Word Count: 1,843
"I'm sorry it's not as good as what you're used to," he said.
"It wasn't bad."
He gave a soft chuckle. "I appreciate your saying so, but I'm aware of the quality of food you are used to at the Dollhouse."
"It was just food. Besides," she gave a slight shrug. She ran a fingertip along the edge of the kitchen island. "There's something rustic about this whole setup. How'd you find this place anyway?"
He'd washed and she'd dried the few dishes they'd dirtied eating the stew he'd made. The size of the crockpot meant that they'd probably be eating it for a couple of days. That was all right. On the run as they were they had to make do with what they had available to them.
Currently, they were sharing cups of hot chocolate. Luckily, the kitchen faced the woods so no one could see into the room and see them. The light above the stove was the only light they'd dared turn on. There wasn't another house for quite a ways and it was through thick trees and vegetation, but he wasn't taking the chance someone was out for a late night fishing excursion.
This cabin had been an afterthought, and probably hadn't been the smartest idea he'd come up with. Boyd had been so focused on getting Echo out of the Dollhouse he hadn't thought of what to do once he'd accomplished that feat. He supposed subconsciously he hadn't believed he'd actually succeed in getting her out.
Having to think fast on his feet, this place had come to mind. He'd been here at least a dozen times in his former life. Before he'd turned in his badge. Before the Dollhouse. He'd known where the spare key had been hidden. Of course, there'd been the chance it had been moved from its hiding spot it had been that long since Boyd had been here. If that had been the case, he would have inconspicuously broken a window and put in a call to have it fixed when they were leaving.
"It's a friend's."
"You don't think they'd look for you here?"
"No," he said. "Cliff would conveniently forget to mention this place."
"He would assume if I was hiding out here that I had a legitimate reason for doing so. And this place isn't in his name. It's in his wife's, passed onto her from her parents."
"I see. It's nice. Rustic yet comfortable."
"They don't use it often anymore so we should be safe for a little while anyway."
"Why don't they?"
She walked to the living room, one wall consisted of nothing but windows overlooking the lake. She wrapped an arm around her waist, resting her cup of hot chocolate on her arm. Despite the incredible view, he knew she was still paying attention.
"There was an accident some years ago now. Their son drowned in the lake," he said cautiously. He wasn't sure so close to her last assignment as a mother if this was a story he should tell.
"How awful," she said.
"It was. He was taking a nap and got out somehow. He knew how to swim, but they think he lost his footing on the rocks and fell. Someone suggested maybe he'd been sleepwalking, evidently he'd done that before that day."
"I can't even imagine."
"Cliff wasn't the same for a long time afterward."
She turned to look at him and he felt as if she were trying to see to his soul her gaze was so intense. Did she remember? He knew she remembered things, he just wasn't sure how much or what those memories entailed.
"Do they have other children?"
"No, at least not last I knew. I doubt that's changed, but imagine it could have."
"So, anyway," he said, finishing his own hot chocolate and rinsing the cup out. He cleared his throat, collecting his thoughts a little. Now that they were here, he wasn't quite sure what to do with her.
"There's hot water, electricity, and everything as you've seen. We just have to avoid using the lights when we're on this floor. We'll have to spend most of our time in the basement to avoid anyone happening by on the lake."
"But you plan on going fishing."
"I can do things and avoid being seen, Echo."
She gave a little smile. He wasn't sure what that meant. "There aren't many other houses on this lake."
"No," he said, trying to remember exactly how many there were. "I think there are seven others. Or eight. I can't remember. None of them live here full-time, but it's closing in on the time of year people will be opening up homes like this. Anyway, the landowners got together and bought up the land years ago."
"And they won't sell?"
"I suppose if one of the kids of one of the original owners wanted to they could, but I think it's understood that they'd offer to sell to those already here."
"Something like that."
"And we won't get noticed?"
"If we stay close to the house we should be fine. That's why we stopped in the last larger town to grocery shop. It was large enough that we wouldn't stand out, close enough that the cooler would keep the perishables from spoiling."
"That makes sense. You thought of everything."
"I hope so, because I'm hoping we can stay here for long enough to drop off the radar."
"And then where?"
"I don't know. I hadn't really thought that far. You have a home somewhere"
"No, I don't. She does, that's not me anymore."
"Well, we can work through that. For now, we'll focus on here and now, staying unnoticed. The basement isn't a cement dungeon. It's furnished as you saw," he said, indicating the brief trip they'd made downstairs to drop their personal things off. "There's a TV and pool table down there. It's just eating we'll have to do up here."
"You're taking a risk."
"Don't lie to me! I don't know who I am or what I'm supposed to be."
She held her hands to her head and shook it as if she was trying to force a memory into place or something.
"But I know that I can trust you. So, please don't lie to me."
"I just meant I couldn't let them do that to you, Echo. I realized with your last assignment there's nothing they won't try. Topher doesn't see you as a person, he sees you as an object he can experiment his latest brilliant idea on. They made you think you'd actually had a child, Echo. That's just too much. They're messing with things that go far beyond the brain. And your headaches, I couldn't risk them getting any worse."
"You don't know for sure they would have."
"And I don't know for sure that they wouldn't."
"Why didn't you just tell them about them?"
"Because I don't know what they would have done to you! Put you in the Attic? Released you from your contract? Experimented on you some more to see if they could wipe the ability to feel pain from you?"
"What about the others?"
"I'm only one person, Echo. I can only do so much. My first thought was of you. To get you out of there."
"Thank you," she whispered.
He cleared his throat.
"You're welcome. The fact that you're as aware of what's going on around you at the moment tells me that I made the right choice. Most actives in their doll-state wouldn't really recognize what I'm doing is dangerous."
"Isn't that what I'm in now?"
"Yes. No. It's confusing. You had all of your imprints slammed into your head so I'm not sure who or what is in charge at the moment."
"I'm just me. I mean, I feel them, but none of them are right. They don't fit."
"I just know that what you are now, living as you are now is better than the life Miss Delray has."
She walked to the kitchen, rinsing her cup just as he had and then crossed the room again toward the stairs leading to the basement.
"Are you coming?"
"I'll be there in a bit. I'm going to double check the locks and everything are in place."
"You're lucky your friend doesn't have an alarm on this place."
"We are. I'd thought of that, but I honestly didn't know where else to go once I realized we were actually getting away."
She gave him a little smile. "Good night then."
"Good night, Echo," he said solemnly.
