King and Whistler

Author’s note: I revised the end of the story when someone pointed out something that coincided with a nagging feeling I already had myself. I found that I like the reworked ending a lot more now, and I hope you do, too! :eek:)

Title: King and Whistler
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Abby Whistler and Hannibal King have had a long history with one another. He was her first failure. She was his knight in shining armor. Where does their relationship go once life as they know it changes?
Disclaimer: Most of the characters I used aren’t mine. Don’t sue me, etc.

Hannibal King scanned the crowded bar. This wasn’t the usual type of place he liked to hang out with its shiny lights and loud music and its sl**ty looking women. Okay, maybe the sl**ty thing was his usual m.o. But the techno music and dancing? Definitely not. He was much more comfortable at the pub down the road from his college apartment just sitting back with some of his friends and letting the women come to him.

This dance party, club s*** wasn’t his style. “However, there’s only so much alone time on a Friday night that you could take before going insane and showing up at a place like this,” he said to the man sitting next him. The man just glared at him and shook his head. “Looks like someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”

The loud, booming music rattled the beer sitting in front of him, and he unconsciously reached out to steady it while scanning the bar. That was when he caught sight of her. She was walking away from where he was sitting and kept looking over her shoulder in search of someone.

He gave her a quick once over. Long wavy hair. Great butt. Legs that went on forever. Devilish smile even though it didn‘t seem to be genuine. Confident swagger. Not paying attention to one guy staring her way. Definitely looked like a challenge.

In one word: Perfect.

He always told his friends he had special radar for pretty brunettes. Put him in a bar and he’d have one eating out of his hands within minutes. However, this one surpassed any he had ever seen in his life. Immediately, she had promoted herself past the point of one-night conquest. If he was the type of guy to believe in love at first sight, he had a feeling this might be it.

“Good thing I’m not,” he muttered while finishing off his current beer and signaling the bartender for another. While he waited, he turned back to look at her.

Her confidence was faltering as she seemed to be realizing that whoever she was looking for wasn’t there. That was when he saw a flash of something in her gaze. It broke the obvious spell she had put over his eyes, considering he didn’t notice one important detail about her.

“Damnit,” he hissed to himself, grabbing the beer the bartender slid his way. She was young. Too young. What the hell was a kid doing in a bar on the wrong side of town?

Running a hand through his head while trying to think up what he was going to do now, he looked down at his clothes. She wasn’t even old enough to appreciate the awesomeness that was the Flock of Seagulls tour shirt he had managed to pick up a few years back. It was his no-fail chick pick-up shirt, and it would be a complete waste on her.

“And why the hell are you so concerned with how you cool you look to her?” he asked himself even as he began to stand. He had a reason to be out that night, and impressing underage girls was not it. There were sorrows he was supposed to be drinking away before he picked up a random girl to help drown out whatever was left once the alcohol wore off. He could practically kill Sheila, the blonde he had been seeing on and off all term, when she told him she had decided that he wasn’t man enough for her.

“What the f*** does that even mean?” he said out loud while still keeping his eyes on the young brunette. She was still searching for someone. Only now it was starting to border on frantic.

He pushed his way slowly through the crowd. “Someone needs to watch out for the kid. She‘ll probably get something slipped in her Shirley Temple and end up dead in a ditch or whatever else young girls get warned about if you don‘t go over and talk to her.” he thought, trying to reassure himself. As he pushed a drunken pair of girls out of his way, he rolled his eyes and muttered, “Yeah, King. You just keep telling yourself that and maybe in the morning you won’t feel like a complete pedophile.”

He was about ten yards from her when a thin hand grabbed him by his completely awesome shirt and pushed him up against the wall. “Um, hi,” he said, staring down at the willowy, pale woman in front of him. She was rather attractive in an I-haven’t-eaten-in-ten-years-because-I’ve-been-too-busy-working-my-charms-on-lonely-men-like-you kind of way, and she seemed rather fixated on his neck. “How can I help you?”

“You look tasty,” she said with a sly grin.

“You know I get that a lot. Now if you excuse me.” He tried to push past her and found himself being slammed up against the wall yet again. “Wow. You’re pretty burly.”

She didn’t respond to the comment. He swore to himself. That one always seemed to get the psychotic ones to leave him alone. Instead, this strange woman reached out with a fingernail and ran it along his jaw line. “Do you want to go party somewhere we can be alone?”

He felt himself start to say yes before he realized what he was about to do. “I don’t think that would be a good idea.” He looked around the woman’s shoulder and felt slightly relieved to see the brunette still standing in the place he last saw her. “Plus, there’s a lady I need to see about a horse.”

The woman ran her finger down along his neck seductively. “I’m sure that can wait.” She dug her finger in slightly, hard enough to draw a small trickle of blood.

“What the f***?” King yelled, grabbing his neck.

“I got excited,” she whispered into his ear before stepping back. “Sorry.”

Again, she gave him that sly grin that screamed she knew something that he didn’t. He turned his head back in time to get a good look at her teeth. “Jesus. I think you need to go to the dentist and see someone about those chompers, lady.”

“You amuse me. No one’s amused me in one hundred years,” she said, sneering. “Now let’s cut the bulls*** opening lines and get this thing started.”

King would have responded with another put off if his eyes hadn’t locked with the brunette’s at that exact second. She stared at him for a few moments, and he couldn’t help but send his most inviting smile her way. Later he would chalk it up to instinct. There was no way he would have chosen to give her that kind of look when he knew that she was as good as jailbait to him.

He saw the corner of her mouth turn up in what probably would have been a smile. Probably if her face hadn’t gone completely pale as the strange woman currently straddling his body against the wall hadn’t turned to figure out where he was looking. He could see the brunette’s focus shift from him to the woman, and her whole body froze.

He wasn’t sure if it was fear or determination that lit up the brunette’s eyes. Maybe it was a little bit of both. All he was sure of was he blinked, and she was gone.

King realized his mistake almost immediately. “That girl can obviously take care of herself, no matter how far she is from her cradle,” he decided, turning his attention back to the not-so-bad-looking woman currently throwing herself at him. At least this one wouldn’t be much of a challenge. He figured that a challenge wasn’t really what he had been looking for.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~*~ ~*~

Abigail Whistler cursed. Where the hell were Enderton and Smith? They were supposed to be watching her back here. It was her first mission in the field as a Night Stalker. Or at least as a potential Night Stalker who might one day be allowed to play with the big boys if she played her cards right and didn‘t die or let anyone else die on her watch.

She knew that she could easily do what the team was asking her to, but she thought the Night Stalkers would have watched her more closer this first time, considering they weren’t as sure of her abilities as she was.

They were supposed to meet her at the front of the bar. That was half her challenge. Figuring out how to get her fifteen-year-old self into a bar she couldn’t legally step foot in for another six years. Prove to them her young age wasn’t a problem. Then all the Night Stalkers asked her to do was kill one measly vampire without anyone being the wiser. Not that hard considering she’d seen what she would be asked to do on a daily basis if the Night Stalkers accepted her as one of their own.

Again, she scanned the bar, coming up empty. There were no other Night Stalkers present. “s***,” she muttered. “Looks like it’s up to you, Whistler.”

She reached towards her back and grabbed the silver stake she had strapped to it earlier. It was the only weapon she thought she could smuggle into such a crowded bar. As her insecurity began to surface, she wondered what she wouldn’t do to have her crossbow in her hand. It had always been her favorite since she was ten, and her father taught her how to use it.

She shook the memories of her father out of her head. She didn’t have time to go down that road. Not right now. That man she had locked eyes with needed help right now. If she didn’t come to his aid, he probably would only live another two minutes, three tops.

He seemed so cocky when he flashed her that smile from across the room. She was half tempted to pretend like she hadn’t seen him or the vampire company he was currently keeping. It would be interesting to see if his charm could get him out of this one all by his lonesome. Plus, Smith had told her that it was the cocky ones that you didn’t waste your time saving.

Damnit. When had she started taking advice from Smith? The woman was as unfeeling as a person could be, and she was a complete man hater. Enderton had told her that’s what the job would do to you. Not the man hater part, but the cold, unfeeling part. Abby was ninety percent sure that he was just trying to intimidate her.

She pushed through the crowd so that she was walking parallel to the woman vampire and the man she was about to save. Enderton said the first thing to killing a vampire is to make sure you know what it’s capable of. Never engage without understanding who you were fighting. And the man knew what he was talking about. He had been a Night Stalker for over five years. That was legendary in this city.

