Hank." She whines, but he's not even looking at her anymore. He's watching the door. "Hank dammit. Please."

"What?" He snaps. "Tell me what you want Kate. Tell me what would be enough. What would make you stop being such a total ass? You're hurting more than yourself doing all this crap you know. All of us have to put up with it. All of us have to pick up your messes. Tell me when's enough(,) enough? When are you going to pull it together and stop acting like the world is yours to destroy? Really Kate, tell me, when does this stop because I'm sick of it. We're all sick of it and if you can't see that then I honestly don't know what to say."

 

 

He’s ignoring her the way she’s ignoring everything else. She should be able to understand that but she can’t.

Will’s there, not hovering like he had been but he’s there, leaving her the fresh towels she insisted she didn’t want, slipping a packet of poptarts onto her breakfast tray.

She’s sleeping a lot again. She blames it on the insane boredom that comes with her having no real work and no real hobbies other than kicking Hanks butt at video games. She sleeps and she dreams and this time she doesn’t hate the way it starts out.

She’s in San Diego, she’s been at Thad’s but she needs to move on. She can’t stay there, no one lives there, she’s not living there, but she’s not leaving either. It’s easier than she thinks to devise a plan to stay in the city.

She doesn’t want to be herself anymore, this stubborn mess of a girl refusing to hold onto what she has. She wants to let it all go and watch it float away. She wants to stop caring so she can stop understanding why they care. She wants to be angry and hurt. She doesn’t want to feel alone.

In the dream it’s perfect; she’s free. She’s not Kate she’s someone else. She stops by a Goodwill and picks up the ugliest clothes she can find. She drops her jeans and t-shirt in the dumpster out front on her way out. The boots she had been wearing she had bought new the week before. She swaps them out for a pair of tennis shoes, leaving the boots in their place.

She's tempted to stop by a hairdresser's but she knows better. With her makeup gone and her hair up, she looks like every other Indian girl in this part of the city. She buys a pair of scissors and a box of hair dye from a local vendor, some new age crap straight from India according to the box.

When she's done her hair's not that much shorter than it had been. Short enough to take the chunk of layers out at the bottom. She's chopped the front portion of her bangs short and chunky, the rest she had pinned up under her hair to the side, they'll stay that way until they grow out. The red's going to take a bit of getting used to. It's weird, a good weird but weird all the same. It's more brown than red and more of a mass of highlights than an actual dye job but it works. It makes her look younger, a bit less put together. It fits with the accent she's chosen to adopt, not thick like her mother's had been but awkward like her dad's, like she's yearning for something better.

She hasn't played the good Indian girl in years and she had sworn she never would again, but she only has a couple of options and this is the best of them all as far as she can figure. She leaves the store with her bags of clothes and heads farther into the neighborhood. The paint peels from buildings as she walks, brick crumbles. There's no longer the facade of hard earned prosperity.

She stops outside a corner store and takes a seat on the curb waiting for close. It's a long afternoon, the hours passing slowly. More than once she's tempted to get up and leave, but she has to play the part. She's not a city girl anymore, she's a scared kid out of her depth praying some stranger on the street will help her out. It feels ridiculous but playing sweet and dumb had never failed her before.

"You're on my sidewalk."

"Sorry." She stammers, spilling the bag of clothes in an effort to gather up her stuff.

"Amar." There's a woman in the door to the shop scolding the man as Kate attempts to corral her belongings. "Don't tease the poor girl. Ask her inside."

"There's a random girl sitting on my sidewalk all day and you want me to ask her inside? I didn't come back here to run my father's old shop so I could be robbed blind by some girl who thinks she's from Kolkata. Where are you from?" he demands from Kate.

She freezes. "Thane."

"Thane." He repeats. "I suppose I have to invite you in now."

"I'll keep an eye on her."

"We don't even know her name."

"Geez Amar." The woman leaves the doorway, crossing the space between them to stand before Kate. Out of the door's shadow Kate realizes with a start the girl is white, her honey yellow hair tucked under a dark bandana. "My name's Leah. What's yours?"

"Asha." Kate responds immediately. It had been her second cousin's dog's name. She had liked the dog, yippie bark and all.

"You must be hungry."