He had no idea if what he was doing was right, but he didn't see much choice. From what he could ascertain, it seemed the Dollhouse was playing Russian Roulette with the health of their actives.
He did a check of the perimeter outside. The woods worked both for and against them. No one could see into the house except from the lake, but unless they had a high-powered telescope or binoculars they'd be okay. The cabin was far enough away from the road he should hear someone approaching. Fortunately, Cliff's garage had an automatic door opener and no windows in the portion of the garage where vehicles were stored.
As they had no reason to leave the cabin via the driveway, he had set up a couple of tripwires. They wouldn't be more than a deterrent, but he'd hear a body fall if they came on foot.
Back inside, he double-checked the locks on the windows and doors. Satisfied they were as secure as they could be for the night, he poured himself a short glass of brandy. He'd checked on Echo while in the basement and she was asleep. He didn't know how soundly she'd sleep without the aid of whatever the Dollhouse pumped into the actives' sleeping chambers. She'd slept some in the car, but that didn't really give him an answer. Once he'd dumped his car and paid cash for a used one he'd driven straight through so this was the first night she'd be sleeping in something other than her pod.
He finished off the brandy, figuring it'd help him sleep. Not that he needed the aid. He hadn't slept since leaving LA going on over a day now. He imagined he'd sleep like a rock tonight.
There were things on his mind. They'd gotten out of LA, but there were more steps to take before he would feel well and truly safe. If he ever would again. He knew, for one, while here he'd have to look into another vehicle. Just to put even more distance between them and LA. Chances were, he'd be able to find a better car for less money. Not that money was really an issue, he'd taken every penny out of his account before leaving. There'd been a good amount in there. Eventually, he'd have to find work, but they wouldn't be hurting for the basic things while they found someplace to settle.
Word Count: 3,404
"I woke up and you were gone."
She'd surprised him. Dawn was still a ways off so he hadn't been expecting company out here. It was a good thing he hadn't been baiting his hook just then or he very well might have impaled his finger instead of the worm he was aiming for.
"I was trying to catch some fish before it was light enough to be noticed."
"It's pretty secluded," she said. "Are you really worried?"
"You found me."
"I was looking. And I knew you wouldn't have strayed far."
"True enough," he replied with a shake of his head.
"Looks like you've caught something," she said, gesturing to the bucket he was using for fish he caught worth eating.
"They're barely big enough to feed us through one meal."
"There's stew left."
"I figured you might like a change of pace. Besides, it's free."
He cast the line again, the only sound near them the soft plop of the baited hook as it hit the water and broke the surface. Echo was quiet for a little bit. So quiet that he wondered if she'd gone back to the house.
"Is money a problem?"
The question gave him pause. Echo continued to astound him, particularly recalling his first impressions of her. He doubted anyone, even him, gave her credit enough to think about any financial woes he may be experiencing because of this dangerous game he'd entered them into.
"No, Echo, we'll be fine. But, while we're here," he said, reeling in another fish. This was another to add to his bucket. He gently worked the hook out, placing it with the others he'd kept. That should get them dinner anyway. Or lunch if she wanted to do it that way. "We may as well enjoy the fruits of my labor."
"You couldn't sleep."
"What makes you say that?"
"You're wearing the same thing you were when I went to bed."
He looked up from putting the fishing equipment away for the morning. The spot he'd found offered him shore access to the lake without leaving him in full view. They weren't exactly hidden, but someone would really have to be looking to see them.
"And you're wearing your pajamas," he said, though he noticed she had thought to put a jacket on. While the days and evenings were nice, the early mornings could still be downright cold.
"I was worried. I don't know what I'd do if something happened to you."
"I already told you what to do if something were to happen to me. Call Paul Ballard if that happens. He'll help you."
"I don't know that I like him."
"I don't know that I like him either, but we both think your well-being is important."
"I trust you."
"And I trust you, Echo, but the fact remains something could happen to me while I'm protecting you."
He grabbed hold of the bucket and carried it the short distance to Cliff's cleaning table. It was nothing fancy, but it had the nooks and crannies necessary to get the job done efficiently without having to search for tools.
"I've never done that," she said, watching as he started on the first fish.
"Want to learn?"
"Sure," she said.
He was admittedly surprised. Most women he knew wouldn't be interested in watching him do this let alone want to get their hands dirty actually doing it. Then nothing where Echo was concerned should surprise him.
"All right," he said, gesturing for her to stand where he was. He handed the fish scaler to her and showed her the small, quick strokes best to use to get the scales off. It took her a while, which he suspected it would given it was her first time. She wasn't squeamish, though. He gave her that.
The fish scaled, he showed her how to do the rest: cutting, gutting, beheading, and filleting. She didn't like the gutting part too much, which he couldn't blame her for exactly. He dropped the entrails into Cliff's waste bucket as they went. He'd bury them under some plants when they were done.
The fish went into a cooler filled with ice where they would stay until he was ready to cook him and his comrades later. Boyd made sure the spigot was open so the water could drain as the ice melted. It had been a while since he'd done this, but seemingly it was like riding a bike and you didn't forget how.
She reached for the second fish, giving a little scream as it splashed and wiggled in an attempt to get free. She gave a laugh then when she realized she'd gotten scared by a fish.
"Problems?" he asked.
"Oh my God! No, I just wasn't expecting it to move!"
She got a hold of the fish, setting it on the cleaning table. She glanced at Boyd who was watching her curiously. The front of her jacket and the nightshirt underneath it were now a little wet. She didn't seem to notice let alone mind. Her attentions were focused so intently on the fish she was trying to capture. She was nibbling on her lower lip as she concentrated and Boyd found it strangely attractive. Something he had no business feeling.
"Which I realize is stupid since they don't die until they get onto this table," she continued, drawing him out of his thoughts.
"Not if you unhook them right anyway."
"Well, right, which you did."
"I don't always get it right."
"Just got lucky today?"
"I guess so," he said. "Are you feeling okay?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said, wiping her bangs away from her face with the back of her wrist. "Why?"
"Just making sure."
The fish cleaned and stored in the ice-filled cooler, she even helped him clean off the table. He got a shovel from Cliff's garage and walked into the woods a bit before digging a hole to bury the residuals.
"Now what?" she asked.
"Now we clean up so our hands don't smell awful all day."
"That wasn't bad."
"I'll let you do the catching next time if you want."
"Sure. Funny, I dont think I've ever done it, but I feel like I know how."
"You probably do, I wouldn't know."
"That happens sometimes."
"I just realize that I know something. I don't know how or why exactly, I just know how to do it."