The pair slipped into one of the back rooms. Abby waited a few seconds before pushing the door open and entering the unknown.

It was an empty stock room. No intrusive lights. Plenty of corners to hide in. Definite air of eeriness. “Great,” she muttered, looking around. “Where the hell did they go?”

She started making her way systematically past each row. Two human couples and one questionable threesome later, she spied the man she had been searching for in the next row. She ducked down behind a wooden box and tried to figure out what was happening. It seemed the woman was still trying to get the man to agree to the tryst. That meant Abby still had time to save him.

A sound at the end of the row made her pause before charging in with her lone silver stake waving. They weren’t alone.

“Gregor,” the women hissed. “What do you want?”

“Why do you insist on doing this in such public places?”

She turned her attention away from the man who was already half under her spell. “Why do you insist on interrupting me all the time?”

“Frost wants to see you.”

“I’ll get to him in my own, sweet time. This one amuses me.” Abby swore as the woman turned her attention back to the man. For a moment there, she thought she would be able to sneak in and pull him out without anyone noticing. He was just lying there on the ground, not saying a word, not moving. It suddenly hit her that he might already be a lost cause.

Trying to focus, she turned her attention away from the man and back to the two vampires. They had finished their bickering, and the man was walking away.

“Where were we, lover?” the woman said.

Before Abby could move an inch, the fangs were out and in his neck. “s***,” she muttered and ran out of her hiding place. Not knowing what else to do, Abby kicked the woman vampire hard in the chest and sent her flying through the air. There was a loud crash as her body hit the shelf at the end of the row.

Abby leaned down and smiled at the man. He was smiling at her. That was a definite good sign. Maybe she wasn‘t too late. “Hi. I’m--” A gunshot cut her off. She looked down at her abdomen. “--bleeding.”

“That’s what happens when you play with the meat,” the woman vampire said, standing up, gun in hand. “Now, who the hell are you?”

Abby didn’t have time to react before a fist was colliding with where the bullet had entered her body. A swift kick slammed her down against the concrete floor. She could taste the blood pooling in her mouth from where she had unintentionally bit the side of her mouth. A hand grabbed the back of her hair and lifted her to her feet.

“Are they sending children after us now?” she said with a laugh. “Pathetic.”

She gave Abby a quick head butt and dropped her to the floor. Baring her fangs, she moved in for the kill. She only made it two inches before being flung away. “There’s more of you?” she hissed.

“There’s always more out there willing to kill your kind,” the man who had thrown her sneered.

The woman behind him kneeled down next to Abby and felt for a pulse. “She’s alive, Enderton. Completely stupid but alive.”

Enderton threw a swift kick to the vampire’s head and then swept her feet out from under her. The impact of the floor jarred her, and he seized the moment to shove a stake into her chest. He waited a moment, but nothing happened.

“You missed,” she hissed at him before standing up with a slight swagger.

“I wasn’t aiming for the heart,” he responded as she began to wince in pain. “That slight tingle you have at the back of your head is the first effect of the liquefied silver that’s begun coursing through your bloodstream.”

The woman screamed in pain and collapsed in a heap. Enderton turned to the woman fighting by his side. “We need to get out of here now, Smith.”

Smith grabbed Abby, flipped her over her shoulder, and began to walk down the row. Enderton gave one last look to the half-bitten and semi-conscious man lying on the floor and shook his head. “I’m sorry we couldn’t get to you in time,” he whispered.

By the time they made it back into the main bar, Abby was regaining her senses. “What the f*** were you doing in there, Whistler? That was Danica Talos you were taking on,” Enderton yelled.

“No way,” Abby said, stopping in her tracks. Talos wasn’t the type of vampire you wanted to see on your first assignment, let alone take her on in a solo fight.

Smith rammed her to keep her moving. “Keep moving if you don’t want to end up dead.” Pushing Abby further forward, she turned her attention back to Enderton. “What the hell were you babbling about to Talos? We don’t have liquefied silver in our toy chest, John.”

“I know. There was just enough solid silver in that stake to make her queasy for a few minutes so we could make it out of there alive. It should fool her for long enough.” There was a loud scream that rang through the whole bar. “Or maybe not even that long. Run.”

Danica Talos raced out of the storeroom to see the three figures disappearing out the door. Letting out another scream, she turned on heel and went back to where King was laying on the floor.

“f***. You’re already half gone.” Sighing, she hefted him up to his feet. “The last man who amused me lasted two months. I wonder how long you’ll survive.”

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~


Hannibal King could see the gun sitting on the table next to him. For the first time in five years, Danica had forgotten to tie him down. The chains on the headboard hung down, unused. If he could just reach the gun, he could finally get what he wanted the most.


He was too weak to move more than two fingers. Seems Danica had been particularly hungry and annoyed with him this morning. Usually she only took enough blood to knock him out for a few hours during daytime. She liked to keep him as lucid as possible during the night. Turns out that five years running, he was still amusing her. With what, he wasn’t sure.

He hadn’t had enough energy to talk in over two years. At least, he hadn’t felt the need to talk in two years. The capability was still there, but there was no longer purpose. Sometimes he found himself unable to remember what he had found so funny for all those years before now. He could vaguely remember having a dry wit and an always present sense of humor. People liked that. At any rate he thought people had liked that about him. It was hard to remember.

He couldn’t really come up with any reason why he was still around. The only possible answer lay in the fact that Danica was the biggest b**** in the world and just liked to give herself a constant reminder that she was better than all the other vampires. That she was better than him. Stronger. Tougher. Faster. It was like she felt obligated to make sure he had nothing to live for while stringing him along, barely alive.

Ever since Frost died, the vampires had been going through humans like they were bread. There was no one to set down rules or to make an ultimate endgame type of goal. It was a gigantic, murderous free-for-all. Every vampire was amazed that Danica had the self control to keep him, this pathetic human, alive.

His gaze shifted back to the gun on the table. Why was it just sitting there? Couldn’t it be nice just this once and jump into his hand? He found himself wondering why no one had ever invited a jumping gun. It would have been the best invention ever.

Trying again, he discovered that he could move all his fingers on his right hand and his wrist, too, this time. His strength was coming back. He felt his head shift as he trained his eyes on the door. There were sounds coming from down the hall.

It was now or never.

He summoned up all his strength and threw himself at the gun. His body just kind of rolled off the bed and onto the floor in a lump. “Ow. That was stupid,” he thought to himself, staring down at the floor.

Danica laughed at the site of her favorite pet lying facedown on the floor. “What were you trying to do, King?” she asked, strolling into the room and over to his side. Her eyes settled on the end table. “Were you actually trying to get to the gun? Don’t tell me you were going to kill yourself. How pathetic.”

The anger bubbled up inside him. It was a surprise. He didn’t know he was capable of anger anymore, having maxed out on it within the first three months of her feasting. It gave him a pulsing energy. “Wasn’t… going… to kill… me…” He managed to spit out.

“You can talk,” she said, sneering. “Well, isn’t that a surprise? So, tell me, chatterbox. What were you going to do with it if you weren‘t intending to end your measly, pathetic excuse for a life?”

“Shoot you… in the head.” He managed to turn the corners of his mouth up in a smile. Maybe he wasn’t as weak as he always thought. He might just get out of this yet. Laughing, Danica picked him up by the hair and threw him on the bed. His body pulsed with pain. Maybe not.

“If you weren’t such a filthy human, I might be persuaded to have my way with you. But we can’t have the mingling of the species. More freaks like Blade might pop up for all we know.”

King stiffened slightly at the mention of Blade. Danica hardly mentioned the vampire hunter named Blade. However, other vampires she invited into her private rooms weren’t so selective on what or who they talked about, so King had picked up quite a bit of information over the years. He had heard that the Daywalker was mostly a myth. No one had really seen him. He liked to think that was because no one who saw Blade ever lived to tell the tale. “You have to believe in something, right?” he thought, laughing to himself at the complete irrationality of his thoughts.

It was silly things like that that made him think he might actually stand another hour of this torture.

“I have a surprise for you, pet,” Danica whispered in his ear.

King tensed. He had forgotten she was still there. His small spike of hope was squashed as she sunk her teeth into the still sore wound on his chest from where she had bitten him the day before. She liked to spread out the pain all over his body. Five years and he’d never been bitten in the same place twice.

At least, not until now.

After a few seconds, she pulled back and licked the blood off her lips. “I’ve decided that you haven’t quite been suffering enough. Your blood is starting to taste a little weak. I really like the taste of you better when you’re suffering.” She snapped her fingers, and the door to her bedroom opened up. “This is Steinger. He’s going to give you a little brand for me. I’ve decided that I’m going to make you a Familiar, pet.”

