It's been two years. Two years since they had to fight their way out of a shitty dive bar near the border infested with fucking vampires, two years in El Rey, two years adjusting to life by himself.
He's doing fine, he tells himself. Those nights when he wakes up in cold sweats, feeling like he's surrounded by those goddamn monsters--he tells himself they're few and far between (they happen more often than he'd like to admit). He wants to believe he isn't still waiting for one to turn up and kill him; it's a lie and he knows it.
El Rey isn't any paradise, but it's better than other places he's been. It's some bitter irony that a town infested with fugitives feels safe to him, but it does (the gunshots took a couple days worth of getting used to even then).
He lays low, mostly. He bartends sometimes--people don't usually like to talk, and those who do just get hammered within 20 minutes. He's mostly an outlet; nobody asks him about himself.
It's a shitty existence, to be honest. He didn't think of the crushing vacuity that would be left behind with Richie dead, didn't think that he'd be sitting in his rathole of an apartment and suddenly, fiercely wishing he had someone with him. Not necessarily someone to talk to--just someone to fill that hollow space beside him.
El Rey is a mecca of drugs, booze, and prostitutes. He tried that for a year, found himself getting too angry at the girls for no reason, found himself getting attached. When he realized it wouldn't work, he swallowed his isolation with resignation.
It's a Tuesday. He's lying in bed, swigging lazily from a bottle of whiskey, wincing as each swallow screams fire down his throat. He's got the TV on, watching some soap opera while the minutes tick by.
A knock sounds at the door. He ignores it, assuming it's a lost tourist (they wander through El Rey occasionally, leave quickly when they realize where they are). The knock comes again, quick, impatient, the sound hitting a sensitive spot in his eardrums.
"Coming," he yells irritably, shambling from the bed. It takes him a moment to get to the door, the whiskey dulling his senses. He yanks it open and spits, "What the fuck do you want?"
His eyes aren't focusing very well. He blinks, squints against the harsh afternoon light. There's a girl standing on his doorstep, a frail little thing with long dark hair and pretty blue eyes. she looks an awful lot like--
He scoffs. "You're a ghost," he tells her, gesturing at her with his whiskey bottle. "This is my drunk mind playing tricks on me. Get the fuck out of here, you aren't real." He starts shutting the door when she says, "Seth."
His hallucinations never talk anymore. It's been long enough to the point where he's forgotten what their voices sound like, and even if they do make any sounds, it's screaming. He knits his brows together, looks back at the doorstep.
She hasn't disappeared.
"What the fuck," he whispers. She's wearing a cotton dress, too white for him to look at directly. Her hair is longer, down to the middle of her back. She's still got that same smooth skin, that same calm gaze.
They're quiet for a long time. Kate stares at him, searching his eyes, alarmingly intense. He stares back, taking in the familiar planes and angles of her face, everything about her bringing forth both good and bad memories.
He steps aside after their wordless exchange, and she walks in, drops a heavy bag on the floor near his couch. He blinks rapidly, still unsure that she's real.
She notices. When she walks toward him he recoils the slightest bit, taking a step backward. She pauses, eyes dark--it takes a second for her to continue. She reaches out to him, touches his hand. Her fingers are featherlight against his skin.
The touch is electric on his hand and he jerks away, sharper than he needed to.
"What the fuck are you doing here," he says after he finds his voice. It's not really a question--he's too numb to have the proper inflection.
"Came looking for you," she replies quietly. He's drawn to the cadence of her voice, to the deep, soothing way her words fill his ears.
"I thought i told you to stay out of El Rey," he says. She smiles, a little half-grin that seems to sober him up.
"Kate, cut the shit," he snarls at her. Her face falls. "What are you really doing here?"
She sits on his couch, looks languidly about the room. It takes so long for her to answer that for a moment he thinks she's blowing him off.
"I wake up screaming most nights," she murmurs. "I feel like every person I look at could turn into one of those--" her voice catches. She scoffs, rolls her eyes at herself. "I wanted to be with someone who understood all this," she finally admits.
"And what makes you think I do?" He yells. She doesn't flinch at his tone of voice (the old Kate would have). "I live one day at a time, Kate. One day at a fucking time. I don't think about this shit. If something bad happens, I forget about it."
"So you just sit here in El Rey, drinking yourself to death," she fires at him. Her shoulders are tense, upright with anger. He tries to tell himself he doesn't like the look of that spark in her eyes.
"Yeah," he shoots back. "And you know what? I fucking love it." And just like that, all the life drains out of her; she slumps back against his couch, arms limp, head tilted upward. She shuts her eyes, sighs heavily.
"It was worth a shot," she whispers, half to herself and half to him. Then she straightens again, that same determination glinting in her eyes, evident in the hard edge of her jaw. "I'm staying for at least 3 nights."
"Hell no," he says. She glares at him.
"It's the earliest I can leave," she reasons. He looks at her, at the delicate jut of her collarbones, the straps of her dress nearly slipping off her thin shoulders.
And for a moment, just a moment, the hole gnawing at his gut quiets.
"Alright," he concedes. "But don't get any fucking long-term ideas." She nods.
She asks if she can shower and he agrees, tells her to run the water for a little bit or else she'll be dirtier coming out than going in. She moves differently now, he notices--her hips have the easy sway of a grown woman, an acute contrast to her clumsy teenage walk of two years ago. Her movements are sharp, deliberate. There's something about the placid stare of her eyes that gives her an air of 'been there, done that'.
And really, when your family is killed around you (with you aiding in the massacre), you have been there. You have done that. There's nothing else that can faze you.
She opens the door to the bathroom ten minutes later, steam billowing out into the hallway. She's got one of his dirty towels wrapped around herself, another one slung around her head in a turban-like manner.
He can see the sharp line of her shoulderblades moving beneath the skin of her back, frail, like the bones of a baby bird. She's become much thinner in these past two years, as if the grief has physically eaten away at her. He can clearly see the curve of her spine.
It's too stuffy in his apartment all of a sudden. He grabs his whiskey bottle, stomps outside to lean against the cracked wooden railings. The night is thick and hot, velvety against his skin. The whiskey burns but it's all he's got.
Kate's curled on the couch when he goes back inside, long legs tucked up underneath her. She looks like a statue--the only indication she's alive is the slight rise and fall of her chest.
"Do you want the bed?" He asks her. His words slur the slightest bit. It takes her a moment to register his existence; he has to repeat the question.
"The couch is fine," she tells him. Her eyes have a steely edge to them he hasn't seen before. He adds that to the list of changes.
He'll never admit it, but he falls asleep easier knowing someone else is with him in the apartment.