"I imagine that's thanks to Alpha."
"I wonder if they'll ever catch him."
"I don't know. I imagine we're higher priorities right now."
"We shouldn't be. I'm not a psychopath."
"No, but you're their prized asset and us walking the streets is a danger to them. Alpha doesn't seem to want to cause the Dollhouse any harm, at least from the aspect of bringing the FBI to them or anything."
She smiled a little as they walked back toward the cabin, Boyd carrying the ice chest containing the fish. She bumped against him, and it took him a minute to realize she'd done it intentionally. She looked away almost as soon as he figured it out. Was she flirting with him? Did she think he expected her to do that?
"I know I have information about the Dollhouse, but not the type we need or that would be useful."
"We'll figure it out, Echo. I hope to be able to get you back to your life as Caroline."
"And then you can go back to your life?"
"Something like that."
Not that there was much of a life to go back to. He'd given up everything to take the job with the Dollhouse, so there was nothing for him anywhere. No family, no job, and now that he'd pulled this disappearing act with their star active he wasn't going to get a reference from his employers.
He realized last night that he'd have to make money once they got settled somewhere. As much as being a security guard left a foul taste in his mouth, he imagined that was what he would look for. Maybe he'd luck into a cushy job somewhere, but he doubted somehow he'd be so fortunate.
"What if I don't want to?"
"Want to what?" he asked, distracted by his thoughts.
"What if I just want to be me? The me I am now. I mean, in order to get me back to Caroline, I have to go through another treatment. Right?"
"I would imagine so, yes."
"I mean, I have like no memories of being Caroline. All of my memories are of whoever I've been."
"Because Alpha didn't want Caroline in there."
"I suppose not. And, if I'm already having problems"
"Yes, I know, Echo. It's something I've considered as well, but I guess I just assumed you wanted to go back."
"Not if it means needing medical treatment, drugs, and living in dark rooms for the rest of my life."
There wasn't overwhelming proof that's what would happen to her, but Boyd had found proof enough and wasn't willing to take the chance either.
He wasn't sure what he expected. If Eve Delray was being paid off by the Dollhouse, it certainly wasn't handsomely. When he first realized her address was near the beach, he had pictured something expensive. While the home was nothing to sneeze at, it wasn't outrageously costly. It was just one of many cookie-cutter types for people who cared more for location than the appearance of where they lived. He had checked carefully on his way to ensure he hadn't been followed. It was a nice day, so seeing that the windows on the small house were all covered gave him pause. Then again, perhaps windows weren't covered on the other side of the house. Besides, he'd come all this way he may as well at least be able to tell himself he'd pursued the lead. He crossed the street carefully, checking once again to see if any cars he recognized as being the Dollhouse's were in the vicinity. At the front door, about to ring the bell he paused, unsure of just what he was going to say. He rang the bell, not giving him any more time to contemplate backing out. Confidence wasn't usually a problem for him, but he no longer carried a badge and Paul Ballard wasn't along to flash his. So, really, he had to count on the fact Miss Delray would be cooperative. The front door opened a crack. He caught a glimpse of long blonde hair and a dark eye. He couldn't tell what color specifically. Her legs were bare and her shirt was a bright red. "Can I help you?" "I hope so. Are you Eve Delray?" She opened the door a little wider. Wide enough that he was able to determine her eyes were a dark green and that her legs were not bare but rather she was wearing shorts along with the bright red shirt. "May I ask who you are?" "My name is Boyd Langton. I'm head of security with the Dollhouse." Her eyes widened a little but she gave a slight nod in response and opened her door. And that gave him pause. He wasn't sure what he was expecting from Eve Delray, but an open invitation into her home was not it. She led him into a dark room where she took a seat on a comfortable looking couch. He remained standing while she looked him over. He did the same. She was tall, he'd noticed that following her into the room. Attractive, but then the Dollhouse didn't seem to invest in actives who were not. There was a washcloth on the coffee table in front of the couch, which appeared damp. Her hair was longer than he'd first guessed. The ponytail fastened loosely, giving the deception that her hair stopped around her shoulders. It went well past the middle of her back. "Where's the papers?" "I'm sorry?" "Aren't you here to do the alive and well check on me?" "I, um" "No?" "No, I had some questions for you, if you're willing to answer them." "I'll try, Mr. Langton is it?" He took a seat then in a nearby chair. "Yes," he said, realizing that using his real name may have been an error but there wasn't anything he could do about it now that he'd given her his name. And it wasn't as if questioned and she described him they wouldn't know who he was anyway. "You were an employee of the Dollhouse?" "Yes," she said simply. "For how long?" "Three years." He noticed her squinting as he spoke. "Would you like me to turn a light on?" "No," she said quickly, adamantly. "You were" He wasn't sure how to phrase the question. He assumed she had been a doll, but perhaps he was wrong. "An active?" "Yes," he said. "That is correct, Mr. Langton." "How did they get you to sign up?" "I was married to a drug addict who got me into debt up to my eyeballs. It wasnt bad enough the debt collectors were calling me night and day but I had drug dealers knocking on my door looking for him as well. And then one day he got caught trying to steal gasoline from a station. The police officer knew he was lying when I told him he hadn't been living here for two weeks by then and surely he'd realized between that time and now that he'd left his wallet here." "And?" "And yet I was still responsible for his debt. I refused to pay it. I was not going to be a party to his problems any longer." He could see where the Dollhouse might have swept in, though he was wondering how this woman had shown up on their radar at all. He did not understand how the Dollhouse obtained their actives. "You're under medical care I understand." She glanced at him with interest then. "Yes." "May I ask for what?" "I'm not sure exactly, I mean my condition hasn't been diagnosed. Or at least I haven't been given a name for it or anything. I have frequent headaches, migraines. With them I sometimes get vertigo, tinnitus, and motion sickness," she said with a gesture to the room. "My eyes are very sensitive to light all of the time whether I have the headaches or not. I'm probably living in the wrong place, but I can't bring myself to leave home entirely even if I'm miles away from where I started." "Did you have these problems before becoming an active?" "No," she answered without hesitation. "Never." "The doctor you see, Dr. Colson, is he one of theirs?" "He must be, or perhaps a client. I don't know for certain." "What does he say?" "He doesn't know, Mr. Langton. If he did I imagine he'd know of some way to get it to stop so I can function normally again." "Do you think it's possible he does know, the Dollhouse knows but they're somehow keeping the truth from you?" She shrugged. "Anything's possible, Mr. Langton. You work for them, is that who you think you work for?" He didn't know how to answer that question, because his was a tricky situation just as many of the actives situations were. The truth was, yes, he could see them withholding the actual information from her, medicating her without telling her exactly what they were treating. "Were you treated for anything like this in the Dollhouse?" "I don't know," she said with a slight laugh. "I don't remember, but my contract was for five years and I was released early. I suspect this was why." "And you're sure you had no history of any of the medical problems before working for the Dollhouse?" "Quite positive. Other than a bout of pneumonia in college I've always been healthy." He stood then, mulling over what she'd told him. "I appreciate your time, Ms. Delray, I'm sorry I came by unannounced. I saw your name and grew curious." "It's no problem, Mr. Langton. I don't leave my house very often so it's not as if you kept me from doing anything." "You don't leave?" "I can't during the day unless I have dark sunglasses on. And even those allow enough light in to be bothersome on some days." "I see," he said, trying to picture that. Being restricted in when he could come and go because of something like that. He couldn't fathom it. "Thank you for your time. I'll see myself out." "You're welcome," she said. She did stand and walk with him to the door, locking it behind him he heard. He couldn't blame her. If she was prone to migraines and the other things that went with them, she could be incapacitated for some time. His mother had her fair share of them and he knew how bad they could get. He played their conversation over in his head. There had to be a connection between Topher's treatments and what had happened to Eve Delray. Was her reaction just a fluke or were there others out there like Eve Delray who after serving the Dollhouse were left permanently altered? And what about Echo? Their top active? Being so popular meant being subjected to Topher's treatments with more frequency. He didn't know Caroline, but he knew Echo. And Echo deserved better than living in a drapery-enshrouded room, unable to go outside during the day.
