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Road Trip Part 9/12
damien listening guitar
rogoblue
Title: Road Trip Part 9/12
Rating: R (language and sexual situations)
Author: morgan72uk and rogoblue
Summary: Dominic and Adelle face complications of many varieties.






After a decidedly passionate, but all too brief, interlude the worst thing that could happen was to find herself cooped up for over twenty hours with nothing to do but worry about all the many ills that could possibly befall Laurence as he helped move the caravan from one site to another.

It had been a very long time since she’d given a hostage to fortune to this extent. As she’d moved from one appointment to the next within Rossum, falling deeper into the darker side of their operation, it had become safer to keep people at arm’s length. Even before she’d become head of the LA House she hadn’t exactly led a scintillating social life. But perhaps she had just failed to meet a man who intrigued her as much as he excited her – until now.

The litany of things that could go wrong was a lengthy one and she didn’t have any activity to distract her. Topher did his best to keep her occupied but reading to him didn’t serve to fill her mind and playing ‘I-spy’ with only the contents of the truck to choose from wasn't much of a challenge either.

She rested her head on her knees, trying to slow her breathing. Her heart was racing because of the way he’d made her feel and the memory of those gently insistent lips had much the same effect again. She wasn’t surprised that when they’d parted they had gazed at each other in mutual wonder, or perhaps complete shock.

She knew the danger wasn’t going to go away, she was going have to deal with who Laurence was and the world they lived in. Even if they got past whoever Rossum had sent after them there were still butchers, dumb shows and the signal to contend with. The one thing she was sure of was that he wasn’t a man to sit quietly on the sidelines when things needed to be done. But if she had learnt anything it was that you needed to seize the moments that came to you – to not intellectualise too much, to trust what you felt.

What she felt was that she wanted to kiss him again, wanted to do more than kiss him – while they continued the slow process of opening up to each other. The intimacy was more than physical and she had limited experience of that type of closeness. But she wanted it.

They kept moving; hours passed, night fell and still they drove on. At times their progress was painfully slow as the pace was modified to ensure that the caravan was never stretched too thinly, the stragglers never too far behind. It was all about security lying in numbers – ensuring that no one was vulnerable to attack.

Almost twenty hours had passed by the time they finally reached their destination. Sergei returned to collapse onto one of the beds; exhausted after the long drive – but bringing the welcome news that they were setting up camp.

Topher pushed her gently towards the exit, before climbing back onto the bed and wrapping himself in a blanket and giving every impression that he was planning to go to sleep. She didn’t necessarily believe him, but she was prepared to allow herself to be convinced under the circumstances.

She shivered in the cool morning air – wishing she had thought to bring a jumper with her but not planning to go back for one now. Her leg felt stiff and she was frustrated by her slow progress as she wound her way through the vehicles, looking for Laurence. The vehicles had been pulled into a tight circle until the camp was established, with the outer edges patrolled by the security team. She found the Jeep eventually, it was empty - but a familiar looking figure was perched on a rock a short distance away.

He’d taken a booster not too long before – she could see the drug's effect on him and despite that he still looked like a man who’d driven all night. “Good morning,” she said, noting that his gun was within reach and a half-drunk cup of coffee was on the ground in front him. He looked up at the sound of her voice, blinked and managed a smile – though she can see that it cost him to do so.

“Hi.” Suddenly she was uncertain of her next move; they’d shared a kiss less than twenty four hours earlier, admitted to wanting each other - but that didn’t exactly make him an open book and it didn’t give her the right to impose herself on his solitude.

“Would you like some company?”

* * *

“Ok,” Laurence Dominic said, wincing as the word rasped out of his dry throat. Taking a sip of coffee, he said, “I’m not sure how good of company I’ll be, though. Want some coffee?”

“You look like you need it more than I do,” Adelle DeWitt said.

“Is that an understated British way of saying I look like shit?”

“It’s an understated British way of saying your latest booster doesn’t seem to be doing the trick.” Adelle settled next to him on the rock.

This smile didn’t feel like it was going to break his face. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this … this … Tired seems too tame a word for it. I feel like my body doesn’t fit me.” The worry in her eyes made him feel guilty for saying anything. “Good news is, we made it without losing so much as a tire and I don’t think anyone followed.” He yawned. “It’s hard to tail a group that changes speeds as much as we did for that long and not be spotted by someone.”

“That’s good,” she murmured. After a few moments of hesitation, she said, “Why did you take another booster, Laurence? Surely, you can allow yourself some rest now that we’ve arrived.”

“I am resting.”

“You’re seated. There is a distinction.”

Laughing, Dominic choked on his coffee. “I think I’ve actually missed hearing you say that.” The slow smile forming as she patted his back pushed the latest flashback out of his thoughts and cleared some of the other cobwebs from his tired mind. “How did you know I needed to laugh?” Smiling slightly, he said, “Forget it. I withdraw the question. That was the whole idea of what you used to do—figuring out what people needed.” Dominic felt Adelle stiffen. Putting an arm around her shoulders, he said, “Hell, my deal in the Attic was a version on that theme. I had to figure out how to help people get over their fears. Do you have any idea how many people are afraid of being chased by knife wielding maniacs?”

“More than a few?” she asked, light tone not masking the care with which she’d spoken.

“Way more.”

“How did you convince them to stop running?”

“Tackled them, mostly.”

“I’m sorry,” Adelle said, clearly not believing his grin gave her leave to laugh. “It isn’t funny.”

“Yes, it is.” He shrugged. “It was sometimes. Sometimes it was just gross. Did Caroline tell you about the guy in the sushi restaurant?” Adelle shook her head. “He kept saying he had to enjoy himself. Human thigh sushi is not for the faint of heart.”

“He was consuming … his own legs?”

“Yep.” Adelle shuddered. Dominic pulled her closer. “Laugh as much as possible. That was one of Clyde’s axioms. It helped.” Regarding her closely, sensing she wanted to say something, he asked, “What is it, Adelle?”

“I was wondering what it was like for you in the Attic, but that’s probably not something you want to discuss.”

“Wasn’t I just discussing it?” he asked. Resisting Adelle’s attempt to pull away, Dominic said, “You’re freezing. I’m not. Don’t be stubborn.” She turned into his embrace and he didn’t give her a chance to change her mind. Widening his eyes, he whispered, “You could give me some incentive to talk, if you want. I wouldn’t say, ‘No.’”

