When Kenzi told Hale she needed some air, what she'd really meant was "I need some space to freak the fuck out where I'm not going to freak you out, because I kinda almost died. Also, Bo asked me to kill her and oh my god I nearly did, and also, there was a seriously pissed off Norn who may or may not have poisoned me in revenge for using a chainsaw on her sacred tree. And stuff. And also, did I mention I almost died?"
The air outside the Dál Riata wasn't exactly fresh—the sour smell of garbage rose from the alley mingled with exhaust fumes from nearby traffic—but Kenzi leaned against the brick wall and breathed deeply anyway.
Kenzi knew where he strengths lay. Her lifts were flawless and her marks never felt the touch. Her wig collection was truly epic. And she filled out a corset better than anybody—except maybe RuPaul. But RuPaul was RuPaul and Kenzi had a healthy respect for drag queens going back to Uncle Gennadiya, who bought her her first pair of platform stilettos and taught her where to find the cheapest and best waterproof mascara.
In short, Kenzi was badass. Except right now, the last thing she felt like was invincible. She was sore and light-headed, both from blood loss and the good, good drugs Lauren had given her (if the doc did go solo, she could probably make a really fine living trafficking in fae herbs. This was better than morphine). She was covered in blood and grime, sweat had dried beneath her clothes, and she would kill for a long hot soak in Bo's clawfoot bathtub.
Still… She was alive.
Sure, she was gonna have a wicked scar that would mean she probably wasn't going to be wearing any itsy-bitsy teeny weenie string bikinis any time soon. Oh, and possibly her arm was going to fall off, due to whatever weird gunk she'd been splashed with in the Norn's cabinet of horrors. But the memory of waking up in a pool of her own blood to the smell of seared meat was at least tempered by the feel of Hale's fingers wrapped tightly around hers.
The heavy oak door of the bar creaked open, and Kenzi didn't bother opening her eyes.
"I'll be fine, Bo-bo," she said, the damp bricks cool against her back, even though her leather corset.
"I'm sure you will," came a woman's voice, and Kenzi started.
Val Santiago leaned against the wall next to her, looking like the day's battle was no more taxing than a Pilates class. Maybe it was a fae thing. Or maybe just a Val thing. She brushed an imaginary piece of lint off her spotless sleeve. She had no blood on her hands. Not like Hale, whose hands were red to the wrists with Kenzi's blood.
"Sorry, I thought you were—" Kenzi started, and then Val waved her hand, and Kenzi's voice caught in her throat.
"I'm going to make this brief. I don't understand why, but my brother is in love with you."
Kenzi's eyes grew wide. She tried to voice a thousand denials, but no sound came.
"I don't really know what he sees in you. I mean, you are pretty enough—for a human. I give that you fought alongside us; I don't know of any other mortals who'd do as much, without being owned."
If Kenzi'd have her voice at that moment, she probably wpuld have said stuff she would probably regret. Val, however, ignored her glare.
"But understand this: I may be his 'baby' sister, but I've always looked out for my big brother. I convinced out father that working for the Ash would enhance our standing among the Light Fae. He would've have exile Hale for working side-by-side with the mortal police. I was the one who took Hale's place at the Clan Zamora table, so he could go off and indulge in his silly cops-and-robbers fantasies with Dyson. And I never once complained, because I knew in the end, it would make Hale a better man to stand on his own two feet.
"And if you ever breathe a word of this to him... If you use how he feels about you to hurt him..." Val leaned in close, her dark eyes glittering, lip curled in a snarl that would have made Dyson proud. "If you so much as make him feel for a single second that he isn't good enough for some mortal thief with questionable taste in evening attire, succubus pal or not, I'll rip your throat out with my bare hands."
Kenzi had hoped that the anti-human thing was in the past, now that they'd all taken Bo's blood and fought the bad guy and won.
Yeah. Apparently not.
She waved her hand and Kenzi's words came out in a rush. "Doodohmygodhe'stotallylikemybrotherfromano thermotherserouslypleasedon'thurtme!"
Kenzi coughed, and resisted the desire to step away from Val. "I mean, he's like, you know, actually your brother. But I mean—we're just buddies! Compadres. Comrades. Sidekicks forever. All for one, and pass the booze, and all that jazz."
"That's not what Vex says."
"You're listening to Whorelando Gloom? The slimy Dark Fae slimeball who's tried to kill us, like, a gajillion times? Even after he was supposedly on our side? You can't take anything he says seriously! I don't even think that's his real accent!"
"Fine. If I can't believe the dark fae's words, then I choose to believe the evidence of my own eyes."
"What do you mean?"
"You didn't see him, when you were mortally wounded."
"Like I said, we're buds."