He had checked carefully on his way to ensure he hadn't been followed. It was a nice day, so seeing that the windows on the small house were all covered gave him pause. Then again, perhaps windows weren't covered on the other side of the house. Besides, he'd come all this way he may as well at least be able to tell himself he'd pursued the lead.
He crossed the street carefully, checking once again to see if any cars he recognized as being the Dollhouse's were in the vicinity. At the front door, about to ring the bell he paused, unsure of just what he was going to say.
He rang the bell, not giving him any more time to contemplate backing out. Confidence wasn't usually a problem for him, but he no longer carried a badge and Paul Ballard wasn't along to flash his. So, really, he had to count on the fact Miss Delray would be cooperative.
The front door opened a crack. He caught a glimpse of long blonde hair and a dark eye. He couldn't tell what color specifically. Her legs were bare and her shirt was a bright red.
"Can I help you?"
"I hope so. Are you Eve Delray?"
She opened the door a little wider. Wide enough that he was able to determine her eyes were a dark green and that her legs were not bare but rather she was wearing shorts along with the bright red shirt.
"May I ask who you are?"
"My name is Boyd Langton. I'm head of security with the Dollhouse."
Her eyes widened a little but she gave a slight nod in response and opened her door. And that gave him pause. He wasn't sure what he was expecting from Eve Delray, but an open invitation into her home was not it.
She led him into a dark room where she took a seat on a comfortable looking couch. He remained standing while she looked him over. He did the same. She was tall, he'd noticed that following her into the room. Attractive, but then the Dollhouse didn't seem to invest in actives who were not. There was a washcloth on the coffee table in front of the couch, which appeared damp. Her hair was longer than he'd first guessed. The ponytail fastened loosely, giving the deception that her hair stopped around her shoulders. It went well past the middle of her back.
"Where's the papers?"
"Aren't you here to do the alive and well check on me?"
"No, I had some questions for you, if you're willing to answer them."
"I'll try, Mr. Langton is it?"
He took a seat then in a nearby chair.
"Yes," he said, realizing that using his real name may have been an error but there wasn't anything he could do about it now that he'd given her his name. And it wasn't as if questioned and she described him they wouldn't know who he was anyway.
"You were an employee of the Dollhouse?"
"Yes," she said simply.
"For how long?"
He noticed her squinting as he spoke. "Would you like me to turn a light on?"
"No," she said quickly, adamantly.
"You were" He wasn't sure how to phrase the question. He assumed she had been a doll, but perhaps he was wrong.
"Yes," he said.
"That is correct, Mr. Langton."
"How did they get you to sign up?"
"I was married to a drug addict who got me into debt up to my eyeballs. It wasnt bad enough the debt collectors were calling me night and day but I had drug dealers knocking on my door looking for him as well. And then one day he got caught trying to steal gasoline from a station. The police officer knew he was lying when I told him he hadn't been living here for two weeks by then and surely he'd realized between that time and now that he'd left his wallet here."
"And yet I was still responsible for his debt. I refused to pay it. I was not going to be a party to his problems any longer."
He could see where the Dollhouse might have swept in, though he was wondering how this woman had shown up on their radar at all. He did not understand how the Dollhouse obtained their actives.
"You're under medical care I understand."
She glanced at him with interest then.
"May I ask for what?"
"I'm not sure exactly, I mean my condition hasn't been diagnosed. Or at least I haven't been given a name for it or anything. I have frequent headaches, migraines. With them I sometimes get vertigo, tinnitus, and motion sickness," she said with a gesture to the room. "My eyes are very sensitive to light all of the time whether I have the headaches or not. I'm probably living in the wrong place, but I can't bring myself to leave home entirely even if I'm miles away from where I started."
"Did you have these problems before becoming an active?"
"No," she answered without hesitation. "Never."
"The doctor you see, Dr. Colson, is he one of theirs?"
"He must be, or perhaps a client. I don't know for certain."
"What does he say?"
"He doesn't know, Mr. Langton. If he did I imagine he'd know of some way to get it to stop so I can function normally again."
"Do you think it's possible he does know, the Dollhouse knows but they're somehow keeping the truth from you?"
She shrugged. "Anything's possible, Mr. Langton. You work for them, is that who you think you work for?"
He didn't know how to answer that question, because his was a tricky situation just as many of the actives situations were. The truth was, yes, he could see them withholding the actual information from her, medicating her without telling her exactly what they were treating.
"Were you treated for anything like this in the Dollhouse?"
"I don't know," she said with a slight laugh. "I don't remember, but my contract was for five years and I was released early. I suspect this was why."
"And you're sure you had no history of any of the medical problems before working for the Dollhouse?"
"Quite positive. Other than a bout of pneumonia in college I've always been healthy."