Adelle’s hand meandered to his shoulder, along it to his throat, sending very pleasant sensations flowing through him, feelings his more tired than tired body hadn’t a prayer of addressing. “I look forward to you saying, ‘Yes,’” she murmured.

“Me too.”

“Sir?”

Glaring at the young man who’d addressed him, he snarled, “What do you want?”

“Gavin’s waiting for your report.”

“I wish him joy of it,” Dominic said, returning his attention to the woman in his arms, smiling at her effort not to smile.

“Sir?”

“He’ll get my goddamn report when I’m good and ready to give it to him,” Dominic said. “I drove three times more miles than the rest of you trying to herd this ridiculous collection of vehicles down the fucking highways and byways and I’m tired and would like a few minutes of peace. I swear to you, whoever you are, I will make you sorry if you say ‘Sir’ to me again.”

“This is Kyle, Laurence,” Adelle said.

“You’re kidding,” Dominic said, unable to imagine Haley in the same zip code as this young man. Seeing the truth in Adelle’s eyes, he muttered, “No wonder she’s pissed.”

“My sentiments exactly,” Adelle said.

Catching himself before observing that Adelle’s and Haley’s taste in men seemed to be similar, Dominic addressed Kyle. “I’ll see Gavin later. If that isn’t good enough for him, he can drag his ass out here and tell me so in person.” He and Adelle watched Kyle retreat with his tail between his legs. When they turned to regard each other, Dominic whispered, “Yes,” and brought his lips to Adelle’s. In no time at all, she’d slipped her arms around his neck to ensure he stayed where he was for as long as she wished. Evidently, she wished him to stay put for a while. “What do you want to know about the Attic?” he asked when he next had the chance.

“Whatever you feel comfortable telling me.”

“It wasn’t all bad, Adelle.” The shock in her eyes wasn’t unexpected. He’d felt the same way when he’d figured that out. “I’d spent my adult life undercover. I didn’t even realize how little I knew about myself until I was all I had. The time I spent stuck behind a desk in an NSA field office was torture. I wanted a mission. No one would sanction one. No one would read my field report of my last mission. I was stuck in a weird sort of holding pattern and it was making me crazy. I did crossword puzzles. I played hours of Tetris. I swear I felt my grip on sanity loosening. But I had time to determine who in the hell Laurence Dominic was again. I knew the guys he wasn’t really well. I had to get to know the guy he actually was a little.” Watching her, he sighed. “That wasn’t as easy as you might think.”

“That doesn’t sound straightforward at all,” Adelle said. Her head resting on his shoulder inspired him to continue.

“When Arcane—Clyde’s badass alter ego—came and tried to kill me, I … well, I welcomed it. Anything was better than the nothing I’d been doing, even taking on someone who was out to get me. I fought him off and pursued him until Caroline, Tony and Priya helped me catch him. Clyde was taking out the mainframe CPU by CPU and I was trying to stop him. I didn’t understand what he was doing before we talked about it, but I wouldn’t have stood by if I had. Those people didn’t deserve to die just because someone in the Rossum infrastructure decided they’d screwed up.” Again, he resisted Adelle’s attempt at creating distance between them. “Caroline helped us figure out an alternative way to go about things.”

Draining his coffee, Dominic said, “Clyde and I leapt from mind to mind, sometimes together, sometimes not, and took a look at what was going on and tried to convince the person to stand up and face down what was haunting them. But it was … relentless. Mind after mind after mind after mind. It was extremely difficult to slow down, much less stop to rest.” He forced a smile. “But I never felt as tired as I do now.” Dominic shuddered as an unaccustomed chill shot through him. “Anyway, one cool thing about the Attic was that I could do anything I could imagine. Caroline threw me over her shoulder, but I rolled in a way that isn’t possible in the real world, at least for me—some stuntman could probably do it. I landed back on my feet, because I didn’t want to be on my back on the floor and vulnerable to her. If I wanted an assault rifle, I had one. I had as many or as few layers of clothing as was comfortable. That part was more than ok.” Hugging her briefly, taking care with her injured shoulder, he said, “That was way more information than you wanted, wasn’t it?”

“How did you and Clyde interact—become friends—if the pace was so relentless?”

“If I really concentrated, I could slow down and, sometimes, I could go somewhere familiar and stay a while. Latch onto a residual from one of the minds I’d been in. I used Echo’s tree a lot. It was kind of peaceful. Clyde was better at jumping minds than me. He’s follow me to my anchor points so we could talk.”

“How did you manage, Laurence,” she whispered, taking his hand. “In a place so foreign, how did you adapt?”

“There wasn’t an alternative. Sink or swim.”

“Refill, sir?” said a young man with a thermos.

“God, yes,” Dominic said. “Do you have a cup she could use?”

“That’s not necessary,” Adelle murmured at the same time as the kid said, “You bet.”

Dominic reached for his head as a wave of pain surged through it. This time, thankfully, unaccompanied by a flashback.

“Tell me about the flashbacks,” Adelle said.

Thinking not for the first time that she was psychic, Dominic muttered, “What about them, Adelle?”

“Are they always of your time in the Attic?”

“No. Mostly, but not exclusively.”

“When do they occur?” she asked. “Are there other issues with timing beyond the continued use of boosters?”

“They often happen after a period of intense activity.”

“Did you have one after you parked the Jeep?”

“Yeah.”

“What was that flashback of?”

A spike of fear settled in Dominic’s gut. “Adelle, I’m not sure I’m comfortable going there.”

“Please, Laurence.”

The raw, genuine emotion in her tone called to him, laying waste to defenses and barriers. “It was Clyde’s nightmare,” he murmured. “A version of this scenario.” He waved a hand vaguely to encompass their surroundings. “The end of days.” Shrugging, he said, “Every now and again, we’d find ourselves in each other’s nightmares. This one, I remember distinctly, because I came upon a pack of butchers who were gathered around their victim. I kind of launched myself into the center to see if I could help the person they’d set upon.” Eyes finding and capturing Adelle’s, he said, “Their victim was you.”

* * *

The horror of the moment was reflected in his eyes – the red that ringed his irises only making the icy blue seem more intense. She was sure that when the moment he had just described had happened he had hesitated – torn between rescuing her and leaving her to the brutal fate he had interrupted. She ought to want to know which course he had chosen, but actually she was more concerned about that flashback coming now, when things had changed between them and how it must have shaken him as a consequence.