The bulky vampire pulled out his tattoo needle and grabbed King’s arm to begin the process. King didn’t even have the energy to scream as the needle entered his skin for the first time without any pain killer and with his mental defenses completely exhausted.

Danica grabbed Steinger’s shoulder and flung him away from the prostrate King. “No, no, no. I don’t want it there.”

Steinger stood up from where he had landed and walked back to where his victim lay. “But that’s where we mark all the Familiars.”

“Not my Familiar.” Smiling at King, she grabbed the sheet he had become entangled in when he fell off the bed earlier and ripped it clear off. He lay naked in front of her eyes for the one thousand, nine hundred and thirty-eighth day in a row. He knew. He had kept count. There wasn’t really much else to do.

Danica leaned over and scrapped his chest with her fingernails. She made a bloody trail down his body until her hand rested six inches below his belly button. “Put it there.”

She stood back and watched in awe as Steinger branded her favorite pet.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Abigail Whistler was pissed off. Instead of going out to dinner with the man she had come to love more than any other, she was stuck hunting vampires instead. At least she was hunting with that very same man, the only one she trusted to watch her back. But all-in-all, floating ash and burning bones did not set the relaxed tone that she desired.

“Hey, Abby, you ready to go?” Enderton called as he entered the room. He grabbed his favorite weapon, the Lucky 7s with the silver filled hollow tips, off the table and fixed it in his holster.

“Why do we have to go out tonight? You promised me that we could get some pizza together tonight. You know, the whole normal thing we never get to do?”

“Sorry. I totally forgot, kid.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “How many times do I have to tell you? You lost the right to call me kid when I beat you in that shooting match two years ago.”

“It has yet to be determined if you cheated or not.” Enderton smiled and pulled her close to him. “I’ll drive. There’s something I want to talk to you about on the way downtown.”

“Sounds important,” Abby said. “I’ll gear up and meet you down in the garage.”

Five minutes later, Abby slid into the passenger seat while Enderton revved up the massive truck they had stolen the previous week. Pulling out of the driveway of their current hideout, he flipped on the radio, and loud rock music filled up the silence in the car. She smiled. The pounding noise was what Enderton claimed kept the edge in him. Over the years, it had begun to do the same for her. She only wished there was a way to take it into battle with her. It might raise her killing rate.

After driving half of an hour in silence, he reached over to the radio and turned the music off. “We’re almost there.”

“Good. Let’s get this done and go home. I can still smell the potential pizza aromas.”

Abby watched as Enderton’s smile slowly died down into a complete scowl. She had a feeling there was either a strict lecture or a serious conversation in her future. He only got quiet if there was something really important he felt he had to bring up with her.

As they neared the office building that was rumored to house a nest of vampires, he pulled the truck over onto the curb in front of the building swiftly. “We’re getting out here.”

“Ah ah, sir.” She gave him a mock salute and slid out of the car. “So, what did you want to talk to me about, Enderton?”

“It’s about Smith.”

“Yeah. I was wondering why she didn’t come with us on this one. You know the other guys have labeled us the Deadly Threesome. Seems we‘ve set a record for most kills in one night. We‘re the envy of all the Night Stalkers.”

That brought the smile back to Enderton’s face for a moment. “Smith is going to join up with us later. She went to the other Night Stalker cell in the area to get reinforcements. We’re going to need them if we want to successfully take this nest out.”

“Why is this place so important? It doesn‘t look so damn special,” Abby asked, playing absentmindedly with her crossbow, as they entered the building in question. There were still a few kinks to be worked out of it. It had been a birthday gift from her father this past year, an update of her old model. She hadn’t seen Whistler since she asked him to get her an in with the Night Stalkers. He hadn’t been happy with her decision to live this life, but he pointed her in Enderton’s direction, saying that this was the most skilled cell. Even though she hadn’t seen him in years, he sent her a present every year. “Bow’s still rusty,” she muttered.

Enderton ignored her fiddling. “Danica Talos is rumored to be there. You and I are taking out a heavy hitter tonight, Abby.”

The name made her blood run cold. She had run into Talos and her brother, Asher, numerous times over her years with the Night Stalkers. Every time she seemed to be missing the edge she needed to kill them. Abby laced an arrow into her bow and aimed at the endless hallway in front of him. “Is this a test, Enderton?”

“Maybe,” he said, sweeping his gaze around the area they were entering.

“Hey, I have an idea,” she said, not wanting to ask him how this might or might not be a test. “Let’s not talk about Talos right not. Sore spot. Let’s get back to your topic of choice. What did you need to tell me about Smith? Is something wrong with her? Did she let another poor cocky son of a b**** die just to make herself happy? ‘Cause I told her to stop doing that. I swear, I did.”

“No, it’s nothing like that. Smith and I, we’re getting married in the morning.”

For the first time in history, her bow slipped right from her fingers and clattered to the floor. She stared at the leader of her Night Stalker cell in awe. There was no time for romance or any sort of love in the life they lead. He had to be kidding her about this marriage thing. It wasn‘t a feasible option.

“I know what you’re thinking, Whistler. Smith is a complete man hater. She eats men like me for breakfast.” He sighed. “We’re in love, though, crazy as that sounds. I don’t know when or how it happened, but it happened. We’re both leaving the cell as of sunrise. I wanted to tell you personally because I need you to keep the rest of the gang going.”

“You’re leaving me?” Abby spit out, picking up her bow. She couldn’t bring herself to look at him. This man was her rock, and he was trying to tell her he wasn’t going to be around anymore.

“Not just you. I’m leaving everyone. Sommerfield. Dex. Those two twins who just started working for me. God. What were their names?”

“Aidan and Conal.”

Enderton winked at her. “See? You’re perfect for the job. I’ve been training you to take over for years, kid. You’re the only one I trust to keep the group alive.”

Abby nodded and was about to tell him that as much as it hurt her, she was going to accept his right to leave the fight behind. After all, that was what he wanted to hear from her, no matter if it was a lie or not. However, a whizzing noise careened past her ear and ended in a thump past her. Obviously they hadn’t been as stealthy as normal entering the facility. “I think they know we’re here, boss,” she called behind her with a slight amusement in her voice.

“I think so, too.”

At the sound of his strained tone, she looked back at him. There was a silver stake cutting clean through Enderton’s left leg. “Ironic, isn’t it?” he said with a faint smile. “I’ve been staked.” She saw the pain suddenly come across his face as he began to sway.

She threw her bow over her shoulder and ran to his side, sliding her arm under his in support. She felt his full weight bearing down on her and shifted to accommodate. “Guess tonight won’t be as momentous as you thought. We need to get you back to base before you bleed out.”

He surprised her when he pushed her away with as much force as he could muster. “I can still walk, Whistler. And we’re going to do this. Smith is on her way. She’ll make sure I get out of her just fine. I’m going to head towards the exit. It should only take me a minute or two. I want you to go ahead and get Talos. You’ve been itching for her head for five years now. It‘s time.”

Abby hesitated. She knew that he was putting up a brave front. The pain would probably cause him to pass out within ten minutes. It would take him at least that long to make it to the door, no matter what he said. Then there was the small fact that he wouldn’t even make it two minutes if she left him alone to fend off any stray vampires. But then they both knew that.

On the other hand, she also knew how much both of them wanted to wipe Danica Talos off this earth. There was a history between the three Night Stalkers, her, Enderton, and Smith, and Talos. She knew how much Enderton wanted to leave his gang with a bang instead of a fizzle. He wouldn’t want everyone to remember that he hobbled out of his last battle with the Night Stalkers. Plus, he was tough, and Smith was on her way.

There was really only one choice.

Handing him a gun, she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “That’s fully loaded. It should last you for at least half an hour. Now I guess we’ll finally see just how good you’ve made me, Enderton.”

With one last look, she was around the corner and out of his sight. She hadn’t made it ten feet when there was a series of gunshots ringing out behind her. The shots lasted for thirty seconds, and then the air was silent. She paused for a moment and debated turning back. She wanted to believe that meant Enderton had killed whoever attacked him or Smith had showed up, but she knew that only a fool would think that. There was no way she could go back.

Shoving the pain of the probable lose of the one man in her life she loved, she fired a couple arrows at a few random vampires and made her way to the stairs. If she knew Danica Talos, and she did, the vampire wouldn’t settle for anything less than the top floor.

Approximately forty flights later, she paused for a minute to catch her breath. She would need it if she was going to do what Enderton asked of her. And there was no way she was going to let herself fail this last request of his.