He stood then, mulling over what she'd told him. "I appreciate your time, Ms. Delray, I'm sorry I came by unannounced. I saw your name and grew curious."
"It's no problem, Mr. Langton. I don't leave my house very often so it's not as if you kept me from doing anything."
"You don't leave?"
"I can't during the day unless I have dark sunglasses on. And even those allow enough light in to be bothersome on some days."
"I see," he said, trying to picture that. Being restricted in when he could come and go because of something like that. He couldn't fathom it. "Thank you for your time. I'll see myself out."
"You're welcome," she said. She did stand and walk with him to the door, locking it behind him he heard. He couldn't blame her. If she was prone to migraines and the other things that went with them, she could be incapacitated for some time. His mother had her fair share of them and he knew how bad they could get.
He played their conversation over in his head. There had to be a connection between Topher's treatments and what had happened to Eve Delray. Was her reaction just a fluke or were there others out there like Eve Delray who after serving the Dollhouse were left permanently altered?
And what about Echo? Their top active? Being so popular meant being subjected to Topher's treatments with more frequency. He didn't know Caroline, but he knew Echo. And Echo deserved better than living in a drapery-enshrouded room, unable to go outside during the day.
"I dont know what you want me to say. I left to keep you safe," he said, setting the cooler down on the edge of the deck so the melting ice would drain into the bushes below.
"Then keep me safe."
He looked out over the lake, the sun was just finally making its appearance for the day. He'd expected to have showered and gotten breakfast started by the time she woke up. Instead, she'd found him out here. It was an odd feeling, having her with him. He liked it and he knew there wasn't anyone on this earth who would try harder to keep her out of harm's way. Not even Paul Ballard.
"That's what I'm trying to do."
"I'm not sure returning me to Caroline's life is the way to do that. Wouldnt they find me that way?"
"I've thought of that, yes. Everything happened so quickly from the time I found information that led to my removing you from the Dollhouse. I knew that returning you to any form of her life as Caroline would put you in harm's way."
"So, you want to stay on the run with me?"
He laughed a little.
"Why not? I think we both agree I can't go back to that life."
"And we can't go back to mine."
"You said yourself you won't just leave me."
"No," he said and meant it.
He couldn't do that to her not knowing if she would start getting headaches or any signs that something was wrong. No one else knew where she'd been, what had been done to her. "It won't be pretty, Echo. It won't be nice. There will be no 5-star hotels or the cuisine to match what you're accustomed to."
She pointed at the cooler, linking her arm through his.
"I just cleaned fish, didn't I?"
He chuckled a little, regarding her intently now.
"Yes, yes you did."
"Echo, you can stay with me as long as you want to. If we find a way to reverse what the Dollhouse and Alpha have done "
"I don't know that I'd want to go back anyway."
"She abandoned me. Things got tough and instead of facing the music she let them pimp me out."
He grimaced a little, but she spoke the truth. "So, you're giving up on yourself?"
"No," she said simply. "I'm becoming a new self."
He didn't know what to say to that, because she'd been becoming a new self since almost the beginning of his association with her.
"You change your mind or decide it's too much."
"You could, too."
"Yes, because being on the run with someone as attractive as you are is such a hardship. Anyway, we've only been at this a few days. We have time ahead of us to make decisions. Let's worry about staying safe and smart for the time being."
Word Count: 2,375
The loud clap of thunder brought him out of very possibly the best dream he'd ever had. At least, he couldn't remember having one like it in a very long time. He was drifting back to sleep, coming awake again at the realization that his dream wasn't entirely based on fiction.
"Echo?" he whispered.
"Yes," she said, sounding wide-awake despite the fact it had to be the middle of the night.
"What are you doing in here?"
He hadn't thought to shut his door for anything other than when he changed clothes. He had nothing to hide from her after all and he understood that waking up somewhere that wasn't the Dollhouse was going to take a while for her to adjust to. He'd certainly never imagined this scenario.
"I couldn't sleep," she said, as if that explained the reasoning behind her being here. In bed with him. As if she belonged there.
"I'm sorry the storm's scaring you, but we're safe. Particularly in the basement."
"I just," she edged closer and he realized she'd even gotten under the covers. Some bodyguard he was, sleeping through someone climbing into bed with him. "Feel safer here. With you."
"I'm glad that's true, but you should wake me up next time."
"I didn't want to wake you. You looked peaceful and I know you didn't sleep well last night, if at all. I didn't think you'd mind."
What could he say to that? What man in his right mind would be bothered by an attractive woman wanting to share his bed? Add to that she could probably do things to make him beg for mercy ten different ways.
"How long has it been raining?" he asked.
"I don't know. That's the third or fourth thunder I heard."
"Really? I guess I was tired."
She laughed. "Well, you're the one who's been doing all of the work so I dont blame you."
"Thank you," he murmured, realizing he wasn't as awake as he should be considering the circumstances.
"Are you mad?"
"No," he said. "I'm glad you trust me enough to come to me when you're scared."
"I know you'll keep me safe, no matter what."
"No matter what," he repeated.
It was still dark and raining from the sound of things when next he woke. Echo was asleep beside him. Somehow, they'd shifted during the night to where she was resting against his chest and he had an arm around her, supporting her. Keeping her in place?
As he became more awake, he realized that his mind wasn't the only part of him that was of the opinion she belonged here. And liked having her here. He closed his eyes, wondering if visualizing the heavyweight boxers he'd idolized as a boy would make his libido stand down.
Or better yet, gutting the fish they'd cleaned. The only problem with that visual is that he'd found her willingness to not just learn but get her hands dirty appealing.
She sighed softly, her breathing didn't change so she was still asleep and he left her that way. He drifted back to sleep easily, perhaps too easily considering he shouldn't be in bed with her.
The next thing he knew it was morning. She was awake but still beside him, her hand tracing shapes on his abdomen.
"It stopped raining."
"How do you know?" he asked.
"I went upstairs a bit ago."
"And I slept through that, too," he said with a soft laugh. "I'm not making a very good impression."
"Or maybe you're just comfortable with me."
He was and he wasn't. Now that they were here, embarking on whatever it was they were doing. He had no idea what he was going to do with her. And what thoughts he did have here in bed were entirely inappropriate.
"Perhaps. I am sorry the rain bothered you, Echo. I didn't realize it would."
"I don't know the last time I heard it rain."
"I suppose," he said, mulling that one over. "Surely one of the personalities?"
"I think so, maybe. It doesn't work like that. I mean, I can slip into them but what I get is the personality, the abilities not so much the memories."