“For a moment I thought you were in the Attic,” he said – voice breaking on the words. She was sure he meant then as well as now – but what she cared about was now.

She knew that she needed to reassure him, to send that terrible memory back to Hell where it belonged. Touch had proven to be an effective medium thus far, so she pressed her lips gently to his forehead and then to his mouth. She surrendered control of the kiss as soon as he responded, tasting his desperation and his ardour; letting the urgency burn and then fade as the knowledge that she was here with him took firmer hold.

“I'm sorry,” he said as he retreated. Their foreheads rested together, they were both breathing heavily and her body was tight with the need for more. He pressed his fingertip carefully against lips that were surely swollen and again she detected the shyness in him – as though the moment of passion was something he thought she might not have welcomed.

“I'm not,” she told him firmly. The wry twist of his mouth in something that was neither smile nor smirk was something she was beginning to recognise and to identify as authentically Laurence. “You have nothing to apologise for,” she added, referring to the kiss, the unearthing of passion between them – and so many other things.

Her fingers rubbed slowly against the too tense muscles at the base of his skull. He sighed and arched a little more into her caress – like a cat demanding to be stroked. She was sure he was entirely unaware of the movement but compliance was far from a chore. Her hand travelled over the firm muscles of his back, her own shoulder protested the movement but she gritted her teeth and set aside the pain, concentrating instead on making her touches gentle, intending to soothe rather than arouse. As she touched him her mind travelled across various scenarios, assessing options and likely responses. She knew what she wanted to say to him, but she wasn't certain that the time was right.

“I can hear the wheels spinning,” he said – lifting his head to look at her. “Whatever it is Adelle, just tell me.” She hesitated for a moment longer, meeting his eyes before deciding that the honesty was more important than any discomfort.

“I was wondering if you were aware how closely your current existence mirrors the life you led in the Attic?”

His initial expression was disbelief, but then that was replaced by a dawning understanding. “It makes sense,” she told him, “you said yourself it was sink or swim and you swam – Laurence Dominic swam, not a version of him that had been created to fit in with an undercover mission. You helped people and that helped you, you trusted someone and were trusted in return. You found out who you were in the most challenging of environments – with everything else stripped away from you.”

“And then on the outside I recreated that,” he muttered. “Damn!”

“I don't know what would have happened to Topher and I if you hadn't,” she said leaning close again, taking his hand and squeezing it. “Somehow I suspect we aren't the only people you've helped and I imagine doing so helped you as well, reinforced who you are. But you aren't in the Attic anymore Laurence and perhaps it might be acceptable to try to rest, every now and again.”

* * *

Laurence Dominic laughed. Adelle DeWitt regarding him as though he’d lost his mind made him laugh harder.

“What do you find so humorous?” she demanded.

“I’d share the joke if I didn’t know you’d take it the wrong way.” She’d barely frowned in displeasure, when he added, “Let’s just say that most people don’t need to go to such extremes to find themselves. I must’ve been really really lost.” He bumped Adelle’s good shoulder with his. “Like that extra Christmas present you buy just in case someone you don’t expect gives you one that you can’t find until the subsequent Fourth of July. If you were this tired, you’d think it was hilarious. Really.”

Skepticism personified, Adelle chose not to debate. Dominic listened to the bustle of the camp being set up and enjoyed the way Adelle’s hands moved over his back. A flash of movement in the trees off to his right, outside the caravan’s perimeter, launched him to his feet, gun in hand. “Stay here,” he muttered. “Better yet, get in the Jeep.”

“What did you see, Laurence,” Adelle asked, even as she stood and backed away a couple of steps.

“I’m not sure,” he said.

Two armed young men fell into step with Dominic as he jogged out of the clearing. Instructing them to take up flanking positions with sharp hand gestures, eyes and ears straining, Dominic quickly reached the spot where he thought he’d seen motion. All was still and quiet, seemingly innocuous, but Dominic trusted the instinct that had prompted him to get Adelle to safety and investigate rather than what his senses were telling him at the moment. Another souvenir from the Attic—radar for potential trouble.

“There’s nothing here, sir,” said the dark haired kid, taking a breath, relaxing his stance.

The blonde’s eyes darted everywhere. “You agree?” Dominic asked, gratified when the blonde shook his head. “Me neither.”

“You guys enjoy jumping at shadows,” dark hair said. “I’m heading back for some more coffee and a smoke.”

“Stick together,” Dominic ordered, scanning the surrounding area for the fifth or sixth time.

“Dude said, stick together, Phil.” The blonde’s voice drew Dominic’s gaze in time for him to spot the butchers springing from behind the two trees Phil walked backwards between.

Feeling as though everything was happening in slow motion and at lightning speed, Dominic fired four times. As his perception of events returned to real time, Phil screamed in the agony of fear while the blonde guy shouted that none of the blood and gore covering Phil came from Phil. Something he didn’t take the time to identify spun Dominic around. He ducked the baseball bat and shot the attacking butcher in the chest. Eyes widening, Dominic dropped to one knee and fired until he was empty. The butchers charged when he changed clips, but the blonde kid opened fire. By the time Gavin stalked into view, twelve butchers lay dead or dying on the ground.

Waving Sergei forward, pointing to Phil, Gavin said, “Quiet him down.” Surveying the scene in an instant, Gavin asked, “Were there more?”

“I’m not sure, sir,” said the blonde. “Maybe one or two.”

“Dominic,” Gavin said, “talk to me.”

“There were two more that advanced, but I have the feeling there are more.” Lowering his voice slightly, he said, “Maybe quite a few more. We should post sentries and stand watches.”

“You think?” Gavin muttered. “Damn. I like this spot.”

“Then fight for it. The butchers didn’t follow us, Gavin. They were in place when we arrived. Might’ve even been in place since the last time you passed this way, waiting for you to make your circuit.” Glancing over Gavin’s shoulder, Dominic said, “Didn’t I tell you to stay in the Jeep, Adelle?”

“You did not,” she said, limping toward him. “You belayed your order to, ‘Stay here,’ in favor of one to, ‘Get into the Jeep.’ Even if you had, I wasn’t going to wait and wonder about you after hearing that many shots fired, particularly since Gavin had gathered such a cadre of reinforcements.”

Dominic opened his mouth to call Adelle on bandying semantics but decided not to question his reluctance to argue with Adelle in front of Gavin. “You’re limping,” he said, doing his best to imply that that wouldn’t be the case if she’d stayed in the Jeep.

