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When Amaru’s gone, Seth has to help Kate shower.

He probably shouldn’t, but she can barely stand, barely keep her eyes open, and he can’t bear the thought of tucking her into a motel bed to rest with… blood and Amaru still caked all over her. He imagines that’s not something she’d want to wake up to. Hopes that he’s right and isn’t massively overstepping their boundaries.

And maybe he should let someone else do it, but it’s either Scott or Richie, or maybe Santanico and, much as he may have adjusted, something in him still twinges at culebras, twinges harder when he thinks about one alone in a bathroom with a naked, vulnerable Kate, no matter who they are. Something else in him twinges at the thought of anyone else besides him alone in a bathroom with Kate, but he ignores it.

Scott’s already left, probably feeding somewhere, so he sends Richie and Santanico out to buy her clothes, and makeup remover, anything else they can think of that she might need, and a box of brown hair dye, just in case she wants it after. Then he turns the shower on to let the water heat, and peels Amaru’s stupid fucking leather off Kate’s small, tortured body.

She doesn’t help much, half-conscious as she is. Mostly just plants her hands on his arms, shoulders, waist, as he moves around her and kneels to get her boots and pants off.

It’s not the way he’s pictured himself undressing Kate Fuller. Not that he should have ever pictured it. But he did. Especially when he thought she was dead and gone, and he could tell himself it wasn’t how he felt about her, not right now, it was about what might have been, what he would’ve done with a Kate Fuller still alive five years from now, the arousal mingling with his guilt and shame and horror and grief.

He’s never claimed to be good. He’s pictured himself undressing Kate Fuller before, but it was never like this.

He takes off his own clothes, but leaves his boxers on.

He holds her waist to maneuver her into the shower. She takes little steps, obeying easily.

He hates this—hates the sight of her, curled in on herself the way she has been since they got Amaru out. He wants to see her like she used to be, shoulders thrown back and chin pushed up in defiance at whatever stupid shit he was pulling that day.

He lets the water run on her for a while, then washes her hair, trying not to tangle it more than it is already. He’s afraid to touch the rest of her, so he just lets the shampoo runoff get her body mostly clean. She pushes her forehead against his chest while he massages her scalp, and the way his breath whooshes out of him in a jolt of relief and longing—it would have scared him before, with anyone else, but at the moment he can’t think clearly beyond Kate, Kate, Kate, and sometimes alive, Kate’s alive.

It’s not a new feeling, anyway. He didn’t recognize the way his stomach lurched at the sound of her name or just the thought of her when it started all those months ago, but he’s well familiar with it now.

He washes the blood off her face, and uses the entire bottle of shitty motel shampoo in the shower, watches some of the red run out of her hair with it, not sure if it’s bad hair dye or some kind of weird Hell-tramp magic coming out, and rubs up and down her arms soothingly while he lets it sit for a minute. His hands make his way to her shoulders, and he massages gently, his heart squeezing painfully at how tense she is. She whimpers, and he stops immediately. Nothing about this shower has been sexual, he’d be a monster if it was, but he can’t hear her making sounds like that and not have his mind wander.

He turns her, rinses her hair, then shuts off the water and wraps her in a towel. He leads her back into the main room, and she just stands there with her arms around herself while he goes back to the bathroom to grab a towel for himself and change into a dry pair of boxers.

It only takes a minute, but when he comes back out her gaze is fixated on a knife Richie left on the table, and terror washes over him.

“Fucking idiot, I’ll kill him,” he mutters, nearly choking on it as he rushes to the knife and hides it away.

“Come on,” he says, turning back to Kate. “Get in bed, you should rest.”

He gets her under the covers with some nudging, then pulls her wet towel out from underneath them. He can’t help sitting next to her, bringing his hand up to hold her face gently.

“Go to sleep,” he whispers, “You’ll feel better.”