Kate snatches the shirt Leah had bent down to retrieve and nods.

"She's been eying my fruit all afternoon,"

"But she didn't take any." Leah says flatly before turning back to Kate. "Come inside and we'll get you fixed up. He likes to fuss but he won't bite. I promise."

Kate hesitates, the first real doubt creeping in. She had cash, but it needed to last her a good long while and it wasn't as if she could walk into any old place and ask for a job. This would have to do. She could hold her own in a fight and knew how to watch her back if it came down to that.

She follows Leah up a flight of stairs at the back of the shop. The apartment on the second floor is small, crammed full of furniture. There's a cat on top of the bookshelf and another one skirting around the corner toward the back of the apartment. A dog's tail wags from under the couch.

"Three months, four strays that has to be a record." Amar comments as he locks the door behind him.

"Shut up Amar." Leah rolls her eyes. "We have a guest. Behave yourself."

"Yes ma'am." He replies sarcastically and Kate gets the feeling this is how he always is, teasing hidden behind a sour, gruff attitude.

"You can set your bags down where ever you like."

Kate loosens her grip marginally and eyes the still wagging dog tail somewhat curiously.

"That's Chester." Leah says when she spots Kate watching. "His ball must be stuck under there again.”

Kate sets her bags beside the couch and kneels, shoving a hand under the dust ruffle to pull the ball free. Not the best move in a new place, her back to the rest of the room, but she was going for naive and if she were being honest she figured it was the least she could do having stolen her name from a dog. She pulls the ball free and is surprised to find her arms full of wiggling, licking dog. She shrieks and Chester's excitement only increases as he plasters her face with a layer of slobber.

"Let her breathe." Leah scolds and the dog backs off, sitting back to regard Kate with a lopsided grin. "He likes you."

Kate smiles and wipes her face with her oversized sleeve before reaching to scratch Chester's ears.

 

She spends the next day with Leah, cleaning the apartment, sorting through inventory in the back room of the shop. Leah’s chatty which is fine because Kate’s not in much of a mood for talking. She’s not sullen, even that takes too much energy now, she’s not that bright and snappy person anymore. The sarcasm and the wit has all but dried up and blown away. She works silently, listening to the stories Leah tells her of Amar, of India, of their life here in the city.

Leah tells her about the community group she had started, fun and games, activities and events to educate and ease culture shock. She prods at Kate gently, but Kate has no plans of leaving the shop, not yet, not ever. She can’t leave.

Leah cooks lunch of the two of them; a new twist on the traditional Mulligatawny she had smiled, and the all too American grilled cheese. The bread tastes stale in Kate’s mouth, the soup too salty, but she eats it all like she’s starving.

She could almost like it here. It’s quiet and she and Chester are already becoming fast friends. Leah doesn’t pry and Kate likes that. She buys Kate decent clothes and helps her dye her hair so that it doesn‘t look half bad.

She hears tales about the flea market finds, the tables and the chairs, the ceramic vase Leah had glued back together after Tootsie, the cat had knocked it off the shelf. Leah told her about the carpets Amar had brought back after an impromptu family trip to Morocco right before his father had died.

They talk about places they’ve both been. They aren’t many, Asha-Kate hasn’t travelled much. Those few places, the places Kate’s seen have never felt more alive than in Leah’s stories. She’s a wonderful story teller. She tells the kind of stories that dissolve walls and transport you to another place. The world’s not waiting to crush her, it’s a place of possibility. Kate dreams of Leah’s stories, the bright colors of India, the drab Midwest winter she’s supposedly never seen.

There are nights when Kate lulls herself asleep to the sound of Hank’s voicemail. It's comforting, the familiar if corny jokes on the non-emergency line, the laugh that slips free after he says her name. If this is Kate you'd better not be calling to mess with me, Freelander. Those are the nights that she still dreams of Thad, of what they could have had. It makes her bitter; it makes her ache. Those are the nights she wakes crying in Leah’s arms, her phone dropped under the couch cushions, hidden away.