There was a noise to her right, and she ducked down in the stairwell. Danica Talos’s voice echoed down the hall. “You stay put, pet. I don’t know what I would do if you ever wandered off. You’re all I have.” Her evil laugh followed her as she walked right past Abby, who was holding her breath as best she could, and entered the elevator next to the stairwell.

When she figured the coast was as clear as it would ever be, she stood up and began her way down the hallway. There were two vampires guarding the doorway Danica had exited from. “This must be important,” Abby whispered to herself. She strung a single arrow in her bow and stomped her foot loudly so the vampires looked over at her. Smiling, she let the arrow loose. It pierced one heart and then the next.

“Two in one. I’m getting good. I’ll have to tell--” Her voice dropped out as she realized she was going to say Enderton. Taking a moment, she internalized the pain, trying her best to use it as she tried to bring down whoever was inside that room. “If you’re Talos’s heart, it’s time for me to shove a stake through you,” she hissed pushing the door open.

Her heart stopped as her eyes came to rest on the naked man lying on the bed. This couldn’t be what Danica Talos was referring to. This was just a man. And not a very healthy looking one. There were scars and cuts all over his body, and he looked positively gaunt. If she couldn’t see his chest moving up and down, she would have thought he was dead.

He was just a man. Nothing special. Then she caught sight of his tattoo. Scratch that. A newly made Familiar. Pathetic.

She pulled a stake out of her belt and positioned it over the man’s heart. “You deserve to die, scum.”

The man surprised her by opening his eyes. “I knew you’d come for me, my little underage hottie,” he whispered with a smile of recognition. He figured the pain from being tattooed had both caused his head to clear and made him begin to hallucinate. There was no way the last human he had seen in five years was hovering above him with a weapon in hand.

It wasn’t the words that caused Abby to drop the stake. Truth be told, he wasn’t really making any sense. It was the smile on his face. She had seen that smile years before on the first man she ever failed to save in the field. It was something she would never forget.

“How the hell are you alive?” she asked, still regarding him warily.

“My grandma always said that I had a strong constitution. Never really understood that until now. Help me up please.”

“You’re a Familiar,” she said, picking up the stake and positioning it once more by his heart. “I have no idea what I’m doing talking with you when you should be dying.”

“I’m not a Familiar.”

“You’ve got the brand.”

“Look closer, my sassy savior. It’s newly acquired.”

Abby decided to take his word on it. She really didn’t want to be taking a closer look at that tattoo. That would just give him further ammunition to verbally sling her way. “So, explain to me how you’ve survived for five years without dying or being turned.”

His eyes flashed with something she could only guess was appreciation. “Be still my heart. I think she remembers me, too.”

She rolled her eyes. “I have a mission to fulfill. I don’t have time to be joking around with you. And I really don’t have time to be carting you all over this place.” Standing up off where she kneeled on the bed, she made her way to the door.

The sound of his weak voice made her stop in her tracks. “Wait.” She turned around to look at him. “If you take me with you, Danica will suffer more than she would if you killed her.”

“Then you’ve never seen me kill.”

King managed to turn his head to face where she stood. “No, I can’t say that I have.”

The underlying meaning in that statement hung between them. Abby swore as she realized that she couldn’t give up the chance to fix the first mistake she ever made as a Night Stalker. “You better not slow me down.”

King practically wept when she walked over to the bed and hoisted him up, sliding her arm underneath his shoulder. “You’re going to have to help me as much as you can on this one. You have at least twenty pounds and six inches on me.”

“I’ll do my best, but I haven’t moved this many muscles in five years.”

Grabbing the sheet off the bed, she draped it around his waist. “I still don’t trust you.”

“Smart girl,” he said. He really didn’t have the energy to crack any more jokes or even say one more word. All his concentration was going to have to be placed on putting one foot in front of another. And letting some of the control hang on this mysterious stranger who seemed to have a track record for trying to save his life. He didn’t like giving up control to anyone. But with her, it didn’t seem such a hard thing to do.

“We had better hurry. Something tells me that Talos is going to know immediately you’re gone. It seems like you‘re very important to her. I haven‘t quite figured that one out yet. You don‘t look like anything special.”

They hobbled down the hall and paused at the stairwell door. They both peered over the side and stared at the forty-two flights of stairs below them. “You’re never going to make it down there,” Abby said, stating what they were both thinking.

“No.” They shifted their focus from the stairs to the locked elevator and back to the stairs. “We are so screwed,” he said softly.

He was surprised to see a wicked smile tease her lips. “I don’t think so.” Reaching off, she pulled the sheet off his hips as she walked them over to the elevator.

“I understand the direness of the situation, but I don’t think it’s the right time for a quickie, my newly found love.”

She rolled her eyes for the fiftieth time and shoved him close to the wall. “That tattoo gives you certain privileges, Mr. Familiar.”

His tattoo was scanned by the panel on the wall, and the doors slid open. “Looks like Danica didn’t have time to red flag me. Thank god for small favors.”

Abby looked over at him. “You still believe in God?”

They hobbled into the car and watched the doors slide shut. “Modesty please,” King said as they started moving. When she gave him a weird look at his random comment, he motioned down with his eyes. “The sheet.”

“Oh god,” she muttered, realizing she had never put the sheet back in place. She hurried to secure it over his hips.

“Now you believe in God,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows at her uncomfortableness.

Abby decided she was too embarrassed to carry on the conversation and get more information on this man who could potentially be a trap the vampires left for her to find. Plus, every second more they spoke, she was afraid he was going to condemn her for the mistakes she made that had almost branded him a slave for life. It was fairly obvious that this man hadn’t had much left in him when she found him fifteen minutes ago. In the back of her mind, she couldn’t help but wonder if that was all her fault.

The doors slid open, and they stared out into the not-so empty lobby. “Well, I guess I could have hoped that no one would be down here a little harder,” King said.

Abby snuck him out of the elevator car and over to the side. “You stay right here. I’ll take care of them.” King just stared in awe as she clicked her shoes and two pointed stakes popped out. She winked at him before throwing herself headfirst into the fray.

For the first thirty seconds, the vampires really had no idea what was going on. Ten dustings without anyone having a clue why. Then, King winced as he saw the vampires recognize the threat and start to fight against it. Luckily, this girl seemed to have learned something over the five years since he first saw her. She could now take a punch and keep on fighting.

He watched her take out another dozen vampires with a dancer’s-like grace. It was so breathtaking he figured tickets could be sold just to watch her. However, he could tell she was getting tired as she fired some projectile out of the device on her wrist and a vampire turned to ash.

King watched from his position out of the line of fire as a vampire lifted her up four feet by her throat. He could see her legs flailing helplessly through the air as she gasped for breath, and he decided that it was time to come out of hiding. As good as she was turning out to be, it didn’t look like she could finish this on her own.

By the time he got to his feet, he realized his mistake. Her legs hadn’t been carelessly flailing around. She had been trying to stake the vampire with her boot. There were a lot of things she had obviously calculated, but it was clear the one thing she didn’t calculate was the fact that she was in close proximity to the vampire when he turned to ash. Her throat was immediately clogged, and her vision clouded and then turned black. The last vampire left standing chose that moment to go on the offensive.

King’s heart stopped as he realized there was no way for this amazing woman to realize she was about to be killed. Wincing, he pushed the pain out of his head for the hundredth time that day. The ash in the air clogged in his throat as he got closer to where the vampire was taunting Abby. He pushed onward.

“Little girl, what are you doing here?” the vampire chided.

Abby didn’t respond, trying to rely on her other senses to tell her where the voice was coming from. Her eyes were beginning to clear, and she could make out a vague blob to her left. Focusing on it, she ran her hand along the floor to find a weapon, anything, to throw at the sneering vampire. Her hand connected with something, and she lobbed it as far as she could. It hit its blurry target with a metallic clang. A statue.

“That wasn’t me,” said a harsh voice in her left ear. Blinking a few more times, her eyes cleared in time for her to see the fiendish grin of a vampire about to feast. She crawled away backwards from the vampire as quickly as she could, trying to put as much distance as possible between her and that pair of fangs. Within seconds, her back hit a wall.

She stared as the vampire stalked closer to her. This was it. This was how it was all going to end. In the back of her mind, she couldn’t help thinking if she hadn’t decided to help that stupid man, she would already be halfway back to base by now.

A blur flashed through her field of vision, and she was shocked to see the man she had just decided was going to be the death of her now saving her life. He straddled the vampire and started punching him in the face.