“I am,” she allowed, resting a hand on his forearm. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.” Sensing that wasn’t enough for Adelle, he said, “I managed to duck the bat and keep enough distance to avoid getting mauled like him.”

“All right, everyone,” Gavin called. “Let’s get back within our perimeter. We’ll need to confine tonight’s extracurricular activities to areas we can easily defend. Spread the word. Send anyone who bitches about it to have a look at Phillips.” Gavin focused on Dominic. “Dom, can I count on you—? Jesus Christ, you look like hell. Get some rest.”

“Not while there’s someone from Rossum still out there.”

“There will always be someone from Rossum out there,” Gavin said. “Rest.”

While Dominic considered a counterargument to an obvious truism, Adelle took his hand. The concern on her face defeated him in a way Gavin’s logic couldn’t. “Ok, ok,” he muttered. “I’ll take a break.”


* * *

A low groan alerted her to the fact that Laurence was, finally, awakening. Risking Sergei’s wrath Adelle got to her feet and crossed to his side in time to find him fighting his way out from beneath a collection of blankets and other coverings.

“Welcome back,” she said as she looked into eyes that were less bleary than the last time she’d seen them. “Laurence?”

“I’m cold,” he said, as though the fact surprised him.

“That’s because the evil drugs have left your system,” Sergei pointed out as he gently shoved Adelle down to sit on the bed. “We agreed you were going to rest,” he told her with a slightly exasperated affection that took the sting out of his words. “I will bring you coffee Dominic – to wash down the drugs you will undoubtedly want to take. Your Majesty, I suppose you would like some tea?”

“That would be lovely,” she said. “I’d go myself, but my Doctor is insisting that I rest.” Sergei laughed loudly and sketched a bow before heading off to find the drinks he’d promised.

“I don’t suppose there’s any of Bill’s brew available?” Laurence grumbled.

“Not just at the moment and I recommend humouring Sergei – he’s had a busy few hours.”

His expression changed instantly and she was sure that was because he had remembered what had been happening earlier and realised that he had been asleep for quite some time. “How long was I out?”

“A good twelve hours,” she offered – pressing a hand to his chest when his immediate response was to try to get up. “I’ll bring you up to date, Sergei will bring you coffee – then you can take a pill and get back out there.”

Only belatedly did she realise that it had been more of a command than a request. “Yes ma’am,” he smirked and she rolled her eyes before leaning closer, her hand just brushing against his.

“I don’t want Topher to hear too much about this; he’s been unsettled today. I don’t know why.”

“Does there have to be a reason?” He asked as he turned his hand over, capturing hers more fully.

“Perhaps not, but he’s been doing better.” She smiled ruefully, “he even gave you some of his blankets in case you were cold.”

“In case you decided to help keep me warm more like.” She considered that, glancing back to where Topher was covering a sheet of paper with letters, equations and a good portion of the Greek alphabet. Dominic might be onto something, but she’d think about it later. “Adelle?” There was no doubt what Laurence was asking.

“Two more attacks by the butchers – but nothing for the last four hours, Gavin thinks they’ve gone to ground. The later attacks were at different points along the perimeter – but it held; there have been a few injuries – mostly minor. I think they are testing our defences before launching an all out assault.”

“Looking for a weak spot,” he offered, happy with her analysis. “Gavin agrees?”

“For now. He’s considering moving on and there are some people who are supportive of that idea. I don’t know how much longer we can wait without opening trading or deciding to move on. People are, unsettled – but in the meantime the caravan is thinking about the changes to the incentive system and the way that time tithed to the whole community is recognised and recorded. We’ve been going vehicle to vehicle to explain – to gain feedback and to discuss the implementation.”

“The actuals who know our route will be on their way already – they’ll be expecting us to be here, to trade and they’ll be in danger if we don’t address the situation. I don’t think we can sit here and wait to be attacked.”

“They could be hoping to draw the caravan’s security away – leaving our goods exposed.”

“You think butchers could figure that out?”

“No,” she looked straight back at him, “but it occurred to me that someone could help them work that out. Someone who might have an ulterior motive to get past our security.”

“Our friend with the sniper rifle for instance?” He paused, obviously considering what she’d said. “He’d need to have worked out the route, got ahead of us and then made contact with the butchers. I don’t know that the timing works, but I’m reassured by how suspicious you are. It’s not enough to stop me noticing that you’ve clearly been up and about for hours, walking around the caravan on a leg that isn’t healed. I bet Sergei isn’t too happy with you.”

“My leg has been troubling me a little,” she admitted. Which was as close as she was going to get to confessing that she had indeed walked around the caravan for hours and that the only reason she was back here was because her leg had, literally, given way on her.

“Yeah – and I needed a short nap.”

* * *

Privately, Laurence Dominic was grateful he’d only been out for twelve hours. Usually, if he let himself come down far enough to get cold, he was under for closer to 48. This time, a deeply embedded uneasiness had arrived along with the cold, calling to some primal survival instinct within him, demanding he open his eyes. “Thanks,” he murmured as Sergei placed a cup of coffee and his bottle of boosters on the small table next to the bed.

“Gavin was asking after you, Dominic,” Sergei said, watching his not quite patient over his shoulder as he strolled back to the door. “I tell him, ‘Wait.’”

Leaning closer to Adelle, Dominic said, “Gavin can’t move the caravan without trading. If he lets a pack of butchers, whether acting on their own or under someone else’s direction, chase him, he risks being shoved out of every spot he uses. He needs to make a stand here. There isn’t a choice.”

“He says he’s considering it,” Adelle said, shifting slightly to allow Dominic to move his legs off of the bed and lever himself into a seated position.

“I’d say that too, if people are getting skittish, to buy myself time to formulate a plan. So would you, Adelle.” Dominic popped a booster in his mouth. Chasing the pill down with coffee, he said, “Trouble is, Gavin doesn’t have enough information to plan beyond setting an anti-infiltration patrol pattern, keeping the groups small, building in enough redundancy to cover multiple incursion points and making sure everyone knows the signals to use in the event of an attack. He needs to remedy that.”

“We aren’t sure where the butchers are,” Adelle said. “Whether they have a single base of operations or are scattered throughout the area. Laurence, we have no idea how many we face.”

“You’re making my point,” Dominic said, smiling slightly.

“No, I’m saying we don’t even have enough information to determine how to go about seeking more information.”

