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forged in blood and grief

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Twenty miles beyond the border, Morgan freaks out for the first time.

No, that's not true. She's been freaking out for weeks now, since the night Duncan and the others invaded their home and took her family hostage, and then again when the cleaners came. It was a different kind of freak out, though, quiet and internal, the reality of the situation only scratching at the walls of her consciousness, not quite breaking through.

Even now, it all seems unreal, like a terrible movie she watched late on a school night after mom and dad had gone to bed. The last thing she remembers, the last thing that feels like something that happened to her and not someone else, is yelling at Duncan for pretending to be her father and scaring Boyd off. Why did she get so upset about that? It feels like such a minor, silly thing now. Easily fixable. Nothing worth crying over.

It all happened so fast, afterwards. The noises from downstairs. Duncan's hand over her mouth, dragging her into mom's wardrobe. She thinks she was scared, there, was probably trying to fight him off with hands and feet and teeth, or maybe she was frozen on the spot, unable to make sense of what was going on. It's all blurry now. It was dark in the closet and it smelled like fabric softener. That's the part she remembers; she still has the smell stuck in her nose. She heard men talking outside, but she can't recall what they were saying.

They were in that closet for a long time, or at least it felt like that, and when they finally went out, after the men had left, Duncan had dragged her out of the house. He'd shielded her eyes with his hand and told her not to look, but of course she didn't listen. Of course she looked.

There was so much blood. On the kitchen floor, on the walls, splatters all over the front door. She doesn't remember anything except for the blood. Mom always hates it when they get stains on the floor, and now it was a mess of red.

Twenty miles after the border, it all comes crashing down on Morgan, like a tidal wave, and she feels suddenly, violently sick.

"Stop the car," she says, and when Duncan doesn't comply, doesn't react at all, she raises her voice. "Stop the fucking car right now."

When he pulls over, she lurches outside and retches, puking her breakfast up all over the side of the road. She doesn't understand why they call it morning sickness when it comes pretty much around the clock.

"Are you okay?" Duncan puts a hand on her back. It's probably meant to be steadying or comforting or some kind of shit, a reassuring gesture she doesn't want from him, and it makes her snap.

"No, I'm not fucking okay." She bats him away violently, lashing out again and again until he steps back, and her voice is turning to hysterics. "I'm never going to be okay again, do you get that? They're all dead! My entire family is dead. My mom and my dad and my little brother, and it's all your fucking fault. We had a normal life before you turned up and you ruined it all. I wish they got you too, like your little kidnapper friends, because you don't deserve to be alive. You should be dead. But maybe that's too good for you. Maybe there's some kind of justice after all, and what happened to your family is your payback. I'm fucking glad you got to watch them die so you know what that feels like."

It's funny; she hears the sound his palm makes when it hits her cheek, but she doesn't feel the impact, even though the force of it makes her head snap around. It's only afterwards that the sting registers.

"Go to hell," she says, spitting at him. "I hate you so fucking much."

He doesn't hit her again. She almost wishes he did but it seems like whatever anger he felt has burned itself out and is replaced by that quite kind of desperation that's been hanging over him like a cloud since they made a stop at what she assumed was his house and watched the police carry out three body bags.

"Get in the car," he tells her.

"And what if I don't?"

He closes his eyes for a moment, visibly struggling for composure. When he opens them again and starts talking, his voice and manner is so placating that it only makes her bristle more. "Look, I get it. You hate me. You blame me for what happened, and maybe you're right. Maybe if it weren't for me, none of this would have happened. But there's nothing I can do about that now. So we're going to get back in the car now, we get to the airport, in the morning we catch our flight and then I'll disappear from your life. All you have to do is get through the next 48 hours and after that, I promise you, you never have to see me again."

"Great," Morgan says. "I can't fucking wait."

* * *

The motel where they spend the night is small and a little old-fashioned, but clean and not at all what highway motels are made out to be in movies.

Morgan locks herself in the bathroom and takes her first shower in too many days before she sits down on the closed toilet seat and cries until her eyes are swollen and her head is aching. When she comes back into the room, the lights are out. Duncan is stretched out uncomfortably in the chair, covered in a blanket, facing away from her. He might be asleep, but probably not.

She tiptoes to bed and slips beneath the covers, wide awake and too anxious for rest to even be an option. Instead, she stares at the ceiling and wills her reeling mind to calm down, trying hard not to remember, trying not to think about what it's gonna be like, from here on.

It's 3 am when she can't hold the words back anymore.


He makes a noncommittal sound, too quick for him to have been asleep.

Her heartbeat drums loud and fast in her ears. "You didn't mean what you said yesterday, did you? When you told me I wouldn't see you again?"

She hears him shifting in the chair.