"Humans and fae aren't—"
"Clearly, we are. Me and Bo: joined at the hip. Bo and Lauren: joined at the lip. D-man? Totally got my back, and I have his. And me and Hale? He trusted me enough to ask me to be his fake honey, didn't he?"
Val's eyes narrowed, and she shook her head, biting off a bitter laugh. Then she was just Val again, and not the scary Pombéro Kenzi had watched gut a half dozen berserkers in the creepy insane asylum just hours before.
"Whatever you say, little human. Whatever you say."
Hale watched the last of the red-tinged water swirled clockwise down the sink drain. The cut on his hand that Kenzi had bound with spider silk to break the binding spell had already closed. By morning there wouldn't even be a scar.
The bathroom's fluorescent lights seemed overly bright, bouncing off the whitewashed walls and full length mirror. In his reflection, Hale saw Kenzi's blood had soaked through his vest and the cuffs of his shirt and started drying, dark brown.
There was a knock at the door, and before Hale could say anything, Dyson came in. He leaned against the metal stall door, arms crossed.
"Hey, man. How you doing?"
"Me? I'm fine. Just peachy. We won, right? Time to party."
"You don't seem to be embracing the celebratory atmosphere," Dyson observed. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you've got your serious face on."
"You know me, D. I don't have a serious face."
"Right. Sure." Dyson smiled at him fondly. "You should really tell her."
"Tell who?" Hale said as he kept his eyes on his reflection, adjusting his hat so the brim shadowed his face.
"Tell her what?"
Dyson reached out, and laid a hand on hand on Hale's shoulder.
"She's mortal, Hale. Weak, powerless ...it's a miracle she's made it this far."
Hale shook off Dyson's hand, suddenly furious. Kenzi was one of them. She'd saved both their lives time and time again, and their team wouldn't have made it this far without her. Who the fuck did this wolf think he was? Seriously?
"Dude, what the fu—"
"And," Dyson continued, "she fights anyway. It's not her fight, but she throws everything she has into it. You know what getting tangled up in the fae world does to mortals. They have such brief lives as it is. And she almost lost hers, today."
"Don't you think I know that?" Hale snapped, his shoulders slumping. Like he was going to get over the sight of her blood welling up between his fingers any time soon, or ice-blue eyes shut, dark lashes like bruises against her skin, or her shallow breathing.
"So you should tell her. No one should die unloved."
Hale swallowed, because he knew what Dyson was talking about. Ciara.
"Kenz knows… I mean, we're besties. Best-dressed besties."
"And you, what? Want to spend the next eighty years with her, marathonning The Mighty Ducks, while you watch her grow old with some human guy?"
"Mighty Ducks is a surprisingly good movie, for a Disney kid-flick."
"That's the Stockholm Syndrome talking," Dyson gave him a look. Hale might have mentioned—on more than one occasion—that Kenzi had made him watch it nine times. In the same week-end. Sometimes back to back. "C'mon, partner. It was killing you, seeing her with that guitar hero."
Hale didn't think it was even possible to deflate further. Yet he did, feeling like some underfae that had crawled up out of the gutter. "They broke up. Because of me. Well, okay, because of Kenz having to lie to him about my world—our world. She deserves to be happy."
"And you don't think she'd be happy with you?" Dyson countered, eyebrows rising toward his artfully mussed hairline.
"Girl just lost the love of her short human life, and almost died fighting a battle she shouldn't have even been a part of. You saw what happened with my dad and Val. How everybody at the meeting of the clans whispered and looked at her."
Dyson leaned close to Hale, slouching slightly so they were eye to eye.
"Since when does Kenzi care what any fae snob thinks? Since when do you? I thought you had game? You had moves?" Dyson stepped back again, crossing his arms once more and raising a single brow. "Man up, Siren."
"Shouldn't that be 'Fae up'?"
"Stop trying to change the subject."
"You're not gonna let this go, are you?"
Dyson smiled, baring his teeth. "Not a chance."
"Since when do you yenta?" Hale grumbled.
"Since the Kenz got the Norn released me from the geis," Dyson said without hesitation. "She gave me back my heart. Hell, she saved my life. Literally. I owe her everything. And I want to see her happy, too. But for as long as she's Bo's BFF, she's never going to be able to have a human boyfriend she can be honest with."
"So, what? I'm the best of limited options?"
"Unless you want me to set her up with Trick? Pretty much."
"Low blow, dude. Low blow."
"So, you'll tell her?"
"When the time is right. But yeah. I'll tell her."
"Good talk, man. Good talk." Dyson clapped him on the shoulder, smiling. "And if you don't treat her right…" Dyson's eyes slitted and a low growl came from deep inside his chest.
It took every ounce of Hale's strength not to step back. "Big bad wolf, brother. Got it."