Interested by her choice of pronoun, Dominic said, “And that is why this caravan is extremely fortunate to be harboring, at present, a former employee of the National Security Agency who knows a bit about reconnaissance, evaluation of troop configurations and movements and intelligence gathering. I can find the butchers and figure out what they might do.” Dominic nodded to Adelle. “Particularly if they’re dancing to the tune of someone rational. That’ll make things easier. If the objective is more than raping and killing—procuring Topher, taking over the caravan, obtaining some vehicles or fuel, taking actuals for slaves, whatever—that’ll dictate strategy to a certain extent.” Smiling ruefully, he whispered, “I guess I’m going covert again.”

“Surely not alone,” Adelle stated, but Dominic saw the question in her eyes.

“Better alone than with anyone who hasn’t done something like this before.” Dominic put what he hoped was a reassuring hand on Adelle’s back. “Knowing Gavin, he’s got a few pickpockets and saboteurs floating around.” Seeing the doubt in Adelle’s eyes, he gently kissed her on the cheek, whispering, “Don’t worry, Adelle,” into her ear. “This is what I do.” He chuckled. “Well, did, to be more precise. Some of the people I spied on would rate little better than butchers on the disrespect for human life scale.” They sat for a time in silence filled to the brim with emotion. Sighing softly, he asked, “Are you going to tell me what you don’t like about this or am I going to have to keep guessing?”

“If I’d rather you didn’t die when I knew you not at all, do you suppose my preferences in that regard have changed now that I do?”

“I’m not going to die. Not today at any rate.”

“How can you sit there, look me in the eye and spout platitudes?”

Dominic considered anger an improvement over fear. “I’m not.” Risking a grin, he said, “I wouldn’t dare.” He stood. “I’m not going to die for two very good reasons. One—it would really piss you off and nothing good can come of that. Two—I have a couple of more things on my bucket list.” After staring pointedly at Adelle for a long moment, Dominic glanced at Topher who was writing frantically and completely engrossed in his project. Satisfied, Dominic gave Adelle an exquisitely tender kiss. “One less, now that I can cross that off.”

Adelle caught his eyes with hers. “You don’t have to do this. No one has stipulated that Laurence Dominic has to be everything to everyone.”

“I have to do what I can.” He barely managed to look away. “I need to make some kind of difference, otherwise …” The words sounding in his head didn’t make it to his mouth, a fact for which Dominic was grateful. Soft lips opened his, Adelle’s tongue tempted Dominic’s.

“Otherwise?” Adelle asked when they parted, the concern in her eyes demanding a response.

“Otherwise I failed you, the NSA and Clyde and I can’t accept that.” Fist clenching around one of the blankets Topher had given him, he snarled, “I’m good at what I do. Damn, I was good at what I did. I can’t just … give up. I … I … promised.” He gestured vaguely to encompass everything. “I promised not to let it come to this.”

“You promised to try,” Adelle said.

“I’m still trying.”

“And that, Mr. Dominic, is one of the many things I find intriguing about you.”

* * *

If she had learnt anything from her time as Head of The LA Dollhouse it was how to participate in a conversation whilst simultaneously keeping track of what else was happening around her. It was a skill that served her well now – since whilst engaged in an earnest discussion about the proposed changes to the incentive system, she was also far too aware that 50 feet away a tired and grubby looking Laurence Dominic was talking to Gavin and a couple of his men.

She'd barely seen him over the last 48 hours - his covert activities had kept him on the edges of the camp and beyond while she'd been engaged in addressing concerns about the changes the caravan was implementing.

A couple of quick conversations conducted in passing, punctuated by a stolen kiss here and there had not been exactly what she had in mind given the direction in which they seemed to be heading.

She had become far too used to his company and his conversation, to what they had been starting to share. It didn't help that this current separation had come hard on the heels of their conversation about his experiences in the Attic and how they still impacted him.

He was pushing himself now because of old failures, of promises made and debts he felt he'd incurred. The patterns he was repeating from that time all impacted on his burgeoning identity. But, if he was working through any of that then he was doing so on his own. She couldn't fight the battle with him, though she had hoped to be within reach when he did so. But perhaps this was a convenient excuse, a way of putting some distance between them while he sorted things through.

Her attention was demanded by the conversation once more and she smiled in the understanding way that had once persuaded scores of clients to trust her with their wants and needs. A few minutes later her efforts were rewarded with the beginnings of acceptance and in her peripheral vision she could tell that Haley had drifted over to join the group around her father.

She wasn't jealous of Haley and she remained grateful to her for being a friend to Laurence. But she wouldn't be human if she didn't wish that their 'friendship' hadn't been accompanied by what she suspected had been amazing sex. She could rationalise it any way she chose, but there was no getting away from the fact that Laurence's previous lover had been young, probably distinctly uninhibited and definitely uncomplicated. Even if she ignored the fact that her last sexual experience had been very different, there was no denying that she was somewhat older than twenty and, as Laurence had already acknowledged, the personification of complicated.

She didn't doubt what he wanted now - they'd come too far for that. But over the last two days she had occasionally found herself wondering if he would have found the time for a tumble in the hay with Haley, or something along the same lines that provided physical release without any attendant ramifications.

But there hadn't been a great deal of time even for tumbles in the hay, or whatever passed for hay these days. They were trading and with stringent security they had stood their ground, seeing off further assaults from the butchers and protecting their trading partners. Establishing whether the butchers were acting alone or being manipulated was taking time, though Laurence's presence likely meant a development on that front.

A few minutes more, a reiteration of the salient points and a little more reassurance and the agreement she'd sought was forthcoming. More than that, the group were already discussing how the changes could work to their advantage; interest and engagement growing as ideas flowed back and forth.

"A successful meeting?" Gavin concluded as he reached her side.

"They like the idea of the proposals, they just needed someone to facilitate their working through the changes."

"If you say so." She smiled - perfectly aware that managing relationships was not one of his strong points, though he had sense enough to recognise that it was a skill he needed to learn.

"If you're ready we can meet now?" He offered, "I'll find some of that god awful tea you like and you can sit for a while." He looked uncomfortable even mentioning the residual discomfort she was experiencing in her leg. Working with him these last few days she had learnt how reserved he was around women. It had amused her to know that it was a trait he and Laurence shared, but she was keeping the information to herself. Acknowledging that Laurence might have anything in common with Haley's father was a can of worms to be avoided at all costs.