Abby quickly pulled her wits back together and took a stake out of her pocket. Pushing the still weak man off of his victim, she rammed the stake through his heart. Panting, she turned her attention away from the pile of dust below her to where her companion lay prostrate on the ground. “You seem to be regaining your strength.”

“I can’t feel my legs,” he mumbled as she picked her bow up from the ground where it had fallen. “I think I’m going into anaphylactic shock or some other kind of medical mumbo jumbo that means I need to get the hell out of here.”

Sighing, she walked over and pulled him up to his feet. “You just exhausted your last bit of strength. Here’s some happy news, though. Do you see that car?” She pointed to the truck still parked in front of the building. “We only have to get that far, and we’ll be home free.” She started to move but felt him hesitate. Or at least she thought it was hesitation. She couldn‘t really tell considering he really didn‘t have an energy to hesitate. “You suddenly don’t want to come with me?”

He looked down at her. “You still don‘t believe me, do you? In spite of everything I just did for you, you think this might be a trap.”

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “But I do know that if there’s a minimal chance that you’re telling the truth, I can’t leave you behind. And, as much as I hate to admit, you did save my ass back there. So, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt for now. Don’t screw me over.” She felt him give up his resistance, and they began walking through the front lobby again.

“I don’t even know your name,” he admitted.

Before Abby could answer, shots starting raining down on them from a balcony above. She shoved King hard to the side and reached behind her for her bow. Two arrows later, ash replaced the gunshots in raining down upon them. She smiled at him and leaned down, offering a hand to help him up. “Abigail Whistler.”

“Well, my little hellion, I do believe you are the most beautiful woman I have ever met.” Grasping her hand, he flashed her that smile that she remembered so well. “You can call me King.”

She laughed and yanked him to his feet. “No way am I calling you king. That’s ridiculous.”

He looked at her soberly. “Hannibal King. It’s my name. And there’s no need to joke about it. I’ve already gotten plenty of teasing in my life. I was emotionally scared as a child in elementary school. Damn Bobby Jenkins.”

“Sorry,” she said, trying not to laugh again.

The light mood was slightly thrown off by a horrendous scream through the building. They both turned to stare at what was going on behind them. There was more screaming and banging going on somewhere in the floors above them.

King turned back to Abby and gave her a wink, his face sliding back into a grin. “I remember that scream from five years ago. I hadn’t heard it since. You really pissed her off that night.”

“It wasn’t me. It was Enderton,” she said curtly. This was not a topic she wanted to be going over with him at this exact moment.

He really wanted to ask her who the hell this Enderton character was but figured that might be a story to tackle at another time. He shook his head as they began to hustle in the form of a really bad stagger towards the ever-closer exit. When had he started connecting the future with this woman? He had never thought of the future in his life, especially during the past five years of being stuck in vampire sucking limbo.

Now, all of the sudden, he was willing to put things off to a later time. He felt like he could afford to put things off. He didn’t know where that came from. Plus, to be honest, he didn’t even know if this girl wanted anything more to do with him once they were out of this horrendous building.

Pushing thoughts of a future with Ms. Abigail Whistler out of his head, he tried to focus on keeping his feet moving. That little hero move he pulled earlier had really taken it out of him. It had been one hundred percent worth it and he would do it again in a second, but still, his knees and back now hurt like a b****.

“Wow,” Abby heard King say all the sudden.


He looked like he had just had an epiphany. “The pain. I thought I had gotten immune to it. It’s starting to come back now.” He cocked his head to the side. “Kinda tingly.”

“I think you’re delirious.”

“You might be right, little lady.” Something else suddenly occurred to King. “How old are you anyway, Abigail Whistler?”

She looked at him suspiciously. “I’m twenty. Why?”

“Just checking before I asked you out on a date.”

“You must be delirious,” she said as she pushed the glass door open. King gasped as he took his first breath of fresh air in five years.

“Is that a no? Because if it is, you might as well take me back in there. I won’t be able to live without you anymore, my dear Abigail.”

“Tell you what, King. I’ll go on a date with you.” She was happy to see him give her that smile again. As much as his cheery humor hid it, she wasn‘t sure he would make it for more than twenty-four hours once they got out of the building. Keeping him talking was the only way she could be sure he had a chance. “I’ll go on a date with you but only when all the vampires are gone.”

She expected that comment to sober him up completely. Instead the smile stayed put on his face. He leaned in and whispered, “Guess I better get to work then.”

At that moment, several things happened. Abigail pulled away to look up at him and all of a sudden remembered what it was about him that intrigued her five years earlier. Dex’s voice began screaming from somewhere down the street to her left that Smith had gone done and they needed to get out of there now. And Hannibal King gave her one last smile and a wink before passing out cold.

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Abby Whistler took a deep breath as she walked through the docks. So, this was where Sommerfield had taken her cell of Night Stalkers. It looked like it was a step up from their last place, at least from what she was told. She had never found time to see that place. In the back of her mind, she felt horrible that she hadn’t been around, but she knew there was a reason why she had been absent.

The day she and Dex returned home to let the rest of their friends know that Smith and Enderton had both not made it was the last day she had seen most of them. It had been her decision. She said that someone needed to figure out what went wrong and how it can be righted. It was important to the cause.

Granted, she knew that her real reason behind running away was that she was scared to lead the Night Stalkers. No matter what Enderton had said, she wasn’t ready for it nor was she suited for it, either.

She tapped in the code Sommerfield had sent her when she phoned to say that she was coming back. Sommerfield had told her it was about time and that the cell was “tired of waiting for her to get her ass in gear”. Abby felt herself grin slightly, remembering how much she had missed comments like those in the past one-hundred-ninety-one days.

She had been warned that things were different, though. The twins had died on a routine stake and run a few months back, and it seemed that they had gained a new gadget guy. Word was that this one surpassed any Sommerfield had previously worked with. Abby was happy to realize she couldn’t wait to find out if that was true.

Walking through the halls, Whistler could hear voices bouncing off the walls. It seemed like the whole gang was home tonight and they were having a full blown debate about some TV program. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about that first encounter for too long. Since they were all here, she would have to see every single one of them.

“Doesn’t mean I still don’t want to put it off,” she murmured to herself, purposefully going in the opposite direction that the voices were coming from.

She made her way past the lab, stopping to take a quick glance at what Sommerfield was currently working on. It seemed like a virus of some sort. She sighed, realizing that it was going to take her quite a while to get caught up. A lot could go on in six months. The entire struggle would be worth it, though.

She had run off to figure out if she was the person the Night Stalkers needed to lead them, and by the end of her time away, she knew that she might be the only person who could lead them. She was the only one of them with no attachments to life. The only one of them who would give her life to keep them alive. She was convinced she was her leader. Now she just had to prove that point to the rest of them.

Abby heard a faint pounding coming from somewhere to her left. Intrigued, she made her way down a flight of stairs to figure out what was making the noise.

All the thoughts in her head rushed out as she watched in awe from the last few stairs as a man beat the hell out of a punching bag in front of her. He didn’t look familiar, and he definitely didn’t have a fighting style she had seen before. He was very systematic and vicious in his blows, and she could tell how hard he was working by the beads of sweat forming on his back.

He paused for a moment and she noticed the blood seeping through the gauze wraps on his hand. Obviously, this new player had seen some action lately. It was good to see that the cell wasn’t just sitting idle without her. The man started punching the bag again, and she could tell that he was ignoring the pain. She nodded to herself. This is the type of warrior she needed to make her cell effective.

It didn’t surprise her when one of his blows caused the bag to detach from its anchor and fly across the rooms.

“Damnit. I thought Hedges had fixed that stupid thing.”

Her eyes widened as she recognized the voice. “King,” she whispered.

“That’s my name, sweethear--” He stopped mid-word as his eyes caught sight of her. “Is that you, Whistler?”

She didn’t respond. She really hadn’t expected him to still be here when she returned.

“You abandoned me,” he said, simply, grabbing for the towel that was lying on the ground next to where the bag had once hung. She immediately felt the guilt sink back into her.

She had abandoned him six months earlier. Once Dex had driven the two of them back to the facility, she called Sommerfield over and explained to her who King said he was. Sommerfield agreed that they should give him the cure to reverse any changes Danica Talos had unknowingly instilled in his blood. It was quite possible that without her constant draining of blood, he might surrender to the thirst and become a vampire himself.

Abby had left him as quickly as she had found him, figuring that as soon as he had the energy, he would be gone. This wasn’t the type of life for a carefree guy like him. She could tell that from the first moment she had met him over five years ago. She never thought he would stay.