"I did. I promise you–"

"You can't do that," she says, against a rush of panic that's choking her like a hand wrapped around her throat. "You can't just leave me alone, in a foreign country on another fucking continent. Everyone I loved is dead, and the people who killed them are trying to find me, and I'm pregnant. You can't just– I can't do this on my own. Please, I– I know what I said about your family is horrible, but please don't leave me alone."

He doesn't respond right away, and her fear builds up until it's a solid block of ice inside of her.

"I'm not trying to punish you," he finally says. "I thought that was what you wanted, never to have to see me again. You hate me."

"Of course I fucking hate you, but that doesn't mean that I want to be alone. And I'd rather have you with me than having no one at all."

She's seventeen years old. A month ago, she was arguing with dad about how she was an adult now. How she could make her own decisions about her life. She doesn't feel like an adult now. All she wants is for her parents to take her in their arms and tell her what to do.

The silence stretches until he finally says, "Okay. Whatever you want."

The panic inside her doesn't ebb away, the ice doesn't quite melt, but it gets a little easier to breathe and eventually, she falls into a restless, nightmare plagued sleep.

* * *

She gives birth at St Mary's Hospital in London.

"What are you going to call her?" the nurse asks.

The right thing to do would be to give the baby up for adoption; Morgan knows that. She's too young and she's sharing a small, uncomfortable flat with a man she hates and there are probably people out there trying to find and kill them. She didn't finish school, she doesn't have a job, and she can't bring herself to ask Duncan where the money they're living on is coming from. It's no life for a child.

But the tiny little human being in her arms is the only family she has left, and she can't make herself let go, no matter how selfish that is.

"Ellen," Morgan says, brushing her fingertips over the girl's pink cheeks and trying not to cry.

* * *

"You told them I'm the father?" Duncan asks, incredulous, later that same day when he comes to see them for the first time, awkwardly holding a bunch of colorful flowers.

Morgan shrugs. "I didn't want them to get suspicious. I couldn't well tell them that you're the guy who kidnapped my family to get my mum to kill the President and now we're on the run from a bunch of hitmen they sent after us, could I?"

"You could have told them I'm your uncle. Jesus Christ, Morgan. The nurses look at me like I'm a pedophile. I'm old enough to be your dad. "

But you're not. My dad is dead, and it's your fault, Morgan thinks. Half a year ago, she would have said that, but there's no accusation she hasn't made at least a dozen times already, and what the fuck's the point? It doesn't make them any less dead.

"Yeah, right, because saying you're my uncle, who I'm living with and who's the only guy visiting me in hospital after I gave birth, is totally not making you look like a creepy child molester at all. Chill. They'll think you're fucking me anyway. At least if we're forthright about it, they won't assume you're doing anything illegal."

Duncan's frown only smoothes away when he looks at little Ellen, asleep in her arms. The expression on his face is raw and broken, and Morgan could swear she sees his eyes glazing over. For the first time, she can find it in herself to spare a moment of pity for him and all that he's lost. He may have ruined her life, but he did it to save his own family, and ended up losing just as much as she did, and no matter what he's done, he probably didn't deserve that. No one deserves that.

"Do you want to hold her or something?" she asks. "Seeing as you're officially her dad and all."

* * *

Being a mother is more exhausting than she ever have thought. Morgan wishes she could talk to her mom about it, thank her for always being so patient with her and Jake even when they were moody and stubborn little shits.

She also wants to tell her mom that she was wrong. Being a mother doesn't make Morgan understand her mom's decision not to give in to the pressure and kill the president any more than she did then. If anything, she understands it less now. Looking at Ellen now, peacefully asleep in her crib, she knows that if someone were to come and threaten her daughter's life and tell Morgan to do anything, anything at all – kill anyone, kill everyone, murder a dozen of innocent people with her bare hands – she'd do it in a heartbeat, without batting an eyelash, as long as it would keep her daughter safe. If she had to sacrifice being a good person for the safety of her child, she would gladly do so.

It's a little easier now to understand Duncan and why he did what he did. She can't forgive him, but she knows that in his place, she would have done the same.

* * *

Morgan kisses him, one morning at breakfast. It's not a big deal, it's just something she feels like doing, a spur of the moment thing.

For a second, he kisses back, and when his hands settle on her shoulders, she expects him to pull her towards him. Instead, he pushes her away.

"Stop it. You don't want this," he tells her, and looks at her with pity before launching into some explanation about trauma and Stockholm Syndrome and isolation, and the sheer audacity of him telling her what she feels and why is making her blood boil.

"Fuck you," she yells, and pushes him back. "You don't know anything about me."

She locks herself in her bedroom and sits there crying, rocking Ellen's cradle until the rage of frustration inside her calms down.