She shakes her head like she doesn’t believe him, but she keeps looking up at him through tired, bloodshot eyes until she finally says, “Thanks.”

Seth feels the old familiar self-loathing come rushing in at such a simple word, but it’s sharper and colder than usual. He doesn’t deserve anything from her, and certainly not her gratitude.

“For what?” he asks, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice.

Kate blinks slowly. Seth strokes her cheek with his thumb.

“For getting her off of me,” she mumbles.

Then she’s asleep.

 

She sleeps like the dead, so much that Seth keeps getting up to check that she’s still breathing.

When Richie comes back Seth nearly strangles him for leaving that knife lying around, but his angry voice rouses Kate and he shuts up.

“She shouldn’t… shouldn’t be around weapons, I—” he whispers angrily.

“You’re worried about her, I get it,” Richie says back. “I was careless, I won’t do it again.”

“Okay.” Seth nods firmly, but he doesn’t feel any better.

 

Kate wakes up when Richie’s out later on a food run. It’s mid-afternoon. Slanted light peeks around the curtains. Seth watches her anxiously while she tosses and turns, and his heart jumps when she whispers, “Seth?”

“Yeah, I’m here, I’m right here.”

He sits on the bed again and grabs her hand, unable to resist some kind of contact with her. She can barely keep her eyes open, much less look around.

“Is it just you?” she murmurs.

“Just me. I’m right here, Kate.”

“Good, because I have… something to say.” She sounds like every word drains her.

“Okay.” He waits expectantly.

“I am not… going to put up with your shit again,” she says.

He gapes, but her eyes are closed from the effort of speaking.

“I’m not putting up with your fucking drugs, or your attitude, or your mood swings when you decide to take them out on me. I am not doing that again. So if you can’t manage to be better for me than you were last time around, you should leave.”

It takes him a moment to find his voice, and he’s gripping her hand harder than he should. “I’m clean, Kate. I have been for months now, I swear. It won’t be like last time—” he has to stop before he chokes on his words.

“Good,” she says. Her voice is cold. “Don’t let me down again.”

He flinches.

 

She wakes up again later in the middle of the night. Scott and Richie have both returned and gone again, to different rooms, or out to drink—whether blood or alcohol, he doesn’t want to think about. Only Seth keeps vigil in the little room, pitch black except the green glow of the digital clock.

She wakes up breathing hard and crying, and he rushes to her. Her teeth are clacking together from the strength of her sobs when he kneels next to the bed and grabs her face in his hands.

“Kate,” he says urgently. “Kate! Talk to me,” he pleads.

“I should be dead. Why am I alive? Why didn’t you let me die?”

She weeps. When she grabs his arm and digs her nails into his wrist, he worries for a split second about his soul, but the sharp edges in her words and on her hands are all Kate.

“Kate, you’re safe now. No one’s gonna hurt you again. She’s gone.” He tries to keep his voice steady, but his whole body is screaming at him to wrap her up in his arms and hold her until she stops crying.

Kate opens her watery eyes to look directly at him, anger tightening the lines of her face. “She’ll never be gone. Not for me. You think I’ll ever be able to forget what it felt like? Do you think I ever won’t feel her every time I close my eyes? The danger’s gone for you, and I’m glad. But she’ll never be gone for me. I’m going to feel the scars of her in my body, and my mind, and my heart for the rest of my life. I wish you’d killed me to get rid of her the first time you saw me again. You should have let me die.” Her voice is scathing, but she’s crying again as soon as she stops, clenching her teeth and then groaning, like she can’t stand it.

“No,” he says, close to a yell. “No, that’s bullshit. And fuck you for even acting like I could have done that. You think I could have killed you, after thinking you were dead for months, and that it was my fault? Jesus Christ, Kate.” He breathes heavily. “And no, I couldn’t just let you die, because I’m a selfish bastard. You’re stuck with me. I’m sure recovering from this is gonna fucking suck but you’re damn well going to try, you got it? You have to try.” He doesn’t want to beg, but. He will.

