He shouldn't be here.
This town, this house, this bed— any of it.
Watching her sleep peacefully beside him, Barbie let out a small sigh, then closed his eyes. Of all the places in the world he had any right to be, this was about the last.
Those fucking cows. Five more seconds and he would have been free, past the dome line, putting as many miles between him and this goddamn town as he could, never looking back. Five more seconds and he never would have been stuck here, trapped in a giant supernatural fishbowl with limited supplies and a town full of panicked and desperate civilians.
Five more seconds and he never would have met her.
Okay, so maybe the last part he didn't regret quite so much as he should.
He'd told himself that he'd just stuck around to look out for her. After all, he knew— both from his own observations and from what she had told him— that Peter had been her only direct relation in town; at a time like this, when normal society went to hell and everyone was only looking out for their own, she needed someone in her corner. He'd owed it to her, and— though he hated to admit it— to Peter as well, to be there for her, to protect her now that there was no one else who would.
And honestly, for a while at least, he really had believed that that was all there was to it.
That was, until two days ago when he'd gotten back to the medical center with the antibiotics— antibiotics she'd needed to save her life— and she hadn't been there.
He hadn't been prepared for the flood of adrenaline and fear that had overtaken him, the drive to the cabin flashing by rapidly as he sped almost recklessly though the town and out onto the backroads, dread wrapping like a steel band around his chest, squeezing tighter with every mile, making it hard to breathe.
It was a feeling he'd known pretty well, one he'd felt before; this was just the first time he'd ever felt it without a gun pressed to his head.
It was around then that he'd started to realize it, whether he'd wanted to or not.
Protecting her— being there for her, looking out for her— was about far more than a simple sense of obligation.
At the time, though, he'd pushed the thought away, focusing only on getting her out of the cabin and back to the medical center as fast as was physically possible, breaking just about every road law— not that those really mattered anymore— as he did so.
But hell, when he'd found her on the floor of the cabin... he didn't particularly want to revisit that memory. Even once he'd gotten her back to the clinic and the doctors had taken over, he'd been half-convinced they were too late.
He'd paced in her room for three hours, sat in the chair by her bed for another four— and then, within five minutes of waking, she'd kicked him out.
Watching her sleep before him now, safe and healthy and whole in her own bed, he wondered how she was going to react when she woke to find him still here, a fairly large and unavoidable reminder that last night had definitely happened.
Honestly, he still didn't know what this was— whether he was playing stand-in for Peter now, or if he was just the convenient rebound guy, or—
Or whether maybe she saw this as something else, something... more.
Because fuck, he was pretty sure he did.
Closing his eyes briefly, he pressed a knuckle hard against his temple, drawing in a slow, silent breath. Whatever happened, he'd just follow her lead; if she just wanted to forget last night and pretend it never happened, he could do that. Not the option he'd prefer, but he could handle it. In some ways, it would probably be the smart thing to do, preventing this whole thing from getting more complicated than it already was.
Usually, he tended to avoid complicated in the first place, careful not to get himself involved, but somehow Julia— the very definition of complicated— seemed to have a way of making herself the exception.
Opening his eyes, he let them drift over her face once more, feeling the tiniest hint of a smile tug at the edge of his mouth— one that soon faded as his gaze fell once again to her hand, her ring glinting dully at him in the dim light of the morning, a grim, silent reminder.
Yeah, 'complicated' really didn't quite cover it.
He was still staring at the ring— and thinking yet again about how much he should not be here— when he saw her stir, a tiny frown creasing her forehead as she woke, her eyes slowly opening to find his. He didn't even realize he was holding his breath as they simply stared at each other for a moment, her gaze sharpening as she woke fully, her blue eyes unreadable.
Acting on impulse, he reached over, gently tucking away a loose strand that had fallen over her cheek, feeling a tiny flare of warmth in his chest as she smiled at him, a sweet, sleepy grin.
The smile faded quickly, though, the warmth he'd felt following in its wake.