Later, she googles Stockholm Syndrome. It's not hard to understand why he'd think that it would apply to her, even though he's wrong. If she's attracted to him, it has nothing to do with what little kindness he showed her when he was their captor, nor is it about codependency. Perhaps it's not healthy either, perhaps it's just because she's lonely and in need of comfort and Duncan is there. Maybe it's about waking up at three in the morning and walking into the living room to see Duncan feeding Ellen and rocking her to sleep. Maybe it's about Shannon, the young mother who Morgan befriended at the playground the other month, whistling lowly when she saw Duncan for the first time and declaring, "You did good, sister! Your sugar daddy's smoking hot!"

Does it really matter, in the end? Maybe Morgan is twenty shades of messed up, and why wouldn't she be, after everything. She's earned that right, and Duncan should be the last person to deny her that.

"Don't ever do that again," she tells him later, when he's making dinner, chopping vegetables like a pro, like this domestic shit is something he's done all his life. "If you don't want me because I'm too young or you're still mourning your wife or whatever, that's fine. But don't you dare tell me what I feel and why. I know you have this idea that you have to protect me from bad decisions I make, but that's not your job. You're not my dad, so fucking stop acting like you are."

He stops chopping and looks at her, his jaw working. "Fine," he says curtly, and she knows he's angry. She doesn't care. "Don't kiss me again."

"Fine," she echoes. Maybe she's angry too.

* * *

She meets a guy. Colin, twenty-five, a med student, the kind of guy mom and dad would have approved of. They have movie dates and spend rainy afternoons sitting in the coffee shop together and he's really sweet with Ellen.

Morgan likes him, she really does.

Duncan is surprisingly cool about it, giving them room, and he tells her that she's glad that she's starting to live again. But when he says that, something in his voice makes her think that he's lying. She introduces him to Colin as her uncle, and they get along pretty well, despite the protective 'if you hurt her I will kill you' crap Duncan puts him through because of course he can't help himself. Morgan gets in his face about it, but secretly, she thinks it's sweet.

It's on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the park with Ellen and Colin that Morgan realizes that she will never be able to be honest with Colin.

She can never mention how her mom used to be a doctor too, and when he asks about her family, she can never tell him that she saw the dead bodies of her parents and her baby brother lying on the kitchen floor and she still has nightmares about it. When he talks about politics and how ineffective the American government is, she won't be able to share that there were plans to kill the President and her family was at the heart of it all. She can never explain the complex nature of her bond with Duncan, the hatred and the anger and the sympathy and shared understanding that comes from living through a terrible situation together. The survivor's guilt, the loss, the rage.

She comes home crying, and Duncan is at her side in an instant, pulling her into his arms and asking her what's wrong.

"I broke up with Colin," she says, sobbing into his shirt.

His body stiffens, like he's about to get ready and fight to protect her. "What did he do? I'll–"

"He didn't do anything. He's perfect. But I'm not. I'm a mess, and I can never tell him why, and one day he's going to end up hating me for it. I can't do this to him, I can't drag someone else down into this with me. I just–" She cries harder, squeezing her eyes shut and letting Duncan hold her.

"Shhh, it's okay."

"No, it's not. It's not fucking okay," she says, breaking away a little and wiping her face with her sleeve. His hands are still on her upper arms, like he thinks she's going to fall apart if he lets her go, and she feels overwhelmed with the enormousness of it all. Her lips are on his without her making the conscious decision to move, it just happens. The kiss is nothing at all like that first one, it's desperate and clingy and vicious, as if she could fix herself if she only clashed hard enough into him.

"I'm sorry," she says, forcing herself to step back. "Fuck, sorry. I know you told me not to–"

He doesn't let her finish, stepping into her space again and kissing her back with the same kind of desperation she felt, his mouth hard and hot and angry on hers.

* * *

It's not a love story. It's not about two people finding each other in the wreckage, or some other poetic bullshit. Or maybe that's just what it is about, but it's not romantic, it's not sweet and right, it doesn't taste like salvation.

They're just two broken people, and just because they don't have anyone else doesn't mean they fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Their broken, ragged edges grate against each other, and sometimes it hurts. There's a part of her that still hates him, will always hate him, no matter how much time passes. She'll never feel safe again, not truly, but the closest she comes is when she's with him, and that has to count for something. She knows he'd give his life for her. He'd give his life for Ellen.

She can wake him at two in the morning and she doesn't have to tell him about her nightmares because he knows what they are, and he'll hold her until she falls asleep again, and he'll take care of Ellen in the morning and won't judge Morgan for being snappish and quiet all day.

Sometimes she thinks he's doing this to punish himself, an apology to her that he knows is too little too late, but then she watches the smile on his face when he's with Ellen or the way his hands clench emptily around Morgan when her naked body curls again his, as if he's scared to let go but doesn't quite know whether he's allowed to touch, and she knows that this is as much about him as it is about her.

What they've found can never make up for what they lost. But this is the life they have, the one they made for themselves, and it's all they have.

Sometimes, it's almost enough.