Arnie told them he had the dogs on rotation to run the perimeter fence – all six miles of it – while it was light out, the time when scouts would be watching through binoculars. If anyone was perched close enough to watch the house, the dogs would alert him. After that announcement, he went to bed early, keeping his normal routine. Alex and Daniel stayed up to watch the evening news.
He curled around her on the sofa so naturally that it didn’t feel out of the ordinary at all. She couldn’t remember feeling so physically comfortable with anyone in all her life. Even her mother had been a brittle hugger, someone who rarely expressed affection, in words or actions. Alex’s closeness with Barnaby was verbal, never physical. So she thought that she should feel awkward and embarrassed with her legs draped across another person’s lap, her head cradled against that person’s shoulder while his arms were wrapped around her, but she felt only oddly relaxed. As if his proximity somehow removed a portion of the stress from the situation.
The Daniel piece played again, but it ran later in the program than before, and she could tell the night anchor was bored by the story. The Agency might be able to force this bit into the news for a short time, but they couldn’t keep the networks from reacting to what a nonstory it was. Of course, there was the obvious second act.
“I should probably warn you… if you haven’t thought of it already,” she said.
He tried to sound glib, but she could hear the wariness. “I’m sure I haven’t.”
“Well, if this story doesn’t get results quickly, they’ll have to up the ante to keep the press working for them.”
“What does that mean, up the ante?”
She leaned back so she could see his face, her nose wrinkling in distaste at what she had to say. “They’ll make the story more salacious somehow. Say you’re suspected of a crime. Invent a student who you abducted or abused. Something along those lines, probably. They could be more creative, though.”
His eyes shifted from her face back to the television screen, though the announcer had moved on to early primary predictions. He flushed, then went pale. She let him take his time with the idea. She could imagine how hard it would be for a good man to realize he was about to become a villain.
“There’s nothing I can do about it,” he said quietly. It was not quite a question.
“At least my parents aren’t around to see it. Maybe… I don’t think all my friends will believe it.”
“I wouldn’t,” she agreed.
He smiled down at her. “At one point in the not too distant past, you thought I was going to murder a couple million people.”
“I didn’t know you then.”
When the late news was done, they engaged in a more subdued good-night, then she began the cleanup. They might have to leave quickly. She dismantled and stowed her lab, then changed into leggings and a black T-shirt – things she would be comfortable in if tonight was the night they had to run.
She knew she was tired, but her brain couldn’t seem to slow down. She didn’t want to miss anything else. Daniel might be right – perhaps her first big mistakes were actually good things in that they might have saved his life. But she couldn’t afford any more errors. It wasn’t just her own life at stake now. She sighed to herself. There were benefits to having a liability, but the load was definitely much heavier.
A quiet knock interrupted her thoughts.
“Don’t open the door,” she cautioned quickly, jerking upright. The cot rocked underneath her.
After a short pause, Daniel asked, “Are you wearing a gas mask?”
“I thought so. Your voice sounds muffled.”
“Is your security system terribly difficult to disarm?” he wondered.
“Give me a minute.”
It took less than that to secure the live wires. She pushed her mask back onto the top of her head and opened the door. He was leaning against the frame. She couldn’t see him perfectly in the darkness, but she thought he looked tired… and sad.
“You’re very worried,” he inferred, reaching to touch her mask lightly.
“Actually, I always sleep with this. It feels weird if I don’t have it on. Is something wrong?”
“More than everything? No. I was just… lonely. I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to be with you.” He hesitated. “Can I come in?”
“Um, okay.” She took a step back, switching the light on.
He looked around, a new expression taking over. “This is the room Kevin gave you? Why didn’t you say something? You should have my room!”
“I’m fine here,” she assured him. “I’m not much for beds, anyway. It’s safer to sleep light.”
“I don’t know what to say. I can’t sleep in a king-size bed knowing you’re stuck in a storage box.”
“Really, I like it.”
He gave her a doubtful look, which turned suddenly sheepish. “I was going to invite myself in, but there’s barely room for you.”
“We could shift some crates…”
“I have a better idea. Come with me.” He offered his hand.
She took it without considering what she was doing. He pulled her down the dark hall, past the bathroom door, to his own room. The only light came from a small lamp on the bedside table.
It was a very nice room, more in line with Kevin’s usual aesthetic than her own storage space. There was a massive bed in the middle of the room, covered in a white comforter, with a rustic four-poster frame made of artfully unfinished logs. A gold blanket that matched the tone of the wood was draped over the foot of the bed.
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