It’s during one of those nights that she cracks, the story breaking free piece by piece. She hadn't intended to tell a story, especially not this one, but it comes loose anyway. The half-truths spin together well enough to make a convincing story. Kate knows because it leaves her feeling broken and hollow. She doesn't trust Leah enough, Amar, to let them see her cry when she’s awake despite the fact it wouldn't hurt her credibility. The couch in the living room's not private enough, even with a giant wall of Chester standing guard. She can't, won't cry. She holds the tears back and the story slips free. There's a rule about that Kate thinks vaguely one night after dinner as she helps Leah cram more leftovers into the fridge.

Leah smiles warmly and runs her hand across Kate's back as she reaches over to close the refrigerator door. "Such a long face." She says it in a way that lets the comment slip by unanswered, but Kate aches at the fleeting touch and sighs. Her phone had died that afternoon, tucked into a pair of mismatched socks. She hadn't left the building long enough to find a place to charge it. Most days she never made it downstairs to the shop. In the weeks since she had come to stay with the couple, Kate had ventured out only a couple of times.

She was hiding and doing it well. Almost too well. She was alone hiding in plain sight. This had been a horrible idea; she knew that now. There was a reason she had always ran, moved, stayed away. She needed to find a way out but she didn't want to. She didn't want to. She didn't want to let the words slip out behind the sigh. She's back at the beginning this time, fists balled because she doesn't want to go back there, she doesn't want to be there. Leah's arms around her shoulders are warm, and her voice low and Kate wants. She wants-

There are gaps in the story, holes and omissions but it spills forth clearly and with an honesty that does nothing to lessen the ache boring a hole in her soul.

The story stops when her tears in the story become really because Kate's ran out of memories, out of explanations. She knows Leah wants to know so many things, wants to know why Kate would leave a place where someone so obviously loved her. It's not something Kate can explain, it's not something she wants to explain. Already she's beginning to feel like she's fucked it all up. It wouldn't be the first time she screwed up royally, she'd screwed up one too many times in her life not to be a pro at picking up the pieces, and yet, this time- Kate pushes the thought away and shoves at the fridge door as if to check it had shut completely. There’s space between her and Leah now, space that she can breathe through as she rounds the table and falls onto the couch beside Chester with a shudder.

The dog picks up his head and regards her for a moment before settling down with his jaw resting against her thigh.

"What was your brother's name?" Leah asks and Kate swallows. She can't answer that.

"It doesn't matter. He's dead."

Leah sighs and shakes her head but doesn't push. Even Amar knows there's more to the story than pretty orphan Annie like Kate likes to pretend but no one pushes the issue and Kate pretends it doesn't exist. They had taken her in, but even that wouldn't earn her honesty. She had tried that once before and it hadn't ended well.

 

She’s not sure when she first notices it, when she first notices something isn’t right. It’s her dream but it isn’t right. There’s something wrong. Something off. Amar isn’t warming up to her, isn’t trusting her but he lets her run the register in the shop, lets her help customers and stock the shelves. It’s been weeks maybe months, Kate had stopped keeping track, and he still doesn’t trust her. Leah nags him but it’s not like it had been, it’s not the same. Something had changed but Amar hadn’t. People didn’t work that way, Kate knew. Things changed and people changed or people changed and things changed. It wasn’t always readily apparent, you had to look but it was there, but not this time, not now.

It crawls under Kate’s skin, this new observation and she finds herself panicking, quiet moments filled with sudden rapid breaths, moments of sudden alertness in the middle of the night. Something isn’t right and she knows it.

Leah seems to notice too; or rather Kate realizes, she seems to see the change in Kate, the shift in attitude, the sudden need to know. She’s edgy and restless, the walls are too close and she can’t seem to stop herself from throwing backward glances over her shoulder. She’s looking for something.

“What is it Asha?” Leah asks when Kate startles almost dropping the bag of rice she had carried up from the shop.

Kate shakes her head and settles the bag on the counter. They’re having curry again tonight, but she just wants a burger. That’s not what Leah’s asking though.

Leah’s there all warm and quietly comforting. Something’s wrong, she’s going to fix it. “It’s alright darling, you can tell me.”

It’s not alright, but she’s unraveling again, all the tiny frayed ends being tugged and pulled, the secret she’s holding is coming free. Chester whines from where he’s curled up in the corner.

“I-“ I can’t she means to say but it’s all falling apart now. “I haven’t told you everything.”