"Of course, I just need a moment to..." she scanned the area and realised there was no sign of Laurence.

"I sent him straight back out," Gavin said. "We're hitting the remaining butchers at dusk and I need Dominic in position."

"I'll catch up with him later then," she said, confident smile in place. "It wasn't important."

* * *

What in the hell went wrong? Laurence Dominic moved quickly and quietly through the woods, heading at best possible speed toward where the caravan had set up for business. Everything had gone according to Hoyle during the assault on the butchers from the moment it commenced—when the disparate butcher factions gathered to prepare for an assault of their own—to the time when someone shouted something that sounded Japanese through a bullhorn. At that signal, the butchers went berserk. Much more so than usual. Gavin’s men had held for a few minutes, but they broke when the butchers started ripping men apart while they were still alive. It was the screams that did it. The memory sent a shiver down Dominic’s spine.

In the ensuing chaos, Dominic had held his position and fell back in an orderly way, gathering the men around him and those they encountered into a fighting unit. Discipline faltered when another cadre of butchers hit them from behind. He’d kept his men together for the most part, only losing three or four, shifting those remaining to better defend their position. Things might have gone far worse if the berserker frenzy hadn’t passed, leaving the butchers weak and disoriented. Dominic’s makeshift team had mopped up as much as struck him as prudent. Sending the men back to the caravan, Dominic had swept the entire battlefield to see if the butchers were advancing in other places. That’s when he’d found him—alone, hurt but silent, afraid but holding his gun in a ready position. Dominic did his best impersonation of a field medic on Jenkins’ behalf, telling the kid to keep watch, giving him something to do, hoping to stave off shock until Sergei could deal with it more appropriately.

The first person Dominic saw when he stepped into the caravan camp carrying Jenkins was Haley Montgomery. “Where’s Sergei?” he demanded, wondering at his expression as Haley took a few steps back.

“He’s set up under the big blue tent we eat meals under when it’s raining,” Haley said. She pointed northeast. “Over there.”

“Thanks. Where’s your dad?”

“I don’t know. I’m looking for him too.”

First things first. Dominic wended his way through the main body of the caravan, noting the shock and dismay on the faces of the people he encountered, particularly those who shifted aside to give him room to maneuver with Jenkins. A glance at Jenkins revealed the likely cause. “You can put the gun down, kid,” Dominic murmured. Jenkins stared straight ahead, but the barrel lowered. “The doc’ll treat you right away and Topher will probably give you back all of your comic books to speed your recovery. He might even donate a blanket or two to the cause.” Spotting the tent he was looking for, Dominic picked up the pace and ducked inside. “Sergei, where do you want this kid?” he said.

“Damage?” Sergei asked, tone clipped, professional.

“His leg’s bad,” Dominic said. “Broken in several places. But the big deal is his gut. A butcher, maybe more than one, tried to make a meal out of him before he got to his gun or one of theirs.”

“Here,” Sergei commanded, pointing imperiously to a cot near the northwest corner of the tent. When Dominic straightened from placing Jenkins where indicated, Sergei demanded, “You?”

Dominic looked down and winced at the blood and gore on his clothes. “None of it’s mine,” he muttered.

“Good,” Sergei grunted. “Check on Her Majesty.”

Following Sergei’s gaze, Dominic saw Adelle DeWitt seated on a small, straight backed chair, handing out bandages, sutures and other medical supplies to Sergei’s team. She’s sitting. That’s something. Sergei was talking and one part of Dominic’s mind listened. The rest observed Adelle, how intent she looked, how competent, how beautiful. He smiled when she blew air upward in an effort to shift a stray lock of hair as both of her hands were occupied. A vivid memory of the last time they’d spoken surged forth. Sheltered from prying eyes by the bulk of the hospital truck, she’d been just as intent on helping him. Serving as her focus had been both highly uncomfortable and irresistibly compelling. Adelle had been just as competent as she’d adjusted his shoulder holster. He didn’t favor that sort of rig, but he’d wanted another gun and to have both hands free. He’d kissed her because they’d been alone and Adelle had given him what he’d termed ‘The Look’—the one that seemed to shut off his brain. She’d been more than beautiful when she’d surrendered. Her low moan had made him hard. Fortunately, she hadn’t seemed to notice how easily she’d aroused him and he’d been able to avoid that particular embarrassment by agreeing to yet another recon sweep.

A hand clamped on his shoulder. Sergei muttered, “Go.”

“Huh?” Dominic said.

Sergei rolled his eyes. “Check on Her Majesty, please.”

“Oh, yeah, ok.” Adelle continued to dispense supplies, but Dominic felt sure she was well aware of his approach. An expectancy invaded her posture, a tension running through her that intrigued him in spite of the need to concentrate on the matters at hand. Adelle’s eyes widened and she was on her feet in an instant once she got a good look at Dominic. He forced a smile. “It looks a lot worse than it is. Most of this is Jenkins’.”

She paled visibly. “Topher’s Jenkins?” He nodded. “Is he … alive?”

“For now.” Running a filthy hand through hair that wasn’t much better, Dominic snarled, “When I find out who left him, there’s going to be an incident.”

“Walk with me,” Adelle said, taking his arm and making for the tent flap.

“You don’t leave a guy behind,” Dominic said. “Not if there’s any choice at all.” Stopping, Dominic turned to stare back at the tent. “If there isn’t, you put a bullet in him and end it clean. You don’t fucking leave him for butchers to take bites out of when he’s alive and conscious. Who in the hell does that?” Realizing he was in Adelle’s face and shouting, Dominic straightened his posture and muttered, “Sorry.”

“Tell me what happened,” she said, steering him toward food, he hoped.

He gave her a concise report of what he’d observed, wondering in a recess of his mind why she was hell bent on keeping him moving. “We need to strike back now, when the butchers are weak and disoriented, damn it. Not hide here and hope for the fucking best.” Seeing something in the way Adelle held herself, Dominic demanded, “What?”

“There have been a number of fights among the men who went into battle with the butchers,” she said.

“They shouldn’t be fighting among themselves,” he hissed, frustration palpable. “There’s an enemy here people. Wake the fuck up!”

“Laurence, listen to yourself.”

“It’d be nice if a few other people would. Then we might just go out and take care of business rather than letting the butchers regroup.”

Adelle slapped him on the face. Dominic’s fist flew lightening fast. He barely checked the blow. Standing before her, he blinked in confusion. “What was that for?” he asked.