She pulls his hands off her face and rolls over, away from him.

“Fuck you, Seth.”

He huffs out a tiny, humorless laugh. “Yeah, you too, Kate.”

 

Later, she wakes up, truly this time. Enough to pull on the soft pajamas Santanico (Kisa, he hears her scolding in his head) picked out for her. Kate looks up at him once she’s dressed, rubbing the grogginess out of her eyes.

“Hi,” she says.

“Hey,” he swallows back the lump in his throat.

She stares at him for a moment, and then she rushes to him. The feeling of her arms wrapping desperately around him knocks the breath from his chest, and it takes him just a split second to respond, to pull her as close and as tight against him as he can.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” she murmurs into his chest.

There’s a half-hysterical laugh on the tip of his tongue. “Same to you, princess.”

They hold each other for a minute longer, and Seth would have kept holding her, but she pulls away. “I’m starving. Is there food?”

 

Seth is relieved every time he sees pieces of the old Kate peeking through the exhaustion and the sorrow that seem constantly clouded around her.

He brushes all of the tangles out of her hair, he wakes her up and holds her in the middle of the night when she’s thrashing with nightmares, and he argues with Richie when his brother suggests maybe Kate should go home with Freddie.

For her part, Kate doesn’t seem to mind having him around all the time. She’s a swirl of emotions when she’s not apathetic, and he can tell that her anger at him has to battle her relief, as well as the familiarity between them from having lived together for three months in Mexico before it all went to shit. They ask her if she’d prefer to go with Freddie, and she just looks at Seth and asks, “Are you gonna leave me again?”

He shakes his head, shame flooding over him.

“Then no, I think I’m okay here.”

 

Recovery is slow going, but it goes. The first time Seth hears her laugh again, he has to turn away so she won’t see his eyes watering.

But it’s not just nightmares—he’s seen the way terror overtakes her sometimes, and the way she flinches when people touch her, and she admits in a dark moment that she worries the flashbacks will never stop and the anxiety will never recede. She admits that sometimes when her emotions are strong, she feels like there are edges of Amaru left, things she left behind that find a place in the way she yells, or glares, or cries.

He catches her staring at his gun sometimes, and comes the closest he’s been in a long time to praying. It makes his skin itch for his old poison, but he pushes away the thought. Kate is worth resisting the temptation. She’s worth not letting himself become a mess again.

 

“I think I need therapy,” she says one day. Seth jumps at it, but she interrupts him when he says it’s a great idea.

“Seth, where am I gonna find a therapist I can talk to about having PTSD from killing my dad before he became a culebra, and dying, and my body being taken over by a monster from Hell? Therapy would be nice, but I didn’t mean that seriously. It’s not an option for me.”

Except that’s not acceptable to Seth.

It takes a considerable amount of digging, and talking to shady people in whispers, but after a month Seth has a referral and an appointment with a doctor in Mexico City.

“I think she might actually be a culebra, but it’s worth a shot, right? Do you want to try?” he asks Kate.

She just bites her lip and nods. He smiles at her.

“Pack a bag, princess.”

 

He finds a little apartment to rent for them so they can stay as long as they need, and he holds her hand when he takes her to the first appointment. He meets the doctor, who seems normal. Still, he and Kate both have stakes tucked in their clothes.

“Ready?” the doctor asks Kate.

She looks at Seth.

“I’ll be right out here the whole time,” he assures her.

She nods and follows the doctor into her office. Seth takes the chair closest to the door.

She comes out an hour later.

“You good?” he asks, reaching for her hand again.

She lets him take it and nods. “I have another appointment on Thursday.”

“Great! That’s great.”

They go to lunch, and Kate’s quiet—more quiet than usual—the whole time. Seth decides not to bother her about it.

It’s later, when they’re just walking around the city, that she finally says something.

“I don’t think I’d do it, you know?”