"I see," he said, though he didn't really. He didn't understand the imprinting process Topher put them through entirely let alone what Alpha had done to Echo.
"I have an idea," she said, letting her head rest against his chest.
"Oh?" He gave a soft chuckle. "Well, let's hear it?"
"Let's forget the city idea and live some place like this?"
"We can't, Echo. It wouldn't work."
"Why not? I like it here. It's quiet."
He wasn't sure she'd really like the quiet on a permanent basis. What he did know about Caroline suggested she wasn't a small-town person.
"We'd stand out as the new people. Even if we came into town separately, we'd still be noticed. The only reason we're able to stay off the radar right now is because it's not peak season. A couple more weeks and the other cabins will have people in them; the lake will have boats on it night and day. We couldn't even go into the local bar without getting noticed. Our best bet is the city."
She sighed softly.
"I understand you like it here, it is relaxing and peaceful. You'll get bored with it quickly, I imagine. Especially once you start realizing how limited our movements can be. In a city, we'll blend in and therefore be free to come and go as we please. Here, we have to be careful about going to the corner store too frequently and draw attention to ourselves."
"You have a point."
"I've thought this through, Echo. I really have. First things first, we need to get ourselves some ID."
"Yours is more important than mine."
"Yes," he said. "You'll want to work, too. Want a place of your own eventually."
She looked at him then. She had such nice eyes, they were one attribute about her he always noticed no matter the programming Topher had instilled in her.
"What if I don't?"
"We'll deal with that when the time comes. You're an attractive young woman" he said, sliding his hand over her hair, smoothing it down as he went. Even just waking up it was easy to touch.
"You know everything about me."
"Try explaining my life to someone."
"You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone to believe you."
"Again, we'll see, Echo," he said.
He slid his hand along her cheek, the side of her face and down to her chin. He cupped it, tilting her face up a bit to meet her gaze.
"I didn't take you out of there to hold you in a different type of prison. I want you to have a life. A healthy one."
"I hope so. I don't expect anything from you, Echo. Nothing. If you got into bed with me because the storm frightened you, that's fine. But if you think that I expect it in exchange for your freedom."
"I know that."
"Just so we're clear."
"We are," she said, returning to her spot against his chest.
She was quiet for a while, her hand still against his stomach. He wondered if she'd fallen asleep again. He wouldn't blame her. It had been a stressful few days. He couldn't imagine what she was going through. He continued running his fingers through her hair gently, slowly. He was pretty sure he could drift off to sleep again if he allowed himself to.
"I think there might be something wrong."
"There's nothing wrong with you, Echo. We've gone through this."
"No, I mean," she said.
"You mean what," he prompted when she didn't continue for a minute or two.
"Well, I took a bath."
"Oh?" he asked. He'd slept through that, too. Good grief.
"And I started leaking."
He sat up then, looking at her. She had his full attention now. He thought at first this was another one of her bouts of feeling inadequate or as if she would never fit in anywhere ever again.
"What do you mean? Were you crying?"
"No, my breasts."
"Oh," he said after a rather long pause. She was looking at him so trustingly with her dark eyes, as if he had all of the answers.
"I see," he said.
"Is that bad?"
He chuckled softly. "Well, no, but I guess I hadn't thought of that before taking you away from them."
"Thought of what?"
"Your last assignment they not only programmed your mind, but your body as well. That's when I realized I couldn't stand by any longer. Possibly headaches or sickness aside. I'd vowed to watch you closely from a distance to ensure you were okay in that respect."
"What did they do?"
"You were mother to a baby. And they altered your body chemically so that you could breastfeed."
"They can do that?"
"Evidently because it worked."
"So, the leaking?"
"I assume it's normal. I took you away before they could finish deprogramming you. I imagine they had a shot or something to give you to stop it."
"So, what do I do?"
"I don't know," he said with a light laugh.
"The bath felt good."
"Yes. They're sore."
"You haven't said anything."
"I didn't really think anything of it, but this morning they started to hurt."
"Is that why you took the bath?"
"Well, maybe that will help then. I'll fire up the computer later and see if I can find anything on the Internet. I'm sure there's tons of advice out there on the subject."
"Thank you," she said softly.
He noticed she wasn't looking at him any more, since the conversation had started as a matter of fact.
"Are you okay otherwise? Is there something wrong?"
"No, I'm just used to talking to Dr. Saunders when something hurts."
"Oh right. Well, you can tell me anything. I want you tell me anything. You can think of me as the new Dr. Saunders if you want to."
She scooted up on the bed, resting her head against his chest again. He noticed she shifted against him, avoiding her breasts coming into real close contact with him.
"I don't want to do that. It was just weird saying that to you, you're a man."
"I don't embarrass easy, Echo, and you shouldn't be embarrassed about something that's absolutely normal."
"For someone who's had a baby."
"There is that," he said with a light laugh.
They grew quiet then. He was thinking about the Dollhouse and just how little they took anything into account but their bottom line and completing missions. He doubted what Echo was experiencing was life threatening or that serious, but he wasn't sure that would stop them.
"What if I want to," she whispered.
"Want to what?"
She kissed his chest once, twice and his breath hitched.
"I think I'd have to say we should wait to make that kind of decision until we're settled."
"I can't get careless, Echo. I have to be at my best, I can't allow myself to be distracted."
"So, it's not me?"
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't, Echo, but we can't. It's not right."
"You just agreed no one else would believe me," she said turning away from him. She didn't move from her spot next to him though.
"That doesn't mean that I'm going to have sex with you!"
He turned a little, dislodging his arm from around her. She remained turned away from him and he gave a sigh, realizing he'd insulted or hurt her. That hadn't been his intention.
"Echo, look at me."
"Please, look at me."
A slight shifting of her body, but still she didn't look at him.
"That came out wrong," he said, touching her shoulder. "I'm still getting accustomed to what you've become. For all we know, you're still becoming. We're on the run, our lives are at risk, and I have to keep all my attention focused on getting us completely off the Dollhouse's radar."
She turned a little then, glancing at him over her shoulder. He leaned in then and kissed her shoulder, rubbing it again.
"I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings or made you feel undesirable, Echo. It's not that the idea is abhorrent to me, but I'm still getting adjusted to the fact that you're not a blank slate any longer. You're evolving into something I don't think the Dollhouse could anticipate, and I don't want to stand in the way of that happening."
"We don't know that, but first and foremost, it would be a distraction neither one of us can afford until I think we're safe. We might have to move around a bit, the first city may not fit. I have to keep my eyes and ears open on my goal, which for now is ensuring your safety."