“You said the butchers went berserk. Into a fighting frenzy after the bullhorn announcement. Might that announcement been an imprint of anger, of the need to release tension through violence?” She stepped close. “Might it not have impacted all of you, not just the butchers?”

Her words made a sick kind of sense. “Fine,” he said, “then let’s channel whatever and make it work for us.”

Adelle placed a cool hand on his cheek. “What if it wears off? What if you all become weary and disoriented at an inopportune moment? What then?” Kissing him lightly on the lips, she asked, “Is it worth the risk?”

He stared into her eyes; Adelle didn’t flinch. Shoulders slumping, he mumbled, “No.” Dominic whispered, “No,” again as Adelle pressed full length against him, resting her head on his shoulder and her arms around his waist. “Don’t. I’m a mess,” he murmured, when what he really meant was, “I’m not sure I want you to know what that does to me.”

“I don’t care.”

“You will when you try to get the stains out.”

“Maybe,” she allowed, shifting her lower body tighter against the undeniable proof of his desire for her. Blame it on the Japanese anger pulse thing.

“There you are,” Gavin Montgomery said. “We’ve been looking all over for you, Dominic. Strategy session. Right now. Begging your pardon, Adelle.”

Unlike previous partings during the past couple of days, Dominic didn’t resist the impulse to look over his shoulder when Gavin led him away. The expression on Adelle’s face demanded an apologetic smile.

“Head in the game, Dominic. We lost 22 today.”

With a heavy sigh, Dominic shifted his gaze ahead of him, knowing it was going to be a long night.

* * *

“So what do you think of her, Dom?” Bill asked, raising his tumbler of his best brew to his lips, engaging smile on his face.

Laurence Dominic tried to recall which of Bill’s potential conquests they’d been discussing even as he wondered what Adelle DeWitt was doing. “Which one were we on again?” he asked. “You have your eye on too many women for me to keep them all straight.”

“The enchanting Suzanne,” Bill said.

Dominic frowned. “I don’t know Suzanne.”

“You met her right when you got back,” Bill said, laughing. “I was talking to Suzanne when you asked if I knew where Adelle was.”

“The teenager?” Dominic asked.

“You’re not one to cast that particular stone, Dom,” Bill said. When Dominic didn’t say anything further, Bill prompted, “What do you think of the teenager?”

“Nice body.”

“The master of the understatement.” Bill snapped his fingers in front of Dominic’s eyes, evidently amused by Laurence’s irritation. “God, you have it worse than you did the last time we had a few drinks.”

What is that woman up to?

“Dominic,” Bill said, intonation sharp as a brand new razorblade. “Take your eyes off of Adelle for one minute and concentrate for me here. I’m asking your opinion on a very important matter. Not all of us are as gone as you are.”

“I’m only gone to the extent that I’m worried she’s going to overdo things with her leg and shoulder and leave me to deal with Topher on my own.”

“Bullshit.” Bill’s matter of fact pronouncement hung in the air between them as though it were a third person about to join their conversation.

“It’s not bullshit, Bill,” Dominic whispered. “Gavin designated us an established couple to keep Haley away from me.”

“I don’t care what Gavin said, Dom. I’m basing my remarks on what I’ve seen. Hell, what everybody’s seen and is gossiping about a ton.”

Everybody? Christ! “I don’t know what you think you’ve seen, but—.”

“Dom, this is me.” Radiating stoicism, Dominic sipped his drink. “C’mon, fess up. It’ll be good for whatever’s left of your soul.”

“We aren’t—.”

“Why are you denying something so obvious?”

“There’s nothing obvious about Adelle and me.”

“I won’t say, ‘Bullshit,’ again even though I should,” Bill said, gesturing toward Adelle with his tumbler. “You’re wondering why she’s milling about, straining that leg you’re so touchingly concerned about rather than sitting with her thigh in contact with yours, her nicely toned arms around your waist and her head on your shoulder staring soulfully into your eyes as you describe your latest heroic exploits involving blowing butchers to smithereens with C-4.” Grinning somewhat maniacally, Bill pointed at Dominic with his tumbler. “No, that’s not quite it. I’m guessing you’d prefer her to be straddling you, wearing not a stitch in some secluded spot along the riverside far enough away that no one would hear you beg her to get you off.”

An image of a fancy hotel room with a large bed formed in Dominic’s mind. “Shut up, Bill,” he muttered, taking refuge behind his raised tumbler of smooth alcohol.

“No,” Bill said. “I won’t until you tell me why it’s so hard, pun intended, for you to admit that you want Adelle.”

“I can admit … that.” Dominic spoke slowly, wondering if there was a somewhat non-cowardly way out of this conversation. “It’s just … complicated, Bill. Can we leave it at that, please?”

“No.” Bill leaned forward, expression avid. “Now I want to know why you can’t even say the words out loud.”

“I have,” Dominic muttered, wincing at the defensiveness in his voice.

“To whom?” Bill challenged.

“Adelle.”

“No shit?”

“No shit.”

“Well, now we’re getting somewhere.” Smirking unrepentantly, Bill said, “Finally. And you haven’t taken what you want because …?”

“Adelle isn’t someone you just … take,” he said, dreading what Bill was going to do with any information he gave him. “She’s refined. Intelligent. She has … standards. I’m not sure I measure up.”

“She’s been fending you off, has she?” Bill asked. “When your vaunted control slips a little, I mean.”

“Well, no. Not exactly.”

Bill sighed. “Does she stick her tongue in your mouth if you open it?”

“Jesus, Bill,” Dominic muttered, reaching for the liquor bottle.

“I take that as a resounding, ‘Yes.’” Bill considered all too briefly to suit Dominic. “Has she, perchance, pressed that fine body against yours when it was clear you weren’t indifferent to her obvious charms?” Laughing, Bill said, “Dominic, if I didn’t know you better, I’d swear you blushed a little just now.” Sobering suddenly, Bill said, “Ok, Dom, don’t panic, but the love of your life is limping toward us. Take a deep breath. Maybe two. And prepare to pretend you aren’t thinking about bending her over something convenient and taking her until she moans your name.”

“Shut the fuck up, Bill.”

* * *

As she made her way carefully around the space they had set up to serve the evening meal Adelle was aware of Laurence and Bill drinking and, every now and again, looking in her direction.