“Huh?” he asks.

“I wouldn’t kill myself. Every time I’ve thought about it, I end up hearing your voice telling me to fight. And then I think of how guilty you’d feel. Pretty annoying if you ask me. So you’ve done your duty by me, or whatever. I can be responsible for myself, you know?”

He stops walking. She turns to face him.

“Kate, what are you talking about?”

“I don’t need you to babysit me.”

He huffs. “I’m not babysitting you.”

“Fine, I don’t need you to feel some weird responsibility to take care of me because of all the danger you put me in.”

He shakes his head once. “Nope, definitely not that.”

“You should go home to Richie, or go rob some more banks, or open that bar, or do something besides just… waiting for me to function again. I can stay here by myself, I’ll be okay.”

“Do you actually want that?”

She looks away.

“Kate.” She meets his eyes. “I want to stay with you.”

“Yeah, because you feel obligated—”

He guides her by the waist into the nearest wall, and cuts her off with his mouth against hers. She makes a startled sound, then relaxes into the kiss. His heart soars when she tentatively kisses back. The sunlight is warm and bright behind their closed eyes, and her face and her hip are soft beneath his hands, and the little breathy sounds she’s making are just about the best thing he’s ever heard.

“Seth,” she says when she pulls away, his lips chasing hers for a second, but he settles for resting his forehead against hers.

“I am definitely not babysitting you.”

“So you’re here for this, then? This is what you…”

“You’re impossible, you know that?” He rolls his eyes. She almost smiles. “I don’t expect anything Kate. This isn’t some kind of tradeoff. I just want you to keep getting better. I just like being with you. I don’t care about anything else we do in the meantime, or after. Okay?”

She does smile this time. “Okay.” She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a slip of paper. “The doctor wrote me a prescription for anxiety meds, if I want them.”

“You wanna go find a pharmacy?” he asks.

She bites her lip and nods.

 

She climbs into his bed that night. Just pulls back the covers and slips in, lifting up one of his arms to pull around her.

“Couldn't sleep,” she mumbles, but he doesn't need the excuse.

His arm tightens around her waist, and he lets himself kiss her bare shoulder blade before he can overthink it.

“Okay princess.”

He’s not sure if she’s fallen asleep, when she suddenly speaks.

“Before—when you left,” she says haltingly. He hums to indicate he’s listening. “You made me feel like such an idiot, you know that? You made me feel like I was some stupid child for wanting you. Not that you knew.”

Seth frowns into the darkness. She continues. “I don’t want to do that again. I don’t—I don’t like the girl that I was, the way I would have done anything for you, the way I let you treat me, because at least you were there, you know?”

Kate,” he says, his voice pained. “You were not stupid. I was a jackass. That was on me, not you. Shit. I’m so sorry.”

“You were suffering, I understand,” she whispers. “I just don’t ever want to feel like that again.”

“You won’t,” he promises, wants to leave it at that. But his own truths are pushing at his chest.

“Sometimes I think I’m too old and… I don’t know, stubborn? For you. I worry that I don’t know how to be happy anymore, and you deserve someone who will be happy with you. Someone who can make it through a day without itching for alcohol or heroine, even when things are good. I don’t know how to do that. You deserve someone better than me, Kate.”

She turns over in his arms and props herself on an elbow, even though they still can’t really see each other in the dark.

“I’m not recovering in a day, you’re not going to learn to be happy that quickly either. And I’m not sure I want someone who’s… well-adjusted and fine all the time. I’m not fine. Maybe I want to be with someone who’s as fucked up as I am.”

His hand flexes on her waist, and his breath catches. He knows she feels it.

“We’ll work on it. We’ll figure it out, okay?”

“Okay,” he agrees.

“Seth?”

“Yeah?”

“You can kiss me again if you want to.” He can hear her shy smile, and he laughs softly, a flash of something bright rushing through him.

“Yeah, I want to.”