Hale came back into the taproom, and glanced around the, looking for a distinctive tiny human girl with blond streaks in her dyed black hair, and platform boots. Bo was nowhere to be found, Val was trying to stay as far away from Vex as possible, chatting with Trick and trying to pretend Lauren was invisible.
The doc, for her part, didn't seem to give a damn. What with Ciara's funeral, Trick's kidnapping, and the defeat of the Garuda, it was easy to forget hat Lauren had got the shit end of the stick, too. Slave to the Ash, girlfriend-in-a-coma turned girlfriend-possessed turned dead-girlfriend.
Still, at least Lauren had Bo. For however long that lasted, with Dyson's heart back in the game. Hale just shook his head. Maybe the succubus would make it work. Maybe not. But for now, he was less interested in Bo's complex love-life than he was his own.
Trick took one look at Hale, and wordlessly handed him a pint filled with rich, dark beer.
The door opened, and Kenzi slipped back in. She was still rubbing the skin of her wrist beneath her sleeve, scanning the room for Bo. Hale tried to look casual as he walked back over to her, now-clean hands shoved deep in his pockets after adjusting his hat to a jaunty angle. He'd show Dyson moves.
"Hey, Li'l Mamma. Feeling better?"
Kenzi gave him a half-hearted smile. "Sorta?"
On impulse, Hale reached out a hand. "C'mere."
Kenz tilted her head, but let him wrap his fingers around hers.
The Dál's snug was a small room at the side of the bar with two long padded benches, separated by the rest of the taproom by a partial wall. Hale walked Kenzi over to the far side, and sat down on the padded bench. She curled into his side, completely comfortable, despite her clothes reeking of smoke and blood.
"We almost lost you, baby girl. You really copacetic?"
"Dude, it takes more than some Garuda-crazed homeless guy with a machete to take me out. I didn't even scuff my kicks."
Kenzi stretched out her legs, turning her ankle this way and that so Hale could properly admire her choice of footwear. The chunky high-heeled ankle boots were pretty damn hot, he had to admit.
"Yeah. Yeah, you're tougher than all of us."
Hale smiled, and pulled her gently into a one armed hug. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head on impulse.
"Don't get mushy on me, Haley," she laughed at his sudden display of affection.
"You know I love you, right?" he said into her hair, and Kenzi froze in his embrace.
This was it. His chance. All he would need to do would be shift position an inch or two… All she would need to do was lean just a little bit forward.
Neither of them moved, though Hale could see her fingers twitching in her lap, and feel his own heart pounding in his chest.
He couldn't do it. He wanted to—he'd wanted to even before Dyson had given him the shovel speech. But all his nerve fled. Over seven hundred years old and he felt like a kid with a crush. A hopeless, doomed crush. On a human.
"You know, like a sister," he said quickly to try and break the awkward tension that had sprung up between tem, wincing at what he imagined was the obviousness of the lie. "You know, totally like—you know, like Val. Totally like Val. Only without the centuries of hair-pulling, voice-stealing, petty bickering, and mayhem."
Kenzi gave a shaky laugh. "No, no, yeah. I... love you too. In a platonic, filial way. Not like the brothers from Supernatural way. Like the Brothers Grimm, maybe. You know, like in that movie with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger? Totally. Like that."
Hale took a long pull off his beer, wiping the foam on the back of his hand. "Platonic. Filial. Absolutely. Me too."
The smile she gave him then was closer to her usual megawatt grin, and she leaned back against him again. Silence stretched out between them, but it was comfortable rather than tense.
"The Brothers Grimm? Really?"
"We were having a moment!" Kenzi squealed. "A special moment! I was trying not to ruin it. Not be a moment-ruiner."
Hale rested his cheek against her hair, and just breathed deep, while Kenzi burrowed a little further into his side.
"Heath Ledger ever check out Matt Damon's six-pack?" Hale finally asked, unable to keep a grin from splitting his face.
Kenzi poked his side with one stiff finger. "You ever tried to cop a feel under a desk with your sister?"
"Oh man, seriously? You went there?"
"I so went there! And it was your hand on my ass, remember?"
"Baby girl, your ass is fine. Can you blame me for wanting to tap that?"
"Hells yes, it's fine. And don't you forget it."
"Like I could."
From the other side of the wall, Hale could hear the sound of an open hand meeting flesh, followed by Vex's loud "Ow!" and Dyson's booming laughter. It broke the spell of the moment, and Hale wasn't sure whether he should feel relieved, or disappointed.
"Yeah, okay, let's go join the rest of the party before the lady doc drinks all the good stuff."
"Good plan." Hale stood, and offered her his arm. Kenzi took it, and they waltzed back into the taproom.
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