Seeing the discomfort begin to build behind her eyes, and the silent, self-conscious movement as she drew back the hand that had rested between them, Barbie felt his jaw tighten, his whole body suddenly tense.
He'd known this was coming; he'd been prepared for it, ready. Hell, hadn't he even thought he'd wanted this to happen, wanted them to brush off last night like it was nothing, to spare them both the complications that this thing between them would bring?
As she shifted, however, turning wordlessly away from him, the sudden hollow feeling in his gut made him think that maybe he'd been wrong about that.
Shoving back that thought— and the unfamiliar ache that went with it— Barbie forced himself to move, sitting up carefully so as not to disturb her, his mind already planning his unobtrusive exit.
The sudden touch of her hand on his arm halted him, her soft but insistent "No" almost not registering in his brain.
Carefully controlling the unexpected emotions that had surged within him at her touch, Barbie looked down at her, seeing the shy honesty in her eyes as she spoke again.
"I'd like you to stay."
Shit. He shouldn't. He really shouldn't.
But he would.
His eyes still locked with hers, he slowly settled back against the mattress, trying to read her gaze, trying to figure out what his next move should be.
Then, as he usually did, he simply followed his gut.
Brushing a thumb lightly over her cheek, he leaned in, and felt her respond instantly, her lips already parting for his—
The sharp, insistent knock at the front door broke through the quiet of the bedroom, and for a moment Barbie closed his eyes, cursing silently. He felt Julia shift, and cursed again, grudgingly preparing to let her go— only to realize she had moved closer, her body pressing against his, her eyes almost playful as they looked down into his.
"They will go away," she whispered, her smiling lips finding his.
Jesus. She never stopped surprising him.
Sliding a hand up the smooth skin of her back, Barbie put just a little more into the kiss, feeling her arch against him as he pressed his lips to her chin, her jaw, her neck—
The knocking came again, louder this time, and he reflexively clenched his jaw, swiftly burying his frustration. He felt Julia's warm breath feather against his skin as she sighed, the tiny sound seeming to express the same irritation and resignation he felt.
Watching her slip gracefully from the bed— all smooth curves and perfect, creamy skin— he tried to convince himself that it was probably a good thing they'd been interrupted, giving them both some time to figure things out before getting in even deeper than they already were.
Still, as that amazing body disappeared under a light robe, moving further and further out of his reach, he couldn't help but feel a small flash of regret, accompanied by a stronger sense of dislike for their faceless visitor. Just as he had that thought, there was a third knock, and immediately Julia's eyes found his, shooting him a brief, rueful look before she reluctantly turned, disappearing through the doorway to head for the stairs.
For a moment he just stared after her— carefully avoiding thinking too much about what this all meant, and where the hell they stood now— before he finally forced himself to move, climbing from the bed to dig around in his pack for some clothes.
He should get going, go out and and see if Linda needed help, find something useful to do with his time.
After all, no matter who it was at the door, he got the feeling that he and Julia probably wouldn't be alone again for a while.
Which, when he thought about it, was probably a good thing.
Julia and the newcomer were still at the door when he came downstairs, an unfamiliar female voice drifting in through the open doorway. For a moment he paused at the base of the stairs— distracted briefly by the sight of Julia's bare legs under the robe, far too aware of the fact that she wore absolutely nothing underneath it— then forcibly made himself continue on, joining them at the doorway.
"Oh, hi," the other woman said quickly, clearly startled to see that Julia had company.
Glancing at her— his lingering trace of resentment swiftly disappearing as he saw her obviously pregnant stomach— Barbie gave a tiny nod. "Morning."
As cool and collected as ever, Julia caught his eye— he wondered if he saw just a trace of amusement hidden there— her voice casual as she introduced them.
"Barbie, this is my neighbor, Harriet."
Then, as if to prevent any further discussion, she directed her next comment at Harriet with a small smile, her words answering the question of the other woman's presence. "I think I have that yogurt."