“I didn’t think you would be here when I came back,” she said, breaking the tense silence.

He grabbed the shirt that was hanging on the wall and slid it on. Reaching down, he picked up his empty holsters. “I didn’t think you would leave so quickly. Looks like we all had misconceptions.”

Not knowing what else to say, she commented, “You’re looking a lot healthier.”

“The cure’s been good to me, I guess. That and I have this raging compulsion to work out now. I feel like I should be hocking exercise tapes or something. Buy now and you get my 5 Minute Abs tape for free.”

She lounged against the stair rail and gave him a once over. “I’d buy them.”

He smirked at her. “My abs or the tape? Never mind. So what exactly have you been doing these past six months, Whistler?”

“I had some research to do if we’re going to take down Asher and Danica Talos. There was field work that needed to be done, and I couldn’t trust anyone else to do it properly.”

“You really are committed to taking them down, aren’t you?” He squinted his eyes at her. “Is this because of what they did to me? Because if it is, frankly, I’m flattered. But you really don’t have to go to all that trouble just to avenge my innocence.”

She didn’t say a word. Crossing her arms in front of her, she just continued to stare at him.

“Okay. So maybe it was just the research. Hey! I can deal with that. Because here I thought from six months that some young rogue had rushed in while I was flat on my back and swept you off your feet with his promises of adventure and intrigue.”

“Promises of adventure don’t have that effect on me, King. My life’s plenty exciting by itself. Now if a guy could promise me security for the rest of my life, then I would probably swoon.”

“Security, huh? That’s an odd request for such a touch chick like you. But let’s not get in to that right now. Instead, why don’t you tell me what brought you back at this particular moment in time?”

The joking demeanor drained out of her as quickly as it had arrived. “I felt like it was time to come back. Sommerfield said she had an idea that she wanted to run past me.”

“Ah. The virus.”

“You know about that?’

“I know a lot about what’s going on now. Who do you think has been leading this bunch while you were out sowing your wild oats?”

She shook her head and handed him the gun that was sitting at her feet. “So they all trust you enough to lead them?”

“Yes, they do.” He paused in taking the gun from her, his hand lingering on top of hers. “You still don’t though.”

“I don’t know you well enough.”

“You didn’t stick around long enough,” he pointed out. “It took me a long time, but I earned the trust of every single one of your soldiers. They gave me the chance to prove that I’m not lying. To prove who I really am. They gave me that chance even though the one person who spent the most time with me, who understood me the most, was missing. You know, I’m the exact same man you saved twice. Nothing‘s changed.”

“Once,” she corrected sharply. His hand holding hers in place on top of the gun was starting to make her uncomfortable. “I only saved you once.”

“No, you saved me twice. Trust me. I know.”

She let the comment go. Her eyes wandered down to where his shirt had begun to rid up along his waistline.

“It’s still there,” he assured her, finally taking the gun from her and releasing her hand. “I could have had it removed, but I’ve started to become fond of my little parting gift. Plus, it still comes in handy when I need to open an elevator or two.” He hooked the gun into the holster. “You shouldn’t put off seeing them, Abby. They’re still the same people you knew.” He smiled at her. “They also have been dying for you to come back to them. They’re your family. Don’t keep them waiting.”

She nodded and turned to leave him to the rest of his workout out. His voice caused her to pause.

“I’ve missed you, Abigail.”

She fought the urge to turn back to face him. “You don’t know me, King,” she replied softly. She could hear the sound of his boots hitting the wood floor as he walked over to where she stood.

“Oh, I beg to differ,” he whispered in her ear before he moving around where she stood to climb the stairs and left her all alone in the makeshift gym.

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Abby Whistler watched Hannibal King wince in pain as his skin bubbled up. The bleeding slowed down almost immediately. The weight of the bloody stake that Drake had driven into King’s chest was still heavy in her hand. She could feel the warmth of his blood over the majority of her body. Everything was a mess.

“Why the hell didn’t you shoot him?” King managed to spit out through his pain. “You could have just killed him here and now.”

“Drake needs to be alive if we’re going to get this virus of Sommerfield’s up and running. We need his blood.” She knew that was only partially the truth, but she wasn’t really willing to admit to herself or to King what the other part was. It wasn’t the right time. Not when they were in the thick of this mess.

King smiled at her and she felt some of the tension and worry lift off her shoulders. “Can’t we use mine?” he suggested. His eyes roamed the area where he lay. “It seems to be everywhere.”

She laughed and pulled him to his feet. “We need to get you home. You need to rest.”

“So, I’m not going to die?”

“Nope, not today.”

“Damn. I was starting to get really tired of this job.”

“You and I both, King.”

“Where did Blade go?” he asked as they made their way to the elevator.

“He went after Drake, probably to kill him.”

“That was a stupid thing to do if we’re not allowed to kill him,” he pointed out.

Abby froze up, realizing that he was beginning to see through her lie. She really didn’t want to admit to him how much she had come to depend on him in their thirty months together in the field. He ran the Night Stalker cell by her side and was just as important to the cause as she was. Letting anyone know that, though, would point out her weakness. That had been what happened with Smith and Enderton, and look where they ended up. Human emotion did not mix with her day job. Her night job, too. “Blade’s not the most rational person we’ve worked with through the years,” she finally said as the elevator doors slid shut.

“So…” he said, trailing off.

She thought it over for a moment, wondering if she should take his bait because he was definitely setting her up for something. In her time working with him, she had begun to truly understand that he always had a joke or something sarcastic to say no matter what the situation was. In her heart and in her head, she was aware that it was this quality that gained him the respect of all the people he worked with. He kept a dire situation from becoming too heavy.

Sighing, she decided that she might need a laugh right now. “So what?”

“It seems like you and I have a pattern of ending up with me halfway dead being held up by your strength alone in an elevator. You think I would learn to either avoid being stabbed by things or would avoid riding in elevators with you at all cost.”

“You have a thick head. It‘s hard to teach an old dog new tricks,” she said, pushing him out of the elevator as it opened up on the ground floor.

“Woof,” he said seductively, looking over at her.

They walked side by side to the SUV parked on the front sidewalk. She motioned to the passenger‘s side. “Get in.”

“But I really was hoping you’d let me drive. I’ve always wondered if I could still do it while mortally wounded. Now is the time to put my wonderings to rest. Now is the time for answers, my friend.”

She chose not to respond. Instead, she held the passenger’s door open until he settled himself into the seat. Leaning down, she slid the seat belt over him and buckled it in place. She looked up to see him smiling down at her.

“So you really do care, don’t you?” She rolled her eyes and ran around to the other side of the car. When she was in place, King asked, “What about Blade?”

“He’ll figure out some way to get back to the boatyard. We need to get you back.” She looked down to start the car and noticed something for the first time. “s***.”

“What’s wrong? Did something happen to the car?”

“No. My I-pod got damaged in the fight.”

King laughed. “So what? At least you didn’t get stabbed.”

“It was my favorite one,” she said, chucking the useless shell at him.

He looked down at it. “Is this the one…”

“Yeah, it‘s my first one. The one you gave me on my birthday two years ago.”

She was surprised when King didn’t respond. She was positive he would tease her about becoming attached to such a simple object, especially because it had a connection to him. She had turned herself into a big bulls-eye for his jokes, but he wasn’t taking the bait. “Weird,” she muttered to herself.

They drove back to the docks in mostly silence. Every once in a while, Abby asked King something to make sure he hadn’t passed out from the pain. But other than that, silence.

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King laid in his bed as Sommerfield checked him over. It always amazed him at just how much she could do regardless of the fact she had lost her sight years earlier. “So how do I check out, Doc?” he asked.

“Tragically, I think you’re going to live,” Sommerfield said with a laugh. “It’s a shame that Drake didn’t stab you in the throat instead of the chest. At least then we might have gotten a short reprieve from you.”

He laughed. Only Sommerfield seemed to be willing to joke with him about how annoying he could be at times. She was the only one he had ever admitted to that he used humor as a testing mechanism. In his time before and after the five years he spent as Danica Talos’s sex slave, he had picked his friends by whoever could take the sarcastic comments he flung at them. If they could fire them right back, he knew that there was someone he could trust.

In his time with the Night Stalkers, only three people had qualified as friends. Sommerfield, Dex, and Hedges were like brothers and sisters to him. After he found out that his family had been killed by a group of vampires while he was missing, presumed dead, he had filled the void with the Night Stalkers. He had become obsessed with training himself to top shape so that the next time he met Danica Talos, he would be fully prepared to send her back to hell. Sommerfield, Dex, and Hedges kept him from focusing on that need for vengeance so much that he lost his humanity. They were his family.