“I know. I know.” Leah soothes, it’s so perfect, so perfectly wrong.

They move from the kitchen to the living room, Kate curling deep into the corner of the couch. She can’t. She can’t. “I never meant.” She starts and stops. Leah doesn’t seem to notice how much she’s trembling, how much her hands are shaking on her thighs despite how tightly she has them balled. “I’m sorry.” She whispers as Leah settles on the floor, close yet far enough away that it doesn’t hurt as much as it should, as it could.

“I don’t belong here. This isn’t me. I’m-“ The accent’s falling away, but Leah’s still smiling encouragingly. “I should go.”

“There’s no need.” Leah reaches out her, hand molding itself around Kate’s knee. “You’re welcome here as long as you need.”

“You don’t know. You have no idea.” Kate can’t seem to stop talking. The secret’s coming out, there are words though, so many other words. “You-“

“We’ve known from the beginning.” Leah interrupts again.

“No.” Kate says because she knows, knows they would hate her if they knew. Everyone else hated her. She hated herself. This was all her fault. “I didn’t mean for it to happen. I never wanted it to. I thought he was safe. I never wanted him to die. It’s all my fault. I wanted to keep him safe, but I got him killed. He’s dead because of me.”

The room is silent for a moment, even Chester is silent as Kate’s breath comes out in ragged painful bursts. She can’t breathe through the tears but she hides in them. She can’t bear to look up and see Leah’s face. She had fucked this up too; she can’t bear the thought of that.

“That’s not true.” Leah breathes and Kate’s suddenly angry.

“How would you know? You couldn’t know. You-“

“Kate.”

The room spins and it’s all wrong. This is wrong. “I have to go.”

“Kate.”

She’s out the door and down the stairs before she realizes she doesn’t have any of her stuff. Most of the cash she had stashed in a locker at the Y but everything else had been moved into the apartment. She had made a mistake, she had settled down again.

She knows it’s all Hank’s fault, knows it has to be. She should have known better than to call him all those times, should have known her luck should have run out, he should have picked up, but he hadn’t. He had betrayed her. She should have seen it coming. She should have known. There’s nothing left for her here.

 

She wakes crying and shaking. The dream blisters, a fresh memory in her mind. It’s too late to go out, too late to find a way to erase this. She wants it to stop. She wants to stop breaking her own heart over and over again. It’s already broken enough.

She knows Will is still up, but she doesn’t want to talk and she doesn’t really want to listen either. She wants it to stop though, the way she’s trembling, the way everything is safe and then it’s gone over and over again.

She seeks him out when she can’t get back to sleep, when the lights on her alarm clock blur a shade of red she doesn’t want to think about. He’s in the media room, like he always is, in front of the tv flicking through infomercials with an almost empty bowl of popcorn.

He doesn’t turn from the screen when she walks up to the door. He knows it’s her, they’ve been doing this for almost two months now. She knows it’s been two months. The thought leaves her hands trembling.

“I can’t sleep.” She whispers and he pats the couch beside him.

She doesn’t want him to hold her, it’s all too much right now but he’s about as good at listening to her as she is to him and he wraps an arm tight around her shoulder. She won’t lean her head against him, her ear resting over his heart, but it’s warm here so she stays.

She’s not thinking, she’s watching the mesmerizing blur of channels, Will’s bitter commentary on the items for sale, the scams, and the half truths. She ignores him when the topic shifts; she’s half asleep and not listening when he offers to help her talk with Hank.

She’s a total bitch to Hank. She thinks she wouldn’t have to be if he would get with the program and stop egging her on. He has less patience than either Will or Magnus and he spends too much time trying to make her smile. He lets her win at video games and doesn’t bitch about it and he goes out of his way to fix the stuff she’s still breaking before anything else.

Will says he understands this and she knows he does even if neither of them are going to wind a way to explain how. He’s still learning how to deal with her when she’s like this, when she can’t take anymore because it hurts to breathe. She’s too afraid. He makes mistakes and that’s ok. He’s always there for her to lean on, and she’s learning that that’s ok too. She would never admit as much, that’s too touchy feely for her, but it’s reassuring to know he won’t let her fuck it up.