Still seeming a little off-balance— finding a strange guy in the house of a technically married woman would do that to you, he supposed— Harriet nodded, and he quickly shifted out of the way to let her pass, his eyes meeting Julia's once the she had gone. Leaning lightly against the doorway, she met his gaze openly, as if trying to gauge what he was thinking.
Honestly, as of this moment, most of his thoughts seemed to involve pressing her against the doorframe and kissing her slowly— but he forced those away, electing instead to give her a small nod before heading for the porch steps.
He'd barely taken more than a step or so when she spoke up behind him, making him pause, turning back to face her.
"Where are you off to?" she asked, one eyebrow arching in mild challenge. "Running away?"
Her tone was light, almost teasing, but somehow he heard the frankess of the question, the faint echo of vulnerability hiding behind her words.
Meeting her eyes squarely, he shot her a gentle 'come on' look, trying to show her that the possibility hadn't even occurred to him— which, surprisingly enough, it hadn't. Then, still holding her gaze, he spoke in a low voice, explaining as honestly as he could.
"Half the town going nuts yesterday, that wasn't a fluke— so, Linda could still use my help."
It definitely wasn't the whole story, but right now, it was all he would give.
Her only response was a small, tight nod, but he could see that— in some small way, at least— she did understand. Giving her a brief almost-smile, he turned and continued down the porch steps, forcing himself not to glance back.
Being apart for a while was the smartest thing they could do right now, giving them both some time to figure things out, to realize just how bad an idea the whole thing was.
Still, even as he walked away, he knew that he'd be back here— back to her— soon enough.
He couldn't stay away for long.
His hunch about the fuel had paid off.
Moving at a half-crouch through the deserted streets, Barbie tracked the two Dundee brothers, steadily gaining on their trail, lessening the lead they'd gotten on him when they'd taken off near the gas station.
It wasn't particularly hard to keep up; they were stupid, and loud, and— unlike him— completely untrained in stealth and urban warfare. He knew that, simply by keeping a small distance behind them, he could track them all the way to where they'd been hiding out, waiting until they reached cover and let their guard down— and then all he'd have to do was radio in the position to Linda and the others and get them to storm the place, catching the brothers unprepared.
It was a solid plan, simple, requiring very little involvement on his part, which was pretty much fine by him. As long as the end result included Linda hauling the brothers into a cell, he was happy to sit back and let the real cops take care of it.
That was, until he did a side-check around a corner and saw them gasjacking a car at gunpoint.
The small silver hatchback they had cornered wasn't familiar to him— but the driver certainly was, her long, red hair easy to see even from this distance, the sight hitting him like a punch to the gut.
And just like that, the plan changed.
The shift from surveillance to combat mode happened instinctively, without conscious thought— suddenly he was a soldier again, falling immediately back into battlefield mentality.
Neutralize the threat. Protect your squad.
Moving silently, Barbie covered the distance between them quickly, his eyes fixed on the two brothers' backs, his gun up and ready.
He had the clear advantage; posture alone told him that the younger was going to be a runner, and the leader of the two— while armed— was distracted and untrained. Barbie was on him within seconds, his disarm fast and automatic, the kid's nose breaking instantly under the force of the blow from his elbow, a pained groan escaping the young guy's lips as his body landed heavily in the dirt.
With both guns now in his possession, Barbie turned his back on the scrambling teenager, his eyes immediately seeking Julia. Seeing her climb hurriedly from the car— intact and unharmed— he released a sharp, relieved breath, then swiftly shifted his focus, reaching for his radio.
Reporting quickly to Linda, he sought out the fleeing fugitive, sighting up and loosing a single round that punctured straight through the kid's right calf— a deliberate, non-lethal shot, one that would slow the brothers enough that they wouldn't be able to evade Linda and Junior for long.
Then, putting the Dundees out of his mind— they were Linda's problem now— Barbie shoved his radio back into his belt, turning back to the car just as Julia looked back at him, her eyes anxious, her voice urgent.
"She's going into labor. We've got to get her to the clinic."