She turned so she was facing him now.
"Thank you," he said. "You have a whole life, a whole world, waiting for you to discover, Echo. TV and junk food and corny movies and school if you desire it."
"First I need a name."
"That you do. I told you to think about what you want to be called."
"Are you going to change yours?"
"I should," he said, though he still didn't like the idea. In his former life, he'd busted people who made fake IDs, providing people with identities more thorough than his legitimate and legal one was. "I have to think of one, too, I guess."
Her eyes fluttered closed. He realized she wasn't the only one who was still tired and allowed himself to fall back asleep as well. It had been a long time since he'd consciously fallen asleep with someone. He found as she turned so her back was against him, that he liked having that again. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he should send her back to her room. Or get up and get ready for the day, leaving her here to sleep on her own.
He couldn't do it, though. At least not today.
**Part Four** Word Count: 2,789
"Yup, I went through every room and we haven't left anything behind. I think anyone would be hard-pressed to find evidence we were ever here."
"All right," he said, closing the trunk to his new used car. It wasn't much to look at, but it was roadworthy, which was important. He wasnt certain how many miles he'd end up putting on it before ditching it for yet another one.
The two weeks had flown by. As tempting as it was to stay longer, they were taking a risk being here now. They'd both seen evidence the last couple of nights that other cabins on the lake were inhabited, which meant it was time to move on. All he could do was hope it was enough time for the Dollhouse to be scratching their heads over where they'd run off to. He had no doubt they would continue looking.
They'd worked on many things while here. He'd gone over how to use the various guns he had just in case the situation arose she needed to use them. She was now proficient with all aspects of fishing. Something that may not seem important, but on the run fishing and hunting could be the only means of survival one had. He hadn't the time to work on hunting with her, but when they got where they were going he could work on that. Although, he remembered vividly one of her personalities had been hunting and imagined that knowledge was still in there somewhere.
She'd also worked on cooking, which had been her idea. He didn't mind doing the cooking, but she had wanted to help. He'd also worked with her on driving. She took to it easily, but she'd been hesitant, almost scared of it when he broached the subject. He wasn't sure why, surely Caroline had held a driver's license.
And they'd worked on other, more basic social things that she was lacking. They'd watched movies, TV, and even music videos together. The radio was very rarely ever off and they'd changed things up as far as the type - as much as the rural area allowed them to anyway. She'd torn through the pages of the various magazines he'd purchased. She needed to be better acclimated to the society he was going to be thrusting her into. There was such a thing as too much lack of knowledge, so he wanted to ensure she was aware of basic things going on around them. Her not knowing who Britney Spears or Lindsey Lohan was could land them in hot water faster than her not knowing the difference between a lentil and a lima bean.
After the night of the storm, she'd managed to find her way into his room at bedtime for one reason or another. He didn't mind the company truth be told and had never told her to leave. Sometimes they didn't fall asleep for hours, talking until they could find nothing else to talk about.
That was something else important, he imagined. Whatever they were going to be to one another when they got to Cleveland, they had to be convincing that they actually knew one another and had been living together.
He'd debated about leaving his friend a note or some money. He'd forgone both for different reasons and knew if Cliff ever found out, he'd understand. Or at least not hold it against Boyd. They'd cleaned up after themselves and spent most of last night and this morning doing every bit of laundry from the house they'd used no matter how little.
He needed the money he had on him and could always send him something later to payback the use of his cabin. They'd spent very little while here, his only expenses having been the basic necessities and the new car. Once they got away from here, though, things would cost more and there was no telling when he'd find a job. Or how much said job would pay.
The note he'd decided against because they'd spent the morning thoroughly cleaning every inch of the place, including the fish cleaning table, so that no evidence of their being here could be found. Everything they might have touched was wiped down. He hated taken such extreme precautions, but he had to be safe in the event Cliff was ever tracked down. Leaving a note would just provide further proof they'd been here.
He threw the car into drive and watched Echo as they pulled away from their wooded getaway for the last time. They'd left a couple of times to make the drive to town, but overall they'd holed themselves up here for two weeks straight, having no one but one another to talk to.
"I like it here."
"I'll remember that."
She laughed a little, resting her head against the back of her seat. "Like we're going to be able to come back."
"There are other cabins in other woods, Echo."
"I thought we'd stand out?"
"Living some place like this, yes. Coming to stay at one of the several resorts around this part of the country for a week or two, no. We'd just be two out of several thousand that do it every summer."
"I'll hold you to that."
"I hope you do," he said.
They stopped at the local dump site to unload their trash and from there they were gone. He wasn't in as much of a hurry this time as when he'd fled the Dollhouse with a very confused Echo along for the ride. His plan was simple, or at least he thought it was and hoped that it would work. Stay on the major highways, keep the car at the speed limit or with the flow of traffic (within reason), and not straying too far off the highway when it came to filling up the car or getting their meals.
They'd packed a cooler before leaving with sandwiches, fruit and some other things, so they wouldn't need to stop much for a day or two. She didn't feel comfortable driving for long stretches, but she'd be able to get him a break here and there. That would allow them to drive further every day.
Their first stop was Detroit. He left Echo behind at their motel for his errand. He didn't want anyone he actually knew - no matter how remotely - to see her. If questioned they could say they didn't see them together. Not that he believed that would fool the Dollhouse's people. And this stop was to someone who dealt in all sorts of illegal activities. There was no sense exposing her to that, or making this contact fear that someone was going to rat them out.
This was the biggest expense he would be undertaking until he got a job. Identification. He'd come across this guy's operation on a case years ago. He'd never busted the guy because over the years he'd proven helpful. While not providing specific information, he had divulged to Boyd whether he'd seen a person. Anyone in this area who wanted to start fresh used Dmitri's services, though most of it was second or third hand so very few knew Dmitri's name, location, or most importantly his face. He was connected, how deeply Boyd never found out but Dmitri most definitely had ties to the mob.
"I see nothing's changed," Boyd said through the smoke infested room. "Haven't you heard about second hand smoke?"
"I figure," Dmitri said in his thickly accented voice, "most my clients don't care about a little exposure when their lives are so utterly in the toilet."
"Good point," Boyd said.
"Was surprised you called."
"You are last person on earth I ever expect to want to get off the grid."
"Things happen, Dmitri. You know how it is."
"You involved in something bad?"
"Something like that."
"Well, Dmitri fix you up."