She’s having a hard time keeping her eyes open, but she doesn’t want to fall asleep, not yet. She doesn’t want to let this go, she never does. Will splays his hand over the side of his head, his palm pressing lightly against the top of her ear as he presses her face against his chest, drawing her closer. She whines but relaxes, curling into him as the montage of flickering images continues.

She doesn’t want to fall asleep and wake up in the morning. She’ll wake in her own bed late in the morning, alone, tucked in carefully under the sheets. She’ll wonder, heart sinking if it had been a dream, burrowing deeper waiting for her alarm clock to go off. The numbers spin past in her mind and then she opens her eyes to reaches for the tiny slip of folded paper she’s hoping is there.

Morning sunshine.

I turned your alarm off again. The Big Guy said he’s making French toast. I won’t eat it all if you hurry.

Will

 

 

She’s back in the media room. Will’s watching the Bourne Identity again for the third time that month. She’s counting the seconds of silence. He’s not talking much tonight.

“What do parrots mean?”

Will turns from the tv, regarding her curiously.

Already she wants to tell him to forget it, but she knows he won’t and she doesn’t want to fight with him. She’s sick of fighting.

“What kind of parrots?”

“Parrots.” She says and then folds the blanket back so it lies twice as thick across his lap.

“Are you planning on throwing a party? I’m not sure parrots are the best idea.”

“They’re,”she sighs. “They’re these abnormals.”

He nods and she presses her eyes shut letting the words out in hurried bunches. She keeps having this dream but it never ends. She keeps waking up, waking up to and come here to sit with him in this impromptu late night Insomniacs club.

She leaves out the details until he starts asking for them. He’s curious he says and she supposes it doesn’t really matter.

 

The dream starts with her spending the afternoon loading parrot-like abnormals into the back of a truck wearing a smug grin. It's so beyond illegal. Trafficking exotic animals, abnormals. It feels good. her skin has stopped crawling every time someone looks at her. It's not extra effort to keep an eye on her back, not when she's working. It's too second nature to take more effort than breathing. It's a relief.

She gets paid as the sun sinks down past the city skyline. She double counts the bills and shoves half the wad in her bra the other half she splits between her shoe and her pocket. She had a bit of spending money and that meant only one thing.

She cuts across town on the train and then lingers for the moment at the bottom of the platform's stairs. It's uncomfortable being here. Too many familiar faces, not enough places to hide but she's aiming to have fun tonight.

She slips a couple of twenties to a homeless man on the corner and waits in front of a nearby bistro. Ten minutes later a kid walks up, lanky with ratty brown hair, and asks her for a donation. Kate hands over her atm card and pin number and heads inside for a latte. When she comes back out there's an envelope on the table she'd been leaning against, her card peaking out of the top.

A quick count of the cash and a look at the receipt confirms the kid had helped himself to a couple hundred. He was a good kid, she wouldn't have minded if he had skimmed off a bit more. He'd kept below the limit, no cops would be on her for laundering and Magnus wouldn't give a second thought to an errant transaction.

 

He doesn’t say anything when she finishes. He’s not waiting for her to continue, not waiting for her to say anything. He’s putting the pieces together, gleaning bits of information from past conversations, from the way she sits waiting.

“You keep dreaming about leaving don’t you?” He asks softly and she shivers.

“Not really.” She says because she’s never actually managed to get away. It’s a matter of semantics but it eases the guilt. There’s no accusation she knows but the words hang unclaimed in the air between them, the guilt seeping in anyway.

“That’s what I thought, too many Jason Bourne movies.” He’s teasing, smiling despite her hesitation. It’s a mood of his she can’t quite read. It should bother her, this lack of understanding, but she’s not the shrink, and he seems genuinely happy, knocking gently against her shoulder.

“I should go back to bed.”

He nods, letting her go, but she sits for a moment longer before making her way back to bed.

She wakes in the morning and laughs at the note folded beside her alarm clock.

Kate,

If you were hanging around last night hoping for another note, have no fear. I’m finding this rather addictive. I’m sure Magnus would blame it on the stationary if she knew, but we’re not going to mention I keep using the expensive paper she always brings back from rural China.

You’re going to have to eat without us. Magnus wants us to make a run into the city. Make sure Henry doesn’t eat all the bacon.