"That's not gonna happen," he answered grimly, his eyes on Harriet's flushed and frightened face. "I just went by there. It's closed."
Glancing back to Julia for ideas— somehow unsurprised to realize that he considered her to be the leader in this situation— he saw her bite her lip, clearly thinking fast.
"Alice," she said suddenly, her eyes finding his as she quickly explained, "She's a doctor. She's staying with Joe McCallister, only— well, this car's not going anywhere now."
"Then let's start walking," he said, already moving forward to help Harriet out of the back seat. Hooking her arm around his shoulder, he turned them to the north-east, already making calculations. Even at their slowed pace, they could probably make it to the house within fifteen to twenty minutes— that was, provided they didn't meet with any trouble.
Well. Definitely not the best odds he'd ever faced, but not the worst, either.
Just as he had that thought, Harriet let out yet another sharp cry of pain, and he glanced down at her, carefully controlling his apprehension.
If they didn't make it to Alice in time…
Seemingly having the same thought, Julia caught his eye from her position on Harriet's other side, her blue eyes worried.
"Should I try and run ahead?" she asked, the uncertainty and concern clear in her tone, "Maybe bring Alice back—"
"No," he answered sharply, then took a breath, continuing more steadily, "We're safest together. I need you as another lookout."
It was true; half-carrying Harriet as he was, he couldn't watch their backs, couldn't scan ahead for threats. Without Julia's eyes, they were vulnerable, exposed, the very definition of an easy target. They needed her.
Mostly, though, there was just no way in hell would he let her walk these streets alone.
"Okay," she agreed after a moment, something in her tone telling him that she'd caught the tiny flare of panic behind his words, that she knew there was more that he had left unsaid. Pausing to steady Harriet through another contraction— she could barely stay upright when they hit— he waited until they were moving again before reaching for the gun he'd taken from the elder Dundee, sliding it out of his waistband and holding it out, grip first, to Julia.
"Here," he muttered, still watching the road ahead.
There was a brief pause, and when she spoke, he could hear the mixture of understanding and hesitation to her words. "Barbie—"
"It's just in case," he assured her quietly, his eyes meeting hers. "I've got mine, I'll handle any trouble that might come up. Just consider it a precaution."
Holding his gaze, she nodded silently, reaching over to accept the gun from him, her hand trembling but her grip firm, her technique good. Realizing that she knew how to handle a gun, Barbie felt a small flicker of respect and relief, the weight on his shoulders lessening just a little.
Together, he and Julia would get Harriet— and her baby— through this.
Looking ahead once more, he kept them moving, supporting the laboring woman as best he could, trusting Julia to watch their backs.
"We've got you, Harriet. Just hold on. We've got you."
He was still waiting for the adrenaline to wear off.
The house felt too quiet to him now, the heavy silence a sharp contrast to the noise and commotion of barely an hour before.
And in amongst that silence, somewhere above his head, Alice was dying.
Just minutes ago he'd carried her upstairs, had done his best to settle her as comfortably as he could before leaving the two of them alone, returning downstairs to do the same for Harriet and baby Alice, setting them up in Joe's room. He didn't like to think about how different the moods had been in the two adjacent rooms, joy and life neighboring grief and death. Instead, he'd just stared at the small, pink bundle in Harriet's arms, felt the surprising strength of five tiny fingers gripping his as he'd said goodnight.
It was only as he'd slowly descended the stairs that he'd really realized it, had understood the weird lightness in his chest, the almost wonder-like feeling he'd experienced when he'd looked at little Alice.
He'd taken part in ending a lot of lives, but this— this was the first that he'd helped give.
He was still absorbing that fact when he finally reached the bottom of the stairs, finding Julia on the couch in the living room, her head in her hands. Immediately, he took a reflexive step forward, but then paused, torn; he wanted to reach out, to comfort her, but he wasn't sure whether she would want him to, or whether he even had the right.