And then there was Abby. His knight in shining armor. She was in a completely different class.

Shaking his head, he brought himself back to reality. “Has Whistler been down to see me yet? I want to go over something with her.”

“No. She dropped you off and then ran away somewhere.”

“Typical Whistler. She always seems to abandon me and then run. Constantly something more important to attend to.” Sommerfield gave him a strange look. “What?”

“When she brought you in, you were delirious from all the pain. She stayed with you until I had you stabilized. Then she just kind of wandered off without another word. Whatever went on while you were gone, it really shook her up.”

“We saw Drake,” King explained.

She shook her head. “No, it wasn’t that. Abby would be shaken up by that, but she wouldn’t let it show. She likes to keep a strong front up for the rest of us. I’m talking about what went on when you got hurt. Something shook her up there.”

He looked at her incredulously. “You’re not trying to tell me that our little Whistler was actually scared that something would happen to me?”

Sommerfield just gave him one of her trademark looks and left him sitting on his bed alone, trying to figure out what she had been hinting at.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~


Whistler and King found themselves driving around the city, trying to figure out a safe place to take Blade until they could get him some serum and allow him time to recover from his fight with Drake. They owed him at least that much for finishing the job when neither one of them could. Zoe sat serenely on King’s lap, watching the building’s pass by as Abby guided the car around corners.

“Caulder’s our only option,” King said, stating the obvious. Mindful of Zoe, he pulled his shirt off to look at the blood-crusted bandage from where he had been stabbed a couple days earlier and where Danica had shoved her spike heel in an hour earlier.

“That’s not good,” Zoe said, staring at his wound.

“Yeah. How are you holding up, King?” Abby asked, looking at him out of the corner of her eye.

“I’ve been worse.”

Suddenly she saw this huge smile spread across his face. “What?” she asked.

“Just remembering. I got to see Danica die right in front of my face. The virus was perfect. Sommerfield would be proud.”

Abby returned the smile and then looked in the rearview mirror. “I just hope it didn’t hurt Blade. Without him, we’d all be dead.”

They both let that thought sink in as Abby drove the rest of the way to where Caulder’s Night Stalker cell was based. She pulled the car to a stop and was greeted by a handful of men and women who helped pull Blade out of the backseat. He was still unconscious, and Abby was willing to bet he was in a lot of pain no matter how accelerated his healing was. She barked orders at them not to hurt him and was tempted to follow them inside just to be sure they did exactly that. However, her last glance at King made her pause.

He was carrying a sleeping Zoe out of the car and looking around for somewhere to leave here that would be safe. It made her heart shift a little, this completely out-of-place, domestic scene.

Before she could stop herself, she felt herself saying, “You would make a good father.”

King looked up at her. “Are you offering?”

She threw up her hands. “I don’t know why I try to be civil to you. It’s a waste of time and energy. I should be inside making sure they don‘t accidentally kill Blade.”

He laughed and handed Zoe off to one of the Night Stalker women who were standing by the entrance to their base. “More like you need to make sure Blade doesn’t accidentally kill some of them when he wakes up.” He walked over to stand next to Abby and stared off with her into the distance.

“So, what do we do now?” she asked, breaking their moment of silence.

“I was thinking that I might catch up on General Hospital. That Sonny Corinthos, he’s such a gangster. I bet he’s remarried and fathered another child while I’ve been fighting off Dracula.”

She shook her head. “Seriously, King. What do we do now?”

“I have an idea,” he said, looking over at her.

Giving him a weird look as he failed to elaborate on that comment, she asked, “And this miraculous idea would be what?”

“Never mind. We can talk about that later. For now, I’ve have some calls to make.”

Abby watched him walk halfway down the hall in front of them before calling, “You’re a strange man, Hannibal King.”

He turned and smirked at her. “And don’t you forget it.”

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Ten hours later, she found herself being dragged back into the battered SUV by King with promises of further explanation as soon as they got on the road. Every time she tried to finagle something, anything, out of him while they made their way outside the facility, he would just give her that smile that said he was about to do something that would make her cringe.

“We shouldn’t be running off,” she scolded as she buckled herself into the passenger seat. “Blade is just feeling the effects of the serum and will have a million questions about what happened with Drake. And Zoe really shouldn’t be left alone.”

“The girl’s rather smart. She knows that you and I are going to come back no matter how long we disappear.” King paused before shifting the car into drive. “You know, Abigail, now that we took a big bite out of crime, you should start thinking about working through your abandonment issues. You’re starting to project them onto Zoe.”

She just stared at him in shock, unable to comprehend he would say such harsh words to her.

He turned the SUV onto the main road and chanced a glance at her. “You’re never going to talk to me again, are you?” When her shock turned to a dead-on glare, he winced. “Ouch. I’m sorry, Whistler. I don’t know where that came from. I think that was my mandatory serious moment and mean moment for the year, all rolled into one.” He waited patiently in silence, hoping she would say something.

“Fine,” she hissed through her teeth after staring out the window for five minutes without a word. “Let’s not bring up that topic again. Agreed?”

“As long as it keeps you from flaying me alive, agreed.”

I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me where you’re taking me now, are you, King?”

He shook his head and kept driving. Abby sighed, knowing that there was no way she could pump any more information out of him at that moment and knowing she didn‘t have the patience to carry on any other sort of conversation, and turned to watch the scenery go by. She knew that she probably shouldn’t be leaving the base with the condition of Blade still in question, but honestly, she just wanted to run away from her job for a little while. King’s request to take her on a mystery ride fit in well with that desire.

Soon, the cars and buildings she had been watching faded into blurs as her eyes slowly fell shut. Just as she was about to drift off, she realized that this would be the first bit of sleep she had in three days.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

“We’re here,” King’s voice interrupted her dreams.

“Huh?” She sat up straight and looked around.

“I said we’re here, Whistler.”

They were in downtown L.A. again, somewhere in the business district. There was a small rundown building right in front of her with a vacant sign displayed in its window. Looking around, she saw that it was a semi-decent neighborhood. There was a grocery store and a small restaurant right next to the building they were in front of. She noticed a few children playing on the street. “Where the hell are we?” she asked, surprised that she couldn’t recognize it since King seemed so familiar with the area.

“Our new home.” King got out of the car and ran around to open the other side. “Go ahead and take a look around.”

Abby gave him a strange look as she stepped out of the car and onto the sidewalk. She figured after all they had been through, the least she could do was humor him for a little while. The building wasn’t in bad shape comparatively. It was slightly rundown but not too horrible. Slowly, she made her way to the front door. Pushing on it, she was surprised to find it unlocked. She turned back to look at King. “Can I go in?”

When he nodded, she walked into the building. It looked like it had been abandoned years earlier. There were a few pieces of wood furniture, half-destroyed and overturned, spread throughout the floor. She noticed a small kitchen off to the left.

Abby saw a flight of stairs to the right and started slowly climbing, praying that none of the stairs would give out under her added weight. She heard King’s footsteps behind her as he followed her up.

At some point in the climb, her side began to hurt. She figured she must have bruised a couple ribs or something like that in the fight the night before. There hadn’t really been much time for her to get checked out by one of Caulder’s medical people. Neither had there been time for King to get his chest wound checked. For a second, she wondered if she shouldn’t order him to forget what he was trying to show her and go get himself checked out at a hospital.

Pain wasn’t that new a concept for either one of them, though, so, like King, she just pushed it to the side. There was a slight feeling of vacation in this little trip away from the reality of their situation. She didn’t want to be the one to screw it up.

The upstairs was empty room after empty room. There was some wallpaper hanging in strips off the walls, and it looked like there might have been a few rats living there at some point throughout its years of being vacant. She found herself feeling grateful that it looked like someone had gotten an exterminator to come in and fix that problem.

She walked back to the top of the stairs and did a few quick turns. “At least it’s not a complete s***hole,” she thought. She looked out the window. Not too bad a view.

“What is this place?” she finally asked, turning to look at where King leaned against the wall behind her.

“Well, I figured, what with our base being destroyed and all of our friends not making it, we needed somewhere to start new. I inherited this building a few years back when my father died. Didn’t have anything to do with it at the time so I just let it sit.”

“But now you have something to do with it?” She ran her hand along one of the windows. The wood was pretty old but still in good condition.

“Yeah. Call it my gift to you.” He walked over to stand beside her. “A gift of financial security.”

She shot him a look. “What the hell are you talking about, King?”