Will

 

She had been sleeping better since they had last talked. He hasn’t been. He has yet to move from the couch back to him own room, despite the growing ache in his back from spending nights spent sleeping at awkward hours. Another day or two and he may give up on sleeping altogether.

It’s obviously why he isn’t sleeping, springs don’t make for comfortable sleeping, but he wonders why she isn't. After everything they had been through, even in the last couple of months she was never up this late without a readily apparent reason. There had been grief, anger, nightmares. There had always been a reason. More than once she had dropped off on him in the middle of a conversation, fears soothed she had given over to sleep without the usual fight.

She could sleep just about anywhere, almost at the drop of a hat if need be. One minute she could be guarding their encampment from a daemon abnormal and the next be curled up asleep like they had booked a room at the Ritz. She had never had trouble sleeping, and yet she was still up.

He doesn't want to disturb her but she hasn't moved from the spot she had been in when he'd passed by over an hour before. He approaches slowly from her left, stopping just within her field of vision. She turns toward him enough that he could meet her eye if she raised her gaze and sighs.

He moves forward. She hasn't lifted her forehead from the window pane, so he's not entirely sure she's not humoring him, but she hasn't turn away or pushed forward. She doesn't want him to go, not entirely.

He takes a seat and lets her breathe around the space he's filled. Her hands are on her lap, palms up, her fingers curling toward him as she exhales. It's not much but it's good enough for him. He rests a hand on her leg, fingers splayed around the curve of her knee. A faint smile curves around the corners of her mouth and they both sigh.

"Can't sleep." He leaves it as a statement tacked on to the end of an exhale and waits.

She shrugs a shoulder. "Is it possible I flew the wrong way around the world at some point today? I have the worst case of jetlag ever."

It's not funny, but he laughs because he's still Will and she needs to know that. He's not going to breathe a word to her, but the last eight months had done little to disprove his theory that she wasn't capable of coping with anything that couldn't be fixed by misplaced anger, alcohol, sex, avoidance or a good old fashioned fight. Despite her recently caviler attitude, being here couldn't be easy for her.

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

She gives him the look that says he knows perfectly well what she thinks he wants and she won’t give it to her. "Unless you've turned into a walking pharmacy..."

"Have you eaten?"

She seems startled by the sudden line of inquiry, fumbling for an answer as she draws back away from him. "I'm not hungry."

"I could go for a snack." He stands and holds out a hand.

Her palm is cold against his as they make their way to the kitchen.

 

"Feel like anything in particular?" He asks standing in front of the open refrigerator.

"Nope." She mutters from her seat at the table, her arms wrapped around her stomach holding a thick blanket in place. He knows her no means she's not interested in anything he has to offer, although she is curious as to why he bothers to cook. Kate and cooking weren't something that had ever mixed. She was too fond of her takeout and fast food to be bothered with any of the work cooking required.

He throws two burgers into a hot skillet on the stove and busies himself dressing the buns. She's watching him, although she makes a show out of not letting him catch her looking. He adds slices of fresh avocado and a pile of sprouts. He blames his recent stint in California for this and the salad he scoops onto the plate. He dresses up the mustard a bit and makes up a quick faux ketchup after her flips the burgers.

He wouldn't normally cook like this, especially not in the middle of the night but he's worried about the familiarity a frozen burger and microwave fries would bring.

He sets the burgers on their buns and dumps a mounded pile of pan-fried potatoes onto each plate. Kate eyes her serving wearily but pulls it closer as he rounds the table to take a seat. They're sitting close, closer than the current table setting normally allowed. She had drawn his chair closer to hers at some point, close enough that she could lean back against him as she ate.

"I know it's a bit gourmet for your taste." He apologizes as she rests her shoulder back against his.

"It smells good." She picks up a bit of potato and he has to fight the urge to smile.

He eats slowly, watching her pick at her plate. He'd cut her burger; she picks up a quarter and takes an experimental bite with a hum. "It's pretty good."

She sets it down and moves the plate back an inch. He starts in on his salad, grinning as the greens roll around his mouth. It may be the middle of the night but he's starving and he can only imagine she has to be too. She hasn't eaten since that morning when she'd stormed out of Magnus’ office after one of the weekly fights Will had come to anticipate. Kate was blowing off steam, airing in frustration the only way she knew how. She was testing her boundaries making sure they weren’t going slack, that they weren’t letting go.