The sense of relief that their new location brought was palpable and she was no more immune to the mood than the rest of the community. The struggle to hold their last site had impacted on everyone and her own role had expanded to encompass bolstering the confidence of those who didn’t necessarily respond to Gavin’s more authoritarian approach.

The knowledge that Laurence had been in the forefront of their defence against the butchers meant that the people she spoke to were more inclined to share their fears with her – expecting her to understand exactly how vulnerable and frightened they had felt. And she had.

Deciding at last that there was no one else she needed to talk to at this precise moment she headed in the direction of Laurence and Bill – only marginally concerned about what the two of them might be plotting.

“Finally, she graces us with her presence,” Bill announced ebulliently as she approached. He leaned towards her and in a stage whisper confided, “he’s been gazing helplessly at you for the last half hour.”

“I doubt that’s true,” she responded – her hand on Laurence’s shoulder stilling him when he attempted to rise so she could have his seat. Instead she settled herself on his lap, catching his moment of surprise before he wrapped an arm around her to hold her more securely in place.

“How is it?” He asked, looking out towards the rest of the camp.

“Tense – but better.”

“I hear you’ve been on nursing duty,” Bill said, “a regular Florence Nightingale.”

“Don’t get carried away with your fantasies,” she scolded lightly, “I’m not cut out to be a nurse, I’m not particularly tolerant of other people’s foibles. I might have been a surgeon though, I like working with steel.” Bill’s eyes widened and Laurence’s smirk was on full display.

“Stop tormenting him,” Dominic said, nodding towards his friend who was almost salivating. “It’s too easy.” Raising an eyebrow she conceded the point – though she was sure Bill rather enjoyed it.

“Dare I ask what trouble you two have been getting into?”

“None at all – far too busy drinking and discussing your virtues,” Bill told her. “I was trying to get Dom to spill the beans about the two of you, but he’s been disappointingly silent on the subject.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” she shifted slightly and watched the flicker of pleasure that crossed Laurence’s face before he schooled his expression into something more neutral. “Some things are private for a reason.”

“Not in this place,” Bill said, gesturing expansively around the camp, “everyone talks about everything – including sex.”

“Well, we aren’t everyone.” At her words Laurence tightened his hold on her, his warmth flooding past the thin cotton of her shirt and making her want to nestle closer – an urge she resisted for now. Instead, just for a moment, she made him the centre of her attention and let herself get lost in his eyes, in his expression and in the message his body sent hers.

When she pulled back, shifting her focus to include Bill once more he was watching them with barely concealed amusement. “You’re a lucky bastard,” he told Dominic before pushing himself to his feet and grabbing his drink. “I know when I’m not wanted, so I’ll take myself off to find my very own nubile lovely to snuggle up to.”

Left to themselves they settled into silent contemplation and though the other seat was now available she made no move to occupy it. She was uncharacteristically indecisive about her next move. She wanted him, wanted to be with him – their present proximity was doing very pleasant things to her body, but she needed to get this right. He still showed enough reticence for her to conclude that even if his body was willing he hadn’t quite overcome his shyness, or been persuaded that the desire was mutual.

She didn’t intend to settle for half measures. His transient, Attic influenced lifestyle could so easily be applied to a relationship and the last few days had shown her how he could shut down and the many excuses there would always be for him to do so. Whether it was necessity or a convenience he held back when it came to intimacy and vacillated between desire and restraint in his physical response.

“How are your patients?” he asked, interrupting her musings.

“A little better, both of them.” Topher had been distraught at the news of Jenkins’ injuries and she had spent long hours with them both. The young man had no family to care for him so she had taken over – under Sergei’s watchful eye and with Topher’s assistance. He’d been stable for long enough now that the prognosis was cautiously optimistic but his leg was in plaster, which meant he would be in need of care for a while. “When I left, Topher was writing equations on his cast.”

She regarded her companion thoughtfully; he looked tired but more relaxed than for the last few days. There was no doubt that Bill’s homebrew had contributed to that but putting the attacks from the butchers behind them had helped as well. If she wanted a chance to really talk to him a better one might not be forthcoming for a while.

“Could we walk for a while?” She asked.

“Isn’t that what you’ve been doing for the last few hours?” He had a point, but her leg was healing, albeit not as quickly as she’d hoped.

“I’d like to spend some time together, alone.”

“I’d like that too,” at his admission she framed his face with her hands and kissed him gently. It wasn’t an attempt to persuade him, more an acknowledgement of what there was between them. His expression when she backed away was perhaps not quite as enthusiastic as she’d hoped – which was enough to convince her that they needed to start talking once more.

She stood and offered her hand, relieved when he took it and got to his feet, guiding them in the direction of the trucks. The route wasn’t as scenic as the path to the river, but it was at least not too far to walk to return to the hospital truck.

“I’ve missed talking to you,” she told him, gauging his response.

“I’ve missed it too,” the echoed sentiment surprised her, making her cautiously optimistic.

“We haven’t really discussed this,” she said as she gestured between the two of them with her free hand. “I think we need to.”

He looked as though he’d rather go back and fight the butchers. “I don’t know that I can,” he shrugged, “it’s not what I do.”

“Clearly,” she took a moment to prepare, knowing she was going to have to choose her words with care. “It’s difficult to think about the future – I’m not asking you for that, or expecting you to make promises that neither of us is in a position to keep. But in the present I want something real, a connection – I believe we’re capable of that, I think we were heading towards that.”

“Were?” He frowned and she realised with more affection that irritation that he didn’t really understand what she was talking about.

“I don’t want to be like the people you encountered in the Attic, Laurence or even the people here. You help them, but ask nothing in return; leave nothing of yourself with them. I want to give you exactly what you give me – I need that equality. I don’t wish to share your every thought and feeling but I do require honesty in a lover and intimacy, the kind that comes with honesty, is about more than physical pleasure. You’ve been telling me that I have a value that exceeds caring for Topher, I’m slowly coming to believe that again and because of that I can’t allow myself to settle for less from you despite what my body tells me. I’m offering intimacy – mental as well as physical. But I can’t make you capable of giving me that in return, no matter how much I may want to be with you.”



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They've had discussions before but none like this. When they are truly discussing them. Not just the past and trying to get beyond it. But the present as well and the wants and expectations in the present.

I'm not sure all of the cards are on the table yet, but they will be.

We haven't forgotten about the sniper. Really. Honest!

As always, thanks for reading and commenting.

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