He ran a hand through his hair. “Well, you see, I figured that you and I and Zoe could set up shop here. Because we don’t have anywhere to stay. With a little paint, this place shouldn’t be that bad.”

“Yeah, I noticed that you brought the exterminators in. That was good.”

“Thanks. I tried to do the best I could in the past ten hours.”

She nodded and looked around again. “Okay. I got the part where you‘re offering to let us all stay here with you. But what about the whole financial security thing? What the hell is that?”

“You mentioned once that you would rather be given financial security than be swept off your feet. That comment stuck with me for a long time. It wasn’t really a normal thing for a girl your age to say.”

“I’m twenty-three, King.”

“I know.” Shaking his head and smiling, he grabbed her hand and pulled her back downstairs. “I want to show you something.”

She really wanted to yank her hand away and demand he tell her what was going on immediately, but something kept her from doing that. She didn’t get surprises too often, what with the life she had been living for the past eight years. It was kind of nice.

He took her all the way back to the front door and pointed at a large covered lump. “I didn’t get you a birthday gift this year, Whistler.”

“Whatever it is, take it back and get me a new I-pod. I could really use that.”

“You really need this,” he said, pointing down to the lump again. “Come on. Humor me a little here.”

She took a deep breath, wondering what exactly she had gotten into by agreeing to come here with him. “All right. I guess if there’s no negotiating, I’ll have to accept whatever this is.”

She ripped the cloth off and stared in confusion at the plate of glass in front of her. There was a piece of paper taped to it. Ripping the tape that held it in place, she opened it up and scanned what it said. “This is the deed to the building.” She looked up at King. “It’s in your name and mine.”

He smiled. “Yeah. I figured it wouldn’t be much use for us to try to reform the Night Stalker cell. First off, we’ve gotten highly selective with the people we work with.”

“I’m not that picky about who I work with,” Abby objected.

“Well, I am picky about who is watching your back, my little hellion.” He just steamrolled over that comment before she could ask him what he meant by that. “Second, I figure that with the vampires gone, the Night Stalkers might not have too much work left to do. So, you and I should stick together until we figure out what’s exactly we want to do. Maybe run an investigation place, killing werewolves and evil witches on the side.”

“You’ve been reading too many science fiction novels again.”

He pointed back to the glass, specifically the point she had ripped the paper off of. “I’ve been dreaming this up for a while, Abby. Figured that someday we’d get the job done and you’d probably be unsure of where your life could go next. I thought I could keep you around by giving you something to do that you‘re passionate about.”

She stared down at the glass. The words “King-Whistler Investigations” were etched in the center with a small KW logo beneath it. “You really have been planning this for a while, haven’t you?”

He grabbed her hand and turned her back to face him. “I’ve put this off for a long time, Abby, but we need to go over a few things you promised me.”

Abby narrowed her eyes at him. “I don’t recall promising you anything.”

“Yes, you did. Two things, in fact.” He held up his index finger. “First, you promised me a date, Whistler, and I‘m not joking.”

“A date?” She shook her head and tried to pull her hand away from his. He wouldn’t let her. “I think I’d recall promising you a date.”

“It was three years ago when you pulled me out of Danica Talos’s clutches. Right as we were leaving, you said you would go on a date with me once all the vampires were gone. Newsflash, the vampires are gone now.”

“If I remember correctly, I just did that to keep you alive.”

“Even if you were, I think I could get you to promise me a date again and not just because I’m on death’s doorstep.” He pulled her hand up to his lips and kissed it gently.

Yanking her hand away from him, she rolled her eyes. “Okay, Don Juan. What’s the second promise I made you?”

“You said if a guy ever gave you financial security, you would swoon. I find myself unable to picture this happening. So, here we are. Financial security present. Let’s see the swoon.”

She punched him hard in the arm. “How the hell do you remember stuff like that, King? I don’t recall ever telling you anything that personal.”

“Abby, you and I have been best friends for three years now. You tell me all sorts of personal stuff without really realizing it. In this instance, you told me that little tidbit on the day you returned to lead the cell.”

“That was three years ago,” she stated.

“Yeah, I know. Along with my strong constitution, I have a good memory.” With her hand still grasped in his, he pulled her outside. “So what do you say? I’m offering you all of this and asking for nothing in return. Partners?”

“Partners, yes. You’ve known that you’re the only one I really trust to watch my back anymore. I still don’t know about this hypothetical date, though.”

“What’s holding you back?” he asked.

“You’re such a pain in my ass,” she said with a laugh.

He gave her his best puppy dog face. “Come on. Give a fellow a break. I’ve been pinning after you for eight years. Isn’t it about time to put me out of my misery?”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Well, maybe I’ve just been wondering what it would be like to get you on a date for eight years.”

She shook her head at him, laughing. All of the sudden, the math of the situation hit her. “Eight years? Jesus, King! Eight years ago, I was only--”

“Fifteen years old. I know. I was such a complete pedophile. But then I dated a woman over a hundred years old after I met you. Made me see the benefit to dating younger women.”

She looked at him intently until she made a gut decision. “Okay. I have no idea why, but okay.”

“Okay to what?”

She sighed and turned to look back at the building. “I guess a date with you wouldn’t be that bad if you tried to be on your best behavior and let me decide when and where.” She watched as his mouth turned up in a smile as wide as the Cheshire Cat. “What?”

“I can’t believe you said yes. I never thought you’d actually say yes.”

Her heart froze. “You were messing me with, weren’t you? You‘re such a bastard.”

He shook his head and grabbed her hand, dragging her back up the stairs. “No, I was serious. And I‘ll have you know that my mother had been married to my father for two whole years before she got pregnant with me.”

“Good to know.” She sighed. “So, where are you leading me now, King?”

“I want to show you something. Again.” He lugged her up the first flight, pulled her down the hallway, and stopped at the last doorway. Pushing the door open, he shoved her into the room. “This is the room that told me I should risk showing you this place. It was as good as I could manage with my time and budget constraints.”

“Hey. This room is actually halfway decent.”

“Let me give you the grand tour.” King said. He pointed to the window seat. “That, my dear, is a window seat. Every little girl should have one.” He walked over to the far wall and hit it with his fist. “Turns out this place used to be a hiding place for moonshine during Prohibition. I figured you might want to store some weapons in this.”

“This is my room?” she said.

“Didn’t I say that before?”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Well, I’m saying it now. This is your room. And now the piece de resistance!” He pointed to a small half door that was in the wall. “I have absolutely no idea why this is here, but it’s a fully functioning door. I figured we could put Zoe in the room next to you, and then if she needs you, she just has to open that one door.” He winked at her. “Or vice versa.”

Abby nodded and turned to walk out of the room. “You know I think Zoe’s going to love it here.”

King pulled her to his side as they walked down the hallway and the stairs. “I think you’re going to love it here, too, Whistler.”

“You know, I might have going on a date with you if you had asked me that day I came back three years ago.”

He laughed. “That’s complete bulls***, and you know it. You hated me.”

“Everyone hates you, King. But I’m a complex girl. I can like you and hate you at the same time. I’ve perfected that over the years.”

“I’ll keep that in mind the next time you’re threatening to shoot me if I don’t shut up.” He sighed and squeezed her into a hug. “You know, it would have been so much easier if you had just saved me from Talos that night at the bar.”

“Just be happy that I was there at all. You would have gotten yourself killed if I hadn’t stuck my neck out for you.”

“My knight in shining armor.” He gave her a wink.

She looked up at him. “And don’t you forget it, King. Now let’s go back to get Zoe. She’s going to want to see her new home.” Pausing outside the building, she turned back to look at it. “It’s really not that bad a building.” She glanced over at King. “But I’ll have you know that I’m still the boss. That doesn’t change.”

“Never thought it would, Boss.” He unlocked the door. “Now get into the car. We have places to be.”

She smiled at him and realized for the first time that she didn’t have to worry about watching her back at all times. “Well,” she thought to herself as King pulled away, “I knew there was a good reason I saved him eight years ago. Other than the fact that he’s easy on the eyes.”

“You’re thinking about our upcoming date, aren’t you, Whistler?” He wiggled his eyebrows at her suggestively.

“Oh. You didn’t realize I was kidding?” she said with a laugh.

He smiled back at her. “I knew it was too good to be true. You were being way too agreeable and nice. It wasn’t like you.”

“Shut up and drive, King.” Smiling, she let the smooth ride of the car lull her back to sleep. It was nice. That feeling of safety.

From now on, she knew if she had nothing else, she would have that.