She hadn’t been allowed any real work for months. Despite her obvious frustration, Will had to admit it had been good for her. Given the fight that morning Will assumed Magnus hadn’t backed down off on the work ban.

Normally Kate would have food stashed in her room, for occasions like this, wherever she was there was sure to be food nearby, but the Big Guy had been allowed in the day before to clean. He had gone through and removed all the food before it could leave the place smelling like the wrong side of a garbage dump. Will wasn’t sure that was possible, given Kate’s penchant for processed, nonperishable food, but the summer weather had been rolling in hot and humid as of late.

She’s fussing with her food now as she picks up a couple of leaves between two fingers and folds them into her mouth, looking almost thoughtful. "When did you learn to cook?"

"I never sucked." He clarifies because he knows it'll make her smile. "But I got a lot better when the Big Guy stopped kicking me out of the kitchen every chance he got."

He picks up a wedge of her burger and takes a bite before holding it out before her. She rolls her eyes but nibbles at it. He goes back to his own plate and she sighs, her breath tickling his jaw as she watches him. They sit in silence for a while until the sound of slipping porcelain startles him. He catches the plate before it hits the floor.

"Dammit, sorry I- Sorry." She's turned half away from him looking horrified. "I don't know I just-"

"It's ok Kate." He tacks her name on in a low whisper and reaches for her.

She shifts back toward him slowly, still wide eyed and shaken. "I can't eat." She says and he nods, pulling her closer once she starts to relax.

"It's ok."

 

He leaves the next morning for a three-day stint in nearby Seattle. Kate’s restless, texting him the entire drive, emailing him links to useless websites during lunch. By two, that afternoon Henry had texted, telling him that Kate was taking apart half his lab to keep busy. When Kate calls just before dinner, he’s waiting.

He’s sprawled out on the hotel room bed, flipping absently through the files he’s been given to read through before he has to go in and brief the night shift. It looks to be the same stuff Henry had dug up from their servers the day before but he’s checking to make sure nothing’s changed, nothing’s been buried. Liaising with the local police on anything involving abnormals always led to some sort of surprise. His job was to make sure that surprise wouldn’t give Magnus a headache.

“Hey Kate,”

“Will,” she sounds as anxious as she had before, but there’s something else there now. Something that sounds almost like anticipation.

He flips through another file and stonps when a photo flutters to the floor. Kate’s still waiting for him to respond as he reaches down to pick it up.

“You found this yesterday didn’t you?” He asks, already knowing that she had. It was what had kept her up the night before.

The photo’s old and unfaded like the others she had showed him over the last year. Kate looks to be around twelve, with toddler Thad standing on the leather booth seat beside her. They’re in a restaurant something like the Hard Rock Café, with brick walls and neon lights decorating the space around them. Both of them are grinning, Thad clinging to a stuffed parrot with one hand and Kate with the other.

“Magnus has a whole box of them in the archives. Old photos, old clothes, all of Thad’s stuff, even that stupid t-shirt of his he bought the last time we were in Mumbai.”

“She had his stuff shipped up when you asked.”

“I wasn’t expecting all of it. His tv’s there with the screen blown out and a couple of flashdrives with all the stuff Hank dug up. It’s like some sort of freaky time capsule.”

Will chuckles when she snickers. “The bosslady’s weird.”

“She’s trying to help.”

“Still weird.”

“You ok with his stuff hanging around? Hank and the Big Guy can move it up to your room if you want.”

“No. It’s fine where it is. I thought you should know though that I appreciated it, that I appreciated everything you’ve done.” She pauses and he knows she’s rolling her eyes. “I haven’t exactly been a doll.”

“Kate-“

“Say you’re welcome before I have to drive all the way out there and kick your ass.”

There’s more a smirk than he intends. “You’re welcome.”

“Now go talk cop. We can get all touchy feely when you get back.

“I’m going to hold you to it.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She laughs and then the line goes dead.

Will smoothes the crease in the photo out and tucks it back into the file he had found it in. Kate and Thad- 1984