After a brief moment of painful indecision, he made his choice, moving through to the dining room and starting to clean up, giving her the option of a little space as he set the chairs and cushions back in their proper places.
Carrying one of the cushions back to the couch, he saw that she'd lifted her had, watching him with solemn eyes. Wishing there was something he could say to ease the sadness in her eyes, Barbie dropped his gaze, moving wordlessly past her before leaning down to fit the cushion back into place.
"That was pretty amazing, what you did," she said quietly, and he looked up, his eyes silently meeting hers.
What Alice had done had been amazing. What Harriet had done had been even more so. Even Julia herself had been incredible, staying by Harriet's side every second of the way, soothing and encouraging her, keeping her focused and strong. He knew with certainty that Harriet couldn't have gotten through the birth without her.
And hell, if it hadn't been for Julia, he wouldn't have even been there at all. Had Harriet been with absolutely anyone else, he'd have gotten them safely to help, and then would have been straight back out there, back on patrol, back to things he knew.
But she had been with Julia, and he had seen how great Julia was with her, how much she cared. He'd seen her sincerity, her silent determination to be there for the panicking woman no matter what— and if she was staying, so was he.
He'd meant that to be the extent of it. To be there for security and moral support, maybe fetch things for Alice, that kind of thing— but that was all.
He'd never expected to end up with a baby in his arms.
He was still trying to find the words to tell her that when the front door suddenly banged open, the two teenagers rushing into the room.
"Where's my mom?"
For a split second there was silence as the four of them looked at each other, the movement of his hand going unnoticed as he slowly lowered it away from the gun in his waistband.
"Upstairs," Julia answered quietly, clearly working hard to keep her voice even. Still, they all heard the grim truth beneath her tone, the emotion that couldn't be hidden.
Looking terrified, the girl turned and ran up the stairs, leaving Joe lingering uncertainly in the foyer. After a moment of indecision, he shot them both a helpless look, then also turned for the stairs, slowly trailing after his friend.
As the kid's steps faded, Barbie glanced once more at Julia, seeing the bright sheen to her eyes, the tightness of her jaw as she held back the tears.
Taking a breath, he slowly sank onto the couch beside her, putting a cautious arm around her shoulders and gently drawing her against him. Her response was immediate, her body leaning into his, her breathing ragged as she buried her face in his neck. Letting out a slow, relieved breath, Barbie smoothed a hand over her hair, his lips touching lightly to the top of her head as he held her just a little tighter.
Eventually— he had no idea how long they'd stayed like that— he carefully began to pull away, drawing his arm from around her shoulders. The small, automatic protest that escaped her lips almost halted him, but he made himself shake it off, his eyes meeting hers as she lifted her head from his shoulder. Holding her gaze, he shifted over on the couch, stretching one leg out behind her and leaning back against the cushions before silently holding out a hand.
He saw the flash of gratitude in her eyes— and maybe just a hint of something more— before she came to him, scooting over on the couch and settling her back against his chest, molding into him in a way that was far easier and more comfortable than it should have been. Exhaling slowly, Barbie laced the fingers of his right hand with hers, his left coming to rest lightly atop her stomach, his breath catching slightly as she silently placed her hand over his, her thumb brushing softly against his knuckles.
He felt her let out a long, silent sigh, felt some of the tension in her body slowly begin to ease, not even noticing as his own muscles gradually followed suit, truly relaxing for the first time in a really long time.
It was then, with her warm and soft against him, that he made a decision; for now at least, he was done with the overthinking, the doubts and questions and hesitation. There was something between him and Julia, and despite being complicated by circumstances and most likely already doomed to go down in flames, it was all either of them had right now— and they should appreciate it while they could.
So, when her head shifted against his shoulder, turning to lift her eyes to his, he simply did what felt right, leaning down to press his lips to her forehead, letting them linger for a long moment before resting his cheek against her hair and closing his eyes.
Whatever this was— whatever they were— they could talk about it later.
For now, he just wanted to lie here and forget everything else but her.
Thanks for reading :)