"I appreciate it," he said, handing over enough cash to buy a small house in some locations of the United States. That money, however, bought everything needed to have a legitimate ID for both him and Echo. As legitimate as false ones could be anyway. There were even a couple of credit cards in there. He wouldn't use those until they got to Cleveland and needed to purchase things like furniture for them to live.
"This girl. She your girl?"
"Seems so, though it's rather complicated."
"She very pretty."
"Yes, she is. You keeping your nose out of trouble?"
"Good. Keep it that way, I doubt I'll be back."
"Good luck to you and the girl."
"Thank you, Dmitri," Boyd said, pocketing everything before walking to his car. He didn't know for certain Dmitri wouldn't turn on him, had no idea if anyone would even know Boyd knew him. He never put down on paper anything about Dmitri.
He used the pay-as-you-go cell phone to call the motel room, let the phone ring twice and hung up. He'd already checked out of the room and the car was packed, so as soon as he pulled up Echo got in and they were on their way. He handed her the envelope with her new information in it.
"You actually did it," she said, sounding rather excited as she thumbed through what was to be her last alias of her lifetime. Hopefully anyway.
"I did." He paused, glancing at her once he'd merged onto the highway. "You were serious, weren't you?"
"Well, yeah, it's just so odd seeing it in print, all official like."
"I couldn't choose your name for you, Vivian," he said, using her new name for the first time. He'd have to get used to it.
"Oh, I totally get that, and I appreciate you letting me choose."
"Why did you pick Vivian anyway?"
"I don't know," she said, setting the envelope and its contents in her lap for a moment. "The name came to me. I don't know if I knew someone who had it or what."
"It's a pretty name."
"And as far from Caroline or Echo as you can get."
He chuckled lightly. "Very true."
"Won't they be able to look in databases for our pictures?"
"The guy I know, he has the ability to distort the pictures just enough that it's not an exact hit. Alter cheekbones, eyes, jaws, noses, hairlines. I don't know how he does it exactly, but in all the years I've known him I haven't heard of a disappointed customer. The pictures still resemble us if we ever get pulled over or are asked for ID so we're good that way."
"You didn't have to get mine right away."
"I couldn't risk going back to him a second time, and you need to legally be able to drive. You don't have to if you don't want to, but I can't leave you incapable of fending for yourself should something happen to me. They'll take you back with them, likely kill me. Or worse send me to The Attic."
He slid a hand from the steering wheel to her arm, gripping her forearm a little too tightly. He had to ensure she was paying attention, though. He'd hinted around at this before now, but he was finally going to say it outright.
"Echo, you must, I implore you, if they find us and we can't get away you take one of my guns and you shoot me."
"This isn't a half-assed request. I've thought this through. I've seen what they do to someone who goes to The Attic. I'd rather be dead. So you have to promise me. A bullet to the head. A couple of them to be certain the job's done. That's my request of you in all of this."
He noticed her hand trembling a little and slid his hand from her forearm into her hand. He squeezed it, leaving them joined.
"All right," she said softly. "I don't think it'll come to that. I'd try to distract them so you could get away."
"I hope that's the case, but likely if they find us and come after us there won't be any room for me to escape. So, just have it in your head from this point forward I want out. And I want you to do it."
"But what if"
"No what if's, Echo."
"I've put your life in danger."
"On the contrary. I've endangered yours."
"I don't see it that way."
"Perhaps not, but just remember my wishes if it comes to that."
She was quiet, her eyes focused out her window. He knew she was crying and he hated doing that to her, asking this of her. She didn't let go of his hand at least. She had to see he had no choice. He let go of her hand and left her alone. Eventually, she returned to thumbing through the various bits of information.
She pulled out the one piece of paper he'd been hoping she'd miss. It was as a precaution he'd had Dmitri create a marriage license for them. They'd talked about their living arrangements and while he hoped she'd adjust well enough to live on her own, he realized for the time being they'd be living together.
She ran her fingertips over the words, as if memorizing them.
He cleared his throat a little. "You know that doesn't mean we're really married," he said. "I mean, I don't expect anything from you. But with that certificate if something happens to me, you'll be able to access my bank accounts, our lease or whatever housing we'll have. Everything really."
"How did you come up with the name Emmet?"
He shrugged. "I'm not sure. I could say I'm an Emmitt Smith fan, but that's not it."
He laughed a little. "A football player."
"Oh," she said.
"I suppose it just came to me. It's simple like Boyd."
"They're both strong names."
"If you say so."
"So, I'm Vivian Barnes-Russell. I didn't think you wanted us to be married."
"Well, I don't want us to stand out and in the end I decided that our living together could possibly be a trigger. The Dollhouse might have operatives out looking for a husband and wife, but I'm hoping they won't realize that we can actually pull off the act."
"What do you mean?"
"I've worked cases before where I've had to be someone's husband, boyfriend, fianc, or what have you."
"It hasn't worked?"
"Oh, for the short-term it works, people are getting to know you so they may not notice the body language that suggests you're not really intimate with the person you're supposed to be sleeping with every night. Eventually, though, people pick up on those things."
"Is that why you let me sleep with you?"
"Let you? As if it was a hardship on my part. But, yes, that was part of it. The more comfortable we are with one another the better off we'll be at blending in." He slid his hand to hers again. "But, that doesn't mean you have to keep doing that. We're going to get a two-bedroom place and you can have your own space. It's not like we're going to have company over to see that we're not sharing the same bedroom."
"You've been very kind to me."
"Not really. If I was really kind I would have gotten you out of there the moment I saw you were behaving differently than the others."
"You didn't know."
"No. You have no idea how difficult watching you on some of your assignments was."
She switched their hands so hers was on top of his, her fingertips running along his palm. "Were you jealous?"
"At the time? I don't think that was the emotion I was feeling. I just hated that I was helping someone pimp you out. The assignments where you were helping people, rescuing a kidnapped child or helping a severely abused child realize she can be okay weren't hard to stomach. The others, though."
"I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore."
"As am I."
"Is that why you don't want to be with me?"
"Why what?" he asked.
"I slept beside you and even asleep you didn't do anything improper."
"I'm glad to know that," he said, glancing at her. "But, no, that's not why. I mean, yeah, all right, I suppose there's that element of wondering how I could possibly measure up to some of the guys you've been with."
She slid a little closer to him. Ah, the benefits of a bench seat. She leaned her head against his shoulder, resting their joined hands in his lap.
"Want to know a secret?"
"You've already beaten them."
And that made him think that maybe, just maybe this would all work out.